Vera, the Medium/Part 3
THE departure of the District-Attorney and Miss Coates, left Vera free to consider how serious, if she carried out her threat, the consequences might be. But of this chance she did not avail herself. Instead, with nervous zeal she began to prepare for her masquerade. It was as though her promise to Winthrop to abandon her old friends had filled her with remorse, and that she now, by an extravagance of loyalty, was endeavoring to make amends.
At nine o'clock, with the Vances, she arrived at the house of Mr. Hallowell. Already, to the same place, a wagon had carried the cabinet, a parlor organ, and a dozen of those camp-chairs that are associated with house weddings and funerals; and while, in the library Vance and Mannie arranged these to their liking, on the third floor, Vera, with Mrs. Vance, waited for that moment to arrive when Vance considered her entrance would be the most effective.
This entrance was to be made through the doorway that opened from the hall on the second story into the library. To the right of this door, in an angle of two walls, was the cabinet, and on the left, the first of the camp-chairs. These had been placed in a semicircle that stretched across the room,and ended at the parlor organ. The door from Mr. Hallowell's bedroom opened directly upon the semicircle, in the centre of which Vance had placed the invalid's arm-chair.
Vance, in his manner, as professional and undisturbed as a photographer focussing his camera and arranging his screens was explaining to Judge Gaylor the setting of his stage. The judge was an unwilling audience. Unlike the showman, for him, the occasion held only terrors. He was driven by misgivings, swept by sudden panics. He scowled at the cabinet, intruding upon the privacy of the room where for years, without the aid of accessories, by his brains alone, he had brought Mr. Hallowell almost to the point of abject submission to his wishes. He turned upon Vance with bitter self-disgust.
"So, I've got down as low as this, have I?" he demanded.
Vance heard him, undisturbed.
"I must ask you," he said, briskly, "to help me keep the people just as I seat them. They will be in this half-circle facing the cabinet and holding hands. Those we know are against us," he explained, "will have one of my friends. Professor Strombergk, or Mrs. Marsh, or my wife, on each side of them. If there should be any attempt to rush the cabinet—we must get there first. I will be outside the cabinet working the rappings, the floating music, and the astral bodies." At the sight of the expression these words brought to the face of Gaylor, Vance permitted himself the shadow of a smile. "I can take care of myself," he went on, "but, remember—Vera must not be caught outside the cabinet! When the lights go up, she must be found with the ropes still tied."
Gaylor turned from him with an exclamation of disgust.
"Pah!" he muttered; "It's a hell of a business!"
Vance continued unmoved. "And, another thing," he said, "about these lights; this switch throws them all off, doesn't it?" He pressed a button on the left of the door, and the electric lights in the walls and under a green shade on the library table faded and disappeared, leaving the room, save for the light from the hall, in darkness.
"That's the way we want it," said the showman.
From the hall Mannie appeared between the curtains that hung across the doorway. "What are you doing with the lights?" he demanded. "You want to break my neck? All our people are downstairs," he announced.
Vance turned on the lights. At the same moment Rainey came from the bedroom into the library. It was evident that to sustain his courage he had been drinking. He made no effort to greet those in the room, but glared sullenly at the cabinet and the row of chairs.
"Well," exclaimed Vance cheerfully, "if our folks are all here, we're all right."
Glancing behind him, Mannie took Vance by the sleeve, and led him to the centre of the room.
"No, we're not all right," said the boy "that Miss Coates has brought a friend with her. She says Hallowell told her she could bring a friend. She says this young fellow is her friend. I think he's a!"
"What nonsense," exclaimed Gaylor in alarm. "No detective would force his way into this house."
"She says," continued Mannie, disregarding Gaylor, and still addressing Vance, "'he's a seeker after the Truth.' I'll bet," declared the boy, violently, "he's a seeker after the truth!"
Garrett came hastily and noiselessly into the room. He nodded toward Mannie.
"Has he told you?" he asked.
"Yes," Gaylor answered, "who is he?"
"The reporter who was here this morning," Garrett returned. "The one who threatened——"
"That'll do," commanded Gaylor. In the face of this new complication he again became himself. Suavely and politely he turned to Vance: "Will you and your friend join Miss Vera," he asked, "and tell her that we begin in a few minutes?"
For the first time, aggressively and offensively Rainey broke his silence.
"No, we won't begin in a few minutes," he announced, "not by a damned sight!"
The explosion was so unexpected that, for an instant, while the eyes of all were fixed in astonishment upon the speaker, there was complete silence. Gaylor, still suave, still polite, looked toward Vance, and motioned him to the door.
"Will you kindly do as I ask?" he said. With Mannie at his side, Vance walked quickly from the room. Once in the hall, the boy laid a detaining hand upon the arm of the older man.
"If you'll take my advice, which you won't," he said, "we'll all cut and run now, while we got the chance!"
In the library, Gaylor turned savagely upon his fellow-conspirator.
"Well!" he demanded.
Rainey frowned at him sulkily. "I wash my hands of the whole thing!" he cried.
Gaylor dropped his voice to a whisper. "What are you afraid of now?" he demanded. "If you're not afraid of a District-Attorney, why are you afraid of a reporter?"
"I'm not afraid of anybody," returned Rainey, thickly. "But, I don't mean to be a party to no murder!" He paused, shaking his head portentously. "That man in there," he whispered, nodding toward the bedroom, "is in no condition to go through this. After that shock this morning, and last night—it'll kill him. His heart's rotten, I tell you, rotten!"
Garrett snarled contemptuously.
"How do you know?" he demanded.
"How do I know?" returned Rainey, fiercely; "I was four years in a medical college, when you were in jail, you——"
"Stop that!" cried Gaylor. Glancing fearfully toward the open door, he interposed between them.
"Don't take my advice, then," cried Rainey. "Go on! Kill him! An' he won't sign your will. Only, don't say I didn't tell you."
