THE ISLE OF PINES
by Ambrose Bierce
For many years there lived near the town of Gallipolis,
Ohio, an old man named Herman Deluse. Very little was
known of his history, for he would neither speak of it
himself nor suffer others. It was a common belief among
his neighbors that he had been a pirate--if upon any
better evidence than his collection of boarding pikes,
cutlasses, and ancient flintlock pistols, no one knew.
He lived entirely alone in a small house of four rooms,
falling rapidly into decay and never repaired further
than was required by the weather. It stood on a slight
elevation in the midst of a large, stony field overgrown
with brambles, and cultivated in patches and only in
the most primitive way. It was his only visible property,
but could hardly have yielded him a living, simple and
few as were his wants. He seemed always to have ready
money, and paid cash for all his purchases at the village
stores roundabout, seldom buying more than two or three
times at the same place until after the lapse of a
considerable time. He got no commendation, however, for
this equitable distribution of his patronage; people
were disposed to regard it as an ineffectual attempt to
conceal his possession of so much money. That he had
great hoards of ill-gotten gold buried somewhere about
his tumble-down dwelling was not reasonably to be doubted
by any honest soul conversant with the facts of local
tradition and gifted with a sense of the fitness of
On the 9th of November, 1867, the old man died; at
least his dead body was discovered on the 10th, and
physicians testified that death had occurred about
twenty-four hours previously--precisely how, they were
unable to say; for the post-mortem examination showed
every organ to be absolutely healthy, with no indication
of disorder or violence. According to them, death must
have taken place about noonday, yet the body was found
in bed. The verdict of the coroner's jury was that he
"came to his death by a visitation of God." The body
was buried and the public administrator took charge of
A rigorous search disclosed nothing more than was
already known about the dead man, and much patient
excavation here and there about the premises by
thoughtful and thrifty neighbors went unrewarded.
The administrator locked up the house against the
time when the property, real and personal, should
be sold by law with a view to defraying, partly,
the expenses of the sale.
The night of November 20 was boisterous. A furious
gale stormed across the country, scourging it with
desolating drifts of sleet. Great trees were torn
from the earth and hurled across the roads. So wild
a night had never been known in all that region,
but toward morning the storm had blown itself out
of breath and day dawned bright and clear. At about
eight o'clock that morning the Rev. Henry Galbraith,
a well-known and highly esteemed Lutheran minister,
arrived on foot at his house, a mile and a half from
the Deluse place. Mr. Galbraith had been for a month
in Cincinnati. He had come up the river in a steamboat,
and landing at Gallipolis the previous evening had
immediately obtained a horse and buggy and set out
for home. The violence of the storm had delayed him
over night, and in the morning the fallen trees had
compelled him to abandon his conveyance and continue
his journey afoot.
"But where did you pass the night?" inquired his wife,
after he had briefly related his adventure.
"With old Deluse at the 'Isle of Pines,'" was the
laughing reply; "and a glum enough time I had of
it. He made no objection to my remaining, but not
a word could I get out of him."
Fortunately for the interests of truth there was
present at this conversation Mr. Robert Mosely
Maren, a lawyer and litterateur of Columbus, the
same who wrote the delightful "Mellowcraft Papers."
Noting, but apparently not sharing, the astonishment
caused by Mr. Galbraith's answer this ready-witted
person checked by a gesture the exclamations that
would naturally have followed, and tranquilly
inquired: "How came you to go in there?"
This is Mr. Maren's version of Mr. Galbraith's
"I saw a light moving about the house, and being
nearly blinded by the sleet, and half frozen besides,
drove in at the gate and put up my horse in the old
rail stable, where it is now. I then rapped at the
door, and getting no invitation went in without one.
The room was dark, but having matches I found a
candle and lit it. I tried to enter the adjoining
room, but the door was fast, and although I heard
the old man's heavy footsteps in there he made no
response to my calls. There was no fire on the
hearth, so I made one and laying [sic] down before
it with my overcoat under my head, prepared myself
for sleep. Pretty soon the door that I had tried
silently opened and the old man came in, carrying
a candle. I spoke to him pleasantly, apologizing
for my intrusion, but he took no notice of me. He
seemed to be searching for something, though his
eyes were unmoved in their sockets. I wonder if he
ever walks in his sleep. He took a circuit a part
of the way round the room, and went out the same
way he had come in. Twice more before I slept he
came back into the room, acting precisely the same
way, and departing as at first. In the intervals
I heard him tramping all over the house, his
footsteps distinctly audible in the pauses of the
storm. When I woke in the morning he had already
Mr. Maren attempted some further questioning, but
was unable longer to restrain the family's tongues;
the story of Deluse's death and burial came out,
greatly to the good minister's astonishment.
"The explanation of your adventure is very simple,"
said Mr. Maren. "I don't believe old Deluse walks
in his sleep--not in his present one; but you
evidently dream in yours."
And to this view of the matter Mr. Galbraith was
compelled reluctantly to assent.
Nevertheless, a late hour of the next night found
these two gentlemen, accompanied by a son of the
minister, in the road in front of the old Deluse
house. There was a light inside; it appeared now
at one window and now at another. The three men
advanced to the door. Just as they reached it
there came from the interior a confusion of the
most appalling sounds--the clash of weapons, steel
against steel, sharp explosions as of firearms,
shrieks of women, groans and the curses of men
in combat! The investigators stood a moment,
irresolute, frightened. Then Mr. Galbraith tried
the door. It was fast. But the minister was a
man of courage, a man, moreover, of Herculean
strength. He retired a pace or two and rushed
against the door, striking it with his right
shoulder and bursting it from the frame with a
loud crash. In a moment the three were inside.
Darkness and silence! The only sound was the
beating of their hearts.
Mr. Maren had provided himself with matches and
a candle. With some difficulty, begotten of his
excitement, he made a light, and they proceeded
to explore the place, passing from room to room.
Everything was in orderly arrangement, as it had
been left by the sheriff; nothing had been disturbed.
A light coating of dust was everywhere. A back
door was partly open, as if by neglect, and their
first thought was that the authors of the awful
revelry might have escaped. The door was opened,
and the light of the candle shone through upon
the ground. The expiring effort of the previous
night's storm had been a light fall of snow; there
were no footprints; the white surface was unbroken.
They closed the door and entered the last room of
the four that the house contained--that farthest
from the road, in an angle of the building. Here
the candle in Mr. Maren's hand was suddenly
extinguished as by a draught of air. Almost
immediately followed the sound of a heavy fall.
When the candle had been hastily relighted young
Mr. Galbraith was seen prostrate on the floor at
a little distance from the others. He was dead.
In one hand the body grasped a heavy sack of coins,
which later examination showed to be all of old
Spanish mintage. Directly over the body as it lay,
a board had been torn from its fastenings in the
wall, and from the cavity so disclosed it was
evident that the bag had been taken.
Another inquest was held: another post-mortem
examination failed to reveal a probable cause
of death. Another verdict of "the visitation of
God" left all at liberty to form their own
conclusions. Mr. Maren contended that the young
man died of excitement.
 The Isle of Pines was once a famous rendezvous
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~