The Day of My Death,
by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
[Footnote 1: The characters in this narrative are fictitious. The
incidents the author does not profess to have witnessed. But they are
given as related by eye-witnesses whose testimony would command a
verdict from any honest jury. The author, however, draws no conclusions
and suggests none.]
Alison was sitting on a bandbox. She had generally been sitting on a
bandbox for three weeks,—or on a bushel-basket, or a cupboard shelf, or
a pile of old newspapers, or the baby's bath-tub. On one occasion it was
the baby himself. She mistook him for the rag-bag.
If ever we had to move again,—which all the beneficence of the Penates
forbid!—my wife should be locked into the parlor, and a cargo of
Irishwomen turned loose about the premises to "attend to things." What
it is that women find to do with themselves in this world I have never
yet discovered. They are always "attending to things." Whatever that
may mean, I have long ago received it as the only solution at my command
of their superfluous wear and tear, and worry and flurry, and tears and
nerves and headaches. A fellow may suggest Jane, and obtrude Bridget,
and hire Peggy, and run in debt for Mehetable, and offer to take the
baby on 'Change with him, but has he by a feather's weight lightened
Madam's mysterious burden? My dear sir, don't presume to expect it. She
has just as much to do as she ever had. In fact, she has a little more.
"Strange, you don't appreciate it! Follow her about one day, and see for
What I started to say, however, was that I thought it over often,—I
mean about that invoice of Irishwomen,—coming home from the office at
night, while we were moving out of Artichoke Street into Nemo's Avenue.
It is not pleasant to find one's wife always sitting on a bandbox. I
have seen her crawl to her feet when she heard me coming, and hold on by
a chair, and try her poor little best to look as if she could stand
twenty-four hours longer; she so disliked that I should find a "used-up
looking house" under any circumstances. But I believe that was worse
than the bandbox.
On this particular night she was too tired even to crawl. I found her
all in a heap in the corner, two dusters and a wash-cloth in one
blue-veined hand, and a broom in the other; an old corn-colored silk
handkerchief knotted over her hair,—her hair is black, and the effect
was good,—and her little brown calico apron-string literally tied to
the baby, who was shrieking at the end of his tether because he could
just not reach the kitten and throw her into the fire. On Alison's lap,
between a pile of shirts and two piles of magazines, lay a freshly
opened letter. I noticed that she put it into her pocket before she
dropped her dusters and stood up to lift her face for my kiss. She
forgot about the apron-strings, and the baby tipped up the wrong way,
and hung dangling in mid-air.
After we had taken tea,—that is to say, after we had drawn around the
ironing-board put on two chairs in the front entry, made the cocoa in a
tin dipper, stirred it with a fork, and cut the bread with a
jack-knife,—after the baby was fairly off to bed in a champagne-basket,
and Tip disposed of, his mother only knew where, we coaxed a consumptive
fire into the parlor grate, and sat down before it in the carpetless,
pictureless, curtainless, blank, bare, soapy room.
"Thank fortune, this is the last night of it!" I growled, putting my
booted feet against the wall, (my slippers had gone over to the avenue
in a water-pail that morning,) and tipping my chair back drearily,—my
wife "so objects" to the habit!
Allis made no reply, but sat looking thoughtfully, and with a slightly
perplexed and displeased air, into the sizzling wet wood that snapped
and flared and smoked and hissed and blackened, and did everything but
"I really don't know what to do about it," she broke silence at last.
"I'm inclined to think there's nothing better to do than to look at it."
"No; not the fire. O, I forgot—I haven't shown it to you."
She drew from her pocket the letter which I had noticed in the
afternoon, and laid it upon my knee. With my hands in my pockets—the
room was too cold to take them out—I read:—
Dear Cousin Alison:—
"I have been so lonely since mother died, that my health, never of
the strongest, as you know, has suffered seriously. My physician
tells me that something is wrong with the periphrastic action, if
you know what that is," [I suppose Miss Fellows meant the
peristaltic action,] "and prophesies something dreadful, (I've
forgotten whether it was to be in the head, or the heart, or the
stomach,) if I cannot have change of air and scene this winter. I
should dearly love to spend some time with you in your new home, (I
fancy it will be drier than the old one,) if convenient to you. If
inconvenient, don't hesitate to say so, of course. I hope to hear
from you soon.
"In haste, your aff. cousin,
"P.S.—I shall of course insist upon being a boarder if I come.
"Hum-m. Insipid sort of letter."
"Exactly. That's Gertrude. No more flavor than a frozen pear. If she had
one distinguishing peculiarity, good or bad, I believe I should like
her better. But I'm sorry for the woman."
"Sorry enough to stand a winter of her?"
"If we hadn't just been through this moving! A new house and
all,—nobody knows how the flues are yet, or whether we can heat a spare
room. She hasn't had a home, though, since Cousin Dorothy died. But I
was thinking about you, you see."
"O, she can't hurt me. She won't want the library, I suppose; nor my
slippers, and the small bootjack. Let her come."
My wife sighed a small sigh of relief out from the depths of her
hospitable heart, and the little matter was settled and dismissed as
lightly as are most little matters out of which grow the great ones.
I had just begun to dream that night that Gertrude Fellows, in the shape
of a large wilted pear, had walked in and sat down on a dessert plate,
when Allis gave me a little pinch and woke me.
"My dear, Gertrude has one peculiarity. I never thought of it till
"Confound Gertrude's peculiarities! I want to go to sleep. Well, let's
"Why, you see, she took up with some Spiritualistic notions after her
mother's death; thought she held communications with her, and all that,
Aunt Solomon says."
"Stuff and nonsense!"
"Of course. But, Fred, dear, I'm inclined to think she must have made
her sewing-table walk into the front entry; and Aunt Solomon says the
spirits rapped out the whole of Cousin Dorothy's history on the
mantel-piece, behind those blue china vases,—you must have noticed them
at the funeral,—and not a human hand within six feet."
"Alison Hotchkiss!" I said, waking thoroughly, and sitting up in bed to
emphasize the opinion, "when I hear a spirit rap on my mantel-piece,
and see my tables walk about the front entry, I'll believe that,—not
"O, I know it! I'm not a Spiritualist, I'm sure, and nothing would tempt
me to be. But still that sort of reasoning has a flaw in it, hasn't it,
dear? The King of Siam, you know—"
I had heard of the King of Siam before, and I politely informed my wife
that I did not care to hear of him again. Spiritualism was a system of
refined jugglery. Just another phase of the same thing which brings the
doves out of Mr. Hermann's empty hat. It might be entertaining if it had
not become such an abominable imposition. There would always be nervous
women and hypochondriac men enough for its dupes. I thanked Heaven that
I was neither, and went to sleep.
