Can Such Things Be?
Part 1 out of 4
CAN SUCH THINGS BE?
The death of Halpin Frayser
The secret of Macarger's Gulch
One summer night
The moonlit road
A diagnosis of death
A tough tussle
One of twins
The haunted valley
A jug of sirup
Staley Fleming's hallucination
A resumed identity
A baby tramp
The night-doings at "Deadman's"
A story that is untrue
Beyond the wall
A psychological shipwreck
The middle toe of the right foot
John Mortonson's funeral
The realm of the unreal
John Bartine's watch
A story by a physician
The damned thing
Haita the shepherd
An inhabitant of Carcosa
THE DEATH OF HALPIN FRAYSER
For by death is wrought greater change than hath been shown. Whereas
in general the spirit that removed cometh back upon occasion, and is
sometimes seen of those in flesh (appearing in the form of the body
it bore) yet it hath happened that the veritable body without the
spirit hath walked. And it is attested of those encountering who
have lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no natural
affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate. Also, it is known
that some spirits which in life were benign become by death evil
One dark night in midsummer a man waking from a dreamless sleep in a
forest lifted his head from the earth, and staring a few moments into
the blackness, said: "Catherine Larue." He said nothing more; no
reason was known to him why he should have said so much.
The man was Halpin Frayser. He lived in St. Helena, but where he
lives now is uncertain, for he is dead. One who practices sleeping
in the woods with nothing under him but the dry leaves and the damp
earth, and nothing over him but the branches from which the leaves
have fallen and the sky from which the earth has fallen, cannot hope
for great longevity, and Frayser had already attained the age of
thirty-two. There are persons in this world, millions of persons,
and far and away the best persons, who regard that as a very advanced
age. They are the children. To those who view the voyage of life
from the port of departure the bark that has accomplished any
considerable distance appears already in close approach to the
farther shore. However, it is not certain that Halpin Frayser came
to his death by exposure.
He had been all day in the hills west of the Napa Valley, looking for
doves and such small game as was in season. Late in the afternoon it
had come on to be cloudy, and he had lost his bearings; and although
he had only to go always downhill--everywhere the way to safety when
one is lost--the absence of trails had so impeded him that he was
overtaken by night while still in the forest. Unable in the darkness
to penetrate the thickets of manzanita and other undergrowth, utterly
bewildered and overcome with fatigue, he had lain down near the root
of a large madrono and fallen into a dreamless sleep. It was hours
later, in the very middle of the night, that one of God's mysterious
messengers, gliding ahead of the incalculable host of his companions
sweeping westward with the dawn line, pronounced the awakening word
in the ear of the sleeper, who sat upright and spoke, he knew not
why, a name, he knew not whose.
Halpin Frayser was not much of a philosopher, nor a scientist. The
circumstance that, waking from a deep sleep at night in the midst of
a forest, he had spoken aloud a name that he had not in memory and
hardly had in mind did not arouse an enlightened curiosity to
investigate the phenomenon. He thought it odd, and with a little
perfunctory shiver, as if in deference to a seasonal presumption that
the night was chill, he lay down again and went to sleep. But his
sleep was no longer dreamless.
He thought he was walking along a dusty road that showed white in the
gathering darkness of a summer night. Whence and whither it led, and
why he traveled it, he did not know, though all seemed simple and
natural, as is the way in dreams; for in the Land Beyond the Bed
surprises cease from troubling and the judgment is at rest. Soon he
came to a parting of the ways; leading from the highway was a road
less traveled, having the appearance, indeed, of having been long
abandoned, because, he thought, it led to something evil; yet he
turned into it without hesitation, impelled by some imperious
As he pressed forward he became conscious that his way was haunted by
invisible existences whom he could not definitely figure to his mind.
From among the trees on either side he caught broken and incoherent
whispers in a strange tongue which yet he partly understood. They
seemed to him fragmentary utterances of a monstrous conspiracy
against his body and soul.
It was now long after nightfall, yet the interminable forest through
which he journeyed was lit with a wan glimmer having no point of
diffusion, for in its mysterious lumination nothing cast a shadow. A
shallow pool in the guttered depression of an old wheel rut, as from
a recent rain, met his eye with a crimson gleam. He stooped and
plunged his hand into it. It stained his fingers; it was blood!
Blood, he then observed, was about him everywhere. The weeds growing
rankly by the roadside showed it in blots and splashes on their big,
broad leaves. Patches of dry dust between the wheelways were pitted
and spattered as with a red rain. Defiling the trunks of the trees
were broad maculations of crimson, and blood dripped like dew from
All this he observed with a terror which seemed not incompatible with
the fulfillment of a natural expectation. It seemed to him that it
was all in expiation of some crime which, though conscious of his
guilt, he could not rightly remember. To the menaces and mysteries
of his surroundings the consciousness was an added horror. Vainly he
sought by tracing life backward in memory, to reproduce the moment of
his sin; scenes and incidents came crowding tumultuously into his
mind, one picture effacing another, or commingling with it in
confusion and obscurity, but nowhere could he catch a glimpse of what
he sought. The failure augmented his terror; he felt as one who has
murdered in the dark, not knowing whom nor why. So frightful was the
situation--the mysterious light burned with so silent and awful a
menace; the noxious plants, the trees that by common consent are
invested with a melancholy or baleful character, so openly in his
sight conspired against his peace; from overhead and all about came
so audible and startling whispers and the sighs of creatures so
obviously not of earth--that he could endure it no longer, and with a
great effort to break some malign spell that bound his faculties to
silence and inaction, he shouted with the full strength of his lungs!
His voice broken, it seemed, into an infinite multitude of unfamiliar
sounds, went babbling and stammering away into the distant reaches of
the forest, died into silence, and all was as before. But he had
made a beginning at resistance and was encouraged. He said:
"I will not submit unheard. There may be powers that are not
malignant traveling this accursed road. I shall leave them a record
and an appeal. I shall relate my wrongs, the persecutions that I
endure--I, a helpless mortal, a penitent, an unoffending poet!"
Halpin Frayser was a poet only as he was a penitent: in his dream.
Taking from his clothing a small red-leather pocketbook, one-half of
which was leaved for memoranda, he discovered that he was without a
pencil. He broke a twig from a bush, dipped it into a pool of blood
and wrote rapidly. He had hardly touched the paper with the point of
his twig when a low, wild peal of laughter broke out at a measureless
distance away, and growing ever louder, seemed approaching ever
nearer; a soulless, heartless, and unjoyous laugh, like that of the
loon, solitary by the lakeside at midnight; a laugh which culminated
in an unearthly shout close at hand, then died away by slow
gradations, as if the accursed being that uttered it had withdrawn
over the verge of the world whence it had come. But the man felt
that this was not so--that it was near by and had not moved.
A strange sensation began slowly to take possession of his body and
his mind. He could not have said which, if any, of his senses was
affected; he felt it rather as a consciousness--a mysterious mental
assurance of some overpowering presence--some supernatural
malevolence different in kind from the invisible existences that
swarmed about him, and superior to them in power. He knew that it
had uttered that hideous laugh. And now it seemed to be approaching
him; from what direction he did not know--dared not conjecture. All
his former fears were forgotten or merged in the gigantic terror that
now held him in thrall. Apart from that, he had but one thought: to
complete his written appeal to the benign powers who, traversing the
haunted wood, might some time rescue him if he should be denied the
blessing of annihilation. He wrote with terrible rapidity, the twig
in his fingers rilling blood without renewal; but in the middle of a
sentence his hands denied their service to his will, his arms fell to
his sides, the book to the earth; and powerless to move or cry out,
he found himself staring into the sharply drawn face and blank, dead
eyes of his own mother, standing white and silent in the garments of
In his youth Halpin Frayser had lived with his parents in Nashville,
Tennessee. The Fraysers were well-to-do, having a good position in
such society as had survived the wreck wrought by civil war. Their
children had the social and educational opportunities of their time
and place, and had responded to good associations and instruction
with agreeable manners and cultivated minds. Halpin being the
youngest and not over robust was perhaps a trifle "spoiled." He had
the double disadvantage of a mother's assiduity and a father's
neglect. Frayser pere was what no Southern man of means is not--a
politician. His country, or rather his section and State, made
demands upon his time and attention so exacting that to those of his
family he was compelled to turn an ear partly deafened by the thunder
of the political captains and the shouting, his own included.
Young Halpin was of a dreamy, indolent and rather romantic turn,
somewhat more addicted to literature than law, the profession to
which he was bred. Among those of his relations who professed the
modern faith of heredity it was well understood that in him the
character of the late Myron Bayne, a maternal great-grandfather, had
revisited the glimpses of the moon--by which orb Bayne had in his
lifetime been sufficiently affected to be a poet of no small Colonial
distinction. If not specially observed, it was observable that while
a Frayser who was not the proud possessor of a sumptuous copy of the
ancestral "poetical works" (printed at the family expense, and long
ago withdrawn from an inhospitable market) was a rare Frayser indeed,
there was an illogical indisposition to honor the great deceased in
the person of his spiritual successor. Halpin was pretty generally
deprecated as an intellectual black sheep who was likely at any
moment to disgrace the flock by bleating in meter. The Tennessee
Fraysers were a practical folk--not practical in the popular sense of
devotion to sordid pursuits, but having a robust contempt for any
qualities unfitting a man for the wholesome vocation of politics.
In justice to young Halpin it should be said that while in him were
pretty faithfully reproduced most of the mental and moral
characteristics ascribed by history and family tradition to the
famous Colonial bard, his succession to the gift and faculty divine
was purely inferential. Not only had he never been known to court
the muse, but in truth he could not have written correctly a line of
verse to save himself from the Killer of the Wise. Still, there was
no knowing when the dormant faculty might wake and smite the lyre.
In the meantime the young man was rather a loose fish, anyhow.
Between him and his mother was the most perfect sympathy, for
secretly the lady was herself a devout disciple of the late and great
Myron Bayne, though with the tact so generally and justly admired in
her sex (despite the hardy calumniators who insist that it is
essentially the same thing as cunning) she had always taken care to
conceal her weakness from all eyes but those of him who shared it.
Their common guilt in respect of that was an added tie between them.
If in Halpin's youth his mother had "spoiled" him, he had assuredly
done his part toward being spoiled. As he grew to such manhood as is
attainable by a Southerner who does not care which way elections go
the attachment between him and his beautiful mother--whom from early
childhood he had called Katy--became yearly stronger and more tender.
