My Kinsman, Major Molineux
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
After the kings of Great Britain had assumed the right of
appointing the colonial governors, the measures of the latter
seldom met with the ready and generous approbation which had been
paid to those of their predecessors, under the original charters.
The people looked with most jealous scrutiny to the exercise of
power which did not emanate from themselves, and they usually
rewarded their rulers with slender gratitude for the compliances
by which, in softening their instructions from beyond the sea,
they had incurred the reprehension of those who gave them. The
annals of Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six governors
in the space of about forty years from the surrender of the old
charter, under James II, two were imprisoned by a popular
insurrection; a third, as Hutchinson inclines to believe, was
driven from the province by the whizzing of a musket-ball; a
fourth, in the opinion of the same historian, was hastened to his
grave by continual bickerings with the House of Representatives;
and the remaining two, as well as their successors, till the
Revolution, were favored with few and brief intervals of peaceful
sway. The inferior members of the court party, in times of high
political excitement, led scarcely a more desirable life. These
remarks may serve as a preface to the following adventures, which
chanced upon a summer night, not far from a hundred years ago.
The reader, in order to avoid a long and dry detail of colonial
affairs, is requested to dispense with an account of the train of
circumstances that had caused much temporary inflammation of the
It was near nine o'clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat
crossed the ferry with a single passenger, who had obtained his
conveyance at that unusual hour by the promise of an extra fare.
While he stood on the landing-place, searching in either pocket
for the means of fulfilling his agreement, the ferryman lifted a
lantern, by the aid of which, and the newly risen moon, he took a
very accurate survey of the stranger's figure. He was a youth of
barely eighteen years, evidently country-bred, and now, as it
should seem, upon his first visit to town. He was clad in a
coarse gray coat, well worn, but in excellent repair; his under
garments were durably constructed of leather, and fitted tight to
a pair of serviceable and well-shaped limbs; his stockings of
blue yarn were the incontrovertible work of a mother or a sister;
and on his head was a three-cornered hat, which in its better
days had perhaps sheltered the graver brow of the lad's father.
Under his left arm was a heavy cudgel formed of an oak sapling,
and retaining a part of the hardened root; and his equipment was
completed by a wallet, not so abundantly stocked as to incommode
the vigorous shoulders on which it hung. Brown, curly hair,
well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful eyes were nature's
gifts, and worth all that art could have done for his adornment.
The youth, one of whose names was Robin, finally drew from his
pocket the half of a little province bill of five shillings,
which, in the depreciation in that sort of currency, did but
satisfy the ferryman's demand, with the surplus of a sexangular
piece of parchment, valued at three pence. He then walked forward
into the town, with as light a step as if his day's journey had
not already exceeded thirty miles, and with as eager an eye as if
he were entering London city, instead of the little metropolis of
a New England colony. Before Robin had proceeded far, however, it
occurred to him that he knew not whither to direct his steps; so
he paused, and looked up and down the narrow street, scrutinizing
the small and mean wooden buildings that were scattered on either
"This low hovel cannot be my kinsman's dwelling," thought he,
"nor yonder old house, where the moonlight enters at the broken
casement; and truly I see none hereabouts that might be worthy of
him. It would have been wise to inquire my way of the ferryman,
and doubtless he would have gone with me, and earned a shilling
from the Major for his pains. But the next man I meet will do as
He resumed his walk, and was glad to perceive that the street now
became wider, and the houses more respectable in their
appearance. He soon discerned a figure moving on moderately in
advance, and hastened his steps to overtake it. As Robin drew
nigh, he saw that the passenger was a man in years, with a full
periwig of gray hair, a wide-skirted coat of dark cloth, and silk
stockings rolled above his knees. He carried a long and polished
cane, which he struck down perpendicularly before him at every
step; and at regular intervals he uttered two successive hems, of
a peculiarly solemn and sepulchral intonation. Having made these
observations, Robin laid hold of the skirt of the old man's coat
just when the light from the open door and windows of a barber's
shop fell upon both their figures.
"Good evening to you, honored sir," said he, making a low bow,
and still retaining his hold of the skirt. "I pray you tell me
whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux."
