Page images
PDF
EPUB

Warren lifted his head, and listened with an attention that never wavered throughout. I was so interested myself, that the announcement of the two-hundred-and-fifth hymn came upon me with startling unexpectedness.

I might say, with almost perfect truth, that I did not know there was such a hymn in the prayer-book; for I had never before read it with any attention, nor known of its exquisite fitness for an occasion like the present. I just glanced over the words, and a thrill went through and through me. By the time Ruth Winnot had finished her small prelude, I was nearly unconscious of accordeon, accompaniment, helpers, or hearers,—of everything, save the wonderful power and adaptation of the words I was to sing, and the mighty swell of a musical inspiration such as I never felt before, and do not expect to feel again. I began in a full, clear, recitative style, that filled the little church like a sea, and quenched every stir and rustle below. At the third line, Alice's small voice dropped out entirely, and her head went down on the book-ledge before her, trembling with emotion. The bass being both smooth and sympathetic, kept along well; the tenor,-uncertain what I might, or might not, do next,-sang in subdued, and consequently, more musical tones; and Ruth played like one doubly inspired-from without and within. When I came to the words,

"So blooms the human face divine,

When youth its pride of beauty shows,"

Mr. Warren faced square about, totally unmindful of custom or comment, and fixed his piercing eyes on my face. His intent gaze only deepened and quickened the electrical current that had already made me aware of the entire sympathy of all my auditors, and I sang on with added power and fervor. The mournful sentiment of the next verse wailed itself forth in slow, soft, sombre tones, that Alice heard with an accompaniment of long-drawn, smothered sobs;

"The fading glory disappears,

The short-lived beauties die away."

The next verse began to swell with the joy of heavenly hope and faith; but I reserved the full power of my voice to roll out the last like a stately anthem of praise,—

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Mr. Warren kept his position for some seconds, after the last tone died away; then dropped heavily into his seat. For him, I suspect, the service was over. Certainly, he gave little heed to the prayers which followed; neither, if the truth must be told, did I. The confusion and the fatigue of reaction came upon me powerfully; I leaned my head against a pillar, and knew nothing save that I had been in a state of superhuman exaltation, and that it had left me very humanly weary.

When the benediction was pronounced, Ruth Winnot turned a wet and working face toward me. "Miss Frost, I shall never sing again," she said, mournfully.

"Indeed, why not?" I responded, only half-roused to intelligence.

"I can never sing like that, and nothing less could satisfy me now,"-with a half-sob.

"Miss Winnot," I returned, earnestly, “your voice, naturally, is worth a dozen of mine; there are possibilities lurking within it, to which mine could never, by any possi bility, attain. The effect that I have produced on you today is partly owing to the cultivation my voice has received, and partly borrowed from the emotional excitement of the occasion. Your fingers felt it as much as my voice. If you could put the same soul into an organ as you did into that accordeon just now, the musical world would fall down and worship you."

Bona whis

She shook her head sadly, unconvinced. pered softly into my ear, and I made a sudden resolution.

An opportunity was now given to friends and neighbors to take a last look at features shortly to vanish, for all time, from the eyes and the places that had known them; of which, it seemed to me, everybody took advantage, except Ruth Winnot, who remained in her seat, silent, and, apparently, suffering.

The mourners went last. Mrs. Warren gave her child one long, lingering, ineffably tender look; and turned away, never once losing her self-control. It was plain to see, however, that her face was so calm only because her grief had sunk so deep down into her heart; as the bosom of a lake is smooth and silent over the mournfullest secret of its depths. But the father, utterly regardless of obser vation and the lapse of time, hung over the lovely face as if he would never consent to part with it. Twice the undertaker laid his hand on his arm, and sought to draw him away, and twice he shook it off, with a sound like a subdued growl. Suddenly he stood upright, glared around him like a wild thing, and marched quickly down the aisle. Mrs. Warren hastened after, and took his arm; I suspect she was afraid he would go straight home in a fit of sorrow. ful abstraction.

XIV.

DUST TO DUST.

OTWITHSTANDING the mournfulness of the occasion, that afternoon ride has a kind of glory in my memory, mainly attributable, I imagine, to the genial influences of the balmy June weather; the really fine days of which month are the most perfect that the year vouchsafes us. A little too warm in the sun,

perhaps, yet only enough so to assure us that that luminary was in a lavish and beneficent mood;neither intent on restricting his life-giving warmth to a bare sufficiency for one's needs; nor engaged in a malicious experiment how much of it human flesh and blood could endure without broiling. And in the shade, the atmosphere was full of a primal freshness, as if it had just been created,-which it was enough of delight merely to breathe and taste.

The graveyard was about two miles away. The road thither wound through a pleasant variety of New England scenery, wherein the tamest objects had a semi-wild look, as if but half-subordinated to civilization, and ready, at any moment, to lapse back into savagery, which was not without its charm. Every farm had its ledges, thickets, swamps, and outlying wastes, covered with rambling, untutored vegetation; alternating with green meadows and fertile fields, and mingling a spice of rudeness with the gentler

traits of the scene. Tiny lakelets smiled and scintillated in the valleys; here and there a late-blooming apple-tree scattered the fragrant snow of its petals over a green hillside. Overhead, arched a sky without a cloud; depth be yond depth of illimitable, dazzling blue. And the quietude was perfect, though a quietude so voiceful! Sweetened only-not disturbed-by twitterings of birds and dreamy hum of insects, soft whisperings of leaves and babblings of wayside brooks.

Through all this light and glow, this warm color and various melody, this fresh, joyous, abundant life, the funeral procession, with its hearse and coffin and mourners, crept like a black, devouring shadow. A sorrowful enough sight, at best, with its hard realities of human waste and woe; but how immitigably bitter to all such as are insensible to the comfort breathed through the inspired declaration,"That which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die!" For one miserable moment, I tried to identify my mind with Mr. Warren's, and look at the landscape through his eyes. It was as if I had viewed it through a smokeblackened glass. Without the hope of a Perfect Day yet to dawn, through whose splendor no funeral train shall march, all the glory of the opening June seemed but a hollow mockery of joy, beside that trailing shadow of death and gloom.

The burial ground occupied the rounded summit and slope of a hill, by the roadside. It was a stony, barren spot enough, notwithstanding that a few daisies and thistles did their small best to make it beautiful;-obviously, the founders thereof had not thought it worth while to waste any soil capable of a present yield of grain-sheaves, upon the prospect of the future harvest of immortality. There was a sufficiently abundant crop of grave-stones, however; which stony outgrowth was to be found in every stage of freshness and decay,-from the disagreeably new, sharpcut, white, modern monument, to dark, time-graven, moss

« PreviousContinue »