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A Vine On A House






About three miles from the little town of Norton, in Missouri, on
the road leading to Maysville, stands an old house that was last
occupied by a family named Harding. Since 1886 no one has lived in
it, nor is anyone likely to live in it again. Time and the disfavor
of persons dwelling thereabout are converting it into a rather
picturesque ruin. An observer unacquainted with its history would
hardly put it into the category of "haunted houses," yet in all the
region round such is its evil reputation. Its windows are without
glass, its doorways without doors; there are wide breaches in the
shingle roof, and for lack of paint the weatherboarding is a dun
gray. But these unfailing signs of the supernatural are partly
concealed and greatly softened by the abundant foliage of a large
vine overrunning the entire structure. This vine--of a species
which no botanist has ever been able to name--has an important part
in the story of the house.

The Harding family consisted of Robert Harding, his wife Matilda,
Miss Julia Went, who was her sister, and two young children. Robert
Harding was a silent, cold-mannered man who made no friends in the
neighborhood and apparently cared to make none. He was about forty
years old, frugal and industrious, and made a living from the little
farm which is now overgrown with brush and brambles. He and his
sister-in-law were rather tabooed by their neighbors, who seemed to
think that they were seen too frequently together--not entirely
their fault, for at these times they evidently did not challenge
observation. The moral code of rural Missouri is stern and
exacting.

Mrs. Harding was a gentle, sad-eyed woman, lacking a left foot.

At some time in 1884 it became known that she had gone to visit her
mother in Iowa. That was what her husband said in reply to
inquiries, and his manner of saying it did not encourage further
questioning. She never came back, and two years later, without
selling his farm or anything that was his, or appointing an agent to
look after his interests, or removing his household goods, Harding,
with the rest of the family, left the country. Nobody knew whither
he went; nobody at that time cared. Naturally, whatever was movable
about the place soon disappeared and the deserted house became
"haunted" in the manner of its kind.

One summer evening, four or five years later, the Rev. J. Gruber, of
Norton, and a Maysville attorney named Hyatt met on horseback in
front of the Harding place. Having business matters to discuss,
they hitched their animals and going to the house sat on the porch
to talk. Some humorous reference to the somber reputation of the
place was made and forgotten as soon as uttered, and they talked of
their business affairs until it grew almost dark. The evening was
oppressively warm, the air stagnant.

Presently both men started from their seats in surprise: a long
vine that covered half the front of the house and dangled its
branches from the edge of the porch above them was visibly and
audibly agitated, shaking violently in every stem and leaf.

"We shall have a storm," Hyatt exclaimed.

Gruber said nothing, but silently directed the other's attention to
the foliage of adjacent trees, which showed no movement; even the
delicate tips of the boughs silhouetted against the clear sky were
motionless. They hastily passed down the steps to what had been a
lawn and looked upward at the vine, whose entire length was now
visible. It continued in violent agitation, yet they could discern
no disturbing cause.

"Let us leave," said the minister.

And leave they did. Forgetting that they had been traveling in
opposite directions, they rode away together. They went to Norton,
where they related their strange experience to several discreet
friends. The next evening, at about the same hour, accompanied by
two others whose names are not recalled, they were again on the
porch of the Harding house, and again the mysterious phenomenon
occurred: the vine was violently agitated while under the closest
scrutiny from root to tip, nor did their combined strength applied
to the trunk serve to still it. After an hour's observation they
retreated, no less wise, it is thought, than when they had come.

No great time was required for these singular facts to rouse the
curiosity of the entire neighborhood. By day and by night crowds of
persons assembled at the Harding house "seeking a sign." It does
not appear that any found it, yet so credible were the witnesses
mentioned that none doubted the reality of the "manifestations" to
which they testified.

By either a happy inspiration or some destructive design, it was one
day proposed--nobody appeared to know from whom the suggestion came-
-to dig up the vine, and after a good deal of debate this was done.
Nothing was found but the root, yet nothing could have been more
strange!

For five or six feet from the trunk, which had at the surface of the
ground a diameter of several inches, it ran downward, single and
straight, into a loose, friable earth; then it divided and
subdivided into rootlets, fibers and filaments, most curiously
interwoven. When carefully freed from soil they showed a singular
formation. In their ramifications and doublings back upon
themselves they made a compact network, having in size and shape an
amazing resemblance to the human figure. Head, trunk and limbs were
there; even the fingers and toes were distinctly defined; and many
professed to see in the distribution and arrangement of the fibers
in the globular mass representing the head a grotesque suggestion of
a face. The figure was horizontal; the smaller roots had begun to
unite at the breast.

In point of resemblance to the human form this image was imperfect.
At about ten inches from one of the knees, the cilia forming that
leg had abruptly doubled backward and inward upon their course of
growth. The figure lacked the left foot.

There was but one inference--the obvious one; but in the ensuing
excitement as many courses of action were proposed as there were
incapable counselors. The matter was settled by the sheriff of the
county, who as the lawful custodian of the abandoned estate ordered
the root replaced and the excavation filled with the earth that had
been removed.

Later inquiry brought out only one fact of relevancy and
significance: Mrs. Harding had never visited her relatives in Iowa,
nor did they know that she was supposed to have done so.

Of Robert Harding and the rest of his family nothing is known. The
house retains its evil reputation, but the replanted vine is as
orderly and well-behaved a vegetable as a nervous person could wish
to sit under of a pleasant night, when the katydids grate out their
immemorial revelation and the distant whippoorwill signifies his
notion of what ought to be done about it.





Next: At Old Man Eckert's

Previous: A Fruitless Assignment



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