In these two romantic natures was manifest in a signal way that
neglected phenomenon, the dominance of the sexual element in all the
relations of life, strengthening, softening, and beautifying even
those of consanguinity. The two were nearly inseparable, and by
strangers observing their manner were not infrequently mistaken for
Entering his mother's boudoir one day Halpin Frayser kissed her upon
the forehead, toyed for a moment with a lock of her dark hair which
had escaped from its confining pins, and said, with an obvious effort
"Would you greatly mind, Katy, if I were called away to California
for a few weeks?"
It was hardly needful for Katy to answer with her lips a question to
which her telltale cheeks had made instant reply. Evidently she
would greatly mind; and the tears, too, sprang into her large brown
eyes as corroborative testimony.
"Ah, my son," she said, looking up into his face with infinite
tenderness, "I should have known that this was coming. Did I not lie
awake a half of the night weeping because, during the other half,
Grandfather Bayne had come to me in a dream, and standing by his
portrait--young, too, and handsome as that--pointed to yours on the
same wall? And when I looked it seemed that I could not see the
features; you had been painted with a face cloth, such as we put upon
the dead. Your father has laughed at me, but you and I, dear, know
that such things are not for nothing. And I saw below the edge of
the cloth the marks of hands on your throat--forgive me, but we have
not been used to keep such things from each other. Perhaps you have
another interpretation. Perhaps it does not mean that you will go to
California. Or maybe you will take me with you?"
It must be confessed that this ingenious interpretation of the dream
in the light of newly discovered evidence did not wholly commend
itself to the son's more logical mind; he had, for the moment at
least, a conviction that it foreshadowed a more simple and immediate,
if less tragic, disaster than a visit to the Pacific Coast. It was
Halpin Frayser's impression that he was to be garroted on his native
"Are there not medicinal springs in California?" Mrs. Frayser resumed
before he had time to give her the true reading of the dream--"places
where one recovers from rheumatism and neuralgia? Look--my fingers
feel so stiff; and I am almost sure they have been giving me great
pain while I slept."
She held out her hands for his inspection. What diagnosis of her
case the young man may have thought it best to conceal with a smile
the historian is unable to state, but for himself he feels bound to
say that fingers looking less stiff, and showing fewer evidences of
even insensible pain, have seldom been submitted for medical
inspection by even the fairest patient desiring a prescription of
The outcome of it was that of these two odd persons having equally
odd notions of duty, the one went to California, as the interest of
his client required, and the other remained at home in compliance
with a wish that her husband was scarcely conscious of entertaining.
While in San Francisco Halpin Frayser was walking one dark night
along the water front of the city, when, with a suddenness that
surprised and disconcerted him, he became a sailor. He was in fact
"shanghaied" aboard a gallant, gallant ship, and sailed for a far
countree. Nor did his misfortunes end with the voyage; for the ship
was cast ashore on an island of the South Pacific, and it was six
years afterward when the survivors were taken off by a venturesome
trading schooner and brought back to San Francisco.
Though poor in purse, Frayser was no less proud in spirit than he had
been in the years that seemed ages and ages ago. He would accept no
assistance from strangers, and it was while living with a fellow
survivor near the town of St. Helena, awaiting news and remittances
from home, that he had gone gunning and dreaming.
The apparition confronting the dreamer in the haunted wood--the thing
so like, yet so unlike his mother--was horrible! It stirred no love
nor longing in his heart; it came unattended with pleasant memories
of a golden past--inspired no sentiment of any kind; all the finer
emotions were swallowed up in fear. He tried to turn and run from
before it, but his legs were as lead; he was unable to lift his feet
from the ground. His arms hung helpless at his sides; of his eyes
only he retained control, and these he dared not remove from the
lusterless orbs of the apparition, which he knew was not a soul
without a body, but that most dreadful of all existences infesting
that haunted wood--a body without a soul! In its blank stare was
neither love, nor pity, nor intelligence--nothing to which to address
an appeal for mercy. "An appeal will not lie," he thought, with an
absurd reversion to professional slang, making the situation more
horrible, as the fire of a cigar might light up a tomb.
For a time, which seemed so long that the world grew gray with age
and sin, and the haunted forest, having fulfilled its purpose in this
monstrous culmination of its terrors, vanished out of his
consciousness with all its sights and sounds, the apparition stood
within a pace, regarding him with the mindless malevolence of a wild
brute; then thrust its hands forward and sprang upon him with
appalling ferocity! The act released his physical energies without
unfettering his will; his mind was still spellbound, but his powerful
body and agile limbs, endowed with a blind, insensate life of their
own, resisted stoutly and well. For an instant he seemed to see this
unnatural contest between a dead intelligence and a breathing
mechanism only as a spectator--such fancies are in dreams; then he
regained his identity almost as if by a leap forward into his body,
and the straining automaton had a directing will as alert and fierce
as that of its hideous antagonist.
But what mortal can cope with a creature of his dream? The
imagination creating the enemy is already vanquished; the combat's
result is the combat's cause. Despite his struggles--despite his
strength and activity, which seemed wasted in a void, he felt the
cold fingers close upon his throat. Borne backward to the earth, he
saw above him the dead and drawn face within a hand's breadth of his
own, and then all was black. A sound as of the beating of distant
drums--a murmur of swarming voices, a sharp, far cry signing all to
silence, and Halpin Frayser dreamed that he was dead.
A warm, clear night had been followed by a morning of drenching fog.
At about the middle of the afternoon of the preceding day a little
whiff of light vapor--a mere thickening of the atmosphere, the ghost
of a cloud--had been observed clinging to the western side of Mount
St. Helena, away up along the barren altitudes near the summit. It
was so thin, so diaphanous, so like a fancy made visible, that one
would have said: "Look quickly! in a moment it will be gone."
In a moment it was visibly larger and denser. While with one edge it
clung to the mountain, with the other it reached farther and farther
out into the air above the lower slopes. At the same time it
extended itself to north and south, joining small patches of mist
that appeared to come out of the mountainside on exactly the same
level, with an intelligent design to be absorbed. And so it grew and
grew until the summit was shut out of view from the valley, and over
the valley itself was an ever-extending canopy, opaque and gray. At
Calistoga, which lies near the head of the valley and the foot of the
mountain, there were a starless night and a sunless morning. The
fog, sinking into the valley, had reached southward, swallowing up
ranch after ranch, until it had blotted out the town of St. Helena,
nine miles away. The dust in the road was laid; trees were adrip
with moisture; birds sat silent in their coverts; the morning light
was wan and ghastly, with neither color nor fire.
Two men left the town of St. Helena at the first glimmer of dawn, and
walked along the road northward up the valley toward Calistoga. They
carried guns on their shoulders, yet no one having knowledge of such
matters could have mistaken them for hunters of bird or beast. They
were a deputy sheriff from Napa and a detective from San Francisco--
Holker and Jaralson, respectively. Their business was man-hunting.
"How far is it?" inquired Holker, as they strode along, their feet
stirring white the dust beneath the damp surface of the road.
"The White Church? Only a half mile farther," the other answered.
"By the way," he added, "it is neither white nor a church; it is an
abandoned schoolhouse, gray with age and neglect. Religious services
were once held in it--when it was white, and there is a graveyard
that would delight a poet. Can you guess why I sent for you, and
told you to come heeled?"
"Oh, I never have bothered you about things of that kind. I've
always found you communicative when the time came. But if I may
hazard a guess, you want me to help you arrest one of the corpses in
"You remember Branscom?" said Jaralson, treating his companion's wit
with the inattention that it deserved.
"The chap who cut his wife's throat? I ought; I wasted a week's work
on him and had my expenses for my trouble. There is a reward of five
hundred dollars, but none of us ever got a sight of him. You don't
mean to say--"
"Yes, I do. He has been under the noses of you fellows all the time.
He comes by night to the old graveyard at the White Church."
"The devil! That's where they buried his wife."
"Well, you fellows might have had sense enough to suspect that he
would return to her grave some time."
"The very last place that anyone would have expected him to return
"But you had exhausted all the other places. Learning your failure
at them, I 'laid for him' there."
"And you found him?"
"Damn it! he found ME. The rascal got the drop on me--regularly held
me up and made me travel. It's God's mercy that he didn't go through
me. Oh, he's a good one, and I fancy the half of that reward is
enough for me if you're needy."
Holker laughed good humoredly, and explained that his creditors were
never more importunate.
"I wanted merely to show you the ground, and arrange a plan with
you," the detective explained. "I thought it as well for us to be
heeled, even in daylight."
"The man must be insane," said the deputy sheriff. "The reward is
for his capture and conviction. If he's mad he won't be convicted."
Mr. Holker was so profoundly affected by that possible failure of
justice that he involuntarily stopped in the middle of the road, then
resumed his walk with abated zeal.
"Well, he looks it," assented Jaralson. "I'm bound to admit that a
more unshaven, unshorn, unkempt, and uneverything wretch I never saw
outside the ancient and honorable order of tramps. But I've gone in
for him, and can't make up my mind to let go. There's glory in it
for us, anyhow. Not another soul knows that he is this side of the
Mountains of the Moon."
"All right," Holker said; "we will go and view the ground," and he
added, in the words of a once favorite inscription for tombstones:
"'where you must shortly lie'--I mean, if old Branscom ever gets
tired of you and your impertinent intrusion. By the way, I heard the
other day that 'Branscom' was not his real name."
"I can't recall it. I had lost all interest in the wretch, and it
did not fix itself in my memory--something like Pardee. The woman
whose throat he had the bad taste to cut was a widow when he met her.
She had come to California to look up some relatives--there are
persons who will do that sometimes. But you know all that."
"But not knowing the right name, by what happy inspiration did you
find the right grave? The man who told me what the name was said it
had been cut on the headboard."
"I don't know the right grave." Jaralson was apparently a trifle
reluctant to admit his ignorance of so important a point of his plan.
"I have been watching about the place generally. A part of our work
this morning will be to identify that grave. Here is the White
For a long distance the road had been bordered by fields on both
sides, but now on the left there was a forest of oaks, madronos, and
gigantic spruces whose lower parts only could be seen, dim and
ghostly in the fog. The undergrowth was, in places, thick, but
nowhere impenetrable. For some moments Holker saw nothing of the
building, but as they turned into the woods it revealed itself in
faint gray outline through the fog, looking huge and far away. A few
steps more, and it was within an arm's length, distinct, dark with
moisture, and insignificant in size. It had the usual country-
schoolhouse form--belonged to the packing-box order of architecture;
had an underpinning of stones, a moss-grown roof, and blank window
spaces, whence both glass and sash had long departed. It was ruined,
but not a ruin--a typical Californian substitute for what are known
to guide-bookers abroad as "monuments of the past." With scarcely a
glance at this uninteresting structure Jaralson moved on into the
dripping undergrowth beyond.
