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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 9. Viola's Plea For Help
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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 9. Viola's Plea For Help Post by :p00kie Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3325

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The Tyranny Of The Dark - Book 2 - Chapter 9. Viola's Plea For Help

BOOK II CHAPTER IX. VIOLA'S PLEA FOR HELP

Morton went to his work next morning quite unfitted for an especially delicate piece of dissection which he had in hand. He bungled it, and Weissmann transfixed him with a glare of disapproval. "My boy, these social gayeties do not consort well with science."

The young man smiled to think how wide of the mark his chief was. He held up both hands. "I swear, it shall not happen again." Then, moved by a desire to secure a comment on the curious phenomena of the seance, he related the story of his brief interview with his uncle Ben's ghost. "Now, do you suppose that Clarke, or the 'medium,' could dig around among the dusty, forgotten lumber of my mind and get hold of a queer fact like that nickname?"

"Why go so far round?" inquired Weissmann. "Why not say it was your uncle Ben who spoke?"

"You are joking."

"I am _not joking. If the facts are as you say, then one explanation is as reasonable as the other."

Serviss was amazed. "You don't really mean it!"

"If you say it was an illusion of the sense of hearing, I agree; but do we not stagger among illusions? Who so well as we know the illusory nature of every fact? Nothing is stable under our hands. Of what avail to reduce the universe to one substance, as the monists do? We pry, we peer into that substance--it fades like smoke. Forty years I have probed among the cells of the body--the final mystery remains insoluble. Why? Because the atom, the thing once demonstrated 'the final division of matter,' is itself an illusion, made up of the intangible and the imponderable. This I have given my whole life to discover. Life is an illusion--why not death? Shall we dogmatize, especially on the one thing of which we know nothing? The spirit world is unthinkable, but so, at the last analysis, is the world of matter."

The young man, believing this to be only the mocking mood of one who knew the argument of the dualists better than they knew it themselves, remained silent, and Weissmann composedly resumed: "The dogmatism of Haeckel is as vain as the assumption of Metchnikoff. We shall forever discover and forever despair. Such is the life of man."

When he went home Morton found a note from his sister saying that she had received a message from Viola and that she would be at home at five. "Now don't fail to go. I have to pour tea for Sally, or I would go with you. I'm crazy to see the girl again. I spent the morning talking the whole thing over with Doctor Safford. She thinks as I do, that the girl is exactly what she claims to be, a _medium_, and that while it is her duty to go on, she ought to be protected from the vulgar public. We both want you to take her in hand. Certainly there _ought to be no disgrace in standing as interpreter between the living and the dead. Isn't it just our foolish prejudice? If the girl _can bring messages from the other world, she ought to be honored above all other women. Seriously, Morton, her plea the other day wrung my heart. I don't want you to get _too interested in her, of course, but what we call a _disease may be a God-given power. Think of the way we run after a foolish, vulgar woman who has married into millions, and then think of the way we sniff at this girl because she has some gift which science doesn't understand. If one teenty, tiny bit of what they claim about her is true, science ought to cherish her. As Marion said, if she had discovered a star so far off and so faint it wouldn't matter in the least to any one but a few cranks whether it existed or not, she would be honored all over the world; but as she claims to have discovered something vital to every human soul, she is despised. It is your duty to help her. I had her over the 'phone just now, and her voice was trembling with eagerness as she said, 'Do tell him to please come and see me.'"

This note, so like his sister, so full of her audacities, touched Morton on the quick. It was plain that she was more than half-seas over towards faith in the girl, and quite ready to take her up and exhibit her among her friends. Her use of the word "disease" was intended as a mockery of his theories. He knew that she was quite capable of talking over the 'phone precisely as she had written (reserve was not her strong point), and that she had undoubtedly given Viola reason to expect him. However, having concluded on his own account to see her once more, Kate's exhortation merely confirmed him in a good intention, "I will confront Clarke, and try to pluck the heart out of this mystery, but I will keep clear of any personal relation with the girl and her mother," he said, as if in answer to his sister's admonition.

It was about five o'clock of the afternoon as he again mounted to Pratt's portico, recalling, as he did so, the dramatic contrasting scenes of the evening before--on this side of the brick wall a communion with the dead, on that the throbbing, gay life of a ballroom. Truly a city street was a microcosm.

