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My adventures were my sole inheritance long before I thought of committing them to paper for the amusement of myself, and—may I hope—for the instruction of others.
Wayward has been my fate—my story strange; for my path in life—one portion of it at least—has been among perils and pitfalls, and full of sorrow and mortification, but not, however, without occasional gleams of sunshine and triumph.
On an evening in the month of February—no matter in what year, suffice it to say that it was long, long ago—I found myself near a little town on the Borders between England and Scotland, with a shilling in my hand, and this small coin I surveyed with certain emotions of solicitude, because it was my last one.
I sat by the wayside under an old thorn-tree whereon the barons of Netherwood had hung many a Border outlaw and English mosstrooper in the olden time; and there I strove to consider what I should do next; but my mind seemed a very chaos.
In this unenviable condition I found, myself on the birthday of my eighteenth year—I, the heir to an old title and to a splendid fortune—homeless, and well-nigh penniless, without having committed a crime or an error of which conscience could accuse me.
The rolling clouds were gathering in grey masses on the darkening summits of the Cheviot hills in the hollows of which the snows of the past winter lay yet unmelted. The cold wind moaned in the leafless woods, and rustled the withered leaves that the autumn gales had strewn along the highway. The dull February evening crept on, and the road that wound over the uplands was deserted, for the last wayfarer had gone to his home. The sheep were in their pen and the cattle in their fold; no sound—not even the bark of a dog—came from the brown sides of the silent hills, and, affected by the gloomy aspect of Nature, my heart grew heavy, after its sterner and fiercer emotions passed away.
The last flush of sunset was fading in the west; but I could see about three miles distant the gilt vanes and round turrets of Netherwood Hall shining above the strove of leafless trees that surrounded it, and I turned away with a sigh of bitterness, for adversity had not yet taught me philosophy. I was too young.
With the express intention of visiting Netherwood Hall, I had travelled several miles on foot; but now, when in sight of the place, my spirit failed and my heart sickened within me; and thus, irresolute and weary, I seated myself by the side of the way, and strove to arrange my thoughts.