The thing happened in America; that is one reason for believing it. Another land would absorb it, or at least give a background to shadow over its likelihood, the scenery and atmosphere to lend an evanescent credibility, changing it in time to a mere legend, a tale told out of the hazy distance. But in America it obtrudes; it stares eternally on in all its stark unforgetfulness, absorbing its background, constantly rescuing itself from legend by turning guesswork and theory into facts, till it appears bare, irremediable, and complete,—witnessed at high noon, and in New Jersey of all places, flat, unillusive, and American.
The thing was as clear a fact in its unsubtle, shadowless mystery as was he—that is, as was the shell and husk of him lying there in the next room after I had watched the life and the person drawn out, leaving only mere barren lees to show what had gone. Hours it lay there to prove the thing, to settle it in my mind, to let me believe eternally in it. Then we buried it deep under the big pile of scree on my hill. As I write I can see the white stones from the window.
It is not all guesswork to begin with; indeed it is not guesswork at any moment if the end is always in view, and we had to begin with the end. I tell you it was as plain as daylight. People saw him, heard him talk; saw him get off the train at Newark to mail my letter—this one—addressed to my engineers in Trenton; heard him say, “Promised Crenshaw to post this before reaching the city; guess this is my last chance to keep it.” It is a little thing that counts; you can’t get by that; it alone is final; but there were a dozen more. Ezekiel saw him on the platform hunting for the right box for west-bound mail, and saw him post the letter after considerable trouble. When I heard that, I yielded to the incredulous so far as to telephone to Trenton, asking if the firm had received it. I did that, though I held the letter in my hand at the time, and knew it had never left this house. Ezekiel was sure that he mailed the letter, that it went from his hand into the box. He was watching carefully because just then the train began to move; but Auber, leisurely ignoring this, appeared to be comparing his watch with the station clock, and finally looked up at the moving train as if in disapproval. Ezekiel lost sight of him in the crowd, and then, at the same moment, he was taking his seat opposite again.
Ezekiel said, “I thought you were going to miss the train, characteristically, for the sake of setting your watch.” And Auber replied, rather queerly: “Great God! It’s impossible now; I can see that.” Ezekiel did not know what he meant, but remembered it afterward when we were talking the whole thing over in this room.
Besides Ezekiel, there were four men who saw him after the train left Newark; and the porter remembered holding the vestibule door and trap-platform open for some one as the train pulled out.
Then there is my coachman who drove him to the train, here in Barrelton, who had his tip of a silver dollar from him. Put it in his pocket—and then—lost it, of course. You see, there’s the most conclusive link in the chain. If William had produced his dollar, or my engineer had received that letter, the whole thing would fall through—jugglery and imposition, mere ordinary faking. The hypnotic theory might still hold, but it must stretch fifty miles to an improbable source in a man who is, at the time, dying strangely on my bed.
Of course, there is no use asking if any one on the train touched him,—not only saw and heard him, but shook hands with him, let us say. It is the same story as William’s, or not so good. Ezekiel is sure that he shook hands when Auber first boarded the train; Judson is sure that he did so when he stepped across the aisle to ask about me. Yet, I tell you that would have made no difference; let him have been as impalpable as the very air of the car, those men would have felt the flesh, just as William felt his silver dollar. “Fulfilment of sure expectation on the ground of countless identical experiences,” your psychologist would explain. Illusion and fact were indistinguishable; and though I happened to watch the facts, and the others the illusion, their testimony is as good as mine.
There is the testimony of four men that, when the smash came, they saw him thrown from his seat, head first, into the window-jamb, and lie for a moment half through the shattered pane. Just before this, he had taken out his watch. Its familiar picture-face, and also its enamelled hands exactly together at twelve o’clock, had caught Ezekiel’s eye. He said that Auber looked at the watch, and then leaned forward as if to call attention to the view from the window. It was then that the smash came. When Ezekiel and some others, who were only thrown to the floor, looked up again, Auber was gone.
You see, the time is identical; we calculated it exactly, for the train left Newark on time and takes just six minutes to reach the bridge; that is, at exactly noon. When I noticed the hour here, it was, perhaps, a few minutes later, and that is not a difference in timepieces, for it was by his own watch on the bedside table. No one saw him on the train or on the bridge after that. It seems conclusive, just that alone. They finally decided that he must have fallen from the window and somehow rolled from the sleepers into the river.
