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Chapter Twenty-Seven

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Author Topic: Chapter Twenty-Seven  (Read 29 times)
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« on: July 16, 2023, 08:33:16 am »

THEY had coffee in the drawing-room. Sarah refused her cup, and to her relief the refusal seemed to pass unnoticed. Then there was no plan to drug her tonight. The heat of the room and the relief from her most pressing fear made her feel relaxed and drowsy. Wilson Cattermole got in the story he had tried to tell at dinner. Joanna, unable to secure a wider attention, talked about her messages to Sarah in a hurrying undertone.

When the clock struck nine there was a general move.

“There may not, of course, be any manifestations so early in the evening.” Mr. Brown stood on the hearthrug with his pipe in his hand. “In fact I cannot guarantee that there will be any manifestations at all, but I think it will give everything the best chance if we repair now to the other wing. I have had a fire lighted, and I propose that we sit quietly by what light it may afford. It is very important that the right vibrations should be set up---there must be the correct psychic atmosphere. We must place ourselves en rapport with whatever it is that is causing the manifestations. There may be a desire to communicate, or there may not. I believe there is. But a desire to communicate is not the only factor. Giving and taking, cause and effect, are parts of a psychic whole. If I may borrow a phrase, it is for us to do what we can to ensure good reception. I propose that we take Miss Cattermole’s planchette, and that we also adopt another method which sometimes gives excellent results by placing a slate and slate-pencil in a convenient position.”

As he talked, Sarah woke right up. He had the sort of voice which made jargon sound impressive, but she was merely impressed with the fact that he still considered it necessary to impress her. This was a cheering thought. Rather a drop from the psychic whole to planchette and a slate-pencil, but only sceptics like Miss Marlowe worried about that sort of thing. She had an idea that he was inventing his jargon as he went along, and that amused her. It would be fun to catch him out.

The word convenient rang a little mocking bell in her mind. A slate and slate-pencil---the oldest of all the old cheating tricks! It angered her that he should think it good enough to serve. The only thing actually in doubt was whether the slate would be faked beforehand, or whether the Reverend Peter, or Wickham, or one of the Grimsbys was slick-fingered enough to do the faking there in the dark under her nose.

For a moment she was quite sorry that she would never know, because she was not going to be at the séance. She was going to be in bed with a headache, and a locked door with a tilted chair jammed against it under the handle. But later, when they were all in bed, she was going to slip out of the very window against which she was standing now and make her way to Hedgeley even if she had to crawl there on her hands and knees. Well, she would have to say her piece and slip away, and once she had got out of this room she need never see any of them again.

She addressed herself to Wilson Cattermole.

“Would you mind very much if I didn’t come---if I went to bed?”

“Bed?” said Wilson. He peered at her in his shortsighted way.

Sarah said, “Yes.” They were all looking at her now. She added, “I’ve got a headache,” and thought how silly it sounded, because if you are a secretary and have come down to a haunted house with your employer on purpose to take notes of any phenomena there, it isn’t really a very satisfying excuse to say you’ve got a headache and you want to go to bed. It had seemed all right as a plan in her head, but the minute they began to look at her she could see that it was not going to go down well. In fact it wasn’t going to go down at all.

Wilson became the very image of an agitated ant.

“But, my dear Miss Sarah, you cannot really intend to desert me---us. I---we have been counting on you not only to take notes of the proceedings---a part for which no one else has the necessary qualifications---but also as an independent witness. There is such a sad spirit of scepticism abroad. You yourself are admittedly tainted with it, but in this case, and if it did not actually hamper the manifestations, that would be all to the good. The evidence of a sceptic in these matters is most valuable. But---dear me, Miss Sarah, you cannot actually mean---no, no, it is quite impossible---you did not really say that you wished to go to bed!”

Whatever she had said, the possibility of evading the séance, it was obvious, no longer existed. She could of course just swoon, in which case they would probably carry her up to bed and find some means of drugging her. They might very easily call John Wickham in to carry her. Wilson’s brittle arms didn’t look as if they could lift a child. John Wickham---- An inward shudder took hold of her. She decided against the swoon and made a virtue of necessity.

“Oh, Mr. Cattermole, of course not, if you want me. I just had a headache---I’m afraid I was rather forgetting about the séance. I’m so sorry. Of course I’ll come and take notes for you.”

He eyed her in a bewildered manner.

“You forgot? But it is what we came down here for. I really fail to understand----”

Perhaps he wasn’t in it. It was Morgan’s voice she had heard, not his. But he had prevented her letter from reaching Henry Templar. No---that was John Wickham’s story, put up to cover himself. Her letter could have gone into his pocket just as well as into Wilson’s. She had only his word for it that it was Wilson who had kept it back. Then if Wilson Cattermole was innocent of this conspiracy, they were using him as a catspaw---Morgan Cattermole, the Reverend Peter, and Wickham who pretended that he did not even know of Morgan’s existence.

