The Book of Memory by T. S. Arthur
"THERE is a book of record in your mind, Edwin," said an old man to
his young friend, "a book of record, in which every act of your life
is noted down. Each morning a blank page is turned, on which the
day's history is written in lines that cannot be effaced. This book
of record is your memory; and, according to what it bears, will your
future life be happy or miserable. An act done, is done forever; for,
the time in which it is done, in passing, passes to return no more.
The history is written and sealed up. Nothing can ever blot it out.
You may repent of evil, and put away the purpose of evil from your
heart; but you cannot, by any repentance, bring back the time that is
gone, nor alter the writing on the page of memory. Ah! my young
friend, if I could only erase some pages in the book of my memory,
that almost daily open themselves before the eyes of my mind, how
thankful I would be! But this I cannot do. There are acts of my life
for which repentance only avails as a process of purification and
preparation for a better state in the future; it in no way repairs
wrong done to others. Keep the pages of your memory free from blots,
Edwin. Guard the hand writing there as you value your best and highest
Edwin Florence listened, but only half comprehended what was said
by his aged friend. An hour afterwards he was sitting by the side of a
maiden, her hand in his, and her eyes looking tenderly upon his face.
She was not beautiful in the sense that the world regards beauty. Yet,
no one could be with her an hour without perceiving the higher and
truer beauty of a pure and lovely spirit. It was this real beauty of
character which had attracted Edwin Florence; and the young girl's
heart had gone forth to meet the tender of affection with an impulse
"You love me, Edith?" said Edwin, in a low voice, as he bent
nearer, and touched her pure forehead with his lips.
"As my life," replied the maiden, and her eyes were full of love as
Again the young man kissed her.
In low voices, leaning towards each other until the breath of each
was warm on the other's cheek, they sat conversing for a long time.
Then they separated; and both were happy. How sweet were the maiden's
dreams that night, for, in every picture that wandering fancy drew,
was the image of her lover!
Daily thus they met for a long time. Then there was a change in
Edwin Florence. His visits were less frequent, and when he met the
young girl, whose very life was bound up in his, his manner had in it
a reserve that chilled her heart as if an icy hand had been laid upon
it. She asked for no explanation of the change; but, as he grew
colder, she shrunk more and more into herself, like a flower folding
its withering leaves when touched by autumn's frosty fingers.
One day he called on Edith. He was not as cold as he had been, but
he was, from some cause, evidently embarrassed.
"Edith," said he, taking her hand—it was weeks since he had
touched her hand except in meeting and parting—"I need not say how
highly I regard you. How tenderly I love you, even as I could love a
pure and gentle sister. But—"
He paused, for he saw that Edith's face had become very pale; and
that she rather gasped for air than breathed.
"Are you sick?" he asked, in a voice of anxiety.
Edith was recovering herself.
"No," she replied, faintly.
A deep silence, lasting for the space of nearly half a minute,
followed. By this time the maiden, through a forced effort, had
regained the command of her feelings. Perceiving this, Edwin
"As I said, Edith, I love you as I could love a pure and gentle
sister. Will you accept this love? Will you be to me a friend—a
Again there passed upon the countenance of Edith a deadly palor;
while her lips quivered, and her eyes had a strange expression. This
soon passed away, and again something of its former repose was in her
face. At the first few words of Florence, Edith withdrew the hand he
had taken. He now sought it again, but she avoided the contact.
"You do not answer me, Edith," said the young man.
"Do you wish an answer?" This was uttered in a scarcely audible
"I do, Edith," was the earnest reply. "Let there be no separation
between us. You are to me what you have ever been, a dearly prized
friend. I never meet you that my heart does not know an impulse for
good—I never think of you but—"
"Let us be as strangers!" said Edith, rising abruptly. And turning
away, she fled from the room.
Slowly did the young man leave the apartment in which they were
sitting, and without seeing any member of the family, departed from
the house. There was a record on his memory that time would have no
power to efface. It was engraved too deeply for the dust of years to
obliterate. As he went, musing away, the pale face of Edith was
before him; and the anguish of her voice, as she said, "Let us be as
strangers," was in his ears. He tried not to see the one, nor hear
the other. But that was impossible. They had impressed themselves
into the very substance of his mind.
Edwin Florence had an engagement for that very evening. It was with
one of the most brilliant, beautiful, and fascinating women he had
ever met. A few months before, she had crossed his path, and from
that time he was changed towards Edith. Her name was Catharine
Linmore. The earnest attentions of Florence pleased her, and as she
let the pleasure she felt be seen, she was not long in winning his
heart entirely from his first love. In this, she was innocent; for
she knew nothing of the former state of his affections towards Edith.
After parting with Edith, Edwin had no heart to fulfill his
engagement with Miss Linmore. He could think of nothing but the
maiden he had so cruelly deserted; and more than half repented of
what he had done. When the hour for the appointment came, his mind
struggled awhile in the effort to obtain a consent to go, and then
decided against meeting, at least on that occasion, the woman whose
charms had led him to do so great a wrong to a loving and confiding
heart. No excuse but that of indisposition could be made, under the
circumstances; and, attempting to screen himself, in his own
estimation, from falsehood, he assumed, in his own thoughts, a mental
indisposition, while, in the billet he dispatched, he gave the idea of
bodily indisposition. The night that followed was, perhaps, the most
unhappy one the young man had ever spent. Days passed, and he heard
nothing from Edith. He could not call to see her, for she had
interdicted that. Henceforth they must be as strangers. The effect
produced by his words had been far more painful than was anticipated;
and he felt troubled when he thought about what might be their
On the fifth day, as the young man was walking with Catharine
Linmore, he came suddenly face to face with Edith. There was a change
in her that startled him. She looked at him, in passing, but gave no
signs of recognition.
"Wasn't that Miss Walter?" inquired the companion of Edwin, in a
tone of surprise.
"Yes," replied Florence.
"What's the matter with her? Has she been sick? How dreadful she
"I never saw her look so bad," remarked the young man. As they
walked along, Miss Linmore kept alluding to Edith, whose changed
appearance had excited her sympathies.
"I've met her only a few times," said she, "but I have seen enough
of her to give me a most exalted opinion of her character. Some one
called her very plain; but I have not thought so. There is something
so good about her, that you cannot be with her long without
perceiving a real beauty in the play of her countenance."
"No one can know her well, without loving her for the goodness of
which you have just spoken," said Edwin.
"You are intimate with her?"
"Yes. She has been long to me as a sister." There was a roughness
in the voice of Florence as he said this.
"She passed without recognizing you," said Miss Linmore.
"So I observed."
"And yet I noticed that she looked you in the face, though with a
cold, stony, absent look. It is strange! What can have happened to
"I have observed a change in her for some time past," Florence
ventured to say; "but nothing like this. There is something wrong."
When the time to part, with his companion came, Edwin Florence felt
a sense of relief. Weeks now passed without his seeing or hearing any
thing from Edith. During the time he met Miss Linmore frequently; and
encouraged to approach, he at length ventured to speak to her of what
was in his heart. The young lady heard with pleasure, and, though she
did not accept the offered hand, by no means repulsed the ardent
suitor. She had not thought of marriage, she said, and asked a short
time for reflection.
Edwin saw enough in her manner to satisfy him that the result would
be in his favor. This would have made him supremely happy, could he
have blotted out all recollection of Edith and his conduct towards
her. But, that was impossible. Her form and face, as he had last seen
them, were almost constantly before his eyes. As he walked the
streets, he feared lest he should meet her; and never felt pleasant
in any company until certain that she was not there.
A few days after Mr. Florence had made an offer of his hand to Miss
Linmore, and at a time when she was about making a favorable
decision, that young lady happened to hear some allusion made to
Edith Walter, in a tone that attracted her attention. She immediately
asked some questions in regard to her, when one of the persons
"Why, don't you know about Edith?"
"I know that there is a great change in her. But the reason of it I
have not heard."
"Indeed! I thought it was pretty well known that her affections had
been trifled with."
