Aftermath (Allen)/Chapter VII
A month has gone by since Georgiana passed away.
To-day, for the first time, I went back to the woods. It was pleasant
to be surrounded again by the ever-living earth that feels no loss and
has no memory; that was sere yesterday, is green to-day, will be sere
again to-morrow, then green once more; that pauses not for wounds and
wrecks, nor lingers over death and change; but onward, ever onward,
along the groove of law, passes from its red origin in universal flame
to its white end in universal snow.
And yet, as I approached the edge of the forest, it was as though an
invisible company of influences came gently forth to meet me and sought
to draw me back into their old friendship. I found myself stroking the
trunks of the trees as I would throw my arm around the shoulders of a
tried comrade; I drew down the branches and plunged my face into the
new leaves as into a tonic stream.
Yesterday a wind storm swept this neighborhood. Later, deep in the
woods, I came upon an elm that had been struck by a bolt at the top.
Nearly half the trunk had been torn away; and one huge limb lay across
As I stood looking at it, the single note of a bird fell on my
ear—always the same note, low, quiet, regular, devoid of feeling, as
though the bird had been stunned and were trying to say: What can I
do? What can I do? What can I do?
I knew what that note meant. It was the note with which a bird now and
then lingers around the scene of the central tragedy of its life.
After a long search I found the nest, crushed against the ground under
the huge limb, and a few feet from it, in the act of trying to escape,
the female. The male, sitting meantime on the end of a bough near by,
watched me incuriously, and with no change in that quiet, regular,
careless note—he knew only too well that she was past my harming. The
plan for his life had reached an end in early summer.
I sat down near him for a while, thinking of the universal tragedy of
It was the second time to-day that this divine wastage in nature had
forced itself on my thought, and this morning the spectacle was on a
scale of tragic greatness beyond anything that has ever touched human
life in this part of the country: Mr. Clay was buried amid the long sad
blare of music, the tolling of bells, the roll of drums, the boom of
cannon, and the grief of thousands upon thousands upon thousands of
people—a vast and solemn pageant, yet as nothing to the multitude that
will attend afar. For him this day the flags of nations will fly at
half-mast; and the truly great men of the world, wherever the tidings
may reach them of his passing, will stand awe-stricken that one of
their superhuman company has been too soon withdrawn.
Too soon withdrawn! Therein is the tragedy of the nest, the wastage of
the divine, the law of loss, whose reign on earth is unending, but
whose right to reign no creature, brute or human, ever acknowledges.
The death of Mr. Clay is one of the many things that are happening to
change all that made up my life with Georgiana. She was a true
hero-worshipper, and she worshipped him. I no less. Now that he is
dead, I feel as much lonelier as a soldier feels whose chosen tent-mate
and whose general have fallen on the field together.
As I turned, away from the overcrowded town this afternoon towards the
woods and was confronted by the wreck of the storm, my thoughts being
yet full of Mr. Clay, of his enemies and disappointment, there rose
before my mind a scene such as Audubon may once have witnessed:
The light of day is dying over the forests of the upper Mississippi.
The silence of high space falls upon the vast stream. On a
thunder-blasted tree-top near the western bank sits a lone, stern
figure waiting for its lordliest prey—the eagle waiting for the swan.
Long the stillness continues among the rocks, the tree-tops, and above
the river. But far away in the north a white shape is floating nearer.
At last it comes into sight, flying heavily, for it is already weary,
being already wounded. The next moment the cry of its coming is heard
echoing onward and downward upon the silent woods. Instantly the
mighty watcher on the summit is alert and tense; and as the great snowy
image of the swan floats by, in mid-air and midway of the broad expanse
of water, he meets it. No battle is fought up there—the two are not
well matched; and thus, separated from all that is little and
struggling far above all that is low, with the daylight dying on his
spotlessness, the swan receives the blow in its heart.
So came Death to the great Commoner.
Oh, Georgiana! I do not think of Death as ever having come to you. I
think of you as some strangely beautiful white being that one day rose
out of these earthly marshes where hunts the dark Fowler, and uttering
your note of divine farewell, spread your wings towards the open sea of
eternity, there to await my coming.