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"A naughty night to swim in."-SHAKESPEARE.
The evening of the day succeeding the adventure of the angler was dark
and tempestuous. The rain descended almost in a continuous sheet; and
occasional powerful gusts of wind drove it hard against the northeastern
windows of Hugh Crombie's inn. But at least one apartment of the interior
presented a scene of comfort and of apparent enjoyment, the more
delightful from its contrast with the elemental fury that raged without. A
fire, which the dullness of the evening, though a summer one, made
necessary, was burning brightly on the hearth; and in front was placed a
small round table, sustaining wine and glasses. One of the guests for whom
these preparations had been made was Edward Walcott; the other was a shy,
awkward young man, distinguished, by the union of classic and rural dress,
as having but lately become a student of Harley College. He seemed little
at his ease, probably from a consciousness that he was on forbidden
ground, and that the wine, of which he nevertheless swallowed a larger
share than his companion, was an unlawful draught.
In the catalogue of crimes provided against by the laws of Harley College,
that of tavern-haunting was one of the principal. The secluded situation
of the seminary, indeed, gave its scholars but a very limited choice of
vices; and this was, therefore, the usual channel by which the wildness of
youth discharged itself. Edward Walcott, though naturally temperate, had
been not an unfrequent offender in this respect, for which a superfluity
both of time and money might plead some excuse. But, since his
acquaintance with Ellen Langton, he had rarely entered Hugh Crombie's
doors; and an interruption in that acquaintance was the cause of his
present appearance there.
Edward's jealous pride had been considerably touched on Ellen's compliance
with the request of the angler. He had, by degrees, imperceptible perhaps
to himself, assumed the right of feeling displeased with her conduct; and
she had, as imperceptibly, accustomed herself to consider what would be
his wishes, and to act accordingly. He would, indeed, in no contingency
have ventured an open remonstrance; and such a proceeding would have been
attended by a result the reverse of what he desired. But there existed
between them a silent compact (acknowledged perhaps by neither, but felt
by both), according to which they had regulated the latter part of their
intercourse. Their lips had yet spoken no word of love; but some of love's
rights and privileges had been assumed on the one side, and at least not
disallowed on the other.
Edward's penetration had been sufficiently quick to discover that there
was a mystery about the angler, that there must have been a cause for the
blush that rose so proudly on Ellen's cheek; and his Quixotism had been
not a little mortified, because she did not immediately appeal to his
protection. He had, however, paid his usual visit the next day at Dr.
Melmoth's, expecting that, by a smile of more than common brightness, she
would make amends to his wounded feelings; such having been her usual mode
of reparation in the few instances of disagreement that had occurred
between them. But he was disappointed. He found her cold, silent, and
abstracted, inattentive when he spoke, and indisposed to speak herself.
Her eye was sedulously averted from his; and the casual meeting of their
glances only proved that there were feelings in her bosom which he did not
share. He was unable to account for this change in her deportment; and,
added to his previous conceptions of his wrongs, it produced an effect
upon his rather hasty temper, that might have manifested itself violently,
but for the presence of Mrs. Melmoth. He took his leave in very evident
displeasure; but, just as he closed the door, he noticed an expression in
Ellen's countenance, that, had they been alone, and had not he been quite
so proud, would have drawn him down to her feet. Their eyes met, when,
suddenly, there was a gush of tears into those of Ellen; and a deep
sadness, almost despair, spread itself over her features. He paused a
moment, and then went his way, equally unable to account for her coldness,
or for her grief. He was well aware, however, that his situation in
respect to her was unaccountably changed,--a conviction so disagreeable,
that, but for a hope that is latent even in the despair of youthful
hearts, he would have been sorely tempted to shoot himself.
The gloom of his thoughts--a mood of mind the more intolerable to him,
because so unusual--had driven him to Hugh Crombie's inn in search of
artificial excitement. But even the wine had no attractions; and his first
glass stood now almost untouched before him, while he gazed in heavy
thought into the glowing embers of the fire. His companion perceived his
melancholy, and essayed to dispel it by a choice of such topics of
conversation as he conceived would be most agreeable.
"There is a lady in the house," he observed. "I caught a glimpse of her in
the passage as we came in. Did you see her, Edward?"
"A lady!" repeated Edward, carelessly. "What know you of ladies? No, I did
not see her; but I will venture to say that it was Dame Crombie's self,
and no other."
