Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol. II: In the Midst of Life: Tales of Soldiers and Civilians by Ambrose Bierce

Part 3 out of 4

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

left was being driven back, and the propitious moment to move against
the salient angle of his line would soon arrive. The silence and mystery
in front were ominous; all felt that they boded evil to the assailants.

Behind the prostrate lines sounded the hoofbeats of galloping horses;
the men turned to look. A dozen staff officers were riding to the
various brigade and regimental commanders, who had remounted. A moment
more and there was a chorus of voices, all uttering out of time the same
words--"Attention, battalion!" The men sprang to their feet and were
aligned by the company commanders. They awaited the word "forward"--
awaited, too, with beating hearts and set teeth the gusts of lead and
iron that were to smite them at their first movement in obedience to
that word. The word was not given; the tempest did not break out. The
delay was hideous, maddening! It unnerved like a respite at the

Captain Graffenreid stood at the head of his company, the dead man at
his feet. He heard the battle on the right--rattle and crash of
musketry, ceaseless thunder of cannon, desultory cheers of invisible
combatants. He marked ascending clouds of smoke from distant forests. He
noted the sinister silence of the forest in front. These contrasting
extremes affected the whole range of his sensibilities. The strain upon
his nervous organization was insupportable. He grew hot and cold by
turns. He panted like a dog, and then forgot to breathe until reminded
by vertigo.

Suddenly he grew calm. Glancing downward, his eyes had fallen upon his
naked sword, as he held it, point to earth. Foreshortened to his view,
it resembled somewhat, he thought, the short heavy blade of the ancient
Roman. The fancy was full of suggestion, malign, fateful, heroic!

The sergeant in the rear rank, immediately behind Captain Graffenreid,
now observed a strange sight. His attention drawn by an uncommon
movement made by the captain--a sudden reaching forward of the hands and
their energetic withdrawal, throwing the elbows out, as in pulling an
oar--he saw spring from between the officer's shoulders a bright point
of metal which prolonged itself outward, nearly a half-arm's length--a
blade! It was faintly streaked with crimson, and its point approached so
near to the sergeant's breast, and with so quick a movement, that he
shrank backward in alarm. That moment Captain Graffenreid pitched
heavily forward upon the dead man and died.

A week later the major-general commanding the left corps of the Federal
Army submitted the following official report:

"SIR: I have the honor to report, with regard to the action of the 19th
inst, that owing to the enemy's withdrawal from my front to reinforce
his beaten left, my command was not seriously engaged. My loss was as
follows: Killed, one officer, one man."



George Thurston was a first lieutenant and aide-de-camp on the staff of
Colonel Brough, commanding a Federal brigade. Colonel Brough was only
temporarily in command, as senior colonel, the brigadier-general having
been severely wounded and granted a leave of absence to recover.
Lieutenant Thurston was, I believe, of Colonel Brough's regiment, to
which, with his chief, he would naturally have been relegated had he
lived till our brigade commander's recovery. The aide whose place
Thurston took had been killed in battle; Thurston's advent among us was
the only change in the _personnel_ of our staff consequent upon the
change in commanders. We did not like him; he was unsocial. This,
however, was more observed by others than by me. Whether in camp or on
the march, in barracks, in tents, or _en bivouac_, my duties as
topographical engineer kept me working like a beaver--all day in the
saddle and half the night at my drawing-table, platting my surveys. It
was hazardous work; the nearer to the enemy's lines I could penetrate,
the more valuable were my field notes and the resulting maps. It was a
business in which the lives of men counted as nothing against the chance
of defining a road or sketching a bridge. Whole squadrons of cavalry
escort had sometimes to be sent thundering against a powerful infantry
outpost in order that the brief time between the charge and the
inevitable retreat might be utilized in sounding a ford or determining
the point of intersection of two roads.

In some of the dark corners of England and Wales they have an immemorial
custom of "beating the bounds" of the parish. On a certain day of the
year the whole population turns out and travels in procession from one
landmark to another on the boundary line. At the most important points
lads are soundly beaten with rods to make them remember the place in
after life. They become authorities. Our frequent engagements with the
Confederate outposts, patrols, and scouting parties had, incidentally,
the same educating value; they fixed in my memory a vivid and apparently
imperishable picture of the locality--a picture serving instead of
accurate field notes, which, indeed, it was not always convenient to
take, with carbines cracking, sabers clashing, and horses plunging all
about. These spirited encounters were observations entered in red.

One morning as I set out at the head of my escort on an expedition of
more than the usual hazard Lieutenant Thurston rode up alongside and
asked if I had any objection to his accompanying me, the colonel
commanding having given him permission.

"None whatever," I replied rather gruffly; "but in what capacity will
you go? You are not a topographical engineer, and Captain Burling
commands my escort."

"I will go as a spectator," he said. Removing his sword-belt and taking
the pistols from his holsters he handed them to his servant, who took
them back to headquarters. I realized the brutality of my remark, but
not clearly seeing my way to an apology, said nothing.

That afternoon we encountered a whole regiment of the enemy's cavalry in
line and a field-piece that dominated a straight mile of the turnpike by
which we had approached. My escort fought deployed in the woods on both
sides, but Thurston remained in the center of the road, which at
intervals of a few seconds was swept by gusts of grape and canister that
tore the air wide open as they passed. He had dropped the rein on the
neck of his horse and sat bolt upright in the saddle, with folded arms.
Soon he was down, his horse torn to pieces. From the side of the road,
my pencil and field book idle, my duty forgotten, I watched him slowly
disengaging himself from the wreck and rising. At that instant, the
cannon having ceased firing, a burly Confederate trooper on a spirited
horse dashed like a thunderbolt down the road with drawn saber. Thurston
saw him coming, drew himself up to his full height, and again folded his
arms. He was too brave to retreat before the word, and my uncivil words
had disarmed him. He was a spectator. Another moment and he would have
been split like a mackerel, but a blessed bullet tumbled his assailant
into the dusty road so near that the impetus sent the body rolling to
Thurston's feet. That evening, while platting my hasty survey, I found
time to frame an apology, which I think took the rude, primitive form of
a confession that I had spoken like a malicious idiot.

A few weeks later a part of our army made an assault upon the enemy's
left. The attack, which was made upon an unknown position and across
unfamiliar ground, was led by our brigade. The ground was so broken and
the underbrush so thick that all mounted officers and men were compelled
to fight on foot--the brigade commander and his staff included. In the
_melee_ Thurston was parted from the rest of us, and we found him,
horribly wounded, only when we had taken the enemy's last defense. He
was some months in hospital at Nashville, Tennessee, but finally
rejoined us. He said little about his misadventure, except that he had
been bewildered and had strayed into the enemy's lines and been shot
down; but from one of his captors, whom we in turn had captured, we
learned the particulars. "He came walking right upon us as we lay in
line," said this man. "A whole company of us instantly sprang up and
leveled our rifles at his breast, some of them almost touching him.
'Throw down that sword and surrender, you damned Yank!' shouted some one
in authority. The fellow ran his eyes along the line of rifle barrels,
folded his arms across his breast, his right hand still clutching his
sword, and deliberately replied, 'I will not.' If we had all fired he
would have been torn to shreds. Some of us didn't. I didn't, for one;
nothing could have induced me."

When one is tranquilly looking death in the eye and refusing him any
concession one naturally has a good opinion of one's self. I don't know
if it was this feeling that in Thurston found expression in a stiffish
attitude and folded arms; at the mess table one day, in his absence,
another explanation was suggested by our quartermaster, an irreclaimable
stammerer when the wine was in: "It's h--is w--ay of m-m-mastering a
c-c-consti-t-tu-tional t-tendency to r--un aw--ay."

"What!" I flamed out, indignantly rising; "you intimate that Thurston is
a coward--and in his absence?"

"If he w--ere a cow--wow-ard h--e w--wouldn't t-try to m-m-master it;
and if he w--ere p-present I w--wouldn't d-d-dare to d-d-discuss it,"
was the mollifying reply.

This intrepid man, George Thurston, died an ignoble death. The brigade
was in camp, with headquarters in a grove of immense trees. To an upper
branch of one of these a venturesome climber had attached the two ends
of a long rope and made a swing with a length of not less than one
hundred feet. Plunging downward from a height of fifty feet, along the
arc of a circle with such a radius, soaring to an equal altitude,
pausing for one breathless instant, then sweeping dizzily backward--no
one who has not tried it can conceive the terrors of such sport to the
novice. Thurston came out of his tent one day and asked for instruction
in the mystery of propelling the swing--the art of rising and sitting,
which every boy has mastered. In a few moments he had acquired the trick
and was swinging higher than the most experienced of us had dared. We
shuddered to look at his fearful flights.

"St-t-top him," said the quartermaster, snailing lazily along from the
mess-tent, where he had been lunching; "h--e d-doesn't know that if h--e
g-g-goes c-clear over h--e'll w--ind up the sw--ing."

With such energy was that strong man cannonading himself through the air
that at each extremity of his increasing arc his body, standing in the
swing, was almost horizontal. Should he once pass above the level of the
rope's attachment he would be lost; the rope would slacken and he would
fall vertically to a point as far below as he had gone above, and then
the sudden tension of the rope would wrest it from his hands. All saw
the peril--all cried out to him to desist, and gesticulated at him as,
indistinct and with a noise like the rush of a cannon shot in flight, he
swept past us through the lower reaches of his hideous oscillation. A
woman standing at a little distance away fainted and fell unobserved.
Men from the camp of a regiment near by ran in crowds to see, all
shouting. Suddenly, as Thurston was on his upward curve, the shouts all

Thurston and the swing had parted--that is all that can be known; both
hands at once had released the rope. The impetus of the light swing
exhausted, it was falling back; the man's momentum was carrying him,
almost erect, upward and forward, no longer in his arc, but with an
outward curve. It could have been but an instant, yet it seemed an age.
I cried out, or thought I cried out: "My God! will he never stop going
up?" He passed close to the branch of a tree. I remember a feeling of
delight as I thought he would clutch it and save himself. I speculated
on the possibility of it sustaining his weight. He passed above it, and
from my point of view was sharply outlined against the blue. At this
distance of many years I can distinctly recall that image of a man in
the sky, its head erect, its feet close together, its hands--I do not
see its hands. All at once, with astonishing suddenness and rapidity, it
turns clear over and pitches downward. There is another cry from the
crowd, which has rushed instinctively forward. The man has become merely
a whirling object, mostly legs. Then there is an indescribable sound--
the sound of an impact that shakes the earth, and these men, familiar
with death in its most awful aspects, turn sick. Many walk unsteadily
away from the spot; others support themselves against the trunks of
trees or sit at the roots. Death has taken an unfair advantage; he has
struck with an unfamiliar weapon; he has executed a new and disquieting
stratagem. We did not know that he had so ghastly resources,
possibilities of terror so dismal.

Thurston's body lay on its back. One leg, bent beneath, was broken above
the knee and the bone driven into the earth. The abdomen had burst; the
bowels protruded. The neck was broken.

The arms were folded tightly across the breast.


The time, a pleasant Sunday afternoon in the early autumn of 1861. The
place, a forest's heart in the mountain region of southwestern Virginia.
Private Grayrock of the Federal Army is discovered seated comfortably at
the root of a great pine tree, against which he leans, his legs extended
straight along the ground, his rifle lying across his thighs, his hands
(clasped in order that they may not fall away to his sides) resting upon
the barrel of the weapon. The contact of the back of his head with the
tree has pushed his cap downward over his eyes, almost concealing them;
one seeing him would say that he slept.