The youth's question was uttered very loudly; and one of the
barbers, whose razor was descending on a well-soaped chin, and
another who was dressing a Ramillies wig, left their occupations,
and came to the door. The citizen, in the mean time, turned a
long-favored countenance upon Robin, and answered him in a tone
of excessive anger and annoyance. His two sepulchral hems,
however, broke into the very centre of his rebuke, with most
singular effect, like a thought of the cold grave obtruding among
"Let go my garment, fellow! I tell you, I know not the man you
speak of. What! I have authority, I have--hem, hem--authority;
and if this be the respect you show for your betters, your feet
shall be brought acquainted with the stocks by daylight, tomorrow
Robin released the old man's skirt, and hastened away, pursued by
an ill-mannered roar of laughter from the barber's shop. He was
at first considerably surprised by the result of his question,
but, being a shrewd youth, soon thought himself able to account
for the mystery.
"This is some country representative," was his conclusion, "who
has never seen the inside of my kinsman's door, and lacks the
breeding to answer a stranger civilly. The man is old, or
verily--I might be tempted to turn back and smite him on the
nose. Ah, Robin, Robin! even the barber's boys laugh at you for
choosing such a guide! You will be wiser in time, friend Robin."
He now became entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow
streets, which crossed each other, and meandered at no great
distance from the water-side. The smell of tar was obvious to his
nostrils, the masts of vessels pierced the moonlight above the
tops of the buildings, and the numerous signs, which Robin paused
to read, informed him that he was near the centre of business.
But the streets were empty, the shops were closed, and lights
were visible only in the second stories of a few dwelling-houses.
At length, on the corner of a narrow lane, through which he was
passing, he beheld the broad countenance of a British hero
swinging before the door of an inn, whence proceeded the voices
of many guests. The casement of one of the lower windows was
thrown back, and a very thin curtain permitted Robin to
distinguish a party at supper, round a well-furnished table. The
fragrance of the good cheer steamed forth into the outer air, and
the youth could not fail to recollect that the last remnant of
his travelling stock of provision had yielded to his morning
appetite, and that noon had found and left him dinnerless.
"Oh, that a parchment three-penny might give me a right to sit
down at yonder table!" said Robin, with a sigh. "But the Major
will make me welcome to the best of his victuals; so I will even
step boldly in, and inquire my way to his dwelling."
He entered the tavern, and was guided by the murmur of voices and
the fumes of tobacco to the public-room. It was a long and low
apartment, with oaken walls, grown dark in the continual smoke,
and a floor which was thickly sanded, but of no immaculate
purity. A number of persons--the larger part of whom appeared to
be mariners, or in some way connected with the sea--occupied the
wooden benches, or leatherbottomed chairs, conversing on various
matters, and occasionally lending their attention to some topic
of general interest. Three or four little groups were draining as
many bowls of punch, which the West India trade had long since
made a familiar drink in the colony. Others, who had the
appearance of men who lived by regular and laborious handicraft,
preferred the insulated bliss of an unshared potation, and became
more taciturn under its influence. Nearly all, in short, evinced
a predilection for the Good Creature in some of its various
shapes, for this is a vice to which, as Fast Day sermons of a
hundred years ago will testify, we have a long hereditary claim.
The only guests to whom Robin's sympathies inclined him were two
or three sheepish countrymen, who were using the inn somewhat
after the fashion of a Turkish caravansary; they had gotten
themselves into the darkest corner of the room, and heedless of
the Nicotian atmosphere, were supping on the bread of their own
ovens, and the bacon cured in their own chimney-smoke. But though
Robin felt a sort of brotherhood with these strangers, his eyes
were attracted from them to a person who stood near the door,
holding whispered conversation with a group of ill-dressed
associates. His features were separately striking almost to
grotesqueness, and the whole face left a deep impression on the
memory. The forehead bulged out into a double prominence, with a
vale between; the nose came boldly forth in an irregular curve,
and its bridge was of more than a finger's breadth; the eyebrows
were deep and shaggy, and the eyes glowed beneath them like fire
in a cave.
While Robin deliberated of whom to inquire respecting his
kinsman's dwelling, he was accosted by the innkeeper, a little
man in a stained white apron, who had come to pay his
professional welcome to the stranger. Being in the second
generation from a French Protestant, he seemed to have inherited
the courtesy of his parent nation; but no variety of
circumstances was ever known to change his voice from the one
shrill note in which he now addressed Robin.
"From the country, I presume, sir?" said he, with a profound bow.
"Beg leave to congratulate you on your arrival, and trust you
intend a long stay with us. Fine town here, sir, beautiful
buildings, and much that may interest a stranger. May I hope for
the honor of your commands in respect to supper?"
"The man sees a family likeness! the rogue has guessed that I am
related to the Major!" thought Robin, who had hitherto
experienced little superfluous civility.
