Þe Empty Huse
Ƿent by Cascadia
Sundry huses, like sundry leeds, can sumhu bode at ones her eard for efil. For þe latter, no sundry mark need beƿray hem; hy may hold an open ansen and a ƿinning smirk; and get a littel siþescip ƿiþ hem leafes þe unƿendenly ƿissness þat þere is sumþing ƿildly amiss ƿiþ her being: þat hy are efil. Ƿilly nilly, hy are seen to make knoƿn a hƿiþ of dern and ƿicked þougts hƿic makes þose in her neigborhood scrink from hem as from a coaþed þing.
And, maybe, ƿiþ huses þe ilk þing is at ƿork, and it is þe stenc of efil deeds done under a sundry roof, long after þe doers hemselfs haf forþfared, þat makes þe gooseflesc cum and þe hair rise. Sumþing of þe form ellen of þe efildoer, and of þe broƿ felt by his tifer, infares þe clean heart of þe ƿacer, and he is all at ones aƿare of tingelling þeƿs, creeping hide, and a cilling of þe blood. He is broƿstricken ƿiþute a ƿiss spring.
Þere ƿas suttelly noþing in þis sundry huses uter ansen to bear ute þe tales of þe broƿ þat ƿas said to rix ƿiþin. It ƿas neiþer lonely nor unkempt. It stood, cruded into a hirn of þe plac, and looked rigt as þe huses on eiþer side. It had þe ilk eyedoors as its neigbors; þe ilk oferlook abufe þe leigton; þe ilk hƿite steps leading up to þe heafy black door; and, in þe back, þere ƿas þe ilk narroƿ rand of green, ƿiþ neat box edges, running up to þe ƿall þat scedded it from þe backs of þe neigboring huses. Ƿisly, too, þe fleƿpots on þe roof ƿere þe ilk; þe breadþ and hƿem of þe eafes; and efen þe heigþ of þe filþy edders.
And get þis huse in þe plac, þat looked rigt as its fifty unsigtly neigbors, ƿas in sooþ hƿolly sundry—eyfully sundry.
Hƿerein lay þis marked, unseenly sced is unmigtly to say. It cannot be put hƿolly to þe mind, forþat folks hƿo had spent sum time in þe huse, knoƿing noþing of hƿat had befallen þere, had boded strongly þat sundry rooms ƿere so unkindly þat hy ƿud raþer sƿelt þan infare hem agen, and þat þe hƿiþ of þe hƿole huse begeat in hem tokens of a treƿ fear; hƿile þe long line of cleanhearted ƿonners hƿo had fanded to life in it and been made to forsake it as soon as migtly, ƿas indeed littel less þan a scand in þe tune.
Hƿen Scorþuse lended to neese his Moddry Julia for þe ƿeekend in her littel huse on þe seascore at þe oþer end of þe tune, he fund her filled to þe brim ƿiþ rune and firƿit. He had only getten her ƿirespell þat morning, and he had cum foreseeing boredom; but þe brigtom he rined her hand and kissed her appelhide ƿrinkelled ceek, he felt þe first ƿafe of her higstrung hoad. Þe feeling deepened hƿen he learned þat þere ƿere to be no oþer gests, and þat he had been ƿired for ƿiþ a sundry mark in mind.
Sumþing ƿas in þe ƿind, and þe “sumþing” ƿud tƿeeless bear ofets; for þis elderly spinster moddry, ƿiþ suc ellen for seecing ute goasts, had brains as ƿell as ƿill, and by hook or by crook sce most times brougt abute her ends. Þe ƿraying ƿas made soon after tea, hƿen sce sidelled nig up to him as hy ƿalked sloƿly along þe seascore in þe dusk.
“I haf þe keys,” sce boded in a ƿinfast, get half eysum stefen. “Haf hem hent Monday!”
“Þe keys of þe baþingƿain, or—?” he asked ligtly, looking from þe sea to þe tune. Noþing brougt her so cƿickly to þe ord as licetting ƿitlessness.
“Neiþer,” sce hƿispered. “I haf þe keys to þe goasthuse in þe plac—and I’m going þere tonigt.”
Scorþuse ƿas aƿare of þe smallest migtly cƿifer dune his back. He dropt þis teasing ƿay. Sumþing in her stefen and ansen þrilled him. Sce ƿas in earnest.
“But þu canst not go alone—” he began.
“Þat’s hƿy I ƿired for þee,” sce said boldly.
He ƿent to look at her. Þe careƿorn, lined, runy anlet ƿas alife ƿiþ firƿit. Þere ƿas þe gloƿ of treƿ giddiness umb it like an angels ring. Þe eyes scone. He felt anoþer ƿafe of her hoad, and anoþer cƿifer, more marked þan þe first, came ƿiþ it.
