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His road lay through several places of interest, and he enjoyed the amusement of travelling more than he himself thought would have been possible. Thus he did not reach the place of his destination till noon, on the day preceding his birth-day. It seemed as if he had been carried away with an unwonted tide of pleasurable sensation, so as to forget in some degree, what his father had communicated concerning the purpose of his journey. He halted at length before a respectable but solitary old mansion, to which he was directed as the abode of his father's friend.
The servants who came to take his horse, told him he had been expected for two days. He was led into a study, where the stranger, now a venerable old man, who had been his father's guest, met him with a shade of displeasure, as well as gravity, on his brow. “Young man,” he said, “wherefore so slow on a journey of such importance ?”—“I thought,” replied the guest, blushing and looking downward, “ that there was no harm in travelling slowly, and satisfying my curiosity, providing I could reach your residence by this day; for such was my father's charge.”—“You were to blame,” replied the sage, “in lingering, considering that the avenger of blood was pressing on your footsteps. But you are come at last, and we will hope for the best, though the conflict in which you are to be engaged will be found more dreadful, the longer it is postponed. But first accept of such refreshments as nature requires to satisfy, but not to pamper the appetite."
The old man led the way into a summer-parlour, where a frugal meal was placed on the table. As they sat down to the board, they were joined by a young lady about eighteen years of age, and so lovely, that the sight of her carried off the feelings of the young stranger from the peculiarity and mystery of his own lot, and rivetted his attention to every thing she did or said. She spoke little, and it was on the most serious subjects. She played on the harpsichord at her father's command, but it was hymns with which she accompanied the instrument. At length, on a sign from the sage, she left the room, turning on the young stranger, as she departed, a look of inexpressible anxiety and interest.
The old man then conducted the youth to his study, and conversed with him upon the most important points of religion, to satisfy himself that he could render a reason for the faith that was in him. During the examination, the youth, in spite of himself, felt his mind occasionally wander, and his recollections go in quest of the beautiful vision who had shared their meal at noon. On such occasions the Astrologer looked grave, and shook his head at this relaxation of attention ; yet, on the whole, he was pleased with the youth's replies.
At sunset the young man was made to take the bath ; and, having done so, he was directed to attire himself in a robe, somewhat like that worn by Armenians, having his long hair combed down on his shoulders, and his neck, hands, and feet bare. In this guise he was conducted into a remote chamber totally devoid of furniture, excepting a lamp, a chair, and a table, on which lay a Bible. “Here," said the Astrologer, “I must leave you alone, to pass the most critical period of your life. If you can, by recollection of the great truths of which we have spoken, repel the attacks which will be made on your courage and your principles, you have nothing to apprehend. But the trial will be severe and arduous.” His features then assumed a pathetic solemnity, the tears stood in his eyes, and his voice faltered with emotion as he said, “Dear child, at whose coming into the world I foresaw this fatal trial, may God give thee grace to support it with firmness !"
The young man was left alone; and hardly did he find himself so, when, like a swarm of demons, the recollection of all his sins of omission and commission, rendered even more terrible by the scrupulousness with which he had been educated, rushed on his mind, and, like furies armed with fiery scourges, seemed determined to drive him to despair. As he combated these horrible recollections with distracted feelings, but with a resolved mind, he became aware that his arguments were answered by the sophistry of another, and that the dispute was no longer confined to his own thoughts. The Author of Evil was present in the room with him in bodily shape, and, potent with spirits of a melancholy cast, was impressing upon him the desperation of his state, and urging suicide as the readiest mode
to put an end to his sinful career. Amid his errors, the pleasure he had taken in prolonging his journey unnecessarily, and the attention which he had bestowed on the beauty of the fair female, when his thoughts ought to have been dedicated to the religious discourse of her father, were set before him in the darkest colours ; and he was treated as one who, having sinned against light, was therefore deservedly left a prey to the Prince of Darkness.
As the fated and influential hour rolled on, the terrors of the hateful Presence grew more confounding to the mortal senses of the victim, and the knot of the accursed sophistry became more inextricable in appearance, at least to the prey whom its meshes surrounded. He had not power to explain the assurance of pardon which he continued to assert, or to name the victorious name in which he trusted. But his faith did not abandon him, though he lacked for a time the power of expressing it. “Say what you will,” was his answer to the Tempter-—“I know there is as much betwixt the two boards of this Book as can insure me forgiveness for my transgressions, and safety for my soul.” As he spoke, the clock, which announced the lapse of the fatal hour, was heard to strike. The speech and intellectual powers of the youth were instantly and fully restored; he burst forth into prayer, and expressed, in the most glowing terms, his reliance on the truth, and on the Author of the gospel. The demon retired, yelling and discomfited, and the old man, entering the apartment, with tears congratulated his guest on his victory in the fated struggle.
