His answer was a beaming smile and a few words, saying that knowledge should never be boasted of.
That moment my jealousy, which had been allayed, now surged furiously in me, and I determined that that very night I would match the strength of my mind with the strength of his.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT—THE FORGING OF THE CHAIN
“You have more than redeemed your promise, Voltaire,” said Tom Temple, after a silence that was almost painful. “Certainly there is enough romance and mystery in your story to satisfy any one. What do you think of it, Justin?”—turning to me.
“Mr. Voltaire used the word ‘imagination’ in his story,” I replied, “and I think it would describe it very well. Still, it does not account for much after one has read Dumas’ Memoirs of a Physician.”
“Am I to understand that you doubt the truth of my words?” asked Voltaire sharply.
“I think your story is all it appears to be,” I replied.
Honestly, however, I did not believe in one word of it. On the very face of it, it was absurd. The idea of taking a spirit from a living body and sending it after some one that was dead, in order that some secret might be learned, might pass for a huge joke; but certainly it could not be believed in by any well-balanced mind. At any rate, such was my conviction.
“I have heard that Mr. Blake has attempted to write a novel,” said Voltaire. “Perhaps he believes my story is made on the same principle.”
“Scarcely,” I replied. “My novel was a failure. It caused no sensation at all. Your story, on the other hand, is a brilliant success. See with what breathless interest it was listened to, and how it haunts the memories of your hearers even yet!”
This raised a slight titter. I do not know why it should, save that some of the young ladies were frightened, and accepted the first opportunity whereby they could in some way relieve their feelings. Anyhow it aroused Mr. Voltaire, for, as he looked at me, there was the look of a demon in his face, and his hand trembled.
“Do you doubt the existence of the forces I have mentioned?” he asked. “Do you think that the matters to which I have referred exist only in the mind? Are they, in your idea, no sciences in reality?”
“Pardon me, Mr. Voltaire,” I replied, “but I am an Englishman. We are thought by foreigners to be very conservative, and perhaps there may be truth in it. Anyhow, I, for one, like tangible proof before I believe in anything that does not appeal to my reason. Your story does not appear reasonable, and, although I hope I do not offend you by saying so, I cannot accept it as gospel.”