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side. In the household of the Notch he found warmth and simplicity of feeling, the pervading intelligence of New England, and a poetry of native growth, which they had gathered when they little thought of it from the mountain-peaks and chasms, and at the very threshold of their romantic and dangerous abode. He had trav10 eled far and alone; his whole life, indeed, had been a solitary path, for, with the lofty caution of his nature, he had kept himself apart from those who might otherwise have been his companions. The family, too, though so kind and hospitable, had that consciousness of unity among themselves and separation from the world at large which in every domestic circle should 20 still keep a holy place where no stranger may intrude. But this evening a prophetic sympathy impelled the refined and educated youth to pour out his heart before the simple mountaineers, and constrained them to answer him with the same free confidence. And thus it should have been. Is not the kindred of a common fate a closer tie than that of birth?


The secret of the young man's character was a high and abstracted ambition. He could have borne to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave. Yearning desire had been transformed to hope, and hope, long cherished, had become like certainty that, obscurely as he journeyed now, a glory was to beam on all his pathway, though not, per40 haps, while he was treading it. But when posterity should gaze back into the gloom of what was now the present, they would trace the brightness of his footsteps, brightening as meaner glories faded, and confess that a gifted one had passed from his cradle to his tomb with none to recognize him.

"As yet," cried the stranger, his cheek glowing and his eye flashing

with enthusiasm-"as yet I have done 50 nothing. Were I to vanish from the earth tomorrow, none would know so much of me as you that a nameless youth came up at nightfall from the valley of the Saco, and opened his heart to you in the evening, and passed through the Notch by sunrise, and was Not a soul would ask, 'Who was he? Whither did the wanderer go?' But I cannot die till I 60 have achieved my destiny. Then let Death come; I shall have built my monument.'

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There was a continual flow of natural emotion gushing forth amid abstracted reverie, which enabled the family to understand this young man's sentiments, though so foreign from their own. With quick sensibility of the ludicrous, he blushed at the ardor 70 into which he had been betrayed.

"You laugh at me," said he, taking the eldest daughter's hand and laughing himself. "You think my ambition as nonsensical as if I were to freeze myself to death on the top of Mount Washington only that people might spy at me from the country roundabout. And truly that would be a noble pedestal for a man's statue."

"It is better to sit here by this fire," answered the girl, blushing, "and be comfortable and contented, though nobody thinks about us.”


"I suppose," said her father, after a fit of musing, "there is something natural in what the young man says; and if my mind had been turned that way, I might have felt just the same. It is strange, wife, how his talk has 90 set my head running on things that are pretty certain never to come to pass.

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"Perhaps they may," observed the wife. "Is the man thinking what he will do when he is a widower?"

"No, no!" cried he, repelling the idea with reproachful kindness. "When I

think of your death, Esther, I think of mine, too. But I was wishing we had a good farm in Bartlett or Bethlehem or Littleton, or some other township round the White Mountains, but not where they could tumble on our heads. I should want to stand well with my neighbors and be called 'squire' and sent to General Court for a term or 10 two; for a plain, honest man may do as much good there as a lawyer. And when I should be grown quite an old man, and you an old woman, so as not to be long apart, I might die happy enough in my bed, and leave you all crying around me. A slate gravestone would suit me as well as a marble one, with just my name and age, and a verse of a hymn, and something to let 20 people know that I lived an honest man and died a Christian."

"There, now!" exclaimed the stranger; "it is our nature to desire a monument, be it slate or marble, or a pillar of granite, or a glorious memory in the universal heart of man."

“We're in a strange way tonight," Isaid the wife, with tears in her eyes. "They say it's a sign of something 30 when folks' minds go a-wandering so. Hark to the children!"

They listened accordingly. The younger children had been put to bed in another room, but with an open door between; so that they could be heard talking busily among themselves. One and all seemed to have caught the infection from the fireside circle, and were outvying each other 40 in wild wishes and childish projects of what they would do when they came to be men and women. At length a little boy, instead of addressing his brothers and sisters, called out to his mother:

"I'll tell you what I wish, mother," cried he: "I want you and father and grandma'm, and all of us, and the stranger, too, to start right away and

go and take a drink out of the basin 50 of the Flume."

Nobody could help laughing at the child's notion of leaving a warm bed and dragging them from a cheerful fire to visit the basin of the Flumea brook which tumbles over the precipice deep within the Notch.

The boy had hardly spoken when a wagon rattled along the road and stopped a moment before the door. 60 It appeared to contain two or three men who were cheering their hearts with the rough chorus of a song which resounded in broken notes between the cliffs, while the singers hesitated whether to continue their journey or put up here for the night.

"Father," said the girl, "they are calling you by name."

But the good man doubted whether 70 they had really called him, and was unwilling to show himself too solicitous of gain by inviting people to patronize his house. He therefore did not hurry to the door, and, the lash being soon applied, the travelers plunged into the Notch, still singing and laughing, though their music and mirth came back drearily from the heart of the mountain.

