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The Parasite - - I -

1. - I -

2. - II -

3. - III -

4. - IV -

A Story





March 24. The spring is fairly with us now. Outside
my laboratory window the great chestnut-tree is all
covered with the big, glutinous, gummy buds, some of
which have already begun to break into little green
shuttlecocks. As you walk down the lanes you are
conscious of the rich, silent forces of nature working
all around you. The wet earth smells fruitful and
luscious. Green shoots are peeping out everywhere.
The twigs are stiff with their sap; and the moist,
heavy English air is laden with a faintly resinous
perfume. Buds in the hedges, lambs beneath them--
everywhere the work of reproduction going forward!

I can see it without, and I can feel it within. We
also have our spring when the little arterioles dilate,
the lymph flows in a brisker stream, the glands work
harder, winnowing and straining. Every year nature
readjusts the whole machine. I can feel the ferment in
my blood at this very moment, and as the cool sunshine
pours through my window I could dance about in it
like a gnat. So I should, only that Charles Sadler
would rush upstairs to know what was the matter.
Besides, I must remember that I am Professor Gilroy.
An old professor may afford to be natural, but when
fortune has given one of the first chairs in the
university to a man of four-and-thirty he must try and
act the part consistently.

What a fellow Wilson is! If I could only throw the
same enthusiasm into physiology that he does into
psychology, I should become a Claude Bernard at the
least. His whole life and soul and energy work to one
end. He drops to sleep collating his results of the
past day, and he wakes to plan his researches for the
coming one. And yet, outside the narrow circle who
follow his proceedings, he gets so little credit for
it. Physiology is a recognized science. If I add even
a brick to the edifice, every one sees and applauds it.
But Wilson is trying to dig the foundations for a
science of the future. His work is underground and
does not show. Yet he goes on uncomplainingly,
corresponding with a hundred semi-maniacs in the hope
of finding one reliable witness, sifting a hundred lies
on the chance of gaining one little speck of truth,
collating old books, devouring new ones, experimenting,
lecturing, trying to light up in others the fiery
interest which is consuming him. I am filled with
wonder and admiration when I think of him, and yet,
when he asks me to associate myself with his
researches, I am compelled to tell him that, in their
present state, they offer little attraction to a man
who is devoted to exact science. If he could show me
something positive and objective, I might then be
tempted to approach the question from its physiological
side. So long as half his subjects are tainted
with charlatanerie and the other half with hysteria we
physiologists must content ourselves with the body and
leave the mind to our descendants.

No doubt I am a materialist. Agatha says that I am a
rank one. I tell her that is an excellent reason for
shortening our engagement, since I am in such urgent
need of her spirituality. And yet I may claim to be a
curious example of the effect of education upon
temperament, for by nature I am, unless I deceive
myself, a highly psychic man. I was a nervous,
sensitive boy, a dreamer, a somnambulist, full of
impressions and intuitions. My black hair, my dark
eyes, my thin, olive face, my tapering fingers, are all
characteristic of my real temperament, and cause
experts like Wilson to claim me as their own. But my
brain is soaked with exact knowledge. I have trained
myself to deal only with fact and with proof. Surmise
and fancy have no place in my scheme of thought. Show
me what I can see with my microscope, cut with my
scalpel, weigh in my balance, and I will devote a
lifetime to its investigation. But when you ask me to
study feelings, impressions, suggestions, you ask me to
do what is distasteful and even demoralizing. A
departure from pure reason affects me like an evil
smell or a musical discord.

