The New Portfolio

XVII.

DR. BUTTS’S PATIENT.

THE physician found Maurice just regaining his heat after a chill of a somewhat severe character. He knew too well what this meant, and the probable series of symptoms of which it was the prelude. His patient was not the only one in the neighborhood who was attacked in this way. The autumnal fevers to which our country towns are subject, in the place of those “ agues,” or intermittents, so largely prevalent in the South and West, were already beginning, and Maurice, who had exposed himself in the early and late hours of the dangerous season, must be expected to go through the regular stages of this always serious and not rarely fatal disease.

Paolo, his faithful servant, would fain have taken the sole charge of his master during his illness. But the doctor insisted that he must have a nurse to help him in his task, which was likely to be long and exhausting.

At the mention of the word “ nurse ” Paolo turned white, and exclaimed in an agitated and thoroughly frightened way,

“ No ! no nuss ! no woman ! She kill him! I stay by him day and night, but don’ let no woman come near him, — if you do, he die ! ”

The doctor explained that he intended to send a man who was used to taking care of sick people, and with no little effort at last succeeded in convincing Paolo that, as he could not be awake day and night for a fortnight or three weeks, it was absolutely necessary to call in some assistance from without. And so Mr. Maurice Kirkwood was to play the leading part in that drama of nature’s composing called a typhoid fever, with its regular bedchamber scenery, its properties of phials and pillboxes, its little company of stock actors, its gradual evolution of a very simple plot, its familiar incidents, its emotional alternations, and its denouement, sometimes tragic, oftener happy.

It is needless to say that the sympathies of all the good people of the village, residents and strangers, were actively awakened for the young man about whom they knew so little and conjectured so much. Tokens of their kindness came to him daily : flowers from the woods and from the gardens ; choice fruit grown in the open air or under glass, for there were some fine houses surrounded by well-kept grounds, and greenhouses and graperies were not unknown in the small but favored settlement.

On all these luxuries Maurice looked with dull and languid eyes. A faint smile of gratitude sometimes struggled through the stillness of his features, or a murmured word of thanks found its way through his parched lips, and he would relapse into the partial stupor or the fitful sleep in which, with intervals of slight wandering, the slow hours dragged along the sluggish days one after another. With no violent symptoms, but with steady persistency, the disease moved on in its accustomed course. It was at no time immediately threatening, but the experienced physician knew its uncertain lies only too well. He had known fever patients suddenly seized with violent internal inflammation, and carried off with frightful rapidity. He remembered the case of a convalescent, a young woman who had been attacked while in apparently vigorous general health, who, on being lifted too suddenly to a sitting position, while still confined to her bed, fainted, and in a few moments ceased to breathe. It may well be supposed that he took every possible precaution to avert the accidents which tend to throw from its track a disease the regular course of which is arranged by nature as carefully as the route of a railroad from one city to another. The most natural interpretation which the common observer would put upon the manifestations of one of these autumnal maladies would be that some noxious combustible element had found its way into the system which must be burned to ashes before the heat which pervades the whole body can subside. Sometimes the fire may smoulder and seem as if it were going out, or were quite extinguished, and again it will find some new material to seize upon and flame up as fiercely as ever. Its coming on most frequently at the season when the brush fires which are consuming the dead branches, and withered leaves, and all the refuse of vegetation are sending up their smoke is suggestive. Sometimes it seems as if the body, relieved of its effete materials, renewed its youth after one of these quiet, expurgating, internal fractional cremations. Lean, pallid students have found themselves plump and blooming, and it has happened that one whose hair was straight as that of an Indian has been startled to behold himself in his mirror with a fringe of hyacinthine curls about his rejuvenated countenance.

