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In 1830, only a
few miles away from what is now the great city of Cincinnati, Ohio, lay
a huge and almost endless forest.
The area had a few settlements established by people of the frontier.
Many of them had already left the area for settlements further to the
west. But among those remaining was a man who had been one of the first
people to arrive there.
He lived alone in a house of logs surrounded on all sides by the great
forest. He seemed a part of the darkness and silence of the forest, for
no one had ever known him to smile or speak an unnecessary word. His
simple needs were supplied by selling or trading the skins of wild
animals in the town.
His little log house had a single door. Directly opposite was a window.
The window was boarded up. No one could remember a time when it was not.
And no one knew why it had been closed. It surely was not because of the
man’s dislike of light and air. Sometimes, he could be seen lying in the
sun on his doorstep. I imagine there are few people living today who
ever knew the secret of that window. But I am one, as you shall see.
The man's name was said to be Murlock. He appeared to be seventy years
old, but he was really fifty. Something other than years had been the
cause of his aging.
His hair and long, full beard were white. His gray, lifeless eyes were
sunken. His face was wrinkled. He was tall and thin with drooping
shoulders—like someone with many problems.
I never saw him. These details I learned from my grandfather. He told me
the man's story when I was a boy. He had known him when living nearby in
that early day.
One day Murlock was found in his cabin, dead. It was not a time and
place for medical examiners and newspapers. I suppose it was agreed that
he had died from natural causes or I should have been told, and should
I know only that the body was buried near the cabin, next to the burial
place of his wife. She had died so many years before him that local
tradition noted very little of her existence.
That closes the final part of this true story, except for the incident
that followed many years later. With a fearless spirit I went to the
place and got close enough to the ruined cabin to throw a stone against
it. I ran away to avoid the ghost which every well-informed boy in the
area knew haunted the spot.
But there is an earlier part to this story supplied by my grandfather.
When Murlock built his cabin he was young, strong and full of hope. He
began the hard work of creating a farm. He kept a gun--a rifle—for
hunting to support himself.
He had married a young woman, in all ways worthy of his honest love and
loyalty. She shared the dangers of life with a willing spirit and a
light heart. There is no known record of her name or details about her.
They loved each other and were happy.
One day Murlock returned from hunting in a deep part of the forest. He
found his wife sick with fever and confusion. There was no doctor or
neighbor within miles. She was in no condition to be left alone while he
went to find help. So Murlock tried to take care of his wife and return
her to good health. But at the end of the third day she fell into
unconsciousness and died.
From what we know about a man like Murlock, we may try to imagine some
of the details of the story told by my grandfather.
When he was sure she was dead, Murlock had sense enough to remember that
the dead must be prepared for burial. He made a mistake now and again
while performing this special duty. He did certain things wrong. And
others which he did correctly were done over and over again.
He was surprised that he did not cry — surprised and a little ashamed.
Surely it is unkind not to cry for the dead.
"Tomorrow," he said out loud, "I shall have to make the coffin and dig
the grave; and then I shall miss her, when she is no longer in sight.
But now -- she is dead, of course, but it is all right — it must be all
right, somehow. Things cannot be as bad as they seem."
He stood over the body of his wife in the disappearing light. He fixed
the hair and made finishing touches to the rest. He did all of this
without thinking but with care. And still through his mind ran a feeling
that all was right -- that he should have her again as before, and
everything would be explained.
Murlock had no experience in deep sadness. His heart could not contain
it all. His imagination could not understand it. He did not know he was
so hard struck. That knowledge would come later and never leave.
Deep sadness is an artist of powers that affects people in different
ways. To one it comes like the stroke of an arrow, shocking all the
emotions to a sharper life. To another, it comes as the blow of a
crushing strike. We may believe Murlock to have been affected that way.
Soon after he had finished his work he sank into a chair by the side of
the table upon which the body lay. He noted how white his wife's face
looked in the deepening darkness. He laid his arms upon the table's edge
and dropped his face into them, tearless and very sleepy.
At that moment a long, screaming sound came in through the open window.
It was like the cry of a lost child in the far deep of the darkening
forest! But the man did not move. He heard that unearthly cry upon his
failing sense, again and nearer than before. Maybe it was a wild animal
or maybe it was a dream. For Murlock was asleep.
Some hours later, he awoke, lifted his head from his arms and listened
closely. He knew not why. There in the black darkness by the side of the
body, he remembered everything without a shock. He strained his eyes to
see -- he knew not what.
His senses were all alert. His breath was suspended. His blood was still
as if to assist the silence. Who — what had awakened him and where was
Suddenly the table shook under his arms. At the same time he heard, or
imagined he heard, a light, soft step and then another. The sounds were
as bare feet walking upon the floor!
He was afraid beyond the power to cry out or move. He waited—waited
there in the darkness through what seemed like centuries of such fear.
Fear as one may know, but yet live to tell. He tried but failed to speak
the dead woman's name. He tried but failed to stretch his hand across
the table to learn if she was there. His throat was powerless. His arms
and hands were like lead.
Then something most frightful happened. It seemed as if a heavy body was
thrown against the table with a force that pushed against his chest. At
the same time he heard and felt the fall of something upon the floor. It
was so violent a crash that the whole house shook. A fight followed and
a confusion of sounds impossible to describe.
Murlock had risen to his feet. Extreme fear had caused him to lose
control of his senses. He threw his hands upon the table. Nothing was
There is a point at which fear may turn to insanity; and insanity
incites to action. With no definite plan and acting like a madman,
Murlock ran quickly to the wall. He seized his loaded rifle and without
aim fired it.
The flash from the rifle lit the room with a clear brightness. He saw a
huge fierce panther dragging the dead woman toward the window. The wild
animal's teeth were fixed on her throat! Then there was darkness blacker
than before, and silence.
When he returned to consciousness the sun was high and the forest was
filled with the sounds of singing birds. The body lay near the window,
where the animal had left it when frightened away by the light and sound
of the rifle.
The clothing was ruined. The long hair was in disorder. The arms and
legs lay in a careless way. And a pool of blood flowed from the horribly
torn throat. The ribbon he had used to tie the wrists was broken. The
hands were tightly closed.
And between the teeth was a piece of the animal's ear.
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