- CHAPTER XV. ALICE.
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SUMMER sunset on the stately towers of Windsor, on the dark turrets of classic Eton, on the green Clew-fields on the royal river winding his broad silvery way through many a tract of goodly meadow-land!
Sunset on hill and dale, on earth and sky! The whole landscape was bathed in that rich soft light that glorifies the fall of night, in the warm, ripe, glowing month of August.
Lilian gazed on the fair scene with something of awe; it was so calmly, grandly beautiful. True, there were no mighty peaks piercing the azure air; no snow-clad altitudes, to be transmuted by sunset's wonderous alchemy into visions of celestial glory; no broad sea, heaving his smooth bosom beneath the burning radi- | | 162 ance of the evening skies; no foaming cataract waking the echoes of wild pine-shaded ravines; but there was a sweep of undulating fertile country bounded by wavy hills; and the regal Thames, like a scroll of pure silver, or in some curves like molten gold, sweeping over the free, fair land. There was the grandeur of kingly towers and cloistered shades; there were the noble forest-trees, and all resting so tranquilly, wearing such an aspect of settled calm and peace, in the rosy light of the August afternoon!
Lilian ended leer railway journey at the South Western station; and here she easily procured a carriage to take her to the remote corner of the park, where Mr. Brookes' lodge was situated. The sun had touched the horizon when she reached her destination. It was a roomy cottage, standing in a well-kept garden, and surrounded by sylvan scenery of the loveliest description. An old man was stooping down near the gate, busied with his verbenas and picotees, that were the pride and glory of his heart. He raised his Lead as the carriage approached, and seeing that it stopped at his house, he stepped forth, with all the race of a gentleman of the old regime, to offer his services to the lady in alighting.
A few words explained who Lilian was, though Mr. Brookes lead not been slow to conjecture; but they | | 163 had not expected their guest till the following day, or even later still.
The carriage dismissed, Lilian stood with Mr. Brookes in the bright flowery garden. She trembled to ask how Alice was: she was living, certainly, for the little casements were flung wide open to the evening air; there was no sign of death about the quiet secluded house; but neither was there any appearance of the invalid herself. The sound of wheels had called no one to the window—no one sat there inhaling the sweet, cool breeze, so refreshing after the sultry beat of the day—no one was gazing at the large red orb slowly sinking westward, between the boles of the ancient forest-trees.
At last she summoned courage. "Mr. Brookes, how is Alice? is she better?"
"Alice is going home," said the old man, sadly, but so calmly, that Lilian did not understand him.
"Going home!" echoed Lilian, in extreme surprise. "I thought for the future she intended residing with you."
Mr. Brookes pointed to the blue cloudless slay above. "Alice is going there!—to her Father's home on high—to the house not made with hands!"
"To one of the 'many mansions,' to the place that is prepared for her," returned Lilian, softly, thinking | | 164 of the chapter she lead read so many times since the morning. "Mr. Brookes, may I go to Alice now?"
"Wait a little, dear lady," replied the old gentle-man. "Bridget! come here, Bridget. Mrs. Hope is come; go gently, and tell Miss Alice."
In five minutes Lilian was standing by Alice's side. She lay on a couch, in a roomy parlor, at the back of the house. The window was completely wreathed With roses and clematis, and. opened upon a view of one of the forest glades, a scene of surpassing loveliness. Alice was little altered since Lilian last saw her. She was scarcely thinner, no paler, and her dark brown eyes were lustrous as ever; but she was weaker; the white, attenuated hand could scarcely clasp Lilian's, and her voice was very low; so low, that it needed close proximity to distinguish every word.
"Alice! Alice! oh, Alice!" was all that Lilian could say, as she knelt by her friend's sofa, and kissed the meek, fading face, that was so soon to behold the King in his beauty, in the land that is very far off. "Oh, Alice! I am come back to you once more, like a wounded bird, that can never, never plume itself for flight again."
"Not for the old flight, perhaps," murmured Alice, "but for the heavenward journey. Lilian, dearest, you will start afresh, will you not?—you will meet me in yonder bright world?"| | 165
"If I might, oh! if I only might!" cried Lilian, passionately. "And, Alice, my child, my little child, that I neglected; and yet I did love it; indeed I did; my boy is there; and he will, I fear me, never see his miserable mother again."
"Not so Lilian, the portals of heaven stand wide open; it needs only that one should present himself in his Master's name. 'There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.'"
But it was too late that night to converse further. The agitation of Lilian's arrival had sadly exhausted Alice; and ere long Mr. Brookes came to carry her into the adjoining room, which had once been his own sleeping-chamber, but was now given up to the invalid. Bridget, who seemed to be both faithful servant and humble friend, begged Mrs. Hope to leave Alice for the night; and Lilian herself wearied, and still weak, was thankful to find her bed ready, and all things prepared for her repose. And that night she knelt not down to repeat a mere formula, but to beseech Him, who ever waits to revive the spirit of the humble, and the heart to the contrite ones, to bring her out of darkness into His marvellous light, and to lead her into the way of life everlasting. Like a little child, she asked to be taught, to be guided, to | | 166 be governed!—and the Lord heard, and gave her an answer of peace.
In the morning she awoke refreshed and calmed, and the sun was shining brightly on the dewy flowers, and lighting up the mossy depths of the dark wood. The small household had long been astir, and Lilian, on descending, found breakfast awaiting her; but Alice was not brought to her sofa till nearly noon.
Mr. Brookes was gone on business to Frogmore; Bridget was busy in the kitchen; so Alice and Lilian were left alone to commune with their own hearts, and with each other.
