A FANTASTIC THEORIST

“He is a man
Full of strange thoughts, and fancies whimsical,
Who dreams of dreams that make his life a dream.
And had he powers supernal at command,
Would tumble heaven itself about our ears
In his mad searchings for–I wot not what.”

The room which Beaumont had turned into a studio while painting Squire
Garsworth’s portrait, overlooked the terrace on to which the French
windows opened. It was the drawing-room of the Grange, and was
magnificently furnished in the ponderous style of the Georgian period,
though now, being but rarely used, an air of desertion and decay
seemed to linger about it. The windows, however, being large and
curtainless, there was an excellent light to paint by, so Basil
established his easel near the centre window, and placed the squire at
one further along, in order that the full light should fall on his
withered face, showing the multitudinous wrinkles and stern expression
that made it a study worthy of Rembrandt. Beaumont often glanced at
the attenuated form lying listlessly back in the great arm-chair, and
wondered what curious event had changed this man from an idle reveller
into an industrious scholar.

Above was the painted ceiling of the apartment, whereon gods and
goddesses, in faded tints, disported themselves among dingy blue
clouds, surrounded by cupids, sea-horses, rising suns and waning
moons, while, below, a threadbare carpet covered the polished floor
but imperfectly. A huge marble fireplace, cold and black-looking,
heavy, cumbersome chairs, solid-looking tables, a quaint old spinet
with thin legs and several comfortable-looking sofas, filled up the
room. There were also grim-looking faces frowning from the walls,
cabinets filled with grotesque china, now worth its weight in gold,
bizarre ornaments from India and China, and many other quaint things,
which made the apartment look like a curiosity-shop to the refined
taste of the artist. But in spite of the old-time magnificence of the
place, spiders spun their webs in the corners, grey dust lay thickly
around, and a chill, tomb-like feeling pervaded the room. Even the
cheerful sunlight could not lift the heavy shadow which seemed to
brood over it, and it seemed, in its loneliness, to be a chamber of
some enchanted palace, such as we read of in eastern tales.

Nor was the proprietor out of place in this decayed realm of former
grandeur, for he looked old and weird enough to have been coeval with
the pristine splendours of the Grange. The worn face, the sudden
gleams of insane fire from the deeply-set eyes, the snowy, sparse hair
that fell from under the black skull-cap, and the sombre robe, all
seemed to be the semblance of some hoary necromancer rich in malignant
spells of magic.

Had Randal Garsworth mixed with the world he would have been a
different creature. Had he gone abroad among his fellow men and taken
an interest in their ideas concerning politics, literature, and music,
he would have retained a healthy mind by such generalization of his
intellect. But, shutting himself up, as he had done, in a lonely
house, and concentrating his mind upon himself, he lapsed into a
morbid state which prepared him for the reception of any fantastical
idea. While thus lingering in this unhealthy life, he chanced upon the
curious doctrine of metempsychosis, and it speedily took possession of
his diseased mind, already strongly inclined towards strange
searchings. The weirdness of the Pythagorean theory appealed to his
love of the whimsical, and he became a monomaniac on the subject.
Under the influence of a lonely life, ardent studies of the
philosophers who supported the theory of transmigration, and his
selfish application of these wild doctrines to his own soul, the
monomania under which he laboured deepened into madness.

To all appearances he conducted himself in a rational manner, though
slightly eccentric, but with his firm belief in metempsychosis, and
his preparations for his future incarnation he could hardly be called
sane. Yet he conducted all business matters with admirable skill, and
in spite of the dilapidated state of the Grange, his farms were well
managed, and his tenants found no cause to complain of neglect on the
part of their landlord. Like all madmen, he was a profound egotist,
and absorbed in his belief of a re-incarnation on this earth, he paid
no heed to the claims of relatives or friends, neglecting all social
duties in order to devote himself entirely to his favourite delusions.
Such was the man who sat before Basil Beaumont, by whose skilful brush
and genuine talent the strange face of the recluse was rapidly being
transferred to the canvas in the most life-like manner.

“I hope this portrait will please you,” said Beaumont, breaking the
silence which had lasted some minutes, “it’s the best thing I have
ever done.”

“Is it?” replied Garsworth, vaguely, his mind being far away, occupied
with some abstruse thought. “Yes, of course. What did you say?”

“I hope you’ll like the picture,” repeated Beaumont, slowly.

“Of course I will,” said the squire, quickly. “I want to see myself in
the future as I am now. Some people look back on their portraits taken
in youth, and see a faint semblance of their old age in the unwrinkled
faces, but I will see this picture when in a new body which will have
no resemblance in its form to the withered shape I now bear.”

“A strange doctrine.”

“As you say–a strange doctrine,” said Garsworth, warming with
his subject, “but a very true one. My body is old and worn out.
Physically, I am an irreparable wreck, but my soul is as lusty, fresh
and eager as it was in the days of my youth. Why, then, should not my
true entity shed this worn-out, fleshly envelope as a snake does its
skin, and enter into a new one replete with the vigour of youth?”

