I HAVE never been a believer in spiritualism, or mesmerism, or animal magnetism; and it is fair to say also that I have never so far investigated the phenomena claimed to be exhibited in connection with these subjects as to feel myself entitled to pronounce an opinion upon their truth or falsity.
When I say that I am a lawyer of twenty years’ practice, it will be at once inferred that I claim at least the common ability to detect attempted imposition. The members of our profession have from an early date been somewhat more distinguished for devouring widows’ houses than for swallowing, blind fold, new dogmas, whether true or false.
What I purpose to relate is plain matter of fact, which occurred on shipboard on a passage from Portland to Liverpool, in a screw-steamer in the year 1858.
At least thirty persons were present, and would bear witness to the correctness of my statement. Some of them were believers in spiritualism in certain of its forms, and were ready to accept almost any solution of what occurred. Others were hard business men, who would not have wasted their precious time in the investigation of new theories if they could have found any means to make a dollar in the way of trade; but as the passage was long and tedious, they were glad to be amused by whatever was invented to kill their weary time. Among the passengers was a venerable Catholic priest, an educated and interesting man, and evidently conscious of his influence over several ladies of his church who had come on board with him. He took no part in our various amusements, but looked on with approbation, for the most part, though in the particular scenes into which I design to introduce the reader he was manifestly much disturbed, either because he was himself troubled for a solution of what he witnessed, or perhaps because he feared that some of his people might thereby be led into heretical opinions. Somewhat conspicuous, too, among the passengers was a Mrs. Ruthen, a tall, thin, earnest Catholic woman of fifty years or more, one of those females, peculiar to no sect or country, whose mission seems to be to take the general oversight of affairs and regulate the walk and conversation of everybody about them. She was evidently a sincere and virtuous woman, and very desirous that others should be just as sincere and virtuous as she herself was. She was what we call a good woman, by which we usually mean a woman whose forte is goodness, — who runs all to goodness, just as some old trees run all to fruit, with no sap to spare for a single luxuriant ornamental shoot. Such goodness is a constant, even though silent reproach to all less perfect people. In such a presence we are painfully conscious “ how awful goodness is.” Early in the voyage she began to manifest the consciousness that a wide field of missionary enterprise was before her. She cast much-injured looks upon the games of cards with which even sober-minded citizens are wont to amuse themselves at sea, and the oaths of the second officer of the ship, which ever and anon mingled with the breezes across the deck, were all reflected in tenfold numbers from her injured countenance, like flashes of light from a broken mirror. It is an evidence of the depravity of the human heart that men delight to torment and ridicule good women of this description, and we had not been twenty-four hours on our voyage before the natural antagonism between righteousness and sin began to be manifested in the conduct of some of the young men on board towards this estimable lady.
And now let me introduce the hero of my story, if so pretentious a name may be used to designate the chief actor in the little scenes of our voyage. He was a stranger to every person on board, and all we knew of him was what we gathered from the various incidents of his life, which he recounted for our amusement in no very connected manner, and with the evident air of a man whose object was to entertain his audience rather than to limit himself to the truths of history. Count Pulaski he called himself. He was by birth a Hungarian, and almost in boyhood had attached himself to Kossuth; in the reverses of that hero he had been banished from his country and found an asylum in the city of New Orleans, where he had for some years supported himself by teaching the modern languages. By a recent act of amnesty he was allowed to return to his native land, and to the possession of his paternal estates. He was a handsome, erect, dark - eyed, dark - haired man of about twenty-eight, a little above the middle height, of a lithe and slender though rather muscular form, with a fearless and careless, yet courteous bearing, comporting well enough with his somewhat romantic history. We had on board a large party from St. John’s, several of whom I shall have occasion particularly to mention. Among them was Dr. Williams, a tall, thin, fine-looking man of middle age, who, like most others, was quite seasick, and, like most doctors, seemed to regard his own case as of far more importance than that of anybody else, and to be desirous of calling attention to his peculiar sufferings. Now, next to being sick yourself at sea is the disagreeableness of being constantly reminded, especially at table, by the behavior of your fellow passengers, that your turn may come next. Dr. Williams insisted upon eating his regular allowance, and might readily have passed himself off as free from this ridiculous sickness, for which nobody ever had the least sympathy; but he was not willing thus to be forgotten, and annoyed all of us at table by ever and anon sending forth a dreadfully prolonged groan, expressive of the unutterable feelings which pervaded his inner man. The count’s patience soon gave way under this extraordinary trial, and