The Undiscovered Country
FORD went back to his room, and turned over some new books which he had on his table for review. He could not make his choice among these volumes, or else he found them all unworthy ; for after an absent glance at the deep chair in which he usually sat to read, he looked up his hat and went out, taking his way toward the shabbily adventurous street where the Boyntons had their lodgings.
Dr. Boynton met him at the door of his apartment with a smile of cheerful cordiality; but when Ford mentioned his encounter with Mr. Eccles, and expressed his hope that Miss Boynton was better, “ Well, no,” answered the doctor, “ I cannot say that she is. She has had a shock, — a shock from which she may be days and even weeks in recovering.” He rubbed his small, soft hands together, and beamed upon Ford’s cold front almost rapturously.
“ I am very sorry to hear it,” said the latter, with a glance of misgiving.
“ Yes, yes,” admitted the other. “ In some respects it is regrettable. But there are in this case, as in all others, countervailing advantages.” He settled himself comfortably in the corner of the sofa as he proceeded. “ Yes. The whole episode, on its scientific side, has been eminently satisfactory. The character of the manifestations at the séance, the violence with which neglect of the conditions was resented, the subsequent effects, primary and secondary, on the nervous organism of the medium, and, indeed of almost all persons present, have been singularly impressive, and indicative of novel and momentous developments. I don’t know, Mr. Ford, whether you have had an opportunity of conversing with any of our friends since the evening in question, but I have seen many of them, and they have all testified to an experience which, however difficult of formulation, was most distinct. It appears to have been something analogous to the electrization of persons in the vicinity of a point struck by lightning. In the case of Mrs. Le Roy there has scarcely been a cessation of the effects. The raps in her room have been almost continuous, and the furniture of the whole house has been affected. Miss Boynton has suffered the greatest distress from the continuance of the manifestations, and her mind is oppressed by influences which she is apparently powerless to throw off. In a word, everything has worked most harmoniously to the best advantage, and the progress made has been all that we could wish. Mr. Eccles perhaps told you of a marked increase of the discomfort he habitually suffers from indigestion ? ”
Ford hardly knew whether to laugh or rage at all this, but he merely said that Mr. Eccles had mentioned his dyspepsia, and remained in a bitter indecision, while Dr. Boynton went on. “ All, yes ! yes, yes ! I think we may safely refer the aggravation of his complaint to the influences, still active, of our memorable séanee. But I am not sure that Mr. Eccles’s peculiar theory is the correct one. I distrust his speculations in some degree. A ferment of the kind he speaks of in the world of spirits would be more apt to ultimate itself here in the mind than in the stomach.”
“ Do you generally distrust speculations in regard to these matters ? ” asked Ford.
“ I distrust all special speculation,” said the doctor. “ We physicians know what specialism leads to in medicine. I prefer to base my convictions solely upon facts.”
“ Are you able to satisfy yourself as to the facts of the séance here, the other night ? ”
“ Not absolutely, — no. Not entirely. As yet we are only able to approximate facts.”
“ Then as yet you have only approximated convictions?” asked Ford.
“ As yet I am only inquiring,” said the doctor, with sweet acquiescence. “ Startling and significant as those manifestations were, I feel that I am still only an inquirer. But I feel also that I have gained certain points which will almost infallibly lead me to a final conclusion in the matter.”
“ Then you mean to say,” pursued Ford, “that as a man of science you rose from Mrs. Le Roy’s experiments in sleight of hand, the other night, with a degree of satisfaction. Have you the slightest confidence in her powers ? ”
“ Why, there,” replied Boynton, “ you touch upon a strange problem. I am always aware, in these matters, of an obscurity of motive and of opinion which will not allow me to make any explicit answer to such a question as yours.”
“Yon obfuscate yourself before sitting down, as you darken the room, that you may be in a perfectly receptive condition ? ”
“ Something of that nature, yes. But I should distinguish: I should say that the obfuscation, though voluntary, was very largely unconscious.”
Ford laughed. “ I am afraid that I was in no state to judge of the exhibition, then. You are a man of such candor yourself that I am sure you will not. blame my frankness in telling you that I thought the whole apparitional performance a piece of gross trickery.”
“Not at all, not at all ! ” cried Boynton, with friendly animation. “ From one point your position is perfectly tenable,— perfectly. You will remember that I myself warned you of the possibility of deceit in the effects produced, and said that I always took part in such a séance with the full knowledge of this possibility. At the same time, I always try, for my own sake, and for the sake of the higher truth to be attained, to keep this knowledge in abeyance, — in the dark, as we were saying.”
“ I see,” said Ford, dryly. He waited blankly a moment, while Boynton watched him with cheery interest. “ I suppose it was my misfortune to have been able to expose the whole performance at any moment. I did n’t think it worth while.”
“ It was not worth while,” Boynton interposed. “ Those people would not have accepted your exposé, — I can’t say that I should have accepted it myself ; and in your effort to fulfill a mission, a mere mechanical duty, to society, you might have placed obstacles in the way of the most extraordinary developments. Nothing is clearer to my mind,” he proceeded impressively, “ than that it is our business, after the first intimations of a desire for converse on the part of spirits, to afford them every possible facility, to suggest, to arrange, to prepare, agencies for their use. Suppose you had detected Madam Le Roy in the employment of stuffed gloves; at the very moment when you seized upon the artificial apparition, a genuine spirit hand might have been about to manifest itself, in obedience to the example given. My dear sir,” cried Dr. Boynton, leaning from his perch on the sofa toward the place where Ford sat, “ I have gone to the very bottom of this matter, and I find that in almost all cases there is a degree of solicitation on the part of mediums ; that where this is most daring the results are most valuable ; and what I wish now to establish as the central principle of spiritistic science is the principle of solicitationism. If the disembodied spirits do not voluntarily approach, invite them ; if they cannot manifest their presence, show them by example the ways and means of so doing. Depend upon it, the whole science must die out without some such direct and vigorous effort on our part.”
He paused, leaving Ford in a strange perplexity. The smoothness and finish with which Boynton had formulated the preposterous ideas he had just expressed rendered it impossible for Ford to approach without irony a confession which he had meant to make in a different spirit. “ Then you would not blame me if I had lost patience at any point of the game, and actively interfered in the process of solicitation ? ”
“ As a mere exterior inquirer,” returned Boynton, blandly, " I could not have blamed you.”
“ In the dark séance,” said Ford, “ I did interfere. It was my belief that Mrs. Le Roy was affording the agencies, as you express it, in that, too. I was shocked to find myself mistaken. It makes me sick to think that I should have hurt Miss Boynton, and if I could have suspected her of what I suspected Mrs. Le Roy I should never ” —
“You were quite right,” interrupted Dr. Boynton, courteously as before, but with a touch of pride. “ My daughter was entirely innocent, for she was purely the passive instrument of my will ; she was carrying out my plan, — a plan which the sequel proved triumphantly successful.”
“ I have said what I wished to say,” remarked Ford, rising. “ I can well believe that she did only as she was bidden. There were other things that showed that. I leave you to settle with yourself the little questions of honesty and decency in thrusting a helpless girl on to the performance of a cheat like that. You seem to be well grounded in your great principle, and I dare say you won’t be troubled by my opinions. But my opinion of you, Dr. Boynton, is that you are either the most unconscionable knave and quack I have ever seen, or ” —
Boynton sprang to his feet. “ Not another word, sir! I regret for the sake of human nature to find you a ruffian. But there my concern in you ceases. I defy you to do your worst! Leave the house! ”
“You defy me!” said Ford, setting his teeth, and struggling with the rage into which he found himself hurried. “ What do you defy me to ? Do you suppose I am going to mix myself up in any public way with your affairs ? You are perfectly safe to go on and gull imbeciles to the end of time, for all I care.”
“ I am an honest man ! ” retorted Dr. Boynton. “ I have an unsullied life behind me, spent in the practice of an honorable profession and in earnest research into questions, into mysteries, on the solution of which the dearest hopes of the race repose. Who are you, to attaint me of unworthy motives, to cry pretender and impostor at me? I have met, in the course of my investigations, rude incredulity from the thoughtless crowds who witnessed them, and insolent disdain from those qualified to question, but too proud or too indolent to do so. Till now this indifference has only accused my judgment. It remained for you to asperse my motives.”
Dr. Boynton looked the resentment of an outraged man ; he gained, in spite of his flowing rhetoric, a dignity which he did not have before. Ford stared at him in momentary helplessness. He was at the disadvantage that every man must be whose habits of life and whose temperament remove him from personal encounter, and who meets others in that sort of intellectual struggle in which his antagonist is for the time necessarily passive.
“ You arraign me as a cheat,” resumed Boynton, “ and you dare to judge my principle by the imperfect first steps of those who attempt to put it in practice, by the crudest preliminary processes. But even here you have no ground to stand upon. Even here the ultimate fact utterly defeats and annihilates your insolent assumptions.”
“ I don’t know what you mean,” began Ford, “ and ” —
“ I will tell you what I mean,” interrupted Boynton, “ and you shall judge your own case. If all our endeavors at spirit intercourse were for the ends of selfish deception, as you claim, how do you account for the final response to them ? I am willing to believe that it was your hand that inflicted a hurt upon a woman, — oh, whether my daughter or Mrs. LeRoy, it was still a woman, — and that invoked any possible consequence from the violation of conditions that you were bound in honor to respect; but whose hand was it that evolved itself from the darkness, and then dispersed that darkness ? Whose hand was that which crowned my wildest hopes with success ? ”
“If you mean,” said Ford, and he felt that after all it was shocking to own it, “ the hand which turned on the gas, it was my hand.”
