Hydrogen Jukebox Press
An Online Edition
edited and annotated, with an introduction by Dr. Luke A. Powers
Tuesday, June 2, 1914
The last pallor of daylight was fading behind Cameron hill, and the electric light on the corner was beginning to make weird and ghostly effects of gleams and sharp-cut shadows among the foliage and the splashing water, when a heavy cry like that of calf was heard in the air, and a stranger was seen aeroplaning in wild but smoothly-taken circles above the fountain. The startled sparrows, just going to sleep in the magnolia, asked each other who he could be.
"It's the Nighthawk," said one of their number, who has visited the river bank from time to time. "Little boys call him the Bullbat, because he flies erratically here and there, and has a cry like a calf, if not exactly a bull. Look at the round white spot, like a silver dollar, on each of his wings." But the others were already cuddling drowsily back into their places.
The visitor came sweeping lower till he whirled around the Fireman's head, and he finally dropped to a perch on the hose.
"Thank you; no," he responded to the usual invitation. "I am not in need of water; I came only for a visit."
The Fireman made him welcome, and added that it had been a hot day.
"Why do not more of the day-scorched townspeople escape from this brick and asphalt oven to take their evening rest along the river?" asked the Nighthawk. "A man need not own a motor launch or live in a houseboat in order to enjoy the cool breath of the water. To walk along the low shore is enough.
"Every evening I fly abroad, as high as the bridge, as low as to dip my wings into the water, catching in the trap of my beak the gnats and small beetles that flit to and fro. The river runs clearer as it falls, between its banks that are cracked like a cushawn-rind baked on a cabin hearth. As the sun sinks behind Raccoon mountain's dusky purple wall, little boats dart out from the shore, and boys drop into the current for a swim, and fireflies glimmer and fade against the rich, summery masses of foliage that overhang the banks and the cliff. Except for the occasional passage of the Signal mountain and Riverview cars across the bridge, it is everywhere quiet. I can hear the cradle song with which a mother on the porch of a houseboat is putting her baby to sleep, the laughter of lovers strolling ashore, the crooned rhythmic phrases of a negro busy among the fastenings of a raft, the purl of water around the oars of a solitary boatman who is crossing to visit his 'girl.' In the stern of a little motorboat a small girl and her mother are seated with clasped hands, facing the father, who is managing the sputtering engine. They are too quietly happy to talk, content to be together. The rollicking banter and laughter of men on the dredging boats comes faintly across. Up from behind the horizon wells the fading horizon-light, filling the river with fluid amethyst and gold.
"At last the latest, boldest swimmer leaves the water and scampers dripping up the shore; the boats and rafts moored among the leaning trees grow shadowy and dim. It is so silent that between cars I hear even the mumble of a negro fisherman who talks out with himself all the long, slow thoughts that come to him as he watches his lines; all the fantastic drowsy ideas that pass through his exotic and half-barbaric mind, in a voice so soft that even were he in conversation you must listen to catch his words:
"'Hit always seem lak a strange thing to me to think about the stahs a-s[h]inin' all the time. Shinin' right up there all day, en we cain't see 'em. I reckon the sun jist kind o' blots 'em out.
"'I wondeh ef the fish don't think them stahs, efflected there on the wateh, is somethin' good to eat? Wondeh if they can see 'em? I wondeh------------But I reckon ef they sees 'em they must a-learnt yeahs ago that they wasn't good to eat.
"'And they tells me that goes plumb around the yeth. Don't look jist reasonable, but I reckon hit's true. Must be; 'caze hit'll come right up on the other side of the mawnin;-----------I reckon that man oveh there's seein' his daylight now.'
"My home," continued the Nighthawk, "is in the rank weeds, between the criss-crossed landing paths. There are many of us there. I am not so wild nor so nocturnal as the Whippoorwill, and have even nested on the roof spaces of city buildings, than which there is no more lonely desert in the world.
"Some of the riverside jungle has
been cut away of late, to make space for patchy unfenced gardens of early 'truck,' and
little terraces of zinnias and touch-me-nots, belonging to dwellers in houseboats moored
for the season or in unpainted shacks set on the steep rise above the high-water mark.
Some day the city will take a valuable hint form these crude efforts; will beautify her
waterfront til she can wear it like a diadem. She will take advantage of the rich morders of drooping trees on either bank, the gray cliff from which
Chattanooga is said to take her name, and the heavily-fringed island with its graceful
'pumpkin-seed' outline and its surface cambered finely as the deck of a yacht, to make her
a scenic promenade that will be sought by crowds in the cool of the day--by tired crowds
of toilers such as frequent the docks of New York by night, and by beauty lovers to whom
the spectacle of reflected mountains and sunset is never twice the same."