Read CHAPTER V of Walladmor Vol. I, free online book, by Thomas De Quincey, on

Wher dwellen ye, if it to tellen be?
In the subarbes of a town, quod he,
Lurking in bernes and in lanes blind
Whereas thise robbours and thise theves by kinde
Holden hir privee fereful residence
As they that dare not shewen hir presence,
So faren we, if I shal say the sothe. Chaucer.

Bertram now found himself in a situation of some perplexity: he was alone; perfectly unacquainted with the country; it was already dusk, and he had to make his way through a labyrinth of hills which was likely to present danger in more shapes than one: his experience on board Captain Harnois had taught him that he was not perfectly secure from behind; and before him was a mountainous region better peopled in all probability with precipices and torrents than with human habitations. Under these circumstances he had to go in quest of a lodging for the night; and this, from all that he had read of England, on a double account he could scarcely venture to anticipate under any respectable roof; first because he was on foot, and secondly because he carried his own portmanteau. However he entered on his course with spirit; and for some time advanced without much difficulty. The path meandered away along the margin of the little brook, diverging from it at times, but soon winding back upon it. And as long as the road continued to lie over the little common which lay between the sea and the hills, the light being here less intercepted and reflected more freely from the pellucid brook, he had no difficulty in proceeding. But, when he had reached the foot of the hills, and found that the brook suddenly immerged into a mountain ravine, he halted in utter despondency. Looking back upon the shore, which lay due West, he perceived that the last faint blush of color had died away in the sky: a solemn veil of darkness had descended over the sea; even that was disappearing; and, within the narrow windings of the hills upon which he was now entering, the darkness of “chaos and old night” seemed to brood. That his road would be likely to lead him over precipices elevated enough for all purposes of danger, he already knew: for now and then the path began to ascend pretty steeply from the edge of the brook, though it soon again subsided to the same level. All around him was the sound of waters and of torrents: no ray of candlelight or cheerful fire issued from any cottage amongst the hills: he shouted, but received no answer: and he sate down to deliberate upon his situation.

Just at this moment it seemed to him that he heard somewhere in his neighbourhood a low muttering. He looked round: but it was impossible to distinguish any object at more than a few paces distance; and, as he had repeatedly turned to look back in his road from the sea, and had besides walked fast, he felt convinced that no person could have dogged him; and was disposed to think that he had been mistaken. The next minute however the noise recurred: he rose and moved a few paces onwards. Again he heard the low muttering as of some person talking to himself: in a moment after steps rang upon the hard frosty ground as of a heavy foot behind him; and, before he could collect his thoughts, a hand touched him on the shoulder, and a deep-toned voice exclaimed Halt!

He had now no choice left but to face the danger: he stopped therefore; and, turning round, he perceived close to his elbow a man in no very respectable attire, so far as the obscurity would allow him to judge, but half muffled up in a cloak, and armed with a stout bludgeon. Much as he had just now been wishing for some guide, he yet could not congratulate himself on so unpropitious a rencontre. The stranger’s dress and unceremonious greeting were not more suspicious than the abruptness of his appearance: for Bertram felt convinced that he must have way-laid him. Assuming however as much composure as he could, he demanded in a loud tone,

“Why did you not answer me when I shouted just now? You must have heard me.

“Heard you?” said the other, in a low but remarkably firm and deep voice, “Heard you? Yes, I heard you well enough: but who in his senses goes shouting at night-time up and down a bye-road on a smuggler’s coast, as if he meant to waken all the dogs and men in the country.”

“Who? why any man that has a good conscience: what difference can the night make?”

“Aye, that has! But take my word for it, friend, a man that comes ashore from Jackson’s brig may as well go quietly along and say as little as possible about his conscience. In this country they don’t mind much what a man says: many a gay fellow to my knowledge has continued to give the very best character of himself all the way up the ladder of the new drop, and yet after all has been nonsuited by Jack Ketch when he got to the top of it for wanting so little a matter as another witness or so to back his own evidence.”

“Well, but, I suppose, something must be proved against a man, some overt act against the laws, before he can be suspected in any country: till that is done, the presumption is that he is a respectable man: and every judge will act on that presumption.”

“Yes, in books perhaps: but when a running-fire of cross-examinations opens from under some great wig, and one’s blood gets up, and one doesn’t well remember all that one has said before, I know not how it is, but things are apt to take a different turn.”

