Theosophical Forum, December, 1938.
"The Lord gave, and the Lord taketh away; Blessed be the name of the Lord." The parson's unctuous glibness, in utterance of the pious platitude, seemed to Mr. Blodgett - chief mourner - animated by personal approval of the Lord's final action in the premises. Would there have been such a tinge of satisfaction in his resignation if the dead woman had been his own wife? Was it quite certain that the Lord had concerned Himself at all about either the giving or the taking of Mrs. Araminta Blodgett?
"Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God," etc., etc., went on the flow of formal blandiloquence. Why had it pleased Him? wondered John Blodgett. What interest could He have had in the matter? It certainly had not pleased Araminta, who was seriously misunderstood if her oft-expressed desire to "enter into the heavenly rest" had been taken in earnest. And so far from pleasing her husband, it had much annoyed him - to state the case mildly. Araminta had some "trying ways," doubtless, but probably not more than other women have, and John, in thirty years of married life, had got used to them.
The poor old widower, riding by himself in the slow-moving carriage behind the hearse, felt very sad and lonely. Though by no means an imaginative man, the fancy grew upon him that his life was a cable, a great strand of which had parted when Araminta died, weakening what was left. At the receiving vault he looked on silently, while the attendants filed Araminta away in a stone pigeon-hole and slid its heavy iron door into place with a bang. He made no spectacular display of grief, for his nature was not demonstrative, and at fifty-five one does not care enough about what people think to prompt the simulation of emotion.
But when he got back into his carriage again, all alone, as he preferred to be, his eyes were moist and he thought very gravely upon what had happened to Araminta; what was going to happen to him in the few years he had yet to go, companionless, down the hill of life; and how much better it would have been if they could have finished the course together. Decidedly, he reflected, the Lord's way of pleasing Himself occasioned great inconvenience to others. Mr. Blodgett meant no irreverence in so thinking, he had merely - through much hearing of prayers and sermons - got into a habit of almost social familiarity with God's personality.
The way was long, and, though the horses trotted briskly on the return from the cemetery, the short winter day had ended by the time the widower reached his home. He sighed, as he let himself in with his latch-key, at the ominously suggestive darkness of the hall-way yawning before him. It looked like an enlargement of the pigeon-hole in which they had deposited Araminta. Never before had he found it unlighted. She always saw to that. He turned into the dark parlor and barked one of his shins upon something that stood directly in his way, which upon examination proved to be one of the trestles used to support Araminta's coffin. It belonged in the house, so had not been carried off by the undertaker, and nobody had thought of removing it when its temporary service here was ended. The sudden realization of what it was gave Mr. Blodgett quite a shock, for it brought vividly back to his mental vision her face, cold and white and still, in the silken interior of the costly casket, as he had last seen it, just at that spot.
He shuddered and imagined that he heard a faint sigh somewhere near him. Holding his breath and listening so intently that he thought he could hear his heart beat, he stood perfectly still and vainly strove to pierce the intense darkness with his sight. A little thrill of chilliness seemed to run over his skin, and for a moment he had an impresion that there was near him some one he was much more likely to see then than he would be if he had a light. The person - or whatever it was - seemed to be at his elbow, just behind his shoulder, and he felt an almost irresistible impulse to, instead of looking around, jump to the door and make his escape. Then he pulled his scattered faculties together with the reflection:
"Nonsense I didn't imagine there was enough superstition in me to make me even think of such a thing! And, even if it should be Araminta, why should I be afraid of her now - when she is past talking?"
Quite himself again, he turned on his heel, walked deliberately out to the hall and went on to the dining room, where he found warmth, light, comfort, and company. Miss Artemisia Hodson, an elderly spinster, and Mrs. Ellice Merwin, widow - "friends of the corpse" as they had styled themselves when assuming authority - had temporarily grasped the reins control, fortunately for the easy going of the household chariot. When all other friends went away, to the cemetery, or shopping, or the matinee, after the services in the church, these two good ladies marched straight to Mr. Blodgett's house, announced themselves and took possession, to the serious disappointment of Lucy - the maid - who had just become interested in rummaging her late mistress's bureau drawers, and the infinite disgust of the cook, who had just commenced to get drunk. Miss Hodson rescued Araminta's keys, locked up her room, and found work for Lucy in setting the dining table. Mrs. Merwin directed affairs in the kitchen. Rebellion against two such energetic, experienced women was clearly impossible, and when John came home the dinner awaiting him was one that Aramima herself had never excelled.
