Sight Unseen by Mary Roberts Rinehart
In this, the final chapter of the record of these seances, I shall give, as briefly as possible, the events of the day following the third sitting. I shall explain the mystery of Arthur Wells's death, and I shall give the solution arrived at by the Neighborhood Club as to the strange communications from the medium, Miss Jeremy, now Sperry's wife.
But there are some things I cannot explain. Do our spirits live on, on this earth plane, now and then obedient to the wills of those yet living? Is death, then, only a gateway into higher space, from which, through the open door of a "sensitive" mind, we may be brought back on occasion to commit the inadequate absurdities of the physical seance?
Or is Sperry right, and do certain individuals manifest powers of a purely physical nature, but powers which Sperry characterizes as the survival of some long-lost development by which at one time we knew how to liberate a forgotten form of energy?
Who can say? We do not know. We have had to accept these things as they have been accepted through the ages, and give them either a spiritual or a purely natural explanation, as our minds happen to be adventurous or analytic in type.
But outside of the purely physical phenomena of those seances, we are provided with an explanation which satisfies the Neighborhood Club, even if it fails to satisfy the convinced spiritist. We have been accused merely of substituting one mystery for another, but I reply by saying that the mystery we substitute is not a mystery, but an acknowledged fact.
On Tuesday morning I wakened after an uneasy night. I knew certain things, knew them definitely in the clear light of morning. Hawkins had the letters that Arthur Wells had found; that was one thing. I had not taken Ellingham's stick to Mrs. Dane's house; that was another. I had not done it. I had placed it on the table and had not touched it again.
But those were immaterial, compared with one outstanding fact. Any supernatural solution would imply full knowledge by whatever power had controlled the medium. And there was not full knowledge. There was, on the contrary, a definite place beyond which the medium could not go.
She did not know who had killed Arthur Wells.
To my surprise, Sperry and Herbert Robinson came together to see me that morning at my office. Sperry, like myself, was pale and tired, but Herbert was restless and talkative, for all the world like a terrier on the scent of a rat.
They had brought a newspaper account of an attempt by burglars to rob the Wells house, and the usual police formula that arrests were expected to be made that day. There was a diagram of the house, and a picture of the kitchen door, with an arrow indicating the bullet-hole.
"Hawkins will be here soon," Sperry said, rather casually, after I had read the clipping.
"Yes. He is bringing a letter from Miss Jeremy. The letter is merely a blind. We want to see him."
Herbert was examining the door of my office. He set the spring lock. "He may try to bolt," he explained. "We're in this pretty deep, you know."
"How about a record of what he says?" Sperry asked.
I pressed a button, and Miss Joyce came in. "Take the testimony of the man who is coming in, Miss Joyce.," I directed. "Take everything we say, any of us. Can you tell the different voices
She thought she could, and took up her position in the next room, with the door partly open.
I can still see Hawkins as Sperry let him in - a tall, cadaverous man of good manners and an English accent, a superior servant. He was cool but rather resentful. I judged that he considered carrying letters as in no way a part of his work, and that he was careful of his dignity. "Miss Jeremy sent this, sir," he said.
Then his eyes took in Sperry and Herbert, and he drew himself up.
"I see," he said. "It wasn't the letter, then?"
"Not entirely. We want to have a talk with you, Hawkins."
"Very well, sir." But his eyes went from one to the other of us.
"You were in the employ of Mr. Wells. We know that. Also we saw you there the night he died, but some time after his death. What time did you get in that night?"
"About midnight. I am not certain."
"Who told you of what had happened?"
"I told you that before. I met the detectives going out."
"Exactly. Now, Hawkins, you had come in, locked the door, and placed the key outside for the other servants?"
"How do you expect us to believe that?" Sperry demanded irritably. "There was only one key. Could you lock yourself in and then place the key outside?"
"Yes, sir," he replied impassively. "By opening the kitchen window, I could reach out and hang it on the nail."
"You were out of the house, then, at the time Mr. Wells died?"
"I can prove it by as many witnesses as you wish to call."
