« AnteriorContinuar »
Naught may I here repeat of all he said
Save this -- and for your profit I unfold it: The lamp went out, the night was nearly dead
List to the wondrous tale as there he told it: “Thou knowest, О friend! that chapel on the Rhine
Which late we saw by hoary forests shaded; There doth an oaken chest secure confine
A wondrous rose, with leaves all dry and faded.
Once it was young and radiant as the morn,
On Jericho's fair plain in beauty growing ; Thence to Loretto's holy shrine 't was borne,
A pilgrim hand the precious gift bestowing. It shed sweet perfume on the desert air,
And from its thorny stalk full low depended, What time the Tempter met our Saviour there,
And angel-hosts to Him from heaven descended.
* But modestly its roseate garb it wore,
And with green leaves its fragrant blossoms covered, When, as He stood on Jordan's holy shore,
The heavenly Dove, descending, o'er Him hovered. Within this holy shrine secure it lay;
To God with pious rites 't was consecrated, And with its resting-place was borne away,
To Italy by angel-hands translated.
Old is it now, all withered, dead, and dry;
In vain you wet it in the flowing river, Or in the flower-vase lay it carefully ;
Its faded leaves would crumble then for ever. But on one night, one single night alone,
It wakes from sleep, its radiant garb assuming, And, beauteous as on Jordan's banks it shone,
Bursts to full bloom, the air with sweets perfuming.
' 'Tis on the night when all along the Rhine
From tower and town the Christmas-chimes are pealing; Then doth the priest within a glass of wine
Place the dead flower, in rapt devotion kneeling: And when the clock the midnight hour bath tolled,
And o'er the land the matin-bells are sweeping, Then silently the withered leaves unfold,
As the fair flower the holy day were keeping.
'A sudden life impenetrates its clay,
Through every withered leaf and fibre flowing, And, as if fresiily plucked but yesterday,
The holy flower with rosy youth is glowing: Again in gleaming, blushing red 't is seen,
As from its native heath in beauty springing, And through its velvet leaves of darkest green
Sweet odors to the morning air is flinging.
*Thus doth it stand till night again draws near,
The holy festival of Christmas ending.'
In fervent prayer my hands to heaven extending.
So knelt the shepherds once in fear and wonder:
I was always something of a rover. It runs in our family, the spirit of wandering. My father was a sea-faring man, and my mother, I believe, fared no better than he did. He made long, venturesome voyages, mostly out of sight of land for days and days together. In this he was like my grand-father, who, I have been told, went to Botany Bay; yet I don't know as he deserves much credit for it, as it was not his notion : he went on government business.” As I hinted, I have knocked about the world a good deal. Travelling is much easier now and more expeditious than it used to be, as I remember to have remarked some five years ago to a gentleman from Greenland who took the cars with me (the morning was too stormy for other conveyance) at Cairo to visit the sources of the Niger, which was then a very fashionable resort, with as comfortable hotels as you will find in Africa. But, ah me! the good old days of lion-hunting are gone for ever, and you may walk along the banks of the Niger for half a day together, and not see above a dozen crocodiles for your pains. I should like to have lived a century or so ago, when hunting was hunting. However, I have met some adventures in my day. The last that befel me is in every way so remarkable that I propose to relate it.
As we used to reckon in that period of duration which men called time, it was in the summer of the year 2076. I was sitting in the observatory, on the top of my house, reading an account of the last skrimmage between the Mormons of Salt Lake and the Nebraska Infantry, and watching rather languidly the balloons that were flying about in every direction, when one of those light air-carriages came floating toward me, and its occupant, stepping out upon the roof, fastened his
balloon to the lightning-rod, and holding out his hand as he approached, bid me 'Good post-meridian. I was rejoiced to recognize my old friend Aldebaran Smith-(this is the same family as the John Smiths, who became so numerous a century ago that Congress passed an enactment that every Smith born after the passage of it should not be called John under penalty of losing his surname, but should choose his Christian name from some one of the constellations or stars. So, you may meet Arcturus, Taurus, Cetus and Sirius Smiths, and I even knew one scaly specimen named Libra. I learn that they have already exhausted all the constellations and stars of the first and second magnitudes.) Mr. Smith had been absent for the last year as envoy to the republic of Constantinople, stopping on his return to confer with the Irish President about the proposed tunnel through the Mountains of the Moon, a project which it was thought would much facilitate the Caffre trade.