"Though it does seem like a waste of good victuals, to set such a meal before a man stricken with grief and naturally without any appetite when in sorrow, most likely," commented the spinster, who had strange ways of giving undue prominence to her ignorance of men.
"Humph!" sniffed the wiser Mrs. Merwin, "Men are critters you must feed under all circumstances. I've read in novels a heap about love and grief-spoiling their appetites, but never saw anything of the sort and don't believe it. Why, a man will eat a hearty breakfast while the sheriff is waiting to hang him when he gets through. I've read of them doing it. From the cradle to the grave the one thing they live for is - to eat. All the events of their lives are simply incidents that happen between meals. They tell us that in the New Jerusalem 'there shall be neither marrying nor giving in marriage' [Miss Hodson sighed], but I take notice they speculate on 'rivers of milk and honey,' which is figurative of course, like most of scripture, for naturally where you get milk you have beef critters - but milk is more poetic - and what would be the use of so much honey if you weren't to have any bread to spread it on?"
"Don't you think, Sister Mervin," suggested the spinster timidly, "that you take the words of the promises a little too literally?"
"No. You can't be too literal for a man when you come to talk about feed, either here or in the hereafter."
Mr. Blodgett's appetite hardly did justice to the widow's expectations. He missed the face he had so long been accustomed to see opposite him at every meal; the setting of the table was novel to him; Miss Hodson innocently put milk in his tea; Mrs. Merwin had not known that he loathed mutton; altogether, it seemed to him as if he were dining out and that Aratminta might, at any minute, come in to say, "John, it is time for us to be going''. It was a great relief to him when the announcement of a visitor, Mr. Elnathan Flitters - who came to offer his condolences - afforded excuse for escape from the table.
Mr. Flitters was a nice, well-meaning man, good rather than bright, of whose society it was not difficult to get an elegant sufficiency in a short time when he mounted his one hobby - spiritualism. The "summer-land" was known to him as Paris or Oshkosh may be to other persons. All departed greatness was, so to speak, "kept on tap" for him, and its communications literally "drawn from the wood" by his mediums for his benefit. One had only to know the gems of thought freely bestowed upon him by the intellectual giants "on the other shore", to recognize how different they were from the crude mental products of earth life. There, for instance, was that sweet assurance by Carlyle - "My friend, it is good to be good, not for the good there is in goodness, but for the goodness of being good." Of course, Carlyle never could have said anything like that when he was alive. Probably he would rather have been kicked than have done so. But, being dead, that was his style. And Mr. Flitters could quote such things to you all night, a fact which minimized eagerness for his companionship among those who knew him. To have the genuineness of those communications questioned by sceptics and scoffers saddened, but did not anger, him. He honestly pitied the doubters.
"That which I know - l know," he would reply calmly. "I have called for thousands of those who have gone before, all the great names in history, sacred and profane, from Adam down, and none have failed to respond. Would you reject their multitudinous testimony? I hope not. Why, it was but the other night that Marc Anthony came to us; did not wait to be called for, but just dropped in; and at my request repeated his great speech over Caesar's body, commencing:
'Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
I come to bury Cesar, not to praise him.'
The medium wrote it all down, just as he delivered it, and it is, word for word, as reported by Shakespeare. Could you doubt such evidence as that? I hope not."
Mr. Flitters' present mission was not the mere offering of empty condolences. It was his habit to call wherever he was acquainted, as soon as possible after an invasion by Death in a domestic circle, and urge upon the survivors the practicability and advisability of opening up communications at once with the dear departed. The sooner this was done, he averred, before the spirit strayed away on excursions into infinite space, to which it would find itself impelled by natural curiosity, the easier it would be of accomplishment. Mr. Blodgett, he said, had only to say the word in order to have his wishes gratified, if he desired to speak with his wife again, or even to see her.
The widower's mental vision beheld again that white, still face in the casket, so real yet so horribly unlike the woman who had walked by his side through more than a quarter of a century of life, and he shuddered.
"I don't know," he replied hesitatingly, "about bothering Araminta - before she gets sort of settled down in her new surroundings anyway. Everything over there must be strange to her yet - if it is at all like what you say. She never could bear to be pestered when she had anything on her mind; just wanted to be let alone until she had had her think out. I guess we'd better let her be for the present."
