The Parasite: A StoryArthur Conan Doyle / Horror
A. CONAN DOYLE
AUTHOR OF THE REFUGEES MICAH CLARKE ETC.
March 24. The spring is fairly with us now. Outside my laboratorywindow the great chestnut-tree is all covered with the big, glutinous,gummy buds, some of which have already begun to break into little greenshuttlecocks. As you walk down the lanes you are conscious of therich, silent forces of nature working all around you. The wet earthsmells fruitful and luscious. Green shoots are peeping out everywhere.The twigs are stiff with their sap; and the moist, heavy English air isladen with a faintly resinous perfume. Buds in the hedges, lambsbeneath them--everywhere the work of reproduction going forward!
I can see it without, and I can feel it within. We also have ourspring when the little arterioles dilate, the lymph flows in a briskerstream, the glands work harder, winnowing and straining. Every yearnature readjusts the whole machine. I can feel the ferment in my bloodat this very moment, and as the cool sunshine pours through my window Icould dance about in it like a gnat. So I should, only that CharlesSadler would rush upstairs to know what was the matter. Besides, Imust remember that I am Professor Gilroy. An old professor may affordto be natural, but when fortune has given one of the first chairs inthe university to a man of four-and-thirty he must try and act the partconsistently.
What a fellow Wilson is! If I could only throw the same enthusiasminto physiology that he does into psychology, I should become a ClaudeBernard at the least. His whole life and soul and energy work to oneend. He drops to sleep collating his results of the past day, and hewakes to plan his researches for the coming one. And yet, outside thenarrow circle who follow his proceedings, he gets so little credit forit. Physiology is a recognized science. If I add even a brick to theedifice, every one sees and applauds it. But Wilson is trying to digthe foundations for a science of the future. His work is undergroundand does not show. Yet he goes on uncomplainingly, corresponding witha hundred semi-maniacs in the hope of finding one reliable witness,sifting a hundred lies on the chance of gaining one little speck oftruth, collating old books, devouring new ones, experimenting,lecturing, trying to light up in others the fiery interest which isconsuming him. I am filled with wonder and admiration when I think ofhim, and yet, when he asks me to associate myself with his researches,I am compelled to tell him that, in their present state, they offerlittle attraction to a man who is devoted to exact science. If hecould show me something positive and objective, I might then be temptedto approach the question from its physiological side. So long as halfhis subjects are tainted with charlatanerie and the other half withhysteria we physiologists must content ourselves with the body andleave the mind to our descendants.
No doubt I am a materialist. Agatha says that I am a rank one. I tellher that is an excellent reason for shortening our engagement, since Iam in such urgent need of her spirituality. And yet I may claim to bea curious example of the effect of education upon temperament, for bynature I am, unless I deceive myself, a highly psychic man. I was anervous, sensitive boy, a dreamer, a somnambulist, full of impressionsand intuitions. My black hair, my dark eyes, my thin, olive face, mytapering fingers, are all characteristic of my real temperament, andcause experts like Wilson to claim me as their own. But my brain issoaked with exact knowledge. I have trained myself to deal only withfact and with proof. Surmise and fancy have no place in my scheme ofthought. Show me what I can see with my microscope, cut with myscalpel, weigh in my balance, and I will devote a lifetime to itsinvestigation. But when you ask me to study feelings, impressions,suggestions, you ask me to do what is distasteful and evendemoralizing. A departure from pure reason affects me like an evilsmell or a musical discord.
Which is a very sufficient reason why I am a little loath to go toProfessor Wilson's tonight. Still I feel that I could hardly get outof the invitation without positive rudeness; and, now that Mrs. Mardenand Agatha are going, of course I would not if I could. But I hadrather meet them anywhere else. I know that Wilson would draw me intothis nebulous semi-science of his if he could. In his enthusiasm he isperfectly impervious to hints or remonstrances. Nothing short of apositive quarrel will make him realize my aversion to the wholebusiness. I have no doubt that he has some new mesmerist orclairvoyant or medium or trickster of some sort whom he is going toexhibit to us, for even his entertainments bear upon his hobby. Well,it will be a treat for Agatha, at any rate. She is interested in it,as woman usually is in whatever is vague and mystical and indefinite.
