from its socket and looked at it critically, as if calculating how long it would last. It was barely two inches long; in another hour he would be in darkness! He replaced it in the candlestick and blew it out.
In a physicians office in Kearny Street three men sat about a table, drinking punch and smoking. It was late in the evening, almost midnight, indeed, and there had been no lack of punch.
The eldest of the three, Dr. Helberson, was the host; it was in his rooms they sat. He was about thirty years of age; the others were even younger; all were physicians.
The superstitious awe with which the living regard the dead, said Dr. Helberson, is hereditary and incurable. One need no more be ashamed of it than of the fact that he inherits, for example, an incapacity for mathematics, or a tendency to lie.
The others laughed. Oughtnt a man to be ashamed to be a liar? asked the youngest of the three, who was, in fact a medical student not yet graduated.
My dear Harper, I said nothing about that. The tendency to lie is one thing; lying is another.
But do you think, said the third man, that this superstitious feeling, this fear of the dead, reasonless as we know it to be, is universal? I am myself not conscious of it.
Oh, but it is in your system for all that, replied Helberson: it needs only the right conditionswhat Shakespeare calls the confederate season to manifest itself in some very disagreeable way that will open your eyes. Physicians and soldiers are, of course, more nearly free from it than others.
Physicians and soldiers;why dont you add hangmen and headsmen? Let us have in all the assassin classes.
No, my dear Mancher; the juries will not let the public executioners acquire sufficient familiarity with death to be altogether unmoved by it.
Young Harper, who had been helping himself to a fresh cigar at the sideboard, resumed his seat. What would you consider conditions under which any man of woman born would become insupportably conscious of his share of our common weakness in this regard? he asked rather verbosely.
Well, I should say that if a man were locked up all night with a corpsealonein a dark roomof a vacant housewith no bed-covers to pull over his headand lived through it without going altogether madhe might justly boast himself not of woman born, nor yet, like Macduff, a product of Cæsarean section.
I thought you never would finish piling up conditions, said Harper; but I know a man who is neither a physician nor a soldier who will accept them all, for any stake you like to name.
Who is he?
His name is Jarettea stranger in California; comes from my town in New York. I havent any money to back him, but he will back himself with dead loads of it.
How do you know that?
He would rather bet than eat. As for fearI dare say he thinks it some cutaneous disorder, or, possibly, a particular kind of religious heresy.
What does he look like? Helberson was evidently becoming interested.
|Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Bibliomania.com Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.|