Private Grayrock did not sleep; to have done so would have imperiled the
interests of the United States, for he was a long way outside the lines
and subject to capture or death at the hands of the enemy. Moreover, he
was in a frame of mind unfavorable to repose. The cause of his
perturbation of spirit was this: during the previous night he had served
on the picket-guard, and had been posted as a sentinel in this very
forest. The night was clear, though moonless, but in the gloom of the
wood the darkness was deep. Grayrock's post was at a considerable
distance from those to right and left, for the pickets had been thrown
out a needless distance from the camp, making the line too long for the
force detailed to occupy it. The war was young, and military camps
entertained the error that while sleeping they were better protected by
thin lines a long way out toward the enemy than by thicker ones close
in. And surely they needed as long notice as possible of an enemy's
approach, for they were at that time addicted to the practice of
undressing--than which nothing could be more unsoldierly. On the morning
of the memorable 6th of April, at Shiloh, many of Grant's men when
spitted on Confederate bayonets were as naked as civilians; but it
should be allowed that this was not because of any defect in their
picket line. Their error was of another sort: they had no pickets. This
is perhaps a vain digression. I should not care to undertake to interest
the reader in the fate of an army; what we have here to consider is that
of Private Grayrock.

For two hours after he had been left at his lonely post that Saturday
night he stood stock-still, leaning against the trunk of a large tree,
staring into the darkness in his front and trying to recognize known
objects; for he had been posted at the same spot during the day. But all
was now different; he saw nothing in detail, but only groups of things,
whose shapes, not observed when there was something more of them to
observe, were now unfamiliar. They seemed not to have been there before.
A landscape that is all trees and undergrowth, moreover, lacks
definition, is confused and without accentuated points upon which
attention can gain a foothold. Add the gloom of a moonless night, and
something more than great natural intelligence and a city education is
required to preserve one's knowledge of direction. And that is how it
occurred that Private Grayrock, after vigilantly watching the spaces in
his front and then imprudently executing a circumspection of his whole
dimly visible environment (silently walking around his tree to
accomplish it) lost his bearings and seriously impaired his usefulness
as a sentinel. Lost at his post--unable to say in which direction to
look for an enemy's approach, and in which lay the sleeping camp for
whose security he was accountable with his life--conscious, too, of many
another awkward feature of the situation and of considerations affecting
his own safety, Private Grayrock was profoundly disquieted. Nor was he
given time to recover his tranquillity, for almost at the moment that he
realized his awkward predicament he heard a stir of leaves and a snap of
fallen twigs, and turning with a stilled heart in the direction whence
it came, saw in the gloom the indistinct outlines of a human figure.

"Halt!" shouted Private Grayrock, peremptorily as in duty bound, backing
up the command with the sharp metallic snap of his cocking rifle--"who
goes there?"

There was no answer; at least there was an instant's hesitation, and the
answer, if it came, was lost in the report of the sentinel's rifle. In
the silence of the night and the forest the sound was deafening, and
hardly had it died away when it was repeated by the pieces of the
pickets to right and left, a sympathetic fusillade. For two hours every
unconverted civilian of them had been evolving enemies from his
imagination, and peopling the woods in his front with them, and
Grayrock's shot had started the whole encroaching host into visible
existence. Having fired, all retreated, breathless, to the reserves--all
but Grayrock, who did not know in what direction to retreat. When, no
enemy appearing, the roused camp two miles away had undressed and got
itself into bed again, and the picket line was cautiously
re-established, he was discovered bravely holding his ground, and was
complimented by the officer of the guard as the one soldier of that
devoted band who could rightly be considered the moral equivalent of
that uncommon unit of value, "a whoop in hell."

In the mean time, however, Grayrock had made a close but unavailing
search for the mortal part of the intruder at whom he had fired, and
whom he had a marksman's intuitive sense of having hit; for he was one
of those born experts who shoot without aim by an instinctive sense of
direction, and are nearly as dangerous by night as by day. During a full
half of his twenty-four years he had been a terror to the targets of all
the shooting-galleries in three cities. Unable now to produce his dead
game he had the discretion to hold his tongue, and was glad to observe
in his officer and comrades the natural assumption that not having run
away he had seen nothing hostile. His "honorable mention" had been
earned by not running away anyhow.

Nevertheless, Private Grayrock was far from satisfied with the night's
adventure, and when the next day he made some fair enough pretext to
apply for a pass to go outside the lines, and the general commanding
promptly granted it in recognition of his bravery the night before, he
passed out at the point where that had been displayed. Telling the
sentinel then on duty there that he had lost something,--which was true
enough--he renewed the search for the person whom he supposed himself to
have shot, and whom if only wounded he hoped to trail by the blood. He
was no more successful by daylight than he had been in the darkness, and
after covering a wide area and boldly penetrating a long distance into
"the Confederacy" he gave up the search, somewhat fatigued, seated
himself at the root of the great pine tree, where we have seen him, and
indulged his disappointment.

It is not to be inferred that Grayrock's was the chagrin of a cruel
nature balked of its bloody deed. In the clear large eyes, finely
wrought lips, and broad forehead of that young man one could read quite
another story, and in point of fact his character was a singularly
felicitous compound of boldness and sensibility, courage and conscience.

"I find myself disappointed," he said to himself, sitting there at the
bottom of the golden haze submerging the forest like a subtler sea--
"disappointed in failing to discover a fellow-man dead by my hand! Do I
then really wish that I had taken life in the performance of a duty as
well performed without? What more could I wish? If any danger
threatened, my shot averted it; that is what I was there to do. No, I am
glad indeed if no human life was needlessly extinguished by me. But I am
in a false position. I have suffered myself to be complimented by my
officers and envied by my comrades. The camp is ringing with praise of
my courage. That is not just; I know myself courageous, but this praise
is for specific acts which I did not perform, or performed--otherwise.
It is believed that I remained at my post bravely, without firing,
whereas it was I who began the fusillade, and I did not retreat in the
general alarm because bewildered. What, then, shall I do? Explain that I
saw an enemy and fired? They have all said that of themselves, yet none
believes it. Shall I tell a truth which, discrediting my courage, will
have the effect of a lie? Ugh! it is an ugly business altogether. I wish
to God I could find my man!"

And so wishing, Private Grayrock, overcome at last by the languor of the
afternoon and lulled by the stilly sounds of insects droning and prosing
in certain fragrant shrubs, so far forgot the interests of the United
States as to fall asleep and expose himself to capture. And sleeping he

He thought himself a boy, living in a far, fair land by the border of a
great river upon which the tall steamboats moved grandly up and down
beneath their towering evolutions of black smoke, which announced them
long before they had rounded the bends and marked their movements when
miles out of sight. With him always, at his side as he watched them, was
one to whom he gave his heart and soul in love--a twin brother. Together
they strolled along the banks of the stream; together explored the
fields lying farther away from it, and gathered pungent mints and sticks
of fragrant sassafras in the hills overlooking all--beyond which lay the
Realm of Conjecture, and from which, looking southward across the great
river, they caught glimpses of the Enchanted Land. Hand in hand and
heart in heart they two, the only children of a widowed mother, walked
in paths of light through valleys of peace, seeing new things under a
new sun. And through all the golden days floated one unceasing sound--
the rich, thrilling melody of a mocking-bird in a cage by the cottage
door. It pervaded and possessed all the spiritual intervals of the
dream, like a musical benediction. The joyous bird was always in song;
its infinitely various notes seemed to flow from its throat, effortless,
in bubbles and rills at each heart-beat, like the waters of a pulsing
spring. That fresh, clear melody seemed, indeed, the spirit of the
scene, the meaning and interpretation to sense of the mysteries of life
and love.

But there came a time when the days of the dream grew dark with sorrow
in a rain of tears. The good mother was dead, the meadowside home by the
great river was broken up, and the brothers were parted between two of
their kinsmen. William (the dreamer) went to live in a populous city in
the Realm of Conjecture, and John, crossing the river into the Enchanted
Land, was taken to a distant region whose people in their lives and ways
were said to be strange and wicked. To him, in the distribution of the
dead mother's estate, had fallen all that they deemed of value--the
mocking-bird. They could be divided, but it could not, so it was carried
away into the strange country, and the world of William knew it no more
forever. Yet still through the aftertime of his loneliness its song
filled all the dream, and seemed always sounding in his ear and in his

The kinsmen who had adopted the boys were enemies, holding no
communication. For a time letters full of boyish bravado and boastful
narratives of the new and larger experience--grotesque descriptions of
their widening lives and the new worlds they had conquered--passed
between them; but these gradually became less frequent, and with
William's removal to another and greater city ceased altogether. But
ever through it all ran the song of the mocking-bird, and when the
dreamer opened his eyes and stared through the vistas of the pine forest
the cessation of its music first apprised him that he was awake.

The sun was low and red in the west; the level rays projected from the
trunk of each giant pine a wall of shadow traversing the golden haze to
eastward until light and shade were blended in undistinguishable blue.

Private Grayrock rose to his feet, looked cautiously about him,
shouldered his rifle and set off toward camp. He had gone perhaps a
half-mile, and was passing a thicket of laurel, when a bird rose from
the midst of it and perching on the branch of a tree above, poured from
its joyous breast so inexhaustible floods of song as but one of all
God's creatures can utter in His praise. There was little in that--it
was only to open the bill and breathe; yet the man stopped as if struck
--stopped and let fall his rifle, looked upward at the bird, covered his
eyes with his hands and wept like a child! For the moment he was,
indeed, a child, in spirit and in memory, dwelling again by the great
river, over-against the Enchanted Land! Then with an effort of the will
he pulled himself together, picked up his weapon and audibly damning
himself for an idiot strode on. Passing an opening that reached into the
heart of the little thicket he looked in, and there, supine upon the
earth, its arms all abroad, its gray uniform stained with a single spot
of blood upon the breast, its white face turned sharply upward and
backward, lay the image of himself!--the body of John Grayrock, dead of
a gunshot wound, and still warm! He had found his man.

As the unfortunate soldier knelt beside that masterwork of civil war the
shrilling bird upon the bough overhead stilled her song and, flushed
with sunset's crimson glory, glided silently away through the solemn
spaces of the wood. At roll-call that evening in the Federal camp the
name William Grayrock brought no response, nor ever again there-after.



At the intersection of two certain streets in that part of San Francisco
known by the rather loosely applied name of North Beach, is a vacant
lot, which is rather more nearly level than is usually the case with
lots, vacant or otherwise, in that region. Immediately at the back of
it, to the south, however, the ground slopes steeply upward, the
acclivity broken by three terraces cut into the soft rock. It is a place
for goats and poor persons, several families of each class having
occupied it jointly and amicably "from the foundation of the city." One
of the humble habitations of the lowest terrace is noticeable for its
rude resemblance to the human face, or rather to such a simulacrum of it
as a boy might cut out of a hollowed pumpkin, meaning no offense to his
race. The eyes are two circular windows, the nose is a door, the mouth
an aperture caused by removal of a board below. There are no doorsteps.
As a face, this house is too large; as a dwelling, too small. The blank,
unmeaning stare of its lidless and browless eyes is uncanny.

Sometimes a man steps out of the nose, turns, passes the place where the
right ear should be and making his way through the throng of children
and goats obstructing the narrow walk between his neighbors' doors and
the edge of the terrace gains the street by descending a flight of
rickety stairs. Here he pauses to consult his watch and the stranger who
happens to pass wonders why such a man as that can care what is the
hour. Longer observations would show that the time of day is an
important element in the man's movements, for it is at precisely two
o'clock in the afternoon that he comes forth 365 times in every year.

