The Death of Halpin Frayser by Ambrose Bierce
For by death is wrought greater change than hath been
shown. Whereas in general the spirit that removed cometh
back upon occasion, and is sometimes seen of those in flesh
(appearing in the form of the body it bore) yet it hath
happened that the veritable body without the spirit hath
walked. And it is attested of those encountering who have
lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no
natural affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate.
Also, it is known that some spirits which in life were benign
become by death evil altogether.--HALL.
ONE dark night in midsummer a man waking from
a dreamless sleep in a forest lifted his head from the
earth, and staring a few moments into the blackness,
said: 'Catharine Larue.' He said nothing
more; no reason was known to him why he should
have said so much.
The man was Halpin Frayser. He lived in St.
Helena, but where he lives now is uncertain, for he
is dead. One who practises sleeping in the woods
with nothing under him but the dry leaves and
the damp earth, and nothing over him but the
branches from which the leaves have fallen and the
sky from which the earth has fallen, cannot hope for
great longevity, and Frayser had already attained
the age of thirty-two. There are persons in this
world, millions of persons, and far and away the
best persons, who regard that as a very advanced
age. They are the children. To those who view the
voyage of life from the port of departure the
bark that has accomplished any considerable distance
appears already in close approach to the farther
shore. However, it is not certain that Halpin
Frayser came to his death by exposure.
He had been all day in the hills west of the Napa
Valley, looking for doves and such small game as
was in season. Late in the afternoon it had come
on to be cloudy, and he had lost his bearings; and although
he had only to go always downhill--everywhere
the way to safety when one is lost--the absence
of trails had so impeded him that he was
overtaken by night while still in the forest. Unable
in the darkness to penetrate the thickets of manzanita
and other undergrowth, utterly bewildered
and overcome with fatigue, he had lain down near
the root of a large madrono and fallen into a dreamless
sleep. It was hours later, in the very middle of
the night, that one of God's mysterious messengers,
gliding ahead of the incalculable host of his companions
sweeping westward with the dawn line,
pronounced the awakening word in the ear of the
sleeper, who sat upright and spoke, he knew not
why, a name, he knew not whose.
Halpin Frayser was not much of a philosopher,
nor a scientist. The circumstance that, waking from
a deep sleep at night in the midst of a forest, he had
spoken aloud a name that he had not in memory
and hardly had in mind did not arouse an enlightened
curiosity to investigate the phenomenon.
He thought it odd, and with a little perfunctory
shiver, as if in deference to a seasonal presumption
that the night was chill, he lay down again and
went to sleep. But his sleep was no longer dreamless.
He thought he was walking along a dusty road
that showed white in the gathering darkness of a
summer night. Whence and whither it led, and why
he travelled it, he did not know, though all seemed
simple and natural, as is the way in dreams; for in
the Land Beyond the Bed surprises cease from
troubling and the judgment is at rest. Soon he came
to a parting of the ways; leading from the highway
was a road less travelled, having the appearance, indeed,
of having been long abandoned, because, he
thought, it led to something evil; yet he turned into
it without hesitation, impelled by some imperious
As he pressed forward he became conscious that
his way was haunted by invisible existences whom
he could not definitely figure to his mind. From
among the trees on either side he caught broken
and incoherent whispers in a strange tongue which
yet he partly understood. They seemed to him
fragmentary utterances of a monstrous conspiracy
against his body and soul.
It was now long after nightfall, yet the interminable
forest through which he journeyed was lit with
a wan glimmer having no point of diffusion, for in
its mysterious lumination nothing cast a shadow. A
shallow pool in the guttered depression of an old
wheel rut, as from a recent rain, met his eye with
a crimson gleam. He stooped and plunged his hand
into it. It stained his fingers; it was blood! Blood,
he then observed, was about him everywhere. The
weeds growing rankly by the roadside showed it in
blots and splashes on their big, broad leaves. Patches
of dry dust between the wheel-ways were pitted
and spattered as with a red rain. Defiling the trunks
of the trees were broad maculations of crimson, and
blood dripped like dew from their foliage.
