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IT was two hours before sunrise. Through the wide realm of the populous West not a soul was stirring, save a single human figure, which might have been seen threading its way through the streets of one of the great cities of the Mound-builders. This solitary object moved at a slow, measured pace, as if its progress was actually retarded by the weight of the thoughts with which it was engaged. The eyes gleamed as if they beheld afar off some enterprise of magnitude and obstinacy sufficient to call up the whole soul of the man, and the lines of the countenance worked, and the hands were clenched as if he was already employed in the struggle. If one could have looked into his bosom, he might have seen all his faculties mustering to the encounter; and among other passions aroused and assembling there, he might have noted discomfiture and mortification thrusting in their hated visages, and lending a keener stimulus and quicker motion to the current of his thoughts. If the power of thus inspecting that breast were given to him, be might have also discovered an heroic resolution almost epic in its proportions and strength, towering up from amid the ruins of many a cast-down and desolated projects, and assuming to contend with unconquerable might.
The solitary figure was that of Bokulla, who was thus venturing forth, self-exiled and alone, to discover in the broad wilderness toward the sea, whatever means of triumph he might, over a power that had hitherto proved itself more than a match for human strength or cunning. A great spirit had taken possession of the chieftain, and the shame of an inglorious defeat aided to kindle the energy of his passions. Over that defeat he had already pondered long and anxiously. He confessed to himself that he had formed but a vague opinion of the hugeness and strength of Behemoth when he had proposed the battle. But he dwelt in the midst of a terrified and perishing people. As a man, he was touched by the sufferings and alarms of his nation. Danger and death were before them, and no gate of safety or mercy opened. He saw this people not only in the present time, but through a long futurity, scourged and suffering: the old tottering into a hasty grave, pursued by a hideous phantom that increased its terrors; the young growing up with images and thoughts of fear, interwoven with their tender and plastic elements of being.
Was there no one man in this whole nation who would go forth, in the spirit of martyrdom and self-sacrifice, and seek, even in the desert itself, the knowledge that would bring strength and safety in its wings? It was he that was now passing away from his country for a while, and launching himself in the boundless wilderness of the West. Championed by doubt and solitude, he was plunging into a region which stretched, he knew not whither, and to a fate, perchance, his heart dared not whisper to itself. What fruit might spring from this hardy enterprise, it was vain to conjecture; but he was determined to gather some knowledge of the habits and some information as to the lodgment of this terrible scourge of his people. With rapid and firm step, he therefore proceeded on his way. By secret paths, and through dark woods, he advanced, and mid-day brought him to a spot which overlooked the whole of the wide territory of the Mound-builders.
He stood upon a cliff which pushed out boldly from the wooded region that lay behind it, and hung, like the platform of a castle, over a valley and river that wound round its base. It was covered in patches with verdure, and earth from which a few stately trees threw up their branches, and underneath these Bokulla now stood.
Casting his eye abroad he beheld a scene which the boldest fancy of our time can scarcely conceive, accustomed as we are to think of the prairies as tenantless and houseless deserts, and the whole broad West as a wild, unpeopled region never disturbed unless by bands of straggling Indian hunters, or a mad herd of buffalo sweeping like a tornado over their bosom. From his lofty stand, the self-exiled chieftain looked down upon, a country as broad as Europe — spread out in the most glorious variety of hill, and vale, and meadow, with a thousand streams intersecting the whole, sometimes mingling with each other, occasionally ploughing their way through a genial valley, or cutting deep into the heart of a mountain whose slope was covered with forests. A numerous population lined their banks, or hovered on their eminences, whose dwellings and national edifices reared themselves in the air and darkened the land with their number. Over those vast, verdant deeps, the prairies, were scattered like islands, countless cities in whose suburbs tall towers of granite and marble sprang to the sky and resembled the masts of ships of war just putting out from the shore, In another direction a mighty bastion of earth, with its round green summit, heaved itself into view like the back of some huge sea monster; and the long grass of the prairies, swept by occasional winds, rolled to and fro and furnished the ocean-like surges on which all these objects rode triumphant.
Upon this scene Bokulla gazed long and earnestly while many dark thoughts and sad emotions followed each other like the clouds of summer through his mind and darkened his countenance as they passed. Beneath him he saw an hundred cities devoted to ruin: tower, and temple, and dwelling crumbling to the earth, and no hand lifted to arrest their fall. A wide populace was wasting away from a robust and manly vigor into a pale and shadow-like decrepitude.
Day by day, the august majesty of a prosperous and ambitious nation dwindled into a shrunken and counterfeit image of itself. To them there was now no alternation of sunshine or shadow: seasons passed without their fruits: the golden summer no longer smiled in their midst, and generous autumn departed without a blessing and unheeded.
To these miserable and suffering realms Bokulla now bade farewell. His present enterprise might be without fruit, or fraught with disastrous and fatal results to himself: yet in the strength of Nature he would once more presume to cope with the dreaded enemy, for he still believed that man must be triumphant in the end over this bestial domination. To man the earth was given as his kingdom; and all tribes and classes of creatures were made his subjects and vassals. In this faith he turned away from a scene which suggested so many fearful topics of thought, and bent his course toward the West, guided by such knowledge as he already enjoyed, and such marks as occurred to his observation, determined to avoid the face of man and to be familiar only with solitude and danger until some new means of triumph were clearly discovered. In pursuance of this resolve he pushed forward with speed and energy plucking by the way wild berries and other natural fruits as food, and drinking of the cool shaded rivulet, his only beverage: for, from the first moment that he had conceived the thought of this venturous self-exile, he vowed to cast himself on Nature and to be received and sustained by her as her worthy child, or to perish as an alien and outcast on her bosom. He had therefore come forth unprovided with food, and trusting entirely to her bounty for a supply.
Hand in hand thus with liberal Nature, Bokulla pressed onward until night-fall, when he halted, and, sheltering himself safely within the hollow of a rock, he gathered himself for repose.
