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Tales of Fantasy:
Edward Page Mitchell:
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Date first posted: Jan 2023
Most recent update: Jan 2023
This eBook was produced by David Clarke, Matthias Kaether, Roy Glashan and Colin Choat
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EDWARD PAGE MITCHELL (1852-1927), who worked as an editor and story writer for the New York daily The Sun, is recognized as a major figure in the early development of the science fiction genre.
His works include stories about a time machine ("The Clock that Went Backward," 1881) and an invisible man ("The Crystal Man," 1881), both of which pre-date H.G. Wells' novels on these subjects (1895 and 1897).
Other works include stories about faster-than-light travel ("The Tachypomp," 1874), a cyborg ("The Ablest Man in the World," 1879), teleportation ("The Man without a Body", 1877), and mind-transfer ("Exchanging Their Souls," 1877).
Besides works of science fiction, Mitchell wrote stories in the fantasy and horror genres. RGL offers special compilations of tales in all three categories.
—Roy Glashan, 22 January 2023
How Claltus Treats The Theory Of The Open Polar Sea—What
He Says About The Gulf Stream—life Of A Brooklyn Discoverer
HE was an elderly man with a beard of grizzled gray unkempt hair, light eyes that shot quick, furtive glances, pale lips that trembled often with weak, uneasy smiles, and hands that restlessly rubbed each other, or else groped unconsciously for some missing tool. His clothes were coarse and in rags, and as he sat on a low upturned box, close before a half-warm stove, he shivered sometimes when a fierce gust of freezing wind rattled the patched and dingy windows. Behind him was a carpenter's bench, with a rack of neatly kept woodworking tools above it; a lathe and a small stock of very handsomely finished library stepladders. A great pile of black walnut chips and lathe dust lay on the floor, and the air was full of the clean, fresh smell of the wood. The room in which he sat was a garret, at the top of two eroded flights of steep and rickety stairs, in a building within three blocks of the southernmost extremity of that Lilliputian railway on which Saratoga trunks, fitted up as horse cars, are run from Fulton ferry to Hamilton ferry.
"Don't mention my name at all, sir," said he to the Sun reporter, who perched upon an unsteady box before him, "nor don't give them the exact place, please, for there are lots about who know me, and who'd be bothering me, and maybe laughing at me. Call me John Claltus. That's the name I was known by down in Charleston and all down South, and it did very well while I was working there, so you can put it in that."
"But why, having a grand scientific idea, and being the originator of novel and bold theories, do you shrink so modestly from public recognition and admiration?"
"I don't want any glory. I've thought out what I have because I felt I had a mission to do it, and maybe mightn't be let live if I didn't; but I'm done now. I can't last much longer. I'm old and poor, and I don't care to have folks bothering me and maybe laughing at me; and you see my brother, my cousins, and sometimes some sailor friends come to see me, and I'd rather you'd let it go as Claltus, sir."
"And as Claltus it shall go. But about your discovery. Was it not Symmes's theory of a hole through the globe that first gave you the idea?"
"OH, not at all! I was shown it all in a vision years before I ever heard of him. It was more than thirty-eight years ago. I was only a twelve-year-old boy. I was greatly afraid when I saw it; it was so terrible to me. I really think, from what I saw, that the earth was all in a sort of mist or fog once. I felt that I must go to sea and try to find out what I could about it as a poor man; so as a sailor I went for years, always thinking about it and inquiring when I could of them that might have had a chance to know something. About two years ago I went South and tried to establish myself there, and then I saw the vision again, not so terrible as before, and I could understand it better. It came to me like a globe, about two feet through, and a hole through it one third of its diameter in bigness. I told it to people there and they said I was crazy. I told it to two men I was working for—brothers they were and Frenchmen. I built an extension table and raised the roof of their house for them, and they said, 'How can it be that you do our work so well and yet are not in your right mind?' So I quit saying anything about it. This is a model of like what I saw in the vision."
The model of the vision as produced is a ball of black walnut wood, four and a half inches in diameter, traversed by a round aperture whose diameter seemed to be about one third the diameter of the ball or globe. Around the exterior, lines have been traced by a lathe tool, the spaces between them representing ten degrees each. A chalk mark on one side represents New York. This ball is mounted between the points of an inverted U of strong wire, so based upon a little board as to admit of being tipped to change the angle at which the ball is poised. The points of the wire are fastened near the edges of the ends of the hole at opposite sides of the little globe, so as to admit of its turning, and thus alternately raising and depressing, with reference to the false poles, the ends of the hole. As the thing stood on a little stand, where he placed it very carefully, the sunlight poured through the hole, and as he turned it the area covered in the interior of the ball by the sun's direct rays was gradually narrowed, shortened, and finally so diminished as to extend inward only a very little way; then, as he continued turning it, the patch of light once more widened and lengthened until the sun again shone all the way through.
" ," said he, "that represents a day and a night for the people in the inside of the earth. I'm perfectly satisfied in my own mind that the turn is made on about ten degrees, and about ten degrees from the outside rim of it; them that goes there would get to the flat part on the inside. When they get to the ninetieth degree that's the pole they've always been trying to make. They'll be turning into the inside. Eighty degrees is the furthest they've ever got yet, at least that's the furthest for anyone that has come back to tell about it. Perry's Point is the furthest land northward on this continent that has ever been reached, and Spitsbergen is about as far on the other side. The furtherst they have gone south is Victoria Island, opposite Cape Horn, maybe a thousand miles away from the Cape, and that's only about eighty degrees. I've got a bit of stone here that came from Victoria Island that a sailor man gave me, thinkin', maybe, I might find out something about it from somebody that knew."
The discoverer arose and walked slowly to the further end of his garret, where he took from a shelf a little piece of stone, about three inches in length, two in width, and three quarters in thickness, soft as rotten stone almost, light brown and looking like a bit of petrified wood.
"I don't know what it is. There isn't much curious about it. I've seen bits of stone from the Central Park that looked much like it, but not just the same. I tried to make a whetstone of it, but it was too soft; it wouldn't take any polish."
"In your long sea service did you ever get far enough toward the poles to find anything corroborative of your theories?"
"Not myself, though I've noticed things that confirmed me. Now, there's the Gulf Stream, for instance. They say there's a current from the Gulf of Mexico that goes across to Europe; but I've seen enough myself, in the Indian Ocean, that I've crossed many a time and often, and round to Cape Horn, that I'm convinced it's the polar stream and the action of the sun on the narrow part of the rim there causes it. I studied it in the Gulf of Mexico. They thought the pressure of them big rivers flowing into the gulf made it. Now if that was so it would make a great pressure where it rushes through the narrow place between Florida and the West Indies that would set the stream going away to the other side of the ocean, but I couldn't see any such pressure greater there than anywhere else. Them rivers has no more effect there than a bucket of water poured into the bay down beyond. It's the great heat of the sun at the narrow rim melting the ice, and the current pouring out of that hole, that makes what they call the Gulf Stream in the part of it they've observed."
"HAVE you ever met any sailors who knew anything more about it than you did yourself?"
"Yes," the discoverer answered quickly, ceasing to bore bits from the soft stone with his thick thumbnail and looking up with an eager smile, "I met a sailor man in Charleston—Tola or Toland his name was—and he said he had been far enough to see a great, bright arch that rose out of the water like, and I said, 'That's my arch; that's the rim of the hole to the inside of the earth.' He was there in Charleston waiting for a ship, and I was making patterns. We used to meet every night to talk about the thing, for he was a knowledgeable man, and took an interest in it, the same as I did. He saw that arch every night for two weeks while the privateer he was on was in them waters, and all that was with him saw it, but they couldn't make it out. Then they got frightened of it, beating about in strange waters, and at last they got back to parts of the ocean they knew, and so came away as fast as they could. Well," sighing as he spoke, "sailors sometimes make a heap of brag about what they've seen and possibly there's nothing in it, but there may be. I know it's there all the same, for I've seen it in the vision and it stands to reason. I asked him if he could see anything in the daytime, and he said no—nothing, only clouds and mists about him. And that stands to reason, for in the night, you see, the reflected light would shine up the arch and show it, but in daytime it would be so high and so far off that it could not be seen. I had some hopes that he might have got the color of land, but he didn't."
"What do you suppose is the character of the country in there?"
"Oh! I don't know, but it's likely there are mountains and rivers in there. I think it's most likely they have most water in there, but maybe a good deal of land, too; and maybe gold and various kinds of things that's scarce on the outside."
"And people, too?"
"I shouldn't wonder at all if there was people there, driven in there by the storms, and that couldn't find their way out again."
"And how do you suppose they support life?"
"Why shouldn't they the same as people on the outside? Haven't they got air and light and heat and the change of seasons, and water and soil, the same as there is outside? It's a big place in there. The open polar circle, I calculate, is in circumference about the diameter of the earth, and that would give one third of the earth open inside. They get light and heat from the sun, and maybe a good deal of reflected light and heat all the way through from the south end of the hole. That's where it all goes in at."
"AND what sort of folks do you suppose are in there?"
"Ah! I don't know. There may be Irishmen there, and there may be Dutch there, and there may be Malays there, and other kinds of people, and there may be Danes there, too—they were good smart sailor people, too, in their time, always beating about the waters and they might have got drifted in there and couldn't get out."
"How do you mean 'couldn't get out'?"
"Couldn't find their way. There's no charts of them waters, and maybe the needle won't work the same there, and the place is so big they may go on sailing there and never going straight or finding their way back. Maybe they've been wrecked, and had no means of coming away. Sure there must be mighty storms in there. Great storms come out of that hole in the south. 'Great storms come out of the South,' the Scriptures say. You'll find that in the Book of Job, that and lots more about the earth. He talks about it as if he knew all about it. He knew all about that hole in the inside of the earth, and as he wasn't with the Creator when He made it, he must have seen it to know so much about it as he shows he did.
"And yet—" he murmured in a lower voice, meditatively digging off little bits from a piece of chalk with his fingernails, and touching up the spot representing New York on the wooden ball—"you'll find a good many things in the Scriptures if you search them, about the interior of the earth."
"Have you ever tried to enlist government or private enterprise to prosecute an investigation of the correctness of your theories?"
"No. What could I do? I was always only a poor, hard-working, ignorant man, but I seen it in a vision and I felt it my duty to study on it and make it known. But I think if a good steamship was laid on her course proper from New York, set in the way I know she would have to be, and provided for rightly, in about ten weeks she would get there and into the inside of the earth. Her wheels would never stop until she got there, for there's more than human thought about it. It's Cod's will it should be known, and her machinist couldn't stop her wheels if she was going the right way for it. But she would have to be provided with a good shower bath to keep her wet all the time, for on the rim there, on the narrow part, it will be five times as hot as at the equator. If they get up an expedition to go there, it will have to be well armed, too. If they find them Irish and Danes in there, there will be fighting, for they are hostile people. Yes, and them Malays, too. They know how to navigate ships, too, and they're warlike chaps and they'll give them some trouble. Yes, the expedition will have to be well armed."
"DO the inhabitants of the hole see the moon and the stars?"
"Partly, I conceive. They get the good of the moon about nine days in the month, and can see such parts of the heavens as are visible out of the ends of the hole. That's all; but it would never be real night there, for even when the sun would be off on one side its light would be reflected from the walls of the other side. You see the earth is moving about the sun all the time. Not that I think it goes round in the form them astronomers say it does. I think it goes round on the high and low orbit, that is, one side of the circle is raised in coming down from the sun—and always at the same distance from the sun. Any globe working about the sun must have the same force and the same balance all the time to keep face. The theory of the astronomers is that it goes out many millions of miles at certain times of the year and comes back. Now, there would be no order or regularity about that. It isn't reason. It would make a regular hurly-burly of everything if the earth was allowed to run around in that wild way. And there's another thing that goes to show the world is hollow inside. A solid globe you can't make roll of itself in the sunlight but a hollow one will. You go to work and make a globe of fine silk and fill it with gas, or make it of cork and hollow, and put it into a glass jar in the sun, and pump the air out, and raise it up to a certain temperature—about 180 degrees or maybe 200, I think—and it'll roll in the sun, but a solid one won't do it. So it stands to reason the earth is hollow, so it will roll in the sun. I've tried that experiment in my shop during the war. I made it up nice, but I haven't got it now, for my shop was robbed three years ago, and I lost that and a lot more things, and all my tools. The model I had for the Patent Office was carried away, too."
"But let us get back to our hole. Beyond what the sailor told you, you have nothing more than theory?"
"Not altogether. There are signs of life from further to the south than anybody has ever gone yet that we know of. I read in a paper last August that an English captain went far enough south to get into warm water; and there he picked up a log drifting from still further south, with nails in it and marks of an ax on it, and that log he brought back with him to England, and it's there now. Anyway, I read that in the paper—but," speaking in a tone of regretful sadness, "these newspapers start so many curious things and ideas that you can't always be certain about what they say. But other sailor men than that captain have found the water growing warmer, and had reason to know of open seas at the poles. Besides, there's another thing that goes to show that there's life inside the earth, and that is the great bones and tusks of animals, so big that no animals on the earth now can carry them or have such things, that they find away up in Siberia. Them came from the inside of the earth, I've no doubt, drifted out in the ice that was parted there when the sun cracked the floes and set them drifting out in a polar current."
"YOU are, of course, aware that many people have a theory that the interior of the earth is in a state of fusion, and others that there are vast internal seas, whose waves act upon chemical substances in the earth, and produce spontaneous combustion and earthquakes and volcanoes?"
"Yes, and what's to hinder. The crust of the earth, between the hole inside and the outside surface, is nearly three thousand miles thick, and surely in all that there's a heap of room for many strange things. But as sure as you live and I live the earth is hollow inside, and there's a great country there where people can live, and where I've no doubt they do live, and someday it will all be found out about it."
THE ancient castle of Weinstein, on the upper Rhine, was, as everybody knows, inhabited in the autumn of 1352 by the powerful Baron Kalbsbraten, better known in those parts as Old Twenty Flasks, a sobriquet derived from his reputed daily capacity for the product of the vineyard. The baron had many other admirable qualities. He was a genial, whole-souled, public-spirited gentleman, and robbed, murdered, burned, pillaged, and drove up the steep sides of the Weinstein his neighbors' cattle, wives, and sisters, with a hearty bonhomie that won for him the unaffected esteem of his contemporaries.
One evening the good baron sat alone in the great hall of Weinstein, in a particularly happy mood. He had dined well, as was his habit, and twenty empty bottles stood before him in a row upon the table, like a train of delightful memories of the recent past. But the baron had another reason to be satisfied with himself and with the world. The consciousness that he had that day become a parent lit up his countenance with a tender glow that mere wine cannot impart.
"What ho! Without! Hi! Seneschal!" he presently shouted, in a tone that made the twenty empty bottles ring as if they were musical glasses, while a score of suits of his ancestors' armor hanging around the walls gave out in accompaniment a deep metallic bass. The seneschal was speedily at his side.
"Seneschal," said Old Twenty Flasks, "you gave me to understand that the baroness was doing finely?"
"I am told," replied the seneschal, "that her ladyship is doing as well as could be expected."
The baron mused in silence for a moment, absently regarding the empty bottles. "You also gave me to understand," he continued, "that there were—"
"Four," said the seneschal, gravely. "I am credibly informed that there are four, all boys."
"That," exclaimed the baron, with a glow of honest pride, bringing a brawny fist down upon the table—"That, in these days, when the abominable doctrines of Malthus are gaining ground among the upper classes, is what I call creditable—creditable, by Saint Christopher. If I do say it!" His eyes rested again upon the empty bottles. "I think, Seneschal," he added, after a brief pause, "that under the circumstances we may venture—"
"Nothing could be more eminently proper," rejoined the seneschal. "I will fetch another flask forthwith, and of the best. What says Your Excellency to the vintage of 1304, the year of the comet?"
"But," hesitated the baron, toying with his mustache, "I understood you to say that there were four of 'em—four boys?"
"True, my lord," replied the seneschal, snatching the idea with the readiness of a well-trained domestic. "I will fetch four more flasks."
As the excellent retainer deposited four fresh bottles upon the table within the radius of the baron's reach, he casually remarked, "A pious old man, a traveler, is in the castle yard, my lord, seeking shelter and a supper. He comes from beyond the Alps, and fares toward Cologne."
"I presume," said the baron, with an air of indifference, "that he has been duly searched for plunder."
"He passed this morning," replied the retainer, "through the domain of your well-born cousin, Count Conrad of Schwinkenfels. Your lordship will readily understand that he has nothing now save a few beggarly Swiss coins of copper."
"My worthy cousin Conrad!" exclaimed the baron, affectionately. "It is the one great misfortune of my life that I live to the leeward of Schwinkenfels. But you relieved the pious man of his copper?"
"My lord," said the seneschal, with an apologetic smile, "it was not worth the taking."
"Now by my soul," roared the baron, "you exasperate me! Coin, and not worth the taking! Perhaps not for its intrinsic value, but you should have cleaned him out as a matter of principle, you fool!"
The seneschal hung his head and muttered an explanation. At the same time he opened the twenty-first bottle.
"Never," continued the baron, less violently but still severely, "if you value my esteem and your own paltry skin, suffer yourself to be swerved a hair's breadth from principle by the apparent insignificance of the loot. A conscientious attention to details is one of the fundamental elements of a prosperous career—in fact, it underlies all political economy."
The withdrawal of the cork from the twenty-second bottle emphasized this statement.
"However," the baron went on, somewhat mollified, "this is not a day on which I can consistently make a fuss over a trifle. Four, and all boys! This is a glorious day for Weinstein. Open the two remaining flasks, Seneschal, and show the pious stranger in. I fain would amuse myself with him."
VIEWED through the baron's twenty-odd bottles, the stranger appeared to be an aged man—eighty years, if a day. He wore a shabby gray cloak and carried a palmer's staff, and seemed an innocuous old fellow, cast in too commonplace a mold to furnish even a few minutes' diversion. The baron regretted sending for him, but being a person of unfailing politeness, when not upon the rampage, he bade his guest be seated and filled him a beaker of the comet wine.
After an obeisance, profound yet not servile, the pilgrim took the glass and critically tasted the wine. He held the beaker up athwart the light with trembling hand, and then tasted again. The trial seemed to afford him great satisfaction, and he stroked his long white beard.
"Perhaps you are a connoisseur. It pleases your palate, eh?" said the baron, winking at the full-length portrait of one of his ancestors.
"Proper well," replied the pilgrim, "though it is a trifle syrupy from too long keeping. By the bouquet and the tint, I should pronounce it of the vintage of 1304, grown on the steep slope south southeast of the castle, in the fork of the two pathways that lead to under the hill. The sun's rays reflected from the turret give a peculiar excellence to the growth of that particular spot. But your rascally varlets have shelved the bottle on the wrong side of the cellar. It should have been put on the dry side, near where your doughty grandsire Sigismund von Weinstein, the Hairy Handed, walled up his third wife in preparation for a fourth."
The baron regarded his guest with a look of amazement. "Upon my life!" said he, "but you appear to be familiar with the ins and outs of this establishment."
"If I do," rejoined the stranger, composedly sipping his wine, "'tis no more than natural, for I lived more than sixty years under this roof and know its every leak. I happen to be a Von Weinstein myself."
The baron crossed himself and pulled his chair a little further away from the bottles and the stranger.
"Oh no," said the pilgrim, laughing; "quiet your fears. I am aware that every well-regulated castle has an ancestral ghost, but my flesh and blood are honest. I was lord of Weinstein till I went, twelve years ago, to study metaphysics in the Arabic schools, and the cursed scriveners wrote me out of the estate. Why, I know this hall from infancy! Yonder is the fireplace at which I used to warm my baby toes. There is the identical suit of armor into which I crawled when a boy of six and hid till my sainted mother—heaven rest her!—nigh died of fright. It seems but yesterday. There on the wall hangs the sharp two-handed sword of our ancestor, Franz, the One-Eared, with which I cut off the mustaches of my tipsy sire as he sat muddled over his twentieth bottle. There is the very casque—but perhaps these reminiscences weary you. You must pardon the garrulity of an old man who has come to revisit the home of his childhood and prime."
