Imágenes de páginas

the worse for his daring, and shake his head as if he enjoyed it, and give an exulting “Quââk ” and spring on his wings in the water, how every feather of his faithful friend quivered and shivered with satisfaction that no harm had come to him ' When he saw what it was to be a Duck, and how incapable Ducks were of drowning, he was more than ever discontented with his poor state of sparrowhood, but rebelled against his nature in vain. In vain, too, did he try to do things not natural to him. Ambitious of swimming like a duck, he took a lesson or two in the art of “keeping your head above water.” To show his bravery, he began with diving. “Observe how our little friend, the didapper, dives,” said the Duke ; “follow him.” With his heart in his mouth, as the phrase is, which insured his sinking, down went Chummy in about a foot deep of water, and would never have come up again, if his friend had not picked him up as he lay kicking at the bottom, and brought him half drowned to the shore. Never was such an illustration of bathos, or the art of sinking, seen After this miserable failure he was too wise to go out of his depth, from that poor vanity which leads a foolish fellow among us to be profound in a company of deeplylearned men, who know what a shallow dog he is, and laugh at his presumption. So pleasantly passed away a long English summer, by some seasonable accident, such a summer as had not been seen before by the oldest inhabitant—a Mr. Widdicomb—of these ill-used isles in fine-weather affairs. And now the winter had set in so severely that the (town) face of Nature was, when it was not swept, a foot deep in snow, not of the whitest sort, but of a whitybrown; the trees in the parks looked like the ghosts of trees; the shrubs like heaps of snow, or Laplanders' huts; and the ornamental waters as thick and hard as ice of Wenham Lake, if not so pure. Covered, from morning till night, with those sportive animals called men, and those small beginnings of men called boys, there was nothing going on there but skating, sliding, and selling hot-spiced gingerbread and brandyballs, from the rising of the sun in a fog a hundred blankets thick, to the going down of the same in the same, more or less. Snow, kneaded and trodden hard, caked the greensward; and there was no more worming and living on salads on shore for the ducks, who were in great distress, fared wretchedly, grew thin, quacked feebly, and were put on short allowance of water and biscuit. There were no pretty children, now throwing half a biscuit, and now half-throwing them. selves into the waters, to make a scramble among the pretty ducks who should get it, and gobble it up, and gobble it down grossly. A small hole beaten in the ice at one end of the lake was all that they could call their own to practise their old naval tactics in ; and even this was not always all their own : for every now and then some snow-blinded, blundering booby of a biped, not seeing it, would go skating into it, with a souse, and a cry for assistance from the Humane Society, who humanely ran up, and rendered it to the cooled enthusiast in sport, hooked him on shore more dead than alive, and wrung him out. The Duck-world, which our foolish friend had so long envied, he saw now were in anything but a safe, happy, and enviable condition. He, in fact, fared better than his friends in this hard season; for what could they do with their webbed feet and soft spoonbills in the frozen state of the ground ! Nothing. You might as well try to turn up a turtle with a toothpick, swab a gun with a wet straw, or split adamant with a thumbnail: while he with his sharp bill and nailed claws could scratch a hole in the snow, and pick up a few insects, where piemen's baskets had been, gather a few crumbs; and when these failed, go begging at kitchen-windows all about the park. In the evening of one of these stern winter days he was to be cured of his idle wish that he had been born a Duck, and taught that all is not duck that glitters. It was getting fog-dark; the park was gradually throwing off its human swarms; the hum of men was still ; and only a few straggling boys, not tired out with fun, were keeping the pot boiling, when a low, slow, St. Giles's-looking, but really Tothil-fields-bred fellow, in a long coat reaching to his heels, all over inside-pockets, stepped slily from the ice on to the island, and seizing the first duck within reach, which was the Duke, he gave his beautiful neck one twist, and he was dead, and out of sight in the twinkling of an eye. Poor Chummy screamed with horror, and flew at the villain's face, but he soon beat him off. The ducks saw what was done, and instinctively knew that a great wrong had been committed, and gave the alarm, answered from isle to isle, as if a tocsin had sounded. The park-keepers rushed in at one side of the island as the rogue stole out at the other, and looked so cool—but it was cold—and looked about so innocently for a lost dog—but he was of no value, only a mongrel—the keepers could not suspect him, and let him go. The fidus Achates followed his lost AEneas, and what more could he do? He followed him, making piteous cries, till he saw his destroyer give a stealthy look round to see if he was watched, and dive into one of the half-underground huts in one of the low, reeking lanes which make Westminster so wholesome in warm weather. Perching on the window-sill, he peeped into the hut, hoping onee more to see his friend, alive or dead. There was a good fire glowing within, and an old woman sat smoking by its side—a pot was boiling—and there was no other sign of comfort—all besides was squalid misery in that wretched hole for human habitation, The man muttered something—the old hag rose like a heap of rags from her low stool, and laughed —he drew out the Duke dead, and began tearing off the feathers by handsful which had made him so beautiful to behold, till he was as bare as a duckling just hatched—the old woman had the proper stuffing ready chopped—so that the villain had gone out determined to have duck for supper! “Get your stuffing ready, keep the potaties b'iling, and I’ll be back in half an hour !” The Duke was drawn, washed, floured, stuffed, and trussed, and, in a minute more, was dangling from a string before the fire, to roast. He had seen a great deal of the depravity of St. Giles's, but could not have believed there was so much of it within sight of the windows of palaces. He could bear no more to look upon the