Thus for many days did this solitary pilgrim journey on, seeking no other couch but the overhanging cliff or the sheltering bank, and finding no other canopy but the broad, open sky, and the green roof of the branching tree. A constant grandeur of soul sustained him in the midst of many pressing hardships, and a noble purpose bore him forward as the winds propel the eagle that trusts to their strength. Guided by apparent tracks and obvious landmarks, about the middle of the afternoon of the second day he reached a solemn wood, into the heart of which he made his way.
He was something wearied with travel, and seeing the remains of a large old oak thrusting themselves up from the tangled and chequered shade, he seated himself upon them. The wild underwood and smaller foliage were twisted into a thousand fantastic shapes, which wreathed themselves round, and the prodigal forest-flowers had scattered their colors here and there so profusely over the seat which the self-exile had chosen, as to furnish somewhat the appearance of a rich and cushioned throne. What wonder if the resemblance struck the excited imagination of Bokulla, and his eye glanced about the forest as if in search of attendants that should hedge this seat of honor round. "Am I alone here!" half-muttered the chieftain. "Is all this pleasant realm of air, and this verdurous spot of earth void and barren! No, no I am not in an unpopulous solitude even here. Airy citizens throng about me in this remote and unfrequented wood. Busy hopes, immortal desires, passions, longings, and aspirations that lengthen like shadows the nearer we approach the sunset of life. Mighty and tumultuous wishes and emotions gather around me in this pathless and woodland region, and tell me I am not, that I cannot be, alone. Shadowy creatures! which sway us beyond all corporal powers and instruments — ye swarm now in these shaded walks — and foremost Ambition and Fame, glorious twins! stand forth and tower in cloudy stature, grasping at impossible objects and plucking at the heavens themselves! Immortal powers and faculties! in these retired and natural chambers, I know you as the internal and silent agencies which are to guide and sustain me through this hardy and venturous pilgrimage."
In this wood he found a suitable shelter and stretched himself for sleep. Notwithstanding the great cares with which he was oppressed, the mind of the chieftain was visited by pleasant dreams; and he was borne far back from the gloomy and troubled present, into an old and cheerful time, where every thing wore a countenance of joy, and a golden atmosphere floated about all. He wandered along the banks of mighty streams, watching the careless flight of birds, or the idle motions of their currents, on which many vessels of gallant trim, with every sail set, were hastening toward the sea. Around him a thousand familiar sounds made the common music of day; trumpets were sounded in the distance; citizens were hurrying forth or home on errands of business, or pleasure, or tender sorrow; and all was human and delightful. The chieftain himself seemed to have the heart of youth, and to ramble onward amid these pleasant scenes of life as if no morrow was coming, as if the sun that was now in mid-heaven would never set.
Near the close of the night, this pageant passed away, and the slumbers of the champion were interrupted by a loud sound, like that of a storm gathering in the distance, and which drew nearer by, increasing every moment. Presently it seemed to cross the western quarter of the wood with a clashing and tumultuous noise, resembling that of a great cataract, and then it passed far to the north-west, and died away after a long time like rattling thunder, among the distant peaks of the mountains.
Nothing could be more alarming to the imagination than this midnight tumult, and Bokulla felt that his situation was like that of the wretched mariner, whose bark is dashed on the rocks of some inhospitable shore, where night and the raging winds press on him behind, and darkness and the wild beast prepare to fasten on his weather-beaten body as he strikes the land. But no sound that Bokulla had ever known could represent the character of that which all night long had re-bellowed, and thundered, and died away. The stormy shouts of a warlike assault, the furious outcry of popular rage, the howling of winter winds, all commixed, would be an imperfect image of its depth, and strength, and varying loudness. In the morning, disturbed and perplexed, he girded himself again to his task, and shaped his course toward that region of the forest by which the indescribable tumult had swept. An hour's swift travel brought him to a large wooded slope, which presented to his view, in the uncertain light of a sun obscured by the gray mist of morning, an astonishing spectacle. A thousand vast old trees, each large enough for the main column of a temple, were dashed against the upland and lay there, leaning half-way down, as if they had contested against overthrow, like mighty ships, blown over in the harbor of some great city, when the north has burst upon them and commanded that they should veil their pennons and high-aspiring standards.
From obvious footmarks he easily discovered the course which the strength that caused this desolation had taken, and pursuing the indications thus furnished, he was soon out upon an open plain. The region that now spread before him was a wide and trackless waste, barren, void of vegetation, and apparently deserted of nature. Such herbage as lingered about its borders, was scanty, and withered, and crept gloomily along the dusty banks of dried-up brooks and rivulets. Over this arid desert, as Bokulla slowly plodded, he discovered the same large foot-prints as he had followed all along, crossing and re-crossing each other, sometimes diverging and again keeping straight on, in a manner so irregular and wandering, as to bewilder him, and set any attempt to pursue them entirely at nought.
In some places the earth was ploughed up and rent with seams recently made, and in others it was scattered far and wide, in irregular and broken heaps. The whole wilderness presented an appearance as if it had been recently trampled by some angry and barbaric puissance, that had swept it from end to end, like a storm.
What now rendered his situation still more perplexing, was a circumstance which would seem at first a source of self-gratulation and comfort, after the fearful sounds of the preceding night. A dead silence hung all around him, which was, if possible, more dreary and depressing than the unearthly noises of midnight. A soundless and voiceless quiet filled the air, the sky, and brooded over the inanimate sea of sand slumbering at his feet.
Through this confused and desolate region the chieftain resolved to make his way to the summit of some one of the mountains that dominated this arid plain at its farthest extremity, and from thence, as from a citadel, look abroad and make such discoveries as he might.
