AFTER THE KINGS of Great Britain had
assumed the right of appointing the colonial governors, the measures
of the latter seldom met with the ready and general approbation which
had been paid to those of their predecessors, under the original
charters. The people looked with most jealous scrutiny to the exercise
of power, which did not emanate from themselves, and they usually
rewarded the rulers with slender gratitude for the compliances, by
which, in softening their instructions from beyond the sea, they had
incurred the reprehension of those who gave them. The annals of
Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six governors, in the space
of about forty years from the surrender of the old charter, under
James II, two were imprisoned by a popular insurrection; a third, as
Hutchinson inclines to believe, was driven from the province by the
whizzing of a musketball; a fourth, in the opinion of the same
historian, was hastened to his grave by continual bickerings with the
House of Representatives; and the remaining two, as well as their
successors, till the Revolution, were favored with few and brief
intervals of peaceful sway. The inferior members of the court party,
in times of high political excitement, led scarcely a more desirable
life. These remarks may serve as a preface to the following
adventures, which chanced upon a summer night, not far from a hundred
years ago. The reader, in order to avoid a long and dry detail of
colonial affairs, is requested to dispense with an account of the
train of circumstances, that had caused much temporary inflammation of
the popular mind.
It was near nine o'clock of a moonlight evening,
when a boat crossed the ferry with a single passenger, who had
obtained his conveyance, at that unusual hour, by the promise of an
extra fare. While he stood on the landing-place, searching in either
pocket for the means of fulfilling his agreement, the ferryman lifted
a lantern, by the aid of which, and the newly risen moon, he took a
very accurate survey of the stranger's figure. He was a youth of
barely eighteen years, evidently country-bred, and now, as it should
seem, upon his
first visit to town. He was clad in a coarse gray coat, well worn, but
in excellent repair; his under garments were durably constructed of
leather, and sat tight to a pair of serviceable and well-shaped limbs;
his stockings of blue yarn, were the incontrovertible handiwork of a
mother or a sister; and on his head was a three-cornered hat, which in
its better days had perhaps sheltered the graver brow of the lad's
father. Under his left arm was a heavy cudgel, formed of an oak
sapling, and retaining a part of the hardened root; and his equipment
was completed by a wallet, not so abundantly stocked as to incommode
the vigorous shoulders on which it hung. Brown, curly hair,
well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful eyes, were nature's gifts,
and worth all that art could have done for his adornment.
The youth, one of whose names was Robin, finally
drew from his pocket the half of a little province-bill of five
shillings, which, in the depreciation of that sort of currency, did
but satisfy the ferryman's demand, with the surplus of a sexangular
piece of parchment, valued at three pence. He then walked forward into
the town, with as light a step, as if his day's journey had not
already exceeded thirty miles, and with as eager an eye as if he were
entering London city, instead of the little metropolis of a New
England colony. Before Robin had proceeded far, however, it occurred
to him, that he knew not whither to direct his steps; so he paused,
and looked up and down the narrow street, scrutinizing the small and
mean wooden buildings, that were scattered on either side.
"This low hovel cannot be my kinsman's
dwelling," thought he, "nor yonder old house, where the
moonlight enters at the broken casement; and truly I see none
hereabouts that might be worthy of him. It would have been wise to
inquire my way of the ferryman, and doubtless he would have gone with
me, and earned a shilling from the major for his pains. But the next
man I meet will do as well."
He resumed his walk, and was glad to perceive
that the street now became wider, and the houses more respectable in
their appearance. He soon discerned a figure moving on moderately in
advance, and hastened his steps to overtake it. As Robin drew nigh, he
saw that the passenger was a man in years, with a full periwig of gray
hair, a wide-skirted coat of
dark cloth, and silk stockings rolled above his knees. He carried a
long and polished cane, which he struck down perpendicularly before
him, at every step; and at regular intervals he uttered two successive
hems, of a peculiarly solemn and sepulchral intonation. Having made
these observations, Robin laid hold of the skirt of the old man's
coat, just when the light from the open door and windows of a barber's
shop fell upon both their figures. "Good evening to you, honored
sir," said he, making a low bow, and still retaining his hold of
the skirt. "I pray you tell me whereabouts is the dwelling of my
kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The youth's question was uttered very loudly; and
one of the barbers, whose razor was descending on a well-soaped chin,
and another who was dressing a Ramillies wig, left their occupations,
and came to the door. The citizen, in the meantime, turned a
long-favored countenance upon Robin, and answered him in a tone of
excessive anger and annoyance. His two sepulchral hems, however, broke
into the very centre of his rebuke, with most singular effect, like a
thought of the cold grave obtruding among wrathful passions.
