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Title: Victor Ollnee's Discipline
Author: Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                        VICTOR OLLNEE'S DISCIPLINE

                            BY HAMLIN GARLAND

              AUTHOR OF "THE CAPTAIN OF THE GRAY-HOUSE TROOP"
                        "MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS" ETC.


    HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
    NEW YORK AND LONDON
    MCMXI



CONTENTS


I. VICTOR READS THE FATEFUL STAR

II. VICTOR INTERROGATES HIS MOTHER

III. VICTOR MAKES A TEST

IV. VICTOR THROWS DOWN THE ALTAR

V. VICTOR RECEIVES A WARNING

VI. VICTOR IS CHECKED IN HIS FLIGHT

VII. THE RETURN OF THE SPIRIT

VIII. VICTOR REPAIRS HIS MOTHER'S ALTAR

IX. THE LAW'S DELAY

X. A VISIT TO HAZEL GROVE

XI. LOVE'S TRANSLATION

XII. A MOONLIGHT CALL AND A VISION

XIII. VICTOR TESTS HIS THEORY

XIV. THE ORDEAL

XV. THE RING

XVI. CONCLUSION



VICTOR OLLNEE'S DISCIPLINE



I

VICTOR READS THE FATEFUL STAR


Saturday had been a strenuous day for the baseball team of Winona
University, and Victor Ollnee, its redoubtable catcher, slept late.
Breakfast at the Beta Kappa Fraternity House on Sunday started without
him, and Gilbert Frenson, who never played ball or tennis, and Arnold
Macey, who was too effeminate to swing a bat, divided the Sunday morning
_Star_ between them.

"See here, Gil," called Macey, holding up an illustrated page, "do you
suppose this woman is any relation to Vic?"

Frenson took the paper and glanced at it casually. It contained a
full-page lurid article, printed in two colors, with the picture of a
tall, serpentine, heavy-eyed, yet beautiful woman, whose long arms
(ending in claws) reached for the heart of a sleeping man. "What is it
all about?" asked Frenson, as his eyes roamed over the text.

"It seems to be an attack on a medium named Ollnee who pretends to be
able to bring the dead to life. According to this article, she's the
limit as a fraud. You don't suppose--Ollnee is an unusual name--"

"Oh, not so very. I suppose it's another way of spelling Olney. I don't
see any reason to connect old Vic with any such woman as that."

"No, only he's always been kind of secretive about his folks. You'll
admit that. Why, we don't even know where he came from! Nobody does,
unless you do."

Frensen dipped into the article. "Wow! this _is_ a hot one! Lucile has a
case for libel all right--unless the reporter happens to be telling the
truth."

"Hello, Vic!" he shouted, as a tall, broad-shouldered, but rather lean
young fellow entered the room. "Vic, you are discovered!"

"What's the excitement?" asked the newcomer.

"Here's an article in the Sunday paper you should see. It's all about a
woman namesake of yours, a medium named Lucile Ollnee. The name is
spelled exactly like yours. Say, old man, I didn't know you were the son
of an 'infamous faker.' Why didn't you let us know." His tone was
comic.

Young Ollnee took the paper quietly, but, as he read, a look of
bewilderment came upon his face.

"How about it, Vic?" repeated Macey. "You seem to be hard hit. Is she an
aunt or a sister?"

Rising abruptly, Victor left the room, taking the paper with him.

Macey uttered a word of astonishment, but Frensen, after a pause, said,
soberly, "There's something doing here, Sissy. He didn't act a bit
funny; but it's up to us to keep quiet till we know just where we stand.
If that woman _is_ related to Vic he's going to be fighting mad. I guess
I'd better go up and see how he's taking it. He certainly did seem
jolted." He turned to utter a warning. "Don't say anything to the other
fellows till I come back."

Macey promised, and Frenson went up the stairs and into the little study
which he and Victor shared in common. The windows were open and the
bird-songs and the fragrance of a glorious May morning flooded the room
with joy, but in the midst of its radiance young Ollnee sat, bent above
the fateful printed page.

As Frenson entered he raised his head. "Have you read this thing,
Frens?" he asked, tremulously.

"Part of it."

"Frens, Lucy Ollnee is my mother. This article is full of lies, but it's
based on facts. I'd like to kill the man that wrote it," he added,
savagely.

"Let me look at it again," said Frenson.

Victor handed the paper to him and sat in silence while Frenson went
over the article with studious care. It was an exceedingly able and
bitter presentation of the opposition side. It left no excuse, no
palliation for a career such as that of Lucile Ollnee.

"She is fraudulent from beginning to end," the writer passionately
declared. "From her heart outward she is as vile, as remorseless, as
mysterious as a vampire. No one knows from what foul nest she sprang.
She battens upon the sick, the world-weary, the sorrowing. Her
hokus-pokus is so simple that it would deceive no one but those who are
blinded by their own tears. She has just one human trait. She is said to
be educating a son at an Eastern university on the profits of her vile
trade. It is said that she is keeping him in ignorance of her way of
life."

Frenson looked up at his friend. "Vic, what do you know of this
business?"

"Almost nothing. I don't know very much of even my mother's relations.
The first that I can remember is our home in La Crescent. My father's
name was Paul Ollnee, but I can't remember him. He died before I was
three years old. We left La Crescent when I was about eight and went to
the city. I can't remember very much previous to that time, but after we
moved to the city I know my mother set up her 'ghost-room' again."

"Ghost-room?"

"Yes, that's what I called it. I can't remember when there was not a
'ghost-room' in our house. As far back as when I was five years old we
had it, and I was just getting old enough to wonder about it when we
moved to the city."

"What kind of a den was this ghost-room?"

"It looked like any other bright and pretty room, but I never got more
than a glimpse of it, for I was afraid of it. There was nice paper on
the wall, I remember, and a desk with books, and there were some tall
tin horns standing in the corner. Oh yes, and always an old walnut
table. There's something queer about that. I don't understand why my
mother should have taken that table down to the city with her, but she
did. It was just an old, battered-up walnut stand, and yet she seemed to
think the world of it. She put it in the center of her room in the city
just as she used to have it in our old home. Oh, how I hated that room!
There was something uncanny about it. There was always a string of
strange men and women going into it with my mother, and I was always
sent away to play when they came. Oh, Gil"--his voice broke--"she is a
medium, but she's not the awful creature they make her out."

"Of course not. We all know how these things go."

"You see, I went away to boarding-school when I was ten. This paper
says I was sent away to keep me clear of the business that went on at
home. I'm not sure but that is true, for I've seen very little of my
mother's home life since."

"Didn't you visit her during vacations?"

"No, she always came to see me, and we took trips here and there. We'd
go East, or to Colorado somewhere. Oh, we've had such splendid times
together, Gil. She brought me presents and sent me money--" He looked
out of the window for a few moments before he could go on. "And now--The
other fellows will see that article, of course."

"Yes, the whole town will be reading it in an hour. However, they may
not connect you with it."

"Oh yes, they will, and they'll believe every word of it, and they'll
understand that I am Lucy Ollnee's son. This finishes me, Gil. Everybody
will think I _knew_ how my mother earned her money, and they'll despise
me for taking it." He rose in an agony of shame. "I might as well be at
the bottom of the lake."

"Don't take it so hard, old man. You're a big favorite here," said
Frenson, with intent to offer consolation. "The work you've done on the
team will go a long ways toward carrying you through this thing. Brace
up; all is not lost."

The stricken youth was not listening. "Just think, Gil, she's been doing
all this for me! I knew she claimed to have messages, but I didn't know
that I was living on money earned in that way. You see, we own some
houses in La Crescent, and I just took it for granted that our living
came from them." He was white with pain now. "This ends my career here.
I've got to get out, and do it quick. I'll be the laughing stock of the
whole town by noon."

Frenson, deeply sympathetic, did his best to minimize the effect of the
disclosure, but with Victor's corroboration of the reporter's charges,
he was forced to admit that Mrs. Ollnee was either an imposter or a
woman of unsound mind. Little by little he drew from the stricken youth
other interesting details.

"I remember having a fight with a city boy by the name of Barker," said
Victor, "because he yelled at me 'sonova medium' till I stopped his
mouth with my fist. It seems to me as if it were the very next day that
my mother took me to Mirror Lake and put me in a boarding-school. That
fight must have influenced her. Perhaps up to that moment our neighbors
had let us alone. I can understand now why she always visited me and why
she never offered to take me to the city."

He did not say that this very aloofness had made of her, to him, a
serene and lofty figure, but so it was. She had come to him out of the
unknown distance, a mysterious queen of the fairies, with something very
sad and very sweet in her face and something very appealing in her
voice. There was nothing commonplace, nothing associated with toil or
worry in his memory of her. Her broad, full brow, her deep-blue eyes,
and her frail little body put her apart from other women. As he dwelt
now on her dignity, her loving care, his heart grew strong with
resolution. "Gilbert," he called, suddenly, "I'm going down there and
defend her from those beasts."

Frenson was not surprised. "I reckon that's your little stunt," he
retorted, student-fashion, but he was very much in earnest,
nevertheless. "I'm wondering what old Boyden will say."

Victor believed in Professor Boyden and honored him, but at the moment
the thought of facing him was painful. Boyden was one of those who
tested the human soul with the electric bell, the clock, and the
spymograph. Delusions were among his hobbies. Hysteria was a great word
with him. Man lived among appearances. Personality was not a unit, but
an aggregate, liable to disassociation, and the hysterical girl was
capable of deceiving the very elect. To him, mediumship was merely the
sign of immorality or epilepsy.

A part of this disrupting philosophy had entered Victor's head, and as
he slowly and minutely re-read that cruel newspaper analysis of his
sweet and gentle mother he was startled, but a little comforted by the
thought that she might be the victim of her subconscious self, "She
can't mean to cheat. Of that I am certain. But she needs me just the
same. I'm going to earn her living and mine in some honest way."

Two or three of his most intimate friends came up after breakfast and
started in to chaff, but, being far past the stage of evasion, Victor
frankly confessed his relationship to the medium and hotly defended her,
ending by mournfully, declaring his intention of leaving school at once
and forever.

Thereupon, his visitors also became very serious, perceiving the tumult
of doubt and despair into which he had been thrown, and one by one they
fell into awkward silence and slipped away, leaving him alone with
Frenson, who had been giving the most careful thought to the whole
situation.

"Of course the fellow who wrote this article had his own private grouch.
Any one can see that. And your friends are not going to condemn your
mother on what he says. But all the same, you're wound up pretty tight,
Vic; there's no two ways about that. According to your own statement she
does claim to hear voices, and she does claim to give messages from the
dead. Now, I'm not saying all this is impossible, but you know as well
as I do that Boyden and his kind say 'Nitsky' to the whole business."

"I don't care what she's done," retorted Victor; "she has stood by me
like a brick all these years, and now it's up to me to do something for
her when she's in trouble."

Frenson admitted that this was a human and righteous resolution on the
part of his chum and offered to help in any possible way.

Victor, too full of grief and despair to think clearly, went about his
packing with swollen throat. There was keen pain in the thought of
abandoning this bright room, of discarding all his trophies, books, and
pictures, but this he did, putting nothing into his trunk but his
clothing and a few photographs of his dearest girl friends. "What's the
use?" he said to Frenson. "It's me to the spade or the ice-tongs, now. I
won't need these things any more. It's battle in the arena of trade for
Vic from this time on."

Frenson looked around at the little library. "Well, I'll hold them
together for a while. Maybe you'll be able to come back and graduate,
after all."

"Never! Don't you see I can't take another cent of my mother's money now
that I know how it's earned?"

Frenson listened unexcitedly. "Well, now, suppose these voices should
turn out to be real? Suppose these messages have been from the dead?"

"It wouldn't make any difference."

"Oh yes, it would. At least it would to me. Scientific men have been
against a whole lot of things in the past that turned out to be true.
Natural selection, for instance, and X-rays and the wireless telephone."

"I see your drift, Gil. You want to be a comfort to me, but I've been
digging down into my memory, and I know now that my mother has been
trained into these habits, these delusions, for over twenty years. It
won't be an easy thing to get her out of them. She is as much deceived
as the rest. I am sure of that."

"Well, why don't you experiment with her? Make a test," suggested
Frenson.

"Would you experiment with your own mother?" asked Victor.

"I'd make a case out of my grandmother if as much hinged on her as
swings on this question of your mother's honesty. You can't blink these
charges, Vic, they'll have to be met if she remains in the city."

Victor sat in silence for a few moments, then broke out again. "Gil, I
begin to understand a hundred things that have always seemed queer to
me. She has kept me away from her because she _knew_ I would not
sanction her way of earning money. Why, I haven't slept in her house but
once since I was ten years old, and that was just before I entered here.
I hated where she lived; it was a ratty little hole down on the south
side, and the people with her were sloppy Sals. I refused to stay a
second night. I can see it all now. She was living there in that way to
save money for me, to keep me here. She wanted me to have just as good
a chance as any of the rest of you. This room, the clothes I have on, my
trinkets, everything came from her, and now there's no telling what may
happen to her. That article threatens all kinds of persecution. I ought
to be there this minute. I must take the very next train."

"I guess you're right there, old man. It's likely to be a pretty
exciting day for her. This article is apt to bring all kinds of trouble
to her as well as to you."

The news that Victor Ollnee was the son of a notorious medium ran
rapidly among his classmates, and while they honored him and prized his
skill on the team, they felt a certain resentment toward him. Some of
them thought he had not been quite honest with them, and a violent
controversy was thundering in the dining-room as Frenson re-entered it
at one o'clock. He took Victor's part, of course. "He can't help what
his mother's done," he argued. "He didn't choose his mother. Why slam
into Vic?"

"We aren't slamming into him. We're sorry for him," responded one of the
fellows.

"But we don't see how we can afford to have him in the frat," said
another. "He's a ripping good fellow and a wonder at the bat, but what
can we do? He should have told us about himself. The paper here says
that his mother makes a living by cheating people, by tapping spirit
wires and blowing horns and hearing voices in the dark: and all that
shady business is sure to reflect on us. He's a marked man which ever
way you look at it. You'll see everybody rubber-necking over our fence
to-day. They've begun it already."

"That's so," agreed a third man. "Why didn't he tell us the truth before
we voted him in here?"

Frenson explained. "He's been telling me all about it. He says he didn't
know his mother was earning her money that way."

"That's the part that looks queer to us," accused the opposition. "How
could he help knowing it? Looks to us as if he'd been covering it up all
along. This writer says the woman is a regular 'battle-ax.'"

The current was setting strongly against Victor, and Frenson, seeing
this, rose to go. "Well, there's no need of taking action. Poor Vic is
heart-broken over the whole business and is leaving on the three-o'clock
train."

This silenced even his critics. They began to remember what a jolly good
fellow he was, and how important his work in "the diamond" had been. It
was all very sad business, and they relented. "We don't want to be hard
on him," they said.

Frenson went up to Victor. "See here, Captain, you must be hungry. I'll
push a tray for you if you don't feel like going down among those
'Indians.' I'll have to be honest with you. They're all up in the air
down there and howling something fierce. I reckon I'd better hustle a
turkey-leg for you."

"I wish you would, Gil. I can't bear to see any one but you. If I can, I
want to sneak out and get to the train without catching anybody's eye.
All I need now is to kill that reporter. He has smashed my world, sure
thing, and I may find my poor little mother crushed under it, too." He
tore the paper into little bits, snarling through his set teeth. "The
fellows may believe what they please. I've done with them all. They're
all against me but you, I can see that."

Frenson got out his pipe and filled it while his partner raged up and
down the room. At last he said: "Now, Vickie, when you get calmed down
you just remember that you've a lot of mighty good friends up here.
There'll be dozens of them that this thing won't change a little bit.
They'll talk, but they'll be sympathetic."

Victor's wrath burned itself out at last, and he consented to Frenson's
bringing the tray of food. But he declined to go down-stairs till the
time came to start for the train.

As they were crossing the hall they met little Macey, who, with a
startled look in his eyes, intercepted Victor's passage. "I'm awfully
sorry, Vic," he began. "I wish I could do something for you."

There was something so sincere and moving in his tone that Victor's
stern mood melted. His voice grew husky as he tried to jocularly reply.
"Never mind, Sissy, I'm down, but I'm not out. Good-by till next time."

"That's the spirit," cheered Frenson from the doorway.

Out on the walk a couple of the older fraternity men stood talking in
low voices (of Victor, of course), and as they fell apart one of them
had the grace to say: "Don't stay away too long, Vic. We'll need you
Saturday."

Victor waved a hand. "I hope you'll be here when I return," he retorted;
but as he entered the hack (which Frenson had provided, as though he
were taking an invalid or a lady to the train) his composure utterly
gave way. "I could have stood it if the boys hadn't welched," he sobbed.
"But they did; you can't fool me. They threw me down hard."

"Some of them did," admitted Frenson. "But they were the hollow ones.
The solid chaps are all right yet."

"I can't blame them very much. If they believe all that stuff about my
mother and think that I knew it, why of course they're right in feeling
as they do."

At the train the loyal Frenson said, "Well now, Vic, if you need help
any time you let me know and I'll come galloping."

"That's real bold in you, Gil, and if I get where I can't see my way out
I'll shout."

And so they parted--Victor with a feeling that their companionship was
ended forever, Gilbert with a sense of having failed of his intent to
comfort and sustain.



II

VICTOR INTERROGATES HIS MOTHER


Once on the train, with the towers of the university building out of
sight, Victor's mind went forward toward the great city whereto he was
now hurrying in the spirit of one about to enter a tiger-haunted jungle.
Hitherto he had been unafraid of its tumult, for there his mother lived.
Her home, vague of outline as it was, offered refuge from the thunder
and the shouting. But now its shelter was worse than useless, for its
lintel was marked with a sign of shame and terror, and this the law and
the lawless knew equally well.

"How will she seem to me now," he asked himself. "What will she say to
me when we meet?"

On one point he was sternly resolved. "She must leave the city at once.
We will go West somewhere. I will earn our living now." And at the
moment earning a living seemed easy.

The close of a beautiful spring day was spreading over the town as he
made his way up the stairway into the unwonted silence of the
thoroughfare. The wind was from the east, clean and cool and sweet. As
he looked down at the river from the bridge and marked its water flowing
swiftly from the lake toward the splendid sunset sky he exulted over the
power of man, of science, to reverse the natural current of a stream.
"So must I change the whole course of my mother's life," he thought with
returning resolution. "It must be done. It can be done. It's all in the
will."

The hit-or-miss squalor of California Avenue filled him with renewed and
augmented disgust as he descended from the car at the corner and began
his search for his mother's apartment, which was the top story of a
shabby wooden building standing between two shops. The stairway reeked
with associations of poverty, a shifty poverty, and Victor's gorge rose
at it. The second flight, though cleaner, was musty with decaying wood,
and the doorway--on which a dim card was tacked--sadly needed paint. He
began to realize sharply the sacrifices which had enabled him to live in
the care-free comfort of his chapter-house, and his heart softened.

After knocking twice without obtaining a response he tried the knob. It
yielded and he went in. All was silent and dim. For an instant he
hesitated. "Perhaps I'm in the wrong pew after all," he thought; but as
he looked about him he recognized the ghost-room furniture of his
boyhood. On the wall was a familiar picture--the crayon portrait of a
black-whiskered man. The same old battered walnut table which he
remembered so well occupied one corner, and behind it three long tin
cones stood upright on their larger ends. He shivered with disgust at
them and turned to the lounge, over which, scattered as if by a gale of
wind, lay the leaves of the hated Sunday edition of the _Star_. All else
was neat and tidy, though threadbare with use. It was, indeed, very far
from being "the gilded den of vice" which the reporter had depicted.

Oppressed by the silence, Victor called out, "Mother, are you here?"

He thought he heard a voice, a husky whisper, say, "_Go to her_"; and, a
little surprised by this, he stepped to the door of the bedroom and
peered in. There, sitting in an arm-chair, half hid in the gloaming, sat
his mother with closed eyes and a gray-white face.

"Mother, are you sick?" he cried out, starting toward her.

Again the whisper in the air close to his ear commanded him: "_Stay
where you are. Do not touch her._"

"Mother, don't you know me? It is Victor."

The whisper answered: "_Your mother is resting. We are treating her. Be
patient; she will awaken soon._"

For a moment Victor's heart failed him, so impressive was this whisper,
issuing apparently from the empty air. Then a flood of rage swept over
him. This Voice was one of the tricks charged against her by the paper.
"Mother, stop that! I won't have it. Do you hear me? Stop it, I say!"

The sleeper stirred and her eyes opened, but no sign of recognition was
in them. Slowly her stiffened hands withdrew from the arms of her chair
and clasped themselves in her lap. Her cheeks, puffed and pallid, were
rigid and her eyes, turned upward and inward, gleamed coldly. The lids
were half-closed. She had a horribly unfamiliar, tortured look, and he
started toward her, calling upon her in a voice of anxiety. "Mother,
what is the matter? Don't you hear me?"

At last she opened her eyes and a thrill of relief ran through him as he
caught a gleam of recognition there. She lifted her hands feebly,
whispering, "My boy, my precious boy!"

Kneeling by her side, he waited for her consciousness to come back. Her
hands, so cold and nerveless, grew warmer, her lips smiled wearily, yet
with divine maternal tenderness, and at last she spoke. "My big,
splendid boy! I knew you would not desert me. I knew it; I knew it. I
prayed for you."

"I came by the very first train," he answered, "and I am here to defend
you."

A loud knocking at the door startled her and she clasped his hand
tightly as she whispered: "That is another of my enemies. All day they
have been coming. Send them away."

He put her hands down and rose tensely. "I'll smash their faces," he
hotly declared.

"Don't be rash, Victor, please."

He strode to the door and opened it. A dark, handsome young woman and a
grinning youth stood without. They were both a little dashed by Victor's
appearance as he queried, with scowling brow, "What do you want?"

The man replied, "We came to have a sitting."

Victor exploded. "Get out," he shouted. "If you come back here again
I'll throw you down the stairs." Thereupon he slammed the door in their
faces and returned to his mother.

"We've got to get away from here," he said as he came to her. "We can't
stay here another day."

"That must be as my guide, your grandfather, says," she replied.

"There's no use talking like that to me, mother. You've got to stop this
business. I won't have any more of it. It's shameful, and I won't have
it."

She answered, gently: "I'm under orders, Victor. I can do nothing in
opposition to The Voices."

He bent over her with knitted brow. "See here, mother, I want you to
understand that this medium business has got to be cut out. Look what it
has let you in for! I don't believe in your Voices, and you must--"

She stopped him. "My son, if you do not believe in The Voices you
cannot believe in me. They are real. If they were not, I should go mad.
They are in my ears all day long. My comfort is that they are not
imaginary. Others hear them, and that proves to me that they are not an
illusion. If you listen they will speak to you."

"I don't want them to speak to me. I want you to pack up--"

"Hark!" she commanded. "They are speaking now."

As he listened, the same measured whisper which he had heard upon
entering the house made itself distinctly heard, apparently in the air,
a little higher than his mother's head. "_Boy, trust in us!_"

Victor glanced at his mother's lips. He could not help it; base as it
seemed, he suspected her of ventriloquism. "Who are you?" he asked.

"_Your grandsire, Nelson Blodgett._"

This reply, apparently without his mother's agency, was uttered in so
plain a tone that Victor's hair rose. He opened and peered into a little
closet which stood behind his mother's chair. It was empty, and as he
came slowly back and stood looking down into her face a low, breathy
chuckle sounded in his ear.

"_A smart lad. Needs discipline._"

A flush of rage passed over him, leaving him cold. He studied his mother
in silence, convinced that she was cunningly playing upon his fears. As
he pondered she said, quietly: "I'm glad you came, Victor. You fill my
heart with joy; but you must not stay. I do not need you. You must go
back to your studies."

"That I cannot do."

"Oh, Victor, you must! I want you to graduate. Father insists on it."

"I tell you it is impossible. Do you suppose I'm going back there where
all the fellows are laughing at me? Why, they're talking of throwing me
out of the club! More than that, I can't take another cent of your
money. If I had known how you were earning your living I would never
have entered the university at all."

"Oh, my boy, do you doubt me? Do you believe what they say against me?"

This brought him face to face with the whole problem. "Of course I don't
believe that you cheat--purposely--but I do think you are abnormal. You
can't expect me to believe that a voice can come out of the air like
that. It's impossible! It's against all reason, and yet--"

At this moment another knock, a gentler signal, sounded at the door, and
the youth, relieved by the interruption, flared out at the unknown
intruder. "Go away," he shouted.

"No, no; these are friends," his mother asserted, and rose to let them
in.

Victor caught her by the arm. "What are you going to do?"

"Open the door. It is one of my dearest friends."

"You must not give a sitting. I won't have it."

The knock was repeated and she hurried away, leaving the boy confused,
angry, and helpless.

She returned, accompanied by two women. The first of them was a
diminutive, gray-haired lady, with a frank and smiling face, whose dress
proclaimed a prosperous and happy station in life. Her companion was a
tall young girl, whose spring suit, quiet in color and exquisitely
tailored, became her notably. The youth thought, "What a stylish girl!"
And the sight of her calmed him instantly.

"Victor," said his mother, and her tone was one of relief, "these are my
dearest friends, Mrs. Joyce and Leonora Wood, her niece."

Victor bowed without speaking, for the heart of battle was still in him.

Mrs. Joyce cried out: "What a fine, big fellow! I didn't expect such a
stalwart son."

"Please be seated," said Mrs. Ollnee. "My son has just arrived. He saw
that dreadful article in the paper and came to defend me."

"That was fine of you," exclaimed Mrs. Joyce to Victor. "That same
article brought us. I would have been here before only we don't take the
_Star_, and I did not see the article until about an hour ago."

Mrs. Ollnee took up her explanation. "But, Louise, Victor says he will
not go back to college."

Mrs. Joyce was quick to apprehend the situation. "I suppose that
outrageous article made it appear necessary for you to defend both your
mother and yourself," she said, searchingly.

Victor was not disposed to gloze matters in the least. "It made a fool
of me," he responded, bitterly. "It made it impossible for me to look my
friends in the face. How could I convince them that I was not sharing in
the profits of my mother's business? I told them I didn't know where my
allowance came from, but of course no one believed me. I know now, and I
despise the whole business. I've come down here to take my mother out of
it."

The three women looked at one another sympathetically. Mrs. Joyce, who
knew Mrs. Ollnee's history intimately, only smiled as she answered: "I
don't see that you need to feel ashamed of your mother's profession. A
medium is one of the most precious instruments in this world. She brings
solace to many a sorrowing heart. Why is her work less honorable than
singing, for example? Furthermore, no one is obliged to come to her. We
sit of our own choice, and if we are not pleased we can refuse to pay,
and we need not return. So you see it is a free contract, after all."

Her reasoning staggered Victor. He was confused also by her frank and
charming manner. He perceived that his problem was not so simple as he
had imagined. Hitherto, his life had been single-hearted, with nothing
more difficult to decide than a question of moral philosophy; but here,
now, he stood confronted by an entirely baffling entanglement of human
wills. This woman, so evidently of the higher world of wealth and
culture, accepted his mother's claims, and this profoundly impressed
him.

Mrs. Joyce continued. "Don't take this newspaper attack too seriously,
Mr. Ollnee. It was meant to be nasty, and it _is_ nasty; but it is not
fatal. It is a cloud that will soon blow over and leave you and your
mother unharmed."

"It will never blow over for me," he replied, passionately, "and you
must not include me in this thing. I've lived a long way from it thus
far, and I don't intend to mix up with this kind of hokus-pokus."

"Victor," called his mother, warningly.

He corrected himself. "Of course I don't accuse you of wilfully
deceiving anybody. I'm willing to grant that you _think_ these Voices
are real; but my teacher, Doctor Boyden, says that mediumship is only a
kind of hysteria--"

Mrs. Joyce laughed. "Yes, I've read Doctor Boyden's books. What does he
know about it? Did he ever study a wonderful psychic like your mother?
Has he candidly examined these phenomena? Never in his life! I know all
about that kind of investigator. He is basing his conclusions on
somebody's else's conjectures or prejudices."

Victor defended his master. "He has tried to experiment. He's offered
prizes for mediums to meet him, but they have refused. Not one would sit
with him."

"Why should they? Would you have your mother seek him out to convince
him? Why doesn't he come to her. There he sits in his chair, pretending
to say that these phenomena are impossible, whereas I know, from many
personal tests, that these voices are not merely real, but that they
come from my dear ones on the other side and that they sustain and
comfort me."

Victor was silenced, and his discomfiture was made the more complete by
the smiling gaze of the young girl, who was evidently enjoying his
perplexity. Nevertheless, though he did not continue the argument, he
held to his opinion that they were all victims of his mother's
unconscious necromancy.

Mrs. Joyce continued. "You say you know nothing about it. Why not find
out something about it? Here is your mother. Study her."

"Why don't we have a sitting now?" exclaimed Miss Wood. "It would be fun
to see his face when the horns began to dance about."

Mrs. Ollnee looked a little worried. "Not now, Leo, I'm too upset. It's
been a terrible day for me. I haven't eaten a thing."

Mrs. Joyce rose. "You poor dear! Let's go get something. Come this
instant. You'll go, Mr. Ollnee."

His first impulse was to refuse, but as he studied his mother's pale
face and thought of the good effect of the outside air he relented.
"Yes, I'll go," he replied, ungraciously.

Miss Wood came over to him and tried to soften his mood. "I know how you
feel about all this, and I know how brutal a scientific sharp can be. My
professors were all against it. Just the same, it's a wonderful old
world; a good deal more wonderful than some of our teachers admit."

He did not reply to this, but stood watching his mother as she put on
her hat and wrap. Her whole expression had changed. Her face had lighted
up and her delicacy of feature and small, graceful hands denoted to him
as never before the woman of natural refinement and intelligence. It was
hard to consider her at the moment the victim of a brain disorder, and
yet--

Mrs. Joyce led the way down the creaking stairs, and Victor, following
in sullen silence, was surprised and a little daunted to find a
luxurious automobile waiting for them. He rebelled at the curb. "You go
on without me," he said, harshly. "I'll stay here till you come back."

"Oh no," exclaimed Mrs. Joyce. "Please come with us. Your mother will
not be happy without you."

Miss Wood remarked, humorously, "Never refuse a dinner or a ride in a
motor-car; that's my motto."

His mother timidly lifted her face. "Victor, Mrs. Joyce is my most loyal
friend. I owe her more than you know. I _wish_ you would come."

He yielded with a sense of stepping down, but as he found himself seated
beside Miss Wood and whirring swiftly up the street his inflexible
attitude softened. "For this one night I will follow; after that I
lead," he promised himself.

The girl mocked him with subtle intonation. "I am glad of any mystery
and romance which remains in this old world, and I never quarrel with
fate. If any one is disposed to exchange an autocar ride for so
intangible a thing as a voice, I trade."

A little later she reverted to his problem. "What right have you to pass
judgment on your mother without examining her? I was just as skeptical
as you are when I met her first, but she _forced_ me to believe. I am
perfectly certain that she would upset Doctor Boyden. If he would come
down quietly and sit with her she'd convince even him. She is a very
dear little woman, and we all love her."

Mrs. Joyce leaned over and spoke in his ear. "It is only through devoted
beings like your mother that the bereaved are assured of life
everlasting. She doesn't _tell_ me that my son is living beyond the
veil; _she brings him to me_. I hear his voice and touch his hand."

To this sort of thing he was forced to listen during their course down
the shining avenue, and it made the whole city as unreal as a dream.
When they rolled up to the wide portals of a towering hotel a new
anxiety presented itself. "Suppose mother should be recognized as we
enter? Suppose they arrest her here."

A realization of his own poverty and youth and general helplessness came
over him with crushing effect as he trod the hall, which seemed very
vast and splendid in his eyes. He was subdued, too, by the thought that
he had not silver enough in his pocket to fee the girl who took their
wraps. His resolution to fight, to earn not only his own living but to
rescue his mother, became fainter each moment. "Can it be that yesterday
I was behind the bat?" he asked himself. "Surely I must be dreaming."

He perceived another side to his mother's character. She seemed quite at
ease amid all this splendor, and accepted whatever Mrs. Joyce did for
her as something quite definitely her due.

There was no indication of the Sabbath in the gorgeous dining-room, and
nothing to show that sorrow or poverty existed in the world; and seeing
his mother's face flushed with pleasure, the perplexed youth relented a
little further. "This one night she may have, but it must be the last of
such entertainment on such terms."

There was in him beneath all this antagonism a kind of dignity and manly
strength which pleased Mrs. Joyce. She was glad to see him lighten up,
and she exerted herself to that end. "There now," she said, looking
about the room. "Let's forget all of our troubles. Let us suppose that
all our friends 'on the other side' are at dinner also."

Victor sat in silence what time his mother decided whether she would
have asparagus soup or consommé. It was his first experience with that
degree of wealth which takes no thought of price, and glancing at the
figures on the bill of fare his hair rose. Never in his life had he
eaten a meal which cost as much as this one order of soup, and the fact
that his mother gaily ordered the best indicated to him how deeply
indebted she already was to her patroness. "There must be some very
definite need which she supplies," he conceded, "or Mrs. Joyce would not
so gladly pay her bills."

At the same time his respect and admiration for his mother returned. As
the dinner went on her cheeks glowed with faint color. Her years of
trouble seemed to slip away from her. She took on youthful grace and
charm, glancing often at her handsome son with eyes of maternal pride
and content. "It is so good to have you here," she silently expressed.
He had never seen this care-free side of her, and the gayer she grew the
more alien, in a sense, she became. She was instinctively the lady, of
that he was assured, and though she could not follow Miss Wood in all of
her flights of fancy and allusion, she plainly showed unusual powers of
appreciation.

The talk also brought out the extraordinary intimacy of the three women.
It appeared that Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Ollnee were inseparable, that she
often took his mother to the opera and to the theater, and as they
discussed various singers and actors, whose names alone he knew, his
sense of being suburban deepened. "Why does this vivid and cultured
woman seek my mother's society? For what reason does she lavish money
upon her? Is it because of her personal charm? No," he decided, "that
cannot be the reason." Beneath her cordial tone he thought he detected
the reserve of one who is being kind to a dependent. "She's being nice
to mother," he concluded, "because she thinks she's getting something
special from her. Mother is a freak, not a friend. She considers her a
kind of spiritual telephone."

Although Miss Wood devoted herself to the task of amusing him, and his
face lost some of its gravest lines, yet he could not be denoted a
careless youth, even when the wine came on. He was thinking too deeply
to be outwardly ready of retort. It was too sudden a change from the
pastoral air and quiet streets of Winona to be instantly assimilated. He
remained sullen.

His mother eyed him apprehensively but admiringly. "He looks like his
father," she whispered to Mrs. Joyce.

He would have been inhuman had he not responded to certain charms in
Miss Wood. She had a fine profile, he admitted, finer than that of any
girl he knew. Her eyes, too, were a little disturbing by reason of the
small wrinkles of laughter at the corners, but she irritated him. She
was perfectly sure of herself. Nothing that he did or failed to do
affected her in any other way apparently than to deepen her amusement.
Her manner seemed to say, "Wait a few days and see what a fool you'll
find yourself out to be. You're nothing but a great big country lad,
trying to be a philosopher, trying to live up to a rigid code of morals.
It's all a pose, a ludicrous attitude of boyish defiance."

She said nothing of this of course; on the contrary, she talked of
things in which he was interested, trying politely to meet him half way.
She was actually a year or two younger than he, but she gave off the air
of being five years older. She had explored immense tracts of human
life, or at least of social life, of which he had no knowledge, and this
came out in her casual references to New York and Paris. Her home was in
Los Angeles, but she was now staying with her aunt.

He lost his sullen reserve. The soup, the wine, the bird, and the maid
softened his stern mood. By the time the coffee came on he was talking
almost boyishly with his hostess and his face had lost its troubled
lines.

His perplexities came back as Mrs. Joyce passed two bills to the waiter
in payment for their dinner, and he watched from the corner of his eye
to see how much change came back. Two dollars! Eighteen dollars for four
dinners! "Great Scot!" he inwardly groaned. "It would take me a week to
earn our share of this meal!" And a returning sense of his mother's
subconscious iniquity reclad him with gloom.

The ride back to California Avenue was less festive, for Mrs. Joyce took
occasion to say: "My advice is this. Return to college and obtain your
degree. I will take care of your dear little mother."

"I can't do that," he said. "I've quit. There is no use talking about
that."

"You shouldn't take this newspaper attack too seriously," remarked Miss
Wood. "Reporters are always exposing mediums. It is quite habitual with
them, and besides, your mother has been through it before."

"Is that true?" he asked, with sharpened assault.

"Yes," Mrs. Ollnee admitted. "I've been attacked in this way twice."

"Since I have been grown up?"

"Yes; once since you went to Winona."

"I didn't know that. Why didn't you tell me?"

Mrs. Joyce interposed. "What was the use? You could have done nothing.
We who understand these matters make allowances for the reporter's
trade. He must earn a living some way."

As she said this Victor recalled the cynical close of the article.
"Probably the true-blue believer will condemn the detective and not the
culprit," the lines ran. "There are dupes so purblind, so infatuated
that nothing, not even the boldest chicanery can shake their faith;
nevertheless, a few will take this article for what it is, a full and
clear exposé of a shrewd and conscienceless trickster." And yet, as he
faced these intelligent women, Victor could not think of them as being
deceived by open chicanery, much less could he admit for a moment that
his mother was capable of resorting to it.

It was a dramatic and moving experience for him to go from this
cushioned, splendid chariot back to the shabby little apartment which
was the only home in the wide world for either his mother or himself. He
was filled with a kind of rage at her, at fate, and at himself, and no
sooner were they inside the door than he turned upon her with a note of
resentful resolution in his voice.

"Mother, how could you let me in for all of this? Why did you send me to
college, knowing that sooner or later exposure must come?"

"I trusted the voices," she replied, "just as I must continue to trust
them in the future."

"Now, mother," he rejoined with a certain foreboding grimness of
inflection, "we've got to get right down to brass tacks on that
business. I can't go on any longer in ignorance of who I am and what you
are. I want to know all about you and all about my father. Who was my
father? What was he? Did he believe in this thing?"

Her eyes fell. "No, not while he was on this life's plane. Indeed, it
was my 'work' that--that separated us. He hated it and was very harsh
about it. But the first thing he did after he passed on was to come back
and tell me that I was right after all. He asked me to forgive him."

"Is that his picture up there on the wall? What did he do for a living?"

"He was a really fine mind, Victor; one of those men who might have been
eminent had they gone out into the world. He was a student and a
thinker, but he was not ambitious. He was content to be the principal of
a village school and live quietly; and we were very happy till The
Voices began."

"Did he know you had The Voices when he married you?"

"Yes, I told him all about them, but he only laughed at me. I suppose he
thought it was just a fancy on my part. Anyhow, he did not take them
seriously, and during our courtship they gave me freedom. My guide said
I need not sit for a while and father guarded me from all the evil ones
on that side who are so ready to rush in and take possession of a
medium. For two years I had no touch of 'the power,' and I really
thought it had all gone away from me. Then you came and I was very ill,
and father, my control, returned to tell me that you would be a great
man. 'Hereafter,' he said, 'I will direct you in the education of your
son.' Why, Victor, he named you. He said you should be called Victor
because you would overcome all opposition."

"Well, just how did your separation come about?"

"When my control began to demand things from me your father accused me
of playing tricks and sternly forbade any more of it. I tried not to go
into trance. I fought 'the power' and this angered father. He came upon
me so strong that I could do nothing with him. I heard The Voices all
the time and your father thought me crazy. I had what seemed like
epileptic fits. I seemed to lose my identity--but I didn't; I knew all
that was going on. It seemed as if I went out of my body while others
entered it and used it to torment and perplex your father. Then he
became convinced that I was abnormal in some way and experimented with
me--all in a very skeptical spirit--and gradually he lost his regard for
me. I became only 'a case of hysteria' to him. I could see him change
from day to day. He grew colder and more critical and more aloof all the
time. This made me so ill that I was unable to keep my feet--I grew old
rapidly, and another younger and prettier woman, one of his teachers,
gained the love I had lost and at last he went away with her."

There was a little silence before Victor was able to ask, "Where did he
go?"

"He went to Denver, and I never saw him again. He died not long after."

"Then did you take to making a living out of the ghost-room?"

