Secret Curse, on
the Lonely House
"Some weighty crime that Heaven could not pardon,
A secret curse, on that old building hung,
And its deserted garden."
HOOD'S Haunted House.
One autumn evening, not very long ago, I was driving out with my uncle.
I had been spending several weeks at his house, and in that time had
driven with him very often, so that I supposed myself familiar with
nearly all the roads that stretched away from the pleasant village where
he resided; but on this occasion he proposed taking me in an entirely
new direction, over a tract of country I had never before seen.
For a mile or two after we left home, we bowled rapidly along on a
well-travelled turnpike; then a sudden turn to the right brought us,
with slackened speed, into a quiet country-road. Passing through the
fields that bordered the highway, we came into a wild, romantic region
of hill and dale that fully deserved all that my uncle had said in its
Giving ourselves up to the sweet influences of the scene, we trotted our
horses slowly, past dusky bits of forest that made the air fragrant with
the damp smell of the woods, and by occasional shining pools adorned
with floating pond-lilies, and shaded with thick, low bushes of
witch-hazel. The sunlight had that orange glow that comes only on autumn
evenings, the long, slant rays striking across the yellow fields and
lighting up the dark evergreens which dotted the landscape with a tawny
illumination, like dull flames. The locusts hummed drowsily, as if they
were almost asleep, and the frogs in the ponds sent out an occasional
muffled croak. Altogether, it was deliciously calm and deserted; we did
not meet a human being or a habitation for miles, as we wound along
the secluded path, now up and now down, but on the whole gradually
ascending, till we reached the summit of a hill larger and steeper than
Here there stood a lonely house.
Pausing to allow our horses a moment's rest, my eye was caught by its
deserted and dilapidated appearance. It had evidently been uninhabited
for years. The fence had gone to decay, the gate lay rotting on the
ground, and a forlorn sleigh, looking strangely out of place in contrast
with the summer-flowers that had over-grown it, was drawn up before the
entrance. The grass had obliterated every trace of the path that once
led to the decayed steps, bushes had grown up thickly around the lower
story of the house, and tangled vines, creeping in through the broken
panes of the windows, hung in festoons from the moss-covered sills.
The door had dropped from its hinges, and on one side of the front the
boards had fallen off, so that I could see quite into the interior,
where I noticed, with surprise, some furniture yet remained, though in
great confusion, a broken chair and an overturned table being the most
prominent objects. Outside, the same disorder was manifest in the great
farm-wagon, left standing where it had last been used, and the neglected
out-buildings fast going to decay. About the whole place there was an
aspect of peculiar gloom, and the house itself stood on this bleak hill
looking out over the lonesome landscape with a sort of tragic melancholy
in its black and weather-beaten front.
Now such a sight as this is very rare in our busy New England, where
everything is turned to advantage, and where the thrifty owner of a
tenement too old for habitation is sure to tear it down and convert the
materials of which it is built to some other use. My curiosity was,
therefore, at once excited regarding this place, and I turned to my
uncle with an inquiry as to its history.
"It is a very sad one," he answered,?"so sad that it gives a terrible
dreariness to this solitary spot."
"Then I am sure you will tell me the causes which led to its desertion.
You know how much I like a story."
My uncle complied with the request, and, as we wended our way home
through the deepening twilight, related a series of strange facts,
which, at the time, took a powerful hold on my imagination, and which I
have since endeavored to group into a continuous narrative.
* * * * *
This house, now so forlorn, was once a neat and happy home. It was built
by a young farmer named James Blount, who went into it with his young
wife when he brought her home from the distant State where he had
married her. For several years they seemed very prosperous and happy;
then a heavy affliction came. The healthy young farmer was thrown from
his horse, and carried to his home only to linger a few terrible hours
and expire in great agony. Thus early in its history was the doomed
house overshadowed with the gloom of sudden and violent death.
Every one was heartily sorry for the widow with her two little boys,
and the people of the country-side did all that they could to cheer
her loneliness and lighten her grief. But, as I have said, she was a
stranger among them, and she seems to have been naturally of a reserved
disposition, preferring solitude in her affliction; for she so repelled
their attentions, that, one by one, even her husband's friends deserted
her. Then, too, her house was three miles from the nearest neighbor, and
this was necessarily a barrier to frequent social intercourse. She very
rarely went into the village, even to church, and thus people came to
know very little of her manner of life; it was only guessed at by those
few acquaintance who, at rare intervals, made their way to the Blount
Among them it was remarked, that the widow, still quite young, was
unnaturally stern and cold, and that her two sons, who were growing up
in this sad isolation, were strangely like their mother, not only in
appearance, but in manners. Their names were James and John. There was
but little over a year between them, and they were so much alike that
most persons found a difficulty in distinguishing one from the other.
