The Psychologist and The Magician – The Story, Part One

From Christian Science, Its Clear, Correct Teaching by

In the early part of the Twentieth Century (or, to be more definite, in 1910) when the educational world was challenged to unravel the mysteries of what is known as Magic or Black Art, the faculty of Heidelberg University became greatly interested in the subject, and much discussion followed among the learned men as to the utility of investigating such a subject.

Some claimed that in view of the fact that a thorough investigation would necessitate a continued residence of experts in a foreign country, whose time and energies at home could be given to more practical problems, and therefore, of greater benefit to man, that, therefore, they would not entertain the idea of an investigation of this sort. Others thought that even though they had means to squander in such a frivolous research, the game would be found to be not worth the candle.

Herman von Scholtz, Professor of Science, was favorably disposed toward the investigation. He thought they would be amply repaid by adding to the store of scientific knowledge, either from the discovery of new facts, or by the revealing with certainty the trickeries of the art, or by proving or disproving certain psychological theories he had in mind, which theories would account for the abnormal phenomena revealed or seemingly revealed by the Magician. Also, that in view of his interest in the subject, he was willing to exile himself in the wilds of India, if the Directors would bear but half the expense until he should be able to scientifically account for the Magician’s art. With such enthusiasm shown by one of their ablest scientists, the Regents lost no time in electing Doctor von Scholtz to represent the University in the investigation of the Art of India’s Magicians.

Von Scholtz was a “big” man, both mentally and physically, muscular, but not fleshy, straight as an arrow; a great scholar, a keen observer.

In youth he was known as “Dare-Devil Scholtz” and his badly scarred features, injured by saber thrusts, bore witness that he was no stranger to punishment.

Von Scholtz decided to “beard the lion in his den” and he immediately set sail for India, the home of the Magicians. Could he have foreseen the difficulty and weird experiences he was destined to encounter, it is probable he would have said, “Let Bill do it.”

Professor von Scholtz was considered one of the ablest scientists of Europe, and was well qualified in every way to undertake the hazardous work before him.

Arriving at Bombay, and seated on the veranda of the leading hotel of the city, the Professor heard someone call his name. On looking around, he saw George Blake, a young English officer, who had been a few years previously a student at Heidelberg, approaching with outstretched hand, saying, “To what good luck do we owe this pleasure?”

The Professor, rising, greeted the young officer, and soon made his mission known. “To be brief,” said von Scholtz, “I’ve come to study, to unravel, to explode or to explain, scientifically, if possible, the extraordinary performance of India’s magicians; but first, I wish to make the acquaintance and win the confidence of an adept in this line. I cannot afford to waste time with a tyro. I want a real problem to solve, if they are capable of giving me one. You understand what I mean? What is the prospect? What do you know about their magic?”

“Well,” said Blake, cautiously, “there are some magicians here in this city who perform feats, or reveal what seem to be remarkable phenomena, beyond me to explain. The greatest expert among them, or rather the one to whom many go for instruction, gave a performance, here in the city just three days ago. He lives in Northern India. He was to have left the city today. They say he gives a performance in a certain cave, known as Black Cat Cave, up in the Himalaya Mountains, that members of his own cult cannot follow and keep their sanity. I have heard of some of his followers leaving the cave for very fear before his performance was fairly begun. The Magician himself claims that there is no man living who can go with him from the mouth of the cave to the end and back again, when once he has started his performance.

“If you think this man will interest you I’ll phone and find out if he has left the city.”

“Do be so kind, Mr. Blake,” said the Professor. “Time will drag while I wait.”

Blake hurried to the hotel phone, and having satisfied himself, returned with the information that the great Magician would leave on the 5:15 train for his home in the north, that he could not change his plans, but that he would be delighted to meet Professor von Scholtz.

Blake took out his watch and said, “We have a good half hour to make the train. It is now 4:45.”

Professor von Scholtz was quick to see his opportunity; he decided to take his baggage with him to the station, so that in case he could not persuade the Magician to stop over in the city another fortnight, he would in that case go with him, if it were even to go half way round the world.

Accordingly, von Scholtz made known his intentions to Blake, who lost no time and soon had a conveyance at the Professor’s disposal.

