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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

The Unfortunate Man

Title:     The Unfortunate Man
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

On a sultry afternoon in midsummer I was walking on a lonely unfrequented road in the Township of S. My mind was busily occupied, and I paid little attention to surrounding objects till a hollow, unnatural voice addressed me, saying: "Look up my friend, and behold the unfortunate man." I raised my eyes suddenly, and, verily, the appearance of the being before me justified his self-bestowed appellation--the unfortunate man. I will do my best to describe him, although I am satisfied that my description will fall far short of the reality. He was uncommonly tall, and one thing which added much to the oddity of his appearance was the inequality of length in his legs, one being shorter by several inches than the other, and, to make up for the deficiency, he wore on the short leg a boot with a very high heel. He seemed to be past middle age, his complexion was sallow and unhealthy, he was squint-eyed, and his hair, which had once been of a reddish hue, was then a grizzly gray. Taken all together he was a strange looking object, and I soon perceived that his mind wandered. At first I felt inclined to hurry onward as quickly as possible, but, as he seemed harmless and inclined to talk to me, I lingered for a few moments to listen to him. "I do not wonder," said he, "that you look upon me with pity, for it is a sad thing for one to be crazy." Surprised to find him so sensible of his own situation I said: "As you seem so well aware that you are crazy, perhaps you can inform me what caused you to become so." "Oh yes," replied he, "I can soon tell you that: first my father died, then my mother, and soon after my only sister hung herself to the limb of a tree with a skein of worsted yarn; and last, and worst of all, my wife, Dorcas Jane, drowned herself in Otter Creek." Wondering if there was any truth in this horrible story, or if it was only the creation of his own diseased mind, I said, merely to see what he would say next, "What caused your wife to drown herself; was she crazy too?" "Oh no," replied he, "she was not crazy, but she was worse than that; for she was jealous of me, although I am sure she had no cause." The idea of any one being jealous of the being before me was so ridiculous that it was with the utmost difficulty that I refrained from laughter; but, fearing to offend the crazy man, I maintained my gravity by a strong effort. When he had finished the story of his misfortunes, he came close to me and said, in slow measured tones: "And now do you think it any wonder that I went raving distracted crazy?" "Indeed I do not," said I; "many a one has gone crazy for less cause." Thinking he might be hungry, I told him I would direct him to a farm-house, where he would be sure to obtain his supper. "No," replied he, "this is not one of my hungry days; I find so many who will give me nothing to eat that when I get the offer of a meal I always eat whether I am hungry or not, and I have been in luck to-day, for I have eaten five meals since morning; and now I must lose no more time, for I have important business with the Governor of Canada and must reach Quebec to-morrow." I regarded the poor crazy being with a feeling of pity, as he walked wearily onward, and even the high-heeled boot did not conceal a painful limp in his gait. But I had not seen the last of him yet. Some six months after, as I was visiting a friend who lived several miles distant, who should walk in, about eight o'clock in the evening, but the "unfortunate man." There had been a slight shower of rain, but not enough to account for the drenched state of his clothing. "How did you get so wet?" enquired Mr. ----. "O," replied he, "I was crossing a brook upon a log, and I slipped off into the water; and it rained on me at the same time, and between the two, I got a pretty smart ducking." They brought him some dry clothing, and dried his wet garments by the kitchen fire, and kindly allowed him to remain for the night. For several years, this man passed through S. as often as two or three times during each year. He became so well known in the vicinity, that any one freely gave him a meal or a night's lodging as often as he sought it. Every time he came along his mind was occupied by some new fancy, which seemed to him to be of the utmost importance, and to require prompt attention. He arrived in S. one bitter cold night in the depth of winter, and remained for the night with a family who had ever treated him kindly, and with whom he had often lodged before. He set out early the next morning to proceed (as he said) on his way to Nova Scotia. Years have passed away; but the "unfortunate man" has never since been seen in the vicinity. It was feared by some that he had perished in the snow; as there were some very severe storms soon after he left S.; but nothing was ever learned to confirm the suspicion. According to his own statement he belonged to the state of Vermont, but, from his speech, he was evidently not an American. Several years have passed away since his last visit to S., and it is more than probable that he is no longer among the living.

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Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Unfortunate Man