The Wind Flower
The Wind Flower a short story of infatuation and, obsession. An artist becomes completely spellbound by a quiet, monosyllable girl who flourishes in a prevailing storm. This exhilarating transformation of the girl captures the spirit of life, excitement and adventure. A short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam, an American author and poet who wrote a series of short stories based on her own experiences. The Wind Flower is a unique tale of mystery and romance with a touch of mother nature and its ability to capture our emotions. With the addition of some illustrations, and only a few – slight – changes to enhance a more modern reading experience, we hope you enjoy this short story.
The Wind Flower
Willard’s landlady smiled sympathetically across the narrow breakfast-table. “I guess you’ve got to stay in this mornin’, Mr Willard,” she said. “It’s a good deal too raw and cold for you to be out around, paintin’, to-day.”
Willard nodded. “Quite right, Mrs Storrs,” he returned, and he smiled at his landlady’s daughter, who sat opposite. But she did not smile at him. She continued her silent meal, looking for the most part at her plate, and replying to direct questions only by monosyllables.
She must be nineteen or twenty, he decided, but her slender, curveless figure might have been that of a girl several years younger. Her face was absolutely without character to the casual glance—pale, slightly freckled, lighted by grey-green, half-closed eyes, and framed in light brown hair. Her lips were thin, and her rare smile did not disclose her teeth. Even her direct look, when he compelled it, was quite uninterested.
Her mother chattered with the volubility of a woman left much alone, and glad of an appreciative listener, but the girl had not, of her own accord, spoken a word during his week’s stay. He wondered as he thought of it why he had not noticed it before, and decided that her silence was not obtrusive, but only the outcome of her colourless personality—like the silence of the prim New England house itself.
He groaned inwardly. “What in time can I do? Nothing to read within five miles: my last cigar went yesterday: this beastly weather driving me to melancholia! If she weren’t such a stick—heavens! I never knew a girl could be so thin!”
The girl in question rose and began clearing the table. Her mother bustled out of the room, and left Willard in the old-fashioned armchair by the window, almost interested, as he wondered what the girl would do or say now. After five minutes of silence, he realised the strange impression, or rather the lack of impression, she made on him. He was hardly conscious of a woman’s presence. The intangible atmosphere of femininity that wraps around a tête-à-tête with even the most unattractive woman was wholly lacking. She seemed simply a more or less intelligent human being.
Given greatly to analysis, he grew interested. Why was this? She did not want intellectually; he was sure. Such remarks as she had made in answer to his own were not noticeable for stupidity or even stolidity of thought. He broke the silence.
“What do you do with yourself, these days?” he suggested. “I don’t see you about at all. Are you reading, or walking about these fascinating Maine beaches?”
She did not even look up at him as she replied. “I don’t know as I do very much of anything. I’m not very fond of reading—at least, not these books.”
Remembering the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” “Book of Martyrs,” “Mrs Heman’s Poems,” and the “Adventures of Rev. James Hogan, Missionary to the Heathen of Africa,” that adorned the marble-topped table in the parlour, he shuddered sympathetically.
“But I walk a good deal,” she volunteered. “I’ve been all over that ledge you’re painting.”
“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said. “It reminds me of a poem I read somewhere about the beauty of Appledore—that’s on this coast somewhere, too, isn’t it? You’d appreciate the poem, I’m sure—do you care for poetry?”
She piled the dishes on a tray and carried it through the door before he had time to take it from her.
“No,” she replied over her shoulder, “no, I don’t care for it. It seems so—so smooth and shiny, somehow.”
“Smooth? shiny?” he smiled as she came back, “I don’t see.”
Her high, rather indifferent voice fell in a slight embarrassment, as she explained: “Oh, I mean the rhymes and the verses—they’re so even and like a clock ticking.”
He took from his pocket a little red book. “Let me read you this,” he said eagerly, “and see if you think it smooth and shiny. You must have heard and seen what this man tries to tell.”
She stood awkwardly by the table, her scant, shapeless dress accentuating the straight lines of her slim figure, her hands clasped loosely before her, her face turned toward the window, which rattled now and then at the gusts of the rising wind. Willard held the little book easily between thumb and finger, and read in clear, pleasant tones, looking at her occasionally with interest:
“Fresh from his fastnesses, wholesome and spacious.