conceiving, perhaps, that the doctor was entitled to no monopoly of sweet sounds, he began one day at dinner to emulate his example. They sat nearly at the extreme ends of the long table, and whenever the doctor at his end sent forth one of his unearthly groans, the count would instantly echo back from the other an intensified and still more sepulchral response. Human nature in her blandest and most polished moods could not retain a becoming gravity at this ludicrous outrage upon the proprieties, and at the third or fourth repetition of it the burst of applause was universal. The doctor, amazed at the audacity of the count’s behavior, was too good-natured to resent it and joined in the laugh, and was fully cured, if not of his disease, at least of its worst symptom. Thus the count began to be conspicuous, and as he spent much of his time with the younger ladies it was quite natural he should fall under the special notice of good Mrs. Runthen, who evidently thought his foreign accent and title made him enough of a heathen to merit the particular attention of a true believer. She soon found occasion to draw him out upon his religious faith, and reported among the passengers that he was an infidel, if not an atheist, and cautioned the young ladies not to be too intimate with so dangerous a man. The count, however, was not to be so summarily dealt with, but boldly introduced his heresies into the general conversation of the cabin, ready to defend them against all who chose to enter the lists. He openly scoffed at all the distinctive articles of the Catholic faith, and spoke of Popes and priests with a want of reverence quite shocking. Of the Scriptures he talked freely, as being historically true, and as prescribing an excellent system of morals evidently borrowed from Plato. As to the miracles, he had no doubt they were wrought as related, but insisted that the power to perform them was neither superhuman nor peculiar to the days of the apostles, and finally avowed his belief boldly that the relations between mind and matter are such that the living soul of man is supreme over all vegetable life and over all lifeless matter, and in its highest state of exaltation, even in this life, might claim their obedience to his will for all good purposes. He cited the instance of the barren figtree which withered under the curse, and insisted that the will of any man might be literally obeyed if in faith he should command the mountain to be removed and cast into the sea. He contended that there is nothing incredible in the idea that matter should be obedient to mind.
I cannot give the quaint language of his slightly imperfect English, but it was something like the following: “ You say to your hand to raise itself, and it do so. You say to it to take a pen and write what you think in your mind, and it obey, and you do not think it a strange thing. The hand and the pen do what your mind say to them. But your hand is presently cut off. Then you tell it to take a pen and write, and you say it will not do so, because it is not alive. Aha, you say too much. It is not because it was alive that it did obey you. Your hand shall not be cut off, but it shall be paralyzed by disease. Now it is alive, but you cannot make it write. No, no; it was not because it was not alive that it did not obey you. It is not because you have no will to govern it, for your will is strong enough to govern your foot. You cannot tell why it is; still your mind cannot govern its own body. But you have seen a person magnetized; then he cannot govern his own body, but another mind governs it, and his senses are not his own. He sees and tastes and smells what his magnetizer or some person put in communication with him sees and tastes and smells, and not what is presented to his own senses. And so it is that his mind is not his own, for the senses are the way to the mind, and when we know that the mind of one person is conscious of what affects the senses of another, we see that the mind of the one is conscious of the sensations or thoughts of the other. We must believe, then, that the mind, or the soul, or the spirit of one person may communicate with the mind, or the soul, or the spirit of another without the use of such senses as are known to us. And this is not strange, for we pray to God in private and in public, and believe that he, a spirit without such senses as our own, hears our prayers, or in some way knows our thoughts and wishes. We all believe, then, that the gross bodily senses are not the only means of communication, Cicero, two thousand years ago, in his treatise on Divination, reasoned in this way to prove that dreams might he prophetic. He says, ‘ The minds of the gods, without eyes, ears, or tongues, know the thoughts of each other; and so men, when they silently pray or vow, doubt not that the gods attend to their thoughts. Thus the minds of men, when released by sleep they leave the body, discern things which they cannot perceive when joined with the body.’ Again he says, ‘ The mind is active in sleep, being free from the senses and from all care, while the body lies prostrate and as it were dead, And since the mind has existed from all eternity, and has been conversant with innumerable other minds, it comprehends all things that exist, — if indeed it be so disposed by moderation and temperance in eating and drinking that it watches while the body is at rest. This is divination by dreaming.’ And that same wise heathen, Cicero, explained how the soothsayers, while awake, could detach their minds from their bodies, and wander away among the minds of departed men and among superior intelligences, holding communion with them, and retaining the knowledge thus acquired after returning to the body.”
