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Ꭱ Ꭼ Ꮮ Ꮮ Ꭺ .
One evening in October - one of the Octobers of my youth - two figures sat in the recess of a window. The window looked out upon a park, from the centre of which fountains shot up into sun-light when the sun-light was on, and around which elms stood sentinel by night. From this one window the blinds had been withdrawn, and the dark, heavy drapery thrown carelessly each side, giving ingress to the faint light of an aurora borealis, which just touched and only half-revealed the faces of the friends. The chandelier emitted little beads of flame. The little brilliant drops gave a soft, pale light, making a dusky atmosphere, through which the marble figures in the corners, the one broad mirror and the heavy-bordered paintings on the walls, revealed curious shapes. To these were added spectral flowers in vases, strange carvings and stucco-work, curious tapestries, and antique furniture, half-smothered in rotund silk and damask.
The lady in the window was Rella, and Rella was the daughter of the house -- the lone child of an elegant home.
Rella was young, less than twenty. She was light in figure, with little tapering hands, an arm fashioned slenderly, faultlessly; indeed there was upon her a uniform delicateness of structure, reaching even to her features, conveying an impression of perfect skill in moulding, as we gather it from airy porcelain shapes and from palaces of glass. The white of her clearly-defined but most delicately-fashioned features was not the paleness of disease, and the soft peach tint of her cheeks had naught of the sharp glow of the hectic flush. Her hair was light, not golden, and lay upon her temples in silken folds, which obeyed the touch of the fingers as though they had the magic of brush or comb.
The other figure in the window was Rella's long-time friend, Manton Herbert Manton. A man of twenty-five at least, with marked intellectuality of feature - an intellectuality of the noble, keen, handsome style, matching a tall figure and a curling blackness of locks.
They had been special friends for years. It was one of those friendships that grow as the elms in the park grew, slowly year by year, and which became as elms become, enduring, rooted. There was perfect trust between them.
As they sat in the recess, talking in the low, modulated tone of confidence and perfect union of thought, Rella would sometimes lay that white hand of hers upon his shoulder. Once or twice she caught his hand and held it for an instant in both of hers, and once she placed her right on his face, reaching all his features with her spreading fingers.
Rella was blind. “Born blind'-that was what the friends said when questioned by the curious or sympathetic. Perhaps so; but there was just a little question whether light and its myriad prismatic sub-divisions may not have glanced in through those bright, crystal windows when she was very
little, a wee thing in her mother's arms. The possibility existed, because of a faint consciousness of light, just relieving total darkness, which had always been with her; and because of shadowy oh! so shadowy - recollections, or rather, conceptions of a something which she could liken to what her friends called color a recollection which came like a strain of music, so distant that it might have been the wind, or a whisper so faint that it might have been the moving of a leaf.
The absence of the precious gift of sight had given so strange a power and delicacy to the other senses, that it seemed as though each faculty possessed a spark of vision. Every breath, every tremor, every shadow in the room almost, seemed to be caught by some one of the quick-eyed senses, and brought by these other agents to the heart. Thus the loss, while it chastened and purified a nature most pure and sweet at the first, made the beautiful temple in which the spirit was enshrined a perfect harp, æolian, music-thrilled, sensitive.
The aurora lay against the northern sky, silvery, deep, like a lake of light, or a wide, arched mirror reflecting snows.
• It is growing brighter and higher now,' said Herbert. "The light is white, like that which you always see, only it is -- thicker.' And then he took her hand, and with his finger marked the outline of its upper curve upon the palm.
'I understand. And is it very far away - a thousand times farther than I can reach ?'
· Yes ; and the lower part is deeper, richer light, brighter ; shading up to the fainter arch above.'
'Is this the way?' and Rella, taking his hand, slid her own hand over it, pressing hard upon it near the wrist and lessening the pressure to nothing as she reached the tip of the fingers.
Just now the vast, soft sheet of light wavered, melted, and up from the right hand and the centre streamed minarets of silver, piercing almost to the zenith, sharp and graceful as a Titan's sword.
*Oh! beautiful ! beautiful!' and then the young man tried to picture in words the dissolving change.
In her eagerness to catch the idea, Rella's hands and arms moved nervously all the while, as though these representatives of her eyes were darting earnest glances.
