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The Master of Silence: A Romance, a novel by Irving Bacheller

Chapter 4

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A long time I stood waiting for some reply to my message. My candle was fast burning out, and I began to fear that after all I was likely to leave the house no wiser than when I had entered it. Suddenly a door swung on its creaking hinges and a feeble old man, holding a lamp in one hand, stood grinning at me in the opening. It was the same face that I saw before, but it seemed less ghostly and unnatural now. Stepping back he beckoned me to enter. As soon as I had crossed the threshold the door closed behind me and the old man carefully bolted it. I stood in a large room, richly furnished, of which spiders had apparently long held possession. Great cobwebs hung like hammocks from the ceiling, and the dust of years had settled over all. Two human skeletons completely wrapped in cobwebs, stood facing me against the opposite wall. Following my silent leader, I went through a long narrow passage, at the end of which was a heavy door fastened with large iron bolts. Before opening it the strange old man placed the lamp upon a table and turning around looked squarely into my face. Merciful Heaven! It was the face of another man who was looking at me now! The deep lines had almost disappeared and the eyes looked brighter and more intelligent. No, it was the same face, for while my eyes were eagerly scanning it that hideous grin began to deepen its wrinkles, and its owner, taking half a dozen steps down the passageway, made an awkward motion with both hands as if trying to indicate that I was to follow him very closely. Then he opened the big door and I was surprised to observe that it led into the outer air. What gulf of darkness are we about to plunge into? I asked myself, peering through the doorway; and as we stepped out I heard again that ominous whirring. Close upon his heels I followed in a narrow path, through what seemed to be a large courtyard, overgrown with thick grass. Presently he stopped, and, taking a bunch of keys from his pocket, unlocked a door in a back wing of the house. Reaching out until his hand touched me, as if to make sure that I was there, he swung the door open and we stepped into a dimly lighted apartment. My mysterious guide turned up the wick of a lamp that was burning on a table in the centre of the room. It was a library, with great shelves of books reaching from floor to ceiling along its walls. A large galvanic battery, globes, charts and other contrivances that belong to the equipment of a scholar surrounded the table. This table was used for writing evidently, for there were pens lying on it and a human skull used as an inkstand, the fluid being held in the cavities of the eyes. I had seated myself in a chair and was waiting for some sign from the little old man who had brought me there. But where was he? Turning around I looked about me on all sides. He had left the room during my momentary preoccupation. I had scarcely seated myself again when a door opened and a venerable man, with snow-white hair and a smooth-shaven face that was pale and wrinkled, walked slowly toward me. I rose to my feet and advanced a step or two. He came forward without speaking and looked steadily into my eyes. Slowly and sadly he turned his gaze upon the floor, apparently in deep thought. A sigh broke from his lips as if some memory, stirring in the caves of thought, had driven it forth.

The man who stood before me had deep-set gray eyes, almost concealed by long shaggy brows not yet entirely white. His lips were thin, and drawn closely together above a square, protruding chin. The nose was aquiline and prominent, with large, but finely cut nostrils. Altogether his was the most picturesque face I had ever seen. Suddenly he made an effort to clear his throat.

"Kendric's child," said he, in a strange, low voice. He spoke slowly and with great difficulty, as if his organs of speech were partially paralyzed. I would not have been able to distinguish his words but for the silence of that room and the unnatural keenness of my hearing. He still stood motionless, his eyes upon the floor. I knew that he was thinking of my father.

"Dead?" he asked, looking at me inquisitively.

"He is dead," I answered.

"And my man--did he give you the letter?"

"Yes; he is dead also."

"Dead? I thought he was dead," he repeated, slowly and thoughtfully. "I, too, am dead--long dead."

The words were separated by considerable pauses, and he faced me almost sternly as he finished speaking them. I stood staring at him, dumb with surprise.

"Why--how did you come here?"

He sank into a chair, exhausted with the effort it had cost him to speak. My presence seemed to irritate and annoy him. Why, indeed, had I come there? What should I say in reply to his question? I tried to think.

"Knaves! Knaves!" said my uncle, in a shrill voice, rushing toward me. In a moment he had thrown his arms about my neck and was sobbing aloud. My heart was full and I wept with him.

"Fortunate child of God," said he, after a moment; "you have the seed of life--immortal life. But I beg you to go. To one like you this house will seem an uncanny place; I can only think of it as beyond the grave."

"Let me stay, uncle," said I. "Don't send me away. Perhaps I can help you or comfort you."

"Poor soul! you shall stay if you will. I am in great trouble and need help, but you are a boy--I cannot ask you to give your life to me."

