Can Such Things Be?
Part 2 out of 4
the war as a private, with no military knowledge whatever, had been
made first-sergeant of his company on account of his education and
engaging manner, and had been lucky enough to lose his captain by a
Confederate bullet; in the resulting promotions he had gained a
commission. He had been in several engagements, such as they were--
at Philippi, Rich Mountain, Carrick's Ford and Greenbrier--and had
borne himself with such gallantry as not to attract the attention of
his superior officers. The exhilaration of battle was agreeable to
him, but the sight of the dead, with their clay faces, blank eyes and
stiff bodies, which when not unnaturally shrunken were unnaturally
swollen, had always intolerably affected him. He felt toward them a
kind of reasonless antipathy that was something more than the
physical and spiritual repugnance common to us all. Doubtless this
feeling was due to his unusually acute sensibilities--his keen sense
of the beautiful, which these hideous things outraged. Whatever may
have been the cause, he could not look upon a dead body without a
loathing which had in it an element of resentment. What others have
respected as the dignity of death had to him no existence--was
altogether unthinkable. Death was a thing to be hated. It was not
picturesque, it had no tender and solemn side--a dismal thing,
hideous in all its manifestations and suggestions. Lieutenant Byring
was a braver man than anybody knew, for nobody knew his horror of
that which he was ever ready to incur.
Having posted his men, instructed his sergeants and retired to his
station, he seated himself on a log, and with senses all alert began
his vigil. For greater ease he loosened his sword-belt and taking
his heavy revolver from his holster laid it on the log beside him.
He felt very comfortable, though he hardly gave the fact a thought,
so intently did he listen for any sound from the front which might
have a menacing significance--a shout, a shot, or the footfall of one
of his sergeants coming to apprise him of something worth knowing.
From the vast, invisible ocean of moonlight overhead fell, here and
there, a slender, broken stream that seemed to plash against the
intercepting branches and trickle to earth, forming small white pools
among the clumps of laurel. But these leaks were few and served only
to accentuate the blackness of his environment, which his imagination
found it easy to people with all manner of unfamiliar shapes,
menacing, uncanny, or merely grotesque.
He to whom the portentous conspiracy of night and solitude and
silence in the heart of a great forest is not an unknown experience
needs not to be told what another world it all is--how even the most
commonplace and familiar objects take on another character. The
trees group themselves differently; they draw closer together, as if
in fear. The very silence has another quality than the silence of
the day. And it is full of half-heard whispers--whispers that
startle--ghosts of sounds long dead. There are living sounds, too,
such as are never heard under other conditions: notes of strange
night-birds, the cries of small animals in sudden encounters with
stealthy foes or in their dreams, a rustling in the dead leaves--it
may be the leap of a wood-rat, it may be the footfall of a panther.
What caused the breaking of that twig?--what the low, alarmed
twittering in that bushful of birds? There are sounds without a
name, forms without substance, translations in space of objects which
have not been seen to move, movements wherein nothing is observed to
change its place. Ah, children of the sunlight and the gaslight, how
little you know of the world in which you live!
Surrounded at a little distance by armed and watchful friends, Byring
felt utterly alone. Yielding himself to the solemn and mysterious
spirit of the time and place, he had forgotten the nature of his
connection with the visible and audible aspects and phases of the
night. The forest was boundless; men and the habitations of men did
not exist. The universe was one primeval mystery of darkness,
without form and void, himself the sole, dumb questioner of its
eternal secret. Absorbed in thoughts born of this mood, he suffered
the time to slip away unnoted. Meantime the infrequent patches of
white light lying amongst the tree-trunks had undergone changes of
size, form and place. In one of them near by, just at the roadside,
his eye fell upon an object that he had not previously observed. It
was almost before his face as he sat; he could have sworn that it had
not before been there. It was partly covered in shadow, but he could
see that it was a human figure. Instinctively he adjusted the clasp
of his sword-belt and laid hold of his pistol--again he was in a
world of war, by occupation an assassin.
The figure did not move. Rising, pistol in hand, he approached. The
figure lay upon its back, its upper part in shadow, but standing
above it and looking down upon the face, he saw that it was a dead
body. He shuddered and turned from it with a feeling of sickness and
disgust, resumed his seat upon the log, and forgetting military
prudence struck a match and lit a cigar. In the sudden blackness
that followed the extinction of the flame he felt a sense of relief;
he could no longer see the object of his aversion. Nevertheless, he
kept his eyes set in that direction until it appeared again with
growing distinctness. It seemed to have moved a trifle nearer.
"Damn the thing!" he muttered. "What does it want?"
It did not appear to be in need of anything but a soul.
Byring turned away his eyes and began humming a tune, but he broke
off in the middle of a bar and looked at the dead body. Its presence
annoyed him, though he could hardly have had a quieter neighbor. He
was conscious, too, of a vague, indefinable feeling that was new to
him. It was not fear, but rather a sense of the supernatural--in
which he did not at all believe.
"I have inherited it," he said to himself. "I suppose it will
require a thousand ages--perhaps ten thousand--for humanity to
outgrow this feeling. Where and when did it originate? Away back,
probably, in what is called the cradle of the human race--the plains
of Central Asia. What we inherit as a superstition our barbarous
ancestors must have held as a reasonable conviction. Doubtless they
believed themselves justified by facts whose nature we cannot even
conjecture in thinking a dead body a malign thing endowed with some
strange power of mischief, with perhaps a will and a purpose to exert
it. Possibly they had some awful form of religion of which that was
one of the chief doctrines, sedulously taught by their priesthood, as
ours teach the immortality of the soul. As the Aryans moved slowly
on, to and through the Caucasus passes, and spread over Europe, new
conditions of life must have resulted in the formulation of new
religions. The old belief in the malevolence of the dead body was
lost from the creeds and even perished from tradition, but it left
its heritage of terror, which is transmitted from generation to
generation--is as much a part of us as are our blood and bones."
In following out his thought he had forgotten that which suggested
it; but now his eye fell again upon the corpse. The shadow had now
altogether uncovered it. He saw the sharp profile, the chin in the
air, the whole face, ghastly white in the moonlight. The clothing
was gray, the uniform of a Confederate soldier. The coat and
waistcoat, unbuttoned, had fallen away on each side, exposing the
white shirt. The chest seemed unnaturally prominent, but the abdomen
had sunk in, leaving a sharp projection at the line of the lower
ribs. The arms were extended, the left knee was thrust upward. The
whole posture impressed Byring as having been studied with a view to
"Bah!" he exclaimed; "he was an actor--he knows how to be dead."
He drew away his eyes, directing them resolutely along one of the
roads leading to the front, and resumed his philosophizing where he
had left off.
"It may be that our Central Asian ancestors had not the custom of
burial. In that case it is easy to understand their fear of the
dead, who really were a menace and an evil. They bred pestilences.
Children were taught to avoid the places where they lay, and to run
away if by inadvertence they came near a corpse. I think, indeed,
I'd better go away from this chap."
He half rose to do so, then remembered that he had told his men in
front and the officer in the rear who was to relieve him that he
could at any time be found at that spot. It was a matter of pride,
too. If he abandoned his post he feared they would think he feared
the corpse. He was no coward and he was unwilling to incur anybody's
ridicule. So he again seated himself, and to prove his courage
looked boldly at the body. The right arm--the one farthest from him-
-was now in shadow. He could barely see the hand which, he had
before observed, lay at the root of a clump of laurel. There had
been no change, a fact which gave him a certain comfort, he could not
have said why. He did not at once remove his eyes; that which we do
not wish to see has a strange fascination, sometimes irresistible.
Of the woman who covers her eyes with her hands and looks between the
fingers let it be said that the wits have dealt with her not
Byring suddenly became conscious of a pain in his right hand. He
withdrew his eyes from his enemy and looked at it. He was grasping
the hilt of his drawn sword so tightly that it hurt him. He
observed, too, that he was leaning forward in a strained attitude--
crouching like a gladiator ready to spring at the throat of an
antagonist. His teeth were clenched and he was breathing hard. This
matter was soon set right, and as his muscles relaxed and he drew a
long breath he felt keenly enough the ludicrousness of the incident.
It affected him to laughter. Heavens! what sound was that? what
mindless devil was uttering an unholy glee in mockery of human
merriment? He sprang to his feet and looked about him, not
recognizing his own laugh.
He could no longer conceal from himself the horrible fact of his
cowardice; he was thoroughly frightened! He would have run from the
spot, but his legs refused their office; they gave way beneath him
and he sat again upon the log, violently trembling. His face was
wet, his whole body bathed in a chill perspiration. He could not
even cry out. Distinctly he heard behind him a stealthy tread, as of
some wild animal, and dared not look over his shoulder. Had the
soulless living joined forces with the soulless dead?--was it an
animal? Ah, if he could but be assured of that! But by no effort of
will could he now unfix his gaze from the face of the dead man.
I repeat that Lieutenant Byring was a brave and intelligent man. But
what would you have? Shall a man cope, single-handed, with so
monstrous an alliance as that of night and solitude and silence and
the dead,--while an incalculable host of his own ancestors shriek
into the ear of his spirit their coward counsel, sing their doleful
death-songs in his heart, and disarm his very blood of all its iron?
The odds are too great--courage was not made for so rough use as
One sole conviction now had the man in possession: that the body had
moved. It lay nearer to the edge of its plot of light--there could
be no doubt of it. It had also moved its arms, for, look, they are
both in the shadow! A breath of cold air struck Byring full in the
face; the boughs of trees above him stirred and moaned. A strongly
defined shadow passed across the face of the dead, left it luminous,
passed back upon it and left it half obscured. The horrible thing
was visibly moving! At that moment a single shot rang out upon the
picket-line--a lonelier and louder, though more distant, shot than
ever had been heard by mortal ear! It broke the spell of that
enchanted man; it slew the silence and the solitude, dispersed the
hindering host from Central Asia and released his modern manhood.
With a cry like that of some great bird pouncing upon its prey he
sprang forward, hot-hearted for action!
Shot after shot now came from the front. There were shoutings and
confusion, hoof-beats and desultory cheers. Away to the rear, in the
sleeping camp, were a singing of bugles and grumble of drums.
Pushing through the thickets on either side the roads came the
Federal pickets, in full retreat, firing backward at random as they
ran. A straggling group that had followed back one of the roads, as
instructed, suddenly sprang away into the bushes as half a hundred
horsemen thundered by them, striking wildly with their sabres as they
passed. At headlong speed these mounted madmen shot past the spot
where Byring had sat, and vanished round an angle of the road,
shouting and firing their pistols. A moment later there was a roar
of musketry, followed by dropping shots--they had encountered the
reserve-guard in line; and back they came in dire confusion, with
here and there an empty saddle and many a maddened horse, bullet-
stung, snorting and plunging with pain. It was all over--"an affair
The line was reestablished with fresh men, the roll called, the
stragglers were reformed. The Federal commander with a part of his
staff, imperfectly clad, appeared upon the scene, asked a few
questions, looked exceedingly wise and retired. After standing at
arms for an hour the brigade in camp "swore a prayer or two" and went
Early the next morning a fatigue-party, commanded by a captain and
accompanied by a surgeon, searched the ground for dead and wounded.
