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´╗┐Title: Sight Unseen
Author: Rinehart, Mary Roberts, 1876-1958
Language: English
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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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Sight Unseen" ***

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SIGHT UNSEEN

By Mary Roberts Rinehart



I

The rather extraordinary story revealed by the experiments of the
Neighborhood Club have been until now a matter only of private record.
But it seems to me, as an active participant in the investigations, that
they should be given to the public; not so much for what they will add
to the existing data on psychical research, for from that angle they
were not unusual, but as yet another exploration into that still
uncharted territory, the human mind.

The psycho-analysts have taught us something about the individual mind.
They have their own patter, of complexes and primal instincts, of
the unconscious, which is a sort of bonded warehouse from which we
clandestinely withdraw our stored thoughts and impressions. They lay
to this unconscious mind of ours all phenomena that cannot otherwise
be labeled, and ascribe such demonstrations of power as cannot thus be
explained to trickery, to black silk threads and folding rods, to slates
with false sides and a medium with chalk on his finger nail.

In other words, they give us subjective mind but never objective mind.
They take the mind and its reactions on itself and on the body. But
what about objective mind? Does it make its only outward manifestations
through speech and action? Can we ignore the effect of mind on mind,
when there are present none of the ordinary media of communication? I
think not.

In making the following statement concerning our part in the strange
case of Arthur Wells, a certain allowance must be made for our ignorance
of so-called psychic phenomena, and also for the fact that since that
time, just before the war, great advances have been made in scientific
methods of investigation. For instance, we did not place Miss Jeremy's
chair on a scale, to measure for any loss of weight. Also the theory
of rods of invisible matter emanating from the medium's body, to move
bodies at a distance from her, had only been evolved; and none of the
methods for calculation of leverages and strains had been formulated, so
far as I know.

To be frank, I am quite convinced that, even had we known of these
so-called explanations, which in reality explain nothing, we would
have ignored them as we became involved in the dramatic movement of
the revelations and the personal experiences which grew out of them. I
confess that following the night after the first seance any observations
of mine would have been of no scientific value whatever, and I believe I
can speak for the others also.

Of the medium herself I can only say that we have never questioned her
integrity. The physical phenomena occurred before she went into trance,
and during that time her forearms were rigid. During the deep trance,
with which this unusual record deals, she spoke in her own voice, but in
a querulous tone, and Sperry's examination of her pulse showed that it
went from eighty normal to a hundred and twenty and very feeble.

With this preface I come to the death of Arthur Wells, our acquaintance
and neighbor, and the investigation into that death by a group of six
earnest people who call themselves the Neighborhood Club.

*****

The Neighborhood Club was organized in my house. It was too small really
to be called a club, but women have a way these days of conferring a
titular dignity on their activities, and it is not so bad, after all.
The Neighborhood Club it really was, composed of four of our neighbors,
my wife, and myself.

We had drifted into the habit of dining together on Monday evenings
at the different houses. There were Herbert Robinson and his sister
Alice--not a young woman, but clever, alert, and very alive; Sperry, the
well-known heart specialist, a bachelor still in spite of much feminine
activity; and there was old Mrs. Dane, hopelessly crippled as to the
knees with rheumatism, but one of those glowing and kindly souls that
have a way of being a neighborhood nucleus. It was around her that we
first gathered, with an idea of forming for her certain contact points
with the active life from which she was otherwise cut off. But she gave
us, I am sure, more than we brought her, and, as will be seen later, her
shrewdness was an important element in solving our mystery.

In addition to these four there were my wife and myself.

It had been our policy to take up different subjects for these
neighborhood dinners. Sperry was a reformer in his way, and on his
nights we generally took up civic questions. He was particularly
interested in the responsibility of the state to the sick poor. My wife
and I had "political" evenings. Not really politics, except in their
relation to life. I am a lawyer by profession, and dabble a bit in city
government. The Robinsons had literature.

Don't misunderstand me. We had no papers, no set programs. On the
Robinson evenings we discussed editorials and current periodicals, as
well as the new books and plays. We were frequently acrimonious, I fear,
but our small wrangles ended with the evening. Robinson was the literary
editor of a paper, and his sister read for a large publishing house.

Mrs. Dane was a free-lance. "Give me that privilege," she begged. "At
least, until you find my evenings dull. It gives me, during all the week
before you come, a sort of thrilling feeling that the world is mine to
choose from." The result was never dull. She led us all the way from
moving-pictures to modern dress. She led us even further, as you will
see.

On consulting my note-book I find that the first evening which directly
concerns the Arthur Wells case was Monday, November the second, of last
year.

It was a curious day, to begin with. There come days, now and then,
that bring with them a strange sort of mental excitement. I have never
analyzed them. With me on this occasion it took the form of nervous
irritability, and something of apprehension. My wife, I remember,
complained of headache, and one of the stenographers had a fainting
attack.

I have often wondered for how much of what happened to Arthur Wells the
day was responsible. There are days when the world is a place for love
and play and laughter. And then there are sinister days, when the earth
is a hideous place, when even the thought of immortality is unbearable,
and life itself a burden; when all that is riotous and unlawful comes
forth and bares itself to the light.

This was such a day.

I am fond of my friends, but I found no pleasure in the thought of
meeting them that evening. I remembered the odious squeak in the wheels
of Mrs. Dane's chair. I resented the way Sperry would clear his throat.
I read in the morning paper Herbert Robinson's review of a book I had
liked, and disagreed with him. Disagreed violently. I wanted to call him
on the telephone and tell him that he was a fool. I felt old, although I
am only fifty-three, old and bitter, and tired.

With the fall of twilight, things changed somewhat. I was more passive.
Wretchedness encompassed me, but I was not wretched. There was violence
in the air, but I was not violent. And with a bath and my dinner clothes
I put away the horrors of the day.

My wife was better, but the cook had given notice.

"There has been quarreling among the servants all day," my wife said. "I
wish I could go and live on a desert island."

We have no children, and my wife, for lack of other interests, finds her
housekeeping an engrossing and serious matter. She is in the habit
of bringing her domestic difficulties to me when I reach home in the
evenings, a habit which sometimes renders me unjustly indignant. Most
unjustly, for she has borne with me for thirty years and is known
throughout the entire neighborhood as a perfect housekeeper. I can close
my eyes and find any desired article in my bedroom at any time.

We passed the Wellses' house on our way to Mrs. Dane's that night, and
my wife commented on the dark condition of the lower floor.

"Even if they are going out," she said, "it would add to the appearance
of the street to leave a light or two burning. But some people have no
public feeling."

I made no comment, I believe. The Wellses were a young couple, with
children, and had been known to observe that they considered the
neighborhood "stodgy." And we had retaliated, I regret to say, in kind,
but not with any real unkindness, by regarding them as interlopers. They
drove too many cars, and drove them too fast; they kept a governess and
didn't see enough of their children; and their English butler made our
neat maids look commonplace.

There is generally, in every old neighborhood, some one house on which
is fixed, so to speak, the community gaze, and in our case it was on
the Arthur Wellses'. It was a curious, not unfriendly staring, much
I daresay like that of the old robin who sees two young wild canaries
building near her.

We passed the house, and went on to Mrs. Dane's.

She had given us no inkling of what we were to have that night, and my
wife conjectured a conjurer! She gave me rather a triumphant smile when
we were received in the library and the doors into the drawing-room were
seen to be tightly closed.

We were early, as my wife is a punctual person, and soon after our
arrival Sperry came. Mrs. Dane was in her chair as usual, with her
companion in attendance, and when she heard Sperry's voice outside she
excused herself and was wheeled out to him, and together we heard them
go into the drawing-room. When the Robinsons arrived she and Sperry
reappeared, and we waited for her customary announcement of the
evening's program. When none came, even during the meal, I confess that
my curiosity was almost painful.

I think, looking back, that it was Sperry who turned the talk to the
supernatural, and that, to the accompaniment of considerable gibing by
the men, he told a ghost story that set the women to looking back over
their shoulders into the dark corners beyond the zone of candle-light.
All of us, I remember, except Sperry and Mrs. Dane, were skeptical as
to the supernatural, and Herbert Robinson believed that while there were
so-called sensitives who actually went into trance, the controls which
took possession of them were buried personalities of their own, released
during trance from the sub-conscious mind.

"If not," he said truculently, "if they are really spirits, why can't
they tell us what is going on, not in some vague place where they are
always happy, but here and now, in the next house? I don't ask for
prophecy, but for some evidence of their knowledge. Are the Germans
getting ready to fight England? Is Horace here the gay dog some of us
suspect?"

As I am the Horace in question, I must explain that Herbert was merely
being facetious. My life is a most orderly and decorous one. But my
wife, unfortunately, lacks a sense of humor, and I felt that the remark
might have been more fortunate.

"Physical phenomena!" scoffed the cynic. "I've seen it all--objects
moving without visible hands, unexplained currents of cold air, voice
through a trumpet--I know the whole rotten mess, and I've got a book
which tells how to do all the tricks. I'll bring it along some night."

Mrs. Dane smiled, and the discussion was dropped for a time. It was
during the coffee and cigars that Mrs. Dane made her announcement. As
Alice Robinson takes an after-dinner cigarette, a custom my wife greatly
deplores, the ladies had remained with us at the table.

"As a matter of fact, Herbert," she said, "we intend to put your
skepticism to the test tonight. Doctor Sperry has found a medium for us,
a non-professional and a patient of his, and she has kindly consented to
give us a sitting."

Herbert wheeled and looked at Sperry.

"Hold up your right hand and state by your honor as a member in good
standing that you have not primed her, Sperry."

Sperry held up his hand.

"Absolutely not," he said, gravely. "She is coming in my car. She
doesn't know to what house or whose. She knows none of you. She is a
stranger to the city, and she will not even recognize the neighborhood."



II


The butler wheeled out Mrs. Dane's chair, as her companion did not dine
with her on club nights, and led us to the drawing-room doors. There
Sperry threw them, open, and we saw that the room had been completely
metamorphosed.

Mrs. Dane's drawing-room is generally rather painful. Kindly soul that
she is, she has considered it necessary to preserve and exhibit there
the many gifts of a long lifetime. Photographs long outgrown, onyx
tables, a clutter of odd chairs and groups of discordant bric-a-brac
usually make the progress of her chair through it a precarious and
perilous matter. We paused in the doorway, startled.

The room had been dismantled. It opened before us, walls and
chimney-piece bare, rugs gone from the floor, even curtains taken from
the windows. To emphasize the change, in the center stood a common pine
table, surrounded by seven plain chairs. All the lights were out save
one, a corner bracket, which was screened with a red-paper shade.

She watched our faces with keen satisfaction. "Such a time I had doing
it!" she said. "The servants, of course, think I have gone mad. All
except Clara. I told her. She's a sensible girl."

Herbert chuckled.

"Very neat," he said, "although a chair or two for the spooks would have
been no more than hospitable. All right. Now bring on your ghosts."

My wife, however, looked slightly displeased. "As a church-woman," she
said, "I really feel that it is positively impious to bring back the
souls of the departed, before they are called from on High."

"Oh, rats," Herbert broke in rudely. "They'll not come. Don't worry. And
if you hear raps, don't worry. It will probably be the medium cracking
the joint of her big toe."

There was still a half hour until the medium's arrival. At Mrs. Dane's
direction we employed it in searching the room. It was the ordinary
rectangular drawing-room, occupying a corner of the house. Two windows
at the end faced on the street, with a patch of railed-in lawn beneath
them. A fire-place with a dying fire and flanked by two other windows,
occupied the long side opposite the door into the hall. These windows,
opening on a garden, were closed by outside shutters, now bolted. The
third side was a blank wall, beyond which lay the library. On the fourth
side were the double doors into the hall.

As, although the results we obtained were far beyond any expectations,
the purely physical phenomena were relatively insignificant, it is not
necessary to go further into the detail of the room. Robinson has done
that, anyhow, for the Society of Psychical Research, a proceeding
to which I was opposed, as will be understood by the close of the
narrative.

Further to satisfy Mrs. Dane, we examined the walls and floor-boards
carefully, and Herbert, armed with a candle, went down to the cellar
and investigated from below, returning to announce in a loud voice which
made us all jump that it seemed all clear enough down there. After that
we sat and waited, and I daresay the bareness and darkness of the
room put us into excellent receptive condition. I know that I myself,
probably owing to an astigmatism, once or twice felt that I saw wavering
shadows in corners, and I felt again some of the strangeness I had felt
during the day. We spoke in whispers, and Alice Robinson recited the
history of a haunted house where she had visited in England. But Herbert
was still cynical. He said, I remember:

"Here we are, six intelligent persons of above the average grade, and in
a few minutes our hair will be rising and our pulses hammering while a
Choctaw Indian control, in atrocious English, will tell us she is happy
and we are happy and so everybody's happy. Hanky panky!"

"You may be as skeptical as you please, if you will only be fair,
Herbert," Mrs. Dane said.

"And by that you mean--"

"During the sitting keep an open mind and a closed mouth," she replied,
cheerfully.

As I said at the beginning, this is not a ghost story. Parts of it we
now understand, other parts we do not. For the physical phenomena we
have no adequate explanation. They occurred. We saw and heard them. For
the other part of the seance we have come to a conclusion satisfactory
to ourselves, a conclusion not reached, however, until some of us had
gone through some dangerous experiences, and had been brought into
contact with things hitherto outside the orderly progression of our
lives.

But at no time, although incredible things happened, did any one of us
glimpse that strange world of the spirit that seemed so often almost
within our range of vision.

Miss Jeremy, the medium, was due at 8:30 and at 8:20 my wife assisted
Mrs. Dane into one of the straight chairs at the table, and Sperry, sent
out by her, returned with a darkish bundle in his arms, and carrying a
light bamboo rod.

"Don't ask me what they are for," he said to Herbert's grin of
amusement. "Every workman has his tools."

Herbert examined the rod, but it was what it appeared to be, and nothing
else.

Some one had started the phonograph in the library, and it was playing
gloomily, "Shall we meet beyond the river?" At Sperry's request we
stopped talking and composed ourselves, and Herbert, I remember, took
a tablet of some sort, to our intense annoyance, and crunched it in his
teeth. Then Miss Jeremy came in.

She was not at all what we had expected. Twenty-six, I should say, and
in a black dinner dress. She seemed like a perfectly normal young
woman, even attractive in a fragile, delicate way. Not much personality,
perhaps; the very word "medium" precludes that. A "sensitive," I think
she called herself. We were presented to her, and but for the stripped
and bare room, it might have been any evening after any dinner, with
bridge waiting.

When she shook hands with me she looked at me keenly. "What a strange
day it has been!" she said. "I have been very nervous. I only hope I can
do what you want this evening."

"I am not at all sure what we do want, Miss Jeremy," I replied.

She smiled a quick smile that was not without humor. Somehow I had never
thought of a medium with a sense of humor. I liked her at once. We
all liked her, and Sperry, Sperry the bachelor, the iconoclast, the
antifeminist, was staring at her with curiously intent eyes.

Following her entrance Herbert had closed and bolted the drawing-room
doors, and as an added precaution he now drew Mrs. Dane's empty wheeled
chair across them.

"Anything that comes in," he boasted, "will come through the keyhole or
down the chimney."

And then, eying the fireplace, he deliberately took a picture from the
wall and set it on the fender.

Miss Jeremy gave the room only the most casual of glances.

"Where shall I sit?" she asked.

Mrs. Dane indicated her place, and she asked for a small stand to be
brought in and placed about two feet behind her chair, and two chairs
to flank it, and then to take the black cloth from the table and hang it
over the bamboo rod, which was laid across the backs of the chairs. Thus
arranged, the curtain formed a low screen behind her, with the stand
beyond it. On this stand we placed, at her order, various articles from
our pockets--I a fountain pen, Sperry a knife; and my wife contributed a
gold bracelet.

We all felt, I fancy, rather absurd. Herbert's smile in the dim light
became a grin. "The same old thing!" he whispered to me. "Watch her
closely. They do it with a folding rod."

We arranged between us that we were to sit one on each side of her, and
Sperry warned me not to let go of her hand for a moment. "They have a
way of switching hands," he explained in a whisper. "If she wants to
scratch her nose I'll scratch it."

We were, we discovered, not to touch the table, but to sit around it at
a distance of a few inches, holding hands and thus forming the circle.
And for twenty minutes we sat thus, and nothing happened. She was
fully conscious and even spoke once or twice, and at last she moved
impatiently and told us to put our hands on the table.

I had put my opened watch on the table before me, a night watch with a
luminous dial. At five minutes after nine I felt the top of the table
waver under my fingers, a curious, fluid-like motion.

"The table is going to move," I said.

Herbert laughed, a dry little chuckle. "Sure it is," he said. "When we
all get to acting together, it will probably do considerable moving. I
feel what you feel. It's flowing under my fingers."

"Blood," said Sperry. "You fellows feel the blood moving through the
ends of your fingers. That's all. Don't be impatient."

However, curiously enough, the table did not move. Instead, my watch,
before my eyes, slid to the edge of the table and dropped to the floor,
and almost instantly an object, which we recognized later as Sperry's
knife, was flung over the curtain and struck the wall behind Mrs. Dane
violently.

One of the women screamed, ending in a hysterical giggle. Then we heard
rhythmic beating on the top of the stand behind the medium. Startling
as it was at the beginning, increasing as it did from a slow beat to
an incredibly rapid drumming, when the initial shock was over Herbert
commenced to gibe.

"Your fountain pen, Horace," he said to me. "Making out a statement for
services rendered, by its eagerness."

The answer to that was the pen itself, aimed at him with apparent
accuracy, and followed by an outcry from him.

"Here, stop it!" he said. "I've got ink all over me!"

We laughed consumedly. The sitting had taken on all the attributes of
practical joking. The table no longer quivered under my hands.

"Please be sure you are holding my hands tight. Hold them very tight,"
said Miss Jeremy. Her voice sounded faint and far away. Her head was
dropped forward on her chest, and she suddenly sagged in her chair.
Sperry broke the circle and coming to her, took her pulse. It was, he
reported, very rapid.

"You can move and talk now if you like," he said. "She's in trance, and
there will be no more physical demonstrations."

Mrs. Dane was the first to speak. I was looking for my fountain pen, and
Herbert was again examining the stand.

"I believe it now," Mrs. Dane said. "I saw your watch go, Horace, but
tomorrow I won't believe it at all."

"How about your companion?" I asked. "Can she take shorthand? We ought
to have a record."

"Probably not in the dark."

"We can have some light now," Sperry said.

There was a sort of restrained movement in the room now. Herbert turned
on a bracket light, and I moved away the roller chair.

"Go and get Clara, Horace," Mrs. Dane said to me, "and have her bring a
note-book and pencil." Nothing, I believe, happened during my absence.
Miss Jeremy was sunk in her chair and breathing heavily when I came back
with Clara, and Sperry was still watching her pulse. Suddenly my wife
said:

"Why, look! She's wearing my bracelet!"

This proved to be the case, and was, I regret to say, the cause of
a most unjust suspicion on my wife's part. Even today, with all the
knowledge she possesses, I am certain that Mrs. Johnson believes that
some mysterious power took my watch and dragged it off the table, and
threw the pen, but that I myself under cover of darkness placed her
bracelet on Miss Jeremy's arm. I can only reiterate here what I have
told her many times, that I never touched the bracelet after it was
placed on the stand.

"Take down everything that happens, Clara, and all we say," Mrs. Dane
said in a low tone. "Even if it sounds like nonsense, put it down."