"Well, perhaps it might," said the other, doubtingly. "Her head was turned
from me, and she was gone like a shadow."
"Dame Crombie is no shadow, and never vanishes like one," resumed Edward.
"You have mistaken the slipshod servant-girl for a lady."
"Ay; but she had a white hand, a small white hand," said the student,
piqued at Edward's contemptuous opinion of his powers of observation; "as
white as Ellen Langton's." He paused; for the lover was offended by the
profanity of the comparison, as was made evident by the blood that rushed
to his brow.
"We will appeal to the landlord," said Edward, recovering his equanimity,
and turning to Hugh, who just then entered the room. "Who is this angel,
mine host, that has taken up her abode in the Hand and Bottle?"
Hugh cast a quick glance from one to another before he answered, "I keep
no angels here, gentlemen. Dame Crombie would make the house anything but
heaven for them and me."
"And yet Glover has seen a vision in the passage-way,--a lady with a small
"Ah, I understand! A slight mistake of the young gentleman's," said Hugh,
with the air of one who could perfectly account for the mystery. "Our
passageway is dark; or perhaps the light had dazzled his eyes. It was the
Widow Fowler's daughter, that came to borrow a pipe of tobacco for her
mother. By the same token, she put it into her own sweet mouth, and puffed
as she went along."
"But the white hand," said Glover, only half convinced.
"Nay, I know not," answered Hugh. "But her hand was at least as white as
her face: that I can swear. Well, gentlemen, I trust you find everything
in my house to your satisfaction. When the fire needs renewing, or the
wine runs low, be pleased to tap on the table. I shall appear with the
speed of a sunbeam."
After the departure of the landlord, the conversation of the young men
amounted to little more than monosyllables. Edward Walcott was wrapped in
his own contemplations; and his companion was in a half-slumberous state,
from which he started every quarter of an hour, at the chiming of the
clock that stood in a corner. The fire died gradually away; the lamps
began to burn dim; and Glover, rousing himself from one of his periodical
slumbers, was about to propose a return to their chambers. He was
prevented, however, by the approach of footsteps along the passageway; and
Hugh Crombie, opening the door, ushered a person into the room, and
The new-comer was Fanshawe. The water that poured plentifully from his
cloak evinced that he had but just arrived at the inn; but, whatever was
his object, he seemed not to have attained it in meeting with the young
men. He paused near the door, as if meditating whether to retire.
"My intrusion is altogether owing to a mistake, either of the landlord's
or mine," he said. "I came hither to seek another person; but, as I could
not mention his name, my inquiries were rather vague."
"I thank Heaven for the chance that sent you to us," replied Edward,
rousing himself. "Glover is wretched company; and a duller evening have I
never spent. We will renew our fire and our wine, and you must sit down
with us. And for the man you seek," he continued in a whisper, "he left
the inn within a half-hour after we encountered him. I inquired of Hugh
Crombie last night."
Fanshawe did not express his doubts of the correctness of the information
on which Edward seemed to rely. Laying aside his cloak, he accepted his
invitation to make one of the party, and sat down by the fireside.
The aspect of the evening now gradually changed. A strange wild glee
spread from one to another of the party, which, much to the surprise of
his companions, began with and was communicated from, Fanshawe. He seemed
to overflow with conceptions inimitably ludicrous, but so singular, that,
till his hearers had imbibed a portion of his own spirit, they could only
wonder at, instead of enjoying them. His applications to the wine were
very unfrequent; yet his conversation was such as one might expect from a
bottle of champagne endowed by a fairy with the gift of speech. The secret
of this strange mirth lay in the troubled state of his spirits, which,
like the vexed ocean at midnight (if the simile be not too magnificent),
tossed forth a mysterious brightness. The undefined apprehensions that had
drawn him to the inn still distracted his mind; but, mixed with them,
there was a sort of joy not easily to be described. By degrees, and by the
assistance of the wine, the inspiration spread, each one contributing such
a quantity, and such quality of wit and whim, as was proportioned to his
genius; but each one, and all, displaying a greater share of both than
they had ever been suspected of possessing.
