The Guest, who came from beyond the lake, had lived in the house for years and had the freedom of it, so that he had become quite like a member of the family. He was friendly treated and well lodged. Indeed, some thought he had the best room of all, for though it was in the wing, it was spacious and well warmed, and had a side door, so that he could go in and out freely by day or night,
It must be said that he had earned his living on the place, being industrious and useful, a very handy man about the house; and the children had a liking for him because he sang merry songs and told beautiful fairy-tales.
So he was all the more surprised and aggrieved when the Master of the house said to him one night, as they sat late by the fire:
"I suspect you."
"But of what?" cried the Guest.
"Of caring more for the house that you came from than for the house that you live in."
"But you know I was at home there once," said the Guest, "would you have me forget that? Surely you will not deny me the freedom of my thoughts and memories and fond feelings. Would you make me less than a man?"
"No," said the Master, "but I will ask you to choose between your old home and your new home now. The house in which you lived formerly is become our enemy--a nest of brigands and bloody men. They have killed a child of ours on the highway. They threaten us to-night with an attack in force. Tell me plainly where you stand."
The Guest looked down his nose toward the smouldering embers of the fire. He knocked out the dottle of his pipe on one of the andirons. Two fat tears rolled down his cheeks; he was very sentimental.
"I am with you," he said.
"Good," said the Master, "now let us make the house fast!" [Illustration with caption: 'I will ask you to choose between your old home and your new home now']
So they closed and barred the shutters and locked and bolted the front door.
Then they lighted their bedroom candles and bade each other good night.
But as the Guest went along his dim corridor, the Master turned and followed him very softly on tiptoe, watching.
Outside the house, in the darkness, there was a sound of many shuffling feet and whispering voices.
When the Guest came to the side door he tried the latch, to see that it was working freely. He moved the bolt, not forward into its socket, but backward so that it should be no hindrance. In the window beside the doorway he set his candle. So the house was ready for late-comers.
Then the Guest sighed a little. "They are my old friends," he murmured, "my dear old friends! I could not leave them out in the cold. I am not responsible for what they do. Only I must my old affection prove." So he sighed again and turned softly to his bed.
But as he turned the Master stood before him and took him by the throat.
"Traitor!" he cried. "You would betray the innocent. Already your soul is stained with my sleeping children's blood." And with his hands he choked the false Guest to death.
Then he shot the bolt of the side door, and barred the window, and called the servants, and made ready to defend the house.
Great was the fighting that night. In the morning, when the robbers were driven off, the false Guest was buried, outside the garden, in an unmarked grave.
February 2, 1918.
Return to the Henry van Dyke library , or . . . Read the next short story; The Unruly Sprite