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Page 360


We were out in the country — Jarvis and I — on a
little bit of a “tower,” as the landlord of Hardscrabble
“guessed,” as we stopped there for the night. Hardscrabble
is a queer little place, away up in New Hampshire.
It is so far away from railroads and the bigger
sort of civilization, that the wonder is, among those who
forget that it was built up before the railroads, how it
came there. But it is on what was once the great stage-road
to the shire town, and in old times the “tavern” —
there were taverns in those days — was a bustling place,
and abounded with stable-boys and loafers, and men
more respectable, who dropped in, upon the arrival of
the stages, to get the last news from Boston, then some
days old, but still new. Then the great pine-knot-lighted
bar-room was hung all around with stage-drivers' great
coats, with more capes than a continent, and formidable
whips, with lashes long enough to tickle the ears of the
lagging leaders of the team. The walls, too, were all
hung with advertisements of horses, and “vendues,” and
cattle-fairs, and up by the ceiling hung rows of “Canada
crooknecks” to “keep” in the mild atmosphere. The
bar meant something then; and the decanters, with
lemons dotted in between, filled with Santa Cruz, and
Jamaica and Old Medford, and other fluids, furnished
the essential oil that lubricated the tongues of travellers
to a degree that rendered the cold nights of winter
perfectly jolly with social hilarity, and made the name


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of stranger an entire misnomer. Then, broad-shouldered
and thick-booted men sat before the big fireplace, their
ruddy faces glowing in the light, and their tongues jubilant
with joke or song, or grave with the weightier matters
of court-business or of umpireship, and wise with
speculations about crops, or the weight of pork or cattle.
Anon some new one came in from the cold with a
remark that it was “master cold out,” when the current
of conversation changed a little for reminiscences of
some “cold Friday,” away back years before, when the
oldest inhabitant froze his ears as he went a-courting.
All this while the logs in the big fireplace sent a cheerful
blaze up the chimney, and the handles of one or two
iron loggerheads were seen projecting from the flame,
denoting that flip could be had for the asking, — a fluid
which men of the ancient regime indulged in, — and the
landlord, up to the full standard of the host in good
nature and inches, leaned over his bar-room door, benevolently
contemplating the scene, ready to answer
summonses, then legal, for the commodities within his
bar, to welcome new comers, or to book the names of
passengers by the morning stage. Then, there was the
“sitting-room,” as it was called, with its sanded floor,
where the lady-guests in unsocial frigidity awaited the
return of their male companions, who had a long story
to tell, on their return, about the difficulty there was
in “these country taverns” about getting things comfortable.

Such was the old Hardscrabble tavern, as I remember
it, with its queer picture of a face, surrounded by rays
of best chrome-yellow, called the Sun, which swung in
chains out in front of the house, and creaked in dismal
discontent in the wintry wind; and such was not the old
Sun tavern, as I saw it on my return to it, last winter,


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after an absence of twenty-five years. Long before, its
glory had departed, and so had the former landlord.

We were out at the close of one of the very coldest
of cold days, going towards Hardscrabble, in an open
sleigh. It had never seemed in such an impracticable
place before. The scene, as we approached the town,
with which I had formerly been very familiar, was now
all new to me; for the bushes that I had left had
grown up to be trees, and a small brook, that had formerly
crossed the road, had been dammed in an effort
to save the place by building a little one-horse saw-mill,
which made a lake that we crossed on the ice. All
seemed odd enough; and Jarvis, as far as he ventured
to speak, said that he fully appreciated, now, the remark
of the old lady who wondered how any one could live
so far off. It was too cold to question the relevancy
of the remark.

Says I, Jarvis, miboy, there 's comfort awaiting us. I
do remember me a country tavern, and hereabouts it
was; and, if we don't find there roaring cheer, and good
entertainment for man and beast, — that is, you and I, —
set me down as an arrant cheat and deceiver. He settled
back into his rigidity with some remark, the only part of
which that I could distinguish was, “suthin hot!” It
was only about ten o'clock; but, early as it was, every
sign of life had ceased about the place. Not a soul was
stirring, not a light beamed from a window, and the
dead solitude of the north-pole could be scarcely more
drear than the utter deadness that just then rested
upon Hardscrabble. We drove on towards the “tavern,”
whose windows, illuminated with the old watchfire,
seemed to the traveller a veritable smile of welcome,
and a promise of good cheer; but no such
welcome met us — “darkness there, and nothing more!”


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I could not be mistaken in the house; for there was the
old sign-post, with the crane projecting, that had once
sustained the Sun, now set forever.