"Who could trifle with the affections of so sweet, so good a girl,"
said Miss Linmore, indignantly. "The man who could turn from her, has
no true appreciation of what is really excellent and exalted in
woman's character. I have seen her only a few times; but, often
enough to make me estimate her as one among the loveliest of our
"Edwin Florence is the man," was replied. "He won her heart, and
then turned from her; leaving the waters of affection that had flowed
at his touch to lose themselves in the sands at his feet. There must
be something base in the heart of a man who could trifle thus with
such a woman."
It required a strong effort on the part of Miss Linmore to conceal
the instant turbulence of feeling that succeeded so unexpected a
declaration. But she had, naturally, great self-control, and this
came to her aid.
"Edwin Florence!" said she, after a brief silence, speaking in a
tone of surprise.
"Yes, he is the man. Ah, me! What a ruin has been wrought! I never
saw such a change in any one as Edith exhibits. The very inspiration
of her life is gone. The love she bore towards Florence seems to have
been almost the mainspring of her existence; for in touching that the
whole circle of motion has grown feeble, and will, I fear, soon cease
"Dreadful! The falsehood of her lover has broken her heart."
"I fear that it is even so."
"Is she ill? I have not seen her for a long time," said Miss
"Not ill, as one sick of a bodily disease; but drooping about as
one whose spirits are broken, and who finds no sustaining arm to lean
upon. When you meet her, she strives to be cheerful, and appear into
rested. But the effort deceives no one."
"Why did Mr. Florence act towards her as he has done?" asked Miss
"A handsomer face and more brilliant exterior were the attractions,
I am told."
The young lady asked no more questions. Those who observed her
closely, saw the warm tints that made beautiful her cheeks grow
fainter and fainter, until they had almost entirely faded. Soon
after, she retired from the company.
In the ardor of his pursuit of a new object of affection, Edwin
Florence scarcely thought of the old one. The image of Edith was
hidden by the interposing form of Miss Linmore. The suspense
occasioned by a wish for time to consider the offer he had made, grew
more and more painful the longer it was continued. On the possession
of the lovely girl as his wife, depended, so he felt, his future
happiness. Were she to decline his offer he would be wretched. In this
state of mind, he called one day upon Miss Linmore, hoping and
fearing, yet resolved to know his fate. The moment he entered her
presence he observed a change. She did not smile; and there was
something chilling in the steady glance of her large dark eyes.
"Have I offended you?" he asked, as she declined taking his offered
"Yes," was the firm reply, while the young lady assumed a dignified
"In what?" asked Florence.
"In proving false to her in whose ears you first breathed words of
The young man started as if stung by a serpent.
"The man," resumed Miss Linmore, "who has been false to Edith
Walter, never can be true to me. I wouldn't have the affection that
could turn from one like her. I hold it to be light as the
thistle-down. Go! heal the heart you have almost broken, if,
perchance, it be not yet too late. As for me, think of me as if we
had all our lives been strangers—such, henceforth, we must ever
And saying this, Catharine Linmore turned from the rebuked and
astonished young man, and left the room. He immediately retired.
EVENING, with its passionless influences, was stealing softly down,
and leaving on all things its hues of quiet and repose. The heart of
nature was beating with calm and even pulses. Not so the heart of
Edwin Florence. It had a wilder throb; and the face of nature was not
reflected in the mirror of his feelings, He was alone in his room,
where he had been during the few hours that had elapsed since his
interview with Miss Linmore. In those few hours, Memory had turned
over many leaves of the Book of his Life. He would fain have averted
his eyes from the pages, but he could not. The record was before him,
and he had read it. And, as he read, the eyes of Edith looked into his
own; at first they were loving and tender, as of old; and then. they
were full of tears. Her hand lay, now, confidingly in his; and now it
was slowly withdrawn. She sat by his side, and leaned upon him—his
lips were upon her lips; his cheek touching her cheek; their breaths
were mingling. Another moment and he had turned from her coldly, and
she was drooping towards the earth like a tender vine bereft of the
support to which it had held by its clinging tendrils. Ah! If he could
only have shut out these images! If he could have erased the record so
that Memory could not read it! How eagerly would he have drunk of
Lethe's waters, could he have found the fabled stream!
More than all this. The rebuke of Miss Linmore almost maddened him.
In turning from Edith, he had let his heart go out towards the other
with a passionate devotion. Pride in her beauty and brilliant
accomplishments had filled his regard with a selfishness that could
ill bear the shock of a sudden repulse. Sleepless was the night that
followed; and when the morning, long looked for, broke at last, it
brought no light for his darkened spirit. Yet he had grown calmer,
and a gentle feeling pervaded his bosom. Thrown off by Miss Linmore,
his thoughts now turned by a natural impulse, as the needle, long
held by opposing attraction, turns to its polar point, again towards
Edith Walter. As he thought of her longer and longer, tenderer
emotions began to tremble in his heart. The beauty of her character
was again seen; and his better nature bowed before it once more in a
"How have I been infatuated! What syren spell has been on me!" Such
were the words that fell from his lips, marking the change in his
Days went by, and still the change went on, until the old affection
had come back; the old tender, true affection. But, he had turned
from its object—basely turned away. A more glaring light had dazzled
his eyes so that he could see, for a time, no beauty, no attraction,
in his first love. Could he turn to her again? Would she receive him?
Would she let him dip healing leaves in the waters he had dashed with
bitterness? His heart trembled as he asked these questions, for there
was no confident answer.
At last Edwin Florence resolved that he would see Edith once more,
and seek to repair the wrong done both to her and to himself. It was
three months after his rejection by Miss Linmore when he came to this
resolution. And then, some weeks elapsed before he could force himself
to act upon it. In all that time he had not met the young girl, nor
had he once heard of her. To the house of her aunt, where she resided,
Florence took his way one evening in early autumn, his heart disturbed
by many conflicting emotions. His love for Edith had come back in full
force; and his spirit was longing for the old communion.
"Can I see Miss Walter!" he asked, on arriving at her place of
"Walk in," returned the servant who had answered his summons.
Florence entered the little parlor where he had spent so many
never-to-be-forgotten hours with Edith—hours unspeakably happy in
passing, but, in remembrance, burdened with pain—and looking around
on each familiar object with strange emotions. Soon a light step was
heard descending the stairs, and moving along the passage. The door
opened, and Edith—no, her aunt—entered. The young man had risen in
the breathlessness of expectation.
"Mr. Florence," said the aunt, coldly. He extended his hand; but
she did not take it.
"How is Edith?" was half stammered.
"She is sinking rapidly," replied the aunt.
Edwin staggered back into a chair.
"Is she ill?" he inquired, with a quivering lip.
"Ill! She is dying!" There was something of indignation in the way
this was said.
"Dying!" The young man clasped his hands together with a gesture of
"How long has she been sick?" he next ventured to ask.
"For months she has been dying daily," said the aunt. There was a
meaning in her tones that the young man fully comprehended. He had
not dreamed of this.
"Can I see her?"
The aunt shook her head, as she answered,
"Let her spirit depart in peace."
"I will not disturb, but calm her spirit," said the young man,
earnestly. "Oh, let me see her, that I may call her back to life!"
"It is too late," replied the aunt. "The oil is exhausted, and
light is just departing."
Edwin started to his feet, exclaiming passionately—"Let me see
her! Let me see her!"
"To see her thus, would be to blow the breath that would extinguish
the flickering light," said the aunt. "Go home, young man! It is too
late! Do not seek to agitate the waters long troubled by your hand,
but now subsiding into calmness. Let her spirit depart in peace."
Florence sunk again into his chair, and, hiding his face with his
hands, sat for some moments in a state of a mental paralysis.
In the chamber above lay the pale, almost pulseless form of Edith.
A young girl, who had been as her sister for many years, sat holding
her thin white hand. The face of the invalid was turned to the wall.
