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Professor Fargo by By Henry James


I.

 

THE little town of P——is off the railway, and reached by a coach drive of twenty-five miles, which the primitive condition of the road makes a trial to the flesh, and the dullness of the landscape a weariness to the spirit. It was therefore not balm to my bruises, physical or intellectual, to find, on my arrival, that the gentleman for whose sake I had undertaken the journey had just posted off in a light buggy for a three days holiday. After venting my disappointment in a variety of profitless expletives, I decided that the only course worthy of the elastic philosophy of a commercial traveller was to take a room at the local tavern and await his return. P——was obviously not an exhilarating place of residence, but I had outweathered darker hours, and I reflected that having, as the phrase is, a bone to pick with my correspondent, a little accumulated irritation would arm me for the combat. Moreover, I had been rattling about for three months by rail; I was mortally tired, and the prospect of spending a few days beyond earshot of the steam whistle was not unwelcome. A certain audible, rural hush seemed to hang over the little town, and there was nothing apparently to prevent my giving it the whole of my attention. I lounged awhile in the tavern porch, but my presence seemed only to deepen the spell of silence on that customary group of jaundiced ruminants who were tilting their chairs hard by. I measured thrice, in its length, the dusty plank sidewalk of the main street, counted the hollyhocks in the front yards, and read the names on the little glass door plates; and finally, in despair, I visited the cemetery. Although we were at the end of September, the day was hot, and this youthful institution boasted but a scanty growth of funereal umbrage. No weeping willow, no dusky cypress offered a friendly shelter to the meditative visitor. The yellow grass and the white tombstones glared in the hot light, and though I felt very little merrier than a graveyard ghost, I staid hardly longer than one who should have mistaken his hour. But I am fond of reading country epitaphs, and I promised myself to come back when the sun was lower. On my way back to the inn I found myself, on a lately opened cross street, face to face with the town hall, and pausing approached its threshold with hopes of entertainment scarcely less ardent than those which, during a journey abroad, had guided my steps toward some old civic palace of France or Italy. There was, of course, no liveried minion to check my advance, and I made my way unchallenged into the large, bare room which occupied the body of the edifice. It was the accustomed theatre of town meetings, caucuses, and other solemn services, but it seemed just now to have been claimed for profaner uses. An itinerant lecturer, of a boisterous type, was unpacking his budget and preparing his mise en scène. This seemed to consist simply of a small table and three chairs in a row, and of a dingy specimen of our national standard, to whose awkward festoons, suspended against the blank wall at the rear of the platform, the orator in person was endeavouring to impart a more artistic grace. Another personage on the floor was engaged in scrawling the date of the performance, in red chalk, upon a number of printed handbills. He silently thrust one of these documents at me as I passed, and I saw with some elation that I had a resource for my evening. The latter half of the page consisted of extracts from village newspapers, setting forth the merits of the entertainments. The headings alone, as I remember them, ran somewhat in this fashion:

 

a message from the spirit world.

the higher mathematics made easy to

ladies and children.

a new revelation! a new science! great moral and scientific combination.

professor fargo, the infallible waking medium and magician, clairvoyant, prophet, and seer!

colonel gifford, the famous lightning calculator and mathematical reformer!

 

This was the substance of the programme, but there were a great many incidental fioriture which I have forgotten. By the time I had mastered them, however, for the occasion, the individual who was repairing the tattered flag, turned round, perceived me, and showed me a countenance which could belong only to an infallible waking medium. It was not, indeed, that Professor Fargo had the abstracted and emaciated aspect which tradition attributes to prophets and visionaries. On the contrary, the fleshly element in his composition seemed, superficially, to enjoy a luxurious preponderance over the spiritual. He was tall and corpulent, and wore an air of aggressive robustness. A mass of reddish hair was tossed back from his forehead in a leonine fashion, and a lustrous auburn beard diffused itself complacently over an expansive but by no means immaculate shirt front. He was dressed in a black evening suit, of a tarnished elegance, and it was in keeping with the festal pattern of his garments, that on the right forefinger of a large, fat hand, he should wear an immense turquoise ring. His intimate connection with the conjuring class was stamped upon his whole person; but to a superficial glance he might have seemed a representative of its grosser accomplishments. You could have fancied him, in spangled fleshings, looking down the lions mouth, or cracking the ringmasters whip at the circus, while Mlle. Josephine jumped through the hoops. It was his eyes, when you fairly met them, that proved him an artist on a higher line. They were eyes which had peeped into stranger places than even lions mouths. Their pretension, I know, was to pierce the veil of futurity; but if this was founded, I could only say that the vision of Ezekiel and Jeremiah was but another name for consummate Yankee shrewdness. They were, in a single word, the most impudent pair of eyes I ever beheld, and it was the especial sign of their impudence that they seemed somehow to undertake to persuade you of their disinterested benevolence. Being of a fine reddish brown colour, it was probable that several young women that evening would pronounce them magnificent. Perceiving, apparently, that I had not the rustic physiognomy of a citizen of P——, Professor Fargo deemed my patronage worth securing. He advanced to the cope of the platform with his hands in his pockets, and gave me a familiar nod.

“Mind you come to-night, young man!” he said, jocosely imperious.

“Very likely I shall,” I answered. “Anything in the world to help me through an evening at P——.”

“Oh, you won't want your money back,” the Professor rejoined. “Mine is a first-class entertainment; none of your shuffling break-downs. We are perfect, my friends and I, in our respective parts. If you are fond of a good, stiff, intellectual problem, well give you something to think about.” The Professor spoke very slowly and benignantly, and his full, sonorous voice rolled away through the empty hall. He evidently liked to hear it himself; he balanced himself on his toes and surveyed the scene of his impending exploits. “I don't blow my own trumpet,” he went on; “I'm a modest man; you'll see for yourself what I can do. But I should like to direct your attention to my friend the Colonel. He's a rare old gentleman to find in a travelling show! The most remarkable old gentleman, perhaps, that ever addressed a promiscuous audience. You needn't be afraid of the higher mathematics; its all made as pretty as a game of billiards. Its his own daughter does the sums. We don't put her down in the bills, for motives of delicacy; but Ill tell you for your private satisfaction that she is an exquisite young creature of seventeen.”

It was not every day that I found myself in familiar conversation with a prophet, and the opportunity for obtaining a glimpse of the inner mechanism of the profession was too precious to be neglected. I questioned the Professor about his travels, his expenses, his profits, and the mingled emotions of the itinerant showman's lot; and then, taking the bull by the horns, I asked him whether, between ourselves, an accomplished medium had not to be also a tolerable conjurer? He leaned his head on one side and stood stroking his beard, and looking at me between lids shrewdly half closed. Then he gave a little dry chuckle, which expressed, at my choice, compassion either for my disbelief in his miracles or for my faith in his urbanity.

“I confess frankly,” I said, “that I'm a sceptic. I don't believe in messages from the spirit world. I don't believe that even the depressing prospect of immortality is capable of converting people who talked plain sense here on earth into the authors of the inflated platitudes which people of your profession pretend to transmit from them. I don't believe people who have expressed themselves for a lifetime in excellent English can ever be content with conversation by raps on the dinner table. I don't believe that you know anything more about the future world than you do about the penal code of China. My impression is that you don't believe so yourself. I can hardly expect you, of course, to take the wind out of your own sails. What I should vastly like you to do is, to tell me viva voce, in so many words, that your intentions are pure and your miracles genuine.”

The Professor remained silent, still caressing his prophetic beard. At last, in a benevolent drawl, “Have you got any dear friend in the spirit land?” he asked.

“I don't know what you call the spirit land,” I answered. “Several of my friends have died.”

“Would you like to see 'em?” the Professor promptly demanded.

“No, I confess I shouldn't!”

The Professor shook his head.

“You've not a rich nature,” he rejoined blandly.

“It depends on what you call rich. I possess on some points a wealth of curiosity. It would gratify me peculiarly to have you say outright, standing there on your own platform, that you're an honest man.”

