The Mysterious watch.
You have no faith in the supernatural?
You do not believe in necromancy, or astrology, or in the power of the evil eye?
I do. The reason for this is, you are Americans
, descended from English ancestors, while I have German blood in my veins, and inherit a reverence for what you sneer at. Were a disembodied spirit to arise at my bedside to-night, I should question it, and own to being frightened, while you would throw a candlestick at its immaterial head, and insist to the last upon its being a burglar in disguise.
Yet, mark me, in spite of yourself, your hair would rise, and your blood curdle, and you would feel what you would not acknowledge for the world.--Bah!
if such things have no existence, what do our strange shivering and shuddering mean?
and why do we look about us with awe-stricken eyes when we pass graveyards after dusk?
do not, you say. Are you sure of it?
I have never seen a ghost, and I cannot say that I desire the spectacle.
There must be an uncomfortable beating of the heart at such a sight.
I doubt if many could retain both life and reason through such an ordeal.
I am a doctor.
Years ago I was very poor and very young.
I came from my own country with my diploma, and nothing else.
I found that the great cities of the new world were full of doctors young and poor as I was. I left them and went westward.
I settled in the State of Indiana
It was then one great forest, with clearings here and there for fields of corn and rude log houses.
Any one led a hard life there, and a doctor's, it seemed to me, worst of all. Miles and miles of hard riding, through rain and mud, to visit patients who could pay nothing; miles back again, to steal a few moments of repose before another announcement of some one being ‘ "very bad!"’ I was skin and bones in a twelvemonth, but that was nothing uncommon in that part of the world.
The only wonder is, that I did not have what they called ‘ "fever'n ager."’ I was the only person free from it for fifty square miles.
However, I prospered, after a certain fashion, and in a year or two made a considerable local reputation.
The place was growing, and my spirits began to revive.
It was about this time that I first saw my watch, to which all I have now to tell relates.
A cold night in November had set in. I was at supper in my little home, and enjoying it as only a hungry and weary man can enjoy for Don't ask what I had; it was ‘"out west,"’ remember.
Of course, there was a preparation of corn and a preparation of pork, and a preparation of whiskey; corn meal
, pork, and whiskey are the staple articles ‘"out west. "’ I was enjoying my supper, as I have said, and a loud knock at my door was not the most delightful sound which could have broken the silence.
However, I said ‘"Come in ! "’ with as good a grace as possible, and a stranger entered.
He was a tall, broad- shouldered man, in the dress of a back woodsman, and his large features wore a troubled expression.
I saw at once that something serious had occurred.
‘"It's a bad night to trouble you to come so far, doctor,"’ he said, looking at me from under his fur cap; ‘"but there is a bad accident happened over at our clearin, and if you kin do anything for the poor chap, I'll be glad to see it done, more particularly as I helped to shoot him."’
‘"Helped to shoot him!"’ I said, with a start, ‘"what do you mean?"’
‘"We took him for some kind of a critter, that's how it was,"’ answered my visitor; ‘"not a purpose, stranger.
We think heaps of him I'd sooner hev shot myself. "’
I knew the man spoke the truth, and, taking my box of surgical instruments
under my arm, followed him to the spot where his horse was tied.
Mine was already saddled; my little darkey knew well enough what the arrival portended, and had made him ready.
We were off in a few moments.
Few words were spoken as we rode along through the darkness.
I asked whether the wounds were serious, and my companion replied--‘"I'm afeard they be, doctor."’ I asked if the injured man were young or old, and he answered--‘"rising forty;"’ and then, after a few words upon the badness of the road, we relapsed into silence.
At last a glimmering light told that we had approached a dwelling, and with a short ‘"we rethar, doctor,"’ my companion sprang from his saddle and entered the door.
I followed him. The room was feebly lit by flickering candles.
About a bed in the centre were grouped four or five men and a woman, large and broad shouldered as any of her masculine companions.
A child, too, lay crying in its cradle, but no one seemed to notice him. They made way for my approach, and I saw a figure stretched upon the bed. It was that of a man with sinewy limbs and weather beaten face.
His shirt was unbuttoned and the breast and sleeves were soaked with blood.
‘"Tain't of no use, doctor,"’ he said, as I bent over him; ‘"I'm a gone coon.
's stuff ain't no account to me now."’
I did not believe him. His face was not that of a dying man, and the wounds scarcely seemed dangerous.
‘"These bullets are bad things to have in one's side,"’ I said, ‘ "but men have lived through more than that.
‘"I am't down-hearted, doctor,"’ answered the man. ‘"I shan't leave no children, nor no wife to fret after me and suffer for want of my rifle.
I never hev been much afeared of death.
But I can tell you, all you can do's no use.--There's a sign that can't be mistook."’
The group about the bed glanced at each other, and the woman shook her head at me as though she would have said, ‘"Never mind his words."’
I did what I could for him. The bullets were extracted, the wounds bound up. He was weak, but not desperately so. I looked at him and smiled.
