Sight Unseen by Mary Roberts Rinehart
It appeared that Herbert Robinson had been reading, during his convalescence, a considerable amount of psychic literature, and that we were to hold this third and final sitting under test conditions. As before, the room had been stripped of furniture, and the cloth and rod which formed the low screen behind Miss Jeremy's chair were not of her own providing, but Herbert's.
He had also provided, for some reason or other, eight small glass cups, into which he placed the legs of the two tables, and in a business-like manner he set out on the large stand a piece of white paper, a pencil, and a spool of black thread. It is characteristic of Miss Jeremy, and of her own ignorance of the methods employed in professional seances, that she was as much interested and puzzled as we were.
When he had completed his preparations, Herbert made a brief speech.
"Members of the Neighborhood Club," he said impressively, "we have agreed among ourselves that this is to be our last meeting for the purpose that is before us. I have felt, therefore, that in justice to the medium this final seance should leave us with every conviction of its genuineness. Whatever phenomena occur, the medium must be, as she has been, above suspicion. For the replies of her 'control,' no particular precaution seems necessary, or possible. But the first seance divided itself into two parts: an early period when, so far as we could observe, the medium was at least partly conscious, possibly fully so, when physical demonstrations occurred. And a second, or trance period, during which we received replies to questions. It is for the physical phenomena that I am about to take certain precautions."
"Are you going to tie me?" Miss Jeremy asked.
"Do you object?"
"Not at all. But with what?"
"With silk thread," Herbert said, smilingly.
She held out her wrists at once, but Herbert placed her in her chair, and proceeded to wrap her, chair and all, in a strong network of fine threads, drawn sufficiently taut to snap with any movement.
He finished by placing her feet on the sheet of paper, and outlining their position there with a pencil line.
The proceedings were saved from absurdity by what we all felt was the extreme gravity of the situation. There were present in the room Mrs. Dane, the Robinsons, Sperry, my wife and myself. Clara, Mrs. Dane's secretary, had begged off on the plea of nervousness from the earlier and physical portion of the seance, and was to remain outside in the hall until the trance commenced.
Sperry objected to this, as movement in the circle during the trance had, in the first seance, induced fretful uneasiness in the medium. But Clara, appealed to, begged to be allowed to remain outside until she was required, and showed such unmistakable nervousness that we finally agreed.
"Would a slight noise disturb her?" Mrs. Dane asked.
Miss Jeremy thought not, if the circle remained unbroken, and Mrs. Dane considered.
"Bring me my stick from the hall, Horace," she said. "And tell Clara I'll rap on the floor with it when I want her."
I found a stick in the rack outside and brought it in. The lights were still on in the chandelier overhead, and as I gave the stick to Mrs. Dane I heard Sperry speaking sharply behind me.
"Where did you get that stick?" he demanded.
"In the hall. I - "
"I never saw it before," said Mrs. Dane. "Perhaps it is Herbert's."
But I caught Sperry's eye. We had both recognized it. It was Arthur Wells's, the one which Sperry had taken from his room, and which, in turn, had been taken from Sperry's library.
Sperry was watching me with a sort of cynical amusement.
"You're an absent-minded beggar, Horace," he said.
"You didn't, by any chance, stop here on your way back from my place the other night, did you?"
"I did. But I didn't bring that thing."
"Look here, Horace," he said, more gently, "you come in and see me some day soon. You're not as fit as you ought to be."
I confess to a sort of helpless indignation that was far from the composure the occasion required. But the others, I believe, were fully convinced that no human agency had operated to bring the stick into Mrs. Dane's house, a belief that prepared them for anything that might occur.
A number of things occurred almost as soon as the lights were out, interrupting a train of thought in which I saw myself in the first stages of mental decay, and carrying about the streets not only fire-tongs and walking-sticks, but other portable property belonging to my friends.
Perhaps my excitement had a bad effect on the medium. She was uneasy and complained that the threads that bound her arms were tight. She was distinctly fretful. But after a time she settled down in her chair. Her figure, a deeper shadow in the semi-darkness of the room, seemed sagged - seemed, in some indefinable way, smaller. But there was none of the stertorous breathing that preceded trance.
Then, suddenly, a bell that Sperry had placed on the stand beyond the black curtain commenced to ring. It rang at first gently, then violently. It made a hideous clamor. I had a curious sense that it was ringing up in the air, near the top of the curtain. It was a relief to have it thrown to the ground, its racket silenced.