I knew that Jarvis was alive, because I had heard him
a few moments before uncork a little flask that he carried,
containing some aromatic drops, but I did not
know how long he would hold out; so, emergency warranting,
I got out of the sleigh, went to the door, and
gave a volley of raps with the handle of my whip, such
as a man might be supposed to make who was in a
severe strait, but who had wherewithal to back his
demand. No response to the sound came, when I
repeated the summons, and this time with better success;
for a window over the door opened, a head looked
cautiously out, and a voice, tremulous with fear or cold,

“What the plague 's the matter? — what d' ye want?”

“Want to come in,” said I. “Here are two travellers,
hungry and cold, — one of them now in an insensible
condition in the sleigh, yonder, — and we want you
to open your doors to them, and take them in, as you,
undoubtedly, are disposed to do.”

“O, shet up!” said the voice, which I supposed was
addressed to me; but, from its subdued tone, I afterwards
concluded that it was intended as a reply to some
one in the house, which proved to be the fact, as I
heard a female voice, in a moment, say,

“S'pos'in' 't should be thieves?”

“Say!” said the voice from the window, “who are
ye, any way?”

“Two belated travellers,” I replied, “from Boston,
the metropolis of Massachusetts, who have business in
the town of Hardscrabble, where they will remain to-morrow,


Page 364
and are desirous of resting and refreshing
themselves beneath your roof.”

“Wal, I 'll be down in a minnit. Thunderin' cold,
is n't it?”

He disappeared from the window, and, from the
sounds that I heard, I judged there had arisen an
disagreeable domestic discussion concerning the propriety
of letting us in, which created a little unpleasant
reflection as to what could be done in such a contingency
as being shut out, relieved, however, by the clattering
of feet upon the floor inside, the withdrawal of a
bolt, and the swinging of the door upon its hinges,
disclosing a tall, cadaverous-looking man, half-dressed,
holding a tallow candle in his hand, and a woman, as
thick as she was short, at his elbow. Says I, “Friends,
I am very sorry to disturb you; but we are in distress.
It is thunderin' cold, as you very truly remarked, just
now, and I have a friend there under that pile of
buffalo-robes who may even now be frozen as stiff as
Mount Washington.”

The buffalo-robes, however, collapsed, and Jarvis
stepped from the vehicle. He walked towards the
house, and entered with me, after I had embraced him
and congratulated him on his escape from petrifaction.

“Is n't this a tavern?” I asked.

“Yas, I s'pose some 'd call it so; we call it the Pavilion

“The — you do!” said Jarvis, thawing out with a
warmth of expression, that the landlord, had he not
been a little oblivious just then, must have heard.

“Much business here?” I further asked.

“Wal,” said he, “in summer it 's tip-top — lots of
people come here to get the prospective scenery —


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but 'n winter 't an't much. It 's a mighty pretty place
when the trees is out.”

“Please hurry things up, now, and give us something
comfortable soon, there 's a good fellow,” I broke in.
—“Ah, madam,” said I, turning to the lady, who looked
as cool as the season, “it is rare that one meets with so
happy a face. The twenty-five years of your life must
have been a season of continued cheerfulness.” (She
looked forty, to say the least.) “Blessing and blest, —
that 's the way. A cup of tea, some hot toast, and your
pleasant company, will make our adventure very happy.”
She went off smiling in reality, while the husband —
Mottle was his name — continued dismally trying to
infuse heat into a parlor wood-stove, — an innovation
on the old fireplace.

I looked round the room, and recognized many
things as they had once existed. We were really in the
old bar-room. What a flood of ghostly fancies ran
through my brain! I seemed surrounded by departed
spirits, so full the scene was of remembrances. But the
decanters had all fled, the whips and great coats had all
vanished, the fireplace had been bricked up, and —
“Where is the old landlord?” I asked, as the memory
of him obtruded itself at this point in marked contrast
with the cadaverous man on his knees, blowing away at
the old stove.

“Gone to Kansis,” said he, betwixt the puffs; “took
to drink arter the custom gin aout, and sold the consarn.”

The fire was a success; it sent out a glowing heat,
the blaze roared up the funnel, the astonished iron
cracked and snapped as it expanded, and Jarvis and I
sat before the warm flame in magnificent content, all


Page 366
the while hearing the sound of preparation going on in
the room beyond, a promise that did n't disappoint us.

“Landlord,” said I, with a wink, “where are the
little fellows that once stood along the shelves yonder,
with labels around their necks? Any of 'em left?”