When they arrived at the station, they found the Magician waiting. “Marbado,” said Blake, greeting the Magician, “shake hands with Professor von Scholtz, my friend and former instructor, and one of the world’s leading psychologists, and I may add” (turning to the Professor) “that Marbado has no peer in India as a magician.”

The two distinguished men greeted each other. Professor von Schlotz got right down to business and offered to pay Marbado liberally if he would remain in the city another fortnight, that he might have an opportunity to witness his performances. Marbado could make no alterations in his plans, but instead invited the Professor to go along with him, “Providing,” he said, “you are sure your trip will not prove useless, for it is but fair to warn you that any man who will undertake to study me and my work must have nerves of steel and be a stranger to fear. So far, I have been unable to discover such a man.”

“You will find me qualified,” was von Scholtz’s brief reply. The toot of the engine’s whistle was the signal for “all aboard.” With a farewell to Blake, the two experts boarded the train. Their tickets showed that Rawal was their destination, about twelve hundred miles northwest, in the Punjab Province. The trip would prove uneventful and somewhat tiresome to the Psychologist. When they reached Rawal, Marbado secured mules and attendants to transport himself and companion and their belongings to the Indus River Trail into the rugged Himalaya Mountains still a day’s journey further on.

They reached camp about 6 p.m.

The mouth of the famous cave was about a hundred yards from the camp.

Professor von Scholtz felt the need of a good night’s rest before permitting himself to witness the art of the Magician, and besides this, he wanted to go through the cave alone the next day to see that there was nothing of a tricky or deceptive nature about the cave or its contents.

The next day he satisfied himself on these points and he felt sure that whatever happened, or seemed to happen, it would be the result of his own thoughts, influenced possibly by the thoughts of the Magician. “Could he fully overcome the suggestions of the Magician?” He was not sure.

Nothing could be decided until the first test came, but of one thing he did feel certain, viz.: that he could walk to the end of the cave and out again, if it were a physical possibility to do so, and this was the supreme test Marbado required and claimed that no man could perform save himself, when his performance once began and during its operation.

After von Scholtz had examined the cave, he swung his hammock near the mouth of it to watch that no one should enter until the Magician and himself should enter together. This was to reduce the possibility of fraud to the minimum.

“Well,” said Marbado, approaching the alert scientist, “are you ready for the ordeal?”

“‘Ordeal’ is a strong word,” said von Scholtz. “But I am ready. Have you no other instructions to give?”

“None,” said the Magician, “except that you go to the end of this cave and out again regardless of what you will see, hear, feel or think, and regardless of what becomes of me. I assure you, however, that no bodily harm will come to you. The cave will be lighted by our own personal presence, but if you are in any doubt, or suspect any trickery, take your light with you, though you will find it a hindrance, as it will interfere with your vision.”

“I’ll hold on to it for awhile,” said the Professor, “and if I find it superfluous, I’ll abandon it.”

Such was the drift of their conversation as they approached the mouth of the cave.

Just as the Magician entered the mouth of the cave, he sprang to one side, to avoid the stroke of a cobra that sprang at him. “These reptiles are most lively at night, Professor,” he said, “and we are liable to encounter their den before our performance begins.” This was something unexpected, and caused von Scholtz to hesitate for just a moment, when he essayed to jump over the serpent. “Wait, Professor, and take no chances; these reptiles are deadly,” and as Marbado spoke, he hurled a rock and crushed the cobra.

The cave was about three miles long, according to von Scholtz’s measurements during the day. When the two men were about a hundred yards inside, the cave lit up from some mysterious source to about the intensity of early dawn, so that it was possible for the two men to distinguish each other’s features, so von Scholtz finding his torch superfluous, discarded it.

Marbado, still leading the way, again sprang suddenly aside and called to the Professor to look out for the cobra. Von Scholtz saw the floor literally covered with the poisonous snakes. Marbado advised retiring so as to give the cobras a chance to settle for the night, that they themselves could pass on unmolested and without interruption of the exhibition of his art.

The two men then walked to the mouth of the cave and sat until midnight, talking over matters of scientific import, thus giving the cobras, as von Scholtz supposed, a chance to settle back in their den.

