Ritual by Joseph
From The Century
I. THE ROCK OF AGES
The entire pretension is so ridiculous that it is difficult to
credit the extent of its acceptance. I don't mean McGeorge's story, but
the whole sweep of spiritism. It ought to be unnecessary to point out
the puerility of the evidencethe absurd babble advanced as the speech
of wise men submerged in the silent consummation of death, the penny
tricks with bells and banjos, the circus-like tables and
anthropomorphic Edens. Yet, so far as the phrase goes, there is
something in it; but whatever that is, lies in demonstrable science,
the investigations of the subconscious by Freud and Jung.
McGeorge himself, a reporter with a sufficient education in the
actual, tried to repeat impartially, with the vain illusion of an open
mind, what he had been told; but it was clear that his power of
reasoning had been disarranged. We were sitting in the Italian
restaurant near his paper to which he had conducted me, and he was
inordinately troubled by flies. A small, dark man, he was never without
a cigarette; he had always been nervous, but I had no memory of such
uneasiness as he now exhibited.
It's rather dreadful, he said, gazing at me for an instant, and
then shifting his glance about the white plaster walls and small flock
of tables, deserted at that hour. I mean this thing of not really
dyinghanging about in the wind, in space. I used to have a natural
dread of death; but now I'm afraid ofof keeping on. When you think of
it, a grave's quite a pleasant place. It's restful. This other He
broke off, but not to eat.
My editor, he began anew, apparently at a tangent, wouldn't
consider it. I was glad. I'd like to forget it, go back. There might be
a story for you.
Whatever he had heard in connection with the Meeker circle, I
assured him, would offer me nothing; I didn't write that sort of thing.
You'd appreciate Lizzie Tuoey, he asserted.
McGeorge had been sent to the Meeker house to unearth what he could
about the death of Mrs. Kraemer. He described vividly the location,
which provided the sole interest to an end admitted normal in its main
features. It was, he said, one of those vitrified wildernesses of brick
that have given the city the name of a place of homes; dreadful.
Amazing in extent, it was without a single feature to vary the monotony
of two-storied dwellings cut into exact parallelograms by paved
streets; there was a perspective of continuous façades and unbroken tin
roofs in every direction, with a grocery or drug-store and an
occasional saloon at the corners, and beyond the sullen red steeple of
Dusk was gathering when McGeorge reached the Meekers. It was August,
and the sun had blazed throughout the day, with the parching heat; the
smell of brick dust and scorched tin was hideous. His word. There was,
too, a faint metallic clangor in the air. He knew that it came from the
surface-cars, yet he could not rid himself of the thought of iron
He had, of course, heard of the Meekers before. So had I, for that
matter. A crack-brained professor had written a laborious, fantastic
book about their mediumship and power of communication with the other
world. They sat together as a family: the elder Meekers; the wife's
sister; a boy, Albert, of fourteen; Ena, close to twenty; and Jannie, a
girl seventeen years old and the medium proper. Jannie's familiar
spirit was called Stepan. He had, it seemed, lived and died in the
reign of Peter the Great; yet he was still actual, but unmaterialized,
and extremely anxious to reassure every one through Jannie of the
supernal happiness of the beyond. What messages I read, glancing over
hysterical pages, gave me singularly little comfort, with the possible
exception of the statement that there were cigars; good cigars Stepan,
or Jannie, explained, such as on earth cost three for a quarter.
However, most of what McGeorge told me directly concerned Lizzie
Tuoey. The Meekers he couldn't see at all. They remained in an
undiscovered part of the housethere was a strong reek of frying
onions from the kitchenand delegated the servant as their link with
the curious or respectful or impertinent world.
Lizzie admitted him to the parlor, where, she informed him, the
sittings took place. There wasn't much furniture beyond a plain, heavy
table, an array of stiff chairs thrust back against the walls, and on a
mantel a highly painted miniature Rock of Ages, with a white-clad
figure clinging to it, washed with a poisonous green wave, all inclosed
in a glass bell. At the rear was a heavy curtain that, he found,
covered the entrance to a smaller room.
Lizzie was a stout, cheerful person, with the ready sympathies and
superstitions of the primitive mind of the south of Ireland. She was in
a maze of excitement, and his difficulty was not to get her to talk,
but to arrest her incoherent flood of invocations, saints' names, and
Her duties at the Meekers had been various; one of them was the
playing of mechanical music in the back room at certain opportune
moments. She said that Stepan particularly requested it; the low
strains made it easier for him to speak to the dear folks on this side.
It couldn't compare, though, Stepan had added, with the music beyond;
and why should it, Lizzie had commented, and all the blessed saints
bursting their throats with tunes! She swore, however, that she had had
no part in the ringing of the bells or the knocks and jumps the table
She had no explanation for the latter other than the conviction that
the dear God had little, if any, part in it. Rather her choice of an
agent inclined to the devil. Things happened, she affirmed, that
tightened her head like a kettle. The cries and groaning from the
parlor during a sitting would blast the soul of you. It was nothing at
all for a stranger to faint away cold. The light would then be turned
up, and water dashed on the unconscious face.
