But would she really do that? And, then,—God!—she was a woman! In spite of all that she had done, she was a woman! A strong man, his strength reinforced by a revolver, employs deception to bring a woman into a room, locks the door, insults, humiliates, and terrifies her, brandishes a revolver, and then kills her like a rat in its hole. Can a brave man, of mature judgment and in possession of his faculties, do such a thing? Why, it would be not only murder, but cowardice as well! No; it could not be done. She was still a woman, with all the weakness, all the frailty which her sex imposed. It could not be done.
After all, it would be far sweeter revenge to let her live, bearing through life a brand of infamy. That would be much better. She would lose her high position and the respect of her friends; the newspapers would publish her shame to the world, pointing her out by name as the depraved woman who had betrayed her husband and driven him to murder and suicide; they would have her portrait in their columns; her name and crime would be hawked upon the street by loud-crying news-boys; sermons denouncing her would be preached in all the churches; her shame would be discussed everywhere—in homes, shops, hotels, and bar-rooms in many cities.
Not only that, but she would be stripped of all the property which she had enjoyed so much. She would be turned adrift upon the streets, for no one would help her, none have a kind word for her, none give her even the respect which money might command. Being thus turned out upon the world all friendless and alone, and being naturally depraved, she would seek the protection of fast and shady men. Thus started, and soon taking to drink, as such women always do, down she would plunge into a reckless and shameless career, sinking lower and lower, losing her beauty; becoming coarse, loud, and vulgar; then, arriving at that stage when her beauty no longer could be a source of revenue, drifting into vile dens, consorting with the lowest and most brutal blackguards, finding herself dragged often before police-magistrates, first for drunkenness and then for theft, serving short terms in prison with others as low; finally, one night brought shrieking with delirium tremens to the police-station, bundled out to the hospital, strapped firmly to an iron bed, and then dying with foul oaths on her lips—such a life would be infinitely worse than death; such revenge immeasurably vaster than that of the pistol. Then it was finally decided that she must live and suffer.
As to the friend—as to Stockton, the betrayer, the sneak, the coward—he should die like a dog. That decision could not be reconsidered. He should not be granted the privilege of a duel, for not only was he wholly undeserving of such consideration, but by such means his life might be spared. Undoubtedly she loved him; perhaps he loved her. He living and the husband killed in a duel, their satisfaction would be doubled—having wrecked and humiliated him and driven him to despair, they then killed him. After that they could enjoy each other's society openly, unmolested, and without fear of detection or punishment. Besides, they might marry and both be happy. This was unthinkable. He must be killed, he must die like a dog, and he must go to his death with a foul stain on his name.
These things being settled, the wretched man reread the will. As the woman was to live, she must be mentioned in the document. He tore up the will and wrote another, in which he bequeathed her one dollar, setting forth her shame as the reason for so small a bequest. Then he wrote out a separate statement of the whole affair, sealed it, addressed it to the coroner, and placed it in his pocket. It would be found there after awhile.
Well, why this trembling in every member, this unaccountable nausea, this unconquerable feeling of horror and repugnance as the draft of the picture was contemplated? Did instinct arise and dumbly plead for mercy? What mercy had been shown that mercy could be expected? None whatever. There was not only revenge to be satisfied, but justice also. Still, it was horrible! Admit that she deserved it all, deserved even more, she was a woman! No act of hers could deprive her of her natural claims upon the stronger sex. As a woman she had inalienable rights which even she could not forfeit, which men may not withhold. And then, where could be the benefit of adding physical suffering to mental? One surely would weaken the force of the other. The lower she should fall and the deeper her degradation, the smaller would become the efficiency of her mental agony; and yet mental suffering was the kind which it was desired should fall upon her.
It would be well, therefore, to leave her some money—a considerable amount of money—in order that, holding herself above the want which, in her case, would lead to degradation and a blunting of the sensibilities, she might suffer all the more keenly; in order that the memory of her shame might be forever poignant, forever a cause for the sharpest regrets. This would be better in other ways: her shame published, she could never associate with those fine characters who had been her friends; her lover dead and his memory disgraced, he could not be present to console her; for society she would have only those whom her fortune would attract, and they were not of a kind to satisfy such a woman as she; she would always be within sight of the old life and its pleasures, but just beyond the pale—sufficiently near to see and long for, but too far to reach, and forever kept back by the cold glance of contempt and disdain from the high circle in which she had been reared.
Therefore, it were better to leave her the bulk of his fortune. So he tore up the second will and wrote a third, in which, while naming her as his principal legatee, he incorporated the story of her shame. He felt better now than at any other time since his discovery. He walked about the room, looked out the window, then fell into his chair again.
How strangely alike in many respects are all animals, including man! he thought. There are qualities and passions common to them all,—hate, fear, anger, revenge, love, fondness for offspring. In what is man superior to the others? Manifestly in self-control, a sense of justice, the attribute of mercy, the quality of charity, the power to forgive, the force of benevolence, the operation of gratitude; an appreciation of abstractions; an ability to compare, contrast, and adjust; consciousness of an inherent tendency to higher and better achievements. To the extent that he lacks these does he approach more closely to the lower orders. To the degree that the passions common to all have mastery over him does he lack the finer qualities which distinguish his species. The desire to kill when hurt, angered, or threatened is the stronger the lower we descend in the scale of the orders—the lower we descend even among the members of the same order. The least developed men are the most brutal. Revenge is the malice of anger.
It is strange that his thoughts should have taken such a turn!
And then, the fundamental instinct which guards the perpetuation of the species is common to all, and its manifestations are controlled by a universal law, whose simple variations do not impair its integrity. Love and mating—these are the broad lines upon which the perpetuation of the species starts. What possible abstractions are there in them? Is not their character concrete and visible? Whatever fine sentiments are evolved, we know their source and comprehend their function. There is no mystery here.
What is this jealousy, which all animals may have? It is an instinctive resentment, by one of a mated pair, of something which interferes with a pleasant established system, the basis of which is perpetuation of the species. Higher mankind has the ability to dissect it, analyze it, understand it, and guard against its harmful operation; herein lie distinguishing qualities of superiority. If, when his jealousy is roused, he is unable to act any differently from the lion, the horse, or the dog, then, in that regard, he is not superior to them. Man, being an eater of meat, is a savage animal, like the dog, the tiger, the panther, the lion. His passions are strong, as are theirs; but he has qualities which enable him to hold them in check. If an animal have a strong attachment for his mate, he will fight if she be taken from him; this is the operation of jealousy. If he be a savage animal, he will kill if he can or dare. Few males among the animals will kill their deserting mates; that is left for man, the noblest of the animals. The others are content to kill the seducer. What thankfulness there is for escape from an act, so recently contemplated, which would have placed its perpetrator below the level of the most savage of the brutes! In what, of all that was now proposed to be done, was there any quality to distinguish the acts from those of the most savage brute, except a more elaborate detail, the work of superior malice and ferocity? Is it a wonder that Randolph shuddered when he thought of it?
The broadest characteristic of all animals, including man, is selfishness. In man it reaches its highest form and becomes vanity, pride, and a ridiculous sense of self-importance. But man alone is conscious of its existence, character, and purpose; he alone encourages its rational development and suppresses the most evil of its abuses. The animal which would fight or kill from jealousy is moved by a selfish motive only. It proceeds to satisfy its anger or gratify its revenge without any regard to the ethics, without any thought of its obligations to nature, without the slightest wish to inquire whether there may not be in the cause of its jealousy a natural purpose which is proceeding upon the very lines that led to its mating. A man, however, can think of these things, weigh them carefully, understand them approximately, and then advance in the light of wisdom. If not, he is no better, in this regard, than the animal which cannot so reason and understand.
This manner of thinking was bringing the unhappy man closer to himself.
Then, having faced the proposition that he had been considering his own case all along, he found the situation to be somewhat like this: He had a certain understanding which should operate to remove him from influences which with men of inferior conceptions would be more powerful; not being a brute, he should rise above impulses which a brute is constrained by its nature to obey. So much was clear. Then what should he do? He pondered this long and seriously.
