This mutual frequentation of Sir Bussy and Mr. Parham necessarily had intermissions, because of Mr. Parham’s duty to his university and his influence upon the rising generation, and because also of perceptible fluctuations in Sir Bussy’s need of him. And as time went on and the two men came to understand each other more acutely, clashes of opinion had to be recognized. Imperceptibly Sir Bussy passed from a monosyllabic reception of Mr. Parham’s expositions of the state of the world and the life of man to more definitely skeptical comments. And at times Mr. Parham, because he had so strong a sense of the necessity of dominating Sir Bussy and subduing his untrained ignorance to intelligible purposes, became, it may be, a little authoritative in his argument and a trifle overbearing in his manner. And then Sir Bussy would seem almost not to like him for a time and would say, “Gaw,” and turn away.
For a few weeks, or even it might be for a month or so, Mr. Parham would have no more abnormal social adventures, and then quite abruptly and apropos of any old thing Sir Bussy would manifest a disposition to scrutinize Mr. Parham’s point of view again, and the excursions and expeditions would be renewed.
A hopeful friendship it was throughout on Mr. Parham’s side, but at no time was it a completely harmonious one. He found Sir Bussy’s choice of associates generally bad and often lamentable. He was constantly meeting people who crossed and irritated him beyond measure. With them he would dispute, even acrimoniously. Through them it was possible to say all sorts of things at Sir Bussy that it might have been undesirable to say directly to him.
There were times when it seemed almost as if Sir Bussy invited people merely to annoy Mr. Parham, underbred contradictory people with accents and the most preposterous views. There was a crazy eclecticism about his hospitality. He would bring in strange Americans with notions rather than ideas about subjects like currency and instalment buying, subjects really more impossible than indecency, wrong sorts of Americans, carping and aggressive, or he would invite Scandinavian ideologists, or people in a state of fresh disillusionment or fresh enthusiasm from Russia, even actual Bolsheviks, Mr. Bernard Shaw and worse, self-made authors, a most unpleasant type, wild talkers like Mr. J. B. S. Haldane, saying the most extravagant things. Once there was a Chinaman who said at the end of a patient, clear exposition of the British conception of self-government and the part played by social and intellectual influence in our affairs, “I see England at least is still looled by mandolins,” whatever that might mean. He nodded his gold spectacles towards Mr. Parham, so probably he imagined it did mean something. Most subtly and insidiously Sir Bussy would sow the seeds of a dispute amid such discordant mixtures and sit in a sort of intellectual rapture, mouth dropping, while Mr. Parham, sometimes cool but sometimes glowing, dealt with the fallacies, plain errors, misconceptions, and misinformation that had arisen. “Gaw!” Sir Bussy would whisper.
No support, no real adhesion, no discipleship; only that colourless “Gaw.” Even after a quite brilliant display. It was discouraging. Never the obvious suggestion to give this fount of sound conviction and intellectual power its legitimate periodic form.
But the cumulative effect of these disputes upon Mr. Parham was not an agreeable one. He always managed to carry off these wrangles with his colours flying, for he had practised upon six generations of undergraduates; he knew exactly when to call authority to the aid of argument and, in the last resort, refer his antagonist back to his studies effectively and humiliatingly, but at bottom, in its essence, Mr. Parham’s mental substance was delicate and fine, and this succession of unbelieving, interrogative, and sometimes even flatly contradictory people left their scars upon him — scars that rankled. It was not that they produced the slightest effect upon his essential ideas of the Empire and its Necessary Predominance in World Affairs, of the Historical Task and Destiny of the English, of the Rôles of Class and Law in the world and of his Loyalties and Institutions, but they gave him a sense of a vast, dangerous, gathering repudiation of these so carefully shaped and established verities. The Americans, particularly since the war, seemed to have slipped away, mysteriously and unawares, from the commanding ideas of his world. They brought a horrible tacit suggestion to Sir Bussy’s table that these ideas were now queer and old-fashioned.
Renegades! What on earth had they better? What in the names of Queen Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Raleigh, the Mayflower, Tennyson, Nelson, and Queen Victoria had these people better? Nowadays more and more they seemed to be infected with an idea that they were off and away after some new and distinctive thing of their own.
There they were, and there were a hundred and twenty million of them with most of the gold in the world — out of hand. It was not that they had any ideas worth considering to put in the place of Mr. Parham’s well wrought and tested set. Positive suggestions he could deal with. One foolish visitor breathed the words “World State.” Mr. Parham smiled all his teeth at him and waved his fingers.
“My DEAR sir,” said Mr. Parham, with a kind of deep richness in his tone. And it sufficed.
Another said, “League of Nations.”
“Poor Wilson’s decaying memorial,” said Mr. Parham.
All the time, behind his valiant front this gnawing away of Mr. Parham’s confidence went on, his confidence that these ideas of his, right though they certainly were, would be honestly and properly endorsed and sustained, at home and abroad, when next they were put to the test. In 1914 they had been tested; had they been overstrained? Imperceptibly he drifted into that state of nervous uncertainty we have attempted to convey in our opening section. Was history keeping its grip? Would the game still be played? The world was going through a phase of moral and intellectual disintegration; its bonds relaxed; its definite lines crumbled. Suppose, for example, a crisis came in Europe and some strong man at Westminster flashed the sword of Britannia from the scabbard. Would the ties of Empire hold? Suppose the Dominions cabled “This is not our war. Tell us about it.” They had already done something of the sort when the Turks had returned to Constantinople. They might do it again and more completely. Suppose the Irish Free State at our backs found our spirited gesture the occasion for ungracious conduct. Suppose instead of the brotherly applause and envious sympathy of 1914, a noise like the noise of skinners sharpening their knives came from America. Suppose once again in our still unconscripted land Royal Proclamations called for men and that this time, in stead of another beautiful carnival of devotion like that of 1914 — how splendid that had been! — they preferred to remain interrogative. Suppose they asked, “Can’t it be stopped?” or, “Is the whole thing worth while?” The Labour Movement had always had a left wing nefariously active, undermining the nation’s forces, destroying confidence, destroying pride in service, willingness to do and die. Amazing how we tolerated it! Suppose, too, the business men proved even more wicked than they were in 1914.
For Mr. Parham knew. They had been wicked; they had driven a bargain. They were not the patriots they seemed.
An after-dinner conversation at Carfex House crystallized these floating doubts. When it took place Sir Bussy had already embarked upon those psychic experiments that were to revolutionize his relations to Mr. Parham. But this dinner was an interlude. The discussion centred upon and would not get away from the topic of the Next War. It was a man’s dinner, and the most loquacious guest was an official from Geneva, Sir Walter Atterbury, a figure of importance in the League of Nations Secretariat, an apparently unassuming but really very set and opinionated person. But there was also an American banker, Mr. Hamp, a gray-faced, elderly spectacled man, who said strange things in a solemn manner, and there was Austin Camelford, the industrial chemist, who was associated with Sir Bussy in all sorts of business enterprises and who linked with him the big combinations of Romer Steinhart Crest & Co. He it was who recalled to Mr. Parham’s mind the cynicism of the business men in 1914. He was a lank and lean creature with that modern trick of saying the wildest nonsense as though it was obvious and universally recognized fact. There was also a young American from one of these newfangled Western universities where they teach things like salesmanship and universal history. He was too young to say very much, but what he said was significant.
At first it was Atterbury did most of the talking and, he talked evidently with the approval of the others. Then Mr. Parham was moved to intervene and correct some of the man’s delusions — for delusions they plainly were. The talk became more general, and certain things that came from Camelford and Hamp brought home to Mr. Parham’s mind the widening estrangement of industry and finance from the guiding concepts of history. Towards the end Sir Bussy by some fragmentary comments of an entirely hostile sort, set the seal to a thoroughly disconcerting evening.
Sir Walter, trailing clouds of idealism from this Geneva of his, took it for granted that everyone present wanted to see war staved off forever from the world. Apparently he could conceive no other view as possible in intelligent company. And yet, oddly enough, he realized that the possibility of fresh wars was opening wider every year. He showed himself anxious and perplexed, as well he might, distressed by a newborn sense of the inadequacy of his blessed League to ward off the storms he saw gathering about it. He complained of the British government and the French government, of schools and colleges and literature, of armaments and experts, of a world-wide indifference to the accumulating stresses that made for war. The Anglo–American naval clash had distressed him particularly. It was the “worst thing that had happened for a long time.” He was facty and explicit after the manner of his type. Four or five years ago one did not get these admissions of failure, these apprehensions and heart sinkings, from Geneva.
Mr. Parham let him run on. He was all for facts from well informed sources, and so far from wanting to suppress Sir Walter, his disposition was to give him all the rope he wanted. If that weekly had been in existence he would have asked him to write a couple of articles for it. At the normal rates. And then flicked aside his pacificist implications with a bantering editorial paragraph or so.
At this dinner he resorted to parallel tactics. For a time he posed as one under instruction, asking questions almost respectfully, and then his manner changed. His intelligent interrogations gave place to a note of rollicking common sense. He revealed that this official’s admissions of the impotence of the League had been meat and drink to him. He recalled one or two of Sir Walter’s phrases and laughed kindly with his head a little on one side. “But what did you EXPECT?” he said. “What DID you expect?”
And after all was said and done, asked Mr. Parham, was it so bad? Admittedly the extravagant hopes of some sort of permanent world peace, some world Utopia, that had run about like an epidemic in 1918, were, we realized now, mere fatigue phenomena, with no force of will behind them. The French, the Italians, most lucid minded and realistic of peoples, had never entertained such dreams. Peace, now, as always, rested on an armed balance of power.
Sir Walter attempted contradiction. The Canadian boundary?
“The pressure in that case lies elsewhere,” said Mr. Parham, with a confidence that excluded discussion of what these words might mean.
“Your armed balance of power is steadily eating up every scrap of wealth industrial progress can produce,” said Sir Walter. “The military force of France at present is colossal. All the European budgets show an increase in armaments, and people like Mussolini jeer at the Kellogg Pact even as they sign it. The very Americans make the clearest reservation that the Pact doesn’t mean anything that matters. They won’t fight for it. They won’t let it interfere with the Monroe Doctrine. They sign the Pact and reserve their freedom of action and go on with the armament race. More and more the world drifts back to the state of affairs of 1913.