"Have you told him?" demanded Gaylor.
"Yes," Rainey answered, stoutly. "Told him if he didn't stop, he wouldn't live till morning."
"Are we forcing him to do this?" demanded Gaylor. "No! he's forcing it on us. My God!" he exclaimed, "do you think I want this farce? You say, yourself, you told him it would kill him, and he will go on with it. Then why do you blame us? Can we help ourselves?"
The butler had distinguished the sounds of footsteps in the hall. He fell hastily to rearranging the camp-chairs.
"Hush!" he warned. "Look out!" Gaylor and Rainey had but time to move apart, when Winthrop entered. He regarded the three men with a smile of understanding.
"I beg pardon," he exclaimed, "I am interrupting?"
Gaylor greeted him with exaggerated heartiness.
"Ah, it is Mr. Winthrop!" he cried. "Have you come to help us find out the truth this evening?"
"I certainly hope not!" said Winthrop brusquely. "I know the truth about too many people already." He turned to Garrett who, unobtrusively, was endeavoring to make his escape.
"I want to see Miss Vera," he said.
"Miss Vera," interposed Gaylor, "I'm afraid that's not possible. She especially asked not to be disturbed before the séance. I'm sorry."
Winthrop's manner became suspiciously polite.
"Yes?" he enquired. "Well, nevertheless, I think I'll ask her. Tell Miss Vera, please," he said to Garrett, "that Mr. Winthrop would like a word with her, here," with significance he added, "in private."
In offended dignity. Judge Gaylor moved toward the door. "Dr. Rainey," he said, stiffly, "will you please inform Mr. Hallowell that his guests are now here, and that I have gone to bring them upstairs."
"Yes, but you won't bring them upstairs, please," said Winthrop, "until you hear from me."
Gaylor flushed with anger and for a moment appeared upon the point of mutiny. Then, as though refusing to consider himself responsible for the manners of the younger man, he shrugged his shoulders and left the room.
With even less of consideration than he had shown to Judge Gaylor, Winthrop turned upon Rainey.
"How's your patient?" he asked, shortly. Rainey was sufficiently influenced by the liquor he had taken to dare to resent Winthrop's peremptory tone. His own in reply was designedly offensive.
"My patient?" he enquired.
"Mr. Hallowell," snapped Winthrop, "he's sick, isn't he?"
"Oh, I don't know," returned the Doctor. "You don't know?" demanded Winthrop. "Well, I know. I know if he goes through this thing to-night, he'll have another collapse. I saw one this morning. Why don't you forbid it? You're his medical adviser, aren't you?"
Rainey remained sullenly silent.
"Answer me!" insisted the District-Attorney. "You are, aren't you?"
"I am," at last declared Rainey.
"Well, then," commanded Winthrop, "tell him to stop this. Tell him I advise it."
Through his glasses Rainey blinked violently at the District-Attorney, and laughed.
"I didn't know," he said, "that you were a medical man."
Winthrop looked at the Doctor so steadily, and for so long a time, that the eyes of the young man sought the floor and the ceiling; and his sneer changed to an expression of discomfort.
"I am not," said Winthrop. "I am the District-Attorney of New York." His tones were cold, precise; they fell upon the superheated brain of Dr. Rainey like drops from an icicle. "When I took over that office," continued Winthrop, "I found a complaint against two medical students, a failure to report the death of an old man in a private sanitarium." Winthrop lowered his eyes, and became deeply absorbed in the toe of his boot. "I haven't looked into the papers, yet," he said.
Rainey, swaying slightly, jerked open the door of the bedroom. "I'll tell him," he panted, thickly. "I'll tell him to do as you say."
"Thank you, I wish you would," said Winthrop.
At the same moment, from the hall, Garrett announced, "Mrs. Vance, sir." And Mabel Vance, tremulous and frightened, entered the room.
Winthrop approached her eagerly.
"Ah! Mrs. Vance," he exclaimed, "can I see Miss Vera?"
Embarrassed and unhappy, Mrs. Vance moved restlessly from foot to foot, and shook her head.
"Please, Mr. District-Attorney," she begged, "I'm afraid not. This afternoon upset her so. And she's so nervous and queer, that the Professor thinks she shouldn't see nobody."
Winthrop nodded comprehendingly.
"The Professor?" he commented. His voice was considerate, conciliatory. "Now, Mrs. Vance," he said, "I've known Miss Vera ever since she was a little girl, known her longer than you have, and, I'm her friend, and you're her friend, and——"
"I am," protested Mabel Vance, tearfully, "indeed I am!"
"I know you are," Winthrop interrupted hastily. "You've been more than a friend to her, you've been a sister, mother, and you don't want any trouble to come to her, do you?"
"I don't," cried the woman "Oh!" she exclaimed miserably, "I told them there'd be trouble!"
Winthrop laughed reassuringly.
"Well, there won't be any trouble," he declared, "if I can help it. And if you want to help her, help me. Persuade her to let me talk to her. Don't mind what the Professor says."
"I will," declared Mrs. Vance with determination, "I will." She started eagerly toward the hall, and then paused and returned. Her hands were clasped; her round, baby eyes, wet with tears, were fixed upon Winthrop appealingly.
"Oh, please," she pleaded, "you're not going to hurt him, are you? Paul, my husband," she explained; "he's been such a good husband to me."
Winthrop laughed uneasily.
"Why, that'll be all right," he protested.
"He doesn't mean any harm," insisted Mrs. Vance, "he's on the level, true, he is!"
"Why, of course, of course," Winthrop assented.
Unsatisfied, Mrs. Vance burst into tears. "It's this spirit business that makes the trouble!" she cried. "I tell them to cut it out. Now, the mind reading at the theatre," she sobbed, "there's no harm in that, is there? And there's twice the money in it. But this ghost raising—" she raised her eyes, appealingly, as though begging to be contradicted, "it's sure to get him into trouble, isn't it?"
