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Chapter 11

MANIFESTATIONS.


Miss Heydinger declined to disbelieve in the spirits of the dead, and
this led to controversy in the laboratory over Tea. For the girl
students, being in a majority that year, had organised Tea between
four o'clock and the advent of the extinguishing policeman at
five. And the men students were occasionally invited to Tea. But not
more than two of them at a time really participated, because there
were only two spare cups after that confounded Simmons broke the
third.

Smithers, the square-headed student with the hard grey eyes, argued
against the spirits of the dead with positive animosity, while
Bletherley, who displayed an orange tie and lank hair in unshorn
abundance, was vaguely open-minded, "What is love?" asked Bletherley,
"surely that at any rate is immortal!" His remark was considered
irrelevant and ignored.

Lewisham, as became the most promising student of the year, weighed
the evidence--comprehensively under headings. He dismissed the
mediumistic _sťances_ as trickery.

"Rot and imposture," said Smithers loudly, and with an oblique glance
to see if his challenge reached its mark. Its mark was a grizzled
little old man with a very small face and very big grey eyes, who had
been standing listlessly at one of the laboratory windows until the
discussion caught him. He wore a brown velvet jacket and was reputed
to be enormously rich. His name was Lagune. He was not a regular
attendant, but one of those casual outsiders who are admitted to
laboratories that are not completely full. He was known to be an
ardent spiritualist--it was even said that he had challenged Huxley to
a public discussion on materialism, and he came to the biological
lectures and worked intermittently, in order, he explained, to fight
disbelief with its own weapons. He rose greedily to Smithers'
controversial bait.

"I say _no_!" he said, calling down the narrow laboratory and
following his voice. He spoke with the ghost of a lisp. "Pardon my
interrupting, sir. The question interests me profoundly. I hope I
don't intrude. Excuse me, sir. Make it personal. Am I a--fool, or an
impostor?"

"Well," parried Smithers, with all a South Kensington student's want
of polish, "that's a bit personal."

"Assume, sir, that I am an honest observer."

"Well?"

"I have _seen_ spirits, _heard_ spirits, _felt_ the touch of spirits,"
He opened his pale eyes very widely.

"Fool, then," said Smithers in an undertone which did not reach the
ears of the spiritualist.

"You may have been deceived," paraphrased Lewisham.

"I can assure you ... others can see, hear, feel. I have tested,
sir. Tested! I have some scientific training and I have employed
tests. Scientific and exhaustive tests! Every possible way. I ask you,
sir--have you given the spirits a chance?"

"It is only paying guineas to humbugs," said Smithers.

"There you are! Prejudice! Here is a man denies the facts and
consequently _won't_ see them, won't go near them."

"But you wouldn't have every man in the three kingdoms, who
disbelieved in spirits, attend _sťances_ before he should be allowed
to deny?"

"Most assuredly yes. Most assuredly yes! He knows nothing about it
till then."

The argument became heated. The little old gentleman was soon under
way. He knew a person of the most extraordinary gifts, a medium ...

"Paid?" asked Smithers.

"Would you muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn?" said Lagune
promptly.

Smithers' derision was manifest.

"Would you distrust a balance because you bought it? Come and see."
Lagune was now very excited and inclined to gesticulate and raise his
voice. He invited the whole class incontinently to a series of special
_sťances_. "Not all at once--the spirits--new influences." But in
sections. "I warn you we may get nothing. But the chances are ... I
would rejoice infinitely ..."

So it came about that Lewisham consented to witness a
spirit-raising. Miss Heydinger it was arranged should be there, and
the sceptic Smithers, Lagune, his typewriter and the medium would
complete the party. Afterwards there was to be another party for the
others. Lewisham was glad he had the moral support of Smithers.
"It's an evening wasted," said Smithers, who had gallantly resolved to
make the running for Lewisham in the contest for the Forbes
medal. "But I'll prove my case. You see if I don't." They were given
an address in Chelsea.