Actually no one else in the Pullman was badly hurt. The men picked themselves up and rushed to the doors of the car, or climbed out of the windows. Ezekiel put his head through the shattered pane which Auber had struck. Men were running toward the car ahead, from which screams came. In the excitement of rescuing those from the telescoped coach, Auber was forgotten; but when it was all over, Ezekiel and Judson looked everywhere for him, till they assured themselves that he was not on the bridge.
At all events, that is how he came to be reported among “The Missing,—known by friends to have been on the train,—Auber Hurn, the artist.”
During that night, when Ezekiel and Judson had come down in response to my telegrams, we sat here, talking endlessly, guessing, relating, slowly developing the theory of the thing, delving into our minds for memories of him, gradually getting below the facts, gradually working back to them, examining the connections, completing the chain. The main fact, the culmination, had to be the soulless shell of him, lying there in the next room. Our theory began far away from that, in what he used to call “white sleep,” and more especially in a curious occasional association between the dreams of this sleep and the landscape pictures that he painted. What impressed you most as he recounted one of those half-conscious dream concoctions, that he named “white-sleep fancies,” was the remarkable scenery, the setting of the dream. This was in character with his pictures, for about them both you felt that peculiarly pervasive “sense of place,” for which his landscape is of course famous, and which in these dreams was emphasized through a subtle ominousness of atmosphere. You perceived what the place stood for, its sensational elements, and you began vaguely to imagine the kind of event for which it would form a suitable background. In his pictures the element was a sort of dream-infusion, as though in each scene the secret goddess, the Naiad of the spot, must have stood close to him as he painted, and thrilled him to understanding at her impalpable touch. Whatever the exact nature of these creative intuitions, there was between his art and his dreams a lurking connection, out of which, as we believed, finally grew his strange faculty for seeing beyond the scene, an intuition for certain events associated with what we called “an ominous locality.”
This faculty began to distinguish itself from mere psychical fancy through a curious contact of one of Auber’s dreams with his actual experience.
The dream, which came at irregular intervals during a number of years, began with a sense of color, a glare to dazzle the eyes, till, as Auber insisted, he awaked and saw the sunset glow over a stretch of forest. He was on a hillside field, spotted with daisies and clumps of tall grass. On one side a stone wall, half hidden by the grass and by a sumac hedge in full bloom, curved over the sky-line. All this was exactly expressible by a gesture, and when he reached the bottom of the field he looked back for a long time, and made the gesture appreciatively. It was at this point that he always recognized the recurring dream; but he could never remember how it was going to end. Then he entered the wood on a grassy path, and for a long time the tall tasselled grasses brushed through his fingers as he walked. Suddenly it grew dark, and feeling that “it would be folly to continue,” he tried hard to remember the point of the dream. Just as he seemed to recollect it, the sound of running water came to him, as from a ravine, and he knew that “he could not escape.” The low sound of running water,—the little lonely gurgle of a deep-wood brook, all but lost in the loam and brush of the silent forest,—why should he feel an incomprehensible distaste for the place? He tried feverishly to recollect the outcome of the dream, but all memory of it had fled. Nor could he bring himself to continue on the path; when he tried to take another step his leg dangled uselessly in front, his foot beating flimsily on the ground till he brought it back beside the other. The longer he listened to the sound of the running water, the stronger grew his aversion for the place. This continued indefinitely, till he awoke.
You perceived the vague sense of “ominous locality” developed out of the simplest details. There is a recognizable introduction, the field, the stone wall, the grass striking his fingers; but there is no ending, nothing happens; the dream-spell at last dissolves, and the sleeper wakes. His aversion to the sound of the brook can, therefore, come from no conscious knowledge of a portending catastrophe in the dream. It was always Auber’s fancy that the dream would really end in a catastrophe, which, though the mind proper continue in ignorance, casts its ominous shadow through the subconsciousness upon the surroundings of the event.
