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Chapter 70

  • Day broke, and found them still upon their way. Since leaving home, they ha_alted here and there for necessary refreshment, and had frequently bee_elayed, especially in the night time, by waiting for fresh horses. They ha_ade no other stoppages, but the weather continued rough, and the roads wer_ften steep and heavy. It would be night again before they reached their plac_f destination.
  • Kit, all bluff and hardened with the cold, went on manfully; and, havin_nough to do to keep his blood circulating, to picture to himself the happ_nd of this adventurous journey, and to look about him and be amazed a_verything, had little spare time for thinking of discomforts. Though hi_mpatience, and that of his fellow-travellers, rapidly increased as the da_aned, the hours did not stand still. The short daylight of winter soon fade_way, and it was dark again when they had yet many miles to travel.
  • As it grew dusk, the wind fell; its distant moanings were more low an_ournful; and, as it came creeping up the road, and rattling covertly amon_he dry brambles on either hand, it seemed like some great phantom for who_he way was narrow, whose garments rustled as it stalked along. By degrees i_ulled and died away, and then it came on to snow.
  • The flakes fell fast and thick, soon covering the ground some inches deep, an_preading abroad a solemn stillness. The rolling wheels were noiseless, an_he sharp ring and clatter of the horses' hoofs, became a dull, muffled tramp.
  • The life of their progress seemed to be slowly hushed, and something death- like to usurp its place.
  • Shading his eyes from the falling snow, which froze upon their lashes an_bscured his sight, Kit often tried to catch the earliest glimpse of twinklin_ights, denoting their approach to some not distant town. He could descr_bjects enough at such times, but none correctly. Now, a tall church spir_ppeared in view, which presently became a tree, a barn, a shadow on th_round, thrown on it by their own bright lamps. Now, there were horsemen, foot-passengers, carriages, going on before, or meeting them in narrow ways; which, when they were close upon them, turned to shadows too. A wall, a ruin, a sturdy gable end, would rise up in the road; and, when they were plungin_eadlong at it, would be the road itself. Strange turnings too, bridges, an_heets of water, appeared to start up here and there, making the way doubtfu_nd uncertain; and yet they were on the same bare road, and these things, lik_he others, as they were passed, turned into dim illusions.
  • He descended slowly from his seat—for his limbs were numbed— when they arrive_t a lone posting-house, and inquired how far they had to go to reach thei_ourney's end. It was a late hour in such by-places, and the people were abed; but a voice answered from an upper window, Ten miles. The ten minutes tha_nsued appeared an hour; but at the end of that time, a shivering figure le_ut the horses they required, and after another brief delay they were again i_otion. It was a cross-country road, full, after the first three or fou_iles, of holes and cart-ruts, which, being covered by the snow, were so man_itfalls to the trembling horses, and obliged them to keep a footpace. As i_as next to impossible for men so much agitated as they were by this time, t_it still and move so slowly, all three got out and plodded on behind th_arriage. The distance seemed interminable, and the walk was most laborious.
  • As each was thinking within himself that the driver must have lost his way, _hurch bell, close at hand, struck the hour of midnight, and the carriag_topped. It had moved softly enough, but when it ceased to crunch the snow, the silence was as startling as if some great noise had been replaced b_erfect stillness.
  • 'This is the place, gentlemen,' said the driver, dismounting from his horse, and knocking at the door of a little inn. 'Halloa! Past twelve o'clock is th_ead of night here.'
  • The knocking was loud and long, but it failed to rouse the drowsy inmates. Al_ontinued dark and silent as before. They fell back a little, and looked up a_he windows, which were mere black patches in the whitened house front. N_ight appeared. The house might have been deserted, or the sleepers dead, fo_ny air of life it had about it.
  • They spoke together with a strange inconsistency, in whispers; unwilling t_isturb again the dreary echoes they had just now raised.
  • 'Let us go on,' said the younger brother, 'and leave this good fellow to wak_hem, if he can. I cannot rest until I know that we are not too late. Let u_o on, in the name of Heaven!'
  • They did so, leaving the postilion to order such accommodation as the hous_fforded, and to renew his knocking. Kit accompanied them with a littl_undle, which he had hung in the carriage when they left home, and had no_orgotten since—the bird in his old cage—just as she had left him. She woul_e glad to see her bird, he knew.
  • The road wound gently downward. As they proceeded, they lost sight of th_hurch whose clock they had heard, and of the small village clustering roun_t. The knocking, which was now renewed, and which in that stillness the_ould plainly hear, troubled them. They wished the man would forbear, or tha_hey had told him not to break the silence until they returned.
  • The old church tower, clad in a ghostly garb of pure cold white, again rose u_efore them, and a few moments brought them close beside it. A venerabl_uilding—grey, even in the midst of the hoary landscape. An ancient sun-dia_n the belfry wall was nearly hidden by the snow-drift, and scarcely to b_nown for what it was. Time itself seemed to have grown dull and old, as if n_ay were ever to displace the melancholy night.
  • A wicket gate was close at hand, but there was more than one path across th_hurchyard to which it led, and, uncertain which to take, they came to a stan_gain.
  • The village street—if street that could be called which was an irregula_luster of poor cottages of many heights and ages, some with their fronts, some with their backs, and some with gable ends towards the road, with her_nd there a signpost, or a shed encroaching on the path—was close at hand.
  • There was a faint light in a chamber window not far off, and Kit ran toward_hat house to ask their way.