At the fork of the road, a little to one side, they found two bodies
lying close together--that of a Federal officer and that of a
Confederate private. The officer had died of a sword-thrust through
the heart, but not, apparently, until he had inflicted upon his enemy
no fewer than five dreadful wounds. The dead officer lay on his face
in a pool of blood, the weapon still in his breast. They turned him
on his back and the surgeon removed it.
"Gad!" said the captain--"It is Byring!"--adding, with a glance at
the other, "They had a tough tussle."
The surgeon was examining the sword. It was that of a line officer
of Federal infantry--exactly like the one worn by the captain. It
was, in fact, Byring's own. The only other weapon discovered was an
undischarged revolver in the dead officer's belt.
The surgeon laid down the sword and approached the other body. It
was frightfully gashed and stabbed, but there was no blood. He took
hold of the left foot and tried to straighten the leg. In the effort
the body was displaced. The dead do not wish to be moved--it
protested with a faint, sickening odor. Where it had lain were a few
maggots, manifesting an imbecile activity.
The surgeon looked at the captain. The captain looked at the
ONE OF TWINS
A LETTER FOUND AMONG THE PAPERS OF THE LATE MORTIMER BARR
You ask me if in my experience as one of a pair of twins I ever
observed anything unaccountable by the natural laws with which we
have acquaintance. As to that you shall judge; perhaps we have not
all acquaintance with the same natural laws. You may know some that
I do not, and what is to me unaccountable may be very clear to you.
You knew my brother John--that is, you knew him when you knew that I
was not present; but neither you nor, I believe, any human being
could distinguish between him and me if we chose to seem alike. Our
parents could not; ours is the only instance of which I have any
knowledge of so close resemblance as that. I speak of my brother
John, but I am not at all sure that his name was not Henry and mine
John. We were regularly christened, but afterward, in the very act
of tattooing us with small distinguishing marks, the operator lost
his reckoning; and although I bear upon my forearm a small "H" and he
bore a "J," it is by no means certain that the letters ought not to
have been transposed. During our boyhood our parents tried to
distinguish us more obviously by our clothing and other simple
devices, but we would so frequently exchange suits and otherwise
circumvent the enemy that they abandoned all such ineffectual
attempts, and during all the years that we lived together at home
everybody recognized the difficulty of the situation and made the
best of it by calling us both "Jehnry." I have often wondered at my
father's forbearance in not branding us conspicuously upon our
unworthy brows, but as we were tolerably good boys and used our power
of embarrassment and annoyance with commendable moderation, we
escaped the iron. My father was, in fact, a singularly good-natured
man, and I think quietly enjoyed nature's practical joke.
Soon after we had come to California, and settled at San Jose (where
the only good fortune that awaited us was our meeting with so kind a
friend as you) the family, as you know, was broken up by the death of
both my parents in the same week. My father died insolvent and the
homestead was sacrificed to pay his debts. My sisters returned to
relatives in the East, but owing to your kindness John and I, then
twenty-two years of age, obtained employment in San Francisco, in
different quarters of the town. Circumstances did not permit us to
live together, and we saw each other infrequently, sometimes not
oftener than once a week. As we had few acquaintances in common, the
fact of our extraordinary likeness was little known. I come now to
the matter of your inquiry.
One day soon after we had come to this city I was walking down Market
street late in the afternoon, when I was accosted by a well-dressed
man of middle age, who after greeting me cordially said: "Stevens, I
know, of course, that you do not go out much, but I have told my wife
about you, and she would be glad to see you at the house. I have a
notion, too, that my girls are worth knowing. Suppose you come out
to-morrow at six and dine with us, en famille; and then if the ladies
can't amuse you afterward I'll stand in with a few games of
This was said with so bright a smile and so engaging a manner that I
had not the heart to refuse, and although I had never seen the man in
my life I promptly replied: "You are very good, sir, and it will
give me great pleasure to accept the invitation. Please present my
compliments to Mrs. Margovan and ask her to expect me."
With a shake of the hand and a pleasant parting word the man passed
on. That he had mistaken me for my brother was plain enough. That
was an error to which I was accustomed and which it was not my habit
to rectify unless the matter seemed important. But how had I known
that this man's name was Margovan? It certainly is not a name that
one would apply to a man at random, with a probability that it would
be right. In point of fact, the name was as strange to me as the
The next morning I hastened to where my brother was employed and met
him coming out of the office with a number of bills that he was to
collect. I told him how I had "committed" him and added that if he
didn't care to keep the engagement I should be delighted to continue
"That's queer," he said thoughtfully. "Margovan is the only man in
the office here whom I know well and like. When he came in this
morning and we had passed the usual greetings some singular impulse
prompted me to say: 'Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. Margovan, but I
neglected to ask your address.' I got the address, but what under
the sun I was to do with it, I did not know until now. It's good of
you to offer to take the consequence of your impudence, but I'll eat
that dinner myself, if you please."
He ate a number of dinners at the same place--more than were good for
him, I may add without disparaging their quality; for he fell in love
with Miss Margovan, proposed marriage to her and was heartlessly
Several weeks after I had been informed of the engagement, but before
it had been convenient for me to make the acquaintance of the young
woman and her family, I met one day on Kearney street a handsome but
somewhat dissipated-looking man whom something prompted me to follow
and watch, which I did without any scruple whatever. He turned up
Geary street and followed it until he came to Union square. There he
looked at his watch, then entered the square. He loitered about the
paths for some time, evidently waiting for someone. Presently he was
joined by a fashionably dressed and beautiful young woman and the two
walked away up Stockton street, I following. I now felt the
necessity of extreme caution, for although the girl was a stranger it
seemed to me that she would recognize me at a glance. They made
several turns from one street to another and finally, after both had
taken a hasty look all about--which I narrowly evaded by stepping
into a doorway--they entered a house of which I do not care to state
the location. Its location was better than its character.
I protest that my action in playing the spy upon these two strangers
was without assignable motive. It was one of which I might or might
not be ashamed, according to my estimate of the character of the
person finding it out. As an essential part of a narrative educed by
your question it is related here without hesitancy or shame.
A week later John took me to the house of his prospective father-in-
law, and in Miss Margovan, as you have already surmised, but to my
profound astonishment, I recognized the heroine of that discreditable
adventure. A gloriously beautiful heroine of a discreditable
adventure I must in justice admit that she was; but that fact has
only this importance: her beauty was such a surprise to me that it
cast a doubt upon her identity with the young woman I had seen
before; how could the marvelous fascination of her face have failed
to strike me at that time? But no--there was no possibility of
error; the difference was due to costume, light and general
John and I passed the evening at the house, enduring, with the
fortitude of long experience, such delicate enough banter as our
likeness naturally suggested. When the young lady and I were left
alone for a few minutes I looked her squarely in the face and said
with sudden gravity:
"You, too, Miss Margovan, have a double: I saw her last Tuesday
afternoon in Union square."
She trained her great gray eyes upon me for a moment, but her glance
was a trifle less steady than my own and she withdrew it, fixing it
on the tip of her shoe.
"Was she very like me?" she asked, with an indifference which I
thought a little overdone.
"So like," said I, "that I greatly admired her, and being unwilling
to lose sight of her I confess that I followed her until--Miss
Margovan, are you sure that you understand?"
She was now pale, but entirely calm. She again raised her eyes to
mine, with a look that did not falter.
"What do you wish me to do?" she asked. "You need not fear to name
your terms. I accept them."
It was plain, even in the brief time given me for reflection, that in
dealing with this girl ordinary methods would not do, and ordinary
exactions were needless.
"Miss Margovan," I said, doubtless with something of the compassion
in my voice that I had in my heart, "it is impossible not to think
you the victim of some horrible compulsion. Rather than impose new
embarrassments upon you I would prefer to aid you to regain your
She shook her head, sadly and hopelessly, and I continued, with
"Your beauty unnerves me. I am disarmed by your frankness and your
distress. If you are free to act upon conscience you will, I
believe, do what you conceive to be best; if you are not--well,
Heaven help us all! You have nothing to fear from me but such
opposition to this marriage as I can try to justify on--on other
These were not my exact words, but that was the sense of them, as
nearly as my sudden and conflicting emotions permitted me to express
it. I rose and left her without another look at her, met the others
as they reentered the room and said, as calmly as I could: "I have
been bidding Miss Margovan good evening; it is later than I thought."
John decided to go with me. In the street he asked if I had observed
anything singular in Julia's manner.
"I thought her ill," I replied; "that is why I left." Nothing more
The next evening I came late to my lodgings. The events of the
previous evening had made me nervous and ill; I had tried to cure
myself and attain to clear thinking by walking in the open air, but I
was oppressed with a horrible presentiment of evil--a presentiment
which I could not formulate. It was a chill, foggy night; my
clothing and hair were damp and I shook with cold. In my dressing-
gown and slippers before a blazing grate of coals I was even more
uncomfortable. I no longer shivered but shuddered--there is a
difference. The dread of some impending calamity was so strong and
dispiriting that I tried to drive it away by inviting a real sorrow--
tried to dispel the conception of a terrible future by substituting
the memory of a painful past. I recalled the death of my parents and
endeavored to fix my mind upon the last sad scenes at their bedsides
and their graves. It all seemed vague and unreal, as having occurred
ages ago and to another person. Suddenly, striking through my
thought and parting it as a tense cord is parted by the stroke of
steel--I can think of no other comparison--I heard a sharp cry as of
one in mortal agony! The voice was that of my brother and seemed to
come from the street outside my window. I sprang to the window and
threw it open. A street lamp directly opposite threw a wan and
ghastly light upon the wet pavement and the fronts of the houses. A
single policeman, with upturned collar, was leaning against a
gatepost, quietly smoking a cigar. No one else was in sight. I
closed the window and pulled down the shade, seated myself before the
fire and tried to fix my mind upon my surroundings. By way of
assisting, by performance of some familiar act, I looked at my watch;
it marked half-past eleven. Again I heard that awful cry! It seemed
in the room--at my side. I was frightened and for some moments had
not the power to move. A few minutes later--I have no recollection
of the intermediate time--I found myself hurrying along an unfamiliar
street as fast as I could walk. I did not know where I was, nor
whither I was going, but presently sprang up the steps of a house
before which were two or three carriages and in which were moving
lights and a subdued confusion of voices. It was the house of Mr.
