In which the lone eagle atop Creation Mountain learns that life was not meant for hatred
ARCHIE P. MCKISHNIEMay11929
In which the lone eagle atop Creation Mountain learns that life was not meant for hatred
ARCHIE P. MCKISHNIE
THE old eagle sat on the topmost peak of Creation Mountain, his head with its curved, heavy beak gleaming whitely between the elbows of his slightly raised wings.
Thirty feet below, on a shelf of rock, rested his nest, a massive pile of sticks, in which, in days long gone, his red-necked young had hissed their welcome on his return from the forage, and opened their yellow-rimmed mouths for the food he brought them.
But for years the silent watcher on the peaks had been mateless. Long ago he had ceased to add new sticks to the nest. The better part of his life had passed with the mate who with him had winged the vast spaces of a limitless desolation, and spanned the aerial wastes between red dawns and golden twilights.
Death had leaped upon her out of the friendly forest shadows one morning, a streak of crimson fire that sent her hurtling down from the scope and freedom to which she was born.
After that, the eagle of the heights had gone his way, desolate, heart-hungry, crazed with a loss he must ever know, his wild heart seething with hatred for the man who had robbed him of his own.
Never again had he sought the wooded valley. Between him and the lower wilderness terror had woven a barrier that he might never scale. Neither would he ever know again the joy of springtime mating, the fierce ecstasy of possession of young; for the eagle mates but once in a lifetime.
Memories alone held him chained to this spot; memories that came to him as he sat motionless through the long, sun-stained days and cool mountain nights; memories that thronged and clustered like the white stars above him; memories freighted with tenderness for the mate who would nevermore climb with him the stairway of the clouds or wash in the crimson fountains of the dawns.
And always with those tender memories came, with poignant bitterness, the memory of her passing when the white mists of dawn blanketed the sea, laving their breasts as they sailed above the forest from which had leaped the death that had taken her from him. Then the silent night would awake to the dreamer’s cry of anguish, and the sentinel hills would hurl it echoing far down into the valley.
'“THIS morning the old eagle was gazing from his citadel down into that valley, green as the sea that lapped his kingdom’s foundation of rock. His keen eyes marked the cabin of the trapper. His rending beak opened in a sibilant hiss.
Every day, for five years, he had hurled his challenge down to the man who had robbed him of the best in life. He had, when the drab shadows of autumn were on the trees and the sea whipped whitely on the rocks, seen that same death leap upon the migrating ducks. Some time, this man of pitiless ruth who sent forth the red arrow of death, he would destroy.
So the lone eagle dreamed his days away—waiting —waiting.
AUTUMN came and passed, sweetly and peacefully as a child who has climbed the granite heights and touched their wooded shelves with red lips, clinging as if reluctant to leave. Then came the snow, and throughout the mountain fastness dwelt the silence of death. Followed cold that bit like jagged talons into the old eagle’s flesh, so that he was forced to leave his watchingplace and fly miles and miles through biting wind, above a sea which threw a melancholy song to the frost-held wilderness.
Then winter, too, died, and again it was spring. Far below the rugged face of old Creation the streams were running free; God’s wild creatures were happy in a new mating. The drab nest against the gray rocks alone seemed lonely and forsaken.
The old eagle sat on the pinnacle of rock watching the trapper, who had, that day returned to the valley.
This time the man had brought his wife. The silent watcher’s strong talons gripped the rock with murderous tenacity as his far-seeing orbs noted the second hated human being. The urge to fly swiftly and silently upon those things he hated was strong upon him; but a nameless terror was stronger. He could only watch—and wait.
By and by the great wings lowered. The eagle slept and dreamed.
Hunger awoke him. Far below, above the sea, an osprey was diving for fish. The eagle waited until the smaller bird arose with its prize, then with a scream he swept down upon it.
The osprey fled before the greater bird, dropping the stupefied fish and winging swiftly for greater height.
Almost before the fish had touched the water the eagle had it in his long talons and was weaving slowly, in wide circles, back to his citadel.
Twice during the day he fed again on the rightful spoils of the fish-hawks. Toward twilight he took to wing and spiraling upward, vanished, a brown dot in the cloudless heights.
