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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 20. The Mother's Faith
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 20. The Mother's Faith Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2804

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 20. The Mother's Faith

BOOK II CHAPTER XX. THE MOTHER'S FAITH

Mrs. Lambert entered timidly, her gentle face sadder and its lip-line firmer than he had ever seen it. It was evident that the experiences of the last few days had touched her and shaken her.

Up to this time Morton had considered her as a genial but rather negative personality, a soul naturally subordinate to others, but she now rose to an importance in his life which made her real self of the highest significance. His first glance was one of sincerest admiration. Doubtless she had once been as slender and quite as tall as her daughter, and though increasing age and weight had combined to rob her of height and grace, she was, nevertheless, still a distinctly commanding figure. Her head was nobly fashioned, her eyes a candid blue, and her glance clear and unworn in its appeal.

Altogether he could not but acknowledge in her a mother of which no man need be ashamed, and in this spirit he met her and invited her to a seat. "Mr. Lambert and I have been talking of the mountains to-day," he began. "I wish we were on our way out there this moment, for I am tired of the city."

She brightened under his smile. "I wouldn't mind going home at once, but I know Viola would be disappointed. She has seen so little of the city, and then Mr. Clarke--" She broke off in some confusion as if in sudden recollection of the chasm which had opened between the young clergyman and her daughter.

He seized upon this allusion to say: "I did not think of including Mr. Clarke, Mrs. Lambert. I think you and your daughter have both had too much of him. I do not doubt his sincerity, but I am quite certain that he was leading you both into an abyss. I hope you will make the most of this chance to free yourself from his influence. I quite stand with your husband in that resolution."

Her face grew cold again. "As to that, I must wait for further illumination. These last few hours have been so disturbed we are quite cut off from our guides."

"You depend upon them--they are very real to you, are they not?" He spoke musingly.

"They are just as real to me as you are--or any one."

"Did you not doubt their wisdom to-day?"

She drew herself up. "Why should I?"

"They knew nothing of your husband's coming?"

"Oh yes, they did, only they couldn't communicate on account of Viola's mental condition." Then, with unshakable conviction, she added: "If I doubted them I should doubt everything."

"I am sorry to trouble you. I am not one to needlessly destroy a comforting faith, and yet I confess I thought the time had come to invoke your husband's aid. It was in that spirit I sent the telegram."

"I am very glad you did, although I had no fear. I knew my father would find the right way when the time came. Let me tell you, sir," she replied, expanding in the warmth of his interest. "Before these revelations came to me I had no real faith in God or heaven. The world beyond the grave was dark and cold. It seemed to me as if my little boy and my husband were in the cruel, wet ground. I couldn't feel that they had gone to Christ. But now the tomb is but a portal to the light. The spirit-plane is as real as the earth-plane, and filled with joyous souls. I can hear them sing sometimes when I hold Viola's hand, and the sound is very beautiful and very comforting."

"I can understand that," he answered, but quietly, critically, still studying her face. "It has a warmer charm than any other religion I know."

She went on, eagerly: "I wish you could come to believe. Your sister said your mother and your uncle spoke last night. Why can't you accept the faith?"

The young philosopher gained, as she spoke, a new conception of her character, and chilled with a growing sense of the difficult and ungracious task which lay before him. He began to perceive that her awe of him had kept her silent, thus concealing from him the spirit of the evangelist which he now saw she possessed. She counted more largely in Viola's development than he had hitherto granted. Her faith was solidly based on years of experience and was not to be easily moved. As she went on he perceived that her daughter's mediumship was much more than a theory in her thought; it was a fact, and a daily, almost an hourly, necessity. He lost his last suspicion of her, and caught a glimpse of the larger aspect of her relationship to his future. She was deceived, of course, but she was honest in every fibre. He could not accuse her of the slightest deceit or falsification.

In her lame way she tried to argue the question, quoting the platitudes of the "inspirational speakers," as well as the pompous phrases of her spirit-father, while he listened courteously.