Her eyes were closed; and she breathed so quietly that the motions of
respiration could hardly be seen. Nearly ten minutes had elapsed from
the time a servant whispered to the aunt that there was some one in
the parlor, when Edith turned, and said to her companion, in a low,
"Mr. Florence has come."
The girl started, and a flush of surprise went over her face.
"He is in the parlor now. Won't you ask him to come up?" added the
dying maiden, still speaking with the utmost composure.
Her friend stood surprised and hesitating for some moments, and
then turning away, glided from the chamber. She found the aunt and Mr.
Florence in the passage below, the latter pleading with the former
for the privilege of seeing Edith, which was resolutely denied.
"Edith wants to see Mr. Florence," said the girl, as she joined
"Who told her that he was here?" quickly asked the aunt.
"No one. I did not know it myself."
"Her heart told her that I was here," exclaimed Mr. Florence—and,
as he spoke, he glided past the aunt, and, with hurried steps,
ascended to the chamber where the dying one lay. The eyes of Edith
were turned towards the door as he entered; but no sign of emotion
passed over her countenance. Overcome by his feelings, at the sight
of the shadowy remnant of one so loved and so wronged, the young man
sunk into a chair by her side, as nerveless as a child; and, as his
lips were pressed upon her lips and cheeks, her face was wet with his
Coming in quickly after, the aunt took firmly hold of his arm and
sought to draw him away, but, in a steady voice, the invalid said—
"No—no. I was waiting for him. I have expected him for days. I
knew he would come; and he is here now."
All was silence for many minutes; and during this time Edwin
Florence sat with his face covered, struggling to command his
feelings. At a motion from the dying girl, the aunt and friend
retired, and she was alone with the lover who had been false to his
vows. As the door closed behind them, Edwin looked up. He had grown
calm. With a voice of inexpressible tenderness, he said—
"Live for me, Edith."
"Not here," was answered. "The silver chord will soon be loosened
and the golden bowl broken."
"Oh, say not that! Let me call you back to life. Turn to me again
as I have turned to you with my whole heart. The world is still
beautiful; and in it we will be happy together."
"No, Edwin," replied the dying maiden. "The history of my days here
is written, and the angel is about sealing the record. I am going
where the heart will never feel the touch of sorrow. I wished to see
you once more before I died; and you are here. I have, once more,
felt your breath upon my cheek; once more held your hand in mine. For
this my heart is grateful. You had become the sun of my life, and when
your face was turned away, the flower that spread itself joyfully in
the light, drooped and faded. And now, the light has come back again;
but it cannot warm into freshness and beauty the withered blossom."
"Oh, my Edith! Say not so! Live for me! I have no thoughts, no
affection that is not for you. The drooping flower will lift itself
again in the sunshine when the clouds have passed away."
As the young man said this, Edith raised herself up suddenly, and,
with a fond gesture, flung herself forward upon his bosom. For a few
moments her form quivered in his arms. Then all became still, and he
felt her lying heavier and heavier against him. In a little while he
was conscious that he clasped to his heart only the earthly semblance
of one who had passed away forever.
Replacing the light and faded form of her who, a little while
before, had been in the vigor of health, upon the bed, Edwin gazed
upon the sunken features for a few moments, and then, leaving a last
kiss upon her cold lips, hurried aware.
Another page in his Book of Life was written, There was another
record there from which memory, in after life, could read. And such a
record! What would he not have given to erase that page!
When the body of Edith Walter was borne to its last resting-place,
Florence was among the mourners. After looking his last look upon the
coffin that contained the body, he went away, sadder in heart than he
had ever been in his life. He was not only a prey to sadness, but to
painful self-accusation. In his perfidy lay the cause of her death. He
had broken the heart that confided in him, and only repented of his
error when it was too late to repair the ruin.
As to what was thought or said of him by others, Edwin Florence
cared but little. There was enough of pain in his own
self-consciousness. He withdrew himself from the social circle, and,
for several years, lived a kind of hermit-life in the midst of
society. But, he was far from being happy in his solitude; for Memory
was with him, and almost daily, from the Book of his Life, read to him
some darkly written page.
One day, it was three years from the time he parted with Edith in
the chamber of death, and when he was beginning to rise in a measure
above the depressing influences attendant upon that event,—he
received an invitation to make one of a social party on the next
evening. The desire to go back again in society had been gaining
strength with him for some time; and, as it had gained strength,
reason had pointed out the error of his voluntary seclusion as
unavailing to alter the past.
"The past is past," he said to himself, as he mused with the
invitation in his hand. "I cannot recall it—I cannot change it. If
repentance can in any way atone for error, surely I have made
atonement; for my repentance has been long and sincere. If Edith can
see my heart, her spirit must be satisfied. Even she could not wish
for this living burial. It is better for me to mingle in society as
Acting on this view, Florence made one on the next evening, in a
social party. He felt strangely, for his mind was invaded by old
influences, and touched by old impressions. He saw, in many a light
and airy form, as it glanced before him, the image of one long since
passed away; and heard, in the voices that filled the rooms, many a
tone that it seemed must have come from the lips of Edith. How busy
was Memory again with the past. In vain he sought to shut out the
images that arose in his mind. The page was open before him, and what
was impressed thereon he could not but see and read.
This passed, in some degree, away as the evening progressed, and he
came nearer, so to speak, to some of those who made up the happy
company. Among those present was a young lady from a neighboring
city, who attracted much attention both from her manners and person.
She fixed the eyes of Mr. Florence soon after he entered the room,
and, half unconsciously to himself, his observation was frequently
directed towards her.
"Who is that lady?" he asked of a friend, an hour after his
"Her name is Miss Welden. She is from Albany."
"She has a very interesting face," said Florence.
"And quite as interesting a mind. Miss Weldon is a charming girl."
Not long after, the two were thrown near together, when an
introduction took place. The conversation of the young lady
interested Florence, and in her society he passed half an hour most
pleasantly. While talking with more than usual animation, in lifting
his eyes he saw that some one on, the opposite side of the room was
observing him attentively. For the moment this did not produce any
effect. But, in looking up again, he saw the same eyes upon him, and
felt their expression as unpleasant. He now, for the first time,
became aware that the aunt of Edith Walter was present. She it was
who had been regarding him so attentively. From that instant his
heart sunk in his bosom. Memory's magic mirror was before him, and in
it he saw pictured the whole scene of that last meeting with Edith.
A little while afterward, and Edwin Florence was missed from the
pleasant company. Where was he? Alone in the solitude of his own
chamber, with his thoughts upon the past. Again he had been reading
over those pages of his Book of Life in which was written the history
of his intimacy with and desertion of Edith; and the record seemed as
fresh as if made but the day before. It was in vain that he sought to
close or avert his eyes. There seemed a spell upon him; and he could
only look and read.
"Fatal error!" he murmured to himself, as he struggled to free
himself from his thraldom to the past. "Fatal error! How a single act
will curse a man through life. Oh! if I could but extinguish the whole
of this memory! If I could wipe out the hand-writing. Sorrow,
repentance, is of no avail. The past is gone for ever. Why then
should I thus continue to be unhappy over what I cannot alter? It
avails nothing to Edith. She is happy—far happier than if she had
remained on this troublesome earth."
But, even while he uttered these words, there came into his mind
such a realizing sense of what the poor girl must have suffered, when
she found her love thrown back upon her, crushing her heart by its
weight, that he bowed his head upon his bosom and in bitter
self-upbraidings passed the hours until midnight, when sleep locked
up his senses, and calmed the turbulence of his feelings.
MONTHS elapsed before Edwin Florence ventured again into company.
"Why will you shut yourself up after this fashion?" said an
acquaintance to him one day. "It isn't just to your friends. I've
heard half a dozen persons asking for you lately. This hermit life
you are leading is, let me tell you, a very foolish life."
The friend who thus spoke knew nothing of the young man's heart
"No one really misses me," said Florence, in reply.
"In that you are mistaken," returned the friend. "You are missed. I
have heard one young lady, at least, ask for you of late, more than a
"Indeed! A _young_ lady?"
