Reflections in A
Horse Pond by
Let me consider a little where I am! My senses are beginning
to clear at present, albeit my body is sticking in the mud, and seems to
think of nothing less. This plunge, disagreeable as it is, has been of
service to me: we should be thankful for everything, for they say
"everything is for the best;" and, upon this principle, a tumble into a
horse-pond may be a good. I shall, however, ascertain this better to-morrow
(that is, if I ever get out of the mud,—of which I am doubtful).
In the mean time I will, by way of passing the time, acknowledge my
obligation. I am a regenerated creature! Thanks be to Heaven! I
can see: before my tumble into these revivifying waters, my thoughts
were wandering, and my sight was dazzled; now they are fixed,
immoveably fixed,—to this horse-pond; and I only behold one moon
instead of two.
I do not exactly know how I came hither. I spent last
evening with Tom Rattlebrain, Ned Flighty, and Will Scamper; we had a
famous supper, and resolved to make a night of it. The weather was
hot, stormy, and goblinish; it led us to tell ghost-stories, which we
did till our marrow froze, and our parched throats cried out, like the
horse-leech's two daughters, "Give! give!" Purely to raise our
courage and moisten our palates, we had a couple of bottles additionally.
I recollect that after this we told some stories partaking more
of the flesh than the spirit, and that at two o'clock in the morning I
agreed to ride home on Daylight, hand in hand, like the fire-office
insignia, with Scamper, who was mounted on Wildfire. I remember
something of trying to force Daylight to cross that which I took to be
a ferry. I recollect something of our dispute upon this subject, but
faintly; I can only guess how the matter ended by the result,—for
he is gone, and I am here!
I suppose I must have struggled, flopped, and floundered
about a good deal before I could have been so firmly wedged in the mud as
I am at this moment. The water all around me is up to my chin, and
the mud beneath me is up to my knees; I have sunk considerably
above my calves. I really cut a very ridiculous figure!
The first thing I remember distinctly was seeing my lighted
cigar floating, fizzing, and spitting peevishly upon the water. Poor thing!
it did not relish regeneration. I put out my hand to catch it; but
it fizzed angrily, and floated away from me. This "was the unkindest
cut of all;" and when I saw its light go out, I felt as if abandoned by
all the world.
It just occurs to me that I have another cause of thanksgiving:
since one must sometimes fall into a horse-pond, I am grateful that it
is an English one. In some countries, now, those devils of the air—the
birds of prey—would keep wheeling, whirling, and shrieking
above my head, complimenting each other upon the good supper
prepared for them, and then coolly peck out my two eyes before my face!
This idea is suggested by a somewhat uncomfortable circumstance,
which, notwithstanding my patience, I cannot but be sensible of.
Something—I conjecture either an eel or a rat—is gnawing at the
boot on my right leg; no other animals venture so deeply into the
mud. I wish I could raise my foot.
If it be a rat, he will content himself with the leather,
and gnaw away till it be gone; but the eel prefers a bit of meat, and in that
case he is only busying himself to open his "pantry-door." Pray Heavens
it be a rat!
I am a most enduring man. I remember suffering infinite
misery a whole season at the house of a particular friend; I was lodged in
the best bedroom, and a superb apartment it was. The bed was a
magnificent one; but, to my cost, there was a flea in it,—"the last
flea of summer!" Never shall I forget what I suffered from that
single tormentor. I should have known it was only one, from the
peculiar pungency of his bite, even if the invariable character of the
mark had not also been a witness. The room had been for a long
period unoccupied, save by this flea, the survivor of all his family and
friends, who had died of starvation in the course of the summer. I
bore it patiently enough for several nights, thinking that it was a tax
to flea-manity which must be paid; but when, night after night, week
after week, the same torture continued, I began to grow nervous and
irritable. I sought after him diligently in the morning, but never
found anything save his trail. Like Destiny, he was always to be
felt, but never seen. In the night, scarcely had I torn the skin off
my shoulder, ere I was imperiously called upon to apply the same
remedy to my leg. I felt him hop across my hand as I raised it up;
and so rapid were his movements, that he seemed to be jumping in
every part of my body at once: like the Indian Apollo, he appeared
to have the power of multiplying his person, and of being in fifty
places at the same time. He was a single fiend "whose name was
Legion." I started in anguish; shook my sheets and my shirt; called
upon God, upon the devil; apostrophised the mistress of the house,
and mentally sent the housemaid to the hottest place I could think
of. It was all to no purpose; he seemed to have some extraordinary
power of disgorging his prey and clearing his stomach, which, like
Time, was always devouring,—never full. So rapidly did his constant
consecutive meals of breakfast, luncheon, dinner, tea, and supper
tread upon each other's heels, that I seemed to live twenty days in
one tortured night. I longed to complain to the master of the house;
but how tell him there was a flea in his best bed,—that bed in
which he took such pride, and beheld with so much admiration? At
length I met the housemaid on the stairs. She was as ugly as Repentance,
crabbed as Chastity, and old as Mother Shipton: nevertheless
I addressed her as "My dear little girl!" gave her a kiss and a
piece of money, and entreated her to kill the fleas in my bed. The
next day I met her, and she said, "There bean't no fleas in your
bed as now, sir." Alas! I knew that,—there was but one; and he
was a flea of Fate, beyond her power to destroy. Still the torture
went on; still did I lie, night after night, miserable, feverish,
sleepless, pinched, torn, and tortured in every part of my burning skin.