“It seems very strange,” the count would say, “ that you who pray to the Virgin every day, and think she hears you, will not believe she can answer yon and put thoughts into your mind. If your prayers, which are only thoughts, are known to spirits not in human form, why may they not be known to my spirit?
“ Christ, while on earth, knew the thoughts of his disciples and of others, before they were spoken ; so that we see the human form does not hinder the spirit from such knowledge.”
We had abundant time to listen to the count’s philosophic speculations, as any reader who has crossed the sea will understand when I tell him that the voyage usually made in ten or twelve days lasted us twenty-two. The passengers, too, had been brought into closer acquaintance by the strange accidents which had befallen us. It seems even now, as I look back upon the passage, as if the ship were bewitched, though perhaps our bad luck may be accounted for by the facts which I learned from one of the officers, that the compasses had not been properly adjusted, and that no officer on board had ever made the passage in this ship. Such a chapter of accidents has seldom been written, and I am assured by a captain in the navy that in twenty years in which he had been actually afloat he had not witnessed so many manifest perils.
For the first ten days a fog covered us nearly every hour. The day after we left Portland, in broad daylight, the weather being, however, rather thick, we were steaming at full speed, when suddenly there was a cry of “ Land ahead ! ” We had hardly time to learn the meaning of the cry, before the ship was stopped, the motion of her screw reversed, and we had crept quietly backward out of danger.
Some of us, who had taken our wits along with us, were, however, curious to know what land we had seen, where we were, and where we were likely to go next, questions which nobody on board seemed competent to answer. The fog closed round us thicker and thicker, and by and by night came on. The captain said we had been swept by the ocean currents into the Bay of Fundy; that no skill could make allowance for these great tide rivers, but that he was heading more southerly and should soon be far outside of land. We went to bed somewhat serious, and arose in the morning to find that the fog was still thicker upon the smooth but heaving sea. What wind there was was fair, and our fore and aft sails were set to steady the ship, so that we were running by steam and wind about nine knots an hour. I was writing in the cabin, at about noon, when a heavy thump upon the bottom of the vessel made me spring hastily upon deck. The sails were furled, the engine was stopped, and orders were given to heave the lead. There was some excitement. “ Did we strike a rock?” I asked of the captain. “ No,” was the reply; “ we are a hundred miles from land.” “ Five and a half [fathom] at the bow!” was the report. “Quarter less four at the starboard! ” The captain looked amazed. " Back the engine! ” he shouted. “ Two and a half at the bow! ” exclaimed the first imperturbable voice, and then the ship struck heavily again. She careened so suddenly that I sprang to the railing for support. A young American ship-master, who had all along seemed to expecttrouble, was at my side. “ Are you frightened?” he asked. “Not much; but are we not in danger? ” “ The sea is calm,” he replied, “ and the boats will probably save us if we lose the ship.” The vessel thumped as before two or three times, and then righted. “ She is fast on a rock! ” cried a voice. I looked at the captain. He was as calm as a summer morning. “ Steady! ” said he, “ she moves, she is all right. Keep her still.” A boat was lowered, and an officer and four men were put off to sound. In the mean time an anchor was got ready to drop; the carpenter sounded the well and ascertained that there was no leak, while we anxiously watched every motion. At length the officer in the boat reported seven fathoms. The ship was headed in that direction, slowly, for two hours, creeping after the boat where its officer reported sufficient water. And so we were out of that immediate danger, but our troubles were by no means ended. The fog was still about us like a pall, so thick that we could not see the length of the ship by day. It was evident that the officers had lost their