"Let go my garment, fellow! I tell you, I
know not the man you speak of. What! I have authority, I have--hem,
hem--authority; and if this be the respect you show for your betters,
your feet shall be brought acquainted with the stocks by daylight,
Robin released the old man's skirt, and hastened
away, pursued by an ill-mannered roar of laughter from the barber's
shop. He was at first considerably surprised by the result of his
question, but, being a shrewd youth, soon thought himself able to
account for the mystery.
"This is some country representative,"
was his conclusion, "who has never seen the inside of my
kinsman's door, and lacks the breeding to answer a stranger civilly.
The man is old, or verily--I might be tempted to turn back and smite
him on the nose. Ah, Robin, Robin! even the barber's boys laugh at you
choosing such a guide! You will be wiser in time, friend Robin."
He now became entangled in a succession of
crooked and narrow streets, which crossed each other, and meandered at
no great distance from the water-side. The smell of tar was obvious to
his nostrils, the masts of vessels pierced the moonlight above the
tops of the buildings, and the numerous signs, which Robin paused to
read, informed him that he was near the centre of business. But the
streets were empty, the shops were closed, and lights were visible
only in the second stories of a few dwelling-houses. At length, on the
corner of a narrow lane, through which he was passing, he beheld the
broad countenance of a British hero swinging before the door of an
inn, whence proceeded the voices of many guests. The casement of one
of the lower windows was thrown back, and a very thin curtain
permitted Robin to distinguish a party at supper, round a
well-furnished table. The fragrance of the good cheer steamed forth
into the outer air, and the youth could not fail to recollect, that
the last remnant of his travelling stock of provision had yielded to
his morning appetite, and that noon had found, and left him,
"Oh, that a parchment three-penny might give
me a right to sit down at yonder table!" said Robin, with a sigh.
"But the major will make me welcome to the best of his victuals;
so I will even step boldly in, and inquire my way to his
He entered the tavern, and was guided by the
murmur of voices, and the fumes of tobacco, to the public room. It was
a long and low apartment, with oaken walls, grown dark in the
continual smoke, and a floor, which was thickly sanded, but of no
immaculate purity. A number of persons, the larger part of whom
appeared to be mariners, or in some way connected with the sea,
occupied the wooden benches, or leather-bottomed chairs, conversing on
various matters, and occasionally lending their attention to some
topic of general interest. Three or four little groups were draining
as many bowls of punch, which the West India trade had long since made
a familiar drink in the colony. Others, who had the appearance of men
who lived by regular and laborious handicraft, preferred the insulated
bliss of an unshared potation, and became more taciturn under its
influence. Nearly all, in short, evinced a predilection for the Good
Creature in some of its various shapes, for this is a vice to which,
as Fast-day sermons of a hundred years ago will testify, we have a
long hereditary claim. The only guests to whom Robin's sympathies
him, were two or three sheepish countrymen, who were using the inn
somewhat after the fashion of a Turkish caravansary; they had gotten
themselves into the darkest corner of the room, and, heedless of the
Nicotian atmosphere, were supping on the bread of their own ovens, and
the bacon cured in their own chimney-smoke. But though Robin felt a
sort of brotherhood with these strangers, his eyes were attracted from
them to a person who stood near the door, holding whispered
conversation with a group of ill-dressed associates. His features were
separately striking almost to grotesqueness, and the whole face left a
deep impression on the memory. The forehead bulged out into a double
prominence, with a vale between; the nose came boldly forth in an
irregular curve, and its bridge was of more than a finger's breadth;
the eyebrows were deep and shaggy, and the eyes glowed beneath them
like fire in a cave.
While Robin deliberated of whom to inquire
respecting his kinsman's dwelling, he was accosted by the innkeeper, a
little man in a stained white apron, who had come to pay his
professional welcome to the stranger. Being in the second generation
from a French Protestant, he seemed to have inherited the courtesy of
his parent nation; but no variety of circumstances was ever known to
change his voice from the one shrill note in which he now addressed
"From the country, I presume, Sir?"
said he, with a profound bow. "Beg to congratulate you on your
arrival, and trust you intend a long stay with us. Fine town here,
Sir, beautiful buildings, and much that may interest a stranger. May I
hope for the honor of your commands in respect to supper?"
"The man sees a family likeness! the rogue
has guessed that I am related to the Major!" thought Robin, who
had hitherto experienced little superfluous civility.
