While I puffed and gasped with fatigue and excitement, my Conscience talked to this effect:
"My good slave, you are curiously witless--no, I mean characteristically so. In truth, you are always consistent, always yourself, always an ass. Other wise it must have occurred to you that if you attempted this murder with a sad heart and a heavy conscience, I would droop under the burdening in influence instantly. Fool, I should have weighed a ton, and could not have budged from the floor; but instead, you are so cheerfully anxious to kill me that your conscience is as light as a feather; hence I am away up here out of your reach. I can almost respect a mere ordinary sort of fool; but you pah!"
I would have given anything, then, to be heavyhearted, so that I could get this person down from there and take his life, but I could no more be heavy-hearted over such a desire than I could have sorrowed over its accomplishment. So I could only look longingly up at my master, and rave at the ill luck that denied me a heavy conscience the one only time that I had ever wanted such a thing in my life. By and by I got to musing over the hour's strange adventure, and of course my human curiosity began to work. I set myself to framing in my mind some questions for this fiend to answer. Just then one of my boys entered, leaving the door open behind him, and exclaimed:
"My! what has been going on here? The bookcase is all one riddle of--"
I sprang up in consternation, and shouted:
"Out of this! Hurry! jump! Fly! Shut the door! Quick, or my Conscience will get away!"
The door slammed to, and I locked it. I glanced up and was grateful, to the bottom of my heart, to see that my owner was still my prisoner. I said:
"Hang you, I might have lost you! Children are the heedlessest creatures. But look here, friend, the boy did not seem to notice you at all; how is that?"
"For a very good reason. I am invisible to all but you."
I made a mental note of that piece of information with a good deal of satisfaction. I could kill this miscreant now, if I got a chance, and no one would know it. But this very reflection made me so lighthearted that my Conscience could hardly keep his seat, but was like to float aloft toward the ceiling like a toy balloon. I said, presently:
"Come, my Conscience, let us be friendly. Let us fly a flag of truce for a while. I am suffering to ask you some questions."
"Very well. Begin."
"Well, then, in the first place, why were you never visible to me before?"
"Because you never asked to see me before; that is, you never asked in the right spirit and the proper form before. You were just in the right spirit this time, and when you called for your most pitiless enemy I was that person by a very large majority, though you did not suspect it."
"Well, did that remark of mine turn you into flesh and blood?"
"No. It only made me visible to you. I am unsubstantial, just as other spirits are."
This remark prodded me with a sharp misgiving.
If he was unsubstantial, how was I going to kill him? But I dissembled, and said persuasively:
"Conscience, it isn't sociable of you to keep at such a distance. Come down and take another smoke."
This was answered with a look that was full of derision, and with this observation added:
"Come where you can get at me and kill me? The invitation is declined with thanks."
"All right," said I to myself; "so it seems a spirit can be killed, after all; there will be one spirit lacking in this world, presently, or I lose my guess." Then I said aloud:
"There; wait a bit. I am not your friend. I am your enemy; I am not your equal, I am your master, Call me 'my lord,' if you please. You are too familiar."
"I don't like such titles. I am willing to call you, sir. That is as far as--"
"We will have no argument about this. Just obey, that is all. Go on with your chatter."
"Very well, my lord--since nothing but my lord will suit you--I was going to ask you how long you will be visible to me?"
I broke out with strong indignation: "This is simply an outrage.