The white winding road twisted like a serpent among the firs that stretched their bent boughs in mute supplication towards it. Silence was heavy on the Alpine world: only the distant sound of tinkling bells breaking it softly at whiles, then, muffled by the distance, their joyous peal died away. The two who stood on the rocky ledge leaning out towards the lake were motionless; a blaze of glory filled the western sky, whilst amber and yellow and pale rose clouds floated towards the unknown lands that lay beyond the sunset. Then the woman turned slowly, her eyes full of the wonderful light from the fading sunset, and held out her hands.
“Good-bye, William,” she said, a tremor breaking her voice. “We will say goodbye here. This . . . this month has been very happy. I shall be leaving early in the morning. It will be better to say good-bye now.”
“Nonsense, Clare,” he cried, his eyes flashing. “You do not mean this. Of course, you cannot. Last night you said you loved me, you returned my kisses, and now you tell me you will not marry me. What does it mean?”
She waited for a minute, her face turned away, and he saw her shiver slightly. A great cloud was hanging over the lake, a cloud like blue steel, pitiless, and with darkening pinions it shadowed the water that had been golden but a few minutes before. The rose and crimson of the west melted almost imperceptibly into purple and grey, and when the woman turned again he saw there were tears in her eyes.
“I cannot explain,” she cried; but he seized her hands and kissed them.
“Were you playing with me, Clare?” he cried. “Was it nothing with you after all?”
The next moment he knew his suspicions were wrong, for her mouth quivered, and her face seemed set in misery.
“It is because I love you William, that I will not marry you,” she cried, freeing her hands. “It is because I love you so much that I will not harm you.”
“What do you mean?” he cried. “What is it?”
“Do you remember the little chalet where we stopped last week and drank milk, the day the Robinsons were with us?” she asked.
“Do you remember the little rosy-cheeked child who carried in the glasses, and who smiled at us there?” she pursued, and again he nodded.
“That child died yesterday,” she said solemnly.
“But what has that to do with us, dearest?” he cried and she smiled in so sad a fashion he felt vaguely her heart was weeping even then.
“I have the Evil Eye,” she murmured, looking away from him. “All children that I look upon die. So that is why I will not marry you William, lest I bring death to you and yours.”
“Nonsense, Clare,” he cried, taking her hands again. “To hear you talk one might think you were a witch instead of a sensible Englishwoman.”
“My mother believed it so,” she whispered.
“That explains it, I daresay,” he cried cheerfully. “No doubt you had a superstitious nursemaid. Things happen, but, my dear, a malign influence such as the Evil Eye does not exist. You are silly, dear one, very silly, that is all; but you are going to marry me and not let this trouble you again.”
Although she shivered once more, this time she faced him resolutely.
“Oh let me tell you,” she cried. “It is true, but it will do me good to speak the hateful thing. It began when I was about ten. I had no brothers or sisters until a little brother was born to the delight of my parents, and the joy of myself. One day they let me nurse him, and oh, how proud I was, and how I loved him! I looked long and earnestly on his baby face …but he sickened, and died within an hour.”
She looked up at him piteously, but he smiled.
“But Clare,” he said, “babies often die when ——”
“There was a neighbour’s child, too,” she said, “a child with whom I used to play …but she died …. and there have been others.”
“Oh, dearest,” he cried, “do not think you can frighten me like this. You are foolish, dear heart. This superstitious notion has unnerved you. When we are married you will laugh at it as I do now.”
“There is little Jack,’ she whispered, and she bent and kissed him.
“Yes there is little Jack,” he repeated, “but he wants a mother badly, Clare. Won’t you look after us both?”
“He …he is a child,” she faltered, “and it is children that I harm.”
“Oh, Clare,” he said, “I will risk everything, even if there is such a thing as ——”
* * * * *
The room was very still, so still that a golden sunbeam creeping through the lowered blinds seemed something that had no place in its silence, and the woman who knelt beside the bed rose slowly and pulled the venetians closer, then knelt again, her lips moving. Great lilies scented the air with their sweetness, one waxen blossom almost touching the cheeks of the dead boy; and as the room opened and her husband entered, Clare Mordount started with a little cry. Since that terrible moment two days ago when they had carried the boy in, dead, from the hayfield, she had not seen William. He had resolutely shut himself away, refusing to see anyone, and although they said a runaway horse with a mowing machine was the cause of little Jack’s death, Clare felt that at last he knew, that he believed in the Eye, and that he hated her.
She put up her hands instinctively as she rose, but the piteous gesture did not appeal to the stern-faced man, whose own eyes were full of anguish. She felt sure he ascribed his grief to her evil influence, that he regretted his foolhardiness in marrying her, and as she stole from the room a terrible resolve filled her mind. Her own child should not look into its mother’s eyes to find death waiting for it when it came.
That night she stole quietly from the house, returning once to the room where the dead boy lay, and here she held out her hands.
“Oh, Jack, little Jack,” she cried, “I love him, and I am afraid. I only bring evil to those I love. But I will save my own child.”
It was not till little Jack had been buried a week that William Mordount realised what she had done. At first he thought it a passing whim: the servants were told she was visiting, but when the week grew into a month, and the month into two, his heart took alarm. The note she left behind her told him nothing. She said that for the sake of the child that would be theirs she was going away, and warned him not to try to find her. That was all. Knowing her superstitious nature well, knowing, too, her love for the Alps where they had met, his heart led him to the village where he had first seen her, though here for a time he could discover no clue.
Then one day when the rime fell in silver flakes, when the sleigh-bells tinkled merrily and the withered beech leaves shone transfigured as the sunset turned them to gold, he suddenly came upon her, in company with a white-capped Sister of Mercy carrying a child.
“Clare,” he cried and held out his arms.
He saw her mouth quiver, he saw her form tremble, but she did not take his hands, and there was a look about her that was different, something he did not understand.
“Clare,” he cried, “can’t you forgive me, please?”
She put out her hands. He seized them, and heedless of the wondering Sister, drew her to him, gazing tenderly into her face.
“You have been crying,” he said as he kissed her. “Your eyes do not look the same.”
“I am blind,” she said with a soft laugh that broke into a sob. I have the curse no longer. I …I would not kill our child as I did little Jack.”
“Hush!” he exclaimed in a horrified tone. “You …you have done this?”
“It was not so hard,” she cried, turning her sightless eyes upon him, her mouth tender. “It was not so hard when I loved you.”
The white-capped Sister moved nearer, a wondering look in her eyes.
“Ah, it is the child’s father,” she cried, as William held out his arms, and she placed his son in them. “They have much need of you now.”
“Tell me, William,” cried his wife as she leaned toward him, “are baby’s eyes like mine? I have always been afraid to ask.”
“They are blue, like mine,” he said as he looked towards the Sister, who shook her head piteously, for he had guessed the truth. The baby was blind.