« AnteriorContinuar »
THE LAPSE OK YEARS.
Come 10 thy native village, — for 'ti» swept,
— Thou canst not think so many years have fled,
See'st thou yon clamorous band,
— Seekst thou thy playmates .' There are hoary men,
And some who highest bade the kite aspire,
— How silently the autumn's falling leaves
Come drifting through the air. The snow-flake steals
Yet the sheaf Looks not with envy toward its tassel'd germ,
Yon lowly roof, — Thou knowst it well, and yet it seems more low
Hertford, Dtumter, 1835. L. II. 8. A CHAPTER ON SHARKING.
WHEREIN THE AUTHOR SETS FORTH HOW HE WENT FASTER AND FARTHER THAN HE ANTICIPATED, AND
Of all the bright sands in Time's changing kaleidoscope, the brightest are those which mark the school-boy's vacation. These are your true diamonds, evanescent indeed, yet rife with the light of joyousness; and when they have passed away forever, the memory of their loveliness lingers like a heavenly twilight upon the mind, gilding the obscurations of after years, and fading at last only with our sublunary being. These are the golden sands, to which, in the schoolboy's valuation, the treasures of Ophir are as the dust of the balance. How doth he gloat upon their pleasant sheen, as it gleams out from the nebulous horoscope I How doth his full heart sink within him, as he surveys the mass of leaden and drossy moments which must be numbered ere the transit of these brighter hours! How impatiently doth he chide their lingering fall, which realize to his 'hope deferred' the chronicling of an eternity! With what an 'itching palm' doth he long to shake the sluggish glass, and hasten the snail-paced advent of his emancipation 1 And when at last the aurea (etas has dawned upon his expectancy, how sparkle his champaigne spirits, as he springs away, exultingly, as an uncaged bird, from the task and the task-master of his cloistered youth! Dust shall gather for a season upon his forsaken tomes — the spider shall hang his deserted chamber with her filmy tapestry — the voice of the cricket shall echo mournfully from the cheerless hearth — and loneliness inhabit the haunts of the departed. Farewell, unerring Euclid! Far different lines and angles are now traced by thy unwilling disciple, — not on the dog-eared margent, nor on the dinted black-board, — but on the sunny waters of brook or bay, where he muses pleasantly by mossy rock or green-wood tree, or heaves passively to the gentle motion of the rocking skiff His tangent now is the lithesome bamboo, his sine the buoyant dobber, that taketh the gauge of bite or nibble. Farewell, Masonian bard, and Mantuan, fare-thee-well! Your recreant worshipper now woos fairer Helens and Lavinias than those embalmed in your gorgeous cerements. Farewell, star-scaling Newton I With thy reluctant votary, other orbs with their softer attractions are in the ascendant, which perchance were never recked of in thy baccalaureate philosophy. The levity of vacation doth wag the head at thy sublimer gravity. Vacation! — charm of all charms the chief! Sweet poesie of time! — word from some blessed sphere to care unknown! Vacation ! — bright cynosure of boyhood's laughing eye and El Dorado of its eager hopes—the Mecca of its pilgrim dreams — the term-time theme of every truant thought, — the synonym of all it prizes most, unbounded freedom and unfettered mirth!
But to my story, which, however piscatory, is nevertheless substantially true, and well worthy a better narrator.