It is because Clara took her orders literally that I am making this
more readable version of her script. There was a certain amount of
non-pertinent matter which would only cloud the statement if rendered
word for word, and also certain scattered, unrelated words with which
many of the statements terminated. For instance, at the end of the
sentence, "Just above the ear," came a number of rhymes to the final
word, "dear, near, fear, rear, cheer, three cheers." These I have cut,
for the sake of clearness.

For some five minutes, perhaps, Miss Jeremy breathed stertorously, and
it was during that interval that we introduced Clara and took up our
positions. Sperry sat near the medium now, having changed places with
Herbert, and the rest of us were as we had been, save that we no longer
touched hands. Suddenly Miss Jeremy began to breathe more quietly, and
to move about in her chair. Then she sat upright.

"Good evening, friends," she said. "I am glad to see you all again."

I caught Herbert's eye, and he grinned.

"Good evening, little Bright Eyes," he said. "How's everything in the
happy hunting ground tonight?"

"Dark and cold," she said. "Dark and cold. And the knee hurts. It's very
bad. If the key is on the nail--Arnica will take the pain out."

She lapsed into silence. In transcribing Clara's record I shall make no
reference to these pauses, which were frequent, and occasionally filled
in with extraneous matter. For instance, once there was what amounted
to five minutes of Mother Goose jingles. Our method was simply one
of question, by one of ourselves, and of answer by Miss Jeremy. These
replies were usually in a querulous tone, and were often apparently
unwilling. Also occasionally there was a bit of vernacular, as in the
next reply. Herbert, who was still flippantly amused, said:

"Don't bother about your knee. Give us some local stuff. Gossip. If you
can."

"Sure I can, and it will make your hair curl." Then suddenly there was a
sort of dramatic pause and then an outburst.

"He's dead."

"Who is dead?" Sperry asked, with his voice drawn a trifle thin.

"A bullet just above the ear. That's a bad place. Thank goodness there's
not much blood. Cold water will take it out of the carpet. Not hot. Not
hot. Do you want to set the stain?"

"Look here," Sperry said, looking around the table. "I don't like this.
It's darned grisly."

"Oh, fudge!" Herbert put in irreverently. "Let her rave, or it, or
whatever it is. Do you mean that a man is dead?"--to the medium.

"Yes. She has the revolver. She needn't cry so. He was cruel to her. He
was a beast. Sullen."

"Can you see the woman?" I asked.

"If it's sent out to be cleaned it will cause trouble. Hang it in the
closet."

Herbert muttered something about the movies having nothing on us, and
was angrily hushed. There was something quite outside of Miss Jeremy's
words that had impressed itself on all of us with a sense of unexpected
but very real tragedy. As I look back I believe it was a sort of
desperation in her voice. But then came one of those interruptions which
were to annoy us considerably during the series of sittings; she began
to recite Childe Harold.

When that was over,

"Now then," Sperry said in a businesslike voice, "you see a dead man,
and a young woman with him. Can you describe the room?"

"A small room, his dressing-room. He was shaving. There is still lather
on his face."

"And the woman killed him?"

"I don't know. Oh, I don't know. No, she didn't. He did it!"

"He did it himself?"

There was no answer to that, but a sort of sulky silence.

"Are you getting this, Clara?" Mrs. Dane asked sharply. "Don't miss a
word. Who knows what this may develop into?"

I looked at the secretary, and it was clear that she was terrified. I
got up and took my chair to her. Coming back, I picked up my forgotten
watch from the floor. It was still going, and the hands marked
nine-thirty.

"Now," Sperry said in a soothing tone, "you said there was a shot fired
and a man was killed. Where was this? What house?"

"Two shots. One is in the ceiling of the dressing-room."

"And the other killed him?"

But here, instead of a reply we got the words, "library paste."

Quite without warning the medium groaned, and Sperry believed the trance
was over.

"She's coming out," he said. "A glass of wine, somebody." But she did
not come out. Instead, she twisted in the chair.

"He's so heavy to lift," she muttered. Then: "Get the lather off his
face. The lather. The lather."

She subsided into the chair and began to breathe with difficulty. "I
want to go out. I want air. If I could only go to sleep and forget it.
The drawing-room furniture is scattered over the house."

This last sentence she repeated over and over. It got on our nerves,
ragged already.

"Can you tell us about the house?"

There was a distinct pause. Then: "Certainly. A brick house. The
servants' entrance is locked, but the key is on a nail, among the vines.
All the furniture is scattered through the house."

"She must mean the furniture of this room," Mrs. Dane whispered.

The remainder of the sitting was chaotic. The secretary's notes consist
of unrelated words and often childish verses. On going over the
notes the next day, when the stenographic record had been copied on a
typewriter, Sperry and I found that one word recurred frequently.
The word was "curtain." Of the extraordinary event that followed the
breaking up of the seance, I have the keenest recollection. Miss Jeremy
came out of her trance weak and looking extremely ill, and Sperry's
motor took her home. She knew nothing of what had happened, and hoped
we had been satisfied. By agreement, we did not tell her what had
transpired, and she was not curious.

Herbert saw her to the car, and came back, looking grave. We were
standing together in the center of the dismantled room, with the lights
going full now.

"Well," he said, "it is one of two things. Either we've been gloriously
faked, or we've been let in on a very tidy little crime."

It was Mrs. Dane's custom to serve a Southern eggnog as a sort of
stir-up-cup--nightcap, she calls it--on her evenings, and we found it
waiting for us in the library. In the warmth of its open fire, and the
cheer of its lamps, even in the dignity and impassiveness of the butler,
there was something sane and wholesome. The women of the party reacted
quickly, but I looked over to see Sperry at a corner desk, intently
working over a small object in the palm of his hand.

He started when he heard me, then laughed and held out his hand.

"Library paste!" he said. "It rolls into a soft, malleable ball. It
could quite easily be used to fill a small hole in plaster. The paper
would paste down over it, too."

"Then you think?"

"I'm not thinking at all. The thing she described may have taken place
in Timbuctoo. May have happened ten years ago. May be the plot of some
book she has read."

"On the other hand," I replied, "it is just possible that it was here,
in this neighborhood, while we were sitting in that room."

"Have you any idea of the time?"

"I know exactly. It was half-past nine."



III


At midnight, shortly after we reached home, Sperry called me on the
phone. "Be careful, Horace," he said. "Don't let Mrs. Horace think
anything has happened. I want to see you at once. Suppose you say I have
a patient in a bad way, and a will to be drawn."

I listened to sounds from upstairs. I heard my wife go into her room and
close the door.

"Tell me something about it," I urged.

"Just this. Arthur Wells killed himself tonight, shot himself in the
head. I want you to go there with me."

"Arthur Wells!"

"Yes. I say, Horace, did you happen to notice the time the seance began
tonight?"

"It was five minutes after nine when my watch fell."

"Then it would have been about half past when the trance began?"

"Yes."

There was a silence at Sperry's end of the wire. Then:

"He was shot about 9:30," he said, and rang off.

I am not ashamed to confess that my hands shook as I hung up the
receiver. A brick house, she had said; the Wells house was brick. And so
were all the other houses on the street. Vines in the back? Well, even
my own house had vines. It was absurd; it was pure coincidence; it
was--well, I felt it was queer.

Nevertheless, as I stood there, I wondered for the first time in a
highly material existence, whether there might not be, after all, a
spirit-world surrounding us, cognizant of all that we did, touching but
intangible, sentient but tuned above our common senses?

I stood by the prosaic telephone instrument and looked into the darkened
recesses of the passage. It seemed to my disordered nerves that back of
the coats and wraps that hung on the rack, beyond the heavy curtains,
in every corner, there lurked vague and shadowy forms, invisible when I
stared, but advancing a trifle from their obscurity when, by turning my
head and looking ahead, they impinged on the extreme right or left of my
field of vision.

I was shocked by the news, but not greatly grieved. The Wellses had been
among us but not of us, as I have said. They had come, like gay young
comets, into our orderly constellation, trailing behind them their cars
and servants, their children and governesses and rather riotous friends,
and had flashed on us in a sort of bright impermanence.

Of the two, I myself had preferred Arthur. His faults were on the
surface. He drank hard, gambled, and could not always pay his gambling
debts. But underneath it all there had always been something boyishly
honest about him. He had played, it is true, through most of the thirty
years that now marked his whole life, but he could have been made a man
by the right woman. And he had married the wrong one.

Of Elinor Wells I have only my wife's verdict, and I have found that, as
is the way with many good women, her judgments of her own sex are rather
merciless. A tall, handsome girl, very dark, my wife has characterized
her as cold, calculating and ambitious. She has said frequently, too,
that Elinor Wells was a disappointed woman, that her marriage, while
giving her social identity, had disappointed her in a monetary way.
Whether that is true or not, there was no doubt, by the time they had
lived in our neighborhood for a year, that a complication had arisen in
the shape of another man.

My wife, on my return from my office in the evening, had been quite
likely to greet me with:

"Horace, he has been there all afternoon. I really think something
should be done about it."

"Who has been where?" I would ask, I am afraid not too patiently.

"You know perfectly well. And I think you ought to tell him."

In spite of her vague pronouns, I understood, and in a more masculine
way I shared her sense of outrage. Our street has never had a scandal
on it, except the one when the Berringtons' music teacher ran away with
their coachman, in the days of carriages. And I am glad to say that that
is almost forgotten.

Nevertheless, we had realized for some time that the dreaded triangle
was threatening the repute of our quiet neighborhood, and as I stood
by the telephone that night I saw that it had come. More than that,
it seemed very probable that into this very triangle our peaceful
Neighborhood Club had been suddenly thrust.

My wife accepted my excuse coldly. She dislikes intensely the occasional
outside calls of my profession. She merely observed, however, that she
would leave all the lights on until my return. "I should think you could
arrange things better, Horace," she added. "It's perfectly idiotic the
way people die at night. And tonight, of all nights!"

I shall have to confess that through all of the thirty years of our
married life my wife has clung to the belief that I am a bit of a dog.
Thirty years of exemplary living have not affected this conviction, nor
had Herbert's foolish remark earlier in the evening helped matters. But
she watched me put on my overcoat without further comment. When I kissed
her good-night, however, she turned her cheek.

The street, with its open spaces, was a relief after the dark hall. I
started for Sperry's house, my head bent against the wind, my mind on
the news I had just heard. Was it, I wondered, just possible that we had
for some reason been allowed behind the veil which covered poor Wells'
last moments? And, to admit that for a moment, where would what we had
heard lead us? Sperry had said he had killed himself. But--suppose he
had not?

I realize now, looking back, that my recollection of the other man in
the triangle is largely colored by the fact that he fell in the great
war. At that time I hardly knew him, except as a wealthy and self-made
man in his late thirties; I saw him now and then, in the club playing
billiards or going in and out of the Wells house, a large, fastidiously
dressed man, strong featured and broad shouldered, with rather too much
manner. I remember particularly how I hated the light spats he affected,
and the glaring yellow gloves.

A man who would go straight for the thing he wanted, woman or power or
money. And get it.

Sperry was waiting on his door-step, and we went on to the Wells house.
What with the magnitude of the thing that had happened, and our mutual
feeling that we were somehow involved in it, we were rather silent.
Sperry asked one question, however, "Are you certain about the time when
Miss Jeremy saw what looks like this thing?"

"Certainly. My watch fell at five minutes after nine. When it was all
over, and I picked it up, it was still going, and it was 9:30."

He was silent for a moment. Then:

"The Wellses' nursery governess telephoned for me at 9:35. We keep a
record of the time of all calls."

Sperry is a heart specialist, I think I have said, with offices in his
house.

And, a block or so farther on: "I suppose it was bound to come. To tell
the truth, I didn't think the boy had the courage."

"Then you think he did it?"

"They say so," he said grimly. And added,--irritably: "Good heavens,
Horace, we must keep that other fool thing out of our minds."

"Yes," I agreed. "We must."

Although the Wells house was brilliantly lighted when we reached it,
we had difficulty in gaining admission. Whoever were in the house were
up-stairs, and the bell evidently rang in the deserted kitchen or a
neighboring pantry.

"We might try the servants' entrance," Sperry said. Then he laughed
mirthlessly.

"We might see," he said, "if there's a key on the nail among the vines."

I confess to a nervous tightening of my muscles as we made our way
around the house. If the key was there, we were on the track of a
revelation that might revolutionize much that we had held fundamental in
science and in our knowledge of life itself. If, sitting in Mrs. Dane's
quiet room, a woman could tell us what was happening in a house a mile
or so away, it opened up a new earth. Almost a new heaven.

I stopped and touched Sperry's arm. "This Miss Jeremy--did she know
Arthur Wells or Elinor? If she knew the house, and the situation between
them, isn't it barely possible that she anticipated this thing?"

"We knew them," he said gruffly, "and whatever we anticipated, it wasn't
this."

Sperry had a pocket flash, and when we found the door locked we
proceeded with our search for the key. The porch had been covered with
heavy vines, now dead of the November frosts, and showing, here and
there, dead and dried leaves that crackled as we touched them. In the
darkness something leaped against, me, and I almost cried out. It was,
however, only a collie dog, eager for the warmth of his place by the
kitchen fire.

"Here's the key," Sperry said, and held it out. The flash wavered in his
hand, and his voice was strained.

"So far, so good," I replied, and was conscious that my own voice rang
strange in my ears.

We admitted ourselves, and the dog, bounding past us, gave a sharp yelp
of gratitude and ran into the kitchen.

"Look here, Sperry," I said, as we stood inside the door, "they don't
want me here. They've sent for you, but I'm the most casual sort of an
acquaintance. I haven't any business here."

That struck him, too. We had both been so obsessed with the scene at
Mrs. Dane's that we had not thought of anything else.

"Suppose you sit down in the library," he said. "The chances are against
her coming down, and the servants don't matter."

As a matter of fact, we learned later that all the servants were out
except the nursery governess. There were two small children. There was a
servants' ball somewhere, and, with the exception of the butler, it was
after two before they commenced to straggle in. Except two plain-clothes
men from the central office, a physician who was with Elinor in her
room, and the governess, there was no one else in the house but the
children, asleep in the nursery.

As I sat alone in the library, the house was perfectly silent. But in
some strange fashion it had apparently taken on the attributes of the
deed that had preceded the silence. It was sinister, mysterious, dark.
Its immediate effect on my imagination was apprehension--almost terror.
Murder or suicide, here among the shadows a soul, an indestructible
thing, had been recently violently wrenched from its body. The body lay
in the room overhead. But what of the spirit? I shivered as I thought
that it might even then be watching me with formless eyes from some dark
corner.

Overwrought as I was, I was forced to bring my common sense to bear on
the situation. Here was a tragedy, a real and terrible one. Suppose we
had, in some queer fashion, touched its outer edges that night? Then
how was it that there had come, mixed up with so much that might be
pertinent, such extraneous and grotesque things as Childe Harold, a hurt
knee, and Mother Goose?

I remember moving impatiently, and trying to argue myself into my
ordinary logical state of mind, but I know now that even then I was
wondering whether Sperry had found a hole in the ceiling upstairs.

I wandered, I recall, into the realm of the clairvoyant and the
clairaudient. Under certain conditions, such as trance, I knew that some
individuals claimed a power of vision that was supernormal, and I had at
one time lunched at my club with a well-dressed gentleman in a pince
nez who said the room was full of people I could not see, but who were
perfectly distinct to him. He claimed, and I certainly could not refute
him, that he saw further into the violet of the spectrum than the rest
of us, and seemed to consider it nothing unusual when an elderly woman,
whose description sounded much like my great-grand-mother, came and
stood behind my chair.

I recall that he said she was stroking my hair, and that following that
I had a distinctly creepy sensation along my scalp.

Then there were those who claimed that in trance the spirit of the
medium, giving place to a control, was free to roam whither it would,
and, although I am not sure of this, that it wandered in the fourth
dimension. While I am very vague about the fourth dimension, I did know
that in it doors and walls were not obstacles. But as they would not
be obstacles to a spirit, even in the world as we know it, that got me
nowhere.

Suppose Sperry came down and said Arthur Wells had been shot above the
ear, and that there was a second bullet hole in the ceiling? Added to
the key on the nail, a careless custom and surely not common, we would
have conclusive proof that our medium had been correct. There was
another point, too. Miss Jeremy had said, "Get the lather off his face."

That brought me up with a turn. Would a man stop shaving to kill
himself? If he did, why a revolver? Why not the razor in his hand?

I knew from my law experience that suicide is either a desperate impulse
or a cold-blooded and calculated finality. A man who kills himself while
dressing comes under the former classification, and will usually seize
the first method at hand. But there was something else, too. Shaving
is an automatic process. It completes itself. My wife has an irritated
conviction that if the house caught fire while I was in the midst of the
process, I would complete it and rinse the soap from my face before I
caught up the fire-extinguisher.

Had he killed himself, or had Elinor killed him? Was she the sort to
sacrifice herself to a violent impulse? Would she choose the hard way,
when there was the easy one of the divorce court? I thought not. And the
same was true of Ellingham. Here were two people, both of them careful
of appearance, if not of fact. There was another possibility, too.
That he had learned something while he was dressing, had attacked or
threatened her with a razor, and she had killed him in self-defence.

I had reached that point when Sperry came down the staircase, ushering
out the detectives and the medical man. He came to the library door and
stood looking at me, with his face rather paler than usual.

"I'll take you up now," he said. "She's in her room, in bed, and she has
had an opiate."

"Was he shot above the ear?"

"Yes."

I did not look at him, nor he at me. We climbed the stairs and entered
the room, where, according to Elinor's story, Arthur Wells had killed
himself. It was a dressing-room, as Miss Jeremy had described. A
wardrobe, a table with books and magazines in disorder, two chairs, and
a couch, constituted the furnishings. Beyond was a bathroom. On a chair
by a window the dead mans's evening clothes were neatly laid out, his
shoes beneath. His top hat and folded gloves were on the table.

Arthur Wells lay on the couch. A sheet had been drawn over the body, and
I did not disturb it. It gave the impression of unusual length that is
always found, I think, in the dead, and a breath of air from an open
window, by stirring the sheet, gave a false appearance of life beneath.

The house was absolutely still.

When I glanced at Sperry he was staring at the ceiling, and I followed
his eyes, but there was no mark on it. Sperry made a little gesture.

"It's queer," he muttered. "It's--"

"The detective and I put him there. He was here." He showed a place on
the floor midway of the room.

"Where was his head lying?" I asked, cautiously.

"Here."

I stooped and examined the carpet. It was a dark Oriental, with much red
in it. I touched the place, and then ran my folded handkerchief over it.
It came up stained with blood.

"There would be no object in using cold water there, so as not to set
the stain," Sperry said thoughtfully. "Whether he fell there or not,
that is where she allowed him to be found."

"You don't think he fell there?"

"She dragged him, didn't she?" he demanded. Then the strangeness of what
he was saying struck him, and he smiled foolishly. "What I mean is, the
medium said she did. I don't suppose any jury would pass us tonight as
entirely sane, Horace," he said.

He walked across to the bathroom and surveyed it from the doorway. I
followed him. It was as orderly as the other room. On a glass shelf
over the wash-stand were his razors, a safety and, beside it, in a black
case, an assortment of the long-bladed variety, one for each day of the
week, and so marked.

Sperry stood thoughtfully in the doorway.

"The servants are out," he said. "According to Elinor's statement he
was dressing when he did it. And yet some one has had a wild impulse for
tidiness here, since it happened. Not a towel out of place!"

It was in the bathroom that he told me Elinor's story. According to her,
it was a simple case of suicide. And she was honest about it, in her
own way. She was shocked, but she was not pretending any wild grief.
She hadn't wanted him to die, but she had not felt that they could go on
much longer together. There had been no quarrel other than their usual
bickering. They had been going to a dance that night. The servants
had all gone out immediately after dinner to a servants' ball and the
governess had gone for a walk. She was to return at nine-thirty to
fasten Elinor's gown and to be with the children.