It was also a fanciful idea of his that dreams in general imply a subconscious state coexisting constantly with the actual realm of thought, but penetrated by our consciousness only when the will is least active, or during sleep. With ordinary mortals sleep and consciousness are so nearly incompatible that the notion of actual mental achievement during sleep is unthought of. Dreams are allowed to run an absurd riot through the brain, disturbing physical rest. The remedy for this universal ailment and waste of time was to be found in “white sleep,” a bit of Indian mysticism, purporting to accomplish a partial detachment of mind and body, so that the will, which is always the expression of the link between these two, is, for the time, dissolved. The body rests, but the unfettered mind enters upon a “will-less state of pure seeing,” where dreams no longer remain the meaningless fantasies of blind sleep, but become luminous with idea and sequence. With the body thus left behind, the intellect rises to the zenith of perception, where the blue veil of earthly knowledge is pierced and transcended.
How often had we heard Auber talk in his fantastically learned fashion, with an amused seriousness lighting up his face. At what point he began to see something more than amusement in his dreams and theories, I never knew; but the serious beginning of the thing took shape in an incident which not even the most fervent theorist could have created for the sake of a theory.
It was up among the little knobby hills to the north of my farm. We were as usual sketching, and Auber had been going on all the afternoon about the mournful scenery, talking of nothing but browns, and grays, and “mountain melancholy.” He had a way of stringing out a ceaseless jargon while he worked,—an irritating trick caught in the Paris studios. At the end of the afternoon, he held up a remarkable sketch, suggesting the color scheme for a picture in the atmosphere of oncoming dusk—a bit of path over the hill toward the sun.
“You have struck it most certainly,” I said. “Be wary of finishing that; it is strangely suggestive as it is.”
He nodded; and then, as we packed up, he said, “Do you know, I have felt vaguely intimate with this spot, as if I had been here before, as if I were painting a reminiscence.” I remarked tritely on the commonness of this feeling.
At the bottom of a hillside meadow I was hunting for the entrance of a path into a patch of woods. Auber, instead of helping me, kept gazing back at the fading light while he made random observations on the nature of the sky-line, —one of his cant hobbies. “See how crudely the character of everything is defined up there against the sky,” I heard him say, while I continued to search for the path. “Now even a sheep or a cow, or an inanimate thing, like that stone wall, for instance,—see how its character as a wall comes out as it sweeps over the top.” At this moment, a little drop of surprise in his voice made me look around. He was walking backwards, one arm extended toward the hill in a descriptive gesture. “Why, it is the dream!” he murmured in hushed excitement. “Ah, of course! I might have known it. Now, I’ll turn to find the path.”
“I wish you would,” I said.
He started abruptly. Then he came slowly, and touched me in a queer evasive way on my shoulder. Finally he drew a long breath, and gripped me by the arm. “Don’t you recognize it?” “It’s the dream! See! The stone wall—the field—the sumac! Now that’s the first sumac—”
“Oh, come along!” I said; “there are twenty such fields. That is curious, though: you made the gesture. Do you recognize it all exactly?”
“It’s it! the whole thing—and now, you see, I’m turning to find the path.”
I admitted that it was curious, and said that it would be interesting to see how it all turned out.
For a long time Auber followed in silence, which I tried to relieve by bantering comments. I was some distance ahead, when I heard him say, “The grass is brushing through my hands.”
“Why not?” I laughed, but it rang false, for I recollected the detail. It was childishly simple; perhaps that was why the thing bothered me. I noticed that in the growing darkness the forest took on a peculiar look. It had been partly burnt over, leaving the ground black, and some of the trees gaunt, upbristling, and sentinel-like. The place, even in broad daylight, would have had a night-struck appearance. At this hour, when the sudden forest darkness had just fallen, there was a sense of unusual gloom, easily connecting itself with strange forebodings.
Perhaps it had been five minutes, when Auber said, “I am conscious that I cannot take my hands out of the grass.”
As I said, it was a simple thing. With an odd impulse, I groped back toward him till I found his wrists, and then shook them violently above his head. We stood there for several moments performing this absurd pantomime in the darkness. His arms, with the sleeves rolled up, felt heavy with flesh in my grip. I seemed to be handling things of dead, cold flesh.
Then Auber said, “I can still feel my hands down in the grass.”
I drew back in a strange horror; but, at the same moment, we both stood stock-still to listen: from some distance to the right came the trickling sound of water. It was barely perceptible, and we listened hard, indefinitely, while the silence congealed in our ears, and the darkness condensed about our eyes, filling up space, and stopping thought save just for the sound of the brook. It seemed a sort of growing immobility, eternal, like after death.
