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Nevertheless, there was that in her rapt expression, in her earnest eyes, and her changing color, which transcended all charms of person, revealing the power and passion of a soul within. She seemed a little weird, though I am sure I cannot tell what combination of tint, or tissue, or line, produced such a result; perhaps it might have come by means of some viewless influence exerted by her sphere on the spheres of others, if certain philosophers may be credited.
Or, indeed, there might have been a current of spiritual essence in her veins, for the island-people told many strange tales of her mother's race. And if you who are glancing over these sentences, have no faith to believe that spirits once haunted earth, air, and water, I pray you, read no farther. For myself, I doubt not that in the olden time, fairies danced on the turf all the mid-summer night: I hold it as unquestionable, that wherever thickets overhung the fountains, Dryads from the woods wooed the Undines of the waters. Neither am I incredulous as regards ghost-stories: why should not some of the eager souls thrust each moment into another state of existence, be able to struggle backward to this earth where all they love remains ? So, were I to walk the aisles of the church-yard by night, I should expect an encounter with the wraith of some restless tenant of the manor on which I trod.
The islanders, then, asserted that Zelda's mother was a daughter of the Ocean-King, who dwells in cities beneath the waves of the North : they said she had danced wild measures among the mermaids, and worn on her head a crown of bright sea-flowers, that grew too deep for the grasp of any mortal hand, save that of the ship-wrecked sailor.
How she had been won from her coral home, none pretended to know; but speaking in low tones, lest some of her watery relatives should chance to over-hear, they would tell of her white face, of her dreamy eyes always turned oceanward; of her long ambercolored hair, wherein she delighted to braid the lilies. For aught I can see, she might have been the identical Sabrina whom Milton saw sitting under the 'cool, translucent wave' in merry England. I even regard it as a reasonable 'supposition, for the lord of her love, who brought her to that far-off islet, was a noble Briton, selfexiled (I relate the story in strict accordance with the best authorities in Iceland) for the sake of the loving being he dared not introduce to the aristocratic circles of his land. And truly, she would have been a strange apparition in the midst of befrizzled, beruffed, and behooped ladies – she, in her sea-green mantle, her blue robe, and flowing locks !
Zelda could not remember this mother, on whose breast she had dreamed in her earliest slumbers; but she knew the popular tale of her origin, and often twisted her gold-green tresses round her fingers, thinking how she had heard it whispered : 'Her hair is like the mermaid’s.
Her father never spoke of his former life, or of the wife who had left in his arms the little Zelda. She knew not even what rank he
held in the merry England, whose language he taught her lisping tongue ; but she had hourly testimony that he had accumulated exhaustless treasures of learning.
He had died. She placed his coffin, as he gave command, on the moon-lighted beach, and watched while the tide bore away on its sobbing breast the guardian of her infancy. She looked to see some ocean-spirit rise and greet his coming ; but none appeared, though she heard, or fancied she heard, such strains of music as no mortal voices utter; low and sad at their beginning, then swelling into a triumphal chorus that swept from her soul its flood of grief. But the sun shine was more dim than when she leaned on his arm, for there had come a mist over the landscape: so, as beneath the shadow of Hecla, tales were rehearsed of the boundless forests and springing villages of America, she said she would go forth to the new world beyond the waves.
Her heart found nothing upon which to rest, and like every child of genius, she longed to bear the thread of her destiny through all lands, seeking the repose she might never attain.
When the sails of the ship lying in the harbor should brush the horizon, Zelda would behold no more the cliffs along which she had leaped in all the abandon of girlish mirth.
And standing in that sunny angle among the rocks, this thought dilated her eyes, and gave them so inward a look, as if she saw not the scene before her.
At length the color paled on her cheeks, and lifting her harp, she played upon its strings a prelude that interpreted the sadness of her spirit. Then, in the musical language of Iceland, she chanted her last farewell. The poetic rapture of her lay can ill be rendered into stern Saxon, nor does the mystic mythology of the North suit the practicality of our race; yet I will tell, as best I can, the improvisation of Zelda.
