Edgar Allan Poe ~ The Fall of the House of Usher

dm74Son coeur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il rèsonne..
De Béranger.

DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into everyday life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the country—a letter from him—which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a mental disorder which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that went with his request—which allowed me no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other—it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of Usher”—an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish experiment—that of looking down within the tarn—had been to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition—for why should I not so term it?—served mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy—a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me—while the carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy—while I hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this—I still wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the ennuyé man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an incoherence—an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual trepidancy—an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision—that abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation—that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy—a mere nervous affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture; the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave. “I shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect—in terror. In this unnerved—in this pitiable condition—I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth—in regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated—an influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit—an effect which the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin—to the severe and long-continued illness—indeed to the evidently approaching dissolution—of a tenderly beloved sister—his sole companion for long years—his last and only relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the Ushers.” While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread—and yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door, at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and eagerly the countenance of the brother—but he had buried his face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed; but, on the closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should obtain—that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either Usher or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and read together; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing not why;—from these paintings (vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more than a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least—in the circumstances then surrounding me—there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvass, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances. But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled “The Haunted Palace,” ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunéd law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of Usher’s which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for other men * have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence—the evidence of the sentience—was to be seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made him what I now saw him—what he was. Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

* Watson, Dr. Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop of Landaff.—See “Chemical Essays,” vol v.

Our books—the books which, for years, had formed no small portion of the mental existence of the invalid—were, as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We pored together over such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset; the Belphegor of Machiavelli; the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indaginé, and of De la Chambre; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck; and the City of the Sun of Campanella. One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorium, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old African Satyrs and OEgipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic—the manual of a forgotten church—the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight, (previously to its final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults within the main walls of the building. The worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead—for we could not regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue—but the luminousness of his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that his condition terrified—that it infected me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline within the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch—while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room—of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, harkened—I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me—to certain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognised it as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan—but, moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor. His air appalled me—but anything was preferable to the solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence as a relief.

“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after having stared about him for some moments in silence—“you have not then seen it?—but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this—yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars—nor was there any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the mansion.

“You must not—you shall not behold this!” said I, shudderingly, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from the window to a seat. “These appearances, which bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon—or it may be that they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement;—the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite romances. I will read, and you shall listen;—and so we will pass away this terrible night together.”

The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favorite of Usher’s more in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity with which he harkened, or apparently harkened, to the words of the tale, I might well have congratulated myself upon the success of my design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:

“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarummed and reverberated throughout the forest.”

At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment, paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me)—it appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:

“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten—

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.”

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild amazement—for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound—the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber; and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast—yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea—for he rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded:

“And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass from out of the way before him, and approached valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in sooth tarried not for his full coming, but feel down at his feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound.”

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than—as if a shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a floor of silver—I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet; but the measured rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw that he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous import of his words.

“Not hear it?—yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long—long—long—many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it—yet I dared not—oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!—I dared not—I dared not speak! We have put her living in the tomb! Said I not that my senses were acute? I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them—many, many days ago—yet I dared not—I dared not speak! And now—to-night—Ethelred—ha! ha!—the breaking of the hermit’s door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield!—say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh whither shall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart? Madman!”—here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul—“Madman! I tell you that she now stands without the door!

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been found the potency of a spell—the huge antique pannels to which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust—but then without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold—then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened—there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the “House of Usher.”

DMdJ Neu1

Edgar Allan Poe ~ Some Words with a Mummy


dm47The symposium of the preceding evening had been a little too much for my nerves. I had a wretched headache, and was desperately drowsy. Instead of going out therefore to spend the evening as I had proposed, it occurred to me that I could not do a wiser thing than just eat a mouthful of supper and go immediately to bed.

A light supper of course. I am exceedingly fond of Welsh rabbit. More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable. Still, there can be no material objection to two. And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. My wife will have it five;—but, clearly, she has confounded two very distinct affairs. The abstract number, five, I am willing to admit; but, concretely, it has reference to bottles of Brown Stout, without which, in the way of condiment, Welsh rabbit is to be eschewed.

Having thus concluded a frugal meal, and donned my night-cap, with the serene hope of enjoying it till noon the next day, I placed my head upon the pillow, and, through the aid of a capital conscience, fell into a profound slumber forthwith.

But when were the hopes of humanity fulfilled? I could not have completed my third snore when there came a furious ringing at the street-door bell, and then an impatient thumping at the knocker, which awakened me at once. In a minute afterward, and while I was still rubbing my eyes, my wife thrust in my face a note, from my old friend, Doctor Ponnonner. It ran thus:

“Come to me, by all means, my dear good friend, as soon as you
receive this. Come and help us to rejoice. At last, by long persevering
diplomacy, I have gained the assent of the Directors of the City Museum,
to my examination of the Mummy—you know the one I mean. I have
permission to unswathe it and open it, if desirable. A few friends only
will be present—you, of course. The Mummy is now at my house, and we
shall begin to unroll it at eleven to-night.

“Yours, ever,

By the time I had reached the “Ponnonner,” it struck me that I was as wide awake as a man need be. I leaped out of bed in an ecstacy, overthrowing all in my way; dressed myself with a rapidity truly marvellous; and set off, at the top of my speed, for the doctor’s.

There I found a very eager company assembled. They had been awaiting me with much impatience; the Mummy was extended upon the dining-table; and the moment I entered its examination was commenced.

It was one of a pair brought, several years previously, by Captain Arthur Sabretash, a cousin of Ponnonner’s from a tomb near Eleithias, in the Lybian mountains, a considerable distance above Thebes on the Nile. The grottoes at this point, although less magnificent than the Theban sepulchres, are of higher interest, on account of affording more numerous illustrations of the private life of the Egyptians. The chamber from which our specimen was taken, was said to be very rich in such illustrations; the walls being completely covered with fresco paintings and bas-reliefs, while statues, vases, and Mosaic work of rich patterns, indicated the vast wealth of the deceased.

The treasure had been deposited in the Museum precisely in the same condition in which Captain Sabretash had found it;—that is to say, the coffin had not been disturbed. For eight years it had thus stood, subject only externally to public inspection. We had now, therefore, the complete Mummy at our disposal; and to those who are aware how very rarely the unransacked antique reaches our shores, it will be evident, at once that we had great reason to congratulate ourselves upon our good fortune.

Approaching the table, I saw on it a large box, or case, nearly seven feet long, and perhaps three feet wide, by two feet and a half deep. It was oblong—not coffin-shaped. The material was at first supposed to be the wood of the sycamore (platanus), but, upon cutting into it, we found it to be pasteboard, or, more properly, papier mache, composed of papyrus. It was thickly ornamented with paintings, representing funeral scenes, and other mournful subjects—interspersed among which, in every variety of position, were certain series of hieroglyphical characters, intended, no doubt, for the name of the departed. By good luck, Mr. Gliddon formed one of our party; and he had no difficulty in translating the letters, which were simply phonetic, and represented the word Allamistakeo.

We had some difficulty in getting this case open without injury; but having at length accomplished the task, we came to a second, coffin-shaped, and very considerably less in size than the exterior one, but resembling it precisely in every other respect. The interval between the two was filled with resin, which had, in some degree, defaced the colors of the interior box.

Upon opening this latter (which we did quite easily), we arrived at a third case, also coffin-shaped, and varying from the second one in no particular, except in that of its material, which was cedar, and still emitted the peculiar and highly aromatic odor of that wood. Between the second and the third case there was no interval—the one fitting accurately within the other.

Removing the third case, we discovered and took out the body itself. We had expected to find it, as usual, enveloped in frequent rolls, or bandages, of linen; but, in place of these, we found a sort of sheath, made of papyrus, and coated with a layer of plaster, thickly gilt and painted. The paintings represented subjects connected with the various supposed duties of the soul, and its presentation to different divinities, with numerous identical human figures, intended, very probably, as portraits of the persons embalmed. Extending from head to foot was a columnar, or perpendicular, inscription, in phonetic hieroglyphics, giving again his name and titles, and the names and titles of his relations.

Around the neck thus ensheathed, was a collar of cylindrical glass beads, diverse in color, and so arranged as to form images of deities, of the scarabaeus, etc, with the winged globe. Around the small of the waist was a similar collar or belt.

Stripping off the papyrus, we found the flesh in excellent preservation, with no perceptible odor. The color was reddish. The skin was hard, smooth, and glossy. The teeth and hair were in good condition. The eyes (it seemed) had been removed, and glass ones substituted, which were very beautiful and wonderfully life-like, with the exception of somewhat too determined a stare. The fingers and the nails were brilliantly gilded.

Mr. Gliddon was of opinion, from the redness of the epidermis, that the embalmment had been effected altogether by asphaltum; but, on scraping the surface with a steel instrument, and throwing into the fire some of the powder thus obtained, the flavor of camphor and other sweet-scented gums became apparent.

We searched the corpse very carefully for the usual openings through which the entrails are extracted, but, to our surprise, we could discover none. No member of the party was at that period aware that entire or unopened mummies are not infrequently met. The brain it was customary to withdraw through the nose; the intestines through an incision in the side; the body was then shaved, washed, and salted; then laid aside for several weeks, when the operation of embalming, properly so called, began.

As no trace of an opening could be found, Doctor Ponnonner was preparing his instruments for dissection, when I observed that it was then past two o’clock. Hereupon it was agreed to postpone the internal examination until the next evening; and we were about to separate for the present, when some one suggested an experiment or two with the Voltaic pile.

The application of electricity to a mummy three or four thousand years old at the least, was an idea, if not very sage, still sufficiently original, and we all caught it at once. About one-tenth in earnest and nine-tenths in jest, we arranged a battery in the Doctor’s study, and conveyed thither the Egyptian.

It was only after much trouble that we succeeded in laying bare some portions of the temporal muscle which appeared of less stony rigidity than other parts of the frame, but which, as we had anticipated, of course, gave no indication of galvanic susceptibility when brought in contact with the wire. This, the first trial, indeed, seemed decisive, and, with a hearty laugh at our own absurdity, we were bidding each other good night, when my eyes, happening to fall upon those of the Mummy, were there immediately riveted in amazement. My brief glance, in fact, had sufficed to assure me that the orbs which we had all supposed to be glass, and which were originally noticeable for a certain wild stare, were now so far covered by the lids, that only a small portion of the tunica albuginea remained visible.

With a shout I called attention to the fact, and it became immediately obvious to all.

I cannot say that I was alarmed at the phenomenon, because “alarmed” is, in my case, not exactly the word. It is possible, however, that, but for the Brown Stout, I might have been a little nervous. As for the rest of the company, they really made no attempt at concealing the downright fright which possessed them. Doctor Ponnonner was a man to be pitied. Mr. Gliddon, by some peculiar process, rendered himself invisible. Mr. Silk Buckingham, I fancy, will scarcely be so bold as to deny that he made his way, upon all fours, under the table.

After the first shock of astonishment, however, we resolved, as a matter of course, upon further experiment forthwith. Our operations were now directed against the great toe of the right foot. We made an incision over the outside of the exterior os sesamoideum pollicis pedis, and thus got at the root of the abductor muscle. Readjusting the battery, we now applied the fluid to the bisected nerves—when, with a movement of exceeding life-likeness, the Mummy first drew up its right knee so as to bring it nearly in contact with the abdomen, and then, straightening the limb with inconceivable force, bestowed a kick upon Doctor Ponnonner, which had the effect of discharging that gentleman, like an arrow from a catapult, through a window into the street below.

We rushed out en masse to bring in the mangled remains of the victim, but had the happiness to meet him upon the staircase, coming up in an unaccountable hurry, brimful of the most ardent philosophy, and more than ever impressed with the necessity of prosecuting our experiment with vigor and with zeal.

It was by his advice, accordingly, that we made, upon the spot, a profound incision into the tip of the subject’s nose, while the Doctor himself, laying violent hands upon it, pulled it into vehement contact with the wire.

Morally and physically—figuratively and literally—was the effect electric. In the first place, the corpse opened its eyes and winked very rapidly for several minutes, as does Mr. Barnes in the pantomime, in the second place, it sneezed; in the third, it sat upon end; in the fourth, it shook its fist in Doctor Ponnonner’s face; in the fifth, turning to Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, it addressed them, in very capital Egyptian, thus:

“I must say, gentlemen, that I am as much surprised as I am mortified at your behavior. Of Doctor Ponnonner nothing better was to be expected. He is a poor little fat fool who knows no better. I pity and forgive him. But you, Mr. Gliddon—and you, Silk—who have travelled and resided in Egypt until one might imagine you to the manner born—you, I say who have been so much among us that you speak Egyptian fully as well, I think, as you write your mother tongue—you, whom I have always been led to regard as the firm friend of the mummies—I really did anticipate more gentlemanly conduct from you. What am I to think of your standing quietly by and seeing me thus unhandsomely used? What am I to suppose by your permitting Tom, Dick, and Harry to strip me of my coffins, and my clothes, in this wretchedly cold climate? In what light (to come to the point) am I to regard your aiding and abetting that miserable little villain, Doctor Ponnonner, in pulling me by the nose?”

It will be taken for granted, no doubt, that upon hearing this speech under the circumstances, we all either made for the door, or fell into violent hysterics, or went off in a general swoon. One of these three things was, I say, to be expected. Indeed each and all of these lines of conduct might have been very plausibly pursued. And, upon my word, I am at a loss to know how or why it was that we pursued neither the one nor the other. But, perhaps, the true reason is to be sought in the spirit of the age, which proceeds by the rule of contraries altogether, and is now usually admitted as the solution of every thing in the way of paradox and impossibility. Or, perhaps, after all, it was only the Mummy’s exceedingly natural and matter-of-course air that divested his words of the terrible. However this may be, the facts are clear, and no member of our party betrayed any very particular trepidation, or seemed to consider that any thing had gone very especially wrong.

For my part I was convinced it was all right, and merely stepped aside, out of the range of the Egyptian’s fist. Doctor Ponnonner thrust his hands into his breeches’ pockets, looked hard at the Mummy, and grew excessively red in the face. Mr. Glidden stroked his whiskers and drew up the collar of his shirt. Mr. Buckingham hung down his head, and put his right thumb into the left corner of his mouth.

The Egyptian regarded him with a severe countenance for some minutes and at length, with a sneer, said:

“Why don’t you speak, Mr. Buckingham? Did you hear what I asked you, or not? Do take your thumb out of your mouth!”

Mr. Buckingham, hereupon, gave a slight start, took his right thumb out of the left corner of his mouth, and, by way of indemnification inserted his left thumb in the right corner of the aperture above-mentioned.

Not being able to get an answer from Mr. B., the figure turned peevishly to Mr. Gliddon, and, in a peremptory tone, demanded in general terms what we all meant.

Mr. Gliddon replied at great length, in phonetics; and but for the deficiency of American printing-offices in hieroglyphical type, it would afford me much pleasure to record here, in the original, the whole of his very excellent speech.

I may as well take this occasion to remark, that all the subsequent conversation in which the Mummy took a part, was carried on in primitive Egyptian, through the medium (so far as concerned myself and other untravelled members of the company)—through the medium, I say, of Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, as interpreters. These gentlemen spoke the mother tongue of the Mummy with inimitable fluency and grace; but I could not help observing that (owing, no doubt, to the introduction of images entirely modern, and, of course, entirely novel to the stranger) the two travellers were reduced, occasionally, to the employment of sensible forms for the purpose of conveying a particular meaning. Mr. Gliddon, at one period, for example, could not make the Egyptian comprehend the term “politics,” until he sketched upon the wall, with a bit of charcoal a little carbuncle-nosed gentleman, out at elbows, standing upon a stump, with his left leg drawn back, right arm thrown forward, with his fist shut, the eyes rolled up toward Heaven, and the mouth open at an angle of ninety degrees. Just in the same way Mr. Buckingham failed to convey the absolutely modern idea “wig,” until (at Doctor Ponnonner’s suggestion) he grew very pale in the face, and consented to take off his own.

It will be readily understood that Mr. Gliddon’s discourse turned chiefly upon the vast benefits accruing to science from the unrolling and disembowelling of mummies; apologizing, upon this score, for any disturbance that might have been occasioned him, in particular, the individual Mummy called Allamistakeo; and concluding with a mere hint (for it could scarcely be considered more) that, as these little matters were now explained, it might be as well to proceed with the investigation intended. Here Doctor Ponnonner made ready his instruments.

In regard to the latter suggestions of the orator, it appears that Allamistakeo had certain scruples of conscience, the nature of which I did not distinctly learn; but he expressed himself satisfied with the apologies tendered, and, getting down from the table, shook hands with the company all round.

When this ceremony was at an end, we immediately busied ourselves in repairing the damages which our subject had sustained from the scalpel. We sewed up the wound in his temple, bandaged his foot, and applied a square inch of black plaster to the tip of his nose.

It was now observed that the Count (this was the title, it seems, of Allamistakeo) had a slight fit of shivering—no doubt from the cold. The Doctor immediately repaired to his wardrobe, and soon returned with a black dress coat, made in Jennings’ best manner, a pair of sky-blue plaid pantaloons with straps, a pink gingham chemise, a flapped vest of brocade, a white sack overcoat, a walking cane with a hook, a hat with no brim, patent-leather boots, straw-colored kid gloves, an eye-glass, a pair of whiskers, and a waterfall cravat. Owing to the disparity of size between the Count and the doctor (the proportion being as two to one), there was some little difficulty in adjusting these habiliments upon the person of the Egyptian; but when all was arranged, he might have been said to be dressed. Mr. Gliddon, therefore, gave him his arm, and led him to a comfortable chair by the fire, while the Doctor rang the bell upon the spot and ordered a supply of cigars and wine.

The conversation soon grew animated. Much curiosity was, of course, expressed in regard to the somewhat remarkable fact of Allamistakeo’s still remaining alive.

“I should have thought,” observed Mr. Buckingham, “that it is high time you were dead.”

“Why,” replied the Count, very much astonished, “I am little more than seven hundred years old! My father lived a thousand, and was by no means in his dotage when he died.”

Here ensued a brisk series of questions and computations, by means of which it became evident that the antiquity of the Mummy had been grossly misjudged. It had been five thousand and fifty years and some months since he had been consigned to the catacombs at Eleithias.

“But my remark,” resumed Mr. Buckingham, “had no reference to your age at the period of interment (I am willing to grant, in fact, that you are still a young man), and my illusion was to the immensity of time during which, by your own showing, you must have been done up in asphaltum.”

“In what?” said the Count.

“In asphaltum,” persisted Mr. B.

“Ah, yes; I have some faint notion of what you mean; it might be made to answer, no doubt—but in my time we employed scarcely any thing else than the Bichloride of Mercury.”

“But what we are especially at a loss to understand,” said Doctor Ponnonner, “is how it happens that, having been dead and buried in Egypt five thousand years ago, you are here to-day all alive and looking so delightfully well.”

“Had I been, as you say, dead,” replied the Count, “it is more than probable that dead, I should still be; for I perceive you are yet in the infancy of Calvanism, and cannot accomplish with it what was a common thing among us in the old days. But the fact is, I fell into catalepsy, and it was considered by my best friends that I was either dead or should be; they accordingly embalmed me at once—I presume you are aware of the chief principle of the embalming process?”

“Why not altogether.”

“Why, I perceive—a deplorable condition of ignorance! Well I cannot enter into details just now: but it is necessary to explain that to embalm (properly speaking), in Egypt, was to arrest indefinitely all the animal functions subjected to the process. I use the word ‘animal’ in its widest sense, as including the physical not more than the moral and vital being. I repeat that the leading principle of embalmment consisted, with us, in the immediately arresting, and holding in perpetual abeyance, all the animal functions subjected to the process. To be brief, in whatever condition the individual was, at the period of embalmment, in that condition he remained. Now, as it is my good fortune to be of the blood of the Scarabaeus, I was embalmed alive, as you see me at present.”

“The blood of the Scarabaeus!” exclaimed Doctor Ponnonner.

“Yes. The Scarabaeus was the insignium or the ‘arms,’ of a very distinguished and very rare patrician family. To be ‘of the blood of the Scarabaeus,’ is merely to be one of that family of which the Scarabaeus is the insignium. I speak figuratively.”

“But what has this to do with you being alive?”

“Why, it is the general custom in Egypt to deprive a corpse, before embalmment, of its bowels and brains; the race of the Scarabaei alone did not coincide with the custom. Had I not been a Scarabeus, therefore, I should have been without bowels and brains; and without either it is inconvenient to live.”

“I perceive that,” said Mr. Buckingham, “and I presume that all the entire mummies that come to hand are of the race of Scarabaei.”

“Beyond doubt.”

“I thought,” said Mr. Gliddon, very meekly, “that the Scarabaeus was one of the Egyptian gods.”

“One of the Egyptian what?” exclaimed the Mummy, starting to its feet.

“Gods!” repeated the traveller.

“Mr. Gliddon, I really am astonished to hear you talk in this style,” said the Count, resuming his chair. “No nation upon the face of the earth has ever acknowledged more than one god. The Scarabaeus, the Ibis, etc., were with us (as similar creatures have been with others) the symbols, or media, through which we offered worship to the Creator too august to be more directly approached.”

There was here a pause. At length the colloquy was renewed by Doctor Ponnonner.

“It is not improbable, then, from what you have explained,” said he, “that among the catacombs near the Nile there may exist other mummies of the Scarabaeus tribe, in a condition of vitality?”

“There can be no question of it,” replied the Count; “all the Scarabaei embalmed accidentally while alive, are alive now. Even some of those purposely so embalmed, may have been overlooked by their executors, and still remain in the tomb.”

“Will you be kind enough to explain,” I said, “what you mean by ‘purposely so embalmed’?”

“With great pleasure!” answered the Mummy, after surveying me leisurely through his eye-glass—for it was the first time I had ventured to address him a direct question.

“With great pleasure,” he said. “The usual duration of man’s life, in my time, was about eight hundred years. Few men died, unless by most extraordinary accident, before the age of six hundred; few lived longer than a decade of centuries; but eight were considered the natural term. After the discovery of the embalming principle, as I have already described it to you, it occurred to our philosophers that a laudable curiosity might be gratified, and, at the same time, the interests of science much advanced, by living this natural term in installments. In the case of history, indeed, experience demonstrated that something of this kind was indispensable. An historian, for example, having attained the age of five hundred, would write a book with great labor and then get himself carefully embalmed; leaving instructions to his executors pro tem., that they should cause him to be revivified after the lapse of a certain period—say five or six hundred years. Resuming existence at the expiration of this time, he would invariably find his great work converted into a species of hap-hazard note-book—that is to say, into a kind of literary arena for the conflicting guesses, riddles, and personal squabbles of whole herds of exasperated commentators. These guesses, etc., which passed under the name of annotations, or emendations, were found so completely to have enveloped, distorted, and overwhelmed the text, that the author had to go about with a lantern to discover his own book. When discovered, it was never worth the trouble of the search. After re-writing it throughout, it was regarded as the bounden duty of the historian to set himself to work immediately in correcting, from his own private knowledge and experience, the traditions of the day concerning the epoch at which he had originally lived. Now this process of re-scription and personal rectification, pursued by various individual sages from time to time, had the effect of preventing our history from degenerating into absolute fable.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Doctor Ponnonner at this point, laying his hand gently upon the arm of the Egyptian—“I beg your pardon, sir, but may I presume to interrupt you for one moment?”

“By all means, sir,” replied the Count, drawing up.

“I merely wished to ask you a question,” said the Doctor. “You mentioned the historian’s personal correction of traditions respecting his own epoch. Pray, sir, upon an average what proportion of these Kabbala were usually found to be right?”

“The Kabbala, as you properly term them, sir, were generally discovered to be precisely on a par with the facts recorded in the un-re-written histories themselves;—that is to say, not one individual iota of either was ever known, under any circumstances, to be not totally and radically wrong.”

“But since it is quite clear,” resumed the Doctor, “that at least five thousand years have elapsed since your entombment, I take it for granted that your histories at that period, if not your traditions were sufficiently explicit on that one topic of universal interest, the Creation, which took place, as I presume you are aware, only about ten centuries before.”

“Sir!” said the Count Allamistakeo.

The Doctor repeated his remarks, but it was only after much additional explanation that the foreigner could be made to comprehend them. The latter at length said, hesitatingly:

“The ideas you have suggested are to me, I confess, utterly novel. During my time I never knew any one to entertain so singular a fancy as that the universe (or this world if you will have it so) ever had a beginning at all. I remember once, and once only, hearing something remotely hinted, by a man of many speculations, concerning the origin of the human race; and by this individual, the very word Adam (or Red Earth), which you make use of, was employed. He employed it, however, in a generical sense, with reference to the spontaneous germination from rank soil (just as a thousand of the lower genera of creatures are germinated)—the spontaneous germination, I say, of five vast hordes of men, simultaneously upspringing in five distinct and nearly equal divisions of the globe.”

