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Title: Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories
Author: Bierce, Ambrose
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Present at a Hanging and Other Ghost Stories" ***

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Transcribed from the 1918 Boni and Liveright’s “Can Such Things Be?”
edition by David Price, email ccx074@pglaf.org

                      [Picture: Public domain cover]



               PRESENT AT A HANGING AND OTHER GHOST STORIES


                                    By
                              Ambrose Bierce



CONTENTS

THE WAYS OF GHOSTS                                         PAGE
                  PRESENT AT A HANGING                      327
                  A COLD GREETING                           331
                  A WIRELESS MESSAGE                        335
                  AN ARREST                                 340
SOLDIER-FOLK
                  A MAN WITH TWO LIVES                      345
                  THREE AND ONE ARE ONE                     350
                  A BAFFLED AMBUSCADE                       356
                  TWO MILITARY EXECUTIONS                   361
SOME HAUNTED HOUSES
                  THE ISLE OF PINES                         369
                  A FRUITLESS ASSIGNMENT                    377
                  A VINE ON A HOUSE                         383
                  AT OLD MAN ECKERT’S                       389
                  THE SPOOK HOUSE                           393
                  THE OTHER LODGERS                         400
                  THE THING AT NOLAN                        405
                  THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD        415
                  AN UNFINISHED RACE                        419
                  CHARLES ASHMORE’S TRAIL                   421



THE WAYS OF GHOSTS


_My peculiar relation to the writer of the following narratives is such
that I must ask the reader to overlook the absence of explanation as to
how they came into my possession_.  _Withal_, _my knowledge of him is so
meager that I should rather not undertake to say if he were himself
persuaded of the truth of what he relates_; _certainly such inquiries as
I have thought it worth while to set about have not in every instance
tended to confirmation of the statements made_.  _Yet his style_, _for
the most part devoid alike of artifice and art_, _almost baldly simple
and direct_, _seems hardly compatible with the disingenuousness of a
merely literary intention_; _one would call it the manner of one more
concerned for the fruits of research than for the flowers of expression_.
_In transcribing his notes and fortifying their claim to attention by
giving them something of an orderly arrangement_, _I have conscientiously
refrained from embellishing them with such small ornaments of diction as
I may have felt myself able to bestow_, _which would not only have been
impertinent_, _even if pleasing_, _but would have given me a somewhat
closer relation to the work than I should care to have and to avow_.—_A.
B._



PRESENT AT A HANGING


AN old man named Daniel Baker, living near Lebanon, Iowa, was suspected
by his neighbors of having murdered a peddler who had obtained permission
to pass the night at his house.  This was in 1853, when peddling was more
common in the Western country than it is now, and was attended with
considerable danger.  The peddler with his pack traversed the country by
all manner of lonely roads, and was compelled to rely upon the country
people for hospitality.  This brought him into relation with queer
characters, some of whom were not altogether scrupulous in their methods
of making a living, murder being an acceptable means to that end.  It
occasionally occurred that a peddler with diminished pack and swollen
purse would be traced to the lonely dwelling of some rough character and
never could be traced beyond.  This was so in the case of “old man
Baker,” as he was always called.  (Such names are given in the western
“settlements” only to elderly persons who are not esteemed; to the
general disrepute of social unworth is affixed the special reproach of
age.)  A peddler came to his house and none went away—that is all that
anybody knew.

Seven years later the Rev. Mr. Cummings, a Baptist minister well known in
that part of the country, was driving by Baker’s farm one night.  It was
not very dark: there was a bit of moon somewhere above the light veil of
mist that lay along the earth.  Mr. Cummings, who was at all times a
cheerful person, was whistling a tune, which he would occasionally
interrupt to speak a word of friendly encouragement to his horse.  As he
came to a little bridge across a dry ravine he saw the figure of a man
standing upon it, clearly outlined against the gray background of a misty
forest.  The man had something strapped on his back and carried a heavy
stick—obviously an itinerant peddler.  His attitude had in it a
suggestion of abstraction, like that of a sleepwalker.  Mr. Cummings
reined in his horse when he arrived in front of him, gave him a pleasant
salutation and invited him to a seat in the vehicle—“if you are going my
way,” he added.  The man raised his head, looked him full in the face,
but neither answered nor made any further movement.  The minister, with
good-natured persistence, repeated his invitation.  At this the man threw
his right hand forward from his side and pointed downward as he stood on
the extreme edge of the bridge.  Mr. Cummings looked past him, over into
the ravine, saw nothing unusual and withdrew his eyes to address the man
again.  He had disappeared.  The horse, which all this time had been
uncommonly restless, gave at the same moment a snort of terror and
started to run away.  Before he had regained control of the animal the
minister was at the crest of the hill a hundred yards along.  He looked
back and saw the figure again, at the same place and in the same attitude
as when he had first observed it.  Then for the first time he was
conscious of a sense of the supernatural and drove home as rapidly as his
willing horse would go.

On arriving at home he related his adventure to his family, and early the
next morning, accompanied by two neighbors, John White Corwell and Abner
Raiser, returned to the spot.  They found the body of old man Baker
hanging by the neck from one of the beams of the bridge, immediately
beneath the spot where the apparition had stood.  A thick coating of
dust, slightly dampened by the mist, covered the floor of the bridge, but
the only footprints were those of Mr. Cummings’ horse.

In taking down the body the men disturbed the loose, friable earth of the
slope below it, disclosing human bones already nearly uncovered by the
action of water and frost.  They were identified as those of the lost
peddler.  At the double inquest the coroner’s jury found that Daniel
Baker died by his own hand while suffering from temporary insanity, and
that Samuel Morritz was murdered by some person or persons to the jury
unknown.



A COLD GREETING


THIS is a story told by the late Benson Foley of San Francisco:

“In the summer of 1881 I met a man named James H. Conway, a resident of
Franklin, Tennessee.  He was visiting San Francisco for his health,
deluded man, and brought me a note of introduction from Mr. Lawrence
Barting.  I had known Barting as a captain in the Federal army during the
civil war.  At its close he had settled in Franklin, and in time became,
I had reason to think, somewhat prominent as a lawyer.  Barting had
always seemed to me an honorable and truthful man, and the warm
friendship which he expressed in his note for Mr. Conway was to me
sufficient evidence that the latter was in every way worthy of my
confidence and esteem.  At dinner one day Conway told me that it had been
solemnly agreed between him and Barting that the one who died first
should, if possible, communicate with the other from beyond the grave, in
some unmistakable way—just how, they had left (wisely, it seemed to me)
to be decided by the deceased, according to the opportunities that his
altered circumstances might present.

“A few weeks after the conversation in which Mr. Conway spoke of this
agreement, I met him one day, walking slowly down Montgomery street,
apparently, from his abstracted air, in deep thought.  He greeted me
coldly with merely a movement of the head and passed on, leaving me
standing on the walk, with half-proffered hand, surprised and naturally
somewhat piqued.  The next day I met him again in the office of the
Palace Hotel, and seeing him about to repeat the disagreeable performance
of the day before, intercepted him in a doorway, with a friendly
salutation, and bluntly requested an explanation of his altered manner.
He hesitated a moment; then, looking me frankly in the eyes, said:

“‘I do not think, Mr. Foley, that I have any longer a claim to your
friendship, since Mr. Barting appears to have withdrawn his own from
me—for what reason, I protest I do not know.  If he has not already
informed you he probably will do so.’

“‘But,’ I replied, ‘I have not heard from Mr. Barting.’

“‘Heard from him!’ he repeated, with apparent surprise.  ‘Why, he is
here.  I met him yesterday ten minutes before meeting you.  I gave you
exactly the same greeting that he gave me.  I met him again not a quarter
of an hour ago, and his manner was precisely the same: he merely bowed
and passed on.  I shall not soon forget your civility to me.  Good
morning, or—as it may please you—farewell.’

“All this seemed to me singularly considerate and delicate behavior on
the part of Mr. Conway.

“As dramatic situations and literary effects are foreign to my purpose I
will explain at once that Mr. Barting was dead.  He had died in Nashville
four days before this conversation.  Calling on Mr. Conway, I apprised
him of our friend’s death, showing him the letters announcing it.  He was
visibly affected in a way that forbade me to entertain a doubt of his
sincerity.

“‘It seems incredible,’ he said, after a period of reflection.  ‘I
suppose I must have mistaken another man for Barting, and that man’s cold
greeting was merely a stranger’s civil acknowledgment of my own.  I
remember, indeed, that he lacked Barting’s mustache.’

“‘Doubtless it was another man,’ I assented; and the subject was never
afterward mentioned between us.  But I had in my pocket a photograph of
Barting, which had been inclosed in the letter from his widow.  It had
been taken a week before his death, and was without a mustache.”



A WIRELESS MESSAGE


IN the summer of 1896 Mr. William Holt, a wealthy manufacturer of
Chicago, was living temporarily in a little town of central New York, the
name of which the writer’s memory has not retained.  Mr. Holt had had
“trouble with his wife,” from whom he had parted a year before.  Whether
the trouble was anything more serious than “incompatibility of temper,”
he is probably the only living person that knows: he is not addicted to
the vice of confidences.  Yet he has related the incident herein set down
to at least one person without exacting a pledge of secrecy.  He is now
living in Europe.

One evening he had left the house of a brother whom he was visiting, for
a stroll in the country.  It may be assumed—whatever the value of the
assumption in connection with what is said to have occurred—that his mind
was occupied with reflections on his domestic infelicities and the
distressing changes that they had wrought in his life.

Whatever may have been his thoughts, they so possessed him that he
observed neither the lapse of time nor whither his feet were carrying
him; he knew only that he had passed far beyond the town limits and was
traversing a lonely region by a road that bore no resemblance to the one
by which he had left the village.  In brief, he was “lost.”

Realizing his mischance, he smiled; central New York is not a region of
perils, nor does one long remain lost in it.  He turned about and went
back the way that he had come.  Before he had gone far he observed that
the landscape was growing more distinct—was brightening.  Everything was
suffused with a soft, red glow in which he saw his shadow projected in
the road before him.  “The moon is rising,” he said to himself.  Then he
remembered that it was about the time of the new moon, and if that
tricksy orb was in one of its stages of visibility it had set long
before.  He stopped and faced about, seeking the source of the rapidly
broadening light.  As he did so, his shadow turned and lay along the road
in front of him as before.  The light still came from behind him.  That
was surprising; he could not understand.  Again he turned, and again,
facing successively to every point of the horizon.  Always the shadow was
before—always the light behind, “a still and awful red.”

