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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 18. Lambert Intervenes
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 18. Lambert Intervenes Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1890

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 18. Lambert Intervenes


Upon his return to his desk Serviss was delighted to find a telegram from Lambert, stating the time of his arrival, and asking for a meeting. There was a note of decision, almost command, in the wording of the despatch, which denoted that the miner had taken his warning to heart and was prepared for prompt and authoritative action.

The time of the train being near, Serviss closed the lid of his desk and took a car for the station--immensely relieved of responsibility, yet worn and troubled by a multitude of confused and confusing speculations. All the way to the depot, and while he stood waiting outside the gates, he pondered on the surprising change in Weissmann's thought, and also upon the momentous covenant between them. More than ever before he felt the burden and the mystery of organic life. Around him flowed an endless stream of humankind, rushing, spreading--each drop in the flood an immortal soul (according to the spiritist), attended by invisible guardians, watching, upholding, warning--"and the whole earth swarms with a billion other similar creatures with the same needs, the same destiny; for, after all, the difference between a Zulu and a Greek is not much greater than that between a purple-green humming-bird and a canary; and to think that this wave of man appearing to-day on the staid old earth, like the swarms of innumerable insects of June, is but one of a million other waves of a million other years. To consider, furthermore, that all those who have lived and died are still sentient! What a staggering, monstrous conception! Nor is this all. According to the monist conception there is no line at which we can say here the animal stops and the soul of man begins, so that ants and apes are claimants for immortality. If the individual man persists after death, why not his faithful collie? No, this theory will not do. It is far less disturbing to think of all these hurrying bipeds as momentary nodes of force--minute eddies on the boundless stream of ether."

The gates opened and another river of travellers, presumably from the great plains of the Middle West, poured forth, quite undistinguishable in general appearance from those which had preceded them; and, dropping his speculation, Morton peered among these faces, not quite sure that he would know Lambert if he saw him. As a matter of fact, he would have missed him had not the miner laid a hand upon his arm, saying, quaintly: "Howdy, professor, howdy! What's the state of the precinct?"

He was quite conventional in all outward signs, save for his red-brown complexion and the excessive newness of his hand-bag. "How are all the folks?" he went on to ask, with a keen glance.

"They were quite well when I saw them, but they need you. You're not an hour too soon."

"Is it as bad as that?" he exclaimed, anxiously. "What is it all about?"

"Wait till we reach a carriage, then I'll put you in possession of all the facts," replied Serviss, and led the way to a cab. "I am greatly relieved to see you to-day."

"I came as soon as your wire reached me; but the messenger arrived during a big snow-storm, and the trail was impassable for a day. Now, then, professor, let's have the whole story," he said, as the driver slammed the door. "Where are they and what is the matter?"

"They are here in New York, housed with a man named Pratt, a wealthy spiritist, and they are in excellent bodily health, but your daughter is threatened with a publicity which is most dangerous."

"How is that?"

"Clarke has decided to give an oration in the Spirit Temple announcing his faith and defying the unbeliever. As the climax of this discourse he intends to announce your daughter's name and her willingness to meet any test. She objects to this publicity, but Pratt, your wife, and the 'guides' all unite in forcing her into acquiescence."

"I see," said Lambert, reflectively. "When does this speech come off?"

"Sunday morning at eleven."

"I reckon I can stop that," was the miner's laconic comment.

"But this is not the only danger," Serviss hurried on to say. "This man Pratt is a rankly selfish old man, who is surrounded by flatterers and those who live off his desire to commune with his dead wife and daughters. He is accustomed to have his own private 'mediums' and to appropriate their entire time and energy till he is weary of them--or till a new one comes to his knowledge--then it is his pitiless habit to 'expose' them and throw them into the street. He is the worst possible man for your daughter to know, and to be in his house is a misfortune."

"How does she happen to be there?"

"Clarke took them there. He was eager to secure Pratt's endorsement of your daughter, and also of the book he is about to publish. Your daughter hates Pratt, and is very anxious to leave, but is afraid to do so for fear of him and of her 'controls.' Pratt has threatened to denounce her if she leaves him."

"Is he in love with her?"

"I don't think so--not in the way you mean. He is bound up in her powers, and would do anything to keep her. But she must be taken away at once and Clarke's oration stopped. I would have interfered, but I had no authority to act. Your wife is satisfied to remain, and the 'chief control,' her father, insists upon their remaining, and Clarke told me last night that your daughter was his affianced wife. You can see how helpless I am, even though your daughter in her normal mood begged me to save her from madness. I regard her condition as very critical. To expose her to a public trial of her powers may unsettle her reason."

