Instantly I saw Kenmure's arm move, and grasp her with that strong and gentle touch of his which I had so often noticed in the studio,--a touch that seemed quiet as the approach of fate, and equally resistless. I knew him well enough to understand that iron adoption.
He drew her toward him, her soft hair was on his breast, she looked fearlessly into his eyes, and I could hear the little prayer proceeding, yet in so low a whisper that I could not catch one word. She was infinitely solemn at such times, the darling; and there was always something in her low, clear tone, through all her prayings and philosophizings, which was strangely like her mother's voice. Sometimes she paused, as if to ask a question, and at every answer I could see her father's arm tighten.
The moments passed, the voices grew lower yet, the candle flickered and went out, the doll slid to the ground. Marian had drifted away upon. a vaster ocean than that whose music lulled her from without,--upon that sea whose waves are dreams. The night was wearing on, the lights gleamed from the anchored vessels, the water rippled serenely against the low sea-wall, the breeze blew gently in. Marian's baby breathing grew deeper and more tranquil; and as all the sorrows of the weary earth might be imagined to exhale themselves in spring through the breath of violets, so I prayed that it might be with Kenmure's burdened heart, through hers. By degrees the strong man's deeper respirations mingled with those of the child, and their two separate beings seemed merged and solved into identity, as they slumbered, breast to breast, beneath the golden and quiet stars. I passed by without awaking them, and I knew that the artist had attained his dream.
We have a phrase in Oldport, "What New-Yorkers call poverty: to be reduced to a pony phaeton." In consequence of a November gale, I am reduced To a similar state of destitution, from a sail-boat to a wherry; and, like others of the deserving poor, I have found many compensations in my humbler condition. Which is the more enjoyable, rowing or sailing? If you sail before the wind, there is the glorious vigor of the breeze that fills your sails; you get all of it you have room for, and a ship of the line could do no more; indeed, your very nearness to the water increases the excitement, since the water swirls and boils up, as it unites in your wake, and seems to clutch at the low stern of your sail-boat, and to menace the hand that guides the helm. Or if you beat to windward, it is as if your boat climbed a liquid hill, but did it with bounding and dancing, like a child; there is the plash of the lighter ripples against the bow, and the thud of the heavier waves, while the same blue water is now transformed to a cool jet of white foam over your face, and now to a dark whirlpool in your lee. Sailing gives a sense of prompt command, since by a single movement of the tiller you effect so great a change of direction or transform motion into rest; there is, therefore, a certain magic in it: but, on the other hand, there is in rowing a more direct appeal to your physical powers; you do not evade or cajole the elements by a cunning device of keel and canvas, you meet them man-fashion and subdue them. The motion of the oars is like the strong motion of a bird's wings; to sail a boat is to ride upon an eagle, but to row is to be an eagle. I prefer rowing,--at least till I can afford another sail-boat.
What is a good day for rowing? Almost any day that is good for living. Living is not quite agreeable in the midst of a tornado or an equinoctial storm, neither is rowing. There are days when rowing is as toilsome and exhausting a process as is Bunyan's idea of virtue; while there are other days, like the present, when it seems a mere Oriental passiveness and the forsaking of works,--just an excuse to Nature for being out among her busy things. For even at this stillest of hours there is far less repose in Nature than we imagine. What created thing can seem more patient than yonder kingfisher on the sea-wall? Yet, as we glide near him, we shall see that no creature can be more full of concentrated life; all his nervous system seems on edge, every instant he is rising or lowering on his feet, the tail vibrates, the neck protrudes or shrinks again, the feathers ruffle, the crest dilates; he talks to himself with an impatient chirr, then presently hovers and dives for a fish, then flies back disappointed. We say "free as birds," but their lives are given over to arduous labors. And so, when our condition seems most dreamy, our observing faculties are sometimes desperately on the alert, and we find afterwards, to our surprise, that we have missed nothing. The best observer in the end is not he who works at the microscope or telescope most unceasingly, but he whose whole nature becomes sensitive and receptive, drinking in everything, like a sponge that saturates itself with all floating vapors and odors, though it seems inert and unsuspicious until you press it and it tells the tale.
Most men do their work out of doors and their dreaming at home; and those whose work is done at home need something like a wherry in which to dream out of doors. On a squally day, with the wind northwest, it is a dream of action, and to round yonder point against an ebbing tide makes you feel as if you were Grant before Richmond; when you put about, you gallop like Sheridan, and the winds and waves become a cavalry escort. On other days all elements are hushed into a dream of peace, and you look out upon those once stormy distances as Landseer's sheep look into the mouth of the empty cannon on a dismantled fort. These are the days for revery, and your thoughts fly forth, gliding without friction over this smooth expanse; or, rather, they are like yonder pair of white butterflies that will flutter for an hour just above the glassy surface, traversing miles of distance before they alight again.