"I will show you where he held me up," he said. "This is the
Here and there among the bushes were small inclosures containing
graves, sometimes no more than one. They were recognized as graves
by the discolored stones or rotting boards at head and foot, leaning
at all angles, some prostrate; by the ruined picket fences
surrounding them; or, infrequently, by the mound itself showing its
gravel through the fallen leaves. In many instances nothing marked
the spot where lay the vestiges of some poor mortal--who, leaving "a
large circle of sorrowing friends," had been left by them in turn--
except a depression in the earth, more lasting than that in the
spirits of the mourners. The paths, if any paths had been, were long
obliterated; trees of a considerable size had been permitted to grow
up from the graves and thrust aside with root or branch the inclosing
fences. Over all was that air of abandonment and decay which seems
nowhere so fit and significant as in a village of the forgotten dead.
As the two men, Jaralson leading, pushed their way through the growth
of young trees, that enterprising man suddenly stopped and brought up
his shotgun to the height of his breast, uttered a low note of
warning, and stood motionless, his eyes fixed upon something ahead.
As well as he could, obstructed by brush, his companion, though
seeing nothing, imitated the posture and so stood, prepared for what
might ensue. A moment later Jaralson moved cautiously forward, the
Under the branches of an enormous spruce lay the dead body of a man.
Standing silent above it they noted such particulars as first strike
the attention--the face, the attitude, the clothing; whatever most
promptly and plainly answers the unspoken question of a sympathetic
The body lay upon its back, the legs wide apart. One arm was thrust
upward, the other outward; but the latter was bent acutely, and the
hand was near the throat. Both hands were tightly clenched. The
whole attitude was that of desperate but ineffectual resistance to--
Near by lay a shotgun and a game bag through the meshes of which was
seen the plumage of shot birds. All about were evidences of a
furious struggle; small sprouts of poison-oak were bent and denuded
of leaf and bark; dead and rotting leaves had been pushed into heaps
and ridges on both sides of the legs by the action of other feet than
theirs; alongside the hips were unmistakable impressions of human
The nature of the struggle was made clear by a glance at the dead
man's throat and face. While breast and hands were white, those were
purple--almost black. The shoulders lay upon a low mound, and the
head was turned back at an angle otherwise impossible, the expanded
eyes staring blankly backward in a direction opposite to that of the
feet. From the froth filling the open mouth the tongue protruded,
black and swollen. The throat showed horrible contusions; not mere
finger-marks, but bruises and lacerations wrought by two strong hands
that must have buried themselves in the yielding flesh, maintaining
their terrible grasp until long after death. Breast, throat, face,
were wet; the clothing was saturated; drops of water, condensed from
the fog, studded the hair and mustache.
All this the two men observed without speaking--almost at a glance.
Then Holker said:
"Poor devil! he had a rough deal."
Jaralson was making a vigilant circumspection of the forest, his
shotgun held in both hands and at full cock, his finger upon the
"The work of a maniac," he said, without withdrawing his eyes from
the inclosing wood. "It was done by Branscom--Pardee."
Something half hidden by the disturbed leaves on the earth caught
Holker's attention. It was a red-leather pocketbook. He picked it
up and opened it. It contained leaves of white paper for memoranda,
and upon the first leaf was the name "Halpin Frayser." Written in
red on several succeeding leaves--scrawled as if in haste and barely
legible--were the following lines, which Holker read aloud, while his
companion continued scanning the dim gray confines of their narrow
world and hearing matter of apprehension in the drip of water from
every burdened branch:
"Enthralled by some mysterious spell, I stood
In the lit gloom of an enchanted wood.
The cypress there and myrtle twined their boughs,
Significant, in baleful brotherhood.
"The brooding willow whispered to the yew;
Beneath, the deadly nightshade and the rue,
With immortelles self-woven into strange
Funereal shapes, and horrid nettles grew.
"No song of bird nor any drone of bees,
Nor light leaf lifted by the wholesome breeze:
The air was stagnant all, and Silence was
A living thing that breathed among the trees.
"Conspiring spirits whispered in the gloom,
Half-heard, the stilly secrets of the tomb.
With blood the trees were all adrip; the leaves
Shone in the witch-light with a ruddy bloom.
"I cried aloud!--the spell, unbroken still,
Rested upon my spirit and my will.
Unsouled, unhearted, hopeless and forlorn,
I strove with monstrous presages of ill!
"At last the viewless--"
Holker ceased reading; there was no more to read. The manuscript
broke off in the middle of a line.
"That sounds like Bayne," said Jaralson, who was something of a
scholar in his way. He had abated his vigilance and stood looking
down at the body.
"Who's Bayne?" Holker asked rather incuriously.
"Myron Bayne, a chap who flourished in the early years of the nation-
-more than a century ago. Wrote mighty dismal stuff; I have his
collected works. That poem is not among them, but it must have been
omitted by mistake."
"It is cold," said Holker; "let us leave here; we must have up the
coroner from Napa."
Jaralson said nothing, but made a movement in compliance. Passing
the end of the slight elevation of earth upon which the dead man's
head and shoulders lay, his foot struck some hard substance under the
rotting forest leaves, and he took the trouble to kick it into view.
It was a fallen headboard, and painted on it were the hardly
decipherable words, "Catharine Larue."
"Larue, Larue!" exclaimed Holker, with sudden animation. "Why, that
is the real name of Branscom--not Pardee. And--bless my soul! how it
all comes to me--the murdered woman's name had been Frayser!"
"There is some rascally mystery here," said Detective Jaralson. "I
hate anything of that kind."
There came to them out of the fog--seemingly from a great distance--
the sound of a laugh, a low, deliberate, soulless laugh, which had no
more of joy than that of a hyena night-prowling in the desert; a
laugh that rose by slow gradation, louder and louder, clearer, more
distinct and terrible, until it seemed barely outside the narrow
circle of their vision; a laugh so unnatural, so unhuman, so
devilish, that it filled those hardy man-hunters with a sense of
dread unspeakable! They did not move their weapons nor think of
them; the menace of that horrible sound was not of the kind to be met
with arms. As it had grown out of silence, so now it died away; from
a culminating shout which had seemed almost in their ears, it drew
itself away into the distance, until its failing notes, joyless and
mechanical to the last, sank to silence at a measureless remove.
THE SECRET OF MACARGER'S GULCH
North Westwardly from Indian Hill, about nine miles as the crow
flies, is Macarger's Gulch. It is not much of a gulch--a mere
depression between two wooded ridges of inconsiderable height. From
its mouth up to its head--for gulches, like rivers, have an anatomy
of their own--the distance does not exceed two miles, and the width
at bottom is at only one place more than a dozen yards; for most of
the distance on either side of the little brook which drains it in
winter, and goes dry in the early spring, there is no level ground at
all; the steep slopes of the hills, covered with an almost
impenetrable growth of manzanita and chemisal, are parted by nothing
but the width of the water course. No one but an occasional
enterprising hunter of the vicinity ever goes into Macarger's Gulch,
and five miles away it is unknown, even by name. Within that
distance in any direction are far more conspicuous topographical
features without names, and one might try in vain to ascertain by
local inquiry the origin of the name of this one.
About midway between the head and the mouth of Macarger's Gulch, the
hill on the right as you ascend is cloven by another gulch, a short
dry one, and at the junction of the two is a level space of two or
three acres, and there a few years ago stood an old board house
containing one small room. How the component parts of the house, few
and simple as they were, had been assembled at that almost
inaccessible point is a problem in the solution of which there would
be greater satisfaction than advantage. Possibly the creek bed is a
reformed road. It is certain that the gulch was at one time pretty
thoroughly prospected by miners, who must have had some means of
getting in with at least pack animals carrying tools and supplies;
their profits, apparently, were not such as would have justified any
considerable outlay to connect Macarger's Gulch with any center of
civilization enjoying the distinction of a sawmill. The house,
however, was there, most of it. It lacked a door and a window frame,
and the chimney of mud and stones had fallen into an unlovely heap,
overgrown with rank weeds. Such humble furniture as there may once
have been and much of the lower weatherboarding, had served as fuel
in the camp fires of hunters; as had also, probably, the curbing of
an old well, which at the time I write of existed in the form of a
rather wide but not very deep depression near by.
One afternoon in the summer of 1874, I passed up Macarger's Gulch
from the narrow valley into which it opens, by following the dry bed
of the brook. I was quail-shooting and had made a bag of about a
dozen birds by the time I had reached the house described, of whose
existence I was until then unaware. After rather carelessly
inspecting the ruin I resumed my sport, and having fairly good
success prolonged it until near sunset, when it occurred to me that I
was a long way from any human habitation--too far to reach one by
nightfall. But in my game bag was food, and the old house would
afford shelter, if shelter were needed on a warm and dewless night in
the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, where one may sleep in comfort on
the pine needles, without covering. I am fond of solitude and love
the night, so my resolution to "camp out" was soon taken, and by the
time that it was dark I had made my bed of boughs and grasses in a
corner of the room and was roasting a quail at a fire that I had
kindled on the hearth. The smoke escaped out of the ruined chimney,
the light illuminated the room with a kindly glow, and as I ate my
simple meal of plain bird and drank the remains of a bottle of red
wine which had served me all the afternoon in place of the water,
which the region did not supply, I experienced a sense of comfort
which better fare and accommodations do not always give.
Nevertheless, there was something lacking. I had a sense of comfort,
but not of security. I detected myself staring more frequently at
the open doorway and blank window than I could find warrant for
doing. Outside these apertures all was black, and I was unable to
repress a certain feeling of apprehension as my fancy pictured the
outer world and filled it with unfriendly entities, natural and
supernatural--chief among which, in their respective classes, were
the grizzly bear, which I knew was occasionally still seen in that
region, and the ghost, which I had reason to think was not.
Unfortunately, our feelings do not always respect the law of
probabilities, and to me that evening, the possible and the
impossible were equally disquieting.