It seemed to give him pleasure to trifle with my longing for this sensation. “I'll give you leave,” he said, for all answer, “to tie my hands into the tightest knot you can invent—-and then I'll make your great-grandfather come in and stop the clock. You know I couldn't stop a clock, perched up on a mantel shelf five feet high, with my heels.”

“I don't know,” said I. “I fancy you're very clever.”

“Cleverness has nothing to do with. it. I've great magnetism.”

“You'd magnetize my great-grandfather down from heaven?”

“Yes, sir, if I could establish communication. You'll see to-night what I can do. I'll satisfy you. If I don't, I shall be happy to give you a private sitting. I'm also a healing medium. You don't happen to have a toothache? I'd set you down there and pull it right out, as I'd pull off your boot.”

In compliment to this possibility, I could only make him my bow. His, at least, was a rich nature. I bade him farewell, with the assurance that, sceptic as I was, I would applaud him impartially in the evening. I had reached the top of the hall, on my way out, when I heard him give a low, mellifluous whistle. I turned round, and he beckoned, to me to return. I walked back, and he leaned forward from the platform, uplifting his stout forefinger. “I simply desire to remark,” he said, “that I'm an honest man!”

On my return to the hotel I found that my impatience for the Professors further elucidation of his honesty made the interval look long. Fortune, however, assisted me to traverse it at an elastic pace. Rummaging idly on a bookshelf in the tavern parlour, I found, amid a pile of farmers almanacs and Methodist tracts, a tattered volume of “Don Quixote”. I repaired to my room, tilted back my chair, and communed deliciously with the ingenious hidalgo. Here was “magnetism" superior even to that of Professor Fargo. It proved so effective that I lost all note of time, and, at last on looking at my watch, perceived that dinner must have been over for an hour. Of “service” at this unsophisticated hostelry there was but a rigidly democratic measure, and if I chose to cultivate a too elegant absence of eagerness for beefsteak pie and huckleberry pudding, the young lady in long, tight ringlets and short sleeves, who administered these delicacies in the dining-room, was altogether too haughty a spirit to urge them on my attention. So I sat alone and ate them cold. After dinner I returned for an hour to La Mancha, and then strolled forth, according to my mornings vow, to see the headstones in the cemetery cast longer shadows. I was disappointed in the epitaphs; they were posterior to the age of theological naiveté. The cemetery covered the two opposed sides of a hill, and on walking up to the ridge and looking over it, I discovered that I was not the only visitor. Two persons had chosen the spot for a quiet talk. One of them was a young girl, dressed in black, and seated on a headstone, with her face turned toward me. In spite of her attitude, however, she seemed not to perceive me, wrapt as she was in attention to her companion—-a tall, stout fellow, standing before her, with his back to me. They were at too great a distance for me to hear their talk, and indeed in a few minutes I began to fancy they were not speaking. Nevertheless, the young girls eyes remained fixed on the man's face; he was holding her spellbound by an influence best known to himself. She was very pretty. Her hat was off, and she was holding it in her lap; her lips were parted, and her eyes fixed intently on her companions face. Suddenly she gave a bright, quick smile, made a rapid gesture in the air, and laid her forefinger on her lips. The movement, and the manner of it, told her story. She was deaf and dumb, and the man had been talking to her with his fingers. I would willingly have looked at her longer, but I turned away in delicacy, and walked in another direction. As I was leaving the cemetery, however, I saw her advancing with her companion to take the path which led to the gate. The man's face was now turned to me, and I straightway recognized it, in spite of the high peaked white hat which surmounted it. It was natural enough, I suppose, to find Professor Fargo in a graveyard; as the simplest expedient for ascertaining what goes on beyond the tomb might seem to be to get as close as possible to the hither cope of it. Besides, if he was to treat the townsfolk to messages from their buried relatives, it was not amiss to get up a few names and dates by the perusal of the local epitaphs. As he passed me, however, and flourished his hand in the air by way of salutation, there was a fine absence in his glance of any admission that he had been caught cheating. This, too, was natural enough; what surprised me was that such a vulgar fellow should be mated with so charming a companion. She gave me as she passed the trustfully unshrinking glance of those poor mortals who are obliged to listen, as—-one may say,—-with their eyes. Her dress was scanty and simple, but there was delicacy in her mobile features. Who was she, and how had he got hold of her? After all, it was none of my business; but as they passed on, walking rather briskly, and I strolled after them, watching the Professor's ponderous tread and the gliding footfall of the young girl, I began to wonder whether he might not be right—-might not, in truth, have that about him which would induce the most venerable of my ancestors to revert from eternity and stop the clock.

II.

 

His handbills had done their office, and the Town Hall, when I entered it that evening, was filled with a solemnly expectant auditory. P——-was evidently for the evening a cluster of empty houses. While my companions scanned the stage for the shadow of coming events, I found ample pastime in perusing the social physiognomy of the town. A shadow presently appeared in the person of a stout young countryman, armed with an accordion, from which he extracted an ingenious variety of lamentable sounds. Soon after this mysterious prelude, the Professor marshalled out his forces. They consisted, first and foremost, of himself, his leonine chevelure, his black dress suit, and his turquoise ring, and then of an old gentleman who walked in gravely and stiffly, without the Professors portentous salaam to the audience, bearing on his arm a young girl in black. The Professor managed somehow, by pushing about the chairs, turning up the lamps, and giving a twist to the patriotic drapery in the background, to make his audience feel his presence very intimately. His assistants rested themselves tranquilly against the wall. It took me but a short time to discover that the young girl was none other than the companion of the Professors tour of inspection in the cemetery, and then I remembered that he had spoken in the morning of the gentleman who performed the mathematical miracles being assisted by his daughter. The young girls infirmity, and her pretty face, promised to impart a picturesque interest to this portion of the exhibition; but meanwhile I inferred from certain ill-suppressed murmurs, and a good deal of vigorous pantomime among the female spectators, that she was found wanting in the more immediate picturesqueness demanded of a young lady attached to a show. Her plain black dress found no favour; the admission fee had justified the expectation of a good deal of trimming and several bracelets. She, however, poor girl, sat indifferent in her place, leaning her head back rather wearily against the wall, and looking as if, were she disposed, she might count without trouble all the queer bonnets among her judges. Her father sat upright beside her, with a cane between his knees and his two hands crossed on the knob. He was a man of sixty-five—-tall, lean, pale, and serious. The lamp hanging above his head deepened the shadows on his face, and transformed it into a sort of pictorial mask. He was very bald, and his forehead, which was high and handsome, wore in the lamplight the gleam of old ivory. The sockets of his eyes were in deep shadow, and out of them his pupils gazed straight before him, with the glow of smouldering fire. His high-arched nose cast a long shadow over his mouth and chin, and two intensified wrinkles, beside his moustache, made him look strangely tragic. With his tragic look, moreover, he seemed strangely familiar. His daughter and the Professor I regarded as old friends; but where had I met this striking specimen of antique melancholy? Though his gaze seemed fixed, I imagined it was covertly wandering over the audience. At last it appeared to me that it met mine, and that its sombre glow emitted a spark of recognition of my extra-provincial and inferentially more discriminating character. The next moment I identified him—-he was Don Quixote in the flesh; Don Quixote, with his sallow Spanish colouring, his high-browed gentlemanly visage, his wrinkles, his moustache, and his sadness.