Arthur, she said, had been depressed for several days, and at dinner
had hardly spoken at all. He had not, however, objected to the dance. He
had, indeed, seemed strangely determined to go, although she had pleaded
a headache. At nine o'clock he went upstairs, apparently to dress.

She was in her room, with the door shut, when she heard a shot. She
ran in and found him lying on the floor of his dressing-room with his
revolver behind him. The governess was still out. The shot had roused
the children, and they had come down from the nursery above. She was
frantic, but she had to soothe them. The governess, however, came in
almost immediately, and she had sent her to the telephone to summon
help, calling Sperry first of all, and then the police.

"Have you seen the revolver?" I asked.

"Yes. It's all right, apparently. Only one shot had been fired."

"How soon did they get a doctor?"

"It must have been some time. They gave up telephoning, and the
governess went out, finally, and found one."

"Then, while she was out--?"

"Possibly," Sperry said. "If we start with the hypothesis that she was
lying."

"If she cleaned up here for any reason," I began, and commenced a
desultory examination of the room. Just why I looked behind the bathtub
forces me to an explanation I am somewhat loath to make, but which will
explain a rather unusual proceeding. For some time my wife has felt that
I smoked too heavily, and out of her solicitude for me has limited me
to one cigar after dinner. But as I have been a heavy smoker for years
I have found this a great hardship, and have therefore kept a reserve
store, by arrangement with the housemaid, behind my tub. In self-defence
I must also state that I seldom have recourse to such stealthy measures.

Believing then that something might possibly be hidden there, I made
an investigation, and could see some small objects lying there. Sperry
brought me a stick from the dressing-room, and with its aid succeeded in
bringing out the two articles which were instrumental in starting us on
our brief but adventurous careers as private investigators. One was a
leather razor strop, old and stiff from disuse, and the other a wet bath
sponge, now stained with blood to a yellowish brown.

"She is lying, Sperry," I said. "He fell somewhere else, and she dragged
him to where he was found."

"But--why?"

"I don't know," I said impatiently. "From some place where a man would
be unlikely to kill himself, I daresay. No one ever killed himself, for
instance, in an open hallway. Or stopped shaving to do it."

"We have only Miss Jeremy's word for that," he said, sullenly. "Confound
it, Horace, don't let's bring in that stuff if we can help it."

We stared at each other, with the strop and the sponge between us.
Suddenly he turned on his heel and went back into the room, and a moment
later he called me, quietly.

"You're right," he said. "The poor devil was shaving. He had it half
done. Come and look."

But I did not go. There was a carafe of water in the bathroom, and I
took a drink from it. My hands were shaking. When I turned around I
found Sperry in the hall, examining the carpet with his flash light, and
now and then stooping to run his hand over the floor.

"Nothing here," he said in a low tone, when I had joined him. "At least
I haven't found anything."



IV


How much of Sperry's proceeding with the carpet the governess had seen
I do not know. I glanced up and she was there, on the staircase to the
third floor, watching us. I did not know, then, whether she recognized
me or not, for the Wellses' servants were as oblivious of the families
on the street as their employers. But she knew Sperry, and was ready
enough to talk to him.

"How is she now?" she asked.

"She is sleeping, Mademoiselle."

"The children also."

She came down the stairs, a lean young Frenchwoman in a dark dressing
gown, and Sperry suggested that she too should have an opiate.
She seized at the idea, but Sperry did not go down at once for his
professional bag.

"You were not here when it occurred, Mademoiselle?" he inquired.

"No, doctor. I had been out for a walk." She clasped her hands. "When I
came back--"

"Was he still on the floor of the dressing-room when you came in?"

"But yes. Of course. She was alone. She could not lift him."

"I see," Sperry said thoughtfully. "No, I daresay she couldn't. Was the
revolver on the floor also?"

"Yes, doctor. I myself picked it up."

To Sperry she showed, I observed, a slight deference, but when she
glanced at me, as she did after each reply, I thought her expression
slightly altered. At the time this puzzled me, but it was explained when
Sperry started down the stairs.

"Monsieur is of the police?" she asked, with a Frenchwoman's timid
respect for the constabulary.

I hesitated before I answered. I am a truthful man, and I hate
unnecessary lying. But I ask consideration of the circumstances. Neither
then nor at any time later was the solving of the Wells mystery the
prime motive behind the course I laid out and consistently followed. I
felt that we might be on the verge of some great psychic discovery, one
which would revolutionize human thought and to a certain extent human
action. And toward that end I was prepared to go to almost any length.

"I am making a few investigations," I told her. "You say Mrs. Wells was
alone in the house, except for her husband?"

"The children."

"Mr. Wells was shaving, I believe, when the--er--impulse overtook him?"

There was no doubt as to her surprise. "Shaving? I think not."

"What sort of razor did he ordinarily use?"

"A safety razor always. At least I have never seen any others around."

"There is a case of old-fashioned razors in the bathroom."

She glanced toward the room and shrugged her shoulders. "Possibly he
used others. I have not seen any."

"It was you, I suppose, who cleaned up afterwards."

"Cleaned up?"

"You who washed up the stains."

"Stains? Oh, no, monsieur. Nothing of the sort has yet been done."

I felt that she was telling the truth, so far as she knew it, and I then
asked about the revolver.

"Do you know where Mr. Wells kept his revolver?"

"When I first came it was in the drawer of that table. I suggested that
it be placed beyond the children's reach. I do not know where it was
put."

"Do you recall how you left the front door when you went out? I mean,
was it locked?"

"No. The servants were out, and I knew there would be no one to admit
me. I left it unfastened."

But it was evident that she had broken a rule of the house by doing so,
for she added: "I am afraid to use the servants' entrance. It is dark
there."

"The key is always hung on the nail when they are out?"

"Yes. If any one of them is out it is left there. There is only one key.
The family is out a great deal, and it saves bringing some one down from
the servants' rooms at the top of the house."

But I think my knowledge of the key bothered her, for some reason. And
as I read over my questions, certainly they indicated a suspicion that
the situation was less simple than it appeared. She shot a quick glance
at me.

"Did you examine the revolver when you picked it up?"

"I, monsieur? Non!" Then her fears, whatever they were, got the best of
her. "I know nothing but what I tell you. I was out. I can prove that
that is so. I went to a pharmacy; the clerk will remember. I will go
with you, monsieur, and he will tell you that I used the telephone
there."

I daresay my business of cross-examination, of watching evidence helped
me to my next question.

"You went out to telephone when there is a telephone in the house?"

But here again, as once or twice before, a veil dropped between us.
She avoided my eyes. "There are things one does not want the family to
hear," she muttered. Then, having determined on a course of action, she
followed it. "I am looking for another position. I do not like it here.
The children are spoiled. I only came for a month's trial."

"And the pharmacy?"

"Elliott's, at the corner of State Avenue and McKee Street."

I told her that it would not be necessary for her to go to the pharmacy,
and she muttered something about the children and went up the stairs.
When Sperry came back with the opiate she was nowhere in sight, and he
was considerably annoyed.

"She knows something," I told him. "She is frightened."

Sperry eyed me with a half frown.

"Now see here, Horace," he said, "suppose we had come in here, without
the thought of that seance behind us? We'd have accepted the thing as it
appears to be, wouldn't we? There may be a dozen explanations for that
sponge, and for the razor strop. What in heaven's name has a razor strop
to do with it anyhow? One bullet was fired, and the revolver has one
empty chamber. It may not be the custom to stop shaving in order to
commit suicide, but that's no argument that it can't be done, and as to
the key--how do I know that my own back door key isn't hung outside on a
nail sometimes?"

"We might look again for that hole in the ceiling."

"I won't do it. Miss Jeremy has read of something of that sort, or heard
of it, and stored it in her subconscious mind."

But he glanced up at the ceiling nevertheless, and a moment later had
drawn up a chair and stepped onto it, and I did the same thing. We
presented, I imagine, rather a strange picture, and I know that the
presence of the rigid figure on the couch gave me a sort of ghoulish
feeling.

The house was an old one, and in the center of the high ceiling a
plaster ornament surrounded the chandelier. Our search gradually
centered on this ornament, but the chairs were low and our long-distance
examination revealed nothing. It was at that time, too, that we heard
some one in the lower hall, and we had only a moment to put our chairs
in place before the butler came in. He showed no surprise, but stood
looking at the body on the couch, his thin face working.

"I met the detectives outside, doctor," he said. "It's a terrible thing,
sir, a terrible thing."

"I'd keep the other servants out of this room, Hawkins."

"Yes, sir." He went over to the sheet, lifted the edge slowly, and then
replaced it, and tip-toed to the door. "The others are not back yet.
I'll admit them, and get them up quietly. How is Mrs. Wells?"

"Sleeping," Sperry said briefly, and Hawkins went out.

I realize now that Sperry was--I am sure he will forgive this--in a
state of nerves that night. For example, he returned only an impatient
silence to my doubt as to whether Hawkins had really only just returned
and he quite missed something downstairs which I later proved to have
an important bearing on the case. This was when we were going out, and
after Hawkins had opened the front door for us. It had been freezing
hard, and Sperry, who has a bad ankle, looked about for a walking stick.
He found one, and I saw Hawkins take a swift step forward, and then
stop, with no expression whatever in his face.

"This will answer, Hawkins."

"Yes, sir," said Hawkins impassively.

And if I realize that Sperry was nervous that night, I also realize that
he was fighting a battle quite his own, and with its personal problems.

"She's got to quit this sort of thing," he said savagely and apropos of
nothing, as we walked along. "It's hard on her, and besides--"

"Yes?"

"She couldn't have learned about it," he said, following his own trail
of thought. "My car brought her from her home to the house-door. She
was brought in to us at once. But don't you see that if there are other
developments, to prove her statements she--well, she's as innocent as a
child, but take Herbert, for instance. Do you suppose he'll believe she
had no outside information?"

"But it was happening while we were shut in the drawing-room."

"So Elinor claims. But if there was anything to hide, it would have
taken time. An hour or so, perhaps. You can see how Herbert would jump
on that."

We went back, I remember, to speaking of the seance itself, and to the
safer subject of the physical phenomena. As I have said, we did not
then know of those experimenters who claim that the medium can evoke
so-called rods of energy, and that by its means the invisible "controls"
can perform their strange feats of levitation and the movement of solid
bodies. Sperry touched very lightly on the spirit side.

"At least it would mean activity," he said. "The thought of an inert
eternity is not bearable."

He was inclined, however, to believe that there were laws of which we
were still in ignorance, and that we might some day find and use the
fourth dimension. He seemed to be able to grasp it quite clearly. "The
cube of the cube, or hypercube," he explained. "Or get it this way: a
cone passed apex-downward through a plane."

"I know," I said, "that it is perfectly simple. But somehow it just
sounds like words to me."

"It's perfectly clear, Horace," he insisted. "But remember this when
you try to work it out; it is necessary to use motion as a translator of
time into space, or of space into time."

"I don't intend to work it out," I said irritably. "But I mean to use
motion as a translator of the time, which is 1:30 in the morning, to
take me to a certain space, which is where I live."

But as it happened, I did not go into my house when I reached it. I was
wide awake, and I perceived, on looking up at my wife's windows, that
the lights were out. As it is her custom to wait up for me on those rare
occasions when I spend an evening away from home, I surmised that she
was comfortably asleep, and made my way to the pharmacy to which the
Wellses' governess had referred.

The night-clerk was in the prescription-room behind the shop. He had
fixed himself comfortably on two chairs, with an old table-cover over
his knee and a half-empty bottle of sarsaparilla on a wooden box beside
him. He did not waken until I spoke to him.

"Sorry to rouse you, Jim," I said.

He flung off the cover and jumped up, upsetting the bottle, which
trickled a stale stream to the floor. "Oh, that's all right, Mr.
Johnson, I wasn't asleep, anyhow."

I let that go, and went at once to the object of our visit. Yes, he
remembered the governess, knew her, as a matter of fact. The Wellses'
bought a good many things there. Asked as to her telephoning, he thought
it was about nine o'clock, maybe earlier. But questioned as to what she
had telephoned about, he drew himself up.

"Oh, see here," he said. "I can't very well tell you that, can I? This
business has got ethics, all sorts of ethics."

He enlarged on that. The secrets of the city, he maintained loftily,
were in the hands of the pharmacies. It was a trust that they kept.
"Every trouble from dope to drink, and then some," he boasted.

When I told him that Arthur Wells was dead his jaw dropped, but there
was no more argument in him. He knew very well the number the governess
had called.

"She's done it several times," he said. "I'll be frank with you. I got
curious after the third evening, and called it myself. You know the
trick. I found out it was the Ellingham, house, up State Street."

"What was the nature of the conversations?"

"Oh, she was very careful. It's an open phone and any one could hear
her. Once she said somebody was not to come. Another time she just said,
'This is Suzanne Gautier. 9:30, please.'"

"And tonight?"

"That the family was going out--not to call."

When I told him it was a case of suicide, his jaw dropped.

"Can you beat it?" he said. "I ask you, can you beat it? A fellow who
had everything!"

But he was philosophical, too.

"A lot of people get the bug once in a while," he said. "They come
in here for a dose of sudden death, and it takes watching. You'd be
surprised the number of things that will do the trick if you take
enough. I don't know. If things get to breaking wrong--"

His voice trailed off, and he kicked at the old table cover on the
floor.

"It's a matter of the point of view," he said more cheerfully. "And my
point of view just now is that this place is darned cold, and so's the
street. You'd better have a little something to warm you up before you
go out, Mr. Johnson."

I was chilled through, to tell the truth, and although I rarely drink
anything I went back with him and took an ounce or two of villainous
whiskey, poured out of a jug into a graduated glass. It is with deep
humiliation of spirit I record that a housemaid coming into my library
at seven o'clock the next morning, found me, in top hat and overcoat,
asleep on the library couch.

I had, however, removed my collar and tie, and my watch, carefully
wound, was on the smoking-stand beside me.

The death of Arthur Wells had taken place on Monday evening. Tuesday
brought nothing new. The coroner was apparently satisfied, and on
Wednesday the dead man's body was cremated.

"Thus obliterating all evidence," Sperry said, with what I felt was a
note of relief.

But I think the situation was bothering him, and that he hoped to
discount in advance the second sitting by Miss Jeremy, which Mrs.
Dane had already arranged for the following Monday, for on Wednesday
afternoon, following a conversation over the telephone, Sperry and I had
a private sitting with Miss Jeremy in Sperry's private office. I took
my wife into our confidence and invited her to be present, but the
unfortunate coldness following the housemaid's discovery of me asleep
in the library on the morning after the murder, was still noticeable and
she refused.

The sitting, however, was totally without value. There was difficulty
on the medium's part in securing the trance condition, and she broke out
once rather petulantly, with the remark that we were interfering with
her in some way.

I noticed that Sperry had placed Arthur Wells's stick unobtrusively on
his table, but we secured only rambling and non-pertinent replies to our
questions, and whether it was because I knew that outside it was broad
day, or because the Wells matter did not come up at all I found a total
lack of that sense of the unknown which made all the evening sittings so
grisly.

I am sure she knew we had wanted something, and that she had failed to
give it to us, for when she came out she was depressed and in a state of
lowered vitality.

"I'm afraid I'm not helping you," she said. "I'm a little tired, I
think."

She was tired. I felt suddenly very sorry for her. She was so pretty and
so young--only twenty-six or thereabouts--to be in the grip of forces
so relentless. Sperry sent her home in his car, and took to pacing the
floor of his office.

"I'm going to give it up, Horace," he said. "Perhaps you are right. We
may be on the verge of some real discovery. But while I'm interested, so
interested that it interferes with my work, I'm frankly afraid to go on.
There are several reasons."

I argued with him. There could be no question that if things were left
as they were, a number of people would go through life convinced that
Elinor Wells had murdered her husband. Look at the situation. She had
sent out all the servants and the governess, surely an unusual thing in
an establishment of that sort. And Miss Jeremy had been vindicated in
three points; some stains had certainly been washed up, we had found the
key where she had stated it to be, and Arthur had certainly been shaving
himself.

"In other words," I argued, "we can't stop, Sperry. You can't stop. But
my idea would be that our investigations be purely scientific and not
criminal."

"Also, in other words," he said, "you think we will discover something,
so you suggest that we compound a felony and keep it to ourselves!"

"Exactly," I said drily.

It is of course possible that my nerves were somewhat unstrung during
the days that followed. I wakened one night to a terrific thump which
shook my bed, and which seemed to be the result of some one having
struck the foot-board with a plank. Immediately following this came
a sharp knocking on the antique bed-warmer which hangs beside my
fireplace. When I had sufficiently recovered my self-control I turned on
my bedside lamp, but the room was empty.

Again I wakened with a feeling of intense cold. I was frozen with it,
and curiously enough it was an inner cold. It seemed to have nothing to
do with the surface of my body. I have no explanation to make of these
phenomena. Like the occurrences at the seance, they were, and that was
all.

But on Thursday night of that week my wife came into my bedroom, and
stated flatly that there were burglars in the house.

Now it has been my contention always that if a burglar gains entrance,
he should be allowed to take what he wants. Silver can be replaced,
but as I said to my wife then, Horace Johnson could not. But she had
recently acquired a tea set formerly belonging to her great-grandmother,
and apprehension regarding it made her, for the nonce, less solicitous
for me than usual.

"Either you go or I go," she said. "Where's your revolver?"

I got out of bed at that, and went down the stairs. But I must confess
that I felt, the moment darkness surrounded me, considerably less
trepidation concerning the possible burglar than I felt as to the
darkness itself. Mrs. Johnson had locked herself in my bedroom, and
there was something horrible in the black depths of the lower hall.

We are old-fashioned people, and have not yet adopted electric light.
I carried a box of matches, but at the foot of the stairs the one I had
lighted went out. I was terrified. I tried to light another match, but
there was a draft from somewhere, and it too was extinguished before I
had had time to glance about. I was immediately conscious of a sort of
soft movement around me, as of shadowy shapes that passed and repassed.
Once it seemed to me that a hand was laid on my shoulder and was not
lifted, but instead dissolved into the other shadows around. The sudden
striking of the clock on the stair landing completed my demoralization.
I turned and fled upstairs, pursued, to my agonized nerves, by ghostly
hands that came toward me from between the spindles of the stair-rail.

At dawn I went downstairs again, heartily ashamed of myself. I found
that a door to the basement had been left open, and that the soft
movement had probably been my overcoat, swaying in the draft.

Probably. I was not certain. Indeed, I was certain of nothing during
those strange days. I had built up for myself a universe upheld by
certain laws, of day and night, of food and sleep and movement, of three
dimensions of space. And now, it seemed to me, I had stood all my life
but on the threshold, and, for an hour or so, the door had opened.

Sperry had, I believe, told Herbert Robinson of what we had discovered,
but nothing had been said to the women. I knew through my wife that they
were wildly curious, and the night of the second seance Mrs. Dane drew
me aside and I saw that she suspected, without knowing, that we had been
endeavoring to check up our revelations with the facts.

"I want you to promise me one thing," she said. "I'll not bother you
now. But I'm an old woman, with not much more of life to be influenced
by any disclosures. When this thing is over, and you have come to
a conclusion--I'll not put it that way: you may not come to a
conclusion--but when it is over, I want you to tell me the whole story.
Will you?"

I promised that I would.

Miss Jeremy did not come to dinner. She never ate before a seance. And
although we tried to keep the conversational ball floating airily, there
was not the usual effervescence of the Neighborhood Club dinners. One
and all, we were waiting, we knew not for what.

