The Mount of Sorrow

Never did anything seem fresher and sweeter than the plateau on which we emerged in the early sunset, after defiling all day through the dark deep mountain-sides in the rain.

We had promised Rhoda to assault her winter fastness whenever she should summon us; and now, in obedience to her message, a gay party of us had left the railway, and had driven, sometimes in slushy snow and sometimes on bare ground, up the old mountain-road, laughing and singing, and jangling our bells, till at length the great bare woods, lifting their line for ever before us and above us, gave place to bald black mountain-sides, whose oppressive gloom and silence stifled everything but a longing to escape from between them, and from the possible dangers in crossing bridges, and fording streams swollen by the fortnight’s thaws and rains. Now and then the stillness resolved itself into the murmuring of bare sprays, the rustling of rain, the dancing of innumerable unfettered brooks glittering with motion, but without light, from the dusky depths; now and then a ghastly lustre shot from the ice still hanging like a glacier upon some upper steep, or a strange gleam from the sodden snow on their floors lightened the roofs of the leafless forests that overlapped the chasms, and trailed their twisted roots like shapes of living horror. What was there, I wondered, so darkly familiar in it all? in what nightmare had I dreamed it all before? Long ere the journey’s end our spirits became dead as last night’s wine; we shared the depression of all nature, and felt as if we had come out of chaos and the end of all things when the huge mountain gates closed behind us, and we dashed out on the plateau where the grass, from which the wintry wrapping had been washed, had not lost all its greenness, and in the sudden lifting of the raincloud a red sparkle of sunset lighted the windows, as if a hundred flambeaux had been kindled to greet us.

A huge fire burned in the fireplace of the drawing-room when we had mounted the stairs and crossed the great hall, where other fires were blazing and sending ruddy flames to skim among the cedar rafters; and all that part of the house sacred to Colonel Vorse, and opened now the first time in many winters, was thoroughly warm and cheerful with lights and flowers and rugs and easy-chairs and books. We might easily have fancied ourselves, that night, in those spacious rooms, when, toilets made and dinner over, we reassembled around the solid glow of the chimney logs, a modern party in some old mediæval chamber, all the more for the spirit of the scene outside, where the storm was telling its rede again, rain changing to snow, and a cruel blast keening round the many gables and screaming down the chimneys. After all, Rhoda’s and Merivale’s plan of having us in the hills before late-lingering winter should be quite gone, and doing a little Sintram business with skates and wolves and hill visions, should have been carried out earlier. To them it was all but little less novel than it was to me, and Rhoda, who, although a year or two my junior, had been my intimate, so far as I ever had an intimate, would not rest till she had devised this party, without which she knew she could not have me, even persuading our good old Dr. Devens to leave his pulpit and people, and stamp the proceeding with his immaculate respectability. As it was, however, it looked as though we were simply to be shut in by a week of storm following the thaw. Well, there are compensations in all things: perhaps two people in whom I had some interest would know each other a trifle better before the week ended then.

The place was really the home of Rhoda and Merivale, or was now to become so. Colonel Vorse, their father, who had married so young that he felt but little older than they, and was quite their companion, was still the owner of the vast summer hostelry, although no longer its manager. After accumulating his fortune he had taken his children about the world, educating them and himself at the same time, with now an object lesson in Germany and now another in Peru, and finally returning to this place, which, so far as we could see, was absolute desolation, without a neighbour, but which to him was bristling with memories and associations and old friends across the intervale and over the mountain and round the spur. There was something weird to me, as I looked out at the flying whiteness of the moonlit storm, in those acquaintances of his among the hollows of these pallid hills; it seemed as though they must partake of the coldness and whiteness, and as if they were only dead people, when all was said. Perhaps Dr. Devens, who half the way up had been quoting,

Pavilioned high, he sits
In darkness from excessive splendour born,

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