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"The seeds by nature planted
Take a deep root in the soil, and though for a time
The trenchant share and tearing harrow may
Sweep all appearance of them from the surface,
Yet with the first warm rains of spring they'll shoot,
And with their rankness smother the good grain.
Heaven grant, it mayn't be so with him."
The scene of this tale must now be changed to the little inn, which at
that period, as at the present, was situated in the vicinity of Harley
College. The site of the modern establishment is the same with that of the
ancient; but everything of the latter that had been built by hands has
gone to decay and been removed, and only the earth beneath and around it
remains the same. The modern building, a house of two stories, after a
lapse of twenty years, is yet unfinished. On this account, it has retained
the appellation of the "New Inn," though, like many who have frequented
it, it has grown old ere its maturity. Its dingy whiteness, and its
apparent superfluity of windows (many of them being closed with rough
boards), give it somewhat of a dreary look, especially in a wet day.
The ancient inn was a house, of which the eaves approached within about
seven feet of the ground; while the roof, sloping gradually upward, formed
an angle at several times that height. It was a comfortable and pleasant
abode to the weary traveller, both in summer and winter; for the frost
never ventured within the sphere of its huge hearths; and it was protected
from the heat of the sultry season by three large elms that swept the roof
with their long branches, and seemed to create a breeze where there was
not one. The device upon the sign, suspended from one of these trees, was
a hand holding a long-necked bottle, and was much more appropriate than
the present unmeaning representation of a black eagle. But it is necessary
to speak rather more at length of the landlord than of the house over
which he presided.
Hugh Crombie was one for whom most of the wise men, who considered the
course of his early years, had predicted the gallows as an end before he
should arrive at middle age. That these prophets of ill had been deceived
was evident from the fact that the doomed man had now passed the fortieth
year, and was in more prosperous circumstances than most of those who had
wagged their tongues against him. Yet the failure of their forebodings was
more remarkable than their fulfilment would have been.
He had been distinguished, almost from his earliest infancy, by those
precocious accomplishments, which, because they consist in an imitation of
the vices and follies of maturity, render a boy the favorite plaything of
men. He seemed to have received from nature the convivial talents, which,
whether natural or acquired, are a most dangerous possession; and, before
his twelfth year, he was the welcome associate of all the idle and
dissipated of his neighborhood, and especially of those who haunted the
tavern of which he had now become the landlord. Under this course of
education, Hugh Crombie grew to youth and manhood; and the lovers of good
words could only say in his favor, that he was a greater enemy to himself
than to any one else, and that, if he should reform, few would have a
better chance of prosperity than he.
The former clause of this modicum of praise (if praise it may be termed)
was indisputable; but it may be doubted, whether, under any circumstances
where his success depended on his own exertions, Hugh would have made his
way well through the world. He was one of those unfortunate persons, who,
instead of being perfect in any single art or occupation, are superficial
in many, and who are supposed to possess a larger share of talent than
other men, because it consists of numerous scraps, instead of a single
mass. He was partially acquainted with most of the manual arts that gave
bread to others; but not one of them, nor all of them, would give bread to
him. By some fatality, the only two of his multifarious accomplishments in
which his excellence was generally conceded were both calculated to keep
him poor rather than to make him rich. He was a musician and a poet.
There are yet remaining in that portion of the country many ballads and
songs,--set to their own peculiar tunes,--the authorship of which is
attributed to him. In general, his productions were upon subjects of local
and temporary interest, and would consequently require a bulk of
explanatory notes to render them interesting or intelligible to the world
at large. A considerable proportion of the remainder are Anacreontics;
though, in their construction, Hugh Crombie imitated neither the Teian nor
any other bard. These latter have generally a coarseness and sensuality
intolerable to minds even of no very fastidious delicacy. But there are
two or three simple little songs, into which a feeling and a natural
pathos have found their way, that still retain their influence over the
heart. These, after two or three centuries, may perhaps be precious to the
collectors of our early poetry. At any rate, Hugh Crombie's effusions,
tavern-haunter and vagrant though he was, have gained a continuance of
fame (confined, indeed, to a narrow section of the country), which many
who called themselves poets then, and would have scorned such a brother,
have failed to equal.
