For the first five miles, I found abundant entertainment in contemplating, through the well closed windows of the car. riage, the violent storm without. The snow was driving furiously in dark and dense and ever-shifting vortices athwart the barren heath around me. Leaning backward in one corner of the coach, I listened with peculiar interest to the constant pattering of the fine hard particles of snow upon the glass, and the bowling and screaming and whistling of the winds. There is a curious balance of the faculties of mind which such a situation frequently inspires. The enjoyment of the comforts of warmth and rest and shelter, at a time when we hear • the excluded tempest raving idly along, seldom fails to bring about that delightful equilibrium, when the mind, floating freely between the listlessness of absolute vacuity and the abstractedness of deep meditation, and determined, if at all, by a principle of action too subtle to be recognized, roams, all imagination, in every possible direction, unimpeded by the obstacles of sense, and uncontrolled by the impulses of intellect.

Every thing without was cheerless, comfortless and cold, yet I felt only the more contented and self satisfied within. The hills, which I knew were not far distant, on both sides of this uncultivated plain, were totally invisible through the intermediate gloom. The only objects that I now could distinguish, were the snow-vestured dwarf-oaks and pine trees on each side of the road, which, as the horses forced their way through the accumulating drifts, seemed to move regularly backward in deliberate and mournful procession. The sight of these was every minute interrupted by sudden gushes of the thickening element, sweeping and wheeling in curious meanders around me, while the eddies of the wind, dashing suddenly and fitfully the sleet upon the windows of the carriage, produced that peculiar crepitation which, trifle as it seems, contributes not a little to determine the feelings of the moment.

These are sights and sounds, however, which we see and hear without any interruption to the thick-coming fancies? which wander like disembodied spirits through the halls and chambers of our imagery, when the warder reason is sleeping at his post. Indeed, every body who has watched the phenomena of imaginative reverie, must have seen that when fancy is left free and undisturbed, the flow and melody of sentiment, however varied in its character, is always best sustained, and always surest of producing its effect, when placed in strong relief by the presence of such sombre and even dreary, but unobtrusive objects, as reach the imagination without

[ocr errors]


awakeping the judgment; precisely as the grave and deeptoned monotony of bass-notes in music, supports, relieves, and not unfrequently modifies the air, without attracting or diverting the attention of the listener. In this way the accompaniment of certain sights and sounds, operates like an intellectual counterpoint to the strain of our most variable musings.

Whilst I thus was indulging my liberated fancy in all the pleasure she derived from the contemplation of the works of her creation, the shades of evening had imperceptibly descended; for such was the feeble glimmering of light which the thick and sleety atmosphere had allowed to reach the earth, that the change from the gloominess of the day to the obscurity of the night was too gradual and too inconsiderable to recall me from the visionary world into which I had unintentionally strayed. The transition from reverie to sleep is quite as natural as the change from twilight into darkness, and the sense of waking consciousness was fast disappearing, when my attention was suddenly aroused by the stopping of the coach. “ Sure enough, sir," cried John, whose voice I could scarcely distinguish for the howling of the storm, sure enough, we shall never get to M-to-night, sir. I don't think we've come more than half way, and besides that Charley's very lame.” This information was sufficiently embarrassing ; but what was to be done ? It was too dark to discern the tavern which my landlord had described, and perhaps we had passed it already. To proceed was the only alternative, and believing that we had not more than six miles to go, I resolved at all events to drive on. At the end of a mile or so, however, John stopped again, and cried out that there was a light ahead, and that he thought we had got to Kelly's. I confess I was not sorry; for in spite of the fur and woollen armour in which I had incased myself, December's icy fingers had seized me by the toes, and even Fancy herself, who abominates cold feet, was obliged to acknowledge that a genuine external matter-offact fire was, in all respects, superior to any of her own manufacture.

The light, however, as we found on approaching it, proceeded from a house situated in a valley several hundred yards from the road. This appeared to me a very strange site for a tavern ; but as Kelly's was the only house between the Two Bears and M- I could not, as I conceived, be mistaken. In consequence of the extreme darkness of the night, and the depth of the snow, we failed in our attempts to find the gate of the lane, which led down to the house. I now began most seriously to repent my not baving followed an advice which I

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

had unjustly believed to be interested, and felt heartily asham. ed that my fool-bardiness in braving such a storın had involved me in such a serious and apparently inextricable difficulty. We endeavoured by shouting with all our might to call some of the family to our assistance; but either the distance was too great, or our voices were drowned in the roaring of the tempest. In this disagreeable dilemma, I was compelled to mount the box, and in spite of the wind and the snow, and the impenetrable darkness, to despatch John across the fields to the house. He was gone, as it seemed to me, an hour, and then returned only to convert my anxiety into the mortifying certainty that the house was not a tavern; that we were fifteen miles at least from any inn; that we had taken the wrong road shortly after leaving the Two Bears, and that to crown our misfortunes the people of the house showed every possible inclination to exclude us from their roof. It was extremely disagreeable at this late hour to claim the reluctant hospitality of a private family, but unpleasant as it was, it was the only alternative. John, with the assistance of a lantern which he had brought with him, had now succeeded in finding the gate, and at the risk every instant of overturning the carriage, i drove slowly down the lane, resolved at all events to gain admittance, at least, into the barn. Having reached with 1. difficulty the end of the lane, I thought it would be well, fore I knocked, to reconnoitre the premises, which the light of the lantern enabled me, though imperfectly, to do. The house, which was a wretched unpainted wooden shell of two stories and a garret, seemed, even in this new country, already falling fast into decay. From a window in the second story was still streaming the light of the candle which had directed us to the spot. had not time, however, to make any exact observations, before the door opened, and a black girl, the same who bad given John his information, made her appearance. I asked immediately to see her master or mistress, on which she stared strangely, closed the door, and vanished without making a reply. Shortly after, we heard the sound of steps descending from the garret, accompanied by the most unpromising and unpropitious mutterings. The door was now again opened, but kept nearly closed, and through the aperture glared the

