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   Chapter 7 I No.7

The Necromancers By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 45762

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"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 séances 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 séances 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.

II

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....

He was astonished that he was not more excited. He asked himself again whether he really believed it; he compared his belief in it with his belief in the existence of New Zealand. Yes, if that were belief, he had it. But the excitement of doubt was gone, as no doubt it was gone when New Zealand became a geographical expression.

He was astonished at its naturalness-at the extraordinary manner in which, when once the evidence had been seen and the point of view grasped, the whole thing fell into place. It seemed to him as if he must have known it all his life; yet, he knew, six months ago he had hardly known more than that there were upon the face of the earth persons called Spiritualists, who believed, or pretended to believe, what he then was quite sure was fantastic nonsense. And now he was, to all intents, one of them....

He was being drawn forward, it seemed, by a process as inevitable as that of spring or autumn; and, once he had yielded to it, the conflict and the excitement were over. Certainly this made very few demands. Christianity said that those were blessed who had not seen and yet believed; Spiritualism said that the only reasonable belief was that which followed seeing.

So then Laurie sat and meditated.

Once or twice that evening he looked round him tranquilly without a touch of that terror that had seized him in the smoking-room at home.

If all this were true-and he repeated to himself that he knew it was true-these presences were about him now, so why was it that he was no longer frightened?

He looked carefully into the dark corner behind him, beyond the low jutting bookshelf, in the angle between the curtained windows, at his piano, glossy and mysterious in the gloom, at the door half-open into his bedroom. All was quiet here, shut off from the hum of Fleet Street; circumstances were propitious. Why was he not frightened...? Why, what was there to frighten him? These presences were natural and normal; even as a Catholic he believed in them. And if they manifested themselves, what was there to fear in that?

He looked steadily and serenely; and as he looked, like the kindling of a fire, there rose within him a sense of strange exaltation.

"Amy," he whispered.

But there was no movement or hint.

Laurie smiled a little, wearily. He felt tired; he would sleep a little. He beat out his pipe, crossed his feet before the fire, and closed his eyes.

III

There followed that smooth rush into gulfs of sleep that provides perhaps the most exquisite physical sensation known to man, as the veils fall thicker and softer every instant, and the consciousness gathers itself inwards from hands and feet and limbs, like a dog curling himself up for rest; yet retains itself in continuous being, and is able to regard its own comfort. All this he remembered perfectly half an hour later; but there followed in his memory that inevitable gap in which self loses itself before emerging into the phantom land of dreams, or returning to reality.

But that into which he emerged, he remembered afterwards, was a different realm altogether from that which is usual-from that country of grotesque fancy and jumbled thoughts, of thin shadows of truth and echoes from the common world where most of us find ourselves in sleep.

His dream was as follows:-

He was still in his room, he thought, but no longer in his chair. Instead, he stood in the very center of the floor, or at least poised somewhere above it, for he could see at a glance, without turning, all that the room contained. He directed his attention-for it was this, rather than sight, through which he perceived-to the piano, the chiffonier, the chairs, the two doors, the curtained windows; and finally, with scarcely even a touch of surprise, to himself still sunk in the chair before the fire. He regarded himself with pleased interest, remembering even in that instant that he had never before seen himself with closed eyes....

All in the room was extraordinarily vivid and clear-cut. It was true that the firelight still wavered and sank again in billows of soft color about the shadowed walls, but the changing light was no more an interruption to the action of that steady medium through which he perceived than the movement of summer clouds across the full sunlight. It was at that moment that he understood that he saw no longer with eyes, but with that faculty of perception to which sight is only analogous-that faculty which underlies and is common to all the senses alike.

His reasoning powers, too, at this moment, seemed to have gone from him like a husk. He did not argue or deduce; simply he understood. And, in a flash, simultaneous with the whole vision, he perceived that he was behind all the slow processes of the world, by which this is added to that, and a conclusion drawn; by which light travels, and sounds resolve themselves and emotions run their course. He had reached, he thought, the ultimate secret.... It was This that lay behind everything.

Now it is impossible to set down, except progressively, all this sum of experiences that occupied for him one interminable instant. Neither did he remember afterwards the order in which they presented themselves; for it seemed to him that there was no order; all was simultaneous.