"Yes; and a very beautiful young lady at that."
"In whose eyes can I have found such favor?"
"You have met Miss Clara Weldon?"
"That is all."
"Then it must be a case of love at first sight—at least on the
lady's part—for Miss Weldon has asked for you, to my knowledge, not
less than a dozen times."
"I am certainly flattered at the interest she takes in me."
"Well you may be. I know more than one young man who would
sacrifice a good deal to find equal favor in her eyes. Now see what
you have lost by this hiding of your countenance. And you are not the
Florence, who was more pleased at what he heard than he would like
to have acknowledged, promised to come forth from his hiding place
and meet the world in a better spirit. And he did so; being really
drawn back into the social circle by the attraction of Miss Weldon.
At his second meeting with this young lady he was still more charmed
with her than at first; and she was equally well pleased with him. A
few more interviews, and both their hearts were deeply interested.
Now there came a new cause of disquietude to Edwin; or, it might be
said, the old cause renewed. The going out of his affections towards
Miss Weldon revived the whole memory of the past; and, for a time he
found it almost impossible to thrust it from his mind. While sitting
by her side and listening to her voice, the tones of Edith would be
in his ears; and, often, when he looked into her face he would see
only the fading countenance of her who had passed away. This was the
first state, and it was exceedingly painful while it lasted. But, it
gradually changed into one more pleasant, yet not entirely free from
the unwelcome intrusion of the past.
The oftener Florence and Miss Weldon met, the more strongly were
their hearts drawn toward each other; and, at length, the former was
encouraged to make an offer of his hand. In coming to this
resolutions, it was not without passing through a painful conflict.
As his mind dwelt upon the subject, there was a reproduction of old
states. Most vividly did he recall the time when he breathed into the
ears of Edith vows to which he had proved faithless. He had, it is
true, returned to his first allegiance. He had laid his heart again at
her feet; but, to how little purpose! While in this state of
agitation, the young man resolved, more than once, to abandon his suit
for the hand of Miss Weldon, and shrink back again into the seclusion
from which he had come forth. But, his affection for the lovely girl
was too genuine to admit of this. When he thought of giving her up,
his mind was still more deeply disturbed.
"Oh, that I could forget!" he exclaimed, while this struggle was in
progress. "Of what avail is this turning over of the leaves of a long
passed history? I erred—sadly erred! But repentance is now too late.
Why, then should my whole existence be cursed for a single error? Ah,
me! thou not satisfied, departed one? Is it, indeed, from the presence
of thy spirit that I am troubled? My heart sinks at the thought. But
no, no! Thou wert too good to visit pain upon any; much less upon one
who, thou false to thee, thou didst so tenderly love."
But, upon this state there came a natural re-action. A peaceful
calm succeeded the storm. Memory deposited her records in the mind's
dimly lighted chambers. To the present was restored its better
"I am free again," was the almost audible utterance, of the young
man, so strong was his sense of relief.
An offer of marriage was then made to Miss Weldon. Her heart
trembled with joy when she received it. But confiding implicitly in
her uncle, who had been for the space of ten years her friend and
guardian, she could not give an affirmative reply until his approval
was gained. She, therefore, asked time for reflection and
consultation with her friend.
Far different from what Florence had expected, was the reception of
his offer. To him, Miss Weldon seemed instantly to grow cold and
reserved. Vividly was now recalled his rejection by Miss Linmore, as
well as the ground of her rejection.
"Is this to be gone over again?" he sighed to himself, when alone
once more, "Is that one false step never to be forgotten nor
forgiven? Am I to be followed, through life, by this shadow of evil?"
To no other cause than this could the mind of Florence attribute
the apparent change and hesitation in Clara Weldon.
Immediately on receiving an offer of marriage, Miss Weldon returned
to Albany. Before leaving, she dropped Florence a note, to the
effect, that he should hear from her in a few days. A week passed,
but the promised word came not. It was, now plain that the friends of
the young lady had been making inquiries about him, and were in
possession of certain facts in his life, which, if known, would
almost certainly blast his hopes of favor in her eyes. While in this
state of uncertainty, he met the aunt of Edith, and the way she
looked at him, satisfied his mind that his conjectures were true. A
little while after a friend remarked to him casually—
"I saw Colonel Richards in town to-day."
"Colonel Richards! Miss Weldon's uncle?"
"Yes. Have you seen him?"
"No. I have not the pleasure of an acquaintance."
"Indeed! I thought you knew him. I heard him mention your name this
"What had he to say of me?"
"Let me think. Oh! He asked me if I knew you."
"I said that I did, of course and that you were a pretty clever
fellow; though you had been a sad boy in your time."
The face of Florence instantly reddened.
"Why, what's the matter? Oh I understand now! That little niece of
his is one of your flames. But come! Don't take it so to heart. Your
chances are one in ten, I have no doubt. By the way, I haven't seen
Clara for a week. What has become of her? Gone back to Albany, I
suppose. I hope you haven't frightened her with an offer. By the way,
let me whisper a word of comfort in your ear. I heard her say that she
didn't believe in any thing but first love; and, as you are known to
have had half a dozen sweethearts, more or less, and to have broken
the hearts of two or three young ladies, the probability is, that you
won't be able to add her to tie number of your lady loves."
All this was mere jesting; but the words, though uttered in jest,
fell upon the ears of Edwin Florence with all the force of truth.
"Guilty, on your own acknowledgment," said the friend, seeing the
effect of his words. "Better always to act fairly in these matters of
the heart, Florence. If we sow the wind, we will be pretty sure to
reap the whirlwind. But come; let me take you down to the Tremont, and
introduce you to Colonel Richards. I know he will be glad to make your
acquaintance, and will, most probably, give you an invitation to go
home with him and spend a week. You can then make all fair with his
"I have no wish to make his acquaintance just at this time,"
returned Florence; "nor do I suppose he cares about making mine,
particularly after the high opinion you gave him of my character."
"Nonsense, Edwin! You don't suppose I said that to him. Can't you
take a joke?"
"Oh, yes; I can take a joke."
"Take that as one, then. Colonel Richards did ask for you, however;
and said that he would like to meet you. He was serious. So come
along, and let me introduce you."
"No; I would prefer not meeting with him at this time."
"You are a strange individual."
The young men parted; Florence to feel more disquieted than ever.
Colonel Richards had been inquiring about him, and, in prosecuting
his inquiries, would, most likely, find some one inclined to relate
the story of Edith Walter. What was more natural? That story once in
the ears of Clara, and he felt that she must turn from him with a
feeling of repulsion.
Three or four days longer he was in suspense. He heard of Col.
Richards from several quarters, and, in each case when he was
mentioned, he was alluded to as making inquiries about him.
"I hear that the beautiful Miss Weldon is to be married," was said
to Florence at a time when he was almost mad with the excitement of
"Ah!" he replied, with forced calmness, "I hope she will be
successful in securing a good husband."
"So do I; for she is indeed a sweet girl. I was more than half
inclined to fall in love with her myself; and would leave done so, if
I had believed there was any chance for me."
"Who is the favored one?" asked Florence.
"I have not been able to find out. She received three or four
offers, and went back to Albany to consider them and make her
election. This she has done, I hear; and already, the happy recipient
of her favor is rejoicing over his good fortune. May they live a
thousand years to be happy with each other!"
Here was another drop of bitterness in the cup that was at the lips
of Edwin Florence. He went to his office immediately, and, setting
down, wrote thus to Clara:
"I do not wrongly interpret, I presume, a silence continued far
beyond the time agreed upon when we parted. You have rejected my
suit. Well, be it so; and may you be happy with him who has found
favor in your eyes. I do not think he can love you more sincerely
than I do, or he more devoted to your happiness than I should have
been. It would have relieved the pain I cannot but feel, if you had
deemed my offer worthy a frank refusal. But, to feel that one I have
so truly loved does not think me even deserving of this attention, is
humiliating in the extreme. But, I will not upbraid you. Farewell! May
you be happy."
