Page images

• When spring-time came, 1 was in my old haunts on the cliffs ; observing Nature, as she proceeded to dress up her fair scenes for the gay season, and greeting the leaves and flowers as they came laughing to their places. I watched the arrivals by every soft south wind. I thought I recognized many a constant pair of old birds, who had been to me like fellow-lodgers the previous summer; and I detected the loud, gay, carousal song of many a riotous new-comer. These were stirring times in the woods! The robin was already hard at work on bis mud foundations, while many of his neighbors were yet looking about, and bothering their heads among the inconvenient forks, or crotches.' The sagacious old wood-pecker was going around, visiting the hollow trees, peeping into the knot-boles; dropping in to inspect the accommodations, and then putting his head out to consider the prospect; and all the while, perhaps, not a word was said to a modest little blue-bird that stood by, and had been expecting to take the premises. I observed, too, a pair of sweet little yellow-birds, that appeared like a young married couple, just setting up house-keeping. They fixed upon a bough near me, and I soon became interested in their little plans, and indeed felt quite melancholy, as I beheld the troubles they encountered, occasionally, when for whole days they seemed to be at a stand still. At last, when their little honey-moon cottage was fairly finished, and softly lined, they both got into it, by way of trial; and when I saw their little heads and bright eyes just rising over the top, I could not help thinking that they really had little hearts of flesh, that were absolutely beating in their downy bosoms.

• But I was reaching the borders of manhood. I surveyed these fair scenes ; I beheld the beauty of the opening flowers, the gayety of the joyful birds; I heard the melody of incessant song; I saw a charm in every thing around me, and yet my mind wandered far away. The heart of man has its seasons. Its spring-time comes ; then, amidst the bloom, will he give ear to the sad note of a lonely soul; and though he may be far from the scenes of his childhood, the earth may be bright, the world gay around him, he will yet turn to the sunny smiles in his memory; he will think of the beauties of his native vale. Fairy, sylph-like forms, with the rosy cheeks and bright eyes of many of my early playmates, began to flit across the field of mental vision. I bethought me of my school-boy days; of April skies, and ardent first-loves. Images of old 'sweet-hearts' began to freshen and loom up in obscure corners of my recollections. I thought of the queenly creature who reigned undisputed sovereign of school; whose charms first taught the young hearts to ache, and often led on to dreadful combats, bloody pitched-battles, of school-boy chivalry. As my recollections brightened, and my imagination warmed, I almost felt the ache of old wounds. I recalled the fair brow, and the soft eye; and as I traced the gentle features, and remembered the graceful form, I thought how those budding beauties must have bloomed out in womanhood; how gloriously she must be reigning in the east! I saw the encircling throng looking up and battling around her; and I started up with astonishment, as I beheld myself lounging at inglorious ease in the wilderness.

On the first of June, I mounted horse, and set out once more on

my homeward journey, with ideas wild enough for Don Quixote. Strange visions had taken possession of my imagination. A new joy was dawning upon me. The mists of youth's riotous morning were passing away; the true source of all life's bright colors, the light that unobserved had shed its radiance on all my hopes and prospects, was breaking on my soul! In every little town through which I passed, I caught glimpses that flashed in my dazzled eyes like wandering rays; and on the shore of the Atlantic, the light of heavenly woman broke in full splendor. Oh, days of romance ! With what feelings I lingered in Baltimore! Two years had I spent in the depths of the wilderness, a careless happy rover; and in my simplicity I had come to believe that in those free habits and sweet scenes I was gathering the very honey of life. The delusion was over. What was the wilderness, with all its charms the beauty of moonlit solitudes, the music of midnight forests — in comparison with the bright realms of such fair beings as I saw in flowing tress and light summer robe, walking the earth at sunset ? As I strolled enraptured about, I hardly remembered who or what sort of thing I was, or that I had any thing to do but to gaze and admire.

It was about a week after my arrival in New-York, that on a bright, breezy summer moming, when the canary birds were singing gaily from the open windows, I was loitering, in sober mood down a quiet street, in which I used to live, on my way to the Battery. I was observing the changes that here and there had taken place in the neighborhood; and picking out the dwellings of old families of my acquaintance; and at the same time was not unconscious that where certain ribbons and muslins were fluttering in the distance, a beautiful woman was approaching. I was knowingly standing by to steal a glance at the soft eye and rosy cheek, and bask a brief moment in the beams of passing beauty.

