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   Chapter 2 I

The Necromancers By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 34493

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"I have told him," said Mrs. Baxter, as the two women walked beneath the yews that morning after breakfast. "He said he didn't mind."

Maggie did not speak. She had come out just as she was, hatless, but had caught up a spud that stood in the hall, and at that instant had stopped to destroy a youthful plantain that had established himself with infinite pains on the slope of the path. She attacked for a few seconds, extricated what was possible of the root with her strong fingers, tossed the corpse among the ivy, and then moved on.

"I don't know whether to say anything to Mrs. Stapleton or not," pursued the old lady.

"I think I shouldn't, auntie," said the girl slowly.

They spoke of it for a minute or two as they passed up and down, but Maggie only attended with one superficies of her mind.

She had gone up as usual to Mass that morning, and had been astonished to find Laurie already in church; they had walked back together, and, to her surprise, he had told her that the Mass had been for his own intention.

She had answered as well as she could; but a sentence or two of his as they came near home had vaguely troubled her.

It was not that he had said anything he ought not, as a Catholic, to have said; yet her instinct told her that something was wrong. It was his manner, his air, that troubled her. What strange people these converts were! There was so much ardor at one time, so much chilliness at another; there was so little of that steady workaday acceptance of religious facts that marked the born Catholic.

"Mrs. Stapleton is a New Thought kind of person," she said presently.

"So I understand," said the old lady, with a touch of peevishness. "A vegetarian last year. And I believe she was a sort of Buddhist five or six years ago. And then she nearly became a Christian Scientist a little while ago."

Maggie smiled.

"I wonder what she'll talk about," she said.

"I hope she won't be very advanced," went on the old lady. "And you think I'd better not tell her about Laurie?"

"I'm sure it's best not," said the girl, "or she'll tell him about Deep Breathing, or saying Om, or something. No; I should let Laurie alone."

* * *

It was a little before one o'clock that the motor arrived, and that there descended from it at the iron gate a tall, slender woman, hooded and veiled, who walked up the little path, observed by Maggie from her bedroom, with a kind of whisking step. The motor moved on, wheeled in through the gates at the left, and sank into silence in the stable-yard.

"It's too charming of you, dear Mrs. Baxter," Maggie heard as she came into the drawing-room a minute or two later, "to let me come over like this. I've heard so much about this house. Lady Laura was telling me how very psychical it all was."

"My adopted daughter, Miss Deronnais," observed the old lady.

Maggie saw a rather pretty, passé face, triangular in shape, with small red lips, looking at her, as she made her greetings.

"Ah! how perfect all this is," went on the guest presently, looking about her, "how suggestive, how full of meaning!"

She threw back her cloak presently, and Maggie observed that she was busy with various very beautiful little emblems-a scarab, a snake swallowing its tail, and so forth-all exquisitely made, and hung upon a slender chain of some green enamel-like material. Certainly she was true to type. As the full light fell upon her it became plain that this other-worldly soul did not disdain to use certain toilet requisites upon her face; and a curious Eastern odor exhaled from her dress.

Fortunately, Maggie had a very deep sense of humor, and she hardly resented all this at all, nor even the tactful hints dropped from time to time, after the conventional part of the conversation was over, to the effect that Christianity was, of course, played out, and that a Higher Light had dawned. Mrs. Stapleton did not quite say this outright, but it amounted to as much. Even before Laurie came downstairs it appeared that the lady did not go to church, yet that, such was her broad-mindedness, she did not at all object to do so. It was all one, it seemed, in the Deeper Unity. Nothing particular was true; but all was very suggestive and significant and symbolical of something else to which Mrs. Stapleton and a few friends had the key.

Mrs. Baxter made more than one attempt to get back to more mundane subjects, but it was useless. When even the weather serves as a symbol, the plain man is done for.

Then Laurie came in.

He looked very self-contained and rather pinched this morning, and shook hands with the lady without a word. Then they moved across presently to the green-hung dining-room across the hall, and the exquisite symbol of Luncheon made its appearance.

