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IT IS OMNIPOTENT.
Years ago, it matters not how many, there walked the streets of a nameless city a little school-girl. Tip-toe she stood upon that mount whence the warm splendours of womanhood are descried. Sweet, sweet, and never to be forgotten is that scene! The realities of later life may be better, but never, never so entrancing.
She had not a sinless heart-that child: all her impulses were intense, very intense, but, because she was not selfish, those impulses led her oftenest in the right way, yet sometimes too far in that way. Little beauty had she-nothing to take pride in, except her lavish black curls that floated free on her shoulders in those careless days. Her broad brow shamed her, for it was too broad, of almost masculine mould, not delicately shaped, nor fair. Mind she had, more than she knew; power, that came of her intense feeling, more than those who should have known her best ever dreamed, but the light of that power was not yet fully come into her grey eyes to beautify them.
One bright spring morning, this little girl, in her school-going walk, passed a gentleman whose presence so touched her that she stopped, and turned to look after him as he went on. Morning after morning she met him, passed him, turned to look after him. To her young eyes he seemed old, taller than he really was, grave, pale, abstracted-a student whose blood ran cold, who pored over dry books, who cared not for the world budding in May, blithe and warm with sunshine and bird-songs, cared least of all for homely little school-girls. From the heights of manhood, he seemed to see only far things-wise and great things, that so fixed him he could see naught that was little, be it never so beautiful and sweet.
This tall, handsome gentleman-he was handsome-but very, very cold and hard-stood far above the pettiness of such poor things as flowers and music, He was all mind-pure intellect; he had no heart. Surely, his mother and sisters must have died when he was very young.
Poor, unhappy gentleman!" This was the little girl's thought.
Once his deep hazel eyes deigned to fall to the level of that child's brow. Fearlessly and full she met his gaze; he but saw that it was a human being and went on. She sighed, and hastened on to school, to miss her lesson (was not her. mind wandering?) to be harshly, too harshly reproved by her teacher, to return home and in solitude, unnatural and unhealthy for a child, to give way to that passion of tears which only half grown school-girls knew, and which is so terrible, because so boundless, so vague.
Ere that grief was fully past, another May morning dawned, a morning all too soft and brilliant for her mood. The storm, indeed, was over, and outwardly all was calm and fair; but within, the long sullen waves were lashing the barren shore, and the clouds, no longer spread smoothly over the whole heavens, were gathered into dreadful black shapes, none the less horrible because they went hurrying away upon some fearful errand of ill. Her heavy heart foretold what bechanced as, satchel in hand and with bonnet downcast, she paced slowly toward her dungeon, the school-room. A carriage stood at the door of the house, trunks were piled behind, the driver was gathering his reins. A tall, manly form came out upon the door-step-farewells were said, hands shaken, a kiss given to a stately lady, and, with pale face and eyes that looked not up from the pavement, he stepped into the carriage, and the door was shut. It rattled with cruel sounds away. A little while, and the door of the house was closed-the carriage had turned the corner. And not a parting word, not one look, vouchsafed to her who saw all this. No, not one word. It was only an idle school-girl, stopping in the street-an idle little girl-that was all!
Who told this little girl that the tall, handsome gentleman was going away, told her so plainly that she stood by and watched his leaving as calmly as if she had been sent for to witness it-who
told her this? Grief told her-grief, the truest, the only prophet left us in these the uninspired latter days. How sorrow-it must be deep sorrow-and that alone of all the emotions, can be and is prophetic, who shall tell? In the nighttime, come the spirits, yet if the night be many-splendoured they come not, it must be dark.
"He came, and he is gone. He will not come back. Will he? When?" So the little girl said to herself, and went quietly to school, sat down at the desk, and opened her book. She remembers how very quiet that morning, and all that day was as if the sense of well hearing had been numbed, or as if an eclipse had overshadowed the world and hushed it. She studied hard that morning and thenceforth; what else was left for her to do but to study?