"There, mother!" cried the boy again; "they'd have given us a ride to the Flume."


Again they laughed at the child's pertinacious fancy for a night ramble. But it happened that a light cloud passed over the daughter's spirit; she looked gravely into the fire and drew a breath that was almost a sigh. It forced its way, in spite of a little 90 struggle to repress it. Then, starting and blushing, she looked quickly around the circle, as if they had caught a glimpse into her bosom. The stranger asked what she had been thinking of. "Nothing," answered she, with a downcast smile; "only I felt lonesome just then."


“Oh, I have always had a gift of feeling what is in other people's hearts," said he, half seriously. "Shall I tell the secrets of yours? For I know what to think when a young girl shivers by a warm hearth and complains of lonesomeness at her mother's side. Shall I put these feelings into words?"

"They would not be a girl's feelings any longer if they could be put into words," replied the mountain nymph, laughing, but avoiding his eye.

All this was said apart. Perhaps a germ of love was springing in their hearts so pure that it might blossom in Paradise, since it could not be matured on earth; for women worship such gentle dignity as his, and the 20 proud, contemplative, yet kindly, soul is oftenest captivated by simplicity like hers. But while they spoke softly, and he was watching the happy sadness, the lightsome shadows, the shy yearnings of a maiden's nature, the wind through the Notch took a deeper and drearier sound. It seemed, as the fanciful stranger said, like the choral strain of the spirits of the blast, 30 who in old Indian times had their dwelling among these mountains and made their heights and recesses a sacred region. There was a wail along the road as if a funeral were passing. To chase away the gloom, the family threw pine-branches on their fire till the dry leaves crackled and the flame arose, discovering once again a scene of peace and humble 40 happiness. The light hovered about

her task, and with fingers ever busy 50 was the next to speak.

"Old folks have their notions," said she, "as well as young ones. You've been wishing and planning and letting your heads run on one thing and another till you've set my mind a-wandering too. Now, what should an old woman wish for when she can go but a step or two before she comes to her grave? Children, it will haunt me 60 night and day till I tell you."

"What is it, mother?" cried the husband and wife, at once.

Then the old woman, with an air of mystery which drew the circle closer round the fire, informed them that she had provided her graveclothes some years before a nice linen shroud, a cap with a muslin ruff, and everything of a finer sort 70 than she had worn since her wedding day. But this evening an old superstition had strangely recurred to her. It used to be said in her younger days that if anything were amiss with a corpse if only the ruff were not smooth or the cap did not sit rightthe corpse, in the coffin and beneath the clods, would strive to put up its cold hands and arrange it. The bare so thought made her nervous.

"Don't talk so, grandmother," said the girl, shuddering.

"Now," continued the old woman with singular earnestness, yet smiling strangely at her own folly, "I want one of you, my children, when your mother is dressed and in the coffin, I want one of you to hold a looking-glass over my face. Who knows but I 90 may take a glimpse at myself, and see whether all's right."

them fondly and caressed them all. There were the little faces of the children peeping from their bed apart, and here the father's frame of strength, the mother's subdued and careful mien, the high-browed youth, the budding girl, and the good old grandam still knitting in the warmest place. The aged woman looked up from guished, are to be buried together in

"Old and young, we dream of graves and monuments," murmured the stranger youth. "I wonder how mariners feel when the ship is sinking and they, unknown and undistin

the ocean, that wide and nameless sepulcher?"

For a moment the old woman's ghastly conception so engrossed the minds of her hearers that a sound abroad in the night, rising like the roar of a blast, had grown broad, deep, and terrible before the fated group were conscious of it. The house and o all within it trembled; the foundations of the earth seemed to be shaken, as if this awful sound were the peal of the last trump. Young and old exchanged one wild glance and remained an instant pale, affrighted, without utterance or power to move. Then the same shriek burst simultaneously from all their lips:

"The slide! The slide!"

The simplest words must intimate, but not portray, the unutterable horror of the catastrophe. The victims rushed from their cottage, and sought refuge in what they deemed a safer spot, where, in contemplation of such an emergency, a sort of barrier had been reared. Alas! they had quitted their security and fled right into the pathway of destruction. Down came o the whole side of the mountain in a cataract of ruin. Just before it reached the house the stream broke into two branches, shivered not a window there, but overwhelmed the whole vicinity, blocked up the road, and annihilated everything in its dreadful course. Long ere the thun

der of that great slide had ceased to roar among the mountains the mortal agony had been endured and the vic- 40 tims were at peace. Their bodies were never found.

The next morning the light smoke was seen stealing from the cottage chimney up the mountain-side. Within, the fire was yet smoldering on the hearth, and the chairs in a circle round it, as if the inhabitants had but gone forth to view the devastation of the slide, and would shortly return to 50 thank Heaven for their miraculous escape. All had left separate tokens by which those who had known the family were made to shed a tear for each. Who has not heard their name? The story has been told far and wide, and will forever be a legend of these mountains. Poets have sung their fate.

