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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 11. Dr. Britt Pays His Dinner-Call
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 11. Dr. Britt Pays His Dinner-Call Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1290

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 11. Dr. Britt Pays His Dinner-Call

BOOK II CHAPTER XI. DR. BRITT PAYS HIS DINNER-CALL

Kate had not returned, and he was glad of this, for it gave him time in which to recover his normal serenity of mind. He met her at dinner with an attempt at humor, but she was not to be deceived nor put off from the main subject. He was forced to make instant report, which he did, leaving out, however, all the deeply emotional passages. He fell silent in the midst of this story--profoundly stirred by the memory of Viola's confiding gesture as she leaned to him, awed by the essential purity of the soul he perceived lying deep in her eyes. How blue, how profound they seemed at the moment!

Kate, if she perceived his abstraction, ignored it. "Well, I hope you agree with me now. Clarke is her control, her black beast."

"Yes; that is the only explanation at this moment, the only solution which leaves her innocent."

"But to admit that is to admit a good deal, Mr. Scientist."

"I know that, Mrs. Precipitancy; but what would you have me do? I don't want to believe the girl a trickster." After a pause he said: "Kate, I never felt less of a man than I acknowledged myself to be as I turned away, leaving her in the clutches of those accursed fanatics."

"Why did you do it?"

"What else could I do? She was entranced--I had no authority. My attempt at a rescue would have created a disgusting scene and put Clarke on his guard. My native caution and my conventional training combined to paralyze me."

Kate, fired with reckless ardor, said, "Let's go and snatch her away--now!"

"No, my second thought is best. Think of what Clarke's arrest would mean to the girl and to us? No, we must wait for Lambert. Clarke at present has all the authority. It won't do to push him. He would instantly trumpet her name to the four winds of heaven if he thought we were about to interfere. If Lambert heeds my warning, he will arrive on Friday, and that will prevent the challenge."

"What sort of person is this Mr. Lambert?"

Serviss pondered, "He's a small, mild-mannered man--not unlike a nice, thoughtful country doctor in appearance."

"I wish he were six feet high, and fierce as his inches," said Kate.

"If he had been that, this preacher fellow would never have been able to run away with his family." He sighed. "Well, he's all we have to conjure with. If he fails us we must resort to craft."

"I wish we could get Viola and her mother here. Would they come to dinner if I should ask them? If we could get them here once we might be able to persuade them to stay."

"That would not save her from the pillory in which Pratt and Clarke design to set her. We must be careful not to anger them. The girl hates and fears Pratt."

"I know she does."

"His air of proprietorship is fairly indecent. We must be especially careful not to rouse him. He has millions to use in asserting his claims, and is as vindictive as a wolf."

Kate sat in silence for a few moments--a very unusual state with her--and at last announced her purpose. "Leave the whole thing to me. We will have Dr. Weissmann, and I will ask Clarke to come to meet you in order to talk over his plans for a committee. I'll just ignore Pratt. He's nothing but an old kill-joy, anyway."

"He's worse than that. Don't brush him the wrong way. We're going to have trouble with him before we are out of this."

"I don't care. I will not have him in my house," responded Kate.

"Very well. He's eliminated. I hope Clarke will permit them to come."

"Oh, they'll come unless Pratt absolutely locks them in their rooms. Shall I ask Marion and Paul?"

"No. I want a chance to talk to our 'psychic' alone."

"Very well. The table just balances, anyway. Now, about your telegram, are you going to speak to Mrs. Lambert about that?"

"No. It is all up to Lambert. He can act or not, as he sees fit. He will probably wire them that he is coming, and as there can be no explanations till he arrives you will please say nothing of my share in the warning."

They had just risen from the table when Britt sent in his card.

"Excuse my calling so early," he began, with tranquil drawl, "but I'm going back to the West to-night. I've got to get out of this climate or join the spooks. I'm thinking of doing that, anyway, just to see what it's like 'round the corner in the 'fourth dimension,' and also because I'd like a change of climate."

"You look well--exceedingly well," Kate cheerily replied.

"You're very good; but I don't feel as well as I look. My poor one lung is working overtime, and a collapse is imminent. I don't see how my beloved brother Clarke bears up. He must get help from the 'other side.' You see, _he spent the winter in Boston--think o' that! But it's telling on him. If I wished him well--which I don't--I'd advise him to return to Colorado and to his Presbyterianism by the limited mail."

