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a tale




Why, all delights are vain, but that most vain,
Which, with pain purchased, doth inherit pain;
As painfully to pore upon a book,
To seek the light of truth, while truth the while
Doth falsely blind the eye-sight of his look.


On one of the afternoons which afforded to the students
a relaxation from their usual labors, Ellen was attended
by her cavalier in a little excursion over the rough bridle
roads that led from her new residence. She was an
experienced equestrian,—a necessary accomplishment at
that period, when vehicles of every kind were rare. It
was now the latter end of spring; but the season had hitherto
been backward, with only a few warm and pleasant
days. The present afternoon, however, was a delicious
mingling of Spring and Summer, forming, in their union,
an atmosphere so mild and pure, that to breathe was almost


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a positive happiness. There was a little alternation
of cloud across the brow of Heaven, but only so much
as to render the sunshine more delightful.

The path of the young travellers lay sometimes among
tall and thick standing trees, and sometimes over naked
and desolate hills, whence man had taken the natural
vegetation, and then left the soil to its barrenness. Indeed,
there is little inducement to a cultivator to labor
among the huge stones, which there peep forth from the
earth, seeming to form a continued ledge for several
miles. A singular contrast to this unfavored tract of
country is seen in the narrow but luxuriant, though sometimes
swampy, strip of interval, on both sides of the
stream, that, as has been noticed, flows down the valley.
The light and buoyant spirits of Edward Walcott and Ellen
rose higher as they rode on, and their way was enlivened,
wherever its roughness did not forbid, by their
conversation and pleasant laughter. But at length Ellen
drew her bridle, as they emerged from a thick portion of
the forest, just at the foot of a steep hill.

`We must have ridden far,' she observed,—`farther
than I thought. It will be near sunset before we can
reach home.'

`There are still several hours of daylight,' replied
Edward Walcott, `and we will not turn back without ascending
this hill. The prospect from the summit is beautiful,
and will be particularly so now, in this rich sunlight.
Come Ellen,—one light touch of the whip:—your
pony is as fresh as when we started.'

On reaching the summit of the hill, and looking back
in the direction in which they had come, they could see
the little stream, peeping forth many times to the daylight,
and then shrinking back into the shade. Farther
on, it became broad and deep, though rendered incapable


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of navigation, in this part of its course, by the occasional
interruption of rapids.

`There are hidden wonders, of rock, and precipice,
and cave, in that dark forest,' said Edward, pointing to
the space between them and the river. `If it were earlier
in the day, I should love to lead you there. Shall
we try the adventure now, Ellen?'

`Oh, no!' she replied; `let us delay no longer. I fear
I must even now abide a rebuke from Mrs. Melmoth,
which I have surely deserved. But who is this, who
rides on so slowly before us?'

She pointed to a horseman, whom they had not before
observed. He was descending the hill; but, as his steed
seemed to have chosen his own pace, he made a very inconsiderable

`Oh! do you not know him?—But it is scarcely possible
you should,' exclaimed her companion. `We must
do him the good office, Ellen, of stopping his progress,
or he will find himself at the village, a dozen miles farther
on, before he resumes his consciousness.'

`Has he then lost his senses?' inquired Miss Langton.

`Not so, Ellen,—if much learning has not made him
mad,' replied Edward Walcott. `He is a deep scholar
and a noble fellow, but I fear we shall follow him to his
grave, ere long. Doctor Melmoth has sent him to ride
in pursuit of his health. He will never overtake it, however,
at this pace.'

As he spoke, they had approached close to the subject
of their conversation, and Ellen had a moment's space for
observation, before he started from the abstraction, in
which he was plunged. The result of her scrutiny was
favorable, yet very painful.

The stranger could scarcely have attained his twentieth
year, and was possessed of a face and form, such as


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Nature bestows on none but her favorites. There was a
nobleness on his high forehead, which time would have
deepened into majesty; and all his features were formed
with a strength and boldness, of which the paleness, produced
by study and confinement, could not deprive them.
The expression of his countenance was not a melancholy
one;—on the contrary, it was proud and high—perhaps
triumphant—like one who was a ruler in a world of his
own, and independent of the beings that surrounded him.
But a blight, of which his thin, pale cheek and the brightness
of his eye were alike proofs, seemed to have come
over him ere his maturity.

The scholar's attention was now aroused by the hoof-tramps
at his side, and starting, he fixed his eyes on Ellen,
whose young and lovely countenance was full of the
interest he had excited. A deep blush immediately suffused
his cheek, proving how well the glow of health
would have become it. There was nothing awkward,
however, in his manner; and soon recovering his self-possession,
he bowed to her and would have rode on.

`Your ride is unusually long, to-day, Fanshawe,' observed
Edward Walcott. `When may we look for your

The young man again blushed, but answered, with a
smile that had a beautiful effect upon his countenance,
`I was not, at the moment, aware in which direction my
horse's head was turned. I have to thank you for arresting
me in a journey, which was likely to prove much
longer than I intended.'

The party had now turned their horses, and were about
to resume their ride, in a homeward direction; but Edward
perceived that Fanshawe, having lost the excitement
of intense thought, now looked weary and dispirited.

`Here is a cottage close at hand,' he observed. `We


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have ridden far, and stand in need of refreshment. Ellen,
shall we alight?'

She saw the benevolent motive of his proposal, and did
not hesitate to comply with it. But as they paused at the
cottage door, she could not but observe, that its exterior
promised few of the comforts which they required. Time
and neglect seemed to have conspired its ruin, and but
for a thin curl of smoke from its clay chimney, they could
not have believed it to be inhabited. A considerable
tract of land, in the vicinity of the cottage, had evidently
been, at some former period, under cultivation, but was
now overrun by bushes and dwarf pines, among which
many huge gray rocks, ineradicable by human art, endeavored
to conceal themselves. About half an acre of
ground was occupied by the young blades of Indian corn,
at which a half-starved cow gazed wistfully, over the
mouldering log fence. These were the only agricultural
tokens. Edward Walcott nevertheless drew the latch of
the cottage door, after knocking loudly, but in vain.

