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THE ADVENTURE OF MY AUNT.
BY WASHINGTON IRVING.
My Aunt was a lady of large frame, strong mind and great resolution: she was what might be termed a very manly woman. My uncle was a thin, puny, little man, very meek and acquiescent, and no match for my aunt. It was observed that he dwindled and dwindled gradually away, from the day of his marriage. His wife's powerful mind was too much for him; it wore him out. My aunt, however, took all possible care of him; had half the doctors in town to prescribe for him ; made him take all their prescriptions, and dosed him with physic enough to cure a whole hospital. All was in vain. My uncle grew worse and worse the more dosing and nursing he underwent, until in the end he added another to the long list of matrimonial victims who have been killed with kindness.
My aunt took on mightily for the death of her poor dear husband. Perhaps she felt some compunction at having given him so much physic, and nursed him into his grave. At any rate, she did all that a widow could do to honour his memory. She spared no expense in either the quantity or quality of her mourning weeds; she wore a miniature of him about her neck as large as a little sundial; and she had a full length portrait of him always hanging in her bed - chamber. All the world extolled her conduct to the skies; and it was determined, that a woman who behaved so well to the memory of one husband deserved soon to get another.
It was not long after this that she went to take up her residence in an old country seat in Derbyshire, which had long been in the care of merely a steward and housekeeper. She took most of her servants with her, intending to make it her principal abode. The house stood in a lonely, wild part of the country, among the gray Derbyshire hills, with a murderer hanging in chains on a bleak height in full view.
The servants from town were half- frightened out of their wits at the idea of living in such a dismal, pagan - looking place; especially when they got together in the servants'hall, in the evening, and compared notes on all the hobgoblin stories they had picked up during the day. They were afraid to venture alone about the gloomy, black - looking chambers. My aunt's lady's maid, who was troubled with nerves, declared she could never sleep alone in such a „gashly rummaging old building;“ and the footman, who was a kind -hearted young fellow, did all in his power to cheer her up.
My aunt herself seemed to be struck with the lonely appearance of the house.
Before she went to bed, therefore, she examined well the fastnesses of the doors and windows; locked up the plate with her own hands, and carried the keys, together with a little box of money and jewels, to her own room; for she was a notable woman,
and always saw to all things herself. Having put the keys under her pillow, and dismissed her maid, she sat by her toilet arranging her hair; for being, in spite of her grief for my uncle, rather a buxom widow, she was somewhat particular about her person. She sat for a little while looking at her face in the glass, first on one side, then on the other, as ladies are apt to do when they would ascertain whether they have been in good looks; for a roystering country squire of the neighbourhood, with whom she had flirted when a girl, had called that day to welcome her to the country.
All of a sudden she thought she heard something move behind her. - She looked hastily round, but there was nothing to be seen. Nothing but the grimly painted portrait of her poor dear man, which had been hung against the wall.
She gave a heavy sigh to his memory, as she was accustomed to do whenever she spoke of him in company, and then went on adjusting her night dress, and thinking of the squire. Her sigh was re-echoed, or answered by a long drawn breath. She looked round again, but no one was to be seen. She ascribed these sounds to the wind oozing through the rat - holes of the old mansion, and proceeded leisurely to put her hair in papers, when, all at once, her back being toward the portrait but her eyes fixed on its reflection in the glass, she thought she perceived one of the eyes of the portrait move. So strange a circumstance as may well be supposed gave her a sudden shock. To assure herself of the fact, she put one hand to her forehead as if rubbing it; peeped through her fingers, and moved the candle with her other hand. The light of the taper gleamed on the eye, and was reflected from it. She was sure it moved. Nay more, it seemed to give her a wink, as she had sometimes known her husband to do when living! It struck a momentary chill to her heart; for she was a lone woman, and felt herself fearfully situated.
The chill was but transient. My aunt, who was a resolute personage became instantly calm and collected,
She went on adjusting her dress. She even húmmed an air, and did not make a single false note. sually overturned a dressing -box; took a candle and picked up the articles one by one from the floor; pursued a rolling pincushion that was making the best of its way under the bed; then opened the door; looked for an instant into the corridor, as if in doubt whether to go; and then walked quietly out.
She hastened down stairs, ordered the servants to arm themselves with the weapons that first came to hand, placed herself at their head, and returned almost immediately.
Her hastily levied army presented a formidable force. The steward had a rusty blunderbuss, the coachman a loaded whip, the footman a pair of horse pistols, the cook a huge chopping knife, and the butler a bottle in each hand. My aunt led the van with a red - hot poker, and, in my opinion she was the most formidable of the party. The waiting - maid, who dreaded to stay alone in the servants' hall, brought up the rear, smelling to a broken bottle of volatile salts, and expressing her terror of the ghosteses.
Ghosts!“ said my aunt resolutely. I'll singe their whiskers for them ! “
They entered the chamber. All was still and undisturbed as when she had left it. They approached the portrait of my uncle.
Pull me down that picture! u cried my aunt. A heavy groan, and a sound like the chattering of teeth, issued from the portrait. The servants shrunk back ; the maid uttered a faint shriek , and clung to the footman for support.
„Instantly!" added my aunt, with a stamp of the foot.
The picture was pulled down, and from a recess behind it, in which had formerly stood a clock, they hanled forth a round-shouldered, black - bearded varlet, with a knife as long as my arm, but trembling all over like an aspen - leaf.
Well, and who was he?" I think I hear the reader exclaim.
A knight of the Post, wo had been smitten with the worth of the wealthy widow; or rather a marauding Tarquin, who had stolen into her chamber to violate her purse, and rifle her strong box, when all the house should be asleep. In plain terms, the vagabond was a loose idle fellow of the neigbourhood, who had once been a servant in the house, and had been employed to assist in arranging it for the reception of its mistress. He confessed that he had contrived this hiding place for his nefarious purposes and had borrowed an eye from the portrait by way of a reconnoitring hole.“
My aunt was a woman of spirit, and apt to take the law in her own hands. She had her own notions of cleanliness also. She ordered the fellow to be drawn through the horsepond, to cleanse away all offences, and then to be well rubbed down with an oaken towel and sent about his business.
My aunt gave her hand shortly afterwards to the roystering squire; for she used to observe that it was a dismal thing for a woman to sleep alone in the country.