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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 20
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    Although deprived for the present of all intercourse with Chastel and
    Yoletta, now in constant attendance on her mother, I ought to have been
    happy, for all things seemed conspiring to make my life precious to me.
    Nevertheless, I was far from happy; and, having heard so much said about
    reason in my late conversations with the father and mother of the house,
    I began to pay an unusual amount of attention to this faculty in me, in
    order to discover by its aid the secret of the sadness which continued
    at all times during this period to oppress my heart. I only discovered,
    what others have discovered before me, that the practice of
    introspection has a corrosive effect on the mind, which only serves to
    aggravate the malady it is intended to cure. During those restful days
    in the Mother's Room, when I had sat with Chastel, this spirit of
    melancholy had been with me; but the mother's hallowing presence had
    given something of a divine color to it, my passions had slumbered, and,
    except at rare intervals, I had thought of sorrow as of something at an
    immeasurable distance from me. Then to my spirit

    "_The gushing of the wave
    Far, far away, did seem to mourn and rave
    On alien shores_";

    and so sweet had seemed that pause, that I had hoped and prayed for its
    continuance. No sooner was I separated from her than the charm
    dissolved, and all my thoughts, like evening clouds that appear luminous
    and rich in color until the sun has set, began to be darkened with a
    mysterious gloom. Strive how I might, I was unable to compose my mind to
    that serene, trustful temper she had desired to see in me, and without
    which there could be no blissful futurity. After all the admonitions and
    the comforting assurances I had received, and in spite of reason and all
    it could say to me, each night I went to my bed with a heavy heart; and
    each morning when I woke, there, by my pillow, waited that sad phantom,
    to go with me where I went, to remind me at every pause of an implacable
    Fate, who held my future in its hands, who was mightier than Chastel,
    and would shatter all her schemes for my happiness like vessels of
    brittle glass.

    Several days--probably about fifteen, for I did not count them--had
    passed since I had been admitted into the mother's sleeping-room, when
    there came an exceedingly lovely day, which seemed to bring to me a
    pleasant sensation of returning health, and made me long to escape from
    morbid dreams and vain cravings. Why should I sit at home and mope, I
    thought; it was better to be active: sun and wind were full of healing.
    Such a day was in truth one of those captain jewels "that seldom placed
    are" among the blusterous days of late autumn, with winter already
    present to speed its parting. For a long time the sky had been overcast
    with multitudes and endless hurrying processions of wild-looking
    clouds--torn, wind-chased fugitives, of every mournful shade of color,
    from palest gray to slatey-black; and storms of rain had been frequent,
    impetuous, and suddenly intermitted, or passing away phantom-like
    towards the misty hills, there to lose themselves among other phantoms,
    ever wandering sorrowfully in that vast, shadowy borderland where earth
    and heaven mingled; and gusts of wind which, as they roared by over a
    thousand straining trees and passed off with hoarse, volleying sounds,
    seemed to mimic the echoing thunder. And the leaves--the millions and
    myriads of sere, cast-off leaves, heaped ankle-deep under the desolate
    giants of the wood, and everywhere, in the hollows of the earth, lying
    silent and motionless, as became dead, fallen things--suddenly catching a
    mock fantastic life from the wind, how they would all be up and
    stirring, every leaf with a hiss like a viper, racing, many thousands at
    a time, over the barren spaces, all hurriedly talking together in their
    dead-leaf language! until, smitten with a mightier gust, they would rise
    in flight on flight, in storms and stupendous, eddying columns, whirled
    up to the clouds, to fall to the earth again in showers, and freckle the
    grass for roods around. Then for a moment, far off in heavens, there
    would be a rift, or a thinning of the clouds, and the sunbeams, striking
    like lightning through their ranks, would illumine the pale blue mist,
    the slanting rain, the gaunt black boles and branches, glittering with
    wet, casting a momentary glory over the ocean-like tumult of nature.

    In the condition I was in, with a relaxed body and dejected mind, this
    tempestuous period, which would have only afforded fresh delight to a
    person in perfect health, had no charm for my spirit; but, on the
    contrary, it only served to intensify my gloom. And yet day after day it
    drew me forth, although in my weakness I shivered in the rough gale, and
    shrank from the touch of the big cold drops the clouds flung down on me.
    It fascinated me, like the sight of armies contending in battle, or of
    some tragic action from which the spectator cannot withdraw his gaze.
    For I had become infected with strange fancies, so persistent and somber
    that they were like superstitions. It seemed to me that not I but nature
    had changed, that the familiar light had passed like a kindly expression
    from her countenance, which was now charged with an awful menacing gloom
    that frightened my soul. Sometimes, when straying alone, like an unquiet
    ghost among the leafless trees, when a deeper shadow swept over the
    earth, I would pause, pale with apprehension, listening to the many
    dirge-like sounds of the forest, ever prophesying evil, until in my
    trepidation I would start and tremble, and look to this side and to
    that, as if considering which way to fly from some unimaginable calamity
    coming, I knew not from where, to wreck my life for ever.

