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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 21. Clarke Shadows The Feast
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 21. Clarke Shadows The Feast Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2328

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 21. Clarke Shadows The Feast

BOOK II CHAPTER XXI. CLARKE SHADOWS THE FEAST

Viola, looking up from a piece of antique jewelry which Kate was displaying, was startled by the sadness of her mother's face, and directed her next glance upon Morton, in the wish to discover the cause of her trouble. That the interview had been very grave and personal was evident, and with a sense of having been the subject of discussion, she rose to meet them.

Kate did not permit any explanations, for dinner was waiting and time limited. "Go fetch Mr. Lambert, Morton: unless we want to be late at the play we must go out at once."

Morton was glad of the interruption, for he was eager to have his understanding with Viola before the mother could bring any adverse influence to bear upon her. As they went out into the dining-room, side by side, he found her nearness sweeter and more concerning than ever before; and with a realization of having in a very vital way staked his immediate future upon her word, he was unusually gay, masking his persistent, deep-hid doubt in jocose remarks. Lambert seconded him with quiet humor, and together they caused even the mother's face to relax its troubled lines, while Viola, yielding to a sense of freedom and of youth, shook off all constraint, responding to Morton's unspoken suggestion, thinking only of him and of the secure, bright world in which he dwelt (and in which he seemed so large and so handsome a figure), and in this confidence and comfort they came to the mixing of the salad, which Kate slangily explained to be Morton's "particular stunt." He had fully assembled his ingredients, and was about to approach the actual, delicate blending when the maid appeared at his elbow to say that he was wanted at the telephone.

"Well, tell them to wait," he replied, testily. "This is a very precise moment."

"I told them you were at dinner, sir, but they said it was important."

He rose with a sigh. "I hope my 'whiff of garlic' won't settle into a steady breeze. Be patient a moment, kind people."

With mild wonder as to what the news might be, he took a seat at his desk and put the receiver to his ear.

"Hello. Who is it?"

A hurried, eager, almost breathless boyish voice responded. "Is this Dr. Serviss?"

"It is."

"Can you tell me where Miss Viola Lambert and her mother are?"

"I cannot." By which he meant he was not empowered to do so.

"I was told they left Pratt's house with you sometime this afternoon."

"Have you inquired at the Courtleigh?"

"No. I was so sure--"

"Try either the Courtleigh or the Colorado," replied Morton, in the tone of authority.

The voice then asked: "Can you tell me where Clarke's Brooklyn relatives can be found?"

"I cannot. I know nothing whatever of Mr. Clarke's family."

"I must find them. Clarke has committed suicide, and it is necessary to notify his friends and--"

Morton's brain blurred with the force of this blow, "You don't mean it! When did it happen?"

"About an hour ago. We must find the Lamberts, and if you can give us any information--"

"Who are you?"

"I'm a representative of _The Recorder_. Can I see you for a few minutes, Dr. Serviss?"

"I am just starting for the theatre," hurriedly answered Morton, his voice as casual as he could make it; "and I fear it is impossible."

"It is very important, Dr. Serviss, for Pratt has told me that you know the Lamberts and all about their relationship to Clarke. If you--"

"It is quite impossible," replied Morton, with decision, and hung up the receiver. For a few moments he sat in deep thought, his mind leaping from point to point of this new complication. As he analyzed the far-reaching consequences of this tragic and terrible deed he bitterly exclaimed: "You've reached us now, Anthony Clarke! You have involved the woman you pretended to love and all her friends in a screaming sensation. Your name will be writ larger to-morrow than at any time during your whole life. You could not have hit upon a more effective revenge."

The situation grew each moment more satanic. "My name will be involved quite as prominently as hers. The mother, frantic with grief and remorse, will hate me and bitterly reproach us all. She will accuse us of causing his death. But, most important of all, what will be the effect of this news on Viola's mental condition?" His thought ran to her as he had just left her radiant with hope and new-found happiness, and it seemed as though the dead man had reached a remorseless, clutching hand to regain final dominion over her. His shadow hovered in the air above her head ready to envelop her.

"If I can only keep this from her for a few days, till my own control of her has strengthened. I _must keep it from her. She must not see to-morrow's papers with their ghastly story." He chilled with a fuller sense of the suicide's power to torture her. "She must leave the city to-night. She will be called before the coroner, her mediumship and Clarke's control of her will be howled through the street--" He groaned with the shame and anguish of the scene his imagination bodied forth. "Pratt's hand will also be felt. He will have his own tale, his own method of evasion, and will not hesitate to dishonor her."

