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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 14. Puzzled Philosophers
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 14. Puzzled Philosophers Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2558

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 14. Puzzled Philosophers

BOOK II CHAPTER XIV. PUZZLED PHILOSOPHERS

While he still stood looking down upon her Viola began to moan and toss her head from side to side.

"She is waking," cried Mrs. Lambert. "Let me go to her."

"No!" commanded Weissmann, "disturb nothing till we have examined all things."

"Make your studies quickly," said Morton, his heart tender to the girl's sufferings. "We must release her as soon as possible."

Weissmann was not to be hastened. "If we do not now go slowly we lose much of what we are trying to attain. We must take her pulse and temperature, and observe the position of every object."

"Quite right," agreed Clarke, "Do not be troubled--the psychic is being cared for."

Thus reassured the two investigators scrutinized, measured, made notes, while Kate and Mrs. Lambert stood waiting, watching with anxious eyes the changes which came to Viola's face. Weissmann talked on in a disjointed mutter. "You see? She has no pulse. The threads are unbroken. The table is thirty inches from her finger-tips. Observe this pad, forty-eight inches from her hand--and which contains a message."

"Read it!" demanded Kate.

He complied. "'_You ask for a particle of matter to be moved from A to B without the use of any force known to science. Here in this wineglass is the test. Oh, men of science, how long will you close your eyes to the grander truths._'"

"That is from father," remarked Mrs. Lambert.

"It is signed 'McLeod,' and under it are two words, 'Loggy' and 'Mother,' each in different handwriting."

"Give it to me!" cried Kate, deeply moved.

"And here is the wineglass," replied Weissmann, extracting from among the books a beautiful piece of antique crystal.

Kate took it reverentially, as if receiving it from the hand of her dead mother. "How came that here?"

"You recognize it? It was not left here by mistake?"

"Oh no. There are only four of them left and I keep them locked away. I have not had them out in months."

Clarke smiled in benign triumph. "That is why they brought it--to show you that matter is an illusion and to prove that dematerialization and transubstantiation are facts. That was the bell we heard."

"Morton, what do _you think? How could--"

But Morton was bending above Viola and did not heed his sister. The girl's eyes were opening as from natural slumber, and he said, gently: "I hope you are not in pain? We will release you in a moment."

(Illustration: "THE GIRL'S EYES WERE OPENING AS FROM NATURAL SLUMBER")

She smiled faintly as she recognized him. "My arms are numb, and my feet feel as if strips of wood were nailed to my soles," she answered, wearily, "and my head is aching dreadfully; but that will soon pass."

"She always complains of her feet," the mother explained. "She can't walk for quite a little while afterwards."

"You poor thing!" exclaimed Kate. "You are a martyr--that's what you are."

Viola looked up with sweet and anxious glance. "Did anything happen? Did your friends come to you, Mrs. Rice?"

"No, but several voices spoke to Morton."

"I'm sorry no one came to you. I've been a long way off this time," she continued, with dreamy, inward glance, "into a beautiful country from which I hated to return. I wouldn't have come back to you at all only a thread of light tied my soul to my body and drew me down to earth in spite of myself."

"What was it like--that far country?" asked Morton.

She pondered sleepily. "I can't tell you--only it was very beautiful and I was happy. Every one lived in the light with nothing to fear. I had no memory of the earth--only of my body which I was sorry for. There was no death, no cold, no darkness up there. I was very happy and free."

"You should be free and happy here," answered Morton, gravely. "Come, doctor, can't we free her now?"

"Yes, you may do so," he replied, still busy with his note-book.

The young host, with a feeling of having been unnecessarily brutal, ripped the tape loose from the floor, and Kate slipped the loops from Viola's ankles. Then, leaning on her hostess's arm, she rose slowly, smiling brightly, her weakness most appealing. "I hope a great deal happened--it means so much to me. I want to talk, but I can't now, my head is too thick. You must tell me all about it pretty soon."

"A great deal happened--you are quite clear of any connection with it."

