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A NIGHT IN THE PINES

A NIGHT IN THE PINES

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Written by Hunter   
Wednesday, 08 October 2008 12:36



The trees were not old, but they grew thickly round the glade: there was
no outlook, except northeastward upon distant hill-tops, or straight
upward to the sky; and the encampment felt secure and private like a
room. By the time I had made my arrangements and fed Modestine, the day
was already beginning to decline. I buckled myself to the knees into my
sack and made a hearty meal; and as soon as the sun went down, I pulled
my cap over my eyes and fell asleep.

Night is a dead monotonous period under a roof; but in the open world it
passes lightly, with its stars and dews and perfumes, and the hours are
marked by changes in the face of Nature. What seems a kind of temporal
death to people choked between walls and curtains, is only a light and
living slumber to the man who sleeps afield. All night long he can hear
Nature breathing deeply and freely; even as she takes her rest she turns
and smiles; and there is one stirring hour unknown to those who dwell in
houses, when a wakeful influence goes abroad over the sleeping
hemisphere, and all the out-door world are on their feet. It is then
that the cock first crows, not this time to announce the dawn, but like
a cheerful watchman speeding the course of night. Cattle awake on the
meadows; sheep break their fast on dewy hillsides, and change to a new
lair among the ferns; and houseless men, who have lain down with the
fowls, open their dim eyes and behold the beauty of the night.

The stars were clear, colored, and jewel-like, but not frosty. A faint
silvery vapor stood for the Milky Way. All around me the black
fir-points stood upright and stock-still. By the whiteness of the
pack-saddle, I could see Modestine walking round and round at the length
of her tether; I could hear her steadily munching at the sward; but
there was not another sound, save the indescribable quiet talk of the
runnel over the stones. I lay lazily smoking and studying the color of
the sky, as we call the void of space, where it showed a reddish gray
behind the pines to where it showed a glossy blue-black between the
stars. As if to be more like a pedler, I wear a silver ring. This I
could see faintly shining as I raised or lowered the cigarette; and at
each whiff the inside of my hand was illuminated, and became for a
second the highest light in the landscape.

A faint wind, more like a moving coolness than a stream of air, passed
down the glade from time to time; so that even in my great chamber the
air was being renewed all night long. I thought with horror of the inn
at Chasserades and the congregated night caps; with horror of the
nocturnal prowesses of clerks and students, of hot theatres, and
passkeys and close rooms. I have not often enjoyed a more serene
possession of myself, nor felt more independent of material aids. The
outer world, from which we cower into our houses, seemed after all a
gentle, habitable place; and night after night a man's bed, it seemed,
was laid and waiting for him in the fields, where God keeps an open
house.

As I lay thus, between content and longing, a faint noise stole towards
me through the pines. I thought, at first, it was the crowing of cocks
or the barking of dogs at some very distant farm; but steadily and
gradually it took articulate shape in my ears, until I became aware that
a passenger was going by upon the high-road in the valley, and singing
loudly as he went. There was more of good-will than grace in his
performance; but he trolled with ample lungs; and the sound of his voice
took hold upon the hillside and set the air shaking in the leafy glens.
I have heard people passing by night in sleeping cities, some of them
sang; one, I remember, played loudly on the bagpipes. I have heard the
rattle of a cart or carriage spring up suddenly after hours of
stillness, and pass for some minutes, within the range of my hearing as
I lay abed. There is a romance about all who are abroad in the black
hours, and with something of a thrill we try to guess their business.
But here the romance was double; first this glad passenger, lit
internally with wine, who sent up his voice in music through the night;
and then I, on the other hand, buckled into my sack, and smoking alone
in the pine-woods between four and five thousand feet towards the stars.

--ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.

[Footnote: What use does the author make of contrast? What things does
he notice? Did you ever sleep at night out of doors? If so, was the
night empty of impressions or did you hear and see things? What
characteristic things has Stevenson chosen to give you in the picture of
camping out at night? What things do you suppose Stevenson most enjoyed
in his life out of doors?]
 
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