Moonbeams From the Larger Lunacy by Stephen Leacock
Afternoon Adventures At My Club
4.--The Spiritual Outlook of Mr. Doomer
One generally saw old Mr. Doomer looking gloomily out of the windows of the library of the club. If not there, he was to be found staring sadly into the embers of a dying fire in a deserted sitting-room.
His gloom always appeared out of place as he was one of the richest of the members.
But the cause of it,--as I came to know,--was that he was perpetually concerned with thinking about the next world. In fact he spent his whole time brooding over it.
I discovered this accidentally by happening to speak to him of the recent death of Podge, one of our fellow members.
"Very sad," I said, "Podge's death."
"Ah," returned Mr. Doomer, "very shocking. He was quite unprepared to die."
"Do you think so?" I said, "I'm awfully sorry to hear it."
"Quite unprepared," he answered. "I had reason to know it as one of his executors,--everything is confusion,--nothing signed,--no proper power of attorney,--codicils drawn up in blank and never witnessed,--in short, sir, no sense apparently of the nearness of his death and of his duty to be prepared.
"I suppose," I said, "poor Podge didn't realise that he was going to die."
"Ah, that's just it," resumed Mr. Doomer with something like sternness, "a man ought to realise it. Every man ought to feel that at any moment,--one can't tell when,--day or night,--he may be called upon to meet his,"--Mr. Doomer paused here as if seeking a phrase--"to meet his Financial Obligations, face to face. At any time, sir, he may be hurried before the Judge,--or rather his estate may be,--before the Judge of the probate court. It is a solemn thought, sir. And yet when I come here I see about me men laughing, talking, and playing billiards, as if there would never be a day when their estate would pass into the hands of their administrators and an account must be given of every cent."
"But after all," I said, trying to fall in with his mood, "death and dissolution must come to all of us."
"That's just it," he said solemnly. "They've dissolved the tobacco people, and they've dissolved the oil people and you can't tell whose turn it may be next."
Mr. Doomer was silent a moment and then resumed, speaking in a tone of humility that was almost reverential.
"And yet there is a certain preparedness for death, a certain fitness to die that we ought all to aim at. Any man can at least think solemnly of the Inheritance Tax, and reflect whether by a contract inter vivos drawn in blank he may not obtain redemption; any man if he thinks death is near may at least divest himself of his purely speculative securities and trust himself entirely to those gold bearing bonds of the great industrial corporations whose value will not readily diminish or pass away." Mr. Doomer was speaking with something like religious rapture.
"And yet what does one see?" he continued. "Men affected with fatal illness and men stricken in years occupied still with idle talk and amusements instead of reading the financial newspapers,--and at the last carried away with scarcely time perhaps to send for their brokers when it is already too late."
"It is very sad," I said.
"Very," he repeated, "and saddest of all, perhaps, is the sense of the irrevocability of death and the changes that must come after it."
We were silent a moment.
"You think of these things a great deal, Mr. Doomer?" I said.
"I do," he answered. "It may be that it is something in my temperament, I suppose one would call it a sort of spiritual mindedness. But I think of it all constantly. Often as I stand here beside the window and see these cars go by"--he indicated a passing street car--"I cannot but realise that the time will come when I am no longer a managing director and wonder whether they will keep on trying to hold the dividend down by improving the rolling stock or will declare profits to inflate the securities. These mysteries beyond the grave fascinate me, sir. Death is a mysterious thing. Who for example will take my seat on the Exchange? What will happen to my majority control of the power company? I shudder to think of the changes that may happen after death in the assessment of my real estate."
"Yes," I said, "it is all beyond our control, isn't it?"
"Quite," answered Mr. Doomer; "especially of late years one feels that, all said and done, we are in the hands of a Higher Power, and that the State Legislature is after all supreme. It gives one a sense of smallness. It makes one feel that in these days of drastic legislation with all one's efforts the individual is lost and absorbed in the controlling power of the state legislature. Consider the words that are used in the text of the Income Tax Case, Folio Two, or the text of the Trans-Missouri Freight Decision, and think of the revelation they contain."
I left Mr. Doomer still standing beside the window, musing on the vanity of life and on things, such as the future control of freight rates, that lay beyond the grave.
I noticed as I left him how broken and aged he had come to look. It seemed as if the chafings of the spirit were wearing the body that harboured it.
It was about a month later that I learned of Mr. Doomer's death.
Dr. Slyder told me of it in the club one afternoon, over two cocktails in the sitting-room.
"A beautiful bedside," he said, "one of the most edifying that I have ever attended. I knew that Doomer was failing and of course the time came when I had to tell him.
"'Mr. Doomer,' I said, 'all that I, all that any medical can do for you is done; you are going to die. I have to warn you that it is time for other ministrations than mine.'
"'Very good,' he said faintly but firmly, 'send for my broker.'
"They sent out and fetched Jarvis,--you know him I think,--most sympathetic man and yet most business-like--he does all the firm's business with the dying,--and we two sat beside Doomer holding him up while he signed stock transfers and blank certificates.
"Once he paused and turned his eyes on Jarvis. 'Read me from the text of the State Inheritance Tax Statute,' he said. Jarvis took the book and read aloud very quietly and simply the part at the beginning--'Whenever and wheresoever it shall appear,' down to the words, 'shall be no longer a subject of judgment or appeal but shall remain in perpetual possession.'
"Doomer listened with his eyes closed. The reading seemed to bring him great comfort. When Jarvis ended he said with a sign, 'That covers it. I'll put my faith in that.' After that he was silent a moment and then said: 'I wish I had already crossed the river. Oh, to have already crossed the river and be safe on the other side.' We knew what he meant. He had always planned to move over to New Jersey. The inheritance tax is so much more liberal.
"Presently it was all done.
"'There,' I said, 'it is finished now.'
"'No,' he answered, 'there is still one thing. Doctor, you've been very good to me. I should like to pay your account now without it being a charge on the estate. I will pay it as'--he paused for a moment and a fit of coughing seized him, but by an effort of will he found the power to say--'cash.'
"I took the account from my pocket (I had it with me, fearing the worst), and we laid his cheque-book before him on the bed. Jarvis thinking him too faint to write tried to guide his hand as he filled in the sum. But he shook his head.
"'The room is getting dim,' he said. 'I can see nothing but the figures.'
"'Never mind,' said Jarvis,--much moved, 'that's enough.'
"'Is it four hundred and thirty?' he asked faintly.
"'Yes,' I said, and I could feel the tears rising in my eyes, 'and fifty cents.'
"After signing the cheque his mind wandered for a moment and he fell to talking, with his eyes closed, of the new federal banking law, and of the prospect of the reserve associations being able to maintain an adequate gold supply.
"Just at the last he rallied.
"'I want,' he said in quite a firm voice, 'to do something for both of you before I die.'
"'Yes, yes,' we said.
"'You are both interested, are you not,' he murmured, 'in City Traction?'
"'Yes, yes,' we said. We knew of course that he was the managing director.
"He looked at us faintly and tried to speak.
"'Give him a cordial,' said Jarvis. But he found his voice.
"'The value of that stock,' he said, 'is going to take a sudden--'
"His voice grew faint.
"'Yes, yes,' I whispered, bending over him (there were tears in both our eyes), 'tell me is it going up, or going down?'
"'It is going'--he murmured,--then his eyes closed--'it is going--'
"'Yes, yes,' I said, 'which?'
"'It is going'--he repeated feebly and then, quite suddenly he fell back on the pillows and his soul passed. And we never knew which way it was going. It was very sad. Later on, of course, after he was dead, we knew, as everybody knew, that it went down."