Here, in general, the company shrugged their shoulders, and one or two of us touched our foreheads with a very significant air. Mr. Silk Buckingham, first glancing slightly at the occiput and then at the sinciput of Allamistakeo, spoke as follows:

“The long duration of human life in your time, together with the occasional practice of passing it, as you have explained, in installments, must have had, indeed, a strong tendency to the general development and conglomeration of knowledge. I presume, therefore, that we are to attribute the marked inferiority of the old Egyptians in all particulars of science, when compared with the moderns, and more especially with the Yankees, altogether to the superior solidity of the Egyptian skull.”

“I confess again,” replied the Count, with much suavity, “that I am somewhat at a loss to comprehend you; pray, to what particulars of science do you allude?”

Here our whole party, joining voices, detailed, at great length, the assumptions of phrenology and the marvels of animal magnetism.

Having heard us to an end, the Count proceeded to relate a few anecdotes, which rendered it evident that prototypes of Gall and Spurzheim had flourished and faded in Egypt so long ago as to have been nearly forgotten, and that the manoeuvres of Mesmer were really very contemptible tricks when put in collation with the positive miracles of the Theban savans, who created lice and a great many other similar things.

I here asked the Count if his people were able to calculate eclipses. He smiled rather contemptuously, and said they were.

This put me a little out, but I began to make other inquiries in regard to his astronomical knowledge, when a member of the company, who had never as yet opened his mouth, whispered in my ear, that for information on this head, I had better consult Ptolemy (whoever Ptolemy is), as well as one Plutarch de facie lunae.

I then questioned the Mummy about burning-glasses and lenses, and, in general, about the manufacture of glass; but I had not made an end of my queries before the silent member again touched me quietly on the elbow, and begged me for God’s sake to take a peep at Diodorus Siculus. As for the Count, he merely asked me, in the way of reply, if we moderns possessed any such microscopes as would enable us to cut cameos in the style of the Egyptians. While I was thinking how I should answer this question, little Doctor Ponnonner committed himself in a very extraordinary way.

“Look at our architecture!” he exclaimed, greatly to the indignation of both the travellers, who pinched him black and blue to no purpose.

“Look,” he cried with enthusiasm, “at the Bowling-Green Fountain in New York! or if this be too vast a contemplation, regard for a moment the Capitol at Washington, D. C.!”—and the good little medical man went on to detail very minutely, the proportions of the fabric to which he referred. He explained that the portico alone was adorned with no less than four and twenty columns, five feet in diameter, and ten feet apart.

The Count said that he regretted not being able to remember, just at that moment, the precise dimensions of any one of the principal buildings of the city of Aznac, whose foundations were laid in the night of Time, but the ruins of which were still standing, at the epoch of his entombment, in a vast plain of sand to the westward of Thebes. He recollected, however, (talking of the porticoes,) that one affixed to an inferior palace in a kind of suburb called Carnac, consisted of a hundred and forty-four columns, thirty-seven feet in circumference, and twenty-five feet apart. The approach to this portico, from the Nile, was through an avenue two miles long, composed of sphynxes, statues, and obelisks, twenty, sixty, and a hundred feet in height. The palace itself (as well as he could remember) was, in one direction, two miles long, and might have been altogether about seven in circuit. Its walls were richly painted all over, within and without, with hieroglyphics. He would not pretend to assert that even fifty or sixty of the Doctor’s Capitols might have been built within these walls, but he was by no means sure that two or three hundred of them might not have been squeezed in with some trouble. That palace at Carnac was an insignificant little building after all. He (the Count), however, could not conscientiously refuse to admit the ingenuity, magnificence, and superiority of the Fountain at the Bowling Green, as described by the Doctor. Nothing like it, he was forced to allow, had ever been seen in Egypt or elsewhere.

I here asked the Count what he had to say to our railroads.

“Nothing,” he replied, “in particular.” They were rather slight, rather ill-conceived, and clumsily put together. They could not be compared, of course, with the vast, level, direct, iron-grooved causeways upon which the Egyptians conveyed entire temples and solid obelisks of a hundred and fifty feet in altitude.

I spoke of our gigantic mechanical forces.

He agreed that we knew something in that way, but inquired how I should have gone to work in getting up the imposts on the lintels of even the little palace at Carnac.

This question I concluded not to hear, and demanded if he had any idea of Artesian wells; but he simply raised his eyebrows; while Mr. Gliddon winked at me very hard and said, in a low tone, that one had been recently discovered by the engineers employed to bore for water in the Great Oasis.

I then mentioned our steel; but the foreigner elevated his nose, and asked me if our steel could have executed the sharp carved work seen on the obelisks, and which was wrought altogether by edge-tools of copper.

This disconcerted us so greatly that we thought it advisable to vary the attack to Metaphysics. We sent for a copy of a book called the “Dial,” and read out of it a chapter or two about something that is not very clear, but which the Bostonians call the Great Movement of Progress.

The Count merely said that Great Movements were awfully common things in his day, and as for Progress, it was at one time quite a nuisance, but it never progressed.

We then spoke of the great beauty and importance of Democracy, and were at much trouble in impressing the Count with a due sense of the advantages we enjoyed in living where there was suffrage ad libitum, and no king.

He listened with marked interest, and in fact seemed not a little amused. When we had done, he said that, a great while ago, there had occurred something of a very similar sort. Thirteen Egyptian provinces determined all at once to be free, and to set a magnificent example to the rest of mankind. They assembled their wise men, and concocted the most ingenious constitution it is possible to conceive. For a while they managed remarkably well; only their habit of bragging was prodigious. The thing ended, however, in the consolidation of the thirteen states, with some fifteen or twenty others, in the most odious and insupportable despotism that was ever heard of upon the face of the Earth.

I asked what was the name of the usurping tyrant.

As well as the Count could recollect, it was Mob.

Not knowing what to say to this, I raised my voice, and deplored the Egyptian ignorance of steam.

The Count looked at me with much astonishment, but made no answer. The silent gentleman, however, gave me a violent nudge in the ribs with his elbows—told me I had sufficiently exposed myself for once—and demanded if I was really such a fool as not to know that the modern steam-engine is derived from the invention of Hero, through Solomon de Caus.

We were now in imminent danger of being discomfited; but, as good luck would have it, Doctor Ponnonner, having rallied, returned to our rescue, and inquired if the people of Egypt would seriously pretend to rival the moderns in the all—important particular of dress.

The Count, at this, glanced downward to the straps of his pantaloons, and then taking hold of the end of one of his coat-tails, held it up close to his eyes for some minutes. Letting it fall, at last, his mouth extended itself very gradually from ear to ear; but I do not remember that he said any thing in the way of reply.

Hereupon we recovered our spirits, and the Doctor, approaching the Mummy with great dignity, desired it to say candidly, upon its honor as a gentleman, if the Egyptians had comprehended, at any period, the manufacture of either Ponnonner’s lozenges or Brandreth’s pills.

We looked, with profound anxiety, for an answer—but in vain. It was not forthcoming. The Egyptian blushed and hung down his head. Never was triumph more consummate; never was defeat borne with so ill a grace. Indeed, I could not endure the spectacle of the poor Mummy’s mortification. I reached my hat, bowed to him stiffly, and took leave.

Upon getting home I found it past four o’clock, and went immediately to bed. It is now ten A.M. I have been up since seven, penning these memoranda for the benefit of my family and of mankind. The former I shall behold no more. My wife is a shrew. The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life and of the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that every thing is going wrong. Besides, I am anxious to know who will be President in 2045. As soon, therefore, as I shave and swallow a cup of coffee, I shall just step over to Ponnonner’s and get embalmed for a couple of hundred years.

DGG fur DMdJ

A.T. Quiller-Couch ~ The Horror on the Stair



Particulars concerning the end of Mistress Catherine Johnstone, late of Givens, in Ayrshire; from a private relation made by the young woman Kirstie Maclachlan to the Reverend James Souttar, A.M., Minister of the Parish of Wyliebank, and by him put into writing.

I had been placed in my parish of Wyliebank about a twelvemonth before making acquaintance with Mr. Johnstone, the minister at Givens, twelve miles away. This would be in the year 1721, and from that until the date of his death (which happened in the autumn of 1725) I saw him in all not above a dozen times. To me he appeared a douce, quiet man, commonplace in the pulpit and not over-learned, strict in his own behaviour, methodical in his duties, averse from gossip of all kinds, having himself a great capacity for silence, whereby he seemed perhaps wiser than he was, but not (I think) more charitable. He had greatly advanced his fortunes by marriage.

This marriage made him remarkable, who else had passed as quite ordinary; but not for the money it brought him. Of his wife I knew no more than my neighbours. She was a daughter of Sir John Telfair, of Balgarnock, a gentleman of note in Renfrewshire; and the story ran concerning her that, at the age of sixteen, having a spite against one of the maidservants, she had pretended to be bewitched and persecuted by the devil, and upheld the imposture so cleverly, with rigors, convulsions, foaming at the mouth and spitting forth of straws, chips and cinders, pins and bent nails, that the Presbytery ordained a public fast against witchcraft, and by warrant of Privy Council a Commission visited Balgarnock to take evidence of her condition. In the presence of these Commissioners, of whom the Lord Blantyre was president, the young lady flatly accused one Janet Burns, her mother’s still-room maid, of tormenting her with aid of the black art, and for witness showed her back and shoulders covered with wales, some blue and others freshly bleeding; and further, in the midst of their interrogatories cast herself into a trance, muttering and offering faint combat to divers unseen spirits, and all in so lifelike a manner that, notwithstanding they could discover no evident proof of guilt, these wise gentry were overawed and did commit the woman Janet Burns to take her trial for witchcraft at Paisley. There, poor soul, as she was escorted to the prison, the town rabble met her with sticks and stones and closed the case; for on her way a cobble cast by some unknown hand struck her upon the temple, and falling into the arms of the guard, she never spoke after, but breathed her last breath as they forced her through the mob to the prison gates.

This was the tale told to me; and long before I heard it the reprobation of the vulgar had swung back from Janet Burns and settled upon her accuser. Certain it was that swiftly upon the woman’s murder—as I may well call it—Miss Catherine made a recovery, nor was thereafter troubled with fits, swoons or ailments calling for public notice. Indeed, she was shunned by all, and lived (as well as I could discover) in complete seclusion for twenty years, until the minister of Givens sought her out with an offer of marriage.

By this time she was near forty; a thin, hard-featured spinster, dwelling alone with her mother the Lady Balgarnock. Her two younger sisters had married early—the one to Captain Luce, of Dunragit in Wigtownshire, the other to a Mr. Forbes, of whom I know nothing save that his house was in Edinburgh: and as they had no great love for Miss Catherine, so they neither sought her company nor were invited to Balgarnock. Her father, Sir John, had deceased a few months before Mr. Johnstone presented himself.

He made a short courtship of it. The common tongues accused him (as was to be expected) of coming after her money; whereas she and her old mother lived a cat-and-dog life together, and she besides was of an age when women will often marry the first man that offers. But I now believe, and (unless I mistake) the history will show, that the excuse vulgarly made for her did not touch the real ground of her decision. At any rate, she married him and lived from 1718 to 1725 in the manse at Givens, where I made her acquaintance.

I had been warned what to expect. The parishioners of Givens seldom had sight of her, and set it down to pride and contempt of her husband’s origin. (He had been a weaver’s son from Falkirk, who either had won his way to the Marischal College of Aberdeen by strength of will and in defiance of natural dullness, or else had started with wits but blunted them in carving his way thither.) She rarely set foot beyond the manse garden, the most of her time being spent in a roomy garret under the slates, where she spun a fine yarn and worked it into thread of the kind which is yet known as “Balgarnock thread,” and was invented by her or by her mother—for accounts differ as to this. I have beside me an advertisement clipped from one of the newspapers of twenty years ago, which says: “The Lady Balgarnock and her eldest daughter having attained to great perfection in making whitening and twisting of SEWING THREED which is as cheap and white, and known by experience to be much stronger than the Dutch, to prevent people’s being imposed upon by other Threed which may be sold under the name of Balgarnock Threed, the Papers in which the Lady Balgarnock at Balgarnock, or Mrs. Johnstone her eldest daughter, at Givens, do put up their Threed shall, for direction, have thereupon their Coat of Arms, ‘Azure, a ram’s head caboshed or.’ Those who want the said Threed, which is to be sold from fivepence to six shillings per ounce, may write to the Lady Balgarnock at Balgarnock, or Mrs. Johnstone at Givens, to the care of the Postmaster at Glasgow; and may call for the same in Edinburgh at John Seton, Merchant, his shop in the Parliament Close, where they will be served either in Wholesale or Retail, and will be served in the same manner at Glasgow, by William Selkirk, Merchant, in Trongate.”

In this art, then, the woman spent most of her days, preparing the thread with her own hands and bleaching her materials on a large slate raised upon brackets in the window of her garret. And, if one may confess for all, glad enough were Mr. Johnstone’s guests when this wife of his rose from the table and departed upstairs. For a colder, more taciturn and discomfortable hostess could not be conceived. She would scarcely exchange a word through the meal—no, not with her husband, though he watched and seemed to forestall her wants with a tender officiousness. To see her seated there in black (which was her only wear), with her back to the window, her eyes on the board, and, as it seemed, the shadow of a long-past guilt brooding about her continually, gave me a feeling as of cold water dripping down the spine. And even the husband, though he pretended to observe nothing, must have known my relief when she withdrew and left us with the decanters.

Now I had tholed this penance, maybe, a dozen times, and could never win a speech from Mrs. Johnstone, nor a look, to show that she regarded me while present or remembered me after I had gone. So you may think I was surprised one day when the minister came riding over with word that his wife wanted a young girl for companion and to help her with the spinning, and had thought of me as likely to show judgment in recommending one. The girl must be sixteen, or thereabout, of decent behaviour and tractable, no gadder or lover of finery, healthy, able to read, an early riser, and, if possible, devout. For her parentage I need not trouble myself, if I knew of a girl suitable in these other respects.

It happened that I had of late been contriving some odd work about the manse for the girl Kirstie Maclachlan, not that the work needed doing, but to help her old mother; for we had no assessment for the poor, and the Session was often at its wits’ end to provide relief, wherein as a man without family cares I could better assist than some of my neighbours. The girl’s mother was a poor feckless creature who had left Wyliebank in her youth to take service in Glasgow, and there, beguiled at first by some villain, had gone from bad to worse through misguidance rather than wantonness, and at last crept home to her native parish to starve, if by starving she could save her child—then but an infant—from the city and its paths of destruction. This, in part by her own courage, and in part by the help of the charitable, she had managed to do, and lived to see Kirstie grow to be a decent, religiously minded young woman. Nor did the lass want for good looks in a sober way, nor for wit when it came to reading books; but in speech she was shy beyond reason, and would turn red and stammer if a stranger but addressed her. I think she could never forget that her birth had been on the wrong side of the blanket, and, supposing folks to be pitying her for it, sought to avoid them and their kindness.

It was Kirstie, then, whom I ventured to commend to Mr. Johnstone for his lady’s requirements; and after some talk between us the good man sent for her and was satisfied with her looks and the few answers which, in her stammering way, she managed to return to his questions. When he set off homeward it was on the understanding that she should follow him to Givens on foot, which she did the next day with her stock of spare clothes in a kerchief. Nor, although I twice visited Givens during her service there, did I ever see her at the manse, but twice only before she returned to us with the tale I am to set down—the first time at the burying of her mother here in Wyliebank, and the second at Givens, when I was called thither to inter her master who died very suddenly by the bursting of a blood-vessel in the brain. After that she went to live with the widow in lodgings in Edinburgh; and from her, some fifteen months later, I received the news, in a letter most neatly indited, that Mrs. Johnstone had perished by her own hand, and a request to impart it to all in this parish whom it might concern. The main facts she told me then in writing, but the circumstances (being ever a sensible girl) she kept to transmit to me by word of mouth, rightly judging that the public enquiry had no business with them.

It seems, then, that Kirstie’s first introduction to Mrs. Johnstone was none too cheerful; indeed, it came near to scaring her out of her senses. She arrived duly at Givens shortly before five of the afternoon (a warm day in June) and went straight to the manse, where the door was opened to her by Mr. Johnstone, who had seen her from the parlour window. He led the way back to the parlour, and, after a question or two upon her journey, took her up the main stairs to the landing. Here he halted and directed her up a narrow flight to her garret, which lay off to the right, at the very top.

The door stood ajar, and facing it was another door, wide open, through which a ray of the evening sun slanted across the stairhead. Kirstie, with her bundle in one hand and the other upon the hasp, turned to look down upon the minister, to make sure she was entering the right chamber. He stood at the foot of the stairs, and his eyes were following her (as she thought) with a very curious expression; but before he could nod she happened to throw a glance into the room opposite, and very nearly dropped her bundle.

Yet there was nothing to be scared at; merely the figure of an elderly woman in black bent over her spinning-wheel there in the dim light. It was Mrs. Johnstone, of course, seated at her work; but it came upon the girl with suddenness, like an apparition, and the fright, instead of passing, began to take hold of her as the uncanny woman neither spoke nor looked up. The room about her was bare, save for some hanks of yarn littered about the boards and a great pile of it drying on a tray by the window. The one ray of sunlight seemed to pass over this without searching the corners under the sloping roof, and fell at Kirstie’s feet.

She has told me that she must have stood there for minutes with her heart working like a pump. When she looked down the stair again the minister was gone. She pulled her wits together, stepped quickly into her own room, and, having closed the door behind her, sat down on the bed to recover.

Being a lass of spirit, she quickly reasoned herself out of this foolishness, rose, washed, changed her stockings, put off her shawl for cap and apron, and—albeit in trepidation—presented herself once more at the door of Mrs. Johnstone’s garret.

“Please you, mistress,” she managed to say, “I am Kirstie Maclachlan, the new maid from Wyliebank.”

Mrs. Johnstone looked up and fixed her with a pair of eyes that (she declared) searched her through and through; but all she said was, “The minister tells me you can read.”

“Yes, mistress.”

“What books have you brought?”

Kirstie, to be sure, had two books in her bundle—a Bible and John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding, the both of them gifts from me. Mrs. Johnstone commanded her to fetch the second and start reading at once; “for,” she explained, not unkindly, “it will suit you best, belike, to begin with something familiar; and if I find you read well and pleasantly, we will get a book from the manse library.”

So the girl found a stool in the corner, and, seating herself near the window, began to read by the waning light. She had, indeed, an agreeable voice, and I had taken pains to teach her. She read on and on, gathering courage, yet uncertain if Mrs. Johnstone approved; who said no word, but continued her spinning until darkness settled down on the garret and blurred the print on the page.

At last she looked up, and, much to Kirstie’s surprise, with a sigh. “That will do, girl, you read very nicely. Run down and find your supper, and after that the sooner you get to bed the better. We rise early in this house. To-morrow I will put you in the way of your duties.”

Downstairs Kirstie met the minister who had been taking a late stroll in the garden and now entered by the back-door. He halted under the lamp in the passage. “Well,” he asked, “what did she say?”

“She bade me get my supper and be early in the morning,” Kirstie answered simply.

For some reason this seemed to relieve him. He hung up his hat and stood pulling at his fingers until the joints cracked, which was a trick with him. “She needs to be soothed,” he said. “If you read much with her, you must come to me to choose the books; yet she must think she has chosen them herself. We must manage that somehow. The great thing is to keep her mind soothed.”

Kirstie did not understand. A few minutes later as she went up the stairs to her room the door opposite still remained open. All was dark within, but whether or not Mrs. Johnstone sat there in the darkness she could not tell.

The next morning she entered on her duties, which were light enough. Indeed, she soon suspected that her mistress had sought a companion rather than a servant, and at first had much to-do to find employment. Soon, however, Mrs. Johnstone took her into confidence, and began to impart the mysteries of whitening and twisting the famous Balgarnock thread; and so by degrees, without much talk on either side, there grew a strange affection betwixt them. Sure, Kirstie must have been the first of her sex to whom the strange woman showed any softness; and on her part the girl asserts that she was attracted from the first by a sort of pity, without well knowing for what her pity was demanded. The minister went no farther with his confidences: he could see that Kirstie suited, and seemed resolved to let well alone. The wife never spoke of herself; and albeit, if Kirstie’s reading happened to touch on the sources of Christian consolation, she showed some eagerness in discussing them, it was done without any personal or particular reference. Yet, even in those days, Kirstie grew to feel that terror was in some way the secret of her mistress’s strangeness; that for the present the poor woman knew herself safe and protected from it, but also that there was ever a danger of that barrier falling—whatever it might be—and leaving her exposed to some enemy, from the thought of whom her soul shrank.

I do not know how Kirstie became convinced that, whoever or whatever the enemy might be, Mr. Johnstone was the phylactery. She herself could give no grounds for her conviction beyond his wife’s anxiety for his health and well-being. I myself never observed it in a woman, and if I had, should have set it down to ordinary wifely concern. But Kirstie assures me, first, that it was not ordinary, and, secondly, that it was not at all wifely—that Mrs. Johnstone’s care of her husband had less of the ministering unselfishness of a woman in love than of the eager concern of a gambler with his stake. The girl (I need not say) did not put it thus, yet this in effect was her report. And she added that this anxiety was fitful to a degree: at times the minister could hardly take a walk without being fussed over and forced to change his socks on his return; at others, and for days together, his wife would resign the care of him to Providence, or at any rate to Fate, and trouble herself not at all about his goings-out or his comings-in, nor whether he wore a great-coat or not, nor if he returned wet to the skin and neglected to change his wear.

Well, the girl was right, as was proved on the afternoon when Mr. Johnstone, taking his customary walk upon the Kilmarnock road, fell and burst a blood-vessel, and was borne home to the manse on a gate. The two women were seated in the garret as usual when the crowd entered the garden; and with the first sound of the bearers’ feet upon the path, which was of smooth pebbles compacted in lime, Mrs. Johnstone rose up, with a face of a sudden so grey and terrible that Kirstie dropped the book from her knee.

“It has come!” said the poor lady under her breath, and put out a hand as if feeling for some stick of furniture to lean against. “It has come!” she repeated aloud, but still hoarsely; and with that she turned to the lass with a most piteous look, and “Oh, Kirstie, girl,” she cried, “you won’t leave me? I have been kind to you—say you won’t leave me!”

Before Kirstie well understood, her mistress’s arms were about her and the gaunt woman clinging to her body and trembling like a child. “You will save me, Kirstie? You will live here and not forsake me? There is nobody now but you!” she kept crying over and over.

The girl held her firmly with a grasp above the elbows to steady her and allay the trembling, and, albeit dazed herself, uttered what soothing words came first to her tongue. “Why, mistress, who thinks of leaving you? Not I, to be sure. But let me get you to bed, and in an hour you will be better of this fancy, for fancy it must be.”

“He is dead, I tell you,” Mrs. Johnstone insisted, “and they are bringing him home. Hark to the door—that was never your master’s knock—and the voices!”

She was still clinging about Kirstie when the cook came panting up the stairs and into the room with a white face; for it was true, and the minister had breathed his last between the garden gate and his house door.

As I have said, I rode over from Wyliebank four days later to read the burial service. The widow was not to be seen, and of Kirstie, who ever hid herself from the sight of strangers, I caught but a glimpse. She did not follow the coffin, but remained upstairs (as I suppose) comforting her mistress. The other poor distracted servants, between tears and ignorance, made but a sorry business of entertaining the company, so that but half a dozen at most cared to return to the house, of whom I was not one.

The manse had to be vacated, and within a week or two I heard that Mrs. Johnstone had sold a great part of her furniture, dismissed all her household but Kirstie, and retired to a small cottage a little further up the street and scarcely a stone’s-throw from the manse.

“She made,” says Kirstie, “little show of mourning for her husband, nor for months afterwards did she return to the terror she had shown that day in the garret, yet I am sure that from the hour of his death she never knew peace of mind. She had fitted up a room in the cottage with her wheel and bleaching boards, and we spent all our time in reading or thread-making. At night my cot would be strewn in her bedroom, and we slept with a candle burning on the table between us; but once or twice I woke to see her laid on her side, or resting on her elbow, with her face towards me and her eyes fixed upon mine across the light. This used to frighten me, and she must have seen it, for always she would stammer that I need not be alarmed, and beg me to go to sleep again like a good child. I soon came to see that, whatever her own terror might be, she had the utmost dread of my catching it, and that her hope lay in keeping me cheerful. Since I had nothing on my mind at that time, and knew of no cause for fear, I used to sleep soundly enough; but I begin to think that my mistress slept scarcely at all. I cannot remember once waking without finding her awake and her eyes watching me as I say.