“Þanks, Moddry Julia,” he said cooþly; “þanks eyfully.”
“I scud not dare to go alone,” sce ƿent on, heigþening her stefen; “but ƿiþ þee I scud like it raþer muc. Þu’rt afraid of noþing, I knoƿ.”
“Þanks so muc,” he said agen. “Er—is anyþing likely to befall us?”
“A great deal has befallen,” sce hƿispered, “þaug it’s been most cleferly husced up. Þree ƿonners haf cum and gone in þe last feƿ monþs, and þe huse is said to be empty for good nu.”
Ƿiþute þinking Scorþuse became gript. His moddry ƿas so muc in earnest.
“Þe huse is migty old indeed,” sce ƿent on, “and þe tale—an unkindly one—goes a long ƿay back. It has to do ƿiþ a murþer done by a gelloƿ horseman hƿo had sum bisiness ƿiþ a þern in þe huse. One nigt he hid himself in þe earþhuse, and hƿen eferybody ƿas asleep, he crept upstairs to þe þeƿ rooms, ƿeaþed þe maid dune to þe next landing, and before anybody cud cum to near her þreƿ her bodily ofer þe posts into þe hall beneaþ.”
“And þe horseman—?”
Ƿas fanged, I beleefe, and hanged for murþer; but it all befell a hundred geres ago, and I’fe not getten anyþing else of þe tale.”
Scorþuse nu felt his firƿit þorougly hƿetted; but, þaug he ƿas not all þat ƿorried for himself, he diþered a littel for his moddrys sake.
“Only one þing,” he said at lengþ.
“Noþing ƿill stop my going,” sce said fastly; “but I may as ƿell hear it.”
“Þat þu treƿse þy strong ƿill if anyþing treƿly eyful befalls us. I mean—þat þu art sicker þu ƿon’t get too frigtened.”
“Jim,” sce said ƿiþ hooker, “I’m not geong, I knoƿ, nor are my þeƿs; but ƿiþ þee I scud be afraid of noþing in þe ƿorld!”
Þis, sooþly, settelled it, for Scorþuse had no licettings abute being anyþing oþer þan an eferyday geong man, and a cying to his idelscip ƿas unƿiþerenly. He þƿeared to go.
Ƿiþute þinking, by a kind of unaƿare gearing, he kept himself and his moods ƿell in hand þe hƿole efening, draƿing forþ a great stock of ƿill by þat nameless inƿard þing of stepƿise putting all þe feelings aƿay and ƿending þe key on hem—a þing hard to rec, but ƿunderfully migty, as all ƿeres hƿo haf lifed þrug stark hardscips of þe inner ƿere ƿell understand. Later, it stood him in good stead.
But it ƿas not hent half after ten, hƿen hy stood in þe hall, ƿell in þe blase of frendly ligtfats and still beclipt by þe cƿeem hand of man, þat he had to cy for þe first time on þis stock of gaþered strengþ. For, ones þe door ƿas clused, and he saƿ þe still, forsaken street strecing aƿay hƿite in þe moonligt before hem, it came to him suttelly þat þe treƿ fand þat nigt ƿud be in dealing ƿiþ tƿo fears instead of one. He ƿud haf to bear his moddrys fear as ƿell as his oƿn. And, as he looked dune at her sfinxlike ansen and undergeat þat it migt nim no kindly look in a rusc of treƿ fear, he ƿas cƿeemed ƿiþ only one þing in þe hƿole rosing—þat he had beeld in his oƿn ƿill and migt to stand agenst any scock þat migt cum.
Sloƿly hy ƿalked along þe empty streets of þe tune; a brigt fall moon silfered þe roofes, þroƿing deep scadoƿs; þere ƿas no breaþ of ƿind; and þe trees in þe lonk leigtons by þe seascore ƿaced hem in stillness as hy ƿent along. To his moddrys small cƿeaþings Scorþuse made no ansƿer, seeing þat sce ƿas but beclipping herself ƿiþ mindƿalls—saying eferyday þings to stop herself þinking of þings selcooþ. Feƿ eyedoors sceƿ ligts, and from hardly a lone fleƿ came smoke or sparks. Scorþuse had already begun to see eferyþing, efen þe smallest marks. Nu hy stopt at þe street hirn and looked up at þe name on þe huses side full in þe moonligt, and as one, but ƿiþute speec, ƿent into þe plac and ofer to þe side þat lay in scadoƿ.
“Þe huses rime is þirteen,” hƿispered a stefen at his side; and neiþer of hem said hƿat ƿas suttel, but ƿent þƿares þe broad sceet of moonligt and began to step up þe sideƿalk in stillness.
It ƿas abute halfƿay up þe plac þat Scorþuse felt an arm slipt ligtly get ƿeigtily into his oƿn, and kneƿ þen þat her rosing had begun in earnest, and þat his siþer ƿas already geelding efer so littel to þe þrakes agenst hem. Sce needed filst.
