AMOS KILBRIGHT; HIS ADSCITITIOUS EXPERIENCES
With Other Stories
FRANK R. STOCKTON
AMOS KILBRIGHT: HIS ADSCITITIOUS EXPERIENCES
THE REVERSIBLE LANDSCAPE
DUSKY PHILOSOPHY—IN TWO EXPOSITIONS: FIRST EXPOSITION: A STORY OF SEVEN DEVILS SECOND EXPOSITION: GRANDISON'S QUANDARY
AMOS KILBRIGHT: HIS ADSCITITIOUS EXPERIENCES.
[This story is told by Mr. Richard Colesworthy, an attorney-at-law, in a large town in one of our Eastern States. The fact that Mr. Colesworthy is a practical man, and but little given, outside of his profession, to speculative theorizing, adds a weight to his statements which they might not otherwise possess.]
In the practice of my profession I am in the habit of meeting with all sorts and conditions of men, women, and even children. But I do not know that I ever encountered anyone who excited in me a greater interest than the man about whom I am going to tell you.
I was busily engaged one morning in my office, which is on the ground floor of my dwelling and opens upon the street, when, after a preliminary knock, a young man entered and asked leave to speak with me. He was tall and well made, plainly but decently dressed, and with a fresh, healthy color on his smoothly shaven face. There was something in his air, a sort of respectful awkwardness, which was not without a suggestion of good breeding, and in his countenance there was an annoyed or troubled expression which did not sit well upon it. I asked him to take a chair, and as he did so the thought came to me that I should like to be of service to him. Of course I desire to aid and benefit all my clients, but there are some persons whose appearance excites in one an instinctive sympathy, and toward whom there arise at first sight sentiments of kindliness. The man had said almost nothing; it was simply his manner that had impressed me. I mention these points because generally I do not take an interest in persons until I know a good deal about them.
"What can I do for you?" I asked.
The man did not immediately answer, but began searching for something in one of the pockets of his coat. The little awkwardness which I had first noticed, now became more apparent. He appeared to be looking for his pockets rather than for what might be in one of them. He was conscious of his ungainliness and reddened a little as he fumbled on the inside and outside of his coat.
"I pray you pardon me," he said, "but I will bring before you instantly the matter of my business."
And so saying, he got his hand into a breast pocket and drew out a little packet. There was a certain intonation of his voice which, at first made me think that he was not an American, but in that intonation there was really nothing foreign. He was certainly a stranger, he might be from the backwoods, and both his manner and speech appeared odd to me; but soon I had no doubt about his being my countryman. In fact, there was something in his general appearance which seemed to me to be distinctively American.
"I came to you, sir," he said, "to ask if you would have the goodness to purchase one or more of these tickets?" And he held out to me a card entitling one person to admission to a seance to be given by a party of spiritualists in one of the public buildings of the town.
A feeling of anger arose within me. I was chagrined to think that I had begun to interest myself in a person who merely came to interrupt me in my business by trying to sell me tickets to a spiritualistic exhibition. My instant impulse was to turn from the man and let him see that I was offended by his intrusion, but my reason told me that he had done nothing that called for resentment. If I had expected something more important from him, that was my affair. He had not pretended to have any other business than that which brought him.
And, besides, he offered me something which in fact I wanted. I am a member of a society for psychical research, which, about a year before, had been organized in our town. It is composed almost exclusively of persons who are desirous of honestly investigating the facts, as well as theories, connected with the spiritual phenomena, not only of our own day, but of all ages. We had heard of the spiritualistic exhibitions which were to be given in our town, and I, with a number of my fellow-members, had determined to attend them. If there was anything real or tangible in the performances of these people we wanted to know it. Considering all this, it would be foolish for me to be angry with a man who had brought me the very tickets I intended to buy, and, instead of turning away from him, I took out my pocket-book.
"I will take one ticket for each of the three seances," I said. And I placed the money on the table.
I should have been glad to buy two sets of tickets; one for my wife; but I knew this would be useless. She did not belong to our society, and took no interest in its investigations.
"These things are all tricks and nonsense," she said. "I don't want to know anything about them. And if they were true, I most certainly would not want to know anything about them."
So I contented myself with the tickets for my own use, and as the man slowly selected them from his little package, I asked him if he had sold many of them.
"These you now buy are the first of which I have made disposal," he answered. "For two days I have endeavored to sell them, but to no purpose. There are many people to whom I cannot bring myself to speak upon the matter, and those I have asked care not for these things. I would not have come to you, but having twice passed your open window, I liked your face and took courage."
I smiled. So this man had been studying me before I began to study him; and this discovery revived in me the desire that he had come on some more interesting business than that of selling tickets; a thing he did so badly as to make me wonder why he had undertaken it.
"I imagine," said I, "that this sort of business is out of your line."
He looked at me a moment, and then with earnestness exclaimed: "Entirely! utterly! absolutely! I am altogether unfitted for this calling, and it is an injustice to those who send me out for me to longer continue in it. Some other person might sell their tickets; I cannot. And yet," he said, with a sigh, "what is there that I may do?"
The idea that that strong, well-grown man should have any difficulty in finding something to do surprised me. If he chose to go out and labor with his hands—and surely no man who was willing to wander about selling tickets should object to that—there would be no difficulty in his obtaining a livelihood in our town.
"If you want regular employment," I said, "I think you can easily find it."
"I want it," he answered, his face clouded by a troubled expression, "but I cannot take it."
"Cannot take it!" I exclaimed.
"No," he said, "I am not my own master. I am as much a slave as any negro hereabouts!"
I was rather surprised at this meaningless allusion, but contented myself with asking him what he meant by not being his own master.
He looked on the floor and then he looked at me, with a steady, earnest gaze. "I should like well to tell you my story," he said. "I have been ordered not to tell it, but I have resolved that when I should meet a man to whom I should be moved to speak I would speak."
Now, I felt a very natural emotion of pride. My perception of objects of interest was a quick and a correct one. "Speak on," I said, "I shall be very glad to hear what you have to say."
He looked toward the open door. I arose and closed it. When I had resumed my seat he drew his chair closer to me, leaned toward me, and said:
"In the first place you should know that I am a materialized spirit."
I sat up, hard pressed against the back of my chair.
"Nay, start not," he said, "I am now as truly flesh and blood as you are; but a short three weeks ago I was a spirit in the realms of endless space. I know," he continued, "that my history is a sore thing to inflict upon any man, and there are few to whom I would have broached it, but I will make it brief. Three weeks ago these spiritualists held privately in this town what they call a seance, and at that time I was impelled, by a power I understood not, to appear among them. After I had come it was supposed that a mistake had been made, and that I was not the spirit wanted. In the temporary confusion occasioned by this supposition, and while the attention of the exhibitors was otherwise occupied, I was left exposed to the influence of the materializing agencies for a much longer time than had been intended; so long, indeed, that instead of remaining in the misty, indistinct form in which spirits are presented by these men to their patrons, I became as thoroughly embodied, as full of physical life and energy, and as complete a mortal man as I was when I disappeared from this earth, one hundred and two years ago."
"One hundred and two years!" I mechanically ejaculated. There was upon me the impulse to get up and go where I could breathe the outer air; to find my wife and talk to her about marketing or some household affair, to get away from this being—human or whatever he was—but this was impossible. That interest which dawned upon me when I first perceived my visitor now held me as if it had been a spell.
"Yes," he said, "I deceased in 1785, being then in my thirtieth year. I was a citizen of Bixbury, on the Massachusetts coast, but I am not unconnected with this place. Old Mr. Scott, of your town, is my grandson."
I am obliged to chronicle the fact that my present part in this conversation consisted entirely of ejaculations. "Old Mr. Scott your grandson!" I said.
