The Soul of Nicholas Snyders
"I am a pedlar," answered the stranger. His voice was clear and not unmusical, with just
the suspicion of roguishness behind.
"Not wanting anything," answered Nicholas Snyders drily. "Shut the door and be careful
of the step."
But instead the stranger took a chair and drew it nearer, and, himself in shadow, looked
straight into Nicholas Snyders' face and laughed.
"Are you quite sure, Nicholas Snyders? Are you quite sure there is nothing you require?"
"Nothing," growled Nicholas Snyders--"except the sight of your back." The stranger bent
forward, and with his long, lean hand touched Nicholas Snyders playfully upon the knee.
"Wouldn't you like a soul, Nicholas Snyders?" he asked.
"Think of it," continued the strange pedlar, before Nicholas could recover power of
speech. "For forty years you have drunk the joy of being mean and cruel. Are you not
tired of the taste, Nicholas Snyders? Wouldn't you like a change? Think of it, Nicholas
Snyders--the joy of being loved, of hearing yourself blessed, instead of cursed! Wouldn't
it be good fun, Nicholas Snyders--just by way of a change? If you don't like it, you can
return and be yourself again."
What Nicholas Snyders, recalling all things afterwards, could never understand was why
he sat there, listening in patience to the stranger's talk; for, at the time, it seemed to him
the jesting of a wandering fool. But something about the stranger had impressed him.
"I have it with me," continued the odd pedlar; "and as for price--" The stranger made a
gesture indicating dismissal of all sordid details. "I look for my reward in watching the
result of the experiment. I am something of a philosopher. I take an interest in these
matters. See." The stranger dived between his legs and produced from his pack a silver
flask of cunning workmanship and laid it on the table.
"Its flavour is not unpleasant," explained the stranger. "A little bitter; but one does not
drink it by the goblet: a wineglassful, such as one would of old Tokay, while the mind of
both is fixed on the same thought: 'May my soul pass into him, may his pass into me!'
The operation is quite simple: the secret lies within the drug." The stranger patted the
quaint flask as though it had been some little dog.
"You will say: 'Who will exchange souls with Nicholas Snyders?'" The stranger appeared
to have come prepared with an answer to all questions. "My friend, you are rich; you
need not fear. It is the possession men value the least of all they have. Choose your soul
and drive your bargain. I leave that to you with one word of counsel only: you will find
the young readier than the old--the young, to whom the world promises all things for
gold. Choose you a fine, fair, fresh, young soul, Nicholas Snyders; and choose it quickly.
Your hair is somewhat grey, my friend. Taste, before you die, the joy of living."