"But," argued Mr. Flitters, "this is the very time when she will he most grateful for recall. Lovely as the summer-land is, she is a stranger and may not yet have run across any friends. In her lonesomeness she will be glad to know she is cherished in remembrance by friends here. And she cannot return uninvited. Just think that in silence she stretches out her appealing hands to you from the golden shore. She only awaits your call to return and be your guardian angel. Ah! do not repulse the angel visitors, Mr. Blodgett. Call her back."
The ladies joined their solicitations to those of Mr. Flitters, not that positive Mrs. Merwin "really believed anything would come of it, but at least there would be no harm in trying''. Eventually Mr. Blodgett succumbed to the pressure of the trio.
"Well," he assented, "I agree. Araminta is welcome to come back if it seems fitting to her to do so. But how do you propose to fetch her?"
"Ah!" ejaculated Mr. Flitters triumphantly, "leave that to me - to me and Mrs. Husslewell, I should say. A wonderful woman Mrs. Husslewell is, sir; gifted with miraculous power. I will bring her here tomorrow night and you shall see for youself. Yes, sir. You shall see - what you shall see."
When Mr. Blodgett went up to his room that night, his surroundings there painfully accentuated his sense of bereavement. He and Araminta were old-fashioned folks who had occupied the same apartment, in common, all their married lives, and naturally the traces of her presence were, to those of his, in the proportion of ten to one. Everything of which his senses took cognizance reminded him of "the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that was still''. The air was still heavy with the perfume she used; her toilet appliances were scattered over the top of the bureau; an open door showed a closet hung full of her dresses; one of her wrappers was draped over a rocking-chair, as if she had just thrown it off: a withered bunch of flowers, the last she saw with mortal sight, stood upon a stand by the bed; on the mantel was a book she had been reading, with her scissors stuck between the leaves to mark where she left off; as he groped under the bed for his slippers, his fingers first came in contact with hers; and as he sat down to take off his shoes, the "tidy" on the back of the chair, pulled loose by his shoulders, slipped down and one of its pins jabbed him cruelly in the small of the back. It was perhaps the thousandth time that had happened to him, and as he tore the thing loose from its moorings near his spine and hurled it, with a half-smothered execration, across the room, he vowed that would never occur again. He always had hated "tidies," but Araminta possessed a mania for them, and consequently they were on every chair in the house. But - let him who could, find one of them after tomorrow.
Stirring the fire and putting his slippered feet on the fender before it, he sank into reverie. Naturally that which was uppermost in his thoughts was the calling back of Araminta. How might it affect her chances of participation in the general resurrection? if she broke the programme, which - according to the preacher - was that she should sleep until then. But then the preacher had said some queer and probably untrue things, and his information about the resurrection scheme might be unreliable. He said that damnation had been the common lot of all who lived prior to the coming of Christ, and that proposition did not commend itself to any fair-minded man. How about Moses, and David, and Elias, and Jonah, and Lot, and lots more of the Biblical worthies? Were they all damned? And the repeated assurance that "the blood of Christ washeth away all sin" surely had not a leg to stand on, logically, nor was admissible upon any hypothesis that would be creditable to God.
Mr. Blodgett, it will be perceived, was little, if any, better than a heathen, for he had the audacity to reason about these things - to which his attention was now, for the first time, seriously drawn - instead of accepting every thing by faith, as the preacher said he should. His cogitations, or Miss Hodson's strong tea, made him nervous, so he knew there was no use in going to bed, and thought he would like to smoke a cigar. He had already started for his "study", the little den which was the only place in all that big house where Araminta had allowed him to burn tobacco, when he suddenly remembered that there was nobody now to object to his smoking wherever he pleased, nobody to care whether "the smell got into the curtains" or not. So he lighted the fragrant little roll and sat down again, with a sigh that was not wholly regretful pain. It did seem to him that there was a tremulous movement in the air, as if of a groan that was almost audible, but of course that was only his nerves, he said to himself, and he went on with his musings and smoking.
When he had finished his cigar, he tossed its butt into the grate and went to bed. Never before had he realized how big that bed was. Its wideness made him feel lonesome. After a time, he dropped into a doze, from which he waked suddenly with a violent start and a thrill of horror. His arm was thrown over something that lay beside him, a tangible, bodily form, round and cold. The fire had died down and the room was dark. He leaped out of bed, lighted the gas and looked. The form was still there. It was the spare pillow. With a snort of disgust he said to himself:
"I wouldn't have been such a fool if that old maid had not given me such confoundedly strong tea and insisted upon my taking two cups of it."