“Well, my rule is to steer wide of all temptation to do ill; and then a man will carry his ship through in any waters.”

“Will he? Why, may be so; and may be not. There are such things as sunk rocks: and it’s not so easy to steer wide of them: constables for instance, justices of peace, lawyers, juries.”

“But how came you to know that I was put on shore from Jackson’s brig?”

“Why, to tell you a secret, it was I that lay at the bottom of the boat, whilst your learned self were writing notes in a pocketbook. But hush! what’s that?”

He stopped suddenly; looked cautiously round; and then went on:

“It was nothing, I believe. We may go on; but we must talk lower: in these cursed times every stone has ears. Here we must cross the brook, and double the rock on the left.”

Whilst Bertram went on, he loitered a few steps behind, and then cried out “Do you see any body?” On receiving an answer in the negative, he advanced; turned the corner, and then began again:

“You are going to Machynleth; and you want a guide to show you the road and to carry your portmanteau: Now I’ll do both on cheap terms; for all I ask in return is this that, up to the inn-door, if we meet any body that asks unpleasant questions, you will just be so good as to let me pass for your servant whom you have brought from abroad. What say you? Is it a bargain?”

“My good friend, according to the most flattering account I have yet received of your morals (which is your own), they are rather of a loose description; and with all possible respect for your virtue that the case allows, you will admit yourself that I should be running some little risk in confiding my portmanteau to your care: for I know not who you are; and, before I could look round, you might be off with my whole property; in which case I should certainly be on a ‘sunk rock.’ Some little risk, yon must candidly allow?”

“No,” said the stranger “No, not at all: and if that’s all the objection you have, I’ll convince you that you are wrong in a moment. Now just look at me (there’s a little starlight at this moment). Perhaps you’ll admit that I’m rather a stouter man than yourself?”

“Oh! doubtless.”

“And possibly this bludgeon would be no especial disadvantage to me in a contest with an unarmed man?”

“I must acknowledge it would not.”

“Nor this particular knife? according to your view of my ‘morals,’ as you call them, I suppose it would not be very difficult for me to cut your throat with it, and then pitch you into one of these dark mountain ravines where some six weeks hence a mouldering corpse of a stranger might chance to be found, that nobody would trouble his head about? Are my arguments forcible? satisfactory, eh?”

“Undoubtedly. I must grant that there is considerable force in your way of arguing the case. But permit me to ask, what particular consideration moves you to conduct me and my portmanteau without hire to Machynleth? It seems too disinterested a proposal, to awaken no suspicion.”

“Not so disinterested as you may fancy. Suppose now I happen to have left a few debts behind me in this country: or suppose I were an alien with no passport: or suppose any other little supposes you like: only keep them to yourself, and talk as low if you please as convenient.”

“Well, be it so: here’s the portmanteau: take care you don’t drop this little letter-case.”

The stranger tossed the portmanteau over his shoulder; and both pushed forward up the pass at a rapid pace. For some miles they advanced in silence: and Bertram, being again left to his own meditations, had leisure to recur to his original suspicions. Whenever the stranger happened to be a little a-head of him, Bertram feared that he might be then absconding with his property. When he stopped for a moment, Bertram feared that he was stopping for no good. In no way could he entirely liberate himself from uneasy thoughts. Even upon his own account of himself the man wore rather a suspicious character; and what made it most so in the eyes of Bertram was the varying style of his dialect. He seemed to have engrafted the humorous phraseology of nautical life, which he wished to pass for his natural style, upon the original stock of a provincial dialect: and yet at times, when he was betrayed into any emotion or was expressing anger at social institutions, a more elevated diction and finer choice of expressions showed that somewhere or other the man must have enjoyed an intercourse with company of a higher class. In one or other part it was clear that he was a dissembler, and wearing a masque that could not argue any good purposes. Spite of all which however, and in the midst of his distrust, some feeling of kinder interest in the man arose in Bertram’s mind whether it were from compassion as towards one who seemed to have been unfortunate, or from some more obscure feeling that he could not explain to himself.

The road now wound over a rising ground; and the stranger pointed out some lights on the left which gleamed out from the universal darkness.

“Yonder is Machynleth, if that is to be our destination. But, if the gentleman’s journey lies further, I could show him another way which fetches a compass about the town.”

