Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index

 

 

 

 

An Interesting Ghost

 

Charles B. Cory

 

 

 

[DR. WATSON'S STORY.]

It is with the greatest difficulty, (said Dr. Watson), that I force myself to believe that what I am about to relate to you did not actually happen. It seemed to me that I was as wide-awake as I am at this present moment, and impossible that the strange series of incidents could be due entirely to mental disturbances. I went home and went to bed, after first taking the powder, and I think I went to sleep. How long I slept I do not know, but I was startled at finding myself floating about the room with much the same feeling as one has when floating in water, only it was without effort. My motion seemed to be governed entirely by my will,—if I glanced at anything in the room I would float towards it. Imagine my astonishment at seeing my body lying in the bed apparently sound asleep; you will admit the sensation was novel, to say the least.

After floating around the room two or three times enjoying the peculiar sensation, I began to wonder what they had been doing at the hospital during my absence. Immediately I found myself in the hospital ward. Dr. Ford and two nurses were standing by a cot at the north end, and glancing at the chart on the table I saw the patient was seriously ill.

"Moribund," said a voice.

"I'm afraid so," I answered. I turned and saw an elderly gentleman, dressed in the costume of the last century, floating beside me.

"Sad, is it not? People still die, I see, in spite of the wonderful advance in the science of medicine since my day."

"Were you a doctor when alive?" I asked.

"Well, I was called one, and received the regular license to kill or cure. I regret to say that I have since learned that I killed a great many more than I cured. The trouble is, after you are dead your patients know this as well as you do and say unkind things; even to-night I received word from a former patient of mine, and a ghost who ought to know better, to the effect that he intended to hunt me up and punch my head. I treated him for renal colic and he died of appendicitis."

"What sort of a death certificate did you give?" I asked.

"Heart disease, and let me tell you that was a great deal nearer to it than some of you chaps get nowadays."

"You are not complimentary," I said coldly.

"Perhaps not; but if you think my criticisms harsh and uncalled for, let us get down to cold facts. Did it ever occur to you how very few people live to be even one hundred and twenty-five years old? You surely will admit that there is no reason why a man should not live to that age, barring accidents. We know that in Bible times there were lots of old fellows who passed their three hundredth birthday, and a chap named Methuselah claimed to be nine hundred and ninety-nine years old."

"Nine hundred and sixty-nine, was it not?" I asked.

"Perhaps you are right, but sixty-nine or ninety-nine, I am inclined to be a little sceptical about that record myself; there is one thing in its favor, however, and that is, that he made it an even nine hundred and ninety-nine, and not one thousand. Of course, you know there are plenty of people living to-day who are over one hundred years old, and some who have reached the very satisfactory age of one hundred and twenty-five; most of them, however, live in Bulgaria, Mexico, or some out-of-the-way place, and are so poor that they have to live abstemiously."

"Then you consider the secret of longevity to be a matter of diet?" said I.

"Partly that, and partly proper care of the nervous system; but come downstairs, and let us have a cigarette; I am dying for a smoke."

We floated down to the office, which happened to be unoccupied at the time. The medical ghost helped himself to a cigarette from a trayful on the mantel-piece, and lighting it, he seated himself in an armchair, and puffed away with evident enjoyment. I noticed the smoke, which he inhaled continually, oozed from all parts of his body.

The Smoke continually oozed from All Parts of his Body.

"My dear fellow," he said impressively, "you must understand that all diseases are caused by germs—microscopic bugs and plants, you know, many of them so small that they are invisible to an ordinary microscope, or, if seen at all, are not recognized. There are thousands and thousands of them, and each and every one has its mission in life, and preys upon and destroys other germs. Now, the human body is constantly getting a lot of germs inside of it which do not belong there. Some are taken in by the lungs, while floating in the air; some by the stomach, by the food and drink; some by the skin, etc.

"These germs are met by their natural enemies which live in man's blood—his body-guard, as it were—and are destroyed. But if the attacking army is very large, or from some reason the home army has been weakened and decimated, then the invaders flourish, establish themselves and wax powerful and strong, and the man becomes what is called 'sick.'

"Come," he said, rising abruptly, and throwing the unconsumed end of his cigarette into the fireplace. "Come with me to the laboratory, and I will show you in about two minutes more than I could explain if I talked for years, and a great deal more satisfactorily."

We floated down to the laboratory, and the ghost took from the shelf a wide-mouthed bottle and held it up to the light.

"Here," he said, "we have a culture. You, of course, understand how the germs of disease are cultivated for experimental use. It is needless for me to explain to you that certain media are used for these cultures, such as milk, beef-broth, etc.