The north wind, the mad huntsman, halloos on his white hounds
Over the grey, roaring reaches and ridges,
The forest of Ocean, the chase of the world.
Hark to the peal of the pack in full cry,
As he thongs them before him, swarming voluminous,
Weltering, wide-wallowing, till in a ruining
Chaos of energy, hurled on their quarry.
They crash into foam!”
“There! is that smooth and shiny?” he demanded. She had moved nearer, to catch more certainly his least intonation.
Her hands twisted nervously, and to his surprise, she smiled with unmistakable pleasure.
“Oh, no!” she half-whispered, eyeing the book in his hand wistfully. “Oh, no! That makes me feel different. I—I love the wind.”
“What’s that?” Mrs. Storrs entered quickly. “Now, Sarah, you just stop that nonsense! Mr Willard, has she been tellin’ you any foolishness?”
“Miss Storrs had only told me that she liked the wind,” he replied, hoping that the woman would go, and let him develop at leisure what promised to be a most interesting situation. She had really very pretty, even teeth, and when she smiled, her lips curved pleasantly.
But Mrs Storrs was not to be evaded. She had evidently a grievance to set forth, and looking reproachfully at her daughter, continued:
“Ever since Sarah was five or six years old, she’s had that crazy likin’ for the wind. ‘Taint natural, I say, and when the gales that we have up here strike us, the least anybody can do ‘s to stay in the house and thank Providence they’ve got a house to stay in! Why, Mr Willard, you’d never think it to look at her, for she’s a real quiet girl—too quiet, seems to me, sometimes, when I’m just put to it for somebody to be social with—but in that big gale of eighty-eight she was out all night in it, and me and her father—that was before Mr Storrs died—nearly crazy with fearin’ she was lost for good. And when she was six years old, she got up from her crib and went out on the beach In her little nightgown, and nothin’ else, and it’s a miracle she didn’t die of pneumonia, if not of bein’ blown to death.”
Mrs Storrs stopped for breath, and Willard glanced at the girl, wondering if she would appear disconcerted or angry at such unlooked-for revelation of her eccentricity. Still, her face had settled Into its usual impassive lines, and she dusted the chairs serenely, turning now and then to look fixedly through the window at the swaying elm whose boughs leaned to the ground under the still rising wind.
Her mother was evidently relieving the strain of an enforced silence, and sitting stiffly in her chair, as one not accustomed to the luxury of idle conversation, she continued:
“And even now, when she’s old enough to know better, you’d think, she acts possessed. Any wind-storm ‘ll set her off, but when the spring gales come, she’ll just roam ’round the house, back and forth, staring out of doors, and me as nervous as a cat all the while. Just because I won’t let her go out, she acts like a child. Why, last year I had to go out and drag her in by main force; I was nearly blown off the cliff gettin’ her home. And she was singin’, calm, as if she was in her bed like any decent person! It’s the most unnatural thing I ever heard of! Now, Sarah Storrs,” as the girl was slipping from the room, “you remember you promised me not to go out this year after supper, if the wind was high. You mind, now! It’s comin’ up an awful blow.”
The girl turned abruptly. “I never promised you that, mother,” she said quickly. “I said I wouldn’t if I could help it, and if I can’t help it, I can’t, and that’s all there is to it.” The door closed behind her, and shortly afterwards Willard left Mrs Storrs in possession of the room.
The day affected him strangely. The steady low moan of the wind was by this time very noticeable. It was not cold, only clear and rather keen, and the scurrying grey clouds looked chillier than one found the air on going out. The boom of the surf carried a sinister threat with it, and the birds drove helplessly with, the wind-current, as if escaping some dreaded thing behind them.
Indoors, the state of affairs was not much better: Mrs Storrs looked injured; her sister, a lady of uncertain years and temper, talked of sudden deaths, and the probability of premature burial, pointed by the relation of actual occurrences of that nature; Sarah was not to be seen.
At last he could bear idleness no longer, and opening the dusty melodeon, tried to drown the dreary minor music of the wind by some cheerful selection from the hymn-book Mrs Storrs brought him, having a vague idea that secular music was out of keeping with the character of that instrument. After a few moments’ aimless fingering the keys he found himself pedalling a laborious accompaniment to the “Dead March” from Saul, and closed the wheezy little organ in despair.
The long day dragged somehow by, and at supper, Sarah appeared, if anything, whiter and more uninteresting than ever, only to retire immediately when the meal was over.