Was it possible to wipe out the past with exposure, humiliation, shame, and blood? He had been proud of her; he had loved her; he had been very, very happy with her. She had been his inspiration; a part of his hopes, ambition, life. True, she had undone all this, but the memory of it remained. Until this recent act of shame, she had been kind, unselfish, gentle, and faithful. Who knows why she fell? Who could sound the depths of this strange mystery; who measure the capacity of her resistance; who judge her frailty with a righteous mind; who say that at that very moment she was not suffering unspeakable things? And then, was there any one so noble of character, with integrity so unfailing and so far beyond temptation, that he might say he was better than she? Her weakness—should we presume to call it depravity when we cannot know, and might we with intelligent knowledge of our own conduct lay the whole responsibility upon her, and none upon that which made her? If we are human, let us seek wherein we may convince ourselves that we are not brutes. Compassion is an attribute of a noble character. The test of manhood is the exercise of manly qualities.
What good would come from this revenge of humiliation and exposure? It would not mend the wrong; it would not save life; it would be only proof of the vanity, the sense of self-importance, of the injured one. Would it be possible to spare her? Yes. That finally was settled. She should live; she should have the property; she should be left to enjoy life as best she could without the shadow of a stain upon her name. That were the nobler part, the test of manhood. And then, the past could not be forgotten!
Randolph felt so much better after arriving at this decision that he marvelled at himself. He walked about the room feeling strong and elastic. He tore up the will because it charged her crime upon her; tore up the letter to the coroner; collected all the scraps of paper and carefully burned them. Then he drew a new will, free from stain, leaving all his property to his wife. He did not only that, but he wrote her a letter—formal, of course—merely saying that he had found his life a mistake; this he sealed, addressed, and placed in his pocket.
Stockton—the false friend, the betrayer and destroyer—he should die, he should die like a dog. But not with a stain on his name—that were impossible, because it would reflect upon her.
Here was a new situation. The two men would be found dead, likely in the same room—the friend and the husband. What would people think? A duel? For what reason? Murder and suicide? Who had handled the weapon, and for what possible cause? The road which suspicion would travel was too short and wide. The fair name of the wife was to be guarded—that had been decided upon, and now it was the first consideration.
There were other matters to be thought of. Suppose that Stockton had been the husband and Randolph the friend. God! let us think. Have brutes, frenzied with rage and jealousy, the power to hold nature's mirror before the heart, to feel compassion, to exercise charity, to weigh with a steady hand the weaknesses and frailties of their kind, to feel humility, to bow the head before the inscrutable ways of nature? Have they not? No? Well, then, have men? If they have not, they are no better in that regard than brutes. Besides, would it punish Stockton to kill him? There can be no punishment in death; it can be only in dying; but even dying is not unpleasant, and death is the absence of suffering. There was no way under heaven to give him adequate punishment.
Nor was that all. She loved him—that must be so. What would be the benefit of removing him from her life? It would be merely revenge—revenge upon both of them; and where lies the nobility of such revenge? If they both should live, both go unexposed, they might be happy together.
After all, whom would that disturb, with whose pleasure interfere? Surely no sound of their happiness could penetrate the grave; violence would be done to none of nature's laws. Why should they not be happy? If they could, why should they not? Was there any reason under the sun that wisdom, charity, compassion, and a high manhood could give why they should not be happy?
But suppose that she should suspect the cause of her husband's suicide; this would likely poison her life, for the consciousness of guilt would give substance to suspicion. The result would be an abhorrence of self, a detestation of the participant in her sin, a belief that the blood of her husband was upon her head, and a long train of evils which would seriously impair, if not wholly destroy, the desired serenity of her life. Was there any way to prevent the birth of such a suspicion?
Yes; there was a way. As soon as Randolph had worked it out he felt as if an enormous load had been removed from him. His eyes shone brightly, his cheeks were flushed, and a look of pride and triumph lighted up his face.
He returned to his chair, removed the revolver from his pocket, and laid it on the table; wrote his wife an affectionate letter, in which he told her that he had just become aware of an incurable ailment which he had not the courage to face through months or years of suffering, and begged her to look to Stockton for friendship and advice; wrote to Stockton, charging him with her protection; burned the last will that he had made and drew a new one, in which he left them the property jointly, on condition that they marry within two years. Then, with a perfectly clear head, he laid down his pen and sighed, but his face was bright and tranquil. He picked up the revolver, cocked it, placed the muzzle against his temple, and without the tremor of a nerve he pressed the trigger.
A Story Told by the Sea
One night, when the storm had come up from the south, apparently for the sole purpose of renewing war with its old enemy, the Peninsula of Monterey, I left the ancient town, crossed the neck of the peninsula, and descended on the other side of the Santa Lucia slope to see the mighty battle on Carmel Bay. The tearing wind, which, charged with needles of rain, assailed me sharply, did nobler work with the ocean and the cypresses, sending the one upon a riotous course and rending the other with groans. I arrived upon a cliff just beyond a pebbly beach, and with bared head and my waistcoat open, stood facing the ocean and the storm. It was not a cold night, though a winter storm was at large; but it was a night of blind agonies and struggles, in which a mad wind lashed the sea and a maddened sea assailed the shore, while a flying rain and a drenching spray dimmed the sombre colors of the scene. It was a night for the sea to talk in its travail and yield up some of its mysteries.
I left the cliff and went a little distance to the neighborhood of a Chinese fishing-station, where there was a sand-beach; and here, after throwing off my coat and waistcoat, I went down to have a closer touch with my treacherous friend. The surf sprang at me, and the waves, retreating gently, beckoned me to further ventures, which I made with a knowledge of my ground, but with a love of this sweet danger also. A strong breaker lifted me from my footing, but I outwitted it and pursued it in retreat; there came another afterwards, and it was armed, for, towering above me, it came down upon me with a bludgeon, which fell heavily upon me. I seized it, but there my command upon my powers ceased; and the wave, returning, bore me out. A blindness, a vague sense of suffocation, an uncertain effort of instinct to regain my hold upon the ground, a flight through the air, a soft fall upon the sand—it was thus that I was saved; and I still held in my hand the weapon with which my old friend had dealt me the blow.
It was a bottle. Afterwards, in my room at Monterey, I broke it and found within it a writing of uncommon interest. After weeks of study and deciphering (for age and imperfect execution made the task serious and the result uncertain), I put together such fragments of it as had the semblance of coherence; and I found that the sea in its travail had yielded up one of its strangest mysteries. No hope of a profitable answer to this earnest cry for help prompts its publication; it is brought forth rather to show a novel and fearful form of human suffering, and also to give knowledge possibly to some who, if they be yet alive, would rather know the worst than nothing. The following is what my labor has accomplished:
I am Amasa D. Keating, an unhappy wretch, who, with many others, am suffering an extraordinary kind of torture; and so great is the mental disturbance which I suffer, that I fear I shall not be able to make an intelligent report. I am but just from a scene of inconceivable terrors, and, although I am a man of some education and usually equal to the task of intelligent expression, I am now in a condition of violent mental disturbance, and of great physical suffering as well, which I fear will prove a hindrance to the understanding of him who may find this report. At the outset, I most earnestly beg such one to use the swiftest diligence in publishing the matter of this writing, to the end that haply an expedition for our relief may be outfitted without delay; for, if the present state of affairs continue much longer with those whom I have left behind, any measure taken for their relief will be useless. As for myself and my companion, we expect nothing but death.
I will hasten to the material part of my narrative, with the relation only of so much of the beginning as may serve for our identification.
On the 14th of October, 1852, we sailed from Boston in the brig "Hopewell," Captain Campbell, bound for the islands of the South Pacific Ocean. We carried a cargo of general merchandise, with the purpose of trading with the natives; but we desired also to find some suitable island which we might take possession of in the name of the United States and settle upon for our permanent home. With this end in view, we had formed a company and bought the brig, so that it might remain our property and be used as a means of communication between us and the civilized world. These facts and many others are so familiar to our friends in Boston, that I deem it wholly unnecessary to set them forth in fuller detail. The names of all our passengers and crew stand upon record in Boston, and are not needed to be written here for ampler identification.
No ill-fortune assailed us until we arrived in the neighborhood of the Falkland Islands. Cape Horn wore its ugliest aspect (for the brig was a slow sailer, and the Antarctic summer was well gone before we had encountered bad weather),—an unusual thing, Captain Campbell assured us; from that time forward we had a series of misfortunes, which ended finally, after two or three months, in a fearful gale, which not only cost some of the crew their lives, but dismasted our vessel. The storm continued, and, the brig being wholly at the mercy of the wind and the sea, we saw that she must founder. We therefore took to the boats with what provisions and other necessary things we could stow away. With no land in sight, and in the midst of a boiling sea, which appeared every moment to be on the eve of swamping us, we bent to our oars and headed for the northwest. It is hardly necessary to say that we had lost our reckoning; but, after a manner, we made out that we were nearly in longitude 136.30 west, and about upon the Tropic of Capricorn. This would have made our situation about a hundred and seventy miles from a number of small islands lying to the eastward of the one hundred and fortieth meridian. The prospect was discouraging, as there was hardly a sound person in the boats to pull an oar, so badly had the weather used us; and besides that, the ship's instruments had been lost and our provisions were badly damaged.
