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THE DOUBLE-BEDDED ROOM.
“ WELL, after all," I exclaimed, “ there are few things so comfortable as snug quarters in a good inn;" and, so, saying, I drew up my chair a foot or so nearer the fire, and manifested the exuberance of my satisfaction and the soundness of the poker by reducing a superincumbent mass of the best Walls-end to minute fragments. A ride of some eighty miles outside the mail in a biting November day had thrown me into that state of delicious languor, which disposes one to regard everything in the best light, and I had abandoned myself to the enjoyment of the pleasurable, so far as it was to be obtained in the best parlour of the head inn in the provincial town of Nibblington. A neat repast had feasted me light and choice," and a second tumbler of brandy and water, “warm with,” stood exhaling its fragrance at my elbow. The fire was in fine spirits, and went laughingly and crack. ling merrily up the chimney ; it took part in the satisfaction it afforded -We were sworn friends.
“What a glorious thing it is," I muttered to myself, as I rested my
heels upon the fender, and stretched myself backwards into my chair,——" what a glorious thing it is this taking one's ease in one's inn! It hath a relish almost too fine for earth—it smacks of Elysium! You have cheated fate for once, given business the go-by, and left the anxieties that dog your footsteps daily, in the lurch. Here you are yourself alone,' -none to thwart, to fret, to frown upon you,—with a few sovereigns in your pocket, you are yourself a king. How respectful is mine host !-he is your chancellor, and holds you tenderly in his keeping, as royal consciences are kept. The waiters, how obsequious !— like angels, ever eager-eyed,'—these be your ministers, watchful to do your will all the more that the prospect of the gratillity to be secured thereby is ever vividly present to their imagination. The chambermaids, your maids of honour and honoured as maids,--lighting you to dreams of love and bliss, like second Heros, with warming pan and bed-room candlestick of brass. Your bed—but, ecod! I never thought of that,”—and I started up and tugged the bell in considerable trepidation.
My call was answered by the appearance of one of those smirking animals, that
about inns with towels over their left arms. “ Have you secured a bed for me ?”
" Yezzir.' I resolved the dog should have an additional halfcrown for his attention. “ Sorry, sir, could not let you have a room to yourself, sir.”
Eh, what !” I exclaimed, and my contemplated generosity sunk at once below zero.
Single bedrooms all engaged, sir.” " The devil !”
“ Yezzir,-full of lawyers, sir. Assizes this week-crowded—not a corner to cram a cat in.”
“ And where am I to be stowed away, pray ?”.
“ Excellent apartment, sir—third story behind-two capital beds, well-aired. Other gin'l'm'n very quiet, sir.'
" Who or what is he ?”
“Don'know, sir. Came here a week ago, sir-breakfasts at ten minutes to eight precisely-cup of coffee, sir, and half a roll-goes out, and comes home at eleven every night. Mute as a mouse-tried myself to draw him out—wouldn't work, sir. Strange man, sirneither speaks nor eats—how he lives, can't tell—what he does, ditto—where he goes, a mystery as dark, as dark as Omnibus, sir.”
“Hum! Queer fish, seemingly."
“ Yezzir, singular man, sir—indeed I may say, a very singular man, sir. Seems in rather low spirits, sir. Any more brandy and water, sir ?"
I ordered a fresh supply of this terrestrial nectar, and flung myself into my chair with the air of a man who feels himself a victim to untoward destiny.
That ihis should have happened to me, of all men in the world! to me, who never could tolerate bedfellows in my life !-slept with locked door and window fast, and not a soul within half a dozen rooms of me—me, whose chief motive for remaining single-my Marion was certainly a very, very charming creature! I do half incline to believe, was the horror of having my old habit of loneli. ness invaded! Possibly the wretch snores. Oh, horrible! most horrible! Well, if I do strangle him, no enlightened jury can bring in a worse verdict against me than that of "justifiable homicide. Looks melancholy, too? Oh, your melancholy men have a trick of speaking in their sleep; and I shall be kept shuddering all night at his incoherent ohs! and ahs! It is positively too bad ! And again I dashed the poker into the bowels of the fire, and stirred it fiercely. The exercise only threw my brain into a livelier state of activity, and my fancies assumed a darker hue. To be shut up in an out-o'-the way room in a confounded old rambling wilderness of an inn, with a fellow whom nobody knows anything about !-to have your
valise and breeches-pockets ransacked, their “silver lining turned out upon the night,” while you are wooing the caresses of the drowsy god, or, possibly, like the Irish member, to wake in the morning and find your throat cut!
