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Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air.
Morn came, and went-and came, and brought no day,
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
And they did live by watch-fires; and the thrones,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up,
With mad disquietude, on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses, cast them down upon the dust,
And gnashed their teeth, and howled. The wild birds shrieked,
And flap their useless wings: the wildest brutes
Of famine fed upon all entrails. Men
Died; and their bones were tombless as their flesh
4. The crowd was famished by degrees. But two Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies. They met beside
Where had been heaped a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage. They raked up,
And, shivering, scraped with their cold, skeleton hands,
The feeble ashes; and their feeble breath
The world was void : The populous and the powerful was a lump, Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless; A lump of death, a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean, all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths.
And their masts fell down piecemeal as they dropped
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
76. THE RATTLESNAKE.1
E does not come- -he does not come," she murmured, as she stood contem'plating the thick copse spreading before her, and forming the barrier which terminated the beautiful range of oaks which constituted the grove. How beautiful were the green and garniture of that little copse of wood! The leaves were thick, and the grass around lay folded over and over in bunches, with here and there a wild flower, gleaming from its green, and making of it a beautiful carpet of the richest and most various texture. A small tree rose from the center of a clump, around which a wild grape gadded luxuriantly; and, with an incoherent sense of what she saw, she lingered before the little cluster, seeming to survey' that which, though it seemed to fix her eye, yet failed to fill her thought. Her mind wandered her soul was far away; and the objects in her vision were far other than those which occupied her imagination. 2. Things grew indistinct beneath her eye. The eye rather slept than saw. The musing spirit had given holiday to the ordinary senses, and took no heed of the forms that rose, and floated, or glided away before them. In this way, the leaf detached made no impression upon the sight that was yet bent upon it; she saw not the bird, though it whirled, untroubled by a fear, in wanton circles around her head; and the blacksnake, with the rapidity of an arrow, darted over her path without arousing a single terror in the form that otherwise would have shivered at its mere appearance. And yet, though thus indistinct were all things around her to the musing eye of the maiden, her eye was yet singularly fixed-fastened, as it were, to a single spot-gathered and controled by a single object, and glazed, apparently, beneath a curious fascination.
3. Before the maiden rose a little clump of bushes,-bright tangled leaves flaunting wide in glossiëst green, with vines trailing over them, thickly decked with blue and crimson flowers. Her eye communed vacantly with these; fastened by a star-like shining glance, a subtle ray, that shot out from the circle of
1 From "The Yemassee." The heroine, Bess Mathews, in the woods waits the coming of her lover.
green leaves-seeming to be their very eye-and sending out a lurid luster that seemed to stream across the space between, and find its way into her own eyes. Very piercing and beautiful was that subtle brightness, of the sweetest, strangest power. And now the leaves quivered and seemed to float away, only to return; and the vines waved and swung around in fantastic mazes, unfolding ever-changing varieties of form and color to her gaze but the star-like eye was ever steadfast, bright, and gorgeous, gleaming in their midst, and still fastened, with strange fondness, upon her own. How beautiful with wondrous intensity did it gleam and dilate, growing larger and more lustrous with every ray which it sent forth!
4. And her own glance became intense, fixed also; but with a dreaming sense that conjured up the wildest fancies, terribly beautiful, that took her soul away from her, and wrapt it about as with a spell. She would have fled, she would have flown ; but she had not the power to move. The will was wanting to her flight. She felt that she could have bent forward to pluck the gem-like thing from the bosom of the leaf in which it seemed to grow, and which it irradiated with its bright white gleam; but ever as she aimed to stretch forth her hand, and bend forward, she heard a rush of wings, and a shrill scream from the tree above her,—such a scream as the mock-bird makes, when angrily it raises its dusky crest, and flaps its wings furiously against its slender sides. Such a scream seemed like a warning, and though yet unawakened to full consciousness, it startled her and forbade her effort. More than once, in her sur'vey of this strange object, had she heard that shrill note, and still had it carried to her ear the same note of warning, and to her mind the same vague consciousness of an evil presence.
5. But the star-like eye was yet upon her own—a small, bright eye, quick, like that of a bird, now steady in its place, and observant seemingly only of hers, now darting forward with all the clustering leaves about it, and shooting up toward her, as if wooing her to seize. At another moment riveted to the vine which lay around it, it would whirl round and round, dazzlingly bright and beautiful, even as a torch, waving hurriedly by night in the hands of some playful boy. But, in all this time, the glance was never taken from her own: there it grew, fixed-a věry principle of light; and such a light-a subtle, burning,
piercing, fascinating gleam, such as gathers in vapor above the old grave, and binds us as we look-shooting, darting directly into her eye, dazzling her gaze, defeating its sense of discrimination, and confusing strangely that of perception.
6. She felt dizzy, for, as she looked, a cloud of colors-bright, gay, various colors-floated and hung like so much drapery around the single object that had so secured her attention and spell-bound her feet. Her limbs felt momently more and more insecure her blood grew cold, and she seemed to feel the gradual freeze of vein by vein, throughout her person. At that moment a rustling was heard in the branches of the tree beside her, and the bird, which had repeatedly uttered a single cry above her, as it were of warning, flew away from his station with a scream more piercing than ever. This movement had the effect for which it really seemed intended, of bringing back to her a portion of the consciousness she seemed so totally to have been deprived of before.
7. She strove to move from before the beautiful but terrible presence, but for a while she strove in vain. The rich, star-like glance still riveted her own, and the subtle fascination kept her bound. The mental energies, however, with the moment of their greatest trial, now gathered suddenly to her aid; and, with a desperate effort, but with a feeling still of annoying uncertainty and dread, she succeeded partly in the attempt, and threw her arms backward, her hands grasping the neighboring tree,feeble, tottering, and depending upon it for that support which her own limbs almost entirely denied her. With her movement, however, came the full development of the powerful spell and dreadful mystery before her. As her feet receded, though but a single pace, to the tree against which she now rested, the audibly articulated ring, like that of a watch when wound up with the verge broken, announced the nature of that splendid yet dangerous presence, in the form of the monstrous rattlesnake, now but a few feet before her, lying coiled at the bottom of a beautiful shrub, with which, to her dreaming eye, many of its own glorious hues had become associated.
8. She was, at length, conscious enough to perceive and to feel all her danger; but terror had denied her the strength necessary to fly from her dreadful enemy. There still the eye glared beautifully bright and piercing upon her own; and,