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The Fading Year
by [?]

I have followed the swallows, but the fieldfares and the buntings must also go soon. They will make their way South also, though some may go in leisurely fashion to catch the glorious burst of spring in Siberia. I have been grievously puzzled and partly delighted by Mr. Seebohm’s account of the birds’ pilgrimage, and it has given me hours of thought. We dwell amid mystery, and, as the leaves redden year by year, here recurs one of the chiefest mysteries that ever perplexed the soul of man. Indeed, we are shadowed around with mystery and there is not one red leaf whirled by the wind among those moaning woods which does not represent a miracle.

We cannot fly from these shores, but our joys come each in its day. For pure gladness and keen colour nothing can equal one of these glorious October mornings, when the reddened fronds of the brackens are silvered with rime, and the sun strikes flashes of delight from them. Then come those soft November days when the winds moan softly amid the Aeolian harps of the purple hedgerows, and the pale drizzle falls ever and again. Even then we may pick our pleasures discreetly, if we dwell in the country, while, as for the town, are there not pleasant fires and merry evenings? Then comes the important thought of the poor. Ah, it is woful! “‘Pleasant fires and merry evenings,’ say you?”–so I can fancy some pinched sufferer saying, “What sort of merry evenings shall we have, when the fogs crawl murderously, or the sleet lashes the sodden roads?” Alas and alas! Those of us who dwell amid pleasant sights and sounds are apt in moments of piercing joy to forget the poor who rarely know joy at all. But we must not be careless. By all means let those who can do so snatch their enjoyment from the colour, the movement, the picturesque sadness of the fading year; but let them think with pity of the time that is coming, and prepare to do a little toward lifting that ghastly burden of suffering that weighs on so many of our fellows. Gazing around on the flying shadows driven by the swift wind, and listening to the quivering sough amid the shaken trees, I have been led far and near into realms of strange speculation. So it is ever in this fearful and wonderful life; there is not the merest trifle that can happen which will not lead an eager mind away toward the infinite. Never has this mystic ordinance touched my soul so poignantly as during the hours when I watched for a little the dying of the year, and branched swiftly into zigzag reflections that touched the mind with fear and joy in turn. Adieu, fair fields! Adieu, wild trees! Where will next year’s autumn find us? Hush! Does not the very gold and red of the leaves hint to us that the sweet sad time will return again and find us maybe riper?

October, 1886.