The Night Jasmine by Elsa Cowen

The Night Jasmine by Elsa Cowen

AMONG the orange blossoms blooming under a tropical sky played the South Wind; he wafted away the dew-drops, shimmering and shining on the fragrant flowers; he rocked the dark glistening leaves to the cradle song he had learnt from beyond the sea, and the tiny humming birds stayed their flight to listen; then, ever restless, flashed through the air, their wings sparkling like myriads of precious stones.

From the orange trees the breeze sailed past the trumpet flower, her large white head raised in such proud unconcern to all he could have to say, that he sang no song to her. The "cacti" called him to tell them of the far-off wonders, but he heeded not. The "morning glories " with flushed faces beckoned him to no purpose. Over to the garden fence, where the double "jasmines" twined in delicious disorder, waving and dancing, he found his way.

Then commenced the fun in earnest; no lullaby was it now that he murmured to his favourites, for at every pause in his story the flowers shook with laughter and glee till the blossoms fell.

"Ah," cried a pomegranate from the other side of the fence; as she watched the white stars strewing the ground, "you have no future fruit to think of; I tremble when the wind touches me lest my buds fall off too soon." Nowithstanding her tone, she looked tenderly at her red and purple flowers. "You," continued she, "you dance all day ; if a blossom fall, what matter, one more or less? New ones will be born to-morrow."

"Yes," laughed the jasmines, "the hours are only too short for our play; we are giddy things, as you say, with no responsibilities, eh! sweet south wind?"

"No, not half long enough," echoed the breeze, "so we will make the most of them; yes, the days are glorious here;—" and with a half-sigh, for a moment his sportive manner ceased, as memories came over him of days that were far other than glorious, wherein he played a part quite different to this soft dallying among the tropical flowers.

"I could sing them sad songs enough," thought he, "but what good ? storms must come everywhere, no need to be warned beforehand."

"Come," cried the jasmines, "no serious mood here ;" and they stretched out their tendrils and caught him in their clasp. And the frolic began again in wilder glee, until the lizards darted out to look on, and the butterflies stopped their chasing to declare to each other "they were not so frivolous;" while the trumpet flower stared up into the sky, where not a white cloud relieved the intense blue, and thanked mother Nature that she was not a jasmine.

"Neither flowers nor fruit," murmured a shrub in a corner, "neither promise nor fulfilment, neither buds that bloom into full beauty, delighting the eye, giving no further care, withering when their short life is past, nor blossoms that fall but to make way for the more perfect fruit; nothing but a poor, plain, insignificant, useless plant; yet I have heard it said that the jasmines over yonder and I are related."

Wistfully she gazed at the fence, and her eyes wandered past the merry lighthearted flowers to where the pomegranate stood in all her pride and happy responsibility; and the contrast struck her more bitterly than ever.

The shrub was an insignificant one; it is true the leaves were not without gloss, and were of a delicate shape, the growth, too, was not ungraceful ; in another land than that rich tropical one she would doubtless have been prized ; but among all these vivid hues of buds and blossoms she stood alone, without vestige of flower; and as if to tantalize her more, where blossoms should have been, mother Nature had placed tiny bunches of what looked like slender green stalks, only discernible from very near. She did certainly seem to have no place in all that sunshine and brilliancy of colour; she felt the only things akin to her were the weeds that, spite all care, would spring up around her, and the bats, dark, mournful birds that, as the night fell, whirled and twirled above her head like living embodiments of her gloomy thoughts.

Under a window had she been planted; when, she could not tell. The ring of children's happy voices, little faces peeping out, dancing feet flitting before her in the garden; these were the first distinct memories she had. Years had come and gone since then in this land of ever summer time; the babble of baby tongues had long been hushed in the eternal "silent country ;" brother and sister alone of the many little ones had reached manhood and womanhood, and the two were as one. Still, as of old, came through the open window sounds that told of glad fellowship; and the shrub watched the two wandering arm-in-arm, at noon or at eve, through the avenue of lime and orange trees; or sitting on the terrace steps, the moonbeams silvering the mountain tops in the distance, while the palms stood still and breathless, waiting to catch a ray, a smile, from the goddess of the night.

Little of sympathy as the shrub had with her kind in the garden, the sight of these two, so twin in spirit, had a soothing influence over her, though it made her, perhaps, only more lonely. The night wind, as he slid in through the window many an evening late, to the two inside, would throw a glance at the dismal plant, wondering at her melancholy; but he had not courage to address her; and she, though she would fain have heard of his evening visits, did not care to speak to him; "only a wanderer after all" she would say to herself, and she let him pass on.

Golden balls gleam among the orange branches where the scented flowers were; the pomegranate has lost her gorgeous blossoms, and in their place hang tiny green fruit; the sun shines more fiercely, but clouds, black as a night without stars, touch the mountains, and flashes of light dart forth as if in quest of something lost; peals of thunder, each one louder than the last, are heard. In the house all is still, scarce a footstep sounds, scarce a murmur comes through open doors and window. * # * #

Like the breaking up of mighty torrents bursts the storm. Thunder and lightning war with each other like two powerful kings, as to who shall rule, who be first, till flash and crash come simultaneously. The trees hang their branches drenched by the pitiless rain, the ground lies strewn with fruit hurled from the boughs—one parting boom like a cannon discharged, the clouds part, and, as if tired of the battle, flee away quicker than they came, and leave the fair heaven free.

The sun lords it once again, the birds leave their refuge places, the flowers try to raise their heavy heads, on which the rain-drops linger like tears in a baby's eyes. The storm is past, as if it had never been; only deep pools flood the garden, and tell of its handiwork. * * * *

"Say, why is all so quiet within?" asked the shrub of the wind that night as he stole past her even more gently than his wont.

"Ah," replied he, softly; "the angels are calling their brother away; I go to waft his soul above," and he disappeared. The shrub gazed up into the starlit heaven, with its countless myriads of lights; the southern cross shone down on her in all its beauty, the pure holy influence she felt, though she knew not its significance; around her the fireflies, like fitful stars of earth, danced in the air, and almost touched her branches; but she scarce saw them.

Was she marvelling over the eternal mystery of human life, love, and death, as she gazed into the silent night, the night that could give no answer back to her dumb questioning?

"His soul is in Heaven," moaned the night-wind in her ear. But the shrub gave him no reply, though a sigh, a shiver, passed over her.

"My brother, oh ! my brother," breathed a voice from the window, like the wail of an imprisoned spirit, while tears fell bedewing the shrub's leaves; the plant trembled as she cried, "comfort her, oh, comfort her, sweet night wind."

"She will follow him," he answered, and he kissed the maiden's upturned brow, and caressed the flowing curls; then he moved to the side of the shrub.

"The angels and I will fetch her at dawn," whispered he; "only then will she be comforted."

And so it was. The spirit sought its fellow ere the morning's sun broke. But the shrub, the one desolate and forlorn plant lives yet under the window, no longer despairing, no longer sad; fruit has she none, but these fragile green stalks, scarce seen in day-light, give out as night approaches, a perfume so sweet, so rich, that all other fragrance seems faint. Should you ask a botanist, he will find a dozen reasons, natural ones, for the fact; the night-wind, too, declares it was love of him that worked the spell; yet, though he does not now woo in vain, and they call her in the Tropics, "The Night Jasmine" still, talk to her, and she will tell you that even this had not wrought the charm, had not sympathy, the intense longing to comfort sorrow, awoke in her; and where the maiden's hot tears fell, brought forth blossoms, that scarce to be discerned, yet nightly let their presence be known, shedding sweet, delicious perfume around.