In surprise I perceived coming towards us a light spring wagon, in which rode one of my old acquaintances. Pleasure at the discovery led me to raise my hat, wave it around my head, and salute him even at the considerable distance that then separated us. I was annoyed at the look of curiosity that passed over his countenance, and not until the two vehicles had stopped side by side did it occur to me that I was unrecognized. I had been so engrossed in my companion's revelations, that I had forgotten my unfortunate physical condition.
I stretched out my hand, I leaned over almost into the other vehicle, and earnestly said:
"Do you not know me? Only a short time ago we sat and conversed side by side."
A look of bewilderment came over his features. "I have never seen you that I can recall," he answered.
My spirit sank within me. Could it be possible that I was really so changed? I begged him to try and recall my former self, giving my name. "I am that person," I added; but he, with an expression of countenance that told as plainly as words could speak that he considered me deranged, touched his horse, and drove on.
My companion broke the awkward silence. "Do you know that I perceived between you two men an unconscious display of mind-language, especially evident on your part? You wished with all the earnestness of your soul to bring yourself as you formerly appeared, before that man, and when it proved impossible, without a word from him, his mind exhibited itself to your more earnest intellect, and you realized that he said to himself, 'This person is a poor lunatic.' He told you his thoughts in mind-language, as plainly as words could have spoken, because the intense earnestness on your part quickened your perceptive faculties, but he could not see your mental state, and the pleading voice of the apparent stranger before him could not convince the unconcerned lethargic mind within him. I observed, however, in addition to what you noticed, that he is really looking for you. That is the object of his journey, and I learn that in every direction men are now spreading the news that you have been kidnapped and carried from your jail. However, we shall soon be in the village, and you will then hear more about yourself."
We rode in silence while I meditated on my remarkable situation. I could not resign myself without a struggle to my approaching fate, and I felt even yet a hope, although I seemed powerless in the hands of destiny. Could I not, by some method, convince my friends of my identity? I determined, forgetting the fact that my guide was even then reading my mind, that upon the next opportunity I would pursue a different course.
"It will not avail," my companion replied. "You must do one of two things: you will voluntarily go with me, or you will involuntarily go to an insane asylum. Neither you nor I could by any method convince others that the obviously decrepit old man beside me was but yesterday hale, hearty, young and strong. You will find that you can not prove your identity, and as a friend, one of the great brotherhood to which you belong, a craft that deals charitably with all men and all problems, I advise you to accept the situation as soon as possible after it becomes evident to your mind that you are lost to former affiliations, and must henceforth be a stranger to the people whom you know. Take my advice, and cease to regret the past and cheerfully turn your thoughts to the future. On one side of you the lunatic asylum is open; on the other, a journey into an unknown region, beyond the confines of any known country. On the one hand, imprisonment and subjection, perhaps abuse and neglect; on the other, liberation of soul, evolution of faculty, and a grasping of superior knowledge that is denied most men—yes, withheld from all but a few persons of each generation, for only a few, unknown to the millions of this world's inhabitants, have passed over the road you are to travel. Just now you wished to meet your jailer of a few hours ago; it is a wise conclusion, and if he does not recognize you, I ask in sincerity, who will be likely to do so? We will drive straight to his home; but, here he comes."
Indeed, we were now in the village, where my miserable journey began, and perhaps by chance—it seems that it could not have been otherwise—my former jailer actually approached us.
"If you please," said my companion, "I will assist you to alight from the wagon, and you may privately converse with him."
Our wagon stopped, my guide opened a conversation with the jailer, saying that his friend wished to speak with him, and then assisted me to alight and retired a distance. I was vexed at my infirmities, which embarrassed me most exasperatingly, but which I knew were artificial; my body appeared unwilling although my spirit was anxious; but do what I could to control my actions, I involuntarily behaved like a decrepit old man. However, my mind was made up; this attempt to prove my personality should be the last; failure now would prove the turning point, and I would go willingly with my companion upon the unknown journey if I could not convince the jailer of my identity.
Straightening myself before the expectant jailer, who, with a look of inquisitiveness, regarded me as a stranger, I asked if he knew my former self, giving my name.
"That I do," he replied, "and if I could find him at this moment I would be relieved of a load of worry."
"Would you surely know him if you met him?" I asked.
"Assuredly," he replied; " and if you bring tidings of his whereabouts, as your bearing indicates, speak, that I may rid myself of suspicion and suspense."
Calling the jailer by name, I asked him if my countenance did not remind him of the man he wished to find.
"Not at all."
"Listen, does not my voice resemble that of your escaped prisoner?"
"Not in the least."