Winthrop shook his head, and smiled.
"It may," he said. Mrs. Vance broke into a fresh outburst of tears. "I knew it," she cried, "I knew it." Winthrop placed his hand upon her arm and turned her in the direction of the door.
"Don't worry," he said, soothingly. "Go send Miss Vera here. And—" he called after her, "don't worry."
As Mabel departed upon his errand, Rainey reëntered from the bedroom. He carefully closed the door and halted with his hand upon the knob, and shook his head.
"It's no use," he said, "he will go on with it. It's not my fault," he whined, "I told him it would kill him. I couldn't make it any stronger than that, could I?"
Rainey was not looking at Winthrop, but, as though fearful of interruption, toward the door. His eyes were harassed, furtive, filled with miserable indecision. Many times before Winthrop had seen men in such a state. He knew that for the sufferer it foretold a physical break-down, or, that he would seek relief in full confession. To give the man confidence, he abandoned his attitude of suspicion.
"That certainly would be strong enough for me," he said, cheerfully. "Did you tell him what I advised?"
"Yes, yes," muttered Rainey, impatiently. "He said you were invited here to give advice to his niece, not to him." For the first time his eyes met those of Winthrop's boldly. The District-Attorney recognized that the man had taken his fears by the throat, and had arrived at his decision.
"See here," exclaimed Rainey; "could I give you some information?"
"I'm sure you could," returned Winthrop briskly. "Give it to me now."
But Rainey, glancing toward the door, shrank back. Winthrop, following the direction of his eyes, saw Vera. Impatiently he waved Rainey away.
"At the office, to-morrow morning," he commanded.
With a sigh of relief at the reprieve, Rainey slipped back into the bedroom.
Winthrop had persuaded himself that in seeking to speak with Vera, he was making only a natural choice between preventing the girl from perpetrating a fraud, or, later, for that fraud, holding her to account. But when she actually stood before him, he recognized how absurdly he had deceived himself. At the mere physical sight of her there came to him a swift relief, a thrill of peace and deep content; and with delighted certainty he knew that what Vera might do or might not do, concerned him not at all, that for him, all that counted, was the girl herself. With something of this showing in his face, he came eagerly toward her.
"Vera!" he exclaimed. In the word there was delight, wonder, tenderness; but, if the girl recognized this she concealed her knowledge. Instead, her eyes looked into his, frankly; her manner was that of open friendliness.
"Mabel tells me you want to talk to me, she said evenly, "but, I don't want you to. I have something I want to say to you. I could have written it, but this—" For an instant the girl paused, with her lips pressed together. When she spoke, her voice carried the firmness and finality of one delivering a verdict, "but, this," she repeated, "is the last time you shall hear from me, or see me again."
Winthrop gave an exclamation of impatience, of indignation.
"No," returned the girl, "it is quite final. Maybe you will not want to see me, but——"
Winthrop again sharply interrupted her. His voice was filled with reproach. "Vera!" he protested.
"Well," said the girl more gently, "I'm glad to think you do, but this is the last, and before I go, I——"
"Go!" demanded Winthrop, roughly. "Where?"
"Before I go," continued the girl, "I want to tell you how much you have helped me—I want to thank you——"
"You haven't let me thank you," broke in Winthrop, "and, now, you pretend this is our last meeting. It absurd!"
"It is our last meeting,'" replied the girl. Of the two, for the moment, she was the older, the more contained.
"On the contrary," contradicted the man. He spoke sharply, in a tone he tried to make as determined as her own. "Our next meeting will be in ten minutes—at my sister's. I have told her about this afternoon, and about you; and she wants very much to meet you. She has sent her car for you. It's waiting in front of the house. Now," he commanded, masterfully, "you come with me, and get in it, and leave all this—" he gave an angry, contemptuous wave of the hand toward the cabinet, "behind you, as," he added earnestly, "you promised me you would."
As though closing from sight the possibility he suggested, the girl shut her eyes quickly, and then opened them again to meet his.
"I can't leave these things behind me," she said quietly. "I told you so this afternoon. I know, that for a moment, you made me think I could, and I did promise. I didn't need to promise. It's what I've prayed for. Then, you saw what happened, you saw I was right. Within five minutes that woman came——"
"That woman had a motive," protested Winthrop.
"That woman," continued the girl patiently, "or some other woman. What does it matter? In five minutes, or five days, some one would have told." She leaned toward him anxiously. "I'm not complaining," she said; "it's my own fault. It's the life I've chosen." She hesitated, and then as though determined to carry out a programme she had already laid down for herself, continued rapidly, "and what I want to tell you, is, that what's best in that life I owe to you."
"Vera!" cried the man sharply.
"Listen!" said the girl. Her eyes were alight, eager. She spoke frankly, proudly, without embarrassment, without fear of being misconstrued, as a man might speak to a man.
"I'd be ungrateful, I'd be a coward," said the girl, "if I went away and didn't tell you. For ten years I've been counting on you. I made you a sort of standard. I said, as long as he keeps to his ideals, I'm going to keep to mine. Maybe you think my ideals have not been very high, but anyway you've made it easy for me. Because I'm in this business, because I'm good looking enough, certain men—" the voice of the girl grew hard and cool; "have done me the honor to insult me, and it was knowing you, and that there are others like you, that helped me not to care." The girl paused. She raised her eyes to his frankly. The look in them was one of pride in him, of loyalty, of affection. "And now, since I've met you," she went on, "I find you're just as I imagined you'd be, just as I'd hoped you'd be." She reached out her hand warningly, appealingly. "And I don't want you to change, to let down, to grow discouraged. You can't tell how many more people are counting on you." She hesitated, and, as though at last conscious of her own boldness, flushed deprecatingly, like one asking pardon. "You men in high places," she stammered, "you're like light-houses showing the way. You don't know how many people you are helping. You can't see them. You can't tell how many boats are following your light, but if your light goes out, they are wrecked." She gave a sigh of relief. "That's what I wanted to tell you," she said; "and, so thank you." She held out her hand. "And, good-by."
