"It is Aunt Emilia," exclaimed the little girl; and as she spoke, the father, turning angrily upon her, dashed the light to the ground, and groped his way out without a word of answer. I was too much alarmed about Severance to care for aught else, and quickly made my way to the western piazza, where I found him stunned by the fallen tree,--injured, I feared, internally,--still conscious, but unable to speak.
With the aid of my two companions I got him home, and he was ill for several weeks before he died. During his illness he told me all he had to tell; and though Paul and his family disappeared next day,--perhaps going on board the Nantucket brig, which had narrowly escaped shipwreck,--I afterwards learned all the remaining facts from the only neighbor in whom they had placed confidence. Severance, while convalescing at a country-house in Fayal, had fallen passionately in love with a young peasant-girl, who had broken off her intended marriage for love of him, and had sunk into a half-imbecile melancholy when deserted. She had afterwards come to this country, and joined her sister, Paul's wife. Paul had received her reluctantly, and only on condition that her existence should be concealed. This was the easier, as it was one of her whims to go out only by night, when she had haunted the great house, which, she said, reminded her of her own island, so that she liked to wear thither the capote which had been the pride of her heart at home. On the few occasions when she had caught a glimpse of Severance, he had seemed to her, no doubt, as much a phantom as she seemed to him. On the night of the storm, they had both sought their favorite haunt, unconscious of each other, and the friends of each had followed in alarm.
I got traces of the family afterwards at Nantucket and later at Narragansett, and had reason to think that Paul was employed, one summer, by a farmer on Conanicut; but I was always just too late for them; and the money which Severance left, as his only reparation for poor Emilia, never was paid. The affair was hushed up, and very few, even among the neighbors, knew the tragedy that had passed by them with the storm.
After Severance died, I had that temporary feeling of weakened life which remains after the first friend or the first love passes, and the heart seems to lose its sense of infinity. His father came, and prosed, and measured the windows of the empty house, and calculated angles of reflection, and poured even death and despair into his crucible of commonplace; the mother whined in her feebler way at home; while the only brother, a talkative medical student, tried to pooh-pooh it all, and sent me a letter demonstrating that Emilia was never in America, and that the whole was an hallucination. I cared nothing for his theory; it all seemed like a dream to me, and, as all the actors but myself are gone, it seems so still. The great house is yet unoccupied, and likely to remain so; and he who looks through its western window may still be startled by the weird image of himself. As I lingered round it, to-day, beneath the winter sunlight, the snow drifted pitilessly past its ivied windows, and so hushed my footsteps that I scarce knew which was the phantom, myself or my reflection, and wondered if the medical student would not argue me out of existence next.
This is the end of my story. If I sought for a moral, it would be hard to attach one to a thing so slight. It could only be this, that shadow and substance are always ready to link themselves, in unexpected ways, against the diseased imagination; and that remorse can make the most transparent crystal into a mirror for its sin.
A Drift-Wood Fire. "This ae nighte, this ae nighte, Every nighte and alle, Fire and salt and candle-lighte, And Christe receive thy saule." A Lyke-Wake Dirge.
The October days grow rapidly shorter, and brighten with more concentrated light. It is but half past five, yet the sun dips redly behind Conanicut, the sunset-gun booms from our neighbor's yacht, the flag glides down from his mainmast, and the slender pennant, running swiftly up the opposite halyards, dances and flickers like a flame, and at last perches, with dainty hesitation, at the mast-head. A tint of salmon-color, burnished into long undulations of lustre, overspreads the shallower waves; but a sober gray begins to steal in beneath the sunset rays, and will soon claim even the brilliant foreground for its own. Pile a few more fragments of drift-wood upon the fire in the great chimney, little maiden, and then couch yourself before it, that I may have your glowing childhood as a foreground for those heaped relics of shipwreck and despair. You seem, in your scarlet boating-dress, Annie, like some bright tropic bird,alit for a moment beside that other bird of the tropics, flame.
Thoreau thought that his temperament dated from an earlier period than the agricultural, because he preferred woodcraft to gardening; and it is also pleasant to revert to the period when men had invented neither saws nor axes, but simply picked up their fuel in forests or on ocean-shores. Fire is a thing which comes so near us, and combines itself so closely with our life, that we enjoy it best when we work for it in some way, so that our fuel shall warm us twice, as the country people say,--once in the getting, and again in the burning. Yet no work seems to have more of the flavor of play in it than that of collecting drift-wood on some convenient beach, or than this boat-service of ours, Annie, when we go wandering from island to island in the harbor, and glide over sea-weedgroves and the habitations of crabs,--or to the flowery and ruined bastions of Rose Island,--or to those caves at Coaster's Harbor where we played Victor Hugo, and were eaten up in fancy by a cuttle-fish. Then we voyaged, you remember, to that further cave in, the solid rock, just above low-water-mark, a cell unapproachable by land, and high enough for you to stand erect. There you wished to play Constance in Marmion, and to be walled up alive, if convenient; but as it proved impracticable on that day, you helped me to secure some bits of drift-wood instead. Longer voyages brought waifs from remoter islands,--whose very names tell, perchance, the changing story of mariners long since wrecked,--isles baptized Patience and Prudence, Hope and Despair. And other relics bear witness of more distant beaches, and of those wrecks which still lie, sentinels of ruin, along Brenton's Point and Castle Hill.
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