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On my walls, and curtains white,
And they vanish from my sight :
'T is the deepest hour of Night.
Yet with all my deep heart-sadness,
But 't is as the Ocean's breast,
Hath been hushed and gone to rest :
Can it be imagination ?
'Tis all like a troubled dream.
NEARLY opposite on the north bank of the Schuylkill,
V stands a small deserted stone house, having but a room above and a room below. It stands solitary and alone, with the Schuylkill in front, and level green fields behind, stretching far away in the distance. This was once tenanted by a good, honest old Scotchman, named Stephen Mattison, commonly called 'Old Stephie,' who had tended the ferry, and was well to do in the world then,' as he quaintly expressed it; but since the towing-path was continued down one side of the river, he had managed to earn but a scanty support for himself and wife by his daily labor on the farms of the neighborhood. Old Stephie had, among many excellent traits of character, one or two prominent failings : he was self-willed, and sometimes, despite his Christian faith, apt to be despondent, especially when there was little work to be had, as was too often the case in the winter season. But his patient, hopeful wife, bustled about at such times, and made a great show of the potatoes, cabbages, and other vegetables she had raised in their little garden. Yes, Nellie was thrifty, and a 'canny house-keeper,' as Stephie often observed to his friends in confidence. And it was true, too, as any one could see who entered their humble apartment. To be sure, she was obliged to keep a curious assortment of articles in that one room: kettles and pans, and a barrel of 'middlings for the pig,
all ranged on one side; but the deal table was white and clean, and the few chairs almost bright, and the cups and plates were ranged in seemly order along the mantel-shelf, at one end of which, like a treasure of known value, lay their BIBLE. There was nobody in the wide world equal to Stephie, in Nellie's estimation, and it was touching to see the trusting, admiring expression in her face as she listened to the 'gude mon’ reading and expounding from that blessed book every night. She liked to hear 'nae body sae weel,' she was once heard to say: 'to be sure, Stephie had to spell a word betimes, but barrin that, he was a beautiful reader.'
At the time of which I speak it was February. The snow lay white and thick over the earth, when suddenly there came one of those warm spells of weather peculiar to this month. The snow began to melt, the ice-bound streams to flow, and there was every indication of a great thaw. All day long the warm sun shone brightly, but gradually a dense, heavy fog arose over all the land, till one could not see a friend's face at a stone throw's distance. Toward evening it commenced to rain, a heavy, continuous rain. All night it rained unceasingly, and all the next day. The river rose rapidly, and Nellie became alarmed when its cold still waters crept silently around and up to the very threshold of their little dwelling; but still the vast solid body of ice in the centre remained unbroken. During the day she had entreated Stephie at intervals to carry their movable furniture up-stairs, and then leave the house until the rain ceased, and the river fell. But old Stephie was a little ‘heady,' as Nellie would have expressed it, and thought he knew best. The house had stood waur storms nor that, he said ; beside, was it not built on a braw foundation ? She was always ósae easily frightened, pour wee body; but nco there was na ony danger, God be thankit; nae’theless, he wad assist her, just to keep her mind easy like ;' which he did accordingly, and they soon got every thing movable to the second floor. Hour after hour they waited, and hoped, and silently in their own hearts they prayed; but still the waters encroached, and the rain continued. They had been obliged to take refuge up-stairs themselves, and Nellie had ceased to turn imploring looks to Stephie now, for the water was filling the room below, and they could not leave without assistance. Suddenly there was a loud crashing noise. The Schuylkill burst its strong fetters of ice, and rushed, and roared, and spread itself like an angry sea over the fields beyond Stephie's house. The frail tenement rocked to its centre in the shock, and the terrified couple rushed to the window and screamed loudly for assistance. Alas! what human help could reach them! Who could think of trusting himself in that fierce torrent among those fearful blocks of ice? Speedily their cow and pig were carried away, and unless the rain abated, they must soon follow them inevitably. Already among the cakes of ice, they could discern animals, trees, and cabins floating down in the gathering darkness. Already the flood was over their chamber
floor, and it was heart-rending to hear their agonizing cries over the din and roar of the terrible waters. Who could bear to see them swept away without an attempt at succor ? Poor old people! they were too good, too unoffending, and too much respected not to have the heart-felt sympathy and commiseration of the little band of men and women collected on a bluff on the opposite shore, trying to contrive what could be done for their rescue. In their eagerness to do something, a boat was procured, and ropes; but where was the man who could peril his life in that raging flood ? or where was the wife or mother that could let husband or son go to almost certain destruction ? It was not to be thought of, and
all were standing uncertain what to do, while the torturing cries of old Stephie and his wife made themselves heard distinctly above the roaring of the river, when up came the proprietor of the public works of the village. All instinctively turned to him, for he was a kind-hearted man, and a generous, one.