Lambert was profoundly moved by Morton's rapid statement. "What would you advise me to do?"

"Take her away from that house and Clarke's influence instantly, no matter if your wife opposes it."

"Are we on our way there now?"

"Yes, we'll be there in a few minutes. My sister likes your wife and daughter and has invited them to stay with her for a few days. This they have promised to do. I suggest, therefore, that you take them immediately to our home and so get your daughter into a totally different mental atmosphere. This plan will give you time to decide on future action."

"Do they know I'm coming?"

"No, I was afraid you might not come, and--"

"I'm glad you didn't tell them. I wanted to test whether that ghostly grandfather would inform them. I'm mightily obliged to you, professor," he said, after a pause, and his eyes were moist with his emotion. "I never had a child of my own, and I'm fond of Viola. I've always resented this mediumistic business--she's too fine to be spoiled by it--but she wasn't mine, and Julia was so wrapped up in the faith I couldn't stop it. Then Clarke came, and Julia minded what I said no more than if I'd been a chipmunk. So I climbed into the hills and stayed there."

"You believe in your daughter's powers?"

"In her powers, yes; but not in every voice that speaks through her. Have you attended any of her sittings?"

"We had one in my house last night. I laid the burden of the performance to Clarke. He was the juggler."

"Oh no, you're wrong there. I have cause enough to hate Clarke, but he's honest. No, the power is all in Viola. I've had those things go on with nobody but Julia and the girl in the room. No, Clarke is a crazy fool in some ways, but he don't cheat."

His words were so direct, so weighted with conviction, that their force staggered Serviss, causing him to doubt his new explanation. Tolman's generalizations ceased at the moment to convince.

Lambert went on. "I suppose she _is committed to him. She wrote me that she guessed she might as well; so long as she was a medium nobody else would ever want her--or something like that. I feel guilty, I'll admit, but you see how it was. The girl belongs to Julia, and since Clarke came into the family our correspondence has been pretty well confined to checks on my part and receipts on hers; but she's had plenty of money, professor. There wasn't any need of her going into anybody's house. She could have gone to the best hotels--"

"I don't see how you could have acted differently," said Serviss, with intent to comfort. "But I am sure that Viola"--he spoke the name with a little hesitation--"will eagerly go with you now. She begins to doubt Clarke and to realize the fearful mental peril in which she stands."

"That's what I don't understand, professor. This spiritualistic faith is mighty pretty on the face of it, but it seems to unhinge people's minds. I've known two or three to go 'locoed' with it; that's what kept me from interfering. It isn't for miners to monkey with; but I was in hopes that you would go into it. In fact, I was in hopes you'd got sort o' interested in Viola, and she in you, and that you'd help her someway."

"I am interested in her," replied Serviss, quickly, "and I want to help her; but so long as she is where she is, and acknowledges Clarke's claims, I can do nothing.--Here we are!"

As they drew up before the looming front of Pratt's house the miner whistled, "Must be one of those Wall Street pirates we read about. Nothing spirit-like about this castle, eh?"

"Nor about its lord."

"Why, this beats the Palace Hotel in Salina," he continued, his wonder increasing, then he smiled. "What'll you bet I don't catch the 'guides' napping! You send up word you're here and leave me out o' sight somewhere. I'd like to show Julia that her daddy don't know all that blows over the roof."

Again Serviss doubted the husband's ability to dominate the forces in opposition--so small and inoffensive did he seem and so ill-timed was his joke.

The colored man, more funereally dignified than before, showed them into the reception-room. "I'm afraid the ladies are out, sir, but if you'll wait a moment I'll see."

"Be sure Mrs. Lambert gets my card," said Serviss, with a note of warning in his voice. After the man left the room he turned to Lambert. "Pratt has a habit of intercepting the cards of visitors, and deciding who shall and who shall not see your daughter. He hates me and may order me out of the house." As they listened, the master's deep grumbling vibrated through the ceiling. "You see! my card has gone to him, not to your wife. The old ruffian is probably giving instructions to have me shown the door."

To this Lambert made no reply other than to say: "We'll soon know, the nigger is returning."

Some shade of the master's mood was reflected in the voice of the servant, as he said: "The ladies are out and Mr. Pratt is engaged." He had the air of waiting for them to go.