The apartment, which was thus opened to their view,
was quite as wretched, as its exterior had given them reason
to anticipate. Poverty was there, with all its necessary,
and unnecessary concomitants. The intruders
would have retired, had not the hope of affording relief
detained them.

The occupants of the small and squallid apartment
were two women, both of them elderly, and, from the resemblance
of their features, appearing to be sisters. The
expression of their countenances, however, was very different.
One, evidently the younger, was seated on the
farther side of the large hearth, opposite to the door, at
which the party stood. She had the sallow look of long
and wasting illness, and there was an unsteadiness of expression
about her eyes, that immediately struck the observer.


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Yet her face was mild and gentle, therein contrasting
widely with that of her companion.

The other woman was bending over a small fire of
decayed branches, the flame of which was very disproportionate
to the smoke, scarcely producing heat sufficient
for the preparation of a scanty portion of food.
Her profile, only, was visible to the strangers, though,
from a slight motion of her eye, they perceived that she
was aware of their presence. Her features were pinched
and spare, and wore a look of sullen discontent, for
which the evident wretchedness of her situation afforded
a sufficient reason. This female, notwithstanding her
years and the habitual fretfulness, that is more wearing
than time, was apparently healthy and robust, with a dry,
leathery complexion. A short space elapsed before she
thought proper to turn her face towards her visiters, and
she then regarded them with a lowering eye, without
speaking or rising from her chair.

`We entered,' Edward Walcott began to say, `in the
hope;'—but he paused, on perceiving that the sick woman
had risen from her seat, and with slow and tottering foot-steps
was drawing near to him. She took his hand in
both her own, and, though he shuddered at the touch of
age and disease, he did not attempt to withdraw it. She
then perused all his features, with an expression at first
of eager and hopeful anxiety, which faded by degrees into
disappointment. Then, turning from him, she gazed into
Fanshawe's countenance with the like eagerness, but with
the same result. Lastly, tottering back to her chair, she
hid her face, and wept bitterly. The strangers, though
they knew not the cause of her grief, were deeply affected;
and Ellen approached the mourner with words of
comfort, which, more from their tone than their meaning,
produced a transient effect.


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`Do you bring news of him?' she inquired, raising her
head. `Will he return to me? Shall I see him before I
die?' Ellen knew not what to answer, and ere she could
attempt it, the other female prevented her.

`Sister Butler is wandering in her mind,' she said,
`and speaks of one she will never behold again. The
sight of strangers disturbs her, and you see we have nothing
here to offer you.'

The manner of the woman was ungracious, but her
words were true. They saw that their presence could do
nothing towards the alleviation of the misery they witnessed,
and they felt that mere curiosity would not authorize
a longer intrusion. So soon, therefore, as they had relieved,
according to their power, the poverty that seemed
to be the least evil of this cottage, they emerged into the
open air.

The breath of Heaven felt sweet to them, and removed
a part of the weight from their young hearts, which were
saddened by the sight of so much wretchedness. Perceiving
a pure and bright little fountain, at a short distance
from the cottage, they approached it, and using the
bark of a birch tree as a cup, partook of its cool waters.
They then pursued their homeward ride with such diligence,
that, just as the sun was setting, they came in
sight of the humble wooden edifice, which was dignified
with the name of Harley College. A golden ray rested
upon the spire of the little chapel, the bell of which sent
its tinkling murmur down the valley, to summon the wanderers
to evening prayers.

Fanshawe returned to his chamber, that night, and lit
his lamp as he had been wont to do. The books were
around him, which had hitherto been to him like those
fabled volumes of Magic, from which the reader could
not turn away his eye, till death were the consequence


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of his studies. But there were unaccustomed thoughts
in his bosom, now; and to these, leaning his head on one
of the unopened volumes, he resigned himself.

He called up in review the years, that, even at his
early age, he had spent in solitary study,—in conversation
with the dead,—while he had scorned to mingle with
the living world, or to be actuated by any of its motives.
He asked himself, to what purpose was all this destructive
labor, and where was the happiness of superior
knowledge? He had climbed but a few steps of a ladder
that reached to infinity,—he had thrown away his life in
discovering, that, after a thousand such lives, he should
still know comparatively nothing. He even looked forward
with dread—though once the thought had been dear
to him—to the eternity of improvement that lay before
him. It seemed now a weary way, without a resting
place, and without a termination; and, at that moment,
he would have preferred the dreamless sleep of the brutes
that perish, to man's proudest attribute, of immortality.

Fanshawe had hitherto deemed himself unconnected
with the world, unconcerned in its feelings, and uninfluenced
by it in any of his pursuits. In this respect he
probably deceived himself. If his inmost heart could have
been laid open, there would have been discovered that
dream of undying fame, which, dream as it is, is more
powerful than a thousand realities. But at any rate, he
had seemed, to others and to himself, a solitary being,
upon whom the hopes and fears of ordinary men were ineffectual.

But now he felt the first thrilling of one of the many
ties, that, so long as we breathe the common air (and
who shall say how much longer?) unite us to our kind.
The sound of a soft, sweet voice,—the glance of a gentle
eye,—had wrought a change upon him, and, in his ardent


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mind, a few hours had done the work of many. Almost
in spite of himself, the new sensation was inexpressibly
delightful. The recollection of his ruined health,
—of his habits, so much at variance with those of the
world,—all the difficulties that reason suggested,—were
inadequate to check the exulting tide of hope and joy.