He felt that it would be useless to try again to sleep without taking something to quiet his nerves, and remembered that a little closet in his den contained a soother which would be likely to meet the emergency. Lighting a candle, he went to get it, walking cautiously on tip-toe, though if he had stopped to think, he would have remembered there was now nobody sleeping in that part of the house. When he entered the den he pulled down the window-blind, bolted the door, and then opened a little closet neatly concealed in the wall. The medicine was before him, in a decanter bearing the mysterious initials "S. O. P." He was just about pouring some of it into a glass and taking it "straight," when the happy thought occurred to him that it would be much more palatable, perhaps even almost enjoyable, with the addition of hot water and sugar; also that it might he more efficacious if sipped leisurely, while he smoked a cigar before his bed room fire. Well, why should he not take it as he pleased? Araminta could not put her veto on the proceedings now. With a newly-born sense of independence thrilling him, he marched back to his room, carrying the decanter along, and walking upon his heels even louder than was necessary.
Aramima was always lenient to her own little weaknesses, first of which was tea-drinking in her room at all odd hours, and kept handy a very complete apparatus for brewing her frequent cups of cheer. In her silver kettle, over the alcohol lamp, John boiled some water; in her cut-glass bowl he found lumps of loaf-sugar; and when he had compounded the medicine he sniffed its fragrant steam with hearty satisfaction. Then he lighted another cigar, took a sip of the toddy and smiled. Again he fancied near him a faint atmospheric disturbance, suggestive of a groan audible only in the mind, rather more distinct than before. But the grateful warmth of the beverage spread a glow of comfort through his frame; he sipped again, smacking his lips; a feeling of emancipation animated him and he said:
"Let her groan. This suits me. But if Flitters brings her back, as he has promised, the way she will declare herself will be a lesson to the meek in spirit. And how much more of that can I stand? Maybe it might be a good deal easier to start than to stop. Is it prudent to turn Arammta loose on a congenial theme when she is quiet? Is it kind to her to disturb her? Doubtless she is, as Flitters says, a stranger in the summerland, but she is old enough to take care of herself, wherever she is, and will find some way of getting into good society before long. Ten chances to one she has run across Mrs. Danforth already, and has advance points on all the coming Easter styles in robes and halos. What's the use of bringing her back to be unhappy with the knowledge that I'm making myself comfortable?"
When at length Mr. Blodgett returned to his bed, his nerves had been effectively soothed and he slept sweetly, but his last waking thought was a doubt of the advisability of calling Araminta back.
Among the letters laid by the widower's plate at breakfast, the next morning, was one from an old and valued friend in the West, who addressed him at home instead of the store, because kinder considerations than those impelled by a counting-house atmosphere were wanted for the sad news he had to convey. Joe Brunton, the writer of the letter, had failed in business through a succession of misfortunes which he detailed at length, and the very considerable sum he owed to Mr. Blodgett would probably be an entire loss, at least until some time in the indefinite future, when his run of ill-luck should have changed. John Blodgett's fortune was so ample that the loss of the money was nothing of serious moment to him; he knew that Joe was a thoroughly honest man, and his only feeling in the matter was one of sincere sympathy, but - what would Araminta say? So deeply had he been engrossed in the letter that for the moment he forgot recent events of moment in his own affairs. During thirty years Araminta had never ceased viewing his letters with suspicion, and claimed the right to read all of them that came to the house. Of course she could not extend her scrutiny to those he received at his store - among which she figured to herself infinite possibilities of evil - but the hope had, seemingly, never left her that some day she would surprise a mis-directed missive, one diverted by Fate to her hands, to reveal the double life she was convinced all men led. And if she had seen the unhappy bankrupt's letter she would have said something like this:
"So! You've been a fool again and have to suffer for it of course. If you'd had common businesss sense you would have known Joe Brunton was a swindler, using your friendship to cheat you. Soft as you are, it's a wonder you are not in the poor-house already. It is only a question of time when you will be. But I give you fair warning, when you have to make an assignment your creditors shall touch nothing of what I have compelled you to put in my name. Ruin yourself if you please, but you shall not ruin me. What's that you say? 'Joe Brunton an unfortunate but honest man.' Oh! Yes: bankrupts always claim to be that. I've no patience with them. 'His family.' What have I got to do with his family? Let him pay his debts."