By a happy trait of our midsummer, these various phases of wind and water may often be included in a single day. On three mornings out of four the wind blows northwest down our bay, then dies to a calm before noon. After an hour or two of perfect stillness, you see the line of blue ripple coming up from the ocean till it conquers all the paler water, and the southwest breeze sets in. This middle zone of calm is like the noonday of the Romans, when they feared to speak, lest the great god Pan should be awakened. While it lasts, a thin, aerial veil drops over the distant hills of Conanicut, then draws nearer and nearer till it seems to touch your boat, the very nearest section of space being filled with a faint disembodied blueness, like that which fills on winter days, in colder regions, the hollows of the snow. Sky and sea show but gradations of the same color, and afford but modifications of the same element. In this quietness, yonder schooner seems not so much to lie at anchor in the water as to anchor the water, so that both cease to move; and though faint ripples may come and go elsewhere on the surface, the vessel rests in this liquid island of absolute calm. For there certainly is elsewhere a sort of motionless movement, as Keats speaks of "a little noiseless noise among the leaves," or as the summer clouds form and disappear without apparent wind and without prejudice to the stillness. A man may lie in the profoundest trance and still be breathing, and the very pulsations of the life of nature, in these calm hours, are to be read in these changing tints and shadows and ripples, and in the mirage-bewildered outlines of the islands in the bay. It is this incessant shifting of relations, this perpetual substitution of fantastic for real values, this inability to trust your own eye or ear unless the mind makes its own corrections,--that gives such an inexhaustible attraction to life beside the ocean. The sea-change comes to you without your waiting to be drowned. You must recognize the working of your own imagination and allow for it. When, for instance, the sea-fog settles down around us at nightfall, it sometimes grows denser and denser till it apparently becomes more solid than the pavements of the town, or than the great globe itself; and when the fog-whistles go wailing on through all the darkened hours, they seem to be signalling not so much for a lost ship as for a lost island.
How unlike are those weird and gloomy nights to this sunny noon, when I rest my oars in this sheltered bay, where a small lagoon makes in behind Coaster's Harbor Island, and the very last breath and murmur of the ocean are left outside! The coming tide steals to the shore in waves so light they are a mere shade upon the surface till they break, and then die speechless for one that has a voice. And even those rare voices are the very most confidential and silvery whispers in which Nature ever spoke to man; the faintest summer insect seems resolute and assured beside them; and yet it needs but an indefinite multiplication of these sounds to make up the thunder of the surf. It is so still that I can let the wherry drift idly along the shore, and can watch the life beneath the water. The small fry cluster and evade between me and the brink; the half-translucent shrimp glides gracefully undisturbed, or glances away like a flash if you but touch the surface; the crabs waddle or burrow, the smaller species mimicking unconsciously the hue of the soft green sea-weed, and the larger looking like motionless stones, covered with barnacles and decked with fringing weeds. I am acquainted with no better Darwinian than the crab; and however clumsy he may be when taken from his own element, he has a free and floating motion which is almost graceful in his own yielding and buoyant home. It is so with all wild creatures, but especially with those of water and air. A gull is not reckoned an especially graceful bird, but yonder I see one, snowy white, that has come to fish in this safe lagoon, and it dips and rises on its errands as lightly as a butterfly or a swallow. Beneath that neighboring causeway the water-rats run over the stones, lithe and eager and alert, the body carried low, the head raised now and then like a hound's, the tail curving gracefully and aiding the poise; now they are running to the water as if to drink, now racing for dear life along the edge, now fairly swimming, then devoting an interval to reflection, like squirrels, then again searching over a pile of sea-weed and selecting some especial tuft, which is carried, with long, sinuous leaps, to the unseen nest. Indeed, man himself is graceful in his unconscious and direct employments: the poise of a fisherman, for instance, the play of his arm, the cast of his line or net,--these take the eye as do the stealthy movements of the hunter, the fine attitudes of the wood-chopper, the grasp of the sailor on the helm. A haystack and a boat are always picturesque objects, and so are the men who are at work to build or use them. So is yonder stake-net, glistening in the noonday light,--the innumerable meshes drooping in soft arches from the high stakes, and the line of floats stretching shoreward, like tiny stepping-stones; two or three row-boats are gathered round it, with fishermen in red or blue shirts, while one white sail-boat hovers near. And I have looked down on our beach in spring, at sunset, and watched them drawing nets for the young herring, when the rough men looked as graceful as the nets they drew, and the horseman who directed might have been Redgauntlet on the Solway Sands.
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