Two days are passed. It is a summer evening; the coachman has set me down at
a place called Whitcross; he could take me no farther for the sum I had given,
and I was not possessed of another shilling in the world. The coach is a mile off
by this time; I am alone. At this moment I discover that I forgot to take my parcel
out of the pocket of the coach, where I had placed it for safety; there it remains,
there it must remain; and now, I am absolutely destitute.
Whitcross is no town, nor even a hamlet; it is but a stone pillar set up where four
roads meet: whitewashed, I suppose, to be more obvious at a distance and in
darkness. Four arms spring from its summit: the nearest town to which these
point is, according to the inscription, distant ten miles; the farthest, above twenty.
From the well-known names of these towns I learn in what county I have lighted;
a north-midland shire, dusk with moorland, ridged with mountain: this I see.
There are great moors behind and on each hand of me; there are waves of
mountains far beyond that deep valley at my feet. The population here must be
thin, and I see no passengers on these roads: they stretch out east, west, north,
and south--white, broad, lonely; they are all cut in the moor, and the heather
grows deep and wild to their very verge. Yet a chance traveller might pass by;
and I wish no eye to see me now: strangers would wonder what I am doing,
lingering here at the sign-post, evidently objectless and lost. I might be
questioned: I could give no answer but what would sound incredible and excite
suspicion. Not a tie holds me to human society at this moment--not a charm or
hope calls me where my fellow-creatures are--none that saw me would have a
kind thought or a good wish for me. I have no relative but the universal mother,
Nature: I will seek her breast and ask repose.
I struck straight into the heath; I held on to a hollow I saw deeply furrowing the
brown moorside; I waded knee-deep in its dark growth; I turned with its turnings,
and finding a moss-blackened granite crag in a hidden angle, I sat down under it.
High banks of moor were about me; the crag protected my head: the sky was
Some time passed before I felt tranquil even here: I had a vague dread that wild
cattle might be near, or that some sportsman or poacher might discover me. If a
gust of wind swept the waste, I looked up, fearing it was the rush of a bull; if a
plover whistled, I imagined it a man. Finding my apprehensions unfounded,
however, and calmed by the deep silence that reigned as evening declined at
nightfall, I took confidence. As yet I had not thought; I had only listened, watched,
dreaded; now I regained the faculty of reflection.
What was I to do? Where to go? Oh, intolerable questions, when I could do
nothing and go nowhere!--when a long way must yet be measured by my weary,
trembling limbs before I could reach human habitation--when cold charity must
be entreated before I could get a lodging: reluctant sympathy importuned, almost
certain repulse incurred, before my tale could be listened to, or one of my wants