At last Auber spoke, laying a hand on my shoulder: “It is over; let us go ahead.”
After a while we talked about it. There was little to “go” on. You see, nothing happens, and, as Auber expressed it, “the psychological data are ineffective for lack of an event.” But though the whole thing remained then a purely psychical experience, and did not “break through,” yet it had something of the fulness of fate. Auber, as usual, had a theory: in the dream some manifestation was undoubtedly striving to break through, but he had been unable to facilitate the process. The present experience, he decided, was immature, a mere coincidence. The outcome might yet, however, be foreseen through the dream, if the creative perception of “white sleep” could be attained.
That is the affair which started the whole thing. Auber must have taken the suggestion it contained much more seriously than any of us for several years imagined; nor did we connect the long contemplativeness of the man with any definite purpose. The thing was too vague and illusive to become a purpose at all.
Before long there were half a dozen instances, some trivial, or seemingly coincidental, but all forming our theory. There is one Ezekiel recounted, as we sat here talking that night. It was just a matter of old Horace MacNair’s coming in on them once during a thunder-storm. The family were sitting in the big hall; the ladies with their feet up on chairs to insulate them from the lightning; young Vincent Ezekiel teasing them by putting his on the mantelpiece. At one point in the storm came a terrible crash, and Auber jumped up, starting toward the door. Then he came back and sat down quietly. They laughed, and asked if he had been struck.
“No,” he said, quite seriously, “not by the lightning, but by a curious idea that I saw Horace MacNair opening the door. I suppose I must have dreamed it; I was nearly asleep.”
The Ezekiels looked at one another in surprise, and Mrs. Ezekiel said: “There is something curious in that, for the last time Horace was here, just before he died, he came in the midst of a thunder-storm as we were sitting here, much as we are now. And, why! I remember that he had come over because he expected to see you, but you had not arrived.”
“That’s so,” put in young Vincent, “because he said that if you had been here, you wouldn’t have been too afraid of the lightning to stand up and shake hands. And by Jove! I had my feet on the mantelpiece! I remember that, because when he saw me he laughed, and lined his up beside mine.”
“He was wearing a gray rain-coat, and high overshoes that you made fun of,” added Auber, shortly, and then kept an embarrassed silence.
That was true, Ezekiel said; and Auber had not seen the man in five years.
There were many cases which we strung that night on the threads of our theory, all working toward its completion; and yet we neared the end with misgiving and doubt, for we had the necessity of believing, if we would keep ourselves still sane. All of us had noticed that so far as there was an element of terror in the strange incidents, it lay in the fact of a subtle undercurrent of connections, as if Fate were dimly pointing all the while toward the invisible culmination. Suddenly there would be a new manifestation of Auber’s faculty, and a new instance would be added, illusive, baffling, and yet forming each time new threads in the vague warp and woof of something that we called our theory. “There it is again,” we would say to ourselves, as we sent the ghostly shuttle flying in our psychological loom.
This undercurrent appeared to touch the incident of Horace MacNair, for it seemed that the old artist had walked over to the Ezekiels that night on purpose to talk with Auber about making a series of pictures of the salt marshes along the Passaic River. Old Horace was dead of his heart before Auber arrived, but the suggestion was repeated by Ezekiel; and Auber, taking it as something like a dying request from his old master, besides appreciating its value, set to work at once.
The long reaches of the Passaic tidal lagoon, with their mists and blowing swamp-grass, are crossed by the trestles of all the railways which enter New York from the south. It was old Horace MacNair’s idea that this place, more travelled, more unnoticed, and yet more picturesque, perhaps, than any spot near the metropolis, might be the making of Auber’s reputation. The varied, moody tones of the marsh-land, forever blending in a pervasive atmosphere of desolate beauty, suited Auber’s peculiar style. Here he would paint what passed in the popular eye for the dullest commonplace, and would interpret, at the same time, both this landscape and his little-understood art.
While he worked I frequently visited Auber on his yawl Houri, which was canvassed over for an outdoor studio, and anchored at the point from which he wished to paint. One day we were tied up to a pile by the Central Railroad trestle. It was just the heat of the day, and Auber, stretched out on a deck chair, was taking a sort of siesta. His eyes were closed, and he had let his cigar go out. Whether it was due to the light through the colored awning, I was not sure, but I was suddenly attracted by a dull vacancy that seemed to be forming in his countenance. It stole upon the features as if they were being slowly sprinkled with fine dust, blotting their expression into a flat lifelessness. Then the rush of a train passing over the bridge disturbed him. With a fleeting look of pain he sat up, glanced first furtively at me, and then stared hard around.
