Ebony Mansions

Ebony Mansions - Cover
Ebony Mansions - Title Page

If stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the City of God which had been shown! But every night
come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

EMERSON

The heavens are nobly eloquent of the Deity, and the most magnificent heralds of their Maker’s praise.

JAMES HERVEY

By night an atheist half believes in God,

YOUNG

DUSK

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DUSK

“Down through the starry intervals, Upon this weary-laden world, How soft the soul of Silence falls! How deep the spell wherewith she thralls, How wide her mantle is unfurled.”

—Mary Clemmer.

Dusk is asacred hour to nature. The little folk of the forest a-murmuring go to their nests, the trees deal in gentle whispers, and even the capricious wind generally subsides. It is the hour of humility, as the Flaming Monarch of the Skies bids his subjects adieu, and retires in regal splendor.

Know you the camp fire at this hour? The first chill of the night air moves the circle closer, and the peaceful faces are lit with the happy glow of the flames. The shallow amusements of daytime are no longer adequate, the

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soul demands deeper joys. It is the hour of tenderness, meditation, reverent thoughts, and songs which come from the heart.

How surpassing brilliant is the evening star when it first sparkles in the west in the afterglow! How the swallows dart and dive in the still evening air, both for the food they gather and the joy they feel. How mystic the cry of the loon; the symbol of untamed nature, as he cavorts about the serene surface of the lake! How superior is the still-winged hunt of the osprey, gliding in easy grace, silhouetted against the flesh-tinted sunset clouds! How sweet the woodland songsters as they strive to express the love and gratitude they feel for the gift of life.

Would you know the fullness of this hour? Be still—even as all Nature stills to receive the invaluable gifts of Silence! For the nonce, still even the voice of your thoughts, that you may be wholly receptive. Let not the magnitude of the whispered revelations startle you; dare to indulge the most perfect of hopes! Abandon your egotism, release the love in your heart that has been withheld through self-consciousness,

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and let flow through you the grand and perfect ideas which are Reality!

How restrained we are in accepting happiness! We hold back confirmation of love even to those we most adore. We hesitate to accept the joys of higher thought and expression lest it evidence some weakness, or impractical strain in our make-up. We foster adversity by looking only on the sordid as ‘”reality.” At times we seem more proud of our pains than our pleasures, and blacken the vista of life with morbid philosophies, rooted in egotism and fear.

The thoughts of the twilight hour do not rattle with armament and enmity. Do they then, have less of reality? Nay, accept them! “No hope so glorious but is the beginning of its own fulfillment.” Soar with the birds! scintillate with the evening star, sing with the sunset hues, and love with all creation! The flickering campfire in those slowly darkening woods is brewing heavenly thoughts which have been whispered to you throughout Eternity—drink deeply.

There is a peace settles upon the earth at

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twilight not definable in terms of things and events. It is concurrent with the evening phenomena, but not the product of them. It enters each unit of creation with healing effect, a soft light which illumines and guides all to a higher plane. Most of the consoling thoughts of the Universe have crept into the consciousness of Man in the sweet peace of the close of day.

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EBONY MANSIONS

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EBONY MANSIONS

There are those who, through traditional fear of darkness, miss the silent glories of the night. Perhaps it was well for our race, in primitive days, to seek refuge at the first suggestion of dusk; but those were days of mental darkness. The torch of intelligence has revealed for us many new, lovely mansions of Nature, not the least of which is her spacious palace of Ebony.

Night magnifies our vision, rather than limits it. Whereas in daylight we see but one star—our sun—whose light reaches us in some eight minutes of impetuous travel; in darkness we see thousands of stars, or suns, from which light must journey many years to reach us. We are confined to our solar orbit by daylight; our realm is infinite by night!

All Nature is decorously quieted by the cloak of darkness. Voices are involuntarily softened, moves are gentle and slow, and thoughts are rendered tranquil. Looking into the immensities of inter-stellar space, man is

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reminded how insignificant he is in physical comparison, yet how great in his spiritual and intellectual endowments which enable him to comprehend something of this grandeur!

The little people of the forest love night. No sound in all the vast repertoire of nature is more inspiring than the flute-like tones of the hermit thrush, when it has retired to its secret chamber, and casts back this beautiful farewell to the day. And who has not thrilled at the happy call of the whippoorwill, as he skims the tree tops? or the wild, sweet notes of the esoteric, white-throated sparrow, breathed into the nocturnal extravaganza. Had no one eyes to see the charms of the wilderness, he could know it all from the song of the whitethroat. If the hermit thrush is the soul of the woods, the white-throat is its spirit!