“ Your hand ? ” gasped Dr. Boynton.
“ My hand — prepared by a trick so common and simple that it could have deceived no one but children, or men and women so eager for lies ” —
“ Oh, it was the truth, the sacred, vital, saving truth, they longed for ! And it was this, it was this desire, you deluded ! ” Dr. Boynton hid his face in his handkerchief, and sank back upon the sofa. “ Go, now,” he said. “ I will not, I cannot, I must not, hear one word of excuse from you. Your action is indefensible.”
“Excuse?” cried Ford. “Do you really think I want to excuse myself? Do you think ” —
“ Why should you not wish to excuse yourself ? ” solemnly demanded Boynton, uncovering his face, which was pale, but calm. “ You have dire need of excuse, if sacrilege is a crime.”
“Sacrilege?” Ford was aware of forcing his laugh.
“ Yes, sacrilege. You intruded upon religious aspirations to turn them into ridicule. You derided the hope of immortality itself, — the evidences through which thousands cling to the belief in God.”
“ You are such a very preposterous creature that I don’t quite know how to take you,” said Ford, “ but I will ask you what you were doing yourself in making those simpletons think there were spirits present among them.”
“ I was leading them on to the evolution of a great truth, to the comfort of an assured immortality. But you, — were you aiming at anything higher than the gratification of the wretched vanity that delights in finding all endeavor as low and hopeless as its own ? Oh, I know your position, young man ! I know the attitude of those shallow sciences which trace man backward to the brute, and forward to the clod. Which of them do you profess ? It does n’t matter. They all join in a cowardly contempt of phenomena which they will not examine; and if one of their followers, more just, more candid, than the rest, like Crookes, of London, ventures into the field of investigation, and dares to own the truth, they unite like a pack of wolves to destroy him. His methods are non-scientific ! Bah! Did you think you were doing a fine thing, that day, when you lay in wait to dash our hopes, — to prove to us by the success of your trick that we were as the beasts that perish ? ”
“ I can’t say that I intended to trouble myself to expose you to them,” said Ford.
“ Then how much better were you,” retorted Boynton, than the worst you think of me ? You call me an impostor. What were you but an impostor who wished to fool them to the top of their bent, for the sake of laughing them over in secret, or among others like yourself? ”
“ Here ! ” cried Ford. “ I am sick of this foolery, and I warn you now that I will laugh you over with this whole city, if I know you to give another séance or public exhibition of any sort here. I believe there are no laws that can reach you, but justice shall. I am going to put an end to your researches, in Boston at least.”
“ You threaten me, do you ? ” cried Dr. Boynton, following him in his retreat from the room. “ You propose, in your small way, to play the tyrant, to fetter my action, to forbid me the exercise of my faculties in the pursuit of truth! And you think I shall regard your threats ? Poh, I fling them in your face! I value them no more than I care for the miserable trick by which you have burlesqued without retarding my inquiries for an instant.”
“Very well,” retorted Ford, “we shall see ! ” He crushed on his hat, and left the house, Boynton pursuing him to the door, with noisy defiance, and remaining on the outer threshold to look after him.
Dr. Boynton watched Ford out of sight, and then, hot and flushed, turned back into the house. He did not return to the parlor, where the stormy scene had taken place between them, but went to his daughter’s room. Egeria lay there in the twilight that befriended the shabbiness of the chamber, upon a lounge wheeled away from the wall, and at his entrance she asked, without lifting her eyes to his face (for women need not look at those dear to them, to know their moods), “ What is it, father?”
“ Nothing, nothing,” panted her father, with a poor show of evasion.
“ Yes, there is something,” sadly persisted the girl. “ Something has happened to worry you.”
“ Yes, you are right! ” cried Dr. Boynton, with vehemence. “ I have just met the grossest outrage and contumely from a man whom — whom — But, Egeria,” he broke off, “ tell me how you knew I was troubled. Did you hear angry talking ? ”
“No, I didn’t hear anything. Who was the man, father ? ”
“ Did you notice anything in my manner ? ”
“ No. I saw nothing unusual.”
“Then how did you know? Try to think, Egeria,” said her father eagerly. “ Try to trace the processes of your intuition. This may be a very important clue, leading to the most significant results. How could you suspect, having heard nothing, and in this darkened room, having seen nothing, strange in my manner.— how could you divine that something had occurred to trouble me ? How did you know it ? ”
“Oh, I suppose I knew it because I love you so, father. There was nothing strange in that. Oh, father, you promised me that you would n’t speak of those things again, just yet. They wear my life out.” He had drawn his chair, in his excitement, close to her couch, and sat leaning intently over her. She put her arm round his neck, and gently pulled his face down on her pillow for a moment. “ Poor father ! What was it vexed you ? ”
Boynton freed himself, instantly reverting with his first vehemence to the outrage he had suffered. “It was that young man, — that Ford, who was here the other night. He has gone, after heaping every insult upon me, — after telling me to my face that it was he who seized your hand in the dark séance, and produced by a trick the effect of the luminous spirit hand which turned on the gas. He dared to call me an impostor, to taunt me with forcing you to take part in my deceptions, — and this after the fullest and freest and frankest statement from me of the principle upon which I proceed in these experiments. And he ended by threatening me — yes, by threatening me with public exposure if I gave another séance in this city. The insolent scoundrel! If I had been a younger man, I should have replied in the only fitting manner. As it was, I treated his threats with contempt. I answered him taunt for taunt, and I defied him to do his worst. I a quack,— the shameless swindler ! To take part in a mystery whose conditions bound him to good faith, and to defeat all its results by his miserable trickery ! ” Boynton started up and crossed the room. Suddenly he broke out, “ Egeria, I don’t believe him ! I don’t believe it was he who hurt you ! I don’t believe that he produced that effect of a luminous hand! I believe that in both cases supernatural agencies were at work; they must have been; and a man capable of wishing to defeat our experiments would be quite capable of claiming to have done so. He is a heartless liar, and so I will tell him in any public place. He forbid me to give another séance in Boston ! He force me to quit this city in defeat and ignominy! I would perish first! ”
“ Oh, I wish we could go away ! Oh, I wish we could go home ! ” moaned the girl, when the doctor’s furious tirade had ended.
“ Egeria! ”
“ Yes, father,” said the girl, desperately ; “ I hate this wandering life;
I 'm afraid of these strange people, with their talk and their tricks and their dupes, and your part with them.”
“ Egeria ! This to your father ? Do you join that scoundrel in his insult to me ? Do you wish to add a crneler sting to the pain I have suffered,—you who know how unselfish my motives are ? Do you deny the power — the strange power — which you have yourself repeatedly exercised, and which you have not been able to analyze ? ”
“ No, no, father,” said the girl fondly, rising from where she lay, and going quickly to the chair into which her father had sunk, “ I don’t deny it, and I don’t doubt you. How could I doubt you?” She sat down upon his knee, and drew his head against her breast. “ But let’s go away ! Let us go back to the country, and think it all over again, and try to see more clearly what it is, and — and —pray about it ! ” She had dropped to her knees upon the floor, and held his hands beseechingly between her own. “ Why should n’t we go home ? ”
“ Home ! home ! ” repeated her father. “We have no home, Egeria ! We might go back to that hole where I have stified all my life ; but we should starve there. My practice had dwindled to nothing, before we left; you know that. Their miserable bigotry could not tolerate my opinions. No, Egeria, we must make the world our home hereafter. We must be content to associate our names with the establishment of — of a supreme principle, and find our consolation where all the benefactors of mankind have found it, — in the grave.” Boynton paused, as if he had too deeply wrought upon his own sensibilities ; but he resumed with fresh animation : “ But why look upon the dark side of things, Egeria ? Surely, you are better with me here than in that old house, where they would have taught you to distrust and despise me ? You cannot regret having decided in my favor between your grandfather and me ? If you do ” —
“ Oh, no, father ! Never ! You are all the world to me,; I know how good you are, and I shall never doubt your truth, whatever happens. But go — let us go away from here — from this town, where we’ve had nothing but trouble, where I ’m sure there’s some great trouble coming to us yet.”
“ Do you think so, Egeria ? ” asked her father with interest. " What makes you think so ? What is the character, the purport, of your prescience ? ”
“ It’s no prescience ! It’s nothing. It’s only fear. I feel that I can’t be myself here. Everything goes from me. I’m helpless.”
“ That is very curious ! ” mused Boynton. “ Could it be something in the local electric conditions ? ”
“ Oh, father, father ! ” moaned the girl in despair.
“Well, well, my child ! What is it, then ? ”
“ You have quarreled with this — this Mr. Ford ? ”
“ Yes, Egeria; I told you.”
“ And he has threatened you, if you stayed — threatened to do something — I don’t know— against us ?”
“ I suppose he means to vilify me in the public prints.”
“ Oh, then don’t provoke him, father, — don’t provoke him. Let us go away.”
“ Why, Egeria, are you afraid for your father ? ”
“ I’m afraid for myself,” answered the girl, cowering nearer to her father.
“ I can do nothing if he is by ; and oh — be will come to see us, and I shall fail, and he will ruin you ! ”
“ Egeria,” said Dr. Boynton, " this is very interesting. I remember that on the day he came here — the day of the séance — you seemed to be similarly affected by his sphere, his presence. Can you analyze your feeling sufficiently, my child, to tell me why he should affect you in this way ? ”
“ No,” said Egeria.