During the long winter evenings, when the farmers were idle round their
hearths, Hugh was a courted guest; for none could while away the hours
more skilfully than he. The winter, therefore, was his season of
prosperity; in which respect he differed from the butterflies and useless
insects, to which he otherwise bore a resemblance. During the cold months,
a very desirable alteration for the better appeared in his outward man.
His cheeks were plump and sanguine; his eyes bright and cheerful; and the
tip of his nose glowed with a Bardolphian fire,--a flame, indeed, which
Hugh was so far a vestal as to supply with its necessary fuel at all
seasons of the year. But, as the spring advanced, he assumed a lean and
sallow look, wilting and fading in the sunshine that brought life and joy
to every animal and vegetable except himself. His winter patrons eyed him
with an austere regard; and some even practised upon him the modern and
fashionable courtesy of the "cut direct."
Yet, after all, there was good, or something that Nature intended to be
so, in the poor outcast,--some lovely flowers, the sweeter even for the
weeds that choked them. An instance of this was his affection for an aged
father, whose whole support was the broken reed,--his son. Notwithstanding
his own necessities, Hugh contrived to provide food and raiment for the
old man: how, it would be difficult to say, and perhaps as well not to
inquire. He also exhibited traits of sensitiveness to neglect and insult,
and of gratitude for favors; both of which feelings a course of life like
his is usually quick to eradicate.
At length the restraint--for such his father had ever been--upon Hugh
Crombie's conduct was removed by death; and then the wise men and the old
began to shake their heads; and they who took pleasure in the follies,
vices, and misfortunes of their fellow-creatures, looked for a speedy
gratification. They were disappointed, however; for Hugh had apparently
determined, that, whatever might be his catastrophe, he would meet it
among strangers, rather than at home. Shortly after his father's death, he
disappeared altogether from the vicinity; and his name became, in the
course of years, an unusual sound, where once the lack of other topics of
interest had given it a considerable degree of notoriety. Sometimes,
however, when the winter blast was loud round the lonely farm-house, its
inmates remembered him who had so often chased away the gloom of such an
hour, and, though with little expectation of its fulfilment, expressed a
wish to behold him again.
Yet that wish, formed, perhaps, because it appeared so desperate, was
finally destined to be gratified. One summer evening, about two years
previous to the period of this tale, a man of sober and staid deportment,
mounted upon a white horse, arrived at the Hand and Bottle, to which some
civil or military meeting had chanced, that day, to draw most of the
inhabitants of the vicinity. The stranger was well though plainly dressed,
and anywhere but in a retired country town would have attracted no
particular attention; but here, where a traveller was not of every-day
occurrence, he was soon surrounded by a little crowd, who, when his eye
was averted, seized the opportunity diligently to peruse his person. He
was rather a thickset man, but with no superfluous flesh; his hair was of
iron-gray; he had a few wrinkles; his face was so deeply sunburnt, that,
excepting a half-smothered glow on the tip of his nose, a dusky yellow was
the only apparent hue. As the people gazed, it was observed that the
elderly men, and the men of substance, gat themselves silently to their
steeds, and hied homeward with an unusual degree of haste; till at length
the inn was deserted, except by a few wretched objects to whom it was a
constant resort. These, instead of retreating, drew closer to the
traveller, peeping anxiously into his face, and asking, ever and anon, a
question, in order to discover the tone of his voice. At length, with one
consent, and as if the recognition had at once burst upon them, they
hailed their old boon-companion, Hugh Crombie, and, leading him into the
inn, did him the honor to partake of a cup of welcome at his expense.