Professor Fargo's lecture was very bad. I had expected he would talk a good deal of nonsense, but I had imagined it would be cleverer nonsense. Very possibly there was a deeper cleverness in it than I perceived, and that, in his extreme shrewdness, he was giving his audience exactly what they preferred. It is an ascertained fact, I believe, that rural assemblies have a relish for the respectably ponderous, and an honest pride in the fact that they cannot be bored. The Professor, I suppose, felt the pulse of his listeners, and detected treasures of latent sympathy in their solemn, irresponsive silence. I should have said the performance was falling dead, but the Professor probably would have claimed that this was the rapture of attention and awe. He certainly kept very meagrely the promise of his grandiloquent programme, and gave us a pound of precept to a grain of example. His miracles were exclusively miracles of rhetoric. He discoursed upon the earth life and the summer land, and related surprising anecdotes of his intimacy with the inhabitants of the latter region; but to my disappointment, the evening passed away without his really bringing us face to face with a ghost. A number of prominent citizens were induced to step upon the platform and be magnetized, but the sturdy agricultural temperament of P——showed no great pliancy under the Professors manual blandishments. The attempt was generally a failure—-the only brilliant feature being the fine impudence with which the operator lodged the responsibility of the fiasco upon what he called his victims low development. With three or four young girls the thing was a trifle better. One of them closed her eyes and shivered; another had a fearful access of nervous giggling; another burst into tears, and was restored to her companions with an admonitory wink. As every one knew every one else and every one else's family history, some sensation was probably produced by half a dozen happy guesses as to the Christian names and last maladies of certain defunct town worthies. Another deputation of the prominent citizens ascended the platform and wrote the names of departed friends on small bits of paper, which they threw into a hat. The Professor then folded his arms and clutched his beard, as if he were invoking inspiration. At last he approached the young girl, who sat in the background, took her hand, and led her forward. She picked the papers out of the hat and held them up one by one, for the Professor to look at. There is no possible collusion, he said with a flourish, as he presented her to the audience. The young lady is a deaf mute! On a gesture of her companion she passed the paper to one of the contemplative grey heads who represented the scientific curiosity of P——, and he verified the Professors guess. The Professor risked an “Abijah” or a “Melinda,” and it turned out generally to be an “Ezekiel” or a “Hepzibah”. Three several times, however, the performers genius triumphed; whereupon, the audience not being up to the mark, he gave himself a vigorous round applause. He concluded with the admission that the spirits were shy before such a crowd, but that he would do much better for the ladies and gentlemen individually, if they would call on him at the hotel.

It was all terribly vulgar rubbish, and I was glad when it was over. While it lasted, the old gentleman behind continued to sit motionless, seeming neither to see, to hear, nor to understand. I wondered what he thought of it, and just what it cost his self-respect to give it the sanction of his presence. It seemed, indeed, as if mentally he were not present; as if by an intense effort he had succeeded in making consciousness a blank, and was awaiting his own turn in a kind of trance. Once only he moved when the Professor came and took his daughter by the hand. He gave an imperceptible start, controlled himself, then, dropping his hand a little, closed his eyes and kept them closed until she returned to his side. There was an intermission, during which the Professor walked about the platform, shaking his mane and wiping his forehead, and surveying the audience with an air of lofty benevolence, as if, having sown the seed, he was expecting to see it germinate on the spot. At last he rapped on the table and introduced the old gentleman—-Colonel Gifford, the Great Mathematical Magician and Lightning Calculator; after which he retreated in turn to the background—-if a gentleman with tossing mane and flowing beard, that turquoise ring, and generally expansive and importunate presence, could be said to be, under any circumstances, in the background. The old gentleman came forward and made his bow, and the young girl placed herself beside him, simply, unaffectedly, with her hands hanging and crossed in front of her—-with all the childish grace and serenity of Mignon in “Wilhelm Meister", as we see her grouped with the old harper. Colonel Gifford's performance gave me an exquisite pleasure, which I am bound to confess was quite independent of its intrinsic merits. These, I am afraid, were at once too numerous and too scanty to have made it a popular success. It was a very ingenious piece of scientific contrivance, but it was meagrely adapted to tickle the ears of the groundlings. If one had read it—-the substance of it in a handsomely printed pamphlet, under the lamp, of a wet evening when no one was likely to call, one would have been charmed at once with the quaint vivacity of the authors mode of statement, and with the unexpected agility of ones own intellect. But in spite of an obvious effort to commend himself to understandings more familiar with the rule of thump than with the differential calculus, Colonel Gifford remained benignantly but formidably unintelligible. He had devised—-so far as I understood it—-an extension of the multiplication table to enormous factors, by which he expected to effect a revolution in the whole science of accounts. There was the theory, which rather lost itself, thanks to his discursive fervour in the mists of the higher mathematics, and there was the practice, which, thanks to his daughters coöperation, was much more gracefully concrete. The interesting thing to me was the speakers personality, not his system. Although evidently a very positive old man, he had a singularly simple, unpretentious tone. His intensity of faith in the supreme importance of his doctrine gave his manner a sort of reverential hush. The echoes of Professor Fargo's windy verbiage increased the charms of his mild sincerity. He spoke in a feeble, tremulous voice, which every now and then quavered upward with excitement, and then subsided into a weary, plaintive cadence. He was an old gentleman of a single idea, but his one idea was a religion. It was impossible not to feel a kindness for him, and imagine that he excited among his auditors something of the vague good will—-half pity and half reverence—-that uncorrupted souls entertain for those neat, keen-eyed, elderly people who are rumoured to have strange ways and say strange things—-to be “cracked,” in short, like a fine bit of porcelain which will hold together only so long as you don't push it about. But it was upon the young girl, when once she had given them a taste of her capacity, that they bestowed their frankest admiration. Now that she stood forward in the bright light, I could observe the character of her prettiness. It was no brilliant beauty, but a sort of meagre, attenuated, angular grace, the delicacy and fragility of the characteristic American type. Her chest was flat, her neck extremely thin, her visage narrow, and her forehead high and prominent. But her fair hair encircled her head in such fleecy tresses, her cheeks had such a pale pink flush, her eyes such an appealing innocence, her attitude such a quaint unconscious felicity, that one watched her with a kind of upstart belief that to such a stainless little spirit the working of miracles might be really possible. A couple of blackboards were hung against the wall, on one of which the old man rapidly chalked a problem—-choosing one, of course, on the level of the brighter minds in the audience. The young girl glanced at it, and before we could count ten dashed off a great bold answer on the other tablet. The brighter minds were then invited to verify, and the young lady was invariably found to have hit the mark. She was in fact a little arithmetical fairy, and her father made her perform a series of gymnastics among numbers as brilliant in their way as the vocal flourishes and roulades of an accomplished singer. Communicating with her altogether by the blackboard, he drew from her a host of examples of the beauty of his system of transcendent multiplication. A person present was requested to furnish two enormous numbers, one to multiply the other. The old man wrote them out. After standing an instant meditative and just touching her forehead with her forefinger, she chalked down the prodigious result. Her father then performed rapidly, on the blackboard, the operation according to his own system (which she had employed mentally), and finally satisfied every one by repeating it in the roundabout fashion actually in use. This was all Colonel Gifford's witchcraft. It sounds very ponderous, but it was really very charming, and I had an agreeable sense of titillation in the finer parts of my intellectual mechanism. I felt more like a thinking creature. I had never supposed I was coming to P——to take a lesson in culture.

It seemed on the morrow as if, at any rate, I was to take a lesson in patience. It was a Sunday, and I awoke to hear the rain pattering against my window panes. A rainy Sunday at P——was a prospect to depress the most elastic mind. But as I stepped into my slippers, I bethought myself of my unfinished volume of “Don Quixote,” and promised myself to borrow from Sancho Panza a philosophic proverb or so applicable to my situation. “Don Quixote” consoled me, as it turned out, in an unexpected fashion. On descending to the dining-room of the inn, while I mentally balanced the contending claims of muddy coffee and sour green tea, I found that my last evenings friends were also enjoying the hospitality of the establishment. It was the only inn in the place, and it would already have occurred to a more investigating mind that we were fellow-lodgers. The Professor, happily, was absent; and it seemed only reasonable that a ghost-seer should lie in bed late of a morning. The melancholy old mathematician was seated at the breakfast table cutting his dry toast into geometrical figures. He gave me a formal bow as I entered, and proceeded to dip his sodden polygons into his tea. The young girl was at the window, leaning her forehead against the pane, and looking out into the sea of yellow mud in the village street. I had not been in the room a couple of minutes when, seeming in spite of her deafness to feel that I was near, she turned straight round and looked at me. She wore no trace of fatigue from her public labours, but was the same clear-eyed, noiseless little sprite as before. I observed that, by daylight, her black dress was very shabby, and her fathers frock coat, buttoned with military precision up to his chin, had long since exchanged its original lustre for the melancholy brilliancy imparted by desperate brushing. I was afraid that Professor Fargo was either a niggardly impresario, or that the great moral and scientific combination was not always as remunerative as it seemed to have been at P——. While I was making these reflections the Professor entered, with an exhilaration of manner which I conceived to be a tribute to unwonted success.

