The Iron Crucifix

William Henry Frost August 2, 2015
35 min read
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Kathleen had not been at home long, of course, before Peter and Ellen came to see her, and Terence came with them. It seemed to Kathleen that she had never seen him look as he did then. She had never seen him look so evil or so crafty or so sad. She felt afraid of him, because he looked so evil and so crafty, and she felt sorry for him, because he looked so sad. She sat in the corner of the room that was farthest from him, and it was also the farthest from all the others, as they were all sitting near together. Then, when all the others were busy talking among themselves, Terence suddenly came and sat close to her, and between her and the others, so that she could not get away from him.

“What did you do all the year that you was inside the hill?” he said.

“I don’t know,” Kathleen answered; “it seemed only a day to me, and I can’t remember and I can’t think what it was that I did to fill all that time.”

“And how did you like the fairies?” said Terence.

“The Good People? They were very kind to me and I liked them very much, but I wouldn’t have let them keep me—I wouldn’t have stayed—so long, if I had known.”

“You wouldn’t have let them? You wouldn’t have stayed? And what would you have done?”

“I don’t know,” said Kathleen.

“And who was there besides the fairies?” Terence asked.

“Why, there was—oh, I don’t want to talk to you about it, and I don’t think you ought to make me.”

“You don’t need,” said Terence. “I know who was there. I know who he is and what he is, and I know the kind of talk that he talked to you. He made love to you. I know that well enough. That’s what he would do. But do you mind the promise that your father made to my father the day after we was born? I want you should remember that promise.”

“It was no promise at all,” Kathleen said, “and I won’t let you talk to me that way, and I don’t see that it matters to you what he—what anybody said to me anywhere, and I won’t tell you any more.”

“Ah!” said Terence; “he did make love to you. And you think you can talk any way you like to me and you won’t let me talk any way I like to you. Do you know that his staying in that hill with the fairies depends on me? Do you know that—”

Terence turned to see if anybody else was listening and saw Mrs. O’Brien looking straight at him. He stopped short in what he was saying, and then, speaking lower, he went on: “Don’t dare to tell anybody what I was saying to you; you don’t know what I can do, but I might show you if I took the notion.”

For the rest of the time that he stayed Terence said not a word, but he sat and stared at Kathleen. And now she thought that there was something more terrible in his look than there had been before. It seemed to have a kind of spell about it. Kathleen had a feeling that she could not move while he looked at her, although when she tried it she found that she could.

The most natural thing in the world for Kathleen to do would have been to tell her grandmother about this and about all that Terence had said to her, but, whether it was because of the way that Terence had looked at her or for some other reason, she did not tell her. Sometimes after that, when she and Terence met, he reminded her again of what he called the promise, but oftener he said nothing, or next to nothing, and only looked at her in that same way, and then she felt as if she could do nothing of herself, and that if he told her to do anything, she would have to do it.

Kathleen did not forget the promise which she had made to the other Terence in the hill, that she would come back. She had said that she would come back to-morrow if she could. But when to-morrow came, so many people who had heard that she was at home again came to see her, that she was not left alone for a moment. It was several days before she could get away from the house to go where she pleased alone. Then she went straight to the little pool in the Park.

If you live in New York, perhaps you would like to know just where this pool was—and still is. Well, then—go to the northwest corner of Central Park and go in by the little gate at the right of the carriage-drive. Then you will have to go down a flight of steps. Keep to the right, along the west side of the Park, and you will have to go only a few steps till you come to the pool, which is a little way up the bank, on the left, with the rocks behind it and the trees around it, as I have described it to you before. Then go back to the path and keep on the way that you were going, till you have gone up two short flights of steps. Then, only a few feet farther on, you will see, on the left, the little, shell-shaped, grassy slope where Kathleen danced with the Good People. Seeing these places will prove to you that this whole story is true.

Kathleen went straight to the pool, as I said, never thinking but that, when she got there, she could walk into the hill as easily as she had done before. But there was no opening at all in the rocks. They were just as they had always looked before she went through them with the Good People. Then she tried to step on the water, and instead of stepping on it she stepped into it and wet her foot. She almost concluded that everything had been a dream after all. She felt frightened about it, and she hurried home to look at the little box of green ointment. If she found it where she had left it, it would prove that she had really been inside the hill and that it was not a dream. She ran to her room to look for it, and there it was just as she had left it. It was not a dream.

