The Man with the Black Feather/Chapter 13



At hearing that he was at the house of M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox, Theophrastus was somewhat reassured, for he had heard both Marceline and Adolphe speak of him with reverence as a leading member of the Pneumatic Club. Theophrastus had chanced to hear of the Pneumatic Club; and he had caused Marceline to become a member of it (he was at the time too busy to join it himself) under the impression that it was the chief social club of the most prominent people in the Rubber Industry. But of course everybody knows that Pneumatology is that part of metaphysics which deals with the soul, in Greek Pneuma; and the Pneumatics are those versed in this science, which has nothing whatever to do with the elastic and resilient substance extracted by incision from a tree, which was named by the benighted savages who discovered it, the Caoutchouc.

Marceline did not trouble the busy hwe|phrastus|Theophrastus}} with her discovery that the Pneumatic Club was a branch of Spiritualism and not of the Rubber Industry. She contented herself with inviting M. Adolphe Lecamus to join it also; and both of them became devout admirers and disciples of that great expert in the Occult, M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox. It is no wonder that, on learning from Marceline of the painful affair of the ears of Signor Petito, M. Lecamus should have urged instant recourse to that great expert, to learn the proper methods of dealing with a reincarnate soul of such unfortunate antecedents.

Adolphe looked at Theophrastus with deep commiseration in his eyes, as if his conversation with the Mage had given him reason for dismay.

"Come along, Marceline is here; and we are going to introduce you to a good friend," he said sombrely.

He led the way down the corridor, opened a door, and ushered Theophrastus into a large, dim room. At once his eyes were attracted by a marvellous light which fell on the noblest, gentlest, and most beautiful face of a man he had ever seen. The light was marvellous because that striking figure did not seem to receive it, but to diffuse it. When it moved, the light moved with it; it was a figure and a torch. Before this torch knelt Marceline, her hands joined as if in supplication; and on her fell some of the rays from this gracious, almost divine figure.

Then Theophrastus heard a friendly voice, a male voice, but sweeter far than the voice of any woman, which said, "Come to me without fear."

Theophrastus still gazed in wonder at the kind of astral light which was diffused from the figure of the Mage, the light which the painter James Tissot has succeeded in reproducing, in an engraving of great beauty, from a photograph of a mediumistic apparition communicated to the Congress of Spiritualists of 1910 by Doctor Macnab. In this drawing, beside the materialised figure of a young girl, stands M. Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox and his light.

Theophrastus gazed silently upon the radiant visage of M. Eliphas de la Nox (it would be unfair on the ink of the printer to give him his full name every time I mention him). Then, since he felt a sudden strong sympathy with this radiant being into whose presence he had been so suddenly introduced, in spite of having found him in a frame he thought almost diabolic, he plucked up courage and resolved to learn the meaning of all the strange things he had seen.

"I don't know where I am," he said somewhat plaintively. "But since I see my friend Adolphe and my wife Marceline with you, I feel reassured. I should like very much to know your name."

"My friend, I am called Eliphas de Saint-Elme de Taillebourg de la Nox."

"You 're really called all that?" said Theophrastus, who was beginning to recover his spirits.

The radiant being bowed his head gravely.

"Well, after all, there's nothing very astonishing in that," said Theophrastus. "My name, my real name, my actual family name, is Cartouche; and for a long time everybody has believed that it was a nickname."

"Your name is not Cartouche; it is Theophrastus Longuet," said M. Eliphas de la Nox with gentle firmness.

"The one does not prevent the other," said Theophrastus, who better than anyone else knew what he was talking about, quite logically.

"I beg your pardon," said M. Eliphas de la Nox, with the same gentle firmness. "You must not cherish this confusion of mind. Once upon a time your name was Cartouche, but now it is Theophrastus Longuet. Understand that: you are Theophrastus Longuet. My friend, listen to me carefully, as you would listen to a physician who was going to heal you. For you are ill, my friend, very ill, exactly because you believe you are Cartouche, when you are really Theophrastus Longuet. I appeal to all the simplicity of your soul."

"That's all right," said Theophrastus. "I like simple things myself; so I dislike very much, very much indeed, the way by which one comes to see you, through a labyrinth of passages, with skeletons hanging up in them. What's he doing in your house, by the way, that skeleton, instead of resting quietly on Saint-Chaumont Hill? I recognised him at once. They were dragging him to the charnel-house at the Gallows of Montfaucon the very day of my marriage with my dear wife Marie-Antoinette Neron, when we were having our wedding breakfast at the Chopinettes. Beaulieu and Old Easy-Going were with us. At that epoch, my dear M. Eliphas de Taillepot—".

"Eliphas de Taillebourg," corrected Adolphe in a somewhat shocked tone.

"At that epoch—my friend Adolphe, who's as serious as a donkey, will tell you so—they no longer hung people at the Gallows of Montfaucon, but they used to throw into the charnel-house of those gallows the remains of people whom they hung elsewhere. That's how it was that this poor Gastelard, whose skeleton I recognised just now, was dragged to the charnel-house after having been hung in the Place de Grève. Gastelard, my dear M. St. Elmo's-Fire—"

"De Saint-Elme," M. Lecamus corrected him again.

