A Modern Wizard
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Already Mars had almost reached the tops of the trees along the western banks, and, attracted by it, Leon gazed upon the planet until it disappeared. He had been still for ten minutes, and having recognized that all was quiet about him, and having abandoned his rowing, he was now mildly surprised to observe that his boat was in a totally different position; that in fact he had drifted a long distance. This awakened him slightly from his reverie, for here was a new bit of knowledge about a body of water with which he had been acquainted since his earliest recollection. He had never known, nor even suspected, that in a calm there could be a current. He endeavored to calculate by observation how fast he was moving; but the task was difficult. He could readily discern that since abandoning his oars he had moved a hundred yards, but, however intently he gazed upon the shores, he could not detect that he was moving. He pondered over this for a time, and being of a philosophical turn of mind, and fond of speculating, he likened his position at the moment, to life in general. However little we suspect it, there is an unseen but potent energy which urges us forward towards – the grave, and – whatever follows death.
This idea pleased him for a moment, for the analogy was a new one and original with himself, in so far, that he had never head it from another. Quickly, however, returning to the more practical problem, he determined to find a way to ascertain the rapidity with which his boat was moving. Placing a fishing-rod upright before him, and then closing one eye, gazing with the other at a conspicuous object along the horizon, immediately he could see, not only that he was moving, but that the motion was more rapid than he had suspected. Having thus satisfied the immediate and momentary questioning of an inquiring mind, his previous mental state, his loneliness and desolation, returned upon him with redoubled force. A moment later, Nature offered him another abstraction. Looking into the water he saw mirrored there the reflection of the moon. Not the stream of undulating silver over which poets have raved these many years, and which painters have fruitlessly essayed to convey to canvass, but the glorious, full, round orb itself. This he had never seen before, and he wondered why it should be. Almost as though in answer to his thought, a faint zephyr breathed across the surface of the waters, and beginning near the shores, the ripples rolled towards him, and with them brought the shimmering moonlight until all in a moment, the reflected orb had disappeared, and the usual silvery line of light replaced it. Thus he saw, that only water in motion will show the moonbeams, whilst a mirror, whether it be of glass, or the still bosom of the lake, reflects but the moon itself.
Again he returned to the bitterness of his night's experience, and now, no longer attracted by the moon, and not caring how fast or whither he drifted, he lay back in his boat, pillowing his head upon a cushion on the seat in the stern, and gazed up into the sky thus oblivious of the landscape and so without an indication of his progress.
His mind reverted to the house, and the dead woman.She was not his mother. Then who was she? Or rather who was he? She was, or had been, Margaret Grath, and he had thought that he was entitled to the name Leon Grath. But if she was not, or had not been, his mother, then plainly he had no right to her name. On considering this, he concluded that it was his privilege to call himself Leon, but the last name Grath, being obtainable legally only by inheritance, he must abandon. When the word "inheritance" crossed his thoughts, involuntarily a loud mocking laugh escaped him. And when the sonorous echoes laughed with him, he laughed again, and again. The drollery which aroused his mirth, was that, if a name might be inherited, why might not Margaret Grath have bequeathed hers to him? Perhaps she might have mentioned it in her will? But no! A name is a heritage acquired at birth, whilst only chattels are included in an inheritance which follows a death. Evidently he was nameless, except that he might be called Leon, just as his collie answered to the name Lossy. This made him laugh again. For now he thought that his dog had fared better than himself, for he was called "The Marquis of Lossy," after MacDonald's Malcolm. Thus the collie was of noble blood, whilst he was – only Leon, the child of nobody. As he reached this point, the moon dipped down below the western hill, the upper edge shedding its last rays across the boy and his boat, after which he was indeed enshrouded by the night. It seemed colder too, now that the orb had gone, and insensibly he felt in some way more alone. True, there were the stars, still twinkling in the firmament, but they seemed far away, like his own future. Still Leon dreamed on.
As he could not lift the veil which parted him from what was to be, he wandered back in thought, recalling what had been.
The Theosophist says that man has lived before upon this planet, inhabiting many corporeal forms, and drifting through many earthly existences. The Sceptic cries: "Ridiculous! but, granting the postulate, of what advantage is it to have lived before, or to live again, if in each earth-life I cannot recall those that have gone before?" Yet, without arguing for Theosophy, might I not remind this sceptic that he enjoys his life to-day, even though he might find it difficult to recall yesterday, or the day before, or a week, a month, a year ago? How many of us in looking backward over life's path, can summon up the phantoms of more than a few days? Days on which occurred some events of special moment?
