Underneath all this then, it must be remembered that the one thing that was intensely real to him was his sense of loss of the one soul in whom his own had been wrapped up. Even this afternoon as yesterday, even this morning as he lay awake, he had been conscious of an irresistible impulse to demand some sign, to catch some glimpse of that which was now denied to him.
It was in this mood that he had read the book; and it is not to be wondered at that he had been excited by it.
For it opened up to him, beneath all its sham mysticism, its intolerable affectations, its grotesque parody of spirituality—of all of which he was largely aware—a glimmering avenue of a faintly possible hope of which he had never dreamed—a hope, at least, of that half self-deception which is so tempting to certain characters.
Here, in this book, written by a living man, whose name and address were given, were stories so startling, and theories so apparently consonant with themselves and with other partly known facts—stories and theories, too, which met so precisely his own overmastering desire, that it is little wonder that he was affected by them.
Naturally, even during his reading, a thousand answers and adverse comments had sprung to his mind—suggestions of fraud, of lying, of hallucination—but yet, here the possibility remained. Here were living men and women who, with the usual complement of senses and reason, declared categorically and in detail, that on this and that date, in this place and the other, after having taken all possible precautions against fraud, they had received messages from the dead—messages of which the purport was understood by none but themselves—that they had seen with their eyes, in sufficient light, the actual features of the dead whom they loved, that they had even clasped their hands, and held for an instant the bodies of those whom they had seen die with their own eyes, and buried.
* * * * *
When the ladies’ footsteps had ceased to sound overhead, Laurie went to the French window, opened it, and passed on to the lawn.
He was astonished at the warmth of the September night. The little wind that had been chilly this afternoon had dropped with the coming of the dark, and high overhead he could see the great masses of the leaves motionless against the sky. He passed round the house, and beneath the yews, and sat down on the garden bench.
It was darker here than outside on the lawn. Beneath his feet were the soft needles from the trees, and above him, as he looked out, still sunk in his thought, he could see the glimmer of a star or two between the branches.
It was a fragrant, kindly night. From the hamlet of half a dozen houses beyond the garden came no sound; and the house, too, was still behind him. An illuminated window somewhere on the first floor went out as he looked at it, like a soul leaving a body; once a sleepy bird somewhere in the shrubbery chirped to its mate and was silent again.