“The most serious thing,” Sir Walter went on, “is the increasing difficulty of keeping any counter movement going. It’s the obstinate steadiness of the drive that dismays me. It’s not only that the accumulation of wealth is being checked and any rise in the standard of living prevented by these immense preparations, but the intellectual and moral advance is also slowing down on account of it. Patriotism is killing mental freedom. France has ceased to think since 1919, and Italy is bound and gagged. Long before actual war returns, freedom of speech may be held up by the patriotic censorship in every country in Europe. What are we to do about it? What is there to do?”
“I suggest that there is nothing to do,” said Mr. Parham. “And I don’t in the least mind. May I speak with the utmost frankness — as one man to another — as a realist in a world of human beings, very human beings? Frankly, I put it to you that we do not want this pacificist movement of yours. It is a dream. The stars in their courses fight against it. The armed man keepeth his house until a stronger cometh. Such is the course of history, my dear sir. So it has ever been. What is this free speech of yours but the liberty to talk nonsense and set mischief afoot? For my own part I would not hesitate for a moment in the choice between disorganizing babble and national necessity. Can you really mourn the return of discipline and order to countries that were in a fair way to complete social dissolution?”
He recalled one of those striking facts that drive reality home to the most obdurate minds. “In 1919, when my niece went to Italy for her honeymoon, she had two handbags stolen from the train, and on her return her husband’s valise went astray from the booked luggage and never turned up again. That was the state of affairs before the strong hand took hold.
“NO,” said Mr. Parham in a clear, commanding tone, so as to keep the rostrum while he returned to the general question. “As to the facts I see eye to eye with you. Yet not in the same spirit. We enter upon a phase of armament mightier than that which preceded the Great War. Granted. But the broad lines of the struggle shape themselves, they shape themselves — rationally and logically. They are in the nature of things. They cannot be evaded.”
Something almost confidential crept into his manner. He indicated regions of the tablecloth by gestures of his hands, and his voice sank. Sir Walter watched him, open eyed. His brows wrinkled with something like dismay.
“Here,” said Mr. Parham, “in the very centre of the Old World, illimitably vast, potentially more powerful than most of the rest of the world put together —” he paused as if fearing to be overheard —“is RUSSIA. It really does not matter in the least whether she is Czarist or Bolshevik. She is the final danger — the overwhelming enemy. Grow she must. She has space. She has immense resources. She strikes at us, through Turkey as always, through Afghanistan as always, and now through China. Instinctively she does that; necessarily. I do not blame her. But preserve ourselves we must. What will Germany do? Cleave to the East? Cleave to the West? Who can tell? A student nation, a secondary people, a disputed territory. We win her if we can but I do not count on her. The policy imposed upon the rest of the world is plain. WE MUST CIRCUMVENT RUSSIA; we must encircle this threat of the great plains before it overwhelms us. As we encircled the lesser threat of the Hohenzollerns. In time. On the West, here, we outflank her with our ally France and Poland her pupil; on the East with our ally Japan. We reach at her through India. We strive to point the spearhead of Afghanistan against her. We hold Gibraltar on her account; we watch Constantinople on her account. America is drawn in with us, necessarily our ally, willy-nilly, because she cannot let Russia strike through China to the sea. There you have the situation of the world. Broadly and boldly seen. Fraught with immense danger — yes. Tragic — if you will. But fraught also with limitless possibilities of devotion and courage.”
Mr. Parham paused. When it was evident he had fully paused Sir Bussy whispered his habitual monosyllable. Sir Walter cracked a nut and accepted port.
“There you are,” he said with a sigh in his voice, “if Mr. —?”
“If Mr. Parham said that in any European capital from Paris to Tokio, it would be taken quite seriously. Quite seriously. That’s where we are, ten years from the Armistice.”
Camelford, who had been listening hitherto, now took up the discourse. “That is perfectly true,” he said. “These governments of ours are like automata. They were evolved originally as fighting competitive things and they do not seem able to work in any other way. They prepare for war and they prepare war. It is like the instinctive hunting of a pet cat. However much you feed the beast, it still kills birds. It is made so. And they are made so. Until you destroy or efface them that is what they will do. When you went to Geneva, Sir Walter, I submit with all respect you thought they’d do better than they have done. A lot better?”
“I did,” said Sir Walter. “I confess I’ve had a lot of disillusionment — particularly in the last three or four years.”
“We live in a world of the wildest paradox today,” said Camelford. “It’s like an egg with an unbreakable shell, or a caterpillar that has got perplexed and is half a winged insect and the other half crawler. We can’t get out of our governments. We grow in patches and all wrong. Certain things become international — cosmopolitan. Banking, for instance,”— he turned to Hamp.
“Banking, sir, has made immense strides in that direction since the war,” said Hamp. “I say without exaggeration, immense strides. Yes. We have been learning to work together. As we never thought of doing in prewar days. But all the same, don’t you imagine we bankers think we can stop war. We know better than that. Don’t expect it of us. Don’t put too much on us. We can’t fight popular clamour, and we can’t fight a mischievous politician who stirs it up. Above all, we can’t fight the printing press. While these sovereign governments of yours can turn paper into money we can be put out of action with the utmost ease. Don’t imagine we are that mysterious unseen power, the Money Power, your parlour Bolsheviks talk about. We bankers are what conditions have made us and we are limited by our conditions.”
“OUR position is fantastic,” said Camelford. “When I say ‘our’ I mean the chemical industries of the world, my associates, that is, here and abroad. I’m glad to say I can count Sir Bussy now among them.”
Sir Bussy’s face was a mask.
“Take one instance to show what I mean by ‘fantastic,’” Camelford went on. “We in our various ramifications, are the only people able to produce gas on the scale needed in modern war. Practically now all the chemical industries of the world are so linked that I can say ‘we.’ Well, we have perhaps a hundred things necessary for modern warfare more or less under our control, and gas is the most important. If these sovereign Powers which still divide the world up in such an inconvenient way, contrive another war, they will certainly have to use gas, whatever agreements they may have made about it beforehand. And we, our great network of interests, are seeing to it that they will have plenty of gas, good reliable gas at reasonable business rates, all and more than they need. We supply all of them now and probably if war comes we shall still supply all of them — both sides. We may break up our associations a bit for the actual war, but that will be a mere incidental necessity. And so far we haven’t been able to do anything else in our position than what we are doing. Just like you bankers, we are what circumstances have made us. There’s nothing sovereign about US. We aren’t governments with the power to declare war or make peace. Such influence as we have with governments and war offices is limited and indirect. Our position is that of dealers simply. We sell gas just as other people sell the Army meat or cabbages.
“But see how it works out. I was figuring at it the other day. Very roughly, of course. Suppose we put the casualties in the next big war at, say, five million and the gas ones at about three — that, I think, is a very moderate estimate, but then you see I’m convinced the next war will be a gas war — every man gassed will have paid us, on the average, anything between four-pence and three-and-tenpence, according to the Powers engaged, for the manufacture, storage, and delivery of the gas he gets. My estimate is naturally approximate. A greater number of casualties will, of course, reduce the cost to the individual. But each of these predestined gasees — if I may coin a word — is now paying something on that scale year by year in taxation — and we of the big chemical international are seeing that the supply won’t fail him. We’re a sort of gas club. Like a goose club. Raffle at the next great war. YOUR ticket’s death in agony, YOURS a wheezing painful lung and poverty, YOU’RE a blank, lucky chap! You won’t get any good out of it, but you won’t get any of the torture. It seems crazy to me, but it seems reasonable to everyone else, and what are we to fly in the face of the Instincts and Institutions of Mankind?”
Mr. Parham played with the nutcrackers and said nothing. This Camelford was an offensive cynic. He would rob even death in battle of its dignity. Gasees!
“The Gasees Club doesn’t begin to exhaust the absurdities of the present situation,” Camelford went on. “All these damned war offices, throughout the world have what they call secrets. Oh! — Their SECRETS! The fuss. The precautions. Our people in England, I mean our war-office people, have a gas, a wonderful gas — L. It’s General Gerson’s own pet child. His only child. Beastly filth. Tortures you and then kills you. He gloats over it. It needs certain rare earths and minerals that we produce at Cayme in Cornwall. You’ve heard of our new works there — rather a wonderful place in its way. Some of our young men do astonishing work. We’ve got a whole string of compounds that might be used for the loveliest purposes. And in a way they are coming into use. Only unhappily you can also get this choke stink out of one of our products. Or THEY can — and we have to pretend we don’t know what they want it for. Secret, you know. Important military secret. The scientific industrial world is keeping secrets like that for half a dozen governments. . . . It’s childish. It’s insane.”
Mr. Parham shook his head privately as one who knows better.
“Do I understand,” said Hamp, feeling his way cautiously, “that you know of that new British gas — I’ve heard whispers —?”
He broke off interrogatively.
“We have to know more or less. We have to sit on one side and look on and pretend not to see or know while your spies and experts and our spies and experts poke about trying to turn pure science into pure foolery. . . . Boy scout spying and boy scout chemists. . . . It can’t go on. And yet it IS going on. That is the situation. That is where the world’s persistence in independent sovereign governments is taking us. What can we do? You say you can do nothing. I wonder. We might cut off the supply of this pet gas for the British; we might cut off certain high explosives and other material that are the darling secrets of the Germans and your people. There’d have to be a tussle with some of our own associates. But I think we could do it now. . . . Suppose we did make the attempt. Would it alter things much? Suppose they had the pluck to arrest us. The Common Fool would be against us.”
“The Common Fool!” cried Mr. Parham, roused at last. “By that, sir, you mean that the whole tenor of human experience would be against you. What else can there be but these governments at which you cavil? What do they stand for? The common life and thought of mankind. And — forgive me if I put you in difficulties — who are YOU? Would you abolish government? Would you set up some extraordinary super-government, some freemasonry of bankers and scientific men to rule the world by conspiracy?”
“AND scientific men! Bankers AND scientific men! Oh, we TRY to be scientific men in our way,” protested Hamp, seeking sympathy by beaming through his spectacles at Sir Bussy.