Bokulla at length reached the summit of a high mountain, and looking forth towards the East, he beheld a mighty region of hill and valley, whose immensity astonished and overwhelmed him. In one direction an hundred peaks towered one above the other, until the farthest was lost, it seemed, on the very threshold of the sky. In another, torrents dashed through numerous declivities, tearing down mountains, it almost seemed, in their rage, and threatening to wash away the very foundations of the earth, as they leaped over rocks, and crags, and rugged precipices. Huge passes and defiles that ploughed their way through the bosoms of solid mountains, and led down as it were to the central fires, were visible in other quarters, and exhibited more or less of their dreary turnpikes as the sun-light fell upon one or the other. As Bokulla looked forth he descried a dark object moving slowly along a distant peak. Sometimes it paused, and then again advanced; at length it plunged down the mountain-side into a deep and dark valley, but still some portion of it was apparent; and at intervals, as it crossed a seam or gap that intersected the valley, the whole figure came into view. Thus it wound through the immense region, almost the whole time conspicuous to the eye of the gazer, who, however, was unable to discover its character, so remote was the distance at which it moved. At length it emerged from the many defiles and declivities, among which it had passed, and came out upon the open plain.
As a numerous fleet of war ships, all their canvass spread, double some one of the Atlantic capes, and come within the ken of the anxious watcher on shore, so did this vast object steer round the mountain-base and stand before the eye of Bokulla. Like a huge fog that has settled in autumn upon the ground, and creeps along until it has mastered the earth with its broad dimensions, so did the stature and bulk of the Mastodon tower and enlarge as it drew nigh. Among those mighty peaks, and along that immeasurable plain, he seemed to move the suitable and sole inhabitant. Rocks piled on rocks, and rivers, the parents of oceans, calling unto rivers as large, and dreadful summits that hung over the earth and threatened to crush it, were not its massy plains and platforms broad enough to uphold mountains an hundred fold vaster, this was the proper birth-place and dwelling of the mightiest creature of the earth.
Amid these great elements of nature, Bokulla beheld the motions of the Mastodon as he trode the earth in gigantic sway; and thought swelled upon tumultuous thought, like waves that break over each other in the middle ocean, at each step of that unparalleled and majestic progress. What wonder, if at that moment he deemed the great creature before him unassailable and immortal?
Behemoth passed onward, and for the first time in many hours was lost to the gaze of the chieftain, as he entered a dark gap in a great mountain range far to the East. Intent on the daring and venturous purpose which had drawn him forth into the wilderness, he descended from his lofty station and shaped his course to the barriers within which the unconquered Brute had passed. With incredible labor he toiled over a thousand obstacles; clambering high mountains, plodding through gloomy valleys, and compassing, by contrivance sometimes, sometimes by sheer strength, broad streams, he found himself at length, as the night approached, fixed on a lofty ridge, whence his eye fell upon a spacious amphitheatre of meadow, completely shut in by rocks and mountains, save at a single narrow cut or opening. In the centre of this he beheld Behemoth couchant (his head turned toward the chieftain himself) like a sublime image of stone in the middle of a silent lake. Bokulla exhibited no symptoms of terror or trepidation, and the beast lay motionless and quiet. Great emotions filled the breast of the chieftain as he looked upon the Mastodon reposing in this fortified solitude. He closely scrutinized the whole circle of mountains, and took an accurate survey of the gate which led out into the open country beyond. Among other circumstances, he observed large hollows, here and there, in different quarters of the plain, as worn there by the constant habitation of Behemoth; and also, that as the wind sighed throng the branches of trees that stood in its centre and along its border, the Mastodon moved up and down the amphitheatre with a slow and gentle motion as if soothed by the sound.
While he was thus engaged, night descended upon the scene; and the dark hours were to be passed by Bokulla alone in that far off wilderness, and within reach of the mighty and terrible foe. As well as he might he addressed himself to sleep; but it was almost in vain, for it seemed as if the fearful strength beneath was slumbering at his side, and as if its tall, cold shadow fell upon him and froze the very blood in his veins. Armed beings of an inconceivable and super-human stature passed and re-passed before his mind; and the vision of a conflict mightier than any that his mortal eyes had ever witnessed, in which huge trumpets brayed and enormous shields clashed against each other, swept along. Then it changed, and it seemed as if the mountains rocked to and fro and pent winds strove to topple down peaks and pinnacles, while in their midst one mighty Figure, neither of man nor of angel, stood chain. ed, and, in a deep and fearful voice, cried to the heavens for succor. Perplexed by images and visions like these, Bokulla wakened before the dawn and turned his steps, with scarce any guide or landmark, toward his own home.
And now an appalling fate was before the champion, for he was without food in the very centre of the desert. The liberal fare upon which he had at first subsisted was gone long ago, and the scanty supply which nature had lately furnished from hedges and meadows, had entirely ceased. Barrenness, barrenness, barrenness, spread all around. After toil and exertion of body and mind, almost beyond mortal strength, he seemed likely to perish in the wastes with the great project that his soul had conceived unknown to living man. Interminable and gloomy disasters lowered over his country if he should perish in the wilderness. He struggled onward with anguish and hunger at his heart.
At last, one day, when his strength was fast ebbing, he espied a bird rising sluggishly from a marshy thicket, and bearing in its pounces a quarry which Bokulla could not distinctly ascertain. He knew, however, that it must be some esculent, and doubted not that it had been seized by the hawk, which bore it in its clutches, as a valuable prey. The bird had no sooner risen on the wing, than the chieftain ran forward and shouted with all his might, at the same time stretching out both his hands, with the hope of frightening the hawk, and causing her to drop her booty. She was, however, a strong and courageous plunderer, and fixing her talons still deeper into the sides of her burden, which Bokulla had now discovered, by a feather that had fallen, to be a plump and well-fed wood partridge, she soared up into the sky: the weight of her booty seeming to be such as to prevent her from attaining a lofty flight. The chieftain was too nearly famished to relinquish at once this chance of food. He accordingly cast his weather-stained and mouldering cloak from his shoulders, and rushed forth, keeping the fugitive barely in sight. The hawk which had attained her topmost pitch, now flew level with the earth, and with a steady and not too rapid wing. Regardless of every other object, the pursuer pushed on, with his face ever and anon turned up to the sky, through brake and pool, over rocks and rugged places, although, at times, in peril of his life.
Gaunt famine had spread her wings, and on them, as it were, sustained, he swept along like a wind. His heart rose and fell with every variation in the motions of the bird, which bore in its clutch the precious quarry. In this way the hawk flew on for the first day, Bokulla keeping even with her flight, and watching it with an anxiety that every moment increased.
