Page images

mind: she fondly designed to elevate my thoughts, and to awaken lofty aspirations : and I see now, the delight that sparkled in her eyes, as she answered my strange questions; nor shall I ever forget that little scene, in which she laughed bright tears, when I declared my impatience to be a man, that I might investigate those matters, and know all about the universe.

* And there were those sacred hours by the fireside, when I heard, in my mother's voice, the delightful histories and strange pleasing stories of the rich Old Testament. No other book ever exercised such a spell over my fancy as my mother's quarto Bible. The simplicity of those old authors seemed to stoop to my capacity, or rather to elevate me to the dignity of manhood. Their lively details, and graphic style, wrought upon my imagination like enchantment. Those early times were revived, and I was a leisure traveller in those far countries; I put my thumbs into my arm-holes, and strolled about, wherever any thing happened to be going-on. I was a looker-on in Canaan; and delighted with those incidents which ever and anon called me to some gentle hill-top, from whence I was able to cast my eyes over all the pleasant land. As when I stood with Lot and Abraham, on the high grounds, surveying the well-watered landscape of Jordan, wbile they talked together, and divided the plains between them. Or as in that afternoon, when I seemed to sit with Elisha and Gehazi on the hill-side, when the prophet, looking down along the highway, said to his servant, ‘Behold, there cometh that Shunamite !' In almost every village and hamlet of those days, I have loitered with some history or story, until the vineyards, and the wine-presses, and the very topography of the country, seemed familiar to me. I travelled over those old highways, from Samaria even down to Jericho; and very familiar to me were the journeyings down into Egypt. With curious awe I contemplated, at a respectful distance, that dark village of Endor; having great respect and admiration for the genius of the place; and often have I made long journeys into the land of Saul, where wizards, and sorcerers, and familiar spirits,' swarmed and flourished! I mingled heart and soul in the stirring times when those Indian-Philistines prevailed over Israel, and greatly enjoyed their discomfiture, especially glorying in the mighty deeds of the patriotic Sampson.

. But of all the wortbies of those days, I took most delight in the redoubtable prophet Elisha. I did not relish his being so 'touchy' on the subject of his bald head; but that was in the beginning of his career, when he had just come into power; he was ever after of a benevolent disposition, as the story of the Shunamite bears witness. And he was so high-minded, so incorruptible, he won my heart when he shook his staff so unceremoniously over the head of that great sinner, King Ahab, Yes; I delighted in Elisha : in those pedestrian journeys, there was no one like him: and many a time when my mother's tones have ceased, and the book has been closed, and the lamp perhaps borne away to another room, Elisha and I have continued on our way, like travellers after sunset. And often has it happened that just as we descended into some dusky valley, or drew nigh the borders of the wizard region, I have found the prophet missing; and presently a suspicious-looking circle of dark faces has closed around me; long

bearded old sorcerers, and all sorts of troubled, out-lawed spirits, crowding in, and peering over each other's shoulders ; with that old withered hag, the Witch of Endor, riding and capering about like a commander-in-chief; now and then fixing her hawk-eye on me with such a wicked look, that I have been fain to take to my heels, and make the best of my escape to the fire-side. And as it sometimes happens that a retreating van-guard will throw a whole army into confusion, so has it frequently occurred with me: struck with the panic, I have joined in the rout, and bounded away, tumbling through the dark, and never considering myself safe, nor quite losing sight of the enemy, until I got fairly within the strong-hold of candle-light.

• Those were happy evenings; spent in the very bosom of poetry and affection. Their remembrance has enlivened my spirits, and I have rambled into light discourse : but I cannot avoid a tinge of sadness, as I return to the present, and suffer the cold reflection, that the draught so delicious was so long since drained. Blissful hours! I luxuriated in a little realm of felicity. I had no desires beyond. I was rich in the warm rays of my mother's affection ; I was conscious of a sympathy the most soothing and true; I hoped for no better day. I could fold my arms, and roam undisturbed in the regions of fancy. No scheme, no worldly project, rankled in my breast. Then let wind and storm howl about the old farm-house; what cared I ? I could look up to my mother's face, and listen with delight to the riot of the gale.

• And there were 'voices of the night,' low murmuring tones, which seem still to linger upon my ear, reminding me of sober Sunday nights, when, as I lay musing in the dark, the deeds of the day would pass in review before me; and misspent Time, like a grim bailiff, has laid its rough hand on Conscience. Then came the rabble of naked facts around me: the amusements that I had wickedly indulged, thronged around, traitor-like, to stare me in the face. The Old Dragon himself seemed to be looking in at a distant corner, and shaking his long bony finger at me. · Cold and motionless I lay, almost afraid to move. The thick gloom appeared to my excited eyes to move in visible masses around me: but it rolled away, like the clouds before a sunbeam, when the low tones of my mother's voice reached my ears, reading to my father from the Holy Scriptures. Then I turned and drew up into snug folds, while my heart glowed again with warmth and gladness. A sense of calm security came ever with that voice.

