JOHN MORTONSON was dead: his lines in “the tragedy ‘Man’” had all been
spoken and he had left the stage.
The body rested in a fine mahogany coffin fitted with a plate of glass.
All arrangements for the funeral had been so well attended to that had
known he would doubtless have approved.
The face, as it showed under the glass, was not disagreeable to look upon:
it bore a faint smile, and as the death had
been painless, had not been distorted
beyond the repairing power of the undertaker. At two o'clock of the afternoon
the friends were to assemble to pay their last
tribute of respect to one who had
no further need of friends and respect. The surviving members of the family
came severally every few minutes to the casket and
wept above the placid features
beneath the glass. This did them no good; it did no good to John Mortonson;
but in the presence of death reason and philosophy
As the hour of two approached the friends began to arrive and after offering
such consolation to the stricken relatives as the proprieties of the occasion
required, solemnly seated themselves
about the room with an augmented consciousness of their importance in the
scheme funereal. Then the minister came, and
in that overshadowing presence
the lesser lights went into eclipse. His entrance was followed by that
of the widow, whose lamentations filled the room. She
approached the casket and after
leaning her face against the cold glass for a moment was gently led to
a seat near her daughter. Mournfully and low the man of
God began his eulogy of the dead,
and his doleful voice, mingled with the sobbing which it was its purpose
to stimulate and sustain, rose and fell, seemed to
come and go, like the sound of
a sullen sea. The gloomy day grew darker as he spoke; a curtain of cloud
underspread the sky and a few drops of rain fell audibly.
It seemed as if all nature were
weeping for John Mortonson.
When the minister had finished his eulogy with prayer a hymn was sung and
the pall-bearers took their places beside the bier. As the last notes of
died away the widow ran to the
coffin, cast herself upon it and sobbed hysterically. Gradually, however,
she yielded to dissuasion, becoming more composed; and
as the minister was in the act
of leading her away her eyes sought the face of the dead beneath the glass.
She threw up her arms and with a shriek fell backward
The mourners sprang forward to the coffin, the friends followed, and as
the clock on the mantel solemnly struck three all were staring down upon
of John Mortonson, deceased.
They turned away, sick and faint. One man, trying in his terror to escape
the awful sight, stumbled against the coffin so heavily as to knock away
one of its
frail supports. The coffin fell
to the floor, the glass was shattered to bits by the concussion.
From the opening crawled John Mortonson's cat, which lazily leapt to the
floor, sat up, tranquilly wiped its crimson muzzle with a forepaw, then
with dignity from the room.
1 Rough notes of this tale were found among the papers of the late Leigh
Bierce. It is printed here with such revision only as the author might
made in transcription.
THE REALM OF THE UNREAL
FOR a part of the distance between Auburn and Newcastle the road-first
on one side of a creek and then on the other-occupies the whole bottom
ravine, being partly cut out of
the steep hillside, and partly built up with boulders removed from the
creek-bed by the miners. The hills are wooded, the course of
the ravine is sinuous. In a dark
night careful driving is required in order not to go off into the water.
The night that I have in memory was dark, the creek a
torrent, swollen by a recent storm.
I had driven up from Newcastle and was within about a mile of Auburn in
the darkest and narrowest part of the ravine,
looking intently ahead of my horse
for the roadway. Suddenly I saw a man almost under the animal's nose, and
reined in with a jerk that came near setting the
creature upon its haunches.
“I beg your pardon,” I said; “I did not see you, sir.”
“You could hardly be expected to see me,” the man replied civilly, approaching
the side of the vehicle; “and the noise of the creek prevented my hearing
I at once recognized the voice, although five years had passed since I
had heard it. I was not particularly well pleased to hear it now.
“You are Dr. Dorrimore, I think,” said I.
“Yes; and you are my good friend Mr. Manrich. I am more than glad to see
you-the excess,” he added, with a light laugh, “being due to the fact that
going your way, and naturally expect
an invitation to ride with you.”
“Which I extend with all my heart.”
That was not altogether true.
Dr. Dorrimore thanked me as he seated himself beside me, and I drove cautiously
forward, as before. Doubtless it is fancy, but it seems to me now that
remaining distance was made in
a chill fog; that I was uncomfortably cold; that the way was longer than
ever before, and the town, when we reached it, cheerless,
forbidding, and desolate. It must
have been early in the evening, yet I do not recollect a light in any of
the houses nor a living thing in the streets. Dorrimore
explained at some length how he
happened to be there, and where he had been during the years that had elapsed
since I had seen him. I recall the fact of the
narrative, but none of the facts
narrated. He had been in foreign countries and had returned-this is all
that my memory retains, and this I already knew. As to
myself I cannot remember that I
spoke a word, though doubtless I did.
