A Crucial Experiment
IT was ten minutes after the usual hour for the close of afternoon service at the church of St. Philemon, when the crowd passed the sexton as he stood guard at the principal entrance. An imaginative person might fancy that it was the duty of this functionary to deliver to each worshiper his private burden of cares, ambitions, and perplexities, as the door-keeper of a picture-gallery surrenders canes and umbrellas on receipt of the metallic tickets which designate them. The dying December day was darkened with clouds which threatened snow; already the wind was active ; the red and purple panes over the altar would soon be glazed with sleet. The stream of talk, pent beyond its usual limit, rushed with satisfaction to its week-day level. The janitor was sprinkled with some curious little sprays of it as he held his post.
“Was n’t our rector just lovely this afternoon ? ” asked a stylish school-girl of her friend from the suburbs.
“ Yes, he was splendid,” was the reply. “Wish I could come to St. Philemon’s every Sunday. My minister’s married, you know ; so he does n’t seem to count. What a beautiful voice Mr. Greyson has, and how it trembled when he read the prayer for the sick ! Do you know who was prayed for ? ”
“ Mr. Ephraim Peckster, of course. Papa called at the house to inquire about him, on our way to church. They said he could n’t live through the night. Oh, there’s Mrs. Hargrave just by that pillar ; no, I mean the one in the pink bonnet. Wife of the great Peckster Professor, you know. Is n’t she handsome ! Hurry for your horse-car: see how they ’re crowding into it. Come to our pew any time ; we 'll always make room for you.”
“ Eloquent, but highly injudicious,” said the judge, referring, as the sexton guessed, to the sermon. “ Of course it is good policy to make the Church inclusive ; but it can’t include mediævalism. Think what head-lines that stuff about Luther and the inkstand would make for the Morning Trumpet! Somebody must look after the reporter ; I ’ll speak to one of the vestrymen about it.”
The voice murmured further criticism, which was drowned by other voices more audible.
“ Yes, he’s dying alone in that great, house on Brandon Avenue: wife and daughter in Europe; son was killed in the railroad accident, you remember.”
“ Will he leave anything to the College?”
“ No, he quarreled with it. They would n’t dub Hargrave LL. D. last Commencement, and he resented it. I don’t blame him, either. All the Peckster Professors have had that degree, and Hargrave has done more for science than any of them.”
“ You ought to tell Colonel Caffrey, uncle,” said a soft feminine voice, “ that the college parchment would be a false representative symbol of my husband’s present views of science. He believes it to be a part of a wider and more deeply grounded system of knowledge than our endowed institutions of learning are willing to recognize.”
“ He should have had the three letters for all that,” said the speaker, in a tone which brooked no contradiction, “ Did not the Lisbon Academy send him its first gold medal, when he published his Centres of Ossification ? Only one other American has received it, and he’s a Johns Hopkins man. Suppose Hargrave is doing extra work upon lines which the sages say end nowhere ! The college people should n’t mind these contagious whispers. They get nervous much too easily, as they will see when Peckster’s will comes up for probate. By the way, where is the Professor ? I saw him in church.”
“ He followed Mr. Greyson into the vestry,” replied Mrs. Hargrave. “ I think he has some business with him.”
The sexton was prevented from learning further particulars by the direct address of a lady who had lingered to speak with him.
Where are those two seats that were advertised in the Saturday Evening Sunset? ”
“ Left-hand aisle, two from the door. But you ’re late, ma’am ; they’ve been taken.”
“ Any others likely to be offered ? ”
“ Can’t say; but don’t think it’s probable.”
It was not until after the last loiterer had departed, and the sexton had swung the heavy doors into the arch between the sculptured pillars, that two figures issued from the small portal at the vestry end of the church. The rector leaned upon the strong arm of Ernest Hargrave as if he needed such an anchorage in the gusty weather. Those who saw him only in the pulpit never realized that his stature was below the average, and that he was thin beyond the thinness so common in the American scholar. The flash of the eye, the penetrative quality of the voice, the absolute sincerity of manner, were instruments of impression which seemed to require the good physical basis which imagination was ready to supply.
“ I wish that your selection of a second witness had fallen elsewhere,” said the Rev. Charles Greyson. “ Surely my presence is not essential to the strange inquiry you have in hand.”
“ I must have two representative men to testify to the success of my experiment,” said Professor Hargrave earnestly ; “ it is to be regretted that circumstances will not permit more. I have secured Dr. Bense, who has the confidence of tiie Psychical Researchers. Now you, my dear sir, are no less a social fact than he is. I must have you both.”
“ Ain I to understand that you are at last prepared to furnish a scientific demonstration of man’s spiritual existence ? ” inquired the rector.
“ Yes, if my experiment succeeds; and I have good hope that it will succeed,” urged his companion. “ But even if all does not go as I hope, we shall surely come upon matter for interesting study. Secrets are revealed by failure no less than by success. You gave us a noble sermon this afternoon, — true, every word of it; and yet one half of your auditors thought you were talking above reason and in excess of evidence.”
“ Alas, I know it,” assented the rector ; “ and I know also that, of the less intellectual half who supposed they agreed with me, there were perhaps twenty who did not entertain a mental reserve, an arrière pensée, which held them from that absolute acceptance which can mould life in these unsettled times of ours. It is a consequence of the thralldom in which physical science at present holds the world. I know not where to look for deliverance.”
“ ‘ Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius ! ' ” exclaimed Hargrave, with enthusiasm. “ Science shall yet provide the demonstration to refute its own denials. I, who have been long schooled in its methods, will force upon it the knowledge from which it shrinks. That the proof I offer is not necessary for you and me — nay, that there seems something like degradation in resorting to it — I cheerfully admit. But surely there is apostolic authority for gaining souls by such approaches as the time demands.”
“You are right,” said the minister, after a pause of reluctance, “ else had that ninth of Corinthians been unwritten. I shall not leave my study until you send for me.”
“ It may be at any moment. Remember to bring a note-book and pencil, for whatever occurs must be instantly recorded. Have you a stop-watch ? ”
Mr. Greyson replied in the negative.
“ Then wear this of mine,” said Hargrave. “ I have two more at home ; we shall want them all. Good-night, for an hour or two.”
The wind had already a thickening of sleet in it as it struck the corner where their ways parted.
After a frugal dinner, Mr. Greyson sought the retirement of his library. His first act was to blow the dust from a scrap-book which was reposing upon the upper shelf of one of the bookcases. The volume was lettered “ Personal,” and contained newspaper notices of various sermons which he had preached, as well as of important weddings and burials at which he had officiated.
“ Just one year ago,” murmured the rector, glancing over the last cutting he had pasted in the book. “ One year ago; and what a renewal of mind has come to me, what fountains of knowledge have been strangely unsealed in my heart! ”
The printed column which provoked this exclamation gave a florid description of one of those notable ceremonies for which St. Philemon’s was famous. The reporter had done his best to bring the world to a realizing sense of the fact that the distinguished scientist, Dr. Ernest Hargrave, Peckster Professor of Osteology, had met at the altar the wellknown society leader, Mrs. Clara Souford ; and, furthermore, that the Reverend Charles Greyson had there united them in the holy bonds of matrimony. The usual wedding hymn had been sung by the choir, and the usual variations upon Mendelssohn’s March had been played by the organist. There had been the usual show of French bonnets, together with an unusual shower of congratulations from men of learned repute. The head of the Smithsonian Institution telegraphed the good wishes generated beneath the eight bones of its cranium, while presidents of foreign academies and royal societies flashed felicitations under stormy leagues of ocean.
In these days of slack allegiance to ecclesiastical authorities it has come to pass that a man marries into his wife’s church quite as naturally as into her family; and, according to this usage, Hargrave occupied the vacant seat at the foot of the Souford pew.
“ A royal couple ! ” whispered the worshipers, as the pair walked up the aisle on the second Sunday after the wedding. The adjective was not misapplied. The husband was strong and graceful in his movements, — a laborious man, with every sense pushed to its maximum of activity ; the wife was grand as ever in her animal beauty, but with eyes now beaming that soft, satisfying light which certifies that one more woman has escaped from the confusions of modern feminine existence, and come under the authority of a man competent to direct her ways. The pew-holders of St. Philemon’s saw that the weekly presence of a Peckster Professor, capable of being pointed out to inquiring strangers, would be good for their church. Would it be as good for the rector ? Mr. Greyson caught himself musing over this question while the choir were at work upon the Venite. He was disposed to answer it in the affirmative, though he could have given no reason for doing so. It was clear that his former pastoral relations with the lady must undergo a change: his conventional guidance to celestial regions would be rejected. The new experience that was saturating her mind would result in a different conception of things transcendental. With the world running so strangely as at present, it was not beyond credibility that he might come to sit at Mrs. Hargrave’s feet for counsel. Even that, the rector felt, would not be impossible. After all, she was an overpowering woman, full of rich and beneficent vitality. How her face gained in beauty as the fresher feelings of her new life shifted to and fro across it!
The sermon of that Sunday morning was one of the most eloquent the rector had ever preached. By an impulsion which was irresistible he threw aside his manuscript. He must leave reading for preaching; there were fresh, upspringing thoughts which must be used even in their newest gloss. The freshet of youthful confidence seemed once more swelling through his veins. He saw that the congregation was rousing itself from its decorous sermon-stupor; the people were marveling that their minister had so much blood in him. Mr. Greyson seemed to himself as one riding Upon an incoming wave of fresh life and glorious possibilities. An unseen influence was directing and controlling his words. These scientific illustrations of familiar truths, where did they come from ? He could not remember to have read of the physical facts to which he referred ; nevertheless, he knew them to be true. Does organic self-consciousness exhaust the individual, or is it but a limitation of a larger and truer consciousness, through which he may be a partaker of knowledge unattainable by his own effort ? Questions of this nature presented themselves to the mind of the speaker, while well-formed periods, of which he could give no account, were issuing from his lips.
That evening Mr. Greyson passed with the Hargraves ; it was the first of many evenings when he found himself attracted to their home. Clerical bachelors of a certain fastidiousness crave an atmosphere of gentle commiseration for their difficulties which the frigid sympathies of their own sex can never supply. For this he had been accustomed to look in the home of the former Mrs. Souford ; but, as Mrs. Hargrave, Clara seemed to have developed a new quality of highmindedness which was vivifying to the moral energies of her visitor. In the glow of her presence he felt comfortably at his best: the coarseness of the vulgar mechanism of life was spiritualized out of it. Her conversation, which had been merely bright with the artificial sparkle of society, now became a source of elevation, almost of inspiration. There was never wanting that most bewitching subtlety of feminine flattery, which implies that more than an equivalent of masculine wisdom has been received in exchange for those golden moments of unreserve in which a well-equipped woman reveals her pure and delicate soul. No unimportant factor this to the success of friendly intercourse between woman and man.