“A difficult question to answer,” replied Beaumont, calmly, “very,
very difficult. We have no proof that such a thing can happen.”

“You are a materialist?”

“Pardon me, no. A materialist, as I understand the word, denies the
independent existence of spirit; I do not. I believe our spirits or
souls to be immortal: but, as to this re-incarnation theory–it is a
dream of Pythagoras.”

“It was a dream of many before Pythagoras, and has been the dream of
many since,” rejoined Garsworth, coldly. “The Egyptians, the Hindoos
and the Buddhists all accepted the doctrine, although each treated it
according to their different religions. In our modern days Lessing
believed in it; and if you have read the writings of Kardec you will
find that re-incarnation is the very soul of the spiritist belief.”

Beaumont sneered.

“I can’t say I have much faith in the maunderings of spiritualists.
Table-turning and spirit-rapping may be very pleasant as an amusement;
but as a religion–bah!”

“You talk like that because you don’t understand the subject. The
things you mention are only the outward manifestation of spiritualism.
If you read Kardec’s books you would find that the true theory of
spiritualism is transmigration. Spirits are incarnated in human bodies
in order to work out their own advancement. If they resist temptation
while in the flesh, they enter into a higher sphere, in order to
advance another step. If they fail to lead a pure life, they again
become re-incarnated in the flesh to make another effort; but they
never retrograde.”

“And you believe in this doctrine?” asked Beaumont, incredulously.

“With certain reservations–yes.”

“And those reservations?”

“I need not mention all, but I will tell you one as an example. The
spiritists deny that we remember former existences–I believe we do.”

“Oh! and you think in your next body you will remember your
incarnation as Squire Garsworth?”

“I do.”

“Do you remember your former existences?”

“Some of them.”

“Why not all?”

“Because some of the lives I then lived were base in the extreme, and
not worthy of remembrance, so I forgot them–in the same way as you
forget disagreeable things and only have thoughts of agreeable
events.”

“Will you tell me some of your former existences?”

“It would be hardly worth while,” replied the squire, irritably, “as
you would only look upon my narration as a fairy-tale. But I can tell
you what I was–an Egyptian prince, a Roman soldier, a Spanish Moor,
and an English pauper in the reign of Elizabeth.”

Beaumont looked in astonishment at the old man, glibly running off
this fantastic list.

“And since the pauper stage?” he asked, smothering a smile.

“I have been re-incarnated in this present form,” responded the
squire, gravely; “it is because I experienced poverty in my last
existence that I am saving money now.”

“I don’t understand.”

“To keep myself during my next incarnation.”

The artist was becoming quite bewildered at hearing this farrago of
nonsense uttered in such a serious tone. However the conversation was
so extraordinary that he could not forbear humouring the madman.

“A very laudable intention,” he said, quietly, “but as you will be
someone else in your next incarnation, how are you going to claim
Squire Garsworth’s money?”

“Ah!” responded the squire, with a cunning smile, “that is my secret;
I have arranged all that in a most admirable way. I can claim my own
money without any trouble.”

“But suppose you are born a savage?”

“I will not be born a savage–that would be retrogression, and spirits
never retrograde.”

“Well,” said Beaumont, rising to his feet, and putting his brushes
away, “your conversation is getting too deep for me, Mr. Garsworth. I
understand your metempsychosis theory all right, though I don’t agree
with it; but I fail to see how you are going to arrange about getting
your own money.”

“No, no!” replied Garsworth, raising his form, tall and gaunt, against
the bright light outside, “of course not; that is my secret. No one
will know–not one! Is your sitting finished?”

“Yes, for to-day.”

“Come to-morrow–come to-morrow!” said the old man, coming round to
look at the picture, “no time to be lost, I may die before it’s done,
and then I won’t be able to see myself as I was: but Nestley will keep
me alive–good doctor–very good doctor–paid him handsomely–yes,
handsomely! Good-bye for to-day, Mr. Beaumont. Don’t forget to-morrow;
I may die–no time to lose–good-bye!”

The old man shuffled tremulously out of the room, and Beaumont stood
looking after him with a puzzled smile on his lips. He began to put
his paraphernalia away slowly and talked softly to himself meanwhile.

“I wonder if there’s any sense in the old fool’s ravings–I don’t
believe in this incarnation rubbish–but he’s got some scheme in his
head about that money–I’d like to find it out–there might be
something in it by which I could benefit–he’s a madman sure enough
but still there is method in his madness–however, I’ll try to
discover his secret somehow.”

He lighted a cigarette and sauntered out on to the terrace, thinking
over the chances of finding out the Squire’s secret with a view to
turning it to his own account. Apparently his cogitations led to some
result, for after standing for a few minutes at the end of the terrace
in a brown study, he removed his cigarette from his mouth and uttered
one word:

“Hypnotism.”