Author of The Magical Mimics of Oz, Spectral Snow, Who's Who in Oz, etc.
Originally published in Dark Music and Other Spectral Tales, 1947.
The three men sat in the tiny cabin, huddled in front of the fire that was doing its best to burn in the rude fireplace. They had finished talking more than an hour ago. A strange silence held them in its grasp now, as securely as the icy cold clutched the tiny valley nestled in the heart of the great mountain.
It was not that there was nothing to say, nor that any of the three were of a silent nature. There was in fact, a great deal they could have talked about. The two men from Cheyenne, held captive in the cabin by the snowstorm, were from the outside world; they brought news and stories of events that had transpired in the last month. Old Tronsen was glad enough to listen to them, exiled as he was here in the heart of the mountains, where winter made its home. And when they had tired of talking, there was Tronsen's rich life, replete with the golden legendry and lore of the early west--glorious tales he could tell of the opening of the frontier towns, and the planting of a civilization that was to girdle storm swept prairies and trickle through the narrow mountain passes, moving relentlessly westward until there was no wilderness left, except these hollows in the mountains where an old man like Tronsen could creep away and dream of the early days.
The fire crackled dispiritedly and seemed to jealously cherish the small warmth its blue flames gave forth. Snow whirled about the window, while the wind cut the corners of the cabin with shrill whistles. Blake, one of the men from the city, shifted his position and gazed from the fire to Tronsen. Five days with a man in the same room . . . eating, breathing, thinking and talking in the same room is a fairly complete introduction, and yet there was something about Tronsen that eluded his guest. It was something that lay concealed in the old man's eyes, something in their luminous blue, and the tiny lines about them. They were the eyes of a dreamer, and while Tronsen was lean and spare with the leanness of a life of continual work and privation, there was something of the child about him, something that dreamed, something almost tender and poetic.
And now, tonight--Blake gazed at Tronsen as he sat there, his features lighted by the oil lamp--what was he thinking of? Blake was mystified by the expression of eager intentness that absorbed his features. He was staring with rapt attention at the window, and as Blake watched him he detected an alertness, an expectant light in the old man's eyes. It was almost as if he were waiting for someone or something. Blake got the impression that the old man was waiting for something terrible to happen, and yet feared that it wouldn't!
Blake glanced at Thomas who was sitting close to the fire on a rude bench. Their eyes met for an instant, and Blake knew that Thomas understood and sensed something unusual. Blake was nervously annoyed, he felt that he must say something, anything no matter how inane, to put an end to this absurd silence, and at last momentarily interrupt the shrieking of the wind.
"Sounds like an all night wind, and a devilish noisy one too," he said, addressing Tronsen. The man of the mountain stirred as if returning with his thoughts from a great distance. He gazed steadily at Blake for a moment, and then spoke in a low voice with great earnestness.
"It isn't that it's an all night wind, for it's always lurking about here somewhere, it's just that it has chosen to make itself known tonight ... to reveal itself." The old man paused and then continued: "If you had lived in the mountains as long as I, you would get to know the winds and the snows, and even the air of the place--you would become 'familiar' with them, and sense their moods. There is a strange, new note in the wind tonight, something I have never heard before. I--I wonder if I could be right?"
Odd and incoherent words, these were, and Blake was frankly disturbed. He realized that he had unknowingly touched upon the wrong subject, but before he could a word, old Tronsen was talking again, quietly, and with immense conviction: Blake found himself powerless to speak and almost awed at the expression in the blue eyes and the seriousness of the man's tone.
"Have you ever thought," he said, "that a mountain as a unit, an entity, might possess a personality, a spirit as real and vibrant as a person's? Certainly no two mountains impress one alike. Who could ever confuse a Sierra with one of the Catskill range or an Ozark? They are all mountains, yet they are much more . . . they are composite parts of nature and as such they have their own peculiar forces and their elemental existences. So many thousands of tons of rock, so many trees, so many streams and so many valleys, just so much snow--Oh, I tell you it's all perfectly calculated and planned, all of these things are part and parcel of the great thing we call a mountain. I have lived here on this old peak for years, I know. I have seen it in all its moods, I have seen it swayed with the warmth of spring, gone mad with wild flowers and tumbling its streams down the valleys; I have seen it basking openly in the summer sun like a great lazy animal sleeping, full of warmth and content. And I have seen it through many winters, as you men see it now, crystallized and caught in the frigid net of winter, brilliant, white and hard. I tell you there is something else . . . something besides rock and trees and snow! Sometimes I can feel it, sometimes it is very strong. Sometimes," here the old man's voice dropped to a low whisper, "sometimes it goes abroad . . . often on nights like this it escapes! It leaves the rocks and the trees . . . something 'goes out' just as part of ourselves leaves the body in times of wild excitement or emotional stress. Tonight it's the storm and the terrific excitement of the wind and the driving snow. They have let loose something! They have released something that is abroad, moving about OUTSIDE the mountain!"
Tronsen paused, his eyes brilliantly luminous and gleaming with eagerness and excitement. Thomas had been listening spellbound to the old man, and was plainly carried away by the man's imaginings and the eerie atmosphere of the storm that was sweeping the valley.