“I think I would look for some new way of managing human affairs,” said Camelford, answering Mr. Parham’s question. “I think sooner or later we shall have to try something of the sort. I think science will have to take control.”
“That is to say Treason and a new International,” flashed Mr. Parham. “Without even the social envy of the proletariat to support you!”
“Why not?” murmured Sir Bussy.
“And how are you superior people going to deal with the Common Fool — who is, after all, mankind?”
“You could educate him to support you,” said Atterbury. “He’s always been very docile when you’ve caught him young.”
“Something very like a fresh start,” said Camelford. “A new sort of world. It’s not so incredible. Modern political science is in its infancy. It’s a century or so younger than chemistry or biology. I suppose that to begin with we should have a new sort of education, on quite other lines. Scrap all these poisonous national histories of yours, for example, and start people’s minds clean by telling them what the world might be for mankind.”
Sir Bussy nodded assent. Mr. Parham found his nod faintly irritating. He restrained an outbreak.
“Unhappily for your idea of fresh starts,” he said, “the Days of Creation are over, and now one day follows another.”
He liked that. It was a good point to make.
In the pause Sir Walter addressed himself to Camelford. “That idea of yours about the gasees club is very vivid. I could have used that in a lecture I gave, a week ago.”
The young American, who had taken no part in the discussion hitherto, now ventured timidly: “I think perhaps you Europeans, if I might say so, are disposed to underestimate the sort of drive there was behind the Kellogg Pact. It may seem fruitless — who can tell yet? — but mind you there was something made that gun. It’s in evidence, even if it’s no more than evidence. The Kellogg Pact isn’t the last proposition of that sort you’ll get from America.”
He reddened as he said his piece, but clearly he had something definite behind what he said.
“I admit that,” said Sir Walter. “In America there is still an immense sentiment towards world peace, and you find something of the same sort in a less developed form everywhere. But it gets no organized expression, no effective development. It remains merely a sentiment. It isn’t moving on to directive action. That’s what’s worrying my mind more and more. Before we can give that peace feeling real effectiveness there has to be a tremendous readjustment of ideas.”
Mr. Parham nodded his assent with an air of indifference and consumed a few grapes.
And then it seemed to him that these other men began to talk with a deliberate disregard of what he had been saying. Or, to be more precise, with a deliberate disregard of the indisputable correctness of what he had been saying. It was not as if it had not been said, it was not as if it had been said and required answering, but it was as if a specimen had been laid upon the table.
In the later stages of Sir Bussy’s ample and varied dinners Mr. Parham was apt to experience fluctuations of mood. At one moment he would be solid and strong and lucidly expressive, and then he would flush, and waves of anger and suspicion would wash through his mind. And now suddenly, as he listened to the talk — and for a while he did no more than listen — he had that feeling which for some time had been haunting him more and more frequently, that the world, with a sort of lax malice, was slipping away from all that was sane and fine and enduring in human life. To put it plainly, these men were plotting openly and without any disguise, the subordination of patriotism, loyalty, discipline, and all the laboured achievements of statecraft to some vague international commonweal, some fantastic organization of cosmopolitan finance and cosmopolitan industrialism. They were saying things every whit as outrageous as the stuff for which we sent the talkative Bolshevik spinning back to his beloved Russia. And they were going on with this after all he had said so plainly and clearly about political realities. Was it any good to speak further?
Yet could he afford to let it go unchallenged? There sat Sir Bussy, drinking it in!
They talked. They talked.
“When first I went to Geneva,” said Sir Walter, “I didn’t realize how little could be done there upon the basis of current mentality. I didn’t know how definitely existing patriotisms were opposed to the beginnings of an international consciousness. I thought they might fade down in time to a generous rivalry in the service of mankind. But while we try to build up a permanent world peace away there in Geneva, every schoolmaster and every cadet corps in England and every school in France is training the next generation to smash anything of the sort, is doing everything possible to carry young and generous minds back to the exploded delusions of wartime patriotism. . . . All over the world it seems to be the same.”
The young American, shy in the presence of his seniors, could but make a noise of protest like one who stirs in his sleep. Thereby he excepted his native land.
“Then,” said Mr. Parham, doing his smile but with a slight involuntary sneer of his left nostril, “you’d begin this great new civilization that is to come, by shutting up our schools?”
“He’d CHANGE ’em,” corrected Sir Bussy.
“Scrap schools, colleges, churches, universities, armies, navies, flags, and honour, and start the millennium from the ground upwards,” derided Mr. Parham.
“Why not?” said Sir Bussy, with a sudden warning snarl in his voice.
“That,” said Hamp, with that profundity of manner, that air of marking an epoch by some simple remark, of which only Americans possess the secret, “is just what quite a lot of us are hesitating to say. WHY NOT? Sir Bussy, you got right down to the bottom of things with that ‘Why not?’”
The speaker’s large dark gray eyes strongly magnified by his spectacles went from face to face; his cheeks were flushed.
“We’ve scrapped carriages and horses, we’re scrapping coal fires and gas lighting, we’ve done with the last big wooden ships, we can hear and see things now on the other side of the world and do a thousand — miracles, I call them — that would have been impossible a hundred years ago. What if frontiers too are out of date? What if countries and cultures have become too small? Why should we go on with the schools and universities that served the ends of our great-grandfathers, and with the governments that were the latest fashion in constitutions a century and a half ago?”
“I presume,” said Mr. Parham unheeded, addressing himself to the flowers on the table before him, “because the dealings of man with man are something entirely different from mechanical operations.”
“I see no reason why there shouldn’t be invention in psychology, just as much as in chemistry or physics,” said Camelford.
“Your world peace, when you examine it,” said Mr. Parham, “flies in the face of the fundamental institutions — the ancient and tested institutions of mankind — the institutions that have made man what he is. That is the reason.”
“The institutions of mankind,” contradicted Camelford, with tranquil assurance, “are just as fundamental and no more fundamental than a pair of trousers. If the world grows out of them and they become inconvenient, it won’t kill anything essential in man to get others. That, I submit, is what he has to set about doing now. He grows more and more independent of the idea that his pants are him. If our rulers and teachers won’t attempt to let out or replace the old garments, so much the worse for them. In the long run. Though for a time, as Sir Walter seems to think, the tension may fall on us. In the long run we shall have to get a new sort of management for our affairs and a new sort of teacher for our sons — however tedious and troublesome it may be to get them — however long and bloody the time of change may be.”
“Big proposition,” said Mr. Hamp.
“Which ought to make it all the more attractive to a citizen of the land of big propositions,” said Camelford.
“Why should we be so confoundedly afraid of scrapping things?” said Sir Bussy. “If the schools do mischief and put back people’s children among the ideas that made the war, why not get rid of ’em? Scrap our stale schoolmasters. We’d get a new sort of school all right.”
“And the universities?” said Mr. Parham, amused, with his voice going high.
Sir Bussy turned on him and regarded him gravely.
“Parham,” he said slowly, “you’re infernally well satisfied with the world. I’m not. You’re afraid it may change into something else. You want to stop it right here and now. Or else you may have to learn something new and throw away the old bag of tricks. Yes — I know you. That’s your whole mind. You’re afraid that a time will come when all the important things of today will just not matter a rap; when what that chap Napoleon fancied was his Destiny or what old Richelieu imagined to be a fine forward foreign policy, will matter no more to intelligent people than —” he sought for an image and drew it slowly out of his mind —“the ideas of some old buck rabbit in the days of Queen Elizabeth.”
The attack was so direct, so deliberately offensive in its allusion to Mr. Parham’s masterly studies of Richelieu, that for the moment that gentleman had nothing to say.
“Gaw,” said Sir Bussy, “when I hear talk like this it seems to me that this Tradition of yours is only another word for Putrefaction. The clean way with Nature is dying and being born. Same with human institutions — only more so. How can we live unless we scrap and abolish? How can a town be clean without a dust destructor? What’s your history really? Simply what’s been left over from the life of yesterday. Egg shells and old tin cans.”
“Now THAT’S a thought,” said Hamp and turned appreciative horn spectacles to Sir Bussy.
“The greatest of reformers, gentlemen,” said Hamp, with a quavering of the voice, “told the world it had to be born again. And that, as I read the instruction, covered everybody and everything in it.”
“It’s a big birth we want this time,” said Camelford.
“God grant it isn’t a miscarriage,” said Sir Walter.
He smiled at his own fancy. “If we WILL make the birth chamber an arsenal, we may have the guns going off — just at the wrong moment.”
Mr. Parham, still and stiff, smoked his excellent cigar. He knocked off his ash into his ash tray with a firm hand. His face betrayed little of his resentment at Sir Bussy’s insult. Merely it insisted upon dignity. But behind that marble mask the thoughts stormed. Should he get up right there and depart? In silence? In contemptuous silence? Or perhaps with a brief bitter speech: “Gentlemen, I’ve heard enough folly for tonight. Perhaps you do not realize the incalculable mischief such talk as this can do. For me at least international affairs are grave realities.”
He raised his eyes and found Sir Bussy, profoundly pensive but in no way hostile, regarding him.
A moment — a queer moment, and something faded out in Mr. Parham.
“Have a little more of this old brandy,” said Sir Bussy in that persuasive voice of his.
Mr. Parham hesitated, nodded gravely — as it were forgivingly — seemed to wake up, smiled ambiguously, and took some more of the old brandy.
But the memory of that conversation was to rankle in Mr. Parham’s mind and inflame his imagination like a barbed and poisoned arrowhead that would not be removed. He would find himself reprobating its tendencies aloud as he walked about Oxford, his habit of talking to himself was increased by it, and it broke his rest of nights and crept into his dreams. A deepening hatred of modern scientific influences that he had hitherto kept at the back of his mind, was now, in spite of his instinctive resistance, creeping into the foreground. One could deal with the financial if only the scientific would leave it alone. The banker and the merchant are as old as Rome and Babylon. One could deal with Sir Bussy if it were not for the insidious influence of such men as Camelford and their vast materialistic schemes. They were something new. He supplied force, but they engendered ideas. He could resist and deflect, but they could change.
That story about an exclusive British gas . . .!