Quite without warning, immediately after, my chair twisted under me. "I am being turned around," I said, in a low tone. "It as if something has taken hold of the back of the chair, and is twisting it. It has stopped now." I had been turned fully a quarter round.
For five minutes, by the luminous dial of my watch on the table before me, nothing further occurred, except that the black curtain appeared to swell, as in a wind.
"There is something behind it," Alice Robinson said, in a terrorized tone. "Something behind it, moving."
"It is not possible," Herbert assured her. "Nothing, that is - there is only one door, and it is closed. I have examined the walls and floor carefully."
At the end of five minutes something soft and fragrant fell on to the table near me. I had not noticed Herbert when he placed the flowers from Mrs. Dane's table on the stand, and I was more startled than the others. Then the glass prisms in the chandelier over our heads clinked together, as if they had been swept by a finger. More of the flowers came. We were pelted with them. And into the quiet that followed there came a light, fine but steady tattoo on the table in our midst. Then at last silence, and the medium in deep trance, and Mrs. Dane rapping on the floor for Clara.
When Clara came in, Mrs. Dane told her to switch on the lights. Miss Jeremy had dropped in her chair until the silk across her chest was held taut. But investigation showed that none of the threads were broken and that her evening slippers still fitted into the outline on the paper beneath them. Without getting up, Sperry reached to the stand behind Miss Jeremy, and brought into view a piece of sculptor's clay he had placed there. The handle of the bell was now jammed into the mass. He had only time to show it to us when the medium began to speak.
I find, on re-reading the earlier part of this record, that I have omitted mention of Miss Jeremy's "control." So suddenly had we jumped, that first evening, into the trail that led us to the Wells case, that beyond the rather raucous "good-evening," and possibly the extraneous matter referring to Mother Goose and so on, we had been saved the usual preliminary patter of the average control.
On this night, however, we were obliged to sit impatiently through a rambling discourse, given in a half-belligerent manner, on the deterioration of moral standards. Re-reading Clara's notes, I find that the subject matter is without originality and the diction inferior. But the lecture ceased abruptly, and the time for questions had come.
"Now," Herbert said, "we want you to go back to the house where you saw the dead man on the floor. You know his name, don't you?"
There was a pause. "Yes. Of course I do. A. L. Wells."
Arthur had been known to most of us by his Christian name, but the initials were correct.
"How do you know it is an L.?"
"On letters," was the laconic answer. Then: "Letters, letters, who has the letters?"
"Do you know whose cane this is?"
"Will you tell us?"
Up to that time the replies had come easily and quickly. But beginning with the cane question, the medium was in difficulties. She moved uneasily, and spoke irritably. The replies were slow and grudging. Foreign subjects were introduced, as now.
"Horace's wife certainly bullies him," said the voice. "He's afraid of her. And the fire-tongs - the fire-tongs - the fire-tongs!"
"Whose cane is this?" Herbert repeated.
This created a profound sensation.
"How do you know that?"
"He carried it at the seashore. He wrote in the sand with it."
"What did he write?"
"He wrote 'ten o'clock' in the sand, and the waves came and washed it away?"
"Horace," said my wife, leaning forward, "why not ask her about that stock of mine? If it is going down, I ought to sell, oughtn't I?"
Herbert eyed her with some exasperation.
"We are here to make a serious investigation," he said. "If the members of the club will keep their attention on what we are doing, we may get somewhere. Now," to the medium, "the man is dead, and the revolver is beside him. Did he kill himself?"
"No. He attacked her when he found the letters."
"And she shot him?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Try very hard. It is important."
"I don't know," was the fretful reply. "She may have. She hated him. I don't know. She says she did."
"She says she killed him?"
But there was no reply to this, although Herbert repeated it several times.
Instead, the voice of the "control" began to recite a verse of poetry - a cheap, sentimental bit of trash. It was maddening, under the circumstances.
"Do you know where the letters are?"
"Hawkins has them."
"They were not hidden in the curtain?" This was Sperry.
"No. The police might have searched the room."
"Where were these letters?"
There was no direct reply to this, but instead:
"He found them when he was looking for his razorstrop. They were in the top of a closet. His revolver was there, too. He went back and got it. It was terrible."
There was a profound silence, followed by a slight exclamation from Sperry as he leaped to his feet. The screen at the end of the room, which cut off the light from Clara's candle, was toppling. The next instant it fell, and we saw Clara sprawled over her table, in a dead faint.