loud night went, wasting itself with riot and tumult,
towards morning. The wind went by with a solid rush,
a great wall for a strong man to lean against. The woods
stood shrieking on the hillsides, and the bitter weight
of the rain lashed down in broken, gusty lines. In the
darkness there was the shrieking of the woods and the
small shrillings of such bushes and weeds as clung to
the fences, and that other monotonous cry that the wind
makes with the earth; but when the lightning leaped
up the whole scene was voiceless, the woods slanted
fearfully away from the torn clouds that were raking
over them, and in a silence, as of held breath, the
perplexed land leaped into sudden light and fell back
into sudden darkness. Then with the darkness the woods
shrieked again and the thunder broke with a tense rattle
and went booming and crashing, and sank into a loose,
mellow roar. Then the bitter lash of the rain, and the
solid rush of the wind, and again the lightning, again
the land cowed into silence, again the tumultuous complaint
against the storm, and again the rolling, hollow thunder.
To one who only knew
the features of the landscape in the sweet sunshine,
those sudden glimpses which the lightning gave would
have been as unnatural as the images that haunt a madman;
but the night did not conceal such an one. The only
man who held his way upon the road knew all the landmarks,
no matter how the storm might distort them, for in his
boyhood the forerunners of the very weeds in the fence
corners had claimed his attention, and the woods, shriek
as they might, had been quiet for long days when he
wandered in them. And yet even to him the night was
fearful, and, as he neared the gaunt house that the
lightning had been pointing out to him ever since he
left the brow of the hill, his strong desire was for
shelter and comfort. But not there was likely to be
any shelter or any comfort, and two miles of the road
lay untravelled before him. As he came on against the
wind each flash of light threw the house upon his eyes
with intolerable distinctness. He knew all its bare
angles, all its solid stone bulk, and all its vacant
windows; he knew the bush which grew in the gutter,
[Page 17] now flattened to the roof,
as if clinging there in terror. It leaped time after
time out of the darkness, stark and hard-visaged, until
he could have cursed all its stones. He tried to lose
sight of it, but the wind turned him to it, the rain
forced his eyes shut, and when he opened them the lightning
sprang out on him and there was the barren, cold thing,
shorn of all outhouses and barns, standing on the clay
knoll. It was strange that any mere fragment of earth
could wear such an expression, but the clay knoll, slippery
with the rain, in every flash of light was as pallid
a grey as ever fear wore.
As he drew nearer the
house he saw that one of the windows was not vacant,
that the flickering light that filled it came from an
open fire. Had he known it, he was expected there; but
he did not know it, and until he stood opposite the
door the flicker of the fire in the darkness and the
gaunt bulk of the grey house in the lightning absorbed
all his attention.
When he stood opposite
the door something scurried across the road like a frightened
hen, and grasped him by the knees, and when the next
flash came he saw the figure of the old woman clinging
there, crying for him to lead her to the house. He lifted
her up and, shutting her shrivelled forearm in his grasp,
he went up across the waste land between the road and
the house. When the old woman shut the door he was alone
in the dark hall, and not by groping could he reach
her, and his ears caught no tidings of any movement.
As he struck his hands against the walls a crack of
light broke out, and he shoved open the door of a room.
The fire was burning there, a lighted candle was the
only thing on a long table, a bench was before the fireplace.
He swung the wet off his hat, and, blinded by the storm,
he sat down upon the bench before the fire, and shut
out all the light to rest his eyes. When he took his
hands away he stared upon the space between his feet
and the fire. He was looking upon the body of a woman
outstretched there upon a bright piece of carpet. She
lay with her hands beneath her head; one of those rugs
where a tiger sprawls upon a black ground was flung
upon her feet. The firm lines of her figure were shapely
in the firelight, but over her face was dropped a little
kerchief. She made no movement, but her breath heaved
her bodice regularly, and the pulse beat a rhythm in
her round wrists.