The first landmark along his life's path, which stood out conspicuous among Leon's garnered memories, was his first visit to the church. Margaret Grath had dressed him in his brightest frock, curled his hair, and placed upon his head his newest bonnet. His heart had swelled with pride, as he trotted beside the tall, gaunt, New England woman, who walked with long strides, and held his hands, lest he should lag behind. But though his legs grew tired, he offered no rebellion, for he had often looked upon the red brick building, with wondering eyes, and his ears had oft been mystified at the tolling of the bell which swung and sounded, though moved by no hand that he could see, nor means that he could understand. He marvelled at the outside of the building, its steeple marking it a house apart from every other in the village, and he long had yearned to see it from within. On this day, to which his thought now turned, he had his wish. He followed Miss Grath down the aisle, clinging to her skirts, a little frightened at the people sitting straight and stiff, and he was rejoiced when he found himself at last on a comfortable cushion in the pew. The cushion was a treat; being his first experience with such luxury, and confirmed his idea that the church was better than other houses. Presently he began to be accustomed to his surroundings, having viewed all the walls, the roof, the organ, and the pulpit, until his active mind was satisfied so far as concerned the building itself. Then he began to feel the silence, and he did not like it. He longed to speak, but did not dare, because when he timidly looked up, Miss Grath, catching his glance, scowled reproachfully, and looked straight before her. Small and young as he was, he had learned to know this woman with whom he lived, and he needed no more explicit warning to hold his tongue. So he sat still, adding to the silence which oppressed him.
It was with a sigh of relief that he saw the preacher rise, and heard him speak; and it was with a throb of intense joy that his heart warmed as the notes of the organ reached him for the first time in his life. Thenceforward he was interested up to the point where the sermon began. The tiresome monotone in which this was delivered, and the impossibility of his comprehending what was said, soon fatigued his little brain, and then lulled him to sleep.
I may mention parenthetically, what of course did not now enter Leon's mind, for he never knew the subject of that first sermon which had been preached at him. If it had been incomprehensible to the child, the woman had understood well enough, for it had been aimed at her especially. The preacher, I cannot call him a minister, for he truly ministered unto none except himself, the preacher then, was a cold, hard Scotchman, High Church of course. He firmly believed in the damnation of infants, and a Hell of which the component parts would be brimstone and fire in proper proportions. He also believed in the efficacy of prayer, especially of his own. Therefore, it not infrequently happened, that when any one incurred his ill will, which was not difficult, he would offer up a prayer, consigning said individual to the hottest tortures of the world below. He did this so adroitly, that, while there were no plain personalities in his words, his description of the sinner would be so specific, that the party of the second part readily identified himself as the central figure of the excoriation.
Now this saintly preacher had at one time demeaned himself, or so he thought, sufficiently low to offer himself in marriage to Miss Margaret Grath. She had declined the honor, and he had hated her ever after. Like all true women, however, she had kept his secret, so that none of the congregation knowing the relation which existed, or which might have existed, between them, none could read between the lines of his sermons, when he chose to lash her by a savage denunciation of any mild backsliding, of which she might have been guilty, and himself cognizant. Her return to the village with the child, who had no visible father, and no mother, unless the guesses of the gossips were correct, had afforded him opportunity for a most masterly peroration. But he belched forth his greatest eloquence on that Sunday morning, when she had the temerity to bring into the sacred confines of his sanctuary this fatherless boy, for whose sake she had chosen to live a lonely life. If his prayer of that morning proved efficacious, then surely the infant was damned, and the woman's soul consigned to endless Purgatory. Thus the day to which Leon recurred in thought, was a landmark in another life beside his, and I have turned aside for a moment to relate this incident, that the character of Miss Grath may be better comprehended, for in spite of all that she had suffered through the animosity of the preacher, she had never omitted attendance at church, when it was a physical possibility for her to get there. It must be true that some of her determination and will descended from her to the boy, because association means more than heredity.
The next occurrence in his life, which now occupied his thoughts, was a day long after, when he was nearing his twelfth year. He was off on a hunting expedition, and had climbed a mountain. Careless in leaping from crag to crag, he landed upon a loose boulder, which rolled from under his feet, so that he was thrown. In falling, his foot twisted, and a moment later, intense pain made him aware that he could not walk upon it. For four hours he slowly, but pluckily, dragged himself down the mountain, and at last reached home. It so chanced that a celebrated physician from New York was spending a vacation in the neighborhood, attracted perhaps by the brooks, which were full of fish. This man was Dr. Emanuel Medjora, and having heard of the boy's hurt, he voluntarily visited the lonely farm-house, and attended upon him so skilfully that Leon soon was well.
