Chapter VIII
 

On Sunday I went to church. I felt, after the strange phenomena in Mrs. Dane's drawing-room, and after the contact with tragedy to which they had led, that I must hold with a sort of desperation to the traditions and beliefs by which I had hitherto regulated my conduct. And the church did me good. Between the immortality it taught and the theory of spiritualism as we had seen it in action there was a great gulf, and I concluded that this gulf was the soul. The conclusion that mind and certain properties of mind survived was not enough. The thought of a disembodied intelligence was pathetic, depressing. But the thought of a glorified soul was the hope of the world.

My wife, too, was in a penitent and rather exalted mood. During the sermon she sat with her hand in mine, and I was conscious of peace and a deep thankfulness. We had been married for many years, and we had grown very close. Of what importance was the Wells case, or what mattered it that there were strange new-old laws in the universe, so long as we kept together?

That my wife had felt a certain bitterness toward Miss Jeremy, a jealousy of her powers, even of her youth, had not dawned on me. But when, in her new humility, she suggested that we call on the medium that afternoon. I realized that, in her own way, she was making a sort of atonement.

Miss Jeremy lived with an elderly spinster cousin, a short distance out of town. It was a grim house, coldly and rigidly Calvinistic. It gave an unpleasant impression at the start, and our comfort was not increased by the discovery, made early in the call, that the cousin regarded the Neighborhood Club and its members with suspicion.

The cousin - her name was Connell - was small and sharp, and she entered the room followed by a train of cats. All the time she was frigidly greeting us, cats were coming in at the door, one after the other. It fascinated me. I do not like cats. I am, as a matter of confession, afraid of cats. They affect me as do snakes. They trailed in in a seemingly endless procession, and one of them took a fancy to me, and leaped from behind on to my shoulder. The shock set me stammering.

"My cousin is out," said Miss Connell. "Doctor Sperry has taken her for a ride. She will be back very soon."

I shook a cat from my trouser leg, and my wife made an unimportant remark.

"I may as well tell you, I disapprove of what Alice is doing," said Miss Connell. "She doesn't have to. I've offered her a good home. She was brought up a Presbyterian. I call this sort of thing playing with the powers of darkness. Only the eternally damned are doomed to walk the earth. The blessed are at rest."

"But you believe in her powers, don't you?" my wife asked.

"I believe she can do extraordinary things. She saw my father's spirit in this very room last night, and described him, although she had never seen him."

As she had said that only the eternally damned were doomed to walk the earth, I was tempted to comment on this stricture on her departed parent, but a large cat, much scarred with fighting and named Violet, insisted at that moment on crawling into my lap, and my attention was distracted.

"But the whole thing is un-Christian and undignified," Miss Connell proceeded, in her cold voice. "Come, Violet, don't annoy the gentleman. I have other visions of the next life than of rapping on tables and chairs, and throwing small articles about."

It was an extraordinary visit. Even the arrival of Miss Jeremy herself, flushed with the air and looking singularly normal, was hardly a relief. Sperry, who followed, was clearly pleased to see us, however.

It was not hard to see how things were with him. He helped the girl out of her wraps with a manner that was almost proprietary, and drew a chair for her close to the small fire which hardly affected the chill of the room.

With their entrance a spark of hospitality seemed to kindle in the cat lady's breast. It was evident that she liked Sperry. Perhaps she saw in him a method of weaning her cousin from traffic with the powers of darkness. She said something about tea, and went out.

Sperry looked across at the girl and smiled.

"Shall I tell them?" he said.

"I want very much to have them know."

He stood up, and with that unconscious drama which actuates a man at a crisis in his affairs, he put a hand on her shoulder. "This young lady is going to marry me," he said. "We are very happy today."

But I thought he eyed us anxiously. We were very close friends, and he wanted our approval. I am not sure if we were wise. I do not yet know. But something of the new understanding between my wife and myself must have found its way to our voices, for he was evidently satisfied.

"Then that's all right," he said heartily. And my wife, to my surprise, kissed the girl.

Except for the cats, sitting around, the whole thing was strangely normal. And yet, even there, something happened that set me to thinking afterward. Not that it was strange in itself, but that it seemed never possible to get very far away from the Wells mystery.

Tea was brought in by Hawkins!

