The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories; Ethan Frome

The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories; Ethan Frome

Read FREE!

The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories; Ethan Frome

The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories; Ethan Frome

Read FREE!

Excerpt

The Hermit lived in a cave in the hollow of a hill. Below him was a glen, with a stream in a coppice of oaks and alders, and across the valley, half a day’s journey distant, another hill, steep and bristling, raised against the sky a little walled town with Ghibelline swallow-tails.

When the Hermit was a lad, and lived in the town, the crenellations of the walls had been square-topped, and a Guelf lord had flown his standard from the keep. Then one day a steel-coloured line of men-at-arms rode across the valley, wound up the hill and battered in the gates. Stones and Greek fire rained from the ramparts, shields clashed in the streets, blade sprang at blade in passages and stairways, pikes and lances dripped above huddled flesh, and all the still familiar place was a stew of dying bodies. The boy fled from it in horror. He had seen his father go forth and not come back, his mother drop dead from an arquebuse shot as she leaned from the platform of the tower, his little sister fall with a slit throat across the altar steps of the chapel—and he ran, ran for his life, through the slippery streets, over warm twitching bodies, between legs of soldiers carousing, out of the gates, past burning farms, trampled wheat-fields, orchards stripped and broken, till the still woods received him and he fell face down on the unmutilated earth.

He had no wish to go back. His longing was to live hidden from life. Up the hillside he found a hollow rock, and built before it a porch of boughs bound with withies. He fed on nuts and roots, and on trout caught with his hands under the stones in the stream. He had always been a quiet boy, liking to sit at his mother’s feet and watch the flowers grow under her needle, while the chaplain read the histories of the Desert Fathers from a great silver-clasped volume. He would rather have been bred a clerk and scholar than a knight’s son, and his happiest moments were when he served mass for the chaplain in the early morning, and felt his heart flutter up and up like a lark, up and up till it was lost in infinite space and brightness. Almost as happy were the hours when he sat beside the foreign painter who came over the mountains to paint the chapel, and under whose brush celestial faces grew out of the wall as if he had sown some magic seed which flowered while you watched it. With the appearing of every gold-rimmed face the boy felt he had won another friend, a friend who would come and bend above him at night, keeping the ugly visions from his pillow—visions of the gnawing monsters about the churchporch, evil-faced bats and dragons, giant worms and winged . . .

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