The house, when Lewisham found it at last, proved a large one, with
such an air of mellowed dignity that he was abashed. He hung his hat
up for himself beside a green-trimmed hat of straw in the wide,
rich-toned hall. Through an open door he had a glimpse of a palatial
study, book shelves bearing white busts, a huge writing-table lit by a
green-shaded electric lamp and covered thickly with papers. The
housemaid looked, he thought, with infinite disdain at the rusty
mourning and flamboyant tie, and flounced about and led him upstairs.

She rapped, and there was a discussion within. "They're at it already,
I believe," she said to Lewisham confidentially. "Mr. Lagune's always
at it."

There were sounds of chairs being moved, Smithers' extensive voice
making a suggestion and laughing nervously. Lagune appeared opening
the door. His grizzled face seemed smaller and his big grey eyes
larger than usual.

"We were just going to begin without you," he whispered. "Come
along."

The room was furnished even more finely than the drawing-room of the
Whortley Grammar School, hitherto the finest room (except certain of
the State Apartments at Windsor) known to Lewisham. The furniture
struck him in a general way as akin to that in the South Kensington
Museum. His first impression was an appreciation of the vast social
superiority of the chairs; it seemed impertinent to think of sitting
on anything quite so quietly stately. He perceived Smithers standing
with an air of bashful hostility against a bookcase. Then he was aware
that Lagune was asking them all to sit down. Already seated at the
table was the Medium, Chaffery, a benevolent-looking, faintly shabby
gentleman with bushy iron-grey side-whiskers, a wide, thin-lipped
mouth tucked in at the corners, and a chin like the toe of a boot. He
regarded Lewisham critically and disconcertingly over gilt
glasses. Miss Heydinger was quite at her ease and began talking at
once. Lewisham's replies were less confident than they had been in the
Gallery of Old Iron; indeed there was almost a reversal of their
positions. She led and he was abashed. He felt obscurely that she had
taken an advantage of him. He became aware of another girlish figure
in a dark dress on his right.

Everyone moved towards the round table in the centre of the room, on
which lay a tambourine and a little green box. Lagune developed
unsuspected lengths of knobby wrist and finger directing his guests to
their seats. Lewisham was to sit next to him, between him and the
Medium; beyond the Medium sat Smithers with Miss Heydinger on the
other side of him, linked to Lagune by the typewriter. So sceptics
compassed the Medium about. The company was already seated before
Lewisham looked across Lagune and met the eyes of the girl next that
gentleman. It was Ethel! The close green dress, the absence of a hat,
and a certain loss of colour made her seem less familiar, but did not
prevent the instant recognition. And there was recognition in her
eyes.

Immediately she looked away. At first his only emotion was
surprise. He would have spoken, but a little thing robbed him of
speech. For a moment he was unable to remember her surname. Moreover,
the strangeness of his surroundings made him undecided. He did not
know what was the proper way to address her--and he still kept to the
superstition of etiquette. Besides--to speak to her would involve a
general explanation to all these people ...

"Just leave a pin-point of gas, Mr. Smithers, please," said Lagune,
and suddenly the one surviving jet of the gas chandelier was turned
down and they were in darkness. The moment for recognition had
passed.

The joining of hands was punctiliously verified, the circle was linked
little finger to little finger. Lewisham's abstraction received a
rebuke from Smithers. The Medium, speaking in an affable voice,
premised that he could promise nothing, he had no "_directing_" power
over manifestations. Thereafter ensued a silence....

For a space Lewisham was inattentive to all that happened.

He sat in the breathing darkness, staring at the dim elusive shape
that had presented that remembered face. His mind was astonishment
mingled with annoyance. He had settled that this girl was lost to him
for ever. The spell of the old days of longing, of the afternoons
that he had spent after his arrival in London, wandering through
Clapham with a fading hope of meeting her, had not returned to
him. But he was ashamed of his stupid silence, and irritated by the
awkwardness of the situation. At one moment he was on the very verge
of breaking the compact and saying "Miss Henderson" across the
table....