A solemn-visaged colored man--not the officious usher of the night before--took his card and led him into a gorgeous, glacial reception-room on the left. The house was very still and cold and gloomy, for the day was darkening and the lights were not yet on. It impressed him as a vast and splendid tomb, and with a revived knowledge of Simeon Pratt's tragic history he chilled with a premonition of some approaching shadow. "What a contrast to the sunlit cabin of the Colorow!" he inwardly exclaimed, and the thought of the mountain girl housed in this grim and sepulchral mansion deepened his wonder.

A gruff voice above inquired: "Who is it? Let me see the card. Serviss, eh? Tell him--No, wait, I'll go down and see him myself."

Morton smiled grimly, realizing perfectly the manner in which Pratt had intercepted his card. "The old watch-dog," he exclaimed.

A heavy tread descending the stairs announced the approach of his host, whose sullen face was by no means engaging as he entered. "Are you Professor Serviss?"

"I am."

The flabby lips curled in scorn. "You are one of those scientific gentlemen who know it all, aren't you?"

"I sent my card to Miss Lambert," replied Serviss, with cutting formality.

Pratt's face darkened. "_I am the master of this house."

"But not of your guests, I hope."

"I have a right to know who calls, and I intend to protect Miss Lambert from such as you. You were not invited here last night."

"Not by you, I admit. I owe you an explanation for that. I came to call on Miss Lambert. Your man shouldered me into the room before I knew what was going on. I didn't intend to 'butt in,' as they say. I was afterwards invited forward by Mr. Clarke, as you will remember, and later by the 'control.'"

"Clarke is not running things here."

"Ah, but the spirits? Would you question their judgment? They insisted on making me the guest of honor, you will remember. They played to me, you may say."

Pratt was daunted by his visitor's mocking tone. "You should have had more sense of honor than to grab the medium the way you did."

"Being invited to sit near, I took it as an invitation to make a test. I wanted to know who held that horn. How can you hope to convince a sane mind of the truth of such an exhibition as that last night unless you permit tests?"

The colored man had returned. "Miss Lambert will see you, sir. This way, please."

For a moment Pratt meditated interference, but something in the movement and face of the visitor deterred him. As Serviss followed his guide up the great stairway, he asked himself: "What will she be like? She must be changed--deeply changed. How will she meet me?" He acknowledged a growing excitement.

She met him so simply, so cordially, with such frank pleasure, that his own restraint gave way at first glance. In her glowing color, in the tones of her voice, lay a charm which carried him back to Colorow, linking the mature and splendid woman with the unformed girl of the mountain-cabin. He took her hand with a keen thrill of admiration--whatever had come to her she had gained in grace without apparent loss of sincerity.

His eyes disturbed her, and she stammered some commonplace expression of pleasure, and he replied almost as lamely, then turned to the mother. "I hope you have forgiven me for my action of last night?" Then again to Viola. "I only intended to touch your arm. I trust you suffered no lasting ill effects."

Again something that was at once attraction and repulsion passed between them. She perceived in his tone a note of mockery, involuntary in its expression, but all the more significant on that account.

"I am sorry you were there," she quickly replied. "I don't blame you. No, it did not hurt me--I mean, it was all over in half an hour. The contraction is very painful while it lasts. It's just like a cramp. I didn't intend to give the sitting, but Mr. Pratt requested it for a few of his friends and I couldn't well refuse. I didn't know you were there till mamma told me afterwards. There is no value in such a sitting to you."

With a dim suspicion of her wish to cover some deception, he answered: "My entrance was quite as unpremeditated, I assure you." He spoke with returning humor. "I really came to call upon you, to welcome you to the city and to talk of the West. The usher mistook me for one of the seekers and thrust me bodily into the circle. Please believe that I acted upon sudden impulse in seizing your wrist. I am heartily ashamed of myself. I was an intruder, and had no right, no excuse--although your 'guides,' as you call them, seemed eager to have me sit beside you."

"I do not blame you," she repeated, and fell strangely silent.