• I well remember one of these occasions. I had been unwell through the day, and had retired in a fit mood for gloomy reflections. I travelled presently away on that old track of time, down through the light of Job's day, through the abiding-place of Moses, and beyond even the first clearing of Adam, until I reached the Plymouth-rock of time. I stood and looked off on the ocean of eternity! Awful, undefinable sensations came over me, as I strove to survey that vast expanse. I felt dark suspicions of untold doings beyond that horizon. I thought of the storms that have troubled that abyss ; of the continents, long ages in extent, which lie in those unknown seas; of the islands that have arisen, and gone down. My head failed at the contemplation ; my heart sickened within me. And then came withering thoughts of the spirit that lords it over the eternal deep : won

derings about his home; misgivings of his kind intentions; fearful concern for my own immortality. I felt serious apprehensions of the mutations which might take place in the course of eternity; and if matters should go wrong, what might become of me, amid the jars of a universe! I forgot the bright earth, and all the joys around me, for my soul was troubled. Ah, that terrible idea of being so longlived! It is enough to make full-grown and stout-hearted man tremble: but in childhood, what a severe draw-back on all the pleasures of the day, was the night hour, when hair-brained Imagination would rise on tiptoe, to look down the dark abysm of Forever! In that lonely, gloomy hour, when horrors encompassed me, it was a pleasant thing, as I have said, to hear certain familiar sounds in my mother's room : to be recalled to life, to the realm of domestic peace, to the reality of love, by my mother's gentle voice. Cheerful sentiments came in the words of the old home-made pilgrim song: I lay quietly' and listened, while a thrill of joy rolled with the blood through my veins. I called my mother : she came, and was astonished to find me in tears: she lay down on the bed-side, and as I nestled there, all the terrors of the night, all the horrors of immortality, were cast behind me, and forgotten.

* Life's warın spring-time, full of promise ; what a season blessed of Heaven! Through those years, in purity of heart and deep sympathy of soul, I truly walked with my mother; and her lessons have never departed from my heart, nor her image from my mind. I need no portrait to recall ber features. Her form lingers like a spirit in my memory: a glimpse of any little thing that was hers, a stray note like her voice, a strain of an old tune, will recall her. She comes as it were in spirit: I see her face, her smile, the affection beaming in her eye; I almost feel her. Sometimes in the midst of business, in the hour of pain or trouble, I am suddenly transported to early scenes, and lost in contemplations of my departed parent, as mysteriously as if a whisper came from her lips : and many times this night has the ink dried in my pen, while I have gazed on that face, appearing to my spirit's sight in all the clearness of mortal vision.

• I was in my twelfth year, when my mother died. It was in the summer-time; and a sad summer was that to me.

I found myself alone. No one knew how to sympathize with me; and I shrunk from the coldness of the busy world. I saw it typified in the cheerless sunshine, and the growing flowers, and the gayety of the birds : I could not look on even the blooming fields, without feeling that nothing mourned with me. I used to go to my mother's room, and sit there, looking around and weeping, until the fountain of tears dried up, or sleep relieved me. Then I was surrounded by sympathizing memorials of her: the dust gathering on every object, looked like a veil of mourning; and the old vacant chair seemed sensible of her absence. But at school, what pangs I suffered! Among the boys, I felt the swelling heart and bursting throb. With what feelings did I look on my cheery-faced, light-hearted companions. There was a high note in their laugh, and a sparkle in their eyes. They knew no sorrow like unto my sorrow. What though they suffered for a moment under the ferule? I never thought of pitying them : they were rich in consolations. In the blessing of a LIVING MOTHER was VOL. XVI.


[ocr errors]


summed up all felicity. Even . Jim,' the little negro boy, that I used so to pity, seemed now to be far beyond the need of my sympathy. He had a mother! I often saw him playing on the grass, while she sat in the door; and I could see now that even poor negro Jim had a share of happiness. And after school, in our walk homeward, when my play-fellow left me, and went bounding into his own door-yard, and I saw his mother in the garden or at the window, with what feelings did I contemplate the sight! As I passed on alone, my eyes would grow dim with tears; but when I turned in at the old gate of the lane, and looked up toward the silent house, and sat down on the grass, asking, in the agony of my heart, “Why should I go home ? then it was that I felt that my mother had gone! — that I might one day go to her, but she could never come back to me.