A scort time later hy stopt before a tall, narroƿ huse þat rose before hem into þe nigt, unsigtly in scape and meted an offhƿite. Scutterless eyedoors, ƿiþute blinds, stared dune on hem, scining here and þere in þe moonligt. Þere ƿere ƿeaþer streaks in þe ƿall and cracks in þe heƿ, and þe oferlook sƿole ute from þe first floor a littel unkindly. But, begeond þis oferall forlorn ansen of an empty huse, þere ƿas noþing at first sigt to mark þis sundry abode for þe efil eard it had ƿisly getten.
Looking scortly ofer her scolders to sicker hy had not been folloƿed, hy ƿent boldly up þe steps and stood agenst þe great black door þat met hem forbiddingly. But þe first ƿafe of angness ƿas nu ofer hem, and Scorþuse fumbelled ƿiþ þe key before he cud fit it into þe lock at all. For a brigtom, if treƿþ ƿere told, hy bo hoped it ƿud not open, for hy ƿere a hunþ to sundry unkindly moods as hy stood þere on þe þrescold of her gastly rosing. Scorþuse, hamfisted ƿiþ þe key and bund by þe steady ƿeigt on his arm, ƿisly felt þe heafiness of þe brigtom. It ƿas as if þe hƿole ƿorld—for all þat ƿas seen to him at þat eyeblink gaþered in his oƿn mind—ƿere listening to þe scarp lude of þat key. A lone puff of ƿind ƿandering dune þe empty street ƿoke a soft rustelling in þe trees behind hem, but oþerƿise þis rattelling of þe key ƿas þe only hearenly lude; and at last it ƿent in þe lock and þe heafy door sƿung open and ƿrayed a geaƿning bigt of darkness begeond.
Ƿiþ a last look at þe moonlit plac, hy ƿent cƿickly in, and þe door slammed behind hem ƿiþ a roar þat scook greatly þrug empty halls and ƿays. But, at ones, ƿiþ þat lude, anoþer made itself heard, and Moddry Julia leaned so heafily and so sƿiftly on him þat he had to step backƿards to keep from falling.
A man had couged nig behind hem—so nig þat it looked þat hy must haf been rigt by his side in þe darkness.
Ƿiþ þe cummenliness of ribs in his mind, Scorþuse at ones sƿung his heafy stick in þe ƿay of þe lude; but it met noþing faster þan lift. He heard his moddy geafe a littel breaþ beside him.
“Þere’s sumbody here,” sce hƿispered; “I heard him.”
“Be still!” he said sternly. “It ƿas noþing but þe door.”
“O! get a ligt—cƿick!” sce eked, as her neefe, fumbelling ƿiþ a ƿickbox, opened it upside dune and let hem all fall ƿiþ a rattel onto þe stone floor.
Þe lude, huefer, came not agen; and þere ƿas no suttelling of leafing footsteps. In anoþer minnit hy had a candel burning, noting an empty end of a smokebox as a holder; and hƿen þe first brigt leem had abated he held þe makescift ligtfat alift and hoƿed hƿat ƿas abute hem. And it ƿas dreary enug in all minds, for þere is noþing more lorn in all mens abodes þan a huse ƿiþute idisc dimly lit, still, and forsaken, and get indƿelt by hearsay ƿiþ þe mins of efil and heast tales.
Hy ƿere standing in a ƿide hallƿay; on her left ƿas þe open door of a roomy eatingroom, and in its fore þe hall ran, efer narroƿing, into a long, dark ƿay þat led to þe top of þe kicen stairs. Þe broad ƿooden stairƿell rose in a sƿeep before hem, eferyhƿere hung in scadoƿs, but for a lone spot abute halfƿay up hƿere þe moonligt came in þrug þe eyedoor and fell on a brigt deal of þe boards. Þis ligtscaft sced a dim brigtness abufe and beneaþ it, lending to þe þings ƿiþin its reac a misty uteline þat ƿas efer more inkelling and goastly þan full darkness. Ƿrougt moonligt is alƿays seen to mete anlets of þe beclipping gloom, and as Scorþuse looked up into þe dark ƿell and þougt of þe many empty rooms and halls in þe upper deal of þe old huse, he fund himself longing agen for þe sickerhood of þe moonlit plac, or þe cƿeem, brigt draƿingroom hy had left a stund before. Þen undergetting þat þese þougts ƿere pleeful, he scufed hem aƿay agen and dreƿ all his migt for þe nu.
“Moddry Julia,” he said alude, sternly, “ƿe must nu go þrug þe huse from top to bottom and make a þoroug seecing.”
