When you dig through skating history, you never know what you will unearth. In the spirit of cataloguing fascinating tales from skating history, #Unearthed is a once a month 'special occasion' on Skate Guard where fascinating writings by others that are of interest to skating history buffs are excavated, dusted off and shared for your reading pleasure. From forgotten fiction to long lost interviews to tales that have never been shared publicly, each #Unearthed is a fascinating journey through time. You've heard of Christmas In July. Well, how about All Hallow's Eve in August? Summer is about to get spooky in today's blog, where we'll explore the story of a positively evil skater in a short story from the Victorian era called "The Mad Skater: A Winter's Tale For Summer Reading". Written by Poughkeepsie, New York author Homer Greene, the tale was first published in the June 1869 edition of "Onward" magazine and is now in the public domain. Whether you read this tale by flashlight or sitting beside a crackling campfire, I can guarantee that Greene's protagonist is one skater you wouldn't want to meet in the dark:
"THE MAD SKATER: A WINTER'S TALE FOR SUMMER READING" (HOMER GREENE)
Men, women, and children had turned out to participate in the delightful sport of skating, or to watch the evolutions of the skaters. It was, in truth, a grand sight, to observe hundreds of both sexes, dressed in various costumes, and gliding rapidly over the smooth translucent surface, while shouts and peals of laughter rang mellow and merry on the still night air. A great bonfire, kindled on the ice, sent up its red flames,throwing their light far along the river, over the quiet village nestled near its bank, glistening from frosted forest on the opposite side, and rendering the scene so wild and fanciful, that the skaters, as they glided to and fro, might easily have been mistaken for the ghostly inhabitants of some supernatural world.
"What splendid skaters!" was the exclamation passing through the crowd, as young gentleman and lady made their appearance upon the ice, coming up the river from below. They were skating hand in hand, now backward, now forward, now performing some difficult feat, or whirling around in
wide sweeping circles.
"Who are they?" was the question asked by many among the spectators.
"Kate Clinton and Frank Hill," was the reply, pointing them out as belonging to the two most prominent families in the neighbourhood, whose splendid mansions stood near the river's bank little further down.
The two skaters, who had thus unexpectedly made their appearance, at once became the object of universal attraction, and an admiring crowd soon collected around them.
Observing this, and not appearing to like such public exhibition, the young lady whispered some words in the ear of her companion; who,suddenly wheeling, so as to face down the river, and carrying her round along with him, by few forcible strokes shot clear of the crowd, and skated rapidly away from it. A murmur of disappointment followed their departure, while glances of something like disapproval were cast after them, as they glided off under the gleaming moonlight.
"They don't often see such an accomplished skater as you, Kate."
"As yourself, you mean, Frank. It was your performances that gave them pleasure. And now think of it, it wasn't very graceful in me to have been the cause of disappointing them. Suppose you go back, and show them little more of your skill. Frank can stay here till you return."
"Any thing to please you, my dear Kate."
And so saying, the young man released the tiny gloved hand of his partner; and, after few long shots, was once more in the midst of the villagers, gratifying them with the display so desired. More than five minutes were thus spent, during which time the accomplished skater was repeatedly cheered, and greeted with complimentary speeches. Then, bethinking him of the fair creature he had left waiting, alone and in the cold, he was about to break off, when the eager spectators entreated him to remain a moment longer, and once more show them the figure that had elicited their most enthusiastic applause.
He consented and repeated the figure called for and then, resisting all further appeal, with one grand stroke he glided out from among the spectators, and on toward the spot where he had left the young lady on the ice.
On nearing it, he saw that she was not there, nor anywhere in sight. Where could she have gone? It occurred to him, that while he was entertaining the village crowd, she might have rejoined it, and become herself one of the spectators.With all speed he skated back again, and quartered the crowd in every direction, scanning the faces and figures. But among them he saw neither features, nor form, bearing any resemblance to those of the beautiful Kate Clinton.
"Oh!" thought he, she's been playing a little trick, to surprise me. She has slipped in under the river bank and while am rushing to and fro in search of her, she is, no doubt, standing in the shadow of hemlock, and quietly laughing at me."
Yielding to this conjecture, he once more plied his skates, and went rapidly back down the river keeping close alongside the bank, and scanning every spot overshadowed by the dark fronds of the hemlocks. But no Kate Clinton was there, either in moonlight or shadow; nor was there any score made by skates upon the inshore ice. It now occurred to him, that he might discover where she had gone, by getting upon the track of her skates, and following it up. With this intent, he hastened to the spot where he had left her standing.
On reaching it, cold thrill shot through his frame, as if the blood had suddenly become frozen within his veins. In addition to the two sets of skate tracks, left by himself and the young lady in their up and down excursions, he now saw a third, whose bold scores upon the ice showed them to have been from the feet of man There were confused curves and zigzaggings, as if there had been struggle, or some slight difficulty at starting but, beyond that point, there were two sets of straight continuous furrows, running parallel, and side by side, as if the skaters had gone away with joined hands. The direction was down the river toward home.
At glance, Frank Hill recognized the thin tiny score left by the slender steel blades on the feet of Miss Clinton. But the man who had gone skating so close by her side, who was he? Painful suspicion shot through his brain. He remembered that, shortly after leaving the house, they had passed a man upon the ice, who was also on skates. They had brushed so near him, as to see who he was, and in the moonlight had beheld countenance bearing most sinister cast. It was the face of Charles Lansing, whom Frank knew to be rival suitor for the hand of Kate Clinton.
This man had made his appearance in the neighbourhood some three months before coming. No one knew whence. In fact, there was nothing known of him, except his name and this might easily have been an assumed one. He put up at the principal hotel of the village and appeared to have money, and to be gentleman of birth and education. Was Charles Lansing the man who had come to Miss Clinton upon the ice and carried her away with him?