He studied her with mounting pleasure. The flower-like line of her lips, her glorious bosom, the poise of her head, all the lines that had meant so much to him at their first meeting, were there, more womanly, more dangerous in their witchery than ever. For two years their thoughts had subtly crossed and intertwined, and she now felt his doubt, his question, almost as keenly as if he had uttered them.

He broke the momentary silence by saying, with a distinctly tender tone, "Are you thinking of Colorow? I am."

She flushed and started a little. "Yes."

"I was recalling my first view of you--a fragment of sunset cloud caught on a mountain-crag."

Her face grew wistful. "That seems a long time ago to me."

"It doesn't to me. It seems but yesterday. My trip that year was a symphonic poem with a most moving final movement. I have thought of it a thousand times." He paused a moment, then added: "Well, now, here you are in New York, and here I am, and what of your music? I was to advise you, you remember."

Her head lifted in defiance, an adorable gesture. "You know my secret now." It was as if she said, "Come, let us have it over."

He replied, very gently; "I knew something of it then. Dr. Britt told me something of it at the time."

Her eyes bravely searched his. "Was that why you did not come to say good-bye to us?" His glance fell in a wish that she had been less cruelly direct. She went on: "You needn't answer. I'm used to being treated that way. I knew somebody had told you I was a medium. You despised me when you found out about me--everybody does, except those who want to use me. All the people I really want to know go by on the other side as if I were a leper. It was so in Boston; it is going to be the same here."

Mrs. Lambert interposed. "That is not true, Dr. Serviss. We met many nice people in Boston."

"Yes, mamma--nice people who wanted me to tell their fortunes."

Her tone went to Serviss's heart. She was so young to be so bitter; but he could think of nothing at the moment which would not add to her chagrin, for was not his own interpretation of her quite as hard to bear?

She went on: "No, I don't blame you or any one for avoiding me. But I wish they would let me have one or two friends. But they won't. Lots of people like me at first, but they surely find out after a while, and then they change towards me. Sometimes I think I might as well publish my name as a medium and let everybody know it at once."

"You must not permit that, Miss Lambert," he earnestly said. "That is what I came to say. Don't allow them to use you so."

"How can I help it?" she passionately exclaimed, "when they all demand it--mother, Mr. Clarke. Mr. Pratt, grandfather--everybody. They think I owe it to the world."

"I don't. I think it is your right to say--"

"I have no rights. Listen." She leaned towards him, her face paling, her eyes big and soft and terrified. "I want you to understand me, Dr. Serviss. You must know all about me." Her voice fell to a husky murmur. "You must know that I can't direct my own life. My 'guides' can do what they please with me. Can you understand that?"

"I confess I cannot."

"It is true. My grandfather insists on these public tests. He is determined to 'convict the men of science,' and Mr. Clarke is only too glad to agree with him. Mother is controlled entirely by what grandfather says. My wishes don't count with anybody. But I think I've done my share in this work." She faced her mother in challenge and appeal. "Ever since I was ten years old I've given myself up to it; but now I'm afraid to go on. I don't want to be a medium all my life. They all say it is hard to change after one is grown up, and I'm afraid," she repeated, with a perceptible shudder.

The mother, undisturbed by this plea, turned to Serviss with an exultant smile. "Does she look like one breaking down?"

The girl rose from her chair like a tragedienne. "It isn't my body, it's my mind!" she cried, with poignant inflection, clasping her head with both her hands; and her look transformed her in the eyes of the young scientist. It was the tragic gaze of one who confronts insanity and death at a time when life should be at its sweetest. For an instant she stood there absorbed in her terror, then dropped her hands, and in a voice of entreaty, which melted all his distrust, hurried on. "I want to know what is going on in my brain. I am losing control of my _self_! I want some man of science like you to study me. Your sister said you would help me, and you must! You think I deceive--you thought so last night--but I don't. I knew nothing of what went on. I didn't know that you were there. I don't know what I do nor what I am. I want you men of science to investigate me. I will submit to any test you like. You may fasten me in a cage, or padlock me down--anything!--but I will not be advertised to the world as a medium, and I must have rest from this strain. Don't you understand? Can't you see how it will be?"

