The Spring-tide of Love
by Mrs. Egerton Eastwick
THE mists of the early twilight were falling, and
Elsa, the little girl who lived at the woodman's
cottage, was still far from home. She
had wandered out in the spring sunshine in search of
the bluebells and wild anemones with which the wood
abounded, for the child loved the company of the birds
and flowers better than the rough play of the boys
who were called her brothers.
The woodman and his wife said she was strange and
dreamy, full of curious fancies which they found it
hard to understand; but, then, they were not Elsa's
real parents, which might account for their difficulty.
They were kind to her, however, in their fashion, and
Elsa always tried to remember to obey them; but
sometimes she forgot. She had forgotten to-day—for
although the good wife had told her to remain near
the cottage, the eagerness of her search for the flowers
she loved had led her farther into the wood than she
had ever been before.
The sunlight disappeared, and the darkness seemed
to come quite suddenly under the thick branches of
the trees; the birds had chanted their last evening
song and gone to their nests—only a solitary thrush
sang loudly just overhead; Elsa thought it was warning
her to hurry homewards. She turned quickly,
taking as she thought the direction of the cottage; but
as she was barely seven years old, and felt a little
frightened, it is not surprising that she only plunged
deeper into the wood.
Now she found herself in the midst of a great
silence; the beautiful tracery of young green leaves
through which she had hitherto caught glimpses of
the sky had disappeared, and over her head stretched
only bare brown branches, between which she saw the
shining stars, clear as on a frosty winter's night. The
stars looked friendly, and she was glad to see them,
but it was growing dreadfully cold. The plucked
flowers withered and fell from her poor little numbed
hands, and she shivered in her thin cotton frock.
Ah! what would she not have given for a sight of
the open door and the fire in the woodman's cottage,
and a basin of warm bread and milk, even though it
was given with a scolding from the woodman's wife!
She struggled on, with her poor little tired feet, for
it seemed to her that the wood was growing thinner—perhaps
there might be a house hereabouts.
But, oh! how terribly cold. Now there was frost
upon the ground at her feet, frost upon dead leaves
and blades of grass, frost upon the bare tree branches.
The moon had risen, and she could see that all the
world around her was white and chill and dead.
Surely she had wandered back into the cruel bitter
winter, frost-bound and hard.
It was strange that she had strength to go on, but
she looked up at the stars, and thought that they were
guiding her. At length she came to the border of
the wood, and there stretched before her a wide, open
space, with only a few trees scattered here and there,
and through an opening of the trees the cold moon
shone down upon a white, silent house.
The house looked as dead and winter-bound as
everything else; but still it was a house, and Elsa
said to herself that surely some one must live in it.
So she thanked the friendly stars for leading her aright,
and with what remaining strength she had, dragged
her poor little numbed feet up the broad path or road
between the trees. At the end of the road an iron
gate hung open upon its hinges, and Elsa found herself
in what once had been a garden. Now the lawns
and flower-beds were all alike one blinding sheet of
ice and frozen snow.
But, oh, joy! there was the great white house, and
from one window shone a light, surely the light of a
fire. All the rest was dark. Up a flight of stone steps
the child dragged her weary feet, across a terrace that
had surely once been gay with flowers, until she stood
before a huge door, brown and black, except where
the frost gleamed, closed and barred with iron bars.
The great knocker hung high above her reach; but
with her poor little hands she beat against the woodwork.
Surely, if some one did not let her in soon, she
must fall down there and sleep and die upon the step.
But at the sound of her faint knocking there came
from within the deep baying of a hound, and Elsa
was terrified anew, but could not run away; then in a
few moments a heavy bar seemed to be withdrawn
and the great door opened slowly.
A tall man stood within—a man in the dress of a
hunter, pale-faced in the moonlight, but strong and
powerful, and wearing a long, dark beard that reached
almost to his waist. His was a figure to fill any child
with fear, but Elsa saw only the scene behind him. A
great blazing wood fire upon an open hearth, with
rugs in front of it upon which were stretched two large
hounds; a third, shaking himself slowly, had followed
his master to the door. Elsa stretched out her little
hands to the blazing warmth, with the cry of a perishing
"Take me in—oh! take me in!" she pleaded.
"Please let me come in!"
