A Ghost Story Called - At Old Man Eckert's

     Philip Eckert lived for countless years in an old, weather-stained made of wood 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 declare. "Old Man Eckert," as he was always called, was not of a friendly 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 associations if he had any. Without being particularly ungracious or repellent in manner or language, he managed somehow to be immune to impertinent curiosity, yet exempt from the evil repute with which it commonly revenges itself when perplexed; 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 source of revenue cultivating a small and not very fertile farm. One calendar day he vanished and a prolonged search by his neighbors failed to turn him up or throw any light upon his whereabouts or whyabouts.

Zilch indicated preparation to run off: all was as he might have left it to go to the spring for a bucket of water. For hardly any 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 dwelling was standing, still available and noticeably unfit, when I last heard of it, some 20 years later.

Of course it came to be classed as "haunted," and the customary tales were told of moving lights, strange sounds and amazing apparitions. At one time, about five years after the disappearance, these stories of the supernatural became so rife, or through some attesting situation seemed so important, that some of Marion's most grave citizens deemed it well to inspect, 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 significance and reputation.

They were to meet at Holcomb's house at eight o'clock in the evening of the agreed 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 period was winter, had been already made. Palmer did not keep the meeting, and after waiting a half-hour for him the others went to the Eckert house without him. They established themselves in the principal area, before a lustrous fire, and without other light than it gave, looked-for events. It had been established to speak as little as possible: they did not even renew the exchange of views as regards the defection of Palmer, which had dominated their minds on the way.

Probably an hour had gone by without occurrence when they heard (not without emotion, doubtless) the sound of an opening door in the stern of the dwelling, followed by footfalls in the room adjoining that in which they sat. The watchers rose to their feet, but stood stiff, 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 male entered. It was Palmer. He was pale, as if from stimulation--as pale as the others felt themselves to be. His manner, in addition, was singularly distrait: he neither responded to their salutations nor so much as looked at them, but walked leisurely across the room in the radiance of the failing fire and opening the front door passed out into the darkness. It seems to have been the first attention of both men that Palmer was suffering from fear--that something watched, heard or imagined in the back room had deprived him of his right mind. Acting on the same friendly impulse both ran after him through the open door. But neither they nor somebody ever again saw or heard of Andrus Palmer! This much was ascertained the next break of day.

During the session of Messrs. Holcomb and Merle at the "haunted dwelling" a new snow had fallen to a depth of quite a few inches upon the old. In this snow Palmer's trail from his lodging in the village to the back door of the Eckert home was eye-catching. 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 fading 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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Posted on 2009-08-31, By: *

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