Her face lit with placid joy. "Oh, I'm so glad! It must be very late," she added, turning to her mother.

"Yes, and we must be going," responded Mrs. Lambert, nervously. "Mr. Pratt will be impatient."

"I wish you'd stay with me to-night," pleaded Kate. "It was all so wonderful. I can't let you go. Please stay! Both of you. You're too tired to go out into the raw air."

"Oh no, we can't do that--not to-night," Viola answered, decisively.

Morton threw back the doors. "Kate, take Miss Lambert into the dining-room and give her something to drink. She is quite exhausted. Let me steady you," he said, tenderly, touching her arm. "You fairly reel with weakness."

"I will be as well as ever as soon as my blood begins to circulate," she bravely answered, and his touch quickened her pulse miraculously.

As soon as Weissmann had finished taking his notes and measurements, he locked the door of the library and joined them all in the dining-room, where they were sipping coffee and nibbling cake. Morton was sitting beside Viola (who had entirely regained her girlish lightness of mood), and was chafing her cold hand in the effort to restore the circulation as well as to remove the deep mark the silken thread had made about her wrist.

"We shall be obliged to shut out all young men from our committee," the old scientist jocularly remarked, as he stood looking down at them. "Lovely psychics like you would put the whole American Academy of Science in disorder."

Clarke, raging with jealous fire, turned to Weissmann in truculent mood. "Well, Dr. Weissmann, how do you account for these phenomena? To whose agency do you ascribe these marvels?"

"Spooks!" answered the old man, with cheerful promptness.

Clarke reeled before this laconic admission. "What! You agree? You admit the agency of spirits?"

"Certainly--unless I say Miss Lambert wriggled herself out of her skin, which would not be nice of me, or that you are the greatest ventriloquist in the world. No, I prefer to compliment the spirits."

Clarke's face darkened. The old man's face and voice were too jocose. "I see you do not value our wonderful experiences to-night."

Viola, pinching her sleeve about her wrist, looked up roguishly. "I couldn't possibly wriggle out of my gown, could I, Dr. Weissmann? And if I did, how could I get the tacks back without a hammer?"

"Precisely. You would be more burglarious than the ghosts which walk through the key-holes," he answered.

"And the little girl who spoke German--who was she?" asked Kate.

The hour that followed was a delicious one for the young people, for they had come at last to some sweet and subtle understanding. As she recovered the use of her limbs Viola glowed with joy of Morton's change of attitude towards her. He, on his part, was puzzled by this mood. It was as if she had been vindicated to herself--liberated from some dead body of doubt.

Clarke glowered in silence; disapproving, with manifest disdain, the levity of the scientists, and resenting bitterly Viola's growing trust and confidence in Serviss. Each moment his anger took on heat, and he found it hard to reply even to his hostess, who tried to interest him in a deeper discussion of the evening's marvels. He seemed to have but one desire--to get away and to take Viola with him.

"Tell me," said Viola to Morton, "did papa speak to you?"

"A voice purporting to be your father spoke a few words."

"He is very nice. Didn't you think so?"

"The voice was very gentle and refined, and expressed a very tender regard for you."

She sighed. "I have never heard my father's voice, for he always comes when I am in my deepest trances. They say that I will be permitted some day to hear all the voices through the cone--I only hear them now in an interior way."

"Do you really suffer as you seem to do?" he asked, the echo of his pity still in his tone.

"Not after I am really gone. Did I groan?"

"Horribly! My heart was filled with remorse--"

"I'm sorry. It doesn't really hurt me--physically. You see I am perfectly well again. And yet I hate more and more to give myself up. I can't explain it, but I seem to be losing more and more of _myself_--that is the thought that scares me. I hate to think of being so helpless. It seems to me as if I were becoming like--like a hotel piano--for any one to strum on--I mean that any one in the other world--It is so crowded over there, you know!" Her brows drew together in momentary disgust.

"I _don't know, but it must be so if all the myriads of past humanity are living there. If I had my way you would never sit again," he declared, most fervently.