Everyone who has had experience in the matter must have observed that
one confronts the actual and imaginary perils of the night with far
less apprehension in the open air than in a house with an open
doorway. I felt this now as I lay on my leafy couch in a corner of
the room next to the chimney and permitted my fire to die out. So
strong became my sense of the presence of something malign and
menacing in the place, that I found myself almost unable to withdraw
my eyes from the opening, as in the deepening darkness it became more
and more indistinct. And when the last little flame flickered and
went out I grasped the shotgun which I had laid at my side and
actually turned the muzzle in the direction of the now invisible
entrance, my thumb on one of the hammers, ready to cock the piece, my
breath suspended, my muscles rigid and tense. But later I laid down
the weapon with a sense of shame and mortification. What did I fear,
and why?--I, to whom the night had been
a more familiar face
Than that of man -
I, in whom that element of hereditary superstition from which none of
us is altogether free had given to solitude and darkness and silence
only a more alluring interest and charm! I was unable to comprehend
my folly, and losing in the conjecture the thing conjectured of, I
fell asleep. And then I dreamed.
I was in a great city in a foreign land--a city whose people were of
my own race, with minor differences of speech and costume; yet
precisely what these were I could not say; my sense of them was
indistinct. The city was dominated by a great castle upon an
overlooking height whose name I knew, but could not speak. I walked
through many streets, some broad and straight with high, modern
buildings, some narrow, gloomy, and tortuous, between the gables of
quaint old houses whose overhanging stories, elaborately ornamented
with carvings in wood and stone, almost met above my head.
I sought someone whom I had never seen, yet knew that I should
recognize when found. My quest was not aimless and fortuitous; it
had a definite method. I turned from one street into another without
hesitation and threaded a maze of intricate passages, devoid of the
fear of losing my way.
Presently I stopped before a low door in a plain stone house which
might have been the dwelling of an artisan of the better sort, and
without announcing myself, entered. The room, rather sparely
furnished, and lighted by a single window with small diamond-shaped
panes, had but two occupants; a man and a woman. They took no notice
of my intrusion, a circumstance which, in the manner of dreams,
appeared entirely natural. They were not conversing; they sat apart,
unoccupied and sullen.
The woman was young and rather stout, with fine large eyes and a
certain grave beauty; my memory of her expression is exceedingly
vivid, but in dreams one does not observe the details of faces.
About her shoulders was a plaid shawl. The man was older, dark, with
an evil face made more forbidding by a long scar extending from near
the left temple diagonally downward into the black mustache; though
in my dreams it seemed rather to haunt the face as a thing apart--I
can express it no otherwise--than to belong to it. The moment that I
found the man and woman I knew them to be husband and wife.
What followed, I remember indistinctly; all was confused and
inconsistent--made so, I think, by gleams of consciousness. It was
as if two pictures, the scene of my dream, and my actual
surroundings, had been blended, one overlying the other, until the
former, gradually fading, disappeared, and I was broad awake in the
deserted cabin, entirely and tranquilly conscious of my situation.
My foolish fear was gone, and opening my eyes I saw that my fire, not
altogether burned out, had revived by the falling of a stick and was
again lighting the room. I had probably slept only a few minutes,
but my commonplace dream had somehow so strongly impressed me that I
was no longer drowsy; and after a little while I rose, pushed the
embers of my fire together, and lighting my pipe proceeded in a
rather ludicrously methodical way to meditate upon my vision.
It would have puzzled me then to say in what respect it was worth
attention. In the first moment of serious thought that I gave to the
matter I recognized the city of my dream as Edinburgh, where I had
never been; so if the dream was a memory it was a memory of pictures
and description. The recognition somehow deeply impressed me; it was
as if something in my mind insisted rebelliously against will and
reason on the importance of all this. And that faculty, whatever it
was, asserted also a control of my speech. "Surely," I said aloud,
quite involuntarily, "the MacGregors must have come here from
At the moment, neither the substance of this remark nor the fact of
my making it, surprised me in the least; it seemed entirely natural
that I should know the name of my dreamfolk and something of their
history. But the absurdity of it all soon dawned upon me: I laughed
aloud, knocked the ashes from my pipe and again stretched myself upon
my bed of boughs and grass, where I lay staring absently into my
failing fire, with no further thought of either my dream or my
surroundings. Suddenly the single remaining flame crouched for a
moment, then, springing upward, lifted itself clear of its embers and
expired in air. The darkness was absolute.
At that instant--almost, it seemed, before the gleam of the blaze had
faded from my eyes--there was a dull, dead sound, as of some heavy
body falling upon the floor, which shook beneath me as I lay. I
sprang to a sitting posture and groped at my side for my gun; my
notion was that some wild beast had leaped in through the open
window. While the flimsy structure was still shaking from the impact
I heard the sound of blows, the scuffling of feet upon the floor, and
then--it seemed to come from almost within reach of my hand, the
sharp shrieking of a woman in mortal agony. So horrible a cry I had
never heard nor conceived; it utterly unnerved me; I was conscious
for a moment of nothing but my own terror! Fortunately my hand now
found the weapon of which it was in search, and the familiar touch
somewhat restored me. I leaped to my feet, straining my eyes to
pierce the darkness. The violent sounds had ceased, but more
terrible than these, I heard, at what seemed long intervals, the
faint intermittent gasping of some living, dying thing!
As my eyes grew accustomed to the dim light of the coals in the
fireplace, I saw first the shapes of the door and window, looking
blacker than the black of the walls. Next, the distinction between
wall and floor became discernible, and at last I was sensible to the
form and full expanse of the floor from end to end and side to side.
Nothing was visible and the silence was unbroken.
With a hand that shook a little, the other still grasping my gun, I
restored my fire and made a critical examination of the place. There
was nowhere any sign that the cabin had been entered. My own tracks
were visible in the dust covering the floor, but there were no
others. I relit my pipe, provided fresh fuel by ripping a thin board
or two from the inside of the house--I did not care to go into the
darkness out of doors--and passed the rest of the night smoking and
thinking, and feeding my fire; not for added years of life would I
have permitted that little flame to expire again.
Some years afterward I met in Sacramento a man named Morgan, to whom
I had a note of introduction from a friend in San Francisco. Dining
with him one evening at his home I observed various "trophies" upon
the wall, indicating that he was fond of shooting. It turned out
that he was, and in relating some of his feats he mentioned having
been in the region of my adventure.
"Mr. Morgan," I asked abruptly, "do you know a place up there called
"I have good reason to," he replied; "it was I who gave to the
newspapers, last year, the accounts of the finding of the skeleton
I had not heard of it; the accounts had been published, it appeared,
while I was absent in the East.
"By the way," said Morgan, "the name of the gulch is a corruption; it
should have been called 'MacGregor's.' My dear," he added, speaking
to his wife, "Mr. Elderson has upset his wine."
That was hardly accurate--I had simply dropped it, glass and all.
"There was an old shanty once in the gulch," Morgan resumed when the
ruin wrought by my awkwardness had been repaired, "but just
previously to my visit it had been blown down, or rather blown away,
for its debris was scattered all about, the very floor being parted,
plank from plank. Between two of the sleepers still in position I
and my companion observed the remnant of a plaid shawl, and examining
it found that it was wrapped about the shoulders of the body of a
woman, of which but little remained besides the bones, partly covered
with fragments of clothing, and brown dry skin. But we will spare
Mrs. Morgan," he added with a smile. The lady had indeed exhibited
signs of disgust rather than sympathy.
"It is necessary to say, however," he went on, "that the skull was
fractured in several places, as by blows of some blunt instrument;
and that instrument itself--a pick-handle, still stained with blood--
lay under the boards near by."
Mr. Morgan turned to his wife. "Pardon me, my dear," he said with
affected solemnity, "for mentioning these disagreeable particulars,
the natural though regrettable incidents of a conjugal quarrel--
resulting, doubtless, from the luckless wife's insubordination."
"I ought to be able to overlook it," the lady replied with composure;
"you have so many times asked me to in those very words."
I thought he seemed rather glad to go on with his story.
"From these and other circumstances," he said, "the coroner's jury
found that the deceased, Janet MacGregor, came to her death from
blows inflicted by some person to the jury unknown; but it was added
that the evidence pointed strongly to her husband, Thomas MacGregor,
as the guilty person. But Thomas MacGregor has never been found nor
heard of. It was learned that the couple came from Edinburgh, but
not--my dear, do you not observe that Mr. Elderson's boneplate has
water in it?"
I had deposited a chicken bone in my finger bowl.
"In a little cupboard I found a photograph of MacGregor, but it did
not lead to his capture."
"Will you let me see it?" I said.
The picture showed a dark man with an evil face made more forbidding
by a long scar extending from near the temple diagonally downward
into the black mustache.
"By the way, Mr. Elderson," said my affable host, "may I know why you
asked about 'Macarger's Gulch'?"
"I lost a mule near there once," I replied, "and the mischance has--
has quite--upset me."
"My dear," said Mr. Morgan, with the mechanical intonation of an
interpreter translating, "the loss of Mr. Elderson's mule has
peppered his coffee."
ONE SUMMER NIGHT
The fact that Henry Armstrong was buried did not seem to him to prove
that he was dead: he had always been a hard man to convince. That
he really was buried, the testimony of his senses compelled him to
admit. His posture--flat upon his back, with his hands crossed upon
his stomach and tied with something that he easily broke without
profitably altering the situation--the strict confinement of his
entire person, the black darkness and profound silence, made a body
of evidence impossible to controvert and he accepted it without
But dead--no; he was only very, very ill. He had, withal, the
invalid's apathy and did not greatly concern himself about the
uncommon fate that had been allotted to him. No philosopher was he--
just a plain, commonplace person gifted, for the time being, with a
pathological indifference: the organ that he feared consequences
with was torpid. So, with no particular apprehension for his
immediate future, he fell asleep and all was peace with Henry
But something was going on overhead. It was a dark summer night,
shot through with infrequent shimmers of lightning silently firing a
cloud lying low in the west and portending a storm. These brief,
stammering illuminations brought out with ghastly distinctness the
monuments and headstones of the cemetery and seemed to set them
dancing. It was not a night in which any credible witness was likely
to be straying about a cemetery, so the three men who were there,
digging into the grave of Henry Armstrong, felt reasonably secure.
Two of them were young students from a medical college a few miles
away; the third was a gigantic negro known as Jess. For many years
Jess had been employed about the cemetery as a man-of-all-work and it
was his favorite pleasantry that he knew "every soul in the place."
From the nature of what he was now doing it was inferable that the
place was not so populous as its register may have shown it to be.