Our new house was light and dry; the flues worked well, and the spare
chamber heated admirably. The baby exchanged the champagne-basket for
his dainty pink-curtained crib; Tip began to recover from the perpetual
cold with which three weeks' sitting in draughts, and tumbling into
water-pails, and playing in the sink, had sweetened his temper; Allis
forsook her bandboxes for the crimson easy-chair (very becoming, that
chair), or tripped about on her own rested feet; we returned to
table-cloths, civilized life, and a fork apiece.
In short, nothing at all worth mentioning happened, till that one
night,—I think it was our first Sunday,—when Allis waked me at twelve
o'clock with the announcement that some one was knocking at the door.
Supposing it to be Bridget with the baby,—croup, probably, or a fit,—I
unlocked and unlatched it promptly. No one was there, however; and
telling my wife, in no very gentle tone, if I remember correctly, that
it would be a convenience, on such cold nights, if she could keep her
dreams to herself, I shut the door distinctly and returned to my own.
In the morning I observed a little white circle about each of Allis's
blue eyes, and after some urging she confessed to me that her sleep had
been much broken by a singular disturbance in the room. I might laugh at
her if I chose, and she had not meant to tell me, but somebody had
rapped in that room all night long.
"On the door?"
"On the door, on the mantel, on the foot of the bed, on the
head-board,—Fred, right on the head-board! I listened till I grew cold
listening, but it rapped and it rapped, and by and by it was morning,
and it stopped."
"Rats!" said I.
"Then rats have knuckles," said she.
"Mice!" said I, "wind! broken plaster! crickets! imagination! dreams!
fancies! blind headache! nonsense! Next time wake me up, and fire
pillows at me till I'm pleasant to you. Now I'll have a kiss and a cup
of coffee. Any sugar in it?"
Tip fell down the cellar stairs that day, and the baby swallowed a
needle and two gutta-percha buttons, which I had been waiting a week to
have sewed on my vest, so that Alison had enough else to think about,
and the little incident of the raps was forgotten. I believe it was not
recalled by either of us till after Gertrude Fellows came.
It was on a Monday and in a drizzly storm that I brought her from the
station. She was a thin, cold, phantom-like woman, shrouded in
water-proofs and green barège veils. Why is it that homely women
always wear green barège veils? She did not improve in appearance when
her wraps were off, and she was seated by my parlor grate. Her large
green eyes had no speculation in them. Her mouth—an honest mouth, that
was one mercy—quivered and shrank when she was addressed suddenly, as
if she felt herself to be a sort of foot-ball that the world was kicking
about at pleasure,—your gentlest smile might prove a blow. She seldom
spoke unless she were spoken to, and fell into long reveries, with her
eyes on the window or the coals. She wore a horrible sort of
ruff,—"illusion," I think Allis called it,—which, of all contrivances
that she could have chosen to encircle her sallow neck, was exactly the
most unbecoming. She was always knitting blue stockings,—I never
discovered for what or whom; and she wore her lifeless hair in the shape
of a small toy cartwheel, on the back of her head.
However, she brightened a little in the course of the first week, helped
Alison about the baby, kept herself out of my way, read her Bible and
the "Banner of Light" in about equal proportion, and became a mild,
inoffensive, and, on the whole, not unpleasant addition to the family.
She had been in the house about ten days, I think, when Alison, with a
disturbed face, confided to me that she had spent another wakeful night
with those "rats" behind the head-board; I had been down with a
sick-headache the day before, and she had not wakened me. I promised to
set a trap and buy a cat before evening, and was closing the door upon
the subject, being already rather late at the office, when the
expression of Gertrude Fellows's face detained me.
"If I were you, I—wouldn't—really buy a very expensive trap, Mr.
Hotchkiss. It will be a waste of money, I am afraid. I heard the noise
that disturbed Cousin Alison"; and she sighed.
I shut the door with a snap, and begged her to be so good as to explain
"It's of no use," she said, doggedly. "You know you won't believe me.
But that makes no difference. They come all the same."
"They?" asked Allis, smiling. "Do you mean some of your spirits?"
The cold little woman flushed. "These are not my spirits. I know
nothing about them. I did not mean to obtrude a subject so disagreeable
to you while I was in your family; but I have seldom been in a house in
which the Influences were so strong. I don't know what they mean, nor
anything about them, but just that they're here. They wake me up,
twitching my elbows, nearly every night."
"Wake you up how?"
"Twitching my elbows," she repeated, gravely.
I broke into a laugh, from which neither my politeness nor the woman's
heightened color could save me, bought the cat and ordered the rat-trap
That night, when Miss Fellows had "retired,"—she never "went to bed" in
simple English like other people,—I stole softly out in my stockings
and screwed a little brass button outside of her door. I had made a
gimlet-hole for it in the morning when our guest was out shopping; it
fitted into place without noise. Without noise I turned it, and went
back to my own room.
"You suspect her, then?" said Alison.
"One is always justified in suspecting a Spiritualistic medium."
"I don't know about that," Allis said, decidedly. "It may have been
mice that I heard last night, or the wind in a bottle, or any of the
other proper and natural causes that explain away the ghost stories in
the children's papers; but it was not Gertrude. Women know something
about one another, my dear; and I tell you it was not Gertrude."
"I don't assert that it was; but with the bolt on Gertrude's door, the
cat in the kitchen, and the rat-trap on the garret stairs, I am strongly
inclined to anticipate a peaceful night. I will watch for a while,
however, and you can go to sleep."
She went to sleep, and I watched. I lay till half past eleven with my
eyes staring at the dark, wide awake and undisturbed and triumphant.
At half past eleven I must confess that I heard a singular sound.
Something whistled at the keyhole. It could not have been the wind, by
the way, for there was no wind that night. Something else than the wind
whistled in at the keyhole, sighed through into the room as much like a
long-drawn breath as anything, and fell with a slight clink upon the
I lighted my candle and got up. I searched the floor of the room, and
opened the door and searched the entry. Nothing was visible or audible,
and I went back to bed. For about ten minutes I heard no further
disturbance, and was concluding myself to be in some undefined manner
the victim of my own imagination, when there suddenly fell upon the
headboard of my bed a blow so distinct and loud that I involuntarily
sprang at the sound of it. It wakened Alison, and I had the satisfaction
of hearing her sleepily inquire if I had caught that rat yet? By way of
reply I relighted the candle, and gave the bed a shove which sent it
rolling half across the room. I examined the wall; I examined the floor;
I examined the headboard; I made Alison get up, so that I could shake
the mattresses. Meantime the pounding had recommenced, in rapid,
irregular, blows, like the blows of a man's fist. The room adjoining
ours was the nursery. I went in with my light. It was empty and silent.
Bridget, with Tip and the baby, slept soundly in the large chamber
across the hall. While I was searching the room my wife called loudly to
me, and I ran back.
"It is on the mantel now," she said. "It struck the mantel just after
you left; then the ceiling, three times, very loud; then the mantel
again,—don't you hear?"