All eyes were now turned on the country lad,
standing at the door, in his worn three-cornered hat, gray coat,
leather breeches, and blue yarn stockings, leaning on an oaken cudgel,
and bearing a wallet on his back.
Robin replied to the courteous innkeeper, with
such an assumption of confidence as befitted the major's relative.
"My honest friend," he said, "I
shall make it a point to patronize
your house on some occasion when--" here he could not help
lowering his voice--"I may have more than a parchment three-pence
in my pocket. My present business," continued he, speaking with
lofty confidence, "is merely to inquire my way to the dwelling of
my kinsman, Major Molineux."
There was a sudden and general movement in the
room, which Robin interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each
individual to become his guide. But the innkeeper turned his eyes to a
written paper on the wall, which he read, or seemed to read, with
occasional recurrences to the young man's figure.
"What have we here?" said he, breaking
his speech into little dry fragments. "'Left the house of the
subscriber, bounden servant, Hezekiah Mudge--had on, when he went
away, gray coat, leather breeches, master's third best hat. One pound
currency reward to whosoever shall lodge him in any jail of the
province.' Better trudge, boy, better trudge!"
Robin had begun to draw his hand towards the
lighter end of the oak cudgel, but a strange hostility in every
countenance, induced him to relinquish his purpose of breaking the
courteous innkeeper's head. As he turned to leave the room, he
encountered a sneering glance from the bold-featured personage whom he
had before noticed; and no sooner was he beyond the door, than he
heard a general laugh, in which the innkeeper's voice might be
distinguished, like the dropping of small stones into a kettle.
"Now, is it not strange," thought
Robin, with his usual shrewdness, "is it not strange, that the
confession of an empty pocket should outweigh the name of my kinsman,
Major Molineux? Oh, if I had one of those grinning rascals in the
woods, where I and my oak sapling grew up together, I would teach him
that my arm is heavy, though my purse be light!"
On turning the corner of the narrow lane, Robin
found himself in a spacious street, with an unbroken line of lofty
houses on each side, and a steepled building at the upper end, whence
the ringing of a bell announced the hour of nine. The light of the
moon, and the lamps from the numerous shop windows, discovered people
promenading on the pavement, and amongst them Robin hoped to recognize
his hitherto inscrutable
relative. The result of his former inquiries made him unwilling to
hazard another, in a scene of such publicity, and he determined to
walk slowly and silently up the street, thrusting his face close to
that of every elderly gentleman, in search of the Major's lineaments.
In his progress, Robin encountered many gay and gallant figures.
Embroidered garments, of showy colors, enormous periwigs, gold-laced
hats, and silver-hilted swords, glided past him, and dazzled his
optics. Travelled youths, imitators of the European fine gentlemen of
the period, trod jauntily along, half-dancing to the fashionable tunes
which they hummed, and making poor Robin ashamed of his quiet and
natural gait. At length, after many pauses to examine the gorgeous
display of goods in the shop windows, and after suffering some rebukes
for the impertinence of his scrutiny into people's faces, the major's
kinsman found himself near the steepled building, still unsuccessful
in his search. As yet, however, he had seen only one side of the
thronged street, so Robin crossed, and continued the same sort of
inquisition down the opposite pavement, with stronger hopes than the
philosopher seeking an honest man, but with no better fortune. He had
arrived about midway towards the lower end, from which his course
began, when he overheard the approach of someone, who struck down a
cane on the flag-stones at every step, uttering, at regular intervals,
two sepulchral hems.
"Mercy on us!" quoth Robin, recognizing
Turning a corner, which chanced to be close at
his right hand, he hastened to pursue his researches, in some other
part of the town. His patience was now wearing low, and he seemed to
feel more fatigue from his rambles since he crossed the ferry, than
from his journey of several days on the other side. Hunger also
pleaded loudly within him, and Robin began to balance the propriety of
demanding, violently, and with lifted cudgel, the necessary guidance
from the first solitary passenger, whom he should meet. While a
resolution to this effect was gaining strength, he entered a street of
mean appearance, on either side of which a row of ill-built houses was
straggling towards the harbor. The moonlight fell upon no passenger
along the whole extent, but in the third domicile
which Robin passed there was a half-opened door, and his keen glance
detected a woman's garment within.
"My luck may be better here," said he
Accordingly, he approached the door, and beheld
it shut closer as he did so; yet an open space remained, sufficing for
the fair occupant to observe the stranger, without a corresponding
display on her part. All that Robin could discern was a strip of
scarlet petticoat, and the occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the
moonbeams were trembling on some bright thing.