She insisted, McGeorge particularized, that the Meekers took no
money for their sittings. At times some grateful person would press a
sum on them; a woman had given two hundred and seventy dollars after a
conversation with her nephew, dead, as the world called it, twelve
years. All the Meekers worked but Jannie; she was spared every
annoyance possible, and lay in bed till noon. At the suggestion of
Stepan, she made the most unexpected demands. Stepan liked pink silk
stockings. He begged her to eat a candy called Turkish paste. He
recommended a teeny glass of Benedictine, a bottle of which was kept
ready. He told her to pinch her flesh black to showLizzie Tuoey
Jannie was always dragged out with a face the color of wet laundry
soap. She had crying fits; at times her voice would change, and she'd
speak a gibberish that Mr. Meeker declared was Russian; and after a
trance she would eat for six. There was nothing about the senior Meeker
Lizzie could describe, but she disliked Mrs. Meeker intensely. She made
the preposterous statement that the woman could see through the blank
walls of the house. Ena was pale, but pretty, despite dark smudges
under her eyes; she sat up very late with boys or else sulked by
herself. Albert had a big grinning head on him, and ate flies. Lizzie
had often seen him at it. He spent hours against the panes of glass and
outside the kitchen door.
It wasn't what you could name gay at the Meekers, and, indeed, it
hadn't been necessary for the priest to insist on the girl finding
another place; she had decided that independently after she had been
there less than a month. Then Mrs. Kraemer had died during a sitting.
She would be off, she told McGeorge, the first of the week.
The latter, whose interest at the beginning had been commendably
penetrating, asked about Mrs. Meeker's sister; but he discovered
nothing more than thatLizzie Tuoey allowed for a hereticshe was
religious. They were all serious about the spiritism, and believed
absolutely in Jannie and Stepan, in the messages, the voices and shades
that they evoked.
However, questioned directly about Mrs. Kraemer's presence at a
sitting, the servant's ready flow of comment and explanation abruptly
dwindled to the meager invocation of holy names. It was evidently a
business with which she wanted little dealing, even with Mrs. Kraemer
safely absent, and with no suspicion of criminal irregularity.
The reporting of that occurrence gave a sufficiently clear
impression of the dead woman. She was the relict of August, a
naturalized American citizen born in Salzburg, and whose estate, a
comfortable aggregate of more than two millions, came partly from
hop-fields in his native locality. There was one child, a son past
twenty, not the usual inept offspring of late-acquired wealth, but a
vigorously administrative youth who spent half the year in charge of
the family investment in Germany. At the beginning of the Great War the
inevitable overtook the Salzburg industry; its financial resources were
acquired by the Imperial Government, and young Kraemer, then abroad,
was urged into the German Army.
McGeorge, with a great deal of trouble, extracted some additional
angles of insight on Mrs. Kraemer from the reluctant Lizzie.
She was an impressive figure of a lady in fine lavender muslin
ruffles, a small hat, blazing diamonds, and a hook in her nose, but
Roman and not Jew. A bullying voice and a respectful chauffeur in a
glittering car completed the picture. She had nothing favorable to say
for the location of the Meeker house; indeed, she complained pretty
generally, in her loud, assertive tones, about the inefficiency of city
administration in America, but she held out hopes of improvement in the
near future. She grew impatiently mysterioushints were not her
habitin regard to the good shortly to enfold the entire earth. Lizzie
gathered somehow that this was bound up with her son, now an officer in
a smart Uhlan regiment.
A man of Mrs. Kraemer's type, and the analogy is far closer than
common, would never have come to the Meekers for a message from a son
warring in the north of France. It is by such lapses that women with
the greatest show of logic prove the persistent domination of the
earliest emotional instincts. After all, Lizzie Tuoey and Mrs. Kraemer
were far more alike than any two such apparently dissimilar men.
At this point McGeorge was lost in the irrelevancy of Lizzie's mind.
She made a random statement about Mrs. Meeker's sister and a neighbor,
and returned to the uncertain quality of Jannie's temper and the
limitations of a medium. It seemed that Jannie was unable to direct
successful sittings without a day between for the recuperation of her
power. It used her up something fierce. Stepan as well, too often
recalled from the joys of the beyond, the cigars of the aroma of three
for a quarter, grew fretful; either he refused to answer or played
tricks, such as an unexpected sharp thrust in Albert's ribs, or a
knocked message of satirical import, My! wouldn't you just like to
McGeorge had given up the effort to direct the conversation; rather
than go away with virtually nothing gained, he decided to let the
remarks take what way they would. In this he was wise, for the girl's
sense of importance, her normal pressing necessity for speech,
gradually submerged her fearful determination to avoid any contact with
an affair so plainly smelling of brimstone. She returned to Miss
Brasher, the sister, and her neighbor.
The latter was Mrs. Doothnack, and, like Mrs. Kraemer, she had a son
fighting in the north of France. There, however, the obvious similitude
ended; Edwin Doothnack served a machine-gun of the American
Expeditionary Forces, while his mother was as poor and retiring as the
other woman was dogmatic and rich. Miss Brasher brought her early in
the evening to the Meekers, a little person with the blurred eyes of
recent heavy crying, excessively polite to Lizzie Tuoey. Naturally,
this did nothing to increase the servant's good opinion of her.
The sister soon explained the purpose of their visit: Edwin, whose
regiment had occupied a sacrifice position, was missing. There his
mother timidly took up the recital. The Meekers were at supper, and
Lizzie, in and out of the kitchen, heard most of the developments. When
the report about Edwin had arrived, Mrs. Doothnack's friends were
reassuring; he would turn up again at his regiment, or else he had been
taken prisoner; in which case German camps, although admittedly bad,
were as safe as the trenches. She had been intensely grateful for their
good will, and obediently set herself to the acceptance of their
optimism, whenit was eleven nights now to the dayshe had been
suddenly wakened by Edwin's voice.