"Could he do that--I mean go back to his church?"

"I don't suppose he could. You see, he went out under a cloud--took the whole window-sash with him, you might say--and I don't think the elders would welcome his relapse. Furthermore, he has embraced 'spiritism,' as he calls it, with both arms. By-the-way, professor, I've been talking about these psychic matters with Weissmann and others, and I agree with him that you're the very man to go into an investigation of these occult forces."

"And be called insane, as Zoellner was?"

"Oh, well, times have softened since then. Now, really, what do _you think of Zoellner's experiments?"

"I wish he hadn't been so eager to demonstrate the fourth dimension--that vitiated everything he did."

"Oh, I don't know. I've been rereading Lodge and Wallace and Meyer. We studied them when I was at college, mainly to click our tongues--'poor old chaps!'" He smiled. "You understand? Of course, I can't go the whole length, but I must say I don't know what you're going to do with the evidence Crookes collected."

"But Slade and Home and the Fox sisters, from whom he drew his 'facts,' were exposed again and again, and one of the Fox sisters confessed to fraud, didn't she?"

"M--yes. But afterwards recanted and re-recanted. They were all a dubious lot, I'll admit. That is why I hate to see a girl like Viola Lambert put in their class by a self-seeking fakir like Clarke."

"_Is he self-seeking--or is he only a fanatic?" asked Kate. "I believe him to be quite sincere--that's why he's so dangerous. He is willing to walk hot plough-shares to advance his faith. What _are his relations to Viola? Do you suppose she has actually promised to marry him?"

Serviss waited for his reply in such suspense that his hands clutched his chair. Britt's face lost its gleam. "I'm afraid she has--or at least she feels herself 'sealed to him' by her 'controls.'" Serviss rose and took a turn about the room as Britt went on. "You see, this sweet-tempered old ghost McLeod is anxious to have his granddaughter unite her powers with Clarke's in order to 'advance the Grand Cause.' McLeod, it seems, was a Presbyterian clergyman himself here 'on the earth plane,' and has carried his granitic formation right along with him. I've argued with the old man by the hour, but his egotism is invincible."

Serviss faced him abruptly. "Now, see here, Britt. You've seen a good deal of Miss Lambert's performances--what's your honest opinion of them?"

"Frankly, I don't know," he answered, with a smile. "Since rereading Zoellner and Crookes and going over my notes and those of Dr. Randall, I'm a little shaken, I confess. So far as human evidence goes these men prove that there is a world of phenomena ignored by science. I don't go so far as to say that these doings were the work of disembodied spirits, but I do admit that I am puzzled by things which I have witnessed with one sense or another. The things seem to tally in a most convincing way. This girl is repeating, substantially, the same phenomena witnessed by Crookes twenty-five years ago. The singular thing about the whole subject is that one man can't convince another by any amount of evidence. A personal revelation is necessary for each individual."

"Isn't that true of other faiths?" asked Kate.

"No, there's a difference. For example, I would take your brother's evidence as to a new germ; but as to a spirit--no. And yet one is quite as incredible as another. Crookes applied the same methods to the study of these manifestations that he used in his other researches, and piled up a mass of evidence, yet his fellows of the Royal Academy sneered or haw-hawed--and do yet. Do you know, doctor," he continued, "I have moments when I dimly suspicion that we scientists are a thought too arrogant. We lose the expectant mind. We assume that we've corralled and branded all facts, when, as a matter of history, there are scattered bunches of cattle all through the hills. Take Haeckel, for instance. He talks very like the head of a church laying down the law to you and to me as well as to the ignorant outsider. Spencer was a good deal less sure of himself. It takes a physical specialist to be cock-sure. Darwin never professed to solve the final mystery of life or death, but Haeckel and Metchnikoff do. They are so militant against religion that they become intolerant of their colleagues who presume to differ with them on matters that are purely speculative. Any one attempting to discuss new phases of human thought is a fakir. I am not willing to say that all the notions of the 'dualists' are survivals of the age of superstition, as Haeckel does. It may be that in the midst of all their fancies which _are survivals there are some subtle perceptions of the future."

Serviss lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "That's a whole lot for you to concede. Weissmann must have been corrupting you."