Seen in the dull light of day, Lilian perceived how fragile Alice had become, and she saw, what she had failed to see in the dusky twilight of the preceding evening, an expression on the Worn, white face, of such calm, such peace as might have graced the brows of the glorified spirits before the throne. Lilian looked long on the quiet countenance, and she read in its aspect the token of departure. It was even as if the lights from the windows of her Father's house were already. Shining on the mortal features; as if the yearning spirit beheld some faint glimpses of the glory to be revealed on the other side Jordan.
"Lilian!" said Alice, opening her eyes, and gazing tenderly on her friend, "the world has dealt hardly | | 167 with you since you and I parted more than two years ago."
Lilian could only lay down her work, and weep.
"Tell me all," was Alice's request.
And Lilian told all without reserve. She did not spare herself, though she spared Basil. She told how great had been her pride, her self-will, her neglect of her highest and sweetest duties; how she had lived without God in the world, caring only for the things of time; walking not after the spirit, but after the flesh; how she had sought for happiness; how she had craved peace and content; and how she had failed utterly in her search after all three, till the heavy hand of God was laid upon her, and her child was snatched from her embrace, and her husband estranged—it might be for ever.
"And now," continued Lilian, "now, in my great need and affliction, I have found a ray of hope. I have been reading of that peace which the world giveth not, and, in seeking it, some little of its sweet influence has fallen upon me. Weary and heavy-laden I come to Him, who calls such as I am to hear and follow Him, and be blessed for evermore:—surely He will give me rest."
"He giveth rest to the weary," said Alice. "He will take from you the burden of your sins; He will give you rest, and satisfy the deepest cravings of your | | 168 soul. He has led me forth by a path that I knew not; He has been with me in fours of pain and weariness; He has long given me rest from vain struggles after health and intercourse with the world; now, He is going to give me the rest that remaineth for the children of God. This poor shattered frame will lie down in the dust, and sleep there in undisturbed repose till the morning of the resurrection; then it will be clothed anew, changed and fashioned like unto His glorious body. Oh! Lilian, who can tell, who can know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge?"
"Alice, you said well, when long ago you told me there were bitterer things to endure than the body's sickness. Sometimes, lately, I have envied you, I have thought it would be far easier to lie down for years on a couch of pain and weariness, especially when there is the hope of heaven coming every clay nearer and nearer, than to live a short life of disapointment in an evil, unsatisfying, mocking world. Oh, Alice! you have been spared much; you have never known what it is to make shipwreck of your most precious things. You have never loved with all the intensity of woman's love, only to have that love flung back upon your heart, as a worthless thing. You have never been misunderstood, wilfully misconstrued, as I have been. You have never been a deserted wife—a childless mother."| | 169
"No," returned Alice; "but, Lilian I will tell you now what no one knows. I have loved truly and well, and I believed that I was loved again. Perhaps I wrongly interpreted words and glances, that seemed to me to speak volumes. I cannot tell, it does not matter now; but my accident came, I was laid aside for a whole lifetime, and even had the love been mutual, which I never knew, it must have been relinquished. The sweetest of human ties was not for me, I could never be wife and mother; but it was long ere I entirely gave up the Hope of recovery, and longer still ere I bowed my head in resignation to the Almighty will, saying from my inmost heart, 'Thy will be done.'"
"Alice! how could you ever say it?"
"I never could say it, so long as I strove in my own strength. I told myself that I was weak, that I was wrong, that reason and wisdom bade me submit unmurmuringly; but it was in vain. The wound was only hidden, not healed, and even when I thought I had attained something of composure, the pain broke out afresh, and I writhed in helplessness, longing for peace, and crying out for repose, Oh, Lilian! the physical suffering, the dreary days, the long wakeful nights, were easy to bear, in comparison with the bitter strife within. For months and years my soul was always
"But rest came at last. How, Alice?"
"One who, in old times, ruled the kinds and the waves, saw the tempests of my heart, and said to the rebellious will and the proud self reliance, 'Peace, be still,' and immediately there was a great calm! I learned to know Him in whom alone is eternal life; I learned to love Him who first loved me and have Himself for me; and in that knowledge, that love, I found peace and joy; my couch of pain became a pleasant resting-place; and I knew ere long that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed. I tried to think I was a child at school, learning the lessons that were needful, and undergoing useful discipline, to train me for the home where at last I should surely make my abode; and the more I thought of the end of the journey, the smoother seemed the way—the longer I mused on the brightness of the unseen world, the lighter seemed the gloom of the present hour."
"And after that, Alice, did no regrets ever arise, no yearnings for the sweet happiness that might have been?"
"Often, often! but God gave me strength and comfort, and I had His word, with many a blessed promise, many an assurance that all things must work together for my good, and always the hope, the anticipation of the bliss beyond the confines of mortality."| | 171
"And how does it seem now? Do you feel that all has been for the best, Alice?"
"For the very best, Lilian! The loving child sees but dimly the reasons of parental restraint and correction; lie is fain to take it on trust, and wait for maturity to explain the why and wherefore of much that has been irksome, perhaps painful; so I am content to be sure it was a Father's hand that inflicted the chastisement; and what I know not now, I shall know hereafter, for then I shall know, even as I am known—and so soon—a very few days it may be!"
Lilian looked tenderly at the patient face that wore even then somewhat of the solemn beauty of an angel, and gladly would she have lain down in Alice's place, looking back in thankfulness on the past, and waiting joyfully the coining of the celestial messenger.
It was a slothful wish, the desire of one who longed for the crown and palm, but who shrank from the cross, and the long pilgrimage of toil and warfare.
Alice understood her friend's half-implied wish, and she replied by pointing to a verse in a book that lay open before her:—
Thy presence and Thy love;
I ask to serve Thee here below,
Then reign with Thee above."
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