Page:Weird Tales volume 28 number 03.djvu/93
THE DOORS OF DEATH
baffled the scientists for years. When you fall into a comatose condition they call it suspended animation. That's the best thing they do—find names for diseases. My family doctor doesn't have any more of an idea about this malady than you or I. The average physician is just a guesser. He guesses you have a fever and prescribes a remedy, hoping that it will hit the spot. If it doesn't he looks wise, wags his head—and tries something else on you. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn't. The only thing my guesser is absolutely sure of is that if I live or if I die, he will collect a princely fee for his services."
Biggs remained statuesque during the pause.
"Gad," McMasters broke out again testily, "if I fiddled around in my business like that I'd be a pauper in a month."
"But the doctor says you're coming on," ventured Biggs.
"Sure he does," answered the banker with a sneer. "That's his stock in trade. I know that line of palaver. Secretly, he knows I am as liable to be dead as alive when he comes again."
"Oh, sir, you aren't going to die!"
"That's what I'm afraid of, Biggs. But they'll call me dead and go ahead and embalm me and make sure of it."
"Oh, sir, I wish——"
"Now remember, Biggs," broke in the sick man, "shoot the first undertaker that tries to put that mummy stuff in my veins."
"I understand perfectly, sir," answered Biggs, fearful lest the other's excitement might again give him a turn for the worse.
"I know I'm apparently going to pass away. My father and grandfather both bad this cussed virus in their veins, and I don't believe either of them was dead when he was pronounced so!"
"Well, if by any chance—that is, if you," began Biggs desperately, "if you are apparently—dead—why not have them keep your body here in the house for a time?"
"Convention, formality, custom, hidebound law!" the banker fairly frothed. "The health authorities would come here with an army and see that I was buried. No, Biggs, I've got a fine crypt out there, all quiet and secure, good ventilation, electric lights, like a pullman berth—and a push-button. That precludes all notoriety. It's secret and safe. The electrician who installed the apparatus died four years ago. So you and I, alone, possess this knowledge."
"Don't you think someone else should know of it too? Your attorney, or——"
"No, Biggs. If I really am dead I don't want anyone to write up my eccentricities for some Sunday magazine sheet. And if I do come back, then it will be time to tell the gaping public about my cleverness."
"I wish you weren't so—so cold-blooded about it all, sir."
"I have always hit straight from the shoulder, Hiram, and I'm facing this death business as I'd face any other proposition. I'm not ready to cash in, and if I can cheat the doctors, undertakers, lawyers, heirs, and chief mourners for a few more years, I'm going to do it. And don't forget poor old granddad. He might have been up and about yet had be but used my scheme."
Biggs turned away, sick at heart. It was too terrible beyond words. To him his religion was as essential as daily bread. Death was the culmination of cherished belief and constant prayer. As his years declined he had faced the inevitable day with simple faith that when the