Mr. Hartford Bickley gazed upon the geese and grouse in his yard; his wife, Elinor, meanwhile, only saw these fowl through an obstructing window pane. So went their summer days: the artful conversationalist surveying his property with his friend Walter in tow; his quiet wifely companion, removed and afar. The two only united upon the husband’s return when he, fresh from a hunt, would demand food and drink, and she would oblige, alone in the kitchen with sorrow as her only true companion, sorrow for a marriage that once held so much promise, sorrow for the vacancies and recognized barriers between man and wife.
Until one day, when, having tired of contemplating the mocking greenery beyond the household walls, Elinor retired to her husband’s vast library, where she found, curiously tucked into one volume, a long, thin, black string, spooling from the pages. She opened the book to where this string was threaded and found there its termination; the rest of the string trailed to floor, to shelf, then seemingly to ceiling, then yet beyond, further up, threaded through the skylight and to the roof of the estate house. Like a cat she toyed with the string — a few tugs — and then left the mystery to rest.
That evening, her husband returned bruised and distraught. He spoke of a phantom force tugging upon his neck, as if he were ensnared by a noose. He was dragged, he said, by an unseen instigator, thrown this way and that under a ghostly chokehold. Elinor, recalling the string, understood her newfound power, yet kept quiet, choosing instead to dissuade her husband from indulging superstitions. “There are occasions when our bodies seem to work contrary to our minds, and may give us the most misleading signals, the most inscrutable urges, that neither you nor I nor any physician can accurately account for; we must accept these short bursts of instability as one of the inconveniences of being alive,” she said.
And so it went, she feigning the role of unaware wife, he becoming the newly troubled and damaged husband. No longer could he stroll through his estate without the occasional ensnarement; no longer could he circle the pond without fear of being yanked round its perimeter, as if made the sole competitor in a perverse hippodrome. In short time, the fearful man sheltered in the estate and took to more productive hobbies, cooking and general upkeep, out of suspicion his idleness had inspired some godly wrath; while good Elinor, ever the quiet one, continued to pluck gently at the string as needed, the silent looser of unseen knots, the tinkerer of worldly rules.