It is said that in these days nobody writes letters; but there are important exceptions to this hasty statement. Momen of the little-to-do class frequently write them ; they crave the pen-and-ink confessional. There are haunting and torturing fancies which, if a priest be not convenient, are wisely precipitated upon paper and gotten rid of. Clergymen of the much-to-do order likewise write letters ; they have the instinct of making confessions no less than of hearing them. They long to stand face to face with such merit or demerit as may be in them; they want that sober judgment and direction which can come only from one who has fullness of knowledge.
In his youth Mr. Greyson had traveled through Palestine with an Oxford student, who, in after years, became chaplain to the embassy in a German city. A loving confidence grew up between them, and they believed that greater gain could be wrung from the life each might live if it were supplemented by an accurate knowledge of that lived by the other. Would it not be possible thus to escape an existence bounded by merely personal experience, — to enter a world that was something more than the reaction of one’s own organism ? And so their letters became channels for those emotions that are most easily poured out at a point not less than three thousand miles from their source. An extract from this correspondence will give us the rector’s impressions of Professor Hargrave’s household some six months after the wedding that had so impressed the reporter.
“ What you say about the change perceptible in my letters is probably significant of a deeper change — or rather of a new development — which is working in my life. Hitherto I have been little more than the fashionable rector, — a minister to wealth and worldliness, who, upon being entreated to go a mile with the demon of compromise, has been too ready to make it twain. If I now struggle towards a higher conception of duty, it is owing to the stimulus of familiar intercourse with Professor Hargrave and his wife. I have made you familiar with the career of the former Mrs. Souford, — a brilliant ruler of society, who never diffused a moral temperature above that of the social parade in which she displayed herself. But marriage, which changes most women by elimination and suppression, has lifted this one to a larger self, — a self that was concealed by the trivialities her position was supposed to exact. You know my hatred of exaggerated language, and will believe me sincere when I say that what Madame Récamier might have been had she married a man who was not as the average Frenchman, that Clara Hargrave now is. Her very organism seems to have undergone a change ; it is balanced in such exquisite equilibrium as to be sensitive to all that is greatest in the Professor. I am awed, yet fascinated, by her stately beauty, her noble grace of demeanor, her exquisite tact. You are guessing that there is something more to tell about this lady ? Yes ; and I shall reach it by the proper approach.
“ Professor Hargrave, while giving the full instruction his department requires, devotes the rest of his time to that work of spiritual investigation which he thinks will be more useful to his generation than his famous achievements in science. To a few friends, among whom I am admitted, he has demonstrated that the fibres of the human brain vibrating to the waves of atmosphere may, under certain conditions, respond to the vibrations of alien brain fibres, and that this transmission and reception of vibratory energy conveys thought between man and man. My language is of doubtful correctness, but it will indicate the thing done. Well, Professor Hargrave has gone on to the collating and weighing of evidence which points to our susceptibility to impressions from superhuman intelligences. He is understood to believe that a way will be found of proving spiritual existences by those positive methods which have brought within our knowledge things quite as intangible as the disembodied soul. As strange as any of the strange things I am writing is the fact that our Professor has gained the sympathy of Mr. Ephraim Peckster in his new line of research. Indeed, were the case otherwise, it is doubtful whether he would still hold the Chair endowed by the great-grandfather of our notable millionaire.
“ Have I yet prepared you for the extraordinary powers which some magic touch has awakened in Clara Hargrave ? I fear not. Well, then, let me say bluntly that she has come into that faculty of spiritual discernment which in these latter days enables some sensitives to see — or to believe that they see — the inhabitants of another sphere of existence. ‘ A flighty hallucination ! ’ you exclaim impatiently. As at present advised, I do not deny it; neither do I admit it. For to admit your characterization I must reckon with facts that it will not fit. First, the allegation of this faculty is by no means confined to those whose nervous organization may reasonably be suspected of instability ; it is asserted by persons of sound health, well-balanced minds, and scrupulous truthfulness. Secondly, circumstances are communicated and personal traits displayed by these shadows which could not have been known to their seers, but which have been verified by tedious processes of investigation. Now I claim no objective reality for these phantoms. Where I am absolutely ignorant, I prefer to make no assertion whatever. I say only that the hallucination theory put forward in the name of science is ludicrously inadequate to cover the facts of the case. Set aside the matter which a hundred periodicals devoted to ‘ Spiritualism ’ are laying before the public, there remains a mass of testimony which, though kept sacredly private, has yet been submitted to the scrutiny of a few persons of the highest competency. Some of this I have been permitted to examine, and I can assure you that it is not to be disposed of with the convenient ‘ grin ’ with which the fops of Pope’s time were wont to refute Berkeley.
“ There is singular refreshment in the home I have mentioned. I never leave it without feeling that the truth that no man can live to himself alone is the statement of religion which overshadows and includes all its other teachings. We are far more receptive of foreign influences than is commonly realized. It is a dark moment when the soul stands face to face with this portentous fact; it may well paralyze one who has no consciousness of the power to repel allurements which would drag him down. Yet it is something to know the battle-ground upon which the higher life is to be won. Painfully incompetent to achieve the supreme victory, I yet assert the paradox that the more I feel the influence of the Hargraves the more I grow in such selfreliance as becomes a man. In the pulpit I am at times borne to a region in which individuality is so merged in the general soul that I partake of knowledge which raises my poor speech to a higher power. I despair of making you understand the nature of the susceptibility which I assert; it is as undefinable as an ear for music, as unknowable as the force behind nature is to Mr. Spencer. I know what you are thinking of all this, for I know how your stolid countrymen cling to old conceptions. You are certain that man as he is asserted to be in divers reputable British text-books in no wise differs from man as he is. You don’t believe that any impact from without can lift our better knowledge — if ours it be — to the surface ! Well, I could show you by abundant instances that your unchangeable type of clerical character has varied greatly in America: I find such an instance in the paper which has just come in. Here is a letter from Dr. Hale, whose story of The Man without a Country you read aloud to us under the tent on Mount Hermon. He relates an incident in the life of the late Reverend Dr. Bellows, the distinguished head of our sanitary commission during the civil war. As my letter is already too long, I will use Dr. Hale’s words, with some abridgment, in repeating the story. Dr. Bellows was to preach before an audience filling one of the largest theatres in the world. When it was time for the sermon he went forward with his manuscript. As he opened the pages a voice he had before heard in the privacy of his chamber said audibly to him, ' The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him.’ He did not pause for a moment; he told that vast assembly that an intimation of a sort he was not in the habit of disregarding suggested a text; its precise place in the Psalms he was unable to state. He then proceeded to preach a sermon never planned nor in any way arranged. Many persons subsequently testified to the preacher that that sermon had recalled them to faith and worship.
“ Well, there are the facts vouched for by an eminent gentleman who you know by reputation as I do in person. What do you make from them ? This, at any rate, let us hope: that weaklings in judgment are not the only ones visited by these impulses. Do I myself understand them ? Certainly not, — or only so far as not to mistake for my personal virtue that which goes from me. What matters it whether I, or another, say the inspiring word ? My sole concern is that such word be said. Yet I may well shudder in standing upon what my people believe to be a vantage-ground, for there I am open to possibilities of assault that were once unsuspected. I have become receptive of the influence of another attendant at St. Philemon’s, from whom at times a dominant pressure seems to creep up the sides of the pulpit. I was unconscious of it in the old days; now I know it, and know better than to affect to despise it. I recognize it as part of that urgency towards degradation always to be resisted — yet, alas, not always to be overcome — by such powers as are at present developed in man.”
There is no need of copying more from a letter which an over-scrupulous editor might regard as too sacred and personal for publication. Doubtless, some future Mr. Froude will gratify the liberal curiosity of society with a sight of the whole correspondence. In the mean time it will be well to explain the allusion in the sentences last quoted.
Dr. Fairchild Bense, who occupied the pew opposite that of the Hargraves, was a specialist in those feminine prostrations of which over-excitement and under-work are said to be the exciting causes. A lover of wholesome daylight and of strenuous common sense, he had passed that sixtieth mile-stone after which a man is apt to make up for his non-receptiveness of new ideas by clinging to the old ones with a tighter grasp. Such admiration as the non-voting attendants of St. Philemon’s could spare from their rector was generally given to their doctor. In addition to his kindly manners and tender interest in their symptoms, he had the charm of a man of the world, who has observed and read beyond the narrow confines of a profession. Dr. Bense also enjoyed the repute of a successful author. His excellent little monograph tersely entitled The Body had passed through several American editions, and had been republished at Berlin in a German translation. It was declared by admirers to be so conclusive in its reasoning as to render a statement of the conclusion arrived at quite superfluous. This was undoubtedly the writer’s own view of the matter, for surely there are reticences which a gentleman with a large female practice will wisely observe. The statements of the doctor’s portable volume were well buttressed by quotations from Vogt, Büchner, Haeckel, Maudsley, and other authorities, and set forth that automatic and mechanical view of man’s nature to which, in the judgment of the author, modern science was now fully committed. He told how he had made several interesting variations upon Professor Claude Bernard’s neat little experiment with the brainless pigeon; and any one with half an eye might see that the deduction that mind was a production of the cerebral cells was the only legitimate outcome therefrom. But then it was unnecessary to put this conclusion into so many positive words, — quite unnecessary. The dear lady patients, whether actual or prospective, would be sure to skip through the book in their hasty novel-reading fashion, without seeing what was in it. And as for that handful of masculine acquaintances who might pause over the pages long enough to absorb the teaching, there was really no reason why they should shock their delicate sisters by revealing just what Bense on the Body was designed to set forth. If, indeed, they were worshipers at St. Philemon’s, there were special motives for holding their peace. For Dr. Bense, if not exactly a pillar of the church, was an important unit in the congregation. He was ready to serve on all the charitable committees, and took great interest in the music. If he knew that science declared it to be as foolish to posit spirit for thought as for digestion, he also knew that the dream of a post-mortem existence stopped the rush of work and pleasure for one day in seven, and — when not taken too seriously— operated favorably upon that class of disorders which came under his treatment. And so the doctor treated such sacred observances as yet lingered in the world in a very respectful manner, saying that none but fools would destroy what could so easily be utilized.
Was not the church the only barrier which had not yet yielded to the avalanche of democracy ? Its dogmas and symbolic exercises had a soothing effect upon the nerves of the prosperous, and might be turned into channels of artistic culture for the less favored multitude who struggled into the free seats. Sensible men never neglect the outward observance of the contemporary cultus. It needed no Burke to tell us that there are decent draperies of life which are not to be removed with impunity.
