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- Miss Ludington's Sister - 6/23 -
case. The best materializing mediums charge pretty well. Mrs. Legrand, who I believe is considered the leading light just now, charges fifty dollars for a private seance. Now, fifty dollars, I suppose, does not seem a large sum to you, but it would be a great deal for a poor woman like me to spend. And yet if I believed this wonderful thing that you believe, and I thought there was one chance in a million that this woman could demonstrate it to me by the assurance of sight, I would live on crusts from the gutter till I had earned the money to go to her."
Paul rose from his chair, and, after walking across the floor once or twice, stood leaning his arm on the mantelpiece. He cleared his throat, and said:
"Have you ever seen this Mrs. Legrand yourself? I mean, have you ever been present at one of her seances?"
"Not on my own account," replied Mrs. Slater. "It was a mere accident my chancing to know anything about her. I have a friend, a Mrs. Rhinehart, who has recently lost her husband, and she got in a way of going to this Mrs. Legrand's seances to see him, and once she took me with her."
Miss Ludington and Paul waited a moment, and then, perceiving that she was not going to say anything more, exclaimed in the same breath, "Did you see anything?"
"We saw the figure of a fine-looking man," replied Mrs. Slater. "We could distinguish his features and expression very plainly, and he seemed to recognize my friend. She said that it was her husband. Of course I know nothing about that. I had never seen him alive. It may all have been a humbug, as I was prepared to believe it; but I assure you it was a curious business, and I haven't got over the impression which it made on me, yet. I'm not given to believing in things that claim to be supernatural, but I will admit that what I saw that night was very strange. Humbug or no humbug, what she saw seemed to comfort my poor friend more than all the religions or philosophies ever revealed or invented could have done. You see, these are so vague, even when we try to believe them, and that was so plain."
A silence followed Mrs. Slater's words, during which she sat with an absent expression of countenance and a faraway look, as if recalling in fancy the scene which she had described. Miss Ludington's hands trembled as they lay together in her lap, and she was regarding the picture of the girl over the fireplace with a fixed and intense gaze, apparently oblivious of all else.
Paul broke the silence. "I am going to see this woman," he said, quietly. "You need not think of going with me, aunty, unless you care to. I will go alone."
"Do you think I shall let you go alone?" replied Miss Ludington, in a voice which she steadied with difficulty. "Am I not as much concerned as you are, Paul?"
"Where does this Mrs. Legrand live?" Paul asked Mrs. Slater.
"I really can't tell you that, Mr. De Riemer," she said. "It was sometime ago that I attended the seance I spoke of, and all I recall is that it was somewhere in the lower part of the city, on the east side of the Broadway, if I am not mistaken."
"Perhaps you could ascertain her address from the friend of whom you spoke, if it would not be too much trouble?" suggested Miss Ludington.
"I might do that," assented Mrs. Slater. "If she still goes to the seances she would know it. But these mediums don't generally stay long in one place, and it is quite possible that this Mrs. Legrand may not be in the city now, But if I can get her address for you I will. And now, my dear, as I am rather tired after our walk about the village, and probably you are too, will I go to my room."
Mrs. Slater went away the next morning. On the following day but one Miss Ludington received a letter from her. She told her friend how glad she was that she had not postponed her visit to her, for if she had set it for a single day later she could not have made it at all. When she returned home she found that her husband had received an offer of a lucrative business position in Cincinnati, contingent on his immediate removal there.
They had been in a whirl of packing ever since, and were to take that night's train for Cincinnati, and whether they ever again came East to live was very doubtful. In a postscript, written crosswise, she said:
"I have been in such a rush ever since I came home that I declare I had clean forgotten till this moment about my promise to hunt up Mrs. Legrand's address for you. Very likely you have also forgotten by this time our talk about her, and if so it will not matter. But it vexes me to fail in a promise, and, if possible, I will snatch a moment before we leave to send a note to the friend I spoke of, and ask her to look the woman up for you."
Instead of being disappointed, Miss Ludington was, on the whole, relieved to get this letter, and inclined to hope that Mrs. Slater had failed to find the time to write her friend. In that case this extraordinary project of visiting a spiritualist medium would quietly fall through, which was the best thing that could happen.
The fact is, after sleeping on it, she had seen clearly that such a proceeding for a person of her position and antecedents would not only be preposterous, but almost disreputable. She was astonished at herself to think that her feelings could have been so wrought upon as to cause her seriously to contemplate such a step. All her life she had held the conviction, which she supposed to be shared by all persons of culture and respectability, that spiritualism was a low and immoral superstition, invariably implying fraud in its professors, and folly in its dupes: something, in fact, quite below the notice of persons of intelligence or good taste. As for the idea that this medium could show her the spirit of her former self, or any other real spirit, it was simply imbecile to entertain it for a moment.