“I might’s well tell you, Mr Willard, that you can give up all hope of paintin’ any more this week,” announced Mrs Storrs, as the door closed behind her daughter. “This wind’s good for a week, I guess. I’m sorry to have you go, but I shouldn’t feel honest not to tell you.” Mentally vowing to leave the next morning, Willard thanked her and explained that the study was far enough advanced to be completed at his studio in the city, and that he had intended leaving very shortly.
A few moments later, as he stood at the window in the parlour, looking at the waving elm-boughs and lazily wondering how the moon could be so bright when there were so many clouds, the soft swish of a woman’s skirt sounded close to his ear. As he turned, the frightened “Oh!” and the little gasp of surprised femininity revealed Sarah, standing near the table in the centre of the room. Even at that distance and in the dark, he was aware of a difference in her, a subtle element of personality not present before.
“Did I frighten you?” he asked, coming nearer.
“No, not very much. Only I thought nobody would be here. I—I—wanted someplace to breathe in; it seems so tight and close in the house.” As she spoke, a violent blast of wind drove the shutters against the side of the house and rubbed together the branches of the elm until they creaked dismally. She pressed her face against the glass and stared out into the dark.
“Don’t you love it?” she questioned, almost eagerly.
Willard shook his head dubiously. “Don’t know. Looks pretty cool. If it gets much higher, I shouldn’t care to walk far.”
She took her old place by the table again, but soon left it, and wandered restlessly about the room. As she passed him, he was conscious of a distinct physical impression—a kind of electric presence. She seemed to gather and hold about her all the faint light of the cold room, and the sweep of her skirt against his foot seemed to draw him toward her. Suddenly she stopped her irregular march.
“Hear it sing!” she whispered.
The now distinct voice of the wind grew to a long, minor wail, that rose and fell with rhythmic regularity. As she paused with uplifted finger near him, Willard felt with amazement a compelling force, a personality more intense, for the time, than his own. Then, as the blast, with a shriek that echoed for a moment with startling distinctness from every side, dashed the elm branches against the house itself, she turned abruptly and left the room. “Stay here!” she said shortly, and, resisting the impulse to follow her, he obeyed. In a few moments, she returned with a heavy shawl wrapped over her head and shoulders.
“Hold the window open for me,” she said, “I’m going out.” He attempted remonstrance, but she waved him impatiently away. “I can’t get out of the door—mother’s locked it and taken the key, but you can hold up the window while I get out. Oh, come yourself, if you like! But nothing can happen to me.”
Mechanically he held open the window as she slipped out, and, dragging his overcoat after him, scrambled through himself. She was waiting for him at the corner of the house, and as he stumbled in the unfamiliar shadows, held out her hand.
“Here, take hold of my hand,” she commanded. Her cool, slim grasp was strangely pleasant, as she hurried along with a smooth, gliding motion, wholly unlike her indifferent gait of the day before.
Once out of the shelter of the house, the storm struck them with full force, and Willard realised that he was well-nigh strangled in the clutches of a genuine Maine gale.
“What folly!” he gasped, crowding his hat over his eyes and struggling to gain his wonted consciousness of superiority. “Come back instantly, Miss Storrs! Your mother—”
“Come! Come!” she interrupted, pulling him along.
He stared at her in amazement. Her eyes were wide open, almost black with excitement. And now her face gleamed like ivory in the cold light. Her lips were parted and curved in a happy smile. Her slender body swayed easily with the wind that nearly bent Willard double. She seemed unreal—a phantom of the storm, a veritable wind-spirit. Her loosened hair flew across his face, and its touch completed the strange thrill that her hand-clasp brought. He followed unresistingly.
“Aren’t—you—afraid—of—the—woods?” he gasped, the gusts tearing the words from his lips, as he saw that she was making for the thick growth of trees that bordered the cliff. Her high, light laughter almost frightened him, so weird and unhuman it came to him on the wind.
“Why should I be afraid? The woods are so beautiful in a storm! They bow and nod and throw their branches about—oh, they’re best of all, then!”
A sweeping blast nearly threw him down, and he instinctively dropped her hand, since there was no possible feeling of protection for her, her footing was so sure, her balance so perfect. As he righted himself and staggered to the shelter of the tree under which she was standing, he stopped, lost in wonder and admiration. She had impatiently thrown off the shawl and stood in a gleam of moonlight under the tree.
