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Tales of Terror:
Edward Page Mitchell
eBook No.: 2300081h.html
Date first posted: Jan 2023
Most recent update: Jan 2023
This eBook was produced by David Clarke, Matthias Kaether, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat
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EDWARD PAGE MITCHELL (1852-1927), who worked as an editor and story writer for the New York daily The Sun, is recognized as a major figure in the early development of the science fiction genre.
His works include stories about a time machine ("The Clock that Went Backward," 1881) and an invisible man ("The Crystal Man," 1881), both of which pre-date H.G. Wells' novels on these subjects (1895 and 1897).
Other works include stories about faster-than-light travel ("The Tachypomp," 1874), a cyborg ("The Ablest Man in the World," 1879), teleportation ("The Man without a Body", 1877), and mind-transfer ("Exchanging Their Souls," 1877).
Besides works of science fiction, Mitchell wrote stories in the fantasy and horror genres. RGL offers special compilations of tales in all three categories.
—Roy Glashan, 22 January 2023
YOU know that when a man lives in a deserted castle on the top of a great mountain by the side of the river Rhine, he is liable to misrepresentation. Half the good people of the village of Schwinkenschwank, including the burgomaster and the burgomaster's nephew, believed that I was a fugitive from American justice. The other half were just as firmly convinced that I was crazy, and this theory had the support of the notary's profound knowledge of human character and acute logic. The two parties to the interesting controversy were so equally matched that they spent all their time in confronting each other's arguments, and I was left pretty much to myself.
As everybody with the slightest pretension to cosmopolitan knowledge is already aware, the old Schloss Schwinkenschwank is haunted by the ghosts of twenty-nine medieval barons and baronesses. The behavior of these ancient spectres was very considerate. They annoyed me, on the whole, far less than the rats, which swarmed in great numbers in every part of the castle. When I first took possession of my quarters, I was obliged to keep a lantern burning all night, and continually to beat about me with a wooden club in order to escape the fate of Bishop Hatto. Afterward I sent to Frankfort and had made for me a wire cage in which I was able to sleep with comfort and safety as soon as I became accustomed to the sharp gritting of the rats' teeth as they gnawed the iron in their impotent attempts to get in and eat me.
Barring the spectres and the rats, and now and then a transient bat or owl, I was the first tenant of the Schloss Schwinkenschwank for three or four centuries. After leaving Bonn, where I had greatly profited by the learned and ingenious lectures of the famous Calcarius, Herr Professor of Metaphysical Science in that admirable university, I had selected this ruin as the best possible place for the trial of a certain experiment in psychology. The hereditary Landgraf Von Toplitz, who owned Schloss Schwinkenschwank, showed no signs of surprise when I went to him and offered six thalers a month for the privilege of lodging in his ramshackle castle. The clerk of a Broadway hotel could not have taken my application more coolly or my money in a more businesslike spirit.
"It will be necessary to pay the first month's rent in advance," said he.
"That I am fortunately prepared to do, my well-born hereditary Landgraf," I replied, counting out six dollars. He pocketed them and gave me a receipt for the same. I wonder whether he ever tried to collect rent from his ghosts.
The most inhabitable room in the castle was that in the northwest tower, but it was already occupied by the Lady Adelaide Maria, eldest daughter of the Baron von Schotten, and starved to death in the thirteenth century by her affectionate papa for refusing to wed a one-legged freebooter from over the river. As I could not think of intruding upon a lady, I took up my quarters at the head of the south turret stairway, where there was nobody in possession except a sentimental monk, who was out a good deal nights and gave me no trouble at any time.
In such calm seclusion as I enjoyed in the Schloss it is possible to reduce physical and mental activity to the lowest degree consistent with life. St. Pedro of Alcantara, who passed forty years in a convent cell, schooled himself to sleep only an hour and a half a day, and to take food but once in three days. While diminishing the functions of his body to such an extent he must also, I firmly believe, have reduced his soul almost to the negative character of an unconscious infant's. It is exercise, thought, friction, activity, that bring out the individuality of a man's nature. Professor Calcarius' pregnant words remained burned into my memory:
"What is the mysterious link that binds soul to the living body? Why am I Calcarius, or rather why does the soul called Calcarius inhabit this particular organism? (Here the learned professor slapped his enormous thigh with his pudgy hand.) Might not I as well be another, and might not another be I? Loosen the individualized ego from the fleshy surroundings to which it coheres by force of habit and by reason of long contact, and who shall say that it may not be expelled by an act of volition, leaving the living body receptive, to be occupied by some non-individualized ego, worthier and better than the old?"
This profound suggestion made a lasting impression upon my mind. While perfectly satisfied with my body, which is sound, healthy, and reasonably beautiful, I had long been discontented with my soul, and constant contemplation of its weakness, its grossness, its inadequacy, had intensified discontentment to disgust. Could I, indeed, escape myself, could I tear this paste diamond from its fine casket and replace it with a genuine jewel, what sacrifices would I not consent to, and how fervently would I bless Calcarius and the hour that took me to Bonn!
It was to try this untried experiment that I shut myself up in the Schloss Schwinkenschwank.
Excepting little Hans, the innkeeper's son, who climbed the mountain three times a week from the village to bring me bread and cheese and white wine, and afterward Hans's sister, my only visitor during the period of my retirement was Professor Calcarius. He came over from Bonn twice to cheer and encourage me.
On the occasion of his first visit night fell while we were still talking of Pythagoras and metempsychosis. The profound metaphysicist was a corpulent man and very short-sighted.
"I can never get down the hill alive," he cried, wringing his hands anxiously. "I should stumble, and, Gott im Himmel, precipitate myself peradventure upon some jagged rock."
"You must stay all night, Professor," said I, "and sleep with me in my wire cage. I should like you to meet my roommate, the monk."
"Subjective entirely, my dear young friend," he said. "Your apparition is a creature of the optic nerve and I shall contemplate it without alarm, as becomes a philosopher."
I put my Herr Professor to bed in the wire cage and with extreme difficulty crowded myself in by his side. At his especial request I left the lantern burning. "Not that I have any apprehension of your subjective spectres," he explained. "Mere figments of the brain they are. But in the dark I might roll over and crush you."
"How progresses the self-suppression," he asked at length, "the subordination of the individual soul? Eh! What was that?"
"A rat, trying to get in at us," I replied. "Be calm: you are in no peril. My experiment proceeds satisfactorily. I have quite eliminated all interest in the outside world. Love, gratitude, friendship, care for my own welfare and the welfare of my friends have nearly disappeared. Soon, I hope, memory will also fade away, and with my memory my individual past."
"You are doing splendidly!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm, "and rendering to psychologic science an inestimable service. Soon your psychic nature will be a blank, a vacuum, ready to receive—God preserve me! What was that?"
"Only the screech of an owl," said I, reassuringly, as the great gray bird with which I had become familiar fluttered noisily down through an aperture in the roof and lit upon the top of our wire cage.
Calcarius regarded the owl with interest, and the owl blinked gravely at Calcarius.
"Who knows," said the Herr Professor, "but what that owl is animated by the soul of some great dead philosopher? Perhaps Pythagoras, perhaps Plotinus, perhaps the spirit of Socrates himself abides temporarily beneath those feathers."
I confessed that some such idea had already occurred to me.
"And in that case," continued the professor, "you have only to negative your own nature, to nullify your own individuality, in order to receive into your body this great soul, which, as my intuitions tell me, is that of Socrates, and is hovering around your physical organization, hoping to effect an entrance. Persist, my worthy young student, in your most laudable experiment, and metaphysical science—Merciful heaven! Is that the Devil?"
It was the huge gray rat, my nightly visitor. This hideous creature had grown in his life, perhaps of a century, to the size of a small terrier. His whiskers were perfectly white and very thick. His immense tushes had become so long that they curved over till the points almost impaled his skull. His eyes were big and blood red. The corners of his upper lip were so shriveled and drawn up that his countenance wore an expression of diabolical malignity, rarely seen except in some human faces. He was too old and knowing to gnaw at the wires; but he sat outside on his haunches, and gazed in at us with an indescribable look of hatred. My companion shivered. After a while the rat turned away, rattled his callous tail across the wire netting, and disappeared in the darkness. Professor Calcarius breathed a deep sigh of relief, and soon was snoring so profoundly that neither owls, rats, nor spectres ventured near us till morning.
I had so far succeeded in merging my intellectual and moral qualities in the routine of mere animal existence that when it was time for Calcarius to come again, as he had promised, I felt little interest in his approaching visit. Hansel, who constituted my commissariat, had been taken sick of the measles, and I was dependent for my food and wine upon the coming of his pretty sister Emma, a flaxen-haired maiden of eighteen, who climbed the steep path with the grace and agility of a gazelle. She was an artless little thing, and told me of her own accord the story of her simple love. Fritz was a soldier in the Emperor Wilhelm's army. He was now in garrison at Cologne. They hoped that he would soon get a lieutenancy, for he was brave and faithful, and then he would come home and marry her. She had saved up her dairy money till it amounted to quite a little purse, which she had sent him that it might help purchase his commission. Had I ever seen Fritz? No? He was handsome and good, and she loved him more than she could tell.
I listened to this prattle with the same amount of romantic interest that a proposition in Euclid would excite and congratulated myself that my old soul had so nearly disappeared. Every night the gray owl perched above me. I knew that Socrates was waiting to take possession of my body, and I yearned to open my bosom and receive that grand soul. Every night the detestable rat came and peered through the wires. His cool, contemptuous malice exasperated me strangely. I longed to reach out from beneath my cage and seize and throttle him, but I was afraid of the venom of his bite.
My own soul had by this time nearly wasted away, so to speak, through disciplined disuse. The owl looked down lovingly at me with his great placid eyes. A noble spirit seemed to shine through them and to say, "I will come when you are ready." And I would look back into their lustrous depths and exclaim with infinite yearning, "Come soon, oh Socrates, for I am almost ready!" Then I would turn and meet the devilish gaze of the monstrous rat, whose sneering malevolence dragged me back to earth and to earth's hatreds.
My detestation of the abominable beast was the sole lingering trace of the old nature. When he was not by, my soul seemed to hover around and above my body, ready to take wing and leave it free forever. At his appearance, an unconquerable disgust and loathing undid in a second all that had been accomplished, and I was still myself. To succeed in my experiment I felt that the hateful creature whose presence barred out the grand old philosopher's soul must be dispatched at any cost of sacrifice or danger.
"I will kill you, you loathsome animal!" I shouted to the rat; "and then to my emancipated body will come the soul of Socrates which awaits me yonder."
The rat turned on me his leering eyes and grinned more sardonically than ever. His scorn was more than I could bear. I threw up the side of the wire cage and clutched desperately at my enemy. I caught him by the tail. I drew him close to me. I crunched the bones of his slimy legs, felt blindly for his head, and when I got both hands to his neck, fastened upon his life with a terrible grip. With all the strength at my command, and with all the recklessness of a desperate purpose, I tore and twisted the flesh of my loathsome victim. He gasped, uttered a horrible cry of wild pain, and at last lay limp and quiet in my clutch. Hate was satisfied, my last passion was at an end, and I was free to welcome Socrates.
When I awoke from a long and dreamless sleep, the events of the night before and, indeed, of my whole previous life were as the dimly remembered incidents in a story read years ago.
The owl was gone but the mangled carcass of the rat lay by my side. Even in death his face wore its horrible grin. It now looked like a Satanic smile of triumph.
I arose and shook off my drowsiness. A new life seemed to tingle in my veins. I was no longer indifferent and negative. I took a lively interest in my surroundings and wanted to be out in the world among men, to plunge into affairs and exult in action.
Pretty Emma came up the bill bringing her basket. "I am going to leave you," said I. "I shall seek better quarters than the Schloss Schwinkenschwank."
"And shall you go to Cologne," she eagerly asked, "to the garrison where the Emperor's soldiers are?"
"Perhaps so—on my way to the world."
"And will you go for me to Fritz?" she continued, blushing. "I have good news to send him. His uncle, the mean old notary, died last night. Fritz now has a small fortune and he must come home to me at once."
"The notary," said I slowly, "died last night?"
"Yes, sir; and they say he is black in the face this morning. But it is good news for Fritz and me."
"Perhaps—" continued I, still more slowly "—perhaps Fritz would not believe me. I am a stranger, and men who know the world, like your young soldier, are given to suspicion."
"Carry this ring," she quickly replied, taking from her finger a worthless trinket. "Fritz gave it to me and he will know by it that I trust you."
My next visitor was the learned Calcarius. He was quite out of breath when he reached the apartment I was preparing to leave.
"How goes our metempsychosis, my worthy pupil?" he asked. "I arrived last evening from Bonn, but rather than spend another night with your horrible rodents, I submitted my purse to the extortion of the village innkeeper. The rogue swindled me," he continued, taking out his purse and counting over a small treasure of silver. "He charged me forty Groschen for a bed and breakfast."
The sight of the silver, and the sweet clink of the pieces as they came in contact in Professor Calcarius' palm, thrilled my new soul with an emotion it had not yet experienced. Silver seemed the brightest thing in the world to me at that moment, and the acquisition of silver, by whatever means, the noblest exercise of human energy. With a sudden impulse that I was unable to resist, I sprang upon my friend and instructor and wrenched the purse from his hands. He uttered a cry of surprise and dismay.
"Cry away!" I shouted; "it will do no good. Your miserly screams will be heard only by rats and owls and ghosts. The money is mine."
"What's this?" he exclaimed. "You rob your guest, your friend, your guide and mentor in the sublime walks of metaphysical science? What perfidy has taken possession of your soul?"
I seized the Herr Professor by the legs and threw him violently to the floor. He struggled as the gray rat had struggled. I tore pieces of wire from my cage, and bound him hand and foot so tightly that the wire cut deep into his fat flesh.
"Ho! Ho!" said I, standing over him; "what a feast for the rats your corpulent carcass will make," and I turned to go.
"Good Gott!" he cried. "You do not intend to leave me: No one ever comes here."
"All the better," I replied, gritting my teeth and shaking my fist in his face; "the rats will have uninterrupted opportunity to relieve you of your superfluous flesh. Oh, they are very hungry, I assure you, Herr Metaphysician, and they will speedily help you to sever the mysterious link that binds soul to living body. They well know how to loosen the individualized ego from the fleshly surroundings. I congratulate you on the prospect of a rare experiment."
The cries of Professor Calcarius grew fainter and fainter as I made my way down the hill. Once out of hearing I stopped to count my gains. Over and over again, with extraordinary joy, I told the thalers in his purse, and always with the same result. There were just thirty pieces of silver.
My way into the world of barter and profit led me through Cologne. At the barracks I sought out Fritz Schneider of Schwinkenschwank.
"My friend," said I, putting my hand upon his shoulder, "I am going to do you the greatest service which one man may do another. You love little Emma, the innkeeper's daughter?"
"I do indeed," he said. "You bring news of her?"
"I have just now torn myself away from her too ardent embrace."
"It is a lie!" he shouted. "The little girl is as true as gold."
"She is as false as the metal in this trinket," said I with composure, tossing him Emma's ring. "She gave it to me yesterday when we parted."
He looked at the ring and then put both hands to his forehead. "It is true," he groaned. "Our betrothal ring!" I watched his anguish with philosophical interest.
"See here," he continued, taking a neatly knitten purse from his bosom. "Here is the money she sent to help me buy promotion. Perhaps that belongs to you?"
"Quite likely," I replied, very coolly. "The pieces have a familiar look."
Without another word the soldier flung the purse at my feet and turned away. I heard him sobbing, and the sound was music. Then I picked up the purse and hastened to the nearest café to count the silver. There were just thirty pieces again.
To acquire silver, that is the chief joy possible to my new nature. It is a glorious pleasure, is it not? How fortunate that the soul, which took possession of my body in the Schloss, was not Socrates', which would have made me, at best, a dismal ruminator like Calcarius; but the soul that had dwelt in the gray rat till I strangled him. At one time I thought that my new soul came to me from the dead notary in the village. I know, now, that I inherited it from the rat, and I believe it to be the soul that once animated Judas Iscariot, that prince of men of action.