“ Do you remember any one else who has affected you as he has? ”
“ No, no one else.”
“ Very curious ! ” mused Dr. Boynton, with a pleased air of scientific inquiry. “ Very curious, indeed! It opens up a wholly new field of investigation. All these things seem to proceed by a sort of indirection. We may be further from the result we were seeking than I supposed ; but we may be upon the point of determining the nature of the chief obstacle in our way, and therefore — therefore — Um ! Very strange, very strange ! Egeria, I have felt myself, ever since we came to Boston, something singularly antagonistic in the conditions.”
“ Oh, then you ’ll go away, won’t you, father, — you ’ll go away at once ? ” pleaded the girl.
“ I am not sure,” answered Dr. Boynton, in the same musing tone as before, “ what our duty is in the premises. Suppose, Egeria,” he continued with spirit, — “ suppose that this antagonistic influence were confined to a single person in a population of two hundred and fifty thousand souls; would it not be a striking proof of the vastness of the resistance already overcome by spiritistic science, and at the same time an — a — a — indication of responsibility in the matter which we ought not to shun ? ”
“ I don’t understand you, father,” said Egeria, fearfully.
“ I mean,” replied her father, “ that it may be our duty to sink all personal feeling in this matter, and lend every energy to the conviction, the conversion, of the person who thus antagonizes us.”
The girl stood aghast, and for a moment did not reply, but glanced at her father’s heated face and shining eyes in a sort of terror. Some instinct, perhaps, flashed upon her a fear against which the habit of her whole life rebelled, and kept her from directly opposing him. She subdued the tremor that ran through her, and answered, “ You know that I think whatever you do, father. How — how”— She apparently wished to temporize, to catch at this thought and that; without uttering any, she stopped short.
“ How should I go about it?” radiantly demanded her father. “ In the openest, the simplest manner possible, by submitting your — your gift to the test of opposing wills; by inviting this man to a public contest, in which, laying prejudice aside, he and I should enter the lists against each other in a fair struggle for supremacy. I am not afraid of the issue. In this view, he is no longer an enemy. He is a blind, opposing force of nature, which is simply to be overcome ; he can no more have insulted or wronged me than the rock against which I strike in the dark, than the tempest that dashes its drops in my face. Poor, helpless, blameless obstacle ! I am ashamed, Egeria, that I used harsh language to him; I am ashamed that I retorted from my vantage-ground the merely mechanical outrage which I suffered from him. My first business must be to — to — apologize ; to seek him in a spirit of passive good feeling, and to invite him in a sentiment of the widest liberality to enter upon this rivalry ; to — to ” — Dr. Boynton bustled about the room, seeking his hat. “ It is my duty, it is my right, it is my sacred privilege, to go to him without a moment’s delay, and withdraw every offensive expression that I may have used in the heat of — of — controversy ; to solicit, upon whatever terms of personal humiliation he makes, his coöperation in this experiment; to conjure him by our common hopes of immortality” — Boynton had found that his hat was not in the room; he made a swift dash towards the door. Egeria flung herself against it, and, holding it fast, stretched out both her hands towards him.
“ Wait! ”
Her father suddenly arrested himself. “ Egeria! ”
“ What — what ” — the girl panted tumultuously, — “ what — if I can’t submit to the test ? ”
Dr. Boynton looked at her in stupefaction, as if this were a point that had not occurred to him; but she confronted him steadily. “You cannot refuse,” he began,
“ You have not considered this matter yet, father,” said the girl. “ You have not taken time ” —
“ Time, time ! ” retorted her father, with wild impatience. “ There is no time ! Eternity hems us in on all sides ! It presses and invades at every point! The man may die ; a wretched casualty — a falling timber on the street, a frightened horse, an open cellar-way — may snatch him from me before I can use him for the purpose to which Providence has appointed his being. And you talk of time ! Come, my daughter, let me pass ! You are not you, nor I I, in such a crisis as this.”
The girl moved from the door, and cast her arms about his neck, as he quickly advanced. “ Oh, father, father ! ” she cried, “ what is it you mean to do ? ”
“Why, I have told you, child,” he answered, putting up his hands to unclasp her arms.
“ Yes; but if I failed ? ” she implored, clinging the closer. “ Remember that I have been sick, that I am still very weak, and wait, — wait a little.”
Dr. Boynton’s mood changed instantly. “ Ha ! ” he breathed, and continued in his tone of scientific investigation : “ Are you sensible, Egeria, of any distinct loss of psychic force through the diminution of your physical strength ? ”
“ How can I tell, father ? It is you who do it. I see, or seem to see, whatever you tell me. I have always done that. It began so long ago, when I was so little, that I can’t remember anything different. I want, to please you, I want to help you; but I don’t know if I can, father. It has always come from my thinking that what you wished was perfectly wise and right.”
“ Yes, yes,” said Dr. Boynton, “ that is of course a condition of the highest clairvoyant force, though I don’t remember to have heard it formulated before.”
“ And don’t you see, father,” said the girl, looking tenderly into his face, as if she would fain interpose her love between him and what she must say, “ that if I lose this perfect confidence I lose my power to do what you want me to do ? ”
Dr. Boynton was hurt through the shield of her affection. “ Have I done anything to forfeit your trust in my purposes, Egeria? If I have, it is certainly time for me to despair.”
“ Oh, no, no, father ! I trust you ; I love you this moment more dearly than ever I did. But are you sure — are you sure that it will all come out as you think ? Are you sure that we are taking the right way ? We have been trying now a long while, and I can’t see that we’ve accomplished anything. Perhaps I’m not a medium, but only a dreamer, and dream what you tell me.
I’m afraid sometimes it is n’t right. I was thinking about it just before you came in. What if there should be nothing in it all ? ”
“ How nothing in it ? ”
“What if you were deceiving yourself ? I can’t tell how much my wanting to please you makes me do — Oh, I’m afraid — I’m afraid it’s all wrong.”
“ Egeria,” said Dr. Boynton, severely, “ I have often explained to you my principle in regard to these matters. These are the first steps. It is necessary that we should take them. Other steps will advance from the world of spirits to meet them. I am convinced — I know — that in your last Séance we had direct proof of this ; and I will yet compel, I will extort from that lying villain the confession that he had no agency in the things he claims to have done.” Boynton had lost his compassionate sense of Ford as an irresponsible moral force, and as he walked up and down the floor he broke from time to time into expressions of vivid injuriousness. “ Listen, Egeria : I respect your conscientious scruples, though they belong to a petty personal conscience that I hoped before this you had exchanged for the race-conscience that gives me perfect freedom to think and to act. I will set the matter before you, and you will see the logical sequence of my course. In the development of the phenomena which now agitate the world, mesmerism came first, and spiritism came second. I follow this providential order, and I begin with mesmerism. In this, the results are unquestioned in your case. You have been accustomed all your life to my controlling influence, my magnetic force, by which you have seen, heard, touched, tasted, spoken, whatever I willed. I knew this and you knew it. A thousand successful experiments attest its truth. Well, when we come to deal with disembodied life, we have to deal with it as I deal with you. We have to show this life how to approach us ; to suggest, to intimate, to demonstrate, the ways and means of communication with us. The only perfectly ascertained fact of spiritistic science is the rap. This, with the innumerable exposures and explanations which expose and explain all the other phenomena, remains a mystery, insoluble, whatever we attribute it to. But as a method of commerce with the other life, it is nearly worthless, — slow, vague, uncertain. We must advance beyond it, or retire forever from the border of the invisible world. Now, then, you see the unbroken chain of my reasoning, and as an investigator I take my stand boldly upon the necessity of first doing ourselves what we wish the spirits to do. A feeble sense of right and wrong may call it deceit; a vulgar nihilism may call it trickery; but the results will justify us, — they have justified us. What I wish to do now, Egeria, is to determine whether an opposing force of doubt, embodied in a powerful intellectual organism, such as this man’s undoubtedly is, can annul, can annihilate, the progress we have made. We cannot meet this force too soon ; for if it is able to do this, we may have to retrace all our steps and begin de novo.”
Egeria listened drearily to her father’s harangue, and at the pause he now made she looked hopelessly at his eager face, and did not reply, though he evidently expected some answer from her.
“After all, Egeria,” he resumed impatiently, “ you have no manner of responsibility, moral or otherwise, in the affair. You have simply to yield yourself, as heretofore, to my will, and leave me to take the consequences. I will meet them all. But I wish, my daughter, to satisfy your minutest scruple. If you were acting in that stance upon the theories which you have often heard me advance ; if you were supplying to the invisible agencies we had called about us the model, the prototype, the example, needed for communication with us ; and if when that man seized your hand — granting that it was he who did so — you were yourself consciously doing any of the things supposed to be done by the spirits ” —
“ I tried to bring myself to it; but I could n’t, father; I could n’t! ”
“ Then — then,” panted her father, in a tumult of rising excitement, “it was not you who did those things ? It was not you ” —
“ No, no ! ” desolately answered the girl. “From the moment the windows were darkened till my hand was seized, I did nothing but sit quietly in the centre of the circle and strike ray palms together, as Mrs. Le Roy told me.”
“ Thank God ! ” shouted Dr. Boynton, in an indescribable exaltation. “ I knew I could not be wrong ; I knew that you had no part in those things. This is a glorious moment! This — this — is worth toiling and suffering and enduring any fate for ! ” He caught his daughter in his arms and pressed her to his heart, kissing her fondly and caressing her hair. “ Now, now, everything is clear before me.”