Lady Laura, it appeared, was one of those who had felt the charm of Stantons; only for her it was psychical rather than physical, and all this was passed on by her friend. It seemed that the psychical atmosphere of most modern houses was of a yellow tint, but that this one emanated a brown-gold radiance which was very peculiar and exceptional. Indeed, it was this singularity that had caused Mrs. Stapleton to apply for an invitation to the house. More than once during lunch, in a pause of the conversation, Maggie saw her throw back her head slightly as if to appreciate some odor or color not experienced by coarser-nerved persons. Once, indeed, she actually put this into words.

"Dear Laura was quite right," cried the lady; "there is something very unique about this place. How fortunate you are, dear Mrs. Baxter!"

"My dear husband's grandfather bought the place," observed the mistress plaintively. "We have always found it very soothing and pleasant."

"How right you are! And-and have you had any experiences here?" Mrs. Baxter eyed her in alarm. Maggie had an irrepressible burst of internal laughter, which, however, gave no hint of its presence in her steady features. She glanced at Laurie, who was eating mutton with a depressed air.

"I was talking to Mr. Vincent, the great spiritualist," went on the other vivaciously, "only last week. You have heard of him, Mrs. Baxter? I was suggesting to him that any place where great emotions have been felt is colored and stained by them as objectively as old walls are weather-beaten. I had such an interesting conversation, too, with Cardinal Newman on the subject"-she smiled brilliantly at Maggie, as if to reassure her of her own orthodoxy-"scarcely six weeks ago."

There was a pregnant silence. Mrs. Baxter's fork sank to her plate.

"I don't understand," she said faintly. "Cardinal Newman-surely-"

"Why yes," said the other gently. "I know it sounds very startling to orthodox ears; but to us of the Higher Thought all these things are quite familiar. Of course, I need hardly say that Cardinal Newman is no longer-but perhaps I had better not go on."

She glanced archly at Maggie.

"Oh, please go on," said Maggie genially. "You were saying that Cardinal Newman-"

"Dear Miss Deronnais, are you sure you will not be offended?"

"I am always glad to receive new light," said Maggie solemnly.

The other looked at her doubtfully; but there was no hint of irony in the girl's face.

"Well," she began, "of course on the Other Side they see things very differently. I don't mean at all that any religion is exactly untrue. Oh no; they tell us that if we cannot welcome the New Light, then the old lights will do very well for the present. Indeed, when there are Catholics present Cardinal Newman does not scruple to give them a Latin blessing-"

"Is it true that he speaks with an American accent?" asked Maggie gravely. The other laughed with a somewhat shrill geniality.

"That is too bad, Miss Deronnais. Well, of course, the personality of the medium affects the vehicle through which the communications come. That is no difficulty at all when once you understand the principle-"

Mrs. Baxter interrupted. She could bear it no longer.

"Mrs. Stapleton. Do you mean that Cardinal Newman really speaks to you?"

"Why yes," said the other, with a patient indulgence. "That is a very usual experience, but Mr. Vincent does much more than that. It is quite a common experience not only to hear him, but to see him. I have shaken hands with him more than once ... and I have seen a Catholic kiss his ring."

Mrs. Baxter looked helplessly at the girl; and Maggie came to the rescue once more. "This sounds rather advanced to us," she said. "Won't you explain the principles first?"

Mrs. Stapleton laid her knife and fork down, leaned back, and began to discourse. When a little later her plate was removed, she refused sweets with a gesture, and continued.

Altogether she spoke for about ten minutes, uninterrupted, enjoying herself enormously. The others ate food or refused it in attentive silence. Then at last she ended.

"... I know all this must sound quite mad and fanatical to those who have not experienced it; and yet to us who have been disciples it is as natural to meet our friends who have crossed over as to meet those who have not.... Dear Mrs. Baxter, think how all this enlarges life. There is no longer any death to those who understand. All those limitations are removed; it is no more than going into another room. All are together in the Hands of the All-Father"-Maggie recognized the jetsam of Christian Science. "'O death!' as Paul says, 'where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'"

Mrs. Stapleton flashed a radiant look of helpfulness round the faces, lingering for an instant on Laurie's, and leaned back.

There followed a silence.