“She herself would not set foot outside the cottage for weeks together, and if by chance we did take a walk it would be towards sunset, when the fields were empty and the folk mostly gathered on the green at the far end of the village. There was a footpath led across these fields at the back of the cottage, and here at such an hour she would sometimes consent to take the air, leaning on my arm; but if any wayfarer happened to come along the path I used to draw her aside into the field, where we made believe to be gathering of wild flowers. She had a dislike of meeting strangers and a horror of being followed; the sound of footsteps on the path behind us would drive her near crazy.”

I think ’twas this frequent pretence of theirs to be searching for wild flowers which brought the suspicion of witchcraft upon them among the population of Givens. The story of the woman’s youth was remembered against her, if obscurely. Folks knew that she had once been afflicted or possessed by an evil spirit, and from this ’twas a short step to accuse her of gathering herbs at nightfall for the instruction of Kirstie in the black art. In the end the rumour drove them from Givens, and in this manner.

Though the widow so seldom showed herself abroad, in her care for Kirstie’s cheerfulness she persuaded the girl to take a short walk every morning through the village. In truth Kirstie hated it. More and more as her mistress clung to her she grew to cling to her mistress; it seemed as if they two were in partnership against the world, and the part of protector which she played so watchfully and courageously for her years took its revenge upon her. For what makes a child so engaging as his trust in the fellow-creatures he meets and his willingness to expect the best of them? To Kirstie, yet but a little way past childhood, all men and women were possible enemies, to be suspected and shunned. She took her walk dutifully because Mrs. Johnstone commanded it, and because shops must be visited and groceries purchased; but it was penance to her, and she would walk a mile about to avoid a knot of gossips or to wile the time away until a shop emptied.

But one day in the long main street she was fairly caught by a mob of boys hunting and hooting after a negro man. They paid no heed to Kirstie, who shrank into a doorway as he passed down the causeway—a seaman, belike, trudging to Irvine or Saltcoats. He seemed by his gait to be more than half drunk, and by the way he shook his stick back at the boys and cursed them; but they would not be shaken off, and in the end he took refuge in the “Leaping Fish,” where his tormentors gathered about the doorway and continued their booing until the landlord came forth and dispersed them.

By this time Kirstie had bolted from the doorway and run home. She said nothing of her adventure to Mrs. Johnstone; but in the dusk of the evening a riot began in the street a little way below the cottage. The black seaman had been drinking all day, and on leaving the “Leaping Fish,” had fallen into a savage quarrel with a drover. Two or three decent fellows stopped the fight and pulled him off; but they had done better by following up their kindness and seeing him out of the village, for he was now planted with his back to a railing, brandishing his stick and furiously challenging the whole mob. So far as concerned him the mischief ended by his overbalancing to aim a vicious blow at an urchin, and crashing down upon the kerb, where he lay and groaned, while the blood flowed from an ugly cut across the eyebrow.

For a while the crowd stood about him in some dismay. A few were for carrying him back to the public-house; but at some evil prompting a voice cried out, “Take him to the widow Johnstone’s! A witch should know how to deal with her sib, the black man.” I believe so godless a jest would never have been played, had not the cottage stood handy and (as one may say) closer than their better thoughts. But certain it is that they hoisted the poor creature and bore him into Mrs. Johnstone’s garden, and began to fling handfuls of gravel at the upper windows, where a light was burning.

At the noise of it against the pane Mrs. Johnstone, who was bending over the bedroom fire and heating milk for her supper, let the pan fall from her hand. For the moment Kirstie thought she would swoon. But helping her to a seat in the armchair, the brave lass bade her be comforted—it could be naught but some roystering drunkard—and herself went downstairs and unbarred the door. At the sight of her—so frail a girl—quietly confronting them with a demand to know their business, the crowd fell back a step or two, and in that space of time by God’s providence arrived Peter Lawler, the constable, a very religious man, who gave the ringleaders some advice and warning they were not likely to forget. Being by this made heartily ashamed of themselves, they obeyed his order to pick up the man from the doorstep, where he lay at Kirstie’s feet, and carry him back to the “Leaping Fish;” and so slunk out of the garden.

When all were gone Kirstie closed and bolted the door and returned upstairs to her mistress, whom she found sitting in her chair and listening intently.

“Who was it?” she demanded.

“Oh, nothing to trouble us, ma’am; but just a poor wandering blackamoor I met in the street to-day. The people, it seems, were bringing him here by mistake.”

“A blackamoor!” cried Mrs. Johnstone, gasping. “A blackamoor!”

Now Kirstie was for running downstairs again to fetch some milk in place of what was spilt, but at the sound of the woman’s voice she faced about.

“Pick together the silver, Kirstie, and fetch me my bonnet!” At first Mrs. Johnstone began to totter about the room without aim, but presently fell to choosing this and that of her small possessions and tossing them into the seat of the armchair in a nervous hurry which seemed to gather with her strength. “Quick, lass! Did he see you?… ah, but that would not tell him. What like was he?” She pulled herself together and her voice quavered across the room. “Lass, lass, you will not forsake me? Do not speir now, but do all that I say. You promised—you did promise!” All this while she was working in a fever of haste, pulling even the quilt from the bed and anon tossing it aside as too burdensome. She was past all control. “Do not speir of me,” she kept repeating.

“What, ma’am? Are we leaving?” Kirstie stammered once; but the strong will of the woman—mad though she might be—was upon her, and by-and-by the girl began packing in no less haste than her mistress. “But will you not tell me, ma’am?” she entreated between her labours.

“Not here! not here!” Mrs. Johnstone insisted. “Help me to get away from here!”

It was two in the morning when the women unlatched the door of the cottage and crept forth across the threshold—and across the stain of blood which lay thereon, only they could not see it. They took the footpath, each with a heavy bundle beneath her arm, and turning their backs on Givens walked resolutely forward for three miles to the cross-roads where the Glasgow coach would be due to pass in the dawn. Upon the green there beside the sign-post Kirstie believes that she slept while Mrs. Johnstone kept guard over the bundles; but she remembers little until she found herself, as if by magic, on the coach-top and dozing on a seat behind the driver.

From Glasgow, after a day’s halt, they took another coach to Edinburgh, and there found lodgings in a pair of attics high aloft in one of the great houses, or lands, which lie off Parliament Square to the north. The building—a warren you might call it—had six stories fronting the square, the uppermost far overhanging, and Kirstie affirms that her window, pierced in the very eaves, stood higher than the roof of St. Giles’ Church.

Hither in due course a carrier’s cart conveyed Mrs. Johnstone’s sticks of furniture, and here for fifteen months the two women lay as close as two needles in a bottle of hay. The house stood upon a ridge, and at the back of it a dozen double flights of stairs dived into courts and cellars far below the level of the front. It was by these—a journey in themselves— that Kirstie sometimes made exit and entrance when she had business at the shops, and she has counted up to me a list, which seemed without end, of the offices, workshops, and tenements she passed on her way, beginning with a wine store in the basement, mounting to perruquiers’ and law-stationers’ shops, and so up past bookbinders’, felt-maker’s, painters’, die-sinkers’, milliners’ workrooms, to landings on which, as the roof was neared, the tenants herded closer and yet closer in meaner and yet meaner poverty.

The most of Kirstie’s business was with Mr. John Seton, the agent, to whom she carried the thread spun by her mistress in the attic, and from whom she received the moneys and accounts of profits. Once or twice, at their first coming, Mrs. Johnstone had descended for a walk in the streets; but by this time the unhappy lady had it fixed in her mind that she was being watched and followed, and shook with apprehension at every corner. So pitiable indeed were the glances she flung behind her, and so frantic the precautions she used to shake off her supposed pursuers and return by circuitous ways, that Kirstie pressed her to no more such expeditions.

To the girl, still ignorant of the cause of this terror, her mistress was evidently mad. But mad or no, she grew daily weaker in health and her handiwork began to worsen in quality, until Kirstie was forced to use deceit and sell only her own thread to Mr. Seton, though she pretended to dispose of Mrs. Johnstone’s, and accounted for the falling off in profit by a feigned tale of brisker competition among their Dutch rivals—an imposture in which the agent helped her, telling the same story in writing; for Mrs. Johnstone, whose eye for a bargain continued as sharp as ever, had actually begun to suspect the lass of robbing her.

About this time as Kirstie passed down the stairs she took notice that a new tradesman had set up business on the landing below. At first she wondered that a barber—for this was his trade—should task his customers to climb so many flights from the street; but it seemed that the fellow knew what he was about, for after the first week she never descended without meeting a customer or two mounting to his door or being followed down by one with his wig powdered and chin freshly scraped. The barber himself she never saw, though once, when the door stood ajar, she caught a glimpse of his white jacket and apron.

She believed that he entered into occupation at Michaelmas; at any rate, he had been plying his trade for close on two months, when on November 17th, 1739, and at a quarter to three in the afternoon, Kirstie went down to the Parliament Close to carry a packet of thread to Mr. Seton. The packet was smaller than usual, for Mrs. Johnstone had not been able to finish her weekly quantity; but this did not matter, since for a month past she had made none that was saleworthy.

Now this Mr. Seton was a pleasant man, in age almost threescore, and full of interest in Mrs. Johnstone, having done business for her and her mother, the Lady Balgarnock, pretty well all his life. And so it often happened that, while weighing the thread and making out his receipt for it, he would invite Kirstie to his office, in the rear of the shop, and discuss her mistress’s health or some late news of the city, or advise her upon any small difficulty touching which she made bold to consult him—as, for instance, this pious deception in the matter of the thread.

But to-day in the midst of their discourse Kirstie felt a sudden uneasiness. Explain it she could not. Yet there came to her a sense, almost amounting to certainty, that Mrs. Johnstone was in trouble and had instant need of her. She had left her but a few minutes, and in ordinary health; there was no reason to be given for this apprehension. Nevertheless, as I say, she felt it as urgent as though her mistress’s own voice were calling. Mr. Seton observed her change of colour, and broke off his chat to ask what was amiss. She knew that if she stayed to explain he would laugh at her for a silly fancy; and if it were more than a fancy, why then to explain would be a loss of precious time. Pleading, therefore, some forgotten duty, she left the good man hurriedly, and hastening out through the shop ran across Parliament Close and up the great staircase as fast as her legs could take her.

By the time she reached the fourth flight of stairs she began to feel ashamed of the impulse which brought her, and to argue with herself against it; but at the same time her ears were open and listening for any unusual sound in the rooms above. There was no such sound until she had mounted half-way up the sixth flight, when she heard a light footstep cross the landing, and, looking up, saw the barber’s door very gently closing and shutting out a glimpse of his white jacket.

For the moment she thought little of this. The latch had scarcely clicked before she reached the landing outside, from which the last flight ran straight up to her mistress’s door. It stood open, though she had closed it less than a quarter of an hour before. This was the first time she had found it open on her return.

She caught at the stair-rail. Through the door and over the line of the topmost stair she could just see the upper panes of the window at the back of Mrs. Johnstone’s room. A heavy beam crossed the ceiling in front of the window, and from it, from a hook she had used that morning for twisting her yarn, depended a black bundle.

The bundle—it was big and shapeless—swayed ever so slightly between her and the yellow light sifted through the window. She tottered up, her knees shaking, and flung herself into the room with a scream.

While she fumbled, still screaming, at the bundle hanging from the beam, a step came swiftly up the stair, and the barber stood in the doorway. She recognised him by his white suit, and on the instant saw his face for the first time. He was a negro.

He laid a finger on his lips. Somehow the light showed them to her blood-red, although the rest of his features, barring the whites of his eyes, were all but indiscernible in the dusk. And somehow Kirstie felt a silence imposed on her by this gesture. He stepped across the boards swiftly and silently as a cat, found a stool, and set it under the beam. In the act of mounting it he signalled to Kirstie to run downstairs for help.

Silent as he, Kirstie slipped out at the door: on the threshold she glanced over her shoulder and saw him upon the stool fumbling with one hand at the yarn-rope, and with the other searching his apron pocket for a knife or razor. She ran down the garret stairs, down the next flight.…

Here, on the landing, she paused. She had not screamed since the black man first appeared in the doorway. She was not screaming now; she felt that she could not even raise the faintest cry. But a suspicion fastened like a hand on the back of her neck and held her.

She hesitated for a short while, and began to climb the stairs again. From the landing she looked up into the room. The black man was still on the stool, his hand still on the rope. He had not cut the bundle down— was no longer even searching for a knife.

She had been deceived. The man, whoever he was, had dismissed her when every moment was precious, and was himself not even trying to help. Nay, it might be…

She fought down the horror of it and rushed up the stair to fight the thing, man or devil, and save her mistress. On her way she fumbled for the scissors in her pocket. As she broke into the garret the barber, leaving the bundle to swing from its rope, stepped off the stool and, darting to a corner of the room, seemed to stand at bay there. Kirstie sprang toward the stool and hacked at the rope. As the body dropped she faced around on the man’s corner, meaning to kill or be killed.

But there was no man in the corner. Her eyes searched into its dusk, and met only the shadow of the sloping attic. He had gone without a sound. There had been no sound in the room but the thud of Mrs. Johnstone’s body, and this thud seemed to Kirstie to be taken up and echoed by the blow of her own forehead upon the boards as she fell across the feet of her mistress.

DMdJ Neu2

Steve Hodge ~ The 45th Parallel

l-tunnel-by-jeffrey-littletonPhotography by Jeffrey Littleton. All rights reserved.


OKAY, SO HERE’S the thing:  Mr. Burke, the counselor at the school I’m going to start going to in a couple of weeks, said I should start writing a journal, so I am.  This is it.  Problem is, I don’t know what I’m supposed to write about.  And I don’t know why I’m supposed to write it.  Well, I do know why I’m supposed to write it, but I don’t know how it’s going to do any good.  I mean, it’s supposed to help me somehow, but I don’t know how it will or why I need it to help me.  I mean, help me with what?

My name’s Dylan Ellis, I’m twelve and I live with my Mom and my sister, Amy.  We used to live with my Dad in California until a few weeks ago.  Now Mom, Amy and I live in Glasgow; a small town in Michigan where my Mom grew up.  Moving here from California is bullshit.

I can say stuff like bullshit here because Mr. Burke said I don’t have to show this journal to anyone, including him, ever.  This is my “private space,” he said.  That sounds like bullshit too.  Mr. Burke is pretty cool, though.

Mom says I started ‘acting out’ after we moved to Michigan and she called the school to see if there was somebody I could talk to about stuff.  I told her everything would be fine if we still lived in California and she started crying.  I hate that.  I mean, I hate that I said something that made her cry.  I didn’t mean to.  But then I was trapped.  I’d made her cry so I couldn’t keep arguing about living in Michigan.  So I agreed to talk to Mr. Burke.

He asked me what I’d done to make Mom think I was acting out, so I told him about how I peed off the bridge over the Clyde River and two girls saw me.  I didn’t know they were there.  I mean, I looked around and everything and didn’t see anybody anywhere.

What happened was, I rode my bike out to see the waterfall about a mile outside of town, which was pretty cool.  Mom and her friends used to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall when she was a kid.  Anyway, the waterfall makes that sound of water and everything and I had to pee.  I should have gone in the woods, but the bridge was right there and, come on, it was a bridge!  How often do you get the chance to pee off a bridge into a river when nobody’s around?  So I looked around, didn’t see anyone, and went for it.

Half way through, though, these two girls walk out from under the bridge and look up at me.  The thing is, they laughed when they saw me, so they weren’t like traumatized or anything.  They thought it was funny.  But they told their moms or something and their moms made a big deal out of it, I guess.

I didn’t tell Mr. Burke this, but I kind of liked it when the girls saw me.  I’m not a perv or anything, but it was kind of, I don’t know; exciting, I guess.  They were about my age and, like I said, they were laughing, so it didn’t seem like a horrible thing.  The cool thing is that there’s only one school in our town, so I’ll see the girls again when school starts up in a couple of weeks.

Anyway, I told Mr. Burke about most of this and he said, “Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but my friends and I used to pee off that bridge all the time when we were your age.”  He said it’s kind of a tradition in Glasgow.  I wondered if the girls who saw me ever peed off the bridge, but I didn’t say anything to Mr. Burke about that.

I’ve thought about it a few times since then, though.  Girls peeing off a bridge.

So Mr. Burke asked what other things I had done to make Mom think I was acting out and I said I couldn’t think of anything else.  He said that she said I was argumentative, which isn’t usually like me.  I told him I guess that’s true, but I hate that we moved to Michigan.  And I told him about Dad.

Before I turned twelve, in June, Dad asked me what I wanted for my birthday.  I said I wanted him to teach me to surf.  He surfed when he was a teenager and still talked about it all the time.  We lived in San Diego and they have surfing near there, so he agreed to teach me how.

The first lesson went pretty good.  I got up on the board a few times and actually rode a wave a couple of times.  Not very far, but still, I rode it.  It was a cool feeling.  Kind of like flying.

The second lesson was different.  I don’t really know what happened for sure.  I remember falling off the board and hitting my head on something; maybe the board itself.  The lifeguard who saved me said I was under water for a while and he had to swim down to get me and pull me up.  Then he went back for Dad, who got caught in a rip tide when he swam out and tried to save me.  Dad was gone by the time the lifeguard got back out there.  His body was never found.

Nobody knows how long I was under water, so they did an MRI of my brain to see if there was any damage.  They didn’t find any, but they did find a part of one of the veins in my brain that’s too thin.  It might be a problem someday, but not now.  For now, I just can’t play football or hockey or any rough contact sports.

Anyway, I told Mr. Burke about Dad and having to move from California.  I didn’t tell him about the vein in my brain because it doesn’t really bother me.  I mean, it was there before I drowned that day and didn’t have anything to do with me being dead for whatever length of time I was under water.  If I am acting out, like my mom says, it’s not because of the problem with my brain.

Mr. Burke said it’s hard for anybody, especially kids, when one of their parents die because the kids still love them even though they died.  I almost cried when he said that, but I didn’t.  He said his dad died nine years ago and he still misses him and thinks about him every day.  I think he might have almost cried then himself.

He also said that it’s hard to move away from your school, your friends and so many people and things you know so well and come to a new place where you don’t know anybody or anything.  He said he knows it doesn’t seem like it now, but it’ll be easier after school starts up because I’ll make new friends and there will be more stuff to do and that right now I’m in a foreign land where I don’t know anybody.

He also said that it’s normal for kids my age to act out because I’m starting adolescence, which means I’m starting to exert my independence from my parents and become my own person.

It’s pretty cool that Mr. Burke kind of understands what I’m going through and that he told me about his dad and about him and his friends peeing off the bridge and everything.  He said I should come to his office after school and talk to him for a few minutes every Thursday after school starts up.  He wrote it in his calendar.  I’m kind of looking forward to talking to him again.  He’s pretty cool.

Next time, I might tell him that I feel bad about being angry that Dad died.  I mean, I know he didn’t want to, and I know he died trying to save me, but I feel like I’ve been cheated by not having my Dad anymore.  Like he ditched me.  I feel stupid and selfish for thinking it but, if I’m going to be honest here, I have to admit I’m angry about it.  I feel like I shouldn’t be, but I am.  Mr. Burke said I should always be honest in this journal.  “Don’t be afraid to tell yourself the truth,” he said.  That’s when he said that thing about never having to show this to anyone.

I’m kind of surprised that I wrote all this stuff.  I thought I’d just write a sentence or two.  I didn’t know I like to write.

TUESDAY, AUGUST 19th, 8:30 A.M.

I Googled how to write a journal and found out you’re supposed to put the date and time at the beginning of each new part, which is called an entry.

Just ate breakfast, which was kind of weird.  Mom said we’re going to visit her sister today, who Amy and I are supposed to call Aunt Janice, who we’ve never met.  Mom said Aunt Janice lives with her friend, Lara, and that they’re lesbians.  She asked if I knew what a lesbian is and I said, “Yes, but I don’t want to talk about it.”  I was afraid that after I said I knew what a lesbian was, she’d say, “What are they?” because that’s what she does when she wants to find out if I really know what the thing is that we’re talking about is.  She didn’t ask this time though.  I think she got that I knew and that I didn’t want to go into it.

Amy, who’s seven BTW, shouted out, “What’s a lesbian?” right away, of course!  Mom was pretty cool about it though.  She just said that it’s a woman who lives with another woman.

Anyway, we’re going to meet Aunt Janice in a few minutes.

SAME DAY, 4:20 P.M.

Aunt Janice is really cool!  She’s funny and she lives in an awesome old house on the river and she has a rowboat tied to a dock in her backyard and a piano in her living room.  She played the piano for us and she’s really good!  The songs were funny, but when she sang, her voice was terrible, which made the songs even funnier!  I think she was probably singing worse than she could have just to make us laugh, but it worked!  Amy laughed so hard she turned red.

We didn’t get to meet Lara, who Aunt Janice called her “partner,” because Lara was at work.  We’re going to meet her Saturday when we go back to have dinner with them.  I can’t wait.  Who would have thought that Mom would have a sister who’s a lesbian?  And a really cool one!

As we were leaving, Aunt Janice gave me a new cell phone with texting so I can text my friends back in California.  My iPhone doesn’t work in Glasgow because it’s a different phone company or something.  My new phone texts and works great.  It’s not an iPhone, but it’s pretty cool.  I already texted Noah, my best friend.  I told him about my lesbian aunt and the girls seeing me pee off the bridge and everything and he said, “Tits,” which means cool.  Noah has a way with words.  I thought about telling him I’m writing a journal, but I didn’t for some reason.


I haven’t gotten up yet.  I can hear Mom making breakfast in the kitchen and Amy snoring in her room across the hall from mine.  I want to write about this before I forgot.

I had a really weird dream last night.  But it didn’t seem like a dream.  I woke up at 2:17 a.m. and just felt like something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.  I thought maybe I heard someone trying to break into the house or something while I was asleep and it woke me up, so I sat up in bed, swung my feet onto the floor and was getting ready to get up when I saw a baby lying on the floor in the middle of my room.

It was wrapped in a blanket.  I looked at it for a few seconds and it was doing the jerking around thing that babies do with their arms and legs.  Then it looked at me and stopped.  It was really weird.  All of a sudden, it’s like it just got really calm, looking into my eyes.  Then it smiled and I felt really happy.  Like it had told me something really great.

I got out of bed and walked the two steps to where it was laying on the floor and bent down and picked it up.  It started squirming again a little, but it didn’t cry or anything.  Just kept staring into my eyes and smiling.  Like it wanted me to know it was really happy.  I felt the air rush out of my lungs as I laughed a quiet whisper-laugh before I could stop it.  I felt better than I think I ever felt before.  I don’t know why.

Then I noticed that the baby felt really hot.  Like really hot.  Not like hot on fire, but hotter than any fever.  I unwrapped the blanket and saw that it was wearing diapers and a blue shirt with a pink elephant on the chest.  I lifted the shirt up and blew onto its stomach to try to cool it off.  It just stared at me and kept smiling that really happy smile.

I lay the baby on the bed and thought of getting my Mom when the baby started talking.  I don’t know what it was saying; it was just gibberish like babies always talk, but it kept smiling that really happy smile as it looked into my eyes.  I laughed quietly again because it made me feel so happy.

I’m not sure what happened after that.  I know I sat on the edge of the bed and kept looking at the baby’s happy eyes.  I guess I fell asleep for a while because I woke up at 2:41 and the baby was gone.  I remembered that I woke up at 2:17 when I found the baby on my floor.  But I think I was only with the baby for three or four minutes.  Not 24 minutes, which is the difference between 2:17 and 2:41.

The weirdest thing is that I reached out and touched the sheet where the baby had been laying in my dream (if that’s what it was) and the sheet was hot.  Hot like the baby.  The really happy feeling I had was gone.  In fact, I felt a little sad.  I don’t know why.

I lied down in my bed again and looked up at the ceiling for like a half an hour trying to figure out what’d happed, I guess.  I guess I fell asleep again after that.  I’m not sure.

SAME DAY, 9:30 P.M.

Regular day.  I rode my bike out to the waterfall and bridge again, but the girls I saw there before weren’t there.  Saw some guppies in the pool.  Thought about skinny-dipping in the pool because it was hot, but I thought I better not chance it since the bridge pee thing caused so much trouble.  Skinny-dipping in the pool is definitely on my to-do list now though.  Someday.

Pretty much forgot about the dream about the baby until after dinner.  Mom was reading The Glasgow Gazette, our town newspaper, “Delivered free every Wednesday!”

“Oh, that’s awful,” she said, sitting in the easy chair in the living room.

“What?” I asked.

“A couple on the next street lost their baby early this morning.”

I felt a chill on the back of my neck and the hairs on my arms seemed to stand up.

“You mean it died?”


“What time was it?”  I don’t know why I asked.  Yes I do.

“It doesn’t say.”

We were quiet for a long time.

“I’ll have to send a condolence note,” Mom said.  “Though I don’t know if I should.  They don’t know me and wouldn’t know who it came from.”

“What’s a condolence note?” Amy asked.

Mom explained while I kept thinking about my dream about the baby.


Okay.  This is getting too weird now.