"Yes," he replied; "my daughter, who was but two years old when I left her, married Lemuel Scott, of Bixbury, who moved to this town soon after old Mr. Scott was born. It was, indeed, on account of this good old man that I became materialized. He was present at the private seance of which I have spoken, and being asked if he would like to see a person from the other world, he replied that he should be pleased to behold his grandfather. When the necessary influences were set to work I appeared. The spiritualists, who, without much thought, had conceived the idea that the grandfather of old Mr. Scott ought, in the ordinary nature of things, to be a very venerable personage, were disappointed when they saw me, and concluded I was one who, by some mistake, had been wrongfully summoned. They, therefore, set me aside, as it were, and occupied themselves with other matters. Old Mr. Scott went away unsatisfied, and strengthened in his disbelief in the powers of the spiritualists, while I, as I have before said, was left unnoticed under the power of the materializing force, until I was made corporeal as I am now. When the spiritualists discovered what had happened they were much disturbed, and immediately set about to dematerialize me, for it is not their purpose or desire to cause departed spirits to again become inhabitants of this world. But all their efforts were of no avail. I remained as much a man as anyone of themselves. They found me in full health and vigor, for I had never had a day's sickness in my life, having come to my death by drowning while foolishly swimming too far from land in a strong ebb tide, and my body, being carried out to sea, was never recovered. Being thus put to their wit's end, they determined to keep the matter privy, and to make the best of it, and the first necessity was to provide me with clothing, for on my second entrance into this world I was as totally without apparel as when I first came into it. They gave me these garments of the ordinary fashion of the day, but to which I find myself much unaccustomed, and enjoined upon me to keep silent in regard to what had happened; fearing, as I was made aware by some unguarded words, that their efforts to dematerialize me might bring them into trouble."
My professional instincts now came to the front. "That would be murder," I said, "and nothing less."
"So I myself told them," he continued, "for I had come to the determination that I would choose to finish out the life I had broken off so suddenly. But they paid little heed to my words and continued their experiments. But, as I have told you, their efforts were without avail, and they have ceased to make further trial of dematerialization. As, of course, it would be impossible to keep a full-grown man for any considerable length of time secluded and unseen, they judged it wise to permit me to appear as an ordinary human being; and having no other use to which they could put me, they set me to selling tickets for them, and in this business I have fared so badly that I shall restore to them these that are left, and counsel them to seek another agent, I being of detriment to them rather than profit. What may then happen I do not know, for, as I told you, I am not my own master."
"I do not understand you," I said. "If you have been, in this unparalleled manner, restored to your physical existence, surely you are free to do as you please. What these spiritualists have done for you was done by accident. They intended you no benefit, and they have no claim upon you."
"That is true," he said, with a sigh, "but they have a hold upon me. It was but yesterday that they informed me that, although, so far, they had failed to restore me to what they call my normal spiritual existence, they had every reason to believe that they soon would be able to do so. A psychic scientist of Germany has discovered a process of dematerialization, and they have sent to him for his formula. This, in a short time, they expect to receive, and they assure me that they will not hesitate to put it in force if I should cause them trouble. Now, sir," he continued, and as he spoke there was a moisture about his eyes, "I am very fond of life. I have been restored to that mortality from which I was suddenly snatched by the cruel sea, and I do not wish to lose it again until I have lived out my natural term of years. My family is one of long life, and I feel that I have a right to fifty more years of existence, and this strong desire for the natural remainder of my life is that which gives these men their power over me. I was never a coward, but I cannot but fear those who may at any moment cause this form, these limbs, my physical state and life, to vanish like a candle-flame blown out."
My sympathies were now strongly aroused in behalf of the subject of these most extraordinary conditions. "That which you fear must not be allowed," I said. "No man has the right to take away the life of another, no matter what plan or method he may use. I will see the spiritualists, and make it plain to them that what they threaten they cannot be allowed to do."
The man arose. "Sir," he said, "I feel that I have truly found a friend. Whatever may happen to me, I shall never forget your kindness to a very stranger." He held out his hand, and I stood up by him and took it. It was as much a flesh and blood hand as my own.
"What is your name?" I asked. "You have not yet told me that."
"I am Amos Kilbright, of Bixbury," he answered.
"You have not revisited your native place?" I said.
"No," he replied, "I much desire to do so, but I have no money for a journey, even on foot, and I doubt me much if those men would suffer me to go to Bixbury."
"And have you spoken to your grandson, old Mr. Scott?" I said. "It is but right that you should make yourself known to him."
"So have I thought," he answered, "and I have felt an earnest drawing toward my daughter's child. I have seen him thrice, but have not had the heart to speak to him and declare myself the progenitor of that mother whose memory I know he cherishes."
"You shall make yourself known to him," I said. "I will prepare the way."
He shook me again by the hand and took his leave without a word. He was deeply affected.
I reseated myself by my table, one thought after another rushing through my mind. Had ever man heard a story such as this! What were all the experiences of the members of the Society for Psychical Research, their stories of apparitions, their instances of occult influences, their best authenticated incidents of supernaturalism compared to this experience of mine! Should I hasten and tell it all to my wife? I hesitated. If what I had heard should not be true—and this, my first doubt or suspicion impressed upon me how impossible to me had been doubt or suspicion during the presence of my visitor—it would be wrong to uselessly excite her mind. On the other hand, if I had heard nothing but the truth, what would happen should she sympathize as deeply with Amos Kilbright as I did, and then should that worthy man suddenly become dematerialized, perhaps before her very eyes? No, I would not tell her—at least not yet. But I must see the spiritualists. And that afternoon I went to them.
The leader and principal worker of the men who were about to give a series of spiritual manifestations in our town was Mr. Corbridge, a man of middle-age with a large head and earnest visage. When I spoke to him of Amos Kilbright he was very much annoyed.
"So he has been talking to you," he said, "and after all the warnings I gave him! Well, he does that sort of thing at his own risk!"
"We all do things at our own risk," I said, "and he has as much right to choose his line of conduct as anybody else."
"No, he hasn't," said Mr. Corbridge, "he belongs to us, and it is for us to choose his line of conduct for him."
"That is nonsense," said I. "You have no more right over him than I have."
"Now then," said Mr. Corbridge, his eyes beginning to sparkle, "I may as well talk plainly to you. My associates and myself have considered this matter very carefully. At first we thought that if this fellow should tell his story we would simply pooh-pooh the whole of it, and let people think he was a little touched in his mind, which would be so natural a conclusion that everybody might be expected to come to it. But as we have determined to dematerialize him, his disappearance would bring suspicion upon us, and we might get into trouble if he should be considered a mere commonplace person. So we decided to speak out plainly, say what we had done, and what we were going to do, and thus put ourselves at the head of the spirit operators of the world. But we are not yet ready to do anything or to make our announcements, and if he had held his tongue we might have given him a pretty long string."
"And do you mean," I said, "that you and your associates positively intend to dematerialize Mr. Kilbright?"
"Certainly," he answered.
"Then, I declare such an act would be inhuman; a horrible crime."
"No," said Mr. Corbridge, "it would be neither. In the first place he isn't human. It is by accident that he is what he is. But it was our affair entirely, and it was a most wonderfully fortunate thing for us that it happened. At first it frightened us a little, but we have got used to it now, and we see the great opportunities that this entirely unparalleled case will give us. As he is, he is of no earthly good to anybody. You can't take a man out of the last century and expect him to get on in any sort of business at the present day. He is too old-fashioned. He doesn't know how we do things in the year eighteen eighty-seven. We put this subject to work selling tickets just to keep him occupied; but he can't even do that. But, as a spirit who can be materialized or dematerialized whenever we please, he will be of the greatest value to us. When a spirit has been brought out as strongly as he has been it will be the easiest thing in the world to do it again. Every time you bring one out the less trouble it is to make it appear the next time you want it; and in this case the conditions are so favorable that it will be absolute business suicide in us if we allow ourselves to lose the chance of working it. So you see, sir, that we have marked out our course, and I assure you that we intend to stick to it."
"And I assure you," said I, rising to go, "that I shall make it my business to interfere with your wicked machinations."
Mr. Corbridge laughed. "You'll find," he said, "that we have turned this thing over pretty carefully, and we are ready for whatever the courts may do. If we are charged with making away with anybody, we can, if we like, make him appear, alive and well, before judge and jury. And then what will there be to say against us? Besides, we are quite sure that no laws can be found against bringing beings from the other world, or sending them back into it, provided it can be proved by the subject's admission, or in any other manner, that he really died once in a natural way. You cannot be tried for causing a man's death a second time."
I was not prepared to make any answer on this point, but I went away with a firm resolution to protect Amos Kilbright in the full enjoyment of his reassumed physical existence, if the power of law, or any other power, could do it.
The next morning Mr. Corbridge called on me at my office. "I shall be very sorry," he said, "if any of my remarks of yesterday should cause unpleasant feelings between us. We are desirous of being on good terms with everybody, especially with members of the Society for Psychical Research. You ought to work with us."
"We do not work with you," I replied, "nor ever shall. Our object is to search earnestly and honestly into the subject of spiritual manifestation, and not to make money out of unfortunate subjects of experiment."