Sealing Up his epistle, the young man, scarcely pausing even for
hurried reflection, threw it into the post office. This done, he sunk
into a gloomy state of mind, in which mortification and disappointment
struggled alternately for the predominance.
Only a few hours elapsed after the adoption of this hasty course,
before doubts of its propriety began to steal across his mind. It was
possible, it occurred to him, that he might have acted too
precipitately. There might be reasons for the silence of Miss Weldon
entirely separate from those he had been too ready to assume; and, if
so, how strange would his letter appear. It was too late now to recall
the act, for already the mail that bore his letter was half way from
New York to Albany. A restless night succeeded to this day. Early on
the next morning he received a letter. It was in these words—
"MY DEAR MR. FLORENCE:—I have been very ill, and to-day am able to
sit up just long enough to write a line or two. My uncle was in New
York some days ago, but did not meet with you. Will you not come up
and see me?
"Ever Yours, CLARA WELDON."
Florence was on board the next boat that left New York for Albany.
The letter of Clara was, of course, written before the receipt of his
hasty epistle. What troubled him now was the effect of this epistle on
her mind. He had not only wrongly interpreted her silence, but had
assumed the acceptance of another lover as confidently as if he knew
to an certainty that such was the case. This was a serious matter and
might result in the very thing he had been so ready to assume—the
rejection of his suit.
Arriving at length, in Albany, Mr. Florence sought out the
residence of Miss Weldon.
"Is Colonel Richards at home?" he inquired.
On being answered in the affirmative he sent up his name, with a
request to see him. The colonel made his appearance in short time. He
was a tall, thoughtful looking man, and bowed with a dignified air as
he came into the room.
"How is Miss Weldon?" asked Florence, with an eagerness he could
"Not so well this morning," replied the guardian. "She had a bad
"No wonder," thought the young man, "after receiving that letter."
"She has been. sleeping, however since daylight," added Colonel
Richards, "and that is much in her favor."
"She received my letter, I presume," said Florence, in a hesitating
"A letter came for her yesterday," was replied; "but as she was
more indisposed than usual, we did not give it to her."
"It is as well," said the young man, experiencing a sense of
An hour afterwards he was permitted to enter the chamber, where she
lay supported by pillows. One glance at her face dispelled from his
mind every lingering doubt. He had suffered from imaginary fears,
awakened by the whispers of a troubled conscience.
IN a few days Clara was well enough to leave her room, and was soon
entirely recovered from her sudden illness. That little matter of the
heart had been settled within three minutes of their meeting, and they
were now as happy as lovers usually are under such favorable
When Edwin Florence went back to New York, it was with a sense of
interior pleasure more perfect than he had experienced for years; and
this would have remained, could he have shut out the past; or, so much
of it as came like an unwelcome intruder. But, alas! this was not to
be. Even while he was bending, in spirit, over the beautiful image of
his last beloved, there would come between his eyes and that image a
pale sad face, in which reproof was stronger than affection, It was
all in vain that he sought to turn from that face. For a time it would
remain present, and then fade slowly away, leaving his heart
"Is it to be ever thus!" he would exclaim, in these seasons of
darkness. "Will nothing satisfy this accusing spirit? Edith! Dear
Edith! Art thou not among the blessed ones? Is not thy heart happy
beyond mortal conception? Then why come to me thus with those tearful
eyes, that shadowy face, those looks of reproof? Have I not suffered
enough for purification! Am I never to be forgiven?"
And then, with an effort, he would turn his eyes from the page laid
open by Memory, and seek to forget what was written there. But it
seemed as if every thing conspired to freshen his remembrance of the
past, the nearer the time approached, when by a marriage union with
one truly beloved, he was to weaken the bonds it had thrown around
him. The marriage of Miss Linmore took place a few weeks after his
engagement with Clara, and as an intimate friend led her to the
altar, he could not decline making one of the number that graced the
nuptial festivities. In meeting the young bride, he endeavored to
push from his mind all thoughts of their former relations. But she
had not done this, and her thought determined his. Her mind recurred
to the former time, the moment he came into her presence, and, of
necessity his went back also. They met, therefore, with a certain
reserve, that was to him most unpleasant, particularly as it stirred
a hundred sleeping memories.
By a strong effort, Florence was able to conceal from other eyes
much of what he felt. In doing this, a certain over action was the
consequence; and he was gayer than usual. Several times he endeavored
to be lightly familiar with the bride; but, in every instance that he
approached her, he perceived a kind of instinctive shrinking; and, if
she was in a laughing mood, when he drew near she became serious and
reserved. All this was too plain to be mistaken; and like the repeated
strokes of a hammer upon glowing iron, gradually bent his feelings
from the buoyant form they had been endeavoring to assume. The effect
was not wholly to be resisted. More than an hour before the happy
assemblage broke up, Florence was not to be found in the brilliantly
lighted rooms. Unable longer to conceal what he felt, he had retired.
For many days after this, the young man felt sober. "Why haven't
you called to see me?" asked the friend who had married Miss Linmore,
a week or two after the celebration of the nuptials.
Florence excused himself as best he could, and promised to call in
a few days. Two weeks went by without the fulfillment of his promise.
"No doubt, we shall see you next week," said the friend, meeting
him one day about this time; "though I am not so sure we will receive
your visits then."
"A certain young lady with whom, I believe, you have some
acquaintance, is to spend a short time with us."
"Who?" asked Florence, quickly.
"A young lady from Albany."
"I was not aware that she was on terms of intimacy with your wife."
"She's an old friend of mine; and, in that sense a friend of
"Then they have not met."
"Oh, yes; frequently. And are warmly attached. We look for a
pleasant visit. But, of course, we shall not expect to see you. That
"I rather think you will; that is, if your wife will admit me on
"Why do you say that?" inquired the friend, appearing a little
"I thought, on the night of your wedding, that she felt my presence
as unwelcome to her."
"And is this the reason why you have not called to see us."
"I frankly own that it is."
"Edwin! I am surprised at you. It is all a piece of imagination.
What could have put such a thing into your head?"
"It may have been all imagination. But I couldn't help feelings as
I did. However, you may expect to see me, and that, too, before Miss
"If you don't present yourself before, I am not so sure that we
will let you come afterwards," said the friend, smiling.
On the next evening the young man called. Mrs. Hartley, the bride
of his friend, endeavored to forget the past, and to receive him with
all the external signs of forgetfulness. But, in this she did not
fully succeed, and, of course, the visit of Florence was painfully
embarrassing, at least, to himself. From that time until the arrival
of Miss Weldon, he felt concerned and unhappy. That Mrs. Hartley
would fully communicate or covertly hint to Clara certain events of
his former life, he had too much reason to fear; and, were this done,
he felt that all his fond hopes would be scattered to the winds. In
due time, Miss Weldon arrived. In meeting her, Florence was conscious
of a feeling of embarrassment, never before experienced in her
presence. He understood clearly why this was so. At each successive
visit his embarrassment increased; and, the more so, from the fact
that he perceived a change in Clara ere she had been in the city a
week. As to the cause of this change, he had no doubts. It was evident
that Mrs. Hartley had communicated certain matters touching his
Thus it went on day after day, for two or three weeks, by which
time the lovers met under the influence of a most chilling constraint.
Both were exceedingly unhappy.
One day, in calling as usual, Mr. Florence was surprised to learn
that Clara had gone back to Albany.
"She said, nothing of this last night," remarked the young man to
"Her resolution was taken after you went away," was replied.
"And you, no doubt, advised the step," said Mr. Florence, with
"Why do you say that?" was quickly asked.
"How can I draw any other inference?" said the young man, looking
at her with knit brows.
"Explain yourself, Mr. Florence!"
"Do my words need explanation?"
"Undoubtedly! For, I cannot understand them."
"There are events in my past life—I will not say how bitterly
repented—of which only you could have informed her."
"What events?" calmly asked the lady.
