The Strange Man




“In the most high and palmy days of Rome, A little ere the mightiest Julius fell, The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets.”

And he sat him down wearily by the side of the road. Wearily, for he had journeyed far that day. He was footsore, and his bodily powers were nearly exhausted by reason of the want and privation he had undergone. His looks were haggard, and a pathetic pall, gloomy and tearful, hung and floated around him, invisible to, but sensibly felt by, all who lingered near, or gazed upon him. A sorrowful man was he.

And as he sat there by the roadside, he leaned his head upon the staff which he held in his hand; and as he bowed him down, the great salt tears gushed from between his fingers, and watered the ground at his feet. In other days the cypress, plant of sorrow, sprung up there, and throve in sad and mournful beauty, as if to mark and guard the spot whereon the strong man had lifted up his voice and wept aloud—once upon a time.

This was many years ago; and this was the occasion on which I became acquainted with the personage who figures so remarkably in this volume.1) At that time the writer practically accepted, but mentally disbelieved, all the religious and psychologic faiths of Christendom; and, had any man even hinted at certain mysterious possibilities that have since then been verified and demonstrated, I should most certainly have laughed in his face, and have reckoned him up as a first-class fool or idiot. Things have changed since then.

He was a man of middle height, was neither stout nor slender, but, when in full flesh, was a happy medium between the two. His head and brain were large, and, from certain peculiarities of form, really much more massive than they appeared. The skull was long and narrow at the base, especially about the ears; but above that line the brain was deep, broad and high, indicating great powers of endurance, with but moderate physical force, it being clearly apparent that the mental structure sustained itself to a great degree at the expense of the muscles, his nervous system, as in all such organizations, being morbidly acute and sensitive. There was, naturally or organically, nothing about him either coarse, brutal, low or vulgar, and if, in the race of life, he exhibited any of those bad qualities, it was attributable to the rough circumstances attendant upon him, and the treatment he received from the world. By nature he was open, frank, benevolent and generous to a fault, and of these traits men availed themselves to his sorrow. With abundant capacity to successfully grapple with the most profound and abstruse questions of philosophy or metaphysics, yet this man was totally incompetent to conduct matters of the least business, requiring even a very moderate financial ability. Such are nature’s contradictions, such her law of compensation.

As a consequence, this man, with abilities universally conceded to be good, was the ready victim of the first plausible knave that came along, from the “friend” who borrowed half his cash, and undertook to invest the balance—and kept the whole, to the printer of his books, who swindled him of both time and money.

His complexion was tawny, resembling that of the Arab children of Beyroot and Damascus. The shape and set of the chin, jaws and lips, were indicative rather of power than force. The mouth, in its slightly protruding upper lip, and two small ridges at the corners, betokened executive ability, passion, courage, affection, humor, firmness and decision. The cheeks were slightly sunken, indicating care and trouble, while the cheek-bones, being somewhat high and broad, betrayed his aboriginal ancestry, as did also his general beardlessness, for, save a tuft beneath the chin of jet black silky hair, and a thin and light mustache, he could lay no claim to hirsute distinction. His nose, which had been broken by a fall when a child, was neither large nor small, and as a simple feature, was in no respect remarkable; but taken with the other features, was most decidedly so, for when under the influence of passion, excitement or emotion, there was an indescribable something about the alæ and nostrils that told you that a volcano slumbered in that man’s brain and heart, only it required a touch, a vent, in the right direction, to wake its fires and cause it to blaze forth vehemently, transforming him in an instant from a passive, uncomplaining man, into the embodiment of virtuous championship of the cause that was true, or into a demon of hatred and vindictive fury. The good prevailed; for the evil spasm was ever a spasm only—save in a very few marked cases, where he had suffered wrongs, deep and grievous, at the hands of men whose meanness and duplicity toward himself he only discovered when they had gained their points and ruined him. These men he hated—and yet that word does not convey the true idea. His feeling was not vindictive, but was a craving for, and determination to exact justice for his wrongs. This satisfied, his ill will died on the instant. His eyes, or rather eye—for one was nearly lost from an accident—was a deep, dark hazel, and such as people are in the habit of describing as jet black. It shone with a lustre peculiar, and strangely magnetic when he let his soul go forth upon winged words from the rostrum, for he had been a public speaker in his time, and had won no small degree of fame on that field.

Once seen and heard, this man was one whom it was impossible ever to forget, so different was he from all other men, and so marked and peculiar were his characteristics.

Such, in brief, were the externals of the person to whom the reader is here introduced.