"Pretty mistress,"for I may call her so
with a good conscience, thought the shrewd youth, since I know nothing
to the contrary--"my sweet pretty mistress, will you be kind
enough to tell me whereabouts I must seek the dwelling of my kinsman,
Robin's voice was plaintive and winning, and the
female, seeing nothing to be shunned in the handsome country youth,
thrust open the door, and came forth into the moonlight. She was a
dainty little figure, with a white neck, round arms, and a slender
waist, at the extremity of which her scarlet petticoat jutted out over
a hoop, as if she were standing in a balloon. Moreover, her face was
oval and pretty, her hair dark beneath the little cap, and her bright
eyes possessed a sly freedom, which triumphed over those of Robin.
"Major Molineux dwells here," said this
Now her voice was the sweetest Robin had heard
that night, the airy counterpart of a stream of melted silver; yet he
could not help doubting whether that sweet voice spoke Gospel truth.
He looked up and down the mean street, and then surveyed the house
before which they stood. It was a small, dark edifice of two stories,
the second of which projected over the lower floor; and the front
apartment had the aspect of a shop for petty commodities.
"Now truly I am in luck," replied
Robin, cunningly, "and so indeed is my kinsman, the major, in
having so pretty a housekeeper. But I prithee trouble him to step to
the door; I will deliver him a message from his friends in the
country, and then go back to my lodgings at the inn."
"Nay, the Major has been a-bed this hour or
more," said the
lady of the scarlet petticoat; "and it would be to little purpose
to disturb him tonight, seeing his evening draught was of the
strongest. But he is a kind-hearted man, and it would be as much as my
life's worth, to let a kinsman of his turn away from the door. You are
the good old gentleman's very picture, and I could swear that was his
rainy-weather hat. Also he has garments very much resembling those
leather small-clothes. But come in, I pray, for I bid you hearty
welcome in his name."
So saying, the fair and hospitable dame took our
hero by the hand; and though the touch was light, and the force was
gentleness, and though Robin read in her eyes what he did not hear in
her words, yet the slender-waisted woman, in the scarlet petticoat,
proved stronger than the athletic country youth. She had drawn his
half-willing footsteps nearly to the threshold, when the opening of a
door in the neighborhood, startled the Major's housekeeper, and,
leaving the Major's kinsman, she vanished speedily into her own
domicile. A heavy yawn preceded the appearance of a man, who, like the
Moonshine of Pyramus and Thisbe, carried a lantern, needlessly aiding
his sister luminary in the heavens. As he walked sleepily up the
street, he turned his broad, dull face on Robin, and displayed a long
staff, spiked at the end.
"Home, vagabond, home!" said the
watchman, in accents that seemed to fall asleep as soon as they were
uttered. "Home, or we'll set you in the stocks by peep of
"This is the second hint of the kind,"
thought Robin. "I wish they would end my difficulties, by setting
me there tonight."
Nevertheless, the youth felt an instinctive
antipathy towards the guardian of midnight order, which at first
prevented him from asking his usual question. But just when the man
was about to vanish behind the corner, Robin resolved not to lose the
opportunity, and shouted lustily after him--
"I say, friend! will you guide me to the
house of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The watchman made no reply, but turned the corner
and was gone; yet Robin seemed to hear the sound of drowsy laughter
stealing along the solitary street. At that moment, also, a pleasant
titter saluted him from the open window above his head; he looked up,
and caught the sparkle of a
saucy eye; a round arm beckoned to him, and next he heard light
footsteps descending the staircase within. But Robin, being of the
household of a New England clergyman, was a good youth, as well as a
shrewd one; so he resisted temptation, and fled away.
He now roamed desperately, and at random, through
the town, almost ready to believe that a spell was on him, like that
by which a wizard of his country had once kept three pursuers
wandering, a whole winter night, within twenty paces of the cottage
which they sought. The streets lay before him, strange and desolate,
and the lights were extinguished in almost every house. Twice,
however, little parties of men, among whom Robin distinguished
individuals in outlandish attire, came hurrying along; but though on
both occasions they paused to address him, such intercourse did not at
all enlighten his perplexity. They did but utter a few words in some
language of which Robin knew nothing, and perceiving his inability to
answer, bestowed a curse upon him in plain English, and hastened away.
Finally, the lad determined to knock at the door of every mansion that
might appear worthy to be occupied by his kinsman, trusting that
perseverance would overcome the fatality that had hitherto thwarted
him. Firm in this resolve, he was passing beneath the walls of a
church, which formed the corner of two streets, when, as he turned
into the shade of its steeple, he encountered a bulky stranger,
muffled in a cloak. The man was proceeding with the speed of earnest
business, but Robin planted himself full before him, holding the oak
cudgel with both hands across his body, as a bar to further passage.