"Shall we go into the drawing-room?" suggested Mrs. Baxter, feebly rising. The guest rose too, again with a brilliant patient smile, and swept out. Maggie crossed herself and looked at Laurie. The boy had an expression, half of disgust, half of interest, and his eyelids sank a little and rose again. Then Maggie went out after the others.

II

"A dreadful woman," observed Mrs. Baxter half an hour later, as the two strolled back up the garden path, after seeing Mrs. Stapleton wave a delicately gloved hand encouragingly to them over the back of the throbbing motor.

"I suppose she thinks she believes it all," said Maggie.

"My dear, that woman would believe anything. I hope poor Laurie was not too much distressed."

"Oh! I think Laurie took it all right."

"It was most unfortunate, all that about death and the rest.... Why, here comes Laurie; I thought he would be gone out by now!"

The boy strolled towards them round the corner of the house, tossing away the fragment of his cigarette. He was still in his dark suit, bareheaded, with no signs of riding about him.

"So you've not gone out yet, dear boy?" remarked his mother.

"Not yet," he said, and hesitated as they went on.

Mrs. Baxter noticed it.

"I'll go and get ready," she said. "The carriage will be round at three, Maggie."

When she was gone the two moved out together on to the lawn.

"What did you think of that woman?" demanded Laurie with a detached air.

Maggie glanced at him. His tone was a little too much detached.

"I thought her quite dreadful," she said frankly. "Didn't you?" she added.

"Oh yes, I suppose so," said Laurie. He drew out a cigarette and lighted it. "You know a lot of people think there's something in it," he said.

"In what?"

"Spiritualism."

"I daresay," said Maggie.

She perceived out of the corner of her eye that Laurie looked at her suddenly and sharply. For herself, she loathed what little she knew of the subject, so cordially and completely, that she could hardly have put it into words. Nine-tenths of it she believed to be fraud-a matter of wigs and Indian muslin and cross-lights-and the other tenth, by the most generous estimate, an affair of the dingiest and foulest of all the backstairs of life. The prophetic outpourings of Mrs. Stapleton had not altered her opinion.

"Oh! if you feel like that-" went on Laurie.

She turned on him.

"Laurie," she said, "I think it perfectly detestable. I acknowledge I don't know much about it; but what little I do know is enough, thank you."

Laurie smiled in a faintly patronizing way.

"Well," he said indulgently, "if you think that, it's not much use discussing it."

"Indeed it's not," said Maggie, with her nose in the air.

There was not much more to be said; and the sounds of stamping and whoaing in the stable-yard presently sent the girl indoors in a hurry.

Mrs. Baxter was still mildly querulous during the drive. It appeared to her, Maggie perceived, a kind of veiled insult that things should be talked about in her house which did not seem to fit in with her own scheme of the universe. Mrs. Baxter knew perfectly well that every soul when it left this world went either to what she called Paradise, or in extremely exceptional cases, to a place she did not name; and that these places, each in its own way, entirely absorbed the attention of its inhabitants. Further, it was established in her view that all the members of the spiritual world, apart from the unhappy ones, were a kind of Anglicans, with their minds no doubt enlarged considerably, but on the original lines.

Tales like this of Cardinal Newman therefore were extremely tiresome and upsetting.

And Maggie had her theology also; to her also it appeared quite impossible that Cardinal Newman should frequent the drawing-room of Mr. Vincent in order to exchange impressions with Mrs. Stapleton; but she was more elementary in her answer. For her the thing was simply untrue; and that was the end of it. She found it difficult therefore to follow her companion's train of thought.

"What was it she said?" demanded Mrs. Baxter presently. "I didn't understand her ideas about materialism."

"I think she called it materialization," explained Maggie patiently. "She said that when things were very favorable, and the medium a very good one, the soul that wanted to communicate could make a kind of body for itself out of what she called the astral matter of the medium or the sitters."

"But surely our bodies aren't like that?"

"No; I can't say that I think they are. But that's what she said."

"My dear, please explain. I want to understand the woman."

Maggie frowned a little.

