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   Chapter 9 I No.9

The Necromancers By Robert Hugh Benson Characters: 25272

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Laurie turned slowly over in bed, drew a long breath, expelled it, and, releasing his arms from the bed-clothes, sat up. He switched on the light by his bed, glanced at his watch, switched off the light, and sank down again into the sheets. He need not get up just yet.

Then he remembered.

When an event of an entirely new order comes into experience, it takes a little time to be assimilated. It is as when a large piece of furniture is brought into a room; all the rest of the furniture takes upon itself a different value. A picture that did very well up to then over the fire-place must perhaps be moved. Values, relations, and balance all require readjustment.

Now up to last night Laurie had indeed been convinced, in one sense, of spiritualistic phenomena; but they had not yet for him reached the point of significance when they affected everything else. The new sideboard, so to speak, had been brought into the room, but it had been put temporarily against the wall in a vacant space to be looked at; the owner of the room had not yet realized the necessity of rearranging the whole. But last night something had happened that changed all this. He was now beginning to perceive the need of a complete review of everything.

As he lay there, quiet indeed, but startlingly alert, he first reviewed the single fact.

* * *

About an hour or so had passed away before anything particular happened. They had sat there, those four, in complete silence, their hands upon the table, occasionally shifting a little, hearing the sound of one another's breathing or the faint rustle of one of the ladies' dresses, in sufficient light from the screened fire and the single heavily shaded electric burner to recognize faces, and even, after the first few minutes, to distinguish small objects, or to read large print.

For the most part Laurie had kept his eyes upon the medium in the cabinet. There the man had leaned back, plainly visible for the most part, with even the paleness of his face and the dark blot of his beard clearly discernible in the twilight. Now and then the boy's eyes had wandered to the other faces, to the young clergyman's opposite downcast and motionless, with a sort of apprehensive look and a determination not to give way-to the three-quarter profiles of the two women, and the gleam of the pince-nez below Lady Laura's frizzed hair.

So he had sat, the thoughts at first racing through his brain, then, as time went on, moving more and more slowly, with his own brain becoming ever more passive, until at last he had been compelled to make a little effort against the drowsiness that had begun to envelop him. He had had to do this altogether three or four times, and had even begun to wonder whether he should be able to resist much longer, when a sudden trembling of the table had awakened him, alert and conscious in a moment, and he had sat with every faculty violently attentive to what should follow.

That trembling was a curious sensation beneath his hands. At first it was no more than might be caused by the passing of a heavy van in the street; only there was no van. But it had increased, with spasms and recoils, till it resembled a continuous shudder as of a living rigid body. It began also to tilt slightly this way and that.

Now all this, Laurie knew well, meant nothing at all-or rather, it need not. And when the movement passed again through all the reverse motions, sinking at last into complete stillness, he was conscious of disappointment. A moment later, however, as he glanced up again at the medium in the cabinet, he drew his breath sharply, and Mr. Jamieson, at the sound, wheeled his head swiftly to look.

There, in the cabinet, somewhere overhead behind the curtain, a faint but perfectly distinct radiance was visible. It was no more than a diffused glimmer, but it was unmistakable, and it shone out faintly and clearly upon the medium's face. By its light Laurie could make out every line and every feature, the drooping clipped moustache, the strong jutting nose, the lines from nostril to mouth, and the closed eyes. As he watched the light deepened in intensity, seeming to concentrate itself in the hidden corner at the top. Then, with a smooth, steady motion it emerged into full sight, in appearance like a softly luminous globe of a pale bluish color, undefined at the edges, floating steadily forward with a motion like that of an air balloon, out into the room. Once outside the cabinet it seemed to hesitate, hanging at about the height of a man's head-then, after an instant, it retired once more, re-entered the cabinet, disappeared in the direction from which it had come, and once more died out.

Well, there it had been; there was no doubt about it.... And Laurie was unacquainted with any mechanism that could produce it.

The clergyman too had seemed affected. He had watched, with turned-back head, the phenomenon from beginning to end, and at the close, with a long indrawing of breath, had looked once at Laurie, licked his dry lips with a motion that was audible in that profound silence, and once more dropped his eyes. The ladies had been silent, and all but motionless throughout.

