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A FEW weeks later, and "Lawn Cottage" was the scene of an event which made the hearts of its inmates glad even to tears. That event was the marriage of Fanny. From the time of her betrothment to Mr. Willet, a new life seemed born in her spirit and a new beauty stamped upon her countenance. All around her was diffused the heart's warm sunshine. As if from a long, bewildering, painful dream, she had awakened to find the morning breaking in serene beauty, and loving arms gathered protectingly around her. The desolating tempest had swept by; and so brilliant was the sunshine, and so clear the bending azure, that night and storms were both forgotten.
Old Mr. Allison was one of the few guests, outside of the families, who were present at the nuptial ceremonies. The bride--in years, if not in heart-experience, yet too young to enter upon the high duties to which she had solemnly pledged herself--looked the embodied image of purity and loveliness.
"Let me congratulate you," said the old man, sitting down beside Mr. Markland, and grasping his hand, after the beautiful and impressive ceremony was over and the husband's lips had touched the lips of his bride and wife. "And mine is no ordinary congratulation, that goes scarcely deeper than words, for I see in this marriage the beginning of a true marriage; and in these external bonds, the image of those truer spiritual bonds which are to unite them in eternal oneness."
"What an escape she made!" responded the father, a shudder running through his frame, as there arose before him, at that instant, a clear recollection of the past, and of his own strange, consenting blindness.
"The danger was fearful," replied Mr. Allison, who understood the meaning of the words which had just been uttered. "But it is past now."
"Yes, thanks to the infinite wisdom that leads us back into right paths. Oh! what a life of unimagined wretchedness would have fallen to her lot, if all my plans and hopes had been accomplished! Do you know, Mr. Allison, that I have compared my insane purposes in the past to that of those men of old who made their children pass through the fire to Moloch? I set up an idol--a bloody Moloch--and was about sacrificing to it my child!"
"There is One who sits above the blinding vapours of human passion, and sees all ends from the beginning; One who loves us with an infinite tenderness, and leads us, even through struggling resistance, back to the right paths, let us stray never so often. Happy are we, if, when the right paths are gained, we walk therein with willing feet. Mr. Markland, your experiences have been of a most painful character; almost crushed out has been the natural life that held the soaring spirit fettered to the perishing things of this outer world; but you have felt that a new and better life has been born within you, and have tasted some of its purer pleasures. Oh, sir! let not the life of this world extinguish a fire that is kindled for eternity."
"How wonderfully has the infinite mercy saved me from myself!" returned Mr. Markland. "Wise, skilful in the ways of the world, prudent, and far-seeing in my own estimation, yet was I blind, ignorant, and full of strong self-will. I chose my own way in the world, dazzled by the false glitter of merely external things. I launched my bark, freighted with human souls, boldly upon an unknown sea, and, but for the storms that drove me into a sheltered haven, would have made a fearful wreck."
"Then sail not forth again," said Mr. Allison, "unless you have divine truth as your chart, and heaven's own pilot on board your vessel. It is still freighted with human souls."
"A fearful responsibility is mine." Mr. Markland spoke partly to himself.
"Yes," replied the old man; "for into your keeping immortal spirits have been committed. It is for them, not for yourself, that you are to live. Their good, not your own pleasure, is to be sought."
"Ah, if I had comprehended this truth years ago!" Markland sighed as he uttered the words.
"This is too happy an occasion," said Mr. Allison, in a cheerful voice, "to be marred by regrets for the past. They should never be permitted to bear down our spirits with sadness. The bright future is all before us, and the good time awaiting us if we but look for it in the right direction."
"And where are we to look for it, Mr. Allison? Which is the right direction?"
"Within and heavenward," was answered, with a smile so radiant that it made the wan face of the old man beautiful. "Like the kingdom of heaven, this good time comes not by 'observation;' nor with a 'lo, here!' and a 'lo, there!' It must come within us, in such a change of our ruling affections, that all things good and true, which are real and eternal verities, shall be the highest objects of love; for if we love things that are real and abiding, and obtain as well as love them, our happiness is complete."
"Thanks for the many lessons of wisdom I have received from your lips," replied Mr. Markland. "Well would it have been for me if I had earlier heeded them. But the ground was not hitherto prepared. Now, after the rank weeds have been removed, the surface broken by many furrows, and the ground watered with tears, good seed is falling into its bosom."
"May it bring forth good fruit--some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred-fold!" was said, low and fervently, by the aged monitor; and, in the pause that followed, his ear caught a whispered "Amen."
And the good seed did spring up in this good ground, and good fruit came in the harvest time. Strongly tempted, indeed, was Mr. Markland, by his love of the world, and the brilliant rewards it promised to the successful, to enter a bold combatant in its crowded arena; but there were wise and loving counsellors around him, and their words were not unheeded. Instead of aspiring after "Woodbine Lodge," he was content to purchase "Lawn Cottage," and invest the remainder of what he had received in property that not only paid him a fair interest, but was increasing in value. The offer of Mr. Willet to enter into business was accepted, and in this his gains were sufficient to give him all needed external comforts, and a reasonable prospect of moderate accumulation.
How peacefully moved on again the pure stream of Mrs. Markland's unambitious life! If her way through the world was not so thickly bordered with brilliant flowers, humbler blossoms lined it, and she gathered as sweet honey from these as ever from their gayer sisters. She, too, had grown wiser, and could read the pages of a book whose leaves she had once turned vainly, searching for truth.
Even Aunt Grace was beginning to feel that there were some things in the world not dreamed of in her common-sense philosophy. She looked on thoughtfully, pondering much of what she heard and saw, in her heart. She had ceased to speak about the annoyance of having "Woodbine Lodge" "forever staring down," with a kind of triumph, upon them; though it was hard for her, at all times, to rise above this weakness. The "Markland blood," as she said, was too strong within her. What puzzled her most was the cheerful heart of her brother, and the interest he took in many things once scarcely noticed. Formerly, when thought went beyond himself, its circumference was limited by the good of his own family; but now, he gave some care to the common good, and manifested a neighbourly regard for others. He was looking in the right direction for "that good time coming," and the light of a better morning was breaking in upon his spirit.
As years progressed, the day grew broader, and the light of the morning became as the light of noonday. And as it was with him and his, so may it be with us all. In each of our hearts is a dissatisfied yearning toward the future, and a looking for a brighter day than any that has yet smiled down upon us. But this brighter day will never dawn except in the world of our spirits. It is created by no natural sun of fire, but by the sun of divine love. In vain, then, do we toil and struggle, and press forward in our journey through the world, fondly believing that in wealth, honour, or some more desired external good, the soul's fruition will be gained. The immortal spirit will ever be satisfied with these things; and the good time will never come to the erring seeker.
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