At night-fall the bird alit in the upper branches of a dry sycamore, which stood by the side of a pool filled with its sere dead leaves, and with two or three withered and hard-featured lizards for its inhabitants.
The chieftain lay down at a distance and pretended to sleep. When he supposed the bird had fallen into its slumbers, he crept cautiously toward the tree with a stout stick in his hand, hoping to strike her dead from the perch.
He had stolen thus within a few feet of her rest, and raising his weapon to hurl it at the head of the hawk, he saw her bright eyes staring through the dark; in a moment she flapped her wings and passed wholly out of sight.
On that night Bokulla was stretched on the earth in the most dreadful torture of mind and body. In the dreary darkness which had settled over all things, he could not tell whether the frighted bird had flown from his view for ever or not. With the first streak of morning he sprang to his feet, and at the same time, startled by abrupt movement, the hawk again took wing from a neighboring tree, where she had passed the night, and put forth steadily on her journey.
Bokulla followed, with the hope that some lucky chance would place her booty in his possession. And so it well-nigh happened, for, as he still pursued the bird, on the afternoon of this second day, a sudden gust of wind fell from the sky, and sweeping down upon the hawk, bore her to within arm's length of the eager chieftain. He immediately stretched forth the cudgel, which he still carried, to strike her to the ground; but as he raised his arm, the wind shifting its course, swept her again high into the air.
The country which he had now reached presented the most wild and sublime aspect. On every side of him he saw stupendous peaks, springing up into the sky, covered from crown to base with dazzling sheets of snow, which looked like mighty tents pitched in the desert.
Between these a heady river roared and brawled, like a noisy and vaunting herald summoning to the fight. Along its banks Bokulla speeded. The hawk alighting on a stone which reared its bald head in the middle of the stream, drank of its waters. The chieftain, first imitating her example and quaffing of the stream, taking advantage of two or three straggling trees that stood on its margin, stole along and hurled a stone at the bird, which, from his feebleness, fell far short of its mark, and pashed into the stream with a dull, sullen sound. Again springing on the wing, she steered her course between the peaks of the mountains, and kept steadily onward.
In this way the chase continued until the darkness set in, when the hawk fell abruptly into a thicket of reeds, and finding a covert, settled to rest for the night. When the day dawned Bokulla found himself at the foot of a rocky ascent, sheer through the centre of which a rapid current cut its way, breaking midway up into a magnificent fall, which dashed with impetuous violence from the height into a granite basin beneath. A little below the point where the waters thus fell, they expanded into a quiet lake, over which the rays of the newly-risen orb flickered, forming here and there, over its smooth expanse, friths of sunlight, which ran in from the centre of the lake to the edge of the green shore.
As the sun attained a higher station in the heavens, radiant bows began to gather over the river, and it rushed joyously on its course through these bright arches of its own creation. Bokulla plunged into the reed-brake in the hope of seizing the unwary hawk asleep on her perch, but he had no sooner taken the first step into the covert than she started up, and shaped her flight over the rugged ascent before them. The journey up the steep was too toilsome for the chieftain, and he feared that ho must abandon the pursuit. Fortunately, as he was forming this desperate resolve, he discovered a wild steed, of deep jet-black color, browsing on the grass by the river's side. Cautiously approaching him, Bokulla, springing forward, seized his long, flowing mane, and with an agility characteristic of his better days, he vaulted upon his back and turned his head up the ascent.
Wildly he urged him forward, and he rushed up the rocky steep with a force and vigor similar to that with which the cascade dashed in an opposite direction. His ears and crest were erect, his tail streamed in the wind, and every muscle was strained to its utmost power. His cap had fallen from the chieftain's head, his cloak was gone, and he sat on the back of the steed, his hair floating abroad, his eyes straining eagerly forward — presenting the image of some goblin horseman of the desert. Every tread of the courser on the hard rock rang through the wilderness, and Bokulla shouted him madly forward. The hawk overhead, still retaining in her talons her contested quarry, kept in the advance, screaming with delight and apparently stirred by the excitement of the pursuit.
In this way the gallant bird flew on, and the mettlesome courser pursued, up the declivity and down the opposite side. Onward they flew over the plain — the hawk steering on in an almost unvarying line toward the south-east. Over hills — through forests — and along stream-sides the wild chase continued until the afternoon of the third day, when, just as he had emerged from a long tract of woods, and had turned his eye toward the sky, to recover sight of the hawk, she gave a wild scream, a sudden wheel into the clouds, and disappeared for ever.(1)
To his utter astonishment, the moment that the hawk vanished a populous city burst upon his gaze directly before him, and ere he could discern further, the wild steed dashed down a travelled way and was entering its streets. The circuitous pursuit, which had changed its direction many times, had brought him unexpectedly to almost the very spot from which he had set out on his pilgrimage. If the astonishment of Bokulla was great at this miraculous termination of his journey, that of the inhabitants, among whom he was thus thrown, was no less; and as the coal-black steed galloped through their streets they beheld the rider, his features gaunt and unearthly, and his hair streaming wildly to the wind, with amazement mingled with terror. Some fled from his path and sought refuge in their dwellings, while others rushed out to gaze upon him as he scampered, wild and spectre-like, along the distance; and others gathered together, and in subdued voices, conjectured or canvassed the character of the sudden apparition. Many wild guesses and shrewd suggestions were ventured.
"This is a fiend of the prairie," said one. "He that rambles up and down the big meadow, blowing his horn, and who calls the wolves and goblins together when a carcass is thrown out or a traveller perishes in crossing them."
"It is a lunatic escaped from his friends," said a second, "who has been out seeking his wits in the mountains."
"You are wide of the mark, my good sirs," said a sharp eyed little man, glaring about and looking up at the windows as if afraid of being overheard; and the group pressed more closely about him as if expecting a communication of great weight and shrewdness — "a whole bow-shot wide of the mark: — it is the keeper of Behemoth!"
