by Margery Lawrence
‘So ye’re goin’ to buy Robin’s Rath, young lady?’
Ellen Vandermyl raised her arched brows with a touch of hauteur at the old man’s tone. Not the daughter of a hundred earls, but of one immensely wealthy pork-packer who could deny her nothing, even to the purchase of Ghyll Hall, she had, as have so many American women of bourgeois birth, the tiny feet and delicate complexion that is generally considered the heritage of the aristocrat alone. Now she tapped a smart brogued shoe with an equally smart cane as she answered old Giles’s question, with a little note of asperity in her voice:
‘Of course I am—I have—it goes with Ghyll Hall! Besides, when I get a path made it will make a perfect short cut to the golf-links.’
There was a sudden stir and rustle among the group of villagers; with one accord they looked at old Giles—and there was a pointed little silence. Flushing with annoyance, Ellen glanced from one face to another. Her one wish was to get on well with the villagers of this tiny lovely village, Ghyllock, which seemed to live in the shelter of the old manor-house, Ghyll Hall, for centuries the seat of the Ruddocks, and now passing, like so many other many-memoried old houses, into the hands of the stranger. An only child, her father wax in her hands, the pretty spoilt American beauty had passed through Ghyllock only once, on a motor tour, and seeing the wonderful old house set in miles of green woods and meadows and fields, had given her father no peace till he offered to buy it for her—much as he would have endeavoured to buy the moon, had she wanted it! The grounds ran down to a narrow belt of woodland, thick with undergrowth, the tangling green luxuriance that had never known shears or pruning knife—Robin’s Rath. Beyond lay the golf links, within easy walking distance of the Hall when the path mentioned should be cut—certainly it seemed a good idea, and there was some reason for Ellen’s puzzled annoyance at the sudden silence that greeted her remark. Even the landlord of the picturesque inn, The Goose with the Golden Eggs, lounging in the shadow of his own doorway to listen to the gossip under the great elm tree outside, put down his mug of beer and stared at her curiously. She spoke sharply, addressing old Giles, whose heavy white brows were drawn down over his intent old eyes in a heavy frown.
‘What in the world’s the matter? You all look as if I’d threatened to kill somebody!’
‘Ye’re cutting a path through the Rath?’ Giles’s voice was a little raised so that all might hear the enormity proposed. Ellen flushed angrily now, and spoke, settling her pointed chin more decidedly into her vivid blue woollen scarf.
‘Certainly I am—it’s the quickest way to the links. Is there any reason why I should not?’
Everyone was listening intently now, and Giles gave an odd laugh, still studying her under his shaggy brows.
‘No, missy; no real reason. But ye shudna’ try—ye shudna’ try!’
‘Why on earth?’ Ellen was getting both thoroughly ruffled and a little alarmed now. The old man sent a swift glance round at the circle of interested faces.
‘Robin’s Rath never bin touched, Missy. If ye’ll tek an old man’s advice ye’ll leave it be—Robin’s Rath’s better as it is.’
‘Aye—aye, right enough.’ ‘Leave it be, Miss—better leave it be.’
A confused chorus of voices from the watching group all gravely eyeing her, emphasised the old man’s words, and with a quick angry shrug and laugh Ellen turned away, pushing the ends of the scarf into the front of her grey tweed jacket.
‘Really, you are talking nonsense! I shall do what I choose with the place—sorry if it annoys you, but I really see no sense in what you say against the idea of cutting a path through a piece of wild land! Good day. . . .’
Her slim figure disappeared round the turn of the lane, and old Giles shrugged his shoulders as he took up his pipe again.
‘No sense?—well, well! Happen she’ll see sense before ’tes too late—happen she mayn’t; then the Lord help her, for she’s a pretty piece enough.’
Ellen Vandermyl strode briskly along the narrow lane, still warm and flushed with annoyance at the recent little encounter. Her firm chin was set, and her dark eyes rather hard under their evenly marked brows. She was rather cross with herself also for becoming angry at what was, after all, a show of interest in her doings, which interest, up to the present, the villagers had been sadly devoid of, greatly to her vexation. She was quite determined to marry and settle down into an English country lady—the husband question could be settled later, though doubtless ‘Papa’ would arrange that as easily as he had this, the purchase of the ‘seat’, wonderful Ghyll Hall. Ellen had, beneath her greedy little modern tastes, a genuine sense of the beautiful and as she walked across the meadow-path homewards her eyes lighted with appreciation. The Hall faced her, far up the sloping side of the hill, backed by dark woods, and at the foot of the grounds, running into the lush water-meadow that she was crossing, the wide tangled woodland of Robin’s Rath, a long narrow copse, cut the grounds of the Hall from the meadow like a dark ribbon of green wilderness. Usually Ellen took the twisting path that led round the end of the Rath into the road that passed the Hall gates, but now just at the bend she stopped, and staring through the rough fence into the Rath, muttered something impatient to herself about the crass stupidity of the villagers. It would be so easy to cut a straight path through this—it couldn’t be more than a hundred and fifty to two hundred yards across, and one walked straight into the meadow and thence to the links. Absurd, the Ruddocks never doing it—of course the undergrowth was woefully thick and obviously hadn’t been touched for centuries, but a couple of good men with bill-hooks would soon do the job. Suddenly, Ellen jumped. Against a dark tree-trunk, only a few yards away, a man stood chewing a grass blade, hands in the pockets of his green corduroys, his eyes on her.
