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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 12. Viola In Dinner-Dress
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 12. Viola In Dinner-Dress Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3240

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 12. Viola In Dinner-Dress

BOOK II CHAPTER XII. VIOLA IN DINNER-DRESS

Viola glowed with joy over Kate's invitation to dinner, and, flying to the telephone (as she was requested to do), accepted without consulting either her mother or Clarke, and fell immediately into wonder whether she possessed a gown becoming enough to fit the golden opportunity.

Mrs. Lambert was also pleased, but at once said, "I hope Tony will feel like going."

Viola resented the implied doubt of their own acceptance. "I am going, anyhow. I will not be shut up here any longer like a convict. I like Mrs. Rice very much, and I want to see her house. I know it will be just as nice as she is."

"But we can't go without Anthony, my dear."

Clarke came to the door a little later to say that he had received Mrs. Rice's invitation, but that he did not care to feed the curiosity of such people. "You would better plead a previous engagement," he added to Viola.

"I'll do nothing of the sort," she indignantly answered. "Indeed, I've already accepted. You needn't look black--I'm going," she added, in pouting defiance.

Something in her look as well as in her tone convinced him that wisdom lay in not attempting to restrain her, therefore he gave assent, gloomily and with a sense of loss. "I don't know how Pratt will feel about it. He don't like those people, and, besides, he has invited some friends in to see you this evening."

"He said nothing to me about it," Viola responded, curtly, "and, besides, how can he expect me to be always at his command? He is not my jailer. I'm tired of his demands, they are so unreasonable."

Mrs. Lambert, as usual, entered to soothe and heal. "Viola's been very good about meeting Mr. Pratt's friends, Tony. We've hardly been out to dinner since we came here, and it really seems to me as if we had the right to go out to-night."

"We ought to have Thursdays, anyway," the girl scornfully added. "We have less liberty than our maids. The whole situation is becoming intolerable."

Clarke acknowledged that Pratt demanded a good deal, and was gracious enough to say: "It won't be necessary much longer. I'll go down and try to arrange the matter, and report what he says."

"I don't care what he says, I'm going," Viola repeated. "I'm going if he locks us out. I wish he would."

Pratt was resentful at once. "I don't want her to go to-night. I have some people coming in to see her. I don't want them disappointed; she must remain."

"She feels aggrieved because she has been kept so close here, and I must say--"

"I don't see why she feels that way, she has every luxury. She goes for a drive every afternoon, and there is hardly a night that I don't bring home somebody to dinner. It seems to me she's seeing all the people she ought to see. I don't believe in having her mix with those sceptics too freely."

He went up-stairs sulkily, quite in the mood to bully, but Mrs. Lambert turned away his wrath with a smile and several soft words, and Viola did not see him till she was on her way to the carriage. He was lurking in the hall below, waiting for her surly and sour and insulting.

Viola, perceiving his humor, said to herself: "I will not let you spoil my evening by making me angry. I will not listen to you," and she didn't, though she could not help hearing his warning growl.

"I'll expect you home early."

Once safely out of the house she said to Clarke: "This really is too much, Anthony. He is insufferable. If you don't tell him so, and teach him better manners, I will leave the house. But there! I said I wouldn't let him spoil our evening, and I won't--I won't even think of him again."

Serviss expected her to show some signs of the deep emotional stress of his former interview, but in this he was most pleasurably surprised. He marvelled at the height of her rebound from the wan helplessness of her mood upon the stairs. She was, indeed, a totally different being--a radiant, blooming creature belonging wholly to the world of youth--and he was scarcely able to relate the two scenes to the same girl, and again he exclaimed, "What an actress--if she is an actress!" She was very simply attired in pale blue with but few ornaments, but she bore herself like a queen demanding homage--and he gave it. He was all the lover and nothing of the scientist as he stood to greet her.

She, on her part, behind her proud mask, was breathing quick with pleasure. To meet Professor Serviss in dinner-dress, in his own home, exalted her above the pupil and transformed him into something more intimate than the master--something more dangerously compelling than friend.

Kate, quite carried away by her enthusiasm, caught the girl again in her arms. "You dear, sweet thing! I wish I had made a big party for you; you're too fine to be wasted on three cranky old scientists."