Furthermore, this threatening shame so far from arousing a new distrust and a desire to escape further connection with her, swept him into a profounder desire to serve and shield her. His heart filled with pity and love, and into his eyes a stern light--the light of battle--came. "She shall not be tortured so, if I can defend her or lead the way to escape. Lambert must leave the city at once and take them both with him."

He rose and walked about the room in order to recover command of his face and voice. "Truly the miserable fanatic has wrought well. He has promised himself that his spirit, freed from the body, will be able to possess and control his victim. The mother will understand and accept this. Will Viola?" The thought of her, dominated by this new and revolting delusion, filled him with dismay and horror. "She, too, will be smitten with remorse, and the scale may be turned against me and my influence." This was indeed the most disturbing consideration of all.

Realizing at length that every additional minute of absence made his explanation more difficult, he returned to his guests with impassive face and resolute determination to control his thought even from Viola's mind-reading power.

Kate saw at once that some dark thing shadowed him, "What is it, Morton?"

"One of my acquaintances has met with trouble--financial trouble--and wants my help. I'll tell you about it later," he curtly replied, attacking the salad again. She was silenced though not satisfied, and dinner was resumed in almost painful silence and in general depression.

Viola was especially troubled by the change in Morton's face, and with a desire to be of some comfort to him softly said: "Perhaps you would rather not go to the theatre to-night. Please don't do so on our account."

Her glance and her tone, both more intimately sympathetic than she had hitherto permitted them to be, touched him deeply, and with an effect of throwing off his gloom he cheerily responded: "We will not let any outside matter interfere with our happiness. There is nothing to be gained by staying at home. Please forget all about this interruption."

As he spoke she sat with hands before her, gazing straight at him with eyes that slowly lost their outward look. Her eyelids fell, she began to whiten and to droop, and her hands twitched and trembled.

Seized for an instant with an unreasoning fear--a belief that she had been able, after all, to penetrate his mind and read its dreadful secret, Morton sat irresolute, in the grasp of a blind despair, a palsy of the will. Clarke's dead hand seemed at the instant more powerful than the living man had been. This stupefaction lasted but a single second, for back to the young scientist's heart, like a swelling wave, came the red blood of his anger, his love, his mastering will. Rising swiftly but calmly, he caught her hands in his saying, gently: "You are forgetting your promise to me. Look at me. I want to see if you are really going to disobey my commands."

She slowly raised her face to him, but only faintly responded to his voice. "I cannot permit this," he went on. "You have left this behind you, I will not permit you to give way. It is a kind of treason to me--your physician. For my sake you must put this weakness aside and assert your real self." He spoke gently, tenderly, as the lover, rather than as the man of science, and the mysterious power of his hand, the passionate pity of his eyes restored her to self-mastery, and she murmured:

"Please forgive me. I didn't mean to do this."

"I know that. But you must not invite your trouble. You laid your hands upon the table. You must not do that. I'll order you to eat off the mantel-piece, if you do that again," he added, with intent to make her smile.

Mrs. Lambert, who had risen to go to Viola's relief, sank back into her seat with a sense of being forgotten at a time when she should have been her daughter's first thought. She was no longer necessary. Her place had been taken by another, a man and a stranger, hostile to her faith, and with this knowledge her heart grew cold and bitter with defeat and despair, the anguish and the neglect which are to be forevermore the darker side of the mother's glory had come to her at last with cruel force.

The entire attack lasted but a few minutes, but it served to bring Viola nearer to her lover than all the hours of their more formal intercourse, though the full revelation of his true relationship was yet to come.

She loved and trusted him, but as her friend, her defender. She rose at last to demonstrate that she was entirely herself again. "I am ashamed of myself," she said, humbly. "Please don't look so concerned." She turned to Kate. "I assure you it was only a little faintness. You see I didn't sleep very well last night."

"Let's not try to go out," interposed Kate. "You're tired."

"Oh no; please, _please don't let me spoil the evening. I will never forgive myself. Truly I want to go."

Morton's glance instructed Kate, and she said: "Very well. We will go dress while the men finish their coffee. Come, Mrs. Lambert."

Mrs. Lambert rose silently and the three women left the room together with an effect of haste.

No sooner were they out of the room than Morton turned to his guest with most serious look and tone. "Come to my study, Mr. Lambert, I want a few very private words with you."

