Story Of An Obstinate Corpse
VIRGIL HOYT is a photographer's
assistant up at St. Paul, and enjoys
his work without being consumed
by it. He has been in search of the
picturesque all over the West and hundreds
of miles to the north, in Canada, and can
speak three or four Indian dialects and put a
canoe through the rapids. That is to say,
he is a man of adventure, and no dreamer.
He can fight well and shoot better, and swim
so as to put up a winning race with the Ind-
ian boys, and he can sit in the saddle all day
and not worry about it to-morrow.
Wherever he goes, he carries a camera.
"The world," Hoyt is in the habit of say-
ing to those who sit with him when he smokes
his pipe, "was created in six days to be pho-
tographed. Man -- and particularly woman --
was made for the same purpose. Clouds are
not made to give moisture nor trees to cast
shade. They have been created in order to
give the camera obscura something to do."
In short, Virgil Hoyt's view of the world
is whimsical, and he likes to be bothered
neither with the disagreeable nor the mysteri-
ous. That is the reason he loathes and detests
going to a house of mourning to photograph
a corpse. The bad taste of it offends him,
but above all, he doesn't like the necessity of
shouldering, even for a few moments, a part
of the burden of sorrow which belongs to
some one else. He dislikes sorrow, and
would willingly canoe five hundred miles up
the cold Canadian rivers to get rid of it.
Nevertheless, as assistant photographer, it is
often his duty to do this very kind of thing.
Not long ago he was sent for by a rich Jew-
ish family to photograph the remains of the
mother, who had just died. He was put out,
but he was only an assistant, and he went.
He was taken to the front parlor, where the
dead woman lay in her coffin. It was evident
to him that there was some excitement in the
household, and that a discussion was going on.
But Hoyt said to himself that it didn't con-
cern him, and he therefore paid no attention
The daughter wanted the coffin turned on
end in order that the corpse might face the
camera properly, but Hoyt said he could over-
come the recumbent attitude and make it ap-
pear that the face was taken in the position
it would naturally hold in life, and so they
went out and left him alone with the dead.
The face of the deceased was a strong and
positive one, such as may often be seen among
Jewish matrons. Hoyt regarded it with some
admiration, thinking to himself that she was a
woman who had known what she wanted, and
who, once having made up her mind, would
prove immovable. Such a character appealed
to Hoyt. He reflected that he might have
married if only he could have found a woman
with strength of character sufficient to disagree
with him. There was a strand of hair out of
place on the dead woman's brow, and he
gently pushed it back. A bud lifted its head
too high from among the roses on her breast
and spoiled the contour of the chin, so he
broke it off. He remembered these things
later with keen distinctness, and that his hand
touched her chill face two or three times in
the making of his arrangements.
Then he took the impression, and left the
He was busy at the time with some railroad
work, and several days passed before he found
opportunity to develop the plates. He took
them from the bath in which they had lain
with a number of others, and went energeti-
cally to work upon them, whistling some very
saucy songs he had learned of the guide in
the Red River country, and trying to forget
that the face which was presently to appear
was that of a dead woman. He had used
three plates as a precaution against accident,
and they came up well. But as they devel-
oped, he became aware of the existence of
something in the photograph which had not
been apparent to his eye in the subject. He
was irritated, and without attempting to face
the mystery, he made a few prints and laid
them aside, ardently hoping that by some
chance they would never be called for.
However, as luck would have it, -- and
Hoyt's luck never had been good, -- his em-
ployer asked one day what had become of
those photographs. Hoyt tried to evade
making an answer, but the effort was futile,
and he had to get out the finished prints and
exhibit them. The older man sat staring at
them a long time.
"Hoyt," he said, "you're a young man, and
very likely you have never seen anything like
this before. But I have. Not exactly the same
thing, perhaps, but similar phenomena have
come my way a number of times since I went in
the business, and I want to tell you there are
things in heaven and earth not dreamt of --"
"Oh, I know all that tommy-rot," cried
Hoyt, angrily, "but when anything happens I
want to know the reason why and how it is
"All right," answered his employer, "then
you might explain why and how the sun rises."
But he humored the young man sufficiently
to examine with him the baths in which the
plates were submerged, and the plates them-
selves. All was as it should be; but the mys-
tery was there, and could not be done away
Hoyt hoped against hope that the friends
of the dead woman would somehow forget
about the photographs; but the idea was un-
reasonable, and one day, as a matter of
course, the daughter appeared and asked to
see the pictures of her mother.
"Well, to tell the truth," stammered Hoyt,
"they didn't come out quite -- quite as well
as we could wish."
"But let me see them," persisted the lady.
"I'd like to look at them anyhow."
"Well, now," said Hoyt, trying to be
soothing, as he believed it was always best
to be with women, -- to tell the truth he was
an ignoramus where women were concerned,
-- "I think it would be better if you didn't
look at them. There are reasons why --"
he ambled on like this, stupid man that he
was, till the lady naturally insisted upon see-
ing the pictures without a moment's delay.
So poor Hoyt brought them out and placed
them in her hand, and then ran for the water
pitcher, and had to be at the bother of bath-
ing her forehead to keep her from fainting.
For what the lady saw was this: Over face
and flowers and the head of the coffin fell a
thick veil, the edges of which touched the
floor in some places. It covered the feat-
ures so well that not a hint of them was
"There was nothing over mother's face!"
cried the lady at length.
"Not a thing," acquiesced Hoyt. "I
know, because I had occasion to touch her
face just before I took the picture. I put
some of her hair back from her brow."
"What does it mean, then?" asked the
"You know better than I. There is no ex-
planation in science. Perhaps there is some
in -- in psychology."
"Well," said the young woman, stammer-
ing a little and coloring, "mother was a good
woman, but she always wanted her own way,
and she always had it, too."
"And she never would have her picture
taken. She didn't admire her own appear-
ance. She said no one should ever see a
picture of her."
"So?" said Hoyt, meditatively. "Well,
she's kept her word, hasn't she?"
The two stood looking at the photographs
for a time. Then Hoyt pointed to the open
blaze in the grate.
"Throw them in," he commanded. "Don't
let your father see them -- don't keep them
yourself. They wouldn't be agreeable things
"That's true enough," admitted the lady.
And she threw them in the fire. Then Vir-
gil Hoyt brought out the plates and broke
them before her eyes.
And that was the end of it -- except that
Hoyt sometimes tells the story to those who
sit beside him when his pipe is lighted.
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