I heard distinctly; moreover, the mantel shook a little with the
concussion. I took out the fire-board and looked up the chimney; I took
out the register and looked down the furnace-pipe; I ransacked the
garret and the halls; finally, I examined Miss Fellows's door,—it was
locked as I had left it, upon the outside; and that locked door was the
only means of egress from the room, unless the occupant fancied that of
jumping from a two-story window upon a broad flight of stone steps.
I came thoughtfully back across the hall; an invisible trip-hammer
appeared to hit the floor beside me at every step; I attempted to step
aside from it, over it, away from it; but it followed me, pounding into
"Wind?" suggested Allis. "Plaster cracking? Fancies? Dreams? Blind
headaches?—I should like to know which you have decided upon?"
Quiet fell upon the house after that for an hour, and I was dropping
into my first nap, when there came a light tap upon the door. Before I
could reach it, it had grown into a thundering blow.
"Whatever it is I'll have it now!" I whispered, turned the latch without
noise, and flung the door wide into the hall. It was silent, dark, and
cold. A little glimmer of moonlight fell in and showed me the figures
upon the carpet, outlined in a frosty bar. No hand or hammer, human or
superhuman, was there.
Determined to investigate matters a little more thoroughly, I asked my
wife to stand upon the inside of the doorway while I kept watch upon the
outside. We took our position, and I closed the door between us.
Instantly a series of furious blows struck the door; the sound was such
as would be made by a stick of oaken wood. The solid door quivered under
"It's on your side!" said I.
"No, it's on yours!" said she.
"You're pounding yourself to fool me," cried I.
"You're pounding yourself to frighten me," sobbed she.
And we nearly had a quarrel. The sound continued with more or less
intermission till daybreak. Allis fell asleep, but I spent the time in
Early in the morning I removed the button from Miss Fellows's door. She
never knew anything about it.
I believe, however, that I had the fairness to exculpate her in my
secret heart from any trickish connection with the disturbances of that
"Just keep quiet about this little affair," I said to my wife; "we shall
come across an explanation in time, and may never have any more of it."
We kept quiet, and for five days so did "the spirits," as Miss Fellows
was pleased to pronounce the trip-hammers.
The fifth day I came home early, as it chanced, from the office. Miss
Fellows was writing letters in the parlor. Allis, upstairs, was sorting
and putting away the weekly wash. I came into the room and sat down by
the register to watch her. I always liked to watch her sitting there on
the floor with the little heaps of linen and cotton stuff piled like
blocks of snow about her, and her pink hands darting in and out of the
uncertain sleeves that were just ready to give way in the gathers,
trying the stockings' heels briskly, and testing the buttons with a
She laid aside some under-clothing presently from the rest. "It will
not be needed again this winter," she observed, "and had better go into
the cedar closet." The garments, by the way, were marked and numbered in
indelible ink. I heard her run over the figures in a busy, housekeeper's
undertone, before carrying them into the closet. She locked the closet
door, I think, for I remember the click of the key. If I remember
accurately, I stepped into the hall after that to light a cigar, and
Alison flitted to and fro with her clothes, dropping the baby's little
white stockings every step or two, and anathematizing them
daintily—within orthodox bounds, of course. In about five minutes she
called me; her voice was sharp and alarmed.
"Come quick! O Fred, look here! All those clothes that I locked into the
cedar closet are out here on the bed!"
"My dear wife," I blandly observed, as I sauntered into the room, "too
much of Gertrude Fellows hath made thee mad. Let me see the clothes!"
She pointed to the bed. Some white clothing lay upon it, folded in an
ugly way, to represent a corpse, with crossed hands.
"Is it meant for a joke, Alison? You did it yourself, I suppose!"
"Fred! I have not touched it with the tip of my little finger!"
"Gertrude is in the parlor writing."
So she was. I called her up. She looked surprised and troubled.
"It must have been Bridget," I proceeded, authoritatively, "or Tip."
"Bridget is out walking with Tip and the baby. Jane is in the kitchen
"At any rate these are not the clothes which you locked into the closet,
however they came here."
"The very same, Fred. See, I noticed the numbers 6 upon the stockings, 2
on the night-caps, and—"
"Give me the key," I interrupted.
She gave me the key. I went to the cedar closet and tried the door. It
was locked. I unlocked it, and opened the drawer in which my wife
assured me that the clothes had lain. Nothing was to be seen in it but
the linen towel which neatly covered the bottom. I lifted it and shook
it. The drawer was empty.
"Give me those clothes, if you please."
She brought them to me. I made in my diary a careful memorandum of their
naming and numbering; placed the articles myself in the drawer,—an
upper drawer, so that there could be no mistake in identifying it;
locked the drawer, put the key in my pocket; locked the door of the
closet, put the key in my pocket; locked the door of the room in which
the closet was, and put that key in my pocket.
We sat down then in the hall, all of us; Allis and Gertrude to fill the
mending-basket, I to smoke and consider. I saw Tip coming home with his
nurse presently, and started to go down and let him in, when a faint
scream from my wife arrested me. I ran past Miss Fellows, who was
sitting on the stairs, and into my room. Allis, going in to put away
Tip's little plaid aprons, had stopped, rather pale, upon the threshold.
Upon the bed lay some clothing, folded, as before, in rude, hideous
imitation of the dead.
I took each article in turn, and compared the name and number with the
names and numbers in my diary. They were identical throughout. I took
the clothes, took the three keys from my pocket, unlocked the
"cedar-room" door, unlocked the closet door, unlocked the upper drawer,
and looked in. The drawer was empty.
To say that from this time I failed to own—to myself, if not to other
people—that some mysterious influence, inexplicable by common or
scientific causes, was at work in my house, would be to accuse myself of
more obstinacy than even I am capable of. I propounded theory after
theory, and gave it up. I arrived at conclusion upon conclusion, and
threw them aside. Finally, I held my peace, ceased to talk of "rats,"
kept my mind in a state of passive vacancy, and narrowly and quietly
watched the progress of affairs.
From the date of that escapade with the underclothes confusion reigned
in our corner of Nemo's Avenue. That night neither my wife nor myself
closed an eye, the house so resounded and re-echoed with the blows of
unseen hammers, fists, logs, and knuckles.
Miss Fellows, too, was pale with her vigils, looked troubled, and
proposed going home. This I peremptorily vetoed, determined if the woman
had any connection, honest or otherwise, with the mystery, to ferret it
The following day, just after dinner, I was writing in the library, when
a child's cry of fright and pain startled me. It seemed to come from the
little yard behind the house, and I hurried thither to behold a singular
sight. There was one apple-tree in the yard,—an old, stunted, crooked
thing; and in that tree I found my son and heir, Tip, tied fast with a
small stout rope. "Tied" does not express it; he was gagged, manacled,
twisted, contorted, wound about, crossed and recrossed, held without a
chance of motion, scarcely of breath.