    This bright day was better suited to my complaint. The sun shone as in
    spring; not a stain appeared on the crystal vault of heaven; everywhere
    the unfailing grass gave rest to the eye with its verdure; and a light
    wind blew fresh and bracing in my face, making my pulses beat faster,
    although feebly still. Remembering my happy wood-cutting days, before my
    trouble had come to me, I got my ax and started to walk to the wood;
    then seeing Yoletta watching my departure from the terrace, I waved my
    hand to her. Before I had gone far, however, she came running to me,
    full of anxiety, to warn me that I was not yet strong enough for such
    work. I assured her that I had no intention of working hard and tiring
    myself, then continued my walk, while she returned to attend on her
    mother.

    The day was so bright with sunshine that it inspired me with a kind of
    passing gladness, and I began to hum snatches of old half-remembered
    songs. They were songs of departing summer, tinged with melancholy, and
    suggested other verses not meant for singing, which I began repeating.

    "Rich flowers have perished on the silent earth--
    Blossoms of valley and of wood that gave
    A fragrance to the winds."

    And again:

    "The blithesome birds have sought a sunnier shore;
    They lingered till the cold cold winds went in
    And withered their green homes."

    And these also were fragments, breathing only of sadness, which made me
    resolve to dismiss poetry from my mind and think of nothing at all. I
    tried to interest myself in a flight of buzzard-like hawks, soaring in
    wide circles at an immense height above me. Gazing up into that far blue
    vault, under which they moved so serenely, and which seemed so infinite,
    I remembered how often in former days, when gazing up into such a sky, I
    had breathed a prayer to the Unseen Spirit; but now I recalled the words
    the father of the house had spoken to me, and the prayer died unformed
    in my heart, and a strange feeling of orphanhood saddened me, and
    brought my eyes to earth again.

    Half-way to the wood, on an open reach where there were no trees or
    bushes, I came on a great company of storks, half a thousand of them at
    least, apparently resting on their travels, for they were all standing
    motionless, with necks drawn in, as if dozing. They were very stately,
    handsome birds, clear gray in color, with a black collar on the neck,
    and red beak and legs. My approach did not disturb them until I was
    within twenty yards of the nearest--for they were scattered over an acre
    of ground; then they rose with a loud, rustling noise of wings, only to
    settle again at a short distance off.

    Incredible numbers of birds, chiefly waterfowl, had appeared in the
    neighborhood since the beginning of the wet, boisterous weather; the
    river too was filled with these new visitors, and I was told that most
    of them were passengers driven from distant northern regions, which they
    made their summer home, and were now flying south in search of a warmer
    climate.

    All this movement in the feathered world had, during my troubled days,
    brought me as little pleasure as the other changes going on about me:
    those winged armies ever hurrying by in broken detachments, wailing and
    clanging by day and by night in the clouds, white with their own terror,
    or black-plumed like messengers of doom, to my distempered fancy only
    added a fresh element of fear to a nature racked with disorders, and
    full of tremendous signs and omens.

    The interest with which I now remarked these pilgrim storks seemed to me
    a pleasant symptom of a return to a saner state of mind, and before
    continuing my walk I wished that Yoletta had been there with me to see
    them and tell me their history; for she was curious about such matters,
    and had a most wonderful affection for the whole feathered race. She had
    her favorites among the birds at different seasons, and the kind she
    most esteemed now had been arriving for over a month, their numbers
    increasing day by day until the woods and fields were alive with their
    flocks.