"I understand," he said, "I have felt it too! All night long it has been whirling about with the snow, driving with the wind. I have felt it, something besides the storm . . . something mad with the wildness of the storm . . . like a person exalted and lifted up by some terrific experience and carried outside of his body!"
A sudden blast of wind shook the cabin like a leaf, and the three men sat tense and silent, prey to the strange impressions that hovered in the room. Tronsen was staring intently, fixedly as if he were expecting something, waiting for something.
Suddenly Tronsen leaped to his feet, his eyes glowing wildly. "It's come in," he shouted, "it's in the room, and it's trying to tell us something--something that it wants us to do! My God can't you feel it? Think man, think! Can't you get what it's trying to say? Try for God's sake--it's something of vast importance! Something we must do!"
Tronsen stared at Thomas to whom these last wild cries had been directed. It was then that Blake, certain for the moment that the storm and days of confinement had overwrought the old man's nerves, felt something sweep across his back that caused the hairs on his neck to stand strangely. He turned quickly about and stared with a shock of incredulity and wonder.
There was something in the room. Yet it could scarcely be described in words as we know them. It was not material--physical. It was merely that it was there in the room. It was a fine spiral mist that whirled swiftly about the room. It glowed with an almost visible blue light, and below the shrill cry of the wind Blake could distinguish a low, vibrant, humming sound. Tronsen and Thomas were on their feet, Tronsen eager and wild with excitement, Thomas white and staring with amazement.
The presence vibrated across the room again toward the door, humming and darting, and rising and falling in the chill air of the cabin. Then while the three men stared in awe, a mighty blast of wind drove the door inward so that it fell from its hinges and crashed to the floor of the cabin. In an instant the thing was outside the cabin and gone into the night.
"I've got it!" Tronsen screamed, "I've got it! It wants us to follow! It wants us to get out of the cabin! That's what it's been trying to tell us!"
Already the cabin was filled with the icy cold of the night. The fire was burning bluely, and the lamp had been blown out with the first mighty puff of the wind. With a cry Tronsen dashed into the night. Thomas was after him in an instant, and Blake, leaving reason behind, followed them. Tronsen was making for the shelter of a great cave that yawned a few hundred feet away in the side of a wall of rock that rose from the valley. As Blake plodded through the deep snow, his mind a wild confusion of impressions, he was aware of a great, overpowering noise--a noise that was entirely alien to the storm. It was a terrific, roaring sound that seemed to come from the heavens themselves. It filled him with terrible panic and unreasoning fright, inspiring him to incredible speed as he ran through the heavily drifted snow.
Only once did he turn and look behind toward the cabin. The noise had increased to a sound like unearthly thunder, echoing and reverberating terribly through the valley. What Blake saw terrified him so that he ran madly without thinking.
Down the side of the valley was moving a vast accumulation of snow and ice, a monster snowslide descending with terrific speed directly into the valley. The tiny cabin lay just in the center of its path. The three men huddled together in the shelter of the cave, shivering with the cold and shaken with the strangeness of their dash into the night.
"Look," murmured Tronsen, in a voice filled with awe. "Look!" Blake saw the avalanche leap from a crag above the valley and settle over the cabin, spreading its waste of snow and ice and boulders over half the valley. Only a distant sliding and scraping could be heard now as the vast body of ice sheered into place in the valley.
While the three men stared aghast at the fate they had so strangely escaped, there came a sudden lull in the storm. The driving of the wind and snow ceased and a distant moon gleamed wanly from behind a cloud. It was as if the descent of the avalanche had released the tension, had cleared the air, and all the suspense and wildness of the night was immediately calmed. The elements had spent themselves in one last fury that had sent the huge mass of ice and snow crashing into the valley.
As Blake stared at the wonderful sight--the gleaming white of the snow, the crags of ice scintillating in the moonlight, the tall pines hung with crystal, a world of magnificent waste, frozen fast and chilled in icy fingers, he was sure that he saw something shimmering and nebulous arise from the waste of the avalanche and move far up into the sky--something that whirled quickly and vibrated, vanishing into the vast vault of the heavens, toward which the peak of the mighty mountain climbed high above them.
And none of the men could deny the low, exultant humming sound which was carried across the snow to them.
THE FORGETFUL POET
By Ruth Plumly Thompson
Originally published in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, March 9, 1919.
Puzzles and Such
First we had better answer last week's puzzles, and there were enough of them, dear knows. Here they are: A man can have three hands on one arm if he wears a wrist watch. A bear is a plantigrade carnivorous quadruped. An ant as tall as a hill is a gi-ant. Cain and Abel were the two Bible characters mentioned. The words left out of the verses were year, clear, broom and room.
Now can you tell us what two letters of the alphabet will give a merry little sprite. They are a bit beyond the middle--I'll tell you that much, and
Why is the postman like the baby's blocks?
What two letters of the alphabet will shelter an Indian?
Can you read this sentence? U & I r b 4 t.
This little verse is, as usual, rather incomplete. How would you finish it?
A book has -----
Just like a tree,
Its leaves grow dull
At times, dear!
Just like old stories
And long tales
And sundry of
My ----- dear!
[Answers next time.]
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