Where is Robert Palmer
Where is Robert Palmer?
BY I. CRANE CLARK.
ROBERT PALMER was my brother-in-law. Inasmuch as the public has read the account of his mysterious disappearance, and as I have heard many conjectures concerning his probable fate, I think it but meet that I should publish a letter which I have received, and which may aid some people in arriving at a conclusion as to his fate, although, to my mind, it serves only to make the matter more weird and strange.
Robert Palmer was the husband of my sister, Alice. He was well-to-do, healthy and happy. His home relations were the most pleasant and his business affairs flourishing. He was a member of several well-known city Clubs, but mostly frequented a select little affair on Yetton Street, of which he and several warm friends were charter members. He was last seen on the evening of November 1st at the Club on Yetton Street, and the most diligent search by expert detectives had failed to find even the slightest clue to his whereabouts or fate until the receipt of the letter to which I have referred. This letter, addressed to me, William C. Buckner, and signed William Clinton, — a name unknown to me, — was dated Nov. 15, 1902. As I give it entire, no quotation marks are necessary. It was as follows:
I am a stranger to you. I was an intimate friend, however, of poor Bob Palmer. I may as well come to the point at once. I write for the purpose of giving you information concerning your ill-fated brother-in-law. I sat at the Yetton Street Club last night when his unfortunate wife (now widow) called to ask if anything had been heard of her husband. I had heard of her previous visits there, but this was the first one I had witnessed, and the sight of her distress, as she wavered between hope and despair and begged for news of her husband, has prompted me to dispel the doubts surrounding that husband's fate and to end her suspense at once. This letter will be deposited in the mail by a friend of mine. I am going abroad, and will be unable to leave my future address, as indeed, I hardly know my own plans. These are the facts:
Bob Palmer and myself were members of the Yetton Street Club. You were, perhaps, aware of Bob's unusual political ideas. He was not as patriotic as some of his friends could have wished. In fact, he considered our form of government a theory and not a fact. He held that, while our government made it possible for all to have equal rights, in actual practice it fell far short of its possibilities. He was noted for his sympathy and friendship for the unemployed and the poor — the weak and the oppressed. He would never state whether he was a Socialist, or just what he was in his political beliefs, but he would deny that he was an anarchist, which was a nickname that some of us had given to him. He, however, claimed that his was the only true patriotism. “Would you have a churchman worship the cross and never know the Christ it represented?" he would ask. "If you fellows are patriots, what are you patriotic about? Is it the governmental figurehead, or do you have a real regard for the people themselves, and treat them justly and kindly and respectfully?" Whatever his political faith, it is certain that he was sincere and earnest, and, if anything, a little too ready to put into practice whatever he might think was right. I simply mention this to throw light upon the event which I am about to relate.
James Carnegie was also a member of our Club. Carnegie is (or rather was) an amateur hypnotist. He had always claimed powers in this line, but of late he had become the protégé of a professional hypnotist, and stated that he was making great progress. It was arranged that Bob and myself should witness some of his experiments, and we had agreed to meet him at the club at 8.30 on the evening of November first, and he was to have on hand two or three newsboys whom he had coaxed and paid into promising to act as subjects upon whom he might exercise his uncertain powers.
The three of us were on hand at the appointed hour. We secured a private room, and Carnegie gave instructions that when the newsboys arrived they should be admitted. A game of cards, cigars and drinks served to while away the time until nearly ten o'clock, when it became evident that Carnegie's subjects had repented of their promise, and that the original purpose of our meeting must be dropped for the time being. Both Bob and myself had been very sceptical as to Carnegie's powers as a hypnotist, and the non-appearance of the newsboys left room for one of us to express a bantering doubt as to his ability. In reply, Carnegie defied either of us to subject ourselves to his influence. Bob laughingly offered himself, saying, "I will be your victim." He little dreamed how true were his words.
