I confess that this view of Mahatmas is one that does not surprise me in the least. I never met, and I scarcely expect to meet, an individual entitled to set “Mahatma” after his name. Certainly I have no right to do so, who only took that title on the spur of the moment when the Hare asked me how I was called, and now make use of it as a nom-de-plume. It is true there is Jorsen, by whose order, for it amounts to that, I publish this history. For aught I know Jorsen may be a Mahatma, but he does not in the least look the part.
Imagine a bluff person with a strong, hard face, piercing grey eyes, and very prominent, bushy eyebrows, of about fifty or sixty years of age. Add a Scotch accent and a meerschaum pipe, which he smokes even when he is wearing a frock coat and a tall hat, and you have Jorsen. I believe that he lives somewhere in the country, is well off, and practises gardening. If so he has never asked me to his place, and I only meet him when he comes to Town, as I understand, to visit flower-shows.
Then I always meet him because he orders me to do so, not by letter or by word of mouth but in quite a different way. Suddenly I receive an impression in my mind that I am to go to a certain place at a certain hour, and that there I shall find Jorsen. I do go, sometimes to an hotel, sometimes to a lodging, sometimes to a railway station or to the corner of a particular street and there I do find Jorsen smoking his big meerschaum pipe. We shake hands and he explains why he has sent for me, after which we talk of various things. Never mind what they are, for that would be telling Jorsen’s secrets as well as my own, which I must not do.
It may be asked how I came to know Jorsen. Well, in a strange way. Nearly thirty years ago a dreadful thing happened to me. I was married and, although still young, a person of some mark in literature. Indeed even now one or two of the books which I wrote are read and remembered, although it is supposed that their author has long left the world.
The thing which happened was that my wife and our daughter were coming over from the Channel Islands, where they had been on a visit (she was a Jersey woman), and, and—well, the ship was lost, that’s all. The shock broke my heart, in such a way that it has never been mended again, but unfortunately did not kill me.
Afterwards I took to drink and sank, as drunkards do. Then the river began to draw me. I had a lodging in a poor street at Chelsea, and I could hear the river calling me at night, and—I wished to die as the others had died. At last I yielded, for the drink had rotted out all my moral sense. About one o’clock of a wild, winter morning I went to a bridge I knew where in those days policemen rarely came, and listened to that call of the water.
“Come!” it seemed to say. “This world is the real hell, ending in the eternal naught. The dreams of a life beyond and of re-union there are but a demon’s mocking breathed into the mortal heart, lest by its universal suicide mankind should rob him of his torture-pit. There is no truth in all your father taught you” (he was a clergyman and rather eminent in his profession), “there is no hope for man, there is nothing he can win except the deep happiness of sleep. Come and sleep.”