Saturday, December 8, 2012

"An Eye for an Eye?" by Ellen Lynn

An Eye for an Eye?
Ellen Lynn

The first time I saw Jenny Blackthorne I was haunted for days. In fact I seem never to have forgotten that image because I remember it now, six years later.

My family had a little cottage in the village of Lytton Green, Bradfordshire, England, where we'd come down for the weekends from London. The year I was fourteen I used to ride out on my horse, Pepper; there were wonderful trails through the woods and around the edges of the lake. One day I rode out farther than usual. I noticed it when the sky suddenly turned dark grey, all the clouds rushing wildly across the heavens as though chased by an army of savages. Then the rain came pelting down, lashing the trees and whipping the branches at Pepper and me. I was frightened, and stopped in the shelter of an overhanging rock. As though the storm weren't enough to scare a young girl, far from home, I suddenly heard a sound—above and different than all the sounds of the weather. It terrified me—and then I saw a girl, who looked a few years younger than I, walking through the snapping branches, leading a pony. She was drenched to the skin, her hair plastered to her cheeks, and she was talking—either to the pony or to herself. Neither she nor the pony seemed to mind the torrents of rain, nor the whipping trees, but instead seemed to be having a grand time.

Thinking the young girl might lead me to a nearby house I called out to her. But I must have frightened her in turn, for she looked around, startled, spied me, and made an amazing leap onto her pony and dashed out of sigh. This unnerved me more than ever, and I couldn't remain a moment longer in this lonely, storm-wracked woods, where a child and horse walked like creatures bewitched.

I mounted Pepper and we made our way as best we could over the narrow path. The sudden storm seemed to be quieting down, just as suddenly as it had started, but I was still surrounded by shadows and darkness as the trees and bushes grew wilder and thicker than ever. A chill came over me and the same moment Pepper reared up on his hind legs and whinnied in fright. As I clung to my horse, I saw through an opening in the trees a grim, grey castle and on the broad, overgrown driveway stood the same little girl and her pony, staring at us. This time it was I who took fright and getting control of Pepper I kicked his flanks to hurry him away from this weird place.

Back home safely, I told daddy about my experience and asked him about the little girl and the castle. "That's Blackthorne," he said, "which belongs to Sir Lawrence and Lady Agatha Blackthorne. The girl is their daughter, Genevieve. I think they call her Jenny. They're a strange family, neglecting their estates and refusing to mingle with anyone—even their peers. The village folk tell strange stories about them, and stay a mile away from the place."

Somehow, I couldn't get Jenny Blackthorne out of my mind. It was about four weeks later when I saw her again in the village. This time her mother and father were helping her alight from a horse-drawn carriage—which looked off in these times. But it struck me suddenly that there was something peculiar about Jenny's eyes; they looked dead. "Mummy, mummy," I pulled on mother's sleeve and whispered excitedly, "There's Jenny Blackthorne. What is wrong with her eyes?"

"Darling," my mother answered sadly, "Jenny's blind. Didn't you know? Her parents ever leave her out of their sight a moment."

"But that day in the woods!" I exclaimed. "Jenny was with her pony—alone—in the storm. She was laughing."

"You must have seen someone else, dear," mother dismissed all my questions, but not from my mind. Even when we returned to London the next day I kept thinking about Jenny.

And then my life became busy and full of my own affairs. I finally forgot about Jenny. The next six years I rarely accompanied my parents on their weekends to Lytton Green; I was away at school for four years and then my last year I met Dick and fell in love. After graduation we married and our two babies arrived one year after the other, keeping me tied down to our little flat.

"Why don't you and Dick and the babies go to our cottage in Lytton Green for a few weeks?" Mother suggested one day. "Dick can come down on weekends when he has to stay in town during the week." And that's how I returned to Lytton Green after six years. The third day I was settling the children in the yard when I saw a girl in the next garden. She seemed to be sleeping on a chaise lounge, and a large dog was crouched beside her. There was something familiar about her, but I couldn't place her. The people who used to live there when I was a child were a middle-aged couple with no children. This girl appeared to be eighteen or nineteen, unusually pale and slender. Somehow it seemed odd that a young person should be asleep at eleven in the morning.