But, though Hugh readily acknowledged the not very reputable acquaintances
who alone acknowledged him, they speedily discovered that he was an
altered man. He partook with great moderation of the liquor for which he
was to pay; he declined all their flattering entreaties for one of his old
songs; and finally, being urged to engage in a game at all-fours, he
calmly observed, almost in the words of an old clergyman on a like
occasion, that his principles forbade a profane appeal to the decision by
On the next Sabbath Hugh Crombie made his appearance at public worship in
the chapel of Harley College; and here his outward demeanor was
unexceptionably serious and devout,--a praise which, on that particular
occasion, could be bestowed on few besides. From these favorable symptoms,
the old established prejudices against him began to waver; and as he
seemed not to need, and to have no intention to ask, the assistance of any
one, he was soon generally acknowledged by the rich as well as by the
poor. His account of his past life, and of his intentions for the future,
was brief, but not unsatisfactory. He said that, since his departure, he
had been a seafaring man, and that, having acquired sufficient property to
render him easy in the decline of his days, he had returned to live and
die in the town of his nativity.
There was one person, and the one whom Hugh was most interested to please,
who seemed perfectly satisfied of the verity of his reformation. This was
the landlady of the inn, whom, at his departure, he had left a gay, and,
even at thirty-five, a rather pretty wife, and whom, on his return, he
found a widow of fifty, fat, yellow, wrinkled, and a zealous member of the
church. She, like others, had, at first, cast a cold eye on the wanderer;
but it shortly became evident to close observers, that a change was at
work in the pious matron's sentiments respecting her old acquaintance. She
was now careful to give him his morning dram from her own peculiar bottle,
to fill his pipe from her private box of Virginia, and to mix for him the
sleeping-cup in which her late husband had delighted. Of all these
courtesies Hugh Crombie did partake with a wise and cautious moderation,
that, while it proved them to be welcome, expressed his fear of
trespassing on her kindness. For the sake of brevity, it shall suffice to
say, that, about six weeks after Hugh's return, a writing appeared on one
of the elm-trees in front of the tavern (where, as the place of greatest
resort, such notices were usually displayed) setting forth that marriage
was intended between Hugh Crombie and the Widow Sarah Hutchins. And the
ceremony, which made Hugh a landholder, a householder, and a substantial
man, in due time took place.
As a landlord, his general conduct was very praiseworthy. He was moderate
in his charges, and attentive to his guests; he allowed no gross and
evident disorders in his house, and practised none himself; he was kind
and charitable to such as needed food and lodging, and had not wherewithal
to pay,--for with these his experience had doubtless given him a fellow-
feeling. He was also sufficiently attentive to his wife; though it must be
acknowledged that the religious zeal which had had a considerable
influence in gaining her affections grew, by no moderate degrees, less
fervent. It was whispered, too, that the new landlord could, when time,
place, and company were to his mind, upraise a song as merrily, and drink
a glass as jollily, as in the days of yore. These were the weightiest
charges that could now be brought against him; and wise men thought, that,
whatever might have been the evil of his past life, he had returned with a
desire (which years of vice, if they do not sometimes produce, do not
always destroy) of being honest, if opportunity should offer; and Hugh had
certainly a fair one.
On the afternoon previous to the events related in the last chapter, the
personage whose introduction to the reader has occupied so large a space
was seated under one of the elms in front of his dwelling. The bench which
now sustained him, and on which were carved the names of many former
occupants, was Hugh Crombie's favorite lounging-place, unless when his
attentions were required by his guests. No demand had that day been made
upon the hospitality of the Hand and Bottle; and the landlord was just
then murmuring at the unfrequency of employment. The slenderness of his
profits, indeed, were no part of his concern; for the Widow Hutchins's
chief income was drawn from her farm, nor was Hugh ever miserly inclined.
But his education and habits had made him delight in the atmosphere of the
inn, and in the society of those who frequented it; and of this species of
enjoyment his present situation certainly did not afford an overplus.
Yet had Hugh Crombie an enviable appearance of indolence and ease, as he
sat under the old tree, polluting the sweet air with his pipe, and taking
occasional draughts from a brown jug that stood near at hand. The basis of
the potation contained in this vessel was harsh old cider, from the
widow's own orchard; but its coldness and acidity were rendered innocuous
by a due proportion of yet older brandy. The result of this mixture was
extremely felicitous, pleasant to the taste, and producing a tingling
sensation on the coats of the stomach, uncommonly delectable to so old a
toper as Hugh.