“ I am so glad, father,” Egeria began. “ I was afraid you expected — that you would be disappointed — but indeed ” —
“ No, no! You were right. Your psychical perceptions were better than my logic. They taught you where to forbear. Your conscience — I am humiliated beyond expression to have undervalued it as a factor of our investigation — has brought us this splendid triumph. Egeria, we stand upon the threshold of the temple ; its penetralia lie open before us ; we have defeated death ! ”
The girl was perhaps too well used to the rhetorical ecstasies of her father to be either exalted or alarmed by them; and she now merely looked inquiringly at him.
“ Don’t you see, my dear,” he continued with unabated transport, in reply to her look, “ that if you did not do these things they were the results of supernatural agencies ? It is this fact, ascertained now past all peradventure, that makes my heart leap.”
“ Oh ! ” murmured Egeria, despairingly.
“ But I must not lose a moment, now.
I must see this young man at once, and challenge him to the ordeal that will release you from his noxious influence. I hope that I shall be able to treat him in the right spirit, and with the tenderness due an erring mind; I shall do my best, and I have every reason to be magnanimous. But his pretense of having performed by trick what was unquestionably the work of spirits is a thing that he must not urge too far. Or, yes, let him do so ! I shall seek nothing of him but his consent to this contest. It may be for the general good that his discomfiture should not only be complete, but publicly complete.”
“ Don’t go, father, —don’t go ! ” implored Egeria, for sole answer and comment upon all this. “ Let him alone, and let us go away.”
“ Go away ? ” cried her father. “ Never ! I must overrule you in this, my child,” he continued caressingly. “ I respect, I revere, your power; but it is out of regard for that power that I must combat your weaker mood. It demands of me, as it were, that I should ascertain all its conditions, and remove every obstacle to its exercise.”
“ Oh, I don’t know what you mean,” replied the girl, and broke into hopeless tears.
“You will know, Egeria,” returned her father. “ Not only shall I be clear to you, but you will be clear to yourself, as never before. I have now a clue that leads to final results, — the personal conscience in you, the race-conscience in me. I will be with you again in a little while, Egeria. Don’t be troubled. Trust everything to me.”
He made haste to get himself out of the room, and pausing in the hall on the ground-floor long enough to secure the hat of a visitor of Mrs. Le Roy (who was then in a trance for the recovery of lost property belonging to this gentleman) he issued from the door to which he had lately followed Ford in their common rage. The owner of the hat had a larger head than Boynton, who, as he pushed his way along the street, with his face eagerly working from the excitement of his mind, had an effect at once alarming and grotesque ; the squalid little children of the street shrank from his approach in terror, and followed his going with derision.
Egeria had made a step after her father, as if to call him back, when he left the room, but she had turned again, and lain down upon her lounge without a word. It would have been useless to call him back; he could only have come to renew the scene that had passed between them, and the result would still have been the same.
From her despair there was but one refuge. She could appeal for help now only to the source of her terrors. The fact, hemming her inexorably in, pressed upon her excited brain with a strange, benumbing stress, in which there was yet all possible keenness of pain. Presently, it seemed as if she shrieked out with a cry that rang through the house. In reality she had uttered a little scream in response to a knock at the door.
“ Oh, did I wake you ? ” asked the uncouth servant kindly, putting her head, in.
“ Yes — no — I was not asleep,” answered Egeria, lifting her face from the pillow.
“ There’s a gentleman in the parlor wants to see your father; and I don’t know — well, I told him the doctor was out, but you was at home. Shall I say you ’ll see him ? He says you ’ll do just as well.”
Egeria sprang from her lounge, and flinging open a shutter began to arrange her hair. “ Yes ; please tell him I'll come at once.” At that moment she had but one sense, — the consciousness that Ford had come, and that she should have the courage to speak to him, and beseech him not to consent to her father’s proposal. She did not know how or why she should have this courage, but all fear had left her. She hastily smoothed her hair and arranged her dress, and ran down the stairs into the parlor to encounter her enemy with such eagerness as a girl might show in hastening to greet her lover.
It was Mr. Hatch who came forward to meet her, and who took her hand. " Did n’t expect to see me here, Miss Egeria ? Well, I’m rather surprised myself. But I had to come back from Philadelphia, before I’d fairly got started on my grand rounds, and I thought I’d make one more attempt to say good-by to the doctor and you.”
“ I understood— I thought ” — began Egeria, her voice shaken with her disappointment, “I thought it was — it was”— She stopped, and tears came into her eyes.
“ I’m sorry it is n’t, Miss Egeria,” said Hatch kindly. “ I would be willing to be anybody else in the world that you wanted to see.”
“ Oh, I did n’t want to see them ! I was afraid to see them, and I hoped they had come,” answered Egeria.
Hatch smiled, but he looked at her compassionately, his head set scrutinizingly on one side, while she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes, and recovered herself in a sort of cold despair. “ I want you to let me ask you what’s the matter, Miss Egeria,” he said, impulsively. “ You won’t think I’m trying to pry into your trouble ? ”
“ Oh, no ! ”
“ Well, we all know what the doctor is : he’s as good as gold, and as simple as a child, but he has n’t got the practical virtues, — or vices, whichever you choose to call ’em. Now, you know, Miss Egeria, that I respect the doctor rather more than I should my own father, if I had one : has the doctor run short of money ? ”
“ Oh, no, no ! Not that I know of ! It is n’t that at all,” Egeria hastened to say.
“ Well, that’s one point gained,” said Hatch. “ I’m glad of it. You ’ll excuse my asking ? ”
“ Yes, — oh, yes,” she answered.
“ Well, then, is it something that I can help you about ? I don’t care to know what it is, but I do want to help you. If I can, without knowing, you need n’t tell me.”
“ You can’t help me. But there’s no reason why you should n’t know. You can’t help me against my father, can you ? ” she asked, putting the case, as women do, at worse than the worst, so as to have the comfort of finding the truth short of the extreme. “ How can any one help me against him ? ” Then, as Hatch stood waiting with a somewhat hopeless and wholly puzzled face, “ He does n’t mean any harm,” she hurried on distractedly, “ but if he does it, he will hill me. He has done it, and nothing can save me ! He’s talking with him this moment, and planning it all out; and when they are ready I shall have to go out before the people, and try it, and fail.”
“Is it some test of your power?” asked Hatch.`
“ Yes,” answered the girl. “ That man who was here the other night, — that Mr. Ford, — father has gone to him to get him to make some public appointment, and try whether I can do the things he says I can’t do. He has been here. Father wants him to come and test it himself, and that’s what he’s gone to him for ; and I know he will; and I can’t do anything when he’s by.”
She said no more, and Hatch began to walk up and down the room. Presently he stopped before her. “ Well, Miss Egeria, there’s only one way out of it. The way is to go and talk to that fellow, and get him not to keep his appointment with your father, if he’s made one.”
“For me to go? I thought of that; and then ” —
“ Oh, no,” said Hatch, with a smile. “ I’ll do the going and talking. You make yourself easy about it. But after that, don’t you think we could get your father to give this thing up, and go home ? ”
“ Oh, if we only could ! ” cried the girl. “ But it’s no use. I have been talking to him, and begging him to; but he ’ll never go back in the world. He hates my grandfather.”
“ The old gentleman was rough on him; but you can’t much wonder at it. I’m not saying anything against the doctor, mind ; I don’t go back on him; I don’t forget what he did for me. But we can talk about all that afterwards. What we’ve got to do now is to go and beg off from that — Good-by, Miss Egeria; I must n’t lose time.”
She stopped him. “ I can’t let you. It would be throwing blame on my father. I’d rather let him kill me.”
“ Oh, I ’ll make it all right about the doctor,” said Hatch. “ No one shall have a right to blame him for anything. Don’t you be troubled. I ’ll fix it. Don’t worry! ”
Egeria faltered. “ You ’ll only lose your time. It won’t do any good.”
“ But you don't tell me not to go ? ”
“ It won’t do any good,” she said.
“Well,” said Hatch, “I’m going to see this man, and then I’m coming back to have a talk with the doctor. I want to go away to-morrow feeling first-rate, and I don’t believe I shall feel just right unless you take the Eastern road back to Maine about the time I take the Boston and Albany for Omaha.”
Egeria followed him from the room, and responded with a hopeless look to the bright nod with which he turned to her at the outer door. As it closed, she stood a moment in the dim entry, and then crept languidly up the stairs to her own room; she cast herself upon the lounge again, with her face to the wall, and lay there in the apathy which is the refuge from overstress of feeling. The worst could not be worse than the worst; and whatever happened it could but be another form, not another degree, of ill.
Hatch had some delay in finding Ford’s address. The directory gave a place at which, when he had applied, the people told him that Ford had gone from them three months before. After some inquiry and debate among themselves, they were able to give his present address, and to identify him as the person of whom Hatch was in search. He climbed, heated and panting, to Ford’s room, when he found it at last, and to a loud “ Come in! ” which followed his knock, he responded by entering and shutting the door behind him.
Ford stood before the fire-place, striking against the brick a burning paper with which he had been lighting his pipe. In this act, he looked round at Hatch over his shoulder, at first vaguely, and then with recognition, but not certainly with welcome. “ Oh ! ” he said.
“Mr. Ford?” asked Hatch.
