Ked's Hands


"Ked's Hand" first published in Harper's, September 1917.

It is called Ked's Hand, and it is not unlike a hand in shape, with the knuckle of the sandy thumb raised a little to bear the weight of Huddlestone Light, the fingers pressed together, stretching to the east, and a slender, woman's wrist holding it to the land. People live somewhere in the peninsula, though one would not guess it to look across from Huddlestone, and the mainland folks seem to know little about it, lumping the inhabitants in general as "Ked's" when they mention them. Inbreeding did it, they say; that is all, and that is enough.

At no place except at the Light does the land lift many feet above the tides. It is veined with salt water and rotten with marsh and quicksand. Fogs oppess it, resting motionless to the headland. In season there is a droning sound, continuous from dawn to dawn, of mosquitoes. Nothing else breaks the silence; there are never any breakers, for there are no edges. The land fades out in a penumbra of reeds and grasses---not so much like a hand as like the shadow of a hand held under a diffused light.

Duck-hunters go there in the late fall. In the summer, save for the strip of white beach along the pad of the thumb, the place remains remote and sufficient to itself, a mysterious wraith, never really seen from the main except on occasional moonlit nights, when it seems to emerge from its fogs and gleam with a phosphorescent pallor among its lagoons---Ked's Hand.

To-night a party of people from "The Willows" at Huddlestone were having a corn-roast on the pad of the thumb. Some of them, with children, were to return on an early launch, and the rest were to remain and see the eclipse of the moon at ten or thereabouts. They had built a fire, laying two timbers of a wrecked ship near together and piling smaller driftwood all along between them, so that it made a miniature street of living coals and gave every one a chance with his corn or bacon. From a long way off in the darkness, the moving, flame-colored figures mad a composition spectacular and intimate.

Gaspard Kroon, the Gipsy Tenor, was in the center of the farther line where the light was brightest. That was like him. He carried the burden of the gaiety; he was brilliant, electric, full of gesture, drawing in to himself all the tangled threads of interest. He drained himself. On his swarthy, razor-sharp face tiny rad beads of perspiration came out and evaporated in the heat.

Gaspard Kroon was the new man. That was what he called himself, in fact---"the New Man." He had nothing behind him---no history, no moral liabilities, no sense of race; two years ago this evening he had not been able to write or read his own name, and therefore he could win the world.

Hoff had discovered him. Hoff was there, to the left, being quite himself, and tearing at an ear of corn with his wide teeth. Lydia Klein, the editor, was there---and others. Gaspard carried them along. One wondered if he liked them.

Marcia More hated them just now. She sat on the sand a little way off in the shadows, taking no part. Her hands were clasped about her knees. An occasional crab scuttled past her in the dark, but she did not mind.

It would have seemed possible to only one or two people, her oldest friends, that she could hate any one. She had been through the mill of emotion and come out wearing a blank. Her face was like the face of a mountain lake, giving back what it received. Only Gaspard, of all the later people, knew anything about her, and this was because she loved him.

They had been married half a year now. She had wanted him to come down to Huddlestone because nobody knew about the place, and there they all were, after a week, hounds on a warm trail. She felt them tearing at his willing vitality. She knew something about life and about achievement, and she had dreamed of an old and solid house somewhere, buried deep in the country---quiet, brooding, a sanctuary. Gaspard needed that if he was to endure.

She heard his voice, calling: "Marcia! Oh, Marcia! Where are you?"

Rising, she moved forward and stopped just at the edge of the firelight. He came to her, stepping over children with his long, nervous legs, an expression of sudden sobriety on his face.

"I'm afraid you're not having a good time," he said.

"Oh, yes. Don't worry about me, dear. I'm quiet."

She turned back slowly to the night, taking him with her.

"You're always quiet," he said. They sat down own the beach with the tranquil water lapping near their feet. He broke out after a moment, as if he could not endure the silence: "Marcia, this place is queer. It's worse than queer; it's horrible. It makes a drumming in my ears. The air's heavy."

She laid a hand on one of his. "See the stars there in the water, Gaspard; every one of them perfectly still and round. It's as if we were hanging between two skies."