We chatted for an hour or so concerning the improvement in manners and literature abroad, and the change at home, when, rising as if to go, he said he had called in relation to a little matter he hoped would not make any difficulty between us — indeed, he was sure it would not; but he had noticed that morning, in making some alterations in his outbuildings, that his lot was less in width than it was when he left home. He did not like to believe that our division-fence had been moved, and yet his house lot was the matter of six inches narrower than when the last survey was made. I assured Mr. Smith he must be in error; the fence had not been moved. Upon this, he was more confident in his assertion. I protested; he still affirmed, with considerable warmth; indeed, both of us grew not a little heated in the dispute, when I proposed to test the truth by an actual examination, and we both went down. There were no external marks upon the ground indicating that the posts had been moved, yet Mr. Smith's statement was more than confirmed; his lot was at least ten inches less in width than I had known it to be two months before. With some confusion of face, I protested my innocence anew, but I saw Mr. Aldebaran Smith evidently thought me a villain. We parted in no very good humor; and I, being a bit of a philosopher, went to my observatory with some uneasy reflections.
It was a favorite retreat of mine in those days; and surely I cannot imagine a better one, both for observation and meditation. Elevated above the world around, I looked down upon its teeming life and activity; off over its boundless fields, now rich with the harvest; upon its mills and huge factories; upon a white monument here and there rising above the trees, commemorating the bravery of some patriot who fell fighting for the integrity of the Union; upon fair and stately edifices, and upon the river winding along between banks noisy with the labor of electric engines and clamorous machinery. It was one of the glorious, cloudless days in September. The hum of many-voiced labor below formed a chorus to the flow of my thoughts. The whole air was alive with balloons. Some dark, piratical-looking crafts ----air-marauders; some neat business-carriages, driving along like the wind; and yet others of airy build, fair with streamers, decked with high-flushed summer-flowers, filled with gay forms, exuberant in young beauty and mirth, moving languidly along: now soaring to dizzy heights, now sinking so low that I could see the beautiful faces of their occupants, could hear their wild songs, and the sweet music of
'Ladies' laughter coming through the air.'
Oh, that singing and gayest laughter ringing out on the boundless air ! as if a thousand singing-birds from Paradise had been let fly in the upper ether. It is hushed now, but its tones are in my ear as I write.
Amid all the gaiety and life of landscape and the air, I could not divert my thoughts from my recent rencontre with Mr. Smith, and that awkward business of the fence. So much did it weigh upon my mind that I mentioned the circumstance to my family at the tea-table. My son Newton, who was something of a mathematical genius, proposed to measure the territory in dispute himself
. He returned, bringing intelligence which gave me fresh perplexity. The lot had shrunk at least twelve inches; and not only that, he found our own had diminished in a like ratio. He had scarcely finished speaking when a neighbor rushed in, and with some confusion related the observation of a similar phenomenon at his own residence, and ended by declaring that the Day of Judgment must be at hand. I was somewhat alarmed at these reports, although I did not heed his conclusion, as he was a Millerite, and had been accustomed to predict the same thing every month for ten years past. We went into the streets together. The town was quiet, the streets brilliantly illuminated, and the usual crowd of gay promenaders thronged the sidewalks and filled the shops of fasbionable resort. As yet the alarm bad not spread to any extent; or, if a few whispered their fears of some approaching calamity, not many heard or heeded; or, thinking it an idle tale of the Millerites, took no trouble to investigate for themselves, and laughed at the credulous. As for myself, being rather perplexed than terrified, and not caring to incur ridicule by expressing my own apprehensions, I returned home, and passed the report off to my family as another panic of the confounded Millerites. Yet I was far from being satisfied myself; and all the long night I slept little, or, if I did, dreamed the wildest dreams that ever entered human imagination.
