"Mr. Baxter—Mr. Jamieson."
He seemed a harmless young man, thought Laurie, and plainly a little nervous at the situation in which he found himself, as might a greyhound carry himself in a kennel of well-bred foxhounds. He was very correctly dressed, with Roman collar and stock, and obviously had not long left a theological college. He had an engaging kind of courtesy, ecclesiastically cut features, and curly black hair. He sat balancing a delicate cup adroitly on his knee.
"Mr. Jamieson is so anxious to know all that is going on," explained Lady Laura, with a voluble frankness. "He thinks it so necessary to be abreast of the times, as he said to me the other day."
Laurie assented, grimly pitying the young man for his indiscreet confidences. The clergyman looked priggish in his efforts not to do so.
"He has a class of young men on Sundays," continued the hostess—"(Another biscuit, Maud darling?)—whom he tries to interest in all modern movements. He thinks it so important."
Mr. Jamieson cleared his throat in a virile manner.
"Just so," he said; "exactly so."
"And so I told him he must really come and meet Mr. Vincent.... I can't think why he is so late; but he has so many calls upon his time, that I am sure I wonder—"
"Mr. Vincent," announced the footman.
A rather fine figure of a man came forward into the room, dressed in much better taste than Laurie somehow had expected, and not at all like the type of an insane dissenting minister in broadcloth which he had feared. Instead, it was a big man that he saw, stooping a little, inclined to stoutness, with a full curly beard tinged with grey, rather overhung brows, and a high forehead, from which the same kind of curly greyish hair was beginning to retreat. He was in a well-cut frock-coat and dark trousers, with the collar of the period and a dark tie.
Lady Laura was in a flutter of welcome, pouring out little sentences, leading him to a seat, introducing him, and finally pressing refreshments into his hands.
"It is too good of you," she said; "too good of you, with all your engagements.... These gentlemen are most anxious.... Mrs. Stapleton of course you know.... And you will just sit and talk to us ... like friends ... won't you.... No, no! no formal speech at all ... just a few words ... and you will allow us to ask you questions...."
And so on.
Meanwhile Laurie observed the high-priest carefully and narrowly, and was quite unable to see any of the unpleasant qualities he had expected. He sat easily, without self-consciousness or arrogance or unpleasant humility. He had a pair of pleasant, shrewd, and rather kind eyes; and his voice, when he said a word or two in answer to Lady Laura's volubility, was of that resonant softness that is always a delight to hear. In fact, his whole bearing and personality was that of a rather exceptional average man—a publisher, it might be, or a retired lawyer—a family man with a sober round of life and ordinary duties, who brought to their fulfillment a wholesome, kindly, but distinctly strong character of his own. Laurie hardly knew whether he was pleased or disappointed. He would almost have preferred a wild creature with rolling eyes, in a cloak; yet he would have been secretly amused and contemptuous at such a man.
"The sitting is off for Sunday, by the way, Lady Laura," said the new-comer.
"Indeed! How is that?"
"Oh! there was some mistake about the rooms; it's the secretary's fault; you mustn't blame me."
Lady Laura cried out her dismay and disappointment, and Mrs. Stapleton played chorus. It was too tiresome, they said, too provoking, particularly just now, when "Annie" was so complacent. (Mrs. Stapleton explained kindly to the two young gentlemen that "Annie" was a spirit who had lately made various very interesting revelations.) What was to be done? Were there no other rooms?
Mr. Vincent shook his head. It was too late, he said, to make arrangements now.
While the ladies continued to buzz, and Mr. Jamieson to listen from the extreme edge of his chair, Laurie continued to make mental comments. He felt distinctly puzzled by the marked difference between the prophet and his disciples. These were so shallow; this so impressive by the most ordinary of all methods, and the most difficult of imitation, that is, by sheer human personality. He could not grasp the least common multiple of the two sides. Yet this man tolerated these women, and, indeed, seemed very kind and friendly towards them. He seemed to possess that sort of competence which rises from the fact of having well-arranged ideas and complete certitude about them.
And at last a pause came. Mr. Vincent set down his cup for the second time, refused buttered bun, and waited.
"Yes, do smoke, Mr. Vincent."
The man drew out his cigarette-case, smiling, offering it to the two men. Laurie took one; the clergyman refused.
"And now, Mr. Vincent."
Again he smiled, in a half-embarrassed way.
"But no speeches, I think you said," he remarked.
"Oh! well, you know what I mean; just like friends, you know. Treat us all like that."
Mrs. Stapleton rose, came nearer the circle, rustled down again, and sank into an elaborate silence.
"Well, what is it these gentlemen wish to hear?"
"Everything—everything," cried Lady Laura. "They claim to know nothing at all."
Laurie thought it time to explain himself a little. He felt he would not like to take this man at an unfair advantage.
"I should just like to say this," he said. "I have told Mrs. Stapleton already. It is this. I must confess that so far as I am concerned I am not a believer. But neither am I a skeptic. I am just a real agnostic in this matter. I have read several books; and I have been impressed. But there's a great deal in them that seems to me nonsense; perhaps I had better say which I don't understand. This materializing business, for instance.... I can understand that the minds of the dead can affect ours; but I don't see how they can affect matter—in table-rapping, for instance, and still more in appearing, and our being able to touch and see them.... I think that's my position," he ended rather lamely.
The fact was that he was a little disconcerted by the other's eyes. They were, as I have said, kind and shrewd eyes, but they had a good deal of power as well. Mr. Vincent sat motionless during this little speech, just looking at him, not at all offensively, yet with the effect of making the young man feel rather like a defiant and naughty little boy who is trying to explain.
Laurie sat back and drew on his cigarette rather hard.
"I understand perfectly," said the steady voice. "You are in a very reasonable position. I wish all were as open-minded. May I say a word or two?"
"Well, it is materialization that puzzles you, is it?"
"Exactly," said Laurie. "Our theologians tell us—by the way, I am a Catholic." (The other bowed a little.) "Our theologians, I believe, tell us that such a thing cannot be, except under peculiar circumstances, as in the lives of the saints, and so on."
"Are you bound to believe all that your theologians say?" asked the other quietly.
"Well, it would be very rash indeed—" began Laurie.
"Exactly, I see. But what if you approach it from the other side, and try to find out instead whether these things actually do happen. I do not wish to be rude, Mr. Baxter; but you remember that your theologians—I am not so foolish as to say the Church, for I know that that was not so—but your theologians, you know, made a mistake about Galileo."
Laurie winced a little. Mr. Jamieson cleared his throat in gentle approval.
"Now I don't ask you to accept anything contrary to your faith," went on the other gently; "but if you really wish to look into this matter, you must set aside for the present all other presuppositions. You must not begin by assuming that the theologians are always right, nor even in asking how or why these things should happen. The one point is, Do they happen?"
His last words had a curious little effect as of a sudden flame. He had spoken smoothly and quietly; then he had suddenly put an unexpected emphasis into the little sentence at the end. Laurie jumped, internally. Yes, that was the point, he assented internally.
"Now," went on the other, again in that slow, reassuring voice, flicking off the ash of his cigarette, "is it possible for you to doubt that these things happen? May I ask you what books you have read?"
Laurie named three or four.
"And they have not convinced you?"
"Yet you accept human evidence for a great many much more remarkable things than these—as a Catholic."
"That is Divine Revelation," said Laurie, sure of his ground.
"Pardon me," said the other. "I do not in the least say it is not Divine Revelation—that is another question—but you receive the statement that it is so, on the word of man. Is that not true?"
Laurie was silent. He did not quite know what to say; and he almost feared the next words. But he was astonished that the other did not press home the point.
"Think over that, Mr. Baxter. That is all I ask. And now for the real thing. You sincerely wish to be convinced?"
"I am ready to be convinced."
The medium paused an instant, looking intently at the fire. Then he tossed the stump of his cigarette away and lighted another. The two ladies sat motionless.
"You seem fond of a priori arguments, Mr. Baxter," he began, with a kindly smile. "Let us have one or two, then.
"Consider first the relation of your soul to your body. That is infinitely mysterious, is it not? An emotion rises in your soul, and a flush of blood marks it. That is the subconscious mechanism of your body. But to say that, does not explain it. It is only a label. You follow me? Yes? Or still more mysterious is your conscious power. You will to raise your hand, and it obeys. Muscular action? Oh yes; but that is but another label." He turned his eyes, suddenly somber, upon the staring, listening young man, and his voice rose a little. "Go right behind all that, Mr. Baxter, down to the mysteries. What is that link between soul and body? You do not know! Nor does the wisest scientist in the world. Nor ever will. Yet there the link is!"
Again he paused.
Laurie was aware of a rising half-excited interest far beyond the power of the words he heard. Yet the manner of these too was striking. It was not the sham mysticism he had expected. There was a certain reverence in them, an admitting of mysteries, that seemed hard to reconcile with the ideas he had formed of the dogmatism of these folk.
"Now begin again," continued the quiet, virile voice. "You believe, as a Christian, in the immortality of the soul, in the survival of personality after death. Thank God for that! All do not, in these days. Then I need not labor at that.