"Yes, and look at the mist creeping over the marsh there beyond. My skin prickles, Marcia. I have dreams like this sometimes, awful dreams, where everything is heavy, and the air like lead, and my skin prickles. I'm afraid of this place. They say at the hotel that it's called 'Ked's Hand.' Well, what if the hand were to close up all of a sudden and hold us here forever, smothered? Will you look at that fog now, with the moon rising through it. How pale the stuff is! It doesn't move, and yet it comes toward us. It's something dead, Marcia. I hate dead things." He held in his hand a pointed stick, with which he had been toasting bacon. He waved it now with a gesture of nervousness. "Marcia, what does it make you want to do? Shriek? Or sleep?"

Marcia bent forward and sifted sand through her fingers. "Sleep's not so bad. Every one has to sleep from time to time."

"I don't. Why should I sleep? You---all of you---perhaps! You've been doing things for years, centuries, making things. But we! I!" He spoke with an extraordinary concentration, his lips baring his teeth, his eyes lowered, his nervous hands busy with the stick. "I haven't been doing things, making things! I'm new! I've been asleep in my people for centuries. Why should I sleep now? It's morning, Marcia. The day is ahead!"

Marcia leaned toward him, her palms pressed to her cheeks and her eyeballs pushing gently against their lids.

"What are you doing?" she asked, in the precise and powerless voice of horror.

A crab lay on its back in the sand between Gaspard's knees, its belly gleaming with a moist pallor in the night. The pointed stick, indefatigably busy in Gaspard's hands, entered the belly, and creeping through the flesh and the nether shell, pursued its way into the sand. The creature's clasws, writhing, made a faint rustling sound.

"What are you doing?" she repeated in the same voice.

He leaped to his feet, leaving the creature pinioned. Marcia removed the stick and cast it into the water; then she, too, got up and stood with her eyes the other way, shivering a little.

"It has no feeling!" he said. He was blowing like a spent runner. "I hate things that have no feeling! I loathe things that have no feeling. … Come back to the fire! Please!"

She remained only a moment in the warm circle, for the early goers were getting their things together and some already straggling up across the sand-spit, laughter and the voices of drowsy children hanging behind them in the quiet air. Gaspard's face appeared at her shoulder, more than ever swarthy with the red of shame.

"I love you," he whispered. His eyes were on the hem of her skirt. "I'm sorry. Forgive me. It made me go kind of queer out there---in the dark."

She laid a hand on his damp head. Just now he was not the new man; he was more like a little boy in trouble, shame mingling wiht a wistful fear of things beyond him.

"Yes, yes," she murmured, and there was an extraordinary tenderness in it. "You're tited, Gaspard. Won't you come back to the hotel now? Some of them are going."

He was himself at that, waving his hands. "Oh, no, no, no! Lydia Klein is going to do a story for the papers. It will go all over the country. She wants to know endless things about me. I must!"

He kissed her hand with a passionate swiftness and was away, virile, romantic, clothed in the sanguine firelight.

Marcia turned and followed shadows up the sand. She was weary and inexpressibly troubled about life. At the crest, where the sand fell away again to the water and the thrumming launch, she stood irresolute between two fires---the boat on the one hand, crowded with noise and life and lights, red, yellow, and green, shining through striped canvas; on the other hand, the little globe of warmth which she had left. She could see Gaspard standing up in the core of it---it must be Gaspard. Remembering the faint agony of the crab's claws, she had a momentary and irrational vision of herself lying there, with a sharpened stick going through her, very slowly, and on into the sand, and Gaspard's rapt face hanging over her in the night, far away. She seemed to cry out, trying to warn him of what he did, but her voice would not touch him, and he did not understand till it was too late. Then she seemed to see him gasping fiercely at her: "You have not feeling! I loathe things that have no feeling!"

She was weak and sat down on the sand. In a kind of mist she perceived the launch moving off, its lights and voices diminishing across the glassy water. A sense of freedom, like a miracle, came over her. The launch thought she was at the fire, and the fire thought she was on the launch. For a moment out of life she was alone.

She gazed over a shoulder at Huddlestone Light, burning quietly in the dark. There was something abiding and incorruptible about that tranquil beacon, like a Christ saying, "Come unto me, all ye that are heavy-laden," and after a moment she went, walking through the heavy sand.