‘Goodness!’ It annoyed Ellen to be surprised, and she reflected with embarrassment that he must have been standing there all the time and overheard her irritable remarks about the villagers. He was only a keeper, probably, but it was none the less annoying to feel foolish, and Ellen’s colour was considerably heightened when she spoke again. ‘Here! Who are you, and what are you doing on my land?’
The man removed the grass-blade and spoke, one hand still in his pocket, and a pair of odd, quick eyes on her. His voice was rather brusque.
‘Your land, hey, Miss?’
‘Yes, mine.’ Her voice was brusquer, and the man laughed suddenly, with a lazy amusement.
‘Yours?—sorry, Miss! I never knew. . . . Don’t look cross at me, Missy. I’m only a keeper!’ Again the tone of lazy amusement, and to her great vexation Ellen found her colour rising again beneath the casual gaze of the stranger’s eyes. True, he called her ‘Miss’, but somehow with a tone as if he found it rather amusing to do so. . . . Before she could speak again, suddenly with a quick lithe movement, he was at the fence, his long brown hands near to hers. He wore a green leather cap, very damaged and old, pulled over his eyes, and his eyes were light brown, almost yellow, and quick and bright as a bird’s.
‘Come in, Miss! You’ve never been into Robin’s Rath yet, I’ll go bail—not for all you’re cutting a pathway through it!’ Somehow, against her will, Ellen found herself scrambling over the fence and standing, a little breathless and scratched, on the other side. The man in green was but little taller, and they faced each other, feet deep in thick tussocky grass. Ellen compressed her lips hard and clutched at her vanishing dignity; somehow it seemed childish and puerile under the man’s dancing eyes, but she stuck to her pose doggedly.
‘Er—no, I haven’t had time to go through it—but if, as I suppose, you are one of Sir George Ruddock’s keepers, perhaps you had better show me the best place to cut a path down to the meadow. . . . You are a keeper here, I suppose?’
The man in green was leading the way deep into the dusky heart of the Rath—standing aside, he held a branch away as he replied.
‘Yes. . . . I’m a keeper here. Been her long enough, Missy. Longer than you’d think!’
‘How long?’ persisted the girl. The man’s manner pricked her curiosity. He spoke the rough country dialect certainly, but still with an air of engaging nonchalance, as if he did it on purpose. . . . Was he a Ruddock? Come back in disguise to look after the lands of his fathers? Ellen’s imagination, fed full on cinemas, French novels, and the yellow Press of her country, ranged excitedly among a thousand dramatic possibilities. . . . Turning to the man in green, changing her tactics, she found him looking down at her with a disconcerting little smile—she looked away, suddenly discomfited, and immediately exclaimed in astonished admiration:
‘How lovely!’ They faced a narrow little glade, thick with bluebells—the blue flood ran like spilt colour about the trunks of the trees as far as eye could see; the dark tree-trunks and the shiver of pale young leaves above their heads were speckled and splashed with golden flecks and pools and spangles—for an enchanted moment Ellen stared, then turned to the man in green, leaning negligently up against a tree, his rough suit almost one with the mossy bark. He nodded, his eyes intent on hers.
‘Yes. ’Tes good enough, eh? And right here, Missy, is where you were goin’ to cut the path. ’Tis the narrowest part of Robin’s Rath.’
Ellen started. So this was it, was it? Another attempt on the part of these idiotic village people to influence her into leaving the Rath alone? Very cleverly done, she would admit—but what impertinence! Now just to show them she couldn’t be dictated to she would insist on having the path cut, though a moment ago she had been on the verge of changing her mind. . . . Turning round, she laughed sharply, her chin in the air, and an acid remark on her tongue, but it died away unspoken as she met the strange keeper’s odd light eyes. She felt somehow curiously embarrassed beneath the calm, quizzical gaze of this brown-faced fellow in the shabby green corduroys—biting her lips, she tossed her pretty spoilt head and caught back her dignity as lady-of-the-manor. Her tone as she spoke was delicately condescending.