Holt was astonished—“dumfounded” is the word that he used in telling
it—yet seems to have retained a certain intelligent curiosity.  To test
the intensity of the light whose nature and cause he could not determine,
he took out his watch to see if he could make out the figures on the
dial.  They were plainly visible, and the hands indicated the hour of
eleven o’clock and twenty-five minutes.  At that moment the mysterious
illumination suddenly flared to an intense, an almost blinding splendor,
flushing the entire sky, extinguishing the stars and throwing the
monstrous shadow of himself athwart the landscape.  In that unearthly
illumination he saw near him, but apparently in the air at a considerable
elevation, the figure of his wife, clad in her night-clothing and holding
to her breast the figure of his child.  Her eyes were fixed upon his with
an expression which he afterward professed himself unable to name or
describe, further than that it was “not of this life.”

The flare was momentary, followed by black darkness, in which, however,
the apparition still showed white and motionless; then by insensible
degrees it faded and vanished, like a bright image on the retina after
the closing of the eyes.  A peculiarity of the apparition, hardly noted
at the time, but afterward recalled, was that it showed only the upper
half of the woman’s figure: nothing was seen below the waist.

The sudden darkness was comparative, not absolute, for gradually all
objects of his environment became again visible.

In the dawn of the morning Holt found himself entering the village at a
point opposite to that at which he had left it.  He soon arrived at the
house of his brother, who hardly knew him.  He was wild-eyed, haggard,
and gray as a rat.  Almost incoherently, he related his night’s
experience.

“Go to bed, my poor fellow,” said his brother, “and—wait.  We shall hear
more of this.”

An hour later came the predestined telegram.  Holt’s dwelling in one of
the suburbs of Chicago had been destroyed by fire.  Her escape cut off by
the flames, his wife had appeared at an upper window, her child in her
arms.  There she had stood, motionless, apparently dazed.  Just as the
firemen had arrived with a ladder, the floor had given way, and she was
seen no more.

The moment of this culminating horror was eleven o’clock and twenty-five
minutes, standard time.



AN ARREST


HAVING murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a
fugitive from justice.  From the county jail where he had been confined
to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his jailer with an
iron bar, robbing him of his keys and, opening the outer door, walking
out into the night.  The jailer being unarmed, Brower got no weapon with
which to defend his recovered liberty.  As soon as he was out of the town
he had the folly to enter a forest; this was many years ago, when that
region was wilder than it is now.

The night was pretty dark, with neither moon nor stars visible, and as
Brower had never dwelt thereabout, and knew nothing of the lay of the
land, he was, naturally, not long in losing himself.  He could not have
said if he were getting farther away from the town or going back to it—a
most important matter to Orrin Brower.  He knew that in either case a
posse of citizens with a pack of bloodhounds would soon be on his track
and his chance of escape was very slender; but he did not wish to assist
in his own pursuit.  Even an added hour of freedom was worth having.

Suddenly he emerged from the forest into an old road, and there before
him saw, indistinctly, the figure of a man, motionless in the gloom.  It
was too late to retreat: the fugitive felt that at the first movement
back toward the wood he would be, as he afterward explained, “filled with
buckshot.”  So the two stood there like trees, Brower nearly suffocated
by the activity of his own heart; the other—the emotions of the other are
not recorded.

A moment later—it may have been an hour—the moon sailed into a patch of
unclouded sky and the hunted man saw that visible embodiment of Law lift
an arm and point significantly toward and beyond him.  He understood.
Turning his back to his captor, he walked submissively away in the
direction indicated, looking to neither the right nor the left; hardly
daring to breathe, his head and back actually aching with a prophecy of
buckshot.

Brower was as courageous a criminal as ever lived to be hanged; that was
shown by the conditions of awful personal peril in which he had coolly
killed his brother-in-law.  It is needless to relate them here; they came
out at his trial, and the revelation of his calmness in confronting them
came near to saving his neck.  But what would you have?—when a brave man
is beaten, he submits.

So they pursued their journey jailward along the old road through the
woods.  Only once did Brower venture a turn of the head: just once, when
he was in deep shadow and he knew that the other was in moonlight, he
looked backward.  His captor was Burton Duff, the jailer, as white as
death and bearing upon his brow the livid mark of the iron bar.  Orrin
Brower had no further curiosity.

Eventually they entered the town, which was all alight, but deserted;
only the women and children remained, and they were off the streets.
Straight toward the jail the criminal held his way.  Straight up to the
main entrance he walked, laid his hand upon the knob of the heavy iron
door, pushed it open without command, entered and found himself in the
presence of a half-dozen armed men.  Then he turned.  Nobody else
entered.

On a table in the corridor lay the dead body of Burton Duff.



SOLDIER-FOLK


A MAN WITH TWO LIVES


HERE is the queer story of David William Duck, related by himself.  Duck
is an old man living in Aurora, Illinois, where he is universally
respected.  He is commonly known, however, as “Dead Duck.”

“In the autumn of 1866 I was a private soldier of the Eighteenth
Infantry.  My company was one of those stationed at Fort Phil Kearney,
commanded by Colonel Carrington.  The country is more or less familiar
with the history of that garrison, particularly with the slaughter by the
Sioux of a detachment of eighty-one men and officers—not one
escaping—through disobedience of orders by its commander, the brave but
reckless Captain Fetterman.  When that occurred, I was trying to make my
way with important dispatches to Fort C. F. Smith, on the Big Horn.  As
the country swarmed with hostile Indians, I traveled by night and
concealed myself as best I could before daybreak.  The better to do so, I
went afoot, armed with a Henry rifle and carrying three days’ rations in
my haversack.

“For my second place of concealment I chose what seemed in the darkness a
narrow cañon leading through a range of rocky hills.  It contained many
large bowlders, detached from the slopes of the hills.  Behind one of
these, in a clump of sage-brush, I made my bed for the day, and soon fell
asleep.  It seemed as if I had hardly closed my eyes, though in fact it
was near midday, when I was awakened by the report of a rifle, the bullet
striking the bowlder just above my body.  A band of Indians had trailed
me and had me nearly surrounded; the shot had been fired with an
execrable aim by a fellow who had caught sight of me from the hillside
above.  The smoke of his rifle betrayed him, and I was no sooner on my
feet than he was off his and rolling down the declivity.  Then I ran in a
stooping posture, dodging among the clumps of sage-brush in a storm of
bullets from invisible enemies.  The rascals did not rise and pursue,
which I thought rather queer, for they must have known by my trail that
they had to deal with only one man.  The reason for their inaction was
soon made clear.  I had not gone a hundred yards before I reached the
limit of my run—the head of the gulch which I had mistaken for a cañon.
It terminated in a concave breast of rock, nearly vertical and destitute
of vegetation.  In that cul-de-sac I was caught like a bear in a pen.
Pursuit was needless; they had only to wait.

“They waited.  For two days and nights, crouching behind a rock topped
with a growth of mesquite, and with the cliff at my back, suffering
agonies of thirst and absolutely hopeless of deliverance, I fought the
fellows at long range, firing occasionally at the smoke of their rifles,
as they did at that of mine.  Of course, I did not dare to close my eyes
at night, and lack of sleep was a keen torture.

“I remember the morning of the third day, which I knew was to be my last.
I remember, rather indistinctly, that in my desperation and delirium I
sprang out into the open and began firing my repeating rifle without
seeing anybody to fire at.  And I remember no more of that fight.

“The next thing that I recollect was my pulling myself out of a river
just at nightfall.  I had not a rag of clothing and knew nothing of my
whereabouts, but all that night I traveled, cold and footsore, toward the
north.  At daybreak I found myself at Fort C. F. Smith, my destination,
but without my dispatches.  The first man that I met was a sergeant named
William Briscoe, whom I knew very well.  You can fancy his astonishment
at seeing me in that condition, and my own at his asking who the devil I
was.

“‘Dave Duck,’ I answered; ‘who should I be?’

“He stared like an owl.

“‘You do look it,’ he said, and I observed that he drew a little away
from me.  ‘What’s up?’ he added.

“I told him what had happened to me the day before.  He heard me through,
still staring; then he said:

“‘My dear fellow, if you are Dave Duck I ought to inform you that I
buried you two months ago.  I was out with a small scouting party and
found your body, full of bullet-holes and newly scalped—somewhat
mutilated otherwise, too, I am sorry to say—right where you say you made
your fight.  Come to my tent and I’ll show you your clothing and some
letters that I took from your person; the commandant has your
dispatches.’

“He performed that promise.  He showed me the clothing, which I
resolutely put on; the letters, which I put into my pocket.  He made no
objection, then took me to the commandant, who heard my story and coldly
ordered Briscoe to take me to the guardhouse.  On the way I said:

“‘Bill Briscoe, did you really and truly bury the dead body that you
found in these togs?’

“‘Sure,’ he answered—‘just as I told you.  It was Dave Duck, all right;
most of us knew him.  And now, you damned impostor, you’d better tell me
who you are.’

“‘I’d give something to know,’ I said.

“A week later, I escaped from the guardhouse and got out of the country
as fast as I could.  Twice I have been back, seeking for that fateful
spot in the hills, but unable to find it.”



THREE AND ONE ARE ONE


IN the year 1861 Barr Lassiter, a young man of twenty-two, lived with his
parents and an elder sister near Carthage, Tennessee.  The family were in
somewhat humble circumstances, subsisting by cultivation of a small and
not very fertile plantation.  Owning no slaves, they were not rated among
“the best people” of their neighborhood; but they were honest persons of
good education, fairly well mannered and as respectable as any family
could be if uncredentialed by personal dominion over the sons and
daughters of Ham.  The elder Lassiter had that severity of manner that so
frequently affirms an uncompromising devotion to duty, and conceals a
warm and affectionate disposition.  He was of the iron of which martyrs
are made, but in the heart of the matrix had lurked a nobler metal,
fusible at a milder heat, yet never coloring nor softening the hard
exterior.  By both heredity and environment something of the man’s
inflexible character had touched the other members of the family; the
Lassiter home, though not devoid of domestic affection, was a veritable
citadel of duty, and duty—ah, duty is as cruel as death!