Which is a very sufficient reason why I am a little
loath to go to Professor Wilson's tonight. Still I
feel that I could hardly get out of the invitation
without positive rudeness; and, now that Mrs. Marden
and Agatha are going, of course I would not if I could.
But I had rather meet them anywhere else. I know that
Wilson would draw me into this nebulous semi-science of
his if he could. In his enthusiasm he is perfectly
impervious to hints or remonstrances. Nothing short of
a positive quarrel will make him realize my aversion to
the whole business. I have no doubt that he has some
new mesmerist or clairvoyant or medium or trickster of
some sort whom he is going to exhibit 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 of that scientific habit of mind about
which I wrote this morning. I like to register
impressions while they are fresh. Once a day at least
I endeavor to define my own mental position. It is a
useful piece of self-analysis, and has, I fancy, a
steadying effect upon the character. Frankly, I must
confess that my own needs what stiffening I can give
it. I fear that, after all, much of my neurotic
temperament survives, and that I am far from that cool,
calm precision which characterizes Murdoch or Pratt-
Haldane. Otherwise, why should the tomfoolery which I
have witnessed this evening have set my nerves
thrilling so that even now I am all unstrung? My only
comfort is that neither Wilson nor Miss Penclosa nor
even Agatha could have possibly known my weakness.

And what in the world was there to excite me? Nothing,
or so little that it will seem ludicrous when I set it

The Mardens got to Wilson's before me. In fact, I was
one of the last to arrive and found the room crowded.
I had hardly time to say a word to Mrs. Marden and to
Agatha, who was looking charming in white and pink,
with glittering wheat-ears in her hair, when Wilson
came twitching at my sleeve.

"You want something positive, Gilroy," said he, drawing
me apart into a corner. "My dear fellow, I have a
phenomenon--a phenomenon!"

I should have been more impressed had I not heard the
same before. His sanguine spirit turns every fire-fly
into a star.

"No possible question about the bona fides this time,"
said he, in answer, perhaps, to some little gleam of
amusement in my eyes. "My wife has known her for many
years. They both come from Trinidad, you know. Miss
Penclosa has only been in England a month or two, and
knows no one outside the university circle, but I
assure you that the things she has told us suffice in
themselves to establish clairvoyance upon an absolutely
scientific basis. There is nothing like her, amateur
or professional. 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 the instant that you have seen
through his trick. He is there to deceive you, and you
are there to find him out. But what are you to do with
the friend of your host's wife? Are you to turn on a
light suddenly and expose her slapping a surreptitious
banjo? Or are you to hurl cochineal over her evening
frock when she steals round with her phosphorus bottle
and her supernatural platitude? There would he a
scene, and you would be looked upon as a brute. So you
have your choice of being that or a dupe. I was in no
very good humor as I followed Wilson to the lady.

Any one less like my idea of a West Indian could not be
imagined. She was a small, frail creature, well over
forty, I should say, with a pale, peaky face, and hair
of a very light shade of chestnut. Her presence was
insignificant and her manner retiring. In any group of
ten 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 to say, her least
pleasant, feature. They were gray in color,--gray with
a shade of green,--and their expression struck me as
being decidedly furtive. I wonder if furtive is the
word, or should I have said fierce? On second
thoughts, feline would have expressed it better. A
crutch leaning against the wall told me what was
painfully evident when she rose: that one of her legs
was crippled.

So I was introduced to Miss Penclosa, and it did not
escape me that as my name was mentioned she glanced
across at Agatha. Wilson had evidently been talking.
And presently, no doubt, thought I, she will inform me
by occult means that I am engaged to a young lady with
wheat-ears in her hair. I wondered how much more
Wilson had been telling her about me.

"Professor Gilroy is a terrible sceptic," said he; "I
hope, Miss Penclosa, that you will be able to convert

She looked keenly up at me.

"Professor Gilroy is quite right to be sceptical if he
has not seen any thing convincing," said she. "I
should have thought," she added, "that you would
yourself have been an excellent subject."

"For what, may I ask?" said I.

"Well, for mesmerism, for example."

"My experience has been that mesmerists go for their
subjects to those who are mentally unsound. All their
results are vitiated, as it seems to me, by the fact
that they are dealing with abnormal organisms."

"Which of these ladies would you say possessed a normal
organism?" she asked. "I should like you to select the
one who seems to you to have the best balanced mind.
Should we say the girl in pink and white?--Miss Agatha
Marden, I think the name is."