Having satisfied himself that he has made no mistake in the hour he
replaces the watch and walks rapidly southward up the street two
squares, turns to the right and as he approaches the next corner fixes
his eyes on an upper window in a three-story building across the way.
This is a somewhat dingy structure, originally of red brick and now
gray. It shows the touch of age and dust. Built for a dwelling, it is
now a factory. I do not know what is made there; the things that are
commonly made in a factory, I suppose. I only know that at two o'clock
in the afternoon of every day but Sunday it is full of activity and
clatter; pulsations of some great engine shake it and there are
recurrent screams of wood tormented by the saw. At the window on which
the man fixes an intensely expectant gaze nothing ever appears; the
glass, in truth, has such a coating of dust that it has long ceased to
be transparent. The man looks at it without stopping; he merely keeps
turning his head more and more backward as he leaves the building
behind. Passing along to the next corner, he turns to the left, goes
round the block, and comes back till he reaches the point diagonally
across the street from the factory--point on his former course, which he
then retraces, looking frequently backward over his right shoulder at
the window while it is in sight. For many years he has not been known to
vary his route nor to introduce a single innovation into his action. In
a quarter of an hour he is again at the mouth of his dwelling, and a
woman, who has for some time been standing in the nose, assists him to
enter. He is seen no more until two o'clock the next day. The woman is
his wife. She supports herself and him by washing for the poor people
among whom they live, at rates which destroy Chinese and domestic

This man is about fifty-seven years of age, though he looks greatly
older. His hair is dead white. He wears no beard, and is always newly
shaven. His hands are clean, his nails well kept. In the matter of dress
he is distinctly superior to his position, as indicated by his
surroundings and the business of his wife. He is, indeed, very neatly,
if not quite fashionably, clad. His silk hat has a date no earlier than
the year before the last, and his boots, scrupulously polished, are
innocent of patches. I am told that the suit which he wears during his
daily excursions of fifteen minutes is not the one that he wears at
home. Like everything else that he has, this is provided and kept in
repair by the wife, and is renewed as frequently as her scanty means

Thirty years ago John Hardshaw and his wife lived on Rincon Hill in one
of the finest residences of that once aristocratic quarter. He had once
been a physician, but having inherited a considerable estate from his
father concerned himself no more about the ailments of his
fellow-creatures and found as much work as he cared for in managing his
own affairs. Both he and his wife were highly cultivated persons, and
their house was frequented by a small set of such men and women as
persons of their tastes would think worth knowing. So far as these knew,
Mr. and Mrs. Hardshaw lived happily together; certainly the wife was
devoted to her handsome and accomplished husband and exceedingly proud
of him.

Among their acquaintances were the Barwells--man, wife and two young
children--of Sacramento. Mr. Barwell was a civil and mining engineer,
whose duties took him much from home and frequently to San Francisco. On
these occasions his wife commonly accompanied him and passed much of her
time at the house of her friend, Mrs. Hardshaw, always with her two
children, of whom Mrs. Hardshaw, childless herself, grew fond.
Unluckily, her husband grew equally fond of their mother--a good deal
fonder. Still more unluckily, that attractive lady was less wise than

At about three o'clock one autumn morning Officer No. 13 of the
Sacramento police saw a man stealthily leaving the rear entrance of a
gentleman's residence and promptly arrested him. The man--who wore a
slouch hat and shaggy overcoat--offered the policeman one hundred, then
five hundred, then one thousand dollars to be released. As he had less
than the first mentioned sum on his person the officer treated his
proposal with virtuous contempt. Before reaching the station the
prisoner agreed to give him a check for ten thousand dollars and remain
ironed in the willows along the river bank until it should be paid. As
this only provoked new derision he would say no more, merely giving an
obviously fictitious name. When he was searched at the station nothing
of value was found on him but a miniature portrait of Mrs. Barwell--the
lady of the house at which he was caught. The case was set with costly
diamonds; and something in the quality of the man's linen sent a pang of
unavailing regret through the severely incorruptible bosom of Officer
No. 13. There was nothing about the prisoner's clothing nor person to
identify him and he was booked for burglary under the name that he had
given, the honorable name of John K. Smith. The K. was an inspiration
upon which, doubtless, he greatly prided himself.

In the mean time the mysterious disappearance of John Hardshaw was
agitating the gossips of Rincon Hill in San Francisco, and was even
mentioned in one of the newspapers. It did not occur to the lady whom
that journal considerately described as his "widow," to look for him in
the city prison at Sacramento--a town which he was not known ever to
have visited. As John K. Smith he was arraigned and, waiving
examination, committed for trial.

About two weeks before the trial, Mrs. Hardshaw, accidentally learning
that her husband was held in Sacramento under an assumed name on a
charge of burglary, hastened to that city without daring to mention the
matter to any one and presented herself at the prison, asking for an
interview with her husband, John K. Smith. Haggard and ill with anxiety,
wearing a plain traveling wrap which covered her from neck to foot, and
in which she had passed the night on the steamboat, too anxious to
sleep, she hardly showed for what she was, but her manner pleaded for
her more strongly than anything that she chose to say in evidence of her
right to admittance. She was permitted to see him alone.

What occurred during that distressing interview has never transpired;
but later events prove that Hardshaw had found means to subdue her will
to his own. She left the prison, a broken-hearted woman, refusing to
answer a single question, and returning to her desolate home renewed, in
a half-hearted way, her inquiries for her missing husband. A week later
she was herself missing: she had "gone back to the States"--nobody knew
any more than that.

On his trial the prisoner pleaded guilty--"by advice of his counsel," so
his counsel said. Nevertheless, the judge, in whose mind several unusual
circumstances had created a doubt, insisted on the district attorney
placing Officer No. 13 on the stand, and the deposition of Mrs. Barwell,
who was too ill to attend, was read to the jury. It was very brief: she
knew nothing of the matter except that the likeness of herself was her
property, and had, she thought, been left on the parlor table when she
had retired on the night of the arrest. She had intended it as a present
to her husband, then and still absent in Europe on business for a mining

This witness's manner when making the deposition at her residence was
afterward described by the district attorney as most extraordinary.
Twice she had refused to testify, and once, when the deposition lacked
nothing but her signature, she had caught it from the clerk's hands and
torn it in pieces. She had called her children to the bedside and
embraced them with streaming eyes, then suddenly sending them from the
room, she verified her statement by oath and signature, and fainted--
"slick away," said the district attorney. It was at that time that her
physician, arriving upon the scene, took in the situation at a glance
and grasping the representative of the law by the collar chucked him
into the street and kicked his assistant after him. The insulted majesty
of the law was not vindicated; the victim of the indignity did not even
mention anything of all this in court. He was ambitious to win his case,
and the circumstances of the taking of that deposition were not such as
would give it weight if related; and after all, the man on trial had
committed an offense against the law's majesty only less heinous than
that of the irascible physician.

By suggestion of the judge the jury rendered a verdict of guilty; there
was nothing else to do, and the prisoner was sentenced to the
penitentiary for three years. His counsel, who had objected to nothing
and had made no plea for lenity--had, in fact, hardly said a word--wrung
his client's hand and left the room. It was obvious to the whole bar
that he had been engaged only to prevent the court from appointing
counsel who might possibly insist on making a defense.

John Hardshaw served out his term at San Quentin, and when discharged
was met at the prison gates by his wife, who had returned from "the
States" to receive him. It is thought they went straight to Europe;
anyhow, a general power-of-attorney to a lawyer still living among us--
from whom I have many of the facts of this simple history--was executed
in Paris. This lawyer in a short time sold everything that Hardshaw
owned in California, and for years nothing was heard of the unfortunate
couple; though many to whose ears had come vague and inaccurate
intimations of their strange story, and who had known them, recalled
their personality with tenderness and their misfortunes with compassion.

Some years later they returned, both broken in fortune and spirits and
he in health. The purpose of their return I have not been able to
ascertain. For some time they lived, under the name of Johnson, in a
respectable enough quarter south of Market Street, pretty well put, and
were never seen away from the vicinity of their dwelling. They must have
had a little money left, for it is not known that the man had any
occupation, the state of his health probably not permitting. The woman's
devotion to her invalid husband was matter of remark among their
neighbors; she seemed never absent from his side and always supporting
and cheering him. They would sit for hours on one of the benches in a
little public park, she reading to him, his hand in hers, her light
touch occasionally visiting his pale brow, her still beautiful eyes
frequently lifted from the book to look into his as she made some
comment on the text, or closed the volume to beguile his mood with talk
of--what? Nobody ever overheard a conversation between these two. The
reader who has had the patience to follow their history to this point
may possibly find a pleasure in conjecture: there was probably something
to be avoided. The bearing of the man was one of profound dejection;
indeed, the unsympathetic youth of the neighborhood, with that keen
sense for visible characteristics which ever distinguishes the young
male of our species, sometimes mentioned him among themselves by the
name of Spoony Glum.

It occurred one day that John Hardshaw was possessed by the spirit of
unrest. God knows what led him whither he went, but he crossed Market
Street and held his way northward over the hills, and downward into the
region known as North Beach. Turning aimlessly to the left he followed
his toes along an unfamiliar street until he was opposite what for that
period was a rather grand dwelling, and for this is a rather shabby
factory. Casting his eyes casually upward he saw at an open window what
it had been better that he had not seen--the face and figure of Elvira
Barwell. Their eyes met. With a sharp exclamation, like the cry of a
startled bird, the lady sprang to her feet and thrust her body half out
of the window, clutching the casing on each side. Arrested by the cry,
the people in the street below looked up. Hardshaw stood motionless,
speechless, his eyes two flames. "Take care!" shouted some one in the
crowd, as the woman strained further and further forward, defying the
silent, implacable law of gravitation, as once she had defied that other
law which God thundered from Sinai. The suddenness of her movements had
tumbled a torrent of dark hair down her shoulders, and now it was blown
about her cheeks, almost concealing her face. A moment so, and then--! A
fearful cry rang through the street, as, losing her balance, she pitched
headlong from the window, a confused and whirling mass of skirts, limbs,
hair, and white face, and struck the pavement with a horrible sound and
a force of impact that was felt a hundred feet away. For a moment all
eyes refused their office and turned from the sickening spectacle on the
sidewalk. Drawn again to that horror, they saw it strangely augmented. A
man, hatless, seated flat upon the paving stones, held the broken,
bleeding body against his breast, kissing the mangled cheeks and
streaming mouth through tangles of wet hair, his own features
indistinguishably crimson with the blood that half-strangled him and ran
in rills from his soaken beard.

The reporter's task is nearly finished. The Barwells had that very
morning returned from a two years' absence in Peru. A week later the
widower, now doubly desolate, since there could be no missing the
significance of Hardshaw's horrible demonstration, had sailed for I know
not what distant port; he has never come back to stay. Hardshaw--as
Johnson no longer--passed a year in the Stockton asylum for the insane,
where also, through the influence of pitying friends, his wife was
admitted to care for him. When he was discharged, not cured but
harmless, they returned to the city; it would seem ever to have had some
dreadful fascination for them. For a time they lived near the Mission
Dolores, in poverty only less abject than that which is their present
lot; but it was too far away from the objective point of the man's daily
pilgrimage. They could not afford car fare. So that poor devil of an
angel from Heaven--wife to this convict and lunatic--obtained, at a fair
enough rental, the blank-faced shanty on the lower terrace of Goat Hill.
Thence to the structure that was a dwelling and is a factory the
distance is not so great; it is, in fact, an agreeable walk, judging
from the man's eager and cheerful look as he takes it. The return
journey appears to be a trifle wearisome.


