Eben Holden a Tale of the North Country, Chapter 32

Chapter 32

I took a walk in the long twilight of that evening. As it began to grow dark I passed the Fuller house and looked up at its windows. Standing under a tree on the opposite side of the avenue I saw a man come out of the door and walk away hurriedly with long strides. I met him at the next corner.

'Good-evening!'he said.

I recognised then the voice and figure ofJohn Trumbull. 'Been to Fuller s,'said he.

'How is Hope?'I asked.

'Better,'said he. 'Walk with me?

'With pleasure,'said I, and then he quickened his pace.

We walked awhile in silence, going so fast! had hardly time to speak, and the darkness deepened into night. We hurried along through streets and alleys that were but dimly lighted, coming out at length on a wide avenue passing through open fields in the upper part of the city. Lights in cabin windows glowed on the hills around us. I made some remark about them but he did not hear me. He slackened pace in a moment and began whispering to himself' I could not hear what he said. I thought of bidding him good-night and returning but where were we and how could I find my way? We heard a horse coming presently at a gallop. At the first loud whack of the hoofs he turned suddenly and laying hold of my arm began to run. I followed him into the darkness of the open field. It gave me a spell of rare excitement for I thought at once of highwaymen - having read so much of them in the Tribune. He stopped suddenly and stooped low his hands touching the grass and neither spoke until the horse had gone well beyond us. Then he rose, stealthily, and looked about him in silence, even turning his face to the dark sky where only a few stars were visible.

Well!'said he with a sort of grunt. 'Beats the devil! I thought it was A wonderful thing was happening in the sky. A great double moon seemed to be flying over the city hooded in purple haze. A little spray of silver light broke out of it, as we looked, and shot backward and then floated after the two shining disks that were falling eastward in a long curve. They seemed to be so near I thought they were coming down upon the city. It occurred to me they must have some connection with the odd experience I had gone through. In a moment they had passed out of sight. We were not aware that we had witnessed a spectacle the like of which had not been seen in centuries, if ever, since God made the heavens' the great meteor of i86o.

'Let's go back,'said Trumbull. 'We came too far. I forgot myself.'

'Dangerous here?'I enquired.

'Not at all,'said he, 'but a long way out of town - tired?

'Rather,'I said, grateful for his evident desire to quiet my alarm.

'Come!'said he as we came back to the pavement, his hand upon my shoulder. 'Talk to me. Tell me - what are you going to do?

We walked slowly down the deserted avenue, I, meanwhile, talking of my pians.

'You love. Hope,'he said presently. 'You will marry her?

'If she will have me,'said I.

'You must wait,'he said, 'time enough!

He quickened his pace again as we came in sight of the scattering shops and houses of the upper city and no other word was spoken. On the corners we saw men looking into the sky and talking of the fallen moon. It was late bedtime when we turned into Gramercy Park.

'Come in,'said he as he opened an iron gate.

I followed him up a marble stairway and a doddering old English butler opened the door for us. We entered a fine hall, its floor of beautiful parquetry muffled with silken rugs. High and spacious rooms were all aglow with light.

He conducted me to a large smoking-room, its floor and walls covered with trophies of the hunt - antlers and the skins of carnivora. Here he threw off his coat and bade me be at home as he lay down upon a wicker divan covered with the tawny skin of some wild animal. He stroked the fur fondly with his hand.

'Hello Jock!'he said, a greeting that mystified me.

'Tried to eat me,'he added, turning to me.

Then he bared his great hairy arm and showed me a lot of ugly scars, I besought him to tell the story.

'Killed him,'he answered. 'With a gun?

'No - with my hands,'and that was all he would say of it.

He lay facing a black curtain that covered a corner. Now and then I heard a singular sound in the room - like some faint, far, night cry such as I have heard often in the deep woods. It was so weird I felt some wonder of it. Presently I could tell it came from behind the curtain where, also, I heard an odd rustle like that of wings.

I sat in a reverie, looking at the silent man before me, and in the midst of it he pulled a cord that hung near him and a bell rang.

'Luncheon!'he said to the old butler who entered immediately.

Then he rose and showed me odd things, carved out of wood, by his own hand as he told me, and with a delicate art. He looked at one tiny thing and laid it aside quickly.

'Can't bear to look at it now,'he said.

'Gibbet?'I enquired.

'Gibbet,'he answered.

It was a little figure bound hand and foot and hanging from the gallows tree.

'Burn it!'he said, turning to the old servant and putting it in his hands. Luncheon had been set between us, the while, and as we were eating it the butler opened a big couch and threw snowy sheets of linen over it and silken covers that rustled as they fell.

'You will sleep there,'said my host as his servant laid the pillows, 'and well I hope.

I thought I had better go to my own lodgings.

'Too late - too late,'said he, and I, leg-weary and half-asleep, accepted his proffer of hospitality. Then, having eaten, he left me and I got into bed after turning the lights out Something woke me in the dark of the night. There was a rustling sound in the room. I raised my head a bit and listened. It was the black curtain that hung in the corner. I imagined somebody striking it violently. I saw a white figure standing near me in the darkness. It moved away as I looked at it. A cold wind was blowing upon my face. I lay a long time listening and by and by I could hear the deep voice of Trumbull as if he were groaning and muttering in his sleep. When it began to come light I saw the breeze from an open window was stirring the curtain of silk in the corner. I got out of bed and, peering behind the curtain, saw only a great white owl, caged and staring out of wide eyes that gleamed fiery in the dim light. I went to bed again, sleeping until my host woke me in the late morning.

After breakfasting I went to the chalet. The postman had been there but he had brought no letter from Hope. I waited about home, expecting to hear from her, all that day, only to see it end in bitter disappointment.