The eclipse of that morning passed not quickly away. In its shadow, she dwelt; happy, she knew not why. Far, far away, in the distant sky behind her, shone a star, faint, feeble, tremulous-a pulsing speck of light, which followed her, coming never nearer, never going further. Could she have seen it plainly, she would have named this shining mote with a pretty name-she would have called it Hope. She did not see it, she felt it there, all the time, not watching her, but simply there. So peacefully she wrought away at her work of knowing what books might teach. Something she learned of that illumined volume whose beautiful lids Spring uplifts, whose glorious leaves Summer unfolds-that volume which Autumn shuts somewhat again, but which even Winter cannot wholly close. One other book she studied closely—that living, thinking, feeling book, we call the heart, the mind, the soul.
And now the girl was a woman grown, wore a woman's dress, and learned to bind her black curls in formal puffs and bands. But the curls were wilful, and the woman would often let them have their way. She had quitted school, or rather she had changed her school. Her school-house now was solitude, her teacher, herself. This is the best, the saddest school of all-for the young.
Only strong scholars can go to it. The weak, the worldly, the puny of mind or of heart, cannot go; they die. It is the best school, but to be forced to it in youth, day after day, day after day, oh! it is wearisome, it is hurtful. Jane Eyre's school is gladsome to it.
The girl was a woman grown: it is no discredit to her to say that she wished to be admired and loved-and it has been already said that her impulses and her desires were intense. In the fresh morning of womanhood, homage comes most naturally to woman, and she should have it then. If she misses it, she goes sick, and if she misses it long, the sickness is but too apt to become blight, from which she may recover, out of which she may wear, but not without retaining a foul sore at heart.
"She intensely desired to be loved," aye! and to love. No shame to her for this. Admiration she also desired, and she is no woman who pretends to wish otherwise. Love of admiration is not vanity; self-admiration is. How could she be vain whose mirror told the truth, and whose heart was not afraid to own it? She wished, as only a plain woman can wish, to be beautiful, dazzlingly beautiful, and in beauty's default, she longed that some clear eye of power might pierce to that hidden spring whence flowed emotions she knew to be more beautiful than any tints of complexion or lines of configuration. Yet she stood a handbreadth's height above her companions, her shape was envied, and her skin-too quick to lose or gain its color-was so praised that she herself, at times, lingered to look at it. She could talk, talk nonsense too, and abundantly, laugh merrily, and in any other way make herself, as she thought, truly agreeable. The girls enjoyed, or pretended to enjoy, her society wonderfully. What wonder then, if she asked herself many torturing and unanswerable questions, when, looking around her, she saw many of her schoolmates belles, all more or less beloved, and herself alone wholly, utterly neglected. It was thus for years. Years! and every moment of every day of these years her heart ached in want, in empti
ness, in shame, in anger, in fear. Her maiden's right-love-was denied her. Why? What was, what could be, the reason of it." What had she done to be punished thus? Was it to be always? Would it never end? These questions, repeated a thousand times oftener, it is to be hoped, than any of her hapless sisters have repeated them, were never answered then, nor since. It was so ordered; simply that.
Her wont, during these unhappy days, was to walk alone in the garden. There, book in hand, she would pace the leveltopped terraces for hours on hours, not reading, not thinking of what she had read, but fruitless task! questioning destiny, and conning in the high clouds hopes that winged themselves too quickly away, or studying the sadness that dwells asleep ever in the far horizon. Her imagination, though it teemed with fairest images, claimed not the power to give pantheistic shapes to the beautiful earth-life around her, to give poetic utterances to the slow, soft wind that whispered secrets in her ears, or to compel meanings from the splendid light that rained out of the blue heavens. And the leaves that were born, grew old, and died silently at her feet-telling her nothing of all they knew. The mystery of the changeful elements, the magic work of Nature's hidden alchemy, she was content to let pass in bright panorama, uninterpreted, except as signs and wonders, telling of Him that dwelleth in light inaccessible and full of glory. In her books she saw how some priest or priestess of Nature construed these wonders, but when she came back from the book to the temple itself-the mighty temple of the visible, ever-changing, ever-renewed life-she confessed with sorrow that the makers of books were false, or but partially inspired prophets. Every movement, every sound in that sky-domed temple, older, grander, more beautiful than Greece, Egypt or India ever saw, points to some sibylline leaf yet undiscovered, perhaps undiscoverable. Something of Nature's form and color, the poets may describe; but of our mother's speech and true dialect,
they bear no witness, they know nothing. Sight is the sense the Muses love to instruct; hearing they will not, because they cannot educate. Not that man is deaf; he hears, indeed, but cannot comprehend what he hears under the azure dome. How pitiable his guesses at the significance of sounds in the not soulless world of matter! What do the prattling waters say? the winds with their almost human breath? the vocal birds? aud what the hush of starry nights and swooning noons-what say these eloquent silences? The poet cannot tell. At best, he can only imitate the tongues he hears, and listen-further off than ever from the meaning-to his imitations.
