Statement of Joel Hetman, Jr.
I AM the most unfortunate of men. Rich, respected, fairly well educated
and of sound health-with many other advantages usually valued by those
them and coveted by those who
have them not-I sometimes think that I should be less unhappy if they had
been denied me, for then the contrast between my
outer and my inner life would
not be continually demanding a painful attention. In the stress of privation
and the need of effort I might sometimes forget the
sombre secret ever baffling
the conjecture that it compels.
I am the only child of Joel and Julia Hetman. The one was a well-to-do
country gentleman, the other a beautiful and accomplished woman to whom
passionately attached with what
I now know to have been a jealous and exacting devotion. The family home
was a few miles from Nashville, Tennessee, a large,
irregularly built dwelling of
no particular order of architecture, a little way off the road, in a park
of trees and shrubbery.
At the time of which I write I was nineteen years old, a student at Yale.
One day I received a telegram from my father of such urgency that in compliance
with its unexplained demand
I left at once for home. At the railway station in Nashville a distant
relative awaited me to apprise me of the reason for my recall: my
mother had been barbarously
murdered-why and by whom none could conjecture, but the circumstances were
My father had gone to Nashville, intending to return the next afternoon.
Something prevented his accomplishing the business in hand, so he returned
the same night, arriving just
before the dawn. In his testimony before the coroner he explained that
having no latchkey and not caring to disturb the sleeping
servants, he had, with no clearly
defined intention, gone round to the rear of the house. As he turned an
angle of the building, he heard a sound as of a door
gently closed, and saw in the
darkness, indistinctly, the figure of a man, which instantly disappeared
among the trees of the lawn. A hasty pursuit and brief search
of the grounds in the belief
that the trespasser was some one secretly visiting a servant proving fruitless,
he entered at the unlocked door and mounted the stairs
to my mother's chamber. Its
door was open, and stepping into black darkness he fell headlong over some
heavy object on the floor. I may spare myself the
details; it was my poor mother,
dead of strangulation by human hands!
Nothing had been taken from the house, the servants had heard no sound,
and excepting those terrible finger-marks upon the dead woman's throat-
God! that I might forget them!-no
trace of the assassin was ever found.
I gave up my studies and remained with my father, who, naturally, was greatly
changed. Always of a sedate, taciturn disposition, he now fell into so
dejection that nothing could
hold his attention, yet anything-a footfall, the sudden closing of a door-aroused
in him a fitful interest; one might have called it an
apprehension. At any small surprise
of the senses he would start visibly and sometimes turn pale, then relapse
into a melancholy apathy deeper than before. I
suppose he was what is called
a “nervous wreck.” As to me, I was younger then than now-there is much
in that. Youth is Gilead, in which is balm for every
wound. Ah, that I might again
dwell in that enchanted land! Unacquainted with grief, I knew not how to
appraise my bereavement; I could not rightly estimate
the strength of the stroke.
One night, a few months after the dreadful event, my father and I walked
home from the city. The full moon was about three hours above the eastern
horizon; the entire countryside
had the solemn stillness of a summer night; our footfalls and the ceaseless
song of the katydids were the only sound, aloof. Black
shadows of bordering trees lay
athwart the road, which, in the short reaches between, gleamed a ghostly
white. As we approached the gate to our dwelling,
whose front was in shadow, and
in which no light shone, my father suddenly stopped and clutched my arm,
saying, hardly above his breath:
“God! God! what is that?”
“I hear nothing,” I replied.
“But see-see!” he said, pointing along the road, directly ahead.
I said: “Nothing is there. Come, father, let us go in-you are ill.”
He h ad released my arm and was standing rigid and motionless in the centre
of the illuminated roadway, staring like one bereft of sense. His face
moonlight showed a pallor and
fixity inexpressibly distressing. I pulled gently at his sleeve, but he
had forgotten my existence. Presently he began to retire
backward, step by step, never
for an instant removing his eyes from what he saw, or thought he saw. I
turned half round to follow, but stood irresolute. I do not
recall any feeling of fear,
unless a sudden chill was its physical manifestation. It seemed as if an
icy wind had touched my face and enfolded my body from head to
foot; I could feel the stir
of it in my hair.
At that moment my attention was drawn to a light that suddenly streamed
from an upper window of the house: one of the servants, awakened by what
mysterious premonition of evil
who can say, and in obedience to an impulse that she was never able to
name, had lit a lamp. When I turned to look for my father
he was gone, and in all the
years that have passed no whisper of his fate has come across the borderland
of conjecture from the realm of the unknown.
Statement of Caspar Grattan
To-day I am said to live, to-morrow, here in this room, will lie a senseless
shape of clay that all too long was I. If anyone lift the cloth from the
face of that
unpleasant thing it will be
in gratification of a mere morbid curiosity. Some, doubtless, will go further
and inquire, “Who was he?” In this writing I supply the
only answer that I am able to
make- Caspar Grattan. Surely, that should be enough. The name has served
my small need for more than twenty years of a life of
unknown length. True, I gave
it to myself, but lacking another I had the right. In this world one must
have a name; it prevents confusion, even when it does not
establish identity. Some, though,
are known by numbers, which also seem inadequate distinctions.