O God! Edwin had cried, thin, but distinct, in a tone of exhausted
sufferingO God! and Mummer! his special term for Mrs. Doothnack.
At that, she declared, with straining hands, she knew that Edwin was
Miss Brasher then begged darling Jannie to summon Stepan and
discover the truth at the back of Mrs. Doothnack's message and
conviction. If, indeed, Edwin had passed over, it was their Christian
duty to reassure his mother about his present happiness, and the
endless future together that awaited all loved and loving ones. Jannie
said positively that she wouldn't consider it. A sitting had been
arranged for Mrs. Kraemer to-morrow, so that she, without other means,
might get some tidings of the younger August.
Mrs. Doothnack rose at once with a murmured apology for disturbing
them, but Miss Brasher was more persistent. She had the determination
of her virginal fanaticism, and of course she was better acquainted
with Jannie. Lizzie wasn't certain, but she thought that Miss Brasher
had money, though nothing approaching Mrs. Kraemer; probably a small,
Anyhow, Jannie got into a temper, and said that they all had no love
for her, nobody cared what happened so long as they had their precious
messages. Stepan would be cross, too. At this Albert hastily declared
that he would be out that evening; he had been promised
moving-pictures. That old Stepan would be sure to bust his bones in.
Jannie then dissolved into tears, and cried that they were insulting
her dear Stepan, who lived in heaven. Albert added his wails to the
commotion, Mrs. Doothnack sobbed from pure nervousness and
embarrassment, and only Miss Brasher remained unmoved and insistent.
The result of this disturbance was that they agreed to try a
tentative sitting. Stepping out into the kitchen, Mrs. Meeker told
Lizzie that she needn't bother to play the music that evening.
Here the latter, with a sudden confidence in McGeorge's charitable
knowledge of life, admitted that Jannie's bottle of Benedictine was
kept in a closet in the room behind the one where the sittings were
held. The Meekers had disposed themselves about the table, the circle
locked by their hands placed on adjoining knees, with Jannie at the
head and Mrs. Doothnack beyond. The servant, in the inner room for a
purpose which she had made crystal clear, could just distinguish them
in a dim, red-shaded light through the opening of the curtain.
By this time familiarity with the proceeding had bred its
indifference, and Lizzie lingered at the closet. The knocks that
announced Stepan's presence were a long time in coming; then there came
an angry banging and a choked cry from Albert. The table plainly rocked
and rose from the floor, and Jannie asked in the flat voice of the
Is Edwin there? Here's his mother wanting to speak to him.
The reply, knocked out apparently on the wood mantel, and repeated
for the benefit of the visitor, said that those who had won to the
higher life couldn't be treated as a mere telephone exchange. Besides
which, a party was then in progress, and Stepan was keeping waiting
Isabella, consort of King Ferdinand, a lady who would not be put off.
This business about Edwin must keep. Miss Brasher said in a firm voice:
His mother is much distressed and prays for him to speak.
The answer rattled off was not interpreted, but Lizzie gathered that
it was extremely personal and addressed to Miss Brasher. There was a
silence after that, and then the table rose to a perceptible height and
crashed back to the floor. In the startling pause which followed a
voice, entirely different from any that had spoken, cried clear and
This frightened Lizzie to such an extent that she fled to the
familiar propriety of the kitchen; but before she was out of hearing,
Mrs. Doothnack screamed, Edwin!
Nothing else happened. The firm Miss Brasher and her neighbor
departed immediately. Jannie, however looked a wreck, and cold towels
and Benedictine were liberally applied. She sobbed hysterically, and
wished that she were just a plain girl without a call. Further, she
declared that nothing could induce her to proceed with the sitting for
Mrs. Kraemer to-morrow. Stepan, before returning to Isabella of
Castile, had advised her against it. With such droves of soldiers
coming over, it was more and more difficult to control individual
spirits. Things in the beyond were in a frightful mess. They might see
something that would scare them out of their wits.
Mrs. Meeker, with a share of her sister's aplomb, said that she
guessed they could put up with a little scaring in the interest of Mrs.
August Kraemer. She was sick of doing favors for people like Agnes's
friend, and made it clear that she desired genteel associates both in
the here and the hereafter. Jannie's face began to twitch in a manner
common to it, and her eyes grew glassy. At times, Lizzie explained, she
would fall right down as stiff as a board, and they would have to put
her on the lounge till she recovered. Her sentimental reading of
Jannie's present seizure was that she was jealous of Ferdinand's wife.
Not yet, even, McGeorge confessed, did he see any connection between
the humble little Mrs. Doothnack and Mrs. Kraemer, in her fine lavender
and diamonds. He continued putting the queries almost at random to
Lizzie Tuoey, noting carelessly, as if they held nothing of the body of
his business, her replies. While the amazing fact was that, quite aside
from his subsequent credulity or any reasonable skepticism, the two
presented the most complete possible unity of causation and climax. As
a story, beyond which I have no interest, together they are admirable.
They were enveloped, too, in the consistency of mood loosely called
atmosphere; that is, all the details of their surrounding combined to
color the attentive mind with morbid shadows.