The Strange Confession Of A New York Physician—a Case
Has Puzzled The Medical Fraternity For Many Years Past
DR. JAMES HARWOOD, who died last week, stood for more than twenty years very near the head of the medical profession. His fame extended also to the other side of the water, and when traveling in Europe other celebrated physicians availed themselves of the opportunity of consulting him. On one of his Continental tours, Dr. James Harwood effected a most marvelous cure which soon made the rounds of the papers and helped materially in establishing his world-wide reputation. He succeeded in curing the Russian Prince Michalskovich of an almost hopeless form of monomania. What made the case of such interest to the medical profession was the extraordinary and strange means which the doctor had employed to effect the cure. Dr. James Harwood maintained, verbally and in print, that he had restored the prince to a sound mind by means of mesmerizing him. This occurred about twenty or thirty years ago, and mesmerism was then all the rage, and there were many intelligent persons who fully believed in all the wonderful things told of its power. Naturally, the case formed for a long time a fertile subject for discussion in medical circles and periodicals, and after a while, in view of the high respectability of the practitioner and the testimony corroborating it, the prince's strange case of insanity and Dr. James Harwood's wonderful cure was entered as a fact into the various medical annals and finally found also a place in the textbooks used in our medical schools and colleges.
But scientific men are always somewhat skeptical, and to this day some members of the medical profession continue to look with suspicion upon the doctor's account of the cure.
Six or seven years ago the prince himself paid a visit to this city. He had scarcely looked at his new quarters in the hotel when he was told that two celebrated New York physicians, father and son, begged the favor of an interview. When admitted, the older explained that he was a professor of medicine, and now engaged on an elaborate work on physiology, and that he would feel obliged if the prince would give him a detailed account of his own famous case, to be incorporated in the chapter on insanity. The prince graciously complied and, entering upon every particular connected with his cure, he ascribed it again to the effects of mesmerism. The aged professor thereupon ventured on letting an incredulous smile flit across his face. But the moment the prince had seen and interpreted this treacherous smile, the medical gentleman became aware of having been seized by the coat collar and deposited on the soft carpet of the corridor outside of the prince's door, where his son soon came rushing after him, followed by his hat and cane. There is a rumor in medical circles that this is the reason why the prince's curious case is not mentioned in a recently published great American work on physiology.
The original account of the marvelous cure of the insane prince as Dr. James Harwood first gave it reads as follows:
I was called to St. Petersburg to examine the case of Prince Michalskovich, who was suffering from a very curious mental affection. I found him raving in a language wholly unknown, at least to the attending physicians and several linguists who had been invited to his bedside. After having succeeded in allaying his brain fever, I was in hopes of hearing him resume the use of Russian, French, or English, in which he was in the habit of conversing, but he persisted in using his unintelligible gibberish. Otherwise he was quiet and inoffensive. His deportment toward his numerous serfs and servants was, in fact, wondrously gentle and courteous while, when sane, he exhibited always to them the most irascible temper, and treated them habitually brutally and cruelly. He began to show also an extraordinary preference for coarse clothing and frugal meats. One day he showed a desire to leave the palace. I instructed his attendants to give him as much liberty as possible, and to follow him only at a distance. In the evening these men reported that the prince had been at work all day in the shop of a carriage maker. He had gone into the shop and, without saying a word, had taken hammer and hatchet and assisted the workmen in making a carriage. The wheelwright said that he had let the prince have his way because he saw at once that he was a very skilled laborer. Early in the morning, the prince was at work again in the wheelwright's shop, and continued there until evening. In a week or two it became perfectly plain that the prince had the monomania of being nothing but a simple carriage maker. I tried at first to prevent him from going to the shop, but seeing that it distracted his mind only more, I consented to let him go on, trusting that something would occur which would lead his mind back into its proper channels.
I was very near fixing a day for my return to New York, and about to decide that the prince was an incurable lunatic, when my eyes fell on a paragraph in a medical journal speaking of the case of an insane journeyman in Tiflis, who imagined himself to be a powerful and wealthy prince. I read the account through a second time, feeling peculiarly impressed by the singular coincidences that this poor fellow was a carriage maker by trade, and that, while he had never been heard to speak anything but an obscure Georgian dialect of Mingrolia, and had always been known as a low and ignorant peasant, he was now heard in his ravings to make a fluent and cultured use of Russian, German, French, and English. It was this unexpected talking in foreign languages which had caused this journeyman's case to make the rounds of the papers. I could not help observing that it was exactly the same case as that of Prince Michalskovich, only inverted. The prince wanted to be a wheelwright; the wheelwright wanted to be a prince. The one had given up talking in civilized languages, and talked gibberish; the other had given up his gibberish, and talked Russian, English, and other tongues.
Naturally enough I took at once the necessary steps to have the man removed from the Tiflis to the St. Petersburg insane asylum. I claimed him there and found that the correspondence between his case and that of the prince was most surprising. After consulting the family of Prince Michalskovich, I had the fellow taken to the palace with all the pomp and ceremony that was due a prince, just out of sheer curiosity to see what the development would be. He confounded everybody. He took possession of the prince's private apartments as if he had occupied them all of his life. He greeted the parents, relatives, and friends of the prince by name, used the wardrobe, and ordered the servants, as if he were really the prince himself. The grace of his manners and the elegance with which he expressed himself in various languages were most astonishing, and withal he had the build, the hands, and features of a rough artisan. I put him to another test. I confronted him with the veritable prince in the carriage factory. He spoke to the prince patronizingly, even somewhat familiarly, but still preserving always a certain distance and showing at times unmistakable haughtiness. He did not seem to notice the fact that the prince gave him no answer in return to anything he said.
Thus another week or two passed by, and I had made no progress in the case of the prince, except that instead of one insane man I had now two on my hands. I was again on the point of abandoning the prince when one day a seedy-looking individual paid me a visit and offered to cure the prince instantly if I guaranteed that he should be paid well for his services. A thousand rubles was his price. I made the bargain with him, but put in the condition that I was to be present at every step of the operation.
At the appointed time I had the prince and the artisan in the palace. The mysterious stranger made me order them to sit side by side as closely as possible. Then he passed his hands over their faces, moving them continually to and fro as if mesmerizing the two men, who soon fell into a state of the most complete unconsciousness which I have ever witnessed. Thereupon he stripped them of every garment on their bodies, continuing all the time his mesmerizing manipulations. Suddenly the prince and the artisan felt simultaneously a heavy shock, after which their bodies lay as rigid as in death.
"I have caused their spirits to depart from them," said the stranger, in an explanatory tone. "Now I shall order the spirit of this one to enter the body of the other, and shall make the spirit of the other come into this body."
He stretched out his hands and commanded, "Now!"
The very instant he uttered the word the two bodies shook and trembled.
The stranger then came up to me and said, "Have you the money ready for me? Take it out, if you please, and hold it in your hand. The moment I order the bodies to move, and you hear the prince talk Russian and see him act like a prince, while the journeyman looks around bewildered and abashed as a peasant would, you will know that I have performed the cure, and you must slip the thousand rubles into my hand. I have not the time to wait another moment. Are you ready? All right, then. Now!"
Instantly the prince jumped up in full possession of his mind, called in Russian for his servants, and stepped up to me and demanded an explanation of the strange condition in which he had been placed—he was still naked. The Tiflis artisan looked as stupid and terrified as he could. To make the matter short, the stranger had indeed effected a perfect cure; both men were again of a sound mind.
I turned to the stranger and handed him his thousand rubles, adding that I should like to see him at my hotel and converse with him about the strange methods of his cure. But he shook his head and stole quietly out of the room.
Mesmerism or no mesmerism, said Dr. James Harwood, in conclusion, this is the way Prince Michalskovich was cured, and this is all that I have to state in regard to it.
SUCH was the great sensation of about twenty years ago. The papers were full of it, everybody was full of it, and nobody knew what to make of it. Spiritualists and mesmerizers, of course, were proud of it, and felt triumphant. There was, in fact, no possibility of denying the case. Prince Michalskovich was a well-known character, and his prolonged sickness and final monomania of believing himself a simple carriage maker were well-authenticated facts. Also the Tiflis artisan's sudden and wonderful gift of tongues was attested to by several eminent physicians who had examined and treated him in the early stages of his insanity.
Several years ago, when the doctor was still residing in this city, he was urged by a colleague to come forward with the real facts of the case, and thereby save the honor of the profession as well as his own. The doctor acceded in so far to the demand that he deposited with a friend a full account of the case, taking a solemn promise that the same should not be published before the prince and he himself were dead and buried. This confession is now laid before the world, and though rather strange and unexpected, yet it cannot be said of the doctor that the course he pursued was entirely unjustifiable. He says:
The medical world will not be very much surprised when they read that I acknowledge the stranger's cure of the prince and the artisan to have been a deception, and that I knew it at the time to have been such, because the whole scene was of my own devising. From the first I have always felt confident that the better class of physicians would not fail to perceive that my making use of a magician to cure an insane man was one of those tricks to which a physician has sometimes to resort in the treatment of the insane, especially of those who are laboring under a great self-deception. But the great credulity of the masses took me by surprise. In a fortnight all the papers had copied the nonsensical account of the prince's cure, and I was at once besieged with thousands of letters from medical men and associations, and everybody I met wanted me to tell him the story over again. I could not do otherwise than give the same version of the case to all inquirers, for in cures of insanity effected by deception it is of the utmost importance that the patient does never discover that his physician only deceived him. Here is a case in point: A merchant once imagined that he had a watch in his head, and that the never-ceasing ticking prevented him from thinking and sleeping. When placed in an asylum, he was told that he had to submit to the very dangerous operation of having the watch got out of his head. He was chloroformed, a deep cut was made into a safe spot, and when he awoke a small blood-stained mechanism was shown and given him with the assurance that it had been taken out of his head. He believed it, and was cured. He resumed his commercial pursuits and made a great fortune.
But now comes the terrible sequel. One day, after ten or twenty years, he met in the street the physician who had cured him of his insanity. The doctor, attempting to joke with him about the former monomania, said laughingly, "What a funny fancy that was of yours to think that you carried a watch in your brain. Don't you now sometimes laugh at yourself when you recollect it?"
The merchant looked at him in surprise. "Then you did not cut it out of my head! I thought so. I always thought so. I never believed it. I heard it tick all the time just the same. Now put your ear right here. How it ticks! Don't you hear it tick? Tick, tick, tick!"
The man was insane again. Nothing could cure him now, for nobody could deceive him again.
I determined to manage my own case better. I resolved to tell my secret to nobody in order to be sure that nobody would tell it again. If a single word of it had at any time crept out, it would have reached the prince by some means or other, sooner or later. Luckily, the mystery was deepened by the strange coincidence of the Tiflis carriage maker, and whenever I could, I drew the attention of medical men away from my trick with the magician to the real and well-authenticated fact of the wonderful similarity and simultaneousness of the insanity of the artisan and the prince. It cannot be denied that the case is one of the most wonderful occurrences in medical practice, and I shall proceed to present it, shorn of everything but what actually happened.
Prince Michalskovich's nurse was a beautiful Georgian woman whose own child was made his playfellow, and shared his tuition until he was about fourteen years of age. Then the prince went on his travels, and his foster brother returned with his mother to the district of Mingrolia, in Russian Georgia, where he learned the trade of a carriage maker. The prince loved the nurse and his foster brother dearly, and he spent many a season in the Transcaucasian mountains in order to be near them. He was a very active youth, fond of hunting and fishing, and taking delight in mechanical employments, he spent many a day in the wheelwright's shop working at the side of his foster brother.
Unfortunately the prince fell in love with the same young peasant woman whom his foster brother was about to marry. When the young artisan discovered the unfaithfulness of his betrothed he had a violent scene with the prince and the very day, as misfortune would have it, the young woman died, suddenly and unexpectedly. Her two lovers were then equally wretched. Both left Mingrolia. The wheelwright went to Tiflis and worked there under an assumed name to prevent the prince from finding him again. The prince returned to St. Petersburg and it was soon discovered that he was subject to abnormal fits of melancholia. His yearning for his foster brother, coupled with the unfortunate termination of his love affair, finally developed the peculiar form of insanity already described.
The young artisan continued at work in Tiflis. He spoke to no one of his past history and formed no friendships among his fellow workmen. The day's work done, he returned at night to his hovel where he spent the remainder of the day in strict seclusion. He became insane, too, imagining on a sudden to be his own foster brother, Prince Michalskovich. This considering one's self to be some great and powerful person is quite a common form of monomania, and hence the artisan's case would hardly have attracted attention if it had not been coupled with his surprising use of foreign languages. He had never been known to speak anything but his peasant dialect, and nobody suspected to think that he was a man of education and refinement. The physician who attended him at once pronounced his case the great marvel of the age. The story of the sudden gift of tongues traveled over the world, and at last reached me also. You know how I sent for the young man and finally took him into the palace. He was instantly recognized as the foster brother of the prince. One day he startled me by inquiring for his brother Paul. I perceived at once that his reason was dawning again, and by careful treatment I succeeded in restoring him to his senses.
When I told him of the prince's mental malady and of the wonderful coincidence of his own, the young man's affection for the prince revived and he was full of ardor to assist me to set up the situation by which I hoped to bring about a cure. In the course of a conversation he told me one day some anecdotes illustrative of the gross superstition of the prince. He mentioned, among other things, the prince's strong faith in the transmigration of souls, and his firm belief in the pretensions of persons like Cagliostro or Joseph Balsamo. I saw at once an opportunity for another experiment, and I quickly concocted the scene with the magician which I described. When the prince came to his senses again, he listened to my account of his wonderful cure by the mysterious stranger in perfect good faith, and when he saw his foster brother and heard him say that he had also been cured that very moment, he was perfectly satisfied, and acted again the sane man.
The notoriety which the prince attained through the widespread accounts of his wonderful cure flattered him very much, and if anybody had insinuated to him that he had been duped, he would have regarded it as a great insult. It is rumored that some New York physician was made to feel his wrath when he called on the prince and wished him to understand that he believed that I had only deceived him. Of course, if somebody had told the prince that he had heard me say that his cure was effected simply by a medical trick, the consequences would have been of a very serious nature.
Such is Dr. James Harwood's confession. Does it justify him?
"MY notions about soul's influence on soul," said Dr. Richards of Saturday Cove to me one day last September, "are a little peculiar. I don't make a practice of giving 'em away to the folks around here. The cove people hold that when a doctor gets beyond jalap and rhubarb he's trespassing on the parson's property. Now it's a long road from jalap to soul, but I don't see why one man mightn't travel as well as another. Will you oblige me with a clam?"
I obliged him with a clam. We were sitting together on the rocks, fishing for tomcod. Saturday Cove is a small watering place a few miles below Belfast, on the west shore of Penobscot bay. It apparently derives its name from a belief, generally entertained by the covers, that this spot was the final and crowning achievement of the Creator before resting on the seventh day. The cove village consists of a hotel, two churches, several stores, and a graveyard containing former generations of Saturdarians. It is a favorite gibe among outsiders, who envy the placid quiet of the place, that if the population of the graveyard should be dug up and distributed through the village, and the present inhabitants laid away beneath the sod, there would be no perceptible diminution in the liveliness of the settlement. The cove proper abounds with tomcod, which may be caught with clams.
"Yes," continued Dr. Richards, as he forced the barb of his jig hook into the tender organism of the clam, "my theory is that a strong soul may crowd a weak soul out of the body which belongs to the weak soul and operate through that body, even though miles away and involuntarily. I believe, moreover, that a man may have two souls, one his own by right and the other an intruder. In fact I know that this is so and it being so what becomes of your moral responsibility? What, I ask, becomes of your moral responsibility?"
I replied that I could not imagine.
"Your doctrine of moral responsibility," said the doctor sternly, as if it were my doctrine and I were responsible for moral responsibility, "isn't worth this tomcod." And he took a small fish off his hook and contemptuously tossed it back into the cove. "Did you ever hear of the case of the Dow twins?"
I had never heard of the case of the Dow twins.
"Well," resumed the doctor, "they were born into the family of Hiram Dow, thirty years or more ago, in the red farmhouse just over the hill back of us. My predecessor, old Dr. Gookin, superintended their birth, and has often told me the circumstances. The Dow twins came into the world bound back to back by a fleshy ligature which extended half the length of the spinal processes. They would probably have traveled through life in an intimate juxtaposition had the matter depended on your great city surgeons—your surgeons who were afraid to disconnect Chang and Eng, and who discussed the operation till the poor fellows died without parting company. Old Dr. Gookin, however, who hadn't attempted anything for years in the surgical line, more than to pull a tooth or to cut out an occasional wen, calmly went to work and sharpened up his rusty old operating knife and slashed and gashed the twins apart before they had been three hours breathing. This promptitude of Gookin's saved the Dow twins a good deal of inconvenience."