Such being the views of Dr. Bense, judicious readers will readily perceive the completeness of his equipment for a prominent position in the service of psychical research, and will feel no surprise that one of our American societies, about to paddle upon these dark waters, besought his name as chairman of its Committee on Obsessions. The doctor considered the application with his usual urbanity, and pleasantly remarked that, if he could only be sure the right men were behind him, he would take the presidency of a corporation for the manufacture of the Philosopher’s Stone, or personally conduct a party to look up the Fountain of Youth. Upon assurance that these “ right men ” would press steadily in the rear, the kindly gentleman accepted the office, with the observation that, although he had little time to devote to these fooleries, he thought he could do what was wanted of him; he would see that nobody else discovered anything at variance with the canons of scientific orthodoxy.
It is no wonder that the sensitive rector felt a depressing influence when he caught the glittering eye of Dr. Bense. The portly figure, made up of ponderous masses of flesh adequately supplied with blood and muscle ; the gray head, holding sixty years of experience ; the eminently respectable jjosition of its proprietor, — these bore heavily against the hundred and thirty pounds of physical man which scarcely served to stiffen a surplice. It became painfully evident that the gaze of the doctor contained little of the admiration which is so sustaining to a preacher. There sat the distinguished neurologist, supported by that iron scaffolding of reasoning erected in his work on the Body ; it was clearly fire-proof; the burning appeals of the pulpit would assail it in vain. That the hortatory powers of the preacher had recently acquired fresh energy was clear to this worthy specialist in morbid phenomena of the nervous system. He went to church with increased interest. He watched the play of the rector’s features, the outline and carriage of the body, — signs to his practiced eye of the abnormal condition of the nerve-centres. “ There will be over-fatigue after such excitement,” murmured the doctor to himself ; “ he will be coming to me for a course of bromides before long. If we could only get at the mechanical equivalent for all this cell disturbance! We shall hit upon it yet. Yes, Huxley is right; we have discovered it for heat, and are bound to find it for consciousness.”
Mr. Greyson winced a little as he felt himself the subject of this professional interest. It was an element of confusion ; a blur upon the mirror which should reflect supreme truth. How humiliating to believe that spiritual power could attain its maximum only when some ill-understood condition was supplied by the auditors! Yet notwithstanding the limitation of which the rector was so conscious, the fact that a fresh vitality had gone into the sermonizing at St. Philemon’s was widely recognized. The hearts of the young and frivolous fluttered with a new sensation, while those which kept their beating into middle life swelled with a sense of higher realities than had hitherto touched them. The usual remoteness of the pulpit was removed. The sermon struck the level of the pews, and even the curiosity-hunters and strollers from the hotels were startled into a half hour of serious meditation.
As Mr. Greyson rose to preach on the Sunday afternoon when the petition for Ephraim Peckster had been inserted in the service, he perceived that Dr. Bense was not in the church, and that the Hargraves — who, coming late, found their pew occupied by strangers — had taken seats within ten feet of the pulpit. The penetrative energy with which the rector spoke that afternoon will not soon fade from the memories of those who heard him. The text (Eph. vi. 11,12) has been taken for hundreds of evanescent discourses, weighted with commonplace which speedily sank them below the attention of their auditors. But a coercive power came into the familiar verses as they were now repeated ; there was intuitive insight, something that seemed like the holy confidence of inspiration, as the speaker proceeded to develop the lesson they contained. The whole armor of God, — that is what we must put on before contending with the spiritual wickedness in high places with which the apostle asserts that man must wrestle. The rich emphasis of voice made every one shrink with a sense of the utter poverty of his personal equipment for this mighty strife. Whether mind be embodied or disembodied, — so ran the preacher’s message, — it may cast a spell upon those about it. That influence may be strengthening, widening, elevating ; or it may be degrading, perverting, poisoning. “ We contend not against flesh and blood.” The negative of the apostle clashes with that hypothesis, exclusive of spiritual existence, which is so favored by the science of our day. He knew that faith in the existence of agents of wickedness who assail man was a safer belief, because it was a truer belief, than the doctrine that our thoughts and actions express our uninfluenced individualities. And it was here that the rector, as his eye fell upon a party of returned tourists who had gabbled to him of “doing” the Castle of Wartburg, and of inspecting the stain upon its wall, was betrayed into that Luther illustration which caused such uneasiness. The great Reformer had hurled his inkstand at — what ? Science was ready with its glib answer: “ A subjective hallucination arising from the eccentric pseudopia of functional disturbance.” Perhaps so ; yet not necessarily so. Let it never be forgotten that the great fast of the Church identifies the Temptation it commemorates with an objective source. Modern investigation may yet prove, what ancient inspiration has asserted, that chaotic spiritual regions infest the neighborhood of human life. But those too dull to feel susceptibility to these influences declare that they do not exist! Suppose the metals which do not respond to the loadstone should meet in convention, and pass a resolution that its power was imaginary ! There have been periods of the world’s history when knowledge of the unseen was poured upon men with Pentecostal power ; also there have been epochs when mortals were tempted into abnormal relations with the lower spiritual world. And then the preacher showed how materialistic prosperity, Sadducean blindness, and the pride of intellectual culture had darkened the faculty of supersensual discernment. The sermon closed with a glowing description of the tangible refutation of a doubter that had once been permitted in the room at Jerusalem when the doors were shut.
But it is impossible to give in shadowy outline words which swayed the listeners to and fro, — words as full of refinement as of fire. They came with the mighty rush of a river, which nevertheless yields to the graceful flexures of its bed. Truly the rector appeared to have risen to a sphere where realities behind appearances were laid bare. Certain medical pupils of Dr. Bense, whose slender purses necessitated the gallery, marveled that what seemed a towering spiritual ego should be no more that a secretion of that tremulous, lxalf-effeminate organism. They puzzled over this great scientific verity instead of following the words of the last hymn, as it is clear they ought to have done.
That evening, as the minister sat in his study, awaiting the summons of Professor Hargrave, the reaction came. Fullness of life had been his a few short hours ago, yet his late elevation now appeared empty and deceptive. Why should a worn-out, good-for-nothing man arrest one momentary stage in a long series of bodily changes, and give that the name of life ? This fidget of the nerves, these vaporous prognostics peeping at us from behind the curtain which conceals our destiny, — are not these also life ? Ah, they are emphatically life, since according to our modern democratic notions they are the ruling majority of our sensations. Ministers get no exemption from these doleful questionings, — puppets keeping step with the music of their physical nutrition, as in this world the best of us are in some sort compelled to do.
The ring of the door-bell startled Mr. Greyson from his reverie. The message had come ; a cap and ulster coat would be wanted, and the maid had thoughtfully brought them.
The rector shuddered as he passed into the street, but it was not from the snow-laden blast which struck him in the face; it was from doubt of the errand upon which he was bound.
“ Add to your faith knowledge
There was comfort in recalling the apostle’s words ; they were repeated more than once on the way to that older part of the city where the Hargraves lived.
When Mr. Greyson entered the familiar parlor in Primrose Street, he found Professor Hargrave engaged in a perplexed walk up and down the room, eying the carpet the while with the anxious inquiry of one who was deciphering some oracular message that had been woven into its pattern. Clara occupied her low sewing-chair near the table ; as usual she seemed begirt with a blessed feminine atmosphere of light and encouragement,—the ewigweibliche which the dying lines of Goethe’s poem point out as man’s best guide along the dusky highway of the world.
The rector had become so much a part of the family that the conversation was not interrupted by his arrival.
“ No, I cannot leave this to Greyson,” exclaimed the Professor, making a sudden pause in his movement. “ Now he is here, I had as lief say what I should say in his absence. The clergy are no better advisers than women upon matters which involve a certain disturbance of personal feeling and personal taste. They attribute too much importance to petty social proprieties ; they do not see that the large interests of the social organization must at times overrule them. No, my dear, your opinion is formed from a point of view quite outside the mode of thinking applicable to the subject. I have already succeeded in lifting some portion of that fog of assumptions and guesses in which the spiritual nature of man is enveloped. I have done little, to be sure, but what I have accomplished has been by the methods of scientific research.”
“ You mean what you have accomplished for others,” said Clara, quietly. “ The information gained by yourself, and which you have enabled me to receive, has surely been obtained by other methods, and is as certain as it is priceless. What was my knowledge before you enlarged its boundaries ? A parrotlike repetition of the creed of my Spencerian Lectureship mingled with that of my church. One taught me that matter passed from indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity, and that this ponderous passage was effected by evolutionary processes ; the other provided me with some phraseology equally mouth-filling, and both left me to the frivolous worldly life from which you raised me.”
“ And must all my time and study be lost ? ” remonstrated Hargrave. “ I mean all that have been given to the methods and instruments which promise success in this experiment! No, I am not justified in wasting such an opportunity.”
“No honest work can be lost to the doer of it,” said his wife. “I say only that you are not bound to make a vulgar demonstration upon the lowest plane of a fact which better ways of research have established for as many as can profit by it.”
“ Despite the Professor’s uncivil remark about the clergy,” said Mr. Greyson, “ I think him the best judge of the value of this experiment; and if it is to be made, I cannot justify myself in withholding such assistance as may be found in my presence.”
“ And that settles it,” said Hargrave, with a triumphant glance at his wife. “ Greyson must pardon me for thinking that he might falter, that he might not be the large-minded man he evidently is. We shall convince Bense that there is a spirit in man which survives death. We can win such men only by a demonstration of positive science.”
“ I fear that nothing you can accomplish will move Dr. Bense,” objected Clara. “ There are conditions of organic density about him which will defy you.”
“ Well, we can prove that fact, at all events,” rejoined the Professor. “ In the mean time, remember that the doctor has been put forward by the Research people, and heads one of their committees. My associations with scientific bodies compel me to provide him with the sort of evidence he is able to appreciate.”
“ Is it not useless,” said Clara, “ to provide more evidence for those who will make no fair use of the evidence now at their disposal, for men who claim to be teachers before those to whom they should come with the humility of learners? Let them first show courage and candor in dealing with the mass of evidence now accessible. Grant that the delicate apparatus you have so labored to perfect does its work, Dr. Bense will believe you to be a conjurer clever enough to deceive so good an observer as himself. He has already decided that men whose achievements in science are equal to yours are either tricked or tricksters in these matters.”
“ I must try to bend knees even as stubborn as his,” rejoined Hargrave. “ I do not fear the legitimate skepticism of science, and have twenty reasons for thinking that I shall convert Bense. But there is his step upon the stairs, so it will be as well to reserve them until after the event.”
The sturdy, corpulent figure of Dr. Bense was now added to the party. Mixed with the good nature which always beamed from his face, there was a subdued sense of the comical, such as might be detected in one invited to walk into a quagmire upon the assurance that good substantial footing was there obtainable. The doctor was willing to go as far as the edge, and watch those who had lost sight of realities flounder in the mud. Classification was a point of pride with him. He was acquainted with most of the deteriorated varieties of humanity, and liked to put them under their proper headings in the noble volume of medical science.
