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Twice Told Tales

The Hollow Of The Three Hills
In those strange old times when fantastic dreams and madmen's reveries were realized
among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour
and place. One was a lady graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled
and smitten with an untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her
years; the other was an ancient and meanly-dressed woman of ill-favored aspect, and so
withered, shrunken and decrepit that even the space since she began to decay must have
exceeded the ordinary term of human existence. In the spot where they encountered no
mortal could observe them. Three little hills stood near each other, and down in the midst
of them sunk a hollow basin almost mathematically circular, two or three hundred feet in
breadth and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just be visible above the sides.
Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills and partly fringed the outer verge of the
intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October and
here and there a tree-trunk that had fallen long ago and lay mouldering with no green
successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak,
rested close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such
scenes as this (so gray tradition tells) were once the resort of a power of evil and his
plighted subjects, and here at midnight or on the dim verge of evening they were said to
stand round the mantling pool disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an
impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three
hill-tops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides into the hollow.
"Here is our pleasant meeting come to pass," said the aged crone, "according as thou hast
desired. Say quickly what thou wouldst have of me, for there is but a short hour that we
may tarry here."
As the old withered woman spoke a smile glimmered on her countenance like lamplight
on the wall of a sepulchre. The lady trembled and cast her eyes upward to the verge of the
basin, as if meditating to return with her purpose unaccomplished. But it was not so
ordained.
"I am stranger in this land, as you know," said she, at length. "Whence I come it matters
not, but I have left those behind me with whom my fate was intimately bound, and from
whom I am cut off for ever. There is a weight in my bosom that I cannot away with, and I
have come hither to inquire of their welfare."
"And who is there by this green pool that can bring thee news from the ends of the
earth?" cried the old woman, peering into the lady's face. "Not from my lips mayst thou
hear these tidings; yet be thou bold, and the daylight shall not pass away from yonder
hilltop before thy wish be granted."
"I will do your bidding though I die," replied the lady, desperately.
 
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