She passed the lighthouse, gazing up at the wind-polished clapboards. The soft night drew her on, and mist touched her brow with sweet fingers. It was no longer black on the lower levels, for the moon, heaving clear of the horizon, struck the vapors with a suave and ghostly radiance. The fetor of land long dead was in her nostrils---a rank, sweet smell, heavy with peace.

She was not going far, just a few steps. Then she would return and sit on the ridge till the others came across to take the boat. Just now it was something to be lost out of the world; to be for a moment, as it were, neither quick nor dead. Gaspard needed this. If she could but make him see. If she could but make him doubt himself, for a moment, and his inexhaustible fire.

A soft chill sprang over her foot, and when she glanced down she saw water gleaming between tufts of grass. She had come far enough. Turning around, she went back in the direction frum which she seemed to have come, moving in a close chamber of pearl. Strange reeds brushed her knees, and her feet were in water again. Something rustled away. This time she stood where she was for a moment, thinking, till a sense of the marsh's muddy lips sucking at her ankles made her withdraw to firmer ground. Mosquitoes, shaken from the reeds, wove the mist.

Of a sudden she lifted her voice, calling: "Gaspard! Gaspard!"

She had not meant to do that. Coming from her own throat, the cry appalled her. She asked herself what she was doing, and, folding her hands, she tried to remain relaxed and motionless. Mosquitoes dropped out of the air and settled on her hands and face and ankles.

"Gaspard!" she called again. "Gaspard! Gaspard!"

The sound was loud and sharp just about her, and then she felt it going up against the soft, impenetrable barrier of the fog. There were frogs somewhere, and the thing in the marsh near her was still rustling. She listened and listened, her head thrust forward and inclined slightly to one side, but all she could hear was the thing in the marsh and the frogs and the invisible mosquito millions singing to her nerves. After a little she seemed to be conscious of Gaspard's voice, far away and distinct: "What if the hand were to close up all of a sudden and hold us here forever, smothered!"

She heard, or rather felt, a gunshot, jarring the opaque air. It seemed to come from somewhere behind her back. She turned and went that way, and when she had gone twenty paces she was free of the fog, as though she had stepped out from behind the drop to take a call at the theater.

It was queer stuff, this fog on Ked's Hand. For no reason it was there, and it was not here. In a clearing, perhaps seventy yards across, filled with moonlight and ringed about with feathery cliffs of the mist, a man stood on the margin of an estuary, leaning on the muzzle of a shot-gun, his head sunken forward and his shoulders drooping together, as if he meditated.

He had a long, colorless beard, so thin that it vanished like a morning vapor when it passed against the moon's reflection on the water. His eyes were light, prominent, and half blind, but his ears caught Marcia's footfalls twenty yards away. He turned to fix her with his lusterless regard.

Her pace slackened. Folding her hands, she pressed the palms tight together. It was years since she had known stage-fright, yet this was like it now, except that the horror was deeper and that there was no reason at all for it. What was she to say to this composed and ghostly figure? How was she to break the silence of this place? Seconds passed.

"I'm---lost," she managed after a time.

The man nodded his head slowly, seeming to think about what she had said. Then his eyes turned back across the water and he shifted the gun into the crook of his arm.

"There's a boy drownded here," he told her, in a high, lost voice. "They found his hat right here where I'm standin'."

Marcia moved nearer, fascinated by the lambent serenity of the flood. In those depths there was nothing but the moon, round and cold. She felt the dreadful beauty of the place laying hold of her.

"I'm lost," she repeated, and again she had a sense that sound refused to travel in this air. "I---I was with a party."

"I'm waitin' for the body to rise," the man went on, wrapped in his own speculations. "They say if you shoot a gun acrost water it'll bring 'em up."

He lifted the gun to his shoulder and felt for the trigger, and the moon, coming out of the water, danced along the blue barrel.

Marcia raised a hand in supplication, but her voice seemed to have gone away. She found herself staring at the water and waiting, watching, cringing. Her pain grew deeper as the silence continued.

