It was a dark fall dark. The old banker was walking up and down his survey and retrieving how, 15 old ages earlier, he had given a party one fall eventide. There had been many cagey work forces at that place, and at that place had been interesting conversations. Among other things, they had talked of capital penalty. The bulk of the invitees, among whom were many journalists and rational work forces, disapproved of the decease punishment. They considered that signifier of penalty out of day of the month, immoral, and unsuitable for Christian provinces. In the sentiment of some of them, the decease punishment ought to be replaced everyplace by imprisonment for life.
“ I do n’t hold with you, ” said their host, the banker, “ I have non tried either the decease punishment or imprisonment for life, but if one may judge a priori the decease punishment is more moral and more humane than imprisonment for life. Capital penalty lulls a adult male at one time, but womb-to-tomb imprisonment kills him easy. Which executioner is the more humane, he who kills you in a few proceedingss or he who drags the life out of you in the class of many old ages? ”
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“ Both are every bit immoral, ” observed one of the invitees, “ for they both have the same object – to take away life. The province is non God. It has non the right to take away what it can non reconstruct when it wants to. ”
Among the invitees was a immature attorney, a immature adult male of five-and-twenty. When he was asked his sentiment, he said, “ The decease sentence and the life sentence are every bit immoral, but if I had to take between the decease punishment and imprisonment for life, I would surely take the 2nd. To populate anyhow is better than non at all. ”
A lively treatment arose. The banker, who was younger and more nervous in those yearss, was all of a sudden carried away by exhilaration, he struck the tabular array with his fist and shouted at the immature adult male, “ It ‘s non! I ‘ll wager you two million you would n’t remain in lone parturiency for five old ages. ”
“ If you mean that in earnest, ” said the immature adult male, “ I ‘ll take the stake, but I would remain non five, but 15 old ages. ”
“ Fifteen? Done! ” cried the banker. “ Gentlemen, I interest two million! ”
“ Agreed! You interest your 1000000s and I interest my freedom! ” said the immature adult male
And this wild, mindless stake was carried out! The banker, spoiled and frivolous, with 1000000s beyond his calculation, was delighted at the stake. At supper he made merriment of the immature adult male and said: “ Think better of it, immature adult male, while there is still clip. To me two million is a trifle, but you are losing three or four of the best old ages of your life. I say three or four, because you wo n’t remain longer. Do n’t bury either, you unhappy adult male, that voluntary parturiency is a great trade harder to bear than compulsory. The idea that you have the right to step out in autonomy at any minute will poison your whole being in prison. I am sorry for you. ”
And now the banker, walking to and fro, retrieve all this and asked himself: “ What was the object of that stake? What is the good that adult male ‘s losing 15 old ages of his life and throwing off two million? Can it turn out the decease punishment is better or worse than imprisonment for life? No, no. It was all absurd and meaningless. On my portion it was the impulse of a pampered adult male, and on his portion greed for money. . . . ”
Then he remembered what followed that flushing. It was decided that the immature adult male should pass the old ages of his imprisonment under the strictest supervising in one of the Lodges in the banker ‘s garden. It was agreed that for 15 old ages he should non be free to traverse the threshold of the Lodge, to see human existences, to hear the human voice, or to have letters and newspapers. He was allowed to hold a musical instrument and books and was allowed to compose letters, to imbibe vino, and to smoke. By the footings of the understanding the lone dealingss he could hold with the outer universe were by a small window made intentionally for that object. He might hold anything he wanted music, vino, and so on – in any measure desired, by composing an order, but could have them merely through the window. The understanding provided for every item and every trifle that would do his imprisonment purely lone and bound the immature adult male to remain at that place precisely 15 old ages, get downing from 12 o’clock of November 14, 1870, and stoping at 12 o’clock of November 14, 1885. The slightest effort on his portion to interrupt the conditions, if merely two proceedingss before the terminal, released the banker from the duty to pay him two million.
For the first twelvemonth of his parturiency, every bit far as one could judge from his brief notes, the captive suffered badly from solitariness and depression. The sounds of the piano could heard continually twenty-four hours and dark from his Lodge. He refused vino and baccy. Wine, he wrote excites the desires, and desires are the worst enemies of the captive ; and besides, nil could be more drab than imbibing good vino and seeing no 1. And baccy spoiled the air of his room. In the first twelvemonth the books he sent for were chiefly of a light character – novels with a complicated love secret plan, sensational and antic narratives, and so on.