But he understood plainly by intuition that all was open to him. Space no longer existed for him; nothing, to his perception, separated this from that. He was able, he saw, without stirring from his attitude to see in an instant any place or person towards which he chose to exercise his attention. It seemed a marvelously simple point, this-that space was little more than an illusion; that it was, after all, nothing else but a translation into rather coarse terms of what may be called "differences." "Here" and "There" were but relative terms; certainly they corresponded to facts, but they were not those facts themselves.... And since he now stood behind them he saw them on their inner side, as a man standing in the interior of a globe may be said to be equally present to every point upon its surface.

The fascination of the thought was enormous; and, like a child who begins to take notice and to learn the laws of extension and distance, so he began to learn their reverse. He saw, he thought (as he had seen once before, only, this time, without the sense of movement), the interior of the lighted drawing room at home, and his mother nodding in her chair; he directed his attention to Maggie, and perceived her passing across the landing toward the head of the stairs with a candle in her hand. It was this sight that brought him to a further discovery, to the effect that time also was of very nearly no importance either; for he perceived that by bending his attention upon her he could restrain her, so to speak, in her movement. There she stood, one foot outstretched, the candle flame leaning motionless backward; and he knew too that it was not she who was thus restrained, but that it was the intensity and directness of his thought that fixed, so to say, in terms of eternity, that instant of time....

So it went on; or, rather, so it was with him. He pleased himself by contemplating the London streets outside, the darkness of the garden in some square, the interior of the Oratory where a few figures kneeled-all seen beyond the movements of light and shadow in this clear invisible radiance that was to his perception as common light to common eyes. The world of which he had had experience-for he found himself unable to see that which he had never experienced-lay before his will like a movable map: this or that person or place had but to be desired, and it was present.

And then came the return; and the Horror....

He began in this way.

He understood that he wished to awake, or, rather, to be reunited with the body that lay there in deep sleep before the fire. He observed it for a moment or two, interested and pleased, the face sunk a little on the hand, the feet lightly crossed on the fender. He looked at his own profile, the straight nose, the parted lips through which the breath came evenly. He attempted

even to touch the face, wondering with gentle pleasure what would be the result....

Then, suddenly, an impulse came to him to enter the body, and with the impulse the process, it seemed, began.

That process was not unlike that of falling asleep. In an instant perception was gone; the lighted room was gone, and that obedient world which he had contemplated just now. Yet self-consciousness for a while remained; he still had the power of perceiving his own personality, though this dwindled every moment down to that same gulf of nothingness through which he had found his way.

But at the very instant in which consciousness was passing there met him an emotion so fierce and overwhelming that he recoiled in terror back from the body once more and earth-perceptions; and a panic seized him.

It was such a panic as seizes a child who, fearfully courageous, has stolen at night from his room, and turning in half-simulated terror finds the door fast against him, or is aware of a malignant presence come suddenly into being, standing between himself and the safety of his own bed.

On the one side his fear drove him onwards; on the other a Horror faced him. He dared not recoil, for he understood where security lay; he longed, like the child screaming in the dark and beating his hands, to get back to the warmth and safety of bed; yet there stood before him a Presence, or at the least an Emotion of some kind, so hostile, so terrible, that he dared not penetrate it. It was not that an actual restraint lay upon him: he knew, that is, that the door was open; yet it needed an effort of the will of which his paralysis of terror rendered him incapable....

The tension became intolerable.

"O God ... God ... God...." he cried.

And in an instant the threshold was vacated; the swift rush asserted itself, and the space was passed.

* * *

Laurie sat up abruptly in his chair.

IV

Mr. Vincent was beginning to think about going to bed. He had come in an hour before, had written half a dozen letters, and was smoking peacefully before the fire.

His rooms were not remarkable in any way, except for half a dozen objects standing on the second shelf of his bookcase, and the selection of literature ranged below them. For the rest, all was commonplace enough; a mahogany knee-hold table, a couple of easy chairs, much worn, and a long, extremely comfortable sofa standing by itself against the wall with evident signs, in its tumbled cushions and rubbed fabric, of continual and frequent use. A second door gave entrance to his bedroom.

He beat out his pipe slowly, yawned, and stood up.

It was at this instant that he heard the sudden tinkle of the electric bell in the lobby outside, and, wondering at the interruption at this hour, went quickly out and opened the door on to the stairs.

