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The Air-Mothers
by [?]

“Die Natur ist die Bewegung.”

Who are these who follow us softly over the moor in the autumn eve? Their wings brush and rustle in the fir-boughs, and they whisper before us and behind, as if they called gently to each other, like birds flocking homeward to their nests.

The woodpecker on the pine-stems knows them, and laughs aloud for joy as they pass. The rooks above the pasture know them, and wheel round and tumble in their play. The brown leaves on the oak trees know them, and flutter faintly, and beckon as they pass. And in the chattering of the dry leaves there is a meaning, and a cry of weary things which long for rest.

“Take us home, take us home, you soft air-mothers, now our fathers the sunbeams are grown dull. Our green summer beauty is all draggled, and our faces are grown wan and wan; and the buds, the children whom we nourished, thrust us off, ungrateful, from our seats. Waft us down, you soft air-mothers, upon your wings to the quiet earth, that we may go to our home, as all things go, and become air and sunlight once again.”

And the bold young fir-seeds know them, and rattle impatient in their cones. “Blow stronger, blow fiercer, slow air-mothers, and shake us from our prisons of dead wood, that we may fly and spin away north-eastward, each on his horny wing. Help us but to touch the moorland yonder, and we will take good care of ourselves henceforth; we will dive like arrows through the heather, and drive our sharp beaks into the soil, and rise again as green trees toward the sunlight, and spread out lusty boughs.”

They never think, bold fools, of what is coming, to bring them low in the midst of their pride; of the reckless axe which will fell them, and the saw which will shape them into logs; and the trains which will roar and rattle over them, as they lie buried in the gravel of the way, till they are ground and rotted into powder, and dug up and flung upon the fire, that they too may return home, like all things, and become air and sunlight once again.

And the air-mothers hear their prayers, and do their bidding: but faintly; for they themselves are tired and sad.

Tired and sad are the air-mothers, and their garments rent and wan. Look at them as they stream over the black forest, before the dim south-western sun; long lines and wreaths of melancholy grey, stained with dull yellow or dead dun. They have come far across the seas, and done many a wild deed upon their way; and now that they have reached the land, like shipwrecked sailors, they will lie down and weep till they can weep no more.

Ah, how different were those soft air-mothers when, invisible to mortal eyes, they started on their long sky-journey, five thousand miles across the sea! Out of the blazing caldron which lies between the two New Worlds, they leapt up when the great sun called them, in whirls and spouts of clear hot steam; and rushed of their own passion to the northward, while the whirling earth-ball whirled them east. So north- eastward they rushed aloft, across the gay West Indian isles, leaving below the glitter of the flying-fish, and the sidelong eyes of cruel sharks; above the cane-fields and the plaintain-gardens, and the cocoa- groves which fringe the shores; above the rocks which throbbed with earthquakes, and the peaks of old volcanoes, cinder-strewn; while, far beneath, the ghosts of their dead sisters hurried home upon the north- east breeze.

Wild deeds they did as they rushed onward, and struggled and fought among themselves, up and down, and round and backward, in the fury of their blind hot youth. They heeded not the tree as they snapped it, nor the ship as they whelmed it in the waves; nor the cry of the sinking sailor, nor the need of his little ones on shore; hasty and selfish even as children, and, like children, tamed by their own rage. For they tired themselves by struggling with each other, and by tearing the heavy water into waves; and their wings grew clogged with sea-spray, and soaked more and more with steam. But at last the sea grew cold beneath them, and their clear steam shrank to mist; and they saw themselves and each other wrapped in dull rain-laden clouds. They then drew their white cloud-garments round them, and veiled themselves for very shame; and said, “We have been wild and wayward: and, alas! our pure bright youth is gone. But we will do one good deed yet ere we die, and so we shall not have lived in vain. We will glide onward to the land, and weep there; and refresh all things with soft warm rain; and make the grass grow, the buds burst; quench the thirst of man and beast, and wash the soiled world clean.”