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"Man Proposes–"; The Story Of A Man Who Wanted To Die
by [?]

“Decidedly not. That insurance wouldn’t be payable if–it was suicide. I intend to die from natural causes–before the first of March.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Very little; keep me company, answer questions about my illness, perhaps; attend to a few things after I’m gone. You might even have to prove that I didn’t take my own life. Do you agree?”

“Whew! That’s a cold-blooded proposition. Are you really in earnest?”

“It took nearly my last dollar to buy that insurance. I will execute a promissory note to you for twenty-five thousand dollars, payable one year from date. Borrowed money, understand? The executors will see that it is paid. Is that satisfactory?”

“But you say you can’t kill yourself and yet–Good Lord! How calmly we’re discussing this thing! What makes you think you’ll die of natural causes within the next three months?”

“I shall see that I do. Oh, I’ve thought it all out. I’ve studied poisons, but there is the danger of discovery when one uses them. They’ll do to fall back upon if necessary, but there is a better way which is quite as certain, reasonably quick, and utterly above suspicion.”

“What is it?” questioned DeVoe, interestedly.

“Pneumonia! I had a touch of it once, and I know. They nearly lost me. It takes us big, robust fellows off with particular ease and expedition. You and I will take a hunting trip; it is winter; I will suffer some unexpected exposure; you’ll do what you can to save me, but medical attention will come too late. It won’t take two weeks altogether.”

“If you’re looking for pneumonia I know the place. When I left, ten days ago, men were dying like flies. You won’t need to go hunting it; it will come hunting you.”

“Out West somewhere, eh?”.

“The Nevada desert. That’s where I’m mining.”

“Deserts are usually hot.”

DeVoe shivered. “Not this one, at this season. It’s a hell of a country, Butler; five thousand feet elevation, biting winds, blizzards, and all that. You just can’t keep warm. But the danger is in the Poganip.”

“The what?”

“The Poganip; what they call ‘the Breath of Death’ out there. It’s a sort of frozen fog peculiar to that locality.”

“Then you accept my offer?”

Again DeVoe hesitated. “Are you really going to do it? Well then, yes. If I don’t take your money, I suppose you’ll employ somebody else.”

“Good! We’ll leave to-morrow.”

“Can you get your affairs in shape by then?”

“I don’t want them in shape. Don’t you understand?”

“I see.” After a moment the younger man continued, “It’s all very well for us to plan this way–but I’m not sure we’ll succeed in our enterprise.”

“Why not, pray?”

“Well, I dare say I’m a good deal of a rotter–I must be to go into a thing like this–but I have a superstitious streak in me. Possibly it’s reverence; at any rate I believe there is a Power outside of ourselves which appoints the hour of our coming and the hour of our going. I’m not so sure you can pull this off until that Power says so.”

Murray laughed. “Nonsense! What is to prevent my shooting myself at this moment, if I want to?”

“Nothing, if you want to–but you don’t want to. Why don’t you want to? Because that Power hasn’t named this as your time. I don’t make myself very clear.”

“I think I see what you’re driving at, but you’re wrong. We are masters of our own destinies; we make our lives as full or as empty as we choose. I have emptied mine of all it contained, and I don’t consider that I am doing any one an injury in disposing of what belongs alone to me. Now we’ll complete the details.”

The speaker drew a blank note from his desk and filled it in.

It was with a very natural feeling of interest that Butler Murray watched the desert unfold before his car window a few days later as his train made its way southward from the main line and into the Bad Lands of the Nevada gold-fields. There was snow everywhere; not enough for warmth, but enough to chill the landscape with a gray, forbidding aspect. It lay, loose-piled and shifting, behind naked rocks, or streamed over the knife-edge ridges, swirling and settling in the gullies like filmy winding-sheets. All the world up here was barren, burned out, and cold, like his own life; it was a fitting place in which to end an existence which had proven such a mockery and failure.