He dreamed upon her
figure and wondered of her face. Leaning forward into
the firelight, time was cancelled, and the storm raved
on uselessly, for his mind was full of pleasant and
strange thoughts. Under the kerchief, was the face fair?
It might be a thing to shudder at. The little red mask
might veil features as revolting as ever humanity wore.
One glance of the eyes might breed a host of dreams
to curse sleep; one smile of the lips might haunt the
chambers of memory with a mocking horror. [Page
As all this might have
been so, he did a mad thing; he leant out of his dream
and plucked the kerchief by the corner. Holding it for
an instant, he lifted it slowly. That was as fair a
face as ever blood flushed. He could see now where the
hands were hidden by the dark hair. The eyes looked
straight upon his eyes, and across all the features
streamed a sweet, lingering smile—a smile of recognition.
“Alexander,” the lips said.
Now when that smile
came so, across the face which he had never seen before,
and when his name floated to him as softly as a petal
at the end of rose time, the window was forced up from
the outside, and the rude wind rushed into the room.
It blew out the candle and sent it across the table
to drop on the floor; it swirled the fire about, and
scattered the ashes on the hearth. Springing to his
feet, he glanced around, stumbled upon the bench, and
when he recovered himself the carpet was vacant. He
felt with his hands how it was warm, and saw a dark
coat rolled up where the head had lain, but he was alone.
Suddenly the storm leaped into life, and he made his
way toward the door, crushing the tin candlestick under
his feet as he went. As before, the violent turmoil
rang through space, and the loud night wind went wasting
itself with riot and tumult towards morning.
had never seen that face before; he had not been inside
that house since the time when, as a boy, he had dropped
through the window, frightened at the echoes his feet
loosened in the disused rooms; but, the next night,
as he came down the forest cutting across to Coiniac
street, he came as if to an appointment, his heart beating
with the surety that some one would be there to meet
The knoll dropped
away behind this house, and the forest came skirting
down and lay solidly all along the road; then, on the
other side, were fields spreading to the foot of the
hills, then hills beyond the hills. Any one who knew
the country knew that back of the hills lay a pond of
white water and a swamp where tamarac grew.
He found her,
as he expected, on the rail of the fence where the forest
ended and the fields began, and where the little knoll
commenced its gradual rise. She seemed so placid and
unquestioning that he sat down at the foot of a tree
and, instead of speaking to her, he looked past her
feet through the fence rails. His eyes ran on to where
the house was rooted on the knoll.
He still looked
at the grey base of the house, but answered nothing.
don’t you ask me who I am, and what we are doing
in the house?”
I don’t want to know.”
must want to know; that would be the first thing you
would want to know. No one has lived there for years,
and when some one comes you don’t care to know
what they want. You must be different from other people.”
not—at least I don’t think so.”
you want to know how long we have been here?”
that already, but”—here he broke off abruptly—“I
wish you would come into the woods. I hate that house;
it is watching us.”
him. He threw himself at the root of a tree and looked
moodily at the leaves on the ground.
say no one has lived in the house for years. Who should
know that better than I? A long time ago I used to climb
in at the windows. It’s a horrible place; all
the open doors seemed to have been just left open, all
the shut doors seemed just shut. I have heard them shut
softly on the upper flats. Then the cellar was full
of water. One day I opened a closet door, and there
was a coil of rope over one of the pegs. I never went
back after that. Little things bother me. I wonder if
it’s there yet.”
I took it down and burnt it.”
Heaven! It used to haunt me. That whole house seemed
built around it. At night, in my dreams, I used to drop
in at the window, track up the stairs, and open the
closet and look at it, and sometimes the imagination
of it would haunt me all day.”
He was silent
for a space; then he cried out sharply:—
a perfect killjoy; I always was. It’s a terrible
thing to be as gloomy as I have been. But now—I’m
either better or worse. I don’t know which. One
day I was ploughing. I don’t know what made me
pick up a lump of earth, but when I crumbled it in my
fingers there was a coin inside. When I polished it
on my sleeve the King’s head came out.”