It was during the last vacation of my third college year, that I found myself rusticating at the paternal residence of my chum and class-mate Ned Ashton. We were accustomed to spend these delightful holidays alternately at our respective homes. Though Ned was several years my senior, there existed the closest intimacy between us; and as we were always as inseparable as substance and its 'contiguity of shade,' we had acquired the appropriate soubriquet of the Siamese. But aside from our dimidial companionship, we were far from being counterparts, since Ned was six-feet-two, without stretching, while I could hardly raise a perpendicular of five-feet-four, with a tall-crowned hat, and a tiptoe to boot. Like the antitheses in the old epigram,
'He looked just like a mile in length,
Nor did we differ more in altitude, than in person and complexion. I was ruddy, and of a delicate chubbiness; he, bronzed and sallow, and exceeding thin and spare withal. Yet, notwithstanding this ghostly exility of figure, in all the athletic exercises of the gymnasium, in which, by-the-by, he engaged with the keen hilarity of boyhood, he had no equal. His feats of strength and agility were alike the wonder and admiration of us all; and yet they never seemed to cost him an effort, or awaken in him one feeling of conscious superiority. I remember one day, when we were all on the gymnasium, that a stalwart sophomore from Ohio, by a powerful effort, overleapt the hitherto unattained mark which Ned had made two years before. His fellows immediately set up a boisterous shout in glorification of their classmate's triumph. Ned had been ill for several days, and we were standing aside from the melee, quietly enjoying the merriment of the various groups around us. I looked at him despairingly, as the cry of ' Ohio against the world!' broke from the partisans of the successful Buckeye. ''Twas a gallant leap,' observed Ned, gathering up the long skirts of his slender doublet, and fetching three strides to the 'salient point,' he bounded like a stag full a yard beyond the ne plus ultra of his rival.
'You've been barking up the wrong tree, this time,' cried the goodnatured Ohioan to his silent and crest-fallen applauders, 'and till some one of us gets his foot-handles strung with the thews of a panther, I guess we'd best let old Connecticut chalk out for us. I suspicion he's one of that bounding brotherhood, who, the Indians say, leaped over the Wabash and Mississippi as easily as a greyhound clears a log-fence.'
But to return. Ned and I were vacating as I have said, at his father's charming residence, situated in one of the loveliest valleys which look out upon Long-Island Sound. It was in the latter part of September. We had been confined to the house for several days by the 'equinoctial storm,' during whose tempestuous and protracted transit we had overhauled our fishing appliances and rifles, and indeed set in order all the appurtenances of our other out-door amusements. This done, we sat down perforce, and waited the pleasure of the boisterous elements to release us from our impatient durance. For the equanimity we displayed on this occasion, silence were the safest eulogy. We were enfranchised at last, however, and by one of the loveliest mornings that ever dispelled the twofold dreariness of night and storm. As the sun wheeled up from behind the low woodlands of Rhode-Island, he seemed to rejoice that there was not a cloud in the whole horizon to obstruct the full tide of his glorious effulgence. The air was like a liquid and impalpable crystal, bright and clear as empyreal ether. So perfect was its translucency, that the remotest objects within the scope of vision, showed to the eye in all the distinctness of comparative proximity. The Tocky outline of the neighboring- islands and promontories seemed to have been chiseled but yesterday, so sharply were their rough features defined; while the tall light-house on Montauk, far away across the sound, towered up against the clear sky as distinctly as at a league's distance. This singular aerial transparency seems peculiar to the first few weeks of our autumnal season, ■— soon to be contrasted with that equally beautiful phenomenon, the mellow, dreamy, ethereal haziness which characterizes the period of our Indian summer.
The atmosphere was not only thus clear and effulgent, but calm and bland as the breath of a slumbering angel. Not a breeze was on the wing, and the sphered rain-drops lay stirlessly glistening in the cups of the pale flowers of autumn, waiting the warmer kisses of the sun to exhale their radiant incense. A few frosts had already fallen upon the foliage, and their subtle alchemy had converted the uniform verdure of summer into innumerable bright tints, which clothed the whole landscape as with the vesture of a thousand rainbows. Every tree, and bush, and herb, seemed arrayed as if for a gorgeous masquerade — some in robes of richest crimson, others in garniture of regal scarlet, but most in draperies of varying gold. Nor was the charm of music wanting to complete the scene. Many a familiar bird still lingered amid the haunts of its summer joyousness, and poured out its plaintive matins in that soft and melancholy tone in which affection warbles'home, sweet home,' when passing from its portal forever. The ocean, too, seemed instinct with the spirit of tranquillity which brooded over earth and air. It exhibited far less commotion than is usual after the equinoctial tempest. The wind, indeed, had lulled early the preceding night, and when morning dawned, the tired billows were slowly sinking to repose. Altogether, it was a scene to steal into a susceptible heart, soothing its troubled emotions like the influence of a sweet opiate — a scene to make one in love with the beauty of external nature, and grateful that his lot was cast in so pleasant a province of this breathing universe.
