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GodfreidBildoo1685AnatomiaCorporisHumani

Illustration from Godfried Bildoo's 1685 book Anatomia Corporis Humani.

"The Man of Science" (also known as "A Ghost Story") is a short ghost story with some comic elements by the British author Jerome K. Jerome. It was first published in the September 1892 issue of the magazine The Idler as part of the serial Novel Notes. It makes up the fifth chapter of the single volume edition of Novel Notes, which was first published in 1893.

The story's title character and protagonist is a scientist who comes to believe that a skeleton which has recently bought is that of his old enemy. The scientist's enemy died without having fulfilled his greatest desire. His greatest desire was to kill the scientist.

An abridged version of "The Man of Science" is read by Christopher Lee in the second episode of the five-part radio horror anthology mini-series Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales.[1] The episode first aired on BBC Radio 2 in the United Kingdom on December 27, 2004.

Plot

On a London street, the story's unnamed narrator meets an old acquaintance whom he has not seen for many years. The two men walk and talk together for some time and part on friendly terms. When the narrator later tells his friends Jephson, Brown and MacShaughnassy about this meeting, he is told that he could not have met that man because he died six months earlier. The narrator accepts the possibility that he could have mistaken somebody else for the dead man, although he feels that everything which the man said to him was exactly what his dead friend would have said.

Jephson asks the narrator if he believes in "spiritualism to its fullest extent". According to Jephson, that is the idea that spirits of the dead can come back to earth at will and then carry out actions or compel living people to carry out actions for them. Although he shares MacShaughnassy's skepticism on the subject of séances, Jephson wonders what the spirit of someone who had died without having fulfilled "the dearest wish of his heart" might do. Jephson goes on to relate the story that an old French doctor told him about events which took place in Paris some sixty-two years earlier.

One man does a great wrong to another man. It is unknown what that wrong is, although it probably has something to do with a woman. The man who did the wrong runs away. A day later, the man who was wronged chases after him. Although the man who did the wrong has the advantage of a day's start, his trail is not difficult to follow. The man who did the wrong does not know how far behind him his pursuer is. He sometimes stops to rest. The man who was wronged never stops in his pursuit. One day, the man who did the wrong goes into a cathedral. He prays for a long time. He asks for forgiveness for his sins and to be allowed to escape from his pursuer. When he finishes praying, he sees the man who was wronged with a mocking smile on his face. Before he can do any harm, however, the man who was wronged has a heart attack. He falls down dead with the mocking smile still on his face. It is not known what happened to the body of the man who was wronged. He was a stranger in the city where he died. Nobody could identify him or claim his body.

Years pass. The man who did the wrong becomes a respected man of science. One of the many items that the man of science has in his laboratory is a human skeleton. The skeleton is very old and has been repaired many times. The man of science is not surprised when the skeleton finally falls apart completely. He goes to buy another one from a shop which he knows in the shadow of Notre-Dame cathedral. The shopkeeper says that he can have an excellent skeleton delivered to the man of science's laboratory that afternoon. When the man of science returns home that evening and enters his laboratory, he finds the skeleton already there. He then finds that he cannot stop thinking about the skeleton. He picks up a book, only to read the story of a man who wronged another man and ran away. He looks out of the window but can see nothing apart from a smiling dead man lying on the floor of a cathedral. He laughs at his own foolishness, only to have the feeling that something else in the room is also laughing. The man of science looks into the corner of the room from which the sound seemed to be coming. He sees the grinning skeleton.

For two days, the man of science does not enter his laboratory. On the third day, he decides to lay his fears to rest by thoroughly examining the skeleton by the light of a lantern. When he holds the lantern up to the skeleton's head, the flame flickers as if someone had softly breathed on it. The man of science tries to do some work. He finds it hard to concentrate, however, because he cannot resist glancing at the skeleton. He puts a screen up in front of the skeleton. When the temptation to look at the skeleton becomes too great again, the man of science sees that the skeleton's arm has come round the corner of the screen. The man of science screams and faints.

The servants of the man of science take him to bed. He asks them where the skeleton was when they entered the room. They reply that it was in the same place as usual. The man of science asks them to go back to the laboratory to see if the skeleton has moved. They tell him that it has not. The servants tell the man of science that he has been working too hard and needs a rest. He agrees with them. He does not enter the laboratory for several months.

One autumn evening, the man of science decides to go back to his laboratory. He tries to work but soon becomes frightened again. He decides to face his fears by locking himself in the laboratory. He throws the key into a corner of the room where it will be hard to find. Some time later, the housekeeper knocks on the door to say good night to the man of science. There is no answer. She knocks more loudly and says it again. After a while, she hears a voice say, "good night". Thinking about it later, the housekeeper says that the voice was strange and that she imagines it is what a statue would sound like.

The servants are not surprised when the laboratory door is still locked the next morning because the man of science often works through the night. When evening comes and the man of science has still not emerged, they become worried. The door is burst open. The man of science is found dead. He has the marks of bony fingers around his throat and a look of sheer terror in his eyes.

After Jephson finishes hi story, Brown asks the narrator if he has any brandy. The narrator concludes by saying that one of the best things about Jephson's stories is that, "they always make you feel like you want a little brandy."

See also

Footnotes

  1. Other episodes of Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales are based on "The Black Cat" by Edgar Allan Poe, "John Charrington's Wedding" by Edith Nesbit, "The Man and the Snake" by Ambrose Bierce and "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs.

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