In the 2nd twelvemonth the piano was soundless in the Lodge, and the captive asked merely for the classics. In the 5th twelvemonth music was hearable once more, and the captive asked for vino. Those who watched him through the window said that all that twelvemonth he spent making nil but feeding and imbibing and lying on his bed, often yawning and speaking angrily to himself. He did non read books. Sometimes at dark he would sit down to compose, he would pass hours composing and in the forenoon rupture up all that he had written. More than one time he could be heard shouting.
n the 2nd half of the 6th twelvemonth the captive began zealously analyzing linguistic communications, doctrine and history. He threw himself thirstily into these surveies – so much so that the banker had plenty to make to acquire him the books he ordered. In the class of four old ages, some six hundred volumes were procured at his petition. It was during this period that the banker received the undermentioned missive from his captive:
“ My beloved Jailer, I write you these lines in six linguistic communications. Show them to people who know the linguistic communications. Let them read them. If they find non one error, I implore you to fire a shooting in the garden. That shooting will demo me that my attempts have non been thrown off. The masterminds of all ages and of all lands speak different linguistic communications, but the same fire Burnss in them all. Oh, if you merely knew what spiritual felicity my psyche feels now from being able to understand them! ”
The captive ‘s desire was fulfilled. The banker ordered two shootings to be fired in the garden.
Then, after the 10th twelvemonth, the captive sat immovably at the tabular array and read nil but the Gospels. It seemed unusual to the banker that a adult male who in four old ages had mastered six hundred learned volumes should blow about a twelvemonth over one thin book easy of comprehension. Theology and histories of faith followed the Gospels.
In the last two old ages of his parturiency, the captive read an huge measure of books rather randomly. At one clip he was busy with the natural scientific disciplines, so he would inquire for Byron or Shakespeare. There were notes in which he demanded at the same clip books on chemical science, and a manual of medical specialty, and a novel, and some treatise on doctrine or divinity. His reading suggested a adult male swimming in the sea among the wreckage of his ship and seeking to salvage his life by avariciously seizing foremost at one spar and so at another.
The old banker remembered all this and thought, “ Tomorrow at 12 o’clock he will recover his freedom. By our agreement I ought to pay him two million. If I do pay him, it is all over with me, I shall be absolutely ruined. ”
Fifteen old ages before, his 1000000s had been beyond his calculation ; now he was afraid to inquire himself which were greater, his debts or his assets. Desperate chancing on the Stock Exchange, wild guess, and the irritability which he could non acquire over even in progressing old ages had by grades led to the diminution of his luck, and the proud, fearless, self-assured millionaire had become a banker of middling rank, trembling at every rise and autumn in his investings. “ Cursed stake! ” muttered the old adult male, seizing his caput in desperation. “ Why did n’t the adult male dice? He is merely forty now. He will take my last penny from me, he will get married, will bask life, will chance on the Exchange, while I shall look at him with enviousness like a mendicant and hear from him every twenty-four hours the same sentence: ‘I am indebted to you for the felicity of my life ; allow me assist you! ‘ No, it is excessively much! The one agency of being saved from bankruptcy and shame is the decease of that adult male! ”
It struck three o’clock. The banker listened ; everyone was asleep in the house, and nil could be heard outside but the rustling of the chilled trees. Trying to do no noise, he took from a fireproof safe the key of the door which had non been opened for 15 old ages, put on his greatcoat, and went out of the house.
It was dark and cold in the garden. Rain was falling. A moistness, cutting air current was rushing about the garden, ululating and giving the trees no remainder. The banker strained his eyes but could see neither the Earth nor the white statues, nor the Lodge, nor the trees. Traveling to the topographic point where the Lodge stood, he twice called the watcher. No reply followed. Obviously the watcher had sought shelter from the conditions and was now asleep someplace either in the kitchen or in the nursery.
“ If I had the gutsiness to transport out my purpose, ” thought the old adult male, “ intuition would fall foremost upon the watcher. ”
He felt in the darkness for the stairss and the door and went into the entry of the Lodge. Then he groped his manner into a small transition and lighted a lucifer. There was non a psyche at that place. There was a bedframe with no bedding on it, and in the corner there was a dark cast-iron range. The seals on the door taking to the captive ‘s suites were integral.
When the lucifer went out, the old adult male, trembling with emotion, peeped through the small window. A taper was firing indistinctly in the captive ‘s room. He was sitting at the tabular array. Nothing could be seen but his dorsum, the hair on his caput, and his custodies. Open books were lying on the tabular array, on the two easy chairs, and on the rug near the tabular array.