All eyes were now turned on the country lad, standing at the
door, in his worn three-cornered hat, gray coat, leather
breeches, and blue yarn stockings, leaning on an oaken cudgel,
and bearing a wallet on his back.
Robin replied to the courteous innkeeper, with such an assumption
of confidence as befitted the Major's relative. "My honest
friend," he said, "I shall make it a point to patronize your
house on some occasion, when"--here he could not help lowering
his voice--"when I may have more than a parchment three-pence in
my pocket. My present business," continued he, speaking with
lofty confidence, "is merely to inquire my way to the dwelling of
my kinsman, Major Molineux."
There was a sudden and general movement in the room, which Robin
interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each individual to
become his guide. But the innkeeper turned his eyes to a written
paper on the wall, which he read, or seemed to read, with
occasional recurrences to the young man's figure.
"What have we here?" said he, breaking his speech into little dry
fragments. " 'Left the house of the subscriber, bounden servant,
Hezekiah Mudge,--had on, when he went away, gray coat, leather
breeches, master's third-best hat. One pound currency reward to
whosoever shall lodge him in any jail of the providence.' Better
trudge, boy; better trudge!"
Robin had begun to draw his hand towards the lighter end of the
oak cudgel, but a strange hostility in every countenance induced
him to relinquish his purpose of breaking the courteous
innkeeper's head. As he turned to leave the room, he encountered
a sneering glance from the bold-featured personage whom he had
before noticed; and no sooner was he beyond the door, than he
heard a general laugh, in which the innkeeper's voice might be
distinguished, like the dropping of small stones into a kettle.
"Now, is it not strange," thought Robin, with his usual
shrewdness, "is it not strange that the confession of an empty
pocket should outweigh the name of my kinsman, Major Molineux?
Oh, if I had one of those grinning rascals in the woods, where I
and my oak sapling grew up together, I would teach him that my
arm is heavy though my purse be light!"
On turning the corner of the narrow lane, Robin found himself in
a spacious street, with an unbroken line of lofty houses on each
side, and a steepled building at the upper end, whence the
ringing of a bell announced the hour of nine. The light of the
moon, and the lamps from the numerous shop-windows, discovered
people promenading on the pavement, and amongst them Robin had
hoped to recognize his hitherto inscrutable relative. The result
of his former inquiries made him unwilling to hazard another, in
a scene of such publicity, and he determined to walk slowly and
silently up the street, thrusting his face close to that of every
elderly gentleman, in search of the Major's lineaments. In his
progress, Robin encountered many gay and gallant figures.
Embroidered garments of showy colors, enormous periwigs,
gold-laced hats, and silver-hilted swords glided past him and
dazzled his optics. Travelled youths, imitators of the European
fine gentlemen of the period, trod jauntily along, half dancing
to the fashionable tunes which they hummed, and making poor Robin
ashamed of his quiet and natural gait. At length, after many
pauses to examine the gorgeous display of goods in the
shop-windows, and after suffering some rebukes for the
impertinence of his scrutiny into people's faces, the Major's
kinsman found himself near the steepled building, still
unsuccessful in his search. As yet, however, he had seen only one
side of the thronged street; so Robin crossed, and continued the
same sort of inquisition down the opposite pavement, with
stronger hopes than the philosopher seeking an honest man, but
with no better fortune. He had arrived about midway towards the
lower end, from which his course began, when he overheard the
approach of some one who struck down a cane on the flag-stones at
every step, uttering at regular intervals, two sepulchral hems.
"Mercy on us!" quoth Robin, recognizing the sound.
Turning a corner, which chanced to be close at his right hand, he
hastened to pursue his researches in some other part of the town.
His patience now was wearing low, and he seemed to feel more
fatigue from his rambles since he crossed the ferry, than from
his journey of several days on the other side. Hunger also
pleaded loudly within him, and Robin began to balance the
propriety of demanding, violently, and with lifted cudgel, the
necessary guidance from the first solitary passenger whom he
should meet. While a resolution to this effect was gaining
strength, he entered a street of mean appearance, on either side
of which a row of ill-built houses was straggling towards the
harbor. The moonlight fell upon no passenger along the whole
extent, but in the third domicile which Robin passed there was a
half-opened door, and his keen glance detected a woman's garment
"My luck may be better here," said he to himself.
Accordingly, he approached the doors and beheld it shut closer as
he did so; yet an open space remained, sufficing for the fair
occupant to observe the stranger, without a corresponding display
on her part. All that Robin could discern was a strip of scarlet
petticoat, and the occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the
moonbeams were trembling on some bright thing.