Winthrop's answer was to clasp her hand quickly in both of his, and draw her toward him.
"Vera," he begged, "come with me now!"
The girl withdrew her hand and stepped away from him, frowning. "No," she said, "no, you do not want to understand. I have my work to do to-night."
Winthrop gave an exclamation of anger.
"You don't mean to tell me," he cried, "that you're going on with this?"
"Yes," she said. And then in sudden alarm cried: "But not if you're here! I'll fail if you're here. Promise me, you will not be here."
"Indeed," cried the man indignantly, "I will not! But I'll be downstairs when you need me. And," he added, warningly, "you'll need me."
"No," said the girl. "No matter what happens, I tell you between us, this is the end."
"Then," begged the man, "if this is the end, for God's sake, Vera, as my last request, do not do it!"
The girl shook her head. "No," she repeated firmly. "I've tried to get away from it, and each time they've forced me back. Now, I'll go on with it. I've promised Paul, and the others. And you heard me promise that woman."
"But you didn't mean that!" protested the man. "She insulted you, you were angry. You're angry now, piqued——"
"Mr. Winthrop," interrupted the girl, "to-day you told me I was not playing the game. You told the truth. When you said this was a mean business, you were right. But," for the first time since she had spoken her tones were shaken, uncertain; "I've been driven out of every other business." She waited until her voice was again under control, and then said slowly, definitely, "and, to-night, I am going to show Mr. Hallowell, the spirit of his sister."
In the eyes of Winthrop the look of pain, of disappointment, of reproach, was so keen, that the girl turned her own away.
"No," said the man gently, "you will not do that."
"You can stop my doing it to-night," returned the girl, "but at some other time, at some other place, I will do it."
"You, yourself will stop it," said Winthrop. "You are too honest, too fine, to act such a lie. Why not be yourself?" he begged, "why not disappoint these other people who do not know you? Why disappoint the man who knows you best, who trusts you, who believes in you——"
"You are the very one," interrupted the the girl, "who doesn't know me. I am not fine, I am not honest. I am a charlatan and a cheat; I am all that woman called me. And that is why you can't know me. That's why, I told you, if you did, you would be sorry."
"I am not sorry," said Winthrop.
"You will be," returned the girl, "before the night is over."
"On the contrary," answered the man quietly, "I shall wait here to congratulate you—on your failure."
"I shall not fail," said the girl. Avoiding his eyes, she turned from him, and, for a moment stood gazing before her miserably. Her lips were trembling, her eyes moist with rising tears. Then she faced him, her head raised defiantly.
"I have been hounded out of every decent way of living," she protested, hysterically. "I can make thousands of dollars to-night," she cried, "out of this one."
Winthrop looked straight into her eyes. His own were pleading, full of tenderness and pity; so eloquent with meaning that those of the girl's fell before them.
"That is no answer," said the man. "You know it's not. I tell you—you will fail."
From the hall Judge Gaylor entered noisily. Instinctively the man and girl moved nearer together; and, upon the intruder Winthrop turned angrily.
"Well?" he demanded, sharply.
"I thought you had finished your talk," protested the Judge. "Mr. Hallowell is anxious to begin."
Winthrop turned and looked at Vera steadily. For an instant the eyes of the girl faltered, and then she returned his glance with one as resolute as his own. As though accepting her verdict as final, Winthrop walked quickly to the door. "I shall be downstairs," he said, "when this is over, let me know."
Gaylor struggled to conceal his surprise and satisfaction. "You won't be here for the séance?" he exclaimed.
"Certainly not!" cried Winthrop. "I—" He broke off suddenly. Without again looking toward Vera, or trying to hide his displeasure, he left the room.
Gaylor turned to the girl. He was smiling with relief.
"Excellent!" he muttered. "Excellent! What was he saying to you, "he asked, eagerly, "as I came in—that you would fail?"
The girl moved past him to the door. "Yes," she answered dully.
"But you will not!" cried the man. "We're all counting on you, you know. 'Destroy the old will. Sign the new will,'" he quoted. He came close to her and whispered: "That means thousands of dollars to you and Vance," he urged.
The girl turned and regarded him with unhappy, angry eyes.
"You need not be frightened," she answered. For the man before her and for herself, her voice was bitter with contempt and self-accusation. "Mr. Winthrop is mistaken. He does not know me," she said miserably. "I shall not fail."
For a moment, after she had left him, Gaylor stood motionless, his eyes filled with concern, and then, with a shrug, as though accepting either good or evil fortune, he called from the bedroom Mr. Hallowell, and from the floor below the guests of Hallowell, and of Vance.
As Hallowell, supported by Rainey, sank into the invalid's chair in the centre of the semicircle, Gaylor made his final appeal.
"Stephen," he begged; "are you sure you're feeling strong enough? Won't some other night——"
The old man interrupted him, querulously.
"No, now! I want it over," he commanded. "Who knows," he complained, "how soon it may be before——"
The sight of Mannie entering the room with Vance caused him to interrupt himself abruptly. He greeted the showman with a curt nod.
"And who is this?" he demanded.
Mannie, to whom a living millionaire was much more of a disturbing spectacle than the ghost of Alexander the Great, retreated hastily behind Vance.
"He is only my assistant," Vance explained. "He furnishes the music." He pushed Mannie toward the organ.
"Music!" growled Hallowell. "Must there be music?"
"It is indispensable," protested Vance. "Music, sir, is one of the strongest psychic influences. It——"
"Nonsense!" cried Hallowell. "Tricks," he muttered; "tricks!"
Vance shrugged his shoulders, and smiled in deprecation. "I am sorry to find you in a sceptical mood, Mr. Hallowell," he murmured reprovingly. "It will hardly help to produce good results. Allow me," he begged, "to present two true believers."