At length, however, there was a pause,--the deep pause of flagging
spirits, that always follows mirth and wine. No one would have believed,
on beholding the pensive faces, and hearing the involuntary sighs of the
party, that from these, but a moment before, had arisen so loud and wild a
laugh. During this interval Edward Walcott (who was the poet of his class)
volunteered the following song, which, from its want of polish, and from
its application to his present feelings, might charitably be taken for an
The wine is bright, the wine is bright;
And gay the drinkers be:
Of all that drain the bowl to-night,
Most jollily drain we.
Oh, could one search the weary earth,--
The earth from sea to sea,--
He'd turn and mingle in our mirth;
For we're the merriest three.
Yet there are cares, oh, heavy cares!
We know that they are nigh:
When forth each lonely drinker fares,
Mark then his altered eye.
Care comes upon us when the jest
And frantic laughter die;
And care will watch the parting guest--
Oh late, then let us fly!
"Really, Master Walcott, I was not prepared for this," he said in the tone
of condescending praise that a great man uses to his inferior when he
chooses to overwhelm him with excess of joy. "Very well, indeed, young
gentleman! Some of the lines, it is true, seem to have been dragged in by
the head and shoulders; but I could scarcely have done much better myself
at your age. With practice, and with such instruction as I might afford
you, I should have little doubt of your becoming a distinguished poet. A
great defect in your seminary, gentlemen,--the want of due cultivation in
this heavenly art."
"Perhaps, sir," said Edward, with much gravity, "you might yourself be
prevailed upon to accept the professorship of poetry?"
"Why, such an offer would require consideration," replied the landlord.
"Professor Hugh Crombie of Harley College: it has a good sound, assuredly.
But I am a public man, Master Walcott; and the public would be loath to
spare me from my present office."
"Will Professor Crombie favor us with a specimen of his productions?"
"Ahem, I shall be happy to gratify you, young gentleman," answered Hugh.
"It is seldom, in this rude country, Master Walcott, that we meet with
kindred genius; and the opportunity should never be thrown away."
Thus saying, he took a heavy draught of the liquor by which he was usually
inspired, and the praises of which were the prevailing subject of his
song; then, after much hemming, thrumming, and prelusion, and with many
queer gestures and gesticulations, he began to effuse a lyric in the
I've been a jolly drinker this five-and-twenty year,
And still a jolly drinker, my friends, you see me here:
I sing the joys of drinking; bear a chorus, every man,
With pint pot and quart pot and clattering of can.
King Solomon of old, boys (a jolly king was he),--
The party gazed a moment in silence, and then rushed _en masse_ upon
the intruder, the landlord bringing up the rear, and sounding a charge
upon his fiddle. But, as they drew nigh, the black cloak began to assume a
familiar look; the hat, also, was an old acquaintance; and, these being
removed, from beneath them shone forth the reverend face and form of Dr.
The president, in his quality of clergyman, had, late in the preceding
afternoon, been called to visit an aged female who was supposed to be at
the point of death. Her habitation was at the distance of several miles
from Harley College; so that it was nightfall before Dr. Melmoth stood at
her bedside. His stay had been lengthened beyond his anticipation, on
account of the frame of mind in which he found the dying woman; and, after
essaying to impart the comforts of religion to her disturbed intellect, he
had waited for the abatement of the storm that had arisen while he was
thus engaged. As the evening advanced, however, the rain poured down in
undiminished cataracts; and the doctor, trusting to the prudence and sure-
footedness of his steed, had at length set forth on his return. The
darkness of the night, and the roughness of the road, might have appalled
him, even had his horsemanship and his courage been more considerable than
they were; but by the special protection of Providence, as he reasonably
supposed (for he was a good man, and on a good errand), he arrived safely
as far as Hugh Crombie's inn. Dr. Melmoth had no intention of making a
stay there; but, as the road passed within a very short distance, he saw
lights in the windows, and heard the sound of song and revelry. It
immediately occurred to him, that these midnight rioters were, probably,
some of the young men of his charge; and he was impelled, by a sense of
duty, to enter and disperse them. Directed by the voices, he found his
way, with some difficulty, to the apartment, just as Hugh concluded his
first stanza; and, amidst the subsequent applause, his entrance had been
There was a silence of a moment's continuance after the discovery of Dr.
Melmoth, during which he attempted to clothe his round, good-natured face
in a look of awful dignity. But, in spite of himself, there was a little
twisting of the corners of his mouth, and a smothered gleam in his eye.