I am sorry to record that there were no physical phenomena of any sort
at this second seance. The room was arranged as it had been at the first
sitting, except that a table with a candle and a chair had been placed
behind a screen for Mrs. Dane's secretary.

There was one other change. Sperry had brought the walking-stick he had
taken from Arthur Wells's room, and after the medium was in trance he
placed it on the table before her.

The first questions were disappointing in results. Asked about the
stick, there was only silence. When, however, Sperry went back to the
sitting of the week before, and referred to questions and answers at
that time, the medium seemed uneasy. Her hand, held under mine, made an
effort to free itself and, released, touched the cane. She lifted it,
and struck the table a hard blow with it.

"Do you know to whom that stick belongs?"

A silence. Then: "Yes."

"Will you tell us what you know about it?"

"It is writing."

"Writing?"

"It was writing, but the water washed it away."

Then, instantly and with great rapidity, followed a wild torrent of
words and incomplete sentences. It is inarticulate, and the secretary
made no record of it. As I recall, however, it was about water,
children, and the words "ten o'clock" repeated several times.

"Do you mean that something happened at ten o'clock?"

"No. Certainly not. No, indeed. The water washed it away. All of it. Not
a trace."

"Where did all this happen?"

She named, without hesitation, a seaside resort about fifty miles from
our city. There was not one of us, I dare say, who did not know that the
Wellses had spent the preceding summer there and that Charlie Ellingham
had been there, also.

"Do you know that Arthur Wells is dead?"

"Yes. He is dead."

"Did he kill himself?"

"You can't catch me on that. I don't know."

Here the medium laughed. It was horrible. And the laughter made the
whole thing absurd. But it died away quickly.

"If only the pocketbook was not lost," she said. "There were so many
things in it. Especially car-tickets. Walking is a nuisance."

Mrs. Dane's secretary suddenly spoke. "Do you want me to take things
like that?" she asked.

"Take everything, please," was the answer.

"Car-tickets and letters. It will be terrible if the letters are found."

"Where was the pocketbook lost?" Sperry asked.

"If that were known, it could be found," was the reply, rather sharply
given. "Hawkins may have it. He was always hanging around. The curtain
was much safer."

"What curtain?"

"Nobody would have thought of the curtain. First ideas are best."

She repeated this, following it, as once before, with rhymes for the
final word, best, rest, chest, pest.

"Pest!" she said. "That's Hawkins!" And again the laughter.

"Did one of the bullets strike the ceiling?"

"Yes. But you'll never find it. It is holding well. That part's safe
enough--unless it made a hole in the floor above."

"But there was only one empty chamber in the revolver. How could two
shots have been fired?"

There was no answer at all to this. And Sperry, after waiting, went on
to his next question: "Who occupied the room overhead?"

But here we received the reply to the previous question: "There was a
box of cartridges in the table-drawer. That's easy."

From that point, however, the interest lapsed. Either there was no
answer to questions, or we got the absurdity that we had encountered
before, about the drawing-room furniture. But, unsatisfactory in many
ways as the seance had been, the effect on Miss Jeremy was profound--she
was longer in coming out, and greatly exhausted when it was all over.

She refused to take the supper Mrs. Dane had prepared for her, and at
eleven o'clock Sperry took her home in his car.

I remember that Mrs. Dane inquired, after she had gone.

"Does any one know the name of the Wellses' butler? Is it Hawkins?"

I said nothing, and as Sperry was the only one likely to know and he had
gone, the inquiry went no further. Looking back, I realize that
Herbert, while less cynical, was still skeptical, that his sister was
non-committal, but for some reason watching me, and that Mrs. Dane was
in a state of delightful anticipation.

My wife, however, had taken a dislike to Miss Jeremy, and said that the
whole thing bored her.

"The men like it, of course," she said, "Horace fairly simpers with
pleasure while he sits and holds her hand. But a woman doesn't impose on
other women so easily. It's silly."

"My dear," Mrs. Dane said, reaching over and patting my wife's hand,
"people talked that way about Columbus and Galileo. And if it is
nonsense it is such thrilling nonsense!"


VI


I find that the solution of the Arthur Wells mystery--for we did solve
it--takes three divisions in my mind. Each one is a sitting, followed by
an investigation made by Sperry and myself.

But for some reason, after Miss Jeremy's second sitting, I found that my
reasoning mind was stronger than my credulity. And as Sperry had at that
time determined to have nothing more to do with the business, I made
a resolution to abandon my investigations. Nor have I any reason to
believe that I would have altered my attitude toward the case, had it
not been that I saw in the morning paper on the Thursday following
the second seance, that Elinor Wells had closed her house, and gone to
Florida.

I tried to put the fact out of my mind that morning. After all, what
good would it do? No discovery of mine could bring Arthur Wells back
to his family, to his seat at the bridge table at the club, to his too
expensive cars and his unpaid bills. Or to his wife who was not grieving
for him.

On the other hand, I confess to an overwhelming desire to examine again
the ceiling of the dressing room and thus to check up one degree further
the accuracy of our revelations. After some debate, therefore, I called
up Sperry, but he flatly refused to go on any further.

"Miss Jeremy has been ill since Monday," he said. "Mrs. Dane's
rheumatism is worse, her companion is nervously upset, and your own wife
called me up an hour ago and says you are sleeping with a light, and she
thinks you ought to go away. The whole club is shot to pieces."

But, although I am a small and not a courageous man, the desire to
examine the Wells house clung to me tenaciously. Suppose there were
cartridges in his table drawer? Suppose I should find the second bullet
hole in the ceiling? I no longer deceived myself by any argument that
my interest was purely scientific. There is a point at which curiosity
becomes unbearable, when it becomes an obsession, like hunger. I had
reached that point.

Nevertheless, I found it hard to plan the necessary deception to my
wife. My habits have always been entirely orderly and regular. My
wildest dissipation was the Neighborhood Club. I could not recall an
evening away from home in years, except on business. Yet now I must have
a free evening, possibly an entire night.

In planning for this, I forgot my nervousness for a time. I decided
finally to tell my wife that an out-of-town client wished to talk
business with me, and that day, at luncheon--I go home to luncheon--I
mentioned that such a client was in town.

"It is possible," I said, as easily as I could, "that we may not get
through this afternoon. If things should run over into the evening, I'll
telephone."

She took it calmly enough, but later on, as I was taking an electric
flash from the drawer of the hall table and putting it in my overcoat
pocket, she came on me, and I thought she looked surprised.

During the afternoon I was beset with doubts and uneasiness. Suppose
she called up my office and found that the client I had named was not in
town? It is undoubtedly true that a tangled web we weave when first we
practise to deceive, for on my return to the office I was at once quite
certain that Mrs. Johnson would telephone and make the inquiry.

After some debate I called my secretary and told her to say, if such
a message came in, that Mr. Forbes was in town and that I had an
appointment with him. As a matter of fact, no such inquiry came in, but
as Miss Joyce, my secretary, knew that Mr. Forbes was in Europe, I was
conscious for some months afterwards that Miss Joyce's eyes occasionally
rested on me in a speculative and suspicious manner.

Other things also increased my uneasiness as the day wore on. There was,
for instance, the matter of the back door to the Wells house. Nothing
was more unlikely than that the key would still be hanging there. I
must, therefore, get a key.

At three o'clock I sent the office-boy out for a back-door key. He
looked so surprised that I explained that we had lost our key, and that
I required an assortment of keys of all sizes.

"What sort of key?" he demanded, eyeing me, with his feet apart.

"Just an ordinary key," I said. "Not a Yale key. Nothing fancy. Just
a plain back-door key." At something after four my wife called up, in
great excitement. A boy and a man had been to the house and had fitted
an extra key to the back door, which had two excellent ones already. She
was quite hysterical, and had sent for the police, but the officer had
arrived after they had gone.

"They are burglars, of course!" she said. "Burglars often have boys with
them, to go through the pantry windows. I'm so nervous I could scream."

I tried to tell her that if the door was unlocked there was no need to
use the pantry window, but she rang off quickly and, I thought, coldly.
Not, however, before she had said that my plan to spend the evening out
was evidently known in the underworld!

By going through my desk I found a number of keys, mostly trunk keys
and one the key to a dog-collar. But late in the afternoon I visited
a client of mine who is in the hardware business, and secured quite a
selection. One of them was a skeleton key. He persisted in regarding
the matter as a joke, and poked me between the shoulder-blades as I went
out.

"If you're arrested with all that hardware on you," he said, "you'll be
held as a first-class burglar. You are equipped to open anything from a
can of tomatoes to the missionary box in church."

But I felt that already, innocent as I was, I was leaving a trail of
suspicion behind me: Miss Joyce and the office boy, the dealer and my
wife. And I had not started yet.

I dined in a small chop-house where I occasionally lunch, and took a
large cup of strong black coffee. When I went out into the night again
I found that a heavy fog had settled down, and I began to feel again
something of the strange and disturbing quality of the day which had
ended in Arthur Wells's death. Already a potential housebreaker, I
avoided policemen, and the very jingling of the keys in my pocket
sounded loud and incriminating to my ears.

The Wells house was dark. Even the arc-lamp in the street was shrouded
in fog. But the darkness, which added to my nervousness, added also to
my security.

I turned and felt my way cautiously to the rear of the house. Suddenly I
remembered the dog. But of course he was gone. As I cautiously ascended
the steps the dead leaves on the vines rattled, as at the light touch of
a hand, and I was tempted to turn and run.

I do not like deserted houses. Even in daylight they have a sinister
effect on me. They seem, in their empty spaces, to have held and
recorded all that has happened in the dusty past. The Wells house that
night, looming before me, silent and mysterious, seemed the embodiment
of all the deserted houses I had known. Its empty and unshuttered
windows were like blind eyes, gazing in, not out.

Nevertheless, now that the time had come a certain amount of courage
came with it. I am not ashamed to confess that a certain part of it came
from the anticipation of the Neighborhood Club's plaudits. For Herbert
to have made such an investigation, or even Sperry, with his height and
his iron muscles, would not have surprised them. But I was aware that
while they expected intelligence and even humor, of a sort, from me,
they did not anticipate any particular bravery.

The flash was working, but rather feebly. I found the nail where the
door-key had formerly hung, but the key, as I had expected, was gone. I
was less than five minutes, I fancy, in finding a key from my collection
that would fit. The bolt slid back with a click, and the door opened.

It was still early in the evening, eight-thirty or thereabouts. I tried
to think of that; to remember that, only a few blocks away, some of my
friends were still dining, or making their way into theaters. But the
silence of the house came out to meet me on the threshold, and its
blackness enveloped me like a wave. It was unfortunate, too, that I
remembered just then that it was, or soon would be, the very hour of
young Wells's death.

Nevertheless, once inside the house, the door to the outside closed and
facing two alternatives, to go on with it or to cut and run, I found a
sort of desperate courage, clenched my teeth, and felt for the nearest
light switch.

The electric light had been cut off!

I should have expected it, but I had not. I remember standing in the
back hall and debating whether to go on or to get out. I was not only
in a highly nervous state, but I was also badly handicapped. However,
as the moments wore on and I stood there, with the quiet unbroken by no
mysterious sounds, I gained a certain confidence. After a short period
of readjustment, therefore, I felt my way to the library door, and into
the room. Once there, I used the flash to discover that the windows were
shuttered, and proceeded to take off my hat and coat, which I placed on
a chair near the door. It was at this time that I discovered that the
battery of my lamp was very weak, and finding a candle in a tall brass
stick on the mantelpiece, I lighted it.

Then I looked about. The house had evidently been hastily closed.
Some of the furniture was covered with sheets, while part of it stood
unprotected. The rug had been folded into the center of the room, and
covered with heavy brown papers, and I was extremely startled to hear
the papers rustling. A mouse, however, proved to be the source of the
sound, and I pulled myself together with a jerk.

It is to be remembered that I had left my hat and overcoat on a chair
near the door. There could be no mistake, as the chair was a light one,
and the weight of my overcoat threw it back against the wall.

Candle in hand, I stepped out into the hail, and was immediately met
by a crash which reverberated through the house. In my alarm my teeth
closed on the end of my tongue, with agonizing results, but the sound
died away, and I concluded that an upper window had been left open, and
that the rising wind had slammed a door. But my morale, as we say since
the war, had been shaken, and I recklessly lighted a second candle and
placed it on the table in the hall at the foot of the staircase, to
facilitate my exit in case I desired to make a hurried one.

Then I climbed slowly. The fog had apparently made its way into the
house, for when, halfway up, I turned and looked down, the candlelight
was hardly more than a spark, surrounded by a luminous aura.

I do not know exactly when I began to feel that I was not alone in
the house. It was, I think, when I was on a chair on top of a table in
Arthur's room, with my candle upheld to the ceiling. It seemed to me
that something was moving stealthily in the room overhead. I stood
there, candle upheld, and every faculty I possessed seemed centered in
my ears. It was not a footstep. It was a soft and dragging movement. Had
I not been near the ceiling I should not have heard it. Indeed, a moment
later I was not certain that I had heard it.

My chair, on top of the table, was none too securely balanced. I had
found what I was looking for, a part of the plaster ornament broken
away, and replaced by a whitish substance, not plaster. I got out my
penknife and cut away the foreign matter, showing a small hole beneath,
a bullet-hole, if I knew anything about bullet-holes.

Then I heard the dragging movement above, and what with alarm and my
insecure position, I suddenly overbalanced, chair and all. My head
must have struck on the corner of the table, for I was dazed for a
few moments. The candle had gone out, of course. I felt for the chair,
righted it, and sat down. I was dizzy and I was frightened. I was afraid
to move, lest the dragging thing above come down and creep over me in
the darkness and smother me.

And sitting there, I remembered the very things I most wished to
forget--the black curtain behind Miss Jeremy, the things flung by unseen
hands into the room, the way my watch had slid over the table and fallen
to the floor.

Since that time I know there is a madness of courage, born of terror.
Nothing could be more intolerable than to sit there and wait. It is
the same insanity that drove men out of the trenches to the charge and
almost certain death, rather than to sit and wait for what might come.

In a way, I daresay I charged the upper floor of the house. Recalling
the situation from this safe lapse of time, I think that I was in a
condition close to frenzy. I know that it did not occur to me to leap
down the staircase and escape, and I believe now this was due to a
conviction that I was dealing with the supernatural, and that on no
account did I dare to turn my back on it. All children and some adults,
I am sure, have known this feeling.

Whatever drove me, I know that, candle in hand, and hardly sane, I ran
up the staircase, and into the room overhead. It was empty.

As suddenly as my sanity had gone, it returned to me. The sight of two
small beds, side by side, a tiny dressing-table, a row of toys on the
mantelpiece, was calming. Here was the children's night nursery, a white
and placid room which could house nothing hideous.

I was humiliated and ashamed. I, Horace Johnson, a man of dignity and
reputation, even in a small way, a successful after-dinner speaker,
numbering fifty-odd years of logical living to my credit, had been
running half-maddened toward a mythical danger from which I had been
afraid to run away!

I sat down and mopped my face with my pocket handkerchief.

After a time I got up, and going to a window looked down at the quiet
world below. The fog was lifting. Automobiles were making cautious
progress along the slippery street. A woman with a basket had stopped
under the street light and was rearranging her parcels. The clock of the
city hall, visible over the opposite roofs, marked only twenty minutes
to nine. It was still early evening--not even midnight, the magic hour
of the night.

Somehow that fact reassured me, and I was able to take stock of my
surroundings. I realized, for instance, that I stood in the room over
Arthur's dressing room, and that it was into the ceiling under me that
the second--or probably the first--bullet had penetrated. I know, as
it happens, very little of firearms, but I did realize that a shot from
a.45 Colt automatic would have considerable penetrative power. To be
exact, that the bullet had probably either lodged itself in a joist, or
had penetrated through the flooring and might be somewhere over my head.

But my candle was inadequate for more than the most superficial
examination of the ceiling, which presented so far as I could see an
unbroken surface. I turned my attention, therefore, to the floor. It was
when I was turning the rug back that I recognized the natural and not
supernatural origin of the sound which had so startled me. It had been
the soft movement of the carpet across the floor boards.

Some one, then, had been there before me--some one who knew what I knew,
had reasoned as I reasoned. Some one who, in all probability, still
lurked on the upper floor.

Obeying an impulse, I stood erect and called out sharply, "Sperry!" I
said. "Sperry!"

There was no answer. I tried again, calling Herbert. But only my own
voice came back to me, and the whistling of the wind through the window
I had opened.

My fears, never long in abeyance that night, roused again. I had
instantly a conviction that some human figure, sinister and dangerous,
was lurking in the shadows of that empty floor, and I remember backing
away from the door and standing in the center of the room, prepared for
some stealthy, murderous assault. When none came I looked about for a
weapon, and finally took the only thing in sight, a coal-tongs from the
fireplace. Armed with that, I made a cursory round of the near-by rooms
but there was no one hiding in them.

I went back to the rug and examined the floor beneath it. I was right.
Some one had been there before me. Bits of splintered wood lay about.
The second bullet had been fired, had buried itself in the flooring, and
had, some five minutes before, been dug out.



VII


The extraordinary thing about the Arthur Wells story was not his
killing. For killing it was. It was the way it was solved.

Here was a young woman, Miss Jeremy, who had not known young Wells, had
not known his wife, had, until that first meeting at Mrs. Dane's, never
met any member of the Neighborhood Club. Yet, but for her, Arthur Wells
would have gone to his grave bearing the stigma of moral cowardice, of
suicide.

The solution, when it came, was amazing, but remarkably simple. Like
most mysteries. I have in my own house, for instance, an example of a
great mystery, founded on mere absentmindedness.

This is what my wife terms the mystery of the fire-tongs.

I had left the Wells house as soon as I had made the discovery in the
night nursery. I carried the candle and the fire-tongs downstairs. I
was, apparently, calm but watchful. I would have said that I had never
been more calm in my life. I knew quite well that I had the fire-tongs
in my hand. Just when I ceased to be cognizant of them was probably
when, on entering the library, I found that my overcoat had disappeared,
and that my stiff hat, badly broken, lay on the floor. However, as
I say, I was still extraordinarily composed. I picked up my hat, and
moving to the rear door, went out and closed it. When I reached the
street, however, I had only gone a few yards when I discovered that I
was still carrying the lighted candle, and that a man, passing by, had
stopped and was staring after me.

My composure is shown by the fact that I dropped the candle down the
next sewer opening, but the fact remains that I carried the fire-tongs
home. I do not recall doing so. In fact, I knew nothing of the matter
until morning. On the way to my house I was elaborating a story to the
effect that my overcoat had been stolen from a restaurant where I and my
client had dined. The hat offered more serious difficulties. I fancied
that, by kissing my wife good-by at the breakfast table, I might be
able to get out without her following me to the front door, which is her
custom.

But, as a matter of fact, I need not have concerned myself about
the hat. When I descended to breakfast the next morning I found her
surveying the umbrella-stand in the hall. The fire-tongs were standing
there, gleaming, among my sticks and umbrellas.

I lied. I lied shamelessly. She is a nervous woman, and, as we have no
children, her attitude toward me is one of watchful waiting. Through
long years she has expected me to commit some indiscretion--innocent,
of course, such as going out without my overcoat on a cool day--and
she intends to be on hand for every emergency. I dared not confess,
therefore, that on the previous evening I had burglariously entered a
closed house, had there surprised another intruder at work, had fallen
and bumped my head severely, and had, finally, had my overcoat taken.

"Horace," she said coldly, "where did you get those fire-tongs?"

"Fire-tongs?" I repeated. "Why, that's so. They are fire-tongs."

