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MY STUDY FIRE.
THE FIRE LIGHTED.
THE lighting of the fire in my study is an event of importance in the calendar of the domestic year; it marks the close of one season, and announces the advent of another. There is always a touch of pathos in the last warm autumnal days, that makes the cordial acceptance of winter a kind of infidelity to the months that have lavished their gifts of life and beauty at our threshold. I am quite willing to shiver at my writing-table on sharp autumnal mornings in order that the final act of separation from summer may be postponed a little. This year we have been more than ever reluctant to sever the last tie with a season which has befriended us as none of its predecessors has ever done, and it was not until a keen northwester shook the house yesterday that we prepared the hearth for its annual fire. The day broke cold and gray, with an unmistakable aspect of winter in the sky and upon the fields; the little land-locked harbor looked bleak and desolate, and the wide expanse of water beyond was dark, cold and threatening. I found my study cheerless and unfamiliar; it was deserted by one season, and the next had not yet taken possession of it. It was a
barren day; thought and feeling were both congealed, and refused to flow, and even my faithful pen, that has patiently traversed so many sheets of blank paper, stumbled and halted. After a fruitless struggle with myself and my environment, I yielded to the general depression and closed my portfolio. A long walk brought me into harmony with nature, and when I returned I was not sorry to see that the andirons had been heaped with wood in my absence, and all things made ready for lighting the fire.
We lingered long at the dinner-table that evening, and when we left it a common impulse seemed to lead us into the study. Rosalind always lights the fire, and one of the pleasant impressions of the annual ceremonial is the glow of the first blaze upon her fair face and waving hair. Two little heads mingled their wealth of golden tresses at one end of the rug, intent upon the quick, mysterious contagion of flame which never fails to fill them with wonder; while in the background I watched the picture, so soon to take on a new and subtle beauty, with curiously mixed regret and anticipation. I take out my watch in unconscious recognition of the importance of an event which marks the autumnal equinox in the household calendar. At the same moment a little puff of smoke announces that the momentous act has been performed; all eyes are fixed on the fireplace, and every swift advance of flame, creeping silently from stick to stick until the whole mass is
wrapped in fire, is noted with deepening satisfaction. A genial warmth begins to pervade the room, and the soft glow falls first on the little group, and then passes on to touch the pictures and the rows of books with its luminous and transfiguring cheer. I am suddenly conscious that a new spirit has taken possession of the room, liberated no doubt by the curling flames that are now singing among the sticks, and hinting that it is winter, after all, which forces from summer her last and rarest charm, her deepest and most spiritual truth. That which has vanished to the eye lives in the thought, and takes on its most elusive and yet its most abiding beauty.
This first lighting of the fire in my study is, indeed, a brief transfiguration of life; it discloses to me anew the very soul of nature, it reveals the thought that runs through literature, it discovers the heart of my hope and aspiration. I catch in this transient splendor a vision of the deepest meaning which life and art have for me. The glow rests first upon those faces, eagerly searching the depths of the fire, that are the very heart of my heart; it rests next upon the books in which the thoughts of the great teachers and the dreams of the great artists remain indestructible; it steals last through the windows, and, even in the night, seems to bathe the farreaching landscape in a passing glory. Like the spirit which Faust summoned into his study, it reveals to me
"A weaving, flowing
Life, all glowing.”
After a time the golden heads begin to nod, and the dreams which they have seen in the glowing coals and the dancing flames begin to mingle with the dreams which sleep weaves with such careless, audacious fingers over the unconscious hours. The good-nights are soon said, and the little feet, already overtaken with drowsiness, make uncertain sounds on the stairs as they take up their journey to slumberland. Rosalind returns in a moment, and draws her easychair before the fire, with some fragile apology for occupation in her hands. The lamp has not been lighted, and neither of us seems to note the absence of its friendly flame. The book that we have been reading aloud by turns lies unopened, and the stream of talk that generally touches the events of the day in little eddies and then flows on to deeper themes is lost in a silence which neither is willing to break, because it is so much fuller of meaning than any words could be. Like the ancient river of Elis, thought flows on underground, and is perhaps all the deeper and sweeter because it does not flash into speech.
For a long time I do nothing but dream, and dreams are by no means unprofitable to those whose waking hours are given to honest work; dreams are not without meaning, for they are combined of memory and prophecy so subtly that no chemistry of philosophy has yet been able to separate them into their component parts. In his dreams a thoughtful man sees both his past and his future
pass before him in the order of their real sequence; there are the memories, not so much of his acts as of the purposes that were behind them, and there are the aspirations and hopes with which he unconsciously fills the years to come. A bad man cannot face an open fire with comfort, and he must be a man of rare fidelity of purpose and achievement to whom its searching light does not bring some revelations of himself which he would rather have hidden under the ashes of the past.
While I was meditating on the moral uses of a fire on the hearth, Rosalind put on a fresh stick, and stirred the half-burned wood with an energy that raised a little shower of sparks. The tongues of flame began to circle about the hickory, eager, apparently, to find the responsive glow sleeping in its sound and reticent heart. I recalled the strip of woodland from which it was cut, and like a vision I saw once more the summer skies and heard the summer birds. The seasons are so linked together in the procession of the year that they are never out of sight of each other. Even now, as I step to the window, and look upon the bleak landscape under the cold light of the wintry stars, I see just beyond the retreating splendor of autumn; I hear at intervals the choirs of summer chanting to the sun their endless adoration; and from the front of the column, almost lost to sight, come whiffs of that delicate fragrance which escaped when spring broke the alabaster box and poured out the treasures of the year.