With Camelford overlooking it like a self-appointed God. Proposing to cut off the supply. Proposing in effect to stand out of war and make the game impossible. The strike, the treason, of the men of science and the modern men of enterprise. Could they work such a strike? The most fretting it was of all the riddles in our contemporary world. And while these signs of Anglo–Saxon decadence oppressed him, came Mussolini’s mighty discourse to the Italian Nation on the Eve of the General Elections of 1929. That ringing statement of Fascist aims, that assertion of the paramount need of a sense of the state, of discipline and energy, had a clarity, a nobility, a boldness and power altogether beyond the quality of anything one heard in English. Mr. Parham read it and re-read it. He translated it into Latin and it was even more splendid. He sought to translate it, but that was more difficult, into English prose. “This is a man,” said Mr. Parham. “Is there no other man of his kind?”
And late one evening he found himself in his bedroom in Pontingale Street before his mirror. For Mr. Parham possessed a cheval glass. He had gone far in his preparation for bed. He had put on his dressing gown, leaving one fine arm and shoulder free for gesticulation. And with appropriate movements of his hand, he was repeating these glorious words of the great dictator.
“Your Excellencies, Comrades, Gentlemen,” he was saying.
“Now do not think that I wish to commit the sin of immodesty in telling you that all this work, of which I have given a summarised and partial résumé, has been activated by my mind. The work of legislation, of putting schemes into action, of control and of the creation of new institutions, has formed only a part of my efforts. There is another part, not so well-known, but the existence of which will be manifest to you through the following figures which may be of interest: I have granted over 60,000 audiences; I have dealt with 1,887,112 cases of individual citizens, received directly by my Private Secretary . . . .
“In order to withstand this strain I have put my body in training; I have regulated my daily work; I have reduced to a minimum any loss of time and energy and I have adopted this rule, which I recommend to all Italians. The day’s work must be methodically and regularly completed within the day. No work must be left over. The ordinary work must proceed with an almost mechanical regularity. My collaborators, whom I recall with pleasure and whom I wish to thank publicly, have imitated me. The hard work has appeared light to me, partly because it is varied, and I have resisted the strain because my will was sustained by my faith. I have assumed — as was my duty — both the small and the greater responsibilities.”
Mr. Parham ceased to quote. He stared at the not ungraceful figure in the mirror.
“Has Britain no such Man?”
But the real business we have in hand in this book is to tell of the Master Spirit. A certain prelude has been necessary to our story, but now that we are through with it we can admit it was no more than a prelude. Here at the earliest possible moment the actual story starts. There shall be nothing else but story-telling now right to the end of the book.
Mr. Parham’s metapsychic experiences were already beginning before the conversation recorded in the previous section. They began, or at least the seed of them was sown, in a train bringing Sir Bussy and a party of friends back to London from Oxford after one of Mr. Parham’s attempts to impose something of the ripeness and dignity of that ancient home of thought, upon his opulent friend. It was the occasion of Lord Fluffingdon’s great speech on the imperial soul. They had seen honorary degrees conferred upon a Royal Princess, an Indian Rajah, the expenditure secretary of a wealthy American millionaire and one of the most brilliant and successful collectors of honours in the world, three leading but otherwise undistinguished conservative politicians, and a Scotch comedian. It had been a perfect day in the sunshine, rich late Gothic old gardens, robes, smiles, and mellow compliments. The company had been the picked best of Who’s Who dressed up for the occasion, and Lord Fluffingdon had surpassed expectation. In the compartment with Sir Bussy and Mr. Parham were Hereward Jackson, just in the enthusiastic stages of psychic research, and Sir Titus Knowles, and the spacious open-mindedness of Sir Oliver Lodge, slow, conscientious, and lucid, ruled the discussion.
Hereward Jackson started the talk about psychic phenomena. Sir Titus Knowles was fiercely and vulgarly skeptical and early lost his always very thin and brittle temper. Sir Bussy said little.
Nearly six years of intermittent association had lit no spark of affection between Sir Titus and Mr. Parham. For Mr. Parham Sir Titus combined all that is fearful in the medical man, who at any moment may tell you to take off everything and be punched about anywhere, and all that is detestable in the scientist. They rarely talked, and when they did contradictions flew like sparks from the impact.
“The mediums as a class are rogues and tricksters,” said Sir Titus. “It’s common knowledge.”
“Ah, THERE!” said Mr. Parham, cutting in, “there you have the positivism and assurance of — if you’ll pardon the adjective — old-fashioned science.”
“Precious few who haven’t been caught at it,” said Sir Titus, turning from Hereward Jackson to this new attack upon his flank.
“On SOME occasions, but not on ALL occasions,” said Mr. Parham. “We have to be logical even upon such irritating questions as this.”
Normally he would have kept himself smilingly aloof and skeptical. It was his genuine hatred for the harsh mentality of Sir Titus that had drawn him in. But there he was, before he knew it, taking up a position of open-minded inquiry close to Sir Oliver’s, and much nearer to Jackson’s omnivorous faith, than to doubt and denial. For a time Sir Titus was like a baited badger. “Look at the facts!” he kept barking. “Look at the actual facts!”
“That’s just what I HAVE looked at,” said Hereward Jackson . . . .
It did not occur to Mr. Parham that he had let himself in for more than a stimulating discussion until Sir Bussy spoke to him and the others, but chiefly to him, out of his corner.
“I didn’t know Parham was open-minded like this,” he said.
And presently: “Have you ever seen any of this stuff, Parham? We ought to go and see some, if you think like that.”
If Mr. Parham had been alert he might have nipped the thing in the bud then and there, but he was not alert that afternoon. He hardly realized that Sir Bussy had pinned him.
And so all that follows followed.
For a month or so Mr. Parham opposed and evaded Sir Bussy’s pressure towards psychic research. It wasn’t at all the sort of thing to do, nowadays. It had been vulgarized. Their names were certain to be used freely in the most undignified connections. And at the bottom of his heart Mr. Parham did not believe that there was the shadow of an unknown reality in these obscure performances.
But never had he had such occasion to appreciate the force and tenacity of Sir Bussy’s will. He would lie awake at nights wondering why his own will was so inadequate in its resistance. Was it possible, he questioned, that a fine education and all the richness and subtlety that only the classics, classical philosophy, and period history can impart, were incompatible with a really vigorous practical thrust. Oxford educated for quality, but did it educate for power?
Yet he had always assumed he was preparing his Young Men for positions of influence and power. It was a disagreeable novelty for him to ask if anything was wrong with his own will and if so, what it was that was wrong. And it seemed to him that if only he had believed in the efficacy of prayer, he would have prayed first and foremost for some tremendous affluence of will that would have borne away Sir Bussy’s obstinacy like a bubble in a torrent. So that it would not be necessary to evade and oppose it afresh day after day. And at last, as he perceived he must, yield to it.
All the private heart searchings of this period of resistance and delay were shot with the reiteration of what had been through all the six years of intercourse an unsettled perplexity. What was Sir Bussy doing this for? Did he really want to know that there was some sort of chink or retractile veil that led out of this sane world of ours into worlds of unknown wonder, and through which maybe that unknown wonder might presently break into our common day? Did he hope for his “way out of it” here? Or was he simply doing this — as he seemed to have done so many other queer things — to vex, puzzle, and provoke queer reactions in Mr. Parham, Sir Titus, and various other intimates? Or was there a confusion in that untrained intelligence between both sets of motives?
Whatever his intentions, Sir Bussy got his way. One October evening after an exceptionally passoverish dinner at Marmion House, Mr. Parham found himself with Sir Titus, Hereward Jackson, and Sir Bussy in Sir Bussy’s vast smooth car, in search of 97 Buggins Street, in the darker parts of the borough of Wandsworth, Mr. Hereward Jackson assisting the chauffeur spasmodically, unhelpfully, and dangerously at the obscurer corners. The peculiar gifts of a certain Mr. Carnac Williams were to be studied and considered.
The medium had been recommended by the best authorities, and Hereward Jackson had already visited this place before. Their hostess was to be old Mrs. Mountain, a steadfast pillar in the spiritualist movement in dark days and prosperous days alike, and this first essay would, it was hoped, display some typical phenomena, voices, messages, perhaps a materialization, nothing very wonderful, but a good beginner’s show.
97 Buggins Street was located at last, a dimly lit double-fronted house with steps up to a door with a fanlight.
Old Mrs. Mountain appeared in the passage behind the small distraught domestic who had admitted her guests. She was a comfortable, shapeless old lady in black, with a mid-Victorian lace cap, lace ruffles, and a lace apron. She was disposed to be nervously affable and charming. She welcomed Hereward Jackson with a copious friendliness. “And here’s your friends,” she said. “Mr. Smith, shall we say? And Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown. Naming no names. Welcome all! Last night he was WONDERFUL.”
Hereward Jackson explained over his shoulder: “Best to be pseudonymous,” he said.
She ushered them into a room of her own period, with a cottage piano topped with a woollen mat on which were a pot of some fine-leaved fern and a pile of music, a mantel adorned with a large mirror and many ornaments, a central table with a red cloth and some books, a gas pendant, hanging bookshelves, large gilt-framed oleograph landscapes, a small sofa, a brightly burning fire, and a general air of comfort. Cushions, small mats, and antimacassars abounded, and there was an assemblage of stuffed linnets and canaries under a glass shade. It was a room to eat muffins in. Four people, rather drawn together about the fire and with something defensive in their grouping, stood awaiting the new inquirers. An overgrown-looking young man of forty with a large upturned white face and an expression of strained indifference was “my son Mr. Mountain.” A little blonde woman was Miss — something or other; a tall woman in mourning with thin cheeks, burning eyes, and a high colour was “a friend who joins us,” and the fourth was Mr. Carnac Williams, the medium for the evening.
“Mr. Smith, Mr. Jones, Mr. Brown,” said Mrs. Mountain, “and this gentleman you know.”
The little blonde woman glowed the friendliness of a previous encounter at Hereward Jackson, and Mr. Mountain hesitated and held out a flabby hand to shake Sir Bussy’s.