"Mr. Baxter! Come in, come in; I'm delighted to see you."

Laurie came in without a word, went straight up to the fire-place, and faced about.

"I'm not going to apologize," he said, "for coming at this time. You told me to come and see you at any time, and I've taken you at your word."

The young man had an odd embarrassed manner, thought the other; an air of having come in spite of uneasiness; he was almost shamefaced.

The medium impelled him gently into a chair.

"First a cigarette," he said; "next a little whisky, and then I shall be delighted to listen.... No; please do as I say."

Laurie permitted himself to be managed; there was a strong, almost paternal air in the other's manner that was difficult to resist. He lit his cigarette, he sipped his whisky; but his movements were nervously quick.

"Well, then...." and he interrupted himself. "What are those things, Mr. Vincent?" He nodded towards the second shelf in the bookcase.

Mr. Vincent turned on the hearthrug.

"Those? Oh! those are a few rather elementary instruments for my work."

He lifted down a crystal ball on a small black polished wooden stand and handed it over.

"You have heard of crystal-gazing? Well, that is the article."

"Is that crystal?"

"Oh no: common glass. Price three shillings and sixpence."

Laurie turned it over, letting the shining globe run on to his hand.

"And this is-" he began.

"And this," said the medium, setting a curious windmill-shaped affair, its sails lined with looking-glass, on the little table by the fire, "this is a French toy. Very elementary."

"What's that?"

"Look."

Mr. Vincent wound a small handle at the back of the windmill to a sound of clockwork, set it down again, and released it. Instantly the sails began to revolve, noiseless and swift, producing the effect of a rapidly flashing circle of light across which span lines, waxing and waning with extraordinary speed.

"What the-"

"It's a little machine for inducing sleep. Oh! I haven't used that for months. But it's useful sometimes. The hypnotic subject just stares at that steadily.... Why, you're looking dazed yourself, already, Mr. Baxter," smiled the medium.

He stopped the mechanism and pushed it on one side.

"And what's the other?" asked Laurie, looking again at the shelf.

"Ah!"

The medium, with quite a different air, took down and set before him an object resembling a tiny heart-shaped table on three wheeled legs, perhaps four or five inches across. Through the center ran a pencil perpendicularly of which the point just touched the tablecloth on which the thing rested. Laurie looked at it, and glanced up.

"Yes, that's Planchette," said the medium.

"For ... for automatic writing?"

The other nodded.

"Yes," he said. "The experimenter puts his fingers lightly upon that, and there's a sheet of paper beneath. That is all."

Laurie looked at him, half curiously. Then with a sudden movement he stood up.

"Yes," he said. "Thank you. But-"

"Please sit down, Mr. Baxter.... I know you haven't come about that kind of thing. Will you kindly tell me what you have come about?"

He, too, sat down, and, without looking at the other, began slowly to fill his pipe again, with his strong capable fingers. Laurie stared at the process, unseeing.

"Just tell me simply," said the medium again, still without looking at him.

Laurie threw himself back.

"Well, I will," he said. "I know it's absurdly childish; but I'm a little frightened. It's about a dream."

"That's not necessarily childish."

"It's a dream I had tonight-in my chair after dinner."

"Well?"

* * *

Then Laurie began.

For about ten minutes he talked without ceasing. Mr. Vincent smoked tranquilly, putting what seemed to Laurie quite unimportant questions now and again, and nodding gently from time to time.

"And I'm frightened," ended Laurie; "and I want you to tell me what it all means."

The other drew a long inhalation through his pipe, expelled it, and leaned back.

"Oh, it's comparatively common," he said; "common, that is, with people of your temperament, Mr. Baxter-and mine.... You tell me that it was prayer that enabled you to get through at the end? That is interesting."

"But-but-was it more than fancy-more, I mean, than an ordinary dream?"

"Oh, yes; it was objective. It was a real experience."

"You mean-"

"Mr. Baxter, just listen to me for a minute or two. You can ask any questions you like at the end. First, you are a Catholic, you told me; you believe, that is to say, among other things, that the spiritual world is a real thing, always present more or less. Well, of course, I agree with you; though I do not agree with you altogether as to the geography and-and other details of that world. But you believe, I take it, that this world is continually with us-that this room, so to speak, is a great deal more than that of which our senses tell us that there are with us, now and always, a multitude of influences, good, bad, and indifferent, really present to our spirits?"