He paused for
quite a while.
seems to have crumbled away from my heart and your face
has come out.”
a glad sort of a laugh, and he went away from her through
the trees without looking back.
When he met
her again they went up into the forest together. She
was slightly behind him. “Alexander,” she
said. He stopped and looked around, but when she did
not continue, and dropped her eyes on the ground, he
went on. “When you call me you can call me Elise.”
“Of course,” he said.
It was so dark
they could just see the trees they could touch.
us build a little fire,” she said. They accordingly
began to grope on the ground and gather twigs and branches.
Very soon a little cone of red [Page 20]
fire sprang up. It was curious how many trees there
were then. They seemed to be crowded closely all around
the blaze. When Alexander looked up from the fire he
saw a very old, shrunken woman cowering closely on the
skirts of the firelight. “Young man,” she
said, “who is going to put out that fire?”
“It will go out itself presently.” “But
it may eat up the wood.” “Well, it’s
my own wood.” “Tell me, would you like to
know the future?” “I don’t care.”
He went over and gave her his hand. She mumbled over
it. “Speak out, old woman!” Instead of speaking
out, she dropped his hand and crawled a little way into
the darkness. Alexander went to the fire and heaped
up more branches. When he looked back the old woman
was gone, but Elise stood within the fire circle.
had my fortune told. I didn’t hear it through.
Why did you not
did you know it was me?”
He smiled at
her in curious perplexity.
all,” he said, “what’s the good of
knowing beforehand? I’ll know soon enough.”
a bit of a witch,” she said.
She drew a
coal out of the fire. “Look here.” Alexander
looked down on the coal. He seemed to be up on a hillside.
The summer heat was dancing around him, and the bees
whizzed by to the buckwheat field. He had a scythe in
his hand, and was just about to sharpen it when he heard
a voice call him—“Alexander.” He looked
round, but he was alone on that hillside. He remembered
the day perfectly.
the coal a turn. He seemed to be lying above a pond
of water in the woods. His arms were bare to the shoulder
and he dipped them into the clear deeps. He tried to
catch the little fish that slipped in and out between
his fingers. A wind blew coolly across the pond. Suddenly
he heard a voice call him—“Alexander.”
He took his arms out of the water and looked around,
but no one was there. He was alone by that pond. He
remembered that day perfectly[.] Elise gave the coal
a turn. He seemed to be laboring up a hill in a storm.
He carried a great weight of fear with him—fear
that some one would call him by name out of the night.
Walking on and on, he recalled every step of the road
until he reached the brow of the hill and saw the house
below him. He remembered in a flash all that had occurred,
and how he had heard his name, but upon that Elise put
out the coal. The fire had lost a little of its life,
and one by one the trees had commenced to go back into
the darkness. Elise caught up a branch tipped with fire,
and whirled it in sinuous-involved figures. She seemed
to be working a spell. [Page 21]
she said, “do[n’]t you want to know who
I am—I would like to tell you.”
as you like,” he said.
I can’t trust you yet. You must show me that I
can trust you.”
He got up and
commenced to stamp out the fire.
The next time
they met Elise led into the woods, but he took her arm
and went up to the ridge to the road. This is called
Coiniac street. There was a clear dimness in the night,
and a sort of sharp moisture in the air. It seemed very
light on the road after the woods.
are we going now?” asked Elise.
wanted to trust me. You had better come,” he said.
They were the
only souls on that long road. After they had walked
for about a mile Alexander turned up a lane, and in
a few minutes they came upon an open space. Here again
the forest ended and the fields began, but, as this
clearing was on the brow of a sort of dwarf precipice
looking out from it, the fields seemed never to end,
the forest never to begin again. In the space stood
a house and sheds. They were unpainted and of the silver-grey
color of exposed pine, and in the clear dimness of the
night they seemed strangely shadowy and unsubstantial.
