Page images

waves were smooth, their long golden lines stretched clear across the harbor: when it was windy, they were broken into a thousand fragments. It was the custom then for the bells to ring every night at nine o'clock. The bells of the city began, and before they ceased, they were joined by those of the town opposite. There is something weird in the sound of a bell at night, and it always moves me strangely. It was sweet to sit at the window and hear the rich clangor of the city bells, softened and mellowed by distance, stealing over the dark water, and dying away in the dewy air. Peal followed peal, slowly and solemnly, stately mourners at the funeral of Music. The music was not of the earth, but of the air-the winds-the clouds. It seemed to me the music of the spheres.

I buried my face in my hands, and leaned my head on the windowsill, and dreamed dreams, and saw sights. Sun-set was my dreamhour, when I was a child: like secret writing held before a flame, my nature was revealed by its dying fires. In youth and manhood, I read the cipher of my soul at night. Its darkness was my light. My nature broadened and deepened. I discovered in it powers which I had not dreamed of before: new and strange feelings-mysterious and unearthly thoughts. I seemed to expand, and to pervade the room. I floated in the still night-air. I brooded on the dark water. I rose up to the stars. I knit my brow and closed my eyes; and, striving to concentrate my mind, the blank of my thought slowly became a face! It was as if the invisible moisture that fills the air should gradually become a mist, and then a cloud; or as if the light should gather and orb itself into a star. The face was vague and undefined, rather a dream of a face than a reality: still it was real to me. Was it the memory of a face that I had seen, or the hope of a face that I was to see?

I remember the time when I first beheld that face. It was in summer, and I stood in an old wagon in front of my grand-father's house. I saw the sky over my head as I had never seen it before. I heard the sound of voices in-doors, and caught a glimpse of a face at the window. The face was a picture, the voice an echo. The sky was, I knew not what, perhaps GOD! The universe seemed to stand still, to give me an opportunity of looking into my being. A moment, and the divine chance was past: my eyes were sealed again. The face was gone: the voice was heard no more!

Not far from my home in the city stood an ancient Episcopal church. It was probably named after some saint in the calendar, and known to the goodly as Saint Jude's, or Saint John's: but to the majority of the citizens it was merely the Seven Bells. It had seven great bells, and they were known the country over. On Sabbath mornings they lifted up their sonorous voices, and poured a seven-fold peal from the ivied belfry. They were sweet-toned, and in perfect tune; and the sexton, or whoever played upon them, was a rare musician. He never seemed to ring them loudly, yet we always heard them distinctly, even when the neighboring bells

were loudest. Their soft, low voices filled the pauses of the brazen anthem, and soared divinely above the tempest of sound. It was a delight to sit at my front-window and hearken to their Sabbath chime, watching the while the church-going crowd below. I had read in an old school-book the story of an Italian bell-founder, who died in exile, in a foreign land, within the sound of some bells that he had cast. The story was nothing, but there were four lines of poetry in it which sang themselves in my memory whenever the seven bells rang. They were these:

'THOSE evening bells, those evening bells,
How many a tale their music tells,

Of youth, and home, and that sweet time
When last I heard their soothing chime!'

In a

Hearkening to the seven bells one balmy Sabbath morning, a sudden impulse seized me to go to church. I dressed myself in my best clothes, and joining the multitude in the street, in a short time arrived at the old church. The bells ceased ringing as I crossed the threshold. While I waited for the sexton to show me a seat, my eye roamed over the dusky interior. The pews were already filled. A dim light struggling through the long windows, lay in squares across the sombre aisles. Over the windows which ran nearly up to the ceiling, were the heads of cherubim and seraphim. The rector sat in the pulpit, looking over his sermon. minute the sexton led me to a pew under the left gallery. I was hardly seated when the organ opened the morning service, rolling its heavy base through the trembling pile. It was as if a river of thunder were slowly rising, flowing along the aisles, and eddying around the pillars, mounting higher and higher, until it reached the roof, and drowned the whole building. The voices of the choir were heard at intervals, battling with the noisy waves. I folded my hands, and gave myself up to the music, which bore me along on its bosom, I knew not whither.