"This has, apparently, been a very merry meeting, young gentlemen," he at
length said; "but I fear my presence has cast a damp upon it."
"Oh yes! your reverence's cloak is wet enough to cast a damp upon
anything," exclaimed Hugh Crombie, assuming a look of tender anxiety. "The
young gentlemen are affrighted for your valuable life. Fear deprives them
of utterance: permit me to relieve you of these dangerous garments."
"Trouble not yourself, honest man," replied the doctor, who was one of the
most gullible of mortals. "I trust I am in no danger; my dwelling being
near at hand. But for these young men"--
"Would your reverence but honor my Sunday suit,--the gray broadcloth coat,
and the black velvet smallclothes, that have covered my unworthy legs but
once? Dame Crombie shall have them ready in a moment," continued Hugh,
beginning to divest the doctor of his garments.
"I pray you to appease your anxiety," cried Dr. Melmoth, retaining a firm
hold on such parts of his dress as yet remained to him. "Fear not for my
health. I will but speak a word to those misguided youth, and be gone."
"Misguided youth, did your reverence say?" echoed Hugh, in a tone of utter
astonishment. "Never were they better guided than when they entered my
poor house. Oh, had your reverence but seen them, when I heard their
cries, and rushed forth to their assistance. Dripping with wet were they,
like three drowned men at the resurrec--Ahem!" interrupted Hugh,
recollecting that the comparison he meditated might not suit the doctor's
ideas of propriety.
"But why were they abroad on such a night?" inquired the president.
"Ah! doctor, you little know the love these good young gentlemen bear for
you," replied the landlord. "Your absence, your long absence, had alarmed
them; and they rushed forth through the rain and darkness to seek you."
"And was this indeed so?" asked the doctor, in a softened tone, and
casting a tender and grateful look upon the three students. They, it is
but justice to mention, had simultaneously made a step forward in order to
contradict the egregious falsehoods of which Hugh's fancy was so fertile;
but he assumed an expression of such ludicrous entreaty, that it was
"But methinks their anxiety was not of long continuance," observed Dr.
Melmoth, looking at the wine, and remembering the song that his entrance
"Ah! your reverence disapproves of the wine, I see," answered Hugh
Crombie. "I did but offer them a drop to keep the life in their poor young
hearts. My dame advised strong waters; 'But, Dame Crombie,' says I, 'would
ye corrupt their youth?' And in my zeal for their good, doctor, I was
delighting them, just at your entrance, with a pious little melody of my
own against the sin of drunkenness."
"Truly, I remember something of the kind," observed Dr. Melmoth. "And, as
I think, it seemed to meet with good acceptance."
"Ay, that it did!" said the landlord. "Will it please your reverence to
King Solomon of old, boys (a wise man I'm thinking),
Has warned you to beware of the horrid vice of drinking--
Dr. Melmoth drank a glass of wine, with the benevolent intention of
allaying the anxiety of Hugh Crombie and the students. He then prepared to
depart; for a strong wind had partially dispersed the clouds, and
occasioned an interval in the cataract of rain. There was, perhaps, a
little suspicion yet remaining in the good man's mind respecting the truth
of the landlord's story: at least, it was his evident intention to see the
students fairly out of the inn before he quitted it himself. They
therefore proceeded along the passageway in a body. The lamp that Hugh
Crombie held but dimly enlightened them; and the number and contiguity of
the doors caused Dr. Melmoth to lay his hand upon the wrong one.
"Not there, not there, doctor! It is Dame Crombie's bedchamber," shouted
Hugh, most energetically. "Now Beelzebub defend me!" he muttered to
himself, perceiving that his exclamation had been a moment too late.
"Heavens! what do I see?" ejaculated Dr. Melmoth, lifting his hands, and
starting back from the entrance of the room. The three students pressed
forward; Mrs. Crombie and the servant-girl had been drawn to the spot by
the sound of Hugh's voice; and all their wondering eyes were fixed on poor
The apartment in the midst of which she stood was dimly lighted by a
solitary candle at the farther extremity; but Ellen was exposed to the
glare of the three lamps, held by Hugh, his wife, and the servant-girl.
