Page images
PDF
EPUB

XXVI.

SUNSET PICTURES.

[graphic]

HE Bryer mansion and its immediate acres occupied the flat crown of Chestnut Hill. To the west began a gentle slope into a wide, undulating vale, robed with the varied green of forest, field, and meadow, and jeweled with tiny sheets and threads of water. On the brow of

this slope was a great, rough, irregular mass of rock, with mosses and ferns clinging to its sides' and a thrifty young oak rooted in a seam at its top; under whose boughs we sat down to view the marvelous pictures that sun and cloud were jointly making. Overhead the sky was clear and rosy. To the right, large masses of cloud were rolling up,-their bossy fronts ruddy with the sun-glow, but stretching far back, dense, sombre and threatening. In the western horizon the sun hung low-a bloodred ball of fire. Just beneath him, within a hand-breadth, as it seemed, of the horizon's rim, stretched a long, narrow line of cloud, straight and black and sharp as if drawn with ink. Toward this the sun was slowly descending.

"How strange," said Carrie Thorne, suddenly, "to think that the sun which seems-and is-setting, to us, is really rising upon another hemisphere!"

"I am better content to forget it," I answered, speaking out of an uncontrollable bitterness of heart (Ah! those wedding bells!). "To-night, it only saddens me to know

T

that other and fresher eyes discover, in the vanishing rose and gold of our sunset, the waking glory of their morning."

She looked at me with a gentle surprise. "I do not see why it should," she said, simply. "It makes me glad to think that there is morning somewhere, if not just over me." Then she went to gather some wild columbines growing in the clefts of the rock; and, lured on from one tuft of ruby-colored, honey-laden blossoms to another, disappeared from sight.

Rick had thrown himself upon the rock, a little apart; and was watching the sky in silence, with a face whose quiet gravity might have beseemed a death-bed vigil. Gifted with a quick sense of beauty, and impressionable as water, his eyes dwelt admiringly on the sunset's changeful splendors, while his mood involuntarily reflected the spirit of the hour and scene.

Meantime, the sun sank steadily. Ere long, his bright rim touched the black strip of cloud, and vanished behind it,-blotted, as it were, from the universe. The landscape shuddered, and the sky grew livid. From the dusky cloud-bastion on the right, came a low roll of thunder, as if in solemn protest. In the boughs above us, a hidden bird gave a scared, uneasy twitter; and a breeze that had slept in the tree's top since morning, woke from its long dream, and stirred, and sighed. Rick threw me an awestruck, appealing glance; as if to fill up the measure of his sombre delight with the certainty of another's sympathy; but he neither spoke nor moved. I was deeply grateful to him for his silence. At that moment, a talkative or a fidgety companion would have been intolerable.

Suddenly, a faint red gleam shot from beneath the ebony cloud; and on the instant the sun's lower rim emerged, and slowly grew upon our view. The spectacle now became wondrously and weirdly beautiful. The straight, narrow cloud drew a belt of inky blackness across the sun's

broad disc; above and below which, the uncovered portions of that luminary glowed radiantly,―two distinct hemispheres of crimson splendor. Gradually the black belt crept up; little by little, the lower hemisphere broadened; the upper one diminished; and the sun reappeared to view. Round, red, and majestic, he hung for a few moments above the horizon, bathing the earth and sky in his departing glory. Every glimpse of water became a spot of roseate sheen; every leaf and grass-blade had its face of ruddy glow and reverse of purple dusk; even the gray tints of the rock whereon we sat showed dimly through a lustrous, rosy veil. Thus regal, calm, and glorious, the sun sank finally from sight,

"Beautiful! beautiful!" exclaimed Rick, drawing a long breath, and starting up. “I never saw anything like it! And I doubt if ever I do again;-however, a single sunset like that may well suffice one for a lifetime. But I would give a good deal to know what you saw in it, Miss Frost! Something more than sun and cloud and color, I'll be bound."