All this he observed with a terror which seemed
not incompatible with the fulfilment of a natural
expectation. It seemed to him that it was all in expiation
of some crime which, though conscious of his
guilt, he could not rightly remember. To the menaces
and mysteries of his surroundings the consciousness
was an added horror. Vainly he sought, by tracing
life backward in memory, to reproduce the moment
of his sin; scenes and incidents came crowding
tumultuously into his mind, one picture effacing another,
or commingling with it in confusion and obscurity,
but nowhere could he catch a glimpse of
what he sought. The failure augmented his terror;
he felt as one who has murdered in the dark, not
knowing whom nor why. So frightful was the situation
--the mysterious light burned with so silent
and awful a menace; the noxious plants, the trees
that by common consent are invested with a melancholy
or baleful character, so openly in his sight
conspired against his peace; from overhead and all
about came so audible and startling whispers and
the sighs of creatures so obviously not of earth--
that he could endure it no longer, and with a great
effort to break some malign spell that bound his
faculties to silence and inaction, he shouted with the
full strength of his lungs! His voice, broken, it
seemed, into an infinite multitude of unfamiliar
sounds, went babbling and stammering away into
the distant reaches of the forest, died into silence,
and all was as before. But he had made a beginning
at resistance and was encouraged. He said:
'I will not submit unheard. There may be powers
that are not malignant travelling this accursed road.
I shall leave them a record and an appeal. I shall
relate my wrongs, the persecutions that I endure--
I, a helpless mortal, a penitent, an unoffending
poet!' Halpin Frayser was a poet only as he was
a penitent: in his dream.
Taking from his clothing a small red-leather
pocket-book one half of which was leaved for memoranda,
he discovered that he was without a pencil.
He broke a twig from a bush, dipped it into a pool
of blood and wrote rapidly. He had hardly touched
the paper with the point of his twig when a low, wild
peal of laughter broke out at a measureless distance
away, and growing ever louder, seemed approaching
ever nearer; a soulless, heartless, and unjoyous
laugh, like that of the loon, solitary by the lakeside
at midnight; a laugh which culminated in an
unearthly shout close at hand, then died away
by slow gradations, as if the accursed being that
uttered it had withdrawn over the verge of the
world whence it had come. But the man felt that
this was not so--that it was near by and had not
A strange sensation began slowly to take possession
of his body and his mind. He could not have
said which, if any, of his senses was affected; he felt
it rather as a consciousness--a mysterious mental
assurance of some overpowering presence--some
supernatural malevolence different in kind from
the invisible existences that swarmed about him, and
superior to them in power. He knew that it had
uttered that hideous laugh. And now it seemed to be
approaching him; from what direction he did not
know--dared not conjecture. All his former fears
were forgotten or merged in the gigantic terror that
now held him in thrall. Apart from that, he had but
one thought: to complete his written appeal to the
benign powers who, traversing the haunted wood,
might sometime rescue him if he should be denied
the blessing of annihilation. He wrote with terrible
rapidity, the twig in his fingers rilling blood without
renewal; but in the middle of a sentence his hands
denied their service to his will, his arms fell to his
sides, the book to the earth; and powerless to move
or cry out, he found himself staring into the sharply
drawn face and blank, dead eyes of his own mother,
standing white and silent in the garments of the
In his youth Halpin Frayser had lived with his
parents in Nashville, Tennessee. The Fraysers were
well-to-do, having a good position in such society as
had survived the wreck wrought by civil war. Their
children had the social and educational opportunities
of their time and place, and had responded to good
associations and instruction with agreeable manners
and cultivated minds. Halpin being the youngest
and not over robust was perhaps a trifle 'spoiled.'
He had the double disadvantage of a mother's
assiduity and a father's neglect. Frayser pere was
what no Southern man of means is not--a politician.