Their combined rays seemed to form a focus exactly at the point where they
reached her; and the beholders, had any been sufficiently calm, might have
watched her features in their agitated workings and frequent change of
expression, as perfectly as by the broad light of day. Terror had at first
blanched her as white as a lily, or as a marble statue, which for a moment
she resembled, as she stood motionless in the centre of the room. Shame
next bore sway; and her blushing countenance, covered by her slender white
fingers, might fantastically be compared to a variegated rose with its
alternate stripes of white and red. The next instant, a sense of her pure
and innocent intentions gave her strength and courage; and her attitude
and look had now something of pride and dignity. These, however, in their
turn, gave way; for Edward Walcott pressed forward, and attempted to
"Ellen, Ellen!" he said, in an agitated and quivering whisper; but what
was to follow cannot be known; for his emotion checked his utterance. His
tone and look, however, again overcame Ellen Langton, and she burst into
tears. Fanshawe advanced, and took Edward's arm. "She has been deceived,"
he whispered. "She is innocent: you are unworthy of her if you doubt it."
"Why do you interfere, sir?" demanded Edward, whose passions, thoroughly
excited, would willingly have wreaked themselves on any one. "What right
have you to speak of her innocence? Perhaps," he continued, an undefined
and ridiculous suspicion arising in his mind,--"perhaps you are acquainted
with her intentions. Perhaps you are the deceiver."
Fanshawe's temper was not naturally of the meekest character; and having
had a thousand bitter feelings of his own to overcome, before he could
attempt to console Edward, this rude repulse had almost aroused him to
fierceness. But his pride, of which a more moderate degree would have had
a less peaceable effect, came to his assistance; and he turned calmly and
Ellen, in the mean time, had been restored to some degree of composure. To
this effect, a feeling of pique against Edward Walcott had contributed.
She had distinguished his voice in the neighboring apartment, had heard
his mirth and wild laughter, without being aware of the state of feeling
that produced them. She had supposed that the terms on which they parted
in the morning (which had been very grievous to herself) would have
produced a corresponding sadness in him. But while she sat in loneliness
and in tears, her bosom distracted by a thousand anxieties and sorrows, of
many of which Edward was the object, his reckless gayety had seemed to
prove the slight regard in which he held her. After the first outbreak of
emotion, therefore, she called up her pride (of which, on proper
occasions, she had a reasonable share), and sustained his upbraiding
glance with a passive composure, which women have more readily at command
Dr. Melmoth's surprise had during this time kept him silent and inactive.
He gazed alternately from one to another of those who stood around him, as
if to seek some explanation of so strange an event. But the faces of all
were as perplexed as his own; even Hugh Crombie had assumed a look of
speechless wonder,--speechless, because his imagination, prolific as it
was, could not supply a plausible falsehood.
"Ellen, dearest child," at length said the doctor, "what is the meaning of
Ellen endeavored to reply; but, as her composure was merely external, she
was unable to render her words audible. Fanshawe spoke in a low voice to
Dr. Melmoth, who appeared grateful for his advice.
"True, it will be the better way," he replied. "My wits are utterly
confounded, or I should not have remained thus long. Come, my dear child,"
he continued, advancing to Ellen, and taking her hand, "let us return
home, and defer the explanation till the morrow. There, there: only dry
your eyes, and we will say no more about it."
"And that will be your wisest way, old gentleman," muttered Hugh Crombie.
Ellen at first exhibited but little desire, or, rather, an evident
reluctance, to accompany her guardian. She hung back, while her glance
passed almost imperceptibly over the faces that gazed so eagerly at her;
but the one she sought was not visible among them. She had no alternative,
and suffered herself to be led from the inn.
Edward Walcott alone remained behind, the most wretched being (at least
such was his own opinion) that breathed the vital air. He felt a sinking
and sickness of the heart, and alternately a feverish frenzy, neither of
which his short and cloudless existence had heretofore occasioned him to
experience. He was jealous of, he knew not whom, and he knew not what. He
was ungenerous enough to believe that Ellen--his pure and lovely Ellen--
had degraded herself; though from what motive, or by whose agency, he
could not conjecture. When Dr. Melmoth had taken her in charge, Edward
returned to the apartment where he had spent the evening. The wine was
still upon the table; and, in the desperate hope of stupefying his
faculties, he unwisely swallowed huge successive draughts. The effect of
his imprudence was not long in manifesting itself; though insensibility,
which at another time would have been the result, did not now follow.
