BALLOONING

By I. McLellan, Jr.

The clear sun of a fine September day, was glittering on roof and steeple, and the cheerful breeze of early autumn breathing its harp-like melody over woods and waters. A vast multitude stood around me, attentively watching the expanding folds of my balloon, as it swayed to and fro in the unsteady air. As I prepared to take my place in its car, I noticed an involuntary shudder run through the assemblage, and anxious glances pass from face to face. At length, the process of inflation was completed, the music sounded, the gun was discharged, the ropes were loosened, and the beautiful machine arose in the air, amid the resounding cheers of thousands. As it ascended, I cast a hasty look on the sea of upturned heads, and thought I read one general expression of anxiety, in the faces of the multitudinous throng, and my heart warmed with the consciousness, that many kind wishes and secret hopes were wafted with me on my heavenward flight. But very soon, mine eye ceased to distinguish features and forms, and the collected throng became blended in one confused mass, and the green common itself had dwindled into a mere garden-plat, and the magnificent old Elm in its centre to a stunted bush, waving on the hill-side.

Upward, upward! my flying car mounted and mounted, into the yet untraversed highways of the air, swifter than pinion-borne bird, or canvas-borne vessel, yet all without sound of revolving wheel, or clatter of thundering hoof or straining of bellying sail, or rustle of flapping wing. I felt that I was indeed alone, in the upper wastes of the liquid element, a solitary voyager of the sky, careering onward like the spectral "Ship of the Sea," with no murmur of bubbling billow under the prow, and no gush of whirling ripple beneath the keel. But how can my pen describe the sublimity of the scene above, below and around! At one moment, my car would plunge into silvery seas of vapor and rolling billows of mist, through which the dim-seen sun did but feebly glimmer, like the struggling flame of the torch cast in the dungeon's gloom. But soon that shadowy veil dissolved away, and again I would emerge into the blaze of the golden sun, and the effulgence of the blue heavens. How then did I covet the painter's art, to be able to imprint on the eternal canvas, those gorgeous clouds piled up around me, like hills and mountains, from whose sides hoary cataracts seemed to be falling, and foamy streams leaping into the vallies, that rested in lovely repose at their base. Never did the dull world below present on its diversified bosom, such grand or such enchanting objects, as those beautiful and evanescent creatures of the air, shining and shifting in the levelled sunbeams around. At times, my whole horizon would be bounded by those mountainous regions of cloud-land, cliff lifting over cliff, pinnacle above pinnacle, Alps above Alps. On their sides and tops, the reflected light painted all the hues of the rainbow, in commingled azure and crimson, purple and gold. In those stupendous masses of vapor, mine eye, with little aid of fancy, could trace out resemblances of wild and desolate forests, of sombre fir and yew, the lordly oak and the melancholy pine, whispering in the breeze. Anon, a green, happy valley, would smile out from some hollow of the hills, and the white church-spire would peep from the embosoming grove, and the rustic parsonage, the rural farm-house, and the village-inn, with its swinging sign, and the chestnut waiving its twinkling foliage at the door would appear. Anon, the shifting vapor would assume the shape of an old baronial fortress, green with the mosses of centuries, and overspread with the flexile creeper, the gadding vine, and the glossy ivy, and wearing many a dull-weather stain, imprinted by wintry gale and autumnal rain. On its grey towers would seem to float the broad standard, around which the knights and vassals had mustered so often, when the armies thundered beneath the leagured walls, or its brave folds were displayed in distant lands, on the tented fields of war.