When the war came on it found in the family, as in so many others in that
State, a divided sentiment; the young man was loyal to the Union, the
others savagely hostile.  This unhappy division begot an insupportable
domestic bitterness, and when the offending son and brother left home
with the avowed purpose of joining the Federal army not a hand was laid
in his, not a word of farewell was spoken, not a good wish followed him
out into the world whither he went to meet with such spirit as he might
whatever fate awaited him.

Making his way to Nashville, already occupied by the Army of General
Buell, he enlisted in the first organization that he found, a Kentucky
regiment of cavalry, and in due time passed through all the stages of
military evolution from raw recruit to experienced trooper.  A right good
trooper he was, too, although in his oral narrative from which this tale
is made there was no mention of that; the fact was learned from his
surviving comrades.  For Barr Lassiter has answered “Here” to the
sergeant whose name is Death.

Two years after he had joined it his regiment passed through the region
whence he had come.  The country thereabout had suffered severely from
the ravages of war, having been occupied alternately (and simultaneously)
by the belligerent forces, and a sanguinary struggle had occurred in the
immediate vicinity of the Lassiter homestead.  But of this the young
trooper was not aware.

Finding himself in camp near his home, he felt a natural longing to see
his parents and sister, hoping that in them, as in him, the unnatural
animosities of the period had been softened by time and separation.
Obtaining a leave of absence, he set foot in the late summer afternoon,
and soon after the rising of the full moon was walking up the gravel path
leading to the dwelling in which he had been born.

Soldiers in war age rapidly, and in youth two years are a long time.
Barr Lassiter felt himself an old man, and had almost expected to find
the place a ruin and a desolation.  Nothing, apparently, was changed.  At
the sight of each dear and familiar object he was profoundly affected.
His heart beat audibly, his emotion nearly suffocated him; an ache was in
his throat.  Unconsciously he quickened his pace until he almost ran, his
long shadow making grotesque efforts to keep its place beside him.

The house was unlighted, the door open.  As he approached and paused to
recover control of himself his father came out and stood bare-headed in
the moonlight.

“Father!” cried the young man, springing forward with outstretched
hand—“Father!”

The elder man looked him sternly in the face, stood a moment motionless
and without a word withdrew into the house.  Bitterly disappointed,
humiliated, inexpressibly hurt and altogether unnerved, the soldier
dropped upon a rustic seat in deep dejection, supporting his head upon
his trembling hand.  But he would not have it so: he was too good a
soldier to accept repulse as defeat.  He rose and entered the house,
passing directly to the “sitting-room.”

It was dimly lighted by an uncurtained east window.  On a low stool by
the hearthside, the only article of furniture in the place, sat his
mother, staring into a fireplace strewn with blackened embers and cold
ashes.  He spoke to her—tenderly, interrogatively, and with hesitation,
but she neither answered, nor moved, nor seemed in any way surprised.
True, there had been time for her husband to apprise her of their guilty
son’s return.  He moved nearer and was about to lay his hand upon her
arm, when his sister entered from an adjoining room, looked him full in
the face, passed him without a sign of recognition and left the room by a
door that was partly behind him.  He had turned his head to watch her,
but when she was gone his eyes again sought his mother.  She too had left
the place.

Barr Lassiter strode to the door by which he had entered.  The moonlight
on the lawn was tremulous, as if the sward were a rippling sea.  The
trees and their black shadows shook as in a breeze.  Blended with its
borders, the gravel walk seemed unsteady and insecure to step on.  This
young soldier knew the optical illusions produced by tears.  He felt them
on his cheek, and saw them sparkle on the breast of his trooper’s jacket.
He left the house and made his way back to camp.

The next day, with no very definite intention, with no dominant feeling
that he could rightly have named, he again sought the spot.  Within a
half-mile of it he met Bushrod Albro, a former playfellow and schoolmate,
who greeted him warmly.

“I am going to visit my home,” said the soldier.

The other looked at him rather sharply, but said nothing.

“I know,” continued Lassiter, “that my folks have not changed, but—”

“There have been changes,” Albro interrupted—“everything changes.  I’ll
go with you if you don’t mind.  We can talk as we go.”

But Albro did not talk.

Instead of a house they found only fire-blackened foundations of stone,
enclosing an area of compact ashes pitted by rains.

Lassiter’s astonishment was extreme.

“I could not find the right way to tell you,” said Albro.  “In the fight
a year ago your house was burned by a Federal shell.”

“And my family—where are they?”

“In Heaven, I hope.  All were killed by the shell.”



A BAFFLED AMBUSCADE


CONNECTING Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard turnpike nine or ten
miles long.  Readyville was an outpost of the Federal army at
Murfreesboro; Woodbury had the same relation to the Confederate army at
Tullahoma.  For months after the big battle at Stone River these outposts
were in constant quarrel, most of the trouble occurring, naturally, on
the turnpike mentioned, between detachments of cavalry.  Sometimes the
infantry and artillery took a hand in the game by way of showing their
good-will.

One night a squadron of Federal horse commanded by Major Seidel, a
gallant and skillful officer, moved out from Readyville on an uncommonly
hazardous enterprise requiring secrecy, caution and silence.

Passing the infantry pickets, the detachment soon afterward approached
two cavalry videttes staring hard into the darkness ahead.  There should
have been three.

“Where is your other man?” said the major.  “I ordered Dunning to be here
to-night.”

“He rode forward, sir,” the man replied.  “There was a little firing
afterward, but it was a long way to the front.”

“It was against orders and against sense for Dunning to do that,” said
the officer, obviously vexed.  “Why did he ride forward?”

“Don’t know, sir; he seemed mighty restless.  Guess he was skeered.”

When this remarkable reasoner and his companion had been absorbed into
the expeditionary force, it resumed its advance.  Conversation was
forbidden; arms and accouterments were denied the right to rattle.  The
horses’ tramping was all that could be heard and the movement was slow in
order to have as little as possible of that.  It was after midnight and
pretty dark, although there was a bit of moon somewhere behind the masses
of cloud.

Two or three miles along, the head of the column approached a dense
forest of cedars bordering the road on both sides.  The major commanded a
halt by merely halting, and, evidently himself a bit “skeered,” rode on
alone to reconnoiter.  He was followed, however, by his adjutant and
three troopers, who remained a little distance behind and, unseen by him,
saw all that occurred.

After riding about a hundred yards toward the forest, the major suddenly
and sharply reined in his horse and sat motionless in the saddle.  Near
the side of the road, in a little open space and hardly ten paces away,
stood the figure of a man, dimly visible and as motionless as he.  The
major’s first feeling was that of satisfaction in having left his
cavalcade behind; if this were an enemy and should escape he would have
little to report.  The expedition was as yet undetected.

Some dark object was dimly discernible at the man’s feet; the officer
could not make it out.  With the instinct of the true cavalryman and a
particular indisposition to the discharge of firearms, he drew his saber.
The man on foot made no movement in answer to the challenge.  The
situation was tense and a bit dramatic.  Suddenly the moon burst through
a rift in the clouds and, himself in the shadow of a group of great oaks,
the horseman saw the footman clearly, in a patch of white light.  It was
Trooper Dunning, unarmed and bareheaded.  The object at his feet resolved
itself into a dead horse, and at a right angle across the animal’s neck
lay a dead man, face upward in the moonlight.

“Dunning has had the fight of his life,” thought the major, and was about
to ride forward.  Dunning raised his hand, motioning him back with a
gesture of warning; then, lowering the arm, he pointed to the place where
the road lost itself in the blackness of the cedar forest.

The major understood, and turning his horse rode back to the little group
that had followed him and was already moving to the rear in fear of his
displeasure, and so returned to the head of his command.

“Dunning is just ahead there,” he said to the captain of his leading
company.  “He has killed his man and will have something to report.”

Right patiently they waited, sabers drawn, but Dunning did not come.  In
an hour the day broke and the whole force moved cautiously forward, its
commander not altogether satisfied with his faith in Private Dunning.
The expedition had failed, but something remained to be done.

In the little open space off the road they found the fallen horse.  At a
right angle across the animal’s neck face upward, a bullet in the brain,
lay the body of Trooper Dunning, stiff as a statue, hours dead.

Examination disclosed abundant evidence that within a half-hour the cedar
forest had been occupied by a strong force of Confederate infantry—an
ambuscade.



TWO MILITARY EXECUTIONS


IN the spring of the year 1862 General Buell’s big army lay in camp,
licking itself into shape for the campaign which resulted in the victory
at Shiloh.  It was a raw, untrained army, although some of its fractions
had seen hard enough service, with a good deal of fighting, in the
mountains of Western Virginia, and in Kentucky.  The war was young and
soldiering a new industry, imperfectly understood by the young American
of the period, who found some features of it not altogether to his
liking.  Chief among these was that essential part of discipline,
subordination.  To one imbued from infancy with the fascinating fallacy
that all men are born equal, unquestioning submission to authority is not
easily mastered, and the American volunteer soldier in his “green and
salad days” is among the worst known.  That is how it happened that one
of Buell’s men, Private Bennett Story Greene, committed the indiscretion
of striking his officer.  Later in the war he would not have done that;
like Sir Andrew Aguecheek, he would have “seen him damned” first.  But
time for reformation of his military manners was denied him: he was
promptly arrested on complaint of the officer, tried by court-martial and
sentenced to be shot.

“You might have thrashed me and let it go at that,” said the condemned
man to the complaining witness; “that is what you used to do at school,
when you were plain Will Dudley and I was as good as you.  Nobody saw me
strike you; discipline would not have suffered much.”

“Ben Greene, I guess you are right about that,” said the lieutenant.
“Will you forgive me?  That is what I came to see you about.”

There was no reply, and an officer putting his head in at the door of the
guard-tent where the conversation had occurred, explained that the time
allowed for the interview had expired.  The next morning, when in the
presence of the whole brigade Private Greene was shot to death by a squad
of his comrades, Lieutenant Dudley turned his back upon the sorry
performance and muttered a prayer for mercy, in which himself was
included.

A few weeks afterward, as Buell’s leading division was being ferried over
the Tennessee River to assist in succoring Grant’s beaten army, night was
coming on, black and stormy.  Through the wreck of battle the division
moved, inch by inch, in the direction of the enemy, who had withdrawn a
little to reform his lines.  But for the lightning the darkness was
absolute.  Never for a moment did it cease, and ever when the thunder did
not crack and roar were heard the moans of the wounded among whom the men
felt their way with their feet, and upon whom they stumbled in the gloom.
The dead were there, too—there were dead a-plenty.