"You never tied yourself up here, child?" I asked, as I cut the knots.
The question certainly was unnecessary. No juggler could have bound
himself in such a fashion; scarcely, then, a four-years' child. To my
continued, clear, and gentle inquiries, the boy replied, persistently
and consistently, that nobody tied him there,—"not Cousin Gertrude, nor
Bridget, nor the baby, nor mamma, nor Jane, nor papa, nor the black
kitty"; he was "just tooken up all at once into the tree, and that was
all there was about it." He "s'posed it must have been God, or something
like that, did it."
Poor Tip had a hard time of it. Two days after that, while his mother
and I sat discussing the incident, and the child was at play upon the
floor, he suddenly threw himself at full length, writhing with pain, and
begging to "have them pulled out quick!"
"Have what pulled out?" exclaimed his terrified mother. She took the
child into her lap, and found that he was stuck over from head to foot
with large white pins.
"We haven't so many large pins in all the house," she said as soon as he
As she spoke the words thirty or forty small pins pierced the boy.
Where they came from no one could see. How they came there no one knew.
We looked, and there they were, and Tip was crying and writhing as
For the remainder of that winter we had scarcely a day of quiet. The
rumor that "the Hotchkisses had rented a haunted house" leaked out and
spread abroad. The frightened servants gave warning, and other
frightened servants took their place, to leave in turn. My wife was her
own cook and nursery-maid a quarter of the time. The disturbances varied
in character with every week, assuming, as time went on, an importunity
which, had we not quietly settled it in our own minds "not to be beaten
by a noise," would have driven us from the house.
Night after night the mysterious fingers rapped at the windows, the
doors, the floors, the walls. Day after day uncomfortable tricks were
sprung upon us by invisible agencies. We became used to the noises, so
that we slept through them easily; but many of the phenomena were so
strikingly unpleasant, and so singularly unsuited to the ordinary
conditions of human happiness and housekeeping, that we scarcely
became—as one of our excellent deacons had a cheerful habit of
exhorting us to become—"resigned."
Upon one occasion we had invited a small and select number of friends to
dine. It was to be rather a recherché affair for Nemo's Avenue, and my
wife had spared no painstaking to suit herself with her table. We had
had a comparatively quiet house the night before, so that our cook, who
had been with us three days, consented to remain till our guests had
been provided for. The soup was good, the pigeons better, the bread was
not sour, and Allis looked hopeful, and inclined to trust Providence
for the gravies and dessert.
It was just as I had begun to carve the beef that I observed my wife
suddenly pale, and a telegram from her eyes turned mine in the direction
of General Popgun, who sat at her right hand. My sensations "can better
be imagined than described" when I saw General Popgun's fork, untouched
by any human hand, dancing a jig on his plate. He grasped it and laid it
firmly down. As soon as he released his hold it leaped from the table.
"Really—aw—very singular phenomena," began the General; "very
singular! I was not prepared to credit the extraordinary accounts of
spiritual manifestations in this house, but—aw—Well, I must say—"
Instantly it was Pandemonium at that dinner-table. Dr. Jump's knife,
Mrs. M'Ready's plate, and Colonel Hope's tumbler sprang from their
places. The pigeons flew from the platter, the caster rattled and
rolled, the salt-cellars bounded to and fro, and the gravies, moved by
some invisible disturber, spattered all over Mrs. Elias P. Critique's
Mortified and angered beyond endurance, I for the first time addressed
the spirits,—wrenched for the moment into a profound belief that they
must be spirits indeed.
"Whatever you are, and wherever you are," I shouted, bringing my hand
down hard upon the table, "go out of this room and let us alone!"
The only reply was a furious mazourka of all the dishes on the table. A
gentleman present, who had, as he afterward told us, studied the subject
of spiritualism somewhat, very sceptically and with unsatisfactory
results, observed the performance keenly, and suggested that I should
try a gentler method of appeal. Whatever the agent was,—and what it was
he had not yet discovered,—he had noticed repeatedly that the quiet
modes of meeting it were most effective.
Rather amused, I spoke more softly, addressing the caster, and
intimating in my blandest manner that I and my guests would feel under
obligations if we could have the room to ourselves till after we had
dined. The disturbance gradually ceased, and we had no more of it that
A morning or two after Alison chanced to leave half a dozen teaspoons
upon the sideboard in the breakfast-room; they were of solid silver, and
quite thick. She was going to rub them herself, I believe, and went into
the china-closet, which opens from the room, for the silver-soap. The
breakfast-room was left vacant, and it was vacant when she returned to
it, and she insists, with a quiet conviction which it is hardly
reasonable to doubt, that no human being did or could have entered the
room without her knowledge. When she came back to the sideboard every
one of those spoons lay there bent double. She showed them to me when
I came home at noon. Had they been pewter toys they could not have been
more completely twisted out of shape than they were. I took them without
any remarks (I began to feel as if this mystery were assuming
uncomfortable proportions), put them away, just as I found them, into a
small cupboard in the wall of the breakfast-room, locked the cupboard
door with the only key in the house which fitted it, put the key in my
inner vest pocket, and meditatively ate my dinner.
About half an hour afterward a neighbor dropped in to groan over the
weather and see the baby, and Allis chanced to mention the incident of
"Really, Mrs. Hotchkiss!" said the lady, with a slight smile, and that
indefinite, quickly smothered change of eye which signifies, "I don't
believe a word of it!" "Are you sure that there is not a mistake
somewhere, or a little mental hallucination? The story is very
entertaining, but—I beg your pardon—I should be interested to see
"Your curiosity shall be gratified, madam," I said, a little testily;
and taking the key from my pocket, I led her to the cupboard and
unlocked the door. I found those spoons as straight, smooth, and fair as
ever spoons had been;—not a dent, not a wrinkle, not a bend nor untrue
line could we discover anywhere upon them.
"Oh!" said our visitor, significantly.
That lady, be it recorded, then and thenceforward spared no pains to
found and strengthen throughout Nemo's Avenue the theory that "the
Hotchkisses were getting up all that spiritual nonsense to force their
landlord into lower rents. And such respectable people too! It did seem
a pity, didn't it?"
One night I was alone in the library. It was late; about half-past
eleven, I think. The brightest gas jet was lighted, so that I could see
to every portion of the small room. The door was shut. There was no
furniture but the book-cases, my table, and chair; no sliding: doors or
concealed corners; no nook or cranny in which any human creature could
lurk unseen by me; and I say that I was alone.
I had been writing to a confidential friend a somewhat minute account
of the disturbances in my house, which were now of about six weeks'
duration. I had begged him to come and observe them for himself, and help
me out with a solution,—I myself was at a loss for a reasonable one.