10.50 P. M. This diary-keeping of mine is, I fancy, the outcome ofthat scientific habit of mind about which I wrote this morning. I liketo register impressions while they are fresh. Once a day at least Iendeavor to define my own mental position. It is a useful piece ofself-analysis, and has, I fancy, a steadying effect upon the character.Frankly, I must confess that my own needs what stiffening I can giveit. I fear that, after all, much of my neurotic temperament survives,and that I am far from that cool, calm precision which characterizesMurdoch or Pratt-Haldane. Otherwise, why should the tomfoolery which Ihave witnessed this evening have set my nerves thrilling so that evennow I am all unstrung? My only comfort is that neither Wilson nor MissPenclosa nor even Agatha could have possibly known my weakness.
And what in the world was there to excite me? Nothing, or so littlethat it will seem ludicrous when I set it down.
The Mardens got to Wilson's before me. In fact, I was one of the lastto arrive and found the room crowded. I had hardly time to say a wordto Mrs. Marden and to Agatha, who was looking charming in white andpink, with glittering wheat-ears in her hair, when Wilson cametwitching at my sleeve.
You want something positive, Gilroy, said he, drawing me apart into acorner. My dear fellow, I have a phenomenon--a phenomenon!
I should have been more impressed had I not heard the same before. Hissanguine spirit turns every fire-fly into a star.
No possible question about the bona fides this time, said he, inanswer, perhaps, to some little gleam of amusement in my eyes. Mywife has known her for many years. They both come from Trinidad, youknow. Miss Penclosa has only been in England a month or two, and knowsno one outside the university circle, but I assure you that the thingsshe has told us suffice in themselves to establish clairvoyance upon anabsolutely scientific basis. There is nothing like her, amateur orprofessional. Come and be introduced!
I like none of these mystery-mongers, but the amateur least of all.With the paid performer you may pounce upon him and expose him theinstant that you have seen through his trick. He is there to deceiveyou, and you are there to find him out. But what are you to do withthe friend of your host's wife? Are you to turn on a light suddenlyand expose her slapping a surreptitious banjo? Or are you to hurlcochineal over her evening frock when she steals round with herphosphorus bottle and her supernatural platitude? There would be ascene, and you would be looked upon as a brute. So you have yourchoice of being that or a dupe. I was in no very good humor as Ifollowed Wilson to the lady.
Any one less like my idea of a West Indian could not be imagined. Shewas a small, frail creature, well over forty, I should say, with apale, peaky face, and hair of a very light shade of chestnut. Herpresence was insignificant and her manner retiring. In any group often women she would have been the last whom one would have picked out.Her eyes were perhaps her most remarkable, and also, I am compelled tosay, her least pleasant, feature. They were gray in color,--gray witha shade of green,--and their expression struck me as being decidedlyfurtive. I wonder if furtive is the word, or should I have saidfierce? On second thoughts, feline would have expressed it better. Acrutch leaning against the wall told me what was painfully evident whenshe rose: that one of her legs was crippled.
So I was introduced to Miss Penclosa, and it did not escape me that asmy name was mentioned she glanced across at Agatha. Wilson hadevidently been talking. And presently, no doubt, thought I, she willinform me by occult means that I am engaged to a young lady withwheat-ears in her hair. I wondered how much more Wilson had beentelling her about me.
Professor Gilroy is a terrible sceptic, said he; I hope, MissPenclosa, that you will be able to convert him.
She looked keenly up at me.
Professor Gilroy is quite right to be sceptical if he has not seen anything convincing, said she. I should have thought, she added, thatyou would yourself have been an excellent subject.
For what, may I ask? said I.
Well, for mesmerism, for example.