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- Miss Ludington's Sister - 10/23 -
was mostly past, and it was chiefly upon the communion they would enjoy in heaven, not momentary and imperfect as here, but perennial and complete, that her heart was set.
Very different was it with Paul. He was young; heaven was very far off, and the way thither, unless cheered by occasional visitations of his radiant mistress, seemed inexpressibly long and dreary. The nature of his sentiment for Ida had changed since he had seen her clothed in a living form, from the worship of a sweet but dim ideal to the passion which a living woman inspires. He thought of her no more as a spirit, lofty and serene, but as a beautiful maiden with the love-light in her eyes.
He was not able to find his former inspiration in the picture above the fireplace. Its still enchantment was gone. The set smile, that had ever before seemed so sweet, palled upon him. The eyes, that had always been so tender, now lacked expression. The lips that the boy had climbed up to kiss, how had the artist failed to intimate their exquisite curves! The whole picture had suffered a subtle deterioration, and looked hard, wooden, lifeless, and almost, unlike. The living woman had eclipsed the portrait. Fortunate it is for the fame of painters that their originals do not oftener return to earth.
If Mrs. Legrand had been his own mother Paul could not have been more assiduous in his calls and inquiries as to her condition, nor could his relief have been greater when, a few days later, Dr. Hull told him that the case had taken a favourable turn, and according to her previous experience with such attacks, she would probably be as well as usual by the following day. Dr. Hull said that she had heard of Paul's frequent inquiries for her, and while she did not flatter herself that his interest in her was wholly on her own account, she was, nevertheless, so far grateful that she would give him the first seance which she was able to hold, and that would be, if she continued to improve, on the following evening.
If Miss Ludington's desire for another glimpse of Ida had lacked the passionate intensity of Paul's, she had, notwithstanding, longed for it very ardently, and when at nine o'clock the next night the carriage drew up before Mrs. Legrand's door, she was in a transport of sweet anticipation.
As for Paul he had dressed himself with extreme care for the occasion, and looked to his best advantage. He had said to himself, "Shall I not show her as much observance as I would pay to a living woman?" And who can say--for very odd, sometimes, are the inarticulate processes of the mind--that there was not at the bottom of his thoughts something of the universal lover's willingness to let his mistress see him at his best?
They found the front parlour occupied as before by Mrs. Legrand and Dr. Hull, when Alta showed them in. The medium was, as previously, the picture of ill-health, and if she did not look noticeably worse than before her sickness, it was merely because she had looked as badly as possible then. In response to inquiries about her health she admitted that she did not really feel equal to resuming her seances quite so soon, and but for disliking to disappoint them would have postponed this evening's appointment. Dr. Hull had, indeed, urged her to do so.
"You must not think of giving a seance if there is any risk of injury to your health," said Miss Ludington, though not without being sensible of a pang of disappointment. "We could not think of letting you do that, could we, Paul?"
Paul's reply to this humane suggestion was not so prompt as it should have been. In his heart he felt at that moment that he was as bad as a murderer. He knew that he was willing this woman should risk not only her health, but even her life, rather than that he should fail to see Ida. He was striving to repress this feeling, so far at least as to say that he would not insist upon going on with the seance, when Mrs. Legrand, with a glance through her half-shut eyelids, intimating that she perfectly understood his thoughts, said, in a tone which put an end to the discussion, "Excuse me, but I shall certainly give the seance. I am much obliged for your interest in me; but I am rather notional about keeping my promises, and it is a peculiarity in which my friends have to indulge in. I daresay I shall be none the worse for the exertion."
"Doctor," she added, "will you allow our friends to inspect the cabinet?"
"That is quite needless," said Paul.
"Our friends are often willing to waive an inspection," replied Dr. Hull. "We are grateful for the confidence shown, but, in justice to ourselves, as well as for their own more absolute assurance, we always insist upon it. Otherwise, suspicions of fraud not entertained, perhaps, at the time, might afterwards occur to the mind, or be suggested by others, to which they would have no conclusive answer."
Upon this Miss Ludington and Paul permitted themselves to be conducted upon the same tour of inspection that they had made the former evening. They found everything precisely as it had been on that occasion. There was no possibility of concealing any person in the cabinet or the back parlour, and no apparent or conceivable means by which any person could reach those apartments, except through the front parlour.
