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From Chambers' Journal.
What woman is there that confesses not to the possession of a guarded secret ? School-girls have their cherished mysteries ; but these pass from mouth to mouth, till, like the witches at "seventh hand,” all their magic dies out. It is not of such we would speak, but of that sterner and more stubborn secret which is the life in life, which occupies the soul's inner and most secret chamber, and is the heart's holy of holies; a joy, or a dread, or a pang-most commonly the last—through life ; a thing that weaves itself, with more or less intensity, into every act of our daily struggle on earth; is with us when we rise to a new sun, and lies down with us in the darkness ; our accompanying shadow, go where we may, and do what we will ; that mocks us when we smile, counterfeits all our agonies; and to lose which would be something like that loss of soul pictured in the well-known German legend. That the constant presence of our secret within us and around us has its meaning for good, who shall doubt? Our human woes would not be alloted to us—aye, even as our daily bread—were they not necessary to the nourishment of a higher life than that which perplexes us here. Our wandering spirits, lost and restless, must, like the fabled children in the wood, gather their fruit from off the thorn. There is, in truth, no teaching like the teaching of a great and master sorrow.
There are few places filled with more startling material for the romancist than the much-neglected secret drawer. Secret passages, hidden vaults, tapestry-veiled doors, traps leading downward through the floor, and escapes opening upward through the sky-light, we have in abundance; but the narrow and apparently insignificant receptacle that holds within it, unseen by vulgar eyes, the hoarded secret of a heart and of a lifetime—nay, perhaps more—the darkening presence of a household, the öskeleton behind the door," seems altogether to have escaped the vigilant research of the curious. Relics—some sacred, some profane enough—hang visibly about our very doors. all familiar with relics of various kinds, from the sentimental lover's hair-filled locket down to the religiously-guarded “heart of Montrose.” Some people are essentially relic-lovers, and will make far-off pilgrimages for the bare sight of an iron belt or a knotted cord vouched
for as the castigatory badge of some mouldered monk, and feel a strange gratification in being permitted to kiss tho dust from the worn stones trodden by the feet of those whose once unhonored grave centuries have since hal.
lowed into something akin to the divine. From the mystic to the real is a wide bound, and few care to take the leap. But, leaving to the star-gazer his more dazzling horizon, let us gather round us for a brief space the lowlier interests of humanity; let us look with reverent eyes into the secret drawer.
My grandmother had an old-fashioned cabinet, portioned out, as was the method of constructing such commodities in her day, into sundry small shelves, drawers, and odd-covered boxes. The center compartment of this same old chest opened like a door, having lock and key, and within was a long sliding-drawer, occupying the entire depth of the cabinet. That in this drawer something very. precious was stored, all her children knew. None, however, dared to pry into their mother's guarded secret. Her husband, it was more than suspected, could have thrown some light on the matter; but he was never known to do so, and silence rested upon the unknown occupant of the drawer; the mystery remaining a mystery up to the day of my good grandmother's death. But when the cold hand can no more unlock a cabinet than it can unlock the door through which the warm, conscious life has passed ; and when the palsied foot, lying stark in its dusty dwelling, no more mounts the stair to the guarded treasure-house of all that was once so dear-then comes the revealer; comes, perhaps, in the form of a prying sick-nurse, one of those death-watches at the sight of whom the living quake. Or it may be that hands more tender deal in greater reverence with the departed spirit's cast-off apparel, holding sacred for the sleeper's sake, those forsaken relics wept and prayed over by the waking eyes that are never more to weep and pray on this earth again.
In the present case, it was so. The contents of the secret drawer were committed to the flames, in accordance with the expressed wish of the dying. But somehow or other the secret oozed out. It would appear that, like most other grandmothers, mine had in early life had a love-affair—as that deepest-striking of all woman's experiences is somewhat irreverently termed. It was the old story: the man she loved went abroad without having spoken just that one word for which her soul thirsted, and which, nevertheless, had found a thousand utterances scarcely to be mistaken. For years there was a dreary silence between the two. Then came my grandfather, with his earnest courtship. Under the feeling that she was not justified in cherishing a predilection so apparently unresponded to by the earliest object of her affection, she yielded, after a prolonged struggle, to my grandfather's suit. No sooner, however, was she formally
engaged to him, than there came a letter in the old, unforgotten handwriting!0, you who have ever listened with beating hearts for the postman's knock, fully prepared for all it might bring, think for one moment how the coming of this letter, long even unhoped for, and now too late, knocked at the heart of her who received it! Now, my grandmother had a conscience, and a more than commonly tender one. Her first impulse, of course, was to tear open the letter; but a second thought stayed her hand. She had long ago made the fact of this early attachment known to my grandfather. What she now did, then, was at once to tell him that she had received such a letter, and that, as his affianced wife, she could not and would not read it. Was she fantastic in her notions of right and wrong? I do not believe 80; I do not think she could have done a better or a wiser thing. Out of her act no suffering could possibly fall upon the man to whom she was pledged, and whose happiness was henceforth in her keeping, though much of pain bore heavily upon her. That letter, with its unbroken seal, lay, all her life, in the old musty cabinet, where it stood revealed at last. That, acting up to the truest spirit of her intention, she fought long and victoriously against the desire to fathom what those hidden characters contained—whether or not they bore that assurance of love which would once have been joy unutterable-we are bound to believe. Upon one solitary occasion alone, was she ever seen to wrestle with her temptation. After a meek endurance of one of my grandfather's fits of passion-for he had a stormy temper-she was found seated, weeping bitterly, before the open door of that guarded chest wherein lay the unbroken seal.