After breakfast, Ned proposed that we should go on a fishing excursion among the nearest islands. 'We'll take the rifles along,' said he, 'so that if Neptune prove unpropitious, we may try what feathered favors Jupiter shall vouchsafe us. Old Hal shall be our coxswain, and when we grow weary, we'll get him to spin us a yarn or two by way of merry-making: his oceanic memory is a perfect spicerytothe palate of an uninitiated terrene.'
Hal had been a sailor from early boyhood; had visited every clime, almost every port, between the poles; till at length, worn down by age, rendered premature by the hardships and jovial imprudences incident to his perilous avocation, and unable any longer to find employment as a seaman, his desolate situation had excited the ready sympathy of Mr. Ashton, who benevolently gave the old weather-beaten cosmopolite a home and quiet haven beneath his hospitable roof. Here he promptly evinced his gratitude in the performance of numerous little household offices within the easy exercise of his shattered powers. He was never so happy, however, as when abroad upon the billows, which had been to him as boon companions from his earliest years. In one of his excursions upon the sound with Ned, they had picked up a beautiful boat, which had evidently been made by a master-workman, for some wealthy amateur in aquatic amusements. It was a fairy craft, gracefully modelled, exquisitely finished, and of such airy lightness withal, that it seemed to spring away, at the impulse of wind or oar, with the fleetness of a startled deer. Ned had happily yclept it the 'Procellaria,' after that swift-winged and adventurous bird, whose 'home is on the deep' —whose delight, the wildest commotion of the elements. This was Hal's hobby—his home — his cynosure— 'the ocean to the river of his thoughts.' If his services were required at the house, there was no mistaking his whereabout; for all knew that Hal and the Procellaria, like Chang and Eng, were sure to be found in a fraternal proximity.
Our arrangements having been completed, we proceeded to the beach, where we discovered old Hal snugly ensconced in the boat, with a fine stock of bait, and a viaticum of substantial refreshments, adequate to a protracted voyage round Cape Cod.
'What have we here, commodore V cried Ned, as he leaped over the gunwale, and plumped upon a prodigious coil of rope.
'Nothing but a queer kind of a grappling-iron, and a bit of spun-yarn to keep it from losing overboard in a squall,' replied the good-natured tar, with more than his usual animation. 'D'ye see, Sir, when I was down to the borough this morning, I heard say there was a grampus or so in the offing, and thinking you 'd like to see how we do things off Greenland, I borrowed a harpoon for the 'casion, and have rigged her as crank as a Nantucketer.'
'Good!' shouted Ned, boisterously, 'good! my brave Palinure; and if you '11 just harness our craft to such a courser, and give us a morning's airing upon the sound, you shall be sole owner and captain of the Procellaria, forever, and a day after. Give us the oars, and let's away.'
'No, no, Mr. Ned ward,' returned Hal, anagrammatically,' I must take the oars myself, for that blamed line gale has kept me in bilboes such a dog's age, that I long to try how 't will feel to wing the little petrel again. You take the helm, and let your shipmate stow himself away there in the bows so 's to keep her trim, and if old Hal don't show a sea-sarpent's wake, blame me ! — Cast off there, and give me room to set my nets!'—and as he bowed his sinewy and still vigorous frame to the oar, the little bark sprang away as if instinct with our own buoyant spirits.
We were soon off the eastern extremity of Fisher's Island. Around us stretched the beautiful bay of Stonington, formed on the one hand by the rocky peninsula of that ancient and chivalrous borough, and on the other by the low, sandy cape at the south-western verge of RhodeIsland. It was flood-tide, and as the calm still continued, the expanse over which we were gliding seemed a plain of molten silver, bright, smooth, and motionless, save at the mighty lift of the ground-swell, whose solemn pulsations heaved beneath us, at regular intervals, like the heart of a slumbering giant. Now and then the burnished surface was broken by the dark form of the unwieldy porpoise, as he rose to view and disappeared, with a sluggish somerset, from'the warm precincts of the cheerful day.' Flocks of black ducks floated idly upon the sunny waters; multitudes of white gulls careered in graceful evolutions above, while high in mid-air an occasional osprey might be seen, hover
VOL. VII. 3