She ran forward. Then with a strange hoarse sound,
that she did not understand, the man stooped and
lifted her in his arms, and carried her forward and
laid her gently down upon the rugs in the grateful
warmth, and the hounds sniffed round her and seemed
well pleased, and ready to welcome her—and—for a
little while she remembered no more.
When Elsa came to herself (she thought she must
have been asleep, but the waking was a little strange
and difficult) she found that she was propped up among
soft cushions still upon the rugs; the dogs now lay
at a respectful distance, each with his forepaws
stretched out and his nose held between them, while
with gleaming eyes he watched with keenest interest
all that going was on.
The rough-looking man with the long, dark beard
and the pale face knelt beside her, holding a basin of
warm, steaming broth. Then Elsa sat up and tried to
drink, but she was so weak with fatigue and cold that
her new friend was obliged to feed her with a spoon,
which he did rather awkwardly. After she had swallowed
the broth, the warm blood flowed once more
freely through her veins, and she sank into a deep,
sweet sleep, her little head falling serenely against the
stranger's breast and her hair spreading out in golden
waves over the arm that held her.
When Elsa once more opened her eyes, the cold
grey light of morning fell through the uncurtained
windows into the hall. She found herself lying on a
couch covered with rugs of warm fur, at the side of
the hearth, where logs of pine wood, newly kindled,
leapt and blazed, filling the air with sweet, pungent
For a while she was bewildered, wondering how she
came to be there, instead of in her little room at the
woodman's cottage. Then she saw her friend of the
night before kneeling in front of the fire, evidently
preparing food, while the dogs, grouped around, sat
on their haunches with ears erect, keen and observant,
watching his movements. Then Elsa remembered; and
she clapped her hands with a merry laugh, the laugh
of a happy, waking child. The man kneeling by the
fire started at the sound, and then turned his grave
face towards her with a wistful expression strange to
"I want to get up," said Elsa promptly. "If you
please, I can wash and dress myself; I've been taught
"Wait a few minutes, little lady, then you shall have
all you want."
The voice sounded strangely, and the man seemed
listening to its tones as though surprised to hear himself
speak. But the rough, halting accents seemed less
out of keeping with the old house than Elsa's laugh.
The dogs came and licked her hands, and she played
with them until the man rose from his place before
the fire, and lifting her up bade her come with him.
He led her to a small room off the hall, which was
indeed curious in its arrangements. A toilet-table
stood there with most costly fittings; brushes with
silver and ivory handles were lying upon the faded
silk; a little pair of satin shoes had been thrown carelessly
upon the floor; a cloak of crimson satin was
flung over a chair. All these things looked as though
a hand had cast them aside but yesterday—yet all
were faded and soiled, and the dust lay thick as though
that yesterday had been many years ago.
And among these relics of an unknown past the
child made her simple toilet. She had never seen such
magnificence, or felt, she thought, so sad. But when
she returned to the hall ten minutes later, the sadness
She looked a quaint little figure, indeed, clad in a
silken wrapper provided by her host, which trailed far
behind on the ground, greatly to her delight; her little
feet were cased in dainty slippers which, small as they
were, yet were many sizes too large. In spite of misfits,
however, she contrived to walk with a stately grandeur
quite amazing to behold, until the dogs jumped and
fawned upon her, when she forgot her finery in a game
of play and lost her slippers in the rug.
On the table, a breakfast was rudely spread: cold
meats for the master of the house, who fed his dogs
from his own plate, while for Elsa was provided a bowl
of goat's milk and some crisp cakes, which she thought
When the meal was over, Elsa pleaded to be allowed
to do for her new friend the household duties she had
been taught to fulfil by the woodman's wife; and soon,
with the wrapper deftly pinned about her waist, and
the silken sleeves tucked up from bare and dimpled
arms, she stood before a bowl of steaming water, washing
plates and dishes. Only the table was rather high,
and she was forced to stand upon a stool.
From that day a strange new life began for little
The rough-looking man who had given her shelter
seemed to be living quite alone with his dogs. Every
morning he went out with them and his gun, apparently
to hunt and shoot in the forest, for he usually
returned laden with game, which served to keep the
Of other kinds of provisions there seemed to be a
plentiful supply on the premises; the granaries were
well stocked with corn, which the master ground himself,
while some goats tethered in the outhouses gave
a sufficient quantity of milk for the daily needs of the
Of Elsa's return to the woodman's cottage there
seemed to be no question. She was terrified at the
thought of being again lost in the wood, and pleaded
hard to remain with her new friend, who, on his side,
was equally loth to part with her.