Of one thing I am distinctly conscious: the man's presence at my side was
strangely distasteful and disquieting-so much so that when I at last pulled
under the lights of the Putnam
House I experienced a sense of having escaped some spiritual peril of a
nature peculiarly forbidding. This sense of relief was
somewhat modified by the discovery
that Dr. Dorrimore was living at the same hotel.
In partial explanation of my feelings regarding Dr. Dorrimore I will relate
briefly the circumstances under which I had met him some years before.
evening a half-dozen men of whom
I was one were sitting in the library of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.
The conversation had turned to the subject of
sleight-of-hand and the feats of
the prestidigitateurs, one of whom was then exhibiting at a local theatre.
“These fellows are pretenders in a double sense,” said one of the party;
“they can do nothing which it is worth one's while to be made a dupe by.
humblest wayside juggler in India
could mystify them to the verge of lunacy.”
“For example, how?” asked another, lighting a cigar.
“For example, by all their common and familiar performances-throwing large
objects into the air which never come down; causing plants to sprout, grow
visibly and blossom, in bare ground
chosen by spectators; putting a man into a wicker basket, piercing him
through and through with a sword while he shrieks
and bleeds, and then-the basket
being opened nothing is there; tossing the free end of a silken ladder
into the air, mounting it and disappearing.”
“Nonsense!” I said, rather uncivilly, I fear. “You surely do not believe
“Certainly not: I have seen them too often.”
“But I do,” said a journalist of considerable local fame as a picturesque
reporter. “I have so frequently related them that nothing but observation
shake my conviction. Why, gentlemen,
I have my own word for it.”
Nobody laughed-all were looking at something behind me. Turning in my seat
I saw a man in evening dress who had just entered the room. He was
exceedingly dark, almost swarthy,
with a thin face, black-bearded to the lips, an abundance of coarse black
hair in some disorder, a high nose and eyes that
glittered with as soulless an expression
as those of a cobra. One of the group rose and introduced him as Dr. Dorrimore,
of Calcutta. As each of us was presented
in turn he acknowledged the fact
with a profound bow in the Oriental manner, but with nothing of Orienta
l gravity. His smile impressed me as cynical and a trifle
contemptuous. His whole demeanour
I can describe only as disagreeably engaging.
His presence led the conversation into other channels. He said little-I
do not recall anything of what he did say. I thought his voice singularly
melodious, but it affected me in
the same way as his eyes and smile. In a few minutes I rose to go. He also
rose and put on his overcoat.
“Mr. Manrich,” he said, “I am going your way.”
“The devil you are!” I thought. “How do you know which way I am going?”
Then I said, “I shall be pleased to have your company.”
We left the building together. No cabs were in sight, the street cars had
gone to bed, there was a full moon and the cool night air was delightful;
walked up the California Street
Hill. I took that direction thinking he would naturally wish to take another,
toward one of the hotels.
“You do not believe what is told of the Hindu jugglers,” he said abruptly.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
Without replying he laid his hand lightly upon my arm and with the other
pointed to the stone sidewalk directly in front. There, almost at our feet,
dead body of a man, the face upturned
and white in the moonlight! A sword whose hilt sparkled with gems stood
fixed and upright in the breast; a pool of blood
had collected on the stones of
I was startled and terrified-not only by what I saw, but by the circumstances
under which I saw it. Repeatedly during our ascent of the hill my eyes,
thought, had traversed the whole
reach of that sidewalk, from street to street. How could they have been
insensible to this dreadful object now so conspicuous in
the white moonlight.
As my dazed faculties cleared I observed that the body was in evening dress;
the overcoat thrown wide open revealed the dress-coat, the white tie, the
broad expanse of shirt front pierced
by the sword. And-horrible revelation!-the face, except for its pallor,
was that of my companion! It was to the minutest detail
of dress and feature Dr. Dorrimore
himself. Bewildered and horrified, I turned to look for the living man.
He was nowhere visible, and with an added terror I
retired from the place, down the
hill in the direction whence I had come. I had taken but a few strides
when a strong grasp upon my shoulder arrested me. I came
near crying out with terror: the
dead man, the sword still fixed in his breast, stood beside me! Pulling
out the sword with his disengaged hand, he flung it from
him, the moonlight glinting upon
the jewels of its hilt and the unsullied steel of its blade. It fell with
a clang upon the sidewalk ahead and-vanished! The man,
swarthy as before, relaxed his
grasp upon my shoulder and looked at me with the same cynical regard that
I had observed on first meeting him. The dead have
not that look-it partly restored
me, and turning my head backward, I saw the smooth white expanse of sidewalk,
unbroken from street to street.
“What is all this nonsense, you devil?” I demanded, fiercely enough, though
weak and trembling in every limb.