The miner followed his host with mild wonder expressed on his face, and as the door closed behind them and they were secure of being overheard, he remarked, with a chuckle: "You headed off old Daddy McLeod out there. First it was Clarke and then Daddy. I thought he had her this time."

Morton ignored this remark and, with most decisive utterance, said: "You must take your wife and daughter out of town by the very next train. Clarke has killed himself, and Viola will be the centre of a flaming sensation to-morrow morning. She must be taken away to-night."

Lambert remained standing, perfectly rigid, for a few moments then slowly seated himself. "Was that your trouble over the 'phone?"

"Yes."

"Who told you?"

"A reporter 'phoning from Pratt's house apparently."

"When did it happen?"

"He said an hour ago. That may mean more or less--A fiend could not have planned a more inclusive revenge. We will all be involved in it. If he died by poison we may even be accused of killing him. They are already in pursuit of you, and the police may arrive at any moment. At the least we will all be summoned before the coroner." He paused a moment. "But that isn't all. I fear the effect of this news on Viola's mind."

Lambert's eyes lost their keen glitter, and his facial muscles fell slack. He spoke in a low voice weighted with deepest conviction. "_He will manifest._" Then, as a light came into his eyes, he exclaimed: "He was trying to control her just now!"

Morton ignored this remark. "If we can keep this news from her for a few days, I defy any of her so-called 'controls' to affect her."

Lambert stirred uneasily in his chair. "I don't know about that. Clarke had a strong hold on her."

"He is dead. He has done his worst," responded Morton. "I tell you, it is your business to get as far from the city to-night as you can and keep ahead of the news if possible."

"That won't do any good. She is clairvoyant. She'll know of it."

"She didn't know you were coming to-day, did she?"

"No."

"And she has no knowledge yet of Clarke's death. Her attack at the table may have been, as she says, only a feeling of faintness. Besides, he's been dead two hours, and these manifestations always take place at the exact moment of death, do they not?"

Lambert brightened. "That's so! But I'm scared of what'll happen if he _should manifest."

"Be assured. He can no more 'manifest,' as you call it, than a dead dog. Keep the newspapers from your wife and daughter, and it will be a long time before they learn of his death through any occult channel. I stake my reputation on that."

"I wish I felt as certain of that as you do," the miner answered. "I've seen so many impossible things happen. I'm kind o' shaky. I wish I could have your help." He rose with a shiver of dread. "You're right. I see that. We've got to get out of here, but it won't do to go back home."

"Take ship and go abroad."

"I can't do that. I can't leave my business so long." He paced up and down. "Suppose I had a telegram to meet a man in Montreal--a mining man."

"A good idea!" exclaimed Morton. "You could cross the border before the news could overtake you. The Canadian papers will make little of the suicide. But will your people go?"

"They'll have to go," replied Lambert, firmly. "Leave that to me." He took a telegram from among several old ones in his pocket. "I've just received this, you understand?"

Kate knocked, and called; "We're all ready, Morton?"

He opened the door. "Come in, Kate, I want to talk with you. I'm afraid our theatre-party is off. Mr. Lambert has received a very important message which may take him out of town."

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" cried Kate. "Can't you wait till to-morrow?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Lambert. "Looks like I'd have to go to-night, and I want the girls to go along with me." And so saying, with the telegram open in his hand, he went out into the sitting-room where Viola and her mother were standing dressed for the carriage. "Girls," he called, persuasively. "Don't you want to go to Montreal?"

"When?" inquired Viola.

"To-night."

"Oh, not to-night! We want to go to the theatre. Wait till to-morrow."

Kate was about to join in this protest when Morton drew her into his study and shut the door. "Don't stop them!" he said, almost fiercely. "They must go."

"Do you mean to escape Clarke?"

"Yes, Clarke, or rather his ghost."

"His ghost! What do you mean?" she asked, with startled eyes.

"He has killed himself--hush, now! they must not know it, and they must flee. Don't you see that this may undo all my plans for the girl's redemption and may enslave her more deeply than ever? The papers will be full of Clarke to-morrow morning. Pratt's wealth, my connection, with an institution, insures a tremendous scare-head. The mother will be conscious-wrung, and the whole weight of the infernal tragedy will crush down on Viola. The only possible respite for her is to cross the border into Canada, outrun the newsmongers, and trust in time to heal her mental derangements."

Kate's eyes expanded with the same fear that filled Lambert. "You don't suppose he will be able to haunt her? Was that what happened at the table?"

