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THE CURSE OF CLIFTON.
UPON a glorious morning in the midsummer of 18-, two equestrian travellers spurred their horses up the ascent of the Eagle's Flight, the loftiest and most perilous pass of the Alleghanies.
Though the sun was near the meridian, and all the sky above was "darkly, deeply, beautifully blue," and perfectly clear, yet all the earth beneath was covered by a thick, lowlying fog.
On reaching the highest point of the pass, both travellers drew rein and paused, looking-north, south, east, westover the ocean of vapour rolling from horizon to horizon below them! And while they so pause, let us catch that nearly vertical ray of the sun that falls upon them, lighting up the group like fire above the fog, and daguerreotype them as they stand.
Both are young men of about the same age, probably twenty-five; both are well mounted upon fine bay horses; and both wear the undress uniform of the of Cavalry and here all resemblance between them ceases. He on the right hand, who holds in his horse's head with so tight a rein, causing the gallant steed to arch his beautiful neck so gracefully, while he lets fly a falcon-glance around the shrouded horizon, is Archer Clifton of Clifton, now holding the rank of Captain in the regiment of Cavalry. His form is of middle size, strongly built, yet elegantly proportioned; his complexion is dark and bronzed as by exposure; his features are Roman; his hair and whiskers, trimly cut, are of the darkest chestnut, with what painters
call cool lights; which is to say, that there is no warmth of colouring even where the sun lights. Indeed, there is no warmth about the looks of the whole man. His eyes are singularly beautiful and brilliant, combining all those dark, shifting, scintillating, prismatic hues that would drive an artist mad for want of colours to portray, or an author to despair for lack of words to describe. He wears the dark blue uniform of his regiment, and manages his noble charger with the ease and grace only to be found in the accomplished cavalry officer.
He upon the left hand, who, with languid air and loosened rein, inclines his body forward, permitting his graceful horse to droop his head and scent the earth, as in quest of herbage, is Francis Fairfax, of Green Plains, a lieutenant in the company under the command of Captain Clifton. He is of about the same height as Clifton, but his figure is slender almost to fragility. His features are delicate and piquant. His complexion is fair and transparent. His hair is also very fair, and waves off from a forehead so snowy, round, and smooth, as to seem child-like, especially with those clear blue eyes, that now brood roguishly under their golden lashes, as in profound quest of mischief, and now light up and sparkle with fun and frolic. He mis-manages his spoiled pet of a steed with the charming insouciance only to be seen in the amateur poet, painter, player, musician, &c. &c. And yet there is sometimes an earnest, thoughtful aspect about the youth that surprises one into the suspicion that all his levity is superficial, and hides his deeper and better nature, as stubble sometimes covers and conceals a mine of precious metal.
"Well!" at last spoke Mr. Fairfax, "it is now about twelve hours since we were emptied out of that atrocious old stage-coach, which, for a week past, has been beating us about in its interior from side to side, and from seat to ceiling, as if we were a lump of butter in an old woman's churn, and whose kindest turn of all to us was, when it turned over and shook us out down the precipice, and into the trough of the Wolf's Lick, as if we had been apples fed to the pigs! Oh, by the lost baronetcy of the house of Fairfax! my selfesteem will never recover the effects of it! Perdition seize the picturesque at this price! And ever since long before daybreak this morning have we been wandering about over