‘Oh, really! Thanks for pointing it out—I must get some men to come and start work on it immediately. Do you happen to know a couple of good woodmen?’ She congratulated herself that this was neat, to ask him to recommend the despoilers of the green Rath that obviously meant so much to him. The man laughed, his curly head, now bare of any covering, tilted back against the brown bark of the tree.
‘Good woodmen, hey? Who should know but I, who’ve spent day and night these—well, more years than you’d think, Missy—in the green Rath. . . . Oh yes—I could tell you of woodmen eno’—but it might be they wouldn’t suit you; they’re old . . . and set in their ways now. . . . No. No. They’d do a lot for me—but I wouldn’t risk asking them to lay axe or bill-hook to Robin’s Rath—’
‘Who are you? What is your name?’ Ellen asked suddenly, her puzzled eyes studying him.
‘My name? Oh, my name is just Rob Woodson, Missy. But I’ve a lot of names. Happen if you ask the folk round here they’ll call me the Man in Green. . . .’
A wren flew whistling fussily across the glade, and the man held up a brown hand, his lips pursed to a tiny soothing note. To Ellen’s great astonishment the wee brown bird lighted on his outstretched finger, chirruping agitatedly in his face. He nodded, laughed, and, flinging up his long arm, threw the bird into the air. Forgetting her annoyance, Ellen spoke delightedly.
‘Oh, can you tame them, really? I wish you would tame some for me!’
Her vain little mind was already visualising a delicious picture of herself in white on the wide terrace of the Hall, surrounded by tiny fluttering creatures taking crumbs from her hand, unafraid, and in the background a circle of admiring guests. The man in green looked down at her and laughed amusedly.
‘Teach you, eh? ’Twould take more than your lifetime to learn what I know about birds, Miss. That little chap, now . . . he’s in a rare taking, him and his missus, for fear you cut that path. His nest’s in an elder bush right in the way, and she hasn’t hatched her eggs yet.’
‘It’s absurd to talk of birds in that way—as if they were human!’ said Miss Vandermyl coldly, flushed and angry again now at the fresh introduction of the vexed question of the path. She moved away into the sun-patched bluebells, leaving a trail of crushed stalks and flattened blossoms behind her—turning a haughty head over her shoulder, she nodded a patronising goodbye to the strange keeper who stood knee-deep in the blue flood beneath the trees, watching her silently. She jumped as he answered her unspoken thought.
‘A right to do what you like with your own land, eh, Missy? Why, that’s fair. . . . But think a minute—what’s the name of this green Rath, anyway? Robin’s Rath—the Rath of Robin. Well, well, isn’t that enough? Wait till Robin tells you what he thinks of that path of yours—cuttin’ across his ground! Think it over, Missy . . . and come down and see the Rath again tomorrow. I’ll be here—if you come to the Rath again tomorrow!’ The light mocking voice died away behind her as Ellen Vandermyl hurried away—she flung a hasty glance over her shoulder as she scrambled out of the Rath into the wide cool stretch of turf that swept up to the Hall—the man in green had gone and only the sunlight twinkled through the leaves across the tree-trunk where he had been. . . .
Her aunt, Miss Eustasia Vandermyl, met her in the hall, and commented on the mess she had made of her smart tweed suit—torn in two or three places it was, and bits of leaf and twig stuck to it still. Ellen raised annoyed eyebrows and, slipping into another skirt, sat down to lunch, full of her adventure.
‘Auntie—I had the most astonishing meeting this morning, coming up from the water-meadow through Robin’s Rath.’ Molly the housemaid, a comely, strapping girl, daughter of old Giles, was handing her the potatoes at the moment of speaking, and Ellen went on:
‘Do keep the dish still, Molly—what’s the matter with you? Well, I came through the Rath—suppose that’s why I’ve made such a mess of my tweed—the bushes can’t have been cut for ages . . . there’s not even a path. I shouldn’t think anyone’s ever even walked through till I did—absolutely wild it is. Lovely, of course, in a way . . .’
‘Well,’ said Aunt Eustasia, with mild impatience, ‘is that all the adventure, or is there some more? Molly, the potatoes, please. Well?’
‘Oh no! There’s a lot more. I met a strange man there—a keeper he said he was. He said his name was Woodson—but he’s not an ordinary keeper by any means.’