"My dear M. de Saint-Elme, Gastelard was n't up to much, a poor beggar full of imagination, who, having one day disguised himself as a King's deputy, demanded his sword from a gentleman, showing him at the same time an Order of Committal. The gentleman believed that he was being duly arrested, and handed over his sword, the hilt of which was gold and the most beautiful you ever saw. The story ended with Gastelard at the end of a rope. But I 'll be hanged, my dear M. de l'Equinox—"

"De la Nox," insisted Adolphe.

"De la Nose, my dear M. de la Nose, I 'll be hanged if I ever expected that I should one day find his skeleton in a house in Huchette Street!"

The Mage, motionless and silent, regarded Theophrastus and his talk with an attention nothing could divert.

"I have never laughed anywhere so much as at Saint-Chaumont Hill, between Chopinettes mill and Cock mill," said Theophrastus with the same garrulous cheerfulness. "Chopinettes tavern was there; it had taken the place of the tavern François Villon was so fond of, where for centuries all the cullies and doxies of Paris used to come on hanging-days to carouse. It was between Chopinettes mill, Cock mill and the Gallows of Montfaucon that I buried my treasures; and if you have a plan of old Paris, my dear M. Elephant de Taillepot de St. Elmo's Fire de la Nose—"

Theophrastus had not quite come to the end of his host's name, when, of a sudden, the darkness fled; and the room and all in it shone clear in the brilliant light of day.

He looked round him with manifest satisfaction, at his wife, who was muttering a prayer, at his friend Adolphe, who was on the verge of tears, at the bookshelves, which practically walled the room, and at M. Eliphas de la Nox, who smiled at him with gentle compassion. The Mage had lost his supernatural air; his cloak of astral light had gone; and if his features had still their sublime and ineffable pallor, he none the less looked a man like anybody else.

"I like this a good deal better," said Theophrastus with a deep sigh of relief.

The Mage raised his hand. "No: I will not give you a map of old Paris to look at, though I have them of every age," he said. "You have nothing to do with old Paris. You are Theophrastus Longuet; and we are in the year 1911."

"That's all very well. But it's a question of my treasure, treasures which belong to me," said Theophrastus stubbornly. "And I have every right to look in a map of old Paris at the place where I formerly buried my treasures, in order that I may see on a map of new Paris where I shall have to hunt again. It's clear—"

The Mage interrupted him, saying to M. Lecamus, "I have often seen here crises of Karma; but it has never been my privilege to study one of such force."

"Oh, but so far you've seen nothing—nothing at all!" cried Theophrastus.

The Mage reflected a moment; then he took Theophrastus to a map of the Paris of to-day which hung on the wall of this great library, and pointed out to him the exact spot on which had stood Chopinettes mill, Cock mill, and the Gallows of Montfaucon. Then he laid his finger in the middle of the triangle they formed, and said: "Here is where you must hunt, my friend, to recover your treasures. But all this quarter has been altered again and again; and I very much doubt whether your treasures will still be found where you buried them. I have shown you the spot on a modern map, to clear your mind of the matter. For, my friend, you must clear your mind. You must not dwell on your treasures. You must not live in the past. It is a crime. You must live in the present, that is to say, for the Future. My friend, you must drive out Cartouche, because Cartouche is no more. It is Theophrastus Longuet who is."

The Mage pronounced these words in a tone of the most solemn earnestness. Theophrastus smiled at him sadly, and said: "I'm very much obliged to you for your interest in me; and I will not hide from you the fact that I find you extremely sympathetic, in spite of your skeletons and the odd words which crawl about your walls. You must be very learned indeed, to judge from all these shelves full of books. And you must be very good-hearted, for you have certainly treated me with the greatest kindness; but I tell you—and sorry I am to say it—that you can do nothing for me. For unfortunately, my dear sir, you think that I'm ill; but I'm not ill at all. If I were ill, I 've no doubt that you'd cure me, but one does n't cure a man who's not ill. You say to me, you must drive out Cartouche. It's a grand thing to say, splendid; but I don't believe it, my dear M. Elephant de Brandebourg de St. Elmo's Fire de la Box." But the Mage took his hand, and said with unchanged kindliness:

"None the less Cartouche must be driven out, for if we do not succeed in driving him out, we shall have to kill him; and I will not conceal from you, my dear M. Longuet, the fact that that is an exceedingly difficult operation."

"When the Man of Light," says Theophrastus in his memoirs, "undertook to relieve me of this obsession by Cartouche, which was not, alas! a matter of imagination but a very real thing, I could only smile pitifully at his vast conceit. But when I understood that he proposed to drive him out by the sole miracle of the reason, I thought it was time to serve the Mage up hot at Charenton lunatic asylum.

"But presently, when he had explained the matter more fully to me, and I began to understand his theory and method, I found myself in full agreement with him and ready to serve his purpose of driving Cartouche out of me by the sole miracle of the reason. Indeed I came in the end to appreciate the vast abyss which separated the Man of Light from my friend Adolphe, the vast abyss which will always separate the Man of Reason from the Learned Ape.