Mr. Blodgett knew just as well what she would have said as if he were actually hearing her; so, why bring her back to say it? Bankruptcies doubtless would not worry her "in the summer-land," and if she were not called back she would be spared the exasperation of knowing that he had resolved to do what lay in his power to set Joe Brunton on his feet again.
When he started out to business, at the very foot of his front steps he encountered Mrs. Poppetts, a charming little widow, who greeted him with unwonted cordiality, proportionate to her desire to sell him a couple of high-priced tickets for a charity ball, of which she was one of the lady managers. She had burst upon him so suddenly, while his mind was still full of Joe Brunton's trouble, that his first instinctive thought was one of alarm, for their meeting was in full view from the parlor windows, and Araminta - but, pshaw! what was he bothering himself about? Araminta had definitely ceased interesting herself in his bearing toward widows. By the way, would it be prudent to call her back that she might resume her guardianship?
Would he buy a couple? Yes; of course; half a dozen; not for his own use, since a very recent sad bereavement would preclude the possibility of his appearing at a ball for some time to come, but so worthy an object should not suffer on that account. Then he had to explain his bereavement to Mrs. Poppetts, who had not before heard of it - or at least said she had not - and was quite sympathetic and perhaps just a little more gracious in her manner.
That afternoon the collector of the "Christian Zoological Mission and Cats' Home" called at Mr. Blodgett's store to get the check for which Araminta, as one of her latest acts in life, had made her husband responsible. He got it, of course, but when he expressed the hope that he might be permitted to substitute the honored name of Mr. John Blodgett instead of that of his sainted wife in the list of patrons of that noble institution, the old merchant said emphatically:
"No, sir. Inscribe upon your ledger, under the entry of the check I have just given you, 'vein worked out.' The money I can spare for charity hereafter will go to relieve human misery, not to breed cats."
He would never have dared to talk so while Araminta was alive, even though he had always been of that way of thinking, and he knew it. Would it be well to call Araminta back and revive her excessive interest in cats?
His lawyer, whom he had sent for on some business, came in soon after the "Cats' Home" collector departed, and when the subject matter of his call had been disposed of, Mr. Blodgett said:
"I have something else to consult you about, Mr. Drummond; something on which I want your advice. It is not a legal matter, but it is your business to supply advice, and I may say, without meaning to flatter you, that yours is the only advice I solicit. It is as a man rather than as a lawyer that I want you to consider what I am about to lay before you."
"I do not think my advice is worth much outside my profession," replied Mr. Drummond smilingly: "At all events it has no market value beyond that limit; but the best I have to offer is certainly at the service of my old friend, and so, go ahead and state your case."
Thereupon, Mr. Blodgett told all about Mr. Flitters' idea of calling Araminta back from the summer-land, his consent - already half-regretted - thereto, and in conclusion said:
"And now I want you to tell me, first, whether you think it practicable to recall Araminta second, if from your point of view you would deem it right to try to do so; third, if on general principles you imagine it would be a judicious thing."
"Replying categorically, I should say, first, it is not practicable; second, the attempt would be wrong and harmful in proportion to its semblance of success; third, since it is impracticable, its judiciousness is not a question for consideration. I do not doubt the sincerity of many who profess belief in return of the disembodied soul to earth-life at the summons of a 'medium.' They are kind-hearted, emotional persons whose affection is stronger than their reason. Suffering under the cruel severance death makes in earthly ties, their wishes lead them to hope, and hope to belief, that they may re-establish communication with their loved and lost. That the purposeful direction of their desire and will does enable a certain breaking-down of the barrier between the seen and the unseen worlds is undeniable. They unquestionably succeed in putting themselves in communication with conscious and intelligent entities upon another plane of existence. But those entities are not, as they believe, the spirits of the dead, but elemental beings who fill the astral world about us. They are incognizable to us under ordinary conditions, just as the electric fluid in the charged Leyden jar is imperceptible to our senses until we establish the proper conditions for receiving its shock. The medium's sensitive nervous organization and passive will are the wire that brings about connection between humanity and the elemental forces in the Leyden jar of the astral plane. Of course I am speaking now of genuine 'mediums,' not of the charlatans and clever tricksters who masquerade as such, and are vastly in the majority, or of those who are simply hypnotees unconsciously influenced by stronger wills and honestly self-deluded as to their connection with the unseen world.