"I do," he answered, quickly. "I understand perfectly, and I will go at once to see Mr. Clarke and intercede--"

"That is not enough. You must intercede with my grandfather and his band, they are the ones who control me. Ask him to release me."

This request staggered the scientist. "My dear Miss Lambert, you will pardon me, but I can't do that--I do not even believe in the existence of your grandfather."

She stood in silence for a moment and then answered; "You would if his hands were at your throat as they are at mine. He is just as real to me as you are. He is listening this minute."

"That is a delusion."

"I wish it were," she bitterly and tragically answered. "The hands are so real they choke me--that I know. I am helpless when he demands things of me. He can lead me anywhere he wants me to go. He can use my arms, my voice, as he wills. You must believe in him to help me. He will listen to you, I feel that." She grew appealing again. "Your sister believes in me--I am sure of that--and my heart went out to her. Sometimes it seems as if all the world, even my own mother, were willing to sacrifice me."

"Viola!" cried Mrs. Lambert, sharply. "You shall not say things like that."

"They're true. You know they're true!" the girl passionately retorted. "You all treat me as if I had no more soul than a telephone."

"That is very unjust," declared Mrs. Lambert. "This is only one of her dark moods, doctor. You must not think she really means this."

The girl's brows were now set in sullen lines which seemed a profanation of her fair young face. "But I _do mean it, and I want Dr. Serviss to know just what is in my heart." Her voice choked with a kind of helpless, rebellious anger as she went on: "I'm tired of my life. I am sick of all these moaning people that crowd round me. It's all unnatural to me. I want to touch young people, and have a share in their life before I grow old. I want to know healthy people who don't care anything about death or spirits. It's all a craze with people anyway--something that comes after they lose a wife or child. They are very nice to me then, but after a few weeks they despise me as the dust under their feet--or else they make love to me and want to marry me."

Mrs. Lambert rose. "I will not allow you to go on like this, Viola. I don't understand you to-day. You'll give Dr. Serviss a dreadful opinion of us all."

"I don't care," the girl recklessly replied, "I am going to be honest with Dr. Serviss. I don't like what I do, and I don't intend to trust my whole life to the spirits any longer. They may all be devils and lying to us. I don't believe my own grandfather would be so cruel as to push me into this public work."

Mrs. Lambert again warned Serviss from taking this outburst too seriously. "She is possessed, doctor. Some bad spirit is influencing her to say these things to you. She's not herself."

Viola seized on this admission. "That's just it. They've destroyed my own mind so that I don't know my own thoughts. If there are good spirits, there must be bad spirits--don't you think so, Dr. Serviss?"

His eyes did not waver now. His voice was very quiet, but very decisive, as he replied: "My training, my habit of thinking, excludes all belief in the return of the dead either as good spirits or bad, but if there are spirits I should certainly think evil of them if they were to force you into a service you abhor. I do not pretend to pass judgment on your case--I know so little about it--but I do sympathize with you. I deeply feel the injustice of these public tests, and I will do all I can to prevent them."

Mrs. Lambert interrupted: "But, Dr. Serviss, my father's advice has always been good; to question it now would be to question my faith. His wish is my law."

Serviss shrugged his shoulders a little impatiently. "My dear lady, we have no common ground there. The wishes of the dead have no weight with me when set against the welfare of the living. The question which I beg you to consider is whether you wish your daughter to continue in this mental torture? Do you want her name blazoned to the world as a public medium? You cannot afford to add disgrace to her private torment."

The mother held her ground. "Her 'guides' say she will be taken care of, and as for the disgrace, that is all imaginary. It is an honor--"

Viola again burst forth: "They are always talking to me about the honor of being a medium, about the distinction of it, and when I ask what distinction the world gave to the Fox sisters or Home or Madame Cerillio, they answer that the world has changed since then. But it has not changed enough to make my work respected. Mr. Clarke says it ought to be; but saying so does not make it so. Every time I read of a medium exposed I turn cold and hot, for I know people consider all mediums alike. I don't want to go about all my life like an outcast. I don't want to be happy after I'm dead; I want to be happy now. I don't want to be different from other girls; I want to be like them. If they publish me, I will be a medium forever. I will be in constant terror of attack, and that will drive me insane--they _must set me free! Dr. Serviss," she pleaded, as if she were the victim of some murderous design, "you are wise and strong. There must be some way for you to help me."