You know, good friend, what had occurred there. In one chamber lay
Julia Margovan, hours dead by poison; in another John Stevens,
bleeding from a pistol wound in the chest, inflicted by his own hand.
As I burst into the room, pushed aside the physicians and laid my
hand upon his forehead he unclosed his eyes, stared blankly, closed
them slowly and died without a sign.
I knew no more until six weeks afterward, when I had been nursed back
to life by your own saintly wife in your own beautiful home. All of
that you know, but what you do not know is this--which, however, has
no bearing upon the subject of your psychological researches--at
least not upon that branch of them in which, with a delicacy and
consideration all your own, you have asked for less assistance than I
think I have given you:
One moonlight night several years afterward I was passing through
Union square. The hour was late and the square deserted. Certain
memories of the past naturally came into my mind as I came to the
spot where I had once witnessed that fateful assignation, and with
that unaccountable perversity which prompts us to dwell upon thoughts
of the most painful character I seated myself upon one of the benches
to indulge them. A man entered the square and came along the walk
toward me. His hands were clasped behind him, his head was bowed; he
seemed to observe nothing. As he approached the shadow in which I
sat I recognized him as the man whom I had seen meet Julia Margovan
years before at that spot. But he was terribly altered--gray, worn
and haggard. Dissipation and vice were in evidence in every look;
illness was no less apparent. His clothing was in disorder, his hair
fell across his forehead in a derangement which was at once uncanny
and picturesque. He looked fitter for restraint than liberty--the
restraint of a hospital.
With no defined purpose I rose and confronted him. He raised his
head and looked me full in the face. I have no words to describe the
ghastly change that came over his own; it was a look of unspeakable
terror--he thought himself eye to eye with a ghost. But he was a
courageous man. "Damn you, John Stevens!" he cried, and lifting his
trembling arm he dashed his fist feebly at my face and fell headlong
upon the gravel as I walked away.
Somebody found him there, stone-dead. Nothing more is known of him,
not even his name. To know of a man that he is dead should be
THE HAUNTED VALLEY
I--HOW TREES ARE FELLED IN CHINA
A half-mile north from Jo. Dunfer's, on the road from Hutton's to
Mexican Hill, the highway dips into a sunless ravine which opens out
on either hand in a half-confidential manner, as if it had a secret
to impart at some more convenient season. I never used to ride
through it without looking first to the one side and then to the
other, to see if the time had arrived for the revelation. If I saw
nothing--and I never did see anything--there was no feeling of
disappointment, for I knew the disclosure was merely withheld
temporarily for some good reason which I had no right to question.
That I should one day be taken into full confidence I no more doubted
than I doubted the existence of Jo. Dunfer himself, through whose
premises the ravine ran.
It was said that Jo. had once undertaken to erect a cabin in some
remote part of it, but for some reason had abandoned the enterprise
and constructed his present hermaphrodite habitation, half residence
and half groggery, at the roadside, upon an extreme corner of his
estate; as far away as possible, as if on purpose to show how
radically he had changed his mind.
This Jo. Dunfer--or, as he was familiarly known in the neighborhood,
Whisky Jo.--was a very important personage in those parts. He was
apparently about forty years of age, a long, shock-headed fellow,
with a corded face, a gnarled arm and a knotty hand like a bunch of
prison-keys. He was a hairy man, with a stoop in his walk, like that
of one who is about to spring upon something and rend it.
Next to the peculiarity to which he owed his local appellation, Mr.
Dunfer's most obvious characteristic was a deep-seated antipathy to
the Chinese. I saw him once in a towering rage because one of his
herdsmen had permitted a travel-heated Asian to slake his thirst at
the horse-trough in front of the saloon end of Jo.'s establishment.
I ventured faintly to remonstrate with Jo. for his unchristian
spirit, but he merely explained that there was nothing about Chinamen
in the New Testament, and strode away to wreak his displeasure upon
his dog, which also, I suppose, the inspired scribes had overlooked.
Some days afterward, finding him sitting alone in his barroom, I
cautiously approached the subject, when, greatly to my relief, the
habitual austerity of his expression visibly softened into something
that I took for condescension.
"You young Easterners," he said, "are a mile-and-a-half too good for
this country, and you don't catch on to our play. People who don't
know a Chileno from a Kanaka can afford to hang out liberal ideas
about Chinese immigration, but a fellow that has to fight for his
bone with a lot of mongrel coolies hasn't any time for foolishness."
This long consumer, who had probably never done an honest day's-work
in his life, sprung the lid of a Chinese tobacco-box and with thumb
and forefinger forked out a wad like a small haycock. Holding this
reinforcement within supporting distance he fired away with renewed
"They're a flight of devouring locusts, and they're going for
everything green in this God blest land, if you want to know."
Here he pushed his reserve into the breach and when his gabble-gear
was again disengaged resumed his uplifting discourse.
"I had one of them on this ranch five years ago, and I'll tell you
about it, so that you can see the nub of this whole question. I
didn't pan out particularly well those days--drank more whisky than
was prescribed for me and didn't seem to care for my duty as a
patriotic American citizen; so I took that pagan in, as a kind of
cook. But when I got religion over at the Hill and they talked of
running me for the Legislature it was given to me to see the light.
But what was I to do? If I gave him the go somebody else would take
him, and mightn't treat him white. WHAT was I to do? What would any
good Christian do, especially one new to the trade and full to the
neck with the brotherhood of Man and the fatherhood of God?"
Jo. paused for a reply, with an expression of unstable satisfaction,
as of one who has solved a problem by a distrusted method. Presently
he rose and swallowed a glass of whisky from a full bottle on the
counter, then resumed his story.
"Besides, he didn't count for much--didn't know anything and gave
himself airs. They all do that. I said him nay, but he muled it
through on that line while he lasted; but after turning the other
cheek seventy and seven times I doctored the dice so that he didn't
last forever. And I'm almighty glad I had the sand to do it.
Jo.'s gladness, which somehow did not impress me, was duly and
ostentatiously celebrated at the bottle.
"About five years ago I started in to stick up a shack. That was
before this one was built, and I put it in another place. I set Ah
Wee and a little cuss named Gopher to cutting the timber. Of course
I didn't expect Ah Wee to help much, for he had a face like a day in
June and big black eyes--I guess maybe they were the damn'dest eyes
in this neck o' woods."
While delivering this trenchant thrust at common sense Mr. Dunfer
absently regarded a knot-hole in the thin board partition separating
the bar from the living-room, as if that were one of the eyes whose
size and color had incapacitated his servant for good service.
"Now you Eastern galoots won't believe anything against the yellow
devils," he suddenly flamed out with an appearance of earnestness not
altogether convincing, "but I tell you that Chink was the perversest
scoundrel outside San Francisco. The miserable pigtail Mongolian
went to hewing away at the saplings all round the stems, like a worm
o' the dust gnawing a radish. I pointed out his error as patiently
as I knew how, and showed him how to cut them on two sides, so as to
make them fall right; but no sooner would I turn my back on him, like
this"--and he turned it on me, amplifying the illustration by taking
some more liquor--"than he was at it again. It was just this way:
while I looked at him, SO"--regarding me rather unsteadily and with
evident complexity of vision--"he was all right; but when I looked
away, SO"--taking a long pull at the bottle--"he defied me. Then I'd
gaze at him reproachfully, SO, and butter wouldn't have melted in his
Doubtless Mr. Dunfer honestly intended the look that he fixed upon me
to be merely reproachful, but it was singularly fit to arouse the
gravest apprehension in any unarmed person incurring it; and as I had
lost all interest in his pointless and interminable narrative, I rose
to go. Before I had fairly risen, he had again turned to the
counter, and with a barely audible "so," had emptied the bottle at a
Heavens! what a yell! It was like a Titan in his last, strong agony.
Jo. staggered back after emitting it, as a cannon recoils from its
own thunder, and then dropped into his chair, as if he had been
"knocked in the head" like a beef--his eyes drawn sidewise toward the
wall, with a stare of terror. Looking in the same direction, I saw
that the knot-hole in the wall had indeed become a human eye--a full,
black eye, that glared into my own with an entire lack of expression
more awful than the most devilish glitter. I think I must have
covered my face with my hands to shut out the horrible illusion, if
such it was, and Jo.'s little white man-of-all-work coming into the
room broke the spell, and I walked out of the house with a sort of
dazed fear that delirium tremens might be infectious. My horse was
hitched at the watering-trough, and untying him I mounted and gave
him his head, too much troubled in mind to note whither he took me.
I did not know what to think of all this, and like every one who does
not know what to think I thought a great deal, and to little purpose.
The only reflection that seemed at all satisfactory, was, that on the
morrow I should be some miles away, with a strong probability of
A sudden coolness brought me out of my abstraction, and looking up I
found myself entering the deep shadows of the ravine. The day was
stifling; and this transition from the pitiless, visible heat of the
parched fields to the cool gloom, heavy with pungency of cedars and
vocal with twittering of the birds that had been driven to its leafy
asylum, was exquisitely refreshing. I looked for my mystery, as
usual, but not finding the ravine in a communicative mood,
dismounted, led my sweating animal into the undergrowth, tied him
securely to a tree and sat down upon a rock to meditate.
I began bravely by analyzing my pet superstition about the place.
Having resolved it into its constituent elements I arranged them in
convenient troops and squadrons, and collecting all the forces of my
logic bore down upon them from impregnable premises with the thunder
of irresistible conclusions and a great noise of chariots and general
intellectual shouting. Then, when my big mental guns had overturned
all opposition, and were growling almost inaudibly away on the
horizon of pure speculation, the routed enemy straggled in upon their
rear, massed silently into a solid phalanx, and captured me, bag and
baggage. An indefinable dread came upon me. I rose to shake it off,
and began threading the narrow dell by an old, grass-grown cow-path
that seemed to flow along the bottom, as a substitute for the brook
that Nature had neglected to provide.
The trees among which the path straggled were ordinary, well-behaved
plants, a trifle perverted as to trunk and eccentric as to bough, but
with nothing unearthly in their general aspect. A few loose
bowlders, which had detached themselves from the sides of the
depression to set up an independent existence at the bottom, had
dammed up the pathway, here and there, but their stony repose had
nothing in it of the stillness of death. There was a kind of death-
chamber hush in the valley, it is true, and a mysterious whisper
above: the wind was just fingering the tops of the trees--that was
I had not thought of connecting Jo. Dunfer's drunken narrative with
what I now sought, and only when I came into a clear space and
stumbled over the level trunks of some small trees did I have the
revelation. This was the site of the abandoned "shack." The
discovery was verified by noting that some of the rotting stumps were
hacked all round, in a most unwoodmanlike way, while others were cut
straight across, and the butt ends of the corresponding trunks had
the blunt wedge-form given by the axe of a master.