of a white woman, who demanded in a very rough voice and strong Irish brogue, what we wanted. “ Shelter for ourselves," I replied, with the accent of entreaty, “and food for our horses-nothing more.” The woman now opened the door gradually, as if she suspected our intentions, and slowly surveying us both, still keeping all but her head carefully con




cealed, she told us to wait till she returned. There was much to surprise, though nothing to alarm me in all these precau. tions. Surely the tenants of so wretched a cabin had nothing to fear from one who was wealthy enough to travel in his coach. If I should be admitted, the guest would have far greater grounds for suspicion than the host, and yet, if I had carried on my forehead the highwayman's brand, more hesita tion could scarcely bave been shown. After a very long des

a lay, during which I thought I could distinguish the voice of consultation in the lighted apartment, the woman returned, and silently and sullenly conducted us into a low narrow mean

a looking room, in which was to be found neither chair, bed, nor table, nor indeed any article of furniture whatever. Unappalled at this discouraging reception, I ventured to ask if she could furnish us with something to eat, and begged to be indulged with the favour of a fire, declaring at the same time my readiness to make her a liberal compensation for her trouble. But the woman seemed quite as regardless of my offers of reward, as she had been of my appeal to her compassion. With a singular inflexibility of countenance, and doggedness of manner, she proceeded to make some arrangements for our convenience, apparently neither urged nor deterred by any thing I said. She se: :d, in all she did, to be literally obeying the directions of some other person, to whom, it was plain, we owed our admission. While she was engaged in blowing some wet faggots and refractory embers into temporary flame, I watched her from a distance unobserved. She was evidently Irish, about fifty years of age, and clad in the coarsest and dirtiest apparel imaginable. The fitful light, which she toiled long and laboriously to produce, threw a strange and ominous glare upon the harsh and rigid features of her face. She was leaning forward, supported on her hands and knees, with her face close upon the embers ; and at every puff which she gave, the faggot sent forth a sudden and momentary flash, which illumined for an instant her inauspicious buckskin-coloured visage, and lighted up her large bulging eyes into a singular expression of resolute malignity. Her hair, which was gray and inextricably tangled, streamed over her broad and naked shoulders, giving her an aspect of wild and most forbidding sybillism. The wetness of the wood damped the blaze as soon as she produced it, and the wind that roared down the enormous chimney, every now and then, drove volumes of smoke against her face. Whenever this occurred, she drew back her head and rubbed her eyes, with loud and angry curses, which I thought were intended to vent her spleen at my unseason* Vol. ll. No, I.


able intrusion. Yet why should she complain? I had shown every disposition to be satisfied with her accommodations, wretched as they were, and she had besides been assured that she should be liberally rewarded for her trouble.

After having harassed the fuel into flame, my sullen hostess arose, and taking the lantern with her, left me to myself. My attention was now drawn to a circumstance which struck me as not a little extraordinary. The room in which I had observed the light, was directly above me, and I now heard the occupant, whoever he were, pacing backward and forward with a slow and deliberate stride. At another time, I should, in all probability, have taken no notice whatever of a circumstance apparently so trifling. But the gloominess of the weather and the loneliness of the place, bad given to my nervous system, naturally very excitable, and debilitated very much by my recent disease, a degree of painful sensibility. The room above me was considerably larger than the one which I was in, as I plainly perceived by the distance to which I traced the steps of the person who was walking overhead. That the stranger was no ordinary personage I felt assured, for there was something so exact, so deliberate, so meditative in his tread, (I say it seriously,) that I could not for a moment suppose it proceeded from the clumsy limbs and thick shoes of an uneducated countryman. Nor could he be a benighted traveller like myself, for John who had now returned from the barn, assured me that there was no horse nor vehicle whatever there, other than my own. After walking for nearly an hour, with that slow and measured tread, and that peculiar creaking of the boot, which a traveller's ear distinguishes at once from the abrupt and downright tramp of the plebeian, I heard him

open the door, and walk to the head of the stair. case. He called to the black girl I mentioned before, “ Caroline!" It was but a single word, and uttered, for aught I knew, for an indifferent purpose. Yet I heard it with the acutest interest; for I could plainly perceive, in his voice, the tone of habitual pensiveness and melancholy. The distinct . ness and elegance with which each syllable of this simple word was pronounced, told me that the stranger was a man of education; the tone in which it was uttered convinced me he was unhappy. But what motive could possibly induce such a man to establish his permanent residence in a wretched hovel in these unfrequented wilds? The stranger called Caroline a second and a third time. She did not answer. He called again and again. Why need he do this? Why not descend the stair-case? Why was he afraid of encountering the

[ocr errors]
« ForrigeFortsett »