By the light of a tallow candle, which had been placed on one end of a rough table, a man was reading
something written in a book. It was an old account book, greatly worn; and the writing was not, apparently,
very legible, for the man sometimes held the page close to the flame of the candle to get a stronger
light upon it. The shadow of the book would then throw into obscurity a half of the room, darkening
a number of faces and figures; for besides the reader, eight other men were present. Seven of them
sat against the rough log walls, silent and motionless, and, the room being small, not very far from the
table. By extending an arm any one of them could have touched the eighth man, who lay on the table,
face upward, partly covered by a sheet, his arms at his sides. He was dead.
The man with the book was not reading aloud, and no one spoke; all seemed to be waiting for something
to occur; the dead man only was without expectation. From the blank darkness outside came in, through
the aperture that served for a window, all the ever unfamiliar noises of night in the wildernessthe long,
nameless note of a distant coyote; the stilly pulsing thrill of tireless insects in the trees; strange cries of
night birds, so different from those of the birds of day; the drone of great blundering beetles and all that
mysterious chorus of small sounds that seemed always to have been but half heard when they have
suddenly ceased, as if conscious of an indiscretion. But nothing of all this was noted in that company; its
members were not overmuch addicted to idle interest in matters of no practical importance; that was
obvious in every line of their rugged facesobvious even in the dim light of the single candle. They
were evidently men of the vicinityfarmers and woodmen.
The person reading was a trifle different; one would have said of him that he was of the world, worldly,
albeit there was that in his attire which attested a certain fellowship with the organisms of his environment.
His coat would hardly have passed muster in San Francisco: his footgear was not of urban origin, and
the hat that lay by him on the floor (he was the only one uncovered) was such that if one had considered
it as an article of mere personal adornment he would have missed its meaning. In countenance the
man was rather prepossessing, with just a hint of sternness; though that he may have assumed or cultivated,
as appropriate to one in authority. For he was a coroner. It was by virtue of his office that he had possession
of the book in which he was reading; it had been found among the dead mans effectsin his cabin,
where the inquest was now taking place.
When the coroner had finished reading he put the book into his breast pocket. At that moment the door
was pushed open and a young man entered. He, clearly, was not of mountain birth and breeding: he
was clad as those who dwell in cities. His clothing was dusty, however, as from travel. He had, in fact,
been riding hard to attend the inquest.
The coroner nodded; no one else greeted him.
We have waited for you, said the coroner. It is necessary to have done with this business to-night.
The young man smiled. I am sorry to have kept you, he said, I went away, not to evade your summons,
but to post to my newspaper an account of what I suppose I am called back to relate.
The coroner smiled.
The account that you posted to your newspaper, he said, differs probably from that which you will give
here under oath.
That, replied the other, rather hotly and with a visible flush, is as you choose. I used manifold paper
and have a copy of what I sent. It was not written as news, for it is incredible, but as fiction. It may go
as a part of my testimony under oath.
But you say it is incredible.
That is nothing to you, sir, if I also swear that it is true.
The coroner was apparently not greatly affected by the young mans manifest resentment. He was silent
for some moments, his eyes upon the floor. The men about the sides of the cabin talked in whispers,
but seldom withdrew their gaze from the face of the corpse. Presently the coroner lifted his eyes and
said: We will resume the inquest.
The men removed their hats. The witness was sworn.
What is your name? the coroner asked.
You knew the deceased, Hugh Morgan?
You were with him when he died?
How did that happenyour presence, I mean?
I was visiting him at his place to shoot and fish. A part of my purpose, however, was to study him,
and his odd, solitary way of life. He seemed a good model for a character in fiction. I sometimes write
I sometimes read them.
Stories in generalnot yours.
Some of the jurors laughed. Against a somber background humor shows high lights. Soldiers in the
intervals of battle laugh easily, and a jest in the death chamber conquers by surprise.
Relate the circumstances of this mans death, said the coroner. You may use any notes or memoranda
that you please.
The witness understood. Pulling a manuscript from his breast pocket he held it near the candle, and
turning the leaves until he found the passage that he wanted, began to read.
The sun had hardly risen when we left the house. We were looking for quail, each with a shot-gun,
but we had only one dog. Morgan said that our best ground was beyond a certain ridge that he pointed
out, and we crossed it by trail through the chaparral. On the other side was comparatively level ground,
thickly covered with wild oats. As we emerged from the chaparral, Morgan was but a few yards in advance.
Suddenly, we heard, at a little distance to our right, and partly in front, a noise as of some animal thrashing
about in the bushes, which we could see were violently agitated.
Weve started a deer, I said. I wish we had brought a rifle.
Morgan, who had stopped and was intently watching the agitated chaparral, said nothing, but had
cocked both barrels of his gun, and was holding it in readiness to aim. I thought him a trifle excited,
which surprised me, for he had a reputation for exceptional coolness, even in moments of sudden and
O, come! I said. You are not going to fill up a deer with quail-shot, are you?
Still he did not reply; but, catching a sight of his face as he turned it slightly toward me, I was struck by
the pallor of it. Then I understood that we had serious business on hand, and my first conjecture was
that we had jumped a grizzly. I advanced to Morgans side, cocking my piece as I moved.
The bushes were now quiet, and the sounds had ceased, but Morgan was as attentive to the place as
What is it? What the devil is it? I asked.
That Damned Thing! he replied, without turning his head. His voice was husky and unnatural. He
I was about to speak further, when I observed the wild oats near the place of the disturbance moving
in the most inexplicable way. I can hardly describe it. It seemed as if stirred by a streak of wind, which
not only bent it, but pressed it downcrushed it so that it did not rise, and this movement was slowly
prolonging itself directly toward us.
Nothing that I had ever seen had affected me so strangely as this unfamiliar and unaccountable phenomenon,
yet I am unable to recall any sense of fear. I rememberand tell it here because, singularly enough,
I recollected it thenthat once, in looking carelessly out of an open window, I momentarily mistook a
small tree close at hand for one of a group of larger trees at a little distance away. It looked the same
size as the others, but, being more distinctly and sharply defined in mass and details, seemed out of
harmony with them. It was a mere falsification of the law of aerial perspective, but it startled, almost
terrified me. We so rely upon the orderly operation of familar natural laws that any seeming suspension
of them is noted as a menace to our safety, a warning of unthinkable calamity. So now the apparently
causeless movement of the herbage, and the slow, undeviating approach of the line of disturbance were
distinctly disquieting. My companion appeared actually frightened, and I could hardly credit my senses
when I saw him suddenly throw his gun to his shoulders and fire both barrels at the agitated grass! Before
the smoke of the discharge had cleared away I heard a loud savage crya scream like that of a wild
animaland, flinging his gun upon the ground, Morgan sprang away and ran swiftly from the spot. At
the same instant I was thrown violently to the ground by the impact of something unseen in the smokesome
soft, heavy substance that seemed thrown against me with great force.
Before I could get upon my feet and recover my gun, which seemed to have been struck from my hands,
I heard Morgan crying out as if in mortal agony, and mingling with his cries were such hoarse, savage
sounds as one hears from fighting dogs. Inexpressibly terrified, I struggled to my feet and looked in
the direction of Morgans retreat; and may heaven in mercy spare me from another sight like that! At a
distance of less than thirty yards was my friend, down upon one knee, his head thrown back at a frightful
angle, hatless, his long hair in disorder and his whole body in violent movement from side to side, backward
and forward. His right arm was lifted and seemed to lack the handat least, I could see none. The
other arm was invisible. At times, as my memory now reports this extraordinary scene, I could discern
but a part of his body; it was as if he had been partly blotted outI can not otherwise express itthen a
shifting of his position would bring it all into view again.
All this must have occurred within a few seconds, yet in that time Morgan assumed all the postures of
a determined wrestler vanquished by superior weight and strength. I saw nothing but him, and him not
always distinctly. During the entire incident his shouts and curses were heard, as if through an enveloping
uproar of such sounds of rage and fury as I had never heard from the throat of man or brute!
For a moment only I stood irresolute, then throwing down my gun, I ran forward to my friends assistance.
I had a vague belief that he was suffering from a fit or some form of convulsion. Before I could reach
his side he was down and quiet. All sounds had ceased, but, with a feeling of such terror as even these
awful events had not inspired, I now saw the same mysterious movement of the wild oats prolonging
itself from the trampled area about the prostrate man toward the edge of a wood. It was only when it
had reached the wood that I was able to withdraw my eyes and look at my companion. He was dead.
The coroner rose from his seat and stood beside the dead man. Lifting an edge of the sheet he pulled
it away, exposing the entire body, altogether naked and showing in the candle-light a clay-like yellow. It
had, however, broad maculations of bluish-black, obviously caused by extravasated blood from contusions.
The chest and sides looked as if they had been beaten with a bludgeon. There were dreadful lacerations; the
skin was torn in strips and shreds.
The coroner moved round to the end of the table and undid a silk handkerchief, which had been passed
under the chin and knotted on the top of the head. When the handkerchief was drawn away it exposed
what had been the throat. Some of the jurors who had risen to get a better view repented their curiosity,
and turned away their faces. Witness Harker went to the open window and leaned out across the sill,
faint and sick. Dropping the handkerchief upon the dead mans neck, the coroner stepped to an angle
of the room, and from a pile of clothing produced one garment after another, each of which he held up
a moment for inspection. All were torn, and stiff with blood. The jurors did not make a closer inspection.
