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Armadale

Prologue
1. The Travelers
It was the opening of the season of eighteen hundred and thirty-two, at the Baths
of Wildbad.
The evening shadows were beginning to gather over the quiet little German town,
and the diligence was expected every minute. Before the door of the principal inn,
waiting the arrival of the first visitors of the year, were assembled the three
notable personages of Wildbad, accompanied by their wives--the mayor,
representing the inhabitants; the doctor, representing the waters; the landlord,
representing his own establishment. Beyond this select circle, grouped snugly
about the trim little square in front of the inn, appeared the towns-people in
general, mixed here and there with the country people, in their quaint German
costume, placidly expectant of the diligence--the men in short black jackets, tight
black breeches, and three-cornered beaver hats; the women with their long light
hair hanging in one thickly plaited tail behind them, and the waists of their short
woolen gowns inserted modestly in the region of their shoulder-blades. Round the
outer edge of the assemblage thus formed, flying detachments of plump white-
headed children careered in perpetual motion; while, mysteriously apart from the
rest of the inhabitants, the musicians of the Baths stood collected in one lost
corner, waiting the appearance of the first visitors to play the first tune of the
season in the form of a serenade. The light of a May evening was still bright on
the tops of the great wooded hills watching high over the town on the right hand
and the left; and the cool breeze that comes before sunset came keenly fragrant
here with the balsamic odor of the first of the Black Forest.
"Mr. Landlord," said the mayor's wife (giving the landlord his title), "have you
any foreign guests coming on this first day of the season?"
"Madame Mayoress," replied the landlord (returning the compliment), "I have
two. They have written--the one by the hand of his servant, the other by his own
hand apparently--to order their rooms; and they are from England, both, as I think
by their names. If you ask me to pronounce those names, my tongue hesitates; if
you ask me to spell them, here they are, letter by letter, first and second in their
order as they come. First, a high-born stranger (by title Mister) who introduces
himself in eight letters, A, r, m, a, d, a, l, e--and comes ill in his own carriage.
Second, a high-born stranger (by title Mister also), who introduces himself in four
letters--N, e, a, l--and comes ill in the diligence. His excellency of the eight letters
writes to me (by his servant) in French; his excellency of the four letters writes to
me in German. The rooms of both are ready. I know no more."
"Perhaps," suggested the mayor's wife, "Mr. Doctor has heard from one or both of
these illustrious strangers?"
"From one only, Madam Mayoress; but not, strictly speaking, from the person
himself. I have received a medical report of his excellency of the eight letters, and
his case seems a bad one. God help him!"
"The diligence!" cried a child from the outskirts of the crowd.
 
 
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