· As the graceful girl drew nigh, I thought I remembered her. I felt all the sensibilities of my soul awakening, and even my heart fluttering with a slight excitement. But when she had glided by in gentle majesty, I was left in a strange confusion. I was lost in a sudden tumult;

and went on mechavically, I hardly knew whither. I no longer observed the neighborhood ; indeed, I had wandered quite out of my latitude, before I thought to look around me, or remembered that I was going to the Battery.

* There was something in that face that was familiar to me; but the soft eye was turned upon me without a ray of recognition. With that look, a host of associations entered my mind; oppressing my heart, subduing my soul, and yet remaining incognito. I fell into an inextricable reverie. I pondered upon that face; I gazed upon that clear eye; I could not recover from the spell of that glance. I entered upon the Battery walks, and looked out on the blue bay, just curling into ripples in the light sea-breeze. White sails were gliding about in all directions; the heavy sloop, the rakish smack, and the leering Baltimore craft. The sunshine gleamed on the white houses of Staten Island, and on the swelling sails of square-rigged vessels, towering above the green sward, back of Castle William ; it glistened afar, on the walls of Ellis' and Bedlow's island, which seemed like heralds of the deep, rising up out of the salt-water to


proclaim the stars and stripes; and it melted into soft yellow light away to the south-west, where the smoke of a steam-boat was seen, just entering the Raritan, through the Kills.' I leaned over the railing, and surveyed the scene from the very place I had intended; but with none of the lively reveries which I had anticipated. Huge barns, low farm-houses, and diminutive moving figures, were visible in the morning-light, under the green slope of Pavovia ; and I observed the blue smoke curling up from classic Communipaw. But no sublunary scene could engage iny attention. Other visions were before me.

I looked into a fairer land. My foolish soul was fairly out in its own atmosphere, trampling on bright clouds. Pleasant structures were going up; agreeable combinations were forming; and all very plausible, too; things that might be, in the regular course of events, and all of which would, without doubt, have existed, could I have obtained the assistance of one of those good genii, who flourished in the better days of glorious old Bagdad.

• Beautiful women I had seen before; but generally in places where I could never expect to see them again : they had raised my admiration ; they had sometimes left me in the shades of sadness; still they passed by me like the stars of other systems; dazzling, but not warming. This seemed to be one of my own circle ; a bright orb, lighting up home, and my early days; a familiar face, with all its genial, heart-warming beams. I recalled, one after another, the faces of my early acquaintances, and wondered which I had I endeavored in vain to trace a resemblance; yet confident that I might find that beautiful girl again, I nerved up with great courage and chivalric designs, and felt impatient for activity. A wonderful change had come over me. From the careless idler that I sallied forth in the morning, anticipating only pleasant musings, passing unconcerned by the busy throng, my fancy and observation wandering at random on the fragrant, sunny side of life, I became somewhat like the troubled, calculating, ambitious adventurer; with my sensibilities shut up, my thoughts concentrated, and with energy and enterprise gathering, I doubt not, visibly on my brow.

* As I went back, after my morning ramble, I met the young lady returning. I recognized her at a distance : I knew her, as if I had seen her a hundred times : but she turned up a portico, and I heard the door shut, long before I got near. It was a tall, modern, ambitious-looking house, towering far above a row of plain old two-story dwellings, like the abode of a man disposed to look down on his neighbors. She is a fashionable girl,' thought I; and I contemplated an array of the substantial difficulties which I should probably have to contend with, in my proposed enterprise. They were of just that sort which I was most poorly prepared to encounter; and my heart quailed. I saw now that all my pleasant old ideas of life were pretty nearly a delusion; I felt, with a sigh, that the happy, simple-hearted, democratic schoolboy-times were all over. I began to look with something like envy on the complacent smiles and polished air of the young men around me; and thought, with regret, of the precious years I had squandered in the wilderness. My mind descended from the realms of fancy, to contemplate the cold realities which sooner or later we must all come to : in the cold merciless

light of truth, my prospects lost their bright colors: I could not see that I had much to congratulate myself upon; my spirits fell wonderfully. I sat down in my room to brood gloomily: of all my fair anticipations, I bad hardly a hope in the world left to me. Despondency and desperation looked daggers at each other, over the head of a little true courage, and just managed to keep each other out of

my heart.

. But that night my soul was itself again, in my dreams; and Time went on, bringing about matters in his own quiet way. Mary's father was a retired merchant; a most uncharitable class of christians, I thought, in those days; a stern, corpulent man, of that sort of which they make aldermen. I strongly suspected that he regarded me as an unthrifty youngster. He was very civil, but cool and distant, and much given to silent moods; and, putting one thing to another, I never left the house without the conviction that a storm was brewing.