"Halt, honest man, and answer me a
question," said he, very resolutely. "Tell me, this instant,
whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
"Keep your tongue between your teeth, fool,
and let me pass!" said a deep, gruff voice, which Robin partly
remembered. "Let me pass, I say, or I'll strike you to the
"No, no, neighbor!" cried Robin,
flourishing his cudgel, and then thrusting its larger end close to the
man's muffled face. "No, no, I'm not the fool you take me for,
nor do you pass, till I have an answer to my question. Whereabouts is
the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
instead of attempting to force his passage, stepped back into the
moonlight, unmuffled his face, and stared full into that of Robin.
"Watch here an hour, and Major Molineux will
pass by," said he.
Robin gazed with dismay, and astonishment, on the
unprecedented physiognomy of the speaker. The forehead with its double
prominence, the broad-hooked nose, the shaggy eyebrows, and fiery
eyes, were those which he had noticed at the inn, but the man's
complexion had undergone a singular, or, more properly, a two-fold
change. One side of the face blazed an intense red, while the other
was black as midnight, the division line being in the broad bridge of
the nose; and a mouth which seemed to extend from ear to ear was black
or red, in contrast to the color of the cheek. The effect was as if
two individual devils, a fiend of fire and a fiend of darkness, had
united themselves to form this infernal visage. The stranger grinned
in Robin's face, muffled his parti-colored features, and was out of
sight in a moment.
"Strange things we travellers see!"
He seated himself, however, upon the steps of the
church-door, resolving to wait the appointed time for his kinsman. A
few moments were consumed in philosophical speculations upon the
species of the genus homo, who had just left him; but having
settled this point shrewdly, rationally, and satisfactorily, he was
compelled to look elsewhere for his amusement. And first he threw his
eyes along the street; it was of more respectable appearance than most
of those into which he had wandered, and the moon, "creating,
like the imaginative power, a beautiful strangeness in familiar
objects," gave something of romance to a scene, that might not
have possessed it in the light of day. The irregular and often quaint
architecture of the houses, some of whose roofs were broken into
numerous little peaks, while others ascended, steep and narrow, into a
single point, and others again were square; the pure milk-white of
some of their complexions, the aged darkness of others, and the
thousand sparklings, reflected from bright substances in the walls of
many; these matters engaged Robin's attention for a while, and then
began to grow wearisome. Next he endeavored to define the
forms of distant objects, starting away, with almost ghostly
indistinctness, just as his eye appeared to grasp them; and finally he
took a minute survey of an edifice which stood on the opposite side of
the street, directly in front of the church-door, where he was
stationed. It was a large, square mansion, distinguished from its
neighbors by a balcony, which rested on tall pillars, and by an
elaborate Gothic window, communicating therewith.
"Perhaps this is the very house I have been
seeking," thought Robin.
Then he strove to speed away the time, by
listening to a murmur which swept continually along the street, yet
was scarcely audible, except to an unaccustomed ear like his; it was a
low, dull, dreamy sound, compounded of many noises, each of which was
at too great a distance to be separately heard. Robin marvelled at
this snore of a sleeping town, and marvelled more whenever its
continuity was broken by now and then a distant shout, apparently loud
where it originated. But altogether it was a sleep-inspiring sound,
and, to shake off its drowsy influence, Robin arose, and climbed a
window-frame, that he might view the interior of the church. There the
moonbeams came trembling in, and fell down upon the deserted pews, and
extended along the quiet aisles. A fainter, yet more awful radiance,
was hovering around the pulpit, and one solitary ray had dared to rest
upon the opened page of the great Bible. Had nature, in that deep
hour, become a worshipper in the house, which man had builded? Or was
that heavenly light the visible sanctity of the place, visible because
no earthly and impure feet were within the walls? The scene made
Robin's heart shiver with a sensation of loneliness, stronger than he
had ever felt in the remotest depths of his native woods; so he turned
away, and sat down again before the door. There were graves around the
church, and now an uneasy thought obtruded into Robin's breast. What
if the object of his search, which had been so often and so strangely
thwarted, were all the time mouldering in his shroud? What if his
kinsman should glide through yonder gate, and nod and smile to him in
dimly passing by?
"Oh, that any breathing thing were here with
me!" said Robin.
