The Battle of Life HTML version

Chapter 3
THE world had grown six years older since that night of the return. It was a warm
autumn afternoon, and there had been heavy rain. The sun burst suddenly from
among the clouds; and the old battle- ground, sparkling brilliantly and cheerfully
at sight of it in one green place, flashed a responsive welcome there, which
spread along the country side as if a joyful beacon had been lighted up, and
answered from a thousand stations.
How beautiful the landscape kindling in the light, and that luxuriant influence
passing on like a celestial presence, brightening everything! The wood, a sombre
mass before, revealed its varied tints of yellow, green, brown, red: its different
forms of trees, with raindrops glittering on their leaves and twinkling as they fell.
The verdant meadow-land, bright and glowing, seemed as if it had been blind, a
minute since, and now had found a sense of sight where-with to look up at the
shining sky. Corn-fields, hedge-rows, fences, homesteads, and clustered roofs,
the steeple of the church, the stream, the water-mill, all sprang out of the gloomy
darkness smiling. Birds sang sweetly, flowers raised their drooping heads, fresh
scents arose from the invigorated ground; the blue expanse above extended and
diffused itself; already the sun's slanting rays pierced mortally the sullen bank of
cloud that lingered in its flight; and a rainbow, spirit of all the colours that adorned
the earth and sky, spanned the whole arch with its triumphant glory.
At such a time, one little roadside Inn, snugly sheltered behind a great elm-tree
with a rare seat for idlers encircling its capacious bole, addressed a cheerful front
towards the traveller, as a house of entertainment ought, and tempted him with
many mute but significant assurances of a comfortable welcome. The ruddy sign-
board perched up in the tree, with its golden letters winking in the sun, ogled the
passer-by, from among the green leaves, like a jolly face, and promised good
cheer. The horse-trough, full of clear fresh water, and the ground below it
sprinkled with droppings of fragrant hay, made every horse that passed, prick up
his ears. The crimson curtains in the lower rooms, and the pure white hangings in
the little bed-chambers above, beckoned, Come in! with every breath of air. Upon
the bright green shutters, there were golden legends about beer and ale, and
neat wines, and good beds; and an affecting picture of a brown jug frothing over
at the top. Upon the window-sills were flowering plants in bright red pots, which
made a lively show against the white front of the house; and in the darkness of
the doorway there were streaks of light, which glanced off from the surfaces of
bottles and tankards.
On the door-step, appeared a proper figure of a landlord, too; for, though he was
a short man, he was round and broad, and stood with his hands in his pockets,
and his legs just wide enough apart to express a mind at rest upon the subject of
the cellar, and an easy confidence - too calm and virtuous to become a swagger
- in the general resources of the Inn. The superabundant moisture, trickling from
everything after the late rain, set him off well. Nothing near him was thirsty.
Certain top-heavy dahlias, looking over the palings of his neat well-ordered
garden, had swilled as much as they could carry - perhaps a trifle more - and