Outside the wall, at the part of the grounds farthest from the public
road, were a horse and a light wagon, waiting.
The work of excavation was not difficult: the earth with which the
grave had been loosely filled a few hours before offered little
resistance and was soon thrown out. Removal of the casket from its
box was less easy, but it was taken out, for it was a perquisite of
Jess, who carefully unscrewed the cover and laid it aside, exposing
the body in black trousers and white shirt. At that instant the air
sprang to flame, a cracking shock of thunder shook the stunned world
and Henry Armstrong tranquilly sat up. With inarticulate cries the
men fled in terror, each in a different direction. For nothing on
earth could two of them have been persuaded to return. But Jess was
of another breed.
In the gray of the morning the two students, pallid and haggard from
anxiety and with the terror of their adventure still beating
tumultuously in their blood, met at the medical college.
"You saw it?" cried one.
"God! yes--what are we to do?"
They went around to the rear of the building, where they saw a horse,
attached to a light wagon, hitched to a gatepost near the door of the
dissecting-room. Mechanically they entered the room. On a bench in
the obscurity sat the negro Jess. He rose, grinning, all eyes and
"I'm waiting for my pay," he said.
Stretched naked on a long table lay the body of Henry Armstrong, the
head defiled with blood and clay from a blow with a spade.
THE MOONLIT ROAD
I--STATEMENT OF JOEL HETMAN, JR.
I am the most unfortunate of men. Rich, respected, fairly well
educated and of sound health--with many other advantages usually
valued by those having them and coveted by those who have them not--I
sometimes think that I should be less unhappy if they had been denied
me, for then the contrast between my outer and my inner life would
not be continually demanding a painful attention. In the stress of
privation and the need of effort I might sometimes forget the somber
secret ever baffling the conjecture that it compels.
I am the only child of Joel and Julia Hetman. The one was a well-to-
do country gentleman, the other a beautiful and accomplished woman to
whom he was passionately attached with what I now know to have been a
jealous and exacting devotion. The family home was a few miles from
Nashville, Tennessee, a large, irregularly built dwelling of no
particular order of architecture, a little way off the road, in a
park of trees and shrubbery.
At the time of which I write I was nineteen years old, a student at
Yale. One day I received a telegram from my father of such urgency
that in compliance with its unexplained demand I left at once for
home. At the railway station in Nashville a distant relative awaited
me to apprise me of the reason for my recall: my mother had been
barbarously murdered--why and by whom none could conjecture, but the
circumstances were these: My father had gone to Nashville, intending
to return the next afternoon. Something prevented his accomplishing
the business in hand, so he returned on the same night, arriving just
before the dawn. In his testimony before the coroner he explained
that having no latchkey and not caring to disturb the sleeping
servants, he had, with no clearly defined intention, gone round to
the rear of the house. As he turned an angle of the building, he
heard a sound as of a door gently closed, and saw in the darkness,
indistinctly, the figure of a man, which instantly disappeared among
the trees of the lawn. A hasty pursuit and brief search of the
grounds in the belief that the trespasser was some one secretly
visiting a servant proving fruitless, he entered at the unlocked door
and mounted the stairs to my mother's chamber. Its door was open,
and stepping into black darkness he fell headlong over some heavy
object on the floor. I may spare myself the details; it was my poor
mother, dead of strangulation by human hands!
Nothing had been taken from the house, the servants had heard no
sound, and excepting those terrible finger-marks upon the dead
woman's throat--dear God! that I might forget them!--no trace of the
assassin was ever found.
I gave up my studies and remained with my father, who, naturally, was
greatly changed. Always of a sedate, taciturn disposition, he now
fell into so deep a dejection that nothing could hold his attention,
yet anything--a footfall, the sudden closing of a door--aroused in
him a fitful interest; one might have called it an apprehension. At
any small surprise of the senses he would start visibly and sometimes
turn pale, then relapse into a melancholy apathy deeper than before.
I suppose he was what is called a "nervous wreck." As to me, I was
younger then than now--there is much in that. Youth is Gilead, in
which is balm for every wound. Ah, that I might again dwell in that
enchanted land! Unacquainted with grief, I knew not how to appraise
my bereavement; I could not rightly estimate the strength of the
One night, a few months after the dreadful event, my father and I
walked home from the city. The full moon was about three hours above
the eastern horizon; the entire countryside had the solemn stillness
of a summer night; our footfalls and the ceaseless song of the
katydids were the only sound aloof. Black shadows of bordering trees
lay athwart the road, which, in the short reaches between, gleamed a
ghostly white. As we approached the gate to our dwelling, whose
front was in shadow, and in which no light shone, my father suddenly
stopped and clutched my arm, saying, hardly above his breath:
"God! God! what is that?"
"I hear nothing," I replied.
"But see--see!" he said, pointing along the road, directly ahead.
I said: "Nothing is there. Come, father, let us go in--you are
He had released my arm and was standing rigid and motionless in the
center of the illuminated roadway, staring like one bereft of sense.
His face in the moonlight showed a pallor and fixity inexpressibly
distressing. I pulled gently at his sleeve, but he had forgotten my
existence. Presently he began to retire backward, step by step,
never for an instant removing his eyes from what he saw, or thought
he saw. I turned half round to follow, but stood irresolute. I do
not recall any feeling of fear, unless a sudden chill was its
physical manifestation. It seemed as if an icy wind had touched my
face and enfolded my body from head to foot; I could feel the stir of
it in my hair.
At that moment my attention was drawn to a light that suddenly
streamed from an upper window of the house: one of the servants,
awakened by what mysterious premonition of evil who can say, and in
obedience to an impulse that she was never able to name, had lit a
lamp. When I turned to look for my father he was gone, and in all
the years that have passed no whisper of his fate has come across the
borderland of conjecture from the realm of the unknown.
II--STATEMENT OF CASPAR GRATTAN
To-day I am said to live; to-morrow, here in this room, will lie a
senseless shape of clay that all too long was I. If anyone lift the
cloth from the face of that unpleasant thing it will be in
gratification of a mere morbid curiosity. Some, doubtless, will go
further and inquire, "Who was he?" In this writing I supply the only
answer that I am able to make--Caspar Grattan. Surely, that should
be enough. The name has served my small need for more than twenty
years of a life of unknown length. True, I gave it to myself, but
lacking another I had the right. In this world one must have a name;
it prevents confusion, even when it does not establish identity.
Some, though, are known by numbers, which also seem inadequate
One day, for illustration, I was passing along a street of a city,
far from here, when I met two men in uniform, one of whom, half
pausing and looking curiously into my face, said to his companion,
"That man looks like 767." Something in the number seemed familiar
and horrible. Moved by an uncontrollable impulse, I sprang into a
side street and ran until I fell exhausted in a country lane.
I have never forgotten that number, and always it comes to memory
attended by gibbering obscenity, peals of joyless laughter, the clang
of iron doors. So I say a name, even if self-bestowed, is better
than a number. In the register of the potter's field I shall soon
have both. What wealth!
Of him who shall find this paper I must beg a little consideration.
It is not the history of my life; the knowledge to write that is
denied me. This is only a record of broken and apparently unrelated
memories, some of them as distinct and sequent as brilliant beads
upon a thread, others remote and strange, having the character of
crimson dreams with interspaces blank and black--witch-fires glowing
still and red in a great desolation.
Standing upon the shore of eternity, I turn for a last look landward
over the course by which I came. There are twenty years of
footprints fairly distinct, the impressions of bleeding feet. They
lead through poverty and pain, devious and unsure, as of one
staggering beneath a burden -
Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow.
Ah, the poet's prophecy of Me--how admirable, how dreadfully
Backward beyond the beginning of this via dolorosa--this epic of
suffering with episodes of sin--I see nothing clearly; it comes out
of a cloud. I know that it spans only twenty years, yet I am an old
One does not remember one's birth--one has to be told. But with me
it was different; life came to me full-handed and dowered me with all
my faculties and powers. Of a previous existence I know no more than
others, for all have stammering intimations that may be memories and
may be dreams. I know only that my first consciousness was of
maturity in body and mind--a consciousness accepted without surprise
or conjecture. I merely found myself walking in a forest, half-clad,
footsore, unutterably weary and hungry. Seeing a farmhouse, I
approached and asked for food, which was given me by one who inquired
my name. I did not know, yet knew that all had names. Greatly
embarrassed, I retreated, and night coming on, lay down in the forest
The next day I entered a large town which I shall not name. Nor
shall I recount further incidents of the life that is now to end--a
life of wandering, always and everywhere haunted by an overmastering
sense of crime in punishment of wrong and of terror in punishment of
crime. Let me see if I can reduce it to narrative.
I seem once to have lived near a great city, a prosperous planter,
married to a woman whom I loved and distrusted. We had, it sometimes
seems, one child, a youth of brilliant parts and promise. He is at
all times a vague figure, never clearly drawn, frequently altogether
out of the picture.
One luckless evening it occurred to me to test my wife's fidelity in
a vulgar, commonplace way familiar to everyone who has acquaintance
with the literature of fact and fiction. I went to the city, telling
my wife that I should be absent until the following afternoon. But I
returned before daybreak and went to the rear of the house, purposing
to enter by a door with which I had secretly so tampered that it
would seem to lock, yet not actually fasten. As I approached it, I
heard it gently open and close, and saw a man steal away into the
darkness. With murder in my heart, I sprang after him, but he had
vanished without even the bad luck of identification. Sometimes now
I cannot even persuade myself that it was a human being.
Crazed with jealousy and rage, blind and bestial with all the
elemental passions of insulted manhood, I entered the house and
sprang up the stairs to the door of my wife's chamber. It was
closed, but having tampered with its lock also, I easily entered and
despite the black darkness soon stood by the side of her bed. My
groping hands told me that although disarranged it was unoccupied.
"She is below," I thought, "and terrified by my entrance has evaded
me in the darkness of the hall."
With the purpose of seeking her I turned to leave the room, but took
a wrong direction--the right one! My foot struck her, cowering in a
corner of the room. Instantly my hands were at her throat, stifling
a shriek, my knees were upon her struggling body; and there in the
darkness, without a word of accusation or reproach, I strangled her
till she died!
There ends the dream. I have related it in the past tense, but the
present would be the fitter form, for again and again the somber
tragedy reenacts itself in my consciousness--over and over I lay the
plan, I suffer the confirmation, I redress the wrong. Then all is
blank; and afterward the rains beat against the grimy window-panes,
or the snows fall upon my scant attire, the wheels rattle in the
squalid streets where my life lies in poverty and mean employment.