There certainly seemed to be evidence of superhuman agency; but I was
hardly ready yet to commit myself thoroughly to that view of the matter,
In the middle of that sentence I laid down my pen. A consciousness,
sudden and distinct, came to me that I was not alone in that bright
little silent room. Yet to mortal eyes alone I was. I pushed away my
writing and looked about. The warm air was empty of outline; the
curtains were undisturbed; the little recess under the library table
held nothing but my own feet; there was no sound but the ordinary
rap-rapping on the floor, to which I had by this time become so
accustomed that often it passed unnoticed. I rose and examined the room
thoroughly, until quite satisfied that I was its only visible occupant;
then sat down again. The rappings had meantime become loud and
I had learned that very week from Miss Fellows the spiritual alphabet
with which she was in the habit of "communicating with her dead mother."
I had never asked her, nor had she proposed, to use it herself for my
benefit. I had meant to try all other means of investigation before
resorting to it. Now, however being alone, and being perplexed and
annoyed by my sense of having invisible company, I turned and spelled
out upon the table, so many raps to a letter till the question was
"What do you want of me?"
Instantly the answer came rapping back:—
"Stretch down your hand."
I put my fingers under the table, and I felt, as indubitably as I ever
felt a touch in my life, the grasp of a warm, human hand.
I added to the broken paragraph in the letter to my friend a brief
account of the occurrence, and reiterated my entreaties that he would
come at his earliest convenience to my house. He was an Episcopal
clergyman, by the way, and I considered that his testimony would uphold
my fast-sinking character for veracity among my townspeople. I began to
have an impression that this dilemma in which I found myself was a
pretty serious one for a man of peaceable disposition and honest
intentions to be in.
About this time I undertook to come to a little better understanding
with Miss Fellows. I took her away alone, and having tried my best not
to frighten the life out of her by my grave face, asked her seriously
and kindly to tell me whether she supposed herself to have any
connection with the phenomena in my house. To my surprise she answered
promptly that she thought she had. I repressed a whistle, and "asked for
"The presence of a medium renders easy what would otherwise be
impossible," she replied. "I offered to go away, Mr. Hotchkiss, in the
I assured her that I had no desire to have her go away at present, and
begged her to proceed.
"The Influences in the house are strong, as I have said before," she
continued, looking through me and beyond me with her vacant eyes.
"Something is wrong. They are never at rest. I hear them. I feel them. I
see them. They go up and down the stairs with me. I find them in my
room. I see them gliding about. I see them standing now, with their
hands almost upon your shoulders."
I confess to a kind of chill that crept down my backbone at these words,
and to having turned my head and stared hard at the book-cases behind
"But they—I mean something—rapped one night before you came," I
"Yes, and they might rap after I was gone. The simple noises are not
uncommon in places where there are no better means of communication. The
extreme methods of expression, such as you have witnessed this winter,
are, I doubt not, practicable only when the system of a medium is
accessible. They write all sorts of messages for you. You would ridicule
them. I do not repeat them. You and Cousin Alison do not see, hear, feel
as I do. We are differently made. There are lying spirits and true, good
spirits and bad. Sometimes the bad deceive and distress me, but
sometimes—sometimes my mother comes."
She lowered her voice reverently, and I was fain to hush the laugh upon
my lips. Whatever the thing might prove to be to me, it was daily
comfort to the nervous, unstrung, lonely woman, whom to suspect of
trickery I began to think was worse than stupidity.
From the time of my midnight experience in the library I allowed myself
to look a little further into the subject of "communications." Miss
Fellows wrote them out at my request whenever they "came" to her.
Writers on Spiritualism have described the process so frequently, that
it is unnecessary for me to dwell upon it at length. The influences took
her unawares in the usual manner. In the usual manner her arm—to all
appearance the passive instrument of some unseen, powerful
agency—jerked and glided over the paper, writing in curious, scrawly
characters, never in her own neat little old-fashioned hand, messages of
which, on coming out from the "trance" state, she would have-no memory;
of many of which at any time she could have had no comprehension. These
messages assumed every variety of character from the tragic to the
ridiculous, and a large portion of them had no point whatever.
One day Benjamin West desired to give me lessons in oil-painting. The
next, my brother Joseph, dead now for ten years, asked forgiveness for
his share in a little quarrel of ours which had embittered a portion of
his last days,—of which, by the way, I am confident that Miss Fellows
knew nothing. At one time I received a long discourse enlightening me on
the arrangement of the "spheres" in the disembodied state of existence.
At another, Alison's dead grandfather pathetically reminded her of a
certain Sunday afternoon at "meetin'" long ago, when the child Allis
hooked his wig off in the long prayer with a bent pin and a piece of
One day we were saddened by the confused wail of a lost spirit, who
represented his agonies as greater than soul could bear, and clamored
for relief. Moved to pity, I inquired:—
"What can we do for you?"
Unseen knuckles rapped back the touching answer:—
"Give me a piece of squash pie!"
I remarked to Miss Fellows that I supposed this to be a modern and
improved version of the ancient drop of water which was to cool the
tongue of Dives. She replied that it was the work of a mischievous
spirit who had nothing better to do; they would not infrequently take in
that way the reply from the lips of another. I am not sure whether we
are to have lips in the spiritual world, but I think that was her
Through all the nonsense and confusion of these daily messages, however,
one restless, indefinite purpose ran; a struggle for expression that we
could not grasp; a sense of something unperformed which was tormenting
One week we had been so much more than usually annoyed by the dancing of
tables, shaking of doors, and breaking of crockery, that I lost all
patience, and at length vehemently dared our unseen tormentors to show
"Who and what are you?" I cried, "destroying the peace of my family in
this unendurable fashion. If you are mortal man, I will meet you as
mortal man. Whatever you are, in the name of all fairness, let me see
"If you see me it will be death to you," tapped the Invisible.
"Then let it be death to me! Come on! When shall I have the pleasure of
"To-morrow night at six o'clock."
"To-morrow at six, then, be it."
And to-morrow at six it was. Allis had a headache, and was lying down
upstairs. Miss Fellows and I were with her, busy with cologne and tea,
and one thing and another. I had, in fact, forgotten all about my
superhuman appointment, when, just as the clock struck six, a low cry
from Miss Fellows arrested my attention.
"I see it!" she said.
"A tall man wrapped in a sheet."
"Your eyes are the only ones so favored, it happens," I said, with a
superior smile. But while I spoke Allis started from the pillows with a
look of fear.
"I see it, Fred!" she exclaimed, under her breath.
"Women's imagination!" for I saw nothing.
I saw nothing for a moment; then I must depose and say that I did see
a tall figure, covered from head to foot with a sheet, standing still in
the middle of the room. I sprang upon it with raised arm; my wife states
that I was within a foot of it when the sheet dropped. It dropped at my
feet,—nothing but a sheet. I picked it up and shook it; only a sheet.