At length, considering the enormous power possessed by my tormentor,
his divisibility, his invisibility, his infallibility, I came at
last to the conclusion, that it was no living flea that thus distracted
and disturbed me, but the ghost of some starved tenant of former
times, who was allowed this recreation to make amends for past
sufferings. This idea once established, I knew that I had no hope; I
had nothing for it but to fly: so I went to my friend, declared (to his
astonishment) my intention, and, when hard pressed for my reason,
painfully and reluctantly gave it. "A flea!" shouted he in a voice
between displeasure and mirth, "a flea—and in that bed!—then
you must have brought it!" Now was not this too much? I thought
my heart would have broken. I, who had endured so much—I, who
had suffered torture in silence for six long weeks, to be accused of
having brought that alderman of fleas with me! It was beyond
human nature to bear. I burst from his presence, packed up my
clothes, and, though I am a very good-tempered man, have not seen
that friend since. I can never forgive his accusation—I can never
forget what I suffered! As I call to mind that burning sorrow, I
take comfort in the knowledge that I am standing up to my neck in a horse-pond!
Thank you, gentle lady moon! I am grateful for any kind
of attention, even though it should be of no use to me; but yours is. I
wish I was a poet now!—I could make something of this scenery. I
have read a good deal about "moonlight on the waters;" but I never
was so near its dancing beams before. The devil take this rat—how
he nibbles! My boots are new—a hole in them at least! There's
a villanous odour that comes over me from some part of the horse-pond,
"at which my nose is in great indignation." It strikes me
also, from something uncomfortable in my stomach, that in my plunge
I must have swallowed a good allowance of Mark Anthony's liquor.
(See Shakspeare's Anthony and Cleopatra,
Act 1, scene 4.) The bare idea is enough to make me faint;—only
who would be fool enough to faint in a horse-pond?
I have been in my life several times taken in,
besides to-night, by these waters.
Thank you again, dear gracious moon! She's very bright
just now. There is a large tract of blue in the heavens over which, for
at least the next twenty minutes, she may travel without being "capped
by a cloud;" so I shall have time to look around me. I am nearly
in the centre of the pond; the water is perfectly tranquil, except
when it bobs against my chin, disturbed by the movement of my
head. Lord help me! suppose I should die here!—as, if nobody come
to my assistance, I certainly shall.
On my first ascertaining the character of my position,
recollecting that horse-ponds are generally in the neighbourhood of towns or
farms, I hallooed so lustily that I found my voice grow husky; so I
determined to reserve it for a better occasion—I mean in case any
persons should approach—Heaven send them! This would be a
comfortless bed to die in!
A huge frog has just discovered me; and he sits amongst
the weeds below the opposite bank, croaking out his speculations as to
what I can be. He stares earnestly; so do I. He takes my eye for a
challenge—he is a frog of courage, however, for he plunges into the
water, swims towards me, and plants himself directly opposite to my
face. He croaks; I answer very naturally, for the water has qualified
my voice. The frog stares again: "The voice is the voice
of Esau, but the form is Jacob's." Now he very gravely swims entirely
round my head, and then again plants himself in front. I laugh aloud;
he backs a little. I open my eyes very wide at him; he returns the
compliment. My chin splashes the water about him; he takes fright
Hark! there are certainly footsteps in the neighbourhood.
Halloo!—ough!—ah!—mercy upon me! my voice is quite gone,
and I shall be compelled to live in this horse-pond the remainder of my days.
Who will feed me, I wonder: the rat will not be so civil to me as the
ravens were to Elijah; and I have affronted the frog. Ha! the footsteps
come nearer—and nearer. 'Tis a man—I see him—a groom—I'll
"D—n your croaking soul!" quoth the vagabond;
and he flings a huge stone at my head.
Despair and distraction! what shall I do? Die! No, that's
cowardly: I'll live bravely; that is, if I can. The fellow is gone,
and "I am all alone!" Alone! What do I hear? Voices—yes;
they come—most sweet voices. A gentleman and the rascally
"You have not dragged this pond to-night," says the master.
"Indeed, sir, we did,—from one end of it to the other,"
replies the fellow: "see how the weeds are disturbed."
"You lie, you rascal! you did not, or you would have found
me there," said I.
"Heighday!" cried the master; "what have we here?"
"A gentleman in distress."
"I should think so: but how came you in this pond?"
"I'll tell you when I am out."
"Help, all of you, fellows!" says the gentleman. "Now,
sir, hold fast: I was in search of a drunken uncle who has escaped from his
servants. Pull away, boys!—I expected to find him in this horse-pond,
and I discover a sober gentleman in his place."
N.B. I did not think it necessary to
rectify this latter mistake.