"No, not in the sense you mean. He is dead, and I have no fear of his ghost, but the memory of him will torture her soul; and if she _believes that he is able to come to her, the belief will be almost as tragic as the fact."

"Morton, it is a test!" she exclaimed, with breathless solemnity. "If there is any truth in spiritualism, he will manifest himself to her and you cannot prevent it."

"I know it is a test and I welcome it! I stake all that I am on the issue. She was at her merriest when he was dying. She has no hint of his deed at this moment, and with all her clairvoyance I am perfectly certain she will not be able to read what is in our minds if you can restrain your tongue. If you can't do that, I beg of you to stay in your room." He was harsh and curt in his tone; and she shrank from him. "Her mental health, her sanity, may be in peril."

"I can keep silence," she replied, "But, oh, Morton, think of that poor girl--up there in some bleak hotel in Canada, with only these two old people! Suppose _he does come to her there, what can they do? Wouldn't it be better to keep her here--let her learn it here--where you can help her?"

"And be haled before the coroner, to be charged perhaps with poisoning Clarke, or some other equally monstrous thing? No, I have been all over the ground, and I tell you there is no other way. She must go to-night. The police may arrive at any moment."

"Then you must go with her," she retorted, with a decision almost equal to his own. "She needs you."

"No, no. I can't do that," he replied, impatiently, almost angrily. "I would be accused of abducting her. It is utterly out of the question."

Kate, knowing that she was asking a good deal, went resolutely on: "She has no one but you to lean upon. She trusts you, and she ought to have some strong, sane person on whom to rely. I would be worse than useless up there. I am scared out of my wits at thought of Clarke's possible revenge upon _her_! Besides, by going with her you will escape some of the notoriety about to thrust upon you."

He was plainly vacillating. "Think of the fat news-items my flight will add to the stew."

Kate shuddered. "Oh, I know! I hope you don't blame me.--It's true, I _am to blame. I _did insist on your going to see her." She was beginning to suffer with this thought, when he put out his hand and drew her to him with affectionate wish to comfort her.

"Don't assume that worry, Kit. She profoundly interested me from the first, and I do not regret my acquaintance with her--even at this moment. I believe she is essentially untouched by this business and that she can be cleansed of all Clarke's influence. His death removes her worst enemy; and if I can persuade her parents to leave her with us, I am perfectly certain I can root out the deepest of her delusions."

"Then go," she said, in final surrender. "Conventions ought not to count against saving a sweet, good girl. Go and help her, and if you bring her back here, I'll receive her gladly."

Morton opened the door, and while Kate went to Viola he said: "Mr. Lambert, if you will add me to your party, I will be glad to go with you."

Lambert seized his host's hand and wrung it hard. "My boy, you save my life! I thought of asking you, but I couldn't find the nerve. We'll all need you--the girl worst of all." Tears were in his eyes as he added, huskily; "Yes, we need you."

Viola, with shining face, came running towards them, "Oh, Professor Serviss! Is it true? Are you going?"

"Yes, if you will let me."

"Let you! Oh, you don't know what it means to have you with us."

He looked down upon her with a smile whose full message she could not read, but it expressed something very tender and disconcerting. "You can't know what it means to me to go. You see, I daren't quite trust you alone with these indulgent parents and as your physician it is my duty to see that my prescriptions are fully carried out."

During the bustle of preparation for the journey, he found opportunity to reassure Kate: "Thus far, she has no inkling of what is in our minds." He closed his fist as if shaking it in the face of an implacable foe, and, through his set teeth, added: "I accept the challenge! I welcome you and all your dark band to the utterance!"

Kate turned pale. "Don't say that!" she whispered. "It's like tempting Providence."

"I fear neither Providence nor demons; but I am afraid of you. Keep away from Viola as much as you can. If there is any truth in mind-reading she is likelier to divine your thought than mine."

Kate's eyes suddenly grew dim. "Morton, I brought this on you, and I'm beginning to doubt. I don't believe I want you to go with her, after all." She put her hands on his shoulders and gave way to a feeling of loss and loneliness. "I've always hoped--I've always looked forward to your having a splendid, dignified wife; and though I like her. I don't believe--she's up to you."

"Now, don't trouble about that, sis. The important thing to me is, am I worthy of her? She entered my heart the first time I saw her, and has never left it. She came at a time when I was certain no woman would ever move me again. I am indebted to her--now, that's the truth. And so"--he stooped and kissed her--"if she decides to come to me, I shall feel grateful to you. If she decides not to come--you can be grateful to her!"

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