At the brow of a high eminence stood two men, their
figures .etched sharply against the sky of a day now near its close.
Beside them lay two bundles, rolled as though in readiness for a long
and immediate journey.
To the south lay spread out a smiling valley of
farmlands, dotted thickly with the habitations of man; and at the foot
of the declivity far below, were half-cleared fields, in which lay piles
of burning roots and prostrate tree-trunks. And there came up faintly to
the ears of the men the ring of axes and the crash of falling timber, as
an antlike swarm hewed at the face of the forest, eating into it, as a
rising flood eats into a wall of sand.
Beyond the valley, in the distance, stood a mighty city,
its tall buildings rising in huge piles of masonry heaped up against the
skyline, whilst from its bowels rose the dull roar and whirr of massed
machinery, and a confused hum as of a myriad bees within a gigantic
hive. Towering smokestacks belched forth heavy clouds of rolling black
smoke, which hung over the city like a dark canopy, and spreading out
over the farm lands, shadowed them.
On the other side the mountain descended in a gradual
slope to the level of the dark waves of an endless forest, the
tree-covered hills rolling into the north, row on row, rank on rank,
sweeping on in ever-lessening undulation until they merged into the
dimness of the horizon. The ocean of evergreens opened out as it neared
the foot of the descent, to flank a long open meadow of beaver hay, down
the full length of which there wound a long ribbon of a trail, winding
and twisting its way amongst the yellow grasses towards the north,
until, visible only as a thread where it entered the woods, the trees
crowded down upon it, engulfed it, and swallowed it up, so that it could
be no more seen.
The man nearest the edge of the cliff stood leaning on
his rifle, gazing out over the tilled fields, towards the city beyond.
His grey eyes were narrow, and stamped at the corners with crowsfeet,
hallmark of one who has peered into the glare of a thousand suns, and
faced the blizzards of many winters. His face, tanned to the colour of
leather, was hollow-cheeked, ascetic almost. Once his glance strayed
involuntarily to the panorama of forest that lay spread out behind him,
but his eyes again sought the distant city, as though drawn by some
The other, a tall spare man, his long black hair confined
at the temples by a buckskin band, and with the vigorous features and
calm bearing of an Indian, regarded not the city, but stood motionless,
his gaze roaming over the sweep and swell of the wilderness; and at his
feet were the charred sticks of a fire, now extinguished. He had the air
of one who waits.
Presently he turned and touched the white man on the
shoulder, and pointing to the west, spoke in his native language.
“The sun is setting, my ears are filled with the sound of
falling trees; it is enough. See! the shadows lengthen; let us go.”
And as the slow wind of evening passed over the land,
there seemed to come an answering murmur from the hosts of the forest,
saying, “Let us go: let us go.”
And the concerted waving movement of the myriad tree tops
in the breeze likened them to an immense and restless concourse,
gathered together for some great migration, awaiting but the signal for
For a moment longer the frontiersman stood irresolute,
and then with a gesture of finality, his face set in the stern lines of
one who has made a sweeping and unalterable decision, he assumed his
pack, and turning his back forever on the haunts of man, followed the
Indian, now already on his way.
And their moccasined feet left no track as they followed
the winding trail, and as they marched steadily away, their figures grew
smaller and smaller, diminished, dwindled, dwindled, until at last, no
longer distinguishable in the gathering dusk, they vanished into the
shadows amongst the trees.
And there nothing remained of their passing, save the
empty trail, and the ashes of their long-dead fire.
In the darkness from over all the length and breadth of
the wild lands there came a murmur, and the air was filled with the
sound of a mighty rustling and a crepitation, as of an innumerable
multitude in motion. And the dark masses of the forest seemed to roll up
behind those who had already gone before, to recede like the outgoing
waves of an ebbing tide, as though, defeated at last, they retired
before the Juggernaut that was now upon them, fleeing in the face of the
doom that had threatened them for now three hundred years.
And with them went all of the wild that had life,
following the last fading line of the Vanishing Frontier, Northward,
Northward, ever Northward, back into the days that are long forgotten,
slipping away over the hills into the purple distance, beyond the Land
of Shadows, into the sunset.