A Lone Woman In Ireland.,
Page 2 of 13
only that, I followed him across the platform to a dismal portal that opened into the station from the hotel mentioned. Proceeding along a dark passage-way, at the other end of which a dim gas-jet flickered, we arrived at a stairway which descended into the main building. A spectral waiter issued from the gloom, and by his cadaverous visage increased the sepulchral effect of the lofty, ill-lighted corridors and immense staircases, built in a style of architecture that might be justly termed monumental. With my cheerful guide all life seemed to depart. I actually shuddered as I waited for a moment while the ghastly attendant singled from an array of forty or fifty keys that which was to unlock my bedroom. Judging from the display presented, there was either a “plentiful lack” of guests in the house, or they had all been carefully locked in for the night. Afterward I better understood this silence and desertion. In truth, I was the only guest — save a small captain, with large eyes, who looked out of the coffee-room windows all day long — and the large and magnificent hotel was even then trembling on the brink of that tomb-like decay which seems the fate of all prosperous and splendid beginnings in Galway, as, a few days after my departure, its doors were closed, and a great, derisive “To Let” placarded on its walls. As the waiter preceded me, with lighted candle, I involuntarily stepped upon my toes with an undefined fear. So ghostly and vault-like was the room to which I was shown, with its heavily curtained window, and a bed draped like a hearse, lacking but the black plumes at the top of its four posts to make the image complete, that I felt the dead would be the fittest frequenters of such a hostelry. Had not extreme fatigue closed my eyes, the screaming wind and dashing rain, with the dismal accompaniment of the creaking furniture, would have made my night one of torture. Sleep soon made me oblivious to all such distractions, and prepared me for the sight-seeing of the morrow.
Unwholesomeness and unhappiness appear to be the characteristics of waiters in all countries; but my waiter of the previous night, when I descended to the coffee-room on the following morning, was more ghastly and grave than any I had ever seen. His eye was cold and dead; his complexion was that of a suet pudding, and a damp and mildewed air pervaded him, which communicated itself to the limp napkin hanging on his arm, while he served my breakfast with a despondency that would have taken the edge off the keenest appetite. Breakfasting under such gloomy influences is not exhilarating in a strange country. The fog without gave an additional chill to the coffee and rolls, and even damped the ardor of a fire that seemed surprised to find itself alight in such quarters. Moving from table to table, as if he saw the phantoms of those guests who had regaled themselves there years ago, and who now were eating or being eaten in Heaven knows what remote climes, he straightened a cloth or fondly touched a spoon or a plate, so that every thing should be in readiness for the people who never came. Indeed, this weird man so absorbed my attention that my fancy became filled with the associations he aroused. To escape from these too melancholy impressions I sallied into the street, and wandered without heeding the direction of my steps. The scene was livelier here, it being market-day. Men in knee-breeches, women in red petticoats and bare feet, with picturesque cloaks that hung in graceful folds, were buying and selling potatoes, pigs, peat, cabbage, and flannel, which are the staple articles of trade on these occasions.
The main street, which is lined with shops of the ordinary provincial stamp, led I me to the spacious but silent and unoccupied quays. Commerce does not deign to send her ships to this ample and completely fitted harbor, where there is a floating dock of five acres in extent, which admits vessels of fourteen feet draught, and the tongue of land that separates the river Gallire from the bay is quayed to the distance of 1300 feet. Here and there small fishing boats rose and fell upon the tide, and groups of half-clad men and women lounged with untiring pertinacity.
As I passed, a group of children stopped a rather complicated dance, in which they were holding up their ragged skirts as daintily as if they had been of the rarest silk, and wished me “godspeed” — a blessing much marred in its effect when followed up by unequivocal hints for coppers; and though they deserved a gratuity if only for their ruddy, happy faces, which kept their heavenly brightness untarnished amidst so much squalid poverty, I dared not bestow it, for every haggard eye and greedy hand in sight would have assailed me; and as I had no desire to be reduced to the same state as themselves, I escaped as quickly as possible into an adjoining street. A few steps brought me to another quay, bordered by immense warehouses, where lay moored a ship, looking seedy and untidy, as if the entire absence of all others of her own importance made a trimmer toilet quite unnecessary. Lounging over her bulwarks were two or three dark-skinned, unkempt sailors, whose languor disappeared when, in response to my demand, spoken in what I presumed to be their native language, they informed me that it was an Italian ship, and had been waiting a month for ballast, of stones, as no other cargo could be procured — unless, I thought, misery could be shipped. Thence to the contiguous streets of immense