Chapter 1

WhenatravellerinnorthcentralMassachusettstakesthewrongforkatthejunctionofAylesburypikejustbeyondDean’sCornershecomesuponalonelyandcuriouscountry.

Thegroundgetshigher,andthebrier-borderedstonewallspresscloserandcloseragainsttherutsofthedusty,curvingroad.Thetreesofthefrequentforestbeltsseemtoolarge,andthewildweeds,bramblesandgrassesattainaluxuriancenotoftenfoundinsettledregions.Atthesametimetheplantedfieldsappearsingularlyfewandbarren;whilethesparselyscatteredhouseswearasurprisinglyuniformaspectofage,squalor,anddilapidation.

Withoutknowingwhy,onehesitatestoaskdirectionsfromthegnarledsolitaryfiguresspiednowandthenoncrumblingdoorstepsoronthesloping,rock-strewnmeadows.Thosefiguresaresosilentandfurtivethatonefeelssomehowconfrontedbyforbiddenthings,withwhichitwouldbebettertohavenothingtodo.Whenariseintheroadbringsthemountainsinviewabovethedeepwoods,thefeelingofstrangeuneasinessisincreased.Thesummitsaretooroundedandsymmetricaltogiveasenseofcomfortandnaturalness,andsometimestheskysilhouetteswithespecialclearnessthequeercirclesoftallstonepillarswithwhichmostofthemarecrowned.

Gorgesandravinesofproblematicaldepthintersecttheway,andthecrudewoodenbridgesalwaysseemofdubioussafety.Whentheroaddipsagaintherearestretchesofmarshlandthatoneinstinctivelydislikes,andindeedalmostfearsateveningwhenunseenwhippoorwillschatterandthefirefliescomeoutinabnormalprofusiontodancetotheraucous,creepilyinsistentrhythmsofstridentlypipingbull-frogs.

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