It was purely on Lizzie Tuoey's evidence that McGeorge's conversion
to such ridiculous claims rested. She was not capable of invention, he
pointed out, and continued that no one could make up details such as
that, finally, of the Rock of Ages. The irony was too biting and
inevitable. Her manner alone put what she related beyond dispute.
On the contrary, I insisted, it was just such minds as Lizzie's that
could credit in a flash of lightprobably a calcium flareunnatural
soldiers, spooks of any kind. Her simple pictorial belief readily
accepted the entire possibility of visions and wonders.
I could agree or not, he proceeded wearily; it was of small moment.
The fate waited for all men. The fate of living, he declared, the
curse of eternity. You can't stop. Eternity, he repeated, with an
Stepan seemed to find compensations, I reminded him.
If you are so damned certain about the Tuoey woman, he cried,
what have you got to say about Mrs. Kraemer's death? You can't dismiss
her as a hysterical idiot. People like her don't just die.
A blood clot. His febrile excitement had grown into anger, and I
suppressed further doubts.
He lighted a cigarette. The preparations for Mrs. Kraemer's
reception and the sitting, he resumed, were elaborate. Mr. Meeker
lubricated the talking-machine till its disk turned without a trace of
the mechanism. A new recordit had cost a dollar and a half and was by
a celebrated violinistwas fixed, and a halftone semi-permanent needle
selected. Lizzie was to start this after the first storm of knocking,
or any preliminary jocularity of Stepan's, had subsided.
Jannie had on new pink silk stockings and white kid slippers. Her
head had been marcelled special, and she was so nervous that she tore
three hair-nets. At this she wept, and stamped her foot, breaking a
bottle of expensive scent.
When Mrs. Kraemer's motor stopped at the door, Lizzie went forward,
and Mrs. Meeker floated down the stairs.
Stopping him sharply, I demanded a repetition of the latter phrase.
It was Lizzie's. McGeorge, too, had expressed surprise, and the girl
repeated it. Mrs. Meeker, she declared, often floated. One evening
she had seen Mrs. Meeker leave the top story by a window and stay
suspended over the bricks twenty feet below.
Mrs. Kraemer entered the small hall like a keen rush of wind; her
manner was determined, an impatience half checked by interest in what
might follow. She listened with a short nod to Mr. Meeker's
dissertation on the necessity of concord in all the assembled wills.
The spirit world must be approached reverently, with trust and
thankfulness for whatever might be vouchsafed.
The light in the front room, a single gas-burner, was lowered, and
covered by the inevitable red-paper hood, and the circle formed. Lizzie
was washing dishes, but the kitchen door was open, so that she could
hear the knocks that were the signal for the music. They were even
longer coming than on the night before, and she made up her mind that
Stepan had declared a holiday from the responsibilities of a control.
At last there was a faint vibration, and she went cautiously into the
dark space behind the circle. The curtains had always hung improperly,
and she could see a dim red streak of light.
The knocks at best were not loud; several times when she was about
to start the record they began again inconclusively. Stepan finally
communicated that he was exhausted. Some one was being cruel to him.
Could it be Jannie? There was a sobbing gasp from the latter. Mrs.
Kraemer's voice was like ice-water; she wanted some word from August,
her son. She followed the name with the designation of his rank and
regiment. And proud of it, too, Lizzie added; you might have taken from
her manner that she was one of us. Her version of Mrs. Kraemer's
description sounded as though August were an ewe-lamb. McGeorge,
besotted in superstition, missed this.
Independently determining that the moment for music had come, Lizzie
pressed forward the lever and carefully lowered the lid. The soft
strains of the violin, heard through the drawn curtains, must have
sounded illusively soothing and impressive.
Stepan, Jannie implored, tell August's mamma about him, so far
away amid shot and shell.
Who is my mother? Stepan replied, with a mystical and borrowed
August, are you there? Mrs. Kraemer demanded. Can you hear me?
Are you well?
I'm deaf from the uproar, Stepan said faintly. Men in a green
gas. He is trying to reach me; something is keeping him back.
August's alive! Mrs. Kraemer's exclamation was in German, but
Lizzie understood that she was thanking God.
Hundreds are passing over, Stepan continued. I can't hear his
voice, but there are medals. He's gone again in smoke. The other
The communication halted abruptly, and in the silence which followed
Lizzie stopped the talking-machine, the record at an end.
It was then that the blaze of light occurred which made her think
the paper shade had caught fire and that the house would burn down. She
dragged back the curtain.
McGeorge refused to meet my interrogation, but sat with his gaze
fastened on his plate of unconsumed gray macaroni. After a little I
asked impatiently what the girl thought she had seen.
After an inattentive silence McGeorge asked me, idiotically I
thought, if I had ever noticed the game, the hares and drawn fish,
sometimes frozen into a clear block of ice and used as an attraction by
provision stores. I had, I admitted, although I could see no connection
between that and the present inquiry.
It was, however, his description of the column of light Lizzie Tuoey
saw over against the mantel, a shining white shroud through which the
crudely painted Rock of Ages was visible, insulated in the glass bell.
Oh, yes, there was a soldier, but in the uniform that might be seen
passing the Meekers any hour of the day, and unnaturally hanging in a
traditional and very highly sanctified manner. The room was filled with
a coldness that made Lizzie's flesh crawl. It was as bright as noon;
the circle about the table was rigid, as if it had been frozen into
immobility, while Jannie's breathing was audible and hoarse.