Highly treasured in our hearts is the memory of one heavenly night when inspiration led us to ground our canoe at the Spring Lake Trail. Big Fork Lake seemed a clear window to infinity that night, the heavens lay as massive and perfect of form below us in the mirrored waters, as above. A dainty sliver of a new moon

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hung low over the far shore, and close by hovered Venus, of unprecedented brilliance—as if trying to outshine her ancient rival. Again, the inverted scene in the waters was equal in perfection to the original, until distorted by the wake of the canoe. (Is not this philosophically true: that the beauty of perfection is always present and apparent, though our vision may be deformed by undulations of our own creation?)

A deer contested our right on the trail through the Hemlock Colonnades that night. We caught his glowing eyes in the far reaching rays of the flashlight. He pawed the ground in his disapproval, turned his lovely head from side to side trying to understand the light, and occasionally emitted a little snort to rid his sensitive nostrils of the dread odor of man. He tolerated our presence for a few minutes, then to show his nonchalance, nipped a tender leaflet from a nearby birch, and moved off into less public chambers of his sylvan palace. He was not frightened—rather offended—and we could trace his slow movements by sound far into the dark woods.

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Infinite is the forest at night. Our presence made but a tiny bubble of light in this sphere of darkness. We moved up the well-defined trail, and over the ridge of young birch. The birch is the lady of the forests, the poet says, and milady wore sparkling jewels in her hair that night.

We sat for a time on a ponderous log which bars the trail, and drank of the deep stillness. Not far away some little animal hustled about in the dry leaves. How sounds are magnified in this setting! At a distance there was a heavy crash, as some sorely tried limb finally gave way, and fell to the ground! Such an innovation in solitude is startling, and it is well to be a little apprehensive if you would gain the greatest joy of night in the woods. One knows that it is no threatening beast or goblin, but it is well to leave open the possibility.

The silence is deepened after a loud noise, perhaps because one tries harder to hear the something he knows is not there. We sat intently listening for some time, until our efforts were rewarded? We heard voices many of them, far ahead in the darkness! They were

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human voices in merry mood, shouting, laughing, calling names and messages which we could not quite catch! But by the tones we knew them to be friendly souls indulging in. the most joyous repartee.

The voices were mixed, some of high pitch as of women, and some the baritones of men. One moment they seemed to be approaching, the next, farther away. Several times we thought our names were called, but we were not sure.

We were not long mystified. We knew these friendly voices, knew them and loved them, though we have never seen their owners. The Voices of the Woods, which the Indians call the “Voyageurs!” Long this strange illusion has been known to men of the forests, and often it has been the illusive siren, as is the mirage of the desert, to lure lost ones to insanity.

Of what are they composed? Who knows? Some say it is the actual sound of silence. Some play upon the phenomenon with immagination, and conceive Spirits, Most likely it is the agglomeration of
forest sounds, —here the

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tinkle of running water, there the creak of rubbing trees, the rustle of little ground life through the leaves, the distant call of frogs and insects—coming en masse to the hearer, and interpreted in light of his experiences.

Do not analyze the Voices of the Woods too acutely, or they disintegrate. Let them have their mystery. They are more charming in the occult than in familiarity. Let them be eerie babblings of forest spirits, and we the unsuccessful eavesdroppers! Whatever their meeting, it is festive; whatever their message, it is good; whatever their form, it is eternal; whatever their, realm, it is behind the impenetrable Wall of Nature, and we must look in adoration on this side, while they gaze joyously on the other. We shall never look upon them, nor catch a single word, they say,

though in each silent moment in the woods, it seems we are at the point of doing so.

We moved on down the trail, in the direction of the Voices, but they promptly retreated. We came to the perfect oval which is Spring Lake, and looked in fresh adoration at the reflected heavens. Night birds called through

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the darkness. From far beyond, where Capella toyed with the silhouetted tree tops, came the sporadic outburst of a family of coyotes. A gentle breeze rustled the sensitive aspens; a swell of unknown origin broke in tiny wavelets on the shore; an owl asked “who-o-o” we were; and meteors made their fading marks in the heavens.