Solemn as such subjects must be and are, there is a blessed comfort in the thought of them. It is a gracious thing to feel that there is something, be it what it may, of real truth-of lasting good; something which neither time, nor trial, nor the common wear and tear of actual, dull, every-day life, can crush out of a man. But, soft ! let me pause. I said that nothing can crush out of a man. Do men know anything of such relics as I speak of? I am ignorant: I cannot say; but I should fancy they do not. The steady, unfaltering devotion of a long life to one thought and one remembrance, I own I never found, save in woman.
I myself confess to a few hoarded relics-Heaven forbid that any woman should be without them! But these are yet under the seal that lies so heavily on all living lips. Some day, perhaps—but we, none of us, like to think of that-strange hands may overhaul them. Pity it is that so few of us have strength of soul enough, or, it may be, warning-time enough, ere the Great Revealer steals upon us, to enable us to put beyond the reach of sacrilegious eyes our most darling secrets! O, could we but summon the nerve to place them within our own moving fingers upon some funeral pyre! Could we but watch them slowly consuming! But no; we cannot do this. While we have life, they are ours. It would seem like bidding an eternal farewell to our protecting genius, to put away the guardian spectres of lost hopes, dead loves, and mystic memories. No! Let us treasure them while we yet walk among the living. But, 0, may some kind and pitying hand, when we lie silenced, bury them with us, unprofaned by a single look!
A singular instance of this silent treasuring up of one solitary thought, and in the breast of a child, fell under my knowledge not long ago, while staying by the sea-side, at the house of some old friends. They were at the same time visited by a little girl of about seven years of age, who had been confided to their care, in order that she might have the benefit of the seabathing, recommended for some weakness of the spine, under which the child suffered. She was the loveliest little creature I ever beheld-quiet and shy, too, though least so with me, for whom she at once took a strong liking. Our hostess, who every night made a point of seeing her young charge put comfortably to bed, always remained in the room until the child had said her prayers. When her ordinary devotions had been gone through aloud, the child invariably bent down her head upon the bed, at the side of which she knelt, and offered up some prayer silently within herself. What this prayer was, nothing could induce her to reveal. Her parents were questioned about it; but though perfectly aware of the fact, they were unable to solve the question. It was of course a thing altogether too sacred to be intruded on by any forceful appeal, and all parties remained in their ignorance. I own that when first I was told of it, the secret appeared to me to be of so strange and unearthly a character, that I trembled as one who suddenly stands faced by a spirit. It seemed like a silent communing with angels. Feeling very anxious to witness with my own eyes what interested me so deeply in the telling, I one night, with my little friend's consent, accompanied her to her room. As usual, the prayers were repeated aloud, and then followed the silent offering up of that pure young heart. So holy was the hour, that I held my breath for very reverence, the tears springing to my eyes with sudden emotion. Surely angelic hosts hovered above that omall bowed-down head, on whose golden locks a halo seemed to rest! Whatever was that silent, guarded, and mysterious prayer-and sometimes it struck me that it might possibly have relation to either a dread of dying, or to her anticipations of her near heaven, as she was at the time out of health-whatever that prayer might be, that it was a beautiful and a pure one, I am sure—the purest and the best, perhaps, in all the long catalogue of guarded secrets.
One secret, which in every age has been most carefully and religiously guarded-guarded in terror and dismay, through inconceivable wrong and suffering, through life and up to the grave's brink, not perhaps even then to be rendered up to those who stand around scattering their last tears with the “ dust to dust”-is the secret of birth. Instances of the kind alluded to are so numerous and so startling, that it would be difficult to invent any story surpassing in interest the already written and attested records of that most dangerous secret. There are few families who cannot recount, from the oral traditions of their house, some legend touching on this subject-strange glimpses of some half-developed tragedy, if not so terrible as that of the “Family of Montorio," yet sufficiently suggestive to people the dreams of their hearers for nights to come. Such tales I remember to have heard in Scotland. One, in particular, struck me as most singular, because, though generations have been born, and have passed out of being since the occurrences narrated took place, no clue was ever found to the secret so cautiously and mysteriously guarded. The following is an outline of the tradition :
A couple, coming whence no man knew, arrived one sharp winter night amid the smoke of Edinburgh. The wife was younger than her husband by some years, and, possibly from the fact of this disparity of age, looked up to him with a feeling of reverential devotion belonging rather to a daughter than to a wife. It was noticed, indeed, by all who knew them, that she had, even thus early in her wedded life, laid down for herself a law of more strict and unquestioning obedience than is usually practised by even the best of wives. The result of this blind submission, as will be seen, must have borne hard
upon a pure heart and tender conscience, such as hers were represented to have been, though not perhaps until added years had brought home the lesson, rightly understood by few, that no mortal, even though he be a husband, has a right over any other human soul, authorizing him to rule its obedience con