There was a little of that sheet-lightning early in the evening, which betokens sultry weather. The clouds, column after column, came up sullenly over the Dublin mountains, rolling themselves from one horizon to the other into one black dome of vapour, their slow but steady motion contrasting with the awful stillness of the air. There was a weight in the atmosphere, and a sort of undefined menace brooding over the little town, as if unseen crime or dangersome mystery of iniquitywas stealing into the heart of it, and the disapproving heavens scowled a melancholy warning.
That morning old Sally, the rector's housekeeper, was disquieted. She had dreamed of making the great four-post, state bed, with the dark green damask curtainsa dream that betokened some coming troubleit might, to be sure, be ever so small(it had once come with no worse result than Dr. Walsingham's dropping his purse, containing something under a guinea in silver, over the side of the ferry boat)but again it might be tremendous. The omen hung over them doubtful.
A large square letter, with a great round seal, as big as a crown piece, addressed to the Rev. Hugh Walsingham, Doctor of Divinity, at his house, by the bridge, in Chapelizod, had reached him in the morning, and plainly troubled him. He kept the messenger a good hour awaiting his answer; and, just at two o'clock, the same messenger returned with a second letterbut this time a note sufficed for reply. ''Twill seem ungracious,' said the doctor, knitting his brows over his closed folio in the study; 'but I cannot choose but walk clear in my calling before the Lord. How can I honestly pronounce hope, when in my mind there is nothing but fearlet another do it if he see his wayI do enough in being present, as 'tis right I should.'
It was, indeed, a remarkably dark nighta rush and downpour of rain! The doctor stood just under the porch of the stout brick houseof King William's date, which was then the residence of the worthy rector of Chapelizodwith his great surtout and cape onhis leggings buttoned upand his capacious leather 'overalls' pulled up and strapped over theseand his broad-leafed hat tied down over his wig and ears with a mighty silk kerchief. I dare say he looked absurd enoughbut it was the women's doingwho always, upon emergencies, took the doctor's wardrobe in hand. Old Sally, with her kind, mild, grave face, and gray locks, stood modestly behind in the hall; and pretty Lilias, his only child, gave him her parting kiss, and her last grand charge about his shoes and other exterior toggery, in the porch; and he patted her cheek with a little fond laugh, taking old John Tracy's, the butler's, arm. John carried a handsome horn-lantern, which flashed now on a roadside bushnow on the discoloured battlements of the bridgeand now on a streaming window. They stepped outthere were no umbrellas in those dayssplashing among the wide and widening pools; while Sally and Lilias stood in the porch, holding candles for full five minutes after the doctor and his 'Jack-o'-the-lantern,' as he called honest John, whose arm and candle always befriended him in his night excursions, had got round the corner.
Through the back bow-window of the Phœnix, there pealed forthfaint in the distance and raina solemn royal ditty, piped by the tuneful Aldermen of Skinner's Alley, and neither unmusical nor somehow uncongenial with the darkness, and the melancholy object of the doctor's walk, the chant being rather monastic, wild, and dirge-like. It was a quarter past ten, and no other sound of life or human neighbourhood was stirring. If secrecy were an object, it was well secured by the sable sky, and the steady torrent which rolled down with electric weight and perpendicularity, making all nature resound with one long hushshshshshdeluging the broad street, and turning the channels and gutters into mimic mill-streams which snorted and hurtled headlong through their uneven b