Nevertheless, we made some headway. The poor abandoned brig, seemingly conscious of our desertion, behaved in a very singular fashion; urged doubtless by the wind, she pursued us with pathetic struggles—now beam on, again stern foremost, and still again plunging forward with her nose under the water. Her pitching and lurching were straining her heavily, and, with her hold full of water, she evidently could live but a few minutes longer. Meanwhile, it was no small matter for us to keep clear of her, for whether we would pull to this side or that she followed us, and sometimes we were in danger. There came an end, however, for the brig, now heavily water-logged, rose majestically on a great wave and came down side on into the trough; she made a brave struggle to right herself, but in another moment she went over upon her beam, settled, steadied herself a moment, and then sank straight down like a mass of lead. This brought upon us a peculiar sense of desolation; for, so far as we knew (and Captain Campbell had sailed these seas before), there was hardly a chance of our gaining land alive.
Much to our surprise, we had not rowed more than twenty knots when (it being about midnight) a fire was sighted off our port bow,—that is to say, due west. This gave us so great courage that we rowed heartily towards it, and at three in the morning, to our unspeakable happiness, we dragged our boats upon a beautiful sand-beach. So exhausted were we that with small loss of time we made ourselves comfortable and soon were sound asleep upon firm ground.
The next sun had done more than half its work before any of us were awake. Excepting some birds of lively plumage, there was not a living thing in sight; but no sooner had we begun to stir about than a number of fine brown men approached us simultaneously from different directions. A belt was around their waists, and from it hung a short garment, made of bark woven into a coarse fabric; and also hanging from the belt was a heavy sword of metal. Undoubtedly the men were savages; but there was a dignity in their manner which set them wholly apart from the known inhabitants of these South Sea Islands. Our captain, who understood many of the languages and dialects of the sub-tropical islanders, found himself at fault in attempting verbal intercourse with these visitors, but it was not long before we found them exceedingly apt in understanding signs. They showed much commiseration for us, and with manifestations of friendship invited us to follow them and test their hospitality. This we were not slow in doing.
The island—we were made to know on the way—was a journey of ten hours long and seven wide, and our eyes gave us proof of its wonderful fecundity of soil, for there were great banana plantations and others of curious kinds of grain. The narrowness of the roads convinced us that there were no wagons or beasts of burden, but there were many evidences of a civilization which, for these parts, was of extraordinary development; such, for instance, as finely cultivated fields and good houses of stone, with such evidences of an aesthetic taste as found expression in the domestic cultivation of many of the beautiful flowers which grew upon the island. These matters I mention with some particularity, in order that the island may be recognized by the rescuers for whom we are eagerly praying.
The town to which we were led is a place of singular beauty. While there is no orderly arrangement of streets (the houses being scattered about confusedly), there is a large sense of comfort and room and a fine character of neatness. The buildings are all of rough stone and are not divided into apartments; the windows and doors are hung with matting, giving testimony of an absence of thieves. A little to one side, upon a knoll, is the house of the king, or chief. It is much like the others, except that it is larger, a chamber in front serving as an executive-room, where the king disposes of the business of his rulership.
Into this audience-room we were led, and presently the king himself appeared. He was dressed with more barbaric profusion than his subjects; about his neck and in his ears were many fine pieces of jewelry of gold and silver, evidently the work of European artisans, but worn with a complete disregard of their original purpose. The king, a large, strong, and handsome man, received us with a kindly smile; if ever a human face showed kindness of heart, it was his. He had us to understand at once that we were most welcome, that he sympathized with us in our distress, and that all our wants should be attended to until means should be found for restoring us to our country, or sending us whithersoever else we might desire to go.
It was not at all likely, he said (for he spoke German a little), that any vessel from the outside world would ever visit the island, as it appeared to be unknown to navigators, and it was a law upon the island that the inhabitants of no other islands should approach. At certain times of the moon, however, he sent a boat to an island, many leagues away, to bear some rare products of his people in exchange for other commodities, and, should we so desire, we might be taken, one at a time, in the boat, and thus eventually be put in the way of passing vessels. With what appeared to be an embarrassed hesitation, he informed us that he was compelled to impose a certain mild restraint upon us—one which, he hurried to add, would in no way interfere with our comfort or pleasure. This was that we be kept apart from his people, as they were simple and happy, and he feared that association with us would bring discontent among them. Their present condition had come about solely through the policy of complete isolation which had been followed in the past.
We received this communication with a delight which we took no pains to conceal; and the king seemed touched by our expressions of gratitude. So in a little while we were established as a colony about three miles from the town, the quick hands of the natives having made for us, out of poles, matting, and thatch, a sufficient number of houses for our comfort; and the king placed at our disposal a large acreage for our use, if we should desire to help ourselves with farming; for which purpose an intelligent native was sent to instruct us. It was on the 10th day of May, 1853, that we went upon the island, and the 14th when we went into colony.
I cannot pause to give any further description of this beautiful island and our delightful surroundings, but must hasten away to a relation of the terrible things which presently befell us. We had been upon the island about a month, when the king (who had been to visit us twice) sent a messenger to say that a boat would leave on the morrow, and that if any one of us wished to go he could be taken. The messenger said that the king's best judgment was that the sickly ones ought to go first, as, in the event of serious illness, it would be better that they should die at home. We overlooked this singular and savage way of stating the case, for our sense of gratitude to the king was so great that the expression of a slight wish from him was as binding upon us as law. Hence from our number we selected John Foley, a carpenter, of Boston, as the hardships of the voyage had developed in him a quick consumption, and he had no family or relatives in the colony, as many others of us had. The poor fellow was overcome with gratitude, and he left us the happiest man I ever saw.
I must now mention a very singular thing, which upon the departure of Foley was given a conspicuous place in our attention. We were in a roomy valley, which was nearly surrounded by perpendicular walls of great height, and from no accessible point was the sea visible. On several occasions some of the younger men had sought to leave the valley for the shore, but at each attempt the native guards set over us had suddenly appeared at the few passes which nature had left in the wall, and kindly but firmly had turned our young men back, saying that it was the king's wish we should not leave the valley. The older heads among us discouraged these attempts to escape, holding them to be breaches of faith and hospitality; but the knowledge of being absolute prisoners weighed upon us nevertheless, and became more and more irksome. When, therefore, our companion was taken away, an organized movement was made among the young men to gain an elevated position commanding a view of the sea, in order to observe the direction taken by Foley's boat. The plan was to divide into bodies and move simultaneously in force upon all the points of egress, and overcome, without any resort to dangerous violence, the two or three guards who had been seen at those points. When our men arrived at these places they encountered the small number it was customary to see, and were pushing their way through, when suddenly there appeared a strong body of natives, who drew their heavy swords and assumed so threatening an attitude that our men lost no time in retreating. A report of this occurrence was made to the colony, each of the parties of young men having had an exactly similar experience. While there appeared to be no good ground for the feeling of uneasiness which spread throughout the colony, a sense of oppression came over the stronger ones and of fear over the weaker; and, a council having been held, it was decided to ask an explanation of the king.
Other things of some interest had happened; among them, a surreptitious acquiring of considerable knowledge of the island language by me. For this reason I was chosen as ambassador to the king. My mission was a failure, as the king, though gracious, informed me that this plan was necessary in securing complete isolation from his people; and he instructed me to tell my people that any member of our colony found beyond the lines would be punished with death. In addition to this, the king, seemingly hurt that we should have questioned the propriety of his actions, said that thenceforward he himself would make the selections of our people for deportation. The man's evident superiority of character impressed me with no little effect, and the sincerity with which he regarded us as belonging to a race inferior to his in mental and moral strength confounded me and placed me at a disadvantage.
When I took the news to the colony, a mood bordering upon hopelessness came upon our people. The ones of hastier temper suggested a revolt and a seizure of the island; but this was so insane an idea that it was put away at once.