"I should think so."
"And yet," added the doctor, reflectively, "perhaps it might have been better for 'em both if they hadn't been separated. Better for Jehiel, especially, since he wouldn't have been put in a false position. Then, on the other hand, my theory would have lacked the confirmation of an illustrative example. Do you want the story?"
"By all means."
WELL, Jacob and Jehiel grew up healthy, strapping boys, like as two peas physically, but not mentally and morally. Jehiel was all Dow—slow, slow-witted, melancholy inclined, and disposed to respect the Ten Commandments. Jake, he had his mother's git-up-and-git—she was a Fox of Fox Island—and was into mischief from the time he was tall enough to poke burdock burrs down his grandmother's back. Dr. Gookin watched the development of the twins with great interest. He used to say that there was an invisible nerve telegraph between Jake and Jehiel. Jehiel seemed to sense whenever Jacob was up to any of his pranks. One night, for instance, when Jake was off robbing a hen roost, Jehiel sat up in bed in his sleep and crowed like a frightened cock until the whole family was aroused.
I came here and opened my office about ten years ago. At that time Jehiel had grown into a steady, tolerably industrious young man, prominent in the Congregational Church, and so sober and decorous that the village people had trusted him with the driving of the town hearse. When I first knew him he was courting a young woman by the name of Giles, who lived about seven miles out in the country. Jehiel was a tin knocker by trade, and a more pious, respectable, reliable tin knocker you never saw.
Jake had turned out very differently. By the time he was twenty-one he had made Saturday Cove too hot to hold him, and everybody, including his twin Jehiel, was glad when he enlisted in a Maine regiment. I never saw Jake in my life, for I came here after he had departed, but I had a pretty good notion of what a reckless, loud-mouthed, harum-scarum reprobate he must have been. After the war he drifted into the western country, and we heard of him occasionally, first as a steamboat runner at St. Louis, then in jail at Jefferson for swindling a blind Dutchman, then as a gambler and rough in Cheyenne, and finally as a debt beat in Frisco. You could tell pretty well when Jake was in deviltry by watching the actions of Jehiel. At such times, Jehiel was restless. Knocked tin with an uneasy impatience that wasn't natural with him, was as solemn and glum as an undertaker.
He was impatient and short to the people of Saturday Cove, and evidently had to struggle hard to be good. It seemed as if Dr. Gookin's knife had severed the physical bond but not the mental one.
The strangest thing of all was in regard to Jehiel's attentions to the young woman named Giles. She was a sober, demure, church-going person, whom Jacob had never been able to interest, but who, as everybody said, would make an excellent helpmate for Jehiel. He seemed to care a good deal for her in his steady, slow way and made a point twice a week of driving over to bring her to prayer-meeting at the cove. But when one of his odd spells was on him he forsook her altogether, and weeks would go by, to her great distress, without his appearing at the Giles gate. As Jake went from bad to worse these periods of indifference became more frequent and prolonged, and occasioned the young woman named Giles much misery and a good many tears.
One fine afternoon in the summer of 1871, Jacob Dow, as we afterward learned, was shot through the heart by a Mexican in a drunken row at San Diego. He sprang high into the air and fell upon his face, and when they laid him away a good Catholic priest said mass for the repose of his soul.
That same afternoon, as it happened, old Dr. Gookin was to have been buried in the graveyard yonder. He had died a day or two before, at an extreme age, but in the full possession of his faculties, and one of the last remarks he made was to express regret that he would be unable to follow the career of the Dow twins any further.
It became Jehiel's melancholy duty to harness up his hearse on account of old Dr. Gookin's funeral, and as he dusted the plumes and polished the ebony panels of the vehicle, his thoughts naturally recurred to the great service which that excellent physician had rendered him in early youth. Then he thought of his twin brother Jacob, and wondered where he was and how he prospered. Then his eyes wandered over the hearse, and he felt a dull pride in its creditable appearance. It looked so bright and shiny in the sun that he resolved, as it still wanted a couple of hours of the time appointed for the funeral, to drive it over to the Giles farm and fetch his sweetheart to the village on the box with him. The young woman named Giles had frequently ridden with Jehiel on the hearse, her demure features and sober apparel detracting nothing from the respectable solemnity of the equipage.
Jehiel drew up in state to the door of his betrothed, and she, not at all reluctant to enjoy the mild excitement of a funeral, mounted to the box and settled herself comfortably beside him. Then they started for Saturday Cove, and jogged along on the hearse, discoursing affectionately as they went.
Miss Giles affirms that it was at the third apple tree next the stone wall of Hosea Getchell's orchard, just opposite the bars leading to Mr. Lord's private road, that a sudden and most extraordinary change came over Jehiel. He jumped, she says, high into the air and landed sprawling in the sandy road alongside the hearse, yelling so hideously that it was with difficulty that she held the frightened horses. Picking himself up and uttering a round oath ( something that had never before passed the virtuous lips of Jehiel), he turned his attention to the horses, kicking and beating them until they stood quiet. He next proceeded to cut and trim a willow switch at the roadside, and putting his decent silk hat down over one eye, and darting from the other a surly glance at the astonished Miss Giles, he climbed to his seat on the hearse.
"Dow!" said she, "what does this mean?"
"It means," he replied, giving the horses a vicious cut with his switch, "that I have been goin' slow these thirty year, and now I'm goin'to put a little ginger in my gait. Ge'long!"
The hearse horses jumped under the unaccustomed lash and broke into a gallop. Jehiel applied the switch again and again, and the dismal vehicle was soon bumping over the road at a tremendous pace, Jehiel shouting all the time like a circus rider, and Miss Giles clinging to his side in an agony of terror. The people in the farmhouses along the way rushed to doors and windows and gazed in amazement at the unprecedented spectacle. Jehiel had a word for each—a shout of derision for one, a blast of blasphemy for another, and an invitation to ride for a third—but he reined in for nobody, and in a twinkling the five miles between Hosea Cetchell's farm at Duck Trap at the village at Saturday Cove had been accomplished. I think I am safe in saying that never before did hearse rattle over five miles of hard road so rapidly.
"Oh, Jehiel, Jehiel," said Miss Giles, as the hearse entered the village, "are you took crazy of a sudden?"
"No," said Jehiel curtly, "but my eyes are open now. Ge'long, you beasts! You get out here; I'm going to Belfast."
"But, Jehiel, dear," she protested, with many sobs, "remember Dr. Gookin."
"Dang Gookin!" said Jehiel.
"And for my sake," she continued. "Dear Jehiel, for my sake."
"Dang you, too!" said Jehiel.
Drawing up his team in magnificent style before the village hotel, he compelled the weeping Miss Giles to alight, and then, with an admirable imitation of the war whoop of a Sioux brave, started his melancholy vehicle for Belfast, and was gone in a flash, leaving the entire population of Saturday Cove in a state of bewilderment that approached coma.
The remains of the worthy Dr. Gookin were borne to the graveyard that afternoon upon the shoulders of half a dozen of the stoutest farmers in the neighborhood. Jehiel came home long after midnight, uproariously intoxicated. The revolution in his character had been as complete as it was sudden. From the moment of Jacob's death, he was a dissipated, dishonest scoundrel, the scandal of Saturday Cove, and the terror of quiet respectable folks for miles around. After that day he never could be persuaded to speak to or even to recognize the young woman named Giles. She, to her credit, remained faithful to the memory of the lost Jehiel. His downward course was rapid. He gambled, drank, quarreled, and stole; and he is now in state prison at Thomaston, serving out a sentence for an attempt to rob the Northport Bank. Miss Giles goes down every year in the hopes that he will see her, but he always refuses. He is in for ten years.
"AND he, does he feel no remorse for what he did?" I asked.
"See here," said Dr. Richards, turning suddenly and looking me square in the face. "Do you think of what you are saying? Now I hold that he is as innocent as you or I. I believe that the souls of the twins were bound by a bond which Dr. Gookin's knife could not dissect. When Jacob died, his soul, with all its depravity, returned to its twin soul in Jehiel's body. Being stronger than the Jehiel soul, it mastered and overwhelmed it. Poor Jehiel is not responsible; he is suffering the penalty of a crime that was clearly Jake's."
My friend spoke with a good deal of earnestness and some heat, and concluding that Jehiel's personality was submerged. I did not press the discussion. That evening, in conversation with the village clergyman, I remarked:
"Strange case, that of the Dow twins."
"Ah," said the parson, "you have heard the story. Which way did the doctor end it?"
"Why, with Jehiel in jail, of course. What do you mean?"
"Nothing," replied the parson with a faint smile. "Sometimes when he feels well disposed toward humanity, the doctor lets Jehiel's soul take possession of Jacob and reform him into a pious, respectable Christian. In his pessimistic moods, the story is just as you heard it. So this is one of his Jacob days. He should take a little vacation."
PROFESSOR Daniel Dean Moody of Edinburgh, a gentleman equally well known as a profound psychologist and as an honest and keen-eyed investigator of the phenomena sometimes called spiritualistic, visited this country not many months ago and was entertained in Boston by Dr. Thomas Fullerton at his delightful home on Mount Vernon Street. One evening when there were present in Dr. Fullerton's parlors, besides himself and his Scotch guest, Dr. Curtis of the medical school of the Boston University, the Reverend Dr. Amos Cutler of the Lynde Street Church, Mr. Magnus of West Newton, three ladies, and the writer, the conversation turned to subjects of an occult character.
"There once lived in Aberdeen," said Professor Moody, "a medium named Jenny McGraw, of slender intellectuality, but of remarkable psychic strength. Two hundred years ago you good people of Boston would have hanged Jenny for a witch. I have seen in her cottage materialization for which I could not and cannot account by any hypothesis of deception or of hallucination. I have seen forms come forth, not from any cabinet or trick closet, but extruded before my eyes from the person of Jenny herself, hanging nebulous in the air for a moment and then slowly taking corporate shape. That there was no vulgar trick about this I am willing to stake my scientific reputation. One night Plato himself, or an eidolon claiming to be Plato, emerged from Jenny McGraw's bosom and conversed with me for full fifteen minutes upon the duality of the idea, the medium, in the meanwhile, remaining entranced."
Dr. Fullerton exchanged a significant glance with his wife. Their guest intercepted it and said:
"You don't believe me? No wonder."
"Not that," rejoined Dr. Fullerton. "Your testimony as a scientific observer is worthy of all possible respect. But what became of Jenny McGraw?"
"She was a dull, unsympathetic young woman, hardly to be classed as a rational being. So far from becoming interested in these wonderful manifestations exhibited through her organization, she was excessively annoyed by them, and I believe she finally left Scotland to escape the troublesome spirits and the still more troublesome mortals who flocked to her cottage and sadly interfered with her washing, ironing, and baking."
"A Yankee girl," said Mr. Magnus, "would have turned such powers to account and have made her fortune."
"Jenny McGraw," replied Professor Moody, "whom I believe to be the only medium in the world capable of producing materializations in the broad light and independently of her surroundings, was thrifty enough, like all Scotchwomen, but she hadn't the intelligence to recognize the opportunity. She was frequently advised to go before the public. Advice is wasted on the Scotch. I don't know where she is at present."
Dr. Fullerton again glanced at his wife. Mrs. Fullerton arose and touched a bell.
The door soon opened, and there appeared a lumpy, red-haired domestic, who curtsied awkwardly as she entered the room.
"Did ye rang, ma'am?" she asked.
"Jenny," said Mrs. Fullerton, "here is an old friend of yours from Scotland."
The girl showed no sign of surprise. Scarcely a shade of recognition passed over her stupid countenance as she walked sullenly up to the professor and sullenly took his extended hand.
"I didna ken ye was cam to America, Maister Moody," she said, and looked around as if she would be glad to escape the learned company.
"Now, with your permission, Mrs. Fullerton," said the professor, looking over Jenny McGraw's shoulder toward his hostess, "we will ask the young woman if she will kindly assist us in an investigation which we purpose to make."
Jenny looked up suspiciously and turned her small, dull eyes from her master to her mistress, and from her mistress to the door.
"I'm na ower fond of sic investigatin'," she stolidly remarked, "an' it gies me a pain in the breast to brang oot the auld ghaists, as ye na doot remember wull, Maister Moody."
For a long time the girl stubbornly refused to renew her relations with the mysterious yonder. I have forgotten what argument or plea it was that at last won her to a reluctant consent. I have not forgotten what followed.
The room was as light as the full blaze of five gas jets could make it. Under this blaze, and surrounded by the partly amused, partly skeptical company, jenny was seated in a Turkish easy chair. She did not form an attractive picture, short, squat, sandy, freckled, and peevish-eyed as she was. "Good Lord!" I whispered to a neighbor. "Do glorified spirits choose such a channel as that when they wish to come back to us?"
"Hush!" said Professor Moody. "The girl is passing into a trance."
The swinish eyes opened and closed. A sluggish convulsion fluttered across the flabby cheeks. A sigh or two, a nervous twitching of her chair, breathing heavily.
"Ineffectively simulated coma," whispered Dr. Curtis to me, "and not the work of an artist. This is a farce."
For fifteen or twenty minutes we sat in patience, the stillness broken only by the rough respiration of the girl. Then one or two of the party began to yawn, and the hostess, fearing that the experiment was becoming a bore, moved as if to break up the circle. But Professor Moody raised his hand in protest. Before he dropped it he made a rapid gesture which directed all our eyes toward Jenny McGraw.
Her head and bust seemed to be enveloped in a dim, thin film of opalescent vapor, which floated free about her, yet was fixed at one point, as a wreath of blue smoke hangs at the end of a good cigar. The point of attachment appeared to be in the neighborhood of Jenny's heart. She had stopped breathing loudly, and was as pale as the dead; but her face was no whiter than that of Dr. Curtis. I felt his hand groping for mine. He found it and clutched it till it was numb.
While we watched, the vapor that proceeded from Jenny's bosom grew in volume and became opaque. It was like a dark, well-defined cloud, floating before our eyes, here gathering itself in and extending itself there, till at last the shape was perfect.
You have seen a dim, meaningless object under a lens gradually define itself as it was brought into focus, and suddenly stand out clear and sharp. Or, better, you have seen at a shadow pantomime a vague, amorphous cloudiness intensify and take shape as the person approached the screen, until it became a perfect silhouette. Now, imagine the silhouette stepping forth into your presence a solidified fact, and you get some idea of the marvelous transition by which this shadow from a world we know not of stepped forth into the midst of our little company.
I looked across the room at the Reverend Dr. Cutler. He was clasping his forehead with both hands. I have never seen a more striking picture of mingled horror, terror, and perplexity.
The newcomer was a man of twenty-eight or thirty, of fine features and dignified bearing. He made a courteous bow to the assemblage, but when he saw that Professor Moody was about to speak put his finger to his lips and glanced back uneasily at the medium. I fancied that an expression of disgust stole over his handsome countenance when he perceived how unlovely was the gateway through which he had returned to earth. Nevertheless, he kept his eyes fixed upon Jenny McGraw's pallid face and folded his arms as if waiting.
We were now thoroughly under the spell of this mysterious happening. With eager expectation, but without surprise, we saw again the phenomena of the cloud, the shadow, the concentration, and the presence.
Slowly out of the white mist and nebulous shadow there took form the most beautiful woman that mortal eyes ever beheld. It was a woman—a living, breathing woman, her magnificent lips slightly parted, her bosom rising and falling beneath a garment of wonderfully woven texture, her glorious black eyes shining upon us till our heads swam and our thoughts reeled. It would be easier to fathom the secret of her being than to describe the unearthly beauty that startled and awed us.
The first corner unfolded his arms, and with the tenderness of a lover and the deference due a queen, took the shapely white hand of the marvelous lady and led her forth to the middle of the room. She said no word, but suffered herself to be guided by his hand, and stood like an empress scanning our faces and habiliments with a puzzled curiosity in which it was possible to detect the slightest trace of disdain. He spoke at last in a low voice.