"You misunderstand us," said he, "but I am not going to argue the question. I wish to be on good terms with you and to act fairly and plainly all around. We find that we cannot make use of the dematerialization process as soon as we expected, for the German scientist who controls it has declined to send us his formula, but has consented to come over and work it on this subject himself. His engagements will not allow him to visit this country immediately, but he is very enthusiastic about it, and he is bound to come before long. Now, as you seem to be interested in this ex-Kilbright, we will make you an offer. We will give him into your charge until we want him. He is of no use to us, as he can't tell us anything about spiritual matters, his present memory beginning just where it broke off when he sank in the ocean in seventeen eighty-five, but he might be very useful to a man who was inclined to study up old-time manners and customs. And so, if it suits you, we will make him over to you, agreeing to give you three days' notice before we take any measures to dematerialize him. We are not afraid of your getting away with him, for our power over him will be all the same, no matter where he is."
"I will have no man made over to me," said I, "and Mr. Kilbright being his own master, can do with himself what he pleases; but, as I said before, I shall protect him, and do everything in my power to thwart your schemes against him. And you must remember he will have other friends besides me. He has relatives in this town."
"None but old Mr. Scott, at least so far as I know," said Corbridge, "and he need not expect any help from him, for that ancient personage is a most arrant disbeliever in spiritualism."
And with this remark he took his leave.
That very afternoon came to me Amos Kilbright, his face shining with pleasure. He greeted me warmly, and thanked me for having so kindly offered to give him employment by which he might live and feel under obligations to no man.
I had promised nothing of the kind, and my mind was filled with abhorrence of such men as Corbridge, who would not only send a person into the other world simply to gratify a scientific curiosity or for purposes of profit, but would rehabilitate a departed spirit with all his lost needs and appetites, and then foist him upon a comparative stranger for care and sustenance. Such conduct was not only mean, but criminal in its nature, and if there was no law against it, one ought to be made.
Kilbright then proceeded to tell me how happy he had been when Corbridge informed him that his dematerialization had been indefinitely postponed, and that I had consented to take him into my service. "It is now plain to me," he said, "that they have no power to do this thing and cannot obtain it from others. This discardment of me proves that they have abandoned their hopes."
It was evident that Corbridge had said nothing of the expected coming of the German scientist, and I would not be cruel enough to speak of it myself. Besides, I intended to have said scientist arrested and put under bonds as soon as he set foot on our shores.
"I do not feel," continued Kilbright, "that I am beginning a new life, but that I am taking up my old one at the point where I left it off."
"You cannot do that," I said. "Things have changed very much, and you will have to adapt yourself to those changes. In many ways you must begin again."
"I know that," he said, "and with respect to much that I see about me, I am but a child. But as I am truly a man, I shall begin to do a man's work, and what I know not of the things that are about me, that will I learn as quickly as may be. It is my purpose, sir, to labor with you in any manner which you may deem fit, and in which I may be found serviceable until I have gained sufficient money to travel to Bixbury, and there endeavor to establish myself in some worthy employment. I had at that place a small estate, but of that I shall take no heed. Without doubt it has gone, rightly, to my heirs, and even if I could deprive them of it I would not."
"Have you living heirs besides your grandson here?" I asked.
"That I know not," he said; "but if there be such I greatly long to see them."
"And how about old Mr. Scott?" said I. "When shall we go to him and tell him who you are?"
"I greatly desire that that may be done soon," answered Kilbright, "but first I wish to establish myself in some means of livelihood, so that he may not think that I come to him for maintenance."
Of course it was not possible for me to turn this man away and tell him I had nothing for him to do, and therefore I must devise employment for him. I found that he wrote a fair hand, a little stiff and labored, but legible and neat, and as I had a good deal of copying to do I decided to set him to work upon this. I procured board and lodging for him in a house near by, and a very happy being was Amos Kilbright.
As for me I felt that I was doing my duty, and a good work. But the responsibility was heavy, and my road was not at all clear before me. My principal source of anxiety was in regard to my wife. Should I tell her the truth about my new copyist, or not? In the course of a night I resolved this question and determined to tell her everything. When the man was merely Mr. Corbridge's subject the case was different; but to have daily in my office a clerk who had been drowned one hundred and two years before, and not tell Mrs. Colesworthy of it would be an injustice to her.
When I first made known to her the facts of the case my wife declared that she believed "Psychics" had turned my brain; but when I offered to show her the very man who had been materialized, she consented to go down and look at him. I informed Kilbright that my wife knew his story, and we three had a long and very interesting conversation. After an hour's talk, during which my wife asked a great many questions which I should never have thought of, we went upstairs and left Kilbright to his work.
"His story is a most wonderful one," said Mrs. Colesworthy, "but I don't believe he is a materialized spirit, because the thing is impossible. Still it will not do to make any mistakes, and we must try all we can to help him in case he was drowned when he says he was, and that German comes over to end his mortal career a second time. Science is getting to be such a wicked thing that I am sure if he crosses the ocean on purpose to dematerialize Mr. Kilbright, he will try to do it in some way or other, whether the poor man was ever a spirit before or not. One thing, however, is certain, I want to be present when old Mr. Scott is told that that young man is his grandfather."
Mr. Kilbright worked very assiduously, and soon proved himself of considerable use to me. When he had lived in Bixbury he had been a surveyor and a farmer, and now when he finished his copying duties for the day, or when I had no work of that kind ready for him, it delighted him much to go into my garden and rake and hoe among the flowers and vegetables. I frequently walked with him about the town, showing and explaining to him the great changes that had taken place since the former times in which he had lived. But he was not impressed by these things as I expected him to be.
"It seems to me," he said, "as though I were in a foreign country, and I look upon what lies about me as if everything had always been as I see it. This town is so different from anything I have ever known that I cannot imagine it has changed from a condition which was once familiar to me. At Bixbury, however, I think the case will be otherwise. If there are changes there I shall notice them. In a little place like that, however, I have hopes that the changes will not be great."
He was very conservative, and I could see that in many cases he thought the old ways of doing things much better than the new ones. He was, however, a polite and sensible man, and knew better than to make criticisms to one who had befriended him; but in some cases he could not conceal his disapprobation. He had seen a train of cars before I met him, and I was not able to induce him to approach again a railroad track. Whatever other feelings he may have had at first sight of a train in motion were entirely swallowed up in his abhorrence of this mode of travelling.
"We must not be in a hurry," said my wife when we talked of these matters. "When he gets more accustomed to these things he will be more surprised at them."
There were some changes, however, which truly did astonish him, and these were the alterations—in his opinion entirely uncalled for and unwarrantable—which had been made in the spelling of the words of our language since he had gone to school. No steam-engine, no application of electricity, none of the modern inventions which I showed him, caused him the emotions of amazement which were occasioned by the information that in this country "honor" was now spelled without a u.
During this time Mr. Kilbright's interest in his grandson seemed to be on the increase. He would frequently walk past the house of that old gentleman merely for the purpose of looking at him as he sat by the open window reading his newspaper or quietly smoking his evening pipe on a bench in his side yard. When he had been with me about ten days he said: "I now feel that I must go and make myself known to my grandson. I am earning my own subsistence; and, however he may look upon me, he need not fear that I am come to be a burden upon him. You will not wonder, sir, that I long to meet with this son of the little baby girl I left behind me."
I did not wonder, and my wife and I agreed to go with him that very evening to old Mr. Scott's house. The old gentleman received us very cordially in his little parlor.
"You are a stranger in this town, sir," he said to Kilbright. "I did not exactly catch your name—Kilbright?" he said, when it had been repeated to him, "that is one of my family names, but it is long since I have heard of anyone bearing it. My mother was a Kilbright, but she had no brothers, and no uncles of the name. My grandfather was the last of our branch of the Kilbrights. His name was Amos, and he was a Bixbury man. From what part of the country do you come, sir?"
"My name is Amos, and I was born in Bixbury."
Old Mr. Scott sat up very straight in his chair. "Young man, that seems to me impossible!" he exclaimed. "How could there be any Kilbrights in Bixbury and I not know of it?" Then taking a pair of big silver spectacles from his pocket he put them on and attentively surveyed his visitor, whose countenance during this scrutiny was filled with emotion.
Presently the old gentleman took off his spectacles and, rising from his chair, went into another room. Quickly returning, he brought with him a small oil-painting in a narrow, old-fashioned frame. He stood it up on a table in a position where a good light from the lamp fell upon it. It was the portrait of a young man with a fresh, healthy face, dressed in an old-style high-collared coat, with a wide cravat coming up under his chin, and a bit of ruffle sticking out from his shirt-bosom. My wife and I gazed at it with awe.