"Where did you get them?"

"My dear," I expostulated, "I get them?"

"What I would like to ask," she said, with an icy calmness that I have
learned to dread, "is whether you carried them home over your head,
under the impression that you had your umbrella."

"Certainly not," I said with dignity. "I assure you, my dear--"

"I am not a curious woman," she put in incisively, "but when my husband
spends an evening out, and returns minus his overcoat, with his hat
mashed, a lump the size of an egg over his ear, and puts a pair of
fire-tongs in the umbrella stand under the impression that it is an
umbrella, I have a right to ask at least if he intends to continue his
life of debauchery."

I made a mistake then. I should have told her. Instead, I took my broken
hat and jammed it on my head with a force that made the lump she had
noticed jump like a toothache, and went out.

When, at noon and luncheon, I tried to tell her the truth, she listened
to the end: Then: "I should think you could have done better than that,"
she said. "You have had all morning to think it out."

However, if things were in a state of armed neutrality at home, I had
a certain compensation for them when I told my story to Sperry that
afternoon.

"You see how it is," I finished. "You can stay out of this, or come in,
Sperry, but I cannot stop now. He was murdered beyond a doubt, and
there is an intelligent effort being made to eliminate every particle of
evidence."

He nodded.

"It looks like it. And this man who was there last night--"

"Why a man?"

"He took your overcoat, instead of his own, didn't he? It may have
been--it's curious, isn't it, that we've had no suggestion of Ellingham
in all the rest of the material."

Like the other members of the Neighborhood Club, he had a copy of the
proceedings at the two seances, and now he brought them out and fell to
studying them.

"She was right about the bullet in the ceiling," he reflected. "I
suppose you didn't look for the box of shells for the revolver?"

"I meant to, but it slipped my mind."

He shuffled the loose pages of the record. "Cane--washed away by
the water--a knee that is hurt--the curtain would have been safer
--Hawkins--the drawing-room furniture is all over the house. That last,
Horace, isn't pertinent. It refers clearly to the room we were in. Of
course, the point is, how much of the rest is also extraneous matter?"
He re-read one of the sheets. "Of course that belongs, about Hawkins.
And probably this: 'It will be terrible if the letters are found.' They
were in the pocketbook, presumably."

He folded up the papers and replaced them in a drawer.

"We'd better go back to the house," he said. "Whoever took your overcoat
by mistake probably left one. The difficulty is, of course, that he
probably discovered his error and went back again last night. Confound
it, man, if you had thought of that at the time, we would have something
to go on today."

"If I had thought of a number of things I'd have stayed out of the place
altogether," I retorted tartly. "I wish you could help me about the
fire-tongs, Sperry. I don't seem able to think of any explanation that
Mrs. Johnson would be willing to accept."

"Tell her the truth."

"I don't think you understand," I explained. "She simply wouldn't
believe it. And if she did I should have to agree to drop the
investigation. As a matter of fact, Sperry, I had resorted to subterfuge
in order to remain out last evening, and I am bitterly regretting my
mendacity."

But Sperry has, I am afraid, rather loose ideas.

"Every man," he said, "would rather tell the truth, but every woman
makes it necessary to lie to her. Forget the fire-tongs, Horace, and
forget Mrs. Johnson to-night. He may not have dared to go back in
day-light for his overcoat."

"Very well," I agreed.

But it was not very well, and I knew it. I felt that, in a way, my whole
domestic happiness was at stake. My wife is a difficult person to argue
with, and as tenacious of an opinion once formed as are all very amiable
people. However, unfortunately for our investigation, but luckily for
me, under the circumstances, Sperry was called to another city that
afternoon and did not return for two days.

It was, it will be recalled, on the Thursday night following the second
sitting that I had gone alone to the Wells house, and my interview
with Sperry was on Friday. It was on Friday afternoon that I received a
telephone message from Mrs. Dane.

It was actually from her secretary, the Clara who had recorded the
seances. It was Mrs. Dane's misfortune to be almost entirely dependent
on the various young women who, one after the other, were employed to
look after her. I say "one after the other" advisedly. It had long been
a matter of good-natured jesting in the Neighborhood Club that Mrs. Dane
conducted a matrimonial bureau, as one young woman after another was
married from her house. It was her kindly habit, on such occasions,
to give the bride a wedding, and only a month before it had been my
privilege to give away in holy wedlock Miss Clara's predecessor.

"Mrs. Dane would like you to stop in and have a cup of tea with her this
afternoon, Mr. Johnson," said the secretary.

"At what time?"

"At four o'clock."

I hesitated. I felt that my wife was waiting at home for further
explanation of the coal-tongs, and that the sooner we had it out the
better. But, on the other hand, Mrs. Dane's invitations, by reason of
her infirmity, took on something of the nature of commands.

"Please say that I will be there at four," I replied.

I bought a new hat that afternoon, and told the clerk to destroy the old
one. Then I went to Mrs. Dane's.

She was in the drawing-room, now restored to its usual clutter of
furniture and ornaments. I made my way around two tables, stepped over a
hassock and under the leaves of an artificial palm, and shook her hand.

She was plainly excited. Never have I known a woman who, confined to a
wheel-chair, lived so hard. She did not allow life to pass her windows,
if I may put it that way. She called it in, and set it moving about her
chair, herself the nucleus around which were enacted all sorts of small
neighborhood dramas and romances. Her secretaries did not marry. She
married them.

It is curious to look back and remember how Herbert and Sperry and
myself had ignored this quality in her, in the Wells case. She was not
to be ignored, as I discovered that afternoon.

"Sit down," she said. "You look half sick, Horace."

Nothing escapes her eyes, so I was careful to place myself with the lump
on my head turned away from her. But I fancy she saw it, for her eyes
twinkled.

"Horace! Horace!" she said. "How I have detested you all week!"

"I? You detested me?"

"Loathed you," she said with unction. "You are cruel and ungrateful.
Herbert has influenza, and does not count. And Sperry is in love--oh
yes, I know it. I know a great many things. But you!"

I could only stare at her.

"The strange thing is," she went on, "that I have known you for years,
and never suspected your sense of humor. You'll forgive me, I know, if
I tell you that your lack of humor was to my mind the only flaw in an
otherwise perfect character."

"I am not aware--" I began stiffly. "I have always believed that I
furnished to the Neighborhood Club its only leaven of humor."

"Don't spoil it," she begged. "Don't. If you could know how I have
enjoyed it. All afternoon I have been chuckling. The fire-tongs, Horace.
The fire-tongs!"

Then I knew that my wife had been to Mrs. Dane and I drew a long breath.
"I assure you," I said gravely, "that while doubtless I carried the
wretched things home and--er--placed them where they were found, I have
not the slightest recollection of it. And it is hardly amusing, is it?"

"Amusing!" she cried. "It's delicious. It has made me a young woman
again. Horace, if I could have seen your wife's face when she found
them, I would give cheerfully almost anything I possess."

But underneath her mirth I knew there was something else. And, after
all, she could convince my wife if she were convinced herself. I told
the whole story--of the visit Sperry and I had made the night Arthur
Wells was shot, and of what we discovered; of the clerk at the
pharmacy and his statement, and even of the whiskey and its unfortunate
effect--at which, I regret to say, she was vastly amused; and, last of
all, of my experience the previous night in the deserted house.

She was very serious when I finished. Tea came, but we forgot to drink
it. Her eyes flashed with excitement, her faded face flushed. And, with
it all, as I look back, there was an air of suppressed excitement
that seemed to have nothing to do with my narrative. I remembered it,
however, when the denouement came the following week.

She was a remarkable woman. Even then she knew, or strongly suspected,
the thing that the rest of us had missed, the x of the equation. But I
think it only fair to record that she was in possession of facts which
we did not have, and which she did not divulge until the end.

"You have been so ungenerous with me," she said finally, "that I am
tempted not to tell you why I sent for you. Of course, I know I am only
a helpless old woman, and you men are people of affairs. But now and
then I have a flash of intelligence. I'm going to tell you, but you
don't deserve it."

She went down into the black silk bag at her side which was as much
a part of her attire as the false front she wore with such careless
abandon, and which, brown in color and indifferently waved, was
invariably parting from its mooring. She drew out a newspaper clipping.

"On going over Clara's notes," she said, "I came to the conclusion,
last Tuesday, that the matter of the missing handbag and the letters was
important. More important, probably, than the mere record shows. Do
you recall the note of distress in Miss Jeremy's voice? It was almost a
wail."

I had noticed it.

"I have plenty of time to think," she added, not without pathos.
"There is only one Monday night in the week, and--the days are long. It
occurred to me to try to trace that bag."

"In what way?"

"How does any one trace lost articles?" she demanded. "By advertising,
of course. Last Wednesday I advertised for the bag."

I was too astonished to speak.

"I reasoned like this: If there was no such bag, there was no harm done.
As a matter of fact, if there was no such bag, the chances were that we
were all wrong, anyhow. If there was such a bag, I wanted it. Here is
the advertisement as I inserted it."

She gave me a small newspaper cutting

"Lost, a handbag containing private letters, car-tickets, etc. Liberal
reward paid for its return. Please write to A 31, the Daily News."

I sat with it on my palm. It was so simple, so direct. And I, a lawyer,
and presumably reasonably acute, had not thought of it!

"You are wasted on us, Mrs. Dane," I acknowledged. "Well? I see
something has come of it."

"Yes, but I'm not ready for it."

She dived again into the bag, and brought up another clipping.

"On the day that I had that inserted," she said impressively, "this also
appeared. They were in the same column." She read the second clipping
aloud, slowly, that I might gain all its significance:

"Lost on the night of Monday, November the second, between State Avenue
and Park Avenue, possibly on an Eastern Line street car, a black handbag
containing keys, car-tickets, private letters, and a small sum of money.
Reward and no questions asked if returned to Daily News office."

She passed the clipping to me and I compared the two. It looked strange,
and I confess to a tingling feeling that coincidence, that element so
much to be feared in any investigation, was not the solution here. But
there was such a chance, and I spoke of it.

"Coincidence rubbish!" she retorted. "I am not through, my friend."

She went down into the bag again, and I expected nothing less than the
pocketbook, letters and all, to appear. But she dragged up, among a
miscellany of handkerchiefs, a bottle of smelling-salts, and a few
almonds, of which she was inordinately fond, an envelope.

"Yesterday," she said, "I took a taxicab ride. You know my chair gets
tiresome, occasionally. I stopped at the newspaper office, and found the
bag had not been turned in, but that there was a letter for A 31." She
held out the envelope to me.

"Read it," she observed. "It is a curious human document. You'll
probably be no wiser for reading it, but it shows one thing: We are on
the track of something."

I have the letter before me now. It is written on glazed paper, ruled
with blue lines. The writing is of the flowing style we used to call
Spencerian, and if it lacks character I am inclined to believe that its
weakness is merely the result of infrequent use of a pen.

You know who this is from. I have the bag and the letters. In a safe
place. If you would treat me like a human being, you could have them. I
know where the walking-stick is, also. I will tell you this. I have no
wish to do her any harm. She will have to pay up in the next world, even
if she gets off in this. The way I reason is this: As long as I have the
things, I've got the whiphand. I've got you, too, although you may think
I haven't.

About the other matter I was innocent. I swear it again. I never did it.
You are the only one in all the world. I would rather be dead than go on
like this.

It is unsigned.

I stared from the letter to Mrs. Dane. She was watching me, her face
grave and rather sad.

"You and I, Horace," she said, "live our orderly lives. We eat, and
sleep, and talk, and even labor. We think we are living. But for the
last day or two I have been seeing visions--you and I and the rest of
us, living on the surface, and underneath, carefully kept down so
it will not make us uncomfortable, a world of passion and crime and
violence and suffering. That letter is a tragedy."

But if she had any suspicion then as to the writer, and I think she had
not, she said nothing, and soon after I started for home. I knew that
one of two things would have happened there: either my wife would have
put away the fire-tongs, which would indicate a truce, or they would
remain as they had been, which would indicate that she still waited
for the explanation I could not give. It was with a certain tension,
therefore, that I opened my front door.

The fire-tongs still stood in the stand.

In one way, however, Mrs. Johnson's refusal to speak to me that evening
had a certain value, for it enabled me to leave the house without
explanation, and thus to discover that, if an overcoat had been left in
place of my own, it had been taken away. It also gave me an opportunity
to return the fire-tongs, a proceeding which I had considered would
assist in a return of the entente cordiale at home, but which most
unjustly appeared to have exactly the opposite effect. It has been
my experience that the most innocent action may, under certain
circumstances, assume an appearance of extreme guilt.

By Saturday the condition of affairs between my wife and myself remained
in statu quo, and I had decided on a bold step. This was to call a
special meeting of the Neighborhood Club, without Miss Jeremy, and
put before them the situation as it stood at that time, with a view to
formulating a future course of action, and also of publicly vindicating
myself before my wife.

In deference to Herbert Robinson's recent attack of influenza, we met
at the Robinson house. Sperry himself wheeled Mrs. Dane over, and made a
speech.

"We have called this meeting," he said, "because a rather singular
situation has developed. What was commenced purely as an interesting
experiment has gone beyond that stage. We find ourselves in the curious
position of taking what comes very close to being a part in a domestic
tragedy. The affair is made more delicate by the fact that this tragedy
involves people who, if not our friends, at least are very well known
to us. The purpose of this meeting, to be brief, is to determine
whether the Neighborhood Club, as a body, wishes to go on with the
investigation, or to stop where we are."

He paused, but, as no one spoke, he went on again. "It is really not
as simple as that," he said. "To stop now, in view of the evidence we
intend to place before the Club, is to leave in all our minds certain
suspicions that may be entirely unjust. On the other hand, to go on is
very possible to place us all in a position where to keep silent is to
be an accessory after a crime."

He then proceeded, in orderly fashion, to review the first sitting and
its results. He read from notes, elaborating them as he went along, for
the benefit of the women, who had not been fully informed. As all the
data of the Club is now in my possession, I copy these notes.

"I shall review briefly the first sitting, and what followed it." He
read the notes of the sitting first. "You will notice that I have made
no comment on the physical phenomena which occurred early in the seance.
This is for two reasons: first, it has no bearing on the question at
issue. Second, it has no quality of novelty. Certain people, under
certain conditions, are able to exert powers that we can not explain.
I have no belief whatever in their spiritistic quality. They are purely
physical, the exercise of powers we have either not yet risen high
enough in our scale of development to recognize generally, or which
have survived from some early period when our natural gifts had not been
smothered by civilization."

And, to make our position clear, that is today the attitude of the
Neighborhood Club. The supernormal, as I said at the beginning, not the
supernatural, is our explanation.

Sperry's notes were alphabetical.

(a) At 9:15, or somewhat earlier, on Monday night a week ago Arthur
Wells killed himself, or was killed. At 9:30 on that same evening by Mr.
Johnson's watch, consulted at the time, Miss Jeremy had described such a
crime. (Here he elaborated, repeating the medium's account.)

(b) At midnight, Sperry, reaching home, had found a message summoning
him to the Wells house. The message had been left at 9:35. He had
telephoned me, and we had gone together, arriving at approximately
12:30.

(c) We had been unable to enter, and, recalling the medium's description
of a key on a nail among the vines, had searched for and found such a
key, and had admitted ourselves. Mrs. Wells, a governess, a doctor, and
two policemen were in the house. The dead man lay in the room in which
he had died. (Here he went at length into the condition of the room,
the revolver with one chamber empty, and the blood-stained sponge and
razorstrop behind the bathtub. We had made a hasty examination of the
ceiling, but had found no trace of a second shot.)

(d) The governess had come in at just after the death. Mr. Horace
Johnson had had a talk with her. She had left the front door unfastened
when she went out at eight o'clock. She said she had gone out to
telephone about another position, as she was dissatisfied. She had
phoned from, Elliott's pharmacy on State Avenue. Later that night Mr.
Johnson had gone to Elliott's. She had lied about the message. She
had really telephoned to a number which the pharmacy clerk had already
discovered was that of the Ellingham house. The message was that Mr.
Ellingham was not to come, as Mr. and Mrs. Wells were going out. It was
not the first time she had telephoned to that number.

There was a stir in the room. Something which we had tacitly avoided had
come suddenly into the open. Sperry raised his hand.

"It is necessary to be explicit," he said, "that the Club may see where
it stands. It is, of course, not necessary to remind ourselves that this
evening's disclosures are of the most secret nature. I urge that
the Club jump to no hasty conclusions, and that there shall be no
interruptions until we have finished with our records."

(e) At a private seance, which Mr. Johnson and I decided was excusable
under the circumstances, the medium was unable to give us anything. This
in spite of the fact that we had taken with us a walking-stick belonging
to the dead man.

(f) The second sitting of the Club. I need only refresh your minds as
to one or two things; the medium spoke of a lost pocketbook, and of
letters. While the point is at least capable of doubt, apparently the
letters were in the pocketbook. Also, she said that a curtain would have
been better, that Hawkins was a nuisance, and that everything was all
right unless the bullet had made a hole in the floor above. You will
also recall the mention of a box of cartridges in a table drawer in
Arthur Wells's room.

"I will now ask Mr. Horace Johnson to tell what occurred on the night
before last, Thursday evening."

"I do not think Horace has a very clear recollection of last Thursday
night," my wife said, coldly. "And I wish to go on record at once that
if he claims that spirits broke his hat, stole his overcoat, bumped his
head and sent him home with a pair of fire-tongs for a walking-stick, I
don't believe him."

Which attitude Herbert, I regret to say, did not help when he said:

"Don't worry, Horace will soon be too old for the gay life. Remember
your arteries, Horace."

I have quoted this interruption to show how little, outside of Sperry,
Mrs. Dane and myself, the Neighborhood Club appreciated the seriousness
of the situation. Herbert, for instance, had been greatly amused when
Sperry spoke of my finding the razorstrop and had almost chuckled over
our investigation of the ceiling.

But they were very serious when I had finished my statement.

"Great Scott!" Herbert said. "Then she was right, after all! I say, I
guess I've been no end of an ass."

I was inclined to agree with him. But the real effect of my brief speech
was on my wife.

It was a real compensation for that night of terror and for the
uncomfortable time since to find her gaze no longer cold, but
sympathetic, and--if I may be allowed to say so--admiring. When at last
I sat down beside her, she put her hand on my arm in a way that I had
missed since the unfortunate affair of the pharmacy whiskey.

Mrs. Dane then read and explained the two clippings and the letter, and
the situation, so far as it had developed, was before the Club.

Were we to go on, or to stop?

Put to a vote, the women were for going on. The men were more doubtful,
and Herbert voiced what I think we all felt.

"We're getting in pretty deep," he said. "We have no right to step in
where the law has stepped out--no legal right, that is. As to moral
right, it depends on what we are holding these sittings for. If we
are making what we started out to make, an investigation into psychic
matters, then we can go on. But with this proviso, I think: Whatever may
come of it, the result is of psychic interest only. We are not trailing
a criminal."

"Crime is the affair of every decent-minded citizen," his sister put in
concisely.

But the general view was that Herbert was right. I am not defending our
course. I am recording it. It is, I admit, open to argument.

Having decided on what to do, or not to do, we broke into animated
discussion. The letter to A 31 was the rock on which all our theories
foundered, that and the message the governess had sent to Charlie
Ellingham not to come to the Wells house that night. By no stretch of
rather excited imaginations could we imagine Ellingham writing such a
letter. Who had written the letter, then, and for whom was it meant?

As to the telephone message, it seemed to preclude the possibility of
Ellingham's having gone to the house that night. But the fact remained
that a man, as yet unidentified, was undoubtedly concerned in the case,
had written the letter, and had probably been in the Wells house the
night I went there alone.

