The Captain of the Polestar and Other Tales HTML version

The Great Keinplatz Experiment
Of all the sciences which have puzzled the sons of men, none had such an attraction for
the learned Professor von Baumgarten as those which relate to psychology and the ill-
defined relations between mind and matter. A celebrated anatomist, a profound chemist,
and one of the first physiologists in Europe, it was a relief for him to turn from these
subjects and to bring his varied knowledge to bear upon the study of the soul and the
mysterious relationship of spirits. At first, when as a young man he began to dip into the
secrets of mesmerism, his mind seemed to be wandering in a strange land where all was
chaos and darkness, save that here and there some great unexplainable and disconnected
fact loomed out in front of him. As the years passed, however, and as the worthy
Professor's stock of knowledge increased, for knowledge begets knowledge as money
bears interest, much which had seemed strange and unaccountable began to take another
shape in his eyes. New trains of reasoning became familiar to him, and he perceived
connecting links where all had been incomprehensible and startling.
By experiments which extended over twenty years, he obtained a basis of facts upon
which it was his ambition to build up a new exact science which should embrace
mesmerism, spiritualism, and all cognate subjects. In this he was much helped by his
intimate knowledge of the more intricate parts of animal physiology which treat of nerve
currents and the working of the brain; for Alexis von Baumgarten was Regius Professor
of Physiology at the University of Keinplatz, and had all the resources of the laboratory
to aid him in his profound researches.
Professor von Baumgarten was tall and thin, with a hatchet face and steel-grey eyes,
which were singularly bright and penetrating. Much thought had furrowed his forehead
and contracted his heavy eyebrows, so that he appeared to wear a perpetual frown, which
often misled people as to his character, for though austere he was tender-hearted. He was
popular among the students, who would gather round him after his lectures and listen
eagerly to his strange theories. Often he would call for volunteers from amongst them in
order to conduct some experiment, so that eventually there was hardly a lad in the class
who had not, at one time or another, been thrown into a mesmeric trance by his Professor.
Of all these young devotees of science there was none who equalled in enthusiasm Fritz
von Hartmann. It had often seemed strange to his fellow-students that wild, reckless Fritz,
as dashing a young fellow as ever hailed from the Rhinelands, should devote the time and
trouble which he did in reading up abstruse works and in assisting the Professor in his
strange experiments. The fact was, however, that Fritz was a knowing and long-headed
fellow. Months before he had lost his heart to young Elise, the blue-eyed, yellow-haired
daughter of the lecturer. Although he had succeeded in learning from her lips that she was
not indifferent to his suit, he had never dared to announce himself to her family as a
formal suitor. Hence he would have found it a difficult matter to see his young lady had
he not adopted the expedient of making himself useful to the Professor. By this means he