The Yellow Paint
by Robert Louis
IN a certain city there lived a physician who sold yellow paint.
This was of so singular a virtue that whoso was bedaubed with it
from head to heel was set free from the dangers of life, and the
bondage of sin, and the fear of death for ever. So the physician
said in his prospectus; and so said all the citizens in the city;
and there was nothing more urgent in men's hearts than to be
properly painted themselves, and nothing they took more delight in
than to see others painted. There was in the same city a young man
of a very good family but of a somewhat reckless life, who had
reached the age of manhood, and would have nothing to say to the
paint: "To-morrow was soon enough," said he; and when the morrow
came he would still put it off. She might have continued to do
until his death; only, he had a friend of about his own age and
much of his own manners; and this youth, taking a walk in the
public street, with not one fleck of paint upon his body, was
suddenly run down by a water-cart and cut off in the heyday of his
nakedness. This shook the other to the soul; so that I never
beheld a man more earnest to be painted; and on the very same
evening, in the presence of all his family, to appropriate music,
and himself weeping aloud, he received three complete coats and a
touch of varnish on the top. The physician (who was himself
affected even to tears) protested he had never done a job so
Some two months afterwards, the young man was carried on a
stretcher to the physician's house.
"What is the meaning of this?" he cried, as soon as the door was
opened. "I was to be set free from all the dangers of life; and
here have I been run down by that self-same water-cart, and my leg
"Dear me!" said the physician. "This is very sad. But I perceive
I must explain to you the action of my paint. A broken bone is a
mighty small affair at the worst of it; and it belongs to a class
of accident to which my paint is quite inapplicable. Sin, my dear
young friend, sin is the sole calamity that a wise man should
apprehend; it is against sin that I have fitted you out; and when
you come to be tempted, you will give me news of my paint."
"Oh!" said the young man, "I did not understand that, and it seems
rather disappointing. But I have no doubt all is for the best; and
in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged to you if you will set my
"That is none of my business," said the physician; "but if your
bearers will carry you round the corner to the surgeon's, I feel
sure he will afford relief."
Some three years later, the young man came running to the
physician's house in a great perturbation. "What is the meaning of
this?" he cried. "Here was I to be set free from the bondage of
sin; and I have just committed forgery, arson and murder."
"Dear me," said the physician. "This is very serious. Off with
your clothes at once." And as soon as the young man had stripped,
he examined him from head to foot. "No," he cried with great
relief, "there is not a flake broken. Cheer up, my young friend,
your paint is as good as new."
"Good God!" cried the young man, "and what then can be the use of
"Why," said the physician, "I perceive I must explain to you the
nature of the action of my paint. It does not exactly prevent sin;
it extenuates instead the painful consequences. It is not so much
for this world, as for the next; it is not against life; in short,
it is against death that I have fitted you out. And when you come
to die, you will give me news of my paint."
"Oh!" cried the young man, "I had not understood that, and it seems
a little disappointing. But there is no doubt all is for the best:
and in the meanwhile, I shall be obliged if you will help me to
undo the evil I have brought on innocent persons."
"That is none of my business," said the physician; "but if you will
go round the corner to the police office, I feel sure it will
afford you relief to give yourself up."
Six weeks later, the physician was called to the town gaol.
"What is the meaning of this?" cried the young man. "Here am I
literally crusted with your paint; and I have broken my leg, and
committed all the crimes in the calendar, and must be hanged to-
morrow; and am in the meanwhile in a fear so extreme that I lack
words to picture it."
"Dear me," said the physician. "This is really amazing. Well,
well; perhaps, if you had not been painted, you would have been
more frightened still."