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

Chapter 5

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My uncle recovered the power of speech rapidly. Before I had been a week in his house he was able to talk with comparative ease. He seemed to enjoy my companionship, and I spent most of my time in his library, conversing with him or conning the musty books that had long lain unread. To me this room was a fascinating and restful place. Somehow it reminded me of an old cemetery. The time-worn books upon its shelves stood in solemn rows, like headstones, sacred to the memory of the men who wrote them--their titles like inscriptions half obliterated. I did not see Rayel for days after the midnight episode that gave me such a startling revelation of his power.

"Do you think that Rayel knows everything that passes in one's mind--a vivid dream, for instance?" I asked my uncle one day when we were alone together.

Yes, except when he is himself asleep. His command of my dreams puzzled me at first. I thought I had put the past completely out of my mind. But I could not hide it from him. Little by little he learned everything in my history. One day I saw him at work on a picture. It startled me. The canvas showed a man lying on a surgeon's table. The knife had just severed an artery in his thigh. There were four men working over him--I was one of them. Gradually the features took on a familiar expression. His face grew paler under the brush. A few touches--the scene was complete. The man was dead--his eyes wide open, staring at me.

My uncle paused and looked earnestly into my face.

"It was a bit of your professional experience," said I. "Something had reminded you of it."

"The night before I dreamed about it" he answered. "My mind, released from the command of my will, betrayed me."

"A strange power!" I exclaimed.

"Incredible to you! Impossible to acquire unless the work begins at birth, and then the possibilities are infinite," said he, drawing his chair closer to mine. "You know what I have done. Start the new-born mind on any highway and see how it hurries along. You can do more, working a little while over the cradle, than all the preachers under heaven, after its occupant has grown beyond your ministry. I tell you, sir, the world is indifferent to its children. Neglected by their parents, subject to hired tenderness or none at all; left to the care of ignorant or depraved nurses, and often taught little but selfishness and greed of gain, the children of men are surrounded by destructive agencies. Can we wonder that the human mind loses in infancy so much of its native power? But so the generations of earth are growing up, bearing embittered fruit and sowing its seed to the four winds. Who cares for the mind and body of a child has the highest possible mission--the most sacred of all trusts. He must give it all his time and strength. He must lead its mind into green pastures; he must share its joys; he must know its hopes and fears; he must give it hold on lines of thought that reach into eternity, which will sooner or later flood it with inspiration; he must see that the brain has a sufficient foundation of flesh and blood and bone; he must give it all his life until the germs of power are developed."

"Unfortunately," said I, "most parents have other things to do and think of."

"Parentage is a crime under such circumstances. It has peopled the world with fools and knaves. It delays the coming of Christ's kingdom. There are a few wise men, but they are held down as gravitation holds the rock. There are laws of attraction in the world of mind as in that of matter. Good and evil are its poles. Every atom between them is held in place by the operation of opposing forces. The general mass of mind lies within narrow zones on both sides of the equatorial line of this imaginary world. Its attraction prevents any men from rising far above or descending far below it. I tell you, sir, the intellectual world has degrees of latitude and longitude which determine every man's location. Emancipated from the forces I have described, my son has risen to a level beyond the attainment of men under ordinary conditions. Hypocrisy and deceit are things of which he knows nothing. I do not ascribe to him, mind you, the possession of saintly virtues. He is a man in whom the best potentialities of mind and body have been developed. I have carefully avoided the danger of making him a morbid, spiritual creature. His body is quite as wonderful as his mind."

My uncle had been pacing restlessly up and down the room as he spoke, often pausing before me and uttering his words vehemently, with quick gestures and flashing eyes. He did not, seemingly, expect an answer to his remark, for, as he ceased speaking, he stepped before one of the windows and stood for a moment looking out upon the courtyard.

"See!" said he suddenly, motioning to me.

I stepped to his side and, looking through the window, saw Rayel running across the lawn with the lion on his shoulders. When the beast sprang down he seized it by the mane and tossed it about like one with the strength of Hercules. Here was a man who exercised his rightful dominion over animated nature!

"The beast is very fond of him," said my uncle, "and a movement of his finger is sufficient to control it."

"Why did you adopt a pet so terrible?" I asked.

"To secure isolation," he answered. "He's an object of terror to intruders, and a source of delight to us."

"You have snakes here, too," I ventured.

"Yes, and for the same reason, But they can't harm you now. Since you came we have killed them. They have been good friends to me, but you were a stranger, and your life would have been in danger every day. Years ago I procured a score of them from the mountains of Pennsylvania and put them into the thickets. They multiplied like rats, and so I was armed against invasion.

"To prevent their escape I sank a screen of wire two feet below the ground along the base of the walls; I also posted a warning inside my gate. Long ago I began to destroy them, and there were only a few left when you came. They were good friends to me--excellent friends!" he repeated, rubbing his hands with a grim smile. "For eighteen years I have been able to carry on my work unmolested. No knowledge of what was transpiring outside this little world has ever reached me."

"How did you begin the work of teaching this interior language to Rayel?" I asked.

"By signs at first--gradually making them more simple and suggestive. The elimination of signs kept pace with the development of his intuitions. It was slow work and hard work, but I gave all my time to it. After he became familiar with a sign, I began to make it less pantomimic, until finally a lift of the eyebrow, a movement of the lips, or an inclination of the head served to express my meaning. In time he could detect the passing shades of expression in my eyes and understand them. Look at me," said he, laying his hand on my head and watching my eyes as the firelight shone upon them, for it was now evening.