"Now, Mr. Baxter, imagine to yourself some soul that you have loved passionately, who has crossed over to the other side." Laurie drew a long, noiseless breath, steadying himself with clenched hands. "She has come to the unimaginable glories, according to her measure; she is at an end of doubts and fears and suspicions. She knows because she sees.... But do you think that she is absorbed in these things? You know nothing of human love, Mr. Baxter" (the voice trembled with genuine emotion) ... "if you can think that...! If you can think that her thought turns only to herself and her joys. Why, her life has been lived in your love by our hypothesis—you were at her bedside when she died, perhaps; and she clung to you as to God Himself, when the shadow deepened. Do you think that her first thought, or at least her second, will not be of you...? In all that she sees, she will desire you to see it also. She will strive, crave, hunger for you—not that she may possess you, but that you may be one with her in her own possession; she will send out vibration after vibration of sympathy and longing; and you, on this side, will be tuned to her as none other can be—you, on this side, will be empty for her love, for the sight and sound of her.... Is death then so strong?—stronger than love? Can a Christian believe that?"
The change in the man was extraordinary. His heavy beard and brows hid half his face, but his whole being glowed passionately in his voice, even in his little trembling gestures, and Laurie sat astonished. Every word uttered seemed to fit his own case, to express by an almost perfect vehicle the vague thoughts that had struggled in his own heart during this last week. It was Amy of whom the man spoke, Amy with her eyes and hair, peering from the glorious gloom to catch some glimpse of her lover in his meaningless light of earthly day.
Mr. Vincent cleared his throat a little, and at the sound the two motionless women stirred and rustled a little. The sound of a hansom, the spanking trot and wintry jingle of bells swelled out of the distance, passed, and went into silence before he spoke again. Then it was in his usual slow voice that he continued.
"Conceive such a soul as that, Mr. Baxter. She desires to communicate with one she loves on earth, with you or me, and it is a human and innocent desire. Yet she has lost that connection, that machinery of which we have spoken—that connection of which we know nothing, between matter and spirit, except that it exists. What is she to do? Well, at least she will do this, she will bend every power that she possesses upon that medium—I mean matter—through which alone the communication can be made; as a man on an island, beyond the power of a human voice, will use any instrument, however grotesque, to signal to a passing ship. Would any decent man, Mr. Baxter, mock at the pathos and effort of that, even if it were some grotesque thing, like a flannel shirt on the end of an oar? Yet men mock at the tapping of a table...!
"Well, then, this longing soul uses every means at her disposal, concentrates every power she possesses. Is it so very unreasonable, so very unchristian, so very dishonoring to the love of God, to think that she sometimes succeeds...? that she is able, under comparatively exceptional circumstances, to re-establish that connection with material things, that was perfectly normal and natural to her during her earthly life.... Tell me, Mr. Baxter."
Laurie shifted a little in his chair.
"I cannot say that it is," he said, in a voice that seemed strange in his own ears. The medium smiled a little.
"So much for a priori reasoning," he said. "There remains only the fact whether such things do happen or not. There I must leave you to yourself, Mr. Baxter."
Laurie sat forward suddenly.
"But that is exactly where I need your help, sir," he said.
A murmur broke from the ladies' lips simultaneously, resembling applause. Mr. Jamieson sat back and swallowed perceptibly in his throat.
"You have said so much, sir," went on Laurie deliberately, "that you have, so to speak, put yourself in my debt. I must ask you to take me further."
Mr. Vincent smiled full at him.
"You must take your place with others," he said. "These ladies—"
"Mr. Vincent, Mr. Vincent," cried Lady Laura. "He is quite right, you must help him. You must help us all."
"Well, Sunday week," he began deprecatingly.
Mrs. Stapleton broke in.
"No, no; now, Mr. Vincent, now. Do something now. Surely the circumstances are favorable."
"I must be gone again at six-thirty," said the man hesitatingly.
Laurie broke in. He felt desperate.
"If you can show me anything of this, sir, you can surely show it now. If you do not show it now—"
"Well, Mr. Baxter?" put in the voice, sharp and incisive, as if expecting an insult and challenging it.
Laurie broke down.
"I can only say," he cried, "that I beg and entreat of you to do what you can—now and here."
There was a silence.
"And you, Mr. Jamieson?"
The young clergyman started, as if from a daze. Then he rose abruptly.
"I—I must be going, Lady Laura," he said. "I had no idea it was so late. I—I have a confirmation class."
An instant later he was gone.
"That is as well," observed the medium. "And you are sure, Mr. Baxter, that you wish me to try? You must remember that I promise nothing."
"I wish you to try."
"And if nothing happens?"
"If nothing happens, I will promise to—to continue my search. I shall know then that—that it is at least sincere."
Mr. Vincent rose to his feet.
"A little table just here, Lady Laura, if you please, and a pencil and paper.... Will you kindly take your seats...? Yes, Mr. Baxter, draw up your chair ... here. Now, please, we must have complete silence, and, so far as possible, silence of thought."
The table, a small, round rosewood one, stood, bare of any cloth, upon the hearthrug. The two ladies sat, motionless statues once more, upon the side furthest from the fire, with their hands resting lightly upon the surface. Laurie sat on one side and the medium on the other. Mr. Vincent had received his paper and pencil almost immediately, and now sat resting his right hand with the pencil upon the paper as if to write, his left hand upon his knee as he sat, turned away slightly from the center.
Laurie looked at him closely....
And now he began to be aware of a certain quite indefinable change in the face at which he looked. The eyes were open—no, it was not in them that the change lay, nor in the lines about the mouth, so far as he could see them, nor in any detail, anywhere. Neither was it the face of a dreamer or a sleepwalker, or of the dead, when the lines disappear and life retires. It was a living, conscious face, yet it was changed. The lips were slightly parted, and the breath came evenly between them. It was more like the face of one lost in deep, absorbed, introspective thought. Laurie decided that this was the explanation.
He looked at the hand on the paper—well shaped, brownish, capable—perfectly motionless, the pencil held lightly between the finger and thumb.
Then he glanced up at the two ladies.
They too were perfectly motionless, but there was no change in them. The eyes of both were downcast, fixed steadily upon the paper. And as he looked he saw Lady Laura begin to lift her lids slowly as if to glance at him. He looked himself upon the paper and the motionless fingers.
He was astonished at the speed with which the situation had developed. Five minutes ago he had been listening to talk, and joining in it. The clergyman had been here; he himself had been sitting a yard further back. Now they sat here as if they had sat for an hour. It seemed that the progress of events had stopped....
Then he began to listen for the sounds of the world outside, for within here it seemed as if a silence of a very strange quality had suddenly descended and enveloped them. It was as if a section—that place in which he sat—had been cut out of time and space. It was apart here, it was different altogether....
He began to be intensely and minutely conscious of the world outside—so entirely conscious that he lost all perception of that at which he stared; whether it was the paper, or the strong, motionless hand, or the introspective face, he was afterwards unaware. But he heard all the quiet roar of the London evening, and was able to distinguish even the note of each instrument that helped to make up that untiring, inconclusive orchestra. Far away to the northwards sounded a great thoroughfare, the rolling of wheels, a myriad hoofs, the pulse of motor vehicles, and the cries of street boys; upon all these his attention dwelt as they came up through the outward windows into that dead silent, lamp-lit room of which he had lost consciousness. Again a hansom came up the street, with the rap of hoofs, the swish of a whip, the wintry jingle of bells....
He began gently to consider these things, to perceive, rather than to form, little inward pictures of what they signified; he saw the lighted omnibus, the little swirl of faces round a news-board.
Then he began to consider what had brought him here; it seemed that he saw himself, coming in his dark suit across the park, turning into the thoroughfare and across it. He began to consider Amy; and it seemed to him that in this intense and living silence he was conscious of her for the first time without sorrow since ten days ago. He began to consider.
* * * * *
Something brought him back in an instant to the room and his perception of it, but he had not an idea what this was, whether a movement or a sound. But on considering it afterwards he remembered that it was as that sound is that wakes a man at the very instant of his falling asleep, a sharp momentary tick, as of a clock. Yet he had not been in the least sleepy.
On the contrary, he perceived now with an extreme and alert attention the hand on the paper; he even turned his head slightly to see if the pencil had moved. It was as motionless as at the beginning. He glanced up, with a touch of surprise, at his hostess's face, and caught her in the very act of turning her eyes from his. There was no impatience in her movement: rather her face was of one absorbed, listening intently, not like the bearded face opposite, introspective and intuitive, but eagerly, though motionlessly, observant of the objective world. He looked at Mrs. Stapleton. She too bore the same expression of intent regarding thought on her usually rather tiresome face.
Then once again the silence began to come down, like a long, noiseless hush.
This time, however, his progress was swifter and more sure. He passed with the speed of thought through those processes that had been measurable before, faintly conscious of the words spoken before the sitting began—
"... If possible, the silence of thought."
He thought he understood now what this signified, and that he was experiencing it. No longer did he dwell upon, or consider, with any voluntary activity, the images that passed before him. Rather they moved past him while he simply regarded them without understanding. His perception ran swiftly outwards, as through concentric circles, yet he was not sure whether it were outwards or inwards that he went. The roar of London, with its flight of ocular visions, sank behind him, and without any further sense of mental travel, he found himself perceiving his own home, whether in memory, imagination, or fact he did not know. But he perceived his mother, in the familiar lamp-lit room, over her needlework, and Maggie—Maggie looking at him with a strange, almost terrified expression in her great eyes. Then these too were gone; and he was out in some warm silence, filled with a single presence—that which he desired; and there he stopped.
* * * * *
He was not in the least aware of how long this lasted. But he found himself at a certain moment in time, looking steadily at the white paper on the table, from which the hand had gone, again conscious of the sudden passing of some clear sound that left no echo—as sharp as the crack of a whip. Oh! the paper—that was the important point! He bent a little closer, and was aware of a sharp disappointment as he saw it was stainless of writing. Then he was astonished that the hand and pencil had gone from it, and looked up quickly.
Mr. Vincent was looking at him with a strange expression.