The opening among the trees was not more than thirty paces across.
At one side was a little knoll--a natural hillock, bare of shrubbery
but covered with wild grass, and on this, standing out of the grass,
the headstone of a grave!
I do not remember that I felt anything like surprise at this
discovery. I viewed that lonely grave with something of the feeling
that Columbus must have had when he saw the hills and headlands of
the new world. Before approaching it I leisurely completed my survey
of the surroundings. I was even guilty of the affectation of winding
my watch at that unusual hour, and with needless care and
deliberation. Then I approached my mystery.
The grave--a rather short one--was in somewhat better repair than was
consistent with its obvious age and isolation, and my eyes, I dare
say, widened a trifle at a clump of unmistakable garden flowers
showing evidence of recent watering. The stone had clearly enough
done duty once as a doorstep. In its front was carved, or rather
dug, an inscription. It read thus:
Age unknown. Worked for Jo. Dunfer.
This monument is erected by him to keep the Chink's memory green.
Likewise as a warning to Celestials not to take on airs. Devil take
She Was a Good Egg.
I cannot adequately relate my astonishment at this uncommon
inscription! The meagre but sufficient identification of the
deceased; the impudent candor of confession; the brutal anathema; the
ludicrous change of sex and sentiment--all marked this record as the
work of one who must have been at least as much demented as bereaved.
I felt that any further disclosure would be a paltry anti-climax, and
with an unconscious regard for dramatic effect turned squarely about
and walked away. Nor did I return to that part of the county for
II--WHO DRIVES SANE OXEN SHOULD HIMSELF BE SANE
"Gee-up, there, old Fuddy-Duddy!"
This unique adjuration came from the lips of a queer little man
perched upon a wagonful of firewood, behind a brace of oxen that were
hauling it easily along with a simulation of mighty effort which had
evidently not imposed on their lord and master. As that gentleman
happened at the moment to be staring me squarely in the face as I
stood by the roadside it was not altogether clear whether he was
addressing me or his beasts; nor could I say if they were named Fuddy
and Duddy and were both subjects of the imperative verb "to gee-up."
Anyhow the command produced no effect on us, and the queer little man
removed his eyes from mine long enough to spear Fuddy and Duddy
alternately with a long pole, remarking, quietly but with feeling:
"Dern your skin," as if they enjoyed that integument in common.
Observing that my request for a ride took no attention, and finding
myself falling slowly astern, I placed one foot upon the inner
circumference of a hind wheel and was slowly elevated to the level of
the hub, whence I boarded the concern, sans ceremonie, and scrambling
forward seated myself beside the driver--who took no notice of me
until he had administered another indiscriminate castigation to his
cattle, accompanied with the advice to "buckle down, you derned
Incapable!" Then, the master of the outfit (or rather the former
master, for I could not suppress a whimsical feeling that the entire
establishment was my lawful prize) trained his big, black eyes upon
me with an expression strangely, and somewhat unpleasantly, familiar,
laid down his rod--which neither blossomed nor turned into a serpent,
as I half expected--folded his arms, and gravely demanded, "W'at did
you do to W'isky?"
My natural reply would have been that I drank it, but there was
something about the query that suggested a hidden significance, and
something about the man that did not invite a shallow jest. And so,
having no other answer ready, I merely held my tongue, but felt as if
I were resting under an imputation of guilt, and that my silence was
being construed into a confession.
Just then a cold shadow fell upon my cheek, and caused me to look up.
We were descending into my ravine! I cannot describe the sensation
that came upon me: I had not seen it since it unbosomed itself four
years before, and now I felt like one to whom a friend has made some
sorrowing confession of crime long past, and who has basely deserted
him in consequence. The old memories of Jo. Dunfer, his fragmentary
revelation, and the unsatisfying explanatory note by the headstone,
came back with singular distinctness. I wondered what had become of
Jo., and--I turned sharply round and asked my prisoner. He was
intently watching his cattle, and without withdrawing his eyes
"Gee-up, old Terrapin! He lies aside of Ah Wee up the gulch. Like
to see it? They always come back to the spot--I've been expectin'
At the enunciation of the aspirate, Fuddy-Duddy, the incapable
terrapin, came to a dead halt, and before the vowel had died away up
the ravine had folded up all his eight legs and lain down in the
dusty road, regardless of the effect upon his derned skin. The queer
little man slid off his seat to the ground and started up the dell
without deigning to look back to see if I was following. But I was.
It was about the same season of the year, and at near the same hour
of the day, of my last visit. The jays clamored loudly, and the
trees whispered darkly, as before; and I somehow traced in the two
sounds a fanciful analogy to the open boastfulness of Mr. Jo.
Dunfer's mouth and the mysterious reticence of his manner, and to the
mingled hardihood and tenderness of his sole literary production--the
epitaph. All things in the valley seemed unchanged, excepting the
cow-path, which was almost wholly overgrown with weeds. When we came
out into the "clearing," however, there was change enough. Among the
stumps and trunks of the fallen saplings, those that had been hacked
"China fashion" were no longer distinguishable from those that were
cut "'Melican way." It was as if the Old-World barbarism and the
New-World civilization had reconciled their differences by the
arbitration of an impartial decay--as is the way of civilizations.
The knoll was there, but the Hunnish brambles had overrun and all but
obliterated its effete grasses; and the patrician garden-violet had
capitulated to his plebeian brother--perhaps had merely reverted to
his original type. Another grave--a long, robust mound--had been
made beside the first, which seemed to shrink from the comparison;
and in the shadow of a new headstone the old one lay prostrate, with
its marvelous inscription illegible by accumulation of leaves and
soil. In point of literary merit the new was inferior to the old--
was even repulsive in its terse and savage jocularity:
JO. DUNFER. DONE FOR.
I turned from it with indifference, and brushing away the leaves from
the tablet of the dead pagan restored to light the mocking words
which, fresh from their long neglect, seemed to have a certain
pathos. My guide, too, appeared to take on an added seriousness as
he read it, and I fancied that I could detect beneath his whimsical
manner something of manliness, almost of dignity. But while I looked
at him his former aspect, so subtly inhuman, so tantalizingly
familiar, crept back into his big eyes, repellant and attractive. I
resolved to make an end of the mystery if possible.
"My friend," I said, pointing to the smaller grave, "did Jo. Dunfer
murder that Chinaman?"
He was leaning against a tree and looking across the open space into
the top of another, or into the blue sky beyond. He neither withdrew
his eyes, nor altered his posture as he slowly replied:
"No, sir; he justifiably homicided him."
"Then he really did kill him."
"Kill 'im? I should say he did, rather. Doesn't everybody know
that? Didn't he stan' up before the coroner's jury and confess it?
And didn't they find a verdict of 'Came to 'is death by a wholesome
Christian sentiment workin' in the Caucasian breast'? An' didn't the
church at the Hill turn W'isky down for it? And didn't the sovereign
people elect him Justice of the Peace to get even on the gospelers?
I don't know where you were brought up."
"But did Jo. do that because the Chinaman did not, or would n'ot,
learn to cut down trees like a white man?"
"Sure!--it stan's so on the record, which makes it true an' legal.
My knowin' better doesn't make any difference with legal truth; it
wasn't my funeral and I wasn't invited to deliver an oration. But
the fact is, W'isky was jealous o' ME"--and the little wretch
actually swelled out like a turkeycock and made a pretense of
adjusting an imaginary neck-tie, noting the effect in the palm of his
hand, held up before him to represent a mirror.
"Jealous of YOU!" I repeated with ill-mannered astonishment.
"That's what I said. Why not?--don't I look all right?"
He assumed a mocking attitude of studied grace, and twitched the
wrinkles out of his threadbare waistcoat. Then, suddenly dropping
his voice to a low pitch of singular sweetness, he continued:
"W'isky thought a lot o' that Chink; nobody but me knew how 'e doted
on 'im. Couldn't bear 'im out of 'is sight, the derned protoplasm!
And w'en 'e came down to this clear-in' one day an' found him an' me
neglectin' our work--him asleep an' me grapplin a tarantula out of
'is sleeve--W'isky laid hold of my axe and let us have it, good an'
hard! I dodged just then, for the spider bit me, but Ah Wee got it
bad in the side an' tumbled about like anything. W'isky was just
weigh-in' me out one w'en 'e saw the spider fastened on my finger;
then 'e knew he'd made a jack ass of 'imself. He threw away the axe
and got down on 'is knees alongside of Ah Wee, who gave a last little
kick and opened 'is eyes--he had eyes like mine--an' puttin' up 'is
hands drew down W'isky's ugly head and held it there w'ile 'e stayed.
That wasn't long, for a tremblin' ran through 'im and 'e gave a bit
of a moan an' beat the game."
During the progress of the story the narrator had become
transfigured. The comic, or rather, the sardonic element was all out
of him, and as he painted that strange scene it was with difficulty
that I kept my composure. And this consummate actor had somehow so
managed me that the sympathy due to his dramatis persone was given to
himself. I stepped forward to grasp his hand, when suddenly a broad
grin danced across his face and with a light, mocking laugh he
"W'en W'isky got 'is nut out o' that 'e was a sight to see! All his
fine clothes--he dressed mighty blindin' those days--were spoiled
everlastin'! 'Is hair was towsled and his face--what I could see of
it--was whiter than the ace of lilies. 'E stared once at me, and
looked away as if I didn't count; an' then there were shootin' pains
chasin' one another from my bitten finger into my head, and it was
Gopher to the dark. That's why I wasn't at the inquest."
"But why did you hold your tongue afterward?" I asked.
"It's that kind of tongue," he replied, and not another word would he
say about it.
"After that W'isky took to drinkin' harder an' harder, and was
rabider an' rabider anti-coolie, but I don't think 'e was ever
particularly glad that 'e dispelled Ah Wee. He didn't put on so much
dog about it w'en we were alone as w'en he had the ear of a derned
Spectacular Extravaganza like you. 'E put up that headstone and
gouged the inscription accordin' to his varyin' moods. It took 'im
three weeks, workin' between drinks. I gouged his in one day."
"When did Jo. die?" I asked rather absently. The answer took my
"Pretty soon after I looked at him through that knot-hole, w'en you
had put something in his w'isky, you derned Borgia!"
Recovering somewhat from my surprise at this astounding charge, I was
half-minded to throttle the audacious accuser, but was restrained by
a sudden conviction that came to me in the light of a revelation. I
fixed a grave look upon him and asked, as calmly as I could: "And
when did you go luny?"