"Friends," he slowly said, "a great love carried one who was lately a mortal into the presence of a goddess. A greater good fortune befell him than his small sacrifices had earned. I cannot speak more plainly. Hear our entreaty and grant it without questioning. There is here a servant of the church, duly qualified to pronounce the only words that can crown a love like mine. That love reached back over centuries to meet its object, and was sealed by a willing death. We come from another world to ask to be joined in wedlock according to the forms of this world."
Strange as it may seem, the preceding events had so attuned our consciousness to the spirit of the surroundings that we heard this extraordinary speech without amazement. And when Mr. Magnus of West Newton, who would preserve his cool, matter-of-fact manner in the company of archangels, audibly whispered, "Eloped, by Jove, from the spirit land!" His words jarred harshly in our ears.
The Reverend Dr. Amos Cutler displayed most strikingly the effect of the glamor that had been thrown over our nineteenth-century common sense. That pious man rose from his chair with a dazed and helpless look in his face, and, like one walking in his sleep, advanced toward the couple.
Raising his hand to command silence, he solemnly and deliberately asked the questions that by usage of the church are preliminary to the marriage rite. The man responded in a clear, triumphant tone. The bride answered only by a slight inclination of her beautiful head.
"Then," continued Dr. Cutler, "in the presence of these witnesses, I pronounce you man and wife. And God forgive me," he added, "for lending myself to the Devil's works by the sacrilege of this act."
One by one we passed up to take the bridegroom's hand and salute the bride. His hand was like the hand of a marble statue, but a radiant smile brightened his face. At a whispered suggestion from him, she bent her regal head, and allowed each one of us to kiss her cheek. It was soft and blood-warm.
When Dr. Cutler saluted her she smiled for the first time and, with a rapid, graceful movement detached from her black hair a great pearl and put it in his hand. He gazed at it a moment and, then on a sudden impulse, flung it into the open grate. In the hot blaze, Dr. Cutler's wedding fee whitened, calcined, crumbled, and disappeared.
Then the bridegroom led his wife back to the chair where the medium still sat entranced. He clasped her close in his arms. Their melting forms interblended in shadowy vapor, and, fading slowly away, this newly married couple found their nuptial pillow in the bosom of Jenny McGraw.
ONE day after Professor Moody had left Boston, I went to the Athaeneum Library in search of certain facts and dates regarding the Franco-Prussian war. While turning over the leaves of a bound file of the London Daily News for 1871 my eyes happened to fall upon the following paragraph:
The Vienna Freie Presse says that at four o'clock in the afternoon of July 12 a young man of good appearance shot himself through the heart in the east corridor of the Imperial Gallery. It was at the hour of closing the gallery, and the young man had been warned by an attendant that he must depart. He was standing motionless before Herr Hans Makart's fine picture of "Cleopatra's Barge," and paid no heed to the admonition. When it was repeated more emphatically he pointed in an absent manner to the painting, and having remarked, "Is not that a woman worth dying for!" drew a pistol and fired with fatal effect.
There is no clue to the suicide's individuality except that afforded at the Golden Lamb Hotel, where he was registered simply as "Cotton." He had been in Vienna several weeks, had spent money freely, and had frequently been observed at the Imperial Gallery, always before this picture of Cleopatra. The unfortunate youth is believed to have been insane.
I made a careful copy of this brief story, and sent it, without comment, to the Reverend Dr. Cutler. A day or two later he returned it with a note.
"The events of that night at Dr. Fullerton's," he wrote, "are to me as the events of a dimly remembered dream. Pardon me if I say that it will be a kindness to let me forget them altogether."
Practical Working of Materialization in Maine. A Strange Story from Pocock Island—A Materialized Spirit that Will not Go back. The First Glimpse of what May yet Cause very Extensive Trouble in this World.
WE are permitted to make extracts from a private letter which bears the signature of a gentleman well known in business circles, and whose veracity we have never heard called in question. His statements are startling and well-nigh incredible, but if true, they are susceptible of easy verification. Yet the thoughtful mind will hesitate about accepting them without the fullest proof, for they spring upon the world a social problem of stupendous importance. The dangers apprehended by Mr. Malthus and his followers become remote and commonplace by the side of this new and terrible issue.
The letter is dated at Pocock Island, a small township in Washington County, Maine, about seventeen miles from the mainland and nearly midway between Mt. Desert and the Grand Menan. The last state census accords to Pocock Island a population of 311, mostly engaged in the porgy fisheries. At the Presidential election of 1872 the island gave Grant a majority of three. These two facts are all that we are able to learn of the locality from sources outside of the letter already referred to.
The letter, omitting certain passages which refer solely to private matters, reads as follows:
But enough of the disagreeable business that brought me here to this bleak island in the month of November. I have a singular story to tell you. After our experience together at Chittenden I know you will not reject statements because they are startling.
My friend, there is upon Pocock Island a materialized spirit which (or who) refuses to be dematerialized. At this moment and within a quarter of a mile from me as I write, a man who died and was buried four years ago, and who has exploited the mysteries beyond the grave, walks, talks, and holds interviews with the inhabitants of the island, and is, to all appearances, determined to remain permanently upon this side of the river. I will relate the circumstances as briefly as I can.
IN April, 1870, John Newbegin died and was buried in the little cemetery on the landward side of the island. Newbegin was a man of about forty-eight, without family or near connections, and eccentric to a degree that sometimes inspired questions as to his sanity. What money he had earned by many seasons' fishing upon the banks was invested in quarters of two small mackerel schooners, the remainder of which belonged to John Hodgeson, the richest man on Pocock, who was estimated by good authorities to be worth thirteen or fourteen thousand dollars.
Newbegin was not without a certain kind of culture. He had read a good deal of the odds and ends of literature and, as a simple-minded islander expressed it in my hearing, knew more bookfuls than anybody on the island. He was naturally an intelligent man; and he might have attained influence in the community had it not been for his utter aimlessness of character, his indifference to fortune, and his consuming thirst for rum.
Many yachtsmen who have had occasion to stop at Pocock for water or for harbor shelter during eastern cruises, will remember a long, listless figure, astonishingly attired in blue army pants, rubber boots, loose toga made of some bright chintz material, and very bad hat, staggering through the little settlement, followed by a rabble of jeering brats, and pausing to strike uncertain blows at those within reach of the dead sculpin [a species of fish] which he usually carried round by the tail. This was John Newbegin.
AS I have already remarked, he died four years ago last April. The Mary Emmeline, one of the little schooners in which he owned, had returned from the eastward, and had smuggled, or "run in" a quantity of St. John brandy. Newbegin had a solitary and protracted debauch. He was missed from his accustomed walks for several days, and when the islanders broke into the hovel where he lived, close down to the seaweed and almost within reach of the incoming tide, they found him dead on the floor, with an emptied demijohn hard by his head.
After the primitive custom of the island, they interred John Newbegin's remains without coroner's inquest, burial certificate, or funeral services, and in the excitement of a large catch of porgies that summer, soon forgot him and his friendless life. His interest in the Mary Emmeline and the Prettyboat recurred to John Hodgeson; and as nobody came forward to demand an administration of the estate, it was never administered. The forms of law are but loosely followed in some of these marginal localities.
WELL, my dear ———, four years and four months had brought their quota of varying seasons to Pocock Island when John Newbegin reappeared under the following circumstances:
In the latter part of last August, as you may remember, there was a heavy gale all along our Atlantic coast. During this storm the squadron of the Naugatuck Yacht Club, which was returning from a summer cruise as far as Campobello, was forced to take shelter in the harbor to the leeward of Pocock Island. The gentlemen of the club spent three days at the little settlement ashore. Among the party was Mr. R——— E———, by which name you will recognize a medium of celebrity, and one who has been particularly successful in materializations. At the desire of his companions, and to relieve the tedium of their detention, Mr. E——— improvised a cabinet in the little schoolhouse at Pocock, and gave a séance, to the delight of his fellow yachtsmen and the utter bewilderment of such natives as were permitted to witness the manifestations.
The conditions appeared unusually favorable to spirit appearances and the séance was upon the whole perhaps the most remarkable that Mr. E———ever held. It was all the more remarkable because the surroundings were such that the most prejudiced skeptic could discover no possibility of trickery.
The first form to issue from the wood closet which constituted the cabinet, when Mr. E———had been tied therein by a committee of old sailors from the yachts, was that of an Indian chief who announced himself as Hock-a-mock, and who retired after dancing a "Harvest Moon" pas seul, and declaring himself in very emphatic terms, as opposed to the present Indian policy of the Administration. Hock-a-mock was succeeded by the aunt of one of the yachtsmen, who identified herself beyond question by allusion to family matters and by displaying the scar of a burn upon her left arm, received while making tomato catsup upon earth. Then came successively a child whom none present recognized, a French Canadian who could not talk English, and a portly gentleman who introduced himself as William King, first Governor of Maine. These in turn re-entered the cabinet and were seen no more.
It was some time before another spirit manifested itself, and Mr. E———gave directions that the lights be turned down still further. Then the door of the wood closet was slowly opened and a singular figure in rubber boots and a species of Dolly Varden garment emerged, bringing a dead fish in his right hand.
THE city men who were present, I am told, thought that the medium was masquerading in grotesque habiliments for the more complete astonishment of the islanders, but these latter rose from their seats and exclaimed with one consent: "It is John Newbegin!" And then, in not unnatural terror of the apparition they turned and fled from the schoolroom, uttering dismal cries.
John Newbegin came calmly forward and turned up the solitary kerosene lamp that shed uncertain light over the proceedings. He then sat down in the teacher's chair, folded his arms, and looked complacently about him.
"You might as well untie the medium," he finally remarked. "I propose to remain in the materialized condition."
And he did remain. When the party left the schoolhouse among them walked John Newbegin, as truly a being of flesh and blood as any man of them. From that day to this, he has been a living inhabitant of Pocock Island, eating, drinking, (water only) and sleeping after the manner of men. The yachtsmen who made sail for Bar Harbor the very next morning, probably believe that he was a fraud hired for the occasion by Mr. E———. But the people of Pocock, who laid him out, dug his grave, and put him into it four years ago, know that John Newbegin has come back to them from a land they know not of.
THE idea, of having a ghost—somewhat more condensed it is true than the traditional ghost—as a member was not at first overpleasing to the 311 inhabitants of Pocock Island. To this day, they are a little sensitive upon the subject, feeling evidently that if the matter got abroad, it might injure the sale of the really excellent porgy oil which is the product of their sole manufacturing interest. This reluctance to advertise the skeleton in their closet, superadded to the slowness of these obtuse, fishy, matter-of-fact people to recognize the transcendent importance of the case, must be accepted as explanation of the fact that John Newbegin's spirit has been on earth between three and four months, and yet the singular circumstance is not known to the whole country.
But the Pocockians have at last come to see that a spirit is not necessarily a malevolent spirit, and accepting his presence as a fact in their stolid, unreasoning way, they are quite neighborly and sociable with Mr. Newbegin.
I know that your first question will be: "Is there sufficient proof of his ever having been dead?" To this I answer unhesitatingly, "Yes." He was too well-known a character and too many people saw the corpse to admit of any mistake on this point. I may add here that it was at one time proposed to disinter the original remains, but that project was abandoned in deference to the wishes of Mr. Newbegin, who feels a natural delicacy about having his first set of bones disturbed from motives of mere curiosity.
YOU will readily believe that I took occasion to see and converse with John Newbegin. I found him affable and even communicative. He is perfectly aware of his doubtful status as a being, but is in hopes that at some future time there may be legislation that shall correctly define his position and the position of any spirit who may follow him into the material world. The only point upon which he is reticent is his experience during the four years that elapsed between his death and his reappearance at Pocock. It is to be presumed that the memory is not a pleasant one: at least he never speaks of this period. He candidly admits, however, that he is glad to get back to earth and that he embraced the very first opportunity to be materialized.
Mr. Newbegin says that he is consumed with remorse for the wasted years of his previous existence. Indeed, his conduct during the past three months would show that this regret is genuine. He has discarded his eccentric costume, and dresses like a reasonable spirit. He has not touched liquor since his reappearance. He has embarked in the porgy oil business, and his operations already rival that of Hodgeson, his old partner in the Mary Emmeline and the Prettyboat. By the way, Newbegin threatens to sue Hodgeson for his undivided quarter in each of these vessels, and this interesting case therefore bids fair to be thoroughly investigated in the courts.
As a business man, he is generally esteemed on the Island, although there is a noticeable reluctance to discount his paper at long dates. In short, Mr. John Newbegin is a most respectable citizen (if a dead man can be a citizen) and has announced his intention of running for the next Legislature!
AND now, my dear ———, I have told you the substance of all I know respecting this strange, strange case. Yet, after all, why so strange? We accepted materialization at Chittenden. Is this any more than the logical issue of that admission? If the spirit may return to earth, clothed in flesh and blood and all the physical attributes of humanity, why may it not remain on earth as long as it sees fit?
Thinking of it from whatever standpoint, I cannot but regard John Newbegin as the pioneer of a possibly large immigration from the spirit world. The bars once down, a whole flock will come trooping back to earth. Death will lose its significance altogether. And when I think of the disturbance which will result in our social relations, of the overthrow of all accepted institutions, and of the nullification of all principles of political economy, law, and religion, I am lost in perplexity and apprehension.
"SHE formerly showed the name Flying Sprite on her starn moldin'," said Captain Trumbull Cram, "but I had thet gouged out and planed off, and Judas Iscariot in gilt sot thar instid."
"That was an extraordinary name," said I.
"'Strornary craft," replied the captain, as he absorbed another inch and a half of niggerhead. "I'm neither a profane man or an irreverend; but sink my jig if I don't believe the sperrit of Judas possessed thet schooner. Hey, Ammi?"
The young man addressed as Ammi was seated upon a mackerel barrel. He deliberately removed from his lips a black brierwood and shook his head with great gravity.
"The cap'n," said Ammi, "is neither a profane or an irreverend. What he says he mostly knows; but when he sinks his jig he's allers to be depended on."
Fortified with this neighborly estimate of character, Captain Cram proceeded. "You larf at the idea of a schooner's soul? Perhaps you hey sailed 'em forty-odd year up and down this here coast, an' 'quainted yourself with their dispositions an' habits of mind. Hey, Ammi?"
"The cap'n," explained the gentleman on the mackerel keg, "hez coasted an' hez fished for forty-six year. He's lumbered and he's iced. When the cap'n sees fit for to talk about schooners he understands the subjeck."
"My friend," said the captain, "a schooner has a soul like a human being, but considerably broader of beam, whether for good or for evil. I ain't a goin' to deny thet I prayed for the Judas in Tuesday 'n' Thursday evenin' meetin', week arter week an' month arter month. I ain't a goin' to deny thet I interested Deacon Plympton in the 'rastle for her redemption. It was no use, my friend; even the deacon's powerful p'titions were clear waste."
I ventured to inquire in what manner this vessel had manifested its depravity. The narrative which I heard was the story of a demon of treachery with three masts and a jib boom.
The Flying Sprite was the first three-master ever built at Newaggen, and the last. People shook their heads over the experiment. "No good can come of sech a critter," they said. "It's contrairy to natur. Two masts is masts enough." The Flying Sprite began its career of base improbity at the very moment of its birth. Instead of launching decently into the element for which it was designed, the three-masted schooner slumped through the ways into the mud and stuck there for three weeks, causing great expense to the owners, of whom Captain Trumbull Cram was one to the extent of an undivided third. The oracles of Newaggen were confirmed in their forebodings. "Two masts is masts enough to sail the sea," they said; "the third is the Devil's hitchin' post."
On the first voyage of the Flying Sprite, Captain Cram started her for Philadelphia, loaded with ice belonging to himself and Lawyer Swanton; cargo uninsured. Ice was worth six dollars a ton in Philadelphia; this particular ice had cost Captain Cram and Lawyer Swanton eighty-five cents a ton shipped, including sawdust. They were happy over the prospect. The Flying Sprite cleared the port in beautiful shape, and then suddenly and silently went to the bottom in Fiddler's Reach, in eleven feet of salt water. It required only six days to float her and pump her out, but owing to a certain incompatibility between ice and salt water, the salvage consisted exclusively of sawdust.