Þe ludes of his stefen sƿelted aƿay sloƿly ofer þe bilding, and in þe stark stillness þat folloƿed he ƿent to look at her. In þe candelligt he saƿ þat her anlet ƿas already gastly ƿan, but sce dropt his arm for a brigtom and said in a hƿisper, stepping nig in fore of him—
“I þƿear. Ƿe must be ƿiss þere’s nobody hiding. Þat’s þe first þing.”
Sce spoke ƿiþ suttel ƿork, and he looked at her ƿiþ lofe.
“Feelest þu alrigt? It’s not too late—”
“I þink so,” sce hƿispered, her eyes scifting angly toƿard þe scadoƿs behind. “Ges, only one þing—”
“Þu must nefer leafe me alone for an eyeblink.”
“As long as þu understandest þat any lude or ansen must be smeyed at ones, for to diþer means to andet fear. Þat is deadly.”
“Ges,” sce said, a littel scakily, after a brigtoms diþering. “I’ll fand—”
Arm in arm, Scorþuse holding þe dripping candel and þe stick, hƿile his moddry bore þe hackel ofer her scolders, utter laugingstocks to all but hemselfs, hy began a þoroug seecing.
Stealþily, ƿalking on tiptoe and scading þe candel lest it scud beƿray hem þrug þe scutterless eyedoors, hy ƿent first into þe great eatingroom. Þere ƿas not a stick of idisc to be seen. Bare ƿalls, atel scelfs and empty hearþs stared at hem. Eferyþing, hy felt, hated her cumming, ƿacing hem, as it ƿere, ƿiþ ƿimpelled eyes; hƿispers folloƿed hem; scadoƿs flitted stilly to rigt and left; sumþing felt efer at her back, ƿacing, biding for a bire to harm. Þere ƿas þe unatƿindenly feeling þat þe þings hƿic ƿent on hƿen þe room ƿas empty had been stalled hent hy ƿere ƿell ute of þe ƿay agen. Þe hƿole dark inside of þe old bilding felt as an efil Goast þat rose up, ƿarning hem to leafe and mind her oƿn bisiness; efery brigtom þe ƿeigt on þe angets greƿ.
Ute of þe gloomy eatingroom hy ƿent þrug great folding doors into a kind of bookroom or smokingroom, ƿrapt efenly in stillness, darkness, and dust; and from þis hy saƿ agen þe hall near þe top of þe back stairs.
Here a pic black undergang opened before hem into þe neþer deals, and—it must be andetted—hy diþered. But only for a scort hƿile. Ƿiþ þe ƿorst of þe nigt still to cum it ƿas needful to hƿarfe from noþing. Moddry Julia stumbeled at þe top step of þe dark dunegang, arm lit by þe flickering candel, and efen Scorþuse felt at least half þe strengþ go ute of his scanks.
“Cum on!” he said starkly, and his stefen ran on and lost itself in þe dark, empty rooms beneaþ.
“I’m cumming,” sce stumbelled, fanging his arm ƿiþ unneedful heast.
Hy ƿent a littel unsteadily dune þe stone steps, a cold, ƿet lift meeting hem, þick and fule smelling. Þe kicen, into hƿic þe stairs led along a narroƿ hall, ƿas great, ƿiþ a hig first. Many doors opened ute of it—sum into cupboards ƿiþ empty crocks still standing on þe scelfs, and oþers into eyful littel goastly backrooms, eac cooler and less ƿelcumming þan þe last. Black beetels ran ofer þe floor, and ones, hƿen hy knockt agesnt a dealbeed standing in a hirn, sumþing abute þe great of a cat leapt dune ƿiþ a rusc and fled, flying þƿares þe stone floor into þe darkness. Eferyhƿere þere ƿas a hƿiþ of latter abode, a feeling of sadness and gloom.
Leafing þe main kicen, hy next ƿent toƿards þe discroom. Þe door ƿas standing acar, and as hy þrang it open to its full breadþ Moddry Julia let ute a scarp scree, hƿic sce at ones fanded to deaden by putting her hand ofer her muþe. For a brigtom Scorþuse stood stockstill, holding his breaþ. He felt as if his ridgebone had been holloƿed ute and filled ƿiþ motes of ise.
Meeting hem, streigt in her ƿay betƿeen þe doorposts, stood þe ansen of a ƿife. Sce had unkempt hair and ƿildly staring eyes, and her anlet ƿas breed and hƿite as deaþ.
Sce stood still þere for but one long brigtom. Þen þe candel flickered and sce ƿas gone—gone utterly—and þe door framed noþing but empty darkness.
“Only þe eyful leaping candelligt,” he said cƿickly, in a stefen þat sƿeyed like sumbody elses and ƿas only half in his grasp. “Cum on, moddry. Þere’s noþing þere.”
