Laurie went to the fire to wait, and stood there, mechanically warming his hands and staring down at that sleeping core of red coal.
He had taken his courage in both hands in coming at all. In spite of his brave words to Maggie, he had been conscious of a curious repulsion with regard to the whole matter—a repulsion not only of contempt towards the elaborate affectations of the woman he had determined to consult. Yet he had come.
What he had said just now had been perfectly true. He was not yet in the least convinced, but he was anxious, intensely and passionately anxious, goaded too by desire.
Ah! surely it was absurd and fantastic—here in London, in this century. He turned and faced the lamp-lit room, letting his eyes wander round the picture-hung walls, the blue stamped paper, the Empire furniture, the general appearance of beautiful comfort and sane modern life. It was absurd and fantastic; he would be disappointed again, as he had been disappointed in everything else. These things did not happen—the dead did not return. Step by step those things that for centuries had been deemed evidence of the supernatural, one by one had been explained and discounted. Hypnotism, water divining, witchcraft, and the rest. All these had once been believed to be indisputable proofs of a life beyond the grave, of strange supernormal personalities, and these, one by one, had been either accounted for or discredited. It was mad of him to be alarmed or excited. No, he would go through with it, expecting nothing, hoping nothing. But he would just go through with it to satisfy himself....
The door opened, and the two ladies came in.
“I am delighted that you called, Mr. Baxter; and on such an errand!”
Lady Laura put out a hand, tremulous with pleasure at welcoming a possible disciple.
“Mrs. Stapleton has explained—” began Laurie.
“I understand everything. You come as a skeptic—no, not as a skeptic, but as an inquirer, that is all that we wish.... Then tomorrow, at about half-past four.”
It was a mellow October afternoon, glowing towards sunset, as Laurie came across the south end of the park to his appointment next day; and the effect of it upon his mind was singularly unsuggestive of supernatural mystery. Instead, the warm sky, the lights beginning to peep here and there, though an hour before sunset, turned him rather in the direction of the natural and the domestic.
He wondered what his mother and Maggie would say if they knew his errand, for he had sufficient self-control not to have told them of his intentions. As regards his mother he did not care very much. Of course she would deprecate it and feebly dissuade; but he recognized that there was no particular principle behind, beyond a sense of discomfort at the unknown. But it was necessary for him to argue with himself