His country, or rather his section and State,
made demands upon his time and attention so exacting
that to those of his family he was compelled
to turn an ear partly deafened by the thunder of
the political captains and the shouting, his own
Young Halpin was of a dreamy, indolent and
rather romantic turn, somewhat more addicted to
literature than law, the profession to which he was
bred. Among those of his relations who professed
the modern faith of heredity it was well understood
that in him the character of the late Myron Bayne,
a maternal great-grandfather, had revisited the
glimpses of the moon--by which orb Bayne had
in his lifetime been sufficiently affected to be a poet
of no small Colonial distinction. If not specially observed,
it was observable that while a Frayser who
was not the proud possessor of a sumptuous copy
of the ancestral 'poetical works' (printed at the
family expense, and long ago withdrawn from an
inhospitable market) was a rare Frayser indeed,
there was an illogical indisposition to honour the
great deceased in the person of his spiritual successor.
Halpin was pretty generally deprecated as an
intellectual black sheep who was likely at any moment
to disgrace the flock by bleating in metre. The
Tennessee Fraysers were a practical folk--not
practical in the popular sense of devotion to sordid
pursuits, but having a robust contempt for any
qualities unfitting a man for the wholesome vocation
In justice to young Halpin it should be said that
while in him were pretty faithfully reproduced most
of the mental and moral characteristics ascribed by
history and family tradition to the famous Colonial
bard, his succession to the gift and faculty divine
was purely inferential. Not only had he never been
known to court the Muse, but in truth he could not
have written correctly a line of verse to save himself
from the Killer of the Wise. Still, there was no
knowing when the dormant faculty might wake and
smite the lyre.
In the meantime the young man was rather a
loose fish, anyhow. Between him and his mother was
the most perfect sympathy, for secretly the lady was
herself a devout disciple of the late and great Myron
Bayne, though with the tact so generally and justly
admired in her sex (despite the hardy calumniators
who insist that it is essentially the same thing as
cunning) she had always taken care to conceal her
weakness from all eyes but those of him who shared
it. Their common guilt in respect of that was an
added tie between them. If in Halpin's youth his
mother had 'spoiled' him he had assuredly done
his part toward being spoiled. As he grew to such
manhood as is attainable by a Southerner who does
not care which way elections go, the attachment between
him and his beautiful mother--whom from
early childhood he had called Katy--became yearly
stronger and more tender. In these two romantic
natures was manifest in a signal way that neglected
phenomenon, the dominance of the sexual element
in all the relations of life, strengthening, softening,
and beautifying even those of consanguinity. The
two were nearly inseparable, and by strangers observing
their manners were not infrequently mistaken
Entering his mother's boudoir one day Halpin
Frayser kissed her upon the forehead, toyed for a
moment with a lock of her dark hair which had escaped
from its confining pins, and said, with an obvious
effort at calmness:
'Would you greatly mind, Katy, if I were called
away to California for a few weeks?'
It was hardly needful for Katy to answer with her
lips a question to which her tell-tale cheeks had made
instant reply. Evidently she would greatly mind;
and the tears, too, sprang into her large brown eyes
as corroborative testimony.
'Ah, my son,' she said, looking up into his face
with infinite tenderness,' I should have known that
this was coming. Did I not lie awake a half of the
night weeping because, during the other half, Grandfather
Bayne had come to me in a dream, and standing
by his portrait--young, too, and handsome as
that--pointed to yours on the same wall? And
when I looked it seemed that I could not see the
features; you had been painted with a face cloth,
such as we put upon the dead. Your father has
laughed at me, but you and I, dear, know that such
things are not for nothing. And I saw below the edge
of the cloth the marks of hands on your throat--
forgive me, but we have not been used to keep such
things from each other. Perhaps you have another
interpretation. Perhaps it does not mean that you
will go to California. Or maybe you will take me
It must be confessed that this ingenious interpretation
of the dream in the light of newly discovered
evidence did not wholly commend itself to the son's
more logical mind; he had, for the moment at least,
a conviction that it foreshadowed a more simple and
immediate, if less tragic, disaster than a visit to the
Pacific Coast. It was Halpin Frayser's impression
that he was to be garroted on his native heath.