“Was there a train?” he asked, at length.
“It did not stop here on the bridge for anything?”
“No, of course not.”
“Of course not,” he agreed, absently. “How long ago?”
“Perhaps two minutes,” I said.
He examined his watch. After a while he got up, seeming to pull himself together with an effort, and began scraping nervously on his picture. I noticed that the palette-knife trembled in his hand.
“What is the matter?” I asked, finally.
“I feel very much upset,” he replied, and sank weakly on the hatch. “I was on that train and—”
I had to jump below to the ice-chest; Auber seemed to have fainted. Jerry, the skipper, and I applied cold water for five minutes, and then Auber revived and asked for whiskey.
“I was on the train,” he began again, persistently. “Several people, whom I knew, must have been in the chair-car with me, because I seemed to be taking part in a conversation. Was there a Pullman on the train?” he asked, abruptly.
“Yes,” I said; “at the end.”
The answer seemed to reassure him unhappily. “I was on the train,” he continued, “but I could not think where I had come from. There were vague recollections of a walk, then of a long drive in the dark. Now I was on the train, and yet I was somehow not there even now.” I poured out more whiskey, but he pushed it aside absently. “I was not there, nor was I here; for when I moved, something seemed to be folded about me, like bedclothes. It was all a kind of duplication, and I could be on the train or in the other place at will. That is why it seemed confused and unreal. We were talking about some matter of business. I held a list of figures that I referred to now and then. Once I leaned forward to look out of the window; it was just here. I was pointing, and saying to some one, ‘There is my last salt marsh!’ when a great shock stopped the words, and sent me against something in front. For a moment I was conscious that you were leaning over me. Then I had a strange feeling of becoming gradually detached, as if from my very self. A weight and a feeling of bedclothes slipped from me; there was alternate glaring light and enveloping darkness. Finally the light prevailed, and I found myself looking up into this hideous awning.”
“Well,” I said, “that is a very queer dream!”
“Yes; it was white sleep,” he replied, slowly; “but something was added this time.” He put his hand on my arm appealingly. “I knew it would come; I have had the beginnings of that dream before.” He spoke as if from a tragic winding-sheet, a veil spun in the warp of his own fancy and also in the very woof of Fate; and out of this veil, through which none of us ever saw, he was stretching his hand to ask of me—what?
I did what I could. Auber consented to come at once to my farm till rest should partly restore him. We reached here that night. It was just two weeks ago; in thought, it is, for me, a lifetime. It was a time of suspense and waiting when diversion seemed almost irreverent, but at last it was forced upon us by that ever-moving providence which stood back of the whole affair. My dam broke at the upper farm. Chance? Nothing of the sort! I went up to see how it had happened, and found some rotten joists and rust-eaten girders. They are in the course of events. Auber went with me while I should see things set to rights.
It was a simple incident, but somehow I suspected it of finality even as we started out of the yard on the long drive. I was suspicious of that knobby hill region, which was connected with the incipient indications of the whole affair. On arriving in the late afternoon, however, nothing could be more natural than that Auber, having inspected the dam, should stroll on to the pasture, where he once sketched the path that runs down to his dream-meadow.
I went back to the farmhouse, and wrote to my engineers a detail of the breach in the dam, then sat down on the porch to enjoy a smoke. The day was warm and dreamy; the sun, filtering through the September haze, rested on the eyelids like a caressing hand. I was soon half asleep, peering lazily at the view which zigzags down between the knobby hills to the more cultivated farm-lands that we had left hours behind us, when the telephone rang. I got up and answered it:
“William?—at the farm? Oh yes—a message, a telegram—for Mr. Hurn, you say? Is it important?—Well, go ahead—What! Must take 11.10 express—crisis on Wall Street?—meet on train—Who?—Ezekiel.”