At this they all turned pale and lifted up their eyes in astonishment, and admitted that nothing could be nearer the truth.
By this time Bokulla had reached his own door, and throwing himself from his steed of the desert prepared to enter in; but ere he could effect this object, several stout citizens pressed before him and arrested his steps.
"Wherefore is this?" said the foremost. "Will you rush into a house of mourning in this guize? Know you not that this is the mansion of Bokulla, the champion — and that his widow is in sackcloth and tears within? Begone elsewhere, madman!"
This remonstrance was seconded by another, ands a third, until it swelled so high that the crowd would have seized him and wreaked some injury upon his person, had he not succeeded in obtaining a moment's pause; and standing on an elevation, he shouted out, "Peace, Mound-builders! — it is Bokulla before you!"
At this declaration many began to recognise in the shrunken features and toil-worn frame before them, their great champion and chieftain, and a shout was raised, "life and health to Bokulla, the father of his country!" "Pleasant dew fall upon him!" "Long may he tread the green earth under his feet!" and many national invocations and blessings.
The rumor now spread rapidly abroad, and the cry was taken up wherever it reached and renewed with hearty good-will, for all were rejoiced at the return of their great leader, whom some had considered lost for ever and who all admitted was the only one that could contend, with any chance of success, against their barbaric foe. Even the little group of gossips that had construed him into a fiend, a lunatic, and the keeper of Behemoth, but a moment before, now rushed eagerly forward and were among the first to welcome him back, the sharp eyed little man invoking a special, blessing on his pleasant countenance, which looked, he said, "like that of a saving angel." Escaping from these numerous tokens of admiration and regard, Bokulla withdrew into his dwelling, and the crowd, after lingering about for many hours to glean such information as they might of his absence, and to catch a view of his person, at length dispersed, each, he knew not why, with a lighter heart, and more joyous look, than had fallen to his lot for many long and weary months.
From the dwelling of Bokulla let us turn our steps for a while toward the suburbs of the city, and enter the sick chamber of Kluckhatch, the blusterer. The adventure of that valiant pretender against Behemoth had been accompanied with serious, and, from the aspect they at present assumed, perhaps fatal consequences. The alarm of spirits which he had suffered, together with the dreary submersion in the pool, had thrown the adventurer into a violent ague. Day by day the malady became more tyrannical, and the mind of Kluckhatch more fretful and restless. His soul seemed like the sun to expand as it approached its final eclipse, and nature, who, at his birth, had exhibited the art and skill of a bottle-conjuror in crowding so puissant a spirit into so narrow a body, now seemed at a loss to drive the obstinate tenant from its residence. The little man clung more desperately to life the more forcible the attempt made to wrest it from him.
The pale Ague assailed him with its whole band of forces throttling him by the throat, as it were, it essayed by rough and uncorteous usage to shake the vital spirit from him, but it adhered closer and closer, and the attempt of nature to cast off the pigmy militant, resembled that of a horse, in whose flank on a mid-summer's day a burr has chanced to fix itself: he feels annoyed and irritated — he whisks the hairy brush to and fro — he runs — he gallops — he rears — he plunges, but all in vain, the barbarous annoyance clings to him with the more zeal, until, at some quiet moment, it drops gently from its hold and disturbs him no more. Thus stood the account between Nature and Kluckhatch. In his bed he lay, trembling like an earthquake or an ocean, under the coverlid. After a while the ague reblazed and the fever came on, and then he sat up in his couch and grasping a wooden sword, which had been made to amuse his sick and distempered fancy, he made airy thrusts and lounges, and called out as if he were plunging it deep in invisible ribs, or hacking at the head of some monstrous chimera. Then again he would appear to seize the end of some palpable object, and drawing it along would measure and cut off pieces of a yard in length at a time. It was evident, from the whole tenor of his strange action, that the Mastodon was in his phantasy; and this was amply confirmed by his breaking out, after the fever had partially subsided, into the following wild invective, into which his soul seems to have thrown its whole collected powers:
"This huge bully: this fleshly continent: this vagabond traveller: this beast mountain: this tornado in leather: this bristly goblin:" ("Pray be calm, Kluckhatch," whispered the shock-headed youth, who stood at his bed-side terrified and (puking): "this huge moving show: this two-horned wonder: this tempest of bull's beef: this land leviathan: fiend: wood-elf: this devil's ambassador: this territory of calves' hide stretched on a mountain: this untanned libel on leather-dressers: this unhung homicide:" ("Uncle Kluckhatch," again interrupted his attendant, "Uncle Kluckhatch, wherefore do you rail after this fashion? you but madden your fever"): "this Empire of bones and sinew: this monstrous Government on legs: this Tyrant with a tail: this rake-helly: this night-brawler: this measureless disgust: this lusty thresher with his endless flail: this magnified ox: this walking abomination: this enormous Discord sounding in bass: this huge, tuneless trombone" —
The sick dwarf fell back on his pillow exhausted, his lips still moving as if laden with other bitter epithets of denunciation. His hour now rapidly drew nigh. His strength gradually ebbed away, and at length the conviction that he must die forced its way into the heavy brain of Kluckhatch. In a few words he made his humble and of course lean will, "I leave," said he to his gaping companion — "I leave to you my fame, my virtues, and my drum!" He then gave directions for his burial, which, if obeyed, would make it a spectacle rare and unexampled: and, rising once more in his bed, he said he wished to expire in a sitting attitude.
The last sinking wave of life was dying upon the shore. His simple attendant had taken in his hand, to survey its fashion and properties, the testamentary bequest of his departing friend. — "Strike up! strike up once more!" exclaimed Kluckhatch, as his eye kindled with the gleam of death, and as the first sounds rolled from the drum, under the obedient hand of its new possessor, the spirit of the pretender, mingling with them, left the earth.
