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FarmyardScene

Farmyard Scene by Winslow Homer (c. 1874)

"The Cobweb" is a short story by the British author Hector Hugh Munro who wrote under the pseudonym of Saki. The story first appeared in the Morning Post newspaper. It was later collected in the 1914 anthology Beasts and Super-Beasts.

The story takes place at a farm. A young couple recently inherited the farm and moved into the farmhouse. The wife, Emma, has come to resent the presence of an old family servant named Martha. Martha and her old-fashioned ways are "dreadfully in the way" of all the improvements Emma wants to make. The resentment is quickly replaced by pity, however, when Emma finds the old woman cowering in fear in the kitchen one day. Martha, in a quavering voice, tells Emma that death is coming: she has seen the signs and warnings.

"The Cobweb" can be found in many anthologies of supernatural stories.

Plot

Emma Ladbruk's husband recently inherited a farm, and the young husband and wife moved into the farmhouse. Emma thinks the kitchen is the best room in the farmhouse. She especially likes the window nook which in itself is almost a pleasant little room. She sees great potential there and is eager to begin redecorating. Unfortunately for Emma, the kitchen belongs to old Martha. Martha has worked there for longer than anyone can remember. She is very old and quite withered, but she still works unceasingly, hobbling around the kitchen and the back yard taking little notice of the new young mistress.

At first, Emma watched Martha with half-frightened curiosity. Now she feels an uneasy resentment towards the old woman. Martha is in the way of all the improvements Emma wants to make. Emma wishes to incorporate the new, more efficient methods into household work. Martha represents the quaint old tradition, doing everything the same way as she has done for eighty years. To make matters worse, the coveted window nook is filled with Martha's odds and ends. It seems to Emma that there is something like a protective cobweb spun over everything that cannot be displaced. Although she would not even admit it to herself, there is a wish at the back of Emma's head to see the old woman gone.

One day, Emma finds the normally busy Martha huddled up on the window seat. Emma asks what the matter is. Martha replies in a quavering voice, "'Tis death, 'tis death a-coming." Martha says she has seen the signs and warnings: her old dog has been howling all morning, the screech owl gave a death cry in the night, and "something white" ran across the yard the day before. Emma feels pity for the frail old woman cowering with fear waiting for the approaching death. She goes out to look for help.

Emma's husband is out at a tree-felling, but she finds their cousin Jim. Emma tells Jim that Martha appears to be dying. Jim does not believe her. As Emma tries to explain the situation, Jim spots Martha out in the back yard feeding the poultry. Martha appears quite healthy, but they can hear her still talking to herself about death coming. Jim asks her who is dead. Martha tells him that Mr. Ladbruk's body has just been carried in. Emma's husband had run into an iron post trying to get out of the way of a falling tree.

The farm, a Ladbruk family property, passes to Jim as the next-of-kin. As Emma waits for the farm cart to take her to the train station, she looks at the kitchen window for which she had such high hopes. It occurs to her that, long after she is completely forgotten, old Martha will still be there working as she has always done for the past eighty years.

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