He dreƿ her forƿard. Ƿiþ a clattering of feet and a great grime of boldness hy ƿent on, but ofer his body þe hide scroþe as if craƿling ants oferspread it, and he kneƿ by þe ƿeigt on his arm þat he ƿas geafing þe strengþ to scriþe for tƿo. Þe discroom ƿas cold, bare, and empty; more like a ƿide clusing in a cƿartern þan anyþing else. Hy ƿent umb it, fanded þe door into þe geard, and þe eyedoors, but fund hem all fastened ƿell. His moddry ƿalked beside him as if in a sƿefen. Her eyes ƿere scut fast, and sce ƿas seen but to folloƿ þe rine of his arm. Her beeld filled him ƿiþ amase. At þe ilk time he saƿ þat a ferly ƿend had cum ofer her anlet, a ƿend hƿic sumhu he ƿas unfit to understand.
“Þere’s noþing here, moddry,” he said agen cƿickly. “Let’s go upstairs and see þe lafe of þe huse. Þen ƿe’ll coose a room to bide in.”
Sce folloƿed him hearsumly, keeping nig to his side, and hy lockt þe kicen door behind hem. It ƿas a liss to get up agen. In þe hall þere ƿas more ligt þan before, for þe moon had fared a littel furþer dune þe stairs. Ƿarily hy began to go up into þe dark hƿolf of þe upper huse, þe boards creaking under her ƿeigt.
On þe first floor hy fund þe great tƿin draƿingrooms, a seecing of hƿic ƿrayed noþing. Here also ƿas not a token of idisc or latter abode; noþing but dust and forletting and scadoƿs. Hy opened þe great folding doors betƿeen fore and back draƿingrooms and þen came ute agen to þe landing and ƿent on upstairs.
Hy had not gone up more þan tƿelfe steps hƿen hy bo stopt to listen, looking into eac oþers eyes ƿiþ a neƿ misgeafing ofer þe flickering candel leem. From þe room hy had left hardly ten brigtoms before came þe deadened lude of doors closing. It ƿas begeond fraining, hy heard þe booming lude þat cums ƿiþ þe scutting of heafy doors, folloƿed by þe scarp fanging of þe lac.
“Ƿe must go back and see,” said Scorþuse scortly, in a soft pic, and hƿarfing to go dunestairs agen.
Sumhu sce kept after him, her feet fanging in her ƿeed, her anlet bloat.
Hƿen hy infared þe fore draƿingroom it ƿas suttel þat þe folding doors had been clused—a scort hƿile before. Ƿiþute diþering Scorþuse opened hem. He almost ƿeened he ƿud see sumbody ƿiþer him in þe back room; but only darkness and cold lift met him. Hy ƿent þrug bo rooms, finding noþing ferly. Hy fanded in efery ƿay to make þe doors cluse of hemselfs, but þere ƿas not ƿind enug efen to set þe candel leem flickering. Þe doors ƿud not scriþe ƿiþute strong þrucing. All ƿas still as þe grafe. Unƿiþsayenly þe rooms ƿere utterly empty, and þe huse utterly still.
“It’s beginning,” hƿispered a stefen at his elboƿ hƿic he hardly undergeat as his moddrys.
He nodded geeldingly, bringing ute his ƿac to mark þe time. It ƿas fifteen minnits before midnigt; he ƿrote dune rigt hƿat had befallen in his book, setting þe candel in its box on þe floor to do so. He nam a brigtom or tƿo to lean it sickerly agenst þe ƿall.
Moddry Julia alƿays boded þat at þis brigtom sce ƿas not in sooþ ƿacing him, but had ƿent her head toƿards þe inner room, hƿere sce faþomed sce heard sumþing scriþing; but, anyhu, bo treƿly þƿeared þat þere came a lude of ruscing feet, heafy and migty sƿift—and þe next eyeblink þe candel ƿas ute!
But to Scorþuse himself had cum more þan þis, and he has alƿays þanked his seelly stars þat it came to him alone and not to his moddry too. For, as he rose from þe neþer standing of leaning þe candel, and before it ƿas put ute, an anlet þreƿ itself forƿard so nig to his oƿn þat he cud almost haf rined it ƿiþ his lips. It ƿas an anlet ƿorking ƿiþ heafy feeling; a ƿeres anlet, dark, ƿiþ þick marks, and ƿroþ, reeþ eyes. It belonged to a mean ƿere, and it ƿas efil in its eferyday ansen, tƿeeless, but as he saƿ it, alife ƿiþ scarp, heast feeling, it ƿas a baneful and eyful likeness of man.
Þere ƿas no scriþing of þe lift; noþing but þe lude of ruscing feet—stockinged or oþerƿise deadened; þe ateƿing of an anlet; and at almost þe ilk time þe putting ute of þe candel.
