“Good afternoon, Mr. Ridley.” The Poughkeepsie Seer greeted me at the door of his modest home in a pleasant neighborhood of that town, “I am Andrew Jackson Davis. Won’t you come in?”
He showed me to a chair in his study then went off to fetch us some tea. The room was dark; heavy curtains blocking the afternoon sun, and a single oil lamp on a table by the wall provided dim light. Mr. Davis returned, poured me a cup of tea, then one for himself. He sat down across from me, the tea on a low table between us.
“I’m sure you know me by reputation.” He said, more as a question than a statement.
He was a young man, in his twenties, with a boyish face framed by whiskers, without mustaches. His eyes were his prominent feature; they were like blue-gray glass and had the power to hold your own until you felt powerless to look away. I told him that was not familiar with his reputation, but had been told that he could help me find direction.
“No doubt I can, Mr. Ridley, no doubt I can.”
It had been necessary for me to make an appointment through the Seer’s manager, the formalities of which were handled by the physician who treated me, hence the Seer also knew me as Mr. Ridley (though, it raised some doubt as to his efficacy as a seer.)
“I am a clairvoyant, have been since a young child. I use my gift to cure physical and mental maladies of those in need, such as yourself, Mr. Ridley. More often, lately, I have spent my time writing and lecturing; preparing the people for the new world that is already upon us. My philosophy has been compared to that of Emanuel Swedenborg— not surprisingly, since, though I have never read any of his works, I have on several occasions been visited by the spirit of that illustrious gentleman. I have also studied the methods of Dr. Mesmer in harnessing animal magnetism and can, at will, induce a state of trance in myself and in others. I was once so deeply entranced that I left the waking world in this very room and when I rejoined it I found myself forty miles away in the Catskill Mountains, at a loss to explain how I had gotten there.”
“I have been to the Catskills,” I said.
“Yes,” he said, “so you understand. We are at the threshold, Mr. Ridley, of a new era. Just this past March I received a spiritual message that a portal had been opened; that communication between our world and that of the spirits will soon be commonplace.”
I did not know what to make of the man. Much of what he said made no sense to me, but I could feel the power of his words; just as when Reverend Travis would sermonize on hellfire. But when with the eyes of the Poughkeepsie Seer were locked in gaze with my own, his claim of harnessing animal magnetism seemed like more than idle words.
“I understand that you have been recently wounded, Mr. Ridley and that your life has become shiftless and un-rooted.”
I told him the story of Herr Van der Voort and his daughter, and my hasty retreat from Kaaterskill. I had become quite adept at telling the abbreviated version of this story, having already told it to the Saugerties Bard and my Poughkeepsie physician.
The Poughkeepsie Seer closed his eyes as I spoke, sometimes nodding at various points as if comprehending some hidden significance which was lost on me. When I finished, he continued to sit with eyes closed until I feared my story had put him to sleep.
“Do you ever dream, Mr. Ridley?” He said, at last, opening his eyes.
As a rule, my sleep is untroubled by dreams, so I told him my Mott Street dream, of being comforted on the canal by Mirabile, omitting, of course, that it had been induced by opium. I also omitted my rude awakening.
“I believe I can ease your physical pain, Mr. Ridley, and more importantly, I can heal your spiritual pain and set you on your proper path.” He said. “I will put us both into trances, and you will join me in a spiritual journey. You will not be able to see what I am seeing, but you will be with me in the spiritual world as we seek the help of the spirits in aiding your recovery.”
He moved his chair next to mine and had me turn to face him, our knees nearly touching. The Seer held my palms between his thumbs and fingers and told me to look into his eyes. I did as I was told and gazed into his eyes until I had lost any sense of time. He moved his hands up and down my arms and across my chest as he spoke to me softly, saying I know not what. At once, I was both sitting in the study and completely detached from my body. It was like a deep sleep, yet my eyes were open the whole time. The seer asked me questions and I responded, but I have no memory of what those questions were or how I answered.
Gradually I came out of the trance, drawn by the Seer’s words until I could once again understand their meaning and feel connected to my body and my surroundings. I felt refreshed and invigorated, and, to my surprise, the pain from my wounds had subsided.
“How do you feel, Mr. Ridley?”
“Wonderful.” I said.
“We have been on a momentous journey and I have learned much,” he said. “You are a man of great passion, Mr. Ridley, yet often a man of unsound judgment. You must follow your passions unwaveringly; you must take care, always, not to be swayed by worldly temptations. Above all, you must pursue the object of your desire.”
“Do you mean Mirabile? Should I travel west?” I asked, thinking of she who had remained the object of my desire through all of my bad judgments and worldly temptations.
“Only you can put a name on it, Mr. Ridley, only you can set the direction. But above all you must follow your passion, Mr. Ridley, you must follow your passion.”
I paid the Seer gladly. I was relieved of my physical pain, and his spiritual advice, with the fog of earthly distraction blown away, did mirror my own desire. I was not bound by a damnation predetermined; I was free to seek the object of my passion. I would travel west and find Mirabile.
Yet, I had a lingering skepticism regarding the Poughkeepsie Seer. If he had looked so deeply into my soul and taken me on a spiritual quest, why did he still refer to me as Mr. Ridley? Had none of the spirits thought to inform him that I was actually Jonathan Pratt? This troubled me more on the earthly plane than the spiritual—there were now three people in Poughkeepsie who knew me as George Ridley, and by now the real George Ridley had no doubt reported the theft of his wallet to the police.
The problem with Mr. Ridley’s wallet was that it contained too much money. When Jack and I were picking pockets in New York, Dugan had us report a score this big and hand over the wallet to him. This was not so he could keep the money, but so he could return it. A fat wallet meant someone of importance—a banker, or worse, a Tammany politician—someone who could cause us real problems. We did not keep their money. It was better to make many small scores than one big one.
While I had no intention of returning Mr. Ridley’s money, I had no desire to be caught impersonating him in Poughkeepsie. I removed several hundred dollars in bank notes from the wallet, then threw the wallet and calling cards into the gutter. The money I hid in my boots.
I thought the fastest way out of town must be by train. I would buy a ticket to Syracuse, heading swiftly toward the object of my desire and away from the scene of my recent crime. I could bid farewell to Mr. Ridley and once again become Jonathan Pratt.
The train depot was a small wooden building between the road and the boarding platform. Inside was a counter for purchasing tickets and rows of benches for waiting. But standing near the counter was a policeman in uniform and at the gate stood another. I had no experience with railroads; maybe those policemen always stood there. But if they were looking for a pickpocket and I were searched and questioned, I would be hard pressed to explain the money in my boots. And there were those in town who could identify me as an imposter.
I stepped on the platform from outside the building, and a policeman approached me.
“Taking a train trip, sonny?”
“No, officer, I just like to look at the engines,” I replied.
“Best come back tomorrow to look at the engines,” he said, “There may be trouble here today.”
That was enough for me. I left for the stagecoach office to see if there were coppers there as well. There were none, so I asked the agent for a ticket on the next coach out of Poughkeepsie.
It was the merest chance that sent me next to Saratoga.