'I have it! I have it! Is it so ?' and with one finger she traced shaded. lines on his hand from wrist to finger-tip.
The bayonets of light widened at the base with softened edges, and pushing farther up the vault, tipped their blade-points with a blush. Then, as though touched into visible existence by enchanted wand, light clouds of soft vermilion suffused the face of all this silvery presence, quivered, swayed, yielded, advanced, both dallying together on the blue, star-flowered carpet of the sky. Sometimes the silver columns wheeled away in swift retreat, and left the blushtint master of the sky; and then returning, broke the airy ranks with ethereal spears and streamed their pure light into the very dome of heaven. And all this while the silent tremor of the conflict gave a beauteous grandeur to the rivalry which the noise of tempests never equalled. Gazers trembled in sympathy, and a thousand hearts felt for the first time the sublimity of silence.
Wrapped in the unprecedented beauty of the scene, Herbert, half-forgetting that he might be using terms not fully apprehended, broke into rapturous exclamations and glowing description. The tones of his voice, the unusual earnestness of his manner, fully awakened Rella's consciousness to the splendor of the vision which moved him, and kindling at once in her whole sensitive frame, she evinced, by sudden movements, swift touches of his hands, his face, his eyes, by momentary leanings toward him, and by tremors running through her like flashes of tempered lightning, that her whole being was striving to grasp the conception of the sight. It was almost fearful. Indeed when Herbert, pausing a moment, saw the degree of nervous excitation, causing a play upon her face and brow not unlike the tracery in the heavens, and felt the harplike quiver of her frame, he was startled into caution. Placing his hands upon her temples, he held them there a moment, and then they glided slowly down her face. He smoothed the silken hair; and holding her little hand in his, struck into the first lines of an old-time song, sang in subdued, rich, pensive tones. When he ceased, she was quite calm, and for the first time in her life Rella laid her forehead on his shoulder.
Little was said. Herbert watched the receding beauty of the vision, speaking of the changes now and then. Rella sat in wrapped imagination of the unspeakable beauties of the outer world, so wondrous, so mysterious, never to be unfolded in the present life.
"When you talk to me, sometimes I can almost see. And when you are animated, it seems as though I could for an instant grasp the idea of color, or as though I could feel it. Shall I tell you what I was thinking just now? I was thinking that red was like heat. Is it like passion ? Is n't it an earnest, piercing color ?
And blue -oh! I wish I could see blue. What is it like? Is it like that ?" and she just touched his forehead gently. “Is the soft wind blue ? Is it like friendship? Is it a flute-tone? Is it mild and pleasant and good ?'
“You spoke of red just now,' said Herbert, rousing from a brief abstraction : ' let me try to tell you what it is like — what this soft red in the sky was like.'
Oh! do,' and Rella touched his arm with her hand. It was her emphasis.
• The white which was first in the sky, Rella, was like friendship : pure, placid, not cold, and yet not warm. It was still-like, serene, pleasant. The red which flashed upon the white was like love: warm, glowing, thrilling, like exquisite music. If it had been sound, it would have been lifting, inspiriting. If it had been something to be touched, it would have been warm, undulating. You have touched silver, Rella. Is n't friendship like silver? Well, white is like silver, too — just as smooth. You have touched velvet. You held a little bird in your hand this morning. Well, this soft red in the sky was like that, and love is like that. Do you know the difference, Rella ?'
It was a cruel question ; but how could a man so swayed measure his words ? At that instant it seemed to him that the happiness of a life depended upon the answer of the blind girl at his side. But the maiden gave no answer. There was a sudden movement, a tension of the muscles, a tremor; that was all.
The man had first befriended the blind girl long ago, as he must have done, or violated the instincts of his sympathetic nature. Then, in a little while, he sought her for his own sake ; and then, as a more earnest, better friend than he could find among the seeing. At length the interchange of rich thoughts, tinted with affectionate regard, had brought him to love with all the strength of his soul.
He told Rella the whole story now, while she laid her head on his shoulder and claspod a hand in both her own. Once or twice, with the quickness of thought, her fingers leapt to his face and gently brushed his features. Once, the last time, they brought away a tear-drop ; and then the young girl burst into half-checked sobs.