"Now, about these letters, Hawkins," Sperry said. "The letters in the bag. Have you still got them?"
He half rose - we had given him a chair facing the light - and then sat down again. "What letters?"
"Don't beat about the bush. We know you have the letters. And we want them."
"I don't intend to give them up, sir."
"Will you tell us how you got them?" He hesitated. "If you do not know already, I do not care to say."
I placed the letter to A 31 before him. "You wrote this, I think?" I said.
He was genuinely startled. More than that, indeed, for his face twitched. "Suppose I did?" he said, "I'm not admitting it."
"Will you tell us for whom it was meant?"
"You know a great deal already, gentlemen. Why not find that out from where you learned the rest?"
"You know, then, where we learned what we know?"
"That's easy," he said bitterly. "She's told you enough, I daresay. She doesn't know it all, of course. Any more than I do," he added.
"Will you give us the letters?"
"I haven't said I have them. I haven't admitted I wrote that one on the desk. Suppose I have them, I'll not give them up except to the District Attorney."
"By 'she' do you refer to Miss Jeremy?" I asked.
He stared at me, and then smiled faintly.
"You know who I mean."
We tried to assure him that we were not, in a sense, seeking to involve him in the situation, and I even went so far as to state our position, briefly:
"I'd better explain, Hawkins. We are not doing police work. But, owing to a chain of circumstances, we have learned that Mr. Wells did not kill himself. He was murdered, or at least shot, by some one else. It may not have been deliberate. Owing to what we have learned, certain people are under suspicion. We want to clear things up for our own satisfaction."
"Then why is some one taking down what I say in the next room?"
He could only have guessed it, but he saw that he was right, by our faces. He smiled bitterly. "Go on," he said. "Take it down. It can't hurt anybody. I don't know who did it, and that's God's truth."
And, after long wrangling, that was as far as we got.
He suspected who had done it, but he did not know. He absolutely refused to surrender the letters in his possession, and a sense of delicacy, I think, kept us all from pressing the question of the A 31 matter.
"That's a personal affair," he said. "I've had a good bit of trouble. I'm thinking now of going back to England."
And, as I say, we did not insist.
When he had gone, there seemed to be nothing to say. He had left the same impression on all of us, I think - of trouble, but not of crime. Of a man fairly driven; of wretchedness that was almost despair. He still had the letters. He had, after all, as much right to them as we had, which was, actually, no right at all. And, whatever it was, he still had his secret.
Herbert was almost childishly crestfallen. Sperry's attitude was more philosophical.
"A woman, of course," he said. "The A 31 letter shows it. He tried to get her back, perhaps, by holding the letters over her head. And it hasn't worked out. Poor devil! Only - who is the woman?"
It was that night, the fifteenth day after the crime, that the solution came. Came as a matter of fact, to my door.
I was in the library, reading, or trying to read, a rather abstruse book on psychic phenomena. My wife, I recall, had just asked me to change a banjo record for "The End of a Pleasant Day," when the bell rang.
In our modest establishment the maids retire early, and it is my custom, on those rare occasions when the bell rings after nine o'clock, to answer the door myself.
To my surprise, it was Sperry, accompanied by two ladies, one of them heavily veiled. It was not until I had ushered them into the reception room and lighted the gas that I saw who they were. It was Elinor Wells, in deep mourning, and Clara, Mrs. Dane's companion and secretary.
I am afraid I was rather excited, for I took Sperry's hat from him, and placed it on the head of a marble bust which I had given my wife on our last anniversary, and Sperry says that I drew a smoking-stand up beside Elinor Wells with great care. I do not know. It has, however, passed into history in the Club, where every now and then for some time Herbert offered one of the ladies a cigar, with my compliments.
My wife, I believe, was advancing along the corridor when Sperry closed the door. As she had only had time to see that a woman was in the room, she was naturally resentful, and retired to the upper floor, where I found her considerably upset, some time later.
While I am quite sure that I was not thinking clearly at the opening of the interview, I know that I was puzzled at the presence of Mrs. Dane's secretary, but I doubtless accepted it as having some connection with Clara's notes. And Sperry, at the beginning, made no comment on her at all.