There was nothing of what medical men call malignity in the case of Maurice Kirkwood. The most alarming symptom was a profound prostration, which at last reached such a point that he lay utterly helpless, as unable to move without aid as the feeblest of paralytics. In this state he lay for many days, not suffering pain, hut with the sense of great weariness, and the feeling that he should never rise from his bed again. For the most part his intellect was unclouded when his attention was aroused. He spoke only in whispers, a few words at a time. The doctor felt sure, by the expression which passed over his features from time to time, that something was worrying and oppressing him, something which he wished to communicate, and had not the force, or the tenacity of purpose, to make perfectly clear. His eyes often wandered to a certain desk, and once he had found strength to lift his emaciated arm and point to it. The doctor went towards it as if to fetch it to him, but he slowly shook his head. He had not the power to say at that time what he wished. The next day he felt a little less prostrated and succeeded in explaining to the doctor what he wanted. His words, so far as the physician could make them out, were these which follow. Dr. Butts looked upon them as possibly expressing wishes which would be his last, and noted them down carefully immediately after leaving his chamber.

“ I commit the secret of my life to your charge. My whole story is told in a paper locked in that desk. The key is — put your hand under my pillow. If I die, let the story be known. It will show that I was —human — and save my memory from reproach.”

He was silent for a little time. A single tear stole down his hollow cheek. The doctor turned his head away, for his own eyes were full. Hut he said to himself, “It is a good sigh; I begin to feel strong hopes that he will recover.”

Maurice spoke once more. “ Doctor, I put full trust in you. You are wise and kind. Do what you will with this paper, but open it at once and read. I want you to know the story of my life before it is finished — if the end is at hand. Take it with you and read it before you sleep.” He was exhausted and presently his eyes closed, but the doctor saw a tranquil look on his features which added encouragement to his hopes.

XVIII.

MAURICE KIRKWOOD’S STORY OF HIS LIFE.

I am an American by birth, but a large part of my life has been passed in foreign lands. My father was a man of education, possessed of an ample fortune ; my mother was considered a very accomplished and amiable woman. I was their first and only child. She died while I was yet an infant. If I remember her at all it is as a vision, more like a glimpse of a pre-natal existence than as a part of my earthly life. At the death of my mother I was left in the charge of the old nurse who had enjoyed her perfect confidence. She was devoted to me, and I became absolutely dependent on her, who had for me all the love and and all the care of a mother. I was naturally the object of the attentions and caresses of the family relatives. I have been told that I was a pleasant, smiling infant, with nothing to indicate any peculiar nervous susceptibility; not afraid of strangers, but on the contrary ready to make their acquaintance. My father was devoted to me and did all in his power to promote my health and comfort.

I was still a babe, often carried in arms, when the event happened which changed my whole future and destined me to a strange and lonely existence. I eannot relate it even now without a sense of terror. I must force myself to recall the circumstances as told me and vaguely remembered, for I am not willing that my doomed and wholly exceptional life should pass away unrecorded, unexplained, unvindicated. My nature is, I feel sure, a kind and social one, but I have lived apart, as if my heart were filled with hatred of my fellowcreatures. If there are any readers who look without pity, without sympathy, upon those who shun the fellowship of their fellow men and women, who show by their downcast or averted eyes that they dread companionship and long for solitude, I pray them, if this paper ever reaches them, to stop at this point. Follow me no further, for you will not believe my story, nor enter into the feelings which I am about to reveal. But if there are any to whom all that is human is of interest, who have felt in their own consciousness some stirrings of invincible attraction to one individual and equally invincible repugnance to another, who know by their own experience that elective affinities have as their necessary counterpart, and, as it were, their polar opposites, currents not less strong of elective repulsions, let them read with unquestioning faith the story of a blighted life I am about to relate, much of it, of course, received from the lips of others.

My cousin Laura, a girl of seventeen, lately returned from Europe, was considered eminently beautiful. It was in my second summer that she visited my father’s house, where he was living with his servants and my old nurse, my mother having but recently left him a widower. Laura was full of vivacity, impulsive, quick in her movements, thoughtless occasionally, as it is not strange that a young girl of her age should be.