"Nine years ago!" he shrieked, throwing out his clenched hands--"nine
years ago, w'en that big brute killed the woman who loved him better
than she did me!--me who had followed 'er from San Francisco, where
'e won 'er at draw poker!--me who had watched over 'er for years w'en
the scoundrel she belonged to was ashamed to acknowledge 'er and
treat 'er white!--me who for her sake kept 'is cussed secret till it
ate 'im up!--me who w'en you poisoned the beast fulfilled 'is last
request to lay 'im alongside 'er and give 'im a stone to the head of
'im! And I've never since seen 'er grave till now, for I didn't want
to meet 'im here."
"Meet him? Why, Gopher, my poor fellow, he is dead!"
"That's why I'm afraid of 'im."
I followed the little wretch back to his wagon and wrung his hand at
parting. It was now nightfall, and as I stood there at the roadside
in the deepening gloom, watching the blank outlines of the receding
wagon, a sound was borne to me on the evening wind--a sound as of a
series of vigorous thumps--and a voice came out of the night:
"Gee-up, there, you derned old Geranium."
A JUG OF SIRUP
This narrative begins with the death of its hero. Silas Deemer died
on the 16th day of July, 1863, and two days later his remains were
buried. As he had been personally known to every man, woman and
well-grown child in the village, the funeral, as the local newspaper
phrased it, "was largely attended." In accordance with a custom of
the time and place, the coffin was opened at the graveside and the
entire assembly of friends and neighbors filed past, taking a last
look at the face of the dead. And then, before the eyes of all,
Silas Deemer was put into the ground. Some of the eyes were a trifle
dim, but in a general way it may be said that at that interment there
was lack of neither observance nor observation; Silas was indubitably
dead, and none could have pointed out any ritual delinquency that
would have justified him in coming back from the grave. Yet if human
testimony is good for anything (and certainly it once put an end to
witchcraft in and about Salem) he came back.
I forgot to state that the death and burial of Silas Deemer occurred
in the little village of Hillbrook, where he had lived for thirty-one
years. He had been what is known in some parts of the Union (which
is admittedly a free country) as a "merchant"; that is to say, he
kept a retail shop for the sale of such things as are commonly sold
in shops of that character. His honesty had never been questioned,
so far as is known, and he was held in high esteem by all. The only
thing that could be urged against him by the most censorious was a
too close attention to business. It was not urged against him,
though many another, who manifested it in no greater degree, was less
leniently judged. The business to which Silas was devoted was mostly
his own--that, possibly, may have made a difference.
At the time of Deemer's death nobody could recollect a single day,
Sundays excepted, that he had not passed in his "store," since he had
opened it more than a quarter-century before. His health having been
perfect during all that time, he had been unable to discern any
validity in whatever may or might have been urged to lure him astray
from his counter and it is related that once when he was summoned to
the county seat as a witness in an important law case and did not
attend, the lawyer who had the hardihood to move that he be
"admonished" was solemnly informed that the Court regarded the
proposal with "surprise." Judicial surprise being an emotion that
attorneys are not commonly ambitious to arouse, the motion was
hastily withdrawn and an agreement with the other side effected as to
what Mr. Deemer would have said if he had been there--the other side
pushing its advantage to the extreme and making the supposititious
testimony distinctly damaging to the interests of its proponents. In
brief, it was the general feeling in all that region that Silas
Deemer was the one immobile verity of Hillbrook, and that his
translation in space would precipitate some dismal public ill or
Mrs. Deemer and two grown daughters occupied the upper rooms of the
building, but Silas had never been known to sleep elsewhere than on a
cot behind the counter of the store. And there, quite by accident,
he was found one night, dying, and passed away just before the time
for taking down the shutters. Though speechless, he appeared
conscious, and it was thought by those who knew him best that if the
end had unfortunately been delayed beyond the usual hour for opening
the store the effect upon him would have been deplorable.
Such had been Silas Deemer--such the fixity and invariety of his life
and habit, that the village humorist (who had once attended college)
was moved to bestow upon him the sobriquet of "Old Ibidem," and, in
the first issue of the local newspaper after the death, to explain
without offence that Silas had taken "a day off." It was more than a
day, but from the record it appears that well within a month Mr.
Deemer made it plain that he had not the leisure to be dead.
One of Hillbrook's most respected citizens was Alvan Creede, a
banker. He lived in the finest house in town, kept a carriage and
was a most estimable man variously. He knew something of the
advantages of travel, too, having been frequently in Boston, and
once, it was thought, in New York, though he modestly disclaimed that
glittering distinction. The matter is mentioned here merely as a
contribution to an understanding of Mr. Creede's worth, for either
way it is creditable to him--to his intelligence if he had put
himself, even temporarily, into contact with metropolitan culture; to
his candor if he had not.
One pleasant summer evening at about the hour of ten Mr. Creede,
entering at his garden gate, passed up the gravel walk, which looked
very white in the moonlight, mounted the stone steps of his fine
house and pausing a moment inserted his latchkey in the door. As he
pushed this open he met his wife, who was crossing the passage from
the parlor to the library. She greeted him pleasantly and pulling
the door further back held it for him to enter. Instead he turned
and, looking about his feet in front of the threshold, uttered an
exclamation of surprise.
"Why!--what the devil," he said, "has become of that jug?"
"What jug, Alvan?" his wife inquired, not very sympathetically.
"A jug of maple sirup--I brought it along from the store and set it
down here to open the door. What the--"
"There, there, Alvan, please don't swear again," said the lady,
interrupting. Hillbrook, by the way, is not the only place in
Christendom where a vestigial polytheism forbids the taking in vain
of the Evil One's name.
The jug of maple sirup which the easy ways of village life had
permitted Hillbrook's foremost citizen to carry home from the store
was not there.
"Are you quite sure, Alvan?"
"My dear, do you suppose a man does not know when he is carrying a
jug? I bought that sirup at Deemer's as I was passing. Deemer
himself drew it and lent me the jug, and I--"
The sentence remains to this day unfinished. Mr. Creede staggered
into the house, entered the parlor and dropped into an armchair,
trembling in every limb. He had suddenly remembered that Silas
Deemer was three weeks dead.
Mrs. Creede stood by her husband, regarding him with surprise and
"For Heaven's sake," she said, "what ails you?"
Mr. Creede's ailment having no obvious relation to the interests of
the better land he did not apparently deem it necessary to expound it
on that demand; he said nothing--merely stared. There were long
moments of silence broken by nothing but the measured ticking of the
clock, which seemed somewhat slower than usual, as if it were civilly
granting them an extension of time in which to recover their wits.
"Jane, I have gone mad--that is it." He spoke thickly and hurriedly.
"You should have told me; you must have observed my symptoms before
they became so pronounced that I have observed them myself. I
thought I was passing Deemer's store; it was open and lit up--that is
what I thought; of course it is never open now. Silas Deemer stood
at his desk behind the counter. My God, Jane, I saw him as
distinctly as I see you. Remembering that you had said you wanted
some maple sirup, I went in and bought some--that is all--I bought
two quarts of maple sirup from Silas Deemer, who is dead and
underground, but nevertheless drew that sirup from a cask and handed
it to me in a jug. He talked with me, too, rather gravely, I
remember, even more so than was his way, but not a word of what he
said can I now recall. But I saw him--good Lord, I saw and talked
with him--and he is dead! So I thought, but I'm mad, Jane, I'm as
crazy as a beetle; and you have kept it from me."
This monologue gave the woman time to collect what faculties she had.
"Alvan," she said, "you have given no evidence of insanity, believe
me. This was undoubtedly an illusion--how should it be anything
else? That would be too terrible! But there is no insanity; you are
working too hard at the bank. You should not have attended the
meeting of directors this evening; any one could see that you were
ill; I knew something would occur."
It may have seemed to him that the prophecy had lagged a bit,
awaiting the event, but he said nothing of that, being concerned with
his own condition. He was calm now, and could think coherently.
"Doubtless the phenomenon was subjective," he said, with a somewhat
ludicrous transition to the slang of science. "Granting the
possibility of spiritual apparition and even materialization, yet the
apparition and materialization of a half-gallon brown clay jug--a
piece of coarse, heavy pottery evolved from nothing--that is hardly
As he finished speaking, a child ran into the room--his little
daughter. She was clad in a bedgown. Hastening to her father she
threw her arms about his neck, saying: "You naughty papa, you forgot
to come in and kiss me. We heard you open the gate and got up and
looked out. And, papa dear, Eddy says mayn't he have the little jug
when it is empty?"
As the full import of that revelation imparted itself to Alvan
Creede's understanding he visibly shuddered. For the child could not
have heard a word of the conversation.
The estate of Silas Deemer being in the hands of an administrator who
had thought it best to dispose of the "business" the store had been
closed ever since the owner's death, the goods having been removed by
another "merchant" who had purchased them en bloc. The rooms above
were vacant as well, for the widow and daughters had gone to another
On the evening immediately after Alvan Creede's adventure (which had
somehow "got out") a crowd of men, women and children thronged the
sidewalk opposite the store. That the place was haunted by the
spirit of the late Silas Deemer was now well known to every resident
of Hillbrook, though many affected disbelief. Of these the hardiest,
and in a general way the youngest, threw stones against the front of
the building, the only part accessible, but carefully missed the
unshuttered windows. Incredulity had not grown to malice. A few
venturesome souls crossed the street and rattled the door in its
frame; struck matches and held them near the window; attempted to
view the black interior. Some of the spectators invited attention to
their wit by shouting and groaning and challenging the ghost to a
After a considerable time had elapsed without any manifestation, and
many of the crowd had gone away, all those remaining began to observe
that the interior of the store was suffused with a dim, yellow light.
At this all demonstrations ceased; the intrepid souls about the door
and windows fell back to the opposite side of the street and were
merged in the crowd; the small boys ceased throwing stones. Nobody
spoke above his breath; all whispered excitedly and pointed to the
now steadily growing light. How long a time had passed since the
first faint glow had been observed none could have guessed, but
eventually the illumination was bright enough to reveal the whole
interior of the store; and there, standing at his desk behind the
counter, Silas Deemer was distinctly visible!
The effect upon the crowd was marvelous. It began rapidly to melt
away at both flanks, as the timid left the place. Many ran as fast
as their legs would let them; others moved off with greater dignity,
turning occasionally to look backward over the shoulder. At last a
score or more, mostly men, remained where they were, speechless,
staring, excited. The apparition inside gave them no attention; it
was apparently occupied with a book of accounts.
Presently three men left the crowd on the sidewalk as if by a common
impulse and crossed the street. One of them, a heavy man, was about
to set his shoulder against the door when it opened, apparently
without human agency, and the courageous investigators passed in. No
sooner had they crossed the threshold than they were seen by the awed
observers outside to be acting in the most unaccountable way. They
thrust out their hands before them, pursued devious courses, came
into violent collision with the counter, with boxes and barrels on
the floor, and with one another. They turned awkwardly hither and
thither and seemed trying to escape, but unable to retrace their
steps. Their voices were heard in exclamations and curses. But in
no way did the apparition of Silas Deemer manifest an interest in
what was going on.