"Pretty mistress," for I may call her so with a good conscience
thought the shrewd youth, since I know nothing to the
contrary,--"my sweet pretty mistress, will you be kind enough to
tell me whereabouts I must seek the dwelling of my kinsman, Major
Robin's voice was plaintive and winning, and the female, seeing
nothing to be shunned in the handsome country youth, thrust open
the door, and came forth into the moonlight. She was a dainty
little figure with a white neck, round arms, and a slender waist,
at the extremity of which her scarlet petticoat jutted out over a
hoop, as if she were standing in a balloon. Moreover, her face
was oval and pretty, her hair dark beneath the little cap, and
her bright eyes possessed a sly freedom, which triumphed over
those of Robin.
"Major Molineux dwells here," said this fair woman.
Now, her voice was the sweetest Robin had heard that night, yet
he could not help doubting whether that sweet voice spoke Gospel
truth. He looked up and down the mean street, and then surveyed
the house before which they stood. It was a small, dark edifice
of two stories, the second of which projected over the lower
floor, and the front apartment had the aspect of a shop for petty
"Now, truly, I am in luck," replied Robin, cunningly, "and so
indeed is my kinsman, the Major, in having so pretty a
housekeeper. But I prithee trouble him to step to the door; I
will deliver him a message from his friends in the country, and
then go back to my lodgings at the inn."
"Nay, the Major has been abed this hour or more," said the lady
of the scarlet petticoat; "and it would be to little purpose to
disturb him to-night, seeing his evening draught was of the
strongest. But he is a kind-hearted man, and it would be as much
as my life's worth to let a kinsman of his turn away from the
door. You are the good old gentleman's very picture, and I could
swear that was his rainy-weather hat. Also he has garments very
much resembling those leather small-clothes. But come in, I pray,
for I bid you hearty welcome in his name."
So saying, the fair and hospitable dame took our hero by the
hand; and the touch was light, and the force was gentleness, and
though Robin read in her eyes what he did not hear in her words,
yet the slender-waisted woman in the scarlet petticoat proved
stronger than the athletic country youth. She had drawn his
half-willing footsteps nearly to the threshold, when the opening
of a door in the neighborhood startled the Major's housekeeper,
and, leaving the Major's kinsman, she vanished speedily into her
own domicile. A heavy yawn preceded the appearance of a man, who,
like the Moonshine of Pyramus and Thisbe, carried a lantern,
needlessly aiding his sister luminary in the heavens. As he
walked sleepily up the street, he turned his broad, dull face on
Robin, and displayed a long staff, spiked at the end.
"Home, vagabond, home!" said the watchman, in accents that seemed
to fall asleep as soon as they were uttered. "Home, or we'll set
you in the stocks by peep of day!"
"This is the second hint of the kind," thought Robin. "I wish
they would end my difficulties, by setting me there to-night."
Nevertheless, the youth felt an instinctive antipathy towards the
guardian of midnight order, which at first prevented him from
asking his usual question. But just when the man was about to
vanish behind the corner, Robin resolved not to lose the
opportunity, and shouted lustily after him, "I say, friend! will
you guide me to the house of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The watchman made no reply, but turned the corner and was gone;
yet Robin seemed to hear the sound of drowsy laughter stealing
along the solitary street. At that moment, also, a pleasant
titter saluted him from the open window above his head; he looked
up, and caught the sparkle of a saucy eye; a round arm beckoned
to him, and next he heard light footsteps descending the
staircase within. But Robin, being of the household of a New
England clergyman, was a good youth, as well as a shrewd one; so
he resisted temptation, and fled away.
He now roamed desperately, and at random, through the town,
almost ready to believe that a spell was on him, like that by
which a wizard of his country had once kept three pursuers
wandering, a whole winter night, within twenty paces of the
cottage which they sought. The streets lay before him, strange
and desolate, and the lights were extinguished in almost every
house. Twice, however, little parties of men, among whom Robin
distinguished individuals in outlandish attire, came hurrying
along; but, though on both occasions, they paused to address him
such intercourse did not at all enlighten his perplexity. They
did but utter a few words in some language of which Robin knew
nothing, and perceiving his inability to answer, bestowed a curse
upon him in plain English and hastened away. Finally, the lad
determined to knock at the door of every mansion that might
appear worthy to be occupied by his kinsman, trusting that
perseverance would overcome the fatality that had hitherto
thwarted him. Firm in this resolve, he was passing beneath the
walls of a church, which formed the corner of two streets, when,
as he turned into the shade of its steeple, he encountered a
bulky stranger muffled in a cloak. The man was proceeding with
the speed of earnest business, but Robin planted himself full
before him, holding the oak cudgel with both hands across his
body as a bar to further passage
"Halt, honest man, and answer me a question," said he, very
resolutely. "Tell me, this instant, whereabouts is the dwelling
of my kinsman, Major Molineux!"