"Well, the first thing she said was that those souls want to communicate; and that they begin generally by things like table-rapping, or making blue lights. Then when you know they're there, they can go further. Sometimes they gain control of the medium who is in a trance, and speak through him, or write with his hand. Then, if things are favorable, they begin to draw out this matter, and make it into a kind of body for themselves, very thin and ethereal, so that you can pass your hand through it. Then, as things get better and better, they go further still, and can make this body so solid that you can touch it; only this is sometimes rather dangerous, as it is still, in a sort of way, connected with the medium. I think that's the idea."

"But what's the good of it all?"

"Well, you see, Mrs. Stapleton thinks that they really are souls from the other world, and that they can tell us all kinds of things about it all, and what's true, and so on."

"But you don't believe that?"

Maggie turned her large eyes on the old lady; and a spark of humor rose and glimmered in them.

"Of course I don't," she said.

"Then how do you explain it?"

"I think it's probably all a fraud. But I really don't know. It doesn't seem to me to matter much-"

"But if it should be true?"

Maggie raised her eyebrows, smiling.

"Dear auntie, do put it out of your head. How can it possibly be true?"

Mrs. Baxter set her lips in as much severity as she could.

"I shall ask the Vicar," she said. "We might stop at the Vicarage on the way back."

Mrs. Baxter did not often stop at the Vicarage; as she did not altogether approve of the Vicar's wife. There was a good deal of pride in the old lady, and it seemed to her occasionally as if Mrs. Rymer did not understand the difference between the Hall and the Parsonage. She envied sometimes, secretly, the Romanist idea of celibacy: it was so much easier to get on with your spiritual adviser if you did not have to consider his wife. But here, was a matter which a clergyman must settle for her once and for all; so she put on a slight air of dignity which became her very well, and a little after four o'clock the Victoria turned up the steep little drive that led to the Vicarage.

III

Thee dusk was already fallen before Laurie, strolling vaguely in the garden, heard the carriage wheels draw up at the gate outside.

He had ridden again alone, and his mind had run, to a certain extent, as might be expected, upon the recent guest and her very startling conversation. He was an intelligent young man, and he had not been in the least taken in by her pseudo-mystical remarks. Yet there had been something in her extreme assurance that had affected him, as a man may smile sourly at a good story in bad taste. His attitude, in fact, was that of most Christians under the circumstances. He did not, f

or an instant, believe that such things really and literally happened, and yet it was difficult to advance any absolutely conclusive argument against them. Merely, they had not come his way; they appeared to conflict with experience, and they usually found as their advocates such persons as Mrs. Stapleton.

Two things, however, prevailed to keep the matter before his mind. The first was his own sense of loss, his own experience, sore and hot within him, of the unapproachable emptiness of death; the second, Maggie's attitude. When a plainly sensible and controlled young woman takes up a position of superiority, she is apt, unless the young man in her company happens to be in love with her-and sometimes even when he is-to provoke and irritate him into a camp of opposition. She is still more apt to do so if her relations to him have once been in the line of even greater tenderness.

Laurie then was not in the most favorable of moods to receive the dicta of the Vicar.

They were announced to him immediately after Mrs. Baxter had received from Maggie's hands her first cup of tea.

"Mr. Rymer tells me it's all nonsense," she said.

Laurie looked up.

"What?" he said.

"Mr. Rymer tells me Spiritualism is all nonsense. He told me about someone called Eglingham, who kept a beard in his portmanteau."

"Eglinton, I think, auntie," put in Maggie.

"I daresay, my dear. Anyhow, it's all the same. I felt sure it must be so." Laurie took a bun, with a thoughtful air.

"Does Mr. Rymer know very much about it, do you think, mother?"

"Dear boy, I think he knows all that anyone need know. Besides, if you come to think of it, how could Cardinal Newman possibly appear in a drawing-room? Particularly when Mrs. Stapleton says he isn't a Christian any longer."

This had a possible and rather pleasing double interpretation; but Laurie decided it was not worth while to be humorous.

"What about the Witch of Endor?" he asked innocently, instead.

"That was in the Old Testament," answered his mother rapidly. "Mr. Rymer said something about that too."

"Oh! wasn't it really Samuel who appeared?"