Well, the rest had happened comparatively quickly.

Once more, after the lapse of a few minutes, the radiance had begun to reform; but this time it had emerged almost immediately, diffused and misty like a nebula; had hung again before the cabinet, and then, with a strange, gently whirling motion, had seemed to arrange itself in lines and curves.

Gradually, as he stared at it, it had begun to take the shape and semblance of a head, swathed in drapery, with that same drapery, hanging, as it appeared in folds, dripping downwards to the ground, where it lost itself in vagueness. Then, as he still stared, conscious of nothing but the amazing fact, features appeared to be forming-first blots and lines as of shadow, finally eyes, nose, mouth, and chin as of a young girl....

A moment later there was no longer a doubt. It was the face of Amy Nugent that was looking at him, grave and steady-as when he had seen it in the moonlight above the sluice-and behind, seen half through the strange drapery, and half apart from it, a couple of feet behind, the face of the sleeping medium.

At that sight he had not moved nor spoken, it was enough that the fact was there. Every power he possessed was concentrated in the one effort of observation....

He heard from somewhere a gasping sigh, and there rose up between him and the face the figure of the clergyman, with his head turned back staring at the apparition, and one hand only on the table, yet with that hand so heavy upon it that the whole table shuddered with his shudder.

There was a movement on the left, and he heard a fierce feminine whisper-

"Sit down, sir; sit down this instant...."

When the clergyman had again sunk down into his seat with that same strong shudder, the luminous face was already incoherent; the features had relapsed again into blots and shadows, the drapery was absorbing itself upwards into the center from which it came. Once more the nebula trembled, moved backwards, and disappeared. The next instant the radiance went out, as if turned off by a switch. The medium groaned gently and awoke.

Well, that had ended it. Laurie scarcely remembered the talking that followed, the explanations, the apologies, the hardly concealed terror of the young clergyman. The medium had come out presently, dazed and confused. They had talked ... and so forth. Then Laurie had come home, still trying to assimilate the amazing fact, of which he said that it could make no difference-that he had seen with his own eyes the face of Amy Nugent four months after her death.

Now here he was in bed on the following morning, trying to assimilate it once more.

* * *

It seemed to him as if sleep had done its work-that the subconscious intelligence had been able to take the fact in-and that henceforth it was an established thing in his experience. He was not excited now, but he was intensely and overwhelmingly interested. There the thing was. Now what difference did it make?

First, he understood that it made an enormous difference to the value of the most ordinary things. It really was true-as true as tables and chairs-that there was a life after this, and that personality survived. Never again could he doubt that for one instant, even in the gloomiest mood. So long as a man walks by faith, by the acceptance of authority, human or Divine, there is always psychologically possible the assertion of self, the instinct that what one has not personally experienced may just conceivably be untrue. But when one has seen-so long as memory does not disappear-this agnostic instinct is an impossibility. Every single act therefore has a new significance. There is no venture about it any more; there is, indeed, very little opportunity for heroism. Once it is certain, by the evidence of the senses, that death is just an interlude, this life becomes merely part of a long process....

Now as to the conduct of that life-what of religion? And here, for a moment or two, Laurie was genuinely dismayed. For, as he looked at the Catholic religion, he perceived that the whole thing had changed. It no longer seemed august and dominant. As he contemplated himself as he had been at Mass on the previous morning, he seemed to have been rather absurd. Why all this trouble, all this energy, all these innumerable acts and efforts of faith? It was not that his religion seemed necessarily untrue; it was certainly possible for a man to hold simultaneously Catholic and spiritualistic beliefs; there had not been a hint last night against Christianity, and yet, in the face of this evidence of the senses, Catholicism seemed a very shadowy thing. It might well be true, as any philosophy may be true, but-did it matter very much? To be enthusiastic about it was the frenzy of an artist, who loves the portrait more than the original-and possibly a very misleading and inadequate portrait. Laurie had seen for himself the original last night; he had seen a disembodied soul in a garb assumed for the purpose of identification.... Did he need, then, a "religion?" Was not his experience all-sufficing....?

Then suddenly all speculation fled away in the presence of the personal element.