Recalling his thoughts from this uncomfortable
track, he sent them over forest, hill, and stream, and attempted to
imagine how that evening of ambiguity and weariness, had been spent by
his father's household. He pictured them assembled at the door,
beneath the tree, the great old tree, which had been spared for its
huge twisted trunk, and venerable shade, when a thousand leafy
brethren fell. There, at the going down of the summer sun, it was his
father's custom to perform domestic worship, that the neighbors might
come and join with him like brothers of the family, and that the
wayfaring man might pause to drink at that fountain, and keep his
heart pure by freshening the memory of home. Robin distinguished the
seat of every individual of the little audience; he saw the good man
in the midst, holding the Scriptures in the golden light that shone
from the western clouds; he beheld him close the book, and all rise up
to pray. He heard the old thanksgivings for daily mercies, the old
supplications for their continuance, to which he had so often listened
in weariness, but which were now among his dear remembrances. He
perceived the slight inequality of his father's voice when he came to
speak of the Absent One; he noted how his mother turned her face to
the broad and knotted trunk; how his elder brother scorned, because
the beard was rough upon his upper lip, to permit his features to be
moved; how the younger sister drew down a low hanging branch before
her eyes; and how the little one of all, whose sports had hitherto
broken the decorum of the scene, understood the prayer for her
playmate, and burst into clamorous grief. Then he saw them go in at
the door; and when Robin would have entered also, the latch tinkled
into its place, and he was excluded from his home.
"Am I here, or there?" cried Robin,
starting; for all at once, when his thoughts had become visible and
audible in a dream, the long, wide, solitary street shone out before
He aroused himself, and endeavored to fix his
attention steadily upon the large edifice which he had surveyed
before. But still his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality;
by turns, the pillars of the balcony lengthened into the tall, bare
stems of pines, dwindled down to human figures, settled again into
their true shape and size, and then commenced a new
succession of changes. For a single moment, when he deemed himself
awake, he could have sworn that a visage, one which he seemed to
remember, yet could not absolutely name as his kinsman's, was looking
towards him from the Gothic window. A deeper sleep wrestled with and
nearly overcame him, but fled at the sound of footsteps along the
opposite pavement. Robin rubbed his eyes, discerned a man passing at
the foot of the balcony, and addressed him in a loud, peevish, and
"Hallo, friend! must I wait here all night
for my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The sleeping echoes awoke, and answered the
voice; and the passenger, barely able to discern a figure sitting in
the oblique shade of the steeple, traversed the street to obtain a
nearer view. He was himself a gentleman in his prime, of open,
intelligent, cheerful, and altogether prepossessing countenance.
Perceiving a country youth, apparently homeless and without friends,
he accosted him in a tone of real kindness, which had become strange
to Robin's ears.
"Well, my good lad, why are you sitting
here?" inquired he. "Can I be of service to you in any
"I am afraid not, Sir," replied Robin,
despondingly; "yet I shall take it kindly, if you'll answer me a
single question. I've been searching, half the night, for one Major
Molineux; now, Sir, is there really such a person in these parts, or
am I dreaming?"
"Major Molineux! The name is not altogether
strange to me," said the gentleman, smiling. "Have you any
objection to telling me the nature of your business with him?"
Then Robin briefly related that his father was a
clergyman, settled on a small salary, at a long distance back in the
country, and that he and Major Molineux were brothers' children. The
Major, having inherited riches, and acquired civil and military rank,
had visited his cousin, in great pomp, a year or two before; had
manifested much interest in Robin and an elder brother, and, being
childless himself, had thrown out hints respecting the future
establishment of one of them in life. The elder brother was destined
to succeed to the farm, which his father cultivated, in the interval
of sacred duties; it was therefore determined that Robin should profit
kinsman's generous intentions, especially as he seemed to be rather
the favorite, and was thought to possess other necessary endowments.
"For I have the name of being a shrewd
youth," observed Robin, in this part of his story.
"I doubt not you deserve it," replied
his new friend, good-naturedly; "but pray proceed."
"Well, sir, being nearly eighteen years old,
and well-grown, as you see," continued Robin, drawing himself up
to his full height, "I thought it high time to begin the world.
So my mother and sister put me in handsome trim, and my father gave me
half the remnant of his last year's salary, and five days ago I
started for this place, to pay the Major a visit. But, would you
believe it, Sir? I crossed the ferry a little after dusk, and have yet
found nobody that would show me the way to his dwelling; only an hour
or two since, I was told to wait here, and Major Molineux would pass
"Can you describe the man who told you
this?" inquired the gentleman.
