On the one side his fear drove him onwards; on the other a Horror faced him. He dared not recoil, for he understood where security lay; he longed, like the child screaming in the dark and beating his hands, to get back to the warmth and safety of bed; yet there stood before him a Presence, or at the least an Emotion of some kind, so hostile, so terrible, that he dared not penetrate it. It was not that an actual restraint lay upon him: he knew, that is, that the door was open; yet it needed an effort of the will of which his paralysis of terror rendered him incapable....
The tension became intolerable.
“O God ... God ... God....” he cried.
And in an instant the threshold was vacated; the swift rush asserted itself, and the space was passed.
* * * * *
Laurie sat up abruptly in his chair.
Mr. Vincent was beginning to think about going to bed. He had come in an hour before, had written half a dozen letters, and was smoking peacefully before the fire.
His rooms were not remarkable in any way, except for half a dozen objects standing on the second shelf of his bookcase, and the selection of literature ranged below them. For the rest, all was commonplace enough; a mahogany knee-hold table, a couple of easy chairs, much worn, and a long, extremely comfortable sofa standing by itself against the wall with evident signs, in its tumbled cushions and rubbed fabric, of continual and frequent use. A second door gave entrance to his bedroom.
He beat out his pipe slowly, yawned, and stood up.
It was at this instant that he heard the sudden tinkle of the electric bell in the lobby outside, and, wondering at the interruption at this hour, went quickly out and opened the door on to the stairs.
“Mr. Baxter! Come in, come in; I’m delighted to see you.”
Laurie came in without a word, went straight up to the fire-place, and faced about.
“I’m not going to apologize,” he said, “for coming at this time. You told me to come and see you at any time, and I’ve taken you at your word.”
The young man had an odd embarrassed manner, thought the other; an air of having come in spite of uneasiness; he was almost shamefaced.
The medium impelled him gently into a chair.
“First a cigarette,” he said; “next a little whisky, and then I shall be delighted to listen.... No; please do as I say.”
Laurie permitted himself to be managed; there was a strong, almost paternal air in the other’s manner that was difficult to resist. He lit his cigarette, he sipped his whisky; but his movements were nervously quick.
“Well, then....” and he interrupted himself. “What are those things, Mr. Vincent?” He nodded towards the second shelf in the bookcase.
Mr. Vincent turned on the hearthrug.