Stories by American Authors
THE TRANSFERRED GHOST BY FRANK R. STOCKTON
A MARTYR TO SCIENCE BY MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, M. D.
MRS. KNOLLYS BY J. S. OF DALE, AUTHOR OF "GUERNDALE"
A DINNER-PARTY BY JOHN EDDY
THE MOUNT OF SORROW BY HARRIET PRESCOTT SPOFFORD
SISTER SILVIA BY MARY AGNES TINCKER
NEW YORK CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 1896
COPYRIGHT, 1884, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
The Stories in this Volume are protected by copyright, and are printed here by authority of the authors or their representatives.
THE TRANSFERRED GHOST.
BY FRANK R. STOCKTON.
Century Magazine, May, 1882.
The country residence of Mr. John Hinckman was a delightful place to me, for many reasons. It was the abode of a genial, though somewhat impulsive, hospitality. It had broad, smooth-shaven lawns and towering oaks and elms; there were bosky shades at several points, and not far from the house there was a little rill spanned by a rustic bridge with the bark on; there were fruits and flowers, pleasant people, chess, billiards, rides, walks, and fishing. These were great attractions, but none of them, nor all of them together, would have been sufficient to hold me to the place very long. I had been invited for the trout season, but should, probably, have finished my visit early in the summer had it not been that upon fair days, when the grass was dry, and the sun not too hot, and there was but little wind, there strolled beneath the lofty elms, or passed lightly through the bosky shades, the form of my Madeline.
This lady was not, in very truth, my Madeline. She had never given herself to me, nor had I, in any way, acquired possession of her. But as I considered her possession the only sufficient reason for the continuance of my existence, I called her, in my reveries, mine. It may have been that I would not have been obliged to confine the use of this possessive pronoun to my reveries had I confessed the state of my feelings to the lady.
But this was an unusually difficult thing to do. Not only did I dread, as almost all lovers dread, taking the step which would in an instant put an end to that delightful season which may be termed the ante-interrogatory period of love, and which might at the same time terminate all intercourse or connection with the object of my passion; but I was, also, dreadfully afraid of John Hinckman. This gentleman was a good friend of mine, but it would have required a bolder man than I was at that time to ask him for the gift of his niece, who was the head of his household, and, according to his own frequent statement, the main prop of his declining years. Had Madeline acquiesced in my general views on the subject, I might have felt encouraged to open the matter to Mr. Hinckman, but, as I said before, I had never asked her whether or not she would be mine. I thought of these things at all hours of the day and night, particularly the latter.
I was lying awake one night, in the great bed in my spacious chamber, when, by the dim light of the new moon, which partially filled the room, I saw John Hinckman standing by a large chair near the door. I was very much surprised at this for two reasons. In the first place, my host had never before come into my room, and, in the second place, he had gone from home that morning, and had not expected to return for several days. It was for this reason that I had been able that evening to sit much later than usual with Madeline on the moonlit porch. The figure was certainly that of John Hinckman in his ordinary dress, but there was a vagueness and indistinctness about it which presently assured me that it was a ghost. Had the good old man been murdered? and had his spirit come to tell me of the deed, and to confide to me the protection of his dear——? My heart fluttered at what I was about to think, but at this instant the figure spoke.
"Do you know," he said, with a countenance that indicated anxiety, "if Mr. Hinckman will return to-night?"
I thought it well to maintain a calm exterior, and I answered:
"We do not expect him."
"I am glad of that," said he, sinking into the chair by which he stood. "During the two years and a half that I have inhabited this house, that man has never before been away for a single night. You can't imagine the relief it gives me."
And as he spoke he stretched out his legs and leaned back in the chair. His form became less vague, and the colors of his garments more distinct and evident, while an expression of gratified relief succeeded to the anxiety of his countenance.
"Two years and a half!" I exclaimed. "I don't understand you."
"It is fully that length of time," said the ghost, "since I first came here. Mine is not an ordinary case. But before I say anything more about it, let me ask you again if you are sure Mr. Hinckman will not return to-night?"
"I am as sure of it as I can be of anything," I answered. "He left to-day for Bristol, two hundred miles away."
"Then I will go on," said the ghost, "for I am glad to have the opportunity of talking to some one who will listen to me; but if John Hinckman should come in and catch me here, I should be frightened out of my wits."
"This is all very strange," I said, greatly puzzled by what I had heard. "Are you the ghost of Mr. Hinckman?"
This was a bold question, but my mind was so full of other emotions that there seemed to be no room for that of fear.
"Yes, I am his ghost," my companion replied, "and yet I have no right to be. And this is what makes me so uneasy, and so much afraid of him. It is a strange story, and, I truly believe, without precedent. Two years and a half ago, John Hinckman was dangerously ill in this very room. At one time he was so far gone that he was really believed to be dead. It was in consequence of too precipitate a report in regard to this matter that I was, at that time, appointed to be his ghost. Imagine my surprise and horror, sir, when, after I had accepted the position and assumed its responsibilities, that old man revived, became convalescent, and eventually regained his usual health. My situation was now one of extreme delicacy and embarrassment. I had no power to return to my original unembodiment, and I had no right to be the ghost of a man who was not dead. I was advised by my friends to quietly maintain my position, and was assured that, as John Hinckman was an elderly man, it could not be long before I could rightfully assume the position for which I had been selected. But I tell you, sir," he continued, with animation, "the old fellow seems as vigorous as ever, and I have no idea how much longer this annoying state of things will continue. I spend my time trying to get out of that old man's way. I must not leave this house, and he seems to follow me everywhere. I tell you, sir, he haunts me."
"That is truly a queer state of things," I remarked. "But why are you afraid of him? He couldn't hurt you."
"Of course he couldn't," said the ghost. "But his very presence is a shock and terror to me. Imagine, sir, how you would feel if my case were yours."
I could not imagine such a thing at all. I simply shuddered.
"And if one must be a wrongful ghost at all," the apparition continued, "it would be much pleasanter to be the ghost of some man other than John Hinckman. There is in him an irascibility of temper, accompanied by a facility of invective, which is seldom met with. And what would happen if he were to see me, and find out, as I am sure he would, how long and why I had inhabited his house, I can scarcely conceive. I have seen him in his bursts of passion, and, although he did not hurt the people he stormed at any more than he would hurt me, they seemed to shrink before him."
All this I knew to be very true. Had it not been for this peculiarity of Mr. Hinckman, I might have been more willing to talk to him about his niece.
"I feel sorry for you," I said, for I really began to have a sympathetic feeling toward this unfortunate apparition. "Your case is indeed a hard one. It reminds me of those persons who have had doubles, and I suppose a man would often be very angry indeed when he found that there was another being who was personating himself."
"Oh, the cases are not similar at all," said the ghost. "A double or doppelganger lives on the earth with a man, and, being exactly like him, he makes all sorts of trouble, of course. It is very different with me. I am not here to live with Mr. Hinckman. I am here to take his place. Now, it would make John Hinckman very angry if he knew that. Don't you know it would?"
I assented promptly.
"Now that he is away I can be easy for a little while," continued the ghost, "and I am so glad to have an opportunity of talking to you. I have frequently come into your room, and watched you while you slept, but did not dare to speak to you for fear that if you talked with me Mr. Hinckman would hear you, and come into the room to know why you were talking to yourself."
"But would he not hear you?" I asked.
"Oh, no," said the other, "there are times when any one may see me, but no one hears me except the person to whom I address myself."
"But why did you wish to speak to me?" I asked.
"Because," replied the ghost, "I like occasionally to talk to people, and especially to some one like yourself, whose mind is so troubled and perturbed that you are not likely to be frightened by a visit from one of us. But I particularly wanted to ask you to do me a favor. There is every probability, so far as I can see, that John Hinckman will live a long time, and my situation is becoming insupportable. My great object at present is to get myself transferred, and I think that you may, perhaps, be of use to me."
"Transferred!" I exclaimed. "What do you mean by that?"
"What I mean," said the other, "is this: Now that I have started on my career I have got to be the ghost of somebody; and I want to be the ghost of a man who is really dead."
"I should think that would be easy enough," I said. "Opportunities must continually occur."
"Not at all! not at all!" said my companion, quickly. "You have no idea what a rush and pressure there is for situations of this kind. Whenever a vacancy occurs, if I may express myself in that way, there are crowds of applications for the ghostship."
"I had no idea that such a state of things existed," I said, becoming quite interested in the matter. "There ought to be some regular system, or order of precedence, by which you could all take your turns like customers in a barber's shop."
"Oh dear, that would never do at all!" said the other. "Some of us would have to wait forever. There is always a great rush whenever a good ghostship offers itself—while, as you know, there are some positions that no one would care for. And it was in consequence of my being in too great a hurry on an occasion of the kind that I got myself into my present disagreeable predicament, and I have thought that it might be possible that you would help me out of it. You might know of a case where an opportunity for a ghostship was not generally expected, but which might present itself at any moment. If you would give me a short notice, I know I could arrange for a transfer."
"What do you mean?" I exclaimed. "Do you want me to commit suicide? Or to undertake a murder for your benefit?"
"Oh, no, no, no!" said the other, with a vapory smile. "I mean nothing of that kind. To be sure, there are lovers who are watched with considerable interest, such persons having been known, in moments of depression, to offer very desirable ghostships, but I did not think of anything of that kind in connection with you. You were the only person I cared to speak to, and I hoped that you might give me some information that would be of use; and, in return, I shall be very glad to help you in your love affair."