Wilson ran his fingers through his hair.

“I really cannot understand how you can possibly have forgotten. Inexplicable---really inexplicable!”

“I’ll go and get my pad.”

“And a warm coat,” said the Reverend Peter in a jovial voice. “The fire, I believe, is doing as well as can be expected, but you know what it is with an unused chimney. I hope you and Miss Cattermole will wrap up well.”

“My fur coat,” said Joanna---she followed Sarah out of the room---“and perhaps bedroom slippers---what do you think, my dear? They are lined with a special vegetarian health fleece, and they are certainly very warm. Of course the fur coat is quite against my principles, but I have had it a long time, and nothing I can do now would restore the minks to life. I haven’t really the slightest idea what a mink is, and whenever I have asked anyone they have always said they hadn’t either. And that does make it a great deal more impersonal, don’t you think, because they may be a very destructive kind of animal, though that would not alter my convictions about wearing fur, and I should never buy another fur coat. So in a way I can’t help hoping that it won’t wear out for a long time. There’s nothing so warm as fur, is there---and I do feel the cold so much, though I don’t think I ever remember quite such bitter weather as this.”

She was rather breathless when they arrived at the top of the stairs. She took Sarah’s arm and drew her inside the bedroom door.

“I am not really sure about séances,” she said. “That is to say, I think they are very nice in your own house or in a friend’s house, but when it comes to haunted houses, it is all just a little disturbing, don’t you think?” Her pale eyes gazed rather wildly past Sarah in the unromantic direction of the wash-stand, on which a battered hot water jug stood wrapped against the cold in a bath-towel. “I thought it was very brave of you to say you wanted to go to bed, and if you had, I would have gone too, because there is something about this séance that makes me feel very uncomfortable indeed, and it is not even as if I had my purple velvet---though Nathaniel did say that purple was all poppycock, didn’t he, and of course that is very comforting. You must keep reminding me about that, my dear. Having passed over, he would know, wouldn’t he?”

She slipped her arms into the fur coat which Sarah was holding for her and shivered a little.

“It is very warm and comfortable, but do you know, I met a woman---just before you came to us, I think it was---at one of Sybilla Havendale’s parties. She was some kind of foreigner and I can’t remember her name, but she was very psychic, and she said she could distinctly see the spirits of the minks which had been killed to make my coat following me round in a pack. It upset me a good deal, and I’ve only just begun to wear the coat again, but she didn’t tell me what they looked like, and whenever I try to remember her name I can only remember that it sounded very foreign indeed.”

The words went by Sarah Marlowe like wind blowing. She heard them, and they meant nothing. She said suddenly, in a voice which sounded as if it had been forced out of her,

“Is your other brother here?”

Joanna Cattermole turned round, the heavy old-fashioned coat hanging open over her trailing velvet dress, her hair flaring back from a face which had a frightened look.

“My brother! What do you mean?”

If Sarah could have taken her words back she would have done so, but they had escaped her. None of the words you speak can ever be as if you had not spoken them. She stiffened herself and said,

“Not Mr. Cattermole---your other brother. Is Mr. Morgan here?”

Joanna said, “Morgan----” in a wandering voice. Then she put a hand on Sarah’s arm. “Oh, my dear, what makes you think of that? For do you know what I have been thinking all day---in fact ever since we came down here? You always say you are not psychic, but you must be, for you see we were both thinking about Morgan. I was wishing so very much that he was here, and thinking that if he were, I should not be feeling so uneasy. He always has such high spirits, and he does not believe in manifestations, or haunted houses, or anything like that---you remember how he laughed at my planchette---and just at the moment I feel that that would be very comforting. You see, it is not as if we knew what form the manifestations would take---Mr. Brown has been so very non-committal---and if there is going to be anything violent or unpleasant, I shouldn’t like it at all.”

“Don’t let’s go,” said Sarah in a whisper. “Let’s go to bed. I’ll tell Mr. Cattermole you are ill and I must stay with you.”

Joanna’s hand dropped from her arm.

“Oh, no---that wouldn’t be true. And it would vex Wilson dreadfully. It wouldn’t do at all. He is expecting you to take notes for him---you know he said so downstairs. He would be most dreadfully vexed.”

“Would that matter?” said Sarah.

Joanna began to tremble.

“Oh, yes, my dear---oh, yes. You must never vex him---oh, no, never. And we mustn’t keep him waiting either. Oh, no, my dear, it would never, never do. I will put my slippers on whilst you are getting your coat.”

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