"First of all, he assured me that I had been Cartouche. He was assured of it. And furthermore it was the most natural thing in the world. He said he had scolded Adolphe for having presented my case to him as exceptional, when my case was the case of everybody. Of course, everybody has not been Cartouche. But everybody has been, before their existence of to-day, a good many other people, among whom may very well have been found persons every whit as bad as Cartouche.

"You understand the Man of Light: mine was an every-day case. Everybody has lived before living and will live again. He told me that it was 'The Law of Karma.' One is being born all the time; one never dies. And when one dies, it is that one is being born again, and so on from the beginning of beginnings!

"It is understood that at each birth the personality differs from the preceding and succeeding personalities, but each is only a modification of the divine and spiritual ego. These different personalities are in a way only the rings in the infinite chain of life which constitutes throughout the ages our Immortal Individuality.

"And then the Man of Light told me that when one has grasped this immense truth, one should not be astonished that some of the events of to-day recall some of the events of long-ago. But in order to live according to the law of wisdom one should live in the present and never look backward. I had looked backward too much. My spirit, badly guided by M. Lecamus, had during the last few weeks been wholly occupied with the long-ago; and undoubtedly, if that had gone on, I should soon have been reduced to a state dangerously near to that of madness. I ought to be no more astonished at having had another state of soul two hundred years ago than I ought to be astonished at having had another state of soul twenty years ago. Was it that the Theophrastus of to-day had any connection with the Theophrastus of twenty years ago? Certainly not. The Theophrastus of to-day ignored that young man; he even disapproved of him. Would it not be stupid indeed to devote all my faculties to reviving the Theophrastus of twenty years ago? Therefore the great mistake I had made had been only to live for Cartouche, because I had chanced to remember that I had once been Cartouche.

"I tell you that I found the words of M. Elephant de la Box indeed refreshing. They did me a world of good.

"He also told me other things which I shall remember if I live to be a thousand years old. He told me that what are called 'Vocations' in the men of to-day are only latent revelations of their past lives; that what is called 'Facility' is only a retrospective sympathy for objects with which they are better acquainted than with anything else, because they made a more careful study of them before this actual life; and that is the only explanation of it.

"Thereupon he pressed me to his bosom, as a father embraces his child; he breathed upon my eyes and brow his healing breath; and he asked me if I was now persuaded of this truth, and realised that to live happily it was necessary to bear in mind our condition of perpetual change, and that by doing so we should learn to live in the Present and to understand that the whole of time belonged to us.

"I wept with joy, and my dear wife wept with joy, and Adolphe wept with joy. I assured the Man of Light that I understood and believed, that I was no longer astonished that I had been Cartouche, though I was somewhat distressed by the fact, but that it was, after all, so natural that I should never again give it a moment's thought. I cried:

"'Be at ease! Let us all be at ease! Let us live in the Present! Cartouche is driven out!'

"Thereupon Marceline asked what time it was; and Adolphe answered that it was eleven o'clock. I pulled out my onion and saw that it was half-past eleven. Then, since my watch keeps perfect time, I declared that it was half-past eleven.

"'No. I beg your pardon, but it's eleven o'clock,' said Adolphe.

"'You can cut off my finger if it is n't half-past eleven!" I cried; for I was sure of my watch.

"But the Man of Light looked at his watch and assured me that it was only eleven o'clock. My friend Adolphe was right; and I was sorry for it—on account of my finger. I am an honourable man and an honest manufacturer. I have always kept my word; and no bill of mine has ever been dishonoured. I did not hesitate. Could I have done otherwise?

"'Very well,' I said to Adolphe. 'I owe you a finger.'

"And seizing a small stone tomahawk, which lay on the desk of the Man of Light and was evidently used as a paper-weight, I raised it in the air, and was bringing it down on the little finger of my left hand which I had stuck well out on the corner of the desk—I had the right to give Adolphe the little finger of my left hand; for I had only said to him, 'You can cut off my finger,' without stipulating which finger; and I chose the finger the loss of which would inconvenience me the least. My little finger then would infallibly have been cut off, had not the Man of Light caught my wrist in a grip of steel and held it firmly.

"He bade me put down the tomahawk. I answered that I would not put down the tomahawk till I had cut off my finger which belonged to Adolphe.

"Adolphe exclaimed that my finger was of no use to him, and I could keep it. Marceline joined her entreaties to his, and begged me to keep my finger, since Adolphe made me a present of it. But I answered him that there was no reason for him to make me presents at this season of the year; and I answered her that she knew nothing at all about business.

"Then M. Eliphraste de l'Equinox pointed out that I was not observing the conditions of the contract: I had said, 'You can cut off my finger'; consequently it was the privilege of Adolphe to cut off my finger.

"I admired this exact logic, which indeed never failed him; and I put down my tomahawk.

"I was wrong to put down my tomahawk in that house in Huchette Street; for they flung themselves upon me, and the Man of Light cried:

"'Come on! It's too late! The only thing to do is to kill him!'"