On her next trip the schooner carried a deckload of lumber from the St. Croix River. It was in some sense a consecrated cargo, for the lumber was intended for a new Baptist meetinghouse in southern New Jersey. If the prayerful hopes of the navigators, combined with the prayerful expectations of the consignees had availed, this voyage, at least, would have been successfully made. But about sixty miles southeast of Nantucket the Flying Sprite encountered a mild September gale. She ought to have weathered it with perfect ease, but she behaved so abominably that the church timber was scattered over the surface of the Atlantic Ocean from about latitude 40° 15' to about latitude 43° 50'. A month or two later she contrived to go on her beam ends under a gentle land breeze, dumping a lot of expensively carved granite from the Fox Island quarries into a deep hole in Long Island Sound. On the very next trip she turned deliberately out of her course in order to smash into the starboard bow of a Norwegian brig, and was consequently libeled for heavy damages.
It was after a few experiences of this sort that Captain Cram erased the old name from the schooner's stern and from her quarter, and substituted that of Judas Iscariot. He could discover no designation that expressed so well his contemptuous opinion of her moral qualities. She seemed animate with the spirit of purposeless malice, of malignant perfidy. She was a floating tub of cussedness.
A board of nautical experts sat upon the Judas Iscariot, but could find nothing the matter with her, physically. The lines of her hull were all right, she was properly planked and ceiled and calked, her spars were of good Oregon pine, she was rigged taut and trustworthy, and her canvas had been cut and stitched by a God-fearing sailmaker. According to all theory, she ought to have been perfectly responsible as to her keel. In practice, she was frightfully cranky. Sailing the Judas Iscariot was like driving a horse with more vices than hairs in his tail. She always did the unexpected thing, except when bad behavior was expected of her on general principles. If the idea was to luff, she would invariably fall off; if to jibe, she would come round dead in the wind and hang there like Mohammed's coffin. Sending a man to haul the jib sheet to windward was sending a man on a forlorn hope: the jib habitually picked up the venturesome navigator, and, after shaking him viciously in the air for a second or two, tossed him overboard. A boom never crossed the deck without breaking somebody's head. Start on whatever course she might, the schooner was certain to run before long into one of three things, namely, some other vessel, a fog bank, or the bottom. From the day on which she was launched her scent for a good, sticky mud bottom was unerring. In the clearest weather fog fob lowed and enveloped her as misfortune follows wickedness. Her presence on the Banks was enough to drive every codfish to the coast of Ireland. The mackerel and porgies were always where the Judas Iscariot was not. It was impossible to circumvent the schooner's fixed purposes to ruin everybody who chartered her. If chartered to carry a deckload, she spilled it; if loaded between decks, she dived and spoiled the cargo. She was like one of the trick mules which, if they cannot otherwise dislodge the rider, get down and roll over and over. In short, the Judas Iscariot was known from Marblehead to the Bay of Chaleur as the consummate schooneration of malevolence, turpitude, and treachery.
After commanding the Judas Iscariot for five or six years, Captain Cram looked fully twenty years older. It was in vain that he had attempted to sell her at a sacrifice. No man on the coast of Maine, Massachusetts, or the British provinces would have taken the schooner as a gift. The belief in her demoniac obsession was as firm as it was universal.
Nearly at the end of a season, when the wretched craft had been even more unprofitable than usual a conference of the owners was held in the Congregational vestry one evening after the monthly missionary meeting. No outsider knows exactly what happened, but it is rumored that in the two hours during which these capitalists were closeted certain arithmetical computations were effected which led to significant results and to a singular decision.
On the forenoon of the next Friday there was a general suspension of business at Newaggen. The Judas Iscariot, with her deck scoured and her spars scraped till they shone in the sun like yellow amber, lay at the wharf by Captain Cram's fish house. Since Monday the captain and his three boys and Andrew Jackson's son Tobias from Mackerel Cove had been busy loading the schooner deep. This time her cargo was an extraordinary one. It consisted of nearly a quarter of a mile of stone wall from the boundaries of the captain's shore pasture. "I calklet," remarked the commander of the Judas Iscariot, as he saw the last boulder disappearing down the main hatch, "thar's nigh two hundud'n fifty ton of stone fence aboard thet schoon'r."
Conjecture was wasted over this unnecessary amount of ballast. The owners of the Judas Iscariot stood up well under the consolidated wit of the village; they returned witticism for witticism, and kept their secret. "Ef you must know, I'll tell ye," said the captain. "I hear thar's a stone-wall famine over Machias way. I'm goin' to take mine over'n peddle it out by the yard." On this fine sunshiny Friday morning, while the luckless schooner lay on one side of the wharf, looking as bright and trim and prosperous as if she were the best-paying maritime investment in the world, the tug Pug of Portland lay under the other side, with steam up. She had come down the night before in response to a telegram from the owners of the Judas Iscariot. A good land breeze was blowing, with the promise of freshening as the day grew older.
At half past seven o'clock the schooner put off from the landing, carrying not only the captain's pasture wall, but also a large number of his neighbors and friends, including some of the solidest citizens of Newaggen. Curiosity was stronger than fear. "You know what the critter," the captain had said, in reply to numerous applications for passage. "Ef you're a mind to resk her antics, come along, an' welcome." Captain Cram put on a white shirt and a holiday suit for the occasion. As he stood at the wheel shouting directions to his boys and Andrew Jackson's son Tobias at the halyards, his guests gathered around him—a fair representation of the respectability, the business enterprise, and the piety of Newaggen Harbor. Never had the Judas Iscariot carried such a load. She seemed suddenly struck with a sense of decency and responsibility, for she came around into the wind without balking, dived her nose playfully into the brine, and skipped off on the short hitch to clear Tumbler Island, all in the properest fashion. The Pug steamed after her.
The crowd on the wharf and the boys in the small boats cheered this unexpectedly orthodox behavior, and they now saw for the first time that Captain Cram had painted on the side of the vessel in conspicuous white letters, each three or four feet long, the following legend:
THIS IS THE SCHOONER JUDAS ISCARIOT
N.B.—GIVE HER A WIDE BERTH!!!
Hour after hour the schooner bounded along before the northwest wind, holding to her course as straight as an arrow. The weather continued fine. Every time the captain threw the log he looked more perplexed. Eight, nine, nine and a half knots! He shook his head as he whispered to Deacon Plympton: "She's meditatin' mischief o' some natur or other." But the Judas led the Pug a wonderful chase, and by half past two in the afternoon, before the demijohn which Andrew Jackson's son Tobias had smuggled on board was three quarters empty, and before Lawyer Swanton had more than three quarters finished his celebrated story about Governor Purington's cork leg, the schooner and the tug were between fifty and sixty miles from land.
Suddenly Captain Cram gave a grunt of intelligence. He pointed ahead, where a blue line just above the horizon marked a distant fog bank. "She smelt it an' she run for it," he remarked, sententiously. "Time for business."
Then ensued a singular ceremony. First Captain Cram brought the schooner to, and transferred all his passengers to the tug. The wind had shifted to the southeast, and the fog was rapidly approaching. The sails of the Judas Iscariot flapped as she lay head to the wind; her bows rose and fell gently under the influence of the long swell. The Pug bobbed up and down half a hawser's length away.
Having put his guests and crew aboard the tug, Captain Cram proceeded to make everything shipshape on the decks of the schooner. He neatly coiled a loose end of rope that had been left in a snarl. He even picked up and threw overboard the stopper of Andrew Jackson's son Tobias' demijohn. His face wore an expression of unusual solemnity. The people on the tug watched his movements eagerly, but silently. Next he tied one end of a short rope to the wheel and attached the other end loosely by means of a running bowline to a cleat upon the rail. Then he was seen to take up an ax, and to disappear down the companionway. Those on the tug distinctly heard several crashing blows. In a moment the captain reappeared on deck, walked deliberately to the wheel, brought the schooner around so that her sails filled, pulled the running bowline taut, and fastened the rope with several half hitches around the cleat, thus lashing the helm, jumped into a dory, and sculled over to the tug.
Left entirely to herself, the schooner rolled once or twice, tossed a few bucketfuls of water over her dancing bows, and started off toward the South Atlantic. But Captain Trumbull Cram, standing in the bow of the tugboat, raised his hand to command silence and pronounced the following farewell speech, being sentence, death warrant, and funeral oration, all in one:
"I ain't advancin' no theory to 'count for her cussedness. You all know the Judas. Mebbe thar was too much fore an' aff to her. Mebbe the inickerty of a vessel's in the fore an' aff, and the vartue in the squar' riggin'. Mebbe two masts was masts enough. Let that go; bygones is bygones. Yonder she goes, carryin' all sail on top, two hundred'n-odd ton o' stone fence in her holt, an' a hole good two foot acrost stove in her belly. The way of the transgressor is hard. Don't you see her settlin'? It should be a lesson, my friends, for us to profit by; there's an end to the long-sufferin'est mercy, and unless—Oh, yer makin' straight for the fog, are ye? Well, it's your last fog bank. The bottom of the sea's the fust port you'll fetch, you critter, you! Git, and be d—d to ye!"
This, the only occasion on which Captain Cram was ever known to say such a word, was afterward considered by a committee of discipline of the Congregational Church at Newaggen; and the committee, after pondering all the circumstances under which the word was uttered, voted unanimously to take no action.
Meanwhile, the fog had shut in around the tug, and the Judas Iscariot was lost to view. The tug was put about and headed for home. The damp wind chilled everybody through and through. Little was said. The contents of the demijohn had long been exhausted. From a distance to the south was heard at intervals the hoarse whistling of an ocean steamer.
"I hope that feller's well underwrit," said the captain grimly, "for the Judas'll never go down afore she's sarched him out'n sunk him."
"And was the abandoned schooner ever heard of?" I asked, when my informant had reached this point in the narrative.
The captain took me by the arm and led me out of the grocery store down to the rocks. Across the mouth of the small cove back of his house, blocking the entrance to his wharf and fish-house, was stretched a skeleton wreck.
"Thar she lays," he said, pointing to the blackened ribs. "That's the Judas. Did yer suppose she'd sink in deep water, where she could do no more damage? No, sir, not if all the rocks on the coast of Maine was piled onto her, and her hull bottom knocked clean out. She come home to roost. She come sixty mile in the teeth of the wind. When the tug got back next mornin' thar lay the Judas Iscariot acrost my cove, with her jib boom stuck through my kitchen winder. I say schooners has souls."
THERE were two peculiar things that I remarked about the little brick meetinghouse on the hill at Newaggen. The first was the fact that it had once been chained to the ground, as are some structures on mountain summits. Big iron eyebolts were to be seen in the ledge on each side of the meetinghouse, and to one of them was still attached a rusty link of heavy chain. The hill was not high. A steep path led down to the harbor, and you could count the shingles on the roofs of the square, old-fashioned houses. On the other side of the hill was a boggy meadow, with scattering ricks of salt hay, bonneted with aged canvas. The front of the church breasted the wind that blew in across the islands from the ocean.
The second unusual feature was the vane on the stubby steeple. The vane was a great gilt codfish, evidently very sensitive to atmospheric influences. Its nose wavered nervously between south-southeast and southeast by east.
"Why was the meetin' house tied down to the rock?" repeated my companion, Deacon and Captain Silas Bibber. "Well, I'll tell ye. Because the congregation allowed that this here hill was a fittiner location for a house o' worship than the salt ma'sh yonder."
The deacon and captain paused to shy a stone at a disreputable sheep that was foraging among the gravestones.
"Why do we fly a weathercod instid of a weathercock?" he continued. "I'll tell ye. Because the rooster's the Devil's own bird."
He stooped for another missile just as the excited sheep, which had been surreptitiously flanking him while watching his movements with vigilant eyes, cleared the stone wall at a plunge and disappeared over the edge of the hill.
"Durn the critter!" remarked the deacon and captain.
The unwritten legends of the coast of Maine are kept by a generation that is rapidly going. Men and women are pretty old now who were young in the golden age of the seaport towns; when not only Portland and Bath and Wiscasset and the places to the eastward but also all the little settlements wedged in between rock and wave enjoyed a solid prosperity, based on an adventurous spirit and keen commercial insight in the matters of Matanzas molasses and Jamaica rum. Between the Maine towns and the West Indian ports there was and is a straight ocean way. Time was when direct communication with foreign parts brought sharp and increasing contrasts into the daily life of the coast people. This was the time, too, when the prevailing orthodoxy in theological doctrine still left room for a curious and in some respects peculiar supernaturalism that concerned itself chiefly with the malevolent enterprises of the Enemy of Mankind.
IT appears from Captain Silas' narrative that about fifty years ago Parson Purington was the chief bulwark of the faithful against the Devil's assaults upon Newaggen. The parson was a hard hitter, both in petition and in exhortation. It was generally believed at the harbor, and for miles both ways along the coast, that nothing worried the evil one half so much as Parson Purington's double-hour discourses, mercilessly exposing his character, exhibiting his most secret plans, and defying his worst endeavors.
It was partly this feeling of triumph and pride in the prowess of their champion that led the congregation to construct a substantial church edifice, conspicuously situated on top of the hill, and possessing both a steeple and a bell that could be heard as far out at sea as Ragged Tail Island, with the wind favorable. The parson himself chose the site. He eagerly watched the progress of the workmen, and his heart was in every additional brick that went into the walls.
At half past eleven o'clock one moonlight Saturday night, just after the last touch of gilt had been put on the fine rooster vane—the donation of an unknown friend—Parson Purington ascended the hill on purpose to delight his eyes with the completed structure. Imagine the astonishment with which the good man discovered that no meetinghouse was there! No weathercock, no steeple, no belfry, no brick walls and wooden portico, not even the faintest trace of foundation or cellar!
The parson stamped his feet to see if he was awake. He wondered if the three tumblerfuls of hot rum toddy with which his daughter Susannah had fortified him against the night air could have played his senses such a trick. He rubbed his eyes and stared at the moon. The round face of that luminary presented its usual aspect. He gazed at the village under the hill. The well-known houses in which his parishioners slumbered were all distinctly visible in the moonlight. He saw the ocean, the islands, the harbor, the schooners at the wharves, the streets. He even made out the solitary figure of Peleg Trott, zigzagging home from the tavern, as if beating against a head wind. The parson tried to shout to Peleg Trott, but found that he had no voice for the effort. Everything in the neighborhood was as it should be, except that the new meetinghouse had disappeared.
Dazed by that tremendous fact, the parson wandered aimlessly about the summit of the hill for fully half an hour. Then he perceived that he was not alone, for a tall individual, wrapped in a black coat, sat upon the stone wall. The stranger looked like a Spaniard or a Portugee. His elbows were on his knees, his chin was in his hands, and he was watching the parson's movements with obvious interest.
"May I venture to inquire," said the stranger, "whether you are looking for anything?"
"Sir," the parson replied, "I am sorely perplexed. I came hither expecting to behold the sacred edifice in which I am to preach tomorrow morning for the first time, from a text in thirteenth Revelations. Not longer ago than this afternoon it occupied the very spot on which we stand."
"Ah, a lost meetinghouse!" said the stranger, carelessly. "Pray, is it not customary in this part of the world to send out the crier with his bell when they stray or are stolen?"
There was something in the tone of voice which caused the parson to inspect his companion more closely than before. The tall foreigner withstood the scrutiny with perfect composure, twirling his black mustachios. His eyes were bright and steady, and they seemed to grow brighter as the parson gazed into them.
"Well," said the stranger at last, "I fancy you would know me again."
"I think I know you now," retorted the parson, "although I do not fear you. If I am not prodigiously mistaken, it is you who have destroyed our meetinghouse."
The other smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "Since you press me on that point, I must admit that I have taken a trifling liberty with your property. Destroyed it? Oh, no; I have simply moved it off my land. The truth is, this hill is an old camping ground of mine, and I can't bear to see it encumbered with such a villainous piece of architecture as your brick meetinghouse. You'll find the whole establishment, to the last pew cushion and hymnbook, clown yonder in the meadow; and if you are a man of taste, you'll agree with me that the new site is a great improvement."
The parson glanced over the edge of the hill. True enough, there stood the new meetinghouse in the middle of the marsh.
"I know not," said the parson resolutely, "by what diabolical jugglery you have done it, but I do know that you have no just claim to the hill. It has been deeded us by Elijah Trufant, whose father and grandfather pastured sheep here."
"My pious friend," returned the other calmly, "when Adam was an infant this hill had been in the possession of my family for millions of years. Would it interest you to peruse the original deed?"
