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a tale




About her neck a packet-mail
Fraught with advice, some fresh, some stale,
Of men that walked when they were dead.


Scarcely a word had passed between doctor Melmoth
and Ellen Langton, on their way home; for, though the
former was aware that his duty towards his ward would
compel him to inquire into the motives of her conduct,
the tenderness of his heart prompted him to defer the
scrutiny to the latest moment. The same tenderness induced
him to connive at Ellen's stealing secretly up to
her chamber, unseen by Mrs. Melmoth; to render which
measure practicable, he opened the house door very
softly, and stood before his half-sleeping spouse, (who
waited his arrival in the parlor,) without any previous notice.
This act of the doctor's benevolence was not destitute
of heroism; for he was well assured, that, should
the affair come to the lady's knowledge through any other
channel, her vengeance would descend not less heavily
on him for concealing, than on Ellen for perpetrating


Page 74
the elopement. That she had, thus far, no suspicion of
the fact, was evident from her composure, as well as from
the reply to a question, which, with more than his usual
art, her husband put to her respecting the non-appearance
of his ward. Mrs. Melmoth answered that Ellen
had complained of indisposition, and, after drinking, by
her prescription, a large cup of herb-tea, had retired to
her chamber, early in the evening. Thankful that all
was yet safe, the doctor laid his head upon his pillow;
but, late as was the hour, his many anxious thoughts
long drove sleep from his eyelids.

The diminution in the quantity of his natural rest, did
not, however, prevent doctor Melmoth from rising at his
usual hour, which, at all seasons of the year, was an early
one. He found, on descending to the parlor, that
breakfast was nearly in readiness; for the lady of the
house, (and, as a corollary, her servant girl,) was not
accustomed to await the rising of the sun, in order to
commence her domestic labors. Ellen Langton, however,
who had heretofore assimilated her habits to those of
the family, was this morning invisible,—a circumstance
imputed by Mrs. Melmoth to her indisposition of the preceding
evening, and by the doctor to mortification, on
account of her elopement, and its discovery.

`I think I will step into Ellen's bed-chamber,' said
Mrs. Melmoth, `and inquire how she feels herself. The
morning is delightful after the storm, and the air will do
her good.'

`Had we not better proceed with our breakfast? If
the poor child is sleeping, it were a pity to disturb her,'
observed the doctor; for, besides his sympathy with Ellen's
feelings, he was reluctant, as if he were the guilty
one, to meet her face.


Page 75

`Well, be it so. And now sit down, doctor, for the
hot cakes are cooling fast. I suppose you will say they
are not so good as those Ellen made, yesterday morning.
I know not how you will bear to part with her; though
the thing must soon be.'

`It will be a sore trial, doubtless,' replied doctor Melmoth—`like
tearing away a branch that is grafted on an
old tree. And yet there will be a satisfaction in delivering
her safe into her father's hands.'

`A satisfaction for which you may thank me, doctor,'
observed the lady, `If there had been none but you to
look after the poor thing's doings, she would have been
enticed away long ere this, for the sake of her money.'

Doctor Melmoth's prudence could scarcely restrain a
smile at the thought, that an elopement, as he had reason
to believe, had been plotted, and partly carried into execution,
while Ellen was under the sole care of his lady;
and had been frustrated only by his own despised agency.
He was not accustomed, however,—nor was this an
eligible occasion,—to dispute any of Mrs. Melmoth's
claims to superior wisdom.

The breakfast proceeded in silence,—or, at least, without
any conversation material to the tale. At its conclusion,
Mrs. Melmoth was again meditating on the propriety
of entering Ellen's chamber; but she was now
prevented by an incident, that always excited much interest
both in herself and her husband.

This was the entrance of the servant, bearing the letters
and newspaper, with which, once a fortnight, the
mail-carrier journeyed up the valley. Doctor Melmoth's
situation, at the head of a respectable seminary, and his
character, as a scholar, had procured him an extensive
correspondence among the learned men of his own country;
and he had even exchanged epistles with one or


