In those strange old times when fantastic dreams and madmen's reveries were realized among the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together...
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In those strange old times when fantastic dreams and madmen's reveries were realized among
the actual circumstances of life, two persons met together at an appointed hour and place. One
was a lady graceful in form and fair of feature, though pale and troubled and smitten with an
untimely blight in what should have been the fullest bloom of her years; the other was an ancient
and meanly-dressed woman of ill-favored aspect, and so withered, shrunken and decrepit that
even the space since she began to decay must have exceeded the ordinary term of human
existence. In the spot where they encountered no mortal could observe them. Three little hills
stood near each other, and down in the midst of them sunk a hollow basin almost mathematically
circular, two or three hundred feet in breadth and of such depth that a stately cedar might but just
be visible above the sides. Dwarf pines were numerous upon the hills and partly fringed the outer
verge of the intermediate hollow, within which there was nothing but the brown grass of October
and here and there a tree-trunk that had fallen long ago and lay moldering with no green
successor from its roots. One of these masses of decaying wood, formerly a majestic oak, rested
close beside a pool of green and sluggish water at the bottom of the basin. Such scenes as this (so
gray tradition tells) were once the resort of a power of evil and his plighted subjects, and here at
midnight or on the dim verge of evening they were said to stand round the mantling pool
disturbing its putrid waters in the performance of an impious baptismal rite. The chill beauty of
an autumnal sunset was now gilding the three hilltops, whence a paler tint stole down their sides
into the hollow. "Here is our pleasant meeting come to pass, "said the aged crone, "according as
thou hast desired. Say quickly what thou wouldst have of me, for there is but a short hour that we
may tarry here." As the old withered woman spoke a smile glimmered on her countenance like
lamplight on the wall of a sepulchre. The lady trembled and cast her eyes upward to the verge of
the basin, as if meditating to return with her purpose unaccomplished. But it was not so ordained.
"I am stranger in this land, as you know," said she, at length. "Whence I come it matters not, but
I have left those behind me with whom my fate was intimately bound, and from whom I am cut
off forever. There is a weight in my bosom that I cannot away with, and I have come hither to
inquire of their welfare." "And who is there by this green pool that can bring thee news from the
ends of the earth?" cried the old woman, peering into the lady's face. "Not from my lips mayst
thou hear these tidings; yet be thou bold, and the daylight shall not pass away from yonder
hilltop before thy wish be granted." "I will do your bidding though I die," replied the lady,
desperately. The old woman seated herself on the trunk of the fallen tree, threw aside the hood
that shrouded her gray locks and beckoned her companion to draw near. "Kneel down," she said,
"and lay your forehead on my knees." She hesitated a moment, but the anxiety that had long
been kindling burned fiercely up within her. As she knelt down the border of her garment was
dipped into the pool; she laid her forehead on the old woman's knees, and the latter drew a cloak
about the lady's face, so that she was in darkness. Then she heard the muttered words of prayer,
in the midst of which she started and would have arisen. "Let me flee! Let me flee and hide
myself, that they may not look upon me!" she cried. But, with returning recollection, she hushed
herself and was still as death, for it seemed as if other voices, familiar in infancy and unforgotten
through many wanderings and in all the vicissitudes of her heart and fortune, were mingling with
the accents of the prayer. At first the words were faint and indistinct- not rendered so by
distance, but rather resembling the dim pages of a book which we strive to read by an imperfect
and gradually brightening light. In such a manner, as the prayer proceeded, did those voices

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strengthen upon the ear, till at length the petition ended, and the conversation of an aged man and
of a woman broken and decayed like himself became distinctly audible to the lady as she knelt.
But those strangers appeared not to stand in the hollow depth between the three hills. Their
voices were encompassed and re-echoed by the walls of a chamber the windows of which were
rattling in the breeze; the regular vibration of a clock, the crackling of a fire and the tinkling of
the embers as they fell among the ashes rendered the scene almost as vivid as if painted to the
eye. By a melancholy hearth sat these two old people, the man calmly despondent, the woman
querulous and tearful, and their words were all of sorrow. They spoke of a daughter, a wanderer
they knew not where, bearing dishonor along with her and leaving shame and affliction to bring
their gray locks and beckoned her companion to draw near. "Kneel down," she said, "and lay
your forehead on my knees." She hesitated a moment, but the anxiety that had long been kindling
burned fiercely up within her. As she knelt down the border of her garment was dipped into the
pool; she laid her forehead on the old woman's knees, and the latter drew a cloak about the
lady's face, so that she was in darkness. Then she heard the muttered words of prayer, in the
midst of which she started and would have arisen. "Let me flee! Let me flee and hide myself, that
they may not look upon me!" she cried. But, with returning recollection, she hushed herself and
was still as death, for it seemed as if other voices, familiar in infancy and unforgotten through
many wanderings and in all the vicissitudes of her heart and fortune, were mingling with the
accents of the prayer. At first the words were faint and indistinct- not rendered so by distance,
but rather resembling the dim pages of a book which we strive to read by an imperfect and
gradually brightening light. In such a manner, as the prayer proceeded, did those voices
strengthen upon the ear, till at length the petition ended, and the conversation of an aged man and
of a woman broken and decayed like himself became distinctly audible to the lady as she knelt.
But those strangers appeared not to stand in the hollow depth between the three hills. Their
voices were encompassed and re-echoed by the walls of a chamber the windows of which were
rattling in the breeze; the regular vibration of a clock, the crackling of a fire and the tinkling of
the embers as they fell among the ashes rendered the scene almost as vivid as if painted to the
eye. By a melancholy hearth sat these two old people, the man calmly despondent, the woman
querulous and tearful, and their words were all of sorrow. They spoke of a daughter, a wanderer
they knew not where, bearing dishonor along with her and leaving shame and affliction to bring
their gray heads to the grave. They alluded also to other and more recent woe, but in the midst of
their talk their voices seemed to melt into the sound of the wind sweeping mournfully among the
autumn leaves; and when the lady lifted her eyes, there was she kneeling in the hollow between
three hills. "A weary and lonesome time yonder old couple have of it," remarked the old woman,
smiling in the lady's face. "And did you also hear them?" exclaimed she, a sense of intolerable
humiliation triumphing over her agony and fear. "Yea, and we have yet more to hear," replied
the old woman, "wherefore cover thy face quickly." Again, the withered hag poured forth the
monotonous words of a prayer that was not meant to be acceptable in heaven, and soon in the
pauses of her breath strange murmurings began to thicken, gradually increasing, so as to drown
and overpower the charm by which they grew. Shrieks pierced through the obscurity of sound
and were succeeded by the singing of sweet. female voices, which in their turn gave way to a
wild roar of laughter broken suddenly by groanings and sobs, forming altogether a ghastly
confusion of terror and mourning and mirth. Chains were rattling, fierce and stern voices uttered