A cold line seemed to be drawn across my wea. sand at the thought, and I groaned inwardly. Seizing my brandy and water, I whipped it off at a gulp; but it had lost its flavour,was cold, vapid, ineffectual stuff, and left no relish on the palate. I sank into a reverie, a dull and quasi-collapse state of misery, on starting from which I found that the fire had sunk down to a few cinders and the ghost of a flame, which looked up for a moment, as if to reproach me of my neglect, and quietly went out. Conjuring up a smile at my fears--a very hectic sort of an affair, indeed, -1 called for a light, and following the pilotage of the “Cham'maid," was heralded along a succession of passages, and up a labyrinth of staircases, until I reached the room that had been selected as my dor. mitory.
Its dimensions were something of the smallest. Two beds, placed directly opposite each other, engrossed three-fourths of the apartment. They were divided by an alley of some four feet in breadth, at the end of which, in the window recess, stood a table with the usual appurtenances of mirror and caraffes, and the window itself looked out upon Cimmerian darkness, and the devil knows what. The other furnishings consisted of certain cane chairs, whose appearance
was anything but calculated to inspire confidence in their trustworthiness. “ The rusty grate, unconscious of a fire,” stood shivering in the yawning fireplace, above which a cloudy mezzotint, conveying the faintest possible intimation of a blasted heath, with a gibbet in perspective, decorated a wall, which time and damp had reduced from its primitive shade of green to the most miscellaneous diversity of tints. Here was an appearance of things, not certainly the most favourable for dissipating the unpleasant feelings that had for some time been fretting my lesser intestines to the tenuity of fiddlestrings; but I put a bold face upon the matter, and after a leisurely survey of the apartment, deposited my self in bed. Sleep, however, was not to be thought of till the arrival of the person who was to share the apartment with me, and I lay forming all sorts of speculations as to his probable appearance. At length, towards midnight, a heavy step sounded on the staircase, and I heard some one advanc. ing with a stately tread to the room in which I lay! Now, then, for a solution of my uncertainty ! I half raised myself on my elbow to examine the person that should enter. The door opened leisurely, and a figure advanced into the room, that increased rather than abated my perplexity. It was that of a tall, powerfully-built man, dressed all in black, with a cloak of the same colour about his shoulders, and as he held the candle before him as though he held it not, its light fell upon features of a character singularly impressive, but pale and blasted, as it were, with untold woe. His long raven hair fell away in masses from his forehead, like blackening pines upon a lightning-scathed mountain summit, and his eyes burned with dull, moveless glare. He appeared to be utterly unconscious of my presence, notwithstanding my endeavours to excite his attention by sundry admonitory coughs and hems. Finding these of no avail, I resolved to attack him more directly, and, in as indifferent a tone as I could muster, exclaimed,
“Good night, sir !"-no answer—“Good night, sir !" with a strong. er emphasis--still not a word ; and it was not till I had repeated the salutation several times that he turned his eyes upon me. And oh! what an inward hell did that look reveal !—in words that dropped like minute-guns from his, lips he said,
“ I wish you may have a good ntght, sir.”
This was enough ; I was thoroughly relieved of any desire for farther converse with a gentleman of this kidney; so he relapsed into his abstraction, and I into my pillow and my speculations,
I was fatigued, and would fain have slept, but this I soon found to be impossible. In vain I turned from the left side to right, from right to left, and then in despair threw myself on my face, and dug my head into the pillow. I tried to think of discourses on political economy, of sermons on temperance, of all the most sove. reign narcotics I could recall. I repeated the alphabet letter by letter, and then groped my way through the multiplication-table; but it was of no use. Sleep was not to be so cajoled. The gentleman in black had betaken himself to bed. The room was as dark as midnight could make it, and I heard a sigh, and the curtains drawn closely round in front of where he lay. Strange precaution, I thought. What can he mean? Has he the same doubts of me that are haunting me with regard to him, and so wishes to place even the slight barrier of a piece of dimity between us? Or per:
haps the gentleman is conscious of sleeping in rather an ungainly style,-tosses the bed-clothes off him perhaps, or lies with his mouth agape, like a fish in the death-pang, and may not wish the morning light to disclose his weakness ? But this comfortable view of the matter soon faded away as the remembrance of his appearance pressed upon my vision. Those features so pale and rigid ; that massive figure, trained in po ordinary toils ; those eyes dead to all outward objects, and lighted up with fires, that seemed inwardly consuming him, stared vividly before me. I saw him as he entered the room, and went through all the operation of undressing, with a motion merely mechanical. What could so have palsied the senses and the will? Was it remorse for some unutterable guilt that prey. ed upon his heart, or was he even then meditating some act of inexpiable crime ? I was lying there alone, in darkness, with a felon, perhaps a murderer! And then his answer to my friendly salutation, “ I wish you may have a good night, sir !" came back upon my ear. May have a good night! There was, then a doubt, which he even confessed. I stirred in bed with as much noise as possible, coughing at the same time, to see if I could elicit any cor responding sound from my opposite neighbour. But all was hushed. I could not even catch his breathing. Oh, I thought, he must have gone to sleep. He, at least, takes the matter easy. But still his words—“I wish you may have a good night, sir !"--haunted me. What was there to prevent my having a good night, but something of which he himself was alone conscious ? The night was a quiet one, and our room too much out of the way to be visited by any of the usual sleep-dispelling noises of an inn. Would to Heaven it had been less so! Again I thought of the curtains drawn so carefully in front of his bed. Might he not behind them be preparing the knife, with which he was to spring upon my secure slumbers? I coughed louder than before, to assure him that I was still wakeful. This horrible fancy now took entire possession of my mind. His sepulchral “ I wist: you may have a good night !" pleaded a perpetual alarum in my ears. It was an intimation to settle accounts with the world.