Mrs. Kraemer stood wrung with horror, a shaking hand sparkling with
diamonds raised to her face. It was a lie, she cried in shrill,
penetrating tones. August couldn't do such a thing. Kill him quickly!
The other voice was faint, McGeorge said, hardly more than a sigh;
but Lizzie Tuoey had heard it before. She asserted that there was no
chance for a mistake.
O God! it breathed. Mummer!
This much is indisputable, that Mrs. Kraemer died convulsively in
the Meeker hall. Beyond that I am congenitally incapable of belief. I
asked McGeorge directly if it was his contention that, through Stepan's
blunder, the unfortunate imperialistic lady, favored with a vignette of
modern organized barbarity, had seen Mrs. Doothnack's son in place of
He didn't, evidently, think this worth a reply. McGeorge was again
lost in his consuming dread of perpetual being.
II. THE GREEN EMOTION
Virtually buried in a raft of ethical tracts of the Middle Kingdom,
all more or less repetitions of Lao-tsze's insistence on heaven's quiet
way, I ignored the sounding of the telephone; but its continuous burI
had had the bell removedtriumphed over my absorption, and I answered
curtly. It was McGeorge. His name, in addition to the fact that it
constituted an annoying interruption, recalled principally that, caught
in the stagnant marsh of spiritism, he had related an absurd
fabrication in connection with the Meeker circle and the death of Mrs.
Our acquaintance had been long, but slight. He had never attempted
to see me at my rooms, and for this reason onlythat his unusual visit
might have a corresponding pressing causeI directed Miss Maynall, at
the telephone exchange, to send him up. Five minutes later, however, I
regretted that I had not instinctively refused to see him. It was then
evident that there was no special reason for his call. It was
inconceivable that any one with the least knowledge of my prejudices
and opinions would attempt to be merely social, and McGeorge was not
without both the rudiments of breeding and good sense.
At least such had been my impression of him in the past, before he
had come in contact with the Meekers. Gazing at him, I saw that a
different McGeorge was evident, different even from when I had seen him
at the Italian restaurant where he had been so oppressed by the fear
not of death, but of life. In the first place, he was fatter and less
nervous, he was wearing one of those unforgivable soft black ties with
flowing ends, and he had changed from Virginia cigarettes to Turkish.
A silence had lengthened into embarrassment, in which I was
combating a native irritability with the placid philosophical
acceptance of the unstirred Tao, when he asked suddenly:
Did you know I was married? I admitted that this information had
eluded me, when he added in the fatuous manner of such victims of a
purely automatic process, To Miss Ena Meeker that was.
I asked if he had joined the family circle in the special sense, but
he said not yet; he wasn't worthy. Then I realized that there was a
valid reason for his presence, but, unfortunately, it operated slowly
with him; he had to have a satisfactory audience for the astounding
good fortune he had managed. He wanted to talk, and McGeorge, I
recalled, had been a man without intimates or family in the city.
Almost uncannily, as if in answer to my thought, he proceeded:
I'm here because you have a considerable brain and, to a certain
extent, a courageous attitude. You are all that and yet you won't
recognize the truth about the beyond, the precious world of spirits.
However, I indicated in another sense that I wasn't material for any
propaganda of hysterical and subnormal seances. His being grew inflated
with the condescending pity of dogmatic superstition for logic.
Many professors and men of science are with us, and I am anxious,
in your own interest, for you to see the light. I've already admitted
that you would be valuable. You can't accuse me of being mercenary. I
couldn't. I must tell you, he actually cried out, in sudden surrender
to the tyrannical necessity of self-revelation. My marriage to Ena was
marvelous, marvelous, a true wedding of souls. Mr. Meeker, he added in
a different, explanatory manner, like all careful fathers, is not
unconscious of the need, here on earth, of a portion of worldly goods.
For a while, and quite naturally, he was opposed to our union.
There was a Wallace Esselmann. A perceptible caution overtook him,
but which, with a gesture, he evidently discarded. But I ought to
explain how I met the Meekers. I called. I expressed a surprise, which
he solemnly misread. It became necessary for me to tell them of my
admiration and belief, he proceeded.
I saw Mrs. Meeker and Ena in the front room where the sittings are
held. Mrs. Meeker sat straight up, with her hands folded; but Ena was
enchanting. He paused, lost in the visualization of the enchantment.
All sweet curves and round ankles and little feet. Then he
unexpectedly made a very profound remark: I think pale girls are more
disturbing than red cheeks. They've always been for me, anyway. Ena was
the most disturbing thing in the world.
Here, where I might have been expected to lose my patience
disastrously, a flicker of interest appeared in McGeorge and his
connection with the Meekers. A normal, sentimental recital would, of
course, be insupportable; but McGeorge, I realized, lacked the
coördination of instincts and faculties which constitutes the healthy
state he had called, by implication, stupid. The abnormal often permits
extraordinary glimpses of the human machine, ordinarily a sealed and
impenetrable mystery. Hysteria has illuminated many of the deep
emotions and incentives, and McGeorge, sitting lost in a quivering
inner delight, had the significant symptoms of that disturbance.