“ Thank you heartily for answering my summons,” was the cordial greeting of Professor Hargrave. “ I want you to witness an experiment which may result in giving you that evidence of a spiritual world which your society professes to be seeking.”
“ I am not aware that any society with which I am connected makes such profession,” replied Dr. Bense. “ We are seeking a remedy for that reversion to the delusions of our savage ancestors which the great forces of civilization are not yet able to prevent.”
“ I hope to be able to show you,” continued the Professor, undismayed by this dash of cold water, " that what we call the soul is a distinct entity, and does not depend upon organic structure for its existence.”
“ Ah! ” said the doctor, in a longdrawn-out exclamation, and raising his eyebrows as far as a contraction of the occipito-frontalis muscle would carry them. “ I am aware that some persons assert a zone of spiritual being, and then posit in man a faculty competent to its cognition. I can have nothing to do with any such circular reasoning. Do you propose to proceed by the methods which have given us all that science can recognize as knowledge ? ”
“ Had I had any other purpose, you would not have been sent for,” answered Hargrave, proudly. “ I ask you to join me in a scientific investigation of the phenomena of death.”
“ Who is your subject ? ”
“ Ephraim Peckster.”
The eyebrows of the inquirer went up again at this reply.
“ I have been with him this afternoon,” continued Hargrave. “ His mind is clear, though the body is hourly weakening. We have often talked over this matter, and he begged me, should he be called first, to see that his passage to the other world was used for the increase of knowledge in this. I promised him that I would do so. To-day he sent me word that the time had come.”
“ I fear that our code of medical etiquette will prevent my intrusion,” said Dr. Bense. “ Who has the case ? ”
“ Old Dr. Simpson, of Medville. Mr. Peckster’s summer home is in that town, and he has unbounded confidence in its physician.”
“ Simpson was a good practitioner thirty years ago,” remarked the doctor, “ but he is far behind date. I ’ll wager he bled him ! ”
“ He did,” assented the Professor; “he declared that it gave him his only chance.”
“ The exploded practice ! ” muttered Dr. Bense. “ No city physician would bleed for peritonitis, though our fathers thought there was nothing else to be done. Veratrum viride and the obvious antiphlogistics are now found to answer the purpose. Well, I suppose that although the disease has been conquered, the patient can retain nothing on his stomach, and is fast sinking from exhaustion ? ”
“ You describe his condition as I understand it,” said Hargrave. “ At all events. Dr. Simpson has given him up, and is perfectly willing that you should assist at the experiment which Mr. Peckster has assured him he desires should be made. Mr. Greyson, the other witness I have selected, is now with us. Dr. Simpson may summon us by telephone at any moment.”
“ If you will explain the nature of the investigation you propose to make,” said the rector, “ we shall be all the more competent as observers.”
“ I will willingly do so,” assented the Professor. “ But in stating my hypotheses, — which are tentative, not dogmatic, — and in explaining why I hold them, I must ask permission to use the terminology of those who believe in spiritual life. I do this simply for convenience, without prejudice to the negation of such life to which the failure of my experiment may be thought to point. I propose then, reverend sir, to place some of your pulpit assertions upon a basis which will appeal to the modern mind ; in a word, to strengthen pious apologetics with positive assurance. I shall employ, not perhaps the best methods in this investigation, but those with which Dr. Bense is familiar. And, first, I hope to be able to show that, approximating the time when the soul leaves the body, there is an alteration in its weight which is capable of registration. I have caused the bed to be supported upon an exquisitely poised balance which will show any remission of the downward pressure. I can scarcely doubt my success here, — though I hope to go much further.”
“ Will you give us your reasons for this supposition ? ” inquired Dr. Bense.
“ Certainly,” was the response. “A change in the weight of the body has often been observed in persons in the ecstatic condition. There are certain states related to the somnambulic when the human organism is subject to an unknown lifting force, which, to a greater or less degree, overpowers its natural gravity. There is good reason to believe that the energies of the soul may be awakened to such a pitch that in its transport it will bear up the material envelope. History and literature abundantly recognize this fact. We have minute accounts of the levitations of St. Theresa, Loyola, Savonarola, and many others. The experiments made upon somnambulists by Dr. Charpignon and Professor Kieser tend to confirm these older records. The phenomenon is well known in connection with religious revivals. The possessed children of Morzine and Chablais, who in 1847 flung themselves from the branches of the highest trees with the lightness of squirrels, scarcely outdid the record of our own Kentucky Climbers. Professor Alfred R. Wallace, to whom we lend w illing ears when he speaks of the biographies of bugs and butterflies, asserts that at least fifty persons of high character can be found in London who wall vouch for the fact of levitation, as by them witnessed. This testimony is on record, and much of it is accessible to any serious inquirer.”
“ Assume my assent to the existence of this precious evidence, both come-at-able and un-come-at-able,” said Dr. Bense impatiently, “ and what follows then ? ” “ Then,” answered Professor Hargrave, “ I hazard the a priori supposition that a state bearing some resemblance to that which we know as ecstasy occurs at or near the moment of 4death, and that this condition is marke by a lessening of weight, which can be shown by proper experimental inquiry.”
“ If such a fact exists, it is capable of proof,” said the doctor dryly.
“ Undoubtedly,” agreed Hargrave. " Now let me take you a little further. For the past three months I have been at work upon an instrument which is as sensitive to soundless vibrations in the atmosphere as the receiving disc of the telephone is to those originated by the voice. All the credit of its perfection belongs to my friend Professor Merlton, of our chemical department, who has discovered a substance which is both more delicate and more retentive than the tin-foil of the phonograph. I expect to show that when the body exhibits a decrease of weight, there are tremors in the atmosphere above it which can be detected at no other time, and of which our present physical science can give no account.”
Clara flushed a little at her husband’s ardor, and could not help recalling that line of Wordsworth which intimates the existence of localities where it were not well to botanize, even in the high interests of scientific investigation.
“ We have now,” continued the Professor, with something of the authoritative manner he had acquired in the lecture-room, " a moving equilibrium as the point of merging between two existences. I am provided with six self-registering thermometers, and shall from time to time take that condition of its molecular changes which we recognize as temperature. We know that heat can augment only as there is expansion or change of position in molecules. Taken in connection with other parts of my investigation, I hope to establish a fair inference that we are here detecting the jar of the elements of life-stuff as they form the faint beginnings of the new envelope of man.”
“ That is your theory,” interpolated Dr. Bense, with a slightly scornful emphasis upon the last word.
“ It is my theory,” assented the Professor. " It is my way of provisionally coördinating the series of observations we shall both record. If you are able to offer a generalized view of the phenomena which is simpler and more intelligible, I shall gladly accept it. Having obtained success up to this point, it is my design to push inquiry by another instrument. You are probably aware that certain sensitives, who are above suspicion of imposture, profess to have seen the growth of the spiritual body as that which is mortal gradually assumes the rigor cadaveris.”
“ Oh, yes ; we doctors recognize in such assertions a cerebral condition induced by febrile or other disturbance. Read Clarke upon Visions ; it will tell you the precise part of the visual apparatus where functional perturbation causes these false conceptions.”
“ I am familiar with the book,” resumed the Professor quietly, " and now take it from this table to remind you of other testimony which Dr. Clarke has left for us. Our distinguished countryman, Dr. O. W. Holmes, who writes the introduction to the volume, in speaking of a case which the author described to him, uses this language : ' At the very instant of dissolution it seemed to him, as he sat at the dying lady’s bedside, that there arose " something,” an undefined yet perfectly apprehended somewhat, to which he could give no name, but which was like a departing presence.’ And Dr. Holmes then goes on to say that, he has received a similar statement ' from the lips of one whose evidence is eminently to be relied upon.’ In this case he tells us that there was also ' the consciousness that “something” arose, as if the “spirit” had made itself cognizable at the moment of quitting its mortal tenement.’ Now it is not impossible that the essence which departs with the final throb of life — that ascending something testified to by this person ' whose evidence is eminently to be relied upon ’ — is capable of being pictured by transcendental photography.” “ Transcendental what ? ” demanded Dr. Bense, in a tone of utter amazement.
“ Pho-to-gra-phy,” repeated the Professor, carefully separating the syllables. “ Take the word easily, by installments, and put them together when inside your head. There is really no need of the surgical operation whereby the Scotch brain is said to be made receptive. You never heard of it ? ”
“ Never, outside the society of those I considered lunatics,” said the doctor.
“ Richter was right.” remarked Mr. Greyson, “ when he said that every specialist would do well to take a walk with some other specialist who had investigated in a different direction. In such a stroll Dr. Bense might be paired with Professor Aksakof, lately of the University of Moscow.”
“ I am told we are getting some very good romances from Russia,” murmured the neurologist.
“Yes, or with Wagner, Professor of Zoölogy in the University of St. Petersburg,” added Hargrave. “ Either of these gentlemen could tell him, as the result of their experiments, that photographic plates are more sensitive than ordinary eyes. Wagner, I remember, used a stereoscopic camera, that double pictures of the unseen sitters might mutually check each other. But perhaps Dr. Bense would say that to photograph an invisible image would be scientifically impossible.”
“ No, I am not going to walk into that trap,” said the doctor decidedly. “ I am quite aware that sulphate of quinine has the quality of rendering visible the ultra-violet rays of the spectrum. ‘ Fluorescence,’ Professor Stokes called it, though why it should bear the name of the spar I never could understand.”
“ If we accept the researches of these gentlemen,” continued the Professor, “ they certainly show that an unseen power can throw into form some principles of matter which, though invisible to our eyes, can reflect the chemical rays of light and impress the plate.”
“ And so none of your infallible witnesses can be found outside of Russia,” said Dr. Bense. “ In the higher latitudes of that country, I believe, the inhabitants chiefly depend upon moonshine.”
“ Quite the contrary,” was the decided reply. “ There are the recorded experiments of Professor Crookes, whose honorable character no sane man has questioned. Add to these the attestation of Mr. Taylor, skeptic and expert, editor of the British Journal of Photography, who tested the process by which these pictures were produced with his own collodion and glass plates. Then there is the Beattie series of photographs, taken in London under very stringent conditions ; these show a luminous mist — Dampf, as the Germans call it — gradually condensing into definite shapes. There is the record of the investigation of the claims of Mr. Hartman in Cincinnati, which was conducted by six practical photographers, who watched their marked plates through all their various workings without detecting any sign of trickery. I do not refer to my personal experiments, as their results have not yet been given to the public. It answers my present purpose to assert that any intelligent man who will examine the depositions I have cited must conclude that, even if insufficient to compel conviction, they are weighty enough to brand with folly and incompetence any inquirer who does not try photography in such an investigation as is now before us.”