In the first faint gray of the morning, when the swarming advance had
paused to resume something of definition as a line of battle, and
skirmishers had been thrown forward, word was passed along to call the
roll.  The first sergeant of Lieutenant Dudley’s company stepped to the
front and began to name the men in alphabetical order.  He had no written
roll, but a good memory.  The men answered to their names as he ran down
the alphabet to G.

“Gorham.”

“Here!”

“Grayrock.”

“Here!”

The sergeant’s good memory was affected by habit:

“Greene.”

“Here!”

The response was clear, distinct, unmistakable!

A sudden movement, an agitation of the entire company front, as from an
electric shock, attested the startling character of the incident.  The
sergeant paled and paused.  The captain strode quickly to his side and
said sharply:

“Call that name again.”

Apparently the Society for Psychical Research is not first in the field
of curiosity concerning the Unknown.

“Bennett Greene.”

“Here!”

All faces turned in the direction of the familiar voice; the two men
between whom in the order of stature Greene had commonly stood in line
turned and squarely confronted each other.

“Once more,” commanded the inexorable investigator, and once more came—a
trifle tremulously—the name of the dead man:

“Bennett Story Greene.”

“Here!”

At that instant a single rifle-shot was heard, away to the front, beyond
the skirmish-line, followed, almost attended, by the savage hiss of an
approaching bullet which passing through the line, struck audibly,
punctuating as with a full stop the captain’s exclamation, “What the
devil does it mean?”

Lieutenant Dudley pushed through the ranks from his place in the rear.

“It means this,” he said, throwing open his coat and displaying a visibly
broadening stain of crimson on his breast.  His knees gave way; he fell
awkwardly and lay dead.

A little later the regiment was ordered out of line to relieve the
congested front, and through some misplay in the game of battle was not
again under fire.  Nor did Bennett Greene, expert in military executions,
ever again signify his presence at one.



SOME HAUNTED HOUSES


THE ISLE OF PINES


FOR many years there lived near the town of Gallipolis, Ohio, an old man
named Herman Deluse.  Very little was known of his history, for he would
neither speak of it himself nor suffer others.  It was a common belief
among his neighbors that he had been a pirate—if upon any better evidence
than his collection of boarding pikes, cutlasses, and ancient flintlock
pistols, no one knew.  He lived entirely alone in a small house of four
rooms, falling rapidly into decay and never repaired further than was
required by the weather.  It stood on a slight elevation in the midst of
a large, stony field overgrown with brambles, and cultivated in patches
and only in the most primitive way.  It was his only visible property,
but could hardly have yielded him a living, simple and few as were his
wants.  He seemed always to have ready money, and paid cash for all his
purchases at the village stores roundabout, seldom buying more than two
or three times at the same place until after the lapse of a considerable
time.  He got no commendation, however, for this equitable distribution
of his patronage; people were disposed to regard it as an ineffectual
attempt to conceal his possession of so much money.  That he had great
hoards of ill-gotten gold buried somewhere about his tumble-down dwelling
was not reasonably to be doubted by any honest soul conversant with the
facts of local tradition and gifted with a sense of the fitness of
things.

On the 9th of November, 1867, the old man died; at least his dead body
was discovered on the 10th, and physicians testified that death had
occurred about twenty-four hours previously—precisely how, they were
unable to say; for the _post-mortem_ examination showed every organ to be
absolutely healthy, with no indication of disorder or violence.
According to them, death must have taken place about noonday, yet the
body was found in bed.  The verdict of the coroner’s jury was that he
“came to his death by a visitation of God.”  The body was buried and the
public administrator took charge of the estate.

A rigorous search disclosed nothing more than was already known about the
dead man, and much patient excavation here and there about the premises
by thoughtful and thrifty neighbors went unrewarded.  The administrator
locked up the house against the time when the property, real and
personal, should be sold by law with a view to defraying, partly, the
expenses of the sale.

The night of November 20 was boisterous.  A furious gale stormed across
the country, scourging it with desolating drifts of sleet.  Great trees
were torn from the earth and hurled across the roads.  So wild a night
had never been known in all that region, but toward morning the storm had
blown itself out of breath and day dawned bright and clear.  At about
eight o’clock that morning the Rev. Henry Galbraith, a well-known and
highly esteemed Lutheran minister, arrived on foot at his house, a mile
and a half from the Deluse place.  Mr. Galbraith had been for a month in
Cincinnati.  He had come up the river in a steamboat, and landing at
Gallipolis the previous evening had immediately obtained a horse and
buggy and set out for home.  The violence of the storm had delayed him
over night, and in the morning the fallen trees had compelled him to
abandon his conveyance and continue his journey afoot.

“But where did you pass the night?” inquired his wife, after he had
briefly related his adventure.

“With old Deluse at the ‘Isle of Pines,’” {372} was the laughing reply;
“and a glum enough time I had of it.  He made no objection to my
remaining, but not a word could I get out of him.”

Fortunately for the interests of truth there was present at this
conversation Mr. Robert Mosely Maren, a lawyer and _littérateur_ of
Columbus, the same who wrote the delightful “Mellowcraft Papers.”
Noting, but apparently not sharing, the astonishment caused by Mr.
Galbraith’s answer this ready-witted person checked by a gesture the
exclamations that would naturally have followed, and tranquilly inquired:
“How came you to go in there?”

This is Mr. Maren’s version of Mr. Galbraith’s reply:

“I saw a light moving about the house, and being nearly blinded by the
sleet, and half frozen besides, drove in at the gate and put up my horse
in the old rail stable, where it is now.  I then rapped at the door, and
getting no invitation went in without one.  The room was dark, but having
matches I found a candle and lit it.  I tried to enter the adjoining
room, but the door was fast, and although I heard the old man’s heavy
footsteps in there he made no response to my calls.  There was no fire on
the hearth, so I made one and laying [_sic_] down before it with my
overcoat under my head, prepared myself for sleep.  Pretty soon the door
that I had tried silently opened and the old man came in, carrying a
candle.  I spoke to him pleasantly, apologizing for my intrusion, but he
took no notice of me.  He seemed to be searching for something, though
his eyes were unmoved in their sockets.  I wonder if he ever walks in his
sleep.  He took a circuit a part of the way round the room, and went out
the same way he had come in.  Twice more before I slept he came back into
the room, acting precisely the same way, and departing as at first.  In
the intervals I heard him tramping all over the house, his footsteps
distinctly audible in the pauses of the storm.  When I woke in the
morning he had already gone out.”

Mr. Maren attempted some further questioning, but was unable longer to
restrain the family’s tongues; the story of Deluse’s death and burial
came out, greatly to the good minister’s astonishment.

“The explanation of your adventure is very simple,” said Mr. Maren.  “I
don’t believe old Deluse walks in his sleep—not in his present one; but
you evidently dream in yours.”

And to this view of the matter Mr. Galbraith was compelled reluctantly to
assent.

Nevertheless, a late hour of the next night found these two gentlemen,
accompanied by a son of the minister, in the road in front of the old
Deluse house.  There was a light inside; it appeared now at one window
and now at another.  The three men advanced to the door.  Just as they
reached it there came from the interior a confusion of the most appalling
sounds—the clash of weapons, steel against steel, sharp explosions as of
firearms, shrieks of women, groans and the curses of men in combat!  The
investigators stood a moment, irresolute, frightened.  Then Mr. Galbraith
tried the door.  It was fast.  But the minister was a man of courage, a
man, moreover, of Herculean strength.  He retired a pace or two and
rushed against the door, striking it with his right shoulder and bursting
it from the frame with a loud crash.  In a moment the three were inside.
Darkness and silence!  The only sound was the beating of their hearts.

Mr. Maren had provided himself with matches and a candle.  With some
difficulty, begotten of his excitement, he made a light, and they
proceeded to explore the place, passing from room to room.  Everything
was in orderly arrangement, as it had been left by the sheriff; nothing
had been disturbed.  A light coating of dust was everywhere.  A back door
was partly open, as if by neglect, and their first thought was that the
authors of the awful revelry might have escaped.  The door was opened,
and the light of the candle shone through upon the ground.  The expiring
effort of the previous night’s storm had been a light fall of snow; there
were no footprints; the white surface was unbroken.  They closed the door
and entered the last room of the four that the house contained—that
farthest from the road, in an angle of the building.  Here the candle in
Mr. Maren’s hand was suddenly extinguished as by a draught of air.
Almost immediately followed the sound of a heavy fall.  When the candle
had been hastily relighted young Mr. Galbraith was seen prostrate on the
floor at a little distance from the others.  He was dead.  In one hand
the body grasped a heavy sack of coins, which later examination showed to
be all of old Spanish mintage.  Directly over the body as it lay, a board
had been torn from its fastenings in the wall, and from the cavity so
disclosed it was evident that the bag had been taken.

Another inquest was held: another _post-mortem_ examination failed to
reveal a probable cause of death.  Another verdict of “the visitation of
God” left all at liberty to form their own conclusions.  Mr. Maren
contended that the young man died of excitement.



A FRUITLESS ASSIGNMENT


HENRY SAYLOR, who was killed in Covington, in a quarrel with Antonio
Finch, was a reporter on the Cincinnati _Commercial_.  In the year 1859 a
vacant dwelling in Vine street, in Cincinnati, became the center of a
local excitement because of the strange sights and sounds said to be
observed in it nightly.  According to the testimony of many reputable
residents of the vicinity these were inconsistent with any other
hypothesis than that the house was haunted.  Figures with something
singularly unfamiliar about them were seen by crowds on the sidewalk to
pass in and out.  No one could say just where they appeared upon the open
lawn on their way to the front door by which they entered, nor at exactly
what point they vanished as they came out; or, rather, while each
spectator was positive enough about these matters, no two agreed.  They
were all similarly at variance in their descriptions of the figures
themselves.  Some of the bolder of the curious throng ventured on several
evenings to stand upon the doorsteps to intercept them, or failing in
this, get a nearer look at them.  These courageous men, it was said, were
unable to force the door by their united strength, and always were hurled
from the steps by some invisible agency and severely injured; the door
immediately afterward opening, apparently of its own volition, to admit
or free some ghostly guest.  The dwelling was known as the Roscoe house,
a family of that name having lived there for some years, and then, one by
one, disappeared, the last to leave being an old woman.  Stories of foul
play and successive murders had always been rife, but never were
authenticated.

