“We are not altogether strangers to stories about spiritualism or mesmerism here,” said Miss Forrest, “but the votaries of these so-called sciences have been and are such miserable specimens of mankind that educated people treat them with derision.”
There was decision and energy in her voice. Evidently she was not one to be easily deceived or trifled with.
“Counterfeits prove reality,” said Voltaire, looking searchingly at her; “besides, I seek to impose none of my stories on any one. I am not a professional spiritualist, psychologist, or biologist. I simply happen to have lived in countries where these matters are studied, and, as a consequence, have learned some of their mysteries. Seeing what I have seen, and hearing what I have heard, I beg to quote your greatest poet—
’There are more things in heaven
and earth than are dreamt of in your
“Your quotation is apropos,” she said in reply, “but it so happens that I have taken considerable interest in the matter about which you have been speaking, and after seeing various representations of these so-called occult sciences, and carefully examining them, I have come to the conclusion that they are only so many fairly clever juggling tricks, which have been attempts to deceive credulous people. Moreover, these have been so often exposed by cultured men, that they have no weight with people of intelligence.”
His eyes gleamed savagely, but he smiled upon her, and said, “Perhaps I may have an opportunity of undeceiving you, some time in the near future.”
“Meanwhile you will tell us an Eastern story,” said one of the young ladies.
“Pardon me,” replied Voltaire, “but tonight is Christmas Eve, and as my story might be regarded as heathenish, I will wait for some more favourable time, when your minds will not be influenced by the memories of the birth of the Christian religion. Besides, I know many of you are longing for other amusement than stories of the unseen.”
As he spoke I saw his eyes travel towards Aba Wady Kaffar, and they exchanged glances; then he looked towards Miss Forrest, and again a look of intelligence passed between him and the Egyptian.
Soon after Kaffar began to talk fluently to one of the Misses Temple, while several members of the party prepared for a charade. Then, when the attention of the guests was drawn towards those who displayed their powers at acting, I saw Voltaire rise and go out, and soon after he was followed by his friend.
Acting upon sudden impulse, which I think was caused by the remembrance of the meaning glances that passed between them after Voltaire had looked at Miss Forrest, I followed them out into the silent night. Somehow I felt that this fascinating man did not like me, while I was sure he had been deeply impressed by the woman who had that day travelled with me from London.