If, however, Miss Ludington was relieved by Mrs. Slater's letter, Paul was keenly disappointed. His prejudice against spiritualism was by no means so deeply rooted as hers. In a general way he had always believed mediums to be frauds, and their shows mere shams, but he had been ready to allow with Mrs. Slater, that, mixed up in all this fraud, there might be a very little truth.
His mind admitted a bare possibility that this Mrs. Legrand might be able to show him the living face and form of his spirit-love. That possibility once admitted had completely dominated his imagination, and it made little difference whether it was one chance in a thousand or one in a million. He was like the victim of the lottery mania, whose absorption in contemplating the possibility of drawing the prize renders him quite oblivious of the nine hundred and ninety-nine blank tickets.
Previous to Mrs. Slater's visit he had been quite content in his devotion to an ideal mistress, for the reason that any nearer approach to her had not occurred to him as a possibility. But now the suggestion that he might see her face to face had so inflamed his imagination that it was out of the question for him to regain his former serenity. He resolved that, in case they should fail to hear from Mrs. Slater's friend, he would set about finding Mrs. Legrand himself, or, failing that, would go to some other medium. There would be no solace for the fever that had now got into his blood, until experiment should justify his daring hope, or prove it baseless.
However, the third day after Mrs. Slater's letter there came one from her friend, Mrs. Rhinehart. She said that she had received a note from Mrs. Slater, who had suddenly been called to Cincinnati, telling that Miss Ludington desired the address of Mrs. Legrand, with a view to securing a private seance. She could have sent the address at once, as she had it; but Mrs. Legrand was so overrun with business that an application to her by letter, especially from a stranger like Miss Ludington, might not have any result. And so Mrs. Rhinehart, who had been only too happy to oblige any friend of Mrs. Slater's, had called personally upon Mrs. Legrand to arrange for the seance. The medium had told her at first that she was full of previous engagements for a month ahead, and that it would be impossible to give Miss Ludington a seance. When, however, Mrs. Rhinehart told her that Miss Ludington's purpose in asking for the seance was to test the question whether our past selves have immortal souls distinct from our present selves, Mrs. Legrand became greatly interested, and at once said that she would cancel a previous appointment, and give Miss Ludington a seance the following evening, at her parlours, No.-East Tenth Street, at nine o'clock. Mrs. Legrand had said that while she had never heard a belief in the immortality of past selves avowed, there had not been lacking in her relations with the spirit-world some mysterious experiences that seemed to confirm it. She should, therefore, look forward to the issue of the experiment the following evening with nearly as much confidence, and quite as much interest, as Miss Ludington herself. Mrs. Rhinehart hoped that the following evening would be convenient for Miss Ludington. She had assumed the responsibility of making the engagement positive, as she might have failed in securing a seance altogether had she waited to communicate with Miss Ludington. Hoping that "the conditions would be favourable," she remained, &c. &c..
When Miss Ludington had read this letter to Paul, she intimated, though rather faintly, that it was still not too late to withdraw from the enterprise; they could send Mrs. Legrand her fee, say that it was not convenient for them to come on the evening fixed, and so let the matter drop. Paul stared at her in astonishment, and said that, if she did not feel like going, he would go alone, as he had at first proposed. Upon this Miss Ludington once more declared that they would go together, and said nothing further about sacrificing the appointment.
The fact is she did not really wish to sacrifice it. She was experiencing a revulsion of feeling; Mrs. Rhinehart's letter had affected her almost as strongly as Mrs. Slater's talk. The fact that Mrs. Legrand had at once seen the reasonableness and probability of the belief in the immortality of past selves made it difficult for Miss Ludington to think of her as a mere vulgar impostor. The vague hint of the medium's as to strange experiences with the spirit world, confirmatory of this belief, appealed to her imagination in a powerful manner. Of what description might the mysterious monitions be, which, coming to this woman in the dim between-world where she groped, had prepared her to accept as true, on its first statement, a belief that to others seemed so hard to credit? What clutchings of spirit fingers in the dark! What meanings of souls whom no one recognised!
The confidence which Mrs. Legrand had expressed that the seance would prove a success affected Miss Ludington very powerfully. It impressed her as the judgment of an expert; it compelled her to recognize not only as possible, but even as probable, that, on the evening of the following day, she should behold the beautiful girl whom once, so many years before, she had called herself; for so at best would words express this
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