Why was it, Alan, that I could not help giving an involuntary shudder at receiving an invitation so seasonable in itself, and so suitable to my naturally inquisitive disposition? I easily suppressed this untimely sensation; and as I returned thanks, and expressed my hope that I should not disarrange, his family, I once more dropped a hint of my desire to make compensation for any trouble I might occasion. The man answered very coldly, 'Your presence will no doubt give me trouble, sir, but it is of a kind which your purse, cannot compensate; in a word, although I am content to receive you as my guest, I am no publican to call a reckoning.'
I begged his pardon, and, at his instance, once more seated myself behind hint upon the good horse, which went forth steady as before--the moon, whenever she could penetrate the clouds, throwing the huge shadow of the animal, with its double burden, on the wild and bare ground over which we passed.
Thou mayst laugh till thou lettest the letter fall, if thou wilt, but it reminded me of the magician Atlantes on his hippogriff with a knight trussed up behind him, in the manner Ariosto has depicted that matter. Thou art I know, matter-of-fact enough to affect contempt of that fascinating and delicious poem; but think not that, to conform with thy bad taste, I shall forbear any suitable illustration which now or hereafter may occur to me.
On we went, the sky blackening around us, and the wind beginning to pipe such a wild and melancholy tune as best suited the hollow sounds of the advancing tide, which I could hear at a distance, like the roar of some immense monster defrauded of its prey.
At length, our course was crossed by a deep dell or dingle, such as they call in some parts of Scotland a den, and in others a cleuch or narrow glen. It seemed, by the broken glances which the moon continued to throw upon it, to be steep, precipitous, and full of trees, which are, generally speaking, rather scarce upon these shores. The descent by which we plunged into this dell was both steep and rugged, with two or three abrupt turnings; but neither danger nor darkness impeded the motion of the black horse, who seemed rather to slide upon his haunches, than to gallop down the pass, throwing me again on the shoulders of the athletic rider, who, sustaining no inconvenience by the circumstance, continued to press the horse forward with his heel, steadily supporting him at the same time by raising his bridle- hand, until we stood in safety at the bottom of the steep--not a little to my consolation, as, friend Alan, thou mayst easily conceive.
A very short advance up the glen, the bottom of which we had attained by this ugly descent, brought us in front of two or three cottages, one of which another blink of moonshine enabled me to rate as rather better than those of the Scottish peasantry in this part of the world; for the sashes seemed glazed, and there were what are called storm-windows in the roof, giving symptoms of the magnificence of a second story. The scene around was very interesting; for the cottages, and the yards or crofts annexed to them, occupied a haugh, or helm, of two acres, which a brook of some consequence (to judge from its roar) had left upon one side of the little glen while finding its course close to the farther bank, and which appeared to be covered and darkened with trees, while the level space beneath enjoyed such stormy smiles as the moon had that night to bestow.
I had little time for observation, for my companion's loud whistle, seconded by an equally loud halloo, speedily brought to the door of the principal cottage a man and a woman, together with two large Newfoundland dogs, the deep baying of which I had for some time heard. A yelping terrier or two, which had joined the concert, were silent at the presence of my conductor, and began to whine, jump up, and fawn upon him. The female drew back when she beheld a stranger; the man, who had a lighted lantern, advanced, and, without any observation, received the horse from my host, and led him, doubtless, to stable, while I followed my conductor into the house. When we had passed the HALLAN, [The partition which divides a Scottish cottage.] we entered a well- sized apartment, with a clean brick floor, where a fire blazed (much to my contentment) in the ordinary projecting sort of a chimney, common in Scottish houses. There were stone seats within the chimney; and ordinary utensils, mixed with fishing- spears, nets, and similar implements of sport, were hung around the walls of the place. The female who had first appeared at the door, had now retreated into a side apartment. She was presently followed by my guide, after he had silently motioned me to a seat; and their place was supplied by an elderly woman, in a grey stuff gown, with a check apron and toy, obviously a menial, though neater in her dress than is usual in her apparent rank--an advantage which was counterbalanced by a very forbidding aspect. But the most singular part of her attire, in this very Protestant country, was a rosary, in which the smaller beads were black oak, and those indicating the PATER-NOSTER of silver, with a crucifix of the same metal.
This person made preparations for supper, by spreading a clean though coarse cloth over a large oaken table, placing trenchers and salt upon it, and arranging the fire to receive a gridiron. I observed her motions in silence; for she took no sort of notice of me, and as her looks were singularly forbidding, I felt no disposition to commence conversation.