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By Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1804-1864


[Editorial note: these sketches followed "The Canal-Boat" in the New-England Magazine, December, 1835, and are the ones referred to by Park Benjamin. But they were not reprinted in Mosses from an Old Manse. They were reprinted by Lathrop in 1891 and Weber in 1989. They are given here as part of the lost The Story Teller frame narrative, just preceding " Young Goodman Brown".]




THERE HAS NOT BEEN a more delicious afternoon than this, in all the train of summer--the air being a sunny perfume, made up of balm and warmth and gentle brightness. The oak and walnut trees, over my head, retained their deep masses of foliage, and the grass, though for months the pasturage of stray cattle, had been revived with the freshness of early June, by the autumnal rains of the preceding week. The garb of Autumn indeed resembled that of Spring. Dandelions and buttercups were sprinkled along the roadside, like drops of brightest gold in greenest grass; and a starshaped little flower, with a golden centre. In a rocky spot, and rooted under the stone-wall, there was one wild rose-bush, bearing three roses, very faintly tinted, but blessed with a spicy fragrance. The same tokens would have announced that the year was brightening into the glow of summer. There were violets, too, though few and pale ones. But the breath of September was diffused through the mild air, whenever a little breeze shook out the latent coolness.




The steamboat in which I was passenger for Detroit, had put into the mouth of a small river, where the greater part of the night would be spent in repairing some damages of the machinery. As the evening was warm, though cloudy and very dark, I stood on deck, watching a scene that would not have attracted a second glance in the day-time, but became picturesque by the magic of strong light and deep shade. Some wild Irishmen were replenishing our stock of wood, and had kindled a great fire on the bank, to illuminate their labors. It was composed of large logs and dry brushwood, heaped together with careless profusion, blazing fiercely, spouting showers of sparks into the darkness, and gleaming wide over lake Erie--a beacon for perplexed voyagers, leagues from land. All around and above the furnace, there was total obscurity. No trees, or other objects, caught and reflected any portion of the brightness, which thus wasted itself in the immense void of night, as if it quivered from the expiring embers of the world, after the final conflagration. But the Irishmen were continually emerging from the dense gloom, passing through the lurid glow, and vanishing into the gloom on the other side. Sometimes a whole figure would be made visible, by the shirt-sleeves and light-colored dress; others were but half seen, like imperfect creatures; many flitted, shadow-like, along the skirts of darkness, tempting fancy to a vain pursuit; and often, a face alone was reddened by the fire, and stared strangely distinct, with no traces of a body. In short, these wild Irish, distorted and exaggerated by the blaze, now lost in deep shadow, now bursting into sudden splendor, and now struggling between light and darkness, formed a picture which might have been transferred, almost unaltered, to a tale of the supernatural. As they all carried lanterns of wood, and often flung sticks upon the fire, the least imaginative spectator would at once compare them to devils, condemned to keep alive the flame of their own torment.

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