Rosy Molly’s pink cheeks had suddenly faded to white, and she stood with her hands knotted together in her apron as she listened, her round blue eyes on her unconscious mistress, eating her cutlet daintily as she went on:
‘I can’t help thinking he’s one of the Ruddocks in disguise, or something of the sort—oh, yes, he speaks with a funny accent, but I feel it’s put on somehow. Like all these crazy villagers, he seems set against this idea of mine of cutting a path through the Rath to the links.’
‘It’s such a good idea, too,’ commented Eustasia, languidly. ‘What reason did he give against it?’
Ellen laughed with a trace of asperity, remembering her old vexation over the subject.
‘Oh—no real reason at all! They none of them have. Only that it’s never been done before—so English! As if that was a reason why it should never be done at all! I asked him to recommend two good woodmen—just out of sheer mischief, of course, as I knew he wouldn’t—but he said those he knew were too old or something . . .’
‘What did you say his name was?’ Eustasia asked curiously.
‘Woodson—Rob Woodson, he said,’ said Ellen, ‘but he said that the people around here knew him best as “The Man in Green”.’
Crash! Both ladies jumped and exclaimed as Molly’s shaking red hands let fall the fruit dish she was just placing on the table—scolded, she had nothing to say but that ‘she couldn’t help it’—‘she was very sorry’ . . . the door closed on her downcast figure, and Ellen laughed vexedly.
‘What a fool! Well, Auntie, I’m going to lie down for a while, and then I shall make you doll me up for tea. Don’t forget the Anselms and Lady Craven are coming. . . .’
The Anselms, Joe, Lylie and their mother were very charming, as was Lady Craven, and tea a complete success. Ellen looked charming in a vivid green frock, and accompanied Joe Anselm in several songs with great éclat—as an heiress, she was worth the county’s cultivating, and certainly Ellen felt she stood on the threshold of her longed-for position in English society as she walked down the well-kept drive with her guests. Lady Craven’s car drove away, but the others were walking—it was a lovely spring evening, and Joe Anselm good-looking and obviously rather intrigued with the pretty American. His mother, Lady Anselm, regarding possibilities with an amiably approving eye directed towards the paternal millions that would ultimately become Miss Vandermyl’s, suggested that Ellen should walk back part of the way, at least, to the village. A wrap and hat hastily donned, Ellen joined them, and the merry little group descended the steep sloping lane to the village. Passing the end of Robin’s Rath where it ran into the lane, Joe Anselm peered inside laughingly.
‘Cut your famous path yet, Miss Vandermyl?’
‘No,’ said Ellen, laughing. ‘I’m going to very soon, though!’
‘Find any difficulty in getting woodmen?’ asked Lylie Anselm, suddenly.
Ellen’s brows wrinkled.
‘Well—I haven’t taken any very special pains to find any yet, but now you speak of it, I believe I shall find it difficult. The villagers don’t seem to like the idea of my cutting a path at all!’
Lylie glanced at her brother oddly.
‘Yes. I don’t think you’ll get any of the local men to touch Robin’s Rath, Miss Vandermyl.’
Ellen laughed vexedly—here again, even these aristocrats were casting cold water on her scheme! She answered with a touch of heightened colour.
‘If they won’t, I shall have some men over from Brayling or Little Witchet! But why in the world this extraordinary reluctance to have Robin’s Rath touched? Even you—’ Joe nodded, colouring a trifle.
‘I wouldn’t, Miss Vandermyl. Really I wouldn’t— I’d leave the Rath as it is. . . .
Ellen’s temper, never too easy, suddenly snapped.
‘This is too idiotic really! Why?’
Lylie came to the rescue of her brother.
‘It’s nothing really, Miss Vandermyl. Only—a sort of story that the village people believe. We don’t—but, anyway, one of the Ruddocks once tried to clear Robin’s Rath and make it into a wild garden. . . .’
Joe’s glance held his sister’s, and she stopped suddenly, to Ellen’s great annoyance.
‘Well? What happened?’ Lylie was silent, but Joe answered, guardedly.
‘They stopped. They never finished it. Something stopped them.’
‘Good Heavens—what?’ Ellen’s tone was frankly scornful, and the young man winced, but answered her unmoved.
‘I don’t know. . . . But nobody touches Robin’s Rath—the villagers say—without some awful misfortune—’
‘What rot!’ In her relieved indignation Ellen was none too polite. ‘Really, Mr Anselm, I thought you were more sensible! Anyway, it’s safe enough to human beings, for I met one of Sir George Ruddock’s old keepers there only this morning, and he was all right—said he spent all his time there!’
Joe’s eyebrows were wrinkled, puzzled.
‘Keeper—thought all the Ruddock’s keepers left when—when the Hall was sold? What sort of a man is he?’