"Mr. Rymer thinks that things were permitted then that are not permitted now."

Laurie drank up his cup of tea. It is a humiliating fact that extreme grief often renders the mourner rather cross. There was a distinct air of crossness about Laurie at this moment. His nerves were very near the top.

"Well, that's very convenient," he said. "Maggie, do you know if there's any book on Spiritualism in the house?"

The girl glanced uneasily near the fire-place.

"I don't know," she said. "Yes; I think there's something up there. I believe I saw it the other day."

Laurie rose and stood opposite the shelves.

"What color is it? (No, no more tea, thanks.)"

"Er ... black and red, I think," said the girl. "I forget."

She looked up at him, faintly uneasy, as he very deliberately drew down a book from the shelf and turned the pages.

"Yes ... this is it," he said. "Thanks very much.... No, really no more tea, thanks, mother."

Then he went to the door, with his easy, rather long steps, and disappeared. They heard his steps in the inner hall. Then a door closed overhead.

Mrs. Baxter contentedly poured herself out another cup of tea.

"Poor boy," she said. "He's thinking of that girl still. I'm glad he's got something to occupy his mind."

The end room, on the first floor, was Laurie's possession. It was a big place, with two windows, and a large open fire, and he had skillfully masked the fact that it was a bedroom by disposing his furniture, with the help of a screen, in such a manner as completely to hide the bed and the washing arrangements.

The rest of the room he had furnished in a pleasing male kind of fashion, with a big couch drawn across the fire, a writing-table and chairs, a deep easy chair near the door, and a long, high bookcase covering the wall between the door and the windows. His college oar, too, hung here, and there were pleasant groups and pictures scattered on the other walls.

Maggie did not often come in here, except by invitation, but about seven o'clock on this evening, half an hour before she had to go and dress, she thought she would look in on him for a few minutes. She was still a little uncomfortable; she did not quite know why: it was too ridiculous, she told, herself, that a sensible boy like Laurie could be seriously affected by what she considered the wicked nonsense of Spiritualism.

Yet she went, telling herself that Laurie's grief was an excuse for showing him a little marked friendliness. Besides, she would like to ask him whether he was really going back to town on Thursday.

She tapped twice before an answer came; and then it seemed a rather breathless voice which spoke.

The boy was sitting bolt upright on the edge of the sofa, with a couple of candles at his side, and the book in his hands. There was a strained and intensely interested look in his eyes.

"May I come in for a few minutes? It's nearly dressing time," she said.

"Oh-er-certainly."

He got up, rather stiffly, still keeping his place in the book with one finger, while she sat down. Then he too sat again, and there was silence for a moment.

"Why, you're not smoking," she said.

"I forgot. I will now, if you don't mind!"

She saw his fingers tremble a little as he put out his hand to a box of cigarettes at his side. But he put the book down, after looking at the page.

She could keep her question in no longer.

"What do you think of that," she said, nodding at the book.

He filled his lungs with smoke and exhaled again slowly.

"I think it's extraordinary," he said shortly.

"In what way?"

Again he paused before answering. Then he answered deliberately.

"If human evidence is worth anything, those things happen," he said.

"What things?"

"The dead return."

Maggie looked at him, aware of his deliberate attempt at dramatic brevity. He was watching the end of his cigarette with elaborate attention, and his face had that white, rather determined look that she had seen on it once or twice before, in the presence of a domestic crisis.

"Do you really mean you believe that?" she said, with a touch of careful bitterness in her voice.

"I do," he said, "or else-"

"Well?"

"Or else human evidence is worth nothing at all."

Maggie understood him perfectly; but she realized that this was not an occasion to force issues. She still put the tone of faint irony into her voice.

"You really believe that Cardinal Newman comes to Mr. Vincent's drawing room and raps on tables?"

"I really believe that it is possible to get into touch with those whom we call dead. Each instance, of course, depends on its own evidence."

"And Cardinal Newman?"

"I have not studied the evidence for Cardinal Newman," remarked Laurie in a head-voice.

"Let's have a look at that book," said Maggie impulsively.