“Well, sir,” he cried, as his eyes fell upon me, “what do you say to it now? I hope we did things handsomely, eh? I hope you call that a solid entertainment. This young man, you must know, is one of the scoffers,” he went on, turning to the Colonel. “He came yesterday and bearded the lion in his den. He snaps his fingers at spirits, suspects me of foul play, and would like me to admit, in my private character, that you and I are a couple of sharpers. I hope we satisfied you!”

The Colonel went on dipping his toast into his tea, looking grave and saying nothing. Poor man! I said to myself; he despises his colleague and so do I. “I beg your pardon,” I cried with warmth; “I would like nothing of the kind. I was extremely interested in this gentleman's exhibition;” and I made the Colonel a bow. “It seemed to me remarkable for its perfect good faith and truthfulness.”

“Many thanks for the compliment,” said the Professor. “As much as to say the Colonels an apostle, and I'm a rascal. Have it as you please; if so, I'm a hardened one!” he declared with a great slap on his pocket; “and anyhow, you know, its all one concern,” and the Professor betook himself to the window where Miss Gifford was standing. She had not looked round at him on his entrance, as, she had done at me. The Colonel, in response to my compliment, looked across at me with mild benignity, and I assured him afresh of my admiration. He listened silently, stirring his tea; his face betrayed an odd mixture of confidence and deprecation; as if he thought it just possible that I might be laughing at him, but that if I was not, it was extremely delightful. I continued to insist on its being distinctively his half of the performance that had pleased me; so that, gradually convinced of my respectful sympathy, he seemed tacitly to intimate that, if we were only alone and he knew me a little better, it would do him a world of good to talk it all over. I determined to give him a chance at the earliest moment. The Professor, meanwhile, waiting for his breakfast, remained at the window experimenting in the deaf and dumb alphabet with the young girl. It took him, as an amateur, a long time to form his sentences, but he went on bravely, brandishing his large, plump knuckles before her face. She seemed very patient of his slowness, and stood watching his gestures with the same intense earnestness I had caught a glimpse of in the cemetery. Most of my female friends enjoy an unimpeded use of their tongues, and I was unable from experience to appreciate his situation; but I could easily fancy what a delightful sense of intimacy there must be in this noiseless exchange of long looks with a pretty creature toward whom all tendresse of attitude might be conveniently attributed to compassion. Before long the Colonel pushed away his cup, turned about, folded his arms, and fixed his eyes with a frown on the Professor. It seemed to me that I read in his glance a complete revelation of moral torture. The stress of fortune had made them associates, but the Colonel jealously guarded the limits of their private intimacy. The Professor, with all his audacity, suffered himself to be reminded of them. He suddenly pulled out his watch and clamoured for his coffee, and was soon seated at a repast which indicated that the prophetic temperament requires a generous diet. The young girl roamed about the room, looking idly at this and that, as if she were used to doing nothing. When she met my eye, she smiled brightly, after a moments gravity, as if she were also used to saying to people, mentally, “Yes, I know I'm a strange little creature, but you must not be afraid of me.” The Professor had hardly got that array of innumerable little dishes, of the form and dimensions of soap-trays, with which one is served in the rural hostelries of New England, well under contribution, before a young lady was introduced who had come to request him to raise a ghost—-a resolute young lady, with several ringlets and a huge ancestral umbrella, whose matutinal appetite for the supernatural had not been quenched by the raw autumnal storm. She produced very frankly a “tin-type” of a florid young man, actually deceased, and demanded to be confronted with his ghost. The day was beginning well for the Professor. He gallantly requested her to be seated, and promised her every satisfaction. While he was hastily despatching his breakfast, the Colonel's daughter made acquaintance with her bereaved sister. She drew the young mans portrait gently out of her hand, examined it, and then shook her head with a little grimace of displeasure. The young woman laughed good-naturedly, and screamed into her ear that she didn't believe she was a bit deaf and dumb. At the announcement the Colonel, who, after eyeing her while she stated her credulous errand with solemn compassion, had turned away to the window, as if to spare himself the spectacle of his colleagues unblushing pretensions, turned back again and eyed her coldly from head to foot. “I recommend you, madam,” he said sternly, “to reserve your suspicions for an occasion in which they may be more pertinent.”

Later in the morning I found him still in the dining-room with his daughter. “Professor Fargo,” he said, “was in the parlour, raising ghosts by the dozen;” and after a little pause he gave an angry laugh, as if his suppressed irritation were causing him more than usual discomfort. He was walking up and down, with slow, restless steps, and smoking a frugal pipe. I took the liberty of offering him a good cigar, and while he puffed it gratefully, the need to justify himself for his odd partnership slowly gathered force. “It would be a satisfaction for me to tell you, sir,” he said at last, looking at me with eyes that fairly glittered with the pleasure of hearing himself speak the words, “that my connection with Professor Fargo implies no—-no—-” and he paused for a moment “no intellectual approval of his extraordinary pretensions. This, of course, is between ourselves. You're a stranger to me, and its doubtless the height of indiscretion in me to take you into my confidence. My subsistence depends on my not quarrelling with my companion. If you were to repeat to him that I went about undermining the faith, the extremely retributive faith, as you see (and he nodded toward the parlour door), of his audiences, he would of course dissolve our partnership and I should be adrift again, trying to get my heavy boat in tow. I should perhaps feel like an honest man again, but meanwhile, probably, I should starve. Misfortune,” he added bitterly, “makes strange bedfellows; and I have been unfortunate!”

There was so much melancholy meaning in this declaration that I asked him frankly who and what he was. He puffed his cigar vigorously for some moments without replying, and at last turned his fine old furrowed visage upon me through a cloud of smoke. “I'm a fanatic. I feed on illusions and cherish ambitions which will never butter my bread. Don't be afraid; I won't buttonhole you; but I have a head full of schemes which I believe the world would be the happier for giving a little quiet attention to. I'm an inventor; and like all inventors whose devices are of value, I believe that my particular contrivance would be the salvation of a misguided world. I have looked a good deal into many things, but my latest hobby is the system of computation of which I tried to give a sketch last night. I'm afraid you didn't understand a word of it, but I assure you its a very beautiful thing. If it could only get a fair hearing and be thoroughly propagated and adopted, it would save our toiling human race a prodigious deal of ungrateful labour. In America alone, I have calculated, it would save the business community about 23,000 hours in the course of ten years. If time is money, they are worth saving. But there I go! You oughtn't to ask me to talk about myself. Myself is my ideas!”

A little judicious questioning, however, drew from him a number of facts of a more immediately personal kind. His colonelship, he intimated, was held by the inglorious tenure of militia service, and was only put forward to help him to make a figure on Professor Fargo's platform. It was part of the general humbuggery of the attempt to bribe people to listen to wholesome truths—-truths the neglect of which was its own chastisement. “I have always had a passion for scientific research, and I have squandered my substance in experiments which the world called fruitless. They were curious, they were beautiful, they were divine! But they wouldn't turn any ones mill or grind any ones corn, and I was treated like a mediaeval alchemist, astray in the modern world. Chemistry, physics, mathematics, philology, medicine—-I've dug deep in them all. Each, in turn, has been a passion to which I've given my days and my nights. But apparently I haven't the art of finding favour for my ideas of sweetening the draught so that people will drink it. So here I am, after all my vigils and ventures, an obscure old man, ruined in fortune, broken down in health and sadly diminished in hope, trying hard to keep afloat by rowing in the same boat as a gentleman who turns tables and raises ghosts. I'm a proud man, sir, and a devotee of the exact sciences. You may imagine what I suffer. I little fancied ten years ago that I was ever going to make capital, on a mountebank's booth, of the pathetic infirmity of my daughter.”