‘Says his name is Woodson,’ said Ellen. ‘As to what he looks like—well, he’s tall and brown-faced, dressed in green. . . .’
At that moment they stopped at the door of the village store, where Ellen was to say goodbye to them—Lady Anselm and her three dogs were a little behind, and the brother and sister stood silent, regarding Miss Vandermyl. There was a faint pause, and they looked at each other.
Lylie spoke softly, her voice oddly hushed.
‘We know who you mean—now. No, we’ve never seen him. But you have—you’ve seen the Man in Green. Goodbye, Miss Vandermyl. . . .’
Oddly silent, the two strode away—round the bend of the road they looked at each other again, and Lylie’s eyes were frightened.
‘Joe—Oh Joe! What can we do? She’s seen him—and do you remember Andrew? Andrew persuaded Jim Ruddock to try and clear the Rath—and Andrew saw him. . . .’
Joe’s freckled face twitched in painful memory of Andrew Stirling, his chum—first in all sports, bright and brave and handsome, and of that faint shadow of the Andrew they had known that had been found sprawling, half-dead, at the edge of the Rath one awful morning. With a jerk he brushed the memory away, and replied:
‘We can’t do anything, Lylie. We’ve done our best—and everybody’s tried to warn her. But she’s a wilful, spoilt little specimen, and I’m afraid it’s useless. We can’t—nobody can—you know it—say more than we have done. One can only warn her as best we can—and hope she’ll take it. . . .’
Next morning was, if anything, lovelier than before, and Ellen’s little soul expanded beneath the life-giving sunlight as she wandered about the lovely old house and grounds, planning fresh alterations, improvements, everywhere. Her restless American mind, overmodern, unable to let anything alone, but must forever be tinkering with it, altering, experimenting, fairly purred in its pleasure at having this gorgeous piece of the old world to play with. The immense expanse of jade green turf that swept down from the Hall windows to the distant Rath, was to be cut up into flower beds and a pergola—two new tennis courts were to be laid down, thereby sacrificing an old walled garden that had stood for over three hundred years; a huge and wonderful oak that happened, unfortunately, to shade her bedroom windows too heavily was to go, and endless other alterations. . . .
‘Good morning to you, Missy!’ The man in green stood with his arms folded along the top of the rough fence that divided the Rath from the grounds.
‘Oh—good morning!’ Ellen was confused for a moment—why, she wondered, had she come wandering down to the Rath again, all unconsciously?
The man in green laughed suddenly, amusedly.
‘You came because you said you would, of course! Now, now—no cross looks this wonderful morning! I know you never said so in words—why, come over again then, and we can talk in the Rath together, just we two.’
Rob Woodson’s voice was seductive, warm as the spring sunshine that flooded Miss Vandermyl’s bare head where she stood, a few feet away from the fence, her eyes puzzled, half-dazed, half-frightened. She answered rather vaguely, her eyes on his merry, light brown orbs, twinkling at her beneath the pulled-down brim of his green cap.
‘Why, I—of course, I was coming. I meant to come. . . .’ The fence was high and the green tangled undergrowth of the Rath a few feet lower than the smooth-shaven lawn that met it. One doubtful hand on the fence, Ellen looked at the man in green questioningly. Pulling aside a slat or two, he made room for her feet to mount, then, as she balanced precariously on the top, stepped back and laughed, a full-throated gust of merriment that brought tears of vexation to the girl’s eyes. At the sight the man in green stopped at once and came forward, his brown eyes suddenly tender behind their elfish laughter.
‘That was too bad, little lady!’ His voice was low and beautiful, and his arms were held out to her where she balanced on the top of the fence, level with his shoulders. ‘Let yourself go now—into my arms. . . .’
Obediently she sank forward into the arms held ready to receive her, and her head went down on his shoulder with a little tremulous sigh of happiness as his warm lips found hers. With the girl curled close in his arms, his head bent to hers, he turned swiftly into the heart of the Rath, and the green closed over them. . . .
Miss Eustasia Vandermyl kept lunch till almost two o’clock, and then, just as she was beginning to be seriously agitated, Ellen stepped into the dining-room through the open French window. Her eyes were wide and dazed, but her mouth was tremulously red, and she broke into a little running laugh of happiness at her aunt’s grim face of disapproval. Coming forward, she kissed the old lady, to the latter’s great astonishment—Ellen was never in the habit of kissing people, especially relations.
‘Well! I’d begun to give you up, Ellen. And Mercy! What have you done to yourself?’