With a wave of the hand he beckoned forward a stout, gray-haired woman with bulging, near-sighted eyes that rolled meaninglessly behind heavy gold spectacles.
"Mrs. Marsh, of Lynn, Massachusetts," proclaimed Vance, "of whom you have heard. Mrs. Marsh," he added, "is probably the first medium in America. The results she has obtained are quite wonderful. She alone foretold the San Francisco earthquake, and the run on the Long Acre Square Bank."
"I am glad to know you," said Mr. Hallowell. "Pardon my not rising."
The old lady courtesied obsequiously.
"Oh, certainly, Mr. Hallowell," she protested. "Mr. Hallowell," she went on, rolling the name delightedly on her tongue, "I need not tell you how greatly we spiritualists rejoice over your joining the ranks of the believers."
Hallowell nodded. He was not altogether unimpressed. "Thanks," he commented dryly. "But I am not quite there yet, madam."
"We hope," said Vance, sententiously, "to convince Mr. Hallowell to-night."
"And I am sure, Air. Hallowell," cried the old lady, "if any one can do it, little Miss Vera can. Hers is a wonderful gift, sir, a wonderful gift!"
"I am glad to hear you say so," returned Hallowell.
He nodded to her in dismissal, and turned to the next visitor. "And this gentleman?" he asked.
"Professor Strombergk," announced Vance, "the distinguished writer on psychic and occult subjects, editor of The World Beyond.
A tall, full-bearded German, in a too-short frock-coat, bowed awkwardly. Upon him, as upon Mannie had fallen the spell of the Hallowell fortune. He, who chatted familiarly with departed popes and emperors, who daily was in communication with Goethe, Cæsar and Epictetus, thrilled with embarrassment before the man who had made millions from a coupling-pin.
"And Helen!" Mr. Hallowell cried, as Miss Coates followed the Professor. "That is all, is it not?" he asked.
Miss Coates moved aside to disclose the person of the reporter from the Republic, Homer Lee.
"I have taken you at your word, uncle," she said; "and have brought a friend with me." In some trepidation she added:
"He is Mr. Lee, a reporter from the Republic."
"A reporter!" exclaimed Mr. Hallowell. Disturbed, and yet amused at the audacity of his niece, he shook his head reprovingly. "I don't think I meant reporters," he remonstrated.
"You said in your note," returned his niece, "that as I had so much at stake, I could bring any one I p1eased, and the less he believed in spiritualism, the better. Mr. Lee," she added dryly, "believes even less than I do."
"Then it will be all the more of a triumph, if we convince him," declared Hallowell. "Understand, young man," he proclaimed loudly, "I am not a spiritualist. I am merely conducting an investigation. I want the truth. If you, or my niece, detect any fraud to-night, I want to know it." Including in his speech the others in the room, he glared suspiciously in turn at each. "Keep your eyes open," he ordered, "you will be serving me quite as much as you will Miss Coates."
Miss Coates and Lee thanked him, and recognizing themselves as the opposition, and, in the minority, withdrew for consultation into a corner of the bay-window.
Vance approached Mr. Hallowell.
"If you are ready," he said, "we will examine the cabinet. Shall I wheel it over here, or will you look at it where it is?"
"If it is to be in that corner during the séance," declared Mr. Hallowell, "I'll look at it where it is."
As he struggled from his chair, he turned to Mrs. Marsh, and nodded his head knowingly. "You see, Mrs. Marsh," he said, "I am taking no chances."
"That is quite right, Mr. Hallowell," purred the old lady. "If there be any doubt in your mind, you must get rid of it, or we will have no results."
With a dramatic gesture, Vance swept aside from the opening in the cabinet the black velvet curtain. "It's a simple affair," he said indifferently. "As you see, it's open at the top and bottom. The medium sits inside on that chair, bound hand and foot."
In turn, Mr. Hallowell, Mrs. Marsh, Gaylor, Rainey, Professor Strombergk entered the cabinet. With their knuckles they beat upon its sides. They moved it to and fro. They dropped to their knees, and with their fingers tugged at the carpet upon which it stood.
Under cover of their questions, in the corner of the bay-window, Miss Coates whispered to Lee:
"Don't look now," she warned, "but later, you will see on the left of that door the switch that throws on the lights. When I am sure she is outside the cabinet, when she has told him not to give the money to me, I'll cry, 'now!' and whichever one of us is seated nearest to the switch will turn on all the lights. I think," Miss Coates added, with, in her voice, a thrill of triumph not altogether free from a touch of vindictiveness, "when my uncle sees the girl caught in the middle of the room, disguised as his sister—we will have cured him."
"It may be," said the man.
The possibility of success as Miss Coates pointed it out did not appear to stir in him any great delight. He glanced unwillingly over his shoulder. "I see the switch," he said.
Leaning on the arm of Gaylor, Mr. Hallowell returned from the cabinet to his chair. What he had seen apparently strengthened his faith and, in like degree, inspired him to greater enthusiasm.
"Well," he exclaimed, "I see no trap-doors, or false bottoms about that! If they can project a spirit from that sentry box, it will be a miracle. For whom are we waiting?" he asked, impatiently. "Where is Winthrop?"
Judge Gaylor explained that Winthrop preferred to wait downstairs, and that he had said he would remain there until the séance was finished.
"Afraid of compromising his position," commented the old man. "I'm sorry. I'd like to have him here." He motioned Gaylor to bend nearer. In a voice that trembled with eagerness and excitement, he whispered, "Henry, I have a feeling that we are going to witness a remarkable phenomenon."
Gaylor's countenance grew preternaturally grave. He nodded heavily.
"I have the same feeling, Stephen," he returned.
Vance raised his hand to command silence.
"Every one," he called, "except the committee, who are to bind and tie the medium, will take the place I give him, and remain in it. Mr. Day will please acquaint Miss Vera and Mrs. Vance with the fact that we are ready."