"I suppose so," said Laurie.

"Now begin again. There are two kinds of dreams. I am just stating my own belief, Mr. Baxter. You can make what comments you like afterwards. The one kind of dream is entirely unimportant; it is merely a hash, a réchauffée, of our own thoughts, in which little things that we have experienced reappear in a hopeless sort of confusion. It is the kind of dream that we forget altogether, generally, five minutes after waking, if not before. But there is another kind of dream that we do not forget. It leaves as vivid an impression upon us as if it were a waking experience-an actual incident. And that is exactly what it is."

"I don't understand."

"Have you ever heard of the subliminal consciousness, Mr. Baxter?"

"No."

The medium smiled.

"That is fortunate," he said. "It's being run to death just now.... Well, I'll put it in an untechnical way. There is a part of us, is there not, that lies below our ordinary waking thoughts-that part of us in which our dreams reside, our habits take shape, our instincts, intuitions, and all the rest, are generated. Well, in ordinary dreams, when we are asleep, it is this part that is active. The pot boils, so to speak, all by itself, uncontrolled by reason. A madman is a man in whom this part is supreme in his waking life as well. Well, it is through this part of us that we communicate with the spiritual world. There are, let us say, two doors in it-that which leads up to our senses, through which come down our waking experiences to be stored up; and-and the other door...."

"Yes?"

The medium hesitated.

"Well," he said, "in some natures-yours, for instance, Mr. Baxter-this door opens rather easily. It was through that door that you went, I think, in what you call your 'dream.' You yourself said it was quite unlike ordinary dreams."

"Yes."

"And I am the more sure that this is so, since your experience is exactly that of so many others under the same circumstances."

Laurie moved uncomfortably in his chair.

"I don't quite understand," he said sharply. "You mean it was not a dream?"

"Certainly not. At least, not a dream in the ordinary sense. It was an actual experience."

"But-but I was asleep."

"Certainly. That is one of the usual conditions-an almost indispensable condition, in fact. The objective self-I mean the ordinary workaday faculties-was lulled; and your subjective self-call it what you like-but it is your real self, the essential self that survives death-this self, simply went through the inner door, and-and saw what was to be seen."

Laurie looked at him intently. But there was a touch of apprehension in his face, too.

"You mean," he said slowly, "that-that all I saw-the limitations of space, and so forth-that these were facts and not fancies?"

"Certainly. Doesn't your theology hint at something of the kind?"

Laurie was silent. He had no idea of what his theology told him on the point.

"But why should I-I of all people-have such an experience?" he asked suddenly.

The medium smiled.

"Who can tell that?" he said. "Why should one man be an artist, and another not? It is a matter of temperament. You see you've begun to develop that temperament at last; and it's a very marked one to begin with. As for-"

Laurie interrupted him.

"Yes, yes," he said. "But there's another point. What about that fear I had when I tried to-to awaken?"

There passed over the medium's face a shade of gravity. It was no more than a shade, but it was there. He reached out rather quickly for his pipe which he had laid aside, and blew through it carefully before answering.

"That?" he said, with what seemed to the boy an affected carelessness. "That? Oh, that's a common experience. Don't think about that too much, Mr. Baxter. It's never very healthy-"

"I am sorry," said Laurie deliberately. "But I must ask you to tell me what you think. I must know what I'm doing."

The medium filled his pipe again. Twice he began to speak, and checked himself; and in the long silence Laurie felt his fears gather upon him tenfold.

"Please tell me at once, Mr. Vincent," he said. "Unless I know everything that is to be known, I will not go another step along this road. I really mean that."

The medium paused in his pipe-filling.

"And what if I do tell you?" he said in his slow virile voice. "Are you sure you will not be turned back?"

"If it is a well-known danger, and can be avoided with prudence, I certainly shall not turn back."

"Very well, Mr. Baxter, I will take you at your word.... Have you ever heard the phrase, 'The Watcher on the Threshold'?"

Laurie shook his head.

"No," he said. "At least I don't think so."

"Well," said the medium quietly, "that is what we call the Fear you spoke of.... No; don't interrupt. I'll tell you all we know. It's not very much."