"You seem to know that I have such an affair," I said.
"Oh, yes," replied the other, with a little yawn. "I could not be here so much as I have been without knowing all about that."
There was something horrible in the idea of Madeline and myself having been watched by a ghost, even, perhaps, when we wandered together in the most delightful and bosky places. But, then, this was quite an exceptional ghost, and I could not have the objections to him which would ordinarily arise in regard to beings of his class.
"I must go now," said the ghost, rising, "but I will see you somewhere to-morrow night. And remember—you help me, and I'll help you."
I had doubts the next morning as to the propriety of telling Madeline anything about this interview, and soon convinced myself that I must keep silent on the subject. If she knew there was a ghost about the house she would probably leave the place instantly. I did not mention the matter, and so regulated my demeanor that I am quite sure Madeline never suspected what had taken place. For some time I had wished that Mr. Hinckman would absent himself, for a day at least, from the premises. In such case I thought I might more easily nerve myself up to the point of speaking to Madeline on the subject of our future collateral existence, and, now that the opportunity for such speech had really occurred, I did not feel ready to avail myself of it. What would become of me if she refused me?
I had an idea, however, that the lady thought that, if I were going to speak at all, this was the time. She must have known that certain sentiments were afloat within me, and she was not unreasonable in her wish to see the matter settled one way or the other. But I did not feel like taking a bold step in the dark. If she wished me to ask her to give herself to me, she ought to offer me some reason to suppose that she would make the gift. If I saw no probability of such generosity, I would prefer that things should remain as they were.
* * * * *
That evening I was sitting with Madeline in the moonlit porch. It was nearly ten o'clock, and ever since supper-time I had been working myself up to the point of making an avowal of my sentiments. I had not positively determined to do this, but wished gradually to reach the proper point when, if the prospect looked bright, I might speak. My companion appeared to understand the situation—at least, I imagined that the nearer I came to a proposal the more she seemed to expect it. It was certainly a very critical and important epoch in my life. If I spoke, I should make myself happy or miserable forever, and if I did not speak I had every reason to believe that the lady would not give me another chance to do so.
Sitting thus with Madeline, talking a little, and thinking very hard over these momentous matters, I looked up and saw the ghost, not a dozen feet away from us. He was sitting on the railing of the porch, one leg thrown up before him, the other dangling down as he leaned against a post. He was behind Madeline, but almost in front of me, as I sat facing the lady. It was fortunate that Madeline was looking out over the landscape, for I must have appeared very much startled. The ghost had told told me that he would see me some time this night, but I did not think he would make his appearance when I was in the company of Madeline. If she should see the spirit of her uncle, I could not answer for the consequences. I made no exclamation, but the ghost evidently saw that I was troubled.
"Don't be afraid," he said—"I shall not let her see me; and she cannot hear me speak unless I address myself to her, which I do not intend to do."
I suppose I looked grateful.
"So you need not trouble yourself about that," the ghost continued; "but it seems to me that you are not getting along very well with your affair. If I were you, I should speak out without waiting any longer. You will never have a better chance. You are not likely to be interrupted; and, so far as I can judge, the lady seems disposed to listen to you favorably; that is, if she ever intends to do so. There is no knowing when John Hinckman will go away again; certainly not this summer. If I were in your place, I should never dare to make love to Hinckman's niece if he were anywhere about the place. If he should catch any one offering himself to Miss Madeline, he would then be a terrible man to encounter."
I agreed perfectly to all this.
"I cannot bear to think of him!" I ejaculated aloud.
"Think of whom?" asked Madeline, turning quickly toward me.
Here was an awkward situation. The long speech of the ghost, to which Madeline paid no attention, but which I heard with perfect distinctness, had made me forget myself.
It was necessary to explain quickly. Of course, it would not do to admit that it was of her dear uncle that I was speaking; and so I mentioned hastily the first name I thought of.
"Mr. Vilars," I said.
This statement was entirely correct, for I never could bear to think of Mr. Vilars, who was a gentleman who had, at various times, paid much attention to Madeline.
"It is wrong for you to speak in that way of Mr. Vilars," she said. "He is a remarkably well-educated and sensible young man, and has very pleasant manners. He expects to be elected to the legislature this fall, and I should not be surprised if he made his mark. He will do well in a legislative body, for whenever Mr. Vilars has anything to say he knows just how and when to say it."
This was spoken very quietly, and without any show of resentment, which was all very natural, for if Madeline thought at all favorably of me she could not feel displeased that I should have disagreeable emotions in regard to a possible rival. The concluding words contained a hint which I was not slow to understand. I felt very sure that if Mr. Vilars were in my present position he would speak quickly enough.
"I know it is wrong to have such ideas about a person," I said, "but I cannot help it."
The lady did not chide me, and after this she seemed even in a softer mood. As for me, I felt considerably annoyed, for I had not wished to admit that any thought of Mr. Vilars had ever occupied my mind.
"You should not speak aloud that way," said the ghost, "or you may get yourself into trouble. I want to see everything go well with you, because then you may be disposed to help me, especially if I should chance to be of any assistance to you, which I hope I shall be."
I longed to tell him that there was no way in which he could help me so much as by taking his instant departure. To make love to a young lady with a ghost sitting on the railing near by, and that ghost the apparition of a much-dreaded uncle, the very idea of whom in such a position and at such a time made me tremble, was a difficult, if not an impossible, thing to do; but I forbore to speak, although I may have looked my mind.
"I suppose," continued the ghost, "that you have not heard anything that might be of advantage to me. Of course, I am very anxious to hear, but if you have anything to tell me, I can wait until you are alone. I will come to you to-night in your room, or I will stay here until the lady goes away."
"You need not wait here," I said; "I have nothing at all to say to you."
Madeline sprang to her feet, her face flushed and her eyes ablaze.
"Wait here!" she cried. "What do you suppose I am waiting for? Nothing to say to me indeed!—I should think so! What should you have to say to me?"
"Madeline," I exclaimed, stepping toward her, "let me explain."
But she had gone.
Here was the end of the world for me! I turned fiercely to the ghost.
"Wretched existence!" I cried. "You have ruined everything. You have blackened my whole life. Had it not been for you——"
But here my voice faltered. I could say no more.
"You wrong me," said the ghost. "I have not injured you. I have tried only to encourage and assist you, and it is your own folly that has done this mischief. But do not despair. Such mistakes as these can be explained. Keep up a brave heart. Good-by."
And he vanished from the railing like a bursting soap-bubble.
I went gloomily to bed, but I saw no apparitions that night except those of despair and misery which my wretched thoughts called up. The words I had uttered had sounded to Madeline like the basest insult. Of course, there was only one interpretation she could put upon them.
As to explaining my ejaculations, that was impossible. I thought the matter over and over again as I lay awake that night, and I determined that I would never tell Madeline the facts of the case. It would be better for me to suffer all my life than for her to know that the ghost of her uncle haunted the house. Mr. Hinckman was away, and if she knew of his ghost she could not be made to believe that he was not dead. She might not survive the shock! No, my heart could bleed, but I would never tell her.
The next day was fine, neither too cool nor too warm; the breezes were gentle, and nature smiled. But there were no walks or rides with Madeline. She seemed to be much engaged during the day, and I saw but little of her. When we met at meals she was polite, but very quiet and reserved. She had evidently determined on a course of conduct, and had resolved to assume that, although I had been very rude to her, she did not understand the import of my words. It would be quite proper, of course, for her not to know what I meant by my expressions of the night before.
I was downcast and wretched, and said but little, and the only bright streak across the black horizon of my woe was the fact that she did not appear to be happy, although she affected an air of unconcern. The moonlit porch was deserted that evening, but wandering about the house I found Madeline in the library alone. She was reading, but I went in and sat down near her. I felt that, although I could not do so fully, I must in a measure explain my conduct of the night before. She listened quietly to a somewhat labored apology I made for the words I had used.
"I have not the slightest idea what you meant," she said, "but you were very rude."
I earnestly disclaimed any intention of rudeness, and assured her, with a warmth of speech that must have made some impression upon her, that rudeness to her would be an action impossible to me. I said a great deal upon the subject, and implored her to believe that if it were not for a certain obstacle I could speak to her so plainly that she would understand everything.
She was silent for a time, and then she said, rather more kindly, I thought, than she had spoken before:
"Is that obstacle in any way connected with my uncle?"
"Yes," I answered, after a little hesitation, "it is, in a measure, connected with him."
She made no answer to this, and sat looking at her book, but not reading. From the expression of her face, I thought she was somewhat softened toward me. She knew her uncle as well as I did, and she may have been thinking that, if he were the obstacle that prevented my speaking (and there were many ways in which he might be that obstacle), my position would be such a hard one that it would excuse some wildness of speech and eccentricity of manner. I saw, too, that the warmth of my partial explanations had had some effect on her, and I began to believe that it might be a good thing for me to speak my mind without delay. No matter how she should receive my proposition, my relations with her could not be worse than they had been the previous night and day, and there was something in her face which encouraged me to hope that she might forget my foolish exclamations of the evening before if I began to tell her my tale of love.
I drew my chair a little nearer to her, and as I did so the ghost burst into the room from the doorway behind her. I say burst, although no door flew open and he made no noise. He was wildly excited, and waved his arms above his head. The moment I saw him, my heart fell within me. With the entrance of that impertinent apparition, every hope fled from me. I could not speak while he was in the room.