Serviss met Clarke with less of repulsion than he had anticipated, for, notwithstanding the preacher's haggard cheeks and a certain set glare which came into his eyes occasionally, he was a handsome figure. He was plainly on guard, however, and extremely ill at ease, and his eyes kept furtive watch on Viola's every movement.

Kate at once engaged him in conversation in order that he and Morton might not fall into argument, and with the further purpose of permitting her young people a little time for mutual explanation. She was glad when Weissmann came in, brisk as a boy, his keen eyes peering alertly through his horn-bowed glasses; he not merely proved a diversion, he completed her party. The great man was as animated as a cricket (this was his society manner), and upon being presented to Viola began paying her the most marked and absorbed attention, hopping briskly from one heavy German compliment to another, quite unaware, apparently, that she was anything more than a very pretty girl.

He took her out to dinner, with elaborate courtesy, and divided his attentions between his partner and his hostess with mathematical precision, beaming now upon Viola, now upon Kate, with such well-calculated intervals that Serviss broke into a broad smile.

"You find yourself well placed, Dr. Weissmann?"

"Well placed and well pleased," he responded, quickly, "with no thanks to you, I suspect."

Kate was much relieved by Weissmann's liking for Viola--it made her party a little less difficult; but she was anxious to have Morton free to talk with Viola, and to that end drew the good doctor into conversation with Clarke, who was not at all pleased with his seat, which was by design at the farthest remove from his psychic. He saw no reason why they might not have been seated side by side.

As Kate remarked to Marion afterwards, it was a hard team to drive, for the table was too small to permit anything like private conversation at either end, and to enter upon general topics was to start Clarke and Weissmann into dialectic clamor. "I trusted in the food," she answered to Marion's query. "It was a good dinner and kept even the preacher silent--part of the time."

Clarke's face was flushed with wine, and his glance, which rested often on Viola, was not pleasant. He was afraid of her when she shone thus brightly among careless, worldly, sceptical people. She seemed to forget her work, her endowments, and to think only of flattering speeches and caresses. It was all so childish, so foolish in her, so undignified in one who meant so much to the sin-darkened world.

Mrs. Lambert, on the contrary, was humanly glad (for the moment, at least) of her daughter's respite from her grave duties, and sat blandly smiling while the young people talked animatedly on a wide list of subjects.

Morton was delighted to find that Viola had read a good many books, not always the best books, but of such variety that her mind was by no means that of the school-girl. Her experience in life was very slight, but her hunger to know was keen. He was eager to draw her out on her morbid side, but, as he had said to Kate, "We must not permit anything to rob her of one evening of unbroken normal intercourse. If you can manage Clarke, I will do the rest."

Kate tried hard to "manage Clarke," and was succeeding rather adroitly. Whenever he seemed about to enter upon a discourse she interrupted him, met his ponderous phrases with flippancies, plied him with food (for which he had a singular weakness), and in many other womanly ways discouraged and, in the end, intimidated him. He was at a distinct disadvantage and knew it, and the knowledge irritated him. However, with all his eccentricities he was a man of considerable social experience, and, while he was not at any time joyous of countenance, he did not in open guise offend, though he sank at last into a glowering silence, leaving the talk to Weissmann.

Morton gave much attention to Mrs. Lambert, securing from her, almost before she realized it, a promise to join a theatre-party, and thereupon turned to Viola to say, "I hope you will consent."

"Consent?" she cried, with shining eyes. "I should like it above everything. You see I've never really _lived in a big city, and it's all so new and splendid to me."

Morton responded lightly. "I wish I could see it with your eyes. I suppose New York is a wonderful city, and I'm sure all this chaos is making towards something unparalleled in beauty, but just now I take the point of view of a native who has been driven out of the good old down-town streets by vulgar trade. The Servisses lived for forty years at the corner of Corlear Square, but four years ago a big apartment hotel rose next door, shutting off our light, and we had to move. Hence our acrimony. The city grows more and more a show-place, wherein the prodigal American may buy the pleasure he thinks commensurate. Most of us who were born here have quite lost our hold on the earth; for instance, here we are, Kate and I, treed in a ten-story hotel on ground from which we used to gather huckleberries, and therein lies the history of many another New York family."