When she paused, he said, gravely: "My dear Mrs. Lambert, I can't leave you in any doubt of my position. I cannot for a single instant accept what happened last night as the manifestation of the disembodied. I cannot think that the phenomena exist. I must rather think they were performed by Clarke, or my sister, or Weissmann, in joke." She looked at him with an expression of horror, of incredulity, and he went on, quickly: "Even if I admitted the fact of direct writing or the movement of the horn, I should not by any means be driven to accept your spirit-hypothesis. There are men, and very great investigators, who would say that your daughter's trances and all phenomena connected therewith were pathologic, explainable on the grounds of some obscure neural derangement. I do not say this is the case, but I do say that if she persists in these practices she will lose control of her mental faculties. I have had a consultation to-day with Dr. Tolman, a man who makes a specialty of such cases, and when I had laid the whole matter before him, he and Dr. Weissmann both advised the immediate stopping of these trances."

"We can't do that. They come from the other side. My father induces the trance, and it is entirely in his hands."

He fixed a keen look upon her. "Did it ever occur to you that the words of your 'guides' were, in reality, but a reflex of the wishes of Pratt or Clarke?"

"How could that be when they came to me long before I even knew Anthony?"

"But was not the advice of a different quality at that time? Maybe your father yields to the will of living people when they are strong enough."

"Oh no, quite the contrary. He opposes Mr. Clarke often. Sometimes he opposes us all."

"I am perfectly sure that the voices that spoke to us last night were a subtle delusion, an emanation from our own bodies--or the work of a joker. My reason repels them as spirits."

She smiled a little. "I think you scientific people go a long way round to explain a very simple thing. I've read some of the explanations of the way in which you think these phenomena come, but they are harder to understand than the thing itself. My father, my husband, and my little son are alive. I know that. No one can destroy that faith in me."

"I do not wish to destroy that faith--only so far as it seems to threaten your daughter."

"I am perfectly sure they know better what we should do than any one on the earth-plane. I cannot see why you people oppose the idea of the spirit-world when it is so beautiful and could fill the world with hope. The Bible teaches it when you read it right. It is full of references to spirits. Did not Christ rise from the dead and manifest to His disciples?"

"And did He not cast out devils?"

She was momentarily at a loss, but soon recovered. "But if you admit there are _evil spirits--"

"But I don't. I said that merely to show you that a sceptic can quote Scripture to his purpose. There is no place in my philosophy for the supernatural."

"That is what we believe," she eagerly responded. "I used to be frightened by the things that happened to Viola, but now I know they are natural, just as natural as anything else. My loved ones are not far away, they are very near, but, oh, so intangible. If I could only touch them!" In this was the cry of her soul. She deeply sighed. "I am growing old, and that means I live in the past more and more. When Waltie comes I can imagine myself as I was when we first went to the mountains. Robert means more and more to me, and all fear of 'the change' is gone. Really, if it were not for Viola I would like to go over to the other side to-night. The spirit-plane seems so much more care-free and bright. This life is but a preparatory school at best."

"That is all wrong," he decisively replied. "Very wrong. Even if your idea of the other world were right, you should not abandon your hold on this till your work was done. A general condition of mind like yours would stop all invention, all discovery, and especially all philanthropy. In fact, the only philanthropy would be murder. To end man's suffering here would be a duty. War would be a blessing, and disease a rescue. No, no. You must not talk like that."

"Oh, I'm not really thinking of going. I feel that I must stay a little while longer to see Viola settled in life."

"What do you mean by that? Do you mean married, and happy, or do you mean given over entirely to the trance?"

"I suppose she ought to marry--she is very unhappy as she is."

"Now, that is what I especially wanted to talk with you about. I have decided to ask your daughter to put herself into my hands, and I hope you will give your consent."

"I shall be glad to have you take charge of her, professor, and father, I know, is anxious to have you head the committee."