Professor Hargrave threw a warmth of manner into the excited emphasis of the last sentence which rendered a pause prudent. This gave a little time for silent meditation.
“ How handsome he is ! ” thought his wife. “ What a fascinating mixture of the cautious calculations of the man of science with the imagination of the romantic adventurer! ”
The rector noted the visionary splendor in Clara’s eyes, and indulged in an odd speculation upon the source of the charm of personality. For instance, had Margaret Fuller possessed the gift of beauty, had Count Ossoli been intellectually her superior, could she have radiated this influence of perfect feminine development ?
“ Alas, the pity of it,” thought Dr. Bense, “ that the author of Centres of Ossification, a book imbued with the true scientific spirit, should revert to these old Eldorado dreams ! Well, there are pathetic precedents. The mind which produced the Principia came to muddle over the prophecies ! ”
Having made this reflection, the genial doctor asked himself whether some covert implication, which stretched the bonds of courteous discussion, might not have slipped in among his remarks. He feared this was the case; if so, it was the part of a gentleman to sooth sensibilities which had been unintentionally ruffled.
“ Be sure, Professor Hargrave, that I shall do my best to make accurate notes of any novel manifestations of force which you may be able to exhibit. It seemed but fair to let. you know that I do not think you or any man will succeed in — well, I will say in discovering perpetual motion or in squaring the circle. But I am aware that both these feats and others analogous to them may be attempted with an enthusiasm — nay, even with a genius — that should command our respect. I shall do you the justice to submit my memoranda, without comment, to my associates of the Psychical Society. It is possible that the united wisdom of their several heads may generate reflections whose pertinency we shall both acknowledge.”
The Professor bowed his head in token of satisfaction with this arrangement, and remarked that he had made preparations for getting his light from a battery current instead of that supplied by the dynamo. Although this was not commonly used, he was satisfied of its advantages for photography. “ Under the circumstances,” replied Clara, it is the last place in which any lady would desire to be. I will stay below in the dining-room. In a crisis like this you will surely wish me to be near you.”
“ One thing more,” said the doctor. “I must ask that our proceedings be kept as private as possible. It would injure my professional standing to be caught in such a business ; my position might be misunderstood, you see. Besides, here is our good rector: we must look after his reputation. The bishop would be sure to make a fuss at this irregular peeping behind the curtain.”
“ It is only your medical bishop, masquerading as some neurological club or hospital committee, whose discipline is to be feared,” said Mr. Greyson, quietly. " Remember that clergymen have one special qualification for these investigations which you physicists do not always possess: we can examine without prejudice other lines which lead to a conclusion we already accept.”
Dr. Bense might have taken up the challenge conveyed in the words to which the rector had given special emphasis, but at this moment the bell-call of the telephone rang sharply from the adjoining room. Hargrave attended the summons, and immediately returned to say that Dr. Simpson thought no time was to he lost in getting to Brandon Avenue, and that a carriage would be at the door as soon as they could put on their overcoats.
“ Runners or wheels ? ” asked Dr. Bense, going to the window.
“ Wheels, of course,” answered the Professor. “ See how it’s drifting ! ”
“ That’s good,” said the doctor; “ there will he more room in a carriage. Here are three of us ; you will want one of the seats for the box of instruments.”
“ The driver must take it outside,” said Mrs. Hargrave. “ I wish to accompany you.”
“ You, my dear ! ” exclaimed the Professor. “ It would not he proper to admit a lady to the chamber, under the circumstances.”
“ Only on your own account would I have it otherwise,” said Hargrave tenderly. ” But you do not realize the strain upon one who merely waits for a great result; it is far more serious than those know whose active energies are strained to accomplish it.”
“ You will have so much against you,” said Clara quietly, “ that you cannot dispense with the coöperation of a neighboring sympathy, which we both know may be an important factor in your work. You reject my advice to abandon this very delicate experiment; you cannot master all the conditions for success. The state of the atmosphere is unfortunate. It is uncertain whether you can obtain from Mr. Peckster the active assistance you are looking for. I do not doubt his good intentions; but his life has not been of the sort which enables a man to grasp the transcendental consciousness as soon as the normal one is lost. There will be a period of transition, during which the spirit will be likely to suffer great disturbance.”
“ There are risks of failure in all our undertakings,” said Hargrave proudly; " our sole concern is to deserve success. I must vindicate my toil during the past year : I must confound Bense and the scientific sneer he represents. Yes, I may fail; but to try I am pledged !
“ Then, dear, I have received my orders,” said Clara, with the soft voice of feminine acquiescence. " The carriage is at the door : let us go.”
The carriage drove a little way in Brandon Avenue before it stopped at a decorated dwelling with heavy-browed windows, which seemed to scowl off the vulgar passers upon the pavement. The door was opened by an imported servant, who knew the standard of deference to be observed in the reception of visitors who could afford to ride. The party was shown into the dining-room, while the box received from the driver was borne up the stairs with noiseless tread. Clara felt a shiver of reluctance upon entering an apartment with which she had been familiar when it was bright with flowers and wax candles, and merry with the talk of wine-warmed banqueters. The flare of a single gas-burner did not serve to dispel the sense of life’s darker realities, which now pervaded the room. Not a book or a paper was flung about in easy negligence ; everything was ranged in prim and parallel expectancy of the comingevent. The puffy and fluffy achievements of modern upholstery were at exact right angles with the oaken deskcabinet which had descended from the colonial Pecksters. The brass trimmings upon this latter piece of furniture were polished to a brilliancy which could not have been surpassed when it came from the maker’s hands, two hundred years ago. Many different scenes had suffered distortion from the slight convexity of these reflecting surfaces ; unless, indeed, we are disposed to assert that this very fact gave a truer report of the essential nature of some of them than the finest French mirror could have supplied.
“ We can leave our coats here,” said Professor Hargrave. “ You, my dear, I am sorry to say, must remain with them, while we gentlemen go up-stairs. Dr. Bense, are you ready to accompany us to the chamber ? ”
“ Certainly not,” replied that personage. “ I shall keep Mrs. Hargrave company until Dr. Simpson sends for me. You forget that my position is one of some delicacy. I have not been summoned to a consultation, but merely admitted to witness an experiment in which you are interested. Whenever the physician in charge thinks that the moment is approaching when my presence for this purpose is desirable, he must let me know it.”
“ Perhaps you are right; I am unlearned in the code of your professional decorums. Mr. Greyson and I will go to the chamber at once, and see that Dr. Simpson is informed that you are below.”
Dr. Bense, having signified that such a proceeding would not violate the proprieties of the occasion, removed an armchair from its place in the ranks, and settled himself in its comfortable embrace. He then took from his pocket a case of little vials, one of which he drew from its leathern socket and held against the light; he appeared to contemplate the contents with much satisfaction.
Some moments were passed in silence. Clara was in a shy and musing mood which did not court conversation. It was not until the ticking of the clock became awkward that the pleasant vivacity of the doctor broke through the constraint which was thickening between them.
“ Well, Mrs. Hargrave, here we are, upon as sublime an adventure as ever allured Don Quixote ! And I suppose we shall end by capturing some wretched utensil for hairdresser’s soapsuds, which our good friends who have just left us may mistake for Mambrino’s helmet.”
“ Whenever the true helmet is won,” answered Clara, “we may be sure that the sodden ' researcher,’ Esquire Sancho, will discover nothing but a basin, which reflects his own brazen face as he looks into it. How shall the fat bundle of proverbs comprehend that knightly longing to serve the world nobly must in the end win the prize to which it aspires ! ”
“ The Squire, with all his obesity,” observed the doctor, " has common sense enough to understand that man’s undertakings must bear some proportion to his capacities.”
“ And those capacities you presume to limit, Dr. Bense. You beg the whole question when you measure them by the Squire’s standard. I say this of my own knowledge, and there is another here to confirm my words. Gideon Peckster, the dead founder of the great Professorship, stands at this moment behind your chair. I see him as clearly as I do you, and I mark the contrast between you. He returns in dazed and awkward plight to assume the cramped conditions of earth-life; whereas you, as far as you go, are an harmonious personage, on thoroughly good terms with this world as you know it.”
“ My dear madam,” said Dr. Bense, in his soothing professional tones, " will you kindly permit me to feel your pulse ? ”
The lady rose, drew off her long glove, and offered a perfectly modeled hand and arm to the physician.
“ Nearer normal than I should have supposed,” thought that gentleman, as he withdrew his fingers from the wrist. " The breathing, however, is perceptibly quicker.”
44 It is not the first time that I have seen this man,” continued Clara, on resuming her seat. " I have talked with him, though not as we are talking now. These beings need no sound or use of voice to make themselves understood; their methods bear little analogy to human speech. ' Spirit to spirit, ghost to ghost.’ they signify the good they would have us do ; they warn us from the sin for which they suffer. I say that I have often seen this person even as I see him now. He has told me of facts in his life which seemed most unlikely to be true, but which family papers preserved in that old desk proved to be correct. He has shown all those little traits of manner and carriage which give evidence of an individuality unimpaired; and these characteristics are found to have been those of the Gideon Peckster who died in 1785. Professor Hargrave will tell you that his inquiries into the history of this man have been minute and painstaking, and that in every particular they confirmed the evidence given by my senses, — my senses, remember, not your senses, or his senses.”
“ My dear Mrs. Hargrave,” said Dr. Bense, in his kindliest way, " I am old enough to be your father ; I am a physician, not without some reputation. It is my duty to warn you that you are encouraging a morbid disturbance in the organs of the brain with which I am familiar. What you mistake for abnormal vision is to me the sign of a certain ebb in the tide of physical life. Your outward appearance is stanch and vigorous ; yet, believe me, there is latent disorder which your friends do not suspect. There is probably chorea in your family, which appears in you under a slight form of epileptic hysteria. Don’t let my long words frighten you ; I can write a prescription which I am sure will be useful. You have only to recognize these phantoms as subjective illusions indicating bodily disease. Any other course would be to trifle with health, and that is the first tiling to be considered.”
“ I confess to my full share of feminine weakness, but to no feminine invalidism,” rejoined Clara. “ But even were the case otherwise, I do not admit that health should be the first object of our consideration. There is an inner personality, which must often be quickened at the expense of physical perfection. I have just been told where you passed the afternoon. It was in a house on a squalid alley in the north part of the city. You were there for three hours, rendering gratuitous services to its miserable tenants. Stay a moment, I am promised the number ! . . .Yes, it was Cranston Court, No. 18, fourth flight.”
The casters of the doctor’s chair here gave a sharp squeak, as if responding to a start of its occupant that was not otherwise perceptible.