Unþinkingly, Scorþuse let ute a littel roop, nearly losing his standing as his moddry clung to him ƿiþ her hƿole ƿeigt in one brigtom of treƿ, unrixenly fear. Sce made no lude, but only gript him bodily. Seely, huefer, sce had seen noþing, but only heard þe ruscing feet, for sce came back to herself almost at ones, and he cud unbraid himself and strike a ƿick.
Þe scadoƿs ran aƿay on all sides before þe leem, and his moddry bent dune and groped for þe smokebox ƿiþ þe dear candel. Þen hy fund þat þe candel had not been bloƿn ute at all; it had been stamped ute. Þe ƿick ƿas þruced dune into þe ƿax, hƿic ƿas efened as if by sum smooþ, heafy tool.
Hu his siþer so cƿickly ofercame her fear, Scorþuse nefer fully understood; but his lofe for her ƿill greƿ tenfold, and at þe ilk time made to feed his oƿn sƿelting leem—for hƿic he ƿas unƿiþsayenly þankful. Efenly unrecenly to him ƿas þe rinenly migt hy had ƿitnessed. He at ones þruced dune þe mun of tales he had heard of “rinenly middels” and her pleeful befallings; for if þese ƿere treƿ, and eiþer his moddry or himself ƿas unƿittingly a rinenly middel, it meant þat hy ƿere but helping to bring togeþer þe þrakes of a goasthuse already filled to þe brim. It ƿas like ƿalking ƿiþ open ligtfats among unscruded stocks of gundust.
So, ƿiþ as littel þinking as migtly, he only edlit þe candel and ƿent up to þe next floor. Þe arm in his scook, it is treƿ, and his oƿn tread ƿas often unƿiss, but hy ƿent on ƿiþ þorougness, and after a seecing ƿraying noþing hy clumb þe last fligt of stairs to þe top floor of all.
Here hy fund a fulframed nest of small þeƿs rooms, ƿiþ broken idisc, filþy reedbottomed selds, cests of draƿers, crackt glasses, and forsaken bedsteads. Þe rooms had neþer sloping firsts already hung here and þere ƿiþ cobƿebs, small eyedoors, and badly cleamed ƿalls—a saddening and lorn stead hƿic hy ƿere glad to leafe behind.
It ƿas on þe stroke of midnigt hƿen hy infared a small room on þe þird floor, near þe top of þe stairs, and made to make hemselfs cƿeem for þe lafe of her rosing. It ƿas hƿolly bare, and ƿas said to be þe room—þen noted as a cloþesroom—into hƿic þe ƿroþ ƿere had ƿeaþed his tifer and fanged her at last. Uteside, þƿares þe narroƿ landing, began þe stairs leading up to þe floor abufe, and þe þeƿs rooms hƿere hy had seeced.
Þe nigts cilliness notƿiþstanding þere ƿas sumþing in þis rooms lift þat rooped for an open eyedoor. But þere ƿas more þan þis. Scorþuse cud only rec it by saying þat he felt less his oƿn master here þan in any oþer deal of þe huse. Þere ƿas sumþing þat ƿorked streigt on þe þeƿs, tiring þe mind, ƿoakening þe ƿill. He ƿas aƿare of þis rine before he had been in þe room fife minnits, and it ƿas in þe scort time hy bode þere þat he þoled þe heapmeal lessening of his lifes migt, hƿic ƿas, for himself, þe main broƿ of þe hƿole befalling.
Hy put þe candel on þe floor of þe cupboard, leafing þe door a feƿ inces acar, so þat þere ƿas no leem to mase þe eyes, and no scadoƿ to scift abute on ƿalls and first. Þen hy spread þe hackel on þe floor and sat dune to bide, ƿiþ her backs agenst þe ƿall.
Scorþuse ƿas ƿiþin tƿo feet of þe door to þe landing; his stead held good sigt of þe main stairƿell leading dune into þe darkness, and also þe beginning of þe þeƿs stairs going to þe floor abufe; þe heafy stick lay beside him ƿiþin eaþ reac.
Þe moon ƿas nu hig abufe þe huse. Þrug þe open eyedoor hy cud see þe frefering stars like frendly eyes ƿacing in þe heafen. One by one þe tunes clocks struck midnigt, and hƿen þe ludes sƿelted þe deep stillness of a ƿindless nigt fell agen ofer eferyþing. Only þe boom of þe sea, far aƿay and mornful, filled þe lift ƿiþ holloƿ hƿoasters.
Inside þe huse þe stillness became eyful; eyful, he þougt, forþat any minnit nu it migt be broken by ludes foreboding broƿ. Þe ƿeigt of biding told more and more heafily on þe þeƿs; hy talked in hƿispers hƿen hy talked at all; for her stefens alude felt ferly and unkindly. A cilliness, not altogeþer from þe nigt lift, steeped þe room, and made hem cold. Þe þrakes agenst hem, hƿatefer þese migt be, ƿere sloƿly reafing hem of her ƿill, and þe migt of sƿift deeds; her strengþs ƿere on þe ƿane, and þe cummenliness of treƿ fear held a neƿ and eyful meaning. He began to cƿifer for þe elderly ƿife by his side, hƿose pluck cud hardly near her begeond a sundry þrescold.