‘"How now?"’ said I.
‘"Taint no use — the watch is stopping fast,"’ he answered.
Then, for the first time, I noticed that beside him on the bed lay a great old-fashioned silver watch
, the case battered, the face discolored, and that it ticked with a strange dull sound, as though it were very old and feeble.
‘"The watch has been injured by the bullets, I suppose,"’ said I; ‘ "besides, all watches stop at times."’
‘"Not this one, stranger,"’ said the wounded man. ‘"They've laughed about that watch a hundred times; now they'll find my story's true, I reckon.
That watch and I will stop at the same minute."’
The woman at the bedside shook her head again.
‘"It's an old fancy o'yourn, Mike Barlow
, "’ she said; ‘"you'll live to see the folly of it."’
‘"So they talk,"’ said the man. "Now listen, doctor.
You've come for to see me and done all you could.
I'll give you that watch.
Its money valley aren't much, but it'll do you service.
It was give to me by an old Frenchman out o' Canady
, when he was layin' just as I am layin'. It had been his father's, and grandfather's, and his great-grandfather's before that; and this is what he told me about it, and this is what you'll find to be truth.
That watch will tick slow and steady, reg'lar as the sun, as long as whoever it belongs to is well, and safe, and thriving.
When there's danger coming, it begins to go fast, faster, and faster and faster, until it is past, and so loud that you can hear it across the room as plain as if you held it in your hand.
When death is coming that watch begins to stop.
It goes slower and slower.
Its voice grows hollow, and, when the breath leaves the body, there's no more sound to be heard, and all you can do won't make it go for a year.
At the end of that time it will start all of a sudden, and after that time you can read your fate by it and know your death hour.
It was so after old Pierre died.
It will be so now. Keep the watch when I am gone, doctor.
I could not help looking with some interest at the battered time-piece.
A strange story had been woven about it, and the marvelons always had a charm for me.
I sat beside my patient until he sunk to sleep.
He seemed to be doing well still, and I had no doubt but that the morning light would see him greatly better.
But western hospitality would not permit of my departure at that late hour, and I was lodged in an upper chamber upon a bed as clean and simple as it was fragrant.
I slept soundly.
At midnight, however, I was awakened by the news that my patient was worse.
He had awakened in mortal agony.
Some inward injury, impossible to discover, had done its work.
I said nothing of hope now, and the dying man looked at me with a ghastly smile.
‘"Take the watch,"’ he said.
‘"Watch it and me; you will find me right. "’
These were the last words he uttered.
He muttered incoherently after this, tossed his arms about, and struggled for his breath.
At last he seemed to sink into a slumber.
My hand was on his heart.
I felt its beatings grow faint, fainter, fainter still.
At last there was no motion.
He was dead.
I lifted the watch to my ear — that-had stopped also!
There were tears in the eyes of the rough men about me, and the woman wept as she might for one of her own kindred.
I could do no good now, and I turned away, leaving the watch upon the cover lid, but one of the men same after me.
‘"He give it to you."’ he said, ‘"and it's your'n. He had nobody belongin' to him, so you needn't be afeared to take it. He must have taken a likin' to you, for he thought a head of it. Take it, doctor."’ And so the watch was mine.
It was dumb and motionless, and remained so. I took it to a watchmaker, and he laughed at the iden of its ever going again.
This was after I had left the West
and dwelt in a large and populous city in the Eastern States
, some eight or nine months after poor Mike Barlow
The watchmaker only confirmed my own suspicions.
It was a strange coincidence that it should last exactly his master's lifetime, but that was all. So I hung it upon my chamber wall, a memento of those days of toil and struggle in the far West
One morning I awoke early.
The blushes of dawn were just breaking over the earth.
It was the month of November, but still the day was lovely.
There was an unwonted sound in my room.
Had the sky been cloudy I should have imagined it to be the rain upon the roof.
Then I began to feel that this sound I heard was too delicate for the patter of rain.
It might have been the clang of a fairy hammer, or the tapping of the beak of some minute bird, save that it was too regular.
But the mystery of the sound was that it seemed to appeal to me — to reproach me with forgetting it.
I sat up and looked about me. In an instant I understood the sound.
It was the tick of the old watch upon the wall Silent for a twelve-mouth, it had suddenly found voice, as though some spirit hand had touched its springs.
I looked at my memorandum book.
Twelve o'clock of the past night was the anniversary of Mike Barlow
His words had come true at last.
He had said that, when it once again began to move it would be as my monitor of safety or danger.
All else bad happened as he had foretold; why should not this come to pass?
I wore upon my guard chain a dainty little Geneva
I unfastened it, and put the battered silver monster in its place.
The budding development of the mystery made it more precious to me than if it had been set with jewels.
It did not stop again.
I heard the soft clear ‘"tick, tick, tick,"’ all day and when I awakened in the might.
