I hear across nearly a mile of water the faint, Sharp orders and the sonorous blare of the trumpet That follows each command; the horsemen gallop and wheel; suddenly the band within the fort strikes up for guard-mounting, and I have but to shut my eyes to be carried back to warlike days that passed by,--was it centuries ago? Meantime, I float gradually towards Brenton's Cove; the lawns that reach to the water's edge were never so gorgeously green in any summer, and the departure of the transient guests gives to these lovely places an air of cool seclusion; when fashion quits them, the imagination is ready to move in. An agreeable sense of universal ownership comes over the winter-staying mind in Oldport. I like to keep up this little semblance of habitation on the part of our human birds of passage; it is very pleasant to me, and perhaps even pleasanter to them, that they should call these emerald slopes their own for a month or two; but when they lock the doors in autumn, the ideal key reverts into my hands, and it is evident that they have only been "tenants by the courtesy," in the fine legal phrase. Provided they stay here long enough to attend to their lawns and pay their taxes, I am better satisfied than if these estates were left to me the whole year round.
The tide takes the boat nearer to the fort; the horsemen ride more conspicuously, with swords and trappings that glisten in the sunlight, while the white fetlocks of the horses twinkle in unison as they move. One troop-horse without a rider wheels and gallops with the rest, and seems to revel in the free motion. Here also the tide reaches or seems to reach the very edge of the turf; and when the light battery gallops this way, it is as if it were charging on my floating fortress. Upon the other side is a scene of peace; and a fisherman sings in his boat as he examines the floats of his stake-net, hand over hand. A white gull hovers close above him, and a dark one above the horsemen, fit emblems of peace and war. The slightest sounds, the rattle of an oar, the striking of a hoof against a stone, are borne over the water to an amazing distance, as if the calm bay amid its seeming quiet, were watchful of the slightest noise. But look! in a moment the surface is rippled, the sky is clouded, a swift change comes over the fitful mood of the season; the water looks colder and deeper, the greensward assumes a chilly darkness, the troopers gallop away to their stables, and the fisherman rows home. That indefinable expression which separates autumn from summer creeps almost in an instant over all. Soon, even upon this Isle of Peace, it will be winter.
Each season, as winter returns, I try in vain to comprehend this wonderful shifting of expression that touches even a thing so essentially unchanging as the sea. How delicious to all the senses is the summer foam above yonder rock; in winter the foam is the same, the sparkle as radiant, the hue of the water scarcely altered; and yet the effect is, by comparison, cold, heavy, and leaden. It is like that mysterious variation which chiefly makes the difference between one human face and another; we call it by vague names, and cannot tell in what it lies; we only know that when expression changes, all is gone. No warmth of color, no perfection of outline can supersede those subtile influences which make one face so winning that all human affection gravitates to its spell, and another so cold or repellent that it dwells forever in loneliness, and no passionate heart draws near. I can fancy the ocean beating in vague despair against its shores in winter, and moaning, "I am as beautiful, as restless, as untamable as ever: why are my cliffs left desolate? why am I not loved as I was loved in summer?"
Madam Delia sat at the door of her show-tent, which, as she discovered too late, had been pitched on the wrong side of the Parade. It was"Election day" in Oldport, and there must have been a thousand people in the public square; there were really more than the four policemen on duty could properly attend to, so that half of them had leisure to step into Madam Delia's tent, and see little Gerty and the rattlesnakes. It was past the appointed hour; but the exhibition had never yet been known to open for less than ten spectators, and even the addition of the policemen only made eight. So the mistress of the show sat in resolute expectation, a little defiant of the human race. It was her thirteenth annual tour, and she knew mankind.