"I should judge that you would make a good subject," said Carnegie. "The only thing that would hinder would be the application of the old truism that familiarity breeds contempt, but to overcome this let me seriously tell you that hypnotism is becoming a definite science, and that by study and natural aptitude one advances in it the same as he would in medicine, astronomy, or the like. I do not joke with you when I state that I have developed marked powers as a hypnotist. You can assist me by trying to believe that I do possess this power, which should be an easy matter, as it is the truth, and a perfectly natural truth. When people laugh at what they call my crankiness, I have the satisfaction in return of laughing at their ignorance."
While talking, Carnegie had arranged two chairs facing one another, and he now invited Bob to be seated in one. Bob seated himself with a nervous laugh, for Carnegie's manner had convinced him, as well as myself, that he was thoroughly in earnest, and had silenced our ridicule. Carnegie took the other chair, while I remained an interested spectator.
"Now," said Carnegie, "if you really wish to assist me you should adapt yourself to obeying my will even before I gain an influence over you. For instance: "Shut your eyes. Open them. Fold your arms. Unfold them. Stand up. Sit down."
Carnegie gave these commands in a curt, sharp tone of voice, and they were promptly obeyed by Bob, although it was plain that the latter was simply following instructions, and had not surrendered himself to the former's will by any means. Meanwhile Carnegie gave his whole mind and attention to the task before him. He appeared oblivious of my presence. His muscles seemed to contract. There was something panther-like in the manner in which he crouched upon his seat. His face assumed a hard, drawn expression. He became a quivering mass of suppressed activity, which manifested itself in his keen, black eyes, the latter glowing and expanding and lighting up until a veritable black flame seemed to shoot from their depths, concentrating itself in a gaze so intense and penetrating that even I, who was not its object, became so fascinated that it was with an effort that I withdrew my attention from the hypnotist to look at his subject. The operations of the former were evidently making an impression upon Bob, who returned Carnegie's gaze with an intent, half-puzzled expression upon his face. Suddenly he raised his hand to his brow and struck out faintly toward Carnegie, as though to ward off the influence which he realized was seeking to overpower him, rising partly from his chair at the same time, and giving vent to a constrained laugh.
"Sit down!" Carnegie had arisen and his whole being entered into his voice and blazed out of his eyes as he gave the command. Bob obeyed. A triumphant look spread over Carnegie's face, and with a faint-hearted feeling of awe I realized that we were fairly launched upon our voyage into the unknown mysteries of hypnotism. Carnegie's efforts, however, were not abated. He now leaned forward, with his piercing gaze still riveted upon Bob's eyes, part of the time softly stroking his brow with his hands, and part of the time making strange passes before his eyes, which would have appeared ridiculous to one who could not have seen the wonderful effect they were producing upon the subject. Upon dropping back into his seat, the puzzled, dazed look deepened in Bob's face. His eyes became listless and finally closed, and with a deep sigh he allowed his head to sink upon his breast, and surrendered himself to the strange influence which had been forced upon him. He appeared to be in an unnatural sleep. His face was colorless. His breathing was not audible, nor was there any rising and falling of his bosom to indicate that he breathed at all. Indeed, he was apparently in a state of complete exhaustion, and it seemed doubtful that he still lived. I glanced apprehensively at Carnegie. The appearance of the latter reassured me somewhat. His muscles had relaxed. The unnatural light had faded from his eyes, and a relieved expression had overspread his countenance. He stood calm and collected, with his right hand resting lightly upon the forehead of our unconscious friend, a few glistening beads of perspiration being the only evidence of the struggle in which he had engaged.
"He is now completely under my influence," he said, turning to me with a grim smile. "I am master of his body and of his mind. He will obey my slightest command. He will believe my most improbable tale. What shall I tell him?"
Then I did a very foolish thing. I suppose it was because my feelings had been so intense and serious for the last few minutes that I experienced a sort of reaction. At any rate, I went to the other extreme, and instead of regarding the condition of poor Bob in the sober manner which it merited, I attempted a silly joke.
"Why," said I, "tell him that he is an anarchist, and that the world is a great big bombshell, with which he will be able to blow up and destroy the universe."