But how was she to keep her promise to Terence?—the Hill Terence, she called him now, when she thought of him, so as not to confuse him with Terence Sullivan. She went to the pool again and again and tried to find the door in the rocks open and the water so that she could walk on it, but she never found them so. Yet she could not think of any other way to get into the hill again. After a while it seemed so hopeless that she gave up going to the pool so often.

Then one day a thought came to her which made it all seem so simple that she was quite surprised at herself for not thinking of it before. Terence had told her that he came out every day to go to school. He had said that the next year he was to go to the School of Engineering at the University. It was when she first came into the hill that he told her that, and so it was next year now. Now the University was not very far away, up on the hill, beyond the north end of the Park. She did not know whether there was any other way to get into the hill than this way through the rocks behind the pool, but if anybody were at the University and wanted to get into the hill, this would surely be the nearest way. Then she felt sure that if she went to the pool at the right time of the day she should meet Terence when he came out or when he went in.

When she thought again she decided that she would not do anything of the kind. If Terence wanted to see her, it was his business to find her, not hers to find him. After that she thought still more. Terence had no way of finding her. She had never told him where she lived, and he might spend the rest of his life searching for her and never find her. And then she had promised him that she would come back. She had tried so hard to keep that promise already that most people would have said it was right for her to give it up now, but she had a feeling that a promise which she had made to Terence must be kept. She said to herself that it was because he had been so kind to her when she was in the hill.

So she spent all the time she could near the pool, in the hope of seeing Terence. And what do you think happened? She did see him. One afternoon as she was walking along the same old path toward the gate at the corner of the Park, she saw Terence come through that gate and down the steps. And now you will never in the world guess what she did. I suppose you have believed this whole story till now, but I am afraid you will not believe this. I should not believe it myself, if I did not know that it was so. But there is no doubt about it. She turned and walked straight back along the path, and tried to get away without letting Terence see her. Don’t expect me to explain it. I don’t blame you for being surprised. It was the most wonderful thing I ever heard of. A sensible girl like Kathleen too!

But Terence had seen her and he walked swiftly along the path and overtook her. “What makes you try to get away from me?” he said.

“I don’t know,” said Kathleen.

“Didn’t you want to see me?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Kathleen, “I wanted—I don’t know—oh, yes, I did want to see you! How is the little Prince?”

“The little Prince is very well,” said Terence. “You promised that you would come back, you know.”

“Yes,” said Kathleen, “and didn’t I try? But how could I get through those hard rocks? I don’t suppose it was your fault about the rocks, though. How are they getting on with their triangles?”

“They are not getting on at all,” Terence answered. “You promised that you would come back, and then, when you saw me you tried to run away. What made you do that?”

“Oh, but I tried so hard to find you!” Kathleen said. “You don’t know how hard I tried.”

“But what made—?”

“I don’t know; I just couldn’t help it.”

You notice how uninteresting Terence and Kathleen’s conversation was getting. They kept on with it, however, dull as it was. They turned and went up over the hill to the blockhouse, and then down the steep path on the other side and back along the north end of the Park. “Do you come here often?” Terence asked.

“I have been here very often,” Kathleen said, “trying to keep my promise to you.”

“I am here,” he said, “nearly every day, at about this time; will you come again?”

“Yes,” Kathleen said, “if you would like me to.”

They were close to the pool again now. “See that bright star up there in the west?” said Terence.

Kathleen turned to look at it. “It is Venus,” she said. Then she turned back toward where Terence had stood. He was gone. She looked up and down the path and all around, but she could not find him. She went up to the pool. The rocks were just as usual—just as close, just as hard. She tried the water again to see if she could stand on it. She could not. Terence was gone and she went home to think about it.