"Oh, he was a very ill-favored fellow,
Sir," replied Robin, "with two great bumps on his forehead,
a hook nose, fiery eyes, and, what struck me as the strangest, his
face was of two different colors. Do you happen to know such a man,
"Not intimately," answered the
stranger, "but I chanced to meet him a little time previous to
your stopping me. I believe you may trust his word, and that the Major
will very shortly pass through this street. In the meantime, as I have
a singular curiosity to witness your meeting, I will sit down here
upon the steps, and bear you company."
He seated himself accordingly, and soon engaged
his companion in animated discourse. It was but of brief continuance,
however, for a noise of shouting, which had long been remotely
audible, drew so much nearer, that Robin inquired its cause.
"What may be the meaning of this
uproar?" asked he. "Truly, if your town be always as noisy,
I shall find little sleep, while I am an inhabitant."
"Why, indeed, friend Robin, there do appear
to be three or four riotous fellows abroad to-night," replied the
gentleman. "You must not expect all the stillness of your native
here in our streets. But the watch will shortly be at the heels of
these lads, and--"
"Ay, and set them in the stocks by peep of
day," interrupted Robin, recollecting his own encounter with the
drowsy lantern-bearer. "But, dear Sir, if I may trust my ears, an
army of watchmen would never make head against such a multitude of
rioters. There were at least a thousand voices went to make up that
"May not a man have several voices, Robin,
as well as two complexions?" said his friend.
"Perhaps a man may; but Heaven forbid that a
woman should!" responded the shrewd youth, thinking of the
seductive tones of the Major's housekeeper.
The sounds of a trumpet in some neighboring
street now became so evident and continual, that Robin's curiosity was
strongly excited. In addition to the shouts, he heard frequent bursts
from many instruments of discord, and a wild and confused laughter
filled up the intervals. Robin rose from the steps, and looked
wistfully towards a point, whither several people seemed to be
"Surely some prodigious merrymaking is going
on," exclaimed he. "I have laughed very little since I left
home, Sir, and should be sorry to lose an opportunity. Shall we just
step round the corner by that darkish house, and take our share of the
"Sit down again, sit down, good Robin,"
replied the gentleman, laying his hand on the skirt of the gray coat.
"You forget that we must wait here for your kinsman; and there is
reason to believe that he will pass by, in the course of a very few
The near approach of the uproar had now disturbed
the neighborhood; windows flew open on all sides; and many heads, in
the attire of the pillow, and confused by sleep suddenly broken, were
protruded to the gaze of whoever had leisure to observe them. Eager
voices hailed each other from house to house, all demanding the
explanation, which not a soul could give. Half-dressed men hurried
towards the unknown commotion, stumbling as they went over the stone
steps, that thrust themselves into the narrow foot-walk. The shouts,
the laughter, and the tuneless bray, the antipodes of
music, came onward with increasing din, till scattered individuals,
and then denser bodies, began to appear round a corner, at the
distance of a hundred yards.
"Will you recognize your kinsman, Robin, if
he passes in this crowd?" inquired the gentleman.
"Indeed, I can't warrant it, Sir; but I'll
take my stand here, and keep a bright look out," answered Robin,
descending to the outer edge of the pavement.
A mighty stream of people now emptied into the
street, and came rolling slowly towards the church. A single horseman
wheeled the corner in the midst of them, and close behind him came a
band of fearful wind-instruments, sending forth a fresher discord, now
that no intervening buildings kept it from the ear. Then a redder
light disturbed the moonbeams, and a dense multitude of torches shone
along the street, concealing, by their glare, whatever object they
illuminated. The single horseman, clad in a military dress, and
bearing a drawn sword, rode onward as the leader, and, by his fierce
and variegated countenance, appeared like war personified: the red of
one cheek was an emblem of fire and sword; the blackness of the other
betokened the mourning that attends them. In his train were wild
figures in the Indian dress, and many fantastic shapes without a
model, giving the whole march a visionary air, as if a dream had
broken forth from some feverish brain, and were sweeping visibly
through the midnight streets. A mass of people, inactive, except as
applauding spectators, hemmed the procession in, and several women ran
along the side-walk, piercing the confusion of heavier sounds, with
their shrill voices of mirth or terror.
"The double-faced fellow has his eye upon
me," muttered Robin, with an indefinite but an uncomfortable idea
that he was himself to bear a part in the pageantry.