At one time I stood alone upon a vast arid plain, stretching away illimitably on every side, and above it the sky, not pellucid and expansive, but like a dead convexity of copper spanning the desolate plain. And as I stood there, methought the sky of copper seemed to near me, and the vast plain to shrink. And so it did till it was no longer sky and plain, but a most fearful prison, whose walls I could almost reach by putting out my hand, and the air grew close and stifling; and with a strange feeling of compression I awoke. Again, I was far out in space, supported only by a boulder, or, as it seemed, a meteoric stone, which drove fearfully along, whirling, meanwhile, rapidly on its axis - turning and shooting in a dizzy maze, till I was sick with giddiness.
When morning came, there was no longer any room for doubt that some strange change was passing in nature. As the sun rose, and men came forth to their labor, and shops were opened, and the rattle of machinery began to break the stillness, the reports of the evening before gained ground. They spread from mouth to mouth, till half the villagers, now moved by an indefinable terror, ran hither and thither, measuring and re-measuring, and telling the results with the wildest looks of wonder. By noon, none felt any restraint in acknowledging their fears. Indeed, there was no longer need of measurement by rule or chain, for the shrinking of house-lots, the streets, and even the dwellings, was apparent to the eye. I shall never forget the frenzied confusion of that day. Dwellings and work-shops poured out their denizens, and the streets were filled with an excited and wonder-struck mass. Tradesmen, with pale faces and trembling limbs, stood in their door-ways telling that their shops had shrunk--ay, seemed even to be shrinking as they spoke. Farmers came running in, crying out that as they ploughed in the fields, the earth seemed to stiffen and grow hard — was almost impervious to the plough. Sailors from the river swore that the water was falling away from the banks; and one, who had just bathed, declared that the water buoyed him up in spite of his efforts to sink below the surface.
Going, about this time, to the large village common, I found it occupied by an assemblage of kneeling figures, dressed in long white robes, with pasteboard crowns on their heads. They were shouting, and beating the air and ground with extravagant gestures. And ever as they beat the air, they sang in wildest voices :
*If you get there before I do,
To play on the golden harp,
The chorus was caught up again and again by the excited multitude, and flung up to the sky in most passionate tones. It was a band of Millerites, and I should think there was nearly an acre of them.
As the day wore on, fresh reports brought fresh wonder and terror, until every man stood aghast and speechless, waiting for further developments. It was now four o'clock, I remember, and the air-express that brought the hourly edition of the city papers came whizzing through the atmosphere. When the mail was opened, I seized the Aërial Telegraph eagerly, though with an instinctive dread. I had hoped and believed that this strange phenomenon was entirely local; that this shrinking of the earth and houses might be attributed to some sectional agitation beneath the surface of the earth, some hitherto unknown convulsion, more terrible than the earthquake, indeed, but yet not general. How was my hope dashed, and my wildest speculations out-jumped, when the following paragraph met my eye:
"MOBT TERBIBLX RUIN IMPENDIXO!
"Just as we are going to press with the tenth edition of to-day, (circulation one million !) confirmed accounts reach us of fearful phenomena, with which we have been unwilling heretofore to alarm our readers. Every where, the fields, highways, and all standing on the surface of the earth, seem to be shrinking and growing smaller. Our city has not escaped. The streets have become visibly narrower since yesterday. The water in the docks is sinking, the town is filled with frightened faces, the air is dolorous with notes of woe. Since the Act of the one hundred and thirtieth Congress that every man should shave his head, our city has not been thrown into such a tumult. The