One day during the prevalence of the excitement Saylor presented himself
at the office of the _Commercial_ for orders.  He received a note from
the city editor which read as follows: “Go and pass the night alone in
the haunted house in Vine street and if anything occurs worth while make
two columns.”  Saylor obeyed his superior; he could not afford to lose
his position on the paper.

Apprising the police of his intention, he effected an entrance through a
rear window before dark, walked through the deserted rooms, bare of
furniture, dusty and desolate, and seating himself at last in the parlor
on an old sofa which he had dragged in from another room watched the
deepening of the gloom as night came on.  Before it was altogether dark
the curious crowd had collected in the street, silent, as a rule, and
expectant, with here and there a scoffer uttering his incredulity and
courage with scornful remarks or ribald cries.  None knew of the anxious
watcher inside.  He feared to make a light; the uncurtained windows would
have betrayed his presence, subjecting him to insult, possibly to injury.
Moreover, he was too conscientious to do anything to enfeeble his
impressions and unwilling to alter any of the customary conditions under
which the manifestations were said to occur.

It was now dark outside, but light from the street faintly illuminated
the part of the room that he was in.  He had set open every door in the
whole interior, above and below, but all the outer ones were locked and
bolted.  Sudden exclamations from the crowd caused him to spring to the
window and look out.  He saw the figure of a man moving rapidly across
the lawn toward the building—saw it ascend the steps; then a projection
of the wall concealed it.  There was a noise as of the opening and
closing of the hall door; he heard quick, heavy footsteps along the
passage—heard them ascend the stairs—heard them on the uncarpeted floor
of the chamber immediately overhead.

Saylor promptly drew his pistol, and groping his way up the stairs
entered the chamber, dimly lighted from the street.  No one was there.
He heard footsteps in an adjoining room and entered that.  It was dark
and silent.  He struck his foot against some object on the floor, knelt
by it, passed his hand over it.  It was a human head—that of a woman.
Lifting it by the hair this iron-nerved man returned to the half-lighted
room below, carried it near the window and attentively examined it.
While so engaged he was half conscious of the rapid opening and closing
of the outer door, of footfalls sounding all about him.  He raised his
eyes from the ghastly object of his attention and saw himself the center
of a crowd of men and women dimly seen; the room was thronged with them.
He thought the people had broken in.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, coolly, “you see me under suspicious
circumstances, but”—his voice was drowned in peals of laughter—such
laughter as is heard in asylums for the insane.  The persons about him
pointed at the object in his hand and their merriment increased as he
dropped it and it went rolling among their feet.  They danced about it
with gestures grotesque and attitudes obscene and indescribable.  They
struck it with their feet, urging it about the room from wall to wall;
pushed and overthrew one another in their struggles to kick it; cursed
and screamed and sang snatches of ribald songs as the battered head
bounded about the room as if in terror and trying to escape.  At last it
shot out of the door into the hall, followed by all, with tumultuous
haste.  That moment the door closed with a sharp concussion.  Saylor was
alone, in dead silence.

Carefully putting away his pistol, which all the time he had held in his
hand, he went to a window and looked out.  The street was deserted and
silent; the lamps were extinguished; the roofs and chimneys of the houses
were sharply outlined against the dawn-light in the east.  He left the
house, the door yielding easily to his hand, and walked to the
_Commercial_ office.  The city editor was still in his office—asleep.
Saylor waked him and said: “I have been at the haunted house.”

The editor stared blankly as if not wholly awake.  “Good God!” he cried,
“are you Saylor?”

“Yes—why not?”  The editor made no answer, but continued staring.

“I passed the night there—it seems,” said Saylor.

“They say that things were uncommonly quiet out there,” the editor said,
trifling with a paper-weight upon which he had dropped his eyes, “did
anything occur?”

“Nothing whatever.”



A VINE ON A HOUSE


ABOUT three miles from the little town of Norton, in Missouri, on the
road leading to Maysville, stands an old house that was last occupied by
a family named Harding.  Since 1886 no one has lived in it, nor is anyone
likely to live in it again.  Time and the disfavor of persons dwelling
thereabout are converting it into a rather picturesque ruin.  An observer
unacquainted with its history would hardly put it into the category of
“haunted houses,” yet in all the region round such is its evil
reputation.  Its windows are without glass, its doorways without doors;
there are wide breaches in the shingle roof, and for lack of paint the
weatherboarding is a dun gray.  But these unfailing signs of the
supernatural are partly concealed and greatly softened by the abundant
foliage of a large vine overrunning the entire structure.  This vine—of a
species which no botanist has ever been able to name—has an important
part in the story of the house.

The Harding family consisted of Robert Harding, his wife Matilda, Miss
Julia Went, who was her sister, and two young children.  Robert Harding
was a silent, cold-mannered man who made no friends in the neighborhood
and apparently cared to make none.  He was about forty years old, frugal
and industrious, and made a living from the little farm which is now
overgrown with brush and brambles.  He and his sister-in-law were rather
tabooed by their neighbors, who seemed to think that they were seen too
frequently together—not entirely their fault, for at these times they
evidently did not challenge observation.  The moral code of rural
Missouri is stern and exacting.

Mrs. Harding was a gentle, sad-eyed woman, lacking a left foot.

At some time in 1884 it became known that she had gone to visit her
mother in Iowa.  That was what her husband said in reply to inquiries,
and his manner of saying it did not encourage further questioning.  She
never came back, and two years later, without selling his farm or
anything that was his, or appointing an agent to look after his
interests, or removing his household goods, Harding, with the rest of the
family, left the country.  Nobody knew whither he went; nobody at that
time cared.  Naturally, whatever was movable about the place soon
disappeared and the deserted house became “haunted” in the manner of its
kind.

One summer evening, four or five years later, the Rev. J. Gruber, of
Norton, and a Maysville attorney named Hyatt met on horseback in front of
the Harding place.  Having business matters to discuss, they hitched
their animals and going to the house sat on the porch to talk.  Some
humorous reference to the somber reputation of the place was made and
forgotten as soon as uttered, and they talked of their business affairs
until it grew almost dark.  The evening was oppressively warm, the air
stagnant.

Presently both men started from their seats in surprise: a long vine that
covered half the front of the house and dangled its branches from the
edge of the porch above them was visibly and audibly agitated, shaking
violently in every stem and leaf.

“We shall have a storm,” Hyatt exclaimed.

Gruber said nothing, but silently directed the other’s attention to the
foliage of adjacent trees, which showed no movement; even the delicate
tips of the boughs silhouetted against the clear sky were motionless.
They hastily passed down the steps to what had been a lawn and looked
upward at the vine, whose entire length was now visible.  It continued in
violent agitation, yet they could discern no disturbing cause.

“Let us leave,” said the minister.

And leave they did.  Forgetting that they had been traveling in opposite
directions, they rode away together.  They went to Norton, where they
related their strange experience to several discreet friends.  The next
evening, at about the same hour, accompanied by two others whose names
are not recalled, they were again on the porch of the Harding house, and
again the mysterious phenomenon occurred: the vine was violently agitated
while under the closest scrutiny from root to tip, nor did their combined
strength applied to the trunk serve to still it.  After an hour’s
observation they retreated, no less wise, it is thought, than when they
had come.

No great time was required for these singular facts to rouse the
curiosity of the entire neighborhood.  By day and by night crowds of
persons assembled at the Harding house “seeking a sign.”  It does not
appear that any found it, yet so credible were the witnesses mentioned
that none doubted the reality of the “manifestations” to which they
testified.

By either a happy inspiration or some destructive design, it was one day
proposed—nobody appeared to know from whom the suggestion came—to dig up
the vine, and after a good deal of debate this was done.  Nothing was
found but the root, yet nothing could have been more strange!

For five or six feet from the trunk, which had at the surface of the
ground a diameter of several inches, it ran downward, single and
straight, into a loose, friable earth; then it divided and subdivided
into rootlets, fibers and filaments, most curiously interwoven.  When
carefully freed from soil they showed a singular formation.  In their
ramifications and doublings back upon themselves they made a compact
network, having in size and shape an amazing resemblance to the human
figure.  Head, trunk and limbs were there; even the fingers and toes were
distinctly defined; and many professed to see in the distribution and
arrangement of the fibers in the globular mass representing the head a
grotesque suggestion of a face.  The figure was horizontal; the smaller
roots had begun to unite at the breast.

In point of resemblance to the human form this image was imperfect.  At
about ten inches from one of the knees, the _cilia_ forming that leg had
abruptly doubled backward and inward upon their course of growth.  The
figure lacked the left foot.

There was but one inference—the obvious one; but in the ensuing
excitement as many courses of action were proposed as there were
incapable counselors.  The matter was settled by the sheriff of the
county, who as the lawful custodian of the abandoned estate ordered the
root replaced and the excavation filled with the earth that had been
removed.

Later inquiry brought out only one fact of relevancy and significance:
Mrs. Harding had never visited her relatives in Iowa, nor did they know
that she was supposed to have done so.

Of Robert Harding and the rest of his family nothing is known.  The house
retains its evil reputation, but the replanted vine is as orderly and
well-behaved a vegetable as a nervous person could wish to sit under of a
pleasant night, when the katydids grate out their immemorial revelation
and the distant whippoorwill signifies his notion of what ought to be
done about it.



AT OLD MAN ECKERT’S


PHILIP ECKERT lived for many years in an old, weather-stained wooden
house about three miles from the little town of Marion, in Vermont.
There must be quite a number of persons living who remember him, not
unkindly, I trust, and know something of the story that I am about to
tell.

“Old Man Eckert,” as he was always called, was not of a sociable
disposition and lived alone.  As he was never known to speak of his own
affairs nobody thereabout knew anything of his past, nor of his relatives
if he had any.  Without being particularly ungracious or repellent in
manner or speech, he managed somehow to be immune to impertinent
curiosity, yet exempt from the evil repute with which it commonly
revenges itself when baffled; so far as I know, Mr. Eckert’s renown as a
reformed assassin or a retired pirate of the Spanish Main had not reached
any ear in Marion.  He got his living cultivating a small and not very
fertile farm.

One day he disappeared and a prolonged search by his neighbors failed to
turn him up or throw any light upon his whereabouts or whyabouts.
Nothing indicated preparation to leave: all was as he might have left it
to go to the spring for a bucket of water.  For a few weeks little else
was talked of in that region; then “old man Eckert” became a village tale
for the ear of the stranger.  I do not know what was done regarding his
property—the correct legal thing, doubtless.  The house was standing,
still vacant and conspicuously unfit, when I last heard of it, some
twenty years afterward.

