An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge HTML version
A Diagnosis of Death
'I am not so superstitious as some of your physicians -- men of science, as you are
pleased to be called,' said Hawver, replying to an accusation that had not been made.
'Some of you -- only a few, I confess -- believe in the immortality of the soul, and in
apparitions which you have not the honesty to call ghosts. I go no further than a
conviction that the living are sometimes seen where they are not, but have been -- where
they have lived so long, perhaps so intensely, as to have left their impress on everything
about them. I know, indeed, that one's environment may be so affected by one's
personality as to yield, long afterward, an image of one's self to the eyes of another.
Doubtless the impressing personality has to be the right kind of personality as the
perceiving eyes have to be the right kind of eyes -- mine, for example.'
'Yes, the right kind of eyes, conveying sensations to the wrong kind of brains,' said Dr.
'Thank you; one likes to have an expectation gratified; that is about the reply that I
supposed you would have the civility to make.'
'Pardon me. But you say that you know. That is a good deal to say, don't you think?
Perhaps you will not mind the trouble of saying how you learned.'
'You will call it an hallucination,' Hawver said, 'but that does not matter.' And he told the
'Last summer I went, as you know, to pass the hot weather term in the town of Meridian.
The relative at whose house I had intended to stay was ill, so I sought other quarters.
After some difficulty I succeeded in renting a vacant dwelling that had been occupied by
an eccentric doctor of the name of Mannering, who had gone away years before, no one
knew where, not even his agent. He had built the house himself and had lived in it with
an old servant for about ten years. His practice, never very extensive, had after a few
years been given up entirely. Not only so, but he had withdrawn himself almost
altogether from social life and become a recluse. I was told by the village doctor, about
the only person with whom he held any relations, that during his retirement he had
devoted himself to a single line of study, the result of which he had expounded in a book
that did not commend itself to the approval of his professional brethren, who, indeed,
considered him not entirely sane. I have not seen the book and cannot now recall the title
of it, but I am told that it expounded a rather startling theory. He held that it was possible
in the case of many a person in good health to forecast his death with precision, several
months in advance of the event. The limit, I think, was eighteen months. There were local
tales of his having exerted his powers of prognosis, or perhaps you would say diagnosis;
and it was said that in every instance the person whose friends he had warned had died
suddenly at the appointed time, and from no assignable cause. All this, however, has
nothing to do with what I have to tell; I thought it might amuse a physician.