'Are there not medicinal springs in California?'
Mrs. Frayser resumed before he had time to give her
the true reading of the dream--'places where one
recovers from rheumatism and neuralgia? Look--
my fingers feel so stiff; and I am almost sure they
have been giving me great pain while I slept.'
She held out her hands for his inspection. What
diagnosis of her case the young man may have
thought it best to conceal with a smile the historian
is unable to state, but for himself he feels bound to
say that fingers looking less stiff, and showing fewer
evidences of even insensible pain, have seldom been
submitted for medical inspection by even the fairest
patient desiring a prescription of unfamiliar scenes.
The outcome of it was that of these two odd persons
having equally odd notions of duty, the one
went to California, as the interest of his client required,
and the other remained at home in compliance
with a wish that her husband was scarcely
conscious of entertaining.
While in San Francisco Halpin Frayser was walking
one dark night along the water-front of the city,
when, with a suddenness that surprised and disconcerted
him, he became a sailor. He was in fact
'shanghaied' aboard a gallant, gallant ship, and
sailed for a far countree. Nor did his misfortunes
end with the voyage; for the ship was cast ashore
on an island of the South Pacific, and it was six years
afterward when the survivors were taken off by a
venturesome trading schooner and brought back to
Though poor in purse, Frayser was no less proud
in spirit than he had been in the years that seemed
ages and ages ago. He would accept no assistance
from strangers, and it was while living with a fellow
survivor near the town of St. Helena, awaiting news
and remittances from home, that he had gone gunning
The apparition confronting the dreamer in the
haunted wood--the thing so like, yet so unlike, his
mother--was horrible! It stirred no love nor longings
in his heart; it came unattended with pleasant
memories of a golden past--inspired no sentiment
of any kind; all the finer emotions were swallowed
up in fear. He tried to turn and run from before it,
but his legs were as lead; he was unable to lift his
feet from the ground. His arms hung helpless at his
sides; of his eyes only he retained control, and these
he dared not remove from the lustreless orbs of the
apparition, which he knew was not a soul without
a body, but that most dreadful of all existences infesting
that haunted wood--a body without a soul!
In its blank stare was neither love, nor pity, nor
intelligence--nothing to which to address an appeal
for mercy. 'An appeal will not lie,' he thought,
with an absurd reversion to professional slang, making
the situation more horrible, as the fire of a cigar
might light up a tomb.
For a time, which seemed so long that the world
grew grey with age and sin, and the haunted forest,
having fulfilled its purpose in this monstrous culmination
of its terrors, vanished out of his consciousness
with all its sights and sounds, the apparition
stood within a pace, regarding him with the mindless
malevolence of a wild brute; then thrust its
hands forward and sprang upon him with appalling
ferocity! The act released his physical energies without
unfettering his will; his mind was still spellbound,
but his powerful body and agile limbs,
endowed with a blind, insensate life of their own, resisted
stoutly and well. For an instant he seemed to
see this unnatural contest between a dead intelligence
and a breathing mechanism only as a spectator
--such fancies are in dreams; then he regained
his identity almost as if by a leap forward into his
body, and the straining automaton had a directing
will as alert and fierce as that of its hideous
But what mortal can cope with a creature of his
dream? The imagination creating the enemy is already
vanquished; the combat's result is the combat'
s cause. Despite his struggles--despite his
strength and activity, which seemed wasted in a
void, he felt the cold fingers close upon his throat.
Borne backward to the earth, he saw above him the
dead and drawn face within a hand's-breadth of his
own, and then all was black. A sound as of the beating
of distant drums--a murmur of swarming
voices, a sharp, far cry signing all to silence, and
Halpin Frayser dreamed that he was dead.
A warm, clear night had been followed by a
morning of drenching fog. At about the middle of
the afternoon of the preceding day a little whiff of
light vapour--a mere thickening of the atmosphere,
the ghost of a cloud--had been observed
clinging to the western side of Mount St. Helena,
away up along the barren altitudes near the summit.