By what impulse the crowd was moved none ever recollected, but the
entire mass--men, women, children, dogs--made a simultaneous and
tumultuous rush for the entrance. They congested the doorway,
pushing for precedence--resolving themselves at length into a line
and moving up step by step. By some subtle spiritual or physical
alchemy observation had been transmuted into action--the sightseers
had become participants in the spectacle--the audience had usurped
To the only spectator remaining on the other side of the street--
Alvan Creede, the banker--the interior of the store with its
inpouring crowd continued in full illumination; all the strange
things going on there were clearly visible. To those inside all was
black darkness. It was as if each person as he was thrust in at the
door had been stricken blind, and was maddened by the mischance.
They groped with aimless imprecision, tried to force their way out
against the current, pushed and elbowed, struck at random, fell and
were trampled, rose and trampled in their turn. They seized one
another by the garments, the hair, the beard--fought like animals,
cursed, shouted, called one another opprobrious and obscene names.
When, finally, Alvan Creede had seen the last person of the line pass
into that awful tumult the light that had illuminated it was suddenly
quenched and all was as black to him as to those within. He turned
away and left the place.
In the early morning a curious crowd had gathered about "Deemer's."
It was composed partly of those who had run away the night before,
but now had the courage of sunshine, partly of honest folk going to
their daily toil. The door of the store stood open; the place was
vacant, but on the walls, the floor, the furniture, were shreds of
clothing and tangles of hair. Hillbrook militant had managed somehow
to pull itself out and had gone home to medicine its hurts and swear
that it had been all night in bed. On the dusty desk, behind the
counter, was the sales-book. The entries in it, in Deemer's
handwriting, had ceased on the 16th day of July, the last of his
life. There was no record of a later sale to Alvan Creede.
That is the entire story--except that men's passions having subsided
and reason having resumed its immemorial sway, it was confessed in
Hillbrook that, considering the harmless and honorable character of
his first commercial transaction under the new conditions, Silas
Deemer, deceased, might properly have been suffered to resume
business at the old stand without mobbing. In that judgment the
local historian from whose unpublished work these facts are compiled
had the thoughtfulness to signify his concurrence.
STALEY FLEMING'S HALLUCINATION
Of two men who were talking one was a physician.
"I sent for you, Doctor," said the other, "but I don't think you can
do me any good. May be you can recommend a specialist in
psychopathy. I fancy I'm a bit loony."
"You look all right," the physician said.
"You shall judge--I have hallucinations. I wake every night and see
in my room, intently watching me, a big black Newfoundland dog with a
"You say you wake; are you sure about that? 'Hallucinations' are
sometimes only dreams."
"Oh, I wake, all right. Sometimes I lie still a long time, looking
at the dog as earnestly as the dog looks at me--I always leave the
light going. When I can't endure it any longer I sit up in bed--and
nothing is there!"
"'M, 'm--what is the beast's expression?"
"It seems to me sinister. Of course I know that, except in art, an
animal's face in repose has always the same expression. But this is
not a real animal. Newfoundland dogs are pretty mild looking, you
know; what's the matter with this one?"
"Really, my diagnosis would have no value: I am not going to treat
The physician laughed at his own pleasantry, but narrowly watched his
patient from the corner of his eye. Presently he said: "Fleming,
your description of the beast fits the dog of the late Atwell
Fleming half-rose from his chair, sat again and made a visible
attempt at indifference. "I remember Barton," he said; "I believe he
was--it was reported that--wasn't there something suspicious in his
Looking squarely now into the eyes of his patient, the physician
said: "Three years ago the body of your old enemy, Atwell Barton,
was found in the woods near his house and yours. He had been stabbed
to death. There have been no arrests; there was no clew. Some of us
had 'theories.' I had one. Have you?"
"I? Why, bless your soul, what could I know about it? You remember
that I left for Europe almost immediately afterward--a considerable
time afterward. In the few weeks since my return you could not
expect me to construct a 'theory.' In fact, I have not given the
matter a thought. What about his dog?"
"It was first to find the body. It died of starvation on his grave."
We do not know the inexorable law underlying coincidences. Staley
Fleming did not, or he would perhaps not have sprung to his feet as
the night wind brought in through the open window the long wailing
howl of a distant dog. He strode several times across the room in
the steadfast gaze of the physician; then, abruptly confronting him,
almost shouted: "What has all this to do with my trouble, Dr.
Halderman? You forget why you were sent for."
Rising, the physician laid his hand upon his patient's arm and said,
gently: "Pardon me. I cannot diagnose your disorder off-hand--to-
morrow, perhaps. Please go to bed, leaving your door unlocked; I
will pass the night here with your books. Can you call me without
"Yes, there is an electric bell."
"Good. If anything disturbs you push the button without sitting up.
Comfortably installed in an armchair the man of medicine stared into
the glowing coals and thought deeply and long, but apparently to
little purpose, for he frequently rose and opening a door leading to
the staircase, listened intently; then resumed his seat. Presently,
however, he fell asleep, and when he woke it was past midnight. He
stirred the failing fire, lifted a book from the table at his side
and looked at the title. It was Denneker's "Meditations." He opened
it at random and began to read:
"Forasmuch as it is ordained of God that all flesh hath spirit and
thereby taketh on spiritual powers, so, also, the spirit hath powers
of the flesh, even when it is gone out of the flesh and liveth as a
thing apart, as many a violence performed by wraith and lemure
sheweth. And there be who say that man is not single in this, but
the beasts have the like evil inducement, and--"
The reading was interrupted by a shaking of the house, as by the fall
of a heavy object. The reader flung down the book, rushed from the
room and mounted the stairs to Fleming's bed-chamber. He tried the
door, but contrary to his instructions it was locked. He set his
shoulder against it with such force that it gave way. On the floor
near the disordered bed, in his night clothes, lay Fleming gasping
away his life.
The physician raised the dying man's head from the floor and observed
a wound in the throat. "I should have thought of this," he said,
believing it suicide.
When the man was dead an examination disclosed the unmistakable marks
of an animal's fangs deeply sunken into the jugular vein.
But there was no animal.
A RESUMED IDENTITY
I--THE REVIEW AS A FORM OF WELCOME
One summer night a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse
of forest and field. By the full moon hanging low in the west he
knew what he might not have known otherwise: that it was near the
hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, partly veiling the
lower features of the landscape, but above it the taller trees showed
in well-defined masses against a clear sky. Two or three farmhouses
were visible through the haze, but in none of them, naturally, was a
light. Nowhere, indeed, was any sign or suggestion of life except
the barking of a distant dog, which, repeated with mechanical
iteration, served rather to accentuate than dispel the loneliness of
The man looked curiously about him on all sides, as one who among
familiar surroundings is unable to determine his exact place and part
in the scheme of things. It is so, perhaps, that we shall act when,
risen from the dead, we await the call to judgment.
A hundred yards away was a straight road, showing white in the
moonlight. Endeavoring to orient himself, as a surveyor or navigator
might say, the man moved his eyes slowly along its visible length and
at a distance of a quarter-mile to the south of his station saw, dim
and gray in the haze, a group of horsemen riding to the north.
Behind them were men afoot, marching in column, with dimly gleaming
rifles aslant above their shoulders. They moved slowly and in
silence. Another group of horsemen, another regiment of infantry,
another and another--all in unceasing motion toward the man's point
of view, past it, and beyond. A battery of artillery followed, the
cannoneers riding with folded arms on limber and caisson. And still
the interminable procession came out of the obscurity to south and
passed into the obscurity to north, with never a sound of voice, nor
hoof, nor wheel.
The man could not rightly understand: he thought himself deaf; said
so, and heard his own voice, although it had an unfamiliar quality
that almost alarmed him; it disappointed his ear's expectancy in the
matter of timbre and resonance. But he was not deaf, and that for
the moment sufficed.
Then he remembered that there are natural phenomena to which some one
has given the name "acoustic shadows." If you stand in an acoustic
shadow there is one direction from which you will hear nothing. At
the battle of Gaines's Mill, one of the fiercest conflicts of the
Civil War, with a hundred guns in play, spectators a mile and a half
away on the opposite side of the Chickahominy valley heard nothing of
what they clearly saw. The bombardment of Port Royal, heard and felt
at St. Augustine, a hundred and fifty miles to the south, was
inaudible two miles to the north in a still atmosphere. A few days
before the surrender at Appomattox a thunderous engagement between
the commands of Sheridan and Pickett was unknown to the latter
commander, a mile in the rear of his own line.
These instances were not known to the man of whom we write, but less
striking ones of the same character had not escaped his observation.
He was profoundly disquieted, but for another reason than the uncanny
silence of that moonlight march.
"Good Lord!" he said to himself--and again it was as if another had
spoken his thought--"if those people are what I take them to be we
have lost the battle and they are moving on Nashville!"
Then came a thought of self--an apprehension--a strong sense of
personal peril, such as in another we call fear. He stepped quickly
into the shadow of a tree. And still the silent battalions moved
slowly forward in the haze.
The chill of a sudden breeze upon the back of his neck drew his
attention to the quarter whence it came, and turning to the east he
saw a faint gray light along the horizon--the first sign of returning
day. This increased his apprehension.
"I must get away from here," he thought, "or I shall be discovered
He moved out of the shadow, walking rapidly toward the graying east.
From the safer seclusion of a clump of cedars he looked back. The
entire column had passed out of sight: the straight white road lay
bare and desolate in the moonlight!
Puzzled before, he was now inexpressibly astonished. So swift a
passing of so slow an army!--he could not comprehend it. Minute
after minute passed unnoted; he had lost his sense of time. He
sought with a terrible earnestness a solution of the mystery, but
sought in vain. When at last he roused himself from his abstraction
the sun's rim was visible above the hills, but in the new conditions
he found no other light than that of day; his understanding was
involved as darkly in doubt as before.
On every side lay cultivated fields showing no sign of war and war's
ravages. From the chimneys of the farmhouses thin ascensions of blue
smoke signaled preparations for a day's peaceful toil. Having
stilled its immemorial allocution to the moon, the watch-dog was
assisting a negro who, prefixing a team of mules to the plow, was
flatting and sharping contentedly at his task. The hero of this tale
stared stupidly at the pastoral picture as if he had never seen such
a thing in all his life; then he put his hand to his head, passed it
through his hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the
palm--a singular thing to do. Apparently reassured by the act, he
walked confidently toward the road.