In the end, we decided to hold one more seance, and then, unless the
further developments were such that we must go on, to let the affair
drop.

It is typical of the strained nervous tension which had developed in
all of us during the past twelve days, that that night when, having
forgotten to let the dog in, my wife and I were roused from a sound
sleep by his howling, she would not allow me to go down and admit him.



VIII


On Sunday I went to church. I felt, after the strange phenomena in Mrs.
Dane's drawing-room, and after the contact with tragedy to which they
had led, that I must hold with a sort of desperation to the traditions
and beliefs by which I had hitherto regulated my conduct. And the
church did me good. Between the immortality it taught and the theory of
spiritualism as we had seen it in action there was a great gulf, and
I concluded that this gulf was the soul. The conclusion that mind and
certain properties of mind survived was not enough. The thought of a
disembodied intelligence was pathetic, depressing. But the thought of a
glorified soul was the hope of the world.

My wife, too, was in a penitent and rather exalted mood. During the
sermon she sat with her hand in mine, and I was conscious of peace and a
deep thankfulness. We had been married for many years, and we had grown
very close. Of what importance was the Wells case, or what mattered it
that there were strange new-old laws in the universe, so long as we kept
together?

That my wife had felt a certain bitterness toward Miss Jeremy, a
jealousy of her powers, even of her youth, had not dawned on me. But
when, in her new humility, she suggested that we call on the medium that
afternoon. I realized that, in her own way, she was making a sort of
atonement.

Miss Jeremy lived with an elderly spinster cousin, a short distance out
of town. It was a grim house, coldly and rigidly Calvinistic. It gave an
unpleasant impression at the start, and our comfort was not increased
by the discovery, made early in the call, that the cousin regarded the
Neighborhood Club and its members with suspicion.

The cousin--her name was Connell--was small and sharp, and she entered
the room followed by a train of cats. All the time she was frigidly
greeting us, cats were coming in at the door, one after the other. It
fascinated me. I do not like cats. I am, as a matter of confession,
afraid of cats. They affect me as do snakes. They trailed in in a
seemingly endless procession, and one of them took a fancy to me, and
leaped from behind on to my shoulder. The shock set me stammering.

"My cousin is out," said Miss Connell. "Doctor Sperry has taken her for
a ride. She will be back very soon."

I shook a cat from my trouser leg, and my wife made an unimportant
remark.

"I may as well tell you, I disapprove of what Alice is doing," said Miss
Connell. "She doesn't have to. I've offered her a good home. She was
brought up a Presbyterian. I call this sort of thing playing with the
powers of darkness. Only the eternally damned are doomed to walk the
earth. The blessed are at rest."

"But you believe in her powers, don't you?" my wife asked.

"I believe she can do extraordinary things. She saw my father's spirit
in this very room last night, and described him, although she had never
seen him."

As she had said that only the eternally damned were doomed to walk
the earth, I was tempted to comment on this stricture on her departed
parent, but a large cat, much scarred with fighting and named Violet,
insisted at that moment on crawling into my lap, and my attention was
distracted.

"But the whole thing is un-Christian and undignified," Miss Connell
proceeded, in her cold voice. "Come, Violet, don't annoy the gentleman.
I have other visions of the next life than of rapping on tables and
chairs, and throwing small articles about."

It was an extraordinary visit. Even the arrival of Miss Jeremy herself,
flushed with the air and looking singularly normal, was hardly a relief.
Sperry, who followed, was clearly pleased to see us, however.

It was not hard to see how things were with him. He helped the girl out
of her wraps with a manner that was almost proprietary, and drew a chair
for her close to the small fire which hardly affected the chill of the
room.

With their entrance a spark of hospitality seemed to kindle in the cat
lady's breast. It was evident that she liked Sperry. Perhaps she saw
in him a method of weaning her cousin from traffic with the powers of
darkness. She said something about tea, and went out.

Sperry looked across at the girl and smiled.

"Shall I tell them?" he said.

"I want very much to have them know."

He stood up, and with that unconscious drama which actuates a man at a
crisis in his affairs, he put a hand on her shoulder. "This young lady
is going to marry me," he said. "We are very happy today."

But I thought he eyed us anxiously. We were very close friends, and he
wanted our approval. I am not sure if we were wise. I do not yet know.
But something of the new understanding between my wife and myself must
have found its way to our voices, for he was evidently satisfied.

"Then that's all right," he said heartily. And my wife, to my surprise,
kissed the girl.

Except for the cats, sitting around, the whole thing was strangely
normal. And yet, even there, something happened that set me to thinking
afterward. Not that it was strange in itself, but that it seemed never
possible to get very far away from the Wells mystery.

Tea was brought in by Hawkins!

I knew him immediately, but he did not at once see me. He was evidently
accustomed to seeing Sperry there, and he did not recognize my wife. But
when he had put down the tray and turned to pick up Sperry's overcoat
to carry it into the hall, he saw me. The man actually started. I
cannot say that he changed color. He was always a pale, anemic-looking
individual. But it was a perceptible instant before he stooped and
gathered up the coat.

Sperry turned to me when he had gone out. "That was Hawkins, Horace," he
said. "You remember, don't you? The Wellses' butler."

"I knew him at once."

"He wrote to me asking for a position, and I got him this. Looks sick,
poor devil. I intend to have a go at his chest."

"How long has he been here?"

"More than a week, I think."

As I drank my tea, I pondered. After all, the Neighborhood Club must
guard against the possibility of fraud, and I felt that Sperry had been
indiscreet, to say the least. From the time of Hawkins' service in Miss
Jeremy's home there would always be the suspicion of collusion between
them. I did not believe it was so, but Herbert, for instance, would be
inclined to suspect her. Suppose that Hawkins knew about the crime? Or
knew something and surmised the rest?

When we rose to go Sperry drew me aside.

"You think I've made a mistake?"

"I do."

He flung away with an impatient gesture, then came back to me.

"Now look here," he said, "I know what you mean, and the whole idea
is absurd. Of course I never thought about it, but even allowing for
connivance--which I don't for a moment--the fellow was not in the house
at the time of the murder."

"I know he says he was not."

"Even then," he said, "how about the first sitting? I'll swear she had
never even heard of him then."

"The fact remains that his presence here makes us all absurd."

"Do you want me to throw him out?"

"I don't see what possible good that will do now."

I was uneasy all the way home. The element of doubt, always so imminent
in our dealings with psychic phenomena, had me by the throat. How much
did Hawkins know? Was there any way, without going to the police, to
find if he had really been out of the Wellses' house that night, now
almost two weeks ago, when Arthur Wells had been killed?

That evening I went to Sperry's house, after telephoning that I was
coming. On the way I stopped in at Mrs. Dane's and secured something
from her. She was wildly curious, and made me promise to go in on my way
back, and explain. I made a compromise.

"I will come in if I have anything to tell you," I said.

But I knew, by her grim smile, that she would station herself by her
window, and that I would stop, unless I made a detour of three blocks to
avoid her. She is a very determined woman.

Sperry was waiting for me in his library, a pleasant room which I have
often envied him. Even the most happily married man wishes, now and
then, for some quiet, dull room which is essentially his own. My own
library is really the family sitting-room, and a Christmas or so ago
my wife presented me with a very handsome phonograph instrument. My
reading, therefore, is done to music, and the necessity for putting
my book down to change the record at times interferes somewhat with my
train of thought.

So I entered Sperry's library with appreciation. He was standing by the
fire, with the grave face and slightly bent head of his professional
manner. We say, in the neighborhood, that Sperry uses his professional
manner as armor, so I was rather prepared to do battle; but he
forestalled me.

"Horace," he said, "I have been a fool, a driveling idiot. We were
getting something at those sittings. Something real. She's wonderful.
She's going to give it up, but the fact remains that she has some power
we haven't, and now I've discredited her! I see it plainly enough." He
was rather bitter about it, but not hostile. His fury was at himself.
"Of course," he went on, "I am sure that she got nothing from Hawkins.
But the fact remains--" He was hurt in his pride of her.

"I wonder," I said, "if you kept the letter Hawkins wrote you when he
asked for a position."

He was not sure. He went into his consulting room and was gone for some
time. I took the opportunity to glance over his books and over the room.

Arthur Wells's stick was standing in a corner, and I took it up and
examined it. It was an English malacca, light and strong, and had seen
service. It was long, too long for me; it occurred to me that Wells had
been about my height, and that it was odd that he should have carried so
long a stick. There was no ease in swinging it.

From that to the memory of Hawkins's face when Sperry took it, the night
of the murder, in the hall of the Wells house, was only a step. I seemed
that day to be thinking considerably about Hawkins.

When Sperry returned I laid the stick on the table. There can be no
doubt that I did so, for I had to move a book-rack to place it. One
end, the handle, was near the ink-well, and the ferrule lay on a copy
of Gibson's "Life Beyond the Grave," which Sperry had evidently been
reading.

Sperry had found the letter. As I glanced at it I recognized the writing
at once, thin and rather sexless, Spencerian.

Dear Sir: Since Mr. Wells's death I am out of employment. Before I took
the position of butler with Mr. Wells I was valet to Mr. Ellingham, and
before that, in England, to Lord Condray. I have a very good letter of
recommendation from Lord Condray. If you need a servant at this time I
would do my best to give satisfaction.

(Signed) ARTHUR HAWKINS.


I put down the application, and took the anonymous letter about the bag
from my pocketbook. "Read this, Sperry," I said. "You know the letter.
Mrs. Dane read it to us Saturday night. But compare the writing."

He compared the two, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows. Then he put
them down. "Hawkins!" he said. "Hawkins has the letters! And the bag!"

"Exactly," I commented dryly. "In other words, Hawkins was in Miss
Jeremy's house when, at the second sitting, she told of the letters."

I felt rather sorry for Sperry. He paced the room wretchedly, the two
letters in his hand.

"But why should he tell her, if he did?" he demanded. "The writer of
that anonymous letter was writing for only one person. Every effort is
made to conceal his identity."

I felt that he was right. The point was well taken.

"The question now is, to whom was it written?" We pondered that, to
no effect. That Hawkins had certain letters which touched on the Wells
affair, that they were probably in his possession in the Connell house,
was clear enough. But we had no possible authority for trying to get the
letters, although Sperry was anxious to make the attempt.

"Although I feel," he said, "that it is too late to help her very much.
She is innocent; I know that. I think you know that, too, deep in
that legal mind of yours. It is wrong to discredit her because I did a
foolish thing." He warmed to his argument. "Why, think, man," he said.
"The whole first sitting was practically coincident with the crime
itself."

It was true enough. Whatever suspicion might be cast on the second
seance, the first at least remained inexplicable, by any laws we
recognized. In a way, I felt sorry for Sperry. Here he was, on the first
day of his engagement, protesting her honesty, her complete ignorance of
the revelations she had made and his intention to keep her in ignorance,
and yet betraying his own anxiety and possible doubt in the same breath.

"She did not even know there was a family named Wells. When I said that
Hawkins had been employed by the Wells, it meant nothing to her. I was
watching."

So even Sperry was watching. He was in love with her, but his scientific
mind, like my legal one, was slow to accept what during the past two
weeks it had been asked to accept.

I left him at ten o'clock. Mrs. Dane was still at her window, and her
far-sighted old eyes caught me as I tried to steal past. She rapped on
the window, and I was obliged to go in. Obliged, too, to tell her of the
discovery and, at last, of Hawkins being in the Connell house.

"I want those letters, Horace," she said at last.

"So do I. I'm not going to steal them."

"The question is, where has he got them?"

"The question is, dear lady, that they are not ours to take."

"They are not his, either."

Well, that was true enough. But I had done all the private investigating
I cared to. And I told her so. She only smiled cryptically.

So far as I know, Mrs. Dane was the only one among us who had entirely
escaped certain strange phenomena during that period, and as I have
only so far recorded my own experiences, I shall here place in order
the various manifestations made to the other members of the Neighborhood
Club during that trying period and in their own words. As none of them
have suffered since, a certain allowance must be made for our nervous
strain. As before, I shall offer no explanation.

Alice Robinson: On night following second seance saw a light in room,
not referable to any outside influence. Was an amorphous body which
glowed pallidly and moved about wall over fireplace, gradually coming to
stop in a corner, where it faded and disappeared.

Clara, Mrs. Dane's secretary: Had not slept much since first seance. Was
frequently conscious that she was not alone in room, but on turning on
light room was always empty. Wakened twice with sense of extreme cold.
(I have recorded my own similar experience.)

Sperry has consistently maintained that he had no experiences whatever
during that period, but admits that he heard various knockings in his
bedroom at night, which he attributed to the lighting of his furnace,
and the resulting expansion of the furniture due to heat.

Herbert Robinson: Herbert was the most difficult member of the Club from
whom to secure data, but he has recently confessed that he was wakened
one night by the light falling on to his bed from a picture which hung
on the wall over his mantelpiece, and which stood behind a clock, two
glass vases and a pair of candlesticks. The door of his room was locked
at the time.

Mrs. Johnson: Had a great many minor disturbances, so that on rousing
one night to find me closing a window against a storm she thought I was
a spectre, and to this day insists that I only entered her room when I
heard her scream. For this reason I have made no record of her various
experiences, as I felt that her nervous condition precluded accurate
observation.

As in all records of psychic phenomena, the human element must be
considered, and I do not attempt either to analyze these various
phenomena or to explain them. Herbert, for instance, has been known to
walk in his sleep. But I respectfully offer, as opposed to this, that
my watch has never been known to walk at all, and that Mrs. Johnson's
bracelet could hardly be accused of an attack of nerves.



IX


The following day was Monday. When I came downstairs I found a neat
bundle lying in the hall, and addressed to me. My wife had followed me
down, and we surveyed it together.

I had a curious feeling about the parcel, and was for cutting the cord
with my knife. But my wife is careful about string. She has always
fancied that the time would come when we would need some badly, and it
would not be around. I have an entire drawer of my chiffonier, which I
really need for other uses, filled with bundles of twine, pink, white
and brown. I recall, on one occasion, packing a suit-case in the dusk,
in great hasty, and emptying the drawer containing my undergarments into
it, to discover, when I opened it on the train for my pajamas, nothing
but rolls of cord and several packages of Christmas ribbons. So I was
obliged to wait until she had untied the knots by means of a hairpin.

It was my overcoat! My overcoat, apparently uninjured, but with the
collection of keys I had made missing.

The address was printed, not written, in a large, strong hand, with
a stub pen. I did not, at the time, notice the loss of certain papers
which had been in the breast pocket. I am rather absent-minded, and it
was not until the night after the third sitting that they were recalled
to my mind.

At something after eleven Herbert Robinson called me up at my office.
He was at Sperry's house, Sperry having been his physician during his
recent illness.

"I say, Horace, this is Herbert."

"Yes. How are you?"

"Doing well, Sperry says. I'm at his place now. I'm speaking for him.
He's got a patient."

"Yes."

"You were here last night, he says." Herbert has a circumlocutory manner
over the phone which irritates me. He begins slowly and does not know
how to stop. Talk with him drags on endlessly.

"Well, I admit it," I snapped. "It's not a secret."

He lowered his voice. "Do you happen to have noticed a walking-stick in
the library when you were here?"

"Which walking-stick?"

"You know. The one we--"

"Yes. I saw it."

"You didn't, by any chance, take it home with you?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Certainly I'm sure."

"You are an absent-minded beggar, you know," he explained. "You remember
about the fire-tongs. And a stick is like an umbrella. One is likely to
pick it up and--"

"One is not likely to do anything of the sort. At least, I didn't."

"Oh, all right. Every one well?"

"Very well, thanks."

"Suppose we'll see you tonight?"

"Not unless you ring off and let me do some work," I said irritably.

He rang off. I was ruffled, I admit; but I was uneasy, also. To tell the
truth, the affair of the fire-tongs had cost me my self-confidence. I
called up my wife, and she said Herbert was a fool and Sperry also. But
she made an exhaustive search of the premises, without result. Whoever
had taken the stick, I was cleared. Cleared, at least, for a time. There
were strange developments coming that threatened my peace of mind.

It was that day that I discovered that I was being watched. Shadowed,
I believe is the technical word. I daresay I had been followed from my
house, but I had not noticed. When I went out to lunch a youngish man in
a dark overcoat was waiting for the elevator, and I saw him again when I
came out of my house. We went downtown again on the same car.

Perhaps I would have thought nothing of it, had I not been summoned to
the suburbs on a piece of business concerning a mortgage. He was at the
far end of the platform as I took the train to return to the city, with
his back to me. I lost him in the crowd at the downtown station, but he
evidently had not lost me, for, stopping to buy a newspaper, I turned,
and, as my pause had evidently been unexpected, he almost ran into me.

With that tendency of any man who finds himself under suspicion to
search his past for some dereliction, possibly forgotten, I puzzled over
the situation for some time that afternoon. I did not connect it with
the Wells case, for in that matter I was indisputably the hunter, not
the hunted.

Although I found no explanation for the matter, I did not tell my wife
that evening. Women are strange and she would, I feared, immediately
jump to the conclusion that there was something in my private life that
I was keeping from her.

Almost all women, I have found, although not over-conscious themselves
of the charm and attraction of their husbands, are of the conviction
that these husbands exert a dangerous fascination over other women, and
that this charm, which does not reveal itself in the home circle, is
used abroad with occasionally disastrous effect.

My preoccupation, however, did not escape my wife, and she commented on
it at dinner.

"You are generally dull, Horace," she said, "but tonight you are
deadly."

After dinner I went into our reception room, which is not lighted unless
we are expecting guests, and peered out of the window. The detective, or
whoever he might be, was walking negligently up the street.

As that was the night of the third seance, I find that my record covers
the fact that Mrs. Dane was housecleaning, for which reason we had not
been asked to dinner, that my wife and I dined early, at six-thirty, and
that it was seven o'clock when Sperry called me by telephone.

"Can you come to my office at once?" he asked. "I dare say Mrs. Johnson
won't mind going to the Dane house alone."

"Is there anything new?"

"No. But I want to get into the Wells house again. Bring the keys."

"They were in the overcoat. It came back today, but the keys are
missing."

"Did you lock the back door?"

"I don't remember. No, of course not. I didn't have the keys."

"Then there's a chance," he observed, after a moment's pause. "Anyhow,
it's worth trying. Herbert told you about the stick?"

"Yes. I never had it, Sperry."

Fortunately, during this conversation my wife was upstairs dressing.
I knew quite well that she would violently oppose a second visit on my
part to the deserted house down the street. I therefore left a message
for her that I had gone on, and, finding the street clear, met Sperry at
his door-step.

"This is the last sitting, Horace," he explained, "and I feel we ought
to have the most complete possible knowledge, beforehand. We will be
in a better position to understand what comes. There are two or three
things we haven't checked up on."

He slipped an arm through mine, and we started down the street. "I'm
going to get to the bottom of this, Horace, old dear," he said.

"Remember, we're pledged to a psychic investigation only."

"Rats!" he said rudely. "We are going to find out who killed Arthur
Wells, and if he deserves hanging we'll hang him."

"Or her?"

"It wasn't Elinor Wells," he said positively. "Here's the point: if he's
been afraid to go back for his overcoat it's still there. I don't expect
that, however. But the thing about the curtain interests me. I've been
reading over my copy of the notes on the sittings. It was said, you
remember, that curtains--some curtains--would have been better places
to hide the letters than the bag."

I stopped suddenly. "By Jove, Sperry," I said. "I remember now. My notes
of the sittings were in my overcoat."

"And they are gone?"

"They are gone."

He whistled softly. "That's unfortunate," he said. "Then the other
person, whoever he is, knows what we know!"

