19 May 2014

Pigeon Roost Story

By J.F.L. Written for the Plymouth Weekly Democrat.

'It sounds more like the sounds that greet your ear when you enter Mrs. Raymond's parlors on the night of one of her grand assemblies, than anything else; but stay, here seems to be a road, as least it feels like one under one's feet.'

'Let's take it — which way?'

'Stop, I have an idea!' said I.

'And what is it?' said Wadley.

'Why, lets feel for the north side of a tree.'

'Do what?'

'The north side of a tree, you know, is the roughest.'

'A bright idea, I think' said Phil.

But our idea was better in theory than in practice: we examined a dozen trees; I've done it in day-time — but by feeling we could not discern north from south — devil a bit — so we took one way hap hazard. On we went, a mile or more, Wadley having the lead.

'Wadley,' said I, 'the roar of the pigeons is receding from us; we have got out of the roost, and have gone wrong: we had better retrace our steps.'

'I don't — ooh!' and his answer was broken off by a loud splash.

'What is the matter?'

'Oh, I am — the Lord knows where — drowned in a quagmire — oh, help! — every step sinks me deeper!'

'Goodness, man, come back this way,' said I, not daring to budge an inch for fear of getting into it myself.

Just at that moment, as if by magic, the moon burst out in a little blue spot from the misty canopy of clouds which enshrouded her — the first time she had made her appearance the night long, and revealed to us a small rocky heath covered with haws, crab-apples, briers and sedge, with a swampy stream running the middle of it. I beheld my friend Wadley standing in it up to his middle, and myself on the very brink of it. Phil now found his way out without any difficulty, and no damage but the accession of a wet and muddy pair of inexpressibles. I happened to know the spot we had walked a couple of miles the wrong way, when a hundred rods in the other direction would have carried us right into the camp.

There was nothing to do, however, but for us to retrace our steps, which we did, but had hardly drawn near to the roar of the roost, when the moon left us to shift four ourselves again. Grateful for what she had done, we groped in silence for some distance.

'Wadley,' said I, after a long and insidious travel in the dark, 'we surely have gone more than two miles!'

'Nigher five, by my reckoning,' he responded, in a despondent voice.

'Ah! I see a bright spot in the heavens — it is so, the moon is coming out again.' And as I spoke, the silver glimmering orb burst forth in her bright effulgence, and scudded merrily through the twickering twigs of the high trees.

The dark masses of pigeons were piled up in the trees around till scarce a bough was visible, and some trees bent to the very ground with their encumbrance; the thousands that whirled and fluttered through the air in every direction, were now distinctly visible, and presented a singular and wild scene.

'Angels and ministers o' grace defend us,' cried Wadley in my ear — 'yonder's a veritable ghost, Jack, sure as shootin'.'

'Where?' said I, somewhat hurriedly.

'Look, under yonder tree — that thing! Did you ever see such an object since the day you was born?'

'Bless me! what can it be?'

It was a white, roundish object, of no particular shape, and very frightful to betold. Phil and I cautiously drew towards it, and we found it to possess some faint resemblance to a human being, apparently asleep or dead.

'By all that's funny, it's Fred, as I live,' cried Phil, going up and giving it a punch with his gun-butt, that brought him to his feet instanter.

'Hay-yo! good Mr. Devil, don't stick your pitchfork into me so strong. Lord! I thought I was dead! Who's here — thieves! help! murder! — Out, ya cut-purses, or I'll show you what virtue there is in a musket ball,' and Fred raised his gun to his shoulder. I knocked it up.

'Why, Fred, is that the way you treat your friends?'

'Friends! What! boys, is it you? Dear me, I am exceedingly astonished! Devilish glad to see you. By all the kettles in Lucifer's kitchen, I thought I was a gone sinner, and had given myself up to die here in the woods. Run me through a carding machine, or a cotton gin, but may I never be dragged through a pigeon-roost again!'

'Why, what's the matter, Fred?' I asked, choked with laughter at his ludicrous appearance and rueful countenance.

'Matter!' he growled angrily, 'I've spent the night in Tophet, that's all.'

'Ha, ha, Lem, — beg pardon, Fred, but what have you done with your nether integuments?'

Fred was not an Adonis in shape when he had his Sunday's on; but the figure he now cut was inconceivably comical. He was literally covered with mud, blood and feathers, with a dash of green slime where he had fallen into some mud-hole. His coat had not a rag of tail left, and his other vestments seemed to be nothing but rags, while of his trousers nothing remained but the waistband, and a few streamers attached thereto; his top boots and Kilmarnock nightcap being the only integral garments I could observe about him. The ooze and pigeon feathers which covered him, looked as if he had undergone a sentence from Judge Lynch. He stepped out ruefully, and cast a dolorous glance at his plight, as he shouldered his musket, which we now discovered was blown to pieces, with little but the stock remaining. Flesh and blood could stand it no longer, and Wadley burst into a paroxysm of laughter.