The landlord cast his eye, ever and anon, along the road that led down the
valley in the direction of the village: and at last, when the sun was
wearing west-ward, he discovered the approach of a horseman. He
immediately replenished his pipe, took a long draught from the brown jug,
summoned the ragged youth who officiated in most of the subordinate
departments of the inn, and who was now to act as hostler, and then
prepared himself for confabulation with his guest.
"He comes from the sea-coast," said Hugh to himself, as the traveller
emerged into open view on the level road. "He is two days in advance of
the post, with its news of a fortnight old. Pray Heaven he prove
communicative!" Then, as the stranger drew nigher, "One would judge that
his dark face had seen as hot a sun as mine. He has felt the burning
breeze of the Indies, East and West, I warrant him. Ah, I see we shall
send away the evening merrily! Not a penny shall come out of his purse,--
that is, if his tongue runs glibly. Just the man I was praying for--Now
may the Devil take me if he is!" interrupted Hugh, in accents of alarm,
and starting from his seat. He composed his countenance, however, with the
power that long habit and necessity had given him over his emotions, and
again settled himself quietly on the bench.
The traveller, coming on at a moderate pace, alighted, and gave his horse
to the ragged hostler. He then advanced towards the door near which Hugh
was seated, whose agitation was manifested by no perceptible sign, except
by the shorter and more frequent puffs with which he plied his pipe. Their
eyes did not meet till just as the stranger was about to enter, when he
started apparently with a surprise and alarm similar to those of Hugh
Crombie. He recovered himself, however, sufficiently to return the nod of
recognition with which he was favored, and immediately entered the house,
the landlord following.
"This way, if you please, sir," said Hugh. "You will find this apartment
cool and retired."
He ushered his guest into a small room the windows of which were darkened
by the creeping plants that clustered round them. Entering, and closing
the door, the two gazed at each other a little space without speaking. The
traveller first broke silence.
"Then this is your living self, Hugh Crombie?" he said. The landlord
extended his hand as a practical reply to the question. The stranger took
it, though with no especial appearance of cordiality.
"Ay, this seems to be flesh and blood," he said, in the tone of one who
would willingly have found it otherwise. "And how happens this, friend
Hugh? I little thought to meet you again in this life. When I last heard
from you, your prayers were said, and you were bound for a better world."
"There would have been small danger of your meeting me there," observed
the landlord, dryly.
"It is an unquestionable truth, Hugh," replied the traveller. "For which
reason I regret that your voyage was delayed."
"Nay, that is a hard word to bestow on your old comrade," said Hugh
Crombie. "The world is wide enough for both of us; and why should you wish
me out of it?"
"Wide as it is," rejoined the stranger, "we have stumbled against each
other,--to the pleasure of neither of us, if I may judge from your
countenance. Methinks I am not a welcome guest at Hugh Crombie's inn."
"Your welcome must depend on the cause of your coming, and the length of
your stay," replied the landlord.
"And what if I come to settle down among these quiet hills where I was
born?" inquired the other. "What if I, too, am weary of the life we have
led,--or afraid, perhaps, that it will come to too speedy an end? Shall I
have your good word, Hugh, to set me up in an honest way of life? Or will
you make me a partner in your trade, since you know my qualifications? A
pretty pair of publicans should we be; and the quart pot would have little
rest between us."
"It may be as well to replenish it now," observed Hugh, stepping to the
door of the room, and giving orders accordingly. "A meeting between old
friends should never be dry. But for the partnership, it is a matter in
which you must excuse me. Heaven knows I find it hard enough to be honest,
with no tempter but the Devil and my own thoughts; and, if I have you also
to contend with, there is little hope of me."
"Nay, that is true. Your good resolutions were always like cobwebs, and
your evil habits like five-inch cables," replied the traveller. "I am to
understand, then, that you refuse my offer?"
"Not only that; but, if you have chosen this valley as your place of rest,
Dame Crombie and I must look through the world for another. But hush! here
comes the wine."
The hostler, in the performance of another part of his duty, now appeared,
bearing a measure of the liquor that Hugh had ordered. The wine of that
period, owing to the comparative lowness of the duties, was of more
moderate price than in the mother-country, and of purer and better quality
than at the present day.