Not long afterwards the king sent for Absalom Maywood, one of our young men, unmarried, but with a mother among us. Maywood, at first very low with scurvy on the brig, had drifted into other ailments, and was now an invalid and much wasted. I will not dwell upon the pathetic parting between him and his aged mother, nor upon the deeper gloom that fell upon the colony. What was becoming of these men? None might know whither they were taken and none could guess their after-fate. Behind our efforts to be cheerful and industrious there were heavy hearts, and possibly thoughts and fears that dared not seek expression.
The third man was taken—again a sickly one—this time a consumptive farmer, named Jackson; and some time afterward a fourth, an elderly woman, with a cancer; she was Mrs. Lyons, formerly a milliner in South Boston. Then the patience and hope which had sustained us gave way, and we were in a condition close upon despair. The cooler ones among the men assembled quietly apart and debated what to do. Our captain, a man quiet and brave, still the leader in our councils, and always advising patience and obedience, presided at this meeting. There was one dreadful thought upon every mind, but no man had the courage to bring it forth; but after there had been some discussion without any profit, Captain Campbell made this speech:
"My friends, it does not become us longer to seek to conceal the thought which all of us have, and which, sooner or later, must be spoken. It is a matter of common knowledge that upon many of the islands of these seas there exists the horrible practice of cannibalism."
Not a word was spoken for a long time, and all were glad that it had come out at last. Not one man looked at his neighbor or dared raise his glance from the ground, and there was a weight upon the hearts of all.
"Nevertheless," resumed the captain, "it is extremely difficult to believe that this evil is upon us, for you must have noticed that only the lean and sickly ones have been taken, and surely this cannot mean cannibalism."
Some had not thought of this, and they looked up quickly, with brighter faces; whereupon Captain Campbell proceeded:
"You must have observed, however, that all of the sick and weakly have gone, and this brings a new situation upon us. I have an idea, which I will not give expression to now, and my desire in calling you together was to determine its correctness or falsity. For this purpose, some man of daring and agility must risk his life."
Nearly every man present made offer of his services, but the captain shook his head and begged them all to remain quiet.
"It is necessary," he added, "that this man understand the language, and I fear there is not one among you."
Each man, taken aback, looked at his neighbor and then all at me, as I stepped forward. The captain regarded me gratefully and said:
"Let there now be a binding secrecy among us, for the others of the colony must not know now, and perhaps never. If our fear find a ground in truth, there is all the greater reason for keeping these matters secret among ourselves. Is that well understood? Then, Mr. Keating, the plan is this: When the next one of us is taken, you are by strategy, but in no event by violence, to escape from this imprisonment and discover the fate of that one and make report to us."
A week afterwards (these things occurring now with greater frequency) Lemuel Arthur, a young man of twenty-two, was taken away about one o'clock in the afternoon. My whole plan having been studied out, I arrayed myself in the style of the natives, stained my skin with ochre, blackened my eyebrows and hair with a mixture of soot and tallow, and without difficulty slipped by the guards and found myself at large and free upon the island. I gained a high point and saw no sign of a boat making ready to put off with Arthur. When darkness had come I descended to the village. I kept upon the outskirts and remained as much as possible in shadow. I dared not talk with any one, but I could listen; and presently I learned something that made my heart stand still.
"It has been so long since we had one," said a native to his fellow.
"Yes; and this one will be delicious. They say he is young and fat. Why, we have not touched any since the four men and their woman with the jewelry came upon the island from a wreck."
"True; but this one will not go around among so many of us—many must go without."
"What of that? Those not supplied now will have all the keener relish when their turn comes. All that are left now are good and fat, as the king has taken away all the lean and sickly ones. He would not allow the people to touch them, although some of them begged very hard. So, to make sure, they were placed in the kiln."
So heavy a sickness fell upon me when I heard this that I was near upon a betrayal of my presence; and certainly I lost some of the talk which these men were having. Presently I realized that nothing indicating a horrible fate for my friends had been said; my own fears were sufficient to give a frightful color to their language. When I looked about me again they were gone, and so with much caution I moved to another part of the town, keeping always in shadow. At a certain place I heard another conversation, as follows:
"Does he know what they will do with him?"
"No; but he fears something. He does not understand the language. He tried to get away this afternoon to go to the sea-shore, where he thought the boat was waiting, and when they made an effort to keep him quiet he became very angry."
"What did they do then?"
"They took him to the king, who was so kind that the young man became quiet. Our king is so gentle, and they always believe what he tells them,"—whereupon the fellow broke into a hearty laugh.
"And do the others suspect nothing?"
"There is doubt about that. Kololu, the farmer, has reported that they appear uneasy and disturbed, and hold secret meetings."
"What do you think they would do if they should discover everything?"
"Revolt, I think, for they appear to be fighters."
"But they have no arms, and we are more than a hundred to one."
"That is true, and so no lives would be lost on either side. After the revolt they would merely be kept in closer confinement, and no harm would come in the end. They could be taken one at a time, as is the present intention."
"They might refuse to eat sufficient, and hence become lean."
"That would come about surely, but it would last only for a time; for you have noticed that even our own people, when condemned, though they lose flesh at first, invariably become reconciled to their end, and at last become fatter than ever."
The words of this man, who was evidently a functionary of the king, inspired me with so great a horror that I could bear to hear no more; so I moved away, considering whether I should return to the colony and report what I had heard already or remain to see this ghastly tragedy to the end. As there was nothing to be gained by returning at once, I decided to stay, for through the horror of it all might come some suggestion of a means of deliverance.
I soon became aware, by the making of all the people towards a certain quarter, that something of unusual importance was afoot; so as best I could I worked my way around to the point of convergence, which was in the neighborhood of the king's house, and there I saw an extraordinary preparation under way. A large bonfire was burning in an open place; standing around it, in a circle having a generous radius, were hundreds of the strange half-savages of the island, kept at their proper distance by an armed patrol; in a clear space at one side, on higher ground, was an elevated seat, which I surmised was reserved for the king. Manifestly a matter of some moment was to be attended to, having likely a ceremonious character. The most curious feature of all this affair was the activity of a number of workers engaged in dragging large, hot stones from the fire and arranging them in the form of an oblong mound. This mound had one peculiar feature: a hollow space, about six feet long and two feet wide, was left within it, and the men, under the instructions of a leader, were fashioning it to a depth approaching two feet, all the stones being very hot and difficult to handle, even with the aid of barrows.
While they were still at work, the great repressed excitement under which the people labored found an excuse for expression in the arrival of the king, who, tricked out in unusual finery, walked solemnly ahead of his attendants to his elevated seat. Then he gave an order which, from my distance, I could not hear. I pushed a little closer under the safety which the occasion lent, and overheard this conversation:
"How many will get some of it?"
"Only forty, I hear. You know the women are not allowed to have it."
"The leading men will be supplied. It makes them strong and wise. The next one will be given to sixty of the men who carry swords."
"And the next after that?"
"To more of the swordsmen; and so on until they all have had some, and then the common people will be taken in like rotation, but given a smaller allowance."
At this juncture, a strange procession moved from the king's house. It was led by two priests chanting dolefully; behind them walked four men, armed with curious implements—flails, no doubt. Then came four warriors, and behind them, firmly bound and completely naked, walked my young friend, Arthur; after him came six warriors. Arthur's white skin showed in strong contrast to that of the brown men around him. His face was very pale, and his eyes, staring wide, swept a quick glance around for a stray hope.
The group stopped in front of the king; the natives faced and made an obeisance and awaited further orders. Before all this had been done, a man in front of me said to another:
"Those hot stones will cool, I fear."
"There is no danger; they will keep their heat a long time. If they were too hot, they would burn it."
"They are much too hot now, but it will be some time before they will be needed."
"Will they use the sword first, as they did with those who had the jewelry?"
"No; the best part then was spilled. This is a new idea of the king's. The flails will do just as well and will make it very tender besides. Our king is a wise man."
By this time young Arthur (the king having given his order) was surrounded by the armed men, and between him and them were the four who carried flails. His hands had been bound to a strong post sunk in the ground. The king raised his hand as a signal, and the four men brought down their flails with moderate force upon Arthur's naked body. These implements were heavy, and evidently care was taken not to break the skin. When the poor fellow felt the blows, he shrank and quivered, but uttered no sound. They fell again.