"That," said old Mr. Scott, "is the picture of my grandfather, Amos Kilbright, taken at twenty-five. He was drowned at sea some years afterward, but exactly how I do not know. My mother did not remember him at all. And I must say," he continued, putting on his spectacles again, "that there is something of a family likeness between you, sir, and that picture. If it wasn't for the continental clothes in the painting there would be a good deal of resemblance—yes, a very great deal."
"It is my portrait," said Mr. Kilbright, his voice trembling as he spoke. "It was painted by Tatlow Munson in the winter of seventeen eighty, in payment for my surveying a large tract of land north of the town, he having no money to otherwise compensate me. He wrote his name in ink upon the back of the canvas."
Old Mr. Scott took up the picture and turned it around. And there we all saw plainly written upon the time-stained back, "Tatlow Munson, 1780."
Old Mr. Scott laid the picture upon the table, took off his spectacles, and with wide-open eyes gazed first at Mr. Kilbright and then at us.
The sight of the picture had finished the conversion of my wife. "Oh, Mr. Scott," she cried, leaning so far forward in her chair that it seemed as if she were about to go down on her knees before the old man, "this gentleman is your grandfather! Yes, he is, indeed! Oh, don't discard him, for it was you who were the cause of his being here. Don't you remember when you went to the spiritualist meeting, and asked to see the spirit of your grandfather? That spirit came, but you didn't know it. The people who materialized him were surprised when they saw this young man, and they thought he couldn't be your grandfather, and so they didn't say anything about it; and they left him right in the middle of whatever they use, and he kept on materializing without their thinking of him until he became just what you see him now. And if he now wore old-fashioned clothes with a queue, he would be the exact image of that portrait of him which you have, only a little bit older looking and fuller in the face. But the spiritualists made him cut off his long hair, because they said that wouldn't do in these days, and dressed him in those common clothes just like any other person. And oh, dear Mr. Scott, you must see for yourself that he is truly your grandfather!"
Old Mr. Scott made no answer, but still sat with wide-open eyes gazing from one to the other of us. As I looked at that aged, white-haired man and thought of his mother, who must have died ever so long ago, being the daughter of the young man who sat opposite to him, it was indeed difficult to believe that these things could be so.
"Mr. Scott," exclaimed my wife, "will you not speak to him? Will you not give him your hand? Will you not acknowledge him as your grandfather, whose picture you have always had near you, and which, when a little boy, I expect your dear mother has often told you to look up to and try to be like? And if you have grown old, and he has not, on account of differences in circumstances, why should that make any difference in your feelings, dear Mr. Scott? Oh, why don't you let him take you to his heart? I don't see how you can help it," she said, with a sob, "and you his little daughter's only child!"
Old Mr. Scott rose to his feet. He pulled down the sleeves of his coat, and gave an adjusting shake to its collar and lapels. Then he turned to my wife and said: "Madam, let us two dance a Virginia reel while your husband and that other one take the poker and tongs and beat out the music on the shovel. We might as well be durned fools one way as another, and all go to the lunatic asylum together."
Now arose Mr. Kilbright to his feet, and stood up very tall. "Grandson Lemuel," he said, "I leave not your house in anger. I see well that too heavy a task has been laid upon your declining years when you are asked to believe that which you have heard to-day. But I wish you to know that I am here to ask nothing of you save that you will give me your hand. I earnestly crave that I may again touch one of my own flesh and blood."
Old Mr. Scott picked up the portrait and looked at it. Then he laid it down and looked at Mr. Kilbright. "Young man," said he, "can you stand there and put your hand upon your heart, and say to me that you are truly Amos Kilbright, my mother's father, who was drowned in the last century, and who was brought back and turned into a live man by those spiritualists; and that you are willing to come here and let yourself be vouched for by Mr. and Mrs. Colesworthy, who belong to some sort of society of that kind and ought to know about such things?"
I was on the point of remarking that the Society for Psychical Research had nothing to do with spiritualism except to investigate it, but my wife saw my intention and checked me.
Mr. Kilbright put his hand upon his heart and bowed. "What you have heard is true," he said. "On my honor, I swear it."
"Then, grandfather," said old Mr. Scott, "here is my hand. It doesn't do to doubt things in these days. I didn't believe in the telephone when they first told me of it, but when I had a talk with Squire Braddon through a wire, and heard his new boots creak as he came up to see who it was wanted him, and he in his own house a good two miles away, I gave in. 'Fetch on your wonders,' says I, 'I am ready.' And I don't suppose I ought to be any more dumfounded at seeing my grandfather than at any of the other wonders. I'm getting too old now to try to find out the whys and the wherefores of the new things that turn up every day. I must just take them as they come. And so if you, grandfather Kilbright, and our good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Colesworthy, will come into the back room we'll have a cup of tea, and a talk over old times. To be sure, there will be some gaps which none of us will be able to get over, but we must do the best we can."
After this Mr. Kilbright and his grandson saw a good deal of each other, and the old gentleman always treated his mother's father with the respectful deference which was due to such a relative.
"There are times," he once said to me, "when this grandfather business looks to me about as big and tough as anything that any human being was ever called on to swallow. But then I consider that you and Mrs. Colesworthy have looked into these matters, and I haven't, and that knowin' nothin' I ought to say nothin'; and if it ever happens to look particularly tough, I just call to mind the telephone and Squire Braddon's creaking boots, and that settles it."
Mr. Kilbright became more and more useful to me, particularly after he had disciplined his mind to the new style of spelling. And when he had been with me about a month I insisted that he should take a holiday and visit Bixbury, for I knew that to do this was the great desire of his heart. He could easily reach his native place by rail, but believing that he would rather not go at all than travel on a train, I procured a saddle-horse for him, and when I had given him full directions as to the roads, he set out.
In four days he returned. "How did you find Bixbury?" I asked of him.
"There is no longer such a place," he answered, sadly. "I found a town of that name, but it is not the Bixbury in which I was born. That has utterly disappeared."
And, after this, he never again alluded to his native place.
The high character and many admirable qualities of this man daily increased the affectionate regard and esteem in which he was held by my wife and myself; and feeling that we could do nothing better for him than to endeavor to make him forget the things of the past, and take a lively and earnest interest in those of the present, we set ourselves to work upon this task. In a great degree our efforts were successful, and we soon perceived that Mr. Kilbright cared more and more for what he saw about him. It was, indeed, natural that he should do this, for he was still a young man, and able to adapt himself to changes in his surroundings.
As I have said, he gradually did so adapt himself, and in the course of the autumn this adaptation took a form which at first amused Mrs. Colesworthy and myself, and afterward enlisted our hearty sympathy. He became attached to Miss Budworth, the librarian of our town library. He frequently went there for books, and as she was a very intelligent young woman, and very willing to aid him in his selections, it was not strange that he should become interested in her. Very often he would remain at the library until it closed in the evening, when he would walk to her home with her, discoursing upon literary and historical subjects.
My wife and I discussed this situation very thoroughly. Lilian Budworth was a good girl, a sensible one, and a very good-looking one. Her family was highly respectable and her years well proportioned to those of Mr. Kilbright. There seemed to be, therefore, no reason why this intimacy should not be encouraged. But yet we talked over the matter night after night.
"You see," said my wife, "it all seems plain and simple enough; but, on the other hand, it isn't. In the first place, she does not know that he has had a wife, or what old Mr. Scott is to him. He has promised us that he will never say anything to anybody about having lived in the last century without first consulting us; and old Mr. Scott has said over and over again that he doesn't intend to speak of it; and the spiritualists have left town long ago; so, of course, she knows nothing about it. But, if things go on, she must be told, and what will happen then, I would like to know!"
"I am very sorry, indeed, that I cannot tell you," I answered.
"It would be a queer case, anyway," Mrs. Colesworthy continued. "Mr. Kilbright has had a wife, but he never was a widower. Now, having been married, and never having been a widower, it would seem as if he ought not to marry again. But his first wife is dead now, there can be no doubt about that."
It was not long before there was no further need for suppositions in regard to this matter, for Mr. Kilbright came to us and announced that he had determined to offer himself in marriage to Miss Budworth.