It seems regrettable that one cannot forever stay at this point of extreme sensitiveness and high appreciation. “I am lifted to Thee by Thy great beauty, I am torn from Thee by mine own weight.” One must come away from scenes which charm, and must rest from the mood which enchants. But these foretastes of Heaven are waymarkers, leading to patience with the world, and faith in the Ultimate.

Night has been much maligned. It has been used to symbolize adversity and despair. But night shines with a glory all its own, and in its silent hours has come to man the greatest inspiration. “By night, an atheist half believes in God,” says Young. No one can remain insensible to the vastness of Creation as he looks into outer space in the light of darkness.

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There is a rich reward awaiting the receptive soul who breaks the traditional tethers of the fireside, and steps forth to view Nature with his eyes freed of blinding lightly!

“Oh radiant Dark! O Darkly fostered Ray! Thou hast a joy too deep for shallow day.”

—George Eliot.

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THE ANTLERED KING

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THE ANTLERED KING

Midnight in solitude! A full moon dominates the sky, bathing the north country in cool splendor. A mood of perfect calm holds the elements,

All at the Sanctuary are wrapped in peaceful sleep; all save two—The Tireless Ones. They skirt the lake shores by canoe, slipping noiselessly through long, black shadows cast by shoreline trees. They emerge at the small clearing which marks the deer run.

“He’s there!” whispers one, the sound of his own voice startling him.

“Stroke!” answers the other.

One! Two! Three!—three sharp strokes and the canoe is left to momentum, the while the paddlers sit motionless. So smooth is the run of the light craft it seems suspended in space while the universe glides by.

“He’s feeding!” whispers one.

The other commands silence, perhaps not

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too politely, and steers the drifting canoe toward a ghostly form at the water’s edge.

Standing like the incarnate Spirit of the Wilderness is the most noble of Bucks, known to the Sanctuarians as “The Antlered King!” A glimpse of him is a trophy prized at the Sanctuary. He has been sighted on the Spruce Swamp Trail, twice at Vanishing Lake, and his great tracks have been the outstanding discovery of several hikes. This morning the sands at this spot bore record of a nocturnal visit, and the Tireless Ones have gambled a few hours’ sleep on the theory that he might return.

They have guessed well, and rich is their reward. There he stands—a King indeed! In the mystic moonlight he seems more the spectre of some vanquished monarch of the forest, come to haunt his former domain. His antlered head is held proudly aloft as he munches his delectable lilypads. Now, as he reaches down for another bite, The Tireless Ones take a quick stroke in his direction (Oh, they have done this before!) and then sit motionless as he again raises his head.

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Several more well-timed strokes and they are but fifty feet away! The momentum carries them to forty—to thirty—to twenty-five! They drift to twenty; twenty feet from The Antlered King,—Oh! here is adventure! He stands still now, suspicious of the floating shadow, an offshore draft denying him the testimony of his nostrils. The Tireless Ones scarce breathe, and fear lest the loud beating of their hearts betray them. But they are safe so long as there is no sudden motion, no noise, and the forest breeze keeps their scent from him. For the scent of man is alarm to all beasts of the woods, shame be to him!

The King stands erect, his ears forward, the picture of wilderness caution! He seems like some angelic dream that would dissolve at the slightest disturbance. Never, never will The Tireless Ones forget those few moments—perhaps ten, perhaps thirty, they could not tell. The beautiful spirit scarcely four paddle lengths before them, the birches at the shoreline no less ghostly than he, the dark mass of the forest, and Silence!—Silence that pressed the beauty right into the soul!

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The King becomes reconciled to the presence of the shadow: “a misplaced cloud, no doubt, crowded from the sky by the moonlight.” He returns to his meal. Every motion sings with grace and rhythm: the delicate bowing of his neck, the dainty pawing of his slender hoofs, and the occasional tossing of his head as if to wave proudly his magnificent antlers before an admiring world. The Tireless Ones sit entranced, drinking in every sound and filmy object of the exquisite scene. A fish flops some distance away, knowing just when this sound should enter the silent symphony, and on the far shore the cry of an owl is heard at decorous intervals.

Quietly and unnoticed another spectator is surveying this silent drama. An old beaver, rich in forest wisdom, swims noiselessly in the deeper waters. He is curious about the principals in this nocturnal scene. The Antlered King he has seen often before, and of him feels no alarm. But that strange, floating log, with figures at either end, excites both his curiosity and suspicion. Still unnoticed; he moves very slowly toward the object. It is so still it puzzles him. His nose nearly touches it,

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when suddenly he gains the terrifying scent of man! It is the scent he has often encountered when death thundered among his people; the scent borne likewise by the atrocious steel traps that torture his kind! As a warning to all wild folk, he strikes the water a resounding smack! with his great, flat tail, and dives to safety!