Five proceedingss passed and the captive did non one time stir. Fifteen old ages ‘ imprisonment had taught him to sit still. The banker tapped at the window with his finger, and the captive made no motion whatever in response. Then the banker carefully broke the seals off the door and put the key in the keyhole. The rusty lock gave a grate sound and the door creaked. The banker expected to hear at one time footfalls and a call of amazement, but three proceedingss passed and it was every bit quiet as of all time in the room. He made up his head to travel in.
At the tabular array a adult male unlike ordinary people was sitting motionless. He was a skeleton with the tegument drawn tight over his castanetss, with long coils like a adult female ‘s, and a bushy face fungus. His face was xanthous with an crude shade in it, his cheeks were hollow, his back long and narrow, and the manus on which his shaggy caput was propped was so thin and delicate that it was awful to look at it. His hair was already streaked with Ag, and seeing his bony, aged-looking face, no 1 would hold believed that he was merely forty. He was asleep. In forepart of his bowed caput there lay on the tabular array a sheet of paper, on which there was something written in all right script.
“ Poor animal! ” thought the banker, “ he is asleep and most likely dreaming of the 1000000s. And I have merely to take this half-dead adult male, throw him on the bed, stifle him a small with the pillow, and the most painstaking expert would happen no mark of a violent decease. But allow us foremost read what he has written here. . . . ”
The banker took the page from the tabular array and read as follows:
“ Tomorrow at 12 o’clock I regain my freedom and the right to tie in with other work forces, but before I leave this room and see the sunlight, I think it necessary to state a few words to you. With a clear scruples I tell you, as before God, who beholds me, that I despise freedom and life and wellness and all that in your books is called the good things of the universe.
“ For 15 old ages I have been intently analyzing earthly life. It is true I have non seen the Earth or work forces, but in your books I have drunk fragrant vino, I have sung vocals, I have hunted harts and wild boats in the woods, I have loved adult females. . . . Beauties every bit ethereal as clouds, created by the thaumaturgy of your poets and masterminds, have visited me at dark and have whispered m my ears fantastic narratives that have set my encephalon in a commotion. In your books I have climbed to the extremums of Elburz and Mont Blanc, and from there I have seen the Sun rise and have watched it at flushing flood the sky, the ocean, and the mountaintops with gold and ruby. I have watched from there the lightning flashing over my caput and spliting the storm clouds. I have seen green woods, Fieldss, rivers, lakes, towns. I have heard the vocalizing of the Sirens, and the strains of the shepherds ‘ pipes ; I have touched the wings of comely Satans who flew down to discourse with me of God. In your books I have flung myself into the bottomless cavity, performed miracles, slain, burned towns, preached new faiths, conquered whole lands. . . .
“ Your books hold given me wisdom. All that the unresting idea of adult male has created in the ages is compressed into a little compass in my encephalon. I know that I am wiser than all of you.
“ And I despise your books, I despise wisdom and the approvals of this universe. It is all worthless, fleeting, illusory, and delusory, like a mirage. You may be proud, wise, and all right, but decease will pass over you off the face of the Earth as though you were no more than mice tunneling under the floor, and your descendants, your history, your immortal masterminds will fire or stop dead together with the earthly Earth.
“ You have lost your ground and taken the incorrect way. You have taken prevarications for truth and hideousness for beauty. You would wonder if, owing to unusual events of some kind, toads and lizards all of a sudden grew on apple and orange trees alternatively of fruit or if roses began to smell like a sweating Equus caballus, so I marvel at you who exchange Eden for Earth. I do n’t desire to understand you.
“ To turn out to you in action how I despise all that you live by, I renounce the two million of which I one time dreamed as of Eden and which now I despise. To strip myself of the right to the money, I shall travel out from here five proceedingss before the clip fixed and so interrupt the compact. . . . ”
When the banker had read this, he laid the page on the tabular array, kissed the unusual adult male on the caput, and went out of the Lodge, crying. At no other clip, even when he had lost to a great extent on the Stock Exchange, had he felt so great a disdain for himself. When he got home, he lay on his bed, but his cryings and emotion kept him for hours from kiping.
Following forenoon the watchers ran in with pale faces and told him they had seen the adult male who lived in the Lodge ascent out of the window into the garden, travel to the gate, and disappear. The banker went at one time with the retainers to the Lodge and made sure of the flight of his captive. To avoid eliciting unneeded talk, he took from the tabular array the authorship in which the 1000000s were renounced and, when he got home, locked it up in the fireproof safe.