Three days ago he had contemplated the thought of Amy with comparative indifference. She had been to him lately little more than a "test case" of the spiritual world, clothed about with the memory of sentiment. Now once more she sprang into vivid vital life as a person. She was not lost; his relations with her were not just incidents of the past; they were as much bound up with the present as courtship has a continuity with married life. She existed-her very self-and communication was possible between them....

Laurie rolled over on to his back. The thought was violently overwhelming; there was a furious, absorbing fascination in it. The gulf had been bridged; it could be bridged again. Even if tales were true, it could be bridged far more securely yet. It was possible that the phantom he had seen could be brought yet more forward into the world of sense, that he could touch again with his very hand a tabernacle enclosing her soul. So far spiritualism had not failed him; why should he suspect it of failure in the future? It had been done before; it could, and should, be done again. Besides, there was the pencil incident....

He threw off the clothes and sprang out of bed. It was time to get up; time to begin again this fascinating, absorbingly interesting earthly life, which now had such enormous possibilities.


The rooms of Mr. James Morton were conveniently situated up four flights of stairs in one of those blocks of buildings, so mysterious to the layman, that lie not a very long way from Charing Cross. There is a silence always here as of college life, and the place is frequented by the same curious selections from the human race as haunt University courts. Here are to be seen cooks, aged and dignified men, errand-boys, and rather shabby old women.

The interior of the rooms, too, is not unlike that of an ordinary rather second-rate college; and Mr. James Morton's taste did not redeem the chambers in which he sat. From roof to floor the particular apartment in which he sat was lined with bookshelves filled with unprepossessing volumes and large black tin boxes. A large table stood in the middle of the room, littered with papers, with bulwarks of the same kind of tin boxes rising at either e


Mr. Morton himself was a square-built man of some forty years, clean-shaven, and rather pale and stout, with strongly marked features, a good loud voice, and the pleasant, brusque manners that befit a University and public school man who has taken seriously to business.

Laurie and he got on excellently together. The younger man had an admiration for the older, whose reputation as a rather distinguished barrister certainly deserved it, and was sufficiently in awe of him to pay attention to his directions in all matters connected with law. But they did not meet much on other planes. Laurie had asked the other down to Stantons once, and had dined with him three or four times in return. And there their acquaintance found its limitations.

This morning, however, the boy's interested air, with its hints of suppressed excitement and his marked inattention to the books and papers which were his business, at last caused the older man to make a remark. It was in his best manner.

"What's the matter, eh?" he suddenly shot at him, without prelude of any kind.

Laurie's attention came back with a jump, and he flushed a little.

"Oh!-er-nothing particular," he murmured. And he set himself down to his books again in silence, conscious of the watchful roving eye on the other side of the table.

About half-past twelve Mr. Morton shut his own book with a slap, leaned back, and began to fill his pipe.

"Nothing seems very important," he said.

As the last uttered word had been spoken an hour previously, Laurie was bewildered, and looked it.

"It won't do, Baxter," went on the other. "You haven't turned a page an hour this morning."

Laurie smiled doubtfully, and leaned back too. Then he had a spasm of confidence.

"Yes. I'm rather upset this morning," he said. "The fact is, last night..."

Mr. Morton waited.

"Well?" he said. "Oh! don't tell if me you don't want to."

Laurie looked at him.

"I wonder what you'd say," he said at last.

The other got up with an abrupt movement, pushed his books together, selected a hat, and put it on.

"I'm going to lunch," he said. "Got to be in the Courts at two; and...."

"Oh! wait a minute," said Laurie. "I think I want to tell you."

"Well, make haste." He stood, in attitude to go.

"What do you think of spiritualism?"

"Blasted rot," said Mr. Morton. "Anything more I can do for you?"

"Do you know anything about it?"

"No. Don't want to. Is that all?"

"Well, look here;" said Laurie.... "Oh! sit down for two minutes."

* * *

Then he began. He described carefully his experiences of the night before, explaining so much as was necessary of antecedent events. The other during the course of it tilted his hat back, and half leaned, half sat against a side-table, watching the boy at first with a genial contempt, and finally with the same curious interest that one gives to a man with a new disease.

"Now, what d'you make of that?" ended Laurie, flushed and superb.