What was I doing all this time? What was I thinking? I do not know; but when the second blows had been delivered and Arthur had cried out in his agony, I sprang through the encircling line of savages, dashed into the midst of the group surrounding the prisoner, snatched a sword from a warrior, leaped upon the king and split his head in twain, turned, cut Arthur's bonds, caught him by the hand, and fled at full speed with him into the darkness. Never had been a surprise more complete—the people had seen one of their own number, as they supposed, free the prisoner and murder their king. Soon there came a howl, and some started in pursuit; but—there was the body of the king, and the stones were hot and waiting! There was no longer authority! Our pursuers fell off, one by one, and the others, thus discouraged, gave up the chase. We ran to the shore, found a boat, and put out to sea.
We are free—we two; but to what purpose? We have no idea of the direction of the land; we are without food; we dare not return to our friends, for only in the desperate hope of our finding land can there be the least encouragement for their rescue. We have rowed all night; it is now well into the following afternoon; we have had nothing to eat or drink, and we are beginning to suffer; we both are naked and the sun seemingly will burn us up. I therefore make this record with material which I had been prudent to provide for such an emergency, and I shall now give it to the sea, with such earnest prayers for its discovery as can come only from a most unhappy human being in a desperate extremity.
A young man of refined appearance, but evidently suffering great mental distress, presented himself one morning at the residence of a singular old man, who was known as a surgeon of remarkable skill. The house was a queer and primitive brick affair, entirely out of date, and tolerable only in the decayed part of the city in which it stood. It was large, gloomy, and dark, and had long corridors and dismal rooms; and it was absurdly large for the small family—man and wife—that occupied it. The house described, the man is portrayed—but not the woman. He could be agreeable on occasion, but, for all that, he was but animated mystery. His wife was weak, wan, reticent, evidently miserable, and possibly living a life of dread or horror—perhaps witness of repulsive things, subject of anxieties, and victim of fear and tyranny; but there is a great deal of guessing in these assumptions. He was about sixty-five years of age and she about forty. He was lean, tall, and bald, with thin, smooth-shaven face, and very keen eyes; kept always at home, and was slovenly. The man was strong, the woman weak; he dominated, she suffered.
Although he was a surgeon of rare skill, his practice was almost nothing, for it was a rare occurrence that the few who knew of his great ability were brave enough to penetrate the gloom of his house, and when they did so it was with deaf ear turned to sundry ghoulish stories that were whispered concerning him. These were, in great part, but exaggerations of his experiments in vivisection; he was devoted to the science of surgery.
The young man who presented himself on the morning just mentioned was a handsome fellow, yet of evident weak character and unhealthy temperament—sensitive, and easily exalted or depressed. A single glance convinced the surgeon that his visitor was seriously affected in mind, for there was never bolder skull-grin of melancholia, fixed and irremediable.
A stranger would not have suspected any occupancy of the house. The street door—old, warped, and blistered by the sun—was locked, and the small, faded-green window-blinds were closed. The young man rapped at the door. No answer. He rapped again. Still no sign. He examined a slip of paper, glanced at the number on the house, and then, with the impatience of a child, he furiously kicked the door. There were signs of numerous other such kicks. A response came in the shape of a shuffling footstep in the hall, a turning of the rusty key, and a sharp face that peered through a cautious opening in the door.
"Are you the doctor?" asked the young man.
"Yes, yes! Come in," briskly replied the master of the house.
The young man entered. The old surgeon closed the door and carefully locked it. "This way," he said, advancing to a rickety flight of stairs. The young man followed. The surgeon led the way up the stairs, turned into a narrow, musty-smelling corridor at the left, traversed it, rattling the loose boards under his feet, at the farther end opened a door at the right, and beckoned his visitor to enter. The young man found himself in a pleasant room, furnished in antique fashion and with hard simplicity.
"Sit down," said the old man, placing a chair so that its occupant should face a window that looked out upon a dead wall about six feet from the house. He threw open the blind, and a pale light entered. He then seated himself near his visitor and directly facing him, and with a searching look, that had all the power of a microscope, he proceeded to diagnosticate the case.
"Well?" he presently asked.
The young man shifted uneasily in his seat.
"I—I have come to see you," he finally stammered, "because I'm in trouble."
"Yes; you see, I—that is—I have given it up."
"Ah!" There was pity added to sympathy in the ejaculation.
"That's it. Given it up," added the visitor. He took from his pocket a roll of banknotes, and with the utmost deliberation he counted them out upon his knee. "Five thousand dollars," he calmly remarked. "That is for you. It's all I have; but I presume—I imagine—no; that is not the word—assume—yes; that's the word—assume that five thousand—is it really that much? Let me count." He counted again. "That five thousand dollars is a sufficient fee for what I want you to do."
The surgeon's lips curled pityingly—perhaps disdainfully also. "What do you want me to do?" he carelessly inquired.
The young man rose, looked around with a mysterious air, approached the surgeon, and laid the money across his knee. Then he stooped and whispered two words in the surgeon's ear.
These words produced an electric effect. The old man started violently; then, springing to his feet, he caught his visitor angrily, and transfixed him with a look that was as sharp as a knife. His eyes flashed, and he opened his mouth to give utterance to some harsh imprecation, when he suddenly checked himself. The anger left his face, and only pity remained. He relinquished his grasp, picked up the scattered notes, and, offering them to the visitor, slowly said:
"I do not want your money. You are simply foolish. You think you are in trouble. Well, you do not know what trouble is. Your only trouble is that you have not a trace of manhood in your nature. You are merely insane—I shall not say pusillanimous. You should surrender yourself to the authorities, and be sent to a lunatic asylum for proper treatment."
The young man keenly felt the intended insult, and his eyes flashed dangerously.
"You old dog—you insult me thus!" he cried. "Grand airs, these, you give yourself! Virtuously indignant, old murderer, you! Don't want my money, eh? When a man comes to you himself and wants it done, you fly into a passion and spurn his money; but let an enemy of his come and pay you, and you are only too willing. How many such jobs have you done in this miserable old hole? It is a good thing for you that the police have not run you down, and brought spade and shovel with them. Do you know what is said of you? Do you think you have kept your windows so closely shut that no sound has ever penetrated beyond them? Where do you keep your infernal implements?"
He had worked himself into a high passion. His voice was hoarse, loud, and rasping. His eyes, bloodshot, started from their sockets. His whole frame twitched, and his fingers writhed. But he was in the presence of a man infinitely his superior. Two eyes, like those of a snake, burned two holes through him. An overmastering, inflexible presence confronted one weak and passionate. The result came.
"Sit down," commanded the stern voice of the surgeon.
It was the voice of father to child, of master to slave. The fury left the visitor, who, weak and overcome, fell upon a chair.
Meanwhile, a peculiar light had appeared in the old surgeon's face, the dawn of a strange idea; a gloomy ray, strayed from the fires of the bottomless pit; the baleful light that illumines the way of the enthusiast. The old man remained a moment in profound abstraction, gleams of eager intelligence bursting momentarily through the cloud of sombre meditation that covered his face. Then broke the broad light of a deep, impenetrable determination. There was something sinister in it, suggesting the sacrifice of something held sacred. After a struggle, mind had vanquished conscience.
Taking a piece of paper and a pencil, the surgeon carefully wrote answers to questions which he peremptorily addressed to his visitor, such as his name, age, place of residence, occupation, and the like, and the same inquiries concerning his parents, together with other particular matters.
"Does any one know you came to this house?" he asked.
"You swear it?"
"But your prolonged absence will cause alarm and lead to search."
"I have provided against that."
"By depositing a note in the post, as I came along, announcing my intention to drown myself."
"The river will be dragged."
"What then?" asked the young man, shrugging his shoulders with careless indifference. "Rapid undercurrent, you know. A good many are never found."
There was a pause.
"Are you ready?" finally asked the surgeon.
"Perfectly." The answer was cool and determined.
The manner of the surgeon, however, showed much perturbation. The pallor that had come into his face at the moment his decision was formed became intense. A nervous tremulousness came over his frame. Above it all shone the light of enthusiasm.
"Have you a choice in the method?" he asked.
"Yes; extreme anaesthesia."
"With what agent?"
"The surest and quickest."
"Do you desire any—any subsequent disposition?"
"No; only nullification; simply a blowing out, as of a candle in the wind; a puff—then darkness, without a trace. A sense of your own safety may suggest the method. I leave it to you."
"No delivery to your friends?"