The baron pressed his hand to his forehead. "I have lived in this castle myself for half a century," said he, "and am tolerably familiar with the history of my immediate progenitors. But I can't say that I ever had the pleasure of your acquaintance. However, permit me to fill your glass."
"It is good wine," said the pilgrim, holding out his glass. "Except, perhaps, the vintage of 1392, when the grapes—"
The baron stared at his guest. "The grapes of 1392," said he dryly, "lack forty years of ripening. You are aged, my friend, and your mind wanders."
"Excuse me, worthy host," calmly replied the pilgrim. "The vintage of 1392 has been forty years cellared. You have no memory for dates."
"What call you this year?" demanded the baron.
"By the almanacs, and the stars, and precedent, and common consent, it is the year of grace 1433."
"By my soul and hope of salvation," ejaculated the baron, "it is the year of grace 1352."
"There is evidently a misunderstanding somewhere," remarked the venerable stranger. "I was born here in the year 1352, the year the Turks invaded Europe."
"No Turk has invaded Europe, thanks be to heaven," replied Old Twenty Flasks, recovering his self-control. "You are either a magician or an imposter. In either case I shall order you drawn and quartered as soon as we have finished this bottle. Pray proceed with your very interesting reminiscences, and do not spare the wine."
"I never practice magic," quietly replied the pilgrim, "and as to being an imposter, scan well my face. Don't you recognize the family nose, thick, short, and generously colored? How about the three lateral and two diagonal wrinkles on my brow? I see them there on yours. Are not my chaps Weinstein chaps? Look closely. I court investigation."
"You do look damnably like us," the baron admitted.
"I was the youngest," the stranger went on, "of quadruplets. My three brothers were puny, sickly things, and did not long survive their birth. As a child I was the idol of my poor father, who had some traits worthy of respectful mention, guzzling old toper and unconscionable thief though he was."
The baron winced.
"They used to call him Old Twenty Flasks. It is my candid opinion, based on memory, that Old Forty Flasks would have been nearer the truth."
"It's a lie!" shouted the baron, "I rarely exceeded twenty bottles."
"And as for his standing in the community," the pilgrim went on, without taking heed of the interruption, "it must be confessed that nothing could be worse. He was the terror of honest folk for miles around. Property rights were extremely insecure in this neighborhood, for the rapacity of my lamented parent knew no bounds. Yet nobody dared to complain aloud, for lives were not much safer than sheep or ducats. How the people hated his shadow, and roundly cursed him behind his back! I remember well that, when I was about fourteen—it must have been in '66, the year the Grand Turk occupied Adrianople— tall Hugo, the miller, called me up to him, and said: 'Boy, thou has a right pretty nose.' 'It is a pretty nose, Hugo,' said I, straightening up. 'Is it on firm and strong?' asked Hugo, with a sneer. 'Firm enough, and strong enough, I dare say,' I answered; 'but why ask such a fool's question?' 'Well, well, boy,' said Hugo, turning away, gook sharp with thine eyes after thy nose when thy father is unoccupied, for he has just that conscience to steal the nose off his son's face in lack of better plunder.'"
"By St. Christopher!" roared the baron, "tall Hugo, the miller, shall pay for this. I always suspected him. By St. Christopher's burden, I'll break every bone in his villainous body."
"'Twould be an ignoble vengeance," replied the pilgrim, quietly, "for tall Hugo has been in his grave these sixty years."
"True," said the baron, putting both hands to his head, and gazing at his guest with a look of utter helplessness. "I forget that it is now next century—that is to say, if you be not a spectre."
"You will excuse me, my respected parent," returned the pilgrim, "if I subject your hypothesis to the test of logic, for it touches me upon a very tender spot, impugning, as it does, my physical verity and my status as an actual individualized ego. Now, what is our relative position? You acknowledge the date of my birth to have been the year of grace 1352. That is a matter in which your memory is not likely to be at fault. On the other hand, with a strange inconsistency, you maintain, in the face of almanacs, chronologies, and the march of events, that it is still the year of grace 1352. Were you one of the seven sleepers, your hallucination [to use no harsher term] might be pardoned, but you are neither a sleeper nor a saint. Now, every one of the eighty years that are packed away in the carpet bag of my experience protests against your extraordinary error. It is I who have a prima facie right to question your physical existence, not you mine. Did you ever hear of a ghost, spectre, wraith, apparition, eidolon, or spook coming out of the future to haunt, annoy, or frighten individuals of an earlier generation?"
The baron was obliged to admit that he never had.
"But you have heard of instances where apparitions, ghosts, spooks, call them what you will, have invaded the present from out the limbo of the past?"
The baron crossed himself a second time and peered anxiously into the dark corners of the apartment. "If you are a genuine Von Weinstein," he whispered, "you already know that this castle is overrun with spectres of that sort. It is difficult to move about after nightfall without tumbling over half a dozen of them."
"Then," said the placid logician, "you surrender your case. You commit what, my revered preceptor in dialectics, the learned Arabian Ben Dusty, used to style syllogistic suicide. For you allow that, while ghosts out of the future are unheard of, ghosts from the past are not infrequently encountered. Now I submit to you as a man, this proposition: That it is infinitely more probable that you are a ghost than that I am one!"
The baron turned very red. "Is this filial," he demanded, "to deny the flesh and blood of your own father?"
"Is it paternal," retorted the pilgrim, not losing his composure, "to insinuate the unrealness of the son of your own begetting?"
"By all the saints!" growled the baron, growing still redder, "this question shall be settled, and speedily. Halloo, there, Seneschal!" He called again and again, but in vain.
"Spare your lungs," calmly suggested the pilgrim. "The best-trained domestic in the world will not stir from beneath the sod for all your shouting."
Twenty Flasks sank back helplessly in his chair. He tried to speak, but his tongue and throat repudiated their functions. They only gurgled.
"That is right," said his guest, approvingly. "Conduct yourself as befits a venerable and respectable ghost from the last century. A well-behaved apparition neither blusters nor is violent. You can well afford to be peaceable in your deportment now; you were turbulent enough before your death."
"My death?" gasped the baron.
"Excuse me," apologized the pilgrim, "for referring to that unpleasant event."
"My death!" stammered the baron, his hair standing on end. "I should like to hear the particulars."
"I was hardly more than fifteen at the time," said the pilgrim musingly; "but I shall never forget the most trifling circumstances of the great popular arising that put an end to my worthy sire's career. Exasperated beyond endurance by your outrageous crimes, the people for miles around at last rose in a body, and, led by my old friend tall Hugo, the miller, flocked to Schwinkenfels and appealed to your cousin, Count Conrad, for protection against yourself, their natural protector. Von Schwinkenfels heard their complaints with great gravity. He replied that he had long watched your abominable actions with distress and consternation; that he had frequently remonstrated with you, but in vain; that he regarded you as the scourge of the neighborhood; that your castle was full of blood-stained treasure and shamefully acquired booty; and that he now regarded it as the personal duty of himself, the conservator of lawful order and good morals, to march against Weinstein and exterminate you for the common good."
"The hypocritical pirate!" exclaimed Twenty Flasks.
"Which he proceeded to do," continued the pilgrim, "supported not only by his retainers but by your own. I must say that you made a sturdy defense. Had not your rascally seneschal sold you out to Schwinkenfels and let down the drawbridge one evening when you were as usual fuddling your brains with your twenty bottles, perhaps Conrad never would have gained an entrance, and my young eyes would have been spared the horrid task of watching the body of my venerated parent dangling at the end of a rope from the topmost turret of the northwest tower."
The baron buried his face in his hands and began to cry like a baby. "They hanged me, did they?" he faltered.
"I am afraid no other construction can be put on it," said the pilgrim. "It was the inevitable termination of such a career as yours had been. They hanged you, they strangled you, they choked you to death with a rope; and the unanimous verdict of the community was Justifiable Homicide. You weep! Behold, Father, I also weep for the shame of the house of Von Weinstein! Come to my arms."
Father and son clasped each other in a long, affectionate embrace and mingled their tears over the disgrace of Weinstein. When the baron recovered from his emotion he found himself alone with his conscience and twenty-four empty bottles. The pilgrim had disappeared.
MEANWHILE, in the apartments consecrated to the offices of maternity, all had been confusion, turmoil, and distress. In four huge armchairs sat four experienced matrons, each holding in her lap a pillow of swan's-down. On each pillow had reposed an infinitesimal fraction of humanity, recently added to the sum total of Von Weinstein. One experienced matron had dozed over her charge; when she awoke the pillow in her lap was unoccupied. An immediate census taken by the alarmed attendants disclosed the startling fact that, although there were still four armchairs, and four sage women, and four pillows of swan's-down, there were but three infants. The seneschal, as an expert in mathematics and accounts, was hastily summoned from below. His reckoning merely confirmed the appalling suspicion. One of the quadruplets was gone.
Prompt measures were taken in this fearful emergency. The corners of the rooms were ransacked in vain. Piles of bed-clothing and baskets of linen were searched through and through. The hunt extended to other parts of the castle. The seneschal even sent out trusted and discreet retainers on horseback to scour the surrounding country. They returned with downcast countenances; no trace of the lost Von Weinstein had been found.
During one terrible hour the wails of the three neglected infants mingled with the screams of the hysterical mother, to whom the attention of the four sage women was exclusively directed. At the end of the hour her ladyship had sufficiently recovered to implore her attendants to make a last, though hopeless count. On three pillows lay three babies howling lustily in unison. On the fourth pillow reposed a fourth infant, with a mysterious smile upon his face, but cheeks that bore traces of recent tears.
ONE October afternoon, as I was scrambling through the woods on my way to the best of the trout brooks that abound in the neighborhood of Canaan, Vermont, I nearly broke my left leg in a deep hole in the ground.
The first thought was for my rod, which had become involved in certain complications with the underbrush; the second was for my left leg, which, fortunately, had sustained no serious damage; and the third for the pitfall into which I had stumbled. The hole was directly under the branches of a big red oak that grew on the slope of a hill, or ledge, of metamorphic limestone. Juniper bushes and brambles almost hid the orifice. Pulling these aside, I got on all fours and peered down into the black hole, for what purpose I do not know. My left leg was no longer there, and I certainly had no interest in the inhabitants of the burrow, whatever they might be—undoubtedly either snakes, woodchucks, or skunks, with the weight of probability in favor of the last-mentioned species. So I did not crawl in to explore the cavity, although by a tight squeeze I could have done so, but pursued my way across Rodney Prince's pasture to Rodney Prince's brook, and brought home at sundown a string which weighed so many pounds that, out of consideration for Rodney Prince's feelings, I shall say nothing about it. The hospitable Granger had assured me with friendly earnestness the evening before that there had never been any trout in his brook, that the boys had long since fished them out, and that if there were anything there now they were miserable little finger-long specimens, unworthy of the attention of a city man with a fifteen-dollar rod and a book full of flies.
After supper I joined as usual the small circle of choice spirits who gather every evening in the back part of Deacon Plympton's grocery to smoke their pipes and to profit by the oracular wisdom of the proprietor of the store. In a humble attempt to contribute to the conversational interest of the occasion, I casually remarked that I had stepped into a deep hole that afternoon while going a fishing. I was flattered to find that my insignificant adventure was treated with respect by the company, and that even the taciturn deacon, from his seat on the pork barrel, condescended to lend an attentive ear.
"Sho!" said he. "In Rodney's palter?"
"Under red oak?"
"Humph!" he grunted, blowing out a cloud of smoke, "narrer escape."
"Why?" I asked, resolved to be no less laconic than he. "Skunks?"
And Andrew Hinckley, from a barrel of the deacon's highest-priced flour, whispered "Splurgles." And his brother John, from a box of washing soap, echoed the mysterious word. And Squire Trull on the platform scales, and old Orrison Ripley on a barrel of the sweetened bar, which the honest deacon sold as powdered sugar at a shilling the pound, took up the refrain, and solemnly remarked in concert, "Yes, the Splurgles!"
I knew that to ask a question would be to put myself at a disadvantage with these worthy citizens, so I merely said, "Ah, Splurgles," and nodded my head, as if to escape the Splurgles were a matter of common experience with me.
"It's providence," said Squire Trull, after a few moments' silence, "that they didn't pull ye in."
"Ain't ben no closer shave sence Fuller stumbled in when he was drunk and had the boot thawed clean off his fut. Has there, Deacon?"
The deacon, thus appealed to, descended from the pork barrel, walked to the other end of the store, returned with a sulphur match in his hand, re-lit his pipe, and gravely shook his head.
From the rambling conversation which ensued and lasted till the nine o'clock bell inspired the deacon to take in his designatory hams and put up shutters, I gathered the following facts and allegations:
For many years, indeed ever since the infancy of the venerable Orrison Ripley, the people of Canaan had regarded the hole in the side of the hill under the red oak tree with superstitious awe. There were few who would venture near the spot in broad daylight; none after dark. The popular opinion of the hole seemed to be well grounded. Sounds as of demoniac laughter were frequently heard issuing from the cavern—indescribable sounds, guttural and gurgling. As far as I could learn, this circumstance was the only explanation of the etymology of the name Splurgles, applied by tradition and usage to the inhabitants of the cave. These supernatural beings were believed to be malevolent, not only from the peculiar harshness of their laughter, which had been heard by many at different times during the last half century, but also on the testimony of a few who claimed to have seen diabolical heads protruding from the hole as if demons had come up from below to get a breath of fresh air. Moreover, there was the horrible fate of Jeremiah Stackpole, a reckless, atheistical young man, who, on the twenty-first of October 1858, had boasted of his intention to gather acorns under the red oak by the bill, and whose hat, discovered afterward beside the hole, was the only trace of him that could ever be found. There was also the experience of Jack Fuller, the brother of the town clerk. Fuller, in a maudlin condition, had wandered into Rodney Prince's pasture about four years ago, and had come home perfectly sobered and minus one boot. He declared that while rambling about in search of boxberry plums, he had stumbled into the Splurgle hole. His leg had been grasped from below by fiery hands—fingers that burned his foot through leather and woolen—and it was only by an almost superhuman effort on his part that he escaped being pulled bodily into the hole. Fortunately, being afflicted with corns, he wore very loose boots, and to this circumstance he owed his deliverance from the awful grip of the Splurgles. Fuller solemnly affirmed that long after he had pulled out his stocking foot and fled to a place of safety, he felt the burning reminder of the red-hot fingers and thumb that had clasped his instep.
The laconic deacon's summing up of the various stories about the Splurgle hole with which I had been regaled, was concise, comprehensive, and startling. "It's the back door of hell," he said.
"Fuller," said I the next day to the hero of the demon-snatched boot, "how much rum would it take to work up your courage to the point of visiting the Splurgle hole with me this afternoon?"
"Nigh onto a quart, I guess," replied Fuller, after an inspection of my features had satisfied him that I was not quizzing. "Best to be on the safe side and call it a full quart. I calculate I should have to be pooty drunk."
"Will you go with me first," I then inquired, "and take the quart of rum afterward, and a five-dollar bill into the bargain?"
Fuller balanced the risk against the gain. You could almost watch through his skin the temptation wrestling with the fear. Rum conquered, as it will. At three o'clock, Mr. Fuller, carrying a rope, a dark lantern, and a perfectly sober head, accompanied me across Rodney Prince's pasture to the red oak on the side of the hill.
A close examination of the hole convinced me that it was not the burrow of any animal, Exploring it with a long stick, I found that beyond the dirt lining, near the orifice, its walls were of solid rock. It was, in fact, a tunnel into the ledge—a natural tunnel, old as the hills of Vermont, and therefore, dating back to the Lower Silurian period. Beyond the mouth of the tunnel, where the debris and soil from the surface had partially choked it up, the passage was as large as a Croton main. For about ten feet the shaft trended downward at an angle of sixty or seventy degrees. Thence its course, as far as I could determine with my pole, was nearly horizontal, and directly toward the heart of the hill.
I stepped down and shouted into the mouth of the cave. There came back the confused and rambling echoes of my voice and then, when they had ceased, I distinctly heard a low, strange laugh, intelligent, yet not human, close to my ear and yet of another and unknown world.
Fuller heard it too. He turned pale and ran a rod or two away. I called to him sharply, and he came back trembling.
"That laugh we heard," said I, "is half in the peculiar echoes of the hole and half in our imaginations. I am going to crawl in."
By Fuller's earnest advice, I decided to enter the cave backward, so that, in an emergency, I might scramble out with the more expedition. I lit the dark lantern and tied one end of our rope under my arms. The other end I gave to Fuller. "If I call out," I said, "pull with all your might, and if necessary take a double turn around the oak." Then I backed slowly and cautiously down into the cave of the Splurgles.
Before my head and shoulders had left the daylight I felt both ankles grasped from below with a powerful grip, and knew that I was being drawn with superhuman strength down into the bowels of the hill. I shouted to Fuller in desperation, but my cry was almost drowned by a ringing peal of terrible, triumphant laughter. I saw my companion jump toward the trunk of a big tree. He did his best to save me, but his foot caught in the juniper bushes, and he fell to the ground, the rope slipping from his fear-benumbed fingers. My own fingers caught in vain at the loose dirt at the mouth of the hole. The power that dragged me downward was irresistible. My eyes met his, and his were full of horror. "Cod help you!" he cried, as the darkness closed around me.
As I was pulled down and down with constantly increasing speed, I lost my terror in the strange exhilaration of the motion. I fancied that I was a flying express train tearing through the night. I knew not, cared not whither. There I was, a light boat towed in the hissing wake of a swift steamer. The roar of the water took the rhythm of the singing, rushing sensation that precedes a swoon, and consciousness left me.
The first of my senses to return, after an indefinite lapse of time, was that of taste. The taste was that of incomparably good brandy.
"He is reviving. You need attend no longer," said a voice, harsh, yet not unkind.
I opened my eyes and looked around me. I lay in a small apartment upon a comfortable couch. On every side heavy curtains limited the field of vision. The one striking peculiarity of the place is difficult to describe, for it involves a quality which has no exact equivalent in any of the languages which men speak. Every object was self-luminous, radiating light, so to speak, instead of reflecting it. The crimson drapery shone with a crimson glow, and yet it was opaque—not even translucent. A couch was apparently wrought in copper, and yet the copper glowed as if copper were a source of light. The tall person who stood over me, looking down into my face with friendly and compassionate regard, was also self-luminous. His features radiated light; even his boots, which bore an immaculate polish, shone with an indescribable sort of radiant blackness. I believed that I could have read a newspaper by the light of his boots alone.
The effect of this singular phenomenon was so grotesque that I was impolite enough to laugh aloud.
"Pardon me," I said, "but you look so deucedly like a Chinese lantern that I can't help it."
"I see nothing to excite mirth," he gravely replied. "Do you refer to my luster?"
His sublime unconsciousness set me off again. Afterward, when I had become accustomed to the phenomenon of universally diffused light, each luminous color seemed perfectly natural, and I saw no more reason for mirth than he did.
"My friend," I remarked, to turn the conversation, seeing that he was a little piqued, "that was admirable brandy you were kind enough to give me just now. Perhaps you have no objection to telling me where I am."
"I can assure you that you are among those who are well disposed toward you, notwithstanding your sinful follies and weaknesses. We shall try to make you cease to regret the frivolous world which you have left forever."
"You are altogether too hospitable," I said. "I shall get back to Canaan as soon as possible."
"You will never get back to Canaan. The road by which you came is traveled in one direction only."
"And you intend to keep me here in this infernal cave?"
"For your own good."
"It strikes me," I rejoined, with some heat, "that you are too much interested in my moral welfare."
It must have been for full a week—although I had no means of measuring time, my watch obstinately refusing to go—that I was kept a close prisoner inside the luminous curtains. At regular intervals my jack-o'-lantern guardian visited me, bringing food which shone as if it were phosphorescent, but which, nevertheless, I ate with infinite relish, finding it very good. He seemed disinclined to converse, but always kind and courteous, and invariably greeted and left me with a calm, superior smile that came to be at last in the highest degree exasperating.
"Look here," I said one day, finally losing all patience, "you know very well that I don't lack the disposition to strangle you and kick my way out of this place back to honest daylight. Still, I am weak and human enough to say that you will oblige me exceedingly by stating who you are, why you always smile on me in that superior manner, and what you propose to do with me. Who the devil are you, anyway?"
"All that you will speedily learn," he replied with unlimited politeness, "for I am directed to conduct you at once to my lord."
"The lord of the Splurgles?"
"Splurgles, if you choose. I believe that that is the name given us in the wretched world which you are fortunate enough to have escaped. Accompany me, if you please, to the audience chamber of my lord."
The lord of the Splurgles was a personage of severe gravity of countenance. Like my guardian and the counselors and courtiers (with one exception) who surrounded him in the comfortably appointed apartment, he was self-luminous. The exception was an individual who seemed to be present in a menial capacity. This person, apparently a human being like myself, had done his best to remedy his natural deficiency in this respect. He had rubbed his face, his hands, and his habiliments with phosphorus, and shone artificially with a poor imitation of the genuine illuminating principle of the Splurgle world. That this imitation was in his case the sincerest form of flattery was evident from his actions and looks. His bearing toward the Splurgles was subservient in the extreme. He ran at their beck and call, rejoiced under their approving notice, and seemed to swell with conscious importance whenever the lord of these strange beings deigned to give him a patronizing word or look.
"Worm of the earth!" said the principal Splurgle. "Are you disposed to embrace a great opportunity?"
"I am disposed," I replied, "to crawl back to my groveling life at the first chance."
"Poor fool," said the lord Splurgle, without the least sign of impatience.
"Thank you," I replied, with a bow that was intended to be ironical, "and what shall I call your lordship?"
"Oh, I am Ahriman," he returned, "the great Ahriman, the powerful devil Ahriman. Mortals tremble at the thought of me, and my name they dare not speak. I ruled over a vast empire of Devs and Archdevs in my time, and wrought a great deal of mischief in Persia and thereabouts. I am a tremendous fiend, I assure you. I inspire much terror."
"Pardon me, Uncle Ahriman," I remarked, "but are you sure you are quite as terrible as you used to be?"
An expression of mortified vanity stole over his countenance. "Perhaps," he answered, hesitating a little, "perhaps I am a little out of practice. Years and circumstances have limited my field of action. But I am still very terrible. Beelzebub, am I not very terrible?"
"My lord Ahriman," said a familiar voice behind me, "you are inexpressibly terrible." I looked around and saw that this opinion proceeded from my old acquaintance and custodian.
"You hear Beelzebub," continued Ahriman; "he says that I am inexpressibly terrible. You may believe Beelzebub, he is one of the most truthful and conscientious devils in our community. He takes rather a low view of human nature, but in matters like this his opinion is as good as anybody's. Yes, I'm undeniably awful. Isn't that so, Stackpole?"
The fellow whom I had previously noted as a mortal like myself, and a base truckler withal to the ways and whims of the Splurgles, stepped forward from the throng, raised his eyes from the ground until they met those of Ahriman, and forthwith began to shake and shiver as if stricken speechless with terror. I believed at the time that the rascal simulated it all. I even thought he gave me a sly wink as he retired when he had got through trembling.
"You see," said Ahriman, turning proudly to me, "what a marked effect my presence has on our worthy friend Jeremiah Stackpole, though he has been accustomed to the sight of me for nearly twenty years."
This mortal, then, was the atheistical young man of Canaan, of whose mysterious disappearance in 1858 I had been informed in Deacon Plympton's grocery. I afterward learned that the manner of his introduction to the cave of the Splurgles was identical with my own. Unlike me, he had speedily become reconciled to the situation. The society of the retired devils in the bowels of the earth exactly suited his tastes. Assured of a comfortable subsistence as long as he lived, he made no attempt to escape from the cave and found it to his interest to earn the good will of his captors by toadying to their harmless vanity.
"Now, mortal," resumed Ahriman with a lofty air, "you may think it strange that evil spirits, so powerful and terrible as we are, should contemplate any other disposition of your worthless body and totally depraved nature than to wipe you out of existence altogether. To tell the truth, however, we find it convenient to have a mortal or two on hand to do the hard work of the community—to assist in the development of the immense natural resources of the cave. Not that we are lazy," he added, "but in our honorable retirement we are perhaps less active and energetic than we used to be. It is for this reason that you are offered the opportunity to enjoy the remarkable advantages of perpetual companionship with beings so great as we are. Dear, dear," continued this awe-inspiring demon, fanning himself with a barbed tail, which I had not previously noticed, "it is rather warm! Moloch, take this mortal away. I find it very fatiguing to talk so much."
I confess that I felt a trifle uneasy at the mention of a name which had been awful to the ears of men for centuries. There was something ghoulish in the idea of being turned over to the cruel and bloodthirsty Moloch, at whose red altars thousands of human lives had been sacrificed. The appearance of my new custodian, however, was reassuring. Moloch came up with a friendly smile, patted me on the head, and offered to show me over the cave. He was a fat demon, good-natured, and apparently lazy, with a grotesque face and a merry twinkle in his eyes. I liked Moloch from the first.
"I'll tell you a good one," he whispered in my ear. "What were the silliest nations that ever lived on the face of the earth? Ha, ha! It's a good one, I assure you."
"I give it up," I said.
"Why," he said, beginning to shake like a jellyfish with suppressed mirth, "the silliest nations were the Ass-yrians and the Ninny-vites and the Babble-onians. D'ye see?" And Moloch went off into a convulsion of merriment.
I laughed heartily, and he seemed to be much gratified at my appreciation of his humor. "I'll tell you a better one than that," he said confidentially, "as soon as I think of the answer. I've quite forgotten how the answer comes in. It's something about a frisky rogue and a risky frog—no, I'm not certain that's just it. But it's one of the best jokes you've ever heard when it's put properly."
"Those devils over there," said Moloch, as we walked out of the audience chamber into a field, under the overhanging roof of the cave, where sundry rather innocuous-looking demons were hoeing corn, "are the asuras and goblin pretas and terrible rakshashas of the Hindoos. They used to range the earth with bloody tongues and ogre teeth and cannibal appetites. Now they are strictly graminivorous devils. Oh, I tell you there has been a vast improvement in our race since we retired from active business. You might call it the march of civilization," he added, with violent symptoms of inward laughter.
We came upon a gigantic demon sitting unsteadily on a rock, his huge right fist clasping a wicker flask. "It's Typhon," whispered Moloch, "the Set of the ancient Egyptians. Set used to breathe smoke and pelt his enemies with red-hot boulders. He frightened all the gods once, if you remember, and drove them out of the country. He won't hurt you. He's very peaceable now, even when he's fuddled. Set has a great gullet for liquor and he is the worse for it now, as you observe. Set has declined, you see," added Moloch chuckling, "Set, sat, sot."
"You are a mad wag, Moloch," said I.
"It's only my joking way," he replied. "I do enjoy a good joke. Sometimes they get me up by the Canaan outlet and set me laughing to scare the countrymen outside. Do you notice my peculiarly merry eyes?"
In the course of my walk with Moloch through the Splurgle community I came to understand how harmless and even simpleminded these ancient bugaboos really were. If they were ever malevolent, they had discarded their malevolence when superstition discarded them. Like decayed gentlemen in other branches of industry, some of them retained a certain pride in their whilom fiendishness, but the shadow was ludicrously unlike the substance. One by one, as the friendly Moloch told me with many brilliant jeux d'esprit, which I regret that I am unable to remember, the devils of antiquity, superseded in dogma and creed by newer and more fashionable devils, had withdrawn from the face of the earth and gone into retirement in this cavern under the roots of the three-pronged mountain. Here the played-out fiends of forty centuries had gradually rusted into the condition in which I found them when dragged by the heels into their community.
"Ahriman has kept his head better than the rest of us," explained my guide, the cheerful Moloch, "and therefore he bosses us, but privately, between you and me, I don't believe he is more formidable or devilish than any man of the lot."
I saw and talked with Baal. He seemed a little weak in his head, and was employed in the kitchen of the establishment, dealing out rations of phosphorescent soup. "Your soup shines today," I remarked, for the want of anything better to say.
"Yes, it shines, it shines," replied the superannuated fiend, apparently struck with the force of my remark. Then he paused, as if unable to grasp the immensity of the idea, and put his ladle hand to his forehead, spilling a stream of soup down over his clothes. "It shines, it shines," he repeated, not noticing his mishap, "and there's something in my head that buzzes and buzzes." Then he went on ladling out soup and muttering to himself the feeble analogy, "It shines, it shines; it buzzes, it buzzes."
"Some of us are farther gone than Baal is," said Moloch. "There is a houseful of 'em in the institution over there poor devils who sit and moon and hardly know enough to eat and drink. You ought to see Abaddon. He's a sad sight. So far gone that he can't appreciate a good conundrum."
Afterward I had the honor of an introduction to Lilith, the mistress of Adam, and by him the mother of a pernicious brood of devils. She was a sweet-tempered, grandmotherly old lady, and, when I saw her, was knitting a pair of warm woolen socks for Belial, a shiftless ne'er-do-well sort of fiend. I saw Asmodeus; he was reading, with evident enjoyment, Timothy Titcomb's Letters to Young Men. I met Leviathan, Nergal, and Belphegor; they would have cowed and trembled had I said a harsh word. I talked with Rimnon, Dagon, Kohai, Behemoth, and Antichrist; they were as staid and respectable as the honest citizens who met nightly in Deacon Plympton's grocery.
During a residence of several weeks with the Splurgles, I was somewhat mortified to find that their moral standards put to shame the common practices of mankind. Harmless fellows, vain of their reputation for diabolical malignity, their private lives were above reproach. They neither lied nor stole. They held every trust to be sacred. Of their hospitality, I bear willing testimony. The only form of vice which I discovered among them was drunkenness, and that was confined to Typhon and one or two others. Yet, while I credit them with virtues unfortunately rare on earth, candor compels me to add that the Splurgles were rather tedious companions, and I was glad when, having learned the secret of the outlet through the good nature of my friend Moloch, I stood once more under the red oak in Rodney Prince's pasture.
Black and dead as every color looked after the self-luminous hues of the Splurgle cave, the contrast was not so great as that which oppressed me when I began to associate again with mankind. The venality of trade, the petty malice of society, the degradation of humanity, assumed a new and repulsive aspect. I shared the pity of Beelzebub for mortal imperfection.
I FELT myself lifted up from my bed by hands invisible and swiftly borne down the ever-narrowing avenue of Time. Each moment I passed a century and encountered new empires, new peoples, strange ideas, and unknown faiths. So at last I found myself at the end of the avenue, at the end of Time, under a blood-red sky more awful than the deepest black.
Men and women hurried to and fro, their pale faces reflecting the accursed complexion of the heavens. A desolate silence rested upon all things. Then I heard afar a low wail, indescribably grievous, swelling and falling again and blending with the notes of the storm that began to rage. The wailing was answered by a groan, and the groaning grew into thunder. The people wrung their hands and tore their hair, and a voice, piercing and persistent, shrieked above the turmoil, "Our lord and master, the Devil, is no more! Our lord and master is no more!" Then I, too, joined the mourners who bewailed the Devil's death.
An old man came to me and took me by the hand. "You also loved and served him?" he asked. I made no reply, for I knew not wherefore I lamented. He gazed steadfastly into my eyes. "There are no sorrows," he said, meaningly, "that are beyond utterance."
"Not, then, like your sorrow," I retorted, "for your eyes are dry, and there is no grief behind their pupils."
He placed his finger on my lips and whispered, "Wait!"
The old man led the way to a vast and lofty hall, filled to the farthest corner with a weeping crowd. The multitude was, indeed, a mighty one, for all the people of every age of the world who had worshiped and served the Devil were assembled there to do for him the last offices for the dead. I saw there men of my own day and recognized others of earlier ages, whose faces and fame had been brought down to me by art and by history; and I saw many others who belonged to the later centuries through which I had passed in my night progress down the avenue of Time. But as I was about to inquire concerning these, the old man checked me. "Hush," he said, "and listen." And the multitude cried with one voice, "Hark and hear the report of the autopsy!"
From another apartment there came forth surgeons and physicians and philosophers and learned faculties of all times charged to examine the Devil's body and to discover, if they could, the mystery of his existence. "For," the people had said, "if these men of science can tell us wherein the Devil was the Devil, if they can separate from his mortal parts the immortal principle which distinguished him from ourselves, we may still worship that immortal principle to our own continued profit and to the unending glory of our late lord and master."
With grave looks upon their countenances, and with reluctant steps, three delegates advanced from among the other sages. The old man beside me raised his hand to command perfect silence. Every sound of woe was at the instant suppressed. I saw that one was Galen, Paracelsus another, and Corneilus Agrippa the third.
"Ye who have faithfully served the master," said Agrippa in a loud voice, "must listen in vain for the secret which our scalpels have disclosed. We have lain bare both the heart and the soul of him who lies yonder. His heart was like our own hearts, fitly formed to throb with hot passions, to shrink with hatred, and to swell with rage. But the mystery of his soul would blast the lips that uttered it."
The old man hurriedly drew me a little way apart, out of the throng. The multitude began to surge and sway with furious wrath. It sought to seize and rend to pieces the learned and venerable men who had dissected the Devil, yet refused to publish the mystery of his existence. "What rubbish is this you tell us, you charlatan hackers and hewers of corpses?" exclaimed one. "You have discovered no mystery; you lie to our faces." "Put them to death!" screamed others. "They wish to hoard the secret for their own advantage. We shall presently have a triumvirate of quacks setting themselves up above us, in place of him whom we have worshiped for the dignity of his teachings, the ingenuity of his intellect, the exalted character of his morality. To death with these upstart philosophers who would usurp the Devil's soul."
"We have sought only the Truth," replied the men of science, soberly, "but we cannot give you the Truth as we found it. Our functions go not further." And thereupon they withdrew.
"Let us see for ourselves," shouted the foremost in the angry crowd. So they made their way into the inner apartment where the Devil's body lay in state. Thousands pressed after them and struggled in vain to enter the presence of death that they, too, might discover the true essential quality of the departed. Those who gained entrance reverently but eagerly approached the massive bier of solid gold, studded with glistening stones, and resplendent with the mingled lustre of the emerald, the chrysolite, and jasper. Dazzled, they shrank back with wild faces and bewildered looks. Not a man among them dared stretch forth his hand to tear away the bandages and coverings with which the surgeons had veiled their work.
Then the old man who with me had silently witnessed the tumultuous scene drew himself up to a grand height and said aloud: "Worshipers of the Devil, whose majesty even in death holds you subject! It is well that you have not seized the mystery before the time. A variety of signs combine to inspire me with hope that that which has sealed the lips of the men of science may yet be revealed through faith. Let us forthwith pay the last sad tribute to our departed lord. Let us make to his memory a sacrifice worthy of our devotion. My art can kindle a fire which consumes weighty ingots of gold as readily as it burns tinsel paper, and which leaves behind no ashes and no regrets. Let every man bring hither all the gold, whether in coin, or in plate, or in trinkets, that he has earned in serving the Devil, and every woman the gold that she has earned, and cast it into the consuming fire. Then will the funeral pyre be worthy of him whom we mourn."
"Well said, old man!" cried the Devil worshipers. "Thus we will prove that our worship has not been base. Build you the pyre while we go to fetch our gold."
My eyes were fixed upon the face of my companion, but I could not read the thoughts that occupied his brain. When I turned again the vast hall was empty of all save him and me.
Slowly and laboriously we built the funeral pile in the centre of the apartment. We built it of the costly woods that were at hand, already sprinkled by devout mourners with the choicest spices. We built the pile broad and high, and draped it with gorgeous stuffs. The old man smiled as he prepared the magic fire that was to consume the gold which the Devil worshipers had gone to fetch. Within the pyre he left an ample space for their sacrifice.
Together we brought forth the Devil's body and placed it carefully in position at the top of the pile. Thunders rolled in the lofty space above our heads, and the whole building shook so terribly that I expected it to fall, crushing us between roof and pavement. Crash came after crash of thunder, nearer and nearer to the pyre. Lightnings played close around us—around the old man, the Devil's corpse, and me. Still we waited for the multitude, but the multitude returned not.
"Behold the obsequies!" said the old man at last, thrusting his lighted torch into the midst of the pile. "You and I are the only mourners, and we have not a single ounce of gold to offer. Go you now forth and bid all the Devil worshipers to the reading of the last will and testament. They will come."
I hastened forth to obey the old man's command, and speedily the funeral hall was thronged again. This time the Devil worshipers brought their gold, and every man sought to make excuse for his tardiness at the pyre. The air was thick with explanations. "I tarried only," said one, "to be sure that I had gathered all—all to the very last piece of gold in my possession fetched," said another, "the laborious accumulations of fifty years, but I cheerfully sacrifice it all to the memory of our dear lord." A third said, "See, I bring all of mine, even to the wedding ring of my dead wife."
There was a contention among the Devil worshipers to be first to cast treasure into the fire. The charmed flames caught up the gold, and streamed high above the corpse, casting upon every eager face in the vast room a fierce yellow glare. Still the fire was fed by hands innumerable, and still the old man stood beside the pyre, smiling strangely.
The Devil worshipers now cried out with hoarse voices: "The will! The will! Let us hear the last testament of our dead lord!"
The old man opened a roll of asbestos paper and began to read aloud, while the hubbub of the great throng died away into silence and the angry roar of the consuming flames subsided into a dull murmur. What the old man read was this:
"To my well-beloved subjects, the whole world, my faithful worshipers and loyal servitors, greeting, and the Devil's only blessing, a perpetual curse!
"For as much as I am conscious of the approach of the Change that hunts every active existence, yet being of sound mind and firm purpose, I do declare this to be my last will, pleasure, and command as to the disposal of my kingdom and effects.
"To the wise I bequeath folly, and to the fools, pain. To the rich I leave the wretchedness of the earth, and to the poor the anguish of the unattainable; to the just, ingratitude, and to the unjust, remorse; and to the theologians I bequeath the ashes of my bones.
"I decree that the place called hell be closed forever.
"I decree that the torments, in fee simple, be divided among all my faithful subjects, according to their merit, that the pleasure and the treasure shall also be divided equitably among my subjects.'"
Thereupon the Devil worshipers shrieked with one accord: "There is no God but the Lord Devil, and he is dead! Now let us enter into our inheritance."
But the old man replied, "Ye wretched! The Devil is dead, and with the Devil died the world. The world is dead."
Then they stood aghast, looking at the pyre. All at once the gold-laden flames leaped into a blazing column to the roof and expired. And forth from the red embers of the Devil's heart there crept a small snake, hissing hideously. The old man clutched at the snake to crush it, but it slipped through his hands and made its way into the midst of the crowd. Judas Iscariot caught up the snake and placed it in his bosom. And when he did so, the earth beneath us began to quiver as if in the convulsion of death. The lofty pillars of the funeral chamber reeled like giants seized with dizziness. The Devil worshipers fell flat upon their faces; the old man and I stood alone. Crash followed quick on crash on every side of us, but it was not this time the concussions of thunder. It was the hopeless sound of the tumbling of man's structures and fabrics and the echo from the other worlds of this world's crack of doom. Then the stars began to fall, and the fainter lights of heaven came down upon us like a driving sleet of frozen fire. And children died of terror, and mothers clasped their dead babes to their own cold breasts and hurried this way and that for shelter that was never found. Light became black, fire lost its heat in the utter disorganization of Nature, and a whelming flood of chaos surged from the womb of the universe and swallowed up the Devil worshipers and their dead world.
Then I said to the old man as we stood in the void, "Now there is surely no evil and no good; no world and no God."
But he smiled and shook his head, and left me to wander back unguided through the centuries. Yet as he disappeared I saw that high over the ruins of the world a rainbow of infinite brightness stretched its arch.
ON the twentieth of May, 1881 (said John Nicholas, in the smoking room of the Gallia), I spent the day and part of the night at the house of my good friend Scott Jordan, President of the Bloomsburgh and Lycoming Railroad. Jordan has a place in one of the charming suburban neighborhoods a few miles out of Philadelphia. His character deserves a word.
He is an intensely superstitious, intensely practical man—a type of a class much more numerous than people will readily believe. Half a dozen railroads, conceived, built, equipped, and run to the profit of their legitimate owners, bear witness to his honesty and sound business sense. If further evidence of his worldly judgment is wanted, it may be found in a safe full of marketable securities. In his power of managing men and handling complicated enterprises, Scott Jordan comes nearer to my idea of Thomas Brassey than does any other capitalist-contractor I know. His name on a Board of Direction is a guarantee of conservative, prudent, yet never timid management. I wish he would undertake the comptrollership of my modest finances, to the last dollar I possess. He is a companionable old gentleman, and likes to be considered as a man of taste. He is in the full sense a man of the world while concerned with the affairs of this world, yet he spends nearly half his life in another—a strange world where banjos play and bells ring without human hands, where ghostly arms are stretched forth from behind the curtains of the unknown, and dim forms belonging to every age of history meet face to face.
Jordan's house is the happy hunting ground of all the professional charlatans in the spirit-raising line. They fasten to him like leeches—the rappers, the test mediums, the healing mediums, the physical-manifestation people and the rope tiers, the clairvoyants, the controlled of every sort, male and female, young and old, prosperous and shabby.
Jordan has told me that these gentry cost him twelve or fifteen thousand dollars a year. When they come to his door he welcomes them as aids in his tireless investigation of truth. They live like princes in his establishment; every morning brings its honorarium for the performance of the night before. Jordan royally entertains his Egyptians and Greeks until he detects them in some piece of imposture cruder than usual. Then he talks to them like a grieved parent, ships them off with a free pass over one of his railroads, and is all ready to go through the same process with the next corner.
You will understand now, gentlemen, that I had looked forward with considerable interest to my visit to Jordan's house.
Although the family was entertaining several professionals, I found that I was the only social guest. I make this distinction, but Jordan never does. You can hardly help liking the old fellow the better for the magnificent old-school courtesy with which he treats the seediest humbug of the lot.
"It is they who condescend," he is accustomed to say, somewhat pompously, "when they honor me with their company; for do they not bring with them the kings and great poets and artists and the wisest and best of every century?"
And if Jordan's testimony is accorded the same weight in this matter as it would have in any railroad suit in any court in Pennsylvania, the wisest and best of every century, from Socrates down to George Washington, have, in fact, visited his private cabinet.
At the dinner table I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. John Roberts and his brother William, the celebrated cabinet mediums; fellows with villainous faces. I was also presented in due form to Mr. Helder, a gentleman of consumptive appearance, who is said to possess remarkable developing powers; a fat lady whose name I have forgotten, but who practices medicine under inspiration of the eminent Dr. Rush; Mrs. Blackwell, the materializing medium, and her daughter, introduced as Mrs. Work, a young lady with black eyes, said to be a flower and modeling medium of rare promise. At no time did I see any Mr. Work.
I thought the flower and modeling medium looked at me with not unkind eyes during dinner. The behavior of the other professionals indicated suspicious reserve. They furtively watched me, as if trying to guess the depth of my penetration. I contrived to drop a few remarks that seemed to encourage them. Jordan was jovial, and wholly unconscious of all this byplay.
In my friend's library after dinner, there was the usual jugglery, with the gas turned halfway down. A small extension room, separated by a portiere from the library, served as a cabinet. William Roberts suffered me to tie him with a clothesline. He produced some of the commoner manifestations, and then declared that the conditions were unfavorable. At Jordan's urgent request, Mrs. Blackwell went into the cabinet. Hands and vague white faces were shown between the curtains. The lights were turned still lower. Mrs. Work touched the piano, singing in a very musical voice, "Scots wha hae" and "Coming through the Rye." The persistent repetition of these airs finally elicited a full-length figure in a cloud of white, and the apparition was pronounced to be Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary withdrew and reappeared several times. At last, as if gaining courage, she ventured forth from the cabinet, advanced a yard or more into the room, and curtsied. Jordan called my attention in a whisper to the supernal beauty of her face and apparel. In a reverent voice he inquired if she would permit a stranger to approach. A slight inclination of Mary's head granted the boon. I stood face to face with the Queen; she allowed my hand to rest lightly for a second upon one of the folds of mull that draped her form. Her face was so near mine that even in the dim light I could see her eyes shining through the eye-holes of her absurd papier-maché mask.
The impulse to seize Mary and expose the ridiculous imposture was almost irresistible. I must have raised my hands unconsciously, for the Queen took fright and disappeared behind the portiere. Mrs. Work hastily left the piano and turned up the gas. In the glance that she gave me I read a piteous appeal.
Jordan's face was beaming with satisfaction. "So beautiful," he murmured, "and so gracious!"
"Yes, beautiful," I repeated, still looking at the flower and modeling medium; "beautiful and uncommonly gracious!"
"Thanks!" she whispered. "You are generous."
Half ashamed of myself as the voluntary accomplice of vulgar tricksters, I listened with growing impatience to Jordan's ecstatic account of other materializations not less marvelous and convincing than this of Mary, Queen of Scots. The mediums had returned to the ordinary occupations of evening leisure. The younger Roberts and Mr. Helder were playing backgammon, conversing at the same time in low voices. The fat representative of Dr. Rush was asleep in her chair. Mrs. Work was crocheting. Her mother was sipping brandy and water—a necessary restorative, Jordan was careful to tell me, after the draft made upon her vital forces by the recent materialization of Mary. The situation would have been thoroughly commonplace had it not been for occasional rattling detonations, or successions of sharp raps, apparently in the ceiling, in the partition walls, all over the furniture, and underneath the floor.
"They are playful tonight," said Roberts, looking up from his backgammon board.
"Yes," said Mrs. Work's mother, as she stirred her brandy and water. "They are very fond of Mr. Jordan. They hover around him always. Sometimes, when my inner vision is clearer, I see the air full of their beautiful forms, following him wherever he goes. They love and reward him for his great interest in them and us."
"Mr. Jordan," said I, "do you never find yourself imposed on?"
"Oh, often," he replied. "Frequently by wicked spirits; frequently by fraudulent mediums."
"There are frauds in every profession, you know," said Mrs. Blackwell.
"There would be no paste diamonds," suggested Helder, "if there were no real diamonds."
"And your repeated discoveries of imposture," I persisted, "have not shaken your faith?"
"Why should they?" replied the railroad president "Nine hundred and ninety-nine experiments with negative results prove nothing; but the one-thousandth case, if established, proves everything. Demonstrated once, the possibility of communication with disembodied spirits is demonstrated forever."
A fusillade of raps in every part of the room greeted this proposition.
"I grant that," said I. "Prove one instance of the interference of spirits in the affairs of men and you have established the whole case."
"But you believe," he rejoined, with a smile, "that the thousandth and absolutely authentic instance will never be proved; and meanwhile you reserve the right to explain away all such things as you have seen tonight by the hypothesis of jugglery."
"I'm sure the gentleman doesn't think that," insinuated Mrs. Blackwell, who had now finished her brandy and water.
"Nevertheless," continued Jordan, "the one-thousandth instance may happen, may happen at any time, and may happen to you. Come and see my pictures."
I tried to keep a grave face while my host did the honors of a score or more of Raphaels, Titans, Correggios, Guidos, and what not, all painted in his own house by mediums under inspiration. Jordan's old masters make a collection probably unlike any other on earth. When he demanded what I thought of the internal evidence of their authenticity, I was able to reply with perfect truthfulness that nobody could mistake them.
From this amazing trash I turned with feelings of relief to a landscape hanging in the hallway. "I moved it out here," said Jordan, "to make room for that superb Carracci, 'Daniel in the Lion's Den'—the large canvas you particularly admired."
I looked at the old gentleman to see if he was in earnest. Then I looked again at the glorious landscape.
Here was no painted fiction, but truth itself: A clump of rounded willows, seen by early morning light and seen again in the perfectly calm water of the canal or sluggish stream which they overhung; a skiff, resting partly on the water and partly on the wet grass of the nearer bank; beyond, an indistinct distance and the outline of a château tower with the conical Burgundian peak; a marvelous humid atmosphere of blue and mist, a soft light enveloping everything and caressing everything. No painted fiction, I say, but a window through which anyone having eyes might survey nature in her eternal truth.
I said: "That comes nearer to the supernatural than anything I have ever seen. It is worth all your old masters together."
"You like it?" said he. "It is well enough, I suppose, though of a school for which I have no particular fancy. It was painted here about a year ago by a spirit who did not choose to identify himself."
"Nonsense," said I, for this passed all endurance, "Corot has been dead six years."
Jordan led the way back into the library. "Mrs. Work," said he, "do you remember the circumstances under which the large landscape in the hall—the hazy green one—was painted?"
"Certainly," replied the young lady, looking up from her needles; "I recollect very well. It was painted through me."
In claiming the authorship of this wonderful work of genius, she used the matter-of-fact tone in which she would have acknowledged a stork and sunflower in crewel, or a sleeping pussy cat in Berlin wools.
"And you are an artist yourself—that is to say, when not in the trance state?"
"Oh, yes," she replied, returning my gaze with unflinching eyes; and thereupon she produced from one of Mr. Jordan's portfolios a preposterous bunch of lilacs in water color. Meanwhile, Jordan had been rummaging in his desk. He now brought forth an account book. "Here we have it," he said, "all set down in black and white." In the middle of a page of similar memoranda I read this item:
1880, May 13—Pd. M. A. Work for painting done under control; large view (trees, stream, boat, etc.)...$25.00
"All I can say, madam," I exclaimed, turning to Mrs. Work, "is that Knoedler or Avery would have been most happy to pay you ten thousand dollars for that Corot, for Corot it is, and a masterpiece at that."
"Good night," said Jordan, a little later, when I rose to retire. "After what you have already experienced I need hardly warn you not to be disturbed by any noises you may hear in your bedroom." A hailstorm of raps punctuated his sentence. "They hover, hover around," Mrs. Blackwell was saying, as I left the library; "but in this house it is as guardian—"
I went to bed thoroughly bewildered. Was there, after all, behind this wretched jack-in-the-box jugglery something incomprehensible, unexplainable, unspeakable—something which the jugglers themselves understood no better than their dupes? When I thought of Mary, Queen of Scots, ogling me through her pasteboard mask, and of Jordan's rhapsody over her unearthly beauty, the problem seemed too ignoble to engage an intelligent man's attention for a single minute; but there was the Corot. The whole machinery of raps, hands, ropes, apparitions, guitars, Raphaels, Correggios, and Carraccis was almost childish in its simplicity; but there again was the Corot. Every train of logical thought, every analytical process led me back to the marvelous Corot.
One of three things must be true: The picture was a commonplace daub, like the old masters, and I was laboring under a strange delusion or hallucination in regard to its merits. Or, Mrs. Work and her accomplices had procured a Corot unknown to connoisseurs and had sold it for one five-hundredth part of its market value, to bolster up a petty deception. Or, the landscape was a marvel and the manner of its production a miracle. The first supposition was the most plausible, yet I was not disposed to accept it at the expense of my self-possession and judgment; no doubt daylight would confirm my estimate of the picture. The second supposition involved a degree of folly—disinterested and expensive folly—on the part of these precious mediums that did not tally with my observations of their character. To accept the third supposition was, of course, to accept the theory of the spiritualists. Thus reasoning I fell asleep, and was awakened, about half-past two o'clock, by a muffled hammering directly beneath my bed.
Now, gentlemen, what followed passed very rapidly, but every incident is distinct in my memory, and I ask you to reserve judgment until you have heard me through.
The noise came from the room under mine. As nearly as I could judge, this was the library. Notwithstanding Jordan's advice, I determined to see what was the matter. I jumped into my trousers and cautiously proceeded toward the stairway. At the head of the stairs a door opened as I passed and a hand was laid upon my shoulder.
"Don't go down!" was eagerly whispered into my ear. "Don't go down! Return to your chamber!"
A white figure stood before me. It was the flower and modeling medium in her nightdress, her black hair all loose.
"Why should I not go down?" I demanded. "Are you afraid that I shall embarrass the spirits in their carpenter work?"
She spoke hurriedly and with evident excitement: "You believe it all a fraud, but it isn't. There's fraud enough, Lord knows, for mediums must live; but, then, there are things—once in a while, not often—that stun us."
"Tell me the truth about the Corot."
"As truly as I stand here, it was produced in the way we said—on my easel, with my brush held in my hand, yet not by me. I can tell you no more, for I know no more." The noise of pounding downstairs increased.
"And if I go down, shall I encounter one of the mysteries that you speak of!"
"No, but you will run into great danger. It is for your own sake I ask you not to go." By this time I was in the lower hall.
Downstairs I discovered the Roberts brothers holding a seance at Jordan's plate closet, while the developing medium, Mr. Helder, with a dark lantern in his hand, was developing the combination lock of Jordan's safe.
In my brief and not victorious struggle with the three rascals I must have received some hurt upon the head. My eyes were half blinded with blood. With a vague idea of shouting for help at the foot of the stairs, I staggered back into the lower hall, closely pushed by two of the mediums. I heard one of them whisper, "Hit hard! It's got to be done," and saw a heavy iron bar raised and aimed at my head.
At this moment I stood directly in front of the Corot. Even in the imperfect light, that wonderful glimpse of nature opened beside me like a window in the wall. In another instant the crowbar would have buried itself in my skull. Then there reached my ears a cry from the head of the stairs, where I had left the flower medium standing, "Jump! Jump into the picture! For God's sake, jump!"
Resting one hand upon the frame, as upon a window sill, I launched myself against the canvas. The weapon descended, but I was already beyond its range. I fell, fell, fell, as if falling through infinite space, yet partially borne up by invisible hands. Then I found myself upon the wet grass of the canal bank. I jumped into the skiff and hurriedly poled it across the stream; and then, having reached the other bank, I fainted dead away under the willows.
When I came to my senses I was lying in snowy linen in the Hôtel Dieu at Dijon, with a good sister to take care of me. Here is a translation of the entry in the hospital books:
1881, May 21—Received from Monsieur the Mayor of Flavigny an Unknown, found early this morning, unconscious, and only partially clad, on the bank of the canal of Burgundy, near the limits of the arrondissement. Injuries—Severe scalp wound and slight fracture of the right parietal bone. Property—One pair of trousers, one nightshirt, pair slippers. Means of identification—None.
Gentlemen, that is the end of my statement of facts. I am now on my way back to America. I shall establish the interference of spirits in human affairs by affording conclusive evidence that a wonderful picture was painted by a dead artist; that this picture was used by the spirits in my behalf as a way of escape out of mortal danger, and that, by the most extraordinary instance of levitation on record, I was borne bodily more than three thousand miles in a few seconds.
Do not laugh just yet. To the scientific world and to all fair-minded investigators of the truth of spiritualism, I shall soon offer in the way of evidence:
1. The register of the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia for May 19, 1881. I stopped there on my way to visit Jordan. My name will be found under that date.
2. The testimony of Mr. Jordan and his family that I was with them at Bryn Mawr on May 20, 1881, up to eleven o'clock at night.
3. The duly attested record of my admission to the hospital at Dijon, France, on May 21, 1881.
4. The wonderful picture now in the possession of Jordan.
In reply to your note of inquiry, I beg leave to say that our common friend, Mr. John Nicholas, has been under my care for more than a year, with the exception of two months spent in the Côte d'Or in charge of another medical attendant.
The facts in his unfortunate case are accurately set forth (up to a certain point) in his own narrative, as outlined by you. Mr. Nicholas' recollection is not trustworthy in regard to events happening after he had suffered a severe blow on the head in his encounter with thieves.
As to the value of his estimate of the merits of the picture upon which his delusion is founded, I cannot speak. I have never seen it. It may be well to say, however, that prior to his departure for France, Mr. Nicholas was in the habit of attributing the picture to an American artist, some years ago deceased. As he used to tell the story, it was not to Burgundy but to Wissahickon Valley that he was transported by levitation.
I also beg leave to say that this mania does not affect his sanity in all other respects; nor do I see reason to despair of his entire recovery.
Horace F. Daniels, M.D.
IT was not owing to any lack of enterprise or courage that Captain Peter Crum of Mackerel Cove, Maine, did not visit the Paris Exposition in his own sloop yacht, the Toad. Nor was the failure of his famous expedition due to any demerit in the craft which he commanded. Ever since Captain Crum sailed his sloop by dead reckoning to Boston, in spite of unpropitious weather, including a heavy sou'east blow off Cape Elizabeth, and returned in safety with a cargo of Medford rum to discomfit the critics who had predicted certain disaster, there had been no question as to the seagoing qualities of the Toad. It is generally conceded at Mackerel Cove that Captain Peter Crum would have reached Paris in triumph but for the malignant hostility of a power justly abhorred and dreaded by all serious-minded men.
"Oh, the Toad sails, she does!" Captain Crum carelessly remarked to his neighbor, Deacon Silsbee, in the deacon's store one day early in June.
"The Toad does sail," allowed the deacon.
The captain gazed significantly at the deacon, whose face put on a receptive expression, as if to say the court awaits further communications.
"An of you kin diskiver any rashn'l reason," continued Captain Crum, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, "why she shouldn't carry you and me and Andrew Jackson's son Tobias to the big show over yonder, it's more'n Deacon."
The deacon bore the reputation of being, when sober, the subtlest logician, both in theological and secular matters, on that section of the coast. He sympathized heartily in the captain's project, but felt it due to himself to proceed deliberately, analytically, and cautiously.
"Hum!" said he, wagging his head; "the Toad's a toler'b'l old boat."
"She is," assented the captain. "Old an' thurowly seasoned."
"Without intendin' to disperidge," continued the deacon, "her bottom's more putty 'n timber."
"Putty or no putty," rejoined the owner of the Toad, "she sails afore the wind like a thing of life and minds her helium like a lady."
"It's a long tack to Paris," suggested the deacon, shifting his ground, "and them that go down upon the sea in ships [so to speak of the Toad] take their lives in the palms of their hands."
"Deacon!" said the captain, solemnly; "you ain't actin' up fer to deny an overrulin' Providence, or the efficacy of prayer? Won't you be along?"
"True," said the deacon, mollified by the compliment to his powers of intercession. "The godly man feareth neither the hurricane's fury nor the leviathan's rage. Are you certain you kin lay the course?"
"Unless the geographies lie like Anemias," continued the captain, growing more earnest as the details of the adventurous scheme presented themselves to his mind, "it's as plain a course to Havy-de-Grass as it is to Bangor. You take a short hitch round Cape Sable and then you're practically thar. Who says the Toad won't sail? Gimme a sou'east or sou'west wind, Andrew Jackson's old compass out of the schooner Parida P., a good stock of pervisions, two or three of them twenty-gallon kags of rum, and the benefit of your petitions mornin' and evenin', and I'll allow I'll lay the Toad 'longside the city landin' in Paris in sixty days, spite of blows or Beelzebub!"
The captain brought his fist down upon the cover of Deacon Silsbee's pork barrel with a vigor that denoted fixed determination. Several neighbors who had dropped into the store while he was speaking and had gathered around him, attracted by the energy of his utterances, applauded the daring vow. "In spite," he repeated, "of blows or Beelzebub!"
"Cap'n! Cap'n!" said the deacon, coming round from behind his counter and holding up both hands in protest, "say nothing thet's rash. While I hold that prayerful navigators, sailing so seaworthy and serious a craft as the Toad, hey little or nothin' to fear from Satan's wiles, I hold it likewise that a willful and froward sperrit of defiance at sech a moment is onnecessary and foolish. And I would also remark that if it's a question in your mind between two and three of them kags of rum for so long a v'yage, it's a dooty and a vartue to be on the safe side, Cap'n Crum!"
It is as well authenticated a fact as any in the history of Mackerel Cove that on the morning of Monday, June 17, 1878, the sloop Toad, of 8,825-10,000 registered tonnage, Crum master, cleared for Havre with a cargo consisting of Deacon Silsbee, Andrew Jackson's son Tobias, and nearly eighty gallons of Medford rum. Deacon Silsbee and Tobias Jackson are advisedly classed with the cargo rather than with the working crew of the vessel. In order to be on hand for an early departure they had thought it prudent to embark the night before. In accordance with a suggestion of the deacon's, namely, that any surplus of rum left over from the outward voyage could be profitably disposed of in Paris for such articles of merchandise as the natives might have to offer in exchange, the captain had added a fourth keg to the stock already on board. When the captain took command of the craft in the morning, he found his younger passenger curled up in the cuddy, utterly insensible to the momentous character of the occasion. By comparison with Tobias Jackson, Deacon Silsbee was very sober, but judged by any other standard he was very drunk. The deacon sat on the heel of the bowsprit, his chin resting heavily on both hands, singing in a dismal voice hymn after hymn of various meters, but to one unvarying tune. An invitation from the captain to lend a hand at the jib halyard met with no response. The deacon did not stir, but sat with his bleary eyes glued on the rum kegs in the standing room aft and began, "The voice of free grace cries escape to the mountain!" in a louder and more melancholy intonation than before.
The entire population of the cove had come down to the shore to witness the departure of the Toad. Many were the weather prophecies and the arguments of dissuasion shouted at the bold skipper. Even those of his neighbors who had been friendliest to the undertaking urged him to postpone his start until a more favorable day. They pointed to the long fog bank that lined the horizon to the seaward and had already shut in Damiscove Island and was hurrying toward Bald Head light and the main shore. "I calkilate to hey considerable fog more or less till I fetch beyond the Banks," returned the captain, cheerfully. "Guess I mought as well overhaul thet air compass of Andrew Jackson now ez later on."
Under these discouraging circumstances, with prophecies of evil sounding behind him and a thick fog dead ahead, with one of his companions helplessly drunk below deck and the other uncomfortably noisy above, Captain Peter Crum began his memorable voyage. Standing erect at the stern sheets, he poured out for himself a brimming tumblerful of rum as a sort of first line of fortifications against the fog. Then, alone and unaided, he ran up his mainsail and his jib and resumed his position at the helm. He had sworn in the presence of all Mackerel Cove to sail the Toad across the Atlantic in spite of Beelzebub. He would do it or perish in the attempt, along with Deacon Silsbee and Andrew Jackson's son Tobias. Captain Crum drank another tumblerful of rum. The mainsail fluttered in the first flurry of the fog breeze. Waving a graceful adieu to the assembled multitude on shore, and throwing an affectionate kiss to his weeping wife, who already considered herself in effect his widow, and whom he could readily distinguish in the distance by her pocket handkerchief, he grasped the tiller and brought the Toad round into the wind. The sails filled and the gallant though rather aged craft bounded off toward the open sea, while loud above the splash of the waves and the shouts of the crowd on shore rang out the deep voice of Deacon Silsbee, as he sang at the top of his lungs:
"My willing soul wo-o-od shtay
In slusha framer zish;
An' sit an sing her shell away
To efferlash [hic] blish."
The first news of the Toad's progress was brought to Mackerel Cove twenty-eight hours after her departure, by the crew of a Halifax lumberman which put in on account of the fog. The lumberman reported it very thick outside—thicker than anything he remembered at that time of year. He had narrowly escaped running on to the Clamshell, a well-known rock in the shelter of Pumpkin Island, twenty miles out. As he sheered off he had perceived a small sloop, apparently fast hung on the ledge. To his hailing there had come the answer, in a voice as thick, if not thicker than the fog and much more unsteady, that the stranded sloop was the Toad of Mackerel Cove, bound for the Paris Exposition with a cargo of rum. The captain of the Toad confidently expected to get off at the next flood tide. Offers of assistance were received by the Toad's crew with derisive howls, and with some insulting reference to Beelzebub, which the lumberman could not distinctly understand.
"As I had no call to stand thar and be sarsed," concluded the lumberman's captain, "I put round agin and left the critter on the Clamshell. It's my private opinion that all hands on board had been splicin' the main brace a good many times too often."
For the next three weeks the anxious population of Mackerel Cove heard nothing further of the fortunes of their adventurous townsmen. The fog clung to the coast relentlessly for all that time. At last a northwest wind drove it off the shore, and on the second clear day the little steamer Moonbeam, engaged in the porgy fishery, came up to the cove with a small sloop in tow and three dejected, exhausted, and thoroughly disgusted navigators on board. This sloop was the Toad.
The master of the porgy boat reported that he had found the Toad aground on the Clamshell. At first he had seen no signs of life on board, but upon running as near to the rock as the draft of his steamer would allow, he discovered three human beings lying unconscious in the cuddy, together with several empty kegs that still smelled strong of rum. He took off the men, and by attaching a rope to the sloop, succeeded in dragging her into deep water. The rescued sailors partially recovered their senses under the influence of hot coffee, dry clothing, and kind treatment, but they still appeared to be in a state of semi-stupefaction, and the story they told was so deliriously incoherent that he could make neither head nor tail of it.
Of course, the first inference drawn by the people of the Mackerel Cove was that the Toad, seen aground on the Clamshell June 19 by the Halifax lumberman, and found aground on the same ledge July 11 by the porgy steamer, had remained aground uninterruptedly between those two dates, the crew, meanwhile, consuming the four kegs of rum. This theory implied so inglorious a termination to an adventure begun with so much bravado that for several weeks Captain Crum, Deacon Silsbee, and Tobias Jackson were subject to a great deal of ridicule on the part of their neighbors and friends, and even the Toad itself became an object of derision in the cove.
The returned voyagers bore all this with extraordinary meekness for a while. At last, however, they began to hint that the reproach was unmerited: that there was a marvelous and mysterious history behind their apparent failure; and that if the whole truth were known, they would figure for all time as the heroes of one of the most protracted and terrific encounters with diabolical agencies in this or any other age.
Little by little the story came out: partly in conversations at Deacon Silsbee's store, partly in Tobias Jackson's communications to boon companions in convivial hours, and partly in allusions made by the deacon himself in prayer and exhortation in the vestry of the Baptist meetinghouse. When the whole story became known, it was so consistent and conclusive that it carried conviction at the first recital.
The hostility of a malign power had confronted the voyagers at the outset and driven them upon the Clamshell, in spite of Captain Crum's positive knowledge that he was at least seventeen miles to the southward of that rock at the moment when the Toad struck it. Once aground and waiting for the tide to flow, it became necessary, as a precaution against the chilling fog, to use a good deal of the rum medicinally. The voyagers did not remember being hailed by any Halifax lumberman. They did remember, however, that a huge black craft sailing without sails in the very teeth of the wind, yet not propelled by steam, and manned by no earthly crew, loomed up in the fog close to the Clamshell. There came to the rail of this apparitional vessel a monster with a head four times as big as a rum keg, and eyes that shone like coals of green fire, who demanded, in a supernally awful voice, who it was that proposed to cross the sea in spite of Beelzebub. Upon their shouting back defiance and the deacon's repeating a text from Job, the phantom (for phantom they believed it to be) vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.
That, however, was only an unimportant episode, and one that had almost escaped their memories in the press of later and more terrible experiences. It was Tobias Jackson, who, when they found that the Toad did not float at flood tide, suggested that the only way to get off was to lighten the cargo. They, therefore, went to work industriously on the contents of one of the rum kegs, and by nightfall, to their unspeakable satisfaction, felt the Toad rising and falling beneath them with the motion of the water. Captain Crum then laid a course for Havre, as straight as he could, allowing always for the hitch round Cape Sable.
From the moment when the Toad got fairly afloat the voyage was like a continuous succession of nightmares. After they had cleared the fog the atmosphere became hot and heavy and mysteriously oppressive to the lungs, though the sun was shining brightly and there was, to all appearances, a fine fresh breeze. Sometimes even at noonday the heavens would suddenly turn as dark as pitch while strange phosphorescent lights played around the mast of the Toad and the bungholes of the rum kegs. The air seemed to be charged with electricity. One day the compass acted as if possessed with the Devil. As an aid to navigation it was very much worse than useless. The needle swung round and round without any obvious cause, with a rapidity which no one could contemplate without becoming dizzy and bewildered. Captain Crum at last wedged the needle so that it could not move in the box. But as soon as the compass stood still the Toad itself began to spin round so viciously that they hastened to release the needle.
On the fourth or fifth day out the wind freshened, and the sloop went bounding over the billows. The deacon and Tobias Jackson were seriously affected by the motion, and retired to the cuddy. Even the captain himself, an old sailor who had weathered many storms, was obliged to succumb to the nausea; but though deadly sick, he held his post at the helm, and kept the bowsprit pointed straight for Havre. The breeze increased to a gale, the waves seemed animated with a merciless desire to overwhelm and swallow up the frail Toad, appalling thunders filled the sky, lightnings darted from every square inch of the heavens, and the sloop labored fearfully. In this emergency it became necessary, as a matter of self-preservation, to lighten the cargo still further. The captain, after some trouble, succeeded in arousing his sick and discouraged companions, and all hands went to work on the second keg with an energy born of desperation. Thus the Toad outrode the storm.
According to the best recollection of the sorely tried navigators, who about this time lost all reckoning of days and hours and began to measure events by another chronology, it was either in the last quarter of the second keg or the first quarter of the third keg that the sea suddenly became populous with reptiles of vast dimensions and manifestly hostile disposition. Captain Crum, Deacon Silsbee, and Tobias Jackson are agreed in affirming most positively that it was neither whales nor porpoises that they saw. The monsters which crowded the water around the Toad, and fairly tumbled over each other in their malignant eagerness to get at and annihilate that little craft, were far larger than any whale, far livelier than any porpoise. They were gigantic, antediluvian creatures of hideous shape, with eyes that shone with malevolent purpose, and voices that bellowed loud enough to strike you dumb with fear. They swam round and round the Toad, glaring with hungry eyes upon her unfortunate crew, and lashing the sea with their huge tails until it was foam white as far as sight could reach. In the largest of all these alarming monsters Deacon Silsbee was confident that he identified the terrible beast with seven heads and ten horns mentioned in Revelations.
"It is Beelzebub," whispered the deacon to the captain, as soon as horror allowed him the use of his tongue. "It is the old horned beast himself!"
As if to confirm the deacon's recognition, the air rang with a diabolical laugh, and the principal beast reared its seven heads high out of the water, and bore down directly upon the Toad, while all the other beasts gave way.
"The critter come right on," said the deacon afterward in describing the crisis, "and the cap'n and Tobias Jackson flopped down among the kags, limp ez dead flounders. I knew the righteous need not fear, so I stood firm and looked the sarpint squar in the eyes. At this he begun to show symptoms of oneasiness. He hitched an' backed an' sheered off a bit, glarin' at me ez fierce ez ever. I felt encouraged, but bein' a little shaky in the legs, reached down for the tin dipper and began fumblin' at the plug in the bung of one of the kags. This giv him a minnit's advantage, and he swum up close alongside; but I cotched his eye agin, and he stopped short ez if shot. 'Beelzebub, begone!' sez I. 'You are known, and you'd better begone!' 'Ho! Ho!' sez he, in an aggravatin' tone, 'you're known likewise, Deacon Silsbee, an' you'd better put round for Mackerel Cove, if you valley your health. Crost the Atlantic in spite of me, ho! ho!' With that he roars an onearthly roar, and I could feel Tobias Jackson, who was lyin' agin my right leg, shake like a jellyfish."
"How about the cap'n?" asked one of the deacon's audience.
"The cap'n," continued the deacon, "had crawled into the cuddy. It's no discredit to him ez a sailor or ez a man, for the critter's roar was powerful skeerin'. But I, you see, bein' varsed in Scripter and familiar with doctrine, knew the beast's weak pints. 'Beelzebub!' sez I, looking him squar in the eye, 'you may roar and lash, but you can't intimidate me. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you. You old serpent, you adversary, you tormenter, you prince of unholiness, begone! Now git!'"
"And did he git?" inquired one of the deacon's neighbors.
"Not at wunst," said the deacon. "The old liar is dreadf'l sub-tile. He swam off a few hundred rods in a hesitatin' uncertain fashion and then turned round agin. 'Look here, Deacon Silsbee,' sez he in an insinuatin' voice, 'I come in a friendly, neighborly sperrit, and it's onnecessary fer you to speak so ha'sh. Ez long ez you're bound to crost, and won't be balked of it, I mought ez well give ye a lift an' save ye a sight of trouble. Jest turn your eyes the t'other way a jiffy till I git alongside the Toad. Then take a double hitch with your tow line round one of my horns and I'll snake ye over to the French coast in less than it takes a cable dispatch to crost. That's solid!' 'It's solid,' replied I, waxin' very wrothy, 'that I know you and your lyin' ways. The Toad wants none of your unholy towin', Beelzebub. Now git!'
"That time," added the deacon, "he did git. He and all of his ten thousand lesser devils sot up a howl of baffled rage so loud that I thought it would shake the sun out of the sky down on to our heads, and then of a suddin they all dove under. The sea was smooth, the weather fair, with a good, fav'able sou'wester, and the Toad seemed to be bowlin' along to the Exposishun. We were so delighted at havin' escaped Satan's wiles that we forgot the commercial featur of the enterprise, and went straight through the third kag, plumb into the fourth."
Captain Crum's version of this encounter with the demon monster in mid-ocean agreed substantially with the deacon's, except in one unimportant particular. According to the captain's recollection, it was Deacon Silsbee who sought shelter in the cuddy when Beelzebub began to roar, and he, the captain, who repulsed the arch enemy by the firmness of his demeanor. On being questioned as to the relative accuracy of those two versions, Tobias Jackson privately confessed that the memory of both the captain and the deacon was at fault, and that it was he, Tobias, that had saved the Toad. The diabolical fish had swum up to the sloop and seized hold of the gunwale with its huge, talon-like fins, the captain and the deacon had taken refuge below deck, and the destruction of all on board seemed imminent, when Tobias, who alone preserved his presence of mind, grasped a belaying pin that happened to be within reach and beat Beelzebub so lustily about the head and claws that he was glad to relinquish his infernal clutch. This trifling discrepancy in the narratives of the three navigators need not distract attention from the main facts, namely, that Beelzebub did appear, was boldly met, and was put to flight.
As to the remainder of the voyage, there was no disagreement. The navigators again found that they were no match for Beelzebub, who, though defeated in the face to face encounter, was a wily and persevering foe and possessed a great advantage by reason of his unfair and unscrupulous employment of supernatural agencies. If Captain Crum attempted to take an observation of the sun to determine the latitude and longitude of the Toad, the sun would not stand still, but at Satan's instigation bobbed and wobbled around the heavens in a manner that made nautical reckoning an impossibility. Nor did the stars at night afford any better data for calculation. They danced about through each other's constellations with utter recklessness of consequences, and all three of the Toad's crew testify that four moons often appeared simultaneously, and the dipper frequently rose in the west and set in the southeast. At times the wind would blow from all points of the compass and the Toad would remain stationary for hours, buffeted by conflicting breezes.
Notwithstanding these impediments to a prosperous passage, Captain Crum believes that he finally would have made the coast of France had not Beelzebub resorted to an unexpected and insuperable trick. It was a foul blow to navigation—a blow beneath the belt.
For day after day the Toad, to all appearances, had been making good progress and the Toad's crew were well along in the last half of the fourth and last keg. The wind blew steadily abaft, the jib and mainsail drew finely, the water rippled about the bows, and the captain had begun to look sharp ahead for signs of land. By his rough reckoning the Toad ought to have been in west longitude 5° 40', somewhere off Ushant. At length land appeared—a faint blue line of land—but, to their complete bewilderment, it was neither ahead nor on either beam. It was directly behind the Toad, and although by the wind, by the compass, by the swash of waves, and by every other indication known to navigators they were sailing directly away from it, its outlines every moment became more distinct. Captain Crum caught up an empty rum keg (they were all empty now) and threw it overboard. The keg rapidly passed by the Toad from stern to stem, disappeared for a second under the bowsprit, and was soon lost in the horizon to the eastward.
The three bold sailors looked at each other with despairing eyes. By this infallible test they knew that the Toad was sailing, and had for days been sailing, directly backward, in the teeth of the wind and in the face of all natural laws. It was no use contending against an enemy who had such diabolical resources at his command. Discouraged and sick at heart, they sank down under the weight of their terrible disappointment and knew nothing more until they found themselves on board the porgy steamer Moonbeam, steaming up Mackerel Cove. Of the Toad's second grounding upon the Clamshel! they knew nothing. It was a singular coincidence, but what event could surprise them now?
Such was the story told of the Toad's voyage to France by the courageous navigators who had fought hard against unearthly odds. The inhabitants of Mackerel Cove, after hearing it attentively, weighing it judicially, and cross-examining closely, are unanimously agreed on three points:
1. That the voyage, although unsuccessful, is highly creditable to the Toad, to the Toad's crew, and, by reflex glory, to Mackerel Cove.
2. That Beelzebub, when actuated by motives of spite, is a hard fellow to beat; yet—
3. That if the rum had held out long enough, the three navigators would finally have got across and viewed the splendors of the Exhibition in spite of him.
NICHOLAS VANCE, a student in Harvard University, had the misfortune to suffer almost incessantly with acute neuralgia during the second term of his senior year. The malady not only caused him great anguish of face, but it also deprived him of the benefit of Professor Surdity's able lecture on speculative logic, a study of which Vance was passionately fond.
If Vance had gone in the first place to a sensible physician, as Miss Margaret Stull urged him to do, he would undoubtedly have been advised that it was mental friction that had set his face on fire. To extinguish the conflagration he would have been told to abandon speculative logic for a time and go a fishing.
But although the young man loved Miss Margaret Stull, or at least loved her as much as it is possible to love one who feels no interest in hypotheses, he had little respect for her opinion in a matter such as the neuralgia. Instead of consulting with a duly qualified member of the faculty of medicine, he rushed across the bridge one morning, in a paroxysm of pain, to seek counsel of Tithami Concannon, the very worst person, under the circumstances, to whom he possibly could have applied.
Tithami was himself a speculative logician. He lived up four pairs of stairs, and his one window overlooked a dreary expanse of back yards and clotheslines. By a subtle process of reasoning he knew that the window commanded a superb view of the sunset, granted only that the sun rose in the west and set in the east. As Tithami was aware, moreover, that east and west are relative terms, arbitrarily employed, and that inherently and absolutely there is no more reason why the sun should travel from east to west than from west to east, he derived a great deal of enjoyment from the sunsets he did notice. Such are the resources of speculative logic.
Tithami owed his education to his name. Thomas Concannon, who thirty years ago taught the Harvard freshmen how to pronounce the digamma, died a month before Tithami was born. Poor little Mrs. Concannon, sincerely desiring to compliment the memory of her deceased husband, named the infant after a Greek verb which the tutor had held in especial esteem, and of whose capabilities she had often heard him speak with enthusiasm. Her family tried in vain to persuade the simple-minded mother to give up the idea, or at least to compromise on Timothy, approximate in form to the heathen verb, but thoroughly respectable in its associations. She would not yield—not one final iota—and Tithami the baby was baptized. This queer christening proved both the making and the marring of the child. A rich, eccentric great uncle, mightily tickled by the unconscious humor of the appellation, offered to give young Tithami the best schooling that money could buy, and he kept his word, all the way from a kindergarten to Heidelberg. At the latter institution Tithami learned so much logic from the renowned Speisecartius, and went so deep into metaphysics with the profound Zundholzer, that he thoroughly unfitted himself for all practical work in life. He came home and speedily argued his benevolent uncle to death, but not before the old gentleman had stricken the logician from his will and diverted his entire property to the endowment of an asylum for deaf mutes.
"My dear Nicholas," said Tithami, when Vance had sung all twelve books of his epic of pain, "you are the luckiest individual in the city of Boston. I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. Take your hand away from your cheek and sit down in that easy chair and rejoice."
"Thank you," groaned Vance, who knew the chair. "I prefer to stand up."
"Well," said Tithami cheerfully, "stand up if it pleases you, so long as you stand still. The floor creaks and my landlady, who is absurdly fussy over a trifle of rent, has a way of rushing in when the slightest noise reminds her of the fact of my existence. You've read how, in the Alps, a breeze sometimes brings down an avalanche?"
"Hang your landlady!" shouted Nicholas. "I came to you as a friend, for sympathy, not to be jeered at."
"If you must walk up and down like a maniac, Nicholas," continued Tithami, "pardon me for suggesting that you keep off that third plank from the fireplace. It's particularly loose. I repeat, Nicholas, that you are a lucky dog. I would give my dinners for a week for such a neuralgia."
"Can you do anything for me or not?" demanded Nicholas, fiercely. "I don't like to exercise intimidation, but, by Jupiter, if you don't stop chaffing, I'll raise a yell that will start the avalanche."
A perceptible tremor passed over Tithami's frame. It was evident that the threat was not ineffectual. He arose hastily and assured himself that the door was securely bolted. Then he returned to Vance and addressed him with considerable impressiveness of manner.
"Nicholas," said he, "I was perfectly serious when I congratulated you upon your neuralgia. You, like myself, are a speculative logician. Although not in an entirely candid and reasonable frame of mind just now, you will not, I am sure, refuse a syllogism. Let me ask you two plain Socratic questions and present one syllogism, and then I'll give you something that will subdue your pain—under protest, mind you, for I shall feel that I am wronging you, Nicholas."
"Confound your sense of justice!" exclaimed Nicholas. "I accept the proposition."
"Well, answer me this. Do you like a hot Indian curry?"
"Nothing better," said Nicholas.
"But suppose someone had offered you a curry when you were fifteen years younger—during the bread and milk era of your gastronomic evolution. Would you have partaken of it with signal pleasure?"
"No," said Vance. "I should have as soon thought of sucking the red-hot end of a poker."
"Good. Now we will proceed to our syllogism. Here it is. Sensations that are primarily disagreeable may become more or less agreeable by a proper education of the senses. Physical pain is primarily disagreeable. Therefore, even physical pain, by judicious cultivation, may be made a source of exquisite pleasure."
"That doesn't help my neuralgia," said Nicholas. "What does it all mean, anyway?"
"I never heard you speak unkindly of a syllogism before," said Tithami, sorrowfully. Then he took a small jar from a closet in the corner and shook out of it a little pile of fine white powder, of which he gave Nicholas as much as would cover an old-fashioned copper cent. This he did with evident reluctance.
"Come here tonight," he added, "at half past nine, and I will try to show you what it all means, my young friend."
THE apprehension of a new and profoundly significant truth is a slow process. As Nicholas walked home over the bridge he pondered the syllogism which Tithami had advanced. When he reached the front gate of the house where Miss Margaret Stull lived, and saw that young lady in her flower garden watering polyanthuses, it occurred to him for the first time that he had forgotten his neuralgia.
He sat down on the doorstep and lighted a cigar. The kind inquiries and gentle solicitude of his sweetheart made him rather ashamed of himself. It was not dignified that a young philosopher with a heroic malady should be sitting among polyanthuses, forgetful of his misery, and actually experiencing that dull glow of bodily self-satisfaction which a well-fed Newfoundland dog may be supposed to enjoy when he lies in the sunshine. Nicholas felt it his duty to subject the facts of the case to logical analysis.
The first result obtained was the remarkable fact that the pain was still present in all its intensity.
Upon closely examining his sensations, Vance could discover no change in either the frequency or the acuteness of the nervous pangs. At tolerably regular periods the stream of fire ran throbbing through his face and temples. In the intervals of recurrence there was the same dull aching which had made life intolerable for days before. Nicholas, therefore, felt safe in the induction that the powder administered by Tithami had not cured the pain.
The astonishing thing was that ever since he had taken the powder the pain had been a matter of indifference. Nicholas was compelled to admit, as a candid logician, that he would not raise a finger to rid himself of the neuralgia now. So strange was the transformation wrought in his sensatory system that he even felt a sort of satisfaction in the throbbing and the aching, and would have been sorry, rather than glad, to have them cease. Indeed, the more he thought about it the nearer he approached to the conclusion that neuralgia, under the existing conditions, was a luxury and something to be cherished.
When this idea was communicated to Miss Margaret Stull, she at once became alarmed for his sanity, and ran to fetch her aunt Penelope. That respectable and experienced maiden heard the proposition stated without showing surprise or other emotion. Her comment was comprised in a single word.
"Morphia," said Miss Penelope.
"Call it lotus or ambrosia," exclaimed Nicholas, "call it morphia, or what you will. If there is a potency in the blessed drug that can transform agony into joy, torment into delight, make the forenoon's paroxysms of torture the pulsations of ecstasy in the afternoon, why may it not be, as Tithami said, that—but I'll go to Boston and ask him this very hour."
Nicholas paused, for both Miss Penelope and Margaret were regarding him with amazement. Margaret looked bewildered, but on her aunt's face there was a very peculiar expression, which he afterward recalled most vividly.
"Mr. Vance," said Miss Penelope calmly, "the morphia is acting on your head. Suppose you lie down on the sofa in the back parlor, where it's cool and quiet, until suppertime. After a good cup of tea you'll be in better condition to go to Boston, and I shall be very glad of your escort. I'm to spend the evening with some friends at the West End."
AT twenty-five minutes past nine Vance climbed the stairs that led to Tithami's abode. He found the speculative logician arrayed in full evening dress and just drawing on a pair of tight boots. This surprised Nicholas. He had never known his friend to be guilty of that folly before.
"Neuralgia's not so bad a thing, eh, Nicholas?" said Tithami, gaily. "Something like a hot curry when your taste's educated up to it. Great pity, though, to blunt the edge of your enjoyment with morphine. It's like sprinkling sawdust over a fine raw oyster. However, we'll soon have you educated beyond such crude practices. I want you to go out with me."
"But I'm not dressed," said Nicholas.
Tithami went to the looking glass and complacently surveyed his own rather rusty attire. "That makes no difference," said he; "it won't be noticed. Now, if you'll have the goodness to go downstairs first. If the coast is clear, whistle 'Annie Laurie,' and I'll come right along. But if you observe at the foot of the stairs a she-dragon, a female Borgia, a gorgon, a raging Tisiphone in a black bombazine dress, whistle the 'Dead March' from Saul, and I'll climb down the gutter pipe and join you at the corner."
The coast happened to be clear, and the notes of "Annie Laurie" brought Tithami to the street door close upon Nicholas' heels. He led Vance through street after street, and turned corner after corner, discoursing the while upon light topics with the rattling air of a man about town. Nicholas had never seen Tithami display such animal spirits before. He seemed to have shaken off the mustiness of scholastic logic, and walked and talked like a nineteenth-century blade on his way to a congenial debauch.
"You were saying this morning," said Nicholas—timidly opening a subject on which he very much desired instruction—"you were saying that physical pain, being only a relative term, inasmuch as the same sensations in a modified degree often yield us what we call physical pleasure, might be cultivated so as to be a source of exquisite enjoyment. Now it seems to me that this theory—"
"Oh, bother theory," said Tithami, smartly and apparently with purpose rapping his knuckles against a lamp post they were just then passing. "What's the use talking of theory when you'll shortly see the idea in actual practice?"
"But please tell me what you mean," persisted Nicholas, "by pain's being only relative."
"Why," said Tithami, "who can draw the line, for example, that marks the boundary between the comfortable feeling you have after a good dinner, and the uncomfortable feeling you have after eating too much? In one case the sensation is translated by your brain into pleasure. In the other, the same sensation, only a trifle more pronounced, is called pain. Are you as blind as a newborn rabbit that you can't see, after sitting so long under Professor Surdity, that the distinction between pain and pleasure is nothing but a fallacy of words? Didn't your morphine experience today prove that? Throw away the morphine and educate your intelligence up to the proper standard and you get the same result."
Here Tithami, as if wearied of parleying, stopped short and began to dance a vigorous jig upon the pavement.
"Why do you dance if your boots are tight?" Nicholas ventured to inquire.
"Simply because they are tight, and my feet very tender," replied Tithami.
Nicholas walked on in silence. Tithami's conduct became more and more astonishing every minute. But Nicholas' surprise culminated when his friend halted in front of a brick mansion which had once been aristocratic. Tithami ascended the steps and rang the doorbell with the air of one who has reached his destination. No wonder Nicholas was surprised. It was to that same door that he had escorted Margaret's aunt Penelope, not half an hour earlier that very evening.
NICHOLAS had once attended a meeting of the First Radical Club in a private house not far from the one which he now entered. The scene in the parlor recalled the session of the Advanced Thinkers. About a dozen men and women, more or less progressive in appearance, were sitting in chairs or on sofas listening to a paper read in a mumbling voice by a tall gentleman who stood in a corner and held his manuscript close to his spectacles. The essay did not seem to excite much enthusiasm. There were more empty chairs than auditors.
When Nicholas and Tithami were ushered in, nearly all the company arose and greeted the latter silently but with every evidence of profound respect. Indeed, the salutations were almost oriental in their obsequiousness.
"You are quite a rooster here, Tithami," whispered Vance, irreverently.
"Hush!" Tithami whispered in return. "It was I who first brought this idea from Heidelberg to Boston. It is simply their gratitude for a great boon. But listen to the essay."
The speaker was just then saying: "Let it be postulated that the principle which we hold is the true arcanum, the actual earthly paradise, and let it be also postulated that we shall progress from the material to the intellectual in the development of this principle, and who can escape the conclusion from these premises? As we advance in the self-discipline that already enables us to derive the highest physical pleasure from sensations that have been deemed a curse since Cain's first colic, we shall find still loftier joys in the region of mental pain. I firmly believe that the time is not distant when to the initiated the death of a wife or husband will be a keener joy than the first kiss at the altar, the bankruptcy of a fortune a truer source of elation than the receipt of a legacy, the disappointment of ambition more welcome than the fruition of hope. This is but the logical—"
Nicholas could no longer contain himself. He knew the voice, the style of reasoning, the spectacles. He had listened too often and too intently to the lectures of Professor Surdity of Harvard College to mistake him for another, or another for him. He uttered a low whistle. Tithami checked him on the very edge of another.
"Above all things," he whispered, "show no astonishment at anything you may see or hear. And take special care to recognize nobody you meet, even if it is your own grandmother. The etiquette of the place requires that much of you."
Tithami now arose and beckoned Nicholas to follow him out of the room. "This is slow," said he. "The professor is inclined to be prosy. A few of the old fogies of our number like to sit and listen to him. They are probably trying to carry his principle to the extent of deriving excitement from a painful bore. We mustn't waste time here. Let's go to the symposium."
A passageway, screened by heavy curtains, led to an extension apartment that originally had been built for a painting gallery. It had no windows. The skylight overhead had been removed and the room was as completely sequestered as the inner chamber of one of the pyramids of Gizeh. On a table in the middle of the apartment a repast was laid. The table was surrounded by broad couches, like the lecti of the Romans, on which several persons were reclining. A few were eating, but the majority seemed wrapped in the sufficiency of inactive bliss. In the corners of the room Nicholas observed several bulky machines of wood. The place seemed half banquet hall, half gymnasium.
As had been the case in the outer parlors, all the company arose and saluted Tithami with marked deference. This was done almost mechanically, and as if a matter of course. Of Nicholas' presence the Pain Epicures apparently took no more notice than the inmates of a Chinese opium den would have done. There was a dreamy languor upon the company that made the locality seem not unlike an opium den.
Tithami went directly to a sideboard and poured from a decanter a brimming draft.
"It is aqua fortis," he explained, "diluted, of course, but strong enough to take the skin from the lips, and set the mouth and throat a-burning. You will try a glass? No? It would be no stronger to your taste than raw brandy is to a child's. The child grows up and learns to like brandy. You will grow to esteem this tipple. Ah, Doctor! A glass with you. How are you enjoying yourself nowadays?"
In the gentleman who approached at this moment, and whom Tithami thus addressed, Nicholas recognized one of the most eminent of Boston physicians, celebrated as a skillful practitioner all through the eastern States. The doctor shook his head at Tithami's polite question.
"Poorly, very poorly," he replied. "The moxa yields me no more pleasure now than a mere cup blister or leeching. I'd give half my income to be able to enjoy a simple neuralgia as I used to."
Tithami gave Nicholas a significant look.
"And yet," continued the doctor, musingly, "the blind, ignorant fools who employ me professionally insist on taking chloroform for a trifling amputation. I suppose they won't have a tooth drawn without anesthesia. What a pity that a luxury like pain cannot be monopolized by those who can appreciate it!"
"With your resources and pathological knowledge," suggested Tithami, "you ought to keep abreast of your pain progress and avoid ennui."
"I try everything," rejoined the medical gentleman, with a sigh. "Did it ever occur to you, Tithami," he continued, with more animation, "that if one could find some stimulant that would arouse the entire nervous system to acuter sensibility than any agent now known, he might make himself conscious of the circulation of the blood. How delightful it would be to actually feel the hot tide rushing along the arteries, oozing through the capillaries, coursing the veins, and surging into the aorta! Why, it would lend a new piquancy to existence."
"He is one of the most advanced of us," said Tithami to Nicholas after the doctor had passed on. "But he goes too fast. I believe in moderation in pain, as in all other enjoyments. By being temperate in my indulgences I keep the edge keen. By using the moxa three or four times a day the doctor killed the goose that laid the golden eggs. He's not enough of a philosopher to be an epicure."
"Have all your friends here advanced as far as the doctor?" asked Nicholas.
"Oh dear no! You understand that as one progresses the dose must be increased. While a beginner may be contented with a toothache, or may satiate himself by eating green watermelons for the colic, like that young man yonder, or by sticking pins in the calf of his leg, as those three gentlemen on the left-hand couch are doing at this moment, there are others, of more cultivated appetites, who must have the higher grades of pain. Yet it's the same thing in all stages. Some are content to be rational in their dissipations; others plunge into extremes. I have in mind a banker, not present tonight, who became so infatuated with the use of an old-fashioned thumbscrew which he picked up in some curiosity shop, that he takes it in his pocket to the office and uses it surreptitiously during business hours. I have no patience with such a man. He must either degenerate into a secret voluptuary or else set a bad example to his clerks."
"I should think so!" said Nicholas.
"Now here's a very different character," continued Tithami, as a burly German approached. "He's satisfied with the simplest pleasures. Good evening, mein Herr. You are all smiles tonight."
"Ach Gott!" said the Teuton, "but I have one lovely head woe. I have been—how say you it?—ge-butting mein kopf unt de wall."
"And over there," Tithami went on, after congratulating the German on his method, "is one of the rarest examples of besotted folly that I could possibly show you. That man with his hand tied up in a cloth and a serene smile on his face was ass enough one day to cut off the tip of his little finger for the sake of the temporary gratification he had from the smart. He is a lawyer in good practice and ought to know better. Well, the wound healed, and his enjoyment was over. So he cut off a fresh slice, a little further down. Thus it went on, little by little, till now he has nothing but the stumps of seven fingers and a thumb to show for his sport. He's begun on the eighth finger already, and I'll wager that he lays his next case before the jury with a solitary thumb."
A strident creaking now attracted Nicholas' attention to one of the wooden machines in the corner. Proceeding thither, followed by Tithami, he beheld an extraordinary spectacle. The machine rudely resembled an overshot water wheel. It was operated by a crank at which a brawny African of decorous demeanor was laboring. Upon the rim of the wheel, lashed hand and foot, was stretched a fleshy citizen of middle age and highly respectable appearance. He was in his shirt sleeves, and the perspiration stood in great beads upon his brow, but his face bore an expression of ineffable felicity. At every exertion of the darky at the crank the strain upon the fat epicure's muscles and joints increased. The tension seemed to be terrific, yet Nicholas heard him whisper, in a voice almost inaudible, but ecstatic beyond description, "Give her one more turn, George Washington, one —more—little—yank—"
"I was just now speaking," said Tithami, "of the higher grades of pain. Here you have an example. The fat gentleman is a well-known capitalist and also a man of leisure, like myself. He lives on Beacon Street. He is something of an enthusiast in the pursuit of pain novelties. He bought that machine at Madrid and presented it to the association. It is an undoubted original of the instrument of torture known as the rack, and is said to have been used by the Inquisition. At all events it is still in good working order. With a capable man at the crank it affords an amount of refined pleasure which I hope you will someday be able to appreciate."
Nicholas shuddered and turned away from the rack. By this time there were thirty-five or forty epicures in the room. The company had been increased by the party from the parlors, Professor Surdity's essay being at last concluded. There was more bustle and activity among the epicures than earlier in the evening. The intoxication of pain was working its effect and the revel was growing reckless and noisy.
"Let us see what they are doing," said Nicholas.
"Make yourself perfectly at home," replied Tithami, politely. "I told you your presence would not be noticed. Go wherever you please, and if you feel like testing any of our appliances, don't hesitate to do so. But if you'll kindly excuse me for a few minutes, I think I'll take the next turn on the rack."
The revel went on with increasing zest. The hum of delirious voices mingled with the creaking of two or three of the instruments of torture. On one side Nicholas saw a sedate party consisting of two philosophers and half a dozen theological students. They were sitting on a bench cushioned with the sharp points of tacks, and were discussing the immortality of the soul in a most animated manner. Several epicures had taken a hint from the German, and were butting their craniums against the wall. A young man, evidently inexperienced in the luxuries of pain, seemed to derive exquisite pleasure from the simplest form of torture. He had inserted one finger in the joint of a lemon squeezer, and was grimacing with callow delight as he pressed together the handles of the utensil with his other hand. Two doctors of divinity had stripped themselves to the waist, and were obligingly flagellating each other in turn with willow switches. It was creditable to their sense of equity that the reciprocal service was performed with exact fairness, both in regard to time and in regard to the energy with which the blows were administered. Nicholas observed that, as a rule, the intoxication of pain made men selfish. Wrapped in the felicity of his own sensations, each epicure had little concern for the enjoyment of those around him.
That, however, was not the case with a group of men and women who had gathered at the remotest end of the apartment. There was a buzz of conversation there, and a manifest display of interest, as over some great novelty. The crowd was applauding the inventor of a new appliance. Nicholas pushed his way into the group, and then suddenly started back dumbfounded.
A woman of middle age sat on an ottoman, her foot in a basket that was tightly covered over with cloth. A shoe and a stocking lay on the floor. The woman's hair was disordered and her face flushed with unhealthy excitement. With the abandon of a mad bacchante, she began to sing a lively but incoherent song. Her rather shrill voice floated into the uncertain quavers of hysterical rapture. Nicholas turned to a bystander. "What has she in the basket?" he demanded.
"Six nests of hornets," was the answer. "Isn't it beautiful? It's the discovery of the age, and to think that a lady should be the first!"
Nicholas was almost stupefied with horror and disgust. He knew the basket, for he had brought it from Cambridge. He knew the lady, for she was Margaret's aunt Penelope. Margaret's aunt the central figure in such an orgy! He pushed his way to the front and stood before the frantic woman. She looked up, and a cloudy expression of dim remembrance and uncertain shame came over her face. "Put on your shoe!" he sternly said. Mechanically she obeyed. Nicholas kicked aside the basket, and there was a fierce struggle among the epicures for the possession of the treasure. The young man heeded not their rivalry. He took Miss Penelope by the arm and led her out of the unholy place, out of the house. The fresh night air brought her partially to her senses. She hung her head and accompanied him in silence.
The last car for Cambridge was just starting from the square. During the long ride not a word was said by Nicholas, and not a word by his companion. At the door of the house the silence was first broken. Nicholas looked up from the ground. The moon lighted the window of the room where Margaret was innocently sleeping.
"For Margaret's sake and for your own sake, Miss Penelope," said Nicholas, in a low but firm voice, "swear to me never to visit that place again."
Miss Penelope's frame shook with agitation. She sobbed violently. She looked first at Nicholas and then at Margaret's window. At last she spoke.
"I swear it!" said Miss Penelope.
MY Dear Friend: You will no doubt be glad to hear about the newly established infirmary at Lugville. I visited it a few days ago in company with Mr. Merkle, a Boston lawyer, whom I happened to meet upon the train. On the way down he gave me a most interesting account of the endowment of this institution by the late Lorin Jenks, to whose discriminating philanthropy the world owes a charity that is not less novel in its conception than noble and practical in its aim.
Mr. Lorin Jenks, as you know, was president of the Saco Stocking and Sock Mills. He was a bachelor, and a very remarkable man. He made a million dollars one day by observing women as they purchased hose in a cheap store in Tremont Row. Mr. Jenks noticed that females who hesitated a good while about paying fifty cents a pair for plain white stockings eagerly paid seventy-five cents for the same quality ornamented with red clocks at the ankles. It cost twenty-two cents a pair to manufacture the stockings. The red flosselle for the clocks cost a quarter of a cent.
"That observation," said Mr. Merkle, "was the foundation of Jenks's great fortune. The Saco Mills immediately stopped making plain hosiery. From that time forth Jenks manufactured nothing but stockings with red clocks, which he retailed at sixty cents. I am told that there is not a woman under sixty-five in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, or Vermont who does not own at least half a dozen pairs of poor Jenks's sixty-cent red clockers."
"That fact," said I, "would interest Mr. Matthew Arnold. It shows that sweetness and light—"
"Pardon me. It shows that Jenks was a practical man, as well as a philosopher. Busy as he was during his life, he took great interest in politics, like all sensible citizens. He was also a metaphysician. He closely followed contemporary speculative thought, inclining, until shortly before his death, to the Hegelian school. Every midsummer, he left the stocking mill to run itself and repaired joyfully to Concord to listen to the lectures in the apple orchard. It is my private opinion that Messrs. Plato, Kant & Co. bled him pretty heavily for the privilege. But at Concord Jenks acquired new ideas as to his duty to the race."
Mr. Merkle paused to hand his ticket to the conductor.
"During the last years of his life, inasmuch as he was known to be eccentric, philanthropic, and without a family, Jenks was much beset by people who sought to interest him in various schemes for the amelioration of the human race. A week before he died he sent for me.
"'Merkle,' says he, 'I want you to draw me a will so leathery that no shark in Pemberton Square can bite it in two.'
"'Well,' says I, 'what is it now, Jenks?'
"'I wish,' says he, 'to devote my entire fortune to the endowment of an institution, the idea of which occurred to me at Concord.'
"'That's right,' said I, rather sharply. 'Put honest money made in red clock hose into the Concord windmill—that's a fine final act for a summer philosopher.'
"'Wait a minute,' said Jenks, and I fancied I saw a smile around the corners of his mouth. 'It isn't the Concord school I want to endow, although I don't deny there may be certain expectations in and around the orchard. But why spend money in teaching wisdom to the wise?' And then he proceeded to unfold his noble plan for the foundation of an Infirmary for the Mendacious."
The train was hauling up at the platform of the Lugville station.
"A few days later," continued the lawyer, as we arose from our seats, "this far-seeing and public-spirited citizen died. By the terms of his will, the income of $1,500,000 in governments, Massachusetts sixes, Boston and Albany stock, and sound first mortgages on New England property is devoted to the infirmary, under the direction of thirteen trustees. How the trust has been administered, you will see for yourself in a few minutes."
We were met at the door of the infirmary by a pleasant-faced gentleman who spoke with a slight German accent and introduced himself as the assistant superintendent.
"Excuse me," said he, politely, "but which of you is the patient?"
"Oh, neither," replied Merkle, with a laugh. "I am the counsel for the Board, and this gentleman is merely a visitor who is interested in the workings of the institution."
"Ah, I see," said the assistant superintendent. "Will you kindly walk this way?"
We entered the office, and he handed me a book and a pen. "Please inscribe your name," said he, "in the Visitors' Book." I did so, and then turned to speak to Merkle, but the lawyer had disappeared.
"Our system," said the assistant superintendent, "is very simple. The theory of the institution is that the habit of mendacity, which in many cases becomes chronic, is a moral disease, like habitual inebriety, and that it can generally be cured. We take the liar who voluntarily submits himself to our treatment, and for six months we submit him to the forcing process. That is, we encourage him in lying, surround him with liars, his equals and superiors in skill, and cram him with falsehood until he is fairly saturated. By this time the reaction has set in, and the patient is usually starved for the truth. He is prepared to welcome the second course of treatment. For the next half year the opposite method is pursued. The satiated and disgusted liar is surrounded by truthful attendants, encouraged to peruse veracious literature, and by force of lectures, example, and moral influence brought to understand how much more creditable it is to say the thing which is than the thing which is not. Then we send him back into the world; and I must say that cases of relapse are infrequent."
"Do you find no incurables?" I asked.
"Yes," said the assistant superintendent, "once in a while. But an incurable liar is better off here in the infirmary than outside, and it is better for the outside community to have him here."
Somebody came in, bringing a new patient. After sending for the superintendent, the assistant invited me to follow him. "I will show you how our patients live, and how they amuse themselves," he said. "We will go first, if you please, through the left wing, where the saturating process may be observed."
He led the way across a hall into a large room, comfortably furnished, and occupied by two dozen or more gentlemen, some reading, some writing, while others sat or stood in groups engaged in animated talk. Indeed, had it not been for the iron bars at the windows, I might have fancied myself in the lounging room of a respectable club. My guide stopped to speak to an inmate who was listlessly turning the leaves of a well-thumbed copy of Baron Münchausen, and left me standing near enough to one of the groups to overhear parts of the conversation.
"My rod creaked and bent double," a stout, red-faced gentleman was saying, "and the birch spun like a teetotum [top]. I tell you if Pierre Chaveau hadn't had the presence of mind to grip the most convenient part of my trousers with the boat hook, I should have been dragged into the lake in two seconds or less. Well, sir, we fought sixty-nine minutes by actual time taking, and when I had him in, and had got him back to the hotel, he tipped the scale, the speckled beauty did, at thirty-seven pounds and eleven-sixteenths, whether you believe it or not."
"Nonsense," said a quiet little gentleman who sat opposite. "That is impossible."
The first speaker looked flattered at this and colored with pleasure. "Nevertheless," he retorted, "it's a fact, on my honor as a sportsman. Why do you say it's impossible?"
"Because," said the other, calmly, "it is an ascertained scientific fact, as every true fisherman in this room knows perfectly well, that there are no trout in Mooselemagunticook weighing under half a hundred."
"Certainly not," put in a third speaker. "The bottom of the lake is a sieve—a sort of schistose sieve formation—and all the fish smaller than the fifty-pounders fall through."
"Why doesn't the water drop through, too?" asked the stout patient, in a triumphant tone.
"It used to," replied the quiet gentleman gravely, "until the Maine legislature passed an act preventing it."
My guide rejoined me and we went on across the room. "These sportsman liars," he said, "are among the mildest and most easily cured cases that come here. We send them away in from six to nine weeks' time with the habit broken up and pledged not to fish or hunt any more. The man who lies about the fish he has caught, or about the intelligence of his red setter dog is often in all other respects a trustworthy citizen. Yet such cases form nearly forty per cent of all our patients."
"What are the most obstinate cases?"
"Undoubtedly those which you will see in the Travelers' and Politicians' wards of the infirmary. The more benign cases, such as the fishermen liars, the society liars, the lady-killer or bonnes fortunes liars, the Rocky Mountain and frontier liars [excepting Texas cases], the railroad prospectus liars, the psychical research liars, and the miscellaneous liars of various classes, we permit during the first stage of treatment to mingle freely with each other. The effect is good. But we keep the Travelers and the Politicians strictly isolated."
He was about to conduct me out of the room by a door opposite that through which we had entered when a detached phrase uttered by a pompous gentleman arrested my attention.
"Scipio Africanus once remarked to me—"
"There couldn't be a better example," said my guide, as we passed out of the room, "of what we call the forcing system in the treatment of mendacity. That patient came to us voluntarily about two months ago. The form of his disease is a common one. Perfectly truthful in all other respects, he cannot resist the temptation to claim personal acquaintance and even intimacy with distinguished individuals. His friends laughed at him so much for this weakness that when he heard of the establishment of the infirmary he came here like a sensible man, and put himself under our care. He is doing splendidly. When he found that his reminiscences of Beaconsfield and Bismarck and Victor Hugo created no sensation here, but were, on the contrary, at once matched and capped by still more remarkable experiences narrated by other inmates, he was at first a little staggered. But the habit is so strong, and the peculiar vanity that craves admiration on this score is so exacting, that he began to extend his acquaintance, gradually and cautiously, back into the past. Soon we had him giving reminiscences of Talleyrand, of Thomas Jefferson, and of Lord Cornwallis. Observe the psychologic effect of our system. The ordinary checks on the performances of such a liar being removed, and, no doubt, suspicion, nor even wonder being expressed at any of his anecdotes, he has gone back through Voltaire and William the Silent to Charlemagne, and so on. There happens to be in the institution another patient with precisely the same trouble. They are, therefore, in active competition, and each serves to force the other back more rapidly. Not long ago I heard our friend in here describing one of Heliogabalus' banquets, which he had attended as an honored guest. Why, I was there, too!' cried the other liar. 'It was the night they gave us the boar's head stuffed with goose giblets and that delicious dry Opimian muscadine.'"
"Well," I asked, "and what is your prognosis in this case?"
"Just now the two personal reminiscence liars are driving each other back through ancient history at the rate of about three centuries a week. The flood isn't likely to stop them. Before long they will be matching reminiscences of the antediluvian patriarchs, and then they'll bring up square on Adam. They can't go any further than Adam. By that time they will be ready for the truth-cure process; and after a few weeks spent in an atmosphere of strict veracity in the other wing of the infirmary, they'll go out into the world again perfectly cured, and much more useful citizens than before they came to us."
We went upstairs and saw the scrupulously neat bedrooms which the patients occupy; through the separate wards where the isolated classes are treated; across to the right wing of the building and into a lecture room where the convalescent liars were gathered to hear a most interesting dissertation on "The Inexpediency of Falsehood from the Legal Point of View." I was not surprised to recognize in the lecturer my railroad acquaintance, the Boston lawyer, Merkle.
On our way back to the reception room, or office, we met a pleasant-looking gentleman about forty years old. "He is a well-known society man," the assistant superintendent whispered as the inmate approached, "and he was formerly the most politely insincere person in America. Nobody could tell when he was uttering the truth, or, indeed, whether he ever did utter the truth. His habit became so exaggerated that his relatives induced him to come to Lugville for treatment. I am glad to have you see him, for he is a good example of a radical cure. We shall be ready to discharge him by the first of next week."
The cured liar was about to pass us, but the assistant superintendent stopped him. "Mr. Van Ransevoort," he said, "let me make you acquainted with this gentleman, who has been inspecting our system."
"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Van Ransevoort," I said.
He raised his hat and made me an unexceptionable bow. "And I," he replied, with a smile of charming courtesy, "am neither glad nor sorry to meet you, sir. I simply don't care a damn."
The somewhat startling candor of his words was so much at variance with the perfect politeness of his manner that I was taken aback. I stammered something about not desiring to intrude. But as he still stood there as if expecting the conversation to be continued, I added, "I suppose you are looking forward to your release next week?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, "I shall be rather glad to get out again, but my wife will be sorry."
I looked at the assistant superintendent. He returned a glance full of professional pride.
"Well, good-by, Mr. Van Ransevoort," I said. "Perhaps I shall have the pleasure of meeting you again."
"I hope not, sir; it's rather a bore," said he, shaking my hand most cordially, and giving the assistant superintendent a friendly nod as he passed on.
I could fill many more pages than I have time to write with descriptions of what I saw in the infirmary. Intelligence and thoroughness were apparent in all of the arrangements. I encountered and conversed with liars of more variation and degree of mendacity than you would believe had distinct existence. The majority of the cases were commonplace enough. Liars of real genius seem to be as rare inside the establishment as they are outside. I became convinced from my observations during the profitable afternoon which I spent at Lugville that chronic mendacity is a disease, as the assistant superintendent said, and that it is amenable, in a great number of cases, to proper treatment. On the importance of the experiment that is being carried on at Lugville with so much energy and apparent success, it is not necessary to dilate.
I sincerely hope that you will not misconstrue my motives in laying the matter before you; and I cannot too strongly urge you to go down to Lugville yourself at the earliest opportunity. You ought to see with your own eyes how admirably Lorin Jenks's bequest is administered, and what a prospect of reform and regeneration the infirmary's system holds out to unfortunates. The regular visitors' day is Wednesday. No doubt they would admit you at any time.
WHEN I last visited Monaco I found that enlightened community in a state of exasperation against everything that is American. I even detected covert hostility in the manner of M. Berg of the Beau Rivage Hotel, who had formerly received me with so much politeness. After breakfast, during which meal the waiter glared at me with undisguised hatred, I went to pay my respects to our diplomatic representative, an acquaintance of old in Ohio. The consul's face was haggard, as if from protracted anxiety. He was putting the final touches to an elaborate toilet.
"What is the trouble, Green?" I demanded.
The consul sighed repeatedly while he was framing his reply. The excellent fellow had a habit of adorning his ordinary conversation with the phraseology of an official dispatch. This process required more or less time, but the effect was impressive.
"I must inform you," he said, "that the relations between the United States and the Independent Principality of Monaco, cordial as they have been in the past, are approaching a crisis full of peril. Recent events justify the apprehensions which I have from time to time expressed in my communications to the Department of State at Washington. It would be folly to conceal the fact that the present attitude of the court of Prince Charles III is anything but friendly to our own government; or that the situation is one which calls for the utmost watchfulness and the most delicate diplomacy. I have the honor to add that I shall be both prudent and firm."
"Yes," said I; "but what is the row about?"
"The complication," he replied, emphasizing that word, "arises partly from the dark intrigues of the crafty statesmen who surround the prince, and partly from the behavior of Americans here and at Nice, particularly Titus."
"And who the deuce is Titus?"
"George Washington Titus," he replied, with a look full of gloom, "is a man whose existence and acts embitter my official career; yet I am constantly yielding to the remarkable influence which he exerts over me, as over most people with whom he comes in contact. George Washington Titus is a perpetual source of danger to the peace that has been maintained so long between the United States and Monaco; yet when he is with me I cannot help being carried away by the reckless enthusiasm of his nature. To employ a colloquialism, he has kept me in hot water ever since he arrived. Pardon me; but, privately and personally and apart from my official capacity, I sometimes say to myself, 'Confound George Washington Titus!'"
"Now," I remarked, "I am just as wise as I was before."
"The story is a long one, and, as in every affair of international moment, the details are many and complicated. I am about to have an interview with the hereditary prince, and shall officially request an explanation of certain things. Come with me to the palace. I will give you the facts as we walk."
It is only a step from the American consulate to the palace, and the consul's narrative advanced slowly, owing to the dignity of its periods. For convenience, I had better join what he told me on this occasion with what I afterward learned respecting the difficulty.
Since 1869, when Prince Charles III abolished taxation, the revenue of the government of Monaco has been derived exclusively from the gaming tables at the casino. The prince's subjects, nearly six thousand souls, have been prosperous and happy, having no taxes to pay and plenty of travelers to fleece. The income from the casino has been large enough to meet all administrative expenses, to support the court in a style befitting the importance of the oldest reigning family in Europe—for Prince Charles traces his line of descent directly back to the Grimaldi of the tenth century—and to leave a handsome annual surplus, part of which has been wisely devoted to a system of internal improvements.
In pursuit of this policy, it had been determined about a year before to blast out the large rock at the mouth of the cove behind the palace. The prince's Navy, which consists of a steam launch of about twelve tons burden, armed with a swivel gun, is accustomed to ride at anchor in this cove when not actively engaged. The rock seriously impeded the free ingress and egress of the Navy. The contract for the work of removal was awarded by Roasio, Minister of Marine, to Titus, an American engineer.
Up to the time of Titus' arrival in Monaco, the Americans had been popular with the subjects of the prince. They were liberal in expending money, rarely disputed reckoning at the hotels, cafes, and shops, and contributed largely to the revenue of the casino. The official pathway of my friend, the consul, had lain over rose beds. Titus himself won much applause at first. He was a tall, good-looking Baltimorean, who had been major of Engineers in the Union Army. A genial and sometimes roistering companion of men, gallant in his bearing toward the ladies of the court, skillful in his attack on the obnoxious rock, he had enjoyed for a time a pronounced success in Monaco. The people watched with pride the operations of his divers, the work of his steam dredge, the arrival and unloading of the square tin cans of dynamite which came consigned to him from Marseilles. He was in a measure identified with the mysterious forces of nature, and therefore a little feared; but it was generally conceded that he deserved well of the inhabitants.
Soon, however, he was unfortunate enough to incur the displeasure of several very influential personages; and although he himself cared not a copper for the frown of any dignitary on the peninsula, the consul, who felt more or less responsible for him, thenceforth trod on thorns. Titus' decline in prestige was due to several causes.
One night, being in his cups, he had knocked down M. De Mussly, the generalissimo of the Army, who had ventured to remonstrate with him for practicing the war whoop of the American Indian in the public square in front of the palace. On receiving a challenge the next morning from the outraged warrior, Titus had laughed, and offered to swim with De Mussly due south across the Mediterranean until one or the other should be drowned. The affair was brought to the attention of the Tribunal Supérieur by M. Goybet, Advocate-General, but Consul Green succeeded in having the charge suppressed.
Then followed another misadventure, far worse than the De Mussly incident. At a grand ball at the casino, Titus deliberately excused himself from dancing a fifth polka with the Princess Florestine, sister of the reigning prince. This august lady is a widow, who, in spite of her fifty years and two hundred pounds, has managed to preserve the impulses and tastes of maiden youth. If rumor was to be credited, she was not unkindly disposed toward the good-looking American engineer. When Titus was asked by a friend why he chose to fly in the face of Providence, he replied, "I had already danced four times with the princess. The old lady ought to remember that people go to balls for pleasure." This remark, of course, came to the ears of the princess, and thereafter she devoted every energy to the accomplishment of Titus' ruin.
The unlucky American next provoked the hostility of the all-powerful authorities at the casino, by introducing the game of poker as a rival, in private society, to the public attractions of roulette and rouge et noir. The new heresy spread like wildfire. In Monaco and in Nice people lost money to each other, instead of to the bank, as formerly. Receipts at the casino fell off more than one half. In vain the Administration procured a deliverance from the ecclesiastical authorities, declaring the game immoral. People still played poker. Worse than all, Titus and his disciples turned the terrible new engine against the subjects of the prince, and won their money. This was a startling innovation, and it awakened deep resentment. It was said that no less a personage than Monsignor Theuret, the Grand Almoner, having won thirteen thousand francs at roulette on a succession of three seventeens, lost the entire amount the next night at poker to Titus, and as much more besides; and that he was obliged to give his note for a large sum to the American. This was a specimen case.
As the prosperity of the people of Monaco rested wholly upon the prosperity of the casino, popular indignation rose high against the Americans, especially Titus. The poker question found a place in politics. Titus' enemies were unceasing in their efforts to undermine him at the court and neglected no means to inflame the prejudices of the populace.
SUCH, then, was the situation when I accompanied Consul Green to the palace.
At the threshold of the mansion inhabited by the descendants of the Grimaldi, we encountered a gorgeous usher wearing a heavy gold chain upon the breast of his crimson velvet robe. He led the way across an inner court and up a flight of marble steps, at the top of which he surrendered us, with a magnificent bow, to the keeping of M. Ponsard, Commandant of the Palace. Ponsard, in his turn, conducted us along a corridor and through a series of stately apartments to the office of the First Chamberlain, who after some delay ushered us into the presence of the Grand Almoner of the prince's Household. This eminent individual was seated at a desk writing. He greeted Green ceremoniously. He was aware that Monsieur the American Minister had audience that morning of the hereditary prince; but His Serene Highness was just now reviewing the Army in the piazza before the palace. His Serene Highness would soon return. If Monsieur the Minister and his friend would like to witness the pageant, there was an admirable view of the piazza from the balcony of the Salon des Muses, the third apartment to the left. The chamberlain would show the way.
"A polite old gentleman," I remarked, as we followed the chamberlain to the Salon des Muses.
"That extraordinary man," whispered Green, with a touch of awe in his voice, "is Monsignor Theuret, one of the most astute statesmen in Europe. His influence at court is practically boundless. He combines ecclesiastical with secular functions, being apostolic administrator and bishop of Hermopolis, and at the same time Grand Almoner of the household and superintendent of the third Salle of the casino. Being one of the chief leaders of the anti-Titus party, he both hates and fears me; yet did you observe how well he dissembled?"
"It strikes me," said I, "that this doubling up of offices is rather droll."
"It is necessary," returned Green, with perfect gravity, "in Monaco, where the total population is not large. The First Chamberlain, ahead of us here, as well as the Commandant of the Palace, and the usher with the gold chain act at night as croupiers at the casino. Chevalier Voliver, Minister of Foreign Affairs, leads the casino orchestra. He is an excellent musician and rather friendly to our interests, inasmuch as I have on several occasions rendered him trifling services of a pecuniary nature. But I must admit that, in statecraft, the Chevalier is weak and irresolute. He is hardly more than the tool and creature of Monsignor Theuret, whose ambition is as limitless as his ability is diabolical."
The First Chamberlain left us on the balcony. Thence we commanded a view, not only of the piazza below, but of nearly the entire principality. One could have fired a pistol ball into the Mediterranean, either to the west or to the south, and to the north the French frontier was within long rifle range. The palace itself shut off the eastward view, but Green informed me that the sea boundary on that side, with the cove where the Navy rode at anchor, was scarcely a stone's throw away. Opposite us were the grounds of the casino, the long stuccoed façade, the round concert kiosque, the theater, the restaurants, and the shops of the bazaar. Above this seductive establishment floated a captive balloon, in which visitors might ascend to the length of the rope for twenty francs the trip.
From the balloon overhead I turned my attention to the spectacle in the open piazza in front of the palace. Sidewalks, steps, doorways, and windows were thronged with loyal subjects of Charles III. Directly beneath us, on a fine black stallion, sat the hereditary prince, motionless as a statue. The Army of Monaco, commanded by the intrepid De Mussly, marched and counter-marched before him, exhibiting its proficiency in all the evolutions known to modern military science. In their smart red uniforms and white cockades, the thirty-two carabineers, who constitute the effective force under De Mussly, presented a truly formidable appearance, wheeling to and fro. The generalissimo had drilled them to march with that peculiarly vicious fling of the legs which is taught in Prussian tactics; and when they came kicking across the square in fours, wheeled suddenly into a sixteen-front line, halted before the hereditary prince, and grounded arms with a simultaneous clang of thirty-two carbine butts against the pavement, bravo after bravo arose from the delighted spectators, while a smile of proud gratification rested for an instant upon His Serene Highness's countenance.
Just then I observed the eccentric actions of an individual halfway across the square, who seemed to be trying to attract our notice. He whistled through his knuckles, waved both arms in the air, and then, apparently dissatisfied with the result of these demonstrations, snatched a gun from the nearest soldier and raised his own silk hat on the muzzle high above the heads of the crowd. Having restored the gun to the astonished warrior, he expressed his low opinion of the Army, for our benefit, by means of a derisive pantomime, and began to elbow his way through the ranks toward us.
"It is Titus," groaned Green. "He is continually compromising me in some such way."
The consul endeavored in vain to discountenance our fellow citizen below, by staring fixedly in another direction. Titus was not to be snubbed. He shouted, "Hi! Green," and, "Oh! Green," until he obtained the full attention of my embarrassed companion.
"Be sure to be at home by two o'clock, Green," roared Titus. "I have important news." Thereupon he gleefully flourished before our faces what looked like an official document and hurried away.
When the First Chamberlain came to summon Green to his interview with the hereditary prince, I returned to the consulate to await him. He rejoined me at a little before two o'clock. "Well, what luck?" I inquired.
"The outlook is gloomy," he replied, nervously. "The interview was most unsatisfactory. In order to commit the government of Monaco to some definite form of complaint, I requested His Highness to say candidly in what the American people had offended him. The prince regarded me steadily with his dark, piercing eyes, and at last replied, 'Pouf! You Americans talk loudly at our tables d'hôte, bully our croupiers, browbeat our gendarmes before our very face, and make yourself generally obnoxious.' I perceived, of course, the disingenuousness of this answer, but managed to control my indignation. His Highness next asked me a good many questions about the financial and material resources of the United States Government, the efficiency of its military and naval forces, its debt, annual revenue, and so on. I need not say that my answers to all these questions were guarded and discreet. I then pressed the prince to tell me if there was any truth in the report that a personage high in the court had a pecuniary interest in fomenting trouble between the United States and Monaco. I thought the prince winced a little at this home thrust; but he replied in the negative, referring to the story as an 'idle bruit.' The interview then ended; but as I came away I observed on the face of the crafty Monsignor Theuret an expression which I could not fathom. It seemed very like mirth, untimely as—"
Here the consul was interrupted by the precipitate entrance of Titus, followed by three or four other Americans.
"Hallo, Green!" said this brusque individual. "Are you in the dumps? I'll enliven you presently."
There was something in his tone, careless as it was, that fairly startled Green out of his official dignity.
"Merciful heavens!" exclaimed the consul; "what has happened now?"
Titus winked at the rest of the company. He took a pipe from his pocket and reached for the tobacco box on the table, upsetting, as he did so, the contents of the consul's inkstand over a pile of official papers. This accident did not discompose him in the least. He coolly filled his pipe and occupied himself for some minutes in emitting large rings of smoke, one after another, and then shooting little rings through the series.
"We are all of the Yankee persuasion, I suppose," he said at last, casting a glance of inquiry at me. I nodded in reply. Then Titus produced the document which we had seen him waving in the piazza.
"Here's a lark," said he. "I took this down from the bulletin board in front of Papa Voliver's Foreign Office this forenoon. Lord forgive the theft! I did it for my country's sake."
Then he proceeded to read, rapidly translating the French into English. We listened, dumbfounded. Great beads of perspiration stood upon Green's forehead. He clutched mechanically at the papers on the table and inked the ends of his fingers.
The document was an edict, signed by Charles III himself, countersigned by the Chevalier Voliver, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and sealed with the great seal of the principality. Stripped of verbiage, the edict decreed:
First, that it should be unlawful for any subject of the prince, or any foreigner sojourning within the boundaries of the principality, to engage in the American game called poker, said game being dangerous to the public morals and subversive of existing institutions.
Secondly, that all obligations contracted by subjects of the prince to subjects of the American President, through the game called poker, or otherwise, be thereby repudiated.
Thirdly, that thenceforth no American subject be permitted to enter the Principality of Monaco, for business or for pleasure; that American subjects then in Monaco be allowed twenty-four hours from the promulgation of this edict, within which time they must leave the principality, under penalty of imprisonment at the discretion of the Tribunal Supérieur and confiscation of their effects.
All eyes were turned upon Green. It was some time before the consul recovered the faculty of speech. "But this is unprecedented!" he exclaimed. "It is not only outrageous in a general way, but it is specifically discourteous to me, personally and officially. I am the diplomatic representative of the United States, duly accredited to this court. Here is an important paper, seriously affecting the relations between the two governments, which, instead of being conveyed to me in the proper manner, has been tacked on a bulletin board, like a miserable writ of attachment. Furthermore," he added, as the enormity of the outrage grew upon him, "I have not only been ignored, insulted, but I have been trifled with. This edict must have been posted before my interview with the hereditary prince. It is infamous!"
"Well, fellow citizens," said Titus, with a light laugh, "what are we going to do about it?"
"There is only one thing to do," replied Green. "Dispatch a full and carefully worded statement of the affair to the Department of State at Washington, in order that Congress may take appropriate action."
Titus sent forth a roar of laughter along with a cloud of smoke. "And meanwhile?" he demanded. "I am inclined to think that in the present condition of our glorious Navy it will be about two years and six months before we can expect to have a fleet of iron-dads here."
"I suppose we must leave Monaco," said the consul, sadly. "We are at the mercy of an absolute and remorseless power."
"Leave?" thundered Titus.
"Let us have your ideas, Mr. Titus," said I.
"Well," said Titus. "I propose to try my hand at a state paper. I've undertaken tougher jobs in my day. Get a sheet of clean foolscap, Green, and a good, sharp pen. Now write down what I say."
He then dictated the following manifesto:
To Charles Honore, Prince of Monaco:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for a mighty nation to avenge an injury sustained by her in the persons of some of her most valued citizens, the visitation of her wrath upon the offender is apt to be sharp, sudden, and overwhelming.
Unless your edict of this date be revoked before nine o'clock tomorrow, and due apology made for the same, we, the United States of America, do hereby declare war against the Principality of Monaco on land, sea, underground, and in the skies; and God have mercy upon your soul!
George Washington Titus, Commander in Chief
John J. Green, Minister Plenipotentiary.
"There! Green," said Titus, complacently, "now tell your man Giovanni to go and tack this little composition upon the bulletin board of the Foreign Office, and leave the rest to me."
"But this is very irregular," protested the consul. "The power to declare war is vested by the Constitution in Congress. We can't declare war. Besides, there are always certain formalities to be observed."
"Damn your formalities!" rejoined Titus. "In times of great national emergency like the present there is a higher law than the Constitution. In such a crisis men of action must come to the front. You can come in with your protocols and preliminary drafts, and all that solemn rot, when we get to the negotiations for peace. I'm commander in chief just now. You and these other gentlemen must go around among the Americans here and tell 'em not to be alarmed, but to act precisely as if nothing had happened. That's General Order number one. Hold on a minute, though. Is there anybody who understands the army signals?"
I respectfully informed the commander in chief that I was familiar with the code.
"Good!" said he. "You've got grit. I like the build of your chin. Stay here with me. I constitute you chief of staff."
"Now," he continued, after the others had departed, "take four of the consul's red silk handkerchiefs and make some little signal flags. I have another important letter to write."
The composition of this missive seemed to give him considerable trouble, for I had finished the flags long before he stopped writing. Finally he tossed me a sheet of note paper. "I hate infernally to do this," he said, giving his mustache a tug, "but, hang it all, everything is fair in love and war."
The letter bore no address or signature:
Madame: I have read your eyes, and my heart is full of joy. I have also read the black looks on the faces of your jealous and powerful relatives. If I have seemed cold and indifferent, it is because I cared for your peace of mind—not because I feared for myself, believe me, Madame.
And now the cruel edict has gone forth. Exile from Monaco is nothing, for the world is wide. Exile from you is death; for my poor life is in your adorable smile.
If you are as bold as you are beautiful; if wide difference of rank weighs less in the balance than an absorbing passion; if you can dare everything for the sake of one who has suffered and been silent, be at the pump behind the equestrian statue of your noble ancestor, Vincenzio Grimaldi, one hour before sunrise tomorrow morning, and be alone.
"It's a confounded shame," remarked Titus, half to me, half to himself, "to bring her out into the damp early air at her age; but it can't be helped."
The consul's valet now returned. He had nailed the document upon the bulletin board, as Excellency had commanded, and there was already an immense crowd collected around it.
"Buono!" cried Titus. "Now, Giovanni, I have another commission for you. You are discreet." He gave him the letter and whispered a few words of direction. The intelligent fellow nodded.
"And, by the way, Giovanni, you are on pretty good terms with the Army?"
"How much will it cost to get the Army drunk tonight?"
"Very drunk, Excellency?"
"That is what I mean."
Giovanni made a rapid calculation with the aid of his fingers. "About sixty francs, I think, Excellency," he replied, with a broad grin. Titus handed him five napoleons.
An hour later I walked with the commander in chief along the western rampart—the fashionable afternoon promenade in Monaco. Few Americans were to be seen, but on every hand there was evidence of an unusually excited state of popular feeling. We encountered scowls and audibly whispered insults at every step; but my companion walked on unconcerned, with his long, swinging gait. "The Council of State is in session. There will be hot work tomorrow," I overheard one subject of the prince remarking to another. A rattle of drums, and De Mussly marched briskly past us, at the head of a detachment of four carabineers. Ladies waved their handkerchiefs at the military. "The generalissimo is posting his sentinels," said Titus. "Luckily there are two cafes in Monaco to one soldier." Some of the shopkeepers were putting up their shutters, early in the day as it was. Suddenly Titus modified his pace, and his countenance assumed a singularly pensive expression. Three ladies were approaching us. I had only time to see that one of these, walking slightly in advance of the others, was a very stout person of middle age, ostentatiously dressed and heavily rouged. As she passed us Titus took off his hat and made a profound and rather melancholy bow. The fat lady bent her eyes to the ground. I thought I detected traces of a blush on those parts of her face which were not factitiously red.
"It's all right," Titus whispered in my ear. "The battle's ours."
AT half past five o'clock on the morning of the momentous day, a strange thing happened near the casino. The captive balloon, set free from the moorings that tied it to the earth at night, began to rise slowly and majestically through the mists of the early twilight. With a plunge or two to the right and left, and a flutter as if of astonishment at being disturbed at such an unwonted hour, the vast spheroid settled its course straight toward the zenith, as rapidly as the paying out of the rope permitted. A single individual operated the brake of the cylinder from which the rope unwound. That individual was myself. The car of the balloon carried two passengers. One was Titus; the other, a woman muffled in many wraps and closely veiled.
"Carissima!" Titus had whispered to his trembling companion as he helped her into the basket. "It is our only chance of flight. We should certainly be arrested at the frontier if we attempted to escape by land." A gentle gurgle of tenderness and helplessness was the only response.
I watched the vaguely outlined bulk as it ascended to the length of the rope. The light breeze from the west carried the balloon directly over the palace, where it rested motionless at a height of five or six hundred feet.
When I left the casino grounds I stepped over the prostrate form of a sentinel, snoring lustily upon the pavement. The streets were deserted, but I passed one cafe which had been open all night. Glancing through the doorway, I saw a dozen of De Mussly's red-uniformed veterans in various stages of intoxication. Those who were still sober enough to sing were shouting a war song, the refrain of which menaced my native land with unutterable doom. Giovanni's five napoleons had done their work.
Three hours later I finished a comfortable breakfast at my hotel and sallied forth to find the consul. The situation had changed. The city was wide awake now, and indescribable confusion prevailed. The entire population surged through the streets leading to the palace and the casino. Business was everywhere suspended. A few carabineers were seen here and there, seedy in the face and shaky in the legs. The generalissimo was making desperate efforts to collect his demoralized army. On the balcony in front of the palace, whence we had witnessed the brilliant review of the Army on the day before, stood the prince and several members of his family, surrounded by Ministers of State. Among the latter I recognized the sinister visage of Monsignor Theuret. The piazza and the adjoining streets were thronged with people. All eyes were turned upward to the balloon, which still floated over the palace, the only tranquil object in the tumultuous scene.
As soon as Titus had shown his face to the crowd below, there had been a rush to the windlass with the intention of winding in the rope and recapturing the balloon. But Titus, leaning over the side of the basket, had brandished a long bowie knife in a way that left no doubt of his purpose to cut the balloon free if any attempt should be made to haul it down. He was thus far master of the situation. The enemy remained inactive, undecided what course to pursue; the dignitaries upon the balcony were earnestly engaged in conference.
In the piazza, just under the balcony, I espied the consul in the center of a little knot of Americans. With some difficulty I elbowed my way to the spot.
A murmur from the crowd drew my attention to the balloon. Titus was making certain motions with two small red flags. I produced two similar flags from beneath my waistcoat. Communication was thus established between the two divisions of the United States Army. The Duomo clock struck nine.
"Ask if the edict is revoked," signaled Titus.
I translated the message to the consul, who put the question to the balcony in a loud voice and in the most approved terms of diplomacy.
Monsignor Theuret, speaking for the government of Monaco, replied with a sneer: "The edict is not revoked. Its provisions relating to the arrest of Americans found within our territories will be carried into effect in precisely one hour." This answer was conveyed to Titus.
"Declare Monaco in a state of siege!" was his prompt rejoinder.
The cool audacity of this announcement produced a visible effect upon the populace. What mysterious power had this man in the sky, who talked with little flags and calmly defied a prince with an Army and Navy? What was coming next?
Theuret retained his presence of mind. "Let the rope be cut," he shouted. "Then the wind will blow this impudent American scoundrel over into Italy. We shall be well rid of him at the price of a balloon."
Again there was a rush toward the rope and a hundred knives were ready to do the work. But Theuret, who had been steadily gazing upward, was seen to turn as pale as death and to grasp at the balustrade for support.
"Basta! Basta!" he cried. "Cut not that rope, if you value your lives! The princess is in the balloon!"
Sure enough, the round, red face of the princess was visible over the wickerwork of the car. A howl of astonishment and dismay went up from the crowd. The little knot of Americans answered the howl with a cheer.
"Titus has won the game!" said the consul.
But the agitation of Monsignor Theuret was even greater than circumstances appeared to warrant. The sight of the princess in the car seemed to drive him to madness. He tore his hair, shook both fists at the balloon, and shrieked as if he expected Madame to hear. "Ah, Florestine, faithless! I suspected as much. Monster of perfidy! Cuor' mio! Wretched, wretched woman!"
"I suspected as much, also," said the consul, in an undertone. "We diplomats have eyes everywhere. Look at Theuret! What a scandal!"
The prince was regarding Theuret's manifestations of jealous frenzy with searching eyes. Then he summoned De Mussly and gave him a command, inaudible to those below. Two soldiers removed Monsignor Theuret from the balcony. "The bishop is arrested!" cried the crowd, all agape at the unexpected incident.
"Now, monsieur," said the prince, addressing Consul Green, "what are your demands? It seems that in some inexplicable way you have succeeded in kidnaping our sister. What ransom do you require of us?"
After some signaling, Green reported the ultimatum which Titus propounded: The revocation of the edict, the restoration of American citizens to an equality with the subjects of the most privileged nation, the re-establishment of the game of poker, the prince's own guarantee for the payment of all debts due to American citizens, and an indemnity of ten thousand francs for the expenses and anxieties of the war.
There was a long consultation upon the balcony. At last the prince was seen to shake his head, as if in reply to arguments intended to dissuade him from some settled plan of action. The Chevalier Voliver stepped forward from the group and said, "His Serene and Most Christian Highness has wavered between the natural affection which he entertains for his sister, Madame the Princess, and his duty toward his subjects. The struggle is now at an end. Bitterly as he regrets one result of his decision, he feels that he must place the interests of the people of Monaco above family ties. He sacrifices Her Highness to duty. The edict will go into effect at ten o'clock. He commands that the rope be cut, and the balloon set adrift."
"That is the diplomatic way of saying that he is rather glad to get rid of the foolish and troublesome old lady," I remarked to Green after I had reported the speech to Titus.
But the consul and the rest of the Americans had fallen from hope into dejection. They felt that the commander in chief had played his last card and lost.
Not so Titus. His flags were plied vigorously for a brief space of time, and then, reaching his arm at full length from the network of ropes around the car, he held forth a large tin canister that glittered in the sunlight.
The effect of this simple act was marvelous. It paralyzed the arms of those who were about to cut the rope. It carried consternation to the group upon the balcony. It created a panic in the crowd, which scattered in every direction. A cry of horror went up from a thousand throats. In all the noise and confusion only one word was distinguishable:
The people of Monaco had learned, from Titus' own teaching, how terribly potent, even in small quantities, was this agent of destruction. Now they felt that an unknown quantity of the awful, mysterious thing was suspended, so to say, by a single hair, over their heads and homes. The prince himself blanched at the possibilities of the next moment.
"He says," I yelled at the top of my voice, "that if his conditions are not accepted in three minutes by his watch, and without further parley, he will drop the can and blow your principality into smithereens."
In two minutes peace was re-established.
THE war was over. Secured by the most explicit guarantees from the government of Charles III, the victorious commander allowed himself to be pulled down from the skies. Still holding the dreaded fin can in one hand, with the other he gallantly assisted his lady captive from the car of the balloon, and led her to the balcony of the palace.
"Serene Highness," he said, as he respectfully consigned the Princess Florestine to the care of her august brother, "I regret that the necessities of war compelled me to make a prisoner of Madame the Princess, who was abroad early this morning on a mission of charity."
The prince bowed in silence. The princess's eyes were fixed upon the floor.
"And, Serene Highness," continued Titus, "I implore you to believe that I would not risk the precious life of so exalted a lady by putting her in proximity with a dangerously large amount of dynamite."
So saying, he tossed the can over the balustrade. It fell upon the pavement with an empty rattle.
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