I knew him immediately, but he did not at once see me. He was evidently accustomed to seeing Sperry there, and he did not recognize my wife. But when he had put down the tray and turned to pick up Sperry's overcoat to carry it into the hall, he saw me. The man actually started. I cannot say that he changed color. He was always a pale, anemic-looking individual. But it was a perceptible instant before he stooped and gathered up the coat.

Sperry turned to me when he had gone out. "That was Hawkins, Horace," he said. "You remember, don't you? The Wellses' butler."

"I knew him at once."

"He wrote to me asking for a position, and I got him this. Looks sick, poor devil. I intend to have a go at his chest."

"How long has he been here?"

"More than a week, I think."

As I drank my tea, I pondered. After all, the Neighborhood Club must guard against the possibility of fraud, and I felt that Sperry had been indiscreet, to say the least. From the time of Hawkins' service in Miss Jeremy's home there would always be the suspicion of collusion between them. I did not believe it was so, but Herbert, for instance, would be inclined to suspect her. Suppose that Hawkins knew about the crime? Or knew something and surmised the rest?

When we rose to go Sperry drew me aside.

"You think I've made a mistake?"

"I do."

He flung away with an impatient gesture, then came back to me.

"Now look here," he said, "I know what you mean, and the whole idea is absurd. Of course I never thought about it, but even allowing for connivance - which I don't for a moment - the fellow was not in the house at the time of the murder."

"I know he says he was not."

"Even then," he said, "how about the first sitting? I'll swear she had never even heard of him then."

"The fact remains that his presence here makes us all absurd."

"Do you want me to throw him out?"

"I don't see what possible good that will do now."

I was uneasy all the way home. The element of doubt always so imminent in our dealings with psychic phenomena, had me by the throat. How much did Hawkins know? Was there any way, without going to the police, to find if he had really been out of the Wells house that night, now almost two weeks ago, when Arthur Wells had been killed?

That evening I went to Sperry's house, after telephoning that I was coming. On the way I stopped in at Mrs. Dane's and secured something from her. She was wildly curious, and made me promise to go in on my way back, and explain. I made a compromise.

"I will come in if I have anything to tell you," I said.

But I knew, by her grim smile, that she would station herself by her window, and that I would stop, unless I made a detour of three blocks to avoid her. She is a very determined woman.

Sperry was waiting for me in his library, a pleasant room which I have often envied him. Even the most happily married man wishes, now and then, for some quiet, dull room which is essentially his own. My own library is really the family sitting-room, and a Christmas or so ago my wife presented me with a very handsome phonograph instrument. My reading, therefore, is done to music, and the necessity for putting my book down to change the record at times interferes somewhat with my train of thought.

So I entered Sperry's library with appreciation. He was standing by the fire, with the grave face and slightly bent head of his professional manner. We say, in the neighborhood, that Sperry uses his professional manner as armor, so I was rather prepared to do battle; but he forestalled me.

"Horace," he said, "I have been a fool, a driveling idiot. We were getting something at those sittings. Something real. She's wonderful. She's going to give it up, but the fact remains that she has some power we haven't, and now I've discredited her! I see it plainly enough." He was rather bitter about it, but not hostile. His fury was at himself. "Of course," he went on, "I am sure that she got nothing from Hawkins. But the fact remains - " He was hurt in his pride of her.

"I wonder," I said, "if you kept the letter Hawkins wrote you when he asked for a position."

He was not sure. He went into his consulting room and was gone for some time. I took the opportunity to glance over his books and over the room.

Arthur Wells's stick was standing in a corner, and I took it up and examined it. It was an English malacca, light and strong, and had seen service. It was long, too long for me; it occurred to me that Wells had been about my height, and that it was odd that he should have carried so long a stick. There was no ease in swinging it.

>From that to the memory of Hawkins's face when Sperry took it, the night of the murder, in the hall of the Wells house, was only a step. I seemed that day to be thinking considerably about Hawkins.

When Sperry returned I laid the stick on the table. There can be no doubt that I did so, for I had to move a book-rack to place it. One end, the handle, was near the ink-well, and the ferrule lay on a copy of Gibson's "Life Beyond the Grave," which Sperry had evidently been reading.

Sperry had found the letter. As I glanced at it I recognized the writing at once, thin and rather sexless, Spencerian.

Dear Sir: Since Mr. Wells's death I am out of employment. Before I took the position of butler with Mr. Wells I was valet to Mr. Ellingham, and before that, in England, to Lord Condray. I have a very good letter of recommendation from Lord Condray. If you need a servant at this time I would do my best to give satisfaction.

