Zora shook herself from the trance-like horror and passed her hands across her eyes to drive out the nightmare. But, no! there lay the dead upon the hearth with the firelight flashing over her, a bloated, hideous, twisted thing, distorted in the rigor of death. A moment Zora looked down upon her mother. She felt the cold body whence the wandering, wrecked soul had passed. She sat down and stared death in the face for the first time. A mighty questioning arose within, a questioning and a yearning.
Was Elspeth now at peace? Was Death the Way—the wide, dark Way? She had never thought of it before, and as she thought she crept forward and looked into the fearful face pityingly.
“Mammy!” she whispered—with bated breath—“Mammy Elspeth!” Out of the night came a whispered answer: “Elspeth! Elspeth!”
Zora sprang to her feet, alert, fearful. With a swing of her arm, she pulled the great oaken door to and dropped the bar into its place. Over the dead she spread a clean white sheet. Into the fire she thrust pine-knots. They glared in vague red, and shadowy brilliance, waving and quivering and throwing up thin swirling columns of black smoke. Then standing beside the fireplace with the white, still corpse between her and the door, she took up her awful vigil.
There came a low knocking at the door; then silence and footsteps wandering furtively about. The night seemed all footsteps and whispers. There came a louder knocking, and a voice:
“Elspeth! Elspeth! Open the door; it’s me.”
Then muttering and wandering noises, and silence again.
The child on the bed turned itself, murmuring uneasily in its dreams. And then they came. Zora froze, watching the door, wide-eyed, while the fire flamed redder. A loud quick knock at the door—a pause—an oath and a cry.
“Elspeth! Open this door, damn you!”
A moment of waiting and then the knocking came again, furious and long continued. Outside there was much trampling and swearing. Zora did not move; the child slept on. A tugging and dragging, a dull blow that set the cabin quivering; then,—
“Bang! Crack! Crash!”—the door wavered, splintered, and dropped upon the floor.
With a snarl, a crowd of some half-dozen white faces rushed forward, wavered and stopped. The awakened child sat up and stared with wide blue eyes. Slowly, with no word, the intruders turned and went silently away, leaving but one late comer who pressed forward.
“What damned mummery is this?” he cried, and snatching at the sheet, dragged it from the black distorted countenance of the corpse. He shuddered but for a moment he could not stir. He felt the midnight eyes of the girl—he saw the twisted, oozing mouth of the hag, blue-black and hideous.