"I think it is meet and proper," he said, "that I should wed and take that position at the head of a family which a right-minded and respectable man of my age should fill. I reasoned thus when for the first time I took upon me this pleasing duty, and these reasons have now the self-same weight as then. I have been studying the surveying methods of the present day, and I believe I could re-establish myself in my former profession. Thus could I maintain a wife, if, happily, I get her."
"Get her!" exclaimed Mrs. Colesworthy, "of course you will get her! She can't help accepting you."
"I should feel the more hope, madam," said Mr. Kilbright, "were it not requisite that she be informed of all that has happened to me. And all this must she know before I require her to make answer to me."
"I must admit," I said, "that I am afraid you are going to have a tough job."
"I don't believe it!" warmly exclaimed my wife. "Lilian Budworth is a girl of good, solid sense, and when she knows just exactly what has happened, it is my opinion she will not object a bit."
"Madam," said Mr. Kilbright, "you greatly embolden me, and I shall speak to Miss Budworth this very day."
Notwithstanding my wife's confidence in Miss Lilian's good sense, she was as much surprised as I when, the next morning, Mr. Kilbright informed us that he had been accepted. As it was yet an hour before the library would open, she hurried around to Miss Budworth's home to know all about it.
The young lady was found, pale, but very happy. "When he left me last night," she said, "my mind was in a strange hubbub. He had told me that he loved me, and had asked me to marry him, and my heart would not let me say anything but 'yes;' and yet, after he had gone, his wondrous story came up before me as it had not come when he told it, having just told something else. I did not sleep all night, thinking of it. I have read and pondered a great deal upon these subjects, but have never been able to make up my mind whether or not to put faith in the strange spiritual manifestations of which we are told. So I determined, a good while ago, not to consider the matter at all. I could do nothing with it, and it would be better that I should let it alone. To this same determination I came early this morning in the case of Mr. Kilbright. None of us know what we may once have been, nor what we may become. All we know is what we are. Mr. Kilbright may be mistaken as to what he was, but I know what he is. And to that man I give myself as I am. I am perfectly satisfied with the present."
Mrs. Colesworthy enfolded her in an approbatory embrace, and hurried home to tell me about it. "There now!" she exclaimed, "didn't I say that Lilian Budworth was a girl of good, sound common-sense?"
"That is what you said," I answered, "but I must admit that I was afraid her common-sense would interfere with her acceptance of his story. We had outside evidence in regard to it, but she had only his simple statement."
"Which is quite enough, when a woman truly loves," said Mrs. Colesworthy.
When old Mr. Scott was informed what had happened, he put down his newspaper, took off his spectacles, and smiled a strange, wide smile. "I have been reading," he said, "about a little machine, or box, that you can talk into and then cork up and send by mail across the ocean to anybody you know there. And then he can uncork it, and out will come all you have said in your very words and voice, with the sniffles and sneezes that might have got in accidental. So that if one of the Old Testament Egyptians that they've been diggin' up lately had had one of these boxes with him it might have been uncorked and people could have heard in his own voice just who he was and what was his personal opinion of Moses and his brother Aaron. Now, when an old man like me has just come to know of a thing of this kind, it isn't for him to have a word to say when he is told that Lilian Budworth is to be his step-grandmother; he must take it in along with the other wonders."
As to Mr. Kilbright and his lady-love they troubled themselves about no wonders. Life was very real to them, and very delightful; and they were happy. Despite her resolutions to give no consideration whatever to her lover's previous existence, Miss Budworth did consider it a good deal, and talked and thought about it, and at last came to understand and appreciate the fact as thoroughly as did Mrs. Colesworthy and myself; and she learned much more of Mr. Kilbright's former life than his modesty had allowed him to tell us. And some of these things she related with much pride. He had been a soldier during the Revolution, having enlisted, at the age of twenty-three, under General Sullivan, when his forces lay near Newport. He afterward followed that commander in his Indian campaigns in Western New York, and served during the rest of the war. It was when the army was in winter quarters in 1780 that Tatlow Munson painted his portrait in payment of an old debt. Miss Budworth's glowing rendition of Mr. Kilbright's allusions to some of the revolutionary incidents in which he had had a part, made us proud to shake hands with a man who had fought for our liberties and helped to give us the independence which we now enjoy.
Mr. Kilbright's business prospects soon began to look promising. As was quite natural, his ideas upon some subjects were a little antiquated. But, although many of the changes and improvements he saw about him met with no favor in his eyes, he had sense enough to take advantage of certain modern progressive ideas, especially such as related to his profession of surveying. My introduction of him as a friend from Bixbury helped him much in respect to patronage, and having devoted all his spare time during the autumn and winter to study and the formation of business connections, he secured enough profitable employment for the coming season to justify him in taking to himself a wife; and his marriage with Miss Budworth was appointed for the middle of April.
It was about the end of March when I received a letter from Mr. Corbridge, the spiritualist manager, in which he informed me that Dr. Hildstein, the German scientist, of whom he had previously spoken to me, had set sail for America and would probably arrive in about ten days. "As soon as possible after his arrival," wrote Mr. Corbridge, "we shall resume possession of the subject of whom you have been kind enough to take charge during the time when we had no need of him. He will then be dematerialized in order that we may cause him to manifest himself in our seances whenever it may be desirable; but never, I may say, in the complete and perfect physical condition to which he was unintentionally materialized the first time. I promised you that I would give you at least three days' notice of our intention to resume work on this subject, and I have now been much better than my word. I have written very plainly of our intentions, because we wish you to understand exactly what we are going to do; and should we succeed in our proposed experiment, which we certainly expect to do, we shall, probably, make public our whole action in the affair, for this course would most greatly benefit both ourselves and our cause. It will not be necessary for you to inform the subject of our intention, for our power over him will be as great at one time and at one place as at another; and as his co-operation is not in any way needful, you will see for yourself that it will be pleasanter for him not to concern himself with what we are about to do."
When I had read this letter, I sat for half an hour with it open in my hands. It came upon me like a shower of iced water. I had supposed that the spiritualists had utterly abandoned their endeavors to dematerialize Mr. Kilbright. Therefore, the news of the revival of these criminal intentions greatly shocked me. To be sure, the coming scientist might have no such power as he pretended to possess, but this supposition did not comfort me. If the man had not already had success in that sort of thing it is not likely that he would come over here to attempt it now.
When I had sufficiently quieted my mental agitation I wrote instantly to Mr. Corbridge, and in my letter I assumed a very confident tone. I told him that Mr. Kilbright's circumstances had so changed that the intended action of the spiritualists in regard to him was now rendered impossible. He had become an active member of society, had gone into business, and would be married in April. The mere statement of these facts would, I felt quite certain—so I wrote—cause the spiritualists to instantly relinquish all idea of carrying out their previous intention in regard to this most estimable man. If, however, any inhuman craving for scientific investigation should cause them to persist in their cruel and criminal designs, the utmost power of the law should be invoked against them. "To take away human life," I wrote, "in a case like this is murder, no matter how it is done, and should you take away Mr. Kilbright's life, or even attempt it, you shall be indicted and punished for this cold-blooded and premeditated crime."
Before I had read this letter, I found it absolutely necessary for my peace of mind that I should make my wife acquainted with the threatened danger, and confer with her as to what it would be well to do. Of course, Mrs. Colesworthy was greatly shocked when I read her Corbridge's letter, but she recovered courage sooner than I had done.
"It's all stuff and nonsense," she said. "The man is just as much alive as you and I are, and I don't believe any human power can turn him into a spirit. They might kill him, but then he would be a dead man and not a spiritual mist or vapor. I don't believe they even intend to try to do anything of the kind. They merely wish you to hand him over to them so they can make him work for them for little or no pay. They think, and with good reason, too, that by this time you have taught him how to get along at the present day, and that he may now be of some use to them."
I showed her the letter I had written, and she highly approved of it. "If I were you," she said, "I would send that letter, and then I would not do another thing. Take my word for it, you will never hear from those people again."
We resolved, of course, that we would say nothing to Mr. Kilbright or Lilian about this matter, for it was unwise to needlessly trouble their minds; but we could not help talking about it a great deal ourselves. In spite of the reassuring arguments which we continually thought of, or spoke of to each other, we were troubled, anxious, and apprehensive.
"If we could only get them safely married," said Mrs. Colesworthy, "I should feel at ease. Certainly those people would not do anything to him then."
"I don't believe they can do anything to him at all," I answered. "But how a marriage is going to protect him I cannot imagine."
"Of course, you can't explain such things," said my wife, "but I do wish they were married and settled."