    This kind was named the cloud-bird, on account of its starling-like
    habit of wheeling about over its feeding-ground, the birds throwing
    themselves into masses, then scattering and gathering again many times,
    so that when viewed at a distance a large flock had the appearance of a
    cloud, growing dark and thin alternately, and continually changing its
    form. It was somewhat larger than a starling, with a freer flight, and
    had a richer plumage, its color being deep glossy blue, or blue-black,
    and underneath bright chestnut. When close at hand and in the bright
    sunshine, the aerial gambols of a flock were beautiful to witness, as
    the birds wheeled about and displayed in turn, as if moved by one
    impulse, first the rich blue, then the bright chestnut surfaces to the
    eye. The charming effect was increased by the bell-like, chirping notes
    they all uttered together, and as they swept round or doubled in the air
    at intervals came these tempests of melodious sound--a most perfect
    expression of wild jubilant bird-life. Yoletta, discoursing in the most
    delightful way about her loved cloud-birds, had told me that they spent
    the summer season in great solitary marshes, where they built their
    nests in the rushes; but with cold weather they flew abroad, and at such
    times seemed always to prefer the neighborhood of man, remaining in
    great flocks near the house until the next spring. On this bright sunny
    morning I was amazed at the multitudes I saw during my walk: yet it was
    not strange that birds were so abundant, considering that there were no
    longer any savages on the earth, with nothing to amuse their vacant
    minds except killing the feathered creatures with their bows and arrows,
    and no innumerable company of squaws clamorous for trophies--unchristian
    women of the woods with painted faces, insolence in their eyes, and for
    ornaments the feathered skins torn from slain birds on their heads.

    When I at length arrived at the wood, I went to that spot where I had
    felled the large tree on the occasion of my last and disastrous visit,
    and where Yoletta, newly released from confinement, had found me. There
    lay the rough-barked giant exactly as I had left it, and once more I
    began to hack at the large branches; but my feeble strokes seemed to
    make little impression, and becoming tired in a very short time, I
    concluded that I was not yet equal to such work, and sat myself down to
    rest. I remembered how, when sitting on that very spot, I had heard a
    slight rustling of the withered leaves, and looking up beheld Yoletta
    coming swiftly towards me with outstretched arms, and her face shining
    with joy. Perhaps she would come again to me to-day: yes, she would
    surely come when I wished for her so much; for she had followed me out
    to try to dissuade me from going to the woods, and would be anxiously
    thinking about me; and she could spare an hour from the sick-room now.
    The trees and bushes would prevent me from seeing her approach, but I
    should hear her, as I had heard her before. I sat motionless, scarcely
    breathing, straining my sense to catch the first faint sound of her
    light, swift step; and every time a small bird, hopping along the
    ground, rustled a withered leaf, I started up to greet and embrace her.
    But she did not come; and at last, sick at heart with hope deferred, I
    covered my face with my hands, and, weak with misery, cried like a
    disappointed child.

    Presently something touched me, and, removing my hands from my face, I
    saw that great silver-gray dog which had come to Yoletta's call when I
    fainted, sitting before me with his chin resting on my knees. No doubt
    he remembered that last wood-cutting day very well, and had come to take
    care of me now.

    "Welcome, dear old friend!" said I; and in my craving for sympathy of
    some kind I put my arms over him, and pressed my face against his. Then
    I sat up again, and gazed into the pair of clear brown eyes watching my
    face so gravely.

    "Look here, old fellow," said I, talking audibly to him for want of
    something in human shape to address, "you didn't lick my face just now
    when you might have done so with impunity; and when I speak to you, you
    don't wag that beautiful bushy tail which serves you for ornament. This
    reminds me that you are not like the dogs I used to know--the dogs that
    talked with their tails, caressed with their tongues, and were never
    over-clean or well-behaved. Where are they now--collies, rat-worrying
    terriers, hounds, spaniels, pointers, retrievers--dogs rough and dogs
    smooth; big brute boarhounds, St. Bernard's, mastiffs, nearly or quite
    as big as you are, but not so slender, silky-haired, and sharp-nosed,
    and without your refined expression of keenness without cunning. And
    after these canine noblemen of the old _regime_, whither has
    vanished the countless rabble of mongrels, curs, and pariah dogs; and
    last of all--being more degenerate--the corpulent, blear-eyed, wheezy
    pet dogs of a hundred breeds? They are all dead, no doubt: they have
    been dead so long that I daresay nature extracted all the valuable salts
    that were contained in their flesh and bones thousands of years ago, and
    used it for better things--raindrops, froth of the sea, flowers and
    fruit, and blades of grass. Yet there was not a beast in all that crew
    of which its master or mistress was not ready to affirm that it could do
    everything but talk! No one says that of you, my gentle guardian; for
    dog-worship, with all the ten thousand fungoid cults that sprang up and
    flourished exceedingly in the muddy marsh of man's intellect, has
    withered quite away, and left no seed. Yet in intelligence you are, I
    fancy, somewhat ahead of your far-off progenitors: long use has also
    given you something like a conscience. You are a good, sensible beast,
    that's all. You love and serve your master, according to your lights;
    night and day, you, with your fellows, guard his flocks and herds, his
    house and fields. Into his sacred house, however, you do not intrude
    your comely countenance, knowing your place."