He paused again, stretched his hand for the matches, and took one out. Laurie watched him as if fascinated by the action.

Outside roared Oxford Street in one long rolling sound as of the sea; but within here was that quiet retired silence which the boy had noticed before in the same company. Was that fancy, too, he wondered...?

The medium lit his pipe and leaned back.

"I'll tell you all we know," he said again quietly. "It's not very much. Really the phrase I used just now sums it up pretty well. We who have tried to get beyond this world of sense have become aware of certain facts of which the world generally knows nothing at all. One of these facts is that the door between this life and the other is guarded by a certain being of whom we know really nothing at all, except that his presence causes the most appalling fear in those who experience it. He is set there-God only knows why-and his main business seems to be to restrain, if possible, from re-entering the body those who have left it. Just occasionally his presence is perceived by those on this side, but not often. But I have been present at death-beds where he has been seen-"

"Seen?"

"Oh! yes. Seen by the dying person. It is usually only a glimpse; it might be said to be a mistake. For myself I believe that that appalling terror that now and then shows itself, even in people who do not fear death itself, who are perfectly resigned, who have nothing on their conscience,-well, personally, I believe the fear comes from a sight of this-this Personage."

Laurie licked his dry lips. He told himself that he did not believe one word of it.

"And ... and he is evil?" he asked.

The other shrugged his shoulders.

"Isn't that a relative term?" he said. "From one point of view, certainly; but not necessarily from all."

"And ... and what's the good of it?"

The medium smiled a little.

"That's a question we soon cease to ask. You must remember that we hardly know anything at all yet. But one thing seems more and more certain the more we investigate, and that is that our point of view is not the only one, nor even the principal one. Christianity, I fancy, says the same thing, does it not? The 'glory of God,' whatever that may be, comes before even the 'salvation of souls.'"

Laurie wrenched his attention once more to a focus.

"Then I was in danger?" he said.

"Certainly. We are always in danger-"

"You mean, if I hadn't prayed-"

"Ah! that is another question.... But, in short, if you hadn't succeeded in getting past-well, you'd have failed."

Again there fell a silence.

It seemed to Laurie as if his world were falling about him. Yet he was far from sure whether it were not all an illusion. But the extreme quietness and confidence of this man in enunciating these startling theories had their effect. It was practically impossible for the boy to sit here, still nervous from his experience, and hear, unmoved, this apparently reasonable and connected account of things that were certainly incomprehensible on any other hypothesis. His remembrance of the very startling uniqueness of his dream was still vivid.... Surely it all fitted in ... yet....

"But there is one thing," broke in the medium's quiet voice. "Should you ever experience this kind of thing again, I should recommend you not to pray. Just exercise your own individuality; assert yourself; don't lean on another. You are quite strong enough."

"You mean-"

"I mean exactly what I say. What is called Prayer is really an imaginative concession to weakness. Take the short cut, rather. Assert your own-your own individuality."

Laurie changed his attitude. He uncrossed his feet and sat up a little.

"Oh! pray if you want to," said the medium. "But you must remember, Mr. Baxter, that you are quite an exceptional person. I assure you that you have no conception of your own powers. I must say that I hope you will take the strong line." He paused. "These séances, for instance. Now that you know a little more of the dangers, are you going to turn back?"

His overhung kindly eyes looked out keenly for an instant at the boy's restless face.

"I don't know," said Laurie; "I must think...."

He got up.

"Look here, Mr. Vincent," he said, "it seems to me you're extraordinarily-er-extraordinarily plausible. But I'm even now not quite sure whether I'm not going mad. It's like a perfectly mad dream-all these things one on the top of the other."

He paused, looking sharply at the elder man, and away again.

"Yes?"

Laurie began to finger a pencil that lay on the chimney-shelf.

"You see what I mean, don't you?" he said. "I'm not disputing-er-your point of view, nor your sincerity. But I do wish you would give me another proof or two."

"You haven't had enough?"

"Oh! I suppose I have-if I were reasonable. But, you know, it all seems to me as if you suddenly demonstrated to me that twice two made five."

"But then, surely no proof-"

"Yes; I know. I quite see that. Yet I want one-something quite absolutely ordinary. If you can do all these things-spirits and all the rest-can't you do something ever so much simpler, that's beyond mistake?"