"Yes, I should attach weight to any results from her."

"I have never tried how far she is impressionable. Of
course some people respond much more rapidly than
others. May I ask how far your scepticism extends? I
suppose that you admit the mesmeric sleep and the power
of suggestion."

"I admit nothing, Miss Penclosa."

"Dear me, I thought science had got further than that.
Of course I know nothing about the scientific side of
it. I only know what I can do. You see the girl in
red, for example, over near the Japanese jar. I shall
will that she come across to us."

She bent forward as she spoke and dropped her fan upon
the floor. The girl whisked round and came straight
toward us, with an enquiring look upon her face, as if
some one had called her.

"What do you think of that, Gilroy?" cried Wilson, in a
kind of ecstasy.

I did not dare to tell him what I thought of it. To me
it was the most barefaced, shameless piece of imposture
that I had ever witnessed. The collusion and the
signal had really been too obvious.

"Professor Gilroy is not satisfied," said she, glancing
up at me with her strange little eyes. "My poor fan is
to get the credit of that experiment. Well, we must
try something else. Miss Marden, would you have any
objection to my putting you off?"

"Oh, I should love it!" cried Agatha.

By this time all the company had gathered round us in a
circle, the shirt-fronted men, and the white-throated
women, some awed, some critical, as though it were
something between a religious ceremony and a conjurer's
entertainment. A red velvet arm-chair had been pushed
into the centre, and Agatha lay back in it, a little
flushed and trembling slightly from excitement. I
could see it from the vibration of the wheat-ears.
Miss Penclosa rose from her seat and stood over her,
leaning upon her crutch.

And there was a change in the woman. She no longer
seemed small or insignificant. Twenty years were gone
from her age. Her eyes were shining, a tinge of color
had come into her sallow cheeks, her whole figure had
expanded. So I have seen a dull-eyed, listless lad
change in an instant into briskness and life when given
a task of which he felt himself master. She looked
down at Agatha with an expression which I resented from
the bottom of my soul--the expression with which a
Roman empress might have looked at her kneeling slave.
Then with a quick, commanding gesture she tossed up her
arms and swept them slowly down in front of her.

I was watching Agatha narrowly. During three passes
she seemed to be simply amused. At the fourth I
observed a slight glazing of her eyes, accompanied by
some dilation of her pupils. At the sixth there was a
momentary rigor. At the seventh her lids began to
droop. At the tenth her eyes were closed, and her
breathing was slower and fuller than usual. I tried as
I watched to preserve my scientific calm, but a
foolish, causeless agitation convulsed me. I trust
that I hid it, but I felt as a child feels in the dark.
I could not have believed that I was still open to such

"She is in the trance," said Miss Penclosa.

"She is sleeping!" I cried.

"Wake her, then!"

I pulled her by the arm and shouted in her ear. She
might have been dead for all the impression that I
could make. Her body was there on the velvet chair.
Her organs were acting--her heart, her lungs. But her
soul! It had slipped from beyond our ken. Whither had
it gone? What power had dispossessed it? I was
puzzled and disconcerted.

"So much for the mesmeric sleep," said Miss Penclosa.
"As regards suggestion, whatever I may suggest Miss
Marden will infallibly do, whether it be now or after
she has awakened from her trance. Do you demand proof
of it?"

"Certainly," said I.

"You shall have it." I saw a smile pass over her face,
as though an amusing thought had struck her. She
stooped and whispered earnestly into her subject's ear.
Agatha, who had been so deaf to me, nodded her head as
she listened.

"Awake!" cried Miss Penclosa, with a sharp tap of her
crutch upon the floor. The eyes opened, the glazing
cleared slowly away, and the soul looked out once more
after its strange eclipse.

We went away early. Agatha was none the worse for her
strange excursion, but I was nervous and unstrung,
unable to listen to or answer the stream of comments
which Wilson was pouring out for my benefit. As I bade
her good-night Miss Penclosa slipped a piece of paper
into my hand.