"Keep your tongue between your teeth, fool, and let me pass!"
said a deep, gruff voice, which Robin partly remembered. "Let me
pass, or I'll strike you to the earth!"
"No, no, neighbor!" cried Robin, flourishing his cudgel, and then
thrusting its larger end close to the man's muffled face. "No,
no, I'm not the fool you take me for, nor do you pass till I have
an answer to my question. Whereabouts is the dwelling of my
kinsman, Major Molineux?" The stranger, instead of attempting to
force his passage, stepped back into the moonlight, unmuffled his
face, and stared full into that of Robin.
"Watch here an hour, and Major Molineux will pass by," said he.
Robin gazed with dismay and astonishment on the unprecedented
physiognomy of the speaker. The forehead with its double
prominence the broad hooked nose, the shaggy eyebrows, and fiery
eyes were those which he had noticed at the inn, but the man's
complexion had undergone a singular, or, more properly, a twofold
change. One side of the face blazed an intense red, while the
other was black as midnight, the division line being in the broad
bridge of the nose; and a mouth which seemed to extend from ear
to ear was black or red, in contrast to the color of the cheek.
The effect was as if two individual devils, a fiend of fire and a
fiend of darkness, had united themselves to form this infernal
visage. The stranger grinned in Robin's face, muffled his
party-colored features, and was out of sight in a moment.
"Strange things we travellers see!" ejaculated Robin.
He seated himself, however, upon the steps of the church-door,
resolving to wait the appointed time for his kinsman. A few
moments were consumed in philosophical speculations upon the
species of man who had just left him; but having settled this
point shrewdly, rationally, and satisfactorily, he was compelled
to look elsewhere for his amusement. And first he threw his eyes
along the street. It was of more respectable appearance than most
of those into which he had wandered, and the moon, creating, like
the imaginative power, a beautiful strangeness in familiar
objects, gave something of romance to a scene that might not have
possessed it in the light of day. The irregular and often quaint
architecture of the houses, some of whose roofs were broken into
numerous little peaks, while others ascended, steep and narrow,
into a single point, and others again were square; the pure
snow-white of some of their complexions, the aged darkness of
others, and the thousand sparklings, reflected from bright
substances in the walls of many; these matters engaged Robin's
attention for a while, and then began to grow wearisome. Next he
endeavored to define the forms of distant objects, starting away,
with almost ghostly indistinctness, just as his eye appeared to
grasp them, and finally he took a minute survey of an edifice
which stood on the opposite side of the street, directly in front
of the church-door, where he was stationed. It was a large,
square mansion, distinguished from its neighbors by a balcony,
which rested on tall pillars, and by an elaborate Gothic window,
"Perhaps this is the very house I have been seeking," thought
Then he strove to speed away the time, by listening to a murmur
which swept continually along the street, yet was scarcely
audible, except to an unaccustomed ear like his; it was a low,
dull, dreamy sound, compounded of many noises, each of which was
at too great a distance to be separately heard. Robin marvelled
at this snore of a sleeping town, and marvelled more whenever its
continuity was broken by now and then a distant shout, apparently
loud where it originated. But altogether it was a sleep-inspiring
sound, and, to shake off its drowsy influence, Robin arose, and
climbed a window-frame, that he might view the interior of the
church. There the moonbeams came trembling in, and fell down upon
the deserted pews, and extended along the quiet aisles. A fainter
yet more awful radiance was hovering around the pulpit, and one
solitary ray had dared to rest upon the open page of the great
Bible. Had nature, in that deep hour, become a worshipper in the
house which man had builded? Or was that heavenly light the
visible sanctity of the place,--visible because no earthly and
impure feet were within the walls? The scene made Robin's heart
shiver with a sensation of loneliness stronger than he had ever
felt in the remotest depths of his native woods; so he turned
away and sat down again before the door. There were graves around
the church, and now an uneasy thought obtruded into Robin's
breast. What if the object of his search, which had been so often
and so strangely thwarted, were all the time mouldering in his
shroud? What if his kinsman should glide through yonder gate, and
nod and smile to him in dimly passing by?
"Oh that any breathing thing were here with me!" said Robin.