“Nary one,” said he; “this is a temp'rance house.
You see Hardscrabble is nat'rally an onlicensed place,
and so we gin it up. Been here before, I guess?”

I assured him I had.

“Been a mighty cold day,” he said; “Jo Chesman
says 't is the coldest day we 've had sence the cold
Friday, forty year ago; but I don't know, for that was
before I moved into the caounty. But I must go aout
'n see to your horse.”

A supper was soon set before us, more extensive as
regarded quantity and quality than variety. It was
good substantial fare, such as one meets with all
through our country towns; and the landlady waited
upon us with delightful urbanity of manner, sitting at
the table and pouring out our tea for us in the most
social way.

“Are you related to Squire Mooney, of Greenborough?”
I asked the landlady; “the one that invented
the India-rubber knitting-needles, and made an
immense fortune out of them?”

She assured me that she was not.

“Well, I declare,” said I, “I never saw such a likeness!
Did you, Jarvis?”

Jarvis averred that if she were to be dressed like
the 'Squire he should n't know them apart, except from
the superior good looks of the lady; and this remark
finished what was wanting to counteract the effect of
rising from a warm bed to perform a disagreeable duty.


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She was all good humor, of which we had many proofs
while we remained in the house.

We sat down before the fire again after supper, and
the landlord told us stories about the old house and the
old people of the neighborhood, while Jarvis took out
his cigar-case, and smoked in drowsy indifference to
what we were saying. It was getting near midnight,
when there came a rap at the door, that started us
all to our feet. It was not very loud, but it was
peculiar, — a sort of half emphatic and half timorous
affair, — and we all three proceeded to the door. I was
curious to see the intruder, as I felt he was; and, upon
opening, the most singular object that I had ever seen
presented himself. He was an oldish sort of a man,
short and thick-set, with a dress that, for incongruity,
would compare favorably with that of Madge Wildfire.
An old fur cap was on his head, that fitted closely to it,
and it was tied down in some inexplicable way below
the chin. He was belted round the waist, like a brigand,
and carried in his hand a staff, of formidable
dimensions, that had, apparently, been wrenched from
a tree.

“Can I come in?” he asked, in a hollow voice. Permission
being granted, he came in before the fire. I
am a man of some considerable nerve, have been in
scenes where pluck was required to carry a matter
through, have faced men that I would not care to see
again; but the first glance at that face, as it appeared
before the blaze of the fire, was so revolting that I felt
my courage giving way. The eyes were sunk in the
head, the features were shrivelled and thin, and around
the mouth a smile was constantly playing that appeared
fiendish to my shocked fancy. But, I said to myself,
'T is only a man; you are not going to fear clay that is,


Page 368
perhaps, not much more ugly than yourself in the eyes
of superior perfection! So I sat still and watched him.

He took a seat in front of the fire, into which he
gazed with an abstracted air. The muscles of his face
seemed entirely beyond his control, and the fiendish
laugh assumed another phase. I could not make him
out, as he sat there, his face twisting into all manner of
most villanous contortions. Whether he was insane, or
idiotic, or diseased, I could not divine. Jarvis took the
seat he had occupied, which was very near the strange
comer, and had resumed his cigar, when, looking round
into the stranger's face, he became aware of the fearful
seeming of the new guest. His lips refused to draw
at the cigar, which dropped from between his teeth; his
hand trembled, which reached for his handkerchief; his
eyes dilated, and terror took complete possession. The
man — if it was a man — sat looking into the fire, not
one word being spoken, when, with a half-start, he felt
in his pocket and took out a very large and savage
knife, which he opened with a jerk. Poor Jarvis was
apparently powerless from terror. The man's fingers
clutched convulsively about the knife, until he held it
in a position suited to his intent, when he raised his
arm, leaned a little forward, and —

Jarvis started to his feet, with a yell that might have
been heard a mile, swinging his chair back to the wall,
and placing himself on it, in entire prostration.

The man reached forward, and, taking a splinter of
wood from the floor, proceeded to whittle.

The landlord and myself rushed to Jarvis.

“Don't be skeered,” whispered mine host; “he won't
hurt ye. He 's only old Bob Haize, who 's been half
dead more 'n a hundred times of delirium trimmins, and


Page 369
now it 's settled into his sistim. There 's nothing harmonious
about him.”

Jarvis swore stoutly that he was n't afraid, and quarrelled
with me for saying that he was; but the landlord
will support what I say. We went to bed about one
o'clock, and a better bed I never slept in than that in
the Pavilion Hotel at Hardscrabble, where we had the
night of it.