The Man with a Dead Soul

by Francis Clement Kelley

YEARS ago there lived a man whose soul had died; and died as only a soul may die, by the man's own deed. His body lived still for debauchery, his mind lived still to ponder on evil, but his soul was stifled in a flood of sin. So the man lived his life with a dead soul.

When the soul died the man's dreams changed. The fairy children of his youth came no more to play with him and his visions were of lands bare and desolate, with great rocks instead of green trees; and sandy, dry and arid plains instead of bright grass and flowers. But out of the rocks shone fiery veins of virgin gold and the pitiless sun that dried the plain reflected countless smaller suns of untouched diamonds. Hither in dreams came often the man with the dead soul.

The years passed and the man realized with his mortal eyes the full of his dreams and touched mortal foot to the desert that now was all his own. Greedily he picked and dug till his weary body cried "enough." Then only he left, when his strength could dig no more. So he began to live  more evilly because of his new power of wealth; and his soul was farther than ever from resurrection.

Now it happened that the man with the dead soul soon found that he had become a leper because of his sins, and so with all his gains was driven from among men. He went back to the desert and watched the gold veins in the rocks and the shining of the diamonds, all the time hoping for more strength to dig. But while waiting, his musings turned to hateful thoughts of all his kindred, and abhorrence of all good. So he said: "I have been driven from among men because they love virtue, henceforth I will hate it; because they loved God, henceforth I will love only evil; because they use their belongings to work mercy, henceforth I will use mine to inflict revenge. I may not go to men, so I will go to those who do men harm."

So the man with the dead soul went to live among the beasts. He dwelt for a long time in the forests and the most savage of the brutes were his friends. One day he saw a hermit at the door of his cave. "How livest thou here?" he asked.

"From the offerings of the raven who brings me bread and the wild bees who give it sweetness and the great beasts who clothe me," answered the hermit. Then the man with the dead soul left the beasts because they did good and were merciful.

Out of the forest the North Wind met the man and tossed him upon its wings and buffeted him and  chilled him to the marrow. In vain he asked for mercy, the North Wind would give none. Half frozen and sore with blows the man gasped—

"'Tis well! I will dwell with thee for thou givest nothing but evil." So he went to dwell in the cave of the North Wind and the chill of the pitiless cold was good to him on account of his dead soul.

One day he saw the clouds coming, headed for his own desert, and the North Wind went to meet them and a mighty battle took place in the air; but the North Wind was the victor. White on the ground where the chill had flung them lay the clouds in snow crystals; and the man laughed his joy at the sight of the ruin—for he knew that the rain-clouds would have greened his desert and made it beautiful. But he heard the men who cultivated the land on which the snow had fallen bless the North Wind that it had given their crops protection and promised plenty to the fields of wheat. Then the man with the dead soul cursed the North Wind and went to dwell in the ocean.

The waters bade him stay and daily he saw their work of evil. Down in the depths dead men's bones whitened beside the wealth of treasure the ocean had claimed. He walked along the bottom for years exulting in destruction before he came to the surface to watch the storms and laugh at the big waves eating the great ships. But there was only a gentle breeze blowing that day, and he saw great vessels  laden with treasure and wealth passing from nation to nation. He saw the dolphins play over the bosom of the waters and the sea-gulls happy to ride the waves. Then afar off he saw the bright columns where all day long the sun kept working, drawing moisture to the sky from the waters to spread it, even over the man's barren desert, to make it bloom.

Cursing again, the man with the dead soul left the waters and buried himself beneath the earth, to hide in dark caves where neither light nor sound could go. But a glowworm that lived in the cave made it all too bright. By its lantern he saw the hidden mysterious forces working. Through tiny paths warmth and nourishment ran to be near the surface that baby seeds might germinate, live and flourish for man's benefit. He saw great forests draw their strength from the very Earth into which he had burrowed, to fall again in death into its kindly arms and so to change into carbon and remain stored away for man's future comfort. Then the man with the dead soul could live in earth no longer, and neither could he go to the beasts, to the air, or to the waters.

"I will return to my desert," he said, "for there is more of evil in the gold and diamonds than anywhere else."

So he went back where the gold still shone from the veins in the cliffs and the diamonds twinkled in the pitiless sun rays. But a throne had been raised  on a hillock and a king sat thereon with a crown on his head and a trident in his hand.

"Who art thou who invadest my desert?" asked the man.

"Thy master," answered the king.

"And who is my master?" asked the man.

"The spirit of evil."

"Then would I dwell with thee," said the man.

"Thou hast served me well and thou art welcome," said the king. "Behold!"

He stretched forth the trident and demons peopled the desert.

"These are thy companions. Thou shalt dwell with them, and without torture, unless thy evil deeds be turned to good to torture me. Know that thou hast passed from mortal life, and thy deeds of evil have brought thee my favor. If thou hast been successful in reaping the evil thou has sown, thou shalt be my friend. But know that for every good thing that comes from it, thou shalt be tortured with whips of scorpions."

So the man with the dead soul walked through rows of demons with whips in their hands; but no arm was raised to strike, for he had sown his evil well and the king did not frown on him.

Then one day a single whip of scorpions fell upon his shoulders. Pain-racked he looked at the king and saw that his face was twisted with agony: then he knew that somewhere an evil deed of his own had  been turned to good. And even while he looked the whips began to fall mercilessly from all sides and the king, frantic with agony, cried out:

"Tear aside the veil. Let him see."

In an instant the whips ceased to fall and the man with the dead soul saw all the Earth before him—and understood. A generation had passed since he had gone, but his keen eye sought and found his wealth. The finger of God had touched it and behold good had sprung from it everywhere. It was building temples to the mighty God where the poor could worship; and the hated Cross met his eye wherever he looked, dazzling his vision and blinding him with its light. Wherever the Finger of God glided the good came forth; the hungry were nourished, the naked clothed, the frozen warmed and the truth preached. Before him was the good growing from his impotent evil every moment and multiplying as it grew; and behind him he heard the howls of the tortured demons and the impatient hisses of the whips that hungered for his back.

Shuddering he closed his eyes, but a voice ringing on the air made him open them again. The voice was strangely like his own, yet purified and sweet with sincerity and goodness. It was singing the "Miserere," and the words beat him backward to the demons as they arose.

He caught a glimpse of the singer, a young man clad in a brown habit of penance with the cord of  purity girt about him. His eyes looked once into the eyes of the man with the dead soul. They were the eyes of the one to whom he had left his legacy of hate and wealth and evil—his own and his only son.

Shuddering, the man with the dead soul awoke from his dream, and behold, he was lying in the desert where the gold tempted him from out of the great rocks and the diamonds shone in the sunlight. He looked at them not at all, but straightway he went to where good men sang the "Miserere" and were clad in brown robes. And as he went it came to pass that his dead soul leaped in the joy of a new resurrection.