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The Ambitious Guest

by Shivansh 4 months ago in Adventure
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There were circumstances which led some to suppose that a stranger had

been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the

catastrophe of all its inmates.

One September night a family had gathered round their hearth, and piled

it high with the driftwood of mountain streams, the dry cones of the pine,

and the splintered ruins of great trees that had come crashing down the

precipice. Up the chimney roared the fire, and brightened the room with

its broad blaze. The faces of the father and mother had a sober gladness;

the children laughed; the eldest daughter was the image of Happiness at

seventeen; and the aged grandmother, who sat knitting in the warmest

place, was the image of Happiness grown old. They had found the "herb,

heart's-ease," in the bleakest spot of all New England. This family were

situated in the Notch of the White Hills, where the wind was sharp

throughout the year, and pitilessly cold in the winter--giving their cottage

all its fresh inclemency before it descended on the valley of the Saco.

They dwelt in a cold spot and a dangerous one; for a mountain towered

above their heads, so steep, that the stones would often rumble down its

sides and startle them at midnight.

The daughter had just uttered some simple jest that filled them all with

mirth, when the wind came through the Notch and seemed to pause

before their cottage--rattling the door, with a sound of wailing and

lamentation, before it passed into the valley. For a moment it saddened

them, though there was nothing unusual in the tones. But the family were

glad again when they perceived that the latch was lifted by some

traveller, whose footsteps had been unheard amid the dreary blast which

heralded his approach, and wailed as he was entering, and went moaning

away from the door.

Though they dwelt in such a solitude, these people held daily converse

with the world. The romantic pass of the Notch is a great artery, through

which the life-blood of internal commerce is continually throbbing

between Maine, on one side, and the Green Mountains and the shores of

the St. Lawrence, on the other. The stage-coach always drew up before

the door of the cottage. The way-farer, with no companion but his staff,

paused here to exchange a word, that the sense of loneliness might not

utterly overcome him ere he could pass through the cleft of the mountain,

or reach the first house in the valley. And here the teamster, on his way

to Portland market, would put up for the night; and, if a bachelor, might

sit an hour beyond the usual bedtime, and steal a kiss from the mountain

maid at parting. It was one of those primitive taverns where the traveller

pays only for food and lodging, but meets with a homely kindness beyond

all price. When the footsteps were heard, therefore, between the outer

door and the inner one, the whole family rose up, grandmother, children,

and all, as if about to welcome someone who belonged to them, and

whose fate was linked with theirs.

The door was opened by a young man. His face at first wore the

melancholy expression, almost despondency, of one who travels a wild

and bleak road, at nightfall and alone, but soon brightened up when he

saw the kindly warmth of his reception. He felt his heart spring forward to

meet them all, from the old woman, who wiped a chair with her apron, to

the little child that held out its arms to him. One glance and smile placed

the stranger on a footing of innocent familiarity with the eldest daughter.

"Ah, this fire is the right thing!" cried he; "especially when there is such a

pleasant circle round it. I am quite benumbed; for the Notch is just like

the pipe of a great pair of bellows; it has blown a terrible blast in my face

all the way from Bartlett."

"Then you are going towards Vermont?" said the master of the house, as

he helped to take a light knapsack off the young man's shoulders.

"Yes; to Burlington, and far enough beyond," replied he. "I meant to have

been at Ethan Crawford's tonight; but a pedestrian lingers along such a

road as this. It is no matter; for, when I saw this good fire, and all your

cheerful faces, I felt as if you had kindled it on purpose for me, and were

waiting my arrival. So I shall sit down among you, and make myself at


The frank-hearted stranger had just drawn his chair to the fire when

something like a heavy footstep was heard without, rushing down the

steep side of the mountain, as with long and rapid strides, and taking

such a leap in passing the cottage as to strike the opposite precipice. The

family held their breath, because they knew the sound, and their guest

held his by instinct.

"The old mountain has thrown a stone at us, for fear we should forget

him," said the landlord, recovering himself. "He sometimes nods his head

and threatens to come down; but we are old neighbours, and agree

together pretty well upon the whole. Besides we have a sure place of

refuge hard by if he should be coming in good earnest."

Let us now suppose the stranger to have finished his supper of bear's

meat; and, by his natural felicity of manner, to have placed himself on a

footing of kindness with the whole family, so that they talked as freely

together as if he belonged to their mountain brood. He was of a proud,

yet gentle spirit--haughty and reserved among the rich and great; but

ever ready to stoop his head to the lowly cottage door, and be like a

brother or a son at the poor man's fireside. In the household of the Notch

he found warmth and simplicity of feeling, the pervading intelligence of

New England, and a poetry of native growth, which they had gathered

when they little thought of it from the mountain peaks and chasms, and

at the very threshold of their romantic and dangerous abode. He had

travelled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had been a solitary path;

for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he had kept himself apart from

those who might otherwise have been his companions. The family, too,


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