The question that occurred to me that evening was whether it would not be wiser on the whole to accept defeat, own myself beaten, and ring down the curtain—not a difficult matter for a doctor to deal with. The arguments for such a course were patent; what were those against it?
The existence of my child? Well, by the time that she grew up, if she lived to grow up, all the trouble and scandal would be forgotten, and the effacement of a discredited parent could be no great loss to her. Moreover, my life was insured for 3000 pounds in an office that took the risk of suicide.
Considerations of religion? These had ceased to have any weight with me. I was brought up to believe in a good and watching Providence, but the events of the last few months had choked that belief. If there was a God who guarded us, why should He have allowed the existence of my wife to be sacrificed to the carelessness, and all my hopes to the villainy, of Sir John Bell? The reasoning was inconclusive, perhaps—for who can know the ends of the Divinity?—but it satisfied my mind at the time, and for the rest I have never really troubled to reopen the question.
The natural love of life for its own sake? It had left me. What more had life to offer? Further, what is called “love of life” frequently enough is little more than fear of the hereafter or of death, and of the physical act of death I had lost my terror, shattered as I was by sorrow and shame. Indeed, at that moment I could have welcomed it gladly, since to me it meant the perfect rest of oblivion.
So in the end I determined that I would leave this lighted house of Life and go out into the dark night, and at once. Unhappy was it for me and for hundreds of other human beings that the decree of fate, or chance, brought my designs to nothing.
First I wrote a letter to be handed to the reporters at the inquest for publication in the newspapers, in which I told the true story of Lady Colford’s case and denounced Bell as a villain whose perjury had driven me to self-murder. After this I wrote a second letter, to be given to my daughter if she lived to come to years of discretion, setting out the facts that brought me to my end and asking her to pardon me for having left her. This done it seemed that my worldly business was completed, so I set about leaving the world.
Going to a medicine chest I reflected a little. Finally I decided on prussic acid; its after effects are unpleasant but its action is swift and certain. What did it matter to me if I turned black and smelt of almonds when I was dead?
THE GATE OF DARKNESS
Taking the phial from the chest I poured an ample but not an over dose of the poison into a medicine glass, mixing it with a little water, so that it might be easier to swallow. I lingered as long as I could over these preparations, but they came to an end too soon.