It was a cold night--quite cold, the snow fleecing down, and the hail rattling against the windows. The wild storm-king was out with the blast, intent on mirthful mischief. The old clock ticked cheerily, and the fitful shadows waved unsteadily on the wall. The winter was without, but the summer of peace rested within my heart.
I sat in the great arm-chair, in the fire-twilight, alone, and in a revery, half dreaming, as it were, my past life over again. The golden book of Memory lay unclasped before me--every thought, every feeling of by-gone hours traced ineffaceably there. All sorrows, all joys, intermingling and forming link in link, a beautiful chain, without which life would be incomplete.
We were friends, Alice and I, early friends and true ones; she was older and far gentler, with mild, loving eyes, and soft, shadowy, dark hair. I was young and thoughtless, and I had treasured up in my heart an idol, one worshiped and adored. I dwelt in a beautiful dream, waking and sleeping, and my guardian spirit was ever Alice. Alas! how rudely was that dream broken! how inexpressibly sad the knowledge that it could never come again; and yet all life is but a dream.
Beautiful in soul was she, and they called her Alice Faye, but to me she was only Alice--darling Alice. We were wandering, two hearts in one, through the beautiful Present; seeking not to unveil the rugged world of Futurity, and knowing and believing that to the Past were confided all estimable things.
Oh, our Father! You who know the frailty of all earth's flowers, lend, oh! lend us Your aid to withstand the frosts of adversity, the chilly, wintry winds which crush the already bruised and broken reed.
How vivid is that memory rising before me now--the memory of our parting! It was a beautiful, radiant day, late in the summer. Alice and I had been in company with some youthful friends, and now, arm-in-arm, were returning through the woods. We bent our steps towards our favorite haunt--a hushed, sweet spot, where the grass grew long and luxuriant, and the wild vine trailed its crimson bloom-flowers, dark, yet bright amid the flowers which begemmed the earth. Our accustomed seat was beside a shelving rock, overhung with the graceful honeysuckle and clambering roses, its crude face half hidden by the beautiful objects clinging around it. The wild locust tree, laden with its pure blossoms, and the poplar, silver-limbed, threw a pleasant shade over it.
Here, the earth seemed more kind and smiling, and, among all fond memories, this is to me the holiest and best beloved.
We sat silently--Alice's hand clasped fast in mine, and her head leaning down upon my shoulder so confidingly, so caressingly. The sunlight was glimmering through the glossy leaves, and the rich snowy blossoms of the locust tree were dropping softly--softly down around us.
It was then that we first awakened from our happy dream-life--for the first time ventured to peep into the unknown futurity. I felt that life was, indeed, but a "walking shadow," and bursting into tears, hid my face amid Alice's bright tresses.
"Don't cry, Ruby, darling," whispered Alice, very softly, calling me by an endearing name of childhood; "don't cry, it will not be for a long time--not very long."
Her own voice trembled a little, although she tried hard that it should not.
"Ah, Alice," said I, sadly, "a dim foreshadowing of the future is entwining itself around my spirit--that great future, which is a strange world to us. Perhaps we may never meet in friendship again, Alice; perhaps we may doubt each other's sincerity."
"No, no, Ruby, dear Ruby," replied Alice, winding her arms closer around me, "we'll never doubt each other. Our dearest hopes are anchored in the great sea of the world; but they will remain steadfast. Oh! we'll never be estranged, Ruby."
"Never!" I echoed, and yet, through the mazes of the forest there seemed to float a voice, strangely mournful, repeating that vow of eternal friendship, breathing a warning for our optimistic hopes, a knell for our parting hour.
Alas! how slowly, how sadly have the years passed since then, for doubt and mistrust gliding in, severed that sacred chain where we thought it was the strongest. We met again in after years, but the world--the world had taught us how to crush the wild, wayward throbbings of our hearts. We were living--and yet dead; living as the breath gives life; yet dead to all the gentler influences, the holier emotions of that love once so dear to us. And the youthful years that had shadowed us so kindly with their wings, withdrew to weep over the ashes of our former friendship.
* * * * * * * *
The fire was gleaming faintly in the chimney, my revery was over--and yet I felt so sad, so lonely sitting there. I thought I felt a soft touch upon my shoulder--heard a gentle voice whispering a name of other years--Ruby! I was glad someone had said it; it was a sweet remembrance in a time of sorrow. Somebody whispered loving words, somebody knelt beside me and pressed a soft cheek to mine. I returned the pressure--I wept, yet I knew not why. I only remember that Alice was kneeling there beside me, my own Alice, and that we were friends again.
It was so sweet, so strangely sweet, to have her there as of old, the same love-light in those kindly eyes, the same holy beauty resting on that placid brow; I imagined that it was all a dream, and I dared not move, lest the entrancing spell should break.
That joyful meeting is marked forever with a "morning star" in the Heaven of my existence. And now, each budding hope, each undefined fear, give I hence-forth to the sacred keeping of our Father, our Protector, and our God.
In the hushed and holy stillness of the night, when the stars and flowers keep watch over earth, and every prayer ascends on trembling wings to the throne of Him above, I fall asleep quietly to dream of Alice Faye.
Even so has He ordained, that we shall give a smile for every new sunbeam born to the earth--and a tear for every blossom untimely withered.
For every heart has a sunlight, every soul a shadow.