Soon, having learned many useful ways from the
woodman's wife, she became a clever little housekeeper,
and could make a good stew, while Ulric, as the master
of the house bade her call him, was out with his dogs
in the forest, though now only two of the hounds
accompanied him in his expeditions; one was always
left as Elsa's companion and guardian. Then, too, she
could milk and feed the goats, and keep the house-place
clean and tidy. But all the day was not given
to such work as this.
When Ulric had returned, and they had dined together,
he would bring the great carved wooden chair
with the huge back up to the fire, and Elsa would
fetch a stool to his side and busy herself with needle
and thread, while he told her strange stories; or sometimes
he would fetch a ponderous volume from a library
the house contained and read, either to himself or aloud
to her, such things as she could understand.
Now, if you wonder where Elsa found the needle
and thread which I have mentioned, I must tell you
that Ulric had given her a little work-basket neatly
fitted, but the silk lining of which was much faded, and
some of the needles were rusty. There was in it also a
golden thimble, which Elsa found a little too large.
And as for the clothes she worked at, one day he
brought her a quantity of beautiful garments, some of
silk and satin, and some of fine cloth, and in these,
having nothing of her own but her one poor little
cotton frock, the child managed to dress herself, till
she looked like a quaint little fairy princess. Her
stitches were awkward and badly done at first, but as
time went on, instinct helped her small knowledge, and
she grew handy with her needle.
When she was cooking and feeding the goats, she
wore a woollen petticoat and an apron, a costume more
suited to the occasion.
In the evenings Ulric taught her many things: to
read and to write, and even to speak in strange
languages, so that her education was by no means neglected. He let her wander over the great mansion
where she would, and showed her many of the rooms
himself. All bore signs of having been used quite
recently, and yet a long time ago. Dust was thick
everywhere, and soon Elsa grew to understand that
the dust must remain and accumulate; no hand was
to be allowed to touch anything in that strange, silent
house beyond the hall and the little room which Ulric
had arranged for her sleeping apartment. One part
of the mansion, however, she never penetrated. At
the end of a long passage hung a heavy velvet curtain,
and behind this was a door, always securely locked.
Only Ulric passed beyond it, at stated times, and when
he returned from these visits he was more than usually
sad for many hours.
The weeks slipped into months, and Elsa dwelt on
in this strange home. Every day at first she looked
eagerly for the breaking of the frost—for the promise
of the sunshine and flowers she had left behind her in
the wood. But the spring never came. The bitter
cold and the frost continued, and in time the child's
heart must have frozen too, but for the strong, warm
love which had sprung up within it for Ulric.
Old and thoughtful she grew, beyond her years, but
never unhappy. Ulric needed her, was glad of her
presence; she could minister to his wants and brighten
his sad life.
So Ulric's love grew more to her than the flowers
and sunshine of the outer world; to think of leaving
him now would break her heart, but she wondered
often over the mystery that shadowed his life and hers. And the months grew to years, and Elsa was twelve
Then one evening Ulric came in from one of his visits
to the closed chamber, more sad and thoughtful even
than usual, and taking Elsa's hand in his, bade her
sit beside him for a little while and put aside her
work. She came obediently, looking anxiously into
"Little Elsa," he said, "I have counted the time,
and it is now five years since you came to me. You
told me then you were seven years old, now you are
therefore twelve, and will soon be growing into a
maiden. The time has come——"
Instinctively the child clasped his hand closer.
"Not to part us, father?" (for so she had learned to
"That, my child, must rest with you."
"Then it is soon settled," said Elsa, trying to laugh,
"for I will never leave you."
Something like the light of hope shone in the
man's clouded eyes—eyes in which Elsa had never
seen a smile, although his lips had smiled at her
"Listen," he said; "before you speak rash words, I
must tell you all. Then you shall decide.
"It is a little more than eleven years since the curse
fell upon me. I was a hard man then, Elsa—hard
and cruel and strong—it was my boast that I never
forgave a debt, or pardoned an enemy.
"I had married a young and beautiful wife, and her
I loved passionately, but in my own hard and selfish
fashion. Often I refused to heed even her gentle
pleadings for the suffering, the sinful, and the poor.