Up to this point Vance had appeared only as a stage manager. He had been concerned with his groupings, his lights; in assigning to his confederates the parts they were to play. Now that the curtain was to rise, as an actor puts on a wig and grease paint, Vance assumed a certain voice and manner. On the stage the critics would have called him a convincing actor. He made his audience believe what he believed. He knew the eloquence of a pause, the value of a surprised, unintelligible exclamation. One moment he was as professionally solemn as a "funeral director"; the next, his voice, his whole frame would shake with excitement, in an outburst of fanatic fervor. As it pleased him he could play Hamlet, tenderly shocked at the sight of his dead father, or, Macbeth, retreating in horror before the ghost of Banquo. For the moment his manner was that of the undertaker.
"Now, Mr. Hallowell," he said hoarsely, "please to name those you wish to serve on the committee."
Mr. Hallowell waved his arm to include every one in the room.
"Everybody will serve on the committee," he declared. "Everything is to be open and above-board. The whole city is welcome on the committee. I want this to be above suspicion."
"That is my wish, also, sir," said Vance stiffly. "But a committee of more than three is unwieldy. Suppose you name two gentlemen, and I one? Or," he shrugged his shoulders, "you can name all three."
After a moment of consideration Mr. Hallowell pointed at Lee. "I choose Mr.—that young man," he announced, "and Judge Gaylor."
"I would much rather not, Stephen," Judge Gaylor whispered.
"I know, Henry," answered the other; "but I ask it of you. It will give me confidence." He turned to Vance. "You select some one," he commanded.
With a bow, Vance designated the tall German.
"Will Professor Strombergk be acceptable?" he asked.
Mr. Hallowell nodded.
"Then, the three gentlemen chosen will please come to the cabinet."
Vance, his manner now that of a master of ceremonies, assigned to each person the seat he or she was to occupy. Miss Coates with satisfaction noted that only Mrs. Vance separated Lee from the electric switch.
"I must ask you," said Vance, "to keep the seats I have assigned to you. With us to-night are both favorable and unfavorable influences. And what I have tried to do in placing you, is to obtain the best psychic results." He moved to the door and looked into the hall, then turned, and with uplifted arm silently demanded attention.
"Miss Vera," he announced.
Followed closely, like respectful courtiers, by Mannie and Mrs. Vance, Vera appeared in the doorway, walked a few feet into the room, and stood motionless. As though already in a trance, she moved slowly, without volition, like a somnambulist. Her head was held high, but her eyes were dull and unseeing. Her arms hung limply. She wore an evening gown of soft black stuff, that clung to her like a lace shawl, and which left her throat and arms bare. In spite of the clash of interests, of antagonism, of mutual distrust, there was no one present to whom the sight of the young girl did not bring an uneasy thrill. The nature of the thing she proposed to do, contrasted with the loveliness of her face, which seemed to mock at the possibility of deceit; something in her wrapt, distant gaze, in the dignity of her uplifted head, in her air of complete detachment from her surroundings, caused even the most sceptical to question if she might not possess the powder she claimed, to feel for a moment the approach of the supernatural.
The voices of the committee consulting together, dropped suddenly to a whisper; the others were instantly silent.
In his arms Mannie carried silken scarfs, cords and ropes. In each hand he held a teacup. One contained flour, the other shot. Vance took these from him, and Mannie hurriedly slipped into his chair in front of the organ.
"Gentlemen," explained Vance, "you will use these ropes and scarfs to tie the medium. Also, as a further precaution against the least suspicion of fraud we will subject her to the most severe test known. In one hand she will hold this flour; the other will be filled with shot. This will make it impossible for her to tamper with the ropes."
He gave the two cups to Gaylor, and turned to Vera.
"Are you ready?" he asked. After a pause, the girl slightly inclined her head. Lee, with one of the scarfs in his hand, approached her diffidently. He looked unhappily at the slight, girlish figure, at the fair white arms. In his embarrassment he appealed to Vance.
"How would you suggest—" he asked.
Vance, apparently shocked, hastily drew away. "That would be most irregular," he protested.
Apologetically, Lee turned to the girl.
"Would you mind putting your arms behind you?" he asked. He laced the scarf around her arms, and drew it tightly to her wrists.
"Tell me if I hurt you," he murmured; but the girl made no answer. To what was going forward she appeared as unmindful as though she were an artist's manikin.
"Will you take these, now?" asked Gaylor; and into her open palms he poured the flour and shot. "And, now," continued Lee, "will you go into the cabinet?" As she seated herself, he knelt in front of her and bound her ankles. From behind her Strombergk deftly wound the ropes about her body and through the rungs and back of the chair.
"Would you mind seeing if you can withdraw your arms?" Lee asked. The girl raised her shoulders, struggled to free her hands, and tried to rise. But the efforts were futile.
"Are the gentlemen satisfied?" demanded Vance.
The three men, who had shown but little heart in the work, and who were now red and embarrassed, hastily answered in the affirmative.
"If you are satisfied the ropes are securely fastened," Vance continued, "you will take your seats." Professor Strombergk, as he moved to his chair, announced in devout, solemn tones, "Nothing but spirit hands can move those ropes now."
From the organ rose softly the prelude to a Moody and Sankey hymn, and, in keeping with the music, the voice of Vance sank to a low tone.
"We will now," he said, "establish the magnetic chain. Each person will take with his right hand the left wrist of the person on his or her right." He paused while this order was being carried to effect.
"Before I turn out the lights" he continued, "I wish to say a last word to any sceptic who may be present. I warn him that any attempt to lay violent hands upon the apparition, or spirit, may cost the medium her life. From the cabinet the medium projects the spirit into the circle. An attack upon the spirit, is an attack upon the medium. There are three or four well authenticated cases where the disembodied spirit was cut off from the cabinet, and the medium died."