“ I met you at Mrs. Le Roy’s. I don’t know whether you remember me.”
“ Yes, I do,” said Ford. He drew two or three whiffs at his pipe. “ Will you sit down ? You know Mr. Phillips.” He indicated with a motion of his head a third person, whose face, black against the window, Hatch had not made out.
At the mention of his name, Phillips came forward in his brisk way, and shook hands with Hatch. “ Oh, yes,” he said. “ Mr. Hatch has n’t forgotten me. I feel myself memorable since that night. I was then an element of the supernatural. Have you seen our friends lately?”
“ Yes,”said Hatch. “ I’ve just come from them.”
“ They ’re well, I hope ? Miss Boynton struck me as a most interesting person. Does n’t her life of excitements wear upon her ? Most young ladies find one world as much as they can stand ; mingling in the society of two, as she does, must be rather fatiguing.”
“ Miss Boynton is n’t very well; or, rather, she has n't been.”
“ Ah, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Phillips. “I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“ Well, no,” replied Hatch, uneasily. He turned to Ford, who from his superior stature had been smoking down upon Phillips and himself. “Mr. Ford,” he added, “I came here from Dr. Boynton’s to see you.”
“Yes?” said Ford.
Phillips made a polite movement in the direction of his hat. “ I think I ’ll be going, Ford,” he explained.
“You can go,” returned Ford, taking his pipe from his mouth, “but it isn’t necessary. This gentleman can have nothing confidential to say to me. I’d rather you’d stay — for once.”
“You ’re so flattering,” said Phillips, “ that I will stay, if Mr. Hatch does n’t object. My engagement’s at one.”
“ Oh, not at all,” said Hatch, reluctantly. Ford had remained standing, with his back to the fire-place, and Hatch had not accepted his invitation, or his permission, to sit down. “ As Mr. Phillips was at Mrs. Le Roy’s that night, he might as well hear what I have to say. Mr. Ford,” he added abruptly, “ I want you to do me a great favor.”
“ Why should I do you a great favor, Mr. Hatch?” asked Ford, while he looked with half-closed eyes at the ceiling, and blew a cloud of smoke above Hatch’s head.
Hatch glanced sharply at him, to see whether he spoke in gratuitous insolence or ill-timed jest. He decided for the latter, apparently, for he returned, jocosely, “ Well, do yourself a great favor, then.”
“ I don’t feel the need of that,” said Ford. “What is it?”
“ Has Dr. Boynton been here this morning?” asked Hatch, with the anxiety he could not hide.
“ No,” said Ford, taking out his pipe, and looking at him.
“ Then that makes it a great deal easier. I want to ask you, when he comes, — I know he is coming, — to refuse the proposition he will make you.”
“What proposition is Dr. Boynton coming to make me ? ” demanded Ford, with his pipe between his fingers.
Hatch faltered, and scanned Ford’s unyielding face. “ I shall have to tell you, of course. He is coming to propose a public test seance with you, in which Miss Boynton’s powers shall be put to proof. I ask you to refuse it.”
Ford did not change countenance, but Phillips, from the easy-chair into which he had cast himself, smiled, and studied now his friend’s sad, cold visage, and now the eager, anxious face of Hatch. “ In whose behalf do you ask this ? ” Ford inquired, beginning to smoke again. “ By what right do you ask it ? ”
“ Miss Boynton has been sick, and is still very much unstrung. It would be a kindness, a mercy, to her, if you would refuse.”
“ How do you know ? Do you ask it from her ? ”
Hatch hesitated in an interval of silence that prolonged itself painfully.
“ I don’t come at her request,” he said, at last.
Ford made no comment, but continued to smoke. His pipe died out; he struck a match and kindled it again ; and then smoked as before. “ Mr. Hatch,” he asked finally, “are you a spiritualist ? ”
“ I am a spiritualist, but I am not a fool,” replied Hatch.
“ Then you don’t care for the effect of this séance on the fortunes of your creed ? ”
“ No, I don’t. I care for the effect of it on a young lady who dreads it, and who — and on a man that I owe a good deal to. Look here, Mr. Ford; I don’t decide on these things. I suppose spiritualism is a matter of faith, like other religions. These people are in earnest about it; that is, Dr. Boynton is, and his daughter thinks and does whatever he tells her to. I’m sorry they ’re in the business, and I wish they were out of it. They ’re good people, and as innocent as babies, both of ’em. I don’t like the way you take with me, but you can walk over me as much as you like, if only you ’ll grant this favor. I’m in hopes to get them back to where they belong. I used to live in their town, and I know all about them. He’s a visionary, but he’s a good man, and their people are first-rate people. I would do anything I could for him. He’s got a heart as tender as a child.”
“ Very likely,” said Ford, with irony. “ But I fail to see why I should let this child-like philanthropist go about preying upon the public. I may have my own opinion of his innocence. What if I told you I had detected them in a trick the other night ? ”
“ I should n’t believe you,” answered Hatch, promptly.
Phillips half started out of his chair, but Ford smoked on unperturbed, and asked, as if the question were a pure abstraction, “ Why ? ”
“ Because I know that they could n't cheat.”
“ But if I told you they did, should you consider them innocent?”
“ I should n’t doubt them in the least. And let me tell you ” —
Ford turned his back upon Hatch, and knocked the ashes of his pipe out against the corner of the chimney-piece. “ Mr. Hatch, you said, a moment ago, that you were a spiritualist, but not a fool. I shall not say whether I will or will not refuse Dr. Boynton’s proposition.”
Ford began to fill his pipe again, and paid not enough regard to Hatch’s presence to seem to wish him away; it was quite as if he were not there, so far as Ford was concerned.
“ Look here,” Hatch began, “ I am sorry that I offended you.”
Ford glanced at him with the faintest surprise. “ How have you offended me ? ”
“ By what I said just now.”
“ Is it possible,” asked Ford, “that you think you could say anything to offend me? ”
“ Well,” returned Hatch, flushing, “ I’m anxious to get you to say that you won’t accept Dr. Boynton’s challenge.”
“ I perceive that you are anxious,” assented Ford.
“ Oh, if I only— It’s a very serious matter, — it is indeed! I would do anything to get you to say that. Come, now! The young lady is in delicate health; she will do whatever her father tells her, and if she does this I believe it will kill her.”
Ford made no reply.
“ I can see the thing from your point of view. I suppose you feel that you have a public duty to perform, and all that sort of thing. Well, now, I’m going to make a strong move to get Dr. Boynton out of this business, any way; and I ask you just to hold on till I have a chance to try. Can’t you tell him that you ’ll think it over ? Can’t you go so far as to put him off a day, or half a day ? ”
Ford took a book, and going to a chair at the window began to look into it.
“ Come,”pleaded the other, “give me some sort of answer.”
Ford seemed not to have heard him.
“ Well, sir,” said Hatch, “ I’ve done with you ! ” He stared at Ford in even more amaze than anger, and after waiting a moment, as if searching his mind for some fitting reproach, he turned and went out of the room.
Phillips rose from his chair with a shrug. “ My dear fellow,” he said, “ I hope you ’ll let me know when this ordeal takes place.”
“ What ordeal?” asked Ford, without looking up from his book.
“ Surely I need n’t specify your public test séance with the Pythoness and her papa.”
“ I am not going to meet Dr. Boynton in the way you mean,” returned Ford, quietly.
“ No ? Why, this is magnanimity ! ”
“ I’ve no doubt it’s inconceivable to you.”
“ Not at all! I know you better ; you could be magnanimous to carry a point. But it must be inconceivable to our friend who has just left us. I fancied he was something in leather. Should you say shoes, or leather generally ? ”
Ford scorned to notice the conjecture as to Hatch’s business. “ Are you fool enough to suppose that Dr. Boynton ever intended to come to me on such an errand ? ”
“ Why, I fancied so.”
“ You had better bridle your fancy, then. He has too much method in his madness for that. What he wanted was my refusal, beforehand, for professional use. He did n’t get it. This fellow is part of the game. But I don’t wonder you sympathize with him. He is a brother dilettante, it seems. He dabbles in ghosts as you dabble in bricabrac. He believes as much in ghosts as you believe in your Bonifazios. They may be genuine ; in the mean time, you like to talk as if they were. Upon the whole, I believe I prefer blind superstition.”
“ Why, so do I,” said Phillips. “ The trouble is to get your blind superstition. I confess that when I was at Mrs. Le Roy’s, — what an uncommonly good factitious name for the profession! — and saw the performances of the phantomlike Egeria, — that ’s a good name, too ! — I experienced a very agreeable sensation of fear. It was really something to be proud of. But it would n’t last. It haunted me for a night or two; but I’m no more afraid in the dark now than I was before. And the worst of it is that my interest in the affair is gone with my terrors. Apparitions have palled upon me. It is quite as the good doctor said : people bore themselves with séances very soon. The question at present is, Will you go with me to Mrs. Burton’s to lunch?”
“ No,” said Ford.
“ You ’re in the wrong, Ford,” argued Phillips. “You would please Mrs. Burton by coming; but it won’t matter to her if you don’t. That’s the attitude of society towards the individual, and upon the whole one can’t complain of it. You had better come. Mrs. Burton is really making a very pretty fist at a salon. In the first place, she keeps Burton out of the way: it’s essential to a salon not to have the husband in it. You will meet the passing Englishman there, whoever he is; you stand a chance of seeing the starring actor or actress, — operatic or dramatic; authors we have always with us, and painters, of course. Mrs. Burton is so far from pretty herself that she is not afraid to ask charming women who are also beautiful; you’ve no idea what decorative qualities beautiful women have. And then she introduces the purely American element, the visiting young lady. Really, she has an uncommon feeling for pretty girls; I never knew her to have an inharmonious young person staying with her yet; with her sense of values, the composition of her salon is delightful. Will you come ? She told me to bring you ; what excuse shall I make ? ”
“ Tell her that I ’m not the sort of person to be brought.”