I must have turned pale, and I gazed steadfastly at the ghost, almost without seeing Madeline, who sat between us.
"Do you know," he cried, "that John Hinckman is coming up the hill? He will be here in fifteen minutes, and if you are doing anything in the way of love-making, you had better hurry it up. But this is not what I came to tell you. I have glorious news! At last I am transferred! Not forty minutes ago a Russian nobleman was murdered by the Nihilists. Nobody ever thought of him in connection with an immediate ghostship. My friends instantly applied for the situation for me, and obtained my transfer. I am off before that horrid Hinckman comes up the hill. The moment I reach my new position, I shall put off this hated semblance. Good-by. You can't imagine how glad I am to be, at last, the real ghost of somebody."
"Oh!" I cried, rising to my feet and stretching out my arms in utter wretchedness, "I would to heaven you were mine!"
"I am yours," said Madeline, raising to me her tearful eyes.
A MARTYR TO SCIENCE.
BY MARY PUTNAM JACOBI, M.D.
Putnam's Magazine, August, 1869.
My brief residence at Rome sufficed to destroy my illusions.
A Frenchman, a student of medicine, I had, nevertheless, remained an ardent disciple of Catholicism,—the faith in which I had been brought up by a devout mother. She was an Italian, and from her I had inherited an intense, passionate nature, and capacity for belief, which my father's nationality failed to neutralize. From him, on the other hand, I had received my education, my profession, and a certain large habit of thought, which, disdaining all lesser interests, personal or national, occupied itself exclusively with themes of universal humanity. This habit, extremely characteristic of French intellect, concurred,—perhaps as much as anything else,—in making me an ultra-montanist. As an Italian, I believed in the Church with ardor,—because I believed; as a Frenchman, I demanded a church universal, as alone worthy of attaching my belief. The cause of the Pope was for me identified with the spiritual cause of the world, and the lukewarmness of so-called Liberal Catholics enraged me. I could understand the opposition of materialists, of atheists, or even Protestants. These all occupied a radically different base, and their eyes were turned toward a different horizon. But that a man could face Truth, and voluntarily scrimp his vision to a miserable corner of her robe,—could embrace a principle coldly, with the mere touch of a distant finger,—could pause to balance motives, and haggle over the price of devotion,—this was as incomprehensible to me as repugnant. My own sentiments were equally incomprehensible to the society by which I was surrounded, and the opposition which I constantly encountered served not a little to rivet my convictions, and fan my enthusiasm to passion.
My father died almost immediately after launching me on my medical career,—and my darling mother, two years later. In my unutterable loneliness, I lost all heart for my studies, and breaking away from ecole and hospitals, wandered in Italy, seeking to quench a quenchless grief. There I married an Italian girl, whose hair and eyes reminded me of my mother, but who expended on the dream of Italian unity such enthusiasm as my mother had lavished for the temporal power of the Pope. I think I was unconsciously attracted by this very difference. Valeria's opposition to the Pope was so serious and whole-souled, that it seemed to invest his cause with new dignity, and in argument with her I acquired increased respect for my own theories and for myself as capable of sustaining them. Moreover, at the very moment that our intellects were most at variance, we were each conscious of a subtle sympathy of nature; we were animated by the same feeling, though working in different directions. Her antagonism, therefore, never irritated me, but,—when the more profound union had once been established,—fascinated me by a peculiar charm, and led me, by a healthful transition, back to the ruder antagonisms of practical life. For, deprived of the support of my mother's lofty confidence, and in the weakness following excessive sorrow, I had begun to secretly despair of an ideal, which seemed buried in her all-devouring grave. At the same time I clung to it the more intensely, precisely because it seemed unattainable,—from a sort of morbid craving for whatever had become as unattainable as my mother's presence. I loathed action, even for the realization of my dreams, and over-concentrated thought threatened to degenerate into a sickly reverie that should presently exhaust the forces of my life, like an unnaturally prolonged sleep. New influence added in this direction might have driven me insane, while the diversion afforded by Valeria's counter-enthusiasm and the necessity of making an active defence of my own, roused me, and brought back the blood to the surface of my life. It was, therefore, partly an instinct of self-preservation which led me to Valeria,—and she saved me—my noble wife saved me for other destinies.
We returned to Paris, where I resumed and completed my medical studies, and I had just graduated when the war broke out in Italy.
Four happy, healthful years had completely restored my mental equilibrium. I was no longer an extravagant fanatic, prepared for a cloister or a crusade, but still a tolerably ardent ultra-montanist, pivoted upon the theory of the temporal power of the Pope. Valeria's influence, in modifying the superficial exuberance of my enthusiasm, had only rendered its energy more practical, more eager for an opportunity to incarnate its ideal in vigorous facts. Now the opportunity had arrived, and the enthusiasm blazed forth afresh; all interests, all consciousness of other ties were absorbed in devotion to the Church of which I felt myself a not unimportant member. My fortune, my time, my life, were all too little to place at its disposal, and I hastened to enrol myself on the medical staff of a regiment of Papal Zouaves. Valeria, who had always reasoned against my theories, was too consistent herself to oppose me in putting them into practice, but she insisted on accompanying me to Italy. We parted at Civita Vecchia, I to go to Rome, she, with our two children, to Naples, where her family had formerly resided. She wrote to me every day, but after several weeks came a blank of three days without a letter. At the same moment arrived the news that the cholera was raging at Naples—news which rendered most ominous this sudden interruption of the correspondence. I obtained leave of absence and hurried south, to learn that my wife and babies were dead—fallen among the very first victims of the pestilence.
Stunned and heart-sick, I returned to Rome, anxious to devote myself to the cause with the more desperate earnestness that it was the only living interest left to me in the world. I arrived just before the battle of Montana, and regretted that fortune had not assigned me a role among the soldiers of the cross, among those who might embrace a welcome death, in exchange for the glory of serving the Church. Resolved to approach this honor as nearly as possible, I contrived to obtain an appointment in the ambulance corps, and accompanied the troops to the field. I have no distinct recollection of that day,—the third after Valeria's funeral,—and which, as my first experience of a battle, assumed to me the magnificent proportions of an Austerlitz or Waterloo. I only know that, intoxicated by the novel excitement of the scene, perhaps by the mere smell of the gun-powder, I forgot the duties to which I was assigned, snatched a musket from a Zouave who had just expired at my feet, and rushed into the heart of the conflict. I received a slight wound in the forehead, staggered, fell, and fainted away. I suppose I must, at the same time, have received the shock from a larger ball than that which grazed my temple, and experienced some concussion of the brain, for I did not fully recover consciousness until I had been transported to the military hospital.
Here I stayed a week, and came, for the first time, into near contact with my fellow-defenders of the faith. The contact, instead of warming, chilled me inexplicably. Instead of belief, I discovered scepticism; instead of enthusiasm, persiflage and eternal quizzing, intolerable in professed martyrs to a sacred cause.
"Que voulez-vous?" they said, shrugging their shoulders at my indignant remonstrances. "The ass who carries all his panniers on the same side stumbles on his own nose. To each man his business; those who believe, don't fight; and we who fight cannot be expected to believe."
I was surprised to find that my own loyalty became affected by this indifference, much more than by any influence to which I had hitherto been submitted. Others had sneered because they did not know; but these men precisely because they knew too well. The cause which depended so exclusively upon their bravado was belittled in their own eyes, and presently in mine also. I felt somewhat ashamed of the drops of blood I had lavished so heroically at Montana, and when the gazettes began to flourish the fame of the victory, repeat the dying speeches of fallen braves, and enrol rascally Zouaves on saintly calendars, I could have blushed in the dark—everywhere a little martyrdom, a little battle, and innumerable little apotheoses. I began to doubt the greatness of the cause made up of such infinitesimals. It is easy to serve ideas in which we have ceased to heartily believe, but it is impossible to fight for those that have become to us the least in the world ridiculous. Perhaps Valeria's death had unconsciously disheartened me for an enterprise which had been, however remotely, its occasion. Perhaps many of her words, whose force I had successfully resisted during her lifetime, now re echoed from her grave with more profound significance. But it is certain that, for the first time, I wavered in affection for my life-long ideal. Alarmed at myself, and determined, if possible, to reinvigorate my failing faith, I went back to Rome, trusting that the Holy City would inspire me afresh. Appointed to a civil office of considerable importance, I was soon introduced into the midst of the Papal Court, and behind the scenes of the magnificent theatrical display that had so long dazzled my imagination. I was initiated into the shameful mysteries of cabal and intrigue, and taught the precious secrets of Pope and Cardinals. On every side I saw falsehood, treachery, and duplicity welcomed as the ablest servitors of truth, the grandest professions assumed as an excuse for the most vulgar villainy, ambition glozed over by degrading humility, and sensuality all the more disgusting from the saintly robes in which it was paraded and but half concealed. My faith, already enfeebled, died of rapid decline, stifled by these monstrous fooleries. Disenchanted, revolted, disgusted, I resigned my position, and abandoned the Pope and his cause forever.
I did not, therefore, enlist under Garibaldi. A tenacious loyalty to the memory of ideas I had once served would always prevent me from more actively attacking them, or from desecrating their graves. Moreover, the revulsion of feeling consequent upon my disillusion was so tremendous, that I was swept entirely out of the region of the questions at issue, and both sides became indifferent to me, both camps dim and shadowy in the distance.