"It is one of those old linen ones of grandmother's," said Allis,
examining it; "there are only six, marked in pink with the boar's-head in
the corner. It came from the blue chest up garret. They have not been
taken out for years."
I took the sheet back to the blue chest myself,—having first observed
the number, as I had done before with the underclothes; and locked it
in. I came back to my room and sat down by Allis. In about three minutes
we saw the figure standing still as before, in the middle of the room.
As before, I sprang at it, and as before the drapery dropped, and there
was nothing there. I picked up the sheet and turned to the numbered
corner. It was the same that I had locked into the blue chest.
Miss Fellows was inclined to fear that I had really endangered my life
by this ghostly rendezvous. I can testify, however, that it was by no
means "death to me," nor did I experience any ill effects from the
My friend, the clergyman, made me the desired visit in January. For a
week after his arrival, as if my tormentors were bent on convincing my
almost only friend that I was a fool or a juggler, we had no disturbance
at all beyond the ordinary rappings. These, the reverend gentleman
confessed were of a singular nature, but expressed a polite desire to
see some of the extraordinary manifestations of which I had written him.
But one day he had risen with some formality to usher a formal caller to
the-door, when, to his slight amazement and my secret delight, his
chair—an easy-chair of good proportions—deliberately jumped up and
hopped after him across the room. From this period the mystery
"manifested" itself to his heart's content. Not only did the
rocking-chairs, and the cane-seat chairs, and the round-backed chairs,
and Tip's little chairs, and the affghans chase him about, and the heavy
tête-à-tête in the corner evince symptoms of agitation at his
approach, but the piano trundled a solemn minuet at him; the heavy
walnut centre-table rose half-way to the ceiling under his eyes; the
marble-topped stand, on which he sat to keep it still, lifted itself and
him a foot from the ground; his coffee-cup spilled over when he tried to
drink, shaken by an unseen elbow; his dressing-cases disappeared from
his bureau and hid themselves, none knew how or when, in his closets and
under his bed; mysterious uncanny figures, dressed in his best clothes
and stuffed with straw, stood in his room when he came to it at night;
his candlesticks walked, untouched by hands, from the mantel into space;
keys and chains fell from the air at his feet; and raw turnips dropped
from the solid ceiling into his soup-plate.
"Well, Garth," said I one day, confidentially, "how are things? Begin to
have a 'realizing sense' of it, eh?"
"Let me think awhile," he answered.
I left him to his reflections, and devoted my attention for a day or two
to Gertrude Fellows. She seemed to have been of late receiving less
ridiculous, less indefinite, and more important messages from her
spiritual acquaintances. The burden of them was directed at me. They
were sometimes confused, but never contradictory, and the sum of them,
as I cast it up, was this:—
A former occupant of the house, one Mr. Timothy Jabbers, had been in
early life connected in the dry-goods business with my wife's father,
and had, unknown to any but himself, defrauded his partner of a
considerable sum for a young swindler,—some five hundred dollars, I
think. This fact, kept in the knowledge only of God and the guilty man,
had been his agony since his death. In the parlance of Spiritualism, he
could never "purify" his soul and rise to a higher "sphere" till he had
made restitution,—though to that part of the communications I paid
little attention. This money my wife, as her father's sole living heir,
was entitled to, and this money I was desired to claim for her from Mr.
Jabbers's estate, then in the hands of some wealthy nephews.
I made some inquiries which led to the discovery that there had been a
Mr. Timothy Jabbers once the occupant of our house, that he had at one
period been in business with my wife's father, that he was now many
years dead, and that his nephews in New York were his heirs. We never
attempted to bring any claim upon them, for three reasons: in the first
place, because we knew we shouldn't get the money; in the second,
because such a procedure would give so palpable an "object" in people's
eyes for the disturbances at the house that we should, in all
probability, lose the entire confidence of the entire non-spiritualistic
community; thirdly, because I thought it problematical whether any
constable of ordinary size and courage could be found who would
undertake to summon the witness to testify in the county court at
I mention the matter only because, on the theories of Spiritualism, it
appeared to give some point and occasion to the phenomena, and their
infesting that particular house.
Whether poor Mr. Timothy Jabbers felt relieved by having unburdened
himself of his confession, I cannot state; but after he found that I
paid some attention to his messages, he gradually ceased to express
himself through turnips and cold keys; the rappings grew less violent
and frequent, and finally ceased altogether. Shortly after that Miss
Fellows went home.
Garth and I talked matters over the day after she left. He had brought
his "thinking" to a close, whittled his opinions to a point, and was
quite ready to stick them into their places for my benefit, and leave
them there, as George Garth left all his opinions, immovable as the
"How much had she to do with it now,—the Fellows?"
"Precisely what she said she had, no more. She was a medium, but not a
"No trickery about the affair, then?"
"No trickery could have sent that turnip into my soup-plate, or that
candlestick walking into the air. There is a great deal of trickery
mixed with such phenomena. The next case you come across may be a
regular cheat; but you will find it out,—you'll find it out. You've had
three months to find this out, and you couldn't. Whatever may be the
explanation of the mystery, the man who can witness what you and I have
witnessed, and pronounce it the trick of that incapable, washed-out
woman, is either a liar or a fool.
"You understand yourself and your wife, and you've tested your servants
faithfully; so we're somewhat narrowed in our conclusions."
"Well, then, what's the matter?"
I was, I confess, a little startled by the vehemence with which my
friend brought his clerical fist down upon the table, and exclaimed:—
"Dear me, Garth, don't swear; you in search of a pulpit just at this
"I tell you I never spoke more solemnly. I cannot, in the face of facts,
ascribe all these phenomena to human agency. Something that comes we
know not whence, and goes we know not whither, is at work there in the
dark. I am driven to grant to it an extra-human power. Yet when that
flabby Miss Fellows, in the trance state, undertakes to bring me
messages from my dead wife, and when she attempts to recall the most
tender memories of our life together, I cannot,"—he paused and turned
his face a little away,—"it would be pleasant to think I had a word
from Mary, but I cannot think she is there. I don't believe good spirits
concern themselves with this thing. It has in its fair developments too
much nonsense and too much positive sin; read a few numbers of the
'Banner,' or attend a convention or two, if you want to be convinced of
that. If they 're not good spirits they're bad ones, that's all. I've
dipped into the subject in various ways since I have been here;
consulted the mediums, talked with the prophets; I'm convinced that
there is no dependence to be placed on the thing. You never learn
anything from it that it is worth while to learn; above all, you never
can trust its prophecies. It is evil,—evil at the root; and except
by physicians and scientific men it had better be let alone. They may
yet throw light on it; you and I cannot. I propose for myself to drop it
henceforth. In fact, it looks too much toward putting one's self on
terms of intimacy with the Prince of the Powers of the Air to please
"You're rather positive, considering the difficulty of the subject," I
The truth is, and it may be about time to own to it, that the three
months' siege against the mystery, which I had held so pertinaciously
that winter, had driven me to broad terms of capitulation. I assented to
most of my friend's conclusions, but where he stopped I began a race for
further light. I understood then, for the first time, the peculiar charm
which I had often seen work so fatally with dabblers in Spiritualism.