reckoning entirely and were at their wits’ end. Twice we had run almost ashore, and nobody knew where. Night came over us, and slowly we groped about, stopping the ship every half hour to sound, and shrieking every five minutes with the steam-whistle to warn the fishing-boats from our path, or perchance to get some answer and learn our whereabouts. Lost in a fog! Our only means to guess our position were the particles of earth which adhered to the deep-sea lead, which were noted as carefully as if they were telegrams from Neptune himself. It was Sunday when we ran aground. Three weary days, and nights more weary still, — with no sun by day, no star by night, to guide us; with no sign that we were not, alone on the whole ocean, except twice the distant sound of a bell from some fishing smack in the darkness, — three days and nights we held slowly on our easterly course by the compass. The passengers behaved as people usually do in such situations. At first they were frightened and nervous, but fortunately human nature cannot keep up the excitement, even of fear, for many hours. The table was regularly laid, and most of the passengers took their meals as usual; the card players also resumed their games. Madam Ruthen found ample occasion to rebuke the levity of Count Pulaski, who in turn reproved her for her want of faith. “ Your religion, madam, is good for nothing; you are afraid you will be drowned; you are afraid to die. I am not a Christian, but I am not afraid to die. I think we shall all be drowned, hut I have no fear.”
On Wednesday, before noon, suddenly the fog lifted, and the sun burst forth, welcomed by worshipers as sincere as ever bowed before his rising face. A sail was in sight, which proved to be a brig from Jamaica bound to Halifax. We came within hail of her, and were told by her officers that they had no accurate reckoning, but thought we were about thirty miles from Halifax, and gave us the supposed course. All on board were inspired with new life. We put on full steam and ran bravely on. Soon the fog again settled over us, but we were all on deck, expecting to enter Halifax in a short time. I was standing on the upper deck, near the stern, talking with some ladies, when " Breakers ahead! breakers ahead! Stop her! stop her!” was shouted from the bows. As I looked forward a sight met my eyes that will remain in my mind so long as life endures. We seemed rushing into the open jaws of destruction. All along-side, close upon us, the breakers, white as snow-clouds, were dashing over black rocks that stretched in a continuous uneven wall clear round the bows. The ship rushed forward into the very crescent of the breakers. “ Back the engine! ” was the order.
Three men of us, the priest, the count, and myself, stood side by side, intensely watching how a few seconds should decide our fate. We had time for hut a single remark from each, which I well remember. “ We are gone this time,” said I. “I trust in God not,” piously responded the priest. “ She has stopped, and we are safe!” cried Pulaski, The ship seemed to hang, as on a pivot, between the backward motion of the screw and her own momentum aided by the wind and waves. The bowsprit stretched out right over the black ledge, which seemed to rise square up from the sea when the concussion came. The mainspenecr-gaff, a spar some twenty feet long, came crashing down upon the chimney and the iron rigging. There was no open pathway except behind us. Just then came up the captain’s clear voice again: “ All right,— she moves off!” The tough iron of the hull had rebounded from the rock, and slowly the good ship moved backward. The rocks were frowning high and black close upon the port side of the ship, stretching thrice her length behind, and the waves seemed driving us full upon them. It seemed an age in which we crept backward past their ragged heads, every moment expecting a final collision with some sunken rock, or to be dashed broadside against the reef.
At length we passed beyond the visible danger. The wells were sounded and no water was found. The lead was cast in twenty fathoms of water. We fired signal guns, and soon an answering gun was heard, and a pilot came alongside. He said we had been upon Jeddore Ledge, a reef well known to sailors. In a few hours the fog blew away, and we ran gayly into Halifax.
