The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Jane Elizabeth Larcombe/Thoughts by the Wayside

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A summer twilight! who enjoys it? or rather, who can resist the magnetism which draws one to the open window, beneath which the leaves of the trees tremble in the quiet air, while the Heaven above lies so hushed and smiling, with a calmness as though it had been shedding tears, and, worn and exhausted, could do nought but smile languidly on the broad, sinful earth? Yet we can remember, when a little child, thinking the twilight hour the gloomiest of the twenty-four—a dark spirit commanding us to give up work or play, and loiter restlessly around the house, till the first welcome glimmer of a light released us from its dismal thraldom. It seemed to us the most particularly unpleasant arrangement of nature to be conceived, and often and often did we wonder ourself stupid, trying to solve the phenomenon.

It was equally puzzling to see with what a spirit of enjoyment the “old folks” settled themselves comfortably in their easy chairs, and with eyes fixed on the fading heavens, seemed soaring away from earthly cares and joys. Instinctively we felt that mirth and mischief must be postponed to a more convenient season.

When we grew older, wise enough to contrive, we got along much better; the gathering gloom of evening was the signal for a general muster; out we flew from the quiet parlour to the dim hall and passages, where, with stifled shouts and shrieks of mysterious merriment, we indulged in all the excitement of a game at hide and seek, or, when tired out, gathered in a compact knot at the foot of the stairs, and with elbows on our knees, heads supported by our hands, and eyes widely dilated, listened to the delicious horrors of some marvellous tale of ghost or ogre. Such stories! no one else ever dreamed of such delights! Such giants as we had! such fairies! such a quantity of winding-sheets as our favourite narrator provided for us!—our brother, with his wide, smiling mouth, and glistening teeth! We can see him now, his rosy face ever in a perpetual grin, even while skilfully depicting scenes which made “each individual hair to stand on end” among his entranced audience! Our brother!—“gone, but not lost.”

Sometimes, too, of a winter’s evening, we found our way into the warm, bright, cozy kitchen, bringing our noise and mirth with us, which was speedily quelled, however, through the influence of the presiding spirit of the place—a tidy, thrifty servant girl, who loved us all dearly—troublesome as we were—and who, despite her unattractive appearance, stole a place for herself in our kind memories. She was an Irish girl, with features strongly marked with small-pox, and a most disastrous hump between her shoulders; short in person, somewhat short in speech, but withal, the kindest heart that ever beat! Dearly did she love to gather the unruly crowd of boys and girls around her glowing, social fire, and hush them to a grave-like stillness with the wild legends of her native isle.

Ah, well! those days have passed and gone now, for ever. We can only sit quietly by the open window and think of the “now, and what has been,” and remember with a blending of the mirthful and sorrowful—a kind of comic sadness—how we grew out of those pleasant ways; how our first influx of sentimentalism crept in about the time we put up our “elf-locks wildly floating,” and imbibed a strong disgust for long-sleeved checked aprons; how we took to reading newspaper poetry, descriptive of the “shining stars” and “silver moon,” and naturally enough, went from that to looking in the gray heavens for them; how we laid aside the favourite book, smoothed down the folds of our dress, and seated ourself methodically at the window, vis-à-vis to our mother, and gazed perseveringly at the steadfast skies, persuading ourself that we were immeasurably happy, while all the time, had we listened to the heart’s truth, tears would have been dropping for the good old times—the “joyous days of yore” with the romp in the hall, the blazing kitchen fire, the hump-backed servant girl, and the merry playmates, now slumbering beneath the sod.

So, after all, it took Time, patient teacher, to instil a full appreciation of the delights of twilight. Time brought the thousand things which make at once the charm and the sadness of that mystic hour;—the fleeting, intangible Past, the ideal hues which form a fairy halo round the most common-place occurrences; the real Present, contrasting vividly with the buried life; the last friends beyond the skies to draw our thoughts thither, and more than all, the feeling that we have tasted through experience somewhat of existence, and have earned a right to moralize upon its fleeting pleasures.