I returned, therefore, to France, and settled down in a remote corner of the provinces, to exercise my profession as a country physician. After the accumulated anguish of the last few months, the quiet dulness of the place was infinitely grateful to me. I was like a bruised swimmer, tossed upon a monotonous sandbank, who only asks to be left there in peace, until long repose has rested the aching limbs, and blunted the harrowing recollections of the shipwreck. The incessant excitement of Paris was intolerable to me, and scarcely less so the idea of revisiting its troops of sympathetic friends. They would proffer venal consolation for the loss of my wife and children; they would congratulate me maliciously on my conversion from ultra-montanism. I shrank from their curious eyes and voluble tongues, as a wounded man from the glittering apparatus of the surgeon, and like him turned over my face to the wall, to sleep.
Two years thus passed away—two years of mornings and evenings, following one another in calm succession, like a row of stolid peasant gleaners going to the fields. I became inexpressibly soothed by their calm, and by the nice tact and exquisite courtesy of Nature, with whom I had done well to take refuge. She is never astonished, she asks no impertinent questions, but welcomes her guests with even suavity, like a liberal host, throwing open to them drawing-room or garret, as may best please their fancy. The growing trees had no time to turn round to look at me; the contended hills embraced me in their arms, and let me pass without a word; the grain ripened in the mellow autumn days, unheeding the little shadow that I threw across its sunshine. This preoccupied indifference of all living things, which would initiate a mere vexation, clamorous for sympathy, is like blessed balm to the sufferer from a profound grief or mortification. Counsel is good, friendliness precious, while anything remains to be done to avert an impending calamity. But pitying words over an accomplished and irremediable misfortune, serve only to revive useless pain, and blunder, like a man who should try to force open the eyelids of a corpse. Nature, wiser than officious human tenderness, takes the sorrow coolly, as a matter of course, and in silence buries it out of sight among a million others, already thickly strewn with withered leaves. And, in presence of her imperturbable serenity during the blackest days of frost and winter, the sufferer becomes insensibly inspired with her unspoken confidence in the final return of spring. The people of the village and the farms, rooted as their own beeches, reflected back upon Nature the same immovable calm. They did not disturb themselves about me, because my role in society was so evident, respectable, and satisfactory, that I offered no foothold for either curiosity or scandal. I had been sent by Providence and the Faculty of Medicine to cure their not too frequent rheumatisms and catarrhs; I acquitted myself not ill of my business,—they asked no more,—and neither offered nor expected personal interest or friendship.
As the months rolled on, I became more interested than formerly in medical reading. Absorbed entirely in my books, I even fancied that the healing apathy which sheltered my life was growing more profound. This was a mistake; the thickening of the vapors that shut out the external world, really denoted that they were about to condense and precipitate themselves into a new creation. New interests were preparing, that should presently claim from my nature all the energy, enthusiasm, and passion which had once been devoted to the old. Of this I became aware in the following manner. One day, among a package of books sent to me from Paris, arrived a pamphlet just written in defence of a new theory concerning the movements of the human heart. My curiosity was excited by the idea of a new theory on such a famous subject, and my interest was by no means abated after perusal of the pamphlet. Exposition of this theory would demand a crowd of technical details, unintelligible to the general reader, and therefore inappropriate in this place. But let such an one take the trouble to listen for a moment to the ticking of a heart, seemingly so monotonous, simple, and easy to understand, and then reflect that the slight elements discoverable in this little sound, have been forced by human intellect into at least twenty different combinations, and afforded ground for as many theories, each defended with impassioned earnestness by a different observer. He may then realize something of the interest which attaches to the explanation of this phenomenon—may even experience a sort of mental vertigo, as if he had witnessed the evolution of a world out of nothing. Owing to the paucity of the facts to be observed, the finesse requisite for the observation, and the intellectual dexterity needed to retain such minute circumstances before the mind long enough to think about them, the problem is one of the most delicate and intricate offered by physiological science. Once engaged in its discussion, the mind becomes hopelessly fascinated, and continues to pirouette about an invisible point, that is neither a thought nor a material phenomenon, but, as it were, a refined essence of both.
As in all series of vital actions, each item of the phenomenon in question is so interlinked with the rest, that an explanation of a part can never be considered final, so long as any problem remains unresolved. The latest experimentator, brooding over hitherto neglected details, may always hope to light upon some clue that shall unravel the entire entanglement in a different manner, and reform upon a new basis ideas now grouped in pretended fixity. The excitement caused by this possibility is amply sufficient to stimulate research. And there is no need to discover an immediate practical application for the theory in order to bait the interest of vulgar minds. These would always be incapable of such difficult investigations, while really competent students were supremely indifferent to all lesser advantages attached to the discovery of truth. As for me, I had been so long removed from active life and its necessities (for my professional career had as yet been too facile and commonplace to arouse me to them), that the impractical character of the subject constituted for me an additional charm. I recognized that it belonged, for the present at least, to the region of pure thought, pure science, accessible only to intelligences refined by nature, and enriched by superior culture. In addition, therefore, to the intrinsic interest of the problem, and the solid satisfaction arising from acute intellectual activity, I could, in pursuit of this theme, experience all the subtle pleasure derived from a consciousness of personal superiority—pleasure as attainable in solitude as elsewhere since the superiority was too real and unquestionable to require the confirmatory suffrage of the crowd.
I abandoned all other studies, and threw myself impetuously into the current of these newly-received ideas. I ransacked my library, from Herophilus to Haller, from Galen to Helmholtz. England, Germany, Italy, France yielded up their tribute to my excited curiosity. And the theme, shifted, refracted from intellect to intellect, multiplied itself to bewildering complexity.
Not content with reading, I performed experiments, repeating those of my predecessors, and inventing new to control their conclusions. "With my own hands I stirred the soil, fetid and palpitating with life," and in this inmost intimacy with Nature felt myself grow strong, as Antaeus by contact with the mother earth. Thus roused from my long torpor into the most intense activity,—for all activity is slack in comparison with that of thought,—I became dissatisfied with the facility of my present surroundings. I was anxious to pit myself against the world of Paris. I wanted opposition, contradiction, in order to vanquish them, and absorb their force into the glory of my triumph. Moreover, my studies had now reached a point where they required the assistance that could only be obtained in a great city: in a word, I resolved to return to the capital, for a longer or shorter time, as the sequel should prove desirable. My means rendered me independent of my clientele, and I left my patients without regret to the care of an easily procured substitute. It is so rare to alight upon an interesting case in the country! Nothing but rheumatism and measles, measles and rheumatism, and never an autopsy,—it is as monotonous as the treatment of fever and ague. I longed for the vast metropolitan hospitals, containing specimens of every shade of disease, and affording unlimited opportunities for auscultation. Of these I stood especially in need, for the train of thought suggested by physiological experiment must be completed by pathological researches, which could only be carried on at Paris.
To Paris, therefore, I came, as to a new world, so completely had I been separated from it during the two last years. It was as if one of the spirits in the metempsychosis imagined by Fourier, had returned to the brilliant sphere from which death had driven him in temporary exile. I was at first enchanted, intoxicated. The mental activity which had seemed so intense in the sluggish province, needed to be quickened fourfold to keep abreast of the intellects with which I entered into relation, and the consciousness of the quickening affected me as with new wine. But, as I grew accustomed to my new medium, I became again subtly dissatisfied. It was not enough to be abreast of the world, I wanted to be a little ahead. In my solitude it was easy to cherish illusions concerning the value of my own work, to picture myself as a mighty and triumphant wrestler with Nature, capable, by his single strength, of forcing her reluctant secrets, to reveal them afterwards to an admiring world. But at Paris, with its enormous condensation of intellectual force, I could not flatter myself on the solitary greatness of my achievements, nor ignore the collective action of society. Whatever my attainment, I should be forced to share its fame with a hundred other workers, who had lent me, unasked, their aid. The distance between the person who uttered the last word, and him who said the next to the last, was infinitesimal, and this close proximity annoyed me. I longed for some brilliant occasion to surpass all my contemporaries in one great bound; an opportunity to bestow on science and humanity some unique benefit that could never be compared with those accumulated by lesser men. One day, revolving many things in my mind, I entered the Bibliotheque Imperiale. Strolling idly past the grated bookcases, my attention was attracted by the title of a thin folio, wedged in between Lavater and Geoffroy St. Hilaire. An inexplicable impulse led me to demand this book, the "History of Vesalius and his Times." I had no particular reason, that I knew of, to be interested in Vesalius; I merely followed an idle whim, suggested rather by the peculiar shape and position of the folio, than by any solid reason; and this whim did not hurry me out of my lounging mood. I settled myself in one of the windows, and leisurely turned over the leaves of my book, reading a line here and a phrase there, until I alighted and settled upon the following passage: "So the rumor spread abroad that Vesalius had opened the chest of a living man to see his heart beat. And upon that the people were in a fury and the court hissed with rage, and Vesalius was obliged to flee from Spain before the power of the Inquisition; and some say that he then made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But on his return he was shipwrecked on a desolate island and perished miserably. Hubert, in his Vindiciae contra tyrannus reports this history to the eternal shame of the Jesuits."