He produced from beneath his cloak a roll of parchment, which he handed to the parson. The parson unrolled the document and tried to read it. Strange characters, faintly luminous, covered the page. They grew fiery bright, and as the parson's hand trembled—for he afterward admitted that it did tremble—they danced over the parchment charring the surface wherever they touched. At last Parson Purington's hand shook some of the fiery hieroglyphics quite to the margin of the sheet, the edge curled and crinkled, a thin line of smoke went up, and presently the entire document was ablaze.
"Rather awkward in you," said the stranger, "but it's of no great consequence. I happen to have a duplicate of the deed."
He waved his hand. The same flaming characters, enormously enlarged, danced now all over the ground where the meetinghouse should have stood. The parson's head swam as his eyes sought in vain to decipher the unhallowed inscription. There lay the claimant's title, burned into the top of the hill. The dry grass caught fire, the twigs and blueberry bush stems crackled in the heat, and for a moment the tall stranger was enveloped in smoke and flame that cast a lurid light over the features of his forbidding countenance. He stamped his feet and the unnatural conflagration was immediately extinguished.
"You perceive that my title is perfectly valid. Nevertheless, I am not a hard landlord. You have set your heart upon this location. Suppose you occupy it as my tenant at will. It will only be necessary, as the merest form, to sign this little—"
"No, sir," shouted the parson, now thoroughly aroused. "I make no compact. Whether you be indeed Beelzebub in person, or only one of his subordinate devils, your claim is a lie, your title of fire is forged, and I shall defy you and all your works in the sermon which I shall preach tomorrow morning in that brick meetinghouse, no matter if it is on the hill or on the marsh, no matter if you have meanwhile spirited it away to the bottom of the bottomless pit!"
"I shall do myself the honor to listen to your discourse," replied the stranger, with an exasperating grin.
When the parson reached home his daughter Susannah heard his story, gave him another glass of hot rum toddy, tucked him comfortably in bed, and then dispatched the hired help to the other end of the village with instructions to arouse Peletiah Jackson, first mate of the hermaphrodite brig Sister Sal.
AFTER beating through all the streets of the little settlement, and sailing in great circles over several of the outlying pastures without making a port, Peleg Trott found himself about an hour after midnight halfway up the hill path, with a heavy sea on and the wind still dead ahead.
He sat down on a rock to take his bearings. "Peleg!" he shouted from his lookout on the forecastle deck.
"Aye, aye, Cap'n Trott!" he responded from the wheel.
"Howz hellum?" he demanded from the forecastle.
"Har' down, Cap'n Trott," he reported from the wheel.
"Makin' much starnway?"
"Beat's nater, the starnway, Cap'n Trott."
"Shake down the centerboard a peg, Peleg."
"It's clean chapped now, Cap'n Trott."
"Lez hear box ze compash. Believe ye're drunk agen; ye clapper-clawed—"
"Sartainly, Cap'n Trott. Cod, codcodfish, codfish becod, codfish; codfish-befish; fishcodfish, fish becod, FISH, Cap'n Trott."
"Whazzat light, Peleg, bearin' codfish becod, half fish?"
"Make it out for the moon, Cap'n Trott."
"Orright, Peleg. Head's she is till the moon's astarn, then make a half hitch an' drap anchor to low'rd new meetin'house to take 'zervation' ze wezzercock."
"Aye, aye, sir," and the difficult navigation was resumed, with Peleg and Trott both on deck.
At the brow of the hill Trott encountered the same surprising fact which had stupefied the parson an hour or more earlier in the night. The meetinghouse was not there.
"Salt me down ef the gale hain't blowed her off her moorin's," he muttered.
After carefully scrutinizing the horizon on every side, he continued:
"I'll be salted an' flaked ef she hain't adrift yonder on the ma'sh!"
Peleg studied the situation attentively. In none of his nocturnal voyages had he run against anything so extraordinary. His spiritual interest in the new edifice was perhaps less than that of any other inhabitant of the harbor, since he never went to meeting. Yet he had transported several cargoes of brick for the church from Wiscasset in his celebrated four-cornered clipper, the scow Dandelion, and his interest in the progress of the building had been greatly enlarged by an incident which happened several weeks before the night of which we are speaking.
One afternoon a tall, dark man, in an outlandish cloak, stood on the wharf at Wiscasset watching Peleg as he thrust bricks into the capacious maw of the Dandelion.
"What's building?" asked the foreigner in excellent English.
"Meetin'house," said Peleg.
"Orthodox?" persisted the inquiring stranger.
"No, Parson Purin'ton's at N'waggen," replied Peleg curtly.
"Ah!" said the man on the wharf, "I have heard of that eminent divine. I am glad he is to have a new church. Have they everything they need?"
Peleg was about to say yes, for that was the last cargo of bricks and the other material was already on the ground. But his eye happened to wander to the steeple of the Wiscasset church, and an idea struck him.
"Ef you're minded to contribute," said he, "they're desprit for a rooster vane like the there."
The mysterious benefactor smiled. "I'll send them a bird," said he.
In due course of time there arrived by schooner from Portland a fine wooden weathercock, properly boxed and ready for mounting and gilding. Peleg's story had been received with some incredulity at Newaggen, but now he found himself a hero. His presence of mind was highly commended by the deacons of the church, and they presented him with half a barrel of Medford rum. By the time the weathercock went aloft the half barrel was empty, and Peleg was chock full of rum and theological enthusiasm.
There was the meetinghouse fully a quarter of a mile off its anchorage. There was the well-known Chanticleer—Peleg's especial joy and pride—resplendently conspicuous in the moonlight. But what strange spell was on the world that night? As Peleg gazed upon the bird, it appeared to him to be disproportionately large. There was no wind, and yet it began to revolve violently. Peleg distinctly heard a prolonged crow and the gilt rooster flapped its wings as if about to assay a flight into the upper air. True enough, up it went, carrying the meetinghouse with it, the church swaying and the bell tolling sadly as it rose, until the brick walls of the structure actually eclipsed the moon. Then the weathercock and its quarry slowly settled back to earth, hovering an instant over the waters of the harbor, and finally landing not in the meadow, but on top of the hill, not a dozen yards from where Peleg stood, his knees shaking, his teeth chattering, and his heart a-thump like the flat bottom of the Dandelion in a chopping cross sea.
"You may split me, salt me, and flake me!" ejaculated the mariner when he had partially recovered from his stupefaction. "Am I Peleg Trott, marster 'n eighth owner of the skeow Dandyline, or am I a blind haddock, a crazy hake, or a goramighty tomcod?"
Thus it happened that the people of Newaggen Harbor had information, more or less trustworthy, as to what occurred on the disputed territory that memorable night between the time of Parson Purington's departure and the arrival of the army of relief, led by Susannah and Peletiah Jackson.
When Peleg's somewhat incoherent story had been told, the parson's daughter turned to the first mate of the Sister Sal. "Peletiah," said she, "what is to be done?"
"My idee," remarked Deacon Trufant, "is that the adversary purposes to sperrit away the parson and the whole congregation. He is subtile and fule of wiles."
Peletiah Jackson was not a theologian, but he was a practical young man and very fond of Susannah. He took off his coat. "My idee," he said, "is that if we cut away the mainmast, the ship'll weather any gale the Devil can send. Somebody fetch a hatchet."
In ten minutes Peletiah Jackson's head was seen to emerge through the window opening above the bell deck. Two minutes later he was clasping one of the four little pinnacles that surrounded the base of the steeple. In a surprisingly short time he had a running noose around the stubby spire, high above his head. The story of his ascent is the heroic episode in the annals of Newaggen. A dark cloud threatened to obscure the moon. The group of eager spectators on the ground below watched with breathless interest the slow progress of the first mate up the steeple. If he should lose his hold? If the running knot in his rope should slip? If the moon should go behind the cloud? Worse than all, as Peleg Trott suggested, if the weathercock should choose this moment for another flight?
Up went Peletiah, hand over hand, until his arms, and then his legs, encircled the steeple. Now he scrambled aloft with the agility of a monkey. The free end of the rope was thrown around the very apex of the steeple, and in no time at all Peletiah, seated comfortably in a sling, was hacking vigorously at the woodwork under the gilt ball on which the diabolical rooster was perched.
Blow after blow resounded in the still night air. Down in the harbor settlement windows were thrown open and nightcapped heads appeared. The racket was infernal. The edge of the cloud covered the moon, and it was difficult to distinguish Peletiah's form, except now and then when a flash of lightning lit up the weathercock and its bold assailant. The strokes of the hatchet ceased. It began to rain and blow. The hatchet strokes were heard again. The people huddled together.
"My idee," said Deacon Trufant, "is that the adversary will presently come in a cherriat of fire and—"
A clap of thunder interrupted the development of the idea. Thud, thud, thud, thud went the hatchet, more viciously persistent than before. Another brilliant flash—was the weathercock toppling at last? Peleg Trott declared in an awestruck whisper that he saw the cock's wings flapping, as a preliminary to another flight, with meetinghouse, Peletiah, and all. At that instant the storm burst in full fury. There came a blinding glare, a deafening peal, a blast of thunder and hurricane combined that shook the church and the hill itself, a wild shriek overhead, half a human yell of triumph and half a chanticleer's defiant cry, and with a tremendous crash something like a ball of fire fell to the ground not a dozen yards from the affrighted group by the meetinghouse portico.
A moment later, Peletiah came down the rope on a run, dripping wet. Susannah put her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss which could be heard even above the uproar of the elements.
They searched the hill all over next morning for some trace of the flying weathercock. Not a splinter of wood nor a spangle of gilt was ever discovered, but on the ledge near where the fiery ball must have fallen there was found a mark like this, burned deeply in the granite: \|/.
On the highest point of Ragged Tail Island, seven miles out to sea, they still show you another footprint, also deeply indented in the rock. It is precisely similar to the first, and it points the same way. Taken together, the two tracks are held by the local demonologists to indicate a flying stride from the mainland to the island, a hasty departure from the latter point, and—who knows?—either a final flight into the upper air, or a despairing plunge into the deepest depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
AN unexpected and very profitable growth of our business made the immediate purchase of a piece of land necessary. My partners requested me to negotiate for a few acres in the vicinity of New Haven, and I at once began to do so. An annoying delay occurred owing to the illegibility of an ancient record which made it impossible to obtain a perfect title. I was about to abandon the attempt to buy the property, when I was reminded that a gentleman well known to me might be able to give the information that could not be deciphered from the record. This person was a professor in the college, a man of wide repute as a scholar, and an ardent student of the Colonial epoch of the town.
I found him in his library, and he, without any hesitation, gave me the information which I sought, and told me where I would find such legal proofs of clear title as I desired. I was impressed with the accuracy of his learning and the readiness with which it responded to his demands, and I ventured to say to him that the acquisition of such a mass of names and dates must have cost him great labor. To my surprise he replied that I was mistaken, the truth being that he mastered such incidents with ease. His great mental efforts, he said, were required by the processes of analysis and comparison which were necessary to separate truth from the rubbish and chaff of tradition and record, and by the reasoning necessary accurately to trace causes to those results which, when grouped, constituted trustworthy history.
"For instance," said he, "I have here a document which will cost me the most severe application before I am through with it."
I had observed that there lay upon the table a roll of manuscript. The table was littered with pamphlets, documents, aged and worm-eaten books, and I do not know why my attention was specially fixed upon this particular roll of paper. It was plainly an aged manuscript. The paper was ribbed and unruled, like that in use a century or more ago; and if it once was white, the years had faded it to a dull buff leathery hue, while the care with which he afterward handled it indicated that it had little tenacity of fiber. I knew that he referred to this old roll of manuscript, and, as I expected, he took it up.
"I have here," he continued, "a remarkable historical narrative which I found among some refuse in a garret, where it had lain for more than a hundred years. It is an account of a strange, unnatural occurrence, of which I have heard by tradition, and which is even casually mentioned in Mather's Marginalia. I have, however, always regarded it as unworthy of serious consideration, believing that there was either no foundation for the tradition or else that it could be traced to the hallucinations of a disordered brain. I now, however, have an account of it which I cannot ignore. It was written by a clergyman of the most godly character, a man who could not, even in jest, speak falsehoods, and he asserts that he was almost an eyewitness of what he describes. How, then, can I refuse to accept this record? It gives all that a historian requires to satisfy him of the authenticity of any alleged occurrence. It is the genuine manuscript of a man whom I know to have lived, and it is not a hearsay account. If we are to put faith in any of the records of the past, we must accept this one. I do not know of an established fact of history that has any better basis than this document gives to substantiate the wonderful phenomenon which it records.
"I confess," continued the professor with some animation of speech, "that such a problem as is presented by this manuscript has never before been given to me to solve. As a historian, I am compelled to accept as true what I here read, while as a physicist I must regard the record as the wildest and most improbable of romances. Were it based on the testimony of one person it could easily be rejected as a vision or alienation of mind, to which the austerity of the Puritans seems to have rendered some of them peculiarly liable. I am confronted, however, with the assertion of this writer, as well as with the inherent proof of the assertion, that he was one of many witnesses. It is, indeed, an interesting problem, and the difficulty of reconciling an account that must be accepted as truthful history with the fact that it must be denied as physical possibility makes the task fascinating."
Doubtless Professor M——— observed that he had awakened a pleasing interest in me. Indeed, I took no pains to conceal it, and told him that I would gladly hear the story that had so puzzled him. He at once unrolled the manuscript.
"This appears," said he, "to have been written by the Reverend Dr. Prentice, and in the year 1680. I judge it was a letter to a friend, although the ravages of time have made the first few sentences illegible. I have other manuscripts of the clergyman, a few sermons, and having thus been enabled to make comparison, I find the handwriting of all to be identical. I will not read it in full, and will paraphrase some of the text, for it is written in the stiff, formal manner of that day, many of the words found in it now being obsolete.
"'There had come,' began the professor, 'upon the tradesmen and those engaged in commerce a season of adversity in the year 1646, such as they had not known even in the earliest days of the settlement of the New Haven Colony. The vessels lay idle in the harbor, trade with the other colonies languished, and as the New Haven colonists were familiar with commerce rather than agriculture, they were embarrassed even for the necessaries of life. But for the energy and determination of some of the men of character, the colony must have found its existence imperiled, for many had determined to depart, some even making arrangements to emigrate to Ireland. A less courageous and tenacious race must have succumbed. It was determined as a last resort to build a ship large enough to cross the ocean, freight her, and send her to England in the hope that the disheartening losses would be retrieved by the development of commerce with the mother country. Overcoming great obstacles they built a ship in Rhode Island Colony.
"'The frost had closed the smaller streams, and the ground was whitened with snow when the ship entered New Haven harbor. There was great rejoicing at the sight of her, and her size, being fully 150 tons measurement, was a cause for wonder, for such a monster had never been seen before in that harbor. With her sails all set and her colors abroad, she came up to her anchoring place with such grace and speed as greatly delighted the people who had assembled at the water's edge to greet her. Courage was revived by the sight of her, and the people said, "Now we shall again have plenty and add to our possessions, if God be willing."'
"The master of the ship, Mr. Lamberton, was found to be somewhat gloomy, and Dr. Prentice records that Lamberton told him in confidence that though the ship was of the model and a fast sailer, yet she was so wilty—meaning thereby of such disposition to roll in rough water—that he feared she would prove the grave of all who sailed in her. However, he breathed his suspicions to no one else. The ship was laden and ready for departure early in January 1647.
"The cold that prevailed for five days and nights before the time fixed for clearing for London was such as the people had never before known. It must have remained many degrees below zero, for the salt water was frozen far down the harbor, and the ship was riveted by the ice as firmly as though by many anchors. There were no lazy bones among the people, and with prodigious industry the men cut a canal through the ice forty feet wide and five miles long to the never-freezing waters of the sound. The vessel was frozen in with her bow pointing toward the shore, and it was necessary to propel her to clear water stern foremost.
"This was an unlucky omen. Captain Lamberton avowed that the sea and the conflicting powers that struggled for its mastery were controlled by whims and freaks, which would be sure to be excited by such an insult as that of a ship entering the water stern first. An old sailor, too, informed them all that a ship that sailed stern first always returned stern first, meaning by that that she never came back to the harbor from which she thus departed.