Page 76
two of the most distinguished dissenting clergymen of
Great Britain. But, unless when some fond mother enclosed
a one pound note, to defray the private expenses
of her son at College—it was frequently the case, that
the packets addressed to the doctor, were the sole contents
of the mail bag. In the present instance, his letters
were very numerous, and, to judge from the one he
chanced first to open, of an unconscienable length. While
he was engaged in their perusal, Mrs. Melmoth amused
herself with the newspaper,—a little sheet of about twelve
inches square, which had but one rival in the country.—
Commencing with the title, she labored on, through advertisements,
old and new, through poetry, lamentably
deficient in rhythm and rhymes—through essays, the ideas
of which had been trite since the first week of the creation;—till
she finally arrived at the department that, a
fortnight before, had contained the latest news from all
quarters. Making such remarks upon these items as to
her seemed good, the dame's notice was at length attracted
by an article, which her sudden exclamation proved
to possess uncommon interest. Casting her eye hastily
over it, she immediately began to read aloud to her husband;
but he, deeply engaged in a long and learned letter,
instead of listening to what she wished to communicate,
exerted his own lungs in opposition to hers,—as
is the custom of abstracted men, when disturbed. The
result was as follows.

`A brig just arrived in the outer harbor,' began Mrs.
Melmoth, `reports, that on the morning of the 25th ult.'
—here the doctor broke in, `wherefore I am compelled
to differ from your exposition of the said passage, for
those reasons, of the which I have given you a taste;
provided'—the lady's voice was now most audible—`ship
bottom upward, discovered by the name on her stern to


Page 77
be the Ellen of'—`and in the same opinion are Hooker,
Cotton, and divers learned divines of a later date.'

The doctor's lungs were deep and strong, and victory
seemed to incline toward him; but Mrs. Melmoth now
made use of a tone, whose peculiar shrillness, as long
experience had taught her husband, argued a mood of
mind not to be trifled with.

`On my word doctor,' she exclaimed, `this is most unfeeling
and unchristian conduct! Here am I, endeavoring
to inform you of the death of an old friend, and you
continue as deaf as a post.'

Doctor Melmoth, who had heard the sound, without receiving
the sense, of these words, now laid aside the letter
in despair, and submissively requested to be informed
of her pleasure.

`There,—read for yourself,' she replied, handing him
the paper, and pointing to the passage containing the important
intelligence. `Read, and then finish your letter,
if you have a mind.'

`He took the paper, unable to conjecture how the
dame could be so much interested in any part of its contents;
but, before he had read many words, he grew pale
as death. `Good heavens, what is this?' he exclaimed.
He then read on, `being the vessel wherein that eminent
son of New-England, John Langton, Esquire, had
taken passage for his native country, after an absence of
many years.'

`Our poor Ellen, his orphan child!' said doctor Melmoth,
dropping the paper. `How shall we break the intelligence
to her? Alas! her share of the affliction
causes me to forget my own.'

`It is a heavy misfortune, doubtless, and Ellen will
grieve as a daughter should,' replied Mrs. Melmoth,
speaking with the good sense of which she had a competent


Page 78
share. `But she has never known her father, and
her sorrow must arise from a sense of duty, more than
from strong affection. I will go and inform her of her
loss. It is late, and I wonder if she be still asleep?'

`Be cautious, dearest wife,' said the doctor—`Ellen
has strong feelings, and a sudden shock might be dangerous.'

`I think I may be trusted, doctor Melmoth,' replied
the lady, who had a high opinion of her own abilities as
a comforter, and was not averse to exercise them.

Her husband, after her departure, sat listlessly turning
over the letters, that yet remained unopened, feeling little
curiosity, after such melancholy intelligence, respecting
their contents. But by the hand writing of the direction
on one of them, his attention was gradually arrested,
till he found himself gazing earnestly on those
strong, firm, regular characters. They were perfectly
familiar to his eye; but from what hand they came, he
could not conjecture. Suddenly, however, the truth
burst upon him; and, after noticing the date, and reading
a few lines, he rushed hastily in pursuit of his wife.
He had arrived at the top of his speed, and at the middle
of the stair-case, when his course was arrested by the
lady whom he sought, who came, with a velocity equal to
his own, in an opposite direction. The consequence was,
a concussion between the two meeting masses, by which
Mrs. Melmoth was seated securely on the stairs, while
the doctor was only preserved from precipitation to the
bottom, by clinging desperately to the balustrade. As
soon as the pair discovered that they had sustained no
material injury by their contact, they began eagerly to
explain the cause of their mutual haste, without those
reproaches, which, on the lady's part, would, at another
time, have followed such an accident.