[1] This story was written in collaboration with Miss Ina Lillian
Peterson, to whom is rightly due the credit for whatever merit it may

I taught a little country school near Brownville, which, as every one
knows who has had the good luck to live there, is the capital of a
considerable expanse of the finest scenery in California. The town is
somewhat frequented in summer by a class of persons whom it is the habit
of the local journal to call "pleasure seekers," but who by a juster
classification would be known as "the sick and those in adversity."
Brownville itself might rightly enough be described, indeed, as a summer
place of last resort. It is fairly well endowed with boarding-houses, at
the least pernicious of which I performed twice a day (lunching at the
schoolhouse) the humble rite of cementing the alliance between soul and
body. From this "hostelry" (as the local journal preferred to call it
when it did not call it a "caravanserai") to the schoolhouse the
distance by the wagon road was about a mile and a half; but there was a
trail, very little used, which led over an intervening range of low,
heavily wooded hills, considerably shortening the distance. By this
trail I was returning one evening later than usual. It was the last day
of the term and I had been detained at the schoolhouse until almost
dark, preparing an account of my stewardship for the trustees--two of
whom, I proudly reflected, would be able to read it, and the third (an
instance of the dominion of mind over matter) would be overruled in his
customary antagonism to the schoolmaster of his own creation.

I had gone not more than a quarter of the way when, finding an interest
in the antics of a family of lizards which dwelt thereabout and seemed
full of reptilian joy for their immunity from the ills incident to life
at the Brownville House, I sat upon a fallen tree to observe them. As I
leaned wearily against a branch of the gnarled old trunk the twilight
deepened in the somber woods and the faint new moon began casting
visible shadows and gilding the leaves of the trees with a tender but
ghostly light.

I heard the sound of voices--a woman's, angry, impetuous, rising against
deep masculine tones, rich and musical. I strained my eyes, peering
through the dusky shadows of the wood, hoping to get a view of the
intruders on my solitude, but could see no one. For some yards in each
direction I had an uninterrupted view of the trail, and knowing of no
other within a half mile thought the persons heard must be approaching
from the wood at one side. There was no sound but that of the voices,
which were now so distinct that I could catch the words. That of the man
gave me an impression of anger, abundantly confirmed by the matter

"I will have no threats; you are powerless, as you very well know. Let
things remain as they are or, by God! you shall both suffer for it."

"What do you mean?"--this was the voice of the woman, a cultivated
voice, the voice of a lady. "You would not--murder us."

There was no reply, at least none that was audible to me. During the
silence I peered into the wood in hope to get a glimpse of the speakers,
for I felt sure that this was an affair of gravity in which ordinary
scruples ought not to count. It seemed to me that the woman was in
peril; at any rate the man had not disavowed a willingness to murder.
When a man is enacting the role of potential assassin he has not the
right to choose his audience.

After some little time I saw them, indistinct in the moonlight among the
trees. The man, tall and slender, seemed clothed in black; the woman
wore, as nearly as I could make out, a gown of gray stuff. Evidently
they were still unaware of my presence in the shadow, though for some
reason when they renewed their conversation they spoke in lower tones
and I could no longer understand. As I looked the woman seemed to sink
to the ground and raise her hands in supplication, as is frequently done
on the stage and never, so far as I knew, anywhere else, and I am now
not altogether sure that it was done in this instance. The man fixed his
eyes upon her; they seemed to glitter bleakly in the moonlight with an
expression that made me apprehensive that he would turn them upon me. I
do not know by what impulse I was moved, but I sprang to my feet out of
the shadow. At that instant the figures vanished. I peered in vain
through the spaces among the trees and clumps of undergrowth. The night
wind rustled the leaves; the lizards had retired early, reptiles of
exemplary habits. The little moon was already slipping behind a black
hill in the west.

I went home, somewhat disturbed in mind, half doubting that I had heard
or seen any living thing excepting the lizards. It all seemed a trifle
odd and uncanny. It was as if among the several phenomena, objective and
subjective, that made the sum total of the incident there had been an
uncertain element which had diffused its dubious character over all--had
leavened the whole mass with unreality. I did not like it.

At the breakfast table the next morning there was a new face; opposite
me sat a young woman at whom I merely glanced as I took my seat. In
speaking to the high and mighty female personage who condescended to
seem to wait upon us, this girl soon invited my attention by the sound
of her voice, which was like, yet not altogether like, the one still
murmuring in my memory of the previous evening's adventure. A moment
later another girl, a few years older, entered the room and sat at the
left of the other, speaking to her a gentle "good morning." By _her_
voice I was startled: it was without doubt the one of which the first
girl's had reminded me. Here was the lady of the sylvan incident sitting
bodily before me, "in her habit as she lived."

Evidently enough the two were sisters.

With a nebulous kind of apprehension that I might be recognized as the
mute inglorious hero of an adventure which had in my consciousness and
conscience something of the character of eavesdropping, I allowed myself
only a hasty cup of the lukewarm coffee thoughtfully provided by the
prescient waitress for the emergency, and left the table. As I passed
out of the house into the grounds I heard a rich, strong male voice
singing an aria from "Rigoletto." I am bound to say that it was
exquisitely sung, too, but there was something in the performance that
displeased me, I could say neither what nor why, and I walked rapidly

Returning later in the day I saw the elder of the two young women
standing on the porch and near her a tall man in black clothing--the man
whom I had expected to see. All day the desire to know something of
these persons had been uppermost in my mind and I now resolved to learn
what I could of them in any way that was neither dishonorable nor low.

The man was talking easily and affably to his companion, but at the
sound of my footsteps on the gravel walk he ceased, and turning about
looked me full in the face. He was apparently of middle age, dark and
uncommonly handsome. His attire was faultless, his bearing easy and
graceful, the look which he turned upon me open, free, and devoid of any
suggestion of rudeness. Nevertheless it affected me with a distinct
emotion which on subsequent analysis in memory appeared to be compounded
of hatred and dread--I am unwilling to call it fear. A second later the
man and woman had disappeared. They seemed to have a trick of
disappearing. On entering the house, however, I saw them through the
open doorway of the parlor as I passed; they had merely stepped through
a window which opened down to the floor.

Cautiously "approached" on the subject of her new guests my landlady
proved not ungracious. Restated with, I hope, some small reverence for
English grammar the facts were these: the two girls were Pauline and Eva
Maynard of San Francisco; the elder was Pauline. The man was Richard
Benning, their guardian, who had been the most intimate friend of their
father, now deceased. Mr. Benning had brought them to Brownville in the
hope that the mountain climate might benefit Eva, who was thought to be
in danger of consumption.

Upon these short and simple annals the landlady wrought an embroidery of
eulogium which abundantly attested her faith in Mr. Benning's will and
ability to pay for the best that her house afforded. That he had a good
heart was evident to her from his devotion to his two beautiful wards
and his really touching solicitude for their comfort. The evidence
impressed me as insufficient and I silently found the Scotch verdict,
"Not proven."

Certainly Mr. Benning was most attentive to his wards. In my strolls
about the country I frequently encountered them--sometimes in company
with other guests of the hotel--exploring the gulches, fishing, rifle
shooting, and otherwise wiling away the monotony of country life; and
although I watched them as closely as good manners would permit I saw
nothing that would in any way explain the strange words that I had
overheard in the wood. I had grown tolerably well acquainted with the
young ladies and could exchange looks and even greetings with their
guardian without actual repugnance.

A month went by and I had almost ceased to interest myself in their
affairs when one night our entire little community was thrown into
excitement by an event which vividly recalled my experience in the

This was the death of the elder girl, Pauline.

The sisters had occupied the same bedroom on the third floor of the
house. Waking in the gray of the morning Eva had found Pauline dead
beside her. Later, when the poor girl was weeping beside the body amid a
throng of sympathetic if not very considerate persons, Mr. Benning
entered the room and appeared to be about to take her hand. She drew
away from the side of the dead and moved slowly toward the door.

"It is you," she said--"you who have done this. You--you--you!"

"She is raving," he said in a low voice. He followed her, step by step,
as she retreated, his eyes fixed upon hers with a steady gaze in which
there was nothing of tenderness nor of compassion. She stopped; the hand
that she had raised in accusation fell to her side, her dilated eyes
contracted visibly, the lids slowly dropped over them, veiling their
strange wild beauty, and she stood motionless and almost as white as the
dead girl lying near. The man took her hand and put his arm gently about
her shoulders, as if to support her. Suddenly she burst into a passion
of tears and clung to him as a child to its mother. He smiled with a
smile that affected me most disagreeably--perhaps any kind of smile
would have done so--and led her silently out of the room.

There was an inquest--and the customary verdict: the deceased, it
appeared, came to her death through "heart disease." It was before the
invention of heart _failure_, though the heart of poor Pauline had
indubitably failed. The body was embalmed and taken to San Francisco by
some one summoned thence for the purpose, neither Eva nor Benning
accompanying it. Some of the hotel gossips ventured to think that very
strange, and a few hardy spirits went so far as to think it very strange
indeed; but the good landlady generously threw herself into the breach,
saying it was owing to the precarious nature of the girl's health. It is
not of record that either of the two persons most affected and
apparently least concerned made any explanation.

One evening about a week after the death I went out upon the veranda of
the hotel to get a book that I had left there. Under some vines shutting
out the moonlight from a part of the space I saw Richard Benning, for
whose apparition I was prepared by having previously heard the low,
sweet voice of Eva Maynard, whom also I now discerned, standing before
him with one hand raised to his shoulder and her eyes, as nearly as I
could judge, gazing upward into his. He held her disengaged hand and his
head was bent with a singular dignity and grace. Their attitude was that
of lovers, and as I stood in deep shadow to observe I felt even guiltier
than on that memorable night in the wood. I was about to retire, when
the girl spoke, and the contrast between her words and her attitude was
so surprising that I remained, because I had merely forgotten to go

"You will take my life," she said, "as you did Pauline's. I know your
intention as well as I know your power, and I ask nothing, only that you
finish your work without needless delay and let me be at peace."

He made no reply--merely let go the hand that he was holding, removed
the other from his shoulder, and turning away descended the steps
leading to the garden and disappeared in the shrubbery. But a moment
later I heard, seemingly from a great distance, his fine clear voice in
a barbaric chant, which as I listened brought before some inner
spiritual sense a consciousness of some far, strange land peopled with
beings having forbidden powers. The song held me in a kind of spell, but
when it had died away I recovered and instantly perceived what I thought
an opportunity. I walked out of my shadow to where the girl stood. She
turned and stared at me with something of the look, it seemed to me, of
a hunted hare. Possibly my intrusion had frightened her.

"Miss Maynard," I said, "I beg you to tell me who that man is and the
nature of his power over you. Perhaps this is rude in me, but it is not
a matter for idle civilities. When a woman is in danger any man has a
right to act."

She listened without visible emotion--almost I thought without interest,
and when I had finished she closed her big blue eyes as if unspeakably

"You can do nothing," she said.

I took hold of her arm, gently shaking her as one shakes a person
falling into a dangerous sleep.

"You must rouse yourself," I said; "something must be done and you must
give me leave to act. You have said that that man killed your sister,
and I believe it--that he will kill you, and I believe that."

She merely raised her eyes to mine.

"Will you not tell me all?" I added.

"There is nothing to be done, I tell you--nothing. And if I could do
anything I would not. It does not matter in the least. We shall be here
only two days more; we go away then, oh, so far! If you have observed
anything, I beg you to be silent."

"But this is madness, girl." I was trying by rough speech to break the
deadly repose of her manner. "You have accused him of murder. Unless you
explain these things to me I shall lay the matter before the

This roused her, but in a way that I did not like. She lifted her head
proudly and said: "Do not meddle, sir, in what does not concern you.
This is my affair, Mr. Moran, not yours."

