"I should ask that question. How did you get here?"
'"Through the door," replied the figure.
'"What are you?" says the baron.
'"A man," replied the figure.
'"I don't believe it," says the baron.
'"Disbelieve it then," says the figure.
'"I will," rejoined the baron.
'The figure looked at the bold Baron of Grogzwig for some time, and then said familiarly,
'"There's no coming over you, I see. I'm not a man!"
'"What are you then?" asked the baron.
'"A genius," replied the figure.
'"You don't look much like one," returned the baron scornfully.
'"I am the Genius of Despair and Suicide," said the apparition. "Now you know me."
'With these words the apparition turned towards the baron, as if composing himself for a talk--and, what was very remarkable, was, that he threw his cloak aside, and displaying a stake, which was run through the centre of his body, pulled it out with a jerk, and laid it on the table, as composedly as if it had been a walking-stick.
'"Now," said the figure, glancing at the hunting-knife, "are you ready for me?"
'"Not quite," rejoined the baron; "I must finish this pipe first."
'"Look sharp then," said the figure.
'"You seem in a hurry," said the baron.
'"Why, yes, I am," answered the figure; "they're doing a pretty brisk business in my way, over in England and France just now, and my time is a good deal taken up."
'"Do you drink?" said the baron, touching the bottle with the bowl of his pipe.
'"Nine times out of ten, and then very hard," rejoined the figure, drily.
'"Never in moderation?" asked the baron.
'"Never," replied the figure, with a shudder, "that breeds cheerfulness."
'The baron took another look at his new friend, whom he thought an uncommonly queer customer, and at length inquired whether he took any active part in such little proceedings as that which he had in contemplation.
'"No," replied the figure evasively; "but I am always present."
'"Just to see fair, I suppose?" said the baron.
'"Just that," replied the figure, playing with his stake, and examining the ferule. "Be as quick as you can, will you, for there's a young gentleman who is afflicted with too much money and leisure wanting me now, I find."
'"Going to kill himself because he has too much money!" exclaimed the baron, quite tickled. "Ha! ha! that's a good one." (This was the first time the baron had laughed for many a long day.)
'"I say," expostulated the figure, looking very much scared; "don't do that again."
'"Why not?" demanded the baron.
'"Because it gives me pain all over," replied the figure. "Sigh as much as you please: that does me good."
'The baron sighed mechanically at the mention of the word; the figure, brightening up again, handed him the hunting-knife with most winning politeness.
'"It's not a bad idea though," said the baron, feeling the edge of the weapon; "a man killing himself because he has too much money."
'"Pooh!" said the apparition, petulantly, "no better than a man's killing himself because he has none or little."
'Whether the genius unintentionally committed himself in saying this, or whether he thought the baron's mind was so thoroughly made up that it didn't matter what he said, I have no means of knowing. I only know that the baron stopped his hand, all of a sudden, opened his eyes wide, and looked as if quite a new light had come upon him for the first time.
'"Why, certainly," said Von Koeldwethout, "nothing is too bad to be retrieved."
'"Except empty coffers," cried the genius.
'"Well; but they may be one day filled again," said the baron.
'"Scolding wives," snarled the genius.
'"Oh! They may be made quiet," said the baron.
'"Thirteen children," shouted the genius.
'"Can't all go wrong, surely," said the baron.
'The genius was evidently growing very savage with the baron, for holding these opinions all at once; but he tried to laugh it off, and said if he would let him know when he had left off joking he should feel obliged to him.
'"But I am not joking; I was never farther from it," remonstrated the baron.