Mr. Parham’s first reaction to the medium was dislike. The man was obviously poor, and the dark, narrow eyes in his white face were quick and evasive. He carried his hands bent at the wrist as if he reserved the palms and his manner was a trifle too deferential to Sir Bussy for that complete lack of information about the visitors attributed to the home team.
“I can’t answer for anything,” said Mr. Williams in flat, loud tones. “I’m merely a tool.”
“A wonderful tool last night,” said Mrs. Mountain.
“I knew nothing,” said Mr. Williams.
“It was very wonderful to ME,” said the tall woman in a soft musical voice and seemed restrained by emotion from saying more.
There was a moment’s silence.
“Our normal procedure,” said Mr. Mountain, betraying a slight lisp in his speech, “is to go upstairs. The room on the first floor is prepared — oh! you’ll be able to satisfy yourselves it’s not been prepared in any wrong sense. Recently we have been so fortunate as to get actual materializations — a visitant. Our atmosphere has been favourable. . . . If nothing happens to change it . . . But shall we go upstairs?”
The room upstairs seemed very bare in comparison with the crowded cosiness of the room below. It had been cleared of bric-à-brac. There was a large table surrounded by chairs. One of them was an armchair, destined for Mrs. Mountain, and by it stood a small occasional table bearing a gramophone; the rest were those chairs with bun-like seats so characteristic of the Early Maple period. A third table carried some loose flowers, a tambourine, and a large slate, which was presently discovered to be painted with phosphorescent paint. One corner had been curtained off. “That’s the cabinet,” said Mrs. Mountain. “You’re quite welcome to search it.”
On a small table inside it there were ropes, a candle, sealing wax, and other material.
“We aren’t for searching to-night,” said Sir Bussy. “We’re just beginners and ready to take your word for almost anything. We want to get your point of view and all that. It’s afterwards we’ll make trouble.”
“A very fair and reasonable way of approaching the spirits,” said Williams. “I feel we’ll have a good atmosphere.”
Mr. Parham looked cynically impartial.
“If we’re not to apply any tests . . .” began Sir Titus, with a note of protest.
“We’ll just watch this time,” said Sir Bussy. “I’ll let you have some tests all right later.”
“We don’t mind tests,” said Williams. “There’s a lot about this business I’d like to have tested up to the hilt. For I understand it no more than you do. I’m just a vehicle.”
“Yaa,” said Sir Titus.
Mr. Mountain proceeded with his explanations. They had been working with a few friends at spirit appearances. Their recent custom had been to get the most skeptical person present to tie up Williams in his chair as hard and firmly as possible. Then hands were joined in the normal way. Then, in complete darkness, except for the faint glimmer of phosphorescence from the slate, they waited. Mrs. Mountain would keep the gramophone going and had a small weak flashlight for the purpose. The person next her could check her movements. The thread of music was very conducive to phenomena, they found. They need not wait in silence, for that sometimes produced a bad atmosphere. They might make light but not frivolous conversation or simple comments until things began to happen.
“There’s nothing mysterious or magical about it,” said Mr. Mountain.
“YOU’LL do the tying up,” said Hereward Jackson to Sir Titus.
“I know a knot or two,” said Sir Titus ominously. “Do we strip him first?”
“Oo!” said Mr. Mountain reproachfully and indicated the ladies. The question of stripping or anything but a superficial searching was dropped.
Mr. Parham stood in unaffected boredom studying the rather fine lines of the lady in mourning while these preliminaries were settled. She was, he thought, a very sympathetic type. The other woman was a trifle blowsy and much too prepossessed by the medium and Hereward Jackson. The rest of these odd people he disliked, though he bore himself with a courtly graciousness towards old Mrs. Mountain. What intolerable folly it all was!
After eternities of petty fussing the medium was tied up, the knots sealed, and the circle formed. Mr. Parham had placed himself next to the lady in black, and on the other side he fell into contact with the flabby Mountain. Sir Bussy, by a sort of natural precedence, had got between the medium and the old lady. Sir Titus, harshly vigilant, had secured the medium’s left. The lights were turned out. For several dreary centuries nothing happened except a dribble of weak conversation and an uneasy rustling from the medium. Once he moaned. “HE’S GOING OFF!” said Mrs. Mountain. The finger of the lady in mourning twitched, and Mr. Parham was stirred to answering twitches, but it amounted to nothing, and Mr. Parham’s interest died away.
Sir Bussy began a conversation with Hereward Jackson about the prospects of Wildcat for the Derby.
“DARLING MUMMY,” came in a faint falsetto from outside the circle.
“What was that?” barked Sir Titus sharply.
“Ssh!” from Sir Bussy.
The lady beside Mr. Parham stirred slightly, and the pressure of her hand beside his intensified. She made a noise as though she wanted to speak, but nothing came but a sob.
“My DEAR lady!” said Mr. Parham softly, deeply moved.
“Just a fla, Mummy. I can’t stop to-night. The’s others want to come.”
Something flopped lightly and softly on the table; it proved afterwards to be a chrysanthemum. There was a general silence, and Mr. Parham realized that the lady beside him was weeping noiselessly. “Milly — sweetheart,” she whispered. “Good-night, dear. Good-night.”
Mr. Parham hadn’t reckoned on this sort of thing. It made his attention wander. His fine nature responded too readily to human feeling. He hardly noticed at first a queer sound that grew louder, a slobbering and slopping sound that was difficult to locate.
“That’s the ectoplasm,” said old Mrs. Mountain, “working.”
Mr. Parham brought his mind, which had been concentrated on conveying the very deepest sympathy of a strong silent man through his little finger, back to the more general issues of the séance.
Mrs. Mountain started the gramophone for the fourth or fifth repetition of that French horn solo when Tristan is waiting for Isolde. One saw a dim circle of light and her hand moving the needle. Then the light went out with a click and Wagner resumed.
Mr. Mountain was talking to the spinster lady about the best way to get back to Battersea.
“Ssssh!” said Sir Titus, as if blowing off steam.
Things were happening. “DAMN!” said Sir Titus.
“Steady!” said Sir Bussy. “Don’t break the circle.”
“I was struck by a tin box,” said Sir Titus, “or something as hard!”
“No need to move,” said Sir Bussy unkindly.
“Struck on the back of the head,” said Sir Titus.
“It may have been the tambourine,” said Mr. Mountain.
“Flas!” said the medium’s voice, and something soft, cold, and moist struck Mr. Parham in the face and fell in his hand.
“Keep the circle, please,” said old Mrs. Mountain.
Certainly this was exciting in a queer, tedious, unpleasant sort of way. After each event there was a wide expectant interval.
“Our friend is coming,” said the medium’s voice. “Our dear visitant.”
The tambourine with a faint jingle floated over the table far out of reach. It drifted towards Sir Titus. “If you touch me again!” threatened Sir Titus, and the tambourine thought better of it and, it would seem, made its way back to the other table.
A light hand rested for a moment on Mr. Parham’s shoulder. Was it a woman’s hand? He turned quietly and was startled to find something with a faint bluish luminosity beside him. It was the phosphorescent slate.
“Look!” said Hereward Jackson.
Sir Titus grunted.
A figure was gliding noiselessly and evenly outside the circle. It held the luminous slate and raised and lowered this against its side to show a robed woman’s figure with a sort of nun’s coif. “She’s come,” sighed Mrs. Mountain very softly.
It seemed a long time before this visitant spoke.
“Lee-tle children,” said a womanly falsetto. “Leetle children.”
“Who’s the lady?” asked Sir Bussy.
The figure became invisible.
After a little pause the medium answered from his place. “St. Catherine.”
The name touched a fount of erudition in Mr. Parham. “WHICH St. Catherine?”
“Just St. Catherine.”
“But there were TWO St. Catherines — or more,” said Mr. Parham. “Two who had mystical marriages with the Lord. St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose symbol is the wheel — the patroness of spinsters generally and the Catherinettes of Paris in particular — and St. Catherine of Siena. There’s a picture by Memling — perfectly lovely thing. And, yes — there WAS a third one, a Norwegian St. Catherine, if I remember rightly. And possibly others. Couldn’t she tell us? I would so like to know.”
A silence followed this outbreak.
“She’s never told us anything of that,” said Mrs. Mountain.
“I THINK it’s St. Catherine of Siena,” said the spinster lady.
“She is a very sweet lady, anyhow,” said Hereward Jackson.
“Can we be told this?” asked Sir Bussy.
The medium’s voice replied very softly. “She prefers not to discuss these things. For us she wishes to be just our dear friend, the Lady Catherine. She comes on a mission of mercy.”
“Don’t press it,” said Sir Bussy.
After a tedious interval St. Catherine became faintly visible again. She kissed Sir Titus softly on the top of his high forehead, leaving him audibly unreconciled, and then she floated back to the left of Mr. Parham.
“I came to tell you,” she said, “that the little one is happy — so happy. She plays with flas — lovelier flas than you ever saw. Asphodel. And lovely flas like that. She is with me, under my special care. So she was able to come to you.” . . .
The dim figure faded into utter darkness. “Farewell, my DEAR ones.”
“Gaw!” said a familiar voice.
The gramophone ran down with a scratching sound. A deep silence followed, broken for a time only by the indignant breathing of Sir Titus Knowles.
“WET kisses,” he said.
The darkness was impenetrable. Then Mrs. Mountain began to fumble with the gramophone, revealing a little glow of light that made the rest of the darkness deeper; a certain amount of scraping and shuffling became audible, and the medium was heard to groan. “I am tired,” he complained, “I am terribly tired.” Then, to judge by a string of sloppy noises, he seemed to be retracting his ectoplasm.
“That was very interesting,” said Sir Bussy suddenly. “All the same —” he went on and then paused —“it isn’t what I want. It was very kind of St. Catherine, whichever St. Catherine she was, to leave Bliss and all that and visit us. And I LIKED her kissing Sir Titus. It showed a nice disposition. He’s not a man you’d kiss for pleasure. But . . . I don’t know if any of you have seen that great fat book by Baron Schrenck–Notzing. Sort of like a scientific book. I’ve been reading that. What HE got was something different from this.”
His voice paused interrogatively.
“Could we have the light up?” said Mr. Mountain.
“In a minute I shall be able to bear it,” said Williams, very faint and faded. “Just one more minute.”
