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The Hand On The Latch
by [?]

There came a man across the moor,
Fell and foul of face was he,
He left the path by the cross-roads three,
And stood in the shadow of the door.


She stood at her low window with its uneven, wavering glass, and looked out across the prairie. A little snow had fallen, not much, only enough to add a sense of desolation to the boundless plain, the infinite plain outside the four cramped walls of her log hut. The log hut was like a tiny boat moored in some vast, tideless, impassable sea. The immensity of the prairie had crushed her in the earlier years of her married life; but gradually she had become accustomed to it, then reconciled to it, at last almost a part of it. The grey had come early to her thick hair, a certain fixity to the quiet courage of her eyes. Her calm, steadfast face showed that she was not given to depression, but nevertheless this evening, as she stood watching for her husband’s return, for the first distant speck of him where the cart-rut vanished into the plain, a sense of impending misfortune enfolded her with the dusk. Was it because the first snow had fallen? Ah me! how much it meant. It was as significant for her as the grey pallor that falls on a sick man’s face. It meant the endless winter, the greater isolation instead of the lesser, the powerlessness to move hand or foot in that all-enveloping shroud; the struggle, not for existence–with him beside her that was assured–not for luxury, she had ceased to care for it, though he had not ceased to care for her sake, but for life in any but its narrowest sense. Books, letters, human speech, through the long months these would be almost entirely denied her. The sudden remembrance of the larger needs of life flooded her soul, touching to momentary semblance of movement many things long cherished, but long since dead, like delicate sea-plants beyond high-water mark, that cannot exist between the long droughts when the spring tide does not come. She had known what she was doing when, against the wishes of her family, she of the South had married him of the North, when she left the busy city life she knew, and clave to her husband, following him over the rim of the world, as women will follow while they have feet to follow with. She was his superior in birth, cultivation, refinement, but she had never regretted what she had done. The regrets were his for her, for the poverty to which he had brought her, and to which she had not been accustomed. She had only one regret, if such a thin strip of a word as regret can be used to describe her passionate, controlled desolation, immense as the prairie, because she had no child. Perhaps if they had had children the walls of the log hut in the waste might have closed in on them less rigidly. It might have become more of a home.

Her mind had taken its old mechanical bent, the trend of long habit, as she looked out from that low window. How often she had stood there and thought “If only we might have had a child!” And now, by sheer force of habit, she thought it yet again. And then a slow rapture took possession of her whole being, mounted, mounted till she leaned against the window still faint with joy. She was to have a child after all. She had hardly dared believe it at first; but as time had gone on a vague hope quickly suppressed as unbearable had turned to suspense, suspense had alternated with the fierce despair that precedes certainty. Certainty had come at last, clear and calm and exquisite as dawn. She would have a child in the spring. What was the winter to her now! Nothing but a step towards joy. The world was all broken up and made new. The prairie, its great loneliness, its death-like solitude, were gone out of her life. She was to have a child in the spring. She had not dared to tell her husband till she was sure. But she would tell him this evening, when they were sitting together over the fire.