He may, I thought, exhibit some of the primitive complex
sensitiveness of old taboos, and furnish an illustration, for a
commentary on the sacred Kings, of the physical base of religious
An ordinary prospective mother-in-law, said McGeorge, is hard
enough, but Mrs. Meeker He made a motion descriptive of his state
of mind in the Decker parlor. Eyes like ice, he continued; and I
could see that I hadn't knocked her over with admiration. Ena got mad
soon, and made faces at her mother when she wasn't looking, just as if
she were a common girl. It touched me tremendously. ThenI had looked
down at the carpet for a momentMrs. Meeker had gone, without a sound,
in a flash. It was a good eight feet to the door and around a table.
Space and time are nothing to her.
Silence again enveloped him; he might have been thinking of the
spiritistic triumphs of Mrs. Meeker or of Ena with her sweet curves.
Whatever might be said of the latter, it was clear that she was no
prude. McGeorge drew a deep breath; it was the only expression of his
It was quite a strain, he admitted presently. I called as often
as possible and a little oftener. The reception, except for dear Ena,
was not prodigal. Once they were having a sitting, and I went back to
the kitchen. Of course Lizzie Tuoey, their former servant, was no more,
and they had an ashy-black African woman. Some one was sobbing in the
front roomthe terrible sobs of a suffocating grief. There was a
voice, too, a man's, but muffled, so that I couldn't make out any
words. That died away, and the thin, bright tones of a child followed;
then a storm of knocking, and blowing on a tin trumpet.
A very successful sitting. I saw Jannie directly afterward, and the
heroic young medium was positively livid from exhaustion. She had a
shot of Benedictine and then another, and Mr. Meeker half carried her
up to bed. I stayed in the kitchen till the confusion was over, and
Albert came out and was pointedly rude. If you want to know what's
thought of you in a house, watch the young.
Ena was flighty, too; it irritated her to have me close byhighly
strung. She cried for no reason at all and bit her finger-nails to
shreds. There was a fine platinum chain about her neck, with a diamond
pendant, I had never seen before, and for a long while she wouldn't
tell me where it had come from. The name, Wallace Esselmann, finally
emerged from her hints and evasions. He was young and rich, he had a
waxed mustache, and the favor of the Meekers generally.
Have you ever been jealous? McGeorge asked abruptly. Not in the
degree he indicated, I replied; however, I comprehended something of
its possibilities of tyrannical obsession. It was like a shovelful of
burning coals inside me, he asserted. I was ready to kill this
Esselmann or Ena and then myself. I raved like a maniac; but it
evidently delighted her, for she took off the chain and relented.
At first, McGeorge said, if you remember, I was terrified at the
thought of living forever; but I had got used to that truth, and the
blessings of spiritualism dawned upon me. No one could ever separate
Ena and me. The oldest India religions support that
With the exception, I was obliged to put in, that all progression
is toward nothingness, suspension, endless calm.
We have improved on that, he replied. The joys that await us are
genuine twenty-two caratthe eternal companionship of loving ones,
soft music, summer
Indestructible lips under a perpetual moon.
He solemnly raised a hand.
They are all about you, he said; they hear you; take care. What
happened to me will be a warning.
Materialize the faintest spirit, I told him, produce the lightest
knock on that Fyfe table, and I'll give you a thousand dollars for the
cause. He expressed a contemptuous superiority to such bribery. By
your own account, I reminded him, the Meekers gave this Esselmann
every advantage. Why?
McGeorge's face grew somber.
I saw him the next time I called, a fat boy with his spiked
mustache on glazed cheeks, and a pocketful of rattling gold junk, a
racing car on the curb. He had had Ena out for a little spin, and they
were discussing how fast they had gone. Not better than sixty-eight, he
Albert hung on his every word; he was as servile to Esselmann as he
was arrogant to me. He said things I had either to overlook completely
or else slay him for. I tried to get his liking. McGeorge confessed to
me that, remembering what the Meekers' old servant had told him about
Albert's peculiar habit, he had even thought of making him a present of
a box of flies, precisely in the manner you would bring candy for a
It began to look hopeless, he confessed of his passion. Ena
admitted that she liked me better than Wallace, but the family wouldn't
hear of it. Once, when Mr. Meeker came to the door, he shut it in my
face. The sittings kept going right along, and the manifestations were
wonderful; the connection between Jannie and Stepan, her spirit
control, grew closer and closer. There was a scientific
investigationsome professors put Jannie on a weighing-machine during
a séance and found that, in a levitation, she had an increase in weight
virtually equal to the lifted table. They got phonograph records of the
Did you hear them? I interrupted.
They are still in the laboratory, he asserted defiantly, But I
have a photograph that was taken of an apparition. He fumbled in an
inner pocket and produced the latter. The print was dark and obscured,
but among the shadows a lighter shape was traceable: it might have been
a woman in loose, white drapery, a curtain, light-struck; anything, in
fact. I returned it to him impatiently.
That, he informed me, was a Christian martyr of ancient times.
Burned to a cinder, I asked, or dismembered by lions?
Can't you even for a minute throw off the illusion of the flesh?
He half rose in a flare of anger; for my question, in view of his
admissions, had been sharply pressed.
All love is a sanctification, McGeorge said, recovering his temper
admirably. The union of my beloved wife and me is a holy pact of
spirits, transcending corruption.
You married her against considerable opposition, I reminded him.
I had the hell of a time, he said in the healthy manner of the
former McGeorge. Everything imaginable was done to finish me; the
powers of earth and of the spirit world were set against me. For a
while my human frame wasn't worth a lead nickel.
The beyond, then, isn't entirely the abode of righteousness?
There are spirits of hell as well as of heaven.
