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The Old Stone House and Other Stories   By: (1846-1935)

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Short Story Index Reprint Series

Books for Libraries Press Freeport, New York First Published 1891








I was riding along one autumn day through a certain wooded portion of New York State, when I came suddenly upon an old stone house in which the marks of age were in such startling contrast to its unfinished condition that I involuntarily stopped my horse and took a long survey of the lonesome structure. Embowered in a forest which had so grown in thickness and height since the erection of this building that the boughs of some of the tallest trees almost met across its decayed roof, it presented even at first view an appearance of picturesque solitude almost approaching to desolation. But when my eye had time to note that the moss was clinging to eaves from under which the scaffolding had never been taken, and that of the ten large windows in the blackened front of the house only two had ever been furnished with frames, the awe of some tragic mystery began to creep over me, and I sat and wondered at the sight till my increasing interest compelled me to alight and take a nearer view of the place.

The great front door which had been finished so many years ago, but which had never been hung, leaned against the side of the house, of which it had almost become a part, so long had they clung together amid the drippings of innumerable rains. Close beside it yawned the entrance, a large black gap through which nearly a century of storms had rushed with their winds and wet till the lintels were green with moisture and slippery with rot. Standing on this untrod threshold, I instinctively glanced up at the scaffolding above me, and started as I noticed that it had partially fallen away, as if time were weakening its supports and making the precipitation of the whole a threatening possibility. Alarmed lest it might fall while I stood there, I did not linger long beneath it, but, with a shudder which I afterwards remembered, stepped into the house and proceeded to inspect its rotting, naked, and unfinished walls. I found them all in the one condition. A fine house had once been planned and nearly completed, but it had been abandoned before the hearths had been tiled, or the wainscoting nailed to its place. The staircase which ran up through the centre of the house was without banisters but otherwise finished and in a state of fair preservation. Seeing this and not being able to resist the temptation which it offered me of inspecting the rest of the house, I ascended to the second story.

Here the doors were hung and the fireplaces bricked, and as I wandered from room to room I wondered more than ever what had caused the desertion of so promising a dwelling. If, as appeared, the first owner had died suddenly, why could not an heir have been found, and what could be the story of a place so abandoned and left to destruction that its walls gave no token of ever having offered shelter to a human being? As I could not answer this question I allowed my imagination full play, and was just forming some weird explanation of the facts before me when I felt my arm suddenly seized from behind, and paused aghast. Was I then not alone in the deserted building? Was there some solitary being who laid claim to its desolation and betrayed jealousy at any intrusion within its mysterious precincts? Or was the dismal place haunted by some uneasy spirit, who with long, uncanny fingers stood ready to clutch the man who presumed to bring living hopes and fears into a spot dedicated entirely to memories? I had scarcely the courage to ask, but when I turned and saw what it was that had alarmed me, I did not know whether to laugh at my fears or feel increased awe of my surroundings. For it was the twigs of a tree which had seized me, and for a long limb such as this to have grown into a place intended for the abode of man, necessitated a lapse of time and a depth of solitude oppressive to think of... Continue reading book >>

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