I would have given anything, then, to be heavy-hearted, so that I could get this person down from there and take his life but I could no more be heavy-hearted over such a desire than I could have sorrowed over its accomplishment. So I could only look longingly up at my master, and rave at the ill-luck that denied me a heavy conscience the one only time that I had ever wanted such a thing in my life. By and by I got to musing over the hour's strange adventure, and of course my human curiosity began to work. I set myself to framing in my mind some questions for this fiend to answer. Just then one of my boys entered, leaving the door open behind him, and exclaimed,
"My! what has been going on, here! The book-case is all one riddle of"
I sprang up in consternation, and shouted,
"Out of this! Hurry! Jump! Fly! Shut the door! Quick, or my Conscience will get away!"
The door slammed to, and I locked it, I glanced up and was grateful, to the bottom of my heart, to see that my owner was still my prisoner. I said,
"Hang you, I might have lost you! Children are the heedlessest creatures. But look here, friend, the boy did not seem to notice you at all; how is that?"
"For a very good reason. I am invisible to all but you."
I made mental note of that piece of information with a good deal of satisfaction. I could kill this miscreant now, if I got a chance, and no one would know it. But this very reflection made me so light-hearted that my Conscience could hardly keep his seat, but was like to float aloft toward the ceiling like a toy balloon. I said, presently,
"Come, my Conscience, let us be friendly. Let us fly a flag of truce for a while. I am suffering to ask you some questions."
"Very well. Begin."
"Well, then, in the first place, why were you never visible to me before?"
"Because you never asked to see me before; that is, you never asked in the right spirit and the proper form before. You were just in the right spirit this time, and when you called for your most pitiless enemy I was that person by a very large majority, though you did not suspect it."
"Well, did that remark of mine turn you into flesh and blood?"
"No. It only made me visible to you. I am unsubstantial, just as other spirits are."
This remark prodded me with a sharp misgiving. If he was unsubstantial, how was I going to kill him? But I dissembled, and said persuasively,
"Conscience, it is n't sociable of you to keep at such a distance. Come down and take another smoke."
This was answered with a look that was full of derision, and with this observation added:
"Come where you can get at me and kill me? The invitation is declined with thanks."
"All right," said I to myself; "so it seems a spirit can be killed, after all; there will be one spirit lacking in this world, presently, or I lose my guess." Then I said aloud,
"There; wait a bit. I am not your friend, I am your enemy; I am not your equal, I am your master. Call me 'my lord,' if you please. You are too familiar."
"I don't like such titles. I am willing to call you sir. That is as far as"
"We will have no argument about this. Just obey; that is all. Go on with your chatter."
"Very well, my lord,since nothing but my lord will suit you,I was going to ask you how long you will be visible to me?"
I broke out with strong indignation: "This is simply an outrage. That is what I think of it. You have dogged, and dogged, and dogged me, all the days of my life, invisible. That was misery enough; now to have such a sorry looking thing as you tagging after me like another shadow all the rest of my days is an intolerable prospect. You have my opinion, my lord; make the most of it."
"My lad, there was never so pleased a conscience in this world as I was when you made me visible. It gives me an inconceivable advantage. Now, I can look you straight in the eye, and call you names, and leer at you, jeer at you, sneer at you; and you know what eloquence there is in visible gesture and expression, more especially when the effect is heightened by audible speech. I shall always address you henceforth in your o-w-n s-n-i-v-e-l-i-n-g d-r-a-w-lbaby!"
I let fly with the coal-hod. No result. My lord said,
"Come, come! Remember the flag of truce!"
"Ah, I forgot that. I will try to be civil; and you try it, too, for a novelty. The idea of a civil conscience! It is a good joke; an excellent joke. All the consciences I have ever heard of were nagging, badgering, fault-finding execrable savages! Yes; and always in a sweat about some poor little insignificant trifle or otherdestruction catch the lot of them, I say! I would trade mine for the smallpox and seven kinds of consumption, and be glad of the chance. Now tell me, why is it that a conscience can't haul a man over the coals once, for an offense, and then let him alone? Why is it that it wants to keep on pegging at him, day and night and night and day, week in and week out, forever and ever, about the same old thing? There is no sense in that, and no reason in it. I think a conscience that will act like that is meaner than the very dirt itself."
"Well, we like it; that suffices."
"Do you do it with the honest intent to improve a man?"