He who descends from the top of the village hill will pass pretty mansions set apart from their neighbors in leafy and flowery solitudes wherein the most unsocial hermit might find elbow-room enough; he will see little cottages which stand nearer to the roadside, as if they shunned isolation and wished to share in the life that often fills the highway in front of them. Farther down the houses become more companionable; they cling together in groups with the barest possibility of retaining their individuality, until at last the thoroughfare becomes a street wherein small shops do their traffic in quite a spirited sort of a way.
Clear down at the foot of the hill, by the brink of the sweet and placid river, there are iron mills and factories and furnaces, whose chimneys in the daytime pour out huge columns of black smoke, and from which long tongues of crimson and bluish flame leap forth at night against the pitchy darkness of the sky. Here, as one whirls by in the train after nightfall, he may catch hurried glimpses of swarthy men, stripped to the waist, stirring the molten iron with their long levers or standing amid showers of sparks as the brilliant metal slips to and fro among the rollers that mould it into the forms of commerce. If upon a summer evening one shall rest amid the sweet air and the rustling trees upon the hill-top, he may hear coming up from this dusky, grimy blackness of the mills and the railway the soughing of the blowers of the blast-furnaces, the sharp crack of the exploding gases in the white-hot iron, the shriek of the locomotive whistle and all night long the roar and rattle of the passing trains, but so mellowed by the distance that the harsh sounds seem almost musical—almost as pleasant and as easily endured as the voices of nature. And in the early morning a look from the chamber window perhaps may show a locomotive whirling down the valley around the sharp curves with its white streamer flung out upon the green hillside, and seeming like a snowy ribbon cut from the huge mass of vapor which lies low upon the surface of the stream.
The name of this town among the hills is—well, it has a very charming Indian name, to reveal which might be to point with too much distinctness to the worthy people who in some sort figure in the following pages. It shall be called Millburg in those pages, and its inhabitants shall tell their stories and play their parts under the cover of that unsuggestive title; so that the curious reader of little faith shall have difficulty if he resolves to discover the whereabouts of the village and to inquire respecting the author’s claim to credibility as a historian.
THE TERRIBLE MISHAP TO MR. FOGG’S BABY.