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One

Rosalie stood in the kitchen doorway, her feet upon the thres­hold—truly for her the threshold—and looked about her, first at the grey grumbling sea, and then at the blue-green, sinister spruce forest. The cleared land was only a narrow strip between these two, though men had been there for a long time, for the soil was thin and sprinkled with granite boulders and quite unfitted for cultiva­tion. As a child she had always felt relief when the in-shore wind brought the fog-to blot out forest and sea, both indifferent to man, always sullen at his conquest. She had on a blue wool beret, a warm blue woollen dress, woollen stockings and stout brown walking shoes. In her hand she had a small deep basket that Jo Charles had woven for her out of coloured maple strips, and for a little while she stood poised on her threshold, smiling rather sadly and quizzically at Her­cule, her young husband, who was splitting wood in the yard.

Hercule saw her smile, felt a thrill of pleasure run up and down his spine, and almost dropped his axe to run and embrace her. But it happened that he had balanced on his chopping-block a fine chunk of beech wood, a fat chunk free from knots such as is the wood-chopper’s delight. He would show Rosalie how strong he was, how skillful with the axe, and night would soon come; he meant to slab all around the edges with quick shrewd strokes, a red and white slab cracked off with each stroke, and then to split it fair through the middle with one final giant blow. He was a simple man, a fisherman who found pleasure in simple things. He liked the smell of fresh split wood, of birch and beech even better than spruce or pine. He liked his woodpile, stacked in a circle, a towering cone in the centre. And he had a great passion for Rosalie. He could hardly wait for night to come to take her in his strong arms. Hercule chopped off the beech blocks with flashing strokes and sent the two halves flying with a blow in dead centre. Then he looked up to win Rosalie’s approving smile, but Rosalie was no longer in the doorway.

Remembering the basket in her hand, he thought: “She is hidden by my woodpile, she is gone to pick up kindling chips where I have been hewing the new sill for the barn.” But he was wrong for he never saw Rosalie again. She had vanished as if caught up and translated to Heaven. He continued to split wood until the early dusk drew in—for it was late September—then cleaned his axe, put it away in the woodshed and went into the house to get his supper. Rosalie was not there, no lamp was lit and the kitchen fire burned low. He looked in the front room and called up the stairway. There was no answer. He crossed the field to his neighbor where Rosalie sometimes visited. She was not there and they had seen nothing of her. He ran back to the place where he had been hewing the sill. No chips had been taken from the pile. There was no print of woman’s shoes. He ran up the cow track into the back pasture, and stumbled through patches of blueberry bushes, now reddened by the frost, shouting: “Rosalie! Rosalie!” There was no answer. He turned and crossing the highway dashed down to the seashore, for often in fine weather Rosalie sat there on a kelp-dried rock to look across the sea, and shouted: “Rosalie! Rosalie!” There was no answer, no trace of her, only the grey sea, always glad at man’s disaster, grumbled and sneered at him. Then Hercule was truly frightened, and in panic he ran from house to house along the highway, giving word that Rosalie was lost.

The men turned out with lanterns, and searched the shore and the fringes of the forest. They blew horns, lit fires, and shouted “Rosalie,” and were answered by nothing but echoes. About nine that night, after a heavy shower that spoiled the scent for dogs, the full moon came up round and yellow, and shed her silver light into every glade and clearing, and on the restless waves of the sea. But the moonlight did not aid them. Diana was not on their side. Till dawn they searched and shouted and found and heard nothing. For three weeks they searched seashore and forest. With dogs and skilled half-breed woodsmen, they dragged lake and pond and river and nearby sea. They interrogated every traveller and notified the Mounted Police in the county town. But they found no trace of Rosalie, no shred of her clothing, no fragment of her basket. Nor did anyone in that district ever know what happened to Rosalie. She became a legend, an oft-repeated tale before the winter’s fire.

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One by Dalhousie University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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