All of Serviss's well-ordered sympathetic phrases failed him as he listened to the storm of her plea and felt the flame of her passionate protest. All doubt of her sincerity, her own honesty, vanished, being utterly burned away by the light in her lovely eyes. Her mental bondage was real, her desire to escape contamination indubitable. He met her gaze with tender gravity. "I believe in you," he said, as if committing himself to a most momentous enterprise, "and I will help you."

His voice, so manly, so strong, so tender, robbed her of the power to speak. She seized his extended hand in both of hers and pressed it hard, the tears in her eyes veiling her soul from the passion that filled his glance.

As she faced him thus, leaning to him trustfully, so vivid, so magnetic, so much the woman, so little the sibyl, that he forgot all his hesitations and doubts, filled for an instant with an irrational impulse to seize her, claiming her as his own, in defiance of the mandates of her world and the conventions of his own. But she dropped his hand and turned away, and he went out in a maze of conflicting desires, his judgment sadly clouded by the youthful riot in his blood.

At the moment he was in love with her and single-minded in his desire to aid her, to defend her, but the door had hardly closed behind him when his questionings, his suspicions began to file back, stealthily, silently, along the underways of his brain. Her distress began to seem a little too theatric, her troubles self-induced--all but one--madness did in very truth seem to hover over her, a baleful, imminent shadow.

Clarke, looming darkly, confronted him in the lower hall. "Well met, Dr. Serviss. I'd like a word with you."

"I have a request to make of you," responded Serviss. "Miss Lambert has expressed to me her great distress of mind as concerns the public tests you are planning and has asked me to intercede for her. She profoundly objects to the use of her name, and I ask--"

Clarke's voice was harsh and sullen as he interrupted: "I have considered her objections and find them insufficient."

Serviss's voice rose slightly. "Her lightest objection should be insuperable. I don't understand your point of view. I can't see by what right you ignore the wish of the human soul most vitally concerned in your crusade. You treat her as if she were a rabbit dedicated to the use of a biologic laboratory. I am better informed now than when we met in your church-study, Mr. Clarke. I know, not merely Miss Lambert's secret, but your own. It may be that you honestly think this challenge will confer great distinction upon her, but, let me assure you, it will put an ineffaceable stain upon her. Furthermore, your tests will end in disaster to yourself and to your cause."

"What do you mean by that?" interposed Pratt, who had come up and stood listening. "Do you doubt her powers?"

"I do. She will fail, and the failure will be crushing. The thing you claim is preposterous. Every time science has taken one of your mediums in hand he or she has suffered extinguishment. It is the grossest outrage to ask this girl to face certain exposure. A challenge of this blatant kind will rouse the most violent antagonism among scientists, and if you succeed in getting any really good man to take it up--which I doubt--he will be merciless."

"We want him to be," declared Clarke. "We glory in your defiance. Let your scientific men come with their bands of steel, their bolts and bars, their telephones, and their electric traps. We defy every material test."

"You are fools--madmen," hotly answered Serviss. "You would sacrifice this girl to a brazen scheme of self-advertising?"

Clarke was contemptuous. "That is your point of view. From our side there is no greater glory than to be an Evangel of the New Faith. What matters the comment of the gross and self-satisfied to us who work for the happiness of those who mourn? The world in which _we live despises the materialism of yours."

At this moment a new conception of Clarke's plan crossed Serviss's mind. "He is deeper than I thought. He would discredit the girl in the eyes of normal suitors, thereby assuring her to himself." Aloud he said: "Miss Lambert's right to herself should be your first consideration. She is something more than a trumpet for sounding your fame."

Clarke's resounding voice had drawn Mrs. Lambert from her room, and she now hurried down the stairway with intent to calm him.

Serviss turned to her. "Again I beg of you, Mrs. Lambert, to consider well before you consent to this plan. Your daughter's name will be a jest from one end of the country to the other. It doesn't matter how sincere and earnest you are, the public will regard this challenge as a seeking for notoriety. Your daughter is about to be flung to the beasts." Seeing something unyielding in her eyes, he added, with such intensity his own heart responded: "Will you stake your daughter's reputation, her health, her reason, upon the issue of a voice in the dark?"

