Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. V. Nineteenth Century
Adam Blair at the Tarn
By John Gibson Lockhart (17941854)
From Adam Blair
THIS melancholy tarn, formed where three hills descend into the bosom of the earth together, is of such depth that no plummet could ever sound it, and it shelves from the very, brink sheer down into this unfathomable blackness. The sea-mew rests her weary wing there, when driven by the fierce tempest from the breast of the ocean; the wild deer, that has escaped from the hunters of some distant forest, pants in security on the untrodden heath beside it; the eagle, sailing far overhead, casts a passing shadow upon its surface; the stars visit it with their gleamslong before any human eye can distinguish their presence in the heavens from the brow of the neighbouring mountain. But no living thing was near, when Adam Blair took his seat upon one of the great shapeless fragments of stone that here and there gird the heath, and lean their bare masses over those dismal watersand though the bright sky of noontide hung far above in its beauty, the black mirror below him reflected nothing of its azure.
Blair sat there gazing upon the pool, with his arms folded on his breast, until the multitude of his agonising thoughts had totally perplexed the clearness both of his mind and of his vision. Once and again he strove to frame his lips to prayer, but the syllables stuck in his throat, and he gasped for breath, as if a great weight had been squeezing in his bosom. At last, he knelt with his forehead low down in his hands upon the stone, and struggled inwardly till every limb of him shook and quivered; but still no drop of tears would gush from his throbbing eyelids, no Christian ejaculation would force itself through his dry lips. He felt as if he were wrapt in some black and burning cloud, which would not let in one ray upon his misery of thirst and scorching, and became at last utterly bewildered with a crowd of the most horrible phantasies. Black loathsome creatures seemed to sit close beside him on either hand, polluting the breath ere it reached his nostrils, scowling upon him with faces of devilish glee, pawing upon his head with hot talons, fanning his temples with wiry pinions, which stirred the air, but lent it no coolness. Wide glaring eyes fastened upon him, and held him fixed as their prey.At one moment it seemed to him as if the churchyard at Cross-Meikle were the scene of his torments. He saw the tomb of his father, with filthy things crawling up and down upon the face of the marble; while he himself, lying prostrate upon the grave of his wife, heard the poisonous breath of fiends whistling in his ear above her dust. He saw his living friend; old Maxwell was there, with haughty, angry eyes. Little Sarah stood close by him, pale and motionless; farther off, the whole of his congregation were crowded together about the door of the church, and he heard scornful curses muttered.These vanished, and he felt, with a sort of sense of relief in the midst of his despair, as if he were once more alone with the ill-favoured attendants to whom he knew himself to be abandoned. He gazed back again with sullen dead eyes upon their gleaming countenances of wrath and joy distorted and intermingled together. He frowned upon them, as if daring them to do their worst. They screamed aloud with harsh loud voicespounced upon him, lifted him up into the air, and then flung him down again, as if in sport, and he their plaything. He strove to utter the name of his Maker, but ere he could open his mouth the holy name itself passed away from his recollection, and they stooped nearer and nearer to him, and peered into his eyes with looks of triumph as if they had read his thoughts, and knew he was baffled from withinwithout their working.
In his agony he shook the stone beneath him, and it heaved on its crumbling foundation. A spasm of natural terror made him spring to his feet, and he leaped backwards upon the heath. The big gray stone, its motion accelerated by the action of his leap, loosened itself the next moment, and tumbled headlong into the dreary waters over which it had toppled perhaps for centuries. Down it went with one heavy plunge; for the ear that followed it instinctively strove in vain to catch its meeting with the bottom of the tarn. Ring after ring circled and glistened wider and wider on the face of the black mere, and all was again black, motionless, silent as before.