THE TALE OF THE LOST LAND
CHAPTER 29: THE SMALLPOX HUT
When we arrived at that hut at mid-afternoon, we saw no signs
of life about it. The field near by had been denuded of its crop
some time before, and had a skinned look, so exhaustively had
it been harvested and gleaned. Fences, sheds, everything had a
ruined look, and were eloquent of poverty. No animal was around
anywhere, no living thing in sight. The stillness was awful, it
was like the stillness of death. The cabin was a one-story one,
whose thatch was black with age, and ragged from lack of repair.
The door stood a trifle ajar. We approached it stealthily--on tiptoe
and at half-breath--for that is the way one's feeling makes him do,
at such a time. The king knocked. We waited. No answer. Knocked
again. No answer. I pushed the door softly open and looked in.
I made out some dim forms, and a woman started up from the ground
and stared at me, as one does who is wakened from sleep. Presently
she found her voice:
"Have mercy!" she pleaded. "All is taken, nothing is left."
"I have not come to take anything, poor woman."
"You are not a priest?"
"Nor come not from the lord of the manor?"
"No, I am a stranger."
"Oh, then, for the fear of God, who visits with misery and death
such as be harmless, tarry not here, but fly! This place is under
his curse--and his Church's."
"Let me come in and help you--you are sick and in trouble."
I was better used to the dim light now. I could see her hollow
eyes fixed upon me. I could see how emaciated she was.
"I tell you the place is under the Church's ban. Save yourself--
and go, before some straggler see thee here, and report it."