Chapter XVI: “They Will Hear Him”
It was quite natural for me to take more than a passing interest in the delivery of a message forwarded under such extraordinary circumstances—a message destined to put to the test the unselfish plea urged by Dives that his brothers would hear one who returned from the dead. My father was not a reed to be shaken by the wind, but a man strong of convictions, and courageous to a fault in his defence of them, rather than given to being inclined to the superstitious. Hence the outlook for such success as I wished was by no means so hopeful as I could desire, unless my message might revive in his memory some vibration of our recent interview in his sleep, and so contribute to results I could neither foresee nor estimate.
Alas! I had not then learned what I know by many experiences now—how much more conscientious the soul is even in its temporary discarnation than when it walks abroad clothed in its mantle of flesh and blood. If men only knew how the mask of flesh disguises their true identity even for themselves, they would stand aghast at the revelation. There was pity as well as philosophy in the advice of the Grecian sage when he said, “Man, know thyself.”
The study of psychology is already revealing the fact that the idea of multiple personality is not altogether a fiction. It will not be long before it goes even further and recognizes that Robert Louis Stevenson wrote with an inspired pen and drew a characteristic picture of the race in the supposed creation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The portrait is only that of man asleep and man awake.
O wad some power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as (angels) see us!
It wad fra monie a blunder free us,
And foolish notion.
But what unnumbered errors we stumble into because such a priceless boon never rises beyond a poetic expression rather than an honest desire, and man goes on content to remain a stranger to his own true self equally as to his fellow.
That I was somewhat too sanguine in my hopes the sequel will show, but the lesson it taught me was a useful and necessary one. In my hope and expectation I had failed entirely to consider the earth influences in balancing the probabilities. Myhanene knew this, as I afterwards discovered, but he did not interfere, because these neglected forces tell like weights of lead in their opposition to our efforts, and it was better that I should discover it in practice rather than learn it as a theory.
My error lay in estimating probabilities according to the standard of my own condition, where everything is seen as it really is and may be accepted at its face value. Acting upon the change I found in my father in the sleep interview, I was led to apply this estimate to him in relation to his dealings with the message I had just transmitted. I hoped the evidence it would afford would impress him, and probably lead to a nobler future by inquiry and recognition of the indisputable evidence of available facts.
“How bright some visions break upon us!” said Myhanene presently, arousing me from my thoughts by one of his enigmatical utterances.
“I scarcely understand you,”
I replied. His smile revealed more than his words.
“I think this last experience has confused me somewhat,” I said; “I have almost forgotten everything in wondering what effect the message will have upon my father.”
“You must not hope for too much. But would you like to watch its effect for yourself?”
“I should indeed, if such a thing is possible.”
“It can easily be arranged,” replied my friend.
Then speaking to our Recorder, he inquired:
“Will you let me know when you are about to deliver the message?”
Listen, all ye who are accustomed to think of death as the last dread enemy of mankind! Myhanene was speaking to one on either side of the tomb. He was equally heard by each, yet his voice was not louder than a musical whisper. He was making a request that when his fellow-servant on earth proceeded to execute a commission on the morrow a telegraphic message should be sent to him in Paradise to acquaint him of the fact.
“Yes, certainly,” was the ready response.
“Then Eusimos shall call Aphraar, and they shall go with you to learn the result.”
With such arrangements possible, how far away from earth are we removed?
Eusimos kept the appointment, and when James and my father met we were present, though unseen.
The reception was such as the host generally accorded to strangers, especially those who were regarded as socially inferior to himself; proud, cold, and quizzically suspicious.
“You wish to see me?” he inquired without offering a seat.
“Yes; but my reason for doing so requires some little explanation.”
“Make that as brief as possible. I am a busy man, with no disposition to waste time.”
“Nor can I afford to do so, but being asked to deliver a message, I …”
“Excuse me; from whom do you bear the communication?”
“Your son, Mr. Frederic Winterleigh.”
“It is false! My son is dead, and there our interview must end.”
He turned to open the door.
“Very well, if you so elect,” replied James; “but I think your son, whether dead or not, would like to know you had recovered your lost volume of Lodge’s Portraits.”
He turned sharply, without opening the door, to inquire warmly:
“What do you know about the book? Let me caution you, sir, that I am not a man to be trifled with. If you have lost the volume in your possession, produce it without trying to levy blackmail upon me by any spiritualistic nonsense, or you will find yourself in a serious corner.”
My messenger’s cheeks flushed with indignation at the unfounded suggestion.
“If you think any financial consideration brought me here you make a great mistake. I would scorn to touch your money though you proffered it, so you may dismiss any thought of blackmail from your mind.”
“But why do you not tell me where the book is?”
“Because I have lacked the opportunity of doing so.”
“Then you have it now.”
“I have two messages to deliver from Mr. Frederic…”
“I tell you my son is dead, sir!”
“Did I deny it? Will you excuse me, Mr. Winterleigh, but this interview is quite as unpleasant to me as yourself; if therefore you will allow me to say what I came to say and take my leave, I shall feel obliged. What course you choose to take upon the information I have to give can be determined afterwards. I am asked to say that the claim of the valet, Acres, for twenty pounds is rightly made.”
“Oh, that is your purpose, is it? You are a confederate of his, are you?”
“No. I know nothing of the man, and have never seen him.”
“Then how do you know about this money?”
“I decline to discuss that under the circumstances, but will you kindly allow me to finish the message and go? My time is equally valuable as your own.”
