From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander
Night! Dark, rainy, disagreeable! A fit time for sad and brooding thoughts; a time to close the eyes to present surroundings and drift back on the “tide of years.” A picture rises to my mind’s eye—one that often comes, for it is indelibly printed upon my memory.
Night in the country. The cattle are housed, the sheep folded, and a family gathered around the hearthstone.
The fire, laid upon tall brass andirons, is blazing brightly; the brass top of the fender gleams in its ruddy glow, and candles in old-fashioned brass candlesticks add their soft light.
On the mantle stands the tall old clock, and poised on its top is a brazen eagle which seems forever spreading its wings for flight. The staring face of that old clock comes before my vision as a well-remembered friend, and I hear again the “tick-tock, tick-tock,” which counted out the moments of my careless, happy life.
The pictures on that clock were marvels, for it was so tall that it was divided into stories, and the two lower ones were embellished with pictures. A group of very white houses with very red roofs and very green blinds represented to my youthful imagination the city of Savannah, Ga. It does not occur to just now how I ever got that idea into my head, but there it was. I suppose it was because I was born in Savannah.
Another picture in another department of the clock I see now as plain as the hand before me—a park, children playing on the grass, couples strolling on the walks, and an invalid in a wheeled chair pushed by a servant. In the center of the park a window is set, a clear space through which can be seen the pendulum as it ceaselessly swings to and fro.
A chunk falls in the fireplace, the flames shoot up, and the light flickers over the bookcase, dark with age and overflowing with books. I see the titles (no novels among them): “Clarke’s Commentaries,” “Life and Sermons of Whitefield,” “Life and Sermons of Wesley,” “Life and Sermons of Spurgeon,” “Works on Temperance,” “Thomsonian Practice of Medicine—the Water Cure,” and shelves full of Fowler & Wells’ publications—“Lives of Eminent Statesmen,” etc. On top of the bookcase is the old phrenological head with organs numbered and lettered.
On the walls hang a few old-fashioned pictures—Zachary Taylor and Henry Clay. Father is an old-line Whig, and an ardent admirer of the “mil boy of the slashes.” A “Son of Temperance” in full regalia, with pledge in hand, looks serenely down; and there are other pictures of flowers and landscape painted by sister Martha, but—alas!—the hand which traced them has folded itself with its fellow and laid down the brush forever.
On a side table, in a glass case, are some wax flowers, the handiwork of sister Julia, but they are dropping their petals.
Father sits by the old-fashioned, claw-footed center table, turning the leaves of a large book which lies before him. Mother rocks softly to and fro, her hand before her face, for her eyes are weak.
There are only Henry and I, for the others are married and gone. He looks into the glowing coals and sees—what? The field where “glory waits;” for the war has begun, and the beardless youth is panting with patriotic fervor for the battlefield.
I dream; I build air castles; I hear voices in the wind, and weird tales and musical rhythms flow through my brain. Hopes light as air rise with the whirling smoke and float away.
There is a whine at the door. Henry opens it and speaks encouragingly to old Jolly, who is shivering on the threshold. He is old, and his kennel does not satisfy his desire for warmth. But Jolly does not come in until bidden by another. He crouches, with tawny body, black muzzle, and red-brown eyes, until Mother says, “Come in, Jolly;” then he comes in and lays him down to peaceful dreams at her feet.
But father is reading now: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.” He reads on. I try to listen, but my young thoughts stray off, and I reproach myself for inattention.
Then we kneel and father prays. Outside the rain beats and the wind surges, and all seems dark and dreary; inside are warmth and light and home comforts, and the voice of prayer uplifting our souls.
O blessed hour of the home life! Long years have passed since then; the sod has long grown green over the faces of father and mother; yet, of all the tender memories which visit my heart, none is so dear as the recollection of that hour of evening prayer. Its influence is with me yet, and any little good that I can do, or desire to do, is but the fulfillment of those prayers, which fell lightly on the ears of careless childhood, but are treasured as a blessed memory by the woman.