"It concerns every person in the country--in the world," I answered,
with equal coldness. "If you had no love for your sister I, at least, am
concerned for you."

"Listen," she interrupted, leaning toward me. "I loved her, yes, God
knows! But more than that--beyond all, beyond expression, I love _him_.
You have overheard a secret, but you shall not make use of it to harm
him. I shall deny all. Your word against mine--it will be that. Do you
think your 'authorities' will believe you?"

She was now smiling like an angel and, God help me! I was heels over
head in love with her! Did she, by some of the many methods of
divination known to her sex, read my feelings? Her whole manner had

"Come," she said, almost coaxingly, "promise that you will not be
impolite again." She took my arm in the most friendly way. "Come, I will
walk with you. He will not know--he will remain away all night."

Up and down the veranda we paced in the moonlight, she seemingly
forgetting her recent bereavement, cooing and murmuring girl-wise of
every kind of nothing in all Brownville; I silent, consciously awkward
and with something of the feeling of being concerned in an intrigue. It
was a revelation--this most charming and apparently blameless creature
coolly and confessedly deceiving the man for whom a moment before she
had acknowledged and shown the supreme love which finds even death an
acceptable endearment.

"Truly," I thought in my inexperience, "here is something new under the

And the moon must have smiled.

Before we parted I had exacted a promise that she would walk with me the
next afternoon--before going away forever--to the Old Mill, one of
Brownville's revered antiquities, erected in 1860.

"If he is not about," she added gravely, as I let go the hand she had
given me at parting, and of which, may the good saints forgive me, I
strove vainly to repossess myself when she had said it--so charming, as
the wise Frenchman has pointed out, do we find woman's infidelity when
we are its objects, not its victims. In apportioning his benefactions
that night the Angel of Sleep overlooked me.

The Brownville House dined early, and after dinner the next day Miss
Maynard, who had not been at table, came to me on the veranda, attired
in the demurest of walking costumes, saying not a word. "He" was
evidently "not about." We went slowly up the road that led to the Old
Mill. She was apparently not strong and at times took my arm,
relinquishing it and taking it again rather capriciously, I thought. Her
mood, or rather her succession of moods, was as mutable as skylight in a
rippling sea. She jested as if she had never heard of such a thing as
death, and laughed on the lightest incitement, and directly afterward
would sing a few bars of some grave melody with such tenderness of
expression that I had to turn away my eyes lest she should see the
evidence of her success in art, if art it was, not artlessness, as then
I was compelled to think it. And she said the oddest things in the most
unconventional way, skirting sometimes unfathomable abysms of thought,
where I had hardly the courage to set foot. In short, she was
fascinating in a thousand and fifty different ways, and at every step I
executed a new and profounder emotional folly, a hardier spiritual
indiscretion, incurring fresh liability to arrest by the constabulary of
conscience for infractions of my own peace.

Arriving at the mill, she made no pretense of stopping, but turned into
a trail leading through a field of stubble toward a creek. Crossing by a
rustic bridge we continued on the trail, which now led uphill to one of
the most picturesque spots in the country. The Eagle's Nest, it was
called--the summit of a cliff that rose sheer into the air to a height
of hundreds of feet above the forest at its base. From this elevated
point we had a noble view of another valley and of the opposite hills
flushed with the last rays of the setting sun.

As we watched the light escaping to higher and higher planes from the
encroaching flood of shadow filling the valley we heard footsteps, and
in another moment were joined by Richard Benning.

"I saw you from the road," he said carelessly; "so I came up."

Being a fool, I neglected to take him by the throat and pitch him into
the treetops below, but muttered some polite lie instead. On the girl
the effect of his coming was immediate and unmistakable. Her face was
suffused with the glory of love's transfiguration: the red light of the
sunset had not been more obvious in her eyes than was now the lovelight
that replaced it.

"I am so glad you came!" she said, giving him both her hands; and, God
help me! it was manifestly true.

Seating himself upon the ground he began a lively dissertation upon the
wild flowers of the region, a number of which he had with him. In the
middle of a facetious sentence he suddenly ceased speaking and fixed his
eyes upon Eva, who leaned against the stump of a tree, absently plaiting
grasses. She lifted her eyes in a startled way to his, as if she had
_felt_ his look. She then rose, cast away her grasses, and moved slowly
away from him. He also rose, continuing to look at her. He had still in
his hand the bunch of flowers. The girl turned, as if to speak, but said
nothing. I recall clearly now something of which I was but
half-conscious then--the dreadful contrast between the smile upon her
lips and the terrified expression in her eyes as she met his steady and
imperative gaze. I know nothing of how it happened, nor how it was that
I did not sooner understand; I only know that with the smile of an angel
upon her lips and that look of terror in her beautiful eyes Eva Maynard
sprang from the cliff and shot crashing into the tops of the pines

How and how long afterward I reached the place I cannot say, but Richard
Benning was already there, kneeling beside the dreadful thing that had
been a woman.

"She is dead--quite dead," he said coldly. "I will go to town for
assistance. Please do me the favor to remain."

He rose to his feet and moved away, but in a moment had stopped and
turned about.

"You have doubtless observed, my friend," he said, "that this was
entirely her own act. I did not rise in time to prevent it, and you, not
knowing her mental condition--you could not, of course, have suspected."

His manner maddened me.

"You are as much her assassin," I said, "as if your damnable hands had
cut her throat." He shrugged his shoulders without reply and, turning,
walked away. A moment later I heard, through the deepening shadows of
the wood into which he had disappeared, a rich, strong, baritone voice
singing "_La donna e mobile_," from "Rigoletto."


It was rough on Gilson. Such was the terse, cold, but not altogether
unsympathetic judgment of the better public opinion at Mammon Hill--the
dictum of respectability. The verdict of the opposite, or rather the
opposing, element--the element that lurked red-eyed and restless about
Moll Gurney's "deadfall," while respectability took it with sugar at Mr.
Jo. Bentley's gorgeous "saloon"--was to pretty much the same general
effect, though somewhat more ornately expressed by the use of
picturesque expletives, which it is needless to quote. Virtually, Mammon
Hill was a unit on the Gilson question. And it must be confessed that in
a merely temporal sense all was not well with Mr. Gilson. He had that
morning been led into town by Mr. Brentshaw and publicly charged with
horse stealing; the sheriff meantime busying himself about The Tree with
a new manila rope and Carpenter Pete being actively employed between
drinks upon a pine box about the length and breadth of Mr. Gilson.
Society having rendered its verdict, there remained between Gilson and
eternity only the decent formality of a trial.

These are the short and simple annals of the prisoner: He had recently
been a resident of New Jerusalem, on the north fork of the Little Stony,
but had come to the newly discovered placers of Mammon Hill immediately
before the "rush" by which the former place was depopulated. The
discovery of the new diggings had occurred opportunely for Mr. Gilson,
for it had only just before been intimated to him by a New Jerusalem
vigilance committee that it would better his prospects in, and for, life
to go somewhere; and the list of places to which he could safely go did
not include any of the older camps; so he naturally established himself
at Mammon Hill. Being eventually followed thither by all his judges, he
ordered his conduct with considerable circumspection, but as he had
never been known to do an honest day's work at any industry sanctioned
by the stern local code of morality except draw poker he was still an
object of suspicion. Indeed, it was conjectured that he was the author
of the many daring depredations that had recently been committed with
pan and brush on the sluice boxes.

Prominent among those in whom this suspicion had ripened into a
steadfast conviction was Mr. Brentshaw. At all seasonable and
unseasonable times Mr. Brentshaw avowed his belief in Mr. Gilson's
connection with these unholy midnight enterprises, and his own
willingness to prepare a way for the solar beams through the body of any
one who might think it expedient to utter a different opinion--which, in
his presence, no one was more careful not to do than the peace-loving
person most concerned. Whatever may have been the truth of the matter,
it is certain that Gilson frequently lost more "clean dust" at Jo.
Bentley's faro table than it was recorded in local history that he had
ever honestly earned at draw poker in all the days of the camp's
existence. But at last Mr. Bentley--fearing, it may be, to lose the more
profitable patronage of Mr. Brentshaw--peremptorily refused to let
Gilson copper the queen, intimating at the same time, in his frank,
forthright way, that the privilege of losing money at "this bank" was a
blessing appertaining to, proceeding logically from, and coterminous
with, a condition of notorious commercial righteousness and social good

The Hill thought it high time to look after a person whom its most
honored citizen had felt it his duty to rebuke at a considerable
personal sacrifice. The New Jerusalem contingent, particularly, began to
abate something of the toleration begotten of amusement at their own
blunder in exiling an objectionable neighbor from the place which they
had left to the place whither they had come. Mammon Hill was at last of
one mind. Not much was said, but that Gilson must hang was "in the air."
But at this critical juncture in his affairs he showed signs of an
altered life if not a changed heart. Perhaps it was only that "the bank"
being closed against him he had no further use for gold dust. Anyhow the
sluice boxes were molested no more forever. But it was impossible to
repress the abounding energies of such a nature as his, and he
continued, possibly from habit, the tortuous courses which he had
pursued for profit of Mr. Bentley. After a few tentative and resultless
undertakings in the way of highway robbery--if one may venture to
designate road-agency by so harsh a name--he made one or two modest
essays in horse-herding, and it was in the midst of a promising
enterprise of this character, and just as he had taken the tide in his
affairs at its flood, that he made shipwreck. For on a misty, moonlight
night Mr. Brentshaw rode up alongside a person who was evidently leaving
that part of the country, laid a hand upon the halter connecting Mr.
Gilson's wrist with Mr. Harper's bay mare, tapped him familiarly on the
cheek with the barrel of a navy revolver and requested the pleasure of
his company in a direction opposite to that in which he was traveling.

It was indeed rough on Gilson.

On the morning after his arrest he was tried, convicted, and sentenced.
It only remains, so far as concerns his earthly career, to hang him,
reserving for more particular mention his last will and testament,
which, with great labor, he contrived in prison, and in which, probably
from some confused and imperfect notion of the rights of captors, he
bequeathed everything he owned to his "lawfle execketer," Mr. Brentshaw.
The bequest, however, was made conditional on the legatee taking the
testator's body from The Tree and "planting it white."

So Mr. Gilson was--I was about to say "swung off," but I fear there has
been already something too much of slang in this straightforward
statement of facts; besides, the manner in which the law took its course
is more accurately described in the terms employed by the judge in
passing sentence: Mr. Gilson was "strung up."

In due season Mr. Brentshaw, somewhat touched, it may well be, by the
empty compliment of the bequest, repaired to The Tree to pluck the fruit
thereof. When taken down the body was found to have in its waistcoat
pocket a duly attested codicil to the will already noted. The nature of
its provisions accounted for the manner in which it had been withheld,
for had Mr. Brentshaw previously been made aware of the conditions under
which he was to succeed to the Gilson estate he would indubitably have
declined the responsibility. Briefly stated, the purport of the codicil
was as follows:

Whereas, at divers times and in sundry places, certain persons had
asserted that during his life the testator had robbed their sluice
boxes; therefore, if during the five years next succeeding the date of
this instrument any one should make proof of such assertion before a
court of law, such person was to receive as reparation the entire
personal and real estate of which the testator died seized and
possessed, minus the expenses of court and a stated compensation to the
executor, Henry Clay Brentshaw; provided, that if more than one person
made such proof the estate was to be equally divided between or among
them. But in case none should succeed in so establishing the testator's
guilt, then the whole property, minus court expenses, as aforesaid,
should go to the said Henry Clay Brentshaw for his own use, as stated in
the will.

