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Out Of Town
SITTING, on a bright September morning, among my books and papers at my open
window on the cliff overhanging the sea-beach, I have the sky and ocean framed before
me like a beautiful picture. A beautiful picture, but with such movement in it, such
changes of light upon the sails of ships and wake of steamboats, such dazzling gleams
of silver far out at sea, such fresh touches on the crisp wave-tops as they break and roll
towards me - a picture with such music in the billowy rush upon the shingle, the blowing
of morning wind through the corn-sheaves where the farmers' waggons are busy, the
singing of the larks, and the distant voices of children at play - such charms of sight and
sound as all the Galleries on earth can but poorly suggest.
So dreamy is the murmur of the sea below my window, that I may have been here, for
anything I know, one hundred years. Not that I have grown old, for, daily on the
neighbouring downs and grassy hill- sides, I find that I can still in reason walk any
distance, jump over anything, and climb up anywhere; but, that the sound of the ocean
seems to have become so customary to my musings, and other realities seem so to
have gone aboard ship and floated away over the horizon, that, for aught I will
undertake to the contrary, I am the enchanted son of the King my father, shut up in a
tower on the sea-shore, for protection against an old she-goblin who insisted on being
my godmother, and who foresaw at the font - wonderful creature! - that I should get into
a scrape before I was twenty- one. I remember to have been in a City (my Royal
parent's dominions, I suppose), and apparently not long ago either, that was in the
dreariest condition. The principal inhabitants had all been changed into old newspapers,
and in that form were preserving their window-blinds from dust, and wrapping all their
smaller household gods in curl-papers. I walked through gloomy streets where every
house was shut up and newspapered, and where my solitary footsteps echoed on the
deserted pavements. In the public rides there were no carriages, no horses, no
animated existence, but a few sleepy policemen, and a few adventurous boys taking
advantage of the devastation to swarm up the lamp-posts. In the Westward streets
there was no traffic; in the Westward shops, no business. The water-patterns which the
'Prentices had trickled out on the pavements early in the morning, remained uneffaced
by human feet. At the corners of mews, Cochin-China fowls stalked gaunt and savage;
nobody being left in the deserted city (as it appeared to me), to feed them. Public
Houses, where splendid footmen swinging their legs over gorgeous hammer-cloths
beside wigged coachmen were wont to regale, were silent, and the unused pewter pots
shone, too bright for business, on the shelves. I beheld a Punch's Show leaning against
a wall near Park Lane, as if it had fainted. It was deserted, and there were none to heed