"You will observe," said the professor, putting down the manuscript for a moment, "that in these gloomy forebodings are to be detected traces of the mythological conception of the mystery of the sea, with which all sailors, even to the present time, are more or less tinctured. I am especially impressed with the manner in which these colonists acted. Believing in predestination in spiritual matters, their lives in worldly affairs conformed more or less thereto. So, in spite of these omens, there was no thought of delay. They had fixed the time for sailing, and they meant to sail. So godly a man as the Reverend Mr. Davenport expressed this feeling in his prayer as reported by this writer. Mr. Davenport, as the ship began slowly to move, used these words: 'Lord, if it be Thy pleasure to bury these our friends in the bottom of the sea, they are Thine. Save them.'
"Men less completely under the domination of their religious belief would never have gone to sea without exorcising in some way the evil influences which these omens seemed to indicate would prevail. There had gathered on the ice all the people of the colony except the sick and feeble, perhaps eight hundred or a thousand souls. On the departing vessel were some of their friends and kin. The farewells were said with the expression neither of grief nor of joy. Restraint, the subjugation, even the quenching of all emotions, was the rule of life with these people, and I gather from one or two expressions in this account that never was there more formal, less demonstrative leave-taking.
"When the vessel reached deep water, and just as one of the great sails was beginning to belly with the wind, the people with one accord fell on their knees on the ice and prayed. The ship was five miles away. The air was clarified by the cold, and the vessel could be distinctly seen, and as the people prayed with open eyes that were fixed upon the distant and receding ship, she suddenly disappeared, vanished as quickly as though her bottom had fallen out and she had sunk on the instant. 'Yes,' says this writer, 'more suddenly for whereas at one moment the eyes of all of us were fixed upon her, at the next, as in the wink of the eye, she was not. We rose, gazed fixedly into the vacant space where we last saw her, and then with wonder turned to each other. Yet in another moment she was disclosed to us as she was before, and we watched her until she disappeared behind the neck of land that bounds the harbor to the east. So we dispersed, wondering at this strange manifestation whose meaning was hidden from us. Some there were who were convinced that it betokened that even as she had disappeared only to be seen again, so we should again behold her after her voyage. But there were many who were impressed that though we should again see her, the sight would be but a partial one. With reverent submission to the will of God, the people repaired to their homes.
"You see," said the professor, again putting down the manuscript, "in all this that inexplicable commingling of hope and fatalism which was, I imagine, one of the inevitable conditions of mind of this austere and intensely religious people. The mere fact of the sudden disappearance and renewed sight of the ship may perhaps be explained by natural and simple causes, but not so the phenomena afterward described.
"In the natural order of events the colonists would have had some tidings of their ship after three months had passed. None came, however. Ships that sailed from England in March, April, May, and even June, brought no word of her arrival. Their suspense could be relieved only in one way. I should have asserted, even had I no evidence of it, that the colonists sought the relief they always thought they found in prayer. I should also have unhesitatingly said that they did not, in their prayers, ask that the inevitable be averted, but simply prayed that they might be prepared to receive with submission whatever was in store for them to know. I should have been justified in so asserting, as I find by reference to their manuscript. The account has it"—here the professor again read from the manuscript—"'The failure to learn what was the fate of their ship did put the godly people in much prayer, both public and private, and they prayed that the Lord would, if it was His pleasure, let them hear what He had done with their dear friends, and prepare them for a suitable submission to His holy will.'
"In all the accounts that we have of prayer," said the professor, "I know of nothing equal to that. It contains volumes of history. With that simple text the ethnologist and historian might construct the history of a people. Observe the human nature of it, that is, the intolerable burden of suspense, and see the religious faith of it, both of submission and the trust that the prayer would be answered.
"These people seem to have rested with the conviction that this remarkable supplication would be effective. Dr. Prentice continues his narrative, after quoting the prayer, with an account of what happened, as though it were the expected answer. He writes, too, with the vividness and accuracy of detail to be expected of the eyewitness, as inherent proof of the truth of his narration. I infer that within a day or two after the prayer the manifestation was received. There arose a great thunderstorm from the northwest, such a tempest of fury as sometimes follows elemental disturbances from that quarter. It seems to have been accepted as the presage of the manifestation that followed. After it passed away it left the atmosphere unusually clear. An hour before sunset the reward of their faith came. Far off, where the shores of Long Island are just dimly visible, a ship was discovered by a man who made haste to tell all the colonists. They gathered on the shore and saw a vessel, full rigged, every sail puffed out by the wind and the hull listed to one side by reason of the strain upon the masts and the speed with which the breeze carried her.
"'It is our vessel,' they cried. 'God be praised, for He has heard and answered our prayer.'
"Yet while they saw her straining with the wind, and seemingly speeding with such rapidity as should bring her to them in an hour, they also observed that she made no progress. Thus she continued to appear to them for half an hour. While they were still astounded by the mystery, they saw that she had of a sudden approached, and was coming with what seemed most reckless and foolhardy speed, for she was in the channel, which is narrow and of sufficient depth only to permit the passage of a vessel of her size with skillful handling. The children cried, 'There's a brave ship,' but the older people were filled with apprehension lest she should go upon the shoals or be dashed upon the shore. They thereupon made warning gestures, although they could see no one upon the deck.
"At last they observed something of which in their excitement they had taken no heed. The harbor lies in a southerly direction, and the channel itself runs due north and south. The vessel was making toward them with great speed, every sail curved stiff with the steady force of the wind that seemed to come in a gale from the south, and yet the wind was actually north. Thus holding her course due north, they saw her sailing directly against the wind. Then they knew that they were witnessing a mysterious manifestation. As she approached so near that some imagined they could easily hurl a stone aboard her, they could see the smaller details, the rivets, the anchor and its chains, the capping of the smaller ropes, and the rhythmic quivering of the ribbonlike pennant that was flying in the face of the wind. Yet they saw no man aboard her.
"The people awaited with sober resignation such further manifestations as were to be given them. Suddenly, and when she seemed right upon them, her maintop was blown over, noiselessly as the parting of a cloud, and was left hanging in the shrouds. Then the mizzentop went over, making great destruction, and next, as though struck by the fiercest hurricane, all the masts went by the board, being twisted as by the wrenching of a wind that blew in resistless circles. The sails were torn in narrow ribbons, whirling round and round in the air, while the ropes snapped and were unraveled into shreds, and beat with noiseless force upon the decks. Soon her hull began to careen, and at last, being lifted by a mighty wave, it dived into the water. Then a smoky cloud fell in that particular place, as though a curtain had dropped from heaven, and when, in a moment, it vanished, the sea was smooth, and nothing was to be seen there. The people believed that thus the Almighty had told them of the tragic end of their ship, and they renewed their thanks to Him that He had answered their prayer. The Reverend Mr. Davenport, in public, declared 'that God had condescended for the quieting of their afflicted spirits this extraordinary account of His sovereign disposal of those for whom so many fervent prayers were continually made.'
"You will see," said the professor, as he carefully laid the manuscript away, "what an extraordinary problem is here presented to me. If I accept any recorded evidence, I must accept this; yet science teaches me that the laws of nature are inexorable, as much so now as ever. What is the truth?"
KING STREET is a highway that winds along the crest of the sightly ridge in the southeast corner of Westchester County, doubling and curving to conform to the contour of the land, and permitting, in these swervings from right to left, superb views of the distant waters of the sound and of the hazy blue hills of Long Island to be obtained. It is a noble highway, broad—for men, when in colonial days this road was built, were generous of their land—and finely drooping elms and here and there a warty oak stand like sentinels upon each side. It serves not only its original purpose as a means for passing to and fro between the harbor on the sound and the fertile and romantic valley to the north, but has also in some places been fixed upon as a boundary; so that if anyone riding from White Plains to the sea should meet another driving north, and should, therefore, turn to the right, the other turning to the left to permit easy passage, one would be upon the very outermost easterly rim of New York State, while the other would be skirting the extreme western edge of Connecticut.
At one point, some six miles from the sea, the road makes a majestic sweep from east to west, revealing a glorious panorama of sea as far east as the bluffs that hem in Huntington Bay, and to the west until the waters appear to be brought to an abrupt halt by the gloomy Fort Schuyler; while a far-reaching view of the dissolute rocks of Connecticut gives contrast to the scene. Back from this point, and concealed from the highway by a scrubby piece of woodland, stand the melancholy ruins of a house set in the middle of a dreary and deserted field. So fragile and decayed with age and neglect does it appear that the wonder is that even the gentlest breeze had not long ago leveled it. Yet it has resisted tempests and solitude for more than a hundred years, and when it at last succumbs it will be with sudden dissipation into natural elements. It seems now like the skull and skeleton of something once alive. Great gaping holes, which brown and ragged shingles fringe like shaggy eyebrows, were once windows, and a yawning, cavernous space below, defined by moldering beams and scantling, articulated with bent and rusty nails, tells where once hung a heavy oaken door, now fallen upon the stone steps that show no signs of age except a cloak of greenish moss.
The wind seems always to be moaning about this remnant, and at night the screech of the owls awakens echoes of a century, for it is more than a hundred years since any sound was heard within these walls, except the mysterious tickings and rumblings with which the forces of nature destroy what man has made and then neglected, or the fearless twittering or screech of birds that occupy when men desert. But why so sightly and pleasing a spot as this must once have been, and might be, too, again, should have been deserted as though plague-stricken none are now left to tell. Was it the subtle influences that, like another atmosphere, were ever present with the Fancher boys and led them to their irresistible fate? If this be the real though perhaps the unconscious reason, may it not be true that even in lands where superstition is believed to be conquered, and facts alone command, there remain mysterious and unacknowledged tributes in human nature to the powers which the astrologers and necromancers of the Orient worship? It is certain that none ever occupied the place after the Fancher boys had quitted it, and after reading this tradition of their lives one may judge for himself whether reasons are good for thinking that in the olden times people believed there rested an evil spell upon this home.
When the earth was shadowed and palled in that great eclipse in the year 1733, terror seized the people, for nature seemed reversed, and a stifling calm came over all things, so that the beasts in the field gave frightened cries, and the dogs bayed, and the fowls, even at midday, sought their perches. For people were not prepared as now, to the accuracy of a science, to witness this awful proof of the stupendous powers and laws of the Almighty.
Just at that hour there had gathered in the Fancher homestead neighbors, kindly bent on ministering to one in the most sacred of all necessities. And when the midday shadow began to permeate the atmosphere, and to grow deeper and denser, and the ghastly light revealed the other and unusual sights without, the neighbors sat crouched before the great fire in the living room, close together, and speaking only in hoarse whispers, casting half-averted glances from the window into the weird light beyond. But one, a motherly matron, was in the inner room, whence once she appeared with gloomy countenance, saying, "It were better that it were dead, for this will blight its life."
And the neighbors asked in whispers, not for the child but for the mother, and the matron replied, "She does not know that the sun was darkened when the baby came to us."
By and by the matron came into the great room bearing a burden in her pillowed arms and, having lifted the blanket of soft wool, she permitted her friends to peer at the little child.
"Is it—does it live?" one asked.
"Pity it, for it does. It is a boy, and he will be dark, and fierce, and who knows what; for do you suppose that such a thing as that which happened to the sun will not prevail over one who at that moment came to us?"
And the infant even then opened his eyes upon them, and they saw that, though so long as women remembered there had been none of the Fanchers, or the maternal Brushes, whose eyes were not the gentlest blue, yet this one stretched apart lids that revealed eyes that were surely dark and promised, when puerility had gone, to be the deepest black; and even the little tufts of hair were dark, and some of the matrons were sure that their penetrating eyes detected a swarthy under-color beneath the smooth skin of the cheek.
"He does not cry," said one.
"No, but his fists are doubled," said another.
"They always are: that signifies nothing," said the matron.
"Aye, but not clenched and firm with resistance like his."
"If he would cry, I would like it," continued the first.
"I doubt if he ever sheds a tear," said the matron who bore him upon her arms.
And then the father came and looked for many moments upon his first born, and at length he said, "His name shall be Daniel."
Then, when the shadow on the earth had gone and the women were about to go, there came again a moment when the motherly matron looked from the inner room for an instant, and though she did not speak not a woman there failed to read her thoughts, so fine is women's intuition at such times, and they gathered about the fire again speaking with hushed voices and looking upon each other with anxious glances. And just as the sun was setting behind White Plains hills the matron came again, bearing another burden gently, and, as she lifted the tip of the covering to let them see, she said, "'Twas when the sun was shining brightly this one came to us, and he will be fair and gentle and comely, but the shadow of his brother's birth will be upon him all his days."
The women, when they saw this infant, said that his eyes were Fancher eyes—that is to say were very blue; and his hair, which was like a little ray of sunlight, was fair, like his mother's and all her kin.
When the father had looked upon this one he said, "He shall be called David."
Of course, so unusual was all this that there was much conversation about it, far and near, and the little Fancher twins were observed above all children thereabout, for there was no small curiosity to note what the effect might be upon them of the strange and unnatural event that happened at their birth. As they grew older the people all agreed that rather than Daniel and David their names might better have been Esau and Jacob, for Daniel was dark, like some of the Indians that lived near by, and his head was shaggy with thick black hair. He was fierce, and imperious, and promised to become a mighty hunter or else a warrior, for he talked of war and bloodshed, and before he was ten years old had led his brother far away in search of Indians to conquer. But David was gentle. He loved the farm and the cattle. But he cared for no other mates, because he was content with Daniel. So the twin brothers grew, David dependent upon and yielding to his swarthy brother like a vine to the tree it embraces. They slept together, and they ate together, and learned their letters and did their sums from the same book, so that what one knew the other knew, and though so different as to seem to have sprung from distinct races, yet they had but one mind between them, and that was Daniel's, and all the people said, "The shadow of the brother is upon David and will be always till it puts out his life."
Once their father said as he looked out in the morning upon his farm, "'Twill storm, I fear, before the night. The wind comes from the southeast. Mayhap 'twill bring rain."
And Daniel contradicted, saying, "Not southeast, but southwest."
"You are wrong, my son."
"Not wrong. I am never wrong. I would not have spoken if I was wrong. Ask David. He will tell you."
"David will say as you have said. You are two bodies and one mind, I tell you."
"We are one mind because we say and think the truth."
The father smiled when he heard the imperious little son say this, and then went away; and when he had gone, David said, "Daniel, we will prevail upon our father that he is wrong and we are right."
"If he will not believe our word he will believe nothing."
"Then he shall see."
"We will make a weathercock."
"It shall not be a cock, David."
"No, it shall not. What, then, shall it be?"
"It shall be a warrior."
"It shall. Can we make one?"
"You shall make the head and arms, for you have skill with the knife, and I will make the body and legs. Then we will join the parts, and if you make the arms with broad swords at the end, then the wind will strike them, and they will point the way it comes from. Our father shall not think we babble when we contradict him."
So the lads went to the shed, and by noon had constructed a marvelous image that they called a warrior, and its arms were elongated into broad swords shaped from tough hemlock shingles, and when one arm was lifted high above its head the other pointed rigidly to the earth, and if there was a breeze the arms were to gyrate with bewildering rapidity.
"A warrior should have color, Daniel," said David, when they looked upon the image.
"He should have a red coat," replied Daniel.
"And his breeches?"
"They should be white, and he should have a fierce beard and a stern eye."
So they thus decorated the image and set it up on the ridge piece of the shed, and when their father saw it its arms and sword were whirling away in a southwest breeze, and it was staring fiercely, though with irregularly marked eyes, away upon the horizon where the Long Island hills touch the sky. And there the warrior stayed, long after the storm had begun, and until the arms had become wounded in battling with the winds until one night it tottered and fell beneath a vigorous blast and lay unburied on the ground until the worms finished it. Daniel said, when his father saw it: "When you look upon it remember that David and I will not be disputed."
The neighbors heard this story of the warrior, and they said, "The shadow is upon the lads. Who can tell what yet may happen?"
When Daniel had come into possession of his strength, his fame as a strong man spread far and near, and they said that he had felled an ox with a blow, and had captured two robbers from the town below and held them with a grip of steel, each by an arm; and no one said yes or no to him until his desire was first ascertained. But David they loved because of his gentleness, and respected because of his skill with tools, and he was of such kindly disposition that he had but to surmise a desire of any of the neighbors when he would try to gratify it. So that when it was their desire that Daniel should do some act or lend some help, the wish was made known to David and Daniel was then overcome. For as they grew older so they seemed more and more closely to be united in common impulses and purposes, though the people asserted that the shadow was more and more potent, and that David's heart and mind were surely being absorbed, and that before many years he would simply be the shadow of his brother.