'Far back in antiquity, when young Time began to turn the silver sands from her urn, a son of Odin bore some message to Earth. Beside the maiden Time he tarried, permitting his soul to be filled with her matchless beauty. He sought also to woo her from the throne whereon Odin bade her to abide till the last grain had fallen from her urn.
“The accents in which he pleaded, so low yet so clear, so passionate yet so musical, reached the far-hearing ear of his father. Then Odin's wrath waxed hot against his erring son, and he vowed by his own might, that till Time, wrinkled with years, should expire beside her exhausted vase, so long should the traitor remain on the remotest verge of her empire, transfixed by a thousand icy darts, and lashed by the fury of arctic storms age after age.
• At the sound of that oath, the hammer of the valiant Thor descended
upon the rocks, till the Walhalla shook on its foundations, and the hands of its guests trembled while they lifted their foam
As the thunder ceased, the form of the rebel was changed. Close on the bounds of eternal frosts an island rose from the
bitter waters. High in air it reared its proud head, but buried its burning heart deep in caverns of Hecla.
• Thus, 0 Iceland, my country ! thou art the child of Odin ! Long hast thou borne the punishment of thy crime; yet beats thy heart more gently than when thou didst kneel before the fair Time ?
No; through thy fetters of frost still break the fires of thy soul. We see them playing on the summit of Hecla; we feel them in the hot tears that gush from thy bosom; the throbbing of thy strong pulses rends the mountain's side. * Alas! thy pain hath not wrought out a cure for thy sin !
How like, O my country! art thou to the human soul! Like it, thou hast lost thy freedom for earthly love; like it, thou hast sullied thy glory by mortal hopes; yet not the less to thee clingeth the heart of Zelda.
And thou art beautiful, my island-home. Thy head towereth to the skies, nor croucheth before the tempest. Thou dost wear thy snowy chains as though they were regal garments.
'Thou trainest thy milk-white rivers to leap like steeds from the tall cliffs. The Aurora Borealis hath placed its double crown upon thee its circlet of living rubies, and its tiara of diamond light.
Along thy shores cluster the eider-ducks, plucking white down from their breasts to soften the sleep of their little ones. Within thy dingles, rarest flowers kiss the sunshine.
Thou hast brought to my mind many a fantastic thought; gay visions hast thou aided me to weave. Though I leave thee, thou art mistress of
soul ! O Iceland ! I depart from thy shores with a bursting heart. No more shall I hear the wild pages of thy sagas, or the poetic eddas of thy early faith !
“Never again will kindred hand clasp mine in the embrace of affection ! Nor will another listen to the rhapsodies of Zelda !
Upon thy waters I cast my harp; no foreign ears shall hear its strains. Place it, lovely mermaids, beside my father's hand. His first gift, to him Í yield it up. Farewell, my island-home!'
! And Zelda, with the speed of thought, gave her harp to the rising tide. She might have been deceived, but a white hand seemed to bear it beneath the deep; and the lone minstrel turned toward the ship with a smile on her parted lips.
CHAPTER SE OOND.
BEING A CHAPTER OF INTRODUCTIONS.
It is a favorite employment of some modern pens to darken the lustre of the Puritan name. These would fain persuade us that the hearts once beating beneath priestly robes, were hardly of the human kind; they would transform into fiends the patriarchs of New-England story, and into imps their rosy children.
True it is, they were men of different ideas from those which
mould the present generation : true, they held amusements of this life in light esteem, compared with a joy to come; so great, they believed, that it might not be spoken in mortal ear: true, they scorned petty distinctions of society while contemplating shiring ranks of cherubim and seraphim: true, they desired earthly rulers to give place to the Ancient of Days, who demands homage even from kings.
Fixing their eyes steadfastly on the end to be attained, with some disregard for the means of its accomplishment, they often erred. Alas ! 'to err is human !'
Their mission, so they deemed, was to lay the foundation of an empire that should outvie the golden age of Rome; its pillars of moral and intellectual grandeur they sought to place upon bases strong and broad. It would ill have beseemed them amid their Herculean task, to have turned aside, grieving, like melancholy Jacques, over the poetics of dying fawns; or boating down rivers, chatting of pleasant landscapes, of the mystery of life, or the unequal distribution of property, and returning at night-fall, charmed with the songs of birds, and rustling of boughs.