The man lowered his gun. "I forgot to put in another load," he muttered. Fumbling his pockets, he brought out a fresh shell and slipped it into the chamber. Then, as though he had forgotten what he was about, he leaned an arm on the weapon's muzzle and brooded out across the lagoon.

"It's my boy Sim," he said. "He was a good boy. Black, curly hair. They found his hat right here where I'm standin'. Sometimes it seems years since yeste'day when it happened."

His skin was the color of old ivory in the moonlight, and his drooping, bloodless lips twiitched at the corners with an ordered rhythm, like a pulse. Instead of pity, Marcia was filled with an uneasy dread. The man's bereavement was somehow monstrous, ghastly dispassionate; there was no feeling, no reality. Growing angry, she grasped his arm to shake it, and then her hand dropped away again, for it was as though her fingers had closed on a naked bone beneath the cloth of the sleeve. He looked at her with his vacant eyes, opaque in the serene illumination.

"What--- Who are you?" she gasped.

He answered in a narrative tone, as flat and stale as the marsh.

"I'm Godsend Ked. Old one, that is. Young Godsend is brother to that one, y'u understand, under the water there. He's …"

"I don't want to know!" she cried. "I want to go back to the others. Right away, please! Do you hear? I'll pay you---anything!"

The old man nodded slowly, as if turning it over in his mind, and then, presenting his back to her, moved off along the margin of the water, without a word. Marcia would have said that they ought to go in the opposite direction, and misgiving followed her all the way across the crystal space. But when the fog had swallowed up the moon and mad Old Ked a living blur, she forgot this in the need for keeping track of him, for she did not want to be alone again on Ked's Hand. She did lose him once or twice in the glittering pall, and then she ran, tripping through angled reeds, to see him.

She had no way of knowing how far they went. Sand, rushes, mat of wild cranberry, passed through the dim circle of vision underfoot. Once there was a bridge of twin logs with bits of plank fastened crosswise and a ditch of water shining beneath like the face of a black pearl. Silence oppressed her, and yet she was afraid to raise her voice for fear of hearing his again. He was leading her---where? She had told him she was with a party; now it came to her of a sudden that he had not asked her where the party was.

"Listen!" she cried, catching up to pluck his shoulder. "Listen! Please!"

Her voice startled him and he shrank away from her touch. When he turned his eyes over a shoulder she saw by their dull amazement that he had forgotten she was there. She stood still with her hands pressed to her cheeks while he went on and merged with the veil. Dimly she heard his footfalls receding, a soft pad, pad, pad; then he seemed to be getting over something, for there was a sound of grunting, a senile complaint, and the ring of gunstock striking wood.

A light, stronger than the moon, was in the mist; the mist itself rocked with a strange wind, and Marcia's ears were deafened. She put her hands over them.

"He shot the gun," she told herself. It was simple. He had shot the gun. She tried to laugh. She was shivering all over.

Taking her hands away, she listened and heard nothing, not even the pad, pad of his boots. She moved forward, curiously blind, groping the mist with outstretched arms. Her hands found the top rail of a fence, gray and polished like satin, and resting her weight against it, she peered at the ground beyond---and the human wreckage cast down there, dim, misshapen, eloquent of disaster. She crossed her arms on the rail and buried her face in them, and after a moment a sound came out of her throat.

She heard a voice from beyond the fence, by and by, questioning, impatient.

"What's the ruction there? Who is it? What's wrong? Say!"

She pointed without uncovering her eyes. Hearing no further sound, and sensing that the owner of the voice came toward her, she looked up presently to find him standing with his elbow on the fence and his eyes studying the dim catastrophe. She fell back a step, shaken.


Turning his head, the man regarded her suspiciously from under the shadow of his slouch hat. "Gaspard? Gaspard who?"

"Oh!" Marcia's hand went to her throat. It was all so queer that she wanted to laugh, even in the presence of death. "Oh, I---I---You're very like--- For a moment, I thought---"

"I was Gaspard? Don't know 'im. My name's Ked. Godsend Ked. That's my father there---what's left."

It was like a dream, where nothing counted; his words ran in with the velvet pallor of the night, engrossed, passionless, like a sound of claws, it seemed to Marcia, rustling over sand. She remembered Gaspard and his sharpened stick, and now she almost understood.

