The ladies were out driving, the following afternoon, when Dr. Hull arrived, but Paul was at home. He brought out some cigars, and they made themselves comfortable on the piazza.
Dr. Hull was full of questions about Ida? how she appeared; what relations had established themselves between Miss Ludington and her; whether she showed any memory whatever of her disembodied state; whether the knowledge of the mystery involving her seemed in any way to affect her spirits or temper, or to set her apart in her own estimation from others, with many other acute and carefully considered queries calculated to elicit the facts of her mental and spiritual condition?
"There is one point," said the doctor, "about which I am particularly curious. How is it with her memory of her former life on earth? Does it break off suddenly, as if on some particular day or hour her spirit had made way for its successor, and passed away from earth?"
"On the contrary," said Paul, "she has intimated, in talking over the past with Miss Ludington, that the memory of her life on earth is clear and precise during its earlier portions, but that toward the last it grows hazy and indistinct."
"Exactly," broke in the doctor. "Just as if her personality had a little overlapped and melted at the edge into that which followed it. Yes, it is as I thought it might be. Youth, or childhood, or infancy, or any other epoch of life, does not abruptly cease and give place to another. Their souls are gradually withdrawn as the light is withdrawn from the sky at evening, and a space of twilight renders the transition from one to the other perceptible only in the result, not in the process. This I think is a view of the matter, that is corroborated by the testimony of our own consciousness, don't you, Mr. De Riemer?"
"On the whole, yes," replied Paul. "And still, if she had said that the severing of her personality from that which succeeded it was sharp and clearly defined, so that up to a certain day, or even hour, her memory was full and distinct, and then became a blank, there are passages in my own experience, and I think in that of many persons, which her statement would have made comprehensible. I think that to many, perhaps to all persons of reflective turn of mind, there come days, even hours, when they feel that they have suddenly passed from one epoch of life into another. A voice says in their hearts with unmistakable clearness, 'Yesterday I was young; to day I am young no longer.' There is also sometimes a day, I think, when the middle-aged man becomes suddenly aware that he is old. Who shall deny the truth of these intuitions, or say that it is not in that very day and hour that the spirit of youth or of maturity takes its flight?"
"By the way," said Dr. Hull, "have you ever speculated on the probable number of the souls of an individual? It is an interesting question."
"I suppose that the number may greatly differ in different individuals," replied Paul. "In individuals of many-sided minds and versatile dispositions, there are, perhaps, more distinct personalities than constitute an individual of less complex character. But how many in either case only God can tell. Who can say? It may be that with every breath which I expire a soul or spiritual impression of myself is sent forth. The universe is large enough even for that. Such may at least be the case in moments of special intensity, when we live, as we say, a year in an hour."
They smoked on awhile in silence. Presently Paul said, "When the world comes to recognize the composite character of the individual, that it is composed of not one, but many persons, a new department will be added to ethics, relating to the duties of the successive selves of an individual to one another. It will be recognized, on the one hand, that it is the duty of a man to fulfil all reasonable obligations incurred by his past selves, on the same principle that a pious son fulfils the equitable obligations incurred by a parent. This duty is, indeed, recognized to-day, although not on the correct basis. As regards the ethical relation of a man to the selves who succeed him, a wholly new idea will be introduced. It will be seen that the duty of a man to lead a wise life, to be prudent, to make the most of his powers, to maintain a good name, is not a duty to himself, merely an enlightened selfishness, as it is now called, but a genuine form of altruism, a duty to others, as truly as if those others bore different names instead of succeeding to his name. It will be seen that a man's duty to his later selves is like the duty of a father to his helpless children: to provide for their inheritance, to see that he leaves them a sound body and a good name, if nothing more. It will be perceived that the man who is charitably called 'his own worst enemy,' is not only no better, but worse, than if he were the enemy of his neighbours, because he is blasting coming lives that have a far nearer claim upon him than any neighbour can have.
"There will arise, also, in that day, I fancy," said Paul, "some rather delicate questions, as to how far a man may properly bind his future selves by pledges and engagements which he has no means of knowing will meet with their approval, and which may quite possibly prove intolerable yokes to them."
"Ah!" exclaimed the doctor, "that is indeed an interesting point. And, meanwhile, I should say the intelligible discussion of these questions will involve a modification in grammatical usage. If we believe that our present selves are distinct persons from our past selves, it is manifestly improper to use the first person in speaking of our past selves. Either the third person must be used, or some new grammatical form invented."
"Yes," said Paul. "If entire accuracy is sought the first person cannot be properly employed by any one in referring either to his past or his future selves, to what has been done or to what will be done by them."
At this moment the carriage drew up before the house, and Paul helped the ladies out.
Miss Ludington greeted Dr. Hull cordially, and stopped upon the piazza in hat and shawl to talk with him. But Ida merely bowed stiffly, with lowered eyes, and passed within.
Before they were called to tea Paul found an opportunity to tell the doctor how sensitive Ida was to any discussion of the mystery connected with her, and to suggest that at table any direct reference to the subject should be avoided.
The expression of disappointment on Dr. Hull's countenance seemed to indicate that he had anticipated thoroughly cross-questioning her in the interest of spiritual science; but he said that he would regard Paul's suggestion, and even admitted that it was, perhaps, natural she should feel as she did, although he had not anticipated it.