“ Oh, there you do yourself wrong. I shall be more just to her ideal of you. Good-by.”
A knock was heard at the door, and Ford, without rising, growled, “Come in.”
The door flew open, and Dr. Boynton burst into the room in the face of Phillips, who was just going out. He caught him by the hand.
“ Why, Mr. Phillips, is it possible! This is doubly fortunate. Finding you and Mr. Ford together, — it’s more than I could have hoped ! I consider it a privilege — a privilege, in the old religious sense — to be allowed to say in your presence what I wish to say to our good friend here. Mr. Ford, I wish Mr. Phillips to hear me ask your pardon — humbly ask your pardon — for the violent language I used towards you at my lodging an hour ago.” Phillips grinned his triumph at Ford, but softened the derision to a smile, as he turned again to Dr. Boynton.
“ Will you sit down ? ” said Ford, with grave kindness, and without any token of surprise.
“ Thanks, thanks ! But not till I have taken you by the hand.” Dr. Boynton stretched forth his small hand, and took the mechanically granted hand of Ford. “ I wish to say that I have unexpectedly been enabled to see the subject matter of our difference from your point of view, and that I now recognize not only the justice, but the necessity—the necessity by operation of an inflexible law — of your attitude. In all these things,” continued Dr. Boynton, placing himself luxuriously in Ford’s deep chair, and didactically pressing the tips of his fingers together, “ there is a law which I had quite lost sight of, — the law of progression through the antagonism of opposites.”
Phillips made an ironical murmur of assent and admiration ; Ford remained silent.
“ We are both, outside of our mere individual consciousness, blind forces. I affirm, you deny. We grind upon each other in the encounter of life, and a spark of light is evoked by the attrition. It was just so this morning: light was evoked by which I shall always see the correctness of your position and the error of mine. Understand me : I do not at all agree with you in your opinion of the phenomena ; and I have come, so far as that is concerned, to cement our enmity, if I may so speak.” He smiled upon Ford with caressing suavity. “ But what I have come for first is to withdraw all offensive expressions, and to say that I approve, even in its extreme, of your action on the afternoon of the seance.” He beamed upon Ford, and then turned his triumphantly amiable face upon Phillips.
“ Ford,” said the latter, “ this is very handsome ! ”
“ Not at all, not at all! ” cried Dr. Boynton; “simple duty, — self-interest, even. For I have a request to make of Mr. Ford, — a favor to ask. I wish Mr. Ford not only to continue steadfast in his opposition to my theories, but to assist me in a public exhibition, by antagonizing to the utmost of his power their application. I wish him to join me in testing the supernatural gifts of my daughter, either before a popular audience, or such persons, in considerable number, as we may select in common.”
“ I must refuse, Dr. Boynton,” said Ford, gently.
Dr. Boynton’s face fell. “ I hope,” he said, “ you do not refuse because I have been remiss in not coming to you sooner.”
“ No,” began Ford ; but Dr. Boynton interrupted him.
“ I started almost immediately upon your departure from my lodgings, to follow you up and make this application. But I was delayed by an accident: a child was run over in the street almost before my eyes, and was carried into the next apothecary’s. The force of habit is strong; I remembered that I was a physician, and forgot the larger in the lesser duty, till other attendance could be procured.”
Ford frowned. “ It has nothing to do with your delay. What you propose is quite out of my way. I could not consent to it on any conditions. I went to your séance the other day out of an idle whim. I don’t care anything about the matter. I don’t care whether there is any truth in your opinions, or any error in mine. I refuse because I am thoroughly indifferent to the whole thing.”
Dr. Boynton rose, and buttoned his threadbare coat across his plump chest. “ And you consider, sir,” he said, “ that you have incurred no responsibility towards me, towards humanity, by going as far as you have, and then refusing to proceed ? ”
“ That is my feeling,” said Ford, respectfully.
The doctor stood as if stupefied. “ And — and — Excuse me, sir,” he said, coining to himself, “ if I remark upon the suddenness of your — your — indifference. One hour ago, you threatened that if I pursued my inquiries in this city you would expose me, as I understood, in the public prints. You left me with that threat upon your lips.”
Phillips looked inquiringly at Ford, who said, “ I left you in a passion that I’m ashamed of. I have no idea of carrying out that threat.”
“ Poh, sir ! ” cried Dr. Boynton, with mounting scorn. “ You refuse, not from indifference, but from the sense of your inability to cope with me in this test.”
“ I am willing you should think that,” assented Ford.
“ I call this gentleman to witness,” said Dr. Boynton, “ that you have slunk out of a contest which you have provoked, and that you are afraid to meet me upon terms even of your own choosing. An hour ago I parted with you in hate ; I now leave you in contempt. Good morning, Mr. Phillips.” Dr. Boynton had already turned his back upon Ford; he now strutted from the room without looking at him again.
“ Our friend is violent,” observed Phillips, when the door had closed upon him. Ford made no reply, and Phillips continued : “ I fancied his accident rather too opportune.”
“Very likely,” said Ford.
“ And you won’t go with me to Mrs. Burton’s ? ”
“ I don’t wonder at your indifference to society, with such really dramatic excitements in your own life. The matinée has been extraordinarily brilliant — for a matinée. They ’re apt to be tame.”
In spite of the defiant temper in which Dr. Boynton had quitted Ford’s lodging, he reached his own in extreme dejection. lie found Hatch with Egeria in the parlor.
“Well, my friend,” he said, wringing Hatch’s hand, as he passed him on his way from the door to the sofa, “ I have met with a great disappointment.” Neither Hatch nor Egeria questioned him, but after an exchange of anxious glances waited silently. “It is n’t that I care for the frustration of my hopes; I do care for that; but that is a small matter compared with the loss of my faith in human nature, my reliance upon the willingness of man to make sacrifices tending to — to — solve, to unravel, our common riddle.” He let his head fall upon his breast.
“ Oh, father,” pleaded Egeria tremulously, after the little dramatic pause which Dr. Boynton had let follow upon his period, “ did you go to see him ? ”
“ Yes,” said her father.
“ And did he — is he going to do it?”
Dr. Boynton lifted his head. “ No,” he said, solemnly; “ he refuses.” Egeria drew a long breath, and turned very pale. She seemed about to fall from her chair, which she had drawn next the corner of the sofa on which he had thrown himself. Hatch made a movement toward her, but she recovered herself, and sat strongly upright.
“ He refused ? ” she gasped.
“ My dear friend,” said her father, looking toward Hatch, while he took her cold hand and gently smoothed it, “ I must explain that I have had two interviews with this man, and what their nature has been. He came here this morning to boast that it was he who caught Egeria’s hand in the séance that day. I drove him from the house. Afterwards, upon conversing with Egeria, I learnt that the manifestations were really genuine, and that at the moment he caught her hand she had no agency whatever in their production.”
Hatch looked at Egeria. “ I could have bet my soul on that! ”
“ On learning this,” pursued Dr. Boynton, “ I at once determined to challenge him to a new test, in which he should pit his influence over Egeria, which she describes as very extraordinary, against mine, and the public should decide upon the result. He has just refused the challenge, peremptorily and finally, and I have branded him as a coward in the presence of Mr. Phillips.”
Dr. Boynton flung his daughter’s hand away. Hatch and Egeria had the effect of refraining from looking at each other. At last, the young fellow said, recovering something of his wonted cheery audacity, “ Well, of course it’s a disappointment, doctor, but why not look at the bright side of it ? ”
“ What bright side of it ? ” asked the doctor, tragically.
“ Oh, it has its bright side,” said Hatch, undauntedly. “ It saves Miss Egeria from a good deal, and I’m glad of that, for one.”
The doctor mistook the word. “ Ordeal ! There is no ordeal ; there could have been no question about the result! ”
“ Not with you or me. But there’s no use trying to deny it,— the public is against you, and would be glad to have her fail.”
“ Oh, yes, father: you know how it has always been,” cried Egeria.
“ The circumstances had never been propitious before ; but now they were all with us. We could not have failed ! ” replied her father.
“ Well, you might,” said Hatch. “ What do you think did produce the manifestations that day, doctor ? ”
“ Do you ask that question ? ” demanded the doctor, in astonishment. “ I answer, with an absolute certainty, such as I never reached before, the disembodied spirits of the dead ! ”
“ I doubt it,” said Hatch, quietly.
“ You doubt it ? ” shouted Boynton, in amaze.
“ Dr. Boynton, you’ve told me twenty times that you would n’t give a straw for manifestations that took place in the presence of a dozen persons. Now, what makes you pin your faith to what happened the other day ? ” Boynton was silent; all his reasons, so prompt and facile, seemed to have forsaken him. “ There were too many people on hand that day for me. You know I’m as much interested in these things, doctor, as anybody, and I should be the last to give aid and comfort to the enemy; but I could n’t go those materializations, and the dark séance was rather too dark for me. I ’ll tell you what, doctor, I wish you’d go back home, and start new.” Hatch planted himself directly in front of Dr. Boynton, who looked at him with astonishment and rising indignation.