The world often describes with minuteness the material framework of such noisy events as have impressed its coarse sensibilities. But it commonly neglects, because ignoring, the scenes wherein have taken place the crises of thought, or occurred the birth of new, indomitable ideas. To the thinker, however, such outer scenes remain inextricably associated with the thought that has sprung to life in their midst. To this day I preserve a vivid recollection of every item of the place where I read the story of Vesalius; the lofty reading-room, with its confused lining of many-colored books, the tables crowded by eager students, the broad, deep windows through which the sun streamed, and from which I, sitting with open folio on my lap, watched the shifting fountain and the swaying trees and the long, untrimmed grass in the courtyard below. For the story seemed to have laid hold of my inmost soul, and touched the spring of a long-hidden desire. Why I was so moved, I could not tell. What issue would open to this whirlpool of vague excitement in which I had fallen, I had no idea. But I was profoundly conscious both of the excitement and the emotion, and, with that refined epicureanism of which intellectual people alone are capable, I abandoned myself, for a time, to the subtle luxury of their enjoyment.
My reverie was interrupted by the clanging of the great clock and the scarcely less harsh voice of the gardien as he announced the hour for closing the library. Still wrapped in fantastic meditation, I descended the stairs to the street, and followed the rue Richelieu to the boulevard, there to mingle with the human stream that endlessly encircled the city like a new army of Gideon. Drifting in the current, I reached the Bastile, crossed the Pont d'Austerlitz, gained the Boulevard de l'Hopital and continued walking to the Invalides, to the Avenues Jena and Wagram, and from the Place des Ternes, all along the exterior rampart. And as I walked, my entangled thoughts gradually disengaged themselves into clearness and precision.
The biographer of Vesalius, who evidently shared the prejudices of the people, had exerted himself strenuously to disprove the calumny attached to the name of the great anatomist. He, like the rest, was blinded by that vulgar egotism which clamorously prefers the interests of individuals to those of society,—egotism no less short-sighted than vulgar, for the large and abstract interests cared for by science are precisely those which shall ultimately affect the greatest number of individuals; and no less inconsequent than short-sighted, since no one hesitates to ruin entire hosts of individuals upon the faintest chance of promoting the material interests of society. A stock company may immolate hundreds during the construction of a Panama railroad—a sovereign sacrifice thousands in the contest for a Crimean peninsula; the hue and cry only begins when the savant modestly begs permission to utilize a single life for the advancement of science. He is execrated as a monster, and burned alive in expiation of his crime. Absurd inconsistency, trivial superstition! from which it is time that at least the scientific world were emancipated. Long enough has the ignorant rabble exercised brute tyranny over intellects towering above its comprehension. The time for concession is past, the moment has arrived for the savant to assume the sway that rightfully devolves upon him and declare the confiscation of all claims to the supreme interest of the search after truth.
For my part, therefore, so far from blaming Vesalius because he had dissected a living man, I should have accorded him most profound reverence for this proof of elevation above ordinary prejudice. And the more I thought over the matter, the more I became convinced that the accusation was well founded, that the deed had really been performed, which moral cowardice alone induced the glorious criminal to disavow.
My brooding fancy, satiated with the image of the great anatomist, began to occupy itself with his so-called victim. Who was he? what motive had induced him to surrender his body to the scalpel of the master, his life to the realization of the master's idea? A slave, a debtor, from whom the ingenious savant had thus exacted a pound of flesh? A trembling poltroon, forced to the sacrifice more reluctantly than Isaac to the altar? I preferred rather to believe that it was a favorite pupil, burning with enthusiasm for the master, joyful to participate in his mighty labors at the cheap expense of his own lesser life. Had Vesalius been a general, and he an aide-de-camp before a rampart, all the world would have applauded him, rushing upon death at the word of command. I myself had known, by a brief experience, the thrilling impulse to fight, to die, in behalf of a cause. Rivers of blood had been shed for honor, for loyalty, for patriotism. Was the desire for truth less ardent than these worn-out passions! Could it not rather supply their place in the new world about to be created by science? What could produce a greater impression upon the entire world, and more forcibly announce the inauguration of a new era, than the voice of a man who should declare, "I refuse to draw my sword for the hideous folly of war; to surrender my life at the absurd caprice of princes; but I offer myself cheerfully, unreservedly, as the instrument of Science, in her majestic schemes for the discovery of truth!"
My recent studies on the problem of the heart's movements brought me into peculiar sympathy with the object of Vesalius' researches. The tantalizing results as often obtained by experiments on lower animals, the uncertainty of the inferences that could be deduced from them to form a theory of the human organism, had often excited in me a lively desire for a direct experiment upon man. This desire had hitherto been smothered beneath the mass of conventional ideas, which so frequently overwhelm our timidity and enslave our feebleness in endless routine. But the daring word of genius had now struck the chains from my intellect, and emancipated me from the slavery of that hesitation. I—I would follow in the path already traced by that bolder mind; I would redeem that calumniated memory from disgrace, and enrich its glory by the surpassing realization of the original conception. I would inaugurate the new era; I would set the example of supreme heroism in science; and all the world, and all future ages, should preserve my name with reverent homage, and enwreath it with laurels of undying fame. For, that the purity of my motives might be above suspicion, I would perform the experiment, not as Vesalius in the capacity of anatomist, but as the victim, voluntarily devoting himself to the transcendent interests of an ideal cause.
And as my mind leaped up into this grand thought, I felt cheek and brow flush with violent emotion. Carried along by the first impetus of the idea, I walked as rapidly as in a dream, unseeing, unhearing every thing that surrounded me. Before I knew whither I had come, I felt a cool wind blow over me, as if after a feverish journey on a heated road, I had suddenly stepped into a cool, dark cavern. And, looking out from the brilliant visions in which I was plunged, I found myself already entered within the gates of Pere la Chaise—the city of the dead, of the vast majority to which I was to go over in fulfilment of my great idea. I wandered among the graves, and read the epitaphs, the reiterated dreary expressions of disappointment and despair, that the deceased had been passively torn from a world to which every fibre of their hearts was clinging. Not so would read my epitaph, and I began to compose it, less as a witty amusement than as a device for resisting an insidious chill that had begun to creep over me like a damp exhalation from the graves. For my imagination suddenly pictured to itself the heavy tombstone pressing down, down forever, on the cruel coffin-lid beneath which I should be lying. I shuddered at the picture, I shuddered at death, and, leaning on an iron rail which girt in a tomb, hid my face in my arms to shut out the signs of decay and the more ghastly emblems of immortality with which the populous cimetiere was crowded.
Raising my head after a brief struggle, I perceived that I was standing in front of the famous tomb of Abelard and Heloise. The sculptured forms of the unhappy lovers reposed side by side on the lid of the stone mausoleum, as they had lain for six centuries, and immortalized the mingling of their mortal dust below. Tears sprang to my eyes as I looked at their still, peaceful faces, for I remembered my dead wife, and then, my lost children. Death, that contained them in its hollow caverns, could not be frightful to me. It was rather the treasure-house of all I possessed most precious, and which I should now hasten to reclaim. All the loneliness and longing which had been dulled by habit, and lately covered over by mental activity, awoke, and cried out passionately within me, repelling the slight pleasures of this world, as a child crying for its mother dashes aside an offered toy. What was left to me in life that I should cling to it? What ties bound me to this perfidious, slippery earth? To whom owed I any duties? Whose pillow would moisten with tears because I had passed out of sight? Destitute of personal interests, I could only devote myself to those of humanity, and that by some method that should concentrate in a single moment both the achievement and its reward. For small were the enjoyment to survive for fame, with whose report I could return laden to no fireside, for whose sake I could watch no eyes brighten in sweet pride of sympathy. I should sicken of it in half an hour, and my hard-earned laurels would become as dusty and lifeless as those ghastly wreaths of immortelles hanging around Heloise's tomb. So desolated love joined itself to restless ambition and ideal enthusiasm, to concentrate my life for the purpose from which, since then, it has never swerved.
Thus resolved upon self-devotion, I set about the task of finding a colleague to share the risks and glory of my enterprise. I did not conceal from myself that upon him would devolve a role far more difficult and complicated than my own. From me, the subject of the proposed experiment, was only required sublime heroism for the sacrifice. But the man who should perform the operation must possess moral courage to face public criticism, perhaps opprobrium; a trained intellect, already habituated to discussion of the problem in question, and impassioned for its solution; great practical skill and finesse, able to appreciate and profit by every detail of the phenomena that would unroll themselves before his observation; iron nerve, that should remain unmoved by any startling peculiarities of the case in hand.
The necessity for uniting so many characteristics, compelled me to abandon my first hope of forming a committee for the experiment; for as soon as I began to sound physiologists on the subject, I landed knee-deep in a mass of invincible prejudices and prepossessions. The scheme was too new, too daring for the capacity of the mediocrities which constitute the bulk of even the scientific world. I must discover some exceptional solitary enthusiast like myself, able to appreciate and embrace with joy the grand opportunity I offered him. To the search for this enthusiast, therefore, I bent all my energies, and knocked at many doors, wherever, through the windows, I believed to have detected on the hearth the upleaping of an inner flame.
It was astonishing how often I knocked in vain! How often my insinuations, my suggestions, my direct propositions were repulsed! I appealed to a professor who had concentrated the best years of his life to the problem I proposed to solve,—he pooh-poohed my scheme. In vain I tried to explain my methods for overcoming its practical difficulties; he decried them all, I am convinced, from pure jealousy.
"And you ought to know by this time," he added with a scarcely disguised sneer, "that a single experiment on a human subject would be of little value until its results were controlled by a dozen others. And I doubt that your enthusiasm would prove sufficiently contagious to furnish the supply for the dissecting table." And he obstinately shut his ears to any further argument.