It had come, then! Chance? No. A railroad merger; stockholders interested. At first I said: “I won’t tell him.” Then I thought: “After this supposed Sentence is delayed and delayed till he no longer looks on the world as his prison cell, and the whole matter evaporates in a psychological mist, he will say: ‘Our superstitions, my dear friend, and your loving care, cost me just twenty thousand dollars that trip. My picture of the twilight path, which you would have interrupted, won’t replace a hundredth part of that.'”
I wandered down to the broken dam; there beside the breach, with the river sucking darkly through, Josiah Peacock stood, contemplating the scene with his practical eye against to-morrow’s labor. Suddenly I found myself mentioning the telegram. He said, “Then you’ll have to drive back to-night.” I felt alarmed; surely this was none of my doing. Presently I was taking the short cut through the woods. The red glow of sunset was fading behind me, and darkness already gathered among the trees. Aware of a vague anxiety that impelled me forward, an odd notion that I might be late for something, I began to hurry along, the gaunt tree trunks watching like sentinels as I passed. Was I looking for Auber Hurn? It was strangely reminiscent, not a real experience. “This is absurd,” I said to myself at length, and straightened my foot to stop. Instead, I unexpectedly leaped over a fallen log, and continued with nervous strides, while I flung back a sneaking glance of embarrassment.
On the turns of the path darkness closed in rapidly; the outlines of objects loomed uncertainly distant through the forest. Gradually I became aware that at the end of a dim vista down which I was hurrying, something white had formed itself in the path. I stopped to look, but could make out nothing clearly. It remained dimly ahead, and I approached, a few steps at a time, peering through the obscure gray shadows, striving to concentrate my vision. At last I recognized that it was Auber Hurn in his shirt-sleeves, standing still in the middle of the path. Apparently he, too, was trying to see who was coming.
“Auber!” I called. I was not sure that he replied.
When I was very close I began at once, as if involuntarily: “Auber, you see, I came to meet you. There is a message from Ezekiel—a Wall Street panic, or something. He wants you to meet him on the 11.10 to-mor—It will be necess—Auber?” Had I been talking to the air? I looked about me. “Auber!—Auber Hurn!” I called. There was no one there; but in the hush of listening there came, as if wandering to me through the forest, the little lost gurgle of a distant brook.
For a moment I stood fascinated by a reminiscence—and then, a sudden fear swelling in my throat, I ran. Back on the path I fled, my legs seeming to go of themselves, hurling my body violently along; my feet pounding behind, as if in pursuit, whirling around the turns, then down the last straight aisle, past the sentinel trees, out into the light.
When I reached the farmyard, a fresh team was being hitched to our carriage.
“What! Has Mr. Hurn come back?” I asked, shakily.
“No,” said Josiah, “but I thought maybe you’d want things ready. Didn’t you find him?”
“Why—no,” I replied, and then repeated firmly, “No, I did not.”
I sat down, exhausted, on the porch, and waited. At the end of ten minutes Auber Hurn entered the gate, crossed to the buggy, and got in. Josiah, from between the horses where he was buckling a knee-guard, looked up in surprise. “You got that message, Mr. Hurn?”
“Yes,” said Auber, speaking very distinctly. “Mr. Crenshaw just gave it to me.”
Josiah turned to me. “I thought you said—” he began.
“I was mistaken—I mean, I misunderstood you,” I interposed.
Josiah stared, and then finished the harnessing. “Your coats are here under the seat,” he remarked. I took my place mechanically. Mrs. Josiah came with some milk and sandwiches. I finished mine hurriedly, and took the reins.
Auber sank back into his corner without a word, leaving me to feel only a sense of desperate confused isolation, of lonely helplessness.
At length Auber said, in a voice that startled me, a low, contented voice: “You were on the path? You went to find me yourself?”
“Yes,” I answered; and then, after a long time, “And you were not there—yourself?”
“No, I was not there.” He leaned back against the cushions, and I thought he smiled. “I was in that hill meadow. I went to sleep there for a short time.”
It was two o’clock when we drove into the yard. William was waiting to take the horses.
As we went into the house, William asked if he should have the trap for the 11.10 express. I could not answer, and Auber said, looking at me in the light of the open door, “Yes, certainly.”
I can see him now in the cheerless white hallway, his tall figure exaggerated in a long driving-cloak, his high features sharpened in the light of the lantern.
In taking off my coat I felt, in the pocket, the letter I had written to my engineer in Trenton. I laid it on the hall table. “You might post that to-morrow before you get to New York,” I said, casually.