"Did you say you are quite ready?" asked the surgeon.
"And perfectly willing?"
"Then wait a moment."
With this request the old surgeon rose to his feet and stretched himself. Then with the stealthiness of a cat he opened the door and peered into the hall, listening intently. There was no sound. He softly closed the door and locked it. Then he closed the window-blinds and locked them. This done, he opened a door leading into an adjoining room, which, though it had no window, was lighted by means of a small skylight. The young man watched closely. A strange change had come over him. While his determination had not one whit lessened, a look of great relief came into his face, displacing the haggard, despairing look of a half-hour before. Melancholic then, he was ecstatic now.
The opening of the second door disclosed a curious sight. In the centre of the room, directly under the skylight, was an operating-table, such as is used by demonstrators of anatomy. A glass case against the wall held surgical instruments of every kind. Hanging in another case were human skeletons of various sizes. In sealed jars, arranged on shelves, were monstrosities of divers kinds preserved in alcohol. There were also, among innumerable other articles scattered about the room, a manikin, a stuffed cat, a desiccated human heart, plaster casts of various parts of the body, numerous charts, and a large assortment of drugs and chemicals. There was also a lounge, which could be opened to form a couch. The surgeon opened it and moved the operating-table aside, giving its place to the lounge.
"Come in," he called to his visitor.
The young man obeyed without the least hesitation.
"Take off your coat."
"Lie down on that lounge."
In a moment the young man was stretched at full length, eyeing the surgeon. The latter undoubtedly was suffering under great excitement, but he did not waver; his movements were sure and quick. Selecting a bottle containing a liquid, he carefully measured out a certain quantity. While doing this he asked:
"Have you ever had any irregularity of the heart?"
The answer was prompt, but it was immediately followed by a quizzical look in the speaker's face.
"I presume," he added, "you mean by your question that it might be dangerous to give me a certain drug. Under the circumstances, however, I fail to see any relevancy in your question."
This took the surgeon aback; but he hastened to explain that he did not wish to inflict unnecessary pain, and hence his question.
He placed the glass on a stand, approached his visitor, and carefully examined his pulse.
"Wonderful!" he exclaimed.
"It is perfectly normal."
"Because I am wholly resigned. Indeed, it has been long since I knew such happiness. It is not active, but infinitely sweet."
"You have no lingering desire to retract?"
The surgeon went to the stand and returned with the draught.
"Take this," he said, kindly.
The young man partially raised himself and took the glass in his hand. He did not show the vibration of a single nerve. He drank the liquid, draining the last drop. Then he returned the glass with a smile.
"Thank you," he said; "you are the noblest man that lives. May you always prosper and be happy! You are my benefactor, my liberator. Bless you, bless you! You reach down from your seat with the gods and lift me up into glorious peace and rest. I love you—I love you with all my heart!"
These words, spoken earnestly, in a musical, low voice, and accompanied with a smile of ineffable tenderness, pierced the old man's heart. A suppressed convulsion swept over him; intense anguish wrung his vitals; perspiration trickled down his face. The young man continued to smile.
"Ah, it does me good!" said he.
The surgeon, with a strong effort to control himself, sat down upon the edge of the lounge and took his visitor's wrist, counting the pulse.
"How long will it take?" the young man asked.
"Ten minutes. Two have passed." The voice was hoarse.
"Ah, only eight minutes more!... Delicious, delicious! I feel it coming.... What was that?... Ah, I understand. Music.... Beautiful!... Coming, coming.... Is that—that—water?... Trickling? Dripping? Doctor!"
"Thank you,... thank you.... Noble man,... my saviour,... my bene ... bene ... factor.... Trickling,... trickling.... Dripping, dripping.... Doctor!"
"Past hearing," muttered the surgeon.
Response was made by a firm grasp of the hand.
The old man watched and waited.
"Dripping, ... dripping."
The last drop had run. There was a sigh, and nothing more.
The surgeon laid down the hand.
"The first step," he groaned, rising to his feet; then his whole frame dilated. "The first step—the most difficult, yet the simplest. A providential delivery into my hands of that for which I have hungered for forty years. No withdrawal now! It is possible, because scientific; rational, but perilous. If I succeed—if? I shall succeed. I will succeed.... And after success—what?... Yes; what? Publish the plan and the result? The gallows.... So long as it shall exist, ... and I exist, the gallows. That much.... But how account for its presence? Ah, that pinches hard! I must trust to the future."
He tore himself from the revery and started.
"I wonder if she heard or saw anything."
With that reflection he cast a glance upon the form on the lounge, and then left the room, locked the door, locked also the door of the outer room, walked down two or three corridors, penetrated to a remote part of the house, and rapped at a door. It was opened by his wife. He, by this time, had regained complete mastery over himself.
"I thought I heard some one in the house just now," he said, "but I can find no one."
"I heard nothing."
He was greatly relieved.
"I did hear some one knock at the door less than an hour ago," she resumed, "and heard you speak, I think. Did he come in?"
The woman glanced at his feet and seemed perplexed.
"I am almost certain," she said, "that I heard foot-falls in the house, and yet I see that you are wearing slippers."
"Oh, I had on my shoes then!"
"That explains it," said the woman, satisfied; "I think the sound you heard must have been caused by rats."
"Ah, that was it!" exclaimed the surgeon. Leaving, he closed the door, reopened it, and said, "I do not wish to be disturbed to-day." He said to himself, as he went down the hall, "All is clear there."
He returned to the room in which his visitor lay, and made a careful examination.
"Splendid specimen!" he softly exclaimed; "every organ sound, every function perfect; fine, large frame; well-shaped muscles, strong and sinewy; capable of wonderful development—if given opportunity.... I have no doubt it can be done. Already I have succeeded with a dog,—a task less difficult than this, for in a man the cerebrum overlaps the cerebellum, which is not the case with a dog. This gives a wide range for accident, with but one opportunity in a lifetime! In the cerebrum, the intellect and the affections; in the cerebellum, the senses and the motor forces; in the medulla oblongata, control of the diaphragm. In these two latter lie all the essentials of simple existence. The cerebrum is merely an adornment; that is to say, reason and the affections are almost purely ornamental. I have already proved it. My dog, with its cerebrum removed, was idiotic, but it retained its physical senses to a certain degree."
While thus ruminating he made careful preparations. He moved the couch, replaced the operating-table under the skylight, selected a number of surgical instruments, prepared certain drug-mixtures, and arranged water, towels, and all the accessories of a tedious surgical operation. Suddenly he burst into laughter.
"Poor fool!" he exclaimed. "Paid me five thousand dollars to kill him! Didn't have the courage to snuff his own candle! Singular, singular, the queer freaks these madmen have! You thought you were dying, poor idiot! Allow me to inform you, sir, that you are as much alive at this moment as ever you were in your life. But it will be all the same to you. You shall never be more conscious than you are now; and for all practical purposes, so far as they concern you, you are dead henceforth, though you shall live. By the way, how should you feel without a head? Ha, ha, ha!... But that's a sorry joke."
He lifted the unconscious form from the lounge and laid it upon the operating-table.
* * * * *
About three years afterwards the following conversation was held between a captain of police and a detective:
"She may be insane," suggested the captain.
"I think she is."
"And yet you credit her story!"
"Not at all. I myself have learned something."
"Much, in one sense; little, in another. You have heard those queer stories of her husband. Well, they are all nonsensical—probably with one exception. He is generally a harmless old fellow, but peculiar. He has performed some wonderful surgical operations. The people in his neighborhood are ignorant, and they fear him and wish to be rid of him; hence they tell a great many lies about him, and they come to believe their own stories. The one important thing that I have learned is that he is almost insanely enthusiastic on the subject of surgery—especially experimental surgery; and with an enthusiast there is hardly such a thing as a scruple. It is this that gives me confidence in the woman's story."
"You say she appeared to be frightened?"
"Doubly so—first, she feared that her husband would learn of her betrayal of him; second, the discovery itself had terrified her."
"But her report of this discovery is very vague," argued the captain. "He conceals everything from her. She is merely guessing."
"In part—yes; in other part—no. She heard the sounds distinctly, though she did not see clearly. Horror closed her eyes. What she thinks she saw is, I admit, preposterous; but she undoubtedly saw something extremely frightful. There are many peculiar little circumstances. He has eaten with her but few times during the last three years, and nearly always carries his food to his private rooms. She says that he either consumes an enormous quantity, throws much away, or is feeding something that eats prodigiously. He explains this to her by saying that he has animals with which he experiments. This is not true. Again, he always keeps the door to these rooms carefully locked; and not only that, but he has had the doors doubled and otherwise strengthened, and has heavily barred a window that looks from one of the rooms upon a dead wall a few feet distant."