Just why the thought of Dr. Medjora should come to him at this time was a problem to Leon, but one upon which he did not dwell. After that summer, he had seen the Doctor again at various times, two or three years apart, always at vacation-time. But it was now three years since they had met.
Swiftly his thoughts passed along the years of his life, until they stopped for a moment, arrested by an incident worthy of being chronicled. I have said that Leon lay in his boat, face skyward, and allowed his bark to drift whither it would. Thus he had not noted his progress until a crunching sound startled him, and he became aware that his boat had found a landing-place, having grounded amidst the sands of a little cove, sheltered by a high rock and overhanging shrubbery. Forced thus from his abstraction into some cognizance of his whereabouts, Leon, without raising his head, merely became aware of the branches and leaves overhead, and peered through them. Almost in the midst of the green, he saw what seemed to be a brilliant but monstrous diamond, pendent from a branch. In the next instant he recognized that he was gazing upon Venus, the morning star, which had risen during his reverie, and now shone resplendent and most beautiful. It was just at this moment, that the incident occurred to which I have alluded. Suddenly it seemed to him that the whole of his surroundings were familiar. Everything had occurred before. His boat drifting into the cove, the shrubbery overhead, and Venus in the sky; all that he now realized, in the most minute detail, had held a place in his experience before. Such a phenomenon is not uncommon. All of us have been impressed similarly. Indeed, some Theosophists, trying to prove a previous life for man, have reverted to this well-known feeling, and have claimed that here is a recollection of a former visit to this earth. But Leon, young philosopher though he was, would have laughed in scorn at such an argument. He had considered this problem, and had solved it satisfactorily for himself. His explanation was thus. Man's brain is divided into two hemispheres. Usually they act co-ordinately, but it is possible that, at least momentarily, they may operate independently. It is a fact that the phenomenon under consideration seldom, or never occurs, except when the mind is greatly interested or occupied. Something, perhaps in itself the merest trifle, diverts the mind from the intensity of its attention. This diversion leads by a train of circumstances to a long-forgotten memory, and one hemisphere of the brain reverts to a moment in the past, the other continuing intent upon its surroundings. Within an infinitesimal period of time, a period too brief to be calculable, both hemispheres are again acting in unison. The abstraction has been so brief, and the cause of it is so dimly defined, that the mind is oblivious of what has occurred, except that, as the diverted hemisphere again takes cognizance of its previous thoughts, and again recognizes the environment of the present, the phenomenon of a dual experience is noted. Of course the scene is identically the same as that which is remembered, because it is the same scene. And the previous experience will impress the individual as having occurred long ago, in exact proportion to the date of that circumstance to which one hemisphere has reverted.
Therefore, Leon did not, at this time, speculate upon the mystery, which he thought he understood, but he welcomed the advent of a long-sought opportunity, to trace out the cause of such an abstraction, so fleeting in its nature.
He was occupied thus, for half an hour, but at length believed that he had analyzed the experience. The turning-point, at which he had been diverted, was when he first recognized Venus. And now he remembered that occasion when he had gone upon a journey. Away from his home for the first time in his life, he felt many sensations which I need not record here. But one amusement had been to sit at night studying the stars, and from them fixing the position of the buildings on the home farm, in relation to those where he was then abiding. One evening, when watching Venus, then the evening star, he was looking across a pool of water, and trying to imagine himself back on Massabesic, with the same planet setting behind the western hill, when, turning his head, he saw a young and beautiful girl standing near him. As his eyes abandoned the planet for the woman, he was startled by the thought that the goddess had been re-embodied. A moment later, the girl asked him for some information relating to the nearest way to her home, which he gave, and she walked on. He had never seen her since, nor had he thought of her again. But now, having analyzed his thoughts and traced them back from the star to that girl, her face thus summoned seemed to take the place of the planet in the heavens, and to gaze down upon him with an assuring smile, which somehow made him feel that the future might hold something for him after all.
What that something might be, he did not even try to guess. Therefore, you must not adopt the conclusion that Leon thus suddenly fell in love with a girl whose face had been seen by him but once. No idea within his mind, connected with that face, was now coupled with a thought of her as an earthly being. He merely summoned up the image of a lovely being, and felt himself refreshed, and hope returning.
A few moments later the twilight brightened and the first red border of the sun, peeping over the tops of the trees, shed a warming ray upon Leon, thus awakened from his dreamy night into the first day of his manhood.