Famous Modern Ghost Stories HTML version

The Willows
From The Listener, by Algernon Blackwood. Published in America by E.P. Dutton, and in
England by Everleigh Nash, Ltd. By permission of the publishers and Algernon Blackwood.
After leaving Vienna, and long before you come to Buda-Pesth, the Danube enters a
region of singular loneliness and desolation, where its waters spread away on all sides
regardless of a main channel, and the country becomes a swamp for miles upon miles,
covered by a vast sea of low willow-bushes. On the big maps this deserted area is painted
in a fluffy blue, growing fainter in color as it leaves the banks, and across it may be seen
in large straggling letters the word Sümpfe, meaning marshes.
In high flood this great acreage of sand, shingle-beds, and willow-grown islands is almost
topped by the water, but in normal seasons the bushes bend and rustle in the free winds,
showing their silver leaves to the sunshine in an ever-moving plain of bewildering
beauty. These willows never attain to the dignity of trees; they have no rigid trunks; they
remain humble bushes, with rounded tops and soft outline, swaying on slender stems that
answer to the least pressure of the wind; supple as grasses, and so continually shifting
that they somehow give the impression that the entire plain is moving and alive. For the
wind sends waves rising and falling over the whole surface, waves of leaves instead of
waves of water, green swells like the sea, too, until the branches turn and lift, and then
silvery white as their under-side turns to the sun.
Happy to slip beyond the control of stern banks, the Danube here wanders about at will
among the intricate network of channels intersecting the islands everywhere with broad
avenues down which the waters pour with a shouting sound; making whirlpools, eddies,
and foaming rapids; tearing at the sandy banks; carrying away masses of shore and
willow-clumps; and forming new islands innumerable which shift daily in size and shape
and possess at best an impermanent life, since the flood-time obliterates their very
Properly speaking, this fascinating part of the river's life begins soon after leaving
Pressburg, and we, in our Canadian canoe, with gipsy tent and frying-pan on board,
reached it on the crest of a rising flood about mid-July. That very same morning, when
the sky was reddening before sunrise, we had slipped swiftly through still-sleeping
Vienna, leaving it a couple of hours later a mere patch of smoke against the blue hills of
the Wienerwald on the horizon; we had breakfasted below Fischeramend under a grove
of birch trees roaring in the wind; and had then swept on the tearing current past Orth,
Hainburg, Petronell (the old Roman Carnuntum of Marcus Aurelius), and so under the
frowning heights of Theben on a spur of the Carpathians, where the March steals in
quietly from the left and the frontier is crossed between Austria and Hungary.