This was an adroit move on Marbado’s part, as it subtly suggested a simple and natural situation, liable to occur in any rocky region where reptiles abound. Marbado finally arose and said: “I think, Professor, the cobras have settled for the night, and if we move cautiously we can get by without disturbing them; then I can entertain you with my art.” So saying Marbado led the way, his companion following.

When the leader had reached that part of the cave where the cobras had checked their progress earlier in the evening, he gave forth an unearthly yell, and fell. The Professor saw that a cobra had fastened itself to Marbado’s right hand and from either side of the cave the venomous reptiles issued by the hundreds soon covering the prostrate body until it seemed one writhing mass.

Von Scholtz stood transfixed, horrified, yes, petrified with fear, but as we have noted before, he was not the man to yield for any length of time to any such emotions; he needed time for thought, so he withdrew to a safe distance to think the matter over, there being no time limit set for his task. If this were a natural phenomenon instead of an exhibition of magic, certainly he was justified in withdrawing from the cave, but if, on the other hand, it were but the first trick deftly executed by the Magician, his duty to science and to his own self-respect demanded that he should carry out his part of the program. This was a matter for him alone to decide. Again, if it were a mere trick, how could he account for the fact that his own senses were making false reports unless he conceded that he was already under the magician’s spell? If the things he saw were real, and he attempted to pass further into the cave, his death would be certain and terrible. How should he, how could he, decide? Von Scholtz looked at his problem from every conceivable angle; he recalled every circumstance of the early evening; the cobra at the entrance of the cave; the natural and suggestive surroundings; their conversation; Marbado’s remarks and the killing of the cobra; and his own expectation of seeing Marbado perform his magic after they should have passed the cobra’s den. All this convinced him that the Magician’s work had already begun, and that he had been caught unawares at the very beginning. With this analysis, he tried to dehypnotize himself; at any rate, upon some such hypothesis he resolved to advance regardless of personal consequences.

As he again approached the prostrate form covered with animated venom, cold perspiration covered his person. He hesitated; there was but one passage; the cave was narrow, and if he advanced it must be over the body of Marbado covered with the squirming serpents.

“These are not real cobras,” said von Scholtz aloud, as if addressing Marbado, “and they have no place in a normal mind.” And as he spoke, he walked straight over their yielding bodies, but he screamed with pain as the cobras struck from right and left, but he kept right on going until he had passed over them. What an experience for a man in his right mind to pass through and still maintain his sanity! The Professor stood for a moment wiping the perspiration from his face while his heart beat like an approaching drum corps. He felt greatly relieved, however, and somewhat triumphant in that he had overcome the first barrier.

Again he proceeded farther into the cave, but he had not gone far when he saw Marbado walking ahead of him as though nothing unusual had happened to him; he tried to overtake the Magician, but the Hindu maintained his distance without apparent effort.

Suddenly, a wall of rock was seen to stretch across the cave. Marbado passed through an opening, and the wall silently but immediately closed, leaving a solid barrier between the psychologist and the Magician. Von Scholtz knew this was not the end wall of the cave, for he had noticed during the day that it was formed of granite, while this obstructing wall was more of the nature of marble. Von Scholtz walked up to the wall and slapped it with his open hand, then he kicked it; then he picked up a rock and pounded it, but all to no purpose for the wall stood as solid as the mountain itself.

“I see my mistake,” said the Professor, throwing away the rock as if disgusted with himself at his blundering. “To try to knock the wall down is to admit that it is there and but adds to its solidity by hammering away at it. The truth is, the wall does not exist as an objective fact. I should have walked on and not slapped, kicked and hammered at it; and I should have looked on it only as a form of thought which the Magician would have me accept as an objective reality, but which I deny.” So saying, he closed his eyes and walked straight ahead and passed the apparent obstruction without hindrance, the wall disappearing as mist before the sun.

As von Scholtz hastened on deeper into the cave, he heard the voices of men some distance ahead of him. They seemed to be in distress;; he peered into the gloomy distance in front of him and soon descried two men running toward him, pursued by a Bengal tiger. The man in front, in his haste to escape, brushed so close to the Professor that the learned man was knocked off his feet. When he arose, he saw the tiger had caught and was eating the other man, but a few yards in front of him.