The young girl, while her father talked, sat gazing at him in wistful surprise. I inferred from it that this expansive mood was rare; she wondered what long story he was telling. As he mentioned her, I gave her a sudden glance. Perceiving it, she blushed slightly and turned away. The movement seemed at variance with what I had supposed to be her characteristic indifference to observation. “I have a good reason, ” he said, “for treating her with more than the tenderness which such an infirmity usually commands. At the time of my marriage, and for some time after, I was performing a series of curious chemical researches. My wife was a wonderfully pretty little creature. She used to come tripping and rustling about my laboratory, asking questions of the most comical ignorance, peeping and rummaging everywhere, raising the lids of jars, and making faces at the bad smells. One day while she was in the room I stepped out on the balcony to examine something which I had placed to dry in the sun. Suddenly I heard a terrific explosion; it smashed the window-glass into atoms. Rushing in, I found my wife in a swoon on the floor. A. compound which I had placed to heat on a furnace had been left too long; I had underestimated its activity. My wife was not visibly injured, but when she came to her senses again, she found she had lost her hearing. It never returned. Shortly afterwards my daughter was born—-born the poor deaf creature you see. I lost my wife and I gave up chemistry. As I advanced in life, I became convinced that my ruling passion was mathematics. I've gone into them very deeply; I consider them the noblest acquisition of the human mind, and I don't hesitate to say that I have profound and original views on the subject. If you have a head for such things, I could open great vistas to you. But I'm afraid you haven't! Ay, its a desperately weak-witted generation. The world has a horror of concentrated thought; it wants the pill to be sugared; it wants everything to be made easy; it prefers the brazen foolery that you and I sat through last night to the divine harmonies of the infinite science of numbers. That's why I'm a beggar, droning out my dreary petition and pushing forth my little girl to catch the coppers. That's why I've had to strike a partnership with a vulgar charlatan. I was a long time coming to it, but I'm well in for it now. I won't tell you how, from rebuff to rebuff, from failure to failure, through hope deferred and justice denied, I have finally come to this. It would overtax both your sympathy and your credulity. You wouldn't believe the stories I could relate of the impenetrable stupidity of mankind, of the leaden empire of Routine. I squandered my property, I confess it, but not in the vulgar way. It was a carnival of high research, a long debauch of experiment. When I had melted down my last cent in the consuming crucible, I thought the world might be willing to pay me something for my results. The world had better uses for its money than the purchase of sovereign truth! I became a solicitor; I went from door to door, offering people a choice of twenty superb formulated schemes, the paltriest of which contained the germs of a peaceful revolution. The poor unpatented visions are at this hour all in a bundle up stairs in my trunk. In the midst of my troubles I had the ineffable pleasure of finding that my little girl was a genius. I don't know why it should have been a pleasure; her poor fathers genius stood there before me as a warning. But it was a delight to find that her little imprisoned, soundless mind was not a blank. She had inherited my passion for numbers. My folly had taken a precious faculty from her; it was but just I should give her another. She was in good hands for becoming perfect. Her gift is a rare one among women, but she is not of the common feminine stuff. She's very simple—-strangely simple in some ways. She has never been talked to by women about petticoats, nor by men about love. She doesn't reason; her skill at figures is a kind of intuition. One day it came into my head that I might lecture for a livelihood. I had listened to windy orators, in crowded halls, who had less to say than I. So I lectured, sometimes to twenty people, sometimes to five, once to no one at all. One morning, some six months ago, I was waited upon by my friend there. He told me frankly that he had a show which didn't draw as powerfully as it deserved, and proposed that, as I also seemed unable to catch the public ear, we should combine our forces and carry popularity by storm. His entertainment, alone, was rather thin; mine also seemed to lack the desirable consistency; but a mixture of the two might produce an effective compound. I had but five dollars in my pocket. I disliked the man, and I believe in spiritualism about as much as I believe that the sun goes round the earth. But we must live, and I made a bargain. It was a very poor bargain, but it keeps us alive. I took a few hints from the Professor, and brightened up my lucky formulas a little. Still, we had terribly thin houses. I couldn't play the mountebank; its a faculty I lack. At last the Professor bethought himself that I possessed the golden goose. From the mountebanks point of view a pretty little deaf and dumb daughter, who could work miracles on the blackboard, was a treasure to a practical mind. The idea of dragging my poor child and her pathetic idiosyncrasies before the world was extremely repulsive to me; but the Professor laid the case before the little maid herself, and at the end of a fortnight she informed him that she was ready to make her curtsey on the platform as a lightning calculator. I consented to let her try, and you see that she succeeded. She draws, not powerfully, but sufficiently, and we manage to keep afloat.”

Half an hour later the Professor returned from his mornings labours—-flushed, dishevelled, rubbing his hands, evidently in high good humour. The Colonel immediately became silent and grave, asked no questions, and, when dinner was served shortly afterwards, refused everything and sat with a melancholy frown and his eyes fixed on his plate. His comrade was plainly a terrible thorn in his side. I was curious, on the other hand, to know how the Colonel affected the Professor, and I soon discovered that the latter was by no means his exuberant impudent self within the radius of his colleagues pregnant silence. If there was little love lost between them, the ranting charlatan was at least held in check by an indefinable respect for his companions probity. He was a fool, doubtless, with his careful statements and his incapacity to take a humorous view of human credulity; but, somehow, he was a venerable fool, and the Professor, as a social personage, without the inspiration of a lecture-room more or less irritatingly interspaced, and with that pale, grave old mathematician sitting by like a marble monument to Veracity, lacked the courage to ventilate his peculiar pretensions. On this occasion, however, he swallowed the Colonels tacit protest with a wry face. I don't know what he had brought to pass in the darkened parlour; whatever it was, it had agreeably stimulated his confidence in his resources. We had been joined, moreover, at dinner by half a dozen travellers of less oppressively sceptical mould than the Colonel, and under these circumstances it was peculiarly trying to have to veil one's brighter genius. There was undischarged thunder in the air.

The rain ceased in the afternoon, and the sun leaped out and set the thousand puddles of the village street a-flashing. I found the Colonel sitting under the tavern porch with a village urchin between his knees, to whom he seemed to be imparting the rudiments of mathematical science. The little boy had a bulging forehead, a prodigious number of freckles, and the general aspect of a juvenile Newton. Being present at the Colonel's lecture, he had been fired with a laudable curiosity to know more, and learning that Professor Fargo imparted information à domicile, had ventured to believe that his colleague did likewise. The child's father, a great, gaunt, brown-faced farmer, with a yellow tuft on his chin, stood by, blushing at the audacity of his son and heir, but grinning delightedly at his brightness. The poor Colonel, whose meed of recognition had as yet been so meagre, was vastly tickled by this expression of infantine sympathy, and discoursed to the little prodigy with the most condescending benevolence. Certainly, as the boy grows up, the most vivid of his childish memories will be that of the old man with glowing eyes and a softened voice coming from under his white moustache—-the voice which held him stock-still for a whole half hour, and assured him afterwards that he was a little Trojan. When the lesson was over, I proposed a walk to the Colonel, and we wandered away out of the village. The afternoon, as it waned, became glorious; the heavy clouds, broken and dispersed, sailed through the glowing sky like high-prowed galleys, draped in purple and silver. I, on my side, shall never forget the Colonels excited talk, nor how at last, as we sat on a rocky ridge looking off to the sunset, he fairly unburdened his conscience.

“Yes, sir!” he said; “its a base concession to the ignoble need of keeping body and soul together. Sometimes I feel as if I couldn't stand it another hour—-as if it were better to break with the impudent rascal and sink or swim as fate decrees, than get a hearing for the truth at such a cost. It's all very well holding my tongue and insisting that I, at least, make no claims for the man's vile frauds; my connection with him is itself a sanction, and my presence at his damnable mummeries an outrage to the purity of truth. You see I have the misfortune to believe in something, to know something, and to think it makes a difference whether people feed, intellectually, on poisoned garbage or on the ripe, sweet fruit of true science! I shut my eyes every night, and lock my jaws, and clench my teeth, but I can't help hearing the mans windy rubbish. Its a tissue of scandalous lies, from beginning to end. I know them all by heart by this time, and I verily believe I could stand up and rattle them off myself. They ring in my ears all day, and I have horrible dreams at night of crouching under a table with a long cloth, and tapping on the top of it. The Professor stands outside swearing to the audience that its the ghost of Archimedes. Then I begin to suffocate, and overturn the table, and appear before a thousand people as the accomplice of the impostor. There are times when the value of my own unheeded message to mankind seems so vast, so immeasurable, that I am ready to believe that any means are lawful which may enable me to utter it; that if ones ship is to set sail for the golden islands, even a flaunting buccaneer may tow it into the open sea. In such moods, when I sit there against the wall, in the shade, closing my eyes and trying not to hear—-I really don't hear! My mind is a myriad miles away—-floating, soaring on the wings of invention. But all of a sudden the odiousness of my position comes over me, and I can't believe my senses that its verily I who sit there—-I to whom a grain of scientific truth is more precious than a mountain of gold!”