"The stuff is well chosen, Hugh," observed the guest, after a draught
large enough to authorize an opinion. "You have most of the requisites for
your present station; and I should be sorry to draw you from it. I trust
there will be no need."
"Yet you have a purpose in your journey hither," observed his comrade.
"Yes; and you would fain be informed of it," replied the traveller. He
arose, and walked once or twice across the room; then, seeming to have
taken his resolution, he paused, and fixed his eye steadfastly on Hugh
Crombie. "I could wish, my old acquaintance," he said, "that your lot had
been cast anywhere rather than here. Yet, if you choose it, you may do me
a good office, and one that shall meet with a good reward. Can I trust
"My secrecy, you can," answered the host, "but nothing further. I know the
nature of your plans, and whither they would lead me, too well to engage
in them. To say the truth, since it concerns not me, I have little desire
to hear your secret."
"And I as little to tell it, I do assure you," rejoined the guest. "I have
always loved to manage my affairs myself, and to keep them to myself. It
is a good rule; but it must sometimes be broken. And now, Hugh, how is it
that you have become possessed of this comfortable dwelling and of these
"By my marriage with the Widow Sarah Hutchins," replied Hugh Crombie,
staring at a question which seemed to have little reference to the present
topic of conversation.
"It is a most excellent method of becoming a man of substance," continued
the traveller; "attended with little trouble, and honest withal."
"Why, as to the trouble," said the landlord, "it follows such a bargain,
instead of going before it. And for honesty,--I do not recollect that I
have gained a penny more honestly these twenty years."
"I can swear to that," observed his comrade. "Well, mine host, I entirely
approve of your doings, and, moreover, have resolved to prosper after the
same fashion myself."
"If that be the commodity you seek," replied Hugh Crombie, "you will find
none here to your mind. We have widows in plenty, it is true; but most of
them have children, and few have houses and lands. But now to be serious,
--and there has been something serious in your eye all this while,--what
is your purpose in coming hither? You are not safe here. Your name has had
a wider spread than mine, and, if discovered, it will go hard with you."
"But who would know me now?" asked the guest.
"Few, few indeed!" replied the landlord, gazing at the dark features of
his companion, where hardship, peril, and dissipation had each left their
traces. "No, you are not like the slender boy of fifteen, who stood on the
hill by moonlight to take a last look at his father's cottage. There were
tears in your eyes then; and, as often as I remember them, I repent that I
did not turn you back, instead of leading you on."
"Tears, were there? Well, there have been few enough since," said his
comrade, pressing his eyelids firmly together, as if even then tempted to
give way to the weakness that he scorned. "And, for turning me back, Hugh,
it was beyond your power. I had taken my resolution, and you did but show
me the way to execute it."
"You have not inquired after those you left behind," observed Hugh
"No--no; nor will I have aught of them," exclaimed the traveller, starting
from his seat, and pacing rapidly across the room. "My father, I know, is
dead, and I have forgiven him. My mother--what could I hear of her but
misery? I will hear nothing."
"You must have passed the cottage as you rode hitherward," said Hugh. "How
could you forbear to enter?"
"I did not see it," he replied. "I closed my eyes, and turned away my
"Oh, if I had had a mother, a loving mother! if there had been one being
in the world that loved me, or cared for me, I should not have become an
utter castaway," exclaimed Hugh Crombie.
The landlord's pathos, like all pathos that flows from the winecup, was
sufficiently ridiculous; and his companion, who had already overcome his
own brief feelings of sorrow and remorse, now laughed aloud.
"Come, come, mine host of the Hand and Bottle," he cried in his usual
hard, sarcastic tone; "be a man as much as in you lies. You had always a
foolish trick of repentance; but, as I remember, it was commonly of a
morning, before you had swallowed your first dram. And now, Hugh, fill the
quart pot again, and we will to business."
When the landlord had complied with the wishes of his guest, the latter
resumed in a lower tone than that of his ordinary conversation,--"There is
a young lady lately become a resident hereabouts. Perhaps you can guess
her name; for you have a quick apprehension in these matters."
"A young lady?" repeated Hugh Crombie. "And what is your concern with her?
Do you mean Ellen Langton, daughter of the old merchant Langton, whom you
have some cause to remember?"