The mangling of the human form was sickening. Instinctively the Professor started to leave the cave, but he did not go far when he began to realize that this was shirking his duty. So, facing about again, he reasserted himself and leaving the evidence of his senses, advanced toward the scene of carnage. Not without difficulty, however.

Aside from the sight of the ferocious beast and his half-eaten prey, the sound of cracking bones in the ferocious jaws, one sense seeming to corroborate the testimony of the other, a hard proposition to get over. Yet, nevertheless, the scientist said, “These are also illusions,” and in saying it showed his faith in his reasoning and advanced. But in doing so, he received a stunning blow from the tiger’s paw, managing only to stagger past before he fell, rising as quickly, seeing neither beast nor his prey. They had vanished!

Encouraged by his continued success, he went deeper into the cave, wondering what he would encounter next and whether or not he could keep right on without hesitating and turning back at every fresh new obstacle or supposed obstacle encountered. He was beginning to feel quite confident when his attention was arrested, this time by four men, also about a hundred yards ahead, coming towards him, whose tools and dress indicated that they were miners. They were evidently amused at something, as they chatted and laughed, just as workmen are wont to do when their shift of toil is over. It all seemed so realistic, and after all, just what one might expect under similar conditions.

He heard much of their talk and understood some of their coarse jokes. “This surely is not magic,” thought the Professor, “but life itself.” Still there was nothing like being prepared for surprises. Suddenly the earth trembled! The men stopped joking and looked serious and fear-stricken, and one asked his comrades in whisper: “Was that an earthquake?” Almost immediately a still more violent shaking of the earth followed, a large boulder fell from the roof of the cave, crushing two of the workmen; the other two, terror-stricken, came rushing toward von Scholtz, but before reaching him they fell into a chasm that opened in the floor of the cave — this chasm doubtless the result of the earthquake! Their cries as they fell were heart-rending, but were soon hushed by the relentless fingers of Death. “Here is a real phenomenon, unexpected, sudden, unavoidable, and beyond the control of any magician,” thought the learned man, “and this immense gap in the floor of the cave makes it a physical impossibility for me to get over it.”

To cross the chasm was indeed a perplexity. When the earth had ceased trembling, Von Scholtz climbed upon a large rock that had fallen near him and sat upon it for a long time with eyes half closed, his head resting against the side of the cave as if in deep thought. When at last he opened his eyes and climbed down from the rock, he said, “I know that I take my life in my hands, but I’ll try it.” He walked deliberately up to the abyss and looking down, saw far below a fiery mass of molten rock and just above the molten mass he saw upon a ledge of rock the mangled form of one of the unfortunate miners, hanging as though ready to drop into the cauldron below where doubtless his comrade had met his fate. The sight only served to strengthen the testimony of his senses and he withdrew from the scene with a shudder. He walked a short distance, still in deep thought. Time was passing and he must come to a decision.

The thought of retreat was more and more distasteful to him since he had come so far; still he wanted to be sure he was right in distinguishing the real from the unreal. Again he turned toward the chasm, saying: “I must prove my faith in my own course of reasoning.” So with a steady tread, he faced again the awful cleft, but as he looked down his courage once more failed him. He grew desperate, censuring himself for his weakness. With a tremendous effort, he set his jaw, clenched his fists, and setting out with a firm tread, this time looking upward, ignoring the sight beneath his feet, walked straight ahead. For an instant he felt a swimming sensation, but only for an instant, for instead of falling, he found the floor of the cave as solid as ever.

His relief was inexpressible. If he had never doubted sanity before, he did now. He walked back to the spot where he had stood on the other side of the supposed chasm, but found no trace of earthquake or debris of any kind. “What a fool I have been, what a fool! Truly that Hindu is no tyro, and still I have further to do.”

Von Scholtz knew he was nearing the end of the cave, so he hastened his steps.

How come that ball of light bounding and rebounding from the back of the cave? There was no time to reason about it for it came toward him with such force as to fell him to the ground so violently that he lay there a long time as one dead. Consciousness returning, however, he arose, and feeling no pain from the fall, walked straight to the end of the cave and placed his hand on the back wall, thus finishing one-half of the arduous and nerve-racking task he had undertaken in the interests of science.

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