"After your father left I asked my guides why they permitted him to
leave me, and they said it was considered necessary to keep me in 'the
work.' 'You were too happy,' they said. 'You are too valuable an
instrument to live out your life simply as wife and mother. You are now
to be devoted to higher aims.' Since then whenever I have tried to get
out of 'the work' they have brought me back. Oh, you don't know what a
clutch they have on me. They know my income to a dollar. They let me
have just enough to live on and to educate you, but they won't let my
rich friends provide me with an income. I must do their will exactly or
they punish me."

As she enlarged upon this phase of her life Victor was appalled by it.
Her madness--and madness it seemed to him--was now a settled and
specific part of her life. "How do they punish you?" he asked, after a
pause.

"They do not hesitate to throw me into convulsions, or make me do things
that rob me of my friends. They bring disaster upon me whenever I try to
walk my own road. Every investment I make on my own judgment they
defeat. Did you ever plague an ant or a bug by putting something in its
way, checking its advance, no matter in which direction it went?"

He nodded. "Yes, I've done that as a boy."

"Well, that is exactly how they treat me. I've given up trying to do
anything in opposition to their wishes. I do the work that is laid out
for me." She sighed. "Yes, I've ceased to rebel. I am resigned. But,
Victor, you must not fail me. I shall be perfectly happy if only you
will be content to go with me and to grant at least that the work I am
doing is worth while. You're all I have now, and when I see you frowning
at me, so like your father, I am scared. That black look is on your face
this moment."

"You need not be afraid of me, mother," he replied, wearily; "but you
must not ask me to believe in your voices and all the rest of it. It's
too unnatural and too foolish. But you're my good little mother all the
same, and I'm not going to desert you. I'm going to stay right here and
help you fight it out."

She took his words to mean something sweet and filial and went to his
arms with happiness.

As she lifted her head from his shoulder he looked round the room and
said, "But, mother, this ghost-room has got to go."

"Oh, Victor, don't say that. I am ready to promise not to take money for
my work, but I can't promise anything further; and as for my ghost-room,
as you call it, it has so many associations with Paul and your
grandfather that I cannot think of giving it up. I dare not give it up."

"You must quit it," he repeated. "If you give another séance--for
money--I will leave you and I will never come back." And on his face was
the stubborn look of his father.



III

VICTOR MAKES A TEST


That night was a long and restless one for the mother, but the son, with
the healthy boy's power of forgetfulness, slept dreamlessly, waking only
when the morning light struck beneath his eyelids. For a moment the
thunder of the elevated trains in the alley puzzled him, and he rose
dazedly on his elbow expecting to catch Frenson at some practical joke,
but as his eyes took in the faded carpet, the cheap curtains, the
decrepit furniture, his brain cleared and his beleaguering worries came
back upon him like a swarm of vultures.

He recalled the terror of his mother's trance, the coming of her lovely
friends, the ride, the luxurious dinner, and, last of all, the
significant words with which they had parted.

In the light of the day his situation did not seem so complicated. "We
must leave this city and go out West somewhere--get shut of the whole
bunch. Father was right--this trance business is intolerable."

His natural vigor and decision returned to him. He rose with a bound,
calling to his mother with a realization of the fact that she had no
cook. "Who gets breakfast, you or I?"

She replied, with a little flutter of dismay in her voice, "I don't
believe there is a crumb of bread in the house."

"Never mind," he replied; "I'll go to the corner and negotiate a roll."

The neighborhood did not improve with daylight acquaintance, and on his
way back from the shop with a jug of cream and a paper bag in his hands
he dwelt again upon his motor-car ride to the Palace Hotel and reviewed
the eighteen-dollar meal they had eaten. He possessed sufficient sense
of humor to grin as he clutched his parcels. "If Miss Wood were to see
me now she'd experience a jolt."

His smile did not last long. "Mrs. Joyce knows all about us," he
admitted. "That's why she blew us to that feast. She was trying to
compensate mother for her empty cupboard, which was very nice of her."
Then his thought went deeper. He began to understand that it was to
provide him with a larger allowance that his mother had been living
alone and doing her own work. "Dear little mutter!" he said, and his
heart softened toward her. "She's been walking the tight-rope, all
right."

She was up and at work in the tiny kitchen as he came in. "I forgot to
get my supplies Saturday--and yesterday I was so upset--"

"Never mind," he replied, gaily. "The 'royal gorge' we had last night
makes breakfast supererogatory. I've attached some rolls and a bottle of
cream, and if you've any coffee and sugar we're fixed."

"I have sugar but no coffee. I drink--"

"Not on your life!" he cut in. "No burnt wheat for me!" And he tore down
the stairs like mad.

At the shop he found himself possessed of just seventeen cents, with
which he bought a half-pound of coffee.

"Now I can begin my conquest of the world as all the great men have
done--penniless. It's me for a stroll down-town, I reckon."

The table was neatly set when he returned, and his mother, proud of her
big and glowing boy, cheerily confronted him. "No matter how poor we
are," she said, "we can be happy." And with her faith renewed she
prepared the coffee for the cream.

The sun struck into the bare little dining-room with golden charm, but
these two souls, so alike yet so unlike, faced each other with returning
constraint. As they talked their antagonism of purpose again developed.

Victor outlined his plan of going West and starting anew. To this
suggestion his mother listened, then gently replied: "There are many
objections to that, Victor. First of all, I have no money."

"Can't we sell something?" She shook her head, and he, after looking
around, ruefully admitted that there was nothing to sell. "But your
house--" This gave him a thought. "Why don't we go back to La Crescent?
I'll work on a farm, in a grocery--anything rather than have you keep on
with this business. It's dangerous, and it isn't nice."

"Victor," she began, with more of self-assertion than she had hitherto
voiced, "you don't understand. My mediumship is not a business, it is a
sacred obligation. God has gifted me with the power of communicating
with those who have passed to a higher plane, and I must respect that
gift. I am in the hands of those wiser than either of us. To oppose them
would be self-destruction."

He listened with growing coldness and hardness. "That's all a delusion,"
he repeated. "Modern science has proved that mediumship is just plain
hysteria."

"We won't argue," she replied, and her tone was that of one hurt. "I
_know_, for I have had the personal experience. I am only a leaf in the
wind when this power sweeps over me. So long as I live I must remain the
instrument of these our supernal friends--it is my work in the world,
and I must execute it."

"What do you expect me to do?" he asked, almost brutally.

"I'd like you to go back to your studies--"

"That I will not do," he assured her in tones that expressed a final
decision.

"Well then--will you remain here with me?"

"Not with you carrying on the business which I hate."

"Why should you hate it? To Leo and Mrs. Joyce my mission is noble."

"I hate it because I think it's foolish, unnatural, and false. I don't
mean that you _consciously_ cheat, mother, but I am certain that in some
way it all comes down to that."

She opened her arms in a gesture of passionate appeal. "My son, these
Voices have educated you--they have helped me to feed and clothe you.
Now here I am, prove me, try me, convict me if you can. I yield myself
to your tests. I _know_ the spirit life is a reality. If I did not I
should perish with despair. Every day, almost all hours of the day,
these Voices whisper in my ears. The hands of those you call the dead
caress my cheek. They cheer and admonish me. They are as real to me as
you are. If you can silence them, do so. I put myself into your hands.
Do what you will in proof of my powers."

The boy was rapidly changing to the man. His mother's words beating upon
his brain aroused something in him which he had not hitherto
acknowledged. He thought deeply as he peered into her eyes, burning with
resolution.

"She is honest--but she is the victim of a fixed idea." He had heard
much of "the fixed idea." "I will try her, I will rid her of her
obsession." Aloud he said: "The important thing is our living. How am I
to pay my way? I haven't a cent. I paid out my last penny for this
coffee."

"I have a little money."

"I told you I wouldn't take another dollar of your money, and I won't,"
he replied, sharply. "That's settled. I must get clear and keep clear of
all this 'bunk.'"

"But suppose you find my powers real?" she asked, trembling with
eagerness.

He hesitated. "Then--well--if I believed in your powers I would still
object to your earning money with--by means of your--your Voices. I've
got to make my own way in the world, and from this moment!"

She read an unmitigable opposition in his eyes and sadly said, "You'll
come here to sleep, won't you?"

He conceded so much, though reluctantly. "Yes, I'll sleep here, but as
soon as I make a raise of any work I intend to pay for my board. As for
carfare, I guess my junk will have to go into 'hock.'" He rose. "You
see, I won a silver mug and a watch by being useful to the team. It's
them to 'Uncle Jake's,'" he ended, with a return to the college youth's
vocabulary, and going to his valise took out his reward for muscular
merit and showed it to her. "Isn't that smooth?"

Her eyes shone with pride. "How much do you suppose you can borrow on
it?" she asked.

"Oh, I don't know. Five dollars, maybe."

"Well, I'll lend you ten dollars on it."

He looked at her with musing eyes. "Say twenty, and you may have both
mug and watch."

She went to her purse and handed to him the money.

He took it without hesitation. "Well, here's where I hit the pavement
for a job."

She confronted him in a final appeal. "Oh, Victor, I can't bear to have
you doubt me even for an hour. Stay with me to-day. Stay and let me talk
with you. I've had so little of you. Just think! for more than twelve
years I've kept you away from me--I've starved myself--my
mother-self--in order that you might grow to manhood untroubled by my
faith, and I can't bear to have you doubt me now."

He understood something of her emotion and responded to it. "You dear,
faithful little mother, I realize now what I have cost you, and I'm
grateful; but that's the very reason why I can't let you do any more of
it. I must begin to pay you back."

"All you need to do to pay me is to let me look at you," she fondly
replied. "I'm proud of you, Victor. I was proud of you last night. I saw
Leo admiring you, and Mrs. Joyce thinks you are splendid."

He was interested. "By the way, who is Miss Wood?"

"She's a niece of Mrs. Joyce. Mrs. Joyce is the widow of Joyce the
lumberman."

"She seems to have all kinds of money." His face was thoughtful again.

"Yes, she's rich, and she has been very kind to me. She took me to
California and to Europe. She is always doing things for me. It was just
like her to come to me yesterday--she is not one to fail in time of
trouble. I don't know what I should do without her."

"She certainly is nice. What about Miss Wood? Does she believe in
your--your Voices?" He asked this without direct glance.

"Yes. She doesn't say much, but she is deeply grateful to my guides."

"She's no ordinary girl, I can see that. Is she rich also?"

"Not as Mrs. Joyce is rich, but The Voices have sort of adopted her.
They say they will make her wealthy as a queen."

"What do you mean by that?"

"They are telling her from week to week just how to invest her money."

"Do you mean to tell me that _you_ advise her how to invest her money?"

"No, I mean _The Voices_ advise her."

"Why should 'they' know anything about business?"

She became evasive. "They do! They've proved it again and again. Mrs.
Joyce's income has doubled in five years by following father's advice."

He pondered on this deeply. "I don't like that. I don't see why you or
your Voices should be valuable in that way."

"There are many things in this world for you to learn, my son," she
replied with an assumption of superior wisdom.

This nettled him. "It don't take much wisdom to know that if you go on
advising people in that way you'll get into trouble. That's what that
writer said in the paper."

She closed her lips tightly as if to keep back a cutting reply, and he
rose briskly. "Well, see here, we must put away these dishes."

She acquiesced in his postponement of the discussion, and helped him
wash the dishes and set the room to rights. At last she said: "Where is
the morning _Star_? Have you seen it?"

"There's a paper at the foot of the stairs; is that yours?"

"Yes," she replied.

"I'll get it," he said, and was out of the door and back again before
she fully realized that he was gone. He opened the twist of damp paper
with haste, fully expecting to find some new attack on "Mrs. Ollnee, the
Blood-sucker," but there was nothing. "All the same, you're not safe in
this house," he said. "They threatened to arrest you, and I don't like
to leave you here alone to-day."

"You need not worry about me," she replied, quietly. "Father will take
care of me. If he saw any real danger coming my way he would warn me of
it."

"He didn't warn you of the coming of the reporter, did he?"

"No--he had some reason for permitting this cloud to come upon me. He
knows best."

"I don't believe I'd put very much faith in 'guides' that didn't keep me
out of trouble."

"Perhaps all this is a part of our discipline. They are wiser than we. I
accept even this disgrace as a good in disguise. Perhaps it was all
intended to bring you to me."

The youth sank back again baffled by this all-inclosing acceptance.
"What do you intend to do to-day?" he asked, as she rose and walked over
to the little walnut table.

"I am going to ask for advice."

"Now?"

"Yes; and I wish you would sit with me for a few moments and see if we
cannot secure direction for the day."

He was beginning to be curious--and his desire to dig deeper into his
mother's brain overcame part of his repugnance.

"All right," he boyishly answered, but his heart contracted with sudden
fear of finding her false. "Let's see what they're up to."

"Take a seat opposite me," she said, and there was something commanding
in her voice.

Drawing a chair up to the old brown table--which he remembered as one of
the pieces of furniture in his earliest childhood home--he took a seat.

"Why do you keep this rickety old thing?" he asked, shaking it
viciously.

"It was your grandfather's reading-table, and he likes me to keep it.
Besides, it is highly magnetized and very sensitive."

"Oh rats!" he irreverently burst forth. "You can't magnetize a piece of
wood. Wood is a non-conductor. You can't subvert a physical law just by
saying so."

"I don't mean it in that crude sense," she replied, quite mistress of
herself. She had taken up and was holding between her hands a small
hinged slate.

"What's that for?" asked Victor.

"To vitalize the surface. I am able to give it vitality by my touch."
She laid the slate upon the table and placed her spread hand upon it.
"Put your hand upon mine, Victor."

He did as she bade him, rebelling at the childish folly of it all. "What
do you expect to do?" he asked.

Almost immediately the slate seemed seized by a powerful hand. It began
to slide back and forth across the table violently, twisting and
clattering. The youth put forth his own great strength and stopped it,
but a crunching sound announced that the slate was broken.

His mother said, sharply, "You mustn't do that, Victor." She took up the
slate and showed one corner crushed and crumbled. "You can't hold
it--you mustn't try--it angers them."

He marveled at the strength which had resisted him, but argued that his
mother from long practice had become very muscular. Hysterical people
often displayed astounding power.

After preparing a new slate she put it on the table as before, saying to
the air, "Please don't be rough, father--Victor can't prevent his
skepticism."

Three loud raps answered, and she smiled. He says, "All right. He
understands."

"Seems to me he's mighty touchy for one on the heavenly plane," Victor
retorted, maliciously. "Seems to me an all-seeing spirit ought to get my
point of view."

A vigorous tapping on the table responded to this speech.

"What's that?" asked Victor.

"That is your father saying yes, he _does_ get your point of view."

Victor had a feeling that his mother was receding from him as he faced
her across the table. She became the professional medium in her manner
and tone. He, too, changed. He hardened, assuming the attitude of the
scientific observer--hostile and derisive. His keen hazel-gray eyes
grew penetrating and his lips curled in scorn. His tone hurt her, but
she persisted in her sitting, and at last the slate began to tremble
throughout all its parts, and a grating sound like slow writing with a
pencil went on beneath it. Victor could plainly follow the dotting of
the i's and the crossing of the t's, till at the end a tapping indicated
that it was finished.

"You may take the slate, Victor," said Mrs. Ollnee.

He took it from the table and opened it. On one side, in bold script--a
bit old-fashioned--stood these words: "_Stay where you are. Let the boy
adventure into the city. Await results. I will be near. FATHER._"

Victor, astounded, mystified, confronted his mother with wide eyes.
"Now, what does that mean?"

"It means that I am to keep this house just as it is and you are to seek
work in the city. Is that right, Paul?"

Three taps made answer.

The youth was stunned by the boldness and cleverness of all this. He was
pained, too. He perceived no sign of abnormal thinking in his mother's
action. She was not hysterical. _She was not entranced._ Whatever she
did she did consciously--and the thought that she could deliberately
deceive him was shocking. He breathed quickly and a nervous clutch came
into his hands. He resented being fooled. "Let's try that again," he
said; and his tone was precisely that of the child who sees a grown
person swallow a coin and take it out of his ear. He was angry as well
as sad. "Don't put your hand on it," he protested. "I don't like the
looks of that."

She submitted, and then as he was putting it down on the table the sound
of writing was heard within it. He laid his hand on the slates, and
still the writing went on! With amazement he realized that both her
hands were in sight and in no wise concerned in the writing. The right
rested lightly and quietly on the frame of the slate, but the left,
which lay on the opposite corner of the table, was quivering throughout
all its minute muscles.

Amazed beyond words, excited, breathing deep, with a shudder of nervous
excitement running over his entire body, Victor listened to the mystic
pencil. "How _do_ you work that?" he asked, in a whisper.

"I don't know. I have nothing to do with it," she answered; and taking
the upper hinge of the slate between her fingers and thumb she slowly
raised it.

_And still the writing went on!_

Victor, holding his breath in awe, bent to look within, but as the
opening grew wider the writing stopped.

He snatched the slates from the table and studied the lines, which were
made up of minute dots. It was all perfectly legible: "_Son. I doubted.
Now I know._"

Victor sank back into his seat and stared speechlessly at the slate and
the table. The problem of his mother's mediumship had taken on new
elements of mystery. This physical test brought it into the range of his
knowledge and interest. It was no longer a question of her honesty or
sanity, it had become a problem in dynamics.

How was that bit of pencil moved? The messages he ignored--they didn't
matter--but the method of their production seemed to eliminate all
trickery, conscious or unconscious. Why did his mother's left hand
quiver--and how could that writing shape itself?

His voice was husky with emotion as he said: "Mother, I don't understand
that. You've got to tell me how that is done."

She felt the desperate resolution in his voice and she solemnly
answered, "My son, I don't _know_ how it is done."

"But you _must_ know! Who moves that pencil! Your hand quivered all the
time."

"Yes, I seem to have some physical connection with it--at times. Other
times all that takes place has no more connection with me than the
sunlight on the floor. The world is a very mysterious place to me,
Victor. I don't pretend to know anything. I do as I am told."

He fell silent again while his mind reviewed the entire process. Then
he burst out, vehemently, on a new line. "I can't believe my eyes.
You've hypnotized me. Mother, for God's sake don't juggle with me--don't
play tricks with me. I won't stand for it. It hurts me--" He paused,
confused, baffled, ready to weep.

"Can you, my own son, accuse me of trickery?" she asked.

"You _think_ you're honest, mother--but don't you see you've become an
_unconscious hypnotist_? It's your subconscious self deceiving us both.
I don't know how you do it, but I know it must be a fraud."

"Victor," she said, solemnly, "what this power is you shall have full
opportunity to determine, but I say to you that for more than twenty
years I've been guided by these unseen presences. I've tested their
wisdom and lived under their care. So far as this message is concerned I
accept it. I was confused and frightened yesterday, but this morning I
am calm. I shall do as they bid. I shall stay here while you go down
into the city and see what you can find to do, and together we will test
these voices."

There was a ring of new-found decision in her tone that quite dashed
him. He sat dumbly facing her, helpless in a whirl of mental storm. "Is
she more cunning than I thought? Is she playing a more complex game than
appears?" These thoughts vaguely shaped themselves. Then his filial self
answered: "But what has she to gain? She loves me. She has sacrificed
herself to keep me at school--why should she deceive me?"

Here again a third conception came to embitter him. He spoke. "You don't
seem to mind my loss of a degree?"

"Yes, I do, Victor. I feel that very deeply, but the higher wisdom of
your grandfather resigns me. I cannot tell what is behind it. By his
power to read the future he may be preventing some terrible accident,
some calamity by fire or water--I have an impression that it is
something of that sort."

"_No_," came a whisper from the air.

She turned her face upward, and, listening intently, asked, "What is the
reason, father?"

"_Discipline_," the whisper replied.

"He says 'discipline,' Victor."

"Discipline!" he echoed. "Why should I be disciplined? What have I
done?"

"_It is not what you've done--it's what you are to do._"

The Voice did not reply to further questions, and the silence gave out a
kind of cold contempt, which cut the boy as he waited.

"Let's try that slate business again," he said at last. But to this his
mother would not consent.

"It's of no use," she said. "They are gone. There is no 'power'
present."

He again faced her with alien, accusing eyes. "When will you try this
again?"

"To-night, when you come home."

"Home!" he sneered, looking about. "Do you expect me to call this place
home? Do you expect me to hang about this scrubby hole to be disciplined
by your Voices?"

The sound of a knock at the door gave her a moment's respite. "The
postman," she explained as she rose to go to the door.

She was gone for several minutes and Victor heard her in friendly
conversation with a pleasant male voice. Some way this added to his
anger and disgust.

She came back with a letter in her hand which she began at once to open.
"It is from Louise, I mean Mrs. Joyce."

She read it through with smiling face, then said, "Victor, you must be
nice to Louise, she has done _everything_ for us."

This brought him to his feet. "I understand all that now. It is _her_
money I've been living on--I won't touch another cent that comes from
her. Understand that! I won't eat another dinner that she pays for."

"Why, Victor, you should not feel that way! What has she done to make
you bitter?"

"Nothing. I refuse to live on her charity, that's all, and I want you to
find out just how much I owe her--how much _you_ owe her--for I intend
to pay her back every dollar with interest."

"But she considers I've already paid her. She feels that I have always
given her bounteous return for all her aid."

"I don't figure it that way," he said. "She's just amusing herself--"

She interrupted. "Listen to what she says." She read: "'I want to tell
you how much I like your son. He is so vivid and so powerful. I'm sorry
he is to miss his degree. Can't you persuade him to go back? I'll be
glad to advance what is necessary--'"

"There it is, you see! There's the rich lady helping a poor relation."

"Wait, son!" she pleaded, and read on. "'I feel that I owe you ten times
what you've permitted me to do for you.'"

"That's all very nice of her, mother, but I won't have any more of it."
He pounded out the sentence with his fist.

She looked up at him with mingled fear and pride. "You are exactly like
your father as you say that," she declared. "Oh, Victor, my son! If
_you_ leave me in anger I shall be desolate indeed. I can't live without
you. Please believe in me--and love me--for you're all I have on this
earth."

His anger died away. He saw her again as she really was, a pale, devoted
little saint, with troubled brow and quivering lips, one who had shed
her very life-blood for him--to doubt her became a monstrous cruelty.

He put his arms about her and hugged her close. "I didn't mean to hurt
you, mother--but your world is so strange to me. I'll stay, I'll do the
best I can here; only don't work this slate trick any more. Don't sit
for any one but me. Will you promise that?"

"May I not sit for Louise?"

"Not without me."

"I dare not promise, Victor. Father may insist. If he does _not_ insist
I will do as you wish. I will give it up."

He kissed her. "Dear little mother, you sha'n't live alone any more, and
you shall soon have a home that is worthy of you."

She was weeping, and a big lump in his own throat made speech difficult.
To cover his emotion he slangily said: "Well, now, it's me to the marts
of trade. Perhaps I'll fool The Voices yet."



IV

VICTOR THROWS DOWN THE ALTAR


"How do people get jobs," he asked himself as he set forth. "'Want ads,'
I suppose." He went deeper. "What am I fitted for? I can keep books--in
a fashion--or I can clerk. My training has not fitted me for any special
thing, unless to sell sporting-goods." This was a "lead," and his face
brightened. "My work on the team ought to help me in that direction.
Good idea! I'll hie me to the sporting-goods houses."

The first two managers with whom he talked, while much impressed by him,
were completely manned, but the third was disposed to consider him till
he told him his name. "No relation to Mrs. Ollnee, the medium?" he
asked, with a grin, while poising his pencil to write.

For an instant Victor hesitated, then took the leap. "Well, yes, I am,
but then you don't want to believe that report; it's more than half a
lie."

The manager's smile vanished. He left the address half finished. "So you
are the son they spoke of?" he said, with a cold, keen glance.

"Yes, I am," Victor boldly answered.

He closed his book. "I don't believe we can trade," he announced. "Of
course _I_ don't consider all mediums frauds and liars, but this house
is very particular about its help--"

Victor turned and walked away, bitterly rebellious of soul and
disheartened. For a time his anger burned so hotly within him that he
meditated taking the train and leaving the city and all it held behind
him. Again and again his thought returned to the picture his gentle
little mother had made as she had said good-by to him at the head of the
stairs. To accuse her of conscious deception was like accusing a sweet
girl of infanticide. How could she build up a system of fraudulent
fortune-telling, so intricate, so subtle, that it baffled the eye of the
reporter, who confessed that he had not been able to detect the
trickery. "It is only by induction, by inference, that one gets at the
_modus operandi_," he admitted.

In his perturbation he walked away to the east and soon came out upon
the lake-front. A bunch of men and boys of all types and sizes were
playing ball on the barren ground, and with the athlete's undying love
of the sport he rose and edged into the game. He could not resist
showing his prowess by means of a few curves, and the crowd with instant
perception began to take a vivid interest in him.

A half-hour of this restored his good-nature and he returned to the
cañons to the west, determined to find an opening somewhere. He was
never dismissed rudely--he was too big and well-dressed for that--but
the fact that he had no experience shut him out in most cases, and for
the rest the departments were filled with salesmen. Twice when he seemed
about to be taken on, his name and his mothers reputation shut the door
of opportunity in his face.

At four o'clock he started slowly homeward, discouraged, not so much by
his failure as by the fact that everybody seemed to have a knowledge of
the article in the _Star_. It was evident that even when a manager did
not at the moment make the connection between his name and Mrs. Ollnee's
it would certainly come out later and he would be called upon to defend
himself and his mother from the sneers and jeers of his fellow-salesmen.
"I'm a marked man, that's sure," he said, in dismay.

All day his mind had dwelt in flashes on the glorious life at Winona,
but now his memory of it was poisoned by the thought that he had been a
pensioner on the bounty of Mrs. Joyce. "The easy thing would be to
change my name and skip out for the plains," he said again, "but I
won't. I'll stay and fight it out right here some way."

He was passing the public library at the moment and was moved to go in
and look up the "want ads" in the papers. Ten minutes' reading of these
filled him with despair. There were so many wanting work! His feet were
tired with walking and his brain weary with the movement of the street,
therefore he moved on to the reference room where he found an atmosphere
of study that was very grateful.

Accustomed to work of this kind, he asked the attendant to bring him
catalogues, and was soon surrounded with books and magazines which dealt
with the modern study of psychic phenomena. He fell upon one or two of
these which gave exhaustive generalizations, and he was astounded to
find that European men of science of the loftiest type were engaged in
the study of precisely the same phenomena which his mother claimed to
produce.

Careless of all else, he remained until six o'clock absorbed and
confused by what he read. Words and phrases like "telekinesis,"
"teleplastic," "parasitic personalities," "externalized motricity,"
"bio-psychic energy" danced about in his brain like fantastic insects.
He fairly staggered with the weight of the conceptions laid upon him,
and when at last he went out into the streets he had forgotten his race
for place behind the counter.

It was nearly sunset, and his afternoon--his day--had gone for naught!
He was as far as ever from securing work--and wages--to keep his little
mother and himself from the corrupting care of charity. He was a bit
disgusted with himself, too, for wasting valuable time, and yet he was
enough of the scholar to feel a glow of delight in the company he had
been keeping. There was something large and free in the attitude of
those Italian men toward the universe, and before he had walked far he
promised himself to go again and continue that line of investigation. As
he walked up the avenue he came face to face with the dark, thin-faced
girl who had knocked at his mother's door the day before. She seemed
about to speak, but he passed her with blank look.

He found his mother at the window waiting for him, and upon seeing him
she hurried to meet him at the head of the stairs.

"What luck?" she called, with a smile.

He shook his head. "Nothing doing," and received her caress rather
coldly, for he perceived Mrs. Joyce in the room. "It isn't so easy to
find a job. I'll be lucky if I dig one up in a week, I suppose."

Mrs. Joyce greeted him cordially. "I've just been making a proposition
to your mother, Victor--I hope you'll let me call you Victor--which is,
that we all go abroad for a few months till this storm blows over."

He looked at her with gravely interrogating glance. "How could we do
that?"

She explained. "You both go as my guests, of course. We can motor
through France in June and get up into Switzerland in July."

He sank into a chair and dazedly studied her. "Why should you offer to
do all that for us?"

"Because I am very grateful to your mother for what she has done for me.
She not only cured my mother of cancer--she has cured me of despair. She
has taught me to believe again in the mystery of the world."

"You mean she has done this as--as a medium?"

"Yes--through her guides she has given me faith in the hereafter. Their
advice on a hundred different things has made life easy for me. My
wealth is largely due to the wisdom of Mr. Astor, who speaks through
her. He advises, and so does your grandfather, that I take you all
abroad this summer, and I think it a very nice suggestion."

"Oh, the suggestion came from The Voices, did it?" His voice was full of
scornful suggestion.

"Yes; but I thought of it myself yesterday as I read that terrible
article. You see, I'm told by Mr. Bartol, my lawyer, that the city
officials are about to start another campaign against all forms of
mediumship. I think it best, and so does your father, that we all leave
the city for a time, and escape this persecution."

The beleaguered youth was not a polite deceiver at his best, and this
proposal appeared to him not merely chimerical, but immoral, for the
reason that his mother must have really proposed it. Through her
uncanny power of hypnosis, of suggestion, she had put the idea into her
rich friend's head. "I won't consider any such proposition," he bluntly
answered. "I don't recognize my mother's claim. You owe her nothing. I
don't believe she can cure cancer, and she has no right to advise
anybody in business matters."

"You say that because you know nothing of the facts," Mrs. Joyce briskly
replied. "I understand your situation perfectly. Your mother has kept me
informed of her worries--she has no secrets from me--and I must say I
foresaw this antagonism on your part. I felt that you were growing away
from her, and yet The Voices advised her to keep you at school and to
say nothing. To show you how close they watch you I can tell you that
we've been informed of your whereabouts several times to-day. You met a
young man at noon, a pale, serious young man, whose name is Gilmer, who
said he would help you. Isn't that true?"

He was properly surprised. "Yes, I did meet such a man."

"Then you went to the library and read for a long time?"

He sneered. "Did The Voices tell you that I was turned down everywhere
on account of my mother's reputation as a medium?"

"No; but they said you would oppose the idea of our going abroad, and
that you were under discipline."

"You're tired, Victor," interposed the mother. "Don't worry over me any
more now. I'll get you some coffee."

While she was gone on this errand Mrs. Joyce leaned toward Victor and
said: "I can understand a part of your feeling, because there was a time
when I lived in the world of definite, commonplace things--but you must
not oppose your mother's Voices. They are as real to her as anything in
this universe. I've _proved_ their reality again and again. As I say,
they have advised me in my investments and always right. In a sense--in
a very real sense--I owe a part of my wealth to your mother, and the
little that she has permitted me to do in return for her aid is
trifling. I want to do more. Please be just to your dear little mother,
who is truly a marvelous creature and loves you beyond all other earthly
things. She lives only for you. If it were not for you she would pass on
to the spirit plane to-night."

Victor listened to her in a sullen meditation. The whole situation was
becoming incredibly fantastic, vaporous as the texture of a dream.

Mrs. Joyce went on: "Come to my house to-night for dinner. Never mind
the morrow till the morrow comes. Come and talk with some friends of
mine--they may help you."

He spoke thickly: "I'm much obliged, Mrs. Joyce. I'm grateful for what
you've done for us, but to take her money or yours now would be--would
be dishonest. I can't let you feed us any longer--we've got to fight
this out alone."

"What will you do with her Voices?" she asked.

"Forget 'em," he answered, curtly.

"They'll force you to remember them," she warningly retorted. "I assure
you they hold your fate in their hands."

Mrs. Ollnee, returning, cut short the discussion, which was growing
heated.

As he drank his coffee Victor recovered a part of his native courtesy.
"I'm going to win out," he said, with kindling eyes. "It would have been
a wonder if I had found a job the first day. I'm going to keep going
till I wear out my shoes."

A knock at the door made his mother start.

"Another reporter!" she whispered. "They're pestering me still."

Victor rose with a spring. "I'll attend to this reporter business," he
said, hotly.

"No," interposed Mrs. Joyce; "let me go, please!"

He submitted, and she went to meet the intruder. Her quiet,
authoritative voice could be heard saying: "Mrs. Ollnee is not able to
see any one. That cruel and false article of yesterday has completely
upset her.--No, I am only her friend and nurse. I have nothing to say
except that the article in the _Star_ was false and malignant."

Thereupon she closed and locked the door and came back quite serious.
"They've been coming almost every hour, determined to see your mother. I
would have taken her away, only she persisted in saying she must remain
here till you returned."

"Have you been here all day?" he asked, moved by the thought of her
loyalty.

His mother answered. "Louise came about ten this morning--and except for
an hour at lunch we've both been here waiting, listening."

This devotion on the part of a rich and busy woman was deeply revealing.
The youth was being educated swiftly into new conceptions of human
nature. His mother was neither beautiful nor wise nor witty. Why should
she attract and hold a lady like Mrs. Joyce? He wondered if she had been
quite honest with him. Would her interest be the same if The Voices had
not enriched her?

She returned to her invitations. "Now put on your dinner-suit and come
with us," she insisted. "My niece, Leo, will be there--surely you will
respond to that lure?"

His mother laid her small hand upon his arm. "Let us go, Victor. I am in
terror here."

"Why did you stay? Why didn't you go before?" he demanded.

"Because The Voices said '_Wait!_'--and besides, I wanted to be here
when you came."

He rose. "You go. I will come after dinner and bring you home."

Mrs. Joyce was quick on the trail of his intent. "You refuse to eat my
bread! You _are_ rigorous. Very well. Let it be so. Come, Lucy, let us
go."

Mrs. Ollnee seemed to listen a moment, then rose. "You'll surely come
after dinner, Victor?"

"Yes, I'll come about nine," he replied, in a tone that was hard and
cold. And she went away deeply hurt.

Left alone, he walked about the "ghost-room" with bitterness deepening
into fury. What were these invisible, intangible barriers which confined
him? He stood beside the old brown table which he had hated and feared
in his boyhood. What silliness it represented. The pile of slates, some
of them still bearing messages in pencil or colored crayon, offered
themselves to his hand. He took up one of these and read its oracular
statement: "_He will come to see the glory of the faith. His neck will
bow. It is discipline. Do not worry. FATHER._" Here was the source of
his troubles!

He dashed the slate to the floor and ground it under his heel. Catching
the table by the side and up-ending it, he wrenched its legs off as he
would have wrung the neck of a vulture. He breathed upon it a blast of
contempt and hate, and, gathering it up in fragments, was starting to
throw it into the alley when the door burst open and his mother
reappeared, white, breathless, appalled.

"_Victor_; what are you doing?" she called, with piercing intonation.

He was shaken by her tone, her manner, but he answered, "I'm going to
throw this accursed thing into the alley."

She put herself before him with one hand pressed upon her bosom, her
breath weak and fluttering.

"You--shall--not! You are killing me. Don't you see that is a part of
me. Don't you know--Put it down instantly! _My very life and soul are in
it._"

He dropped the broken thing in a disordered pile at her feet. Her
anguish, which seemed both physical and mental, stunned him. As they
stood thus confronting each other Mrs. Joyce returned. She seemed to
comprehend the situation instantly, and, putting her arm about the
little psychic's waist, gently said, "You'd better lie down, Lucy, you
are hurt."

Mrs. Ollnee permitted herself to be led to the little couch silently
sobbing.

It was growing dusky in the room, and the youth, though still
rebellious, was profoundly affected by this action. His hot anger died
away and a swift repentance softened him. "Don't cry, mother," he said,
clumsily kneeling beside her. "I didn't think you cared so much about
the old thing."

Mrs. Joyce broke forth in scorn: "What a crude young barbarian you are!
That table is something more than a piece of wood to her. It is a
sacred altar. It is the place where the quick and the dead meet. It is
sentient with the touch of spirit hands--and you have desecrated it. You
have laid violent hands upon your mother's innermost heart. You will
destroy her if you keep on in this way."

At these words the youth for the first time caught a glimpse of the
vital faith which lay behind and beneath these foolish and ridiculous
practices. No matter what that worn table was to him, it stood for his
mother's faith--that he now saw--and he was sorry.

"I can rebuild it again," he said. "It is not hopelessly smashed. I will
repair it to-morrow."

The symbolism which could be read in his words seemed to comfort his
mother and she grew quieter, but her face remained ghastly pale and her
breathing troubled.

Mrs. Joyce turned to him again. "You can't deceive her. She knew the
instant you laid your destroying hands on that slate."

He did not doubt this. In some hidden way his action had reached and
acted upon his mother as she was speeding down the avenue. Her sudden
return proved this--and his hair rose at the thought of her
clairvoyancy, and in answer to Mrs. Joyce's question, "Why did you do
it?" he replied, sullenly, but not bitterly:

"I did it because I detest the thing and all that goes with it. I have
hated that table all my life."

"What did you think your mother would do?"

"I didn't stop to think. I only wanted to get the brute out of sight. I
wanted to end the whole trade at once."

"You've got to be careful or you'll end your mother's earth-life. Let me
tell you, boy, if you want to keep her on this plane with you you must
be gentle with her. Any shock, especially when she is in trance, is very
dangerous to her."

Victor began to feel his helplessness in the midst of the intangible
entangling threads of his mother's faith. He now saw the folly of his
action, and took an unexpected way of showing his contrition.

"If you'll forgive me, mother, I'll go with you to Mrs. Joyce's dinner.
Come, let's get away from here for a little while; I feel stifled."

This pleased and comforted her amazingly. She rose and placed one frail,
cold hand about his neck. "Dear boy! I forgive you. You didn't realize
what you were doing."

Releasing himself he gathered up the fragments of the table and tenderly
examined them. "It can be mended," he reported. "I'll do it the first
thing in the morning."

A faint smile came back to his mother's face. "I don't mind, Victor. I
feel already that this has brought us closer together. Your father is
here--he is smiling--and I am happier than I've been for weeks."

Victor dressed for his party with trembling limbs. It seemed as if he
had passed through a tremendous battle wherein he had been defeated--and
yet his heart was strangely light.



V

VICTOR RECEIVES A WARNING


Mrs. Joyce's house was a stone structure of rather characterless design
which stood at the intersection of a wide boulevard and one of the
narrower crosstown streets, but it seemed very palatial to Victor as he
wonderingly entered its looming granite portal. His mother tripped up
the stairs with the air of one who feels very much at home.

A man in snuff-colored livery took his hat and coat and ushered him into
a large reception-room on the left, and there his hostess found him some
ten minutes later. "Come and meet my brother from California," she said,
and led the way across the hall into the library, where a tall man with
gray hair and mustache was talking with a dark, alert and smoothly
shaven man of middle age. The one Mrs. Joyce introduced as her brother,
Mr. Wood, and the other as Mr. Carew.

Victor was relieved to have Miss Wood enter and greet him cordially, for
the men did not seem to value him sufficiently to include him in their
conversation. Mr. Wood was reserved and the tone of Carew's voice was
cynical.

Leonora Wood was of that severe type of beauty which requires stately
gowns, and Victor confessed that she was quite the finest figure of a
girl he had ever met, but when Mrs. Joyce said, "You are to take Leo out
to dinner" he merely bowed, resenting her amused smile.

His seat at table brought him next a very old lady--Mrs. Wood,
senior--who beamed upon him with cheerful interest. There were several
other women of that vague middle age which does not interest youth.

Miss Wood talked extremely well, and he became interested in spite of
himself.

"I wonder how much longer we're going to believe in 'luck' and
'coincidence,'" she said, after some remark of his. "Maybe it's all
thought transference or telepathy or something."

"Don't tell me you really believe in such things. Professor Boyden says
they are all a part of the spineless mysticism which is sweeping over
the country."

She assumed a patronizing air. "It's natural for undergraduates to quote
their teachers. I wonder how long it will be before you will consider
them all old fogies."

He rose to the defense of his hero. "Boyden will never be an old fogy.
He's the most up-to-date man in America. He really is the only
experimentalist along these lines. He's out for the facts."

"Your mother's Voices say he is as blind as the rest, wilfully blind."

"Do you really hold stock in my mother's Voices?"

She gazed upon him in large-eyed wonder. "Yes, don't you?"

"No. How can they be anything but a delusion?"

"I don't know. I only know they are profoundly mysterious and that they
tell me things which convince me. They seem to know my most secret
thought. I have been _forced_ to believe in them. My aunt's fortune has
been doubled and my own income greatly augmented by their advice."

He took this up. "Tell me more about that. What did they advise you to
do?"

"They advised buying certain stocks in a machine for making paper boxes
and recommended the Universal Traction Company."

At this moment Mrs. Wood, senior, plucked at his sleeve. "Louise tells
me you're the son of our dear medium, Lucy Ollnee."