“ I see I am right,” continued the lady, with the satisfaction of one whose freedom from color-blindness has been established by a stringent test. “ Now I tell you, Dr. Bense, that your blood would be purer and your chance of longevity better if you abandoned these visits, and devoted the time to driving in the country. Your answer must be a confession that there are duties to be performed not always compatible with the best condition of the gray matter in those cerebral hemispheres about which you can talk so learnedly. I can make no other answer to you ; but it is sufficient.”
“ It is something,” said Dr. Bense, “that you agree with me that this — what shall I call it ? — feeling for the dead in the dark is dangerous to health. I must now go further, and assure you I have reason to know that it is dangerous to character.”
“ I admit the truth of what you say,” replied Mrs. Hargrave ; “ there is no tree of knowledge without a serpent nestling near it. When the gates are ajar, a miscellaneous company presses for recognition; there are those who would degrade a human spirit as well as those who would elevate it. But to say nothing of the potency of my own will, remember that I am under the protection of a man who stands securely because his life is in harmony with the knowledge he has attained. His intellect is disciplined by the habit of scientific combination, and this gives stability to action as well as vigor to thought. It is my office to assist him in his work. I do not know how to use the chaos of scattered particulars which I am able to report. Professor Hargrave is able to crystallize them, and will at length give the world the results.”
“ You are a wonderful woman,” said Dr. Bense, in a tone of admiration. “ I dare say that your prettily covered skullcase has room for several worlds besides this; but the frontal suture closes in early life, and there is no way of getting them into it. I must repeat in all soberness that what you mistake for spiritual strength is only bodily weakness ; we recognize these abnormal conditions of being as varieties of phrenetic, convulsive, or nervous disease. Science teaches us that there is no likelihood of such ethereal entities as you imagine, and that, even if they existed, we could know nothing whatever about them. To be sure, if Professor Hargrave can prove it otherwise ” —
The doctor finished his remark by a significant shrug.
“ He will find that the brain-tissues of Dr. Fairchild Bense are not impressionable by transcendental facts, be the proof of them what it may! ” added Clara, preferring to conclude the sentence in her own way.
“ He will find that Dr. Fairchild Bense, being, as the testators say, of sound mind and memory, will not accept an order of relations which cannot be made evident to our senses. ”
“ Whose senses ? ” persisted the lady. “ Do you believe that a sailor can see distant objects at sea sooner than a cobbler or a watch-maker ? ”
“ Certainly ; his eye is developed by training, and if he was following the calling of his ancestors he would inherit a special aptitude to look far into the foggy horizon.”
“ Then you admit that while the ship was running parallel with distant headlands he might be conscious of their proximity, while you were not ? ”
“ Yes, I suppose so,” assented Dr. Bense; “ but occasionally we should meet a ship coming towards us. Now if he announced its approach before it was visible, he would substantiate his claim to exceptional power of sight.”
“Not to all minds,” said Clara decidedly. “ Not to those who had committed themselves to the theory of some physiological Jefferson, who had announced what he called the self-evident truth that all eyes were created equal in their range of vision. When it was no longer possible to deny that a ship was cleaving the mist just where the sailor had pointed, this wise junto would cry ‘ Coincidence.’ And when the predicted vessels came so thickly that this was no longer possible, they would invent another hypothesis — never mind how incredible — that would excuse them from acknowledging that some eyes can see what others cannot.
Dr. Bense was conscious that there was an answer to all this, but, spellbound by his companion’s musically incisive utterance, he felt unequal to the labor of framing it. He really hoped she would go on ; he could of course crush her, — but then controversy with a woman is in such doubtful taste ! So the doctor selected a vial from his case of medicines, and, tapping it with his pencil-case, tenderly apostrophized its contents: “With your kindly aid, my little friend, I can produce more ocular spectra than were ever counted by St. Anthony himself ! ”
The irrelevancy of this observation seemed to Clara to show signs of wavering : she was stimulated to continue : —
“ Do you remember Professor Silliman’s account of his wotama, Dr. Bense ? ”
The doctor did not remember to have seen it.
“ Well, there were two of these little cave-rats caught under the earth where light never penetrates. They glared at their captor with large and lustrous eyes which saw nothing. It was only after exposing them to a delicately graduated light for a month or two that they acquired a dim perception of objects. Have you any difficulty in believing the story I am telling you? ”
“Not in the least. We know that eyes were originally created by the impact of light on the surface of an organism. Apollo’s touch awakes responsive structures,” said the doctor, lapsing, to his surprise, into something that sounded like poetry.
“ And the want of this stimulus of light, which you phrase so prettily, would in time render such structures useless,” added Mrs. Hargrave. “ You know that as well as I do. But you do not know, as I know, that there is a spiritual light which, when men cease to burrow like these wotama, can stimulate responsive structures in the inner organism. ”
“We are like Bunyan’s Man with the Muck-Rake, I suppose,” said Dr. Bense. “ Our eyes are so fixed upon our honest work that we do not look up to admire the shadowy gentry that the imagination of idlers has no difficulty in discerning. But the comparison will not hold ; for we form psychical societies, and glance up from our labor at odd moments to behold — just nothing at all! ”
“ The comparison is yours, not mine,” replied Clara. “ Bunyan must have been dreaming indeed if he supposed that his industrious personage need only look up to see celestial beings. Nature’s analogies do not countenance any such raker’s progress as that. Why, the wotama presumably looked up when taken from their cave, yet they saw no more of this wonderful earth than a committee of your researchers is likely to see of the wonders beyond it. But these little animals modestly trusted the development of their unused senses to those who had some experience of the sunlight. For weeks their dull organs received no impression, yet at last came a time when objects were faintly outlined before them. Here, if we had some Esop to take up their story, he might tell us how the elder of these wotama was much disturbed, knowing that his old cave companions would call him crazy for reporting these strange things. Thereupon he determined that the best use he could make of his new vision would be to find the way to his underground home. And once in the familiar burrow, he began to talk about ‘ subjective impressions,’ ' collective percipience,’ ‘ expectant attention,’ and such learned matters; for was it not well known that the eyes of cave-rats were never made to see with ? But the younger of the wotama, caring little for the prejudices of his former comrades, continued to submit himself to the guidance of those whose eyes had long been opened. So he came to see clearly, and knew that the old cave-life was dark ened by night whimsies which were well exchanged for visions of the upper world.”
“ Your story is not to be taken seriously,” said the doctor, smiling, “ so I need not tell you that no man is braver than the follower of science. Here am I, a lineal descendant of a Puritan who once met the Black Man, and was requested to exchange his autograph for the limitless wealth at the disposal of that potentate. My ancestor took to his heels, and lost a chance for which his degenerate descendant would have put his name even to an office-seeker’s petition. ‘ I want none of your riches,’ I would have said to my colored brother of the forest; ‘ give me the pen, and with this lancet I will draw the crimson ink. In return I will take — not the wealth of the Indies — only your temperature, and a cast in plaster of that peculiar foot.’ You see it is a question of method.”
“ Yes,” assented Clara, “ I see that it is a question of method.”
At this moment the servant appeared at the door, and with motionless features discharged the message entrusted to him : —
“ Dr. Simpson’s compliments to Dr. Bense, and he would be pleased to see him in Mr. Peckster’s chamber as soon as possible.”
“I must leave you, Mrs. Hargrave, in the company of — of your immaterial acquaintance,” said the physician, rising from his chair.
“ You leave me quite alone, Dr. Bense. Gideon Peckster is at this moment preceding you up the stairs.”
“ Ah! It would have been better manners to have given a stranger the precedence,” remarked the doctor, as he left the room.
The heavy curtains over the mirror looked still heavier, the time-stained oak of the Peckster desk took on a more sombre hue, as Clara found herself the sole occupant of the dining-room. In spite of philosophy, in spite of faith, yes, in spite of knowledge, death is always death. We may flatter ourselves that our convictions are formed from a point of view quite outside contemporary modes of thinking, we may amuse ourselves with the symbolism with which poetic fancy has draped the end of life ; but when the pale presence is actually in the house, it is no other than Holbein’s skeleton visitor, whose bony fingers are pressing the life from a human heart. Clara Hargrave felt that she had made no empty confession in acknowledging all a woman’s weakness.
Suddenly there came a tapping at one of the windows; it was followed by a voice which said, “ Please raise the sash, and let me speak to you.”
The instinct was to retreat; but would she find any room in the house warmed and lighted save that dreadful chamber ? After all, it might be something important. No robber would seek to enter a front window on Brandon Avenue, which was cheerful, prosperous, and safe, even on a stormy night. On the whole, it would be best to lift the sash, as requested.
The face of a young man, which appeared just above the sill, looked longingly into the comfortable room. It was a pallid, eager face, framed in a comforter that muffled ears and throat.
“ What’s going on inside here ? ” demanded this strange visitor. “ I saw Dr. Bense and Professor Hargrave enter the door not half an hour ago. Tell me what’s up, and I ’ll give you a dollar. See, here are my credentials.”
A long arm was thrust into the room, with a card in the fingers at the end of it. The inscription was large enough to be read at some distance.
MR. HARRISON BECKBY,
Reporter to the Morning Trumpet.
Clara’s cheeks reddened with indignation at this intrusion upon the sanctities of a private household. She could not command the words to tell the fellow to be gone. She would blight him with a look.
Mr. Beckby perceived the blunder he had made. She was no servant to whom his money had been offered ; probably some relative or trusted friend of the dying man. No menial’s eyes could shoot such scorn at him.
“ Please to excuse me, madam,” he said, in a voice which had now some tone of refinement in it. “ I owe you a humble apology for my hasty speech. These costly surroundings cushion you off from us humble bread-winners of the street, yet I think your humanity will pardon one who has been over-zealous in his calling. Nature’s first command is to get a living, — at least when social arrangements, which are open to much question, have not already provided one.”
“ I accept your apology,” said the lady, mollified, as women are apt to be, by the flattery of a deferential address.
“ Then will you kindly tell me what the chances are that Mr. Peckster will die before morning, and whether anything is going on here in which the public would be interested ? ” inquired Mr. Harrison Beckby, pushing his business with commendable energy.
“Much,” said Clara, with a shudder, in answer to the last part of the question, “ yet nothing capable of record by your pencil. Of the probabilities of Mr. Peckster’s condition I know nothing. You should be about better work than this eavesdropping.”
