Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/59

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hearty, "I built this right where the old mill stood. How d'you like it?"

The judge fitted his big body into an armchair, and sipped. "I don't quite know yet. I've only come. How do you like it yourself, Mr. Scrope?"

Another dab at the forelock. "To tell the truth, I don't know either." He, too, drank before continuing. "Maybe because I've never had a place of my own before. And I've been used to working, always on the go with my paper—now I'm a little lost with all the slack time on my hands. You know how that is. But when I first saw the spot, with the ruined mill and all, stuck away here, I thought it was as nice a building site as I'd ever heard of."

"I've been told a little about the mill and its legend," ventured Pursuivant, rummaging a pocket for his pipe. At once his host began the tale, as Pursuivant had hoped:

"The place, I understand, was built before the War of Independence. It was owned and run by a man named Criley. He had a wife, a son and a daughter."

"Mind if I take notes?" asked Pursuivant, producing notebook and pen. "Go on, Mr. Scrope."

"Well, the war came. The miller and his son joined Washington's army. The British took New York, and there was a long, hard scrap to see whether they'd stop there or take the rest of the country, too."

Pursuivant nodded. He knew that dark, desperate phase of his nation's history. After the first disaster to American arms, the fighting had taken on the somber complexion of raids, ambuscades, betrayals. Considerable savagery on both sides. Nathan Hale and John Andre—two fine gentlemen—hanged like felons. Thousands of other tragedies. All the New York area—including this part of New Jersey—stock full of grim deeds, giving rise to creepy tales.

Scrope went on:

"New York had quite a few Hessian soldiers stationed around—hired to fight the Americans, you know."

Again Pursuivant nodded. His Virginian ancestor had followed Washington in the battle of Trenton. "The Hessians weren't very fierce fighters," he commented.

"There was an exception to that rule," Scrope declared pithily. "Still taking notes, Judge?—I can't tell you this particular Hessian's name, but it comes down in the story how he looked. Big as you, I figure. Burly. He was a famous hunter back home in Germany. Maybe a criminal, joining the army to escape—Anyway, he could beat the Americans at their own game of hunt and shoot."

"That's hard to believe," rejoined Pursuivant. "Some of Washington's men were hard-set old Indian fighters."

"This Hessian outdid the Indians. He'd strip naked—even in winter—and paint himself like a Mohawk and sally out to kill. He was a dead shot, and a devil with sword or hatchet or knife." Scrope paused to bite the end off a cigar. "He could track or stalk anything, and he'd fight two soldiers at a time. Sometimes more. He raided farms and murdered civilians, even women and children. Quite a score he ran up."

Scribbling in his book, the judge could see in his mind one of those fancy-portraits so often vivid—a naked colossus, streaked with red and black, a heavy-boned face, thick, pale brows over slitted eyes. A belt stuck full of weapons. Had the Hessian looked like that? Pursuivant filled his pipe and thrust it under his mustache. "Go on," he prompted.

"The two women left here at the mill hated and feared that Hessian. They plotted against him. Pretended to be British sympathizers, and scraped an acquaintance."

"That was nervy of them," commented the judge. His mind's eye showed him new