Mandeville. It’s just as I said. The English, the best of them, have become so civilized that they express themselves, in speech and action, naturally, and are not afraid of their emotions.
The Parson. I wish Mandeville would travel more, or that he had stayed at home. It’s wonderful what a fit of Atlantic sea-sickness will do for a man’s judgment and cultivation. He is prepared to pronounce on art, manners, all kinds of culture. There is more nonsense talked about culture than about anything else.
Herbert. The Parson reminds me of an American country minister I once met walking through the Vatican. You could n’t impose upon him with any rubbish; he tested everything by the standards of his native place, and there was little that could bear the test. He had the sly air of a man who could not be deceived, and he went about with his mouth in a pucker of incredulity. There is nothing so placid as rustic conceit. There was something very enjoyable about his calm superiority to all the treasures of art.
Mandeville. And the Parson reminds me of another American minister, a consul in an Italian city, who said he was going up to Rome to have a thorough talk with the Pope, and give him a piece of his mind. Ministers seem to think that is their business. They serve it in such small pieces in order to make it go round.
The Parson. Mandeville is an infidel. Come, let’s have some music; nothing else will keep him in good humor till lunch-time.
The mistress. What shall it be?
The Parson. Give us the larghetto from Beethoven’s second symphony.
The Young Lady puts aside her portfolio. Herbert looks at the young lady. The Parson composes himself for critical purposes. Mandeville settles himself in a chair and stretches his long legs nearly into the fire, remarking that music takes the tangles out of him.
After the piece is finished, lunch is announced. It is still snowing.
It is difficult to explain the attraction which the uncanny and even the horrible have for most minds. I have seen a delicate woman half fascinated, but wholly disgusted, by one of the most unseemly of reptiles, vulgarly known as the “blowing viper” of the Alleghanies. She would look at it, and turn away with irresistible shuddering and the utmost loathing, and yet turn to look at it again and again, only to experience the same spasm of disgust. In spite of her aversion, she must have relished the sort of electric mental shock that the sight gave her.
I can no more account for the fascination for us of the stories of ghosts and “appearances,” and those weird tales in which the dead are the chief characters; nor tell why we should fall into converse about them when the winter evenings are far spent, the embers are glazing over on the hearth, and the listener begins to hear the eerie noises in the house. At such times one’s dreams become of importance, and people like to tell them and dwell upon them, as if they were a link between the known and unknown, and could give us a clew to that ghostly region which in certain states of the mind we feel to be more real than that we see.