He was silent a long time, and I myself hardly knew what consolation to offer him. The most friendly part was simply to let him expend his bitterness to the last drop. But that's not the worst. he resumed after a while. “The worst is that I hate the greasy rascal to come near my daughter, and that, living and travelling together as we do, he's never far off. At first he used to engage a small child beforehand to hold up his little folded papers for him; but a few weeks ago it came into his head that it would give the affair an even greater air of innocence, if he could make use of my poor girl. It does, I believe, and it tells, and I've been brought so low that I sit by night after night and endure it. She, on her side, dreams of no harm, and takes the Professor for an oracle and his lecture for a masterpiece. I have never undeceived her, for I have no desire to teach her that there are such things as falsity and impurity. Except that our perpetual railway journeys give her bad headaches, she supposes that we lead a life of pure felicity. But some fine day our enterprising friend will be wanting to put her into a pink dress and a garland of artificial flowers, and then, with Gods help, we shall part company!”

My silence, in reply to this last burst of confidence, implied the most deferential assent; but I was privately wondering whether the little maid was so perfectly ignorant of evil as the old man supposed. I remembered the episode at the cemetery the day before, and doubted greatly whether her father had countenanced it. With his sentiments touching the Professor, this was most unlikely. The young girl, then, had a secret, and it gave me real discomfort to think this coarse fellow should keep the key of it. I feared that the poor Colonel was yoked to his colleague more cruelly than he knew. On our return to the inn this impression was vividly confirmed. Dusk had fallen when we entered the public room, and in the grey light which pervaded it two figures at one of the windows escaped immediate recognition. But in a moment one of them advanced, and in the sonorous accents of Professor Fargo hoped that we had enjoyed our expedition. The Colonel started and stared, and left me to answer. He sat down heavily on the sofa; in a moment his daughter came over and sat beside him, placing her hand gently on his knee. But he let it lie, and remained motionless, resting his hot head on his cane. The Professor withdrew promptly, but with a swagger which suggested to my sense that he could now afford to treat his vanity to a dose of revenge for the old mans contempt.

Late in the evening I came down stairs again, and as I passed along the hall heard Professor Fargo perorating vigorously in the bar-room. Evidently he had an audience, and the scene was probably curious. Drawing near, I found this gifted man erect on the floor, addressing an assemblage of the convivial spirits of P——. In an extended hand he brandished a glass of smoking whiskey and water; with the other he caressed his rounded periods. He had evidently been drinking freely, and I perceived that even the prophetic vision was liable to obfuscation. It had been a brilliant day for him; fortune smiled, and he felt strong. A dozen rustic loafers, of various degrees of inveteracy, were listening to him with a speechless solemnity, which may have been partly faith, but was certainly partly rum. In a corner, out of the way, sat the Colonel, with an unfinished glass before him. The Professor waved his hand as I appeared, with magnificent hospitality, and resumed his discourse.

“Let me say, gentlemen,” he cried, “that its not my peculiar influence with the departed that I chiefly value; for, after all, you know, a ghost is but a ghost. It can't do much any way. You can't touch it, half the time you can't see it. If it happens to be the spirit of a pretty girl, you know, this makes you kind of mad. The great thing now is to be able to exercise a mysterious influence over living organisms. You can do it with your eye, you can do it with your voice, you can do it with certain motions of your hand—-as thus, you perceive; you can do it with nothing at all by just setting your mind on it. That is, of course, some people can do it; not very many—-certain rich, powerful, sympathetic natures that you now and then come across. Its called magnetism. Various works have been written on the subject, and various explanations offered, but they don't amount to much. All you can say is that its just magnetism, and that you've either got it or you haven't got it. Now the Lord has seen fit to bestow it on me. Its a great responsibility, but I try to make a noble use of it. I can do all sorts of things. I can find out things. I can make people confess. I can make 'em sick and I can make 'em well. I can make 'em in love—-what do you say to that? I can take 'em out of love again, and make 'em swear they wouldn't marry the loved object, not if they were paid for it. How it is I do it I confess I can't tell you. I just say to myself, 'Come now, Professor, well fix this one or that one.' Its a free gift. Its magnetism, in short. Some folks call it animal magnetism, but I call it spiritual magnetism.”

There was a profound silence; the air seemed charged with that whimsical retention of speech which is such a common form of American sociability. I looked askance at the Colonel; it seemed to me that he was paler than usual, and that his eyes were really fierce. Professor Fargo turned about to the bar to replenish his glass, and the old man slowly rose and came out into the middle of the room. He looked round at the company; he evidently meant to say something. He stood silent for some moments, and I saw that he was in a tremor of excitement. “You've listened to what this gentleman has been saying?” he began. “I won't say, Have you understood it? Its not to be understood. Some of you, perhaps, saw me last night sitting on the platform while Professor Fargo said his say. You know that we are partners—-that for convenience sake we work together. I wish to say that you are not therefore to believe that I assent to the doctrines he has just promulgated. Doctrines is a flattering name for them. I speak in the name of science. Science recognizes no such thing as spiritual magnetism; no such thing as mysterious fascinations; no such thing as spirit rappings and ghost-raisings. I owe it to my conscience to say so. I can't remain there and see you all sit mum when this gentleman concludes such a monstrous piece of talk. I have it on my conscience to assure you that no intelligent man, woman, or child need fear to be made to do anything against his own will by the supernatural operation of the will of Professor Fargo.”

If there had been silence on the conclusion of Professor Fargo's harangue, what shall I say of the audible absence of commentary which followed the Colonels remarks? There was an intense curiosity—-I felt it myself—-to see what a clever fellow like the Professor would do. The Colonel stood there wiping his forehead, as if, having thrown down the gauntlet, he were prepared to defend it. The Professor looked at hint with his head on one side, and a smile which was an excellent imitation of genial tolerance. “My dear sir,” he cried, “I'm glad you've eased your mind. I knew you wanted to; I hope you feel better. With your leave, we won't go into the philosophy of the dispute. It was George Washington, I believe, who said that people should wash their dirty linen at home. You don't endorse my views—-you're welcome. If you weren't a very polite old gentleman, I know you'd like to say that, in a single word, they're the views of a quack. Now, in a single word, I deny it. You deny the existence of the magnetic power; I reply that I personally possess it, and that if you'll give me a little more time, I'll force you to say that there's something in it. I'll force you to say I can do something. These gentlemen here can't witness the consummation, but at least they can hear my promise. I promise you evidence. You go by facts: I'll give you facts. I'd like just to have you remark before our friends here, that you'll take account of them!”

The Colonel stood still, wiping his forehead. He had even less prevision than I of the character of the Professors projected facts, but of course he could make but one answer. He bowed gravely to the Professor and to the company. “I shall never refuse,” he said, “to examine serious evidence. Whatever,” he added, after a moment, “it might cost my prejudices.”

III.

 

THE Colonels incorruptible conservatism had done me good mentally, and his personal situation had deeply interested me. As I bade him farewell the next day—-the “Combination” had been heralded in a neighbouring town—-I wished him heartily that what was so painfully crooked in the latter might be straightened out in time. He shook his head sadly, and answered that his time was up.