It was a beautiful summer day when she saw me for the first time. My nurse was carrying me in her arms, walking back and forward on a balcony with a low railing, upon which opened the windows of the second story of my father’s house. While the nurse was thus carrying me, Laura came suddenly upon the balcony. She no sooner saw me than with all the delighted eagerness of her youthful nature she rushed toward me, and, taking me suddenly from the nurse’s arms, began tossing me after the fashion of young girls who have been so lately playing with dolls that they feel as if babies were very much of the same nature. The sudden seizure frightened me, I sprang from her arms in my terror, and fell over the railing of the balcony. I should probably enough have been killed on the spot but for the fact that a low thorn-bush grew just beneath the balcony, into which I fell and thus had the violence of theshock broken. But the thorns tore my tender flesh, and I carry to this day marks of the deep wounds they inflicted.

That dreadful experience is burned deep into my memory. The sudden apparition of the girl ; the sense of being torn away from the protecting arms around me; the frantic effort to escape ; the shriek that followed me as I fell through what must have seemed unmeasurable space ; the cruel lacerations of the piercing and rending thorns; all these fearful impressions blended in one paralyzing terror.

When I was taken up I was thought to be dead. I was perfectly white, and the physician who saw me almost immediately after my fall said that no pulse was perceptible. But after a time consciousness returned; the wounds, though painful, were none of them dangerous, and the most alarming effects of the accident passed away. My old nurse cared for me tenderly day and night, and my father, who had been almost distracted in the first hours which followed the injury, hoped and believed that no permanent evil results would be found to follow it. My cousin Laura was naturally deeply distressed to feel that her thoughtlessness had been the cause of so grave an accident. As soon as I had somewhat recovered she came to see me, very penitent, very anxious to make me forget the alarm she had caused me, with all its consequences. I was in the nursery sitting up in my bed, bandaged, but not in any pain, as it seemed, for I was quiet and to all appearance in a perfectly natural state of feeling. As Laura came near me I shrieked and suddenly changed color. I put my hand upon my heart as if I had been stabbed, and fell over, unconscious. It was very much the same state as that in which I was found immediately after my fall.

The cause of this violent and sudden seizure was but too obvious. The approach of the young girl and the dread that she was about to lay her hand upon me had called up the same train of effects which the moment of terror and pain had already occasioned. The old nurse saw this in a moment. “ Go! go ! ” she cried to Laura, — “ go, or the child will die! ” Her command did not have to be repeated. After Laura had gone I lay senseless, white and cold as marble, for some time. The doctor soon came, and by the use of smart rubbing and stimulants the color came back slowly to my cheeks and the arrested circulation was again set in motion.

It was hard to believe that this was anything more than a temporary effect of the accident. There could be little doubt, it was thought by the doctor and by my father, that after a few days I should recover from this morbid sensibility and receive my cousin as other infants receive pleasant-looking young persons. The old nurse shook her head. “ The girl will be the death of the child,” she said, " if she touches him or comes near him. His heart stopped beating just as when the girl snatched him out of my arms, and he fell over the balcony railing,” Once more the experiment was tried, cautiously, almost insidiously. The same alarming consequences followed. It was too evident that a chain of nervous disturbances had been set up in my system which repeated itself whenever the original impression gave the first impulse. I never saw my cousin Laura after this last trial. Its result had so distressed her that she never ventured again to show herself to me.

If the effect of the nervous shock had stopped there, it would have been a misfortune for my cousin and myself, but hardly a calamity. The world is wide, and a cousin or two more or less can hardly be considered an essential of existence. I often heard Laura’s name mentioned, but never by any one who was acquainted with all the circumstances, for it was noticed that I changed color and caught at my breast as if I wanted to grasp my heart in my hand whenever that fatal name was mentioned.

Alas ! this was not all. While I was suffering from the effects of my fall among the thorns I was attended by my old nurse, assisted by another old woman, by a physician, and my father, who would take his share in caring for me. It was thought best to keep me perfectly quiet, and strangers and friends were alike excluded from my nursery, with one exception, that my old grandmother came in now and then. With her it seems that I was somewhat timid and shy, following her with rather anxious eyes, as if not quite certain whether or not she was dangerous. But one day, when I was far advanced towards recovery, my father brought in a young lady, a relative of his, who had expressed a great desire to see me. She was, as I have been told, a very handsome young person, of about the same age as my cousin Laura, but bearing no personal resemblance to her in form, features, or complexion. She had no sooner entered the room than the same sudden changes which had followed my cousin’s visit began to show themselves, and before she had reached my bedside I was in a state of deadly collapse, as on the occasions already mentioned.