Count Pulaski stood on deck with two young ladies who were to leave us at Halifax, all three anxiously watching the boats that were putting off from shore as we dropped our anchor in the bay. Two or three days before, he had amused us in the cabin by pretending to read the thoughts of the ladies in their faces, and had succeeded so well as to excite considerable curiosity. To one of these young ladies he had said, “ Your thoughts are of a young gentleman in Halifax, who loves you very much and will meet you there.” The conscious blush upon the maiden’s cheek gave proof that there was some truth, at least, in this divination. Her companion seemed much surprised, and asked the count if he could tell them anything further of the gentleman who was to meet them. “ Perhaps I can, if the lady will allow me to take her hand and will at the same time keep her friend in her thoughts.” At the solicitation of several of the ladies present, the young maiden gave her hand to the count, who held it somewhat fondly in both his own for a few moments, while the rest of the party stood around, urging him, with incredulous laughter, to proceed with his soothsaying before he should himself be entranced. At length, looking the lady intently in the face, he said, “ You go to Halifax to be married. Your lover is waiting for you there. He will come off in a boat to meet you. He will be the man at the bow of the first boat. He is a merchant from Quebec; his name is George” — “ Stop, stop! do not tell any more!” cried the lady, snatching her hand away, and blushing to the tips of her ears. “There is not a word of truth in all you are saying.” But her friend confessed that the count was a prophet, at the same time declaring that nobody on board except herself knew anything of the arrangement, and that she had spoken of it to no one. The story went through the ship how the count had read the young maiden’s thoughts, and as no age or sex is exempt from interest in all that pertains to love affairs we had looked with peculiar regard upon this lady, and now that she was about leaving us we gave her our best wishes. “ There! ” cried the count, “ that is he, in the foremost boat; he sees you already.” True enough, as the boat came along-side, it was made evident that the count was a true prophet.
At St. John’s, Newfoundland, we received a large accession of passengers, and sailing out of the harbor one clear morning, close by a huge iceberg that was “ anchored ” in the channel, with six others in sight, glistening in the distance like white snow - peaks, we were soon once more enveloped in fog, and again groping our weary way across the ocean. For days we were shut up as in a cloud, with no sun, or moon, or star to guide, our chief fear being that we might dash at any moment upon an iceberg and go to the bottom of the sea.
At length sprang up a breeze which increased to half a gale, as the sailors said, and the fog blew off and the sea roared and the ship, under full sail, lay over to her work in right earnest. The propeller was too slow for the sails, and was dragged through the water, a mere hindrance to our course; and so the captain, by way of experiment, — for nobody on board had ever seen the thing done, — unshipped the screw, leaving it to turn only with the motion of the vessel as she was propelled by the sails. The gale increased, and on we flew; but the new arrangement brought new trouble, for the huge screw, detached from the engine, somehow found play that was not expected, off and on, like a hub on an axle, beating against the stern as if the Cyclops were there forging thunderbolts. One evening, about nine o’clock, a dozen of us gentlemen were sitting in the cabin, the ladies having all retired early. The wind was still high, and the noise of the screw terrific. I was conversing with the merchant captain, whom I have mentioned, as to the probable effect of this concussion upon the iron plates of the ship. Count Pulaski sat near us, when suddenly we heard a loud crash below, and felt the ship jarred as if she had again run upon a rock, followed by a rattling of the machinery for a moment, and then by a silence as profound as death. “ The engine has broken! ” “We have struck again!” cried one after another. “ The screw has gone to the bottom, and I am glad of it,” coolly remarked the count, “for now we can sleep.”
At that moment the door of the ladies’ cabin opened, and into our presence marched Madam Ruthen, her thin figure clad in white and spotless garments of the night, and with a skeleton hoop-skirt of the largest dimensions in her hands. Her first remark was, “ I am not frightened, but I want to know how long I have to live;” and then she made a vain attempt to protect herself from the vulgar gaze of men by putting on the skirt. We could not have forborne to laugh had we known it was our last hour. “ I think there is no danger,” I said, as gravely as possible, “ and perhaps you had better return to your cabin,” which she immediately did. I confess, however, to having been very much alarmed. The dead stillness which seemed to settle upon us was of itself frightful. We went upon deck, but it was many minutes before we knew what had happened. At length the engineer came from below, and reported that the shaft which passes right through the stern of the vessel, to which the screw in the water is attached, and which connects it with the engine, was broken square off on the outside, and so we were in no danger. Had it parted on the inside and the shaft gone out, it would have left an opening which would have sunk us in a short time.
