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forest of dark spruce firs and golden larches, broken here and there by little spaces of refreshing green, surrounding, for the most part, some peasant's cottage, which, from its overhanging roof, adorned by the lichens with patches of warm colour, sent curling wreaths of blue smoke upwards into the clear sharp air, or among the dark stems of the solemn pines. Above or below, as I turned to the right hand or the left, I saw the river gurgling and foaming no longer, but gliding calmly,—
“ Trailing its serpent form within the breast
Of that embracing dale,"
accompanied by a trim and sober canal which showed not all its course, but glistened through little breaks in its line of shading trees; river and canal cooling and variegating the whole landscape as they flowed onward, becoming at last lost to sight among the hills on the northern horizon.
I was still surveying the scene before me, when my contemplations were interrupted by the ringing of the breakfast-bell, and I at once obeyed its summons. At the foot of the staircase I met Mr. Filey, who hoped I felt refreshed, and expressed that hope in his most appalling graveyard voice. I was conducted by him into the dining room, where all the meals of the establishment were devoured, and was there introduced to about a dozen people who, considering that they
were all to some extent invalids, looked in very fair health and uncommonly good spirits. I soon discovered that they had good appetites as well, for they attacked the eatables more like famishing wolves than well-fed human beings; but I had little opportunity of making observations of such gross material matters, for I was compelled, at first by politeness and afterwards by inclination, to apply myself to the feast of reason and flow of soul which was provided by a gentleman who sat next to me and informed me that his name was Stainton ; that he was the editor of a newspaper in one of the southern seaport towns; that he occasionally wrote for the magazines; that he considered the water cure a gigantic humbug, but that Avondale was a very healthy place and would most likely do me good; and finally in a series of dislocated and half-whispered sentences, in which I was able to distinguish the words, “queer lot-regular curiosity shop—as good as a play,” gave me to understand that if I were interested in human nature my faculties would not for the next few weeks be likely to rust for want of use.
After breakfast, we had prayers, conducted by a dissenting minister with a round rubicund face, an overwhelming expanse of white neckcloth, and a general port-winey expression, which made him look like an old-fashioned country rector in slightly depressed circumstances. He gave us a fine specimen of devotional oratory, but the oratory was rather more prominent than the devotion; and I was forcibly reminded of the well-worn anecdote of the American clergyman, of whom it was said that his prayer was “the most eloquent ever addressed to a Boston audience.” During the next hour I was, very willingly, monopolized by my editorial acquaintance, who, having satisfied himself that I had not a mission, and that I had no desire to convert him to anything, informed me that I was an oasis in the desert, and hoped that I would allow him to shelter beneath the palms. We chatted pleaşantly until one of the water-demons summoned me to my first bath, which I liked as well as any succeeding one; that is, not at all ; for water—though scientifically applied—lost no horrors, and gained many, at the Avondale Hydropathic Establishment.
I soon saw the meaning of the doctor's veiled hints and of Mr. Stainton's unveiled sarcasms, and became painfully aware that I had got among an extraordinary set of people. Circumstances had brought me into contact with many curious characters, but none of my previous experiences had prepared me for what I met with at Avondale. The first thing which struck me as odd was the peculiar theological atmosphere of the place. Even the dinner-table was made a battlefield, across which the representatives of contending sects and parties flung at each other texts and sarcasms. Almost every patient was a theologian, and every theologian joined in the fray. I found that Mr. Filey belonged to a community on which Stainton bestowed the unflattering title of the Billingsgate Brethren, and two or three others of the party were also Billingsgate brothers or sisters. Unfortunately, however, for our peace of mind, Mr. Filey belonged to the tweedle-dum section of the brethren, while a couple named Higgins believed that truth was only to be found among the tweedle-dees ; and, horrible to relate, there was also a representative of the pure tweedle party, which contemptuously ignores both dum and dee, in the person of a Mr. Blayse, a gentleman with a chronic frown, a long nose, and a fearful and wonderful squint.
Now, Mr. Filey, Mr. and Mrs. Higgins, and Mr. Blayse, while they had a noble scorn for the world lying in darkness outside the brotherhood, had also a feeling of cordial hatred for each other—that peculiarly malignant hatred which none of us bestow upon avowed enemies, but reserve for traitors in our own camp. I witnessed many pitched battles and innumerable small skirmishes, and all were conducted with a vigour and decision which did credit to the combatants. They were generally commenced in a cautious and circumspect manner, as if each warrior wished to throw upon one of the others the responsibility of firing the first shot. This generally devolved upon Mrs. Higgins, who would select some neutral individual, and request to be favoured with his opinion on some "precious word”. by which she meant a favourite party text—in one of
the Epistles of St. Paul. If the victim were a stranger and unsuspecting, he was certain to respond, perhaps somewhat lengthily, and then his fate was sealed; for if his reply satisfied Mrs. Higgins, it was sure to bring down upon him the denunciations of Mr. Filey and Mr. Blayse. If, on the contrary, the bird declined to come and be shot, Mrs. Higgins was compelled to utter some tweedle-dee shibboleth, and in an instant the great leaders of debate were in arms.
For some time after my arrival the strong theological flavour of the conversation was an inscrutable mystery to me; but at last I found what seemed to be a complete explanation. While waiting for Mr. Filey one day in his private sanctum, I saw lying on the table a batch of the most virulent sectarian magazines and newspapers, and in every one of them appeared an advertisement of the Avondale Hydropathic Establishment, which offered as baits, “pure air, judicious treatment, and the advantages of Christian society !” The murder was now out: all my hopes of any change vanished, for I saw that Mr. Filey was bound to maintain the religious wars of the dinner-table in order to preserve the exceptional Christian character of the house. As for me, I had been drawn into a polemical duel with Mr. Blayse' which had so soiled my theological reputation-if I ever had any—that I am afraid I did not much care how soon this character, as there exhibited, became a thing of the past.