"Mrs. Wells suggested that we come here, Horace," he began. "We may need a legal mind on this. I'm not sure, or rather I think it unlikely. But just in case - suppose you tell him, Elinor."
I have no record of the story Elinor Wells told that night in our little reception-room, with Clara sitting in a corner, grave and white. It was fragmentary, inco-ordinate. But I got it all at last.
Charlie Ellingham had killed Arthur Wells, but in a struggle. In parts the story was sordid enough. She did not spare herself, or her motives. She had wanted luxury, and Arthur had not succeeded as he had promised. They were in debt, and living beyond their means. But even that, she hastened to add, would not have mattered, had he not been brutal with her. He had made her life very wretched.
But on the subject of Charlie Ellingham she was emphatic. She knew that there had been talk, but there had been no real basis for it. She had turned to him for comfort, and he gave her love. She didn't know where he was now, and didn't greatly care, but she would like to recover and destroy some letters he had written her.
She was looking crushed and ill, and she told her story inco-ordinately and nervously. Reduced to its elements, it was as follows:
On the night of Arthur Wells's death they were dressing for a ball. She had made a private arrangement with Ellingham to plead a headache at the last moment and let Arthur go alone. But he had been so insistent that she had been forced to go, after all. She had sent the governess, Suzanne Gautier, out to telephone Ellingham not to come, but he was not at his house, and the message was left with his valet. As it turned out, he had already started.
Elinor was dressed, all but her ball-gown, and had put on a negligee, to wait for the governess to return and help her. Arthur was in his dressing-room, and she heard him grumbling about having no blades for his safety razor.
He got out a case of razors and searched for the strop. When she remembered where the strop was, it was too late. The letters had been beside it, and he was coming toward her, with them in his hand.
She was terrified. He had read only one, but that was enough. He muttered something and turned away. She saw his face as he went toward where the revolver had been hidden from the children, and she screamed.
Charlie Ellingham heard her. The door had been left unlocked by the governess, and he was in the lower hall. He ran up and the two men grappled. The first shot was fired by Arthur. It struck the ceiling. The second she was doubtful about. She thought the revolver was still in Arthur's hand. It was all horrible. He went down like a stone, in the hallway outside the door.
They were nearly mad, the two of them. They had dragged the body in, and then faced each other. Ellingham was for calling the police at once and surrendering, but she had kept him away from the telephone. She maintained, and I think it very possible, that her whole thought was for the children, and the effect on their after lives of such a scandal. And, after all, nothing could help the man on the floor.
It was while they were trying to formulate some concerted plan that they heard footsteps below, and, thinking it was Mademoiselle Gautier, she drove Ellingham into the rear of the house, from which later he managed to escape. But it was Clara who was coming up the stairs.
"She had been our first governess for the children," Elinor said, "and she often came in. She had made a birthday smock for Buddy, and she had it in her hand. She almost fainted. I couldn't tell her about Charlie Ellingham. I couldn't. I told her we had been struggling, and that I was afraid I had shot him. She is quick. She knew just what to do. We worked fast. She said a suicide would not have fired one shot into the ceiling, and she fixed that. It was terrible. And all the time he lay there, with his eyes half open - "
The letters, it seems, were all over the place. Elinor thought of the curtain, cut a receptacle for them, but she was afraid of the police. Finally she gave them to Clara, who was to take them away and burn them.
They did everything they could think of, all the time listening for Suzanne Gautier's return; filled the second empty chamber of the revolver, dragged the body out of the hall and washed the carpet, and called Doctor Sperry, knowing that he was at Mrs. Dane's and could not come.
Clara had only a little time, and with the letters in her handbag she started down the stairs. There she heard some one, possibly Ellingham, on the back stairs, and in her haste, she fell, hurting her knee, and she must have dropped the handbag at that time. They knew now that Hawkins had found it later on. But for a few days they didn't' know, and hence the advertisement.