After the morning prayers were read, the minister began his discourse. It was one of a series based on the text: 'What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'. Commencing, as I did, in the middle of the series, I had but a dim idea of the plan and unity of the whole: but what I had heard interested me greatly, not only for its beautiful ethics, but for its strangeness and novelty. The minister of the Seven Bells, I afterward learned, was a remarkable man. A profound theologian, he held the dogmas of theology in contempt: of the purest morals, and rigidly ascetic in his life, he was tolerant of the sins of others. He could beat a dialectician with his own weapons, and suit himself to the meanest understanding. He was as wise as a serpent, and as harmless as a dove. His scholarship was great, in all departments of knowledge, ranging from the spiritualism of Swedenborg to the materialism of the physical philosophers. He studied man's physical nature and needs, as well as his spiritual ones: he gave the poor food and clothing before he gave them tracts. 'We

must save their bodies,' he would say, 'before we can save their souls.'

His sermon that day was on the nature and essence of the soul. He adverted to his sermon of the previous Sabbath, in which he dissected, so to speak, man's body; and then examined the doctrine of the materialists, who maintain the soul to be the result of his organization. Seeming to admit the truth of that icy creed, he ended by proving it a lie the invention of the enemy of souls. He analyzed the instinct of the animals, and compared it with the reason of men; showed its limited range, and its radical difference from thought; and glanced at the phenomena of Mind, in its various manifestations. The substance of his discourse, as I have stated it here, wrongs the discourse itself sadly: from my resumé the reader may conclude it to have been metaphysical and obscure; but it was not. It was remarkably clear and simple. He was a perfect master of his subject; and, for the time, he made his hearers masters also. Forgetting his process of reasoning, they could not forget his deductions. When he taught them most, he appeared to teach them nothing which they did not already know. He made them know themselves.

[ocr errors]

"What shall it profit a man,' he said, repeating his text, like a refrain: What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? But before a man can lose his soul, he must first find it. For he cannot lose what he does not possess. It is a common belief that all men have souls. I shall not controvert it. What I insist upon is this: that, soul or no soul before, there is a period in the life of man when his soul reveals itself to him; when he no longer guesses, or believes, that it exists, but knows and possesses the bright stranger. How many here,' said he, casting his eyes over the congregation, 'how many here today have found their souls?'

His doctrine was new and strange; yet it bore on its face the authentic seal of truth.

'Have you found your soul?' asked he, addressing an imaginary person in the church. I put the same question to myself; and lifting up my eyes, I saw in the opposite gallery a face that startled me. It seemed to me that I had seen it before; but where, I knew not. I gazed, at it steadfastly and silently, and wondering where I could have seen it, unconsciously recalled my nightly dreams. I sat again at my back-window, and looked out on the dark water. I heard the clangor of bells, and saw in the heaven of thought a mysterious face. It was the face before me! Nor did I merely see a face, but a form; the beautiful form of a woman. She was in the front seat of the right gallery, directly opposite the pew in which I sat. The gallery was dusk at the time, so dusk that I could scarcely see the faces of the congregation there; nor had I seen hers, but for a window, whose half-opened blinds let in a stream of religious light. It poured in from the upper half of the blind, I remember, and, passing over the heads of those behind her, fell around her in a golden shower. She was dressed in white,

neatly and simply, and her bonnet was off. Her hair fell down her neck in ringlets, and the ringlets glistened and threw out a halo. Her brow was high and pale, a dome of meditation and thought. Her face was pale, very pale; but some unwonted emotion had slightly flushed it. Her eyes were closed; her lips moved, as if in prayer. 'Pray for me, sweet one,' I murmured: 'oh! pray for me.' She hearkened a moment to my whispered words, and then her lips moved again. I clasped my hands, and prayed with her. 'Have you found your soul yet?' inquired the rector solemnly. His question thrilled me like a voice from heaven. I coupled it with the woman before me, and shuddering with awe and ecstasy, I shouted, 'I have found her!' and sank back in a swoon. When I came to myself, she stood beside me. I stared at her wildly, caught her hand and pressed it to my lips, and allowed her to lead me away like a child.