“It is late already and very cold: for what reason then should I avoid Machynleth?”

“Oh, every man has his own thoughts and reasons: and very advisable it is that he should keep as many of them as possible to himself. Let no man ask another his name, his rank, whither he is bound, on what errand, and so forth. And, if he does, let no man answer him. For under all these little matters may chance to lurk some ugly construction in a court of justice when a man is obliged to give evidence against a poor devil that at any rate has done him no harm.”

“Aye,” said Bertram, “and there are other reasons which should make the traveller cautious of answering such questions: for consider how is he to know in what dark lane he may chance to meet the curious stranger on his next day’s journey? Though to be sure you’ll say that, for a man with no more baggage than myself, such caution is somewhat superfluous.”

The stranger laughed heartily, and said: “True, too true, as the gentleman observes: and indeed the gentleman seems to understand how such matters are conducted very well. However, after all, I would strongly recommend it to the gentleman to avoid the town of Machynleth.”

“But why so? Is it a nest of thieves?”

“Oh! Lord bless us! no: quite the other way: rather too honest, and strict, you understand.”

“Well, and for what reason then avoid making the acquaintance of so very virtuous a town?”

“Why, for that reason. It’s unreasonably virtuous. In particular there is a certain magistrate in the neighbourhood, who hangs his 12 men per annum: and why? For no other cause on God’s earth than because their blood is hotter than his own. He has his bloodhounds for tracking them, and his spies for trepanning; and all the old women say that he can read in the stars, and in coffee grounds, where contraband goods come ashore.”

“Why, my pleasant friend, what is it you take me for?”

The stranger turned round; pressed his companion’s hand; but, not finding the pressure returned, he laughed and said in a significant tone:

“Take him for? I take the gentleman to be as respectable and honourable a gentleman as any that frequents the highway by night. You are come from abroad: at school you had read flattering accounts of this famous kingdom of England and its inhabitants; and, desiring to see all this fine vision realized, you did not let the distance frighten you. And to a young man, I take it, that is some little credit.”

“Well, Sir, well?”

“Before you left home, your purse had been emptied at some watering place, we’ll say by gamblers, sharpers, black legs, &c.; but no matter how: there are many ways of emptying a purse; and you are now come over to our rich old England to devise means for filling it again. All right. He, that loses his money at one sort of game, must try to draw it back by some other: and in England there are many. One man marries a rich heiress: another quacks: another opens a tabernacle, and wheedles himself into old women’s wills. But perhaps the best way of all is to go into trade, break, take the benefit of the Insolvent Act, and in short get famously ruined; in which case you’re made for life.”

“So then you do really take me to be an adventurer a fortune-hunter?”

“Oh, Sir, God forbid I should take a man for any thing that it is not agreeable to him to be taken for; or should call him by any name which he thinks uncivil. But the last name, I think, is civil enough: for I suppose every man is a fortune-hunter in this world. Some there are now that hunt their fortunes through quiet paths where there is little risk and much profit: others again” (and here he lost his tranquil tone, and his self-possession) “others hunt a little profit through much danger, choosing rather to be in eternal strife and to put their hopes daily to hazard than to creep and crawl and sneak and grovel: and at last perhaps they venture into a chase where there is no profit at all or where the best upshot will be that some dozen of hollow, smiling, fawning scoundrels, who sin according to act of parliament, and therefore are within the protection of parliament, may be ”

He paused suddenly, and made a fierce gesture which supplied the ellipsis to his companion: but the latter had little wish to pursue such a theme, and he diverted the conversation into another channel, resuming a topic which had been once broken off:

“I have come to Wales,” said Bertram, “chiefly from the interest I take in its traditions, antiquities, and literature. The ruined monuments of so ancient a people, that maintained its independence so long and so heroically against enemies so potent, have a powerful interest to my mind when connected with their grand historical remembrances. The great architectural relics of older times, the castles of Aberconway, Caernarvon, Harlech, and Kilgarran”

“Aye, and Walladmor” said the other laughing:

“Yes, Walladmor, and many others, possess a commanding interest to him who has familiarised himself with their history. All places too connected with the memory and half fabulous history of king Arthur the grand forms of Welch scenery ennobled and glorified by the fine old romancers, Norman or English, or by the native bard songs,

“I know them all,” said the stranger interrupting him and laughing heartily, “there’s Arthur’s fort at Cairwarnach Arthur’s table Arthur’s chair the brook at Drumwaller, where he forded without wetting his feet, and scores of old ruins in this neighbourhood.”