At first he thought he might have interrupted, and wondered with dismay whether this were so. But there was no sign of anger in those eyes—nothing but a curious and kindly interest.
"Nothing happened?" he exclaimed hastily. "You have written nothing?"
He looked at the ladies.
Lady Laura too was looking at him with the same strange interest as the medium. Mrs. Stapleton, he noticed, was just folding up, in an unobtrusive manner, several sheets of paper that he had not noticed before.
He felt a little stiff, and moved as if to stand up but, to his astonishment, the big man was up in an instant, laying his hands on his shoulders.
"Just sit still quietly for a few minutes," said the kindly voice. "Just sit still."
"Why—why—" began Laurie, bewildered.
"Yes, just sit still quietly," went on the voice; "you feel a little tired."
"Just a little," said Laurie. "But—"
"Yes, yes; just sit still. No; don't speak."
Then a silence fell again.
Laurie began to wonder what this was all about. Certainly he felt tired, yet strangely elated. But he felt no inclination to move; and sat back, passive, looking at his own hands on his knees. But he was disappointed that nothing had happened.
Then the thought of time came into his mind. He supposed that it would be about ten minutes past six. The sitting had begun a little before six. He glanced up at the clock on the mantelpiece; but it was one of those bulgy-faced Empire gilt affairs that display everything except the hour. He still waited a moment, feeling all this to be very unusual and unconventional. Why should he sit here like an invalid, and why should these three sit here and watch him so closely?
He shifted a little in his chair, feeling that an effort was due from him. The question of the time of day struck him as a suitably conventional remark with which to break the embarrassing silence.
"What is the time?" he said. "I am afraid I ought to be—"
"There is plenty of time," said the grave voice across the table.
With a sudden movement Laurie was on his feet, peering at the clock, knowing that something was wrong somewhere. Then he turned to the company bewildered and suspicious.
"Why, it is nearly eight," he cried.
Mr. Vincent smiled reassuringly.
"It is about that," he said. "Please sit down again, Mr. Baxter."
"But—but—" began Laurie.
"Please sit down again, Mr. Baxter," repeated the voice, with a touch of imperiousness that there was no resisting.
Laurie sat down again; but he was alert, suspicious, and intensely puzzled.
"Will you kindly tell me what has happened?" he asked sharply.
"You feel tired?"
"No; I am all right. Kindly tell me what has happened."
He saw Lady Laura whisper something in an undertone he could not hear. Mr. Vincent stood up with a nod and leaned himself against the mantelpiece, looking down at the rather indignant young man.
"Certainly," he said. "You are sure you are not exhausted, Mr. Baxter?"
"Not in the least," said Laurie.
"Well, then, you passed into trance about five minutes—"
"You passed into trance about five minutes past six; you came out of it five minutes ago."
"Trance?" gasped Laurie.
"Certainly. A very deep and satisfactory trance. There is nothing to be frightened of, Mr. Baxter. It is an unusual gift, that is all. I have seldom seen a more satisfactory instance. May I ask you a question or two, sir?"
Laurie nodded vaguely. He was still trying hopelessly to take in what had been said.
"You nearly passed into trance a little earlier. May I ask whether you heard or saw anything that recalled you?"
Laurie shut his eyes tight in an effort to think. He felt dimly rather proud of himself.
"It was quite short. Then you came back and looked at Lady Laura. Try to remember."
"I remember thinking I had heard a sound."
The medium nodded.
"Just so," he said.
"That would be the third," said Lady Laura, nodding sagely.
"Third what?" said Laurie rather rudely.
No one paid any attention to him.
"Now can you give any account of the last hour and a half?" continued the medium tranquilly.
Laurie considered again. He was still a little confused.
"I remember thinking about the streets," he said, "and then of my own home, and then..." He stopped.
"Yes; and then?"
"Then of a certain private matter."
"Ah! We must not pry then. But can you answer one question more? Was it connected with any person who has crossed over?"
"It was," said Laurie shortly.
"Just so," said the medium.
Laurie felt suspicious.
"Why do you ask that?" he said.
Mr. Vincent looked at him steadily.
"I think I had better tell you, Mr. Baxter; it is more straightforward, though you will not like it. You will be surprised to hear that you talked very considerably during this hour and a half; and from all that you said I should suppose you were controlled by a spirit recently crossed over—a young girl who on being questioned gave the name of Amy Nugent—"
Laurie sprang to his feet, furious.
"You have been spying, sir. How dare you—"
"Sit down, Mr. Baxter, or you shall not hear a word more," rang out the imperious, unruffled voice. "Sit down this instant."
Laurie shot a look at the two ladies. Then he remembered himself. He sat down.
"I am not at all angry, Mr. Baxter," came the voice, suave and kindly again. "Your thought was very natural. But I think I can prove to you that you are mistaken."
Mr. Vincent glanced at Mrs. Stapleton with an almost imperceptible frown, then back at Laurie.
"Let me see, Mr. Baxter.... Is there anyone on earth besides yourself who knew that you had sat out, about ten days ago or so, under some yew trees in your garden at home, and thought of this young girl—that you—"
Laurie looked at him in dumb dismay; some little sound broke from his mouth.
"Well, is that enough, Mr. Baxter?"
Lady Laura slid in a sentence here.
"Dear Mr. Baxter, you need not be in the least alarmed. All that has passed here is, of course, as sacred as in the confessional. We should not dream, without your leave—"
"One moment," gasped the boy.
He drove his face into his hands and sat overwhelmed.
Presently he looked up.
"But I knew it," he said. "I knew it. It was just my own self which spoke."
The medium smiled.
"Yes," he said, "of course that is the first answer." He placed one hand on the table, leaning forward, and began to play his fingers as if on a piano. Laurie watched the movement, which seemed vaguely familiar.
"Can you account for that, Mr. Baxter? You did that several times. It seemed uncharacteristic of you, somehow."
Laurie looked at him, mute. He remembered now. He half raised a hand in protest.
"And ... and do you ever stammer?" went on the man.
Still Laurie was silent. It was beyond belief or imagination.
"Now if those things were characteristic—"
"Stop, sir," cried the boy; and then, "But those too might be unconscious imitation."
"They might," said the other. "But then we had the advantage of watching you. And there were other things."
"I beg your pardon?"
"There was the loud continuous rapping, at the beginning and the end. You were awakened twice by these."
Laurie remained perfectly motionless without a word. He was still striving to marshal this flood of mad ideas. It was incredible, amazing.
Then he stood up.
"I must go away," he said. "I—I don't know what to think."
"You had better stay a little longer and rest," said the medium kindly.
The boy shook his head.
"I must go at once," he said. "I cannot trust myself."
He went out without a word, followed by the medium. The two ladies sat eyeing one another.
"It has been astonishing ... astonishing," sighed Mrs. Stapleton. "What a find!"
There was no more said. Lady Laura sat as one in trance herself.
Then Mr. Vincent returned.
"You must not lose sight of that young man," he said abruptly. "It is an extraordinary case."
"I have all the notes here," remarked Mrs. Stapleton.
"Yes; you had better keep them. He must not see them at present."
As the weeks went by Maggie's faint uneasiness disappeared. She was one of those fortunate persons who, possessing what are known as nerves, are aware of the possession, and discount their effects accordingly.
That uneasiness had culminated a few days after Laurie's departure one evening as she sat with the old lady after tea—in a sudden touch of terror at she knew not what.
"What is the matter, my dear?" the old lady had said without warning.
Maggie was reading, but it appeared that Mrs. Baxter had noticed her lower her book suddenly, with an odd expression.
Maggie had blinked a moment.
"Nothing," she said. "I was just thinking of Laurie; I don't know why."
But since then she had been able to reassure herself. Her fancies were but fancies, she told herself; and they had ceased to trouble her. The boy's letters to his mother were ordinary and natural: he was reading fairly hard; his coach was as pleasant a person as he had seemed; he hoped to run down to Stantons for a few days at Christmas. There was nothing whatever to alarm anyone; plainly his ridiculous attitude about Spiritualism had been laid by; and, better still, he was beginning to recover himself after his sorrow in September.
It was an extraordinarily peaceful and uneventful life that the two led together—the kind of life that strengthens previous proclivities and adds no new ones; that brings out the framework of character and motive as dropping water clears the buried roots of a tree. This was all very well for Mrs. Baxter, whose character was already fully formed, it may be hoped; but not so utterly satisfactory for the girl, though the process was pleasant enough.
After Mass and breakfast she spent the morning as she wished, overseeing little extra details of the house—gardening plans, the poultry, and so forth—and reading what she cared to. The afternoon was devoted to the old lady's airing; the evening till dinner to anything she wished; and after dinner again to gentle conversation. Very little happened. The Vicar and his wife dined there occasionally, and still more occasionally Father Mahon. Now and then there were vague entertainments to be patronized in the village schoolroom, in an atmosphere of ink and hair-oil, and a mild amount of rather dreary and stately gaiety connected with the big houses round. Mrs. Baxter occasionally put in appearances, a dignified and aristocratic old figure with her gentle eyes and black lace veil; and Maggie went with her.
The pleasure of this life grew steadily upon Maggie. She was one of that fraction of the world that finds entertainment to lie, like the kingdom of God, within. She did not in the least wish to be "amused" or stimulated and distracted. She was perfectly and serenely content with the fowls, the garden, her small selected tasks, her religion, and herself.