Once or twice it beat more rapidly than usual, and always before peril — the first time when a fever threatened me; the second as I stood upon a broken bridge, which was swept away one hour afterwards; and at other moments which I have forgotten, but which served to keep alive the fancy that I have loved to cherish.
Never was its voice so clear and soft as on that evening when I first met Rosa Grey
I loved her from the first moment, and she loved me in return.
We had neither of us any friends to interfere, for she was an orphan, brotherless and sisterless; and so, after a brief courtship, we were married.
I had no secrets from my wife, and in a little while she learned the story of the watch.
She had faith in it, and thought or fancied that she could detect the very shades of difference in its utterance.
When I was weary she said the watch was weary, too; when I was glad, it had a joyous echo.
I know that on that night when a feeble breath fluttered in a feebler frame, and the little creature to whom our love had given existence struggled vainly for its life, there was a piteous cadence in the voice of that old watch I hope never to hear again.
So we lived on together.
It was God's will that we should be childless, but we loved each other all the more.
I grew rich and prosperous, and our only grief was the missing of those baby eyes and voices which we had hoped to have about our hearth.
It was my fortieth birthday — I never shall forget the day — when the watch began its warming.
My wife and I heard it at one moment.
Never before had the voice of that watch been so loud or rapid.
All day long, all the next, and all the next, that warning continued.
The strong pulse within the watch shook the table on which it rested when I drew it from my pocket, and made the garments on my bosom rise and fall when I replaced it.--Were we threatened with illness?
No! her cheek was blooming and my pulse was regular.
What could it mean!
After four days I began to laugh at my own credulity, and even Rosa
began to lose her faith in the monitor.
About noon I left her, and went along to a little room where I kept my medical works and some rare drugs and curiosities.
It was my purpose to study for a lecture which I was to deliver that evening.
I seated myself at my desk and commenced to read; but after a few moments I began to experience a singular faintness, and to inhale a disagreeable odor.
I recognized the smell in a moment.
In one of the jars upon my shelves was a rare essence of great use in cases where a suspension of consciousness was necessary, but excessively dangerous save in skillful hands.
Some one (a servant probably) had been meddling with the jar, and removed the stopper, and the room was full of the powerful odor.
I must leave it, if I would five.
I staggered to the door, put my hand upon the lock, when, horror of horrors!
it remained immovable — something had happened to the catch.
I strove to call aloud, but my voice failed me. I clutched the table for support, but lost my hold and fell heavily to the floor.
I could see nothing; all grew dark about me. Mechanically I placed my hand upon the watch within my bosom.
It had stopped — and I remember nothing more.
Consciousness came back to me, as it may come to a new-born babe, for aught I know.
I felt without understanding; I was conscious of facts for which I cared nothing; I was in the dark; I was very cold, and my movements were constrained; but it did not seem as though that were any affair of mine.
Hunger at last awoke me; the animal aroused the mental, and I began to wander where I had been and where I was. I put up my hand as well as I could.
There was a low roof over my head, folds of muslin lay about me, and something was upon my breast which emitted a sickly fragrance — a bunch of flowers seeming half withered.
I knew this by the touch.
What was the matter with me?
Why could I not breathe freely?
Was I blind and deaf, that I could neither see nor hear?
Suddenly truth flashed across me; I had been buried alive!
--I lay in my coffin!
And all this time you ask, where was my wife?
How had she borne the blow which had fallen so suddenly upon her?
She it was who found me senseless upon my study floor; and she it was who hoped for returning consciousness after all others despaired.
At last they told her I was dead, and shrouded me for burial.
Learned men decided that the strange preservation of my frame was caused by the manner of death, and at length my body was committed to the tomb.
I had often made my wife promise me that if I died first she would take the watch into her own possession, and wear it while she lived; and so, now that all was over, she took it, voiceless as it was, and laid it next her bosom.
For three days and nights she never slept; but at last exhaustion did its work, and she fell into a heavy slumber.
She was awaked by a sound as strange as it was unexpected.
The watch, silent since that fatal day, had begun to tick — fast and furious, as it never ticked before; loud enough to arouse her — loud enough to make her spring to her pillow in an agony of hope and fear.
Those about her thought she was a mad woman; but nevertheless the strength of her purpose bore all before her. Out into the midnight she went, and they followed.--Through the streets of the deserted town she passed in her white night robes like a ghost, and they dared not hold her back.
She reached the church yard at last, and beat wildly on the old sexton's door.
‘"I am come to tell you to open my husband's vault,"’ sile said; ‘"he is come to life again."’
He also thought her mad, and yet dared not disobey her, and all the while the furious ticking of the watch was heard by each one there.
It softened, it stilled, when the doors were opened and the black coffin stood upon the turf.
It grew musical when my wife bent over me and caught me to her heart — no corpse, but a living man, and it has had no change in its regular beat since that moment.
It is before me now, battered and worn as it was when it first came into my possession; and you may laugh alike at the watch and at the superstition with which it is connected.
But my wife believes in it firmly, and loves it as though it were a living thing; and, for the matter of that, so do I.