  • His first shout was answered by an old man within, who presently appeared a_he casement, wrapping some garment round his throat as a protection from th_old, and demanded who was abroad at that unseasonable hour, wanting him.
  • ''Tis hard weather this,' he grumbled, 'and not a night to call me up in. M_rade is not of that kind that I need be roused from bed. The business o_hich folks want me, will keep cold, especially at this season. What do yo_ant?'
  • 'I would not have roused you, if I had known you were old and ill,' said Kit.
  • 'Old!' repeated the other peevishly. 'How do you know I am old? Not so old a_ou think, friend, perhaps. As to being ill, you will find many young peopl_n worse case than I am. More's the pity that it should be so—not that _hould be strong and hearty for my years, I mean, but that they should be wea_nd tender. I ask your pardon though,' said the old man, 'if I spoke rathe_ough at first. My eyes are not good at night—that's neither age nor illness; they never were—and I didn't see you were a stranger.'
  • 'I am sorry to call you from your bed,' said Kit, 'but those gentlemen you ma_ee by the churchyard gate, are strangers too, who have just arrived from _ong journey, and seek the parsonage-house. You can direct us?'
  • 'I should be able to,' answered the old man, in a trembling voice, 'for, com_ext summer, I have been sexton here, good fifty years. The right hand path, friend, is the road.—There is no ill news for our good gentleman, I hope?'
  • Kit thanked him, and made him a hasty answer in the negative; he was turnin_ack, when his attention was caught by the voice of a child. Looking up, h_aw a very little creature at a neighbouring window.
  • 'What is that?' cried the child, earnestly. 'Has my dream come true? Pra_peak to me, whoever that is, awake and up.'
  • 'Poor boy!' said the sexton, before Kit could answer, 'how goes it, darling?'
  • 'Has my dream come true?' exclaimed the child again, in a voice so ferven_hat it might have thrilled to the heart of any listener. 'But no, that ca_ever be! How could it be—Oh! how could it!'
  • 'I guess his meaning,' said the sexton. 'To bed again, poor boy!'
  • 'Ay!' cried the child, in a burst of despair. 'I knew it could never be, _elt too sure of that, before I asked! But, all to-night, and last night too, it was the same. I never fall asleep, but that cruel dream comes back.'
  • 'Try to sleep again,' said the old man, soothingly. 'It will go in time.'
  • 'No no, I would rather that it staid—cruel as it is, I would rather that i_taid,' rejoined the child. 'I am not afraid to have it in my sleep, but I a_o sad—so very, very sad.'
  • The old man blessed him, the child in tears replied Good night, and Kit wa_gain alone.
  • He hurried back, moved by what he had heard, though more by the child's manne_han by anything he had said, as his meaning was hidden from him. They too_he path indicated by the sexton, and soon arrived before the parsonage wall.
  • Turning round to look about them when they had got thus far, they saw, amon_ome ruined buildings at a distance, one single solitary light.
  • It shone from what appeared to be an old oriel window, and being surrounded b_he deep shadows of overhanging walls, sparkled like a star. Bright an_limmering as the stars above their heads, lonely and motionless as they, i_eemed to claim some kindred with the eternal lamps of Heaven, and to burn i_ellowship with them.
  • 'What light is that!' said the younger brother.
  • 'It is surely,' said Mr Garland, 'in the ruin where they live. I see no othe_uin hereabouts.'
  • 'They cannot,' returned the brother hastily, 'be waking at this late hour—'
  • Kit interposed directly, and begged that, while they rang and waited at th_ate, they would let him make his way to where this light was shining, and tr_o ascertain if any people were about. Obtaining the permission he desired, h_arted off with breathless eagerness, and, still carrying the birdcage in hi_and, made straight towards the spot.
  • It was not easy to hold that pace among the graves, and at another time h_ight have gone more slowly, or round by the path. Unmindful of all obstacles, however, he pressed forward without slackening his speed, and soon arrive_ithin a few yards of the window. He approached as softly as he could, an_dvancing so near the wall as to brush the whitened ivy with his dress, listened. There was no sound inside. The church itself was not more quiet.
  • Touching the glass with his cheek, he listened again. No. And yet there wa_uch a silence all around, that he felt sure he could have heard even th_reathing of a sleeper, if there had been one there.
  • A strange circumstance, a light in such a place at that time of night, with n_ne near it.
  • A curtain was drawn across the lower portion of the window, and he could no_ee into the room. But there was no shadow thrown upon it from within. To hav_ained a footing on the wall and tried to look in from above, would have bee_ttended with some danger— certainly with some noise, and the chance o_errifying the child, if that really were her habitation. Again and again h_istened; again and again the same wearisome blank.
  • Leaving the spot with slow and cautious steps, and skirting the ruin for a fe_aces, he came at length to a door. He knocked. No answer. But there was _urious noise inside. It was difficult to determine what it was. It bore _esemblance to the low moaning of one in pain, but it was not that, being fa_oo regular and constant. Now it seemed a kind of song, now a wail—seemed, that is, to his changing fancy, for the sound itself was never changed o_hecked. It was unlike anything he had ever heard; and in its tone there wa_omething fearful, chilling, and unearthly.
  • The listener's blood ran colder now than ever it had done in frost and snow, but he knocked again. There was no answer, and the sound went on without an_nterruption. He laid his hand softly upon the latch, and put his knee agains_he door. It was secured on the inside, but yielded to the pressure, an_urned upon its hinges. He saw the glimmering of a fire upon the old walls, and entered.