"I think we would better explain Hawkins," Sperry said. "Hawkins was married to Miss Clara here, some years ago, while she was with Mrs. Wells. They had kept it a secret, and recently she has broken with him."
"He was infatuated with another woman," Clara said briefly. "That's a personal matter. It has nothing to do with this case."
"It explains Hawkins's letter."
"It doesn't explain how that medium knew everything that happened," Clara put in, excitedly. "She knew it all, even the library paste! I can tell you, Mr. Johnson, I was close to fainting a dozen times before I finally did it."
"Did you know of our seances?" I asked Mrs. Wells.
"Yes. I may as well tell you that I haven't been in Florida. How could I? The children are there, but I -"
"Did you tell Charlie Ellingham about them?"
"After the second one I warned him, and I think he went to the house. One bullet was somewhere in the ceiling, or in the floor of the nursery. I thought it ought to be found. I don't know whether he found it or not. I've been afraid to see him."
She sat, clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap. She was a proud woman, and surrender had come hard. The struggle was marked in her face. She looked as though she had not slept for days.
"You think I am frightened," she said slowly. "And I am, terribly frightened. But not about discovery. That has come, and cannot be helped."
"How does this woman, this medium, know these things?" Her voice rose, with an unexpected hysterical catch. "It is superhuman. I am almost mad."
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Sperry said soothingly. "Be sure that it is not what you think it is, Elinor. There's a simple explanation, and I think I've got it. What about the stick that was taken from my library?"
"Will you tell me how you came to have it, doctor?"
"Yes. I took it from the lower hall the night - the night it happened."
"It was Charlie Ellingham's. He had left it there. We had to have it, doctor. Alone it might not mean much, but with the other things you knew - tell them, Clara."
"I stole it from your office," Clara said, looking straight ahead. "We had to have it. I knew at the second sitting that it was his."
"When did you take it?"
"On Monday morning, I went for Mrs. Dane's medicine, and you had promised her a book. Do you remember? I told your man, and he allowed me to go up to the library. It was there, on the table. I had expected to have to search for it, but it was lying out. I fastened it to my belt, under my long coat."
"And placed it in the rack at Mrs. Dane's?" Sperry was watching her intently, with the same sort of grim intentness he wears when examining a chest.
"I put it in the closet in my room. I meant to get rid of it, when I had a little time. I don't know how it got downstairs, but I think - "
"We are house-cleaning. A housemaid was washing closets. I suppose she found it and, thinking it was one of Mrs. Dane's, took it downstairs. That is, unless - " It was clear that, like Elinor, she had a supernatural explanation in her mind. She looked gaunt and haggard.
"Mr. Ellingham was anxious to get it," she finished. "He had taken Mr. Johnson's overcoat by mistake one night when you were both in the house, and the notes were in it. He saw that the stick was important."
"Clara," Sperry asked, "did you see, the day you advertised for your bag, another similar advertisement?"
"I saw it. It frightened me.
"You have no idea who inserted it?"
"Did you ever see Miss Jeremy before the first sitting? Or hear of her?"
"Or between the seances?"
Elinor rose and drew her veil down. "We must go," she said. "Surely now you will cease these terrible investigations. I cannot stand much more. I am going mad."
"There will be no more seances," Sperry said gravely.
"What are you going to do?" She turned to me, I daresay because I represented what to her was her supreme dread, the law.
"My dear girl," I said, "we are not going to do anything. The Neighborhood Club has been doing a little amateur research work, which is now over. That is all."
Sperry took them away in his car, but he turned on the door-step, "Wait downstairs for me," he said, "I am coming back."
I remained in the library until he returned, uneasily pacing the floor.
For where were we, after all? We had had the medium's story elaborated and confirmed, but the fact remained that, step by step, through her unknown "control" the Neighborhood Club had followed a tragedy from its beginning, or almost its beginning, to its end.
Was everything on which I had built my life to go? Its philosophy, its science, even its theology, before the revelations of a young woman who knew hardly the rudiments of the very things she was destroying?
Was death, then, not peace and an awakening to new things, but a wretched and dissociated clutching after the old? A wrench which only loosened but did not break our earthly ties?
