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Page 167


The first snow came. How beautiful it was,
falling so silently, all day long, all night long, on
the mountains, on the meadows, on the roofs of
the living, on the graves of the dead! All white
save the river, that marked its course by a
winding black line across the landscape; and
the leafless trees, that against the leaden sky
now revealed more fully the wonderful beauty and
intricacy of their branches!

What silence, too, came with the snow, and
what seclusion! Every sound was muffled, every
noise changed to something soft and musical.
No more trampling hoofs,—no more rattling
wheels! Only the chiming sleigh-bells, beating
as swift and merrily as the hearts of children.

All day long, all night long, the snow fell on
the village and on the church-yard; on the happy


Page 168
home of Cecilia Vaughan, on the lonely grave
of Alice Archer! Yes; for before the winter
came she had gone to that land where winter
never comes. Her long domestic tragedy was
ended. She was dead; and with her had died
her secret sorrow and her secret love. Kavanagh
never knew what wealth of affection for him
faded from the world when she departed; Cecilia
never knew what fidelity of friendship, what
delicate regard, what gentle magnanimity, what
angelic patience had gone with her into the grave;
Mr. Churchill never knew, that, while he was exploring
the Past for records of obscure and unknown
martyrs, in his own village, near his own
door, before his own eyes, one of that silent
sisterhood had passed away into oblivion, unnoticed
and unknown.

How often, ah, how often, between the desire
of the heart and its fulfilment, lies only the briefest
space of time and distance, and yet the desire
remains forever unfulfilled! It is so near that we
can touch it with the hand, and yet so far away
that the eye cannot perceive it. What Mr.
Churchill most desired was before him. The
Romance he was longing to find and record had
really occurred in his neighbourhood, among his


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own friends. It had been set like a picture
into the frame-work of his life, inclosed within
his own experience. But he could not see it
as an object apart from himself; and as he was
gazing at what was remote and strange and indistinct,
the nearer incidents of aspiration, love,
and death, escaped him. They were too near to
be clothed by the imagination with the golden
vapors of romance; for the familiar seems trivial,
and only the distant and unknown completely fill
and satisfy the mind.

The winter did not pass without its peculiar
delights and recreations. The singing of the
great wood fires; the blowing of the wind over
the chimney-tops, as if they were organ pipes;
the splendor of the spotless snow; the purple
wall built round the horizon at sunset; the sea-suggesting
pines, with the moan of the billows in
their branches, on which the snows were furled
like sails; the northern lights; the stars of steel;
the transcendent moonlight, and the lovely shadows
of the leafless trees upon the snow;—these
things did not pass unnoticed nor unremembered.
Every one of them made its record upon the
heart of Mr. Churchill.

His twilight walks, his long Saturday afternoon


Page 170
rambles, had again become solitary; for Kavanagh
was lost to him for such purposes, and his wife
was one of those women who never walk.
Sometimes he went down to the banks of the
frozen river, and saw the farmers crossing it
with their heavy-laden sleds, and the Fairmeadow
schooner imbedded in the ice; and thought of
Lapland sledges, and the song of Kulnasatz, and
the dismantled, ice-locked vessels of the explorers
in the Arctic Ocean. Sometimes he went to the
neighbouring lake, and saw the skaters wheeling
round their fire, and speeding away before the
wind; and in his imagination arose images of the
Norwegian Skate-Runners, bearing the tidings of
King Charles's death from Frederickshall to
Drontheim, and of the retreating Swedish army,
frozen to death in its fireless tents among the
mountains. And then he would watch the cutting
of the ice with ploughs, and the horses dragging
the huge blocks to the store-houses, and
contrast them with the Grecian mules, bearing the
snows of Mount Parnassus to the markets of
Athens, in panniers protected from the sun by
boughs of oleander and rhododendron.

The rest of his leisure hours were employed in
any thing and every thing save in writing his


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Romance. A great deal of time was daily
consumed in reading the newspapers, because it
was necessary, he said, to keep up with the
times; and a great deal more in writing a
Lyceum Lecture, on “What Lady Macbeth
might have been, had her energies been properly
directed.” He also made some little progress in
a poetical arithmetic, founded on Bhascara's, but
relinquished it, because the school committee
thought it was not practical enough, and more
than hinted that he had better adhere to the old
system. And still the vision of the great
Romance moved before his mind, august and
glorious, a beautiful mirage of the desert.