Mom was talking to one of the neighbors about the people who lost their baby yesterday and found out that she knows the baby’s mother because they went to high school together before Mom moved to California and met Dad.  Mom and the woman who lost the baby were pretty good friends back then.  Anyway, Mom told Amy and me that she wanted to go to the woman’s house and offer her sympathies and that we had to be on our best behavior.  I understood why and promised I’d be good so that Amy would understand how important it was that she be good.  She promised too.  Mom made a lasagna in the morning, which she’d never done before, and we took it to the woman’s house just before lunch.

The woman was a wreck, which is understandable, but she seemed really glad to see my mom.  Not just because they were friends in high school, but she was alone in the house because her husband was at the funeral home making arrangements for the baby’s funeral.  Mom said how sorry she was to hear about the baby and the woman started to cry.  Mom hugged her and they talked while I watched Amy to make sure she was being good, which she was.  She’s really a pretty good sister.

After a while, Mom said we should all eat something and left the woman in the living room while the rest of us went into the kitchen and set the table for lunch.  It was weird going into a stranger’s kitchen drawers and cabinets without them, but it wasn’t a regular situation.

We ate Mom’s lasagna for lunch and Mom kept talking about the times when her and the woman were in high school together.  I could tell she was doing it to take the mother’s mind off of everything and it worked.  They actually laughed a couple of times.  Then they started talking about how the woman met her husband, got married and had the baby.  Then she started to cry again.  Mom asked me to take Amy into the living room so they could talk.

There wasn’t anything in the living room for Amy to play with, so I went into a bedroom and found a magazine in a wastebasket and brought it back to her.  I told her to tear pictures out of the magazine and make a collage.  Then I explained what a collage is.

While Amy was busy wrecking the magazine, I looked around and saw family photographs in frames in this cabinet with glass doors in the corner.  There were pictures of the woman that Mom was talking to in the kitchen and a guy her age with one continuous eyebrow over his eyes, which I figured must be her husband.  Then there were several pictures of the baby; lying in a crib, sitting on a play horse, lying on the lawn, lying in it’s mother’s arms.

Then I saw the one of the baby lying on the couch.  The couch right next to me as I stood in the woman’s living room.  I suddenly felt cold all over.

In the picture, the baby was lying on the couch with it’s arms reaching out toward the camera as if it wanted whoever was taking the picture to pick it up.  What made me feel like I was turning to ice was that the baby was wearing a blue shirt with a pink elephant on the chest.

I stared at the elephant for I don’t know how long.  I felt like I wanted to cry.  It was the same blue shirt with the same pink elephant as the baby was wearing in my dream.  I don’t mean it was similar.  I don’t mean it was close.  I mean it was the same.  No doubt.

We were there for another hour, I guess, and I decided that they probably made a lot of those shirts for babies.  Thousands, probably.  Maybe millions.  Who knows?  I’d probably seen other babies with that shirt on in California or seen an advertisement with a baby wearing one before.  That’s where I got it in my dream.  By the time we left the woman’s house, I’d convinced myself that it was just a coincidence.

Well, almost convinced myself.

Then I overheard the woman say that the baby had had a fever the night it died.  “She was burning up,” the woman said.  I remembered how hot the baby had felt when it was in my bedroom that night.


Regular day.  Nothing much happened.

I texted Noah and told him about the baby in my dream and its shirt and the baby who died and the photo.

He answered, “Tits.”  He can be kind of a jerk sometimes.

I can’t stop thinking about the baby showing up in my room that night and if I could have done something to help it.


Went to Aunt Janice’s for dinner and met Lara, her partner, who’s even cooler than Aunt Janice!  Well, as cool!  She’s a trained chef and made this crazy good dinner.  Salmon chowder, jalapeno corn fritters, some kind of fancy fish in a salad.  But the best part was the bread.  It was warm and really thick and had a crunchy crust but it was soft inside and had rosemary in it, which is like sweet pine needles, only good.  She owns the bakery in town and made the bread herself.  I’m not that into food, but this was amazing!

She said that since we’re family we can go to the bakery any time and she’ll give us a treat for free.  Amy asked if they have cookies and Lara said yes, but she’d probably give us an apple or banana.  “Save the cookies for special occasions,” she said.  Mom smiled but Amy frowned.

Then she comes out with this really good pear pie with a thick slice of cheese on top.  I can’t remember what she called the cheese (something weird) but it tasted awesome!  She said she made the cheese too.

“You can make cheese?” I asked.

“Sure can.  We sell a lot of it at the bakery.  I have dozens of wheels stored in the basement here at home.”

“Wheels?” I asked.

“You’ve never seen a wheel of cheese?”

I shook my head no.

“Come on!”

She took me down the basement and showed me these wooden shelves with what must have been a million huge round flat cheeses she called wheels.  She said they were all artisan cheeses and that her customers loved them.

“Are they all the same?” I asked, noticing that some were lighter or darker than the others.

“No.  We make over twenty kinds of cheese.”

“I didn’t know there were twenty different kinds of cheeses.”

She smiled.  “There are a lot more than that.”  Then she reached up to a top shelf to get a big wheel down.

She was wearing this loose-fitting shirt with no sleeves.  When she reached up, I saw the side of her breast through the open armpit of the shirt.  No bra.  I saw the nipple and everything.  But just for a second.  Her skin was smooth and white.  It looked soft.

“Try this,” she said, breaking off a piece of cheese from the wheel and handing it to me.

I smelled it and frowned.  “Smells like feet.”

Lara laughed this really beautiful laugh.  Like music.  “I know.  But it tastes really good.  I promise.”

I tried the cheese and she was right — it was amazing.  It was really soft and kind of gushed between my teeth when I bit into it, filling my mouth with a flavor I can’t explain.  It wasn’t sweet, but it was like; I don’t know.  I can’t explain it.  It was like a whole new kind of food.

“We’ll take some up for the others,” she said, wrapping the wheel in paper and heading for the stairs.  It was a really hot day, but it was cool down in the basement.  I didn’t want to go back up.  I like her a lot.

Later, Aunt Janice said I could take the rowboat out if I wanted to.  I looked at Mom and she just raised her eyebrows.  “Cool!”  I ran out to the rowboat, untied it from the dock and started rowing.

“Don’t go in the water,” Mom yelled from the porch.

“I won’t,” I yelled.  After what happened with Dad and everything, I don’t think I’ll ever go in the water again.  No kidding.

After I got around the first turn in the river and couldn’t see Aunt Janice’s house anymore, I stopped rowing and just let the current take the boat.  I thought about Dad and the day he died.  I stuck my hand in the water and was surprised at how warm it was.  A lot warmer than the ocean.

Okay.  I haven’t talked about this yet so I might as well now.  I’ve never told anyone this.  When I drowned that day in the Pacific, I remember when the water went into my lungs.  I was surprised how cold it was for just a split second, then all I felt was pain.  Pain like I’ve never felt before.  Not just my lungs, but my whole chest and stomach and everything.  I remember I was still trying to swim up to the surface for a few seconds, then I just stopped.  I felt myself floating up toward the surface and noticed that the pain was gone from my lungs and everything.  I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t.  I tried to move my arms and legs, but couldn’t do that either.  I’m dead, I thought.  This is it.  It’s overForever.  I wasn’t scared or sad or anything.  Just… I don’t know.  I just accepted it, I guess.

Then I remember having a room around me.  I wasn’t in the room, exactly.  I mean, I wasn’t standing on a floor or anything, but I was kind of floating with this room around me.  There wasn’t any water in the room, but I was like floating.  The cold of the ocean was gone.  I didn’t feel hot or cold.  I was just floating with this room that didn’t have any furniture, doors or windows or anything.  Just these dark-like walls.  Then I could feel the walls all moving away from me.  The room was getting bigger and bigger.  I thought about my Mom and Dad and Amy, but I wasn’t sad or panicking or anything.  I just felt like everything was okay somehow.  Some other stuff happened, then I felt these arms I couldn’t see grabbing me around the chest and pulling me out of the room.

A little while later (I don’t know how long) I came to, lying on the beach, this guy pressing down on my chest with his palms over and over again.  I opened my eyes and threw up a bunch of water and puke and stuff.  The pain was back in my chest and stomach.  I pulled in air and the pain got even worse.

“Yes!” the man yelled.  He stopped pressing my chest and the pain started to go away.  Then I noticed a crowd of people standing there looking down at me.  A woman was crying.

“Where’s my dad?” I asked.

“The guy who saved you went back out for him,” somebody said.

I tried to sit up, but couldn’t.  I lied on my side watching the man who saved my life swim out to where my dad had been, but I didn’t see my dad anywhere.  Somebody put a blanket on me and I don’t know if I passed out or what, but then I was in the ambulance heading for the hospital.  The siren was on.  I wondered if Dad was in the ambulance with me or if he was in a different one.  I never thought that maybe he hadn’t been found.

Anyway, I let Aunt Janice’s rowboat float down the river, following the current to wherever it took me, which was a mistake.  I came to a turn in the river and the boat got caught in a tangle of fallen trees near the shore.  The current kept pushing the boat against the dead trees and I couldn’t get the boat loose no matter what I did.  I was thinking of climbing out of the boat and over the trees to shore, but I didn’t want to chance falling into the water.

“I’ll get a rope.”  It was a girl’s voice from the opposite shore.  I looked over and saw her standing there looking at me.  “Wait there.”  Like I had a choice.

A minute later, she came back from her house with a rope in her hand.  She unwound the rope like she was a cowgirl or something and starting swinging it over her head.  You’ll never make it, I thought.  It’s too far.

Then the rope glided over the river and slapped right into my hand.  I couldn’t believe it.  “Hang on,” she shouted.  She pulled the rope and a few seconds later the boat was free of the dead trees.  A few seconds after that, the front of the boat reached the shore at her feet and she jumped into the boat.

“You’re the new kid, right?” she asked, coiling the rope between her legs like she’d done it a million times.

“Yeah.  I’m Dylan.”

“I’m Emily.  Take me for a ride?”


I got the oars and started rowing while she finished coiling the rope and let it drop to the floor.  I wasn’t sure about how I felt about being saved from the trees by a girl, but I liked that she was in my boat and asked for a ride.  I looked at her and she smiled.  I smiled back.  I’m going to like her, I thought.  She waited until we made it around the next bend in the river and looked back to make sure her house was out of sight, then turned back to me.

“You have a nice penis,” she said with a smile.

I looked down to make sure my shorts were covering everything (which they were, thank god) and thought, How would she know if I have…  Then it hit me.

“You’re one of the girls from the bridge?”

“Yep!”  She laughed this really great laugh.

I didn’t know what to say.  “Sorry about that,” was all I could manage.

“Don’t be,” she said with a smile.  “I thought it was funny!”


“Yeah.  I’ve seen my little brothers pee like a million times.  No big deal.”

She smiled again and again I smiled back.  I remembered seeing Lara’s boob in Aunt Janice’s cheese cellar and I thought, I’m going to remember this day for the rest of my life.

We rowed for a long time and Emily told me about the town, our school, the teachers and everything.  She said she was twelve and going into the seventh grade.  I said I was too.  “There’s only one seventh grade class, so we’ll be classmates.”  I liked the sound of that.

“Want to see the dinosaur bones tree on the island?” she asked out of the blue.


“Keep rowing.  It’s not far.”

She was right because a few minutes later we were standing in front of this old fallen tree that must have died like a million years ago because the bark was all gone and the wood was bleached white, like bones.  The trunk looked like a dinosaur’s spine and the limbs holding it up off the ground looked like ribs and legs and stuff.

“Let’s walk it,” Emily said and she jumped up on the tree and started walking the length of the spine.  She raised her arms out to keep her balance and I could see the cloth of her tee shirt moving around, rubbing against her chest.  “Come on,” she yelled.  I jumped up and followed her.  When we got to the end, we stopped and sat next to each other on the tree.

I don’t know how long we sat there and talked, but it was a long time.  We talked about everything.  I told her about my mom and Amy, my friends back in California, what school was like there; pretty much everything about me.  I didn’t go into detail about Dad.  I just said that he died.  She said she was sorry.  Her grandmother died in the spring and it was the worse thing that she ever had to go through.

Then she told me about her mom and dad, her two little brothers, her best friend Megan (who was with her at the bridge that day), the school we’ll be going to and everything.  I felt comfortable being with her.  I mean, I really only met her like an hour ago but it felt like we’d been friends forever.  I think she might have felt the same way.

“I’ve never seen real snow before,” I said.  “What’s winter like here?”

She looked at me like I was from Mars or something.  “I’ve never met anyone who’s never seen snow.”  She thought for a long time, then said, “It’s beautiful.

“We live on the forty-fifth parallel, which means we’re halfway between the equator and the North Pole, so it gets cold here.  Really cold.  Like cold enough that you can freeze to death if you’re outside and aren’t dressed right.”


“Yeah.  No joke.  But it’s also beautiful.  When you go out after a new snowfall, the whole world is like a fairy tale.  Everything looks fresh and clean.  Sunlight sparkles off the snow, making it look like a billion diamonds everywhere.  Snow clings to the trees and everything is just; like magic.

“And you can do so much in the winter here.  Skiing.  Snowboarding.  Snowmobiling.  Sledding.  Ice skating.  My dad makes a skating rink in our backyard every winter and my brothers and I and our friends skate for hours.  Mom brings out fresh hot cocoa and hot doughnuts and we eat it right there in our skates.

Hot doughnuts?”

“Yeah.  You never had hot doughnuts before?”

I shook my head no.

“Oh, you’re going to love them,” she said, smiling.  “You’ll have some at the Harvest Festival in October.”

“What’s a harvest festival?”

“It’s like a big party where everyone in town comes to Founders Park on the river.  Everyone brings food they’ve cooked.  There’s music, dancing, games for kids to play, three-legged races, the farmers bring the last of their crops and sell them.  Glasgow was founded by Scottish people, so they have something like the Scottish Games where men dress in kilts and throw these big long poles like telephone poles as far as they can.”

“Kilts?  You mean they wear like dresses?”

“Kind of.  More like skirts.  Anyway, October is apple harvest time, which means apple cider.  You’ve never tasted anything like ice cold fresh apple cider and fresh hot doughnuts on a cold day in the fall.”

I remembered the dinner Lara had made for us a few hours before and thought, I’m going to get fat living here.

“After dark, there’s a huge bonfire.  Everyone stands around getting warm and singing songs.  There’re a bunch of smaller campfires here and there and people sit around them telling stories.  Sometimes they tell ghost stories.  That’s my brothers’ favorite part.

“There’s also hayrides.  Mostly for little kids during the day, but after dark they have hayrides for teenagers at night.”


“Yeah.  They fill a big flat wagon with hay.  People sit in the hay and horses pull the wagon down dirt roads around the park.  It’s fun.”

“So people just sit in the hey, not doing anything?”

“The daytime rides are mostly for kids, so it’s families and stuff.  They sing songs, talk, spend time with their neighbors.”

“What about at night?  The rides for teenagers?”

“I’ve never been on one, so I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard they make out.”

“So it’s like an organized thing where adults drive a wagon around to give teenagers a chance to kiss?”

“Yeah.  I’ve seen them from the bonfires.  At least some of the teens are kissing and nobody’s talking or singing or anything.”

“How old do you have to be to take a hayride at night?”

“I don’t know.  A teenager, I guess.”

I only thought for a second before I asked, “Want to go on an after-dark hayride with me this year?”  I said it fast so I wouldn’t lose my nerve and chicken out.  Emily just smiled.  She didn’t say anything, but her eyes were saying, Maybe.  That was good enough for me.  I mean, she didn’t say no!

“Wait’ll you see the trees in October” she said.  “They turn like a million different colors.  It’s even more beautiful than winter.  I love living here.”

I thought, I think I might like living here too.

We were quiet for a while.  I could hear the water flowing against the shore of the island and crickets chirping everywhere.  “That’s a sad sound,” Emily said.


“The crickets.  When they first come out in the spring, they just chirp at night, when it’s dark.  Never in the daytime.  That goes on through June and July.  Then in August they start chirping all the time, day and night.  It’s like they know that summer’s coming to an end and the hard freezes and frosts of autumn will be here soon, so they’re chirping to find a mate and make the next generation before they die.”

I listened to the crickets for a while.  She was right.  It’s kind of a sad sound.

“My dad and I found four Indian arrowheads on this island.  One’s broken and another’s chipped, but the other two are perfect.”

“There were Indians here?”

“Yeah.  Lots of them.  Chippewa, Huron, Ottawa and others.

“Are there still Indians around here?”

“Yeah.  Some of the kids at our school are Indian.”

I thought that was cool.  I’d never met an Indian before.

“Do you still have the arrowheads?”

“Yeah.  You can come in and see them when you take me back, if you want.”

“Yeah.  I’d like that.”

My cell phone rang.  It was Mom.  “It’s getting dark, honey.  Where are you?”

I looked and saw that she was right; it was starting to get dark.  I really didn’t notice before she said it.  “I’m on an island.  I’m okay.  I met a girl who lives on the river near Aunt Janice.  She’s been telling me about school and everything.”

“That’s nice, but you better start back.  I don’t want you on the water after dark.”

“Okay.  We’ll start back now.  But Emily invited me to her house to see her Indian arrowheads.  Okay?”

“Bring the boat back first, before it gets dark.  You can walk to her house after.”


“Be careful.”

“I will.”

We were rowing against the current on the way back.  It was like a billion times harder than going with the current.  I didn’t complain, but Emily apparently sensed that I was getting tired and offered to row for a while.  I hate to say it, but she rowed as good as me.  Maybe better.

I wasn’t sure how to get to her house from the road, so she came all the way back to Aunt Janice’s with me, then we walked to her house.

Her mom and dad and little brothers were cool.  So was their house.  Her dad’s an architect and he designed their house.  He built a lot of it himself too.  Her room is on the second floor and has a view of the river.

The arrowheads were awesome, but I kept thinking about going on the teenagers’ hayride with Emily in October.  I thought about asking her if I could kiss her right there in her room, but I didn’t have the nerve.  And I wasn’t sure if you’re supposed to ask first or just go for it and see what happens.  There should be a rulebook about these things.  Anyway, her brothers ran in and started asking me a million questions about living in California and everything.

I don’t know if I wrote this down before, but Emily has really beautiful eyes.  They’re green.  I like her.


“I’ve had a pretty good life.”

It was an unfamiliar voice.  Obviously a dream.

I opened my eyes and saw an old guy in pajamas standing outside my window.  Then I realized he was a reflection in the window and that he was actually standing inside my room.

“Who’re you?” I asked.  I don’t know why, but I wasn’t scared really.  I was surprised, but I wasn’t like afraid.

“My name’s Patterson.  Pete Patterson.  And I feel that I’ve had a pretty good life.”  He smiled and looked at me like he expected me to say something.  I didn’t know what to say.

“Why are you here?” I finally asked.

“I don’t know.”  He looked around my room a little.  “I was hoping you could tell me.”

“I don’t know either,” I said.

He looked out the window then.  I guess he saw the trees in full foliage because he said, “Oh.  It’s summer.  Last I remember, it was cold.  December.  Christmas was coming.”

“It’s August now.  School starts pretty soon.”

He smiled again and I thought of the baby that I found in the same spot where he was standing now.  The baby’s smile was really nice.  Comforting.  Like everything was really okay.  Even made me feel that way.  This old guy, Mr. Patterson, had the same smile.  Made me feel happy.

“My wife died a few years back.  I’ve been alone ever since.  We never had children.”

“My dad died a couple of months ago, but I still have my mom and my sister.”

“I’m sorry about your father, but I’m happy that you have people in your life.”

He smiled again.  “After Marian died, I got bitter.  With no children and no brothers or sisters, I just had a few casual friends and neighbors.  I turned my back on them, though.  They tried to help and were very loving after Marian died, but I shunned them.  Drove them away.”


“I don’t know.  I shouldn’t have.  They tried to reach out to me but I pulled away.  I guess it’s because I missed Marian so.  She was everything to me.

“We tried having children when we were young, but it just never happened.  She wanted a family so badly.  I did too.  We finally went to the doctor and had him check us out.  Turned out it was me.  She was fertile.  I wasn’t.  I told her that she should find another man who could give her what she wanted and something just clicked in her.  She changed in a second.  She said that I was all she ever wanted and needed and it didn’t matter to her if we never had a family.  I guess she saw how hurt I was that I couldn’t make her happy.  We became the whole world to each other after that.  It was beautiful, while it lasted.  Yes.  I feel that I’ve had a pretty good life.”

He stood there smiling that happy smile for a couple of minutes.  Then he said, “Guess I’m moving on too now, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know.”

He looked at me and nodded, as if he knew I was going to say it.

“Am I going to see Marian again, you think?”  The smile faded slightly.

“I don’t know, sir.  I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right.  If I see her again, it will be wonderful.  But if not, well; I’ve had a good life.  A few regrets.  Disappointments. Had some ups and downs like everyone else, but all-in-all, it was pretty good.”

“Yes, sir.”

He looked around my room.  “This is an odd situation, isn’t it?  Me being in your room like this.  Are you afraid?”

“No, sir.”

“That’s odd, isn’t it?  It seems we should both be afraid, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, sir.”

He looked around some more.  “Why is your room so clean?  When I was your age, my room was strewn with model airplanes, kites, marbles and all sorts of things.”

“We just moved here.  Back home, my room was full of junk.”

He nodded.  “I guess things never change, do they?”

“I don’t know.”

He nodded and smiled, looked out the window again.  “You’d think I’d want a little more time.  Just a day or two, to enjoy the summer weather, maybe see some of the people I shunned these last few years.  But I don’t feel that way.  I’m ready to go.  Whatever that means.  You don’t know where I go from here, do you?”

He turned to me and I shook my head.

“That’s all right,” he said with a smile.  “Whatever or wherever it is, I’m ready.  I’ve had a good life.”

“I’m glad,” I said.

“Me too.”  He looked out the window again and sighed.  “Make sure the people you love know that you love them, all the rest of your life.”

“Yes, sir.  I will.”

Then he kind of… I don’t know.  It’s like he folded in on himself.  He didn’t get smaller or just disappear, but he did kind of disappear.  But from the outside-in.  Like some invisible hand closed around him.  It only took a second, but he was like there, then his head and feet were gone, then his legs, neck, chest, arms and then everything was just gone.

I never looked at the clock on my nightstand, but I think this all happened about an hour ago.  After he was gone, I lay back in bed, closed my eyes and went to sleep, calm as can be.  I vaguely remember wondering if the thin vein in my brain was making me crazy or something, but it didn’t bother me.  I just kind of wondered, then drifted off.

I woke up again at 4:36 and started typing this entry into my journal before I forgot the details.  I wonder where Mr. Patterson is now.  He seemed like a really nice guy.  I remember the baby who came here too.  She tried talking to me before she left.  I wonder if she was trying to tell me about her life.  I wonder if she’s with Mr. Patterson now or if he’s with his wife.  I wonder if I’ll ever be with Dad again.

SAME DAY, 10:00 A.M.

I wanted to ask Emily how I’d find out if anyone in Glasgow died overnight to see if Mr. Patterson was like the baby and visited me after he died, so I texted her; u there?  She answered not now – in church.  She said she’ll text me when she gets out, so I’m waiting for her text.

We never go to church.  We didn’t when Dad was alive either.  Dad and his brother, Uncle Dave, started a business where they insure big oceangoing ships and their cargo from all over the world.  When Dad was younger and the company was just getting started, he used to travel all over the world to inspect the ships, their ports and sometimes their cargo so he could see what he was insuring and make sure it was safe to insure.  Sometime after I was born, the company got bigger and he hired other people to travel around the world to see the ships and stuff.  Anyway, he told me a lot about the places he went and the things he saw.

He really liked Pompeii, this whole city in Italy that got buried under several feet of volcanic ash like two thousand years ago.  Everyone in the city died within minutes.  They found the city a couple hundred years ago and dug it up.  Now you can walk around on the streets and see the buildings where everyone lived and worked and stuff two thousand years ago.

Dad said he saw temples in Pompeii for the Roman gods Jupiter, Isis and Apollo.  Temples are like churches, I guess.  Dad told me that the people living in Pompeii two thousand years ago would visit the temples to these gods all the time to worship them.  And there’s another really old building Dad saw in Rome called the Pantheon where they have statues of a lot more Roman gods who people used to worship, even though they knew that many of the gods they worshiped were based on Greek myths.  A myth is a story that isn’t true.  It’s made up.  The Greeks had hundreds of gods thousands of years ago, too.

Thing is, nobody believes in any of those Greek or Roman gods anymore.  I mean, people used to believe in them, visit their temples and worship them; even dedicate their lives to them and now nobody even believes in them anymore.  Nobody even knows the names of some of the gods people used to worship.