He was often in my thoughts for the next six weeks, but I got no tidings of him. Meanwhile I too was leading an ambulant life, and travelling from town to town in a cause which demanded a good deal of ready-made eloquence. I didn't exactly pretend that the regeneration of society depended on its acceptance of my wares, but I devoted a good deal of fellow feeling to the Colonels experience as an uncredited solicitor. At the beginning of the winter I found myself in New York. One evening, as I wandered along a certain avenue, undedicated to gentility, I perceived, in the flare of a gas-lamp, on a placard beside a doorway, the name and attributes of Professor Fargo. I immediately stopped and read the manifesto. It was even more grandiloquent than the yellow hand-bill at P——; for to overtop concurrence in the metropolis one must mount upon very high stilts indeed. The “Combination” still subsisted, and Colonel Gifford brought up the rear. I observed with interest that his daughter now figured in an independent and extremely ornamental paragraph. Above the door was a blue lamp, and beneath the lamp the inscription “Excelsior Hall.” No one was going in, but as I stood there a young man in a white overcoat, with his hat on his nose, came out and planted himself viciously, with a tell-tale yawn, in the doorway. The poor Colonel had lost an auditor; I was determined he should have a substitute. Paying my fee and making my way into the room, I found that the situation was indeed one in which units rated high. There were not more than twenty people present, and the appearance of this meagre group was not in striking harmony with the statement on the placard without, that Professor Fargo's entertainment was thronged with the intellect and fashion of the metropolis. The Professor was on the platform, unfolding his budget of miracles; behind him, as at P——, sat the Colonel and his daughter. The Professor was evidently depressed by the preponderance of empty benches, and carried off his revelations with an indifferent grace. Disappointment made him brutal. He was heavy, vulgar, slipshod; he stumbled in his periods, and bungled more than once in his guesses when the folded papers with the names were put into the hat. His brow wore a vicious, sullen look, which seemed to deepen the expression of melancholy patience in his companions. I trembled for my friends. The Colonel had told me that his bargain with his impresario was a poor one, and I was sure that if, when the “Combination” was in a run of luck, as it had been at P——, his dividend was scanty, he was paying a heavy share of the penalty for the present eclipse of fortune. I sat down near the door, where the hail was shrouded in a thrifty dimness, so that I had no fear of being recognized. The Professor evidently was reckless—-a fact which rather puzzled me in so shrewd a man. When he had brought his own performance to an unapplauded close, instead of making his customary speech on behalf of his coadjutor, he dropped into a chair and gaped in the face of his audience. But the Colonel, after a pause, threw himself into the breach or rather lowered himself into it with stately gravity—-and addressed his humble listeners (half of whom were asleep) as if they had been the flower of the Intellect and Fashion. But if his manner was the old one, his discourse was new. He had too many ideas to repeat himself, and, although those which he now attempted to expound were still above the level of my frivolous apprehension, this un-bargained abundance of inspiration half convinced me that his claim to original genius was just. If there had been something grotesquely sad in his appeal to the irresponsive intellect of P——, it was almost intolerably dismal to sit there and see him grappling with the dusky void of Excelsior Hall. The sleepers waked up, or turned over, at least, when Miss Gifford came forward. She wore, as yet, neither a pink dress nor an artificial garland, but it seemed to me that I detected here and there an embryonic hint of these ornaments—-a ruffle round her neck, a coloured sash over her black dress, a curl or two more in her hair. But her manner was as childish, as simple and serene as ever; the empty benches had no weary meaning for her.

I confess that in spite of my personal interest in my friend, the entertainment seemed woefully long; more than once I was on the point of departing, and awaiting the conclusion in the street. But I had not the heart to inflict upon the poor Colonel the sight of a retreating spectator. When at last my twenty companions had shuffled away, I made my way to the platform and renewed acquaintance with the trio. The Professor nodded with uncompromising familiarity, the Colonel seemed cordially glad to see me, and his daughter, as I made her my bow, gazed at me with even more than usual of her clear-eyed frankness. She seemed to wonder what my reappearance meant for them. It meant, to begin with, that I went the next day to see the Colonel at his lodging. It was a terribly modest little lodging, but he did me the honours with a grace which showed that he had an old habit of hospitality. He admitted frankly that the “Combination” had lately been doing a very poor business, but he made the admission with a gloomy stoicism which showed me that he had been looking the event full in the face, and had assented to it helplessly. They had gone their round in the country, with varying success. They had the misfortune to have a circus keeping just in advance of them, and beside the gorgeous pictorial placards of this establishment, their own superior promises, even when swimming in a deluge of exclamation points, seemed pitifully vague. “What are my daughter and I,” said the Colonel, “after the educated elephant and the female trapezist? What even is the Professor, after the great American clown?” Their profits, however, had been kept fairly above the minimum, and victory would still have hovered about their banners if they had been content to invoke her in the smaller towns. The Professor, however, in spite of remonstrance, had suddenly steered for New York, and what New York was doing for them I had seen the night before. The last half dozen performances had not paid for the room and the gas. The Colonel told me that he was bound by contract for five more lectures, but that when these were delivered he would dissolve the partnership. The Professor, in insisting on coming to the city, had shown a signal want of shrewdness; and when his shrewdness failed him, what had you left? What to attempt himself, the Colonel couldn't imagine. “At the worst,” he said, “my daughter can go into an asylum, and I can go into the poor-house.” On my asking him whether his colleague had yet established, according to his vow, the verities of spiritual magnetism, he stared in surprise and seemed quite to have forgotten the Professors engagement to convert him. “Oh, I've let him off,” he said, shaking his head. “he was tipsy when he made the promise, and I expect to hear no more about it.” I was very busy, and the pensive old man was gloomy company; but his characters and his fortunes had such a melancholy interest that I found time to pay him several visits. He evidently was thankful to be diverted from his sombre self-consciousness and his paternal anxiety, and, when once he was aroused from the dogged resignation in which he seemed plunged, enjoyed vastly the chance to expatiate on his multitudinous and irrealizable theories. Most of the time his meaning was a cloud bank to me, but I listened, assented, applauded; I felt the charm of pure intellectual passion. I incline to believe that he had excogitated some extremely valuable ideas. We took long walks through the crowded streets. The Colonel was indefatigable, in spite of his leanness and pallor. He strode along with great steps, talking so loud, half the time, in his high, quavering voice, that even the eager pedestrians in the lower latitudes of Broadway slackened pace to glance back at him. He declared that the crowded streets gave him a strange exhilaration, and the mighty human hum of the great city quickened his heart-beats almost to pain. More than once he stopped short, on the edge of a curb-stone or in the middle of a crossing, and laying his hand on my arm, with a deeper glow beneath his white eyebrows, broke into a kind of rhapsody of transcendental thought. “It's for all these millions I would work, if they would let me!” he cried. “It's to the life of great cities my schemes are addressed. It's to make millions wiser and better that I stand pleading my cause so long after I have earned my rest.” One day he seemed taciturn and preoccupied. He talked much less than usual, noticed nothing, and walked with his eyes on the pavement. I imagined that, in a phrase with which he had made me familiar, he had caught the tail of an idea and was holding it fast, in spite of its slippery contortions. As we neared his lodging at the end of our walk, he stopped abruptly in the middle of the street and I had to give him a violent pull to rescue him from a rattling butchers cart. When we reached the pavement he stopped again, grasped me by the hand, and fixed his eyes on me with a very extraordinary exaltation. We were at the top of the shabby cross-street in which he had found a shelter. A row of squalid tenements faced us, and half a dozen little Irish ragamuffins were sprawling beneath our feet, between their doorways and the gutter. “Eureka! Eureka!” he cried. “I've found it—-I've found it!” And on my asking him what he had found, “Something science has groped for, for ages—-the solution of the incalculable! Perhaps, too, my fortune; certainly my immortality! Quick, quick! Before it vanishes I must get at my pen.” And he hurried me along to his dingy little dwelling. On the doorstep he paused. “I can't tell you now,” he cried. “I must fling it down in black and white. But for heavens sake, come to-night to the lecture, and in the first flush of apprehension I think I can knock off a statement!” To the lecture I promised to come. At the same moment I raised my eyes and beheld in the window of the Colonels apartment the ominous visage of Professor Fargo. I had been kindled by the Colonels ardour, but somehow I was suddenly chilled by the presence of the Professor. I feared that, be the brilliancy of my friends sudden illumination what it might, the shock of meeting his unloved confrère under his own roof would loosen his grasp of his idea. I found a pretext for keeping him standing a moment, and observed that the Professor disappeared. The next moment the door opened and be stepped forth. He had put on his hat, I suppose, hastily; it was cocked toward one side with a jauntiness which seemed the climax of his habitual swagger. He was evidently in better spirits than when I listened to him at Excelsior Hall; but neither the Professors smiles nor his frowns were those of an honest man. He bestowed on my companion and me one of the most expansive of the former, gave his hat a cock in the opposite direction, and was about to pass on. But suddenly bethinking himself, he paused and drew from his pocket a small yellow ticket, which he presented to me. It was admission to Excelsior Hall.