    "What, then, happened to earth, and how long did that undreaming slumber
    last from which I woke to find things so altered? I do not know, nor
    does it matter very much. I only know that there has been a sort of
    mighty Savonarola bonfire, in which most of the things once valued have
    been consumed to ashes--politics, religions, systems of philosophy, isms
    and ologies of all descriptions; schools, churches, prisons, poorhouses;
    stimulants and tobacco; kings and parliaments; cannon with its hostile
    roar, and pianos that thundered peacefully; history, the press, vice,
    political economy, money, and a million things more--all consumed like
    so much worthless hay and stubble. This being so, why am I not
    overwhelmed at the thought of it? In that feverish, full age--so full,
    and yet, my God, how empty!--in the wilderness of every man's soul, was
    not a voice heard crying out, prophesying the end? I know that a thought
    sometimes came to me, passing through my brain like lightning through
    the foliage of a tree; and in the quick, blighting fire of that
    intolerable thought, all hopes, beliefs, dreams, and schemes seemed
    instantaneously to shrivel up and turn to ashes, and drop from me, and
    leave me naked and desolate. Sometimes it came when I read a book of
    philosophy; or listened on a still, hot Sunday to a dull preacher--they
    were mostly dull--prosing away to a sleepy, fashionable congregation
    about Daniel in the lions' den, or some other equally remote matter; or
    when I walked in crowded thoroughfares; or when I heard some great
    politician out of office--out in the cold, like a miserable working-man
    with no work to do--hurling anathemas at an iniquitous government; and
    sometimes also when I lay awake in the silent watches of the night. A
    little while, the thought said, and all this will be no more; for we
    have not found out the secret of happiness, and all our toil and effort
    is misdirected; and those who are seeking for a mechanical equivalent of
    consciousness, and those who are going about doing good, are alike
    wasting their lives; and on all our hopes, beliefs, dreams, theories,
    and enthusiasms, 'Passing away' is written plainly as the _Mene, mene,
    tekel, upharsin_ seen by Belshazzar on the wall of his palace in
    Babylon."

    "That withering thought never comes to me now. 'Passing away' is not
    written on the earth, which is still God's green footstool; the grass
    was not greener nor the flowers sweeter when man was first made out of
    clay, and the breath of life breathed into his nostrils. And the human
    family and race--outcome of all that dead, unimaginable past--this also
    appears to have the stamp of everlastingness on it; and in its tranquil
    power and majesty resembles some vast mountain that lifts its head above
    the clouds, and has its granite roots deep down in the world's center. A
    feeling of awe is in me when I gaze on it; but it is vain to ask myself
    now whether the vanished past, with its manifold troubles and transitory
    delights, was preferable to this unchanging peaceful present. I care for
    nothing but Yoletta; and if the old world was consumed to ashes that she
    might be created, I am pleased that it was so consumed; for nobler than
    all perished hopes and ambitions is the hope that I may one day wear
    that bright, consummate flower on my bosom."

    "I have only one trouble now--a wolf that follows me everywhere, always
    threatening to rend me to pieces with its black jaws. Not you, old
    friend--a great, gaunt, man-eating, metaphorical wolf, far more terrible
    than that beast of the ancients which came to the poor man's door. In
    the darkness its eyes, glowing like coals, are ever watching me, and
    even in the bright daylight its shadowy form is ever near me, stealing
    from bush to bush, or from room to room, always dogging my footsteps.
    Will it ever vanish, like a mere phantom--a wolf of the brain--or will
    it come nearer and more near, to spring upon and rend me at the last? If
    they could only clothe my mind as they have my body, to make me like
    themselves with no canker at my heart, ever contented and calmly glad!
    But nothing comes from taking thought. I am sick of thought--I hate it!
    Away with it! I shall go and look for Yoletta, since she does not come
    to me. Good-by, old friend, you have been well-behaved and listened with
    considerable patience to a long discourse. It will benefit you about as
    much as I have been benefited by many a lecture and many a sermon I was
    compelled to listen to in the old vanished days."

    Bestowing another caress on him I got up and went back to the house,
    thinking sadly as I walked that the bright weather had not yet greatly
    improved my spirits.
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