Martin Chuzzlewit HTML version
THE BURDEN WHEREOF, IS HAIL COLUMBIA!
A dark and dreary night; people nestling in their beds or circling late about the
fire; Want, colder than Charity, shivering at the street corners; church-towers
humming with the faint vibration of their own tongues, but newly resting from the
ghostly preachment 'One!' The earth covered with a sable pall as for the burial of
yesterday; the clumps of dark trees, its giant plumes of funeral feathers, waving
sadly to and fro: all hushed, all noiseless, and in deep repose, save the swift
clouds that skim across the moon, and the cautious wind, as, creeping after them
upon the ground, it stops to listen, and goes rustling on, and stops again, and
follows, like a savage on the trail.
Whither go the clouds and wind so eagerly? If, like guilty spirits, they repair to
some dread conference with powers like themselves, in what wild regions do the
elements hold council, or where unbend in terrible disport?
Here! Free from that cramped prison called the earth, and out upon the waste of
waters. Here, roaring, raging, shrieking, howling, all night long. Hither come the
sounding voices from the caverns on the coast of that small island, sleeping, a
thousand miles away, so quietly in the midst of angry waves; and hither, to meet
them, rush the blasts from unknown desert places of the world. Here, in the fury
of their unchecked liberty, they storm and buffet with each other, until the sea,
lashed into passion like their own, leaps up, in ravings mightier than theirs, and
the whole scene is madness.
On, on, on, over the countless miles of angry space roll the long heaving billows.
Mountains and caves are here, and yet are not; for what is now the one, is now
the other; then all is but a boiling heap of rushing water. Pursuit, and flight, and
mad return of wave on wave, and savage struggle, ending in a spouting-up of
foam that whitens the black night; incessant change of place, and form, and hue;
constancy in nothing, but eternal strife; on, on, on, they roll, and darker grows the
night, and louder howls the wind, and more clamorous and fierce become the
million voices in the sea, when the wild cry goes forth upon the storm 'A ship!'
Onward she comes, in gallant combat with the elements, her tall masts trembling,
and her timbers starting on the strain; onward she comes, now high upon the
curling billows, now low down in the hollows of the sea, as hiding for the moment
from its fury; and every storm-voice in the air and water cries more loudly yet, 'A
Still she comes striving on; and at her boldness and the spreading cry, the angry
waves rise up above each other's hoary heads to look; and round about the
vessel, far as the mariners on the decks can pierce into the gloom, they press
upon her, forcing each other down and starting up, and rushing forward from
afar, in dreadful curiosity. High over her they break; and round her surge and
roar; and giving place to others, moaningly depart, and dash themselves to
fragments in their baffled anger. Still she comes onward bravely. And though the
eager multitude crowd thick and fast upon her all the night, and dawn of day
discovers the untiring train yet bearing down upon the ship in an eternity of