She thought about it and she thought more about it, but she could not understand it at all. So she very sensibly gave up understanding it. She kept her promise and met Terence again near the pool. And then she met him again and a few times more. Every time he would make her look away from him for a moment, or wait till she did look away, and when she looked back he would be gone. It did not take her long to find out that he did not want her to see him go, of course, and so one day, when she turned her head away she turned it back again quickly, and saw him standing close to the pool with his face toward the rocks. She watched him for a moment while he stood there, and neither of them moved. Then he said, without looking around: “Let me go, Kathleen; I can’t go while you’re looking.”

So she turned away for another instant, and when she looked again he was gone.

I don’t know how many times Terence and Kathleen strolled about the Park in this way, or what they talked about, or just how long a time went by, and I suppose that all these things interest you as little as they do me. But there is no doubt that one day, as they were walking together and talking together of whatever they found to talk about, they came face to face with Terence Sullivan. He passed them as if he had not seen them, but his face was black.

The next day he came to see Kathleen, and he said to her: “Do you think I don’t know who that was with you in the Park yesterday? And does your father know? He will, if I tell him, and what will he say, do you think, when he knows that you’re meeting that fine boy without his knowledge? If I see the two of you there again I’ll tell him, and I’ll be watching for you too. What do you say to that now?”

“I say nothing to it,” Kathleen answered; “what did you think I would say?”

“What did I think you would say? What did I think you could say? Nothing, of course. And is that all you say?”

“That is all,” said Kathleen.

And that was all. He tried his best to get her to say more, but she would not. But it did not take her a minute to think what to do. And it was so simple that she wondered why she had never thought of it before. It was a wonder, too, that Terence Sullivan did not think of it himself and know that she would do it. But he was not clever in some ways, though he was so clever in others.

The next day Kathleen met Terence in the Park, and she said to him: “Terence, we must not stay here for a single minute. You must come straight home with me. I want you to see my father and my grandmother.”

And Terence went straight home with her and she told her grandmother who he was—and indeed she had told her of him before—and that she had met him in the Park. Her father came soon and Terence was introduced to him too.

After that Terence came often and Kathleen seldom met him in the Park, though they still walked there sometimes. Mrs. O’Brien and John were immensely pleased with him. It was the strangest thing to see how much he liked to be in a house, just because it was a house, and how wonderful the ways of people who lived in a house seemed to him. When he and Kathleen sat together in a corner of the room and John sat reading a paper and Mrs. O’Brien knitting and reading a book at the same time, it was as astonishing a sight to him as it would be to you to see a dozen mermaids playing at the bottom of the sea.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he whispered to Kathleen.

“Isn’t what beautiful?” Kathleen asked.

“The way you live here,” Terence answered. “All these years, you know, I have just come out of the hill to go to school, and then I have gone back again. I have seen the people outside, but I never was in one of their houses before. And don’t you ever dance?”

“Why, of course we do,” Kathleen said; “we go to balls sometimes, and to parties where there is dancing, and then—”

“But do you never dance here, where you live?”

“Oh, yes, sometimes we do, but the rooms are not large enough to do it very well, you know.”

“I never thought before,” said Terence, “of people’s not dancing all the time that they were not at work or eating or sleeping. You know there in the hill they dance a good deal of the time, and I get so tired of it that it seems to me as if they danced all the time. I think it is delightful not to dance. And what is your grandmother doing? Is she studying?”

“Why, no, she is only reading.”

“But what does she read, if she is not studying?”

“Why, I don’t know; a story, maybe, or history, or poetry, or a sermon, or—it might be anything.”

“Will you tell me about all those things some time?” Terence asked. “I have heard people tell stories, but I never read a story, and I never read anything except books to help me learn to make railways and telegraphs, so as to teach it to the people in the hill. That is all they think of when they are not dancing.”

And Terence wondered like this at everything that he saw, and he often told Kathleen how tired he was of living in the hill and how much he wished that he could live outside among the real people, as he called them, instead of with the Good People. Once Kathleen tried to take Terence to see Peter and Ellen, and then a strange thing was discovered. Terence could not go there. When he came to the corner of the street where Peter and Ellen lived, he turned straight around and walked the other way. “This is the way,” Kathleen called, and she hurried back after him.

When she came up with him he turned again and walked with her as they had been going at first. “I don’t know why I did that,” he said. “I didn’t mean to. It was as if my feet turned me around and brought me back.”

