Like a buzzard’s nest their home hung over the village on the unfriendly sides of the bleak slope. Visitors were few and always reluctant, even strangers, for the village told weird tales of Mart Brenner and his kin. The village said that he—and all those who belonged to him as well—were marked for evil and disaster. Disaster had truly written itself through-out their history. His mother was mad, a tragic madness of bloody prophecies and dim fears; his only son a witless creature of eighteen, who, for all his height and bulk, spent his days catching butterflies in the woods on the hill, and his nights in laboriously pinning them, wings outspread, upon the bare walls of the house.
The room where the Brenner family lived its queer, taciturn life was tapestried in gold, the glowing tapestry of swarms of outspread yellow butterflies sweeping in gilded tides from the rough floors to the black rafters overhead.
Olga Brenner herself was no less tragic than her family. On her face, written in the acid of pain, was the history of the blows and cruelty that had warped her active body. Because of her crippled foot, her entire left side sagged hopelessly and her arm swung away, above it, like a branch from a decayed tree. But more saddening than her distorted body was the lonely soul that looked out of her tired, faded eyes.
She was essentially a village woman with a profound love of its intimacies and gossip, its fence-corner neighbourliness. The horror with which the village regarded her, as the wife of Mart Brenner, was an eating sore. It was greater than the tragedy of her poor, witless son, the hatred of old Mrs. Brenner, and her ever-present fear of Mart. She had never quite given up her unreasoning hope that some day some one might come to the house in one of Mart’s long, unexplained absences and sit down and talk with her over a cup of tea. She put away the feeble hope again as she turned back into the dim room and closed the door behind her.
“Must have been that bit of wind,” she meditated. “It plays queer tricks sometimes”
She went to the mantel and lighted the dull lamp. By the flicker she read the face of the clock.
“Tobey’s late!” she exclaimed uneasily. Her mind never rested from its fear for Tobey. His childlike mentality made him always the same burden as when she had rocked him hour after hour, a scrawny mite of a baby on her breast.
“It’s a fearful night for him to be out!” she muttered.
“Blood! Blood!” said a tragic voice from a dark corner by the stove. Barely visible in the ruddy half-dark of the room a pair of demoniac eyes met hers.
Mrs. Brenner threw her shrivelled and wizened mother-in-law an angry and contemptuous glance.
“Be still!” she commanded. “’Pears to me that’s all you ever say—blood!”
The glittering eyes fell away from hers in a sullen obedience. But the tragic voice went on intoning stubbornly, “Blood on his hands! Red! Dripping! I see blood!”