It was so thin, so diaphanous, so like a fancy
made visible, that one would have said: 'Look
quickly! in a moment it will be gone.'
In a moment it was visibly larger and denser.
While with one edge it clung to the mountain, with
the other it reached farther and farther out into the
air above the lower slopes. At the same time it extended
itself to north and south, joining small
patches of mist that appeared to come out of the
mountain-side on exactly the same level, with an intelligent
design to be absorbed. And so it grew and
grew until the summit was shut out of view from
the valley, and over the valley itself was an everextending
canopy, opaque and grey. At Calistoga,
which lies near the head of the valley and the foot
of the mountain, there were a starless night and a
sunless morning. The fog, sinking into the valley,
had reached southward, swallowing up ranch after
ranch, until it had blotted out the town of St.
Helena, nine miles away. The dust in the road was
laid; trees were adrip with moisture; birds sat
silent in their coverts; the morning light was wan
and ghastly, with neither colour nor fire.
Two men left the town of St. Helena at the first
glimmer of dawn, and walked along the road northward
up the valley toward Calistoga. They carried
guns on their shoulders, yet no one having knowledge
of such matters could have mistaken them for
hunters of bird or beast. They were a deputy sheriff
from Napa and a detective from San Francisco--
Holker and Jaralson, respectively. Their business
'How far is it?' inquired Holker, as they strode
along, their feet stirring white the dust beneath the
damp surface of the road.
'The White Church? Only a half mile farther,'
the other answered. 'By the way,' he added, 'it
is neither white nor a church; it is an abandoned
schoolhouse, grey with age and neglect. Religious
services were once held in it--when it was white,
and there is a graveyard that would delight a poet.
Can you guess why I sent for you, and told you to
'Oh, I never have bothered you about things of
that kind. I've always found you communicative
when the time came. But if I may hazard a guess,
you want me to help you arrest one of the corpses
in the graveyard.'
'You remember Branscom?' said Jaralson, treating
his companion's wit with the inattention that it
'The chap who cut his wife's throat? I ought; I
wasted a week's work on him and had my expenses
for my trouble. There is a reward of five hundred
dollars, but none of us ever got a sight of him. You
don't mean to say--'
'Yes, I do. He has been under the noses of you
fellows all the time. He comes by night to the old
graveyard at the White Church.'
'The devil! That's where they buried his wife.'
'Well, you fellows might have had sense enough
to suspect that he would return to her grave some
'The very last place that anyone would have expected
him to return to.'
'But you had exhausted all the other places.
Learning your failure at them, I "laid for him"
'And you found him?'
'Damn it! he found me. The rascal got the drop
on me--regularly held me up and made me travel.
It's God's mercy that he didn't go through me.
Oh, he's a good one, and I fancy the half of that
reward is enough for me if you're needy.'
Holker laughed good-humouredly, and explained
that his creditors were never more importunate.
'I wanted merely to show you the ground, and
arrange a plan with you,' the detective explained.
'I thought it as well for us to be armed, even in
'The man must be insane,' said the deputy sheriff.
'The reward is for his capture and conviction. If
he's mad he won't be convicted.'
Mr. Holker was so profoundly affected by that
possible failure of justice that he involuntarily
stopped in the middle of the road, then resumed his
walk with abated zeal.
'Well, he looks it,' assented Jaralson. 'I'm bound
to admit that a more unshaven, unshorn, unkempt,
and uneverything wretch I never saw outside the
ancient and honourable order of tramps. But I've
gone in for him, and can't make up my mind to let
go. There's glory in it for us, anyhow. Not another
soul knows that he is this side of the Mountains of
'All right,' Holker said; 'we will go and view the
ground,' and he added, in the words of a once
favourite inscription for tombstones: '"where you
must shortly lie"--I mean if old Branscom ever
gets tired of you and your impertinent intrusion.
By the way, I heard the other day that "Branscom"
was not his real name.'