"I wouldn't mind so much," she went on, "if I were not marked out for suspicion--if people would only talk to me of nice earthly things part of the time as they would to any other girl--but they never do. Everybody wants to talk to me about death and spirits--"

"That's what gives edge to my remorse," he interrupted. "Here am I doing the very things you abhor. To think that we who have made such a protest against your slavery could not allow you one free evening! I will not say another word on these uncanny subjects."

"But I _want to talk of them to _you_! I wanted to tell you all about myself that day we rode up to the mine--but I could not."

"I wish you had. It might have made a great deal of difference in your life--and mine. I have been thinking of that ride to-night, as we sat in the darkness. If I could, I would keep you as girlish, as gay, as you were that day. This business is all a desecration to me. I love to think of you as you were then--when you laughed back at me in the rain. I wish we were both there this minute."

She smiled. "You forget the time of night!" Her face grew wistful. "I've been getting homesick for the mountains lately--and yet I like it here. I love this beautiful room. I adore your sister. I know I could have a delightful time if only my guides weren't so anxious to have me convert the world."

"I grow more and more conscience-smitten!" he exclaimed. "To think we should be the ones to tie and torture you, and at our first dinner-party!"

"Please don't blame yourself. It was not your fault; grandfather insisted on talking with you, and I--I wished it very much." Her face grew radiant with pleasure. "Oh, I'm so glad you made it a test-sitting!--I want you to believe in me. I mean that I don't deceive--"

"I am sure of that."

"There are so many things I want to talk with you about--but not now--it is late."

Clarke, who had grown too restless to remain seated, interrupted a story which Kate was relating, and rose, saying, harshly: "It is time for us to be going. Pratt will lock us out if we don't."

The cloud again fell on Viola's face--her little hour of freedom from her keeper was over. Morton felt the change in her, and so did Kate, who fairly pleaded with the mother to remain. "It is late and you are tired, and after this wonderful evening you ought not to go back to that gloomy place."

Mrs. Lambert looked at Clarke, whose reply was stern. "No, we must return."

Something very sweet and intimate was in Morton's voice as he found opportunity to say to Viola: "I don't like to think of you returning to that gilded mausoleum. It is a most unwholesome place for you. You are too closely surrounded with morbid influences."

"I know it. I dread to go back--I admit that. I suppose Mr. Pratt is a good man, I know he does a great deal for the faith, and he is very generous to us, but oh, he is so vulgar, so impertinent! He bores me nearly frantic by being always at my elbow. I shudder when he touches me as if he were some sort of evil animal. Mother can't realize how he annoys and depresses me, and Anthony insists that we must endure it."

"I wish you'd stay here!" he exclaimed, impulsively. "Accept my sister's invitation--it would give us such an opportunity to talk of this sitting. Come, let me send for your trunks."

She shrank a little from his eager eyes, and Mrs. Lambert again interposed. "It is quite impossible, professor; perhaps some other time."

Viola yielded to her mother and went away to get her cloak, and Morton turned to Clarke. "One of the conditions of my promise to organize a committee is this: you and Pratt must be excluded from the circle."

Weissmann echoed this. "Quite right! That we demand."

The clergyman's face hardened. "You ask the impossible. It is necessary for me to be present at each sitting. I have the right to be there as the historian of the case. Furthermore, I add to the strength of the manifestations--that I have fully demonstrated."

"I appreciate your position, but in order to avoid criticism, to make the tests perfect, it will be necessary to hold the sittings either here or at Weissmann's, and to exclude every one connected with Miss Lambert. In no other way can we convince ourselves or the public."

Clarke's face was darkly stubborn. "Then you will have no sittings. My challenge will go forth next Sunday afternoon, and one of the unchangeable clauses of that challenge will be this: the sittings must take place in Pratt's library and I must be present."

"I hope you will not insist on that," Morton further urged; "for Miss Lambert's sake you must not. To incorporate such terms in your challenge will brand her as an impostor and you and Pratt as her confederates. In this statement I think you will find her 'controls' agreeing. They were undecided to-night, but when they consider carefully they will see that my advice is sound."

