Perched, as she was, in a window overlooking the lane, she had but to lift her eyes from the double fence (that symbol of sad seclusion) to light on the trees rising above that unspeakable ravine, black with memories she felt strangely like forgetting to-night. Beyond ... how it stood out on the bluff! it had never seemed to stand out more threateningly! ... the bifurcated mass of dismal ruin from which men had turned their eyes these many years now! But the moon loved it; caressed it; dallied with it, lighting up its toppling chimney and empty, staring gable. There, where the black streak could be seen, she had stood with the judge in that struggle of wills which had left its scars upon them both to this very day. There, hidden but always seen by those who remembered the traditions of the place, mouldered away the walls of that old closet where the timorous, God-stricken suicide had breathed out his soul. She had stood in it only the other day, penned from outsiders’ view by the judge’s outstretched arms. Then, she had no mind for bygone horrors, her own tragedy weighed too heavily upon her; but to-night, as she gazed, fascinated, anxious to forget herself, anxious to indulge in any thought which would relieve her from dwelling on the question she must settle before she slept, she allowed her wonder and her revulsion to have free course. Instead of ignoring, she would recall the story of the place as it had been told her when she first came to settle in its neighbourhood.
Spencer’s Folly! Well, it had been that, and Spencer’s den of dissipation too! There were great tales—but it was not of these she was thinking, but of the night of storm—(of the greatest storm of which any record remained in Shelby) when the wind tore down branches and toppled down chimneys; when cattle were smitten in the field and men on the highway; when the old bridge, since replaced, buckled up and sank in the roaring flood it could no longer span, and the bluff towering overhead, flared into flame, and the house which was its glory, was smitten apart by the descending bolt as by a Titan sword, and blazed like a beacon to the sky.
This was long before she herself had come to Shelby; but she had been told the story so often that it was quite as vivid to her as if she had been one of the innumerable men and women who had crowded the glistening, swimming streets to view this spectacle of destruction. The family had been gone for months, and so no pity mingled with the excitement. Not till the following day did the awful nature of the event break in its full horror upon the town. Among the ruins, in a closet which the flames had spared, they found hunched up in one corner, the body of a man, in whose seared throat a wound appeared which had not been made by lightning or fire. Spencer! Spencer himself, returned they knew not how, to die of this self-inflicted wound, in the dark corner of his grand but neglected dwelling.
And this was what made the horror of the place till the tragedy of the opposite hollow added crime to crime, and the spot became outlawed to all sensitive citizens. Folly and madness and the vengeance of high heaven upon unhallowed walls, spoke to her from that towering mass, bathed though it was just now in liquid light under the impartial moon.