He drew the velvet curtains across the cabinet, and shut Vera from view. "Are you ready, Mr. Hallowell?" he asked. Mr. Hallowell, his eyes staring, his lips parted, nodded his head. The music grew louder. Vance switched off the lights.
For some minutes, except for the creaking of the pedals of the organ and the low throb of the music, there was no sound. Then, from his position at the open door, the voice of Vance commanded sternly: "No whispering, please. The medium is susceptible to the least sound." There was another longer pause, until in hushed expectant tones Vance spoke again. "The air is very heavily charged with electricity to-night," he said. "You Mrs. Marsh, should feel that?"
"I do, Professor," murmured the medium; "I do. We shall have some wonderful results!"
Vance agreed with her, solemnly. "I feel influences all about me," he murmured.
There came suddenly from the cabinet three sharp raps. These were instantly answered by other quick rappings upon the library table. "They are beginning!" chanted the voice of Vance. The music of the organ ceased. It was at once followed by the notes of a guitar that seemed to float in space, the strings vibrating, not as though touched by human hands, but in fitful, meaningless chords like those of an Æolian harp.
"That is Kiowa, your control, Mrs. Marsh," announced Vance eagerly. "Do you desire to speak to him?"
"Not to-night," Mrs. Marsh answered. She raised her voice. "Not to-night, Kiowa," she repeated. "Thank you for coming. Good night."
In deep, guttural accents, a man's voice came from the ceiling. "Good night," it called. With a final, ringing wail, the music of the guitar suddenly ceased.
Again rose the swelling low tones of the organ. Above it came the quick pattering of footsteps.
The voice of Rainey, filled with alarm and surprise, cried, "Some one touched me!"
"Are you sure your hands are held?" demanded Vance reprovingly.
"Yes," panted Rainey; "both of them. But something put its hand on my forehead. It was cold."
In an excited whisper, a voice in the circle cried, "Look, look!" and before the eyes of all, a star rose in the darkness. For a moment it wavered over the cabinet and then fluttered swiftly across the room and remained stationary above the head of the German professor.
"There is your star, Professor," cried Vance. "When the Professor is in the circle," he announced proudly, "that star always appears."
He was interrupted by a startled exclamation from Lee.
"Something touched my face," explained the young man, apologetically, "and spoke to me."
The music sank to a murmur, and the room became alive with swift, rushing sounds, and soft whisperings.
The voice of Mrs. Marsh, low and eager, could be heard appealing to an invisible presence.
"The results are marvellous," chanted Vance; "marvellous! The medium is showing wonderful power. If any one desires to ask a question, he should do so now. The conditions will never be better." He paused expectantly. "Mr. Hallowell," he prompted, "is it your wish to communicate with any one in the spirit world?"
There was a long pause, and then the voice of Mr. Hallowell, harsh and shaken answered, "Yes."
"With whom?" demanded Vance.
There was again another longer pause, and then, above the confusion of soft whisperings, the voice of the old man rose in sharp staccato.
"My sister; Catherine Coates." His tone hardened, became obdurate, final. "But, I must see her, and hear her speak!"
Not for an instant did Vance hesitate. In tense, sepulchral tones, he demanded of the darkness, "Is the spirit of Catherine Coates present?"
The whisperings and murmurs ceased. The silence of the room was broken sharply by three quick raps. "Yes," chanted Vance; "she is present."
The voice of Hallowell protested fiercely, "I won't have that! I want to see her!"
In the tone of an incantation, Vance spoke again: "Will the spirit show herself to her brother?" The raps came quickly, firmly.
"She answers she will appear before you."
There was a moment that seemed to stretch interminably, and then, the eyes of all, straining in the darkness, saw against the black velvet curtain a splash of white. As it moved toward them it took shape, and by the faint light that came through the curtains from the hall, they distinguished the bent figure of a woman, apparently an old woman, with a white cap and white hair, and across her shoulders a white kerchief.
Above the sobbing of the organ, the voice of Mr. Hallowell rang out in terror. "Who is that!" he demanded. He spoke as though he dreaded the answer. He threw himself forward in his chair, peering into the darkness.
"Is that you, Kate?" he whispered. His voice was both incredulous and pleading. The answer came in feeble, trembling tones. "Yes."
The voice of Hallowell shook with eagerness.
"Do you know me, your brother, Stephen?"
With a cry the old man fell back, groping blindly. He found Gaylor's arm and clutched it with both hands.
"My God! It's Kate!" he gasped. "I tell you, Henry, it is she!"
The voice of Vance, deep and hollow like a bell, sounded a note of warning. "Speak quickly," he commanded. "Her time on earth is brief." Mr. Hallowell's hold upon the arm of his friend relaxed. Fearfully and slowly, he bent forward.
"Kate!" he pleaded; "I must ask you a question. No one else can tell me." As though gathering courage, he paused, and, with a frightened sigh again began. "I am an old man," he murmured; "a sick man. I will be joining you very soon. What am I to do with my money? I have made great plans to give it to the poor. Or, must I give it, as I have given it in my will, to Helen? Perhaps, I did not act fairly to you and Helen. You know what I mean. She would be rich, but, then the poor would be that much the poorer." The confidence of the speaker was increasing, as though to a living being, he argued and pleaded: "And I want to do some good before I go. What shall I do? Tell me."
There was a pause that lasted so long that those who had held their breath to listen, again breathed deeply. When the answer came, it was strangely deprecatory, uncertain, unassured.
"You," stammered the voice, "you must have courage to do what you know to be just!"
For a brief moment, as though surprised, Mr. Hallowell apparently considered this; and then gave an exclamation of disappointment and distress.
"But I don't know," he protested; "that is why I called on you. I want to go into the next world," he pleaded, "with clean hands!"
This time the answer came more firmly. But, it was still without feeling, without conviction.