Britt went on: "We must always remember that every age is an age of transition. We are losing faith in the revelations of the past, but we should not presume to define the faith of the future. Men will not live in the hopelessness which the monists would thrust upon them, they will not patiently wait while Pasteur and Koch and the other germ theorists labor to prolong the life of some other generation. They will always insist on having something to live for and to die for. I don't pretend to say what this faith will be, but it will be sufficing."

Kate exclaimed with glowing eyes: "And all this change in you two men has come about through the influence of a pretty girl!"

The two inexorables looked at each other with a certain air of timidity, and Britt's face expanded in a slow, sly smile. "You've discovered us. We are human, like the rest of our sex, if you catch us out of our laboratories. Theoretically we hold life of no account actually we're all lovers or husbands." A mockery more moving than tears came into his voice. "My hopeless philosophy, dear lady, arises from weak nerves and a poor digestion. I would give all I know of science, all I expect to be in my profession, and all I hope to be after I am dead, for just five years of health, such as Lambert's miners squander in carousals every Saturday night in the saloons of Colorow. I hold with Haeckel in one thing--I believe in a man's right to suicide, and when I find myself of no further use to the sick I shall slip quietly out. I hope I won't have to poison Clarke before I go. I'd do it cheerfully if I thought it the only way to rid that girl of him." Seeing that his hostess was really shocked by these words, he lightly ended: "However, I think such extreme measures unnecessary. I'm going to send Lambert on to kill him for me."

Kate looked at Morton with inquiring eye--he shook his head.

Britt resumed: "I am trusting in you, Serviss. If I could be sure of living two weeks longer I would stay and help, but money and breath are now vital to me, and I must go. However, I'm perfectly willing to put Clarke out of the way if you advise it. He really ought to die, Mrs. Rice," he gravely explained as he rose to go. "He is a male vampire. To think of him despoiling that glorious young soul maddens me. I am the son of a coarse, powerful, sensual, drunken father; but he neglected to endow me with his brutal health. My mother was an invalid; therefore, here am I, old and worn out at forty--that's why I worship youth and beauty. Health is the only heaven I know, and that is denied me." Here his smile died, his eyes softened, and his face set in impenetrable gravity. "Had I the power I would keep Viola Lambert forever young and forever virgin." Then, with a quick return to his familiar drawl: "But I am going away without even killing Clarke, to plod my little round in Colorow and wait news from you. If I do not see you again, Mrs. Rice, keep me in mind. I make the same promise your husband made--I will 'manifest' to you if I can."

"I would rather you came in the flesh," she replied.

He bowed deeply. "I thank you both for a very satisfying glimpse of a civilised home."

"Sometimes I think we're over-civilized," she replied, quickly. "But come and see us again."

"I fear it will be as a spook--they laugh at microbes as well as locks. However, I promise to rap when I call."

"Thank you, that will make you a most considerate ghost."

When they were alone together Kate said, with a sigh: "What an amount of sin and sickness and trouble and death there is in the world!"

"That's a sign we're getting on," he replied. "When we're young we laugh at the falling leaves--they are only a sign of some new sport. When I'm as old as you are I suppose I'll begin to observe all the bald-heads at the theatre."

"Well, now, for our dinner-party. I must write to Mrs. Lambert to-night."

"You'd better take second thought about this matter--'Reckless Kate.'"

"I have."

"Take a third. Consider this--the girl may go into a trance at the table."

"Oh, if she only would! My fear is she'll be like other amateur performers--'subject to a cold' or something. These gifted people are so often disappointing."

"Now, see here, Kit, seriously, if you invite Miss Lambert to our house it must be as any other charming guest--"

"You didn't suppose I was _really going to ask her to spookle?" she indignantly answered; then added, with a smile: "Of course, if she _insists on reading my palm--or--any little thing like that, it wouldn't be nice to refuse, would it?"

"I knew it! You have designs upon her. Don't do it. It would be too gross after your protest against others for using her. She herself complained bitterly of just this treatment. You must not even speak of her powers."

She lifted her hand solemnly. "_I swear!_"

"I mistrust you even when you swear," he ended, doubtfully. "There's a tell-tale gleam in your eyes."

And at this moment of banter they both lost their sense of the girl's imminent peril and thought of her only as a most entertaining possibility as a guest.

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