He was considerably startled when I told him I had been shadowed, and
insisted that it referred directly to the case in hand. "He's got your
notes," he said, "and he's got to know what your next move is going to
be."

His intention, I found, was to examine the carpet outside of the
dressing-room door, and the floor beneath it, to discover if possible
whether Arthur Wells had fallen there and been moved.

"Because I think you are right," he said. "He wouldn't have been likely
to shoot himself in a hall, and because the very moving of the body
would be in itself suspicious. Then I want to look at the curtains. 'The
curtains would have been safer.' Safer for what? For the bag with the
letters, probably, for she followed that with the talk about Hawkins.
He'd got them, and somebody was afraid he had."

"Just where does Hawkins come in, Sperry?" I asked.

"I'm damned if I know," he reflected. "We may learn tonight."

The Wells house was dark and forbidding. We walked past it once, as
an officer was making his rounds in leisurely fashion, swinging his
night-stick in circles. But on our return the street was empty, and we
turned in at the side entry.

I led the way with comparative familiarity. It was, you will remember,
my third similar excursion. With Sperry behind me I felt confident.

"In case the door is locked, I have a few skeleton keys," said Sperry.

We had reached the end of the narrow passage, and emerged into the
square of brick and grass that lay behind the house. While the night
was clear, the place lay in comparative darkness. Sperry stumbled over
something, and muttered to himself.

The rear porch lay in deep shadow. We went up the steps together. Then
Sperry stopped, and I advanced to the doorway. It was locked.

With my hand on the door-knob, I turned to Sperry. He was struggling
violently with a dark figure, and even as I turned they went over with a
crash and rolled together down the steps. Only one of them rose.

I was terrified. I confess it. It was impossible to see whether it
was Sperry or his assailant. If it was Sperry who lay in a heap on the
ground, I felt that I was lost. I could not escape. The way was blocked,
and behind me the door, to which I now turned frantically, was a barrier
I could not move.

Then, out of the darkness behind me, came Sperry's familiar, booming
bass. "I've knocked him out, I'm afraid. Got a match, Horace?"

Much shaken, I went down the steps and gave Sperry a wooden toothpick,
under the impression that it was a match. That rectified, we bent over
the figure on the bricks.

"Knocked out, for sure," said Sperry, "but I think it's not serious. A
watchman, I suppose. Poor devil, we'll have to get him into the house."

The lock gave way to manipulation at last, and the door swung open.
There came to us the heavy odor of all closed houses, a combination
of carpets, cooked food, and floor wax. My nerves, now taxed to their
utmost, fairly shrank from it, but Sperry was cool.

He bore the brunt of the weight as we carried the watchman in, holding
him with his arms dangling, helpless and rather pathetic. Sperry glanced
around.

"Into the kitchen," he said. "We can lock him in."

We had hardly laid him on the floor when I heard the slow stride of the
officer of the beat. He had turned into the paved alley-way, and was
advancing with measured, ponderous steps. Fortunately I am an agile man,
and thus I was able to get to the outer door, reverse the key and turn
it from the inside, before I heard him hailing the watchman.

"Hello there!" he called. "George, I say! George!"

He listened for a moment, then came up and tried the door. I crouched
inside, as guilty as the veriest house-breaker in the business. But he
had no suspicion, clearly, for he turned and went away, whistling as he
went.

Not until we heard him going down the street again, absently running his
night-stick along the fence palings, did Sperry or I move.

"A narrow squeak, that," I said, mopping my face.

"A miss is as good as a mile," he observed, and there was a sort of
exultation in his voice. He is a born adventurer.

He came out into the passage and quickly locked the door behind him.

"Now, friend Horace," he said, "if you have anything but toothpicks for
matches, we will look for the overcoat, and then we will go upstairs."

"Suppose he wakens and raises an alarm?"

"We'll be out of luck. That's all."

As we had anticipated, there was no overcoat in the library, and after
listening a moment at the kitchen door, we ascended a rear staircase to
the upper floor. I had, it will be remembered, fallen from a chair on
a table in the dressing room, and had left them thus overturned when I
charged the third floor. The room, however, was now in perfect order,
and when I held my candle to the ceiling, I perceived that the bullet
hole had again been repaired, and this time with such skill that I could
not even locate it.

"We are up against some one cleverer than we are, Sperry," I
acknowledged.

"And who has more to lose than we have to gain," he added cheerfully.
"Don't worry about that, Horace. You're a married man and I'm not. If a
woman wanted to hide some letters from her husband, and chose a
curtain for a receptacle, what room would hide them in. Not in his
dressing-room, eh?"

He took the candle and led the way to Elinor Wells's bedroom. Here,
however, the draperies were down, and we would have been at a loss, had
I not remembered my wife's custom of folding draperies when we close the
house, and placing them under the dusting sheets which cover the various
beds.

Our inspection of the curtains was hurried, and broken by various
excursions on my part to listen for the watchman. But he remained quiet
below, and finally we found what we were looking for. In the lining of
one of the curtains, near the bottom, a long, ragged cut had been made.

"Cut in a hurry, with curved scissors," was Sperry's comment. "Probably
manicure scissors."

The result was a sort of pocket in the curtain, concealed on the chintz
side, which was the side which would hang toward the room.

"Probably," he said, "the curtain would have been better. It would have
stayed anyhow. Whereas the bag--" He was flushed with triumph. "How in
the world would Hawkins know that?" he demanded. "You can talk all you
like. She's told us things that no one ever told her."

Before examining the floor in the hall I went downstairs and listened
outside the kitchen door. The watchman was stirring inside the room, and
groaning occasionally. Sperry, however, when I told him, remained cool
and in his exultant mood, and I saw that he meant to vindicate Miss
Jeremy if he flung me into jail and the newspapers while doing it.

"We'll have a go at the floors under the carpets now," he said. "If he
gets noisy, you can go down with the fire-tongs. I understand you are an
expert with them."

The dressing-room had a large rug, like the nursery above it, and
turning back the carpet was a simple matter. There had been a stain
beneath where the dead man's head had lain, but it had been scrubbed and
scraped away. The boards were white for an area of a square foot or so.

Sperry eyed the spot with indifference. "Not essential," he said. "Shows
good housekeeping. That's all. The point is, are there other spots?"

And, after a time, we found what we were after. The upper hall was
carpeted, and my penknife came into requisition to lift the tacks. They
came up rather easily, as if but recently put in. That, indeed, proved
to be the case.

Just outside the dressing-room door the boards for an area of two square
feet or more beneath the carpet had been scraped and scrubbed. With the
lifting of the carpet came, too, a strong odor, as of ammonia. But the
stain of blood had absolutely disappeared.

Sperry, kneeling on the floor with the candle held close, examined the
wood. "Not only scrubbed," he said, "but scraped down, probably with
a floor-scraper. It's pretty clear, Horace. The poor devil fell here.
There was a struggle, and he went down. He lay there for a while, too,
until some plan was thought out. A man does not usually kill himself in
a hallway. It's a sort of solitary deed. He fell here, and was dragged
into the room. The angle of the bullet in the ceiling would probably
show it came from here, too, and went through the doorway."

We were startled at that moment by a loud banging below. Sperry leaped
to his feet and caught up his hat.

"The watchman," he said. "We'd better get out. He'll have all the
neighbors in at that rate."

He was still hammering on the door as we went down the rear stairs, and
Sperry stood outside the door and to one side.

"Keep out of range, Horace," he cautioned me. And to the watchman:

"Now, George, we will put the key under the door, and in ten minutes you
may come out. Don't come sooner. I've warned you."

By the faint light from outside I could see him stooping, not in front
of the door, but behind it. And it was well he did, for the moment
the key was on the other side, a shot zipped through one of the lower
panels. I had not expected it and it set me to shivering.

"No more of that, George," said Sperry calmly and cheerfully. "This is a
quiet neighborhood, and we don't like shooting. What is more, my friend
here is very expert with his own particular weapon, and at any moment he
may go to the fire-place in the library and--"

I have no idea why Sperry chose to be facetious at that time, and my
resentment rises as I record it. For when we reached the yard we heard
the officer running along the alley-way, calling as he ran.

"The fence, quick," Sperry said.

I am not very good at fences, as a rule, but I leaped that one like a
cat, and came down in a barrel of waste-paper on the other side. Getting
me out was a breathless matter, finally accomplished by turning the
barrel over so that I could crawl out. We could hear the excited voices
of the two men beyond the fence, and we ran. I was better than Sperry at
that. I ran like a rabbit. I never even felt my legs. And Sperry pounded
on behind me.

We heard, behind us, one of the men climbing the fence. But in jumping
down he seemed to have struck the side of the overturned barrel.
Probably it rolled and threw him, for that part of my mind which was not
intent on flight heard him fall, and curse loudly.

"Go to it," Sperry panted behind me. "Roll over and break your neck."

This, I need hardly explain, was meant for our pursuer.

We turned a corner and were out on one of the main thoroughfares.
Instantly, so innate is cunning to the human brain, we fell to walking
sedately.

It was as well that we did, for we had not gone a half block before we
saw our policeman again, lumbering toward us and blowing a whistle as he
ran.

"Stop and get this street-car," Sperry directed me. "And don't breathe
so hard."

The policeman stared at us fixedly, stopping to do so, but all he saw
was two well-dressed and professional-looking men, one of them rather
elderly who was hailing a street-car. I had the presence of mind to draw
my watch and consult it.

"Just in good time," I said distinctly, and we mounted the car step.
Sperry remained on the platform and lighted a cigar. This gave him a
chance to look back.

"Rather narrow squeak, that," he observed, as he came in and sat down
beside me. "Your gray hairs probably saved us."

I was quite numb from the waist down, from my tumble and from running,
and it was some time before I could breathe quietly. Suddenly Sperry
fell to laughing.

"I wish you could have seen yourself in that barrel, and crawling out,"
he said.

We reached Mrs. Dane's, to find that Miss Jeremy had already arrived,
looking rather pale, as I had noticed she always did before a seance.
Her color had faded, and her eyes seemed sunken in her head.

"Not ill, are you?" Sperry asked her, as he took her hand.

"Not at all. But I am anxious. I always am. These things do not come for
the calling."

"This is the last time. You have promised."

"Yes. The last time."



X


It appeared that Herbert Robinson had been reading, during his
convalescence, a considerable amount of psychic literature, and that
we were to hold this third and final sitting under test conditions. As
before, the room had been stripped of furniture, and the cloth and rod
which formed the low screen behind Miss Jeremy's chair were not of her
own providing, but Herbert's.

He had also provided, for some reason or other, eight small glass cups,
into which he placed the legs of the two tables, and in a business-like
manner he set out on the large stand a piece of white paper, a pencil,
and a spool of black thread. It is characteristic of Miss Jeremy, and of
her own ignorance of the methods employed in professional seances, that
she was as much interested and puzzled as we were.

When he had completed his preparations, Herbert made a brief speech.

"Members of the Neighborhood Club," he said impressively, "we have
agreed among ourselves that this is to be our last meeting for the
purpose that is before us. I have felt, therefore, that in justice to
the medium this final seance should leave us with every conviction of
its genuineness. Whatever phenomena occur, the medium must be, as
she has been, above suspicion. For the replies of her 'control,' no
particular precaution seems necessary, or possible. But the first seance
divided itself into two parts: an early period when, so far as we could
observe, the medium was at least partly conscious, possibly fully so,
when physical demonstrations occurred. And a second, or trance period,
during which we received replies to questions. It is for the physical
phenomena that I am about to take certain precautions."

"Are you going to tie me?" Miss Jeremy asked.

"Do you object?"

"Not at all. But with what?"

"With silk thread," Herbert said, smilingly.

She held out her wrists at once, but Herbert placed her in her chair,
and proceeded to wrap her, chair and all, in a strong network of fine
threads, drawn sufficiently taut to snap with any movement.

He finished by placing her feet on the sheet of paper, and outlining
their position there with a pencil line.

The proceedings were saved from absurdity by what we all felt was the
extreme gravity of the situation. There were present in the room Mrs.
Dane, the Robinsons, Sperry, my wife and myself. Clara, Mrs. Dane's
secretary, had begged off on the plea of nervousness from the earlier
and physical portion of the seance, and was to remain outside in the
hall until the trance commenced.

Sperry objected to this, as movement in the circle during the trance
had, in the first seance, induced fretful uneasiness in the medium. But
Clara, appealed to, begged to be allowed to remain outside until she
was required, and showed such unmistakable nervousness that we finally
agreed.

"Would a slight noise disturb her?" Mrs. Dane asked.

Miss Jeremy thought not, if the circle remained unbroken, and Mrs. Dane
considered.

"Bring me my stick from the hall, Horace," she said. "And tell Clara
I'll rap on the floor with it when I want her."

I found a stick in the rack outside and brought it in. The lights were
still on in the chandelier overhead, and as I gave the stick to Mrs.
Dane I heard Sperry speaking sharply behind me.

"Where did you get that stick?" he demanded.

"In the hall. I--"

"I never saw it before," said Mrs. Dane. "Perhaps it is Herbert's."

But I caught Sperry's eye. We had both recognized it. It was Arthur
Wells's, the one which Sperry had taken from his room, and which, in
turn, had been taken from Sperry's library.

Sperry was watching me with a sort of cynical amusement.

"You're an absent-minded beggar, Horace," he said.

"You didn't, by any chance, stop here on your way back from my place the
other night, did you?"

"I did. But I didn't bring that thing."

"Look here, Horace," he said, more gently, "you come in and see me some
day soon. You're not as fit as you ought to be."

I confess to a sort of helpless indignation that was far from the
composure the occasion required. But the others, I believe, were fully
convinced that no human agency had operated to bring the stick into Mrs.
Dane's house, a belief that prepared them for anything that might occur.

A number of things occurred almost as soon as the lights were out,
interrupting a train of thought in which I saw myself in the first
stages of mental decay, and carrying about the streets not only
fire-tongs and walking-sticks, but other portable property belonging to
my friends.

Perhaps my excitement had a bad effect on the medium. She was uneasy
and complained that the threads that bound her arms were tight. She was
distinctly fretful. But after a time she settled down in her chair.
Her figure, a deeper shadow in the semi-darkness of the room, seemed
sagged--seemed, in some indefinable way, smaller. But there was none of
the stertorous breathing that preceded trance.

Then, suddenly, a bell that Sperry had placed on the stand beyond
the black curtain commenced to ring. It rang at first gently, then
violently. It made a hideous clamor. I had a curious sense that it was
ringing up in the air, near the top of the curtain. It was a relief to
have it thrown to the ground, its racket silenced.

Quite without warning, immediately after, my chair twisted under me. "I
am being turned around," I said, in a low tone. "It as if something has
taken hold of the back of the chair, and is twisting it. It has stopped
now." I had been turned fully a quarter round.

For five minutes, by the luminous dial of my watch on the table before
me, nothing further occurred, except that the black curtain appeared to
swell, as in a wind.

"There is something behind it," Alice Robinson said, in a terrorized
tone. "Something behind it, moving."

"It is not possible," Herbert assured her. "Nothing, that is--there is
only one door, and it is closed. I have examined the walls and floor
carefully."

At the end of five minutes something soft and fragrant fell on to the
table near me. I had not noticed Herbert when he placed the flowers from
Mrs. Dane's table on the stand, and I was more startled than the others.
Then the glass prisms in the chandelier over our heads clinked together,
as if they had been swept by a finger. More of the flowers came. We were
pelted with them. And into the quiet that followed there came a light,
fine but steady tattoo on the table in our midst. Then at last silence,
and the medium in deep trance, and Mrs. Dane rapping on the floor for
Clara.

When Clara came in, Mrs. Dane told her to switch on the lights. Miss
Jeremy had dropped in her chair until the silk across her chest was held
taut. But investigation showed that none of the threads were broken and
that her evening slippers still fitted into the outline on the paper
beneath them. Without getting up, Sperry reached to the stand behind
Miss Jeremy, and brought into view a piece of sculptor's clay he had
placed there. The handle of the bell was now jammed into the mass. He
had only time to show it to us when the medium began to speak.

I find, on re-reading the earlier part of this record, that I have
omitted mention of Miss Jeremy's "control." So suddenly had we jumped,
that first evening, into the trail that led us to the Wells case, that
beyond the rather raucous "good-evening," and possibly the extraneous
matter referring to Mother Goose and so on, we had been saved the usual
preliminary patter of the average control.

On this night, however, we were obliged to sit impatiently through
a rambling discourse, given in a half-belligerent manner, on the
deterioration of moral standards. Re-reading Clara's notes, I find that
the subject matter is without originality and the diction inferior. But
the lecture ceased abruptly, and the time for questions had come.

"Now," Herbert said, "we want you to go back to the house where you saw
the dead man on the floor. You know his name, don't you?"

There was a pause. "Yes. Of course I do. A. L. Wells."

Arthur had been known to most of us by his Christian name, but the
initials were correct.

"How do you know it is an L.?"

"On letters," was the laconic answer. Then: "Letters, letters, who has
the letters?"

"Do you know whose cane this is?"

"Yes."

"Will you tell us?"

Up to that time the replies had come easily and quickly. But beginning
with the cane question, the medium was in difficulties. She moved
uneasily, and spoke irritably. The replies were slow and grudging.
Foreign subjects were introduced, as now.

"Horace's wife certainly bullies him," said the voice. "He's afraid of
her. And the fire-tongs--the fire-tongs--the fire-tongs!"

"Whose cane is this?" Herbert repeated.

"Mr. Ellingham's."

This created a profound sensation.

"How do you know that?"

"He carried it at the seashore. He wrote in the sand with it."

"What did he write?"

"Ten o'clock."

"He wrote 'ten o'clock' in the sand, and the waves came and washed it
away?"

"Yes."

"Horace," said my wife, leaning forward, "why not ask her about that
stock of mine? If it is going down, I ought to sell, oughtn't I?"

Herbert eyed her with some exasperation.

"We are here to make a serious investigation," he said. "If the members
of the club will keep their attention on what we are doing, we may get
somewhere. Now," to the medium, "the man is dead, and the revolver is
beside him. Did he kill himself?"

"No. He attacked her when he found the letters."

"And she shot him?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Try very hard. It is important."

"I don't know," was the fretful reply. "She may have. She hated him. I
don't know. She says she did."

"She says she killed him?"

But there was no reply to this, although Herbert repeated it several
times.

Instead, the voice of the "control" began to recite a verse of
poetry--a cheap, sentimental bit of trash. It was maddening, under the
circumstances.

"Do you know where the letters are?"

"Hawkins has them."

"They were not hidden in the curtain?" This was Sperry.

"No. The police might have searched the room."

"Where were these letters?"

There was no direct reply to this, but instead:

"He found them when he was looking for his razorstrop. They were in the
top of a closet. His revolver was there, too. He went back and got it.
It was terrible."

There was a profound silence, followed by a slight exclamation from
Sperry as he leaped to his feet. The screen at the end of the room,
which cut off the light from Clara's candle, was toppling. The next
instant it fell, and we saw Clara sprawled over her table, in a dead
faint.



XI


In this, the final chapter of the record of these seances, I shall
give, as briefly as possible, the events of the day following the third
sitting. I shall explain the mystery of Arthur Wells's death, and I
shall give the solution arrived at by the Neighborhood Club as to the
strange communications from the medium, Miss Jeremy, now Sperry's wife.

But there are some things I cannot explain. Do our spirits live on,
on this earth plane, now and then obedient to the wills of those yet
living? Is death, then, only a gateway into higher space, from which,
through the open door of a "sensitive" mind, we may be brought back on
occasion to commit the inadequate absurdities of the physical seance?