“ I know it,” answered the reporter ; “ yet here I am, stunted like the great majority by the pressure of hard material necessities. I have some college learning, but found it utterly unexchangeable for food, clothing, and a small amount of comfort. For a sufficiency of the first I was forced to snatch such place as I could in the universal scramble ; as for the comfort, just now I find very little of it upon this shaky trellis where I stand to reach the window. Under the circumstances, I thought a ring at the door would neither be in the best taste nor produce the best results. I saw a light in this room, and supposed it must have been given to the nurse; they often put them on the lower floor, for, being rather stout, they object to the stairs. Then I wanted to steal a march on the Clarion’s man, who is in the rear of the house, waiting for the cook’s candle. She promised to put it in the attic window as soon as he dies, but ten to one she does n’t remember it. We want the obituary for our morning issue ; there’s a column of it all in type, and we shall delay going to press till half past three on the chance of printing it. There you have the situation. Now, my dear madam, will you give a young man who never injured you a lift in his profession ? I know that Professor Hargrave and Dr. Bense are in this house ; they brought with them a heavy case containing — something. What are they here for ? It can’t be an autopsy yet. The evening papers will of course have the full solution of the problem. Now it will be worth something to me if the Morning Trumpet can blow the froth off this news; that will create a demand for our one o’clock edition, which will contain the latest particulars. Excuse my abruptness : you can help me ; what do you say ? ”
Clara’s hand, which rested on the Peckster cabinet, clutched it convulsively at the demand which closed this extraordinary harangue. She must take time to collect her thoughts. There was indeed a secret, — she shuddered to think of her husband’s concern in it, — and here was the press upon them at full cry ! Then that incomprehensible obituary, — what could be said of Ephraim Peckster, one of the rank and file of wealthy, well-dining personages ? One more life cast on the hecatomb of human failures ; how dress up its nakedness for the gaze of Monday morning readers ? Yet there was good in the man who wished the world might gain new knowledge by his death. Let this be counted in his favor. Mr. Beckby should be dismissed in the briefest words.
“ I am going to shut the window. Go away, sir ; I shall tell you nothing.”
The face in the comforter showed such misery at this announcement that it was not in woman’s nature to withhold a ray of hope. There were other considerations. The suspicion of servants might be excited, and some distorted story might go into the papers. If the nature of the experiment came into the possession of these reporters — and they really seemed capable of getting at anything — Ernest should see them, and find out what they meant to print. It would be wise to modify Mr. Beckby’s dismissal.
“ I mean that there is nothing to tell you just now. When you see me raise the shade of that north window, come to the front door. Do not ring; I will open it.”
With such promise as might be extracted from these words the reporter was forced to be content. As the sash was replaced, he scrambled to the ground, and renewed his weary watch upon the sidewalk.
Clara sank into a seat close by the Peckster desk, upon which her hand still rested. She wondered if there would be any other incident to break the anxious hours that might be before her. Anything would be welcome to divert her thoughts from that unwise yet absorbing investigation which her husband was conducting in the chamber above. Her fingers touched the worm-holes in the oak; it was stained with the varying colors of human experience, and she seemed to be floating backwards among its shadowy associations.
Surely the desk upon which lie writes belongs to the inner personality of a man by a stronger title than his other possessions. There are records with the pen which can be made only with our masks off. How many documents that registered human feeling at its fervid glow had in turn nestled in that cluster of little drawers : love-letters breathingdeathless attachment, marriage certificates promising unalloyed felicity, wills gratifying or disappointing to expectant heirs, tresses of hair, mourning-lockets, the bells and coral of the baby, — all the variety of musty rubbish we preserve so carefully, and which our successors will destroy so lightly to make way for equally tender trash of their own! It is a common figure to say that our lives are continually shedding seeds destined to germinate in generations after we have ceased to be. And in the strange, eventful history written in these times of ours, we are told that certain sensitives, brought into contact with objects upon which these invisible seeds may be supposed to have lodged, reverse the experience of Rip Van Winkle, and awake in a world that has long gone by. Any one who has consulted the works of the late Professor Denton, or of the living Dr. Buchanan, knows much more about this wonderful phenomenon than the present writer can impart, and has reached such conclusion of its verity or emptiness as the books of these learned gentlemen are calculated to establish. Acceptance of the doctrine may shed a dim light upon certain puzzling occurrences. Why did Mill carry away the furniture of that little room in the Hôtel de l’Europe, in Avignon, where his wife died ? A strange bee must have entered that severely logical bonnet, when good money was thrown away for such a fantasy. Can it be possible that there are certain persisting relations which the human soul establishes with surrounding objects, and which the philosopher’s heart could feel, though his intellect could never explain ? Then, there is that queer Lucretian theory of simulacra, ϵιδωλa, coats of objects, which constantly emanate from surrounding things, and, striking the organs of sense, produce perceptions of what has been. It is strange that the brilliant skeptic, after delivering us from superstitions of gods and spirits, should dare to tax our credulity with these crusts and shells of dead egos which refuse to be put out of sight with the essential part of man. Can it be that the Latin poet knew of facts that would not fit into his system, and which could be disposed of only in this awkward fashion ?
However these questions may be answered, there can be no doubt that to Clara Hargrave the wood of the Peckster desk seemed to throb with the pulses of past lives that had once beat upon it. Suddenly there rose before her an appearance as of Judge Peckster, the second in descent from the emigrant who brought this solid bit of furniture from his English home. Man and boy, he had written for half a century upon the ink-stained slab, which now gave up an image of the magistrate by no means identical with that which bis pastor, the Rev. Joab Brymm, had portrayed in his funeral sermon. It was painful to perceive that this eloquent discourse — from which the historians have elaborated their interesting character of Judge Peckster — was as little representative of the man as the obituary in to-morrow’s Trumpet was likely to be of his descendant. Those who know that there is such a thing as soul-perception know that it never stops at the outside. Shakespeare tells us with all his mighty emphasis that as soon as the dress of nerves and muscles is thrown away, we find ourselves compelled to give in evidence of the self that was once draped with appearances. So teaches Swedenborg and the lesser seers. Any mind capable of absorbing this truth to the saturation point may safely dismiss the Oriental symbolism which has hitherto done police duty for the world.
There was a sang-froid of narrow legality about this progenitor of the Pecksters which gave a chill to the room. It was clear that he would condemn a woman to the whipping-post, and the unregenerate to something worse, with absolute complacency. He was persuaded that he was among the elect, though his windy religiosity made him no whit more solvable than the myriads of his kind who were to perish everlastingly.
It was a relief when this forbidding personage gave place to another figure which painted itself upon the airy canvas. As the magistrate faded from his seat at the desk, it was occupied by an image of his daughter, a slender, graceful girl of some twenty years. She held a goose-quill, which traversed the paper before her with passionate speed. The writing soon became as clear to the sensitive as the hand that was producing it. Yes, it was a diary ; one of those sad recitals of woman’s spiritual struggles which still exist in the attics of certain New England families. Judge Peckster, while personally holding his creed to a certain flexibility, never doubted that it was an heirloom which he was bound to pass on to his descendants without break or flaw. He would come out of the daily sunshine of his reputable vocation, and devote his evenings to the instruction of the female members of the household. The judge had neither the skill to do up his own ruffles nor the imagination to depict his theological tenets when carried to their legitimate conclusion ; both came within the feminine department. Thus the passing Sunday mood of the man became the settled temper of the week-day life of women condemned to the monotony of a single series of ideas. Clara shuddered as she saw that this unhappy maiden was writing down her fears that she had committed the unpardonable sin, and that a dies i-œ more terrible than anything David or the sibyls had presumed to prophesy was hanging over her. The day was the one cheerful festival of the Puritan year ; uncles and cousins, with after-dinner pipe and punch, would dare to take the edge off the curse which weighed upon created things. She trembled for them and for herself.
“ Another Thanksgiving Day,” wrote the poor girl, “ and behold I sink ever deeper in the Waters of Affliction. I cannot sufficiently hate my Sins. ‘ In a day and an hour when ye think not! ’ — so saith the Inspired Penman. What if this day of graceless rejoicing be the day chosen by the King for reckoning with Servants lost in Arrears to Him ! Truly Wrath hath gone out against us, and the everlasting Payment which our Transgressions have merited shall presently begin. Last eve, about milking-time, I met Witch Tilton, who with her Blood hath signed herself forever to the Prince of Cozenings and Lies. Yet wherein is my case better than hers ? The pages of this Book show that for these two years past I have been manifestly out of the Conditions of Grace. My Religion hath consisted of Forms and Outsides, and it was not in this Heart of mine, desperately wicked through Adam’s fall, to make it otherwise.”
And now by a strong effort of the will Clara Hargrave succeeded in banishing this wretched phantom. “ One may believe in a spiritual world at too great cost,”she murmured. “ Better accept the negations of Dr. Bense than an alternative beset with such miserable entanglements. Even the bourgeois heaven of the trance-medium, with its gingerbread palaces, picture-books, and sugar-plums, is a wholesome substitute for this gloomy cavern of despair.”
Suddenly a young man appeared in the room. She knew him for Harry Peckster, only son of the house, killed in that fearful collision upon the railroad, which for a week made the little shanty-settlement of West Babel more famous than London or Rome. It was difficult to separate the idea of life from a counterfeit so admirable. The ethereal visitants conjured from the desk wore the outlines of humanity, but this later presence seemed filled with its flesh and blood. There was a sad, anxious expression in the eyes, which appeared to borrow light as they met those of the percipient. Clearly it was not quite well with this young fellow, who had been wrenched from the scene where he was delighting his heart with all the indulgences the family wealth could purchase. “ He had everything to live for ! ” was the honest remark when the news came, for men forgot their cant in the sudden shock. Everything ? Of course : club and dinner luxury in perfection. pocketfuls of unearned money to buy the services of men and the smiles of women ; no call for feats of bodily or mental prowess to win for Harry Peckster the cringing deference of the world. In a moment this “ everything ” had vanished, and there came about him the silent shadow-land where he now dwelt. Clara tried to comfort this stripped and needy soul, who must painfully unlearn all that earth-life had taught. There was yet an outreaehing future, and hope in it for such as he. At length the eyes into which the sensitive looked grew more and more dreamy, the mobile features became fixed. A gossamer veil seemed to be let down between the living and the dead ; it thickened, until the figure was concealed ; then it floated up, and dispersed as light mist. Clara Hargrave was alone in the room.