Acting upon his previous agitation, the wine seemed to set his blood in a
flame; and, for the time being, he was a perfect madman.
A phrenologist would probably have found the organ of destructiveness in
strong development, just then, upon Edward's cranium; for he certainly
manifested an impulse to break and destroy whatever chanced to be within
his reach. He commenced his operations by upsetting the table, and
breaking the bottles and glasses. Then, seizing a tall heavy chair in each
hand, he hurled them with prodigious force,--one through the window, and
the other against a large looking-glass, the most valuable article of
furniture in Hugh Crombie's inn. The crash and clatter of these outrageous
proceedings soon brought the master, mistress, and maid-servant to the
scene of action; but the two latter, at the first sight of Edward's wild
demeanor and gleaming eyes, retreated with all imaginable expedition. Hugh
chose a position behind the door, from whence, protruding his head, he
endeavored to mollify his inebriated guest. His interference, however, had
nearly been productive of most unfortunate consequences; for a massive
andiron, with round brazen head, whizzed past him, within a hair's-breadth
of his ear.
"I might as safely take my chance in a battle," exclaimed Hugh,
withdrawing his head, and speaking to a man who stood in the passageway.
"A little twist of his hand to the left would have served my turn as well
as if I stood in the path of a forty-two pound ball. And here comes
another broadside," he added, as some other article of furniture rattled
against the door.
"Let us return his fire, Hugh," said the person whom he addressed,
composedly lifting the andiron. "He is in want of ammunition: let us send
him back his own."
The sound of this man's voice produced a most singular effect upon Edward.
The moment before, his actions had been those of a raving maniac; but,
when the words struck his ear, he paused, put his hand to his forehead,
seemed to recollect himself, and finally advanced with a firm and steady
step. His countenance was dark and angry, but no longer wild.
"I have found you, villain!" he said to the angler. "It is you who have
"And, having done it, the wrath of a boy--his drunken wrath--will not
induce me to deny it," replied the other, scornfully.
"The boy will require a man's satisfaction," returned Edward, "and that
"Will you take it now?" inquired the angler, with a cool, derisive smile,
and almost in a whisper. At the same time he produced a brace of pistols,
and held them towards the young man.
"Willingly," answered Edward, taking one of the weapons. "Choose your
The angler stepped back a pace; but before their deadly intentions, so
suddenly conceived, could be executed, Hugh Crombie interposed himself
"Do you take my best parlor for the cabin of the Black Andrew, where a
pistol-shot was a nightly pastime?" he inquired of his comrade. "And you,
Master Edward, with what sort of a face will you walk into the chapel to
morning prayers, after putting a ball through this man's head, or
receiving one through your own? Though, in this last case, you will be
past praying for, or praying either."
"Stand aside: I will take the risk. Make way, or I will put the ball
through your own head," exclaimed Edward, fiercely: for the interval of
rationality that circumstances had produced was again giving way to
"You see how it is," said Hugh to his companion, unheard by Edward. "You
shall take a shot at me, sooner than at the poor lad in his present state.
You have done him harm enough already, and intend him more. I propose," he
continued aloud, and with a peculiar glance towards the angler, "that this
affair be decided to-morrow, at nine o'clock, under the old oak, on the
bank of the stream. In the mean time, I will take charge of these popguns,
for fear of accidents."
"Well, mine host, be it as you wish," said his comrade. "A shot more or
less is of little consequence to me." He accordingly delivered his weapon
to Hugh Crombie and walked carelessly away.
"Come, Master Walcott, the enemy has retreated. Victoria! And now, I see,
the sooner I get you to your chamber, the better," added he aside; for the
wine was at last beginning to produce its legitimate effect, in stupefying
the young man's mental and bodily faculties.
Hugh Crombie's assistance, though not, perhaps, quite indispensable, was
certainly very convenient to our unfortunate hero, in the course of the
short walk that brought him to his chamber. When arrived there, and in
bed, he was soon locked in a sleep scarcely less deep than that of death.
The weather, during the last hour, had appeared to be on the point of
changing: indeed, there were, every few minutes, most rapid changes. A
strong breeze sometimes drove the clouds from the brow of heaven, so as to
disclose a few of the stars; but, immediately after, the darkness would
again become Egyptian, and the rain rush like a torrent from the sky.
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