Clarke's eyes were aflame. "You have my terms. Accept them or refuse them, as you please."

Viola, returning, extended her hand to Morton with a trustful smile. "I've had a beautiful evening."

"To say that after we have tied you hand and foot till you were numb, and kept you in the dark all the evening, is very gracious of you. I feel very much the brutal host. But you must come again. I swear Kate shall not pester you next time."

Kate was indignant. "Well, I like that! when _you were the one crazy to experiment. Of course they're coming, coming to stay to-morrow night, and any one who dares to talk ghosts to her will be sent to bed."

And so in a hearty, cordial clangor of farewells they got out into the hall, and Morton, seeing Viola in her handsome cloak, her eyes shining, her face once more gay and smiling, was again filled with wonder at her astounding resiliency of mood. It was as if two sharply differentiated souls alternated in the possession of her body.

Clarke, wearing a cape overcoat and a soft hat, was far less admirable in appearance than when, with head uncovered, he sat within. He resembled a comic picture of an old-fashioned tragedian--a man glad to feel the finger of remark directed towards him, but his face was bitter, his eyes burning with anger, his lips white with pain.

Serviss relented as he studied him. "You'd better take Britt's trail and return to the mountains," he said, kindly. "This is a bad climate for you."

"My work is here," he replied, curtly. "I have no fear," and so they parted.

Weissmann was sitting in silent meditation in one corner of the dining-room when Serviss returned. "Well, master, what do you think of to-night's performance?"

Weissmann replied, in ironical phrase: "Hearing in civilized man is vague and indefinite. Spooks do well to limit their manifestations to a sense which most powerfully appeals to the imagination."

Morton spoke with great earnestness. "Weissmann, that girl could not move a limb. She positively remained where we put her. So far as I am concerned, to-night's test eliminated her from the slightest complicity, and I confess it rejoices me greatly; but who was responsible for the prestidigitation?"

Weissmann replied, slowly: "It is very puzzling," and fell into a muse which lasted for several minutes. At last he roused to say: "Well, we will see. Next time Clarke and the mother must be eliminated."

"You don't think evil of her?" exclaimed Morton.

"She is very anxious, you know--"

Kate put in her word. "It's all very simple," she said; "the spirits did it. You needn't tell me that Clarke or Mrs. Lambert got up and skittered around the room doing those things. I held their hands--and know they didn't get away. Besides, how did that glass come there? and how could they make those voices sound so natural? What is the use of being stupidly stubborn? If you treat Viola fairly she will confound your science."

"You base all this on one imperfect test?"

"I don't know what you'd call a _perfect one. Anyhow, that child is absolutely honest."

"I hope you are right, Kate; but there are some serious discrepancies--even in to-night's performances. Nothing took place which I could not do sitting in her chair with my hands free."

"But her hands weren't free! If there is any virtue in cotton fibre or steel she remained precisely where we set her at the beginning."

"But to admit that one book was moved from its place is to admit that a force exists unknown to science."

"But what are you going to do? Did you do it? Or did I? Did Clarke reach from where he sat and manipulate the horn? Who brought the old wine-glass from the china-closet? No one entered from the outside--that is certain. And then the things 'Loggy' said?"

"What do you think, Dr. Weissmann?"

Weissmann looked up abstractedly. "If Clarke performed these feats to-night he is wasting his time in any profession but jugglery. You said the cone touched you?" he asked of Morton.

"Several times."

"To do that he must have left his seat."

"I am perfectly sure he did not," replied Kate, firmly.

Morton insisted. "He must have done so, Kate--there is no other explanation of what took place. It was very dark and the rug soft. There is another important point--all of the books came from within a radius of a few feet of the psychic, so that if she _were able to rise and free her hands--"

"Which she did not do," answered Weissmann. "She remained precisely where we put her; but we should have nailed Clarke to the floor also."