The second morning after his death, at an early hour, the funeral procession set out from the domicile of Kluckhatch for the tomb of his forefathers: a snug family-vault just beyond the skirts of the town. Under the direction of the shock-headed youth, who enacted the master of ceremonies, the solemn cavalcade was drawn up and proceeded in the following order:
First, led on by the legatee himself, in front of whose person hung suspended the testamentary drum, hobbled slowly along a sorry and cadaverous jade, which had been the pack-saddle of Kluckhatch in his strolling tours. One eye of the sad creature was wholly closed and useless, but the other, as if to make amends, was a sea-green orb of twice the ordinary dimension, and with its ample circle of white blazed like the moon crossing the milky-way in the sky. His lank, hollow body bore clear evidence of the neglected meadows and scant mangers of the Mound-builders; for he had been on fast (broken by occasional spare morsels) for more than a month, and glided along in the procession like a spectre. Behind this monkish-looking beast followed a low wagon or four-wheeled cart, drawn by a pair of venerable and spiritless bisons, in-which sate the blusterer himself, erect, and in the costume of every-day life, his strange red coat, shining, like a meteor, conspicuous from afar, while his conical cap nodded gaily to the one side or the other, as the wind swayed it. The strange whipster held the reins firmly between his skeleton fingers and exhibited on his countenance a broad, ghastly grin, which, at the first view, startled the beholders, but after they had recovered from the shock, caused them to burst into a hearty laugh. On each side of the vehicle, thus strangely driven, marched, in serious order, six sturdy men, each bearing a huge rustic pipe or whistle, wrought of reed, on which they blew soft and melancholy music. Behind the wagon, the favorite dog of Kluckhatch, crest-fallen and whining, was led in a string. In the rear of this faithful mourner followed the friends and admirers of the deceased, and after these scrambled a promiscuous rout of his town's-people, of every variety, age, sex and hue.
Creation itself, both overhead and on the earth, was something in unison with the grotesque obsequies. The sky resembled the bottom of a rich sea suddenly disclosed. In one quarter a vast cloud, like a whale, floundered and tumbled over the azure depths. In another, the clouds lay piled in heaps of shining silver here they assumed the form of a shattered wreck, fleecy vapors standing out as mast or bowsprit, with evanescent bars for rigging, and there a black and jagged mass of them stretched along like a reef of dangerous and stubborn rocks. Lower down, a small, dismantled. fragment, mottled with white sunlit scales, represented a mackerel at full length, opening his mouth and biting at the tail of a cloudy grampus, that stood rampant just over head. In the mid-air, drawn thither by the strangely exposed remains of Kluckhatch, a sable-coated troop of ravens kept the procession company, occasionally demanding, in coarse, rude clamors, their reversionary right in the deceased: Now and then a timid bird put forth his head from the trees and bushes at the road-side, and twittering for a moment, and seeming to smile at the defunct rider, hopped back into its cool hiding place.
In a little while they reached the place of burial; a small, suburban vault, the passage to which, through a wooden door, led down to a score of cells or apartments, all of which, save one, wore occupied. Over the entrance to the vault stood the weather-bleached skeleton of a robustious ancestor of Kluckhatch, balancing on one of his short, stout legs, flourishing the other as if in the act of going through a pirouette — and holding in his out-stretched right hand the effigies of an owl, the favorite family-bird and, device.
For what reason, or whether for any, the little, queer skeleton occupied this position, it would be now difficult to decide. Perhaps in his lifetime he had been a hard, weather-beaten hunter, who preferred to be left thus in the free, naked air, and under the open sky, which during life he had enjoyed without stint or circumscription. Passing underneath the figure of this portentous guardian and through the passage, they bore the mortal remains of the last of the Kluckhatch's, and placed them in their upright posture in the only cell which remained untenanted. The moment it was known that the corpse was deposited in its final place of rest, the twelve stout whistlers let off four successive volleys of their peculiar music; the dog came forward and howled, and the shock-headed youth stood at the entrance of the vault sobbing and weeping, while the beast, whose halter he held in his hand, silently devoured the drum-head, and looked inside for further viands. A few moments more and the door was closed for ever between the world and Kluckhatch. —
The unexpected departure of Bokulla from their midst had been a source of fruitful and anxious speculation to the Mound-builders. They were conscious of his absence, as if the great orb itself had left the skies and deprived the earth of its light and influence. His presence diffused amongst them the only cheerful ray that enlightened their gloomy condition; and although his recent enterprise had proved disastrous, they were satisfied that the great chieftain would promptly grasp the first favoring circumstance and energetically use it against the fearful foe. Of the causes of his absence none were advised, nor as to the direction his steps had taken. Some dreaded lest he had gone forth to perish by his own hand in the wilderness, and by these scouts had been dismissed in every quarter to bring back the fugitive warrior, or his body, for honorable sepulture if he had perished. The agitation and fear. excited by the causeless and unexplained absence of Bokulla, were only less than those occasioned by the terrible presence of the Mastodon. His return, therefore, was welcomed with every demonstration of rejoicing. Lights were displayed as glad signals, from every tower; processions and cavalcades were formed to make triumphal marches through the realm, and bodies of citizens constantly gathered under the window of the chieftain to express their delight at his return. During a whole week this universal festivity was sustained, and it seemed as if the flower of national hope once more blossomed in their midst. Merry games were celebrated in their gardens: religious worship again assumed its robe, and walked forth with serene and placid features in the traces of its early duty.
What gave additional animation to this unwonted scene was, that Behemoth, during its continuance, ceased to sadden or alarm them with his presence; it may have been that the dazzling splendor of the illumination, and the loud sound of innumerable instruments all playing together, kept him back.
About two weeks after the return of the self-exiled chieftain, and at the close of their joyous celebrations, he appeared before the Mound-builders, and declared "that his strange and unexplained absence had not been without its uses. Nature," he said, "had put forth her mighty hand and generously furnished the means of deliverance. Liberty was now before them, but it must be attained through many perils and through toil, sanctified, perchance, with blood. Like the swimmer that nears the shore, they must now buffet the wave of hostile fortune with their sternest strength. It might be that once more the firm and smiling continent of joy, of honor, and peace, could be reached. If so, heaven should be praised with a deep sense of gratitude, and the realm should ring through all its borders with sounds of glorious triumph!"
He then stated that he had discovered in his wanderings a mighty meadow where Behemoth was wont to pasture; and that if they would choose a delegation to visit it in company with himself, he would endeavor to point them to a sure and safe method of subduing the enemy.
At this suggestion the populace shouted loudly and echoed the name of Bokulla with the most eager and fervent expressions of admiration. They readily appointed three eminent citizens to accompany him. The next morning they set out, and having in due course of time reached the locality, they selected an elevation which commanded the whole prospect at once.
All admitted, as they looked upon the high walls that girt the broad and spacious meadow, and on the single narrow opening which led from the enclosure, that nature had furnished an extraordinary aid toward the capture of the invincible brute. Far around on both sides from the central position which they occupied, the stupendous upright battlement of mountains stretched — a peak here and there shooting up an immense tower, and a crag occasionally thrusting itself forth from the general mass of perpendicular rocks like the quaint head of a beast, or the rugged and ugly features of a human being, as the fancy chose to give it shape and likeness. The whole hedged in a meadow covered with a fertile growth of tall, rich verdure — dotted by a few scattered trees — and intersected by a stream of considerable breadth and depth, which flowed through its centre, and formed an outlet in a narrow passage underneath the mountains. The natural opening leading from this broad enclosure, was about five hundred feet wide, and walled on either side by gigantic fragments of stone, from whose huge posterns it seemed as if in an earlier age of the world an immense gate may have swung and shut in captives of mighty size and fearful guilt. Nothing could be conceived a more secure and dreadful prison than these vast walls of rock: and no solitude could be more dreary than one thus fortified as it were by nature, and made sublimely desolate by barriers and enclosures like these.
All felt, thus gazing, the grandeur of the thought presented to their mind by Bokulla, and they turned and looked upon the countenance of the chieftain as if they expected to discover there features more than human. Bokulla stood silent. He wished the great plan to sink deep in their minds, while they were on the very spot where it had its birth, and where it was to achieve (if fortune permitted) its eventful success.
"The thought is mighty and worthy of Bokulla!" at length, exclaimed one of his companions, a man of a generous and ardent heart; "Here we triumph or the story of our life closes in endless defeat, and our fate makes us and ours perpetual bondmen."
"Who is it," interposed a second of less sanguine temper, "who is it that dare visit the panther in his den, or grasp the thunder from its cloud on the mountain top? — It were as safe to climb into the eagle's nest as disturb this monstrous creature in his lair!"
"Terrible as the North when it lightens and is full of storms — inexorable as death, will be the encounter!" cried a supporter of the second speaker — "I would sooner plunge headlong from a tower, than venture within this guarded enclosure!"
"What say you, my friends!" cried Bokulla, springing to his feet, " what say you to an embassy to the brute on bended knee! I doubt not if we came as humble worshippers and suppliants, and consented to choose him as our national idol, he would abate something of his fierceness!"
"Now heaven and all good planets forbid!" cried his companions, with one accord.
"Nothing better and nothing nobler, then, may be tried, than the great suggestion of Bokulla!" said the first speaker. "Here let us wrestle with fate and die, then, if die we must, in this broad and open arena, where the heavens themselves, and the inexorable stars, shall be witnesses of our struggle!"
Taking up their position on an elevated rock, shaded by trees which overlooked the whole scene, they consulted as to the most proper and speedy method of accomplishing their purpose.
After a consultation of several hours, during which the sun had fallen far in the west, and after weighing anxiously every circumstance that could have bearing or influence on the event, they determined in their open council-chamber, amid the solemn silence of the wilderness, that an attempt must be made to imprison Behemoth in the vast, natural dungeon at their feet, by building a stout wall across its present opening.
And furthermore, that it would be matter of after thought to decide, if successful in the first, by what means his death was to be wrought. Their resolves had scarcely taken this shape, when a heavy shadow fell suddenly in their midst, as if a thick cloud had covered the sun, and looking forth for its source, they beheld Behemoth walking silently and ponderously along the ridge of the opposite mountains.(2) They arrested their deliberations, and rising in a body watched the progress and actions of the Brute. In a short time he descended from the summit, and attaining its foot by a sloping and broad path, in a moment presented himself at the gap, which conducted into the mountainous amphitheatre.
Stalking through, he advanced to its far extremity, and stretching himself on the bank of the stream, and in the cool shadow of the mountains, he prepared for repose.
His companions had already learned from Bokulla, that the Mastodon was in the habit of paying long periodical visits to this place, and of feeding, for considerable periods of time, on its abundant and savory verdure. Nothing could have been more opportune to their consultation than the arrival of Behemoth. His sudden coming was an argument for activity and despatch.
The fifth day from this, the Mound-builders arrived in considerable numbers, in a wood near the amphitheatre, bringing with them in wagons the tools and implements required in the proposed labor. They immediately set about the task, and commenced hewing large blocks of stone and dragging them to the mouth of the gap, but not so near as to obstruct it. The whole body of workmen that had come from the Mound-builders' villages had labored at this task for a week, and they found that in that time sufficient stone had been hewn to build the wall from base to summit. Each block was more than twelve feet square, and through its centre was drilled a hole of some six inches diameter, in which to insert bars of metal, to bind them more firmly together.
As soon as they were prepared to commence the erection of the wall, which was the most critical part of their labors, four or five separate bands of musicians were stationed at the farther end of the enclosure, and near to Behemoth: for they knew, from Bokulla's report, that the Mastodon, mighty and terrible as he was, could be soothed by the influence of music, adroitly managed.
The moment the work of heaving the vast square blocks one upon the other began, the musicians, at a given signal, commenced playing, and during the progress of the labor, ran through all the variety of gentle tunes: so that the wall, like that of Amphion, sprang up under the spell of music. So cunningly did the different bands master their instruments, that, at three different times, when the Mastodon had turned his step toward the gap at which the Mound-builders labored, they lured him back and held him spellbound and motionless.
