Twice Told Tales HTML version

Sights From A Steeple
So! I have climbed high, and my reward is small. Here I stand with wearied knees—
earth, indeed, at a dizzy depth below, but heaven far, far beyond me still. Oh that I could
soar up into the very zenith, where man never breathed nor eagle ever flew, and where
the ethereal azure melts away from the eye and appears only a deepened shade of
nothingness! And yet I shiver at that cold and solitary thought. What clouds are gathering
in the golden west with direful intent against the brightness and the warmth of this
summer afternoon? They are ponderous air-ships, black as death and freighted with the
tempest, and at intervals their thunder—the signal-guns of that unearthly squadron—rolls
distant along the deep of heaven. These nearer heaps of fleecy vapor—methinks I could
roll and toss upon them the whole day long—seem scattered here and there for the repose
of tired pilgrims through the sky. Perhaps—for who can tell?—beautiful spirits are
disporting themselves there, and will bless my mortal eye with the brief appearance of
their curly locks of golden light and laughing faces fair and faint as the people of a rosy
dream. Or where the floating mass so imperfectly obstructs the color of the firmament a
slender foot and fairy limb resting too heavily upon the frail support may be thrust
through and suddenly withdrawn, while longing fancy follows them in vain. Yonder,
again, is an airy archipelago where the sunbeams love to linger in their journeyings
through space. Every one of those little clouds has been dipped and steeped in radiance
which the slightest pressure might disengage in silvery profusion like water wrung from a
sea-maid's hair. Bright they are as a young man's visions, and, like them, would be
realized in dullness, obscurity and tears. I will look on them no more.
In three parts of the visible circle whose centre is this spire I discern cultivated fields,
villages, white country-seats, the waving lines of rivulets, little placid lakes, and here and
there a rising ground that would fain be termed a hill. On the fourth side is the sea,
stretching away toward a viewless boundary, blue and calm except where the passing
anger of a shadow flits across its surface and is gone. Hitherward a broad inlet penetrates
far into the land; on the verge of the harbor formed by its extremity is a town, and over it
am I, a watchman, all-heeding and unheeded. Oh that the multitude of chimneys could
speak, like those of Madrid, and betray in smoky whispers the secrets of all who since
their first foundation have assembled at the hearths within! Oh that the Limping Devil of
Le Sage would perch beside me here, extend his wand over this contiguity of roofs,
uncover every chamber and make me familiar with their inhabitants! The most desirable
mode of existence might be that of a spiritualized Paul Pry hovering invisible round man
and woman, witnessing their deeds, searching into their hearts, borrowing brightness
from their felicity and shade from their sorrow, and retaining no emotion peculiar to
himself. But none of these things are possible; and if I would know the interior of brick
walls or the mystery of human bosoms, I can but guess.
Yonder is a fair street extending north and south. The stately mansions are placed each on
its carpet of verdant grass, and a long flight of steps descends from every door to the
pavement. Ornamental trees—the broadleafed horse-chestnut, the elm so lofty and
bending, the graceful but infrequent willow, and others whereof I know not the names—