He heard þe blood singing in his edders. It sumtimes felt so lude þat he faþomed it stopping his hearing fully oþer ludes þat ƿere beginning o so ligtly to make hemselfs hearenly in þe depþs of þe huse. Efery time he fastened his heed on þese ludes, hy stopt at ones. Hy ƿisly came no nearer. Get he cud not rid himself of þe þougt þat sumþing ƿas going on sumhƿere in þe huses neþer deals. Þe draƿingroom floor, hƿere þe doors had been so ferly clused, felt too near; þe ludes ƿere furþer off þan þat. He þougt of þe great kicen, ƿiþ þe running black beetels, and of þe lorn littel discroom; but, sumhu or oþer, hy felt not to cum from þere eiþer. Ƿisly hy ƿere not uteside þe huse!
Þen, all at ones, þe treƿþ fleƿ into his mind, and for þe span of a minnit he felt as if his blood had stopt floƿing and ƿent to ise.
Þe ludes ƿere not dunestairs at all; hy ƿere upstairs—upstairs, sumhƿere among þose atel littel þeƿs rooms ƿiþ her bits of broken idisc, neþer firsts, and narroƿ eyedoors—upstairs hƿere þe tifer had first been ƿoken and stalked to her deaþ.
And þe brigtom he kneƿ hƿere þe ludes ƿere, he began to hear hem more suttelly. It ƿas þe lude of feet, stepping stealþily along þe hall oferhead, in and ute among þe room, and by þe idisc.
He ƿent cƿickly to steal a look at þe still ansen beside him, to mark hƿeþer sce had scared his finding. Þe ƿan candelligt cumming þrug þe crack in þe cupboard door, stamped her strongly marked anlet starkly agenst þe hƿite of þe ƿall. But it ƿas sumþing else þat made him stop his breaþ and stare agen. A ferly sumþing had cum into her anlet and looked to spread ofer her marks like a grime; it smooþed ute þe deep lines and dreƿ þe hide eferyhƿere a littel faster so þat þe ƿrinkels sƿinded; it brougt into þe anlet—but for þe old eyes—a likeness of geƿþ and almost of cildhood.
He stared in speecless amase—amase þat ƿas pleefully near to broƿ. It ƿas his moddrys anlet indeed, but it ƿas her anlet of forty geres ago, þe empty cleanhearted anlet of a maid. He had heard tales of þat ferly rine of broƿ hƿic cud ƿipe a mans anlet clean of oþer feelings, berying all former moods; but he had nefer knoƿn þat it cud be fully treƿ, or cud mean anyþing so ƿisly eyful as hƿat he nu saƿ. For þe dreadful hallmark of ofermastering fear ƿas ƿritten suttelly in þat utter emptiness of þe maidlike anlet beside him; and hƿen, feeling his stark stare, sce ƿent to look at him, he þougtlessly clused his eyes fast to scut ute þe sigt.
Get, hƿen he ƿent a minnit later, his feelings ƿell in hand, he saƿ to his great liss anoþer look; his moddry ƿas smirking, and þaug þe anlet ƿas deaþly hƿite, þe eyful ƿimpel had lifted and þe mean look ƿas eftcumming.
“Anyþing ƿug?” ƿas all he cud þink of to say at þe brigtom. And þe ansƿer ƿas ƿell spoken, cumming from suc a ƿife.
“It’s upstairs, I knoƿ,” sce hƿispered, ƿiþ a ferly half laug; “but þere’s no ƿay I can go up.”
But Scorþuse þougt oþerƿise, knoƿing þat in doing lay her best hope for ƿill.
He brougt ute þe brandy flask and yote ute a glass of neat fire, stiff enug to help anybody get ofer anyþing. Sce sƿalloƿed it ƿiþ a littel scifer. His only þougt nu ƿas to get ute of þe huse before her breakdune became unatƿindenly; but þis cud not sundly be done by ƿending her backs and running from þe foe. Idelness ƿas no longer migtly; efery minnit he ƿas groƿing less his oƿn master, and reckless, sƿift deeds ƿere needed ƿiþute furþer diþering. Moreofer, þe deed must be done toƿards þe foe, not aƿay from it; þe peak, if needed and unatƿindenly, ƿud haf to be met boldly. He cud do it nu; but in ten minnits he migt not haf þe strengþ left to do for himself, muc less for her as ƿell!