Under the most quiet natures there are often hidden forces whose conflict is most tumultuous; and so now, in the first gush of feeling, Rella's whole being seemed storm-swept, and she quivered under the tempest as trees do and flowers.
It was a very terrible thing to love with a devotion which only the blind can reach, to have a need of a strong arm to rest upon which only the unseeing can fully know, and yet be forced to sacrifice the one and the other ; to give up the thrill of life. It was more terrible still to do all this and yet retain the secret in the inner chamber of the heart, struggling to get out. But Rella had felt this crisis coming. She had traced the love of her manly friend to that first impulse of sympathy, and she could not make him a sacrifice to his noblest quality. And so she would force him from her. Beside, Herbert Manton was talented, courageous, clear-sighted, already distinguished. It was not right that she, a simple blind girl, should be the wife of such a man. And if she would not, the love that was surging under her heaving breast must not be told.
Rella was silent, her head on his shoulder. ‘Do you love me, Rella ?'
Still the girl was silent; but at length, gathering strength, she said that he must not talk of love to such as her. That as a friend, as an unequalled brother, she loved him oh! how dearly; but he must seek a wife from another nest -a wife matching his own power and coming position.
It is a strange influence which some possess, the power to swerve us from our very self-purposes ; a power to undo the convictions of our safest reasonings, and even to set aside our instincts. Herbert went out from her, loving her, half-believing that her regard for him was deep as his own, and yet so under her influence, that the very love he bore her sent him out to find in some other nest'a mate.
When he bade her good-by - for it was part of her bidding that he should go away in the morning beyond the reach of temptation - he stole his arm about her, held her close to his side a moment, kissed her forehead once, twice, and then went out saying never a word. Rella had detained him just long enough to pass her hands to his lips, his eyes, and his forehead, then to his curling hair, and his shoulders - it was the blind girl's farewell glance.
Perhaps it was a special gift of that benign and watchful FATHER who notes and cares for the earthly as well as the heavenly loves of such as we, perhaps it was the deep moving of her soul under the spell of that splendid nightvision, heightened by the quivering scenes which followed scenes which a life-time never knows but once; perhaps the one, perhaps the other, perhaps both ; but when Rella lost herself in sleep that night, she waked upon this dream-vision.
She was standing in an unfamiliar spot. She reached out her hands. They touched nothing save a slight air-tremor, such as she always felt from the wings of passing birds. The air was full of the perfume of flowers. She threw herself on the ground and felt for her familiar friends, the grasses, the buttercups and daisies. The grasses were different, the flowers not acquaintances of hers.
Then she perceived an undulating motion of the air, as that produced by broader things than bird-wings; and a something alighted at her side. The présence said, "Rella,' in Herbert's tones, and yet lighter, more musical, more feminine, as though it were his sister, and yet Herbert had no sister. Then the figure touched her forehead and her hand. Rella grew assured, and in her quick way touched the arms, the face and neck of the strange presence. All was delicacy, beauty, maidenhood.
With the transition of dream-life, she was suddenly being borne through the air, held close to the warm pulsating form of this beautiful new friend. Breath, warm and sweet, swept across her cheek; the arm about her waist was lighter and more beautifully moulded than her own, and the soft cheek had a sweeter feminine grace of outline and touch than she had ever known.
They paused in the air, floating without a resting-place, and needing none.
“Rella'— and the lips of the sweet Form touched the lips of the blind girl — pure human love, self-sacrificing like yours, is not unlike the heavenly. Hence, our Father has peculiar care of such as you. He has sent me to give you the conception of form and color. When you go back to your earth-home, you will still be blind, but you will know of color and form and distance. Then you can commune with the seeing, and, with a friend beside you, can almost see.'
The presence touched Rella's eye-lids with her lips - how the touch thrilled, it was so like Herbert's - and the blind girl saw !
In the distance, just far enough to be taken in vision as a whole, the vast globe rolled beautifully round in outline, majestic, cloud-flecked, magnificent in its perfectness of form and silent, moving grandeur.
Now they were close above the earth. There were the frozen Arctic seas, with their floating hills and mountains of ice, beyond which streamed upon the early evening sky a more thrilling vision of dallying white and crimson than ever played and blushed upon the sky of flowers and trees.
At length the splendid panorama faded ; and then they stood upon &