He could not hear the cries of old Stephie unmoved: but what was to be done ? He could not make the attempt himself, for there was a delicate wife and five fair children in his handsome home, to whom he was all in all. Standing in their midst, he made a short but moving speech in behalf of the old ferryman and his wife, and concluded by offering a hundred dollars to the man who should succeed in rescuing them. This was a tempting sum to these poor factory people, most of whom were, to use that expressive phrase of common parlance, from “hand to mouth' in their way of living. There was silence for a moment or two, save the sullen roar of the river, and the screams of its victims, during which one or two of the men seemed irresolute, almost willing to go, when the womanly touch or whisper, that could not give them up, restrained them. At this juncture a messenger came, running almost breathless, from
The Locks’ a mile above, to say that the bridge near there had been swept away, and was now coming down the river, taking every thing in its way. Poor old couple ! all
up now as lost ; when, at this critical moment, a stranger of fine figure,
; and easy, commanding carriage, emerged from the midst of the little band, gave a few quiet but determined orders, and springing into the ready boat, rowed away in amongst the blocks of ice
with an energy and strength that seemed almost superhuman. There had been lighted pine torches affixed to the prow and stern of the boat, and the dark, active form of the stranger could be seen distinctly, now rowing desperately, now springing out on huge blocks of ice, and pushing or pulling the boat; now borne down the stream in spite of every effort for a time; then rallying, turning, and pushing shoreward again like one sustained by miraculous power, until the little boat shot under the window of old Stephie's house. During that perilous passage, there was not a heart on shore that had not prayed for the safety of the daring stranger, and excitement grew intense, almost to agony, as the little boat with its added burden, was seen buffeting the waters again. The
rain which had ceased for awhile, now poured down in torrents. The torches of the boat were soon extinguished, and nothing could be heard but the rain and the roaring of the ice. Unmindful of the rain, and in breathless expectation, the men held out their lanterns, and strained their eyes to see through the thick darkness. Nothing could be seen; and oh! the long moments of intolerable suspense! The men could endure it no longer; they shouted and listened, but no answer came. Again they shouted, and again and again listened at intervals. At length, to their inexpressible relief, they were answered, and soon, by the light of the lanterns, could be seen the prow of the boat, and the stranger, erect and bare-headed, wielding a long pole, and struggling on with incredible difficulty toward the shore. A shout, loud and prolonged, rent the air, and in another instant a dozen stout hands were hauling the boat into the shore. As soon as it touched, the stranger sprang out, and lifting Nellie out, carefully and tenderly gave her in charge of the women, old Stephie following, all three evidently unharmed. Ostensibly to see Nellie, but really to see the stranger, lanterns were lifted to the range of the stranger's face. It was strikingly handsome and noble-looking, with classical features, large dark eyes, and a superb forehead, over which the rich dark hair swept in massy waves ; but it was pale as death, despite the exertion, and so sorrowful in expression, that the hearts of the beholders were touched with sudden and involuntary sympathy. At this moment the proprietor pressed forward through the little crowd, offering the purse. A sudden gleam, accompanied by a haughty, impatient gesture, flashed from the dark eyes of the stranger ; but instantly subsided into a melancholy smile and glance of indulgent pity as he took the purse, placed it in Nellie's hand, and bowing to the proprietor in a manner that commanded too much respect to admit of curiosity, silently withdrew.
The bright sun shone as calmly down next morning over wreck and ruin as though no sorrowing heart, mourning over lost homes and lost possessions, were there to welcome him. It shone, also, on the pale, peaceful features of the dead. There was a corpse in the little village: the noble stranger of the night before had committed suicide! He had come to The Inn' only the evening before, and the landlord had found him next morning lying back in an easy chair beside the window, with his face up-turned to the silent sky — dead ! Shot through the head by his own hand! The powerless hand, small and delicate as a woman's, had fallen over the arm of the chair, and the revolver lay on the floor by his