“ By what right do you presume to advise me ? ” he asked, with stately emphasis.
“ Well, by no right,” said Hatch easily ; “ or else the right that I have from the good you’ve always done me.” The doctor waved away the sense of these with a gesture which was still stately, but no longer severe. “ I only speak from my interest in you and Miss Egeria, here. I think it’s wearing on her, — wearing on you both.”
“ Has my daughter complained to you ? ” demanded the doctor, with more than his former hauteur, looking round at her. She returned his look with a glance of tender reproach, and Hatch answered: —
“ No more than you, doctor. I’m talking of what I see. And I think you’ve made a wrong start. I think you’ve made a mistake. You oughtn’t to have ever mixed yourself up with professional mediums. You were on the right tack at home. Now, I say, you just go back there, and you form a disinterested circle, —people that have n’t got money in it, — and you go on with your investigations there; and when you’ve got a sure thing of it, you come out with it. But don’t you do it till then ! Heh ? ”
“ There is reason in what you urge,” replied Dr. Boynton; “ or rather there was reason. But I have advanced beyond the point you indicate. I have got a sure thing of it, as you say. I am as fully persuaded of the reality of those manifestations as I am of my own existence.”
“ Which ones ? ” asked Hatch.
“ Those in the dark séance, and ” —
“ I’m not ! ” returned Hatch ; “ but I don’t want you to take my opinion for proof against them. I’m going to headquarters for that, and all I ask is, Don’t you interfere with my little game.” He took the doctor by the shoulders in a friendly caress, as he spoke, and then he rang the bell. The servant-girl put in her unkempt head at the door, with a look of surprise, after first going to the outer door, to see if the ring had come from there ; evidently, she was not used to being rung for in-doors. “ Ah, Mary — Jenny — Bridget — Susy — Polly — whatever it is,” said Hatch; “ you just ask Mrs. Le Roy to step here half a second, that’s a good girl, and I ’ll dance at your wedding.” The girl vanished, grinning. As the big woman appeared at the door, “ Walk right in, Mrs. Le Roy,” he called out, and she advanced questioningly, while he closed the door behind her. “ Now it’s all among friends, you know, Mrs. Le Roy ; we won’t keep you a minute. You know the doctor has some peculiar theories on this subject. We don’t care about the materializations, — they ’re all right; but you just tell us now how much you helped along in the dark séance, the other day.”
“ Well,” said Mrs. Le Roy, with a sly look at each of her listeners, and a smile that ended in a small, thin chuckle, “give the spirits a chance, — that was the doctor’s idea, as I understood it.”
“ Exactly,” said Hatch, “ and you did give ’em a chance ? ”
“ Now, Mr. Hatch,” said the huge sibyl, with a mixture of cunning and of that liking for Hatch which all women seemed to feel, “ what are you up to ? ”
“ I give you my word, Mrs. Le Roy, I’m up to nothing you’d object to. I just want to know how much of a chance you gave ’em.”
Mrs. Le Roy hesitated a moment. “ Well, pretty much all they wanted, I guess,” she answered, at length.
“ Do you mean,” said Dr. Boynton, “ that you produced the phenomena in the dark séance ? ”
“ Well, I did give the spirits a fair chance, as you may say,” admitted Mrs. Le Roy, with some awe and some apparent pity for Dr. Boynton.
He dropped his face in his hands, and bowed his head against the back of the sofa. “ Oh, woman, woman ! ” he groaned.
“ The witness can now retire,” said Hatch, and amid Mrs. Le Roy’s protestations of good intention and regret, and her mystification as to what it all meant, he took her by her vast shoulders and pushed her out of the door. “ You ’re all right, Mrs. Le Roy,” he explained. “ See you again in half a second. Now, doctor,” he continued, turning to the desperate figure on the sofa, “ you see how it is. It’s just as I said ; you ’re on the wrong tack. You can’t make any headway in connection with professional mediums. You can’t have your theories applied in the right spirit. What you want to do is to back out and start new.”
Dr. Boynton controlled himself, and, turning about, looked up at Hatch with a candor that was full of immediate courage and enterprise. “ My friend, you are right! I see my error, now ; but experience alone could have shown it to me. I have attempted to work in the public way, when I should have strictly confined myself to the social way. I see that my success depends upon the application of my theories by followers purely disinterested. It may be that no progress can be otherwise achieved, in psychological science. The experiment must be absolutely free from mercenary alloy.”
“ Yes,” said Hatch; “ if you let them see that there is money in it, you can’t get an honest count. Human nature is too much for you.”
“ The true method,” Dr. Boynton mused aloud, “ would be first to form some sort of society, in which the material basis was secured, and in which there would thus be leisure and disposition for the higher research. There are elements in our own neighborhood which could be as favorably operated with as— Yes, the result will be much slower than I thought; but in the end it will be sure, beyond all peradventure. Egeria ! ” he cried, starting up, “ we will go home! ”
“ At once — now — to-day ? ” asked the girl, her pale cheeks flushing.
“ This very hour. There is not a moment to be lost. Go and put our things together, child.”
Egeria turned towards the door; then she came back towards Hatch. “ We won’t say good-by now, Miss Egeria. I shall be at the depot to see you off.”
“ Yes, don’t delay,” said her father, impatiently. “We will be off by the first train.” She went out, and he mechanically carried his hand to his pocket. “ We can’t go! ” he cried, as if a sudden pang had caught him. “ I haven’t five dollars in the world; we are in arrears for board. You see, my dear friend, there is no hope.”
“ Oh, yes, there is,” said Hatch, with the ease of a man who had suspected something of this kind. “ This gives me a chance to pay you my old bill, doctor.”
“ My dear sir, I hope you would n’t offer me an affront,” said the doctor, staying the hand with which Hatch was opening his porte-monnaie.
“ That’s what I said to you when you would n’t let me settle with you for my sickness, — or words to that effect.”
“ Mr. Hatch, you — move me ! ”
“ How much do you owe Mrs. Le Roy ? ” asked Hatch.
“ I have n’t the least idea,” replied Boynton. “ It may be three weeks, — it may be two. How long have we been here ? ”
“ We must ask Mrs. Le Roy that,” Hatch rang again, and this time Mrs. Le Roy herself answered the bell. “ The doctor’s going away, Mrs. Le Roy, and he wants to pay up.”
“ Well, I’m real sorry,” said the woman, who had her bonnet on, as if about to go out, “to have you go, Dr. Boynton, — you and Miss Egeria both. But I guess you better. I thought, may be, Mr. Hatch was up to something of that kind. I don’t think you ’re just fit for the business. You put too much dependence on other folks, and you ’re sure to get exposed in the end. I don't suppose but what there’s as much truth in it as there is in anything,” she said, by way of reservation.
Boynton answered nothing, and at a look from Hatch Mrs. Le Roy added, “ Well, it’s two weeks, — thirty dollars in all.” She took the money from Hatch and put it in the pocket of her dress. “ Well, I’m going out now, and I shall be gone till evening; so if I don’t see you again, I ’ll say good-by at once, Dr. Boynton. Come and see me when you ’re up to Boston.”
She held out her hand to Boynton, who refused it with a very short “ No ! ” and a quick shake of the head. “ You are a charlatan,” he added, — “ an impostor.”
Mrs. Le Roy stared at him, until his meaning dawned upon her. Then it amused her through her whole huge person, which shook with the enjoyment. “ Why, land alive, man! what are you ? ”
“ Something quite beyond your comprehension,” replied Boynton, with overwhelming state.
“ Well, well! ” said Mrs. Le Roy, as she went contentedly out of the room, “ you certainly are a new kind of fool.”
They heard the stairs creak under her tread, as she went slowly and comfortably up ; then they heard her voice, as she made her adieux to Egeria, who was probably far too dimly informed as to her father’s point of honor to be able to take her stand upon it. “ Poor child ! ” they heard Mrs. Le Roy’s voice saying, “ I hope you ’ll stay at home, and get well rested. You look half sick, now. Good-by. I wish I could stay and see you off. But I can’t. I’ve got a seeaunts with a patient of mine at her house, and I suppose I must go.” She added in a louder tone, for the listeners below, “ Take care of that poor old father of yours, and don’t let him excite himself. I should be afraid he’d go out of his head, —if he was mine.”
Hatch looked at his watch. “You won’t be able to get the two o’clock train,” he said. “ But I ’ll tell you what,” he added: “ you don’t want to stay here to-night, after what’s passed between you and Mrs. Le Roy, and you can take the five o'clock train on the Fitchburg road as far as Ayer Junction, and there you can connect with a train on the new road to Portland. You ’ll have a little night travel.”
“ Oh, that will make no difference,” said the doctor. “ I would rather travel all night than stay here. I feel that if I’m to begin anew I can’t begin too soon. I shall be eternally grateful to you for your suggestion, my dear friend. I am sure now that it is in the right direction.”
“ Good! ” said Hatch. “ I shall not leave till nine o’clock on the Albany road, and I shall have plenty of time to see you off. You ’ll have to bank with me to the extent of tickets home, and I ’ll have to come down any way and get them for you: I have n’t the money about me for them, now.”
Hatch seemed to think that the doctor might take offense at this, but he merely said, “ Yes, yes; quite right,” and gave his hand dreamily, as the young man went out.
“ Tell Miss Egeria I will meet you at the depot. Be there with you half an hour before the train starts.”
