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descried a rushlight, at a distance, which he looked upon as the star of his good fortune; and riding toward it at full speed, arrived at the door of a lone cottage, into which he was admitted by an old woman, who, understanding he was a bewildered traveler, received him with great hospitality.
8. When he learned from his hostèss that there was not another house within three leagues, and that she could accommodate him with a tolerable bed, and his horse with lodging and oats, he thanked Heaven for his good fortune in stumbling upon this humble habitation, and determined to pass the night under the protection of the old cottager, who gave him to understand, that her husband, who was a fagot-maker, had gone to the next town to dispose of his merchandise, and that in all probability he would not return till the next morning, on account of the tempestuous night.
9. Ferdinand sounded the beldam with a thousand artful interrogations, and she answered with such an appearance of truth and simplicity, that he concluded his person was quite secure ; and, after having been regaled with a dish of eggs and bacon, desired she would conduct him into the chamber where she proposed he should take his repose. He was accordingly ushered up by a sort of ladder into an apartment furnished with a standing bed, and almost half filled with trusses of straw. He seemed extremely well pleased with his lodging, which in reality exceeded his expectations; and his kind landlady, cautioning him against letting the candle approach the combustibles, took her leave, and locked the door on the outside.
74. COUNT FATHOM'S ADVENTURE.
ATHOM, whose own principles taught him to be suspicious,
creatures, could have dispensed with this instance of her care in confining her guest to her chamber; and began to be seized with strange fancies, when he observed that there was no bolt on the inside of the door, by which he might secure himself from intrusion. In consequence of these suggestions, he proposed to tale an accurate sur'vey of every object in the aparment, and, in the
course of his inqui'ry, had the mortification to find the dead body of a man, still warm, who had been lately stabbed, and concealed beneath several bundles of straw.
2. Such a discovery could not fail to fill the breast of our hero with unspeakable horror; for he concluded that he himself would undergo the same fate before morning, without the interposition of a miracle in his favor. In the first transports of his dread he ran to the window, with a view to escape by that outlet, and found his flight effectually obstructed by divers strong bars of iron. Then his heart began to palpitate, his hair to bristle up, and his knees to totter : his thoughts teemed with presages of death and destruction; his conscience rose up in judgment against him; and he underwent a severe paroxysm of dismay and distraction. His spirits were agitated into a state of fermentation that produced an energy akin to that which is inspired by brandy or other strong liquors; and, by an impulse that seemed supernatural, he was immediately hurried into measures for his own preservation.
3. What upon a less in'teresting occasion his imagination durst not propose, he now executed without scruple or remorse. He undressed the corpse that lay bleeding among the straw, and conveying it to the bed in his arms, deposited it in the attitude of a person who sleeps at his ease; then he extinguished the light, took possession of the place from whence the body had been removed, and holding a pistol ready cocked in each hand, waited for the sequel with that determined purpose which is often the immediate production of despair.
4. About midnight he heard the sound of feet ascending the ladder; the door was softly opened; he saw the shadow of two men stalking toward the bed; a dark lantern being unshrouded, directed their aim to the supposed sleeper; and he that held it thrust a poniard to his heart. The force of the blow made a compression on the chest, and a sort of groan issued from the windpipe of the defunct: the stroke was repeated without producing a repetition of the note, so that the assassins concluded the work was effectually done, and retired for the present, with a design to return and rifle the deceased at their leisure.
5. Never had our hero spent a moment in such agony as he felt during this operation. The whole surface of his body was covered with a cold sweat, and his nerves were relaxed with a
universal palsy. In short, he remained in a trance, that in all probability contributed to his safety; for had he retained the use of his senses, he might have been discovered by the transports of his fear. The first use he made of his retrieved recollection, was to perceive that the assassins had left the door open in their retreat; and he would have instantly availed himself of this their neglect, by sallying out upon them at the hazard of his life, had not he been restrained by a conversation he overheard in the room below, importing that the ruffians were going to set out upon another expedition, in hopes of finding more prey.
6. They accordingly departed, after having laid strong injunctions on the old woman to keep the door fast locked during their absence; and Ferdinand took his resolution without further delay. So soon as, by his conjecture, the robbers were at a sufficient distance from the house, he rose from his lurking-place, moved softly toward the bed, and rummaging the pockets of the deceased, found a purse well stored with ducats, of which, together with a silver watch and a diamond ring, he immediately possessed himself without scruple; and then, descending with great care and circumspection into the lower apartment, stood before the old beldam, before she had the least intimation of his approach.