If there is ever sunshine I do not recall it; if there are birds they
do not sing.
There is another dream, another vision of the night. I stand among
the shadows in a moonlit road. I am aware of another presence, but
whose I cannot rightly determine. In the shadow of a great dwelling
I catch the gleam of white garments; then the figure of a woman
confronts me in the road--my murdered wife! There is death in the
face; there are marks upon the throat. The eyes are fixed on mine
with an infinite gravity which is not reproach, nor hate, nor menace,
nor anything less terrible than recognition. Before this awful
apparition I retreat in terror--a terror that is upon me as I write.
I can no longer rightly shape the words. See! they -
Now I am calm, but truly there is no more to tell: the incident ends
where it began--in darkness and in doubt.
Yes, I am again in control of myself: "the captain of my soul." But
that is not respite; it is another stage and phase of expiation. My
penance, constant in degree, is mutable in kind: one of its variants
is tranquillity. After all, it is only a life-sentence. "To Hell
for life"--that is a foolish penalty: the culprit chooses the
duration of his punishment. To-day my term expires.
To each and all, the peace that was not mine.
III--STATEMENT OF THE LATE JULIA HETMAN, THROUGH THE MEDIUM BAYROLLES
I had retired early and fallen almost immediately into a peaceful
sleep, from which I awoke with that indefinable sense of peril which
is, I think, a common experience in that other, earlier life. Of its
unmeaning character, too, I was entirely persuaded, yet that did not
banish it. My husband, Joel Hetman, was away from home; the servants
slept in another part of the house. But these were familiar
conditions; they had never before distressed me. Nevertheless, the
strange terror grew so insupportable that conquering my reluctance to
move I sat up and lit the lamp at my bedside. Contrary to my
expectation this gave me no relief; the light seemed rather an added
danger, for I reflected that it would shine out under the door,
disclosing my presence to whatever evil thing might lurk outside.
You that are still in the flesh, subject to horrors of the
imagination, think what a monstrous fear that must be which seeks in
darkness security from malevolent existences of the night. That is
to spring to close quarters with an unseen enemy--the strategy of
Extinguishing the lamp I pulled the bed-clothing about my head and
lay trembling and silent, unable to shriek, forgetful to pray. In
this pitiable state I must have lain for what you call hours--with us
there are no hours, there is no time.
At last it came--a soft, irregular sound of footfalls on the stairs!
They were slow, hesitant, uncertain, as of something that did not see
its way; to my disordered reason all the more terrifying for that, as
the approach of some blind and mindless malevolence to which is no
appeal. I even thought that I must have left the hall lamp burning
and the groping of this creature proved it a monster of the night.
This was foolish and inconsistent with my previous dread of the
light, but what would you have? Fear has no brains; it is an idiot.
The dismal witness that it bears and the cowardly counsel that it
whispers are unrelated. We know this well, we who have passed into
the Realm of Terror, who skulk in eternal dusk among the scenes of
our former lives, invisible even to ourselves and one another, yet
hiding forlorn in lonely places; yearning for speech with our loved
ones, yet dumb, and as fearful of them as they of us. Sometimes the
disability is removed, the law suspended: by the deathless power of
love or hate we break the spell--we are seen by those whom we would
warn, console, or punish. What form we seem to them to bear we know
not; we know only that we terrify even those whom we most wish to
comfort, and from whom we most crave tenderness and sympathy.
Forgive, I pray you, this inconsequent digression by what was once a
woman. You who consult us in this imperfect way--you do not
understand. You ask foolish questions about things unknown and
things forbidden. Much that we know and could impart in our speech
is meaningless in yours. We must communicate with you through a
stammering intelligence in that small fraction of our language that
you yourselves can speak. You think that we are of another world.
No, we have knowledge of no world but yours, though for us it holds
no sunlight, no warmth, no music, no laughter, no song of birds, nor
any companionship. O God! what a thing it is to be a ghost, cowering
and shivering in an altered world, a prey to apprehension and
No, I did not die of fright: the Thing turned and went away. I
heard it go down the stairs, hurriedly, I thought, as if itself in
sudden fear. Then I rose to call for help. Hardly had my shaking
hand found the doorknob when--merciful heaven!--I heard it returning.
Its footfalls as it remounted the stairs were rapid, heavy and loud;
they shook the house. I fled to an angle of the wall and crouched
upon the floor. I tried to pray. I tried to call the name of my
dear husband. Then I heard the door thrown open. There was an
interval of unconsciousness, and when I revived I felt a strangling
clutch upon my throat--felt my arms feebly beating against something
that bore me backward--felt my tongue thrusting itself from between
my teeth! And then I passed into this life.
No, I have no knowledge of what it was. The sum of what we knew at
death is the measure of what we know afterward of all that went
before. Of this existence we know many things, but no new light
falls upon any page of that; in memory is written all of it that we
can read. Here are no heights of truth overlooking the confused
landscape of that dubitable domain. We still dwell in the Valley of
the Shadow, lurk in its desolate places, peering from brambles and
thickets at its mad, malign inhabitants. How should we have new
knowledge of that fading past?
What I am about to relate happened on a night. We know when it is
night, for then you retire to your houses and we can venture from our
places of concealment to move unafraid about our old homes, to look
in at the windows, even to enter and gaze upon your faces as you
sleep. I had lingered long near the dwelling where I had been so
cruelly changed to what I am, as we do while any that we love or hate
remain. Vainly I had sought some method of manifestation, some way
to make my continued existence and my great love and poignant pity
understood by my husband and son. Always if they slept they would
wake, or if in my desperation I dared approach them when they were
awake, would turn toward me the terrible eyes of the living,
frightening me by the glances that I sought from the purpose that I
On this night I had searched for them without success, fearing to
find them; they were nowhere in the house, nor about the moonlit
lawn. For, although the sun is lost to us forever, the moon, full-
orbed or slender, remains to us. Sometimes it shines by night,
sometimes by day, but always it rises and sets, as in that other
I left the lawn and moved in the white light and silence along the
road, aimless and sorrowing. Suddenly I heard the voice of my poor
husband in exclamations of astonishment, with that of my son in
reassurance and dissuasion; and there by the shadow of a group of
trees they stood--near, so near! Their faces were toward me, the
eyes of the elder man fixed upon mine. He saw me--at last, at last,
he saw me! In the consciousness of that, my terror fled as a cruel
dream. The death-spell was broken: Love had conquered Law! Mad
with exultation I shouted--I MUST have shouted, "He sees, he sees:
he will understand!" Then, controlling myself, I moved forward,
smiling and consciously beautiful, to offer myself to his arms, to
comfort him with endearments, and, with my son's hand in mine, to
speak words that should restore the broken bonds between the living
and the dead.
Alas! alas! his face went white with fear, his eyes were as those of
a hunted animal. He backed away from me, as I advanced, and at last
turned and fled into the wood--whither, it is not given to me to
To my poor boy, left doubly desolate, I have never been able to
impart a sense of my presence. Soon he, too, must pass to this Life
Invisible and be lost to me forever.
A DIAGNOSIS OF DEATH
"I am not so superstitious as some of your physicians--men of
science, as you are pleased to be called," said Hawver, replying to
an accusation that had not been made. "Some of you--only a few, I
confess--believe in the immortality of the soul, and in apparitions
which you have not the honesty to call ghosts. I go no further than
a conviction that the living are sometimes seen where they are not,
but have been--where they have lived so long, perhaps so intensely,
as to have left their impress on everything about them. I know,
indeed, that one's environment may be so affected by one's
personality as to yield, long afterward, an image of one's self to
the eyes of another. Doubtless the impressing personality has to be
the right kind of personality as the perceiving eyes have to be the
right kind of eyes--mine, for example."
"Yes, the right kind of eyes, conveying sensations to the wrong kind
of brain," said Dr. Frayley, smiling.
"Thank you; one likes to have an expectation gratified; that is about
the reply that I supposed you would have the civility to make."
"Pardon me. But you say that you know. That is a good deal to say,
don't you think? Perhaps you will not mind the trouble of saying how
"You will call it an hallucination," Hawver said, "but that does not
matter." And he told the story.
"Last summer I went, as you know, to pass the hot weather term in the
town of Meridian. The relative at whose house I had intended to stay
was ill, so I sought other quarters. After some difficulty I
succeeded in renting a vacant dwelling that had been occupied by an
eccentric doctor of the name of Mannering, who had gone away years
before, no one knew where, not even his agent. He had built the
house himself and had lived in it with an old servant for about ten
years. His practice, never very extensive, had after a few years
been given up entirely. Not only so, but he had withdrawn himself
almost altogether from social life and become a recluse. I was told
by the village doctor, about the only person with whom he held any
relations, that during his retirement he had devoted himself to a
single line of study, the result of which he had expounded in a book
that did not commend itself to the approval of his professional
brethren, who, indeed, considered him not entirely sane. I have not
seen the book and cannot now recall the title of it, but I am told
that it expounded a rather startling theory. He held that it was
possible in the case of many a person in good health to forecast his
death with precision, several months in advance of the event. The
limit, I think, was eighteen months. There were local tales of his
having exerted his powers of prognosis, or perhaps you would say
diagnosis; and it was said that in every instance the person whose
friends he had warned had died suddenly at the appointed time, and
from no assignable cause. All this, however, has nothing to do with
what I have to tell; I thought it might amuse a physician.
"The house was furnished, just as he had lived in it. It was a
rather gloomy dwelling for one who was neither a recluse nor a
student, and I think it gave something of its character to me--
perhaps some of its former occupant's character; for always I felt in
it a certain melancholy that was not in my natural disposition, nor,
I think, due to loneliness. I had no servants that slept in the
house, but I have always been, as you know, rather fond of my own
society, being much addicted to reading, though little to study.
Whatever was the cause, the effect was dejection and a sense of
impending evil; this was especially so in Dr. Mannering's study,
although that room was the lightest and most airy in the house. The
doctor's life-size portrait in oil hung in that room, and seemed
completely to dominate it. There was nothing unusual in the picture;
the man was evidently rather good looking, about fifty years old,
with iron-gray hair, a smooth-shaven face and dark, serious eyes.
Something in the picture always drew and held my attention. The
man's appearance became familiar to me, and rather 'haunted' me.