We were safe for the present, but suddenly converted from a screw-steamer into a sailing vessel. After that we went quietly on, with varying winds, wearied with the monotony of our long voyage. Chess, backgammon, cards, shovel-board, books, — all were exhausted. Four times a day we met at table and tried to eat. We watched the clouds and the dog-vane, and whistled to raise the wind. We talked of everything, — politics, religion, trade, science, and art. The count’s wonderful gifts were the frequent subject of conversation, several passengers declaring that he had recounted to them, with perfect, accuracy, scenes of their past life which could not possibly be known by ordinary means to any person on board. The occurrence at Halifax was often recalled, and the only explanation by the incredulous was that the count had overheard a part of the facts and guessed the rest; and as to his more recent attempts, it was suggested that probably his superior tact had enabled him to draw out from his unconscious victims the very facts which he afterwards professed to divine. Others had a different theory, adopting the common idea of intercommunication between different minds by magnetism. Madam Ruthen solved the mystery in a more direct manner by boldly asserting that the count was in a league with the devil, who helped him to all his boasted knowledge; and she referred to his profane disregard of all her pious exhortations and his levity in the hour of danger as plenary proof of her theory.
Again and again had the count’s peculiar powers formed the subject of discussion, until many of us grew weary of it, and we determined to bring the matter to some conclusive test. One morning, when most of the passengers were in the saloon, and the ever-recurring subject of magnetism and spiritualism had once more come up, I proposed that we frankly ask the count to explain his pretensions to peculiar powers, and to give us some illustrations of them by which they might be tested. I stated plainly my disbelief in the whole pretense, and that I had no doubt if we were watchful we should be able to fathom, upon known principles, all the apparent mysteries of the count’s wonderful performances.
As I had been the most prominent unbeliever, and was by my profession supposed to be qualified to conduct investigations with propriety, it was the unanimous request of the company that I would take the lead in the proposed experiments. Just as our arrangements were completed the count came down from the deck, and I, in behalf of the company, stated to him in the most respectful terms our wishes, saying to him that many of the company were believers in spiritualism in some form, while others, like myself, were utterly incredulous; and that, as he had already given some illustrations of his powers, we hoped he would freely explain to us his own theory, and give us some practical evidence of its truth.
The count seemed at first somewhat embarrassed at this formal request, but was too well bred to take offense at what he perceived was but a rational curiosity. “I do not pretend,” said he, modestly, “to any supernatural power. I suppose every one has the same power in some degree, more or less. One day I have very great sensitiveness. I go in the street of the city, and I get a hundred blows in the face. I meet a man who does not like me, and I feel, as it were, a blow on my face when he passes. I cannot tell how, but I feel what they think of me. I take hold of your hand, and some days lean know your thoughts and see your whole life in your mind; some days I cannot know anything; I cannot tell why. Sometimes I seem to read what will be in future, but I do not well know how that is.”
He was at once urged, on all sides, to make an experiment on some one, and I was nominated as the person whose past life should be read in the hearing of the company. Upon my suggestion, however, that I was a stranger to all on board, as well as a professed unbeliever, and that nobody but myself could know whether my history was correctly given or not, it was concluded that experiments should be made with some of the passengers from St. John’s, who were quite numerous and knew enough of each other to verify or contradict what might be stated.
Mr. Trowbridge, a fine-looking, grave, middle-aged gentleman, was first selected. The count sat by him holding for some minutes his left hand and gazing quietly into his face. “ Have you any enmity against me in your heart?” asked the count. " Certainly I have not,” was the reply. “ If you have we cannot be in communication, and I can tell you nothing; if you have not, I think I can read in your mind all your life. You are a very good man,” he pursued, in a low, musing tone. " I thought you were a hypocrite, but you are not. You are very good to the poor. You ride a black horse with a very large tail. Aha! a lady rides with you, — a pious lady from England, who came to do good, and gives all her money in charity. How strange ! she wears boots, — Wellington boots; a pious, good lady on a white pony.”
The St. John’s people were amazed, declaring every word to be literally true, and all protesting that none of the facts bad been spoken of since the voyage began. The count gave many other particulars of the life of Mr. Trowbridge, and concluded by whispering in his ear a statement which Mr. Trowbridge immediately repeated, declaring that it was true, but that, no soul on board knew it but himself. It was that the object of his voyage to England was promotion in the public service.