The syntax of this remarkable document was perhaps open to critical
objection, but that was clearly enough the meaning of it. The
orthography conformed to no recognized system, but being mainly phonetic
it was not ambiguous. As the probate judge remarked, it would take five
aces to beat it. Mr. Brentshaw smiled good-humoredly, and after
performing the last sad rites with amusing ostentation, had himself duly
sworn as executor and conditional legatee under the provisions of a law
hastily passed (at the instance of the member from the Mammon Hill
district) by a facetious legislature; which law was afterward discovered
to have created also three or four lucrative offices and authorized the
expenditure of a considerable sum of public money for the construction
of a certain railway bridge that with greater advantage might perhaps
have been erected on the line of some actual railway.

Of course Mr. Brentshaw expected neither profit from the will nor
litigation in consequence of its unusual provisions; Gilson, although
frequently "flush," had been a man whom assessors and tax collectors
were well satisfied to lose no money by. But a careless and merely
formal search among his papers revealed title deeds to valuable estates
in the East and certificates of deposit for incredible sums in banks
less severely scrupulous than that of Mr. Jo. Bentley.

The astounding news got abroad directly, throwing the Hill into a fever
of excitement. The Mammon Hill _Patriot_, whose editor had been a
leading spirit in the proceedings that resulted in Gilson's departure
from New Jerusalem, published a most complimentary obituary notice of
the deceased, and was good enough to call attention to the fact that his
degraded contemporary, the Squaw Gulch _Clarion_, was bringing virtue
into contempt by beslavering with flattery the memory of one who in life
had spurned the vile sheet as a nuisance from his door. Undeterred by
the press, however, claimants under the will were not slow in presenting
themselves with their evidence; and great as was the Gilson estate it
appeared conspicuously paltry considering the vast number of sluice
boxes from which it was averred to have been obtained. The country rose
as one man!

Mr. Brentshaw was equal to the emergency. With a shrewd application of
humble auxiliary devices, he at once erected above the bones of his
benefactor a costly monument, overtopping every rough headboard in the
cemetery, and on this he judiciously caused to be inscribed an epitaph
of his own composing, eulogizing the honesty, public spirit and cognate
virtues of him who slept beneath, "a victim to the unjust aspersions of
Slander's viper brood."

Moreover, he employed the best legal talent in the Territory to defend
the memory of his departed friend, and for five long years the
Territorial courts were occupied with litigation growing out of the
Gilson bequest. To fine forensic abilities Mr. Brentshaw opposed
abilities more finely forensic; in bidding for purchasable favors he
offered prices which utterly deranged the market; the judges found at
his hospitable board entertainment for man and beast, the like of which
had never been spread in the Territory; with mendacious witnesses he
confronted witnesses of superior mendacity.

Nor was the battle confined to the temple of the blind goddess--it
invaded the press, the pulpit, the drawing-room. It raged in the mart,
the exchange, the school; in the gulches, and on the street corners. And
upon the last day of the memorable period to which legal action under
the Gilson will was limited, the sun went down upon a region in which
the moral sense was dead, the social conscience callous, the
intellectual capacity dwarfed, enfeebled, and confused! But Mr.
Brentshaw was victorious all along the line.

On that night it so happened that the cemetery in one corner of which
lay the now honored ashes of the late Milton Gilson, Esq., was partly
under water. Swollen by incessant rains, Cat Creek had spilled over its
banks an angry flood which, after scooping out unsightly hollows
wherever the soil had been disturbed, had partly subsided, as if ashamed
of the sacrilege, leaving exposed much that had been piously concealed.
Even the famous Gilson monument, the pride and glory of Mammon Hill, was
no longer a standing rebuke to the "viper brood"; succumbing to the
sapping current it had toppled prone to earth. The ghoulish flood had
exhumed the poor, decayed pine coffin, which now lay half-exposed, in
pitiful contrast to the pompous monolith which, like a giant note of
admiration, emphasized the disclosure.

To this depressing spot, drawn by some subtle influence he had sought
neither to resist nor analyze, came Mr. Brentshaw. An altered man was
Mr. Brentshaw. Five years of toil, anxiety, and wakefulness had dashed
his black locks with streaks and patches of gray, bowed his fine figure,
drawn sharp and angular his face, and debased his walk to a doddering
shuffle. Nor had this lustrum of fierce contention wrought less upon his
heart and intellect. The careless good humor that had prompted him to
accept the trust of the dead man had given place to a fixed habit of
melancholy. The firm, vigorous intellect had overripened into the mental
mellowness of second childhood. His broad understanding had narrowed to
the accommodation of a single idea; and in place of the quiet, cynical
incredulity of former days, there was in him a haunting faith in the
supernatural, that flitted and fluttered about his soul, shadowy,
batlike, ominous of insanity. Unsettled in all else, his understanding
clung to one conviction with the tenacity of a wrecked intellect. That
was an unshaken belief in the entire blamelessness of the dead Gilson.
He had so often sworn to this in court and asserted it in private
conversation--had so frequently and so triumphantly established it by
testimony that had come expensive to him (for that very day he had paid
the last dollar of the Gilson estate to Mr. Jo. Bentley, the last
witness to the Gilson good character)--that it had become to him a sort
of religious faith. It seemed to him the one great central and basic
truth of life--the sole serene verity in a world of lies.

On that night, as he seated himself pensively upon the prostrate
monument, trying by the uncertain moonlight to spell out the epitaph
which five years before he had composed with a chuckle that memory had
not recorded, tears of remorse came into his eyes as he remembered that
he had been mainly instrumental in compassing by a false accusation this
good man's death; for during some of the legal proceedings, Mr. Harper,
for a consideration (forgotten) had come forward and sworn that in the
little transaction with his bay mare the deceased had acted in strict
accordance with the Harperian wishes, confidentially communicated to the
deceased and by him faithfully concealed at the cost of his life. All
that Mr. Brentshaw had since done for the dead man's memory seemed
pitifully inadequate--most mean, paltry, and debased with selfishness!

As he sat there, torturing himself with futile regrets, a faint shadow
fell across his eyes. Looking toward the moon, hanging low in the west,
he saw what seemed a vague, watery cloud obscuring her; but as it moved
so that her beams lit up one side of it he perceived the clear, sharp
outline of a human figure. The apparition became momentarily more
distinct, and grew, visibly; it was drawing near. Dazed as were his
senses, half locked up with terror and confounded with dreadful
imaginings, Mr. Brentshaw yet could but perceive, or think he perceived,
in this unearthly shape a strange similitude to the mortal part of the
late Milton Gilson, as that person had looked when taken from The Tree
five years before. The likeness was indeed complete, even to the full,
stony eyes, and a certain shadowy circle about the neck. It was without
coat or hat, precisely as Gilson had been when laid in his poor, cheap
casket by the not ungentle hands of Carpenter Pete--for whom some one
had long since performed the same neighborly office. The spectre, if
such it was, seemed to bear something in its hands which Mr. Brentshaw
could not clearly make out. It drew nearer, and paused at last beside
the coffin containing the ashes of the late Mr. Gilson, the lid of which
was awry, half disclosing the uncertain interior. Bending over this, the
phantom seemed to shake into it from a basin some dark substance of
dubious consistency, then glided stealthily back to the lowest part of
the cemetery. Here the retiring flood had stranded a number of open
coffins, about and among which it gurgled with low sobbings and stilly
whispers. Stooping over one of these, the apparition carefully brushed
its contents into the basin, then returning to its own casket, emptied
the vessel into that, as before. This mysterious operation was repeated
at every exposed coffin, the ghost sometimes dipping its laden basin
into the running water, and gently agitating it to free it of the baser
clay, always hoarding the residuum in its own private box. In short, the
immortal part of the late Milton Gilson was cleaning up the dust of its
neighbors and providently adding the same to its own.

Perhaps it was a phantasm of a disordered mind in a fevered body.
Perhaps it was a solemn farce enacted by pranking existences that throng
the shadows lying along the border of another world. God knows; to us is
permitted only the knowledge that when the sun of another day touched
with a grace of gold the ruined cemetery of Mammon Hill his kindliest
beam fell upon the white, still face of Henry Brentshaw, dead among the


Pushing his adventurous shins through the deep snow that had fallen
overnight, and encouraged by the glee of his little sister, following in
the open way that he made, a sturdy small boy, the son of Grayville's
most distinguished citizen, struck his foot against something of which
there was no visible sign on the surface of the snow. It is the purpose
of this narrative to explain how it came to be there.

No one who has had the advantage of passing through Grayville by day can
have failed to observe the large stone building crowning the low hill to
the north of the railway station--that is to say, to the right in going
toward Great Mowbray. It is a somewhat dull-looking edifice, of the
Early Comatose order, and appears to have been designed by an architect
who shrank from publicity, and although unable to conceal his work--even
compelled, in this instance, to set it on an eminence in the sight of
men--did what he honestly could to insure it against a second look. So
far as concerns its outer and visible aspect, the Abersush Home for Old
Men is unquestionably inhospitable to human attention. But it is a
building of great magnitude, and cost its benevolent founder the profit
of many a cargo of the teas and silks and spices that his ships brought
up from the under-world when he was in trade in Boston; though the main
expense was its endowment. Altogether, this reckless person had robbed
his heirs-at-law of no less a sum than half a million dollars and flung
it away in riotous giving. Possibly it was with a view to get out of
sight of the silent big witness to his extravagance that he shortly
afterward disposed of all his Grayville property that remained to him,
turned his back upon the scene of his prodigality and went off across
the sea in one of his own ships. But the gossips who got their
inspiration most directly from Heaven declared that he went in search of
a wife--a theory not easily reconciled with that of the village
humorist, who solemnly averred that the bachelor philanthropist had
departed this life (left Grayville, to wit) because the marriageable
maidens had made it too hot to hold him. However this may have been, he
had not returned, and although at long intervals there had come to
Grayville, in a desultory way, vague rumors of his wanderings in strange
lands, no one seemed certainly to know about him, and to the new
generation he was no more than a name. But from above the portal of the
Home for Old Men the name shouted in stone.

Despite its unpromising exterior, the Home is a fairly commodious place
of retreat from the ills that its inmates have incurred by being poor
and old and men. At the time embraced in this brief chronicle they were
in number about a score, but in acerbity, querulousness, and general
ingratitude they could hardly be reckoned at fewer than a hundred; at
least that was the estimate of the superintendent, Mr. Silas Tilbody. It
was Mr. Tilbody's steadfast conviction that always, in admitting new old
men to replace those who had gone to another and a better Home, the
trustees had distinctly in will the infraction of his peace, and the
trial of his patience. In truth, the longer the institution was
connected with him, the stronger was his feeling that the founder's
scheme of benevolence was sadly impaired by providing any inmates at
all. He had not much imagination, but with what he had he was addicted
to the reconstruction of the Home for Old Men into a kind of "castle in
Spain," with himself as castellan, hospitably entertaining about a score
of sleek and prosperous middle-aged gentlemen, consummately good-humored
and civilly willing to pay for their board and lodging. In this revised
project of philanthropy the trustees, to whom he was indebted for his
office and responsible for his conduct, had not the happiness to appear.
As to them, it was held by the village humorist aforementioned that in
their management of the great charity Providence had thoughtfully
supplied an incentive to thrift. With the inference which he expected to
be drawn from that view we have nothing to do; it had neither support
nor denial from the inmates, who certainly were most concerned. They
lived out their little remnant of life, crept into graves neatly
numbered, and were succeeded by other old men as like them as could be
desired by the Adversary of Peace. If the Home was a place of punishment
for the sin of unthrift the veteran offenders sought justice with a
persistence that attested the sincerity of their penitence. It is to one
of these that the reader's attention is now invited.