He sat down before the table, breathing heavily, and beckoned me to a chair beside him. I was quite dumfounded and knew not what to say. Presently he began writing upon large sheets of paper, handing each one to me as soon as it was covered. The manuscript read as follows:

"I am not able to talk much. To me words are a lie and an abomination. Even these I now write are misrepresenting me and deceiving you, though I wish them to tell the truth. They will make me out an ass or a madman. I am neither. For eighteen years I have scarcely spoken as many words. A word or two of Sanscrit now and then has met my needs, thank God! There is an interior language for which speech is an imperfect medium. Through that interior language thought is communicated directly and truthfully. I used it long before I came here--imperfectly, to be sure, but with a small degree of satisfaction to myself. Through it I was able to heal the sick when others failed. I knew how they felt better than they could tell me in feeble words. In some more perfect state of evolution, beyond the grave, perhaps, all men will have this power and it will be perfect. I can enjoy but an imperfect use of it until the mortal part of me has been cast off. One trained to speech in childhood loses certain faculties that can never be regained.

"My wife died many years ago. She left me a broken heart and a child, newly born. I had just built this house, among strangers. We intended to devote the remainder of our lives to the study of mental phenomena. We desired to carry on our work without interruption. We planned to live unknown among those around us. When she died I saw in the child an opportunity. I determined to make its life a grand experiment; to preserve and cultivate its native intuitions--the germ of the power of direct communication. God has vouchsafed success to me. He lives--a man of exalted powers the like of which the world has never seen but once, and then in Christ, the very Son of God. But, unlike Him, my son is only human, with weaknesses that are our common lot.

"The years are flying, and strength is failing! I must die soon and he will live. That thought burns my brain, passing through it day by day. His life may be long extended and he cannot live alone, nor among men, for he would be a stranger and friendless--feared and dreaded by superstitious fools. He has never seen a human face outside these walls nor heard a human voice but mine. I have told you my trouble."

He ceased writing, but before I had finished reading the statement some strange influence came over me. I felt restless and uncomfortable. My hand was shaking so that I could scarcely read the words on the last sheet of paper. Suddenly I raised my eyes and saw a young man, godlike in form and feature, standing at my side. His face wore an expression of indescribable eloquence. As familiar as he afterward became to me, I can never forget the first impression which that magnificent human being made upon my mind, as he stood there--radiating a power that I felt to the tips of my fingers. What favored son of man was this confronting me, born to such an inheritance of majesty and grace? I asked myself, regarding him with amazement. He had eyes dark as night, set under a broad forehead, about which wavy masses of tawny hair fell gracefully. His stately form was erect and firm as a statue. For a moment his eyes looked into mine; then he advanced and took my hand. Tenderly he pressed it to his lips, stepping back as he did so and looking at me with a half-curious, half-amused expression. I was so startled by the unexpected appearance of this remarkable figure that I had not, until now, noticed that a large lion had followed him into the room and was lying quietly at his feet. I was not afraid; indeed, the king of beasts seemed but a part of the man's masterful presence. I do not think I would have seen the animal but that his enormous body was lying directly before my eyes on the floor. My uncle had been sitting with his head resting upon his hand at the table. Suddenly he rose and a strange, guttural sound--it may have been a word from some language wholly unfamiliar to me--passed his lips. The young man immediately left us, the lion following closely at his heels. We both sat in silence for some moments after he had gone. My mind had felt strange exhilaration in his presence, and I rubbed my eyes to make sure that I was not dreaming. When I looked at my uncle the sad expression on his face had given way to a smile of infinite satisfaction.

"He is pleased--thank God!" said my uncle, in a hoarse whisper, sinking into a chair.

I made no answer.

"It was my son," he continued, with animation. "Rayel--that was the name she gave him. Rayel, the wonderful. He will love you as he loves me. Come," said he, rising, "the night is nearly gone."

Taking a lamp from the table, he beckoned me to follow him. Silently we proceeded through a narrow hallway and up one flight of stairs to a spacious bedroom which had seemingly been prepared for my use. A candle was burning dimly on a large dressing-case, and by its flickering light, as soon as my uncle had gone, I looked about me and tried to think with calmness on the experience I had passed through. Bolting the door securely, I threw open one of the window blinds. To my surprise the first light of dawn was visible in the sky. My room was in the rear of the house. Between me and the high wall was a dense tangle of underbrush, barely visible in the dim light. Hastily undressing, I went to bed without further delay, and was soon in deep sleep. When I awoke it was near midday. Dressing as quickly as possible, I proceeded at once to the library, where my uncle sat waiting for me. He conducted me to the breakfast room--a well-lighted and cheerful apartment--where he served me with his own hands.

"You shall stay, sir--you shall stay," said he, laying his hand on my shoulder as he sat down beside me, with a smiling face. "Rayel loves you. He hopes you will stay. He thinks God sent you to us."

"I am glad, for I wish to stay," I said.

"Good!" he exclaimed, in a long whisper. "You have brought the world to him. Already he has seen it in your eyes. But it is good!"

While I ate he asked me questions touching the changes in our family since he left England.

I told him of my life at home after my father's death; of my hard lot in Liverpool, and of the midnight interviews with his messenger and with Mr. Earl. He listened to me with grave and attentive interest, but stopped me before I had finished, with an impatient gesture.