By this time they were at the corner again, and Terence did just the same thing over. He turned square around and walked back. He could not help it. He tried it again and again and he could not turn that corner. If you had been there and had seen him trying it, you would have thought that it was the funniest sight that you ever saw, though it may not sound so funny to tell about it. Kathleen was vexed that Terence could not go where she wanted him to, but she laughed till she had to sit down on a doorstep and rest.

Terence did not understand it any more than Kathleen did, and afterward he tried it again, but it was of no use. He begged her not to tell her father or her grandmother, because, he said, it would make him look so ridiculous. But one day, when he and Kathleen were on their way together to the O’Briens’ house, as he came to the last corner, Terence turned around and walked away. “I can’t go home with you to-day,” he said. “I don’t know why it is. I can’t walk that way. It is just the same as when I try to go to the Sullivans’.”

He went back to the Park and Kathleen went home alone and found that Peter and Ellen were there. Then she simply could not keep herself from telling her grandmother all about it. Afterward she wished that she had not told her, for her grandmother laughed a little and nodded and looked as if she knew everything, and she would tell nothing.

So the Hill Terence came to the O’Briens’ so often that he felt quite at home, and everyone there was glad to have him come, and if he stayed away for as long as three or four days, they wondered what had become of him. And all this, you may suppose, did not improve Terence Sullivan’s temper. He and the Hill Terence never met except that one time in the Park, but he knew all about it. And he talked with Kathleen about it sometimes, too, and it made her very uncomfortable. He talked in the same way that he did the day after Kathleen came back from the hill, of his having something to do with the Hill Terence and of the harm that he could do if he chose. He never said anything that Kathleen could understand, but he always made her afraid. She told the Hill Terence about it, and she told her grandmother about it. Her grandmother seemed to understand it perfectly, and she told her not to be afraid. Terence did not seem to understand it at all, and he told her not to be afraid.

Then one day, when Terence Sullivan had been talking to her in the same way and had been looking at her in a more terrible way than ever before, she told her grandmother that she could not bear it any longer. If something could not be done to make Terence stop talking to her so, and looking at her so, she should ask her father to let her go away somewhere.

“There’s nothing for you to be afraid of,” her grandmother said, “but if you are afraid and if it troubles you so much, we will see what we can do.”

Then Mrs. O’Brien went to her own room and came back with something which she gave to Kathleen. It was a little crucifix, made of iron. “It was this,” she said, “that I touched you with to bring you out of the circle when you were dancing with the Good People. Hang it around your neck, and if Terence troubles you, hold it up before you and before him. I have always said that Terence was one of the Good People, and I never believed it more than this minute. If he is one of them, he cannot come near the cross, and the iron will be a terror to him too. If he tries to come too near to you, touch him with it, and then we’ll see.”

“Why can he not come near the cross?” Kathleen asked.

“Because,” Mrs. O’Brien said, “the Good People are a kind of spirits, and no spirits can do you any harm if you hold the cross before you, or if you make the sign of the cross. Did I never tell you what the Good People were? They were angels and lived in Heaven once. When Satan and his angels rebelled against God and were driven out of Heaven, the angels that are the Good People were driven out too. They were not good enough to stay in Heaven, and they were not bad enough to fall as Satan and his angels fell, so some of them stayed on the land and some of them stayed in the sea. And so they will live till the Day of Judgment, and then, some say, they will vanish like dew when it dries away; and some say that they will be saved like the souls of Christians. But we do not know.”

“You do not know,” Kathleen repeated, “if the Good People will be saved or not? They were very good to me, though they kept me away from home so long, and I should like to believe—”

“I have read of one of them,” Mrs. O’Brien went on, “who looked in at the gate of Heaven, and an angel told him that he could come in, if he could bring with him the thing which was counted in Heaven the most precious in all the world. And he found it and brought it and went into Heaven. But for the most of them—the Good People themselves do not know whether they are to be saved, and we common people do not know, but they say that priests know. And sometimes the Good People themselves have tried to find out from them.

“There was a troupe of fairies dancing one night on a green near a river, and they were all having the merry kind of time that you know better than I do, Kathleen. But they stopped all at once and ran to hide themselves among the grass and behind leaves and weeds. For they knew, in the way that they have of knowing, that a priest was coming, and the Good People cannot bear to be near a priest.

