Heidelberg: ein Roman, Band 3

Christian Ernst Kollmann
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Publisher
Christian Ernst Kollmann
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Published on
Dec 31, 1847
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Pages
312
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Language
German
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This content is DRM protected.
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ÊThough the weather was hot and sultry, and the summer was at its height, yet the evening was gloomy, and low, angry clouds hung over the distant line of the sea, when, under the shelter of some low-browed cliffs upon the Irish coast, three persons stood together, two of whom were talking earnestly. About four or five miles from the shore, looking like a spectre upon the misty background of clouds, appeared a small brig with her canvas closely reefed, though there was little wind stirring, and nothing announced the approach of a gale, unless it were a long, heavy swell that heaved up the bosom of the ocean as if with a suppressed sob. The three persons we have mentioned were standing together close at the foot of the rocks; and, though there was nothing in their demeanour which would imply that they were seeking concealment by the points and angles of the cliff,Ñfor they spoke loud, and one of them laughed more than once with the short but jocund laugh of a heart whose careless gaiety no circumstances can repress,Ñyet the spot was well calculated to hide them from any eye, unless it were one gazing down from the cliffs above, or one looking towards the shore from the sea.
The party of which we speak comprised two men not quite reached the middle age, and a fine, noble-looking boy of perhaps eight years old or a little more; but all the conversation was between the two elder, who bore a slight family likeness to each other. The one had a cloak thrown over his arm, and a blue handkerchief bound round his left hand. His dress in other respects was that of a military man of the period; a long-waisted, broad-tailed coat, with a good deal of gold lace and many large buttons upon it, enormous riding boots, and a heavy sword. He had no defensive armour on, indeed, though those were days when the soldierly cuirass was not yet done away with; and on his head he only wore an ordinary hat trimmed round with feathers.
The night was as black as ink; not a solitary twinkling star looked out through that wide expanse of shadow, which our great Poet has called the "blanket of the dark;" clouds covered the heaven; the moon had not risen to tinge them even with grey, and the sun had too long set to leave one faint streak of purple upon the edge of the western sky. Trees, houses, villages, fields, and gardens, all lay in one profound obscurity, and even the course of the high-road itself required eyes well-accustomed to night-travelling to be able to distinguish it, as it wandered on through a rich part of Hampshire, amidst alternate woods and meadows. Yet at that murky hour, a traveller on horseback rode forward upon his way, at an easy pace, and with a light heart, if one might judge by the snatches of homely ballads that broke from his lips as he trotted on. These might, indeed, afford a fallacious indication of what was going on within the breast, and in his case they did so; for habit is more our master than we know, and often rules our external demeanour, whenever the spirit is called to take council in the deep chambers within, showing upon the surface, without any effort on our part to hide our thoughts, a very different aspect from that of the mind's business at the moment.
Thus, then, the traveller who there rode along, saluting the ear of night with scraps of old songs, sung in a low, but melodious voice, was as thoughtful, if not as sad, as it was in his nature to be; but yet, as that nature was a cheerful one and all his habits were gay, no sooner were the eyes of the spirit called to the consideration of deeper things, than custom exercised her sway over the animal part, and he gave voice, as we have said, to the old ballads which had cheered his boyhood and his youth.
It was a dark and stormy night,Ña very dark night indeed. No dog's mouth, whether terrier, mastiff, or Newfoundland, was ever so dark as that night. The hatches had been battened down, and every aperture but one, by which any of the great, curly-pated, leaping waves could jump into the vessel, had been closed.
What vessel? the reader may perhaps inquire. Well, that being a piece of reasonable curiosity,Ñalthough I do wish, as a general thing, that readers would not be so impatient,ÑI will gratify it, and answer the inquirer's question; and, indeed, would have told him all about it in five minutes if he would but have given me time.
What vessel? asks the reader. Why, a little, heavy-looking, fore-and-aft, one-masted ship, somewhat tubbish in form, which had battled with a not very favorable gale during a long stormy day, and had, as the sun went down, approached the coast of France, it might be somewhat too close for safety. The atmosphere in the cabin below was hot and oppressive. How indeed could it be otherwise, when not one breath of air, notwithstanding all the bullying and roaring of Boreas, had been able to get in during the whole day? But such being the case, and respiration in the little den being difficult, the only altogether terrestrial animalÑsailors are, of course, amphibiousÑwhich that vessel contained had forced his way up to the deck through the only narrow outlet which had been left open.
The amphibia have always a considerable dislike and some degree of contempt for all land-animals, and the five sailors, with their skipper, who formed all the crew so small a craft required, would probably have driven below the intruder upon their labors, had they had time, leisure, or light to notice him at all. But for near two hours he stood at the stern on the weather side of the ship, holding on by the bulwarks, wet to the skin, with his hat blown off and probably swimming back toward Old England, and his hands numbed with cold and with hard grasping.
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