"How about the child who spoke German?" asked Kate. "Was she--"

Weissmann replied slowly, with a little effort, "I had a little girl of the name Mina who died at eight years of age."

Kate's voice expressed sympathy. "I didn't know that. She must have been a dear. The voice was very sweet. I could almost touch the little thing."

"I do not see how Clarke or any one here knew of my daughter or her name. Clarke may be a mind-reader. The voice did not prove itself."

"Neither was 'Loggy' quite convincing," said Morton. "And yet I cannot understand how those voices were produced. Our imaginations must have been made enormously active by the dark. As scientists we cannot admit the slightest of those movements without the fall of some of our most deeply grounded dogmas. What becomes of Haeckel's dictum--that matter and spirit are inseparable?"

"There is matter and matter," replied Weissmann. "To say that spirit and flesh is inseparable is to claim too much. We can say that we have no proof of such separation, but Crookes and others claim the contrary. It is curious to observe that we to-night have trenched on the very ground Crookes trod. I am very eager now to sit with this girl--the mother and Clarke being excluded."

"Of one thing I am more than half persuaded, and that is that Clarke is a mind-reader; for how else could he know the things which the supposed ghost of my uncle recounted?"

"It is very puzzling," repeated Weissmann, deep-sunk in speculation; and in this abstraction he took himself silently away.

Kate, with an air of saying, "Now that we are alone, let's know your real mind," faced her brother with eyes of wonder. "Morton, what do you honestly think of it? Viola had nothing to do with it, did she?"

"No; but are you absolutely sure Clarke did not get loose and do things?"

"Mort, I was never more alert in my life, and I _know he didn't move out of his chair."

"But think what it involves!"

"I don't care what it involves. So far as the senses of touch and hearing go, Clarke remained seated every minute of the time, and I certainly held both his and Mrs. Lambert's hands the whole time while the books were being thrown."

"Well, there you are. Somebody did it." He shrugged his shoulders in an unwonted irritation.

"Why not say the spirits did it all?"

"Because that is unthinkable."

"Sir William Crookes and Dr. Zoellner, you say, believed in these disembodied intelligences--"

"Yes, but they belong to what Haeckel calls the imaginative scientists."

"You needn't quote Haeckel to me, Morton. If I believed what he preaches I would take myself and my children out of the world. I don't see how a man can look a child in the face and say such things. I can't read any of your scientific friends straight along. Their jargon is worse than anything, but I pick out enough to know that they don't believe in anything they can't see, and they won't go out of their way to see things. Do you suppose I'm going to believe that Robbie is nothing but a little animal, and that if he should die his soul would disappear like a vapor?"

"I can only repeat that the converse is unthinkable. There is no room in my philosophy for the re-entrance of the dead."

"Why not? It's all very simple. We're creatures of our surroundings, aren't we? Now, sitting there in the dark to-night, it seemed to me that the people we think of as dead were all about me. It scared me at first; but, really, isn't it the most comforting faith in the world? I've always liked the idea of the Indian's happy 'hunting-grounds'--and this is something like it."

He smiled shrewdly. "That performance to-night and this conversation would make a pretty story to lay before the president of Corlear--now wouldn't it?"

"How do you suppose he will take your going into this investigation?"

"I don't know, but I think he'll 'fire' me instanter."

"Well, let him try it! He wouldn't _dare_--"

"Oh yes, he would, if he thought I was hurting the institution. See what they did to poor little Combes, who mildly claimed to be able to hypnotize people."

"Yes, but he made himself ridiculous in the papers."

"You mean the papers made him ridiculous. Couldn't they do the same with Weissmann and me? Think of a big, sprawling, sketchy drawing in the _Blast_, with Weissmann glaring at a strangely beautiful young lady in scanty gown--his hands spread like claws upon the table, while another younger man (myself) catches at a horn floating overhead. Oh yes, there are great possibilities in to-night's entertainment. May I ask you, Mrs. Rice, to be more than usually circumspect?"

"You may, Dr. Serviss."

He rose gravely. "Very good. Now I think you would better go to bed."