The fascination of the thing was upon me. I ransacked the papers for
advertisements of mediums. I went from city to city at their mysterious
calls. I held séances in my parlor, and frightened my wife with
messages—some of them ghastly enough—from her dead relatives, I ran
the usual gauntlet of strange seers in strange places, who told me my
name, the names of all my friends, dead or alive, my secret aspirations
and peculiar characteristics, my past history and future prospects.
For a long time they never made a failure. Absolute strangers told me
facts about myself which not even my own wife knew: whether they spoke
with the tongues of devils, or whether, by some unknown laws of
magnetism, they simply read my thoughts, I am not even now prepared to
say. I think if they had made a miss I should have been spared some
suffering. Their communications had sometimes a ridiculous aimlessness,
and occasionally a subtle deviltry coated about with religion, like a
pill with sugar, but often a significant and fearful accuracy.
Once, I remember, they foretold an indefinite calamity to be brought
upon me before sunset on the following Saturday. Before sunset on that
Saturday I lost a thousand dollars in mining stock which had stood in
all Eastern eyes as solid as its own gold. At another time I was warned
by a medium in Philadelphia that my wife, then visiting in Boston, was
taken suddenly ill. I had left her in perfect health; but feeling
nevertheless uneasy, I took the night train and went directly to her. I
found her in the agonies of a severe attack of pleurisy, just preparing
to send a telegram to me.
"Their prophecies are unreliable, notwithstanding coincidences," wrote
George Garth. "Let them alone, Fred, I beg of you. You will regret it if
"Once let me be fairly taken in and cheated to my face," I made reply,
"and I may compress my views to your platform. Until then I must gang my
I now come to the remarkable portion of my story,—at least it seems
to me the remarkable portion under my present conditions of vision.
In August of the summer following Miss Fellows's visit, and the
manifestations in my house at Atkinsville, I was startled one pleasant
morning, while sitting in the office of a medium in Washington Street in
Boston, by a singularly unpleasant communication.
"The second day of next May," wrote the medium,—she wrote with the
forefinger of one hand upon the palm of the other,—"the second of May,
at one o'clock in the afternoon, you will be summoned into a spiritual
state of existence."
"I suppose, in good English, that means I'm going to die," I replied,
carelessly. "Would you be so good as to write it with a pen and ink,
that there may be no mistake?"
She wrote it distinctly: "The second of May, at one o'clock in the
I pocketed the slip of paper for further use, and sat reflecting.
"How do you know it?"
"I don't know it. I am told."
"Who tells you?"
"Jerusha Babcock and George Washington."
Jerusha Babcock was the name of my maternal grandmother. What could the
woman know of my maternal grandmother? It did not occur to me, I
believe, to wonder what occasion George Washington could find to concern
himself about my dying or my living. There stood the uncanny Jerusha as
pledge that my informant knew what she was talking about. I left the
office with an uneasy sinking at the heart. There was a coffin-store
near by, and I remember the peculiar interest with which I studied the
quilting of the satin lining, and the peculiar crawling sensation which
crept to my fingers' ends.
Determined not to be unnecessarily alarmed, I spent the next three weeks
in testing the communication. I visited one more medium in Boston, two
in New York, one in New Haven, one in Philadelphia, and one in a little
out-of-the-way Connecticut village, where I spent a night, and did not
know a soul. None of these people, I am confident, had ever seen my face
or heard, my name before.
It was a circumstance calculated at least to arrest attention, that
these seven people, each unknown to the others, and without concert with
the others, repeated the ugly message which had sought me out through
the happy summer morning in Washington Street. There was no hesitation,
no doubt, no contradiction. I could not trip them or cross-question them
out of it. Unerring, assured, and consistent, the fiat went forth:—
"On the second of May, at one o'clock in the afternoon, you will pass
out of the body."
I would not have believed them if I could have helped myself, I sighed
for the calm days when I had laughed at medium and prophet, and sneered
at ghost and rapping. I took lodgings in Philadelphia, locked my doors,
and paced my rooms all day and half the night, tortured by my thoughts,
and consulting books of medicine to discover what evidence I could by
any possibility give of unsuspected disease. I was at that time
absolutely well and strong; absolutely well and strong I was forced to
confess myself, after having waded through Latin adjectives and
anatomical illustrations enough to make a ghost of Hercules. I devoted
two days to researches in genealogical pathology, and was rewarded for
my pains by discovering myself to be the possessor of one great-aunt who
had died of heart disease at the advanced age of two months.
Heart disease, then, I settled upon. The alternative was accident.
"Which will it be?" I asked in vain. Upon this point my friends the
mediums held a delicate reserve. "The Influences were confusing, and
they were not prepared to state with exactness."
"Why don't you come home?" my wife wrote in distress and perplexity.
"You promised to come ten days ago, and they need you at the office, and
I need you more than anybody."
"I need you more than anybody!" When the little clinging needs of three
weeks grew into the great want of a lifetime,—O, how could I tell her
what was coming?
I did not tell her. When I had hurried home, when she came bounding
through the hall to meet me, when she held up her face, half laughing,
half crying, and flushing and paling, to mine,—the poor little face
that by and by would never watch and glow at my coming,—I could not
When the children were in bed and we were alone after tea, she climbed
gravely up into my lap from the little cricket on which she had been
sitting, and put her hands upon my shoulders.
"You're sober, Fred, and pale. Something ails you, you know, and you are
going to tell me all about it."
Her pretty, mischievous face swam suddenly before my eyes. I kissed it,
put her gently down as I would a child, and went away alone till I felt
more like myself.
The winter set in gloomily enough. It may have been the snow-storms, of
which we had an average of one every other day, or it may have been the
storm in my own heart which I was weathering alone.
Whether to believe those people, or whether to laugh at their
predictions; whether to tell my wife, or whether to continue
silent,—these questions tormented me through many wakeful nights and
dreary days. My fears were in nowise allayed by a letter which' I
received one day in January from Gertrude Fellows.
"Why don't you read it aloud? What's the news?" asked Alison. But at one
glance over the opening page I folded the sheet, and did not read it
till I could lock myself into the library alone. The letter ran:—
"I have been much disturbed lately on your behalf. My mother and your
brother Joseph appear to me nearly every day, and charge me with some
message to you which I cannot distinctly grasp. It seems to be clear,
however, as far as this: that some calamity is to befall you in the
spring,—in May, I should say. It seems to me to be of the nature of
death. I do not learn that you can avoid it, but that they desire you to
be prepared for it."