The result was, as it always is in such cases, she began to revolve about three or four main lines of thought, and to make a very fair progress in the knowledge of herself. She knew her faults quite well; and she was not unaware of her virtues. She knew perfectly that she was apt to give way to internal irritation, of a strong though invisible kind, when interruptions happened; that she now and then gave way to an unduly fierce contempt of tiresome people, and said little bitter things that she afterwards regretted. She also knew that she was quite courageous, that she had magnificent physical health, and that she could be perfectly content with a life that a good many other people would find narrow and stifling.
Her own character then was one thing that she had studied—not in the least in a morbid way—during her life at Stantons. And another thing she was beginning to study, rather to her own surprise, was the character of Laurie. She began to become a little astonished at the frequency with which, during a silent drive, or some mild mechanical labor in the gardens, the image of that young man would rise before her.
Indeed, as has been said, she had new material to work on. She had not realized till the affaire Amy that boy's astonishing selfishness; and it became for her a rather pleasant psychological exercise to build up his characteristics into a consistent whole. It had not struck her, till this specimen came before her notice, how generosity and egotism, for example, so far from being mutually exclusive, can very easily be complements, each of the other.
So then she passed her days—exteriorly a capable and occupied person, interested in half a dozen simple things; interiorly rather introspective, rather scrupulous, and intensely interested in the watching of two characters—her own and her adopted brother's. Mrs. Baxter's character needed no dissection; it was a consistent whole, clear as crystal and as rigid.
It was still some five weeks before Christmas that Maggie became aware of what, as a British maiden, she ought, of course, to have known long before—namely, that she was thinking just a little too much about a young man who, so far as was apparent, thought nothing at all about her. It was true that once he had passed through a period of sentimentality in her regard; but the extreme discouragement it had met with had been enough.
Her discovery happened in this way.
Mrs. Baxter opened a letter one morning, smiling contentedly to herself.
"From Laurie," she said. Maggie ceased eating toast for a second, to listen.
Then the old lady uttered a small cry of dismay.
"He thinks he can't come, after all," she said.
Maggie had a moment of very acute annoyance.
"What does he say? Why not?" she asked.
There was a pause. She watched Mrs. Baxter's lips moving slowly, her glasses in place; saw the page turned, and turned again. She took another piece of toast. There are few things more irritating than to have fragments of a letter doled out piecemeal.
"He doesn't say. He just says he's very busy indeed, and has a great deal of way to make up." The old lady continued reading tranquilly, and laid the letter down.
"Nothing more?" asked Maggie, consumed with annoyance.
"He's been to the theatre once or twice.... Dear Laurie! I'm glad he's recovering his spirits."
Maggie was very angry indeed. She thought it abominable of the boy to treat his mother like that. And then there was the shooting—not much, indeed, beyond the rabbits, which the man who acted as occasional keeper told her wanted thinning, and a dozen or two of wild pheasants—yet this shooting had always been done, she understood, at Christmas, ever since Master Laurie had been old enough to hold a gun.
She determined to write him a letter.
When breakfast was over, with a resolved face she went to her room. She would really tell this boy a home-truth or two. It was a—a sister's place to do so. The mother, she knew well enough, would do no more than send a little wail, and would end by telling the dear boy that, of course, he knew best, and that she was very happy to think that he was taking such pains about his studies. Someone must point out to the boy his overwhelming selfishness, and it seemed that no one was at hand but herself. Therefore she would do it.
She did it, therefore, politely enough but unmistakably; and as it was a fine morning, she thought that she would like to step up to the village and post it. She did not want to relent; and once the letter was in the post-box, the thing would be done.
It was, indeed, a delicious morning. As she passed out through the iron gate the trees overhead, still with a few brown belated leaves, soared up in filigree of exquisite workmanship into a sky of clear November blue, as fresh as a hedge-sparrow's egg. The genial sound of cock-crowing rose, silver and exultant, from the farm beyond the road, and the tiny street of the hamlet looked as clean as a Dutch picture.
She noticed on the right, just before she turned up to the village on the left, the grocer's shop, with the name "Nugent" in capitals as bright and flamboyant as on the depot of a merchant king. Mr. Nugent could be faintly descried within, in white shirt-sleeves and an apron, busied at a pile of cheeses. Overhead, three pairs of lace curtains, each decked with a blue bow, denoted the bedrooms. One of them must have been Amy's. She wondered which....
All up the road to the village, some half-mile in length, she pondered Amy. She had never seen her, to her knowledge; but she had a tolerably accurate mental picture of her from Mrs. Baxter's account.... Ah! how could Laurie? How could he...? Laurie, of all people! It was just one more example....
After dropping her letter into the box at the corner, she hesitated for an instant. Then, with an odd look on her face, she turned sharply aside to where the church tower pricked above the leafless trees.
It was a typical little country church, with that odor of the respectable and rather stuffy sanctity peculiar to the class; she had wrinkled her nose at it more than once in Laurie's company. But she passed by the door of it now, and, stepping among the wet grasses, came down the little slope among the headstones to where a very white marble angel clasped an equally white marble cross. She passed to the front of this, and looked, frowning a little over the intolerable taste of the thing.
The cross, she perceived, was wreathed with a spray of white marble ivory; the angel was a German female, with a very rounded leg emerging behind a kind of button; and there, at the foot of the cross, was the inscription, in startling black—
THE DEAR AND ONLY DAUGHTER
AMOS AND MARIA NUGENT
DIED SEPTEMBER 21st 1901
RESPECTED BY ALL
"I SHALL SEE HER BUT NOT NOW."
Below, as vivid as the inscription, there stood out the maker's name, and of the town where he lived.
* * * * *
So she lay there, reflected Maggie. It had ended in that. A mound of earth, cracking a little, and sunken. She lay there, her nervous fingers motionless and her stammer silent. And could there be a more eloquent monument of what she was...? Then she remembered herself, and signed herself with the cross, while her lips moved an instant for the repose of the poor girlish soul. Then she stepped up again on to the path to go home.
It was as she came near the church gate that she understood herself, that she perceived why she had come, and was conscious for the first time of her real attitude of soul as she had stood there, reading the inscription, and, in a flash, there followed the knowledge of the inevitable meaning of it all.
In a word it was this.
She had come there, she told herself, to triumph, to gloat. Oh! she spared herself nothing, as she stood there, crimson with shame, to gloat over the grave of a rival. Amy was nothing less than that, and she herself—she, Margaret Marie Deronnais—had given way to jealousy of this grocer's daughter, because ... because ... she had begun to care, really to care, for the man to whom she had written that letter this morning, and this man had scarcely said one word to her, or given her one glance, beyond such as a brother might give to a sister. There was the naked truth.
Her mind fled back. She understood a hundred things now. She perceived that that sudden anger at breakfast had been personal disappointment—not at all that lofty disinterestedness on behalf of the mother that she had pretended. She understood too, now, the meaning of those long contented meditations as she went up and down the garden walks, alert for plantains, the meaning of the zeal she had shown, only a week ago, on behalf of a certain hazel which the gardener wanted to cut down.
"You had better wait till Mr. Laurence comes home," she had said. "I think he once said he liked the tree to be just there."
She understood now why she had been so intuitive, so condemnatory, so critical of the boy—it was that she was passionately interested in him, that it was a pleasure even to abuse him to herself, to call him selfish and self-centered, that all this lofty disapproval was just the sop that her subconsciousness had used to quiet her uneasiness.
Little scenes rose before her—all passed almost in a flash of time—as she stood with her hand on the medieval-looking latch of the gate, and she saw herself in them all as a proud, unmaidenly, pharisaical prig, in love with a man who was not in love with her.
She made an effort, unlatched the gate, and moved on, a beautiful, composed figure, with great steady eyes and well-cut profile, a model of dignity and grace, interiorly a raging, self-contemptuous, abject wretch.
It must be remembered that she was convent-bred.
By the time that Laurie's answer came, poor Maggie had arranged her emotions fairly satisfactorily. She came to the conclusion, arrived at after much heart-searching, that after all she was not yet actually in love with Laurie, but was in danger of being so, and that therefore now that she knew the danger, and could guard against it, she need not actually withdraw from her home, and bury herself in a convent or the foreign mission-field.
She arrived at this astonishing conclusion by the following process of thought. It may be presented in the form of a syllogism.
All girls who are in love regard the beloved as a spotless, reproachless hero.
Maggie Deronnais did not regard Laurie Baxter as a spotless, reproachless hero.
Ergo. Maggie Deronnais was not in love with Laurie Baxter.
Strange as it may appear to non-Catholic readers, Maggie did not confide her complications to the ear of Father Mahon. She mentioned, no doubt, on the following Saturday, that she had given way to thoughts of pride and jealousy, that she had deceived herself with regard to a certain action, done really for selfish motives, into thinking she had done it for altruistic motives, and there she left it. And, no doubt, Father Mahon left it there too, and gave her absolution without hesitation.
Then Laurie's answer arrived, and had to be dealt with, that is, it had to be treated interiorly with a proper restraint of emotions.
"My dear Maggie," he wrote;
Why all this fury? What have I done? I said to mother that I didn't know for certain whether I could come or not, as I had a lot to do. I don't think she can have given you the letter to read, or you wouldn't have written all that about my being away from home at the one season of the year, etc. Of course I'll come, if you or anybody feels like that. Does mother feel upset too? Please tell me if she ever feels that, or is in the least unwell, or anything. I'll come instantly. As it is, shall we say the 20th of December, and I'll stay at least a week. Will that do?
This was a little overwhelming, and Maggie wrote off a penitent letter, refraining carefully, however, from any expressions that might have anything of the least warmth, but saying that she was very glad he was coming, and that the shooting should be seen to.
She directed the letter; and then sat for an instant looking at Laurie's—at the neat Oxford-looking hand, the artistic appearance of the paragraphs, and all the rest of it.