A young, well-educated gentleman, who was said to be an Englishman, was next selected for exposition. We had observed him as a modest, intelligent young man, who had taken little part in our discussion of the count’s peculiar gifts, except to denounce the whole thing as a humbug. He readily gave his hand to the count, with the air of one who had no fear of the consequences. We watched with much interest the halfsurprised, half-amused expression of the countenance of our oracle for some moments before he broke forth: " Oh, dear, how strange it is ! you are in love, very bad. You love honestly a young girl; she is poor; she has no position, no family; your parents do not approve; she has often crossed the water in a boat with you. Oh, how strange! she rows your boat; can it be true? You will marry her in nineteen months.” The truth of this little romance was confessed in the blushes of the youth, while the astonishment of his friends at such an exposure of his secret was equally manifest.
The next subject selected was Captain Gray, of St. John’s, a hardy, intelligent sailor, whom everybody seemed to know and respect. Having gone through with the preliminary inquiry, which was never in any instance omitted, as to his subject having any enmity against him, the count proceeded to give a sketch of the captain, a part of which was as follows: “ You are a captain of a vessel to catch seals, in the bark Betsy. You have a partner, a Wesleyan, a very pious man. It is very strange he will not let you catch any seals on Sunday. The seals are all around, and other vessels take them Sunday, but you do not.”
Miss Horner, a young lady in whose appearance I had been much interested, and from whom I had learned enough to know that she was leaving an unhappy home in the hope of a better across the ocean, was next proposed. The count held her left hand, I fancied, somewhat longer and more tenderly than he had held those of a rougher make. “You have a stepmother,” said he, “ and she is very cross to you; she makes you sew for money, and gives you only half you earn, and your father is rich. It is very cruelYou ride often in a wagon with three others; you live in the west part of the town and drive to the east, with a red old horse. Aha! I would not live there; the bell rings all the time. What for? To call laborers to work. You go to friends abroad to go away from your stepmother. ”
There were those present who knew enough of the poor girl’s history to bear testimony to the truth of what had been spoken. I was triumphantly asked by the believers how I accounted for what I had witnessed. As to Captain Gray, I replied, we all knew he was captain of a seal ship, and a little inquiry would elicit most of his history, so far as the count had given it. As to the others, I suggested that some person on board, from St. John’s, might have given the count the information. The excitement was evidently pretty high between doubters and believers, and to make the matter plain the question was put to every passenger present from St. John’s whether he or she had given the count any part of the information which he had made public, and all denied upon their honor any knowledge of how he had acquired it.
The good priest, who had been present, a silent spectator of the scene, suggested that there might be others from St. John’s in the ship besides the present company; whereupon the captain was called and produced his list of passengers, and it appeared that all were present except one sick lady who was confined to her state-room, and who had not been on deck or at the table since she came on board; and as none of those present knew anything of her it was natural enough to suppose she could know little of them.
Madam Ruthen, who stood in holy awe of the priest, had followed his example of silent observation, until some one suggested that she should be subjected to the same ordeal as the rest, and have her life exposed. A look from the priest caused her to decline at once, which she did in decided terms, declaring that she would have no part in any such devilish arts. The Count turned somewhat sternly towards her, and said, “ Madam, if you do not be quiet, I will tell the company your whole life.” “ I dare you to do it! I dare you to do it! ” replied the insulted woman. “ There is nothing in my life that I am ashamed to hear.”
With the amiable desire to prevent further ebullitions of wrath, I turned to the lady with the inquiry, “ Do you not believe he can do it, if he pleases?” “ Yes,” she replied, “I do believe he can, as much as I believe there is a God in heaven, and he has paid dearly enough for his power. I might do the same if I would sell my soul to Satan.” “Madam,” interposed the priest, “I cannot allow you thus to take the name of your maker in vain without instant reproof.” The poor woman, thus assaulted by friend as well as foe, burst into a flood of tears, and without another word retreated to the ladies’ cabin, leaving the company astounded at the new aspect of affairs, hardly knowing whether they had been engaged in innocent amusement, or scientific investigation, or some diabolical experiment in the black art. Whatever the reason, our meeting was hastily dissolved; but the wizard powers of Count Pulaski continued to be the prominent topic of conversation to the end of the voyage. They who believed in what was called animal magnetism were at no loss to account for all that he had read of the past lives of others, for to them it was plain that mind might communicate with mind without the use of ordinary senses. As to his prophecies, their theory was insufficient; but they had full faith that the human soul has powers, not clearly developed, which might compass even the matter of prophecy.