Onward, onward! I looked forth, and saw that I was again wafted along the lower currents of air, and could easily distinguish the sights and sounds of earth. I passed over green pastures, where the brindled cattle and snowy sheep were feeding, and, under a spreading oak, that towered aloft like a verdant hill, reclined a young girl, watching her father's flocks, attended by a pet lamb, cropping the fair flowers at her feet. As I gazed, I thought of "the fair Una with her milk-white lamb," and of all the happiness of the shepherd's life, who, sitting upon the grassy hill-side beneath the sacred locust, and piping entrancing melodies in praise of his love, on the mellow oaten reed, is all unmindful of the cankering care and the poisonous hatred, that embitter human life. Great was the surprise that agitated that lonesome spot, as mine air-borne pageant fluttered over it, with its silken fold and colored streamer. The cattle cast upward their wondering eyes, and galloped away to the forests, and I could long hear the tinkling bell on the horn of the bull and heifer, sounding in the inner sanctuary of the wood, where, on a twisted root or a moss-covered stone, by the brink of the gushing brook, reclined that grey-beard recluse, Solitude, and his nun-like sister, Silence, revolving their lonely meditations.

Onward, still onward! Beneath me I beheld a solemn spot, where the linden, the ash, the sycamore, the cypress, the cedar, the beech, the church-yard yew and hemlock, were clustered together in one mournful company. I knew by the stone altars, by the sculptured urn, the graceful obelisk, the foam-white pyramid, the funereal cenotaph, the marble mausoleum, which glimmered amid the groves and bowers, that I looked upon a sanctuary, consecrated by the living to the repose of the dead. A sweet sabbath-like calm seemed to hover about the place, and even the very birds that were flitting from branch to branch, and the breeze that was sighing its hollow dirge along the wood-tops, appeared to know that the spot was holy. As I looked, I beheld a slow procession winding along this highway of the departed, and bearing a new tenant to the narrow house. Some sweet infant, perhaps, was there cut down in the dewy bloom of its innocence,—some beautiful bud of beauty severed from its stem, and torn away from its blossoming mates, in the garden of youth,—or, haply, some silver-haired sire, gathered like the shock of corn, fully ripe, into the vast granary of death.

As I passed from this interesting spot, I was attracted by a merry train of riders, whose loud and cheerful voices resounded along the road, seeming to mock the sacred silence of the place I had so lately left. As the gay array of youth and beauty dashed away from my sight, with foamy bridle and gory spur, I could not but be reminded of the close juxta-position on earth, of joy and sorrow, life and death.

Onward, onward! over winding streams, that glittered like twisting serpents on the green surface of the earth, over the broad bay, that rested in smooth and glassy repose in the arms of the far-extending shore, and over the dashing billows of the ocean, my route continued. Birds of the briny sea, whose strong wings had borne them safely and surely from the frosty atmosphere that sparkles around the pole, or the ice-cold waters of some far-away lagoon, now darted around me with discordant cry and affrighted pinion. In those hovering flocks I discerned the duck, the goose, the coot, the loon, the curlew, the green-winged teal, the dusky duck, the sooty tern, the yellow-winged gadwale, the golden eye, and the gaudy mallard, proudly vain of that lovely plumage, whose intense hues rival the glory of the breaking dawn, the autumnal sunset, or the intermingled dyes which tinge the stripes of the showery bow. On an iron-bound promontory, whose jutting crags waved an eternal strife with the rolling billows, I saw the thick-scattered cottages of wealth and taste, seeming no bigger than the nest, which the tropical bird constructs in the sands of the desert, while around, on the tumbling expanse of waters, were glancing a thousand receding and approaching sails, bearing the riches of the orient or the occident, from shore to shore.

Downward, downward! A thrill of horror shot through my veins, as I felt that the rough ocean breeze had shivered my silken vessel to shreds and tatters, and that I was falling with the speed of lightning, through the hollow abyss of the air, into the sea. The jaws of the fretting ocean, gnashing their white teeth in anger, seemed to gape open to devour me, and the black rocks uplifted their jagged spears, to impale my devoted body! But my time had not yet come. A gentle tap on the shoulder aroused me from the profound reverie in which I had been plunged, and I was very glad to recognize, in the visitor who had broken the spell, my good friend Durant, who called to invite me to attend his grand ascension, the following day.