"Speak out! they meant--they meant to kill you, didn't they?"

I stared at him in amazement, while ideas that were new to me flocked into the empyrean of thought like black birds of prey. Oh, no; I had never suspected that! I would never before have permitted such a hideous suspicion to enter my mind. Was it possible that Mr. Earl had sent me away from England in order to save my life? My hands began to tremble, and I felt my face turning red and pale under the searching eyes of my uncle.

"My boy," said he, "if all the murders were done that men conceive, the devil would live alone on earth. We shall know some time--I tell you we shall know! Let us go to Rayel," he said, rising and leading the way.

The interview had greatly excited him, and his speech seemed even more halting and labored than before. Many of his words were mispronounced and separated by long pauses; but his manner was marvelously expressive, and often a peculiar turn of the eye or movement of the hand made his meaning clear when I was in doubt about his words.

I followed him through a long gymnasium and out upon a grassy courtyard extending along the rear of the grounds parallel with the river wall for a hundred yards or more, and adorned with beds of flowers. It was completely shut off from the eye of the outside world by a thick grove and an impenetrable growth of underbrush that reached beyond the lowest branches of the trees. Nothing but the blue sky, in which the sun was on its downward course, the house, and the walls of living green, were visible. Out of this Eden-like spot we passed into another wing of the building with large windows looking out upon it. Rayel met us at the door, dressed in a black robe of silk that hung gracefully from his shoulders. Again he took my hand and kissed it, then looked into my eyes with the same expression of curious interest upon his face that I had noted before. Still holding my hand, he led me across the room. For the first time I noticed that its walls were covered with pictures, unframed, and that an easel stood in the light of each window. We stopped before one of them. On a large canvas that was stretched across it I saw a likeness of myself. The eyes wore a haggard look which seemed unnatural. But there was something strangely real about it, in spite of that.

"Wonderful!" said I.

Rayel started at the sound of my voice, and glanced from one to the other with a puzzled, inquiring look. Turning to his father, he uttered some strange monosyllable in a deep voice. Then he took my hand and walked back and forth across the room with me, smiling in great delight. I was fascinated by one of the pictures which showed a great gleaming eye with a suggestion of lightning in its fiery depths, as if taken at the keenest flash of fury. To intensify its fierceness a human hand was raised in front of it so as to throw a dark shadow across the canvas.

"It is the lion's eye," said my uncle, who was standing near me.

There were other paintings--many of them equally strange and wonderful--hanging on the walls, some of which contained material he could not have derived from direct observation. It was easy to discern in his work the fragments of nature that came within the limited command of his own eyes--the falling snow, the changing phases of the sky and of vegetation--for they were presented with a stronger and more vivid touch. Until the fading twilight blended all color into gloom I passed from one canvas to another along the wall in silence, oblivious of all save the presence of Rayel, who followed close at my elbow, evidently enjoying my admiration of his work. When I had finished looking at the paintings I turned for some sign to indicate his further pleasure, and discovered that he was gone. My uncle was standing near me.

"It is late," said he.

We returned at once across the yard to my uncle's retreat among his books and papers. Lighting the lamps he sat down beside me.

"The power of speech is returning," said he. "I can talk more easily."

"Did I not hear you speak to your son?" I asked.

"Yes," he answered. "Long ago difficulties arose. Sometimes he could not command my thoughts, nor I his. I had known fifty years of life; he had not--hence an inequality. My physical organism had been neglected. It was an imperfect agent of the mind. Many of my faculties were lost. These circumstances stood between us like barriers. It was the beginning of each communication that troubled us, when our minds were working in different channels. Something was needed for a cue--a starting-point. Ten pregnant words of Sanscrit were all we needed. It was easy then."

"I should think he would have lost the power of speech and hearing," I remarked.

"No. Music saved them--abstract music. His voice is wonderful. His hearing is quick. Rayel knows words but not speech. His mind has command of my knowledge. He has never seen the world, but he knows about it. I tried to begin my life anew and to forget the past. But I could not wholly cleanse my mind of it. Its memories faded slowly. I have avoided renewing them for his sake."

"He could, then, learn to speak?"

"With ease, and it were better if he could speak now. We will teach him soon."

As he ceased speaking, fatigued by the unaccustomed effort, I heard low strains of music echoing through the silent halls around us. A violin! The tone was deep and tremulous, gradually growing louder, filling the ear with its message, and lifting the mind to lofty heights of thought and passion. We both sat listening for hours, and midnight came before the last strain died away. That music was like a strange story that drops its plummet deep into life's mysteries.

"A new song!" said my uncle, turning to me with surprise on his face. "He got the subject from you. We shall see."

Presently Rayel entered the room, bringing something in his hand--a picture--which he held up to the lamplight. A girl's face! and wonderfully like that of Hester Chaffin. I sat amazed, staring at it. But the likeness was not exact, the face was idealized--as I had seen it in my dream the night before. I raised my eyes to Rayel's face. He was looking at me with an expression of pain and embarrassment. _

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