Within the Tides
The Inn Of The Two Witches--A Find
This tale, episode, experience--call it how you will--was related in the fifties of the last
century by a man who, by his own confession, was sixty years old at the time. Sixty is not
a bad age--unless in perspective, when no doubt it is contemplated by the majority of us
with mixed feelings. It is a calm age; the game is practically over by then; and standing
aside one begins to remember with a certain vividness what a fine fellow one used to be. I
have observed that, by an amiable attention of Providence, most people at sixty begin to
take a romantic view of themselves. Their very failures exhale a charm of peculiar
potency. And indeed the hopes of the future are a fine company to live with, exquisite
forms, fascinating if you like, but--so to speak--naked, stripped for a run. The robes of
glamour are luckily the property of the immovable past which, without them, would sit, a
shivery sort of thing, under the gathering shadows.
I suppose it was the romanticism of growing age which set our man to relate his
experience for his own satisfaction or for the wonder of his posterity. It could not have
been for his glory, because the experience was simply that of an abominable fright--terror
he calls it. You would have guessed that the relation alluded to in the very first lines was
This writing constitutes the Find declared in the sub-title. The title itself is my own
contrivance, (can't call it invention), and has the merit of veracity. We will be concerned
with an inn here. As to the witches that's merely a conventional expression, and we must
take our man's word for it that it fits the case.
The Find was made in a box of books bought in London, in a street which no longer
exists, from a second-hand bookseller in the last stage of decay. As to the books
themselves they were at least twentieth-hand, and on inspection turned out not worth the
very small sum of money I disbursed. It might have been some premonition of that fact
which made me say: "But I must have the box too." The decayed bookseller assented by
the careless, tragic gesture of a man already doomed to extinction.
A litter of loose pages at the bottom of the box excited my curiosity but faintly. The
close, neat, regular handwriting was not attractive at first sight. But in one place the
statement that in A.D. 1813 the writer was twenty-two years old caught my eye. Two and
twenty is an interesting age in which one is easily reckless and easily frightened; the
faculty of reflection being weak and the power of imagination strong.
In another place the phrase: "At night we stood in again," arrested my languid attention,
because it was a sea phrase. "Let's see what it is all about," I thought, without excitement.
Oh! but it was a dull-faced MS., each line resembling every other line in their close-set
and regular order. It was like the drone of a monotonous voice. A treatise on sugar-
refining (the dreariest subject I can think of) could have been given a more lively
appearance. "In A.D. 1813, I was twenty-two years old," he begins earnestly and goes on