"I am, yes," he replied, rather ungraciously, for he was eager to revert
to Leo.

"Perhaps you're a medium yourself," the old lady pursued.

"Thank the Lord, no! I haven't the ghost of a Voice about me."

She chuckled. "At your age one thinks only of love and dollars. When you
are as old as I am the next world will interest you a great deal more
than it does now. Besides, you must believe in spirits after they have
made you rich. They've made Louise and Leo rich--I suppose you know
that?"

He soon turned back to Leo. "I wish people would not talk my mother's
Voices to me. I hear nothing else now."

"It's your mother's 'atmosphere.' No one thinks of anything else when in
her presence."

"Don't you see how intolerable all that is going to be for me?" he
asked, with bitter gravity. "I can see that she isn't exactly human even
to you. She's just a sort of a freak. No one loves her or seeks her for
herself alone, only for what she can do. That's another reason why I
must insist on her getting away from this. I will not have her treated
like a wireless telephone."

Her eyes expressed more sympathy than she put into her voice. "I see
what you mean; but, believe me, I had not thought of her in just that
light, and I think you're quite wrong about my aunt. She is really very
fond of your mother."

He was eager to know more of what this clear-sighted girl had seen, but
her neighbor, Mr. Carew, claimed her, and he was forced back upon
Grandmother Wood, who talked of her new faith to him for nearly half an
hour.

After dinner, while the ladies were in the drawing-room and the men were
smoking their cigars, the perturbed youth expected to be freed from any
further inquisition, for Philo Wood was apparently of that type of man
who has no interest in the things he cannot turn into hard cash. The
merits of a new strawboard box-machine was engaging his attention at
this time, but, after a few minutes of polite discussion of the weather
and other general topics, Carew, the lawyer, turned to Victor and began
an interrogation which made him wince. Carew was very nice about it, but
he pursued such a well-defined line of inquiry that it amounted to a
cross-examination. He soon possessed himself of the fact that Victor did
not approve of his mother's way of life and that he was trying to secure
employment in order to stop all further "fortune-telling" on his
mother's part. "I don't believe in it," he reiterated.

"The amazing thing to me," interposed Wood, with quiet emphasis, "is
that her predictions come true. I 'play the ponies' a bit"--he
smiled--"and I have tried to draw Mrs. Ollnee into partnership with me.
'You have the spooks point out the winning horse to me,' said I to her,
'and I'll share the pot with you.'"

"And she wouldn't do it?" asked Carew.

Wood seemed to be highly amused. "No, she says her guides do not
sanction gambling of any sort. And yet she advises Louise to buy into a
new transportation scheme that looks to me like the worst kind of a
gamble. My advice counts for nothing against these Voices."

"That's true," admitted Carew. "You might as well be the west wind so
far as influencing her goes. Since 'Mr. Astor' butted into the game my
services are good only in so far as they drive tandem with his! Now you
say you have no belief in the thing," he said, turning again to Victor.
"How is that? How did that come about?"

"Well, in the first place, I've given some study to what Professor
Boyden calls delusional hysteria," Victor responded.

Wood smiled cynically. "My sister won't mind what you call it so long as
it enables your mother to designate the winning stocks."

The attitude of each of these men was that of watchful tolerance, and
Victor chafed under their assumption of superior wisdom. He plainly
perceived that Wood was using the psychic for his own ends, and this
angered him. He shut up like a clam and left the room as soon as he
could decently do so.

He made his way to where Leonora was sitting on a sofa in the library
and took his seat beside her, with intent to continue the conversation
which they had begun at the dinner, but he forgot his problems as he
looked into her merry, candid eyes.

Her first word was a compliment to his mother. "How pretty she looks
to-night! No one would suspect her of being 'the dark and subtle siren'
of yesterday's _Star_. Her face is positively angelic at this moment.
How beautiful she must have been as a girl! I must say you do not
resemble her."

"Thank you," he said.

She laughingly explained. "I mean you are so tall and dark. You must
resemble your father."

"I believe I do, although I cannot remember him."

"I wonder if he had your absurd pride. Aunt Louise tells me you
absolutely refuse to accept any favor from her, and that you were
practically forced into coming to dinner to-night. Is that true?"

He leaned toward her with intense seriousness. "How would you feel if
you had suddenly learned that all your clothing, your food, your theater
tickets--everything had been paid for in money drawn from strangers by
means of--well--hypnotism."

"If I believed that I should feel as you do, but I don't. It is not so
simple as all that. Your mother's power seems very real to me, and so
far as I can now see she has given us all value received for every
dollar. By rights one-half of all our profits belongs to her, or, if you
prefer, to her Voices. Do you know that these Voices will not permit her
to retain more than a scanty living out of all the wealth she makes for
others? Did you know that?"

"I know she lives in a shabby apartment, and she tells me that she is
entirely under the control of these 'guides.'"

"Yes, they refuse to let her keep anything beyond what she actually
needs for herself and your education. I think all that should be counted
in on her side, don't you? The fact that she is not enriching herself
surely makes her part in the transaction a clean one."

He sank away from her and brooded over this thought for a minute or two
before he replied. "But the whole thing is so preposterous. Have you
seen her slate-writing 'stunt'?"

"Many times; but I don't think you should call it a 'stunt.'"

"Come, now, give me your honest opinion. Do you think my mother
unconsciously cheats?"

She faced him with convincing candor. "No, I don't. I think she is
perfectly simple and straightforward, and I believe the writing is
supernormal."

"How can you believe that? You're a college girl, mother tells me. Don't
the belief in these things wipe out everything you have been taught at
school? It certainly rips science into strips for me, or would--if I
believed it. It makes a fool of a man like Boyden, that's a sure thing."

Mrs. Joyce, looking across the room, smiled in delight at the charming
picture these young people made in their animated conversation.
Doubtless they were glowing over Tennyson's position in modern poetry or
the question of Meredith's ultimate standing in fiction.

What the youth was really saying to the maid was this: "What did you get
out of it all? What did The Voices give you?"

"They told me to study composition, for one thing. They told me I would
compose successful songs, with the aid of--of Schubert." She was a
little embarrassed at the end.

"And you took all that in?"

She colored. "I'm afraid I didn't really believe the Schubert part.
However, I'm studying composition on the _chance_ of their being right."

"You say they advise you on money matters. How do they do that?"

"They advise my uncle through me to sell stock in a certain company and
buy in another. They told me to withdraw my money from my California
bank and put it into this Universal Traction Company."

"Did you do that?"

"Yes."

"I'm sorry. I wish you wouldn't take their advice. I wish you would put
your money back where it came from at once."

"Why?"

"Because it scares me to think of your going into anything on my
mother's advice."

"But it wasn't your mother's advice. It was the advice of a great
financier."

"You mean a dead financier?"

"Yes."

He did not laugh at this; on the contrary, his face darkened. "I've
heard about that. Did he advise your uncle to go into this same
transportation company?"

"Yes; all our friends are in it."

"You mean everybody that went to my mother for advice?"

"Yes."

"Do many go to her for help of this kind?"

"No, not many; she gives sittings only to my aunt and her friends now.
There were several big business men of the city who went regularly. Why,
Mr. Pettus, the president of the Traction Company, relies upon her."

The absurdity of these great capitalists going to his mother's
threadbare little apartment for counsel in ways to win millions made
Victor smile. He said, with a mock sigh, "I wish these Voices would tell
me where to find a job that would pay fifteen dollars a week."

"They will--if you give yourself up to them. You must have faith."

"Oh, but the whole thing is dotty. Why should a poor farmer like my
grandfather by just merely dying become a great financier?" Again his
brow darkened and his voice deepened with contempt. "It's all poppycock!
If he knows so much about the future why didn't he warn my mother
against that reporter that came in the other day to do her up? Why
didn't he permit me to stay on at Winona and get my degree?"

The girl was troubled by his questions and evaded them. "It must have
been hard to leave in the midst of your final term."

"It was punishing. It was like being yanked out of the box in the middle
of an inning, with the game all coming your way."

She knew enough of baseball slang to catch his meaning and she smiled as
she asked, "Why don't you go back?"

"Simply because I couldn't stand the chinning I'd get from my
classmates."

"Can't you go on with your studies here and pass your examination?"

"I might do that if I could get a job that would pay me my board and
leave me a little time to study."

She looked up at him with smiling archness. "Why not drive an
automobile? You could carry your books around under the seat and study
while waiting outside the shops or the theaters."

"Good idea!" he exclaimed, responding to her humor. "I'm pretty handy
with the machine. One of my friends up at Winona had one. I hope you own
a car." He said this with intent to indicate his growing desire to be
near her.

Mrs. Joyce came over at this moment to inquire what they were so jolly
about.

Leo answered: "I was just suggesting that Mr. Ollnee become a chauffeur.
He could go on with his studies--"

"Capital!" exclaimed Mr. Joyce. "The man I have is liable to drink and
very crusty in the bargain. You may have his place."

"I'm afraid I wouldn't do," he responded. "I might get crusty, too."

"I hope you are not liable to drink," said Leo.

"No, sarsaparilla is my only tipple. But this is all Miss Wood's joke,"
he explained.

"I'm not joking, indeed I'm not," the girl retorted. "I don't know of
any skill that is more in demand just now than that of a chauffeur. I
know of one who is studying the piano. I don't see any reason why Mr.
Ollnee should not take it up temporarily. It's perfectly honorable.
Witness Bernard Shaw's play."

"Oh, I'm not looking down on any job just now," he disclaimed. "All I
ask is a chance to earn a living while I'm finding out what my best
points are."

Mr. Wood beckoned and Leo rose to meet him. "We must be off," he said.

Victor bade Leo good-night with such feeling of intimacy and
friendliness as he had not hoped to attain for any one connected with
Mrs. Joyce. There was something in the pressure of her hand and in the
sympathetic tone of her voice at the last that he remembered with keen
pleasure.

Mr. Carew was deep in conversation with Mrs. Ollnee, and Victor drew
near with intent to know what was being said. The lawyer was very
gentle, very respectful, but Mrs. Ollnee was undergoing a thorough
investigation at his hands. He represented the calm, slow-spoken, but
very keen inquisitor, and the psychic was already feeling the force of
his delicate, yet penetrating sarcasm.

"I would advise you not to trust your Voices in matters that relate to
life, limb, or fortune," he said, suavely, and a veiled threat ran
beneath his words. "These Voices may be deceiving you."

Mrs. Ollnee protested with vehemence. "Mr. Carew, I am content to put my
_soul_ into their keeping."

He bowed and smiled. "Your faith is very wonderful." Then he added, with
a glance at Mrs. Joyce, who was listening, "For myself, I would not put
my second-best coat in their keeping."

Mrs. Joyce intervened at this point, and, after some little discussion
of a conventional topic, offered to send Victor and his mother home in
her car. Victor was not pleased by her offer. It was only putting him
just that much deeper into her debt, but he could not well refuse,
especially as his mother accepted it as a matter of course.

On the way he took up the question of Carew's warning. "He's right,
mother. You must stop advising people to buy or sell."

"Why so, Victor?"

"Suppose you should advise buying the wrong thing?"

"But they don't advise the wrong thing, Victor. They are always right."

"Always?"

"Nobody has ever reported a failure," she declared.

"Well, it's sure to come. Why should father or grandfather know any more
about stocks now than he did before he died?"

She was a little nettled by his tone. "They have the constant advice of
a great financier on that side."

"So Miss Wood told me. Who is this great financier who is so willing to
help you decide what to do with other people's money?" he asked,
cuttingly.

She hesitated a little before saying "Commodore Vanderbilt."

He could not keep back a derisive shout. "Vanderbilt! Well, and you
believe 'the great commodore' comes to our little hole of a home to
advise us? Oh, mother, that's too ridiculous."

"My son," she began with some asperity, "we've been all over that ground
before. You don't realize how you hurt, how you dishonor me when you
doubt me and laugh at me."

He felt the pain in her voice and began an apology. "I don't mean to
laugh at you, mother. But you must remember that I have been a student
for four years in the atmosphere of a great university, and all this
business--I've got to be honest with you--it's all raving madness to me.
You certainly must stop advising in business matters. Mr. Carew to-night
intended to give you warning."

"I know he did," she quietly responded.

"He meant to be kind. He meant to say that you were liable at any moment
to be held accountable for advice that went wrong. He told me that the
courts were full of cases where mediums had led people into willing
their property away, or where they had juggled with somebody else's
fortunes. He told me of having convicted one woman of this and of having
sent her to jail."

"But have I prospered from these advices?" she asked, indignantly. "Can
any one accuse me of getting rich out of my 'work'? Please consider
that."

"That does puzzle me. I can't see why 'they' help others and leave us
with a bare living. And, most important of all, why do 'they' permit you
to be hounded this way? Why didn't 'they' warn you? Why don't 'they'
help me?"

She sighed submissively. "Of course they have their own reasons. In good
time all will be revealed to us. They are wiser than we, for all the
past and all the future are unrolled before their eyes."

This reply silenced him. Small and gentle as she was, Victor realized
that she could resist with the strength of iron when it came to an
assault upon her faith.

Above the knob of their own door they found a folded newspaper, and this
Victor seized with misgiving. "I wonder what is coming next?" he said.

She paled with a definite premonition of trouble. "Open it at once," she
commanded.

He was as eager as she, for he, too, foresaw some new attack upon their
peace. Lighting the gas, he opened the paper with trembling hands. On
the first page was his own photograph and the story of his leaving
college to defend his mother. Everything, even to the parting with
Frenson, was set down, luridly, side by side with the report of a
celebrated murder trial.

At sight of this new indignity his sense of youth and weakness came back
upon him and, crumpling up the paper, he flung it upon the floor in
impotent rage.

"That ends the fight here," he said. "How can I go about this town
seeking work to-morrow? Everybody will know my story, and, what's more,
here is your address given in full. Don't you see that makes it
impossible for either of us to remain here another day?"

For the first time in her life the indomitable little psychic quailed
before the persistent malice of her foes. The splintered altar of her
faith lying in a disordered heap upon the floor symbolized the
estrangement which she felt between her invisible guides, her son, and
herself. Her maternal anxiety had developed swiftly in these few hours
of blissful companionship, and the world of wealth and comfort--for her
boy's sake--had become suddenly of enormous importance to her. She
wished him to be a happy man, and this desire weakened her abstract
sense of duty to the race. She spoke aloud in a tone of entreaty,
addressing herself to the intangible essences about her. "Father, are
you here? Speak to me, help me, I need you."

Victor turned upon her with darkened brow. "Oh, for God's sake, stop
that! I don't want any advice from the air."

She persisted. "Paul, come to me! Tell me what to do. Please come!"

Her voice was thrilling with its weakness and appeal, but Victor was
furious. He refused to listen. His brow was set and stern.

At last she cried out, poignantly, "They are not here. They have
deserted us. What shall I do?" She turned toward the table. "Rebuild my
altar. You said you would. Restore that and perhaps they will come to us
again. They are angry with me now. They have left me, perhaps forever."

"If 'they' have I shall be glad of it," he returned, brutally. "'They'
have been a curse to you and to me, also. We are better off without
them. Come, let us pack up the few things we have and go away into the
West, where no one will know even so much as our name. That is the only
way left open for us."

"No, no," she cried out, "that is impossible. I must remain here. I must
wait until they come back to me. I can't go now, and you must not desert
me," she ended, and in her voice was something very pitiful.

He moved away from her and took his seat in sullen rage. For a long time
he did not even look at her, though he knew she was waiting and
listening.

At last he rose, and his voice was harsh and hoarse. "Mother, my mind is
made up. There's no use talking against it. I leave this city to-morrow
morning. I shall go as far as my money will carry me. I shall change my
name and get rid of this whole accursed business. I've hated it, I've
hated your 'ghost-room' and your Voices all my life, and this is the end
of it for me. If you will not go with me then I must leave you behind."

She uttered a moaning cry of grief and ran like one stricken into her
room, flinging herself face downward upon her bed. He listened for a few
moments with something tugging at his heart-strings, but his face was
set in unrelenting lines. Then he rose and set to work repacking his
trunk.



VI

VICTOR IS CHECKED IN HIS FLIGHT


When Victor woke from his uneasy sleep next morning his first glance was
toward his mother's room wherein he had seen her vanish in an agony of
grief and despair. All was quiet, and after dressing himself--still
firmly resolved upon flight--he went to the door and silently peered in.

She was sleeping peacefully, her thin hands folded on her breast, and he
drew a sigh of relief.

"I am glad she's able to sleep," he said, and stole back to the pantry.

He studied its sparse supplies with care. There was not much to do with,
but he boiled some eggs and made coffee very quietly, with intent to let
his mother sleep as long as she could. He found himself less savage than
the night before.

"I can't leave till she wakes," he said to himself, "but I'm going, all
the same."

In order to pass the time of waiting he went down to the foot of the
stairs to find the morning paper. He opened it with apprehension, but
breathed a sigh of relief upon finding no further "scare heads" of
himself. The only reference to his mother came in the midst of an
editorial advocating the cleaning out of all the healers, palmists,
fortune-tellers, and mediums in the city. With lofty virtue the writer
went on to say that the _Star_ had refused to advertise the business of
these people, no matter what the pecuniary reward, and that it purposed
a continuous campaign. "We intend to pursue all such women as Mrs.
Ollnee, who fasten upon their credulous dupes like leeches," he
declared.

As Victor read this paragraph he caught again the violence of contrast
between the woman pictured by the pen of the editor and the pale, sweet,
mild-voiced little woman who was his mother. It would have been funny
had it not been so serious and so personal. Furthermore, the paragraph
strengthened him in his determination to leave the city, and he still
hoped to be able to persuade his mother to go with him.

At eight o'clock he once more tiptoed in to see if she still slept, and
finding her in the same position his heart softened with pity. "She must
have been completely tired out, poor little mother! I'm afraid what I
said to her worried her."

After another hour of impatient waiting he again entered her room and
studied her more intently. There was something suggestive of death in
the folded hands and he could detect no breathing. Her face was as pale
as that of a corpse, and his blood chilled a little as he approached
her. He called to her at last, but she did not stir.

Stepping to her bedside, he laid his palm upon her wrist. It was cold as
ice, and he started back filled with fear. "Mother! _mother!_ Are you
ill?" he called. She gave no sign of life.

For a long time he stood there, rigid with fear, not knowing what to do.
He knew no one in all the city upon whom he could call save Mrs. Joyce
and Leo, and he did not know their street or number. He felt himself
utterly alone, helpless, ignorant as a babe, and in the presence of
death.

Gradually his brain cleared. Sorrow overcame his instinctive awe of a
dead body. He felt once more the pulseless arm and studied closely the
rigid face. "She is gone!" he sobbingly cried, "and I was so cruel to
her last night!"

The memory of his harsh voice, his brutal words, came back to plague
him, now that she was deaf to his remorse. How little, how gentle she
was, and how self-sacrificing she had been for him! "She burned out her
very soul for me," he acknowledged.

He remained beside her thus till the sound of a crying babe on the floor
below suggested to him the presence of neighbors. Hastening down-stairs,
he knocked upon the first door he came to with frantic insistence.

A slatternly young woman with a crown of flaming red-gold hair came to
the door. She smiled in greeting, but his first words startled her.

"My mother is dead. Come up and help me. I don't know what to do."

His tone carried conviction, and the girl did not hesitate a moment. She
turned and called: "Father, come here quick. Mrs. Ollnee is dead."

An old man with weak eyes and a loose-hung mouth shuffled forward. To
him the girl explained: "This is Mrs. Ollnee's son. He says his mother
is dead. I'm going up there. You look out for the baby." She turned back
to Victor. "When did she die?"

"I found her cold and still this morning."

"Have you called a doctor?"

"No, I don't know of any to call."

"Jimmie!" she shrieked.

A boy's voice answered, "What ye want, maw?"

"Jimmie, you hustle into your clothes and run down the street to Doctor
Sill's office and tell him to come up here right away. Hurry now!"

Closing the door behind her, she started resolutely up the stairway, and
her action gave Victor a grateful sense of relief.

"What do you think ailed her?" she asked.

"I don't know. She seemed all right last night when I went to bed."

This woman, young in years, was old in experience, that was evident, for
she proceeded unhesitatingly to the silent bedside with that courage to
meet death which seems native to all women. She, too, listened and felt
for signs of life and found none. "I reckon you're right," she said,
quietly. "She's cold as a stone."

At her words the strong young fellow gave way. He turned his face to the
wall, sobbing, tortured by the thought that his bitter and savage
assault and expressed resolve to leave her had been the cause of his
mother's death. "What can I do?" he asked, when he was able to speak. "I
must do something--she was so good to me."

The young woman, looking upon him with large tolerance and a certain
measure of admiration, replied: "There's nothing to do now but wait for
the doctor. You'd better come down with me and have some coffee."

He did not feel in the least like eating or drinking, but he needed
human companionship. Therefore he followed his neighbor down the stairs
and into her cluttered little living-room with submissive gratitude. The
home was slovenly, but it was glorified by kindliness. A tousled baby of
eighteen months was keeping the old man busy and a small boy of eight or
nine was struggling into his knickerbockers, and Victor, thrust into the
midst of this hearty, dirty, noisy household, remembered with increasing
respect his mother's dainty housekeeping. "She was a lady," he said to
himself, in definition of the difference between her apartment and this.
"Her home was poor, but it was never ratty."

Mrs. Bowers was kindness and consideration itself. Her father, deaf and
partly paralytic, was treated gently, although he was irritatingly slow
of comprehension and insisted on knowing all about what had taken place
up-stairs. It pained and disgusted Victor inexpressibly to have his
mother's condition bawled into the old man's ears, but he could not
reasonably interfere.

He thought of Mrs. Joyce, knowing that his mother would want to have her
instantly informed. "I ought to telephone some friends," he said to Mrs.
Bowers. "Where is the nearest 'phone?"

She told him, and he went out and down the steps in haste to let Mrs.
Joyce know of his tragic bereavement, and when at the drug-store near by
he finally succeeded in getting communication with the house he was
deeply disappointed to be told by the butler that Mrs. Joyce was not
down and could not be disturbed so early in the morning.

"But I _must_ see her," he insisted. "My mother, Mrs. Ollnee, her
friend, is--is--very sick. I am Victor, her son, and I'm sure Mrs. Joyce
would want to speak to me."

The butler's voice changed. "Oh, very well, Mr. Ollnee," he replied,
knowing the intimacy which existed between his mistress and the
psychic. "Just hold the line; I'll call her."

It was a long time before the calm, cultivated voice of Mrs. Joyce came
over the 'phone, but it was worth the waiting for. "Who is it?" she
asked.

"Mrs. Joyce, this is Victor Ollnee. My mother is very, very ill. I'm
afraid she's dead."

He heard her gasp of pain and surprise as she called: "Your mother! Why
she seemed perfectly well last night."

"I found her lying cold and still this morning. I can't detect any pulse
or any breathing. Can't you come over at once? Please do. I don't know a
soul in the city but you, and I'm in great trouble."

"You poor boy! Of course I'll come. I'll be over instantly. Have you
called a doctor?"

"No, I don't know of any."

"Where are you now?"

"At the corner drug-store."

"Is any one with your mother?"

"No, but the woman below has been up. She is quite sure my mother is
dead."

"Gracious heavens! I can't realize it. Good-by for a few minutes. I'll
come at once."

Victor returned to Mrs. Bowers' apartment with a glow of grateful
affection for Mrs. Joyce. It was wonderful what comfort and security
came to him with her voice so sincerely filled with compassion and
desire to help. He wondered if Leo would come with her, and asked
himself how the news of his bereavement would affect her. Her attitude
toward him had been that of the elder sister who felt herself also to be
the wiser, but he did not resent that now.

He thought of the effect of his mother's death upon the press. Would the
_Star_ forego its malignant assault upon her character now that she was
gone beyond its reach? Would those who threatened her with arrest be
remorseful?

Mrs. Bowers persuaded him to take another cup of hot coffee, and then
together they returned to the little apartment above to wait for the
coming of the doctor and Mrs. Joyce. The young mother became
philosophical at once. "After a body gets to be forty I tell you he
don't know what's going to happen next. I reckon you better set here
where you can't see the bed," she added, kindly. "It don't do any good,
and it only makes you grieve the harder."

He obeyed her like a child and listened through his mist of tears as she
rambled on. "I've had my share of trouble," she explained. "First my
mother went, then my oldest boy, then my husband took sick. Yes, a body
has to face trouble about so often, anyway, and, besides, I don't
suppose your mother was afraid of death, anyhow. I've known all along
what her business was, ever since I came into the house, and I've been
up to see her a few times. Still I'm not much of a believer. Dad is,
though. It's his greatest affliction that he can't hear The Voices any
more. I want to say I believe in your mother. She was a mighty fine
woman; but the docterin of spiritualism I never could swaller,
notwithstanding I grew up 'longside of it."

The sound of a decisive step on the stairs cut her short. "I bet a
cookie that's the doctor!"

A clear, crisp, incisive voice responded to her greeting at the door,
and a moment later a beardless, rather fat young fellow was confronting
Victor with professional, smiling eyes. "You're not the patient," he
stated, rather than asked. Victor shook his head and pointed to the bed.

With quick step the physician entered the bedroom and set to work upon
the motionless form with methodical haste. He was still busy in this way
when the whir of a motor car announced Mrs. Joyce.

Victor was at the door to meet her, and when she saw him she opened her
arms and took him to her broad, maternal bosom. "You poor boy!" she
said, patting his shoulder. "You're having more than your share of
trouble."

He frankly sobbed out his penitence and grief. "Oh, Mrs. Joyce! She's
gone, and I was so hard last night. I'll never forgive myself for what I
said to her."

She again patted him on the shoulder with intent to comfort him. "There,
there! I don't believe you have anything to reproach yourself for, and,
then, remember your mother's beautiful faith. She has not gone far away.
Her heaven is not distant. She is very near. She has merely cast off the
garment we call flesh. She is here, close beside you, closer than ever
before, touching you, knowing what you think and feel."

In this way she comforted him, and in a measure drew his mind away from
the memory of his cruel and unfilial words.

Sill approached her with thoughtful glance. "Are you related to this
woman?"

"No, I am only a friend," replied Mrs. Joyce; "but this is her son."

"When did you discover your mother's present condition?"

"This morning."

"Did you fold her hands and put her in the position she occupies?"

"No, that is the strange thing. When I left her last night she was--she
was lying across the bed, face downward. I had just told her that I was
going away and that I wanted her to go with me. She refused to do this
and tried to get The Voices to speak to her. They would not come, and so
she, being hurt, I suppose, by what I said, ran into the room and flung
herself down on the bed, weeping. I was angry at her and did not speak
to her again. I went to sleep out here on the couch, and did not see her
again till morning. When I looked in at eight o'clock she was lying just
as she is now."

Sill eyed him keenly. "Do you mean that you quarreled?"

Mrs. Joyce interposed. "I can explain that," she said. "Mrs. Ollnee was
my friend. She was what is called a medium. She is the Mrs. Ollnee you
may have read about in the papers."

"Ah!" Sill's tone conveyed a mingling of surprise and increased
interest. "So you are the son of Mrs. Ollnee?" he said, turning to
Victor.

Mrs. Joyce again answered for him. "Yes; he has been away at school; he
came home Sunday to comfort and protect his mother; but, unfortunately,
he does not accept her faith. He rebelled against her work, and demanded
that she give up her Voices. I can understand his wanting her to go away
with him, and I can understand also how painful it was to her; but I
don't believe that what he said had anything to do with her passing out.
She was very frail at best, and has many times said that she expected to
leave the body in one of her trances and never again resume her worn-out
garment."

"She was subject to trances, then?"

"Yes, though not strictly a trance-medium, she did occasionally pass out
of the body."

"May I take your name?"

"Certainly; I am Mrs. John H. Joyce, of Prairie Avenue."

His manner changed. "Oh yes. I should have known you, Mrs. Joyce, I have
seen you before. What you tell me does not explain the disposal of Mrs.
Ollnee's body. She must have gone to her death consciously, as if
preparing to sleep. Perhaps she intended only to enter a trance."

Mrs. Joyce started. "She may be in trance now! Have you thought of that,
Doctor?"

Victor's heart bounded at the suggestion. "Do you think it possible?" he
asked, excitedly.

Sill remained unmoved. "She does not respond to any test, I'm sorry to
say. Life is extinct."

The entrance of Doctor Eberly, a tall, stooping man with deep-set eyes
and a sad, worn face, cut short this explanation. Eberly was Mrs.
Joyce's family physician, and taking him aside she presented the case.

Eberly knew Doctor Sill, and together they returned to Mrs. Ollnee's
bedside while Mrs. Joyce kept Victor as far away from their examination
as possible.

"There have been many cases of this deep trance, Victor, and we must not
permit the coroner to come till we are absolutely convinced that your
mother has gone out never to return."

"She must come back," he cried, huskily. "She did so much for me. I want
to do something for her."

"You did a great deal for her, my dear boy. It was a great joy and
comfort to her to see you growing into manhood. She was a little afraid
of you, but she worshiped you all the same. Your letters were an ecstasy
to her."

"And I wrote so seldom," he groaned. "I was so busy with my games, my
studies, I hardly thought of her. If she will only come back to me I
will give up everything for her."

"She understood you, Victor. She was a wonderful little woman, lovely in
her serene, high thought. She lived on a lofty plane."

"I begin to see that," he answered, contritely. "I understand her better
now."

The kindly Mrs. Bowers had slipped away back to her household below, and
the men of science were still deep in a low-toned, deliberate
discussion, so that Victor and the woman he now knew to be his best
friend were left to confront each other in mutual study. He was
wondering at her interest in him, and she was weighing his grief and
remorse, thinking enviously of his youth and bodily perfection. "I wish
you were my son," she uttered, wistfully.

Doctor Eberly again approached, walking in that quaint, sidewise fashion
which had made him the subject of jocose remark among his pupils at the
medical school.

Mrs. Joyce was instant in inquiry. "How is she, Doctor?"

"Life is extinct," he replied, with fateful precision.

"Are you sure?" she demanded.

"Reasonably so. One is never sure of anything that concerns the human
organism," he replied, wearily.

She warned him: "You must remember she was accustomed to these trances."

"So I understand. Nevertheless, this is something more than trance. So
far as I can determine, this body is without a tenant."

"The tenant may come back," she insisted.

He looked away. "I know your faith, but I am quite sure all is over.
_Rigor mortis_ has set in."

She rose emphatically. "I have a feeling that you are both mistaken. Let
me see her. Come, Victor, why do you shrink? It is but her garment lying
there."

She led the way to the bedside and laid her warm, plump hands on the
pale, thin, cold, and rigid fingers of her friend. She stooped and
peered into the sightless visage. "Lucy, are you present? Can you see
me?"

Doctor Sill then said: "The eyes alone puzzle me. The pupils are not
precisely--"

"If there is the slightest doubt--" Mrs. Joyce began.

"Oh, I didn't mean to convey that, Mrs. Joyce. I was merely giving you
the exact point--"

"She shall lie precisely as she is till to-morrow," announced Mrs.
Joyce, firmly. "I have an 'impression' that she wishes to have it so.
Will you permit this?" She confronted the two physicians. "Will you wait
till to-morrow before reporting?"

Doctor Eberly considered a moment. "If you insist, Mrs. Joyce, and if it
is Mr. Ollnee's wish--"

"Yes, yes," Victor cried, "I've heard of people being buried alive. It
is too horrible to think about! Leave us alone till to-morrow."

The physicians conferred apart, and at last Eberly turned to say: "It
seems to us a perfectly harmless concession. We will not report the case
till to-morrow. Doctor Sill will call in the morning and decide what
further course to take."

"Thank you," repeated Mrs. Joyce.

After the doctors had gone she turned to Victor, saying: "There is
nothing for us to do now but to wait. If Lucy has gone out of her body
forever she will manifest to us here in some familiar way. If she
intends to return she will revive the body and speak from it sometime
between now and dawn."

"She seems to sleep," he said; and now that his awe and terror were
lessened by his hope, he was able to study her face more exactly. "How
peaceful she seems--and how little she is!"

"A great soul in a dainty envelope," Mrs. Joyce replied. "Would you mind
taking my car and going to my home to tell Leonora where I am? I wish
also you would bring Mrs. Post, my seamstress, back with you. She's a
good, strong, kindly soul and will be most helpful to-day."

He consented readily and went away in the car, with the bright spring
sunlight flooding the world, feeling himself snared in an invisible
net. All thought of leaving the city passed out of his mind. He thought
only of his mother and of her possible revivification. "I will fight the
world here if only she will return," he said.

It seemed years since the ball game of Saturday wherein he had taken
such joyous and honorable part. At that time his universe held no
sorrow, no care, no uncertainty. Now here he sat, plunged deep in
mystery and confusion, face to face with death, penniless, beleaguered,
and alone.

"What would I do without Mrs. Joyce?" he asked himself. "She is a
wonderful woman." Strange that in a single hour he should come to lean
upon her as upon an elder sister.

He suddenly remembered that she had probably come away from home without
her breakfast, and that she would find not so much as a crust of bread
in his mother's kitchen, and the thought made him flush with shame.
"What a selfish fool I am," he said, and seized the speaking-tube with
intent to order the chauffeur to turn, but, reflecting that it would
take only a few minutes longer to go on, he dropped the mouth-piece and
the machine whirled steadily forward.

As he ran up the wide steps Leonora opened the door for him, looking
very alert and capable, her face full of wonder and question. "How is
your mother?" she quickly, tenderly, asked.

He choked in his reply. "The doctors say she is--dead, but your aunt
insists that it is only a trance." He turned away to hide his tears. "I
am hoping she's right, but I'm afraid that the doctors--"

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked, her voice tremulous with
sympathy.

"Yes, if you will please send Mrs. Post, the seamstress, over with me.
We have no one in the house, and Mrs. Joyce needs help."

"I will go, too," she responded, quickly. "Please be seated while I call
Mrs. Post. Have you had breakfast?"

"Yes; but Mrs. Joyce has not, and I'm afraid there isn't a thing in our
house to eat."

"I'll take something over," she replied, and hastened away.

He did not sit, he could not even compose himself to stand, but walked
up and down the hall like a leopard in its cage. Now and again a
liveried servant passed, glancing at him curiously, but he did not mind.
Mingled with other whirling emotions was a feeling of gratitude toward
Leonora, whose air of conscious superiority had given place, for the
moment, to exquisite gentleness and pity. She soon had the seamstress
and some lunch bestowed in the car. "We are ready, Mr. Ollnee," she
called.

She said very little during their ride. Occasionally she made some
remark of general significance, or spoke to Mrs. Post upon the duties
which she might expect to meet, and for this reserve Victor was
grateful. She understood him through all his worry. Though he did not
directly study her, he was acutely conscious of her every movement. Her
unruffled precision of action, her calmness, her consideration for his
grief appealed to him as something very womanly and sweet.

His mother's neighbors had been aroused to a staring heat of interest,
and from almost every window curious faces peered. Victor perceived and
resented their scrutiny, but Leonora seemed not to mind. She alighted
calmly and carried the basket of lunch in her own hands to the stairway,
though she permitted Victor to lead the way.

Mrs. Joyce met them with a grave smile. "You are prompt. I am glad to
see you, Leo, and you, too, Mrs. Post. We have a long watch before us."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a singular and absorbing vigil to which Victor and the three
women now set themselves. While Greek and Italian hucksters lamentably
howled through the alleys and the milk-wagons and grocers' carts
clattered up the streets, they waited upon the invisible and listened
for the inaudible--so thin is the line between the prosaic and the
mystic!

Each minute snap or crackle in the woodwork was to Mrs. Joyce a sign
that the translated spirit was struggling to manifest itself; but the
seamstress, stolid with years of toil and trouble, sat beside the bed
with calm gaze fixed upon the small, clear-cut face half hid in the
pillows, as if it mattered very little to her whether she watched with
the dead or sewed robes of velvet for the living. "It's all in the day's
work," she was accustomed to say.

Leo, with intent to comfort Victor, told of several notable cases of
"suspension of animation" with which the literature of the Orient is
filled, and Victor took this to be, as she intended it to be, an attempt
to comfort and sustain.

At times it seemed that he must be dreaming, so unreal was the scene and
so extraordinary was the composure of these women. They had the air of
those who await in infinite calm leisure the certain return of a friend.
Now and again Mrs. Joyce rose and looked down upon the motionless form,
and then perceiving no change resumed her seat. From time to time
intruders mounted the stairs, knocked, and, getting no reply, tramped
noisily down again.

Victor was all for throwing things in their faces, but Mrs. Joyce
interposed. When he looked from the windows he saw grinning faces turned
upward, and waiting cameras could be seen on the walk opposite, ready to
snap every living thing that entered--or came from--the house. In truth,
Victor and his friends were enduring a state of siege.

At last Mrs. Joyce said: "Nothing is gained by your staying here,
Victor. Why don't you go for a ride in the park? Leo, take him down to
the South Side Club."

Victor protested. "I cannot go for a pleasure trip at such a time as
this. It is impossible!"

She met him squarely. "Victor, death to me is merely a passing from one
plane to another. Besides, I don't think your mother has altogether left
us. But if she has, you can do no good by remaining here. Mrs. Post and
I are quite sufficient. It is a glorious spring day. I beg you to go out
and take the air. It will do you infinite good."

"If there is nothing I can do here then I ought to resume my search for
work," he replied, sturdily. "Now that I cannot take my mother away with
me, there is nothing for me to do but to find employment here and face
our enemies as best I can."

She opposed him there also. "Don't do that--not now. Wait. I have a
plan. I'll not go into it now, but when you come back, if there is no
change, we will all go home and I will explain."

The young people had risen and were starting toward the door when an
imperative, long drawn-out rapping startled them.

"That's no reporter's rap. There is authority in that," remarked Mrs.
Joyce, as she hurried to the door.

A very tall man with a long gray beard stood there. "Good-day, madam,"
he began, in a husky voice. "I hear that my friend, Mrs. Ollnee, is
sick, and I've come to see about it. I'm her friend these many years and
of her faith, and I think I can be of some assistance."

Mrs. Joyce dimly remembered having seen him in the house before, so she
replied, very civilly, "Mrs. Ollnee lies in what seems to be deep
trance, although the doctors say that life is extinct."

"Will you let me see her?" he inquired. "I know a great deal about these
conditions. My daughter was subject to them."

"You may come in," she said, for his manner was gentle. "This is her
son, Victor."

Victor was vexed by the stranger's intrusion, but could not gainsay Mrs.
Joyce.

"My name is Beebe, Doctor Beebe," he explained. "Mrs. Ollnee has given
me many a consoling message, and I believe I've been of help to her.
You're her son, eh?"

"I am," replied Victor, shortly.

"You were the vein of her heart," the old man solemnly assured him. "Her
guides were forever talking of you. And now may I see her?"

Mrs. Joyce, after a moment's hesitation, led him to the door of the room
and stood aside for him to enter. After looking down into the silent
face for a long time he asked, in stately fashion, "May I make momentary
examination of the body?"

Mrs. Joyce glanced at Victor. "I see no objection to your feeling for
her pulse or listening for her breath."

"I wish to lift her eyelids," he explained.

"You must not touch her!" Victor broke forth. "Two doctors have examined
her already. Why should you?"

"Because I, too, am one of the mystic order. I am a healer. Life's
mysteries are as an open book to me."

As he spoke a folded paper appeared to develop out of thin air above the
bed, and fell gently upon the coverlet.

Mrs. Joyce started. "Where did that come from?"

The healer smiled. "From the fourth dimension." Calmly taking up the
folded paper, he opened it. "This is a message to you, young man."

"To me?" Victor exclaimed. "From whom?"

"It is signed 'Nelson.'"

"Let me see it!" demanded Mrs. Joyce.

"What does it say?" asked Victor.

Mrs. Joyce handed it to him. "Read it for yourself. It is from your
grandfather."

He read: "_Your mother is with us, but she will return to you for a
little while. Her work is not yet ended. Your stubborn neck must bow.
There is a great mission for you, but you must acquire wisdom. Learn
that your plans are nothing, your strength puny, your pride pitiful. We
love you, but we must chastise you. Do not attempt to leave the city._

    "_NELSON._"

As he stood reading this letter it seemed to Victor that a cold wind
blew upon him from the direction of his mother's body, and his blood
chilled. "This is some of your jugglery," he said, turning angrily upon
Beebe.