One day, for illustration, I was passing along a street of a city, far
from here, when I met two men in uniform, one of whom, half pausing and
curiously into my face, said
to his companion, “That man looks like 767.” Something in the number seemed
familiar and horrible. Moved by an uncontrollable
impulse, I sprang into a side
street and ran until I fell exhausted in a country lane.
I have never forgotten that number, and always it comes to memory attended
by gibbering obscenity, peals of joyless laughter, the clang of iron doors.
say a name, even if self-bestowed,
is better than a number. In the register of the potter's field I shall
soon have both. What wealth!
Of him who shall find this paper I must beg a little consideration. It
is not the history of my life; the knowledge to write that is denied me.
This is only a
record of broken and apparently
unrelated memories, some of them as distinct and sequent as brilliant beads
upon a thread, others remote and strange, having the
character of crimson dreams
with interspaces blank and black-witch-fires glowing still and red in a
Standing upon the shore of eternity, I turn for a last look landward over
the course by which I came. There are twenty years of footprints fairly
the impressions of bleeding
feet. They lead through poverty and pain, devious and unsure, as of one
staggering beneath a burden-
Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow.
Ah, the poet's prophecy of Me-how admirable, how dreadfully admirable!
Backward beyond the beginning of this via dolorosa- this epic of suffering
with episodes of sin -I see nothing clearly; it comes out of a cloud. I
it spans only twenty years,
yet I am an old man.
One does not remember one's birth-one has to be told. But with me it was
different; life came to me full-handed and dowered me with all my faculties
powers. Of a previous existence
I know no more than others, for all have stammering intimations that may
be memories and may be dreams. I know only that my
first consciousness was of maturity
in body and mind-a consciousness accepted without surprise or conjecture.
I merely found myself walking in a forest,
half-clad, footsore, unutterably
weary and hungry. Seeing a farmhouse, I approached and asked for food,
which was given me by one who inquired my name. I
did not know, yet knew that
all had names. Greatly embarrassed, I retreated, and night coming on, lay
down in the forest and slept.
The next day I entered a large town which I shall not name. Nor shall I
recount further incidents of the life that is now to end-a life of wandering,
and everywhere haunted by an
overmastering sense of crime in punishment of wrong and of terror in punishment
of crime. Let me see if I can reduce it to
I seem once to have lived near a great city, a prosperous planter, married
to a woman whom I loved and distrusted. We had, it sometimes seems, one
a youth of brilliant parts and
promise. He is at all times a vague figure, never clearly drawn, frequently
altogether out of the picture.
One luckless evening it occurred to me to test my wife's fidelity in a
vulgar, commonplace way familiar to everyone who has acquaintance with
literature of fact and fiction.
I went to the city, telling my wife that I should be absent until the following
afternoon. But I returned before daybreak and went to
the rear of the house, purposing
to enter by a door with which I had secretly so tampered that it would
seem to lock, yet not actually fasten. As I approached it, I
heard it gently open and close,
and saw a man steal away into the darkness. With murder in my heart, I
sprang after him, but he had vanished without even the
bad luck of identification.
Sometimes now I cannot even persuade myself that it was a human being.
Crazed with jealousy and rage, blind and bestial with all the elemental
passions of insulted manhood, I entered the house and sprang up the stairs
door of my wife's chamber. It
was closed, but having tampered with its lock also, I easily entered, and
despite the black darkness soon stood by the side of her
bed. My groping hands told me
that although disarranged it was unoccupied.
“She is below,” I thought, “and terrified by my entrance has evaded me
in the darkness of the hall.” With the purpose of seeking her I turned
to leave the
room, but took a wrong direction-the
right one! My foot struck her, cowering in a corner of the room. Instantly
my hands were at her throat, stifling a shriek, my
knees were upon her struggling
body; and there in the darkness, without a word of accusation or reproach,
I strangled her till she died! There ends the dream. I
have related it in the past
tense, but the present would be the fitter form, for again and again the
sombre tragedy re-enacts itself in my consciousness-over and
over I lay the plan, I suffer
the confirmation, I redress the wrong. Then all is blank; and afterward
the rains beat against the grimy windowpanes, or the snows fall
upon my scant attire, the wheels
rattle in the squalid streets where my life lies in poverty and mean employment.
If there is ever sunshine I do not recall it; if there
are birds they do not sing.
There is another dream, another vision of the night. I stand among the
shadows in a moonlit road. I am aware of another presence, but whose I
rightly determine. In the shadow
of a great dwelling I catch the gleam of white garments; then the figure
of a woman confronts me in the road-my murdered wife!
There is death in the face;
there are marks upon the throat. The eyes are fixed on mine with an infinite
gravity which is not reproach, nor hate, nor menace, nor
anything less terrible than
recognition. Before this awful apparition I retreat in terror-a terror
that is upon me as I write. I can no longer rightly shape the words.
Now I am calm, but truly there is no more to tell: the incident ends where
it began-in darkness and in doubt.
Yes, I am again in control of myself: “the captain of my soul.” But that
is not respite; it is another stage and phase of expiation. My penance,
degree, is mutable in kind:
one of its variants is tranquillity. After all, it is only a life-sentence.
“To Hell for life”-that is a foolish penalty: the culprit chooses the
duration of his punishment.
To-day my term expires.
To each and all, the peace that was not mine.
End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART