A Strange DISCOVERY
Charles Romyn Dake
HOW WE FOUND DIRK PETERS
The FIRST Chapter
It was once my good fortune to assist in a discovery of some importance to lovers of literature, and to searchers after the new and wonderful. As nearly a quarter of a century has since elapsed, and as two others shared in the discovery, it may seem to the reader strange that the general public has been kept in ignorance of an event apparently so full of interest. Yet this silence is quite explicable; for of the three participants none has heretofore written for publication; and of my two associates, one is a quiet, retiring man, the other is erratic and forgetful.
It is also possible that the discovery did not at the time impress either my companions or myself as having that importance and widespread interest which I have at last come to believe it really possesses. In any view of the case, there are reasons, personal to myself, why it was less my duty than that of either of the others to place on record the facts of the discovery. Had either of them, in all these years, in ever so brief a manner, done so, I should have remained forever silent.
The narrative which it is my purpose now to put in written form, I have at various times briefly or in part related to one and another of my intimate friends; but they all mistook my facts for fancies, and good-naturedly complimented me on my story-telling powers—which was certainty not flattering to my qualifications as an historian.
With this explanation, and this extenuation of what some persons may think an inexcusable and almost criminal delay, I shall proceed.
In the year 1877 I was compelled by circumstances to visit the States. At that time, as at the present, my home was near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. My father, then recently deceased, had left, in course of settlement in America, business interests involving a considerable pecuniary investment, of which I hoped a large part might be recovered. My lawyer, for reasons which seemed to me sufficient, advised that the act of settlement should not be delegated; and I decided to leave at once for the United States. Ten days later I reached New York, where I remained for a day or two and then proceeded westward. In St. Louis I met some of the persons interested in my business. There the whole transaction took such form that a final settlement depended wholly upon the agreement between a certain man and myself; but, fortunately for the fate of this narrative, the man was not in St. Louis. He was one of those wealthy so-called "kings" which abound in America—in this case a "coal king." I was told that he possessed a really palatial residence in St. Louis—where he did not dwell; and a less pretentious dwelling directly in the coal-fields, where, for the most of his time, he did reside. I crossed the Mississippi River into Southern Illinois, and very soon found him. He was a plain, honest business man; we did not split hairs, and within a week I had in my pocket London exchange for something like L20,000, he had in his pocket a transfer of my interest in certain coal-fields and a certain railroad, and we were both satisfied.
And now, having explained how I came to be in surroundings to me so strange, any further mention of business, or of money interests, shall not, in the course of this narrative, again appear.
I had arrived at the town of Bellevue, in Southern Illinois, on a bright June morning, and housed myself in an old-fashioned, four-story brick hotel, the Loomis House, in which the proprietor, a portly, ruddy-faced, trumpet-voiced man, assigned to me an apartment—a spacious corner room, with three windows looking upon the main thoroughfare and two upon a side street, and a smaller room adjoining.
Here, even before the time came when I might have returned to England had I so desired, I acquired quite a home-like feeling. The first two days of my stay, as I had travelled rapidly and was somewhat wearied, I allotted to rest, and left my room for little else than the customary tri-daily visits to the table d'hote.
During these first two days I made many observations from my windows, and asked numberless questions of the bell-boy. I learned that a certain old, rambling, two-story building directly across the side street was the hotel mentioned by Dickens in his "American Notes," and in the lower passage-way of which he met the Scotch phrenologist, "Doctor Crocus." The bell-boy whom I have mentioned was the factotum of the Loomis House, being, in an emergency, hack-driver, porter, runner—all by turns, and nothing long at a time. He was a quaint genius, named Arthur; and his position, on the whole, was somewhat more elevated than that of our English "Boots." During these two days I became quite an expert in the invention of immediate personal wants; for, as I continued my studies of local life from the windows of my apartment, I frequently desired information, and would then ring my bell, hoping that Arthur would be the person to respond, as he usually was. He was an extremely profane youth, but profane in a quiet, drawling, matter-of-fact manner. He was frequently semi-intoxicated by noon, and sometimes quite inarticulate by 9 P.M.; but I never saw him with his bodily equilibrium seriously impaired—in plainer words, I never saw him stagger. He openly confessed to a weakness for an occasional glass, but would have repelled with scorn, perhaps with blows, an insinuation attributing to him excess in that direction. True, he referred to times in his life when he had been "caught"—meaning that the circumstances were on those occasions such as to preclude any successful denial of intoxication; but these occasions, it was implied, dated back to the period of his giddy youth.
With little to occupy my mind (I had the St. Louis dailies, one of which was the best newspaper—excepting, of course, our Times—that I have ever read; but my trunks did not arrive until a day or two later, and I was without my favorite books), I became really interested in studying the persons whom I saw passing and repassing the hotel, or stopping to converse on the opposite street-corners; and after forming surmises concerning those of them who most interested me, I would ask Arthur who they were, and then compare with my own opinions the truth as furnished by him.
There was a quiet, well-dressed young man, who three or four times each day passed along the side street. Regarding him, I had formed and altered my opinion several times; but I finally determined that he was a clergyman in recent orders and just come to town. When I asked Arthur whether I was correct in my surmise, he answered:
"Wrong again—that is, on the fellow's business"—I had not before made an erroneous surmise; but on the contrary, had shown great penetration in determining, at a single glance for each of them, two lawyers and a banker—"Yes, sir, wrong again; and right again, too. His name's Doctor Bainbridge, and he's fool enough to come here with the town just alive with other sawbones. He's some kind of a 'pathy doctor, come here to learn us how to get well on sugar and wind—or pretty near that bad. He don't give no medicine worth mentionin', he keeps his hoss so fat he can't trot, and he ain't got no wife to mend his clothes. They say he's gettin' along, though; and old farmer Vagary's boy that had 'em, told me he was good on fits—but I don't believe that, for the boy had the worst fit in his life after he told me. The doctor said—so they tell—as that was jest what he expected, and that he was glad the fit came so hard, for it show'd the medicine was workin'."
My attention was particularly attracted to a man who daily, in fact almost hourly, stood at an opposite corner, and who frequently arrived, or drove away, in a buggy drawn by two rather small, black, spirited horses. He was a tall, lithe, dark-complexioned man, with black eyes, rather long black hair, and a full beard; extremely restless, and constantly moving back and forth. He addressed many passers-by, a fair proportion of whom stopped to exchange a word with him. In the latter instance, however, the exchange was scarcely equitable, as he did the talking, and his remarks, judging by his gestures of head and hand, were generally emphatic.
One of the apparently favorite positions which he assumed was to throw an arm around the corner gas-post, and swing his body back and forth, occasionally, when alone, taking a swing entirely around the post. Another favorite position was to stand with his fists each boring into the hollow of his back over the corresponding hip, with his chest and shoulders thrown well back, and his head erect, looking steadily off into the distance. With regard to this man's station in life, I took little credit to myself for a correct guess; for, in addition to other aids to correct guessing, the store-room on that corner was occupied by an apothecary. When I asked Arthur whether the man was not a physician, "Yes, sir," he replied; "physician, surgeon, and obstetrician; George F. Castleton, A.M., M.D. He ought to get a dry-goods box and a torch-light, and sell 'Hindoo Bitters' in the Public-square. If you jest want to die quick, you know where to go to get it. That fellow salivated me till my teeth can't keep quiet. Oh, he knows it all! Medicine ain't enough to fill his intellecty. He runs the Government and declares war to suit himself. 'Moves around a great deal,' you say? Well, I believe you; but when you see his idees move around you'll quit sighing about his body. Why, sir, that man in a campaign changes his politics every day; nobody ever yet caught up with his religion; and besides, he's a prophet. You jest get back home without touchin' him, if you love me, now, please do."
All of this was said in a quiet, instructive tone, without much show of feeling even when the teeth were mentioned, and only such emphasis as has been indicated by my italics. Arthur's advice for me to get home without "touching" the doctor, I had no intention of following. My curiosity regarding the man was aroused, and I had determined, if possible, to know him. So far as one could be influenced from a third-story window, I was favorably impressed with him. I judged him to be superlatively erratic, but without an atom of real evil in his being. I had observed from my window an incident that gave me a glance into the man's heart. A poor, dilapidated, distressed negro, evidently seeking help, had come running up to him as he stood near his buggy, at the corner; and the manner in which he pushed the negro into the buggy, himself followed, and then started off at a break-neck speed, left no doubt in my mind that the doctor had a heart as large as the whole world. Once or twice during the long, warm afternoons, his words came to me through the open windows. I was aware that his almost preternaturally bright, quick eyes flashed a glance or two at me as I once or twice stepped rather close to an open window looking out over the lower roof-tops beyond; and I felt that he had given me a niche in his mind, as I had him in mine. I wondered if he had formed mental estimates of my status, and if so whether he had attempted to corroborate them as did I mine, through Arthur. Once I heard him say to a small, craven-looking man, apparently feeble in mind and in body, with red, contracted, watering eyes, "Yes, sir, if I had been Sam Tilden, the blood in these streets would have touched your stirrups"—the little man had no stirrups—"This country is trembling over an abyss deeper'n the infernal regions. Ha, ha! What a ghastly burlesque on human freedom! Now, hark you, Pickles"—the small man was not only listening, but, I could imagine, trembling. He would now and then look furtively around, as if fearing that somebody else might hear the doctor, and that war would begin—"listen to me: 'Hell has no fury like a nation scorned.'" Here Doctor Castleton shot a glance at the little man, to see whether or not so fine a stroke was appreciated, and whether his quotation was or was not passing as original. "I repeat, 'Hell has no fury like a nation scorned'—Nation, you hear, Pickles—nation, not woman. There is just one thing to save this crumbling Republic; give us more paper money—greenbacks on greenbacks, mountain high. Let the Government rent by the month or lease by the year every printing-press in the country—let the machinery sweetly hum as the sheets of treasury-notes fall in cascades to the floor, to be cut apart, packed in bundles, and sent to any citizen who wants them on his own unendorsed note—unendorsed, Pickles, and at two per cent.! Ever study logic, Pickles? No! Well, no matter; my brain's full enough of the stuff for both of us. If the American citizen is honest—which I opine that he is—the scheme will work like a charm; if he is dishonest—which God forbid, and let no man assert—then let the country sink—and the sooner the better. I pity the imbecile that can't see this point. The people—and is this country for the people, or is it not?—follow me, Pickles: the people obtain plenty of money, the stores get it, the factories and importers get it, and commerce hums." Here the doctor was for a moment diverted by some objective impression; and without a word of excuse to the little man, he swung himself into his buggy, which stood waiting, and drove rapidly away; whilst the diminutive man, after a moment of weak indecision, shuffled off down the street. I later learned that these talks of Doctor Castleton's were, as regards the element of verity, thrown off as writers of fiction throw off fancies. Sometimes he defended opinions that were in fierce conflict with the ideas of his auditors; but he generally talked to please them, frequently assuming as his own, and in exaggerated form, the hobbies, notions, or desires of his auditors. In the incident just recorded, the doctor probably had not, as a matter of fact, been stating his real opinions, though for the moment he may have imagined that he was an uncompromising "Paper-money man" or "Greenbacker," as a member of one of the minor political parties of the day was termed: the little man was poor, and Doctor Castleton had simply been drawing for him a picture of delights—at least, so I conjectured. This propensity of the doctor sometimes led to startling surprises and results, and, once at least, to a discovery of weighty consequence—as we shall soon perceive.
It was novelty for me, and under the circumstances often quite refreshing, to witness the manner in which Americans treated the mighty subjects of life, and spoke of the great and powerful persons of the earth. It was an abundant source of entertainment for me to ask almost anybody with whom I happened to be conversing, for his opinion on some great subject or of some noted personage; for the reply was always to me unique, sometimes very amusing, and not infrequently instructive. On the way for the second time from our evening meal to my room, I stopped for a moment in the "Gentlemen's sitting-room," where I in part overheard a conversation between an elderly and a middle-aged man. I afterward learned that the younger man was a lawyer, by name Lill; that he was well known throughout the State, a man of cultivation, very conventional in his private life, but an unequivocal dissenter on almost every great social question; a man of high honor, and unquestionable personal habits, for whom exalted public office had often waited if only he could have modified his expressed opinions to less inharmony with those of men who held the reins of power. It seemed that these two men had not met for a year or more; and as I entered the room they were comparing experiences, in a leisurely, confidential, sympathetic way. As I came within hearing, the lawyer had just started in afresh, after a laugh and a pause. Settling-down his features, and assuming a more-news-to- be-told manner, with a pinch of fine-cut tobacco between finger and thumb ready to go into his mouth, and leaning slightly forward to keep the tobacco-dust from his shirt-front, he said, "Well, David, I read the Bible through again last winter, and I must continue to think it a very immoral book. Its teaching is really bad. Why, sir, what would you think of such d—-d outrageous teaching if anybody were at this time to promulgate it with an implication of any practical relation to present events?" And so he continued, somewhat, though not greatly, to the horror of his companion, who seemed to be a Christian—at least by descent. On another day, after the mid-day meal, as I again entered this room, I observed a new-comer in conversation with what I took to be a small delegation of Bellevue business men. I was afterward presented to this new arrival, when I learned that his name was Rowell—General Rowell; a name which I thought I had seen in the newspapers at home. He was a large man of prepossessing appearance, and gave me the impression of considerable mental force and activity. I heard him say to his visitors—the words apparently closing a conference: "Yes, gentlemen, if I come to Bellevue, and we build a nail mill in your city, I ask only five years time in which to make our mill the largest nail-works in the world." For a moment, as I heard this remark, it passed through my mind that I was in the presence of an excellent example of an amusing type of American life; but the momentary thought was erroneous. This man was one of a type of American—well, of American promoters, I will say—the business plans of whom, though mammoth and audacious, rarely fail—the genuine article of which the Colonel Sellerses are but pitiful imitators. In this instance, the promise was fulfilled, with a year or two to spare. The right to express personal opinion was looked upon as one of the fruits of '76, and the value of such opinion seemed to be measured almost wholly on its merits—even to a laughable extent. For instance, this lawyer, or Doctor Castleton, or any other American whom I met, whatever he might privately have thought on the subject, would not for a moment have claimed that his opinion was innately superior to that of, for instance, the factotum, Arthur. A man seemed to have, also, an inalienable right to be a snob; but I saw in America only one man who utilized that privilege. I heard an Ex-Governor of the State express himself on this subject by the concise remark, "We have no law here against a man making a d——d fool of himself." It's "Abe" for the President of the Republic, "Dick" for the Governor of the State, and so on, all the way through. But no one should imagine that admiration as well as respect for the truly great of the land is less than it is where a man with four names and two inherited titles receives greater homage than does one with only three names and one title. Customs differ in different lands—a trite remark; but it is about all that can be said on the subject: after all, human feeling is not extremely different in different lands, when we once get back of mere form.
I might illustrate a part of my statement by relating an incident which occurred on my third day in the hotel, and just prior to my emergence from seclusion into the midst of the busy little city. I was in my sitting-room, and Arthur had brought in a pitcher of ice-water, placing it on a table. Then he paused and looked toward me, as if expecting the usual question on some subject connected with my surroundings. But at the time I had nothing to ask. After a moment of quiet, Arthur spoke:
"Did you see the Prince lately?" he inquired. I had by this time grown so accustomed to Arthur's mode of thought and lingual expression, that even this question did not greatly surprise me. I supposed that the query was made on the first suggestion of an alert mind desirous of starting a little agreeable conversation, and wishing to be sociable with a "two-room" guest. He immediately continued:
"I hope he's well. I met him, you know, when he was over here, sev'ral years ago, gettin' idees for his kingdom."
I began to feel amused. Arthur was not a liar, and anything but a bore: he struck me as being truthful on all subjects except that of his bibulous weakness—a subject on which he was, perhaps naturally, not able to form accurate notions.
"Where did you meet His Highness, Arthur?" I asked.
"Oh, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. I was only eight then. They wouldn't let boys in the hotel to see him, and there was so many big-wigs around the young man, I couldn't get to see him at first. But after a while they all got out in front of the hotel, to get into their carriages. They had to wait a few minutes, but I couldn't get in front to see him. The hotel hall was empty by that time, and everybody was looking at the Prince; so I hurried through the barber-shop into the side hall; slipped along into the main hall, to the main entrance. I was not more than ten or twelve feet from the Prince, but I was at the back of the crowd; so I jest got down on all-fours, and crawled in between their legs. I got clear up to the Prince, but a big man stood on each side of him, right close up. For a minute I thought I was worse off than ever. Then I noticed that the Prince had his legs a little separate—his knees were maybe six inches apart, with one leg standin' ahead of the other. I was a little fellow, even for eight; and I saw my chance. I ran my head in between his knees and twisted my body and neck so as to look right up into his face, as he looked down to see what rubbed against him. He looked kind of funny when he saw my face down there, but not a bit mad; and he could easy have hurt me, but he didn't. I drew back my head so quick that nobody else saw me. I often wonder if the Prince remembers me; and I wish you'd ask him when you go home. Since I grew up, I've often felt ashamed to think I did it. If you think of it, and it ain't too much trouble, please tell him that we know better in the United States than to do such things, but that I was little then, and I must have been ignorant of ettiket, my father bein' dead, and I havin' to stay out of school to help make money. If you will, say I hope there's no feelin'; and when you think of it, drop me a line, please."
The SECOND Chapter
A week had elapsed since my arrival in Bellevue. I had been introduced to Doctor Castleton, and had exchanged a few words with him. I had also listened to several of his street-corner talks, and my interest in him from day to day had increased. This interest must have been reciprocal, for he seemed to look for my coming; but then, in whom was he not interested? I liked him for his real goodness, was entertained by his erratic ways, and admired his intellectual brightness. Never before had I come in contact with a mind at once so spontaneous and so versatile. It was perhaps his most striking peculiarity, that he seemed always to be looking for something startling to occur; and in a dearth of the new and sensational from without, he produced excitement for the community from within. The weather, for instance, was growing warmer, and the summer was apparently to be a sultry one: hence, before the season was ended we were to look for the most sweeping epidemics of disease; a comet had been sighted by one of our comet-hunters, and we were all to say later whether or not it would have been better if we'd never been born, and so on, and so on. His mind teemed with a prescience of the plans and plots of statesmen, of bureaucrats, and of "plutocrats": Germany was going to overshadow Europe, and "grind all beneath it like a glacier"; "France was about to strike back at Prussia, and the blow would be felt in the trembling of the earth from Pole to Pole." Yet this, I thought, was to the man himself all fiction—the froth on the limpid and sparkling depths beneath—the overflow of a bright, undisciplined mind amid the stagnation of a country town. This strange man would not intentionally have brought actual injury upon even an enemy—if he ever had a real enemy; he was at heart, and generally in practice, as kind as a gentle woman. But he seemed unable to exist without mental super-activity; and the sympathy of his fellows in his mental gyrations was to him a constant necessity. Few of the persons whom he habitually met and who had leisure were able to discuss with him the books he read, and not many of them cared even to hear him talk of his fresh literary accessions. He had, long ago, and many times, described for the benefit of the habitues of the corners, the career of Alexander and of Napoleon, explaining what they had done, and how they had done it, and why; with instances in which the execution of their plans had met with failure, the reasons for that failure, and the methods by which, if he had been them, success might easily have been attained. An ancient-looking apothecary, with an old "Rebel bushwhacker" and a painter out of work who "loafed" of evenings in, or in front of, the corner apothecary shop, had stood gap-mouthed at these recitations until the mine of wonders had been to the last grain exhausted. Still, excitement must be procured for them. The doctor could better have dispensed for a day with food for the body, than to have foregone excitement for the mind; and if a majority of his auditors were also to be gratified, the subject-matter must be strong and novel, must be boldly produced, and, by preference, should be of local interest. As the doctor himself delighted in surprises of a terrifying or horrifying nature, it was unlikely that his inventions in that direction would be characterized by tameness. He would not, when hard pressed on a dull day, allow a fastidious care of even his own reputation to impede the development of one of his surprises. If the town of Bellevue was to stagnate mentally, it would not be the fault of George F. Castleton, A.M., M.D.
It was on the eighth day of my stay in Bellevue, that, on starting forth from the hotel one morning, I saw Doctor Castleton standing before the Loomis House, in one of his favorite attitudes—that is, with his head and shoulders thrown back and his hands upon his hips—looking intently at a young man who stood speaking with an aged farmer across the way, near the street curbing—a harmless-looking youth, with dark blue eyes, and straight, very dark hair—in fact, the clerical-looking young man whom I had seen from my windows. Something in the man's make-up—perhaps something in his attire—suggested the stranger in town. Doctor Castleton's large black eyes flashed irefully, and he was evidently gratified at my approach. A complete stranger in my place might have thought his arrival opportune, and have looked upon himself as a diverting instrument in higher hands employed to prevent bloodshed. As I stopped by the doctor's side, he said, with ill-suppressed agitation,
"That d——d villain over there has got to leave town. He calls himself a doctor, but I have set in motion the wheels of the law of this great State of Illinois, and I'll expose the infernal rascal." Then, with a dark, knowing look at me, he hissed (though none of his preceding words had been audible across the street), "An 'Irregular,' sir—cursed sugar-and-water quack—a figure 9 with the tail rubbed off. Why, sir" (in a more conversational but still emphatic tone), "I have given sixty grains of calomel at a dose, and I have given a tenth of a grain of calomel at a dose; I would give a man a hundred grains of quinine, and I have done it; I have" (and here he took from his pocket a small round lozenge or button of bone) "—I have bored into the brains of man—into the Corinthian Capital of Mortality, so to speak. When that man" (pointing with his right forefinger to the circle of bone in his left palm) "was kicked in the head by his mule, three of my colleagues were on the scene before me—standing around like old women, doing nothing. I have elaborate instruments, sir—I don't read any more books—the world's literature is here" (tapping his forehead). "I've thought too much to care for other men's ideas. Like old women, I was saying, sir. 'Give me a poker,' I yelled—' give me anything.' I sent for my trephine. Great God, how the blood flew, and the bone creaked! I raised the depressed bone. The man lives. I've done everything, in my life. And now a cursed quack comes to town—. Where's his wife? I say—where's his suffering children?—Don't tell me, anybody, that the man's not married, and run away from his suffering wife. Take his trail; glide like the wily savage back over his course, and mark me, sir, you'll trace the pathway of a besom of destruction: weeping mothers, broken-hearted fathers, daughters bowed in the dust. What's he here for? Why didn't he stay where he was? But I'll drive him out of town—you will see—bag and baggage: the wires are set—the avalanche approaches—he is doomed."
Two days later, at the same spot, I came upon Doctor Castleton in conversation with the harmless-looking young man, to whom the doctor formally presented me. The name of the young man, as stated by Castleton, and as I already knew, was "Doctor Bainbridge." We exchanged a few words, he extended to me an invitation to call upon him, and he accepted an urgent request from me to visit me at the hotel. As my stay in America would probably last but a few days longer, I proposed that the evening of that same day be selected as the time for his visit, and to this proposal he readily assented. Then, with a quiet smile, he bowed and left us. As he walked away Doctor Castleton remarked,
"That young man is a genius, sir. Belongs to the Corinthian Capital of Mortality. Trust me, sir, he's the coming man in this town. He will be a power here, in the years to come. I read a man, sir, as you would read a book."
I then invited Doctor Castleton to come to my rooms that evening, even if he could spare no more than a few moments; and he promised to come, "Though," he said, "I may not be able more than to run in, and run out again." Bainbridge, the new Bellevue candidate for medical practice, could devote his hours as he should elect; but Castleton, "for twenty years the guardian of the lives of thousands," must abstract, as best he might, a few minutes from the onerous duties entailed by the exacting wishes of his many invalid patrons.
Later in the day, I made arrangements for a little luncheon to be served that evening in my rooms. There was something about this Bainbridge that impelled me to know him better. I had already made up my mind that I should like him: his were those clear blue eyes that calmly seemed to understand the world around—truth-loving eyes. He had to my mind the appearance of a person with large capacity for physical pleasure, yet that of one who possessed complete control over every like and dislike of his being. I at first took him to be extremely reticent; but later I learned, that, when the proper chord of sympathy was touched, he responded in perfect torrents of spoken confidence. So I that evening sat in the larger of my rooms—my "sitting-room"—in momentary expectation of the arrival of one or both of my invited guests.
The THIRD Chapter
The hour was about eight. I had written a letter or two after our six o'clock supper, and was now idle. By my side, in the centre of the room, stood a table on which lay several periodicals—monthly and weekly, English and American—a newspaper or two, and a few books. A rap came at my door, and on opening it I found Doctor Bainbridge standing in the hallway. He wore a black "Prince Albert" coat, a high silk hat, and, the evening having blown-up chilly, a summer overcoat. I received him perhaps a little more warmly than was in the best of taste, considering that we had not before exchanged more than a dozen words. But I had, as I have said, frequently seen him from my window; he was almost as much of a stranger in the town as was I, and I received him cordially because my feelings were really cordial. I assisted him to remove his coat, and in other ways did all in my power to make him comfortable. He was of slightly more than medium height, of rather delicate build, with a fair, almost colorless complexion. His movements, his language, his attire, indicated the gentleman—this I should have conceded him in my club at home, or in my own drawing-room, quite as readily as here, alone, in an obscure hotel in the State of Illinois. As we sat conversing, I was much surprised to find in him a considerable degree of culture. He seemed to possess that particular air which we are accustomed to think, and generally with reason, is not to be found apart from a familiarity with metropolitan life on its highest plane. I did not on that evening, nor did I later, think him thoroughly schooled, except in his profession. He was, however, fairly well educated, and his opinions seemed to me from my own stand-point to be sound. I had observed, in a history of the county just from the press, which lay on a table in the office of the hotel, that in 1869 he had been graduated from an educational institution somewhere in Pennsylvania; and, in 1873, from the Medical Department of Columbia University. Later, I learned from himself, that, from the age of seven to the age of eleven, he had been instructed at home by a sister who was some nine or ten years his senior.
I seated him with the large centre-table between us, and immediately opened the conversation on some topic of local interest. It is probable that of the many persons whom I know and continue to like, that I liked nine out of ten of them from our first meeting. Doctor Bainbridge had not been long in my presence before I knew that my first impressions of him were not deceptive; and I felt that his impression of myself was certainly not unfavorable.
It appeared to me as we talked through the evening, that he had read about all that I had read, and much besides. He talked of English and French history with minute familiarity. Not only had he read English, French, and German literature, with such Spanish, Russian, and Italian works as had been translated into English; but he shamed me with the thoroughness of his knowledge of Scott, Dickens, Bulwer, Thackeray, and others of our best writers of fiction. Goethe he particularly admired. Of Cervantes he thought with the rest of us: He had read "Don Quixote," for the first time, when he was eighteen, and during a severe illness accompanied with intense melancholia; and he had laughed himself out of bed, and out of his melancholy. "Don Quixote" was, he said, the only book which he had ever read in solitude—that is, read to himself—which had compelled him to laugh aloud. Works of science, particularly scientific works in the domain of physics, he delighted in. His imagination was of a most charming character. It was at that time in my life almost a passion with me to analyze human nature—to theorize over the motives and the results of human action; over the probable causes of known or assumed effects, and the reverse—in short, I thought myself a philosopher. I have never met another person whom it so much interested me to study as it did this young American. But after ample opportunity to know him, even now as I sit writing more than twenty years later, and I think of the pleasure of that temporary friendship in far-away Illinois, I am puzzled about many things concerning Doctor Bainbridge. He certainly possessed a scientific mind. He himself said that he had no very great love for written poetry: had he a poetic mind? He loved the beautiful in life: he loved symmetry in form, he loved harmony in color, he loved good music. And yet, though he had read the English-writing poets, he seemed to care less for their work than for anything else in literature. The thought of this inconsistency has perplexed me whenever I have thought of it through all these years. As I have intimated, he was charmed by the beautiful, and by every known expression of beauty; but for the strictly metrical in language-expression, he evinced almost a distaste. I have often thought that he had, through some peculiar circumstance in his earlier life, acquired a suggestive dislike to the very form of verse. To this peculiarity there was, however, exception, to which I am about to allude.
By the time we had smoked out a cigar apiece, we were exchanging views and comments on such writers, English and American, as came to mind. One of the books that lay on my table was a copy of Byron; though most of the others were the works of American authors—Hawthorne, Irving, Longfellow, Poe, and one or two others. He had picked up my Byron, and glancing at it had remarked that if all the poets were like Byron he would devote more time than he did to the reading of verse. I recall a remark that, with Byron's personality in mind, he made as he returned the book to the table. "Poor fellow!" he said. "But what are we to expect of a man who had a volcano for a mother, and an iceberg for a wife? A woman's character is largely formed by the quality of men that enter into her life; a man's, even more so by the quality of women that enter into his. I wonder if Byron ever intimately knew a true woman?—a woman at once intellectually and morally normal, in a good wholesome way—a woman with a good brain and a warm heart? No man, in my opinion, is a really good man save through the influence of good women."
It is impossible for me to recall much of what he said of the American authors of whom we talked, with the exception of Poe; and there are reasons why I should clearly remember in substance, and almost in words, everything that was said of him. Of all writers, with one exception, Poe interests me the most; and I judge that in interest, both as a personality and as a literary artist, Doctor Bainbridge placed Edgar Allan Poe first and uppermost among those who have left to the world a legacy of English verse or prose. And this feeling was, I truly believe, in no measure influenced by Poe's nationality. If Bainbridge possessed any narrow national prejudices I never learned of them.
He spoke rapturously of Poe as a poet—"The Raven," as a matter of course, receiving high praise: Of that unique and really grand poem, he said that he thought it the best in the English language.
It was at this point in our conversation that he told me he rarely read verse; that he had, with certain exceptions, never done so with much pleasure, but that in some way he had managed to read nearly all the noted poetry published in our language. Still, he said, there were poems which absorbed and almost fascinated him. Of the English poets of the present century, Byron alone had written enough poetry to prove himself a poet; and he explained that in his opinion the writing of an occasional or chance poem, though the poem were true poetry, did not make of the author a poet. Then he mentioned a poem which for more than a century has been by the critical world accepted as of the highest order of true poetry. Gradually warming to the subject, he said:
"A poem like this is not to my mind poetry. Byron wrote true poetry, and sufficient of it in his short life to prove himself ten times over a poet. To compare this poem with Byron's poetry—say with parts of 'Childe Harold,' or 'The Prisoner of Chillon,' or with some of his shorter poems—would be like comparing the most perfect mechanical device with a graceful animal—say the mechanical imitation of a tiger or a gazelle with the living original; the first a wonderfully moving piece of machinery, illustrating the limit of human constructive power; perfectly under control, the movements smooth, unvarying, rhythmical, charming, excelling in agility and power its living prototype—but still, scientific—to the discerning eye, artful. The other, something more than rhythmical, more than smooth, beyond the control of human agency, beyond the power of man to analyze as to synthetize—more than science can explain, more than even art dare claim. The one explicable, the other inexplicable; the one from the hand of patient skill—of talent; the other a result of force mysterious, divine. The lions of Alexius Comnenus, it is said, could roar louder than the lions of the desert."
"But what of Poe, and 'The Raven?'" I asked.
"The surprising thing about 'The Raven' is," he said, "and I assert only what I believe to be from internal evidence demonstrable—first, that the poem arose out of a true poetic impulse of the soul; and, second, that it discloses the very highest art possible to a writer. Now I truly believe that the first writing of 'The Raven'—and, too, the stanzas were probably not first written in their present published order—conveyed Poe's poetic sense just as completely as the published poem now does. But this was not sufficient for Edgar Allan Poe—for the scientific man, the artful man, the poetic genius with a genius for concentrated mental toil in the effort to attain literary perfection. This makes 'The Raven' a curiosity in true poetic expression."
"Then you believe," I said, "that both the state of feeling from which true poetry arises, and the particular words by which the feeling is conveyed, are inspired."
"I do. But Poe was able actually to improve the language of inspiration, whilst transmitting uninjured the poetic conception. Those stanzas in Grey's 'Elegy' which convey from him to us the psychic wave of poetic impulse, may have been hundreds of times altered in their wording, through seven years of tentative effort; and it is possible that he succeeded in retaining the original feeling—the poem is certainly artistic. But the feeling conveyed by Grey is commonplace enough, anyway; whilst that transmitted by Poe is wholly unique, and intensely absorbing—indeed, a startling revelation. I have always felt that Byron, Milton, Shakespeare, found within their souls their poetry, and that the linguistic expression of it came to them as naturally as did the feeling."
"Such minds," I said, "will always be a mystery to common mortals."
"I take it," replied Bainbridge, "that waves and wavelets of poetic feeling are common enough among men—quite as common as mental pictures of beautiful material images; but the rarity is in the word-conception, which I hold must as a rule be spontaneous if it is to convey unblemished the original feeling. The musical genius is able to convey his psychic impression in harmonious sounds; the true poet, in words. To the rest of us the process is, as you say, a mystery—we call it inspiration.
"Take an isolated poem, such as under, say patriotic feeling, springs from the mind of one who never again writes poetry; does this not help to prove my theory that all true poetry is a result of inspiration—is in its inception and in its word-expression quite extraneous to its apparent author?
"To both my intellect and my feeling, 'The Raven' stands a beautiful masterpiece, which, because it is both the product of a strange psychic state and the work of intellect will probably be the last poem, of those now extant, to be admired by the human race when intellectual development and growth shall finally have driven from the lives and the minds of men all romance, all sentiment, all poetry, leaving to the race only intellect and will."
After some further talk, and in reply to a statement of my own, Bainbridge said,
"Of course I can speak only for myself; and for me there is music in the poetry of Byron and of Poe, and there is the psychic effect of color. The rhythm in certain of their poems, with the arrangement of word-sound, produces the saddest music possible, I think, to the soul of man—a prevailing monotone so measured as to result in an effect decidedly strange and quite indescribable. But the real peculiarity of their poetry—and in this Poe excels Byron—is a psychic effect the same as that which remains after viewing certain pictures in black and white, the shade gradations of which are so artistic as to create an illusion of color—sombre, highly shaded, yet color. This color effect of Poe's poetry I have felt very slightly, if at all, immediately on a first reading, as I feel the music of his verse—a rereading, or the lapse of time, being required for its full development. I have not read a line of Poe in the last two or three years, and at the present moment I feel Ulalume as I would some weird scene or picture viewed long ago."
I asked him what particular color effects Poe's poetry produced in his mind, and he replied,
"The impression of red I do not at all retain. That of black, more or less intense, is predominant; but the color effects of almost any variegated landscape—red being excluded, and the scene having been viewed by moonlight, or in the dusk of evening, or possibly on a densely clouded day—is at this moment alive within me. And yet, with a single exception, I have never received from musical or other sounds a psychic color effect—the exception being that certain tones of a violin leave the same mental impression as does the sight of purple. As I am not acquainted with the technical language of either painter or musician, I can attempt to describe these effects only in common language. I speak for myself only, and am anything but dogmatic on the subject of poetry. The symbolism of Poe's verse we must solve, each for himself. To me, for myself, the solution seems not difficult—and so no doubt says another; but on comparison these solutions would no doubt be very different."
But highly as Bainbridge estimated Poe's verse, he placed Poe even higher among writers of prose fiction than among poets. As I have said, I am myself an admirer of Poe. His prose I have always thought the work of a true genius—something, as Doctor Bainbridge said, "more than art, aided by the most perfect art." But when we came to speak of his prose writings, Bainbridge was able to express in language all that I had felt of Poe, and to disclose and explain components of his genius that I had never before fully recognized.
I then asked Bainbridge what it was in Poe's prose that he so much admired.
"Poe's strong element of power as a writer of short stories," said Bainbridge, "is, I think, his scientific imagination—the same capacity, strange as the statement may appear, that, when directed into another channel, makes a great physicist. It strikes me as inaccurate to say that Newton discovered the law of gravitation. Newton imagined the fact of a law of physical gravitation; and then he proceeded to prove the law of gravitation, accomplishing the discovery by means of a second attribute of genius—viz., tireless mental energy—the possession of a talent for rigorous mental application and severe nervous strain. In the sense that Columbus discovered America—in that sense, Newton discovered the law of gravitation: Columbus imagined an America, and then proceeded to make a physical demonstration of his belief by discovering the Bahamas. The same faculty—scientific imagination—in Poe gave us 'A Descent into the Maelstrom, The Murders in the Rue Morgue,' and other of his tales. And not alone in physics, but in metaphysics, did his imagination open up to him just conceptions; so that in the field of both healthy and morbid mental action his 'intuitive' knowledge was unerring. 'The Fall of the House of Usher' is so true to the real in conception, and so consummate in portrayal, that the more one knows about the mind, the more he inclines to wonder whether these compositions might not have been aided by actual personal experience. Yet these delineations are purely imaginative. Take 'The Imp of the Perverse, The Tell-Tale Heart,' and similar of his stories, not all of which could in reason have come within the experience of one man, and which are undoubtedly grounded upon intuitive suggestion."
I asked him which of Poe's tales he thought the best.
"That would indeed be difficult to determine," he replied. "If the criterion is to be my own intellectual enjoyment, I should mention one; if my feelings, then another. It is possible that I might select one in which my intellectual enjoyment, and my feelings pure and simple, were about equally engaged. We shall probably agree that the most important object of fiction is to produce in the reader a state of feeling, just as musical composition is intended to produce a state of feeling—the short story being comparable with a brief musical production intended to produce a single variety of emotion; the novel, to the music of an opera with its many parts, intended each to excite a particular state of feeling. Naturally prose fiction may, and almost necessarily does, have other objects. Now the reading of 'The Fall of the House of Usher' produces a certain state of emotion, and that wholly apart from any appeal to intellect; no endeavor to do more than produce that state of feeling is made, nothing more than that is effected, and that much is attained in a manner which no pen that has traced short-story fiction, save that of Poe, has ever accomplished. Hence, if the production of feeling—an appeal to the purely moral side of the triangle of mind—be the paramount essential in fiction, 'The Fall of the House of Usher' is the best short story in the English language."
Here Doctor Bainbridge rose from his chair, and taking a turn or two across the floor, continued, in tones indicating vexation,
"Why has not somebody with a ray of the imagination necessary to a comprehension of Poe's genius given us at least a decent sketch of his brief life! Was Poe in a state of mental aberration when he made Griswold his literary executor? Is the world forever to hear of him only from those who see the dark side of his life and know nothing of his life's work?—from those who look at his life and his life's work through the smoked glass of their dull provincial minds? Let us hope for an assay of what is left to us of Poe—an assay which, not wholly ignoring the little dross, will still lose no grain of the pure, virgin gold, and give to the world something approaching what is due to the genius himself, and what, with such a subject, is due to the world."
"Let me alter my question—or, I should say, ask a different one," I said, when he had again seated himself: "Which of Poe's stories most interested you? From which did you receive the most satisfaction?"
"I have been more occupied and interested by 'The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym' than by any two or three of his other stories."
I expressed surprise at this avowal; and my comments on what appeared to me to show a peculiar taste implied a desire for explanation. He continued:
"Although 'The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym' has served as a suggestion, or even a pattern, for some of our best recent stories of adventure, and although it has many points of excellence in itself, it is not the story alone, but the opportunity which the story affords of an analysis of Poe's mind, that creates the greater interest for me. I have always been puzzled to find a reasonably adequate cause for the incomplete state of that narrative. The supposition that Poe had not at his disposal, at the moment he required it, the necessary time for its completion is an hypothesis which I only mention to dispose of. At its close he wrote and added to the narrative a 'Note' of nearly a thousand words; and in the time required for the penning of that addition, he could have brought the story to—perhaps an abrupt, but still, an artistic close. No. Then did Poe not complete 'The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym' because his imagination failed him—failed to supply material of such a quality as his refined and faultless taste demanded? If so, then why did he begin it? Why write more than sixty thousand words in his usual careful and precise style, on a subject to him little known, in to him a new field of literary effort? He could in the time required to write 'The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym' have written from five to ten short stories along familiar lines. No: none of these hypotheses explains the unfinished state of that narrative. My explanation is that the story has a foundation in fact, and that Poe himself never learned more than a foundation for the portion which he wrote. Its leading character next to Pym is one Dirk Peters, a sailor, mutineer, etc. It is my theory that Pym and Peters existed in fact, but that Poe never met either of them, though he did meet sailors who had known Dirk Peters, and that he heard from them the first part of the story, in the form in which it grew to be repeated by seafaring men along the New England coast in the '30s and '40s. Having heard what he supposed to be sufficient, with the aid of his own imagination, to make an interesting story for publication, Poe began and continued to write. Then, as he progressed, he found that his imagination was embarrassed—frustrated by the known facts already employed—whilst it was not assisted by new facts which he was positive existed, but which he could not procure. As he attempted to close the narrative, the cold, written page was a very different thing from what he had conceived it would be as he sat in the tap-room of some New England old 'Sailor's Home,' with a couple of glasses of Burton ale on the table, listening through the drowsy afternoon to the fact and fiction of some old 'tar,' as the two looked across the white-sanded floor at the old moss-grown dock without, and listened to the salt wavelets splashing against its rotting timbers, and watched the far- distant sails on the outer sea. It is not very difficult to picture to one's self Poe searching among these sailors' lodging-houses for Dirk Peters; nor is it unreasonable to assume that he did so search for him. If Dirk Peters was twenty-seven years old in 1827, when the mutiny occurred, he was only forty-nine at the time of Poe's death—in fact, would be only seventy-seven if now alive. Poe says in his 'Note,' that 'Peters, from whom some information might be expected, is still alive, and a resident of Illinois, but cannot be met with at present. He may hereafter be found, and will, no doubt, afford material for a conclusion of Mr. Pym's account.' I have no doubt that Poe eventually learned exactly where Peters resided; but no matter how much Poe may have desired to meet with Peters, he could not have done so. In the '40s it was a long, tedious, expensive journey from New York to Illinois. Still, Poe hoped some day to meet Peters, and did not care to say to the public exactly where he could be met with. Then came Poe's unutterably sad death, leaving the narrative incomplete."
As Bainbridge neared the close of his remarks, we heard a heavy and rapid step approach along the hall. It stopped before my door; and just as Bainbridge ceased to speak, a loud rap, evidently made with the head of a heavy cane, sounded on the panel. The door flew open, and Doctor Castleton rushed into the middle of the room—or, rather, bounded across the room. Bainbridge and I instantly arose, and I stepped forward to take Doctor Castleton's hand in mine, and to care for his hat and cane; but he waved me off. "No, no: no time—not a minute to spare—three patients waiting"—here he glanced at Bainbridge, as if to observe the effect of his speech on a beginner, who was fortunate if he yet possessed a single patient—"like to keep my word—fine evening." He seated himself on the edge of a chair, and projected his glance around the room. No better subject immediately presenting itself to mind, I remarked that we had just been talking of Edgar Allan Poe, and his unfinished story, "The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym"; and I spoke of Dirk Peters.
"I know old man Peters—know him well, sir," said Doctor Castleton, without a moment's hesitation; "short old fellow—seafaring man—about four feet six, or seven—must have been a devil in his day—old man, now—seventy or eighty; no hair, no beard; farms a few acres on the Bluff; very sick man, right now."
Bainbridge and I had cast at each other a glance, which plainly said, "Isn't that Castleton for you?" But as he continued, and we had time to consider, the probability that Dirk Peters was alive, and the bare possibility that he was in the neighborhood, and that, if he did reside near Bellevue, Doctor Castleton would be very likely to have met him, gradually dawned on our minds. Quick as was the glance we exchanged, Castleton saw it—yes, and understood it.