And it wasn’t just in Greece and Rome.  The Aztecs had dozens of gods and sacrificed people to honor the gods or convince the gods not to do terrible things to them.  Same with the Incas and Mayans.  Many of them sacrificed children to the gods.  A lot of children.  They found mass graves filled with babies and children who were sacrificed to gods that nobody believes in anymore or maybe don’t even know the names of anymore.

And the Celts, in western Europe, also believed in scores of gods that no one believes in anymore, though a lot of people spent their whole lives worshiping them.  Same with many of the Indian tribes in North America, and the native people of Australia.  The Hindus still believe in a bunch of gods.

Dad said that traveling around the world, seeing these things, makes you think.  He said nobody can deny that people have invented a lot of different religions and a lot of different gods.  And they always have.  None of the religions agree with any of the others so, at best, only one of the religions could be right.  At best.  Only one.  And it isn’t likely that even one of them were right about everything, including the religions today.  He said even the Christian Bible has two different stories about the creation of people and the stories are different.  Only one of the stories can be right.  If only one of them is right, the other one has to be wrong; and they both might be wrong.

Dad said that what we know about what happens after we die is way more amazing than any of the stories in our religious books.  When we die, he said, our bodies break down.  Even the molecules break apart.  Over a couple of hundred years, our atoms become parts of other things.  A lot of other things.  Rocks, trees, water, plants, clouds, animals, people; everything!  And there are so many atoms in our bodies that we can’t even imagine it completely.  Before we’re born, some of the atoms in each of our bodies once passed through stars somewhere in the universe.  When we die, we really do turn to dust.  And the dust becomes everything!  Everything!  Maybe some even makes it back into space.

Dad really liked Bach, the composer, who died more than two hundred years ago.  He used to listen to his music all the time.  “You and I, and everyone living today” he said, “each have about a billion atoms in our bodies that once used to be part of J.S. Bach.  No kidding.

“And it’s not just Bach, it’s anybody who died more than a couple of hundred years ago.  Kings or queens, paupers or thieves.  Everybody.  Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, the slaves that built the pyramids; everybody!  They’re all part of us.  Right now.

“People invent gods and religions because they need answers to question without answers.  Where did we come from?  What happens to us after we die?  The real answer to what happened to the people who went before us is simple and beautiful; they are us.  We are them.

“And that is far more beautiful… more elegant, than any of the stories from any of our religious books.”

I think Dad was right.

SAME DAY, 5:10 P.M.

Emily texted me after she got out of church, what’s up?  I asked if she could meet me and she answered, coffee shop –  downtown –  fifteen minutes.  I jumped on my bike.

When I got to town, I didn’t see a coffee shop anywhere.  You have to understand; downtown in Glasgow is a single block of stores.  That’s it.  If you stand in the middle of the block and look around, you can see all of downtown.  Easily.  No problem.  I looked around and saw Lara’s bakery.  The sign on the front said, Glasgow Bakery, Deli, Coffee, Cheese & Sweets Shop.  Then I saw Emily inside, looking at me through the window.  I waved and she waved back.

The place smelled like heaven and was packed with people.  It seemed like everyone in town was there standing around and sitting at tables talking, laughing, eating and drinking.  I spotted Lara behind the counter.  Her hands were full, so she kind of raised her head and smiled real quick to say hi when our eyes met.  I waved and sat down with Emily.



“This is my aunt’s partner’s place.”

“I know.”

“Why are there so many people here?”

“It’s always like this on the weekends.  It’s kind of a hangout.  There isn’t anyplace else in town where people can just sit and spend some time, unless they go to the park.  We come here after church sometimes.”

I looked around and didn’t see Emily’s parents anywhere, so I listened to the voices of the people for a few seconds.  I’ve always liked the sound of a crowd of people.  I don’t know why.  Kind of behind the voices, I heard a really cool kind of jazz piano playing.  I looked around to see if someone was playing a piano live, but I didn’t see anyone.

“Why’d you want to meet?” Emily asked.

“I wanted to ask you something.”


“It’s kind of weird.”

She looked at me kind of funny.  “Okay.”

“How can I find out if someone died today?”

Her look turned from kind of funny to uh-oh.  “Why?”

“I’ll tell you later.”

She just stared at me for a few seconds.

“Not here,” I said.  She looked around and got it.

“The newspaper only comes out on Wednesdays,” I said.  “I need to know if anyone died today.  How would I find out?”

“They have an online edition every afternoon at about 3:30.”  I checked the clock on my phone: 11:12.

“Any way to find out before then?”

“You could go to the Gazette office.  It’s across the street over the hardware store.”

“Is anyone there on Sundays?”

“Yeah.  Mr. Waverly owns the paper.  He lives there.”

“He lives at the newspaper?”

“Yeah.  The rooms above the stores were originally built as apartments for the storeowners, so they could live above their stores.  Mr. Waverly rents the apartment from the hardware store and runs the newspaper out of there.  He’s the only person who lives in any of the upstairs apartments anymore.”

“Come with me?”

“Hi, you two.”  We looked up and saw Lara looking down at us, her hands behind her back.

“Hi, Lara.”

“Hi, Miss Bain.”

Lara brought her hands out from behind her back and handed us each what looked like candy suckers on sticks.  They turned out to be like little cakes with frosting.

“Thanks,” Emily and I said at the same time.

“This isn’t like the bakeries back in California,” I said.  “They just sell bread.”

“We started out that way, too.” Lara said.  “Over the years, we kept offering customers more and more.  Now we’re a little bit of everything.”

“This is great!” Emily said, a dab of frosting on her upper lip.

“Thanks, Emily.  I’m glad you like it.”

I looked at my treat and said, “I don’t have any money.”

“It’s on the house.”

“I thought we were just going to get a piece of fruit.”

Lara looked at Emily and smiled.  “Well, this is a special occasion.”

A man behind the counter called Lara’s name.  “Gotta go,” she said, and she was gone.

I took a bite of my cake on a stick or whatever it’s called and it tasted amazing.  Not really sweet, but creamy.  “This is good!”

“Everything here is,” Emily said.

We finished out treats and I wrapped our sticks inside a napkin.

“Want to go to the Gazette now?” she asked.

We ran across the street, climbed up the stairs to the Gazette office and found an old guy sitting behind a desk.

“Hi, Mr. Waverly.”

“Hello, Emily.”  He looked up and saw me.  “This must be the new boy in town, Master Ellis.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, surprised that he knew my name.  “Dylan Ellis.”

“What can I do for you two?”

Emily looked at me as if it was up to me to say.  “I’m wondering if anyone died overnight, sir.”

He looked at me kind of strangely for a few seconds.  “Care to tell me why you want to know?”

“Not really, sir.”

He looked from me to Emily.  “He won’t tell me, either,” she said.  “But he’s a good kid.”

Mr. Waverly thought for a few seconds, then said, “Pete Patterson died out at the hospice center early this morning.  The hospice called me so I could get it in the online edition today.  Old Pete’s wife died a few years back.  They didn’t have any children and he didn’t have any brothers or sisters or anything, so the hospice didn’t know who to call.  They took him over to the funeral home, but Bill MacRay is just keeping him in cold storage until we find out if there isn’t any kin.  If not, Pete’ll be cremated and disposed of by the county.  No grave or tombstone or anything.”

I felt tears welling up in my eyes and had to fight them back.

“I went to school with Pete back in the day,” Mr. Waverly said.  “He was a good man.  Lost touch with him after Marian died, though.  He turned kind of bitter after that.  Didn’t seem to want to have anything to do with anybody.  I heard he had a bad stroke last December, put him in a coma.  He never regained consciousness.  He was in a nursing home for a few months before they moved him into the hospice center.”  He looked at me intensely.  “Want to tell me anything about Pete, young man?  If you know anything, we need to know.”

“I don’t know anything about him, sir.” I lied.  “Thanks, though.”

Mr. Waverly could see that I wasn’t telling the truth.  “Well, if you hear anything, give me a call or send me an email.  I’m always here.”

“I will.”

“Thanks, Mr. Waverly.” Emily said and we turned to leave.

“We were going to print a half page article in the paper about you last week, young man,” he said.  “Below the fold, but on the front page.”

“About me?” I asked.

“Sure.  Isn’t every day we get a story about a young man urinating off the Clyde River bridge in front of two young ladies.  Lucky for you there was a fire at the dairy the next day.  We had to pull your story.”

I didn’t know what to say.  My mom reads that paper!

“Well, there might be room in this week’s edition.”

“Mr. Waverly, please.  I…”

“He’s joking, Dylan.” Emily said.

I looked at Mr. Waverly and saw just the slightest hint of a smile as he looked at me.  “I’m not joking about Pete Patterson though, son.  If you know anything, you need to tell me.”

“I wish I could help you, sir.”  I looked down at the floor in front of my feet, unable to look at him.  I felt bad about lying, but I didn’t know anything that could help Mr. Waverly find Mr. Patterson’s family.  If I told him about Mr. Patterson showing up in my bedroom in the middle of the night, he’d think I was crazy.  If he told Mom, she’d think I was crazy.  “I’m sorry.”

“Well, you know where I am,” he said.  “Tell your folks I said hello, Emily.”

“I will.”

Emily and I were on the street a few seconds later.  “Where can we talk?  In private?” I asked.

“Under the bridge.”

She rode on my handlebars the whole mile out to the bridge, telling me that she and her friend Megan go there sometimes because it’s quiet and no on can hear you talk or even see you when you’re there.

We climbed down under the bridge and sat on a flat space just beneath the road on the west end of the bridge.  We looked down at the river for a minute then Emily said, “What’s going on?”

I didn’t know how to start, so I just told her everything.  About the baby showing up in my room that night, the picture of the baby in the same shirt in her mother’s living room; Mr. Patterson telling me about his wife dying and him turning away from his friends and how they never had any kids, just like Mr. Waverly said in the newspaper office.

“When he was in my room last night, he said the last thing he knew it was December, almost Christmas.”

“And that’s when Mr. Waverly said he had a stroke and went into a coma,” she said.


She thought quietly for a long time.  I looked at the river and tried to think if I could remember anything that might help Mr. Waverly find Mr. Patterson’s family.  Finally, I looked at Emily and saw her giving me a strange look.

“You don’t believe me, do you?”

“Dylan,” she thought for several seconds.  “I just met you yesterday.  You seem like a really nice guy, but you have to admit…”  She left her sentence unfinished.

“Yeah.  I’m not sure I’d believe you if you told me this stuff either.”

I felt bad, but I didn’t blame her.  Until I heard Mr. Waverly talk about Mr. Patterson, I wasn’t sure I believed what was happening either.  If there was only a way to…

“My journal!” I yelled, hitting my head on the bridge as I got to my feet.


“Come on!”

We jumped on my bike and headed for my house.

* * *

She finished reading the entry about Mr. Patterson and pushed down my computer screen.  “I’m scared,” she said.

“Don’t be.  Like I said, Mr. Patterson and the baby were like really happy.  They made me feel that way too, somehow.”


“I know.  It’s weird.”

She lifted the screen again.  “Did you write anything about the baby in here?”

“Yeah.  It was Wednesday.  Scroll up.”

She started to scroll up the screen and Mom knocked on my bedroom door.

“Come in.”

“Sorry to bother you, sweetie,” she said.  “I need to run to the store for a quick minute.  It’ll be a lot easier if I don’t have Amy with me.  Watch her for me?”


“She’s in the backyard, in her wading pool.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Mom left and I told Emily she could come out in the yard when she was done reading my entry about the baby.

Outside, Mom smiled.  “Emily seems nice.  I like her.”

“So do I.”

She gave me a strange look.  I never had any girlfriends back in California.  I mean, I had girls who were friends, but not, well; you know what I mean.  I think Mom was trying to figure out what was going on.  “Keep an eye on Amy, right?”

“I’ll never let her out of my sight.”

“Thanks.  I won’t be long.”

She jumped in the car and backed out of the driveway while I took off my shoes and stepped into Amy’s wading pool.  It was like a game we played; I stepped into her pool and she pretended it made her mad.  “Hey,” Amy yelled, smiling up at me.  “This is my pool!”

“Mom just told me she’s giving it to me,” I said.  “So you’re going to have to get out.”

“No she didn’t.”  She splashed water onto my legs.

I looked up and saw Emily through my bedroom window, reading my journal, maybe ten feet from where I stood.  She looked serious.  And, well, the light was like perfect and she looked; beautiful.  Like a painting in a museum.  I know it sounds corny, but I held my breath for a second when I saw her.  I thought about the Harvest Festival and the after-dark hayrides and the teenagers kissing and I pictured Emily and me sitting in the hay, our lips pressed together, hearing a soft moan and not being sure if it was from her or me.

Amy splashed me again, this time getting my shorts wet.  I took off my shirt and threw it toward the house, then bent down and paddled water over her like the way a dog digs a hole with both its front paws.  She closed her eyes and squealed while I soaked her.  Her laugh was the sound of absolute happiness, so I paddled faster and she laughed even harder.  We went on like that for a couple of minutes, taking turns soaking each other.  It felt good to laugh.  I don’t know if it was because of my weird ‘dreams’ or because I’d made a new friend in Emily or if it was just that I loved hearing Amy laugh, but I thought, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier than I am right now.

“My life has been wonderful, really.”

It was a woman’s voice.  I looked up and saw an old woman standing about three feet away from the pool.  The sun was behind her and I could see her shadow on the wet grass.  I was relieved to see that her shoes were wet where Amy and I had accidentally splashed her.  At least she’s not another dream, I thought.

“Hello,” I said, standing up and facing her.  “Sorry we got your shoes wet.  We didn’t know you were there.”

“Who are you talking to?” Emily asked through my open bedroom window.

“Yeah,” Amy said, “I’m not wearing any shoes.”

I felt that cold feeling in my stomach again and looked at Amy, who was looking around as if she couldn’t see the old woman.

The woman looked at Amy and asked, “They can’t see me?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.  I don’t think so.”

“Who are you talking to?” Amy asked.

“Nobody, sweetheart.  I’m just talking to myself.”

Sweetheart?” she frowned.  “You’ve never called me that before.”

“Come in the house, Amy.”  I looked and saw Emily staring at us through my bedroom window.  She didn’t look beautiful anymore, she looked scared.

“Go in the house with Emily, Amy.”

“I don’t want to.”

“She’ll give you something to eat.”



Amy got out of the pool and headed for the house and Emily disappeared from my bedroom window.  She made it to the backdoor just as Amy opened it.  Amy stopped and turned toward me again.  “I forgot my towel.”

“It’s okay,” Emily said, pulling Amy into the kitchen.  “I’ll get you another one.”  The screen door slammed shut and I turned to the woman.

“I’m sorry I’ve upset your afternoon,” she said.  She was smiling that same happy smile that Mr. Patterson and the baby had.  It made me feel really good.

“It’s all right, ma’am.”

“Fran,” she said.  “Fran Pritchard.”

“I’m Dylan Ellis.”

She looked around for a few seconds.  “This is where Margaret Hesse lived before she died.  I used to play canasta with her and some of the other women before our husbands retired.”

I wondered if Margaret Hesse’s spirit was still in our house, somehow attracting dead people.

“Isn’t this a lovely day?” she asked, looking up at the sky.  “I was just out in the garden at home, digging up iris bulbs so I could split them and replant them for next year, when I just… blacked out, I guess.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“I remember Frank, that’s my husband, calling my name.  I couldn’t see anything, but I could hear Frank calling to me, as if from a distance.”

Frank and Fran? I thought.

“His voice got quieter and more distant, then I was here.”  She looked at me for a few seconds with that really happy smile on her face.  “I’m passing on, aren’t I?”

“I don’t know, ma’am.”  I wasn’t really lying.  I really didn’t know for sure.

“Well, if I am, it’s fine.  I had a happy life.”

“That’s good.”

“Yes, it is, isn’t it?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I looked through the screen door and saw Emily standing in the kitchen, staring at me.  She looked terrified, her face pure white.  Amy was at the kitchen table, eating a cookie with a glass of milk on the table in front of her.

“Oh,” Fran said, raising her arms a little and smiling up at the sky.  “I’m in a room!”

I felt a chill run through my body, remembering the feeling that I was in a room when I drowned the day Dad died.

Fran laughed a quiet laugh and suddenly like folded in on herself… disappeared in pieces from the outside in.  Just like Mr. Patterson.

I waited a minute or so, then went inside with Emily and Amy until Mom got home.  It seemed like we sat there for an hour, but it was probably only ten minutes.  Once Mom got home, Emily and I went into the backyard.

“It was Mrs. Pritchard,” I told Emily.

“Oh, no.” Emily said.  “I know her.  She goes to our church.”

“Do you know where she lives?”


“Come on.”

We jumped on my bike and Emily told me where to turn to get to Mrs. Pritchard’s house.  I started to tell her what Mrs. Pritchard had said, but she said, “Don’t.”  I couldn’t see her face because she was riding on the handlebars in front of me, but I think she was crying.  It didn’t take long before we were riding down Mrs. Pritchard’s street

“Dylan, look!” Emily shouted.  I could clearly hear that she was laughing.  Then I saw why; Mrs. Pritchard was sweeping off her front porch with a broom.  She was wearing the same clothes I saw her in a few minutes earlier in my backyard.  She looked great.  I mean, for an old lady, she looked like she was feeling okay.

“It’s her!” I said.

“I know!”

Emily jumped off the front of my bike and turned around and smiled at me.  “Guess you were wrong!”

“I guess I was!”

We laughed as we heard Mrs. Pritchard’s front screen door slam shut and saw her disappear inside on the other side of the screen.

“What do you think it means?” Emily asked, more serious now.

“I don’t know.  In my backyard she said she was in her garden and blacked out all of a sudden.  That must’ve been, what?  Twenty minutes ago?”

“Yeah.”  We were standing at the curb opposite Mrs. Pritchard’s house.  I turned and looked at Emily, so I couldn’t see the house, but Emily could.  “Should we do something?” she asked.

“Like what?”  I didn’t get what she was trying to say.

“I don’t know.  Warn her or something?”

“No!  I mean, what if I was wrong?  She looked fine when we got here.  We can’t just knock on her door and say, ‘Excuse me, Mrs. Pritchard, but Dylan here just had a vision that you died a few minutes ago.’  She’d call the cops.  And they’d call my mom.”

I heard a screen door close behind me and turned to see Mrs. Pritchard at the far end of her driveway, on the other side of a gate in her backyard.  She had a trowel in her hand.

“No.” I said, feeling like I was going to be sick.


“In my backyard, Mrs. Pritchard said she was gardening when she died.”

Mrs. Pritchard stepped to her garden, dropped to her knees and started digging.

“Emily, what is that she’s digging up?  Are they irises?”

“I think so.  Why?”

“She said she was digging up her irises when she…”

Without a sound, and without grabbing her chest or head or anything, Mrs. Pritchard suddenly fell face-first into her garden and lay there, still as death.

“Fran!” we heard a voice call from inside the house.  “Fran!  What’s wrong?”

An old man ran to where Mrs. Pritchard lay, bent over her and shook her shoulder.  “Fran!  Get up!  What’s wrong?”  He was crying.  I remembered Mrs. Pritchard telling me that she heard her husband calling her name from a distance after she passed out.

“Fran!  Don’t leave me!  Please!”  I heard someone crying nearby and turned to see Emily covering her face, sobbing.  Then I realized that I was crying too.

“Come back to me, sweetheart!  Please!  Fran!  Don’t leave me!  FRAN!

A woman in the backyard to the right of Mrs. Pritchard’s ran out of her house with a cell phone in her hand and shouted, “I called 911!  Help’s on the way!”  Then I heard a siren in the distance as Mr. Pritchard collapsed beside his wife, crying uncontrollably.

Emily grabbed my hand and squeezed it.  “Get me out of here.”

I got my bike and we walked all the way out to the bridge.

* * *

We talked for a long time sitting in our spot under the bridge.  A couple hours, I guess.  Trying to figure out what it all meant.  Unable to make sense of any of it.

I told Emily about Mrs. Pritchard saying she was in a room and started telling her about how I felt the same thing when I drowned.  “I know,” she stopped me.  “I read your journal.”

“All of it?”


I thought about the stuff I’d written about her and seeing Lara’s breast and everything and flinched.  If it was a different situation, it would’ve bothered me.  With everything that happened, though, I decided to let it go.

“How could Mrs. Pritchard appear to you like a half an hour before she died?” Emily asked.  “I mean, that isn’t possible.”

“I’ve been thinking about that too.  Maybe time doesn’t work the same after you die.  Maybe it isn’t linear like it is for us.”

“So you can jump around in time after you die; travel to the past and the future?”

“Maybe.  I don’t know.”

“Do you think you can control it?” she asked.  “Like, decide, ‘today I’m going back five years and see myself when I was in grade school?’”

“I don’t know.”

“Or maybe go back like a thousand years, or back to when there were dinosaurs?”

“Maybe.  No way to know for sure.”

We were silent for a long time.

“I wonder if there’s something I’m supposed to do about all this,” I said.

“Do?” she asked.  “What could you do about it?”

“I don’t know.  But, I mean, it has to be happening for a reason.”

“Even if it is, there isn’t anything you can do about it.”

“I guess.”

She put her head on my shoulder and we were quiet for a long time.  After a while, I noticed that her breathing became slow and steady.  I looked over at her and saw that she’d fallen asleep.  Her eyes were kind of puffy and a little red from crying but, to me, she looked beautiful again.

SAME DAY, 10:10 P.M.

Dinner was a mess.  We were eating and everything was fine then Amy says out of the blue, “Did they find Daddy yet, Mommy?”  I gave her a dirty look, but I don’t think she saw me.  Which I’m kind of glad of because she just wanted to know and besides, she didn’t know it would upset Mom so much.  But boy did it.

“No, honey.  Not yet,” was all Mom got out before she broke down and ran to her room.  We could hear her crying from the kitchen even though she shut her bedroom door.

“What’s wrong?” Amy asked.

“It’s okay,” I said.  “She’s just unhappy about Dad.”

“I am too.”

“So am I.”

“What will happen when they find Daddy?”

I sighed.  “We’ll go back to California for a few days and have a funeral for him.” I lied.  “Everyone who knew him will be there.  It’ll be nice.”  But I knew it wasn’t true.

I looked on the internet and found out that by now the fish have eaten all of Dads flesh and organs and everything and left just his bones, which are scattered around on the bottom of the ocean because the fish have eaten the cartilage and other connective tissue by now.  They had photos of bodies that went through part of that process.  I don’t want to see them again.

I’m not really that sad about Dad and the fish and everything.  I mean, I wish he was still alive, but if he isn’t, it doesn’t really matter where he is.  Especially because of what he said about how our bodies are recycled and our atoms become part of everything.  The way I see it, if his flesh has been eaten by fish, he’s already started the recycle process.  Maybe I should think that’s gross, but I don’t.  I mean, who knows?  In a couple of years, maybe I’ll look at a cloud or a tree or something and part of it will be Dad.  It’s almost like part of him is already around me.  I like that.  Like Dad said, the idea is beautiful and elegant if you understand it.  And way better than any of the stories from our religious books.


Emily just called and said her father called from his office.  They’re going to the Upper Peninsula for a few days because he has to go look at some land that he’s been hired to design a building for.  They’re going to make a vacation out of it, too, since school is starting up in a few days and this is their last chance this summer.  They’re leaving right after lunch.

Shit.  No… double-shit!

Mom’s in a better mood today.  Amy didn’t say much at breakfast.  I think she’s afraid she’ll say something to upset Mom again.

I was thinking of asking Amy if she wants to ride our bikes out to the waterfall today.  She hasn’t been out there yet and I know she’s going to like it.  We might even take our bathing suits.  The pool at the base of the waterfall is only about three feet deep and it’s supposed to get into the nineties today.

Think I’ll stick around home a little while longer and make sure Mom’s okay before I bring it up though.

SAME DAY, 3:40 P.M.

Amy and I went out to the waterfall after lunch and swam in the pool.  It was really hot out; especially after riding our bikes all the way there in the hot sun.  The water felt cold at first, but we got used to it.  Amy’s always been a good swimmer.

I was nervous about getting in the water after what happened the day Dad died, but the deepest part of the pool only goes up to my ribs, so it was okay.

After a while, Amy stopped swimming, looked behind me and said, “Oh, look!”

Not again, I thought; sure that another dead person wanted to talk to me.  Then I remembered that Amy couldn’t see or hear Mrs. Pritchard in our backyard yesterday, so I turned around and saw two deer standing a few feet away from the pool.  I think they were there to get a drink, but they didn’t want to chance it with us in the water.  We stared at each other for a couple of minutes then they walked off into the woods.

I’ve never seen wild deer before.  They’re beautiful.

SAME DAY, 9:50 P.M.

Emily just texted me and said they’re staying at an awesome hotel with a pool and a view of Lake Superior.  She and her brothers went swimming before and after dinner and they met some cool kids from Chicago.

any visitors since i left? She texted.  She meant dead people.


goodkeep your cell on – i’ll text you tomorrow.


