Anabel had faded even faster than expected.
Her father had ridden all day to tell
Ned to come before the end. Ned had wanted to set out immediately.
"Riding at night might not be
so wise," Anabel's father had said.
"Why?" Ned had asked.
"They say the Devil is abroad
these days. People have seen signs."
"Graves dug up, and cloven prints
in the fresh dirt."
"I am a man of science,"
Ned had said. "I don't believe in the Devil. I'm setting
out at once."
Anabel's father had followed Ned reluctantly
out into the night. Ned's impatience had driven him on ahead,
carrying him to Anabel's house by the first rays of dawn.
He found her propped up on a pile of
pillows, coughing and looking around feverishly. Her skin
had sunk into her skull, making her seem all eyes and teeth.
"Go (cough) away (cough),"
she said when he came into the room. "All you doctors
smell (cough) of death and dirt." She broke into a prolonged
coughing fit that left her too weak to speak for several minutes.
"Go away (cough)," she repeated
when she had regained her strength. "When I get better,
I don't ever want to see you again!" She collapsed back
onto her pillows, unable even to cough. Ned saw the look on
Anabel's mother's face, and left.
Dr. Smith came down from the bedroom
and met Ned in the sitting room a little bit later. Ned was
looking at the sketch Anabel had made of him the day of their
engagement, the day before he had gone off to become a doctor.
The likeness was very good, although he had protested at the
time that she had drawn his eyes too sharp.
"But you have sharp eyes,"
she had told him, laughing. "And soon they'll be sharper.
Soon you'll know what's inside of people, as well as outside."
She had wrinkled her nose. "I think I would faint,"
she had said. "And is it true that they
what they say about the bodies? That they steal them?"
"Of course not," Ned had
told her. "I'll tell you all about it when I come home
for the holidays."
Ned had never gotten to tell her about
medical school. When he had come home for the holidays, she
had been bright-eyed and flushed. Ned had thought it was happiness,
and been flattered.
After dinner Dr. Smith had pulled him
aside and asked if he had noticed the signs of galloping consumption.
Ned had refused to believe him, but when he had come back
in the summer, it had been impossible to deny. Now the leaves
were falling, and it seemed that Anabel was going with them.
"She says she will get better,"
said Ned as soon as Dr. Smith came into the room.
"They all say that right before
the end," said Dr. Smith. "Their false hope is God's
final mercy. I doubt she will last the night." He coughed,
as if clearing his throat of suppressed emotion.
"And has everything been tried?"
Ned asked. "Is there truly nothing to be done? Some new
course of treatment to be tried?"
"Young doctors are always so optimistic,"
said Dr. Smith. "But consumption is the great humbler
of man's pride. How do your studies go?"
"Did you faint during your first
"No. But many others did."
"Well, they'll toughen up with
time. I myself could hardly overcome my revulsion for the
science the first few years, but now I have taken a great
interest in it. The body can reveal so many secrets to us.
I have been doing my own researches, in my spare time."
"Oh." Ned didn't know what
to say. Anabel was upstairs dying, and Dr. Smith was coughing
from the brandy he had helped himself to and talking about
cutting up corpses. Ned stared at his sketch and tried not
to hear what Dr. Smith was saying.
"Dr. Smith! Dr. Smith!"
The sound of Anabel's mother's voice
made the hair on the back of Ned's neck rise, and he didn't
need Dr. Smith to say, "That sounds like the crisis."
He tried to follow Dr. Smith up the stairs, but was relieved
to be told, "Stay down here, son. You'll only get in
* * *
Anabel suffered her fatal hemorrhage
while Ned and Dr. Smith were talking downstairs. Ned was not
allowed to come up and see her until she had been laid out.
He was glad, although he would not have admitted it to Dr.
Smith. The dead bodies they cut up at the lectures were merely
dead bodies, but he couldn't imagine Anabel without a soul.
This way he could pretend she was just sleeping. He briefly
squeezed her cold hand and then fled outside.
* * *
Her funeral was on a cold wet fall
day. He stood next to her mother and helped support her. Anabel's
father muttered about the Devil the whole time. Another grave
had been disturbed the night before, and the body was gone.
After the service was over, he pulled
Ned aside and said, "We've decided to mount a guard over
the grave. Consumption may have taken Anabel away from us,
but at least she can rest in peace." He led Ned over
to a group of men who had hung back from the mourners walking
out the churchyard. The only person Ned recognized was Dr.
Smith. So many people had come pouring in in recent years.
Ned wondered which one of them had brought consumption with
"You gentlemen having nothing
to worry about on Anabel's account," Dr. Smith was saying.
"Most grave robbers are only looking for valuables, and
Anabel went to her final resting place in nothing but a simple
"These aren't most grave robbers,"
said one of the men.
"It's the Devil!" said another.
"Or Dracula!" said one of
the others. "My son was telling me about him."
"Surely you gentlemen don't believe
in fairy tales?" said Dr. Smith, looking amused. "This
is the age of science!"
"Maybe it's not the Devil,"
conceded one of the men. "Maybe it's those scientists."
"Like Frankenstein," suggested
Everyone looked at Dr. Smith meaningfully.
"Frankenstein is just as much
a fairy tale as
Dracula!" he said. He
made a choking sound that could have been a laugh or a cough.
"Dead people don't normally get
up and walk off on their own," said one of the men. "Something
is taking them."
"The Devil!" shouted the
man next to him, who had obviously already taken something
to ward off the cold. "We've all seen his footprints!"
"Well, he won't be touching my
Anabel!" said her father. "Right, men?"
