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In the morning-not at the first blush of dawn, but when the sun already mounts the horizon-and at the very moment when the cocoanut tree unfolds its leaves, the vultures, perched in knots of forty or fifty upon its branches, open their brilliant ruby eyes.
The toils of the day demand them. In indolent Africa, a hundred villages invoke them; in drowsy America, South of Panama or Caraccas, they, swiftest of cleansers, must sweep out and purify the town before the Spaniard rises, before the potent sun has stirred the carcass, and the mass of corruption into fermentation. If they failed a single day, the country would become a desert.
When it is evening-time in America—when the small vulture, his day's work ended, replaces himself on the cocoa-tree—the minarets of Asia sparkle in the morning's rays—not less punctual than their American brothers, vultures, crows, storks, ibises, set out from their balconies on their various missions : some to the fields, to destroy the insect and the serpent; others, alighting in the streets of Alexandria or Cairo, hasten to accomplish their task of municipal scavengering. Did they but take the briefest holiday, the plague would soon be the only inhabitant of the country. Thus in the two hemispheres the great work of public health is performed with solemn and wonderful regularity.
It is strange that the more useful they are to us, the more odious we find them; we are unwilling to accept them for what they are, to regard them in their true light, as the beneficent living fire through which nature passes everything that might corrupt the higher life. For this purpose she has provided them with an admirable apparatus, which receives, destroys, transforms, without even rejecting, wearying, or even satisfying itself. Let them devour a hippopotamus, and they are still famished.
To the gulls (those vultures of the sea) a whale seems but a reasonable morsel. They will dissect it and clear it away better than the most skilful whalers. As long as aught of it remains they remain ; fire at them, and they intrepidly return to it in the mouth of your guns. Nothing dislodges the vulture on the carcass of a hippopotamus. A traveller tells us he shot at one of these birds, which, though mortally wounded, still plucked away scraps of flesh.
Was he starving ? not he; food was found in his stomach weighing six pounds. This is gluttony rather than ferocity.
These admirable agents of that beneficent chemistry which preserves and balances life here below, labour for us in a thousand places, where we ourselves may never penetrate. We clearly discern their presence and their services in our
towns ; but no one can measure the full extent of their benefits in those deserts where every breath of the winds is death.
58.—THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR.
About six o'clock on the 21st October 1805, Blackwood went on board the Victory. He found Nelson in good spirits, but very calm. He knew that his own life would be particularly aimed at, and seems to have looked for death with almost as sure an expectation as for victory. His whole attention was fixed
enemy. Villeneuve, their admiral, was a skilful seaman, worthy of serving a better master and a better cause. His plan of defence was as well conceived and as original as the plan of attack. He formed the fleet in a double line, every alternate ship being about a cable's-length to windward of her second, ahead and astern.
Nelson, certain of a triumphant issue to the day, asked Blackwood “what he should consider as a victory?"
That officer answered, “that, considering the handsome way in which battle was offered by the enemy, their apparent determination for a fair trial of strength, and the situation of the land, he thought it would be a glorious result if fourteen were captured.”
Nelson replied, “I shall not be satisfied with less than twenty.”
Nelson's last signal was, England expects every man to do his duty.” It was received throughout the fleet with a shout of answering acclamation, made sublime by the spirit which it breathed, and the feeling which it expressed.
Now,” said Lord Nelson, “I can do no more. We must trust to the Great Disposer of all events, and the justice of our cause. I thank God for this great opportunity of doing my duty.”
He wore that day, as usual, his admiral's frock coat, bearing on the left breast four stars of the different orders with which he was invested. Ornaments which made him such a conspicuous mark for the enemy, were beheld with ominous apprehensions by his officers. It was known that there were riflemen on board the French ships, and it could not be doubted but that his life would be particularly aimed at. They spoke of their fears to each other, and wished that some one would entreat him to change his dress, or cover the stars ; but they knew that such a request would highly displease him. 66 In honour I gained them," he had said when such a thing had been hinted to him formerly," and in honour I will die with them."
The French admiral beheld the new manner in which his enemy was advancing—Nelson and Collingwood each leading his line—and pointing them out to his officers, exclaimed that such conduct could not fail to be successful."
Yet Villeneuve had made his own dispositions with the utmost skill, and the fleets under his command watched for the attack with perfect cool
Ten minutes before twelve, they opened their fire. Eight or nine of the ships immediately ahead of the Victory, and across her bows, fired single guns at her, to see if she was yet within
As soon as Nelson saw their shot passed over him, he desired Blackwood and Captain Prowse of the Sirius to go to their respective frigates, and on their way to tell all the captains of the line-of-battle ships that he depended on their exertions; and that if, by obeying his directions, they could not get into action immediately, they might do whatever they thought best, provided they got quickly and closely alongside an enemy. As they were standing on the front of the poop, Blackwood took Nelson by the hand, saying, “ he hoped soon to return and find him in possession of twenty prizes.
He replied, “ God bless you, Blackwood, I shall never see you again."
Meantime an incessant raking fire was kept up upon the Victory. The admiral's secretary was one of the first who fell. Presently a double-headed shot struck a party of marines, and killed eight of them, on which Nelson desired Captain Adair to isperse his men round the ship, that they might