A very singular man was he—the Rosicrucian—I knew him well. Many an hour, subsequent to that in which he is here introduced, have we sat together beneath the grateful shade of some glorious old elm on the green, flowery banks of Connecticut’s silver stream, and under some towering dome palm beside the bosom of still older Nilus, in the hoary land of the Pharaohs, of magic and of myth, he all the while pouring into my ear strange, very strange legends indeed—legends of Time and the other side of Time—all of which my thirsty soul drank in as the sun-parched earth drinks in the grateful showers, or the sands of Zin the tears of weeping clouds. And these tales, these legends put to shame the wildest fictions of Germany and the terror-haunted Hartz. Particularly was I struck with a half hint that once escaped his lips, to the effect that some men on the earth, himself among the number, had preëxisted on this sphere, and that at times he distinctly remembered localities, persons and events that were cotemporary with him before he occupied his present form, and consequently that his real age exceeded that even of Ahasuerus, the Jew, who, in the dolorous road, mocked the Man of Calvary, as he bore his cross up the steep and stony way, for which leze majeste he was doomed to walk the earth, an outcast and vagabond, from that hour till Shiloh comes, according to the legends of Jewry.

My friend, during our intimacy, often spoke concerning white magic, and incidentally insisted on his curious doctrine of transmigration. Nor was this all: He taught that the souls of people sometimes vacated their bodies for weeks together, during which they were occupied by other souls, sometimes that of a permanently disembodied man of earth; at others, that of an inhabitant of the aëreal spaces, who, thus embodied, roamed the earth at will. He, when closely questioned, declared his firm belief that he had lived down through many ages, and that for reasons known to himself, he was doomed to live on, like the great Artefius—that other Rosicrucian—until a certain consummated act (wherein he was to be involuntarily an active party) should release him from it and permit him to share the lot of other men.

As a consequence of his dissimilarity from others he appeared to have been endowed with certain hyper-mental powers, among which was a strange intro-vision, not the fraudulent clairvoyance claimed and palmed off upon the world by the arch impostor of Poughkeepsie, and others of the same kidney, but something analogous to that attributed to the oracle-priestesses of Delphos and Delos. This power, which was not always present, enabled him to behold and describe things, persons and events, even across the widest gulfs of ocean; and to read the secret history and thoughts of the most secretive, self-possessed and subtle-minded man as easily as if it were a printed scroll. When this ecstasy was on him he looked as if, at that moment, he beheld things forever sealed from the majority of eyes, and that too both with and without his wonderful magic mirror. At first I doubted his pretensions, mentally referred them to an abnormal state of mind, and, until they were abundantly demonstrated, laughed at the preposterous idea, as I considered it, of any one seriously claiming such extraordinary powers in the middle of the nineteenth century of the Christian era. As previously remarked, his complexion told that he was a sang mêlée—not a direct cross—but one in which at least seven distinct strains of blood intermingled, if they did not perfectly blend. Save when in high health and spirits, and weather extremely cold—at which times he was pale—his color was a rich, light bronze, like that of the youngsters one sees in such profusion, scampering like mad through the narrow and tortuous streets of Syrio-Arabic cities, demanding “Bucksheesh” from every Frank they see. With his large, broad, high brain, arched and open brow, his massive, elliptical and angular top-head, he was a marked man, and when his soul was at high tide, and his deep and mystic inspirations thrilled and filled him to the brim, his eye beamed with unearthly fire, glowed like the orbs of a Pythoness, and scintillated a light peculiarly its own. Whoever saw him then never forgot the sight, for he seemed to have the power of glancing instantaneously through the world—Time, space—everything and everywhere. Judging by his speech alone, one would have thought his education might not have been altogether neglected, but that it certainly was of a kind and quality entirely different from that usually received in Christian lands. There was very little, if any, polish about him—not that he lacked urbanity, courteousness or smoothness—not that he was rude or rough in any way, but his placidity was that of the river, forest or lake, not that of the boudoir or the schools of politesse. He was extremely enigmatical, and the most so when he appeared most frank in all that pertained to his inner life and world; and was more sphynx-like to me at the end of ten years’ intimacy than on the first day of our acquaintance. He had, though poor, travelled extensively. Oriental in personal appearance and physical tastes, he was still more so in disposition and mind, and in all that pertained to dreamery, philosophy and the affections.

With this description of the principal personage of this narrative, I now proceed to sketch another part of the man.

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The same personage is the principal character in the romance of “Dhoula Bel, or the Magic Globe,” which will ere long be published.