Eustasia’s restless old hands were picking leaves, bits of moss and twigs from the girl’s tumbled hair and skirt, but Ellen twitched away, and seizing an apple declared she was not hungry. Molly eyed her furtively with a sort of terrified interest as she served the older woman’s meal, but Ellen’s eyes were absent as she munched, and she never noticed. Lylie Anselm, striding down to the village later, met Molly on her afternoon out, and the two stopped. Molly had been in service with the Ruddocks, and known Lylie and her brother since babyhood. The village girl’s usually rosy cheeks were pale again today, and she seized on Lylie with feverish urgency.
‘Oh, Miss Lylie—I dunna how to say it—but I’m sa scared I cunna sleep o’ nights. I mun tell you—’
‘What is it?’ Lylie said, though her own paling cheeks showed kinship with the fear that whitened the other’s ruddiness.
They stood near the Rath, and Molly dropped her voice as she spoke.
‘It’s—it’s the same coming as came to Muster Andrew—oh, Miss, I cunna bear it! Father he tried to warn her an’ all—an’ she wunna see, she wunna see! Messin’ with the Rath an’ all—d’ye mind how Muster Andrew wud say he met the Man in Green? . . .’ The girl was nearly crying, and Lylie patted her arm soothingly.’
‘Don’t worry, Molly—perhaps it’ll be all right. Anyway, we’ve all tried to warn her—we can’t do any more. If I were to tell her just the truth she would laugh—and besides, you know one can’t. . . . Something stops it every time. . . .’
There was a crackling of elder bushes above them where the Rath ran up to a steep bank, and a wren flew out, chattering indignantly, almost as if he had been thrown out to startle the girls—with a scared little cry Molly took to her heels, and Lylie, her young lips compressed, strode on towards the village.
As she turned the bend in the path past the Rath that led into the water-meadow it seemed she heard a faint laugh somewhere deep in the green tangle of bramble and hawthorn and wild rose—Lylie’s steps were no slower for that, for she was thinking of Andrew, as he used to be—and as he was—when the Rath had done with him.
The next two weeks were anxious ones for Miss Eustasia. Ellen, she thought, was suffering from some form of nerves—while she lost no interest in the house and grounds, and directed the workmen energetically in the alterations, she was given to sudden inexplicable absences from the house, sometimes in daytime, but more often now about dusk, and as the month was approaching its zenith, and the fat, honeycoloured Spring moon waxing larger each night, the evenings saw her less and less with her aunt. She came back from these expeditions faintly flushed, with eyes like stars, and an unwonted sweetness about her like a magic cloak—but for all that, distrait and absent, and with the vaguest possible explanations. All she would say was that she had been wandering in the Rath. At last her aunt grew suspicious of the mysterious Man in Green and one day interrogated Molly. The latter flushed and paled suddenly, and averred, with a furtive glance towards the Rath, sleeping in the warm pale afternoon sun, that the keeper was all right, she heard: was he well known? Well, yes—bin here a long time. Cunna tell how long—maybe years and years. Yes. Known him herself? Why no, ma’am—’twas a bit of a cold makin’ her shiver like that—cunna help it, like. No. She’d heard tell of him often though—happen that was all ma’am wanted?
Satisfied, Miss Eustasia cast about for another reason, but found none, and at that moment Ellen stepped into the room from the garden, trailing a branch of bramble behind her, her dark hair starred with dew-wet convolvuli. She took no notice of her aunt, but stood with her face pressed against the cold pane, staring out into the slowly darkening garden towards the Rath.
Miss Eustasia spoke sharply.
‘Really, Ellen! You might at least, when you do condescend to come in, take a little trouble to be pleasant! I get very little of your company these days.’
Ellen smiled faintly and came over to her aunt, laying a slender arm scented with pines and bracken across the old lady’s thin shoulders.
‘Poor auntie! Never mind—I am very happy. Happier than I knew it was possible to be. What’s worrying you, any way, dear?’
The old lady bit off a thread of silk viciously.
‘Just this, my dear—you’re not leading a healthy life, mooning about by yourself these days. What’s happened to your golf that you were so keen on? Young Anselm came over yesterday to ask you to play, and you were away somewhere. . . .’
Ellen laughed. Now, as it always did sooner or later, the vaguely dreamy mood began to wear off, and the old Ellen, bright, poised, and self-sufficient, was speaking.
‘That all? Dear me, I’ll write him at once and suggest a day next week.’
She moved to the writing-table and opened the blotter as she spoke. Eustasia finished off a flower of her embroidery emphatically as she began again.
‘That reminds me—have you done anything about that path through the Rath? It’s too silly for you to go a quarter of a mile round by the road when with a little trouble you could have that path cut.’
Ellen’s brow was wrinkled, almost as if she tried to catch a fleeting though half-forgotten thought.