At the table, therefore, Ida was spared any direct reference to herself as a phenomenon, and although Dr. Hull talked of nothing but spiritualism and the immortality of past selves, it was in their broad and general aspects that the subjects were discussed.
"Your nephew," he said to Miss Ludington, "has evidently given much time and profound thought to these matters; and although I am an old man, and have been more interested in the spiritual than the material universe for these many years, I was glad of an opportunity to sit at his feet this afternoon."
Turning to Paul, he added, "What you were saying about the possibility that souls, or, at least, spiritual impressions, destined to eternity, are given forth by us constantly, as if at every breath, is wonderfully borne out in a passage from a communication I had from Mrs. Legrand yesterday, to which I meant to have alluded at the time you were speaking. She said that those who supposed that the spirit-land contained only one soul for every individual that had ever lived had no conception of its vastness, and that the stream of souls constantly ascending is like a thick mist rising from all the earth. The phrase struck me as strangely strong, but I can conceive now how she might have come to use it.
"What is your conjecture, or have you none at all," he added, after a moment's thought, still addressing Paul, "as to the relation which will exist in the spirit-land among the several souls of the same individual?"
"It seems to me," said Paul, "that the souls of an individual, being contemporaneous over there, and all together in the eternal present, will be capable of blending in a unity which here on earth, where one is gone before another comes, is impossible. The result of such a blending would be a being which, in stead of shining with the single ray of a soul on earth, would blaze from a hundred facets simultaneously. The word 'individual,' as applied here on earth, is a misuse of language. It is absurd to call that an individual which every hour divides. The, earthly stage of human life is so small that there is room for but one of the persons of an individual upon it at one time. The past and future selves have to wait in the side scenes. But over there the stage is larger. There will be room for all at once. The idea of an individual, all whose personalities are contemporaneous, may there be realized, and such an individual would be, by any earthly measurement, a god.
"But there are many individuals," he pursued after a pause, "of which we cannot imagine a blending of the successive persons to be possible. There, for instance, are cases where there exist radical and bitter oppositions and differences of character, and propensity between the youth and the manhood of the individual. In the case of such ill-assorted personalities a divorce ex vinculo individui may be the only remedy; and, possibly, the parties to it may be sent back to earth, to take their chances of finding more congenial companions."
Ida had not said a word during the time they had sat at table. She had, indeed, scarcely lifted her eyes from her plate.
As they rose she challenged Paul to a game at croquet, for which the twilight left ample opportunity.
Miss Ludington and Dr. Hull sat upon the piazza in full view of the players.
"What do you call her?" he asked, abruptly, after a pause in their conversation.
"Why, we call her Ida, of course," replied Miss Ludington, with some surprise. "What else could we call her? Is not her name Ida Ludington?"
"On my own account," said Dr. Hull, "I should not have needed to ask you, because I am acquainted with the circumstances of the reassumption of her earthly life and name, but how would you introduce her to one who was not so acquainted--to any one, in fact, besides yourself, your nephew, and myself?"
"In the same way, I suppose," replied Miss Ludington.
"Precisely," said the doctor "but if they were acquainted with your family, or if they took any special interest in her, would they not want to know what was the nature of her relationship to you? She could not be your daughter. They would ask what was her connection with your family. To tell them the truth would be of no use at all, for no one on earth would believe what we know to be true, nor could I blame them, for I, myself, would not have believed it if I had not been a witness."
Miss Ludington was silent a while. Then she said: "It does not matter; we see few, I may say no strangers, or even acquaintances; we live alone. It is enough that we know her."
"Yes," replied the doctor. "It is, indeed, quite another thing to what it would be if you had a large circle of acquaintances. So long as you live, it is not important, and I presume that your health is good."
"What is it that is not important?" demanded Miss Ludington.
"Why that she should have a name," replied the doctor, lifting his eyebrows with an expression of slight surprise. "Unfortunately, the courts do not recognize such a relation as exists between you and this young lady. You are the only Miss Ludington in the eye of the law, and she is non-existent, or, at least, an anonymous person. She has not so much as a name sign on a hotel-register. But so long as you live to look after her she is not likely to suffer."
"But I may die!" exclaimed Miss Ludington.
"In that case it would be rather awkward for her," said the doctor. "She would die with you in the eye of the law" and here he branched off into rather a fantastical discourse on the oddities and quiddities of the law and lawyers, against whom he seemed to have a great grudge.
"But, Dr. Hull, what can I do about it?" said Miss Ludington, as he quieted down.
"Excuse me. About what?"
"How can I give her a name in the eye of the law?"
"Oh--ah--exactly? Well, that's easy enough; there are two ways. You can adopt her, or some young fellow can marry her, and if I were a young man--if you'll excuse an old gentleman for the remark--it would not be my fault if she were not provided with a legal title very soon."
Declining Miss Ludington's proposal to send him to the ferry in her carriage, the doctor, soon after, took his leave.
He paused as he passed the croquet-ground and stood watching the players. It came Ida's turn, and he waited to see her play. It was a very easy shot which she had to make; she missed it badly. He bade them good-evening, and went on.