I was thinking about telling Mom about the people who have appeared to me or whatever, but I don’t think I’m going to.  I mean, she’s already worried that I’ve been acting out and had me talk to Mr. Burke and everything.  I don’t want her to think I’m going crazy, which I was worried about myself until Emily saw the evidence and realized it’s all true.  Besides, even if Mom believed me, there isn’t anything she could do about it.


Can’t sleep.

I had a dream that bothers me for some reason.  I’ve had it every night since the baby came to my room.  It’s not a nightmare or anything, and it doesn’t involve any of the people who have appeared to me lately, but it’s upsetting and I’m not ready to write about it yet.

Anyway, I woke up from the dream and turned my light on about an hour ago and got Dad’s science book out of my nightstand drawer.

A few days after he died, I went into our basement back in California and opened Dad’s suitcase.  It’s filled with stuff from when he was a kid; even stuff from when he was in college.  I found a textbook called Basic Science, looked through it and found a lot of sections Dad had highlighted with a yellow highlighter and a bunch more he’d underlined with a blue ink pen.  He’d written a lot of notes in the margins with the same blue pen.  Most of his notes are just regular notes, but some are funny.

In the section I read tonight, about how our sun is going to become a red giant in about five billion years then explode and destroy the whole solar system, including Earth, Dad wrote, Better build a ship!

I flipped back to the back-inside cover and looked at the drawing he did of a naked woman.  Her legs are crossed, so you can’t see anything down there, but her boobs are really big.  Bigger than any boobs I’ve ever seen.  And they’re perfect!  I didn’t know Dad could draw until I saw that.

I’m reading all of the passages Dad highlighted and underlined in the book, starting from the front.  I’m about a third of the way though so far, but I don’t read from it every day.  Mostly just when I miss Dad.  I like to look at his handwriting and hold the book, knowing that he touched it a lot of times just like the way I touch it when I hold it to read it.  It’s probably my imagination, but when I smell the book, it smells like Dad.

I was just thinking about what I read about the sun exploding and destroying the Earth.  Dad was right… we better build a ship.  It’s hard to imagine that the Earth will be destroyed.  Not just the planet, but everything on it, too – including people.  I mean, people work so hard to make their lives happy, keep their kids safe and make sure they grow up to be good people and everything.  And you think about the advances we’ve made with technology and the arts and all the rest.  All that, and someday it will all be turned to dust.  Dust that’ll be blasted into space and scatter billions of miles around the universe.  Makes you wonder.

It reminds me of a conversation Dad and I had about a year ago about how brief our lives are and how it’s okay that there is no ‘larger meaning,’ he called it.  He said he liked that we live a few decades, then die.  When he was growing up, there was a church and private school at the end of his street he lived on, so a lot of his friends were religious because their parents lived on the street so the church and school would be near where they lived.  Dad’s friends would talk about how when they die, they’re going to heaven to serve God forever.

“Isn’t that an awful thought?” he asked me.  “Living forever and ever?  Never dying?”

“Sound good to me,” I said.

“Not to me.  Imagine living forever, even in heaven.  Even if everything was perfect all the time.  Forever.  Not hundreds of thousands of days, not millions of days, not billions or trillions of days and years and centuries and millennia and beyond.  Forever.

“As it is now, we have a relative few days to live before we die.  Each day is precious.  Each day is meaningful and we owe it to ourselves to make it matter.  The clock is ticking and we can’t afford to waste any of our days because, someday, we’ll run out of days.  As it is, today matters.  Yesterday mattered.  Tomorrow matters.

“If we lived forever, time would lose its meaning.  The days would never end.  They wouldn’t matter.  After all, if I didn’t spend time with the people I love on a particular day; you and Amy, your mother, Uncle Dave and others, it wouldn’t matter.  There would be countless trillions of other days, and countless trillions beyond that.  That’s not the way I want to live.  I want the time I have to mean something.  Every day.”

“So time is the thing that gives life meaning?” I asked.

“No.  It’s the people we love that gives life meaning.  Time just helps remind us of that fact.”

I don’t know if I fully understand what Dad was talking about, but I know that I love Mom and Amy.  And I know that I loved Dad and miss him a lot.  And I hate to think what my life would be like if I didn’t have Mom and Amy in it with me.

Anyway, I keep Dad’s science book in my nightstand drawer.  I’m always going to have it near my bed everyday for the rest of my life.  That way, I’ll always be able to reach over and look at it, read from it, touch it, smell it, anytime I want.  It’ll be like having Dad nearby any time I want to feel like part of him is with me.


I wish Emily didn’t have to go with her family on vacation.  I’ve only known her a couple of days and I already miss her.

I wonder if this is how people feel when they’re in love.

SAME DAY, 7:00 A.M.

Aunt Janice just called and said Lara’s closing the bakery for the day and taking her employees to Lake Michigan for a beach party.  She does it every year at the end of the summer as a kind of a thank you for her employees.  Some of them will be going back to college in a couple of days, so she always has the party at the end of August before they go.  She said she doesn’t know why she didn’t think of inviting us sooner.

Mom says Lake Michigan, which is only about forty minutes away from Glasgow, is so big it looks like an ocean, but it’s fresh water.  She said there are these huge sand dunes and a beach a lot like the ones we had back home in California.

I’m a little nervous about being near Lake Michigan, but it’s okay; I just won’t go swimming.

Anyway, we’re meeting Aunt Janice and Lara and everybody at the bakery in a few minutes, then we’ll all drive out to the beach in our own cars.

I think this is going to be a cool day!

SAME DAY, 11:30 P.M.

What a day!  I don’t even know where to start.

We got to the beach about 8:30 a.m. and we helped Lara and her employees set up these huge tents and canopies on the beach.  Mom, Aunt Janice, Lara and a guy from the bakery built a giant pile of wood for the bonfire, which we didn’t light until after dark, and several other fires for cooking on the beach. The whole morning was like a military maneuver; like we were an army setting up camp.  By the time we got everything settled, it was almost lunchtime and Lara and the people from the bakery went into action, cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, making salads and stuff.

After lunch, the temperature was in the eighties and the beach started filling up with people.  Mostly mothers with little kids, but some kids my age too.  I met some guys from a nearby town with skim boards and boogie boards and hung out with them for a while.  We had a blast!  They were pretty good at skim boarding, but I showed them up.  They were amazed at how good I was.  They had a million questions about living in California, the beaches and everything.

“What town did you say you moved to?” the one named Eli asked.


“Isn’t that where some kid our age peed off a bridge in front of two girls?”

“Uh, yeah,” I said, as casual as I could.  “I think I heard about that.”

“Kid must’ve had some balls to do something like that.”

“Or at least a cock,” the tall one said.  Everybody laughed.

Then somebody said, “Let’s go boogie boarding!”

“You guys go ahead,” I said.  “I’m going to find my mom and sister and see what they’re up to.”

“Come on with us,” the one named Mike said.  “As good as you are with a skim board, you must be awesome with a boogie board.”

I looked out at the lake.  “I don’t think so, guys.”

“What’s the matter?” Mike asked.  “Chicken?”

I thought about just blowing them off, but I was hoping to hang out with them again after they finished boogie boarding, so I told them about how I drowned that day and about Dad and everything.  They were really cool about it.

“Dude, I’m really sorry about your dad,” Eli said.  “I can’t imagine what that’s like.”

“Sorry I called you a chicken,” Mike said.  “I didn’t mean it.”

“It’s okay.  You didn’t know.”

“See you when we get back?”

“I’ll be here.”

They boogie boarded for an hour or so, then we hung out the rest of the afternoon until they had to go home for dinner.

Dinner was amazing!  The fishermen who sell Lara the fish she cooks at the bakery delivered live fish to us right there on the beach, then they joined the party.  We had a fish boil, which I’ve never even heard of, but I guess they’re a big deal around here and over in Wisconsin.

What happens is, they light a fire under this huge kettle full of water on the beach and get the water boiling.  Then they add the fish, potatoes, carrots, onions, corn cobs and stuff to the kettle and boil it for about twenty minutes.  Then everyone gathers around and watches a guy from the bakery throw a saucepan full of kerosene on the fire under the kettle and, BOOM!, there’s this giant explosion, the kettle boils over and they take the food out, add a ton of butter and spices and stuff and then we eat.

I don’t think I’ve ever had such fresh food.  I can’t explain how good it was.  Eating under a deep blue summer sky, watching the sun start to set into the lake, being with Mom and Amy, Aunt Janice and Lara after having a great day with new friends.  It was just; perfect.  The kind of day you don’t want to end.  Then it got better.

I helped light the bonfire after it got dark.  A bunch of people who didn’t work at the bakery or anything joined our group around the fire.  Two guys brought guitars and everyone stood around the fire talking and singing.  I really liked one of the songs they played from like a million years ago called Under the Boardwalk.  I even sang along with that one, surprised that I knew all the words.  There were a few smaller fires on the beach with people sitting around them talking, laughing, kissing.  I remembered the Harvest Festival Emily told me about and wondered if there would be a hayride tonight, but there wasn’t.

All day long, I kept thinking about how much better it would have been if Emily had been there with me.  I keep picturing how the firelight would have looked reflected in her beautiful green eyes.


I had the dream again.  Can’t sleep.  I guess I’m ready to write about it now.

Like I said before, I remember the water filling my lungs the day I drowned, and struggling to reach the surface, and the feeling that there was a room around me and the room expanding; the walls and floor and ceiling moving away from me.  That’s how the dream that I’ve had every night for a week always starts.  Then it gets weird.

As the room continues to expand, I realize that I’m not alone in the room.  I look around and see things around me; trees, mountains, clouds, water.  No people or birds or fish or anything, just stuff.  Then the room is gone and I’m standing on this beach on an island.  I can see the mainland over the water a couple of miles away through the fog.  Like the island, the mainland is mountainous.  I’m wearing the same things I was wearing the day I drowned; a bathing suit and rash guard.  My lungs aren’t filled with water anymore.  I can breathe fine.

I look around and see that there are no footprints on the beach.  There are these strange twisted trees growing in the water not far from shore.  I don’t know why, but I’m sure the water is fresh, not salt like the ocean.  I can hear this; I don’t know.  It isn’t music exactly.  More like the sound a bell makes after you strike it, but not the strike itself.  Like the sound you hear when someone rubs their wet fingers over the rim of a glass of water.  Only there’s more than one of the sounds all the time, ringing in harmony with the other.  And they change pitch every few seconds, always staying in perfect harmony.  I consider calling out to someone.  Dad, maybe?  But I think it might not be a good idea to call attention to myself.

Then I see these giant flower blossoms kind of floating-flying slowly over the island and water.  There are dozens of them everywhere.  They’re like ten or twelve feet long, with their petals all closed, so they’re shaped kind of like horizontal teardrops, in all different colors.  They’re like fifteen feet off the ground or water, flying perfectly silently.  For some reason, I feel that they are aware of me; that they know I’m there.  And it feels like they’re flying around with a purpose, each going its own direction.

Then the music sound stops and one of the flower bud things floats over the water toward me.  It points it’s closed end toward me, maybe fifty feet away from the shore.  Then it opens these three outer petals, revealing three more closed petals inside.  Some of the ends of the petals have yellow-gold around the edges.  I feel afraid.  Don’t know why.  I can see that something is moving inside the closed petals.  Something alive. Then the three inner petals open up and I see an eye in the middle of the blossom, looking at me.  It definitely knows I’m there.  It extends the bottom inner petal out toward me and cups the petal, making a kind of a hammock shape.  I don’t know how I know it, but I’m sure the flower thing wants me to climb into the petal.  Just as I realize that, the flower thing starts to float closer to me.  Closer and closer.  Extending the cupped petal toward me, inviting me to climb inside.  I think about the Venus Flytraps I’ve seen kill flies and I try to run, but I can’t.  My feet are like glued to the beach as the flower thing comes closer and closer.  It gets close enough that I feel coldness where it casts a shadow on my bare legs.  The eye looks at me as if it’s trying to tell me something, but I don’t understand what it’s trying to say.  Closer.  Closer.  The cupped petal is reaching as far as it can now.  One of the side petals curls toward me and brushes against my cheek.  It’s cold as ice.  Then I hear the flower thing sigh this horrible obscene sigh.

Then I wake up.

It always ends the same way.  I always feel terrified when I wake up; breathing hard, sweating, heart pounding, wanting to scream.

I can’t help thinking about the way Mr. Patterson and Mrs. Pritchard kind of disappeared from the inside out, like an invisible fist closing around them.  Or and invisible flower closing its petals, trapping them inside.

I don’t know why I think it, but I always have the feeling that the flower things are evil.  And they may have something to do with Dad.


Before I went to sleep a couple of hours ago, before I had the dream, I got out Dad’s science book and read a section about how the universe is dying.  Scientists call it entropy.  It talks about how the universe always goes from order to disorder and it’s happening everywhere all the time.

A long time from now, entropy will bring the universe to an end.  All of it.  It won’t be for more billions of years than anyone can imagine, but it’s happening and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.  All the planets, all the stars, all the solar systems, galaxies and everything will just fall apart just like the molecules of our bodies disassemble after we die, except even the atoms will break apart at the end of the universe.  Eventually, there will be nothing left but some black holes and a few particles of light called photons floating aimlessly through empty space.  And that will be it.  Everything gone.  Forever.

Dad wrote bummer in the margin at the end of this section in his science book.  I can’t say I disagree.  The end of everything is the ultimate bummer.  But no one will be there to let it bother them.


Emily texted me before I went to sleep last night and said she’s coming home tomorrow, which is now today!  They’re leaving in the morning and should be home before dinner.

I answered her with, good – i really want to see u

me too, she texted back, i’ll text u when I get home

I felt butterflies in my stomach when I read, me too.  Is it possible that she likes me as much as I like her?

SAME DAY, 5:05 A.M.

“We’ve had a pretty good life.”

The voice wasn’t unfamiliar this time.  I knew it.  Too well.

I opened my eyes and saw myself standing in my bedroom looking back at me.  The other me was wearing the same boxers I was and had the same old scar on his left shoulder that I have.  His eyes were welling with tears, just like mine.

“I don’t know what to say,” I said.

“Same here.”

He looked around our room and kind of sighed.  “What do we do?”

“I don’t think there’s anything we can do.”

We were both whispering; trying not to wake Mom or Amy.

“Do you think we’ll see Dad again?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”  His voice cracked.  He started to cry at the same time I did.  I stood up and stepped in front of him.  We hugged a hard, desperate hug.  He felt warm.

“I wish we could have seen Emily again,” he said.

“Me too.  I think I love her.”

We held each other and cried for a couple of minutes.

“The others weren’t unhappy like this,” I said.  “I mean, they seemed happy.  Like everything was okay with them.”

“They didn’t know.”

I realized he was right.  They all seemed to suspect that they were passing on, but they didn’t know for sure.

“Not much more time,” he said.


Then he folded in on himself, like the others, and was gone.

Mom will be up in about an hour.  I don’t want her or Amy to be the ones who find me.  I’m guessing I have about thirty minutes left.

I’m going to email this journal to Emily in a minute.

I don’t know what to write; how to make sense of all of this.  I don’t know why the people came to me as they passed over.  I wish I knew.  I guess life isn’t like a story in a book where everything is all wrapped up neat and tidy at the end.  It seems that it comes at us from all angles and we just have to deal with it as it happens.       It doesn’t really mean anything in the end.  Like Dad said, it’s the people we love and who love us that gives life meaning.

I keep thinking about how Emily said that Glasgow is on the forty-fifth parallel; half way between the equator and the north pole.  I think maybe I’ve been somewhere between life and death since the day I drowned.  Maybe that’s why the people came to me on the days they died; because I’d been there already.  I don’t think I helped them on their way, though.  I just listened to them.  But they seemed happy, so maybe just talking to me helped.

I don’t know how to end this.  Feel like I should have something profound to say, but I don’t.  I feel bad about how me leaving will be for Mom and Amy.  I hope they make it through okay.

I’m thinking about what Mr. Peterson said just before he went; “Make sure the people you love know that you love them, all the rest of your life.”  I’m sure Mom and Amy know I love them.  I’m sure Dad knew it.  I even think that Noah and the guys back in California knew.

I just wish I’d told Emily.

Emily, when you read this; please know that I loved you.

Post Script, by Emily Harold, Sunday, August 31st, 11:30 A.M.

Dylan’s funeral is at two o’clock today.  I didn’t really want to go, but Mom says I’ll regret it all my life if I don’t.  She said it’s up to me if I go or not.  Dad said he’ll stay with me and hold my hand all the time we’re there if I want him to.  I haven’t told them yet, but I’ve decided to go.

I got Dylan’s journal in my email as soon as we got home.  I’ve read it every day since then.  I’ve never cried so much in my life.

A neighbor told my mom that Mr. Waverly found Dylan’s body the morning he died.  I went to the Gazette office and asked Mr. Waverly to tell me about it.

“It was raining something awful that morning.  I got up and looked out the window and saw your friend sitting on the bench across the street in front of the bakery.  His bike was parked on the sidewalk beside him.  It didn’t look right, so I grabbed my umbrella and went out to see what he was doing.

“He was dead, of course, when I got there.  I can’t tell you how sorry I am, Emily.  He seemed like a wonderful young man.

“Anyway, I didn’t have my cell phone, so I came back up here to the office and called Sheriff Mueller.  He was out on the highway at a traffic accident.  Said he’d call the coroner and be here as soon as he could.

“It didn’t seem right to just leave young Dylan out on that bench alone in the rain, so I grabbed another umbrella and went out and sat with him until the coroner arrived.  I held an umbrella over him to keep the rain off him.

“I haven’t told anybody this, Emily, but your friend looked all right.  I mean, I can’t say he looked happy, but he looked – I don’t know – content, I guess I’d say.  Like he understood what was happening and had come to terms with it.

“Coroner says Dylan died of a brain aneurysm.  No pain.  Very fast.  I guess we can be grateful for that.”

I tried to thank Mr. Waverly, but I was crying too hard to talk.

“I don’t know what else to tell you, Emily,” he said.  “Except that I’m sorry.  So sorry.”

I reached out to him and he took me in his arms.  We hugged for a long time; crying together in the Gazette office.


I think Dylan wanted Mr. Waverly to find him.  That’s why he went to the bench in front of the bakery – it’s right across the street from Mr. Waverly’s.  I told Dylan the day we went to the Gazette office that Mr. Waverly was the only person who still lived in one of the apartments above the stores downtown.  I think Dylan liked Mr. Waverly and trusted that he’d know what to do if he was the first person to find him.

Same Day, Later

Dylan’s funeral was beautiful.  I never saw so many flowers.  It seems like most of the town was there.  I was worried that no one would be there because Dylan and his mom and Amy just moved here recently.

Dylan’s aunt and Lara were there, so were his uncle and two boys who were Dylan’s friends from California.

Dylan’s mom seemed okay but Amy was a mess.  All she did was cry.  I think it might have been easier for her if she couldn’t see Dylan.  On the way home, Dad said we’re going to invite Dylan’s mom and Amy over for dinner next week.  He said it might be nice for Amy to meet my brothers, who are close to her age, because she doesn’t have any friends here.  Mom said Amy lost her big brother, so it might be nice if I try to get close to Amy too.  I was way ahead of Mom on that one though.  I plan to be a part of Amy’s life for as long as I can – until I move away to college or get married, I hope.  She’s going to need someone – and it will probably help Mrs. Ellis too.

I couldn’t get close to Dylan and the casket until the end – after the service – when everyone kind of formed a line and walked by the casket.  I told Mom I couldn’t do it and she said it was okay – I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to.  Then, when the line was almost at the end, I ran over and joined the others.  I guess I realized that it would be my last chance to see him.

When I got to the casket, I was crying.  Dylan looked beautiful.  There were flowers all around him and Amy had put her favorite stuffed giraffe in the casket next to him to keep him company.  I stood there and looked at him for a long time.  I didn’t say anything.  But I thought about what he’d written in his journal about how love is the thing that gives our lives meaning.


I’m happy that I met Dylan and that I helped him feel that his life had meaning.  And I’m glad I learned what Dylan’s father said about how our bodies become part of everything after we die.  I like that.  It’s sad to think that I’ll never see Dylan again, but I like that we’ll be together as part of everything, everywhere, after I die.  And we’ll be together that way forever.

I mean, how cool is that?



Steve Hodge, an award winning, anthologized, internationally published poet, is the editor of Prune Juice senryu journal and an assistant editor at the Living Senryu Anthology.  Anyone interested in fifties-style low budget giant bug movies can check out the feature film, Mosquito, which Steve co-wrote.  Steve Lives in White Lake, Michigan.


Heinrich von Kleist ~ Saint Cecilia; Or, The Power of Music


st-cecilias-day-22-nov-patron-saint-of-musicTowards the end of the sixteenth century, when iconoclasm was raging in the Netherlands, three young brothers, who all studied at Wittenberg, chanced to meet at Aix-la-Chapelle with a fourth, who had been appointed preacher at Antwerp. They wished to take possession of an inheritance, which had fallen to them by the death of an old uncle, perfectly unknown to all of them, and had turned into an inn, because no one was on the spot to whom they could apply. After the lapse of some days, which they had passed in listening to the preacher’s accounts of the remarkable occurrences that had taken place in the Netherlands, it chanced that the festival of Corpus Christi was just about to be solemnised by the nuns of St. Cecilia’s convent, which then stood before the city gates. The four brothers heated with fanaticism, youth, and the example of the Netherlands, determined to give the town of Aix-la-Chapelle a spectacle of image-breaking. The preacher, who had been more than once at the head of such enterprises, assembled in the evening preceding the festival a number of young tradesmen and students, devoted to the new doctrine, who spent the night in eating and drinking at the inn. Day had no sooner appeared over the battlements than they provided themselves with axes and all sorts of instruments of destruction, to begin their violent work. Exulting with delight, they agreed upon a signal at which they would begin to knock in the windows, which were painted over with biblical subjects, and, secure of finding a great number of followers among the people, they betook themselves to the cathedral, at the hour when the bells first rang, with the determination not to leave one stone upon another. The abbess, who, as early as daybreak, had been informed by a friend of the peril in which the convent stood, sent several times, but always in vain, to the imperial officer who held command in the town, requesting him to appoint a guard for the protection of the convent. The officer, who, clandestinely at least, was favorably imposed towards the new doctrine, refused her request, under the pretext that she was merely dreaming, and that not the slightest danger to her convent was to be apprehended. In the meanwhile the hour appointed for the commencement of the solemnities arrived, and the nuns prepared themselves for mass, praying and trembling with the apprehension of approaching events. The bailiff of the convent, an old man, aged seventy, with a troop of armed servants, whom he had posted at the entrance of the church, was their only protection. In nuns’ convents, it is well known, the sisters themselves, who are well practised in every sort of instrument, are their own musicians, and they play with a precision, a feeling, and an intelligence, which we often miss in orchestras of men, probably because there is something feminine in this mysterious art. Now it happened, to increase the embarrassment, that the conductress of the orchestra, Sister Antonia, had fallen sick of a nervous fever some days before, and the consequence was, that the whole convent was in the greatest tumult about the performance of a suitable piece of music, to say nothing of the fact that the four profane brothers were already visible, wrapped in mantles among the pillars of the church. The abbess who, on the evening of the preceding day, had ordered the performance of a very old Italian mass, by an unknown master, with which the greatest effect had always been produced on account of its peculiarly sacred and solemn character, and who was now more than ever bent on her purpose, sent again to sister Antonia to know how she was. The nun who took the message, returned with the intelligence that the sister lay in a perfectly unconscious condition and that all notion of her conducting the music must be entirely given up. In the meanwhile, there had already been several very critical scenes in the convent into which more than a hundred impious persons of all ranks and ages, armed with hatchets and crowbars, had gradually found their way. Some of the guards who stood at the portals had been shamefully annoyed, and the nuns, who, engaged in their holy offices, had from time to time appeared singly in the porticoes, were insulted by the most unseemly expressions. At last the bailiff retreated to the sacristy, and there upon his knees implored the abbess to stop the festival, and to seek the protection of the commander in the city. But the abbess was immoveable, insisting that the festival which had been instituted for the honour of the Deity must take its course. She reminded the bailiff that it was his duty to defend the mass, and all the solemnities of the cathedral with life and limb, and as the bell had rang, ordered the nuns, who surrounded her, shaking and trembling, to take an oratorium of some sort or other, and make a beginning by performing it.