The Chinese, I told him, call them Yin and Yang, spirits of dark
and light. Will you explainit may be useful, if things are as you
sayhow you fought the powers from beyond?
Do you remember what Lizzie Tuoey thought about Jannie and Stepan?
he asked, apparently irrelevantly. That time Stepan had an engagement
with Isabella of Spain. I didn't. Well, she said that Jannie was
jealous of the queen.
McGeorge had, by his own account, really a dreadful time with what
was no better than common or, rather, uncommon murder. Two things were
evident on the plane of my own recognitionthat he had succeeded in
holding the illusive affections of Ena, no small accomplishment in view
of her neurotic emotional instability, and that the elder Meekers had
an interest in the most worldly of all commodities, not exceeded by
their devotion to the immaculate dream of love beyond death.
The girl met McGeorge outside the house; he called defiantly in the
face of an unrelenting, outspoken opposition. It was in the Meeker
front room that he first realized his mundane existence was in danger.
He could give no description of what happened beyond the fact that
suddenly he was bathed in a cold, revolting air. It hung about him with
the undefinable feel and smell of death. A rotten air, he described it,
and could think of nothing better; remaining, he thought, for half a
minute, filling him with instinctive abject terror, and then lifting.
Ena, too, was affected; she was as rigid as if she were taking part
in a séance; and when she recovered, she hurried from the room.
Immediately after McGeorge heard her above quarrelling with Jannie. She
returned in tears, and said that they would have to give each other up.
Here McGeorge damned the worlds seen and unseen, and declared that he'd
never leave her. This, with his complete credulity, approached a
notable courage or frenzy of desire. He had no doubt but they would
kill him. Their facilities, you see, were unsurpassed.
Worse followed almost immediately. The next morning, to be accurate,
McGeorge was putting an edge on his razorhe had never given up the
old typewhen an extraordinary seizure overtook him; the hand that
held the blade stopped being a part of him. It moved entirely outside
his will; indeed, when certain possibilities came into his shocked
mind, it moved in opposition to his most desperate determination.
A struggle began between McGeorge in a sweating effort to open his
fingers and drop the razor to the floor, and the will imposing a deep,
hard gesture across his throat. He was twisted, he said, into the most
grotesque positions; the hand would move up, and he would force it back
perhaps an inch at a time. During this the familiar, mucid feel closed
I asked how the force was applied to his arm, but he admitted that
his fright was so intense that he had no clear impression of the
details. McGeorge, however, did try to convince me that his wrist was
darkly bruised afterward. He was, he was certain, lost, his resistance
virtually at an end when, as if from a great distance, he heard the
faint ring of the steel on the bath-room linoleum.
That, he told himself, had cured him; the Meekers, and Ena in
particular, could have their precious Wallace Esselmann. This happened
on Friday, and Sunday evening he was back at the Meeker door. The
frenzy of desire! Love is the usual, more exalted term. Perhaps. It
depends on the point of view, the position adopted in the attack on the
dark enigma of existence. Mine is unpresumptuous.
They were obviously surprised to see him,or, rather, all were but
Ena,and his reception was less crabbed than usual. McGeorge, with
what almost approached a flash of humor, said that it was evident they
had expected him to come from the realm of spirits. In view of their
professed belief in the endless time for junketing at their command,
they clung with amazing energy to the importance of the present faulty
Ena was wonderfully tender, and promised to marry him whenever he
had a corner ready for her. McGeorge, a reporter, lived with the utmost
informality with regard to hours and rooms. He stayed that night almost
as long as he wished, planning, at intervals, the future. Sometime
during the evening it developed that Jannie was in disfavor; the
sittings had suddenly become unsatisfactory. One the night before had
been specially disastrous.
Stepan, in place of satisfying the very private curiosity of a
well-known and munificent politician, had described another party that
had made a wide ripple of comment and envious criticism among the
shades. It had been planned by a swell of old Rome, faithful in every
detail to the best traditions of orgies; and Stepan's companion, a
French girl of the Maison Dorée, had opened the eyes of the historic
fancy to the latent possibilities of the dance.
Jannie, at this, had spoiled everything, but mostly the temper of
the munificent politician, by a piercing scream. She had gone on, Ena
admitted, something terrible. When Mr. Meeker had tried to bundle her
to bed, she had kicked and scratched like never before. And since then
she declared that she'd never make another effort to materialize
Argument, even the temporary absence of Benedictine, had been
unavailing. Very well, Mrs. Meeker had told her grimly, she would have
to go back to cotton stockings; and no more grilled sweetbreads for
supper, either; she'd be lucky if she got scrapple. She didn't care;
everything was black for her. Black it must have been, I pointed out to
McGeorge; it was bad enough with worry limited to the span of one
existence, but to look forward to a perpetuity of misery
McGeorge returned the latter part of the week with the plans for
their marriage, an elopement, considerably advanced; but only Jannie
was at home. She saw him listlessly in the usual formal room, wherehe
almost never encountered herhe sat in a slight perplexity. Jannie
might be thought prettier than Ena, he acknowledged, or at least in the
face. She had quantities of bright brown hair, which she affected to
wear, in the manner of much younger girls, confined, with a ribbon, and
flowing down her back. Her eyes, too, were brown and remarkable in that
the entire iris was exposed. Her full under lip was vividly rouged,
while her chin was unobtrusive.