"Don't you know, my boy, that your eyes reflect what is passing in your mind? Then there are countless nerves and muscles in your face which proclaim thought. They aid my intuitions to discover what you do not speak. You wonder--ah! you are afraid!--afraid of me."

I started in my chair, for while he was looking into my eyes a strange gleam came into his own. He turned about suddenly and looked into the bright fire that burned on the grate before us.

"Never fear," he continued, nervously twirling a lock of his white hair. "Never fear, sir--I am not mad. Not yet. I have been afraid of it, but my reason will outlast my life. Do you ever pray?"

"Every day," I answered.

"Then you employ the interior language. We commune directly with the Holy Spirit. You get some message from Him every day more satisfactory than words. It's the answer of your prayers. I tell you, sir, words are an invention of the devil. Do you like Rayel?" he asked, turning upon me abruptly.

"You need have no doubt of that," I answered, "or of my willingness to look after him if it should be necessary--to take him away with me and cherish him as I would a brother."

"Good! Good!" he exclaimed smiling and rubbing his hands joyfully. "I have not long to live. When the time comes, take him out among the knaves and fools! But we must hurry: our time is short. We must prepare him for a second birth. You will find him an apt pupil--a very apt one. He already knows more of the world than I thought possible. I don't think you will find him troublesome--he can help you; he will teach you wisdom; he will enlarge the issues of your life. My fortune will be ample for his needs: use it as you see fit. I have one servant left," he said, drawing his chair closer to mine and speaking scarcely above a whisper: "I would like this to be his home when I am dead. It will be better, however, to place him in some public institution where he can be well provided for. I shall leave a sufficient allowance for him. The manner of its bestowal I leave entirely to your judgment. There were two of them--you have seen the other. He was a faithful fellow. They were poor fools, both of them, but uncommonly wise," he continued. "They kept it to themselves. I found them in an asylum twenty-five years ago. They called them idiots. Idiots! God help us!"

That strange light seemed to kindle in his eyes again while he was speaking, and it conveyed anything but a cheerful suggestion to my mind.

"There is this difference between idiots and madmen," he continued. "The former are born outside the pale of human sympathy; the latter overstep it. In either case they are not of this earth--they are embodied spirits living in a world of their own creation, biding the time of liberation from the flesh. And do you know, there are more madmen in the world than it dreams of?"

He stopped with a tone of sharp interrogation and looked squarely into my face.

"There are undoubtedly many of them," said I.

"The lines of monomania all lead to madness," he continued. "The deeper one plunges into the mysteries of life the nearer he approaches it. But, mark you, one man may venture further than another. For years I have lived in fear of two things--madness and death. Not on my account, but I had Rayel to think of."

My uncle rose to his feet before he had ceased speaking and walked stealthily on his tiptoes to an open door, where he stood for a moment listening. I could hear nothing but the sound of the wind whistling in the chimney.

"Wait here," he whispered presently, and then disappeared through the door, closing it after him. I held my watch down to the firelight and saw it was near eleven o'clock. I felt drowsy, and had almost fallen asleep, when my uncle returned, carrying a lantern. "Rayel is asleep," said he, in a whisper. "Won't you come with me?--it will not take long."

"Certainly," said I, rising, and waiting for him to lead the way. He put on his antique hat and threw a shawl over his shoulders.

"It's a chilly night," said he. "You'd better wear another coat."

I drew on my overcoat at once, wondering what new experience awaited me. Holding the lantern in front of him, he proceeded slowly and feebly across the rear courtyard, and unlocked a door in one of the side wings of the house, through which we passed into a large unfurnished room.

"I always wait till he's asleep," said my uncle, shuffling across the room and unlocking another door on its opposite side. "He's never been here--never yet," he continued, pulling the door open. The dim light of the lantern shone out upon a thicket of fragrant spruce and cedar. As I stepped down upon the ground, following in the steps of my uncle, I could hear the murmur of the great pines towering far above our heads. Slowly we made our way through the dense undergrowth, and soon entered an open space carpeted with pine needles and moss. It was a circular plot in the thicket, and out of its centre rose an immense pine, whose upper branches wholly obscured the sky. My uncle hung his lantern on a knot protruding from the trunk of the tree, and slowly knelt upon the ground, covering his face with his hands. Suddenly he beckoned to me, and I knelt down beside him.

"Listen!" said he. "Do you hear voices? She comes to me here. Can you see her--my wife? Look about you, do you not see her?"

He laid his trembling hand upon my shoulder. Again I saw that awful gleam in his eyes. The gruesome suggestion he had made set my nerves tingling, and I peered about among the shadows of that dimly lighted recess, half expecting some vision to greet my eyes. Then there came a loud rustling of the branches high above us. The lantern light flared up and suddenly went out, leaving us in total darkness.

"She is here!" he whispered, in excitement. "Sit still--do not speak."

A deep silence, intensified by the sound of the night wind in the trees around us, followed my uncle's words. The going out of the light he had seemed to regard as a signal from the spirit world, and I sat still as he bade me, not doubting that his acute senses had penetrated the veil which limited my own vision. I had seen so many revelations of his strange power that I now sat awestruck and afraid, waiting for some word from him to end my suspense. I could see nothing in the darkness, but I could hear my uncle breathing heavily, as if trying to suppress his emotion. Suddenly there was a stir in the bushes near us. Then I heard a step like that of a man on the thickly covered earth close by my side. I stretched out prone upon the ground, covering my face with my hands. I could hear a sound as of some one groping about in the darkness, and then I felt the touch of a strange hand upon my shoulder. _

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