"Pray forgive me," said she, "if I take means to
overcome your scepticism. Open this note at ten
o'clock to-morrow morning. It is a little private

I can't imagine what she means, but there is the note,
and it shall be opened as she directs. My head is
aching, and I have written enough for to-night. To-
morrow I dare say that what seems so inexplicable will
take quite another complexion. I shall not surrender
my convictions without a struggle.

March 25. I am amazed, confounded. It is clear that I
must reconsider my opinion upon this matter. But first
let me place on record what has occurred.

I had finished breakfast, and was looking over some
diagrams with which my lecture is to be illustrated,
when my housekeeper entered to tell me that Agatha was
in my study and wished to see me immediately. I
glanced at the clock and saw with sun rise that it was only
half-past nine.

When I entered the room, she was standing on the
hearth-rug facing me. Something in her pose chilled me
and checked the words which were rising to my lips.
Her veil was half down, but I could see that she was
pale and that her expression was constrained.

"Austin," she said, "I have come to tell you that our
engagement is at an end."

I staggered. I believe that I literally did stagger.
I know that I found myself leaning against the bookcase
for support.

"But--but----" I stammered. "This is very sudden,

"Yes, Austin, I have come here to tell you that our
engagement is at an end."

"But surely," I cried, "you will give me some reason!
This is unlike you, Agatha. Tell me how I have been
unfortunate enough to offend you."

"It is all over, Austin."

"But why? You must be under some delusion, Agatha.
Perhaps you have been told some falsehood about me. Or
you may have misunderstood something that I have said
to you. Only let me know what it is, and a word may
set it all right."

"We must consider it all at an end."

"But you left me last night without a hint at any
disagreement. What could have occurred in the interval
to change you so? It must have been something that
happened last night. You have been thinking it over
and you have disapproved of my conduct. Was it the
mesmerism? Did you blame me for letting that woman
exercise her power over you? You know that at the
least sign I should have interfered."

"It is useless, Austin. All is over:"

Her voice was cold and measured; her manner strangely
formal and hard. It seemed to me that she was
absolutely resolved not to be drawn into any argument
or explanation. As for me, I was shaking with
agitation, and I turned my face aside, so ashamed was I
that she should see my want of control.

"You must know what this means to me!" I cried. "It is
the blasting of all my hopes and the ruin of my life!
You surely will not inflict such a punishment upon me
unheard. You will let me know what is the matter.
Consider how impossible it would be for me, under any
circumstances, to treat you so. For God's sake,
Agatha, let me know what I have done!"

She walked past me without a word and opened the door.

"It is quite useless, Austin," said she. "You must
consider our engagement at an end." An instant later
she was gone, and, before I could recover myself
sufficiently to follow her, I heard the hall-door close
behind her.

I rushed into my room to change my coat, with the idea
of hurrying round to Mrs. Marden's to learn from her
what the cause of my misfortune might be. So shaken
was I that I could hardly lace my boots. Never shall I
forget those horrible ten minutes. I had just pulled
on my overcoat when the clock upon the mantel-piece
struck ten.

Ten! I associated the idea with Miss Penclosa's note.
It was lying before me on the table, and I tore it
open. It was scribbled in pencil in a peculiarly
angular handwriting.

"MY DEAR PROFESSOR GILROY [it said]: Pray excuse the
personal nature of the test which I am giving you.
Professor Wilson happened to mention the relations
between you and my subject of this evening, and it
struck me that nothing could be more convincing to you
than if I were to suggest to Miss Marden that she
should call upon you at half-past nine to-morrow
morning and suspend your engagement for half an hour or
so. Science is so exacting that it is difficult to
give a satisfying test, but I am convinced that this at
least will be an action which she would be most
unlikely to do of her own free will. Forget any thing
that she may have said, as she has really nothing
whatever to do with it, and will certainly not
recollect any thing about it. I write this note to
shorten your anxiety, and to beg you to forgive me for
the momentary unhappiness which my suggestion must have
caused you.
"Yours faithfully;

Really, when I had read the note, I was too relieved to
be angry. It was a liberty. Certainly it was a very
great liberty indeed on the part of a lady whom I had
only met once. But, after all, I had challenged her by
my scepticism. It may have been, as she said, a little
difficult to devise a test which would satisfy me.