“Then we shall SEE,” said Sir Titus.
“I think we might break the circle now,” said Mrs. Mountain and rose rustlingly. The hand Mr. Parham had been touching slipped out of his reach.
The light seemed blinding at first; the room was bleakly uncomfortable, and everybody looked ghastly. The medium’s face was a leaden white, he was leaning back in his chair, in which he was still tied, with his head rolling slackly from side to side as though his neck were broken. Sir Titus set himself to examine his knots forthwith. It reminded Mr. Parham of the examination of a casualty. Sir Bussy watched Sir Titus. Mr. Mountain and Hereward Jackson stood up and leant over the table. “The sealing wax intact,” said Sir Titus. “The knots good and twisted round the chair, just as I left them. HULLO!”
“Found something?” asked Hereward Jackson.
“Yes. The thread of cotton between the coat collar and the chair back has been snapped.”
“That always gets broken somehow,” said Mr. Mountain, with scientific detachment.
“But WHY?” asked Sir Titus.
“We needn’t bother about that now,” said Sir Bussy, and the medium made noises in his throat and opened and closed his eyes.
“Shall we give him water?” asked the spinster lady.
Water was administered.
Sir Bussy was brooding over his fists on the table. “I want more than this,” he said and addressed himself to the medium. “You see, Mr. Williams, this is a very good show you have put up, but it isn’t what I am after. In this sort of thing there are degrees and qualities, as in all sorts of things.”
Williams still appeared very dazed. “Were there any phenomena?” he asked of the company.
“Wonderful,” said old Mrs. Mountain, with reassuring nods of the head, and the spinster lady echoed, “Beautiful. It was St. Catherine again.”
The lady in black was too moved for words.
Sir Bussy regarded Williams sideways with that unpleasing dropping of his nether lip. “You could do better than this under different conditions,” he said in a quasi-confidential manner.
“Test conditions,” said Sir Titus.
“This is a friendly atmosphere, of course,” said the medium and regarded Sir Bussy with a mixture of adventure and defensiveness in his eyes. He had come awake very rapidly and was now quite alert. The water had done him good.
“I perceive that,” said Sir Bussy.
“Under severer conditions the phenomena might be more difficult.”
“That too I perceive.”
“I’d be willing to participate in an investigation,” said Williams in a tone that was almost businesslike.
“After what I’ve seen and heard and felt to-night,” said Sir Titus, “I prophesy only one end to such an investigation — Exposure.”
“How CAN you say such a thing?” cried the spinster lady and turned to Hereward Jackson. “Tell him he is mistaken.”
Hereward Jackson had played a markedly unaggressive part that evening. “No doubt he is,” he said. “Let us be open-minded. I don’t think Mr. Williams need shirk an investigation under tests.”
“Fair tests,” said Williams.
“I’d see they were fair,” said Hereward Jackson.
He became thoughtful. “There is such a thing as assisted phenomena,” he mused aloud.
“For my part, mind you,” said Williams, “I’m altogether passive, whatever happens.”
“But,” said Mr. Mountain in tenoring remonstrance to Sir Bussy, “doesn’t this evening satisfy you, sir?”
“This was a very amiable show,” said Sir Bussy. “But it left a lot to be desired.”
“It did,” said Sir Titus.
“You mean to say there was anything not straightforward?” challenged Mr. Mountain.
“That DEAR voice!” cried old Mrs. Mountain.
“The BEAUTY of it!” said the spinster lady.
“If you force me to speak,” said Sir Titus, “I accuse this man Williams of impudent imposture.”
“That goes too far,” said Hereward Jackson; “much too far. That’s dogma on the other side.”
Mr. Parham had stood aloof from the dispute he saw was gathering. He found it ugly and painful. He disbelieved in the phenomena almost as strongly as he disliked the disbelief of Sir Titus. He felt deeply for the little group which had gone on so happily from one revelation to another, invaded now by brawling denial, and brawling accusations, threatened by brawling exposure. Particularly he felt for the lady in mourning. She turned her eyes to him as if in appeal, and they were bright with unshed tears. Chivalry and pity stormed his heart.
“I agree,” he said. “I agree with Mr. Hereward Jackson. It is possible the medium, consciously or not, ASSISTED the phenomena. But the messages were REAL.”
Her face lit with gratitude and became an altogether beautiful face. And he did not even know her name!
“And the spirit of my dear one WAS present?” she implored.
Mr. Parham met the eye of Sir Titus and met it with hard determination. “Something came to us here from outside,” he said; “a message, an intimation, the breath of a soul — call it what you will.”
And having said this, the seed of belief was sown in Mr. Parham. For never before had he found reason to doubt his own word.
“And you are interested? You want to learn more?” pressed old Mrs. Mountain.
Mr. Parham went deeper and assented.
Had he heard Sir Bussy say, “Gaw,” or was that expletive getting on his nerves?
“Now, let’s get things a bit clearer,” said Williams. He was addressing himself directly to Sir Bussy. “I’m not answerable for what happens on these occasions. I go off. I’m not present, so to speak. I’m a mere instrument. You know more of what happens than I do.”
He glanced from Sir Bussy to old Mrs. Mountain and then came back to Sir Bussy. There was an air of scared enterprise about him that made Mr. Parham think of some rascally valet who plans the desertion of an old and kindly master while still in his employment. It was as plain as daylight that he knew who Sir Bussy was and regarded him as a great opportunity, an opportunity that had to be snatched even at the cost of some inconsistency. His manner admitted an element of imposture in all they had seen that night. And it was plain that Hereward Jackson’s convictions moved in accordance with his.
And yet he seemed to believe, and Hereward Jackson seemed to believe, that there was more than trickery in it. Insensibly Mr. Parham assimilated the “something in it” point of view. He found himself maintaining it quite ably against Sir Titus.
Williams, after much devious talk, came at last to his point. “If you four gentlemen mean business, and if one could be treated as some of these pampered foreign mediums are treated,” he said, “these Eva C’s and Eusapia Palladinos and such-like, one might manage to give as good or better than they give. I’m only a passive thing in these affairs, but have I ever had a fair chance of showing what was in me?”
“Gaw,” said Sir Bussy. “You shall have your chance.”
Williams was evidently almost as frightened as he was grateful at his success. He thought at once of the need of securing a line of retreat if that should prove necessary. He turned to the old lady.
“They’ll strip me naked and powder my feet. They’ll take flashlight photographs of me with the ectoplasm oozing out of me. They’ll very likely kill me. It won’t be anything like our good times here. But when they are through with it you’ll see they’ll have justified me. They’ll have justified me and justified all the faith you’ve shown in me.”
Once Sir Bussy had launched himself and his friends upon these metapsychic experiments he pursued the investigation with his customary intemperance. Carnac Williams was only one of several lines of investigation. It is a commonplace of psychic literature that the more a medium concentrates on the ectoplasm and materializations, the less is he or she capable of clairvoyance and the transmission of spirit messages. Carnac Williams was to develop along the former line. Meanwhile Sir Bussy took competent advice and secured the frequent presence of the more interesting clairvoyants available in London.
Carfex House was spacious, and Sir Bussy had a great supply of secretaries and under butlers. Rooms were told off for the materialization work and others for the reception of messages from the great beyond, and alert and attentive helpers learnt the names and business of the experts and showed them to their proper apartments. The materialization quarters were prepared most elaborately by Sir Titus Knowles. He was resolved to make them absolutely spirit-tight; to make any ectoplasm that was exuded in them feel as uncomfortable and unwelcome as ectoplasm could.
He and Williams carried on an interminable wrangle about hangings, lighting, the legitimate use of flashlight photography, and the like. Sir Titus even stood out, most unreasonably, against a black velvet cabinet and conceded Williams black tights for the sake of decency with an ill grace. “We aren’t going to have any women about,” said Sir Titus. Williams showed himself amazingly temperamental and Sir Titus was mulishly obstinate; Sir Bussy, Hereward Jackson, and Mr. Parham acted as their final court of appeal and pleased neither party. Hereward Jackson was consistently for Williams.
On the whole Williams got more from them than Sir Titus, chiefly because of Mr. Parham’s lack of intellectual sympathy with the latter. Constantly the casting vote fell to Mr. Parham. With secret delight he heard of — and on several occasions he assisted at — an increasing output of ectoplasm that it entirely defeated Sir Titus to explain. He was forbidden, by the rules and the hypothesis that it might conceivably cause the death of his adversary, to leap forward and grab the stuff. It bubbled out of the corners of Williams’s mouth, a horrid white creeping fluid, it flowed from his chest, it accumulated upon his knees; and it was withdrawn with a sort of sluggish alacrity. On the ninth occasion this hitherto shapeless matter took on the rude suggestions of hands and a human face, and a snapshot was achieved.
The tests and restrictions imposed upon the trances of the clairvoyants were, from the nature of the case, less rigorous than those directly controlled by Sir Titus, and their results developed rather in advance of the Williams manifestations.
The communications differed widely in quality. One medium professed a Red Indian control and also transmitted messages from a gentleman who had lived in Susa, “many years ago, long before the time of Abraham.” It was very difficult to determine where the Red Indian left off and where the ancient from Susa began. Moreover, “bad spirits” got in on the Susa communications, and departed friends of Hereward Jackson sent messages to say that it was “splendid” where they were, and that they were “so happy,” and wished everyone could be told about it, but faded out under further interrogation in the most unsatisfactory fashion. At an early stage Sir Bussy decided that he had had “enough of that gammon” and this particular practitioner was paid off and retired. There were several such failures. The details varied, but the common factor was a lack of elementary credibility. Two women mediums held out downstairs, while upstairs in the special room Williams, week by week, thrust his enlarging and developing ectoplasm into the pale and formidable disbelief of Sir Titus.