"Yes, when the voice is that of her own father. He knows the future. He will protect her. I have no fear."

There was such conviction, such immutable faith in her gentle voice, that Serviss was confounded. When he spoke, in answer, his voice was lower in key, with a cadence of hopeless appeal.

"How do you know these advisers are your husband and your father? You must be very certain of them."

"I am certain. I believe in them as I believe in my own existence." The line of her mouth lost something of its sweetness, and Serviss, seeing this, took another tack.

"Granted these voices are genuine, they may be mistaken--rash with zeal. You wouldn't say that they have gained infallibility--a knowledge of both past and future--merely by passing to the shadow world?"

To this Clarke made answer: "That is precisely what we do believe. They have predicted our future, they have laid out all our plans. Their advice has brought us to our present high place, and we shall continue in our course, despite you or any other doubter."

"They have brought you to a very dubious sort of success," Serviss cuttingly replied, "But what about your victim? I know this city and its ways. I realize, as none of you seem to do, the wasting injustice you are about to inflict. Let me intercede--let me arrange some other plan--"

On Clarke's face a sneering, one-sided smile crept as he answered: "You are too late. Our plans are made, our programme published."

"What do you mean?"

"The reporters have just been here. The notice of my speech and a broad hint of the nature of my challenge will appear in four of the leading papers to-morrow morning--"

"But Viola's--Miss Lambert's name! You surely haven't used that?"

"Oh no. That is to follow. The challenge, with her name and defiance, form the climax to my oration." He swelled with pride as he spoke, as if visualizing himself on the platform, the centre of thousands of eyes, the champion of reviving faith.

"Thank God for your vanity! There is still time for some one to intervene," responded Serviss, minded to thrust him through.

Pratt shouldered in again. "What have you got to do with it, anyway? Who asked you to interfere?"

"The chief person concerned--Miss Lambert herself."

Pratt was about to utter some further insult when Clarke diplomatically interposed. "We want you to have a part in the work, Dr. Serviss. We will welcome you to a committee of investigation, but we cannot permit you to interfere with our plan. The 'Forces' are bent on the work, and they are inexorable."

"It is you who are inexorable," replied the young scientist--"you and this deluded mother."

This rapid dialogue had taken place in the wide hall just beneath the huge chandelier whose light fell on Serviss's white forehead and square, determined face. Pratt was confronting him with lowering brow, a bear-like stoop in his shoulders, and the muttering growl of his voice was again filling the room as Viola appeared upon the great stairway. She came slowly, with one slim hand on the railing, as though feeling her way, and at every step mysterious, jarring sounds came from beneath her feet and from the walls; her eyes were shut, her chin lifted, and on her face, white and tense, lay the expression of a sorrowful dreamer. Her mouth, drooping at the corners, was pitiful to see. All her vivid youth, her flaming rebellion, had been frozen into soulless calm by the implacable powers which reigned above and beneath her in the dark.

In horror and fierce, impotent rage, Serviss watched her descend. It was plain that she was again in the grasp of some soul stronger than herself; and he believed this obsession, close akin to madness, to be due to a living, overmastering magician--to Clarke, whose voice broke the silence. "There is your answer!" he called, and his voice rang out, with triumphant glee. "Her 'guides' have brought her to show you the folly of human interference. She is only an instrument like myself--clay to the hands of the invisible potters."

Once again a flaming desire to seize the girl with protecting hands filled Serviss's young and chivalric heart; but a sense of his essential helplessness, a knowledge of his utter lack of authority, stayed his arm, while his blaze of resolution went out like a flame in the wind. Sick with horror, he stood till Mrs. Lambert took Viola in her arms, then, in a voice that shook with passion, he said: "Madam, your faith in your spirits passes my understanding. Only devils from hell would demand such torture from a blithe young girl."

And so saying, with shame of his impotence, and with a full realization of Viola's mental bondage to Anthony Clarke, he turned away. "I now understand Britt's words--only the authority of the husband can save her from her all-surrounding foes," and at the moment his fist doubled with desire to claim and exercise that power.

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