Of course it came to be considered “haunted,” and the customary tales
were told of moving lights, dolorous sounds and startling apparitions.
At one time, about five years after the disappearance, these stories of
the supernatural became so rife, or through some attesting circumstances
seemed so important, that some of Marion’s most serious citizens deemed
it well to investigate, and to that end arranged for a night session on
the premises.  The parties to this undertaking were John Holcomb, an
apothecary; Wilson Merle, a lawyer, and Andrus C. Palmer, the teacher of
the public school, all men of consequence and repute.  They were to meet
at Holcomb’s house at eight o’clock in the evening of the appointed day
and go together to the scene of their vigil, where certain arrangements
for their comfort, a provision of fuel and the like, for the season was
winter, had been already made.

Palmer did not keep the engagement, and after waiting a half-hour for him
the others went to the Eckert house without him.  They established
themselves in the principal room, before a glowing fire, and without
other light than it gave, awaited events.  It had been agreed to speak as
little as possible: they did not even renew the exchange of views
regarding the defection of Palmer, which had occupied their minds on the
way.

Probably an hour had passed without incident when they heard (not without
emotion, doubtless) the sound of an opening door in the rear of the
house, followed by footfalls in the room adjoining that in which they
sat.  The watchers rose to their feet, but stood firm, prepared for
whatever might ensue.  A long silence followed—how long neither would
afterward undertake to say.  Then the door between the two rooms opened
and a man entered.

It was Palmer.  He was pale, as if from excitement—as pale as the others
felt themselves to be.  His manner, too, was singularly distrait: he
neither responded to their salutations nor so much as looked at them, but
walked slowly across the room in the light of the failing fire and
opening the front door passed out into the darkness.

It seems to have been the first thought of both men that Palmer was
suffering from fright—that something seen, heard or imagined in the back
room had deprived him of his senses.  Acting on the same friendly impulse
both ran after him through the open door.  But neither they nor anyone
ever again saw or heard of Andrus Palmer!

This much was ascertained the next morning.  During the session of
Messrs. Holcomb and Merle at the “haunted house” a new snow had fallen to
a depth of several inches upon the old.  In this snow Palmer’s trail from
his lodging in the village to the back door of the Eckert house was
conspicuous.  But there it ended: from the front door nothing led away
but the tracks of the two men who swore that he preceded them.  Palmer’s
disappearance was as complete as that of “old man Eckert” himself—whom,
indeed, the editor of the local paper somewhat graphically accused of
having “reached out and pulled him in.”



THE SPOOK HOUSE


ON the road leading north from Manchester, in eastern Kentucky, to
Booneville, twenty miles away, stood, in 1862, a wooden plantation house
of a somewhat better quality than most of the dwellings in that region.
The house was destroyed by fire in the year following—probably by some
stragglers from the retreating column of General George W. Morgan, when
he was driven from Cumberland Gap to the Ohio river by General Kirby
Smith.  At the time of its destruction, it had for four or five years
been vacant.  The fields about it were overgrown with brambles, the
fences gone, even the few negro quarters, and out-houses generally,
fallen partly into ruin by neglect and pillage; for the negroes and poor
whites of the vicinity found in the building and fences an abundant
supply of fuel, of which they availed themselves without hesitation,
openly and by daylight.  By daylight alone; after nightfall no human
being except passing strangers ever went near the place.

It was known as the “Spook House.”  That it was tenanted by evil spirits,
visible, audible and active, no one in all that region doubted any more
than he doubted what he was told of Sundays by the traveling preacher.
Its owner’s opinion of the matter was unknown; he and his family had
disappeared one night and no trace of them had ever been found.  They
left everything—household goods, clothing, provisions, the horses in the
stable, the cows in the field, the negroes in the quarters—all as it
stood; nothing was missing—except a man, a woman, three girls, a boy and
a babe!  It was not altogether surprising that a plantation where seven
human beings could be simultaneously effaced and nobody the wiser should
be under some suspicion.

One night in June, 1859, two citizens of Frankfort, Col. J. C. McArdle, a
lawyer, and Judge Myron Veigh, of the State Militia, were driving from
Booneville to Manchester.  Their business was so important that they
decided to push on, despite the darkness and the mutterings of an
approaching storm, which eventually broke upon them just as they arrived
opposite the “Spook House.”  The lightning was so incessant that they
easily found their way through the gateway and into a shed, where they
hitched and unharnessed their team.  They then went to the house, through
the rain, and knocked at all the doors without getting any response.
Attributing this to the continuous uproar of the thunder they pushed at
one of the doors, which yielded.  They entered without further ceremony
and closed the door.  That instant they were in darkness and silence.
Not a gleam of the lightning’s unceasing blaze penetrated the windows or
crevices; not a whisper of the awful tumult without reached them there.
It was as if they had suddenly been stricken blind and deaf, and McArdle
afterward said that for a moment he believed himself to have been killed
by a stroke of lightning as he crossed the threshold.  The rest of this
adventure can as well be related in his own words, from the Frankfort
_Advocate_ of August 6, 1876:

“When I had somewhat recovered from the dazing effect of the transition
from uproar to silence, my first impulse was to reopen the door which I
had closed, and from the knob of which I was not conscious of having
removed my hand; I felt it distinctly, still in the clasp of my fingers.
My notion was to ascertain by stepping again into the storm whether I had
been deprived of sight and hearing.  I turned the doorknob and pulled
open the door.  It led into another room!

“This apartment was suffused with a faint greenish light, the source of
which I could not determine, making everything distinctly visible, though
nothing was sharply defined.  Everything, I say, but in truth the only
objects within the blank stone walls of that room were human corpses.  In
number they were perhaps eight or ten—it may well be understood that I
did not truly count them.  They were of different ages, or rather sizes,
from infancy up, and of both sexes.  All were prostrate on the floor,
excepting one, apparently a young woman, who sat up, her back supported
by an angle of the wall.  A babe was clasped in the arms of another and
older woman.  A half-grown lad lay face downward across the legs of a
full-bearded man.  One or two were nearly naked, and the hand of a young
girl held the fragment of a gown which she had torn open at the breast.
The bodies were in various stages of decay, all greatly shrunken in face
and figure.  Some were but little more than skeletons.

“While I stood stupefied with horror by this ghastly spectacle and still
holding open the door, by some unaccountable perversity my attention was
diverted from the shocking scene and concerned itself with trifles and
details.  Perhaps my mind, with an instinct of self-preservation, sought
relief in matters which would relax its dangerous tension.  Among other
things, I observed that the door that I was holding open was of heavy
iron plates, riveted.  Equidistant from one another and from the top and
bottom, three strong bolts protruded from the beveled edge.  I turned the
knob and they were retracted flush with the edge; released it, and they
shot out.  It was a spring lock.  On the inside there was no knob, nor
any kind of projection—a smooth surface of iron.

“While noting these things with an interest and attention which it now
astonishes me to recall I felt myself thrust aside, and Judge Veigh, whom
in the intensity and vicissitudes of my feelings I had altogether
forgotten, pushed by me into the room.  ‘For God’s sake,’ I cried, ‘do
not go in there!  Let us get out of this dreadful place!’

“He gave no heed to my entreaties, but (as fearless a gentleman as lived
in all the South) walked quickly to the center of the room, knelt beside
one of the bodies for a closer examination and tenderly raised its
blackened and shriveled head in his hands.  A strong disagreeable odor
came through the doorway, completely overpowering me.  My senses reeled;
I felt myself falling, and in clutching at the edge of the door for
support pushed it shut with a sharp click!

“I remember no more: six weeks later I recovered my reason in a hotel at
Manchester, whither I had been taken by strangers the next day.  For all
these weeks I had suffered from a nervous fever, attended with constant
delirium.  I had been found lying in the road several miles away from the
house; but how I had escaped from it to get there I never knew.  On
recovery, or as soon as my physicians permitted me to talk, I inquired
the fate of Judge Veigh, whom (to quiet me, as I now know) they
represented as well and at home.

“No one believed a word of my story, and who can wonder?  And who can
imagine my grief when, arriving at my home in Frankfort two months later,
I learned that Judge Veigh had never been heard of since that night?  I
then regretted bitterly the pride which since the first few days after
the recovery of my reason had forbidden me to repeat my discredited story
and insist upon its truth.

“With all that afterward occurred—the examination of the house; the
failure to find any room corresponding to that which I have described;
the attempt to have me adjudged insane, and my triumph over my
accusers—the readers of the _Advocate_ are familiar.  After all these
years I am still confident that excavations which I have neither the
legal right to undertake nor the wealth to make would disclose the secret
of the disappearance of my unhappy friend, and possibly of the former
occupants and owners of the deserted and now destroyed house.  I do not
despair of yet bringing about such a search, and it is a source of deep
grief to me that it has been delayed by the undeserved hostility and
unwise incredulity of the family and friends of the late Judge Veigh.”

Colonel McArdle died in Frankfort on the thirteenth day of December, in
the year 1879.



THE OTHER LODGERS


“IN order to take that train,” said Colonel Levering, sitting in the
Waldorf-Astoria hotel, “you will have to remain nearly all night in
Atlanta.  That is a fine city, but I advise you not to put up at the
Breathitt House, one of the principal hotels.  It is an old wooden
building in urgent need of repairs.  There are breaches in the walls that
you could throw a cat through.  The bedrooms have no locks on the doors,
no furniture but a single chair in each, and a bedstead without
bedding—just a mattress.  Even these meager accommodations you cannot be
sure that you will have in monopoly; you must take your chance of being
stowed in with a lot of others.  Sir, it is a most abominable hotel.

“The night that I passed in it was an uncomfortable night.  I got in late
and was shown to my room on the ground floor by an apologetic night-clerk
with a tallow candle, which he considerately left with me.  I was worn
out by two days and a night of hard railway travel and had not entirely
recovered from a gunshot wound in the head, received in an altercation.
Rather than look for better quarters I lay down on the mattress without
removing my clothing and fell asleep.

“Along toward morning I awoke.  The moon had risen and was shining in at
the uncurtained window, illuminating the room with a soft, bluish light
which seemed, somehow, a bit spooky, though I dare say it had no uncommon
quality; all moonlight is that way if you will observe it.  Imagine my
surprise and indignation when I saw the floor occupied by at least a
dozen other lodgers!  I sat up, earnestly damning the management of that
unthinkable hotel, and was about to spring from the bed to go and make
trouble for the night-clerk—him of the apologetic manner and the tallow
candle—when something in the situation affected me with a strange
indisposition to move.  I suppose I was what a story-writer might call
‘frozen with terror.’  For those men were obviously all dead!

