The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/E. Oakes Smith/The Angel and the Maiden
After this scene upon the mountain, the stranger no longer wore that appearance of extreme sadness, which before had created a painful interest in his behalf: he no longer seemed weighed by those deep and mysterious thoughts, that shadow forth the unseen world, and leave us without the sympathy which alone makes this life cheerful; now a fair serenity diffused itself in his mien, and his face wore a placid and benign candour most lovely to behold. There was a joyful upwardness in his look, and a genial outwardness in his eyes, as if they rested lovingly upon God’s creatures, and no longer were content with selfish introversion.
Mary saw the change in the youth with untold delight; she walked by his side and listened to his voice, gathering a higher aspiration from her noble companionship. Light as a fawn, she sported beside the clear brook, and the melody of her song waked the echoes of the glen to sweeter harmonies.
Mary and the youth were wandering beyond the valley where the river opened into the plain, talking as they were wont; they had gone onward, beguiled by their sweet discourse, and did not perceive how the great red sun burnished the hills with golden powder, for the dense trees were about them, and only his sharp light flecked the leaves and glanced upon the boles of the trees, now glinting the shoulders of the red-bird, and now flashing the green mail of the lizard, or turning the wings of the dragon-fly to rainbows—anon the coquettish squirrel caught the beam in his full soft eye, and the timid hare showed the tracery of blood in his pink ears as he darted across their path; the mosses were like velvet beneath, and the frail wild flowers, vestal worshippers, meek beautifiers of the wilderness, lifted themselves in their solitude, content only with the blessing of the good Father.
Mary drew to the side of the youth, and laid her hand in his, but he gently removed his own and placed it upon the jewelled hilt of his sword. Mary’s cheek turned to crimson; she faltered, and, stung with pride, the tears gushed to her eyes. At this moment, they heard a low growl above their heads, and splinters of bark were scattered at their feet; looking up, they perceived a panther just in the act to spring, with his terrible eyes fixed upon the victims below. Instantly the sword of the young man sprang from its sheath, and the ferocious beast alighted, in his deadly leap, upon its point.When Mary recovered from the swoon into which she had fallen, she found the youth standing over the prostrate animal whose blood was dripping from his sword and garments, and she shrieked with terror, supposing that he must have been wounded. With kindly and respectful courtesy, he lifted her from the ground, and seating himself by her side, implored her to be tranquil.
“I must leave thee, Mary; for I feel assured that my pilgrimage is near its close.”
Mary could only weep.
“There is much that I would tell thee, Mary; but I know not whether thou art able to bear it,” the youth at length said.
“Shall we meet again?” faltered the child in a low voice. His face contracted with a sharp pang, and he murmured, “Oh, my God! deliver thou me.”
“Mary, I am in deadly peril; I beseech thee question me not,” he replied.
Mary looked into his eyes, so full of their clear unearthly light; so full of all that makes a human heart a well-spring of ineffable blessedness, and overcome with the flood of girlish sympathy, she cast her arms about his neck, and murmured, “Do not leave me.”
Poor child! the youth arose sternly from the ground, and placing one foot upon the shoulder of the beast he had just slain, turned his back to the girl, who shrank to the earth, and buried her face in the masses of curls that clustered about her neck. At length, the sobs of the child touched even his stern heart, and he turned himself around: but oh! the grief and agony on his face had done in minutes the work of years—he who a moment before had been fair and smooth as the boy of eighteen summers, was now rigid, stern, and marked by those outlines of thought, which come only when the soul has wrestled with some mighty grief, even like unto that of the Patriarch of old, when he wrestled all night with the Angel of God.
“Mary,” he said, sinking on his knees beside the girl, “I must tell thee all, and then if thou dost weep, and lament, the judgment of the Eternal will be completed in me.”
Mary lifted her head—“Thou wilt go—shall we not meet again?”
The youth groaned heavily.
Mary’s pure nature taught her that she was giving pain, and casting her selfishness aside, she said:
“Wilt thou pardon my folly? forget me, unless thou canst also forget this unmaidenly scene.”
The youth buried his face in his hands, and through the fingers Mary saw the tears trickle, but the nature of them was soothing and holy.
“I shall never forget thee, Mary; wherever in the mysteries of God I may be transferred, the holiness of thy affection will cause this cheerless earth, in which and for which I have suffered so much, to be none other than the Paradise of God;” and stooping downward he touched the tears, which had fallen upon the earth, and they became a chaplet of lilies with which he bound the head of Mary.
“Dost thou remember the gems I once gave thee, Mary? Then I had power over only the element of fire, which burns and consumes, or hardens to the rock, but now the water and the life are mine—behold these lilies—wear them—for thou art worthy.”
He turned his steps as if to depart.
“Shall we meet again?” implored the child.
The youth lifted his head sorrowfully. “Shall we meet again?” he repeated; “for thy sake, for mine, I have questioned too. The knowledge of the future was once mine, but I resigned it as thou didst thy dangerous knowledge, and now the eternal world is hidden from me; I tread the valley of darkness more dismayed, than even a human soul; now—now, O that I could see! What is faith to the once prescient Archangel?” and he cast himself to the earth, overcome with his terrible thoughts.
“Shall we not meet again?” Oh! in the long eternal years shall I not yearn for the look, the tone, for which even now I peril my redemption? What is that terrible future? How shall the soul exist floating onward for ever and for ever, with a universe of suns receding from its path, if it bear not with it the known and the loved? How will it shiver and shrink from the gray twilight of the eternal, unless folded in the wings of a love which, though born of earth, leads onward to God? Mary, Mary”—his voice ceased, and he fell prostrate to the earth.