Upstairs, þe ludes ƿere meanhƿile becumming luder and nearer, cumming ƿiþ sumtime creaking of þe boards. Sumbody ƿas ƿalking stealþily abute, stumbelling nu and þen unƿeeldily agenst þe idisc.
Biding a feƿ brigtoms to let þe great deal of brandy bring its filst, and knoƿing þis ƿud last but a scort time under þe umbstandness, Scorþuse þen softly geat to his feet, saying in a bold stefen—
“Nu, Moddry Julia, ƿe’ll go upstairs and find ute hƿat all þis din is abute. Þu must cum too. It’s hƿat ƿe þƿeared on.”
He pickt up his stick and ƿent to þe cupboard for þe candel. A ƿoak scape rose scakily beside him breaþing hard, and he heard a stefen say migty softly sumþing abute being “ready to cum.” Þe ƿifes beeld amased him; it ƿas so muc greater þan his oƿn; and, as hy ƿent on, holding alift þe dripping candel, sum small þrake breaþed ute from þis cƿifering, ƿan old ƿife at his side þat ƿas þe treƿ spring of his oƿn beeld. It held sumþing sooþly great þat scamed him and geafe him þe filst ƿiþute hƿic he ƿud haf been far less up to þe deed.
Hy ƿalked þe dark landing, keeping her eyes aƿay from þe deep black noþing ofer þe posts. Þen hy began to climb þe narroƿ stairƿell to meet þe ludes hƿic, minnit by minnit, greƿ luder and nearer. Abute halfƿay up þe stairs Moddry Julia stumbelled and Scorþuse ƿent to fang her by þe arm, and rigt at þat brigtom þere came an ettinisc stun in þe þeƿs hall oferhead. It ƿas folloƿed at ones by a scrill, treyed scree þat ƿas a roop of fear and a roop for help melted into one.
Before hy cud step aside, or go dune a lone step, sumbody came ruscing along þe hallƿay oferhead, stumbelling eyfully, reasing madly, at full speed, þree steps at a time, dune þe stairƿell hƿere hy hemselfs stood. Þe steps ƿere ligt and unƿiss; but nig behind hem luded þe heafier tread of anoþer leed, and þe stairƿell felt as if it ƿere scaking.
Scorþuse and his siþer had only but time to þroƿ hemselfs agenst þe ƿall hƿen þe ƿildness ƿas on hem, and tƿo leeds, ƿiþ þe smallest migtly span betƿeen hem, reased by at full speed. It ƿas a fulframed ist of din breaking in on þe midnigt stillness of þe empty bilding.
Þe tƿo runners, ƿeaþer and ƿeaþed, had gone clean þrug hem hƿere hy stood, and already ƿiþ a þud þe boards beneaþ had felt first one, þen þe oþer. Get hy had seen noþing at all—not a hand, or arm, or anlet, or efen a scred of flying cloþing.
Þere came a brigtoms stall. Þen þe first, þe ligter of þe tƿo, suttelly þe ƿeaþed one, ran ƿiþ unƿiss footsteps into þe littel room hƿic Scorþuse and his moddry had but only left. Þe heafier folloƿed. Þere ƿas a lude of scraping, heafing, and smoþered screeing; and þen ute onto þe landing came þe step—of a lone leed treading ƿeigtily.
A dead stillness folloƿed for þe span of half a minnit, and þen ƿas heard a ruscing lude þrug þe lift. It ƿas folloƿed by a dull þud in þe depþs of þe huse beneaþ—on þe halls stone floor.
Utter stillness rixt after. Noþing scroþe. Þe candels leem ƿas steady. It had been steady þe hƿole time, and þe lift had not been unstilled by anyþing hƿatsoefer. Frosen ƿiþ broƿ, Moddry Julia, ƿiþute biding for her siþer, began fumbelling her ƿay dunestairs; sce ƿas ƿeeping softly to herself, and hƿen Scorþuse put his arm umb her and half bore her he felt þat sce ƿas scaking like a leaf. He ƿent into þe littel room and pickt up þe hackel from þe floor, and, arm in arm, ƿalking migty sloƿly, ƿiþute speaking a ƿord or looking ones behind hem, hy stepped dune þe þree fligts into þe hall.
In þe hall hy saƿ noþing, but þe hƿole ƿay dune þe stairs hy ƿere aƿare þat sumbody folloƿed hem; step by step; hƿen hy ƿent faster IT ƿas left behind, and hƿen hy ƿent more sloƿ IT came nearer. But nefer ones looked hy behind to see; and at eac ƿending of þe stairƿell hy neþered her eyes for fear of þe folloƿing goast hy migt see on þe stairs abufe.
Ƿiþ scaking hands Scorþuse opened þe foredoor, and hy ƿalked ute into þe moonligt and dreƿ a deep breaþ of þe cool nigt lift bloƿing in from þe sea.