“It is what some are pleased to call jugglery,” he answered, with a light,
He turned down Dupont Street and I saw him no more until we met in the
On the day after my second meeting with Dr. Dorrimore I did not see him:
the clerk in the Putnam House explained that a slight illness confined
him to his
rooms. That afternoon at the railway
station I was surprised and made happy by the unexpected arrival of Miss
Margaret Corray and her mother, from Oakland.
This is not a love story. I am no story-teller, and love as it is cannot
be portrayed in a literature dominated and enthralled by the debasing tyranny
“sentences letters” in the name
of the Young Girl. Under the Young Girl's blighting reign-or rather under
the rule of those false Ministers of the Censure who
have appointed themselves to the
custody of her welfare-Love
veils her sacred fires, And, unaware, Morality expires,
famished upon the sifted meal and distilled water of a prudish purveyance.
Let it suffice that Miss Corray and I were engaged in marriage. She and
her mother went to the hotel at which I lived, and for two weeks I saw
That I was happy needs hardly be
said; the only bar to my perfect enjoyment of those golden days was the
presence of Dr. Dorrimore, whom I had felt compelled
to introduce to the ladies.
By them he was evidently held in favour. What could I say? I knew absolutely
nothing to his discredit. His manners were those of a cultivated and
considerate gentleman; and to women
a man's manner is the man. On one or two occasions when I saw Miss Corray
walking with him I was furious, and once
had the indiscretion to protest.
Asked for reasons, I had none to give, and fancied I saw in her expression
a shade of contempt for the vagaries of a jealous mind.
In time I grew morose and consciously
disagreeable, and resolved in my madness to return to San Francisco the
next day. Of this, however, I said nothing.
There was at Auburn an old, abandoned cemetery. It was nearly in the heart
of the town, yet by night it was as gruesome a place as the most dismal
human moods could crave. The railings
about the plots were prostrate, decayed, or altogether gone. Many of the
graves were sunken, from others grew sturdy
pines, whose roots had committed
unspeakable sin. The headstones were fallen and broken across; brambles
overran the ground; the fence was mostly gone, and
cows and pigs wandered there at
will; the place was a dishonour to the living, a calumny on the dead, a
blasphemy against God.
The evening of the day on which I had taken my madman's resolution to depart
in anger from all that was dear to me found me in that congenial spot.
light of the half moon fell ghostly
through the foliage of trees in spots and patches, revealing much that
was unsightly, and the black shadows seemed
conspiracies withholding to the
proper time revelations of darker import. Passing along what had been a
gravel path, I saw emerging from shadow the figure of
Dr. Dorrimore. I was myself in
shadow, and stood still with clenched hands and set teeth, trying to control
the impulse to leap upon and strangle him. A moment
later a second figure joined him
and clung to his arm. It was Margaret Corray!
I cannot rightly relate what occurred. I know that I sprang forward, bent
upon murder; I know that I was found in the grey of the morning, bruised
bloody, with finger marks upon
my throat. I was taken to the Putnam House, where for days I lay in a delirium.
All this I know, for I have been told. And of my
own knowledge I know that when
consciousness returned with convalescence I sent for the clerk of the hotel.
“Are Mrs. Corray and her daughter still here?” I asked.
“What name did you say?”
“Nobody of that name has been here.”
“I beg you will not trifle with me,” I said petulantly. “You see that I
am all right now; tell me the truth.”
“I give you my word,” he replied with evident sincerity, “we have had no
guests of that name.”
His words stupefied me. I lay for a few moments in silence; then I asked:
“Where is Dr. Dorrimore?”
“He left on the morning of your fight and has not been heard of since.
It was a rough deal he gave you.”
Such are the facts of this case. Margaret Corray is now my wife. She has
never seen Auburn, and during the weeks whose history as it shaped itself
brain I have endeavoured to relate,
was living at her home in Oakland, wondering where her lover was and why
he did not write. The other day I saw in the
Baltimore Sun the following paragraph:
“Professor Valentine Dorrimore, the hypnotist, had a large audience last
night. The lecturer, who has lived most of his life in India, gave some
exhibitions of his power, hypnotizing
anyone who chose to submit himself to the experiment, by merely looking
at him. In fact, he twice hypnotized the entire
audience (reporters alone exempted),
making all entertain the most extraordinary illusions. The most valuable
feature of the lecture was the disclosure of the
methods of the Hindu jugglers in
their famous performances, familiar in the mouths of travellers. The professor
declares that these thaumaturgists have acquired
such skill in the art which he
learned at their feet that they perform their miracles by simply throwing
the ‘spectators’ into a state of hypnosis and telling them
what to see and hear. His assertion
that a peculiarly susceptible subject may be kept in the realm of the unreal
for weeks, months, and even years, dominated by
whatever delusions and hallucinations
the operator may from time to time suggest, is a trifle disquieting.”