Not long after this she came to me with a supposition. "Supposing," she said, "that those people find it impossible to dematerialize him, they might do something which would be a great deal worse."
"What could that possibly be?" I asked.
"They might materialize his first wife," said she, "and could anything be more dreadful than that? I suppose that woman lived to a good old age, and to bring her forward now would be a height of cruelty of which I believe those people to be fully capable."
"My dear," I exclaimed, "don't bring up any harrowing possibilities which no one but yourself is likely to think of."
"I wish I could be sure of that," she said. "I have heard, but I don't know how true it is, that spirits cannot be called up and materialized unless somebody wants them, and I don't suppose there is anybody who wants the first Mrs. Kilbright. But these men might so work on Mr. Kilbright's mind as to make him think that he ought to want her."
I groaned. "Dear me!" I said. "I suppose if they did that they would also bring up old Mr. Scott's mother, and then we should have a united family."
"And a very funny one it would be," said my wife, smiling, notwithstanding her fears, "for now I remember that old Mr. Scott told me that his grandmother died before she was sixty, but that his mother lived to be seventy-five. Now, he is eighty, if he is a day, so there would be a regular gradation of ages in the family, only it would run backward instead of in the usual way. But, thinking it over, I don't believe the spiritualists will permanently bring up any more of that family. If they did, they would have to support them, for they could not ask old Mr. Scott to do it, who hasn't money enough to satisfy his descendants, and ought not to be expected to support his ancestors."
My letter must have had a good deal of effect upon Mr. Corbridge, for in less than a week after it was written he came into my office. He informed me that he and his associates were about to give a series of seances in our town, but that he had come on before the others in order to talk to me. "I am extremely sorry," he said, "to hear of this proposed marriage. We want to do what is right and fair, and we have no desire that any act of ours shall create a widow."
"Then," I exclaimed, "you relinquish your design against Mr. Kilbright?"
"Not at all," said he. "We shall carry out our plan before our subject marries. If you choose to hurry up matters and have the wedding take place before we are ready to proceed with our dematerializing process, we shall be very sorry, but the blame must rest on you. You should have had consideration enough for all parties to prevent any such complication as an engagement to marry. As to what you said in your letter in regard to invoking the law against us, I attach no weight whatever to that threat."
"You will find you have made a great mistake," said I, angrily, "when I have brought the law to bear upon you, which now I shall not delay to do."
"You will merely bring ridicule upon yourself," he said, "if you assert that the man you wish to protect is Amos Kilbright. We can prove by records, still to be seen in Bixbury, that said person died in seventeen eighty-five. On the other hand, if you choose to assert that he is, or was, anybody else, how are you going to prove it? All that you can say is that the person you refer to came from, you knew not where, and has gone, you know not where. If you declare that at one time he was a materialized spirit, you know very well how such a statement as that would be received in a court of law. It will be much wiser to let it be supposed that the person who has lately been seen about this town has run off to Canada, than to make any sort of legal inquiry into the matter. If said person were really a man we could have nothing to do with his disappearance, while if he were a materialized spirit the law would have nothing to do with him."
I arose and paced the floor. There was entirely too much force in this man's arguments, but, although I could not immediately answer him, his cool determination to persevere in his iniquitous designs so angered me that I declared that he should be punished if I had to do it myself.
"Then you admit," he said, with a smile, "that the law cannot do it. The situation," he continued, "is very plain to us. Although the law can take no cognizance of our action, the case will be very different with all believers in spiritualism, and those who are interested in us. The news that we have done this thing will spread through the spiritualistic circles of the world."
"Has your German arrived?" I asked, abruptly.
"Not yet," answered Corbridge, "but we expect him in a few days. He will come directly to this town, because we wish to give him an opportunity of observing the subject in his present form before beginning the dematerializing process."
"What refinement of cruelty!" I exclaimed.
"Oh, of course, the doctor will not make himself known," said Corbridge. "He will merely wish to take a good look at the subject, and see for himself how perfect his materialization has been. Then he will know just what work is before him."
And, so saying, Mr. Corbridge went away, leaving me too angry to speak, if, indeed, I could have thought of anything which it would have been worth my while to say.
When Mrs. Colesworthy heard what Corbridge had said, she turned white. "They must be married instantly!" she exclaimed. "I knew that was the only way."
It was all very well to talk of an immediate marriage, but it was not so easy to bring it about. It was yet a week before the day fixed for the wedding, and the happy lovers were busy with their preparations, never dreaming of the danger which hung over them. What reason could we give for hastening the marriage rites? At one time we thought it might be wise to explain to them fully the state of the case, but from this course we were deterred for fear of the terrible effect that the news might have on Lilian. Should she hear of the design of Dr. Hildstein, she would never again have a moment's peace, married or unmarried. Once I advised that the two be dissuaded from marrying, at least for a year. In that time we could see if these people really had any power over Mr. Kilbright.
"That will not do at all," said Mrs. Colesworthy. "It will be very long to postpone their happiness; and besides, if that German gets hold of Mr. Kilbright while he is still unmarried, he will snap him up, or rather, blow him out in no time."
"I thought we had persuaded ourselves," I said, sadly, "that no one could have any real power of dematerialization."
"So we had," said she, "but that sort of persuasion does not always last."
The result was that we did nothing but hope for the best. But we could not blame ourselves, for, really, there was nothing else to do. I had given up all idea of endeavoring to put Mr. Corbridge and his associates under legal restriction, because if they had power to do the evil we feared, they could do it in one place as well as another, and no court could determine when, how, or by whom Mr. Kilbright had been dematerialized.
The day before the wedding-day the German doctor arrived in our town; and, having heard this, I went immediately to the hotel where Mr. Corbridge and his party were staying. The spiritualistic manager was not glad to see me, and frankly said so.
"I had hoped," he remarked, "that you had concluded to keep out of this thing. It is no concern of yours; you can be of no possible good to anybody; and the wisest thing you can do will be to drop it."
I assured him that I had no intention of dropping it, and that I should do everything in my power to protect Mr. Kilbright.
"Then, again," continued Corbridge, "there is really no need of giving yourself all this worry. Dr. Hildstein may succeed, and he may not. We have failed, and so may he. He has seen the subject, and has come to a very philosophical and sensible conclusion in regard to him. He will not believe, merely on our assertion, that the man is a materialized spirit. He will proceed with his experiments, and if they fail he will consider that the man is a man, and was never anything else. If they succeed, then he will be quite satisfied that he had a perfect right to dematerialize what we had materialized."
"Then you really believe," I said, "that there is a chance that he may fail?"
"Of course there is," said Corbridge. "I do not know his methods, and there may be nothing in them."
I had no doubt that this change of tone in Corbridge was intended to produce in me a feeling of security, that they might thus rid themselves of me. But, though I saw through his purpose, the man's words encouraged me. Of course there must be a good deal of doubt about the German's powers; and, after all, there might be no cause whatever for our anxieties.
"Now, sir," said Corbridge, as I left, "if I were you I would trouble myself no more about this matter. If Dr. Hildstein fails, you will still have your man to do your copying, or your surveying, or anything you like. If he succeeds, we are all in the same condition we were a year ago. 'That subject did not exist at that time; he does not exist at this time;' that will be all we shall have to say about it."
"You forget," I said, severely, "the wife he may leave behind him."
"I have nothing to say about that," said Corbridge, rather sharply. "It is a reprehensible business, and I have nothing to do with it."
I went away without seeing the German doctor, but as I heard he spoke no English, and as I did not know German, an interview with him would have been of no avail.
Neither Mrs. Colesworthy nor myself slept that night; we were so filled with anxious fears. But when the day broke, bright and clear, and I had hurried round to Mr. Kilbright's lodgings, and had found him as full of life and vigor as I had ever seen him, we were greatly comforted, and ate our breakfasts with fair appetites.
"If it had been a dark and lowering day," said my wife, "I don't believe I could have swallowed a mouthful."
The marriage was to take place at noon, and the happy pair were to start by the first afternoon train for the sea-shore, where they were to spend a week. Mr. Kilbright hated locomotives and railroads almost as much as ever, but he had told me some time before that he intended to conquer this prejudice, if such a thing were possible.
"Being one of you, I must do as you do," he had said.
The wedding was to be a very simple one. Miss Budworth was to go from her mother's house to the church, where Mr. Kilbright was to meet her. We insisted that he should dress at our house, where he would find better accommodations than at his lodgings; and we assigned him our best guest-room, where he repaired in very good season, to array himself in his wedding suit.