"I assure you, no," replied the healer, quietly. "It came from behind
the veil. It is a veritable message from the shadow world. I may have
had something to do with its precipitation, for I, too, am psychic, but
not in any material way did I aid the guide."

The whole affair seemed to Victor a piece of chicanery on the part of
this intruder, and he bluntly said: "I wish you'd go. You can do no good
here. You have no business here."

Beebe seemed not to take offense. "It's natural in you young fellows to
believe only in the world of business and pleasure, but you'll be taught
the pettiness and uselessness of all that. Your guides have a work for
you to do, and the sooner you surrender to their will the better. You
are fighting an invisible but overwhelming power."

He addressed Mrs. Joyce. "This message is conclusive. Mrs. Ollnee, our
divine instrument, has not abandoned the body. Her spirit will return to
its envelope soon." He turned back to Victor. "As for you, young sir,
there is warfare and much sorrow before you. Good-day." And with lofty
wafture of the hand he took himself from the room.

Not till he had passed entirely out of hearing did Victor speak, then he
burst forth. "The old fraud! I wonder how many more such visitors we are
to have? I wish we could take her away from this place."

"We might take her to my house," said Mrs. Joyce, "but I would not dare
to do so without the consent of the doctors."

"Did you see how that man produced that message?"

Leo replied, "It developed right out of the air."

"It was a direct materialization," confessed Mrs. Joyce. "My own feeling
is that your grandfather sent it to assure us of your mother's return."

Victor silently confronted them, his anxiety lost in wonder. He had been
told spiritualists were an uneducated lot, and to have these cultured
and intelligent women calmly express their acceptance of a fact so
destructive of all the laws of matter as this folded note, blinded him.
He shifted the conversation. "Isn't it horrible that I should be here
without a dollar and without a single relative? I don't even know that I
have a relation in the world. My mother told me that she had a brother
somewhere in the West, but I don't think she ever gave me his address.
There must be aunts or uncles somewhere in the East, but I have never
heard from them. It seems as though she had kept me purposely ignorant
of her family. You've been very good and kind to me, Mrs. Joyce, but I
can't ask anything more of you. I can't ask you to stay here in this
gloomy little hole. Please go home. I'll fight it out here some way
alone."

"My dear boy," said Mrs. Joyce, "I insist on staying. I cannot leave
Lucy in her present condition, and I refuse to leave you alone. She is
coming back to you soon, and then we will plan for the future. As for
the message, you will do well to take its word to heart. It is plainly a
warning that you must not leave the city."

"But, Mrs. Joyce, think what it involves to believe that that letter
dropped out of the air!"

"The world has grown very vast and very mysterious to me," she solemnly
responded. "I've had even more wonderful things than that take place in
my own home."

Mrs. Joyce saw that to go would be best, at least for the time, and
together she and Leo went down the stairway and out into the street,
leaving the stubborn youth to confront his problem alone with the
phlegmatic Mrs. Post.



VII

THE RETURN OF THE SPIRIT


Youth is surrounded by mystery--nothing but magic touches him; but it is
a beautiful, natural, hopeful magic. The mists of morning rise
unaccountably, the rains of autumn fall without cause. The lightning,
the snows, the grasses appear and vanish before the child's eyes like
magical conjurations, until at last, for the most part, he accepts these
miracles as commonplace because they happen regularly and often. In a
world that is incomprehensible to the greatest philosopher, the lad of
twenty comes and goes unmoved by the essential irresolvability of
matter.

So it had been with Victor. Under instruction he had come to speak of
electricity as a fluid, of steel as a metal, as though calling them by
these names explained them. He discussed the ether, calmly considering
it a sort of finely attenuated jelly, something which quivered to every
blow and was capable of transmitting motion instantaneously. Sound,
heat, and light were modes of motion, he had been told, and these words
satisfied him. Food taken into the body produced power, and this power
was transmitted from the stomach to the brain, and from the brain to the
muscles, and so the limbs were moved. But just how the meat and potatoes
got finally from the brain to the nerves and so into the swing of a
baseball bat did not trouble him. Why should it?

Life and age were mere words. Death he had heard described by clergymen
as something to be prepared for, a dark and dismal event reserved for
old people, but which did occasionally catch a man in his arrogant
youth, generally in the midst of his sins. Life meant having a good
time, a succeeding in sport, business, or love. Of course certain
philosophic phrases like "continuous adjustment of the organism to the
environment" and "the change of the organism from the simple to the
complex" had stuck in his mind. But any real thought as to what these
changes actually meant had been put aside quite properly, for the
pastimes and ambitions of the student to whom study is an incidental
price for a joyous hour at play.

But now, here in this room, beside the motionless body of his mother, he
began to think. He had a good mind. His father had left him a rich
legacy in his splendid body, but also something mental--latent to this
hour--which produced an irritating impatience with the vague and the
mysterious. He resented the intrusion of an insoluble element into his
thinking. He was repelled by the discovery that his mother was abnormal,
and from the point of view of this "ghost-room" his life at the
university was becoming sweeter, more precious, more normal every hour.

Then, too, his afternoon of reading at the library had put into his mind
several new and all-powerful conceptions which had germinated there like
the seeds which the Indian "adept" plants in pots of sand, rising,
burgeoning, blossoming on the instant. He knew the names of some of
those men whose words might be counted on the side of his mother's
endowment, for they were famous in physical or moral science, but he had
not known before that they admitted any real belief in the kind of
things which his mother professed to perform.

The conception that the human soul was (as the ancients believed) a
ponderable, potent entity capable of separating itself from the body,
came to him with overwhelming significance. "If mother still lives," he
said to the nurse, "where is she? What form has she taken?"

Mrs. Post, in her own way, was capable of expressing herself. "She is
not there. So much we know. Her body is here. It is like a cloak which
she has thrown down. She herself is invisible, but she will return and
take up her body, and then you will see it grow warm again and her eyes
will light up like lamps, and she will rise and speak to you."

Of course he did not believe this. That her body was a cast-off garment
was easy to comprehend, but that her spirit hovered near and would
re-enter its former habitation was incredible.

All day he remained there, pacing to and fro, or sitting bent and somber
over his problem. At noon he got a little lunch for himself and for the
nurse. At two o'clock Mrs. Joyce returned to take him for a drive in her
car. But this he again refused. Thereupon she went away, promising to
look in again later in the evening.

At dusk he stole down into the street to mail a letter to Frensen,
wherein he had written: "I am a good deal of a broken reed to-day, but I
am going to fight. I wish you were here to talk things over with me. I'm
surrounded by people who believe in the supernatural, and I need some
one like yourself to brace me up."

This was true. He had been thrust into the midst of those who dwelt upon
the amazing and the inexplicable in human life. The city, which had been
to him so vast, so ugly, and so menacing in a material way, now became
mysterious in an entirely different way. He had now a sense of its
infinite drama, its network of purpose. There was some comfort, however,
in the thought that amid these swarms of people his own activities were
inconspicuous. To-morrow he and his mother would be forgotten in some
new sensation.

The air was delicately fresh and wholesome, and the faces of the girls
he met had singular power to comfort him. The life of the city, sweeping
on multitudinously, refreshed him like the spray of a mighty torrent
foaming amid rocks and shadowed by lofty cañon walls. He returned to his
vigil stronger and better for this momentary communion with the crowd.

Mrs. Joyce came again at nine and insisted on remaining for the night.
She had quite thrown off her own gloom, being perfectly certain in her
own mind that Lucy Ollnee would return with a marvelous story of her
wanderings "on the other plane."

She began to make plans for Victor, "subject," she said, "to revision by
your 'guides.'"

"You've said that before," he retorted, "but I have no 'guides.' I don't
believe in 'guides,' and I don't intend to be ruled by a lot of spooks."

"Be careful," she warned. "They know your every thought and they may
resent your attitude."

"Well, let them! What do I care? Suppose, for argument's sake, that
these Voices _do_ come from my father and my grandfather. What do they
know of this great city? They were country folks. How can they direct me
in what I am to do?"

"They know a great deal better than any of us."

"But how can they?"

"Because they are free from the limitations of the flesh."

"I don't see how that is going to help them. Their minds are just the
same as they were, aren't they?"

"Indeed no! We grow inconceivably in knowledge and power to discern the
moment we drop the flesh."

"I don't see why? If they are existing they're in a world so different
from this that their experience here won't help them over there, and
their experience over there is of no value to us here, and even if it
were, they could not express it."

During their talk the night had deepened into darkness, and now, as they
reached a pause in their discussion, a measured rapping could be heard,
as though some one were striking with a small wand upon the brass rod of
the bed.

Without knowing exactly why, a thrill very like fear passed over Victor,
but Mrs. Joyce smiled. "They are here! Don't you hear them? They want to
communicate with us."

The youth's high heart sank. His boyish dread of darkness began to
people this death-chamber with monstrous shadows, with malignant forces.
He was very grateful for the presence of this cheery and undismayed
believer in the spirit world. Without her he would have been
panic-stricken.

She rose to enter the bedroom, and he followed as far as the threshold.

It was very dark in there, and for a moment he could see nothing, could
hear nothing. Then a faint whisper made itself distinctly audible just
above his head. "_Victor, my boy_," it said.

He did not reply for a moment, and Mrs. Joyce eagerly called, "Did you
hear that whisper, Victor?"

"Yes, I heard it," he replied.

"It was Lucy. Was it you, Lucy?" asked Mrs. Joyce.

"_Yes_," came the answer.

"Are you still out of the body, Lucy?"

"_Yes._"

"What shall we do?"

"_Wait._"

"Is there anything you want to say to Victor?"

"_No, not now. Father will speak._"

Silence again fell, and in this pause Mrs. Joyce took the chair which
stood close beside the bed and motioned Victor to another near the foot.
He sat with thrilling nerves, moved, trembling in spite of himself. The
room was now quite dark, save for a faint patch of light on the ceiling
and another on the carpet. His mother's body could not be distinguished
from the covering of the bed.

As they waited, a singular, cold, and aromatic breeze began to blow over
the bed from the dark corner, and then a small, brilliant, bluish flame
arose near the sleeper's head, and, floating upward to the ceiling,
vanished silently. It was like the flame of a candle twisted and leaping
in a breeze.

"The spirit light!" exclaimed Mrs. Joyce, ecstatically. "Wasn't it
beautiful? And see, there is a hand holding it!" she whispered, as
another flame arose. "Can't you see it?"

"I see the light, but no hand," he replied.

"I can see more. I see the dim form of an old man outlined on the wall.
It must be your grandsire, Nelson Blodgett. Am I right?" she asked,
apparently of the dark.

Victor could now perceive a thin, bluish, wavering shape, like a cloud
of cigar smoke, and from this a whisper seemed to come, strong and
clear. "_Yes, I have come to speak to my grandson._"

"Don't you see him now?" asked Mrs. Joyce.

"I see nothing," he repeated; and as he spoke the misty shape vanished.

"But you heard the whisper, did you not?" Mrs. Joyce persisted.

He did not reply to her, but rose and bent above his mother. "Mother,
did you speak?" he asked.

Mrs. Joyce excitedly restrained him. "Sit down! You must not touch her
now."

"Why not?"

"Because it is very dangerous while the spirits are using her
organism."

"I don't know what you mean!" he retorted, angrily. "I know that that
voice sounded exactly like my mother's voice, and I want to know--"

"_Silence, foolish boy!_" was sternly breathed into his ear.

A cloud passed over the sky, and as the room became perfectly black a
fluttering gray-blue cloud developed out of the darkest corner. It had
the movement of steam-wreaths, with each convolution faintly edged with
light. At one moment it resembled a handful of lines, fine as cobweb,
looping and waving, as if blown upward from below, and the next moment
it floated past like the folds of some exquisite drapery, lifting and
falling in gentle undulations. At last it rose to the height of a man,
drifted across the bed, and there hung poised over the head of the
sleeper. As it swung there for an instant Victor could plainly detect a
man's figure and face. His eyelids were closed and his features vague,
but his chin and the spread of his shoulders were clearly defined. "Who
are you?" Victor demanded, as if the apparition were an intruder.

The answer came in a flat, toneless voice, neither male nor female in
quality. "_I am your father._"

Victor leaped up impulsively, his hair on end with fright, and the
apparition vanished precisely as though an open door had been closed
between it and the observer.

Again Mrs. Joyce clutched him. "Be careful! Sit down; don't stir!"

"Somebody is playing a joke on me," he insisted, hotly. "I'm going to
strike a light."

Again a voice, this time almost full-toned, but with a metallic
accompaniment, as though it had passed through a horn, poured into his
ear, "_You shall bow to our wisdom._"

He braced himself to receive a blow, and answered through his set teeth:
"I will not. I am master of myself, and I don't intend to take orders
from you."

"_You are fighting great powers. You will fail_," the voice replied.
"_Your heart is defiant. Expect punishment._"

Victor threw out his left hand in rage. It came into contact with
something in the air, something light and hollow, which fell crashing to
the floor, and a faint, gasping, indrawn breath from the sleeper on the
bed followed it. For an instant all was silent; then Mrs. Joyce cried
out:

"She has returned! Your mother has returned! Don't strike a light. Wait
a moment." She moved forward a little. "May I touch her?" she asked.

Victor thought she was speaking to him, but before he could reply the
invisible one whispered: "_Yes. Approach slowly._"

Mrs. Joyce laid her hand on the sleeper's brow. "She's warmer, Victor!
She's breathing! She has certainly come back to us."

"_Approach_," whispered the voice in Victor's ear.

He moved forward now, in awe and wonder, and stood beside the bed.
Slowly the room lightened, and out of the darkness the pallid face of
his mother developed like the shadowy figures on a photographic plate.
She was lying just as before, save for one hand, which Mrs. Joyce had
taken. He laid his own vital, magnetic palm upon her arm, and finding it
still cold and pulseless, called out:

"Mother, do you hear me? It is Victor."

Her fingers moved slightly in response, and this minute sign of life
melted his heart. He fell upon his knees beside her bed, weeping with
gratitude and joy.



VIII

VICTOR REPAIRS HIS MOTHER'S ALTAR


In consenting to the removal of his mother to Mrs. Joyce's home Victor
had no intention of receding from his position. On the contrary, he
considered it merely a temporary measure--for the night, or at most for
a few days. He entered the car, thinking only of her wishes, and when he
watched her sink to sleep in her spacious and luxurious bed under Mrs.
Joyce's generous roof he couldn't but feel relieved at the thought that
she was safe and on the way back to health. It was only when he left her
and went to his own splendid chamber that his nervousness returned.

Every day, every hour plunged him deeper into debt to these strangers;
and the fact that they were treating him like a young duke was all the
more disturbing. He fancied Carew saying of him, as he had said of
another, "Oh, he's merely one of Mrs. Joyce's pensioners," and the
thought caused him to burn with impatience.

Nevertheless he slept, and in the morning he forgot his perplexities in
the joy of taking his breakfast with Leonora. He admired her now so
intensely that his own weakness, irresolution, and inactivity seemed
supine. He was impatient to be doing something. His hands and his brain
seemed empty. With no games, no tasks, he was disordered, lost.

They were alone at the table, these young people, and naturally fell to
discussing Mrs. Ollnee's marvelous return to life. This led him to speak
of his own plans. "My course at Winona fitted me for nothing," he
acknowledged, bitterly. "I should have gone in for something like
mechanical engineering, but I didn't. I had some fool notion of being a
lawyer, and mother, I can see now, was all for having me a preacher of
her faith. So here I am, helpless as a blind kitten."

It was proof of his essential charm that Leonora not only endured his
renewed harping on this harsh string, but encouraged him to continue. "I
know you chafe," she said. "I had that feeling till I began my course in
cooking, and just to assure myself that I am not entirely useless and
helpless in the world, I'm now going in for a training as a nurse."

"A nurse!" he exclaimed. "Oh, that explains something."

"What does it explain?"

"I wondered how you could be so calm and so efficient yesterday."

She seemed pleased. "Was I calm and efficient? Well, that's one result
of my study. I can at least keep my head when anything goes wrong."

"I don't think I like your being a trained nurse," he said.

She smiled. "Don't you? Why not?"

"You're too fine for that," he answered, slowly. "You were made to
command, not to serve. You should be the queen of some castle."

His frankly expressed admiration did not embarrass her. She accepted his
words as if they came from a boy. "Castles are said to be draughty and
dreadfully hard to keep in order, and besides, a queen's retainers are
always getting sick, or killed, or something, so I think I'll keep on
with my training as a nurse."

"But there must be a whole lot of unpleasant, nasty drudgery about it."

"Sickness isn't nice, I'll admit, but there is no place in the world
where care and sympathy mean so much."

"You don't intend to go out and nurse among strangers?"

"I may."

"I bet you don't--not for long. Some fellow will come along and say 'No
more of that,' and then you'll stay home."

"What sort of fiction do you read?" she asked, with the air of an older
sister.

"The truthful sort. Your nursing is nothing but a fad."

"What a wise old gray-beard you are!"

He was nettled. "You need not take that superior tone with me. I'm two
years older than you are."

"And ten years wiser, I suppose you would declare if you dared."

"I didn't say that."

"No; your tone was enough. I admit you know a great deal more about
baseball than I do."

He winced. "That was a side-winder, all right. If I knew as much about
the carpenter's trade or the sale of dry goods as I do about 'the
national game' I'd stand a chance of earning my board."

"Why not join the league?" she suggested. "They pay good wages, I
believe."

He took this seriously. "I thought of that, but even if I could get into
a league team, which is hardly probable, it wouldn't lead anywhere. You
see, I'm getting up an ambition. I want to be rich and powerful."

"Football players have always been my adoration," she responded,
heartily. "You'd look splendid in harness. Why don't you go in for
that?"

"You may laugh at me now," he replied, bluntly. "But give me ten
years--"

"Mercy, I'll be too old to admire even a football captain by that time."

"You'll be only thirty-one."

She sobered a little. "Men have the advantage. You will be young at
thirty-three, and I'll be--well, a matron. No, I'm afraid I can't wait
that long. I must find my admirable short-stop or half-back, whichever
he is to be, long before that."

He changed his tone and appealed to her seriously. "Really now, what can
I do? So long as this persecution of my mother keeps up I'm in for a
share of it. I can't run away, for I promised I wouldn't. So I remain,
like a turkey with a string to his leg, walking round and round my
little stake. What would you do in my place? Come now, be good and tell
me."

She responded to his appeal. "Don't be impatient. That's the first
thing. Be resigned to this luxury for a few days. The Voices will tell
you what to do. They may be planning a surprise for you."

"All I ask of them is to quit the job and let me plan things for
myself," he slowly protested.

The entrance of Mrs. Wood, senior, ended their dialogue, and he went
away with a sense of having failed to win Leo's respect and confidence,
as he had hoped to do. "She considers me a kid," he muttered,
discontentedly. "But she will change her mind one of these days."

He spent the morning with his mother, but toward noon he grew restless
and went down into the library, wherein he had observed several bound
volumes of the report of The Psychical Society. He fell to reading a
long article upon "multiple personality," and followed this by the close
study of an essay on hysteria, and when Mrs. Joyce called him to lunch
he was like a man awakened from deep sleep. These articles, filled with
new and bewildering conceptions of the human organism, were after all
entirely materialistic in their outcome. Personality was not a unit, but
a combination, and the whole discussion served but to throw him into
mental confusion and dismay.

At lunch Mrs. Joyce proposed that they all take an automobile ride round
the city and end up with a dinner at the Club; and seeing no chance for
doing anything along the line of securing employment, Victor consented
to the expedition.

The weather was glorious, and the troubled youth's brain cleared as if
the sweet, cool, lake wind had swept away the miasma which his
experience of the darker side of the city had placed there. He
surrendered himself to the pleasure, the luxury of it recklessly. How
could he continue to brood over his future with a lovely girl by his
side and a sweet and tender spring landscape unrolling before him?

They fairly belted the city in their run, and in the end, as they went
sweeping down the curving driveway of the lake, Mrs. Ollnee's face was
delicately pink and her eyes were bright with happiness. To her son she
seemed once more the lovely and delicate figure of his boyhood's
admiration. It seemed that her death-like trance had been a horrible
dream.

The ride, the club-house, the dinner, were all luxurious to the point of
bewilderment to Victor, but he did not betray his uneasiness. He was
only a little more silent, a little more meditative, as he took his
place at the finely decorated table in the pavilion which faced upon the
water. He determined (for the day at least) to accept everything that
came his way. This recklessness completely dominated him as he looked
across the board at Leonora, so radiant with health and youth.

No one would have detected anything morbid in Mrs. Ollnee. She was
prettily dressed and not in the least abnormal, and Victor was proud of
her, even though he knew that her dresses were earned by a sort of
necromancy.

Mrs. Joyce carefully avoided any discussion of his problem, and the
dinner ended as joyfully at it began. They rode home afterward, under
the bright half moon, silent for very pleasure in the beautiful night.

The park was full of loiterers, two and two, and on the benches under
the trees others sat, two and two together. It was mating-time for all
the world, and Victor's blood was astir as he turned toward the stately
girl whose face had driven out all others as the moon drowns out the
stars. His audacity of the morning was gone, however. He looked at her
now with a certain humble appeal. His subjugation had begun.

At the house they all lingered for an hour on the back porch, which
looked out upon a little formal garden. Two slender trees stood there,
and their silken rustling filled in the pauses of the conversation like
the conferring voices of a distant multitude of infant seraphim.

"Those must be cottonwoods," Victor remarked.

"They are," replied Mrs. Joyce. "I love them. When I was a child I used
to visit a farm-house in whose yard were two tall trees of this sort,
and their murmur always filled me with mystical delight. I used to lie
in the grass under them, hour by hour, trying to imagine what they were
saying to me. Ever since I had a place of my own I've had
cottonwood-trees in my yard. I know they're a nuisance with their fuzz,
but I love their rustling."

As she paused, the leaves uttered a pleased murmur, and Victor,
listening with a new sense of the sentiment which his hostess concealed
in a plump and unimposing form, thought he heard a sibilant whispered
word in his car. "Victor," it said, "I love you."

He turned quickly toward his mother, but she seemed not to be listening,
and a moment later she spoke to Mrs. Joyce, uttering some pleasant
commonplace about the night.

This whisper was so clear, so unmistakable, that Victor could not doubt
its reality. The question was which of the women had spoken it. He had a
foolish wish to believe that Leo had uttered it. He listened again, but
heard nothing.

As he was helping his mother slowly up the stairs to her room, he said:
"This is all very beautiful, mother, but I can't enjoy it as I ought. I
feel like a fraud every time I see Mrs. Joyce handing out one of those
big bills. I suppose she can afford it, but I can't. We must get back to
the old place, or to some new place, and live on our own resources."

"We can't do that till morning, dear. Let us wait until The Voices
speak. They have been silent to-day. Perhaps they will advise us
to-morrow."

Here was the place to tell her of the whispers he had heard, but he
could not bring himself to do so.

She went on: "I wish you would repair my table, your grandfather's
table, as you promised, Victor. I don't know why, but it helps me. But
you must be careful not to use any metal about it."

"Why not?"

"Oh, that's another one of the mysteries. They seem to object to metal."

"Well, I'll get at it to-morrow," he said, and kissing her good-night,
went to his own room.

He was awake and dressed before six the next morning, and leaving a
note for Mrs. Joyce, set out for California Avenue. On the way he
dropped into a cheap café and got a breakfast which cost him twenty
cents. He enjoyed this keenly, because, as he said, it was in his class
and was paid for out of the money his mother had given him for his
trophy.

All was quiet at the flat, and setting to work on the table with glue
and stout cord, he soon had it on its legs. Looking down upon it as a
completed job, he marveled at the reverence which his mother seemed to
have for it, and his mind reverted to the astounding phenomena which he
himself had witnessed over its top.

Picking up one of the folded slates, he opened it with intent to see if
it held any hidden springs or false surfaces. Out fluttered a folded
paper. This he snatched up and studied with interest. It was a peculiar
sort of parchment, veined like a bit of corn-husk, and on it, written in
delicate and beautiful script, were these words: "_Go to Room 70,
Harwood Bldg., to-day. Danger threatens. Altair._"

"I wonder who Altair is," he mused, staring at the bit of paper, "and
what is the danger that threatens?"

While still he stood debating whether to go down-town or to warn his
mother, a heavy step on the stairs announced a visitor. The man (for it
was plainly the tread of a man, and a fat man) knocked on the door, but
did not pause for reply. "Are you there, Lucy?" he called, and came in.

Victor faced him with instant resentment of this familiarity. "Who are
you? What do you want here?" he demanded.

The other, a tall, clumsy, broad-faced individual in costly clothing,
seemed surprised and a little alarmed. "I came to see Mrs. Ollnee," he
explained. "Who are you?"

"I am her son--and I want to know how you dare to push into my mother's
house like this!"

"My name is Pettus," he answered, pacifically. "No doubt you've heard
your mother speak of me."

"Oh yes," responded the youth. "I heard Mr. Carew speak of you. You're
president of that Transportation Company they're all so wild about."

A shade of apprehension passed over Pettus's fat, ugly face. "Carew!
You've seen him? I suppose he gave me a bad name? But never mind--where
will I find your mother?"

Victor didn't like the man, and he remained silent till Pettus repeated
his question, then he answered, "I can't tell you where my mother is."

"You mean you won't!"

"Well, yes, that's what I do mean."

Pettus turned away. "I can find her without your aid."

"What do you want with her?"

"I want a sitting at once!"

"You keep away from her!" Victor blazed out. "I don't want her sitting
for you. She's mixed up too deeply in your affairs already. Carew
said--"

"I don't care what Carew said--and I don't care whether you approve of
your mother's sitting for me or not. Her controls will decide that
question."

He tramped out and down the stairway, and from the window Victor saw him
whirl away in his automobile. "That man's a scoundrel and a slob," he
said; "a greasy old slob. I will not have my mother sitting for such
people. Can't I head him off somehow?"

With sudden resolution he ran down the stairway and over to the
telephone booth on the corner. He got the butler at once, and was deeply
relieved to find that his mother was out with Mrs. Joyce. "He can't see
her before I do," he concluded, as he hung up the receiver. "I'll go
over there and wait for her to return."

As he neared the house he met Leo coming out with some letters in her
hand, and with the swift resiliency of youth, he asked if he might not
walk with her.

"Certainly," she said; "I want to talk with you about your plans."

"I haven't any plans," he said.

"What have you been doing this morning?"

He hesitated a moment, then answered: "I've been mending that old
table--I suppose you heard about my smashing it?"

"Yes; and it seemed a very childish thing to do."

"If you knew how I hate that business and everything connected with it!"

"I do, and it seems absurd to me. Your mother's life is very wonderful
and very beautiful to me."

He changed the subject. "Did that man Pettus call just now?"

"Yes."

"He's a scoundrel--that chap. A four-flusher."

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, the very looks of the man."

She laughed. "He isn't pretty, but he's a very decent citizen--and has a
lovely wife and two daughters."

"He's a slob--his face gives him away--and besides, Mr. Carew the other
night--"

"I know," she interrupted; "Mr. Carew is sure we're all going to be
ruined by your mother and the Universal Transportation Company."

"I hope you haven't put your money into anything Pettus has control of?"

"Oh, don't let's talk business on a morning like this. It's
criminal--let's talk about trees and birds and flowers." She might have
added "and love," for when youth and springtime meet, even on a city
boulevard, love is the most important subject in the encyclopedia of
life. So they walked and talked and jested in the way of young men and
maidens, and Victor talked of himself, finding his life-history vastly
absorbing when discussed by a tall girl with a splendid profile and a
cultivated voice. He watched her buy her stamps at the drug-store,
finding in her every movement something adorable. The poise of her bust
and her fine head appealed to him with power; but her humor, her cool,
clear gaze, checked the crude compliments which he was moved to utter.
She could not be addressed as he had been accustomed to address his girl
classmates at Winona.

This walk completed the severance of the ties which bound him to the
university. His desire to return to his games weakened. His ambition to
shine as an athlete faded. He wished to prove to this proud girl that he
was neither boy nor dreamer, and that he was competent to take care of
himself and his mother as well.

As they were re-entering the house, he said: "Don't utter a word of what
I've told you. I'm going to test whether my mother has the power to read
my mind or not."

"I understand," she returned, "and I'm glad you're going to share in our
séance to-night."

He frowned. "Don't say 'séance.' I hate that word."

She laughed. "Aren't you fierce! But I'll respect your prejudices so far
as an utterly unprejudiced person can."

"Do you call yourself an unprejudiced person?"

"I try to be."

"But you're not. You have a prejudice against me," he insisted, forcing
the personal note.

"Oh, you're quite mistaken," she replied; "in fact I think you're rather
nice--for a boy." And she went away, leaving him to fume under this
indignity.

Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Ollnee came in soon afterward, and they all took tea
together quite as casually as if they were not on the edge of something
very thrilling and profoundly mysterious. Mrs. Joyce politely asked
Victor what he had been doing, but his answers were evasive. He made no
mention of Pettus, though he was burning with desire to warn her against
him.

Soon afterward they went to his mother's room, and once safely inside
the door he turned upon her. "Mother, are you going to sit for Pettus
to-night?"

"I expect him, but I'm not sitting for him specially."

"I won't have him in the circle! He is a slimy old beast. I hate
him--and Mr. Carew warned us against him. He wasn't guessing, mother, he
_knows_ that this old four-flusher is up to some deviltry. How did he
find you?"

"He called us up."

"I simply will not have him sit with you again, and you must not advise
any one to put a cent into his concern. Where are you going to have this
performance?"

"I thought of sitting here, but I need the old table. You mended it,
didn't you?"

"Yes, I mended it."

"And you had a message from _Altair_?"

"How did you learn that?"

"I felt it," she answered, gravely. "She said danger threatened--did she
tell you what the danger was?"

"No; who is _Altair_ supposed to be?"

"She is a very pure and high spirit--a girl of wonderful beauty--so they
say. I have never seen her myself--she told me to-day that she would
watch over you."

At this moment a whisper was heard in the air just above her head.

"_Lucy!_"

"Yes, father."

"_Take the boy--sit--the old place. Leave Pettus out._"

"Yes, father."

"_I will be there. Pettus is under investigation._"

"Much obliged," said Victor; and then he heard close to his ear a faint
whisper: "_Victor, you shall see me--Altair._"

He was staring straight at his mother's lips at the moment, and yet he
was unable to detect any visible part in the production of the voice.
She explained the whisper. "Altair is smiling at you. She says she will
be with us to-night."

All this was very shocking to Victor. Utterly disconcerted and unable to
confront her at the moment, he left the room. The whole problem of her
mental condition, the central kernel of her philosophy was involved in
that one whisper. To solve that was to solve it all. It was not so much
a question of how she did it, it was a question of her right to deceive
him.

He seized the time between tea and dinner to return to the library. For
an hour he dug into the spongy soil of metaphysics, and it happened that
he fell at last upon the Crookes and Zöllner experiments (quoted at
greater length in a volume of collected experience) and found there
clear and direct testimony as to the mind's mastery of matter. There was
abundant evidence of the handling of fire by the medium Home, and
Slade's ability to float in the air was attested by well-known
witnesses, but beyond this and closer to his own day, he came upon a
detailed study of an Italian psychic with her "supernumerary hands," a
story which should have made the materialization of a letter seem very
simple. But it did not. All the testimony of these great men, abundant
as it was, slid from his mind as harmlessly as water from oiled silk.
Apparently, it failed to alter the texture of his thought in the
slightest degree. His world was the world of youth, the good old
wholesome, stable world, and he refused to be convinced.

At dinner he was angered, in spite of Leo's presence, by his mother's
returning confidence and ease of manner. His own position had been
weakened, he felt, by his acquiescence in the sitting. His desire to
satisfy himself, to solve his mother's mystery, had led him to abandon
his stern resolution--and he regretted it. He ate sparingly and took no
wine, being resolved to retain a perfectly clear head for the evening's
experiment. He was grateful to Leo for keeping the talk on subjects of
general interest, even though he had little part in it, and his liking
for her deepened.

As he neared the test he began to sharply realize that for the first
time in all his life he was about to take part in one of his mother's
hated "performances," and his breath was troubled by the excitement of
it. "I will make this test conclusive," he said to himself, and his jaw
squared. "There will be no nonsense to-night."

The papers of the day had remained free from any further allusion to
"the Spiritual Blood-Suckers," and it really seemed as if the cloud
might be lifting, and this consideration made his participation in the
sitting all the more like a return to a lower and less defensible
position. He was irritated by the methodical action with which his
mother proceeded to set the stage for her farce. Wood, who seemed quite
at home, assisted in these preparations, leaving Victor leaning in
sullen silence against the wall.

Mrs. Joyce took a seat directly opposite the little psychic, Wood sat at
her left, while Victor, with Leo at his right, completed the little
crescent. Mrs. Ollnee, with her small, battered table before her, faced
them across its top. Victor made no objection to this arrangement, but
kept an alert eye on every movement. He watched her closely. She first
breathed into one of the horns and put it beside her, then held one of
the slates between her palms for a little time. "I hope this will be
illuminated to-night," she said.

This remark gave Victor a twinge of disgust and bewildered pain. "She is
too little and sweet and fine to be the high priest of such jugglery,"
he thought, but did not cease his watchful attention, even for an
instant.

The locking of the door, the turning out of the light and the taking
hands in the good old traditional way all irritated and well-nigh
estranged him. Why should his life be thrown into the midst of such
cheap and ill-odored drama? "This shall never happen again," he vowed,
beneath his breath.

There was not much talk during the first half-hour, for the reason that
Victor was too self-accusing to talk, and the others were too solemn and
too eager for results to enter upon general conversation. For the most
part, they spoke in low voices and waited and listened.

The first indication of anything unusual, aside from the tapping, was a
breeze, a deathly cold wind, which began to blow faintly over the table
from his mother, bearing a peculiar perfume (an odor like that from
some Oriental rug), which grew in power till each of the sitters
remarked upon it. This current of air continued so long and so
uninterruptedly that Victor began to wonder. Could it be his mother's
breath? If she were not fraudulently producing it, then it must be that
some window had been opened. The network of her deceit--if it was
deceit--thickened.

Mrs. Joyce then said, in a low voice: "We are to have celestial visitors
to-night. That is the wind which accompanies the astral forms."

"Yes," said Leo, "and that perfume always accompanies Altair. Are we to
see Altair?" she softly asked.

A sibilant whisper replied, "_Yes, soon._"

A moment later, another and distinctly different voice called softly,
"_My son._"

"Who is it?" asked Victor.

"_Your father._"

"What have you to say to me?"

"_The power of the mind is limitless_," the whispered voice replied.
"_Matter, the strongest steel, is but a form of motion._"

"What is all that to me?" asked Victor.

"_As you think so you will be. Be strong and constant._"

The vagueness of all this increased Victor's irritation. "What about
Pettus?"

The voice hesitated, weakened a little. "_I can't tell--not now--I will
ask._"

What followed did not come clearly and consecutively to Victor, for Mrs.
Joyce (who was expert in hearing and reporting the whispers) repeated
each sentence or the substance of it to him. But he himself heard a
considerable part of it. In the very midst of a sentence the voice
stopped. It was as if a wire had been cut, or the receiver hung up; the
silence was like death itself.

Victor called out to his mother: "Can you hear The Voices, mother? They
seem to come from where you are."

She did not reply, and Mrs. Joyce explained. "She is gone."

Again the cold breeze set in, with a strong, steady swell, and with it
was borne a low, humming note, which grew in volume and depth till it
resembled the roaring rush of a November blast through the branches of
an oak. It became awesome at last, with its majesty of moaning song, and
saddening with its somber suggestion of autumn and of death. It opened
the shabby little room upon an empty and limitless space, upon an
infinite and vacant and obscure desert wherein night and storms
contended. It died away at last, leaving the air chill and pulseless,
and the chamber darker than before.

Before any comment could be made upon this astounding phenomenon, Victor
perceived a faint glow of phosphorus upon the table. It increased in
brilliancy till it presented a clear-cut square of some greenish
glowing substance, and then a large hand in a ruffled sleeve appeared
above it as if in the act of writing.

"It is Watts," whispered Leo. "He is writing for us."

Bending forward, Victor was able to read this message outlined in dark
script on the glowing surface of what seemed to be the slate: "_The
dreams of to-day are the realities of to-morrow._" These words faded and
again the shadowy hand swept over the table, and this companion sentence
followed: "_The realities of to-day will be but the half-truths or the
gross errors of the future._

    "_WATTS._"

Victor was strongly tempted to clutch this hand, but fear of something
unpleasant prevented him from doing so. He was sick with apprehension,
with dread of what might happen next. A feeling of guilt, of remorse,
came upon him. "I am to blame for this!" he thought, and was on the
point of rising and calling for the lights, when something happened
which changed not merely his feeling at the moment, but the whole course
of his life, so incredible, so destructive of all physical laws, of all
his scientific training was the phenomenon. A hand, large and shapely,
took up the glowing slate and held it like a lamp to his mother's face,
so that all might see her. She sat with hands outspread upon the table,
her head thrown back, her eyes closed. Her arms extended in rigid lines.
It seemed that the invisible ones desired to prove to Victor that his
mother could not and was not holding the slate.

Swift as light the glowing mirror disappeared, and then, as if through a
window opened in the air before his eyes, Victor perceived a strange
face confronting him, the face of a girl with deep and tender eyes,
incredibly beautiful. Her eyes were in shadow, but the pure oval of her
cheeks, the dainty grace of her chin, the broad, full brow and something
ineffably pure in the faintly happy smile, stopped his breath with awe.
He forgot his mother, his problems, his doubts, in study of the
unearthly beauty of this vision.

Mrs. Joyce whispered in ecstasy, "It is Altair!"

The angelic lips parted, and a low voice, so gentle it was like the
murmur of a leaf, replied, "_Yes, it is Altair._" And to Victor her
voice was of exquisite delicacy. "_Believe, be faithful._"

No one breathed. It was as if they had been permitted to gaze upon one
of heaven's angelic choir. How came she there? Who was she? Before these
questions could be framed she disappeared, silently as a bubble on the
water, leaving behind only that delicious, subtle, unaccountable odor as
of tropic fruits and unknown flowers.

Leo, breathing a sigh of sad ecstasy, exclaimed: "Is she not beautiful?
Never has she shown herself more glorious than to-night."

Victor was like one drugged and dreaming. There was no question of his
mother's honesty in his mind. He did not relate the vision to her, and
he winced with pain as Leo spoke. He wished to recall the face, to hear
that whisper again. The effect upon him was enormous, instant,
unfolding. In all his life nothing mystic, nothing to disturb or rouse
his imagination had hitherto come to him, and now this transcendent
marvel, this face born of the invisible and intangible essence of the
air, beat down his self-assurance and destroyed his smug conception of
the universe. He lost sight of his hypothesis and accepted Altair for
what she seemed, a gloriously beautiful soul of another world, a world
of purity and light and love.

He remained silent as Mrs. Joyce rose and went to his mother. He was
still in his seat when they turned up the lights. Leo spoke to him, but
he did not answer. Strange transformation! At the moment her voice
jarred upon him. She seemed commonplace, prosaic, in contrast with the
woman who had looked upon him from the luminous shadow.

Gradually the walls he hated, the entangling relationship he feared,
returned upon him; and though he realized something of the revealing
character of his reticence, he had not the will to break it. He watched
his mother return to her normal self with such detachment that she at
last became aware of it and lifted her feeble hands in search of him.
"Victor, come to me!" she pleaded.

He went to her then, still in a daze, and to her question, "Did your
father come?" he replied, brokenly, "A voice came, but I can't talk
about that now--I must go out into the air."

All perceived the tumult--the strange psychic condition into which he
had been thrown, and were considerate enough to refrain from pressing
him with inquiry. "He has been touched by 'the power,'" whispered Mrs.
Joyce to Leo. "He's under conviction."

The cool, clear air and the material rush of the city throbbing in upon
his brain restored the youth to something like his normal self; but he
remained silent and distraught all the way home.

As they entered the hall Leo glanced at his face with unsmiling,
penetrating intensity, and in that moment perceived that Victor the boy
had given place to Victor the man. She experienced a swift change of
relationship, and a pang of jealousy shot through her heart. She
realized that the wondrous spirit face was the power that had so wrought
upon and transformed him. She, too, had thrilled to the mystical beauty
of the phantom, and she had read in the tremulous lips the hesitating
whisper, a love for the young mortal, which had troubled her at the
moment, and which became more serious to her now.

They said good-night as strangers; he absorbed, absent-minded; she
resentful and a little hurt.