"D'you want to know?" came after a short silence.

Laurie nodded.

"What I said at the beginning, then."


"Blasted rot," said Mr. Morton again.

Laurie frowned sharply, and affected to put his books together.

"Of course, if you take it like that," he said. "But I don't know what respect you can possibly have for any evidence, if...."

"My dear chap, that isn't evidence. No evidence in the world could make me believe that the earth was upside down. These things don't happen."

"Then how do you explain...?"

"I don't explain," said Mr. Morton. "The thing's simply not worth looking into. If you really saw that, you're either mad or else there was a trick.... Now come along to lunch."

"But I'm not the only one," cried Laurie hotly.

"No, indeed you're not.... Look here, Baxter, that sort of thing plays the devil with nerves. Just drop it once and for all. I knew a chap once who went in for all that. Well, the end was what everybody knew would happen...."

"Yes?" said Laurie.

"Went off his chump," said the other briefly. "Nasty mess all over the floor. Now come to lunch."

"Wait a second. You can't argue from particulars to universals. Was he the only one you ever knew?"

The other paused a moment.

"No," he said. "As it happens, he wasn't. I knew another chap-he's a solicitor.... Oh! by the way, he's one of your people-a Catholic, I mean."

"Well, what about him?" "Oh! he's all right," admitted Mr. Morton, with a grudging air. "But he gave it up and took to religion instead."

"Yes? What's his name?"


He glanced up at the clock.

"Good Lord," he said, "ten to one."

Then he was gone.

* * *

Laurie was far too exalted to be much depressed by this counsel's opinion; and had, indeed, several minutes of delightful meditation on the crass complacency of a clever man when taken off his ground. It was deplorable, he said to himself, that men should be so content with their limitations. But it was always the way, he reflected. To be a specialist in one point involved the pruning of all growth on every other. Here was Morton, almost in the front rank of his particular subject, and, besides, very far from being a bookworm; yet, when taken an inch out of his rut, he could do nothing but flounder. He wondered what Morton would make of these things if he saw them himself.

In the course of the afternoon Morton himself turned up again. The case had ended unexpectedly soon. Laurie waited till the closing of the shutters offered an opportunity for a break in the work, and once more returned to the charge.

"Morton," he said, "I wish you'd come with me one day."

The other looked up.


"To see for yourself what I told you."

Mr. Morton snorted abruptly.

"Lord!" he said, "I thought we'd done with that. No, thank you: Egyptian Hall's all I need."

Laurie sighed elaborately.

"Oh! of course, if you won't face facts, one can't expect...."

"Look here, Baxter," said the other almost kindly, "I advise you to give this up. It plays the very devil with nerves, as I told you. Why, you're as jumpy as a cat yourself. And it isn't worth it. If there was anything in it, why it would be another thing; but...."

"I ... I wouldn't give it up for all the world," stammered Laurie in his zeal. "You simply don't know what you're talking about. Why ... why, I'm not a fool ... I know that. And do you think I'm ass enough to be taken in by a trick? And as if a trick could be played like that in a drawing-room! I tell you I examined every inch...."

"Look here," said Morton, looking curiously at the boy-for there was something rather impressive about Laurie's manner-"look here; you'd better see old Cathcart. Know him...? Well, I'll introduce you any time. He'll tell you another tale. Of course, I don't believe all the rot he talks; but, at any rate, he's sensible enough to have given it all up. Says he wouldn't touch it with a pole. And he was rather a big bug at it in his time, I believe."

Laurie sneered audibly.

"Got frightened, I suppose," he said. "Of course, I know well enough that it's rather startling-"

"My dear man, he was in the thick of it for ten years. I'll acknowledge his stories are hair-raising, if one believed them; but then, you see-"

"What's his address?"

Morton jerked his head towards the directories in the bookshelf.

"Find him there," he said. "I'll give you an introduction if you want it. Though, mind you, I think he talks as much rot as anyone-"

"What does he say?"

"Lord!-I don't know. Some theory or other. But, at any rate, he's given it up."

Laurie pursed his lips.

"I daresay I'll ask you some time," he said. "Meanwhile-"

"Meanwhile, for the Lord's sake, get on with that business you've got there."