“If you can use this to-night,” he said, “I think you'll see something out of the common.” This intimation, accompanied with a wink of extreme suggestiveness, seemed to indicate that the Professor also, by a singular coincidence, had had a flash of artistic inspiration. But giving me no further clue, he rapidly went his way. As I shook hands in farewell with the Colonel, I saw that the light of the old mans new inspiration had gone out in angry wonderment over the Professors errand with his daughter.

I can hardly define the vague apprehensiveness which led me to make that evening a peculiarly prompt appearance at Excelsior Hall. There was no one there when I arrived, and for half an hour the solitude remained unbroken. At last a shabby little man came in and sat down on the last bench, in the shade. We remained a while staring at the white wall behind the three empty chairs of the performers and listening to the gas-burners, which were hissing with an expressiveness which, under the circumstances, was most distressing. At last my companion left his place and strolled down the aisle. He stopped before the platform, turned about, surveyed the capacity of the room, and muttered something between a groan and an imprecation. Then he came back toward me and stopped. He had a dirty shirt-front, a scrubby beard, a small, wrathful black eye, and a nose unmistakably Judaic.

“If you don't want to sit and be lectured at all alone,” he said, “I guess you'd better go.”

I expressed a hope that some one would turn up yet, and said that I preferred to remain, in any event, as I had a particular interest in the performance.

“A particular interest?” he cried; ” that's about what I've got. I've got the rent of my room to collect. This thing has been going on here for three weeks now, and I haven't seen the first dollar of my profits. Its been going down hill steady, and I think the Professor, and the Colonel, and the deaf and dumb young woman had better shut up shop. They ain't appreciated; they'd better try some other line. There's mighty little to this thing, anyway; it ain't what I call an attractive exhibition. I've got an offer for the premises for a month from the Canadian Giantess, and I mean to ask the present company to pay me down and vacate.”

It looked, certainly, as if the “Combination” would have some difficulty in meeting its engagements. The Professors head emerged inquiringly from a door behind the stage and disappeared, after a brief communion with the vacuity of the scene. In a few minutes, however, the customary trio came forth and seated itself gravely on the platform. The Professor thrust his thumbs into his waistcoat and drummed on the floor with his toes, as if it cost his shrewdness a painful effort to play any longer at expectation. The Colonel sat stiff and solemn, with his eyes on the ground. The young girl gazed forth upon the ungrateful void with her characteristically irresponsible tranquillity. For myself, after listening some ten minutes more for an advancing tread, I leaned my elbows on the back of the bench before me and buried my head; I couldn't bear any longer to look at the Colonel. At last I heard a scramble behind me, and looking round, saw my little Jew erecting himself on his feet on a bench.

“Gentlemen!” he cried out, “I don't address the young woman; I'm told she can't hear. I suppose the man with the biggest audience has a right to speak. The amount of money in this hall to-night is just thirty cents—-unless, indeed, my friend here is on the free list. Now it stands to reason that you can't pay your nights expenses out of thirty cents. I think we might as well turn down some of this gas; we can still see to settle our little account. To have it paid will gratify me considerably more than anything you can do there. I don't judge your entertainment; I've no doubt it's a very smart thing. But its very evident it don't suit this city. Its too intellectual. I've got something else in view—-I don't mind telling you its the Canadian Giantess. It is going to open to-morrow with a matinée, and I want to put some props under that platform. So you'd better pay this young man his money back, and go home to supper. But before, you leave, I'll trouble you for the sum of ninety-three dollars and eighty-seven cents.”

The Professor stroked his beard; the Colonel didn't move. The little Jew descended from his perch and approached the platform with his bill in his hand. In a moment I followed him.

“Were a failure,” said the Professor, at last. “ Very well! I'm not discouraged; I'm a practical man. I've got an idea in my head by which, six months hence, I expect to fill the Academy of Music.” Then, after a pause, turning to his companion, “Colonel, do you happen to have ninety-three dollars and eighty-seven cents?”

The Colonel slowly raised his eyes and looked at him I shall never forget the look.

“Seriously speaking,” the Professor went on, daunted but for an instant, “you're liable for half the debt. But I'll assume your share on a certain condition. I have in my head the plan of another entertainment. Our friend here is right; we have been too intellectual. Very good!” and he nodded at the empty benches. “I've learned the lesson. Henceforth I'm going to be sensational. My great sensation”—-and he paused a moment to engage again the eye of the Colonel, who presently looked vaguely up at him—-"is this young lady!” and he thrust out a hand toward Miss Gifford. “Allow me to exhibit your daughter for a month, in my own way and according to my own notions, and I assume your debt.”

The young girl dropped her eyes on the ground, but kept her place. She had evidently been schooled. The Colonel slowly got up, glaring and trembling with indignation. I wished to cut the knot, and I interrupted his answer. “Your inducement is null,” I said to the Professor. “I assume the Colonels debt. It shall be paid this moment.”

Professor Fargo gave an honestly gleeful grin; this was better even than the Colonels assent. “You refuse your consent then,” he demanded of the old man, “to your daughter's appearance under my exclusive management.”

“Utterly!” cried the Colonel.

“You are aware I suppose, that she's of age?”

The Colonel stared at me with a groan, “What under heaven is the fellow coming to?”

“To this!” responded the Professor; and he fixed his eye for a moment on the young girl. She immediately looked up at him, rose, advanced, and stood before him. Her face betrayed no painful consciousness of what she was doing, and I have often wondered how far, in her strangely simple mood and nature, her consciousness on this occasion was a guilty one. I never ascertained. This was the most unerring stroke I had seen the Professor perform. The poor child fixed her charming eyes on his gross, flushed face, and awaited his commands. She was fascinated; she had no will of her own. “You'll be so good as to choose,” the Professor went on, addressing her in spite of her deafness, “between your father and me. He says were to part. I say you're to follow me. What do you say?”

For all answer, after caressing him a moment with her gentle gaze, she dropped before him on her knees. The Colonel sprang toward her with a sort of howl of rage and grief, but she jumped up, retreated, and tripped down the steps of the platform into the room. She rapidly made her way to the door. There she paused and looked back at us. Her father stood staring after her in helpless bewilderment. The Professor disappeared into the little ante-room behind the stage, and came back in a moment jamming his hat over his eyes and carrying the young girls shawl. He reached the edge of the platform, and then, stopping, shook the forefinger with the turquoise ring at the Colonel.

“What do you say now? he cried. Is spiritual magnetism a humbug?”

The little Jew rushed after him, shrieking and brandishing the unpaid bill; but the Professor cleared at half a dozen strides the interval which divided him from the door, caught the young girl round the waist, and made a triumphant escape. Half an hour later the Colonel and I left the little Jew staring distractedly at his un-retributed gas-burners.

I walked home with the old man, and, having led him into his shabby refuge, suffered him to make his way alone, with groans, and tears, and imprecations, into his daughters empty room. At last he came tottering out again; it seemed as if he were going mad. I brought him away by force, and he passed the night in my own quarters. He had spoken shortly before of the prospect of an asylum for his daughter, but it became evident that the asylum would have to be for him.

I sometimes go to see him. He spends his days covering little square sheets of paper with algebraic signs, but I am assured by his superintendent, who understands the matter, that they represent no coherent mathematical operation. I never treated myself to the sensation of attending Professor Fargo's new entertainment.