John Ingerfield and Other Stories
I fear I must be of a somewhat gruesome turn of mind. My sympathies are always with
the melancholy side of life and nature. I love the chill October days, when the brown
leaves lie thick and sodden underneath your feet, and a low sound as of stifled sobbing is
heard in the damp woods--the evenings in late autumn time, when the white mist creeps
across the fields, making it seem as though old Earth, feeling the night air cold to its poor
bones, were drawing ghostly bedclothes round its withered limbs. I like the twilight of the
long grey street, sad with the wailing cry of the distant muffin man. One thinks of him,
as, strangely mitred, he glides by through the gloom, jangling his harsh bell, as the High
Priest of the pale spirit of Indigestion, summoning the devout to come forth and worship.
I find a sweetness in the aching dreariness of Sabbath afternoons in genteel suburbs--in
the evil-laden desolateness of waste places by the river, when the yellow fog is stealing
inland across the ooze and mud, and the black tide gurgles softly round worm-eaten piles.
I love the bleak moor, when the thin long line of the winding road lies white on the
darkening heath, while overhead some belated bird, vexed with itself for being out so
late, scurries across the dusky sky, screaming angrily. I love the lonely, sullen lake,
hidden away in mountain solitudes. I suppose it was my childhood's surroundings that
instilled in me this affection for sombre hues. One of my earliest recollections is of a
dreary marshland by the sea. By day, the water stood there in wide, shallow pools. But
when one looked in the evening they were pools of blood that lay there.
It was a wild, dismal stretch of coast. One day, I found myself there all alone--I forget
how it came about--and, oh, how small I felt amid the sky and the sea and the sandhills! I
ran, and ran, and ran, but I never seemed to move; and then I cried, and screamed, louder
and louder, and the circling seagulls screamed back mockingly at me. It was an "unken"
spot, as they say up North.
In the far back days of the building of the world, a long, high ridge of stones had been
reared up by the sea, dividing the swampy grassland from the sand. Some of these stones-
-"pebbles," so they called them round about--were as big as a man, and many as big as a
fair-sized house; and when the sea was angry--and very prone he was to anger by that
lonely shore, and very quick to wrath; often have I known him sink to sleep with a
peaceful smile on his rippling waves, to wake in fierce fury before the night was spent--
he would snatch up giant handfuls of these pebbles and fling and toss them here and
there, till the noise of their rolling and crashing could be heard by the watchers in the
village afar off.
"Old Nick's playing at marbles to-night," they would say to one another, pausing to listen.
And then the women would close tight their doors, and try not to hear the sound.
Far out to sea, by where the muddy mouth of the river yawned wide, there rose ever a
thin white line of surf, and underneath those crested waves there dwelt a very fearsome