Viola looked round the spacious and handsome dining-room. "I think this way of living is beautiful. I want mamma to take an apartment over here on the Park. I love the Park, although it makes me homesick for the West sometimes."

"If you do decide to take an apartment, consult Kate. What she doesn't know of New York isn't lady-like for any one to know. Frankly, Mrs. Lambert, I should be very glad to see you get away from Pratt's house. He is, I fear, a selfish, brutal business-man--an egotist who would sacrifice you both instantly if it would add to his comfort of mind or body. But wait. I am forgetting my duties as host--we are to avoid all unpleasant topics," and thereupon he led the conversation back to impersonal discussions of books and music.

All through this exquisite little dinner Viola sat with a strengthening determination to assert her right to leave her gloomy prison-house on the Drive, a house in which there was neither wholesome conversation nor privacy nor order. An ambition to live humanly and harmoniously in an apartment like this grew each moment in definiteness. She appreciated the delicacy of the centre-piece of maidenhair-fern, veiling with its cloud of green a few flame-like jonquils. She took a woman's joy in the immaculate napery and in the charm and variety of the china. Such housekeeping was an art, and quite impossible without the personal touch of the mistress, and, as she looked across towards Kate's homely, pleasant face, her heart went out to her in gratitude and love. She could be trusted, this frank, laughing, graceful woman. She represented a most modern union of housewife and intellectual companion. No wonder Dr. Serviss remained unmarried.

Clarke's forbidding, unrelenting face, looming darkly at Kate's side, was revealed to her in a new and most unpleasant light. She resented his scowling glances, and pitied his failure to glow in such genial company. She saw him for the first time the prosing bigot, narrow and repulsive. She resented his failure to subordinate his theories. Up to this moment she had supposed herself respecting him; now she began to realize that she had lost even that, and the thought made her shiver with foreboding. How different were the men of science, with their jocular, irrelevant, but always illuminating comment on whatever subject they handled! It was all touch and go with them, and yet they were quite as serious as he.

As the coffee came in Kate rose with a word of caution: "Morton, we'll expect you to join us soon--"

"You may depend upon us," replied Weissmann.

"And you mustn't talk out all the interesting subjects--save some of them for us to hear."

"We shall not be able to talk on any other subject than yourselves," retorted Weissmann, gallantly, "and that would not be good for you to hear."

Kate laughed. "I know what that means. These Western girls are compelling creatures. Well, I will not complain if she only shakes you out of your scientific complacency."

They were hardly out of the room before Weissmann asked, "Is Miss Lambert from the West?"

"From the Rocky Mountains."

"So? I find her quite charming."

Morton dryly answered: "I noticed that. Yes, she's Western born, but of Eastern stock. Mr. Clarke is a New-Yorker, I believe."

"I was born in Maryland, sir, but all my early life was spent in Brooklyn."

Weissmann turned his telescopic eyes upon Clarke and studied him in silence somewhat as a pop-eyed crab might regard a clam. "So, so," he said, softly. "You are the one who is preparing to assault the scientific world--the Clarke mentioned in the papers to-day?"

Clarke folded his arms in defiant mood. "I am."

"And this charming girl is your victim--the one for whom you make such claims, eh?"

Clarke regarded the old man with imperious lift of the head. "She is, without question, the most marvellous psychic in the world."

"'Psychic!'" Weissmann barked this word at him like an angry mastiff. "'Psychic!' What business has she to be a 'psychic'? She is too lovely to be anything but a wife and mother--a happy hausfrau. And you would make her infamous? My friend, I do not understand you."

Clarke's eyes blazed. "If I had the power I would lay her message before every living soul on the globe. Infamy? Sir, I know no higher honor than that of being cup-bearer to despairing souls thirsting for the water of life." Then a direct answer to the old man's prolonged stare: "You need have no fear. I will not go one jot beyond the advice of her 'guides.'"

"Her 'guides'? Who are they?"