It could be no other; for Hill now remembered having heard the ring of skates behind, as they were coming up the river from the place where Lansing had been seen, and shortly after they had passed him. The first thought of Kate Clinton's lover was one of most painful nature. It was, in fact, a bitter pang of jealousy. Had the whole thing been prearranged, and had she willingly gone away with this stranger, who, though stranger to others, might be better known to her as Lansing, if not what might be called a handsome man, was good-looking enough to give cause for jealousy.
It was fearful reflection for Frank Hill but, fortunately, it did not long endure. It passed like spasm another, nearly as painful, taking its place. He recalled rumour that had been for some days current in the neighbourhood of strangeness observed in the behaviour of the hotel guest, that had caused doubts about his sanity. And more forcibly came back to Frank Hill's mind, what he had heard that very morning how Lansing had presented himself at the house of Miss Clinton's father, proposed marriage to her, and, when refused, had acted in such strange manner uttering wild speeches, and threats against the life of the young lady that it became necessary to use force in removing him from the premises.
Could this be the explanation of the disappearance? Was the maniac now in the act of carrying out the menace? He had made some terrible mode of vengeance under the wild promptings of insanity. The thought came quick, for this whole series of surprises and conjectures did not occupy three seconds of time. And with the last of these, Frank Hill threw all his strength into propulsive effort, and shot off like an arrow down the river.
The bend was soon passed, beyond which there was stretch of clear ice extending for more than mile. Away at the farther end, two forms were dimly discernible; and upon the still frosty air could be heard the faint ringing of skates, at intervals repeating their strokes.
Frank Hill had no doubt about one of these being she of whom he was in search and, nerved by the sight, he threw fresh vigour into his limbs, and flew over the smooth surface like bird upon the wing.
On, past rock, and tree, and hill, and farm-houses sleeping in silence; on, in long sweeping strides his eyes flashing, but fixed upon the two forms, every moment getting more clearly discernible as the distance became lessened by his speed.
And now he was near enough to see that it was Lansing. The latter, glancing back over his shoulder, recognized his pursuer and, taking fresh hold on the wrist of his apparently unwilling partner, he forced her onward with increased velocity.
She had looked back, and saw who was coming after. The silver light of the moon, falling upon her face, showed an expression of sadness suddenly changing to hope; and, raising her gloved hand in the air, she sent back cry for help. It was not needed.
That wan face, seen under the soft moonlight, appealing to Frank Hill for protection, was enough to nerve him to the last exertion of his strength and he kept on, without speaking word, his whole thought and soul absorbed by the one great desire to overtake and rescue her. From what? From the grasp of maniac, as the behaviour of Lansing now proved him to be. Merciful Heaven! What is that sound heard ahead, and at no great distance?
Hill did not need to ask the question. He knew it was the roar of water he knew that cataract was below. And near below; for, on sweeping round another curve of the river, the black smooth water could be seen rushing rapidly forth from under the field of ice, quick whitened into froth as it struck against the rocks cresting the cataract. The pursued saw it first, but soon after, the pursuer.
"My God!" gasped Hill, in voice choking with agony, Can the man mean to carry her on over? "Stop, madman!"
Lansing heard the call, and looked back. The moonlight, falling full upon his face, revealed an expression horrible to behold. His eyes were no longer rolling, but fixed in terrible stare of determination, while upon his features could be traced smile of demoniac triumph. He spoke no word
but, raising his unemployed arm, pointed to the cataract. There could be no mistaking the gesture; but what followed made still clearer his intent. Giving a loud shriek, that ended in prolonged peal of laughter, he faced once more toward the edge of the ice. Then, throwing all his mad energy into the effort, he shot straight for it, dragging the young lady along with him.
The crisis had now come. A moment more, and Kate Clinton, struggling in the arms of madman, would be carried over the cataract, down to certain destruction on the rocks below. With heart hot, as if on fire, her lover saw her peril, now proximate and extreme. But his head was still cool and at glance he took in the situation.
By bearing direct down upon them he would only increase the momentum of their speed, and force both over the edge of the ice. His only hope lay in making one last vigorous effort to get between them and the water. A grand sweep might do it and, without waiting to reflect farther, he threw his body forward in the curve of parabola.
With hands and teeth both tightly clenched, with eyes fixed upon one point, and thoughts concentrated into one great purpose, he passed over the smooth surface, like an electric flash, ending in shock, as his body came in contact with that of Lansing. A blow from one arm, already raised, sent the latter staggering off upon the ice, at the same time detaching his grasp from the wrist of his intended victim. It was instantly seized by her rescuer, who, continuing the sweep thus intercepted, succeeded in carrying her on to place of safety.
In vain the madman tried to recover himself. The momentum of his own previous speed, increased by the powerful blow from Hill's clenched fist, sent him spinning on to the extreme edge of the ice, where he fell flat upon his face.
Perhaps he might still have been saved, but for his own frenzied passion. As the skaters, following along the curve, swept close to where he lay, the skate of the young lady almost touching him, he made an effort to lay hold of her ankle, as intending to drag her over the cataract along with him.
Fortunately he failed, but the movement was fatal to himself. A piece of rotten ice on which he rested, giving way under his weight, broke off with loud crash and in another moment the detached fragment, bearing his body along with it, swept over the falls, to be crushed to atoms in the seething cauldron below.
The lovers, now safe from all danger, stood for time silent, with arms crossed, and listening. But, after one wild, appalling shriek that rose from the maniac's lips, as for moment his body balanced upon the combing of the cataract, they heard no more only the hoarse monotone of the waters,
to be continued to eternity.
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