(Signed) ARTHUR HAWKINS.

I put down the application, and took the anonymous letter about the bag from my pocketbook. "Read this, Sperry," I said. "You know the letter. Mrs. Dane read it to us Saturday night. But compare the writing."

He compared the two, with a slight lifting of his eyebrows. Then he put them down. "Hawkins!" he said. "Hawkins has the letters! And the bag!"

"Exactly," I commented dryly. "In other words, Hawkins was in Miss Jeremy's house when, at the second sitting, she told of the letters."

I felt rather sorry for Sperry. He paced the room wretchedly, the two letters in his hand.

"But why should he tell her, if he did?" he demanded. "The writer of that anonymous letter was writing for only one person. Every effort is made to conceal his identity."

I felt that he was right. The point was well taken.

"The question now is, to whom was it written?" We pondered that, to no effect. That Hawkins had certain letters which touched on the Wells affair, that they were probably in his possession in the Connell house, was clear enough. But we had no possible authority for trying to get the letters, although Sperry was anxious to make the attempt.

"Although I feel," he said, "that it is too late to help her very much. She is innocent; I know that. I think you know that, too, deep in that legal mind of yours. It is wrong to discredit her because I did a foolish thing." He warmed to his argument. "Why, think, man," he said. "The whole first sitting was practically coincident with the crime itself."

It was true enough. Whatever suspicion might be cast on the second seance, the first at least remained inexplicable, by any laws we recognized. In a way, I felt sorry for Sperry. Here he was, on the first day of his engagement, protesting her honesty, her complete ignorance of the revelations she had made and his intention to keep her in ignorance, and yet betraying his own anxiety and possible doubt in the same breath.

"She did not even know there was a family named Wells. When I said that Hawkins had been employed by the Wells, it meant nothing to her. I was watching."

So even Sperry was watching. He was in love with her, but his scientific mind, like my legal one, was slow to accept what during the past two weeks it had been asked to accept.

I left him at ten o'clock. Mrs. Dane was still at her window, and her far-sighted old eyes caught me as I tried to steal past. She rapped on the window, and I was obliged to go in. Obliged, too, to tell her of the discovery and, at last, of Hawkins being in the Connell house.

"I want those letters, Horace," she said at last.

"So do I. I'm not going to steal them."

"The question is, where has he got them?"

"The question is, dear lady, that they are not ours to take."

"They are not his, either."

Well, that was true enough. But I had done all the private investigating I cared to. And I told her so. She only smiled cryptically.

So far as I know, Mrs. Dane was the only one among us who had entirely escaped certain strange phenomena during that period, and as I have only so far recorded my own experiences, I shall here place in order the various manifestations made to the other members of the Neighborhood Club during that trying period and in their own words. As none of them have suffered since, a certain allowance must be made for our nervous strain. As before, I shall offer no explanation.

Alice Robinson: On night following second seance saw a light in room, not referable to any outside influence. Was an amorphous body which glowed pallidly and moved about wall over fireplace, gradually coming to stop in a corner, where it faded and disappeared.

Clara -, Mrs. Dane's secretary: Had not slept much since first seance. Was frequently conscious that she was not alone in room, but on turning on light room was always empty. Wakened twice with sense of extreme cold. (I have recorded my own similar experience.)

Sperry has consistently maintained that he had no experiences whatever during that period, but admits that he heard various knockings in his bedroom at night, which he attributed to the lighting of his furnace, and the resulting expansion of the furniture due to heat.

Herbert Robinson: Herbert was the most difficult member of the Club from whom to secure data, but he has recently confessed that he was wakened one night by the light falling on to his bed from a picture which hung on the wall over his mantelpiece, and which stood behind a clock, two glass vases and a pair of candlesticks. The door of his room was locked at the time.

Mrs. Johnson: Had a great many minor disturbances, so that on rousing one night to find me closing a window against a storm she thought I was a spectre, and to this day insists that I only entered her room when I heard her scream. For this reason I have made no record of her various experiences, as I felt that her nervous condition precluded accurate observation.

As in all records of psychic phenomena, the human element must be considered, and I do not attempt either to analyze these various phenomena or to explain them. Herbert, for instance, has been known to walk in his sleep. But I respectfully offer, as opposed to this, that my watch has never been known to walk at all, and that Mrs. Johnson's bracelet could hardly be accused of an attack of nerves.