“Friend he had copied through life,”—

at least, his fashionable life—he gave a mournful twitter at the window by way of farewell, at which the wretches started like guilty creatures; and taking the Abbey as his guide back to the Park, he winged his way heavily to his old lodging, alone, in the elm. There he sat awhile, and thought of his departed friend, by this time on the table, and began to look with pity upon Ducks, as liable to these sudden deprivations of life; and saw at last how much more privileged by nature, and protected by their insignificance, were Sparrows; for who ever, whether hungry man or epicure, ever thought of stealing a Sparrow from a Park 2

He was cured. He no longer wished to heaven that he had been born a Duck; and though he admired all the wading family as fine birds, he forsook their company as too fashionable, and made himself happy with his meaner brother Sparrows, as good enough for him.

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Within a low-thatch'd hut, built in a lane,
Whose narrow pathway tendeth toward the ocean—
A solitude which, save of some rude swain,
Or fisherman, doth scarce know human motion;
Or of some silent poet, to the main
Straying, to offer infinite devotion
To God, in the free universe—there dwelt
Two women old, to whom small store was dealt

Of the world's misnamed good ; mother and child,
Both aged and mateless. These two life sustain'd
By braiding fishing-nets; and so beguiled
Time and their cares, and little e'er complain'd
Of Fate or Providence: resign'd and mild,
Whilst day by day, for years, their hour-glass rain'd
Its trickling sand, to track the wing of Time,
They toil'd in peace: and much there was sublime

In their obscure contentment. Of mankind
They little knew or reck'd ; but for their being
They blest their Maker, with a simple mind;
And in the constant gaze of His all-seeing
Eye, to his poorest creatures never blind,
Deeming they dwelt, they bore their sorrows fleeing;
Glad still to live, but not afraid to die—
In calm expectance of Eternity.

And since I first did greet those braiders poor,
If ever I behold fair women's cheeks
Sin-pale in stately mansions, where the door
Is shut to all but pride, my cleft heart seeks
For refuge in my thoughts, which then explore
That pathway lone near which the wild sea breaks,
And to Imagination's humble eyes
That hut, with all its want, is Paradise !

Long years, beset with days of toil and care,
But with sweet hours of pleasure intergrain'd,

Had swollen the Past, since my verse-musings were
Of those “two women old,” who “life sustain'd

By braiding fishing-nets; when sad repair
I to their dwelling made once more ; and, gain'd

Its lonely threshold, I beheld within
A present to the past in every touch akin.

There the Old Braiders sat, their old task plying,
At the same table, on the selfsame chairs,
On the same spot, the same things round them lying,
As when I last took leave of #. grey hairs:
Through the same sand-glass was the brief hour dying ;
The same expression, wrought of pains and cares,
Relieved by faith and hope, their features bore;
And the same ever-mended garbs they wore.

Then, towards the billows did I wander on,
And on the rocks where I had dream'd of yore
Again sat musing; and, lo! thereupon
Seem'd it the selfsame creatures which before
I had made thought-sport of, glued to the stone,
Still cleaved, unstirr'd by the waves' beat and roar;
Fix'd to one spot, as were those toilers old
I had just left within their cottage-hold.

Those wrinkled women, and these limpets crown'd
With their fix’d shells, Imagination smile
Made, in brief mockery; but anon, with bound
Fleet as god Mercury's, in a breathing-while
She sped the immeasured Universe around,
And of base limit did there unbeguile
Her mood contemplative; till Earth seem’d not,
To her vast vision, more than rock or cot;

Or man the most erratic, more excursive
Than is the limpet or grey cottager:
And then she ask'd, of human pride subversive,
What news of Space can farthest traveller
Report, of the Great Whole more clear rehearsive,
And what of Truth most lored philosopher,
And all that in the name of “God” is shut,
Than the abiders in the shell and hut 1

And what of Life's unclouded Ecstasy
The loveliest woman, heart-o'erbrimm'd with love,

That ever did on youth and love rely,
And wander fondly as the Deluge-dove —

From the still firm-closed Heaven one sole reply
Obtain'd the Winged Questioner, who strove

For loftier response to her argument;

And that . Answering whisper’d—“Be content "

Thomas WADE.

« AnteriorContinuar »