The Tree of Heaven

by Robert W. Chambers

Loungers and passengers on Wildwood station drew back from the platform's edge as the towering locomotive shot by them, stunning their ears with the clangor of its melancholy bell. 

Slower, slower glided the dusty train, then stopped, jolting; eddying circles of humanity closed around the cars, through which descending passengers pushed. 

"Wildwood! Wildwood!" cried the trainmen; trunks tumbling out of the forward car descended with a bang!—a yelping, wagging setter dog landed on the platform, hysterically grateful to be free; and at the same moment a young fellow in tweed shooting clothes, carrying gripsack and gun case, made his way forward toward the baggage master, who was being jerked all over the platform by the frantic dog. 

"Much obliged; I'll take the dog," he said, slipping a bit of silver into the official's hand, and receiving the dog's chain in return. 

"Hope you'll have good sport," replied the baggage master. "There's a lot o' birds in this country, they tell me. You've got a good dog there." 

The young man smiled and nodded, released the chain from his dog's collar, and started off up the dusty village street, followed by an urchin carrying his luggage. 

The landlord of the Wildwood Inn stood on the veranda, prepared to receive guests. When a young man, a white setter dog, and a small boy loomed up, his speculative eyes became suffused with benevolence. 

"How-de-so, sir?" he said cordially. "Guess you was with us three year since—stayed to supper. Ain't that so?" 

"It certainly is," said his guest cheerfully. "I am surprised that you remember me." 

"Be ye?" rejoined the landlord, gratified. "Say! I can tell the name of every man, woman, an child that has ever set down to eat with us. You was here with a pair o' red bird dawgs; shot a mess o' birds before dark, come back pegged out, an' took the ten-thirty to Noo York. Hey? Yaas, an' you was cussin' round because you couldn't stay an' shoot for a month." 

"I had to work hard in those days," laughed the young man. "You are right; it was three years ago this month." 

"Time's a flyer; it's fitted with triple screws these days," said the landlord. "Come right in an'
make yourself to home. Ed! O Ed! Take this bag to 13! We're all full, sir. You ain't scared at No. 

13, be ye? Say! if I ain't a liar you had 13 three years ago! Waal, now!—ain't that the dumbdest— But you can have what you want Monday. How long was you calkerlatin' to stay?"."A month—if the shooting is good."

"It's all right. Orrin Plummet come in last night with a mess o pa'tridges. He says the woodcock is droppin' in to the birches south o' Sweetbrier Hill." 

The young man nodded, and began to remove his gun from the service-worn case of sole leather. 

"Ain't startin' right off, be ye?" inquired his host, laughing. 

"I can't begin too quickly," said the young man, busy locking barrels to stock, while the dog looked on, thumping the veranda floor with his plumy tail. 

The landlord admired the slim, polished weapon. "That's the instrooment!" he observed. "That there's a slick bird dawg, too. Guess I'd better fill my ice box. Your limit's thirty of each—cock an' parridge. After that there's ducks." 

"It's a good, sane law," said the young man, dropping his gun under one arm. 

The landlord scratched his ear reflectively. "Lemme see," he mused; "wasn't you a doctor? I heard tell that you made up pieces for the papers about the idjits an' loonyticks of Rome an'
Roosia an' furrin climes." 

"I have written a little on European and Asiatic insanity," replied the doctor good-humoredly. 

"Was you over to them parts?" 

"For three years." He whistled the dog in from the road, where several yellow curs were walking round and round him, every hair on end. 

The landlord said: "You look a little peaked yourself. Take it easy the fust, is my advice." 

His guest nodded abstractedly, lingering on the veranda, preoccupied with the beauty of the village street, which stretched away westward under tall elms. Autumn-tinted hills closed the vista; beyond them spread the blue sky. 

"The cemetery lies that way, does it not?" inquired the young man. 

"Straight ahead," said the landlord. "Take the road to the Holler." 

"Do you"—the doctor hesitated—"do you recall a funeral there three years ago?" 

"Whose?" asked his host bluntly. 

"I don't know." 

"I'll ask my woman; she saves them funeral pieces an' makes a album." 

"Friend o' yours buried there?" 


The landlord sauntered toward the barroom, where two fellow taxpayers stood shuffling their feet impatiently. 

"Waal, good luck, Doc," he said, without intentional offense; "supper's at six. We'll try an'
make you comfortable." 

"Thank you," replied the doctor, stepping out into the road, and motioning the white setter to heel. 

"I remember now," he muttered, as he turned northward, where the road forked; "the cemetery lies to the westward; there should be a lane at the next turning—" 

He hesitated and stopped, then resumed his course, mumbling to himself: "I can pass the cemetery later; she would not be there; I don't think I shall ever see her again. . . . I—I wonder whether I am—perfectly—well—" 

The words were suddenly lost in a sharp indrawn breath; his heart ceased beating, fluttered, then throbbed on violently; and he shook from head to foot. 

There was a glimmer of a summer gown under the trees; a figure passed from shadow to sunshine, and again into the cool dusk of a leafy lane.

The pallor of the young fellow's face changed; a heavy flush spread from forehead to neck; he strode forward, dazed, deafened by the tumult of his drumming pulses. The dog, alert, suspicious, led the way, wheeling into the bramble-bordered lane, only to halt, turn back, and fall in behind his master again. 

In the lane ahead the light summer gown fluttered under the foliage, bright in the sunlight, almost lost in the shadows. Then he saw her on the hill's breezy crest, poised for a moment against the sky. 

When at length he reached the hill, he found her seated in the shade of a pine. She looked up serenely, as though she had expected him, and they faced each other. A moment later his dog left him, sneaking away without a sound. 

When he strove to speak, his voice had an unknown tone to him. Her upturned face was his only answer. The breeze in the pinetops, which had been stirring lazily and monotonously, ceased. 

* * *

Go to Next Chapter.....
. . .
. . Copyright © 1998, 2002 Miskatonic University Press / yankeeclassic.com, all rights reserved