Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

the scarecrow's mouth. It was the very feeblest of whiffs, to be sure; but it was followed by another and another, each more decided than the preceding one.

“Puff away, my pet ! puff away, my pretty one! ” 190 Mother Rigby kept repeating, with her 'pleasantest smile. “It is the breath of life to ye ; and that you may take my word for."

Beyond all question the pipe was bewitched. There must have been a spell either in the tobacco or in the 195 fiercely glowing coal that so mysteriously burned on top of it, or in the pungently aromatic smoke which exhaled from the kindled weed. The figure, after a few doubtful attempts, at length blew forth a volley of smoke extending all the way from the obscure corner 200 into the bar of sunshine. There it eddied and melted away among the motes of dust. It seemed a conyulsive effort; for the two or three next whiffs were fainter, although the coal still glowed and threw a gleam over the scarecrow's visage. The old witch 205 clapped her skinny hands together, and smiled encouragingly upon her handiwork. She saw that the charm worked well. The shriveled, yellow face, which heretofore had been no face at all, had already a thin, fantastic haze, as it were of human likeness, shifting to 210 and fro across it; sometimes vanishing entirely, but growing more perceptible than ever with the next whiff from the pipe. The whole figure, in like manner, assumed a show of life, such as we impart to ill-defined shapes among the clouds, and half deceive ourselves 215 with the pastime of our own fancy.

If we must needs pry closely into the matter, it may be doubted whether there was any real change, after all, in the sordid, worn-out, worthless, and ill-jointed

substance of the scarecrow; but merely a spectral illu-220 sion, and a cunning effect of light and shade so colored and contrived as to delude the eyes of most men. The miracles of witchcraft seem always to have had a very shallow subtlety; and, at least, if the above explanation do not hit the truth of the process, I can suggest 225 no better.

“Well puffed, my pretty lad !” still cried old Mother Rigby. “ Come, another good stout whiff, and let it be with might and main. Puff for thy life, I tell

. thee! Puff out of the very bottom of thy heart, if 230 any heart thou hast, or any bottom to it ! Well done, again! Thou didst suck in that mouthful as if for the

[ocr errors]

pure love of it."

66

And then the witch beckoned to the scarecrow, throwing so much magnetic potency into her gesture 235 that it seemed as if it must inevitably be obeyed, like the mystic call of the loadstone when it summons the iron.

Why lurkest thou in the corner, lazy one ? ” said she. “Step forth ! Thou hast the world before thee!” 240

Upon my word, if the legend were not one which I heard on my grandmother's knee, and which had established its place among things credible before my childish judgment could analyze its probability, I question whether I should have the face to tell it now.

In obedience to Mother Rigby's word, and extending its arm as if to reach her outstretched hand, the figure made a step forward — a kind of hitch and jerk, however, rather than a step — then tottered and almost lost its balance. What could the witch expect? It 250 was nothing, after all, but a scarecrow stuck upon two sticks. But the strong-willed old beldam scowled, and

241

beckoned, and flung the energy of her purpose so forcibly at this poor combination of rotten wood, and musty straw, and ragged garments, that it was compelled to 255 show itself a man, in spite of the reality of things. So it stepped into the bar of sunshine. There it stood poor devil of a contrivance that it was ! — with only the thinnest vesture of human similitude about it, through which was evident the stiff, rickety, incongru- 260 ous, faded, tattered, good-for-nothing patchwork of its substance, ready to sink in a heap upon the floor, as if conscious of its own unworthiness to be erect. Shall I confess the truth? At its present point of vivification, the scarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm and 265 abortive characters, composed of heterogeneous materials, used for the thousandth time, and never worth using, with which romance writers (and myself, no doubt, among the rest) have so overpeopled the world of fiction.

But the fierce old hag began to get angry and show a glimpse of her diabolic nature (like a snake's head, peeping with a hiss out of her bosom) at this pusillanimous behavior of the thing which she had taken the trouble to put together.

“ Puff away, wretch!” cried she, wrathfully. “Puff, puff, puff, thou thing of straw and emptiness ! thou rag or two! thou meal bag! thou pumpkin head! thou nothing! Where shall I find a name vile enough to call thee by ? Puff, I say, and suck in thy fantastic 280 life along with the smoke ! else I snatch the pipe from thy mouth and hurl thee where that red coal came from.”

Thus threatened, the unhappy scarecrow had nothing for it but to puff away for dear life. As need was, therefore, it applied itself lustily to the pipe, and sent 28.3

270

275

forth such abundant volleys of tobacco smoke that the small cottage kitchen became all vaporous. The one sunbeam struggled mistily through, and could but imperfectly define the image of the cracked and dusty window pane on the opposite wall. Mother Rigby, 290 meanwhile, with one brown arm akimbo and the other stretched toward the figure, loomed grimly amid the obscurity with such port and expression as when she was wont to heave a ponderous nightmare on her victims and stand at the bedside to enjoy their agony. In 295 fear and trembling did this poor scarecrow puff. · But its efforts, it must be acknowledged, served an excellent purpose ; for, with each successive whiff, the figure lost more and more of its dizzy and perplexing tenuity and seemed to take denser substance. Its very gar-300 ments, moreover, partook of the magical change, and shone with the gloss of novelty and glistened with the skillfully embroidered gold that had long ago been rent away. And, half revealed among the smoke, a yellow visage bent its lusterless eyes on Mother Rigby.

At last the old witch clinched her fist and shook it at the figure. Not that she was positively angry, but merely acting on the principle — perhaps untrue, or not the only truth, though as high a one as Mother Rigby could be expected to attain — that feeble and 310 torpid natures, being incapable of better inspiration, must be stirred up by fear. But here was the crisis. Should she fail in what she now sought to effect, it was her ruthless purpose to scatter the miserable simulacher into its original elements.

“ Thou hast a man's aspect,” said she, sternly. “ Have also the echo and mockery of a voice ! I bid thee speak!”

305

315

66

The scarecrow gasped, and struggled, and at length emitted a murmur, which was so incorporated with its 320 smoky breath that you could scarcely tell whether it were indeed a voice or only a whiff of tobacco. Some narrators of this legend hold the opinion that Mother Rigby's conjurations and the fierceness of her will had compelled a familiar spirit into the figure, and that the 325 voice was his.

Mother,” mumbled the poor stifled voice, “ be not so awful with me! I would fain speak; but being without wits, what can I say?'

“ Thou canst speak, darling, canst thou ?” cried 330 Mother Rigby, relaxing her grim countenance into a smile. " And what shalt thou say, quotha ! Say, indeed! Art thou of the brotherhood of the empty skull, and demandest of me what thou shalt say ? Thou shalt say a thousand things, and saying them a 335 thousand times over, thou shalt still have said nothing! Be not afraid, I tell thee ! When thou comest into the world (whither I purpose sending thee forthwith), thou shalt not lack the wherewithal to talk. Talk! Why, thou shalt babble like a mill-stream, if thou wilt. Thou 340 hast brains enough for that, I trow!"

“ At your service, mother,” responded the figure.

" And that was well said, my pretty one,” answered Mother Rigby. “ Then thou speakest like thyself, and meant nothing. Thou shalt have a hundred such set 345 phrases, and five hundred to the boot of them. And now, darling, I have taken so much pains with thee and thou art so beautiful, that, by my troth, I love thee better than any witch's puppet in the world ; and I've made them of all sorts - clay, wax, straw, sticks, night 350 fog, morning mist, sea foam, and chimney smoke.

« AnteriorContinuar »