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

to it.



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

house.



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

done."



"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

with.



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

visible.



"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

lady.



"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."



"Yes."



"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

to keep."



"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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