On their return to the latter apartment the proceedings followed the order observed at the previous seance. Mrs. Legrand rose from her chair and walked feebly through the back parlour into the cabinet. Dr. Hull then locked and braced a chair against the door opening into the hall, giving the key to Paul. Then, having arranged the three chairs as before, across the double door between the parlours, he seated Miss Ludington and Paul, and, having turned the gas down, took the third chair.
All being ready, Alta, who was at the piano, struck the opening chords of the same soft, low music that she had played at the previous seance.
It seemed to Miss Ludington that she played much longer than before, and she began to think that either there was to be some failure in the seance, or that something had happened to Mrs. Legrand.
Perhaps she was dead. This horrible thought, added to the strain of expectancy, affected her nerves so that in another moment she must have screamed out, when, as before, she felt a faint, cool air fan her forehead, and a few seconds later Ida appeared at the door of the cabinet and glided into the room.
She was dressed as at her former appearance, in white, with her shoulders bare, and the wealth of her golden hair falling to her waist behind.
From the moment that she emerged from the shadows of the cabinet Paul's eyes were glued to her face with an intensity quite beyond any ordinary terms of description.
Fancy having not over a minute in which to photograph upon the mind a form the recollection of which is to furnish the consolation of a lifetime. The difficulties of securing this second seance, and the doubt that involved the obtaining of another, had deeply impressed him. He might never again see Ida on earth, and upon the fidelity with which his memory retained every feature of her face, every line of her figure, his thoughts by day, and his dreams by night, might have to depend for their texture until he should meet her in another world.
The lingering looks that are the lover's luxury were not for these fleeting seconds. His gaze burned upon her face and played around her form like lightning. He grudged the instantaneous muscles of the eye the time they took to make the circuit of her figure.
But when, as on that other night, she came close up to him and smiled upon him, time and circumstance were instantly forgotten, and he fell into a state of enchantment in which will and thought were inert.
He was aroused from it by an extraordinary change that came over her. She started and shivered slightly in every limb. The recognition faded out of her eyes and gave place to a blank bewilderment.
Then came a turning of her head from side to side, while, with dilated eyes, she explored the dim recesses of the room with the startled expression of an awakened sleep-walker. She half turned toward the cabinet and made an undecided movement in that direction, and then, as if the invisible cord that drew her thither had broken, she wavered, stopped, and seemed to drift toward the opposite corner of the room.
At that moment there was a gasp from the cabinet.
Dr. Hull leaped to his feet and sprang toward it, at the same time, by a turn of the stopcock by his side, setting the gas in both rooms at full blaze.
Alta, with a loud scream, rushed after him, and Miss Ludington and Paul followed them.
The pupils of their eyes had been dilated to the utmost in order to follow the movements of the apparition in the nearly complete darkness, and the first effect of the sudden blaze of gaslight was to dazzle them so completely that they had actually to grope their way to the cabinet.
The scene in the little apartment of the medium was a heartrending one.
Mrs. Legrand's body and lower limbs lay on the sofa, which was the only article of furniture, and Dr. Hull was in the act of lifting her head from the floor to which it had fallen. Her eyes were half open, and the black rings around them showed with ghastly plainness against the awful pallor which the rest of her face had taken on. One hand was clenched. The other was clutching her bodice, as if in the act of tearing it open. A little foam flecked the blue lips.
Alta threw herself upon her mother's body, sobbing, "Oh, mamma, wake up! do! do!"
"Is she dead?" asked Miss Ludington, in horrified accents.
"I don't know; I fear so. I warned her; I told her it would come. But she would do it," cried the doctor incoherently, as he tried to feel her pulse with one hand while he tore at the fastenings of her dress with the other. He set Paul at work chafing the hands of the unconscious woman, while Miss Ludington sprinkled her face and chest with ice-water from a small pitcher that stood in a corner of the cabinet, and the doctor himself endeavoured in vain to force some of the contents of a vial through her clenched teeth. "It is of no use," he said, finally; "she is past help--she is dead!"
At this Miss Ludington and Paul stood aside, and Alta, throwing herself upon her mother's form, burst into an agony of tears. "She was all I had," she sobbed.
"Had Mrs. Legrand friends?" asked Miss Ludington, conscience-stricken
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