Our bayou had been running through swamp only a little more solid than itself; in fact, there was no solidity but what came from the roots of grasses. Now, the banks began to get firmer, from real soil in them. We could see cattle in the distance, up to their necks in the lilies, their heads and sharp-pointed horns coming up and going down in the blue and white. Nothing makes cattle’s heads appear handsomer, with the sun just rising far, far away on the other side of them. The sea-marsh cattle turned loose to pasture in the lush spring beauty—turned loose in Elysium!
But the land was only partly land yet, and the cattle still cattle to us. The rising sun made revelations, as our bayou carried us through a drove in their Elysium, or it might have always been an Elysium to us. It was not all pasturage, all enjoyment. The rising and falling feeding head was entirely different, as we could now see, from the rising and falling agonized head of the bogged—the buried alive. It is well that the lilies grow taller and thicker over the more treacherous places; but, misery! misery! not much of the process was concealed from us, for the cattle have to come to the bayou for water. Such a splendid black head that had just yielded breath! The wide-spreading ebony horns thrown back among the morning-glories, the mouth open from the last sigh, the glassy eyes staring straight at the beautiful blue sky above, where a ghostly moon still lingered, the velvet neck ridged with veins and muscles, the body already buried in black ooze. And such a pretty red-and-white-spotted heifer, lying on her side, opening and shutting her eyes, breathing softly in meek resignation to her horrible calamity! And, again, another one was plunging and battling in the act of realizing her doom: a fierce, furious, red cow, glaring and bellowing at the soft, yielding inexorable abysm under her, the bustards settling afar off, and her own species browsing securely just out of reach.
They understand that much, the sea-marsh cattle, to keep out of reach of the dead combatant. In the delirium of anguish, relief cannot be distinguished from attack, and rescue of the victim has been proved to mean goring of the rescuer.
The bayou turned from it at last, from our beautiful lily world about which our pleasant thoughts had ceased to flow even in bad poetry.
Our voyage was for information, which might be obtained at a certain habitation; if not there, at a second one, or surely at a third and most distant settlement.
The bayou narrowed into a canal, then widened into a bayou again, and the low, level swamp and prairie advanced into woodland and forest. Oak-trees began, our beautiful oak-trees! Great branches bent down almost to the water,—quite even with high water,—covered with forests of oak, parasites, lichens, and with vines that swept our heads as we passed under them, drooping now and then to trail in the water, a plaything for the fishes, and a landing-place for amphibious insects. The sun speckled the water with its flickering patterns, showering us with light and heat. We have no spring suns; our sun, even in December, is a summer one.