Hills of Asham

LIKE the glare of a blood-red furnace the August sun went down
Over the hills of Asham, with the drouth’s long-wasting brown,
And, shorn of the grace of twilight, at one step plunged the night
Into the purple vapor that had drunk the day’s last light.
Dread fell with the dark on Asham, where teachings, mocked at first,
The slow and cruel summer into ripe belief had nursed ;
The trump of Judgment to-morrow was to thrill with its solemn sound
The living amid their labors, the dead in their graves profound !
And so, as the night rushed downward, in his door sat Jasper Lee,
And, borne on its lurid bosom, beheld Eternity.
“ ’T is thus,” to himself he muttered, “ that the earth her Judge should meet,
With the clouds of heaven upgathered, to make a path for his feet.”
But the calm on his musing forehead broke into an angry flame,
When his fair-haired daughter Alice o’er the threshold faltering came.
Was it Reuben Moore beside her, — her lover of long ago,
At his stern command relinquished, — the son of his bitter foe ?
From his chair old Jasper started. “What brings you here?” he cried.
“ Be off, ere my patience fails me ! And you, girl, there at his side, —
Do you stand in the great doom’s shadow, forgetful, undismayed ?
There ’s a curse denounced upon children who have schemed and disobeyed ! ”
“ Oh, father, be kind! ” said Alice. “ If it be indeed as you say,
And this night, so black and awful, presage the last dread day,
Shall we carry our pride and passions alive to the Judge’s bar ?
Is there anything unforgiven where the saints and the angels are ?
“ Oh, father, dear father, tell me that to-night the old grudge dies ! ”
She clung to his arm, and pleaded with her sweet dead mother’s eyes.
But the heart of Jasper was hardened ; he put her roughly by.
“There’s a just and right resentment that never was meant to die!
“ His father cheated me basely, — I swear it! Moreover, I know
He slandered me basely to hide it. What if it were years ago ?
A wrong is a wrong forever.” Then quietly Reuben said,
“I come from him with a message for you, sir,—and he is dead.
“ Does a penitent God has pardoned remain the same in your eyes ?
Untouched, can you hear him speaking from the far-off grave where he lies ?
He bade me entreat you to measure, by your hope of a final grace,
His sin, as your conscience should answer what you would have done in his place.”
The face of Jasper was troubled, and thrice his hard lips stirred
To thrust back the dead man’s challenge ; but ere he could choose a word
The wrath of the brooding tempest a readier voice had found,
And the mighty heart of the darkness was cloven with flame and sound.
Muttering and menacing harshly, the thunder jarred to rest
In a deep, dead hollow of silence, low down in the shrouded west.
The night seemed listening breathless; and Jasper his gray head bent,
As if he feared to be dazzled by the light of the Lord’s descent.
At last, like one awakened from the spell of a dreamful sleep,
He faced his daughter and Reuben, with utterance broken and deep :
“ Be ye two witnesses for me, I take back the words I said !
The warning of God is between me and the sin of him who is dead.
“ Out of the clouds he has spoken ; in you brief moment’s space,
As plain as the lighted hill-sides, I looked my soul in the face ;
And the dead years rose to judge it, as it stood in its stains alone.
I have done with the deeds of others, I go to plead for my own.”
The hand of Reuben a moment he held in a pressure strong, —
How Alice had prayed to behold it, that clasp deferred so long !
He turned from the porch in silence ; and, under a gray old oak,
They saw him stand like a shadow, as the wind with a wail outbroke,
And the crash of the thunder, bursting in a wide, blue, blinding track !
“ Father, oh, father ! ” cried Alice, “ come out of the storm, — come back! ”
But only an echo answered, for the lips of Jasper were mute.
With the lightning’s seal on his forehead, he lay at the seared oak’s foot.
The morrow dawned upon Asham in a heaven of pearl and blue,
And the heart of the hills vibrated, as the great sun smote it through;
The brooks in their channels quivered, the little leaves laughed their fill,
And the sins and sorrows of mortals were rip’ning for Judgment still.
Jean Scofield.