"You cannot bribe your way into the next world," intoned the voice. "If you pity the poor, you must help the poor, not that you may cheat your way into heaven, but that they may suffer less. Search your conscience. Have the courage of your conscience."
"I don't want to consult my conscience," cried the old man. "I want you to tell me." He paused, hesitating. Eager to press his question, his awe of the apparition still constrained him.
"What do you mean, Kate?" he begged. "Am I to give the money where it will do the most good—to the Hallowell Institute, or, am I to give it to Helen? Which am I to do?"
There was another long silence, and then the voice stammered: "If—if you have wronged me, or my daughter, or the poor, you must make restitution."
The hand of the old man was heard to fall heavily upon the arm of his chair. His voice rose unhappily.
"That is no answer, Kate!" he cried. "Did you come from the dead to preach to me! Tell me—what am I to do—leave my money to Helen, or to the Institute?"
The cry of the old man vibrated in the air. No voice rose to answer it. "Kate!" he entreated. Still there was silence. "Speak to me!" he commanded. The silence became eloquent with momentous possibilities. So long did it endure, that the pain of the suspense was actual. The voice of Rainey choked and hoarse with fear, broke it with an exclamation that held the sound of an oath. He muttered thickly, "What in the name of——"
He was hushed by a swift chorus of hisses. The voice of Hallowell was again uplifted.
"Why won't she answer me?" he begged hysterically, of Vance. "Can't you—can't the medium make her speak?"
During the last few moments the music from the organ had come brokenly. The hands upon the keys moved unsteadily, drunkenly. Now they halted altogether, and in the middle of a chord the music sank and died. Upon the now absolute silence the voice of Vance, when he spoke, sounded strangely unfamiliar. It had lost the priest-like intonation. Its confidence had departed. It showed bewilderment and fear.
"I—I don't understand," stammered the showman. "Ask her again. Put your question differently."
Carefully, slowly, giving each word its value, Mr. Hollowell raised his voice in entreaty.
"Kate," he cried, "I have made a new will, leaving the money to the poor. The old will gives it to Helen. Shall I sign the new will or not? Shall I give the money to Helen, or the Institute? Answer me! Yes, or no."
Before the eyes of all, the apparition, as though retreating to the cabinet, swayed backward, then staggered forward. There was a sob, human, heart-broken; a cry, thrilling with distress; a tumult of weeping, fierce and uncontrollable.
They saw the figure tear away the white kerchief and cap, and trample them upon the floor. They saw the figure hold itself erect. From it, the voice of Vera cried aloud, in despair.
"I can't! I can't!" she sobbed. "It's a lie! I am not your sister! Turn on the lights," the girl cried. "Turn on the lights!"
There was a crash of upturned chairs, the sound of men struggling, and the room was swept with light. In the doorway Winthrop was holding apart Vance and the reporter.
In the centre of the room stood Vera, her head bent in shame, her body shaken and trembling, her hair streaming to her waist.
As though to punish herself, by putting a climax to her humiliation, she held out her arms to Helen Coates. "You see," she cried. "I am a cheat. I am a fraud!" She knelt suddenly in front of Mr. Hallowell. "Forgive me!" she sobbed; "forgive me!"
With a cry of angry protest, Winthrop ran to her, and lifted her to her feet. His eyes were filled with pity. But in the eyes of Mr. Hallowell there was no promise of pardon. With sudden strength he struggled to his feet and stood swaying, challenging those before him. His face was white with anger, his jaw closed against mercy.
"You've lied to me!" he cried. "You've tried to rob me!" He swept the room with his eyes. With a flash of intuition, he saw the trap they had laid for him. "All of you!" he screamed. "It's a plot!" He shook his fist at the weeping girl. "And you!" he shouted, hysterically, "the law shall punish you!"
Winthrop drew the girl to him and put his arm about her.
"I'll do the punishing here," he said.
With a glad, welcoming cry, the old man turned to him, appealingly, wildly.
"Yes, you!" he shouted. "You punish them! She plotted to get my money."
The girl at Winthrop's side shivered, and shrank from him. He drew her back roughly and held her close. The sobs that shook her tore at his heart; the touch of the sinking, trembling body in his arms filled him with fierce, jubilant thoughts of keeping the girl there always, of giving battle for her, of sheltering her against the world. In what she had done he saw only a sacrifice. In her he beheld only a penitent; who was self-accused, self-convicted.
He heard the voice of the old man screaming vindictively: "She plotted to get my money!"
Winthrop turned upon him, savagely.
"How did you plot to get it?" he retorted fiercely. "You know, and I know. I know how your lawyer, your doctor, your servant plotted to get it!" His voice rose and rang with indignation. "You all plotted, and you all schemed—and to what end—what was the result"—he held before them the fainting figure of the girl—"that this poor child could prove she was honest!"
With his arms still about her, and her hands clinging to him, he moved with her quickly to the door. When they had reached the silence of the hall, he took her hands in his, and looked into her eyes. "Now," he commanded, "you shall come to my sister's!"
The waiting car carried them swiftly up the avenue. Their way lay through the park, and the warm, mid-summer air was heavy with the odor of plants and shrubs. Above them the trees drooped deep with leaves. Vera, crouched in a corner, had not spoken. Her eyes were hidden in her hands. But when they had entered the silent reaches of the park she lowered them and the face she lifted to Winthrop was pale and wet with tears. The man thought never before had he seen it more lovely or more lovable. Vera shook her head dumbly and looked up at him with a troubled smile.
"I told you," she murmured remorsefully, "you'd be sorry."
"We don't know that yet," said Winthrop gently, "we'll have all the rest of our lives to find that out."
Startled, the girl drew back. In her face was wonder, amazement, a dawning happiness.
Without speaking, Winthrop looked at her, entreatingly, pitifully, beseeching her with his eyes.
Slowly the girl bent forward and, as he threw out his arms, with a little sigh of rest and content she crept into them and pressed her face to his.