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Charles Ashmore’s Trail

The family of Christian Ashmore consisted of his wife, his mother,
two grown daughters, and a son of sixteen years. They lived in
Troy, New York, were well-to-do, respectable persons, and had many
friends, some of whom, reading these lines, will doubtless learn for
the first time the extraordinary fate of the young man. From Troy
the Ashmores moved in 1871 or 1872 to Richmond, Indiana, and a year
or two later to the vicinity of Quincy, Illinois, where Mr. Ashmore
bought a farm and lived on it. At some little distance from the
farmhouse was a spring with a constant flow of clear, cold water,
whence the family derived its supply for domestic use at all

On the evening of the 9th of November in 1878, at about nine
o’clock, young Charles Ashmore left the family circle about the
hearth, took a tin bucket and started toward the spring. As he did
not return, the family became uneasy, and going to the door by which
he had left the house, his father called without receiving an
answer. He then lighted a lantern and with the eldest daughter,
Martha, who insisted on accompanying him, went in search. A light
snow had fallen, obliterating the path, but making the young man’s
trail conspicuous; each footprint was plainly defined. After going
a little more than half-way–perhaps seventy-five yards–the father,
who was in advance, halted, and elevating his lantern stood peering
intently into the darkness ahead.

“What is the matter, father?” the girl asked.

This was the matter: the trail of the young man had abruptly ended,
and all beyond was smooth, unbroken snow. The last footprints were
as conspicuous as any in the line; the very nail-marks were
distinctly visible. Mr. Ashmore looked upward, shading his eyes
with his hat held between them and the lantern. The stars were
shining; there was not a cloud in the sky; he was denied the
explanation which had suggested itself, doubtful as it would have
been–a new snowfall with a limit so plainly defined. Taking a wide
circuit round the ultimate tracks, so as to leave them undisturbed
for further examination, the man proceeded to the spring, the girl
following, weak and terrified. Neither had spoken a word of what
both had observed. The spring was covered with ice, hours old.

Returning to the house they noted the appearance of the snow on both
sides of the trail its entire length. No tracks led away from it.

The morning light showed nothing more. Smooth, spotless, unbroken,
the shallow snow lay everywhere.

Four days later the grief-stricken mother herself went to the spring
for water. She came back and related that in passing the spot where
the footprints had ended she had heard the voice of her son and had
been eagerly calling to him, wandering about the place, as she had
fancied the voice to be now in one direction, now in another, until
she was exhausted with fatigue and emotion.

Questioned as to what the voice had said, she was unable to tell,
yet averred that the words were perfectly distinct. In a moment the
entire family was at the place, but nothing was heard, and the voice
was believed to be an hallucination caused by the mother’s great
anxiety and her disordered nerves. But for months afterward, at
irregular intervals of a few days, the voice was heard by the
several members of the family, and by others. All declared it
unmistakably the voice of Charles Ashmore; all agreed that it seemed
to come from a great distance, faintly, yet with entire distinctness
of articulation; yet none could determine its direction, nor repeat
its words. The intervals of silence grew longer and longer, the
voice fainter and farther, and by midsummer it was heard no more.

If anybody knows the fate of Charles Ashmore it is probably his
mother. She is dead.

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