At Old Man Eckert's





Philip Eckert lived for many years in an old, weather-stained wooden

house about three miles from the little town of Marion, in Vermont.

There must be quite a number of persons living who remember him, not

unkindly, I trust, and know something of the story that I am about

to tell.



"Old Man Eckert," as he was always called, was not of a sociable

disposition and lived alone. As he was never known to speak of his

own affairs nobody thereabout knew anything of his past, nor of his

relatives if he had any. Without being particularly ungracious or

repellent in manner or speech, he managed somehow to be immune to

impertinent curiosity, yet exempt from the evil repute with which it

commonly revenges itself when baffled; so far as I know, Mr.

Eckert's renown as a reformed assassin or a retired pirate of the

Spanish Main had not reached any ear in Marion. He got his living

cultivating a small and not very fertile farm.



One day he disappeared and a prolonged search by his neighbors

failed to turn him up or throw any light upon his whereabouts or

whyabouts. Nothing indicated preparation to leave: all was as he

might have left it to go to the spring for a bucket of water. For a

few weeks little else was talked of in that region; then "old man

Eckert" became a village tale for the ear of the stranger. I do not

know what was done regarding his property--the correct legal thing,

doubtless. The house was standing, still vacant and conspicuously

unfit, when I last heard of it, some twenty years afterward.



Of course it came to be considered "haunted," and the customary

tales were told of moving lights, dolorous sounds and startling

apparitions. At one time, about five years after the disappearance,

these stories of the supernatural became so rife, or through some

attesting circumstances seemed so important, that some of Marion's

most serious citizens deemed it well to investigate, and to that end

arranged for a night session on the premises. The parties to this

undertaking were John Holcomb, an apothecary; Wilson Merle, a

lawyer, and Andrus C. Palmer, the teacher of the public school, all

men of consequence and repute. They were to meet at Holcomb's house

at eight o'clock in the evening of the appointed day and go together

to the scene of their vigil, where certain arrangements for their

comfort, a provision of fuel and the like, for the season was

winter, had been already made.



Palmer did not keep the engagement, and after waiting a half-hour

for him the others went to the Eckert house without him. They

established themselves in the principal room, before a glowing fire,

and without other light than it gave, awaited events. It had been

agreed to speak as little as possible: they did not even renew the

exchange of views regarding the defection of Palmer, which had

occupied their minds on the way.



Probably an hour had passed without incident when they heard (not

without emotion, doubtless) the sound of an opening door in the rear

of the house, followed by footfalls in the room adjoining that in

which they sat. The watchers rose to their feet, but stood firm,

prepared for whatever might ensue. A long silence followed--how

long neither would afterward undertake to say. Then the door

between the two rooms opened and a man entered.



It was Palmer. He was pale, as if from excitement--as pale as the

others felt themselves to be. His manner, too, was singularly

distrait: he neither responded to their salutations nor so much as

looked at them, but walked slowly across the room in the light of

the failing fire and opening the front door passed out into the

darkness.



It seems to have been the first thought of both men that Palmer was

suffering from fright--that something seen, heard or imagined in the

back room had deprived him of his senses. Acting on the same

friendly impulse both ran after him through the open door. But

neither they nor anyone ever again saw or heard of Andrus Palmer!



This much was ascertained the next morning. During the session of

Messrs. Holcomb and Merle at the "haunted house" a new snow had

fallen to a depth of several inches upon the old. In this snow

Palmer's trail from his lodging in the village to the back door of

the Eckert house was conspicuous. But there it ended: from the

front door nothing led away but the tracks of the two men who swore

that he preceded them. Palmer's disappearance was as complete as

that of "old man Eckert" himself--whom, indeed, the editor of the

local paper somewhat graphically accused of having "reached out and

pulled him in."





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