"Oh, I don't mean that! I mean something much more intimate, much more important." This brought him face to face with himself and the decision over which he had agonized for so long, and for an instant he hesitated, then took the plunge bravely. "I love your daughter, Mrs. Lambert, and I want your permission to tell her so."

She drew back into her chair with a gasp of surprise and a look of alarm.

"Oh, I didn't understand! I thought you meant--I don't know--I--" She was utterly at a loss for words, but he understood her.

"Your hesitation is not flattering to me. I hope you don't absolutely distrust me."

Her embarrassment was pitiful. "Oh no, indeed! But you are a sceptic. You don't believe in us--in her."

"Oh yes, I do!"

"And, besides, she has been promised for two years to Tony--Mr. Clarke."

He grew a little hard at mention of the preacher's name. "But she fears and hates Clarke. She has broken with him. She told my sister that she was done with him forever. You will not ask her to marry a man she distrusts?"

She flew to Clarke's defence. "That was only a mood, a lover's quarrel. He was all upset by Pratt and--and other things. I will not allow her to desert him when he is in trouble. He has been so much to us, and he is a noble character in spite of all."

"All this is very disturbing to me," he answered, more humorously than he felt. "But, nevertheless, I also claim to be a noble character."

She began once more to realize his place in the world and his kindness to Viola. "I know that, professor, I fully recognize the honor you do her and me, but she is not like other girls. She is set aside to do God's work, and ought not to marry at all. That is why the 'guides' have given her to Anthony; he, too, is consecrated."

"Dear Mrs. Lambert, you shock me when you say such things. I don't believe it is your daughter's duty to convert people to a belief in immortality. I don't believe in teaching men and women to depend upon an unseen world for guidance; and especially do I despise any faith which makes this life less important than some other just beyond. I love this life, and do not intend to trouble myself about what lies beyond the grave. That is really not my concern. To regard this world as a vale of tears leading to a shining heaven is a species of mediaevalism from which I revolt."

She caught this up. "That is just the reason why Viola would be unhappy with a sceptic."

"But I am not a sceptic. I have the greatest faith. I am certain I can make her happy here and now. You surely would not permit her to go back to Anthony Clarke!"

She was troubled and confused. "I don't know. Perhaps it would be best, after all. A great deal of her 'power' comes from him." She brightened. "But I will leave all that to father."

Again he leaned to her with tender gravity. "You must not do that. Unless you deny the value of all life here on the earth, you are an unnatural mother to devote your child to such a career as Clarke holds out to her. I love your daughter because she is a beautiful girl, a charming personality, and I am able to give her security and comfort. I will be perfectly frank with you. I think these trances have been fastened upon her by those about her, and if she consents to come to me I shall stop them forever. My aim will be to delude her into thinking life with me of more value than the highest eminence as a 'medium.' Now, if this seems treason to you, I cannot soften it. I want you to fully understand my position. My schooling has been all in the exact sciences, and what skill I possess I am using to make the world a healthier and happier place to live in. Your way of life (and Clarke's philosophy of life) seems to me weak and morbid, and your treatment of your daughter mistakenly cruel. I intend to take her out of it, if I can. And, furthermore, dear lady, if you withhold your consent, which I profoundly hope you will not, I must proceed without it. If she comes to me, she ceases to be a psychic. If I can prevent it, she will never sit again."

The mother sat as if stunned by the weight of his will, the rush of his words, the decision of his glance. She fully understood the situation. She knew that Viola already leaned upon and trusted this man more than any other being in the world, and knowing this she felt the full force of the tragic situation. It was not a question of a temporary separation, that she foresaw as by some prophetic vision. Her baby, her clinging, loving girl-child was about to pass from her arms forever, carrying with her all interest in life and all means of communication with her dead. With her she was about to lose husband, son--and all the blessed music of the happy multitudes of those on the spirit-plane. It was as if the shining portals to the world of light were about to be closed to her forever, closed and barred by the hand of this implacable young lover, and with a sudden, most lamentable cry she sobbed forth: "Oh, I can't consent! I can't bear to think of it!"