II--WHEN YOU HAVE LOST YOUR LIFE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN
Dr. Stilling Malson, of Murfreesboro, having visited a patient six or
seven miles away, on the Nashville road, had remained with him all
night. At daybreak he set out for home on horseback, as was the
custom of doctors of the time and region. He had passed into the
neighborhood of Stone's River battlefield when a man approached him
from the roadside and saluted in the military fashion, with a
movement of the right hand to the hat-brim. But the hat was not a
military hat, the man was not in uniform and had not a martial
bearing. The doctor nodded civilly, half thinking that the
stranger's uncommon greeting was perhaps in deference to the historic
surroundings. As the stranger evidently desired speech with him he
courteously reined in his horse and waited.
"Sir," said the stranger, "although a civilian, you are perhaps an
"I am a physician," was the non-committal reply.
"Thank you," said the other. "I am a lieutenant, of the staff of
General Hazen." He paused a moment and looked sharply at the person
whom he was addressing, then added, "Of the Federal army."
The physician merely nodded.
"Kindly tell me," continued the other, "what has happened here.
Where are the armies? Which has won the battle?"
The physician regarded his questioner curiously with half-shut eyes.
After a professional scrutiny, prolonged to the limit of politeness,
"Pardon me," he said; "one asking information should be willing to
impart it. Are you wounded?" he added, smiling.
"Not seriously--it seems."
The man removed the unmilitary hat, put his hand to his head, passed
it through his hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the
"I was struck by a bullet and have been unconscious. It must have
been a light, glancing blow: I find no blood and feel no pain. I
will not trouble you for treatment, but will you kindly direct me to
my command--to any part of the Federal army--if you know?"
Again the doctor did not immediately reply: he was recalling much
that is recorded in the books of his profession--something about lost
identity and the effect of familiar scenes in restoring it. At
length he looked the man in the face, smiled, and said:
"Lieutenant, you are not wearing the uniform of your rank and
At this the man glanced down at his civilian attire, lifted his eyes,
and said with hesitation:
"That is true. I--I don't quite understand."
Still regarding him sharply but not unsympathetically the man of
science bluntly inquired:
"How old are you?"
"Twenty-three--if that has anything to do with it."
"You don't look it; I should hardly have guessed you to be just
The man was growing impatient. "We need not discuss that," he said;
"I want to know about the army. Not two hours ago I saw a column of
troops moving northward on this road. You must have met them. Be
good enough to tell me the color of their clothing, which I was
unable to make out, and I'll trouble you no more."
"You are quite sure that you saw them?"
"Sure? My God, sir, I could have counted them!"
"Why, really," said the physician, with an amusing consciousness of
his own resemblance to the loquacious barber of the Arabian Nights,
"this is very interesting. I met no troops."
The man looked at him coldly, as if he had himself observed the
likeness to the barber. "It is plain," he said, "that you do not
care to assist me. Sir, you may go to the devil!"
He turned and strode away, very much at random, across the dewy
fields, his half-penitent tormentor quietly watching him from his
point of vantage in the saddle till he disappeared beyond an array of
III--THE DANGER OF LOOKING INTO A POOL OF WATER
After leaving the road the man slackened his pace, and now went
forward, rather deviously, with a distinct feeling of fatigue. He
could not account for this, though truly the interminable loquacity
of that country doctor offered itself in explanation. Seating
himself upon a rock, he laid one hand upon his knee, back upward, and
casually looked at it. It was lean and withered. He lifted both
hands to his face. It was seamed and furrowed; he could trace the
lines with the tips of his fingers. How strange!--a mere bullet-
stroke and a brief unconsciousness should not make one a physical
"I must have been a long time in hospital," he said aloud. "Why,
what a fool I am! The battle was in December, and it is now summer!"
He laughed. "No wonder that fellow thought me an escaped lunatic.
He was wrong: I am only an escaped patient."
At a little distance a small plot of ground enclosed by a stone wall
caught his attention. With no very definite intent he rose and went
to it. In the center was a square, solid monument of hewn stone. It
was brown with age, weather-worn at the angles, spotted with moss and
lichen. Between the massive blocks were strips of grass the leverage
of whose roots had pushed them apart. In answer to the challenge of
this ambitious structure Time had laid his destroying hand upon it,
and it would soon be "one with Nineveh and Tyre." In an inscription
on one side his eye caught a familiar name. Shaking with excitement,
he craned his body across the wall and read:
The Memory of Its Soldiers
who fell at
Stone River, Dec. 31, 1862.
The man fell back from the wall, faint and sick. Almost within an
arm's length was a little depression in the earth; it had been filled
by a recent rain--a pool of clear water. He crept to it to revive
himself, lifted the upper part of his body on his trembling arms,
thrust forward his head and saw the reflection of his face, as in a
mirror. He uttered a terrible cry. His arms gave way; he fell, face
downward, into the pool and yielded up the life that had spanned
A BABY TRAMP
If you had seen little Jo standing at the street corner in the rain,
you would hardly have admired him. It was apparently an ordinary
autumn rainstorm, but the water which fell upon Jo (who was hardly
old enough to be either just or unjust, and so perhaps did not come
under the law of impartial distribution) appeared to have some
property peculiar to itself: one would have said it was dark and
adhesive--sticky. But that could hardly be so, even in Blackburg,
where things certainly did occur that were a good deal out of the
For example, ten or twelve years before, a shower of small frogs had
fallen, as is credibly attested by a contemporaneous chronicle, the
record concluding with a somewhat obscure statement to the effect
that the chronicler considered it good growing-weather for Frenchmen.
Some years later Blackburg had a fall of crimson snow; it is cold in
Blackburg when winter is on, and the snows are frequent and deep.
There can be no doubt of it--the snow in this instance was of the
color of blood and melted into water of the same hue, if water it
was, not blood. The phenomenon had attracted wide attention, and
science had as many explanations as there were scientists who knew
nothing about it. But the men of Blackburg--men who for many years
had lived right there where the red snow fell, and might be supposed
to know a good deal about the matter--shook their heads and said
something would come of it.
And something did, for the next summer was made memorable by the
prevalence of a mysterious disease--epidemic, endemic, or the Lord
knows what, though the physicians didn't--which carried away a full
half of the population. Most of the other half carried themselves
away and were slow to return, but finally came back, and were now
increasing and multiplying as before, but Blackburg had not since
been altogether the same.
Of quite another kind, though equally "out of the common," was the
incident of Hetty Parlow's ghost. Hetty Parlow's maiden name had
been Brownon, and in Blackburg that meant more than one would think.
The Brownons had from time immemorial--from the very earliest of the
old colonial days--been the leading family of the town. It was the
richest and it was the best, and Blackburg would have shed the last
drop of its plebeian blood in defense of the Brownon fair fame. As
few of the family's members had ever been known to live permanently
away from Blackburg, although most of them were educated elsewhere
and nearly all had traveled, there was quite a number of them. The
men held most of the public offices, and the women were foremost in
all good works. Of these latter, Hetty was most beloved by reason of
the sweetness of her disposition, the purity of her character and her
singular personal beauty. She married in Boston a young scapegrace
named Parlow, and like a good Brownon brought him to Blackburg
forthwith and made a man and a town councilman of him. They had a
child which they named Joseph and dearly loved, as was then the
fashion among parents in all that region. Then they died of the
mysterious disorder already mentioned, and at the age of one whole
year Joseph set up as an orphan.
Unfortunately for Joseph the disease which had cut off his parents
did not stop at that; it went on and extirpated nearly the whole
Brownon contingent and its allies by marriage; and those who fled did
not return. The tradition was broken, the Brownon estates passed
into alien hands and the only Brownons remaining in that place were
underground in Oak Hill Cemetery, where, indeed, was a colony of them
powerful enough to resist the encroachment of surrounding tribes and
hold the best part of the grounds. But about the ghost:
One night, about three years after the death of Hetty Parlow, a
number of the young people of Blackburg were passing Oak Hill
Cemetery in a wagon--if you have been there you will remember that
the road to Greenton runs alongside it on the south. They had been
attending a May Day festival at Greenton; and that serves to fix the
date. Altogether there may have been a dozen, and a jolly party they
were, considering the legacy of gloom left by the town's recent
somber experiences. As they passed the cemetery the man driving
suddenly reined in his team with an exclamation of surprise. It was
sufficiently surprising, no doubt, for just ahead, and almost at the
roadside, though inside the cemetery, stood the ghost of Hetty
Parlow. There could be no doubt of it, for she had been personally
known to every youth and maiden in the party. That established the
thing's identity; its character as ghost was signified by all the
customary signs--the shroud, the long, undone hair, the "far-away
look"--everything. This disquieting apparition was stretching out
its arms toward the west, as if in supplication for the evening star,
which, certainly, was an alluring object, though obviously out of
reach. As they all sat silent (so the story goes) every member of
that party of merrymakers--they had merry-made on coffee and lemonade
only--distinctly heard that ghost call the name "Joey, Joey!" A
moment later nothing was there. Of course one does not have to
believe all that.
Now, at that moment, as was afterward ascertained, Joey was wandering
about in the sage-brush on the opposite side of the continent, near
Winnemucca, in the State of Nevada. He had been taken to that town
by some good persons distantly related to his dead father, and by
them adopted and tenderly cared for. But on that evening the poor
child had strayed from home and was lost in the desert.
His after history is involved in obscurity and has gaps which
conjecture alone can fill. It is known that he was found by a family
of Piute Indians, who kept the little wretch with them for a time and
then sold him--actually sold him for money to a woman on one of the
east-bound trains, at a station a long way from Winnemucca. The
woman professed to have made all manner of inquiries, but all in
vain: so, being childless and a widow, she adopted him herself. At
this point of his career Jo seemed to be getting a long way from the
condition of orphanage; the interposition of a multitude of parents
between himself and that woeful state promised him a long immunity
from its disadvantages.
Mrs. Darnell, his newest mother, lived in Cleveland, Ohio. But her
adopted son did not long remain with her. He was seen one afternoon
by a policeman, new to that beat, deliberately toddling away from her
house, and being questioned answered that he was "a doin' home." He
must have traveled by rail, somehow, for three days later he was in
the town of Whiteville, which, as you know, is a long way from
Blackburg. His clothing was in pretty fair condition, but he was
sinfully dirty. Unable to give any account of himself he was
arrested as a vagrant and sentenced to imprisonment in the Infants'
Sheltering Home--where he was washed.
Jo ran away from the Infants' Sheltering Home at Whiteville--just
took to the woods one day, and the Home knew him no more forever.
We find him next, or rather get back to him, standing forlorn in the
cold autumn rain at a suburban street corner in Blackburg; and it
seems right to explain now that the raindrops falling upon him there
were really not dark and gummy; they only failed to make his face and
hands less so. Jo was indeed fearfully and wonderfully besmirched,
as by the hand of an artist. And the forlorn little tramp had no
shoes; his feet were bare, red, and swollen, and when he walked he
limped with both legs. As to clothing--ah, you would hardly have had
the skill to name any single garment that he wore, or say by what
magic he kept it upon him. That he was cold all over and all through
did not admit of a doubt; he knew it himself. Anyone would have been
cold there that evening; but, for that reason, no one else was there.
