There is always desolation in the late autumn on the moors. The great hills lose their bold contours, now dying away in a cold gray of sky, through which a blurred sun sheds his watery ray; while the bracken, with its beaten fronds, and the heather with its disenchanted bloom, change the gorgeous carpet of colour into wastes and wilds of cheerless expanse. The wind sobs as though conscious of the coming winter’s stress—sad with its prophecy of want, and cold, and decay. Little rivulets that ran gleaming like silver threads—the Pactolian streams of childhood’s home and lover’s whisperings—now swell and deepen and complain, as though angry with the burdens of the falling clouds. Bared branches and low-browed eaves weep with the darkened and lowering sky, and withered leaves beat piteously at the cottage windows they once shadowed with their greenery, or lie limp and clayey on the roadside and the path. Then, in the silent night, there falls the first rime, and in the morning is seen the hoary covering that tells of the year’s ageing and declining days. At the corner of the village street the hoarse cough is heard, and around the hearth the children gather closely, no longer sporting amid the flowers, or peopling the cloughs with fairy homes. A dispiriting hand tones down the great orchestra of Nature, and all her music is set to a minor key, her ‘Jubilate’ becoming a threnody—a great preludious sob.
It was in autumn hours such as these—and only too well known in Rehoboth—that old Mr. Morell used to discourse on the fading leaf, and tell of a harvest past and a summer ended, and bid his flock so number their days that they might apply their hearts unto wisdom. It was now, too, that the dark procession used to creep more frequently up the winding path to the Rehoboth grave-yard, and the heavy soil open oftener beneath old Joseph’s spade, and the voice of the minister in deeper and more measured tones repeat the words, ’We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.’ It was now also that the feeble and the aged shunned the darkening shadows of the streets, and crept and cowered over the kindling hearth in the sheltered home. In Rehoboth October and November were ever drear; and now that the old Bridge Factory was in ruins, and work scarce and food scant, the minds of the people were overcast with what threatened to be the winter of a discontent.
On an afternoon in mid-November, Mr. Penrose forsook his study for what he hoped might be an exhilarating walk across the gloomy moors. The snow—the first snow—was beginning to descend, gently and lazily, in pure, feathery flakes, remaining on earth for a moment, and then merging its crystals into the moisture that lay along the village street.
Turning a corner, he met Dr. Hale, who, after a hearty greeting, said:
‘What is this I hear about your resignation, Mr. Penrose?’
‘I don’t know what you’ve heard, doctor, but I am resigning.’