I disclosed my plan to a struggling physician, ready for any adventure that should thrust him into notoriety, bring his name before the public, and thus open the way to a prosperous clientele. Yet he recoiled from a project fraught with promise so sure and magnificent as mine. A hospital interne, flushed with enthusiasm for his first practical studies, started with horror when I divulged my ideas. Many, true Parisian railleurs, regarded my proposition as an excellent joke.
"Allons donc, c'est une vieille blague que tu nous fais la."
And all my protestations served only to increase their amusement, and their determination not to be taken in.
A few eyed me suspiciously, as if they imagined I were insane, and one old bourgeois doctor had the impertinence to administer to me a moral lecture.
"Young man," he said, "you are possessed by the same preposterous vanity which induced Empedocles to throw himself into Vesuvius, and Erostratus to fire the temple of Diana. I recommend a course of dry cupping to the nape of the neck, to relieve your congested and over-excited brain, and, in the mean time, a decent seclusion from society, that you insult with your absurdities."
I flushed red with anger, but this last rebuff warned me that I must change my tactics. Like all reformers, I found the world too stiff and rigid for my purposes, and only harmed myself with kicking against the bristling pricks. I must turn to a new generation, to early youth, and find some mind still unformed and flexible, that I could myself submit to a far-sighted training, and cast into the mould of my own ideas. The opportunities of which my contemporaries were unworthy, I would reserve as a gracious boon for a well-initiated pupil.
Two years had elapsed since my arrival at Paris, and the untiring energy with which I pursued physiological researches had begun to bring my name into notice. When, therefore, I proposed to open a course of lectures upon experimental physiology, my friends all encouraged me with flattering assurances.
"A la bonne heure," exclaimed the student to whom had I once addressed my secret plans, "something sensible at last. I trust such rational occupation will purge your head of its maggots, and satisfy your aspirations for fame—"
I smiled stealthily to myself. It is thus that the light world always measures the austerity of our resolutions by its own lightness!
I obtained the requisite official permission, and opened the course at the Ecole Pratique under the best auspices. The lectures were thronged from the beginning, and the interest by no means abated as the weeks rolled on. Enthusiastic myself, I possessed in no small degree the gift of communicating (on all ordinary subjects) my enthusiasm to others. I aimed less at imparting solid instruction to my pupils than at impressing their imagination by a series of skilfully arranged effects. My experiments, therefore, were governed by dramatic unity, rarely sought in the confused and arid expositions of official professors. Now I led my auditors into the inmost laboratories of Nature, and revealed, in plant and animal, the fine affinities that regulated her processes of nutrition. Now I traced some delicate nervous filament from the spinal column of the amphioxus to the cerebral hemisphere of the mammifer. Now I disclosed the ramifying canals in the vast system of circulation, mounting from the spongy network of the mollusk and the sluggish lymphatic of the reptile to the brilliant, bounding arteries of the double-hearted vertebrates. And always, beyond the last disclosure, after the most complete revelation, I hinted at something yet to come, some higher, unveiled mystery, to which all this grand series was but the prelude. As a priest who volubly initiates the neophytes into the service of the temple, but points in silence to the inner court containing the Deity for whom the service is performed, so I, after the most magnificent display of animal life, silently indicated a concealed hereafter, a culmination in the human body, hitherto withheld from our curious gaze. I thus strove to suggest an ideal, left for a time incomplete; to foster an impetuous impatience, that, stimulated by the great acquisitions of the past, should reach forward irresistibly for the greater prize of the future. I trusted that among all my auditors would be found one that should divine the cipher, and quicken over its subtle secret—one intellect, that, carried unconsciously along the current of my thought, should finally arrive at my unrevealed goal.
Among the most constant attendants on the lectures, I had long noticed one young man of about twenty-two years old, who always occupied the same seat close to my operating-table. He was thin, shabbily dressed, with full, intense forehead, ravenous face, and brilliant eyes. His poverty was indicated not only by his toilette, and that special form of unfed expression peculiar to the studious hungry, but also by his absence from all the private classes, and redoubled assiduity at the public lectures. His intelligence was evident from the absorbed attention with which he followed the experiments, and from his manner of taking notes,—not at random, like most of the students, but at well-chosen points perceptible only to a person already in possession of a commanding view of the whole subject. By a little stratagem, I contrived one day to get hold of his note-book, and was surprised at the accurate observations, the acute suggestions, and range of information indicated by the marginal queries. Those who have ever experienced the delight of discovering an intellect—discovery more precious than that of a gold mine—can appreciate the eagerness with which I devoured these pages, finding everywhere the stamp of the mind I sought. And my satisfaction was redoubled by reflecting how greatly the youth and poverty of the writer might increase my facilities for obtaining complete possession of him. I was not long in devising a scheme for forcing the intimacy of the young man, who, like most poor students, was evidently as shy and proud as he was poor.
One day, at the close of the lecture, I touched my student on the arm.
"Be kind enough to wait a moment," I said, "I have something to say to you."
The boy flushed and drew back a little with all the haughtiness of a sensitive person ill at ease with the world, and expecting from it nothing but rebuffs and insolence. I fancied that an anxious suspicion crossed his mind that I was about to lay claim to some payment for lessons, of which he had hitherto ignored the necessity. I waited till the greater part of the crowd had squeezed through the narrow door of the amphitheatre, dismissed the loiterers, and then turned to my companion with a frank air of relief, as to an equal with whom I could refresh myself after the fatigue of teaching lesser minds. I saw that I had already won his heart, before I began to speak.
"I find that I require another assistant," I said. "The man that I have at present, is, as you know, a mere machine. I need some one interested, enthusiastic, capable of seconding me intelligently. I want, in short, a pupil. Will you fill the place?"
Surprised, overwhelmed with an honor which he could so keenly appreciate, the young man flushed again, hesitated, stammered, and finally only succeeded in answering me with his beautiful eyes, for his tongue refused to speak. I already loved the boy; alas! how he has repaid my love!
"It will be a mutual exchange of service," I continued. "You will be of great use to me in my preparations, and, in return, I may be able to initiate you into the mysteries of our art, somewhat more thoroughly than can be done in a public lecture."
"I thank you, sir," said Guy. He tried to speak coldly, but he looked as if he longed to throw himself at my feet and cover my hand with kisses. To relieve his emotion, in which I secretly exulted, I patted him friendlily on the shoulder, and began immediately to discuss the programme for the following lecture.
I had every reason to congratulate myself on my new assistant. His zeal and ingenuity not only seconded my researches, but often supplemented them when over-fatigue persuaded me to repose. And Guy's personal character proved as winning as his intellect keen and reliable. Before long I contrived that he should come and live with me, and I invented for him some light literary employment, by which he could pay me for his board and lodging, with an insignificant sacrifice of his time. He acceded to this arrangement upon its apparent terms, but none the less did he pierce its transparent motive, and tacitly devote to me his whole soul in acknowledgment of what he considered my delicate generosity. These unfledged souls are apt to throw themselves thus away in exchange for the most trifling pecuniary service, and torment themselves, moreover, that the compensation is so mean. I smiled at Guy's naivete, but none the less turned it to account. From the foothold thus gained, I rapidly extended my influence over his entire nature. My larger experience enabled me to complete his unfinished thoughts, to sympathize with his scarcely conscious feelings, to subtly impress his principles and co-ordinate them to my own scheme. Having begun by forestalling his material necessities, I continued to supply the finer wants of heart and intellect so completely, that he became habituated to turn to me for everything, and to receive everything that came from me with implicit faith. I fed him, taught him, loved him, and all with such artfulness, that he felt my presence in his life only as a plant feels the sunshine in its calyx, conscious of no intrusion to be resented, or tyranny to be repelled. It is so easy to make the conquest of a young, ingenuous nature! so easy to fix its impetuous, unsuspecting enthusiasm! I marvel that these exquisite relations between master and pupil are so generally left uncultivated, or their charm wasted. I almost marvel that I did not rest completely satisfied with my life at that time; with its arduous study, and its growing fame, and Guy, with the delicious task of educating his supple intellect to my ideas, and penetrating his nature with my personality. Only the loftiness of my ideal saved it from making womanish shipwreck on this episode in its austere voyage towards the realization.
As Guy became more and more competent, I delegated more and more into his hands the preparation for the lectures. The first excitement of getting them into train was past, the first keen interest dulled by habit; and when the second winter began, with repetition of all that had gone before, I went through the business almost mechanically. Often I left everything to my assistant, and shut myself up alone to dream over the project that secretly absorbed my soul. Guy fancied I was ill, and, as my exertions slackened, redoubled his own, consuming heart and brain in the resolve to maintain the course at the level of its original popularity. I was inwardly amused at his devotion to such secondary considerations, but did not interfere, for it helped to serve my purpose.
Finally, I believed my pupil to be fully prepared, and decided that the moment had come for the complete revelation of myself.
One evening,—I selected the evening advisedly, since at that time the imagination is more susceptible of impressions, and further removed from the vulgar influences of every-day life,—I entered our study. Guy was seated at a table, and working in his usual intense fashion, and I threw myself on a sofa beside him.
"Guy," I exclaimed, "it tires me to look at you. For eight hours you have not stirred from those books. You will kill yourself."
"Great loss," he answered, "so that it were in your service, and during the pursuit of knowledge."
"You love me then, Guy?"
"Love you!" He rose from the table, and coming to the sofa, kneeled and kissed my forehead, without shame, as in France men can kiss each other.