"The character of the elementals is colored by the human influences with which they are brought in contact. The astral element they inhabit is the treasury in which is stored the infallible record of every thought, word, and deed of humanity since mundane time began, and the character impressed by such influences can scarcely be expected to be angelic. In point of fact, the elementals are - as a rule - cunning, treacherous, and malicious, truly 'evil spirits.' From the ample knowledge at their command they readily personate any one called for from the imaginary 'summer-land,' and delight in such masquerading. They may confine themselves to demonstrating knowledge of the habits, antecedents, interests, friends, etc. of the dead, all, in short, that to the non-analytic mind would be ample proof of identity short of visible manifestation; or, where the medium's astral personality is susceptible of being drawn upon for the purpose, may even materialize to sight and touch. In no case, however, is the angelic visitor from the 'summer-land' anything but a masquerading elemental, except in rare instances where there has been sudden and violent privation of mundane existence, or, perhaps, purposeful antagonism - at a certain moment - of an abnormally strong will against the change of condition we call death. Those exceptional cases need not, however, be discussed now, as they are apart from the present case."
"It does not seem to me, Drummond, that I have ever heard those views put forth in Christian teachings."
"No, they are Theosophic."
"Oh! Ah! Theosophy, Eh? I read an editorial about that in the Daily Record the other day, declaring there was nothing in it. Did you see the article?"
"Yes. It was simply the hydrocephalic child of an incestuous connection between Bigotry and Ignorance. I have seen many such. They are always written by men who do not know the first principles of the philosophy they presume to condemn, and who deem it their interest to pander to the hate Christianity cultivates in its devotees toward all religion based upon reason rather than faith."
"Well; what would you advise me to do? Flitters is to bring around tonight his medium, a Mrs. Husslewell."
"I have heard of her. My impression is that she is an honest woman, completely under the control of the elementals, and also very easily hypnotised. She is said to be an epileptic, and probably is, as epileptics make the best mediums. I think I can help you."
Before the lawyer took his departure, Mr. Blodgett's line of action had been clearly laid out for him, and, his combativeness having been awakened, he was even eager to have "a round with the summerlanders." On the way home he bought a couple of canary birds, warranted loud singers. His wife had never allowed any birds in the house, as their singing made her nervous, and he, though he liked to hear them, did not feel that it was worth while opposing her. "But now," he said to himself, "I can do as I please, and when I hear their voices it will remind me she is not around, for - Araminta's not going to he called back."
At so late an hour that Mr. Blodgett, Miss Hodson, and Mrs. Merwin had almost abandoned hope of their coming, Mr. Flitters arrived with Mrs. Husslewell and a couple of faithful followers - a man and a woman - whose duty was, as it subsequently appeared, to dolorously sing lugubrious songs and hymns for the invoking of the spirits. The medium was a short, fat woman, who walked waddlingly, and over whose flabby tissues a pale, watery-looking skin seemed to be stretched tightly. Her manners were shy, and an expression of weariness, mingled with a little anxiety, appeared in her soft brown eyes. A circle was formed under Mr. Flitters' direction about a large table in the parlor, and Mr. Drummond, who arrived at this juncture, was given a place among the others. Lights were turned out, and the two singers struck up a spiritualistic hymn tune so depressing that it needed nothing but an accordeon accompaniment to have been too much for human endurance. Miss Hodson and Mr. Flitters made little ineffective vocal clutches now and then after the thread of saddening sound. But the spirits came around with an alacrity betokening a liking for that sort of thing. "Spirit hands" administered gentle taps and pinches; books flew to the table from distant parts of the room; and minute sparks of light appeared. A gruff-voiced spirit, saluting the company with a "How!" and announcing himself as De-ja-non-da-wa-ha, or some such name, said he was once a big warrior, took scalps and loved fire-water, but had learned to like the pale-faces, of whom he had met many in the summer land. Then a spirit, speaking in a female voice, talked sentimentally of the sweetness and beauty of life in the summer-land, and, being asked who she was, replied that she was known on earth as Elizabeth, daughter of King Henry VIII of England. Mr. Blodgett, who was much astonished, wanted to converse with her a little, but she was shoved aside by a spirit who called himself ''Sambo," chattered nonsense in a negro dialect, and laughed loudly "Yah! Yah! Yah!" After that, the spirits seemed to be fairly tumbling over each other in their eagerness to be heard, but none had anything particular to say when they successively got the floor, and Mr. Biolgett observed that, whether by reason of the etiquette among them or for some other cause, only one at a time spoke.