'I can't recall it. I had lost all interest in the
wretch. and it did not fix itself in my memory--
something like Pardee. The woman whose throat he
had the bad taste to cut was a widow when he met
her. She had come to California to look up some
relatives--there are persons who will do that sometimes.
But you know all that.'
'But not knowing the right name, by what happy
inspiration did you find the right grave? The man
who told me what the name was said it had been cut
on the headboard.'
'I don't know the right grave.' Jaralson was apparently
a trifle reluctant to admit his ignorance of
so important a point of his plan. 'I have been watching
about the place generally. A part of our work
this morning will be to identify that grave. Here is
the White Church.'
For a long distance the road had been bordered by
fields on both sides, but now on the left there was a
forest of oaks, madronos, and gigantic spruces whose
lower parts only could be seen, dim and ghostly in
the fog. The undergrowth was, in places, thick, but
nowhere impenetrable. For some moments Holker
saw nothing of the building, but as they turned into
the woods it revealed itself in faint grey outline
through the fog, looking huge and far away. A few
steps more, and it was within an arm's length, distinct,
dark with moisture, and insignificant in size.
It had the usual country-schoolhouse form--belonged
to the packing-box order of architecture;
had an underpinning of stones, a moss-grown roof,
and blank window spaces, whence both glass and
sash had long departed. It was ruined, but not a ruin
--a typical Californian substitute for what are
known to guide-bookers abroad as 'monuments of
the past.' With scarcely a glance at this uninteresting
structure Jaralson moved on into the dripping
'I will show you where he held me up,' he said.
'This is the graveyard.'
Here and there among the bushes were small enclosures
containing graves, sometimes no more than
one. They were recognized as graves by the discoloured
stones or rotting boards at head and foot,
leaning at all angles, some prostrate; by the ruined
picket fences surrounding them; or, infrequently, by
the mound itself showing its gravel through the
fallen leaves. In many instances nothing marked
the spot where lay the vestiges of some poor mortal
--who, leaving 'a large circle of sorrowing friends,'
had been left by them in turn--except a depression
in the earth, more lasting than that in the spirits of
the mourners. The paths, if any paths had been,
were long obliterated; trees of a considerable size
had been permitted to grow up from the graves and
thrust aside with root or branch the enclosing
fences. Over all was that air of abandonment and
decay which seems nowhere so fit and significant
as in a village of the forgotten dead.
As the two men, Jaralson leading, pushed their
way through the growth of young trees, that enterprising
man suddenly stopped and brought up his
shotgun to the height of his breast, uttered a low
note of warning, and stood motionless, his eyes
fixed upon something ahead. As well as he could,
obstructed by brush, his companion, though
seeing nothing, imitated the posture and so
stood, prepared for what might ensue. A moment
later Jaralson moved cautiously forward, the other
Under the branches of an enormous spruce lay the
dead body of a man. Standing silent above it they
noted such particulars as first strike the attention--
the face, the attitude, the clothing; whatever most
promptly and plainly answers the unspoken question
of a sympathetic curiosity.
The body lay upon its back, the legs wide apart.
One arm was thrust upward, the other outward; but
the latter was bent acutely, and the hand was near
the throat. Both hands were tightly clenched. The
whole attitude was that of desperate but ineffectual
Near by lay a shotgun and a game bag through
the meshes of which was seen the plumage of shot
birds. All about were evidences of a furious struggle;
small sprouts of poison-oak were bent and
denuded of leaf and bark; dead and rotting leaves
had been pushed into heaps and ridges on both sides
of the legs by the action of other feet than theirs;
alongside the hips were unmistakable impressions
of human knees.
The nature of the struggle was made clear by a
glance at the dead man's throat and face. While
breast and hands were white, those were purple--
almost black. The shoulders lay upon a low mound,
and the head was turned back at an angle otherwise
impossible, the expanded eyes staring blankly backward
in a direction opposite to that of the feet. From
the froth filling the open mouth the tongue protruded,
black and swollen. The throat showed horrible
contusions; not mere finger-marks, but bruises
and lacerations wrought by two strong hands that
must have buried themselves in the yielding flesh,
maintaining their terrible grasp until long after
death. Breast, throat, face, were wet; the clothing
was saturated; drops of water, condensed from the
fog, studded the hair and moustache.
All this the two men observed without speaking--
almost at a glance. Then Holker said:
'Poor devil! he had a rough deal.'
Jaralson was making a vigilant circumspection of
the forest, his shotgun held in both hands and at full
cock, his finger upon the trigger.
'The work of a maniac,' he said, without withdrawing
his eyes from the enclosing wood. 'It was
done by Branscom--Pardee.'
Something half hidden by the disturbed leaves on
the earth caught Holker's attention. It was a redleather
pocket-book. He picked it up and opened it.
It contained leaves of white paper for memoranda,
and upon the first leaf was the name 'Halpin Frayser.'
Written in red on several succeeding leaves--
scrawled as if in haste and barely legible--were
the following lines, which Holker read aloud, while
his companion continued scanning the dim grey
confines of their narrow world and hearing matter
of apprehension in the drip of water from every burdened
'Enthralled by some mysterious spell, I stood
In the lit gloom of an enchanted wood.
The cypress there and myrtle twined their boughs,
Significant, in baleful brotherhood.
'The brooding willow whispered to the yew;
Beneath, the deadly nightshade and the rue,
With immortelles self-woven into strange
Funereal shapes, and horrid nettles grew.
'No song of bird nor any drone of bees,
Nor light leaf lifted by the wholesome breeze:
The air was stagnant all, and Silence was
A living thing that breathed among the trees.
'Conspiring spirits whispered in the gloom,
Half-heard, the stilly secrets of the tomb.
With blood the trees were all adrip; the leaves
Shone in the witch-light with a ruddy bloom.
'I cried aloud!--the spell, unbroken still,
Rested upon my spirit and my will.
Unsouled, unhearted, hopeless and forlorn,
I strove with monstrous presages of ill!
'At last the viewless--'
Holker ceased reading; there was no more to
read. The manuscript broke off in the middle of a
'That sounds like Bayne,' said Jaralson, who was
something of a scholar in his way. He had abated
his vigilance and stood looking down at the body.
'Who's Bayne?' Holker asked rather incuriously.
'Myron Bayne, a chap who flourished in the
early years of the nation--more than a century
ago. Wrote mighty dismal stuff; I have his collected
works. That poem is not among them, but it must
have been omitted by mistake.'
'It is cold,' said Holker; 'let us leave here; we
must have up the coroner from Napa.'
Jaralson said nothing, but made a movement in
compliance. Passing the end of the slight elevation
of earth upon which the dead man's head and
shoulders lay, his foot struck some hard substance
under the rotting forest leaves, and he took the
trouble to kick it into view. It was a fallen headboard,
and painted on it were the hardly decipherable
words, 'Catharine Larue.'
'Larue, Larue!' exclaimed Holker, with sudden
animation. 'Why, that is the real name of Branscom
--not Pardee. And--bless my soul! how it all
comes to me--the murdered woman's name had
'There is some rascally mystery here,' said Detective
Jaralson. 'I hate anything of that kind.'
There came to them out of the fog--seemingly
from a great distance--the sound of a laugh, a low,
deliberate, soulless laugh which had no more of joy
than that of a hyena night-prowling in the desert; a
laugh that rose by slow gradation, louder and louder,
clearer, more distinct and terrible, until it seemed
barely outside the narrow circle of their vision; a
laugh so unnatural, so unhuman, so devilish, that
it filled those hardy man-hunters with a sense of
dread unspeakable! They did not move their weapons
nor think of them; the menace of that horrible
sound was not of the kind to be met with arms.
As it had grown out of silence, so now it died away;
from a culminating shout which had seemed almost
in their ears, it drew itself away into the distance
until its failing notes, joyous and mechanical to the
last, sank to silence at a measureless remove.