How was it he had forgotten that "Henderson"? He was still young
enough to be surprised at forgetfulness.

Smithers coughed, one might imagine with a warning intention.

Lewisham, recalling his detective responsibility with an effort,
peered about him, but the room was very dark. The silence was broken
ever and again by deep sighs and a restless stirring from the
Medium. Out of this mental confusion Lewisham's personal vanity was
first to emerge. What did she think of him? Was she peering at him
through the darkness even as he peered at her? Should he pretend to
see her for the first time when the lights were restored? As the
minutes lengthened it seemed as though the silence grew deeper and
deeper. There was no fire in the room, and it looked, for lack of that
glow, chilly. A curious scepticism arose in his mind as to whether he
had actually seen Ethel or only mistaken someone else for her. He
wanted the _sťance_ over in order that he might look at her again.
The old days at Whortley came out of his memory with astonishing
detail and yet astonishingly free from emotion....

He became aware of a peculiar sensation down his back, that he tried
to account for as a draught....

Suddenly a beam of cold air came like a touch against his face, and
made him shudder convulsively. Then he hoped that she had not marked
his shudder. He thought of laughing a low laugh to show he was not
afraid. Someone else shuddered too, and he perceived an
extraordinarily vivid odour of violets. Lagune's finger communicated a
nervous quivering.

What was happening?

The musical box somewhere on the table began playing a rather trivial,
rather plaintive air that was strange to him. It seemed to deepen the
silence about him, an accent on the expectant stillness, a thread of
tinkling melody spanning an abyss.

Lewisham took himself in hand at this stage. What _was_ happening? He
must attend. Was he really watching as he should do? He had been
wool-gathering. There were no such things as spirits, mediums were
humbugs, and he was here to prove that sole remaining Gospel. But he
must keep up with things--he was missing points. What was that scent
of violets? And who had set the musical box going? The Medium, of
course; but how? He tried to recall whether he had heard a rustling or
detected any movement before the music began. He could not
recollect. Come! he must be more on the alert than this!

He became acutely desirous of a successful exposure. He figured the
dramatic moment he had prepared with Smithers--Ethel a spectator. He
peered suspiciously into the darkness.

Somebody shuddered again, someone opposite him this time. He felt
Lagune's finger quiver still more palpably, and then suddenly the raps
began, abruptly, all about him. _Rap_!--making him start violently. A
swift percussive sound, tap, rap, dap, under the table, under the
chair, in the air, round the cornices. The Medium groaned again and
shuddered, and his nervous agitation passed sympathetically round the
circle. The music seemed to fade to the vanishing point and grew
louder again.

How was it done?

He heard Lagune's voice next him speaking with a peculiar quality of
breathless reverence, "The alphabet?" he asked, "shall we--shall we
use the alphabet?"

A forcible rap under the table.

"No!" interpreted the voice of the Medium.

The raps were continued everywhere.

Of course it was trickery, Lewisham endeavoured to think what the
mechanism was. He tried to determine whether he really had the
Medium's little finger touching his. He peered at the dark shape next
him. There was a violent rapping far away behind them with an almost
metallic resonance. Then the raps ceased, and over the healing silence
the little jet of melody from the musical box played alone. And after
a moment that ceased also....

The stillness was profound, Mr. Lewisham was now highly strung. Doubts
assailed him suddenly, and an overwhelming apprehension, a sense of
vast occurrences gathering above him. The darkness was a physical
oppression....

He started. Something had stirred on the table. There was the sharp
ping of metal being struck. A number of little crepitating sounds like
paper being smoothed. The sound of wind without the movement of air. A
sense of a presence hovering over the table.

The excitement of Lagune communicated itself in convulsive tremblings;
the Medium's hand quivered. In the darkness on the table something
faintly luminous, a greenish-white patch, stirred and hopped slowly
among the dim shapes.

