The Snow Image and other stories Part 9

Web Novel The Snow Image and other stories Part 9. If you are looking for The Snow Image and other stories Part 9 you are coming to the right place.
The Snow Image and other stories is a Webnovel created by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
This lightnovel is currently completed.

“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 him.

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 pa.s.sing at the foot of the balcony, and addressed him in a loud, peevish, and lamentable cry.

“Hallo, friend! must I wait here all night for my kinsman, Major Molineux?”

The sleeping echoes awoke, and answered the voice; and the pa.s.senger, 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 way?”

“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 by his 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 in 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 dark, and have yet found n.o.body 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 pa.s.s by.”

“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 b.u.mps 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, sir?”

“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 pa.s.s through this street. In the mean time, 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 woods 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 mult.i.tude of rioters. There were at least a thousand voices went up to make that one shout.”

“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 people seemed to be hastening.

“Surely some prodigious merry-making 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 step round the corner by that darkish house and take our share of the fun?”

“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 pa.s.s by, in the course of a very few moments.”

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 onwards 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, if he pa.s.ses in this crowd?” inquired the gentleman.

“Indeed, I can’t warrant it, sir; but I’ll take my stand here, and keep a bright lookout,” 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 mult.i.tude 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 ma.s.s of people, inactive, except as applauding spectators, hemmed the procession in; and several women ran along the sidewalk, 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 pa.s.sing 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 intervals, 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 then 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 circ.u.mstances 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 mult.i.tude,–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 ap.r.o.n over his head, he beheld the courteous little innkeeper. And lastly, there sailed over the heads of the mult.i.tude a great, broad laugh, broken in the midst by two sepulchral hems; thus, “Haw, haw, haw,–hem, hem,–haw, 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 nightcap, which was thrust back from his forehead, and his silk stockings hanging 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 tombstone. 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 mult.i.tude, 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 to-night!”

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, as 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 the ferry?”

“No, my good friend Robin,–not to-night, at least,” said the gentleman. “Some few days hence, if you 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.”

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