The Tireless Ones are still under the spell of Solitude, and are unprepared for this sharp noise of gunshot proportions, at the very side of their canoe. They bolt upright, the canoe lurching and tipping menacingly. There is a clatter of falling flashlights and paddles—a bursting of noise that animates the scene!

Up goes the antlered head, the flag tail, and the King is gone! Oh, the sublime grace of that flight! The great (leaps, made without seeming effort, would tax wings! A mere flash of vision, divine while it lasts, and then only the sound of his hoofs, crackling twigs, and resentful whistling snorts mark his route through the forest, until he is swallowed up in Silence! Out in the open lake the old beaver, proud of the disturbance he has caused, continues his smacking and diving.

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The Tireless Ones paddle slowly back to the Sanctuary, still under the spell of the adventure. They beach the canoe before either speaks, and then,

“Man, what we have to tell them in the morning!”

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CAPELLA
STOOPS TO CONQUER

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CAPELLA STOOPS TO CONQUER

The heavens are most friendly, if we open our hearts to them. One is beautifully companioned, however much alone, when he may look aloft and call intimately by name the Pleiades, Orion, Ursa Major, Auriga. In the open spaces they counsel and guide; through the artificial lights of the city they reach down to inspire; and the very magnitude of their distances and proportions serves to enlarge and ennoble thought.

Man is a creature of sentiment, however much he struggles against it. No two things in Nature hold the same degree of appeal to him. Thus it is that through sentiment we have chosen from the unnumbered legions of the heavens one star to call our own!

Capella, dazzling star-queen of the North, first became enthroned in our adoration one perfect night on Basswood Lake some years ago. We were adrift in a canoe, which rolled gently in the evening swell, looking back captivated by the sheer mass of the limitless, black

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forest. A campfire lit one small spot in the unbounded darkness, illuminating a ghostly, white tent, and we could hear the song and laughter of much-loved voices. The skies were aglitter with stars. Far to the southwest the horizon glowed faintly, and it gladdened thought to know that this marked the nearest approach of towns.

We had just remarked that not one thing could be added to deepen this beauty, when our eyes caught sight of a star on the north horizon, barely above the jagged tops of the pines. It seemed in a frenzy of corruscation. Its very brilliance made it appear to leap about in space in a wild dance of joy. Its color changed from white to red, to green, to blue, faster than the words could be said. There was melody, rhythm, enchantment, regality in its performance, and though we knew not its

name at the moment, we called it from that night “Queen of the North.”

We watched the fair queen as she slowly swung to the east in her dancing, and mounted into the upper heavens. She sobered somewhat as she climbed to her throne, and assumed royal

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dignity. Her terpsichorean humor comes only as she drinks deeply of the wine of the earth’s atmosphere. At the zenith she is adorned in courtly beauty, bright, imposing, but calm and aloof.

For Capella never sets in the north country, but forever circles the north star, attentive to her kingdom! Nightly she surveys her realm from her high throne—but then descends to mingle joyously with her subjects. Forty years is necessary for her lovely light to reach us, and it is well worth the waiting!

Capella is a spectroscopic binary. The penetrating eyes of the spectroscope reveal her as composed of two suns, one of which, in composition, is comparable to our own. These suns, endlessly circling each other, are widely separated, but at this great distance merge in appearance as one.

The skies boast no fairer child than Capella; not as bright as Sirius or certain of the planets, but more interesting and varying in her queenly moods. She is a true northerner. At no time is her beauty in better display than as she dances in the gossamer of the

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Aurora. It is her nativity. The brighter the ghostly curtains and celestial beams, the more brilliantly she scintillates. She toys with the pines, her silver image bathes in the still waters, she counsels and guides the wayfarer. A true Empress is she, through beauty conquering a realm which adores her. Gladly are we enthralled!

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HUT HAPPINESS

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HUT HAPPINESS

Great as is the treasury of joy held in the limitless vaults of the outdoors, it is not a monopoly. The captivating charms of forest trails, emerald waters, and wildwood friends, furred and feathered, could be recited without end. They never disappoint, and never surfeit, but through years of indulgence constantly grow in appeal.