Carnegie seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then said, "Well, there can be no harm." Turning his attention to Bob he caused him to open his eyes, saving to him, "Bob, I suppose you know that you are the greatest anarchist that ever lived? It has been decided to reveal to you that this earth is nothing but a great bombshell, and that by blowing it up you can destroy the universe."
Bob slowly rose to his feet, Carnegie carefully rising also, and standing in front of him.
"Yes," said Bob, "I am indeed an anarchist. I am an enemy of law. The law is a swindle — a cheat. At each hampered step which science has taken in the march of progress the law has stood before her and barred her passage. When ignorance and superstition have bowed their heads to the opinion of intellect the law has been the last to release its straining grasp on iniquity and injustice, and the law of nature is the most unjust and cruel of all. But I can put a stop to it. I can put a stop to it all. I will use the law of nature to defeat the law of nature. To me has been given the secret of striking the balance."
His voice had risen to a shout, and reaching into his vest pocket lie drew forth a match which he lighted, and continued, "This match I will apply to the gas which escapes from the little opening at my feet, and thus will I blow up the very universe itself."
"No, no," said Carnegie, now interfering, "You do not really mean that you are an anarchist. You are mistaken. While it takes the law a long time to reach some evils, yet the general effect of the law is good, and even this slowness to correct these evils which you complain of is, in one sense, a good point in the law. It gives to the law the quality of conservatism, and men have even said of the law that it is the crystallized wisdom of the ages. Believe me, human law based upon natural law is a very good thing indeed."
" Why," said Bob, becoming calm at once, " what you say sounds very reasonable, and I believe it is true. How foolish I was to want to explode this great bombshell on which this building stands. Think of it! Twenty-five thousand miles around! What energy it possesses! My God! I have dropped the match! "
A look of awful horror overspread Bob's features, and then — Carnegie and I were the only occupants of the room! Poor Bob Palmer was gone. He had stood there an instant, with that look of intense consternation upon his face, and then there had been a cold draft of air and a sound like the sharp clicking of glass overhead, and at that same instant of time Bob Palmer had disappeared from the spot where he had stood with our startled eyes upon him, while in the skylight above the room there had appeared an oblong hole about eighteen inches in length, which had not been there before. Investigation afterwards showed that there were no broken pieces of glass about, and the appearance of the glass that was still in place made it apparent that it had been broken by a force so incredibly swift as to melt it about the edges of the hole.
That's all I know. Three days afterwards one of his relatives and I placed Carnegie in a private insane asylum and the physician in charge stated that he was incurably insane. I fear that my own reason will give way soon. I keep asking myself " Where is Robert Palmer? Where is Robert Palmer?" and the answer to this ever-recurring query is so staggering that it turns my mind. Things being as they are, I do not see that it can be of any advantage to you to disturb poor Carnegie about the matter, and as for myself you will probably never hear of me again. An officer of the Trust Company in which Carnegie was interested will call on the widow of Robert Palmer and inform her of certain provisions which have been made for her.
In conclusion I can only ask that the family and friends of Robert Palmer will think of me as leniently as possible after reading this candid statement of my connection with the events leading up to his disappearance.
That was the letter. I am forced to believe it. There is no other explanation. I have investigated, and I find that Carnegie is in an asylum as stated, and that he had been taking lessons in hypnotism for some time prior to the disappearance of my brother-in-law, and in addition to this my sister has been informed by the trust company that she will receive the dividends upon a handsome sum held by them in trust for that purpose.
And now I, too, am continually bothered with the question, "Where is Robert Palmer?" Is the power of mind infinite? Can it hurl bodies through space at a rate of speed such as would be produced by the explosion of a dynamite bomb the size of the earth? Does Robert Palmer's dust mingle with the distant stars? Does his soul survive after such an awful shock? Where, indeed, is Robert Palmer?
- I. Crane Clark, “Where is Robert Palmer?,” The Black Cat 9, no. 5 (February 1904): 19-24.