Of the two women downstairs one was a middle-aged American with no appeal for Mr. Parham; the other was a much more interesting and attractive type. She was dusky, with a curiously beautiful oval olive-tinted face and she said she was the young widow of an English merchant in Mauritius. Her name was Nanette Pinchot. She was better educated than the common run of psychic material and had very high recommendations from some of the greatest investigators in Paris and Berlin. She spoke English with a pleasing staccato. Neither she nor the American lady professed to be controlled by the usual ghost, and this was new to all the Carfex House investigators. The American lady had trances of a fit-like nature that threw her slanting-wise across her chair in inelegant attitudes. Mrs. Pinchot, when entranced, sat like a pensive cat, with her head inclined forward and her hands folded neatly in her lap. Neither lady had heard of the other. The one lodged with cousins in Highbury; the other stayed in a Kensington hotel. But their line of revelation was the same. Each professed to feel a mighty afflatus from an unknown source which had thrust all commonplace controls aside. There were moments when Mr. Parham was reminded of the Hebrew prophets when they said, “the Voice of the Lord came upon me.” But this voice was something other than the Voice of the Lord.
Mrs. Pinchot gave the fuller messages. The American lady gave descriptive matter rather than positive statements. She would say, “Where am I? I am afraid. I am in a dark place. An arcade. No, not an arcade, a passage. A great huge passage. Pillars and faces on either side, faces carved on the pillars, terrible faces. Faces of Destiny! It is dark and cold and there is a wind blowing. The light is dim. I do not know where the light comes from. It is very dim. The Spirit, which is Will and Power, is coming down the passage like a mighty wind, seeking a way. How great and lonely the passage is! I am so small, so cold, and so afraid. I am smaller. I am driven like a dead leaf before the wind of the great Spirit. Why was I put into this dreadful place? Let me out! OH, LET ME OUT!”
Her distress became evident. She writhed and had to be recalled to the things of this world.
By an extraordinary coincidence Mrs. Pinchot also spoke of a great passage down which something was coming. But she did not feel herself actually in the passage, nor was she personally afraid. “There is a corridor,” she said. “A breeze of expectation blows down it from some unknown source. And Power is coming. It is as if I hear the tramp of iron footfalls drawing near.”
Hereward Jackson did not hear these things said. That made it more remarkable that he should bring back a report from Portsmouth. “There is a new Spirit coming into the world,” he said. “A man in Portsea has been saying that. He is a medium, and suddenly he has given up saying anything else and taken to warning us of a new time close at hand. It is not the spirit of any departed person. It is a Spirit from Outside seeking to enter the world.”
Mr. Parham found something rather impressive in these convergent intimations. From the first he had observed Mrs. Pinchot closely, and he found it difficult to believe her capable of any kind of fraud, collusion, or mystification. The friendly candour of her normal bearing passed over without a change into her trance condition. He had some opportunities of studying her when she was not under séance conditions; he twice took her out to tea at Rumpelmayer’s and afterwards persuaded Sir Bussy to have her down at the Hangar for a week-end. So he was able to hear her talking naturally and easily about art, foreign travel, ideas in general, and even public affairs. She was really cultivated. She had a fine, inquiring, discriminating mind. She had great breadth of view. She evidently found an intelligent pleasure in his conversation. He talked to her as he rarely talked to women, for commonly his attitude to the opposite sex was light and playful or indulgent and protective. But he found she could even understand his anxieties for the world’s affairs, his sense of a threatening anarchism and dissolution in the texture of society, and his feeling for the need of stronger and clearer guidance in our periodic literature. Sometimes she would even anticipate things he was going to say. But when he asked her about the Spirit that was coming into the world she knew nothing of it. Her séance life was quite detached from her daily life. He gave her his books on Richelieu with a friendly inscription and copies of some of his graver articles and addresses. She said they were no ordinary articles.
From the outset she had made it plain that she realized that this new circle she had entered was very different in quality from the usual gathering of the credulous and curious with which a medium has to deal. “People talk of the stupidity of spirit communications,” she said at the first meeting. “But does anyone ever consider the vulgar quality of the people to whom these communications have to be made?”
This time, she felt, the grouping was of a different order. She said she liked to have Sir Titus there particularly, for his hard, clear doubt was like walking on a level firm floor. Sir Titus bowed his forehead with an acknowledgment that was not as purely ironical as it might have been. To great men like Sir Bussy, to sympathetic minds like Hereward Jackson, to learning and mental power, spirits and powers might be attracted who would disdain the vague inquiries of the suburban curious.
“And you really believe,” said Mr. Parham, “these messages that come through you come from the dead?”
“Not a bit of it,” said Mrs. Pinchot in that sharp definitive way of hers; “I’ve never believed anything so nonsensical. The dead can do nothing. If these influences are from people who have passed over, they come because these people still live on. But what the living power may be that moves me to speech I do not know. I don’t find any proof that all the intimations, or even most of the intimations we receive, come from ghosts — if one may use that old word for once. Even if some certainly do.”
“Not disembodied spirits?” said Hereward Jackson.
“Sometimes I think it must be something more, something different and something much more general. Even when the names of departed friends are used. How am I to know? I am the only person in your circle who has never heard my own messages. It may be all delusion. It’s quite possibly all delusion. We people with psychic gifts are a queer race. We transmit. What we transmit we do not know. But it’s you stabler people who have to explain the things that come through us. We are limited by what people expect. When they expect nothing but vulgar ghosts and silly private messages, what else can we transmit? How can we pass on things they could not begin to understand?”
“True,” said Mr. Parham, “true.”
“When you get greater minds as receivers you will get greater messages.”
That too was reasonable.
“But there’s something in it very wonderful, something that science knows nothing about.”
“Ah! there I agree,” said Mr. Parham.
In the earlier séances with her there was a sort of “control” in evidence. “I am the messenger of the Advent,” he declared.
“A departed spirit?” asked Jackson.
“How can I be departed when I am here?”
“Are there such things as angels, then?” asked Mr. Parham.
“Messengers. ‘Angel’ means ‘messenger.’ Yes, I am a messenger.”
“Of someone — or of something — some power which comes?” asked Mr. Parham with a new helpfulness in his voice.
“Of someone who seeks a hold upon life, of someone with great power of mastery latent, who seeks to grapple with the world.”
“He’d better try upstairs,” injected Sir Titus.
“Here, where there are already will and understanding, he finds his helpers.”
“But who is this Being who comes? Has he been on earth before?”
“A conquering spirit which watches still over the world it has done so much to mould.”
“Who is he?”
“Who WAS he?”
“The corridor is long, and he is far away. I am tired. The medium is tired. The effort to speak to you is great because of the Strong Doubter who sits among you. But it is worth while. It is only the beginning. Keep on. I can stay but a little while longer now, but I will return to you.”
“But what is he coming for? What does he want to do?”
There was no answer. The medium remained for some time in a state of insensibility before she came to. Even then she felt faint and begged to be allowed to lie down for a time before she left Carfex House.
So it was that Mr. Parham remembered the answers obtained in the first of the séances with Mrs. Pinchot that really took a strong hold of his imagination. The actual sequence of the transmission was perhaps more confused, but this was what stood out in his memory.
It would indeed be a mighty miracle if some new Power did come into human affairs. How much there was to change! A miracle altogether desirable. He was still skeptical of the idea of an actual spirit coming to earth, but it was very pleasant to toy with the idea that something, some actual anticipation of coming things, was being symbolized in these riddles.
The detailed records of all séances, even the most successful ones, are apt to make copious and tedious reading for those who are not engaged in their special study, and it would serve no useful purpose to relate them here. Mr. Parham’s predilection for Mrs. Pinchot helped greatly in the development of that “something-init” attitude, which he had first assumed at the Williams séance in Buggins Street. Released from any insistence upon the ghostly element and the survival of the pettier aspects of personalities, the phenomena of the trance state seemed to him to become much more rational and credible. There was something that stirred him profoundly in this suggestion of hovering powers outside our world seeking for some means, a congenial temperament, an understanding mentality, by which they could operate and intervene in its affairs. He imagined entities like the great spirit forms evoked and pictured by Blake and G. F. Watts; he dreamt at last of mighty shapes.
Who was this great being who loomed up over his receptive imagination in these Carfex House séances? He asked if it was Napoleon the First, and the answer was, “Yes and no”; not Napoleon and more than Napoleon. Hereward Jackson asked if it was Alexander the Great and got exactly the same answer. Mr. Parham in the night or while walking along the street, would find himself talking in imagination to this mysterious and mighty impending spirit. It would seem to stand over him and think with him as in his morning or evening paper he read fresh evidences of the nerveless conduct of the world’s affairs and the steady moral deterioration of our people.
His preoccupation with these two clairvoyants led to a certain neglect on his part of the researches of Sir Titus upon Carnac Williams. More and more was he coming to detest the hard and limited materialism of the scientific intelligence. He wanted to think and know as little of these operations as possible. The irritation produced by the normal comments of Sir Titus upon the clairvoyant mediums, and particularly upon Mrs. Pinchot and the American lady, was extreme. Sir Titus was no gentleman; at times his phrases were almost intolerably gross, and on several occasions Mr. Parham was within an ace of fierce reprisals. He almost said things that would have had the force of blows. The proceedings at these materialization séances were unbearably tedious. It took hours that seemed like æons to get a few ectoplasmic gutterings. The pleasure of seeing how much they baffled Sir Titus waned. On at least three occasions, Mr. Parham passed beyond the limits of boredom and fell asleep in his chair, and after that he stayed away for a time.
His interest in Carnac Williams was reawakened after that ninth séance in which a face and hands became discernible. He was at Oxford at the time but he returned to London to hear a very striking account of the tenth apparition from Hereward Jackson. “When at first it became plain,” said Hereward Jackson, “it might have been a crumpled diminutive of yourself. Then, as it grew larger, it became more and more like Napoleon.”
Instantly Mr. Parham connected this with his conception of the great Spirit that Mrs. Pinchot had presented as looming over the Carfex House inquiries. And the early resemblance to himself was also oddly exciting. “I must see that,” he said. “Certainly I must come and see this materialization stuff again. It isn’t fair to Sir Titus for me to keep so much away.”
He talked it over with Mrs. Pinchot. She showed she was entirely ignorant of what was going on in the room upstairs, and she found the triple coincidence of the Napoleonic allusion very remarkable. For the American lady had also spoken of Buonaparte and Sargon and Genghis Khan in a rambling but disturbing message.
It was like a sound of trumpets from the Unknown, first on this side and then on that.