"What does it mean?" asked the captain.
"For animals, perhaps."
"Because, in the first place, cages would have been better; in the second place, the security that he has provided is infinitely greater than that required for the confinement of ordinary animals."
"All this is easily explained: he has a violent lunatic under treatment."
"I had thought of that, but such is not the fact."
"How do you know?"
"By reasoning thus: He has always refused to treat cases of lunacy; he confines himself to surgery; the walls are not padded, for the woman has heard sharp blows upon them; no human strength, however morbid, could possibly require such resisting strength as has been provided; he would not be likely to conceal a lunatic's confinement from the woman; no lunatic could consume all the food that he provides; so extremely violent mania as these precautions indicate could not continue three years; if there is a lunatic in the case it is very probable that there should have been communication with some one outside concerning the patient, and there has been none; the woman has listened at the keyhole and has heard no human voice within; and last, we have heard the woman's vague description of what she saw."
"You have destroyed every possible theory," said the captain, deeply interested, "and have suggested nothing new."
"Unfortunately, I cannot; but the truth may be very simple, after all. The old surgeon is so peculiar that I am prepared to discover something remarkable."
"Have you suspicions?"
"A crime. The woman suspects it."
"And betrays it?"
"Certainly, because it is so horrible that her humanity revolts; so terrible that her whole nature demands of her that she hand over the criminal to the law; so frightful that she is in mortal terror; so awful that it has shaken her mind."
"What do you propose to do?" asked the captain.
"Secure evidence. I may need help."
"You shall have all the men you require. Go ahead, but be careful. You are on dangerous ground. You would be a mere plaything in the hands of that man."
Two days afterwards the detective again sought the captain.
"I have a queer document," he said, exhibiting torn fragments of paper, on which there was writing. "The woman stole it and brought it to me. She snatched a handful out of a book, getting only a part of each of a few leaves."
These fragments, which the men arranged as best they could, were (the detective explained) torn by the surgeon's wife from the first volume of a number of manuscript books which her husband had written on one subject,—the very one that was the cause of her excitement. "About the time that he began a certain experiment three years ago," continued the detective, "he removed everything from the suite of two rooms containing his study and his operating-room. In one of the bookcases that he removed to a room across the passage was a drawer, which he kept locked, but which he opened from time to time. As is quite common with such pieces of furniture, the lock of the drawer is a very poor one; and so the woman, while making a thorough search yesterday, found a key on her bunch that fitted this lock. She opened the drawer, drew out the bottom book of a pile (so that its mutilation would more likely escape discovery), saw that it might contain a clew, and tore out a handful of the leaves. She had barely replaced the book, locked the drawer, and made her escape when her husband appeared. He hardly ever allows her to be out of his sight when she is in that part of the house."
The fragments read as follows: "... the motory nerves. I had hardly dared to hope for such a result, although inductive reasoning had convinced me of its possibility, my only doubt having been on the score of my lack of skill. Their operation has been only slightly impaired, and even this would not have been the case had the operation been performed in infancy, before the intellect had sought and obtained recognition as an essential part of the whole. Therefore I state, as a proved fact, that the cells of the motory nerves have inherent forces sufficient to the purposes of those nerves. But hardly so with the sensory nerves. These latter are, in fact, an offshoot of the former, evolved from them by natural (though not essential) heterogeneity, and to a certain extent are dependent on the evolution and expansion of a contemporaneous tendency, that developed into mentality, or mental function. Both of these latter tendencies, these evolvements, are merely refinements of the motory system, and not independent entities; that is to say, they are the blossoms of a plant that propagates from its roots. The motory system is the first ... nor am I surprised that such prodigious muscular energy is developing. It promises yet to surpass the wildest dreams of human strength. I account for it thus: The powers of assimilation had reached their full development. They had formed the habit of doing a certain amount of work. They sent their products to all parts of the system. As a result of my operation the consumption of these products was reduced fully one-half; that is to say, about one-half of the demand for them was withdrawn. But force of habit required the production to proceed. This production was strength, vitality, energy. Thus double the usual quantity of this strength, this energy, was stored in the remaining ... developed a tendency that did surprise me. Nature, no longer suffering the distraction of extraneous interferences, and at the same time being cut in two (as it were), with reference to this case, did not fully adjust herself to the new situation, as does a magnet, which, when divided at the point of equilibrium, renews itself in its two fragments by investing each with opposite poles; but, on the contrary, being severed from laws that theretofore had controlled her, and possessing still that mysterious tendency to develop into something more potential and complex, she blindly (having lost her lantern) pushed her demands for material that would secure this development, and as blindly used it when it was given her. Hence this marvellous voracity, this insatiable hunger, this wonderful ravenousness; and hence also (there being nothing but the physical part to receive this vast storing of energy) this strength that is becoming almost hourly herculean, almost daily appalling. It is becoming a serious ... narrow escape to-day. By some means, while I was absent, it unscrewed the stopper of the silver feeding-pipe (which I have already herein termed 'the artificial mouth'), and, in one of its curious antics, allowed all the chyle to escape from its stomach through the tube. Its hunger then became intense—I may say furious. I placed my hands upon it to push it into a chair, when, feeling my touch, it caught me, clasped me around the neck, and would have crushed me to death instantly had I not slipped from its powerful grasp. Thus I always had to be on my guard. I have provided the screw stopper with a spring catch, and ... usually docile when not hungry; slow and heavy in its movements, which are, of course, purely unconscious; any apparent excitement in movement being due to local irregularities in the blood-supply of the cerebellum, which, if I did not have it enclosed in a silver case that is immovable, I should expose and ..."
The captain looked at the detective with a puzzled air.
"I don't understand it at all," said he.
"Nor I," agreed the detective.
"What do you propose to do?"
"Make a raid."
"Do you want a man?"
"Three. The strongest men in your district."
"Why, the surgeon is old and weak!"
"Nevertheless, I want three strong men; and for that matter, prudence really advises me to take twenty."
* * * * *
At one o'clock the next morning a cautious, scratching sound might have been heard in the ceiling of the surgeon's operating-room. Shortly afterwards the skylight sash was carefully raised and laid aside. A man peered into the opening. Nothing could be heard.
"That is singular," thought the detective.
He cautiously lowered himself to the floor by a rope, and then stood for some moments listening intently. There was a dead silence. He shot the slide of a dark-lantern, and rapidly swept the room with the light. It was bare, with the exception of a strong iron staple and ring, screwed to the floor in the centre of the room, with a heavy chain attached. The detective then turned his attention to the outer room; it was perfectly bare. He was deeply perplexed. Returning to the inner room, he called softly to the men to descend. While they were thus occupied he re-entered the outer room and examined the door. A glance sufficed. It was kept closed by a spring attachment, and was locked with a strong spring-lock that could be drawn from the inside.
"The bird has just flown," mused the detective. "A singular accident! The discovery and proper use of this thumb-bolt might not have happened once in fifty years, if my theory is correct."
By this time the men were behind him. He noiselessly drew the spring-bolt, opened the door, and looked out into the hall. He heard a peculiar sound. It was as though a gigantic lobster was floundering and scrambling in some distant part of the old house. Accompanying this sound was a loud, whistling breathing, and frequent rasping gasps.
These sounds were heard by still another person—the surgeon's wife; for they originated very near her rooms, which were a considerable distance from her husband's. She had been sleeping lightly, tortured by fear and harassed by frightful dreams. The conspiracy into which she had recently entered, for the destruction of her husband, was a source of great anxiety. She constantly suffered from the most gloomy forebodings, and lived in an atmosphere of terror. Added to the natural horror of her situation were those countless sources of fear which a fright-shaken mind creates and then magnifies. She was, indeed, in a pitiable state, having been driven first by terror to desperation, and then to madness.