Or is Sperry right, and do certain individuals manifest powers of a
purely physical nature, but powers which Sperry characterizes as the
survival of some long-lost development by which at one time we knew how
to liberate a forgotten form of energy?

Who can say? We do not know. We have had to accept these things as they
have been accepted through the ages, and give them either a spiritual or
a purely natural explanation, as our minds happen to be adventurous or
analytic in type.

But outside of the purely physical phenomena of those seances, we are
provided with an explanation which satisfies the Neighborhood Club, even
if it fails to satisfy the convinced spiritist. We have been accused
merely of substituting one mystery for another, but I reply by saying
that the mystery we substitute is not a mystery, but an acknowledged
fact.

On Tuesday morning I wakened after an uneasy night. I knew certain
things, knew them definitely in the clear light of morning. Hawkins had
the letters that Arthur Wells had found; that was one thing. I had not
taken Ellingham's stick to Mrs. Dane's house; that was another. I had
not done it. I had placed it on the table and had not touched it again.

But those were immaterial, compared with one outstanding fact. Any
supernatural solution would imply full knowledge by whatever power had
controlled the medium. And there was not full knowledge. There was, on
the contrary, a definite place beyond which the medium could not go.

She did not know who had killed Arthur Wells.

To my surprise, Sperry and Herbert Robinson came together to see me
that morning at my office. Sperry, like myself, was pale and tired, but
Herbert was restless and talkative, for all the world like a terrier on
the scent of a rat.

They had brought a newspaper account of an attempt by burglars to rob
the Wells house, and the usual police formula that arrests were expected
to be made that day. There was a diagram of the house, and a picture of
the kitchen door, with an arrow indicating the bullet-hole.

"Hawkins will be here soon," Sperry said, rather casually, after I had
read the clipping.

"Here?"

"Yes. He is bringing a letter from Miss Jeremy. The letter is merely a
blind. We want to see him."

Herbert was examining the door of my office. He set the spring lock. "He
may try to bolt," he explained. "We're in this pretty deep, you know."

"How about a record of what he says?" Sperry asked.

I pressed a button, and Miss Joyce came in. "Take the testimony of the
man who is coming in, Miss Joyce," I directed. "Take everything we say,
any of us. Can you tell the different voices?"

She thought she could, and took up her position in the next room, with
the door partly open.

I can still see Hawkins as Sperry let him in--a tall, cadaverous man of
good manners and an English accent, a superior servant. He was cool but
rather resentful. I judged that he considered carrying letters as in no
way a part of his work, and that he was careful of his dignity. "Miss
Jeremy sent this, sir," he said.

Then his eyes took in Sperry and Herbert, and he drew himself up.

"I see," he said. "It wasn't the letter, then?"

"Not entirely. We want to have a talk with you, Hawkins."

"Very well, sir." But his eyes went from one to the other of us.

"You were in the employ of Mr. Wells. We know that. Also we saw you
there the night he died, but some time after his death. What time did
you get in that night?"

"About midnight. I am not certain."

"Who told you of what had happened?"

"I told you that before. I met the detectives going out."

"Exactly. Now, Hawkins, you had come in, locked the door, and placed the
key outside for the other servants?"

"Yes, sir."

"How do you expect us to believe that?" Sperry demanded irritably.
"There was only one key. Could you lock yourself in and then place the
key outside?"

"Yes, sir," he replied impassively. "By opening the kitchen window, I
could reach out and hang it on the nail."

"You were out of the house, then, at the time Mr. Wells died?"

"I can prove it by as many witnesses as you wish to call."

"Now, about these letters, Hawkins," Sperry said. "The letters in the
bag. Have you still got them?"

He half rose--we had given him a chair facing the light--and then sat
down again. "What letters?"

"Don't beat about the bush. We know you have the letters. And we want
them."

"I don't intend to give them up, sir."

"Will you tell us how you got them?" He hesitated. "If you do not know
already, I do not care to say."

I placed the letter to A 31 before him. "You wrote this, I think?" I
said.

He was genuinely startled. More than that, indeed, for his face
twitched. "Suppose I did?" he said, "I'm not admitting it."

"Will you tell us for whom it was meant?"

"You know a great deal already, gentlemen. Why not find that out from
where you learned the rest?"

"You know, then, where we learned what we know?"

"That's easy," he said bitterly. "She's told you enough, I daresay. She
doesn't know it all, of course. Any more than I do," he added.

"Will you give us the letters?"

"I haven't said I have them. I haven't admitted I wrote that one on the
desk. Suppose I have them, I'll not give them up except to the District
Attorney."

"By 'she' do you refer to Miss Jeremy?" I asked.

He stared at me, and then smiled faintly.

"You know who I mean."

We tried to assure him that we were not, in a sense, seeking to involve
him in the situation, and I even went so far as to state our position,
briefly:

"I'd better explain, Hawkins. We are not doing police work. But, owing
to a chain of circumstances, we have learned that Mr. Wells did not kill
himself. He was murdered, or at least shot, by some one else. It may not
have been deliberate. Owing to what we have learned, certain people are
under suspicion. We want to clear things up for our own satisfaction."

"Then why is some one taking down what I say in the next room?"

He could only have guessed it, but he saw that he was right, by our
faces. He smiled bitterly. "Go on," he said. "Take it down. It can't
hurt anybody. I don't know who did it, and that's God's truth."

And, after long wrangling, that was as far as we got.

He suspected who had done it, but he did not know. He absolutely refused
to surrender the letters in his possession, and a sense of delicacy, I
think, kept us all from pressing the question of the A 31 matter.

"That's a personal affair," he said. "I've had a good bit of trouble.
I'm thinking now of going back to England."

And, as I say, we did not insist.

When he had gone, there seemed to be nothing to say. He had left the
same impression on all of us, I think--of trouble, but not of crime. Of
a man fairly driven; of wretchedness that was almost despair. He still
had the letters. He had, after all, as much right to them as we had,
which was, actually, no right at all. And, whatever it was, he still had
his secret.

Herbert was almost childishly crestfallen. Sperry's attitude was more
philosophical.

"A woman, of course," he said. "The A 31 letter shows it. He tried to
get her back, perhaps, by holding the letters over her head. And it
hasn't worked out. Poor devil! Only--who is the woman?"

It was that night, the fifteenth day after the crime, that the solution
came. Came as a matter of fact, to my door.

I was in the library, reading, or trying to read, a rather abstruse book
on psychic phenomena. My wife, I recall, had just asked me to change a
banjo record for "The End of a Pleasant Day," when the bell rang.

In our modest establishment the maids retire early, and it is my custom,
on those rare occasions when the bell rings after nine o'clock, to
answer the door myself.

To my surprise, it was Sperry, accompanied by two ladies, one of them
heavily veiled. It was not until I had ushered them into the reception
room and lighted the gas that I saw who they were. It was Elinor Wells,
in deep mourning, and Clara, Mrs. Dane's companion and secretary.

I am afraid I was rather excited, for I took Sperry's hat from him, and
placed it on the head of a marble bust which I had given my wife on our
last anniversary, and Sperry says that I drew a smoking-stand up beside
Elinor Wells with great care. I do not know. It has, however, passed
into history in the Club, where every now and then for some time Herbert
offered one of the ladies a cigar, with my compliments.

My wife, I believe, was advancing along the corridor when Sperry closed
the door. As she had only had time to see that a woman was in the room,
she was naturally resentful, and retired to the upper floor, where I
found her considerably upset, some time later.

While I am quite sure that I was not thinking clearly at the opening of
the interview, I know that I was puzzled at the presence of Mrs. Dane's
secretary, but I doubtless accepted it as having some connection with
Clara's notes. And Sperry, at the beginning, made no comment on her at
all.

"Mrs. Wells suggested that we come here, Horace," he began. "We may need
a legal mind on this. I'm not sure, or rather I think it unlikely. But
just in case--suppose you tell him, Elinor."

I have no record of the story Elinor Wells told that night in our little
reception-room, with Clara sitting in a corner, grave and white. It was
fragmentary, inco-ordinate. But I got it all at last.

Charlie Ellingham had killed Arthur Wells, but in a struggle. In parts
the story was sordid enough. She did not spare herself, or her motives.
She had wanted luxury, and Arthur had not succeeded as he had promised.
They were in debt, and living beyond their means. But even that, she
hastened to add, would not have mattered, had he not been brutal with
her. He had made her life very wretched.

But on the subject of Charlie Ellingham she was emphatic. She knew that
there had been talk, but there had been no real basis for it. She had
turned to him for comfort, and he gave her love. She didn't know where
he was now, and didn't greatly care, but she would like to recover and
destroy some letters he had written her.

She was looking crushed and ill, and she told her story incoordinately
and nervously. Reduced to its elements, it was as follows:

On the night of Arthur Wells's death they were dressing for a ball. She
had made a private arrangement with Ellingham to plead a headache at the
last moment and let Arthur go alone. But he had been so insistent
that she had been forced to go, after all. She had sent the governess,
Suzanne Gautier, out to telephone Ellingham not to come, but he was not
at his house, and the message was left with his valet. As it turned out,
he had already started.

Elinor was dressed, all but her ball-gown, and had put on a negligee,
to wait for the governess to return and help her. Arthur was in his
dressing-room, and she heard him grumbling about having no blades for
his safety razor.

He got out a case of razors and searched for the strop. When she
remembered where the strop was, it was too late. The letters had been
beside it, and he was coming toward her, with them in his hand.

She was terrified. He had read only one, but that was enough. He
muttered something and turned away. She saw his face as he went toward
where the revolver had been hidden from the children, and she screamed.

Charlie Ellingham heard her. The door had been left unlocked by the
governess, and he was in the lower hall. He ran up and the two men
grappled. The first shot was fired by Arthur. It struck the ceiling.
The second she was doubtful about. She thought the revolver was still
in Arthur's hand. It was all horrible. He went down like a stone, in the
hallway outside the door.

They were nearly mad, the two of them. They had dragged the body in, and
then faced each other. Ellingham was for calling the police at once
and surrendering, but she had kept him away from the telephone. She
maintained, and I think it very possible, that her whole thought was
for the children, and the effect on their after lives of such a scandal.
And, after all, nothing could help the man on the floor.

It was while they were trying to formulate some concerted plan that they
heard footsteps below, and, thinking it was Mademoiselle Gautier, she
drove Ellingham into the rear of the house, from which later he managed
to escape. But it was Clara who was coming up the stairs.

"She had been our first governess for the children," Elinor said, "and
she often came in. She had made a birthday smock for Buddy, and she had
it in her hand. She almost fainted. I couldn't tell her about Charlie
Ellingham. I couldn't. I told her we had been struggling, and that I was
afraid I had shot him. She is quick. She knew just what to do. We worked
fast. She said a suicide would not have fired one shot into the ceiling,
and she fixed that. It was terrible. And all the time he lay there, with
his eyes half open--"

The letters, it seems, were all over the place. Elinor thought of the
curtain, cut a receptacle for them, but she was afraid of the police.
Finally she gave them to Clara, who was to take them away and burn them.

They did everything they could think of, all the time listening for
Suzanne Gautier's return; filled the second empty chamber of the
revolver, dragged the body out of the hall and washed the carpet, and
called Doctor Sperry, knowing that he was at Mrs. Dane's and could not
come.

Clara had only a little time, and with the letters in her handbag she
started down the stairs. There she heard some one, possibly Ellingham,
on the back stairs, and in her haste, she fell, hurting her knee, and
she must have dropped the handbag at that time. They knew now that
Hawkins had found it later on. But for a few days they didn't know, and
hence the advertisement.

"I think we would better explain Hawkins," Sperry said. "Hawkins was
married to Miss Clara here, some years ago, while she was with Mrs.
Wells. They had kept it a secret, and recently she has broken with him."

"He was infatuated with another woman," Clara said briefly. "That's a
personal matter. It has nothing to do with this case."

"It explains Hawkins's letter."

"It doesn't explain how that medium knew everything that happened,"
Clara put in, excitedly. "She knew it all, even the library paste! I can
tell you, Mr. Johnson, I was close to fainting a dozen times before I
finally did it."

"Did you know of our seances?" I asked Mrs. Wells.

"Yes. I may as well tell you that I haven't been in Florida. How could
I? The children are there, but I--"

"Did you tell Charlie Ellingham about them?"

"After the second one I warned him, and I think he went to the house.
One bullet was somewhere in the ceiling, or in the floor of the nursery.
I thought it ought to be found. I don't know whether he found it or not.
I've been afraid to see him."

She sat, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap. She was a proud
woman, and surrender had come hard. The struggle was marked in her face.
She looked as though she had not slept for days.

"You think I am frightened," she said slowly. "And I am, terribly
frightened. But not about discovery. That has come, and cannot be
helped."

"Then why?"

"How does this woman, this medium, know these things?" Her voice rose,
with an unexpected hysterical catch. "It is superhuman. I am almost
mad."

"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Sperry said soothingly.
"Be sure that it is not what you think it is, Elinor. There's a simple
explanation, and I think I've got it. What about the stick that was
taken from my library?"

"Will you tell me how you came to have it, doctor?"

"Yes. I took it from the lower hall the night--the night it happened."

"It was Charlie Ellingham's. He had left it there. We had to have it,
doctor. Alone it might not mean much, but with the other things you
knew--tell them, Clara."

"I stole it from your office," Clara said, looking straight ahead. "We
had to have it. I knew at the second sitting that it was his."

"When did you take it?"

"On Monday morning, I went for Mrs. Dane's medicine, and you had
promised her a book. Do you remember? I told your man, and he allowed me
to go up to the library. It was there, on the table. I had expected to
have to search for it, but it was lying out. I fastened it to my belt,
under my long coat."

"And placed it in the rack at Mrs. Dane's?" Sperry was watching her
intently, with the same sort of grim intentness he wears when examining
a chest.

"I put it in the closet in my room. I meant to get rid of it, when I had
a little time. I don't know how it got downstairs, but I think--"

"Yes?"

"We are house-cleaning. A housemaid was washing closets. I suppose she
found it and, thinking it was one of Mrs. Dane's, took it downstairs.
That is, unless--" It was clear that, like Elinor, she had a
supernatural explanation in her mind. She looked gaunt and haggard.

"Mr. Ellingham was anxious to get it," she finished. "He had taken Mr.
Johnson's overcoat by mistake one night when you were both in the house,
and the notes were in it. He saw that the stick was important."

"Clara," Sperry asked, "did you see, the day you advertised for your
bag, another similar advertisement?"

"I saw it. It frightened me."

"You have no idea who inserted it?"

"None whatever."

"Did you ever see Miss Jeremy before the first sitting? Or hear of her?"

"Never."

"Or between the seances?"

Elinor rose and drew her veil down. "We must go," she said. "Surely now
you will cease these terrible investigations. I cannot stand much more.
I am going mad."

"There will be no more seances," Sperry said gravely.

"What are you going to do?" She turned to me, I daresay because I
represented what to her was her supreme dread, the law.

"My dear girl," I said, "we are not going to do anything. The
Neighborhood Club has been doing a little amateur research work, which
is now over. That is all."

Sperry took them away in his car, but he turned on the door-step, "Wait
downstairs for me," he said, "I am coming back."

I remained in the library until he returned, uneasily pacing the floor.

For where were we, after all? We had had the medium's story elaborated
and confirmed, but the fact remained that, step by step, through her
unknown "control" the Neighborhood Club had followed a tragedy from its
beginning, or almost its beginning, to its end.

Was everything on which I had built my life to go? Its philosophy, its
science, even its theology, before the revelations of a young woman who
knew hardly the rudiments of the very things she was destroying?

Was death, then, not peace and an awakening to new things, but a
wretched and dissociated clutching after the old? A wrench which only
loosened but did not break our earthly ties?

It was well that Sperry came back when he did, bringing with him a
breath of fresh night air and stalwart sanity. He found me still pacing
the room.

"The thing I want to know," I said fretfully, "is where this leaves us?
Where are we? For God's sake, where are we?"

"First of all," he said, "have you anything to drink? Not for me. For
yourself. You look sick."

"We do not keep intoxicants in the house."

"Oh, piffle," he said. "Where is it, Horace?"

"I have a little gin."

"Where?"

I drew a chair before the book-shelves, which in our old-fashioned house
reach almost to the ceiling, and, withdrawing a volume of Josephus, I
brought down the bottle.

"Now and then, when I have had a bad day," I explained, "I find that it
makes me sleep."

He poured out some and I drank it, being careful to rinse the glass
afterward.

"Well," said Sperry, when he had lighted a cigar. "So you want to know
where we are."

"I would like to save something out of the wreck."

"That's easy. Horace, you should be a heart specialist, and I should
have taken the law. It's as plain as the alphabet." He took his notes of
the sittings from his pocket. "I'm going to read a few things. Keep what
is left of your mind on them. This is the first sitting.

"'The knee hurts. It is very bad. Arnica will take the pain out.'

"I want to go out. I want air. If I could only go to sleep and forget
it. The drawing-room furniture is scattered all over the house."

"Now the second sitting:

"'It is writing.' (The stick.) 'It is writing, but the water washed it
away. All of it, not a trace.' 'If only the pocketbook were not lost.
Car-tickets and letters. It will be terrible if the letters are found.'
'Hawkins may have it. The curtain was much safer.' 'That part's safe
enough, unless it made a hole in the floor above.'"

"Oh, if you're going to read a lot of irrelevant material--"

"Irrelevant nothing! Wake up, Horace! But remember this. I'm not
explaining the physical phenomena. We'll never do that. It wasn't
extraordinary, as such things go. Our little medium in a trance
condition has read poor Clara's mind. It's all here, all that Clara
knew and nothing that she didn't know. A mind-reader, friend Horace. And
Heaven help me when I marry her!"

********

As I have said, the Neighborhood Club ended its investigations with
this conclusion, which I believe is properly reached. It is only fair to
state that there are those among us who have accepted that theory in the
Wells case, but who have preferred to consider that behind both it and
the physical phenomena of the seances there was an intelligence which
directed both, an intelligence not of this world as we know it. Both
Herbert and Alice Robinson are now pronounced spiritualists, although
Miss Jeremy, now Mrs. Sperry, has definitely abandoned all investigative
work.

Personally, I have evolved no theory. It seems beyond dispute that
certain individuals can read minds, and that these same, or other
so-called "sensitives," are capable of liberating a form of invisible
energy which, however, they turn to no further account than the useless
ringing of bells, moving of small tables, and flinging about of divers
objects.

To me, I admit, the solution of the Wells case as one of mind-reading is
more satisfactory than explanatory. For mental waves remain a mystery,
acknowledged, as is electricity, but of a nature yet unrevealed.
Thoughts are things. That is all we know.

Mrs. Dane, I believe, had suspected the solution from the start.

The Neighborhood Club has recently disbanded. We tried other things, but
we had been spoiled. Our Kipling winter was a failure. We read a play or
two, with Sperry's wife reading the heroine, and the rest of us taking
other parts. She has a lovely voice, has Mrs. Sperry. But it was all
stale and unprofitable, after the Wells affair. With Herbert on a
lecture tour on spirit realism, and Mrs. Dane at a sanatorium for the
winter, we have now given it up, and my wife and I spend our Monday
evenings at home.

After dinner I read, or, as lately, I have been making this record of
the Wells case from our notes. My wife is still fond of the phonograph,
and even now, as I make this last entry and complete my narrative, she
is waiting for me to change the record. I will be frank. I hate the
phonograph. I hope it will be destroyed, or stolen. I am thinking very
seriously of having it stolen.

"Horace," says my wife, "whatever would we do without the phonograph?
I wish you would put it in the burglar-insurance policy. I am always
afraid it will be stolen."

Even here, you see! Truly thoughts are things.





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