Both had fierce, black eyes, short, crisp, black hair, and swarthy
skins,?quite unlike our freckled-face Yankee boys,?so that the older
villagers declared, with a sigh, that there was not a trace of the
good-hearted father about them; they wholly resembled their strange
mother. The boys themselves did nothing to lessen this disagreeable
impression; they were unusually grave and reserved for their years,
taking no interest in the sports of other children; and after a time,
it became painfully evident to those who watched them that they had no
fondness for each other; on the contrary, that affection which would
naturally have sprung from their nearness in age and their constant
companionship seemed to be entirely wanting, and its place usurped by an
When this was first discovered, it was supposed to account for the
widow's aversion to society. This idea, being once started, made those
idle busybodies there are in every village eager to discover if the
suspicion were correct. Through the men hired to work on the farm, it
was ascertained that the poor mother, with all her sternness and her
iron law, had difficulty in keeping peace between the boys. Twenty times
a day they would fall into angry dispute about some trifle; and so
violent were these altercations, that it was said that she durst not for
a moment have them both out of her sight, lest one should inflict some
deadly injury upon the other. That this was no ill-founded fear was
evinced by a quarrel that took place between them, when John was perhaps
eleven, and James twelve years old.
It was witnessed by a village lad named Isaac Welles. He was an alert,
active person, who liked to earn a penny or two on his own account, out
of work-hours. With this notable intention, he arose soon after dawn of
a pleasant summer-morning, for the purpose of picking blackberries.
Now he knew that they were very plentiful in a field near the Blount
farmhouse, and, thinking such small theft no robbery, he made his
way thither with all speed, and was soon filling his basket with the
dew-sprinkled fruit. Early as it was, however, he soon discovered that
there was some one up before him. He heard a sound of talking in low,
caressing tones, and, glancing in the direction whence it came, he saw
John Blount sitting under a tree near by, and playing with a little
black squirrel, which appeared to be quite tame. Not caring to be
discovered and warned off, Isaac went on with his work quietly, taking
care to keep where he could see without being seen.
John was not long left alone in his innocent amusement, for in a few
moments James Blount came running down from the house towards him. As he
approached, John's face darkened; he caught up the squirrel, and made an
endeavor to hide it under his jacket.
"No, you don't!" said James, as he came up, breathless. "I see you have
got him, plain enough; he sha'n't get away this time,?so you might as
well give him to me."
"No, I won't!" replied John, sullenly.
"No!" said John, more fiercely, and then burst out, passionately,?"I
don't see why you want to tease me about it; he a'n't your pet; I have
found him and tamed him; he knows me and loves me, and he don't care for
you; besides, you only want him to torment him. No! you sha'n't have
"Sha'n't I? we'll see!" And James made a step forward.
John drew back several paces, at the same time trying to soothe the
squirrel, which was becoming impatient of its confinement. His face
quivered with excitement, as he went on, passionately,?
"I know what you want him for: you want him to hurt some way. You wrung
my black kitten's neck, and now you want to kill my squirrel. You are a
bad, wicked boy, and I hate you!"
With the last words he started to run; but he had not gone far when his
foot struck a stone, and he fell. At this, the squirrel, terrified,
jumped from his arms; but James was close by, and before it could
escape, he had caught it. John was up in an instant, and James, seeing
that he could not avoid him, gave the poor little creature's neck a
sudden twist and flung it gasping at his brother's feet, exclaiming,?
"There, now, you may have it!"
For one moment John stood still, white with rage and grief; then he
uttered a sort of choking howl, and sprang at James,?
"You cruel coward!"
The words were accompanied with a half-articulate curse, as he struck
at him, blindly, fiercely, and they closed in what seemed a deadly
struggle. John, being the younger, had a slight disadvantage in size and
weight, but wrath gave him more than his usual strength; while James
fought desperately, as if for life. After a few moments they rolled on
the ground together.
It was a fearful sight, those two brothers, boys though they were,
fighting in that mad way. Their faces, so much alike that they seemed
almost reflections of each other, were crimson with anger; their eyes
shot fire; their breath came in sobbing pants; and very soon blood was
drawn on both. After a brief contest, John, with a tremendous effort,
threw James under him. With one hand he pinioned his arms, while the
other was at his throat, where it closed with a deadly gripe. James made
one last effort to save himself; with a violent wrench he succeeded in
fixing his teeth in his brother's arm, but he failed in making him relax
his hold, though they met in the firm flesh. John's brow grew darker,
but he only tightened his clasp closer and closer, muttering,?
