Dr. Faust's Last Day by Maurice Baring
The Doctor got up at dawn, as was his wont, and as soon as he was
dressed he sat down at his desk in his library overlooking the sea,
and immersed himself in the studies which were the lodestar of his
existence. His hours were mapped out with rigid regularity like those
of a school-boy, and his methodical life worked as though by
clockwork. He rose at dawn and read without interruption until eight
o'clock. He then partook of some light food (he was a strict
vegetarian), after which he walked in the garden of his house,
overlooking the Bay of Naples, until ten. From ten to twelve he
received sick people, peasants from the village, or any visitors that
needed his advice or his company. At twelve he ate a frugal meal. From
one o'clock until three he enjoyed a siesta. At three he resumed his
studies, which continued without interruption until six when he
partook of a second meal. At seven he took another stroll in the
village or by the seashore and remained out of doors until nine. He
then withdrew into his study, and at midnight went to bed.
It was, perhaps, the extreme regularity of his life, combined with the
strict diet which he observed, that accounted for his good health.
This day was his seventieth birthday, and his body was as vigorous and
his mind as alert as they had been in his fortieth year. His thick
hair and beard were scarcely grey, and the wrinkles on his white,
thoughtful face were rare. Yet the Doctor, when questioned as to the
secret of his youthfulness, being like many learned men fond of a
paradox, used to reply that diet and regularity had nothing to do with
it, and that the Southern sun and the climate of the Neapolitan coast,
which he had chosen among all places to be the abode of his old age,
were in reality responsible for his excellent health.
"I lead a regular life," he used to say, "not in order to keep well,
but in order to get through my work. Unless my hours were mapped out
regularly I should be the prey of every idler in the place and I
should never get any work done at all."
On this day, as it was his seventieth birthday, the Doctor had asked a
few friends to share his mid-day meal, and when he returned from his
morning stroll he sent for his housekeeper to give her a few final
instructions. The housekeeper, who was a voluble Italian peasant-
woman, after receiving his orders, handed him a piece of paper on
which a few words were scrawled in reddish-brown ink, saying it had
been left by a Signore.
"What Signore?" asked the Doctor, as he perused the document, which
consisted of words in the German tongue to the effect that the writer
regretted his absence from the Doctor's feast, but would call at
midnight. It was not signed.
"He was a Signore, like all Signores," said the housekeeper; "he just
left the letter and went away."
The Doctor was puzzled, and in spite of much cross-examination he was
unable to extract anything more beyond the fact that he was a
"Shall I lay one place less?" asked the housekeeper.
"Certainly not," said the Doctor. "All my guests will be present." And
he threw the piece of paper on the table.
The housekeeper left the room, but she had not been gone many minutes
before she returned and said that Maria, the wife of the late
Giovanni, the baker, wished to speak to him. The Doctor nodded, and
Maria burst into the room, sobbing.
When her tears had somewhat subsided she told her story in broken
sentences. Her daughter, Margherita, who was seventeen years old, had
been allowed to spend the summer at Sorrento with her late father's
sister. There, it appeared, she had met a "Signore," who had given her
jewels, made love to her, promised her marriage, and held clandestine
meetings with her. Her aunt professed now to have been unaware of
this; but Maria assured the Doctor that her sister-in-law, who had the
evil eye and had more than once trafficked with Satan, must have had
knowledge of the business, even if she were not directly responsible,
which was highly probable. In the meantime Margherita's brother
Anselmo had returned from the wars in the North, and, discovering the
truth, had sworn to kill the Signore unless he married Margherita.
"And what do you wish me to do?" asked the Doctor, after he had
listened to the story.
"Anything, anything," she answered, "only calm my son Anselmo or else
there will be a disaster."
"Who is the Signore?" asked the Doctor.
"The Conte Guido da Siena," she answered.
The Doctor reflected a moment, and then said: "I will see what can be
done. The matter can be arranged. Send your son to me later." And
then, after scolding Maria for not having taken proper care of her
daughter, he sent her away.
As he did so he caught sight of the dirty piece of paper on his table.
For one second he had the impression that the letters on it were
written in blood, and he shivered, but the momentary hallucination and
sense of discomfort passed immediately.
At mid-day the guests arrived. They consisted of Dr. Cornelius,
Vienna's most learned scholar; Taddeo Mainardi, the painter; a Danish
student from the University of Wittenberg; a young English nobleman,
who was travelling in Italy; and Guido da Siena, philosopher and poet,
who was said to be the handsomest man in Italy. The Doctor set before
his guests a precious wine from Cyprus, in which he toasted them,
although as a rule he drank only water. The meal was served in the
cool loggia overlooking the bay, and the talk, which was of the men
and books of many climes, flowed like a rippling stream on which the
sunshine of laughter lightly played.
