I had a vague idea of despatching some sort of report to Ellen that I had not been entirely washed away, and obtaining a similar comfort as to her own fate. I little thought how I should need him.
I think I am not by nature more timid than other men, but as the dismal evening closed in I took from my desk two revolvers kept ready for possible emergencies, and laid one upon the desk where I was making freight entries and the other on the table where the electric battery stood. At intervals a fresh package for the night express was brought by some dripping carrier, who deposited it, got his receipt, hung about for a few minutes, then hastened away to more comfortable quarters.
Still the rain poured in torrents. It must have been nearly nine o’clock when a wagon, hurriedly driven, pulled up suddenly at the platform. In a moment the door was flung open, and I saw a small ambulance well known about the village. Two men sprang out, and with the help of the driver and his assistant, proceeded to lift out a box which from its dimensions could contain only one kind of freight, to wit, the remains of a human being.
Carefully placing this box in a remote corner of the room, near other boxes awaiting transportation, the driver and his man returned to their wagon, while the two strangers approached the desk to enter their ghastly freight. They wore slouched hats and were very wet. They produced a death certificate of one John Slate, who had died at a farm house several miles away, of a non-contagious complaint, and was to be shipped to his friends down the road. This was all. There was nothing singular about it, and yet when the door closed upon the strangers and I was again alone, or worse than alone a feeling of awe came over me. Clearly the storm had somewhat unstrung me.
Only one hour till the train was due, after which I could turn in for the night.
A louder peal of thunder shook the house, and fiercer flashed the lightning. Minute after minute went by, and each seemed an age. The roar and din of the elements only deepened the gloom inside, where the uncertain kerosene lamp darkened the shadows.
Suddenly to my overstrained nerves the ceaseless clicking of the instrument seemed to say, “Watch the box—watch the box—watch the box.” As a particular strain of melody will at times repeat itself in the mind, and obstinately keep time to every movement, till one is well-nigh distracted, so this refrain began to enchain every sense: “Watch the box—watch the box—watch the box.” Till now my depressed spirits were due only to the solitude and the storm. No suspicion of evil or danger had tormented me.
Peering more closely into the dingy corner, I saw only the ordinary pine box, with what seemed to be a square paper, or placard, on the side facing me. Probably the address, bunglingly adjusted on the side instead of the top, or else a stain of mud from the late rough drive. At all events I was not curious enough to approach more nearly the ghostly visitant.