In the clear obscure everything wore this evanescence—the
piles of split wood, the lines of lilac bushes, the
shrubs about the house windows. The looming mass of
a poplar seemed suspended like a great water plant.
In sooth, the beholder seemed to be gazing into the
water deeps; moved of a current, the whole picture might
waver and swing liquidly, while one breath of air might
blur it forever.
to the edge of the precipice and stood upon a flat stone.
She looked out over the miles of dim plain below, as
into some infinite reach of space. The whole sky was
moving with a host of stars, and they came up constantly
marching across the horison. Alexander was silent for
a while and then he said, “All this is mine.”
Elise commenced to swing her arms, touching her hands
at first in front and then behind.
hundred acres of that land”—here he spread
his hands out over the plain—“and all the
cattle down there, and that pond; and I’ll give
you all these.”
it was as if he had offered her the scenery of a dream
for a possession. On the plain she could see no cattle
and no pond.
don’t even know who I am,” she said. He
fell down in front of her, and, grasping her feet with
his hands, shook her almost from her foothold. [Page
not enough?” he cried, in a sort of agony of spirit.
“I know not who you are, and yet I offer you all
are a strange person. You cry out as if you were hurt.”
am hurt. Whatever I feel gives me great distress; whenever
I should have joy, despair—a blank despair—comes
in place of it.”
out of the fulness of her heart. The spell of quiet
seemed broken, for the poplar swayed as if it would
topple over. Up from the plain came faintly the clash
of cattle bells, and the gleam of stars flashed out,
reflected from water on the earth’s breast.
When they next
met and had built a fire, Elise said:—“What
did you mean by saying that about the coin you found!”
it occurred to me to tell you.”
you kept it?”
He pulled it
out of his pocket. She looked at it narrowly.
good,” she said with a laugh, and gave it back
to him. “Now I’m going to show you a game.”
She commenced to spread something out along the log,
which was covered with moss and lighted from end to
end by the fire. He watched her, but could not see what
she was laying down. “Now,” she said, “everything
is ready.” He went nearer to her. She had arranged
a row of coins on the log and a line of paper notes.
“Now, the game is to tell which is bad and which
is good.” He looked closely at them. “They
are all alike.” She laughed. “Every second
one is bad.” He picked up the first. “This
is good.” “No! and every second one is just
After a pause
she said slowly, “Alexander, we make them; that
is what we do over at the house.”
He stared fixedly
at the log.
hate me now?”
why should I?”
do something to help me. I have trusted you. Now I am
going to try you.”
She held a
little bag towards him. “This is full of them.”
He pushed her
if you don’t take them they will beat me at the
house. It will be so easy for you to pass them; you,
a rich man’s son.”
He took the
bag and thrust it into his pocket.
A night or
two after this he handed her the little bag; it was
full of good gold.
terribly gloomy,” he said. “You know I told
you I was always a killjoy. There seems to be something
hanging over me.” [Page 23]
believe in fate? I do. I don’t believe we can
turn back. What is
believe in fate,” he said. “But that is
not what I want to talk about. You remember the place
I showed you? When will you come there and live with
know; there are difficulties in the way.”
turn coiner,” he said, gloomily.
too dangerous; they would always be suspicious of you,
and if they were they would kill you.”
what difference would that make?”
to make no difference to you. It makes no difference
to me. My life is a black thing. I walk through it as
I would through a forest at night. I can’t see
anything, and what I half see haunts me and hurts me.”
His voice again
had taken that desperate cry.
do you cry out in that way?”
asked me that before, and I have answered you once.”
are so many mysteries,” she said, “there
is the mystery of the blood in our veins, and the hanging
stars in the sky. But there are other mysteries; they
wanted to pass the coins here; they carry them into
the States themselves, so I was to get you to do it.
But how could they know that you and I—
he cried out, in sharp pain, “you torture me;
something in your voice stabs me. Answer me once for
all, and end all this. Will you come with me?”
are difficulties I cannot tell you of.”
to go away.
she cried, “here is a little charm; it will be
as powerful to save you as anything else when you are
It was a horse-chestnut,
netted over with silk.
think I’ll ever come back again,” he cried,
in a great accent of despair.