'You may laugh, my friends, but if you had gone through what I have, you would not have much inclination that way. All this blessed night have I traversed this infernal roost from one end of it to the other : devil of a soul did I see the whole time, though they were shooting all around me. Whenever I saw a flash from a gun, I made right for it, hallooing with all my might; but no use, I couldn't find anybody. The infernalish hag-ridden, which possessed race I have had, tearing and sweating through the bushes, crawling through briers and thorns, and falling into mudholes and quagmires until I am as sore as if I had been dragged over a hemp-hackle. Finalyy, I found this bed of leaves, occupied by an old son; I drove her out and took possession, determining to rest my bones here till morning. In falling over a bush, my old musquitoen went off and bursted to flinders. It is a great wonder I didn't get killed, or at least seriously hurt; but fortune favored me that time.'

By this time the moon was shining as bright as day, and after our mirth had somewhat subsided, we found a puddle, where Wadley removed some of the filth and mud that encumbered him, and we continued our route campward.

Half an hour's walk brought us all three to the camp, where we found no one awake but Jim Davis, who seemed to be acting sentry. Bob and Oren were both far journeying in the land of Nod, and Jim's eyes did not look half an hour high. While Fred and Phil were relating to him their adventures, I made a rigorous attach on the comestibles, finding my appetite whetted very keen by my ramble. After devouring in indifinite quantity of sandwiches, roast potatoes, and porter, I finished with a cigar, and took a look around : found all snoring away, each in a different key, like a concert of bullfrogs in a swamp — except Joe, who had finished his nap, and was martyring a squab, feathers, inside and all, on the end of a stick over the fire. The trees and the fire began to dance and glimmer and spangle in my eyes, and as Bob says, the next thing I knew I didn't know nothin'.

It was scarce breaking day, when I was aroused by Oren and Wadley to go out and shoot some birds with them; now was the best time, as the pigeons were some of them taking a short nap; and as most of the firing had ceased, there was not so much to distrust them. It was just light enough for us to distinguish the dark masses of birds; we could now shoot with a better aim, and we made great havoc among them, bagging nearly three hundred in a very short time.

'I say, Jack,' quoth Oren, as it grew a little lighter, 'I wish I had a looking glass.'

'What for?' said I.

'I want to show you your face, what with dirt, burnt gunpowder, blood and feathers, I don't think Miss Nancy would be tempted to kiss you this morning. I beseech you to take a squint at your trousers in the meantime; a rag merchant would have turned up his nose at them in disgust.'

'Bah! they are nothing to Phil Wadley's here — he is in real Arkansas costume — nothing but his boots and the waistband of his drawers.'

'But just see here — magnificent!"

We had just risen a little hillock, when the sun loomed up from his cloud couch, and shown on a scene of splendor truly indescribable. We had ceased firing some minutes before, and all was still as death.

The eminence overlooked a vast forest-plain, the bright rays of the rising sun beaming in level lines of light from the blue hazy horizon upon that scene, and every tree and every limb and every twig in that forest, almost as far as the eye could reach, covered and bending down with the graceful and repeating forms of the wild pigeons; their gorgeously-tinted, gold-burnished breast glittering in the sunbeams, — one vast panoply of green and purple gold spread over the whole forest as if by the wand of a magician. Word cannot convey the superb beauty of the scene. Each tree, and taken in a view the whole landscape, was but one mass of sparkling plumage. An hour after, what a contrast! As the sun mounted higher, battalion after battalion took wing and hied away in every direction, and the trees, which were before absolutely trodden by the weight of legions of birds that swarmed in their branches, now presented a scene of desolation. They are crushed, mangled in every direction; some with their trunks snapped off like pipe stems, and hundreds with every branch stripped off. If a hurricane had passed over, it would not have left a more naked and desolate scene behind.

Not a living things to be seen, save a few poses and wild hogs devouring the dead birds that lie scattered over the ground, the victims of the sportsmen or the fall of trees and branches, and a huge goshawk here and there, or an eagle, soaring over the scene of carnage. The darkness and the bushes cause the sportsman to leave half of his birds on the ground, and the wild hogs absolutely get fat on them.

As we returned from the roost, we presented even a more unique company that in going; so much so, that aunt Sally set the dogs on us when we rode up to the yard gate.

The End.

February 20, 1862. The pigeon roost. Plymouth Weekly Democrat 3(4): 1, new series.