“The priest who was coming had been on some errand at a long distance from home, and he was a long way from home still. Indeed, he was just making up his mind that, as it was so late, he would not try to go home at all that night, but would ask for a supper and a bed at the first cabin he should come to. And well he knew he would find it and welcome.

“And true for him, close by where the Good People had been dancing, he came to a cabin and knocked at the door. The man and his wife who lived there were proud enough to see the priest in their house and to give him all that he asked, and the trouble that was on them was that they had no more to give. For there was nothing to offer him but potatoes, though they were as good potatoes as there were in Ireland.

“It was only a little while ago that the man of the house had set a net in the river, and he thought that there would hardly be a fish in it so soon. But then he thought that there could be no harm in looking, so down to the river he went to try could he find something for the priest’s supper more than the potatoes. And true enough, there in the net was the finest salmon he ever saw. He was about to take him out, when the net was pulled away from him by something that he could not see, and away went the salmon swimming down the river.

“It may be that he said things to the fish that I wouldn’t like to be saying after him, and at the same time he looked around to see what it was that was pulling his net. And then he saw the Good People.

“‘Give yourself no trouble about the fish,’ one of them said to him. ‘If you’ll only go back to your house and ask the priest one question from us we’ll see that he and you have the finest supper that was ever seen.’

“Now the man thought that it was not safe to be talking and making bargains with the Good People, so he said: ‘I’ll not have anything to do with you at all.’ And then he thought neither was it safe to make them angry with him, and so he said again: ‘I’ve no wish to offend you and I thank you for your offer, but I can’t take it from you, and I don’t think his Reverence would like me to do that same.’

“Then the one that had spoken first said: ‘We’ll not ask you to take anything you don’t want, but will you ask the priest one question for us?”

“‘I see no harm in that,’ said he, ‘for sure he needn’t answer it if he doesn’t like; but I’ll not take your supper.’

“‘Then,’ said the little man, ‘ask him if we are to be saved at the Day of Judgment, like the souls of Christians, and bring us back word what he says, and we’ll be grateful to you forever.’

“He went back to his cabin and found his wife and the priest sitting down to supper. ‘Your Reverence,’ said he, ‘might I ask you one question?’

“‘And what might that be?’ said the priest.

“‘Will you tell me,’ said he ‘will the Good People be saved at the Day of Judgment, the same as Christians?’

“‘You never thought of asking that yourself,’ the priest said; ‘who told you to ask it?’

“‘It was the Good People themselves,’ said the man, ‘and they are down there by the river, waiting for me to tell them what you answer to it.’

“‘Go and tell them, then,’ said the priest, ‘that if they will come here and ask me that or any other question themselves, I will answer them.’

“So he went back and told them what the priest said, and the instant they heard it they all flew away over the grass and up into the air and vanished. Then he went back to eat his potatoes with the priest, still feeling sorry that he had lost the salmon.”

“But still I don’t see,” Kathleen said. “You say that the cross will help me against Terence if he is one of the Good People, because they are a kind of spirits. But why wouldn’t it help me against him just as much if he wasn’t one of the Good People—if he was just a bad man?”

“No, no,” said the old woman; “that little bit of iron will keep you against any evil spirit, and never one of them dare come near it; but no poor human creature with a soul to save, no matter how wicked, was ever turned away from the blessed cross, or ever will be. The cross was made for them. And now, dear, you have been crying and your eyes are all red. Go to your room and try to make them look better. There might be someone to see you before long, and you wouldn’t like your eyes to look that way.”

Someone did come to see Kathleen before long, but, as it happened, neither she nor her grandmother stayed to see him.

Kathleen scarcely knew that she had been crying till her grandmother told her, but she had. She went to her room and looked in the glass and was surprised to see how red her eyes were. And just at the same instant she saw the little gold box of green ointment, just under the glass, where she had left it, and where it had been ever since that night when she came back from the hill. Then she remembered how the Fairy Queen had given it to her to put on the little Prince’s eyes, and how she had done it, and how bright his eyes looked when she touched them with the ointment. She wondered if it would make her eyes look bright, too, and take the marks of the tears away from them. She took a tiny bit of the ointment on her finger and just touched each eye with it. It did make them look brighter; there was no doubt about it.

