From "The Doliver Romance and Other Pieces: Tales and Sketches"
The Wayside, August 28, 1860.
MY DEAR COUSIN:--I should be very glad to write a story, as you request, for the benefit of the Essex Institute, or for any other purpose that might be deemed desirable by my native townspeople. But it is now many years since the epoch of the "Twice-Told Tales," and the "Mosses from an Old Manse"; and my mind seems to have lost the plan and measure of those little narratives, in which it was once so unprofitably fertile. I can write no story, therefore; but (rather than be entirely wanting to the occasion) I will endeavor to describe a spot near Salem, on which it was once my purpose to locate such a dreamy fiction as you now demand of me.
It is no other than that conspicuous hill (I really know not
whether it lies in
From this lane there is a steep ascent up the side of the
hill, the ridge of which affords two views of very wide extent and
variety. On one side is
the ocean, and
But what made the hill particularly interesting to me, were
the traces of an old and long-vanished edifice, midway on the curving ridge,
and at its highest point. A pre-revolutionary
magnate, the representative of a famous old
The proprietor, meanwhile, had adhered to the Royalist side,
and fled to
But there was one closet in the house, which everybody was afraid to enter, it being supposed that an evil spirit--perhaps a domestic Demon of the Browne family--was confined in it. One day, three or four score years ago, some school-boys happened to be playing in the deserted chambers, and took it into their heads to develop the secrets of this mysterious closet. With great difficulty and tremor they succeeded in forcing the door. As it flew open, there was a vision of people in garments of antique magnificence,--gentlemen in curled wigs and tarnished gold-lace, and ladies in brocade and quaint head-dresses, rushing tumultuously forth and tumbling upon the floor. The urchins took to their heels, in huge dismay, but crept back, after a while, and discovered that the apparition was composed of a mighty pile of family portraits. I had the story, the better part of a hundred years afterwards, from the very school-boy who pried open the closet door.
After standing many years at the foot of the hill, the house
was again removed in three portions, and was fashioned into three separate
dwellings, which, for aught I know, are yet extant in
The ancient site of this proud mansion may still be traced (or could have been ten years ago) upon the summit of the hill. It consisted of two spacious wings, connected by an intermediate hall of entrance, which fronted lengthwise upon the ridge. Two shallow and grass-grown cavities remain, of what were once the deep and richly stored cellars under the two wings; and between them is the outline of the connecting hall, about as deep as a plough furrow, and somewhat greener than the surrounding sod. The two cellars are still deep enough to shelter a visitor from the fresh breezes that haunt the summit of the hill; and barberry-hushes clustering within them offer the harsh acidity of their fruits, instead of the rich wines which the colonial magnate was wont to store there for his guests. There I have sometimes sat and tried to rebuild, in my imagination, the stately house, or to fancy what a splendid show it must have made even so far off as in the streets of Salem, when the old proprietor illuminated his many windows to celebrate the King's birthday.
I have quite forgotten what story I once purposed writing about "Brown's Folly," and I freely offer the theme and site to any of my young townsmen, who may be addicted with the same tendency towards fanciful narratives which haunted me in my youth and long afterwards.