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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

In A Wherry

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The tide takes the boat nearer to the fort; the horsemen ride more conspicuously, with swords and trappings that glisten in the sunlight, while the white fetlocks of the horses twinkle in unison as they move. One troop-horse without a rider wheels and gallops with the rest, and seems to revel in the free motion. Here also the tide reaches or seems to reach the very edge of the turf; and when the light battery gallops this way, it is as if it were charging on my floating fortress. Upon the other side is a scene of peace; and a fisherman sings in his boat as he examines the floats of his stake-net, hand over hand. A white gull hovers close above him, and a dark one above the horsemen, fit emblems of peace and war. The slightest sounds, the rattle of an oar, the striking of a hoof against a stone, are borne over the water to an amazing distance, as if the calm bay amid its seeming quiet, were watchful of the slightest noise. But look! in a moment the surface is rippled, the sky is clouded, a swift change comes over the fitful mood of the season; the water looks colder and deeper, the greensward assumes a chilly darkness, the troopers gallop away to their stables, and the fisherman rows home. That indefinable expression which separates autumn from summer creeps almost in an instant over all. Soon, even upon this Isle of Peace, it will be winter.

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Each season, as winter returns, I try in vain to comprehend this wonderful shifting of expression that touches even a thing so essentially unchanging as the sea. How delicious to all the senses is the summer foam above yonder rock; in winter the foam is the same, the sparkle as radiant, the hue of the water scarcely altered; and yet the effect is, by comparison, cold, heavy, and leaden. It is like that mysterious variation which chiefly makes the difference between one human face and another; we call it by vague names, and cannot tell in what it lies; we only know that when expression changes, all is gone. No warmth of color, no perfection of outline can supersede those subtile influences which make one face so winning that all human affection gravitates to its spell, and another so cold or repellent that it dwells forever in loneliness, and no passionate heart draws near. I can fancy the ocean beating in vague despair against its shores in winter, and moaning, "I am as beautiful, as restless, as untamable as ever: why are my cliffs left desolate? why am I not loved as I was loved in summer?"

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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