It was Christmas Eve—cold, cloudy, and damp. The store windows were gay with every conceivable and inconceivable device for attracting attention. Parents, nurses, and porters hurried along with mysterious looking bundles and important countenances. Crowds of curious, merry children thronged the sidewalks; here a thinly clad, meager boy, looked, with longing eyes and empty pockets, at pyramids of fruit and sweetmeats; and there a richly dressed group chattered like blackbirds, and occasionally fired a pack of crackers, to the infinite dismay of horses and drivers. Little chaps just out of frocks rushed about, with their round, rosy faces hid under grotesque masks; and shouts of laughter, and the squeak of penny trumpets, and mutter of miniature drums swelled to a continuous din, which would have been quite respectable even on the plain of Shinar. The annual jubilee had come, and young and old seemed determined to celebrate it with due zeal. From her window Beulah looked down on the merry groups, and involuntarily contrasted the bustling, crowded streets with the silence and desolation which had reigned over the same thoroughfares only a few months before. One brief year ago childish voices prattled of Santa Claus and gift stockings, and little feet pattered along these same pavements, with tiny hands full of toys. Fond parents, too, had gone eagerly in and out of these gay shops, hunting presents for their darlings. Where were they? children and parents? Ah! a cold, silent band of sleepers in yonder necropolis, where solemn cedars were chanting an everlasting dirge. Death’s harvest time was in all seasons; when would her own throbbing pulses be stilled and her questioning tones hushed? Might not the summons be on that very wintry blast which rushed over her hot brow? And if it should be so? Beulah pressed her face closer to the window, and thought it was too inconceivable that she also should die. She knew it was the common birthright, the one unchanging heritage of all humanity; yet long vistas of life opened before her, and though, like a pall, the shadow of the tomb hung over the end, it was very distant, very dim.
“What makes you look so solemn?” asked Clara, who had been busily engaged in dressing a doll for one of Mrs. Hoyt’s children.
“Because I feel solemn, I suppose.”
Clara came up and, passing her arm round Beulah’s shoulder, gazed down into the noisy street. She still wore mourning, and the alabaster fairness of her complexion contrasted vividly with the black bombazine dress. Though thin and pale, there was an indescribable expression of peace on the sweet face; a calm, clear light of contentment in the mild, brown eyes. The holy serenity of the countenance was rendered more apparent by the restless, stormy visage of her companion. Every passing cloud of perplexed thought cast its shadow over Beulah’s face, and on this occasion she looked more than usually grave.