The village ale-house.
Railroads were unknown in the times in which our story occurred, and the village ale-house was still the rendezvous of the villagers of an evening; the parson still occasionally looked in and smoked his pipe with the lawyer, the exciseman, the sexton, and the parish-clerk; while the sturdy farmers, the smith, the butcher, and baker formed another circle; while the laborers and ploughmen, the butcher-boy and the tailor’s apprentice lounged in to drink with greedy ears the news; to listen to the wise saws of the village politicians, and become in due time convinced that by some strange freak of fortune the only persons incompetent to rule the country were those in power at the time. Mrs. Alice Goodfellow, the landlady and proprietress of this village elysium, fair, fat, and forty, was a buxom widow, shrewd, good-humored and fond of pleasure, but careful withal and fond of admiration. She never, however, allowed any one of her admirers, to suppose himself more favored than the rest; neither did she suffer any of them to languish in despair. If she allowed the smith to hand her to her pew in church on Sunday, she, nevertheless, smiled sweetly on the baker; and if she took a drive in Farmer Dobson’s pony-chaise for her health, yet, Farmer Thomas would sit for hours inside her bar; the truth was, the good widow was perfectly well aware that her snug little free-hold and thriving little trade were quite as great objects of attraction as her delectable self, and acting on the same principle as that old humbug ‘Elizabeth,’ insanely called ‘the good Queen Bess,’ viz: the balancing opposite interests, she drew custom to her house and grist to her mill, without troubling herself as to selection from her numerous admirers, which, besides displeasing the others, would place another in authority over that bar, which, for the last ten years, she had ruled monarch of all she surveyed. She had no relative, save one nephew, a wild, shy boy, strange and moody in his habits, passing whole days no one knew where—holding little or no communication with any of those who visited the tavern—none at all with the boys of the village, poring over some book of wild adventure when at home, ranging the woods with an old duck gun on his shoulders, or laying down beneath some shady tree poring over the same wild legends when abroad. His aunt could make nothing of him, and nobody else took the trouble. The curate, indeed, tried to teach him once or twice, but he disconcerted the old man so by discharging his musket at an old wig, hanging by the wall in the midst of a lecture on the propriety of going to school, that he gave him up as hopeless.