How Jo came to be there himself, he could not for the flickering
little life of him have told, even if gifted with a vocabulary
exceeding a hundred words. From the way he stared about him one
could have seen that he had not the faintest notion of where (nor
why) he was.
Yet he was not altogether a fool in his day and generation; being
cold and hungry, and still able to walk a little by bending his knees
very much indeed and putting his feet down toes first, he decided to
enter one of the houses which flanked the street at long intervals
and looked so bright and warm. But when he attempted to act upon
that very sensible decision a burly dog came bowsing out and disputed
his right. Inexpressibly frightened and believing, no doubt (with
some reason, too) that brutes without meant brutality within, he
hobbled away from all the houses, and with gray, wet fields to right
of him and gray, wet fields to left of him--with the rain half
blinding him and the night coming in mist and darkness, held his way
along the road that leads to Greenton. That is to say, the road
leads those to Greenton who succeed in passing the Oak Hill Cemetery.
A considerable number every year do not.
Jo did not.
They found him there the next morning, very wet, very cold, but no
longer hungry. He had apparently entered the cemetery gate--hoping,
perhaps, that it led to a house where there was no dog--and gone
blundering about in the darkness, falling over many a grave, no
doubt, until he had tired of it all and given up. The little body
lay upon one side, with one soiled cheek upon one soiled hand, the
other hand tucked away among the rags to make it warm, the other
cheek washed clean and white at last, as for a kiss from one of God's
great angels. It was observed--though nothing was thought of it at
the time, the body being as yet unidentified--that the little fellow
was lying upon the grave of Hetty Parlow. The grave, however, had
not opened to receive him. That is a circumstance which, without
actual irreverence, one may wish had been ordered otherwise.
THE NIGHT-DOINGS AT "DEADMAN'S"
A STORY THAT IS UNTRUE
It was a singularly sharp night, and clear as the heart of a diamond.
Clear nights have a trick of being keen. In darkness you may be cold
and not know it; when you see, you suffer. This night was bright
enough to bite like a serpent. The moon was moving mysteriously
along behind the giant pines crowning the South Mountain, striking a
cold sparkle from the crusted snow, and bringing out against the
black west the ghostly outlines of the Coast Range, beyond which lay
the invisible Pacific. The snow had piled itself, in the open spaces
along the bottom of the gulch, into long ridges that seemed to heave,
and into hills that appeared to toss and scatter spray. The spray
was sunlight, twice reflected: dashed once from the moon, once from
In this snow many of the shanties of the abandoned mining camp were
obliterated, (a sailor might have said they had gone down) and at
irregular intervals it had overtopped the tall trestles which had
once supported a river called a flume; for, of course, "flume" is
flumen. Among the advantages of which the mountains cannot deprive
the gold-hunter is the privilege of speaking Latin. He says of his
dead neighbor, "He has gone up the flume." This is not a bad way to
say, "His life has returned to the Fountain of Life."
While putting on its armor against the assaults of the wind, this
snow had neglected no coign of vantage. Snow pursued by the wind is
not wholly unlike a retreating army. In the open field it ranges
itself in ranks and battalions; where it can get a foothold it makes
a stand; where it can take cover it does so. You may see whole
platoons of snow cowering behind a bit of broken wall. The devious
old road, hewn out of the mountain side, was full of it. Squadron
upon squadron had struggled to escape by this line, when suddenly
pursuit had ceased. A more desolate and dreary spot than Deadman's
Gulch in a winter midnight it is impossible to imagine. Yet Mr.
Hiram Beeson elected to live there, the sole inhabitant.
Away up the side of the North Mountain his little pine-log shanty
projected from its single pane of glass a long, thin beam of light,
and looked not altogether unlike a black beetle fastened to the
hillside with a bright new pin. Within it sat Mr. Beeson himself,
before a roaring fire, staring into its hot heart as if he had never
before seen such a thing in all his life. He was not a comely man.
He was gray; he was ragged and slovenly in his attire; his face was
wan and haggard; his eyes were too bright. As to his age, if one had
attempted to guess it, one might have said forty-seven, then
corrected himself and said seventy-four. He was really twenty-eight.
Emaciated he was; as much, perhaps, as he dared be, with a needy
undertaker at Bentley's Flat and a new and enterprising coroner at
Sonora. Poverty and zeal are an upper and a nether millstone. It is
dangerous to make a third in that kind of sandwich.
As Mr. Beeson sat there, with his ragged elbows on his ragged knees,
his lean jaws buried in his lean hands, and with no apparent
intention of going to bed, he looked as if the slightest movement
would tumble him to pieces. Yet during the last hour he had winked
no fewer than three times.
There was a sharp rapping at the door. A rap at that time of night
and in that weather might have surprised an ordinary mortal who had
dwelt two years in the gulch without seeing a human face, and could
not fail to know that the country was impassable; but Mr. Beeson did
not so much as pull his eyes out of the coals. And even when the
door was pushed open he only shrugged a little more closely into
himself, as one does who is expecting something that he would rather
not see. You may observe this movement in women when, in a mortuary
chapel, the coffin is borne up the aisle behind them.
But when a long old man in a blanket overcoat, his head tied up in a
handkerchief and nearly his entire face in a muffler, wearing green
goggles and with a complexion of glittering whiteness where it could
be seen, strode silently into the room, laying a hard, gloved hand on
Mr. Beeson's shoulder, the latter so far forgot himself as to look up
with an appearance of no small astonishment; whomever he may have
been expecting, he had evidently not counted on meeting anyone like
this. Nevertheless, the sight of this unexpected guest produced in
Mr. Beeson the following sequence: a feeling of astonishment; a
sense of gratification; a sentiment of profound good will. Rising
from his seat, he took the knotty hand from his shoulder, and shook
it up and down with a fervor quite unaccountable; for in the old
man's aspect was nothing to attract, much to repel. However,
attraction is too general a property for repulsion to be without it.
The most attractive object in the world is the face we instinctively
cover with a cloth. When it becomes still more attractive--
fascinating--we put seven feet of earth above it.
"Sir," said Mr. Beeson, releasing the old man's hand, which fell
passively against his thigh with a quiet clack, "it is an extremely
disagreeable night. Pray be seated; I am very glad to see you."
Mr. Beeson spoke with an easy good breeding that one would hardly
have expected, considering all things. Indeed, the contrast between
his appearance and his manner was sufficiently surprising to be one
of the commonest of social phenomena in the mines. The old man
advanced a step toward the fire, glowing cavernously in the green
goggles. Mr. Beeson resumed:
"You bet your life I am!"
Mr. Beeson's elegance was not too refined; it had made reasonable
concessions to local taste. He paused a moment, letting his eyes
drop from the muffled head of his guest, down along the row of moldy
buttons confining the blanket overcoat, to the greenish cowhide boots
powdered with snow, which had begun to melt and run along the floor
in little rills. He took an inventory of his guest, and appeared
satisfied. Who would not have been? Then he continued:
"The cheer I can offer you is, unfortunately, in keeping with my
surroundings; but I shall esteem myself highly favored if it is your
pleasure to partake of it, rather than seek better at Bentley's
With a singular refinement of hospitable humility Mr. Beeson spoke as
if a sojourn in his warm cabin on such a night, as compared with
walking fourteen miles up to the throat in snow with a cutting crust,
would be an intolerable hardship. By way of reply, his guest
unbuttoned the blanket overcoat. The host laid fresh fuel on the
fire, swept the hearth with the tail of a wolf, and added:
"But _I_ think you'd better skedaddle."
The old man took a seat by the fire, spreading his broad soles to the
heat without removing his hat. In the mines the hat is seldom
removed except when the boots are. Without further remark Mr. Beeson
also seated himself in a chair which had been a barrel, and which,
retaining much of its original character, seemed to have been
designed with a view to preserving his dust if it should please him
to crumble. For a moment there was silence; then, from somewhere
among the pines, came the snarling yelp of a coyote; and
simultaneously the door rattled in its frame. There was no other
connection between the two incidents than that the coyote has an
aversion to storms, and the wind was rising; yet there seemed somehow
a kind of supernatural conspiracy between the two, and Mr. Beeson
shuddered with a vague sense of terror. He recovered himself in a
moment and again addressed his guest.
"There are strange doings here. I will tell you everything, and then
if you decide to go I shall hope to accompany you over the worst of
the way; as far as where Baldy Peterson shot Ben Hike--I dare say you
know the place."
The old man nodded emphatically, as intimating not merely that he
did, but that he did indeed.
"Two years ago," began Mr. Beeson, "I, with two companions, occupied
this house; but when the rush to the Flat occurred we left, along
with the rest. In ten hours the Gulch was deserted. That evening,
however, I discovered I had left behind me a valuable pistol (that is
it) and returned for it, passing the night here alone, as I have
passed every night since. I must explain that a few days before we
left, our Chinese domestic had the misfortune to die while the ground
was frozen so hard that it was impossible to dig a grave in the usual
way. So, on the day of our hasty departure, we cut through the floor
there, and gave him such burial as we could. But before putting him
down I had the extremely bad taste to cut off his pigtail and spike
it to that beam above his grave, where you may see it at this moment,
or, preferably, when warmth has given you leisure for observation.
"I stated, did I not, that the Chinaman came to his death from
natural causes? I had, of course, nothing to do with that, and
returned through no irresistible attraction, or morbid fascination,
but only because I had forgotten a pistol. This is clear to you, is
it not, sir?"
The visitor nodded gravely. He appeared to be a man of few words, if
any. Mr. Beeson continued:
"According to the Chinese faith, a man is like a kite: he cannot go
to heaven without a tail. Well, to shorten this tedious story--
which, however, I thought it my duty to relate--on that night, while
I was here alone and thinking of anything but him, that Chinaman came
back for his pigtail.
"He did not get it."
At this point Mr. Beeson relapsed into blank silence. Perhaps he was
fatigued by the unwonted exercise of speaking; perhaps he had
conjured up a memory that demanded his undivided attention. The wind
was now fairly abroad, and the pines along the mountainside sang with
singular distinctness. The narrator continued:
"You say you do not see much in that, and I must confess I do not
"But he keeps coming!"
There was another long silence, during which both stared into the
fire without the movement of a limb. Then Mr. Beeson broke out,
almost fiercely, fixing his eyes on what he could see of the
impassive face of his auditor:
"Give it him? Sir, in this matter I have no intention of troubling
anyone for advice. You will pardon me, I am sure"--here he became
singularly persuasive--"but I have ventured to nail that pigtail
fast, and have assumed the somewhat onerous obligation of guarding
it. So it is quite impossible to act on your considerate suggestion.
"Do you play me for a Modoc?"
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