"Why lacerate my feelings by such a question?" said Florence, while
a shadow of pain flitted over his face, as Memory presented a record
of the past.
"I ask it with no such intention. I only wish to understand you,"
replied Mrs. Hartley. "You have brought against me a vague
accusation. I wish it distinct, that I may affirm or deny it."
"Edith Walter," said Edwin Florence, in a low, unsteady voice,
after he had been silent for nearly a minute.
Mrs. Hartley looked earnestly into his face. Every muscle was
"What of her?" she inquired, in tones quite as low as those in
which the young man had spoken.
"You know the history."
"And, regardless of my suffering and repentance, made known to
Clara the blasting secret."
"No! By my hopes of heaven, no!" quickly exclaimed Mrs. Hartley.
"No?" A quiver ran through the young man's frame.
"No, Mr. Florence! That rested as silently in my own bosom as in
"Who, then, informed her?"
"Has she not heard of it?"
"Why, then, did she change towards me?"
"You changed, first, towards her."
"Yes. From the day of her arrival in New York, she perceived in you
a certain coldness and reserve, that increased with each repeated
"It is true. I saw it myself."
Florence clasped his hands together, and bent his eyes in doubt and
wonder upon the floor.
"Did she complain of coldness and change in me?" he inquired.
"Yes, often. And returned, last night, to leave you free, doubting
not that you had ceased to love her."
"Ceased to love her! While this sad work has been going on, I have
loved her with the agony of one who is about losing earth's most
precious thing. Oh! write to her for me, and explain all. How strange
has been my infatuation. Will you write for me?"
"Say that my heart has not turned from her an instant. That her
imagined coldness has made me of all men most wretched."
"I will do so. But why not write yourself?"
"It will be better to come from you. Ask her to return. I would
rather meet her here than in her uncle's house. Urge her to come
Mrs. Hartley promised to do so, according to the wish of Mr.
Florence. Two days passed, and there was no answer. On the morning of
the third day, the young man, in a state of agitation from suspense
called at the house of his friend. After sending up his name, he sat
anxiously awaiting the appearance of Mrs. Hartley. The door at length
opened, and, to his surprise and joy, Clara entered. She came forward
with a smile upon her face, extending her hand as she did so. Edwin
sprang to meet her, and catching her hand, pressed it eagerly to his
"Strange that we should have so erred in regard to each other,"
said Clara, as they sat communing tenderly. "I trust no such error
will come in the future to which I look forward with so many pleasing
"Heaven forbid!" replied the young man, seriously.
"But we are in a world of error. Ah! if we could only pass through
life without a mistake. If the heavy weight of repentance did not lie
so often and so long upon our hearts—this would be a far pleasanter
world than it is."
"Do not look so serious," remarked Clara, as she bent forward and
gazed affectionately into the young man's face. "To err is human. No
one here is perfect. How often, for hours, have I mourned over
errors; yet grief was of no avail, except to make my future more
"And that was much gained," said Florence, breathing deeply with a
sense of relief. "If we cannot recall and correct the past, we can at
least be more guarded in the future. This is the effect of my own
experience. Ah! if we properly considered the action of our present
upon the future, how guarded would we be. All actions are in the
present, and the moment they are done the present becomes the past,
over which Memory presides. What is past is fixed. Nothing can change
it. The record is in marble, to be seen in all future time."
The serious character of the interview soon changed, and the young
lovers forgot every thing in the joy of their reconciliation. Nothing
arose to mar their intercourse until the appointed time for the
nuptial ceremonies arrived, when they were united in holy wedlock.
But, Edwin Florence did not pass on to this time without another visit
from the rebuking Angel of the past. He was not permitted to take the
hand of Clara in his, and utter the words that bound him to her
forever, without a visit from the one whose heart he had broken years
before. She came to him in the dark and silent midnight, as he tossed
sleeplessly upon his bed, and stood and looked at him with her pale
face and despairing eyes, until he was driven almost to madness. She
was with him when the light of morning dawned; she moved by his side
as he went forth to meet and claim his betrothed; and was near him,
invisible to all eyes but his own, when he stood at the altar ready to
give utterance to the solemn words that bound him to his bride. And
not until these words were said, did the vision fade away.
No wonder the face of the bridegroom wore a solemn aspect as he
presented himself to the minister, and breathed the vows of eternal
fidelity to the living, while before him, as distinct as if in bodily
form, was the presence of one long since sleeping ill her grave, who
had gone down to her shadowy resting place through his infidelity.
From this time there was a thicker veil drawn over the past. The
memory of that one event grew less and less distinct; though it was
not obliterated, for nothing that is written in the Book of Life is
ever blotted out. There were reasons, even in long years after his
marriage, when the record stood suddenly before him, as if written in
words of light; and he would turn from it with a feeling of pain.
Thus it is that our present blesses or curses our future. Every act
of our lives affects the coming time for good or evil. We make our
own destiny, and make it always in the present. The past is gone, the
future is yet to come. The present only is ours, and, according to
what we do in the present, will be the records of the past and its
influence on the future. They are only wise who wisely regard their
actions in the present.
THE BRILLIANT AND THE COMMONPLACE.
DAY after day I worked at my life-task, and worked in an earnest
spirit. Not much did I seem to accomplish; yet the little that was
done had on it the impress of good. Still, I was dissatisfied,
because my gifts were less dazzling than those of which many around
me could boast. When I thought of the brilliant ones sparkling in the
firmament of literature, and filling the eyes of admiring thousands,
something like the evil spirit of envy came into my heart and threw a
shadow upon my feelings. I was troubled because I had not their gifts.
I wished to shine with a stronger light. To dazzle, as well as to warm
Not long ago, there came among us one whom nature had richly
endowed. His mind possessed exceeding brilliancy. Flashes of thought,
like lightning from summer cloud, were ever filling the air around
him. There was a stateliness in the movement of his intellect, and an
evidence of power, that oppressed you at times with wonder.
Around him gathered the lesser lights in the hemisphere of thought,
and veiled their feeble rays beneath his excessive brightness. He
seemed conscious of his superior gifts and displayed them more like a
giant beating the air to excite wonder, than putting forth his
strength to accomplish a good and noble work. Still, I was oppressed
and paralyzed by the sphere of his presence. I felt puny and weak
beside him, and unhappy because I was not gifted with equal power.
It so happened that a work of mine, upon which the maker's name was
not stamped—work done with a purpose of good—was spoken of and
praised by one who did not know me as the handicraftsman.
"It is tame, dull, and commonplace," said the brilliant one, in a
tone of contempt; and there were many present to agree with him.
Like the strokes of a hammer upon my heart, came these words of
condemnation. "Tame, dull, and commonplace!" And was it, indeed, so?
Yes; I felt that what he uttered was true. That my powers were
exceedingly limited, and my gifts few. Oh, what would I not have then
given for brilliant endowments like those possessed by him from whom
had fallen the words of condemnation?
"You will admit," said one—I thought it strange at the time that
there should be even one to speak a word in favor of my poor
performance—"that it will do good?"
"Good!" was answered, in a tone slightly touched by contempt. "Oh,
yes; it will do good!" and the brilliant one tossed his head.
"Anybody can do good!"
I went home with a perturbed spirit. I had work to do; but I could
not do it. I sat down and tried to forget what I had heard. I tried
to think about the tasks that were before me. "Tame, dull, and
commonplace!" Into no other form would my thoughts come.
Exhausted, at last, by this inward struggle, I threw myself upon my
bed, and soon passed into the land of dreams.
Dream-land! Thou art thought by many to be _only_ a land of fantasy
and of shadows. But it is not so. Dreams, for the most part, _are_
fantastic; but all are not so. Nearer are we to the world of spirits,
in sleep; and, at times, angels come to us with lessons of wisdom,
darkly veiled under similitude, or written in characters of light.
I passed into dream-land; but my thoughts went on in the same
current. "Tame, dull, and commonplace!" I felt the condemnation more
strongly than before.