Recalling his thoughts from this uncomfortable track, he sent
them over forest, hill, and stream, and attempted to imagine how
that evening of ambiguity and weariness had been spent by his
father's household. He pictured them assembled at the door,
beneath the tree, the great old tree, which had been spared for
its huge twisted trunk and venerable shade, when a thousand leafy
brethren fell. There, at the going down of the summer sun, it was
his father's custom to perform domestic worship that the
neighbors might come and join with him like brothers of the
family, and that the wayfaring man might pause to drink at that
fountain, and keep his heart pure by freshening the memory of
home. Robin distinguished the seat of every individual of the
little audience; he saw the good man in the midst, holding the
Scriptures in the golden light that fell from the western clouds;
he beheld him close the book and all rise up to pray. He heard
the old thanksgivings for daily mercies, the old supplications
for their continuance to which he had so often listened in
weariness, but which were now among his dear remembrances. He
perceived the slight inequality of his father's voice when he
came to speak of the absent one; he noted how his mother turned
her face to the broad and knotted trunk; how his elder brother
scorned, because the beard was rough upon his upper lip, to
permit his features to be moved; how the younger sister drew down
a low hanging branch before her eyes; and how the little one of
all, whose sports had hitherto broken the decorum of the scene,
understood the prayer for her playmate, and burst into clamorous
grief. Then he saw them go in at the door; and when Robin would
have entered also, the latch tinkled into its place, and he was
excluded from his home.
"Am I here, or there?" cried Robin, starting; for all at once,
when his thoughts had become visible and audible in a dream, the
long, wide, solitary street shone out before him.
He aroused himself, and endeavored to fix his attention steadily
upon the large edifice which he had surveyed before. But still
his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality; by turns, the
pillars of the balcony lengthened into the tall, bare stems of
pines, dwindled down to human figures, settled again into their
true shape and size, and then commenced a new succession of
changes. For a single moment, when he deemed himself awake, he
could have sworn that a visage--one which he seemed to remember,
yet could not absolutely name as his kinsman's--was looking
towards him from the Gothic window. A deeper sleep wrestled with
and nearly overcame him, but fled at the sound of footsteps along
the opposite pavement. Robin rubbed his eyes, discerned a man
passing at the foot of the balcony, and addressed him in a loud,
peevish, and lamentable cry.
"Hallo, friend! must I wait here all night for my kinsman, Major
The sleeping echoes awoke, and answered the voice; and the
passenger, barely able to discern a figure sitting in the oblique
shade of the steeple, traversed the street to obtain a nearer
view. He was himself a gentleman in his prime, of open,
intelligent, cheerful, and altogether prepossessing countenance.
Perceiving a country youth, apparently homeless and without
friends, he accosted him in a tone of real kindness, which had
become strange to Robin's ears.
"Well, my good lad, why are you sitting here?" inquired he. "Can
I be of service to you in any way?"
"I am afraid not, sir," replied Robin, despondingly; "yet I shall
take it kindly, if you'll answer me a single question. I've been
searching, half the night, for one Major Molineux, now, sir, is
there really such a person in these parts, or am I dreaming?"
"Major Molineux! The name is not altogether strange to me," said
the gentleman, smiling. "Have you any objection to telling me the
nature of your business with him?"
Then Robin briefly related that his father was a clergyman,
settled on a small salary, at a long distance back in the
country, and that he and Major Molineux were brothers' children.
The Major, having inherited riches, and acquired civil and
military rank, had visited his cousin, in great pomp, a year or
two before; had manifested much interest in Robin and an elder
brother, and, being childless himself, had thrown out hints
respecting the future establishment of one of them in life. The
elder brother was destined to succeed to the farm which his
father cultivated in the interval of sacred duties; it was
therefore determined that Robin should profit by his kinsman's
generous intentions, especially as he seemed to be rather the
favorite, and was thought to possess other necessary endowments.
"For I have the name of being a shrewd youth," observed Robin, in
this part of his story.
"I doubt not you deserve it," replied his new friend,
good-naturedly; "but pray proceed."
"Well, sir, being nearly eighteen years old, and well grown, as
you see," continued Robin, drawing himself up to his full height,
"I thought it high time to begin in the world. So my mother and
sister put me in handsome trim, and my father gave me half the
remnant of his last year's salary, and five days ago I started
for this place, to pay the Major a visit. But, would you believe
it, sir! I crossed the ferry a little after dark, and have yet
found nobody that would show me the way to his dwelling; only, an
hour or two since, I was told to wait here, and Major Molineux
would pass by."