"Gentlemen," he continued, "I know whereof I speak. It is true, I never before thought of Peters in this connection. In the cases of my library, the books stand two rows deep. Thousands of books have been carried into my attic, to make room for newer books—I never need to glance twice at a book. Of course I have Poe's works, and bound in morocco, too—the grandest genius ever bestowed upon humanity by the prolific and liberal hand of our Creator. Still, I never happened to read the grand and mighty effort of that colossal intellect to which you refer—'The Narrative of a Snorting Thing,' though I recall 'The Literary Life of Thingum Bob.' But I am certain—certain as the unerring fiat of Omnipotent Power—that this man Peters is within ten miles of us, and is at this moment a mighty ill man—almost ready, in fact, to visit a land from which he will be little likely to return. I refer to 'The undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns.' By superhuman efforts I have kept this man Peters alive now long past the time-limit set by his Creator for him to go—I mean, three score and ten years; but even I and science have our limitations, and the beginning of the end is at hand."
By this time Doctor Castleton was pacing up and down the room, stopping now and then to look at an engraving on the wall, taking up and replacing books, seeing everything. I could not but feel that already the curiosity which had impelled him to "run in" was satisfied, and that he would soon be going. A minute after his last recorded words, Dirk Peters seemed to have dropped completely from his mind. I was wholly absorbed with the thought that Dirk Peters might be within our reach; and that if he really was, it was possible that we might learn whether Pym and he had reached the South Pole, and if so, what they had there discovered. It was plainly evident that the mind of Doctor Bainbridge was deeply engaged with the same subject. I was anxious to know what he thought of Castleton's statement; for the more I discussed the matter within myself, the more I felt inclined to believe that Castleton was not making a mistake. But Castleton was certainly now not thinking of Peters. I could, amid my thoughts, hear him declaiming,
"Yes, sir; England is a mighty power. Her navy, sir, can—and mark me, it will—sweep France and Russia and Prussia and Austria and Italy from the ocean as—as a shar—a wha—a huge and voracious swordfish sweeps before its imperious onslaught, with unerring certainty and cyclonic power, a whole school of sneaking mackerel or codfish from the pathway fixed for it by Eternal Destiny."
His prognostication was intended to be a graceful compliment paid to the country of a visiting stranger, and, in the absence of other foreigners, not discourteous to anybody. I never before or since knew his natural flow of eloquence to waver as in this instance—a rarity that of itself makes the remark worthy of record. Doctor Castleton soon, against all protests, bounded out of the door, as he had bounded in; and then Bainbridge and I discussed the astonishing possibilities should it prove true that Dirk Peters was within our reach. We concluded that Castleton's statement was one of great importance, and we agreed upon a course of procedure. We spent the remainder of the evening in a manner very enjoyable to myself, and evidently gratifying to Doctor Bainbridge; and it was past midnight when we separated.
The following morning I looked up Doctor Castleton; and he, ever courteous and obliging, did more than consent to permit me to drive out to the home of his patient, Peters. He proposed that I wait a day, as he knew that Peters would within that time, and might any hour, send for him; and as soon as he was summoned he would notify me, and together we would drive out to the old sailor's residence—which, the doctor said, was a small, two-roomed log structure, where the old man dwelt entirely alone.
The FOURTH Chapter
The summons from Doctor Castleton to accompany him came sooner than he had led me to expect; and at a little past noon of the same day on which he had made his promise to take me with him to see Dirk Peters, I received a message, saying that if agreeable to me he would at two o'clock be in front of my hotel, prepared to start for the home of the old sailor.
At a minute or two before the time fixed, I was standing at the main entrance to the Loomis House, and at precisely two o'clock Doctor Castleton drove up in a two-horse, four-wheeled, top-buggy. He made room for me on his left, and off we started.
We drove in a westerly direction for a full mile along the main street before leaving the town behind us. Then we struck a level turf road; and away trotted the superb team of rather small, wiry, black horses. Doctor Castleton said that we should reach our destination—which was rather more than ten miles from the city limits—within forty minutes; and we did. Over a part of the level turf road I should estimate that we drove at about a three-minute gait; but after traversing some four or five miles, we turned south into a narrow road, which soon became hilly and tortuous; yet even here it was only on particularly rough or uneven portions of the way that the doctor moderated our speed to less than a four-minute gait.
As we rode along at this exhilarating pace, the buggy whirling around acute curves among the mighty oaks and maples, now and then dashing down a forty-five-degree descent of fifty or sixty feet, again thundering over a dilapidated bridge of resonant planks, the doctor remarked to me that Peters was certain to die, it being only a question of days, or perhaps of hours. "Old Peters," he said, "has been without visible means of support for the past two or three years. The Lord only knows how he has lived since the period when he became unable to work. Even his small farm is mortgaged for all it is worth." I expressed to the doctor some surprise that he should be making twenty-mile drives to see a lonely old man whose illness he was unable to relieve, and from whom he could expect no fee. I had grown to take an interest in hearing Castleton express his opinions. Many of his conceptions of life were so unique; his mental vision, always intensely acute, was often so oblique; his station of mental observation so alterable, and so quickly altered; his sentiments often so earthy, again so exalted—that I believe the man would have interested me even under circumstances less quiet and monotonous than were those of my stay, up to this time, in Bellevue. To my expression of mild wonderment that he should tax his time and energies to such an extent without pecuniary gain, he replied:
"My dear sir, you are a traveller. You have sailed the seas and crossed the mighty main; you have dashed over mountains, and sweltered 'mid tropical suns on sandy desert-wastes. To you our Rockies are mole-hills—our great lakes mere ponds. You are not a child to cry out in the darkness. Granted. Yet, sir, let us by a stretch of fancy imagine ourselves in the place of Columbus, on the third day of August, 1492. We are about to leave the Known, in search of the Unknown—about to penetrate for the first time that vast expanse of water which for uncounted ages has stretched away before the wondering vision and baffled research of Europe. We are not leaving the world—we are not alone. Yet is it not a solace that a few friends gather on the shore to say good-by? The sympathy of the kind, the well-wishes of the brave—are they not always a comfort? This poor fellow Peters, whose lowly home we are now approaching, is alone—he is about to start on his last journey, alone. The land to which he perhaps this day begins that journey is not only unknown, but unknowable to us in our present state. And therefore is it, sir, that the learned professions live. Even the worldly man, when he comes to start upon this last journey, does not disdain the sympathy and kindness of the loving, and the expressions of hopefulness that come from the good and pure. True, you may say that the learned professions are for the man who is about to die but frail supports on which to lean. The wise man as well as the ignorant man, when he fears that death is near, reaches out for help or at least some knowledge of his future. He sends for his physician, who cannot promise him anything—cannot number the days or hours of his remaining life; for his lawyer, who cannot assure him beyond all doubt that his will can be made to endure for a single day beyond his death. At last, he sends for a minister of God—and what says the spiritual expert? Perhaps he represents that old, old organization, whose history stretches back for centuries through the dark ages to the borders of the brilliancy beyond; that old hierarchy that claims to hold all spiritual power to which man may appeal with reasonable hope. What says to the dying man this representative and heir of the accumulated spiritual research and culture of the past? He may with honesty say, 'Hope;' but if he says more than Hope, he does it as the blind might sit and guide by signs through unknown labyrinths the blind. All this is true; but the fact that the learned professions have come into existence, and continue to live and draw from the masses their material support—a tax greater in amount than the income of the nations—shows that they meet, and genuinely meet, a demand. I say genuinely, for 'You cannot fool all the people all the time.' And so, my young friend, this poor man Peters wants me. Later, if there is time, he will want the representative of the religion which he professes, or which he remembers that his mother or his father professed. I shall stand by his side and place my hand upon his throbbing brow—and he will hope, and not despair. Who knows whether or not our hope and our faith have power in some strange way to link the present to the future, carrying forward the spirit-seed to soil in which it blooms in splendor through eternity? As Byron says,
'How little do we know that which we are, How less what we may be.'
But here we are; and I know by the face of that old neighbor-woman looking from the doorway there that our man still lives."
We drew up in front of a small building some sixteen feet square, the walls of which consisted of huge logs piled one upon another and mortised at the corners. The doctor entered, leaving me seated in the buggy. But soon he came to the door, and signalled for me. As I entered the house I heard a voice say, "Yes, doctor, the old hulk's still afloat—water-logged, but still afloat." Looking in the direction of the voice, I saw on a bed in one corner of the room an old beardless man. I had not a second's doubt that Dirk Peters of the 'Grampus,' sailor, mutineer, explorer of the Antarctic Sea, patron and friend of A. Gordon Pym, was before me. His body up to the waist was covered with an old blanket; but I felt certain that he was less than five feet in height, and felt quite positive that he would not then measure more than four and a half feet. His height in 1827 was, Poe states, four feet and eight inches. One of the old man's arms lay exposed by his side, and the finger-ends reached below the knee; while his hand, spread out on the blanket, would have covered the area of a small ham. His shoulders and neck, and the one bare arm visible, were indicative of vast muscular strength. There was the enormous head mentioned by Poe; and there was the completely bald scalp, exposed, as by a semi-automatic movement of respect he raised his hand to his head and removed a section of woolly sheepskin; and there, too, was the indenture in the crown; there the enormous mouth, spreading from ear to ear, with the lips which, as he gave a chuckle, and the wrinkles about his eyes evinced a passing facial contortion, I saw to be wholly wanting in pliancy. There was the expression, fixed at least as far as the mouth and lower face was concerned, the protruding teeth, and the grotesque appearance of a smile such as a demon might have smiled over ruined innocence. Oh, there was no possibility of a mistake. Doctor Castleton glanced at me questioningly, but confidently; and I lowered my head in assent. But if I expected to have an opportunity of learning much of anything from Peters, I was mistaken. Doctor Castleton was almost ready to depart before I had finished my visual examination of the old man. I heard the aged neighbor-woman, a coal miner's wife, who had as an act of kindness come in to assist the invalid, say, looking at the poor old fellow:
"My mon stayed wi' he the night, dochter. The poor mon, he had delerion bad. He thot hesel' on a mountain o' ice, wi' tha mountain o' ice on other like mountain o' salt, a lookin' at devils i' hell. But sin' tha light o' day. Tha good mon's hesel' agin."