The small hours of the morning were reached, but they passed very slowly. She must fix her mind upon something to keep it from the fateful chamber above. She would compare her late experiences with the hypothesis upon which Hargrave was pursuing his investigations. Had he not laughingly told her that while her beautiful eyes were seeing strange sights, she must borrow his eyes — which, though not pretty, were penetrating — wherewith to observe herself in the act of seeing ? And now, bringing the second sight of the intellect to bear, the conclusion was forced upon her that the psychometric perceptions awakened by the desk were not senseperceptions, though that term might properly represent the appearance of the young man. She was quite sure that the apparatus in the corpora quaclrigemina (Mrs. Hargrave had come to take quite naturally to her husband’s hard words) had responded to a stimulus from something about the old cabinet, and yet that this stimulus had not passed the retina of the eye. Then she remembered how Shakespeare, the most trustworthy of all psychical researchers, had set forth this whole matter with absolute clearness. Macbeth recognizes the airdrawn dagger as a percept without a corresponding neumenon. Energy-pulses from the real dagger, upon which his hand rested and which he was to use in the bloody business, informed thus to his eyes. The fatal vision is instantly known to be a psychometric creation. But this clear-headed man, who perceived that the dagger was manufactured of mindstuff, scornfully rejects the suggestion of his wife that the murdered Banquo is made up of the same flimsy material. “ If I stand here, I saw him.” In this case the picture in the mind was created by impressions received on the eye through the vibrations of light, although the finer nature of the light was adapted only to organs of exceptional sensitiveness. The commentators had missed this carefully marked distinction, as they had missed most of the subtler insights of the poet. Apparitions of those suddenly torn from organic existence might come with force enough “ to push us from our stools.” Would they ever start us from our comfortably upholstered chairs of natural science ? This also might be possible, when the times were ripe.
Three silvery rings from the clock marked the hour when footsteps were again heard upon the stairs. At last the painful suspense was to end. There was an alacrity and vigor in Hargrave’s step which betokened release from a great weight of responsibility. The rector was first in the room. His face was that of a man who has escaped from some dire entanglement which circumstances netted about him. Last entered the doctor, rubbing his hands, the embodiment of gentlemanly I-told-you-so complacency.
“ Well, well,” said he, “you did your best, but fate was against you, as, in one way or another, it always will be.”
“ I shall yet succeed,” said the Professor resolutely, “ but it will be by other means.”
“ I have the pleasure of telling you, Mrs. Hargrave,” continued Dr. Bense, “ that Ephraim Peckster has several more years of life before him. He may yet try his hand at posthumous photography on a future occasion, when some of the present company may be induced to change parts with him. The case was not as desperate as Simpson supposed, though you will please not to quote me as saying so. The stomach’s lack of ability to retain food was the serious symptom.”
“ The presence of Dr. Bense was providential,” said Mr. Greyson reverently. “ Mr. Peckster had certainly reached the last stage of weakness; even a teaspoonful of broth was rejected. By the suggestion of Dr. Bense, before attempting to administer food to the patient, he was given a sip of ice-water to which was added ten drops of — of — well, the name has gone out of my head. You mentioned the name, I think ? ”
“ I think not,” replied the doctor ; “ there are secrets in my calling as well as in yours. The case is Dr. Simpson s ; it is for him to report it to the medical journals if he sees best. There is no harm in saying that the drug is well known, although this use of it is attended with risk. It allays the sensitive state of the mucous surface of the stomach by inducing a condition dangerously resembling paralysis. Then there comes a moment of reaction, when the gastric force responds to alimentary stimulus. The difficulty of determining this happy instant permits the use of this agent only as a last resort. The reports give us but two similar cases where its exhibition was successful. I say two, because the Berlin Heilkunstler gave no adequate details of that mentioned in its September issue. As nearly as I can make out, the case must have been one of ascites, if not of anasarca; and this, you see, would furnish no precedent for a matter of simple peritonitis, like that of Mr. Peckster’s.”
Although the rector did not quite see this, he thought it well to imitate the conventional acquiescence with which the doctor received his own professional statements from the pulpit of St. Philemon’s. He accordingly remarked that it was a wonderful dose which had enabled the patient to retain food given at short intervals, till, after three hours, he was pronounced out of danger. He also made bold to advise Dr. Bense to use especial caution lest so delicate a discovery should get into improper hands, for in these days our deepest secrets seemed to be at the mercy of interviewers and reporters.
The last word reminded Clara of her promise to Mr. Beckby. She raised the shade of the window nearest the porch.
There was presently a stamping upon the stone steps, as of one shaking off the snow. Clara opened the front door.
“ I have good news for you, Mr. Reporter. Ephraim Peckster is pronounced out of danger.”
“ That is not good news,” said Mr. Beckby, with a disappointed air, “ though the fact may be good enough for Mr. Peckster.”
“ Will you see that the obituary does not appear, — that there is no mistake made at the office ? ”
“ I suppose I must; that is, of course, I will. Good-night, ma’am. You meant to do well by me, and I thank you. A long wait, and poor luck! ” murmured the reporter to himself, as he went down the steps.
On returning to the dining-room Clara found the Professor busily engaged in arranging his apparatus in the packingcase which the servant had brought from above. She came to his assistance, and patiently fitted each article into its wellpadded compartment.
“ I will send for this box before ten o’clock in the morning,” said Hargrave to the attendant. “ We cannot get a carriage at this hour, or I should take it away to-night.”
The man bowed his acquiescence.
“ I fear we must foot it through the drifts,” said Dr. Bense. " It will be a relief to us men, after the ether bottles of the sick-room. But I fear that Mrs. Hargrave ” —
“ Borrow no trouble about that lady,” interrupted the Professor. “ She takes as kindly to all weathers as a duck or an Englishwoman. She can outwalk me, who have been called a good pedestrian, and this with the detestable impedimenta of the feminine wardrobe.”
Clara found in that walk down the avenue all the refreshment which Dr. Bense had predicted. The storm was over, and there was robust pleasure in pushing through the virgin drifts. A wild, whirling dance those merry flakes must have had of it! Every balustrade and corner of the architect’s fancy was exaggerated in preposterous outlines of white. The street lamps winked knowingly from beneath their towering mufflers. The Hargraves, brisker walkers than their friends, were soon far enough in advance for private talk.
“ You will promise me now,” said Clara.
“ Certainly,” replied the Professor, “ I will make no attempt to renew this experiment, though I am sure that under favorable conditions it could be pushed to success. The transition of a human spirit to its next environment, though probably the least critical moment of its existence, is an event which the mass of mankind still regard as of awful importance. Your instinct was true in perceiving that nothing connected with it should be exposed to the criticism of the psychical investigator, with the average incompetence for his quest. I will yet get the scientific proof ; but I fear there is no short cut to it. It must be picked up little by little on those long and roundabout ways which lead to knowledge.”
“ You may be right,” said Clara, “ yet I sometimes doubt whether the sort of proof you want to carry conviction to a mind like that of Dr. Bense will ever be forthcoming. In such cases the latent faculty of spiritual apprehension cannot be reached ; it is overpowered by the organic body.”
“ My colleagues in the College,” objected Hargrave, “ have a right to ask me to show them step by step any reasoning process which I claim conducts to demonstration.”
“ Are you not assuming that the higher processes of reasoning can be imparted to men upon a lower plane ? No one of our day has given us saner conclusions than Emerson, yet he could never show the contemporary intellect how he reached them. The best reasoner may be he who works with such absolute ease and rapidity that the process fades from the memory, leaving only the reliable deposit which we falsely call intuition.”
“ A pretty fancy, I confess,” rejoined the Professor ; " yet those who may be reasoning on the exalted plane you talk of should never cease their efforts to sink a shaft into the dark academic strata beneath their feet. If Dr. Dense claims that the methods of modern research have settled the non-existence of spirit, I must use the same methods to show him the inadequacy of his conclusion ; in short, I must confront him with a ghost.”
“ And here is one made to order ! ” exclaimed Clara, pointing to a figure upon a pedestal. “ See what the snow has done for Governor Etheredge! ”
Their way had led them through a public park, in which stood a life-like statue of a distinguished diplomatist and magistrate. The eminent gentleman posed hatless, in double-breasted Prince Albert frock, and with arm uplifted to the skies. But the merciful snow had now robed him in a spotless toga, appropriate to the Ciceronian oratory which the bronze commemorated. The effect was startling; it bore a wonderful resemblance to the old-fashioned apparition known to our ancestors.
The wind had swept the snow from the ground before the statue, and heaved it in pathless billows on the right and left. For some moments the Hargraves stood spellbound by a spectacle that would never be repeated.
“ So we’ve overtaken you at last! ” cried the cheery voice of Dr. Bense. “ I must stop a minute ; I — I’m really out of breath ; I don’t skip over these drifts as easily as you young people. Why, do look at Etheredge, — preaching in a surplice, I declare ! At last we have a ghost worth turning out to see.”
“ An extraordinary display,” said Mr. Greyson. " Look at the crystals upon that outstretched arm, how they glint in the electric light! We are in the presence of a prophet. And see, the hand points to that rift in the clouds through which shines the whiter sparkle of the stars ! ”
After the tension of those hours of waiting, Clara Hargrave felt all the lift of the keen, buoyant air. The witchery of manner once so familiar in fashionable circles returned to her, as she addressed the doctor with the lively banter of the past: —
“ Come, come, Dr. Dense, you and I don’t believe in the rector’s poetry. If he cannot give us a good practical proposition to go to sleep upon, he had better be as dumb as Mr. Etheredge. Our ways part here ; and before saying goodnight, it would be well to find something to which we can all assent. Let me see, what can I think of ? Ah, I have it! A triangle is a rectilinear figure having three sides. Do we all agree about that ? But no, the doctor ought not to commit himself without a vote of his Psychical Society.”
“ For the first time to-night you are talking good plain prose,” said Dr. Bense, entering into the fun, “ and we have a special by-law which permits every member to help himself to that à discretion ; always provided there is enough of it to steady the chairman of his committee with a double portion.”
“ It’s poetry, then, you must run away from,” rejoined Clara archly. “ Yet some things have been put into verse which are as believable as Mr. Peckster’s bank account. Take, for example, this stanza from Omar Khayyám : —
There was a veil through which I could not see;
Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was ; and then no more of Thee and Me.'”
“ The last couplet is thoroughly scientific,” said the doctor approvingly. “ But how could so sensible a writer put up with the inadequate metaphors of the first ? There are locksmiths who can open doors without keys to them, and there was never yet a veil which could not be seen through if there glimmered any light to speak of behind it. If the poet had only lived later, he would have found that Bishop Berkeley had provided him with the comparison he wanted. Our friend Greyson — who knows, or ought to know, our greatest churchman at first hand — will remember the ‘ wall of brass a thousand cubits high ’ with which his imagination once encircled the British kingdom. Well, just such a wall as that shuts us in. Do we think we look beyond it ? We see nothing but the distorted image of our own faces as they peer into the burnished surface. Do we imagine that we hear voices ? They are only our own cries echoed back from the clangorous metal. If we would express our limitation by a metaphor, let us take the bishop’s brazen wall.”
“ Faith will ever soar above its thousand cubits,” said the rector.
“ Science will yet make a breach in it! ” exclaimed Ernest Hargrave.
Both men spoke with the energy of absolute conviction.
The statue pointed with unmoving finger to the rapidly clearing heavens, as the mortals who had paused beneath it took their different ways through the snow.
J. P. Quincy.