With a violent effort I drew my form as straight as possible, and stood upright before him, with every facial muscle strained to its utmost, in a vain endeavor to bring my wrinkled countenance to its former smoothness, and with the energy that a drowning man might exert to grasp a passing object, I tried to control my voice, and preserve my identity by so doing, vehemently imploring him, begging him to listen to my story. "I am the man you seek; I am the prisoner who, a few days ago, stood in the prime of life before you. I have been spirited away from you by men who are leagued with occult forces, which extend forward among hidden mysteries, into forces which illuminate the present, and reach backward into the past unseen. These persons, by artful and damnable manipulations under the guidance of a power that has been evolved in the secrecy of past ages, and transmitted only to a favored few, have changed the strong man you knew into the one apparently feeble, who now confronts you. Only a short period has passed since I was your unwilling captive, charged with debt, a trifling sum; and then, as your sullen prisoner, I longed for freedom. Now I plead before you, with all my soul, I beg of you to take me back to my cell. Seal your doors, and hold me again, for your dungeon will now be to me a paradise."
I felt that I was becoming frantic, for with each word I realized that the jailer became more and more impatient and annoyed. I perceived that he believed me to be a lunatic. Pleadings and entreaties were of no avail, and my eagerness rapidly changed into despair until at last I cried: "If you will not believe my words, I will throw myself on the mercy of my young companion. I ask you to consider his testimony, and if he says that I am not what I assert myself to be, I will leave my home and country, and go with him quietly into the unknown future."
He turned to depart, but I threw myself before him, and beckoned the young man who, up to this time, had stood aloof in respectful silence. He came forward, and addressing the jailer, called him by name, and corroborated my story. Yes, strange as it sounded to me, he reiterated the substance of my narrative as I had repeated it. " Now, you will believe it," I cried in ecstacy;" now you need no longer question the facts that I have related."
Instead, however, of accepting the story of the witness, the jailer upbraided him.
"This is a preconcerted arrangement to get me into ridicule or further trouble. You two have made up an incredible story that on its face is fit only to be told to men as crazy or designing as yourselves. This young man did not even overhear your conversation with me, and yet he repeats his lesson without a question from me as to what I wish to learn of him."
"He can see our minds," I cried in despair.
"Crazier than I should have believed from your countenance," the jailer replied. "Of all the improbable stories imaginable, you have attempted to inveigle me into accepting that which is most unreasonable. If you are leagued together intent on some swindling scheme, I give you warning now that I am in no mood for trifling. Go your way, and trouble me no more with this foolish scheming, which villainy or lunacy of some description must underlie." He turned in anger and left us.
"It is as I predicted," said my companion; "you are lost to man. Those who know you best will turn from you soonest. I might become as wild as you are, in your interest, and only serve to make your story appear more extravagant. In human affairs men judge and act according to the limited knowledge at command of the multitude. Witnesses who tell the truth are often, in our courts of law, stunned, as you have been, by the decisions of a narrow-minded jury. Men sit on juries with little conception of the facts of the case that is brought before them; the men who manipulate them are mere tools in unseen hands that throw their several minds in antagonisms unexplainable to man. The judge is unconsciously often a tool of his own errors or those of others. One learned judge unties what another has fastened, each basing his views on the same testimony, each rendering his decision in accordance with law derived from the same authority. Your case is that condition of mind that men call lunacy. You can see much that is hidden from others because you have become acquainted with facts that their narrow education forbids them to accept, but, because the majority is against you, they consider you mentally unbalanced. The philosophy of men does not yet comprehend the conditions that have operated on your person, and as you stand alone, although in the right, all men will oppose you, and you must submit to the views of a misguided majority. In the eyes of a present generation you are crazy. A jury of your former peers could not do else than so adjudge you, for you are not on the same mental plane, and I ask, will you again attempt to accomplish that which is as impossible as it would be for you to drink the waters of Seneca Lake at one draught? Go to those men and propose to drain that lake at one gulp, and you will be listened to as seriously as when you beg your former comrades to believe that you are another person than what you seem. Only lengthened life is credited with the production of physical changes that under favorable conditions, are possible of accomplishment in a brief period, and such testimony as you could bring, in the present state of human knowledge, would only add to the proof of your lunacy."
"I see, I see," I said; "and I submit. Lead on, I am ready. Whatever my destined career may be, wherever it may be, it can only lead to the grave."
"Do not be so sure of that," was the reply.
I shuddered instinctively, for this answer seemed to imply that the stillness of the grave would be preferable to my destiny.
We got into the wagon again, and a deep silence followed as we rode along, gazing abstractedly on the quiet fields and lonely farm-houses. Finally we reached a little village. Here my companion dismissed the farmer, our driver, paying him liberally, and secured lodgings in a private family (I believe we were expected), and after a hearty supper we retired. From the time we left the jailer I never again attempted to reveal my identity. I had lost my interest in the past, and found myself craving to know what the future had in store for me.