They seemed rather uninterested. They had, in truth, seen all this before; the only thing that was new to
them being Harkers testimony.
Gentlemen, the coroner said, we have no more evidence, I think. Your duty has been already explained
to you; if there is nothing you wish to ask you may go outside and consider your verdict.
The foreman rosea tall, bearded man of sixty, coarsely clad.
I should like to ask one question, Mr. Coroner, he said. What asylum did this yer last witness escape
Mr. Harker, said the coroner, gravely and tranquilly, from what asylum did you last escape?
Harker flushed crimson again, but said nothing, and the seven jurors rose and solemnly filed out of the
If you have done insulting me, sir, said Harker, as soon as he and the officer were left alone with the
dead man, I suppose I am at liberty to go?
Harker started to leave, but paused, with his hand on the door latch. The habit of his profession was
strong in himstronger than his sense of personal dignity. He turned about and said:
The book that you have thereI recognize it as Morgans diary. You seemed greatly interested in it; you
read in it while I was testifying. May I see it? The public would like
The book will cut no figure in this matter, replied the official, slipping it into his coat pocket; all the entries
in it were made before the writers death.
As Harker passed out of the house the jury re-entered and stood about the table, on which the now
covered corpse showed under the sheet with sharp definition. The foreman seated himself near the
candle, produced from his breast pocket a pencil and scrap of paper, and wrote rather laboriously the
following verdict, which with various degrees of effort all signed:
We, the jury, do find that the remains come to their death at the hands of a mountain lion, but some of
us thinks, all the same, they had fits.
In the diary of the late Hugh Morgan are certain interesting entries having, possibly, a scientific value
as suggestions. At the inquest upon his body the book was not put in evidence; possibly the coroner
thought it not worth while to confuse the jury. The date of the first of the entries mentioned cannot be
ascertained; the upper part of the leaf is torn away; the part of the entry remaining is as follows:
would run in a half circle, keeping his head turned always toward the center and again he would stand
still, barking furiously. At last he ran away into the brush as fast as he could go. I thought at first that
he had gone mad, but on returning to the house found no other alteration in his manner than what was
obviously due to fear of punishment.
Can a dog see with his nose? Do odors impress some olfactory center with images of the thing emitting
Sept. 2.Looking at the stars last night as they rose above the crest of the ridge east of the house, I
observed them successively disappearfrom left to right. Each was eclipsed but an instant, and only a
few at the same time, but along the entire length of the ridge all that were within a degree or two of the
crest were blotted out. It was as if something had passed along between me and them; but I could not
see it, and the stars were not thick enough to define its outline. Ugh! I dont like this.
Several weeks entries are missing, three leaves being torn from the book.
Sept. 27.It has been about here againI find evidences of its presence every day. I watched again
all of last night in the same cover, gun in hand, double-charged with buckshot. In the morning the fresh
footprints were there, as before. Yet I would have sworn that I did not sleepindeed, I hardly sleep at
all. It is terrible, insupportable! If these amazing experiences are real I shall go mad; if they are fanciful I
am mad already.
Oct. 3.I shall not goit shall not drive me away. No, this is my house, my land. God hates a coward.
Oct. 5.I can stand it no longer; I have invited Harker to pass a few weeks with mehe has a level
head. I can judge from his manner if he thinks me mad.
Oct. 7.I have the solution of the problem; it came to me last nightsuddenly, as by revelation. How
simplehow terribly simple!
There are sounds that we cannot hear. At either end of the scale are notes that stir no chord of that
imperfect instrument, the human ear. They are too high or too grave. I have observed a flock of blackbirds
occupying an entire tree-topthe tops of several treesand all in full song. Suddenlyin a momentat
absolutely the same instantall spring into the air and fly away. How? They could not all see one
anotherwhole tree-tops intervened. At no point could a leader have been visible to all. There must
have been a signal of warning or command, high and shrill above the din, but by me unheard. I have
observed, too, the same simultaneous flight when all were silent, among not only blackbirds, but other
birdsquail, for example, widely separated by busheseven on opposite sides of a hill.
It is known to seamen that a school of whales basking or sporting on the surface of the ocean, miles
apart, with the convexity of the earth between them, will sometimes dive at the same instantall gone
out of sight in a moment. The signal has been soundedtoo grave for the ear of the sailor at the masthead
and his comrades on the deckwho nevertheless feel its vibrations in the ship as the stones of a cathedral
are stirred by the bass of the organ.
As with sounds, so with colors. At each end of the solar spectrum the chemist can detect the presence
of what are known as actinic rays. They represent colorsintegral colors in the composition of lightwhich
we are unable to discern. The human eye is an imperfect instrument; its range is but a few octaves
of the real chromatic scale. I am not mad; there are colors that we cannot see.
And, God help me! the Damned Thing is of such a color!