To his mother, when they were alone in her room, he said,
haltingly: "Mother, you must forgive me. I thought you did those
things--unconsciously cheating--but now--I--give it up. I believe in you
absolutely."

She raised her eyes to his wet with happy tears. "My son! My splendid
boy!" she said, and in her voice was song.



IX

THE LAW'S DELAY


"Belief," says the wise man, "is not a matter of evidence; it is a habit
of mind." And notwithstanding his confession of inward transformation,
Victor found doubt still hidden deep in his brain when he woke the
following morning. His conviction had been temporary.

In his musing upon Altair he began to remember some very curious
details. He recalled that at first glance he had inwardly exclaimed,
"How much she looks like Leo!" The lips and chin were similar, only
sadder, sweeter--and the poise of the head was like hers also. But the
brow and the eyes were more like his mother's. It was as though Altair
were at once the heavenly sister of Leonora and the spirit daughter of
his mother, and the love which lay on the tremulous lips, the deep,
serious eyes, moved him still with almost undiminished power. He was
eager to see the celestial face again.

He was less clear about his own physical condition at the time. He
remembered feeling weak and chilled, as though some of his own vitality
had gone out of his blood in the attempt to warm that unaccountable
being into life. He recalled his parting with his mother as if it were
the incident in a painful dream. It was all impossible, incredible, and
yet--it happened!

His morning mood was eager and searching. He was quite ready to see Leo,
ready to talk with her of all that had taken place. Hitherto he had
avoided any detailed story of his mother's evocations, but now he was
violently curious to know whether or no she had ever performed these
particular rites before. He wished to hear all that Leo had to say, and
he was deeply disappointed when neither she nor his hostess appeared at
the breakfast table.

He finished his meal hurriedly (as soon as it became evident that he was
to be alone), and instead of going down-town returned to the library to
re-read the famous story of Sir William Crookes and "Katie King"--every
word of which had acquired new meaning to him. He thrilled now to the
calm, bald narrative, reading between the lines the inner story of the
great scientist's bewildered love for the stainless vision which he had
evoked but could not endow with lasting life.

The boy dwelt upon the scene of their parting with peculiar pain,
perceiving in it new pathos. A throb of sorrow came into his throat. Was
Altair but a transitory flower of the dark--aloof, intangible, and sad?
What meant the wistful sweetness of her smile? Was she unhappy in the
icy realms from which she came? Did she long for human companionship?
Would she come again? He found himself longing for the night and another
sitting with his mother. He felt vaguely the disappointment which comes
to those who listen to the messages of these celestial apparitions, so
commonplace, so vaporous, so inane. "Katie King," surpassing all earthly
women in her physical loveliness, brought no sentence of intellectual
distinction from the mysterious void which was her home.

In the midst of this astounding narrative he heard Leo's voice in the
hall, and with a guilty start put his book away and rose to meet her,
remembering that he had not treated her very well after the sitting,
though he could not recall the precise reason for it. Gradually her
step, the sound of her voice, reasserted their charm, and he returned to
the breakfast-room like a boy who has been sullen and knows it, but
hopes to be forgiven.

His shamefaced entrance disarmed her resentment, and in her merry smile
of greeting the dream face faded away. The marvelous vision of the night
lost its dominion over him, and he became again the son of the morning.

The girl openly mocked him. "You look pale and sheepish. What have you
been doing?"

"I've been reading about 'Katie King.' Do you believe that story?"

"We must believe it when a man like Sir William Crookes tells it. Do you
believe what you saw and heard last night?"

"No, I don't. How can I?"

"You seemed to believe in the vision of Altair," she persisted, eying
him archly. "You were carried away by her wonderful beauty. I don't
blame you. Her loveliness is beyond anything on this earth. A vision
like that of sublimated womanhood, purified of all its dross, is very
hard on us mortals. Altair doesn't find it necessary to eat eggs and
toast, as I am doing this minute. I'm a horribly vulgar and common
creature I know, and I ought to apologize, but I won't. I like being a
normal human being, and if you don't like to see me eat you may go
away."

"I like nothing better than to see you eat, and I've just had a couple
of eggs myself. I was hoping all the time you would come down and join
me, but you didn't."

"I didn't get to sleep as usual last night," she confessed, with a
change of tone. "Altair came to me and kept me stirred up till nearly
two o'clock."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean she hung about my bed, tapping and sighing incessantly for what
seemed like hours."

"Could you see her?"

"Part of the time. Finally I turned up the light and got rid of her."

He sat in silence for a few moments, then burst out wildly: "Are we all
going crazy together? When I hear you talk like that it makes me angry,
and it makes me sad. I never met such people before. What does it all
mean? Seems like everybody around my mother is bitten by this
ghost-bug."

"You, too," she accused. "You caught a little of the madness last
night."

"I did, I admit it; but I'm going to throw it off. I won't have any more
of it."

"Is your curiosity satisfied?"

"No, it is not; but I'm not going to desert the good old sunny world I
know for the kind of windy graveyard we faced last night. Even the eyes
of Altair were sad. Did you notice it?"

"Yes, I did," she admitted. "And that's one of the things I can't
understand. The spirits all _say_ they are happy, but they _look_
wistful, and their voices indicate that they are filled with longing to
return."

"I'm going to break out of this circle of my mother's converts," he
passionately declared. "I've got to do it, or 'll get all twisted out of
shape like the rest of you. I'm going to try again to-day to reach some
man who has never heard of a psychic. I'm going to some big mill and
apply for manual labor. There's something uncanny in the way I'm kept
circling around mother's cranky patrons. I'll get batty in the steeple
if I don't get help. Let's go out for a walk in the park. Let's forget
we're immortal souls for an hour or two. I want to see a tree. Let's go
to the ball game--and to the theater to-night--that'll take all the
money I have left, and leave me just square with the world, so I can
jump into the lake to-morrow without anybody else's money in my pocket.
Come, what do you say?"

She perceived something more than humor in his noisy declamation, and
accepted his challenge. "I'll go you," she slangily replied; "just wait
till I get my walking-togs on."

"You've got to hurry," he warned. "I'm going to get out of this house
before anything crazy happens to me. Meet me down at the corner of the
boulevard."

He left the room with intent to avoid both his mother and Mrs. Joyce. At
the moment he wished to remove himself from any further argument, and
his longing for the trees and the park was a genuine reaction from his
long stress of the supernatural. "My search for a job can go over till
to-morrow," he decided.

He was sufficiently recovered from his bewilderment, his pain of the
night before, to glow with pleasure as he saw Leonora swinging along
toward him. "She carries herself well," he said.

She was dressed in a light-gray skirt and jacket, and her white hat had
a long, gray quill which waved back over the rim, giving her the jaunty
air of a yacht under reefed sail. Her face was brilliant with color,
and her eyes were alight with humor. "Aunt Louise wanted to know where
we were going, and I said 'St. Joe, Michigan.'"

He pretended not to see the joke. "St. Joe; why St. Joe?"

As she caught his stride she demurely answered, "If you don't know, it's
not for me to explain."

"I suppose people _do_ go to St. Joe for other purposes than marriage?"

"It is possible, but they never get into the newspapers. We only hear of
the young things who beat their angry parents by just one boat." She
changed her tone. "Where _shall_ we go?"

"I don't object to St. Joe."

She pretended to be shocked. "How sudden you are! We've only known each
other two days."

"Three. However, we might make it a trial marriage. You could put me on
probation."

"After your display of inconstancy last night I wouldn't trust you even
for a probationary engagement."

He harked back to the vision of Altair. "She _was_ beautiful, wasn't
she? Did she really exist, or was it merely some sort of hallucination?"

"I thought you weren't going to discuss these subjects?"

He assented instantly. "Quite right. Give me a crack on the ear every
time I break out. I wish I were a robin. See that chap on the lawn! His
clothes grow of themselves, and as for food, all he has to do is to tap
on the ground, and out pops a worm."

"I prefer roast beef and asparagus tips; and as for wearing the same
feathers all the time--horrible!"

In such wise they talked, touching lightly on a hundred trivial
subjects, yet carrying the remembrance of Altair as an undertone to
every word. They walked up the boulevard to the Midway, then through the
park to the lagoon, and the sight of the water cheered Victor. "A boat!"
he cried. "Us for a boat-ride."

He was a skilled and powerful oarsman (she had never seen his equal),
and his bared arms, the roll of his splendid muscles, were a delight to
her eyes.

He exulted as the water cried out under the keel. "This is what I
needed. I've been without a chance to kill something, or beat somebody,
for three or four days. I am cracking for lack of exercise. Walking
isn't exercise."

The heavy boat, under his sweeping strokes, cut through the water like a
canoe, and the girl on the stern seat watched him with dreaming eyes,
her air of patronization lost in contemplation of his skill, her hands
on the tiller-rope, her attitude of ease and irresponsibility typifying
the American woman, just as his intense and driving action represented
the American man.

He traversed the entire length of the lagoon before his need of
muscular activity was met; then they drifted, exclaiming with pleasure
over the charming vistas which every turn of their boat afforded. The
catbirds were singing in the willows, and the banks were white and
yellow with flowering shrubs, and over all the clear sunlight fell in
cascades of gold. The wind was from the lake, cool but not chill; and
every leaf glistened as if newly burnished. The day was perfect spring,
and under its influence the two beings, young and ardent, inclined
irresistibly toward each other.

The girl, who, up to this moment, had been indifferent, not so say
scornful, of the advances of men, gave herself up to the pleasure which
the companionship of this young giant afforded her. Altair and all that
she represented were very far and faint, dimmed, burned away into
nothingness by the vivid sun of this entrancing day.

For hours they explored the lagoons, talking nonsense, the divine
nonsense of youth, or sitting idly and gazing at each other with the
new-born frankness of lovers. At last she said, "I'm hungry, aren't
you?"

"As a wolf," he responded.

"Shall we go home?"

"Home? I have no home. No, let's camp right here in the park. There must
be a lunch counter somewhere."

"There's something better than a lunch counter. There's the German
Building."

"I'll stand you for a beer and sandwich," he shouted. "Show it to me."

Returning the boat to the landing, he paid his fee with a satisfied
smile. "I never gave up forty-five cents with better grace in my life,"
he said to her.

She led the way to the café in the German Building, and there they ate
and drank in modest fashion, while he expressed his gratitude for her
guidance. "I owe you all I've got," he declared, displaying his little
handful of money. "You've shown me another side of the city's life. It
isn't so bad, this wild life of Chicago. We'll come again. _Will_ you
come again?" He bent a frankly pleading gaze upon her.

"Indeed I will. I love it here; but Aunt Louise prefers to ride about in
the car. However, you haven't seen all the park yet. You must see the
prairies at the south end, and the Spanish caravels, the convent--all
the marine side of it. Let's walk down the beach."

He was glad to accept her guidance in this matter also, and they set off
down the curving walk, slowly, as if they found each new rood of ground
more enjoyable than that already traversed. He had a feeling that
nothing so sweet, so perfect as this day's companionship could ever
again come to him, and he lingered over each view as if determined to
extract its every possible phase of enjoyment, and when two paths
presented themselves, he shamelessly advised taking the longer one. So
they came to The Old Convent, to The Caravels in The South Lagoon, and
at last to The Sand Hills. This was the climax of their walk. These
dunes were so different from anything he had ever seen, so remote, so
suggestive, and so flooded with the light of his own growing romance,
that they seemed of another and strangely beautiful land.

Taking seats upon the grass in the sunlight, which was just warm enough
to be delightful, they absorbed the scene in silence, entranced by the
sails, the far water-line, the sun, the wind, and the fluting of the
birds. The few people who drifted by were unimportant as shadows; and
Leo took no thought of time till a cloud crossed the sun and the wind
felt suddenly chill; then she rose. "We must go home, or they'll
certainly think we've gone to St. Joe."

He returned to his jocular mood. "If I had ten dollars I'd ask you 'why
not?'"

"I wouldn't consent if you had a million."

He pretended to be astonished. "You would not? Why?"

"Because I believe in the pomp and circumstance of matrimony. No runaway
marriages for me! When I marry, it shall be in a vast cathedral, with a
mighty organ thundering and a long procession of awed and shivering
brides-maids."

"I'm sorry your tastes run in that way. I don't, at this time, feel able
to gratify them."

"Nobody asked you, sir," she said; then looking about her, she sighed
deeply. "I hate to leave this place. It seems as though it could never
be so beautiful again. Haven't we had a heavenly day?"

"I dread going back to the town, for then my needs and all my life
problems will swarm."

"I wish I could help you," she said, sincerely.

"You can," he earnestly assured her. "If you will only come out here
with me now and again I shall be able to stand a whole lot of 'grief.'"

They were walking westward at the moment, past the golf-course, and a
sense of uneasiness filled the girl's heart. She looked up at him with a
grave face. "I don't know why, but I feel an impulse to hurry. I feel as
though we ought to get home as quickly as possible. They may be worried
about us."

He did not share her apprehension. "I don't think they'll suffer."

"Something urges me to run," she repeated. "We must go directly home."

He quickened his step with hers, responding to the anxiety which had
come into her tone, but experiencing nothing of it in his heart. What he
did feel was the certainty that his day of careless ease was over. The
sky seemed suddenly to have lost its brightness. The birds had fallen
silent. The crowds of people seemed less festive. The world of work-worn
men rolled back upon them in a noisy flood as they caught a car and
went speeding down the squalid avenue. Leo's anxiety seemed to increase
rather than to lessen as they neared her home. "There's been some
accident!" she insisted. "I can't tell what it is, but I think your
mother has been hurt."

He could not believe that anything serious had happened to his mother;
but when they alighted to walk across the boulevard he was quite as
eager to reach the house as she.

The man at the door wore an expression of well-governed concern, which
led Leo to sharply ask: "What is it, Ferguson? What has happened?"

"They have taken her, Miss."

"Taken? Who? What? Who have taken her?"

"The bailiff, Miss."

"The bailiff?"

"Yes, Miss, the officers came with a warrant just as Mrs. Ollnee was
sitting down to luncheon, and it was ever as much as she could do to get
them to wait till she had finished. Mrs. Joyce has gone with her."

Leo confronted Victor with large eyes. "That was the precise moment when
I had my sensation of alarm."

Victor was white and rigid with indignation. "Where did they take her?"

"To the Bond Street Station, sir. You are to come at once."

"How do I get there?"

"I'll show you," volunteered Leo. "Is the electric out, Ferguson?"

"I don't think so, Miss."

"Order it around at once." She turned to Victor. "Don't worry. Aunt
Louise is not easily rattled. She is able to command all the help that
is necessary. She will have her own lawyer and will see that everything
is done to shield your mother from harm."

He was aching with remorseful fear. "Oh, if we had not stayed so long,"
he groaned, all the beauty and charm of the morning swept away by a wave
of guilt. "Only think! I left the house without a word of greeting to
her! Doesn't it show that there is no peace or security for either of us
so long as we remain here? I have tried twice to get away from this, and
now--"

The electric carriage came smoothly to the door, and Leo, dismissing the
driver, motioned Victor to enter. "I'll drive," she said; and they swept
out of the gate and down the boulevard as if, by a wafture of the hand,
this young girl had invoked the aid of an Oriental magician.

The run was easy and swift, till they reached the crowded cross-street
which led westward into the city deeps; and as the carts thickened and
coarse and vicious humanity began to swarm Victor was moved to assert
the man's prerogative. He resented the admiring glances which the
loafers addressed to his companion, and a feeling of awkward
helplessness came upon him. "I wish you'd let me run this car," he said,
morosely.

Slowly they felt their way to the west, straight on toward a great
railway depot, with Leo deftly winding her way amid trucks and express
wagons, darting past clanging street-cars, and plowing through swarms of
nondescript men and slattern women, till at last she halted on a
crossing, and, leaning from the window, inquired of the police officer
the way to the Bond Street Station.

"Right around the corner, Miss," he replied, with a smile, pointing the
way with his club.

She turned up a narrow alley which ran parallel with the great domed
shed of the railway, and drew up before an ugly doorway in a grimy brick
building of depressing architecture.

Victor alighted with a full realization of having left heaven for a
filthy, squalid hell. The clang and hiss of engines in the shed, the jar
of heavy trucks, the cries of venders, the grind and howl of cars, the
sodden stream of humankind, deafened and appalled him. Nevertheless, he
took the lead into the gloomy anteroom of the station, which was half
filled with officers in uniform escorting or placidly watching
dull-hued, depressed, and unkempt men and women in arrest.

On inquiry of another officer, they were directed to the door of a long
hall, which was in effect a tunnel. "You'll find your party in the
court-room," the officer said.

Victor led the way through this battered hallway, and at the end of it
came into a large, bare room lighted with dusty windows on the north. It
was in effect a hall divided in halves by an open railing. In the
eastern end of the chamber the judge was seated surrounded by his clerks
examining a little group of silent men. In the western half of the room,
outside the railing, sat a somber and motley assemblage of negroes,
Italians, and Greeks, mostly young, each presenting a savage and sullen
face. In the midst of such a throng of miscreated beings Leo seemed of
angelic loveliness and purity.

Before the crowd became aware of her, the keen-eyed girl had discovered
the objects of their search. "There they are," she whispered, pointing
to the corner at the judge's right, where Mrs. Joyce and Mrs. Ollnee
were seated, in close conversation with a dark, smoothly-shaven man of
middle age. "Oh, I'm so glad," she added, "Mr. Bartol is with them."

She led the way, quite fearlessly, through the aisle and directly up to
the gate, where she was met by the bailiff, or warden of the room, a
sullen-faced, sloppy Irishman. He was too keen-eyed not to be
immediately impressed by her beauty and something strong and clear and
fine in her glance, but before he had time to ask her what she wanted
the gentleman whom she called Bartol came forward, and at his touch the
officer gave way respectfully, and the two young people entered the
inclosure.

Mrs. Ollnee rose upon seeing Victor, and lifted her arms to his neck.
"Oh, I'm so glad you've come," she murmured, in deep relief.

A rustle of profound interest passed over the court-room, and such
shuffling of feet and murmur of voices arose that the bailiff rapped
querulously on the railing with the handle of his mallet and glared, in
a vain effort to restore silence. Even the judge, accustomed as he was
to every phase of the human comedy, turned a sympathetic gaze upon the
girl. He was a middle-aged man, with a pale and sensitive careworn face,
and as he resumed his address to the men before him his gentle voice
could be heard above the roar of the street in grave reprimand. The
sodden convicts who stood unshaved and spiritless before him excited his
pity not his wrath.

Victor sat down beside his mother, whispering, "What is it all about?"

Mr. Bartol answered: "Pettus, the president of the People's Bank, has
absconded; the bank is closed, and your mother has been arrested for
complicity in his frauds."

Victor understood almost instantly, for this was exactly what Carew had
warned him about on the night of his first dinner in Mrs. Joyce's house.
"What can we do?" he asked.

"Leave that to me," replied Bartol. "I will see that your mother is
protected."

As they sat thus, waiting, while the judge disposed of a wife-beating
case, Victor thought of Altair and the mournful and exquisite smile with
which she had greeted him. What a frightful gulf gaped between these
savage and bestial men--these sullen, pinched, grimy, and malodorous
street-walkers, these sottish, half-human creatures, torn and bloody
with one another's claws--and the celestial vision which his mother, by
some inexplicable necromancy, had been able to create from the sunless
world of her magic! What a measureless stretch lay between this
clamorous, automatic, pitiless court (with its weary judge) and the
sunny bank beside the lagoon, whereon the birds were singing and where
he and Leo had so lately lain to gaze on the far horizon land of wedded
happiness and love!

Upon his musing the sounding voice of the clerk broke. "_Thomas Aiken_
vs. _Lucile Ollnee._"

Led by Mr. Bartol, Mrs. Ollnee and Mrs. Joyce moved through the gate and
stood before the judge, while from the right the complainant and his
witnesses and his lawyer came to oppose them. Victor followed his mother
and stood at the extreme left, with Leo by his side. He had no care of
what the miserable spectators in the seats would think of them. He was
only concerned with the judge and the opposing counsel.

Upon the motion of the clerk, the bailiff called out, "Hold up your
hands, everybody," and so they all, including even Leo, held up their
right hands and took the oath that what they were about to say would be
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help them God.

The judge, worn by the ceaseless stream of diseased, ineffectual, and
halting humanity passing daily before his eyes, gazed in surprise and
growing interest upon this group of handsome and well-dressed people
while the prosecuting attorney presented the claims of the complaining
witness, charging the defendant with conspiring to rob or defraud one,
Mary Aiken.

"Where is Mrs. Aiken?" asked the judge.

"She is too ill to appear, your honor," replied the prosecuting
attorney, "but her granddaughter is here prepared to give in detail the
story of how the defendant, who professes to be a medium, induced her
aged and infirm grandmother to withdraw her money from certain
investments in her native town and put them into the hands of
another--namely, the absconding president of the People's Bank, thereby
impoverishing her. Thomas Aiken, the complainant, charges that the said
defendant, Lucile Ollnee, has by her uncanny powers obtained large sums
of money, and that she should be punished as a swindler."

The judge studied the faces of the witnesses before him, then asked,
"What have you to say to this, Mrs. Ollnee?"

"It is false," she replied.

The prosecution put in a word. "You will not deny that you advised these
investments?"

"I advised nothing," she retorted. "What my controls advised I only know
in a general way."

"What do you mean by 'controls'?" inquired the judge.

"I am a spirit medium, and sometimes a trance medium," she replied,
facing him steadily. "Those whom men call the dead speak through me."

"In what way?"

"Partly by writing, partly by means of voices."

"Do you mean to say that the dead speak in voices audible to others than
yourself?"

"Yes, your honor, they often speak so loud that any one may hear them.
For the most part they whisper."

The prosecution again struck in. "These voices are a part of the trick,
a part of her method of luring her victims on to do her will."

The judge turned to the complainant, Thomas Aiken, a dark-faced, sullen
young man. "Have you heard these voices, Mr. Aiken?"

"No, sir; I never had a séance; but my sister has had a number of
interviews with this woman. I know that in spite of the advice of her
friends my grandmother has been induced to give away her money to this
woman and to that scoundrel, Pettus. We have been robbed by her. It
amounts to that, and we intend to stop it."

The judge turned back to Mrs. Ollnee. "Do you wish to be tried here and
now on this charge?"

Mr. Bartol interposed. "No, your honor, we do not. This case is a very
peculiar one. My client is a lady, as you may see, and should never have
been brought into this court in this fashion. That she is a medium is
probably true; but there is no evidence of deceit on her part. She
assures me of her absolute faith in these Voices, and her manner carries
conviction. Her friends believe in her also. She claims to be nothing
more than the means of communication between this world and the world of
the dead."

The judge smiled faintly. "That is claiming a good deal--from my point
of view. What have you to say to that?" he demanded, turning again to
the complainants.

A clear, low, musical voice, the voice of a young woman, answered, "The
case is not uncommon, your honor."

Victor, craning his head forward, found himself looking directly into
the big, intense black eyes of the girl he had rebuffed on the stairway
the first day of his stay. She was vivid, intense, and very indignant as
she said: "The woman pretends to be possessed of the power of
communication with the dead, and by her arts she convinced my
grandmother that her dead husband wished the withdrawal of her money
from a bank in Moline, and that he recommended its investment in this
traction company. She played remorselessly upon the most sacred emotions
of my poor old grandmother, and I have evidence to prove that this
advice has been a part of a general scheme whereby this traction
company, a fake concern, has been able to delude other credulous souls."

As she paused her lawyer said, wearily: "It is a plain case of
swindling, your honor, and we desire to press the case to its limit at
once, for Pettus cannot be found, and we fear the flight of the
defendant."

Mr. Bartol spoke suavely. "Your honor, it is not 'a plain case of
swindling.' Mrs. Ollnee is the personal friend of Mrs. John H. Joyce,
whose name you know very well. It is true that messages were given
advising the investment of funds in the traction company, but not only
has this advice been followed by Mrs. Joyce, but by the defendant
herself, who has kept all her own small savings in the same bank."

The judge turned to Mrs. Ollnee. "Is this true?"

"It is, your honor."

The judge spoke to Mrs. Joyce. "You believe in this woman's Voices?"

"I do."

"Yet they have advised you to put your money into the hands of a
swindler."

"Her Voices seem to have done this, yes, sir; but she herself has never
advised in any way."

"You distinguish between the Voices of your friend and her own
personality, do you?"

"I do, yes, sir."

The prosecuting attorney inserted a sneering word. "Your honor, Mrs.
Joyce is known to be credulous and under the influence of this
trickster. She is not a competent witness. She has permitted herself to
be deluded to the point where she will not believe anything ill of her
medium. Thomas Aiken is not the only one ready to press this charge
against the defendant. Four others to my knowledge stand ready to
testify to this woman's uncanny power for deluding and defrauding. My
client finds herself stripped of her little fortune and helpless in her
declining years. The acting of this medium is criminal, and we demand
that she be punished."

The judge turned his musing eyes upon Mrs. Ollnee's pale face. "Have you
anything further to say, Mrs. Ollnee?"

"I have never been guilty of any deception, your honor. I claim no
wisdom for myself. If it is true that the traction company is a fraud,
then it must be that lying spirits have spoken impersonating my husband
and my father."

"That is a subterfuge," interposed the young woman, Miss Aiken. "She is
responsible for her Voices."

"You accept money for your services, do you not?" the judge asked of
Mrs. Ollnee.

"Not now, no sir."

"Did you formerly?"

"Yes, sir, after my husband died, I was forced to do so in order to
educate my son."

"Is this your son?"

"Yes, sir."

The judge addressed himself to Victor. "What do you know of your
mother's power as a medium? Do you share her faith?"

Victor felt the burning eyes of the angry girl upon him as he replied:
"I know very little about it, your honor. I have been away to school
ever since I was ten years old."

"Mrs. Joyce, you are a believer in Mrs. Ollnee's powers?"

"I am, a firm believer."

"You've had no reason to doubt the genuineness of these messages?"

"Up to the present time I have not."

"You will lose heavily in this traction swindle, if it is a swindle,
will you not?"

"If it has failed, yes, sir."

"Does that shake your faith in the medium?"

"Not in the slightest, your honor. It is a well-known fact that lying
spirits sometimes interpose."

During this interrogation, which had proceeded in conversational tone,
they had all remained standing before the judge, whose speculative eyes
wandered from face to face with growing interest. At last he said to the
prosecuting attorney: "From your own statement of it, this case is not
to be tried here. I do not feel myself competent at this time to pass
upon the questions involved."

"She shall not escape," said Miss Aiken, with bitter menace.

Mr. Bartol interposed. "We demand a trial by jury, your honor."

"You shall have it," responded the judge.

The Aikens withdrew sullenly, and the bailiff indicated that the
defendant and her party might retire to an inner office while papers
were being prepared; and this they did. This room proved to be a bare,
bleak place, with benches and yellow wooden chairs, as ugly as a country
railway station, wherein a few officers were carelessly lounging about.
They all gazed curiously at Mrs. Ollnee and Leo, and one of them
muttered to the other, "It's not often that a classy bunch like that
comes into court."

The indignity of it all caused Leo to forget her own share in the
traction company's failure. "It is shameful that you should be dragged
here," she said, when the door closed behind them.

"Leo!" cried Mrs. Ollnee, in agonized voice. "Do you realize that this
failure means almost as much of a loss to you as it does to Louise?"

This affected the girl only for an instant. Then she loyally said:
"Yes, I know. But I do not blame you for it."

Mrs. Ollnee turned to her son. "If all they say is true, Victor, we are
the victims of some lying devils--"

Leo soothingly laid her hand on her arm. "Let us not think about that
just now. Let us wait until we are safely out of this dreadful place."

Victor perceived that his mother was shaken to the very deeps of her
faith. She was trembling with excitement and weakness, and his anxiety
deepened into a fear that she might faint. "There are devils here," she
whispered. "I feel them all about me--bestial, horrible--take me away!"

"Can't we go now?" he asked of the officer, who seemed to have an eye on
them. "My mother is not well."

"Wait till the bail is fixed up," the officer replied, pleasantly but
inexorably.

They remained in silence till Mrs. Joyce and Mr. Bartol appeared. Then
Victor hurried his mother out into the street, eager to escape the
desolating air of this moral charnel-house. It was by no means a
perfectly pure atmosphere without, but it was fresher than within, and
Mrs. Ollnee revived almost instantly. "Oh, the swarms of unclean spirits
in there!" she said, looking back with a face of horror.

Mrs. Joyce put her into the car with Leo and told them to go directly
home, while she, with Victor, took Mr. Bartol to his office. Victor,
stunned by the new and crushing blow which had fallen upon him, turned
to the great lawyer with a boy's trust and admiration. "What can we do?"
he asked, as soon as they had taken their seats in the car.

Mr. Bartol did not attempt to make light of the case. His dark, strong
face was very grave as he answered: "For the present we can do very
little beyond getting our bearings. It seems to me at the moment as
though the whole question hinged upon the possibility of dual
personality, and so far as I am concerned, I have no mind upon that
matter. I must give it attention before I can reply. Our immediate
concern is to keep your mother from further trouble and assault. If, as
the prosecution stated, there are others in this fight, they and the
press can make it very unpleasant for you all. Miss Florence Aiken has a
powerful and vindictive pen. She will not cease her persecution--for she
is at the bottom of the case."

Mrs. Joyce turned to him with eager face. "I wish you would invite Mrs.
Ollnee and her son up to your farm for a few days."

"I do so with pleasure. I am going up to-night on the eight-o'clock
train, and I shall be very glad to have them go with me, if they care to
do so. We can then talk the whole case over at our leisure and in quiet.
Perhaps you can run up and stay over Sunday with us."

"That is the very thing," she responded; "and I'm very grateful to you."

Again Victor felt himself helpless, whirling along in a stream of alien
purpose like a leaf in a mountain torrent, and again he abandoned
himself to its sweep. "I will do anything to get away from here," he
replied.

Mr. Bartol went on: "Your mother's case will not come up for some days,
and the rest and quiet of the farm will do you both good." To Mrs. Joyce
he added, privately: "The whole matter interests me vastly. I don't at
all mind giving some time to it, and, besides, I like the young man."

Mrs. Joyce dropped the lawyer at his office door and sped homeward
swiftly, with intent to overtake Leo. She did not attempt to conceal her
anxiety. "The truth is, Victor, Pettus and his friends called into our
circle a throng of wicked, deceiving spirits. They were not what they
claimed to be. They were cheats, and they have almost ruined us. Your
poor, sweet mother is not to blame, and I can't blame the Aikens. What I
cannot understand is this--Why did your father and his band permit these
treacherous personalities to intervene? Why did they not defend her from
these demons?"

Victor listened to her with a complete reversal to disbelief as regards
his mother's mediumship. He forgot the marvels of the direct writing,
the mighty murmuring wind, the dream-face of Altair; all these
insubstantial and evanescent perceptions were lost, submerged by the
returning sea of his doubt. He saw, too, that Leo's faith was shaken. He
felt it beneath her brave-spoken words. The whole question of the
process, as well as the content of the messages, was reopened for her.
His situation grew ever darker. His way was again blocked. He could not
leave his mother to her fate, and yet he could not see his way to
earning a cent of money while this horrible accusation was hanging over
her. He acknowledged, too, a very definite feeling of sympathy with
those who had been defrauded. There was moral indignation in Miss
Aiken's tremulous eagerness to punish. "She's not to blame," he said.
"I'd do exactly as she is doing if I were in her place."



X

A VISIT TO HAZEL GROVE


Bartol, attended by porters and greeted by conductors and brakemen, led
the way to the parlor-car in a stern abstraction, which was his habit.
Victor studied him closely and with growing admiration. He was not tall,
but his head was nobly formed and his broad mask of face lion-like in
its somber dreaming. In repose it was sad, almost bitter, and in profile
clear-cut and resolute. His dress was singularly tasteful and orderly,
with nothing of the careless celebrity in its color or cut, and yet no
one would accuse him of being the dandy. He was naturally of this
method, and gave little direct thought to toilet or dress.

Mrs. Ollnee looked upon him as her rescuer, one who had snatched her
from loathsome captivity; but his manner did not invite repeated and
profuse thanks. With a few words of polite explanation, he took a seat
behind his wards, unfolded his newspaper, and forgot them till the
conductor came through the car; then he remembered them and paid their
fares.

Mrs. Ollnee was not merely awed by his powerful visage and searching
eyes; she was profoundly stirred by some psychic influence which
emanated from him. She whispered to Victor: "He is very sad. He is all
alone. He has lost his wife and both his children. He has no hope, and
often feels like leaving this life."

Victor did not take this communication as a "psychometric reading," for
he had been able to discern almost as much with his own eyes, and,
besides, all of its definite information Mrs. Joyce might have
furnished; but his mother added something that startled him. She said:
"The Voices say, '_Obey this man; study him. He will raise you high!_'"

"What do you mean by that?"

"I don't know," she replied. "That is the way I hear it. I hear other
Voices--they say to me, '_Comfort him._'"

Victor was not in a mood for "voices," and cut her short by asking in
detail about her arrest. "Who came for you? A policeman?"

"Yes, but not in uniform. They were very nice about it. At first I was
terribly frightened. I was afraid I should have to go in the
patrol-wagon, but we were allowed to ride in the car, the policeman
sitting with the driver--"

Victor groaned. "Oh, mother, why did you give out _business_ advice!"

"I gave what was given to me," she responded.

"Think of the disgrace of being in that court-room!"

"I didn't mind the disgrace," she replied; "but it swarmed with horrible
spirits. Each one of those poor criminals had a cloud of other base,
distorted, half-formed creatures hovering about him. It was like being
in a cage with a host of obscene bats fluttering about." She shuddered.
"It was horrible! It was a sweet relief when you and Leo came, for a new
and happy band came with you. You helped my band drive away the cloud of
low beings that oppressed me; and now there is something calming and
serenely helpful all about me. It comes from Mr. Bartol. I am no longer
afraid; I am perfectly serene."

Victor made no attempt at elucidating her exact meaning; there was
something depressing to him in this continued dependence upon spirit
guidance, a guidance that had led them into so much trouble and
discredit. He sat by the window, watching the faintly-outlined moonlit
landscape flowing past, feeling himself to be a very small insect riding
on the chariot of the king of tempests, with no power to check the speed
or direct the course of his inflexible driver. His own future was but a
flutter of vague shadows, his boyhood a serene, sun-warm meadow, now
swiftly receding into the darkness of night. Would anything so beautiful
ever come again?

His mother, sitting as if entranced, was looking down at her folded
hands, her brow unlined; but a plaintive droop in the lines of her
sensitive mouth told that she was wearied and secretly disheartened.

"Poor little mother!" he said, laying a hand on her arm, "you are
tired."

The tears came to her eyes, but she smiled back radiantly. "I don't care
what comes, if only you believe in me," she said, simply; and he took
her hand in both of his and pressed it like a lover.

At last Mr. Bartol folded his paper and put away his glasses. "Well, we
are nearing Hazel Grove," he announced, smilingly. "It's only a little
village, a meeting of cross-roads, but I think you'll like the country;
it's the fine old rolling prairie of which you've heard."

The moon was riding high as they alighted from the coach upon the
platform of a low, wooden station in the midst of green fields. A clump
of trees, and the lights in dimly discerned houses, gave only a faint
suggestion of a town; but an open carriage was waiting for them, and
entering this, they were driven away into the most delicious and
fragrant silence.

Instantly the last trace of Victor's anger and unrest fell away from
him. Of this simple quality had been the scenes of his life at school.
In such peace and serenity his earlier years had been spent; indeed, all
his life, save for the few tumultuous days in the city--and he was
immediately restored and comforted by the sounds, sights, and odors of
the superb spring night.

"Isn't it glorious!" he cried. "I feel as if I were reaching God's
country again."

The swiftly stepping horses whirled them up the street through a bunch
of squat buildings and out along a gently rising lane to the south. Ten
minutes later the driver turned into a large, tree-shaded drive, and
over a curving graveled drive approached a spreading white house, whose
porticos shone pleasantly in the moonlight. A row of lighted windows
glowed with hospitable intent, and tall vases of flowers showed dimly.

"Here we are!" called Mr. Bartol, with genial cordiality. "Welcome to
Hazeldean."

To dismount before this wide porch in the midst of the small innumerable
voices of the night was like living out some delicious romance. To come
to it from the reek and threat of the court-room made its serene expanse
a heavenly refuge, and the beleaguered mother paused for a moment at the
door to look back upon the lawn, where opulent elms and maples dreamed
in the odorless gloom. "I have never seen anything so peaceful," she
breathed. "Only heavenly souls inhabit here."

The interior was equally restful and reassuring. Large rooms with simple
and substantial furnishings led away from a short entrance hall. The
ceilings were low and dark, and the lamps shaded. Books were everywhere
to be seen, many of them piled carelessly convenient to lights and
chairs, as if it were both library and living-room.

The first word Victor spoke related to the books, and Mr. Bartol replied
with a smile.

"They are not especially well chosen. I fear you'll find them a mixed
lot. I read nothing but law in the city--here I indulge my fancy. You'll
wonder what my principle of selection is, and, if you ask me, I must
answer--I haven't any. I buy whatever commends itself to me at the
moment. One thing leads to another--romance to history, history to
poetry, poetry to the drama, and so on." He greeted a very tidy maid who
entered the room. "Good-evening, Marie. This is Mrs. Ollnee, and this is
her son, Mr. Victor Ollnee. Please see that they are made comfortable."
Then again to his guests. "You must be tired."

"I am so, Mr. Bartol," replied Mrs. Ollnee, "and if you'll pardon me
I'll go to my room."

"Certainly--and you may go, too, if you feel like it," he said to
Victor.

"I am not sleepy," replied Victor.

"Very well," replied his host. "Be seated and we'll discuss the
situation for a few minutes."

He led the way to a corner where two wide windows opening on the lawn
made delicious mingling of night air and study light, and offering his
guest a cigar, took a seat, saying: "I run out here whenever the city
becomes a burden. I find I need just such a corrective to the intense
life of the city. It is my rule to give no thought to legal troubles
while I am here; hence the absence of codes and all legal literature.
You are a college man, Mrs. Joyce tells me."

"I was at Winona last Saturday, and expected to stay there till June,
when I was due to graduate. Then the devil broke loose, and here I am.
When will my mother's case come up?"

"Not for some weeks, I fear. If you wish to return to your studies we
can arrange that."

"No. I'm done with school. I'm only worried about my mother. What do you
think of her case, Mr. Bartol?"

"I'm not informed sufficiently to say," he replied, slowly. "The whole
subject of hypnotic control seems to be involved. I must know more of
your mother before I can even hazard an opinion. The theories of
suggestion are all rather vague to me. I have only what might be called
a newspaper knowledge of them; but I have some information as to your
mother's profession I gained from my friend Mrs. Joyce, so that I am not
entirely uninformed. Besides, it is a lawyer's business to know
everything, and I shall at once proceed to bore into the subject."

Mrs. Ollnee returning brought him to his feet in graceful acknowledgment
of her sex, and placing a chair for her, he said, "I hope you don't mind
tobacco."

"Not at all," she replied, quite as graciously.

He placed a chair for her so that the light fell upon her face, and she
knew that he intended to study her as if she were a page of strange
text.

"I'm glad you like it here," he said, in answer to her repeated
admiration of his home, "for I suspect you'll have to stay here for the
present. The city is passing through one of those moral paroxysms which
come once in a year or two. Last year it was the social evil; just now
it concerns itself with what the reformers are pleased to call 'the
occult fakers.' The feeling of a jury would be against you at present,
and as I have promised Mrs. Joyce to take charge of your defense, I
think it well for you to go into retirement here while I take time to
inform myself of the case."

"I do not like to trouble you."

"It is no trouble, my dear madam. Here is this big home, empty and
completely manned. A couple of guests, especially a hearty young man,
will be a godsend to my cook. She complains of not having men to feed.
Don't let any question of expense to me trouble you."

"Thank you most deeply."

"Don't thank me; thank Louise Joyce, who is both client and friend, and
the one to whom I owe this pleasure." He bowed. "I never before had the
opportunity of entertaining a 'psychic,' and I welcome the
opportunity."

She did not quite know how to take him, and neither did Victor; and
perceiving that doubt, Bartol added: "I am quite sincere in all this. I
hear a good deal, obscurely, of this curious phase of human life, but
never before have I been confronted by one who claims the power of
divination."

"Pardon me, sir, I do not claim such power."

"Do you not! I thought that was precisely your claim."