"I do remember him; but he is where he will speedily be forgotten,"
answered the traveller. "And this girl,--I know your eye has been upon
her, Hugh,--describe her to me."
"Describe her!" exclaimed Hugh with much animation. "It is impossible in
prose; but you shall have her very picture in a verse of one of my own
"Nay, mine host, I beseech you to spare me. This is no time for
quavering," said the guest. "However, I am proud of your approbation, my
old friend; for this young lady do I intend to take to wife. What think
you of the plan?"
Hugh Crombie gazed into his companion's face for the space of a moment, in
silence. There was nothing in its expression that looked like a jest. It
still retained the same hard, cold look, that, except when Hugh had
alluded to his home and family, it had worn through their whole
"On my word, comrade!" he at length replied, "my advice is, that you give
over your application to the quart pot, and refresh your brain by a short
nap. And yet your eye is cool and steady. What is the meaning of this?"
"Listen, and you shall know," said the guest. "The old man, her father, is
in his grave."
"Not a bloody grave, I trust," interrupted the landlord, starting, and
looking fearfully into his comrade's face.
"No, a watery one," he replied calmly. "You see, Hugh, I am a better man
than you took me for. The old man's blood is not on my head, though my
wrongs are on his. Now listen: he had no heir but this only daughter; and
to her, and to the man she marries, all his wealth will belong. She shall
marry me. Think you her father will rest easy in the ocean, Hugh Crombie,
when I am his son-in-law?"
"No, he will rise up to prevent it, if need be," answered the landlord.
"But the dead need not interpose to frustrate so wild a scheme."
"I understand you," said his comrade. "You are of opinion that the young
lady's consent may not be so soon won as asked. Fear not for that, mine
host. I have a winning way with me, when opportunity serves; and it shall
serve with Ellen Langton. I will have no rivals in my wooing."
"Your intention, if I take it rightly, is to get this poor girl into your
power, and then to force her into a marriage," said Hugh Crombie.
"It is; and I think I possess the means of doing it," replied his comrade.
"But methinks, friend Hugh, my enterprise has not your good wishes."
"No; and I pray you to give it over," said Hugh Crombie, very earnestly.
"The girl is young, lovely, and as good as she is fair. I cannot aid in
her ruin. Nay, more: I must prevent it."
"Prevent it!" exclaimed the traveller, with a darkening countenance.
"Think twice before you stir in this matter, I advise you. Ruin, do you
say? Does a girl call it ruin to be made an honest wedded wife? No, no,
mine host! nor does a widow either, else have you much to answer for."
"I gave the Widow Hutchins fair play, at least, which is more than poor
Ellen is like to get," observed the landlord. "My old comrade, will you
not give up this scheme?"
"My old comrade, I will not give up this scheme," returned the other,
composedly. "Why, Hugh, what has come over you since we last met? Have we
not done twenty worse deeds of a morning, and laughed over them at night?"
"He is right there," said Hugh Crombie, in a meditative tone. "Of a
certainty, my conscience has grown unreasonably tender within the last two
years. This one small sin, if I were to aid in it, would add but a trifle
to the sum of mine. But then the poor girl!"
His companion overheard him thus communing with himself, and having had
much former experience of his infirmity of purpose, doubted not that he
should bend him to his will. In fact, his arguments were so effectual,
that Hugh at length, though reluctantly, promised his cooperation. It was
necessary that their motions should be speedy; for on the second day
thereafter, the arrival of the post would bring intelligence of the
shipwreck by which Mr. Langton had perished.
"And after the deed is done," said the landlord, "I beseech you never to
cross my path again. There have been more wicked thoughts in my head
within the last hour than for the whole two years that I have been an
"What a saint art thou become, Hugh!" said his comrade. "But fear not that
we shall meet again. When I leave this valley, it will be to enter it no
"And there is little danger that any other who has known me will chance
upon me here," observed Hugh Crombie. "Our trade was unfavorable to
length of days, and I suppose most of our old comrades have arrived at the
end of theirs."
"One whom you knew well is nearer to you than you think," answered the
traveller; "for I did not travel hitherward entirely alone."
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