She would have liked to keep it—to put it with half a dozen others she had from him; but it seemed better not.
Then as she tore it up into careful strips, her conscience smote her again, shrewdly; and she drew out the top left-hand drawer of the table at which she sat.
There they were, a little pile of them, neat and orderly. She looked at them an instant; then she took them out, turned them quickly to see if all were there, and then, gathering up the strips of the one she had received that morning, went over to the wood fire and dropped them in.
It was better so, she said to herself.
* * * * *
The days went pleasantly enough after that. She would not for an instant allow to herself that any of their smoothness arose from the fact that this boy would be here again in a few weeks. On the contrary, it was because she had detected a weakness in his regard, she told herself, and had resolutely stamped on it, that she was in so serene a peace. She arranged about the shooting—that is to say, she informed the acting keeper that Master Laurie would be home for Christmas as usual—all in an unemotional manner, and went about her various affairs without effort.
She found Mrs. Baxter just a little trying now and then. That lady had come to the conclusion that Laurie was unhappy in his religion—certainly references to it had dropped out of his letters—and that Mr. Rymer must set it right.
"The Vicar must dine here at least twice while Laurie is here," she observed at breakfast one morning. "He has a great influence with young men."
Maggie reflected upon a remark or two, extremely unjust, made by Laurie with regard to the clergyman.
"Do you think—do you think he understands Laurie," she said.
"He has known him for fifteen years," remarked Mrs. Baxter.
"Perhaps it's Laurie that doesn't understand him then," said Maggie tranquilly.
"And—and what do you think Mr. Rymer will be able to do?" asked the girl.
"Just settle the boy.... I don't think Laurie's very happy. Not that I would willingly disturb his mind again; I don't mean that, my dear. I quite understand that your religion is just the one for certain temperaments, and Laurie's is one of them; but a few helpful words sometimes—" Mrs. Baxter left it at an aposiopesis, a form of speech she was fond of.
There was a grain of truth, Maggie thought, in the old lady's hints, and she helped herself in silence to marmalade. Laurie's letters, which she usually read, did not refer much to religion, or to the Brompton Oratory, as his custom had been at first. She tried to make up her mind that this was a healthy sign; that it showed that Laurie was settling down from that slight feverishness of zeal that seemed the inevitable atmosphere of most converts. Maggie found converts a little trying now and then; they would talk so much about facts, certainly undisputed, and for that very reason not to be talked about. Laurie had been a marked case, she remembered; he wouldn't let the thing alone, and his contempt of Anglican clergy, whom Maggie herself regarded with respect, was hard to understand. In fact she had remonstrated on the subject of the Vicar....
Maggie perceived that she was letting her thoughts run again on disputable lines; and she made a remark about the Balkan crisis so abruptly that Mrs. Baxter looked at her in bewilderment.
"You do jump about so, my dear. We were speaking of Laurie, were we not?"
"Yes," said Maggie.
"It's the twentieth he's coming on, is it not?"
"Yes," said Maggie.
"I wonder what train he'll come by?"
"I don't know," said Maggie.
* * * * *
A few days before Laurie's arrival she went to the greenhouse to see the chrysanthemums. There was an excellent show of them.
"Mrs. Baxter doesn't like them hairy ones," said the gardener.
"Oh! I had forgotten. Well, Ferris, on the nineteenth I shall want a big bunch of them. You'd better take those—those hairy ones. And some maidenhair. Is there plenty?"
"Can you make a wreath, Ferris?"
"Well, will you make a good wreath of them, please, for a grave? The morning of the twentieth will do. There'll be plenty left for the church and house?"
"Oh yes, miss."
"And for Father Mahon?"
"Oh yes, miss."
"Very well, then. Will you remember that? A good wreath, with fern, on the morning of the twentieth. If you'll just leave it here I'll call for it about twelve o'clock. You needn't send it up to the house."
Laurie was sitting in his room after breakfast, filling his briar pipe thoughtfully, and contemplating his journey to Stantons.
It was more than six weeks now since his experience in Queen's Gate, and he had gone through a variety of emotions. Bewildered terror was the first, a nervous interest the next, a truculent skepticism the third; and lately, to his astonishment, the nervous interest had begun to revive.
At first he had been filled with unreasoning fear. He had walked back as far as the gate of the park, hardly knowing where he went, conscious only that he must be in the company of his fellows; upon finding himself on the south side of Hyde Park Corner, where travelers were few, he had crossed over in nervous haste to where he might jostle human beings. Then he had dined in a restaurant, knowing that a band would be playing there, and had drunk a bottle of champagne; he had gone to his rooms, cheered and excited, and had leapt instantly into bed for fear that his courage should evaporate. For he was perfectly aware that fear, and a sickening kind of repulsion, formed a very large element in his emotions. For nearly two hours, unless three persons had lied consummately, he—his essential being, that sleepless self that underlies all—had been in strange company, had become identified in some horrible manner with the soul of a dead person. It was as if he had been informed some morning that he had slept all night with a corpse under his bed. He woke half a dozen times that night in the pleasant curtained bedroom, and each time with the terror upon him. What if stories were true, and this Thing still haunted the air? It was remarkable, he considered afterwards, how the sign which he had demanded had not had the effect for which he had hoped. He was not at all reassured by it.
Then as the days went by, and he was left in peace, his horror began to pass. He turned the thing over in his mind a dozen times a day, and found it absorbing. But he began to reflect that, after all, he had nothing more than he had had before in the way of evidence. An hypnotic sleep might explain the whole thing. That little revelation he had made in his unconsciousness, of his sitting beneath the yews, might easily be accounted for by the fact that he himself knew it, that it had been a deeper element in his experience than he had known, and that he had told it aloud. It was no proof of anything more. There remained the rapping and what the medium had called his "appearance" during the sleep; but of all this he had read before in books. Why should he be convinced any more now than he had been previously? Besides, it was surely doubtful, was it not, whether the rapping, if it had really taken place, might not be the normal cracks and sounds of woodwork, intensified in the attention of the listeners? or if it was more than this, was there any proof that it might not be produced in some way by the intense will-power of some living person present? This was surely conceivable—more conceivable, that is, than any other hypothesis.... Besides, what had it all got to do with Amy?
Within a week of his original experience, skepticism was dominant. These lines of thought did their work by incessant repetition. The normal life he lived, the large, businesslike face of the lawyer whom he faced day by day, a theatre or two, a couple of dinners—even the noise of London streets and the appearance of workaday persons—all these gradually reassured him.
When therefore he received a nervous little note from Lady Laura, reminding him of the seance to be held in Baker Street, and begging his attendance, he wrote a most proper letter back again, thanking her for her kindness, but saying that he had come to the conclusion that this kind of thing was not good for him or his work, and begging her to make his excuses to Mr. Vincent.
A week or two passed, and nothing whatever happened. Then he heard again from Lady Laura, and again he answered by a polite refusal, adding a little more as to his own state of mind; and again silence fell.
Then at last Mr. Vincent called on him in person one evening after dinner.
* * * * *
Laurie's rooms were in Mitre Court, very convenient to the Temple—two rooms opening into one another, and communicating with the staircase.
He had played a little on his grand piano, that occupied a third of his sitting-room, and had then dropped off to sleep before his fire. He awakened suddenly to see the big man standing almost over him, and sat up confusedly.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Baxter; the porter's boy told me to come straight up. I found your outer door open."
Laurie hastened to welcome him, to set him down in a deep chair, to offer whisky and to supply tobacco. There was something about this man that commanded deference.
"You know why I have come, I expect," said the medium, smiling.
Laurie smiled back, a little nervously.
"I have come to see whether you will not reconsider your decision."
The boy shook his head.
"I think not," he said.
"You found no ill effects, I hope, from what happened at Lady Laura's?"
"Not at all, after the first shock."
"Doesn't that reassure you at all, Mr. Baxter?"
"It's like this," he said; "I'm not really convinced. I don't see anything final in what happened."
"Will you explain, please?"
Laurie set the results of his meditations forth at length. There was nothing, he said, that could not be accounted for by a very abnormal state of subjectivity. The fact that this ... this young person's name was in his mind ... and so forth....
"... And I find it rather distracting to my work," he ended. "Please don't think me rude or ungrateful, Mr. Vincent."
He thought he was being very strong and sensible.
The medium was silent for a moment.
"Doesn't it strike you as odd that I myself was able to get no results that night?" he said presently.
"How? I don't understand."
"Why, as a rule, I find no difficulty at all in getting some sort of response by automatic handwriting. Are you aware that I could do nothing at all that night?"
Laurie considered it.
"Well," he said at last, "this may sound very foolish to you; but granting that I have got unusual gifts that way—they are your own words, Mr. Vincent—if that is so, I don't see why my own concentration of thought, or hypnotic sleep or trance or whatever it was—might not have been so intense as to—"
"I quite see," interrupted the other. "That is, of course, conceivable from your point of view. It had occurred to me that you might think that.... Then I take it that your theory is that the subconscious self is sufficient to account for it all—that in this hypnotic sleep, if you care to call it so, you simply uttered what was in your heart, and identified yourself with ... with your memory of that young girl."
"I suppose so," said Laurie shortly.
"And the rapping, loud, continuous, unmistakable?"
"That doesn't seem to me important. I did not actually hear it, you know."
"Then what you need is some unmistakable sign?"
"Yes ... but I see perfectly that this is impossible. Whatever I said in my sleep, either I can't identify it as true, in which case it is worthless as evidence, or I can identify it, because I already know it, and in that case it is worthless again."
The medium smiled, half closing his eyes.