The sight of that placid, motherly face breaking into lines of anguish while the gray old head bowed in weakness, completely unmanned the self-centred young scientist, and bending above her, he tenderly pleaded.

"Dear Mrs. Lambert, you wring my heart with your weeping. Don't cry, I beg of you! I didn't intend to be harsh. I only intended to be honest with you. I wish you would trust me. Let me be a son to you. Even if Viola does not care for me as I hope she does, I can help you, and even if she consents to my treatment, the separation will only be for a few months or a year."

"You would take my hope from me. You would rob me!" She challenged him with white and distorted face. "You are hard and cruel, and I will not give her up. I know her nature. She is necessary to the spirit-world and you have no right to destroy her power."

"I am sorry if I seemed to attack your faith. It has many beautiful things inwoven with its morbidities. I would believe it if I could, but I can't, and in my present state of mind I can only repeat that, however painful it may be to you, I see no other way to save your daughter from insanity. Yes, my dear Mrs. Lambert, the case is quite as desperate as that, to my thinking, and as I am beginning to centre my life in her also, you will see that I am quite as deeply concerned as any one. She has reached a danger-point. She must not go on in this way another month."

Again those lines of serene obstinacy came back into her face, and the gentle bigot looked from her eyes. "You are all wrong. These trances are as natural as sleep. They rest her, do her good--father says so. He treats her from that side and is watching over her. I admire you, Professor Serviss, I appreciate the honor you do me, but I cannot consent to have Viola go from me. I can't endure the thought. If you believed in the spirit-world and the guides consented, I would be glad; but you don't. You hate everything concerning our faith, and I am afraid of you. I wish my girl had never seen you." She rose in a panic of growing alarm. "Let me go to her!"

He detained her gently. "Just a moment. Remember I have not said a word of all this to her, and your alarm may be quite groundless. What do you fear if your 'guides' are so wise and powerful? Where is your proselyting zeal? Am I not worthy of being converted? Why not let Viola influence me towards your path?"

She sank back into her chair bewildered by his tone, and he went on: "You considered Mr. Clarke a most important instrument for spreading the light, but I am egotistic enough to say that my conversion would mean more to your cause than fifty Clarkes. You forget also that your father was very anxious to have me brought into the circle. You recall that?"

She faintly answered, "Yes."

"Well, then, let that count in my favor. You call me a sceptic, but I am really a slave to evidence. I will go wherever the evidence leads. I have no proof of the spirit-world, but I am of open mind. Can you ask any more of me than that? I have said that I intend to end Viola's career as a psychic, if I can; but if I can't, if the manifestations go on in spite of me, I will study them faithfully, glad of any revelation of a new world which they may bring. If you are so clear in your confidence, so certain of your faith, why not consent to let me speak to her?"

She rose again. "I can't do that. I _must not."

He offered his hand with a smile. "Your lack of confidence in me I forgive, for I think I understand your feeling. Do not be deceived, my suit does not end here. I intend, at the earliest moment, to win your daughter's consent to my plan. There is only one thing I would like you to promise, and that is this: Don't prejudice her against me. Let me speak to her first. Will you promise that?"

She shook her head. "I must tell her, and we must sit for council."

"Well, then, will you promise to let me sit with you? Will you promise to put off that sitting till I can be present? It is only fair to me, as I am quite as vitally affected as any one in the result. Come! Will you promise?"

She bowed her head in sign of consent and hastened towards the door.

He stood aside to let her pass, pitying her because understanding her. "And please don't distress her to-night. Let her live this evening as a joyous girl, undisturbed even by my question."

She went out fear-stricken by the power of his glance, the persuasion of his voice. Her instinct at the moment was to take her child and flee, immuring herself far from those who would rob her of her only remaining interest in the world.

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