"Out, are they?" remarked Lambert, casually. "Then we'll wait till they come in. When did you say they'll return?"

"I didn't say, sir; probably not till very late."

"Is Clarke in?"

"I don't know, sir. I think not."

"But your boss is in?"

The man hesitated. "Yes, sir; but I told you he's engaged."

Lambert changed his tone. "Now, see here, Charley, you go right back and tell him that Joe Lambert, of Fremont Basin, is here on business, and would like to have a word with him if he don't mind."

The colored man saw a light, and visibly weakened. "I--I'll tell him," he stammered, and retired.

Lambert followed him to the door and called after him, in a clear tone: "You tell him to come down or I'll go up. Now mind you say just those words."

Morton smiled with joy in Lambert's decisive utterance. "So much for having authority, as well as the will to act!"

Pratt appeared at the head of the stairs. "What is it now, Jenkins?"

"The gentleman insists on seeing you, sir; it's Mr. Lambert."

"Stay where you are," commanded Pratt, "I'll come down and see what's wanted."

Lambert, with quiet, upturned face, watched the master of the house descend slowly step by step, and Morton, contrasting the two men, awaited the collision with rising apprehension. The Western man seemed so small, so inoffensive in manner, in contrast with the grizzled, insolent face of the sullen old man approaching with heavy jaw set at a bull-dog angle. "Well, sir, what is it?" he contemptuously inquired.

Lambert waited so long that his questioner began to wonder, and then remarked, quietly: "So you're Pratt!"

"I am."

"Well, I'm Joe Lambert, of Fremont, and I've come to relieve you of the keep of my wife and daughter." Nothing could have been more telling, more admirable, than his tone. Every word told, and as Pratt stood in a daze of surprise Lambert turned to the servant. "Now, George, you try again. You tell Mrs. Lambert her husband wants to see her, and you may ask Clarke to come along. I want a word or two with him."

"Wait!" called Pratt. "I want to know--"

Lambert pointed a finger like a pistol. "You _go_!" and the man went. The Westerner then turned to the owner of the house and said: "Out where I live a husband has some rights which he can enforce if he is minded to do so. I haven't looked after my family as closely as I might, but I'm going to do better hereafter. I believe my wife and daughter are in this house, and I intend to see them, and your wishes don't count in the matter. I'd advise you not to interfere."

Pratt began to retreat. "I didn't know--"

"But suppose you didn't--what right have you to supervise my wife's affairs? Why didn't you send Professor Serviss's card to her? What business had you to say she was out?"

Pratt came down from his lofty pose. "So many strangers insist on seeing the psychic--"

"But Professor Serviss is not a stranger, and, furthermore, unless my wife's mind has weakened, she's quite competent to turn down any one she don't want to see. I can't understand why she is here, but I intend to find out. So long as she bears my name I don't want her to be under any obligation to a man of your stamp."

There was power and a quiet dignity in the little man, and Pratt began to plead his case. "I've tried to make it comfortable for them, and help on their work--"

Lambert looked up and down the splendid hall, and in a softer tone replied: "So far I'm in your debt, but I don't like it. I am able to provide for my family and I don't intend to share their supervision with you nor any other man. So far as I know, my wife still considers me the head of the family--anyhow, that's what I'm here to find out."

Mrs. Lambert appeared at the head of the stairs and called, in a tremulous voice: "Is that you, Joe?"

"It is, Julia. Come down."

Viola, with a cry of joy, left her mother's side and running down the steps, flung herself into Lambert's arms like a frightened child. "Oh, Papa-Joe--I'm so glad to see you!"

Lambert was astonished by the warmth of her greeting, and while she hid her face on his shoulder patted her awkwardly with soothing words of endearment until at last she lifted her pale and tear-wet face and whispered:

"Oh, it's been a terrible day--take me away, quick!"

Lambert looked up at his wife. "Julia, what's been going on here? You both look like the dead."

Mrs. Lambert's face was wrinkled and haggard and wan like that of one grown suddenly old, and Morton was aware that her serenity was utterly gone before she spoke. Her voice was weak and piteous. "I thought it was all for the best, Joe. I followed the 'guides'--"

"Follow them a little longer and you'll all land in the mad-house," he replied. Then to Viola he tenderly said: "Don't you worry any more, girlie. Old Papa-Joe's going to take you home."

Serviss spoke. "You're to come to us to-night. Kate expects you both."

At the sound of his voice Viola turned with an impulsive reaching of the hands. "Oh, Dr. Serviss, that would be heavenly! I love your sister and her beautiful home."

Lambert issued his command. "Get your outfits together. I don't understand how you got here, but you're going to get out with me within the next half-hour."

Viola's spirit rose like flame. "We're all ready--this moment. I sent our trunks away this morning. They went to the West Park. I'll be down instantly," and she turned to run up the stairs, just as Clarke appeared at their head. His face was white and wild and his voice hoarse with fear and reproach as he intercepted her.

"What has happened? Who is below?"

"My step-father," she answered, curtly, and fled away to her room.

Mrs. Lambert was about to follow when she saw Clarke descending, and drew back with a look of appeal at her husband. It was evident to Serviss that her confidence in Clarke had given place to fear.

During all this time Pratt had been standing meditatively swaying to and fro on his feet, chewing upon something which he held far back in his cheek. He resembled a sullen, chained, and vindictive elephant meditating murder. He watched Clarke descend the stairs with very little change of expression; but Lambert's face darkened as the minister called out:

"What are you going to do?"

"That does not concern you," he replied, and his voice cut. "Your control of my household stops right here! Julia, go get your things." He laid an imperative hand on Clarke's arm. "Clear the way for her!"

With a look of alarm Mrs. Lambert started to follow her daughter. "Don't be harsh, Joe." Then to Clarke she said, pleadingly: "It's best, Anthony, for a little while. Viola is so nervous and morbid."

"I know what it means," he passionately answered. "It means the wreck of all my hopes. It means ruin to all my plans--"

Lambert again interfered. "Julia! get dressed. I will attend to Mr. Clarke." As she hurried up the stairs he turned to Morton in apology. "I've been to blame for this separation. I should have asserted my rights before. No man has the right to shirk his family duty. My duty was to look after the welfare of my wife and daughter, and now see their faces! This year has made Julia an old woman." His voice choked. When he could speak he addressed himself to Clarke. "You promised me that you wouldn't use the girl's name in any way, and yet I'm told you're about to publish it broadcast."

"The control consents--"

Here Lambert's wrath broke bonds. "Damn the control! I don't consent. And I serve notice on you, and on you too"--he directed a menacing look upon Pratt--"to respect the name of my wife as well as that of my daughter. Clarke has lived long enough in the West to know what I mean, but I'll explain to you." He faced Pratt, and with easy, almost gentle utterance, continued: "I've spent some thirty-five years on the border, where a man is called upon now and then to serve as his own judge, jury, and hangman. Perhaps we're a little prone to take matters into our own hands; but be that as it may, the professor here has posted me about you and your ways, and I merely want to state, once for all, that if you utter one word public or private against my wife or daughter I'll kill you as I would a wolf."

The slow pulsing flow of the miner's voice, the absence of all oaths or justifying gesture, froze Pratt into immobility and thrilled Serviss with joy, for he, too, perceived that every word came from the heart of a very determined and very dangerous man.

Clarke started forward. "You wrong me! Everything I have done has been for their good--for the good of the world."

Lambert stopped him with a gesture. "Right here you quit, my friend. I don't question your good intentions, but I'm sick of the whole crazy business, and so is Julia. Why, good God, man! she looks ten years older since she left the valley. You've been nothing but a curse to her and the girl from the very start, and here is where your trail forks."

The preacher's hollow cheeks were ashen gray and his throat thick with passion as he cried: "You can't do that! You must not separate us. I love her--she is mine! The spirit forces have promised her to me. They will resent your interference, they will over-ride your puny opposition."

"I take the consequences. They go and you stay!"

Clarke turned to Morton in a frenzy, his eyes flaming, his lips dry and contorted. "I see your hand in this! You stand there silent, but you are the machinator of this plot. You are stealing her away--"

"Be quiet!" commanded Morton, with a gesture towards the stairway. "Don't you see them coming?"

Viola, fully dressed, and breathless with eagerness to flee, was hurriedly descending.

As she neared him, Clarke cried out, with lamentable, despairing wail: "Viola, you are leaving me!"

She gave him one awed, pitying backward glance and passed on, hurrying as if to escape his outspread hand, swift to outrun the inevitable tragic shadow of his faith.

For an instant he reeled back against the wall, then sprang to follow, but the young scientist intervened and thrust him back.

"Keep to your own trail," he sternly said, and as he opened the door for the girl, she seemed to pass at once into the sunlit spring-time world of common life.

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