Monday, March 24, 2008

from Rambles of a Geologist by Hugh Miller, 1858

(page 323)

Suddenly a hissing noise was heard overhead; the shipmaster looked up, and saw what seemed to be one of those meteors known as falling stars, slanting athwart the heavens in the direction of the cottage, and increasing in size and brilliancy as it neared the earth, until the wooded ridge and the shore could be seen as distinctly from the ship-deck as by day. A dog howled piteously from one of the outhouses—an owl whooped from the wood. The meteor descended until it almost touched the roof, when a cock crew from within; its progress seemed instantly arrested; it stood still, rose about the height of a ship's mast, and then began again to descend. The cock crew a second time; it rose as before; and, after mounting considerably higher than at first, again sank in the line of othe cottage, to be again arrested by the crowing of the cock. It mounted yet a third time, rising higher still; and, in its last descent, had almost touched the roof, when the faint clap of wings was heard as if whispered over water, followed by a still louder note of defiance from the cock. The meteor rose with a bound, and, continuing to ascend until it seemed lost among the stars, did not again appear.

Next night, however, at the same hour, the same scene was repeated in all its circumstances: the meteor descended, the dog howled, the owl whopped, the cock crew. On the following morning the shipmaster visited the miller's, and, curious to ascertain how the cottage would fare when the cock was away, he purchased the bird; and, sailing from the bay before nightfall, did not return until about a month after.

On his voyage inwards, he had no sooner doubled an intervening headland, than he stepped forward to the bows to take a peep at the cottage: it had vanished. As he approached the anchoring ground, he could discern a heap of blackened stones occupying the place where it had stood; and he was informed on going ashore, that it had been burnt to the ground, no one knew how, on the very night he had quitted the bay.

He had it re-built and furnished, says the story, deeming himself what one of the old schoolmen would perhaps term the occasional cause of the disaster. He also returned the cock—probably a not less important benefit—and no after accident befel the cottage. About fifteen years ago there was a human skeleton dug up near the scene of the tradition, with the skull, and the bones of the legs and feet, lying close together, as if the body had been huddled up twofold in a hole; and this discovery led to that of the story, which, though at one time often repeated and extensively believed, had been suffered to sleep in the memories of a few elderly people for nearly sixty years.

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