And we had one child—a girl—then only a few months
"It was a New Year's Eve that I decided upon
giving a great entertainment to all the country round.
I did it for my own glorification. Among the rich I
was disliked, but tolerated on account of my position;
by the poor far and wide I was feared and hated.
"Every one invited came to my ball. My wife looked
exquisitely lovely, more lovely I thought than on our
bridal day—everything ministered to my pride and
"We had mustered here, here in this hall, to drink the
health of the dying year and welcome the incoming
of the new, when above the sounds of laughter and
good cheer was heard from without a pitiful, feeble
wail—the wail of a child in pain. That feeble cry
rang then above every other sound—it rings in my
"Before I could interfere, my wife, with her own
hands, had flung wide the great barred door, and I
saw a sight which I alone could explain.
"Upon the step was huddled a woman, with a child
in her arms. A man, gaunt and hunger-stricken, towered
behind her in the darkness; two other children clung
to her, shivering and weeping. We were in the midst
of the cruel, bitter winter; the earth was frost-bound,
hard and cold, even as now. That day I had given
orders that these people, poor and starving as they
were, should be turned from their home. The man I
had suspected of being a poacher, and he was doing no
work—a good-for-nothing—but she, my wife, had pleaded
for them that I would wait, at least, until the summer.
Now she bent down to that poor creature on the step,
who was striving to nurse and warm her babe in her
chill arms, and whispered something—I guessed it was
a promise of shelter.
"In my fierce pride and anger I laid my hand upon
her arm, and with a strong grip drew her back—then
without a word I closed the door and barred it. But
within there was no more laughter. A voice rose upon
the still night air—the sound of a bitter curse—a curse
that should rest upon me and mine, the chill of winter
and of death, of pitiless desolation and remorse, until
human love should win me back to human pity and
"One by one, with cold good-nights, my guests departed.
My wife stole away to her own apartments
without a word; upon her arm I saw the mark of my
"In the morning the curse had fallen. The woman
I had turned away had been found at my gates, dead,
her child still clasped to her breast.
"The servants fled and left me alone, taking with
them our child; my wife—that night—she, too—died—to
The man's head drooped upon his hands. For a
moment there was silence in the hall.
Elsa stood—her child's heart grieved at the terrible
story, her whole nature sorrowing, pitiful, shocked.
Presently Ulric recovered himself and continued:
"Now, Elsa, you know all. My child, if you will return
to the world and leave me to work out my fate, you
shall not go penniless. I have wealth. For your sake
I will venture once more among the haunts of men and
see you placed in a safe home, then—I will try to
forget. It is right that you should shrink."
"Father, dear father, I love you—you are sorry—I
will not leave you—do not send me away."
A look almost of rapture changed the worn and tear-stained
face of the man who had owned his sin—and
the child's arms closed once more around his neck,
and her golden head nestled to his breast. A few
minutes later he led her to the closed chamber. Together
they passed beyond it, and Elsa found herself
standing in a richly furnished room.
Near a window was a couch covered with dark velvet,
and upon the couch a figure lay stretched as if in quiet,
death-like sleep, or carved in marble. The figure was
that of a young and very fair woman. Her dress of
white satin had yellowed with time; her hands were
clasped upon her breast as though in prayer; her golden
hair lay unbound upon the pillow.
"It is fitting now," said Ulric, "that you should come
Softly Elsa advanced. She stood beside the couch,
gazing down upon the still, white face, so sweet in its
settled grief, but which in this long silence seemed to
have lost its first youth. Elsa bent lower, lower. What
new instinct filled her warm, young heart, and made
"Mother, awake!" she said. "Mother!" and kissed
the cold, quiet lips.
Was it a ray of sunlight that stole through the open
window and trembled upon the mouth, curving it into
a smile? Slowly the dark eyes opened and rested with
a look of ineffable love upon Elsa's face.
And so the curse and the shadows of eternal winter
passed away from the house of Ulric, and his young
bride came back from her long slumber. In due time
the garden, too, awoke to the touch of spring, and the
flowers bloomed, and the birds mated once more and sang in budding trees, and the sun shone. And Elsa's
love bound closely together the hearts of her father
and mother; for perhaps you have been clever enough
to find out that the woodman's wife was the nurse who
had carried away with her in her flight Ulric's little
daughter on the night of the New Year's ball.