"No, sir, I am a medium. I report what is given to me. I divine nothing
of myself. I am an instrument through which those whom men call 'the
dead' speak."

"I see," he mused. "I will not deceive you," he began again, very
gravely. "This charge against you is likely to prove serious, and you
must be quite frank with me. I may require a test of your powers."

"I am at your service, sir. Make any test of me you please--this moment
if you like."

"I will not require anything of you to-night. Writers tell me that
'mediums' are a dark, elusive, and uncanny set, Mrs. Ollnee, and I must
confess that you upset my preconceptions."

"There are all kinds of mediums, as there are all kinds of lawyers, Mr.
Bartol. I am human, like the others."

"If you will permit me, I will take up your defense along the lines of
hypnotic control on the part of this man Pettus."

"I cannot presume to advise you, sir, but you must know that to me these
Voices come from the spirit world. I am the transmitter merely--for
instance, at this moment I hear a Voice and I see behind you the form of
a lady, a lovely young woman--"

"Mother!" called Victor, warningly. "Don't start in on that!"

"Proceed," said Bartol; "I am interested."

The psychic, leaning forward slightly, fixed her wide, deep-blue eyes
upon him. "The maid conducted me to the room which had been your wife's,
but I could not stay there. This lady who stands beside you took me by
the hand and led me away to another room. She is nodding at me now."

"Do you mean the maid led you from the room?"

"No, I mean the spirit now standing behind you led me here. She says her
name is Margaret Bartol. She said: '_Comfort my dear husband. Restore
his faith._' She is smiling at me. She wants me to go on."

Bartol's face remained inscrutably calm. "Where does the form seem to
be?"

"At your right shoulder. She says, '_Tell him Walter and Hattie are both
with me._' She listened a moment. She says, '_Tell him Walter's mind is
perfectly clear now._'"

Victor thought he saw the lawyer start in surprise, but his voice was
cold as he said, "Go on."

"She says: '_Tell him the way is open. I am here. Ask him to speak to
me._'"

Bartol then spoke, but his tone plainly showed that he was testing his
client's hallucination and not addressing himself to the imaginary
ghost. "Are you there, Margaret?"

"_Yes_," came the answer, clearly though faintly.

The renowned lawyer gazed at the medium with eyes that burned deep, and
presently he asked, "What have you to say to me?"

Again came the clear, silvery whisper: "_Much. Trust the medium. She
will comfort you._"

Victor thrilled to the importance of this moment, and much as he feared
for his mother's success, he could not but admire the courage which
blazed in her steady eyes. She was no longer afraid of this mighty man
of the law, to whom heaven and hell were obsolete words. She was
panoplied with the magic and mystery of death, and waited calmly for him
to continue.

At last he said: "Go on. I am listening."

Again through the flower-scented, silent room the sibilant voice stole
its way. "_Father._"

"Who is speaking?"

"_Margaret._"

"Margaret? What Margaret?"

"_Your 'rascal' Peggy._"

Bartol certainly started at this reply, which conveyed an expression of
mirth, but his questions continued formal.

"What is your will with me?"

"_Mamma is here--and Walter._"

"Can they speak?"

"_They will try._"

Again silence fell upon the room--a silence so profound that every
insect's stir was a rude interruption. At length another whisper,
clearer, louder, made itself heard: "_Alexander, be happy. I live._"

"Who are you?"

"_Your wife._"

"You say so. Can you prove your identity?"

The whisper grew fainter. "_I will try. It is hard. Good-by._"

Bartol raised his hand to his head with a gesture of surprise. "I
thought I felt a touch on my hair."

"The lady touched you as she passed away," Mrs. Ollnee explained. "She
has gone. They are all gone now."

"I am sorry," he said, in polite disappointment. "I wanted to pursue the
interrogation. Is this the usual method of your communications?"

"This is one way. They write sometimes, and sometimes they speak through
a megaphone; sometimes they materialize a face or a hand."

He remained in profound thought for a few moments, then starting up,
spoke with decision: "You are tired. Go to bed. We'll have plenty of
time to take up these matters to-morrow. Please feel at home here and
stay as long as you wish."

A little later he took Victor to his room, and as they stood there he
remarked, "Of course, all this may be and probably is mind-reading and
ventriloquism--subconscious, of course."

"But the writing," said Victor. "You must see that. That is the weirdest
thing she does. It is baffling."

"My boy, the whole universe is baffling to me," his host replied, and
into his voice came that tone of tragic weariness which affected the
youth like a strain of solemn music. "The older I grow the more
senseless, hopelessly senseless, human life appears; but I must not say
such things to you. Good-night."

"Good-night," responded Victor, with swelling throat. "We owe you a
great deal."

"Don't speak of it!" the lawyer commanded, and closed the door behind
him.

Victor dropped into a chair. What a day this had been! Within
twenty-four hours he had seen and loved the dream-face of Altair and had
been blown upon by the winds from the vast chill and empty regions of
space. He had resented Leo's voice in the night, but had returned to her
in the light of the morning. On the dreamy lagoon he had been her lover
again, pulling at the oar with savage joy, and on the grass in the
sunlight he had been the man unafraid and victorious. Then came the
hurried return, the visit to the court, the rescue of his mother--and
here now he lay in the charity bed of his mother's lawyer! "Truly I am
being hurried," he said; and recalling Miss Aiken's final menacing
remark, he added: "And if that girl and her brother can do it mother
will be sent to prison." Much as he feared these accusing witnesses, he
acknowledged a kind of fierce beauty in Florence Aiken's face.

As he lay thus, thinking deeply yet drowsily upon his problems, he heard
a faint ticking sound beneath his head. It was too regular and
persistent to be a chance creaking of the cloth, and he rose and shook
the pillow to dislodge the insect which he imagined might have flown in
at the window.

The ticking continued. "I wonder if that _is_ a fly?"

The ticking seemed to reply, "No," by means of one decided rap. To test
it, he asked, "Are you a spirit?"

The tick counted one, two, three--"_Yes._"

"Some one to speak to me?"

_Tick, tick, tick_--"Yes."

The answer was so plainly intelligent that the boy, silent with
amazement, not unmixed with fear, lay for a few minutes in puzzled
inaction. At length he asked, "Who is it--Father?"

"Tick"--No.

"_Grandfather?_"

"_No._"

He hesitated before asking the next question. "Is it Altair?"

"_No._"

He thought again. "Is it Walter Bartol?"

The answer was joyously instant. "_Yes, yes, yes!_"

"Do you wish to speak to me?"

"_Yes._"

"About your father?"

"_Yes._"

"Through my mother?"

Now came one of those baffling changes. The answer was faintly slow,
"Tick, tick," betraying uncertainty--and succeeding queries elicited no
response.

Victor, excited and eager, would have gone to his mother for aid had he
known where to find her room. The mood for marvels was upon him now, and
Altair and Margaret, and all the rest of the impalpable throng, seemed
waiting in the dusk and silence to communicate with him. Hopelessly wide
awake, he lay, while the big clock on the landing rang its little chime
upon the quarter hours, but no further sign was given him of the
presence of his intangible visitor; and at last the experience of the
day became as unsubstantial as his dreams.

He was awakened by the cackling of fowls and the bleating of calves and
lambs. The sun was shining through the leafy top of a tree which lay
almost against his window, and happy shadows were dancing like fairies
on the coverlet of his bed.

"It sounds like a real farm!" he drowsily murmured, filled with the
peace of those cries, which typify the most ancient and unchanging parts
of the cottager's life.

He had known only the poetic side of farm life. He had seen it, heard
it, tasted it only as the lad out for a holiday, and it all seemed
serene and joyous to him. To his mind the luxury of quietly dozing to
the music of a barn-yard was the natural habit of the farmer. He did not
attempt to rise till he heard the voice of his host from the lawn
beneath his window.

A half an hour later he found Bartol in the barn-yard surveying a span
of colts which his farmer was leading back and forth before him. They
were lanky, thin-necked creatures, but Victor knew enough of horses to
perceive in them signs of a famous breed of trotters.

"You are a real farmer," he said, as he came up to his host.

Bartol seemed pleased. "I made it pay five per cent. last year," he
responded, with pride. "Of course that means counting in my time as a
farmer, and not as a lawyer. How did you sleep?"

"Pretty well--when I got at it. I was a little excited and didn't go off
as I usually do when I hit the pillow."

"No wonder! I had a restless night myself." He nodded to the hostler.
"That will do," and turned away. "I gave a great deal of thought to your
mother's case. The fact seems to be that the human organism is a great
deal more complicated than we're permitted ourselves to admit, and the
tendency of the ordinary man is to make the habitual commonplace, no
matter how profoundly mysterious it may be at the outset. Of course at
bottom we know very little of the most familiar phenomenon. Why does
fire burn and water run? No one really knows."

They were facing the drive, which curved like a lilac ribbon through the
green of the lawn, and the estate to Victor's eyes had all the charm of
a park combined with the suggestive music of a farmstead.

"It's beautiful here!" he exclaimed.

"I'm glad you like it, and I hope you and your mother will stay till we
have put you both straight with the world."

"If I could only do something to pay my freight, Mr. Bartol. I feel like
a beggar and a fool to be so helpless. I was not expecting to be kicked
out of college, and I'm pretty well rattled, I'll confess."

"You keep your poise notably," the lawyer replied, with kindly glance.
"To be so suddenly introduced to the mystery and the chicanery of the
world would bewilder an older and less emotional man."

They breakfasted in a big room filled with the sunlight. Through the
open windows the scent of snowy flowers drifted, and the food and
service were of a sort that Victor had never seen. A big grape-fruit,
filled with sugar and berries; corn-cakes, crisp and golden; bacon
delicately broiled, together with eggs (baked in little earthen cups),
and last of all, coffee of such fragrance that it seemed to vie with the
odor of the flowers without. Each delicious dish was served deftly,
quietly, by a sweet-faced maid, who seemed to feel a filial interest in
her master.

The service was a revelation of the perfection to which country life can
be brought by one who has both wealth and culture; and Victor wondered
that any one could be sad amid such radiant surroundings.

"I can't see why you ever return to the city," he said, with conviction.

Bartol smiled. "That's the perversity of our human nature. If I were
forced to live here all the time the farm might pall upon me, just as if
all seasons were spring. As it is, I come back to it from the turmoil of
the town with never-cloying appetite. Per contra, these maids and my
farm-hands find a visit to the city their keenest delight. To them the
parks and the artificial ponds are more beautiful than anything in
nature." His tone changed. "In truth, I live on and do my work more from
force of habit than from zest. So far as I can, I get back to the simple
animal existence, where sun and air and food are the never-failing
pleasures. I try to forget that I am a pursuer of criminals. I return to
my work in the city, as I say, because it helps to keep my appetite for
the rural things. I can't afford to let silence and green trees pall
upon me. If I were a little more of a believer," he smiled, "I would say
that you and your mother had been sent to me, for of late I have been in
a deeper slough of despair than at any time since the death of my wife.
I am curious to see how all this is going to affect your mother. She may
find it very lonely here."

"Oh, I'm sure she will not."

"Well, now, I must be off. But before I go I will show you the
catalogues of my library; and perhaps I can bring home some books which
will bear on these occult subjects. I have given orders that no
information as to you shall go off the place; and your mother is safe
here. You may read, or hoe in the garden, or ride a horse."

"I wish I might go to the city with you."

"My judgment is against it. Stay here for a few days till we see which
way the wind is blowing." And with a cheery wave of his hand he drove
away, leaving Victor on the porch with the feeling of being marooned on
an island--a peaceful and beautiful island, but an island nevertheless.



XI

LOVE'S TRANSLATION


To tell the truth, Victor dreaded being left alone with his mother in
this way. He was fully aware now of the invisible barrier between them.
No matter what explanation was finally offered, she could never be the
same to him again, for whether it was her subconscious self which had
cunningly lured them all to the verge of disaster, or some
uncontrollable impulse coming from without, in the light any
explanation, she was no longer the sweet, gentle, normal mother he had
hitherto thought her to be.

It was not a question of being in possession of strange abilities, it
was a question of being obsessed by some diabolical power--of being the
prey of malignant demons avid to destroy.

The more deeply he thought upon all that had come to him, the more
bewildered he became; and to avoid this tumult, which brought no result,
he went out and wandered about the farm. His experience was like
visiting a foreign country, for the men were either Swiss or German; and
the walls of the farm-yard quite as un-American in their massiveness
and their formal arrangement--a vivid contrast to the flimsy structures
of the neighboring village. The servants (that is what they were,
servants) treated him with the trained deference of those who for
generations have touched their caps to the more fortunate beings of the
earth, and these signs of subordination were distinctly soothing to the
youth's disturbed condition of mind. Instantly, and without effort, he
assumed the air of the young aristocrat they thought him.

He strolled down the road to the village, which was a collection of
small frame cottages in neat lawns, surrounding a few general stores and
a greasy, fly-specked post-office. Here was the unimaginative, the
prosaic, perfectly embodied. Old men, bent and gray, were gossiping from
benches and boxes under the awnings. Clerks in their shirt-sleeves were
lolling over counters. A few farmers' teams stood at the iron
hitching-posts with drowsy, low-hanging heads. Neither doubt nor dismay
nor terror had footing here. The majesty of dawn, the mystery of
midnight, did not touch these peaceful and phlegmatic souls. The spirit
of man was to them less than an abstraction and the tumult of the city a
far-off roar as of distant cataracts.

Furthermore, these matter-of-fact folk had abundant curiosity and no
reverence, and they all stared at Victor with round, absorbent gaze, as
if with candid intent to take full invoice of his clothing, and to know
him again in any disguise. He heard them say, one after the other, as he
passed along, "Visitor of Bartol's, I guess." And he could understand
that this explanation really explained, for Bartol's "Castle" was the
resting-place of many strange birds of passage.

Bartol was, indeed, the constant marvel of Hazel Grove. Why had he
bought the place? Why, after it was bought, should he spend so much
money on it? And finally, why should he employ "foreigners"? These were
a few of the queries which were put and answered and debated in the
shade of the furniture store and around the air-tight store of the
grocery. His farm was their never-failing wonder tale. The building of a
new wall was an excitement, each whitewashing of a picket fence an
event. They knew precisely the hour of departure of each blooded ram or
bull, and the birth of each colt was discussed as if another son and
heir had come to the owner.

Naturally, therefore, all visitors to "Hazeldean" came in for study and
comment--especially because it was well known that Bartol stood high in
the political councils of the party (was indeed mentioned for senator),
and that his guests were likely to be "some punkins" in the world. "This
young feller is liable to be the son of one of his millionaire clients,"
was the comment of the patient sitters. "Husky chap, ain't he?"

Feeling something of this comment, and sensing also the sleepy
materialism of the inhabitants, Victor regained much of his own
disbelief in the miraculous, and yet just to that degree did the pain in
his heart increase, for it made of his mother something so monstrous
that the conception threatened all his love and reverence for her. Pity
sprang up in place of the filial affection he had once known. He began
to make new excuses for her. "It must be that she has become so
suggestible that every sitter's mind governs her. In a sense, that
removes her responsibility." And so he walked back, with all his
pleasure in the farm and village eaten up by his care.

His mother was waiting for him on the porch, and as he came up, asked
with shining face:

"Isn't this heavenly, Victor?"

"It is very beautiful," he replied, but with less enthusiasm than she
expected.

"To think that yesterday I was threatened with the prison, and
now--this! We have much to thank Mr. Bartol for."

"That's just it, mother. What claim have we on this big, busy man? What
right have we to sit here?"

The brightness of her face dimmed a little, but she replied bravely: "I
have always paid my way, Victor, and I am sure last night's message
meant much to Mr. Bartol. I always help people. If I bring back a belief
in immortality do I not make fullest recompense to my host? My gift is
precious, and yet I cannot sell it--I can only give it--and so when I am
offered bed and board in return for my work I am not ashamed to take it.
The kings of the earth are glad to honor those who, like myself, have
the power to penetrate the veil."

Never before had she ventured upon so frank a defense of her vocation,
and Victor listened with a new conception of her powers. As she
continued she took on dignity and quiet force.

"The medium gives more for her wages than any earthly soul; and when you
consider that we make the grave a gateway to the light, that our hands
part the veil between the seen and the unseen, then you will see that
our gifts are not abnormal, but supernormal. God has given us these
powers to comfort mankind, to afford a new revelation to the world."

"Why didn't you make me a medium?" he asked, thrusting straight at her
heart. "Why did you send me away from it all?"

Her eyes fell, her voice wavered. "Because I was weak--an earthly
mother. My selfish love and pride overpowered me. I could not see you
made ashamed--and besides my controls advised it for the time."

He took a seat where he could look up into her face. "Mother, tell me
this--haven't you noticed that your controls generally advise the things
you believe in?"

She was stung by his question. "Yes, my son, generally; but sometimes
they drive me into ways I do _not_ believe in. Often they are in
opposition to my own will."

He was silenced for the moment, and his mind took a new turn. "When did
Altair first come?"

"Soon after I met Leo. She came with Leo. She attends Leo."

"Have you seen her?"

"No. I am always in deepest trance when she shows herself. I hear her
voice, though."

"Mother," he said, earnestly, "if Mr. Bartol gets us out of this scrape
will you go away with me into some new country and give up this
business?"

"You don't seem to understand, Victor. I can no more escape from these
Voices than I can run away from my own shadow. I don't want to run away.
I love the thought of them. I have innumerable sweet friends on the
other side. To close the door in their faces would be cruel. It would
leave me so lonely that I should never smile again."

"Then they mean more to you than I do!" he exclaimed.

"No, no! I don't mean that!" she passionately protested. "You mean more
to me than all the _earthly_ things, but these heavenly hosts are very
dear--besides, I shall go to them soon and I want to feel sure that I
can come back to you when I have put aside the body. I fear now that
our separation was a mistake. In trying to shield you from the transient
disgrace of being a medium's son, I have put your soul in danger. I was
weak--I own it. I was an earthly mother. I wanted my boy to be respected
and rich and happy here in the earth-life. I did not realize the danger
I ran of being forever separated from you by the veil of death. Oh,
Victor, you must promise me that should I pass out suddenly you will try
to keep the spirit-way open between us--will you promise this?"

Strange scene! Strange mother! All about them the orioles were
whistling, the robins chirping, and farther away the beasts of the
barn-yard were bawling their wants in cheerful chorus, but here on this
vine-shaded porch a pale, small woman sought a compact with her son
which should outlast the grave and defy time and space.

He gave his word. How could he refuse it? But his pledge was
half-hearted, his eyes full of wavering. It irked him to think that in a
month of bloom and passion, a world of sunny romance, a world of girls
and all the sweet delights they conveyed to young men, he should be
forced to discuss matter which relates to the charnel-house and the
chill shadow of the tomb.

He rose abruptly. "Don't let's talk of this any more. Let's go for a
walk. Let's visit the garden."

She was swifter of change than he. She could turn from the air of the
"ghost-room" to the glory of the peacock as swiftly as a mirror reflects
its beam of light, and she caught a delightful respite from the flowers.
She was accustomed to the lavish greenhouses of her wealthy patrons, but
here was something that delighted her more than all their hotbeds. Here
were all the old-fashioned out-of-door plants and flowers, the
perennials of her grandfather, to whom hot-houses were unknown. This
Colonial garden was another of Bartol's peculiarities. He had no love
for orchids, or any exotic or forced blooms. His fancy led to the
glorification of phloxes, to the ripening of lilacs, and to the
preservation of old-time varieties of roses--plants with human
association breathing of romance and sorrow--hence his plots were filled
with hardy New England roots flourishing in the richer soils of the
Western prairies.

These colors, scents, and forms moved Victor markedly, for the reason
that in La Crescent, as a child, he had been accustomed to visit a gaunt
old woman, the path to whose door led through cinnamon roses, balsam,
tiger-lilies, sweet-william, bachelor-buttons, pinks, holly-hocks, and
the like--a wonderland to him then--a strange and haunting pleasure now
as he walked these graveled ways and mingled the memories of the old
with the vivid impressions of the new.

Back to the house they came at last to luncheon, and there, sitting in
the beautiful dining-room, so cool, so spacious, so singularly tasteful
in every detail, they gazed upon each other in a delight which was
tinged with pain. Such perfection of appointment, such service, all for
them (two beggars), was more than embarrassing; it provoked a sense of
guilt. The pretty, low-voiced, soft-soled maid came and went, bringing
exquisite food in the daintiest dishes (enough food for six),
anticipating every want, like the fairy of the story-books. "Mother,"
said the youth, "this is a story!"

Mrs. Ollnee was accustomed to the splendor of Mrs. Joyce's house, but
she was almost as much moved as Victor. She perceived the difference
between the old-world simplicity of this flawless establishment and the
lavish, tasteless hospitality of men like Pettus.

Who had planned and organized this wide-walled, low-toned room, this
marvelously effective cuisine? How was it possible for such service to
go on during the master's absence with apparently the same unerring
precision of detail?

These questions remained unanswered, and they rose at last with a sense
of having been, for the moment at least, in the seats of those who
command the earth wisely.

Hardly were they returned to their hammocks on the porch when a swiftly
driven car turned in at the gate.

"It is Louise!" exclaimed Mrs. Ollnee.

"And Leo!" added Victor.

With streaming veils the travelers swept up to the carriage steps
covered with dust, yet smiling.

"How are you?" called Mrs. Joyce; and then with true motor spirit,
addressed the driver: "What's the time, Denis?"

"Two hours and ten minutes from North Avenue."

"Not so bad, considering the roads."

Leo had sprung out and was throwing off her cloak and veil. "I hope
we're not too late for luncheon. Mr. Bartol has the _best_ cook, and I'm
famished."

Her coming swept Victor back into his other and normal self, and he took
charge of her with a mingling of reverence and audacity which charmed
her. He went out into the dining-room with her and sat beside her while
she ate. "I hope you're going to stay," he said, earnestly.

"Stay! Of course we'll stay. It's hot as July in the city--always is
with the wind from the southwest. Isn't it heavenly out here?"

"Heavenly is the word; but who did it? Who organized it?"

"Mrs. Bartol. She had the best taste of any one--and her way with the
servants was beyond imitation. They all worship her memory."

"I can't make myself believe I deserve all this," he said. "Your coming
puts the frosting on my bun."

It was as if some new and utterly different spirit, or band of them, had
come with this glowing girl. She radiated the vitality and the melody of
youth. Without being boisterous or silly, she filled the house with
laughter. "There's something about Hazeldean that always makes me happy.
I don't know why," she said.

"You make all who inhabit this house happy," said Mrs. Ollnee. "I can
hear spirit laughter echoing to yours."

"Can you? Is it Margaret?"

"Yes, Margaret and Philip."

Victor did not smile; on the contrary, his face darkened, and Mrs. Joyce
changed the tone of the conversation by asking: "Did you see the paper
this morning? They say you have skipped to join Pettus." This seemed so
funny that they all laughed, till Victor remembered that both these
women had lost much money through Pettus.

Mrs. Joyce sobered, too. "The Star is against you, Lucy, and you must
keep dark for a time. They are denouncing you as a traitor and all the
rest of it. Did Paul, or any one, advise you last night?"

"No, nothing was said. I suppose they are considering the matter also.
Those deceiving spirits must be hunted out and driven away."

"I'm going to lie down for a while," Mrs. Joyce announced. "My old
waist-line is jolted a bit out o' plumb. Leo, will you stretch out,
too?"

"No indeed. What I need is a walk or a game of tennis. I'm cramped from
sitting so long."

So it fell out that Victor (penniless youth, hedged about with invisible
walls, pikes, and pitfalls) was soon galloping about a tennis court in
the glories of a new pair of flannel trousers and a lovely blue-striped
outing shirt, trying hard not to win every game from a very good
partner, who was pouting with dismay while admiring his skill.

"It isn't right for any one to 'serve' as weird a ball as you do," she
protested. "It's like playing with loaded dice. I begin to understand
why you were not renowned as a scholar."

"Oh, I wasn't so bad! I stood above medium."

"How could you? It must have taken all your time to learn to play tennis
in the diabolical way you do--it's conjury, that's what it is!"

They were in the shade, and the fresh sweet wind, heavy with the scent
of growing corn and wheat, swept steadily over the court, relieving it
from heat, and Victor clean forgot his worriments. This girlish figure
filled his eyes with pictures of unforgetable grace and charm. The swing
of her skirts as she leaped for the ball, the free sweep of her arm (she
had been well instructed), and the lithe bending of her waist brought
the lover's sweet unease. When they came to the net now and again, he
studied her fine figure with frank admiration. "You are a corker!" was
his boyish word of praise. "I don't go up against many men who play the
game as well as you do. Your 'form' is a whole lot better than mine. I
am a bit lucky, I admit. You see, I studied baseball pitching, and I
know the action of a whirling sphere. I curve the ball--make it 'break,'
as the English say. I can make it do all kinds of 'stunts.'"

"I see you can, and I'll thank you not to try any new ones," she
protested. "Can you ride a horse?"

His face fell a bit. "There I am a 'mutt,'" he confessed. "I never was
on a horse except the wooden one in the Gym."

"I'm glad I can beat you at something," she said, with exultant cruelty.
"I know you can row."

"Shall we try another set?" he asked.

"Not to-day, thank you. My self-respect will not stand another such
drubbing. I'm going in for a cold plunge. After that you may read to me
on the porch."

"I'll be there with the largest tome in the library," he replied.

Mrs. Joyce stopped him as he was going up-stairs to his room. "Victor,
don't worry about me. While it looks as though I have lost a good deal
of money through Pettus, I am by no means bankrupt. I am just about
where I was when I met your mother. She has not enriched me--I mean The
Voices have not--neither have they impoverished me. It's just the same
with Leo. She's almost exactly where she was when she came East. It
would seem as if they had been playing with us just to show us how
unsubstantial earthly possessions are."

There was a certain comfort in this explanation, and yet the fact that
her losses had not eaten in upon her original capital did not remove the
essential charge of dishonesty which the man Aiken had brought against
the ghostly advisers. Florence and Thomas Aiken could not afford to be
so lenient. They were disinherited, cheated of their rightful legacy, by
the lying spirits.

He was anxious, also, to know just how deeply Leo was involved in the
People's Bank; and when she came down to the porch he led her to a
distant chair beside a hammock on the eastern side of the house, and
there, with a book in his hand, opened his interrogations.

He began quite formally, and with a well-laid-out line of questions, but
she was not the kind of witness to permit that. She broke out of his
boundaries on the third query, and laughingly refused to discuss her
losses. "I am holding no one but myself responsible," she said. "I was
greedy--I couldn't let well enough alone, that's all."

"No, that is not all," he insisted. "My mother is charged with advising
people to put money into the hands of a swindler--"

"I don't believe that. I think she was honest in believing that Pettus
would enrich us all. She was deceived like the rest of us."

"But what becomes of the infallible Voices?"

She laughed. "They are fallible, that's all. They made a gross blunder
in Pettus."

"Mr. Bartol suggests that my mother may have been hypnotized by Pettus
and made to work his will, and I think he's right. He thinks the whole
thing comes down to illusion--to hypnotic control and telepathy."

She looked thoughtful. "I had a stage of believing that; but it doesn't
explain all, it only explains a small part. Does it explain Altair to
you?"

His glance fell. "Nothing explains Altair--nor that moaning wind--nor
the writing on the slates."

"And the letter--have you forgotten that?"

"Half an hour ago, as we were playing tennis, I _had_ forgotten it. I
was cut loose from the whole blessed mess--now it all comes back upon me
like a cloud."

"Oh, don't look at it that way. That's foolish. I think it's glorious
fun, this investigating."

He acknowledged her rebuke, but added, "It would be more fun if the
person under the grill were not one's own mother."

"That's true," she admitted; "and yet, I think you can study her without
giving offense. I began in a very offensive way--I can see that now--but
she met my test, and still meets every test you bring. The faith she
represents isn't going to have its heart plucked out in a hurry, I can
tell you that."

"The immediate thing is to defend her against this man Aiken. Mr. Bartol
said he would order up a lot of books, and I'm to cram for the trial. If
you have any book to suggest, I wish you'd write its title down for me."

"What's the use of going to books? The judges will want the facts, and
you'll have to convince them that she is what she claims to be."

"How can we do that? We can't exhibit her in a trance?"

"You might. Perhaps her guides will give her the power." She glowed with
anticipatory triumph. "Imagine her confounding the jury! Wouldn't that
be dramatic! It would be like the old-time test of fire."

He was radiant, too, for a moment, over the thought. Then his face grew
stern. "Nothing like that is going to happen. She would fail, and that
would leave us in worse case than before. Our only hope is to convince
the jury that she is not responsible for what her Voices say. We've got
to show she's auto-hypnotic."

"I hope the trial will come soon."

"So do I, for here I am eating somebody else's food, with no prospect of
earning a cent or finding out my place in the world. I don't know just
what my mother's idea was in educating me in classical English instead
of some technical course, but I'm perfectly certain that I'm the most
helpless mollusk that was ever kicked out of a school."

Real bitterness was in his voice, and she hastened to add a word of
comfort. "All you need is a chance to show your powers."

"What powers?"

"Latent powers," she smiled. "We are all supposed to have latent powers.
I am seeking a career, too."

He forgot himself in a return of his admiration of her. "Oh, you don't
have to seek. A girl like you has her career all cut out for her."

She caught his meaning. "That's what I resent. Why should a woman's
career mean only marriage?"

"I don't know--I guess because it's the most important thing for her to
do."

"To be some man's household drudge or pet?"

"No, to be some man's inspiration."

"Fudge! A woman is never anybody's inspiration--after she's married."

"How cynical you are! What caused it?"

"Observing my married friends."

"Oh, I am relieved! I was afraid it was through some personal
experience--"

This seemed funny to them both, and they laughed together. "There's
nothing of 'the maiden with reluctant feet' about me," she went on. "I
simply refuse to go near the brink. I find men stupid, smelly, and
coarse."

"I hate girls in the abstract--they giggle and whisper behind their
hands and make mouths; but there is one girl who is different." He tried
to be very significant at the moment.

She ignored his clumsy beginning of a compliment. "All the girls who
giggle should marry the men who 'crack jokes'--that's my advice."

"'Pears like our serious conversation is straggling out into
vituperation."

"Whose fault is it?"

"Please don't force me to say it was not my fault. I'm like Lincoln--I
joke to hide my sorrows."

"Don't be irreverent."

Through all this youthful give and take the boy and girl were studying
each other minutely, and the phrases that read so baldly came from their
lips with so much music, so much of hidden meaning (at least with
displayed suggestion), that each was tingling with the revelation of it.
The words of youth are slight in content; it is the accompanying tone
that carries to the heart.

She recovered first. "Now let's stop this school-boy chatter--"

"You mean school-girl chatter."

"Both. Your mother is in a very serious predicament. We must help her."

He became quite serious. "I wish you would advise me. You know so much
more about the whole subject than I do. I'm eager to get to work on the
books. I suppose it is too much to expect that they will come up
to-day?"

"They might. I'll go and inquire."

"No indeed, let me go. Am I not an inmate here?" He disappeared into the
house, leaving her to muse on his face. He began to interest her, this
passionate, self-willed, moody youth. She perceived in him the soul of
the conqueror. His swift change of temper, his union of sport-loving boy
and ambitious man made him as interesting as a play. "He'll make his
way," she decided, using the vague terms of prophecy into which a girl
falls when regarding the future of a young man. It's all so delightfully
mysterious, this path of the youth who makes his way upward to success.

A shout announced his return, and looking up she perceived him bearing
down upon her with an armful of books.

"Here they are!" he exulted. "Red ones, blue ones, brown ones--which
shall we begin on?"

"Blue--that's my color."

"Agreed! Blue it is." He dumped them all down on the wide, swinging
couch and fell to turning them over. "Dark blue or light blue?"

"Dark blue."

He picked up a fat volume. "_Mysterious Psychic Forces._ Know this
tome?"

"Oh yes, indeed! It's wonderfully interesting."

"I choose it! This color scheme simplifies things. Now, here's
another--_The Dual Personality_. How's that?"

"Um! Well--pretty good."

"_Dual Personality_ to the rear. Here's a brown book--_Metaphysical
Phenomena_."

"That's a good one, too."

"I'm sorry they didn't bind it in blue--and here's a measly, yellow,
paper-bound book in some foreign language--Italian, I guess, author,
Morselli."

"Oh, that's a book I want to read. Let me take it?"

"Do you read Italian?"

"After a fashion."

"Then I engage you at once to translate that book to me. What is it all
about?"

He abandoned his seat on the couch and drew a chair close to hers.
"Begin at the first page and read very slowly all the way through. I
wish it were a three volume edition."

She looked at him with side glance. "You're not in the least subtle."

"I intended to have you understand that I enjoy the thought of your
reading to me. Did you catch it?"

"I caught it. No one else ever suggested that I was stupid."

"I didn't call you stupid. I think you're haughty and domineering, but
you're not stupid."

"Thank you," she answered, demurely.

Eventually they drew together, and she began to read the marvelous story
of the crucial experiments which Morselli and his fellows laid upon
Eusapia Palladino. Two hours passed. The robins and thrushes began their
evensong, the shadows lengthened on the lawn, and still these young folk
remained at their reading--Victor sitting so close to his teacher's side
that his cheek almost touched her shoulder. The sunset glory of the
material world was forgotten in the tremendous conceptions called up by
the author of this far-reaching book.

Sweeter hours of study Victor never had. Seeing the rise and fall of his
interpreter's bosom and catching the faint perfume of her hair, he heard
but vaguely some of the sentences, and had to have them repeated, what
time her eyes were looking straight into his. At such moment she
reminded him of the dream-face that had bloomed like a rose in the black
night, for she was then very grave. Less ardent of blood than he, she
succeeded in giving her whole mind to the great Italian's thesis, and
the point of view--so new and so bold--stirred her like a trumpet.

"I like this man," she said. "He is not afraid."

Once or twice Mrs. Joyce looked out at them, but they made such a pretty
picture she had not the heart to disturb them.

At seven o'clock she was forced to interrupt: "What _are_ you children
up to?"

"Improving our minds," answered Leo. "Are we starting back? What time is
it?"

Mrs. Joyce smiled. "That question is a great compliment to your company.
It's dinner-time."

"Are we starting now?"

"No; we're going to stay all night."

"Fine!" shouted Victor. "I was wondering how I could put in the
evening."

"It's time to dress," warned Mrs. Joyce. "This is no happy-go-easy
establishment. I never saw such perfection of service as Alexander
always has. I can't get it, or if I get it I can't keep it; while here,
with the master gone half the time, the wheels go like a chronometer."

"It's all due to Marie. She worshiped Mrs. Bartol, and she venerates Mr.
Bartol."

Mrs. Joyce cut her short. "Skurry to your room. We must not be late."

As they were going into the house together, Leo said: "I think we would
better not let our elders read this book of Morselli's. It's too
disturbing for them--don't you think so?"

"It certainly is a twister. However, mother doesn't read any foreign
language, so she's safe."



XII

A MOONLIGHT CALL AND A VISION


Upon rising from the dinner table the young people returned to their
books, and at ten o'clock Leo lifted her eyes from her page. "Did some
one drive up?"

Victor looked at her dazedly. "I didn't hear anybody. Proceed."

"Mercy! It's ten o'clock. Where are Aunt Louise and your mother? I hear
Mr. Bartol's voice!" she exclaimed, rising hastily. "Let's go get the
latest news."

The master of the house entered before the young people could shake off
the spell of what they had been imagining.

"What a waste of good moonlight!" he exclaimed, with smiling sympathy.
"Why aren't you youngsters out on the lawn?"

"It's all your fault," responded Leo. "We've been absorbing one of the
books you sent up."

"Have you? It must have been a wonderful romance. I can't conceive of
anything but a love-story keeping youth indoors on a night like this."

Victor defended her. "We've been reading of Morselli's wonderful
experiments. It's in Italian, and Miss Wood has been translating it for
me."

"What luck you have!" exclaimed Mr. Bartol. "I engage her to
re-translate it for me at the same rate."

Mrs. Ollnee and Mrs. Joyce came in as he was speaking, and Mrs. Joyce,
after disposing herself comfortably, said, "Well, what is your report?"

He confessed that he had been too busy with other matters to give the
Aiken accusation much thought. "However, I sent an armful of books out
to my assistant attorney." He waved his hand toward Victor.

"You don't mean to read books," protested Mrs. Joyce, energetically,
"when you've the very source of all knowledge right here in your own
house? Why don't you study your client and convince yourself of her
powers?--then you'll know what to do and say."

"I had thought of that," he said, hesitantly. "But--"

"You need not fear," Mrs. Joyce assured him. "It's true Lucy cannot
always furnish the phenomena on the instant. In fact, the more eager she
is the more reluctant the forces are; but you can at least try, and she
is not only willing but eager for the test."

Bartol turned to Mrs. Ollnee. "Are you prepared now--to-night?" he
asked.

"Yes, this moment," she answered.

Mrs. Joyce exulted. "The power is on her. I can see that. See how her
hand trembles! One finger is signaling. Don't you see it?"

Mr. Bartol rose. "Come with me into my study. Mrs. Joyce may come some
other time. I do not want any witnesses to-night," he added, with a
smile.

Victor watched his mother go into Bartol's study with something of the
feeling he might have had in seeing her enter the den of a lion. She
seemed very helpless and very inexperienced in contrast with this great
inquisitor, so skilled in cross-examination, so inexorable in logic, so
menacing of eye.

Leo, perceiving Victor's anxiety, proposed that they return to the
porch, and to this he acceded, though it seemed like a cowardly
desertion of his mother. "Poor little mother," he said. "If she stands
up against him she's a wonder."

The girl stretched herself out on the swinging couch, and the youth took
his seat on a wicker chair close beside her. Mrs. Joyce kept at a decent
distance, so that if the young people had anything private to say she
might reasonably appear not to have overheard it.

Talk was spasmodic, for neither of them could forget for a moment the
duel which was surely going on in that inner room. Indeed, Mrs. Joyce
openly spoke of it. "If Lucy is not too anxious, too eager, she will
change Alexander's whole conception of the universe this night."

"Of course you're exaggerating, Aunt Louise; but I certainly expect her
to shake him up."

"It only needs one genuine phenomenon to convince him of her sincerity.
What a warrior for the cause he would make! She must stay right here in
his house till she utterly overwhelms him. He took up her case at first
merely because I asked him to do so; but he likes her, and is ready to
take it up on her own account if he finds her sincere. But I want him to
believe in the philosophy she represents."

Half an hour passed with no sign from within, and Mrs. Joyce began to
yawn. "That ride made me sleepy."

"Why don't you go to bed?" suggested Leo.

She professed concern. "And leave Lucy unguarded?"

"Nonsense! Go to bed and sleep. Mr. Ollnee and I will stand guard till
the ordeal is ended."

"I believe I'll risk it," decided Mrs. Joyce. "I can hardly keep my eyes
open."

"Nor your mouth shut," laughed Leo. "Hasten, or you'll fall asleep on
the stair."

Left alone, the young people came nigh to forgetting that the world
contained aught but dim stretches of moonlit greensward, dewy trees, and
the odor of lilac blooms. In the dusk Victor stood less in fear of the
girl, and she, moved by the witchery of the night and the melody of his
voice (into which something new and masterful had come), grew less
defiant. "How still it all is?" she breathed, softly. "It is like the
Elysian Fields after the city's noise and grime."

"It's more beautiful out there." He motioned toward the lawn. "Let's
walk down the drive."

And she complied without hesitation, a laugh in her voice. "But not too
far. Remember, we are guardian angels."

As she reached his side he took her arm and tucked it within his own.
"You might get lost," he said, in jocular explanation of his action.

"How considerate you are!" she scornfully responded, but her hand
remained in his keeping.

There were no problems now. Down through the soft dusk of the summer
night they strolled, rapturously listening to the sounds that were
hardly more than silences, feeling the touch of each other's garments,
experiencing the magic thrill which leaps from maid to man and man to
maid in times like these.

"How big you are!" exclaimed the girl. "I didn't realize how much you
overtopped me. I am considered tall."

"And so you are--and divinely fair."

"How banal! Couldn't you think of a newer one?"

"It was as much as ever I remembered, that. I'm not a giant in poetry.
I'm a dub at any fine job."

Of this quality was their talk. To those of us who are old and dim-eyed,
it seems of no account, perhaps, but to those who can remember similar
walks and talks it is of higher worth than the lectures in the Sorbonne.
Learning is a very chill abstraction on such a night to such a pair.
Would we not all go back again to this sweet land of love and
longing--if we could?