* * *

Mr. Morton was indeed, as Laurie had reflected, extraordinarily uninterested in things outside his beat; and his beat was not a very extended one. He was a quite admirable barrister, competent, alert, merciless and kindly at the proper times, and, while at his business, thought of hardly anything else at all. And when he was not at his business, he threw himself with equal zest into two or three other occupations-golf, dining out, and the collection of a particular kind of chairs. Beyond these things there was for him really nothing of value.

But, owing to circumstances, his beat had been further extended to include Laurie Baxter, whom he was beginning to like extremely. There was an air of romance about Laurie, a pleasant enthusiasm, excellent manners, and a rather delightful faculty of hero-worship. Mr. Morton himself, too, while possessing nothing even resembling a religion, was, like many other people, not altogether unattracted towards those who had, though he thought religiousness to be a sign of a slightly incompetent character; and he rather liked Laurie's Catholicism, such as it was. It must be rather pleasant, he considered (when he considered it at all), to believe "all that," as he would have said.

So this new phase of Laurie's interested him far more than he would have allowed, so soon as he became aware that it was not merely superficial; and, indeed, Laurie's constant return to the subject, as well as his air of enthusiastic conviction, soon convinced him that this was so.

Further, after a week or two, he became aware that the young man's work was suffering; and he heard from his lips the expression of certain views that seemed to the elder man extremely unhealthy.

For example, on a Friday evening, not much afterwards, as Laurie was putting his books together, Mr. Morton asked him where he was going to spend the week-end.

"Stopping in town," said the boy briefly.

"Oh! I'm going to my brother's cottage. Care to come? Afraid there's no Catholic church near."

Laurie smiled.

"That wouldn't deter me," he said. "I've made up my mind-"


"Oh, it doesn't matter," said Laurie. "No-thanks awfully, but I've got to stop in town."

"Lady Laura's again?"


"Same old game?"

Laurie sat down.

"Look here," he said, "I know you don't mean anything; but I wish you'd understand."


The boy's face flushed with sudden nervous enthusiasm.

"Do you understand," he said, "that this is just everything to me? Do you know it's beginning to seem to me just the only thing that matters? I'm quite aware that you think it all the most utter bunkum; but, you see, I know it's true. And the whole thing is just like heaven opening.... Look here ... I didn't tell you half the other day. The fact is, that I was just as much in love with this girl as-as a man could be. She died; and now-"

"Look here, what were you up to last Sunday?"

Laurie quieted a little.

"You wouldn't understand," he said.

"Have you done any more of that business?"

"What business?"

"Well-thinking you saw her-All right, seeing her, if you like."

The boy shook his head.

"No. Vincent's away in Ireland. We've been going on other lines."

"Tell me; I swear I won't laugh."

"All right; I don't care if you do.... Well, automatic handwriting."

"What's that?"

Laurie hesitated.

"Well, I go into trance, you see, and-"

"Good Lord, what next?"

"And then this girl writes through my hand," said Laurie deliberately, "when I'm unconscious. See?"

"I see you're a damned young fool," said Morton seriously.

"But if it's all rot, as you think?"

"Of course it's all rot! Do you think I believe for one instant-" He broke off. "And so's a nervous breakdown all rot, isn't it, and D.T.? They aren't real snakes, you know."

Laurie smiled in a superior manner.

"And you're getting yourself absorbed in all this-"

Laurie looked at him with a sudden flash of fanaticism.

"I tell you," he said, "that it's all the world to me. And so would it be to you, if-"

"Oh, Lord! don't become Salvation Army.... Seen Cathcart yet?"

"No. I haven't the least wish to see Cathcart."

Morton rose, put his pens in the drawer, locked it; slid half a dozen papers into a black tin box, locked that too, and went towards his coat and hat, all in silence.

As he went out he turned on the threshold.

"When's that man coming back from Ireland?" he said.

"Who? Vincent? Oh! another month yet. We're going to have another try when he comes."

"Try? What at?"

"Materialization," said Laurie. "That's to say-"

"I don't want to know what the foul thing means."

He still paused, looking hard at the boy. Then he sniffed.

"A young fool," he said. "I repeat it.... Lock up when you come.... Good night."

* * *

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