"You must think us very childish, Mr. Baxter," he said.
He sat up a little in his chair; then, putting his hand into his breast pocket, drew out a note-book, holding it still closed on his knee.
"May I ask you a rather painful question?" he said gently.
Laurie nodded. He felt so secure.
"Would you kindly tell me—first, whether you have seen the grave of this young girl since you left the country; secondly, whether anyone happens to have mentioned it to you?"
Laurie swallowed in his throat.
"Certainly no one has mentioned it to me. And I have not seen it since I left the country."
"How long ago was that?"
"That was ... about September the twenty-seventh."
"Thank you...!" He opened the note-book and turned the pages a moment or two. "And will you listen to this, Mr. Baxter?—'Tell Laurie that the ground has sunk a little above my grave; and that cracks are showing at the sides.'"
"What is that book?" said the boy hoarsely.
The medium closed it and returned it to his pocket.
"That book, Mr. Baxter, contains a few extracts from some of the things you said during your trance. The sentence I have read is one of them, an answer given to a demand made by me that the control should give some unmistakable proof of her identity. She ... you hesitated some time before giving that answer."
"Who took the notes?"
"Mrs. Stapleton. You can see the originals if you wish. I thought it might distress you to know that such notes had been taken; but I have had to risk that. We must not lose you, Mr. Baxter."
Laurie sat, dumb and bewildered.
"Now all you have to do," continued the medium serenely, "is to find out whether what has been said is correct or not. If it is not correct, there will be an end of the matter, if you choose. But if it is correct—"
"Stop; let me think!" cried Laurie.
He was back again in the confusion from which he thought he had escaped. Here was a definite test, offered at least in good faith—just such a test as had been lacking before; and he had no doubt whatever that it would be borne out by facts. And if it were—was there any conceivable hypothesis that would explain it except the one offered so confidently by this grave, dignified man who sat and looked at him with something of interested compassion in his heavy eyes? Coincidence? It was absurd. Certainly graves did sink, sometimes—but ... Thought-transference from someone who noticed the grave...? But why that particular thought, so vivid, concise, and pointed...?
If it were true...?
He looked hopelessly at the man, who sat smoking quietly and waiting.
And then again another thought, previously ignored, pierced him like a sword. If it were true; if Amy herself, poor pretty Amy, had indeed been there, were indeed near him now, hammering and crying out like a child shut out at night, against his own skeptical heart ... if it were indeed true that during those two hours she had had her heart's desire, and had been one with his very soul, in a manner to which no earthly union could aspire ... how had he treated her? Even at this thought a shudder of repulsion ran through him.... It was unnatural, detestable ... yet how sweet...! What did the Church say of such things...? But what if religion were wrong, and this indeed were the satiety of the higher nature of which marriage was but the material expression...?
The thoughts flew swifter than clouds as he sat there, bewildering, torturing, beckoning. He made a violent effort. He must be sane, and face things.
"Mr. Vincent," he cried.
The kindly face turned to him again.
"Hush, I quite understand," said the fatherly voice. "It is a shock, I know; but Truth is a little shocking sometimes. Wait. I perfectly understand that you must have time. You must think it all over, and verify this. You must not commit yourself. But I think you had better have my address. The ladies are a little too emotional, are they not? I expect you would sooner come to see me without them."
He laid his card on the little tea-table and stood up.
"Good-night, Mr. Baxter."
Laurie took his hand, and looked for a moment into the kind eyes. Then the man was gone.
That was a little while ago, now, and Laurie sitting over breakfast had had time to think it out, and by an act of sustained will to suspend his judgment.
He had come back again to the state I have described—to nervous interest—no more than that. The terror seemed gone, and certainly the skepticism seemed gone too. Now he had to face Maggie and his mother, and to see the grave....
Somehow he had become more accustomed to the idea that there might be real and solid truth under it all, and familiarity had bred ease. Yet there was nervousness there too at the thought of going home. There were moods in which, sitting or walking alone, he passionately desired it all to be true; other moods in which he was acquiescent; but in both there was a faint discomfort in the thought of meeting Maggie, and a certain instinct of propitiation towards her. Maggie had begun to stand for him as a kind of embodiment of a view of life which was sane, wholesome, and curiously attractive; there was a largeness about her, a strength, a sense of fresh air that was delightful. It was that kind of thing, he thought, that had attracted him to her during this past summer. The image of Amy, on the other hand, more than ever now since those recent associations, stood for something quite contrary—certainly for attractiveness, but of a feverish and vivid kind, extraordinarily unlike the other. To express it in terms of time, he thought of Maggie in the morning, and of Amy in the evening, particularly after dinner. Maggie was cool and sunny; Amy suited better the evening fever and artificial light.
And now Maggie had to be faced.
First he reflected that he had not breathed a hint, either to her or his mother, as to what had passed. They both would believe that he had dropped all this. There would then be no arguing, that at least was a comfort. But there was a curious sense of isolation and division between him and the girl.
Yet, after all, he asked himself indignantly, what affair was it of hers? She was not his confessor; she was just a convent-bred girl who couldn't understand. He would be aloof and polite. That was the attitude. And he would manage his own affairs.
He drew a few brisk draughts of smoke from his pipe and stood up. That was settled.
* * * * *
It was in this determined mood then that he stepped out on to the platform at the close of this wintry day, and saw Maggie, radiant in furs, waiting for him, with her back to the orange sunset.
These two did not kiss one another. It was thought better not. But he took her hand with a pleasant sense of welcome and home-coming.
"Auntie's in the brougham," she said. "There's lots of room for the luggage on the top.... Oh! Laurie, how jolly this is!"
It was a pleasant two-mile drive that they had. Laurie sat with his back to the horses. His mother patted his knee once or twice under the fur rug, and looked at him with benevolent pleasure. It seemed at first a very delightful home-coming. Mrs. Baxter asked after Mr. Morton, Laurie's coach, with proper deference.
But places have as strong a power of retaining associations as persons, and even as they turned down into the hamlet Laurie was aware that this was particularly true just now. He carefully did not glance out at Mr. Nugent's shop, but it was of no use. The whole place was as full to him of the memory of Amy—and more than the memory, it seemed—as if she was still alive. They drew up at the very gate where he had whispered her name; the end of the yew walk, where he had sat on a certain night, showed beyond the house; and half a mile behind lay the meadows, darkling now, where he had first met her face to face in the sunset, and the sluice of the stream where they had stood together silent. And all was like a landscape seen through colored paper by a child, it was of the uniform tint of death and sorrow.
Laurie was rather quiet all that evening. His mother noticed it, and it produced a remark from her that for an instant brought his heart into his mouth.
"You look a little peaked, dearest," she said, as she took her bedroom candlestick from him. "You haven't been thinking any more about that Spiritualism?"
He handed a candlestick to Maggie, avoiding her eyes.
"Oh, for a bit," he said lightly, "but I haven't touched the thing for over two months."
He said it so well that even Maggie was reassured. She had just hesitated for a fraction of a second to hear his answer, and she went to bed well content.
Her contentment was even deeper next morning when Laurie, calling to her through the cheerful frosty air, made her stop at the turning to the village on her way to church.
"I'm coming," he said virtuously; "I haven't been on a weekday for ages."
They talked of this and that for the half-mile before them. At the church door she hesitated again.
"Laurie, I wish you'd come to the Protestant churchyard with me for a moment afterwards, will you?"
He paled so suddenly that she was startled.
"Why?" he said shortly.
"I want you to see something."
He looked at her still for an instant with an incomprehensible expression. Then he nodded with set lips.
When she came out he was waiting for her. She determined to say something of regret.
"Laurie, I'm dreadfully sorry if I shouldn't have said that.... I was stupid.... But perhaps—"
"What is it you want me to see?" he said without the faintest expression in his voice.
"Just some flowers," she said. "You don't mind, do you?"
She saw him trembling a little.
"Was that all?"
"Why yes.... What else could it be?"
They went on a few steps without another word. At the church gate he spoke again.
"Its awfully good of you, Maggie ... I ... I'm rather upset still, you know; that's all."
He hurried, a little in front of her, over the frosty grass beyond the church; and she saw him looking at the grave very earnestly as she came up. He said nothing for a moment.
"I'm afraid the monument's rather ... rather awful.... Do you like the flowers, Laurie?"
She was noticing that the chrysanthemums were a little blackened by the frost; and hardly attended to the fact that he did not answer.
"Do you like the flowers?" she said again presently.
He started from his prolonged stare downwards.
"Oh yes, yes," he said; "they're ... they're lovely.... Maggie, the grave's all right, isn't it: the mound, I mean?"
At first she hardly understood.
"Oh yes ... what do you mean?"
He sighed, whether in relief or not she did not know.
"Only ... only I have heard of mounds sinking sometimes, or cracking at the sides. But this one—"
"Oh yes," interrupted the girl. "But this was very bad yesterday.... What's the matter, Laurie?"
He had turned his face with some suddenness, and there was in it a look of such terror that she herself was frightened.
"What were you saying, Maggie?"
"It was nothing of any importance," said the girl hurriedly. "It wasn't in the least disfigured, if that—"
"Maggie, will you please tell me exactly in what condition this grave was yesterday? When was it put right?"
"I ... I noticed it when I brought the chrysanthemums up yesterday morning. The ground was sunk a little, and cracks were showing at the sides. I told the sexton to put it right. He seems to have done it.... Laurie, why do you look like that?"
He was staring at her with an expression that might have meant anything. She would not have been surprised if he had burst into a fit of laughter. It was horrible and unnatural.
"Laurie! Laurie! Don't look like that!"