It was well that Sperry came back when he did, bringing with him a breath of fresh night air and stalwart sanity. He found me still pacing the room.
"The thing I want to know," I said fretfully, "is where this leaves us? Where are we? For God's sake, where are we?"
"First of all," he said, "have you anything to drink? Not for me. For yourself. You look sick."
"We do not keep intoxicants in the house."
"Oh, piffie," he said. "Where is it, Horace?"
"I have a little gin."
I drew a chair before the book-shelves, which in our old-fashioned house reach almost to the ceiling, and, withdrawing a volume of Josephus, I brought down the bottle.
"Now and then, when I have had a bad day," I explained, "I find that it makes me sleep."
He poured out some and I drank it, being careful to rinse the glass afterward.
"Well," said Sperry, when he had lighted a cigar. "So you want to know where we are."
"I would like to save something out of the wreck."
"That's easy. Horace, you should be a heart specialist, and I should have taken the law. It's as plain as the alphabet." He took his notes of the sittings from his pocket. "I'm going to read a few things. Keep what is left of your mind on them. This is the first sitting.
"'The knee hurts. It is very bad. Arnica will take the pain out.'
"I want to go out. I want air. If I could only go to sleep and forget it. The drawing-room furniture is scattered all over the house."
"Now the second sitting:
"'It is writing.' (The stick.) "It is writing, but the water washed it away. All of it, not a trace.' 'If only the pocketbook were not lost. Car-tickets and letters. It will be terrible if the letters are found.' 'Hawkins may have it. The curtain was much safer.' 'That part's safe enough, unless it made a hole in the floor above.'"
"Oh, if you're going to read a lot of irrelevant material - "
"Irrelevant nothing! Wake up, Horace! But remember this. I'm not explaining the physical phenomena. We'll never do that. It wasn't extraordinary, as such things go. Our little medium in a trance condition has read poor Clara's mind. It's all here, all that Clara knew and nothing that she didn't know. A mind-reader, friend Horace. And Heaven help me when I marry her!"
As I have said, the Neighborhood Club ended its investigations with this conclusion, which I believe is properly reached. It is only fair to state that there are those among us who have accepted that theory in the Wells case, but who have preferred to consider that behind both it and the physical phenomena of the seances there was an intelligence which directed both, an intelligence not of this world as we know it. Both Herbert and Alice Robinson are now pronounced spiritualists, although Miss Jeremy, now Mrs. Sperry, has definitely abandoned all investigative work.
Personally, I have evolved no theory. It seems beyond dispute that certain individuals can read minds, and that these same, or other so-called "sensitives," are capable of liberating a form of invisible energy which, however, they turn to no further account than the useless ringing of bells, moving of small tables, and flinging about of divers objects.
To me, I admit, the solution of the Wells case as one of mind-reading is more satisfactory than explanatory. For mental waves remain a mystery, acknowledged, as is electricity, but of a nature yet unrevealed. Thoughts are things. That is all we know.
Mrs. Dane, I believe, had suspected the solution from the start.
The Neighborhood Club has recently disbanded. We tried other things, but we had been spoiled. Our Kipling winter was a failure. We read a play or two, with Sperry's wife reading the heroine, and the rest of us taking other parts. She has a lovely voice, has Mrs. Sperry. But it was all stale and unprofitable, after the Wells affair. With Herbert on a lecture tour on spirit realism, and Mrs. Dane at a sanatorium for the winter, we have now given it up, and my wife and I spend our Monday evenings at home.
After dinner I read, or, as lately, I have been making this record of the Wells case from our notes. My wife is still fond of the phonograph, and even now, as I make this last entry and complete my narrative, she is waiting for me to change the record. I will be frank. I hate the phonograph. I hope it will be destroyed, or stolen. I am thinking very seriously of having it stolen.
"Horace," says my wife, "whatever would we do without the phonograph? I wish you would put it in the burglar-insurance policy. I am always afraid it will be stolen."
Even here, you see! Truly thoughts are things.