"So help me, God! I will kill you!"
His words were near being verified; already the fallen boy's mouth had
unclosed, the red of his face turned to livid purple, and his eyes
stared wildly, when Mrs. Blount, pale, with disordered attire, as if she
had but just risen and dressed hastily, ran, screaming, down the hill.
Seizing John around the waist, she dragged him back, and flung him to
the ground, exclaiming,?
"Oh, my sons! my sons! are you not brothers? Will you never be at
At this moment, Isaac arrived, breathless with running, at the spot.
When she saw him, the widow ceased speaking, and made no further
allusion to the quarrel while he remained. However, she gladly accepted
his offered assistance in lifting James, who lay gasping, and wellnigh
dead. As they turned towards the house, John rose, sullenly, and
wrapping a handkerchief round his wounded arm, which was bleeding
profusely, he glanced scowlingly at his brother.
"He will get over this," he muttered, with an oath; "but, sooner or
later, I swear I will kill him!"
Without noticing his mother's appealing look, he walked back to the tree
where the dead pet lay.
The half-strangled boy was carried to his bed, and a few simple remedies
restored him to consciousness. As soon as possible, Mrs. Blount
dismissed Isaac, declining his offers of going for a doctor, with cold
thanks. As he went back to resume his interrupted blackberrying, he saw
John sitting at the foot of the tree. He had dug a hole in which to bury
the poor squirrel; it lay on his knee, a stream of dark gore oozing
through its tiny white teeth. John was vainly endeavoring to wipe this
with the handkerchief already stained with his own blood, while his hot
tears fell fast and heavy.
As John had said, James recovered from the choking, and the only
apparent results of the fight were that both boys were scarred for life.
John bore on his right wrist the impression of his brother's teeth; and
James's throat was disfigured by two deep, black marks, on each side,
which were quite visible till his beard concealed them. Yet, I doubt
not, that desperate struggle, in that dawning summer-day, laid the
foundation of the inextinguishable hatred that blasted those men's lives
and was to be quenched only in death.
Several years passed after this, in which very little was known of what
passed at the lonely house. The boys were old enough to perform most of
the work of the farm, so that they no longer hired laborers except at
harvest. Mrs. Blount had herself given her sons all the instruction they
had ever received, and, being a woman of attainments beyond those usual
in her station, she seemed quite competent to the task. Nothing more was
heard of their quarrels; they were always coldly civil to each other,
when in the presence of others, and were regarded by their companions
with respect, though, I imagine, never with any cordial liking. So they
grew up to be grave, taciturn men, still retaining the same strong
resemblance of face and figure, though time had somewhat altered the
features, by fixing a different expression on each, giving to John a
fierce resolution, and to James a lurking distrustfulness of look. These
years made less change in Mrs. Blount than in her sons; she was the same
active, black-eyed woman, only that her sternness and reserve seemed to
increase with her age, and a few silver threads appeared in her raven
I have said that it was three miles from the Blount place to the nearest
house. This was at the toll-gate, which was kept by a man named Curtis.
He was a person of progressive tastes, supposed to have aristocratic
inclinations. As he was a well-to-do man, these were evinced in a
Brussels carpet and a piano-forte which figured in his small parlor, and
by his sending his only child, a daughter, to a city boarding-school.
She returned, as might have been expected, with ideas and desires far
beyond the hill-side cottage where she was condemned to vegetate. Now
she was very pretty, with dancing blue eyes and a profusion of golden
curls; she had, too, a most winning manner, hard for any one to resist;
and these personal attractions, added to style of dress that had never
been seen or imagined among the simple country-folk, rendered her a
most important person, so that no "tea-fight" or merry-making was
complete without Nelly Curtis.
However, it might have been long enough before the recluse young Blounts
would have encountered the gay little belle, had it not been that they
were of necessity obliged to pass through the toll-gate, and sometimes
forced to stop there. From some of her friends Nelly heard what a
secluded life the two brothers led, and how especially averse they
seemed to female society, and, with the appetite for conquest of a true
flirt, she at once determined on adding them to the list of her victims.
It was not long before she had an opportunity for beginning her wiles.
One fine spring morning, John Blount started on horseback to go to the
village. The sun shone very brightly, the hedge-rows blushed with early
blossoms, and the birds sang a song of rejoicing. It was one of those
clear, soft days when one feels new life and vigor at the thought of the
coming summer. Arrived at the toll-gate, John was surprised at seeing no
one there to open it; he waited a moment, somewhat impatiently, and then
At this, as if startled at his voice, there appeared in the cottage
door-way a slender, rosy-cheeked maiden, who looked blooming and
graceful enough to be the incarnation of the fresh and beautiful May.