"Here we have the germ of diphtheria, here of tuberculosis, here of typhoid fever, etc. That little short jar over yonder contains some cholera bacilli, which have been lately sent here. Now look at this typhoid germ. If we took a drop of healthy blood and put some of these typhoid germs in it, how they would wiggle! but if the drop of blood was from a typhoid patient, they won't wiggle very long, as you know. See this blunt-headed chap which we have to stain to see properly, even with this wonderful microscope; that is our old friend the bacillus of tuberculosis; but unless you see the patient first I do not believe you could distinguish him from the leprosy bug.

"These are known germs, but look through the glass at this drop, and you will see some bugs worth seeing, although the medical fraternity have not as yet discovered their value. Perhaps you know that most bacteriologists consider these germs to be plants, not bugs, although they admit some of them move a little. How astonished they would be if they could look through this glass! See that chap with green hind legs: he preys on the typhoid germ, and when they discover this physicians will simply inoculate the patient with a lot of these little chaps with the green legs, and they will do the rest.

"Here is a germ with yellow stripes which looks a little like a diminutive potato bug. He is the deadly enemy of the bug of consumption, and will attack and kill him on every possible occasion. They are about evenly matched, but I think the little striped chap is a bit the better. Another ghost and myself made a match the other night,—seven battles, the result to decide the championship,—a sort of a bugging main, as it were. I won. The first six matches were even. We won three each, but in the seventh my striped bug got the tubercular germ down and shook him as a terrier does a rat. The other ghost and myself nearly had a fight to get our eyes to the microscope. I tell you it was exciting. There is my champion bug now, see him?—the one with the fourth hind leg gone."

"But how," I asked, "are you going to prevent people from dying of old age?"

"Of course they will die of old age; but there is no such thing as old age under one hundred and fifty years; what you call old age is not old age at all. There are two kinds of old age or senility. Old age, properly speaking, results from a distinct modification of the nervous tissues and a hardening of the arteries—the former caused by unnatural conditions, nervous strain and dissipation, and the latter from over-feeding and drinking. The trouble with the ordinary man is that he absorbs great quantities of nitrogenous foods instead of making his diet one of nuts, fruit, milk, etc. In comparatively young men of the present age there is often a decided modification of the nervous tissues with symptoms resembling those in neurasthenia. In such cases galvanic treatment will restore the centres to their normal condition. You will, therefore, I think, admit that with proper diet and possibly the aid of a galvanic battery a man may live,—barring possible death by violence,—say, two hundred years."

"You mean," I said, "when we have learned to combat the various disease germs by pitting against them their natural enemies."

"Exactly, of course," answered the shade; "but it seems to me that we have talked long enough; I am becoming very dry, so let us repair to the Waldorf and have a cocktail."

"How is it possible," I asked, "that you can take a cocktail, there being nothing tangible about you?"

"Of course," answered the ghost, "it is impossible for me to actually drink a cocktail. I can, however, float over the bar and inhale the pleasing odors arising from the various concoctions served to the guests, and in my ethereal condition I enjoy the odors and am affected by them as much as if I were really drinking the liquid."

We floated from the house and down town, until we reached the brilliantly lighted Waldorf Hotel. There were many people in the bar-room, and the medical shade and myself, floating about over the different tables, inhaled with decided enjoyment the delicate aroma of the various mixed drinks so dear to the present generation.

To my annoyance my shade companion soon began to sing—he was evidently affected by the odors which had passed through him. His manner became familiar, and I had great difficulty in keeping him from kicking the glasses off the tables. At last I succeeded in getting him out of the room, and it was time, for as we floated into the street he began shouting in a most uproarious manner, and I was afraid that we should be arrested for disturbing the peace.

"Be quiet, I beg of you," I pleaded; "see that policeman on the opposite side of the street? We shall surely get into trouble if you make such a noise."

"Policeman?" hiccoughed the shade, "What the devil do I care for a policeman? Watch me go over and punch him in the stomach."

In spite of all I could do to prevent him he started straight for the officer, who was standing all unconscious on the corner, watching a pretty girl who was looking into one of the brilliantly lighted store windows. Now was my time to rid myself of this most undesirable companion, and I wished myself in my own room.

Instantly I found myself floating about over my bed, and there was my body sleeping as peacefully as ever. I was somewhat tired, but I remembered our contract to write down the result of our experiences, and immediately sat down to do it. After I had written it I read it over carefully to see if I had overlooked anything, and then wished myself in bed and asleep. The next thing I knew it was broad daylight. There, on my writing-table, were the pages of manuscript which I had written. They were real enough, whether the rest was a dream or not.