Orpheus in Mayfair and Other Short Stories HTML version

Dr. Faust's Last Day
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 "Signore."
"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.