And at that instant I was conscious of the odor of tobacco in the air, and distinctly heard the low grating of the office chair as it swung around.
I suppose the student of the supernatural always has to fight against the excitement of the unknown—an excitement which clouds the judgment and confuses reason. Certainly, as I turned my head and sprang to my feet, I was very far from being a cool and collected observer; yet, indisputably, the chair had turned. Indeed, I snapped my head around in time to see the last of its movement toward the desk. And at the same instant my nostrils caught more strongly the sweet and heavy odor of Peter Magnus’ cigar. For a moment all was still. Then Mrs. Magnus rose and beckoned me forward.
“Come,” she said, and with an effort I compelled my feet to follow her.
It was a battle between instinct and reason. Instinct was trying to hurl me out of the room and out of the house. Reason was telling me—in a very faint voice, it is true—that there was nothing to be afraid of. I have always been proud of the fact that I did approach the desk, instead of making for the door.
And I was even brave enough to glance behind it. One glance was sufficient. The triangular space between the walls and the back of the desk was empty. I don’t know why that should have afforded me any relief, but it did.
Then, before my eyes, not three feet away from them, a little gob of ashes dropped from the empty air into the tray.
I am free to confess that that sight swept away any remnant of doubt I may have had in the reality of the unreal—if I may use such a term. Peter Magnus was sitting in that chair. There could be, to my mind, no question of it.
But if any doubt had existed, it would have been ended by what followed.
For my eye was caught by the pad of paper on the desk, and, even as I watched it, I saw unfold upon it, one after another, these words:
MY DEAR WIFE: Place the money on this desk and leave me. I shall be at rest. Good-by.
I wish I could describe to you the sensation which shook me as I witnessed this miracle. For there the words were, and I had seen them flow smoothly from an invisible pen—from Peter Magnus’ pen, for the writing was his.
“I have the money,” I said, and I caught up my bag from the floor, unlocked it, and took out the five sealed packets. “There are one hundred hundred-dollar bills in each,” I explained, almost as if he could hear me—indeed, I was quite sure at the moment that he did hear me; and I passed the packets over to Mrs. Magnus.
Without a word she placed them on the desk, then turned to me.
“Come,” she said. “That is all. Good-by, Peter,” she added, and there was a little sob in her voice. “God bless you.”
Was it my fancy, or did something like a sigh come from that unseen presence in the chair? It was in a sort of maze that I followed Mrs. Magnus from the room. She switched off the light and then closed the door.