7. Accustomed as she was to the trade of blood, the hoary hag did not behold this apparation without giving signs of infinite terror and astonishment. Believing it was no other than the spirit of her second guest, who had been murdered, she fell upon her knees, and began to recommend herself to the protection of the saints, crossing herself with as much devotion as if she had been entitled to the particular care and attention of Heaven. Nor did her anxiety abate when she was undeceived in this her supposition, and understood it was no phantom, but the real substance of the stranger; who, without staying to upbraid her with the enormity of her crimes, commanded her, on pain of immediate death, to produce his horse; to which being conducted, he set her on the saddle without delay, and mounting behind, invested her with the management of the reins, swearing, in a most peremptory tone, that the only chance for her life was in directing him to the next town; and that as soon as she should give him the least cause to doubt her fidělity in the performance of that task, he would on the instant act the part of her executioner.
8. This declaration had its effect on the withered Hěcʼate,' who, with many supplications for mercy and forgiveness, promised to guide him in safety to a certain village at the distance of two leagues, where he might lodge in security, and be provided with a fresh horse, or other conveniences for pursuing his route. On these conditions he told her she might deserve his clemency; and they accordingly took their departure together, she being placed astride upon the saddle, holding the bridle in one hand, and a switch in the other, and our adventurer sitting on the crupper superintending her conduct, and keeping the muzzle of a pistol close to her ear. In this equipage they traveled across part of the same wood in which his guide had forsaken him; and it is not to be supposed that he passed his time in the most agreeable reverie, while he found himself involved in the labyrinth of those shades, which he considered as the haunts of robbery and assassination.
9. Common fear was a comfortable sensation to what he felt in this excursion. The first steps he had taken for his preservation were the effect of mere instinct, while his faculties were extinguished or suppressed by despair; but now, as his reflection began to recur, he was haunted by the most intolerable apprehensions. Every whisper of the wind through the thickets was swelled into the hoarse menaces of murder; the shaking of the boughs was construed into the brandishing of poniards; and every shadow of a tree became the apparition of a ruffian eager for blood. In short, at each of these occurrences he felt what was infinitely more tormenting than the stab of a reäl dagger; and at every fresh fillip of his fear, he acted as a remembrancer to his conductress in a new volley of imprecations,' importing, that her life was absolutely connected with his opinion of his own safety.
10. Human nature could not long subsist under such complicated terror; but at last he found himself clear of the forest,
1 Hěc' ate, represented in mythology as a mysterious divinity who ruled in heaven, on the earth, and in the sea, bestowing on mortals wealth, victory, wisdom; good luck to sailors and hunters, and prosperity to youth and to the flocks of cattle. She was afterward, however, regarded by the Athenians and others as a spectral
being, regardless of demons and terrible phantoms from the lower world, who taught sorcery, witchcraft, and dwelt at places where two roads crossed, on tombs, and near the blood of murdered persons.
2 Equipage, (¿k' we płj).
Excursion, (eks kår' shun). 'Im`pre ca' tions, curses.
and was blessed with a distant view of an inhabited place. He yielded to the first importunity of the beldam, whom he dismissed at a very small distance from the village, after he had earnestly exhorted her to quit such an atrocious course of life, and atone for her past crimes by sacrificing her associates to the demands of justice. She did not fail to vow a perfect reformation, and to prostrate herself before him for the favor she had found; then she betook herself to her habitation, with the full purpose of advising her fellow-murderers to repair with all dispatch to the village and impeach our hero; who, wisely distrusting her professions, stayed no longer in the place than to hire a guide for the next stage, which brought him to the city of Chalons-sur-Marne.'
TOBIAS GEORGE SMOLLETT was born in the County of Dumbarton, Scotland, in 1721. His father, a younger son of Sir James Smollett, of Bonhill, having died early, he was educated by his grandfather, in Glasgow, for the medical profession. At nineteen, his grandfather having died without making a provision for him, the young author proceeded to London with his first work, "The Regicide," which he attempted to bring out at the theaters. Foiled in this juvenile effort, in 1741 he became a surgeon's mate in the navy, and was present in the unfortunate expedition to Carthagena, spent some time elsewhere in the West Indies, and returned to England in 1746. Thenceforth he resided chiefly in London, and became an author for life. His first novel, "Roderick Random," appeared in 1748. From this date to that of his last production, Smollett improved in taste and judgment, but his power of invention, his native humor, and his knowledge of life and character, are as conspicuous in this as in any of his works. He had fine poetic talents, but wrote no extended poem. His novel of "Count Fathom" appeared in 1753. The above scene, extracted from this work, is universally regarded as a masterpiece of interest; a mixture of the terrible and the probable that has never been surpassed. The writing is as fine as the conception. In 1770, Smollett was compelled to seek for health in a warm climate. He took up his residence in a cottage near Leghorn. Here, just before his death, in the autumn of 1771, he finished his "Humphrey Clinker," the most rich, varied, and agreeable of all his novels.
HAD a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander, darkling, in the eternal space,
Rayless and pathless, and the icy earth.
1 Chalons-sur-Marne, (shå lòng ser marn), a city of France, capital of the department of Marne, on the right bank of the river Marne, ninety miles E. of Paris.