In the matter of attire this person was not altogether engaging. But for
this season, which was midwinter, a careless observer might have looked
upon him as a clever device of the husbandman indisposed to share the
fruits of his toil with the crows that toil not, neither spin--an error
that might not have been dispelled without longer and closer observation
than he seemed to court; for his progress up Abersush Street, toward the
Home in the gloom of the winter evening, was not visibly faster than
what might have been expected of a scarecrow blessed with youth, health,
and discontent. The man was indisputably ill-clad, yet not without a
certain fitness and good taste, withal; for he was obviously an
applicant for admittance to the Home, where poverty was a qualification.
In the army of indigence the uniform is rags; they serve to distinguish
the rank and file from the recruiting officers.

As the old man, entering the gate of the grounds, shuffled up the broad
walk, already white with the fast-falling snow, which from time to time
he feebly shook from its various coigns of vantage on his person, he
came under inspection of the large globe lamp that burned always by
night over the great door of the building. As if unwilling to incur its
revealing beams, he turned to the left and, passing a considerable
distance along the face of the building, rang at a smaller door emitting
a dimmer ray that came from within, through the fanlight, and expended
itself incuriously overhead. The door was opened by no less a personage
than the great Mr. Tilbody himself. Observing his visitor, who at once
uncovered, and somewhat shortened the radius of the permanent curvature
of his back, the great man gave visible token of neither surprise nor
displeasure. Mr. Tilbody was, indeed, in an uncommonly good humor, a
phenomenon ascribable doubtless to the cheerful influence of the season;
for this was Christmas Eve, and the morrow would be that blessed 365th
part of the year that all Christian souls set apart for mighty feats of
goodness and joy. Mr. Tilbody was so full of the spirit of the season
that his fat face and pale blue eyes, whose ineffectual fire served to
distinguish it from an untimely summer squash, effused so genial a glow
that it seemed a pity that he could not have lain down in it, basking in
the consciousness of his own identity. He was hatted, booted,
overcoated, and umbrellaed, as became a person who was about to expose
himself to the night and the storm on an errand of charity; for Mr.
Tilbody had just parted from his wife and children to go "down town" and
purchase the wherewithal to confirm the annual falsehood about the
hunch-bellied saint who frequents the chimneys to reward little boys and
girls who are good, and especially truthful. So he did not invite the
old man in, but saluted him cheerily:

"Hello! just in time; a moment later and you would have missed me. Come,
I have no time to waste; we'll walk a little way together."

"Thank you," said the old man, upon whose thin and white but not ignoble
face the light from the open door showed an expression that was perhaps
disappointment; "but if the trustees--if my application--"

"The trustees," Mr. Tilbody said, closing more doors than one, and
cutting off two kinds of light, "have agreed that your application
disagrees with them."

Certain sentiments are inappropriate to Christmastide, but Humor, like
Death, has all seasons for his own.

"Oh, my God!" cried the old man, in so thin and husky a tone that the
invocation was anything but impressive, and to at least one of his two
auditors sounded, indeed, somewhat ludicrous. To the Other--but that is
a matter which laymen are devoid of the light to expound.

"Yes," continued Mr. Tilbody, accommodating his gait to that of his
companion, who was mechanically, and not very successfully, retracing
the track that he had made through the snow; "they have decided that,
under the circumstances--under the very peculiar circumstances, you
understand--it would be inexpedient to admit you. As superintendent and
_ex officio_ secretary of the honorable board"--as Mr. Tilbody "read his
title clear" the magnitude of the big building, seen through its veil of
falling snow, appeared to suffer somewhat in comparison--"it is my duty
to inform you that, in the words of Deacon Byram, the chairman, your
presence in the Home would--under the circumstances--be peculiarly
embarrassing. I felt it my duty to submit to the honorable board the
statement that you made to me yesterday of your needs, your physical
condition, and the trials which it has pleased Providence to send upon
you in your very proper effort to present your claims in person; but,
after careful, and I may say prayerful, consideration of your case--with
something too, I trust, of the large charitableness appropriate to the
season--it was decided that we would not be justified in doing anything
likely to impair the usefulness of the institution intrusted (under
Providence) to our care."

They had now passed out of the grounds; the street lamp opposite the
gate was dimly visible through the snow. Already the old man's former
track was obliterated, and he seemed uncertain as to which way he should
go. Mr. Tilbody had drawn a little away from him, but paused and turned
half toward him, apparently reluctant to forego the continuing

"Under the circumstances," he resumed, "the decision--"

But the old man was inaccessible to the suasion of his verbosity; he had
crossed the street into a vacant lot and was going forward, rather
deviously toward nowhere in particular--which, he having nowhere in
particular to go to, was not so reasonless a proceeding as it looked.

And that is how it happened that the next morning, when the church bells
of all Grayville were ringing with an added unction appropriate to the
day, the sturdy little son of Deacon Byram, breaking a way through the
snow to the place of worship, struck his foot against the body of Amasa
Abersush, philanthropist.



In an upper room of an unoccupied dwelling in the part of San Francisco
known as North Beach lay the body of a man, under a sheet. The hour was
near nine in the evening; the room was dimly lighted by a single candle.
Although the weather was warm, the two windows, contrary to the custom
which gives the dead plenty of air, were closed and the blinds drawn
down. The furniture of the room consisted of but three pieces--an
arm-chair, a small reading-stand supporting the candle, and a long
kitchen table, supporting the body of the man. All these, as also the
corpse, seemed to have been recently brought in, for an observer, had
there been one, would have seen that all were free from dust, whereas
everything else in the room was pretty thickly coated with it, and there
were cobwebs in the angles of the walls.

Under the sheet the outlines of the body could be traced, even the
features, these having that unnaturally sharp definition which seems to
belong to faces of the dead, but is really characteristic of those only
that have been wasted by disease. From the silence of the room one would
rightly have inferred that it was not in the front of the house, facing
a street. It really faced nothing but a high breast of rock, the rear of
the building being set into a hill.

As a neighboring church clock was striking nine with an indolence which
seemed to imply such an indifference to the flight of time that one
could hardly help wondering why it took the trouble to strike at all,
the single door of the room was opened and a man entered, advancing
toward the body. As he did so the door closed, apparently of its own
volition; there was a grating, as of a key turned with difficulty, and
the snap of the lock bolt as it shot into its socket. A sound of
retiring footsteps in the passage outside ensued, and the man was to all
appearance a prisoner. Advancing to the table, he stood a moment looking
down at the body; then with a slight shrug of the shoulders walked over
to one of the windows and hoisted the blind. The darkness outside was
absolute, the panes were covered with dust, but by wiping this away he
could see that the window was fortified with strong iron bars crossing
it within a few inches of the glass and imbedded in the masonry on each
side. He examined the other window. It was the same. He manifested no
great curiosity in the matter, did not even so much as raise the sash.
If he was a prisoner he was apparently a tractable one. Having completed
his examination of the room, he seated himself in the arm-chair, took a
book from his pocket, drew the stand with its candle alongside and began
to read.

The man was young--not more than thirty--dark in complexion,
smooth-shaven, with brown hair. His face was thin and high-nosed, with a
broad forehead and a "firmness" of the chin and jaw which is said by
those having it to denote resolution. The eyes were gray and steadfast,
not moving except with definitive purpose. They were now for the greater
part of the time fixed upon his book, but he occasionally withdrew them
and turned them to the body on the table, not, apparently, from any
dismal fascination which under such circumstances it might be supposed
to exercise upon even a courageous person, nor with a conscious
rebellion against the contrary influence which might dominate a timid
one. He looked at it as if in his reading he had come upon something
recalling him to a sense of his surroundings. Clearly this watcher by
the dead was discharging his trust with intelligence and composure, as
became him.

After reading for perhaps a half-hour he seemed to come to the end of a
chapter and quietly laid away the book. He then rose and taking the
reading-stand from the floor carried it into a corner of the room near
one of the windows, lifted the candle from it and returned to the empty
fireplace before which he had been sitting.

A moment later he walked over to the body on the table, lifted the sheet
and turned it back from the head, exposing a mass of dark hair and a
thin face-cloth, beneath which the features showed with even sharper
definition than before. Shading his eyes by interposing his free hand
between them and the candle, he stood looking at his motionless
companion with a serious and tranquil regard. Satisfied with his
inspection, he pulled the sheet over the face again and returning to the
chair, took some matches off the candlestick, put them in the side
pocket of his sack-coat and sat down. He then lifted the candle from its
socket and looked at it critically, as if calculating how long it would
last. It was barely two inches long; in another hour he would be in
darkness. He replaced it in the candlestick and blew it out.


In a physician's office in Kearny Street three men sat about a table,
drinking punch and smoking. It was late in the evening, almost midnight,
indeed, and there had been no lack of punch. The gravest of the three,
Dr. Helberson, was the host--it was in his rooms they sat. He was about
thirty years of age; the others were even younger; all were physicians.

"The superstitious awe with which the living regard the dead," said Dr.
Helberson, "is hereditary and incurable. One needs no more be ashamed of
it than of the fact that he inherits, for example, an incapacity for
mathematics, or a tendency to lie."

The others laughed. "Oughtn't a man to be ashamed to lie?" asked the
youngest of the three, who was in fact a medical student not yet

"My dear Harper, I said nothing about that. The tendency to lie is one
thing; lying is another."

"But do you think," said the third man, "that this superstitious
feeling, this fear of the dead, reasonless as we know it to be, is
universal? I am myself not conscious of it."

"Oh, but it is 'in your system' for all that," replied Helberson; "it
needs only the right conditions--what Shakespeare calls the 'confederate
season'--to manifest itself in some very disagreeable way that will open
your eyes. Physicians and soldiers are of course more nearly free from
it than others."

"Physicians and soldiers!--why don't you add hangmen and headsmen? Let
us have in all the assassin classes."

"No, my dear Mancher; the juries will not let the public executioners
acquire sufficient familiarity with death to be altogether unmoved by

Young Harper, who had been helping himself to a fresh cigar at the
sideboard, resumed his seat. "What would you consider conditions under
which any man of woman born would become insupportably conscious of his
share of our common weakness in this regard?" he asked, rather

"Well, I should say that if a man were locked up all night with a
corpse--alone--in a dark room--of a vacant house--with no bed covers to
pull over his head--and lived through it without going altogether mad,
he might justly boast himself not of woman born, nor yet, like Macduff,
a product of Caesarean section."

"I thought you never would finish piling up conditions," said Harper,
"but I know a man who is neither a physician nor a soldier who will
accept them all, for any stake you like to name."

"Who is he?"

"His name is Jarette--a stranger here; comes from my town in New York. I
have no money to back him, but he will back himself with loads of it."

"How do you know that?"

"He would rather bet than eat. As for fear--I dare say he thinks it some
cutaneous disorder, or possibly a particular kind of religious heresy."

"What does he look like?" Helberson was evidently becoming interested.

"Like Mancher, here--might be his twin brother."

"I accept the challenge," said Helberson, promptly.

"Awfully obliged to you for the compliment, I'm sure," drawled Mancher,
who was growing sleepy. "Can't I get into this?"

"Not against me," Helberson said. "I don't want _your_ money."

"All right," said Mancher; "I'll be the corpse."

The others laughed.

The outcome of this crazy conversation we have seen.


