Under a Cloud!
By Timothy Shay Arthur
"What a joyous creature!" said a friend, glancing, as he spoke, towards an attractive girl, whose laugh rang out at the moment, and went musically fluttering through the rooms. "It always does me good to meet the outflowing life of such a being. She is like a ruddy blossom in a bed of somber-hued plants, catching the sunbeams, and throwing them, by reflection, all around her."
"She is a human flower," I answered, "with rich stores of perfume in her heart; only, I have thought, sometimes, a little too mirthful and joyous. She seems to live in perpetual sunshine."
"I see no objection in that. Flowers grow in the sunshine. It is their life-imparting element," was returned. "Give me the radiant natures; souls which dwell beneath unclouded skies; hearts which know no shadows."
"The sky is not always sunny," I remarked.
My friend looked at me, as one who did not clearly see the drift of this sentence.
"There are intervals, in which clouds obscure the heavens — intervals of rain."
He looked at me still; a slight change passing over his face, as if some unpleasant thoughts were coming into his mind; but did not reply.
"Are not clouded skies, and falling rains, also good for the flowers? Would their richest beauty — their sweetest odors — come out, if they dwelt only in the sunshine? Nay, more than this, would the fruit-germ perfect itself fully in the flower-heart, if there were given only hot, untempered and over stimulating beams of light from the opening bud to falling petal?"
My friend was yet silent. The illustration brought doubts and queries not easily set aside.
"The soul is not a flower," he said, at length. "Because plants need the alternations of rain and sunshine, does it follow that the same is true of our souls?"
The merry laugh rang out again. It was near us — the maiden had crossed the room, her arm drawn within that of another maiden, and now stood the center of a little group. The laugh was as musical as before; and yet, something of its sweetness to the ear was gone. We paused to observe her, and could not help but hear the sentences which dropped from her lips. Flippant trifles first — then a thoughtless personality, which must have hurt the one at whom it was thrown — and then a witty sarcasm, at the expense of an excellent, but peculiar lady, who made one of the company.
"Too much sunshine," I remarked, leaning to my friend, as the group separated, and our merry maiden passed beyond the range of our voices. "The life blood is too abundant — the growth too lusty. She needs the tempering of clouds and rain."
"Trouble — sorrow — or sickness. Is that what you mean?"
"Whatever God sees best," was my answer. "He knows the heart, and understands what discipline is needed. She is with him, and he will not allow the good in her to be lost."
Again the bird-like, warbling laugh went through the rooms. A sigh, almost at the same moment, parted my friend's lips. Either my suggestions, or the lack of harmony between the beautiful and glad exterior of the maiden, and the glimpses she had given of her inner state, had changed his feeling towards her. He was disappointed, as we so often are in plucking a beautiful but unfamiliar flower, to find the odor unpleasant.
"Perhaps you are right," he said, in a changed voice. "There may be need of clouds and rain."
"There is always need of them," I remarked; "just as much need of them for the perfection of a human soul, as for the perfection of a plant or a tree. When the poet said —
'Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary,'
he was not playing with figures of speech, but uttering a truth of universal application."
"It may be so," the friend remarked, with increasing sobriety of manner, "but, I cannot see why the soul, of necessity, must have dark days and rainy seasons, for the perfection of its life. I cannot see why one like Miss Saroni, for instance, may not grow into a true, loving and perfect womanhood — and yet dwell always in sunshine. I know that our higher nature must be developed; that we must become heavenly-minded. But, I am of those who do not believe in a gloomy, self-tormenting religion. Why should doing right, and being right, according to God's precepts — shadow a man's soul?"
"It is right living which breaks the clouds which darken our sky," was my answer. "True religion is life — a life in harmony with divine precepts. The natural life into which we are born, is below this, and responsive to the world of nature — unhappily, through inherited evils, always, in its development, turning itself away from good. Did you not observe that tendency in Miss Saroni? As bright, happy, and lovely as she is — a contempt for others has already found a place in her mind. Will not that feeling under the strong stimulant of sunshine, grow vigorously? Depend upon it, there must be dark days, winter and rain for her, as for all. A new ground must be prepared in her mind; new seeds sown — even spiritual seeds, which are divine truths — and these must be sheltered from scorching heats, and receive dews and rains. So, of necessity, in order that the first life, which is by nature evil and selfish, may recede, and permit a new life to be born — states of trouble, of sorrow, or affliction, must come.
"If man had not sinned and fallen from his first estate, all would have been different. His natural life, developed in just order, would have been as a garden ready for spiritual seed, which being cast into the earth, would have germinated and grown into goodly plants bearing spiritual fruit. But it is different now. The natural mind is filled with evil seeds, and the growth of evil plants is rank and rapid. It follows, that unless these are removed, hurt or hindered in some way — no good seed can find a lodgment or grow. The hurting, the hindering and the removing, take place for the most part — through misfortunes, afflictions, sickness, or troubles, by which natural things recede from the affections, and the soul is led to aspire after heavenly and eternal things. We must all pass under the cloud; we must all have gloomy days; we must all suffer in some way — that spiritual life may grow within us."
A few years of sunshine followed, in which our young friend did not grow more lovely in spirit, though richly endowed both in mind and person. Beauty made her vain; mental superiority caused her to think with contempt of those with feebler endowments; wealth, instead of being thankfully accepted, created a feeling of superiority. Vanity, pride, self-estimation, contempt for inferiors — such were the evil plants fast attaining to a full growth in her mind. It was needful, in the wise provisions of a good Providence, that, to save her and others from the sad fruitage of these — she must pass under a cloud. And so, dark days came — angry skies and swift-driving tempests.
I did not see her during these dark days; but afterwards, I met her frequently. What a beauty there was in her life! She had been long under the cloud, and the shadows it left still lingered about her face; but, as thought and feeling stirred in her — how sweetly the quiet smiles broke through! There remained in her lower tones, a memory of past suffering, which touched you at times; but her words were ever cheerful. Of others, she spoke with considerate kindness; dwelling on the good in them — rarely touching the evil. Never a complaint passed her lips; but she often referred to the wise and good dealings of God to her. Once she said to me, "I am only happy when useful." What a volume of meaning, this sentence contains! Let not its triteness take from its just significance.
"Was it not best?" I said, to the friend with whom I had talked years before, "best for her that the sun was hidden, and the rain fell?"
"Perhaps," he answered, thoughtfully.
"Do you question it?" I asked.
"No, I will not say that. Doubtless it was best. One thing is certain, the sphere of her life is much sweeter. You cannot pass an hour in her company, without being more in love with right principles — without feeling an inspiration to good deeds."
And it was even so. In the winter of her adversity — "much wheat had grown." In the night of sorrow — she had been still gathering strength. While under the cloud — holy truths had dropped into her mind and germinated, the cloud still shadowing her sky, and tempering both light and heat, until the springing seeds gathered strength at the root, and lifted up green blades into the caressing air. She was coming into the light and heat again; but now, the sun whose rays poured down upon her life with blessing, was spiritual and divine.