• At length I began to see what all the world was so busy about. I saw through the game; I observed the stake; I beheld the glorious excitement in which life passed away; the satisfaction which all evidently felt, like the individuals of a swarm of bees, each one contributing to the hum. I came suddenly upon the secret of life and happiness. I joined with two young friends in a grand speculation. We went on successfully; and as we began to feel wealth pretty firmly within our grasp, we made a show of spirit, and displayed all the dashing extravagance that might be expected from three foolish youngsters. We took a broad, conspicuous old house, at the head of the street, in a little village near the scene of our operations, and set up in magnificent style. Mary's father had a summer-cottage in the neighborhood. Nothing could exceed the satisfaction with which we enjoyed our importance in that retired place, and contemplated the life and bustle of our lawn, and the stir which we kept up in the village-except the gall and wormwood which they infused into the cup of bitterness, when we had them to think of in our day of trouble.

· When the times changed, and the flood of paper money began to ebb, our affairs were nearly wound up, and we were well secured ; but we were bad fiuanciers, or rather, we neglected the close of our business; and there was one bond which seemed to have been reserved for the special purpose of humbling us in the dust, and bringing our fortunes in ruin around us. A week before its maturity, there was no provision made for it. We were scattered in distant parts of the country, and gathered home to witness our destruction. In the difficulties of a contracted currency, and the bad condition of our affairs, we found ourselves helpless. There was an awful week of useless exertion. The bond was protested.

On that never-to-be-forgotten night, I returned home from a fruitless journey to the eastward, in which I had travelled day and night. I found the house dark, silent, and deserted. My partners were gone. I was ill, and retired at once to my bed. I felt a giddiness of head which alarmed me; and I made a pile of pillows, so that I could recline in my bed nearly upright. It was a bright night; and as I looked through the window, down the silent moon-lit street, the whole village was before me, and seemed to be waiting quietly for the de

[ocr errors]

velopments of the morning. I closed my eyes, and sought sleep, in vain. The most important events of my life were transpiring; and there were painful reflections that could not be avoided, and would not be put off. My highest, dearest, brightest hopes were setting in dark disappointment. The wedding day was near at hand : it must be deferred ; and my late career of folly and extravagance, now ending in ruin, could not have escaped the observation of that important family. At times the fearful consequences of my imprudence and misfortune would glare out upon me like the lightning of a coming tempest; and in my agony I would start half up,

with the energy for another effort, but only to fall back withering to my pillows.

• Never before had' I known self-reproach : now my sufferings were aggravated ten-fold, by the self-approval that had turned its back upon me. I felt a tingle of remorse; the upbraidings of a displeased conscience; the gloomy sorrows of a wounded spirit. I lacked the proud promptings of a soul conscious of unforfeited dignity. Of late, I had gone on from folly to folly, in a manner that seemed like infatuation. Thinking of only harmless amusement, I had played a part in riotous scenes which I now viewed as a stain upon my character. I felt that I had degraded my soul to unworthy delights; I had given admission to a rabble of false joys, that had detiled my bosom; deceits that had pilfered my peace; wolves in sheep's clothing. My mind was full of thorny remembrances; and every shifting reflection brought the perspiration prickling to my forehead. I looked back on my life : until late it was a white path; and with painful regret I contemplated the black stains I had brought upon it. I could have wept! It was a mournful reflection, that I had not known enough to be content with the free range of all true happiness; that I had not known enough to guard and preserve that purity and simplicity of soul, which had enabled me to enjoy the flower and the song by the way-side, through all those years of happiness. I turned a look to the dark periods; and the very sorrows of those hours seemed to have something delicious in them. They were the sorrows of innocence; they had in them no self-reproach, no pang of regret. If there was evil, it belonged to other bosoms; and how sweetly my own spirit seemed to have arisen, erect, unsullied; on good terms with joy, and with undiminished claims on happiness! Ah! it is in that season of repentance after our first faults, the faults of folly and thoughtlessness, while the heart is yet pure, that we suffer the deepest anguish and remorse! — then, when we first become aware of the strict justice that presides over us; when we open our eyes, and behold in Conscience our absolute and inexorable master; our governor, holding the purse-strings; heaven's steward, granting or refusing happiness ; admitting the full sunshine of joy, or placing a cloud between the soul and heaven; then do we appreciate the blissful self-approval we have lost, and which we hardly hope to recover; the heart, light and joyous as the bird's; heaven's gift, beside which wealth and all else are but tinsel and dross !

• It was in that still season which verges upon midnight. Hour after hour had worn away, and sleep had not come to relieve me : I seemed condemned to await the slow approach of morning. I had lighted a lamp, and was endeavoring to compose my mind by read

« PreviousContinue »