Some time passed before any recurrence of these terrifying seizures. A little girl of five or six years old was allowed to come into the nursery one day and bring me some flowers. I took them from her hand, but turned away and shut my eyes. There was no seizure, but there was a certain dread and aversion, nothing more than a feeling which it might be hoped that time would overcome. Those around me were gradually finding out the circumstances which brought on the deadly attack to which I was subject.

The daughter of one of our near neighbors was considered the prettiest girl of the village where we were passing the summer. She was very anxious to see me, and as I was now nearly well it was determined that she should be permitted to pay me a short visit. I had always delighted in seeing her and being caressed by her. I was sleeping when she entered the nursery and came and took a seat at my side in perfect silence. Presently I became restless, and a moment later I opened my eyes and saw her stooping over me. My hand went to my left breast, — the color faded from my cheeks, — I was again the cold marble image so like death that it had well-nigh been mistaken for it.

Could it be possible that the fright which had chilled my blood had left me with an unconquerable fear of woman at the period when she is most attractive not only to adolescents, but to children of tender age, who feel the fascination of her flowing locks, her bright eyes, her blooming cheeks, and that mysterious magnetism of sex which draws all life into its warm and potently vitalized atmosphere ? So it did indeed seem. The dangerous experiment could not be repeated indefinitely. It was not intentionally tried again, but accident brought about more than one renewal of it during the following years, until it became fully recognized that I was the unhappy subject of a mortal dread of woman, — not absolutely of the human female, for I had no fear of my old nurse or of my grandmother, or of any old wrinkled face, and I had become accustomed to the occasional meeting of a little girl or two, whom I nevertheless regarded with a certain ill-defined feeling that there was danger in their presence. I was sent to a boys’ school very early, and during the first ten or twelve years of my life I had rarely any occasion to be reminded of my strange idiosyncrasy.

As I grew out of boyhood into youth, a change came over the feelings which had so long held complete possession of me. This was what my father and his advisers had always anticipated, and was the ground of their confident hope in my return to natural conditions before I should have grown to mature manhood.

How shall I describe the conflicts of those dreamy, bewildering, dreadful years? Visions of loveliness haunted me sleeping and waking. Sometimes a graceful girlish figure would so draw my eyes towards it that I lost sight of all else, and was ready to forget all my fears and find myself at her side, like other youths by the side of young maidens, — happy in their cheerful companionship, while I, — I, under the curse of one blighting moment, looked on, hopeless. Sometimes the glimpse of a fair face or the tone of a sweet voice stirred within me all the instincts that make the morning of life beautiful to adolescence. I reasoned with myself : —

Why should I not have outgrown that idle apprehension which had been the nightmare of my earlier years ? Why should not the rising tide of life have drowned out the feeble growths that infested the shallows of childhood ? How many children there are who tremble at being left alone in the dark, but who, a few years later, will smile at their foolish terrors and brave all the ghosts of a haunted chamber ! Why should I any longer be the slave of a foolish fancy that has grown into a half insane habit of mind ? I was familiarly acquainted with all the stories of the strange antipathies and invincible repugnances to which others, some of them famous men, had been subject. I said to myself, Why should not I overcome this dread of woman as Peter the Great fought down his dread of wheels rolling over a bridge? Was I, alone of all mankind, to be doomed to perpetual exclusion from the society which, as it seemed to me, was all that rendered existence worth the trouble and fatigue of slavery to the vulgar need of supplying the waste of the system and working at the task of respiration like the daughters of Danaus, — toiling day and night as the worn-out sailor labors at the pump of his sinking vessel?