Victor did not deliberately plan to draw Leonora closer to his side, and
the proud girl did not intend to permit him to do so; but somehow it
happened that his arm stole round her waist as they walked the shadowy
places of the drive, and their laggard feet were wholly out of rhythm to
their leaping pulses.

The proof of Victor's naturally dependable character lay in the fact
that he presumed no further. He was content with the occasional touch of
her rounded hip to his, the caressing touch of her skirt as it swung
about his ankle. To have attempted a kiss would have broken the spell,
would have alarmed and repelled her. He honored her, loved her, but he
was still in awe of her proud glance and the imperious carriage of her
head. He preferred to think she suffered rather than invited the clasp
of his arm.

She, on her part, was astonished and a little scared by her own
complaisant weakness, and as they came out into the lighter part of the
walk she disengaged herself with a self-derisive remark, and asked, "Do
you always take such good care of the arms of your girl friends?"

"Always," he replied, instantly, though his heart was still in the
clutch of his new-born passion.

"I shall be on my guard next time.... I see Mr. Bartol in the doorway.
Don't you think we'd better go in? What time do you suppose it is?"

"The saddest time in the world for me if you are going to leave me."

"Don't be maudlin." She had recovered her self-command, and was disposed
to be extra severe. "Sentimental nothings is hardly your strong point."

"What is my strong point?"

She was ready with an answer. "Plain down-right impudence."

He, too, was recovering speech. "I'm glad I have _one_ strong trait. I
was afraid there was nothing about me to make a definite impression on a
proud beauty like you."

"Please don't try to be literary. Stick to your oars and your baseball
raquet."

"Bat," he corrected.

"I meant bat."

"I know you did; but you said raquet."

In this juvenile spat they approached the porch where Mr. Bartol stood
waiting for them.

"Young people," he called, in a voice that somehow voiced a deep
emotion, "do you realize that it is midnight?"

Protesting their amazement, they mounted the steps and entered the
house; but the moment they looked into their host's face they became
serious, perceiving that something very tremendous had taken place in
his laboratory.

"What has happened?" asked Leo. "What did she do?"

"I don't know yet," he replied, strangely inconclusive in tone and
phrase. "I must think it all over. If I can persuade myself that the
marvels which I have witnessed are realities, the universe is an
entirely new and vastly different machine for me."

Thrilling to the excitement in his face and in his voice, they passed
on. At the top of the stairs Leo faced Victor with eyes big with
excitement. "What do you suppose came to him?"

"I haven't an idea. He seemed terribly wrought up, though."

"We must say good-night." She held out her hand, and he took it.

"This has been the finest, most instructive day of my life."

She released her hand with a little decisive, dismissing movement. "How
nice of you! Signor Morselli should know of it. Good-night!" And the
smile with which she left him was delightfully provoking and mirthful.

Victor would have gone straight to his mother had he known where to
find her, for he was eager to know what had taken place in the deeps of
Bartol's study. That she had been able to mystify the great lawyer, he
was convinced; and yet, perhaps, this was only temporary. "He will go
further. What will he find?"

He was standing before his dresser slowly removing his collar and tie
when the door opened and his mother entered. She was abnormally wide
awake, and her eyes, violet in their intensity, betrayed so much
excitement that he exclaimed: "Why, mother, what's the matter? What kind
of a session did you have? What has happened to you?"

"Victor, father tells me that Mr. Bartol will be convinced. He is the
greatest mind I have ever met. If I can bring him to a belief in the
spirit world it will be the most important victory of my life."

"What did he say to you? What did he think?"

"I don't know; and strange to say, I cannot read his mind. He seems
convinced of the phenomena, and yet I can't tell for certain. He was
skeptical at the beginning, as nearly every one is."

Hitherto, at every such opening, Victor had rushed in to pluck the heart
out of her mystery, but now he restrained himself, for fear of trapping
her into some admission, which would make his own testimony more
difficult in court. He took a seat on the bed and regarded her with
meditative eyes, and she went on.

"The Voices are clamoring round me still. They want to speak to you."

"I don't want to hear them--not to-night," he replied, coldly. "Tell
them to wait and talk to me when Mr. Bartol is listening."

She seemed disappointed and a little hurt by his tone. "Altair is here.
She wishes most to speak."

Interest awoke in him. "What does she want of me?"

She listened. "She says, '_Trust Mr. Bartol._'"

He could see nothing, hear nothing, therefore his face lost its light.

"Well, we've got to trust him. He's all the help in sight."

Something, a breath, the light caress of a hand, passed over his hair,
and a whisper that was almost tone spoke in his ear, "_Fear nothing, if
you will be guided and protected._"

Sweet as this voice was, it irritated him, for he could not disassociate
his mother from it. Indeed, it had something subtly familiar in its
utterance, and yet he could not accuse her of deceit. He only roughly
said: "Don't do that! I don't like that!"

Silence followed, and then his mother sadly said: "You have hurt her.
She will not speak again."

"Let her show herself. How do I know who is speaking to me? Let me see
her face again." He added this in a gentler voice, being moved by a
vivid memory of the exquisite picture Altair had made.

After another pause Mrs. Ollnee answered: "She will do so. She says
soon. She has gone; but your father wants to speak to you."

Victor rose impatiently. "Tell him to come again some other time. I'm
sleepy now."

She turned away saddened by his manner, and with a gentle "good-night"
went softly from the room.

Victor regretted his bluntness, but could not free himself from a
feeling that his mother's Voices were deceptive or imaginary, and her
visit hurt and disgusted him so deeply that the charm of his evening's
companionship with Leo was all but lost. "Part of her phenomena are
real, but these Voices--" He broke off and went to his bed with a vague
feeling of loss weighing him down.

For a half-hour he lay in growing bitterness, and then quite suddenly he
thought he detected a thin, blue vapor rising from the rag rug at the
side of his bed, and for an instant he was startled. "Is it smoke? Or do
I imagine it?" As it rose and sank, expanded and contracted, he studied
it closely. It was not smoke, for it did not ascend. It was more like
filmy drapery tossed by a wind from a hidden aperture in the floor.
Motionless, amazed, and awed, he watched it, till out of it the face of
a woman looked, her wistful eyes touched with an accusing sorrow. It
was Altair, and her form became more real from moment to moment, until
at last he could detect the swell of her bosom, draped with the folds of
a shimmering white robe. As he waited a hand appeared at her side,
vaguely outlined, yet alive. He could see the fingers loosely clasped
about a rose. She was so beautiful that he lay gazing at her in
speechless wonder. "Am I dreaming?" he asked himself. "I _must_ be
dreaming." And yet he could feel the air from the window.

In the light of her glance he forgot all his other loves and cares. His
worship for her returned like swift hunger, and he yearned to touch her,
to hear her voice. "She is a dream," he decided, and his hand, lifted to
test the vision, fell back upon the coverlet.

As if reading his thought, Altair put out her right arm and touched his
wrist with a caress like the stroke of a beam of moonlight, so light and
cold it was.

"_Victor_," she seemed to say, and his whisper was almost as light as
her own.

"Who are you?"

"_Don't you know me? I am Altair. Do not forget me._"

"I will not forget you," he answered. "I can't forget you. Why do you
look so sad?"

"_It is cold and empty where I dwell. I come to you for happiness and
warmth. You had forgotten me. You would not listen to my voice._" Her
reproach moved him almost to tears.

"I could not see you. I was not sure."

"_I do not accuse you. It is natural for you to love. When the day comes
you will seek another. One whose flesh is warm. Mine is cold. She is of
the day. I am of the night. But do not refuse to speak to me._"

Her bust had grown fuller, more complete as she spoke, and yet from the
waist downward she seemed but a trailing garment of convoluting,
phosphorescent gauze. Her left hand still hung at her side, vague,
diaphanous, but her right lay upon her breast, as beautiful, as real as
firelit ivory, and her face seemed to glow as though with some inward
radiance.

Victor could follow the exquisite line of her brow, and her eyes were
glorious pools of color, deep and dark with mystery and passion. Slowly
she sank as if kneeling, her stately head lowered, bent above him, and
he felt the touch of soft lips upon his own--a kiss so warm, so human
that it filled his heart with worship. Gently he lifted his hand,
seeking to draw her to him, and for an instant he felt her pliant body
in the circle of his arms--then she dissolved, vanished--like some
condensation of the atmosphere, and he was left alone, aching with
longing and despair.

For a long time he waited, hoping she would return. He saw the moonlight
fade from the carpet. He heard the night wind amid the maple leaves, and
he knew he had not been dreaming, for that strange Oriental perfume
lingered in the air, and on the coverlet where her exquisite hand had
rested a white bloom lay, mystic and wonderful. He lifted it, and its
breath, sweeter than that of any other flower he had ever held, filled
him with instant languor and happy release of care.

His next perception was that of sunlight. It was morning, and the kine
and fowls were astir.

He looked for the mysterious flower, but it was gone. He sprang from his
bed and searched the room for it. "It did not exist," he sadly
concluded. "It has returned to the mysterious world from whence it
came."

For a long time afterward he suffered with a sense of loss, while the
sunlight deepened in his room and the sounds of the barn-yard brought
back to him the realization that he was in effect a fugitive in the
house of a stranger. Slowly the normal action of his mind and body
resumed its sway, and he dressed, quite sure that something abnormal had
brought this vision to him. He wondered if he, too, were getting
mediumistic. "Am I to be a son of my mother? Am I to hear voices and see
visions?" he asked himself, with a note of alarm. He began to fear the
disintegrating effects of these experiences. His personality; his body
hitherto so solid, so stable, seemed about to develop disturbing
capabilities.

He was profoundly pleased and reassured to find on his dressing-room
table a large white rose, a rose precisely like that which had been
laid upon his coverlet by the hand of the dream-woman. It's odor was the
same, and its petals were as fresh as if it had just been cut. It
reassured him by convincing him that his vision was real--that it had a
basis of physical change; but it also started a perplexing chain of
thought. "How came the rose here? Who brought it?" was his question. "It
certainly was not there when I went to bed."

With the flower in his hand, he still stood looking down at the place
where the hand of Altair had rested--still marveling at this mingling of
the real and the fantastic, the dream and the rose, when something
shining revealed itself half concealed by the pillow; and putting out
his hand he took up a little brooch of turquoise set with diamonds,
which he recognized instantly as one that Leo had worn at her throat
when she said good-night.

Sinking into a chair, he stared now at the jewel, now at the rose, while
a thrill of pride, of mastery, of joy stole through him. His blood
warmed. His heart quickened its beat. Could it be that Leo had been his
visitor? Was it possible that she, burning with hidden love of him, had
stolen to his room, and there at his bedside, masking herself as Altair,
had bent to his drowsy eyes, and laid upon his lips that fervid kiss?
The thought confused him, overpowered him, exalted him.

His was a chivalrous nature, therefore this act, at the moment, seemed
neither unmaidenly nor wrong--indeed, it appeared very beautiful in his
eyes. It humbled him, made him wonder if he were worth the risk she had
run? He was not abnormally self-appreciative, but he had not been left
unaware of his appeal to women. His previous love-affairs had been those
of the undergraduate, proceeding under the jocular supervision of his
watchful fellows. His present case was in wholly different spirit. He
was a man now--in fact, his quarrel with Leo from the first had been
over her evident determination to treat him as a lad.

The memory of her serene self-possession made her self-surrender of the
night all the more amazing to him. "It is cold and empty where I dwell,"
she had said. This meant that she loved him--longed for him--it could
mean nothing else. Her love had begun during their ride on the lagoon,
in their delicious drowse on the grass. It had been deepened by their
afternoon of sweet companionship at tennis and over their books; then
came the walk in the moonlight and her acceptance of his caress in the
dusky place in the path--all were preparatory to this final wondrous
visit and confession.

And yet her eyes had never been other than those of a friend. Seemingly
she had laughed at herself for the momentary weakness of yielding to his
arm. Her daylight expression had always been that of the humorous,
self-reliant, rather intellectual girl, who acknowledges no fear of man
and no sudden rush of passion, and yet--How reconcile the facts!

He smiled to think how he had been deceived by her imperious air, by her
expressed contempt for his interest. "And all the while she was really
waiting for me to break through her reserve," he said; and this
delicious explanation satisfied him for a few moments, till he went
deeper into his memory of what she had said and done.

He was forced to reassure himself again by the jewel and the rose that
she had really come to him, so dream-like did the whole ethereal episode
now seem. The more he dwelt upon the vision the deeper it moved him.
It's growing significance set his blood aflame. In fiction and poesy
women often sacrifice their reserve, moved by uncontrollable longing,
like the heroine of mad Ophelia's song, because commanded by something
stronger than their sweet selves. It was hard to think of Leo as one
carried out of herself by love--and yet here lay the jewel of her bosom
in his hand! How to meet her puzzled and excited him.

Up to this minute he had admired her and had paid court to her as a
young man naturally addresses a handsome girl, but he was not violently
in love with her; indeed, she had interested him rather less than a girl
in Winona, daughter of Professor Boyden; but now, as he was about to
meet her in the breakfast-room, she possessed more power, more
significance, than any woman in the world. He recalled how fine and
helpful she had been during the few days of their acquaintance--her
serenity, her good sense, her pungent comment began to seem very
wonderful.

He looked at himself in the glass, finding there a very good-looking,
stalwart youth, but could not discover anything to account for the
sudden blaze of Leonora's self-sacrificing passion. He was neither a
fool nor a peacock, and he tried to account for her love on the ground
of her regard for his mother. Then, like a flash of light, came the
thought, "She was sleep-walking!"

He had read of the marvels of hypnotism and somnambulism. Perhaps in
some strange way his mother's desire to have Leo love her son had sent
the girl straight to his bedside. There was something uncanny in her
speech and in her gestures--only in her kiss had she been solidly,
warmly human.

And yet all this seemed so difficult to believe--and besides, if the
girl came in her sleep, did it not prove her love quite as conclusively?
It might be unconscious, but it was there.

With heart pounding mightily, and face set and stern, he left his room
and began descending the stairway, uncertain still of the way in which
he should meet her.

Happily he found no one in the dining-room but the maid, who said to
him, "Mr. Bartol would like to see Mr. Ollnee in his study as soon as
Mr. Ollnee has had his breakfast."

"Very well," he replied; "I will make short work of breakfast this
morning."

As he sat thus awaiting Leo, his mind filled with the wonder of her
self-surrender, he considered carefully in what way he should greet her.
"She must not know that I know," he decided. "I will greet her as if I
had not found the brooch, and I will leave it where she will happen upon
it accidentally."



XIII

VICTOR TESTS HIS THEORY


He was still at breakfast, deeply engaged with his alluring vision, when
Mrs. Joyce and his mother entered the room. As he rose to greet them
Mrs. Joyce asked, "Have you seen Mr. Bartol?"

"Not yet--but he is up. I am to see him soon. Where is Leo?"

"She is not feeling very brisk this morning, and is taking her coffee in
bed."

He said no more, but resumed his seat, richer by this added proof of the
deep perturbation through which the girl had passed. He was
disappointed, and eager to see her, but the conviction that she had been
sleepless from love of him put him among the clouds. He would have
forgotten his appointment with Bartol had not the maid reminded him of
it. Even then he tried to avoid it. "You're sure he wanted me? Didn't he
mean my mother?"

"I'm quite sure he said Mister Ollnee."

"Mother, what do you suppose he wants of me?"

"I don't know, Victor. Perhaps he wants to talk over the trial."

"Come back and tell us as soon as you can," commanded Mrs. Joyce. "I'm
crazy to know what he did last night, and what he really thinks of us?"

Victor promised to report, and went away to his interview with a vague
alarm disturbing the blissful self-satisfaction of the early morning.

He found Bartol seated at a big table with a writing-pad before him and
four or five open volumes disposed about as if for reference. He, too,
looked old and worn and rather grim, but he greeted his guest politely.
"Good-morning. Have you seen your mother this morning?"

"Yes, I have just left her at breakfast."

"How is she?"

"She seems quite herself--a little pale, perhaps."

"Be seated, please. I want to go over our case with you. First of all, I
want you to tell me once more, and in full detail, all you know of your
mother's life. Begin at the beginning and leave nothing out. Don't
theorize or try to explain--give me the facts as you have observed
them."

This was not the kind of business to which a love-exalted youth would
set himself, but Victor squared himself before the brooding face and
deep-set eyes of his host, and entered once more upon the story of the
"ghost-room," which had been the one dark spot in his childhood, and
which became again in a moment the overshadowing torment of his young
manhood.

As he talked the intent look of the man before him, his short, sharp,
significant questions inspired him. He poured forth in eloquent and
moving phrase the story of his sudden awakening to a knowledge that his
mother was a paid medium, and under persecution by the press of the
city. He told of his sittings with her, wherein he had savagely
determined to unmask her for her own good. He admitted his complete
failure. He related his experiences during the time she lay in deathly
trance, and his voice lost its smooth flow as he approached the most
marvelous experience of all, when the vast and murmuring wind blew
through the small room and Altair came with sad, sweet face, to bewitch
him and to shake his conceptions of the universe to their foundation
stones. He confessed his bewilderment and confusion, and ended by
saying: "It's all unnatural, diseased. I can't believe it is the real
side of things."

"I wonder that you kept your head at all," remarked Bartol. "Your youth
and good, hot blood protect you. Have you talked with your mother about
our sitting?"

"Only a few words. She came to my room last night and told me she had
only a dim recollection of what took place. She said The Voices wanted
to talk to me--but I didn't want them to talk to me--and said so--and
she went away."

Bartol mused. "Belief is not a matter of evidence; it is a habit of
mind. I find myself unable to follow the evidence of my own senses. My
tests of your mother last night convinced me at the moment that she had
the right to claim supernormal powers. She seemingly turned matter into
a mere abstraction, and made the learning of physicists the chatter of
children." As he spoke his memory of what he had seen freshened and his
excitement increased. His voice deepened and his eyes glowed. "Here are
my notes of what took place, and I have spent the night in comparing my
observations with those of Sir William Crookes concerning the medium
Home. In a certain very real sense the phenomena I witnessed were quite
as marvelous as those Crookes chronicled." He rose and began to walk up
and down the room. "And yet this morning I do not believe--I cannot
believe--that writing was precipitated in a closed book held in my hand,
that a pen rose of its own volition and tapped upon the table.

"The tendency of any mind, any science, is to harden, to crystallize, to
reach a stopping point. The student is prone to think that the knowledge
of the physical universe which we have must be the larger part of all
that is knowable--and that soon we will have gathered it all into our
text-books. Of course this is the sheerest self-delusion. A little
thought will make clear that all we know is as nothing compared to that
which remains to be known. Up to ten o'clock last night I was one of
those who believe that the domain of nature is pretty thoroughly mapped
out, staked, and plowed by the investigator, but this morning I find my
horizons again extended. It would be foolish to say that an hour's
experiments and a night of reading along new lines had overturned all
the landmarks of biologic science; but I confess that the world for me
has greatly changed. I held in my hand last night a force _in action_
for which science has no name and no place--and yet thirty years ago Sir
William Crookes wrote of this same force in the spirit with which he
discussed other elements and powers, and yet his testimony is not
accepted by his fellows even to-day.

"Your mother met every test cheerfully and instantly, and demonstrated
to me, as Home did to Crookes, as Slade did to Zöllner, that matter, as
we think we know it, does not exist. She convinced me not merely of her
honesty, but of her high powers as a psychic. A calm, persistent,
logical purpose ran through all her manifestations, and her
Voices--whatever they may mean to you--advised me to sit again with her
and to have you and Miss Wood, Mrs. Joyce, and Marie always in the
circle. This I intend to do. I feel at this moment as if no other
business mattered. I have been here at my desk since midnight, reading,
comparing notes, trying to convince myself that I have not gone suddenly
mad.

"If I was not utterly deceived, if your fresh, keen young eyes are of
any use whatsoever, if the words of Crookes, Wallace, Lombroso, and
their like are of any weight, then we have in your mother a rare and
subtle organism whose powers are of more importance than the rings of
Saturn or the canals of Mars."

Victor was awed, carried out of himself and his small concerns by the
deep voice of the great lawyer as he formulated his impassioned yet
restrained musings. It was evident that he welcomed this opportunity of
putting his thoughts into words, of ordering his words into argument.
Half in reverie and half in conscious statement to the entranced youth,
he poured forth his troubled soul.

"I was a materialist when your mother entered my house. I believed that
the man who died went out like a candle. The grave was the end. To me
the so-called revelations of Buddha, Gautama, Christ, were the vague
dreams of the heart-sick, the stricken mourners of the earth--not one of
them brought a beam of hope--but in this modern spirit of
experimentation, in the work of Crookes and his like, I see
a ray of light. Your mother's impersonations of my wife, her
messages--Voices--may be due to mind-reading, to clairvoyance, but _the
method of their delivery_ certainly lies beyond any known law. In that
glows my hope. Grant the possibility of direct writing, of the power of
the mind to _think_ its will upon paper without the aid of hand or pen,
and a whole new world is opened up, the horizons of life are infinitely
extended."

He paused abruptly. "I was weary of my days. Yesterday I moved as a
creature of habit. This morning it seems that I have a new interest. I
am convinced that in defending your mother I am defending something
precious to the human race; but I must be very sure of my ground. I must
scrutinize every phase of her power, and you must help me. You are young
and well-trained. You have a good mind, and I am persuaded you will go
far. Your mother worships you, lives for you. Now, you and I together
must make such study of her mediumship as America has never seen--a
study which shall have nothing to do with any ism, fad, or prejudice.
Will you help me?"

Victor, overwhelmed by the confidence of the great lawyer, by the honor
which this plea laid upon his young shoulders, could only stammer, "I
will do my best."

Bartol thanked him. "I see now, as I never did before, that this power
is a subtle, personal, psychical adjustment, and the part you are to
play is a double one. First, you are her son, and your presence and
influence are indispensable. Secondly, you are vigorous and alert,
comparatively free from the wrecking effect of bereavement such as
mine. I confess I cannot trust myself in the face of the supposed appeal
of my dead. I am like the doctor who refuses to practise upon his own
child--my desires blind me. At the same time I see that we cannot thrust
strangers upon your mother, especially in her present excited state.
What I propose is a series of private experiments, including chemical
tests, instantaneous photographs, and the like, which shall convince
both judge and jury of the reality of these phenomena. This case will
come before my friend, Judge Matthews, and we have in him a just and
penetrating mind. If I can make him feel my own present conviction we
may rest our case safely with any unprejudiced jury."

He paused and picked up a volume from the table. "Crookes is explicit.
He says he _saw_ the lath move without visible cause, he _saw_ Home
thrust his hand into the hearth and stir the coals, he _saw_ the
accordion play without any reason; and in all this he is sustained by
other men testing each phenomenon by means of electrical registering
devices. Now we must duplicate these. We must go into court armed with
photographs, records, and witnesses. We will make this a _cause
célèbre_--doing our small part to forward this superb and fearless
European movement. I intend to be both lawyer and physicist hereafter,"
he ended, with a smile.

That the great lawyer was now completely engaged upon his mother's
defense Victor exultantly perceived, and it gave him a feeling of pride
and security, but this was followed by a sense of being uprooted. The
sight of this man, inspired yet confounded by what had come to him in a
single sitting, brought new and disturbing force to all that had
happened to himself. Was it possible that thought could be precipitated
like dew upon a sheet of paper?

"Now," resumed Bartol, "I have made a further discovery. There is a
brotherhood of what we may call true experimentalists--beginning with
Marc, Thury, and the Count de Gasparin, and running to Flammarion and
Richet, in Paris; the Dialectical Society, Sir William Crookes, Alfred
Russell Wallace, Sir Oliver Lodge, in England; thence back to the
Continent, to Zöllner, Aksakof, Ochorowicz, De Rochas, Maxwell,
Morselli, and Lombroso. I need a condensed record of these experiments,
and a synopsis of each theory. Once within this group, you will learn by
cross-reference the names of all those whom each of these
experimentalists regard as reliable. You can work here or take the books
to your room--perhaps, on the whole, Morselli's record is first in
importance. Bring me a clear and full abstract of that as soon as you
can."

"I do not read Italian," confessed Victor; "but Leo--Miss Wood--does;
perhaps she will help me."

"Very good. Now as to the mechanical side of this matter. I have a
nephew who is an expert photographer and a clever electrician. With your
permission, I will send for him and see what he can do. He is a man of
high standing in his profession, and a quiet personality--one that will
not irritate or alarm your mother. Shall I bring him in and give her
over to all?"

"Certainly. I'm sure mother wants you to have full charge."

"Very well. We will set to work at once, for our case may come up this
week. At its lowest terms, the Aiken charge involves--to us--the
admission that our client is highly suggestible and that she has been
used as an unconscious stool-pigeon by Pettus. For the present we must
proceed upon this basis. Suggestion is more or less accepted at the
present time, and we may be able to get the jury to admit our plea; but
I will not conceal from you the fact that your mother stands in danger
of severe punishment. The _Star_ has singled her out as a scapegoat, and
is behind the Aikens. They will push her hard. I do not think they will
follow her here, but if they do I shall send you to my nephew's
home.--Now to Morselli. We must know just where he stands on this
amazing branch of biology. Will you make this synopsis to-day?"

Victor's eyes glowed with the fire of his awakened pride and resolution.
"If you'll let me help you, Mr. Bartol, I'll show you what my training
has been. I'm quick in some things. I will collate and put in order all
the latest deductions of science--" He stopped. "But what exactly do you
intend to do with my mother?"

"I mean to confine her in such wise as to demonstrate precisely what she
can do and what she cannot. I must divide what is conscious from that
which is unconscious. I must understand precisely how she produces these
messages, voices, and faces. We are agreed that she is not _consciously_
deceptive?" He questioned Victor with a glance.

"I _know_ she is honest."

"Very well, we must demonstrate her honesty. We must photograph her
so-called materializations side by side with her own body, and we must
register the work of these invisible hands, and in every possible way
demonstrate that she is the medium and not the originating cause of
these messages. In no other way can we save her from disgrace and a
prison cell."

The youth went away with a humming sound in his head. The thought of his
gentle little mother herded with vile women within the gray walls of a
penitentiary filled him with such horror that his face went drawn and
white. "It shall not be! I will not have it so!" he said, and yet he saw
no other way in which to prevent it. All depended upon the man whose
impassioned words still rang in his ears, and his admiration for the
lawyer rose to that love which youth yields to the highest manhood.

Mrs. Joyce met him in the hall, excited, eager. "What did he say?"

Victor passed his hand over his face in bewilderment. "I must think," he
protested. "He said so much--Where is mother?"

"She is on the porch--waiting. Let us go out to her."

He followed her with troubled face, but the bright sunshine and the
songs of the birds miraculously restored him. He looked up and down the
piazza hoping to see Leo, but she was not in sight. He took a seat in
silence, and Mrs. Joyce saw his mother grow pale in sympathy as she read
the trouble in his face.

Mrs. Joyce urged him to tell what had passed between them, and he
replied:

"I can't do it. All I can say is this: he believes mother is honest, and
that she has some strange power. He will defend her in court; but he
intends to study into the whole business very closely, and he wants us
to help him."

"Of course we'll help him," responded Mrs. Joyce, readily.

Mrs. Ollnee went to the heart of the problem. "Just what does he want to
do, Victor?"

"It is necessary to prove absolutely that you have nothing to do with
these phenomena."

"But I do have everything to do with them," she replied; "that's what
being a medium means. However, I know what he needs better than you do.
He wants to prove that the messages are supra-normal. Very well, I am
ready for any test."

"It will be a fierce one, mother. He intends to use electricity and
machines for recording movements and instantaneous photography."

"I am willing, provided he will proceed in co-operation with your father
and Watts."

"He will never do that," declared Victor. "He will not begin by granting
the very thing he's trying to prove."

It was upon this most solemn conference that Leo descended, pale and
restrained, and though Victor sprang up with new-born love in his face,
she did not flush with responding warmth. Her mood of the moonlit walk
had utterly vanished, and he found himself checked, chilled, and thrust
down from his high place of exaltation.

It was as if she (ashamed of her own weakness) had resolved to punish
him for presumption. He smarted under her indifference, but made no open
protest, though his hand (in the pocket of his coat) rested upon the
jeweled sign of her self-surrender.

She lost a little of her indifference when she learned that Bartol had
been kept awake all night by the significance of the phenomena he had
witnessed, and she joined heartily in declaring that he must be met in
every demand. "Oh, I wish I might see the experiments," she exclaimed.

"He wishes you to do so," replied Victor, eagerly. "The Voices told him
to have you in the circle, you and Mrs. Joyce--"

"And Marie," added Mrs. Ollnee. "Marie is psychic."

"When do we try?" asked Leo, meeting his eyes a little unsteadily, so it
seemed to him.

Again Mrs. Ollnee answered for him. "To-night; Mr. Bartol is telephoning
now, arranging for it."

"How do you know?" asked Victor.

"Your father is speaking to me."

"I hear him!" exclaimed Mrs. Joyce, listening intently.

"What does he say?" asked Leo.

Mrs. Ollnee again replied. "He says: '_Be brave--trust us. We will
protect you._'"

Looking across at the girl, in whose cheeks the roses were beginning to
bloom again, the youth resented the interposition of the supernatural.
He was eager to approach her, to hint at the memory of her secret, sweet
embrace. As he studied the exquisite curve of her lips their touch
burned again upon his flesh, and he rose with sudden reassertion of
himself. "Come, Leo, let's return to Morselli."

He had never called her by her first name before, and it produced a
shock in them both. She looked her reproof, but he pretended not to see
it, and neither Mrs. Joyce nor Mrs. Ollnee seemed to think his
familiarity worthy of remark.

Leo coldly answered: "I can only give a little time. We must go home
to-day."

Mrs. Joyce promptly said, "We can't desert the ship now, Leo."

"But we have nothing to wear!" the girl retorted.

"We'll send down and have some things brought up. Really, this work for
Mr. Bartol is more important than clothes."

"I suppose it is," Leo admitted. "But at the same time one should have a
decent regard to the conventions."

The colloquy which followed filled Victor with dismay. It appeared that
Leo was really eager to get away, as if she felt herself to be in a
false position. "I can't afford to drop my daily affairs in the city.
Why can't these experiments be put off for a day or two."

"I don't think we ought to ask a great and busy lawyer to accommodate
himself to our piffling social plans," replied Mrs. Joyce. "A few
minutes ago you were wild to join these experiments, now you are crazy
to go home."

Victor, who imagined himself in full possession of the reason for her
pause, said nothing; but his eyes spoke, and the girl was restless under
his glance.

She gave in at last. "Well, if you will send for the things I need--"

Victor had come from Bartol's study mightily resolved to do speedily and
well any work that might fall to his hand, but as he found himself
seated close beside the daylight girl and listening to her voice
transposing Morselli into English his resolution weakened. What were
ghosts, inventions, theories, compared to the satin-smooth curve of the
maiden's cheek or the delicate flutter of her lashes?

Try as he would, his attention wandered. The book smelled of the clinic,
the girl of the dawn. Morselli's problem was all of the night, while on
every side the young lover beheld trees flashing green mirrors to the
sun, and flowers riding like dainty boats on the billows of a soft
western wind. Moreover, the girl's voice was like to the purling of
brooks.

Twice she reproved him for his wandering wits and laggard pen, and the
second time he said: "I can't help it. The time and place invite to
other occupations. Let's go for a walk."

"A brave student, you are!" she mocked. "Mr. Bartol will find you a
valuable aid in his scientific investigations!"

Her look, her flushed cheek, and the hint of her bosom set him
a-tremble. The memory of his midnight visitor returned, filling him with
springtime madness.

"Don't you make game of me," he stammered, warningly. "If you
do--I'll--"

She raised an amused glance. "What? What will you do, boy?"

"Boy!" Her pose, her smile were challenges that struck home. With swift,
outflung arm, he encircled her waist and drew her to his breast. "Boy,
am I?"

She beat upon him, pushed him with her small hands. "Let me go, brute!"

He laughed at her, exulting in his strength. "Oh, I am a brute now, am
I? Well, I'm not. I'm a man and your master. I want a kiss."

She ceased to struggle, but into her face and voice came something which
paralyzed his arms. Repentant and ashamed, he released her and stood
before her humbly, while she denounced him for "a rowdy with the manners
of a burglar." "This ends our acquaintance," she added, and she spurned
the book on the floor as if it were his worthless self.

He was scared now, and boyishly pleaded, "Don't go--don't be angry; I
was only joking."

She knew better than this. She had seen elemental fire flaming from his
eyes, and dared not remain. With proud lift of head she walked away,
leaving him penitent, bewildered, crushed.



XIV

THE ORDEAL


In truth, Victor had not kept his head--how could he when each day
brought some new temptation, some unexpected danger, or an unforeseen
barrier? Was ever such a week of trial and perplexity thrust upon a
youth? And the worst of it lay in the fact that there were no signs of a
release from these baffling foes. Love's distress now came to add to his
bewilderment and alarm.

Leo did not appear at luncheon, and her absence gave him great
uneasiness till Mrs. Joyce explained that she had only gone to town to
fetch some needed clothing. He still carried the little breast-pin in
his pocket, but it no longer seemed the gage of a lovely girl's
affection. He began to admit that he might be mistaken, and that his
dream-woman and the jewel had no necessary connection. "One of the
servants may have dropped it there," he now admitted; "and yet how could
that be? It was under my pillow when I woke, and I am sure it was not
there when I went to sleep. Perhaps I am the one who walks in sleep.
Can it be possible that I took it from her room?"

It was all very puzzling, but he no longer possessed the fatuous
self-conceit necessary to charge Leo with such self-abandonment as the
dream and the discovery of the brooch had at first seemed to indicate.
He sat among his elders at table, silent and depressed, very far from
the triumphant mood of the morning, and yet the stream of his admiration
set toward the absent one with ever stronger current. The most important
thing in all the world, at the moment, was the winning of her forgiving
smile.

Bartol was equally distraught, and though he remained politely attentive
to his guests, he was plainly absorbed by some inner problem, and left
to Mrs. Joyce the burden of the conversation.

Mrs. Ollnee, listless and remote, glanced at her host occasionally in
the manner of one who awaits an expected sign. To her son this attitude
on her part was repellant, for he understood it to mean that she was
neither mother nor guest, but an instrument. He wondered whether Bartol
had not, by some overmastering power of the mind, already assumed
control of her thoughts as well as of her actions; and he chafed under
the pressure of his host's abstraction. "Oh, why can't she quit this
business? She must stop it!" he furiously declared.

Altogether they made a serious and restrained company, and all felt the
loss of Leo. As the meal progressed Mrs. Joyce tried to secure from
Bartol some notion of what his plans were, and he gravely replied:

"None of you must know. No one shall enter my 'ghost-room' till I am
ready for my tests. In fact, I think I shall send you all out for a
drive this afternoon so that you may not even _hear_ the tap of a
hammer."

Victor protested that he ought to study, and to this Bartol replied:
"Very well. Take a book with you, but go off the farm. I want to be able
to say that not one of the persons most interested were on the place
while my preparations were going on."

In truth, the man of law was not merely puzzled by the method of
transmitting the messages; he had been profoundly affected by the words
themselves. His wife and daughter had apparently spoken to him again,
each in distinctive way, upon matters which no one but himself could
recognize.

But it was not alone what he had himself seen and heard and felt. The
reading to which he had set himself had opened a new world of science
for him. He was amazed at the enormous amount of direct evidence
gathered and presented by careful men. Chemists applying the methods of
the retort, biologists working in their own laboratories, psychologists
and medical experts experimenting as upon a clinical subject, presented
the same or similar facts. In Austria, in Russia, in England, the
results were identical. To his mind, accustomed to sift and relate
evidence, the most convincing thing of all was the substantial agreement
of each and all of these investigators. In a certain sense the sneer of
the faithful was deserved. These men of X-ray penetration and electrical
annunciators had succeeded only in paralleling the phenomena of the
early days of the healer and the magician.

At its lowest terms--or, as some would say, at its highest terms--Mrs.
Ollnee's power was related to a sort of transcendental physics. Her
magic refilled the most ordinary block of wood or crumb of granite with
all its ancient potency. It widened and deepened the physical universe
inimitably. It discovered the human organism to be unspeakably subtle
and complicate, and made of the soul a visible demonstrable entity.
Unthinkably swift as are the vibrations of the radium ray, this
substance called the brain is capable of receiving, recording, giving
off still more intricate and marvelous motions. Of what avail to call it
"material"?

At times he glimpsed (as through a narrow opening) unknown regions of
space, not of three or four dimensions, but an infinite number of worlds
within worlds interpenetrating, undying, yet forever changing. At such
moments he perceived that the scientists of to-day were but children
groping among the set scenery of a dark stage, their text-books like
their Bibles, the records of the bewildered and stumbling myriads of
the past.

"How absurd," he said, "to attempt to make the present conform with the
past! The Hebrew scriptures, the Vedas, the Sagas of the North, are all
useful as records of the aspirations of primitive men, but the real
understanding of the universe is to be obtained now or in the future.
The present contains all that the past has possessed and more. Men are
less of the beast and more of the spirit. Their powers have intensified,
grown psychic, compelling, revealing, and yet the mystery of the
universe remains and must remain."

In such ways and others his mind ran as he read swiftly through the
wondrous record of experiments made in Rome, in Naples, in Milan. He
liked these Italians better than the greatest of the Englishmen for the
reason that they uttered no apology to the Pope. They proceeded on the
assumption that they were biologists, not priests. They had no care
whether their discoveries harmonized with some man's Bible, or whether
they did not. The question was simple: Could the human organism put
forth from itself a supernumerary hand or arm? Could it project an
etheric double of itself? Could it interpenetrate matter?

Along these lines he proposed (with Victor's aid) to study his psychic
guest. He had lost sight of the fact that he was to be her defender in
court--or if he remembered it, it was only as a secondary consideration.
He had no faintest hope of directly proving the continued existence of
his wife and children; but he could see that a demonstration of the
power of the living body to project and maintain at a distance an
etheric brain, a voice, made (by inference) a belief in immortality
possible.

This belief, this possible life of the soul, had nothing to do with the
systems of celestial cosmogony built up by the followers of Christ or
Gautama, its world was not peopled with angels, gods, or devils; it was
merely another and inter-fusing material region wherein the spirit of
man could move, retaining at least a dim memory of the grosser material
plane from which it fled. It was inconceivable, of course, when
scrutinized directly; but he caught a glint of its wonders now and then,
as if from the corner of his half-closed eye.

These physical marvels were kept very near to him, as he sat at his
desk, by minute tappings on his penholder, on his chair-back, and by
fairy chimes rung on the cut-glass decanter at his elbow. At times he
felt the light touch of hands, and once, as he returned to his seat
after a visit to the library, he found a sheet of strange parchment
thrust under his book, and on this was written in exquisite
old-fashioned script: "_Thou hast thy comfort and thy instrument. Hold
not thy hand._" And it was signed "Aurelius."

This was all very startling; but he referred it to Mrs. Ollnee herself.
To imagine it a direct message from the dead was beyond him.

At four o'clock the road-wagon brought from the station a small, alert,
and business-like young fellow, accompanied by various boxes, parcels,
and bags. Bartol met him at the door and took him at once to his study.
Neither of them was seen again till dinner-time.

The servants were profoundly excited by all this, but were too well
trained to betray their curiosity above stairs. They knew now who Mrs.
Ollnee was, but they believed in their master's government and listened
to the hammering in the study with impassive faces--while at their
duties in the hall or dining-room--but permitted themselves endless
conjecture in their own quarters. Marie alone took no part in these
discussions, though she seemed more excited than any of the others.

Meanwhile, Victor watched and waited in a fever of anxiety for Leo's
return. At five o'clock she came, but went directly to her room.

Marie met her tense with excitement. "Oh, Miss Leo, Master has asked me
to sit in the circle to-night, and I'm scared."

"You mean Mr. Bartol has asked you?"

"Yes--Miss."

"Well, you should feel exalted, Marie. It will be a wonderful
experience."

"I suppose so, Miss, but my hands are all cold and my stomach sick with
thinking of it."

Leo laughed. "You're psychic, that's what's the matter with you."

"Oh, do you think so!"

"Let me take your hands." Marie gave them. Leo smiled. "Cold and wet!
Yes, you are _it_! But don't let it interfere with dinner. I'm hungry as
a bear. Cheer up. I'd give anything to be a psychic."

"I shall flunk it, Miss; I can't go through it, really."

"Nonsense! It will be good as a play."