Then I lighted him to his room, and we said “good night.”
Undressing mechanically, I went to bed, and after a long time I slept, exhausted.
A rumbling noise; then, after it had ceased, the realization that a carriage had driven out of the yard—that was what woke me up. The clock on my bureau said half past ten. For a moment I forgot what that meant; and then sliding out of bed, I tiptoed quickly down the hall. Putting my ear to Auber’s door, I listened—till I had made sure. From within came the dull breathing of a sleeper. Throwing on a few clothes, I went down-stairs. The waitress was dusting in the hall.
“Where has the carriage gone?” I asked her.
“Why, sir,” she said, “William is taking Mr. Hurn to the station.”
After a while I had the courage to say cautiously, “I thought Mr. Hurn was still asleep; I did not hear him come down.”
“He came down ten minutes ago,” she replied, “and in a great hurry, with no time for breakfast.”
“You saw him?” I cross-examined.
“Yes. The carriage was waiting, and he seemed in a great hurry, though he did run back to take a letter from the table there.”
I was standing between the table and the maid.
“Well, of course you’re right,” I said, carelessly, and at that moment I put my hand on the letter. I turned my back and put it in my pocket.
I went hurriedly to the barn. The runabout trap and the mare were out. Then I finished dressing, and had breakfast. Soon after, William drove into the yard, and I called from the library window—”Where have you been?”
“Just to the station, sir.”
“What for? Has my freight arrived?”
“Mr. Hurn, for the 11.10,”—he explained respectfully.
“Ah, yes!” I cried, in an overvoice; “I keep forgetting that I have just waked up. You saw him off? Ah—did he leave any message for me? I overslept, and did not see him this morning.”
“No, sir; I had no message,” he replied. “But he’s a liberal man, Mr. Hurn, sir.” He grinned and slapped his pocket; then, with a look of doubt, he straightened out one leg to allow his hand inside; the look grew more doubting; he stood up and searched systematically, under the seat, everywhere.
“Guess it rolled out,” I said, very much interested. “What was it?”
“A silver dollar,” he answered, mournfully.
“Oh, well, I’ll make that up,” I called, and shut the window.
I took out my watch and made a calculation; Auber’s train was probably at Newark. I could stand it no longer, and I went toward his room, stamping on the bare floor, whistling nervously, and rattling the rickety balustrade. I banged open the door and began to shout: “Auber! you’ve missed your——”
He did not move. He was lying on his back, with his arms extended evenly outside the bedclothes, which were tucked close around his breast. He lay as if in state, with that dull dusty pallor on his face, and that eyeless vacancy of an effigy on a marble tomb—a voidness of expression, with masklike indications of duration and immobility. On the reading-table, at his bedside, I noticed his watch lying face up. It was two or three minutes of the noon hour.
Sitting down on the bed, I touched Auber on the shoulder. He did not move. An intuition, growing till it all but became an idea, and then remaining short of expressibility, unable to perceive even its own indefiniteness—a film for impressions where there is no light—such was the vagueness of my guess concerning the metamorphosis that was taking place. Yet I began to understand that Auber Hurn, the real man, was not there, not on the bed, not in my house at all. It was as if the Person were being gradually deducted, leaving only the prime flesh to vouch for the man’s existence. Even as I sat in wonder, with my eyes upon him, the life tinge faded utterly from his skin. There was a fleeting shadow as if of pain. His breast sank in a long outbreathing, and then, after seconds and minutes, it did not rise again. I listened. The room seemed to be listening with me. The silence became stricken with awe, with the interminable and unanswering awe—the muteness of death.
We believed in the thing. Ezekiel and Judson came down in response to my telegrams, and we sat here talking it all over, hours through the night. It was inevitable to believe in it. We took his body up in the darkness, and buried it in the scree on my hill; then we came back to Auber’s room, and faced each other by the empty bed.
“This is not for the practical world, or for the law,” I said. “No coroner on earth could return a verdict here.”
“We could never see the thing clearly again if the practical world got hold of it,” said Judson. “Look; you have to believe so much!” He had picked up Auber’s purse from the table, where it had lain beside his watch. He opened it over the bed. A roll of bills fell out—and one silver dollar.
“That belongs to William, before the law,” said Ezekiel.