Our gardener was cutting the grass near me so I thought I'd ask him about this new neighbor. Jack was an old sourpuss, crotchety and given to temper tantrums, but I always used to keep out of his way as a child so as not to run into trouble with him. "Jack," I called softly to him, in a hushed voice. "Is that a new neighbor sleeping there?" He walked over to me on his bowed legs, a long grass shears dangling menacingly in his fingers. His vivid blue eyes, bright and piercing, held my own. I had never seen such brilliant blue eyes in another creature—they looked cold and fierce. Why did I ever start to talk to him, I thought to myself.

His answer startled me more. "That's Lady Jenny, ma'am," he spat out angrily. "She moved in her a year ago, when her parents were killed in a motor crash. Her dog, Tiger, tramples on my flower beds. Some day I'm gonna kill him." While he talked in a low, furious voice, I saw Jenny stir. Her hands groped for her dog, and for the first time I noticed an intricate harness on his back. A seeing-eye dog! I thought, in sudden recognition of this animal trained to guide the blind.

"Why, Jack!" I exclaimed in horror at his anger, "That's a wonderful dog, highly intelligent and trained to lead the blind. If he ever comes over here there must be a reason for it."

"Sure!" Jack answered sarcastically. "I'm the reason. He hates me. He's after me, and so's the lady—blind though she is." His blue eyes snapped like fire-crackers.

The strange hatred between Jack and Jenny's dog, Tiger, came to a terrible climax. One day Tiger came bounding into our garden, trampling on a newly seeded bit of lawn. Enraged, Jack turned and hurled the acid powder he was holding into Tiger's face. The dog howled in agony, and Jenny, on her own lawn, started to scream. When the awful excitement died down and Tiger was rushed to a vet, we learned that his beautiful, brown-velvety eyes were blind! Now, both mistress and her dog were sightless!

I wanted to call on Jenny. I felt a vague responsibility for the shocking accident. But everyone in the village warned me not to do so. "She hates people. She's a strange one, don't go near her," they all cautioned me. So I put off my plan; if she wanted no visitors I was reluctant to thrust myself upon her.

Shortly after this I returned to London with my family. One day mother hurried over to see me, all excited. "Oh, a dreadful thing has happened," she cried. "There was a fire in our little cottage. Jack, the gardener was staying there that night and he rushed out in his pajamas and sought shelter in Jenny's house." Mother paused for a breath, but there was a horror in her eyes.

"But, mother," I comforted her, "he's safe, isn't he? Is the house all right?"

"Yes, the fire was put out and not much damage was done," mother replied, nervously.

"Then why are you so troubled, mummy?" I wondered. Her answer was puzzling, deeply disturbing. "Jack—hasn't—been—been—seen—since. He was seen running into Jenny's house, and now he's missing."

"Have inquiries been made?" I asked.

"Yes, they've investigated," mother said, "but Jenny insists Jack never came to her house the time of the fire. Her house was searched, but no trace of him."

Several weeks later I was again visiting mother's cottage at Lytton Green.

By this time Jack's body had been found—in a gruesome state. His eyes had been gouged out, I was told. I shuddered as I thought of his vivid, blue eyes, and tried to put the image out of my mind.

Once again I saw Jenny in the garden. She was standing, her sightless eyes bent in my direction. To my surprise she asked me if she could come over. "Please do," I said, amazed how blind people sense another's presence.

Suddenly, her dog, Tiger, bounded ahead of her. I was astonished. Tiger could see! He stopped in front of me. A horrible sensation came over me as the dog looked up into my eyes. Instead of the deep brown velvet eyes which I had admired in Tiger, his eyes were a vivid, piercing blue!

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