Yet it is pleasant to listen-beyond all things pleasant to imitate even remotely, and to fix on the legible page the sad, sweet intimations of Nature's musicthe hinted thought of the worlds of light and peace, the sorrowless worlds, where melody in all the fullness of its spiritual significance and force is known, truly, perfectly.
Ellen, so was she called, had many friends among the girls of her acquaintance, but her best friend was her piano. To her the piano was something more than a plaything, much more than a mere help to fill up the pauses in conversation with tiresome visitors. It was the joy of her life, the interpreter of all her wordless moods, whether gay or grave, the confidante of her heart-that heart so full of longings, seemingly never to be appeased. Hence she excelled in music, astonished her masters, learned to despise them, and, when alone and secure against intrusion, not seldom surprised and delighted herself-so prompt and so volubly the keys gave back the music which neither books nor masters had ever taught her. In the Autumn twilights, when the fire in the grate warmed, but did not dispel the gloom, there would sometimes come to her a thrilling force, a passion and a power to compel whatever she would of strange, wild, sad, beautiful utterances from the instrument she loved. When the piano was obedient, she was happy. Then she truly lived,
then placed due value on her life; which at all other times seemed wasting uselessly away, then felt not the teasing of hope, but the high and joyous fruition of power.
One evening-can she ever forget it? she had wandered late in the garden. Step by step, during that long walk, her spirit seemed to have descended the solemn vale, where, among great dusky rocks, overgrown with gnarled and leafless trees, was put the cavern of Despair. Long she stood breathing the deadly vapour that came out of its black, illimitable depths. When an unseen hand led her gently away from the mouth of that horrid vault, she was loath to go. Yet the kindly force constrained her. The October moon was riding high, the yellow mist was thick and chill, when she went in, and her school-girl sorrow, the terrible, vague sorrow which seized her the day before the proud, cold stranger left, never to return, was upon her. She locked herself in the parlour, and there, with thought and sense and feeling, with fears and hopes, all the fears and hopes of her lonely life, blended in one usurping passion-the piano listened and replied to the sad story which had been dumb in her breast so many years. It was a weird, a melancholy, yet most sweet story-the sweetest ever told in the sweet language of music. The trembling, tender fire of the Serenade, the mortal sadness, and the immortal hope of the Requiem, were indissolubly and harmoniously interwoven in it, and through this warm, melodious woof of mournful sweetness ran tortuous threads of scarlet and of silver sound, now lost, now found again-intimations, suggestions, reachings, upheavings, aspirations,- -ever hiding, yet ever flashing back to light-something almost unbearable, inserted upon and piercing through all the changeful, thrilling chords.
Unlike other improvisations, this air was defined, complete; she played it again and again; it did not change with the ever-changing shades of emotions, although that emotion did not even keep always within the key; it insisted upon
its own original utterance, admitting nor permitting any variation. She remembered it perfectly-could have written it in notes if she had chosen. But she was startled to find how old it was, familiar to her as the most familiar airs of childhood-the oldest, it seemed the sweet est and the dearest of early recollections. Where she had heard it, when, and under what eircumstances it was first played to her, she could never tell; but she soon ceased to think of it as her own production.