He handed it to her; and she began to turn the pages, pausing now and again to read a particular paragraph, and once for nearly a minute while she examined an illustration. Certainly the book seemed interestingly written, and she read an argument or two that appeared reasonably presented. Yet she was extraordinarily repelled even by the dead paper and ink she had in her hands. It was as if it was something obscene. Finally she tossed it back on to the couch.

Laurie waited; but she said nothing.

"Well?" he asked at last, still refraining from looking at her.

"I think it's horrible," she said.

Laurie delicately adjusted a little tobacco protruding from his cigarette.

"Isn't that a little unreasonable?" he asked. "You've hardly looked at it yet."

Maggie knew this mood of his only too well. He reserved it for occasions when he was determined to fight. Argument was a useless weapon against it.

"My dear boy," she said with an effort, "I'm sorry. I daresay it is unreasonable. But that kind of thing does seem to me so disgusting. That's all.... I didn't come to talk about that.... Tell me-"

"Didn't you?" said Laurie.

Maggie was silent.

"Didn't you?"

"Well-yes I did. But I don't want to any more."

Laurie smiled so that it might be seen.

"Well, what else did you want to say?" He glanced purposely at the book. Maggie ignored his glance.

"I just came to see how you were getting on."

"How do you mean? With the book?"

"No; in every way."

He looked up at her swiftly and suddenly, and she saw that his agony of sorrow was acute beneath all his attempts at superiority, his courteous fractiousness, and his set face. She was filled suddenly with an enormous pity.

"Oh! Laurie, I'm so sorry," she cried out. "Can't I do anything?"

"Nothing, thanks; nothing at all," he said quietly.

Again pity and misery surged up within her, and she cast all prudence to the winds. She had not realized how fond she was of this boy till she saw once more that look in his eyes.

"Oh! Laurie, you know I didn't like it; but-but I don't know what to do, I'm so sorry. But don't spoil it all," she said wildly, hardly knowing what she feared.

"I beg your pardon?"

"You know what I mean. Don't spoil it, by-by fancying things."

"Maggie," said the boy quietly, "you must let me alone. You can't help."

"Can't I?"

"You can't help," he repeated. "I must go my own way. Please don't say any more. I can't stand it."

There followed a dead silence. Then Maggie recovered and stood up. He rose with her.

"Forgive me, Laurie, won't you? I must say this. You'll remember I'll always do anything I can, won't you?"

Then she was gone.

IV

The ladies went to bed early at Stantons. At ten o'clock precisely a clinking of bedroom candlesticks was heard in the hall, followed by the sound of locking doors. This was the signal. Mrs. Baxter laid aside her embroidery with the punctuality of a religious at the sound of a bell, and said two words-

"My dears."

There were occasionally exclamatory expostulations from the two at the piquet-table, but in nine cases out of ten the game had been designed with an eye upon the clock, and hardly any delay followed. Mrs. Baxter kissed her son, and passed her arm through Maggie's. Laurie followed; gave them candles, and generally took one himself.

But this evening there was no piquet. Laurie had stayed later than usual in the dining-room, and had wandered rather restlessly about when he had joined the others. He looked at a London evening paper for a little, paced about, vanished again, and only returned as the ladies were making ready to depart. Then he gave them their candlesticks, and himself came back to the drawing room.

He was, in fact, in a far more perturbed and excited mood than even Maggie had had any idea of. She had interrupted him half-way through the book, but he had read again steadily until five minutes before dinner, and had, indeed, gone back again to finish it afterwards. He had now finished it; and he wanted to think.

It had had a surprising effect on him, coming as it did upon a state of mind intensely stirred to its depths by his sorrow. Crossness, as I have said, had been the natural psychological result of his emotions; but his emotions were none the less real. The froth of whipped cream is real cream, after all.

Now Laurie had seen perfectly well the extreme unconvincingness of Mrs. Stapleton, and had been genuine enough in his little shrug of disapproval in answer to Maggie's, after lunch; yet that lady's remarks had been sufficient just to ignite the train of thought. This train had smoldered in the afternoon, had been fanned ever so slightly by two breezes-the sense of Maggie's superiority and the faint rebellious reaction which had come upon him with regard to his personal religion. Certainly he had had Mass said for Amy this morning; but it had been by almost a superstitious rather than a religious instinct. He was, in fact, in that state of religious unreality which occasionally comes upon converts within a year or two of the change of their faith. The impetus of old association is absent, and the force of novelty has died.