The young man was afterwards married to the beautiful maiden, the first sight of whom had made such an impression on him, and they were consigned over at the close of the story to domestic happiness.—So ended John MacKinlay's legend.
The author of Waverley had imagined a possibility of framing an interesting, and perhaps not an unedifying tale, out of the incidents of the life of a doomed individual, whose efforts at good and virtuous conduct were to be for ever disappointed by the intervention, as it were, of some malevolent being, and who was at last to come off victorious from the fearful struggle. In short, something was meditated upon a plan resembling the
imaginative tale of Sintram and his Companions, by Mons. Le Baron de la Motte Fouqué,-although, if it then existed, the author had not seen it.
The scheme projected may be traced in the three or four first chapters of the work, but farther consideration induced the author to lay his purpose aside. It appeared, on mature consideration, that Astrology, though its influence was once received and admitted by Bacon himself, does not now retain influence over the general mind sufficient even to constitute the mainspring of a romance. Besides, it occurred, that to do justice to such a subject would have required not only more talent than the author could be conscious of possessing, but also involved doctrines and discussions of a nature too serious for his purpose, and for the character of the narrative. In changing his plan, however, which was done in the course of printing, the early sheets retained the vestiges of the original tenor of the story, although they now hang upon it as an unnecessary and unnatural encumbrance. The cause of such vestiges occurring is now explained, and apologized for.
It is here worthy of observation, that while the astrological doctrines have fallen into general contempt, and been supplanted by superstitions of a more gross and far less beautiful character, they have, even in modern days, retained some votaries.
One of the most remarkable believers in that forgotten and despised science, was a late eminent professor of the art of legerdemain. One would have thought that a person of this description ought, from his knowledge of the thousand ways in which human eyes could be deceived, to have been less than others subject to the fantasies of superstition. Perhaps the habitual use of those abstruse calculations, by which, in a manner surprising to the artist himself, many tricks upon cards, &c., are performed, induced this gentleman to study the combination of the stars and planets, with the expectation of obtaining prophetic communications.
He constructed a scheme of his own nativity, calculated according to such rules of art as he could collect from the best astrological authors. The result of the past he found agreeable to what had hitherto befallen him, but in the important prospect of the future a singular difficulty occurred. There were two years, during the course of which, he could by no means obtain any exact knowledge whether the subject of the scheme would be dead or alive. Anxious concerning so remarkable a circumstance, he gave the scheme to a brother Astrologer, who was also baffled in the same manner. At one period he found the native, or subject, was certainly alive—at another, that he was unquestionably dead; but a space of two years extended between these two terms, during which he could find no certainty as to his death or existence.
The Astrologer marked the remarkable circumstance in his Diary, and continued his exhibitions in various parts of the empire, until the period was about to expire, during which his existence had been warranted as actually ascertained. At last, while he was exhibiting to a numerous audience his usual tricks of legerdemain, the hands, whose activity had so often baffled the closest observer, suddenly lost their power, the cards dropped from them, and he sunk down a disabled paralytic. In this state the artist languished for two years, when he was at length removed by death. It is said that the Diary of this modern Astrologer will soon be given to the public.
The fact, if truly reported, is one of those singular coincidences which occasionally appear, differing so widely from ordinary calculation, yet without which irregularities, human life would not present to mortals looking into futurity, the abyss of impenetrable darkness which it is the pleasure of the Creator it should offer to them. Were every thing to happen in the ordinary train of events, the future would be subject to the rules of arithmetic, like the chances of gaming. But extraordinary events, and wonderful runs of luck, defy the calculations of mankind, and throw impenetrable darkness on future contingencies.
To the above anecdote, another, still more recent, may be here added. The author was lately honoured with a letter from a gentleman deeply skilled in these mysteries, who kindly undertook to calculate the nativity of the writer of Guy Mannering, who might be supposed to be friendly to the divine art which he professed. But it was impossible to supply data