“They lay on their backs, disposed orderly along three sides of the room,
their feet to the walls—against the other wall, farthest from the door,
stood my bed and the chair.  All the faces were covered, but under their
white cloths the features of the two bodies that lay in the square patch
of moonlight near the window showed in sharp profile as to nose and chin.

“I thought this a bad dream and tried to cry out, as one does in a
nightmare, but could make no sound.  At last, with a desperate effort I
threw my feet to the floor and passing between the two rows of clouted
faces and the two bodies that lay nearest the door, I escaped from the
infernal place and ran to the office.  The night-clerk was there, behind
the desk, sitting in the dim light of another tallow candle—just sitting
and staring.  He did not rise: my abrupt entrance produced no effect upon
him, though I must have looked a veritable corpse myself.  It occurred to
me then that I had not before really observed the fellow.  He was a
little chap, with a colorless face and the whitest, blankest eyes I ever
saw.  He had no more expression than the back of my hand.  His clothing
was a dirty gray.

“‘Damn you!’ I said; ‘what do you mean?’

“Just the same, I was shaking like a leaf in the wind and did not
recognize my own voice.

“The night-clerk rose, bowed (apologetically) and—well, he was no longer
there, and at that moment I felt a hand laid upon my shoulder from
behind.  Just fancy that if you can!  Unspeakably frightened, I turned
and saw a portly, kind-faced gentleman, who asked:

“‘What is the matter, my friend?’

“I was not long in telling him, but before I made an end of it he went
pale himself.  ‘See here,’ he said, ‘are you telling the truth?’

“I had now got myself in hand and terror had given place to indignation.
‘If you dare to doubt it,’ I said, ‘I’ll hammer the life out of you!’

“‘No,’ he replied, ‘don’t do that; just sit down till I tell you.  This
is not a hotel.  It used to be; afterward it was a hospital.  Now it is
unoccupied, awaiting a tenant.  The room that you mention was the
dead-room—there were always plenty of dead.  The fellow that you call the
night-clerk used to be that, but later he booked the patients as they
were brought in.  I don’t understand his being here.  He has been dead a
few weeks.’

“‘And who are you?’ I blurted out.

“‘Oh, I look after the premises.  I happened to be passing just now, and
seeing a light in here came in to investigate.  Let us have a look into
that room,’ he added, lifting the sputtering candle from the desk.

“‘I’ll see you at the devil first!’ said I, bolting out of the door into
the street.

“Sir, that Breathitt House, in Atlanta, is a beastly place!  Don’t you
stop there.”

“God forbid!  Your account of it certainly does not suggest comfort.  By
the way, Colonel, when did all that occur?”

“In September, 1864—shortly after the siege.”



THE THING AT NOLAN


TO the south of where the road between Leesville and Hardy, in the State
of Missouri, crosses the east fork of May Creek stands an abandoned
house.  Nobody has lived in it since the summer of 1879, and it is fast
going to pieces.  For some three years before the date mentioned above,
it was occupied by the family of Charles May, from one of whose ancestors
the creek near which it stands took its name.

Mr. May’s family consisted of a wife, an adult son and two young girls.
The son’s name was John—the names of the daughters are unknown to the
writer of this sketch.

John May was of a morose and surly disposition, not easily moved to
anger, but having an uncommon gift of sullen, implacable hate.  His
father was quite otherwise; of a sunny, jovial disposition, but with a
quick temper like a sudden flame kindled in a wisp of straw, which
consumes it in a flash and is no more.  He cherished no resentments, and
his anger gone, was quick to make overtures for reconciliation.  He had a
brother living near by who was unlike him in respect of all this, and it
was a current witticism in the neighborhood that John had inherited his
disposition from his uncle.

One day a misunderstanding arose between father and son, harsh words
ensued, and the father struck the son full in the face with his fist.
John quietly wiped away the blood that followed the blow, fixed his eyes
upon the already penitent offender and said with cold composure, “You
will die for that.”

The words were overheard by two brothers named Jackson, who were
approaching the men at the moment; but seeing them engaged in a quarrel
they retired, apparently unobserved.  Charles May afterward related the
unfortunate occurrence to his wife and explained that he had apologized
to the son for the hasty blow, but without avail; the young man not only
rejected his overtures, but refused to withdraw his terrible threat.
Nevertheless, there was no open rupture of relations: John continued
living with the family, and things went on very much as before.

One Sunday morning in June, 1879, about two weeks after what has been
related, May senior left the house immediately after breakfast, taking a
spade.  He said he was going to make an excavation at a certain spring in
a wood about a mile away, so that the cattle could obtain water.  John
remained in the house for some hours, variously occupied in shaving
himself, writing letters and reading a newspaper.  His manner was very
nearly what it usually was; perhaps he was a trifle more sullen and
surly.

At two o’clock he left the house.  At five, he returned.  For some reason
not connected with any interest in his movements, and which is not now
recalled, the time of his departure and that of his return were noted by
his mother and sisters, as was attested at his trial for murder.  It was
observed that his clothing was wet in spots, as if (so the prosecution
afterward pointed out) he had been removing blood-stains from it.  His
manner was strange, his look wild.  He complained of illness, and going
to his room took to his bed.

May senior did not return.  Later that evening the nearest neighbors were
aroused, and during that night and the following day a search was
prosecuted through the wood where the spring was.  It resulted in little
but the discovery of both men’s footprints in the clay about the spring.
John May in the meantime had grown rapidly worse with what the local
physician called brain fever, and in his delirium raved of murder, but
did not say whom he conceived to have been murdered, nor whom he imagined
to have done the deed.  But his threat was recalled by the brothers
Jackson and he was arrested on suspicion and a deputy sheriff put in
charge of him at his home.  Public opinion ran strongly against him and
but for his illness he would probably have been hanged by a mob.  As it
was, a meeting of the neighbors was held on Tuesday and a committee
appointed to watch the case and take such action at any time as
circumstances might seem to warrant.

On Wednesday all was changed.  From the town of Nolan, eight miles away,
came a story which put a quite different light on the matter.  Nolan
consisted of a school house, a blacksmith’s shop, a “store” and a
half-dozen dwellings.  The store was kept by one Henry Odell, a cousin of
the elder May.  On the afternoon of the Sunday of May’s disappearance Mr.
Odell and four of his neighbors, men of credibility, were sitting in the
store smoking and talking.  It was a warm day; and both the front and the
back door were open.  At about three o’clock Charles May, who was well
known to three of them, entered at the front door and passed out at the
rear.  He was without hat or coat.  He did not look at them, nor return
their greeting, a circumstance which did not surprise, for he was
evidently seriously hurt.  Above the left eyebrow was a wound—a deep gash
from which the blood flowed, covering the whole left side of the face and
neck and saturating his light-gray shirt.  Oddly enough, the thought
uppermost in the minds of all was that he had been fighting and was going
to the brook directly at the back of the store, to wash himself.

Perhaps there was a feeling of delicacy—a backwoods etiquette which
restrained them from following him to offer assistance; the court
records, from which, mainly, this narrative is drawn, are silent as to
anything but the fact.  They waited for him to return, but he did not
return.

Bordering the brook behind the store is a forest extending for six miles
back to the Medicine Lodge Hills.  As soon as it became known in the
neighborhood of the missing man’s dwelling that he had been seen in Nolan
there was a marked alteration in public sentiment and feeling.  The
vigilance committee went out of existence without the formality of a
resolution.  Search along the wooded bottom lands of May Creek was
stopped and nearly the entire male population of the region took to
beating the bush about Nolan and in the Medicine Lodge Hills.  But of the
missing man no trace was found.

One of the strangest circumstances of this strange case is the formal
indictment and trial of a man for murder of one whose body no human being
professed to have seen—one not known to be dead.  We are all more or less
familiar with the vagaries and eccentricities of frontier law, but this
instance, it is thought, is unique.  However that may be, it is of record
that on recovering from his illness John May was indicted for the murder
of his missing father.  Counsel for the defense appears not to have
demurred and the case was tried on its merits.  The prosecution was
spiritless and perfunctory; the defense easily established—with regard to
the deceased—an _alibi_.  If during the time in which John May must have
killed Charles May, if he killed him at all, Charles May was miles away
from where John May must have been, it is plain that the deceased must
have come to his death at the hands of someone else.

John May was acquitted, immediately left the country, and has never been
heard of from that day.  Shortly afterward his mother and sisters removed
to St. Louis.  The farm having passed into the possession of a man who
owns the land adjoining, and has a dwelling of his own, the May house has
ever since been vacant, and has the somber reputation of being haunted.

One day after the May family had left the country, some boys, playing in
the woods along May Creek, found concealed under a mass of dead leaves,
but partly exposed by the rooting of hogs, a spade, nearly new and
bright, except for a spot on one edge, which was rusted and stained with
blood.  The implement had the initials C. M. cut into the handle.

This discovery renewed, in some degree, the public excitement of a few
months before.  The earth near the spot where the spade was found was
carefully examined, and the result was the finding of the dead body of a
man.  It had been buried under two or three feet of soil and the spot
covered with a layer of dead leaves and twigs.  There was but little
decomposition, a fact attributed to some preservative property in the
mineral-bearing soil.

Above the left eyebrow was a wound—a deep gash from which blood had
flowed, covering the whole left side of the face and neck and saturating
the light-gray shirt.  The skull had been cut through by the blow.  The
body was that of Charles May.

But what was it that passed through Mr. Odell’s store at Nolan?



“MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCES”


THE DIFFICULTY OF CROSSING A FIELD


ONE morning in July, 1854, a planter named Williamson, living six miles
from Selma, Alabama, was sitting with his wife and a child on the veranda
of his dwelling.  Immediately in front of the house was a lawn, perhaps
fifty yards in extent between the house and public road, or, as it was
called, the “pike.”  Beyond this road lay a close-cropped pasture of some
ten acres, level and without a tree, rock, or any natural or artificial
object on its surface.  At the time there was not even a domestic animal
in the field.  In another field, beyond the pasture, a dozen slaves were
at work under an overseer.

Throwing away the stump of a cigar, the planter rose, saying: “I forgot
to tell Andrew about those horses.”  Andrew was the overseer.