‘Oh yes. I’d somehow forgotten that. . . . I suppose it had better be done. It seems difficult to get men here though—perhaps I’d better leave it.’
‘Rubbish!’ the old lady snapped. ‘Now you’re writing, write to that firm at Little Witchet we passed in the car the other day, and tell them to send three or four men. Today’s Friday—say they had better come on Monday.’
The room fell silent save for the faint scratching of Miss Vandermyl’s pen on the paper—it was getting dark very rapidly, thought Miss Eustasia, and what a nuisance that strand of ivy tapping against the pane was—odd that she who was so sensitive to irritating noises had never noticed it before. Sitting back, Ellen sealed up both envelopes, and slipped them into her pocket. The tapping of the ivy seemed to have worried her too, for she opened the window and broke the trail off, impatiently flinging it into the garden. Stretching out her arms she yawned, and laughed.
‘Well, that’s done! Funny how I came to put off writing about that path these last two weeks—quite unlike my usual business-like ways. Papa always said I had the head of a business man—how he’d have laughed to see me wandering for hours about a damp wood!’ Her laughter was frankly amused, and it was the old Ellen that glanced down into her aunt’s eyes—cool, self-reliant, dominating. Miss Eustasia patted her hand.
‘Glad to see you more like yourself again, dear. I admit that craze of yours for perpetually exploring the Rath worried me a little—what made you take to doing it, now?’
A faint puzzled crease crossed the girl’s white forehead, and at the moment a belated wren fluttered against the rising wind past the window, cheeping feebly. Ellen passed her hand across her brow worriedly, then dropped it and laughed lightly.
‘I really couldn’t possibly say, dearest! I can’t think now why I did it—just a whim, I suppose. Now I’m going up to dress for dinner—come along.’
It seemed to Miss Eustasia afterwards that never had Ellen been so bright and like her usual sparkling self as that last dinner-time; the idle, dreaming Ellen of the last two weeks seemed to have vanished like snow in spring, and thankfully Eustasia mentally composed another letter to Papa Vandermyl that should set his mind completely at rest concerning his wilful daughter, whose insistence on the purchase of the Hall had worried him considerably. They had coffee in the pretty drawing-room, and Ellen played . . . bright crisp rag-time music, sharply contrasted to her recent craze for Sibelius, Dvorak and Ravel. There was a small fire, for the storm had fulfilled its promise, and the bright rain spattered the long panes persistently, while a chilly little wind forced its way through the chinks of the curtains.
The evening passed peacefully, and at last Miss Eustasia, who had been nodding steadily before the fire for the last half-hour, rose and yawned, putting her eternal embroidery together.
‘Well—you play delightfully, dear. But I think it’s about time for bed, don’t you? Are you coming?
Ellen shook her head, her fingers still wandering absently over the keys.
‘No. Not yet. Very soon, I think—goodnight, dear.’
The door closed behind the old lady, and Ellen’s hands fell from the keys. There was that tiresome ivy again tapping—it must be another piece. Tomorrow she would have the whole thing cut away—it was maddening, this eternal tapping. Settling herself into a chair by the fire with a book she tried to read, but the tapping proved too distracting and at last, with an impatient exclamation, she got up and went to the window. Pulling aside the curtain, she gave a sudden gasp of terrified astonishment—pressed against the panes, his long-nailed fingers playing a tattoo on the glass, his light eyes gleaming luminous in the light, stood the Man in Green! Beckoning, he retreated, and vanished in the dark, wind-tossed trees—mechanically, with no thought of refusal, she fetched a cloak from the hall, and stepping out into the whirl of wind and rain, went steadily down the dark garden. The moon was full, but ragged clouds sailing across it obscured its light except for occasional glimpses—there was a faint growl of thunder in the distance, and the gusts of sharp wind flapped and buffeted her, flinging showers of heavy drops upon her uncovered hair from the overhanging trees. In the open the light rain stung her face like tiny needles; a sob rose in her throat as with wide, fixed bright eyes she pressed steadily on down the sloping lawns to the waiting Rath.
Her mind was vaguely wandering down half-forgotten paths—she had been made one with the Rath, received into its arms—through Someone, but who she had forgotten. . . . The keeper—but, of course, she had always known he was no keeper . . . who was he? Never mind, it didn’t matter, and she couldn’t remember anything clearly. Only that there in the Rath she had known joy unspeakable, lain with her cheek pressed against the grass and bracken, played—so long ago it seemed!—with rabbit and wren and chaffinch, unfearing, friendly, with Someone’s arm about her . . . drunk of its tiny stream, decked her hair with its flowers; the Rath had received her, and she had turned upon it and stabbed it to the heart. By a letter—a cruel letter, that even now lay in the pocket of the coat she wore. Now she was going to meet her just punishment. . . . With dark eyes wide and vague, she stumbled down the last steep grass slope and stopped, panting heavily, against the fence. Across the top the keeper leant, regarding her strangely from beneath his pulled-down cap, shiny with rain—she noticed dully that a spraying trail of ivy hung from his buttonhole, and idly wondered why; the brown hands of the man in green were clasped loosely together along the top of the fence, and with a sudden sick remembrance she thought again of the first time she had seen them thus. . . . The wind whistled and roared, rising to a gale around them, and in a lull she heard Rob Woodson speak.