He would not kill my unprepared spirit. Not he! He was sentimental murderer, an amateur assassin, and Fate had kindly quoited me into his grasp. I lay riveted to my couch, expecting every moment to hear the curtains torn apart, and to feel his fingers at my throat. Every nerve and faculty were strained to the utmost pitch, till even the suspense grew more fearful than the reality itself could have been. A death-like stillness filled the chamber. Its very hush and creeping' grew oppressive. The stirring of a mouse would have been worth worlds to me.
Worn out with this excitement, I fell into a perturbed and gasping slumber, and, on starting from it, my ear seemed to catch the expiring echo of a groan. It might, however, have only been the wind striking a favourite note in the crannies of the chimney. Day had by this time begun to break, and the gladsome light gave me courage to look out between my curtains. Those of the opposite bed were still down, and its inmate seemed locked in profound repose. I turned my eyes towards the window to strengthen myself by the sight of some cheering object against the anxieties that still hung about my mind, and found that it looked
out upon a desolate court, commanding a prospect at the same time of which the leading features were some crazy old chimney-stacks. The sky was wet and weltering, and no sound cf life was audible, except the occasional rattle of a cart, blended with the driver's whoop, rousing the echoes of the slumbering streets. The whole feeling of the time and place was as cheerless as possible ; and, to complete my discomfort, a superannuated raven, a creature worn with the throes of luckless prophecy, settled upon a chimney right before my eyes, and began croaking its monotonous chaunt of woe. Oh, how that eternal “ caw! caw!" did chafe me, “ mingling strangely with my fears,” and presaging the coming on of some unknown horror ! It threw my thoughts back into their old channel, Alarm, however, had now given place to curiosity, and I determined at all hazards to know more of the mysterious man who had oco casioned me such a night of torture. I lay intent to catch the minutest sound, but in vain. Fine-ear himself, that hears the grass grow in the fairy-tale, could not have detected the shadow of a breath. This, I thought, is the most unaccountable man I ever met with. He comes nobody knows whence, goes nobody knows where, eats nothing, drinks nothing, and says nothing,—and sleeps like no other mortal beneath the sun. I must, and will sound the heart of this mystery.
Here was I, with fevered pulse and throbbing brow, after a night of agony, while the cause of my uneasiness was taking deep draughts of that'" tired Nature's sweet restorer,” of which his singular appearance and ominous words had effectually robbed me.
It was not more strange than provoking. I could bear this state of things no longer, and discharged a volley of tearing coughs, as if all the pulmonary complaints of the town had taken refuge in my ir divi. dual chest. Still there was not a movement to indicate the slıhtest disturbance on the part of my tormentor.
sprang out of bed, and paced up and down the room, making as much noise as possible by pushing the chairs about, and hitching the dressing-table along the floor. Still my enemy slept on. I rushed to the fire-place, and rattled the shovel and poker against one another. He cannot but stir at this, I thought; and I listened in the expectation of hearing him start. Still the same deathlike silence continued. I caught up the fire-irons, and hurled them together against the grate. They fell with a crash that might have startled the Seven Sleepers,—and I waited in a paroxysm of anxiety for the result which I had anticipated. But there were the close curtains as before, and not a sound issued from behind them to indicate the presence of any living thing. I was in a state bordering upon frenzy. The fearful suspense of the past night, the agony of emotions with which I had been shaken, working upon a body already greatly fatigued, had left me in a fever of excitement, which, if it had continued, must have ended in mad. ness. I was wild with a mixed sensation of dread and curiosity, and suspense. One way or another the torture must be ended. I rushed towards the bed; upsetting the dressing table in my agitation. I tore open the curtains, and there, oh God! lay the cause of all my agony -a suicide-weltering in a pool of blood. I felt my naked foot slip in something moist and slimy. Ob Heaven, the horror of that plashy gore! I fell forwards on the floor, smitten as by a thunderbolt into insensibility.