Noiselessly as a spirit, she walked from the parlour to her chamber. The clock struck twelve. Was it possible? She retired, but not to sleep; she wept, but the tears were sweet. The faint star which had stood so long above and behind her, was brighter now and had moved forward. Then the days began to go swiftly, the air became purer, the light shone clearer, something dark and heavy had passed away from her. Yet it was Autumn still, and the breathing of her spirit was not quite free and unimpeded. So the Winter came on, less stern than of yore, but vacant.
With the Winter came parties, in which she took little delight. She danced to fill up the set; she talked with those who talked with, her because they could talk, just then, with no one they liked better. She was always asked to play, and she played mechanically-banged, that under the coverture of the banging, the chatter might go on more quietly, and soft words might be spoken to willing ears. Sitting thus one night at the piano, the thought came to her, "If I have any skill it is on this instrument; yet, play as I may, they heed me not." Her great pride was stung to the quick at this. convince myself how silly and really am," said she to herself. I will play the air that moves me most; I will play it with all the feeling and all the force I can command, under these lights, and in this noisy throng, who know me not, nor care for me."
She played. There, in the midst of the revel, she boldly told the secret of her heart-told it in that beautiful language which speaks the native tongue of
the souls of all men that walk the earth. Whether there was something in the air itself which had power to command her consciousness away from the gay scene around her, she knows not; she only knows that the thrill of strength, creative, passed from her heart to her hands, and there was silence; and then applause, questions, entreaties, warm entreaties to play it again. If her life had been at stake she could not have complied. She rose, and was introduced to
Oh how pale her poor foolish face grew the chill of death ran to her very feet. She needs must take his arm, and they walked into the hall where the air was cooler. She could not look at him, yet she saw him, faint as she was. Unchanged, unchanged; grave, pale, cold, proud. For the first time she heard his voice; it was low, deliberate, full of power, and, at that moment, kind even to pity. And this angered her. "What! after so long, pity me, and pity me here -the time is past when I needed pity. Have I not been well this half-year?" Summoning all her strength, she forced the colour back to her cowardly, tell-tale cheek, and answered him: "No, she was not sick-she was quite well, and would trouble him no longer."
This was even roughly said. A film of something very near disgust overlay his surprised voice when he replied: "Trouble?"
The cadence of interrogation ended in pity. It was not that she wanted. She withdrew her arm, and so they parted.
Yes, the house was lonely, and the grey eyes, feeling ashamed of the warmer light that shone in them, would look out of the window-a glance, and then to work and study again. But nothing passed the window; days, days, days, and nothing passed the window. She would not go out; they might beg, they might threaten, and talk of doctors, but she would not go abroad. fresh air in the garden, were doctors made for?
She could get and now, what She wondered.
Yet the dull days sped on, on, on, how wearily, how lonesomely! Hope, newborn and full of vigorous life, was dying,
the light of life was darkened, the star above her shone paler, and the fresh impulse which had made her heart warm and the world habitable, was gone. Then why is it always thus? then, he was announced.
She was not slow to meet him in her own parlour, nor backward to atone for her rudeness at the party. Surely, it became her to make his visit a pleasant one, so pleasant that he would return again. But he was calm, and would not respond to her warmth and animationperhaps she showed her gladness too plainly. Pained by this thought, she became as cold as himself.
Conversation had not fairly commenced, ere he startled and offended her, by asking her to the piano. She could not refuse, neither could she do herself justice. "I am only a musical instrument in his eyes, to which he will listen a little while and go away and forget it." How could she play?
Soon he went away, leaving her not altogether at peace with herself. But he came again, and with the same petition. The compliment implied in his visit, was destroyed by this request, preferred, as before, but a few moments after he entered the room. He is in love with the tune," said she to herself, "I have heard of such instances before."
She would not play it for him, though he asked a second and a third time for it. There was a smile of derision, barely perceptible, but unmistakable, on his face. "He thinks me childish. I am not."
He went away, and the weary days began to come and go. While the long hours wore on, she thought to herself, "I will yield next time; I will play it with all my heart, my soul-he shall like it better than before."
But no sooner was he come than this