Half an hour later the others came in, and Leo heard Victor's voice in
the hall with a feeling of distaste. She had gone out to him during that
moonlit walk, and was suffering now a natural revulsion. It had not been
love; it had been (she admitted) only physical attraction, and the
fault, the weakness, had been hers. His presuming upon her moment of
compliance was of the nature of man. It had frightened her to discover
such deeps within herself. "We are all animals at bottom," she charged,
in the unnatural cynicism of youth.

Notwithstanding this mood, she clothed herself handsomely in a gown
which lent beauty to the exceedingly dignified rôle she designed to
play, and so costumed went to her aunt's room to hear the news.

Mrs. Joyce was lying down, and her voice sounded tired as she said: "We
were ordered out of the house at three, and have been driving ever
since. Alexander, so Marie says, has had strange men working all the
afternoon on some contrivance in his study. Evidently he is going to be
very scientific."

Leo exclaimed with delight. "Now we'll see if these faces and forms are
real or not."

"Why, Leo! Do you doubt?"

"Yes, deep in my heart I do. I cannot quite free myself from the belief
that in some way Lucy produces all these effects."

"Of course she transmits them. She's a medium."

"I don't mean it that way--and I don't mean that she cheats; but somehow
I never feel as if anything real came to me direct."

Mrs. Joyce did not feel able to pursue this line of argument. "What's
the matter between you and Victor?"

"Who told you anything was the matter?"

"I sensed it."

"Well, why didn't you sense the cause?"

"He's a nice boy; you mustn't ill-treat him, Leo."

"Your solicitude is misplaced; you should be concerned about me."

"You? Trust you to take care of yourself! I never knew a more
self-sufficient young person. I am only waiting for some man to teach
you your place."

This was a frequent subject of very plain though jocular allusion
between them. "A man may--some time--but not a rowdy boy. How does Lucy
take the promise of a test?"

"Very calmly. She is relying wholly on her 'band' to protect her. She
feels the importance of the trial, and does not shrink from it."

The Miss Wood whom Victor met as he entered the dining-room that night
was precisely the young lady he had first seen, a calm, smiling,
superior person who looked down upon him with good-humored tolerance of
his youth and sex, putting him into the position of the bad little boy
who has promised not to do so again. She not merely loftily forgave him,
she had apparently minimized the offense, and this hurt worst of all.
"I'm sorry not to have been able to work to-day," she said; "but I
really had to go to town."

This lofty, elderly sister air after her compliance to his arm
eventually angered him. His awe, his gratitude of the morning were
turned into the man's desire to be master. He set his jaws in sullen
slant and bided his time. "You can't treat me in this way when we're
alone," he said, beneath his breath.

Later he was hurt by her vivid interest in the young inventor, whom
Bartol introduced as Stinchfield. He was a small man with a round, red
face and laughing blue eyes, but he spoke with authority. His knowledge
was amazing for its wide grasp, but especially for its precision. He
guessed at nothing; he knew--or if he did not know he said so frankly.
In the few short years of his professional career he had been associated
with some of the greatest masters of matter. His acquaintances were all
men of exact information and trained judgment, men who lived amid
physical miracles and wrought epics in steel and stone.

Naturally he absorbed the attention of the table, for in answer to
questions he touched upon his career, and his talk was absorbing. He had
been a year at Panama. He had helped to survey the route for a vast
Colorado irrigating tunnel, and in his spare moments had perfected a
number of important inventions in automobile construction.

It was for all these reasons that Bartol had 'phoned him, urging him to
come out and assist in the infinitely more important work of reducing to
law the phenomena which sprang, apparently without rule or reason, from
the trances of his latest and most interesting client. "Here is your
chance to get a grip on the phenomena that have puzzled the world for
centuries," he said.

When Mrs. Joyce asked Stinchfield if he knew anything about spirit
phenomena, he replied, candidly:

"Not a thing, directly, Mrs. Joyce. Of course I have read a good deal,
but I have never experimented. It is not easy to secure co-operation on
the part of those gifted with these powers. The trouble seems to be they
consider themselves in a sense priests, keepers of a faith, whereas I
have the natural tendency to think of them in terms of physics."

Bartol, smiling, raised a hand. "I don't want the company drawn into
controversy. Experts agree that argument defeats a psychic."

Mrs. Ollnee still wore the look of one who but half listens to what is
said, and Mrs. Joyce slyly touched her hand with the tips of her
fingers. "Do you want to go to your room?" she asked.

Mrs. Ollnee shook her head. "No, I am all right."

"We will have better results if we 'cut out' dessert," Mrs. Joyce
explained to Bartol. "Over-eating has spoiled many a séance."

"Is it as physical as that?" exclaimed Stinchfield.

"I never eat when I am on a hard case," said Bartol.

Victor began to awaken to the crucial nature of the test which was about
to be made of his mother's powers. This laughing young physicist was
precisely the sort of man to put the screws severely on. It was all a
problem in mechanics for him. Whether the psychic suffered or rejoiced
in the operation did not concern him. "If she is deceiving us in any way
he will discover it," the son forecasted, with a feeling of fear at his
heart. "And yet how can I defend her?"

Bartol said to Mrs. Ollnee: "Would you mind dressing for the
performance? I'd like you to go with Mrs. Joyce and Marie, and clothe
yourself in all black if possible, so that I can say you came into my
study not merely searched, but re-clothed."

She said, quite simply: "I have no objection at all. I am in your
hands."

After the older women left the room Victor drew near to Leo with a low
word. "Poor little mother! she is in the hands of the inquisition
to-night."

Thrilling to the excitement of the hour, she forgot her resentful
superior pose. "Isn't that little man magnificent? Why didn't you go in
for civil engineering or chemistry?"

"Because no one had sense enough to advise me," he bitterly answered.

"Think where that funny little body has carried that head," she
continued, still studying Stinchfield. "If he had only been given
shoulders like yours--"

"I'm glad you like something about me."

"I was speaking of your body as a machine for carrying a brain around
over the earth."

"You seem to think of me as having no brain."

"Oh, not quite so bad as that. You have a brain, but it's undeveloped."

"I'm growing up rapidly these days. Seems like I'd lived a year since
our walk last night."

She colored a little. "Forget that and I'll forgive you."

"I can't forget that."

"Have you any idea what the tests are to be?" she asked, in an effort to
change the subject.

"No, I'm outside of it all. I hope they won't scare my poor little
mother out of her senses. Ought I to step in and stop it?"

"No, not unless The Voices say so. They welcome investigation--so
they've always said. What I should insist on, if I were you, is plenty
of time and a series of sittings."

She was speaking now in gracious mood, and he, eager to win from her a
fuller expression of forgiveness, spoke again, bravely. "I hope you are
not going to be angry with me?"

"Not at all," she replied, with disheartening, impersonal cordiality. "I
was partly to blame. I forgot you were a hot-headed boy."

"Don't take that tone with me--I won't stand it!"

"How can you help it?" she answered, with a smile, and moved toward the
end of the table where Bartol and Stinchfield still sat smoking and
leisurely sipping their coffee.

The little engineer sprang up as she drew near, and stood like a soldier
at attention as she said, "Are you in merciless mood to-night, Mr.
Stinchfield?"

"Far from it," he responded. "I'm in a receptive mood. The fact that Mr.
Bartol has found enough in this subject to wish to investigate
predisposes me to open-mindedness."

"Suppose we go into the library," suggested Bartol, and they all
followed him across the hall.

Leo walked with the engineer, leaving Victor in the rear, hurt and
suffering sorely.

It was not so much her displayed interest in Stinchfield as her haughty
disregard of himself that touched his self-esteem. Thereafter he sulked
like the boy she declared him to be.

When his mother came in robed in black and looking the sad young widow
he was on the verge of rebellion against the whole plan of action, but
he kept silence while Bartol explained his design.

"It is customary for 'mediums' to have things their own way, but in this
case Mrs. Ollnee has placed herself entirely in my hands. The tests will
be made in my study." He turned the key and unlocked the door. "Mr.
Stinchfield will enter first and see that the room is as we left it."

The engineer entered, and after a moment's survey called: "All is
untouched. Come in."

Bartol led the way with Mrs. Ollnee, and when Victor, the last to enter,
had paced slowly over the threshold Stinchfield locked the door and
handed the key to his host. The inquisition was begun.

The most notable furnishing of the room was a battery of three cameras,
so arranged that they could be operated instantaneously, and Mrs. Joyce
asked, anxiously, "Has the band consented to this?"

"They have consented to a trial," answered Mrs. Ollnee, in a faint
voice. She had grown very pale, and her hands were trembling. To Victor
this seemed like the tremor of terror, and his heart was aching with
pity.

On one side of the room a deep alcove lined with books had been turned
into a dark-room by means of curtains, and before these draperies stood
the inevitable wooden table, but beside it, inclosing a chair, was a
conical cage of wire netting encircled by bands of copper.

Mrs. Joyce exclaimed, "You do not intend to cage her in that?"

"That is my intention," calmly replied Bartol.

"Have the controls consented?" asked Mrs. Joyce.

"Yes," answered Mrs. Ollnee.

Of the further intricacies of Stinchfield's preparation Victor had no
hint, so artfully were they concealed; but he recognized in it all a
kind of humorous skepticism (which the engineer radiated in spite of his
manifest wish to appear respectful); and as his mother entered her
little torture tent Victor said, "You needn't do this if you don't want
to, mother."

"Your father commands it," she replied, submissively.

Stinchfield screwed the cage to the floor and made an attachment to a
small wire which ran along the book-case to a dark corner. Victor was
enough of the physicist to infer that his mother was now surrounded by
an electric current.

Bartol explained: "We are to start in total darkness, and then we intend
to try various degrees and colors of lights. Mrs. Ollnee, how will you
have us sit?"

"I want Victor opposite me, with Leo at his right and Louise at his
left. Mr. Stinchfield will then be able to operate his wires. You, Mr.
Bartol, sit at Leo's right and nearest the cage." Her voice was now
quite firm, and her manner decided. "All sit at the table for a time."

Stinchfield snapped out the lights, one by one, till only two, one red,
the other green, struggled against the darkness. When these went out the
room was perfectly black.

Bartol then said: "In the cabinet behind the medium is a
self-registering column of mercury, a typewriter, and a switch, which
will light a lamp which hangs in the ceiling above the cabinet, and
which has no other connection. The psychic is inclosed in a mesh of
steel wire too fine to permit the putting forth of a finger. If the lamp
is lighted, the column of mercury lifted, or the typewriter keys
depressed, it will be by some supra-normal power of the medium. There
is also on a table just inside the curtains, with paper and pencils, a
small tin trumpet, a bell, and a zither upon it. If possible, we wish to
obtain a written message independent of Mrs. Ollnee."

"It is the unexpected that happens," remarked Mrs. Joyce. "Shall we
clasp hands, Lucy?"

"Yes," answered Mrs. Ollnee.

Victor, reaching for Leo's hand, tingled with something not scientific,
a current of something subtler than electricity which came from her
palm. He thought he detected in her fingers a returning warmth of grasp.

"They are here," announced Mrs. Joyce, after some ten minutes of
silence.

"Who are here?" asked Bartol.

"My band--and many others."

"How can you tell?"

"I hear them." A faint whisper soon distinguished itself, and Mrs. Joyce
reported that Mr. Blodgett was speaking. "He says he realizes the
importance of this test, and that he has summoned all the most powerful
of the spirits within reach, and that they will do all they can. He says
the wire cage is a new condition, but they will meet it. Be patient; the
strain on Lucy is very great, but it cannot be avoided."

In the silence which followed this conversation Leo shuddered and
clutched Victor's hand as if for protection. "The other world is
opening. Don't you feel it?" She whispered. "I can hear the rustle of
wings."

He, growing very tense himself, answered: "I feel only my mother's
anxiety. Are you comfortable, mother?" he asked.

She did not reply, and Mrs. Joyce said, "She is asleep." And all became
silent again.

"Hello!" exclaimed Stinchfield. "Who touched me?"

"No one in the circle," answered Mrs. Joyce, highly elated.

"I certainly felt a hand on my shoulder--there it comes again! Shall I
flash my camera?"

"_Not now!_" came a clear, full whisper, apparently from the cabinet.
"_You would fail now. Wait._"

"Who spoke?" asked Bartol.

As there was no reply, Mrs. Joyce asked, "Is it you, Mr. Blodgett?"

"_No!_" the whisper replied.

"Is it Watts?"

"_Yes._"

"It is Isaac Watts. Now it is his science against yours, Mr.
Stinchfield."

Bartol fell into the mode at once. "We are glad to be so honored. Now
Watts, I want--and I must have--incontestable proof of the psychic's
abnormal power--nothing else can save her from State prison. Do you
realize that?"

"_We do._"

"Very well, proceed."

"_What would you call incontestable proof?_"

"I should say a registered pressure on the key or the lighting of the
lamp above the cabinet--"

A vivid red flash lit up the room. Stinchfield shouted, "The lamp--the
lamp was lit!"

His excitement, to all but Bartol, was ludicrously high, and Mrs. Joyce
openly chuckled. "What else do you want done, Mr. Science?"

"Writing independent of Mrs. Ollnee," replied Bartol.

After a long and painful silence the bell tinkled faintly, and as all
listened breathlessly the zither began to play.

"Now who is doing that?" asked the engineer.

"_Turn on the green light!_" suggested the Voice.

Stinchfield lit the green lamp, and by its glow the psychic was seen in
her cage reclining limply, her face ghostly white in the light. Bartol
looked about the circle. Every hand was in view, and yet the zither
continued to play its weird and wistful little tune. Leo and Mrs. Joyce
took this as a matter of course, but the men sat in rigid amazement.

"_Lights out!_" whispered the Voice.

Stinchfield put out his lamp. "That is astounding," he said. "I cannot
analyze that."

"_Will you swear the psychic did not do it?_" asked the Voice.

The engineer hesitated. "Yes," he finally said.

"_Is this sufficient?_" asked the unseen.

Bartol replied. "Sufficient for my argument; but I do not understand
these physical effects, and the jury may demand other proof. It will be
necessary for us to show that the messages which misled, as well as
those which comforted, came from some power outside the psychic and
beyond her control. I believe that, as in the case of Anna
Rothe--condemned by a German court to a long term of imprisonment--the
charge of imposture and swindling made against Mrs. Ollnee must lie,
unless I can demonstrate that these messages come from her subconscious
self in some occult way, or from personalities other than herself. In
fact, the whole case against Mrs. Ollnee lies in the question--does she
believe in The Voices as entities existing and acting outside herself--"

He interrupted himself to say: "Something is tapping my hand. It feels
like the small tin horn."

"_It is!_" came the answer in such volume that it could be heard all
over the room.

"_Does this not prove the medium innocent of ventriloquism?_"

"Stinchfield--what about this?" asked Bartol.

The engineer could only repeat: "I don't understand it. It is out of my
range."

Again the red lamp above the cabinet flashed, and by its momentary glow
the horn was seen floating high over the cage, in which the medium sat
motionless and ghastly white.

"Shall I flashlight that?" asked Stinchfield again.

"_No_," answered the Voice. "_The flashlight is very dangerous. We must
use it only for the supreme thing. Be patient!_"

There was no longer any spirit of jocularity in the room. Each one
acknowledged the presence of something profoundly mysterious, something
capable of transforming physical science from top to bottom, something
so far-reaching in its effect on law and morals as to benumb the
faculties of those who perceived it. It was in no sense a religious awe
with Bartol; it was the humbleness which comes to the greatest minds as
they confront the unknowable deeps of matter and of space.

The boy and girl forgot their names, their sex. They touched hands as
two infinitely small insects might do in the impenetrable night of their
world (their hates as unimportant as their loves). Only the bereaved
wife and mother leaned forward with the believer's full faith in the
heaven from which the beloved forms of her dead were about to issue.

Suddenly the curtains of the alcove opened, disclosing a narrow strip of
some glowing white substance. It was not metal, and it was not drapery.
It was something not classified in science, and Stinchfield stared at it
with analytic eyes, talking under breath to Bartol. "It is not
phosphorus, but like it. I wonder if it emits heat?"

Mrs. Joyce explained: "It is the half-opened door into the celestial
plane. I saw a face looking out."

This light vanished as silently as it came, and the zither began to play
again, and a multitude of fairy voices--like a splendid chorus heard far
down a shining hall--sang exquisitely but sadly an unknown anthem. While
still the men of law and science listened in stupefaction the voices
died out, and the zither, still playing, rose in the air, and at the
instant when it was sounding nearest the ceiling the red lamp above the
cabinet was again lighted, and the instrument, played by two faintly
perceived hands, continued floating in the air.

Silent, open-mouthed, staring, Stinchfield heard the zither descend to
the table before him. Then he awoke. "I must photograph _that_!"

"_Not yet_," insisted the Voice. "_Wait for a more important sign._"

In Victor's mind a complete revulsion to faith had come. His heart went
out in a rush of remorseful tenderness and awe. The last lingering doubt
of his mother disappeared. Like a flash of lightning memory swept back
over his past. All he had seen and heard of the "ghost-room" stood
revealed in a pure white light. "_It was all true--all of it. She has
never deceived me or any one else; she is wonderful and pure as an
angel!_" Incredible as were the effects he had seen, and which he had
rejected as unconscious trickery, not one of them was more destructive
of the teaching of his books than this vision of the zither played high
in the air by sad, sweet hands. He longed to clasp his mother to his
bosom to ask her forgiveness, but his throat choked with an emotion he
could not utter.

Bartol, with tense voice, said to Stinchfield: "We have succeeded in
paralleling Crookes' experiment. With this alone I can save her."

The flash of radiance from the cabinet interrupted him, and a new
voice--an imperative voice--called:

"_Green light!_"

Stinchfield turned his switch, and there in the glow of the lamp stood a
tall female figure with pale, sweet, oval face and dark, mysterious
eyes.

"It is Altair!" exclaimed Leo.

Victor shivered with awe and exalted admiration, for the eyes seemed to
look straight at him. The room was filled with that familiar
unaccountable odor, and a cold wind blew as before from the celestial
visitant, with suggestions of limitless space and cold, white light.

"_Be faithful_," the sweet Voice said. "_Do not grieve. Do your work.
Good-by._"

The vision lasted but an instant, but in that moment Stinchfield and
Bartol both perceived the psychic in her electric prison, lying like a
corpse with lolling head and ghostly, sunken cheeks. She seemed to have
lost half her bulk; like a partly filled garment she draped her chair.

The engineer spoke in a voice soft, pleading, husky with excitement.
"May I flashlight now?"

"_Not that--but this!_" uttered a man's voice, and forth from the
cabinet a faintly luminous mist appeared.

"_Red lamp!_"

In the glow of the sixteen-candle-power light the face of a bearded man
was plainly seen. It wore a look of grave expectancy.

"Shall I fire?" asked Stinchfield.

"_It may destroy our instrument_," answered the figure. "_But proceed._"

The blinding flash which followed was accompanied by a cry, followed by
a moan, and Lucy Ollnee was heard to topple from her chair to the floor.
In the moment of horrified silence which followed the Voice commanded:

"_Be silent! Do not stir! Turn off your current._"

In his excitement Stinchfield turned off both light and current, and
left the whole room in darkness. Victor was on his feet crying out: "She
has fallen! She is dying!"

"_Stay where you are, my son. Keep the room dark. We will take care of
your mother._"

So absolute was his faith at the moment, Victor resumed his seat, though
he was trembling with fear. Leo reached for his hand. "Don't be
frightened. They will care for her."

"We have witnessed the miraculous," declared Bartol, stricken into
irresolution by what had taken place.

Mrs. Joyce, accustomed to these marvels, added her word of warning.
"Don't go to her yet. Spirits are all about her. It has been a terrible
shock, but they will heal her."

Stunned silent, baffled by what he had seen, the scientist sat with his
hand on the switches controlling the lights ready to carry out the
orders of his invisible colleague.

"_Red light!_" commanded the Voice. "_Approach--quietly. Victor, take
charge of your mother's body. She will not re-enter it. Her spirit is
with us._"

Victor went forward and knelt in agony while the engineer lifted the
cage and delivered the unconscious psychic into his hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lucy Ollnee breathed no more. She had died as she had lived, a martyr to
the unseen world.

But her death was triumphant, for on the sensitive plate of each camera
science and law were able to read the proof of her power. In the dark
face of his grandsire Victor read a stern contempt as though he said:

"Deny and still deny. In the end you _must_ believe."

In the alcove on the pad these words were written in his mother's hand:
"_Do not grieve. My work is done. I do not go far. I shall be near to
cheer and guide you. Your future is secure. Work hard, be patient, and
all will be well. Farewell, but not good-by._"

Below, written in the quaint script which Victor recognized, were these
words: "_Men of science and of law, blazon forth the marvels you have
seen and tested. Make the world ring with them; in such wise will you
advance veneration for God and remove the fear of death._

    "_WATTS._"



XV

THE RING


Bartol obeyed the command of the invisible powers. He gladly blazoned
the triumphant death of the psychic to the world. Lucy Ollnee became at
once a glorious martyr for her faith, a victim of science. Liberal
journals and religious journals alike lamented that it was necessary for
the sake of proof as regards immortality "that an innocent woman should
be caged and tortured to death with electric batteries," and even the
_Star_, leader in the war against the mediums, permitted itself an
editorial word of regret, and published in full Bartol's letter, and
also a long interview with Stinchfield, wherein he admitted the
genuineness of the dead woman's claims to supra-normal power.

But all this was, at the moment, of small comfort to Victor. For a long
time he refused to believe in the reality of his mother's death,
insisting that she was in deep trance (as she had been before); but at
last, when the body was to be removed to Mrs. Joyce's home and Doctor
Steele and Doctor Eberly had both examined it and found no signs of
life, he gave up all hope of her return.

Accompanied by Mrs. Joyce, he visited the California Avenue flat for the
last time to pack up the few things of value which his mother had been
permitted to acquire. His attitude toward the chairs, the slates, the
old table, had utterly changed. They were now instinct with his mother's
power, permeated with some part of her subtler material self, and he was
minded to preserve them. They were no longer the tools of a conjuror;
they were the sacred relics of a priestess.

Mrs. Joyce asked permission to house them for him till he had secured a
home of his own, and to this he consented, for with his present feeling
concerning them he was troubled by the thought of their being stored in
dark vaults among masses of commonplace furniture.

"I shall keep the table in my own room," said Mrs. Joyce. "It may be
that Lucy will be able to manifest herself to me through it. I have been
promised such power."

To this Victor made no reply, for while he now believed absolutely in
all that his mother claimed to do, he had not been brought to a belief
in the return of the dead, and it was this fundamental doubt which made
his grief so bitter. "If only she could know that I believe in her," he
said to Leo, on the morning of the day when his mother's body was to be
taken away. "Think of it! She died a thousand times for the curious and
the selfish, only to be called an impostor and a cheat--and I, her only
son, was afraid the charge was true. If only I could have told her that
I believed in her!"

"She knows," the girl gently assured him. They were seated at the moment
in the library and the morning was very warm and silent. The birds
seemed to be resting in preparation for their evensong. "Your mother is
near us--she may be listening to us this minute."

"I can't believe that," he declared, sadly. "I'm not sure that I want to
believe it. I can't endure the thought of my mother's destruction, and
yet the notion of her floating about somewhere like a wreath of mist is
sorrowful to me."

Leo confessed to somewhat the same feeling. "Heaven--any kind of
heaven--has always been incomprehensible to me, and yet we must believe
there is some sort of system of rewards and punishments. Anyhow, your
mother's death was glorious. She died as she would have wished to
die--in proving her faith."

"She gave too much," he protested. "All her life she was set apart to do
a martyr's work. I understand now why my father couldn't stand it. I
know how he must have resented these Voices, and I cannot blame him for
going away. Would you marry a man like Stainton Moses or David Home?"

She recoiled a little before the thought. "Of course not--but--"

"What?"

"Your mother was charming. If your father really loved her--"

"He did! I'm sure of that, at first, but these 'ghosts' destroyed his
home. My mother confessed to me that they tormented my father for his
unbelief, and he had to go."

"They are together now, and he believes."

Victor fixed a penetrating look upon her. "Do you really believe that
the dead speak to us?"

"I see no reason why they shouldn't--if they want to. How else can you
explain these Voices?"

He shook his head. "I'm afraid these modern Italian scientists are
right. The Voices were only 'parasitic personalities,' nothing else. But
let's not talk of them. I'm tired of the 'ghost-room'--all my life I've
had it--and now I'm going to forget it if I can."

"Hush! Your mother may hear you and grieve."

"If she can hear me she will understand my feeling. I like the world as
it is--I don't want the supernatural thrust into it."

"I think you're wrong," she said, firmly. "The larger view is that of
the scientist who recognizes nothing supernatural in the universe. I
would not part with what your mother gave me for huge sums. I've had
wonderful, thrilling experiences. Remember Altair!"

Altair! Yes, he remembered her, and remembering her he recalled the
graceful figure at his bedside and the touch of the faintly clinging
lips. That mystery remained the most inexplicable of them all.

While thus he sat, dream-filled and rapt, the girl studied him, and her
face changed. "You believe in Altair. What's more, you love her, and I
can't blame you for it. She is more beautiful than angels. You will not
forsake the 'ghost-room' so long as you have a hope that she may
return."

"You are mistaken," he protested. "Altair is only a dream. I worship her
as a figure in a vision. Do you know what I think she was?" Her look
questioned, and he went on. "For days I have pondered on her face and
figure, in the light of modern science, and I am convinced that she was
nothing but a union of my mother's astral self and you."

She looked at him in startled thought. "What do you mean?"

He explained eagerly. "You must have noticed how much like my mother she
was? Her brow was the same--her eyes the same--"

"Yes, they were a little like hers."

"But her mouth and chin were exactly like yours. Her hands were like
yours. She held her head exactly as you do--and then she changed;
sometimes my mother predominated in her, sometimes you were the
stronger."

The girl was deeply affected by the significance of this analysis. "You
imagined all that."

He pushed on. "I did not, and, furthermore, Altair never came till you
sat with my mother. She never attained such power--so your aunt
agrees--till I came into the circle. She represented my conception of my
mother and you. I loved my mother, and I admired you--and out of my love
and admiration Altair was created."

"That is absurd! If ever a spirit came from heaven, Altair was that one.
Why, she was palpable! I've touched her hands."

He said, slowly: "She was beautiful, I confess, so beautiful that on
that first night she made even you seem coarse and material."

"I felt your disdain," she thrust in, with sudden hurt.

"But that was only for the moment. I could see nothing but her face--so
sad, so wistful. But let me ask you something. Did you, the night after
our walk on the drive in the moonlight--did you dream of me?"

Her lip curled in a wondering smile. "What a question to ask of me!"

"But did you? Come now, be honest. I have a reason for asking--did you?"

"What is your reason for asking?"

"That night Altair came to my bedside."

Her eyes flashed and she rose to her feet. "You have an Oriental
imagination."

"Don't go--hear me out. It was a beautiful experience."

"Apparently it was. To me your story is insulting."

He lost patience a little, and said bluntly: "You act as if I charged
_you_ with something. I say, 'Altair' came, and to me her visit was very
_significant_ and beautiful, because she testified to me that both you
and my mother were thinking of me. It was, in fact, your united astral
selves that paid that visit. Altair was your materialized friendship and
my mother's love."

"What a fantastic notion!" she said; but she lingered, held by something
new and masterful in his voice.

She added, with some humor: "Be kind enough to imagine that your
mother's 'astral self' preponderated in that vision."

"I do, for when Altair stooped to kiss me--"

"Stop!" she cried out, sharply; "you go too far!"

"Leo!" he called, and his voice checked her as quickly as if he had
caught her by the arm. "I am not joking; I am very serious. You must
remember that I have lost both my mother and Altair--you alone remain--I
can't afford to lose you. You are all I have now. Don't be angry with
me."

She considered him with a return to pity. "Forgive me," she hurriedly
retracted. "I am very sorry for you, and I don't want to seem
unfriendly; but it is only a week since we met. What can you know of me
in so short a time?"

"I loved you the moment you came into my mother's room."

"Nonsense. You hated me."

"I did not like the way you treated me; but I never hated you. I was
afraid of you."

"If your mother can hear you say that, she is certainly smiling, for she
knows you are not afraid of anybody. You're a very stiff-necked person."

"I know you have a right to laugh at me; but I believe our 'guides' have
brought us together. I need you--now--and if I dared I'd ask you to wear
this." He disclosed a ring in his hand.

She looked at it narrowly. "I know that ring; it was your mother's. She
kept it in a little velvet box together with an old-fashioned locket."

"Yes, it is hers. It isn't very grand, compared with your own, but I
wish you'd put it on and consider it my promissory note."

"_Your_ promissory note!"

"Yes, I promise to buy it back with all the money you have lost through
my mother's advice. Will you wear it for me?"

"Where do you expect to find so much money?"

"Right here, in this great city. Mr. Bartol is to take me into his
office. He's like a father to me already; but I don't expect him to give
me anything. I'm going to work, and I'm going to pay you back the money
you have lost."

Extending her little finger, she took the ring daintily on its tip. "All
that sounds very romantic; and yet young men do win wealth and fame
right here--and why not you?"

"That's just it. I may be the future monopolizer of air-ships--" The
maid, appearing at the moment, announced that a lady wished to see Mr.
Ollnee.

"Did she give her name?"

"No, sir; but she said she was a relative, sir."

"Tell her I will see her in a moment."

As the maid left Leo rose.

"Don't go!" pleaded Victor. "My visitor can wait. You haven't said
whether you will wear my ring or not. I don't know how long it may be
before I can 'make good,' but it will help mightily to know that you are
expecting me to do so."

She pondered, but her face was kindly and her voice very gentle as she
said: "I don't want to seem unkind now in your hour of grief, but I
can't wear the ring." His eyes filled with tears, and she added: "I'll
keep it for you. The real question between us will have to be decided
some time in the future--when we know each other better. You need not
think of paying me. Go and see your relation. It may be a rich aunt
come to adopt you."

"Couldn't you _learn_ to love me?" he asked, poignantly.

"I might." She smiled. "I like you already." And she went away, leaving
him with stronger will to dare and do.



XVI

CONCLUSION


As Victor entered the library he was met by a very pale, wide-eyed young
woman in a picturesque black hat. Her voice was deep and full of
dramatic fervor as she said:

"You are Victor Ollnee?"

"I am."

Her eyes, large and very dark, almost black, gazed at him appealingly,
as she said: "Pardon me for a little deception. I am your relation only
in a spiritual sense--I share your sorrow, and in other ways I am
related to you. I was eager to see you, and I did not send in my name
for the reason that it would have repelled you, and you might have
refused to meet me."

Victor thought her a very singular and very theatric young person.
Certainly she was under some strong stress of emotion which caused her
lips to quiver and her voice to vibrate tensely. He knew her now. She
was the girl he had confronted in the court-room, and he stared at her,
uncertain of his footing. She seemed like some of the figures he had
seen on the stage, vivid, swift of change, unreal, but her voice was
vibrantly charming. He was sure she was the girl he had met on the
street, and she had stood beside the man Aiken during their brief
appearance in the court-room.

She approached a step or two, as if throwing herself on his mercy. "My
name is Florence Aiken. I am a newspaper writer. I am the one who
brought all this trouble to you. It was I who wrote that first article
in the _Star_ denouncing your mother."

He recoiled before her quite as dramatically as she could have wished.
"You wrote that!" he exclaimed. "I thought a man did that job."

She could not help a slight expression of pride in her work. "It was
mine, every word of it. I was terribly vindictive, I admit; but you must
know I had some provocation. Let me tell you? Will you listen to me?
Please do! I'm not so heartless as I seemed in that article, and I
cannot rest till I have made my peace with you."

Her voice, her pale face, her intense eyes, and her tense contralto
voice softened his resentment.

"I'll listen, but you can't expect me to forgive a thing like that."

"May I sit?"

"Certainly," he answered, but remained standing, as if to retain his
guard.

"Don't condemn me altogether," she pleaded. "Wait till you know how much
reason I had to hate the whole brood of clairvoyants, seers, and
psychics. My dear old grandmother was an easy mark for the cheapest of
them, and I, who paid for her nurse out of my own thin little purse, and
waited upon her night and day, had a right to consider her small fortune
my own. It wasn't much, but it was enough to pay the cost of a flat, and
to see it all going to fakers and greasy palmists--well, it was too
much. It made a crusader of me--and it would have made one of you. It
was not a question of your mother--alone. I went to our managing editor
at last, and told him my story. I made it clear to him that the city was
full of these harpies who prey on poor old women like my grandmother.
'They ought to be driven out of town,' I said. 'Cut loose,' he said; and
I did. My article on your mother was honest. I believed her to be simply
another one of the same sort of impostors. I took her just like three or
four others whose methods I knew, and I got my cousin, Frank Aiken, to
bring suit against her. I thought she was a crook. I feel differently
to-day. Since talking with Judge Bartol and Mr. Stinchfield (I handled
both those assignments) I've changed my estimate of her. I have written
a page article vindicating her. I've come to tell you that her death in
that cage has changed the situation for me. I am convinced that she was
sincere, and I want to humble myself before you, her son, and ask your
forgiveness. I know you feel more like killing me, but here I am--I
couldn't rest without letting you know that I need your pardon."

Her plea, swift, voiced in music, and illustrated by her pale face,
glowing eyes, and sensitive lips, powerfully affected him. He towered
over her in savage silence for a little while, then with effort he said:
"I don't see how I can do anything to you, for I felt the same way--I
mean I didn't believe in my mother's business."

She became radiant. "Didn't you?"

"No. Up to the very moment when that red lamp was lit I could not
believe in her. I couldn't help doubting--even now I need the
photographs to bolster up my belief."

The reportorial instinct awoke in her. "I wish I might see those
photographs--to reassure myself, not for publication. May I see them?"

He did not observe that her desire for his pardon seemed suddenly to be
met, even though he had not yet put it in words, and his mind was wholly
on the question of the photographic tests as he slowly replied:

"They are very marvelous--especially those which came on the unexposed
plates."

Her eyes widened in wonder. "What do you mean?"

"Mr. Stinchfield had several packages of plates opened ready to use in
his cameras, but The Voices only let him make one flashlight. It seems
as if they knew the experiment would end my mother's life, and yet on
each of the unexposed plates are faces and forms, some of which Mr.
Bartol 'recognized.'"

"Let me see them--please!" she pleaded, earnestly. "They will comfort
me, too, for I am under conviction."

He took from his pocket a package of small photographs. "Here," he said,
"are the three flashlights of my grandfather, Nelson Blodgett."

The young woman almost snatched them in her eager haste. "Oh, wonderful!
What a document! The medium plainly in her cage--and this figure on the
same plate."

"It is the most convincing picture in existence," he said, sadly, "but
it cost me my mother."

She fixed a dreamy gaze upon him. "If this is a spirit--then your mother
can return to you. Has she done so?"

He moved uneasily. "I have not asked her to do that. I don't care to be
controlled or guided by spirits, not even by her spirit."

"Why?"

His voice was firm and assured as he replied: "Because I want to live
and work out my career like other men. I don't want to see or hear any
more of the 'astral plane'--" He checked himself. "It isn't natural for
a man like me to be mixed up with all this spirit business, and I'm
tired of it."

"I see what you mean. You want to work and woo and marry like other men.
You're right; of course you're right. What have we who are young and
vigorous to do with the dead, anyway? Unless all human life is a
mistake, a foolish thing, it's our business to live it humanly." She
held out her hand for the other pictures. "Let me see them all, please!"

He handed them to her. "There were three cameras," he explained, "hence
these duplicates. These faces are likenesses of Mr. Bartol's wife and
two children--and these plates, remember, were not exposed--they are of
Altair, one of the guides."

She studied the shadowy forms with keen gaze. "One of the strange things
about this 'spirit photograph' business is the resemblance they all bear
to pictures--I mean, they all look as if they were photographs of framed
portraits or drawings."

Again he betrayed restlessness. "Mr. Stinchfield noticed that."

"What is his explanation?"

"He does not think they come from spirits at all."

She urged him to unbosom himself. "You have a conviction? What is it?"

"His theory is that they are only mental images transferred by some
unknown mental power to the plates."

"What about the figure of your grandsire?"

"His theory is that the figure was really the etheric self of my
mother--shaped to the form like my grandsire by her own mind."

She stared at him. "And you accept that?"

"I don't know what else to believe. Yes, I accept that. I don't believe
the dead have any right to talk and fool with the lives of the living
the way I've been fooled with and side-tracked." His voice was full of
fervor now. "I'm going to live my own life hereafter irrespective of the
dead--responsible only to the living. I will not be disciplined by
ghosts."

The girl laid the photographs down softly and looked at him with frank
admiration. "You're a very extraordinary young man," she said, sagely.

"No, I'm not!" he protested. "I'm just a good average. A week ago my
hottest ambition was to carry the Winona ball team to victory. If I had
the money and the courage I'd go back there to-morrow and finish my
course."

"What do you mean by courage?"

"Well, you know what I'd be loaded up with. To go back there now would
be the devil and all. Your article broke my peaceful combination just a
week ago last Sunday."

"But I have undone my work. I have vindicated your mother. You have a
right to be proud of her. She was as real a martyr as ever went to the
stake."

"I know, but I'll be a marked figure, all the same."

"You were a marked figure before. But consider all explanations have
been made--wait till you read my article. Go back!" she insisted. "I
wish you would." Her voice was rich with pleading. "It would make me
happy. I feel horribly guilty--really I do. I'm only a grubbing
reporter-person--I've had to earn my way and keep house for my
grandmother besides; but I'd gladly share my salary to help you return
to college. Please go back--it will relieve my mind of a big burden."

He took her hand in the spirit in which it was offered. "I am within a
few days of graduation, but--"

"Please go back--for the sake of a poor little newspaper wretch who
feels that she has indirectly spoiled your career." She pressed his hand
fervidly. "Promise me this and you'll take a monstrous load off my
shoulders."

She had the face, the temperament of the actress, and loved to
experiment on the hearts of men; but she was deeply in earnest now.
Bartol and Stinchfield had really changed her point of view as regards
Mrs. Ollnee, and this "situation" appealed to her at the moment with
irresistible power. Life was to her a drama, intense, never-ending,
romantic, and at the moment she loved this splendid young man orphaned
by her hand.

He could not resist her caressing voice, her appealing eyes, her
sensitive lips, and he said, "I promise."

"Thank you," she said, and, dropping his hand, she lifted burning yet
tearful eyes to his face. "You are very generous."

He went on, "I am sure you meant well."

"I don't want to rest under false imputations," she repeated. "I did not
mean well. That first article was savage. I was angry. I struck blindly,
but I struck to hurt."

"Well, all that is ended," he replied, sadly. "My mother is to be buried
to-day."

She looked at him in silence for a moment. "I have one more request to
make," she said, at last, and her voice was very soft and hesitating.
"I'd like to look upon her face. I want to ask her forgiveness."

His heart melted at this plea, and he turned away to hide his tears.
When he could speak he said: "She is very beautiful. I cannot believe
even now that she is dead; but I have given my consent to have her taken
to the cemetery. I will show her to you."

In silence she followed him up the stairway and into the cool, dark room
where the coffin lay.

The windows were open at the bottom, and though the shades were drawn,
the chamber was filled with soft light. The cries of the barn-yard and
the twitter of birds outside seemed strangely softened as the two young
people so singularly brought together approached the still form of the
seeress and looked into her face serene with the infinite repose of
death.

Victor, with choking throat and burning eyes, stood at the bier unable
to utter a sound; but the girl, after a long glance, took a rose from
her bosom, and, with a sigh, gently laid it on the still, small, white
hands of the silent form.

"Accept my homage," she intoned, softly, "and if you can still see and
hear, pardon me and forget my bitter words."

She stood a moment thereafter as if involuntarily listening, waiting,
hoping--but the dead gave no sign.



THE END



Books by HAMLIN GARLAND

    CAVANAGH--FOREST RANGER

    THE CAPTAIN OF THE GRAY-HORSE TROOP.

    HESPER

    MONEY MAGIC.

    THE LIGHT OF THE STAR.

    THE TYRANNY OF THE DARK.

    THE SHADOW WORLD

    MAIN-TRAVELLED ROADS

    PRAIRIE FOLKS

    ROSE OF DUTCHER'S COOLLY

    THE MOCCASIN RANCH.

    TRAIL OF THE GOLD-SEEKERS

    THE LONG TRAIL.

    BOY LIFE ON THE PRAIRIE.





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