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threats and the scourge resounded at their command. All these noises deepened and became
substantial to the listener's ear, till she could distinguish every soft and dreamy accent of the
love-songs that died causelessly into funeral hymns. She shuddered at the unprovoked wrath
which blazed up like the spontaneous kindling of flume, and she grew faint at the fearful
merriment raging miserably around her. In the midst of this wild scene, where unbound passions
jostled each other in a drunken career, there was one solemn voice of a man, and a manly and
melodious voice it might once have been. He went to and from continually, and his feet sounded
upon the floor. In each member of that frenzied company whose own burning thoughts had
become their exclusive world he sought an auditor for the story of his individual wrong and
interpreted their laughter and tears as his reward of scorn or pity. He spoke of woman's perfidy,
of a wife who had broken her holiest vows, of a home and heart made desolate. Even as he went
on, the shout, the laugh, the shriek, the sob, rose up in unison, till they changed into the hollow,
fitful and uneven sound of the wind as it fought among the pine trees on those three lonely hills.
The lady looked up, and there was the withered woman smiling in her face. "Couldst thou have
thought there were such merry times in a mad-house?" inquired the latter. "True, true!" said the
lady to herself, "there is mirth within its walls, but misery, misery without." "Wouldst thou hear
more?" demanded the old woman. "There is one other voice I would fain listen to again," replied
the lady, faintly. "Then lay down thy head speedily upon my knees, that thou mayst get thee
hence before the hour be past." The golden skirts of day were yet lingering upon the hills, but
deep shades obscured the hollow and the pool, as if sombre night wore rising thence to
overspread the world. Again, that evil woman began to weave her spell. Long did it proceed
unanswered, till the knolling of a bell stole in among the intervals of her words like a clang that
had travelled far over valley and rising ground and was just ready to die in the air. The lady
shook upon her companion's knees as she heard that boding sound. Stronger it grew, and sadder,
and deepened into the tone of a death-bell, knolling dolefully from some ivy-mantled tower and
bearing tidings of mortality and woe to the cottage, to the hall and to the solitary wayfarer, that
all might weep for the doom appointed in turn to them. Then came a measured tread, passing
slowly, slowly on, as of mourners with a coffin, their garments trailing on the ground, so that the
ear could measure the length of their melancholy array. Before them went the priest, reading the
burial-service, while the leaves of his book were rustling in the breeze. And though no voice but
his was heard to speak aloud, still there were reviling's and anathemas, whispered but distinct,
from women and from men, breathed against the daughter who had wrung the aged hearts of her
parents, the wife who had betrayed the trusting fondness of her husband, the mother who had
sinned against natural affection and left her child to die. The sweeping sound of the funeral train
faded away like a thin vapor, and the wind, that just before had seemed to shake the coffin-pall.
moaned sadly round the verge of the hollow between three hills. But when the old woman stirred
the kneeling lady, she lifted not her head. "Here has been a sweet hour's sport!" said the
withered crone, chuckling to herself.

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Outline the elements of the short story. Use complete sentences and/or paragraphs.
a. Setting: Describe the time, place, and the environment of the story.
b. Characters: Mention and describe (character traits) the main character and the
secondary characters.
c. The Plot: Identify the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
d. Conflict: Identify and explain the type of conflict in the story.|
e. Theme: Identify the central theme in the story. What is the message or lesson of this
story?
f. Point of View: Who narrates the story? How do you know?
g. Write a paragraph of 5 sentences or more describing your thoughts on the story.
Use the following questions as a guide:
What did you like about the story?
What was the most intriguing moment?
o Is it relevant in modern times?
How could the story be different if it happened in another time or place?

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