After receiving this last warning, certain uncomfortable words filed
through my brain for days together:—
"Set thine house in order, for thou shalt surely die."
"Never knew you read your Bible so much in all your life," said Alison,
with a pretty pout. "You'll grow so good that I can't begin to keep up
with you. When I try to read my polyglot, the baby comes and bites the
corners, and squeals till I put it away and take him up."
As the winter wore away I arrived at this conclusion: If I were in fact
destined to death in the spring, my wife could not help herself or me by
the knowledge of it. If events proved that I was deluded in the dread,
and I had shared it with her, she would have had all her pain and
anxiety to no purpose. In either case I would insure her happiness for
these few months; they might be her last happy months. At any rate
happiness was a good thing, and she could not have too much of it. To
say that I myself felt no uneasiness as to the event would be
affectation. The old sword of Damocles hung over me. The hair might
hold, but it was a hair.
As the winter passed,—it seemed to me as if winter had never passed so
rapidly before,—I found it natural to watch my health with the most
careful scrutiny; to avoid improper food and undue excitement; to
refrain from long and perilous journeys; to consider whether each new
cook who entered the family might have occasion to poison me. It was an
anomaly which I did not observe at the time, that while in my heart of
hearts I expected to breathe my last upon the second of May, I yet
cherished a distinct plan of fighting, cheating, persuading, or
I closed a large speculation on which I had been inclined, in the
summer, to "fly"; Alison could never manage petroleum ventures. I wound
up my business in a safe and systematic manner. "Hotchkiss must mean to
retire," people said. I revised my will, and held one long and necessary
conversation with my wife about her future, should "anything happen" to
me. She listened and planned without tears or exclamations; but after we
had finished the talk, she crept up to me with a quiet, puzzled sadness
that I could not bear.
"You are growing so blue lately, Fred! Why, what can 'happen' to you? I
don't believe God can mean to leave me here after you are gone; I don't
believe he can mean to!"
All through the sweet spring days we were much together. I went late to
the office. I came home early. I spent the beautiful twilights at home.
I followed her about the house. I made her read to me, sing to me, sit
by me, touch me with her little, soft hand. I watched her face till the
sight choked me. How soon before she would know? How soon?
"I feel as if we'd just been married over again," she said one day,
pinching my cheek with a low laugh. "You are so good! I'd no idea you
cared so much about me. By and by, when you get over this lazy fit and
go about as you used to, I shall feel so deserted,—you've no idea! I
believe I will order a little widow's cap, and put it on, and wear it
about,—now, what do you mean by getting up and stalking off to look out
of the window? Fine prospect you must have, with the curtain down!"
It is, to say the least, an uncomfortable state of affairs when you find
yourself drawing within a fortnight of the day on which seven people
have assured you that, you are going to shuffle off this mortal coil. It
is not agreeable to have no more idea than the dead (probably not as
much) of the manner in which your demise is to be effected. It is not in
all respects a cheerful mode of existence to dress yourself in the
morning with the reflection that you are never to half wear out your
new mottled coat, and that this striped neck-tie will be laid away by
and by in a little box, and cried over by your wife; to hear your
immediate acquaintances all wondering why you don't get yourself some
new boots; to know that your partner has been heard to say that you are
growing dull at trade; to find the children complaining that you have
engaged no rooms yet at the beach; to look into their upturned eyes and
wonder how long it is going to take for them to forget you; to go out
after breakfast and wonder how many more times you will shut that front
door; to come home in the perfumed dusk and see the faces pressed
against the window to watch for you, and feel warm arms about your neck,
and wonder how soon they will shrink from the chill of you; to feel the
glow of the budding world, and think how blossom and fruit will crimson
and drop without you, and wonder how the blossom and fruit of life can
slip from you in the time of violet smells and orioles.
April, spattered with showers and dripped upon a little with ineffectual
suns, slid restlessly away from me, and I locked my office door one
night, reflecting that it was the night of the first of May, and that
to-morrow was the second.
I spent the evening alone with my wife. I have spent more agreeable
evenings. She came and nestled at my feet, and the firelight painted her
cheeks and hair, and her eyes followed me, and her hand was in mine; but
I have spent more agreeable evenings.
The morning of the second broke without a cloud. Blue jays flashed past
my window; a bed of royal pansies opened to the sun, and the smell of
the fresh, moist earth came up where Tip was digging in his little
"Not feeling exactly like work to-day," as I told my wife, I did not go
to the office. I asked her to come into the library and sit with me. I
remember that she had a pudding to bake, and refused at first; then
yielded, laughing, and said that I must go without my dessert. I thought
it highly probable that I should go without my dessert.
I remember precisely how pretty she was that morning. She wore a bright
dress,—blue, I think,—and a white crocus in her hair; she had a dainty
white apron tied on, "to cook in," she said, and her pink nails were
powdered with flour. Her eyes laughed and twinkled at me. I remember
thinking how young she looked, and how unready for suffering. I remember
that she brought the baby in after a while, and that Tip came all muddy
from the garden, dragging his tiny hoe over the carpet; that the window
was open, and that, while we all sat there together, a little brown bird
brought some twine and built a nest on an apple-bough just in sight.
I find it difficult to explain the anxiety which I felt, as the, morning
wore on, that dinner should be punctually upon the table at half past
twelve. But I now understand perfectly, as I did not once, the old
philosophy: "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
It was ironing-day, and our dinners were apt to be late upon
ironing-days. I concluded that, if the soup were punctual, and not too
hot, I could leave myself ten or perhaps fifteen unoccupied minutes
before one o'clock. It strikes me as curious now, the gravity with which
this thought underran the fever and pain and dread of the morning.
I fell to reading my hymn-book about twelve o'clock, and when Alison
called me to dinner I did not remember to consult my watch.
The soup was good, though hot. A grim Epicurean stolidity crept over me
as I sat down before it. A man had better make the most of his last
chance at mock-turtle. Fifteen minutes were enough to die in.
I am confident that I ate more rapidly than is consistent with
consummate elegance. I remember that Tip imitated me, and that Allis
opened her eyes at me. I recall distinctly the fact that I had passed my
plate a second time.
I had passed my plate a second time, I say, and had just raised the
spoon to my lips, when it fell from my palsied hand; for the little
bronze clock upon the mantel struck one.
I sat with drawn breath and glared at it; at the relentless silver
hands; at the fierce, and, as it seemed to me, living face of the Time
on its top, who stooped and swung his scythe at me.
"I would like a very big white potato," said Tip, breaking the solemn
You may or may not believe me, but it is a fact that that is all which
* * * * *
I slowly turned my head. I resumed my spoon.
"The kitchen clock is nearly half an hour too slow," observed Alison. "I
told Jane that you would have it fixed this week."
I finished my soup in silence.
It may interest the reader to learn that up to the date of this article
"I still live."