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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 husbed 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 fashionable 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 bither 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 bim up in spite of bis 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 sbrinking 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:
'MOST TERRI8 L E BO EN IMPRNDING! 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 ving 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 snan should shave his head, our city has not been thrown into such a tumult. The
the sun and stars, and with insane laughter make merry with dissolution, was appalling!
Sick and stricken, as with infinite terror, I fled from the village and the haunts of men - alas! of men no more. All sensation of hunger and thirst, and indeed every feeling but that of utter desolation, had left me, and I wandered on blindly and madly, any where — any where from the sight of human anguish. For the first time, I noticed that the days and nights were growing shorter, but this did not impress me so much then as it did afterward. Still I wandered on and on, until at length I stood upon a broad, barren prairie; here, at least, I should escape the awful spectacle of sinking dwellings and crushed men.
From this period I can give no account of time: day and night were alike to me. I think I must have swooned and slept for days, and perhaps months. Yet I knew all the while that the earth was continually condensing; that the days grew shorter and shorter. When full consciousness returned, the prairie had shrunk to the size of a mere grassplot. Leaving that, I wandered to the north-east, in the neighborhood of the Great Lakes.' I found only diminutive ponds. The mighty cataract of Niagara, which I had thought would endure for ever, was no longer visible; and in vain I searched for any trace of those great northern metropolises, Detroit, Chicago, and Sault Sainte Marie. Every where was the desolation of death. The vast northern forests had vanished, and which ever way I turned my footsteps, I met the same chilling silence. Home or shelter there was none on all the dreary earth; it mattered little whether I laid down on Arctic snows, or in the fervid tropics sought in vain the cool refreshment of spice-bearing forests that overgrow so rankly there. Listless, and almost emotionless, I roamed like a vagabond, denied every thing but life. How often I wished I had slept in a quiet grave on the banks of the Hudson, long ago, when the mounds were green
there! At one time I stood on the shore of the Atlantic. Its surface was waveless — smooth as polished marble. Thinking to bathe my aching limbs, I stepped forward ; but it yielded not to my feet; it was firm, solid as adamant. Walking out upon it, I looked down, down into its crystal depths. The rays of the sun, gliding into its bosom, returned to my eye in all the hues of the rainbow, and all the mighty ocean sparkled and glittered like a huge diamond; while below me, in infinite number and form, the tribes of fish and sea-monsters lay motionless and still as if bound in iron.
Again, straying southward, I stood beside Chimborazo. It had shrunk to a little hillock. And sitting down on its peak, I looked along the range of the Andes, now mere dots on the earth's surface, and off over the calm Pacific. All its coral islands, that sat very glorious in the midst of the sea,' vocal with song of tropical birds, stirring with busy traffic, and swarming with traders from the ends of the earth, had long ago been engulfed. All the ships that used to skim its surface, laden with wealth and the products of man's industry, and all the men who manned them, where were they?
Keeping still southward, along what was once the range of the Andes, I reached the southern extremity of the Western Continent. The Patagonian bluffs had disappeared; Terra del Fuego bad sunk its frowning rocks; and the once terrible sea, where so many stout ships had foundered in the vexed waves, was now as calm as a summer lake. With a vague consciousness of the silent shrinking and condensing of the earth, of the continual shortening of the days, a listless retracing of my steps northward, and I stood once more on the North American shore of the Atlantic.
The ocean had dwindled to the width of a ferry, and before me, almost within a stone's throw, lay England and the European land. Going forward upon the glassy sea, with no need now of chart or compass, I reached the Old World. (I have forgotten to mention before the condensation of the atmosphere, which circumstance had for some time impeded my progress; and now it was with difficulty that I could push my way through it. The sensation was something like that of walking against a stormy wind. The effort of breathing so condensed a gas was quite evident upon my respiratory organs also.) I was in England. But where were London and the vast cities of the Thames ? I was in Austria. Where was .cannon-girt Vienna ?' I was in Russia. Where were the gorgeous cities of the Cossack Empire? Farther eastward, I reached what were once the wide plains of Bactriana, near which I knew had been the Garden of Eden. Here had been the cradle of the human race. “Here,' I exclaimed, “it is fit that the Last Man should find his grave. My journeying on earth was ended. I wandered no more; but there, in dogged indifference, awaited my fate. At this period, another phenomenon, which I have not alluded to, began to grow upon my perception. I refer to the rotation of the earth on its axis. I had been slightly sensible of this for some days, but now it seemed to increase in an accelerated ratio. The sun did not now rise majestically as usual, but shot quickly up in the east, hurried its flight across the heavens, and plunged into the west; it was so with the planets and stars.