"What happened?" she heard the other asking, in the same sluggard voice. "How'd he come to blow 'imself that way? Or did you do it? Or what?"

That frightened her. "No, no---no! He was climbing the fence. He loaded the gun out there where his boy---you know--- He was shooting over the water out here, and---"


"Again?" Her wonder hung in the quiet air. She shook herself savagely. "I am sorry to obtrude; I hope you will understand, but I shall have to beg you to find me a guide. I have lost my party. I don't know my way; I am quite at the mercy of anything out here. I am willing to pay anything, in or out of reason---if you will only hurry---please."

The young one nodded thoughtfully as the old one had done. He picked up the shot-gun, examined it, and handed it to her, saying, "You'll have to carry this." The barrel was still warm in her palm. She kept her eyes on it while another burden was lifted from the ground, and then, getting between the bars, she followed, guided by a muffled and laborious breathing and bootsoles sucking in swampy turf.

A doorway of yellow light opened before her, framing the silhouette of the two Godsends, and after a moment she followed in, obedient to a word cast back.

The room was spacious, high-studded, done in an old faith of architecture. Discolored wainscoting paneled the lower walls, and above them the plaster was mottled as a shrike's egg with the dump of degenerating years. What little of furniture there was seemed broken, exquisite, and old. A lamp on a table of scarred Sheraton in the center gave out a brown light, smoked and feeble. Had it been a little feebler yet, one might have forgotten the decay and summoned up the ghosts of strong and beautiful people in that old chamber.

The people there in the flesh were neither strong nor beautiful. It was hard to say how many there were. Like the colorless things on the under side of a field-stone, the sought shadow, inhabiting corners, crowding in obscurity, careless of contact. Twitching, they made no sound. The head of a very old woman was to be seen, and beside it the head of a baby, both of them toothless, bald, the skin drawn taut over the framework gleaming in the high-lights; oddly identical heads, staring fixedly in the same direction.

Marcia, following the gaze, turned her eyes over her shoulder. The dead man lay on another table by the wall behind her back. She saw his boots and the worn trousers above them, flattening away from the keen ridges of his legbones. Queer things suggested themselves to her; she breathed an opiate in the rosy air, and for a moment, under the urge of all those rapt, converging eyes, she felt a desire to keep on turning her head till she came to the other end of the table, an eagerness, breathless and almost beyond control, to snatch a glimpse of what had happened when the gun went off in the mist out of doors.

She got herself straight with an effort that left her weak and shivering and conscious of personal filth. She appealed: "Please! Somebody! I wish to go!"

The younger Godsend came toward her out of the populous shadows, carrying a bottle and a teacup.

"I'm goin' to take you," he said, with a strain of petulance. "Only you better have a mite o' this first. You're white."

He took off his hat, endowing himself with a survival of gentility, somehow shocking. Marcia pushed away the cup. Moved by some thought or emotion too diaphanous for expression, the man stared into it for a moment; then, lifting it to his lips, swallowed the shot and put down the cup and the bottle beside the lamp.

He was ready to go, but he lingered there for a moment, leaning on his hands and letting his eyes drift away to the other table beside the wall. Marcia waited until the moment lengthened into many, her attention fastened upon the face hanging in the sulfur light, grayish brown, worn like a blade by blood turned back too many times upon itself, curiously dead, and as curiously alive with a still, insidious nervousness. He was as like the old woman as she was like the baby, and they were all as like as eggs in a nest.

He seemed to be giving himself up. Once he moved, but it was only to sink down into a chair with his arms spread on the table. His eyes, like the rest, kindled with a slow and exotic animation. The breath of the marsh dwelt in the room. Mosquitoes came in at the door, wound in the air, invisible, or dropped out of it to sting. A clock ticked slowly behind Marcia's back, so slowly that it seemed ten seconds elapsed between the successive beats. The old woman was speaking in a rapt and weightless voice:

"I 'member. I 'member. 'Twas my own gran'father, Abner Ked. And he come ashore in his dory that time with his mate's co'pse. I 'member. I 'member."

Once, when playing the Southern States, Marcia More had been taken to a negro camp-meeting, and she recalled a moment when something seemed to break in the air, the lights dimmed, a raptured horror smote black faces, and the shadows of the devils of the jungle tiptoed through the pack, shaking them like a reed….

"He'd been adrift two weeks, and he'd eat off one o' the legs, Abner did. He'd eat off one o' Martin Ked's legs. Did I say 'twas the right one…?"

They were shaken like a reed. Their blood beat all with one pulse and shadow knit them together. Behind Marcia's back the clock ticked on, more slowly.

Something was busy in her brain now, irrational, untiring, putting away obstacles, leading her along blind passages and through impenetrable walls, till she stood on the floor of a dream and heard her own voice, as a stranger's, pleading with the man at the table:

"Gaspard! Why are you doing it? Gaspard, dear, what is the use? What are you driving at? Why do you take all this trouble, Gaspard? What do you want to show me, and who are all---these? And why do you look that way?"

The man turned on her, wincing, and all about him in the room she had a sense of things falling to pieces. Something was shattered; an exquisite balance had been destroyed. Faces confronted her from the dusk, masks twitching with a raw and ineffectual anger, like the faces of devotees robbed of their drug by a sudden hand.

She rubbed her eyes. "What am I saying? Why do you look so like Gaspard? She stretched out her hands, beseeching. "You promised! You promised! You wouldn't go back on your promise. Some one will take me!"

His eyes were clouded and as frightened as her own. She fawned on him.

"Please! Now! I'll tell you where they are, my people, and you'll take me right away. They're near the place where your father was---you know---where he went to shoot over the water---"

Her voice trailed off. And now a new thing, taking shape in the back of her mind, drove her on inexorably. "You remember you said, 'Agian?' when I told you that out there? Why did you say---'Again?' What made you say it---'Again?'---like that?"

"He was always doin' it, that's why."

"Always? What do you mean? Why do you talk like a crazy person? The boy was drowned yesterday."

"It's you that's crazy here. He was twins with me, and that was twenty year---nearer twenty-five---ago."

Marcia took hold of the edge of the table. "But he was drowned, you know! He was---dead!"

"Some says---"

"But they found his hat!"

"Some says---"

"But--- But---"

"Some says there was gipsies about…. Why?"

"Nothing! Nothing, nothing! You believe me, don't you? Nothing!"

She was consumed by the necessity for making him understand that she meant nothing, and she was conscious of a kind of triumph when his eyes wandered away from hers and back to the table beside the wall.

Time went on, meted out by the lagging pulse of that clock behind her back. Her mind centered upon it, and she found herself awaiting the beat with an accountable tension.

The old woman's voice grew audible once more:

"I was on the beach that time, I was. I seen the stump, I did. The stump o' the dead one's leg. 'Twas dry, like a piece o' leather."

That was a queer clock. Its beat, now that she listened so closely, was not metallic, as a clock's beat should be. It was more like a fluid impact.

"Dry as leather. He'd been adrift two weeks, Abner Ked had, and he was thirsty---awful thirsty…"

It was more like something falling on the floor---drip, drip, drip. Marcia put her hands over her ears and fled….

Somehow or other she was out in the dark, and mist blew in her face and her feet were running. It was blind work, for there was no light at all now, not even enough to see her swinging hands or the earth passing under her feet. It seemed natural to her that the world should be black; it was natural, for the moon was in eclipse, though she failed to think of that. Reckless of where she fled, the guardian angel of the reckless saved her by miracles. She bruised herself on an invisible fence. Once she tripped and went down sprawling, her face in sedges. Once she found water rising about her knees, but instead of turning she floundered on and after a little the water shoaled again; gave place to mud, and then to turf. The moon came out a little from the earth's shadow, and a phantom light crept abroad.

There were voices, some far off, some nearer at hand, hallooing: "Marcia More! Marcia More!"

She wanted to answer them, but something seemed to break in her mind, and she began to sob and stumble. And, stumbling, she came upon Gaspard Kroon, motionless and mute in the fog, and buried her face in his hands.

"I'm glad you've come," she heard him saying. "They're hunting you. The launch-man said he hadn't seen you, and they thought you were lost. They're hunting you. Hear them?"