That the count had in some way read correctly the most secret pages in the lives of some of our circle all were compelled to admit. I had particular reasons for wishing to know the impression the scene had left upon the more intelligent minds of the company. Among them was an elderly gentleman who held a high official position in St. John’s, and who had watched our proceedings narrowly throughout. I asked him privately whether the sketches which the count had given were accurate, and what he thought of the matter. “ Every word he uttered,” replied he, was exactly true so far as I could judge, and I cannot account for what I have witnessed; but it is all an infernal cheat in my opinion. Those are all respectable, truthful people, and are in no plot with him; hut such fellows as that count, as he calls himself, are not inspired.”
I ventured to inquire of the priest what he thought of the exhibition. “ I have no faith,” said he, “ that any man now possesses such powers as this man pretends to. We have no warrant for the belief that the powers of darkness confer such gifts upon men, and certainly this person is no saint, that he should receive inspiration from above. What we have seen is very strange, and I have no explanation to offer.” All the rest accepted the fact that the count could read the past life of any person with whom he could put himself in contact as undoubted, and most of them were sure that the future was equally an open book to him. They whose secrets had thus been published were vexed, or ashamed, or amused, according to the circumstances which had been made known concerning them.
Mr. Trowbridge, who was a man of a speculative turn, kept the subject in constant agitation, endeavoring to adapt to the facts some known principles of science; while good Madam Ruthen manifested the same pious horror of the count, whenever she met him, that she would have exhibited had he worn horns and cloven hoof in full view. In short, there was little else of interest aboard ship for the rest of the voyage hut discussions and controversies growing out of this affair, and when we finally separated in Liverpool nothing had occurred to throw any new light upon it, and most of the passengers in that unlucky ship, I doubt not, are still at intervals puzzling their brains over the unaccountable revelations of Count Pulaski.
And now, acute reader, what is your theory of this matter, as it is laid before you? Do the facts correspond with any principles of magnetism or spiritualism with which you are familiar? As for myself, as was remarked at, the outset, I have given no such attention to these subjects as to entitle my opinions to any weight as mere opinions. A few facts, however, I feel bound to state in this connection, which may throw some light upon the affair. I had taken with me, this being my first voyage, a specific, given me by a homœopathic friend, for seasickness. Having no occasion to use the medicine myself, I had experimented, early in the voyage, upon two or three gentlemen who were suffering, and -who had found permanent relief, as they thought, by the use of my prescription. The captain knew this, and informed me that a lady was very ill below with seasickness superadded to some chronic disease, and begged me to administer my specific to her. Protesting that I was no physician and knew not even the nature of my medicine, I could not refuse the request, and thus I found a pleasant introduction to the sick lady. The medicine seemed to afford her relief, and as she was too ill to go upon deck and had no acquaintance on board except the captain, I used to relieve the tedium of the voyage by occasional conversation with her below. She had been long detained by sickness at St. John’s, and through physicians and servants and nurses had become familiar with the private history of the people.
Seeing Pulaski’s readiness in guessing the future of the young lady who left us at Halifax, I suggested to him that we might afford some amusement by gathering up materials and at some convenient time telling the fortunes of the passengers. My lady friend supplied most of the incidents, while the count, whose tact and memory almost as wonderful as witchcraft, picked up the rest. Our performance succeeded so much beyond our expectations, and was complicated with so many personal exposures, that we really dared not confess the deception, and were compelled to leave our victims to go down to their graves in the delusion into which we had so wantonly led them. The count had no compunctions whatever, but for myself I must own that I found in the affair a new illustration
And folly into sin,”
and have resorted to this confession as my only possible atonement.
Henry F. French.