Why did I not brave the risk of meeting squarely, and without regard to any possible danger, some one of those fair maidens whose far-off smile, whose graceful movements, at once attracted and agitated me ? I can only answer this question to the satisfaction of any really inquiring reader by giving him the true interpretation of the singular phenomenon of which I was the subject. For this I shall have to refer to a paper of which I have made a copy, and which will be found included with this manuscript. It is enough to say here, without entering into the explanation of the fact, which will be found simple enough as seen by the light of modern physiological science, that the “nervous disturbance ” which the presence of a woman in the flower of her age produced in my system was a sense of impending death, sudden, overwhelming, unconquerable, appalling. It was a reversed action of the nervous centres, — the opposite of that which flushes the young lover’s cheek and hurries his bounding pulses as he comes iuto the presence of the object of his passion. No one who has ever felt the sensation can have failed to recognize it as an imperative summons, which commands instant and terrified submission.

It was at this period of my life that my father determined to try the effect of travel and residence in different localities upon my bodily and mental condition. I say bodily as well as mental, for I was too slender for my height and subject to some nervous symptoms which were a cause of anxiety. That the mind was largely concerned in these there was no doubt, but the mutual interactions of mind and body are often too complex to admit of satisfactory analysis. Each is in part cause and each also in part effect.

We passed some years in Italy, chiefly in Rome, where I was placed in a school conducted by priests, and where of course I met only those of my own sex. There I had the opportunity of seeing the influences under which certain young Catholics, destined for the priesthood, are led to separate themselves from all communion with the sex associated in their minds with the most subtle dangers to which the human soul can be exposed. I became in some degree reconciled to the thought of exclusion from the society of women by seeing arouud me so many who were self-devoted to celibacy. The thought sometimes occurred to me whether I should not find the best and the only natural solution of the problem of existence, as submitted to myself, in taking upon me the vows which settle the whole question and raise an impassable barrier between the devotee and the object of his dangerous attraction.

How often I talked this whole matter over with the young priest who was at once my special instructor and my favorite companion! But accustomed as I had become to the forms of the Roman Church, and impressed as I was with the purity and excellence of many of its young members with whom I was acquainted, my early training rendered it impossible for me to accept the credentials which it offered me as authoritative. My friend and instructor had to set me down as a case of “ invincible ignorance.” This was the loop-hole through which he crept out of the prison-house of his creed, and was enabled to look upon me without the feeling of absolute despair with which his sterner brethren would, I fear, have regarded me.

I have said that accident exposed me at times to the influence which I had such reasons for dreading. Here is one example of such an occurrence, which I relate as simply as possible, vividly as it is impressed upon my memory. A young friend whose acquaintance I had made in Rome asked me one day to come to his rooms and look at a cabinet of gems and medals which he had collected. I had been but a short time in his library when a vague sense of uneasiness came over me. My heart became restless,— I could feel it stirring irregularly, as if it were some frightened creature caged in my breast. There was nothing that I could see to account for it. A door was partly open, but not so that I could see into the next room. The feeling grew upon me of some influence which was paralyzing my circulation. I begged my friend to open a window. As he did so, the door swung in the draught and I saw a blooming young woman, — it was my friend’s sister, who had been sitting with a book in her band, and who rose at the opening of the door. Something had warned me of the presence of a woman, — that occult and potent aura of individuality, call it personal magnetism, spiritual effluence, or reduce it to a simpler expression if you will; whatever it was, it had warned me of the nearness of the dread attraction which allured at a distance and revealed itself with all the terrors of the lorelei if approached too recklessly. A sign from her brother caused her to withdraw at once, but not before I had felt the impression which betrayed itself in my change of color, anxiety about the region of the heart, and sudden failure as if about to fall in a deadly fainting-fit.

Does till this seem strange and incredible to the reader of my manuscript ? Nothing in the history of life is so strange or exceptional as it seems to those who have not made a long study of its mysteries. I have never known just such a case as my own, and yet there must have been such, and if the whole history of mankind were unfolded I cannot doubt that there have been many like it. Let my reader suspend his judgment until he has read the paper I have referred to, which was drawn up by a Committee of the Royal Academy of the Biological Sciences. In this paper the mechanism of the series of nervous derangements to which I have been subject since the fatal shock experienced in my infancy is explained in language not hard to understand. It will be seen that such a change of polarity in the nervous centres is only a permanent form and an extreme degree of an emotional disturbance, which as a temporary and comparatively unimportant personal accident is far from being uncommon, — is so frequent in fact that every one must have known instances of it, and not a few must have had more or less serious experiences of it in their own private history.

It must not be supposed that my imagination dealt with me as I am now dealing with the reader. I was full of strange fancies and wild superstitions. One of my Catholic friends gave me a silver medal which had been blessed by the Pope, and which I was to wear next my body. I was told that this would turn black after a time, in virtue of a power which it possessed of drawing out original sin, or certain portions of it, together with the evil and morbid tendencies which had been engrafted on the corrupt nature. I wore the medal faithfully, as directed, and watched it carefully. It became tarnished and after a time darkened, but it wrought no change in my unnatural condition.

There was an old gypsy who had the reputation of knowing more of futurity than she had any right to know. The story was that she had foretold the assassination of Count Rossi and the death of Cavour. However that may have been, I was persuaded to let her try her black art upon my future. I shall never forget the strange, wild look of the wrinkled hag as she took my hand and studied its lines and fixed her wicked old eyes on my young countenance. After this examination she shook her head and muttered some words, which as nearly as I could get them would be in English like these: —

Fair lady cast a spell on thee,
Fair lady’s hand shall set thee free.

Strange as it may seem, these words of a withered old creature, whose palm had to be crossed with silver to bring forth her oracular response, have always clung to my memory as if they were destined to fulfilment. The extraordinary nature of the affliction to which I was subject disposed me to believe the incredible with reference to all that relates to it. I have never ceased to have the feeling that, sooner or later, I should find myself freed from the blight laid upon me in my infancy. It seems as if it would naturally come through the influence of some young and fair woman, to whom that merciful errand should be assigned by the Providence that governs our destiny. With strange hopes, with trembling fears, with mingled belief and doubt, wherever I have found myself I have sought with longing yet half averted eyes for the " elect lady,” as I have learned to call her, who was to lift the curse from my ruined life.

Three times I have been led to the hope, if not the belief, that I had found the object of my superstitious belief. Singularly enough it was always on the water that the phantom of my hope appeared before my bewildered vision. Once it was an English girl who was a fellow passenger with me in one of my ocean voyages. I need not say that she was beautiful, for she was my dream realized. I heard her singing, I saw her walking the deck on some of the fair days when sea-sickness was forgotten. The passengers were a social company enough, but I had kept myself apart, as was my wont. At last the attraction became too strong to resist any longer. “ I will venture into the charmed circle if it kills me,” I said to my father. I did venture, and it did not kill me, or I should not be telling this story. But there was a repetition of the old experiences. I need not relate the series of alarming consequences of my venture. The English girl was very lovely, and I have no doubt has made some one supremely happy before this, but she was not the “elect lady” of the prophecy and of my dreams.

A second time I thought myself for a moment in the presence of the destined deliverer who was to restore me to my natural place among my fellow men and women. It was on the Tiber that I met the young maiden who drew me once more into that inner circle which surrounded young womanhood with deadly peril for me, if I dared to pass its limits. I was floating with the stream in the little boat in which I passed many long hours of reverie when I saw another small boat with a boy and a young girl in it. The boy had been rowing, and one of his oars had slipped from his grasp, He did not know how to paddle with a single oar and was hopelessly rowing round and round, his oar all the time floating farther away from him. I could not refuse my assistance. I picked up the oar and brought my skiff alongside of the boat. When I handed the oar to the boy the young girl lifted her veil and thanked me in the exquisite music of the language which

“ Sounds as if it should be writ on satin.”

She was a type of Italian beauty — a nocturne in flesh and blood, if I may borrow a term certain artists are fond of, but it was her voice which captivated me and for a moment made me believe that I was no longer shut off from all relations with the social life of my race. An hour later I was found lying insensible on the floor of my boat, white, cold, almost pulseless. It cost much patient labor to bring me back to consciousness. Had not such extreme efforts been made, it seems probable that I should never have waked from a slumber which was hardly distinguishable from that of death.

Why should I provoke a catastrophe which appears inevitable if I invite it by exposing myself to its too well ascertained cause ? The habit of these deadly seizures has become a second nature. The strongest and the ablest men have found it impossible to resist the impression produced by the most insignificant object, by the most harmless sight or sound to which they had a congenital or acquired antipathy. What prospect have I of ever being rid of this long and deep seated infirmity ? I may

well ask myself these questions, but my answer is that I will never give up the hope that time will yet bring its remedy. It may be that the wild prediction which so haunts me shall find itself fulfilled. I have had of late strange premonitions, to which if I were superstitious I could not help giving heed. But I have seen too much of the faith that deals in miracles to accept the supernatural in any shape — assuredly when it comes from an old witch-like creature who takes pay for her revelations of the future. Be it so : though I am not superstitious, I have a right to be imaginative, and my imagination will hold to those words of the old zingara with an irresistible feeling that, sooner or later, they will prove true.

Can it be possible that her prediction is not far from its realization ? I have had both waking and sleeping visions within these last months and weeks which have taken possession of me and filled my life with new thoughts, new hopes, new resolves.

Sometimes on the bosom of the lake by which I am dreaming away this, season of bloom and fragrance, sometimes in the fields or woods at a distant glimpse, once in a nearer glance, which left me pale and tremulous, yet was followed by a swift reaction, so that my cheeks flushed and my pulse bounded, I have seen her who — how do I dare to tell it so that my own eyes can read it ? — I cannot help believing is to be my deliverer, my saviour.

I have been warned in the most solemn and impressive language by the experts most deeply read in the laws of life and the history of its disturbing and destroying influences, that it would be at the imminent risk of my existence if I should expose myself to the repetition of my former experiences. I was reminded that unexplained sudden deaths were of constant, of daily occurrence ; that any emotion is liable to arrest the movements of life: terror, joy, good news or bad news, — anything that reaches the deeper nervous centres. I had already died once, as Sir Charles Napier said of himself; yes, more than once, died and been resuscitated. The next time, I might very probably fail to get my return ticket after my visit to Hades. It was a rather grim stroke of humor, but I understood its meaning full well, and felt the force of its menace.

After all, what had I to live for if the great primal instinct which strives to make whole the half life of lonely manhood is defeated, suppressed, crushed out of existence? Why not as well die in the attempt to break up a wretched servitude to a perverted nervous movement as in any other way ? I am alone in the world, —alone save for my faithful servant, through whom I seem to hold to the human race as it were by a single filament. My father, who was my instructor, my companion, my dearest and best friend through all my later youth and my earlier manhood, died three years ago and left me my own master, with the means of living as might best please my fancy. This season shall decide my fate. One more experiment, and I shall find myself restored to my place among my fellow-beings, or, as I devoutly hope, in a sphere where, consciously or unconsciously, all our mortal infirmities are past and forgotten.

I have told the story of a blighted life without reserve, so that there shall not remain any mystery or any dark suspicion connected with my memory if I should be taken away unexpectedly. It has cost me an effort to do it, but now that my life is on record I feel more reconciled to my lot, with all its possibilities, — and among these possibilities is a gleam of a better future. I have been told by my advisers, some of them wise, deeply instructed, and kind-hearted men that such a life-destiny should be related by the subject of it for the instruction of others, and especially for the light it throws on certain peculiarities of human character often wrongly interpreted as due to moral perversion, when they are in reality the results of misdirected or reversed actions in some of the closely connected nervous centres.

For myself I can truly say that I have very little morbid sensibility left with reference to the destiny which has been allotted to me. I have passed through different stages of feeling with reference to it, as I have developed from infancy to manhood. At first it was mere blind instinct about which I had no thought, living like other infants the life of impressions without language to connect them in series. In my boyhood I began to be deeply conscious of the infirmity which separated me from those around me. In youth began that conflict of emotions and impulses with the antagonistic influence of which I have already spoken, a conflict which has never ceased, but to which I have necessarily become to a certain degree accustomed, and against the dangers of which I have learned to guard myself habitually. That is the meaning of my isolation. You, young man, — if at any time your eyes shall look upon my melancholy record,—you at least will understand me. Does not your heart throb, in the presence of budding or blooming womanhood, sometimes as if it “ were ready to crack” with its own excess of strain ? What if instead of throbbing it should falter, flutter, and stop as if never to beat again ? You, young woman, who with ready belief and tender sympathy will look upon these pages, if they are ever spread before you, know what it is when your breast heaves with uncontrollable emotion and the grip of the bodice seems unendurable as the embrace of the iron virgin of the Inquisition. Think what it would be if the grasp were tightened so that no breath of air could enter your panting chest!

Does your heart beat in the same way, young man, when your honored friend, a venerable matron of seventy years, greets you with her kindly smile, as it does in the presence of youthful loveliness ? When a pretty child brings you her doll and looks into your eyes with artless grace and trustful simplicity, does your pulse quicken, do you tremble, does life palpitate through your whole being as when the maiden of seventeen meets your enamored sight in the glow of her rosebud beauty? Wonder not, then, if the period of mystic attraction for you should be that of agitation, terror, danger to one in whom the natural current of the instincts has had its course changed as that of a stream is changed by a convulsion of nature, so that the impression which is new life to you is death to him.

I am now twenty-five years old. I have reached the time of life which I have dreamed, nay even ventured to hope, might be the limit of the sentence which was pronounced upon me in my infancy. I can assign no good reason for this anticipation. But in writing this paper I feel as if I were preparing to begin a renewed existence. There is nothing for me to be ashamed of in the story I have told. There is no man living who would not have yielded to the sense of instantly impending death which seized upon me under the conditions I have mentioned. Martyrs have gone singing to their flaming shrouds, but never a man could bold his breath long enough to kill himself; he must have rope or water, or some mechanical help, or nature will make him draw iu a breath of air, and would make him do so though he knew the salvation of the human race would be forfeited by that one gasp.

This paper may never reach the eye of any one afflicted in the same way that I have been. It probably never will, but for all that, there are many shy natures which will recognize tendencies in themselves in the direction of my unhappy susceptibility. Others, to whom such weakness seems inconceivable, will find their skepticism shaken, if not removed, by the calm, judicial statement of the Report drawn up for the Royal Academy. It will make little difference to me whether my story is accepted unhesitatingly or looked upon as largely a product of the imagination. I am but a bird of passage that lights on the boughs of different nationalities. I belong to no flock ; my home may be among the palms of Syria, the olives of Italy, the oaks of England, the elms that shadow the Hudson or the Connecticut ; I build no nest; to-day I am here, to-morrow on the wing.

If I quit my native land before the trees have dropped their leaves I shall place this manuscript in the safe hands of one whom I feel sure that I can trust, to do with it as he shall see fit. If it is only curious and has no bearing on human welfare, he may think it well to let it remain unread until I shall have passed away. If in his judgment it throws any light on one of the deeper mysteries of our nature — the repulsions which play such a formidable part in social life, and which must be recognized as the correlatives of the affinities that distribute the individuals governed by them in the face of impediments which seem to be impossibilities— then it may be freely given to the world.

But if I am here when the leaves are all fallen, the programme of my life will have changed, and this story of the dead past will be illuminated by the light of a living present which will irradiate all its saddening features. Who would not pray that my last gleam of light and hope may be that of dawn and not of departing day ?

The reader who finds it hard to accept the reality of a story so far from the common range of experience is once more requested to suspend his judgment until he has read the paper which will next be offered for his consideration.

Oliver Wendell Holmes.