Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

though it should be to wreck on the great ocean, but still away from him! Night after night she rose from her bed to hazard the attempt, but her heart failed, and her trembling limbs refused their aid. At length moonlight came to her aid, and when all the house slept she stole downstairs with bare, noiseless feet, and sped like a ghost across the meadow to the river-bank. Poor weak hands! vainly they fumbled with the knotted rope that bound the skiff to a crooked elm overhanging the water, — all in vain for many lingering minutes; but presently the obdurate knot gave way, and, turning to gather up her shawl, there, close behind her, so close that his hot breath seemed to sear her cheek, stood her husband, clear in the moonlight, with a sneer on his face, and the lurid glow of drunkenness, that made a savage brute of a bad man, gleaming in his deep-set eyes. Hitty neither shrieked nor ran; despair nerved her,—despair turned her rigid before his face.

"Well," said he, "where are you going?"

"I am going away,— away from yon, — anywhere in the world away from you!" answered she, with the boldness of desperation.

"Ila, ha! going away from me !—that's ad — d good joke, a'n't it? Away from your husband! You fool! you can't get away from me! you're mine, soul and body,— this world and the next! Don't you know that? Where's your promise, eh?—' for better, for worse !'—and a'n't I worse, you cursed fool, you? You didn't put on the hamhuffs for nothing ; heaven and hell can't get you away from me as long as you've got on that little shiny fetter on your finger,— don't you know that ? *

The maddened woman made a quick wrench to pull away from him her left hand, which he held in his, taunting her with the ring that symbolized their eternal bonds; but he was too quick for her.

"Hollo!" laughed he; "want to get rid of it, don't you V No, no! that won't do,— that won't do! I'll make it safe 1"

VOL. IV. H

And lifting her like a child in his arms, he carried her across the meadow, back to the house, and down a flight of crazy steps into the cellar, where a little forge was all ablaze with white-hot coal, and the two ill-visaged men she well knew by sight were busy with sets of odd tools and fragments of metal, while on a bench near by, anil in the seat of an old chair, lay piles of fresh coin. They were a gang of counterfeiters. Abner Dimock thrust his wife into the chair, sweeping the gilt eagles to the floor as one of the men angrily started up, demanding, with an oath, what he brought that woman there for to hang them all.

"Be quiet, Bill, can't you ?" interposed the other man. "Don't you see he's drunk? you'll have the Devil to pay, if you cross a drunk Dimock!" But Abner had not heard the first speaker; he was too much occupied with tying his wife's arms to the chair, — a proceeding she could nowise interfere with, since his heavy foot was set upon her dress so as to hold her own feet in helpless fixedness. He proceeded to take the ring from her finger, and, searching through a box of various contents that stood in one corner, extracted from it a delicate steel chain, finely wrought, but strong as steel can be; then, at the forge, with sundry tools, carefully chosen and skilfully used, he soldered one end of the chain to the ring, and, returning to his wife, placed it again upon her finger.

"Here, Bill," growled he, "where's that padlock off the tool-chest, eh? give it here! This woman's a fool, — ha, ha, ha! — she wanted to get away from me, and she's my wife!" Another peal of dissonant laughter interrupted the words.

"What a d—d good joke! I swear I haven't laughed before, this dog's age! And then she was goin' to rid herself of the ring! as if that would help it! Why, there's the promise in black and white,— 'love, honor, and ot>ey,'—' I take thee, Abner,"—ha, ha! that's good! But fast bind, fast find; she a'n't going to get rid

of the ring. I'll make it as tight as the Hitty sat, statue-like, in her chair;
promise; both of 'em 'll last to doomsday, stooping, the man unbound her, and she
Give me the padlock, you scoundrel!" rose slowly and steadily to her feet, look-
Bill, the man he addressed, knew too ing him in the face,
much to hesitate after the savage look "Look !" said she, raising her shackled
that sent home the last words, — and, arm high in air,—"I shall carry it to
drawing from a bag of tools and dies a God!"—and so fled, up the broken stair-
tiny padlock and key, he handed them to way, out into the moonlight, across the
Dimock, who passed the chain about Hit- meadow,—the three men following fast,
ty's thin white wrist, and, fastening it with —over the fallen boughs that winter had
the padlock, turned the key, and, with- strewn along the shore, out under the
drawing it from the lock, dropped it into crooked elm, swift as light, poising on
the silvery heat of the forge, and burst the stern of the boat, that had swung out
into a fit of laughter, so savage and so in- toward the channel,—and once more
human that the bearded lips of his two lifting her hand high into the white light,
comrades grew white with horror to hear with one spring she dropped into the
the devil within so exult in his possession river, and its black waters rolled down
of a man. to the sea. THE END OF ALL. Wandering along a waste
Where once a city stood,
I saw a ruined tomb,
And in that tomb an urn,— A sacred funeral-urn,
Without a name or date,
And in its hollow depths
A little human dust!