Doctor Castleton had produced from the recesses of a large medicine case certain pills and powders, had given his directions, and was actually about to leave without giving me an opportunity, or seeming to think that I desired an opportunity, of speaking with Peters. I then appealed for a moment more of time, and for consent to ask the patient a question or two; and my appeal was granted. I stepped close to the bedside, and looking down into the eyes that looked up into mine, asked the old man if his name was Dirk Peters; to which he answered affirmatively. I then asked him if he had in the year 1827 sailed from the port of Nantucket, on the brig 'Grampus,' under Captain Bernard, in company, among others, with a youth named A. Gordon Pym? And a moment later I wished that I had been less abrupt in my questioning. Peters did manage quite coolly and rationally to answer "Yes" to all my questions. But at the words "Pym," "Bernard," "Grampus," his eyes began, in appearance, to start from their sockets; those awful teeth gleamed from that cavernous mouth, as he uttered demoniac yell on yell, and raised himself to a sitting posture in the bed. I thought his eyeballs must certainly burst, as he looked off into nothingness wildly, as if a troop of fiends were rushing upon him.
"Great God!" he screamed, "there, there—she's gone. Ah," quieting a little; "ah; the old man with the eyes of a god, and the cubes of crystal with the limpid liquid of heaven. Oh," his voice again raised to piercing screams, "Oh, she's gone, and he loves her—and I love him. Now man, they called you the human baboon—be more than man!—I loved the boy—I tell you, I loved him from the first. I saved him once—aye, a dozen times—but not like this—not from hell. Scale the chasms of salt, and climb the lava cliffs, and—but the lake of fire at the bottom—the old man—and the abyss, my God, the abyss! The snow-drift beard—the godlike eyes"—his voice then quieting for a few words. "Ah, mother, mother, mother." Then in a deep, earnest tone, "I'll be a human baboon, and I'll do what man never yet did, nor beast—yes, and what never in time will man do again."
Then he completely lost control of himself. He jumped from the bed. Doctor Castleton stood near the doorway, and I quickly moved to his side. The old woman had vanished. Peters poured forth yell on yell, such as I had never conceived it possible for a human throat to utter. He grasped a strong oak-pole, and broke it as I might have broken a dry twig. I afterward placed the longer fragment of this pole with each of its extremities on a large stone, the two about four feet apart; and lifting into the air a rock weighing a hundred or more pounds, dropped it on the middle of the fragment; and it did not even bend what this man of awful strength had severed with his two hands as one would break a wooden toothpick between the fingers. Then Peters picked up a stove which stood, fireless, in the room; and he cast it through an open window, seven or eight feet away, into the yard beyond, where it fell, breaking into a hundred pieces. I need scarcely say that Doctor Castleton and myself had left the room with decided alacrity. Well, to terminate a description none too agreeable, Peters' wild delirium continued until, out in the door-yard, forty or fifty feet from the house, he fell, exhausted. Then we carried him back to his bed. Doctor Castleton gave some directions to the old woman, and soon we left for town, Peters being asleep.
"Strange," said Doctor Castleton, after we had driven for perhaps a mile, "strange that a thought can do such things! A word is said, the thread of memory is touched by suggestion, and it vibrates back through half a century to some scene of terror stamped ineradicably upon the brain—or if not upon the brain, then where?—and, lo! the reflexes spring into action, and a maniac with Samson's strength takes the place of a docile invalid. Ah, who can answer the mystery of mysteries, and tell us what this consciousness is! Behind that gift of God rests the secret of life, and of death, and probably of Eternity itself."
We rode along, returning a little more leisurely than we had come. I sat wondering how we were to learn from such a man as Peters his secrets—if secrets he possessed. Even if his past held only important facts not of secret import, I had received striking evidence that the subject of that wonderful sea-voyage was not to be carelessly broached to Dirk Peters. I concluded to say nothing more of the matter until I should meet Bainbridge, whom I knew would be anxiously awaiting my return, hardly daring to hope that Poe's Dirk Peters was really in existence and discovered.
As we neared town, my mind turned to the strange being at my side. Here was a man who could think, and think both learnedly and poetically of the wonders of heaven and earth; and yet who could talk of driving from town a business competitor! Surely that part of his talk which seemed so laughable was in spirit wholly dramatic—intended rather to fill the assumed expectations of his hearers, than truly representing the speaker's feeling. Then my thoughts reverted to the talk I had overheard, when "Pickles" was made to see veritable showers of "greenbacks" raining into his vacuous pocket. I smiled to myself; and then a spirit of audacity coming over me, I determined to ascertain what Castleton would say to me on the currency question. I concluded to admit that I had overheard through my open window the conversation on monetary matters alluded to. There would then be no opportunity for him to evade the responsibility of assuming as his own the peculiar opinions expressed by him on that occasion. Now, when he could not consistently deny the advocacy of views to me so apparently untenable, and could not seriously adopt them without lowering himself intellectually in the estimation of a stranger—and I did not for an instant think that he believed the nonsense which he had so glowingly represented and demonstrated to poor old "Pickles"—then by what possible means would he extricate himself from the dilemma?
When I broached the money question, he seemed to warm to the subject at once; but as I led around to the fact of my overhearing the "Pickles" incident, he seemed slightly disconcerted—but only momentarily. He was himself again so quickly that I should not have noticed his embarrassment had I not been closely observing him for that very purpose.
"Well, now," he said, blithely, "as you are a stranger, a man of high and irreproachable honor, sans peur et sans reproche—and one, I know, who will not place me in an equivocal position here in my home by divulging my true position—I don't mind telling you, in all confidence, the truth. I am not, my dear sir, an ass. (What I say, remember, goes no farther.) I am, sir, a theoretical and practical politician of great—I only repeat what many of my friends (men of supreme mental attainments, and the best of judges) herald forth as undeniable truth—a politician, sir, of great depth and exceeding cunning—a rare combination, philosophers tell us. What a humbug this whole greenback question is! Why, sir, it is to that very element of scarcity over which they howl, that money, or anything else, owes its commercial value. Diminish the general scarcity of anything on earth to the point of a full supply for everybody and the commercial value at once becomes nil. There is nothing of more real value than atmospheric air; yet the supply is so great that all demands are filled, leaving an enormous surplus; and hence atmospheric air has no commercial value. There is nothing on earth of much less service to humanity than are diamonds; yet the possession of a pound of fair-sized diamonds would make a Croesus of a beggar. The dreams of the Greenbacker are but new phases of our childhood fancies of finding a mountain of pure gold, with which we are to make the whole world happy; it is conceivable to find the mountain of gold—but, alas! what will be its value when we have found it? Take actual money, for instance. Any metal might be used as money which the world should agree to call money, provided only that the metal is not so plentiful as to make it impossible to handle because of bulk, or so scarce as to make the unit of value impalpable. The standard may even from time to time be changed, if we do not object to the enormous trouble of making the change——"
"And," I remarked, as he paused for a moment, "if we do not object to the robbery of either the debtor or the creditor, one or the other."
"Not at all," he replied. "I assume that the change shall be fairly made. I have said that it would be a very great inconvenience to the world, and without any benefit; it would in fact be so great a task to make the change in our money standard that it would be practically impossible to make it. But we are off the track—we were not to talk of primary money; it was of currency, or greenbacks, that you spoke. Now it puzzles you as a man of sense to conceive by what process of thought another man of sense can bring himself to advocate unlimited inflation of our currency; and yet there is a very good reason why the most sensible man may do that very thing. Of course, my dear sir, I am aware that the only honest way for a government to issue unlimited currency is to give the stuff away, and later to repudiate it. Now, sir, I need not tell one like yourself, who has studied the lives of such English statesmen as the puissant Burke, the sagacious Pitt, the astute Palmerston, that ninety per cent, of the people—and it is so even in this glorious land of free schools and liberty—are relatively to the remaining ten per cent, either poor and dishonest, or poor and ignorant; and that none of the hundred per cent, goes into sackcloth and ashes when he gets something for nothing. I, sir, am—or I was until recently—a Jeffersonian Democrat. But our party made a great mistake a few years ago by sticking to the slave interest too long. I finally became hopeless of success at the polls. Now, when I whisper in your all-comprehending ear that the leaders of this Greenback Party are anything but Republicans, you will grasp the point. I repeat, sir, I am not an ass—if I do bray sometimes. All's fair in love and politics. But let me say to you, that the printing presses of the United States will never be leased by the United States Treasury, whatever party wins at the polls."