Page 79

`You have not told her the bad news, I trust?' cried
doctor Melmoth, after each had communicated his and
her intelligence, without obtaining audience of the other.

`Would you have me tell it to the bare walls?' inquired
the lady, in her shrillest tone. `Have I not just
informed you that she has gone, fled, eloped? Her
chamber is empty, and her bed has not been occupied.'

`Gone!' repeated the doctor—`and when her father
comes to demand his daughter of me, what answer shall
I make?'

`Now, heaven defend us from the visits of the dead
and drowned!' cried Mrs. Melmoth. `This is a serious
affair, doctor; but not, I trust, sufficient to raise a

`Mr. Langton is yet no ghost,' answered he; `though
this event will go near to make him one. He was fortunately
prevented, after he had made every preparation,
from taking passage in the vessel that was lost.'

`And where is he now,' she inquired.

`He is in New England. Perhaps he is at this moment,
on his way to us,' replied her husband. `His letter
is dated nearly a fortnight back, and he expresses an intention
of being with us in a few days.'

`Well, I thank heaven for his safety,' said Mrs. Melmoth;
`but truly, the poor gentleman could not have
chosen a better time to be drowned, nor a worse one to
come to life, than this. What we shall do, doctor, I
know not; but, had you locked the doors, and fastened
the windows, as I advised, the misfortune could not have

`Why, the whole country would have flouted us,' answered
the doctor. `Is there a door in all the province,
that is barred or bolted, night or day? Nevertheless,


Page 80
it might have been advisable last night, had it occurred
to me.'

`And why at that time, more than at all times?' she inquired.
`We had surely no reason to fear this event.'

Doctor Melmoth was silent; for his worldly wisdom
was sufficient to deter him from giving his lady the opportunity,
which she would not fail to use to the utmost, of laying
the blame of the elopement at his door. He now proceeded,
with a heavy heart, to Ellen's chamber, to satisfy
himself with his own eyes, of the state of affairs. It
was deserted, too truly; and the wild flowers with which
it was the maiden's custom, daily, to decorate her premises,
were drooping, as if in sorrow, for her who had
placed them there. Mrs. Melmoth, on this second visit,
discovered on the table a note, addressed to her husband,
and containing a few words of gratitude from Ellen,
but no explanation of her mysterious flight. The
doctor gazed long on the tiny letters, which had evidently
been traced with a trembling hand, and blotted with
many tears.

`There is a mystery in this—a mystery that I cannot
fathom,' he said. `And now, I would I knew what
measures it would be proper to take.'

`Get you on horseback, doctor Melmoth, and proceed
as speedily as may be, down the valley to the town,' said
the dame, the influence of whose firmer mind was sometimes,
as in the present case, most beneficially exerted
over his own. `You must not spare for trouble—no, nor
for danger—now, oh! if I were a man—'

`Oh that you were,' murmured the doctor, in a perfectly
inaudible voice. `Well, and when I reach the town,
what then?'

`As I am a christian woman, my patience cannot endure
you,' exclaimed Mrs. Melmoth—`oh, I love to see


Page 81
a man with the spirit of a man; but you—' and she
turned away in utter scorn.

`But, dearest wife,' remonstrated the husband, who
was really at a loss how to proceed, and anxious for her
advice, `your worldly experience is greater than mine,
and I desire to profit by it. What should be my next
measure, after arriving at the town?”

Mrs. Melmoth was appeased by the submission with
which the doctor asked her counsel; though, if the
truth must be told, she heartily despised him for needing
it. She condescended, however, to instruct him in the
proper method of pursuing the runaway maiden, and directed
him, before his departure, to put strict inquiries to
Hugh Crombie, respecting any stranger who might lately
have visited his inn. That there would be wisdom in
this, doctor Melmoth had his own reasons for believing;
and, still without imparting them to his lady, he proceeded
to do as he had been bid.

The veracious landlord acknowledged that a stranger
had spent a night and day at his inn, and was missing
that morning; but he utterly denied all acquaintance
with his character, or privity to his purposes. Had
Mrs. Melmoth, instead of her husband, conducted the examination,
the result might have been different. As the
case was, the doctor returned to his dwelling but little
wiser than he went forth; and, ordering his steed to be
saddled, he began a journey, of which he knew not what
would be the end.

In the meantime, the intelligence of Ellen's disappearance
circulated rapidly, and soon sent forth hunters more
fit to follow the chase than doctor Melmoth.