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Aftermath / Part second of A Kentucky Cardinal"" By James Lane Allen Characters: 4919

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

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 my path.

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 the nest.

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 mu

ltitude 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.

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