But while gratefully adoring this unfailing source of joy and beauty, we should not fail in appreciation of the sweet happiness of the cabin fireside!

Hut happiness has entwined in it both the practical and the ideal (if these be distinct). It symbolizes protection, security, and comfort. It is the seat of love and the throne of tranquillity. All other joys, seem, in a manner, to grow out of Hut Happiness, for along on the journeys into the forest one carries the sweet assurance that he will return to the fireside, to protection and comfort. The cabin is the starting point and the objective of every plan.

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The very heart of Hut Happiness is the fireplace! With what peace we recall the picture: A favorite chair, a loved book, house Slippers, and a moderate gratefire, with a few sticks of cedar to give it voice; muscles comfortably tired by an active day. Out in the night it is raining, beating a staccato dance on the thin roof. Trees lash before a stiffening wind—each sound making the Sanctuary more dear, Silence, and peace! Our eyes close for a moment as we think gratefully of each loved phase of our environment! We think of the fireplace, of the pattering rain, the great forest, and the black waters of the lake, now streaked with white foam.-Then again of the fireplace. “We no longer build fireplaces for physical warmth,” said Edna Ferber, “we build them for the warmth of the soul; we build them to dream by, to hope by, to home by.” Loved ones are dearer by firelight, dreams are sweeter, plans are more noble, faith is strengthened, hope is surer, and Truth is apprehensible!

Hut Happiness is inextricably interwoven with friendliness. What greater delight is offered man’s soul than the contemplation of a circle of happy, friendly faces, lit with the

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warm glow of the gratefire! The evening is alive with wit, song and laughter—-remember? There is a beautiful familiarity in the freedom of this atmosphere, which renders us conversationally superior to our wont. The conventional mannerisms which bar intimacy and discount sincerity in most gatherings are happily absent here. We are natural as the trees, unsophisticated as the skies. Neglect no ritual in this evening of delight: the Ceremony of Popcorn, Toasted Marshmallows, Broiled Bacon, the Frankfurters, and the inevitable Coffee, made at one side of the coals! Hunger does not call for these, they are a pageantry of good fellowship.

Often in the north woods sojourn (too often for some!) comes the lazy day. But the occasional lazy day is a joyous part of Hut Happiness. One wants just to lounge about, sit on the porch and look out through the trees and over the lake; he wants to do nothing that demands of him special decision or energy.

With what fine resourcefulness the cabin meets his wishes, and caters to his mood! There is the swing on the front porch which creaks out a musical drone, while one looks aimlessly

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about, enjoying all, but thinking of nothing. There is the friendly book ever at hand, yet unoffended if one’s interest in it is brief. There are the daily papers, a month old, yet entirely new and interesting. There is the neglected list of correspondence; some hooks to sharpen and boots to oil. If the day grows, warm, perhaps energy might be stirred to take a brief dip in the cool lake, and then enjoy a siesta. The lazy day is a lovely part of cabin joys, but guard against its lures—it bears great limitation as a habit!

The charms of Hut Happiness are never more vividly expressed than when .written on the snows of a winter evening. Approach the cabin after a day on snowshoes, tired but happy, cold but hopeful, and with an appetite that is all but dangerous to fellow men. Look on the distant, cheery light of the windows as it lays a brilliant pattern on the pure, white snow. Warmth, welcome, invitation seem to burst forth from every crevice. Loosen the snowshoes with numbed fingers, enter this Haven, pull close to the fire, and catch the tantalizing odors of the dinner in preparation. How the hands and feet tingle and the cheeks.

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glow as the blood again warms and circulates! What a sense of ease creeps over you as you relax—rest! (Oh, there is a, vast difference in natural tiredness and the nervous exhaustion of the competitive world!) No power on earth could move you from this comfort, save the dinner call. No barrier of politeness or conflicting ambition could hold you thereafter from the inviting bed. How the whole cabin seems to wrap about you, while outside nature crackles with cold, and the chill beams of the moon light a fantastic pattern on the frosted windows! And over a trail of dreamless sleep you make your way to another day!

Man is a home-loving creature, the nomads of his race are few. It is only when he views things in the light of home that he perfects and respects them. His cabin is his home, his dwelling is home, his neighborhood, his city, his state, his country—his world! Were he not so sensitive to the soulful appeal of Hut Happiness, he would have made no strides toward civilization.

“There is no place more delightful than one’s own foreside.”

—Cicero.

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