So we parted, and, as I walked across the hill homeward, haunted by that gentle face, I thought of Melampus, that old philosopher who loved the wild things so and had made such friends with them, that they had taught him their language and told him all their secrets:
With love exceeding a simple
love of the things
That glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck;
Or change their perch on a beat of quivering wings
From branch to branch, only restful to pipe and peck;
Or, bridled, curl at a touch their snouts in a ball;
Or cast their web between bramble and thorny hook;
The good physician, Melampus, loving them all,
Among them walked, as a scholar who reads a book.
As I dipped into the little thick-set wood that surrounds my house, something stood for a second in one of the openings, then was gone like a shadow. I was glad to think how full of bracken and hollows, and mysterious holes and corners of mossed and lichened safety was our old wood—for the shadow was a fox. I like to think it was the very fox we had been talking about come to find shelter with me—and, if he stole a meal out of our hen-roost, I gave it him before he asked it, with all the will in the world. I hope he chose a good fat hen, and not one of your tough old capons that sometimes come to table.
THE LITTLE GHOST IN THE GARDEN
I don’t know in what corner of the garden his busy little life now takes its everlasting rest. None of us had the courage to stand by, that summer morning, when Morris, our old negro man, buried him, and we felt sympathetic for Morris that the sad job should fall upon him, for Morris loved him just as we did. Perhaps if we had loved him less, more sentimentally than deeply, we should have indulged in some sort of appropriate ceremonial, and marked his grave with a little stone. But, as I have said, his grave, like that of the great prophet, is a secret to this day. None of us has ever asked Morris about it, and his grief has been as reticent as our own. I wondered the other night, as I walked the garden in a veiled moonlight, whether it was near the lotus-tanks he was lying—for I remembered how he would stand there, almost by the hour, watching the goldfish that we had engaged to protect us against mosquitoes, moving mysteriously under the shadows of the great flat leaves. In his short life he grew to understand much of this strange world, but he never got used to those goldfish; and often I have seen him, after a long wistful contemplation of them, turn away with a sort of half-frightened, puzzled bark, as though to say that he gave it up. Or, does he lie, I wonder, somewhere among the long grass of the salt-marsh, that borders our garden, and in perigee tides widens out into a lake. There indeed would be his appropriate country, for there was the happy hunting-ground through which in life he was never tired of roaming, in the inextinguishable hope of mink, and with the occasional certainty of a water-rat.