Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/The Old Woman

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I was walking over a wide plain alone.

And suddenly I fancied light, cautious footsteps behind my back. … Some one was walking after me.

I looked round, and saw a little, bent old woman, all muffled up in grey rags. The face of the old woman alone peeped out from them; a yellow, wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.

I went up to her. … She stopped.

'Who are you ? What do you want ? Are you a beggar ? Do you seek alms ? '

The old woman did not answer. I bent down to her, and noticed that both her eyes were covered with a half-transparent membrane or skin, such as is seen in some birds; they protect their eyes with it from dazzling light.

But in the old woman, the membrane did not move nor uncover the eyes . . . from which I concluded she was blind.

'Do you want alms?' I repeated my question. 'Why are you following me?' But the old woman as before made no answer, but only shrank into herself a little.

I turned from her and went on my way.

And again I hear behind me the same light, measured, as it were, stealthy steps.

'Again that woman!' I thought, 'why does she stick to me?' But then, I added inwardly, 'Most likely she has lost her way, being blind, and now is following the sound of my steps so as to get with me to some inhabited place. Yes, yes, that's it.'

But a strange uneasiness gradually gained possession of my mind. I began to fancy that the old woman was not only following me, but that she was directing me, that she was driving me to right and to left, and that I was unwittingly obeying her.

I still go on, however . . . but, behold, before me, on my very road, something black and wide ... a kind of hole. . . . ' A grave!' flashed through my head. 'That is where she is driving me!'

I turned sharply back. The old woman faced me again . . . but she sees! She is looking at me with big, cruel, malignant eyes . . . the eyes of a bird of prey. . . . I stoop down to her face, to her eyes. . . . Again the same opaque membrane, the same blind, dull countenance. . . .

'Ah!' I think, 'this old woman is my fate. The fate from which there is no escape for man!'

'No escape! no escape! What madness. . . . One must try.' And I rush away in another direction.

I go swiftly. . . . But light footsteps as before patter behind me, close, close. . . . And before me again the dark hole.

Again I turn another way. . . . And again the same patter behind, and the same menacing blur of darkness before.

And whichever way I run, doubling like a hunted hare . . . it 's always the same, the same!

'Wait!' I think, 'I will cheat her! I will go nowhere!' and I instantly sat down on the ground.

The old woman stands behind, two paces from me. I do not hear her, but I feel she is there.

And suddenly I see the blur of darkness in the distance is floating, creeping of itself towards me!

God! I look round again . . . the old woman looks straight at me, and her toothless mouth is twisted in a grin.

No escape!