Startled thus out of fitful slumber by the noise at her door, she sprang from her bed to the floor, every terror that lurked in her acutely tense mind and diseased imagination starting up and almost overwhelming her. The idea of flight—one of the strongest of all instincts—seized upon her, and she ran to the door, beyond all control of reason. She drew the bolt and flung the door wide open, and then fled wildly down the passage, the appalling hissing and rasping gurgle ringing in her ears apparently with a thousandfold intensity. But the passage was in absolute darkness, and she had not taken a half-dozen steps when she tripped upon an unseen object on the floor. She fell headlong upon it, encountering in it a large, soft, warm substance that writhed and squirmed, and from which came the sounds that had awakened her. Instantly realizing her situation, she uttered a shriek such as only an unnamable terror can inspire. But hardly had her cry started the echoes in the empty corridor when it was suddenly stifled. Two prodigious arms had closed upon her and crushed the life out of her.
The cry performed the office of directing the detective and his assistants, and it also aroused the old surgeon, who occupied rooms between the officers and the object of their search. The cry of agony pierced him to the marrow, and a realization of the cause of it burst upon him with frightful force.
"It has come at last!" he gasped, springing from his bed.
Snatching from a table a dimly-burning lamp and a long knife which he had kept at hand for three years, he dashed into the corridor. The four officers had already started forward, but when they saw him emerge they halted in silence. In that moment of stillness the surgeon paused to listen. He heard the hissing sound and the clumsy floundering of a bulky, living object in the direction of his wife's apartments. It evidently was advancing towards him. A turn in the corridor shut out the view. He turned up the light, which revealed a ghastly pallor in his face.
"Wife!" he called.
There was no response. He hurriedly advanced, the four men following quietly. He turned the angle of the corridor, and ran so rapidly that by the time the officers had come in sight of him again he was twenty steps away. He ran past a huge, shapeless object, sprawling, crawling, and floundering along, and arrived at the body of his wife.
He gave one horrified glance at her face, and staggered away. Then a fury seized him. Clutching the knife firmly, and holding the lamp aloft, he sprang toward the ungainly object in the corridor. It was then that the officers, still advancing cautiously, saw a little more clearly, though still indistinctly, the object of the surgeon's fury, and the cause of the look of unutterable anguish in his face. The hideous sight caused them to pause. They saw what appeared to be a man, yet evidently was not a man; huge, awkward, shapeless; a squirming, lurching, stumbling mass, completely naked. It raised its broad shoulders. It had no head, but instead of it a small metallic ball surmounting its massive neck.
"Devil!" exclaimed the surgeon, raising the knife.
"Hold, there!" commanded a stern voice.
The surgeon quickly raised his eyes and saw the four officers, and for a moment fear paralyzed his arm.
"The police!" he gasped.
Then, with a look of redoubled fury, he sent the knife to the hilt into the squirming mass before him. The wounded monster sprang to its feet and wildly threw its arms about, meanwhile emitting fearful sounds from a silver tube through which it breathed. The surgeon aimed another blow, but never gave it. In his blind fury he lost his caution, and was caught in an iron grasp. The struggling threw the lamp some feet toward the officers, and it fell to the floor, shattered to pieces. Simultaneously with the crash the oil took fire, and the corridor was filled with flame. The officers could not approach. Before them was the spreading blaze, and secure behind it were two forms struggling in a fearful embrace. They heard cries and gasps, and saw the gleaming of a knife.
The wood in the house was old and dry. It took fire at once, and the flames spread with great rapidity. The four officers turned and fled, barely escaping with their lives. In an hour nothing remained of the mysterious old house and its inmates but a blackened ruin.
An Original Revenge
On a certain day I received a letter from a private soldier, named Gratmar, attached to the garrison of San Francisco. I had known him but slightly, the acquaintance having come about through his interest in some stories which I had published, and which he had a way of calling "psychological studies." He was a dreamy, romantic, fine-grained lad, proud as a tiger-lily and sensitive as a blue-bell. What mad caprice led him to join the army I never knew; but I did know that there he was wretchedly out of place, and I foresaw that his rude and repellant environment would make of him in time a deserter, or a suicide, or a murderer. The letter at first seemed a wild outpouring of despair, for it informed me that before it should reach me its author would be dead by his own hand. But when I had read farther I understood its spirit, and realized how coolly formed a scheme it disclosed and how terrible its purport was intended to be. The worst of the contents was the information that a certain officer (whom he named) had driven him to the deed, and that he was committing suicide for the sole purpose of gaining thereby the power to revenge himself upon his enemy! I learned afterward that the officer had received a similar letter.
This was so puzzling that I sat down to reflect upon the young man's peculiarities. He had always seemed somewhat uncanny, and had I proved more sympathetic he doubtless would have gone farther and told me of certain problems which he professed to have solved concerning the life beyond this. One thing that he had said came back vividly: "If I could only overcome that purely gross and animal love of life that makes us all shun death, I would kill myself, for I know how far more powerful I could be in spirit than in flesh."
The manner of the suicide was startling, and that was what might have been expected from this odd character. Evidently scorning the flummery of funerals, he had gone into a little canyon near the military reservation and blown himself into a million fragments with dynamite, so that all of him that was ever found was some minute particles of flesh and bone.
I kept the letter a secret, for I desired to observe the officer without rousing his suspicion of my purpose; it would be an admirable test of a dead man's power and deliberate intention to haunt the living, for so I interpreted the letter. The officer thus to be punished was an oldish man, short, apoplectic, overbearing, and irascible. Generally he was kind to most of the men in a way; but he was gross and mean, and that explained sufficiently his harsh treatment of young Gratmar, whom he could not understand, and his efforts to break that flighty young man's spirit.
Not very long after the suicide certain modifications in the officer's conduct became apparent to my watchful oversight. His choler, though none the less sporadic, developed a quality which had some of the characteristics of senility; and yet he was still in his prime, and passed for a sound man. He was a bachelor, and had lived always alone; but presently he began to shirk solitude at night and court it in daylight. His brother-officers chaffed him, and thereupon he would laugh in rather a forced and silly fashion, quite different from the ordinary way with him, and would sometimes, on these occasions, blush so violently that his face would become almost purple. His soldierly alertness and sternness relaxed surprisingly at some times and at others were exaggerated into unnecessary acerbity, his conduct in this regard suggesting that of a drunken man who knows that he is drunk and who now and then makes a brave effort to appear sober. All these things, and more, indicating some mental strain, or some dreadful apprehension, or perhaps something worse than either, were observed partly by me and partly by an intelligent officer whose watch upon the man had been secured by me.
To be more particular, the afflicted man was observed often to start suddenly and in alarm, look quickly round, and make some unintelligent monosyllabic answer, seemingly to an inaudible question that no visible person had asked. He acquired the reputation, too, of having taken lately to nightmares, for in the middle of the night he would shriek in the most dreadful fashion, alarming his roommates prodigiously. After these attacks he would sit up in bed, his ruddy face devoid of color, his eyes glassy and shining, his breathing broken with gasps, and his body wet with a cold perspiration.
Knowledge of these developments and transformations spread throughout the garrison; but the few (mostly women) who dared to express sympathy or suggest a tonic encountered so violent rebuffs that they blessed Heaven for escaping alive from his word-volleys. Even the garrison surgeon, who had a kindly manner, and the commanding general, who was constructed on dignified and impressive lines, received little thanks for their solicitude. Clearly the doughty old officer, who had fought like a bulldog in two wars and a hundred battles, was suffering deeply from some undiscoverable malady.
The next extraordinary thing which he did was to visit one evening (not so clandestinely as to escape my watch) a spirit medium—extraordinary, because he always had scoffed at the idea of spirit communications. I saw him as he was leaving the medium's rooms. His face was purple, his eyes were bulging and terrified, and he tottered in his walk. A policeman, seeing his distress, advanced to assist him; whereupon the soldier hoarsely begged,—
"Call a hack."
Into it he fell, and asked to be driven to his quarters. I hastily ascended to the medium's rooms, and found her lying unconscious on the floor. Soon, with my aid, she recalled her wits, but her conscious state was even more alarming than the other. At first she regarded me with terror, and cried,—
"It is horrible for you to hound him so!"
I assured her that I was hounding no one.
"Oh, I thought you were the spir—I mean—I—oh, but it was standing exactly where you are!" she exclaimed.
"I suppose so," I agreed, "but you can see that I am not the young man's spirit. However, I am familiar with this whole case, madam, and if I can be of any service in the matter I should be glad if you would inform me. I am aware that our friend is persecuted by a spirit, which visits him frequently, and I am positive that through you it has informed him that the end is not far away, and that our elderly friend's death will assume some terrible form. Is there anything that I can do to avert the tragedy?"