He turned suddenly away and left her. She hurried after him.
On the way to the house he told her the whole story from beginning to end.
The two were sitting together in the little smoking-room at the back of the house on the last night of Laurie's holidays. He was to go back to town next morning.
Maggie had passed a thoroughly miserable week. She had had to keep her promise not to tell Mrs. Baxter—not that that lady would have been of much service, but the very telling would be a relief—and things really were not serious enough to justify her telling Father Mahon.
To her the misery lay, not in any belief she had that the spiritualistic claim was true, but that the boy could be so horribly excited by it. She had gone over the arguments again and again with him, approving heartily of his suggestions as to the earlier part of the story, and suggesting herself what seemed to her the most sensible explanation of the final detail. Graves did sink, she said, in two cases out of three, and Laurie was as aware of that as herself. Why in the world should not this then be attributed to the same subconscious mind as that which, in the hypnotic sleep—or whatever it was—had given voice to the rest of his imaginations? Laurie had shaken his head. Now they were at it once more. Mrs. Baxter had gone to bed half an hour before.
"It's too wickedly grotesque," she said indignantly. "You can't seriously believe that poor Amy's soul entered into your mind for an hour and a half in Lady Laura's drawing-room. Why, what's purgatory, then, or heaven? It's so utterly and ridiculously impossible that I can't speak of it with patience."
Laurie smiled at her rather wearily and contemptuously.
"The point," he said, "is this: Which is the simplest hypothesis? You and I both believe that the soul is somewhere; and it's natural, isn't it, that she should want—oh! dash it all! Maggie, I think you should remember that she was in love with me—as well as I with her," he added.
Maggie made a tiny mental note.
"I don't deny for an instant that it's a very odd story," she said. "But this kind of explanation is just—oh, I can't speak of it. You allowed yourself that up to this last thing you didn't really believe it; and now because of this coincidence the whole thing's turned upside down. Laurie, I wish you'd be reasonable."
Laurie glanced at her.
She was sitting with her back to the curtained and shuttered window, beyond which lay the yew-walk; and the lamplight from the tall stand fell full upon her. She was dressed in some rich darkish material, her breast veiled in filmy white stuff, and her round, strong arms lay, bare to the elbow, along the arms of her chair. She was a very pleasant wholesome sight. But her face was troubled, and her great serene eyes were not so serene as usual. He was astonished at the persistence with which she attacked him. Her whole personality seemed thrown into her eyes and gestures and quick words.
"Maggie," he said, "please listen. I've told you again and again that I'm not actually convinced. What you say is just conceivably possible. But it doesn't seem to me to be the most natural explanation. The most natural seems to me to be what I have said; and you're quite right in saying that it's this last thing that has made the difference. It's exactly like the grain that turns the whole bottle into solid salt. It needed that.... But, as I've said, I can't be actually and finally convinced until I've seen more. I'm going to see more. I wrote to Mr. Vincent this morning."
"You did?" cried the girl.
"Don't be silly, please.... Yes, I did. I told him I'd be at his service when I came back to London. Not to have done that would have been cowardly and absurd. I owe him that."
"Laurie, I wish you wouldn't," said the girl pleadingly.
He sat up a little, disturbed by this very unusual air of hers.
"But if it's all such nonsense," he said, "what's there to be afraid of?"
"It's—it's morbid," said Maggie, "morbid and horrible. Of course it's nonsense; but it's—it's wicked nonsense."
Laurie flushed a little.
"You're polite," he said.
"I'm sorry," she said penitently. "But you know, really—"
The boy suddenly blazed up a little.
"You seem to think I've got no heart," he cried. "Suppose it was true—suppose really and truly Amy was here, and—"
A sudden clear sharp sound like the crack of a whip sounded from the corner of the room. Even Maggie started and glanced at the boy. He was dead white on the instant; his lips were trembling.
"What was that?" he whispered sharp and loud.
"Just the woodwork," she said tranquilly; "the thaw has set in tonight."
Laurie looked at her; his lips still moved nervously.
"But—but—" he began.
"Dear boy, don't you see the state of nerves—"
Again came the little sharp crack, and she stopped. For an instant she was disturbed; certain possibilities opened before her, and she regarded them. Then she crushed them down, impatiently and half timorously. She stood up abruptly.
"I'm going to bed," she said. "This is too ridiculous—"
"No, no; don't leave me ... Maggie ... I don't like it."
She sat down again, wondering at his childishness, and yet conscious that her own nerves, too, were ever so slightly on edge. She would not look at him, for fear that the meeting of eyes might hint at more than she meant. She threw her head back on her chair and remained looking at the ceiling. But to think that the souls of the dead—ah, how repulsive!
Outside the night was very still.
The hard frost had kept the world iron-bound in a sprinkle of snow during the last two or three days, but this afternoon the thaw had begun. Twice during dinner there had come the thud of masses of snow falling from the roof on to the lawn outside, and the clear sparkle of the candles had seemed a little dim and hazy. "It would be a comfort to get at the garden again," she had reflected.
And now that the two sat here in the windless silence the thaw became more apparent every instant. The silence was profound, and the little noises of the night outside, the drip from the eaves slow and deliberate, the rustle of released leaves, and even the gentle thud on the lawn from the yew branches—all these helped to emphasize the stillness. It was not like the murmur of day; it was rather like the gnawing of a mouse in the wainscot of some death chamber.
It requires almost superhumanly strong nerves to sit at night, after a conversation of this kind, opposite an apparently reasonable person who is white and twitching with terror, even though one resolutely refrains from looking at him, without being slightly affected. One may argue with oneself to any extent, tap one's foot cheerfully on the floor, fill the mind most painstakingly with normal thoughts; yet it is something of a conflict, however victorious one may be.
Even Maggie herself became aware of this.
It was not that now for one single moment she allowed that the two little sudden noises in the room could possibly proceed from any cause whatever except that which she had stated—the relaxation of stiffened wood under the influence of the thaw. Nor had all Laurie's arguments prevailed to shake in the smallest degree her resolute conviction that there was nothing whatever preternatural in his certainly queer story.
Yet, as she sat there in the lamplight, with Laurie speechless before her, and the great curtained window behind, she became conscious of an uneasiness that she could not entirely repel. It was just physical, she said; it was the result of the change of weather; or, at the most, it was the silence that had now fallen and the proximity of a terrified boy.
She looked across at him again.
He was lying back in the old green arm-chair, his eyes rather shadowed from the lamp overhead, quite still and quiet, his hands still clasping the lion bosses of his chair-arms. Beside him, on the little table, lay his still smoldering cigarette-end in the silver tray....
Maggie suddenly sprang to her feet, slipped round the table, and caught him by the arm.
"Laurie, Laurie, wake up.... What's the matter?"
A long shudder passed through him. He sat up, with a bewildered look.
"Eh? What is it?" he said. "Was I asleep?"
He rubbed his hands over his eyes and looked round.
"What is it, Maggie? Was I asleep?"
Was the boy acting? Surely it was good acting! Maggie threw herself down on her knees by the chair.
"Laurie! Laurie! I beg you not to go to see Mr. Vincent. It's bad for you.... I do wish you wouldn't."
He still blinked at her a moment.
"I don't understand. What do you mean, Maggie?"
She stood up, ashamed of her impulsiveness.
"Only I wish you wouldn't go and see that man. Laurie, please don't."
He stood up too, stretching. Every sign of nervousness seemed gone.
"Not see Mr. Vincent? Nonsense; of course I shall. You don't understand, Maggie."
"What a relief," sighed Mrs. Stapleton. "I thought we had lost him."
The three were sitting once again in Lady Laura's drawing-room soon after lunch. Mr. Vincent had just looked in with Laurie's note to give the news. It was a heavy fog outside, woolly in texture and orange in color, and the tall windows seemed opaque in the lamplight; the room, by contrast, appeared a safe and pleasant refuge from the reek and stinging vapor of the street.
Mrs. Stapleton had been lunching with her friend. The Colonel had returned for Christmas, so his wife's duties had recalled her for the present from those spiritual conversations which she had enjoyed in the autumn. It was such a refreshment, she had said with a patient smile, to slip away sometimes into the purer atmosphere.
Mr. Vincent folded the letter and restored it to his pocket.
"We must be careful with him," he said. "He is extraordinarily sensitive. I almost wish he were not so developed. Temperaments like his are apt to be thrown off their balance."
Lady Laura was silent.
For herself she was not perfectly happy. She had lately come across one or two rather deplorable cases. A very promising girl, daughter of a publican in the suburbs, had developed the same kind of powers, and the end of it all had been rather a dreadful scene in Baker Street. She was now in an asylum. A friend of her own, too, had lately taken to lecturing against Christianity in rather painful terms. Lady Laura wondered why people could not be as well balanced as herself.
"I think he had better not come to the public seances at present," went on the medium. "That, no doubt, will come later; but I was going to ask a great favor from you, Lady Laura."
She looked up.
"That bother about the rooms is not yet settled, and the Sunday seances will have to cease for the present. I wonder if you would let us come here, just a few of us only, for three or four Sundays, at any rate."
She brightened up.
"Why, it would be the greatest pleasure," she said. "But what about the cabinet?"
"If necessary, I would send one across. Will you allow me to make arrangements?"
Mrs. Stapleton beamed.
"What a privilege!" she said. "Dearest, I quite envy you. I am afraid dear Tom would never consent—"
"There are just one or two things on my mind," went on Mr. Vincent so pleasantly that the interruption seemed almost a compliment, "and the first is this. I want him to see for himself. Of course, for ourselves, his trance is the point; but hardly for him. He is tremendously impressed; I can see that; though he pretends not to be. But I should like him to see something unmistakable as soon as possible. We must prevent his going into trance, if possible.... And the next thing is his religion."