There lived in the town of Bedford, some miles distant, Miss Persia Rowland, and it was said of her that, fair as all other maids were, there was none like her, and she knew it, and was pleased thereat, and that she coveted not only admiration but the acknowledgment of it, whereby many a stalwart young fellow had favored her wish to his sorrow.
One day Miss Persia summoned one who obeyed her always, and said to him, "There is to be the great assembly of the year on St. Valentine's eve, and the sleighing is fine."
"That will be well, mistress. But whether the sleighing was fine or not the young fellows from miles around would come."
"No doubt. The winter is dull."
"Aye, but not that, and you know well, mistress, why they come, and why, if you were not there, they would quickly depart."
"But it tires me to see the same faces, with their staring, yearning eyes. There's no spunk to them. I hear of one below who, they say, never even so much as lets his eyes rest on a maid; not from abashment, but because he cares not for them at all, being in love with his own shadow—that is, his twin brother. It would please me to set my eyes upon such a man."
"Ah, be never saw you, mistress, for if he had, the brother would be forgot."
"Have you seen him?"
"And what looks he like? Is he strong and fierce, and does he scowl, and does he permit himself a beard?"
"He is all these things, and all men seem to fear him but the brother, and he says nothing to the women."
"If you wish to please me, as so often you assert you do, you will see that this strange being and his brother are present at the assembly. The sleighing will be fine, I said."
So it happened that the young man, being greatly desirous of doing whatever might make this woman smile even for an instant upon him, with caution approached David, and at last won his promise that he and Daniel would attend the assembly. But when David and his brother talked about it, Daniel said, "You have said we would go; therefore we will. But why do they chatter so of this young woman? Is she unlike others? Have they not all eyes that they cast on young men, David, and do they not all pucker their lips that their smiles may seem more pleasing? Fools they be who are bewitched thereby; but you have said we will go, and we do what we say, David."
So, as the young men and women were engaged in the courtly minuet in the great assembly room, there came among them the Fancher twins. They stood side by side in the further end of the room, where the light from the great burning logs revealed them clearly. They were of an even height and tall, but one was muscular and strongly built and his face seemed in the dim light more swarthy than it really was, and his thick black hair stood in shaggy masses, as nature had arranged it, and without the rigid dressing of the time. The other was slight and fair as a maid, and there was a smile upon his face, for the bright faces and the gay dresses and the dance and the twinkling of candles pleased him.
Miss Persia had seen them enter, and though with demure and graceful manner she seemed occupied with the evolutions of the dance, yet she saw them all the while. When the cotillion was ended she summoned her adorer and said, "The dark one, that is he. Why do you permit them to stand there? Will his brother be his partner in the next set? He must not. Why do you not bring him to me?"
And so the youth, in stiff peruke and silken stockings and satin breeches, went to Daniel, and bowing, said, "'Tis dull for you, I fear."
"If so we can go as we came."
"But not until you have been presented?"
"We came to see, not to be seen."
"He wishes to present you, Daniel," said his twin brother David.
"Well, he may do it."
But the youth with some embarrassment perceived that Daniel had no thought of moving when David were by, and he thought how often had he heard it said, "The fair one is the other's shadow." But he led them both to the high-backed chair wherein the fair Persia sat; and though Daniel stood before her staring grimly at her without abashment, and David, with becoming humility, bowed low before her beauty, yet she took no heed of the fair one but spoke to the dark one only.
"We have heard of you, but we have never seen you here before," she said. "Why is it?"
"Because it has not been our wish," Daniel replied with grave dignity.
"But it should have been. Such men as you do wrong yourself and others by living as hermits." She perceived that by bold self-assertion and fearlessness of manner she could alone interest this man. "Come with me," she added. "Your arm, if you would be considerate. 'Tis a strong arm, I perceive. No wonder they tell us of your feats of strength. I wish to hear you talk and it is pleasanter to stroll about. Here, let me present your brother to a fair young woman. For once, sir, give me the preference, and permit him to entertain Miss Nancy Brush."
And before he knew it the fierce Daniel was promenading with the beauty on his arm, while David—Daniel for once forgot him.
"It is a delight for us to see a strong man here," she said. "A woman might almost lose her faith in men, did not such as you appear once in a while."
"My strength is my own, and David's. What is it to you?" he said.
"What to me? The pleasure of novelty. They say there is a war brooding, and troops have fought already on Bunker Hill. It is that to me that gives me and all women sense of safety, for I now know that there are men fearless and brave, and quick to fight an enemy, and we shall, therefore, be safe. Ali! why was I a woman?"
"You talk of strength. It is weak to bemoan your fate."
"Would you not bemoan too had you been born without arms?"
"If you were a man what would you do?"
"Be strong and glory in it. If there were war, I would command an army, as you might, and if there were peace, I would compel the homage and affection of every fair maid."
"To command an army is well; to woo and will is pastime for puerile men."
"So little do you know and realize the power of strength. The greatest victories that a man can win are those which enable him to woo and wed whichever of all the maids he ever saw that he desires. If she be proud, he can subdue her pride, and that is a greater feat than winning a battle; and if she be vain, he can humble her vanity, and if she be selfish, he can make her forget herself, and if she be well favored above all other maids, he can be conscious that, if he wed, the beauty is for him, and that is a conquest of all other men."
As she said this she looked up at him, bending her graceful neck that she might obtain full view of his stern face and compel him thereby to look upon her. And when he had perceived her face and the beauty of it he did not speak, but led her to the remote corner of the great room, and then, unloosing his arm, turned so that he might stand squarely before her. He looked at her steadily for a moment, she not quailing. She asked at length, "What is it? Why do you look so fiercely at me?"
"Because you spoke as you did, and I perceive now what woman's beauty is. Have you not more strength than I?"
"I? I stronger than you?"
"Yes, you think you are. I think you may be, but you are subtle. Is that one form of strength? Is there one of the men here, or whom you ever saw, who would not with joy obey you? And if that be so, is that not due to the very strength you just now complimented in men?"
"There may be some, who knows? I can be as frank as you. There is one who would not."
"I don't know whether I would not, for you mean me."
"Yes, and you don't know? Well, I'll try you. I have a powerful but vicious colt; no man dares approach him. I think you would dare. Will you come tomorrow and break it for me?"
"I will come with my brother."
"Then you dare not come alone."
He looked half angrily upon her a moment, and then said, "I will come alone."
"Now go and fetch your brother to me. He stands there now alone, looking with great eyes at you. Is there some intangible bond between you?"
"My brother is myself and I am he."
"Then bring him quickly, and leave us for a while, that I may perceive how Daniel acts in David's person, as I have already by your strange admission seen how David appears in Daniel's person."
"You are a strange woman," said he, looking almost fiercely upon her with his eyes black as the ornament of jet she wore, and reflecting brighter light. But he brought David, and then stepped aside and watched that supple, slender figure as, on David's arm, she walked, as the swan sails, without apparent volition; and he saw how white and graceful her neck was, as it was revealed above the soft lace about it, and how like a crown her dark hair was gathered upon her head, twinkling like stars in winter's night with the jewels set there; and he could hear the whistle of her silks as she once passed close by him, looking up with serious face at him, and he perceived that her feet in slippers white and supple did now and then peep from her skirt like little chicks that thrust and withdrew their heads from their mother's wing.
"What is my strength and determination beside this power?" he thought. "I could crush, but this supple thing can compel."
While she was walking with David, Miss Persia had said, "Who would surmise that you and he were brothers?"
"Why not?" asked David.
"Have you never surveyed yourselves side by side in the mirror?" she asked.
"Why should we do that? I think the mirror belies, for no reflection would put out of my mind the conviction that I am like him and he like me. We cannot see ourselves."
"But your brother is so fierce and gloomy and imperious."
"Ah, that is but the other side of myself."
"And you, shall I say it? They say you are gentle and kindly and peaceful."
"Ah, but that is the other side of him."
"Being the complement of each other, together you make a man," she said.
He laughed, and she continued, "But you cannot live always thus. There is a better complement even than a brother."
"Tell me what you think it is."
"A fair maid: and there will come the realization of this to you. But you are most unneighborly. We have never seen you before. Come and be better friends. Come for I want to talk with you more. Will you?"
"We will come."
"Not together. You would embarrass me. I should not know to which I spoke. Come you the day after tomorrow and pay me a little visit at my home. My father would be glad to know you," and she looked up, pleadingly with an arch smile, and not serious and demure as she had when she obtained Daniel's promise to come. So he promised her.
On their way home in the still hour before dawn the twins were silent for a long time perhaps because Daniel drove furiously. At length Daniel said:
"She is not like other women, David."
"She is not, Daniel."
"She hath a luminous eye."
"And a cheek like the pink shell in our best room, Daniel."
"And her smile, it pleases, for it hath meaning, David."
"Yes, it pleases, but more her serious face."
"Even more that, and there is great power in her supple motion."
"So I surmise."
The next afternoon Daniel mounted his horse and went flying along the King Street to Bedford and when he returned he limped as though lamed, but he said nothing.
"You are lamed, Daniel," said David.
"Yes, a colt kicked me but I mastered him."
On the next day David mounted the horse and away he went, Daniel paying no heed to his departure. When he came back he said nothing.
"Are you going supperless to bed?" asked his twin brother.
"I have eaten supper with friends," said David quietly.
Then until the winter frosts were yielding to the summer sun Daniel and David ate and slept and worked together, but in silence, and almost every day one or the other went hurrying off toward the north, but never together.
One day after David had gone, Daniel an hour later followed. He drove straight to the door of Esquire Rowland's mansion, and without ceremony, entered, passing to the best room. There he saw David sitting beside the fair Persia, who had not heard Daniel enter.
He stood on the threshold for a moment Then he said, "David, I sat there yesterday and should tomorrow. Is it to be our curse that we have no mind except in common? Come, my brother; I say come."
He did not speak to Persia but turned abruptly and quitted the house; and David, without one word, arose and followed him.
The girl sat there like one bewildered, speechless; and when at length her wits came she perceived that the brothers were far down the highway.
"Oh were there but one, and that one the dark one," she said, as she stood peering through the little windowpanes and watching until the twins had passed out of sight.
Not a word did Daniel or David speak until they reached their home. Then Daniel said:
"David, in this, as in all things wise, we are agreed. You love the maid, as I love her. If you hated her, I should hate her. But though we may be one, we are to the world as two. We love her, and must be content with that."
"That is true, Daniel. She cannot cut the bond that binds us."
"I love you as myself, David, and you me, for we are indeed in all but body one. Therefore we must see her no more. And, as in men contrary customs part them this way and that, so one of us may be overcome by our passion, and visit the girl again. If so, whichever does shall go to the other and confess, and say, 'What shall I do? What will you do with me?' And what the other says, that will be done."
"There is reason and purpose in this pledge, Daniel, and we will make it."
"David, if it is you who comes to me I shall say what I hope you will say to me if I fail."
"And that is to end my life?"
"That is what it is."
One day some weeks later Daniel came to David and led him to the glen that even to this day may be seen beyond the old house.
"David, I am a poor weakling. I have seen her again yesterday. You know our pledge," and here Daniel drew from his pocket a pistol.
David looked upon his brother with an agonizing glance, while Daniel stood before him grim and fierce, and very dark. His hand was upon the trigger.
"I can't, I can't, Daniel," David said.
"You can, for if I were in your place I could and would command you to keep your pledge and do as I bid. There is no escape, but here," and he held up the weapon.
"No, I cannot bid you do it, though 'twas our pledge," said David, and put his hands to his eyes and shuddered.
"You are a babe," said Daniel, with contempt.
"But, Daniel, there is another thing that can be done. The war has come. Washington is below. You shall enlist, and be a soldier. Perhaps you will become a great commander, as you once felt sure you would."
"You tell me to enlist, I will do it." And that night Daniel quitted his home and within three days was with Washington at Harlem.
Some months later the army was gathering near the natural fortification at White Plains, preparing there to resist the oncoming of the soldiers of King George. It was a time when men were gloomy, but determined, for the shadow of battle was upon them, and their courage was greater than their hopes. One morning the sentry on the extreme left wing that was encamped in the outskirts of the town of Bedford brought in a sad and sullen man. They said to the officer in command that he was a deserter whom they had captured that night.
"Who are you?" asked the officer.
"I am known as David Fancher."
"You heard the accusation?"
"It is the truth. Do as you please with me. But let me say this thing—'twas not from cowardice I went away."
"If not, what then?"
"That is my affair."
"You know the penalty unless there be good excuse?" he was asked.
"I know the penalty. Perhaps I am glad of it. Who knows?"
They led him away, and as he stood sullenly before the officers of the court-martial and admitted his guilt and would say no word in extenuation. They pronounced his sentence—to be shot at sunrise the next morning.
In the evening David sent a communication to the officer, saying that if it were not too late he would like to speak to one of the soldiers who were detailed to execute him, and the officer said, "Let his wish be granted."
So it happened that in the darkness of the night a soldier was brought to the guardhouse and admitted. He stood by the door, for he could not see within, but he said: "Who is it that has sent for me and why?"
"It is I, Daniel."
"That is David's voice."
"Yes, Daniel. Daniel, do you remember how you used, with the musket at fifty paces, to send a ball unerringly through a bit of wood no larger than my hand?"
"That I remember."
"Remember that tomorrow when you see my hand."
"Do not speak in riddles, David."
"You remember the pledge we gave and that you promised that if I came to you and said 'Daniel, I have seen her again,' that you would do what I asked in recompense?"
"I remember that you would not keep your pledge with me."
"But you said you would had you been in my place. Daniel, I have seen her again."
"I knew you would, and so must I if I live. 'Tis a common impulse."
"Daniel, when I am led out tomorrow, and you stand facing me, promise me that you will mark well the spot where my hand is placed. 'Twill be over my heart."
"Is that in pursuance of our pledge?"
"Then I will do it. But wait: there is military order about this. The file will be selected."
"It is selected, and you are one."
"How know you that?"
"Because it was inevitable. No one told me, but I knew it."
"Then I will do as you say," and he turned to go away.
"Wait, Daniel. What happens to one will happen to both."
"I know that. We cannot escape that."
"Daniel, in my hand will be a tress of hair."
"She gave it to you. Give me my part at once. No, keep it. What matters whether your hand or mine hold it?"
"When you enlisted, I had to follow and though I could not find your regiment yet I knew we should be brought together."
"I knew that."
"We were in camp near Bedford, and, by chance, she strayed with some mates near us. She saw me first, and pleaded with me to return with her. Though I was on guard I could not resist, and I went. They found me and brought me here, and tomorrow morning the mystery of it all, of our lives, will be cut short."
"It is better so, David. I am glad."
"You loved her, Daniel?"
"Better than I loved myself, and therefore better than I loved you."
"And so, of course, it was with me. And I told her in my frenzy that I did."
"As I had the day I came and demanded the fulfillment of your pledge."
"She said that were we one she could have smiled on us. She could not marry both."
"Those were her words to me. We could not escape our fate, Daniel. Together we came into the world, and under mysterious beclouding of nature."
"Together we shall go out, David. And if such a thing is possible let us hope that there may be reunion complete, if so be it happens men's spirits live after them.
"Sit here by me, Daniel for a while. You are not unhappy for I am not."
"No, David, we are content."
They sat there side by side for many moments, until at last the guard came and took the brother of the condemned away.
In the morning they led David out into the meadow beyond the encampment, and there followed a line of soldiers, at the head of which marched a swarthy and stern man whom not one of all that company knew to be the brother of that man who, with bared head, was kneeling, proudly and unflinchingly, some twenty paces away. He had asked that he might give the signal, and the request had been granted, and he told them that he would be ready when he passed his hand on his heart.
The file of soldiers stood before him with leveled muskets awaiting the word, and David looked upon Daniel for a moment—and the soldiers said he smiled—and then he placed his hand upon his heart.
There was a quick report. The swarthy soldier had fired before the word, and then the volley of the others was delivered, but David Fancher had fallen prone before their bullets reached him.
Then the soldiers saw a strange thing. The swarthy companion, unmindful of regulation, went forward to the dead man and seemed to be leaning over him, and then lay prostrate beside him; and when the soldiers went there they found that two were dead instead of one.
Though soldiers are accustomed to things that startle, this was such a mystery that much inquiry was made. At last one came and looked upon the faces of the dead.
"Those are the Fancher brothers. Twins," he said.
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