“ Thanks,” said Dr. Boynton, and hardly waited for him to be gone before he lapsed into the easy corner of the sofa, apparently forgetful of all that had vexed him ; his face was eager with the rush of his hopes and purposes, as he abandoned himself to a sort of passionate reverie. At times he rose and walked the floor, but mostly he kept his place on the sofa. He took no counsel with Egeria, and he gave her no help in the work of packing, about which she went swiftly in the rooms overhead. It was not a great work, and it was finished before his reverie was ended. She looked in at the door when it was done, dressed for going out in a costume which was at once fantastic and shabby. In her village life it had once been her best dress, and it looked as if there had subsequently been some sketchy attempts to make it over into a street costume for city use ; her bonnet was of a former season ; her soiled gloves were frayed at more than one of the fingers. “ I shall be back in a minute, father,” she said, buttoning one of the poor gloves. “ I’m going out to tell the expressman to come for our things.” He looked at her, but did not seem to see her, and she passed on out.
Leaving her message at the express office, she stepped, after a hesitation at the door, into a little shop where they sold newspapers and stationery, and bought a few sheets of note-paper and envelopes, halting some time in her choice, and finally deciding on some paper of an outlandish color and envelopes of a rhomboid shape : they were not in good taste, but they were recommended to Egeria as a kind that the shopwoman “ sold a great many of.” At the door, in going out, the girl asked, “ You have n’t got a directory, I suppose ? ”
“No,” said the woman; “you’ll find that at the apothecary’s, three doors above.”
“ Thank you,” said Egeria. She did not hesitate at the apothecary’s, but going up to the desk, to which she saw the book attached by its customary chain, she looked out the address she was seeking, while the neat young lady accountant scrutinized her over the small colonnade at top of the desk, and telegraphed the young man at the opposite counter a satirical sense of Egeria’s dress and an unfavorable opinion of her behavior. Egeria went out repeating to herself the address she had found, and as soon as she had reached her own room wrote it down, so as not to forget it. Then she wrote a letter, which, when finished, she tore up, hiding the fragments in her pocket; she began a second, which she also destroyed; at last she took the pieces of the first, and carefully putting them together copied it slowly in the small, painful hand of one neither acquainted with the bold angularities of the fashionable female scrawl, nor accustomed to write any hand.
At the letter-box in front of the Fitchburg depot she faltered a moment; then, for her father was pushing on into the building, she caught her letter from her pocket, and posted it.
Ford received Egeria’s letter the next morning. He examined its outside, as people do that of letters coining to them in strange handwriting, and he bestowed a derisive curiosity upon the person who could choose that outlandish shape for a missive. A bold and dashing hand might have authorized the form, but Egeria’s hand was timid and feeble, and only heightened its absurdity. She had not quite known how to address him ; she had decided at last to begin without that formality.
“ I do not know why you refused what my father asked you to do; but we were imposed upon as well as you. You had a right to suspect us ; but at home we are respectable people ; if you knew about us there you would not regret that you had refused.
“ I felt grateful to you; but perhaps it is wrong to write. If it is, I can only say that I meant it truly and rightly.
“ EGERIA BOYNTON.”
Ford read this note many times over, without being able to make up his mind upon it. Though he had hardened his heart, he was touched by what seemed the girl’s simple pride in a former village respectability, and her resolution not to have it ignored by a city person who had found her in a false position, He could easily imagine the sort of standing she was proud of ; it had overawed him in his own village days: the house would be back a little from the street, with two Lombardy poplars at the gate of the picket fence, and a garden at the side, and a long extension of wood-sheds and stabling in the rear; the blinds were mostly shut; in a corner of the front yard was the doctor’s office in a small white building ; the girl was kept indoors, and much away from other village girls; she was not the sort that a young fellow would dare offer to go home with from evening meeting.
Ford put the letter by, and did a good morning’s work, and at one o’clock he gathered up the copy he had made, and carried it out to the newspaper office. He found himself without appetite for the lunch at his hoarding-house, and he wandered about, the early part of the afternoon, playing in his mind with a tendency which was drawing him in the direction of the Boyntons. The origin of all our impulses is obscure, and every motive from which we act is mixed. Even when it is simplest we like to feign that it is different from what it really is, and often we do not know what it is. It would be idle, then, to attempt to give the reason Ford alleged to himself for yielding to the attraction which he felt. His cheek flushed and his pulse quickened, as he mounted the steps to Mrs. Le Roy’s door; but this was the mood, half shame and half thrilled expectation, of many people who rang her bell.
The door was set ajar by the servant, who revealed a three-quarters view of her face and a slice of her person in response to Ford’s summons. He asked if Dr. Boynton or Miss Boynton were at home, and she answered that they were gone, adding, “ I don’t know as they ’re gone for good; ” and as he turned lingeringly away she said that Mrs. Le Roy was in.
“ I’ll see her,” rejoined Ford, and entered.
Mrs. Le Roy made him wait her coming some minutes. He must have been announced to her merely as a gentleman, for after greeting him first with “ How do you do, sir ? ” she added, “ Ah, how do you do ? ” as if upon recognition, and offered him her hand.
“ I don’t know that I ought to have troubled you,” said Ford ; “ but I wished to ask when you expected Dr. Boynton back.”
“ Why, they ain’t coming back ! ” exclaimed Mrs. Le Roy. “ They’ve gone home. Did n’t she tell you so ? ”
“ She ? Who ? ” asked Ford.
“ The girl.”
“ Miss Boynton ? ”
“ Laws, no! The girl at the door.”
“ Oh ! ” replied Ford, in confusion. “ No ; she said she was n’t certain.”
“Well, they have.”
Ford rose. After a moment’s hesitation, he asked, “ They live somewhere in Maine, I believe ? ”
“ Yes, down there some’er’s,” assented Mrs. Le Roy, indifferently.
“ Do you know their address ? ”
“Well, no, I don’t,” Mrs. Le Roy admitted. She asked, after a questioning glance at Ford, “ Did you want to find out anything about them ? ”
“ Yes,” returned Ford.
“ Well,” explained Mrs. Le Roy, “ I could give you a see-aunts.”
“ A what ? ”
“ A see-aunts, —consult the spirits.”
“Oh!” said Ford. “No, thanks. I have n’t time now,” he said, as he would put off an importunate barber who had offered him a shampoo. “I’m sorry to have troubled you.”
“ Not at all,” said Mrs. Le Roy, following him out into the hall. “ We have test see-auntses the first Sunday evenin’ of every month. Should be pleased to see you any time.”
“Thanks,” said Ford.
At the head of the street he met Phillips, walking toward the Public Garden. “Ah,” said Phillips, “I was thinking of you.”
“ Were you ? ” growled Ford.
“Yes. I wanted to ask if you’d heard anything more of the Pythoness and her papa. They ’re as curious an outcome of this bubble-and-squeak that we call our civilization as anything I know of. How did you find them ? ”
“ I didn’t find them; they’ve gone away,” said Ford, not caring to deny the imputation that he had been to look them up.
“ Gone away ? How extraordinary ! Has the doctor found Boston such a barren field, after all ? Ford, you 've deprived us of a phenomenon. You ought to have met him. It is n’t often that a father comes and invites a young man to contest his control over his daughter. The contest is generally against the old gentleman’s wishes. Where have they gone ? ”
“ They’ve gone home,” replied Ford.
“ And that is ” —
“ I don’t know. In Maine, somewhere.”
“ I might have known, in Maine, — the land of Norembega, the mystical city. The witches settled Maine, when they were driven out of Salem. You will find all the witch names down there. Well, I’m sorry they’re gone. I had counted upon seeing more of them. One does n’t often find such people in one’s way. I 've been speculating about them since I saw you, and I find myself of two minds in regard to them, — just as I was before I began. I suppose we must consider them parts of a fraud ; the question is whether they are conscious or unconscious parts of it. If they ’re unconscious, it’s pathetic ; if they ’re conscious, they ’re fascinating. I don’t wonder you could n’t keep away, — that you had to come and try for another interview with them. As for me, I wonder that I have n’t fluttered about them continually ever since I first saw them. The girl is such a deliciously abnormal creature. It is girlhood at odds with itself. If she has been her father’s ‘ subject ’ ever since childhood, of course none of the ordinary young girl interests have entered into her life. She has n’t known the delight of dress and of dancing ; she has n’t had ' attentions ; ’ upon my word, that’s very suggestive ! It means that she’s kept a child-like simplicity, and that she could go on and help out her father’s purposes, no matter how tricky they were, with no more sense of guilt than a child who makes believe talk with imaginary visitors. Yes, the Pythoness could be innocent in the midst of fraud. Come, I call that a pretty conjecture ! ”
“ Why do you waste it on me ? ” asked Ford. “ You could have made your fortune for the evening with that piece of quackery at the next place where you dine.”
“ Oh, it is n’t lost,” said Phillips. “ I was n’t wasting it; I was merely trying it on. Will you go with me to see a picture I’m hesitating about ? ”
“ No; you know I don’t understand pictures.”
“ Ah, that’s the reason I want you to see it. You are the light of the public square, the average ignorance, — an element of criticism not to be despised.”
“ If I thought I could be of use,” said Ford, “I’d come.”
“You can. But what is the matter? Why this common decency?”
“ I owe you a debt of gratitude. You 've given shape to the infernal sophistry that was floating through my mind, and made it disgusting.”
Phillips laughed. “ About the Pythoness ? My dear fellow, I’m proud of that conjecture. It was worthy of Hawthorne.”
W. D. Howells.