One pleasant summer evening at about the hour of ten Mr. Creede, entering at his garden gate, passed up the gravel walk, which looked very white in the moonlight, mounted the stone steps of his fine house and pausing a moment inserted his latchkey in the door. As he pushed this open he met his wife, who was crossing the passage from the parlor to the library. She greeted him pleasantly and pulling the door further back held it for him to enter. Instead he turned and, looking about his feet in front of the threshold, uttered an exclamation of surprise.
“Why!—what the devil,” he said, “has become of that jug?”
“What jug, Alvan?” his wife inquired, not very sympathetically.
“A jug of maple sirup—I brought it along from the store and set it down here to open the door. What the—”
“There, there, Alvan, please don’t swear again,” said the lady, interrupting. Hillbrook, by the way, is not the only place in Christendom where a vestigial polytheism forbids the taking in vain of the Evil One’s name.
The jug of maple sirup which the easy ways of village life had permitted Hillbrook’s foremost citizen to carry home from the store was not there.
“Are you quite sure, Alvan?”
“My dear, do you suppose a man does not know when he is carrying a jug? I bought that sirup at Deemer’s as I was passing. Deemer himself drew it and lent me the jug, and I—”
The sentence remains to this day unfinished. Mr. Creede staggered into the house, entered the parlor and dropped into an armchair, trembling in every limb. He had suddenly remembered that Silas Deemer was three weeks dead.
Mrs. Creede stood by her husband, regarding him with surprise and anxiety.
“For Heaven’s sake,” she said, “what ails you?”
Mr. Creede’s ailment having no obvious relation to the interests of the better land he did not apparently deem it necessary to expound it on that demand; he said nothing—merely stared. There were long moments of silence broken by nothing but the measured ticking of the clock, which seemed somewhat slower than usual, as if it were civilly granting them an extension of time in which to recover their wits.
“Jane, I have gone mad—that is it.” He spoke thickly and hurriedly. “You should have told me; you must have observed my symptoms before they became so pronounced that I have observed them myself. I thought I was passing Deemer’s store; it was open and lit up—that is what I thought; of course it is never open now. Silas Deemer stood at his desk behind the counter. My God, Jane, I saw him as distinctly as I see you. Remembering that you had said you wanted some maple sirup, I went in and bought some—that is all—I bought two quarts of maple sirup from Silas Deemer, who is dead and underground, but nevertheless drew that sirup from a cask and handed it to me in a jug. He talked with me, too, rather gravely, I remember, even more so than was his way, but not a word of what he said can I now recall. But I saw him—good Lord, I saw and talked with him—and he is dead! So I thought, but I’m mad, Jane, I’m as crazy as a beetle; and you have kept it from me.”