The blocks were hoisted to their places by cranes, and the utmost silence was observed in every movement; not even a voice was lifted to command, but every direction was given with the pointed finger. No one moved from his station during the hours of toil, but each stood on his post and executed his portion of the task like a part of the machinery. And yet there was no lack of spirit; every one labored as if for his own individual redemption, and one who beheld them plying amid the massive fragments of granite, silent and busy, might have thought that they were some rebellious crew of beings brought into the wilderness by a genius or necromancer, and there compelled, speechless and uncomplaining, to do his bidding.(3)
They labored in this way for more than a month, and at the end of that time, Bokulla proclaimed from its summit that the wall was completed. At the announcement, the whole host of artizans and laborers and innumerable women and children, who had come from the villages, sent up a shout that rent the air. Behemoth heard it, and, listening only for a moment, browsed on among the tall grass as if regardless of its source and its object. In a few days, however, after the music had ceased its gentle influence, and the supply of pasturage began to be less luxuriant, the Mastodon made progress toward the old outlet, with the determination of seeking food elsewhere.
He, of course, sought an outlet in vain, and found himself standing at the base of an immense rampart, which shot sheer up two hundred and fifty feet in air. He surveyed the structure, and soon discovered that it was no trifling barrier, but a mighty pile of rocks, that showed themselves almost as massive and firm as the mountains which they bound together. At first Behemoth thought although it would be idle to attempt to shake the whole mass at once, that yet the separate parts might be removed block by block. With this purpose he endeavored to force his white tusks between them, but it was in vain; they were knit too firmly together to be sundered. At length the great Brute was maddened by these fruitless efforts, and retreating several hundred rods, he rushed against the wall with tremendous strength and fury.
The Mound-builders, who overlooked the structure, trembled for its safety, but it stood stiff, and the shock caused Behemoth to recoil discomfited, while the earth shook with the weight and violence of the motion. Over and over again these assaults were repeated, always with the same result. Wearied with the attempt, the Mastodon desisted, and returned to feed upon the diminished pasturage, which he had before deserted. He had soon browsed on it to its very roots, and began to feed on the commoner grass and weeds, scarcely palatable. In a day these had all vanished, and he turned to the trees which were here and there scattered over the meadow. These he devoured, foliage, limb, and trunk. — In a few days they were wholly exhausted, and the enclosed plain was reduced to a desert — pastureless, herbless, and treeless.
The impatience and wrath of Behemoth now knew no bounds. He saw no possible mode of escape from this dreary and foodless waste.
Around and around the firm Colosseum which enclosed him, he rushed maddened, bellowing, and foaming.
At times, in his fury, he pushed up the almost perpendicular sides of the mountains and recoiled, bringing with him shattered fragments of rock and large masses of earth, with tearful force and swiftness. Around and around he again galloped and trampled, shaking the very mountains with his ponderous motions, and filling their whole circuit with his terrible howlings and cries. The Mound-builders, who stood upon the wall, and on different parts of the mountains, shrunk back affrighted and awe-stricken before the deadly glare of his eye, and the fearful and agonizing sound of his voice.
Day by day he became more furious, and his roar assumed a more touching and dreadful sharpness. All sustenance was gone from the plain. The whole space within his reach furnished nothing but rocks and earth, for he had already drunk the stream dry to its channel.
The mighty Brute was perishing of hunger in the centre of his prison.
His strength was now too far wasted to admit of those violent and gigantic efforts which he had at first made to escape from the famine-stricken enclosure, and he now stalked up and down its barren plain, uttering awful and heart-rending cries. Some of the Mound-builders who heard them, and who saw the agonies and sufferings of Behemoth, although he had been their most crud enemy, could not refrain from tears. So universal is humanity in its scope, that it can feel for every thing that has life.
Howling and stalking, like a shadow momently diminishing, he walked to and fro in this way for many days. Hunger hourly extended its mastery through his immense frame. At about mid-day, in the third week of his imprisonment, he cast his eye upon the cavernous and now dusty opening through which the river that watered the plain had been accustomed to find its way. It was broad and open and of considerable height. Into this Behemoth now turned his steps. Its mouth was larger than the inner passage, for time and tempest had worn away the rocks which once guarded it.
As he advanced it diminished, and ere his whole bulk had entered the channel, it became so narrow and confined that he was forced to sink on his knees, in order to make further progress. This labor soon proved vexatious and toilsome, and the Mastodon, willing to force a way where one was not to be found, or to perish in the endeavor, raised himself slowly toward an upright position.
The remnant of his strength proved to be fearful, for, as his broad shoulders pressed upon the rocks above him, the incumbent mountain trembled, and when he had attained his full stature by a last powerful effort, the impending rocks rotted back and forth, and fell with a resounding crash and in great fragments to the earth. The whole cone of the mountain had been loosened from its base, and leaning for a moment, like a lurid cloud, in mid-air, fell into the plain with terrible ruin, bearing down a whole forest of trees and the earth in which they had taken root.
Fortunately for Behemoth — unfortunately for the object of the Mound-builders — the rocks which immediately over-hung Behemoth, though rent in several places, did not give way, but so interlocked and pressed against each other as to form a solid arch over his head and leave him unharmed amid the ruins. Passage through the channel was, however, wholly arrested by the large masses of earth that had fallen into it, and Behemoth finding it vain to attempt to pass farther onward, withdrew.
The fatal time drew nearer and nearer. Hundreds and thousands of the Mound-builders gathered from every quarter of the Empire to look upon the last hour of the mighty Creature which lay extended, in his whole vast length, in the plain. A catastrophe and show like that was not to be foregone, for it might never (and so they prayed) come again. Death and the Mastodon held a fearful encounter in the arena below. Nations looked down from the wall and the mountains on the strange and terrible spectacle.
To and fro the whole famished bulk moved with the convulsions, and spasms, and devouring agonies of hunger. At times the Brute raised his large countenance toward heaven, and howled forth a cry which, it seemed, might bring down the gods to his succor.
On the fortieth day Behemoth died and left his huge bones extended on the plain like the wreck of some mighty ship stranded there by a Deluge, to moulder century after century, to be scattered through a continent by a later convulsion, and, finally, to become the wonder of the Present Time.