I, who write this, am a dead man. Dead legally—dead by absolute proofs—dead and buried! Ask for me in my native city and they will tell you I was one of the victims of the cholera that ravaged Naples in 1884, and that my mortal remains lie moldering in the funeral vault of my ancestors. Yet—I live! I feel the warm blood coursing through my veins—the blood of thirty summers—the prime of early manhood invigorates me, and makes these eyes of mine keen and bright—these muscles strong as iron—this hand powerful of grip—this well-knit form erect and proud of bearing. Yes!—I am alive, though declared to be dead; alive in the fullness of manly force—and even sorrow has left few distinguishing marks upon me, save one. My hair, once ebony-black, is white as a wreath of Alpine snow, though its clustering curls are thick as ever.
"A constitutional inheritance?" asks one physician, observing my frosted locks.
"A sudden shock?" suggests another.
"Exposure to intense heat?" hints a third.
I answer none of them. I did so once. I told my story to a man I met by chance—one renowned for medical skill and kindliness. He heard me to the end in evident incredulity and alarm, and hinted at the possibility of madness. Since then I have never spoken.
But now I write. I am far from all persecution—I can set down the truth fearlessly. I can dip the pen in my own blood if I choose, and none shall gainsay me! For the green silence of a vast South American forest encompasses me—the grand and stately silence of a virginal nature, almost unbroken by the ruthless step of man's civilization—a haven of perfect calm, delicately disturbed by the fluttering wings and soft voices of birds, and the gentle or stormy murmur of the freeborn winds of heaven. Within this charmed circle of rest I dwell—here I lift up my overburdened heart like a brimming chalice, and empty it on the ground, to the last drop of gall contained therein. The world shall know my history.
Dead, and yet living! How can that be?—you ask. Ah, my friends! If you seek to be rid of your dead relations for a certainty, you should have their bodies cremated. Otherwise there is no knowing what may happen! Cremation is the best way—the only way. It is clean, and SAFE. Why should there be any prejudice against it? Surely it is better to give the remains of what we loved (or pretended to love) to cleansing fire and pure air than to lay them in a cold vault of stone, or down, down in the wet and clinging earth. For loathly things are hidden deep in the mold—things, foul and all unnameable—long worms—slimy creatures with blind eyes and useless wings—abortions and deformities of the insect tribe born of poisonous vapor—creatures the very sight of which would drive you, oh, delicate woman, into a fit of hysteria, and would provoke even you, oh, strong man, to a shudder of repulsion! But there is a worse thing than these merely physical horrors which come of so-called Christian burial—that is, the terrible UNCERTAINTY....