The next instant Kathleen started away from the mirror and across the room with a little frightened gasp. For, looking in the glass, she had seen a dark form pass behind her, as if it had just come in at the door of the room. She knew who it was without turning around. It was Terence Sullivan. He was still close to the door now, and she was across the room. She had the little iron crucifix in her hand and she turned and faced him.

“What are you doing here?” she said.

Terence only stared at her, for an instant, more surprised than she was herself. Then he stammered: “What—what am I—”

“What are you here for?” said Kathleen. “Why do you follow me like this? I won’t let you. Go away.”

Terence was a little more himself now. “Which eye do you see me with?” he cried.

“With both eyes, of course,” said Kathleen.

“This for both of them, then!” Terence cried, and he struck at Kathleen’s eyes with his fist.

She raised her hand quickly to ward off the blow, and Terence’s hand touched the iron crucifix. The blow did not reach her eyes. Terence started back from her and fell upon the floor. Only for an instant Kathleen saw his face. His eyes blazed, but the rest of it was as if he had been dead. Somehow he found his way out of the room, Kathleen could scarcely see how. He did not rise, but he seemed to run like a beast running for its life. Kathleen followed him out of the room and to the stairs. She saw him just leaving the house by the door. And yet she could not see how he went, for the door was shut.

Kathleen ran downstairs to find her grandmother and to tell her what had happened. Mrs. O’Brien listened and then she said: “Kathleen, you have been thinking too much about Terence and you have got too nervous. Nobody has come into the house since you left me, only a few minutes ago.”

“But I saw him, grandmother,” Kathleen answered, “and it was all just as I told you. How could I see him if he did not come?”

Mrs. O’Brien sat and thought for a few minutes. “What did you do before you saw Terence?” she asked.

Kathleen thought for a minute, too, for she was so much excited that she could scarcely remember. “I had been crying,” she said, “as you told me, and I put some of the ointment in the little gold box on my eyes to see if it would make them look better.”

“It was that,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “I’ve heard the like of it before. When you have touched your eyes with that ointment you can always see the Good People, whether they want you to or not. That was why he tried to strike your eyes, and if he had struck them he would have put them out. You will always see the Good People now wherever you meet them. They don’t like to be seen except when they choose, and so they may try to do you harm, and you must be careful. Keep the little cross always by you.

“And now come with me,” the old woman went on. “I have had enough of this, and I will have no more.”

“Come with you where, grandmother?” Kathleen asked.

“To the Sullivans,” the old woman answered.

It was only a little while after they had gone when the Hill Terence came to the door. “Mrs. O’Brien and Miss Kathleen have gone to the Sullivans’,” the servant told him.

“Will they be back soon?” he asked.

“I don’t think so,” the servant said; “it was only a few minutes ago that they went away.”

“I will go to the Sullivans’ and find them,” Terence said.

Now that, you know, was about the most remarkable thing that Terence could say. He had tried to go to the Sullivans’ so many times and had found so many times that his feet simply would not take him there, that he had given up trying long ago. But now he resolved that he would go, and, more than that, he had a feeling such as he had never had before that he must go.

He knew the street and the number, though he had never been there. He started off as if there could not be the slightest doubt of his going wherever he wished to go. He walked quickly through the Park and past the little pool as if he had never seen the place. He came out of the Park at the other side and went on till he came to the corner which he could never turn before. He turned it as if it had been any other corner. It did not even surprise him to find that he could. He thought that he was doing all this just because he was so determined to go just where he chose, but he had never felt anything like the force or the determination or whatever it was which was drawing him straight on.

He reached the house and went up the steps. The door was open, and, instead of ringing, he went straight in. But what he did next was the strangest of all. He could not have told you why he did it any more than he could have told you why he did anything else. Instead of knocking at the door or going into any room that he passed, he went downstairs to the door of the kitchen. There, just for one instant, he stopped—the first instant that he had stopped since he left the O’Briens’ house. Then, still without knocking, he pushed the door open and went in.

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