"One evening I was passing through this room to my bedroom, with a
lamp--there is no gas in Meridian. I stopped as usual before the
portrait, which seemed in the lamplight to have a new expression, not
easily named, but distinctly uncanny. It interested but did not
disturb me. I moved the lamp from one side to the other and observed
the effects of the altered light. While so engaged I felt an impulse
to turn round. As I did so I saw a man moving across the room
directly toward me! As soon as he came near enough for the lamplight
to illuminate the face I saw that it was Dr. Mannering himself; it
was as if the portrait were walking!
"'I beg your pardon,' I said, somewhat coldly, 'but if you knocked I
did not hear.'
"He passed me, within an arm's length, lifted his right forefinger,
as in warning, and without a word went on out of the room, though I
observed his exit no more than I had observed his entrance.
"Of course, I need not tell you that this was what you will call an
hallucination and I call an apparition. That room had only two
doors, of which one was locked; the other led into a bedroom, from
which there was no exit. My feeling on realizing this is not an
important part of the incident.
"Doubtless this seems to you a very commonplace 'ghost story'--one
constructed on the regular lines laid down by the old masters of the
art. If that were so I should not have related it, even if it were
true. The man was not dead; I met him to-day in Union street. He
passed me in a crowd."
Hawver had finished his story and both men were silent. Dr. Frayley
absently drummed on the table with his fingers.
"Did he say anything to-day?" he asked--"anything from which you
inferred that he was not dead?"
Hawver stared and did not reply.
"Perhaps," continued Frayley, "he made a sign, a gesture--lifted a
finger, as in warning. It's a trick he had--a habit when saying
something serious--announcing the result of a diagnosis, for
"Yes, he did--just as his apparition had done. But, good God! did
you ever know him?"
Hawver was apparently growing nervous.
"I knew him. I have read his book, as will every physician some day.
It is one of the most striking and important of the century's
contributions to medical science. Yes, I knew him; I attended him in
an illness three years ago. He died."
Hawver sprang from his chair, manifestly disturbed. He strode
forward and back across the room; then approached his friend, and in
a voice not altogether steady, said: "Doctor, have you anything to
say to me--as a physician?"
"No, Hawver; you are the healthiest man I ever knew. As a friend I
advise you to go to your room. You play the violin like an angel.
Play it; play something light and lively. Get this cursed bad
business off your mind."
The next day Hawver was found dead in his room, the violin at his
neck, the bow upon the strings, his music open before him at Chopin's
"Are you serious?--do you really believe that a machine thinks?"
I got no immediate reply; Moxon was apparently intent upon the coals
in the grate, touching them deftly here and there with the fire-poker
till they signified a sense of his attention by a brighter glow. For
several weeks I had been observing in him a growing habit of delay in
answering even the most trivial of commonplace questions. His air,
however, was that of preoccupation rather than deliberation: one
might have said that he had "something on his mind."
Presently he said:
"What is a 'machine'? The word has been variously defined. Here is
one definition from a popular dictionary: 'Any instrument or
organization by which power is applied and made effective, or a
desired effect produced.' Well, then, is not a man a machine? And
you will admit that he thinks--or thinks he thinks."
"If you do not wish to answer my question," I said, rather testily,
"why not say so?--all that you say is mere evasion. You know well
enough that when I say 'machine' I do not mean a man, but something
that man has made and controls."
"When it does not control him," he said, rising abruptly and looking
out of a window, whence nothing was visible in the blackness of a
stormy night. A moment later he turned about and with a smile said:
"I beg your pardon; I had no thought of evasion. I considered the
dictionary man's unconscious testimony suggestive and worth something
in the discussion. I can give your question a direct answer easily
enough: I do believe that a machine thinks about the work that it is
That was direct enough, certainly. It was not altogether pleasing,
for it tended to confirm a sad suspicion that Moxon's devotion to
study and work in his machine-shop had not been good for him. I
knew, for one thing, that he suffered from insomnia, and that is no
light affliction. Had it affected his mind? His reply to my
question seemed to me then evidence that it had; perhaps I should
think differently about it now. I was younger then, and among the
blessings that are not denied to youth is ignorance. Incited by that
great stimulant to controversy, I said:
"And what, pray, does it think with--in the absence of a brain?"
The reply, coming with less than his customary delay, took his
favorite form of counter-interrogation:
"With what does a plant think--in the absence of a brain?"
"Ah, plants also belong to the philosopher class! I should be
pleased to know some of their conclusions; you may omit the
"Perhaps," he replied, apparently unaffected by my foolish irony,
"you may be able to infer their convictions from their acts. I will
spare you the familiar examples of the sensitive mimosa, the several
insectivorous flowers and those whose stamens bend down and shake
their pollen upon the entering bee in order that he may fertilize
their distant mates. But observe this. In an open spot in my garden
I planted a climbing vine. When it was barely above the surface I
set a stake into the soil a yard away. The vine at once made for it,
but as it was about to reach it after several days I removed it a few
feet. The vine at once altered its course, making an acute angle,
and again made for the stake. This manoeuvre was repeated several
times, but finally, as if discouraged, the vine abandoned the pursuit
and ignoring further attempts to divert it traveled to a small tree,
further away, which it climbed.
"Roots of the eucalyptus will prolong themselves incredibly in search
of moisture. A well-known horticulturist relates that one entered an
old drain pipe and followed it until it came to a break, where a
section of the pipe had been removed to make way for a stone wall
that had been built across its course. The root left the drain and
followed the wall until it found an opening where a stone had fallen
out. It crept through and following the other side of the wall back
to the drain, entered the unexplored part and resumed its journey."
"And all this?"
"Can you miss the significance of it? It shows the consciousness of
plants. It proves that they think."
"Even if it did--what then? We were speaking, not of plants, but of
machines. They may be composed partly of wood--wood that has no
longer vitality--or wholly of metal. Is thought an attribute also of
the mineral kingdom?"
"How else do you explain the phenomena, for example, of
"I do not explain them."
"Because you cannot without affirming what you wish to deny, namely,
intelligent cooperation among the constituent elements of the
crystals. When soldiers form lines, or hollow squares, you call it
reason. When wild geese in flight take the form of a letter V you
say instinct. When the homogeneous atoms of a mineral, moving freely
in solution, arrange themselves into shapes mathematically perfect,
or particles of frozen moisture into the symmetrical and beautiful
forms of snowflakes, you have nothing to say. You have not even
invented a name to conceal your heroic unreason."
Moxon was speaking with unusual animation and earnestness. As he
paused I heard in an adjoining room known to me as his "machine-
shop," which no one but himself was permitted to enter, a singular
thumping sound, as of some one pounding upon a table with an open
hand. Moxon heard it at the same moment and, visibly agitated, rose
and hurriedly passed into the room whence it came. I thought it odd
that any one else should be in there, and my interest in my friend--
with doubtless a touch of unwarrantable curiosity--led me to listen
intently, though, I am happy to say, not at the keyhole. There were
confused sounds, as of a struggle or scuffle; the floor shook. I
distinctly heard hard breathing and a hoarse whisper which said "Damn
you!" Then all was silent, and presently Moxon reappeared and said,
with a rather sorry smile:
"Pardon me for leaving you so abruptly. I have a machine in there
that lost its temper and cut up rough."
Fixing my eyes steadily upon his left cheek, which was traversed by
four parallel excoriations showing blood, I said:
"How would it do to trim its nails?"
I could have spared myself the jest; he gave it no attention, but
seated himself in the chair that he had left and resumed the
interrupted monologue as if nothing had occurred:
"Doubtless you do not hold with those (I need not name them to a man
of your reading) who have taught that all matter is sentient, that
every atom is a living, feeling, conscious being. _I_ do. There is
no such thing as dead, inert matter: it is all alive; all instinct
with force, actual and potential; all sensitive to the same forces in
its environment and susceptible to the contagion of higher and
subtler ones residing in such superior organisms as it may be brought
into relation with, as those of man when he is fashioning it into an
instrument of his will. It absorbs something of his intelligence and
purpose--more of them in proportion to the complexity of the
resulting machine and that of its work.
"Do you happen to recall Herbert Spencer's definition of 'Life'? I
read it thirty years ago. He may have altered it afterward, for
anything I know, but in all that time I have been unable to think of
a single word that could profitably be changed or added or removed.
It seems to me not only the best definition, but the only possible
"'Life,' he says, 'is a definite combination of heterogeneous
changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with
external coexistences and sequences.'"
"That defines the phenomenon," I said, "but gives no hint of its
"That," he replied, "is all that any definition can do. As Mill
points out, we know nothing of cause except as an antecedent--nothing
of effect except as a consequent. Of certain phenomena, one never
occurs without another, which is dissimilar: the first in point of
time we call cause, the second, effect. One who had many times seen
a rabbit pursued by a dog, and had never seen rabbits and dogs
otherwise, would think the rabbit the cause of the dog.
"But I fear," he added, laughing naturally enough, "that my rabbit is
leading me a long way from the track of my legitimate quarry: I'm
indulging in the pleasure of the chase for its own sake. What I want
you to observe is that in Herbert Spencer's definition of 'life' the
activity of a machine is included--there is nothing in the definition
that is not applicable to it. According to this sharpest of
observers and deepest of thinkers, if a man during his period of
activity is alive, so is a machine when in operation. As an inventor
and constructor of machines I know that to be true."
Moxon was silent for a long time, gazing absently into the fire. It
was growing late and I thought it time to be going, but somehow I did
not like the notion of leaving him in that isolated house, all alone
except for the presence of some person of whose nature my conjectures
could go no further than that it was unfriendly, perhaps malign.
Leaning toward him and looking earnestly into his eyes while making a
motion with my hand through the door of his workshop, I said:
"Moxon, whom have you in there?"
Somewhat to my surprise he laughed lightly and answered without
"Nobody; the incident that you have in mind was caused by my folly in
leaving a machine in action with nothing to act upon, while I
undertook the interminable task of enlightening your understanding.
Do you happen to know that Consciousness is the creature of Rhythm?"
"O bother them both!" I replied, rising and laying hold of my
overcoat. "I'm going to wish you good night; and I'll add the hope
that the machine which you inadvertently left in action will have her
gloves on the next time you think it needful to stop her."
Without waiting to observe the effect of my shot I left the house.