“And doubtless you have had much pleasure in ranging through these grey memorials of elder days?”

“Pleasure! aye, that I have: many’s the good keg of brandy that I’ve helped to empty among ’em.”

“Keg of brandy!” said Bertram, somewhat shocked.

“Yes, brandy; right Cogniac: better than ever king Arthur drank, I’ll be sworn. Faith, I believe he’d have sold his sceptre for a dozen of it; and Sir Gawain would have tumbled through a hoop for a quart. Oh! the fun that some of those old walls have looked down upon many’s the dark night, when I was a little younger: aye, many a wild jolly party have I sat with in some of those old ruins! And such a din we’ve kept, that I’ve expected old Merlin would come down from some old gallery and beat up our quarters.”

“Why, certainly night is in some respects a favourable time for visiting such buildings: for the lights and shadows are often more grandly and broadly arranged. But were these parties that you speak of, parties of tourists to whom you acted as guide?”

“Tourists, God knows: a rum kind of tourists though: and a rum kind of guide was I. Egad, I led ’em a steeple chase; up hill and down hill; thick and thin rocks and ruins, nothing came amiss: and there’s not many tourists, I think, on the wrong side of twenty-five, that would choose to have followed us. But I suppose now, as you’ve come to Wales on this errand, you would be glad to see a few old churches, abbeys, and so on: fine picking there for a man that hungers after the picturesque; owls, ivy, wall, moonshine, and what not.”

“Certainly I shall,” said Bertram: “I design to see every thing that is interesting; and I understand that Wales is particularly rich in such objects: and I’ve seen some beautiful sketches with all the picturesque adjuncts and accidents that you mention.”

“Aye, bless your heart, but did you ever see a sketch of Griffith ap Gauvon? It lies about 20 miles north of Machynleth, in the eastern ravines of Snowdon. G –! you’d lift up your hands, if you saw the ruins how majestically they stand upon the naked peaks of the rocks; and how boldly the pointed arches rise into the air and throw themselves over the unfathomable chasms! Look up from below, and there on a moonlight night you’ll see the white pillars all standing in rows, like so many wax lights: and, if one looks down from above, it’s half enough to put thoughts into a man’s head of throwing himself down.”

“I protest,” said Bertram, “you make my head giddy with your description.”

“Aye, but don’t be giddy just yet: for we are now going over a narrow path; and there’s a precipice below. Here, give me your hand. So! Now turn to the right: now two steps up: and now take my arm; for it’s so dark under these walls that you’ll be apt to stumble.”

Both advanced in this way for some hundred paces, when suddenly his guide stopped, and said:

“Here we are at last: and my term of ‘service’ is out. This is the Walladmor Arms; and it is decidedly the best inn in the town; for there is no other.”

If any courteous reader has ever, in the May-time of his own life or in the May-time of the year, made a pedestrian tour among the northern or western mountains of our island, he will understand what was in Bertram’s mind at this moment a vision of luxurious refreshment and rest after a hard day’s fatigue, disturbed by anxious doubts about the nature of his reception. In this state he laid his hand upon the latch; and perhaps the light of the door-lamp, which at this moment fell upon his features, explained to his guide what was passing in his mind; for he drew him back by the arm, and said

“One word of advice before we part: even the ‘servant’ may presume to counsel his ‘master’ as he is quitting his service. The landlord within is not one of those landlords who pique themselves on courtesy: and the gentleman tourist, with submission be it said, is not one of those tourists who travel with four horses, or even by the stage-coach: and foot-travellers in England, especially in the winter season, do not meet with ‘high consideration.’ Which premises weighed, if you were to ask for a night’s lodging at your first entrance, I bet ten to one that you will get none; no, not though the house were as empty as it is probably full by the infernal din. But do what I tell you: Call for ale, porter, or wine, the moment you enter. As fast as your reckoning mounts, so fast will the frost thaw about the landlord’s heart. Go to work in any other way, and I’ll not answer for it but you’ll have to lie in the street.”

With full determination to pay attention to his advice, Bertram again laid his hand upon the latch; opened the door; and made his appearance, for the first time in his life, upon that famous stage in the records of novelists a British inn.