The nuns had just taken their places in the organ-loft, the different parts of a composition that had already been frequently played, were distributed, violins, oboes, and bass-viols were tried and tuned, when suddenly Sister Antonia, quite fresh and well, though her face was a little pale, appeared from the stairs. She had under her arm the parts of the old Italian mass, on the performance of which the abbess had so earnestly insisted. To the questions of the nuns, who asked with astonishment whence she came, and how she had so suddenly recovered, she replied, “No matter, friends, no matter!” distributed the parts she had carried, and glowing with enthusiasm, sat down to the organ, to undertake the direction of the excellent composition. This phenomenon was a wonderful and truly heavenly consolation to the hearts of the pious ladies; they at once sat down to their desks with their instruments, and the very embarrassment in which they were placed, had the effect of bearing their souls, as if upon wings, through all the heaven of harmony. The oratorium was played with a musical magnificence of the noblest and highest kind. Not a breath was heard through the benches and aisles, and when the Salve Regina, and still more, when the Gloria in excelsis was performed, it was as if the whole population in the church was dead. In spite of the four profane brothers and their followers, not so much as the dust on the pavement was disturbed, and the cloister remained standing till the end of the “Thirty Years’ War,” when it was secularized by virtue of a clause in the “Treaty of Westphalia.”

Six years had passed, and this occurrence had been long forgotten, when the mother of the four youths came from the Hague, and mournfully alleging that they had completely disappeared, instituted judicial inquiries with the magistrates of Aix-la-Chapelle, to learn what road they had taken from the city. The last account that had been received of them in the Netherlands, where they purposely resided, was, as she said, contained in a letter which the preacher had written to his friend, a schoolmate at Antwerp, on the eve of a Corpus Christi day. The preacher, with great cheerfulness, or rather wantonness, had closely filled four sides of this letter with the account of an enterprise which he had projected against the Convent of St. Cecilia, and which the mother would not enter upon more particularly. After many vain endeavours to find the persons whom this afflicted lady was seeking, it was at last remembered that seven years ago—at a time which seemed to correspond to the account—four young people, whose country and origin was unknown, had been put in the madhouse, which had been recently erected in the city by the emperor. However, as these persons were affected by religious extravagance, and their deportment—as the court believed it had heard—was exceedingly melancholy, this account seemed to accord so little with the disposition of the sons—which was but too well known to the mother that there was no need for her to attach much importance to it, especially as it was pretty evident that the persons were Catholics. However, as she was struck by many peculiarities which were described to her, she went one day to the madhouse accompanied by one of the messengers of the court, and asked the superintendent to allow her to examine four unfortunate lunatics who were confined there. But who can describe the poor lady’s horror, when, on entering the door, she recognised her sons at the very first glance. They were dressed in long black robes, and were sitting round a table, on which was a crucifix. This they appeared to worship, leaning silently and with folded hands upon the board. To the questions of the lady, who had sunk into a chair quite exhausted, as to what they were doing, the superintendents replied, that they were merely occupied in the glorification of the Redeemer, of whose divinity, according to their own account, they had a clearer knowledge than others. They added that the young men had led this ghost-like life for six years, that they slept little and tasted little, that no sound usually passed their lips, and that it was only at the hour of midnight that they rose from their seats, when, with voices loud enough to shatter the windows of the house, they sang the Gloria in excelsis. The superintendents concluded with the remark that the young men enjoyed perfect bodily health, that a certain serenity, though of a very serious and solemn kind, could not be denied them, and that when they heard themselves called mad, they shrugged their shoulders with an air of compassion, and had more than once declared that the good city of Aix-la-Chapelle if it knew what they knew, would cease from all business and likewise devote itself to singing the Gloria round the crucifix.

The lady, who could not support the horrible sight of her unfortunate sons, and who was soon led back tottering to her house, set off on the following morning to Herr Veit Gotthelf, a celebrated cloth-merchant of the city, to gain some intelligence as to the cause of this unfortunate occurrence. She did so because the letter from the preacher mentioned this man, and showed that he had taken a lively interest in the plan for destroying the cloister of St. Cecilia on Corpus Christi day. Veit Gotthelf, the cloth-merchant, who had become a husband and a father since the time, and had moreover undertaken his father’s extensive business, received his visitor very kindly, and when he heard the affair that had brought her to him, bolted the door, and having requested her to take a seat, proceeded as follows:

“My good lady, if you will promise to subject me to no legal investigation, I will tell you all, truly and without reserve. I was indeed on intimate terms with your sons six years ago,—yes, we entertained the project which is mentioned in the letter. How the plan, for the execution of which, the most careful preparations were made with truly impious acuteness, proved a failure, is to me utterly incomprehensible. Heaven itself seems to have taken the convent of those pious ladies under its holy protection. For you must know that your sons had already, as a prelude to some determined action, interrupted divine service by all sorts of ribaldry, and that more than three hundred rascals gathered together within the walls of our then misguided city, and armed with hatchets and links only waited for the signal which the preacher was to make, to level the cathedral with the ground. Directly the music began, your sons, with a simultaneous movement and in a manner that surprised us, suddenly took off their hats; as if overcome by deep inexpressible emotion, they bowed down their faces, and gradually covered them with their hands. At last the preacher suddenly turning round, after an astounding pause, called to us with a loud terrific voice to uncover our heads also. In vain did some of his comrades whisper to him, and sportively jogging him with their arms, desire him to give the concerted signal for destruction, the preacher, instead of answering sank upon his knees, with his hands crossed on his heart, and fervently laying his forehead in the dust, with all his brothers, recommenced the whole series of prayers, that he had before derided. The crowd of miserable fanatics, deprived of their leader, and utterly confounded by the spectacle I have described, remained in a state of irresolution and inactivity till the conclusion of the oratorium, which pealed down wondrously from the organ-loft, and as at this moment several arrests were made by order of the commanding officer, and some wicked fellows who had behaved indecorously, were seized and led off by a guard, the wretched troop had nothing to do but to avail themselves as speedily as possible of the shelter of the crowd that rose to depart, thus to escape from the cathedral. In the evening, after vainly asking several times for your sons at the inn, whither they had not returned, I went with some friends to the convent in a state of the greatest uneasiness that I might make inquiries of the door-keepers, who had assisted the imperial guard. How, noble lady, shall I describe my horror, when I saw the four men as before, with the hands folded, touching the ground with their heads and breasts, as though they had been petrified there—in short, bowed down before the altar of the church with the most intense devotion? In vain did the bailiff of the convent, who came up at this moment, pull them by their cloaks, and shake them by their arms, and desire them to leave the cathedral, which was already growing quite dark, and in which nobody was left; half-rising in their dreamy fashion they did not listen to him, until he ordered his men to take them up by the arms, and lead them out at the porch. Then, at last, they followed us into the city, though not without sighing, and frequently looking back, with the most heart-rending sorrow, at the cathedral, which shone gloriously behind us in the light of the setting sun. The other friends and I repeatedly, and in the most affectionate manner, asked them what terrible cause could possibly have produced such a thorough change in their minds. They looked kindly upon us, and from time to time, with an expression that still cuts me to the heart, wiped the tears from their eyes. When they had reached their dwelling, they ingeniously fashioned a cross of birchen-twigs, and fixed it in a little pyramid of wax on the large table in the middle of the room between two candles, with which the servant had made her appearance. While the friends, whose number increased hourly, stood by, wringing their hands, and in scattered groups, and speechless with grief, looked at their quiet ghost-like proceedings, they seated themselves down at the table, as if their senses were closed to every other object, and folding their hands, began their devotions. They neither desired the repast, which the servant brought in to regale their companions, according to the orders they had left in the morning, nor afterwards, when night advanced, did they care for the couch which she had set up in the adjoining room, because they appeared weary. The friends, that they might not provoke the anger of the host, who seemed much surprised at the whole proceeding, sat down to a side-table profusely covered, and ate the viands, which had been prepared for a large party, salting them at the same time with their tears. The hour of midnight now suddenly struck, and your four sons, after listening for a moment to the dull sound of the bell, rose from their seats with a simultaneous movement, and while we, laying down our napkins, looked at them, anxious to know what would follow so strange a commencement, they began to sing the Gloria in excelsis in the most hideous and horrible voice. The sound of leopards and wolves, when on an icy winters night they roar at the sky, may be something like it. The pillars of the house, I assure you, were shaken, and the window-panes smitten by the visible breath from their lungs, rattled and threatened to fall in, as if handfuls of heavy sand were dashed against their surface. At this frightful sight we lost all self-possession, and with hair erect, we darted off in different directions. Leaving hats and cloaks behind us, we dispersed through the neighbouring streets, which in a short time were filled, not with us, but with more than a hundred men who had been awakened from sleep. The people bursting open the hall-door hurried upstairs to the room, to discover the source of these fearful and revolting howls, which seemed to implore the divine mercy, as if from the lips of condemned sinners in the deepest abyss of the infernal regions. At last when the clock struck one, the brothers, without having listened to the indignation of the host, or the exclamations of horror that were uttered by the people, closed their lips, wiped with a handkerchief from their forehead the perspiration which fell upon their chin and breast in large drops, and, spreading out their cloaks, lay down on the floor to rest an hour from such painful labours. The host, who let them take their own course, made the sign of the cross over them as soon as he saw them asleep; and glad to get rid of the infliction, for the time at least, induced the assembled crowd of people, who were whispering mysteriously to one another, to leave the room, under the assurance that the morning would bring with it a salutary change. But, alas! with the first crow of the cock, the unhappy men rose again to recommence before the cross which stood on the table, the same dreary, ghost-like cloister-life, which exhaustion alone had interrupted for the moment. They would receive no assistance nor advice from their host, whose heart was melted at their mournful aspect; they merely asked him to dismiss with kindness their friends, who were in the habit of assembling about them every day. They wished nothing from him but bread and water, and a litter of straw, if possible, for the night, so that the man who used to derive a good profit from their convivial disposition, was now obliged to submit the whole case to the legal authorities, and to request them to remove from his house the four persons, who, without doubt, were possessed of an evil spirit. By order of the magistrates they underwent a medical examination, and being proved mad, they were, as you know, removed to the lunatic asylum, which the benevolence of our late emperor founded for the benefit of such unfortunate persons within our walls.”

This was said by Veit Gotthelf, the cloth merchant, with much besides, which we suppress, as we think we have said enough to give a clear insight into the real state of the case. When he had finished he again requested the lady not to implicate him in any manner, should the case undergo a legal investigation.

Three days afterwards the lady who had been greatly shocked at the account she had heard, took advantage of the fine weather and walked to the convent, leaning on the arm of a female friend, with the mournful purpose of surveying the fearful spot where the Almighty had stricken down her sons, as it were, by invisible lightning. They found the entrance of the cathedral boarded up, because some building was going on, and even with straining were unable to see through the chinks of the boards, any thing but the rosace-window which sparkled magnificently in the back of the church. Hundreds of workmen, who were singing merry songs, were on intricate, lightly-built scaffoldings, occupied in making the towers a good third higher, and in covering the cross and battlements, which had hitherto been only slated, with strong, bright copper, which shone in the sunbeams. A thunder-cloud, completely black, with borders of gold, was behind the building. When it had spoken its thunder over Aix-la-Chapelle, and had darted some ineffectual flashes in the direction of the cathedral, it sank grumbling into the east, dissolved in vapour. It happened that while the ladies were, from the steps of the spacious convent, contemplating the double spectacle, absorbed in various thoughts, a nun who was passing by learned who it was that was standing under the portico. The abbess, therefore, who had heard of a letter respecting the affair of the Corpus Christi day, in the possession of the Netherland lady, immediately sent the sister to her, requesting her to walk up. The Netherland lady, although surprised for the moment, respectfully complied with the request; and while her friend, at the invitation of the nun, retired to a room near the entrance, the folding doors of the beautifully-formed gallery were thrown open to the visitor who ascended the stairs. There she found the abbess, who was a noble lady, of calm, and even royal aspect, with her foot resting upon a stool supported by dragons’ claws. On a desk by her side lay the score of a piece of music. The abbess, after she had desired her visitor to take a chair, told her that she had been already informed of her arrival by the burgomaster. When she had inquired after the state of the unfortunate sons in the kindest manner, and had recommended her to console herself as to their fate, now it was not to be altered, she expressed a wish to see the letter which the preacher had sent to his friend, the schoolmaster, at Antwerp. The lady, who had experience enough to see what would be the consequence of such a step, felt confused for the moment. However, as the venerable countenance of the abbess inspired her with unlimited confidence, and it was by no means credible that she could have any design of making a public use of the contents of the letter, she took it from her bosom, after a short hesitation, and handed it to the noble lady, fervently kissing her hand. Whilst the abbess was reading the letter, she cast a look at the score, which happened to lie open on the desk; and as the cloth merchant’s narrative had given her the notion that it might have been the power of music that had turned the brains of her poor sons on that awful day, she timidly turned round, and asked the nun who stood behind her chair, whether that was the composition which had been played in the cathedral on the memorable Corpus Christi day, six years ago. The young nun answered in the affirmative, saying that she remembered hearing of the affair, and that since then, when the music was not used, it was generally kept in the abbess’s room. At this the lady, deeply moved, arose and placed herself before the desk, occupied by various thoughts. She looked at the magical unknown signs, with which, as it seemed, some fearful spirit had mysteriously marked out its circle, and was ready to sink into the ground, when she found the “Gloria in excelsis” open. It seemed to her as if the whole terrors of music, which had proved the destruction of her sons, were whirling over her head; at the mere sight of the score her senses seemed to be leaving her, and with an infinitely strong feeling of humility and submission to the divine power, she heartily pressed the leaf to her lips, and then again seated herself in her chair. The abbess had, in the meanwhile, read the letter, and said, as she folded it up: “God himself, on that wonderful day, preserved the cloister from the wantonness of your misguided sons. The means that He employed may be indifferent to you, since you are a Protestant; indeed, you would hardly understand what I could reveal to you on the subject. For you must know that nobody has the least notion who it was, that under the pressure of that fearful hour, when destruction was ready to fall upon us, calmly sat at the organ, and conducted the work which you there find open. By evidence taken on the following morning, in the presence of the bailiff of the convent and several other persons, as recorded in our archives, it is proved that Sister Antonia, the only one among us who knew how to conduct the work, lay in the corner of her cell, sick, insensible, and without the use of her limbs during the whole time of its performance. A nun who, as a personal relative, was appointed to take charge of her, never stirred from her bedside during the whole morning on which the festival of Corpus Christi was celebrated in the cathedral. Nay, Sister Antonia would herself have confirmed the fact, that it was not she who in such a strange and surprising manner appeared in the organ-loft, had her insensible condition allowed her to be questioned on the subject, and had she not, on the evening of the same day, died of the nervous fever of which she lay ill, and which did not before appear to be dangerous. The Archbishop of Trèves, to whom the occurrence was related, has given the only possible explanation; viz., that St. Cecilia herself performed this miracle, which is at once so sublime and so fearful; and I have received a communication from the pope, in which this explanation is confirmed.”

The abbess returned to the lady the letter, which she had merely asked for to gain some further information on a matter which she already partially knew, promising at the same time that she would make no use of it. Then inquiring whether there were any hopes of her sons’ recovery, and whether by money or other assistance she could do any thing towards that end—questions which the weeping abbess, while she kissed her gown, answered in the negative—she kindly shook hands with her, and dismissed her.

Thus ends this legend. The lady, whose presence in Aix-la-Chapelle was not required, deposited with the legal tribunals a small sum for the benefit of her poor sons, and then returned to the Hague, where, in the course of the year, deeply moved by the event which had taken place, she returned to the bosom of the Catholic church. The sons died a calm and happy death, at a late old age, after they had once more sung the “Gloria in excelsis” as usual.

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Robert Louis Stevenson ~ The Body-Snatcher



Every night in the year, four of us sat in the small parlour of the George at Debenham—the undertaker, and the landlord, and Fettes, and myself.  Sometimes there would be more; but blow high, blow low, come rain or snow or frost, we four would be each planted in his own particular arm-chair.  Fettes was an old drunken Scotchman, a man of education obviously, and a man of some property, since he lived in idleness.  He had come to Debenham years ago, while still young, and by a mere continuance of living had grown to be an adopted townsman.  His blue camlet cloak was a local antiquity, like the church-spire.  His place in the parlour at the George, his absence from church, his old, crapulous, disreputable vices, were all things of course in Debenham.  He had some vague Radical opinions and some fleeting infidelities, which he would now and again set forth and emphasise with tottering slaps upon the table.  He drank rum—five glasses regularly every evening; and for the greater portion of his nightly visit to the George sat, with his glass in his right hand, in a state of melancholy alcoholic saturation.  We called him the Doctor, for he was supposed to have some special knowledge of medicine, and had been known, upon a pinch, to set a fracture or reduce a dislocation; but beyond these slight particulars, we had no knowledge of his character and antecedents.

One dark winter night—it had struck nine some time before the landlord joined us—there was a sick man in the George, a great neighbouring proprietor suddenly struck down with apoplexy on his way to Parliament; and the great man’s still greater London doctor had been telegraphed to his bedside.  It was the first time that such a thing had happened in Debenham, for the railway was but newly open, and we were all proportionately moved by the occurrence.

‘He’s come,’ said the landlord, after he had filled and lighted his pipe.

‘He?’ said I.  ‘Who?—not the doctor?’

‘Himself,’ replied our host.

‘What is his name?’

‘Doctor Macfarlane,’ said the landlord.

Fettes was far through his third tumbler, stupidly fuddled, now nodding over, now staring mazily around him; but at the last word he seemed to awaken, and repeated the name ‘Macfarlane’ twice, quietly enough the first time, but with sudden emotion at the second.

‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘that’s his name, Doctor Wolfe Macfarlane.’

Fettes became instantly sober; his eyes awoke, his voice became clear, loud, and steady, his language forcible and earnest.  We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.

‘I beg your pardon,’ he said, ‘I am afraid I have not been paying much attention to your talk.  Who is this Wolfe Macfarlane?’  And then, when he had heard the landlord out, ‘It cannot be, it cannot be,’ he added; ‘and yet I would like well to see him face to face.’

‘Do you know him, Doctor?’ asked the undertaker, with a gasp.

‘God forbid!’ was the reply.  ‘And yet the name is a strange one; it were too much to fancy two.  Tell me, landlord, is he old?’

‘Well,’ said the host, ‘he’s not a young man, to be sure, and his hair is white; but he looks younger than you.’

‘He is older, though; years older.  But,’ with a slap upon the table, ‘it’s the rum you see in my face—rum and sin.  This man, perhaps, may have an easy conscience and a good digestion.  Conscience!  Hear me speak.  You would think I was some good, old, decent Christian, would you not?  But no, not I; I never canted.  Voltaire might have canted if he’d stood in my shoes; but the brains’—with a rattling fillip on his bald head—‘the brains were clear and active, and I saw and made no deductions.’

‘If you know this doctor,’ I ventured to remark, after a somewhat awful pause, ‘I should gather that you do not share the landlord’s good opinion.’

Fettes paid no regard to me.

‘Yes,’ he said, with sudden decision, ‘I must see him face to face.’

There was another pause, and then a door was closed rather sharply on the first floor, and a step was heard upon the stair.

‘That’s the doctor,’ cried the landlord.  ‘Look sharp, and you can catch him.’

It was but two steps from the small parlour to the door of the old George Inn; the wide oak staircase landed almost in the street; there was room for a Turkey rug and nothing more between the threshold and the last round of the descent; but this little space was every evening brilliantly lit up, not only by the light upon the stair and the great signal-lamp below the sign, but by the warm radiance of the bar-room window.  The George thus brightly advertised itself to passers-by in the cold street.  Fettes walked steadily to the spot, and we, who were hanging behind, beheld the two men meet, as one of them had phrased it, face to face.  Dr. Macfarlane was alert and vigorous.  His white hair set off his pale and placid, although energetic, countenance.  He was richly dressed in the finest of broadcloth and the whitest of linen, with a great gold watch-chain, and studs and spectacles of the same precious material.  He wore a broad-folded tie, white and speckled with lilac, and he carried on his arm a comfortable driving-coat of fur.  There was no doubt but he became his years, breathing, as he did, of wealth and consideration; and it was a surprising contrast to see our parlour sot—bald, dirty, pimpled, and robed in his old camlet cloak—confront him at the bottom of the stairs.

‘Macfarlane!’ he said somewhat loudly, more like a herald than a friend.

The great doctor pulled up short on the fourth step, as though the familiarity of the address surprised and somewhat shocked his dignity.

‘Toddy Macfarlane!’ repeated Fettes.

The London man almost staggered.  He stared for the swiftest of seconds at the man before him, glanced behind him with a sort of scare, and then in a startled whisper, ‘Fettes!’ he said, ‘You!’

‘Ay,’ said the other, ‘me!  Did you think I was dead too?  We are not so easy shut of our acquaintance.’

‘Hush, hush!’ exclaimed the doctor.  ‘Hush, hush! this meeting is so unexpected—I can see you are unmanned.  I hardly knew you, I confess, at first; but I am overjoyed—overjoyed to have this opportunity.  For the present it must be how-d’ye-do and good-bye in one, for my fly is waiting, and I must not fail the train; but you shall—let me see—yes—you shall give me your address, and you can count on early news of me.  We must do something for you, Fettes.  I fear you are out at elbows; but we must see to that for auld lang syne, as once we sang at suppers.’

‘Money!’ cried Fettes; ‘money from you!  The money that I had from you is lying where I cast it in the rain.’

Dr. Macfarlane had talked himself into some measure of superiority and confidence, but the uncommon energy of this refusal cast him back into his first confusion.

A horrible, ugly look came and went across his almost venerable countenance.  ‘My dear fellow,’ he said, ‘be it as you please; my last thought is to offend you.  I would intrude on none.  I will leave you my address, however—’

‘I do not wish it—I do not wish to know the roof that shelters you,’ interrupted the other.  ‘I heard your name; I feared it might be you; I wished to know if, after all, there were a God; I know now that there is none.  Begone!’

He still stood in the middle of the rug, between the stair and doorway; and the great London physician, in order to escape, would be forced to step to one side.  It was plain that he hesitated before the thought of this humiliation.  White as he was, there was a dangerous glitter in his spectacles; but while he still paused uncertain, he became aware that the driver of his fly was peering in from the street at this unusual scene and caught a glimpse at the same time of our little body from the parlour, huddled by the corner of the bar.  The presence of so many witnesses decided him at once to flee.  He crouched together, brushing on the wainscot, and made a dart like a serpent, striking for the door.  But his tribulation was not yet entirely at an end, for even as he was passing Fettes clutched him by the arm and these words came in a whisper, and yet painfully distinct, ‘Have you seen it again?’

The great rich London doctor cried out aloud with a sharp, throttling cry; he dashed his questioner across the open space, and, with his hands over his head, fled out of the door like a detected thief.  Before it had occurred to one of us to make a movement the fly was already rattling toward the station.  The scene was over like a dream, but the dream had left proofs and traces of its passage.  Next day the servant found the fine gold spectacles broken on the threshold, and that very night we were all standing breathless by the bar-room window, and Fettes at our side, sober, pale, and resolute in look.

‘God protect us, Mr. Fettes!’ said the landlord, coming first into possession of his customary senses.  ‘What in the universe is all this?  These are strange things you have been saying.’

Fettes turned toward us; he looked us each in succession in the face.  ‘See if you can hold your tongues,’ said he.  ‘That man Macfarlane is not safe to cross; those that have done so already have repented it too late.’

And then, without so much as finishing his third glass, far less waiting for the other two, he bade us good-bye and went forth, under the lamp of the hotel, into the black night.

We three turned to our places in the parlour, with the big red fire and four clear candles; and as we recapitulated what had passed, the first chill of our surprise soon changed into a glow of curiosity.  We sat late; it was the latest session I have known in the old George.  Each man, before we parted, had his theory that he was bound to prove; and none of us had any nearer business in this world than to track out the past of our condemned companion, and surprise the secret that he shared with the great London doctor.  It is no great boast, but I believe I was a better hand at worming out a story than either of my fellows at the George; and perhaps there is now no other man alive who could narrate to you the following foul and unnatural events.

In his young days Fettes studied medicine in the schools of Edinburgh.  He had talent of a kind, the talent that picks up swiftly what it hears and readily retails it for its own.  He worked little at home; but he was civil, attentive, and intelligent in the presence of his masters.  They soon picked him out as a lad who listened closely and remembered well; nay, strange as it seemed to me when I first heard it, he was in those days well favoured, and pleased by his exterior.  There was, at that period, a certain extramural teacher of anatomy, whom I shall here designate by the letter K.  His name was subsequently too well known.  The man who bore it skulked through the streets of Edinburgh in disguise, while the mob that applauded at the execution of Burke called loudly for the blood of his employer.  But Mr. K— was then at the top of his vogue; he enjoyed a popularity due partly to his own talent and address, partly to the incapacity of his rival, the university professor.  The students, at least, swore by his name, and Fettes believed himself, and was believed by others, to have laid the foundations of success when he had acquired the favour of this meteorically famous man.  Mr. K— was a bon vivant as well as an accomplished teacher; he liked a sly illusion no less than a careful preparation.  In both capacities Fettes enjoyed and deserved his notice, and by the second year of his attendance he held the half-regular position of second demonstrator or sub-assistant in his class.