That evening she was dressed very elaborately. The pink silk
stockings and preposterous kid slippers were in evidence; her dress was
black velvet, short, and cut like a sheath; and there was a profusion
of lacy ruffles and bangles at her wrists. To save his soul, McGeorge
couldn't think of anything appropriate to talk about. Jannie was a
being apart, a precious object of special reverence. This, together
with her very human pettishness, complicated the social problem. He
wanted excessively to leave,there was no chance of seeing Ena,but
neither could he think of any satisfactory avenue of immediate escape.
Jannie's hands, he noticed, were never still; her fingers were
always plaiting the velvet on her knees. She would sigh gustily, bite
her lips, and accomplish what in an ordinary person would be a sniffle.
Then suddenly she drew nearer to McGeorge and talked in a torrent about
true love. She doubted if it existed anywhere. Spirits were no more
faithful than humans.
This, for McGeorge, was more difficult than the silence; all the
while, he told me, his thoughts were going back to the scene in the
bath-room. He had no security that it wouldn't be repeated and with a
far different conclusion. He had a passing impulse to ask Jannie to
call off her subliminal thugs; the phrasing is my own. There was no
doubt in his disordered mind that it was she who, at the instigation of
the elder Meekers, was trying to remove him in the effort to secure
She dissolved presently into tears, and cried that she was the most
miserable girl in existence. She dropped an absurd confection of a
handkerchief on the floor, and he leaned over, returning it to her.
Jannie's head drooped against his shoulder, and, to keep her from
sliding to the floor, he was obliged to sit beside her and support her
with an arm. It had been a temporary measure, but Jannie showed no
signs of shifting her weight; and, from wishing every moment for Ena's
appearance, he now prayed desperately for her to stay away.
McGeorge said that he heard the girl murmur something that sounded
like, Why shouldn't I? Her face was turned up to him in a way that
had but one significance for maiden or medium. She was, he reminded me,
Ena's sister, about to become his own; there was a clinging, seductive
scent about her, too, and a subtle aroma of Benedictine; and, well, he
did what was expected.
However, no sooner had he kissed her than her manner grew
inexplicable. She freed herself from him, and sat upright in an
expectant, listening attitude. Her manner was so convincing that he
straightened up and gazed about the parlor. There was absolutely no
unusual sight or sound; the plain, heavy table in the center of the
room was resting as solidly as if it had never playfully cavorted at
the will of the spirits, the chairs were back against the walls, the
miniature Rock of Ages, on the mantel, offered its testimony to faith.
One insignificant detail struck his eyea weighty cane of Mr.
Meeker's stood in an angle of the half-opened door to the hall, across
the floor from where Jannie and he were sitting.
After a little, with nothing apparently following, the girl's
expectancy faded; her expression grew petulant once more, and she drew
sharply away from McGeorge, exactly as if he had forced a kiss on her
and she was insulted by the indignity. Lord! he thought, with an inward
sinking, what she'll do to me now will be enough!
He rose uneasily and walked to the mantel, where he stood with his
back to Jannie, looking down absently at the fringed gray asbestos of a
gas hearth. An overwhelming oppression crept over him when there was a
sudden cold sensation at the base of his neck, and a terrific blow fell
across his shoulders.
McGeorge wheeled instinctively, with an arm up, when he was
smothered in a rain of stinging, vindictive battering. The blows came
from all about him, a furious attack against which he was powerless to
do anything but endeavor to protect his head. No visible person, he
said solemnly, was near him. Jannie was at the other side of the room.
Did you see her clearly while this was going on? I asked.
Oh, yes, he assured me sarcastically; he had as well glanced at his
diary to make sure of the date. He then had the effrontery to inform me
that he had been beaten by Mr. Meeker's cane without human agency. He
had seen it whirling about him in the air. McGeorge made up his mind
that the hour of his death had arrived. A fog of pain settled on him,
and he gave up all effort of resistance, sinking to his knees, aware of
the salt taste of blood. But just at the edge of unconsciousness the
After a few moments he rose giddily, with his ears humming and his
ribs a solid ache. The cane lay in the middle of the room, and Jannie
stood, still across the parlor, with her hands pressed to scarlet
cheeks, her eyes shining, and her breast heaving in gasps.
Why not after such a violent exercise?
McGeorge ignored my practical comment.
She was delighted, he said; she ran over to me and, throwing her
arms about my neck, kissed me hard. She exclaimed that I had helped
Jannie when everything else had failed, and she wouldn't forget it.
Then she rushed away, and I heard her falling up-stairs in her
Naturally he had half collapsed into a chair, and fought to supply
his laboring lungs with enough oxygen. It's an unpleasant experience to
be thoroughly beaten with a heavy cane under any condition, and this,
he was convinced, was special.
I asked if he was familiar with Havelock Ellis on hysterical
impulses, and he replied impatiently that he wasn't.
There are two explanations, I admitted impartially, although we
each think there is but one. I will agree that yours is more
entertaining. Jannie was jealous again. The Roman orgies, the young
person from the grands boulevards, were more than she could
accept; and she tried, in the vocabulary lately so prevalent, a
reprisal. But I must acknowledge that I am surprised at the persistent
masculine flexibility of Stepan.
It was at the next sitting, McGeorge concluded, that Stepan
announced the wedding of Ena and me. The spirits awaited it. There was
a row in the Meeker circle; but he dissolved, and refused to
materialize in any form until it was accomplished.
To the music of the spheres, I added, with some attempt at