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Michael Bell
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Posted By Michael Bell

The tale of “Quick Consumption” continues:


    There is a superstition connected with it. It is one of those weird old superstitions with which the household literature of New England abounds. It is, that the heart of the dead, dying not, by some strange rapport, feeds upon the vitality of the living—the living being thus actually eaten up of the dead; and weird stories are afloat of the dead having been taken up, and there having been found, still red and warm, in the midst of ghastly rottenness, the hearts of some who have died of quick consumption. Whole families have gone of it, one after another, the dead gnawing and feeding upon the vitality of the living, until, as the last dropped into the grave, the red, warm heart in the coffined corpse, having no living relative upon the vitality of whom to feed, has wasted also and died—died at last in its coffin for want of something upon which to prey.

    They were three of the prettiest girls in Stafford—Hetty and Hannah and Florence Calhoun—and would have been termed twins, but that they had been three at a birth instead of two. I was engaged to Florence, and the day had been set for the wedding. I had just hung out my shingle, “W. F. MERRICK, ATTORNEY AND COUNSELOR-AT-LAW,” upon the corner of a little cottage-like building in the village, and was accounted a promising young lawyer. I remember distinctly the exact dimensions and anatomy of that shingle. It had words in gold lettering upon a black ground, a foot and a half long by one-third that in width, bordered with a gold edging. Of course, I intended to marry Florence, and settle down, as the phrase is, in the little, old, caterpillar-going town. I might possibly be sent to the State Senate, Connecticut, in the course of a few years; and this latter, I may add, was the limit and Ultima Thule of my ambition.

    The old gentleman, Mr. Calhoun—he was an awkward stick, and always walked as if he had just bought a new pair of legs and hadn’t had time to get used to them—dropped suddenly, and in a few days was dead—dropped into the grave without apparent reason why, for he was a hale old man of fifty—and left the old farm to his heirs and Mrs. Calhoun. I remember the date of the old man’s death distinctly. It was October 10th, 1843—over twenty-eight years since. Mrs. Calhoun, so the neighbors said, had been overtasked in taking care of the old gentleman. But rest seemed to benefit her health very little, if at all. I saw her ten days after Mr. Calhoun’s death, and she was even more emaciated and weary-looking than ever.

    The doctor was in daily attendance, and happened to be at the house when I called.

 
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