That night the old feeling of loneliness was stronger than ever before. It was scarcely dusk when he returned to his lookout. He had flown scarcely half his accustomed distance, but he was tired. He did not realize that old age was upon him. That night he remained beside the old nest on the shelf of rock. For once he slept without memories.
Day came with a stream of golden light which glorified the rocky steeps, but, save to open his eyes and lift his white head to the dawn, the old eagle did not stir.
Then he reached down and with his beak touched one of the time-whitened sticks tenderly. After a little he sought his lookout at the top of the cliff. His movements were laborious as he fanned upward.
SUMMER and autumn came and passed and again winter chained the solitude with her fetters of frost. During the icy days and nights the old eagle of the peaks remained close to the nest in the lee of the wind, dreaming most of the time, his head resting on the pile of age-stained sticks. The killing cold had clutched the gulch; the steeps were garbed in the white robe of death. Nothing remained alive save him to whom all seasons were the same. Sometimes his weakening life stirred sluggishly, and he swooped down and fed on the winterslain rabbits and grouse that lay on the shelterless floor of the gulch.
But even these short journeys spent him sorely, and his foraging became less frequent as the winter days closed in.
A new spring came at last, with a breeze that tasted of spruce and cedar. All about him awoke the song of waking streams; the skies took on the rosy tint of warmth, and from the hills sounded in ever-strengthening cadence the call of the wilderness to life.
It was then the old eagle sought again the jagged peaks. He was weak from lack of food and killing cold. The short flight upward affected him strangely. He clutched the sun-coraled ridge of rock, swaying, balancing himself instinctively.
But all his wild instincts were throbbingly alive. His matchless eyes marked the rolling sea far beneath him, the low, wide valley that held his enemies. His strained old heart grew hot with a vengeance that had all but passed, as he had all but passed, in the numbing talons of the white slayer.
He opened his curved beak and hissed his hatred, his fierce eyes upon the valley.
Strangely, he no longer experienced the fear that had held him from the low, green slopes and vengeance on the slayer of his mate.
He raised his head and sent a scream of derision out to the mountain air. A new strength warmed his racked old body. The blueing skies were calling, the azure airlanes beckoning. From purple dawn to golden sunset his way lay open, and terror stood no longer between him and the fanned hatred of long years.
He sprang to air and winnowed far across the lapping sea.
Spring’s new warmth was stirring the shore-mists to banks of golden haze as he turned and swept in toward the valley. Death might be lurking for him there, but death he no longer feared. That which had always commanded, always shaped his destiny, was urging him now.
As he left the sea, the mists thinned and he saw beneath him the low cabin among the trees. He lit on a tall pine close beside it, and lifting his head sent his wild scream hurtling through the silence.
From the cabin staggered a man bearing in his arms the silent form of a woman. Starvation was stamped upon his thin face. He struggled beneath the emaciated burden, and laid it gently on a blanket stained with the tint of dawn. There was a great, a terrible grief in his eyes—and something still more terrible behind his sorrow.
He leaned against a tree and gazed upward at the eagle. For long moments their eyes met, then the man threw himself beside the dead woman and broke into wild sobbing.
The eagle swooped down to the limb of a broken pine close beside the man and the mate he had forever lost.
All throughout the spring day he remained there, huddled, unmoving, beside the man whom he had hated for so long. But the man, after his first and last burst of sorrow, did not move.
At dusk the old eagle stirred. His exultation had passed. He was weary, and the old, tearing hatred had gone.
It was dusk in the valley and the mistwashed stars were above the sea when the old eagle of the granite heights flapped slowly to wing and took his course toward the far, dimming peaks.
It seemed a long way back to his domain. The new-born waters were still singing from the sloping rocks; a cougar was calling its plaintive note from the scraggy gulch timber. But the eagle heard nothing of these sounds.
For a long time he crouched on the pinnacle that commanded his aerial world; then slowly, like a thing that sleep has overtaken, he slipped from the ridge and went fluttering down between the granite walls. Like a thing sore wounded he reached the ledge on which stood the abandoned nest.
It was night in the world of mountain and valley when the old eagle stirred and, with a supreme effort, righted himself upon the rock. Then slowly his grand old head lowered until his beak touched, with the infinite tenderness of life’s last caress, the weatherbeaten sticks of the nest.
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