"My master, my friend!" he said; and I felt that he was mine, bound to me by a love passing the love of women. I drew him before me, and ran my fingers through his clustering hair. His affection was pleasant to me, independent of the use I meant to make of it; and I almost experienced a feminine desire to trifle with it for a moment, as one shifts a diamond from one hand to the other to watch its changing flame.
"How much do you love me? as the children say. What would you do for me?"
"I would die for you!" he answered vehemently.
That is the first thing youth ever thinks of. From very fulness of life, it can afford to be on familiar terms with death.
"Tut; that is unnecessary. But would you do anything I asked of you as a personal favor?"
"Only try me. I would go to the ends of the earth for you."
"Tenez! suppose I was dying King Arthur and you my squire. Would you hesitate to fling away Excalibur at my command?"
"The paltry bauble! What thought could I have to waste upon it while you were dying?"
"But suppose this obedience did not suffice to release me. Suppose that, in my agony, I prayed you to drive your own sword into my heart to set me free. Would you do it?"
He hesitated a moment. "That would be a terrible prayer; yet if you were suffering, and I knew that you must die, I would do even that for you."
"You have said it," I cried, and leaped to my feet in uncontrollable excitement. "I have a request to make you, I have a prayer that you only can fulfil. Swear that you will grant it—swear by all your love for me, by all the gratitude which you profess, and for which I shall never claim other return—swear that you will do what I am about to bid you!"
I saw that Guy was disquieted by my words and manner. Instead of replying with the bold confidence I had a right to expect, he recoiled from the revelation that pressed urgently on my lips.
"Take care," he said, "your eyes are glittering as if you had a fever. Let us stop talking about this till to-morrow."
The upstart boy, thus to dare to patronize me with his foresight and protection—me, who had taught him all he knew, and who was about to offer him a place on my giddy pinnacle of immortal fame! I was intensely angry, but succeeded in controlling myself, for I felt that an untimely explosion of violence might ruin all. I passed my hand over my eyes, as if to blur the glitter that had alarmed Guy's scrupulous feebleness, and sat down quietly again.
"The fact is, my dear Guy," I said, "I have been waiting so long for an opportunity to execute a certain scheme of mine, that I cannot help being a little excited when this opportunity seems at last within my reach."
"What kind of a scheme?" asked Guy.
"A scheme for the advancement of the science in which we are both so interested."
"Oh," said Guy, with an air of relief, "you know how you can rely upon me for any undertaking in that direction."
"I should think so, especially when it concerns the problem upon which we have both been so long engaged—the movements of the heart."
"What!" he exclaimed with delight. "You have discovered something new for that! Shall I ever cease to admire your masterly ingenuity. What is to be done? You want to send me to Africa to capture a live rhinoceros? I will set out to-morrow."
"What would be the use! All the information that can be gained by experiment on the higher mammifers is already ours. Since the problem derives the greatest part of its interest from its application to man, it is on man that the new experiment should be performed."
"Ah, yes," sighed Guy; "we are always tripping up against this impossibility."
"Nothing is impossible," I answered. "I am resolved that the experiment shall be performed on man."
Guy started, then laughed. "Oh! you are joking," he said.
"Not the least in the world. I have even selected the subject."
"Eh! well, since you are so determined, you may dissect me when you choose. Only I warn you of difficulties with the tribunals afterwards."
"I leave you to settle with them. It is not you, but myself, who is to be the subject; and you must perform the experiment."
I was surprised at the calmness with which I made this momentous revelation of my purpose. But we are always on the level of the circumstances to which we have attained, and they do not seem as awful as when viewed from the distance.
Guy did not at all believe that I was in earnest, and half an hour's impetuous talking was needed to convince him of the reality and fixedness of my resolve. Then he tried to reason with me.
"Your experiment will be utterly useless," he said; "because death will ensue almost immediately after the chest is opened. And during the few seconds that might intervene for observation, the heart would beat too rapidly to render observation possible."
"I have devised means for palliating all these difficulties," I answered eagerly. "In the first place, the last act of the experiment must be preceded by the administration of woorara, to slacken the rapidity of the heart's action. In the second place, I do not propose to open the chest with the bistoury. The operation, even though aided by chloroform, would cause too violent a shock to the nervous system. But I intend to burn through gradually, by successive applications of caustic, as in the procedure for opening hepatic cysts. Deep-seated adhesions would form and shut out the lungs securely, and thus probably obviate the necessity for artificial respiration. The pericardium would be reached with comparatively little disturbance, and once exposed, the operator would be able to make a first and important series of observations, before proceeding farther. Finally, he would rend the pericardium, and arrive directly at the heart itself."
"And kill you!" cried Guy.
"I should die," I answered composedly, "as men have died after inoculating themselves with the plague; only my death would be more glorious, because incurred for pure science, and in face of a certainty. It is precisely on this account that the act will insure to our names the honor and reverence of all future generations."
"Nonsense. You will be pitied as a suicide and madman, and I shall be hung at the next assizes."
"Coward! traitor!" I burst forth in ungovernable passion. "This is the extent of your devotion, then! These your narrow calculations and sordid reckonings! You, the one soul in whom I trusted, the one friend I had in the world capable of appreciating me! Oh, shame on such ingratitude! Oh, miserable me, doomed to such disappointment!"
He was deeply hurt. I saw that I had made some impression upon the hard skepticism with which the world had incased a naturally generous nature, and pressed my advantage. I poured out a torrent of eloquence, reasoning, prayers, entreaty. I wrestled with him as for the salvation of a soul; the night waned on our hot conversation, and finally, toward three o'clock, when the gray dawn began to point weirdly in the East, I gained the victory. Guy promised to fulfil my wish, at whatever risks to himself, and with the certainty of sacrificing my life in the experiment. On the spot, I drew up a paper testifying that the operation should have been performed at my express command, and stated the reasons in full. To this document, I trusted to obtain in the country the signature of two witnesses sufficiently incurious to sign without reading.
For it was decided that, for the sake of greater secrecy and convenience, we should withdraw to the country, and I selected a locality about four hours' distance from Paris, where we were both unknown. These details settled, we separated for sleep.
But I think neither of us closed our eyes that night; and Guy was so pale and haggard the next morning that I hardly knew him. During the week that we remained at Paris, making preparations for our departure, he hardly ate, or slept, or spoke, but seemed to waste and droop like a man in the clutch of a fiend. I became anxious. I was afraid he would fall ill, and thus be incapacitated for the performance of his duty.
However, we managed to leave the city without accident, and installed ourselves in the lonely dwelling I had rented. We hired an old woman from the village to take charge of our housekeeping, and then devoted ourselves to our work. We engaged in a preliminary series of experiments, through which, as through a suite of lesser apartments leading to the throne-room, we were to approach the act that should crown them all.
For the first time since he had been my pupil, I found Guy nervous, maladroit. He turned pale at the sight of blood. The struggling of a pigeon, or the yelp of a dog, seemed to make him sick, and a hundred times he laid down his scalpel as if unable to proceed. He was like a neophyte, and a prey to the sentimental horrors of which, up to this time, his absorbed intellect had been quite unconscious. I trembled. If his nerve should fail him when it became my turn, and the whole costly experiment be thrown away through some awkwardness on his part! I was furious at the very idea, and told him so.
"I will haunt you forever if you fail," I said, savagely.
"You will in any case," answered Guy, sighing heavily.
But at my instances, he tried to rouse himself from this inexplicable languor, and to drill hand and eye to exquisite precision. I watched him severely. I refused to pardon the least blunder. I trained him for this last trial, as men train horses for the winning race. Guy was really an able physiologist, and his skill only needed finishing touches to be as effective as was possible in the actual condition of science. After two or three weeks I was satisfied, and bade him prepare the next day to begin the last experiment.
I shall never forget that day, the supreme moment of my life. I sat at the windows of an inner room, waiting for Guy, and looked out over the valley that basked in the afternoon sunshine. It was the beginning of September—one of those perfect days at the prime of the year, when life has reached its culmination, and pauses in the fulness of its own content. The air, ripe and balmy, purged of the rawness of Spring and the violent heat of Summer, was as yet untouched by the faintest frost, and restored to such perfection as mortals might breathe after the regeneration of the earth. The grain had been gathered in, but the unfallen fruit still weighed down the orchards, and absorbed the sunlight for its mellowing juices. The first press of the harvest season was over, the second had not yet begun; for one precious moment man and nature paused together, and surveyed the long ascent by which the year had climbed to these high table-lands of peace—not innocent peace, ignorant of action, but the peace of victory after conflict, of repose after strife, of maturity entering upon its rewards. In the perfection of these sunful days, all possibility of change seemed to have been outgrown, left far behind in an old, wearisome existence of long ago. The world had entered upon an eternal blessedness, and the jasper walls of heaven shut it out from harm forever, like coral reefs encircling a lagoon in the Pacific seas. Only by remembering the years that had been before, and the years that should follow after, could the reluctant mind convince itself that this seeming eternity was frail; that whoso lingered too long among the splendors of September would be surely overtaken by treacherous frost, and biting winter winds; that there was but one way to escape the revolting decline from this pinnacle of life—to die. That was my secret. I alone, of all who shivered at approaching winter, had learned how to escape. For me, not only the year, but life itself, should cease at its pinnacle, refusing to go down to a lower place, as a dethroned being prefers death to miserable exile. And with these thoughts, I felt myself possessed by an unutterable calm, such as comes to fever patients when they are dying.
