Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Wolf At The Door

We are now in the heart of winter, and a cold icy heart it proves.  During these sullen days and bitter nights the gaunt wolf howls on the prairie, and his grim brothers in populous settlements catch and repeat the cry.  Wolves are of many different species each bearing certain distinctive traits but haggard and hungry all.    When the night shuts in still and clear, and the stars shudder and draw nearer to each other for mutual warmth, when the white frost gathers on the coverlet of the sleeper, and his breath floats above him like a cloud then from attic and hovel comes at frequent intervals a harsh spasmodic sound.  That is the barking of the wolf of cold, a sharp fanged animal who preys chiefly upon the vitals of his victims.  Night by night and day succeeding day, he bites blue fingers and toes, turns red ears with a touch to ghastly white, and gnaws incessantly at torn and bleeding lungs.  Like others of his race, he sometimes prowls in the retreats of luxury, and if the pet of the nursery has been too briefly clad, or too long exposed upon the ice, by his warm couch at midnight is heard that fearful bay.  But most fearful are his visits when he sits triumphantly upon the widow’s heart and turns the orphan’s tears to hail stones as they fall.

In the large cities, as you pass down squalid street and filthy lane, you hear at intervals a low, wailing cry, like that of a child.  It is the wolf of hunger, found only where there are more heads than hearts.  For in this fruitful world is more food than its children can consume, and nature has annexed to every mouth a pair of hands through which it may be filled.  But there are grasping hands which gather and hoard up the food of many, and so the wolf of hunger rarely prowls except under the shadow of the basely rich.  Wherever bloated wealth takes the poor man’s lamb to make up exorbitant rent, where commerce forecloses the pitiless mortgage and grasps the last penny of interest with an iron hand, there the wolf of hunger seeks his prey, and feeds silently upon blood and nerve and muscle, till the bones stare woefully through the shriveled skin.  He pauses only to glance fraternally at his human ally, who strides pompously down the street, caressing the whiskers upon his well fed cheek, with white fingers upon which no ordinary eye can detect the stain of blood.

But there is another wolf that hunts in a wider range, and ventures in where fire and fuel abound.  He sits by the hearth of the settler, when for weeks no human form draws near his door.  He looks in upon the farmer when the storm is wild without and no trace of living thing breaks the surface of the pathless snow.  He lands with the immigrant, when the forms he meets seem but a part of the landscape, and every eye is glass.  He shares the vigils of the wife, when her husband “tarries long at the wine,” and of her, a wife no longer whose eye sadly explores the winding road down which a form has passed that shall return no more.  He draws to the side of the mother, when her darlings are asleep in snow-white beds, each with a stone for a pillow and a curtain of the willow’s pendant boughs.  His eyes glitter in the fire-light of many a loveless hearth, where stern forms sit in silence and a word is frozen by a frown.  He intrudes even where chilling courtesies are exchanged, and cold hands meet and part without a throb, and life is polished till its machinery has not friction enough for heat.  This is the wolf of loneliness, the most prolific of the race.  By night and day, in town and country, he is widely and wearily known.  He has no voice, but his silence is terrible.  Do you know what will drive him away? – {Springfield Republican.

– Published in The Burlington Weekly Hawk-Eye, Burlington, Iowa, Saturday, February 8, 1862, p. 2

1 comment:

Jim Miller said...

There is some quite fantastic imagery in this article.