Rain was falling, and the darkness was intense. In the sky beyond
the crest of a hill toward which I groped my way along precarious
plank sidewalks and across miry, unpaved streets I could see the
faint glow of the city's lights, but behind me nothing was visible
but a single window of Moxon's house. It glowed with what seemed to
me a mysterious and fateful meaning. I knew it was an uncurtained
aperture in my friend's "machine-shop," and I had little doubt that
he had resumed the studies interrupted by his duties as my instructor
in mechanical consciousness and the fatherhood of Rhythm. Odd, and
in some degree humorous, as his convictions seemed to me at that
time, I could not wholly divest myself of the feeling that they had
some tragic relation to his life and character--perhaps to his
destiny--although I no longer entertained the notion that they were
the vagaries of a disordered mind. Whatever might be thought of his
views, his exposition of them was too logical for that. Over and
over, his last words came back to me: "Consciousness is the creature
of Rhythm." Bald and terse as the statement was, I now found it
infinitely alluring. At each recurrence it broadened in meaning and
deepened in suggestion. Why, here, (I thought) is something upon
which to found a philosophy. If consciousness is the product of
rhythm all things ARE conscious, for all have motion, and all motion
is rhythmic. I wondered if Moxon knew the significance and breadth
of his thought--the scope of this momentous generalization; or had he
arrived at his philosophic faith by the tortuous and uncertain road
That faith was then new to me, and all Moxon's expounding had failed
to make me a convert; but now it seemed as if a great light shone
about me, like that which fell upon Saul of Tarsus; and out there in
the storm and darkness and solitude I experienced what Lewes calls
"The endless variety and excitement of philosophic thought." I
exulted in a new sense of knowledge, a new pride of reason. My feet
seemed hardly to touch the earth; it was as if I were uplifted and
borne through the air by invisible wings.
Yielding to an impulse to seek further light from him whom I now
recognized as my master and guide, I had unconsciously turned about,
and almost before I was aware of having done so found myself again at
Moxon's door. I was drenched with rain, but felt no discomfort.
Unable in my excitement to find the doorbell I instinctively tried
the knob. It turned and, entering, I mounted the stairs to the room
that I had so recently left. All was dark and silent; Moxon, as I
had supposed, was in the adjoining room--the "machine-shop." Groping
along the wall until I found the communicating door I knocked loudly
several times, but got no response, which I attributed to the uproar
outside, for the wind was blowing a gale and dashing the rain against
the thin walls in sheets. The drumming upon the shingle roof
spanning the unceiled room was loud and incessant.
I had never been invited into the machine-shop--had, indeed, been
denied admittance, as had all others, with one exception, a skilled
metal worker, of whom no one knew anything except that his name was
Haley and his habit silence. But in my spiritual exaltation,
discretion and civility were alike forgotten and I opened the door.
What I saw took all philosophical speculation out of me in short
Moxon sat facing me at the farther side of a small table upon which a
single candle made all the light that was in the room. Opposite him,
his back toward me, sat another person. On the table between the two
was a chessboard; the men were playing. I knew little of chess, but
as only a few pieces were on the board it was obvious that the game
was near its close. Moxon was intensely interested--not so much, it
seemed to me, in the game as in his antagonist, upon whom he had
fixed so intent a look that, standing though I did directly in the
line of his vision, I was altogether unobserved. His face was
ghastly white, and his eyes glittered like diamonds. Of his
antagonist I had only a back view, but that was sufficient; I should
not have cared to see his face.
He was apparently not more than five feet in height, with proportions
suggesting those of a gorilla--a tremendous breadth of shoulders,
thick, short neck and broad, squat head, which had a tangled growth
of black hair and was topped with a crimson fez. A tunic of the same
color, belted tightly to the waist, reached the seat--apparently a
box--upon which he sat; his legs and feet were not seen. His left
forearm appeared to rest in his lap; he moved his pieces with his
right hand, which seemed disproportionately long.
I had shrunk back and now stood a little to one side of the doorway
and in shadow. If Moxon had looked farther than the face of his
opponent he could have observed nothing now, except that the door was
open. Something forbade me either to enter or to retire, a feeling--
I know not how it came--that I was in the presence of an imminent
tragedy and might serve my friend by remaining. With a scarcely
conscious rebellion against the indelicacy of the act I remained.
The play was rapid. Moxon hardly glanced at the board before making
his moves, and to my unskilled eye seemed to move the piece most
convenient to his hand, his motions in doing so being quick, nervous
and lacking in precision. The response of his antagonist, while
equally prompt in the inception, was made with a slow, uniform,
mechanical and, I thought, somewhat theatrical movement of the arm,
that was a sore trial to my patience. There was something unearthly
about it all, and I caught myself shuddering. But I was wet and
Two or three times after moving a piece the stranger slightly
inclined his head, and each time I observed that Moxon shifted his
king. All at once the thought came to me that the man was dumb. And
then that he was a machine--an automaton chess-player! Then I
remembered that Moxon had once spoken to me of having invented such a
piece of mechanism, though I did not understand that it had actually
been constructed. Was all his talk about the consciousness and
intelligence of machines merely a prelude to eventual exhibition of
this device--only a trick to intensify the effect of its mechanical
action upon me in my ignorance of its secret?
A fine end, this, of all my intellectual transports--my "endless
variety and excitement of philosophic thought!" I was about to
retire in disgust when something occurred to hold my curiosity. I
observed a shrug of the thing's great shoulders, as if it were
irritated: and so natural was this--so entirely human--that in my
new view of the matter it startled me. Nor was that all, for a
moment later it struck the table sharply with its clenched hand. At
that gesture Moxon seemed even more startled than I: he pushed his
chair a little backward, as in alarm.
Presently Moxon, whose play it was, raised his hand high above the
board, pounced upon one of his pieces like a sparrow-hawk and with
the exclamation "checkmate!" rose quickly to his feet and stepped
behind his chair. The automaton sat motionless.
The wind had now gone down, but I heard, at lessening intervals and
progressively louder, the rumble and roll of thunder. In the pauses
between I now became conscious of a low humming or buzzing which,
like the thunder, grew momentarily louder and more distinct. It
seemed to come from the body of the automaton, and was unmistakably a
whirring of wheels. It gave me the impression of a disordered
mechanism which had escaped the repressive and regulating action of
some controlling part--an effect such as might be expected if a pawl
should be jostled from the teeth of a ratchet-wheel. But before I
had time for much conjecture as to its nature my attention was taken
by the strange motions of the automaton itself. A slight but
continuous convulsion appeared to have possession of it. In body and
head it shook like a man with palsy or an ague chill, and the motion
augmented every moment until the entire figure was in violent
agitation. Suddenly it sprang to its feet and with a movement almost
too quick for the eye to follow shot forward across table and chair,
with both arms thrust forth to their full length--the posture and
lunge of a diver. Moxon tried to throw himself backward out of
reach, but he was too late: I saw the horrible thing's hands close
upon his throat, his own clutch its wrists. Then the table was
overturned, the candle thrown to the floor and extinguished, and all
was black dark. But the noise of the struggle was dreadfully
distinct, and most terrible of all were the raucous, squawking sounds
made by the strangled man's efforts to breathe. Guided by the
infernal hubbub, I sprang to the rescue of my friend, but had hardly
taken a stride in the darkness when the whole room blazed with a
blinding white light that burned into my brain and heart and memory a
vivid picture of the combatants on the floor, Moxon underneath, his
throat still in the clutch of those iron hands, his head forced
backward, his eyes protruding, his mouth wide open and his tongue
thrust out; and--horrible contrast!--upon the painted face of his
assassin an expression of tranquil and profound thought, as in the
solution of a problem in chess! This I observed, then all was
blackness and silence.
Three days later I recovered consciousness in a hospital. As the
memory of that tragic night slowly evolved in my ailing brain
recognized in my attendant Moxon's confidential workman, Haley.
Responding to a look he approached, smiling.
"Tell me about it," I managed to say, faintly--"all about it."
"Certainly," he said; "you were carried unconscious from a burning
house--Moxon's. Nobody knows how you came to be there. You may have
to do a little explaining. The origin of the fire is a bit
mysterious, too. My own notion is that the house was struck by
"Buried yesterday--what was left of him."
Apparently this reticent person could unfold himself on occasion.
When imparting shocking intelligence to the sick he was affable
enough. After some moments of the keenest mental suffering I
ventured to ask another question:
"Who rescued me?"
"Well, if that interests you--I did."
"Thank you, Mr. Haley, and may God bless you for it. Did you rescue,
also, that charming product of your skill, the automaton chess-player
that murdered its inventor?"
The man was silent a long time, looking away from me. Presently he
turned and gravely said:
"Do you know that?"
"I do," I replied; "I saw it done."
That was many years ago. If asked to-day I should answer less
A TOUGH TUSSLE
One night in the autumn of 1861 a man sat alone in the heart of a
forest in western Virginia. The region was one of the wildest on the
continent--the Cheat Mountain country. There was no lack of people
close at hand, however; within a mile of where the man sat was the
now silent camp of a whole Federal brigade. Somewhere about--it
might be still nearer--was a force of the enemy, the numbers unknown.
It was this uncertainty as to its numbers and position that accounted
for the man's presence in that lonely spot; he was a young officer of
a Federal infantry regiment and his business there was to guard his
sleeping comrades in the camp against a surprise. He was in command
of a detachment of men constituting a picket-guard. These men he had
stationed just at nightfall in an irregular line, determined by the
nature of the ground, several hundred yards in front of where he now
sat. The line ran through the forest, among the rocks and laurel
thickets, the men fifteen or twenty paces apart, all in concealment
and under injunction of strict silence and unremitting vigilance. In
four hours, if nothing occurred, they would be relieved by a fresh
detachment from the reserve now resting in care of its captain some
distance away to the left and rear. Before stationing his men the
young officer of whom we are writing had pointed out to his two
sergeants the spot at which he would be found if it should be
necessary to consult him, or if his presence at the front line should
It was a quiet enough spot--the fork of an old wood-road, on the two
branches of which, prolonging themselves deviously forward in the dim
moonlight, the sergeants were themselves stationed, a few paces in
rear of the line. If driven sharply back by a sudden onset of the
enemy--and pickets are not expected to make a stand after firing--the
men would come into the converging roads and naturally following them
to their point of intersection could be rallied and "formed." In his
small way the author of these dispositions was something of a
strategist; if Napoleon had planned as intelligently at Waterloo he
would have won that memorable battle and been overthrown later.
Second-Lieutenant Brainerd Byring was a brave and efficient officer,
young and comparatively inexperienced as he was in the business of
killing his fellow-men. He had enlisted in the very first days of
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