I kept a firm hold of her arm as we walked through the streets, for I was fearful of losing her in the crowd.

[ocr errors]

'I am better now,' I said at length, and able, I think, to find my way alone. Instead of your going with me to my house, I will go with you to yours. Show me the way.'

'At present, our ways are the same,' she said with a smile.

'I am glad of that,' I answered warmly, pressing her arm to my breast.

[ocr errors]

And I, too,' she replied, casting her eyes on the ground.

We walked in silence until we reached my home.

'I live here,' I said.

'And I, too.'

It was even so.

Elma dwelt in the same house with me, and I

knew it not. How blind I had been!

I look back upon this part of my life with a sweet but melancholy joy. I would fain describe the growth of my love for Elma: how it flashed up in my heart like an electric fire when I saw her in the church: how it broadened and deepened, filling my life with light and music and beauty: but, alas! my words are weak. They refuse to bear the burden of memory, even when that burden is a perfect bliss!

I was no longer the man that I had been. A change had come over me, or over the world and men. I walked the world like one in a dream. I was in a new world; a brighter and better world than the old creation of my childhood. Unknown to myself, I had drawn gradually near it, step by step approaching its shining borders, when suddenly there came an angel to me, and in a moment I was in Paradise! Old things had passed away, and all things had become new.

I loved!

What a heaven lies in that little word LOVE! It is unfathomable: it cannot be defined. It is too noble for words: its subtle essence escapes even the clutch of Thought. We feel it, but we cannot describe it. The inspiration of poets for thousands of years, it flies their sweetest songs. The spices and the sepulchre are

there, but the LORD is flown. But I will not rhapsodize. It is enough to say I loved.

[ocr errors]

The Providence which had thrown me in Elma's way was kinder to us than to most lovers; for after we had once met, we were seldom parted. We met as strangers; but we did not part as such. We were friends the moment we met; old friends, it seemed. The friendship between us was of ancient date. Our love was not so much a new bond, as the renewal of an old one. It was the most natural thing in the world that we should meet and love, as we did the wonder was, that we had not met and loved before. We compared our recollections of childhood, and I was amazed at their many resemblances. Elma, I gathered from her conversation, had been in the village where I was born, and knew all its localities. In certain moods she had a singular gift of memory; a magnetic power over the Past. I have heard her describe in trances the landscape of my childhood, grouping scene after scene on a mental canvas, painting with words as picturesquely as an artist with colors. I have known her to repeat my very thoughts. 'I know your secrets,' she would sometimes say; 'you cannot hide them from me.'

Elma and I were seldom apart. Sometimes she would come and sit in my room, and read to me; but oftener I went to her chamber, and feasted my eyes with her beauty. I have watched her for hours in silence, scarcely breathing, hanging on her lightest look. I loved to sit at her feet, and feel her fingers on my throbbing brow. Her white hand fell upon me like a benediction from GOD. The walls of her chamber were the boundaries of my world. I could have been content to live there forever.

'In this little room,' said I one day to her, 'you and I sit and love. Beneath and around us lies the city: houses that shut out the light of heaven, and stony streets where the noises of life roar. Men and women go to-and-fro on their earthly errands, wasting the golden moments of the never-returning day. But we, dear Elma, are wiser; we are happy in each other's arms. You push the dark hair from my eyes, and press your lips to my forehead; I gaze in your eyes, and dream of heaven. Pass on, ye crowds, pass on! we have no business to transact with you. Your aims and interests are not ours. You work for bread, and gold, and power. We only live for love.

The chimes of the seven bells summoned us to the old church every Sabbath morning. Apart from its sacred character, it was dear to us, because it was there that we first met. Elma would tap on my door at day-break, and I would rise and dress myself, and read the morning-prayer in the stillness of my chamber. Though I have long ceased to pray, I love to recall those solemn seasons of prayer. They lifted me above the Earth and Time. I seemed to knock at the gate of Heaven, and the LORD of Heaven seemed to answer me.

At last we were married.

We plighted our faith one beautiful spring night, under a whole

« PreviousContinue »