Whose dust is this, I asked,
In this forgotten urn?
And where this waste now lies
What city rose of old?None knows; its name is lost;
It was, and is no more:
Gone like a wind that blew
A thousand years ago!Its melancholy end
Will be the end of all;
For, as it passed away,
The universe will pass!Its sole memorial Some ruined world, like ours;A solitary urn, Full of the dust of men!
set widely apart,—by the extreme contractility of the pupil,—and in his manners, by his lurking and stealthy habit of surprising his victims. His eyes are partially encircled by a disk of feathers that yields a peculiarly significant expression to his face. His hooked bill turned downwards, so as to resemble the nose in a human countenance, the general flatness of his features, and his upright position, give him a grave and intelligent look; and it was this expression that caused him to be selected by the ancients as the emblem of wisdom, and consecrated to Minerva. The Owl is remarkable also for the acuteness of his hearing, having a large ear-drum, and being provided with an apparatus by which he can exalt this faculty, when under the necessity of listening with greater attention. Hence, while he is silent in his own motions, he is able to perceive the least sound from the motion of any other object, and overtakes his prey by coming upon it in silence and darkness. The stillness of his flight is one of the circumstances that add mystery to his character, and which have assisted in rendering him an object of superstitious dread. Aware of his defenceless condition in the bright daylight, when his purblindness would prevent him from evading the attacks of his enemies, he seeks some obscure retreat where he may pass the day without exposing himself to observation. It is this necessity which has caused him to make his abode in desolate and ruined buildings, in old towers and belfries, and in the crevices of dilapidated walls. In these places he hides himself from the sight of other birds, who regard him as their common enemy, and who show him no mercy when he is discovered. Here also he rears his offspring, and with these solitary haunts his image is closely associated. In thinly settled and wooded countries, he selects the hollows of old trees and the clefts of rocks for his retreats. All the smaller Owls, however, seem to multiply with the increase of human population, subsisting upon the minute animals that accumulate in outhouses, orchards, and fallows. When the Owl is discovered in his hiding-place, the alarm is given, and there is a general excitement among the small birds. They assemble in great numbers, and with loud chattering commence assailing and annoying him in various ways, and soon drive him out of his retreat. The Jay, usually his first assailant, like a thief employed as a thieftaker, attacks him with great zeal and animation; the Chickadee, the Nuthatch, and the small Thrushes peck at his head and eyes; while other birds, less bold, fly round him, and by their vociferation encourage his assailants and help to terrify their victim. It is while sitting on the branch of a tree or on a fence, after his misfortune and his escape, that he is most frequently seen in the daytime; and here he has formed a subject for painters, who have commonly introduced him into their pictures as he appears in one of these open situations. He is likewise represented ensconced in his own select retreats, apparently peeping out of his hiding-place while half-concealed; and the fact of his being seen in these lonely places has caused many superstitions to be attached to his image. His voice is supposed to bode misfortune, and his spectral visits are regarded as the forewarnings of death. His connection with deserted houses and ruins has invested him with a peculiarly romantic character; while the poets, by introducing him to deepen the force of their gloomy and pathetic descriptions, have enlivened these associations; and he deserves, therefore, in a special degree, to be named among those animals which we call picturesque. The gravity of the Owl's general appearance, combined with a sort of human expression in his countenance, undoubtedly caused him to be selected by the ancients as the emblem of wisdom. The moderns have practically renounced this idea, which had no foundation in the real character of the bird, who possesses only the sly and sinister traits that mark the

BIRDS OF THE NIGHT.

Tin:UK are numerous swarms of insects and many small quadrupeds, requiring partial darkness for their security, that come abroad only during the night or twilight. These would multiply almost without check, but that certain birds arc formed with the power of seeing in the dark, and, on account of their partial blindness in the daytime, are forced by necessity to seek their food by night. Many species of insects are most active after dewfall, — such, especially, as spend a great portion of their lifetime in the air. Hence the very late hour at which Swallows retire to rest, the hour succeeding sunset providing them with a fuller repast than any other part of the day. No sooner has the Swallow disappeared, than the Whippoorwill and the Night-Jar come forth, to prey upon the larger kinds of aerial insects. The Bat, an animal of an antediluvian type, comes out at the same time, and assists in lessening these multitudinous swarms. The little Owls, though they pursue the larger beetles and moths, direct their efforts chiefly at the small quadrupeds that steal out in the early evening to nibble the tender herbs and grasses. Thus the night, except the hours of total darkness, is with many species of animals, though they pursue their objects with comparative stillness and silence, a period of general activity.

In this sketch, I shall treat of the Birds of the Night under two heads, including, beside the true nocturnal birds that go abroad in the night to seek their subsistence, those diurnal birds that continue their songs during a considerable portion of the night. Some species of birds are partly nocturnal in their habits. Such is 'the Chimney Swallow. This bird is seldom out at noonday, which it employs in sleep, after excessive activity from the earliest morning dawn. It is seen afterwards circling about in the decline of day, and is sometimes abroad in fine weather the greater part of the night,

when the young broods require almost unremitted exertions, on the part of the old birds, to procure their subsistence.

