Kenny’s heart throbbed with a ghastly fear.
It was Joan.
He knew what lay to the south beyond the orchard: woodlands and wildness, nothing else. The fields Hughie cultivated stretched to the north from the kitchen windows. There in the forest to the south where the river curved off at a tangent and flowed directly east, Brian had had his camp. On farther Joan had never cared to go. Where did she go now in the starlit darkness, climbing down the wistaria ladder with a cloak around her shoulders? To what did she venture through the solitude of whispering trees and the gloom of the pine forest?
A lover’s tryst? Kenny sickened and choked.
He could not follow her.
He would not.
He turned back instead and went to bed to lie wakeful until dawn with something new and horrible gnawing at his heartstrings. Then he fell asleep and dreamed of monsters.
THE CABIN IN THE PINES
He did not mean to go again. He did not mean to watch the wistaria vine. He went, he told himself wildly, to evade the summons that was sure to come from Adam Craig. But when the glimmer of wistaria swayed beneath a footfall, madness came upon him and he went stealthily through orchard and forest, stalking the flutter of a cloak.
The river turned. Joan followed the bend for a little way and struck off again into the thick of the forest through the cloistered gloom of many pines. She came, after what seemed to Kenny a long, long time, to a rude cabin made of logs. There was a light in the window. Joan opened the door and disappeared.
If he had known definitely what he thought, he told himself with an Irish twist, the agony of his suspense would have been worse and less. The sharp intensity of the pain in his heart terrified him. Whatever lay in the cabin of logs was something apart from him. The night noises of the forest blared strangely in his ears. He was conscious of the odor of pines; conscious of a shower of pine-needles when he brushed back against a tree. And there were cones beneath his feet. But his madness would not bear him on to the cabin door. At intervals with fire in his brain he knew he heard the voice of a man.
In a vague eternity of minutes he waited until the door opened and lamplight streamed brightly over the sill. A man stepped forth. Something seemed to snap in Kenny’s heart. Relief roared in his ears and rushed unbidden to his lips.
“Oh, my God!” he gasped.
It was the gentle, white-haired minister with a book beneath his arm.
Startled the old man drew back and peered uncertainly into the darkness. Kenny approached.
“I—I beg your pardon,” he said, wiping his forehead. “I’m sorry.”
Joan came to the door and stared.
“Kenny!” she exclaimed. And her voice had in it a note of distress. She glanced at Mr. Abbott, who glanced in turn at Kenny with an air of gentle inquiry. His confidence in Mr. O’Neill, never very robust, had waned that day upon the river. It was weakening more and more.