Involuntarily I held out my hand to him. "Let me thank you first for keeping so still. Most people would have talked, and I could not have borne it. You shall have my thoughts gratis, since you are pleased to want anything so worthless. I was only thinking how often a human life passes suddenly behind as black and opaque a cloud as did the sun yonder; and I was wondering how many of them would partially emerge, and forever present to the mind's eye the spectacle of two hemispheres of brightness, with a black belt of sorrowful experiences and memories between them. I did not think it worth while to puzzle myself with the still harder question how few of them would ever come out wholly from the cloud, to shine in undimmed and unrestricted brightness for awhile before sinking finally into the grave."

He gave me a more penetrating look than I had thought

him capable of. "If it were my life," he said, with unwonted energy, “it should come out from the cloud! It should come forth radiant, not to sink into the grave, but to make a new morning for the new sky and the new earth that are waiting for it."

I drew back, with a subtle, intuitive impression of some latent meaning in his words,-felt, but not understood. He paused for a moment, and then went on, more slowly, but in a tone expressive of even deeper feeling. "Do not forget what Carrie said just now, that the sun which is setting to one, is rising to another; and try to derive a little cheer from the reflection that, in human life also, joy often begins to rise in the very spot where, from one point of view, he seems to have set forever."

Both truth and comfort were in his words, if I could have stopped to take them. But I passed them over unheeding, intent only upon detecting and defining that other suspicious, elusive ingredient; which, however, continually escaped from my crucible of thought in formless, intangible vapor. A loud peal of thunder startled me in the midst of the attempt. Rick and I looked round simultaneously. Behind us stretched a dense, dull gray canopy of clouds, lit up, for an instant, with the vivid glare of lightning; a chill, sullen wind breathed drearily in our faces; and two meadows beyond, between us and the house, we could see and hear distinctly the heavy march of

the rain.

"So that's what the clouds have been up to in our rear, while we were busy with those in front!" said Rick, with undisguised vexation. "A very well executed flank movement, it must be acknowledged! But an exceedingly unhandsome trick on the part of the elements, nevertheless. What has Carrie done with herself, I wonder?"

"I suppose we are to run for it," said I, gathering up my skirt, preparatory to flight. But Rick stopped me. "It won't do," said he, decisively. "You will run

straight into the rain, and your discomfort in being soaked will not be mitigated by the consideration that you are 'neither sugar nor salt'-except in a figurative sense. There is a hole under the rock-a cave, if you like that better-where I have found shelter from many a shower, in my boyhood; and it is large enough to hold us all, if I remember right. At all events, it is our only chance of escape. This way-the path is a little rough-let me help you down."

I hesitated. The "hole under the rock" had not an inviting sound. Besides, I had no mind to seek its shelter until I was certain of Carrie's company.

"I beg your pardon," said Rick, a little impatiently, fairly lifting me from the rock on which I stood to the one below, "but I see that I must take the matter into my own hands, if you are not to get wet; and I do not propose that you shall, under my charge. There is a raindrop, now! And there is Carrie down below-all in good time! Run, Carrie, for the oven,'"-raising his voice, and accompanying the injunction with an expressive gesture.

She nodded, and darted around the corner of the rock. At sight of her and the raindrops, my hesitation vanished, and I followed with alacrity. We were soon in the cave,an oven-shaped cavity formed by the overlapping of the rocks. Its ceiling was only just high enough to admit of our sitting upright; but the lateral space was ample. It was beginning to be dusky, of course; though the opening faced the western sky, and would catch its latest gleam. An hour passed swiftly enough. There was even a degree of enjoyment in our situation. Almost any event which transcends ordinary rules a little, without violating them, is a pleasant break in a monotonous life.

Moreover, circumstances like these give a strong impetus to acquaintance. Barriers of strangeness, of reserve, of shyness, melt down insensibly. Rick, Carrie, and I, were soon talking together with much of the ease and con

« PreviousContinue »