Underneath all this then, it must be remembered that the one thing that was intensely real to him was his sense of loss of the one soul in whom his own had been wrapped up. Even this afternoon as yesterday, even this morning as he lay awake, he had been conscious of an irresistible impulse to demand some sign, to catch some glimpse of that which was now denied to him.

It was in this mood that he had read the book; and it is not to be wondered at that he had been excited by it.

For it opened up to him, beneath all its sham mysticism, its intolerable affectations, its grotesque parody of spirituality-of all of which he was largely aware-a glimmering avenue of a faintly possible hope of which he had never dreamed-a hope, at least, of that half self-deception which is so tempting to certain characters.

Here, in this book, written by a living man, whose name and address were given, were stories so startling, and theories so apparently consonant with themselves and with other partly known facts-stories and theories, too, which met so precisely his own overmastering desire, that it is little wonder that he was affected by them.

Naturally, even during his reading, a thousand answers and adverse comments had sprung to his mind-suggestions of fraud, of lying, of hallucination-but yet, here the possibility remained. Here were living men and women who, with the usual complement of senses and reason, declared categorically and in detail, that on this and that date, in this place and the other, after having taken all possible precautions against fraud, they had received messages from the dead-messages of which the purport was understood by none but themselves-that they had seen with their eyes, in sufficient light, the actual features of the dead whom they loved, that they had even clasped their hands, and held for an instant the bodies of those whom they had seen die with their own eyes, and buried.

* * *

When the ladies' footsteps had ceased to sound overhead, Laurie went to the French window, opened it, and passed on to the lawn.

He was astonished at the warmth of the September night. The little wind that had been chilly this afternoon had dropped with the coming of the dark, and high overhead he could see the great masses of the leaves motionless against the sky. He passed round the house, and beneath the yews, and sat down on the garden bench.

It was darker here than outside on the lawn. Beneath his feet were the soft needles from the trees, and above him, as he looked out, still sunk in his thought, he could see the glimmer of a star or two between the branches.

It was a fragrant, kindly night. From the hamlet of half a dozen houses beyond the garden came no sound; and the house, too, was still behind him. An illuminated window somewhere on the first floor went out as he looked at it, like a soul leaving a body; once a sleepy bird somewhere in the shrubbery chirped to its mate and was silent again.

Then as he still labored in argument, putting this against that, and weighing that against the other, his emotion rose up in an irresistible torrent, and all consideration ceased. One thing remained: he must have Amy, or he must die.

* * *

It was five or six minutes before he moved again from that attitude of clenched hands and tensely strung muscles into which his sudden passion had cast him.

During those minutes he had willed with his whole power that she should come to him now and here, down in this warm and fragrant darkness, hidden from all eyes-in this sweet silence, round which sleep kept its guard. Such things had happened before; such things must have happened, for the will and the love of man are the mightiest forces in creation. Surely again and again it had happened; there must be somewhere in the world man after man who had so called back the dead-a husband sobbing silently in the dark, a child wailing for his mother; surely that force had before, in the world's history, willed back again from the mysterious dark of space the dear personality that was all that even heaven could give, had even compelled into a semblance of life some sort of body to clothe it in. These things must have happened-only secrets had been well kept.

So this boy had willed it; yet the dark had remained empty; and no shadow, no faintly outlined face, had even for an instant blotted out the star on which he stared; no touch on his shoulder, no whisper in his ear. It had seemed as he strove there, in the silence, that it must be done; that there was no limit to power concentrated and intense. Yet it had not happened....

Once he had shuddered a little; and the very shudder of fear had had in it a touch of delicious, trembling expectation. Yet it had not happened.

Laurie relaxed his muscles therefore, let his breath exhale in a long sigh, and once more remembered the book he had read and Mrs. Stapleton's feverish, self-conscious thought.

Half an hour later his mother, listening in her bed, heard his footsteps pass her room.

* * *

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