A COLD GREETING
by Ambrose Bierce
This is a story told by the late Benson Foley
of San Francisco:
"In the summer of 1881 I met a man named James H.
Conway, a resident of Franklin, Tennessee. He was
visiting San Francisco for his health, deluded
man, and brought me a note of introduction from
Mr. Lawrence Barting. I had known Barting as a
captain in the Federal army during the civil war.
At its close he had settled in Franklin, and in
time became, I had reason to think, somewhat
prominent as a lawyer. Barting had always seemed
to me an honorable and truthful man, and the warm
friendship which he expressed in his note for Mr.
Conway was to me sufficient evidence that the
latter was in every way worthy of my confidence
and esteem. At dinner one day Conway told me that
it had been solemnly agreed between him and Barting
that the one who died first should, if possible,
communicate with the other from beyond the grave,
in some unmistakable way--just how, they had left
(wisely, it seemed to me) to be decided by the
deceased, according to the opportunities that
his altered circumstances might present.
"A few weeks after the conversation in which
Mr. Conway spoke of this agreement, I met him
one day, walking slowly down Montgomery street,
apparently, from his abstracted air, in deep
thought. He greeted me coldly with merely a
movement of the head and passed on, leaving me
standing on the walk, with half-proffered hand,
surprised and naturally somewhat piqued. The
next day I met him again in the office of the
Palace Hotel, and seeing him about to repeat
the disagreeable performance of the day before,
intercepted him in a doorway, with a friendly
salutation, and bluntly requested an explanation
of his altered manner. He hesitated a moment;
then, looking me frankly in the eyes, said:
"'I do not think, Mr. Foley, that I have any
longer a claim to your friendship, since Mr.
Barting appears to have withdrawn his own from
me--for what reason, I protest I do not know.
If he has not already informed you he probably
will do so.'
"'But,' I replied, 'I have not heard from Mr.
"'Heard from him!' he repeated, with apparent
surprise. 'Why, he is here. I met him yesterday
ten minutes before meeting you. I gave you
exactly the same greeting that he gave me. I
met him again not a quarter of an hour ago,
and his manner was precisely the same: he
merely bowed and passed on. I shall not soon
forget your civility to me. Good morning,
or--as it may please you--farewell.'
"All this seemed to me singularly considerate
and delicate behavior on the part of Mr. Conway.
"As dramatic situations and literary effects are
foreign to my purpose I will explain at once that
Mr. Barting was dead. He had died in Nashville
four days before this conversation. Calling on
Mr. Conway, I apprised him of our friend's death,
showing him the letters announcing it. He was
visibly affected in a way that forbade me to
entertain a doubt of his sincerity.
"'It seems incredible,' he said, after a period
of reflection. 'I suppose I must have mistaken
another man for Barting, and that man's cold
greeting was merely a stranger's civil acknowledgment
of my own. I remember, indeed, that he lacked
"'Doubtless it was another man,' I assented; and
the subject was never afterward mentioned between
us. But I had in my pocket a photograph of Barting,
which had been inclosed in the letter from his
widow. It had been taken a week before his death,
and was without a mustache."
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~