"I mean her invisible ministers, compared with whose wisdom our learning is child's prattle for they are one with the sages of history. Their minds drink of the limitless ocean of all past knowledge and catch the gleam of discovery to come. Furthermore"--here his voice grew hard and his glance shifted to Serviss--"no one living has a more vital interest in her welfare than I. Surely I may be trusted to guard and cherish one who is soon to be my wife."

This blow, delivered with the orator's telling arrangement of phrase, fell with tremendous force upon Serviss, towards whom it was vengefully directed. With a heart filled with anger and disgust and pain the young host responded: "I am glad to have this assurance from you, for your action has seemed to me calculated to do Miss Lambert irreparable injury. Of course, I do not doubt your good intentions as regards her--I cannot do that after your final statement--but I think you underestimate your opposing force."

"We expect battle, but nothing can really harm us. What do we care for the puerile dispraise of the press? We are doing God's work in the world, and as for the scientists, they are as moles in the dark."

Weissmann's voice became reflective. "Do the parents of the girl not object?"

"Quite the contrary. Her mother trained her for this great work."

"That is very strange--this mother _seems nice and sensible."

Clarke sneered. "You physicists think nothing is natural or sensible but your own grubbing. You nose in the mire studying parasites of decaying flesh, while we are lifting wing into the world of spirit where neither pain nor death is known. You are blinded by your bigotry, or you would see the leading of every new discovery in the modes of motion. Heat, light, the X-ray, the emanation of radium--do they not all point to new subtleties of the physical universe? The power which the spirits use to communicate with us, the world which they inhabit, is only a higher evolution, a more potent condition--"

Weissmann arrested him in full flight and began to question him about Viola's powers, drawing from him rapidly, and with the precision of a great lawyer, all that he would say of her case, while Serviss, smoking quietly, listened in deep amazement, so candid, so sincere did Clarke seem to be in his answers. He was more--he became eloquent, almost convincing; and the young scientist was forced to acknowledge once more that appearances were deceitful. "Can this man be the fakir I have thought him? He is a bigot, a crazy fool, but he does not fit the role of villain; and yet--"

He could not put the alternative into words, so deeply did it involve Viola herself.

The preacher was in full flow--turgid, studiedly ornate, egotistical, and bombastic, but the final effect, even upon Weissmann, was that of one deluded, rather than of one carrying on a deep and far-reaching system of deception. He bodied forth the emotional moralist seeking escape from the ferocity of the creed in which his youth had been nurtured, rather than the self-seeking, coldly calculating fortune-hunter. With lofty courage he concluded:

"Now to you, gentlemen of science, we say: We respect your methods, but not your subjects of study. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than a perusal of your books. The patient way in which you pursue some clew in the labyrinth of biology is admirable. I met a man last week--a man I knew in college--and upon my asking what he was doing he replied, gravely, 'For the last six months I've been making a study of the parasites in the abdomen of the flea!'" Here Clarke's sneering laugh broke out. "Yet that man despised me--called me a fool--because I, forsooth, was intent on the laws which govern the return of the dead." His laugh died, he became very earnest and very sincere. "Now, men of science, all we ask of you is to apply your precision of handling to subjects a little more worth while than the putrid body of an insect."

Serviss laughed, but Weissmann, with true German contrariety, returned the compliment gravely. Being confronted with a true believer, he automatically assumed the opposite position, and with searching scorn assailed the whole spiritist camp with merciless knowledge of every defenceless portal.

For a time Morton enjoyed Clarke's discomfiture, but at last his sense of duty as host awoke and he was about to come to the preacher's relief when Kate appeared in the doorway, and the old warrior lowered his lance and rose politely.

Kate gave him a reproving glance. "You've been arguing--I can tell by your guilty looks."

"Oh no, not at all; a mere statement of opinion--of no interest, I assure you."

Kate's voice was eager. "Mr. Clarke, Viola wants to sit for us--have you any objections?"

"Kate!" called Serviss. "I am ashamed of you--"

"I assure you I didn't ask it--I didn't even hint towards it. 'Cross my heart--hope to die.'"

Morton was at the moment displeased, for he had been looking forward to a long and intimate conversation with Viola in the drawing-room, and would have been glad if Clarke had opposed it firmly--which he did not. Perhaps he saw a chance to turn the tables on his critics; at any rate, he rose, saying, "I will talk with her and decide the matter," and followed Kate out of the room.

