Silas Blackburn touched Bobby’s arm timidly.
“I’ve been a hard man, Bobby—”
He broke off, his bearded lips twitching.
The grating of the screws tore through the silence. Rawlins glanced up.
“Lend a hand, somebody.”
Groom spoke hoarsely:
“It isn’t too late to let the dead rest.”
Robinson gestured him away. Graham, Paredes, and he knelt in the snow and helped the detective raise the heavy lid. They placed it at the side of the grave.
They all forced themselves to glance downward.
Katherine screamed. Silas Blackburn leaned on Bobby’s arm, shaking with gross, impossible sobs. Paredes shrugged his shoulders. The light wavered in Robinson’s hand. They continued to stare. There was nothing else to do.
The coffin was empty.
BOBBY’S VIGIL IN THE ABANDONED ROOM
For a long time the little group gathered in the snow-swept cemetery remained silent. The lamp, shaking in the district attorney’s hand, illuminated each detail of the casket’s interior linings. Bobby tried to realize that, except for these meaningless embellishments, the box was empty. That was what held them all—the void, the unoccupied silken couch in which they had seen Silas Blackburn’s body imprisoned. Yet the screws which the detective had removed, and the mass of earth, packed down and covered with snow, must have made escape a dreadful impossibility even if the spark of life had reanimated its occupant. And that occupant stood there, trembling and haggard, sobbing from time to time in an utter abandonment to the terror of what he saw.
To Bobby in that moment the supernatural legend of the Cedars seemed more triumphantly fulfilled than it would have been through the immaterial return of his grandfather. For Silas Blackburn was a reincarnation more difficult to accept than any ghost. Had Paredes, who all along had offered them a spectacle of veiled activity and thought, grasped the truth? At first glance, indeed his gossip of oriental theories concerning the disintegration of matter, its passage through solid substances, its reassembly in far places, seemed thoroughly justified. Yet, granted that, who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had they buried to vanish completely? Who, in the semblance of Silas Blackburn, had drowsed without food for three days in the house at Smithtown?
The old man stretched his shaking hands to Bobby and Katherine.
“Don’t let them bury me again. They never buried me. I’ve not been dead! I tell you I’ve not been dead!” He mouthed horribly. “I’m alive! Can’t you see I’m alive?”
He broke down and covered his face. Jenkins sank on the heap of earth.
“I saw you, Mr. Silas, in that box. And I saw you on the bed. Miss Katherine and I found you. We had to break the door. You looked so peaceful we thought you were asleep. But when we touched you you were cold.”