The Traverse

Mr Greene precipitately pulled a pair of trousers and a fresh shirt on, stuck his night cap under the pillow and went down to reassure Mrs Inglis and give her some instructions about the rose garden in case he did not return until morning. In the parlour, he unhooked his coat, carefully adjusted his hat and picked up his carved rosewood and silver walking cane from the umbrella stand. Old James was pacing impatiently in the front yard when Mr Greene finally came out.

“We can’t be late, Sir. The Golden Knot is far and it is imperative that we reach it tonight.”

Mr Greene nodded with a sigh. The Golden Knot was owned by Robert, the only decent tailor and dress-maker that could be found in the region. Robert had turned the place into a neat atelier and shop.

Mr Greene threw a long last look at the sturdy Early Victorian style house of his ancestors. Its elegant, unique turret which sheltered his herbarium rose dreamily into the night sky. The crescent of a silver half moon lay tilted towards the turret and seemed to keep it company. Mr Greene could see the thin dark silhouette of Mrs Inglis standing at the oblong sash window of the parlour.

Mr Greene kept no horse or carriage for he had never felt the need to leave the house. Therefore, old James and Mr Greene left on foot. Mr Greene’s house was situated a mile and a half from the nearest village and he could not help thinking that for James, the distance must have been quite a stretch. To reach their destination, both men had to walk the road commonly known as The Traverse. When the house disappeared in the distance, our two travellers turned north and followed the narrow dust path that joined The Traverse to the south of H—. By daylight, it was a cool, shadowy place. At night, it was as ominous as Hell itself. The ground was covered in greenery and mossy boulders whose disturbed shadows crept up and down beneath the trees.

On its winding way to the small town of H—, The Traverse passed through the Dark Forest of H— and Mr Greene wondered how the superstitious James could have survived the walk on his own. The villagers from the region believed that a malevolent being had taken possession of the forest. When back from town with their herds, the shepherds would tell the strangest stories. One had stopped to rest for a while when thick veils of grey smoke had covered the ground and a group of beautiful golden-haired women, all dressed in white, had crossed the clearing as if floating several inches above the ground. Another had witnessed the apparition of a seven-headed monster which had seemed to rise from the white mist that had gathered above the moist grass. All disagreed on what the malevolent being was but all agreed on one point – there was something in the Dark Forest of H— and that something was not something good.

With all this in mind, a new idea slipped into Mr Greene’s mind. He could not help thinking that the Something that had bled on his writing desk must have had a great deal to do with the being of Dark Forest of H—. After all, the house was quite close to the forest. The fact that nothing and nobody was found after a thorough search of the house, spoke for itself. It must have hid in the forest. With these thoughts on his mind, Mr Greene followed his old acquaintance and hoped that Mr Mandeville’s findings at The Golden Knot were part of the mystery.

“Sir, hurry up, Sir!” Old James trotted hurriedly ahead while Mr Greene tried to keep up with the pace.

The Visitor

The day passed away as it had begun – in active scrubbing, cleaning, brushing and dusting of everything that was within reach of Mr Greene’s armchair and therefore susceptible of dripping blood on his writing desk. His inkstands were checked and every ink bottle was carefully wrapped in cloth. While Mrs Inglis polished the lamps and the candle-holders, Mr Greene went around the house. He inspected the ceiling of his study and the floor of the attic, looking for more bloody stains, for dead bodies and other strange occurrences. He found nothing of the sort and after shifting some dusty bags and two chairs covered in cobwebs from one side of the attic to the other, he sat down on one of them to think it all over again. In town, most people considered him the most learned man after the doctor and the priest. Therefore, he could not talk to anybody but these two. But how could he possibly tell them about the stain without being taken for a crazy old fool?

In the evening of that eventful day, Mr Greene retired early hoping for sound, dreamless sleep. His bedroom was situated on the second floor and its high French windows gave way on the garden. The evening was pleasant and the air fresh. Mr Greene arranged his slippers at the foot of the bed, propped up his pillows, put his nightcap on and slid under the fluffy covers. With a slow deep sigh, Mr Greene sipped his chamomile infusion and reflected on his day. The mysterious blood stain was still on his mind and its sudden appearance became the object of a thousand conjectures. What if the stain was a mere illusion? What if it was not real blood? What if Mrs Inglis and himself had just had a terrible fright because of something ordinary? Maybe it was a natural phenomenon. The possibility of the stain appearing again threw Mr Greene in a violent commotion. He wanted the stain out of his mind and wished it gone. The attempts to chase the stain out of his mind kept him awake until midnight but then, the fatigue had its say.

Mr Greene was already dozing off when a loud knocking downstairs threw him out of his pleasant slumber. Mr Greene sat up in bed and lit the orange tiffany lamp on his bedstead. This was too much. First the stain, now this. Meanwhile, someone had started banging violently on the front door. The clanging sound of the ring latches was so disturbing that it could have raised the dead. Soon, this was accompanied by shouting and what sounded like repetitive kicks at the wooden part of the heavy iron door. Muttering curses to himself, Mr Greene went down the stairs and looked through the peephole. Mrs Inglis had just risen and stood close behind him, her disheveled hair sticking on all sides from underneath her bonnet. A small man in a thick woolen coat paced impatiently outside. His gait was brisk and his movements swift for his age which was at least ninety.

“But… this can’t be! I know the man!” Mr Greene slid a large key into the lock and opened the door. “For God’s sake, James, what do you want with me at this hour?”

“Mr Edward, Sir,” said the old man and the wrinkles of his forehead deepened into heavy folds, “we don’t know what to do! We found something in Robert’s shop and he’s nowhere to be found. I came to fetch you.” The old man took his greasy chequered cap off and folded it nervously with both hands.

“Sir, Mr Mandeville, the doctor…” the old man paused.

“I know who Mr Mandeville is. What about him? Has something happened?”

“No, Sir, but he said you should come to town and lend him a hand. He said you were the man, Sir. That’s what he said… He’s the man, James. He’s the man.”

The Heir

Edward was the sole remaining heir of the Barrister Greene line. He was well-bred, good-tempered, educated and had perfectly good manners but was unlucky in love and never married. The years glided swiftly by and made him oblivious. One day, young Edward found himself an old bachelor. By the morning our story found him asleep in his chair, Mr Greene could barely remember the time when the fact that he had no family of his own had mattered to him. The only thing that could eventually lead him to regret his solitude was the absence of heirs to his estate. But Mr Greene was more absorbed in reading thick books and in working on the nature and properties of the yellow rose and the Scottish slate-blue thistle. These two plants were his two most recent obsessions and instead of indulging in gloomy thoughts about successions, heirs, testaments and deaths, Mr Greene preferred tending to the soil of his garden.

Edward was fond of solitude and retirement from his early childhood. He was educated to become the proud heir of a long line of dignitaries but his studies led him to a tremendous deception. He realised that human nature was by definition unstable, capricious and selfish, that benevolence and tolerance were less easy to find than ignorance and wrath, that good men and bad men alike made fickle friends, and that the ideal world he had imagined for himself was impracticable in the presence of large numbers of people. He, therefore, fled the world and spent most of his time around his house. During his long and lonesome life, Mr Greene amassed a certain knowledge of the world he had fled by studying it from a comfortable distance. Even though he was much disillusioned himself, he was nevertheless determined to use his knowledge and superior understanding for the betterment of his fellow men.

Mr Greene had been looking for an occasion to put this intention into practice for several months when, one morning, the gruesome stain of blood appeared on his writing desk. Naturally, Mr Greene experienced a fit of freezing panic at first. When he saw the blood on his fingers, he was alarmed, frightened, terrified, disgusted. He ran after Mrs Inglis to reassure her but also to set his own mind at rest. After he turned his back on the stain, Mr Greene found out that the reflexes of an old scholar gradually took over his panic. The feeling of immediate stiffening horror he had experienced in his study left him and he was able to persuade Mrs Inglis to follow him back to the house. To his great relief, she did follow him to his study and stood behind him while he reflected on his next move.

Surmounting his disgust, Mr Greene bent to examine the blood. It had started to darken and was thickening into large irregular clots. An asymmetrical dark burgundy red rim had formed all around it and Mr Greene realised that if he left the stain there, it would damage the polish of the writing desk. He felt the chilly fit of panic return in full force. Suddenly, Mrs Inglis hurried back downstairs and came back, carrying an iron bucket in one hand and a wet cloth in the other.

“We must clean it up, Mr. Greene, or it will ruin your father’s desk. Here, let me wipe it up.” Mr Green observed that Mrs Inglis had washed her face. Her hiccup had stopped and she appeared more determined than ever to wash, scrub and clean. Mr. Greene smiled a kind thank you and rapidly rummaged through the upper left drawer of the desk for the yellow silk polishing cloth. In less than a minute or two, the water in the bucket was murky red and the surface of the writing desk shone clean and clear.

Everything was as it had always been. Except that something was different, something Mr Greene could never suspect, something that was to force him out of his house and into the wide world in less than a fortnight.