“Nine years ago!” he shrieked, throwing out his clenched hands—“nine years ago, w’en that big brute killed the woman who loved him better than she did me!—me who had followed ’er from San Francisco, where ’e won ’er at draw poker!—me who had watched over ’er for years w’en the scoundrel she belonged to was ashamed to acknowledge ’er and treat ’er white!—me who for her sake kept ’is cussed secret till it ate ’im up!—me who w’en you poisoned the beast fulfilled ’is last request to lay ’im alongside ’er and give ’im a stone to the head of ’im! And I’ve never since seen ’er grave till now, for I didn’t want to meet ’im here.”
“Meet him? Why, Gopher, my poor fellow, he is dead!”
“That’s why I’m afraid of ’im.”
I followed the little wretch back to his wagon and wrung his hand at parting. It was now nightfall, and as I stood there at the roadside in the deepening gloom, watching the blank outlines of the receding wagon, a sound was borne to me on the evening wind—a sound as of a series of vigorous thumps—and a voice came out of the night:
“Gee-up, there, you derned old Geranium.”
This narrative begins with the death of its hero. Silas Deemer died on the 16th day of July, 1863, and two days later his remains were buried. As he had been personally known to every man, woman and well-grown child in the village, the funeral, as the local newspaper phrased it, “was largely attended.” In accordance with a custom of the time and place, the coffin was opened at the graveside and the entire assembly of friends and neighbors filed past, taking a last look at the face of the dead. And then, before the eyes of all, Silas Deemer was put into the ground. Some of the eyes were a trifle dim, but in a general way it may be said that at that interment there was lack of neither observance nor observation; Silas was indubitably dead, and none could have pointed out any ritual delinquency that would have justified him in coming back from the grave. Yet if human testimony is good for anything (and certainly it once put an end to witchcraft in and about Salem) he came back.
I forgot to state that the death and burial of Silas Deemer occurred in the little village of Hillbrook, where he had lived for thirty-one years. He had been what is known in some parts of the Union (which is admittedly a free country) as a “merchant”; that is to say, he kept a retail shop for the sale of such things as are commonly sold in shops of that character. His honesty had never been questioned, so far as is known, and he was held in high esteem by all. The only thing that could be urged against him by the most censorious was a too close attention to business. It was not urged against him, though many another, who manifested it in no greater degree, was less leniently judged. The business to which Silas was devoted was mostly his own—that, possibly, may have made a difference.