It was not quite eleven o'clock when I went upstairs to see if I could be of any use to Mr. Kilbright in regard to the conclusion of his toilette. I knocked at the door, but received no answer. Waiting a few moments, I opened it and entered. On the floor, in front of a tall dressing-glass, was a suit of clothes. Not only did I see the black broadcloth suit—not laid out at length, but all in a compact heap—but I saw the shoes and stockings, the collar and cravat; everything. Near by lay a whisk broom.
The truth was plain. While giving the last touches to his wedding attire, all that was Amos Kilbright had utterly disappeared!
I stood where I had stopped, just inside the door, trembling, scarcely breathing, so stunned by the terrible sight of those clothes that I could not move, nor scarcely think. If I had seen his dead body there I should have been shocked, but to see nothing! It was awful to such an extent that my mind could not deal with it!
Presently I heard a step, and slightly turning, saw my wife close by me. She had passed the open door, and seeing me standing as if stricken into a statue, had entered.
It did not need that I should speak to her. Pale as a sheet she stood beside me, her hand tightly grasping my arm, and with her lips pallid with horror, she formed the words: "They have done it!"
In a few moments she pulled me gently back, and said, in quick, low tones, as if we had been in presence of the dead: "In less than an hour she will be at the church. We must not stay here."
With this she turned and stepped quickly from the room. I followed, closing the door behind me.
Swiftly moving, and without a word, my wife put on her hat and left the house. Mechanically I followed. I could speak no word of comfort to that poor girl, at this moment the happiest of expectant brides. I knew that I had not the power to even attempt to explain to her the nature of the dreadful calamity that had fallen upon her. But I could not let my wife go alone. She, indeed, must speak to Lilian, but there were other members of the family; I might do something.
To my great surprise, Mrs. Colesworthy did not turn into the street which led to the Budworths' house, but went straight on. I thought at first she was going to the church to countermand the wedding preparations. But before I could put a question to her she had gone around a corner, and was hurrying up the steps of the principal hotel in our town.
"Is Dr. Hildstein in?" she asked of the first person she met.
The man, gazing astonished at her pallid face, replied that he was, and immediately conducted us to a little parlor on the first floor, the door of which stood partly open. Without knocking, Mrs. Colesworthy hastily entered, I closely following. A middle-aged man suddenly arose from a small table at which he was sitting, and turning quickly toward us, made an abrupt exclamation in German.
As I have said, I do not understand German, but Mrs. Colesworthy knows the language well, and, stepping up to the man, she said (she afterward told me the meaning of the words that passed between them): "Are you Dr. Hildstein?"
"I am," he said, his face agitated by emotion, and his eyes sparkling, "but I can see no one, speak to no one! I go out this moment to observe the result of an important experiment!"
My wife motioned to me to close the door. "You need not go," she said, "I can tell you that your experiment has succeeded. You have dematerialized Mr. Kilbright. In one hour he was to be married to a noble, loving woman; and now all that remains where he stood is a pile of clothes!"
"Do you tell me that?" exclaimed the doctor, wildly seizing his hat.
"Stop!" cried Mrs. Colesworthy, her face glowing with excitement, her eyes flashing, and her right arm extended. "Stir not one step! Do you know what you have done?"
"I have done what I had a right to do!" exclaimed the doctor, almost in a shout. "If he is gone he was nothing but a spirit. Tell me where—"
"I will tell you this!" exclaimed my wife. "He was a great deal more than a spirit. He was a man engaged to be married at twelve o'clock this day. You may think there is no law that will sweep down on you, but I tell you there is; and before the clock strikes twelve you shall know it. Do you imagine you have come upon a people who will endure the presence of an ogre? a wretch, who reduces to nothing a fellow human being, and calls it an experiment? When we tell what you have done—my husband cannot speak German, but he is a leader in this town, and he supports me in all I say—when we have told what you have done there will be no need of courts, or judges, or lawyers for you. Like a wild beast you will be hunted down; you will be trampled under foot; you will be torn to pieces! Fire, the sword, the hangman's noose, clubs, and crowbars will not be enough to satisfy the vengeance of an outraged people upon a cold-blooded wretch who came to this country solely for the purpose of perpetrating a crime more awful than anything that was ever known before! Did you ever hear of lynching? I see by your face you know what that means. You are in the midst of a people who, in ten short minutes, will be shrieking for your blood!"
The man's face changed, and he looked anxiously at me. I did not know what my wife had been saying, but I had seen by her manner that she had been threatening him, and I shook my uplifted fist.
"Now heed what I say," cried Mrs. Colesworthy, "if you do not wish to perish at the hands of an infuriated mob; to die a thousand deaths before your vile spirit leaves this world, knowing that, besides the torments you feel, and those which are to come, you will be in the power of men who will bring you back in a half-finished form to make sport at their meetings whenever they feel like it—"
Drops of perspiration stood on the doctor's face. "Stop that!" he cried, throwing up his arm. "I cannot stand that! I did not know the subject had such friends!"
"Nothing shall be stopped!" exclaimed my wife, "and everything shall happen unless you immediately sit down at that table, or wherever you do those things, and rematerialize Mr. Kilbright, just as you found him, and into the very clothes that were left lying upon the floor!"
The doctor stepped forward—his face was now pale—and addressed himself very deferentially to my wife, totally ignoring me. "If you will retire," he said, "I will try; I swear to you that I will try."
"There is not a minute to be lost," said Mrs. Colesworthy, "not one second. And, if as much as a finger-nail is missing, remember what I have told you!"
And with this we quickly left the room.
As we went down the steps of the hotel Mrs. Colesworthy looked at her watch. "It is twenty-five minutes to twelve," she said. "We must get home as fast as we can."
We hurried along, sometimes almost running. When we reached our house, Mrs. Colesworthy motioned to me to go upstairs. She had no breath left with which to speak. I ran up, and stood for a moment at the closed door of our guest-room. With my hand on the knob, I was unable to open it. I heard a step on the stairs behind me, and I opened the door.
There stood Mr. Kilbright in his wedding clothes, with the whisk-broom in his hand.
He turned at the sound of my entrance.
"Do you know," cried the cheery voice of my wife, from just outside the door, "that we have barely fifteen minutes in which to get to the church?"
"Can that be?" cried Mr. Kilbright. "The time has flown without my knowing it. We must truly make haste!"
"Indeed we must," said Mrs. Colesworthy, and as she stepped back from the door, she whispered in my ear: "Not a look, not a tremble to let him know!"
In less than thirty seconds we were on our way to the church, in the carriage which had been ordered for the purpose.
On the church porch we found old Mr. Scott. He was dressed in his best clothes, and greeted us cordially. "In good time," he said. "I am glad to see that. It promises well." And then, looking around to see that no one was within hearing, he came nearer to us. "If I were you," he continued, "I wouldn't say nothin' to folks in general about relationships, for there are people, and very good people, too, whose minds haven't got on far enough to make 'em able to understand telephones and the other new kinds of wonders."
We acknowledged the force of his remarks, and all went into the church.
Three days after the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Kilbright on their wedding tour, my wife received a letter from Dr. Hildstein, written by himself from New York, but addressed in the handwriting of Mr. Corbridge.
"I return," he wrote, "to Germany, perfectly happy in having succeeded in my experiments; but nevermore, esteemed lady, will I dematerialize a subject who has remained long enough in this world to make friends, and I am the only man who can do this thing."
This letter greatly satisfied us. "It shows that he has some heart, after all," said Mrs. Colesworthy, "but as to that man Corbridge, I believe he would have kept poor Mr. Kilbright dancing backward and forward between this world and the other as long as a dollar could be made out of him. But there is only one way in which he can do us any harm now, and that is by materializing the first Mrs. Kilbright; but, knowing us, as he now does, I don't believe he will ever try that."
"No," said I, "I don't believe he ever will."
Should you ever meet with Mr. Amos Kilbright, you need not hesitate to entrust him with any surveying you may have on hand. Mr. Corbridge cannot dematerialize him, the German scientist will not, and there is no one else in the world who would even think of such a thing. Therefore, you need feel no fear that he may suddenly vanish from your sight, leaving nothing behind him but his clothes and the contents of his pockets; unless, indeed, he should again be so foolish as to go to swim in the ocean at a point where there is a strong ebb tide.
THE REVERSIBLE LANDSCAPE.