Her long, straight hair flew out in two fluttering wisps at either side, and her slender, curved mouth were painted against her pale face in clear relief. Now her eyes were wide open, the pupils dark and gleaming. It seemed to his excited glance that rays of light streamed from them to him. “Heavens! She’s a beauty! If only I could catch that pose!” he said under his breath.
“Come!” she called to him again, “we’re wasting time! I want to get to the cliff!”
He pressed on to her, but she slipped around the tree and eluded him, keeping a little in advance as he panted on, fighting with all the force of a fairly powerful man against the gale that seemed to offer her no resistance. It occurred to him, as he watched with a greedy artist’s eye the almost unnatural ease and lightness of her walk, that she caught the turns of the wind intuitively, guiding along currents and channels unknown to him, for she seemed with it always, never against it. Once she threw out both her arms in an abandon of delight, and actually leaned on the gust that tossed him against a tree, baffled and wearied with his efforts to keep pace with her, and confusedly wondering if he would wake soon from this improbable dream.
Speech was impossible. The whistling of the wind alone was deafening, and his voice was blown in twenty directions when he attempted to call her. Small twigs lashed his face, slippery boughs glided from his grasp, and the trees fled by in a thick-grown crowd to his dazed eyes. To his right, a birch suddenly fell with a snapping crash. He leapt to one side, only to feel about his face a blinding storm of pattering acorns from the great oak that with a rending sigh and swish tottered through the air at his left.
“Good God!” he cried in terror, as he saw her standing apparently in its track. A veer in the gale altered the direction of the great trunk, that sank to the ground across her path. As it fell, with an indescribable, swaying bound, she leapt from the ground, and before it quite touched the earth, she rested lightly upon it. She seemed absolutely unreal—a dryad of the windy wood. All fear for her left him.
As she stood poised on the still trembling trunk, a quick gust blew out her skirt to a bubble on one side, and drove it close to her slender body on the other, while her loose hair streamed like a banner along the wind. She curved her figure towards him and made a cup of one hand, laying it beside her opened lips. What she said he did not hear. He was rapt in delighted wonder at the consummate grace of her attitude, the perfect poise of her body. She was a figure in a Greek frieze—a bas-relief—a breathing statue.
Unable to make him hear, she turned slightly and pointed ahead. He realised the effect of the Wingless Victory in its unbroken beauty. She was not a woman, but an incarnate art, a miracle of changing line and curve, a ceaseless inspiration.
Suddenly he heard the pound and boom of the surf. In an ecstasy of impatience, she hurried back, seized his hand, and fairly dragged him on. The crash of the waves and the wind together took from him all power of connected thought. He clung to her hand like a child, and when she threw herself down on her face to breathe, he grasped her dress and panted in her ear: “We—can’t—get—much—further—unless—you—can—walk—the—Atlantic!” She smiled happily back at him, and the thickness of her hair, blown by the wind from the ocean about his face, brought him a strange, unspeakable content.
“Shall we ever go back?” he whispered, half to himself. “Or will you float down the cliff and wake me by your going?”
Her wide, dark eyes answered him silently. “It is like a dream, though,” her high, sweet voice added. And then he realised that she had hardly spoken since they left the house. The house? As in a dream he tried vaguely to connect this Undine of the wood with the girl whose body she had stolen for this night’s pranks. As in a dream, he rose and followed her back, through the howling, sweeping wind. Her cold, slim handheld his; her light, shrill voice sang little snatches of songs—hymns, he remembered afterwards. As the moonlight fell on her, he wondered dreamily why he had thought her too thin. And all the while he fought, half-unconsciously, the resistless gale, that spared him only when he yielded utterly.
The house gleamed white and square before them. Silently he raised the window for her. He had no thought of lifting her in. That she should slip lightly through was of course. The house was still lighted, and he heard the creaking of her mother’s rocking-chair in the bedroom over his head. He looked at his watch. “Does her mother rock all night?” he thought dully, for it was nearly twelve. She read his question from the perplexed glance he threw at her.
“She’s sitting up to watch the door so that I shan’t get out,” she whispered, without a smile. “Good-bye.” And he stood alone in the room.
Original short story by Josephine Dodge Daskam
Retold by A Moffat
Illustrations by justanemotion.com
Book cover illustration by Ractapopulous
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