As he closed, we entered the town. It may not be wholly lacking in interest to the reader when I say that, some years later, as I one morning sat in my library looking through the window at the far-distant smoke of Newcastle, I had just laid aside a copy of the Times, in which paper I had read of the results of a political contest in the State of Illinois. The Republicans had won. The Greenbackers and the Democrats had lost. Then my eye caught the name of Castleton! The doctor had made the race for Governor—not on the Greenback ticket, however; not on the Democratic ticket; but—of all things!—on the anti-liquor or Prohibition ticket!
As we drew up in front of the Loomis House, Doctor Bainbridge stood on the sidewalk as if awaiting our return. I smiled, then nodded an affirmative to the question in his eyes; and stepping out of the buggy, I linked his arm within my own, and, thanking Doctor Castleton for his kindness, piloted the way to my room.
The FIFTH Chapter
On opening the door of my sitting-room, I found Arthur, the factotum, sitting in my large easy-chair, with one of my volumes of Poe in his hand. He had overheard part of the conversation of the preceding evening, and was evidently interested in "The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym." I observed also that a bottle of cognac which sat upon my table, and which I could have sworn was not more than one-fourth emptied when I left the hotel directly after dinner, was now quite empty. The atmosphere of the room was pervaded with the odor of "dead" brandy; and Arthur's eyes were unusually glassy and staring—for so early an hour as 5 P.M. Then he settled the matter, beyond the shadow of a doubt, with a hiccough.
"Well, Arthur," I said, pleasantly, as he clumsily rose in part from his seat—into which he dropped back, however, as he heard my kindly tone of address, and knew there was to be no severity of reckoning—"well, my boy; been enjoying yourself?"
"Yes, sir," he replied, in a fairly steady voice—the words that followed, however, being rhythmically interrupted by an aldermanic and most vociferous hiccough, which shall be omitted from this record—"been reading about Pym and Barnard. Wasn't that awful when they saw the shipful of dead corpses? Just think of that ship, full of dead men—not one of them alive, and all dead—and the sails set, and the old ship wabbling around the ocean just as things might please to happen! When the ship got close up to their brig, and that scream came from among the corpses, I just jumped, myself! But wasn't it terrible when that gull pulled its bloody old beak out of the dead man's back, and then flew over the brig and dropped the piece of human flesh at poor hungry Parker's feet? Gee-whillikens, now! Why, it just made my blood sink in my heart and lungs."
"Yes," I thought, "and it just made my brandy sink pretty fast in my bottle and down your throat." I was amused at his comments, and at another time might have listened longer to his talk; but now I must be making some arrangement with Doctor Bainbridge regarding a possible interview with Peters; so I said to Arthur that he might take the volume of Poe and keep it for two or three days, which offer he gladly accepted; and with an involuntary wandering of the eye toward the brandy bottle, he left the room.
Then Bainbridge and I seated ourselves, and I described the late scene in Dirk Peters' room, repeating almost word for word all that had been said. He pondered for a few minutes, during which I could see that his versatile imagination was in active play. Then he said,
"Well, we have him! My, my, what a discovery! This will be like reaching across the decrees of death and taking by the hand dear Poe himself! But you were hasty—as I myself might have been. Well, we must see Castleton—that is, you must—and get his consent for us to go right out and stay with Peters, if necessary for a night and a day, or even longer. We can take care of the poor old fellow, and watch our opportunity to glean from him the facts of that strange voyage, onward from the moment when, borne on that swift ocean current, he and Pym were rushed into the mystery that opened to receive them, as the white-shrouded figure arose in their pathway. 'Fire'—'salt'—'ice,' said he? I begin almost—almost to understand! Did you ever, in England, hear of the Peruvian tradition of an antarctic country, warm and delightful, peopled by a civilized—or rather by a highly enlightened and very mysterious race of whites? Such a tradition exists. Now, one day in New York, about three years ago, I allowed myself a holiday, as was my custom from time to time after a period of severe study. On the day I speak of I entered the Astor Library, and was permitted to wander at my pleasure among the books. I carried in my hand one of the small camp-stools which stood around the room, and whenever I found a book that particularly interested me, I would sit down and look it over. You understand, I was dissipating in this great treasure-house of books. About the middle of the afternoon I found myself in one of the most unfrequented of the library alcoves. There, on a shelf so high that I could just see over its edge as I stood on one of the library step-ladders, I found a strange little book, purporting to have been written in 1594. It had fallen down behind the other books. It had a leather back, well-worn; I saw that it was a 1728 Leipsic publication; and possibly came to the Astor Library by presentation from its wise and liberal founder's private library—though this is pure surmise. The book read much like other tales of the time, so far as its form went. I sat down to look at it—and I did not arise until I had read it to its end, some three hours later. I had not read two pages before I became satisfied that the book had more truth than fiction in it. To have assumed it wholly the work of imagination, I should have had to admit that the author was an artist of artists, exceeding, through his artfulness, in naturalness, all other fiction-writers. No; there was truth behind the statements in the little book—truth at second or third hand, but truth. Now this little book pretended to tell, and I believe did tell, the story of a sailor under Sir Francis Drake, who accompanied this English navigator on his 1577-1580 voyage. You will recall, as a matter of history, that, in the voyage mentioned, Sir Francis crossed the Atlantic, passed the Strait of Magellan, crossed the Pacific, and returned to England by way of the Cape of Good Hope. Now during this three-year voyage, the story is that he once lost his 'bearings' for a month; in fact, it is intimated that a hiatus of two months in his 'log' really did exist. This hiatus, however, could easily have been covered in the ship's log-book. We may conceive of reasons for which he might have preferred to keep a temporary silence concerning the discovery of a strange people, in those early, savage times. The little book said, that, when in the Pacific, after passing the strait, Sir Francis was for two weeks driven in a southerly course—a severe, and in every way most unusual storm prevailing. When the winds and the waves subsided, he was surprised to find himself looking into the mouth of a harbor, on the shores of which stood a city, by no means so large as London or even as Paris; but exceeding in grandeur the London or the Paris of that day, as the Paris of to-day exceeds in elegance the comparative squalor of the Paris of three centuries ago. According to the leather-covered little German book, the city was beautiful beyond comparison with any of the European cities of that period. I should suppose that the author thought of it as we do of Athens in the days of Pericles. Not much is said of the inhabitants, who were probably infinitely superior, socially, to the rough voyagers of that date. And for once the 'natives' were neither bullied nor 'converted,' Sir Francis departing no richer than he arrived, save for a few commercially valueless gifts. One thing the natives, it seems, insisted on: Sir Francis arrived in the city without knowing his longitude; and they compelled him on leaving to accept conditions that prevented him from finding his bearings till he was more than a thousand miles away. What the nature of the climate was in this strange city may be judged by the expressions employed in the little book, which, translated, were equivalent to 'perfect,' 'Eden-like,' 'balmy,' 'delicious.' Once the author compares this antarctic city to Venice—admittedly to the Venice of his imagination. No; Sir Francis had nothing to brag of in this adventure; and in those days when to be physically subdued, or in a contest to fail to subdue others, was a humiliation or even a disgrace, he would have kept very quiet about the whole affair; particularly as a future navigator could not have found the city, even had Sir Francis told all that he knew. Now I mention these reports only to show you that others have thought of warm antarctic lands; and I could refer you to many other old stories and traditions, highly suggestive of inhabited lands in the Antarctic Ocean, on which lands a refined people dwell. I certainly expect to learn from Peters facts of some importance to the world, if only he does not die, or is not so delirious as to throw a shadow on the verity of his story, even if he does disclose the wonders which I most assuredly believe that he will if he lives but another day. Really, I am, for the first time in years, excited. How Castleton keeps so cool and so apparently indifferent over this matter, when he is always excited over what seem to me to be comparative nothings, I cannot comprehend. Now, sir, you hunt him up again—he will no doubt be in his office across the street. Get his consent, as I before suggested—Castleton is always obliging when you appeal to him directly; then take your supper, and be ready. I will be here at eight o'clock with my horse and a piano-box buggy. It will be a beautiful moonlight night, and let us not risk waiting until to-morrow. We will take with us some ice; also wine, beef extract, and a few other things intended to sustain the poor old fellow's vitality—at least till his story is told. We must go prepared to remain for twenty-four hours, or even for thirty-six hours if necessary; so have your overcoat ready, and I will find a couple of blankets in case we have to lie down. Good-by till eight."