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A QUEER STORY OF THE OIL COUNTRY. She ran back to the street, and looked up and down for some one to help her. There was no man ; she called aloud, and there were only confusing echoes. Then she saw the church, and went towards it. Perhaps there were people within. Ah ! the bell. She tried the church door, and to her surprise it opened; the floor within was deep with dust—it was as velvet to her leet. She opened the inner door, and looked into the church ; it was dark and damp, cold and empty. Seeing the bell-rope, and not caring whom she alarmed, she gave it a vigorous pull. The clang of the hell startled her, and she let go the rope, while a shower of dust tell on her head. The bell turned on its wheel and gave one more stroke ; the sound frightened her, and she ran in terror into the street, trembling and crying,. She paused lor a moment, listening intently, while her heart beat fast. There was not a sound save the drone cf the whistling gas-well. Then she ran back to the church, grasped the ball-rope, and made the bell sound a clamorous appeal for help ; the exertion wearied her, and she returned to the street. Was it not all some dreadful dream ? Would she not soon wake to find herself once more lost in the wilderness ? No ; it was all real—that dreary whistle proved it true. Just then, she caught sight of a well near the church, and going to it, looked in; it was quite full, and there was just a trace of oil floating on the surface. There was a rusty chain pump over the well, and after some exertion, she managed to bring up a little water —enough for a drink. It was not a dream ; the water seemed to nauseate her and chill her.

She was not dreaming. She was in a town—but it was dead. She began to recover her self-posses-sion. If the place was abandoned, if no man dwelt there, she was, at least, safe. It was growing dark, and she at once decided that, if there was no one in the place, she was at liberty to shelter herself in one of the houses. She walked back to the hotel, and climbing up the weather-stained steps, looked into several of the windows. Within, there was a scene of wild destruction and ruin. Clearly, the people who had been there had, for some reason, smashed and destroyed all they could not take away. Without hesitation, she thrust her gun through one of the windows, reached in, moved the bolt, and then raised the sash and entered the house.

She must find, first of all, a safe place to sleep, a place to escape the appalling loneliness of the empty street. She picked her way over the dusty floor, and found what' seemed to be the office. There were rows of keys, green with oxide, on a rack, and she took a number of them down and examined them ; there were some marked “ Dining room,” “ Pantry,” and so on, and others had merely numbers. These she guessed must be chamber keys \ she took several, and left the others on the counter. It was rapidly growing dark, and she must find a place to sleep. Perhaps upstairs there would be less destruction.

Alter looking about for a few moments, she found the stairway, and went up to the second floor. There was a long hall with a number of doors on either side; at one end of the hall were a pile of trunks, and every one of them burst open, and heaps of moulding clothing scattered over the floor. She opened one of the doors ; it was a chamber completely furnished, and in perfect order. She opened several doors,.for every one was unlocked, and in all were beds, chairs, tables, carpets, everything complete; nearly all the beds - were made up, as if waiting for guests. She chose the first room, facing the street, laid her gun and belt on the table, and pulled it near the bed. It was too dark to discern the thick dust spread over everything. She then opened the bed, threw aside a part of her torn clothing, and in a moment was sound asleep. The sun was shining brightly when she awoke, and for a moment she was bewildered, and knew not where she might be; a movement of her arm raised a cloud of choking dust, and recalled the events of’the day before. She felt sick and faint, and mechanically rose and went to the toilet stand for gome water. Everything was in place, and she took up the water-jug, when it suddenly fell to pieces in her hand. She stood for a moment speculating on the broken pitcher. Why did it break? Ice; but this was summer. It had contained water at some time, for there were traces of sediment inside. The water had evidently Irozen and split the jug, and it fell to pieces at a touch. The place had been abandoned for months, perhaps years. She opened the door and went out into the wide hall, that extended the whole length of the house. The sun was shining in at the window at the farther end, and she instinctively went toward it, to look out. Perhaps there were people below. To her amazement, she found abundant life in. the stableyard below ; not a man, or horse, or even chickens to be seen, but scores of cats of every shade and stripe. She counted sixty-three lying upon the gress or walking about in the sunlight. The sight, combined with the mystery of the ice-broken pitcher, gave her a feeling of positive terror ; not only was the town dead, but it had been dead a long time. The former inhabitants had abandoned the place, taking horses, fowls, and dogs with them ; the cats had, after their manner, clung to the place. The pitcher must have been broken ihe previous winter, perhaps many winters before. The cats had lived there unmolested for many generations. Then she began to wonder why she had not seen (hem the day before ; perhaps they had seen her and tad bidden in fear, She opened the'

window and called to them suddenly, and in an instant there was not one to be seen.

“ I’m glad of that; it is better they should fear me than that I should fear them.”

The fresh air at the window seemed to revive her spirits, and returning to her room, she shook off the dust on the towels, and taking them in her band, made her way downstairs, and after some searching, found the great kitchen. Everything stood in perfect order—stove, utensils, and vast heaps of plates, deeply coated with dust. There was also a pump, but it appeared to be out of order, probably ruined by frost long ago. Then she went back to the front ot the house, and tried the doors ; all were locked, and opening the window where she had entered the night before, she went out into the silent street.

Could it be possible the place was utterly abandoned ? She called aloud, and asked if any man were near; the only reply was a hasty scrambling behind a fence, then an old grey cat timidly looked over the fence and cried mournfully. It seemed to dimly recognize a human being, such as it might have seen in its youth ; presently it sprang down and came towards her. She tried to caress it, but the creature was shy and would not come nearer. It stood crying in a half-human manner; it seemed a link between herself and the forgotten people who once lived in the town. Finding the well, she bathed her face and hands, and then returned to the hotel. “I have shelter and water ; if now I can find fire and food, I am comparatively safe.” {To he Ooniinued.}

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Bibliographic details

“STRUCK ILE.”, South Canterbury Times, Issue 6012, 14 September 1889

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“STRUCK ILE.” South Canterbury Times, Issue 6012, 14 September 1889

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