"What is it? What did she say?" queried Weissmann, bewilderedly.

Morton explained that Miss Lambert had particularly requested him to sit with her and talk to her "guides," and that she had expressed a particular desire for an immediate test.

Weissmann's eyes glittered with new interest. "Very good. Why not? It is a fine opportunity. Do you not feel so?"

In truth he did not. The intrusion of the abnormal side of Viola's life seemed at the moment not merely inopportune but repulsive. As he entered the drawing-room he found her sitting in a low chair beside a small table on which stood a shaded lamp. Clarke was talking with her, and Serviss could detect even at a distance the depressing change which had come to her. Her girlish ecstasy was quite gone and in its place lay pallid languor and a look of appeal.

Clarke moved away as his host approached, and Viola, glancing up wanly and wistfully, said: "Isn't it stupid? Just when I was so happy. I wanted this evening free, but they would not have it so. No sooner was I seated here than they began to work on me. They say they want to talk with you--my grandfather especially--and I, too, want you to do so--only I didn't intend to ask it to-night. Please be patient with me, won't you?"

"Do not distress yourself about that. I shall be very glad to sit. I was afraid Kate might be requesting it. I particularly warned her against mentioning the subject, but if your 'guides' wish it, and you are willing, be sure Dr. Weissmann and I will be most pleased. But, tell me, how did the change come? What began to happen?"

(Illustration: "'BUT, TELL ME, HOW DID THE CHANGE COME? WHAT BEGAN TO HAPPEN?'")

"The usual tapping--here on the table--then my hand wanted to write. I ignored it--I fought it. I didn't intend to yield, but they set to work undermining my will, and then I knew that I must consent or be strangled. As soon as I gave up they took their fingers from my throat, but they are here--my grandfather is just back of me--I can feel his heavy hand on my head. I'm sorry, Professor Serviss. I was having such a good time. I hope you won't despise me."

"You are entirely too modest," he answered, cheerily. "We are highly favored. It's like having Paderewski volunteer to play for his dinner."

His lightness of tone hurt her a little. "You don't believe in me in the least, do you? You think I am an impostor?"

"Oh no. I believe in _you_."

"But you've got to believe in these manifestations if you believe in me."

"No, no, that does not follow," he replied, quickly; then, perceiving that this involved him, "All you do may possibly be explained without resort to the spiritualistic hypothesis--" He was embarrassed by her gaze.

"Why are you so contemptuous of spiritualists? It is very hard to bear."

He felt the rebuke. "I am not contemptuous--"

"Yes, you are. Scientific people never speak of us without a laugh or a sneer, and it hurts. It confuses me, too. If good people like you care nothing about death--if you only laugh--"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Lambert, I never intended to be either harsh or contemptuous. I do not accept--I mean to say I am _unable to accept--your faith. I confess that my mind refuses to entertain the postulates of what Clarke considers a religion. I must be honest. I am a 'sceptic,' so far as your faith goes, but that does not mean that I do not believe in the sincerity of your mother; and as to your own powers--I do not wish to dogmatize, for the physical universe is a very large and complicate thing, and, young as I am"--here he smiled--"I don't pretend to a knowledge of all it contains."

She accepted his explanation, and, with musing candor, replied: "I don't really blame you. I suppose if these things had happened to some one else I would not have believed in them. I have thought a great deal of what you said to me. I want to get away from that house; I am hating Mr. Pratt more and more, and I will leave to-morrow if grandfather will only consent. If he comes to you to-night, tell him so--maybe my father will come, too. I want you to know my father. I'm sure you will like him. Isn't it strange that I have never been able to hear his voice?"

He ignored her question. "I do not understand the motives of your 'guides'--I cannot conceive of myself sacrificing you to any cause whatsoever."

"Don't awaken my doubts," she cried, despairingly. "I don't know why it is, but you always rouse in me something that makes war."

"I'm sorry if I seem to corrupt you."

"I don't mean that," she hastened to say. "The life which you and your sister represent is the life I love. I was almost resigned to my fate when your sister called upon me. Now I'm all rebellion again. Being here to-night makes me hate all that I am. I hate my very name. I hate Pratt and his horrible house--I almost hate my mother. Sometimes she is so cruel to me. She don't mean to be, but she is."