In extinguishing his meagre allowance of candle Mr. Jarette's object was
to preserve it against some unforeseen need. He may have thought, too,
or half thought, that the darkness would be no worse at one time than
another, and if the situation became insupportable it would be better to
have a means of relief, or even release. At any rate it was wise to have
a little reserve of light, even if only to enable him to look at his

No sooner had he blown out the candle and set it on the floor at his
side than he settled himself comfortably in the arm-chair, leaned back
and closed his eyes, hoping and expecting to sleep. In this he was
disappointed; he had never in his life felt less sleepy, and in a few
minutes he gave up the attempt. But what could he do? He could not go
groping about in absolute darkness at the risk of bruising himself--at
the risk, too, of blundering against the table and rudely disturbing the
dead. We all recognize their right to lie at rest, with immunity from
all that is harsh and violent. Jarette almost succeeded in making
himself believe that considerations of this kind restrained him from
risking the collision and fixed him to the chair.

While thinking of this matter he fancied that he heard a faint sound in
the direction of the table--what kind of sound he could hardly have
explained. He did not turn his head. Why should he--in the darkness? But
he listened--why should he not? And listening he grew giddy and grasped
the arms of the chair for support. There was a strange ringing in his
ears; his head seemed bursting; his chest was oppressed by the
constriction of his clothing. He wondered why it was so, and whether
these were symptoms of fear. Then, with a long and strong expiration,
his chest appeared to collapse, and with the great gasp with which he
refilled his exhausted lungs the vertigo left him and he knew that so
intently had he listened that he had held his breath almost to
suffocation. The revelation was vexatious; he arose, pushed away the
chair with his foot and strode to the centre of the room. But one does
not stride far in darkness; he began to grope, and finding the wall
followed it to an angle, turned, followed it past the two windows and
there in another corner came into violent contact with the
reading-stand, overturning it. It made a clatter that startled him. He
was annoyed. "How the devil could I have forgotten where it was?" he
muttered, and groped his way along the third wall to the fireplace. "I
must put things to rights," said he, feeling the floor for the candle.

Having recovered that, he lighted it and instantly turned his eyes to
the table, where, naturally, nothing had undergone any change. The
reading-stand lay unobserved upon the floor: he had forgotten to "put it
to rights." He looked all about the room, dispersing the deeper shadows
by movements of the candle in his hand, and crossing over to the door
tested it by turning and pulling the knob with all his strength. It did
not yield and this seemed to afford him a certain satisfaction; indeed,
he secured it more firmly by a bolt which he had not before observed.
Returning to his chair, he looked at his watch; it was half-past nine.
With a start of surprise he held the watch at his ear. It had not
stopped. The candle was now visibly shorter. He again extinguished it,
placing it on the floor at his side as before.

Mr. Jarette was not at his ease; he was distinctly dissatisfied with his
surroundings, and with himself for being so. "What have I to fear?" he
thought. "This is ridiculous and disgraceful; I will not be so great a
fool." But courage does not come of saying, "I will be courageous," nor
of recognizing its appropriateness to the occasion. The more Jarette
condemned himself, the more reason he gave himself for condemnation; the
greater the number of variations which he played upon the simple theme
of the harmlessness of the dead, the more insupportable grew the discord
of his emotions. "What!" he cried aloud in the anguish of his spirit,
"what! shall I, who have not a shade of superstition in my nature--I,
who have no belief in immortality--I, who know (and never more clearly
than now) that the after-life is the dream of a desire--shall I lose at
once my bet, my honor and my self-respect, perhaps my reason, because
certain savage ancestors dwelling in caves and burrows conceived the
monstrous notion that the dead walk by night?--that--" Distinctly,
unmistakably, Mr. Jarette heard behind him a light, soft sound of
footfalls, deliberate, regular, successively nearer!


Just before daybreak the next morning Dr. Helberson and his young
friend Harper were driving slowly through the streets of North Beach in
the doctor's coupe.

"Have you still the confidence of youth in the courage or stolidity of
your friend?" said the elder man. "Do you believe that I have lost this

"I _know_ you have," replied the other, with enfeebling emphasis.

"Well, upon my soul, I hope so."

It was spoken earnestly, almost solemnly. There was a silence for a few

"Harper," the doctor resumed, looking very serious in the shifting
half-lights that entered the carriage as they passed the street lamps,
"I don't feel altogether comfortable about this business. If your friend
had not irritated me by the contemptuous manner in which he treated my
doubt of his endurance--a purely physical quality--and by the cool
incivility of his suggestion that the corpse be that of a physician, I
should not have gone on with it. If anything should happen we are
ruined, as I fear we deserve to be."

"What can happen? Even if the matter should be taking a serious turn, of
which I am not at all afraid, Mancher has only to 'resurrect' himself
and explain matters. With a genuine 'subject' from the dissecting-room,
or one of your late patients, it might be different."

Dr. Mancher, then, had been as good as his promise; he was the "corpse."

Dr. Helberson was silent for a long time, as the carriage, at a snail's
pace, crept along the same street it had traveled two or three times
already. Presently he spoke: "Well, let us hope that Mancher, if he has
had to rise from the dead, has been discreet about it. A mistake in that
might make matters worse instead of better."

"Yes," said Harper, "Jarette would kill him. But, Doctor"--looking at
his watch as the carriage passed a gas lamp--"it is nearly four o'clock
at last."

A moment later the two had quitted the vehicle and were walking briskly
toward the long-unoccupied house belonging to the doctor in which they
had immured Mr. Jarette in accordance with the terms of the mad wager.
As they neared it they met a man running. "Can you tell me," he cried,
suddenly checking his speed, "where I can find a doctor?"

"What's the matter?" Helberson asked, non-committal.

"Go and see for yourself," said the man, resuming his running.

They hastened on. Arrived at the house, they saw several persons
entering in haste and excitement. In some of the dwellings near by and
across the way the chamber windows were thrown up, showing a protrusion
of heads. All heads were asking questions, none heeding the questions of
the others. A few of the windows with closed blinds were illuminated;
the inmates of those rooms were dressing to come down. Exactly opposite
the door of the house that they sought a street lamp threw a yellow,
insufficient light upon the scene, seeming to say that it could disclose
a good deal more if it wished. Harper paused at the door and laid a hand
upon his companion's arm. "It is all up with us, Doctor," he said in
extreme agitation, which contrasted strangely with his free-and-easy
words; "the game has gone against us all. Let's not go in there; I'm for
lying low."

"I'm a physician," said Dr. Helberson, calmly; "there may be need of

They mounted the doorsteps and were about to enter. The door was open;
the street lamp opposite lighted the passage into which it opened. It
was full of men. Some had ascended the stairs at the farther end, and,
denied admittance above, waited for better fortune. All were talking,
none listening. Suddenly, on the upper landing there was a great
commotion; a man had sprung out of a door and was breaking away from
those endeavoring to detain him. Down through the mass of affrighted
idlers he came, pushing them aside, flattening them against the wall on
one side, or compelling them to cling to the rail on the other,
clutching them by the throat, striking them savagely, thrusting them
back down the stairs and walking over the fallen. His clothing was in
disorder, he was without a hat. His eyes, wild and restless, had in them
something more terrifying than his apparently superhuman strength. His
face, smooth-shaven, was bloodless, his hair frost-white.

As the crowd at the foot of the stairs, having more freedom, fell away
to let him pass Harper sprang forward. "Jarette! Jarette!" he cried.

Dr. Helberson seized Harper by the collar and dragged him back. The man
looked into their faces without seeming to see them and sprang through
the door, down the steps, into the street, and away. A stout policeman,
who had had inferior success in conquering his way down the stairway,
followed a moment later and started in pursuit, all the heads in the
windows--those of women and children now--screaming in guidance.

The stairway being now partly cleared, most of the crowd having rushed
down to the street to observe the flight and pursuit, Dr. Helberson
mounted to the landing, followed by Harper. At a door in the upper
passage an officer denied them admittance. "We are physicians," said the
doctor, and they passed in. The room was full of men, dimly seen,
crowded about a table. The newcomers edged their way forward and looked
over the shoulders of those in the front rank. Upon the table, the lower
limbs covered with a sheet, lay the body of a man, brilliantly
illuminated by the beam of a bull's-eye lantern held by a policeman
standing at the feet. The others, excepting those near the head--the
officer himself--all were in darkness. The face of the body showed
yellow, repulsive, horrible! The eyes were partly open and upturned and
the jaw fallen; traces of froth defiled the lips, the chin, the cheeks.
A tall man, evidently a doctor, bent over the body with his hand thrust
under the shirt front. He withdrew it and placed two fingers in the open
mouth. "This man has been about six hours dead," said he. "It is a case
for the coroner."

He drew a card from his pocket, handed it to the officer and made his
way toward the door.

"Clear the room--out, all!" said the officer, sharply, and the body
disappeared as if it had been snatched away, as shifting the lantern he
flashed its beam of light here and there against the faces of the crowd.
The effect was amazing! The men, blinded, confused, almost terrified,
made a tumultuous rush for the door, pushing, crowding, and tumbling
over one another as they fled, like the hosts of Night before the shafts
of Apollo. Upon the struggling, trampling mass the officer poured his
light without pity and without cessation. Caught in the current,
Helberson and Harper were swept out of the room and cascaded down the
stairs into the street.

"Good God, Doctor! did I not tell you that Jarette would kill him?" said
Harper, as soon as they were clear of the crowd.

"I believe you did," replied the other, without apparent emotion.

They walked on in silence, block after block. Against the graying east
the dwellings of the hill tribes showed in silhouette. The familiar milk
wagon was already astir in the streets; the baker's man would soon come
upon the scene; the newspaper carrier was abroad in the land.

"It strikes me, youngster," said Helberson, "that you and I have been
having too much of the morning air lately. It is unwholesome; we need a
change. What do you say to a tour in Europe?"


"I'm not particular. I should suppose that four o'clock this afternoon
would be early enough."

"I'll meet you at the boat," said Harper.

Seven years afterward these two men sat upon a bench in Madison Square,
New York, in familiar conversation. Another man, who had been observing
them for some time, himself unobserved, approached and, courteously
lifting his hat from locks as white as frost, said: "I beg your pardon,
gentlemen, but when you have killed a man by coming to life, it is best
to change clothes with him, and at the first opportunity make a break
for liberty."

Helberson and Harper exchanged significant glances. They were obviously
amused. The former then looked the stranger kindly in the eye and

"That has always been my plan. I entirely agree with you as to its

He stopped suddenly, rose and went white. He stared at the man,
open-mouthed; he trembled visibly.

"Ah!" said the stranger, "I see that you are indisposed, Doctor. If you
cannot treat yourself Dr. Harper can do something for you, I am sure."

"Who the devil are you?" said Harper, bluntly.

The stranger came nearer and, bending toward them, said in a whisper: "I
call myself Jarette sometimes, but I don't mind telling you, for old
friendship, that I am Dr. William Mancher."

The revelation brought Harper to his feet. "Mancher!" he cried; and
Helberson added: "It is true, by God!"

"Yes," said the stranger, smiling vaguely, "it is true enough, no

He hesitated and seemed to be trying to recall something, then began
humming a popular air. He had apparently forgotten their presence.

"Look here, Mancher," said the elder of the two, "tell us just what
occurred that night--to Jarette, you know."

"Oh, yes, about Jarette," said the other. "It's odd I should have
neglected to tell you--I tell it so often. You see I knew, by
over-hearing him talking to himself, that he was pretty badly
frightened. So I couldn't resist the temptation to come to life and have
a bit of fun out of him--I couldn't really. That was all right, though
certainly I did not think he would take it so seriously; I did not,
truly. And afterward--well, it was a tough job changing places with him,
and then--damn you! you didn't let me out!"

Nothing could exceed the ferocity with which these last words were
delivered. Both men stepped back in alarm.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest