It is now ten years ago since I received my death warrant. All these ten
years I have been, and I am, and shall be, I hope, for years yet, a
Doomed Man. It only occurred to me yesterday that I had been
dodging--missing rather than dodging--the common enemy for such a space
of time. _Then_, I know, I respected him. It seemed he marched upon me,
inexorable, irresistible; even at last I felt his grip upon me. I bowed
in the shadow. And he passed. Ten years ago, and once since, he and I
have been very near. But now he seems to me but a blind man, and we,
with all our solemn folly of medicine and hygiene, but players in a game
of Blind Man's Buff. The gaunt, familiar hand comes out suddenly,
swiftly, this time surely? And it passes close to my shoulder; I hear
someone near me cry, and it is over.... Another ream of paper; there is
time at least for the Great Book still.
Very close to the tragedy of life is the comedy, brightest upon the very
edge of the dark, and I remember now with a queer touch of sympathetic
amusement my dear departed self of the middle eighties. How the thing
staggered me! I was full of the vast ambition of youth; I was still at
the age when death is quite out of sight, when life is still an
interminable vista of years; and then suddenly, with a gout of blood
upon my knuckle, with a queer familiar taste in my mouth, that cough
which had been a bother became a tragedy, and this world that had been
so solid grew faint and thin. I saw through it; saw his face near to my
own; suddenly found him beside me, when I had been dreaming he was far
beyond there, far away over the hills.
My first phase was an immense sorrow for myself. It was a purely selfish
emotion. You see I had been saving myself up, denying myself half the
pride of life and most of its indulgence, drilling myself like a
drill-sergeant, with my eyes on those now unattainable hills. Had I
known it was to end so soon, I should have planned everything so
differently. I lay in bed mourning my truncated existence. Then
presently the sorrow broadened. They were so sorry, so genuinely sorry
for me. And they considered me so much now. I had this and that they
would never have given me before--the stateliest bedding, the costliest
food. I could feel from my bed the suddenly disorganised house, the
distressed friends, the new-born solicitude. Insensibly a realisation of
enhanced importance came to temper my regrets for my neglected sins. The
lost world, that had seemed so brilliant and attractive, dwindled
steadily as the days of my illness wore on. I thought more of the
world's loss, and less of my own.
Then came the long journey; the princely style of it! the sudden
awakening on the part of external humanity, which had hitherto been wont
to jostle me, to help itself before me, to turn its back upon me, to my
importance. "He has a diseased lung--cannot live long"....
I was going into the dark and I was not afraid--with ostentation. I
still regard that, though now with scarcely so much gravity as
heretofore, as a very magnificent period in my life. For nearly four
months I was dying with immense dignity. Plutarch might have recorded
it. I wrote--in touchingly unsteady pencil--to all my intimate friends,
and indeed to many other people. I saw the littleness of hate and
ambition. I forgave my enemies, and they were subdued and owned to it.
How they must regret these admissions! I made many memorable remarks.
This lasted, I say, nearly four months.
The medical profession, which had pronounced my death sentence,
reiterated it steadily--has, indeed, done so now this ten years. Towards
the end of those four months, however, dying lost its freshness for me.
I began to detect a certain habitual quality in my service. I had
exhausted all my memorable remarks upon the subject, and the strain
began to tell upon all of us.
One day in the spring-time I crawled out alone, carefully wrapped, and
with a stick, to look once more--perhaps for the last time--on sky and
earth, and the first scattered skirmishers of the coming army of
flowers. It was a day of soft wind, when the shadows of the clouds go
sweeping over the hills. Quite casually I happened upon a girl
clambering over a hedge, and her dress had caught in a bramble, and the
chat was quite impromptu and most idyllic. I remember she had three or
four wood anemones in her hand--"wind stars" she called them, and I
thought it a pretty name. And we talked of this and that, with a light
in our eyes, as young folks will.
I quite forgot I was a Doomed Man. I surprised myself walking home with
a confident stride that jarred with the sudden recollection of my
funereal circumstances. For a moment I tried in vain to think what it
was had slipped my memory. Then it came, colourless and remote. "Oh!
Death.... He's a Bore," I said; "I've done with him," and laughed to
think of having done with him.
"And why not so?" said I.
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