"Right!" everyone shouted
"In that case, let me make a suggestion,
gentlemen," said Dr. Smith. "Let us do our guard
duty in shifts. That way we won't be standing out in the cold
A cold wind gusted up just then, making
everyone agree with alacrity. A mourning dove called out,
"Who, who! Who, who?" and several of the men jumped.
The others laughed at them, but hurried to draw twigs for
the shifts. Ned drew the first shift, followed by Anabel's
father. Dr. Smith drew the dawn shift.
* * *
Ned arrived at the churchyard just
before dusk. He was almost looking forward to his shift. It
seemed right that he should be taking care of Anabel, even
after her life was over. He sat against a tree by her grave
and talked to her as the sun set. He told her about medical
school and how much he had to study, and how the other students
either fainted at the lectures or told coarse jokes, but that
he did neither of those things because he knew he was serving
Science and that one day a cure for consumption would be found
and no one would have to suffer like she had ever again. Maybe
one day, he told her, they would find themselves together
in the bright new future that was being built, because miracles
were happening every day now and someday Death Itself would
bow before the might of Science. But meanwhile she should
rest in peace, because he was watching over her.
An owl flew suddenly down from the
tree, making him jump. The churchyard was outside of town,
on the edge of the woods. Ned noticed for the first time how
dark it had become. He quickly lit his lantern. It cast a
small sphere of artificial brilliance around him, surrounded
by blackness. He could hear things moving in the woods beyond
his sight, and it seemed to him that primitive eyes were lurking
just outside his circle of light, waiting for it to grow dim.
Ned tried to turn away from them, and
stepped in the soft earth on top of Anabel's grave. He jerked
his foot out in horror and backed up against the tree. He
felt that Death Itself, whom he had just promised to conquer,
was standing on the other side of the tree, exhaling Its icy
breath and waiting for him to take his arrogant little lantern
away so It could gather Anabel's soul in peace. A long dark
shadow moved across the grave. Ned tried to back up even more,
scraped himself on the tree, and saw that the shadow was his
When Anabel's father arrived to take
his turn, Ned tried to say something to him, but the words
wouldn't come out. He fled the churchyard and ran back to
Anabel's house, his teeth chattering all the way.
* * *
Ned was packing his things under the
bright light of noon when he heard raised voices downstairs.
He ran down and found Anabel's father and several of last
night's guards shouting, but the only words he could make
out were "Impossible! Impossible!" Anabel's mother
was sitting on the horsehair sofa and crying quietly.
"What is it?" Ned asked her.
"She's gone!" she said. "They've
Ned ran out of the house and back to
the churchyard. Dr. Smith was standing over the hole where
Anabel's grave had been, staring at it thoughtfully.
"How did it happen?" demanded
"Didn't you hear? The Devil took
her at dawn," said Dr. Smith. "It must have been
right after I left." He pointed at marks in the fresh
dirt. They looked like cow hoofprints, but they were scattered
here and there, pointing in different directions and at different
"Those are false," said Ned.
"Even if I believed in the Devil, I would expect him
to walk like a man."
"Maybe so," agreed Dr. Smith.
"But she is indubitably gone."
"Why? You said yourself that she
had nothing of value on her."
"Except her body. In life she
was keeping herself only for you, Ned, but in death she might
not have that choice." Dr. Smith made a choking sound
that might have been either a laugh or a cough. Ned stared
"Come now, boy, don't be so stupid.
You of all people should know that Science demands more human
bodies than the stupid and superstitious are willing to supply.
So It must finds Its fodder where It can."
"The school is miles and miles
away! No one needs bodies here!"
"Don't they?" Dr. Smith coughed
significantly. "Apparently the Devil does." He pointed
at the hoofmarks.
Ned stared at Dr. Smith again. This
time he saw the dirt on his hands.
"It seems you were out digging
the same night as the Devil," he said. "And you
"I was at a fresh grave."
"Yes, you were."
"You might be able to get Anabel
back, you know." Dr. Smith coughed significantly. "It
would be fitting. She meant to give herself to you, after
"Not like that. Let her rest in
"Why are you saying this to me?
The Devil took her." Dr. Smith's eyes flashed a mocking
gleam at Ned, and his shoulders shook silently.
"She died of consumption! She
isn't a fit subject for
It's too dangerous!"
Dr. Smith coughed again and spat into
his handkerchief. He held it up for Ned to see. Red flecks
stood out on the white linen.
"You see," he said, "I
have nothing to fear from Anabel. The Devil marked me as his
own a long time ago, and sooner than you think, he will come
to collect my soul."
"Was it you?" Ned asked.
"Did Anabel die because of you?"
"Who knows? Consumption has spread
like wildfire since they opened the factory. It is the original
sin of our time. More than likely, you are carrying it inside
you as we speak."
"At least give back Anabel,"
"The Devil took her, didn't you
see?" Dr. Smith coughed again. "Go back to school,
Ned, and maybe one day you will discover a cure for Him, if
He doesn't get you first. Just remember, He lurks in every
glass of water, every bite of food, every particle of air
you inhale. I know it is too late to save me, but maybe there
is still time to save others. Maybe Anabel can help do that.
Think of it as a kind of intercession. Like the Virgin Mary,
she has gone down into Hell to help the sinners." Dr.
Smith turned his head towards the churchyard gate. Shouts
were coming down the road.
"I believe a rescue party may
have drunk up its courage and is now heading this way, anyway,"
he said. "You should leave."
"The Devil doesn't exist,"
said Ned as he backed away.
"Doesn't He?" Dr. Smith called
The midday sun warmed Ned's back as
he rode away from Anabel's house and back to school. As it
sank in the sky, a long shadow stretched out before him. He
could see that it was his own.