"Can you describe the man who told you this?" inquired the
"Oh, he was a very ill-favored fellow, sir," replied Robin, "with
two great bumps on his forehead, a hook nose, fiery eyes; and,
what struck me as the strangest, his face was of two different
colors. Do you happen to know such a man, sir?"
"Not intimately," answered the stranger, "but I chanced to meet
him a little time previous to your stopping me. I believe you may
trust his word, and that the Major will very shortly pass through
this street. In the mean time, as I have a singular curiosity to
witness your meeting, I will sit down here upon the steps and
bear you company."
He seated himself accordingly, and soon engaged his companion in
animated discourse. It was but of brief continuance, however, for
a noise of shouting, which had long been remotely audible, drew
so much nearer that Robin inquired its cause.
"What may be the meaning of this uproar?" asked he. "Truly, if
your town be always as noisy, I shall find little sleep while I
am an inhabitant."
"Why, indeed, friend Robin, there do appear to be three or four
riotous fellows abroad to-night," replied the gentleman. "You
must not expect all the stillness of your native woods here in
our streets. But the watch will shortly be at the heels of these
"Ay, and set them in the stocks by peep of day," interrupted
Robin recollecting his own encounter with the drowsy
lantern-bearer. "But, dear sir, if I may trust my ears, an army
of watchmen would never make head against such a multitude of
rioters. There were at least a thousand voices went up to make
that one shout."
"May not a man have several voices, Robin, as well as two
complexions?" said his friend.
"Perhaps a man may; but Heaven forbid that a woman should!"
responded the shrewd youth, thinking of the seductive tones of
the Major's housekeeper.
The sounds of a trumpet in some neighboring street now became so
evident and continual, that Robin's curiosity was strongly
excited. In addition to the shouts, he heard frequent bursts from
many instruments of discord, and a wild and confused laughter
filled up the intervals. Robin rose from the steps, and looked
wistfully towards a point whither people seemed to be hastening.
"Surely some prodigious merry-making is going on," exclaimed he
"I have laughed very little since I left home, sir, and should be
sorry to lose an opportunity. Shall we step round the corner by
that darkish house and take our share of the fun?"
"Sit down again, sit down, good Robin," replied the gentleman,
laying his hand on the skirt of the gray coat. "You forget that
we must wait here for your kinsman; and there is reason to
believe that he will pass by, in the course of a very few
The near approach of the uproar had now disturbed the
neighborhood; windows flew open on all sides; and many heads, in
the attire of the pillow, and confused by sleep suddenly broken,
were protruded to the gaze of whoever had leisure to observe
them. Eager voices hailed each other from house to house, all
demanding the explanation, which not a soul could give.
Half-dressed men hurried towards the unknown commotion stumbling
as they went over the stone steps that thrust themselves into the
narrow foot-walk. The shouts, the laughter, and the tuneless bray
the antipodes of music, came onwards with increasing din, till
scattered individuals, and then denser bodies, began to appear
round a corner at the distance of a hundred yards
"Will you recognize your kinsman, if he passes in this crowd?"
inquired the gentleman
"Indeed, I can't warrant it, sir; but I'll take my stand here,
and keep a bright lookout," answered Robin, descending to the
outer edge of the pavement.
A mighty stream of people now emptied into the street, and came
rolling slowly towards the church. A single horseman wheeled the
corner in the midst of them, and close behind him came a band of
fearful wind instruments, sending forth a fresher discord now
no intervening buildings kept it from the ear. Then a redder
light disturbed the moonbeams, and a dense multitude of torches
shone along the street, concealing, by their glare, whatever
object they illuminated. The single horseman, clad in a military
dress, and bearing a drawn sword, rode onward as the leader, and,
by his fierce and variegated countenance, appeared like war
personified; the red of one cheek was an emblem of fire and
sword; the blackness of the other betokened the mourning that
attends them. In his train were wild figures in the Indian dress,
and many fantastic shapes without a model, giving the whole march
a visionary air, as if a dream had broken forth from some
feverish brain, and were sweeping visibly through the midnight
streets. A mass of people, inactive, except as applauding
spectators, hemmed the procession in; and several women ran along
the sidewalk, piercing the confusion of heavier sounds with their
shrill voices of mirth or terror.
"The double-faced fellow has his eye upon me," muttered Robin,
with an indefinite but an uncomfortable idea that he was himself
to bear a part in the pageantry.