There were circumstances which led 60 some to suppose that a stranger had been received into the cottage on this awful night, and had shared the catastrophe of all its inmates; others denied that there were sufficient grounds for such a conjecture. Woe for the high-souled youth with his dream of earthly immortality! His name and person utterly unknown, his history, his way of life, his plans, 70 a mystery never to be solved, his death and his existence equally a doubtwhose was the agony of that death moment?



1. This story is taken from Twice-Told Tales, a volume which appeared in its first form in 1837. After Hawthorne's graduation from Bowdoin College in 1825 he had lived for twelve years in Salem, Massachusetts, writing constantly, destroying much of his work, publishing little. A few tales appeared in newspapers and magazines, but they attracted little

attention. Twice-Told Tales was therefore Hawthorne's first important publication. He was thirty-four years old, and had served a long apprenticeship to the art of writing. More than ten years were yet to pass before the appearance of his romance, The Scarlet Letter, with which, as he says, "Fame was won."

2. Twice-Told Tales, as the title indicates, is a collection of legends and stories, not origi

nal in plot, but retold in such a way as to give them a permanent place in our literature. Some of them are stories of New England history. Others are Indian legends, or legends of colonial times. Still others, more original in plot, are little descriptive sketches of life as Hawthorne saw it. A vein of mystery runs through many of them; often beneath the story there is a second story, or allegory, such as we find in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Thus Hawthorne says, "I myself have followed the quest of the Great Carbuncle"; and he speaks of himself as sitting by the wayside of life, like "a man under enchantment." This sentence gives an excellent clue to Hawthorne's method. He sat by the wayside, looking at the men and women and children who passed by, but he looked upon them not as individuals, about whom he might write as O. Henry wrote about the busy broker, but as types of the human race, people who were struggling for happiness or fame or for some high ideal.

3. It is in this way that "The Ambitious Guest" is to be read. It is based on an event that actually happened. In 1821 a family named Willey, living in Crawford's Notch in Carroll County, N. H., was destroyed in a great slide, or avalanche. The story was told in a crude sketch by a man who was building a barn about six miles from the scene, who rescued his own family just before his house and the partially completed barn were swept away. Later this man, with others, found the ruins of the Willey house and brought out the bodies of the people who had been buried in the slide. Among them was "a young man about twenty years old, named David Nickerson, whom the Willeys had brought up."

Thus Hawthorne's story is a "twice-told tale." It is based on fact, yet the author's purpose is not to retell the story in better literary form than in the crude sketch written by a man who had escaped. The figures are purely imaginary, not portraits of the members of the Willey family. They are not even given names. The grandmother, the farmer, the young girl, the stranger, the children-all are portraits drawn in vague and general terms, not minutely. The central figure, of course, is the young stranger. His life had been solitary, cut off from his kind, like Hawthorne's own life in those twelve long years at Salem. The secret of his character, the author tells us, was "high and abstracted ambition. He could have borne

to live an undistinguished life, but not to be forgotten in the grave." This is the clue to Hawthorne's purpose in writing the story. It is a tragedy of unrealized ambition. The gifted youth who had set his heart on winning fame was cut off, his very name unknown.

4. This theme links the story with the poem by Lowell which you have just read and with the poem by Burns that follows. Sir Launfal also sought personal distinction, and set out over land and sea to find it. The vision of service that came to him changed his plans; the Grail was found at home. Hawthorne makes no comment on the ambition of the young stranger in the mountain farmhouse; but the quest of the youth for fame was as vain as Sir Launfal's idea that the Grail was to be found through marvelous adventures in distant lands. In "The Cotter's Saturday Night," the portrait of the peasant family may be compared with Hawthorne's description of the inmates of this mountain house.


1. Find in the story the details that enable you to picture to yourself the mountain home. How does Hawthorne suggest that the family had contact with the outside world? Were they really a part of the life of this world? Was their life a lonely one?

2. What was the great ambition that the young stranger had? How did it affect him? Had he accomplished anything? Did he care for money or for fame in his lifetime? Why does the author call it "a high and abstracted ambition"?

3. What effect had the story of his ideals upon the farmer? Upon the children? Upon the grandmother? Upon the young girl? 4. Find the sentences and phrases that prepare us for the tragedy, such as "the heavy footstep," "the sure place of refuge," etc. What is the significance of the child's desire to go that night to the Flume? Of the passing of the wagon? Of the frequent mention of the wind?

5. What is the climax of the story? What adds to the horror of it?

6. The great slide caused the death of all; is there anything else in the story to sadden those who read it? What greater tragedy leads Hawthorne to conclude his story with the question, "Whose was the agony of that death moment?"

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