The true nocturnal birds, of which the Owl and the Whippoorwill are conspicuous examples, are distinguished by a peculiar sensibility of the eye, that enables them to see clearly by twilight and in cloudy weather, while they are dazzled by the broad light of day. Their organs of hearing are proportionally delicate and acute. Their wing-feathers also have a peculiar downy softness, so that they fly without the usual fluttering sounds that attend the flight of other birds, and are able to steal unawares upon their prey, and make their predal excursions without disturbing the general silence of the hour. This noiseless flight is very remarkable in the Owl, as may be observed, if a tame one be allowed to fly about a room, when wo can perceive his motions only by our sight. It is a fact worthy of our attention, thnt this peculiar structure of the wing-feathers does not exist in the Woodcock. Nature makes no useless provisions for her creatures; and hence this nocturnal bird, which obtains his food by digging into the soil, and gets no part of it while on the wing, has no neeil of this contrivance. Neither stillness nor stealth would assist him in securing his helpless prey.

Among the nocturnal birds, the most notorious is the Owl, of which there are many species, varying from the pize of an Eagle down to the little Acadian, which is no larger than a Robin. The resemblance of the Owl to the feline quadrupeds has been a frequent subject of remark. Like the cat, he sees most clearly by twilight or the light of the moon, seeks his prey in the night, and spends the principal part of the day in sleep. The likeness is made stronger by his tufts of feathers, that correspond to the ears of the quadruped, — by his largo head,— his round, full, and glaring eyes,

feline race. A very different train of associations and a new series of picturesque images are now suggested by the figure of the Owl, who has been portrayed more correctly by modern poetry than by ancient mythology. He is now universally regarded as the emblem of ruin and desolation, true to his character and habits, which are intimately allied to this description of scenery.

I will not enter into a speculation concerning the nature and origin of those agreeable emotions which are so generally produced by the sight of objects that suggest the ideas of decay and desolation. It is happy for us, that, by the alchemy of poetry, we are able to turn some of our misfortunes into sources of melancholy pleasure, after the poignancy of grief has been assuaged by time. Nature has beneficently provided, also, that many an object, which is capable of communicating no direct pleasure to our senses, shall affect us agreeably through the medium of sentiment The image of the Owl is calculated to awaken the sentiment of ruin, and to this feeling of the human soul we may trace the pleasure we derive from the sight of this bird in his appropriate scenery. Two Doves upon the mossy branch of a tree in a wild and beautiful sylvan retreat are the pleasing emblems of innocent love and constancy; but they are not more suggestive of poetic fancies than an Owl sitting upon an old gate-post near a deserted house.

I have alluded, in another page, to the faint sounds we hear when the Night Birds, on a still summer evening, are Hying over short distances in a neighboring wood. There is a feeling of mystery excited by these sounds, that exalts the pleasure we derive from the delightful influence of the hour and the season. But the emotions thus produced are of a cheerful kind, and not equal'in intensity to the effects of the scarcely perceptible sound occasioned by the flight of the Owl, as he glides by in the dusk of the evening or in the dim light of the moon. Similar in its influence is the dis

mal voice of this bird, which is harmonized with darkness, and, though in some cases not unmusical, is tuned, as it were, to the terrors of that hour when he makes secret warfare upon the sleeping inhabitants of the wood.

One of the most interesting of this tribe of birds is the little Acadian Owl, (Strix Acarlica,) whose note has formerly excited a great deal of curiosity. In " The Canadian Naturalist," an account is given of a rural excursion in April, in the course of which the attention of one of the party is called by his companion, just after sunset, to a peculiar sound proceeding from a cedar swamp. It was compared to the measured tinkling of a cowbell, or regular strokes upon a piece of iron, quickly repeated. The one appealed to is able to give no satisfactory information about it, but remarks, that, "during the months of April and May, and in the former part of June, we frequently hear, after nightfall, the sound just described. From its regularity, it is thought to resemble the whetting of a saw, and hence the bird from which it proceeds is called the Saw-Whettcr." The author could not identify the bird that uttered this note, but conjectured that it might be a Heron or a Bittern. It has since been ascertained that this singular note proceeds from the Acadian Owl. It is like the sound produced by the filing of a millsaw, and is said to be the amatory note of the male, being heard only during the season of incubation.

Mr. S. P. Fowler, of Danvers, informs me that " the Acadian Owl has another note, which we frequently hear in the autumn, after the breeding season is over. The parent birds, then accompanied by their young, while hunting their prey during a bright moonlight night, utter a peculiar note, resembling a suppressed moan or a low whistle. The little Acadian, to avoid the annoyance of the birds he would meet by day, and the blinding light of the sun, retires in the morning, his feathers wet with dew and rumpled by the hard struggles he has encountered in seizing his prey, to the gloom of the

« EdellinenJatka »