To look at me no one would suppose it; but it is, nevertheless, a fact that I am a member of a fire company. I am somewhat middle-aged, somewhat stout, and, at certain times of the year, somewhat stiff in the joints; and my general dress and demeanor, that of a sober business man, would not at all suggest the active and impetuous fireman of the period. I do not belong to any paid department, but to a volunteer Hook and Ladder Company, composed of the active-bodied or active-minded male citizens of the country town where I live. I am included in the active-minded portion of the company; and in an organization like ours, which is not only intended to assist in putting out the fires of burning buildings, but to light the torch of the mind, this sort of member is very valuable. In the building which we occupy, our truck, with its hooks and ladders, stands upon the lower floor, while the large room above is used as a club and reading-room. At the beginning of the first winter of our occupancy of the building, we found that this room, which had been very pleasant in summer, was extremely uncomfortable in winter. The long apartment had been originally intended for purposes of storage; and although we had ornamented it and fitted it up very neatly, a good deal of carpentry and some mason's work was necessary before it could be made tight and draught-proof for cold weather. But lately we had spent money very freely, and our treasury was absolutely empty. I was chairman of the committee which had charge of everything pertaining to our rooms, and I felt the responsibilities of my position. The necessary work should be begun immediately, but how could the money be raised to pay for it? Subscriptions for this and that had been made until the members were tired of that sort of thing; and the ill success of the last one showed that it would not do to try it again.
I revolved in my mind a great many plans for raising the sum required, and one morning, as I was going to my place of business in the city, I was seized with a happy idea. At the moment of seizure I was standing in front of a large show-window, in which were a number of oil paintings, all of them very fresh and bright. "How would it do," thought I to myself, "to buy a picture at a moderate price and put it up at a raffle? People who are not willing to give money outright will often enter into a scheme of this kind. I will go in and make inquiries."
When I entered I found myself in a large showroom, the walls of which were covered with paintings. A person advanced to meet me who, as it soon became evident, was the proprietor of the place. He was a large man, dressed in black, with an open shirt-front and an expansive countenance. His eyes and hair were black, and his ears stood out from his head in a manner which, according to a recent writer, indicates the money-getting faculty; and he plainly belonged to that class of persons who in the Middle Ages did not, as is the present custom, pay money for having their teeth extracted, but often disbursed large sums for the privilege of retaining them. When I asked him if I could procure a good and effective picture at a moderate price, he threw out his chest and waved his arms toward his walls. "There, sir," he said, "you can see oil paintings of every subject, of every style, and of every class; and at prices, sir, lower than they can be found elsewhere in the known world. Mention the kind of picture you want, and I can accommodate you."
I replied that I did not know exactly what I wanted, and that I would see what he had. I now began to look at the pictures on the walls, occasionally mentioning my ideas in regard to their merits, when suddenly my companion turned to me and said:
"Are you connected with the press, sir?"
I replied that I was not, although I occasionally wrote for periodicals.
"Upon art subjects?" he asked.
I answered in the negative.
"Then you are unprejudiced," he said, "and I believe from your appearance that you are a man of influence, and there is nothing I would like better than to exhibit the workings of my art organization to a man of influence, unprejudiced on the subject. My object is, sir, to popularize art; to place high art within the reach of the masses, and thus to educate the artistic faculties of even the poorest citizens."
I said that I supposed the chromo movement was intended to do all that.
"No, sir," he replied, warmly; "chromos cannot accomplish the object. They are too expensive; and, besides, they are not the real thing. They are printed, not painted; and what the public wants is the real thing, the work of the brush; and that is what I give them. The pictures you see here, and an immense stock besides, are all copies of valuable paintings, many of them in the finest galleries of Europe. I sell no originals. I guarantee everything to be a copy. Honesty is at the bottom of all I do. But my copies are exactly like the originals; that is all I claim. I would like, sir, to show you through my establishment, and let you see how I am carrying on the great work of art education. There are picture-dealers in this city, sir, plenty of them, who try to make the public believe that the vile daubs they sell are originals, and the works of well-known painters; and when they do admit that the picture is a copy, they say it is the work of some distinguished student; that there is no other copy in the country; or they make some other misstatement about it. These people conceal their processes, but their tricks are beginning to be well known to the public. Now, sir, I conceal nothing. The day for that sort of thing is past. I want men of influence to know the facilities I have for the production of art-work upon a grand scale. We will first go into the basement. Sir," said he, as I followed him down-stairs, "you know how the watch-making business has been revolutionized by the great companies which manufacture watches by machinery. The slow, uncertain, and expensive work of the poor toilers who made watches by hand has been superseded by the swift, unerring, and beautiful operations of machinery and steam. Now, sir, the great purpose of my life is to introduce machinery into art, and, ultimately, steam. And yet I will have no shams, no chromos. Everything shall be real—the work of the brush. Here, sir," he continued, showing me into a long room filled with workmen, "you see the men engaged in putting together the frames on which to stretch my canvases. Every stick is cut, planed, and jointed at a mill in Vermont, and sent on here by the car-load. Beyond are the workmen cutting up, stretching, and preparing the canvas, bales upon bales of which are used in a day. At the far end are the mills for grinding and mixing colors. And now we will go to the upper floors, and see the true art-work. Here, sir," he said, continuing to talk as we walked through the rooms on the various floors, "is the landscape and marine department. That row of men are putting in skies; they do nothing else. Each has his copy before him, and, day after day, month after month, paints nothing but that sky; and of course he does it with great rapidity and fidelity. Above, on those shelves, are sky-pots of every variety; blue-serene pots, tempest pots, sunset pots in compartments, morning-gray pots, and many others. Then the work passes to the middle-ground painters, who have their half-tone pots within easy reach. After that the foreground men take it up, and the figurists put in the men and animals. That man there has been painting that foreground cow ever since the first of August. He can now put her in three and a half times in fifteen minutes, and will probably rise to sixteen cows an hour by the end of this month. These girls do nothing but put white-caps to waves. There's a great demand at present for the windy marine. This next room is devoted to portraits to order. You see that row of old ladies without heads, each holding a pair of spectacles, and with one finger in the Bible to keep the place; that's very popular, and we put in a head when the photograph is sent. There is a great rage at present for portraits of babies without any clothes on. Here is a lot of undraped infants with bodies all finished, but with no heads. We can finish them to order at very short notice. I have one girl who puts in all the dimples. You would be surprised to see what a charming dimple she can make with one twist of her brush. Long practice at one thing, sir, is the foundation of the success of this great establishment. Take that girl away from her dimple-pot, and she is nothing. She is now upstairs, putting dimples into a large Correggio order from the West. This next room is our figure department, battle-pieces, groups, single figures, everything. As you have seen before, each man only copies from the original that part which is his specialty. In addition to its other advantages, this system is a great protection to us. None of my men can work at home at nights and Sundays, and forge pictures. Not one of them can do a whole one. And now, sir, you have seen the greater part of my establishment. The varnishing, packing, and storage rooms are in another building. I am now perfecting plans for the erection of an immense edifice with steam-engines in the cellar, in which my paintings shall be done by machinery. No chromos, mind you, but real oil-paintings, done by brushes revolving on cylinders. I shall have rolls of canvas a mile long, like the paper on which our great dailies are printed, and the machines shall do everything; cut off the picture, when it has passed among the cylinders, whereupon fresh canvas will be rolled in for a new one; another machine will stretch them; and they will pass through a varnish bath in the twinkling of an eye. But this is in the future. What I want of you, sir, and of other men of influence in society, is to let our people know of the great good that is ready for them now, and of the greater benefit that is coming. And, more than that, you can do incalculable good to our artists. Those poor toilers on the solitary canvas should know how to become prosperous, great, and happy; tell them to go into some other business. And now, sir, I must see what I can do for you. We will return to my gallery, and I will show you exactly what you want."
When we reached the back part of the showroom, down-stairs, he brought out an unframed picture about three feet long and two high, and placed it in a favorable light. "There," said he, "is a picture which will suit you. It is what we call a reversible landscape, and is copied from the only genuine picture of the kind in the world. It is just as good as two pictures. In this position, you see, a line of land stretches across the middle of the picture, with trees, houses, and figures, with a light sky above and a lake, darker in hue, below. Everything on the land is reflected accurately in the water. It is a landscape in morning light. Turn it upside down, so, and it is an evening scene; darkening sky above, light water beneath; the morning star, which you saw faintly glimmering in the other picture, is now the reflection of the evening star."