I was out in the open air, and around me were mountains, trees,
green fields, and running waters; and above all bent the sky in its
azure beauty. The sun was just unveiling his face in the east, and
his rays were lighting up the dew-gems on a thousand blades of grass,
and making the leaves glitter as if studded with diamonds.
"How calm and beautiful!" said a voice near me. I turned, and one
whose days were in the "sear and yellow leaf," stood by my side.
"But all is tame and commonplace," I answered. "We have this over
and over again, day after day, month after month, and year after
year. Give me something brilliant and startling, if it be in the
fiery comet or the rushing storm. I am sick of the commonplace!"
"And yet to the commonplace the world is indebted for every great
work and great blessing. For everything good, and true, and
I looked earnestly into the face of the old man. He went on.
"The truly good and great is the useful; for in that is the Divine
image. Softly and unobtrusively has the dew fallen, as it falls night
after night. Silently it distilled, while the vagrant meteors threw
their lines of dazzling light across the sky, and men looked up at
them in wonder and admiration. And now the soft grass, the green
leaves, and the sweet flowers, that drooped beneath the fervent heat
of yesterday, are fresh again and full of beauty, ready to receive the
light and warmth of the risen sun, and expand with, a new vigor. All
this may be tame, and commonplace; but is it not a great and a good
work that has been going on?
"The tiller of the soil is going forth again to his work. Do not
turn your eyes from him, and let a feeling of impatience stir in your
heart because he is not a soldier rushing to battle, or a brilliant
orator holding thousands enchained by the power of a fervid eloquence
that is born not so much of good desires for his fellow-men as from
the heat of his own self-love. Day after day, as now, patient, and
hopeful, the husbandman enters upon the work that lies before him,
and, hand in hand with God's blessed sunshine, dews, and rain, a
loving and earnest co-laborer, brings forth from earth's
treasure-house of blessings good gifts for his fellow-men. Is all this
commonplace? How great and good is the commonplace!"
I turned to answer the old man, but he was gone. I was standing on
a high mountain, and beneath me, as far as the eye could reach, were
stretched broad and richly cultivated fields; and from a hundred
farm-houses went up the curling smoke from the fires of industry.
Fields were waving with golden grain, and trees bending with their
treasures of fruit. Suddenly, the bright sun was veiled in clouds,
that came whirling up from the horizon in dark and broken masses, and
throwing a deep shadow over the landscape just before bathed in light.
Calmly had I surveyed the peaceful scene spread out before me. I was
charmed with its quiet beauty. But now, stronger emotions stirred
"Oh, this is sublime!" I murmured, as I gazed upon the cloudy hosts
moving across the heavens in battle array.
A gleam of lightning sprang forth from a dark cavern in the sky,
and then, far off, rattled and jarred the echoing thunder. Next came
the rushing and roaring wind, bending the giant-limbed oaks as if they
were but wands of willow, and tearing up lesser trees as a child
tears up from its roots a weed or flower.
In this war of elements I stood, with my head bared, and clinging
to a rock, mad with a strange and wild delight.
"Brilliant! Sublime! Grand beyond the power of descriptions" I
said, as the storm deepened in intensity.
"An hour like this is worth all the commonplace, dull events of a
There came a stunning crash in the midst of a dazzling glare. For
some moments I was blinded. When sight was restored, I saw, below me,
the flames curling upward from a dwelling upon which the fierce
lightning had fallen.
"What majesty! what awful sublimity!" said I, aloud. I thought not
of the pain, and terror, and death that reigned in the human
habitation upon which the bolt of destruction had fallen, but of the
sublime power displayed in the strife of the elements.
There was another change. I no longer stood on the mountain, with
the lightning and tempest around me; but was in the valley below,
down upon which the storm had swept with devastating fury. Fields of
grain were level with the earth; houses destroyed; and the trophies
of industry marred in a hundred ways.
"How sublime are the works of the tempest!" said a voice near me. I
turned, and the old man was again at my side.
But I did not respond to his words.
"What majesty! What awful sublimity and power!" continued the old
man. "But," he added, in a changed voice, "there is a higher power in
the gentle rain than lies in the rushing tempest. The power to destroy
is an evil power, and has bounds beyond which it cannot go. But the
gentle rain that falls noiselessly to the earth, is the power of
restoration and recreation. See!"
I looked, and a mall lay upon the ground apparently lifeless. He
had been struck down by the lightning. His pale face was upturned to
the sky, and the rain shaken free from the cloudy skirts of the
retiring storm, was falling upon it. I continued to gaze upon the
force of the prostrate man, until there came into it a flush of life.
Then his limbs quivered; he threw his arms about. A groan issued from
his constricted chest. In a little while, he arose.
"Which is best? Which is most to be loved and admired?" said the
old Man. "The wild, fierce, brilliant tempest, or the quiet rain that
restores the image of life and beauty which the tempest has
destroyed? See! The gentle breezes are beginning to move over the
fields, and, hand in hand with the uplifting sunlight, to raise the
rain that has been trodden beneath the crushing heel of the tempest,
whose false sublimity you so much admired. There is nothing startling
and brilliant in this work; but it is a good and a great work, and it
will go on silently and efficiently until not a trace of the
desolating storm can be found. In the still atmosphere, unseen, but
all-potent, lies a power ever busy in the work of creating and
restoring; or, in other words, in the commonplace work of doing good.
Which office would you like best to assume—which is the most
noble—the office of the destroyer or the restorer?"
I lifted my eyes again, and saw men busily engaged in blotting out
the traces of the storm, and in restoring all to its former use and
Builders were at work upon the house which had been struck by
lightning, and men engaged in repairing fences, barns, and other
objects upon which had been spent the fury of the excited elements.
Soon every vestige of the destroyer was gone.
"Commonplace work, that of nailing on boards and shingles," said
the old man; "of repairing broken fences; of filling up the deep
foot-prints of the passing storm; but is it not a noble work? Yes;
for it is ennobled by its end. Far nobler than the work of the
brilliant tempest, which moved but to destroy."
The scene changed once more. I was back again from the land of
dreams and similitudes. It was midnight, and the moon was shining in
a cloudless sky. I arose, and going to the window, sat and looked
forth, musing upon my dream. All was hushed as if I were out in the
fields, instead of in the heart of a populous city. Soon came the
sound of footsteps, heavy and measured, and the watchman passed on
his round of duty. An humble man was he, forced by necessity into his
position, and rarely thought of and little regarded by the many. There
was nothing brilliant about him to attract the eye and extort
admiration. The man and his calling were commonplace. He passed on;
and, as his form left my eye, the thought of him passed from my mind.
Not long after, unheralded by the sound of footsteps, came one with a
stealthy, crouching air; pausing now, and listening; and now looking
warily from side to side. It was plain that he was on no errand of
good to his fellowmen. He, too, passed on, and was lost to my vision.
Many minutes went by, and I still remained at the window, musing
upon the subject of my dream, when I was startled by a cry of terror
issuing from a house not far away. It was the cry of a woman. Obeying
the instinct of my feelings, I ran into the street and made my way
hurriedly towards the spot from which the cry came.
"Help! help! murder!" shrieked a woman from the open window.
I tried the street door of the house, but it was fastened. I threw
myself against it with all my strength, and it yielded to the
concussion. As I entered the dark passage, I found myself suddenly
grappled by a strong man, who threw me down and held me by the
throat. I struggled to free myself, but in vain. His grip tightened.
In a few moments I would have been lifeless. But, just at the instant
when consciousness was about leaving me, the guardian of the night
appeared. With a single stroke of his heavy mace, he laid the midnight
robber and assassin senseless upon the floor.
How instantly was that humble watchman ennobled in my eyes! How
high and important was his use in society! I looked at him from a new
standpoint, and saw him in a new relation.
"Commonplace!" said I, on regaining my own room in my own house,
panting from the excitement and danger to which I had been subjected.
"Commonplace! Thank God for the commonplace and the useful!"
