One morning, having taken my ordinary dose without yet feeling its effect, I strolled into a bookseller's to get the latest number of Putnam's. Turning over its leaves as it lay upon the counter, the first article which detained my eyes was headed "The Hasheesh Eater." None but a man in my circumstances can realize the intense interest which possessed me at the sight of these words.
For a while I lingered upon them with an inexplicable dread of looking further into the paper. I shut the book, and toyed with my curiosity by examining its cover, as one who receives a letter directed in some unfamiliar hand carefully scrutinizes the postmark and the envelope, and dallies with the seal before he finally breaks it open. I had supposed myself the only hasheesh-eater upon this side of the ocean; this idea of utter isolation had been one element in many of my horrors. That some one among my acquaintance had been detailing a fragment of my own experience, as viewed by him from without, was my first hypothesis. Although, in itself considered, there was nothing very improbable in the acquirement of the habit by another person, the coincidence of my having fallen upon this article, with the hasheesh force still latent within me, seemed so remarkable that I could not believe it. Then I said to myself, I will not read this paper now. I will defer it to another time; for, if its recital be one of horrors, it may darken the complexion of my awaited vision. In pursuance of this purpose, I passed out of the shop and went down the street.
I was not satisfied. Whichever way I turned I was followed by a shadow of fascination. By an irresistible attraction I was drawn back to the counter. If the worst were there, I must know it. I returned, and there, as before, lay the unsealed mystery. With a trembling hand I turned to the place; again I scrutinized the caption, to see if some unconscious illusion of a hasheesh state, which had ensued before I was aware, had not made objective the words which so many a day had stamped upon my brain. No; plainly as eyes could read them, they stood upon the page. I would read the article from beginning to end. This resolution, once formed, was shaken, but not broken, by an unavoidable glance ahead, which told me that the recital was one of agonies.
It was only a moment before I found that I was not this hasheesh-eater. Yet as, with the devouring gaze of a miser, I read, dwelt upon, and re-read every line, I found such startling analogies to my own past experience that cold drops started upon my forehead, and I exclaimed, "This man has been in my own soul." We both had been abandoned of Heaven; had climbed up into the prerogatives of Deity, thence to be cast down; had drawn the accursed knife at the whispers of a frightful temptation; had been the disowned, the abominated, the execrated of men. Should I carry the parallel further? He had forever abandoned hasheesh. How terribly this question shook my soul! In an instant, like some grand pageant, the glories of the enchantment streamed before my eyes. Out of the past came Memory, swinging delicious censers; upon the fragrant vapor, as it floated upward, was traced a sublimer heaven, a more beauteous earth, from the days gone by, than ever Sorcery painted upon the Fate-compelling smoke for a rapt gazer into Futurity. There the pangs of the old time had no place; all was serenity, ecstasy, revelation. Should I forego all this forever?
So help me God, I would!
The author of that article I did not know. Of his name I had not even the faintest suspicion. Yet for him I felt a sympathy; yes, though it be unworldly, an affection such as would move me to the highest office of gratitude. Into my hitherto unbroken loneliness he had penetrated; unconscious of each other's presence, we had walked the valley of awful shadows side by side. As no other man upon the earth could feel for me, he could feel. As none other could counsel me, he might counsel. For the first time in all the tremendous stretch of my spell-bound eternity heard I the voice of sympathy or saw I an exemplar of escape. Though I might never look upon his face on earth, disenthralled from the bodily I should know him immediately, for I was bound to him by ties spun from the distaff of a supernatural hand.
I returned homeward, bearing in my mind almost the exact words of that vivid and most truthful recital. So powerfully did its emotion possess me as to supplant entirely that of the drug, which did not once render itself perceptible.
There is a rich lesson of deep springs of human action taught by the old history, wherein he who in after years was to make the name of Carthage glorious among the peoples uplifted his hand of adjuration in the presence of his father. From him out of whose original fount he came, and in whose depths his earliest waves of being found their noblest, their truest echo of response, most naturally did he draw that full tide of strength which through all barriers was to bear him on until he whelmed in the deluge of inherited vengeance the territory of his foe.
No Hannibal was I, but the struggling sufferer under long soldered thrall of sorcery, groaning for a deliverance which I just dared to tempt; no Hamilear wert thou, my father, for the hands with which thou supportedst mine in their final vow of liberty were wet, not with the blood of war, but the tears of a most precious compassion; and as before thee, on that last night of my bondage, I took the oath which opened up my prison-doors, from thy presence I won a sustaining force of will which, through many a day of fray and weariness, was to press me on (in all reverence to the majestic memorials of past time) against a mightier, a subtler enemy than Rome!
After thus sealing my deliverance, my next step was to discover the author of the article in Putnam's, which had determined me to it at first. This, through the kind courtesy of some of its presiding minds, I was in a few days enabled to do. To the author I then wrote, trusting to no other introduction than that of our common ground and the sympathies of human nature. I asked counsel upon the best means of softening the pathway of my escape, for I had seen enough in my former effort to assure me that it would be a very hard one. Moreover, the simple possession of a letter from one who had been so instrumental in originally effecting my release would be a powerful aid toward rendering it permanent.
A very short time elapsed before I received an answer to my inquiries. My anxiety could not have made it more full than it was of information and assistance; my gratitude could not have exaggerated the value of its sympathy and encouragement. But for the sacredness which to a mind of any refinement invests a correspondence of such nature, I could not refrain from here giving it publicity. It strengthened my resolution, it opened for me a cheering sky of hope, it pointed me to expedients for insuring success, it mitigated the sufferings of the present. It is, and ever will be, treasured among the most precious archives of my life.
Thus supported humanly, and feeling the ever-near incitement and sustenance of a Presence still higher, I began to feel my way out of the barathrum of my long sojourn, and its jaws closed behind me, never since then, never hereafter till there be no more help in heaven, to open for my ingress. Out of its tremendous Elysium, its quenchless Tartarus, its speechless revelations, I came slowly into a land of subdued skies and heavier atmosphere. The jet of flame and fountain grew dimmer behind me in the mists of distance; broader, in the land from which I had long wandered, before me grew the shadows of the present life. Yet among all the lights which, unobscured by vapor, from afar led me on my way, was one which gleamed with a promise that in the days hereafter, the soul, purified from the earthy, should once more, painlessly, look on the now abandoned glories of its past apocalypse.
"My Stony Guardian"
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