He had seen him in court for years past under every sort of circumstance, and if it had been required of him to select a character with which superstition and morbid humbug could have had nothing in common, he would have laid his hand upon the senior partner of Cathcart and Cathcart. Yet here was this sane man, taking this fantastic nonsense as if there were really something in it. He had first heard him speak of the subject at a small bachelor dinner party of four in the rooms of a mutual friend; and, as he had listened, he had had the same sensation as one would have upon hearing a Cabinet Minister, let us say, discussing stump-cricket with enthusiasm. Cathcart had said all kinds of things when once he was started—all with that air of businesslike briskness that was so characteristic of him and so disconcerting in such a connection. If he had apologized for it as an amiable weakness, if he had been in the least shamefaced or deprecatory, it would have been another matter; one would have forgiven it as one forgives any little exceptional eccentricity. But to hear him speak of materialization as of a process as normal (though unusual) as the production of radium, and of planchette as of wireless telegraphy—as established, indubitable facts, though out of the range of common experience—this had amazed this very practical man. Cathcart had hinted too of other things—things which he would not amplify—of a still more disconcertingly impossible nature—matters which Morton had scarcely thought had been credible even to the darkest medievalists; and all this with that same sharp, sane humor that lent an air of reality to all that he said.
For romantic young asses like Laurie Baxter such things were not so hopelessly incongruous, though obviously they were bad for him; they were all part of the wild credulousness of a religious youth; but for Cathcart, aged sixty-two, a solicitor in good practice, with a wife and two grown-up daughters, and a reputation for exceptionally sound shrewdness—! But it must be remembered he was a Catholic!
So Mr. James Morton sat in the “Cock” and pondered. He was not sorry he had tried to take steps to choke off this young fool, and he was just a little sorry that so far they had failed. He had written to Miss Deronnais in an impulse, after an unusually feverish outburst from the boy; and she, he had learnt later, had written to Mr. Cathcart. The rest had been of the other’s devising.
Well, it had failed so far. Perhaps next week things would be better.
He paid his bill, left two pence for the waiter, and went out. He had a case that afternoon.
Laurie left chambers as it was growing dark that afternoon, and went back to his rooms for tea. He had passed, as was usual now, an extremely distracted couple of hours, sitting over his books with spasmodic efforts only to attend to them. He was beginning, in fact, to be not quite sure whether Law after all was his vocation....