Again I passed into the land of dreams, where I found myself
walking in a pleasant way, pondering the theme which had taken such
entire possession of my thoughts. As I moved along, I met the gifted
one who had called my work dull and commonplace; that work was a
simple picture of human life; drawn for the purpose of inspiring the
reader with trust in God and love towards his fellow-man. He addressed
me with the air of one who felt that he was superior, and led off the
conversation by a brilliant display of words that half concealed,
instead of making clear, his ideas. Though I perceived this, I was
yet affected with admiration. My eyes were dazzled as by a glare of
"Yes, yes," I sighed to myself; "I am dull, tame, and commonplace
beside these children of genius. How poor and mean is the work that
comes from my hands!"
"Not so!" said my companion. I turned to look at him; but the
gifted being stood not by my side. In his place was the ancient one
who had before spoken to me in the voice of wisdom.
"Not so!" he continued. "Nothing that is useful is poor and mean.
Look up! In the fruit of our labor is the proof of its quality."
I was in the midst of a small company, and the gifted being whose
powers I had envied was there, the centre of attraction and the
observed of all observers. He read to those assembled from a book;
and what he read flashed with a brightness that was dazzling. All
listened in the most rapt attention, and, by the power of what the
gifted one read, soared now, in thought, among the stars, spread
their wings among the swift-moving tempest, or descended into the
unknown depths of the earth. As for myself, my mind seemed endowed
with new faculties, and to rise almost into the power of the
"Glorious! Divine! Godlike!" Such were the admiring words that fell
from the lips of all.
And then the company dispersed. As we went forth from the room in
which we had assembled, we met numbers who were needy, and sick, and
suffering; mourners, who sighed for kind words from the comforter:
little children, who had none to love and care for them; the faint
and weary, who needed kind hands to help them on their toilsome
journey. But no human sympathies were stirring in our hearts. We had
been raised, by the power of the genius we so much admired, far above
the world and its commonplace sympathies. The wings of our spirits
were still beating the air, far away in the upper regions of
Another change came. I saw a woman reading from the same book from
which the gifted one had read. Ever and anon she paused, and gave
utterance to words of admiration.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" fell, ever and anon, from her lips; and she
would lift her eyes, and muse upon what she was reading. As she sat
thus, a little child entered the room. He was crying.
"Mother! mother!" said the child, "I want—"
But the mother's thoughts were far above the regions of the
commonplace. Her mind was in a world of ideal beauty. Disturbed by
the interruption, a slight frown contracted on her beautiful brows as
she arose and took her child by the arm to thrust it from the room.
A slight shudder went through my frame as I marked the touching
distress that overspread the countenance of the child as it looked up
into its mother's face and saw nothing there but an angry frown.
"Every thought is born of affection," said the old man, as this
scene faded away, "and has in it the quality of the life that gave it
birth; and when that thought is reproduced in the mind of another, it
awakens its appropriate affection. If there had been a true love of
his neighbor in the mind of the gifted one when he wrote the book from
which the mother read, and if his purpose had been to inspire with
human emotions—and none but these are God-like—the souls of men, his
work would have filled the heart of that mother with a deeper love of
her child, instead of freezing in her bosom the surface of love's
celestial fountain. To have hearkened to the grief of that dear child,
and to have ministered to its comfort, would have been a commonplace
act, but, how truly noble and divine! And now, look again, and let
what passes before you give strength to your wavering spirits."
I lifted my eyes, and saw a man reading, and I knew that he read
that work of mine which the gifted one had condemned as dull, and
tame, and commonplace. And, moreover, I knew that he was in trouble
so deep as to be almost hopeless of the future, and just ready to
give up his life-struggle, and let his hands fall listless and
despairing by his side. Around him were gathered his wife and his
little ones, and they were looking to him, but in vain, for the help
As the man read, I saw a light come suddenly into his face. He
paused, and seemed musing for a time; and his eyes gleamed quickly
upwards, and as his lips parted, these words came forth: "Yes, yes;
it must be so. God is merciful as he is wise, and will not forsake
his creatures. He tries us in the fires of adversity but to consume
the evil of our hearts. I will trust him, and again go forth, with my
eyes turned confidingly upwards." And the man went forth in the spirit
of confidence in Heaven, inspired by what I had written.
"Look again," said the one by my side.
I looked, and saw the same man in the midst of a smiling family.
His countenance was full of life and happiness, for his trust had not
been in vain. As I had written, so he had found it. God is good, and
lets no one feel the fires of adversity longer than is necessary for
his purification from evil.
"Look again!" came like tones of music to my ear.
I looked, and saw one lying upon a bed. By the lines upon his brow,
and the compression of his lips, it was evident that he was in bodily
suffering. A book lay near him; it was written by the gifted one, and
was full of bright thoughts and beautiful images. He took it, and
tried to forget his pain in these thoughts and images. But in this he
did not succeed, and soon laid it aside with a groan of anguish. Then
there was handed to him my poor and commonplace work; and he opened
the pages and began to read. I soon perceived that an interest was
awakened in his mind. Gradually the contraction of his brow grew less
severe, and, in a little while, he had forgotten his pain.
"I will be more patient," said he, in a calm voice, after he had
read for a long time with a deep interest. "There are many with pain
worse than mine to bear, who have none of the comforts and blessings
so freely scattered along my way through life."
And then he gave directions to have relief sent to one and another
whom he now remembered to be in need.
"It is a good work that prompts to good in others," said the old
man. "What if it be dull and tame—commonplace to the few—it is a
good gift to the world, and thousands will bless the giver. Look
An angry mother, impatient and fretted by the conduct of a froward
child, had driven her boy from her presence, when, if she had
controlled her own feelings, she might have drawn him to her side and
subdued him by the power of affection. She was unhappy, and her boy
had received an injury.
The mother was alone. Before her was a table covered with books,
and she took up one to read. I knew the volume; it was written by one
whose genius had a deep power of fascination. Soon the mother became
lost in its exciting pages, and remained buried in them for hours. At
length, after turning the last page, she closed the book; and then
came the thought of her wayward boy. But, her feelings toward him had
undergone no change; she was still angry, because of his disobedience.
Another book lay upon the table; a book of no pretensions, and
written with the simple purpose of doing good. It was commonplace,
because it dealt with things in the common life around us. The mother
took this up, opened to the title-page, turned a few leaves, and then
laid it down again; sat thoughtful for some moments, and then sighed.
Again she lifted the book, opened it, and commenced reading. In a
little while she was all attention, and ere long I saw a tear stealing
forth upon her cheeks. Suddenly she closed the book, evincing strong
emotion as she did so, and, rising up, went from the room. Ascending
to a chamber above, she entered, and there found the boy at play. He
looked towards her, and, remembering her anger, a shadow flitted
across his face. But his mother smiled and looked kindly towards him.
Instantly the boy dropped his playthings, and sprung to her side. She
stooped and kissed him.
"Oh, mother! I do love you, and I will try to be good!"
Blinding tears came to my eyes, and I saw this scene no longer. I
was out among the works of nature, and my instructor was by my side.
"Despise not again the humble and the commonplace," said he, "for
upon these rest the happiness and well-being of the world. Few can
enter into and appreciate the startling and the brilliant, but
thousands and tens of thousands can feel and love the commonplace
that comes to their daily wants, and inspires them with a mutual
sympathy. Go on in your work. Think it rot low and mean to speak
humble, yet true and fitting words for the humble; to lift up the
bowed and grieving spirit; to pour the oil and wine of consolation
for the poor and afflicted. It is a great and a good work—the very
work in which God's angels delight. Yea, in doing this work, you are
brought nearer in spirit to Him who is goodness and greatness itself,
for all his acts are done with the end of blessing his creatures."
There was another change. I was awake. It was broad daylight, and
the sun had come in and awakened me with a kiss. Again I resumed my
work, content to meet the common want in my labors, and let the more
gifted and brilliant ones around me enjoy the honors and fame that
gathered in cloudy incense around them.
It is better to be loved by the many, than admired by the few.