‘So you have come to the Rath again, little lady? To the Rath for the last time?’ His tone was light, half-laughing, but a faint cold hint of menace rang through it, and his odd, luminous eyes regarded her curiously as she stood there, plucking unthinkingly at the moss on the fence, her dark curly hair whipped to a halo about her head, those beautiful eyes regarding him dully. Her mouth quivered suddenly, piteously, as she replied:
‘Yes. I have come—for the last time. . . . What—what are you going to do with me?’ Through the vaguely hypnotised look in her eyes crept a real gleam of fear, and she shivered involuntarily as he stretched out a long hand in invitation. Patting the place where the broken slats still spoke so vividly of that wonderful day two weeks ago—or was it two hundred years?—he smiled at her, shrinking in nameless terror on the other side.
‘You have been made free of the Rath, fair Ellen! Why do you fear it?’
She raised tortured eyes to his, dumbly, and his smile broadened, eyes narrowing as he watched her terror-stricken face . . . grim fear held her in an icy grip, and feebly she fought with all that was left her of sanity to resist, but his eyes were merciless. Trembling, she mounted the fence, and as she balanced on the top, suddenly, swiftly, he held out his arms to her, his head flung back, laughing, a slant moonbeam gleaming on his light, cruel eyes, mocking, triumphant, inhuman.
‘Come—let go and come to my arms, pretty maiden! Fall—fall, you who know what no other woman has known, and must die for the knowing—come to me!’
With a shouting rush and flurry of wind, with a beating of rain about her, the last shred of resistance fled from the girl as she fell forward, and dimly through the gathering mists she heard the voice of the Man in Green above her, through the wild howling of the gale that rocked the groaning trees—light, joyous, triumphant, as his lips closed on hers. . . .
‘The Rath has received you, maiden, and the Rath rejects you, in this my last kiss on your human lips! For I—Rob Woodson—son of the woods, I am Robin, and this is my Rath!
A few months later the Hall was up for sale, and rebought by Sir George Ruddock, sorely repentant at ever having sold the house of his fathers; so the Ruddocks came back to Ghyll, and the pretty American faded into a mere story, whispered to terrified ears on winter’s evenings.
But far across the seas, in bustling New York, an anxious father goes from specialist to specialist with a lovely dark-eyed girl, once bright, alert, vivacious, now blank and dull, half-witted almost, with the springs of her vivid womanhood dried up and dead within her.
Now and then she gets restless and cries a little, on a wet spring night, and always she has ivy and green things of the wood in water in her room; but generally she goes through life smiling vaguely, gentle, silent and empty of soul as a doll. Indeed, as one great specialist said to another aside, too low for the agonised father to hear:
‘She’s as much mentality as a china doll now—no use to anyone, ever any more. Some shock must have killed the springs of vitality—but I wonder what it was?’
He may well wonder, since Ellen Vandermyl is the only one who knows, and she can only drift through life smiling at nothing, silent, with her womanhood dead within her since Robin Goodfellow kissed the soul away from her one stormy night, long ago, in a green glade in England.
About the Author
The best-known supernatural works of Margery Lawrence include Number Seven, Queer Street, a collection that collects the case histories of an occult detective, Dr Miles Pennoyer, as related by his assistant Jerome Latimer. Lawrence stated that this series was inspired by Algernon Blackwood’s John Silence stories and Dion Fortune’s Dr. Taverner series. Like May Sinclair before her, Lawrence became a confirmed spiritualist and believer in reincarnation in later years. According to the author, “My interest in it dates actually from the moment when I saw a near relation three nights after he died, when he gave me specific instructions about the finding of a box containing important papers. They were found precisely where he said–and from that moment I became deeply interested in what…I have called the “Other Side.” Somewhere that man was obviously still alive! Somewhere he was thinking of us, anxious to help, caring what happened; in a word, he was still alive somewhere, and I was determined to find out where.“
About the Narrator
Lewis Davies – is an ex-actor turned history teacher and you can follow him @lewiskernow on twitter. He is always looking for opportunities to read aloud.