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The Eidolons Of Brooks Alford
by [?]

I should like to give the story of Alford’s experiences just as Wanhope told it, sitting with us before the glowing hearth in the Turkish room, one night after the other diners at our club had gone away to digest their dinners at the theatre, or in their bachelor apartments up-town, or on the late trains which they were taking north, south, and west; or had hurried back to their offices to spend the time stolen from rest in overwork for which their famished nerves would duly revenge themselves. It was undoubtedly overwork which preceded Alford’s experiences if it did not cause them, for he was pretty well broken from it when he took himself off in the early summer, to put the pieces together as best he could by the seaside. But this was a fact which Wanhope was not obliged to note to us, and there were certain other commonplaces of our knowledge of Alford which he could omit without omitting anything essential to our understanding of the facts which he dealt with so delicately, so electly, almost affectionately, coaxing each point into the fittest light, and then lifting his phrase from it, and letting it stand alone in our consciousness. I remember particularly how he touched upon the love-affair which was supposed to have so much to do with Alford’s break-up, and how he dismissed it to its proper place in the story. As he talked on, with scarcely an interruption either from the eager credulity of Rulledge or the doubt of Minver, I heard with a sensuous comfort–I can use no other word–the far-off click of the dishes in the club kitchen, putting away till next day, with the musical murmur of a smitten glass or the jingle of a dropped spoon. But if I should try to render his words, I should spoil their impression in the vain attempt, and I feel that it is best to give the story as best I can in words of my own, so far from responsive to the requisitions of the occult incident.

The first intimation Alford had of the strange effect, which from first to last was rather an obsession than a possession of his, was after a morning of idle satisfaction spent in watching the target practice from the fort in the neighborhood of the little fishing-village where he was spending the summer. The target was two or three miles out in the open water beyond the harbor, and he found his pleasure in watching the smoke of the gun for that discrete interval before the report reached him, and then for that somewhat longer interval before he saw the magnificent splash of the shot which, as it plunged into the sea, sent a fan-shaped fountain thirty or forty feet into the air. He did not know and he did not care whether the target was ever hit or not. That fact was no part of his concern. His affair was to watch the burst of smoke from the fort and then to watch the upward gush of water, almost as light and vaporous to the eye, where the ball struck. He did not miss one of the shots fired during the forenoon, and when he met the other people who sat down with him at the midday dinner in the hotel, his talk with them was naturally of the morning’s practice. They one and all declared it a great nuisance, and said that it had shattered their nerves terribly, which was not perhaps so strange, since they were all women. But when they asked him in his quality of nervous wreck whether he had not suffered from the prolonged and repeated explosions, too, he found himself able to say no, that he had enjoyed every moment of the firing. He added that he did not believe he had even noticed the noise after the first shot, he was so wholly taken with the beauty of the fountain-burst from the sea which followed; and as he spoke the fan-like spray rose and expanded itself before his eyes, quite blotting out the visage of a young widow across the table. In his swift recognition of the fact and his reflection upon it, he realized that the effect was quite as if he had been looking at some intense light, almost as if he had been looking at the sun, and that the illusion which had blotted out the agreeable reality opposite was of the quality of those flying shapes which repeat themselves here, there, and everywhere that one looks, after lifting the gaze from a dazzling object. When his consciousness had duly registered this perception, there instantly followed a recognition of the fact that the eidolon now filling his vision was not the effect of the dazzled eyes, but of a mental process, of thinking how the thing which it reported had looked.