When the lights were turned on again for a brief intermission, the medium appeared to be much exhausted and very thirsty. Mr. Flitters was jubilant. Never, he said, had he participated in a more satisfactory seance, one in which the conditions were more perfect or the results more overwhelmingly convincing. Mr. Blodgett seemed stunned. He had never witnessed such things before, and they astounded him. While the medium rested, Mr. Flitters and the male vocalist extemporized a sort of cabinet in one corner of the parlor, by draping a curtain across it between two picture frames. On a chair in that seclusion Mrs. Husslewell seated herself. One gas-jet was turned down to a point, and all other lights were extinguished. The preparations were complete for the main event of the evening, to which all that had gone before was mere preliminary, - the calling back of Araminta from the summer-land.
Again the singers grieved the sense of hearing. Upon the cessation of their lamentable wails ensued a long period of profound and impressive silence.
"Oh! Dear! I do feel so nervous!" exclaimed Miss Hodson, with a feeble giggle.
"Ssh!" said Mr. Flitters, in a low tone of reproof, adding to the singers, "Another song, please."
Once more they smote with pain the auditory nerves of the company, but ere they had massacred more than the first verse of their song, the cruel invocation seemed to have had its effect and they ceased.
A patch of semi-luminous fog could be seen gathering into the vague outlines of a human form, near the curtain. Momentarily it gained in distinctness. It became a tall, thin woman, diaphanous but clear, and steadily increasing in solidity. A veil seemed to cover its until all the figure was plainly perceptible. Then the veil instantly melted away and the features were revealed; those of Araminta Blodgett, beyond possibility of question. The five persons present who had known her in life recognized her perfectly, as their affrighted exclamations, unconsciously uttered, attested. Mr. Blodgett trembled with excitement as if he had an ague, and he was unaware of Mr. Drummond's clutch upon his arm until that cool-headed friend gave him a violent shake which recalled his self-control and reason.
"Do you not know me, John?" - stole from the lips of the Presence in a faint but penetrating whisper that seemed to chill the blood of those who heard it.
But John was under orders now, combining all his will-force with that of his friend in a determined effort for domination over the masquerading entity presenting itself in the dead woman's semblance.
"I will tell you when I see you better," he replied.
Manifestly conscious of the pressure their combined will was bringing to bear, the Presence sought to escape by vanishing, but they were strong enough to prevent its doing so, to hold it in the phase of materiality it had assumed, until it should be conquered and compelled to revelation. Again and again it faded in part and each time returned to sight as clearly as before, but in each return it underwent a change. Gradually its height diminished and its bulk increased; its thin, strongly-marked features filled out and changed: until at length it stood plainly revealed, the astral form of the medium, altered only from her ordinary fleshly personality in the expression of mingled terror and rage that replaced the accustomed weakness of her fat face.
Exclamations of astonishment and indignation burst from the lips of all who witnessed the transformation, except the two men who had compelled it. Even Mr. Flitters, who with all his credulity was thoroughly honest, cried out almost in agony:
"What a shameful deceit!"
"Stop!" commanded Mr. Drummond. "Understand fully before you condemn."
Even as he spoke, he tore down the curtain, and Mr. Blodgett at the same instant touching an electric button, the parlor was flooded with light, in which the astral Presence instantaneously vanished. But everyone saw that Mrs. Husslewell's corporeality was innocent of participation in the trick. She was sitting on the chair, in a deep trance, from which she passed immediately into horrifying epileptic convulsions.
"What's the matter with you?" demanded Mr. Blodgett of his friend the lawyer, drawing him aside, while the others were lending what aid they could to the unfortunate medium. "You are as pale as a ghost!"
"No wonder. I have just realized that we took a terrible risk of killing that wretched woman by driving away the elemental who had her astral body in control, and leaving it to find its way back by chance to its corporeal environment, - which you see it has not done easily."
"Drummond, you bewilder and appall me by these hideous glimpses of ghastly possibilities in a labyrinth of unknowable things. I shall meddle with them no more, for I assure you that, so far as I am concerned, there will he no more attempts at calling Araminta back."
Last Update : January