The leader turned himself in the saddle, and
fixed his glance full upon the country youth, as the steed went slowly
by. When Robin had freed his eyes from those fiery ones, the musicians
were passing before him, and the torches were close at hand; but the
unsteady brightness of the latter formed a veil which he could not
penetrate. The rattling of wheels over the stones sometimes found its
way to his ear, and confused traces of a human form appeared at
and then melted into the vivid light. A moment more, and the leader
thundered a command to halt: the trumpets vomited a horrid breath, and
held their peace; the shouts and laughter of the people died away, and
there remained only a universal hum, allied to silence. Right before
Robin's eyes was an uncovered cart. There the torches blazed the
brightest, there the moon shone out like day, and there, in
tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his kinsman Major Molineux!
He was an elderly man, of large and majestic
person, and strong, square features, betokening a steady soul; but
steady as it was, his enemies had found means to shake it. His face
was pale as death, and far more ghastly; the broad forehead was
contracted in his agony, so that his eyebrows formed one grizzled
line; his eyes were red and wild, and the foam hung white upon his
quivering lip. His whole frame was agitated by a quick and continual
tremor, which his pride strove to quell, even in those circumstances
of overwhelming humiliation. But perhaps the bitterest pang of all was
when his eyes met those of Robin; for he evidently knew him on the
instant, as the youth stood witnessing the foul disgrace of a head
grown gray in honor. They stared at each other in silence, and Robin's
knees shook, and his hair bristled, with a mixture of pity and terror.
Soon, however, a bewildering excitement began to seize upon his mind;
the preceding adventures of the night, the unexpected appearance of
the crowd, the torches, the confused din and the hush that followed,
the spectre of his kinsman reviled by that great multitude, all this,
and, more than all, a perception of tremendous ridicule in the whole
scene, affected him with a sort of mental inebriety. At that moment a
voice of sluggish merriment saluted Robin's ears; he turned
instinctively, and just behind the corner of the church stood the
lantern-bearer, rubbing his eyes, and drowsily enjoying the lad's
amazement. Then he heard a peal of laughter like the ringing of
silvery bells; a woman twitched his arm, a saucy eye met his, and he
saw the lady of the scarlet petticoat. A sharp, dry cachinnation
appealed to his memory, and, standing on tiptoe in the crowd, with his
white apron over his head, he beheld the courteous little innkeeper.
And lastly, there sailed over the heads of the
multitude a great, broad laugh, broken in the midst by two sepulchral
"Haw, haw, haw--hem, hem--haw, haw, haw,
The sound proceeded from the balcony of the
opposite edifice, and thither Robin turned his eyes. In front of the
Gothic window stood the old citizen, wrapped in a wide gown, his gray
periwig exchanged for a night-cap, which was thrust back from his
forehead, and his silk stockings hanging down about his legs. He
supported himself on his polished cane in a fit of convulsive
merriment, which manifested itself on his solemn old features like a
funny inscription on a tomb-stone. Then Robin seemed to hear the
voices of the barbers, of the guests of the inn, and of all who had
made sport of him that night. The contagion was spreading among the
multitude, when, all at once, it seized upon Robin, and he sent forth
a shout of laughter that echoed through the street; every man shook
his sides, every man emptied his lungs, but Robin's shout was the
loudest there. The cloud-spirits peeped from their silvery islands, as
the congregated mirth went roaring up the sky! The Man in the Moon
heard the far bellow; "Oho," quoth he, "the old earth
is frolicsome tonight!"
When there was a momentary calm in that
tempestuous sea of sound, the leader gave the sign, the procession
resumed its march. On they went, like fiends that throng in mockery
around some dead potentate, mighty no more, but majestic still in his
agony. On they went, in counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in
frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man's heart. On swept the
tumult, and left a silent street behind.
"Well, Robin, are you dreaming?"
inquired the gentleman, laying his hand on the youth's shoulder.
Robin started, and withdrew his arm from the
stone post to which he had instinctively clung, while the living
stream rolled by him. His cheek was somewhat pale, and his eye not
quite as lively as in the earlier part of the evening.
"Will you be kind enough to show me the way
to the ferry?" said he, after a moment's pause.
"You have, then, adopted a new subject of
inquiry?" observed his companion, with a smile.
"Why, yes, Sir," replied Robin, rather
dryly. "Thanks to you, and to my other friends, I have at last
met my kinsman, and he will scarce desire to see my face again. I
begin to grow weary of a town life, Sir. Will you show me the way to
"No, my good friend Robin, not to-night, at
least," said the gentleman. "Some few days hence, if you
continue to wish it, I will speed you on your journey. Or, if you
prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as you are a shrewd youth, you may
rise in the world, without the help of your kinsman, Major Molineux."