« PreviousContinue »
in whose fresh waters many a graceful tree laved its delicate branches, and many a natural bower, formed of fragrant creepers and shrubs offered a retreat on it's verdant banks, where the gentle rippling of the stream might lull to sleep even the aching heart. This lovely river, after traversing the valley, was lost to sight by a sharp turn round a mountain's rocky base ; there was a considerable fall in its bed at this spot, and the din of the torrent sounded eternally amid the changes of the rolling seasons. Far removed from any other habitation, and in the centre of a vast forest, there stood a cottage, whose gentle beauty was in keeping with the scene around.
The garden, which bore traces of recent high cultivation, and where many a rare flower still bloomed unheeded, looked (at the period when our story commences) as though some spirit of desolation had breathed on it. Grass and weeds began to encroach on the paths, and the verdure of the lawn was long and lank.
It was night, and a bright harvest moon
shone in the heavens, and, penetrating the dense masses of foliage, threw a fitful and strange light on the open space around the cottage. Parasite plants of great beauty and sweetness crept round the windows and hung in festoons from the porch, and the interior of the dwelling was illumined by the moonbeams alone, as they flickered on its stone floors, through the leaves outside, which were agitated by the night breeze. Not a sound disturbed the stillness of the forest, save one screech-owl, which had perched itself on a large evergreen overshadowing the cottage, and which, every now and then, uttered its melancholy and piercing cry. Presently a casement opened, and an old crone, apparently scared from her rest by this bird of ill omen, leaned out and clapped her hands to frighten away the unpleasing neighbour. The bird raised its heavy wings, and flew, with a leaden flight, to an adjoining tree, where he re-commenced, as in mockery, his discordant shriek. ings. The old woman closed the casement, and again all was still.
It was midnight—when all the quiet inhabitants of the valley were wont to be asleep, save those whom sorrow compelled to keep sad vigils, and sorrow had been at work under this lowly roof, and had marred as fair a picture of happiness as ever was framed by a beneficent Almighty.
Behind the cottage, a footpath wound away through the forest and terminated in a small church-yard. The humble graves were, for the most part, decorated with flowers, and kept with scrupulous neatness; and the cold bright rays of the moon fell on many a rude memorial, erected by simple yet loving hearts, and illumined the records of sincere affection. There slept the only child of his fond parents, suddenly snatched away ere the promise of his youth had ripened into noble manhood; there mouldered the form of the bereaved widow, who had wept alone for long years,
and hailed with delight the hour which reunited her with the husband of her youth, and the children of her love, — there lay, awaiting the last judgment, many who had been loved, and beautiful; the aspirings of genius, the delusions of hope, the cravings of ambition, the pangs of remorse, the hauntings of guilt — all, all, lay hushed in unbroken slumbers.
There was one grave which bore traces of having been recently covered in—the mould exhibited no symptoms of verdure, no flower or shrub grew near it, and a stone cross stood in white nakedness, looking like a spectre in the moonbeam. This fresh grave and newlycarved cross presented a strange contrast to the mouldering monuments around; some covered with hoary moss, others falling back or to one side, as though about to desert the dust beneath, and others lying altogether prostrate, fitting emblems of the decay which the mortal remains they had indicated, had undergone. Amidst all these trimly-planted
or neglected graves, that with the stone cross shone conspicuous, and struck on the beholder's heart with a strange feeling of sadness ; it spoke of a stern, deep-seated grief.
Across this senseless heap of clay, there lay one, who alone breathed in this scene of mortality. He was a young man, and his attitude betokened an utter prostration of spirit, an abandonment of grief. Ever and anon he tossed his arms aloft, or pressed his hands wildly on his temples, or wrung them in anguish. Then would he lie motionless, but on the midnight stillness there would arise wailings of unutterable grief. Long sighs would heave his breast; short, thick sobs burst from his overcharged heart, and his whole frame would writhe in agony. Suddenly he raised himself on his knees, and Alinging his arms around the cold cross, he clasped it convulsively ; his eyes were raised to the blue heavens, his working features grew calm, and his lips moved rapidly in prayer ;-vain was the help of man, and in