"I wish your Mr. Lambert would come."

"So do I. I'm afraid he is going to ignore my summons. Unless I hear from him to-morrow I shall consider him craven or indifferent."

"What will you do then?"

His brows contracted into a frown. "I don't know. She should be freed from Clarke's immediate influence, but I don't see how I can interfere."

"I can't believe that she really cares for him; in fact, from things she said to-night, I think she fears him. He was furiously jealous of you, I could see that. And I must say you gave him cause."

He turned and looked at her in affected amazement. "Where are you heading now?"

She laughed. "Where are you drifting, my boy? I never saw any one more absorbed, and I can't say I blame you; she was lovely. Good-night." And so she left him.

Sitting thus alone in the deep of the night, the flush of his joy at the proof of Viola's innocence grew gray and cold in a profound disbelief in the reality of his experiences. "_Did anything really happen?" he asked himself. Returning to the library with intent to study the situation he mused long upon the tumbled books, the horn, the tables, and the chairs. He put himself in Viola's seat in the attempt to conceive of some method whereby even the most skilful magician would be able to pull out tacks, rip stitches, and break tape--and then--more difficult than all, after manipulating the horn, reseat himself and restore his bonds, every tack, to its precise place. And his conversation with "Loggy," most amazing of all, came back to plague him. What could explain that marvellous simulation of his uncle's chuckling laugh?

Yes, Viola was clearly innocent. It was impossible for her to have lifted a hand; that he decided upon finally--and yet it was almost as difficult for Clarke or Mrs. Lambert to have performed all the tricks, "Unless Kate"--he brought himself up short--"in the end, my own sister, is involved in the imposture," he exclaimed, with a sense of bewilderment.

When he dwelt on Viola's delight in her own vindication, and remembered her serene, sweet, trustful glance, a shiver of awe went over him, and the work of saving her, of healing her, seemed greater than the discovery of any new principle; but whenever his keen, definite, analytic mind took up the hit-or-miss absurd caperings of "the spirits" he paced the floor in revolt of their childish chicanery. That the soul survived death he could not for an instant entertain. Every principle of biology, every fibre woven into his system of philosophy repelled the thought. To grant one single claim of the spiritists was disaster. "No, the mother and Clarke are in league, and when the bonds are on one the other acts. I see no other explanation. I distrust Clarke utterly--but the mother is apparently very gentle and candid, and yet--Weissmann may be right. Maternal love is a very powerful emotion. That second voice was like hers. And yet, and yet, to suspect that gentle soul of deliberate deception is a terrible thing. What a world of vulgarity and disease and suspicion it all is! An accursed world, and the history of every medium is filled with these same insane, foolish, absurd doings."

And so he trod in weary circles, returning always to the same point, with an almost audible groan. "Why, _why was that charming girl involved in all this uncanny, hellish, destructive business? Clarke claims her. On him her fate depends. Perhaps at this moment her name and hideous reproductions of her face are being printed in all the sensational papers of the city. Oh, that crazy preacher! It may be that he has already made her rescue impossible." And always the dark, disturbing thought came at the end to trouble him. "Can she ever regain a normal relation with the world--even if I should interfere? She should have been freed from this traffic long ago. Can the science of suggestion reach her? Am I already too late?"

The conception that sank deepest and remained most abhorrent in his musings was that conveyed in her own tragic words: "_It seems to me I am becoming more and more like a public piano, an instrument on which any one can strum--and the other world is so crowded, you know!_"

"If there is any manhood left in Lambert he must assert it or I will throttle Clarke myself," he muttered through clinched teeth. "I ran away two years ago--I evaded my duty yesterday, but I do not intend to do so now. I will not sit by and see that sweet girl's will, her very reason, overthrown by a fanatic preacher eager for notoriety. I will see her again and demand to know from her own lips whether she is in consent to be his wife. I cannot believe it till she tells me so, and then I can decide as to future action."

And at the moment he was comforted by the recollection of something timidly confiding in her parting smile.

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