The object, whatever it was, hopped higher, rose slowly in the air,
expanded. Lewisham's attention followed this slavishly. It was
ghostly--unaccountable--marvellous. For the moment he forgot even
Ethel. Higher and higher this pallid luminosity rose overhead, and
then he saw that it was a ghostly hand and arm, rising,
rising. Slowly, deliberately it crossed the table, seemed to touch
Lagune, who shivered. It moved slowly round and touched Lewisham. He
gritted his teeth.

There was no mistaking the touch, firm and yet soft, of
finger-tips. Almost simultaneously, Miss Heydinger cried out that
something was smoothing her hair, and suddenly the musical box set off
again with a reel. The faint oval of the tambourine rose, jangled, and
Lewisham heard it pat Smithers in the face. It seemed to pass
overhead. Immediately a table somewhere beyond the Medium began moving
audibly on its castors.

It seemed impossible that the Medium, sitting so still beside him,
could be doing all these things--grotesquely unmeaning though they
might be. After all....

The ghostly hand was hovering almost directly in front of
Mr. Lewisham's eyes. It hung with a slight quivering. Ever and again
its fingers flapped down and rose stiffly again.

Noise! A loud noise it seemed. Something moving? What was it he had
to do?

Lewisham suddenly missed the Medium's little finger. He tried to
recover it. He could not find it. He caught, held and lost an
arm. There was an exclamation. A faint report. A curse close to him
bitten in half by the quick effort to suppress it. Tzit! The little
pinpoint of light flew up with a hiss.

Lewisham, standing, saw a circle of blinking faces turned to the group
of two this sizzling light revealed. Smithers was the chief figure of
the group; he stood triumphant, one hand on the gas tap, the other
gripping the Medium's wrist, and in the Medium's hand--the
incriminatory tambourine.

"How's this, Lewisham?" cried Smithers, with the shadows on his face
jumping as the gas flared.

"_Caught_!" said Lewisham loudly, rising in his place and avoiding
Ethel's eyes.

"What's this?" cried the Medium.

"Cheating," panted Smithers.

"Not so," cried the Medium. "When you turned up the light ... put my
hand up ... caught tambourine ... to save head."

"Mr. Smithers," cried Lagune. "Mr. Smithers, this is very
wrong. This--shock--"

The tambourine fell noisily to the floor. The Medium's face changed,
he groaned strangely and staggered back. Lagune cried out for a glass
of water. Everyone looked at the man, expecting him to fall, save
Lewisham. The thought of Ethel had flashed back into his mind. He
turned to see how she took this exposure in which he was such a
prominent actor. He saw her leaning over the table as if to pick up
something that lay across it. She was not looking at him, she was
looking at the Medium. Her face was set and white. Then, as if she
felt his glance, her eyes met his.

She started back, stood erect, facing him with a strange hardness in
her eyes.

In the moment Lewisham did not grasp the situation. He wanted to show
that he was acting upon equal terms with Smithers in the exposure. For
the moment her action simply directed his attention to the object
towards which she had been leaning, a thing of shrivelled membrane, a
pneumatic glove, lying on the table. This was evidently part of the
mediumistic apparatus. He pounced and seized it.

"Look!" he said, holding it towards Smithers. "Here is more! What is
this?"

He perceived that the girl started. He saw Chaffery, the Medium, look
instantly over Smithers' shoulders, saw his swift glance of reproach
at the girl. Abruptly the situation appeared to Lewisham; he perceived
her complicity. And he stood, still in the attitude of triumph, with
the evidence against her in his hand! But his triumph had vanished.

"Ah!" cried Smithers, leaning across the table to secure it. "_Good_
old Lewisham!... Now we _have_ it. This is better than the
tambourine."

His eyes shone with triumph. "Do you see, Mr. Lagune?" said
Smithers. "The Medium held this in his teeth and blew it out. There's
no denying this. This wasn't falling on your head, Mr. Medium, was
it? _This_--this was the luminous hand!"

H.G. Wells