He knew that he was in an overwrought mood. For some weeks this mood had been descending upon his spirit, like a pall. He had avoided music, pictures, the opera—which he never regarded as an art; even his favourite poets he could not read. Nor did he degustate, as was his daily wont, the supreme prose of the French masters. The pleasures of robust stomachs, gourmandizing and drinking, were denied him by nature. He could not sip a glass of wine, and for meat he entertained distaste. His physique proved him to be of the neurotic temperament—he was very tall, very slim, of an exceeding elegance, in dress a finical dandy; while his trim pointed blue-black beard and dark, foreign eyes were the cause of his being mistaken often for a Frenchman or a Spaniard—which illusion was not dissipated when he chose to speak their several tongues.
Involuntarily, and to the ire of his neighbours, he arose and indolently made his way down the side aisle. When he reached the baize swinging doors, he saw the woman approaching him. As if she had been an acquaintance of years, she saluted him carelessly, and, accompanied by the scandalized looks of many in the congregation, the pair left the church, though not before the preacher had sonorously quoted from the Psalm, Domine ne in Furore, “For my loins are filled with illusions; and there is no health in my flesh.”
Je cherche des parfums
nouveaux, des fleurs plus larges, des
“It may be all a magnificent illusion, but—” he began.
“Everything is an illusion in this life, though seldom magnificent,” she answered. They slowly walked up the avenue. The night was tepid; motor cars, looking like magnified beetles, with bulging eyes of fire, went swiftly by. The pavements were almost deserted when they reached the park. He felt as if hypnotized, and once, rather meanly, was glad that no one saw him in company of his dowdy companion.
“I wonder if you realize that we do not know each other’s name,” he said.
“Oh, yes. You are Mr. Baldur. My name is Mrs. Lilith Whistler.”
“Mrs. Whistler. Not the medium?”
“The medium—as you call it. In reality I am only a woman, happy, or unhappy, in the possession of super-normal powers.”
“Not supernatural, then?” he interposed. He was a sceptic who called himself agnostic. The mystery of earth and heaven might be interpreted, but always in terms of science; yet he did not fancy the superior manner in which this charlatan flouted the supernatural. He had heard of her miracles—and doubted them. She gave a little laugh at his correction.
“What phrase-jugglers you men are! You want all the splendours of the Infinite thrown in with the price of admission! I said super-normal, because we know of nothing greater than nature. Things that are off the beaten track of the normal, across the frontiers, some call supernatural; but it is their ignorance of the vast, unexplored territory of the spirit—which is only the material masquerading in a different guise.”