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Lilith George MacDonald

That Night

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Their night was a troubled one, and they brought a strange report of it into the day. Whether the fear of their sleep came out into their waking, or their waking fear sank with them into their dreams, awake or asleep they were never at rest from it. All night something seemed going on in the house--something silent, something terrible, something they were not to know. Never a sound awoke; the darkness was one with the silence, and the silence was the terror.

Once, a frightful wind filled the house, and shook its inside, they said, so that it quivered and trembled like a horse shaking himself; but it was a silent wind that made not even a moan in their chamber, and passed away like a soundless sob.

They fell asleep. But they woke again with a great start. They thought the house was filling with water such as they had been drinking. It came from below, and swelled up until the garret was full of it to the very roof. But it made no more sound than the wind, and when it sank away, they fell asleep dry and warm.

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The next time they woke, all the air, they said, inside and out, was full of cats. They swarmed--up and down, along and across, everywhere about the room. They felt their claws trying to get through the night-gowns lady Mara had put on them, but they could not; and in the morning not one of them had a scratch. Through the dark suddenly, came the only sound they heard the night long--the far-off howl of the huge great-grandmother-cat in the desert: she must have been calling her little ones, they thought, for that instant the cats stopped, and all was still. Once more they fell fast asleep, and did not wake till the sun was rising.

Such was the account the children gave of their experiences. But I was with the veiled woman and the princess all through the night: something of what took place I saw; much I only felt; and there was more which eye could not see, and heart only could in a measure understand.

As soon as Mara left the room with the children, my eyes fell on the white leopardess: I thought we had left her behind us, but there she was, cowering in a corner. Apparently she was in mortal terror of what she might see. A lamp stood on the high chimney-piece, and sometimes the room seemed full of lamp-shadows, sometimes of cloudy forms. The princess lay on the settle by the wall, and seemed never to have moved hand or foot. It was a fearsome waiting.

When Mara returned, she drew the settle with Lilith upon it to the middle of the room, then sat down opposite me, at the other side of the hearth. Between us burned a small fire.

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