Surely there were people enough; surely they had money enough; surely they were easily pleased. They gathered in crowds to hear crazy Mrs. Green denouncing the city government for sending her to the poorhouse in a wagon instead of a carriage. They thronged to inspect the load of hay that was drawn by the two horses whose harness had been cut to pieces, and then repaired by Denison's Eureka Cement. They all bought whips with that unfailing readiness which marks a rural crowd; they bought packages of lead-pencils with a dollar so skilfully distributed through every six parcels that the oldest purchaser had never found more than ten cents in his. They let the man who cured neuralgia rub his magic curative on their foreheads, and allowed the man who cleaned watch-chains to dip theirs in the purifying powder. They twirled the magic arrow, which never by any chance rested at the corner compartments where the gold watches and the heavy bracelets were piled, but perpetually recurred to the side stations, and indicated only a beggarly prize of india-rubber sleeve-buttons. They bought ten cents' worth of jewelry, obtaining a mingled treasure of two breast-pins, a plain gold ring, an enamelled ring, and "a piece of California gold." But still no added prizes in the human lottery fell to the show-tent of Madam Delia.
As time went on and the day grew warmer, the crowd grew visibly less enterprising, and business flagged. The man with the lifting-machine pulled at the handles himself, a gratuitous exhibition before a circle of boys now penniless. The man with the metallic polish dipped and redipped his own watch-chain. The men at the booths sat down to lunch upon the least presentable of their own pies. The proprietor of the magic arrow, who had already two large breastpins on his dirty shirt, selected from his own board another to grace his coat-collar, as if thereby to summon back the waning fortunes of the day. But Madam Delia still sat at her post, undaunted. She kept her eye on two sauntering militia-men in uniform, but they only read her sign and seated themselves on the curbstone, to smoke. Then a stout black soldier came in sight; but he turned and sat down at a table to eat oysters, served by a vast and smiling matron of his own race. But even this, though perhaps the most wholly cheerful exhibition that the day yielded, had no charms for Madam Delia. Her own dinner was ordered at the tavern after the morning show; and where is the human being who does not resent the spectacle of another human being who dines earlier than himself?
It grew warmer, so warm that the canvas walls of the tent seemed to grasp a certain armful of heat and keep it inexorably in; so warm that the out-of-door man was dozing as he leaned against the tent-stake, and only recovered himself at the sound of Madam Delia's penetrating voice, and again began to summon people in, though there was nobody within hearing. It was so warm that Mr. De Marsan, born Bangs, the wedded husband of Madam Delia, dozed as he walked up and down the sidewalk, and had hardly voice enough to testify, as an unconcerned spectator, to the value of the show. Only the unwearied zeal of the showwoman defied alike thermometer and neglect, She kept her eye on everything,--on Old Bill as he fed the monkeys within, on Monsieur Comstock as he hung the trapeze for the performance, on the little girls as they tried to peddle their songs, on the sleepy out-of-door man, and on the people who did not draw near. If she could, she would have played all the parts in her own small company, and would have put the inexhaustible nervous energies of her own New England nature (she was born at Meddibemps, State of Maine) into all. Apart from this potent stimulus, not a soul in the establishment, save little Gerty, possessed any energy whatever. Old Bill had unfortunately never learned total abstinence from the wild animals among which he had passed his life; Monsieur Comstock's brains had chiefly run into his arms and legs; and Mr. De Marsan, the nominal head of the establishment, was a peaceful Pennsylvanian, who was wont to move as slowly as if he were one of those processions that take a certain number of hours to pass a given point. This Madam Delia understood and expected; he was an innocent who was to be fed, clothed, and directed; but his languor was no excuse for the manifest feebleness of the out-of-door man. "That man don't know how to talk no more 'n nothin' at all," said Madam Delia reproachfully, to the large policeman who stood by her. "He never speaks up bold to nobody. Why don't he tell 'em what's inside the tent? I don't want him to say no more 'n the truth, but he might tell that. Tell 'em about Gerty, you nincum! Tell 'em about the snakes. Tell 'em what Comstock is. 'T ain't the real original Comstock" (this to the policeman), "it's only another that used to perform with him in Comstock Brothers. This one can't swaller, so we leave out the knives."
"Where's t' other?" said the sententious policeman, whose ears were always open for suspicious disappearances.
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