“What is it you have to say?”
“That two days before your son’s accident, Acres gave him twenty pounds to invest, an investment which your son had not time to carry out, and he wishes you to return it from his estate.”
“That will be for me to make inquiries about; but what about the book?”
“On the same day Acres entrusted him with this money your son lent the missing volume to his friend and neighbour in chambers, Mr. Ralph Unacliff.”
The quiet and unassuming tone in which this information was conveyed, as if it was an ordinary and everyday communication between friend and friend, was too much for my father’s self-assurance and assumption of superiority. The human nature in every man is reachable, given tact and occasion, and this startling message had for the moment shaken if not completely penetrated my father’s vulnerable spot.
“Do you recognize the stupendous significance of what you say should it prove to be true?” he inquired.
“Perfectly; and it is also true. But I am too familiar with such communications to share your astonishment.”
“You must explain yourself. Won’t you sit down?”
“No, thank you, I have executed my commission, and we are both busy men.”
It was the visitor who was calm and reticent now, and my father was visibly disconcerted.
“But if this you tell me should prove to be true, it is the most astounding thing I have ever heard.”
“Then I would advise you to put it to the test, and afterwards take what further steps the result demands.”
“But won’t you offer some explanation?”
“It would be useless until you have verified the message. After that I shall be pleased to render you any assistance in my power. You have my card, and I am at home on Wednesdays after seven to help inquirers. Have you any reply?”
“What reply can I make in the first moment of such an unprecedented communication? If you could spare me half an hour I might be able to say something intelligible. I could telephone to Unacliff and prove the whole thing at once.”
“Speak to James,” I appealed to Eusimos, “and suggest that he accede to the request.”
“No, it would not be well,” he answered.
“Not to finish breaking down my father’s prejudice?” I inquired.
“It is for that I am carefully working,” replied my friend. “James is not left to himself in this matter, but is giving expression to answers I am furnishing. If your father is honest in his desire to know more of this subject let him accept the invitation for Wednesday, and in the meantime assure himself that the communication is true. But he will not do that.”
“Are you sure?”
“His attitude is one of piqued curiosity. The two will never meet again, or it might cost the inquirer twenty pounds, and that will be more to him than truth as soon as his first astonishment is over. Further knowledge might demand other restitutions, and your father is not the man to court such risks.”
I am afraid he read him aright, therefore I said no more.
“It is impossible for me to spare more time than I have already given, and if you have no reply to make I must wish you good morning.”
It was no use for him to press further; I could see from what had been said that Eusimos had James well in hand. What my father asked for was easily obtainable if he was sufficiently honest in his desire to seize the opportunity opened out to him. Whether he would do so or not after testing the communication was to be the proof of his sincerity. That is the law under which we work. We reciprocate, first furnishing a proof, then making a demand. We do not come to earth, as so many seem to think, as criminals to a bar for trial, and anxious to secure a hearing upon any terms, but, rather knowing what is needed and able to render assistance, we volunteer our services, meeting confidence with confidence until such time as better, acquaintance establishes a firm and solid friendship.
My father did not consent to this arrangement. He recovered the volume, but did not discharge the debt. There the result of my message was reached. He is with us now, knowing the truth, and were I to visit him and ask the question he would gladly give all the gold the world contains, did he possess it, for the opportunity and its possibilities he then so lightly threw aside.
Still it is doubtful whether his moral standard was below the average on the whole. But when we stand in the light of eternal verities it seems almost incredible that men of sound business instincts can allow themselves to be so completely blinded by false dogmatic assurances in the matter of their spiritual interests. No man will complacently regard himself as safe in the commercial world when he knows his cheque at the bank will be dishonoured, and yet the same individuals go through life smilingly confident in their condition of spiritual bankruptcy, convinced that when the hour of need arrives they may draw heavy cheques on the bank of faith where their names are unknown, which cheques will be honoured at sight and every spiritual claim find payment through a dying prayer. ‘Be not deceived!’ if you have been able to mock your fellow successfully you will meet with a rude awakening when you try the same on God. He will never become the accomplice of a dying thief seeking to evade justice. No compositions are accepted in the Court of Death, but every debt must be fully discharged with legal interest. Mercy is left behind as you cross that threshold, and Justice is the only judge occupying the bench. Not that God has changed, but the sinner has been arrested and brought to trial. Mercy defers the arrest, but Justice follows it.
With all the prayerful solicitude of a soul who has passed along the way and knows what lies before, I would place myself as far as possible on the earth side of the brow of the hill from whence the descent into the valley begins, and shout: “Be cautious how you proceed, for the hill is dangerous.” When once the descent begins there is no escape. If you have not made your preparations in advance, woe betide you. The promise secured by the appalled soul of the dying thief was nothing more than a promise to be heard and justly dealt with on his arrival in Paradise. He was not forgiven. He could not be forgiven in the face of the law which enacts that ‘What soever a man soweth that shall he also reap.’
Mercy has opened the gate of Paradise, and Christ has lovingly rolled away the stone from the door of the sepulchre, that the voices of those who have passed into the beyond may be heard on earth testifying to what they have discovered for your instruction. But ignorance blinds your eyes and stops your ears, and you are lulled into a false security by vain traditions, moving towards your fate with a sharper sword than that of Damocles trembling overhead till its hair is snapped, and you wake to find yourselves in the presence of an inexorable law from the consequences of which your trusted dogmatism had assured you a full discharge had been granted.