Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Fate of Behemoth
By Cornelius Mathews (18171889)
[Born in Portchester, N. Y., 1817. Died in New York, N. Y., 1889. Behemoth: a Legend of the Mound-Builders.Various Writings. 1843.]
THE FIFTH day from this, the Mound-builders arrived in considerable numbers, in a wood near the amphitheatre, bringing with them in wagons the tools and implements required in the proposed labor. They immediately set about the task, and commenced hewing large blocks of stone and dragging them to the mouth of the gap, but not so near as to obstruct it. The whole body of workmen that had come from the Mound-builders villages had labored at this task for a week, and they found that in that time sufficient stone had been hewn to build the wall from base to summit. Each block was more than twelve feet square, and through its centre was drilled a hole of some six inches diameter, in which to insert bars of metal, to bind them more firmly together.
As soon as they were prepared to commence the erection of the wall, which was the most critical part of their labors, four or five separate bands of musicians were stationed at the farther end of the enclosure, and near to Behemoth: for they knew, from Bokullas report, that the Mastodon, mighty and terrible as he was, could be soothed by the influence of music, adroitly managed.
The moment the work of heaving the vast square blocks one upon the other began, the musicians, at a given signal, commenced playing, and during the progress of the labor ran through all the variety of gentle tunes: so that the wall, like that of Amphion, sprang up under the spell of music. So cunningly did the different bands master their instruments that, at three different times, when the Mastodon had turned his step toward the gap at which the Mound-builders labored, they lured him back, and held him spell-bound and motionless.
The blocks were hoisted to their places by cranes, and the utmost silence was observed in every movement; not even a voice was lifted to command, but every direction was given with the pointed finger. No one moved from his station during the hours of toil, but each stood on his post and executed his portion of the task like a part of the machinery. And yet there was no lack of spirit; every one labored as if for his own individual redemption, and one who beheld them plying amid the massive fragments of granite, silent and busy, might have thought that they were some rebellious crew of beings brought into the wilderness by a genius or necromancer, and there compelled, speechless and uncomplaining, to do his bidding.
They labored in this way for more than a month, and at the end of that time Bokulla proclaimed from its summit that the wall was completed. At the announcement, the whole host of artisans and laborers, and innumerable women and children, who had come from the villages, sent up a shout that rent the air. Behemoth heard it, and, listening only for a moment, browsed on among the tall grass as if regardless of its source and its object. In a few days, however, after the music had ceased its gentle influence, and the supply of pasturage began to be less luxuriant, the Mastodon made progress toward the old outlet, with the determination of seeking food elsewhere.
He, of course, sought an outlet in vain, and found himself standing at the base of an immense rampart, which shot sheer up two hundred and fifty feet in air. He surveyed the structure, and soon discovered that it was no trifling barrier, but a mighty pile of rocks, that showed themselves almost as massive and firm as the mountains which they bound together. At first, Behemoth thought, although it would be idle to attempt to shake the whole mass at once, that yet the separate parts might be removed block by block. With this purpose he endeavored to force his white tusks between them, but it was in vain; they were knit too firmly together to be sundered. At length, the great brute was maddened by these fruitless efforts, and retreating several hundred rods, he rushed against the wall with tremendous strength and fury.
The Mound-builders, who overlooked the structure, trembled for its safety, but it stood stiff, and the shock caused Behemoth to recoil discomfited, while the earth shook with the weight and violence of the motion. Over and over again these assaults were repeated, always with the same result. Wearied with the attempt, the Mastodon desisted, and returned to feed upon the diminished pasturage, which he had before deserted. He had soon browsed on it to its very roots, and began to feed on the commoner grass and weeds, scarcely palatable. In a day these had all vanished, and he turned to the trees which were here and there scattered over the meadow. These he devoured, foliage, limb, and trunk. In a few days they were wholly exhausted, and the enclosed plain was reduced to a desertpastureless, herbless, and treeless.
The impatience and wrath of Behemoth now knew no bounds. He saw no possible mode of escape from this dreary and foodless waste. Around and around the firm colosseum which enclosed him he rushed, maddened, bellowing, and foaming.
At times, in his fury, he pushed up the almost perpendicular sides of the mountains and recoiled, bringing with him shattered fragments of rock and large masses of earth, with fearful force and swiftness. Around and around he again galloped and trampled, shaking the very mountains with his ponderous motions, and filling their whole circuit with his terrible howlings and cries. The Mound-builders who stood upon the wall, and on different parts of the mountains, shrunk back affrighted and awe-stricken before the deadly glare of his eye and the fearful and agonizing sound of his voice.
Day by day he became more furious, and his roar assumed a more touching and dreadful sharpness. All sustenance was gone from the plain; the whole space within his reach furnished nothing but rocks and earth, for he had already drunk the stream dry to its channel.
His strength was now too far wasted to admit of the violent and gigantic efforts which he had at first made to escape from the famine-stricken enclosure, and he now stalked up and down its barren plain, uttering awful and heart-rending cries. Some of the Mound-builders who heard them, and who saw the agonies and sufferings of Behemoth, although he had been their most cruel enemy, could not refrain from tears. So universal is humanity in its scope, that it can feel for everything that has life.
Howling and stalking like a shadow, momently diminishing, he walked to and fro in this way for many days. Hunger hourly extended its mastery through his immense frame. At about mid-day in the third week of his imprisonment, he cast his eye upon the cavernous and dusty opening through which the river that watered the plain had been accustomed to find its way. It was broad and open and of considerable height. Into this Behemoth now turned his steps. Its mouth was larger than the inner passage, for time and tempest had worn away the rocks which once guarded it.
As he advanced it diminished, and ere his whole bulk had entered the channel, it became so narrow and confined that he was forced to sink on his knees, in order to make further progress. This labor soon proved vexatious and toilsome, and the Mastodon, willing to force a way where one was not to be found, or to perish in the endeavor, raised himself slowly toward an upright position.
The remnant of his strength proved to be fearful, for, as his broad shoulders pressed upon the rocks above him, the incumbent mountain trembled, and when he had attained his full stature by a last powerful effort, the impending rocks rolled back and forth, and fell with a resounding crash and in great fragments to the earth. The whole cone of the mountain had been loosened from its base, and, leaning for a moment, like a lurid cloud in midair, fell into the plain with terrible ruin, bearing down a whole forest of trees and the earth in which they had taken root.
Fortunately for Behemothunfortunately for the object of the Mound-buildersthe rocks which immediately overhung Behemoth, though rent in several places, did not give way, but so interlocked and pressed against each other as to form a solid arch over his head and leave him unharmed amid the ruins. Passage through the channel was, however, wholly arrested by the large masses of earth that had fallen into it, and Behemoth, finding it vain to attempt to pass farther onward, withdrew.
The fatal time drew nearer and nearer. Hundreds and thousands of the Mound-builders gathered from every quarter of the empire to look upon the last hour of the mighty creature which lay extended, in his whole vast length, in the plain. A catastrophe and show like that was not to be foregone, for it might never (and so they prayed) come again. Death and the Mastodon held a fearful encounter in the arena below. Nations looked down from the wall and the mountains, on the strange and terrible spectacle.
To and fro the whole famished bulk moved with the convulsions and spasms and devouring agonies of hunger. At times the brute raised his large countenance toward heaven, and howled forth a cry which, it seemed, might bring down the gods to his succor.
On the fortieth day Behemoth died, and left his huge bones extended on the plain, like the wreck of some mighty ship, stranded there by a deluge, to moulder, century after century, to be scattered through a continent by a later convulsion, and, finally, to become the wonder of the present time.