Yet, while it was a necessity of their position to elevate the utile above the ornamental, they did not lack power to appreciate beauty. Some among their number had been reared in elegance beyond the sea : some were men of classic tastes, resorting with delight to the pages of Homer, Virgil, and Shakspeare.
Their life on the borders of unexplored forests, was, without remedy, rugged; but they willingly covered its sternness with whatever they thought might embellish without enervating.
What if custom changed for their children the light measures of the dance to the equally airy race upon the green sward ? Baby hearts none the less expanded with joy silver voices rang out as gayly beneath the blue dome of heaven, as through the dusty atmosphere of carpeted halls. What if lads and lasses were compelled to forego their sports on the Sabbath, aping solemn faces ? — with seven-fold zest they pursued the games of other days. The tender and mystic songs trilling from their ruddy lips, were no less adapted to develop imagination than are the elegances of Mother Goose, or the flowing verse of Nursery Rhymes.
Having thus made our bow to the early heroes of New England, and kissed the hem of their garments, as in duty bound, let me conduct you to Boston. Do not rush from the cars to cool your over-wrought spirit in the spray of fountain on the Common, or moisten your lips with clear streams of Cochituate there gushing. Gaze not around for avenues of linden and maple trees, neither seek after lawns smoothed with the roller and shaven with the scythe. Hearken not for the rolling of carriages over stone-paved streets, or for the deep voice of a city baying in its swift career. Look not upward for the benignant face and bald head of the State House ; for see! the mansions of Beacon, Tremont, and Park streets, have disappeared as by magic.
The Common is a vast extent of pasture-land, along which cattle roam at will. Children are making into nosegays the flowers that nod over its surface, forming tableaux by no means grim, with their bunches of wild columbine, and baskets of cowslip greens gathered beside the frog-pond yonder. The chief grace of the spot is a native elm, that spreads its branches far and wide, whither youths and damsels resort to renew the world-old vow, whispered alike by Cavalier and Puritan, Mohammedan and Jew.
The height of land upbears a lofty pole, whence beacons of the colony are displayed at the will of the magistrates; and not far distant is the powder-house, perched safe on a rock, which, being forbidden ground to juveniles of the town, receives more longing glances than ever fell to the lot of harem walls.
The streets of our embryo city, few and narrow, are bordered, except in the immediate vicinity of market-places, by two ribbons of grass, that unroll their green parallels from the wharf to the fortifications commanding the only land-approach to this sanctum sanctorum of The Massachusetts.' .
Its citizens' houses, built of wood, painted only by wind and storm, send upward several triangular roofs : some in style similar to that of which we have read delighted, stand in all the grandeur of seven gables; others can boast but two, while some of the poorer sort hide their diminished heads in one. The second story always projects outward from the first, and the attic thrusts its little window still farther forward, so that the lowest front is sheltered from rain and snow. The door is in a deep recess, and is armed with an iron knocker to announce the coming of visitors. The windows, made of diamond-shaped bits of glass set in metal frames, open, like doors, either inward or outward.
I cannot hope to detain you long in the Tri-mountain town, while Boston as it is, spreads out before your eyes ; so sit down in a pleasant group on the Common, all you who wish to hear my tale of the olden city, and I will discourse of another circle long since cut down by the Reaper's scythe, and whose gable-roofed dwellings have been sawn into dust by the tooth of Time.
Once, long ago, an odor of springing grass and budding shrubs, crept through certain casements, filling a room with incense. The lingering radiance of sun-set fell upon a father sitting in his armchair near the centre of this apartment, and maintaining an air of calm dignity even in the seclusion of home, which marked him at once as a religious teacher.
He was somewhat past the meridian of life, with no trace on his benevolent features of the harshness that, we are told, often marred the clerical visage. Street-doors in those simple times, not acting the part of sign-boards, I must inform you that the occupant of this arm-chair was the Reverend Mathias Phillips.
A girl nestled in his arms, a wee, petted thing, listening, while he read the famous letter of Martin Luther to his son Johnny, and her eager eyes showed forth great desire to possess the jewelled ponies she heard about.