The student asked the Doctor whether in Italy men of taste took any
interest in the recent experiments of a French Huguenot, who professed
to be able to send people into a trance. Moreover, the patient when in
the trance, so it was alleged, was able to act as a bridge between the
material and the spiritual worlds, and the dead could be summoned and
made to speak through the unconscious patient.
"We take no thought of such things here," said the Doctor. "In my
youth, when I studied in the North, experiments of that nature
exercised a powerful sway over my mind. I dabbled in alchemy; I tried
and indeed considered that I succeeded in raising spirits and visions;
but two things are necessary for such a study: youth, and the mists of
the Northern country. Here the generous sun kills such phantasies.
There are no phantoms here. Moreover, I am convinced that in all such
experiments success depends on the state of mind of the inquirer,
which not only persuades, but indeed compels itself by a strange
magnetic quality to see the vision it desires. In my youth I
considered that I had evoked visions of Satan and Helen of Troy, and
what not--such things are fit for the young. We greybeards have more
serious things to occupy us, and when a man has one foot in the grave,
he has no time to waste."
"To my mind," said the painter, "this world has sufficient beauty and
mystery to satisfy the most ardent inquirer."
"But," said the Englishman, "is not this world a phantom and a dream
as insubstantial as the visions of the ardent mind?"
"Men and women are the only study fit for a man," interrupted Guido,
"and as for the philosopher's stone I have found it. I found it some
months ago in a garden at Sorrento. It is a pearl radiant with all the
hues of the rainbow."
"With regard to that matter," said the Doctor, "we will have some talk
later. The wench's brother has returned from the war. We must find her
"You misunderstand me," said Guido. "You do not think I am going to
throw my precious pearl to the swine? I have sworn to wed Margherita,
and wed her I shall, and that swiftly."
"Such an act of folly would only lead," said the Doctor, "to your
unhappiness and to hers. It is the selfish act of a fool. You must not
think of it."
"Ah!" said Guido, "you are young at seventy, Doctor, but you were old
at twenty-five, and you cannot know what these things mean."
"I was young in my day," said the Doctor, "and I found many such
pearls; believe me, they are all very well in their native shell. To
move them is to destroy their beauty."
"You do not understand," said Guido. "I have loved countless times;
but she is different. You never felt the revelation of the real, true
thing that is different from all the rest and transforms a man's
"No," said the Doctor, "I confess that to me it was always the same
thing." And for the second time that day the Doctor shivered, he knew
Soon after the meal was over the guests departed, and although the
Doctor detained Guido and endeavoured to persuade him to listen to the
voice of reason and commonsense, his efforts were in vain. Guido had
determined to wed Margherita.
"Besides which, if I left her now, I should bring shame and ruin on
her," he said.
The Doctor started--a familiar voice seemed to whisper in his ear:
"She is not the first one." A strange shudder passed through him, and
he distinctly heard a mocking voice laughing. "Go your way," he said,
"but do not come and complain to me if you bring unhappiness on
yourself and her."
Guido departed and the Doctor retired to enjoy his siesta.
For the first time during all the years he had lived at Naples the
Doctor was not able to sleep. "This and the hallucinations I have
suffered from to-day come from drinking that Cyprus wine," he said to
He lay in the darkened room tossing uneasily on his bed and sleep
would not come to him. Stranger still, before his eyes fiery letters
seemed to dance before him in the air. At seven o'clock he went out
into the garden. Never had he beheld a more glorious evening. He
strolled down towards the seashore and watched the sunset. Mount
Vesuvius seemed to have dissolved into a rosy haze; the waves of the
sea were phosphorescent. A fisherman was singing in his boat. The sky
was an apocalypse of glory and peace.
The Doctor sighed and watched the pageant of light until it faded and
the stars lit up the magical blue darkness. Then out of the night came
another song--a song which seemed familiar to the Doctor, although for
the moment he could not place it, about a King in the Northern Country
who was faithful to the grave and to whom his dying mistress a golden
"Strange," thought the Doctor, "it must come from some Northern
fishing smack," and he went home.
He sat reading in his study until midnight, and for the first time in
thirty years he could not fix his mind on his book. For the vision of
the sunset and the song of the Northern fisherman, which in some
unaccountable way brought back to him the days of his youth, kept on
surging up in his mind.
Twelve o'clock struck. He rose to go to bed, and as he did so he heard
a loud knock at the door.
"Come in," said the Doctor, but his voice faltered ("the Cyprus wine
again!" he thought), and his heart beat loudly.
The door opened and an icy draught blew into the room. The visitor
beckoned, but spoke no word, and Doctor Faust rose and followed him
into the outer darkness.