After he was
gone Elise laughed because she knew he would come again
the next night. When they had lit a fire at her suggestion,
he said:— “I want to talk to you now; I
want to make you understand. I have been for years like
this, that some great thing was to happen to me. I have
thought sometimes that it would be on the other side
of the bush I was walking in; that I would meet it there.
But all these years I have had no comfort from that
hope, but just despair. It wasn’t hope, though,
but just a certainty, like something one has gone through
that has to happen again. You know I told you once I
was either more gloomy or less so, I didn’t know
which; but [Page 24] now I know I am
more gloomy. I am desperate. I know I can never live
without you. This is not love, for love, they say, brings
joy; but, if you leave me, my life will be struck dead.”
was visible on his drawn face and in the beads of water
standing on his flesh.
me,” she said, “did you never see me before?”
I have thought so. Why?”
I have often seen you before. I’ll tell you how
I mean:—Ever since I was a child two or three
scenes have haunted me. They have been coming true lately;
one was where you were looking down at me that stormy
night; one was in the garden when I was looking over
the plain. There is another that I don’t like;
it gives me a great terror. I seem to be walking up
a little knoll, and somehow a door opens above me and
something is thrown out like a sack; when it falls I
can’t walk up any farther. That gives me a great
deal of trouble.”
said Alexander. “If you come over there to live
with me you would have no trouble of that kind.”
say that,” he cried, with anguish in every accent.
even now they don’t like my coming out here; they
say I can’t come any more; they are furious with
me for coming to-night.”
business is it of theirs?”
I don’t know; one of them thinks he has some business.
I am his wife; that young man with the yellow beard
is my husband.”
He got up quickly
and walked away. She called after him, but he cried
out in a hoarse voice that would not form words for
his broken spirit. He went through the trees feeling
the terror and uselessness of his despair. It would
always be like that, he knew, and this despair turned
suddenly to hatred of the circumstances of his life.
If he could only revenge himself on them; if he could
have them gathered before him in one ugly personality
that he could crush the life out of with his own hands.
But even as he wished this the knowledge of his old
despair came back upon him, and he saw the whole length
of his life, with all its diffusion of troubles, whirl
before him like a line of dusk birds.
Just then he
came out of the wood and saw the house against the spread
of stars. He hated it and all within it. Something drove
him on, and as he walked up the slope he resolved to
discomfort them if he could. All the late occurrences
in his life went out of his mind as a candle goes out
in a great wind. [Page 25]
He pushed open
the back door of the house and stepped into the light.
There were six men in that room. He put his back against
here, you fellows,” he said, “you had better
clear out of this. I have told everything.”
The young man
with the yellow beard showed his teeth like a dog. Alexander
looked at him. “As for you,” he said, ‘it’s
well for you,” but he said no more. From their
corners the six leaped out on him and struck him down.
out of the forest and walked on to the house. When she
commenced the ascent of the knoll she felt a strange
familiarity with the motion, and before she had gone
very far a door opened in the house above her, and something
was thrown out like a sack. She went on to where it
lay, and her presentiment was realized.
In the early
light of the next morning there was no quieter spot
on earth than that clay knoll. Within the house there
was no life, and just without it there was death. He
lay with his limbs loosely disposed, as they had been
thrown; a night shower had dampened his clothing. The
little charm of a horse-chestnut, netted with silk,
lay in the litter of weep-wisps and straw, as it had
rolled from his hand. His eyes seemed fixed at the towering
house whence his enemies had fled.
a white-throat flew over and settled on his wrist. He
commenced his song and dropped it twice half-finished,
then drank a little water out of the hollow of the dead
man’s palm, and, hearing some call from the distance,
he sang his song through twice very clearly and sweetly,
and flew away into the forest. [Page 26]