And she had done that. There could be no question at
all upon the point. For me hypnotic suggestion was
finally established. It took its place from now onward
as one of the facts of life. That Agatha, who of all
women of my acquaintance has the best balanced mind,
had been reduced to a condition of automatism appeared
to be certain. A person at a distance had worked her
as an engineer on the shore might guide a Brennan
torpedo. A second soul had stepped in, as it were, had
pushed her own aside, and had seized her nervous
mechanism, saying: "I will work this for half an
hour." And Agatha must have been unconscious as she
came and as she returned. Could she make her way in
safety through the streets in such a state? I put on
my hat and hurried round to see if all was well with

Yes. She was at home. I was shown into the drawing-
room and found her sitting with a book upon her lap.

"You are an early visitor, Austin," said she, smiling.

"And you have been an even earlier one," I answered.

She looked puzzled. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"You have not been out to-day?"

"No, certainly not."

"Agatha," said I seriously, "would you mind telling me
exactly what you have done this morning?"

She laughed at my earnestness.

"You've got on your professional look, Austin. See
what comes of being engaged to a man of science.
However, I will tell you, though I can't imagine what
you want to know for. I got up at eight. I
breakfasted at half-past. I came into this room at ten
minutes past nine and began to read the `Memoirs of
Mme. de Remusat.' In a few minutes I did the French
lady the bad compliment of dropping to sleep over her
pages, and I did you, sir, the very flattering one of
dreaming about you. It is only a few minutes since I
woke up."

"And found yourself where you had been before?"

"Why, where else should I find myself?"

"Would you mind telling me, Agatha, what it was that
you dreamed about me? It really is not mere curiosity
on my part."

"I merely had a vague impression that you came into it.
I cannot recall any thing definite."

"If you have not been out to-day, Agatha, how is it
that your shoes are dusty?"

A pained look came over her face.

"Really, Austin, I do not know what is the matter with
you this morning. One would almost think that you
doubted my word. If my boots are dusty, it must be, of
course, that I have put on a pair which the maid had
not cleaned."

It was perfectly evident that she knew nothing whatever
about the matter, and I reflected that, after all,
perhaps it was better that I should not enlighten her.
It might frighten her, and could serve no good purpose
that I could see. I said no more about it, therefore,
and left shortly afterward to give my lecture.

But I am immensely impressed. My horizon of scientific
possibilities has suddenly been enormously extended. I
no longer wonder at Wilson's demonic energy and
enthusiasm. Who would not work hard who had a vast
virgin field ready to his hand? Why, I have known the
novel shape of a nucleolus, or a trifling peculiarity
of striped muscular fibre seen under a 300-diameter
lens, fill me with exultation. How petty do such
researches seem when compared with this one which
strikes at the very roots of life and the nature of the
soul! I had always looked upon spirit as a product of
matter. The brain, I thought, secreted the mind, as
the liver does the bile. But how can this be when I
see mind working from a distance and playing upon
matter as a musician might upon a violin? The body
does not give rise to the soul, then, but is rather the
rough instrument by which the spirit manifests itself.
The windmill does not give rise to the wind, but only
indicates it. It was opposed to my whole habit of
thought, and yet it was undeniably possible and worthy
of investigation.

And why should I not investigate it? I see that under
yesterday's date I said: "If I could see something
positive and objective, I might be tempted to approach
it from the physiological aspect." Well, I have got my
test. I shall be as good as my word. The
investigation would, I am sure, be of immense interest.
Some of my colleagues might look askance at it, for
science is full of unreasoning prejudices, but if
Wilson has the courage of his convictions, I can afford
to have it also. I shall go to him to-morrow morning--
to him and to Miss Penclosa. If she can show us so
much, it is probable that she can show us more.

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