"Oh, I daresay. But wouldn't you ask yet another after that?"

"I don't know."

"Or wouldn't you think you'd been hypnotized?"

Laurie shook his head.

"I'm not a fool," he said.

"Then give me that pencil," said the medium, suddenly extending his hand.

Laurie stared a moment. Then he handed over the pencil.

On the little table by the arm-chair, a couple of feet from Laurie, stood the whisky apparatus and a box of cigarettes. These the medium, without moving from his chair, lifted off and set on the floor beside him, leaving the woven-grass surface of the table entirely bare. He then laid the pencil gently in the center-all without a word. Laurie watched him carefully.

"Now kindly do not speak one word or make one movement," said the man peremptorily. "Wait! You're perfectly sure you're not hypnotized, or any other nonsense?"

"Certainly not."

"Just go round the room, look out of the window, poke the fire-anything you like."

"I'm satisfied," said the boy.

"Very good. Then kindly watch that pencil."

The medium leaned a little forward in his chair, bending his eyes steadily upon the little wooden cylinder lying, like any other pencil, on the top of the table. Laurie glanced once at him, then back again. There it lay, common and ordinary.

For at least a minute nothing happened at all, except that from the intentness of the elder man there seemed once more to radiate out that curious air of silence that Laurie was beginning to know so well-that silence that seemed impenetrable to the common sounds of the world and to exist altogether independent of them. Once and again he glanced round at the ordinary-looking room, the curtained windows, the dull furniture; and the second time he looked back at the pencil he was almost certain that some movement had just taken place with it. He resolutely fixed his eyes upon it, bending every faculty he possessed into one tense attitude of attention. And a moment later he could not resist a sudden movement and a swift indrawing of breath; for there, before his very eyes, the pencil tilted, very hesitatingly and quiveringly, as if pulled by a spider's thread. He heard, too, the tiny tap of its fall.

He glanced at the medium, who jerked his head impatiently, as if for silence. Then once more the silence came down.

A minute later there was no longer the possibility of a doubt.

There before the boy's eyes, as he stared, white-faced, with parted lips, the pencil rose, hesitated, quivered; but, instead of falling back again, hung so for a moment on its point, forming with itself an acute angle with the plane of the table in an entirely impossible position; then, once more rising higher, swung on its point in a quarter circle, and after one more pause and quiver, rose to its full height, remained poised one instant, then fell with a sudden movement, rolled across the table and dropped on the carpet.

The medium leaned back, drawing a long breath.

"There," he said; and smiled at the bewildered young man.

"But-but-" began the other.

"Yes, I know," said the man. "It's startling, isn't it? and indeed it's not as easy as it looks. I wasn't at all sure-"

"But, good Lord, I saw-"

"Of course you did; but how do you know you weren't hypnotized?"

Laurie sat down suddenly, unconscious that he had done so. The medium put out his hand for his pipe once more.

"Now, I'm going to be quite honest," he said. "I have quite a quantity of comments to make on that. First, it doesn't prove anything whatever, even if it really happened-"

"Even if it-!"

"Certainly.... Oh, yes; I saw it too; and there's the pencil on the floor"-he stooped and picked it up.

"But what if we were both hypnotized-both acted upon by self-suggestion? We can't prove we weren't."

Laurie was dumb.

"Secondly, it doesn't prove anything, in any case, as regards the other matters we were speaking of. It only shows-if it really happened, as I say-that the mind has extraordinary control over matter. It hasn't anything to do with immortality, or-or spiritualism."

"Then why did you do it?" gasped the boy.

"Merely fireworks ... only to show off. People are convinced by such queer things."

Laurie sat regarding, still with an unusual pallor in his face and brightness in his eyes. He could not in the last degree put into words why it was that the tiny incident of the pencil affected him so profoundly. Vaguely, only, he perceived that it was all connected somehow with the ordinariness of the accessories, and more impressive therefore than all the paraphernalia of planchette, spinning mirrors, or even his own dreams.

He stood up again suddenly.

"It's no good, Mr. Vincent," he said, putting out his hand, "I'm knocked over. I can't imagine why. It's no use talking now. I must think. Good night."

"Good night, Mr. Baxter," said the medium serenely.

* * *

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