I have said I was in a state of dogged indifference. This is only partially true. At times I was wrapped in most blessed visions, from which I awoke to keenest agony; and again I fell into a deep insensibility. Now there was charming music in the air; strains sweet as ever Eden heard. Anon, it was full of faces ; beautiful faces; known and remembered faces of those I had loved and cherished. How they smile on me! how they pity me with their gentle eyes! And there are the grave, immortal faces of the great of all ages, sad as we see them in pictures. How the wonderful gathering increases ! It stretches away illimitably; the whole sky is filled. Hands beckon me: I hear voices
. Yet the crowd increases; they press upon me; they jostle me. I start up! There is only the
dull sky and the hard earth, shrinking, shrinking! Or, I dream of green fields, and trees in full leaf, and cool streams flowing by pleasant banks, and the blue sky over all. I am ill; ill at home. The room is shaded, that the light shall not disturb me. I bear light footsteps on the carpeted floor. A form bends over me, and a face that I passionately loved in boy hood, that I learned to regard with
a truer and deeper affection when manhood came. She bends still lower to part away the hair from my feverish forehead, and a soft curl touches my cheek. How the vision maddens me when I awake! Awake to what?
The earth had diminished to a very small compass. The sun did not now rise and set, but was fixed overhead; and the fact was past doubt that the earth was whirling on its axis with increased rapidity, and I with it, round and round, describing a circle continually lessening. From this time, recollection is confused. I remember that the rotation of the earth was accelerated every hour, every moment. In my rapid whirling, the sun seemed no longer a globe, but a band of flame encircling the sky, and the stars slender threads of parallel light. The centrifugal form was evidently, in relation to myself, overcoming the centripetal ; my the earth was loosened, and the next instant I was hurled — shot like a rocket — afar into space. With what a delicious, delirious sensation I sank down, down; or rather, to drop the word down as not applicable to space, I floated onward. I was free! The untamed Tartar was not
The gray eagle never knew so bold and daring a flight. My spirits rose in unbounded exhilaration, as if I had tasted the elixir of life. The heaviness of earthy clods was no longer about my feet, but I moved in the pure ether like a spirit.
The novelty of my situation for a time wrapped me in astonishment : alone, unsupported, floating out in that vague, indefinable space I had longed all my life to fathom. I had become as one of the nightly host that used to look down so pityingly on me when on the earth ; a brother to the stars! To my unobstructed sight, the vast multitude of worlds were visible — around, near me, or glimmering in the far, soundless depths. Looking back, I could not distinguish the earth ; but the wild moon yet wandered, widowed, through the heavens. For a time my course seemed in a straight line, and I moved very swiftly. But at length I felt other influences at work upon me. My speed was considerably diminished. I was drawn hither and thither, turned this way and that, I suppose by the conflicting attractions of the sun and stars. Soon these influences also ceased, or rather became harmonized, and I moved on steadily and rapidly. This motion has never changed. From my limited knowledge of astronomy and the position of the heavenly bodies, (quorum pars magna sum,) I think I am in what we used to call our system,' moving in a vast circle round the sun. I consider my situation a desirable one, unless I should enter a complaint on account of the extreme scarcity of provisions. But men are mere creatures of babit. I have become a planet. I don't know but I am as contented to be a planet as to be shut out from the light of day, and the sight of God's fields and stars, by grates of iron and stony-hearted keepers.
Here the manuscript ends, or rather runs into insane ravings about freedom, and the bliss of the planetary state. Then follow interjections, dashes, blots, and mere disjointed insane sentences, which the present editor can in no wise decipher: nor does he care to.