“So it is here—” he said in quite a low voice.
Then he came across the room towards her.
For an instant his bearded face looked so strangely at her that she half moved towards the bell. Then he smiled, with a little reassuring gesture.
“No, no,” he said. “May I sit down a moment?”
She began hastily to cover her confusion.
“It is a meeting,” she said, “for this evening. I am sorry—”
“Just so,” he said. “It is about that that I have come.”
“I beg your pardon...?”
“Please sit down, Lady Laura.... May I say in a sentence what I have come to say?”
This seemed a very odd old man.
“Why, yes—” she said.
“I have come to beg you not to allow Mr. Baxter to enter the house.... No, I have no authority from anyone, least of all from Mr. Baxter. He has no idea that I have come. He would think it an unwarrantable piece of impertinence.”
“Mr. Cathcart ... I—I cannot—”
“Allow me,” he said, with a little compelling gesture that silenced her. “I have been asked to interfere by a couple of people very much interested in Mr. Baxter; one of them, if not both, completely disbelieves in spiritualism.”
“Then you know—”
He waved his hand towards the cabinet.
“Of course I know,” he said. “Why, I was a spiritualist for ten years myself. No, not a medium; not a professional, that is to say. I know all about Mr. Vincent; all about Mrs. Stapleton and yourself, Lady Laura. I still follow the news closely; I know perfectly well—”
“And you have given it up?”
“I have given it up for a long while,” he said quietly. “And I have come to ask you to forbid Mr. Baxter to be present this evening, for—for the same reason for which I have given it up myself.”
“Yes? And that—”
“I don’t think we need go into that,” he said. “It is enough, is it not, for me to say that Mr. Baxter’s work, and, in fact, his whole nervous system, is suffering considerably from the excitement; that one of the persons who have asked me to do what I can is Mr. Baxter’s own law-coach: and that even if he had not asked me, Mr. Baxter’s own appearance—”
“You know him?”
“Practically, no. I lunched at the same table with him on Friday; the symptoms are quite unmistakable.”
“I don’t understand. Symptoms?”
“Well, we will say symptoms of nervous excitement. You are aware, no doubt, that he is exceptionally sensitive. Probably you have seen for yourself—”
“Wait a moment,” said Lady Laura, her own heart beating furiously. “Why do you not go to Mr. Baxter himself?”
“I have done so. I arranged to meet him at lunch, and somehow I took a wrong turn with him: I have no tact whatever, as you perceive. But I wrote to him on Friday night, offering to call upon him, and just giving him a hint. Well, it was useless. He refused to see me.”