The Battle of Life HTML version

Chapter 1
Once upon a time, it matters little when, and in stalwart England, it matters little
where, a fierce battle was fought. It was fought upon a long summer day when
the waving grass was green. Many a wild flower formed by the Almighty Hand to
be a perfumed goblet for the dew, felt its enamelled cup filled high with blood that
day, and shrinking dropped. Many an insect deriving its delicate colour from
harmless leaves and herbs, was stained anew that day by dying men, and
marked its frightened way with an unnatural track. The painted butterfly took
blood into the air upon the edges of its wings. The stream ran red. The trodden
ground became a quagmire, whence, from sullen pools collected in the prints of
human feet and horses' hoofs, the one prevailing hue still lowered and glimmered
at the sun.
Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the sights the moon beheld upon that field,
when, coming up above the black line of distant rising- ground, softened and
blurred at the edge by trees, she rose into the sky and looked upon the plain,
strewn with upturned faces that had once at mothers' breasts sought mothers'
eyes, or slumbered happily. Heaven keep us from a knowledge of the secrets
whispered afterwards upon the tainted wind that blew across the scene of that
day's work and that night's death and suffering! Many a lonely moon was bright
upon the battle-ground, and many a star kept mournful watch upon it, and many
a wind from every quarter of the earth blew over it, before the traces of the fight
were worn away.
They lurked and lingered for a long time, but survived in little things; for, Nature,
far above the evil passions of men, soon recovered Her serenity, and smiled
upon the guilty battle-ground as she had done before, when it was innocent. The
larks sang high above it; the swallows skimmed and dipped and flitted to and fro;
the shadows of the flying clouds pursued each other swiftly, over grass and corn
and turnip-field and wood, and over roof and church- spire in the nestling town
among the trees, away into the bright distance on the borders of the sky and
earth, where the red sunsets faded. Crops were sown, and grew up, and were
gathered in; the stream that had been crimsoned, turned a watermill; men
whistled at the plough; gleaners and haymakers were seen in quiet groups at
work; sheep and oxen pastured; boys whooped and called, in fields, to scare
away the birds; smoke rose from cottage chimneys; sabbath bells rang
peacefully; old people lived and died; the timid creatures of the field, the simple
flowers of the bush and garden, grew and withered in their destined terms: and
all upon the fierce and bloody battle-ground, where thousands upon thousands
had been killed in the great fight. But, there were deep green patches in the
growing corn at first, that people looked at awfully. Year after year they re-
appeared; and it was known that underneath those fertile spots, heaps of men
and horses lay buried, indiscriminately, enriching the ground. The husbandmen
who ploughed those places, shrunk from the great worms abounding there; and
the sheaves they yielded, were, for many a long year, called the Battle Sheaves,
and set apart; and no one ever knew a Battle Sheaf to be among the last load at
a Harvest Home. For a long time, every furrow that was turned, revealed some