In this capacity the charge of the theatre and lecture-room devolved in particular upon his shoulders.  He had to answer for the cleanliness of the premises and the conduct of the other students, and it was a part of his duty to supply, receive, and divide the various subjects.  It was with a view to this last—at that time very delicate—affair that he was lodged by Mr. K— in the same wynd, and at last in the same building, with the dissecting-rooms.  Here, after a night of turbulent pleasures, his hand still tottering, his sight still misty and confused, he would be called out of bed in the black hours before the winter dawn by the unclean and desperate interlopers who supplied the table.  He would open the door to these men, since infamous throughout the land.  He would help them with their tragic burden, pay them their sordid price, and remain alone, when they were gone, with the unfriendly relics of humanity.  From such a scene he would return to snatch another hour or two of slumber, to repair the abuses of the night, and refresh himself for the labours of the day.

Few lads could have been more insensible to the impressions of a life thus passed among the ensigns of mortality.  His mind was closed against all general considerations.  He was incapable of interest in the fate and fortunes of another, the slave of his own desires and low ambitions.  Cold, light, and selfish in the last resort, he had that modicum of prudence, miscalled morality, which keeps a man from inconvenient drunkenness or punishable theft.  He coveted, besides, a measure of consideration from his masters and his fellow-pupils, and he had no desire to fail conspicuously in the external parts of life.  Thus he made it his pleasure to gain some distinction in his studies, and day after day rendered unimpeachable eye-service to his employer, Mr. K—.  For his day of work he indemnified himself by nights of roaring, blackguardly enjoyment; and when that balance had been struck, the organ that he called his conscience declared itself content.

The supply of subjects was a continual trouble to him as well as to his master.  In that large and busy class, the raw material of the anatomists kept perpetually running out; and the business thus rendered necessary was not only unpleasant in itself, but threatened dangerous consequences to all who were concerned.  It was the policy of Mr. K— to ask no questions in his dealings with the trade.  ‘They bring the body, and we pay the price,’ he used to say, dwelling on the alliteration—‘quid pro quo.’  And, again, and somewhat profanely, ‘Ask no questions,’ he would tell his assistants, ‘for conscience’ sake.’  There was no understanding that the subjects were provided by the crime of murder.  Had that idea been broached to him in words, he would have recoiled in horror; but the lightness of his speech upon so grave a matter was, in itself, an offence against good manners, and a temptation to the men with whom he dealt.  Fettes, for instance, had often remarked to himself upon the singular freshness of the bodies.  He had been struck again and again by the hang-dog, abominable looks of the ruffians who came to him before the dawn; and putting things together clearly in his private thoughts, he perhaps attributed a meaning too immoral and too categorical to the unguarded counsels of his master.  He understood his duty, in short, to have three branches: to take what was brought, to pay the price, and to avert the eye from any evidence of crime.

One November morning this policy of silence was put sharply to the test.  He had been awake all night with a racking toothache—pacing his room like a caged beast or throwing himself in fury on his bed—and had fallen at last into that profound, uneasy slumber that so often follows on a night of pain, when he was awakened by the third or fourth angry repetition of the concerted signal.  There was a thin, bright moonshine; it was bitter cold, windy, and frosty; the town had not yet awakened, but an indefinable stir already preluded the noise and business of the day.  The ghouls had come later than usual, and they seemed more than usually eager to be gone.  Fettes, sick with sleep, lighted them upstairs.  He heard their grumbling Irish voices through a dream; and as they stripped the sack from their sad merchandise he leaned dozing, with his shoulder propped against the wall; he had to shake himself to find the men their money.  As he did so his eyes lighted on the dead face.  He started; he took two steps nearer, with the candle raised.

‘God Almighty!’ he cried.  ‘That is Jane Galbraith!’

The men answered nothing, but they shuffled nearer the door.

‘I know her, I tell you,’ he continued.  ‘She was alive and hearty yesterday.  It’s impossible she can be dead; it’s impossible you should have got this body fairly.’

‘Sure, sir, you’re mistaken entirely,’ said one of the men.

But the other looked Fettes darkly in the eyes, and demanded the money on the spot.

It was impossible to misconceive the threat or to exaggerate the danger.  The lad’s heart failed him.  He stammered some excuses, counted out the sum, and saw his hateful visitors depart.  No sooner were they gone than he hastened to confirm his doubts.  By a dozen unquestionable marks he identified the girl he had jested with the day before.  He saw, with horror, marks upon her body that might well betoken violence.  A panic seized him, and he took refuge in his room.  There he reflected at length over the discovery that he had made; considered soberly the bearing of Mr. K—’s instructions and the danger to himself of interference in so serious a business, and at last, in sore perplexity, determined to wait for the advice of his immediate superior, the class assistant.

This was a young doctor, Wolfe Macfarlane, a high favourite among all the reckless students, clever, dissipated, and unscrupulous to the last degree.  He had travelled and studied abroad.  His manners were agreeable and a little forward.  He was an authority on the stage, skilful on the ice or the links with skate or golf-club; he dressed with nice audacity, and, to put the finishing touch upon his glory, he kept a gig and a strong trotting-horse.  With Fettes he was on terms of intimacy; indeed, their relative positions called for some community of life; and when subjects were scarce the pair would drive far into the country in Macfarlane’s gig, visit and desecrate some lonely graveyard, and return before dawn with their booty to the door of the dissecting-room.

On that particular morning Macfarlane arrived somewhat earlier than his wont.  Fettes heard him, and met him on the stairs, told him his story, and showed him the cause of his alarm.  Macfarlane examined the marks on her body.

‘Yes,’ he said with a nod, ‘it looks fishy.’

‘Well, what should I do?’ asked Fettes.

‘Do?’ repeated the other.  ‘Do you want to do anything?  Least said soonest mended, I should say.’

‘Some one else might recognise her,’ objected Fettes.  ‘She was as well known as the Castle Rock.’

‘We’ll hope not,’ said Macfarlane, ‘and if anybody does—well, you didn’t, don’t you see, and there’s an end.  The fact is, this has been going on too long.  Stir up the mud, and you’ll get K— into the most unholy trouble; you’ll be in a shocking box yourself.  So will I, if you come to that.  I should like to know how any one of us would look, or what the devil we should have to say for ourselves, in any Christian witness-box.  For me, you know there’s one thing certain—that, practically speaking, all our subjects have been murdered.’

‘Macfarlane!’ cried Fettes.

‘Come now!’ sneered the other.  ‘As if you hadn’t suspected it yourself!’

‘Suspecting is one thing—’

‘And proof another.  Yes, I know; and I’m as sorry as you are this should have come here,’ tapping the body with his cane.  ‘The next best thing for me is not to recognise it; and,’ he added coolly, ‘I don’t.  You may, if you please.  I don’t dictate, but I think a man of the world would do as I do; and I may add, I fancy that is what K— would look for at our hands.  The question is, Why did he choose us two for his assistants?  And I answer, because he didn’t want old wives.’

This was the tone of all others to affect the mind of a lad like Fettes.  He agreed to imitate Macfarlane.  The body of the unfortunate girl was duly dissected, and no one remarked or appeared to recognise her.

One afternoon, when his day’s work was over, Fettes dropped into a popular tavern and found Macfarlane sitting with a stranger.  This was a small man, very pale and dark, with coal-black eyes.  The cut of his features gave a promise of intellect and refinement which was but feebly realised in his manners, for he proved, upon a nearer acquaintance, coarse, vulgar, and stupid.  He exercised, however, a very remarkable control over Macfarlane; issued orders like the Great Bashaw; became inflamed at the least discussion or delay, and commented rudely on the servility with which he was obeyed.  This most offensive person took a fancy to Fettes on the spot, plied him with drinks, and honoured him with unusual confidences on his past career.  If a tenth part of what he confessed were true, he was a very loathsome rogue; and the lad’s vanity was tickled by the attention of so experienced a man.

‘I’m a pretty bad fellow myself,’ the stranger remarked, ‘but Macfarlane is the boy—Toddy Macfarlane I call him.  Toddy, order your friend another glass.’  Or it might be, ‘Toddy, you jump up and shut the door.’  ‘Toddy hates me,’ he said again.  ‘Oh yes, Toddy, you do!’

‘Don’t you call me that confounded name,’ growled Macfarlane.

‘Hear him!  Did you ever see the lads play knife?  He would like to do that all over my body,’ remarked the stranger.

‘We medicals have a better way than that,’ said Fettes.  ‘When we dislike a dead friend of ours, we dissect him.’

Macfarlane looked up sharply, as though this jest were scarcely to his mind.

The afternoon passed.  Gray, for that was the stranger’s name, invited Fettes to join them at dinner, ordered a feast so sumptuous that the tavern was thrown into commotion, and when all was done commanded Macfarlane to settle the bill.  It was late before they separated; the man Gray was incapably drunk.  Macfarlane, sobered by his fury, chewed the cud of the money he had been forced to squander and the slights he had been obliged to swallow.  Fettes, with various liquors singing in his head, returned home with devious footsteps and a mind entirely in abeyance.  Next day Macfarlane was absent from the class, and Fettes smiled to himself as he imagined him still squiring the intolerable Gray from tavern to tavern.  As soon as the hour of liberty had struck he posted from place to place in quest of his last night’s companions.  He could find them, however, nowhere; so returned early to his rooms, went early to bed, and slept the sleep of the just.

At four in the morning he was awakened by the well-known signal.  Descending to the door, he was filled with astonishment to find Macfarlane with his gig, and in the gig one of those long and ghastly packages with which he was so well acquainted.

‘What?’ he cried.  ‘Have you been out alone?  How did you manage?’

But Macfarlane silenced him roughly, bidding him turn to business.  When they had got the body upstairs and laid it on the table, Macfarlane made at first as if he were going away.  Then he paused and seemed to hesitate; and then, ‘You had better look at the face,’ said he, in tones of some constraint.  ‘You had better,’ he repeated, as Fettes only stared at him in wonder.

‘But where, and how, and when did you come by it?’ cried the other.

‘Look at the face,’ was the only answer.

Fettes was staggered; strange doubts assailed him.  He looked from the young doctor to the body, and then back again.  At last, with a start, he did as he was bidden.  He had almost expected the sight that met his eyes, and yet the shock was cruel.  To see, fixed in the rigidity of death and naked on that coarse layer of sackcloth, the man whom he had left well clad and full of meat and sin upon the threshold of a tavern, awoke, even in the thoughtless Fettes, some of the terrors of the conscience.  It was a cras tibi which re-echoed in his soul, that two whom he had known should have come to lie upon these icy tables.  Yet these were only secondary thoughts.  His first concern regarded Wolfe.  Unprepared for a challenge so momentous, he knew not how to look his comrade in the face.  He durst not meet his eye, and he had neither words nor voice at his command.

It was Macfarlane himself who made the first advance.  He came up quietly behind and laid his hand gently but firmly on the other’s shoulder.

‘Richardson,’ said he, ‘may have the head.’

Now Richardson was a student who had long been anxious for that portion of the human subject to dissect.  There was no answer, and the murderer resumed: ‘Talking of business, you must pay me; your accounts, you see, must tally.’

Fettes found a voice, the ghost of his own: ‘Pay you!’ he cried.  ‘Pay you for that?’

‘Why, yes, of course you must.  By all means and on every possible account, you must,’ returned the other.  ‘I dare not give it for nothing, you dare not take it for nothing; it would compromise us both.  This is another case like Jane Galbraith’s.  The more things are wrong the more we must act as if all were right.  Where does old K— keep his money?’

‘There,’ answered Fettes hoarsely, pointing to a cupboard in the corner.

‘Give me the key, then,’ said the other, calmly, holding out his hand.

There was an instant’s hesitation, and the die was cast.  Macfarlane could not suppress a nervous twitch, the infinitesimal mark of an immense relief, as he felt the key between his fingers.  He opened the cupboard, brought out pen and ink and a paper-book that stood in one compartment, and separated from the funds in a drawer a sum suitable to the occasion.

‘Now, look here,’ he said, ‘there is the payment made—first proof of your good faith: first step to your security.  You have now to clinch it by a second.  Enter the payment in your book, and then you for your part may defy the devil.’

The next few seconds were for Fettes an agony of thought; but in balancing his terrors it was the most immediate that triumphed.  Any future difficulty seemed almost welcome if he could avoid a present quarrel with Macfarlane.  He set down the candle which he had been carrying all this time, and with a steady hand entered the date, the nature, and the amount of the transaction.

‘And now,’ said Macfarlane, ‘it’s only fair that you should pocket the lucre.  I’ve had my share already.  By the bye, when a man of the world falls into a bit of luck, has a few shillings extra in his pocket—I’m ashamed to speak of it, but there’s a rule of conduct in the case.  No treating, no purchase of expensive class-books, no squaring of old debts; borrow, don’t lend.’

‘Macfarlane,’ began Fettes, still somewhat hoarsely, ‘I have put my neck in a halter to oblige you.’

‘To oblige me?’ cried Wolfe.  ‘Oh, come!  You did, as near as I can see the matter, what you downright had to do in self-defence.  Suppose I got into trouble, where would you be?  This second little matter flows clearly from the first.  Mr. Gray is the continuation of Miss Galbraith.  You can’t begin and then stop.  If you begin, you must keep on beginning; that’s the truth.  No rest for the wicked.’

A horrible sense of blackness and the treachery of fate seized hold upon the soul of the unhappy student.

‘My God!’ he cried, ‘but what have I done? and when did I begin?  To be made a class assistant—in the name of reason, where’s the harm in that?  Service wanted the position; Service might have got it.  Would he have been where I am now?’

‘My dear fellow,’ said Macfarlane, ‘what a boy you are!  What harm has come to you?  What harm can come to you if you hold your tongue?  Why, man, do you know what this life is?  There are two squads of us—the lions and the lambs.  If you’re a lamb, you’ll come to lie upon these tables like Gray or Jane Galbraith; if you’re a lion, you’ll live and drive a horse like me, like K—, like all the world with any wit or courage.  You’re staggered at the first.  But look at K—!  My dear fellow, you’re clever, you have pluck.  I like you, and K— likes you.  You were born to lead the hunt; and I tell you, on my honour and my experience of life, three days from now you’ll laugh at all these scarecrows like a High School boy at a farce.’

And with that Macfarlane took his departure and drove off up the wynd in his gig to get under cover before daylight.  Fettes was thus left alone with his regrets.  He saw the miserable peril in which he stood involved.  He saw, with inexpressible dismay, that there was no limit to his weakness, and that, from concession to concession, he had fallen from the arbiter of Macfarlane’s destiny to his paid and helpless accomplice.  He would have given the world to have been a little braver at the time, but it did not occur to him that he might still be brave.  The secret of Jane Galbraith and the cursed entry in the day-book closed his mouth.

Hours passed; the class began to arrive; the members of the unhappy Gray were dealt out to one and to another, and received without remark.  Richardson was made happy with the head; and before the hour of freedom rang Fettes trembled with exultation to perceive how far they had already gone toward safety.

For two days he continued to watch, with increasing joy, the dreadful process of disguise.

On the third day Macfarlane made his appearance.  He had been ill, he said; but he made up for lost time by the energy with which he directed the students.  To Richardson in particular he extended the most valuable assistance and advice, and that student, encouraged by the praise of the demonstrator, burned high with ambitious hopes, and saw the medal already in his grasp.

Before the week was out Macfarlane’s prophecy had been fulfilled.  Fettes had outlived his terrors and had forgotten his baseness.  He began to plume himself upon his courage, and had so arranged the story in his mind that he could look back on these events with an unhealthy pride.  Of his accomplice he saw but little.  They met, of course, in the business of the class; they received their orders together from Mr. K—.  At times they had a word or two in private, and Macfarlane was from first to last particularly kind and jovial.  But it was plain that he avoided any reference to their common secret; and even when Fettes whispered to him that he had cast in his lot with the lions and foresworn the lambs, he only signed to him smilingly to hold his peace.

At length an occasion arose which threw the pair once more into a closer union.  Mr. K— was again short of subjects; pupils were eager, and it was a part of this teacher’s pretensions to be always well supplied.  At the same time there came the news of a burial in the rustic graveyard of Glencorse.  Time has little changed the place in question.  It stood then, as now, upon a cross road, out of call of human habitations, and buried fathom deep in the foliage of six cedar trees.  The cries of the sheep upon the neighbouring hills, the streamlets upon either hand, one loudly singing among pebbles, the other dripping furtively from pond to pond, the stir of the wind in mountainous old flowering chestnuts, and once in seven days the voice of the bell and the old tunes of the precentor, were the only sounds that disturbed the silence around the rural church.  The Resurrection Man—to use a byname of the period—was not to be deterred by any of the sanctities of customary piety.  It was part of his trade to despise and desecrate the scrolls and trumpets of old tombs, the paths worn by the feet of worshippers and mourners, and the offerings and the inscriptions of bereaved affection.  To rustic neighbourhoods, where love is more than commonly tenacious, and where some bonds of blood or fellowship unite the entire society of a parish, the body-snatcher, far from being repelled by natural respect, was attracted by the ease and safety of the task.  To bodies that had been laid in earth, in joyful expectation of a far different awakening, there came that hasty, lamp-lit, terror-haunted resurrection of the spade and mattock.  The coffin was forced, the cerements torn, and the melancholy relics, clad in sackcloth, after being rattled for hours on moonless byways, were at length exposed to uttermost indignities before a class of gaping boys.

Somewhat as two vultures may swoop upon a dying lamb, Fettes and Macfarlane were to be let loose upon a grave in that green and quiet resting-place.  The wife of a farmer, a woman who had lived for sixty years, and been known for nothing but good butter and a godly conversation, was to be rooted from her grave at midnight and carried, dead and naked, to that far-away city that she had always honoured with her Sunday’s best; the place beside her family was to be empty till the crack of doom; her innocent and almost venerable members to be exposed to that last curiosity of the anatomist.

Late one afternoon the pair set forth, well wrapped in cloaks and furnished with a formidable bottle.  It rained without remission—a cold, dense, lashing rain.  Now and again there blew a puff of wind, but these sheets of falling water kept it down.  Bottle and all, it was a sad and silent drive as far as Penicuik, where they were to spend the evening.  They stopped once, to hide their implements in a thick bush not far from the churchyard, and once again at the Fisher’s Tryst, to have a toast before the kitchen fire and vary their nips of whisky with a glass of ale.  When they reached their journey’s end the gig was housed, the horse was fed and comforted, and the two young doctors in a private room sat down to the best dinner and the best wine the house afforded.  The lights, the fire, the beating rain upon the window, the cold, incongruous work that lay before them, added zest to their enjoyment of the meal.  With every glass their cordiality increased.  Soon Macfarlane handed a little pile of gold to his companion.

‘A compliment,’ he said.  ‘Between friends these little d-d accommodations ought to fly like pipe-lights.’

Fettes pocketed the money, and applauded the sentiment to the echo.  ‘You are a philosopher,’ he cried.  ‘I was an ass till I knew you.  You and K— between you, by the Lord Harry! but you’ll make a man of me.’

‘Of course we shall,’ applauded Macfarlane.  ‘A man?  I tell you, it required a man to back me up the other morning.  There are some big, brawling, forty-year-old cowards who would have turned sick at the look of the d-d thing; but not you—you kept your head.  I watched you.’

‘Well, and why not?’ Fettes thus vaunted himself.  ‘It was no affair of mine.  There was nothing to gain on the one side but disturbance, and on the other I could count on your gratitude, don’t you see?’  And he slapped his pocket till the gold pieces rang.

Macfarlane somehow felt a certain touch of alarm at these unpleasant words.  He may have regretted that he had taught his young companion so successfully, but he had no time to interfere, for the other noisily continued in this boastful strain:—

‘The great thing is not to be afraid.  Now, between you and me, I don’t want to hang—that’s practical; but for all cant, Macfarlane, I was born with a contempt.  Hell, God, Devil, right, wrong, sin, crime, and all the old gallery of curiosities—they may frighten boys, but men of the world, like you and me, despise them.  Here’s to the memory of Gray!’

It was by this time growing somewhat late.  The gig, according to order, was brought round to the door with both lamps brightly shining, and the young men had to pay their bill and take the road.  They announced that they were bound for Peebles, and drove in that direction till they were clear of the last houses of the town; then, extinguishing the lamps, returned upon their course, and followed a by-road toward Glencorse.  There was no sound but that of their own passage, and the incessant, strident pouring of the rain.  It was pitch dark; here and there a white gate or a white stone in the wall guided them for a short space across the night; but for the most part it was at a foot pace, and almost groping, that they picked their way through that resonant blackness to their solemn and isolated destination.  In the sunken woods that traverse the neighbourhood of the burying-ground the last glimmer failed them, and it became necessary to kindle a match and re-illumine one of the lanterns of the gig.  Thus, under the dripping trees, and environed by huge and moving shadows, they reached the scene of their unhallowed labours.

They were both experienced in such affairs, and powerful with the spade; and they had scarce been twenty minutes at their task before they were rewarded by a dull rattle on the coffin lid.  At the same moment Macfarlane, having hurt his hand upon a stone, flung it carelessly above his head.  The grave, in which they now stood almost to the shoulders, was close to the edge of the plateau of the graveyard; and the gig lamp had been propped, the better to illuminate their labours, against a tree, and on the immediate verge of the steep bank descending to the stream.  Chance had taken a sure aim with the stone.  Then came a clang of broken glass; night fell upon them; sounds alternately dull and ringing announced the bounding of the lantern down the bank, and its occasional collision with the trees.  A stone or two, which it had dislodged in its descent, rattled behind it into the profundities of the glen; and then silence, like night, resumed its sway; and they might bend their hearing to its utmost pitch, but naught was to be heard except the rain, now marching to the wind, now steadily falling over miles of open country.

They were so nearly at an end of their abhorred task that they judged it wisest to complete it in the dark.  The coffin was exhumed and broken open; the body inserted in the dripping sack and carried between them to the gig; one mounted to keep it in its place, and the other, taking the horse by the mouth, groped along by wall and bush until they reached the wider road by the Fisher’s Tryst.  Here was a faint, diffused radiancy, which they hailed like daylight; by that they pushed the horse to a good pace and began to rattle along merrily in the direction of the town.

They had both been wetted to the skin during their operations, and now, as the gig jumped among the deep ruts, the thing that stood propped between them fell now upon one and now upon the other.  At every repetition of the horrid contact each instinctively repelled it with the greater haste; and the process, natural although it was, began to tell upon the nerves of the companions.  Macfarlane made some ill-favoured jest about the farmer’s wife, but it came hollowly from his lips, and was allowed to drop in silence.  Still their unnatural burden bumped from side to side; and now the head would be laid, as if in confidence, upon their shoulders, and now the drenching sack-cloth would flap icily about their faces.  A creeping chill began to possess the soul of Fettes.  He peered at the bundle, and it seemed somehow larger than at first.  All over the country-side, and from every degree of distance, the farm dogs accompanied their passage with tragic ululations; and it grew and grew upon his mind that some unnatural miracle had been accomplished, that some nameless change had befallen the dead body, and that it was in fear of their unholy burden that the dogs were howling.

‘For God’s sake,’ said he, making a great effort to arrive at speech, ‘for God’s sake, let’s have a light!’

Seemingly Macfarlane was affected in the same direction; for, though he made no reply, he stopped the horse, passed the reins to his companion, got down, and proceeded to kindle the remaining lamp.  They had by that time got no farther than the cross-road down to Auchenclinny.  The rain still poured as though the deluge were returning, and it was no easy matter to make a light in such a world of wet and darkness.  When at last the flickering blue flame had been transferred to the wick and began to expand and clarify, and shed a wide circle of misty brightness round the gig, it became possible for the two young men to see each other and the thing they had along with them.  The rain had moulded the rough sacking to the outlines of the body underneath; the head was distinct from the trunk, the shoulders plainly modelled; something at once spectral and human riveted their eyes upon the ghastly comrade of their drive.

For some time Macfarlane stood motionless, holding up the lamp.  A nameless dread was swathed, like a wet sheet, about the body, and tightened the white skin upon the face of Fettes; a fear that was meaningless, a horror of what could not be, kept mounting to his brain.  Another beat of the watch, and he had spoken.  But his comrade forestalled him.

‘That is not a woman,’ said Macfarlane, in a hushed voice.

‘It was a woman when we put her in,’ whispered Fettes.

‘Hold that lamp,’ said the other.  ‘I must see her face.’

And as Fettes took the lamp his companion untied the fastenings of the sack and drew down the cover from the head.  The light fell very clear upon the dark, well-moulded features and smooth-shaven cheeks of a too familiar countenance, often beheld in dreams of both of these young men.  A wild yell rang up into the night; each leaped from his own side into the roadway: the lamp fell, broke, and was extinguished; and the horse, terrified by this unusual commotion, bounded and went off toward Edinburgh at a gallop, bearing along with it, sole occupant of the gig, the body of the dead and long-dissected Gray.


DMdJ Neu1