Once more Mr. Parham faced the long silences and boredoms of the tense and noiseless grapple of Sir Titus and Williams. It was after dinner, and he knew that for a couple of hours at least nothing could possibly occur. Hereward Jackson seemed in a happier mood, quietly expectant. Sir Bussy, with a certain impatience that had been increasing at every recent séance, tried to abbreviate or at least accelerate the customary strippings, searchings, markings, and sealings. But his efforts were unavailing.
“Now you have drawn me into it,” said Sir Titus in that strident voice of his, “I will not relax one jot or one tittle in these precautions until I have demonstrated forever the farcical fraudulence of all this solemn spooking. I shan’t grudge any price I pay for a full and complete exposure. If anyone wants to go, let him go. So long as some witness remains. But I’d rather die than scamp the job at this stage.”
“Oh, Gaw!” said Sir Bussy, and Mr. Parham felt that at any time now these researches might come to a violent end.
The little man settled into his armchair, pulled thoughtfully at his lower lip for a time and then lapsed, it seemed, into profound meditation.
At last the fussing was over and the vigil began. Silence fell and continued and expanded and wrapped about Mr. Parham closer and closer. Very dimly one saw the face of Williams, against the velvet blackness of the recess. He would lie for a long time with his mouth open, and then groan weakly and snore and stir and adopt a new attitude. Each time Mr. Parham heard the sharp rustle of Sir Titus Knowles’s alertness.
After a time Mr. Parham found himself closing his eyes. It was curious. He still saw the pallid brow and cheekbone of Williams when his eyes were closed.
After a time Mr. Parham’s interest in the psychic transparency of the human eyelid gave way to his perception of a very unusual flow of ectoplasm from the medium. It had begun quite normally as a faint self-luminous oozing from the corners of the mouth, but now it was streaming much more rapidly than it had ever done before from his neck and shoulders and arms and presently from the entire front of his vaguely outlined body. It was phosphorescent — at first with a greenish and then with a yellowish-green tint. It came so fast that either by contrast Williams seemed to shrink and shrivel, or else he did actually shrink and shrivel.
It was impossible to decide that; this outflow of matter was so arresting. This Mr. Parham felt was worth seeing. He was glad he had come. There was enough ectoplasm now to choke Sir Titus. Well might Sir Bussy, lost somewhere in the black darkness close at hand, whisper, “Gaw.” The stuff was already animated matter. It did not merely gutter and flow and hang downward, in the spiritless, tallowlike forms it had hitherto assumed. It was different. It had vital force in it. It was not so much slimy as glassy. Its ends lifted and pointed out towards the observers like bulging pseudopodia, like blind animalculæ, like searching fingers, like veiled phantoms.
“EH!” said Sir Titus. “This beats me.”
Hereward Jackson was muttering to himself and shivering.
It was strange stuff to watch. Its blunt protrusions touched and flowed into one another. They quivered, hesitated, and advanced. With an astounding rapidity they grew. What were delicate tendrils an instant ago were now long fingers and now blunt lumps. They were transparent, or at least translucent, and one saw streams of whitish and faintly tinted matter flowing within them, as one sees in a microscope the protoplasm of an amoeba streaming about in its body. They grew, they coalesced more and more.
A few seconds or a few moments since, for it was difficult to measure the time this dim process was taking, the forms of these protrusions had been tentacular, fungoid, branchingly obtuse. Now they were coalescing, running together and becoming blunter and more closely involved and more and more one consolidated lumpish labouring aggregation. The coming and going of the swirling currents within grew faster and more interwoven. The colouring became stronger. Streaks of red and purple, exquisite lines of glistening white and bands of a pale creamy colour became distinguishable. A sort of discipline in these movements was presently apparent.
With a shock it came into Mr. Parham’s head that he was seeing bones and nerves and blood vessels hurrying to their appointed places in that swimming swirl. But was this possible? Why did he FEEL these were living structures? For they carried an immense conviction to his mind. As he peered and marvelled this internal circulation of the ectoplasm grew dim. A film was extending over it. At first it was perplexing to say why that swirling vesicle should be dimmed and then came the realization that an opaque skin was forming upon the whole boiling ectoplasmic mass. It became more and more opaque, opaque at last as a body. The process so stirred Mr. Parham to behold, his own nerves and arteries thrilled with such response, that he felt almost as though he himself was being made.
Shape, a recognizable form, was now imposed upon this growth. At first merely the vague intimation of head and shoulders. Then very rapidly the appearance of a face, like a still slightly translucent mask in the front of the head lump, and then hair, ears, a complete head and shoulders rising as it were out of the chest of the collapsed medium; plainly the upper part of a strange being whose nether limbs were still fluid and dim. A cold handsome face regarded the watchers, with a firm mouth and slightly contemptuous eyes.
And yet it had a strange resemblance to a face that was very familiar indeed to Mr. Parham.
“This is beyond me altogether,” said Sir Titus.
“I never hoped for anything like this,” said Hereward Jackson.
Mr. Parham was altogether absorbed in the vision and by the mystery of its likeness. Sir Bussy was no longer equal to “Gaw.”
In another moment, as it seemed, or another half hour, the newcomer was completed. He was of medium height, slenderer and taller than Napoleon the First but with something of the same Byronic beauty. He was clothed in a white silken shirt, wide open at the neck and with knee breeches, grayish stockings and shoes. He seemed to shine with a light of his own. He took a step forward, and Williams dropped like an empty sack from his chair and lay forgotten.
“You can turn up the lights,” said a firm, clear, sweet, even voice, and stood to see its orders obeyed.
It became evident that Sir Titus had been preparing a surprise. From his chair he bent forward, touched a button on the floor, and the room was brightly lit by a score of electric lamps. As the darkness changed to light one saw his body bent down, and then he brought himself back to a sitting position. His face was ghastly white and awestricken; his vast forehead crumpled by a thousand wrinkles. Never was skeptic so utterly defeated; never was unbeliever so abruptly convinced. The visitant smiled and nodded at his confusion. Hereward Jackson stood beside Sir Titus, paralyzed between astonishment and admiration. Sir Bussy also was standing. There was a livelier interest and less detachment in his bearing than Mr. Parham had ever seen before.
“For some years I have been seeking my way to this world,” said the Visitant, “for this world has great need of me.”
Hereward Jackson spoke in the silence and his voice was faint.
“You have come from another world?”
They had nothing to say.
“I come from the Red Planet, the planet of blood and virility,” said the Visitant, and then, after a queer still moment that was drenched with interrogation, he delivered a little speech to them.
“I am the Master Spirit who tries and who cleanses the souls of men. I am the spirit of Manhood and Dominion and Order. That is why I have come to you from that sterner planet where I rule. This world is falling into darkness and confusion, into doubt, vain experiments, moral strangeness, slackness, failure of effort, evasion of conflict, plenty without toil, security without vigilance. It has lacked guidance. Voices that might have given it guidance have found no form of utterance. Vague and foolish dreams of universal peace tempt the desires of men and weaken their wills. Life is struggle. Life is effort. I have come to rouse men to their forgotten duties. I have come to bring not peace but a sword. Not for the first time have I crossed the interplanetary gulf. I am the disturber of those waters of life that heal the souls of men. I am the banner of flame. I am the exaltation of history. I breathed in Sargon, in Alexander, in Genghis Khan, in Napoleon. Now I come among you, using you as my mask and servants. This time it is the English who are my chosen people. In their turn. For they are a great and wonderful people still — for all their inexpressiveness. I have come to England, trembling on the brink of decadence, to raise her and save her and lead her back to effort and glory and mastery.”
“You have come into the world to STAY?” Hereward Jackson was profoundly respectful but also profoundly puzzled. “Master! — are you MATTER? Are you earthly matter? Are you flesh and blood?”
“Not as much as I am going to be. But that shall soon be remedied. My honest Woodcock here will see I get some food downstairs and make me free of his house. Meat — sound meat in plenty. At present I’m still depending in part upon that fellow’s nasty ectoplasm. I’m half a phantom still.”
He glanced ungratefully at Carnac Williams, who, having contributed his best, lay flat as an empty sack now upon the shaded floor of the cabinet. No one went to his assistance.
Hereward Jackson stooped forward peering. “IS HE DEAD?” he asked.
“Phew! the channels one must use!” said the Master Spirit with manifest aversion. “Don’t trouble about HIM. Leave him, poor Sludge. He can lie. But you I have need of. You will be my first colleagues. Woodcock, my Crassus, the commissariat?”
“There’s food downstairs,” said Sir Bussy slowly and grudgingly but evidently unable to disobey. “There’ll be one or two menservants up still. We can find you meat.”
“We’ll go down. Wine, have you? Red wine? Then we can talk while I eat and drink and put real substance into this still very sketchy body of mine. All night we’ll have to talk and plan the things we have to do. You three and I. You brought me, you invoked me, and here I am. No good scowling and doubting now, Sir Titus; your days of blatant denial are past. So soon as I’m equal to it you shall feel my pulse. Which door goes down? Oh! that’s a cupboard, is it?”
Hereward Jackson went across to the door upon the passage and opened it. The passage seemed larger and more brightly lit than Mr. Parham remembered it. Everything indeed seemed larger. And that light contained rays of an intense and exalting hopefulness. The two other men followed the Master Spirit as he went. They were dumbfounded. They were astounded and docile.
But someone was missing! For some moments this shortage perplexed the mind of Mr. Parham. He counted Sir Bussy, One, Sir Titus, Two, and Hereward Jackson, Three. But there had been another. Of course! — Himself! Where was he?
His mind spun round giddily. He seemed to be losing touch with everything. Was he present at all?
And then he perceived that imperceptibly and incomprehensibly, the Master Spirit had incorporated him. He realized that an immense power of will had taken possession of him, that he lived in a new vigour, that he was still himself and yet something enormously more powerful, that his mind was full and clear and certain as it had never been before. Mutely these others had accepted this stupendous and yet unobtrusive coalescence.
“We must talk,” said a voice that was his own voice made glorious, and a fine white hand came out from him, shaking its fingers, and motioned the others on.
And they obeyed! Marvelling and reluctant, perhaps, but they obeyed.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:02