She would not understand. Instinctively, for the moment, she refused to make head or tail of it. But in the following silence, ruffled only by the distant hails of the searchers, wonder forced itself inexorably upon her, a formless uneasiness, changing to dread. Why was it they, and not he, who searched? Why was he, the soul of flame, become of a sudden so mindless, inert, and still, and why was she so cold?

"Tell them," she begged, with her face still hidden.

"Yes, yes. In a minute."

Somehow or other she knew that he was nodding his head with an assumption of deep sagacity, seeming to turn the matter over in his mind, and she knew what his face was like, for she had lately seen its mate.

He took his hands away and sat down on the turf, leaving her to crouch alone, staring at him. His wrists hung down between his knees and his eyes were open wide, brooding at nothing. He, too, seemed to be giving himself up to a seductive acquiescence.

"I've just found out what peace means," he told her, dreaming. Languor blurred his words. "Peace! Quiet! To let down and be nothing, and care about nothing. You were right."

She tried to close her eyes, for in the queer half-light it was not the face of the Gaspard she knew, but the face of the brother---the face of the man standing by the estuary, and of the old woman and the young baby, back there behind her in that chamber of degeneration. Mosquitoes settled upon it, but it gave no sign that it felt, save for an occasional twitching at the corners of the lips….She had a vision of a great, marsh-scarred hand curving and closing irresistibly, to claim its own.

"It would be nice to sleep here to-night, in the moonlit fog." His words drifted to her across a thousand miles.

When Hoff and the others heard Marcia's voice lifting in the mist, they turned and ran that way, spurred by a curious sensation of disaster, and found her with her husband, who seemed to be as lost as she. She was so glad to see them. She begged of them with a shaken and pathetic eagerness, "Please let's all go quickly!"

Once in the launch and free of the shore, the two sat close together in the stern. Gaspard seemed dazed and vaguely embarrassed, like a haunted boy. Marcia was weak as a babe, and as a babe she breathed of life. The engine's staccato thrumming was music; the wind of motion coming across clean water touched fire to her cheeks; the continuous, subdued conflict of voices, lights, and colors pulled her up. And she knew that they and she together must pull Gaspard up.

"What shall we do to-morrow?" she propounded, launching out desperately upon the future. "I'd like to go back to town. Would you?"

"Yes--- Yes. Town." He passed a hand accross his brow and turned his eyes astern. "That's a queer place back there."

"Yes queer enough. What of it? Places are queer." Her words were light, but her nails were gnawing in her palms. "You must forget it, Gaspar!" That last went on repeating itself over in her brain---"You must forget it---forget it---"

"I don't know what to make of it," he continued, uneasily. "It's somehow very horrible, and yet--- It's like a drink you hate the taste of, and yet want. Sitting there, for a moment---You know, Marcia, I--- Well---I can't say. What is it about Ked's Hand?"

"Nothing! Nothing! It's just queer, and you have to let it go at that, dear!" She saw him wince, and discovered that she was pinching his arm cruelly. "I know what it is," she shifted of a sudden. "It's simply that it's old and low and heavy there, and you happen to be just the other things." She must make him believe this now, passionately---for his soul, and especially hers, hung upon it. "You happen to be precisely the other things, Gaspard---new and high and raw and leaping! Can you see it now, Gaspard? That's night, back there, and you're morning. Eh?"

She had made him believe it. She had done more than make him believe it, perhaps; for by making him believe it, if there be any meat in faith, she had made it true.

"That's so," he murmured. He shook his shoulders, and color came back to his face. "That's so, Marcia. We wouldn't get along together, it and I, would we?"

Ked's Hand had become very faint now, no more than a pale ribbon stretched across the night, with a solitary star shining over it. Gaspard swept it all into the limbo of oblivion with one of his old, volcanic gestures.

"Come," he said. "Let's talk with everybody. Lydia Klein tells me I'm to be amazing this winter, and do astounding big things….Lydia! Oh, Lydia Klein! Marcia wants to hear!"

"Yes," said Marcia, "I do so want to hear."


facebook share button twitter share button reddit share button share on pinterest pinterest

Add Ked's Hands to your library.

Return to the Wilbur Daniel Steele library , or . . . Read the next short story; Luck

© 2022