The first day of the experiment little was to be done. I called Guy, who lingered in the laboratory, and bade him apply the first layer of caustic to my breast, over the heart. The little operation required small skill, and this was fortunate, for Guy's hand trembled so violently, that a delicate manipulation would have been ruined. A drop of the paste fell on my coat-sleeve, and in a few minutes had burned a hole entirely through.
"Look, Guy," I exclaimed, "through such a window shall you soon gaze at the central mystery of life. I almost envy you the opportunity."
"Oh!" he cried, "if you would but take it! If you would but use me for your experiment, and spare me this dreadful trial!"
He had urged this exchange from the beginning, but of course I would not consent. What! give up my great chance for immortality, surrender my unique place in the history of science and the world? No, indeed; I was already generous in sharing my achievement, in trusting the preservation of my fame to even my most loyal friend. Beyond that it were folly, madness, to go.
"Nonsense," I replied therefore to this senseless entreaty. "That question has already been sufficiently discussed. Bah! that caustic burns."
It was necessary to wait three or four days before renewing the caustic to deepen the eschar made by the first application. This delay gradually became intolerable to me,—the more, that Guy prolonged it on a multitude of trivial pretexts. I was finally obliged to resume the direction of affairs, and order him to proceed.
He began to prepare some Vienna paste, but in a slow, dawdling manner that irritated my nerves to the last degree. I snatched the cup from his hand and stirred the caustic myself.
"How many centuries have admired Socrates," I remarked, "for his theatrical pretence of drinking the hemlock voluntarily. In future ages men will remember with greater admiration how I, with my own hand, prepared the instrument of my death. Do not forget to mention this circumstance in your notes, and add that my hand did not tremble."
I gave the caustic to Guy; but at the same moment the door opened behind us, and he sprang forward with a sudden cry, dashing the cup in pieces on the floor. I turned in angry surprise at the interruption, and saw two men standing in the room. They were perfect strangers to me, but came forward immediately and saluted me with the friendly courtesy of old acquaintance. I even fancied that I detected an intolerable softness in their manner, such as physicians sometimes assume in speaking to sick people. One of the intruders took my passive hand in his, and shook it with unnecessary cordiality, contriving, I think, at the same time to slip his fingers on my wrist, just over the pulse.
My instinct was decidedly in favor of kicking these impertinent fellows down stairs. But so strong is the influence of civilized habit, that I restrained myself to a freezing politeness, inquiring to what I might be indebted for the honor, etc.
"These gentlemen are friends of mine," interposed Guy, who had stooped on the floor to pick up the broken fragments of the cup, and who did not look at me as he spoke. "They are amateurs in our science, and would be much interested in examining the laboratory that we have installed here. But since they have taken a long journey, and must be hungry, I think we had better first order the dejeuner."
"The devil!" I muttered inwardly. But at the same moment I reflected that these visitors with their congenial tastes might serve opportunity as witnesses to the experiment—even be useful in correcting any possible awkwardness in Guy's manipulation. I therefore addressed them in a tone of cordial hospitality.
"We are at this moment engaged in some researches," I said, "that cannot fail to interest you, and where, perhaps, you may be of signal service, if you will consent to stay with us awhile and put up with our modest accommodations."
"You honor our poor abilities," returned the first stranger, with a bland smile. "We shall be most happy to accept your amiable invitation."
So we four sat down to the dejeuner, in the most cheerful possible humor. The black stain that burned on my breast stimulated me to a secret exultation; I felt a secret pride in anticipating the wonder of these men, when they should hereafter recall the gayety of my demeanor on this occasion. They, on the other hand, seconded me bravely in the conversation. Not for years had I met with companions so brilliant, witty, and sympathetic. They listened to me with the closest attention, and seemed to find a peculiar charm in the freaks of my fancy, to which, for the moment, I gave the rein.
"These men are capable of appreciating me," I said to myself, and congratulated my good fortune which had sent them thither.
Then I rose. "Gentlemen," I said, "I cannot express to you the pleasure that I have derived from your society. Before we adjourn to the laboratory, allow me, in English fashion, to propose a toast."
"Wait a moment," said Guy, breaking the sullen silence he had hitherto maintained. "I ordered some Burgundy from Paris the other day, and it arrived this morning."
He left the room, and presently returned with an uncorked bottle in his hand, which he set before me. I fancied, as he did so, that he looked rather significantly at the two strangers, but politeness forbade me to express my suspicion. I poured out the wine, and pushed the glasses to my companions.
"Drink," I cried, "to the experiment that shall open a new era in science, and to the man that shall inaugurate a new revolution in the world." And I drained my glass.
Whether or no the others followed my example, I cannot tell; for almost immediately I felt a subtle fire course through my veins, followed by a delicious languor that crept inwards to my heart, and seemed to arrest its pulsation by an irresistible persuasiveness to repose. Probably I swooned, for I lost all consciousness, and all recollection of time or place for many hours.
* * * * *
When I came to myself, I was a prisoner in this cursed asylum at Charenton.
—Guy had betrayed me,—the false friend,—the poltroon,—and I, who trusted him too much, had fallen a victim to his stratagems. Whether he had been true to me at the beginning, and then had faltered at the last, or whether he had deceived me all along with affected complaisance, I never knew. For when he came to see me one day, my just resentment excited me to such a paroxysm of fury that the people here recommended him not to return, and I have never seen him since. So here I sit, in forced idleness, waiting for the arrival of some one who shall appreciate my great idea, and release me for its accomplishment. The people by whom I am surrounded are kind enough, but ignorant; they admire me, but are unable to understand me. So they bind me in silken chains, and clasp them with honeyed words, and I remain a prisoner. It is thus that the world rewards its greatest benefactors!
BY J. S. OF DALE, AUTHOR OF "GUERNDALE."
Century Magazine, November, 1883.
The great Pasterzen glacier rises in Western Austria, and flows into Carinthia, and is fourteen or seventeen miles long, as you measure it from its birth in the snow-field, or from where it begins to move from the higher snows and its active course is marked by the first wrinkle. It flows in a straight, steady sweep, a grand avenue, guarded by giant mountains, steep and wide; a prototype, huge and undesigned, of the giants' stairway in the Venice palace. No known force can block its path; it would need a cataclysm to reverse its progress. What falls upon it moves with it, what lies beneath it moves with it—down to the polished surface of the earth's frame, laid bare; no blade of grass grows so slowly as it moves, no meteor of the air is so irresistible. Its substant ice curls freely, moulds, and breaks itself like water,—breaks in waves, plastic like honey, crested lightly with a frozen spray; it winds tenderly about the rocky shore, and the granite, disintegrated into crumbs, flows on with it. All this so quietly that busy, officious little Man lived a score of thousand years before he noticed even that the glacier moved.
Now, however, men have learned to congregate upon its shores, and admire. Scientists stick staves in the ground (not too near, lest the earth should move with it), and appraise the majesty of its motion; ladies, politely mystified, give little screams of pleased surprise; young men, secretly exultant, pace the yard or two between the sticks, a distance that takes the frozen stream a year to compass, and look out upon it half contemptuously. Then they cross it—carefully, they have enough respect left for that—with their cunningly nailed shoes and a rope; an hour or two they dally with it, till at last, being hungry and cold, they walk to the inn for supper. At supper they tell stories of their prowess, pay money to the guides who have protected them, and fall asleep after tea with weariness. Meantime, the darkness falls outside; but the white presence of the glacier breaks the night, and strange shapes unseen of men dance in its ashen hollows. It is so old that the realms of death and life conflict; change is on the surface, but immortality broods in the deeper places. The moon rises and sinks; the glacier moves silently, like a timepiece marking the centuries, grooving the record of its being on the world itself,—a feature to be read and studied by far-off generations of some other world. The glacier has a light of its own, and gleams to stars above, and the great Glockner mountain flings his shadow of the planets in its face.
Mrs. Knollys was a young English bride, sunny-haired, hopeful-eyed, with lips that parted to make you love them,—parted before they smiled, and all the soft regions of her face broke into attendant dimples. And then, lest you should think it meant for you, she looked quickly up to "Charles," as she would then call him even to strangers, and Charles looked down to her. Charles was a short foot taller, with much the same hair and eyes, thick flossy whiskers, broad shoulders, and a bass voice. This was in the days before political economy cut Hymen's wings. Charles, like Mary, had little money, but great hopes; and he was clerk in a government office, with a friendly impression of everybody and much trust in himself. And old Harry Colquhoun, his chief, had given them six weeks to go to Switzerland and be happy in, all in celebration of Charles Knollys's majority and marriage to his young wife. So they had both forgotten heaven for the nonce, having a passable substitute; but the powers divine overlooked them pleasantly and forgave it. And even the phlegmatic driver of their Einspaenner looked back from the corner of his eye at the schoene Englaenderin, and compared her mentally with the far-famed beauty of the Koenigssee. So they rattled on in their curious conveyance, with the pole in the middle and the one horse out on one side, and still found more beauty in each other's eyes than in the world about them. Although Charles was only one and twenty, Mary Knollys was barely eighteen, and to her he seemed godlike in his age, as in all other things. Her life had been as simple as it had been short. She remembered being a little girl, and then the next thing that occurred was Charles Knollys, and positively the next thing she remembered of importance was being Mrs. Charles Knollys; so that old Mrs. Knollys, her guardian aunt and his, had first called her a love of a baby, and then but a baby in love. All this, of course, was five and forty years ago, for you know how old she was when she went again to Switzerland last summer—three and sixty.