‘One Saturday afternoon, as I loitered in loneliness around my desolate home, my sorrows overcame me. My heart was ready to break. It swelled and overflowed, and gushes of grief overwhelmed

At length I took my way down to the burying-ground. It was a little

gore of meadow-land, between two bills. On each side of it there was a brook; the two presently joined their waters, and flowed away to the westward, between the woody ridges. It was only the family burying-place, but the green hillocks covered a plat about sixty feet square. There was no vestige of a fence around it; and no monument was there, except a broken piece of gray stone, at the head and foot of each grave, and an old oak tree, of primeval growth, which marked the head of the grave of one of our pilgrim ancestors. Under that tree he had been laid down, and his children for several fruitful generations had been gathered like the leaves around him. Many an afternoon had I been with my mother under that tree, in the days when the pilgrim seemed to me to have been a contemporary of Abraham. I had looked on that grave while

my mother told

the traditions, and dwelt upon the virtues of that good old man.

Often had I seen her by his mother's grave; and now there was her own by its side, just like it; and the grass was grow. ing over both alike. I sat down and gave myself up to grief.

* There was a path through the woods on the opposite hill; and a little girl coming along that way, with a basket on her arm, stopped and looked at me. Presently she came down over the brook, and stood by me.

I took no notice of her; I wished to see her go away; but she remained standing around for some time, and at length she lifted up my hat-brim, and looked down into my face. She was a kind-looking little girl : she took a rose from her basket and offered it to me; and as I turned my face down without regarding it, she stuck it in my button-hole. She kneeled down on the grass, and taking all the flowers from her basket, probably the gatherings of a whole morning, she selected the prettiest and offered them to me by the handful. I took them, and looked at them, and laid them down; and then she took them and stuck them in my hat-band, and my bosom, and every button-hole, until I was decked as gaudily as a butterfly. It was impossible not to feel the influence of her simple blandishments; and by degrees she won me from sorrow. My grief subsided; I smiled, and even laughed; and we played about on the green slope the whole afternoon.

* At length, when it grew late, she took up her basket and went over the brook, and away as she came. The sun was just going down: his slanting rays lingered on the gentle bluffs along the valley; and the bright waters blushed under the glowing heavens. Little birds were fluttering about in the quiet scene; and a robin on the hill filled the air with his rich liquid notes, as he poured forth the soft melody of his evening song. I arose with a freshness and vigor of feeling that had been long unknown to me. I mounted the hill, and looking around on the landscape, I found it smiling in all the beauty of my happier days. I cleared the stone walls, and bounded home like a light-hearted boy again : and from that afternoon I was almost as cheerful and happy as ever. It is true I had my days of loneliness and my nights of tears; yet I felt no more of those heartbreaking pangs; but roamed in the field sand the sunshine, as joyous as of old.

* In my twentieth year I began my professional career, and went into the valley of the Ohio, on my first campaign. It was in the quiet enjoyment of the luxury of early romance, that I first found myself shut up between those mountain forests, and floating in silence through the noble solitudes of that heavenly stream. I went down with a noiseless flat-boat; and for the first few days, I was charmed by the beauty of the richly-cultivated bottom-lands; the broad corn-fields, the rolling meadows, the groups of primeval oaks, and the snug brick farm-houses, peeping out from luxuriant gardens; delightful refuges of peace and independence. But we were soon beyond the bounds of cultivation, drifting amid scenes of wilder and more soul-stirring beauty; where the old forests arose from the river's brink, and swept upward a mantle of foliage to the mountain top; gathering in the group that stood like a dark tower on the lofty crag; and covering those towering, round-topped promontories that came jutting across the valley, and were reflected in the bright waters which they seemed to shut up. There were sweet solitude, and pleasing grandeur, and wild luxuriance, and all the beauty of Nature's own face, smiling in unconstrained loveliness, and awaking the sympathy of the soul. There heaven and earth seemed to smile together : the sunlight mingled softly with the blushing atmosphere, gave a warm kiss to the clusters of glowing foliage, toyed with the half-hidden flowers, revealed the shady dimples, and drew forth all the modest beauties of the peaceful earth. There all nature seemed to go on its course in holy harmony; save where the blue thread curled up from the cabin of a pioneer: there, a small clearing, and the report of a gun among the hills, announced that man was accomplishing the first work of civilization.

• Those scenes were sweet by night; when the high moon looked down from the eastern ridge, gilding the cliffs, and lighting the waters, and throwing her silvery veil over the forests. Then would the heart tremble with soft emotions, and tender feelings come gushing from deep fountains. Then was there something like old music in the voice of the night-winds ; strange delights would minister to the spirit; the soul would indulge in one of its own mysterious banquets. But the familiar face of that old night-queen, my companion

« PreviousContinue »