His face grew reflective, almost stern. "I wish there were some way of taking you out of the world in which you now suffer. I wish--" He paused, checked by the thought of Clarke's claims upon her.

"There is only one way--my grandfather must consent to my release; he rules us all."

This delusion rose like a stone wall at the end of every avenue, and Morton turned to a personal explanation. "I cannot associate what you seem to me now with what you were when I last saw you. What would you have said had I seized you the other day--snatched you from the stairs and ran--"

Her eyes opened wide. "The stairs?"

"Had you no knowledge of following your mother down the stairway after our interview?"

"I knew I was entranced, but I didn't know--What did I do?" She asked this anxiously.

"Nothing." He hastened again to change the current. "We were in hot argument. You came down as peace-maker. I went away cravenly, most impotently, leaving you there like a captive."

"I don't remember a word of it. I came to myself in my own room, and only mother was with me." Her rebellious fire blazed up again. "Oh, Dr. Serviss, I was resigned yesterday, but to-night I am in terror again, and they know it. They are eager to show their power, to confound you and convert Dr. Weissmann. I'm sure they will do some wonderful thing for you to-night if you will let them."

"The best thing 'they' could do for me would be to let you sit and talk to me," he replied in the voice of a lover.

She seemed to listen to some interior voice. "They are insisting. They are here--listen!"

As he listened a series of throbbing raps seemed to come from the chair beneath her hand.

"Very well, we will sit." As he said this three heavy, rending, low thuds sounded on the under side of the table.

"That is grandfather," she said. "He wants you to be very rigid, and so do I," she said. "Sometimes it seems as if I did these things myself--I mean certain physical things--and I get all mixed in my mind. I want you to study me." She passed her hand wearily over her face, and Morton looked at her in sorrow, meditating a firm, decisive assault on her hallucination, but checked himself. "If I am to help you, I must know all about you," he said at last, "and a sitting may help."

"You wonder at my fear of my grandfather, but that's because you don't realize his power. Let me tell you what happened to me once, when I tried to run away from him. I became desperate one summer vacation and determined to get away from it all. Without telling mother, I took the train one morning--" She paused abruptly and pressed both hands to her burning cheeks. "Oh, it was horrible! My grandfather threw me into a trance on the train, and the conductor thought I was drunk--" She shuddered with the memory of it, and could not finish. "Since then I have never dared to really oppose him."

He pondered her blush, the quiver of her lips, and the timid look of her eyes, and gravely answered: "I share your horror of an experience like that. But it does not endear your malevolent grandfather to me. He must be a kind of male witch--"

"You mustn't feel that way towards him," she cried out in some alarm. "He is firm because he feels that I should be doing my work--"

"I'd like to talk this matter over with him, but I don't like to have you entranced. Is that necessary?"

"Yes, to get the voices. The writing we can have any time."

"What do you do to induce this coma--this sleep?"

"Just fold my hands and give myself up."

"It seems a desecration of you; but if there is no other way we will grant 'the powers' audience."

At his word her face cleared, her fingers relaxed, and she smiled. "Thank you. He has taken away his hand."

As she rose and stood before him she seemed again the buoyant, care-free girl, and he could only weakly say, "It seems so ungracious, so inhospitable in us," as they walked side by side across the room to Kate.

Clarke was sitting in silence, without pretence of listening to his hostess, watching Serviss with gloomy, uneasy eyes--a fierce flame of jealousy burning in his brain. He recalled the change in Viola which had followed this man's visit to Colorow, and associated her first persistent revolt with him; and now, seeing her beside him, in his own house, looking up into his face, absorbed, fascinated, utterly forgetful of her duty, oblivious to every one else, was maddening. Her gown angered him. "Why did she wear that dress?" he fiercely asked himself. "She does not do that for me. She is in love with him--that is why. She shall not come here again. These people are destructive to her higher aims."

In this mood he changed his mind, opposed the sitting; but Viola convinced him that it was the will of her 'guides' and that it was a splendid opportunity to interest two renowned sceptics, and in that spirit he again reluctantly consented.

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