The leader turned himself in the saddle, and fixed his glance
full upon the country youth, as the steed went slowly by. When
Robin had freed his eyes from those fiery ones, the musicians
were passing before him, and the torches were close at hand; but
the unsteady brightness of the latter formed a veil which he
could not penetrate. The rattling of wheels over the stones
sometimes found its way to his ear, and confused traces of a
human form appeared at intervals, and then melted into the vivid
light. A moment more, and the leader thundered a command to halt:
the trumpets vomited a horrid breath, and then held their peace;
the shouts and laughter of the people died away, and there
remained only a universal hum, allied to silence. Right before
Robin's eyes was an uncovered cart. There the torches blazed the
brightest, there the moon shone out like day, and there, in
tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his kinsman, Major Molineux!
He was an elderly man, of large and majestic person, and strong,
square features, betokening a steady soul; but steady as it was,
his enemies had found means to shake it. His face was pale as
death, and far more ghastly; the broad forehead was contracted in
his agony, so that his eyebrows formed one grizzled line; his
eyes were red and wild, and the foam hung white upon his
quivering lip. His whole frame was agitated by a quick and
continual tremor, which his pride strove to quell, even in those
circumstances of overwhelming humiliation. But perhaps the
bitterest pang of all was when his eyes met those of Robin; for
he evidently knew him on the instant, as the youth stood
witnessing the foul disgrace of a head grown gray in honor. They
stared at each other in silence, and Robin's knees shook, and his
hair bristled, with a mixture of pity and terror. Soon, however,
a bewildering excitement began to seize upon his mind; the
preceding adventures of the night, the unexpected appearance of
the crowd, the torches, the confused din and the hush that
followed, the spectre of his kinsman reviled by that great
multitude,--all this, and, more than all, a perception of
tremendous ridicule in the whole scene, affected him with a sort
of mental inebriety. At that moment a voice of sluggish merriment
saluted Robin's ears; he turned instinctively, and just behind
the corner of the church stood the lantern-bearer, rubbing his
eyes, and drowsily enjoying the lad's amazement. Then he heard a
peal of laughter like the ringing of silvery bells; a woman
twitched his arm, a saucy eye met his, and he saw the lady of the
scarlet petticoat. A sharp, dry cachinnation appealed to his
memory, and, standing on tiptoe in the crowd, with his white
apron over his head, he beheld the courteous little innkeeper.
And lastly, there sailed over the heads of the multitude a great,
broad laugh, broken in the midst by two sepulchral hems; thus,
"Haw, haw, haw,--hem, hem,--haw, haw, haw, haw!"
The sound proceeded from the balcony of the opposite edifice, and
thither Robin turned his eyes. In front of the Gothic window
stood the old citizen, wrapped in a wide gown, his gray periwig
exchanged for a nightcap, which was thrust back from his
forehead, and his silk stockings hanging about his legs. He
supported himself on his polished cane in a fit of convulsive
merriment, which manifested itself on his solemn old features
like a funny inscription on a tombstone. Then Robin seemed to
hear the voices of the barbers, of the guests of the inn, and of
all who had made sport of him that night. The contagion was
spreading among the multitude, when all at once, it seized upon
Robin, and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through
the street,--every man shook his sides, every man emptied his
lungs, but Robin's shout was the loudest there. The cloud-spirits
peeped from their silvery islands, as the congregated mirth went
roaring up the sky! The Man in the Moon heard the far bellow.
"Oho," quoth he, "the old earth is frolicsome to-night!"
When there was a momentary calm in that tempestuous sea of sound,
the leader gave the sign, the procession resumed its march. On
they went, like fiends that throng in mockery around some dead
potentate, mighty no more, but majestic still in his agony. On
they went, in counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in
frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man's heart. On swept
the tumult, and left a silent street behind.
. . . . . . . . . . .
"Well, Robin, are you dreaming?" inquired the gentleman, laying
his hand on the youth's shoulder.
Robin started, and withdrew his arm from the stone post to which
he had instinctively clung, as the living stream rolled by him.
His cheek was somewhat pale, and his eye not quite as lively as
in the earlier part of the evening.
"Will you be kind enough to show me the way to the ferry?" said
he, after a moment's pause.
"You have, then, adopted a new subject of inquiry?" observed his
companion, with a smile.
"Why, yes, sir," replied Robin, rather dryly. "Thanks to you, and
to my other friends, I have at last met my kinsman, and he will
scarce desire to see my face again. I begin to grow weary of a
town life, sir. Will you show me the way to the ferry?"
"No, my good friend Robin,--not to-night, at least," said the
gentleman. "Some few days hence, if you wish it, I will speed you
on your journey. Or, if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as
you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world without the
help of your kinsman, Major Molineux."