I had been riding nearly all day in the burning sun. It was the Fourth of July. My celebration had been a ten-mile drive to operate on a little boy who had received a pistol-shot wound at the hands of a playmate.
Late in the evening, I left the patient in comparative comfort; though my heart had many misgivings as to the outcome of the ordeal.
The night was more oppressive than the day had been. A black bank of ominous clouds was slowly rising in the west, and soon obscured the red crescent of the moon only a few days old.
Everything was dull and lifeless. The air was thick and motionless. The crickets chirped lazily, as if it was an effort. The frogs in the fens croaked listlessly. The mosquitos were dazed, and their usually intense falsetto was almost inaudible. There was an occasional lightning-flash, which was so distant that it seemed sluggish in its rippling course.
My faithful horse was breathing hard, even at a slow gait. However, in view of the approaching storm, I gently urged him on.
When about half way home, I passed near a most weird though picturesque glen. The proximity revived in my mind the many tales recounted regarding the uncanny though beautiful spot by ancient residents at their evening gatherings in old-fashioned log houses.
The glen is a rock-bound defile three quarters of a mile in extent, with precipitous sides rising sixty to one hundred feet above a small rivulet that winds and gurgles on the flinty floor of the ravine.
Years ago, when the Indians roamed the wilds, there was a massive natural bridge across the middle of this chasm; but the torrents that often swept through the channel undermined the support, and, some tempestuous night, unheard save by a skulking wolf or a pitiful bird roused from her brooding nest, the spanning structure that had stood since creation, crashed down, and naught was left except the gigantic pieces of shattered rock.
In early pioneer days, an enterprising man had dammed the mouth of the gorge, and built a monstrous water-wheel sixty-five feet in height, which was used as power for a large flouring-mill. A cloudburst tore away dam, wheel and mill.
After this, in order to avoid molestation and the restraining influences of civilization, a distillery was erected near the site of the old mill. Tradition declares that orgies, debaucheries and murders were frequent at this secret and almost inaccessible retreat, and that the wraiths of the victims may often be seen here in the darkest and dreariest nights. A deluge carried away the distillery, and the place has, for two generations, been relegated to owls, bats, wolves, lynxes, bears and birds of prey.
Instinctively, I touched the horse with the tassel on the end of my whip and hurried by the desolate and haunting locality.
Reaching home, without any untoward event, I lay down on a couch in the office to ponder over the labors of the day.
I had my gaze fixed on a human skull that graced the top of an oaken bookcase, when the office-door opened with a slight creak, and there entered a most beautiful girl, apparently about eighteen years old. It seemed that I was acquainted with my visitor, although it was some seconds before I could get matters arranged in my memory. It was little less that forty years since a face like that had come before my vision. The one who arose in my mind was a schoolmate a generation passed, and she had departed this life more than three decades before, when about the age of this young woman now sitting daintily in my waiting-room.
We had attended the same school from early childhood, we were in the same classes, we assisted each other in our lessons, and, as we grew older, our Latin, algebra and geometry brought us often together.
There was a bond of union around us; but my people moved to new fields, and time and distance produced partial forgetfulness.
It was impossible of comprehension that there should be two forms and two faces cast in the same mold as the one now fixedly looking into my eyes. It must be the girl of my boyhood days, and still I could not believe it true.
I attempted to rise; but, with a graceful gesture, she motioned to me to remain on the couch.
She was the first to speak, and, with a most mellifluous voice, she said: - “I am Azubah. After your removal from Brookville, my parents sent me to the academy in Sunnyside. While there, the students became greatly interested in religious matters. My father and mother being firm believers in Spiritualism, I was called back from the school until the revival was a thing of the past.
“That move was my undoing. I returned to Sunnyside, but all ambition was gone. Life seemed different and scarcely worth the living.
“In a sort of desperate endeavor to enliven the monotony of existence, I eloped with a journeyman printer entirely out of my social and intellectual sphere.
“During our weary honeymoon, we visited this grewsome gorge, the mouth of which you lately passed so near and so hurriedly. We clambered up the east bluff to look down into the darkling abyss. Having gone about half the length of the glen, we came to a large pine-tree growing on the brink of the precipice. It leaned far over so that its top was much beyond the edge of the opposite wall. A wild impulse seized me, and, reckless of the results, I rushed impetuously toward the tree, telling my husband that I would cross on it to the other side. I ran up the slanting and almost horizontal trunk until about the middle of the chasm, when my feet slipped, and I was dashed on the mossy crags fifty feet below.”
At this point in her recital, I made a herculean effort to rise, and managed to stagger to my feet. I walked unsteadily toward the lovely apparition. Before I reached her, she had gracefully left the cushioned chair, opened the creaking door, thrown me a kiss with her tapering fingers, and vanished as noiselessly as had been her advent into my presence.
A few moments later, as I was striving to collect my tumultuous thoughts, there came a resound knock at the street-door. I hastened to open it, and, in the darkness, saw a young woman on horseback. She had reached from her saddle and struck the door with butt of her riding-whip. The horse was a fine animal, reeking with sweat and foaming at the mouth, while he champed nervously on the bit. The rider’s face looked strangely like the girl who had so lately occupied my attention; but I gave the resemblance no thought because of the imperative message that she bore. She said that I was wanted immediately up at the gorge, where a man had been injured by a fall among the rocks while out hunting.
As fast as possible, I hitched up a younger horse and started rapidly on the five-mile trip.
The storm was just commencing, a few stray drops of rain were striking my carriage-top like shot. The lightning was vivid and incessant, revealing a long line of fluffy clouds in advance of the jetty stratum betokening a strong wind.
I drove as fast as safety permitted, keeping the road by the light of the constant electrical discharges. The heavy thunder was as ceaseless as the lightning.
The limit of travel by vehicle was reached, as the rain began to fall in sheets, and the wind to blow a hurricane.
I tied the horse to a tree, took my medicine-case, and went cautiously on among the rocks. As I neared the black and yawning portals of the gorge, the young woman who gave me the call suddenly appeared, and taking my valise, requested me to follow. Again noting the contour of facial lineaments so wondrously similar to those of my spectral visitant, I was loath to do her bidding, but, without a word, complied with her imperious command.
She led me not into the gorge, but along the ascent of the east bluff. She went bounding over the jagged and perilous rocks at such a pace that I was breathless and could ask no questions.
The deluge was now nothing less that appalling. There came a dazzling flash, followed by a reverberating crash of thunder that shook the hills. During this blinding lightning, I caught a glimpse of a large pine-tree inclined almost horizontally across the chasm.
I looked for the young woman, but she had disappeared. I called wildly, but no answer came.
I heard a wail like the cry of a tortured child. It was repeated. I turned toward the sound, only to hear it once more. My blood ran cold, I could not move a muscle. A quick motion among the leaves, a wild shriek, a heavy body launched against me, a hot breath on my face, and I toppled over with the impact. There was a sense of falling, falling, falling, and then all consciousness was gone.
With the returning glimmer of sensation, I found, by the lightning, which still came in an occasional mellow glow, that I was lying on the ground in a watery place some distance out from the jaws of the gorge.
I was stiff and sore, one arm and several ribs were broken.
I managed to get to my horse, and rode slowly and painfully homeward.
The following morning, a report came to town that a gigantic wildcat was discovered dead, on the top of one of the gnarled boulders at the bottom of the gorge just above the seething, roaring waters of the swollen stream.
Copywright 1913 by Marshall Thomas Martin, M.D., Merrimack, Wisconsin.