"Catholics are supposed not to come," observed Mrs. Stapleton.
"Just so.... Mr. Baxter is a convert, isn't he...? I thought so."
He mused for a moment or two.
The ladies had never seen him so interested in an amateur. Usually his manner was remarkable for its detachment and severe assurance; but it seemed that this case excited even him. Lady Laura was filled again with sudden compunction.
"Mr. Vincent," she said, "do you really think there is no danger for this boy?"
He glanced up at her.
"There is always danger," he said. "We know that well enough. We can but take precautions. But pioneers always have to risk something."
She was not reassured.
"But I mean special danger. He is extraordinarily sensitive, you know. There was that girl from Surbiton...."
"Oh! she was exceptionally hysterical. Mr. Baxter's not like that. I do not see that he runs any greater risk than we run ourselves."
"You are sure of that?"
He smiled deprecatingly.
"I am sure of nothing," he said. "But if you feel you would sooner not—"
Mrs. Stapleton rustled excitedly, and Lady Laura grabbed at her retreating opportunity.
"No, no," she cried. "I didn't mean that for one moment. Please, please come here. I only wondered whether there was any particular precaution—"
"I will think about it," said the medium. "But I am sure we must be careful not to shock him. Of course, we don't all take the same view about religion; but we can leave that for the present. The point is that Mr. Baxter should, if possible, see something unmistakable. The rest can take care of itself.... Then, if you consent, Lady Laura, we might have a little sitting here next Sunday night. Would nine o'clock suit you?"
He glanced at the two ladies.
"That will do very well," said the mistress of the house. "And, about preparations—"
"I will look in on Saturday afternoon. Is there anyone particular you think of asking?"
"Mr. Jamieson came to see me again a few days ago," suggested Lady Laura tentatively.
"That will do very well. Then we three and those two. That will be quite enough for the present."
He stood up—a big, dominating figure—a reassuring man to look at, with his kindly face, his bushy, square beard, and his appearance of physical strength. Lady Laura sat vaguely comforted.
"And about my notes," asked Maud Stapleton.
"I think they will not be necessary.... Good-day.... Saturday afternoon."
The two sat on silently for a minute or two after he was gone.
"What is the matter, dearest?"
Lady Laura's little anxious face did not move. She was staring thoughtfully at the fire. Mrs. Stapleton laid a sympathetic hand on the other's knee.
"Dearest—" she began.
"No; it is nothing, darling," said Lady Laura.
* * * * *
Meanwhile the medium was picking his way through the foggy streets. Figures loomed up, sudden and enormous, and vanished again. Smoky flares of flame shone like spots of painted fire, bright and unpenetrating, from windows overhead; and sounds came to him through the woolly atmosphere, dulled and sonorous. It would, so to speak, have been a suitably dramatic setting for his thoughts if he had been thinking in character, vaguely suggestive of presences and hints and peeps into the unknown.
But he was a very practical man. His spiritualistic faith was a reality to him, as unexciting as Christianity to the normal Christian; he entertained no manner of doubt as to its truth.
Beyond all the fraud, the self-deception, the amazing feats of the subconscious self, there remained certain facts beyond doubting—facts which required, he believed, an objective explanation, which none but the spiritualistic thesis offered. He had far more evidence, he considered sincerely enough, for his spiritualism than most Christians for their Christianity.
He had no very definite theory as to the spiritual world beyond thinking that it was rather like this world. For him it was peopled with individualities of various characters and temperaments, of various grades and achievements; and of these a certain number had the power of communicating under great difficulties with persons on this side who were capable of receiving such communications. That there were dangers connected with this process, he was well aware; he had seen often enough the moral sense vanish and the mental powers decay. But these were to him no more than the honorable wounds to which all who struggle are liable. The point for him was that here lay the one certain means of getting into touch with reality. Certainly that reality was sometimes of a disconcerting nature, and seldom of an illuminating one; he hated, as much as anyone, the tambourine business, except so far as it was essential; and he deplored the fact that, as he believed, it was often the most degraded and the least satisfactory of the inhabitants of the other world that most easily got into touch with the inhabitants of this. Yet, for him, the main tenets of spiritualism were as the bones of the universe; it was the only religion which seemed to him in the least worthy of serious attention.
He had not practiced as a medium for longer than ten or a dozen years. He had discovered, by chance as he thought, that he possessed mediumistic powers in an unusual degree, and had begun then to take up the life as a profession. He had suffered, so far as he was aware, no ill effects from this life, though he had seen others suffer; and, as his fame grew, his income grew with it.
It is necessary, then, to understand that he was not a conscious charlatan; he loathed mechanical tricks such as he occasionally came across; he was perfectly and serenely convinced that the powers which he possessed were genuine, and that the personages he seemed to come across in his mediumistic efforts were what they professed to be; that they were not hallucinatory, that they were not the products of fraud, that they were not necessarily evil. He regarded this religion as he regarded science; both were progressive, both liable to error, both capable of abuse. Yet as a scientist did not shrink from experiment for fear of risk, neither must the spiritualist.
As he picked his way to his lodgings on the north of the park, he was thinking about Laurie Baxter. That this boy possessed in an unusual degree what he would have called "occult powers" was very evident to him. That these powers involved a certain risk was evident too. He proposed, therefore, to take all reasonable precautions. All the catastrophes he had witnessed in the past were due, he thought, to a too rapid development of those powers, or to inexperience. He determined, therefore, to go slowly.
First, the boy must be convinced; next, he must be attached to the cause; thirdly, his religion must be knocked out of him; fourthly, he must be trained and developed. But for the present he must not be allowed to go into trance if it could be prevented. It was plain, he thought, that Laurie had a very strong "affinity," as he would have said, with the disembodied spirit of a certain "Amy Nugent." His communication with her had been of a very startling nature in its rapidity and perfection. Real progress might be made, then, through this channel.
* * * * *
Yes; I am aware that this sounds grotesque nonsense.
Laurie came back to town in a condition of interior quietness that rather astonished him. He had said to Maggie that he was not convinced; and that was true so far as he knew. Intellectually, the spiritualistic theory was at present only the hypothesis that seemed the most reasonable; yet morally he was as convinced of its truth as of anything in the world. And this showed itself by the quietness in which he found his soul plunged.
Moral conviction—that conviction on which a man acts—does not always coincide with the intellectual process. Occasionally it outruns it; occasionally lags behind; and the first sign of its arrival is the cessation of strain. The intellect may still be busy, arranging, sorting, and classifying; but the thing itself is done, and the soul leans back.
A certain amount of excitement made itself felt when he found Mr. Vincent's letter waiting for his arrival to congratulate him on his decision, and to beg him to be at Queen's Gate not later than half-past eight o'clock on the following Sunday; but it was not more than momentary. He knew the thing to be inevitably true now; the time and place at which it manifested itself was not supremely important.
Yes, he wrote in answer; he would certainly keep the appointment suggested.
He dined out at a restaurant, returned to his rooms, and sat down to arrange his ideas.
* * * * *
These, to be frank, were not very many, nor very profound.
He had already, in the days that had passed since his shock, no lighter because expected, when he had learned from Maggie that the test was fulfilled, and that a fact known to no one present, not even himself, in Queen's Gate, had been communicated through his lips—since that time the idea had become familiar that the veil between this world and the next was a very thin one. After all, a large number of persons in the world believe that, as it is; and they are not, in consequence, in a continuous state of exaltation. Laurie had learned this, he thought, experimentally. Very well, then, that was so; there was no more to be said.
Next, the excitement of the thought of communicating with Amy in particular had to a large extent burned itself out. It was nearly four months since her death; and in his very heart of hearts he was beginning to be aware that she had not been so entirely his twin-soul as he would still have maintained. He had reflected a little, in the meantime, upon the grocer's shop, the dissenting tea-parties, the odor of cheeses. Certainly these things could not destroy an "affinity" if the affinity were robust; but it would need to be....
He was still very tender towards the thought of her; she had gained too, inevitably, by dying, a dignity she had lacked while living, and it might well be that intercourse with her in the manner proposed would be an extraordinarily sweet experience. But he was no longer excited—passionately and overwhelmingly—by the prospect. It would be delightful? Yes. But....
* * * * *
Then Laurie began to look at his religion, and at that view he stopped dead. He had no ideas at all on the subject; he had not a notion where he stood. All he knew was that it had become uninteresting. True? Oh, yes, he supposed so. He retained it still as many retain faith in the supernatural—a reserve that could be drawn upon in extremities.
He had not yet missed hearing Mass on Sunday; in fact, he proposed to go even next Sunday. "A man must have a religion," he said to himself; and, intellectually, there was at present no other possible religion for him except the Catholic. Yet as he looked into the future he was doubtful.
He drew himself up in his chair and began to fill his pipe.... In three days he would be seated in a room with three or four persons, he supposed. Of these, two—and certainly the two strongest characters—had no religion except that supplied by spiritualism, and he had read enough to know this was, at any rate in the long run, non-Christian. And these three or four persons, moreover, believed with their whole hearts that they were in relations with the invisible world, far more evident and sensible than those claimed by any other believers on the face of the earth. And, after all, Laurie reflected, there seemed to be justice in their claim. He would be seated in that room, he repeated to himself, and it might be that before he left it he would have seen with his own eyes, and possibly handled, living persons who had, in the common phrase, "died" and been buried. Almost certainly, at the very least, he would have received from such intelligences unmistakable messages....