Williamson strolled leisurely down the gravel walk, plucking a flower as
he went, passed across the road and into the pasture, pausing a moment as
he closed the gate leading into it, to greet a passing neighbor, Armour
Wren, who lived on an adjoining plantation.  Mr. Wren was in an open
carriage with his son James, a lad of thirteen.  When he had driven some
two hundred yards from the point of meeting, Mr. Wren said to his son: “I
forgot to tell Mr. Williamson about those horses.”

Mr. Wren had sold to Mr. Williamson some horses, which were to have been
sent for that day, but for some reason not now remembered it would be
inconvenient to deliver them until the morrow.  The coachman was directed
to drive back, and as the vehicle turned Williamson was seen by all
three, walking leisurely across the pasture.  At that moment one of the
coach horses stumbled and came near falling.  It had no more than fairly
recovered itself when James Wren cried: “Why, father, what has become of
Mr. Williamson?”

It is not the purpose of this narrative to answer that question.

Mr. Wren’s strange account of the matter, given under oath in the course
of legal proceedings relating to the Williamson estate, here follows:

“My son’s exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had seen
the deceased [_sic_] an instant before, but he was not there, nor was he
anywhere visible.  I cannot say that at the moment I was greatly
startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though I thought it
singular.  My son, however, was greatly astonished and kept repeating his
question in different forms until we arrived at the gate.  My black boy
Sam was similarly affected, even in a greater degree, but I reckon more
by my son’s manner than by anything he had himself observed.  [This
sentence in the testimony was stricken out.]  As we got out of the
carriage at the gate of the field, and while Sam was hanging [_sic_] the
team to the fence, Mrs. Williamson, with her child in her arms and
followed by several servants, came running down the walk in great
excitement, crying: ‘He is gone, he is gone!  O God! what an awful
thing!’ and many other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly
recollect.  I got from them the impression that they related to something
more—than the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had
occurred before her eyes.  Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think,
than was natural under the circumstances.  I have no reason to think she
had at that time lost her mind.  I have never since seen nor heard of Mr.
Williamson.”

This testimony, as might have been expected, was corroborated in almost
every particular by the only other eye-witness (if that is a proper
term)—the lad James.  Mrs. Williamson had lost her reason and the
servants were, of course, not competent to testify.  The boy James Wren
had declared at first that he _saw_ the disappearance, but there is
nothing of this in his testimony given in court.  None of the field hands
working in the field to which Williamson was going had seen him at all,
and the most rigorous search of the entire plantation and adjoining
country failed to supply a clew.  The most monstrous and grotesque
fictions, originating with the blacks, were current in that part of the
State for many years, and probably are to this day; but what has been
here related is all that is certainly known of the matter.  The courts
decided that Williamson was dead, and his estate was distributed
according to law.


AN UNFINISHED RACE


JAMES BURNE WORSON was a shoemaker who lived in Leamington, Warwickshire,
England.  He had a little shop in one of the by-ways leading off the road
to Warwick.  In his humble sphere he was esteemed an honest man, although
like many of his class in English towns he was somewhat addicted to
drink.  When in liquor he would make foolish wagers.  On one of these too
frequent occasions he was boasting of his prowess as a pedestrian and
athlete, and the outcome was a match against nature.  For a stake of one
sovereign he undertook to run all the way to Coventry and back, a
distance of something more than forty miles.  This was on the 3d day of
September in 1873.  He set out at once, the man with whom he had made the
bet—whose name is not remembered—accompanied by Barham Wise, a linen
draper, and Hamerson Burns, a photographer, I think, following in a light
cart or wagon.

For several miles Worson went on very well, at an easy gait, without
apparent fatigue, for he had really great powers of endurance and was not
sufficiently intoxicated to enfeeble them.  The three men in the wagon
kept a short distance in the rear, giving him occasional friendly “chaff”
or encouragement, as the spirit moved them.  Suddenly—in the very middle
of the roadway, not a dozen yards from them, and with their eyes full
upon him—the man seemed to stumble, pitched headlong forward, uttered a
terrible cry and vanished!  He did not fall to the earth—he vanished
before touching it.  No trace of him was ever discovered.

After remaining at and about the spot for some time, with aimless
irresolution, the three men returned to Leamington, told their
astonishing story and were afterward taken into custody.  But they were
of good standing, had always been considered truthful, were sober at the
time of the occurrence, and nothing ever transpired to discredit their
sworn account of their extraordinary adventure, concerning the truth of
which, nevertheless, public opinion was divided, throughout the United
Kingdom.  If they had something to conceal, their choice of means is
certainly one of the most amazing ever made by sane human beings.


CHARLES ASHMORE’S TRAIL


THE family of Christian Ashmore consisted of his wife, his mother, two
grown daughters, and a son of sixteen years.  They lived in Troy, New
York, were well-to-do, respectable persons, and had many friends, some of
whom, reading these lines, will doubtless learn for the first time the
extraordinary fate of the young man.  From Troy the Ashmores moved in
1871 or 1872 to Richmond, Indiana, and a year or two later to the
vicinity of Quincy, Illinois, where Mr. Ashmore bought a farm and lived
on it.  At some little distance from the farmhouse was a spring with a
constant flow of clear, cold water, whence the family derived its supply
for domestic use at all seasons.

On the evening of the 9th of November in 1878, at about nine o’clock,
young Charles Ashmore left the family circle about the hearth, took a tin
bucket and started toward the spring.  As he did not return, the family
became uneasy, and going to the door by which he had left the house, his
father called without receiving an answer.  He then lighted a lantern and
with the eldest daughter, Martha, who insisted on accompanying him, went
in search.  A light snow had fallen, obliterating the path, but making
the young man’s trail conspicuous; each footprint was plainly defined.
After going a little more than half-way—perhaps seventy-five yards—the
father, who was in advance, halted, and elevating his lantern stood
peering intently into the darkness ahead.

“What is the matter, father?” the girl asked.

This was the matter: the trail of the young man had abruptly ended, and
all beyond was smooth, unbroken snow.  The last footprints were as
conspicuous as any in the line; the very nail-marks were distinctly
visible.  Mr. Ashmore looked upward, shading his eyes with his hat held
between them and the lantern.  The stars were shining; there was not a
cloud in the sky; he was denied the explanation which had suggested
itself, doubtful as it would have been—a new snowfall with a limit so
plainly defined.  Taking a wide circuit round the ultimate tracks, so as
to leave them undisturbed for further examination, the man proceeded to
the spring, the girl following, weak and terrified.  Neither had spoken a
word of what both had observed.  The spring was covered with ice, hours
old.

Returning to the house they noted the appearance of the snow on both
sides of the trail its entire length.  No tracks led away from it.

The morning light showed nothing more.  Smooth, spotless, unbroken, the
shallow snow lay everywhere.

Four days later the grief-stricken mother herself went to the spring for
water.  She came back and related that in passing the spot where the
footprints had ended she had heard the voice of her son and had been
eagerly calling to him, wandering about the place, as she had fancied the
voice to be now in one direction, now in another, until she was exhausted
with fatigue and emotion.

Questioned as to what the voice had said, she was unable to tell, yet
averred that the words were perfectly distinct.  In a moment the entire
family was at the place, but nothing was heard, and the voice was
believed to be an hallucination caused by the mother’s great anxiety and
her disordered nerves.  But for months afterward, at irregular intervals
of a few days, the voice was heard by the several members of the family,
and by others.  All declared it unmistakably the voice of Charles
Ashmore; all agreed that it seemed to come from a great distance,
faintly, yet with entire distinctness of articulation; yet none could
determine its direction, nor repeat its words.  The intervals of silence
grew longer and longer, the voice fainter and farther, and by midsummer
it was heard no more.

If anybody knows the fate of Charles Ashmore it is probably his mother.
She is dead.

                                * * * * *


SCIENCE TO THE FRONT


In connection with this subject of “mysterious disappearance”—of which
every memory is stored with abundant example—it is pertinent to note the
belief of Dr. Hem, of Leipsic; not by way of explanation, unless the
reader may choose to take it so, but because of its intrinsic interest as
a singular speculation.  This distinguished scientist has expounded his
views in a book entitled “Verschwinden und Seine Theorie,” which has
attracted some attention, “particularly,” says one writer, “among the
followers of Hegel, and mathematicians who hold to the actual existence
of a so-called non-Euclidean space—that is to say, of space which has
more dimensions than length, breadth, and thickness—space in which it
would be possible to tie a knot in an endless cord and to turn a rubber
ball inside out without ‘a solution of its continuity,’ or in other
words, without breaking or cracking it.”

Dr. Hem believes that in the visible world there are void places—_vacua_,
and something more—holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate
objects may fall into the invisible world and be seen and heard no more.
The theory is something like this: Space is pervaded by luminiferous
ether, which is a material thing—as much a substance as air or water,
though almost infinitely more attenuated.  All force, all forms of energy
must be propagated in this; every process must take place in it which
takes place at all.  But let us suppose that cavities exist in this
otherwise universal medium, as caverns exist in the earth, or cells in a
Swiss cheese.  In such a cavity there would be absolutely nothing.  It
would be such a vacuum as cannot be artificially produced; for if we pump
the air from a receiver there remains the luminiferous ether.  Through
one of these cavities light could not pass, for there would be nothing to
bear it.  Sound could not come from it; nothing could be felt in it.  It
would not have a single one of the conditions necessary to the action of
any of our senses.  In such a void, in short, nothing whatever could
occur.  Now, in the words of the writer before quoted—the learned doctor
himself nowhere puts it so concisely: “A man inclosed in such a closet
could neither see nor be seen; neither hear nor be heard; neither feel
nor be felt; neither live nor die, for both life and death are processes
which can take place only where there is force, and in empty space no
force could exist.”  Are these the awful conditions (some will ask) under
which the friends of the lost are to think of them as existing, and
doomed forever to exist?

Baldly and imperfectly as here stated, Dr. Hem’s theory, in so far as it
professes to be an adequate explanation of “mysterious disappearances,”
is open to many obvious objections; to fewer as he states it himself in
the “spacious volubility” of his book.  But even as expounded by its
author it does not explain, and in truth is incompatible with some
incidents of, the occurrences related in these memoranda: for example,
the sound of Charles Ashmore’s voice.  It is not my duty to indue facts
and theories with affinity.

                                                                      A.B.



FOOTNOTES


{372}  The Isle of Pines was once a famous rendezvous of pirates.





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