"Excuse me," she said, with a little curtsy; "I did not see you come
This, as Nelly informed the friend to whom she related the adventure,
was a fib,?for Mr. Curtis was away, and she had been watching all the
morning, in hopes one of the Blounts would pass; but she considered it a
justifiable stratagem, as likely to secure his attention.
Meantime John was gazing spellbound at this apparition, which appeared
to him charming beyond anything he had ever imagined. He was so far
carried away, that he was quite speechless and wholly oblivious of the
toll, until she came up to the side of the horse and held out her hand.
Then he colored, and, with awkward apology, gave her the change.
"Thank you, Sir."
Nelly smiled sweetly, and was just about to undo the latch of the gate,
when John anticipated her by springing from his horse, and laying his
powerful brown hand over her small white one, saying,?
"You can't do anything with this great, heavy gate. Stand aside, and let
me open it."
Of course the offer was kindly accepted, and Nelly fairly overwhelmed
him with her thanks, being herself somewhat touched by the unusual
civility. John appeared quite overcome with confusion, and, remounting
his horse, he rode off with a gruff "Good day." However, I fancy, that
pleasant voice, and the accidental touch of that little hand, made an
impression that never was effaced.
Having thus enslaved John, it was not long before a similar opportunity
occurred for captivating James; though it would seem from Nelly's
confessions to her confidante that this was not so easily accomplished
with him as with his brother. The first time she opened the gate for
him, he paid but little more heed to her than he would have to her
father, and she never considered her conquest complete until one day
when Mr. Curtis availed himself of a vacant seat in James's wagon to
get Nelly taken into the village: that ride, she fancied, insured the
wished-for result. Whether this was a correct supposition or not,
certain it is that not many weeks elapsed before both the Blounts were
completely fascinated by the gay coquette.
For some time the passion of each brother remained a secret to the
other. Accident revealed it.
One soft summer-evening, John rode down to the village for letters. As
he passed through the toll-gate, he succeeded in making an appointment
with Nelly for a walk on his return. He came back an hour later, and
soon after sunset the two strolled down a shady path into the woods. It
was moonlight, and Nelly was doubtless very charming in the mysterious
radiance,?certainly her companion thought so,?for, when their walk
was over, he induced her to sit with him on a fallen log that lay just
within the shade of the trees, instead of returning to the house. They
had been chatting there perhaps half an hour, when they were interrupted
by the girl the Curtises kept to do "chores."
"Please, Miss Nelly, there's a gentleman wants to see you."
"Very well, tell him I will be there in a moment."
When the girl was gone, Nelly suddenly exclaimed, rather regretfully,?
"How stupid of me, not to ask who it was!"
John's answer is not reported, only that he succeeded in lengthening the
"moment" into a quarter of an hour, and then half an hour; and it might,
perhaps, have lasted the whole evening, had they not, in the midst of a
most interesting conversation, been startled by a rustling in the bushes
"There is some one watching us!" cried John, excitedly, and half rising.
"Nonsense!" said Nelly; "it is only a cat. Sit down again."
This invitation was not to be declined. John sat down again, though
still a little restless and uneasy. For some moments all was still. John
had concluded that Nelly's suggestion was a correct one, and they had
begun to chat quite unconcernedly, when they were again interrupted.
This time the sound was that of an approaching footstep, and for an
instant a dark shadow fell across the moonlit path in front of them.
Nelly was now fairly frightened, she uttered a faint shriek, and clung
to John for protection. Doubtless this was a very pleasant appeal to the
young farmer, but just now wrath mastered every other feeling. He was
ever easily angered, and, to be sure, the thought that they were watched
was by no means agreeable. So, with a quick caress, he loosened her
clasp and started to his feet, exclaiming,?
"Don't be frightened, dear! I'll punish the rascal!"
He made a dash in the direction whence the sound had come. In the shade
of the trees stood the intruder quite still, making no attempt to avoid
the furious onset. Mad with rage, John seized him by the collar, and,
striking him repeatedly, and muttering curses, dragged him towards the
bench where Nelly sat trembling. A few staggering steps, and they were
on the path, with the pure, peaceful light of the moon falling full on
the stranger's face.
"Good God!" cried John, loosening his hold,?"it is my brother!"
James drew himself up, tossing back his disordered hair, and for a
moment the two men regarded each other with stern, fixed looks, as if
they were preparing for another encounter. By this time, Nelly, who was
completely terrified, had begun to weep convulsively, and her sobs broke
the ominous silence, as she gasped,?
"Oh, John, please don't strike him again!"
At these words, John started, as if stung, and, looking at her with
indignant sadness, said,?
"There, you needn't cry, Nelly! I won't hurt him; I will leave him to
Then, overcome by the rush of recollection, he burst out,
"Oh, James! James! you have rendered my life miserable by your
treacheries, and now you have robbed me of her! This is no place to
settle our quarrels; but I have sworn it once, and I swear it again now,
some day I will be revenged!"
He would not stop to hear Nelly's entreating voice; but, full of the one
dreadful thought, that all her anxieties had been for another, while he
was indifferent to her, he mounted his horse, without one backward look,
and galloped fast away. I can fancy there was a wild whirl of emotion
in his passionate heart: deadly hatred, jealousy, and crossed love are
enough to drive any man mad.
Meantime, James apologized to Nelly for his intrusion, on the ground,
that, becoming tired of waiting, and hearing she had gone out for a
wait, he had started to meet them, but was about to turn back, fearing
to interrupt them, when John's rudeness compelled him to appear. The
excuse was accepted; and James soon occupied the seat recently vacated
by poor John. So well did he avail himself of the circumstances, that he
succeeded in convincing Nelly that his brother was a very ill-tempered
person, whom it would be well for her to avoid. On this, with the true
instinct of a flirt, she endeavored to persuade him that she had never
really cared for John's attentions. James was but too willing to be
convinced of this; and he parted from her, feeling satisfied that his
suit would be successful.
Knowing well that his life was scarcely safe, if he were for a moment
alone with John, after that night, James constantly exercised such
caution as prevented the possibility of an encounter. He was determined
as soon as possible to leave that neighborhood, always provided that
Nelly would go with him. For some time he considered this as certain.
John carefully avoided her, and no new suitor appeared.
I fear that pretty Nelly was a thorough coquette; for, having nearly
broken one brother's heart, she very soon tired of the other, for whom
she had never really cared a straw. These two men being the last to fall
into her toils, she began to sigh wearily over her too easily captured
victims, when her fickle fancy was caught by game more worthy so expert
It happened that at this time there came to the village a gentleman from
New York, named Brooke, a bachelor of known wealth. He was perhaps forty
years old, and had run through a course of reckless dissipation which
had rendered him thoroughly tired of city ways and city women. On the
very first Sunday after his arrival, as he stood idly lounging at the
church-door, his eye was caught by Nelly's fresh, rosy face. He followed
her into church, and spent the time of service in staring her out of
countenance. It will be readily imagined that she was not slow to
follow up this first impression; and but few days elapsed before their
acquaintance had ripened into intimacy.
Of course, his unceasing attentions could not fail of attracting notice
and exciting remark; and it was not long before they came to the ears
of the Blounts. John received the news with sullen indifference. It
mattered little to him whom she liked now. James, however, refused to
believe that there could be anything in it, regarding it as a mere
passing caprice. In this view most of the village-people coincided; they
considered it absurd to suppose that there could be anything serious in
Mr. Brooke's devotion. Time would probably have proved the correctness
of this supposition, had it not been, fortunately for Nelly, that she
had a father with more steadiness of mind than her giddy brain was
capable of. Mr. Curtis succeeded in turning the rapid attachment to such
advantage, that in three weeks from the time of their first meeting they
were not only engaged, but actually married.
It had been Nelly's intention, with the vanity of a true woman, to
postpone the wedding a month longer, and then to have it on such a scale
as would excite the admiration and envy of all her companions; but Mr.
Curtis was too shrewd for this. He durst not put this rapid love to the
test of waiting; and he so worked upon his daughter's fears, that she
consented to a more hasty union. Mr. Brooke, too, showed some aversion
to any public demonstration. Perhaps he was conscious that his friends
would think he was doing a foolish thing, and he was therefore desirous
of having it over before they had time to remonstrate. So, on a fine
bright Sunday, early in September, the drowsy congregation, who were
dozing away the afternoon-service, were aroused by the publication
of the banns of marriage between Henry Brooke and Nelly Curtis. It
occasioned great whispering and tittering. But no one suspected that the
wedding was near at hand; and there were very few lingerers after the
service was over, when Kelly came in at the side-door with her father,
was joined by Mr. Brooke, and actually married then and there.
The Blount brothers never went to church, but they almost always came
into the village of a Sunday afternoon, and on this memorable day they
were there as usual, but not together. John was earnestly discussing a
new breed of cattle with a neighboring farmer, wholly oblivious of
the false Nelly. James was standing with a group of young men on the
village-green, when Isaac Welles, the whilom blackberry-boy, rushed
up, breathless, to say that he had been detained in the church and had
actually seen Nelly and Mr. Brooke married.
In the first eager questions that followed this announcement, no one
noticed James, until they were astonished to see him fall heavily to the
ground. He had fainted. They had not mentioned the publication of the
banns to him, and he was wholly unprepared for this utter annihilation
of all his hopes. Welles sprang to his side, and they raised him
quickly. He was a strong man, and before they could bring any
restoratives he had recovered.
"It is nothing," he said, with a sickly smile. "I think it must have
been a sunstroke. It is confoundedly hot."
This lame explanation was accepted, and James refused to go into any of
the neighbors' houses, though he consented to seat himself, for a few
moments, on a rustic bench in the shade of the trees.
Half an hour later, John, having finished his chat, strolled to the
green and approached the group. He looked surprised when he caught
sight of his brother, who of late had so carefully avoided him. His
astonishment increased when James rose, and, advancing a step, said,?
"John, Nelly Curtis is married to that Brooke!"
An angry flush rose to John's brow, and his black eyes flashed
ominously, as he answered, in a hoarse, low voice,?
"So much the better, for now she will never be your wife."
"Neither mine nor yours," said James, maliciously;?then, after a
moment, he added, "She was a worthless thing, and we are well rid of
At this, a tornado of passion seemed to seize John. He sprang forward,
"She was not worthless, and I will kill the first man who dares to say
There was an interval of dead silence; the brothers regarded each other
for a moment, then James shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and
turned away. John glanced around him defiantly on the astonished crowd,
and, seeing no one there likely to dispute with him, he seemed to have
formed a sudden resolution, for he walked off rapidly after his brother.
Isaac Welles had stood by, no unobservant witness of this scene. He
noted something in those two men's eyes that recalled the fierce quarrel
of the two boys; and as soon as it was possible for him to get away,
he went off after the Blounts, determined, if possible, to prevent
Meantime John had not met his brother; but, seeing James's horse was
gone, he mounted his own and rode away towards home, determining to
catch James before he could reach there. However, he did not overtake
him. James was too cunning to ride directly to the farm-house, and
John's headlong speed availed only to bring him there in time to find
his mother alone and dangerously ill.
In a moment all other thoughts were laid aside. The pent-up affection of
John's heart had centred itself on his only parent. She had always been
cold and stern with her sons, yet they loved her with a tender devotion
which reclaimed natures that might otherwise have been wholly bad.
With all the tenderness of a woman, John assisted his mother to her bed,
and, not daring to leave her, awaited eagerly the coming of the only
other person who could summon aid,?his brother James.
At last he came,?riding slowly, with bowed head, up the lonely road.
John went out to meet him. James looked up angry and astonished, and
immediately threw himself into a position of defence. John shook his
"James," he said, "I cannot settle our quarrel now. Mother is very
James started forward.
"Where is she? What is the matter?" he cried, eagerly.
"I do not know," answered John. "I will go for the doctor, now that you
are come. I durst not leave her before. But, James, stop one moment. As
long as she lives, you are safe,?I will not hurt you by word or act;
but when she is gone,?beware!"
James did not answer, except by a nod, and John, turning, saw Isaac
Welles standing at the gate. He had overheard the conversation and felt
that there was no danger of a quarrel, and he now came eagerly forward
with offers of assistance. They were gratefully accepted; for even the
taciturnity of the brothers seemed to give way before the pressing fear
that beset them.
There is ever great good-will and kindness in the scattered community of
a village, and, despite the unpopularity of the Blounts, neighbors and
friends soon came to them, ready and willing to aid them by every means
in their power.
Mrs. Blount's illness proved to be quite as alarming as John had
feared. The physician, from the first, held out very little hope of her
recovery. The strong, healthy woman was stricken, as if in a moment;
it was the first real illness she had ever had, and it made fearful
progress. Yet her naturally iron constitution resisted desperately, so
that, to the astonishment of all who saw her sufferings, she lingered
on, week after week, with wonderful tenacity of life. The summer faded
into autumn, and autumn died into winter, and still she lived, failing
slowly, each day losing strength, growing weaker and weaker, until it
seemed as if she existed only by the force of will.
Of course it had long ago been found necessary to have some other
dependence than the kindness of neighbors, and a stout Irish girl had
been hired for the kitchen, while Mrs. Clark, a good, responsible woman,
occupied the post of nurse. From these persons, and from Isaac Welles,
the rest of the story is collected.
During all these months of her illness, the two brothers had been
unfailing in their devotion to their poor suffering mother. Night and
day they never tired, watching by her bedside for hours, and seeming
scarcely to sleep. Of course they were much together, but no words of
harshness ever passed their lips. When out of Mrs. Blount's presence,
they spoke to each other as little as possible; in her presence, there
was a studied civility that might have deceived any one but a mother.
Even she was puzzled. She would lie and watch them with burning, eager
eyes, striving to discover if it was a heartfelt reconciliation or only
a hollow truce. It was the strong feeling she had that only her life
kept them apart, which gave her power to defy death. Perhaps on this
very account his stroke was all the more sudden at last.
It was a dark, lowering afternoon in December when the summons came.
Mrs. Blount had been lying in a half-doze for more than an hour. Her
sons had taken advantage of this sleep to attend to some necessary
duties. The nurse sat beside the fire, watching the flames flicker on
the dark walls, and idly wondering if the leaden-hued sky portended a
snow-storm. Her musings were broken by the voice of the invalid, very
faint, but quite distinct,?
"Nurse! nurse! Call my sons. I am dying!"
Mrs. Clark ran to the bed.
"Quick! quick!" cried Mrs. Blount. "Do not stop for me. You cannot help
me now. Call my sons before it is too late!"
Her tone and action were so imperative that they enforced obedience, and
the nurse ran down-stairs with all speed. She found no one but the hired
girl in the kitchen, who said, in answer to her hurried inquiries, that
both brothers were out, gone to bring in the cattle before the storm.
Mrs. Clark sent her in all haste to recall them, and then returned to
the sick-room. As she entered, the dying woman looked up quickly, her
face clouded with disappointment when she saw that she was alone. The
nurse said all in her power to assure her that her sons would soon be
there, but she could not allay the strange excitement into which their
absence seemed to have thrown her.
"My strength is failing," she said, sadly; "every moment is precious;
if I die without that promise which they could not refuse to a dying
mother's prayer, God knows what will become of them!"
Mrs. Clark urged the necessity of quiet, but the sufferer paid no heed
to the caution. She talked on, wildly, and sometimes incoherently,
about the hopes she built upon the reconciliation her death-bed would
effect,?showing, in these few moments of unnatural loquacity, how
deeply she had felt the animosity between her sons, and how great had
been the effort to conquer it. This excitement could not continue long;
her voice soon grew weaker, and at last she ceased speaking, appearing
to sink into a stupor of exhaustion.
An instant after, the door opened and John ran eagerly to the couch,
closely followed by James. Already the poor widow's eyes were closed;
the livid hue that is so fatally significant overspread her face; her
breath came in quick gasps.
"Mother! mother!" cried John, flinging himself on his knees beside her,
and seizing the thin, hard hand.
At that sound, she opened her eyes, but it was too late; she no longer
had the power of utterance. She glanced from one brother to the other
with a piteous, entreating look; her mouth moved convulsively; in the
effort to speak, she sat upright for an instant, ghastly and rigid, and
then fell heavily back.
All was over; her life of labor was changed for eternal rest; and the
two men, whom only her power had restrained, stood with the last barrier
between them removed, avowed and deadly enemies.
Yet, for all that, they were sincere mourners for the sole parent they
had ever known, though it seemed, that, jealous even in their grief,
neither cared to have the other see how much he suffered; for, after
the first few moments, when the heart refuses to be satisfied of the
certainty which it knows only too well, they turned away, and each
sought his own room. Afterwards, when all was prepared and the room
decently arranged, they returned, and alternately through the long night
kept their vigil beside the corpse. It is strange, that, in those quiet
hours of communion with the loved dead, no thought of relenting towards
each other ever suggested itself.
The snow that had been hanging all day in the dark clouds above them
towards evening began to fall. Stilly and continually the tiny flakes
came down, hiding all the ruggedness of earth under a spotless mantle,
even as the white shroud covered the toil-worn frame of the released
In the morning the news spread rapidly, and neighbors came to the
afflicted house. But the brothers seemed to resent their offers of
assistance as an intrusion, refusing to allow any other watchers,
themselves continuing night and day to watch beside the corpse; and that
awful vigil, instead of softening their hearts, seemed to harden them
into a more deadly hatred.
The third afternoon, when all the country-side was ghastly in its
winding-sheet of snow, and the clouds hung heavy as a pall over the
stricken earth, the little funeral held its way from the lonely
farm-house to the village-churchyard. As a last tribute of respect to
their mother, the two brothers drove side by side in the same sleigh.
Those who saw them said that it was a sight not to be forgotten,?those
two black figures, with their stern, pale faces, so much alike, yet so
unsympathizing, sitting motionless, not even leaning on each other in
that moment of grief. So they were together, yet apart, during the
ceremony that consigned the wife to the grave where five-and-twenty
years before they had laid the husband. So they were together, yet
apart, when they turned their horse's head towards their home and rode
away silently into the sombre twilight.
The last person who saw them that night was Mrs. Clark. The brothers
had insisted that both she and the Irish girl should leave early in the
day,?replying to all offers of putting the house in order, that they
preferred to be alone. But on her way home after the funeral, Mrs. Clark
passed the house in a friend's sleigh and stopped a moment for her
bundle, which in the hurry of the morning had been forgotten. To her
surprise, as she approached the door, she saw that there were no lights
visible in any of the windows, although it was already very dark.
Thinking the brothers were in the back part of the house, she pushed
open the door, which yielded to her touch, and was just about to make
her way towards the kitchen, when she heard a sound in the parlor, and
then these words, quite distinctly:?
"Are you ready, James?"
"Yes,?only one word. It is a long account we have to settle, and it
must be final."
"It shall be. Mine is a heavy score. Years ago I swore to wipe it out,
and now the time has come."
Mrs. Clark's knock interrupted them. There was an angry exclamation, and
the door was opened. To her intense surprise, no light came from within.
She could not understand how they could settle their accounts in the
darkness; but they gave her no time for reflection; an angry voice, in
answer to her inquiries, bade her go on to the kitchen, and she hastened
off. There she found a single candle burning dimly; by its light she
picked up her bundle, and, leaving the door open to see her way,
returned to the front of the house. Though not a nervous woman, she felt
an undefined fear at the mysterious darkness and silence; and as she
passed the brothers standing in the doorway, she was struck with fresh
terror at the livid pallor of those two stern faces that looked out from
the black shadow. When she was going out, she heard the door of the
parlor bolted within, and she rejoined her friends, right glad to be
away from the sad house.
So those two men were left alone, locked into the dark room together, in
the horrible companionship of their inextinguishable hatred and their
own bad hearts. It will forever remain unknown what passed between them
through the long hours of that awful night, when the wind howled madly
around the lightless house, and the clouds gathered blacker and thicker,
shrouding it in impenetrable gloom.
Three days passed before any living creature approached the spot,?three
days of cold unparalleled in the annals of that country,?cold so severe
that it compelled even the hardy farmers to keep as much as possible by
the fireside. On the fourth day, Isaac Welles began to think they had
been quite long enough alone, and he started with a friend to visit the
Blount brothers. Arrived at the farm-house, they saw the sleigh standing
before the door, but no sign of any one stirring. The shutters of the
windows were closed, and no smoke came out of the chimney. They knocked
at the door. No answer. Surprised at the silence, they at length tried
to open it. It was not locked, but some heavy substance barred the way.
With difficulty they forced it open wide enough to go in.
To this day those men shudder and turn pale, as they recall the awful
scene that awaited them within that house, which was, in fact, a tomb.
The obstacle which opposed their entrance was the dead body of John
Blount. He lay stretched on the floor,?his face mutilated by cuts and
disfigured with gore, his clothes disordered and bloody, and one hand
nearly severed from the arm by a deep gash at the wrist; yet it was
evident that none of these wounds were mortal. After that terrible
conflict, he had probably crawled to the door and fallen there, faint
with loss of blood; the silent, cruel cold had completed the work of
Following the blood-track, the two men entered the parlor, with
suspended breath and hearts that almost ceased to beat. There they
found the dead body of James Blount,?his clothes half torn off, in the
violence of the strife that could end only in murder. A long, deep cut
on the throat had terminated that awful struggle, though many other less
dangerous wounds showed how desperate it had been. He lay just as he
fell,?his features still contracted with a look of defiance and
hatred, and in his right hand still clasped a long, sharp knife. He had
succumbed in that mortal conflict, which quenched a lifelong quarrel,
and was to prove fatal alike to victor and vanquished. Thus the vow of
John Blount was fulfilled,?the pent-up hatred of years satisfied in his
The room was in the wildest disorder,?chairs thrown down and broken,
tables overturned, and the carpet torn. In one corner they found a
second long, sharp knife. It had been at least a fair fight.
They laid the two ghastly corpses side by side: they had been chained
together all their lives; they were chained together in death. The two
fratricides are buried in one grave.
This terrible tragedy blighted the spot where it took place. No one
would ever inhabit that house again. The furniture was removed, except
from the one room which to this day remains unchanged, and the building
left to fall to decay. The superstitious affirm, that, in the long
winter nights, oaths and groans steal out, muffled, on the rising wind,
from the dark shadows of the Lonely House.