Mrs. Slater went away the next morning. On the following day but one Miss Ludington received a letter from her. She told her friend how glad she was that she had not postponed her visit to her, for if she had set it for a single day later she could not have made it at all. When she returned home she found that her husband had received an offer of a lucrative business position in Cincinnati, contingent on his immediate removal there.
They had been in a whirl of packing ever since, and were to take that night's train for Cincinnati, and whether they ever again came East to live was very doubtful. In a postscript, written crosswise, she said:
"I have been in such a rush ever since I came home that I declare I had clean forgotten till this moment about my promise to hunt up Mrs. Legrand's address for you. Very likely you have also forgotten by this time our talk about her, and if so it will not matter. But it vexes me to fail in a promise, and, if possible, I will snatch a moment before we leave to send a note to the friend I spoke of, and ask her to look the woman up for you."
Instead of being disappointed, Miss Ludington was, on the whole, relieved to get this letter, and inclined to hope that Mrs. Slater had failed to find the time to write her friend. In that case this extraordinary project of visiting a spiritualist medium would quietly fall through, which was the best thing that could happen.
The fact is, after sleeping on it, she had seen clearly that such a proceeding for a person of her position and antecedents would not only be preposterous, but almost disreputable. She was astonished at herself to think that her feelings could have been so wrought upon as to cause her seriously to contemplate such a step. All her life she had held the conviction, which she supposed to be shared by all persons of culture and respectability, that spiritualism was a low and immoral superstition, invariably implying fraud in its professors, and folly in its dupes: something, in fact, quite below the notice of persons of intelligence or good taste. As for the idea that this medium could show her the spirit of her former self, or any other real spirit, it was simply imbecile to entertain it for a moment.
If, however, Miss Ludington was relieved by Mrs. Slater's letter, Paul was keenly disappointed. His prejudice against spiritualism was by no means so deeply rooted as hers. In a general way he had always believed mediums to be frauds, and their shows mere shams, but he had been ready to allow with Mrs. Slater, that, mixed up in all this fraud, there might be a very little truth.
His mind admitted a bare possibility that this Mrs. Legrand might be able to show him the living face and form of his spirit-love. That possibility once admitted had completely dominated his imagination, and it made little difference whether it was one chance in a thousand or one in a million. He was like the victim of the lottery mania, whose absorption in contemplating the possibility of drawing the prize renders him quite oblivious of the nine hundred and ninety-nine blank tickets.
Previous to Mrs. Slater's visit he had been quite content in his devotion to an ideal mistress, for the reason that any nearer approach to her had not occurred to him as a possibility. But now the suggestion that he might see her face to face had so inflamed his imagination that it was out of the question for him to regain his former serenity. He resolved that, in case they should fail to hear from Mrs. Slater's friend, he would set about finding Mrs. Legrand himself, or, failing that, would go to some other medium. There would be no solace for the fever that had now got into his blood, until experiment should justify his daring hope, or prove it baseless.
However, the third day after Mrs. Slater's letter there came one from her friend, Mrs. Rhinehart. She said that she had received a note from Mrs. Slater, who had suddenly been called to Cincinnati, telling that Miss Ludington desired the address of Mrs. Legrand, with a view to securing a private seance. She could have sent the address at once, as she had it; but Mrs. Legrand was so overrun with business that an application to her by letter, especially from a stranger like Miss Ludington, might not have any result. And so Mrs. Rhinehart, who had been only too happy to oblige any friend of Mrs. Slater's, had called personally upon Mrs. Legrand to arrange for the seance. The medium had told her at first that she was full of previous engagements for a month ahead, and that it would be impossible to give Miss Ludington a seance. When, however, Mrs. Rhinehart told her that Miss Ludington's purpose in asking for the seance was to test the question whether our past selves have immortal souls distinct from our present selves, Mrs. Legrand became greatly interested, and at once said that she would cancel a previous appointment, and give Miss Ludington a seance the following evening, at her parlours, No. -- East Tenth Street, at nine o'clock. Mrs. Legrand had said that while she had never heard a belief in the immortality of past selves avowed, there had not been lacking in her relations with the spirit-world some mysterious experiences that seemed to confirm it. She should, therefore, look forward to the issue of the experiment the following evening with nearly as much confidence, and quite as much interest, as Miss Ludington herself. Mrs. Rhinehart hoped that the following evening would be convenient for Miss Ludington. She had assumed the responsibility of making the engagement positive, as she might have failed in securing a seance altogether had she waited to communicate with Miss Ludington. Hoping that "the conditions would be favourable," she remained, &c. &c.
When Miss Ludington had read this letter to Paul, she intimated, though rather faintly, that it was still not too late to withdraw from the enterprise; they could send Mrs. Legrand her fee, say that it was not convenient for them to come on the evening fixed, and so let the matter drop. Paul stared at her in astonishment, and said that, if she did not feel like going, he would go alone, as he had at first proposed. Upon this Miss Ludington once more declared that they would go together, and said nothing further about sacrificing the appointment.
The fact is she did not really wish to sacrifice it. She was experiencing a revulsion of feeling; Mrs. Rhinehart's letter had affected her almost as strongly as Mrs. Slater's talk. The fact that Mrs. Legrand had at once seen the reasonableness and probability of the belief in the immortality of past selves made it difficult for Miss Ludington to think of her as a mere vulgar impostor. The vague hint of the medium's as to strange experiences with the spirit world, confirmatory of this belief, appealed to her imagination in a powerful manner. Of what description might the mysterious monitions be, which, coming to this woman in the dim between-world where she groped, had prepared her to accept as true, on its first statement, a belief that to others seemed so hard to credit? What clutchings of spirit fingers in the dark! What moanings of souls whom no one recognised!
The confidence which Mrs. Legrand had expressed that the seance would prove a success affected Miss Ludington very powerfully. It impressed her as the judgment of an expert; it compelled her to recognize not only as possible, but even as probable, that, on the evening of the following day, she should behold the beautiful girl whom once, so many years before, she had called herself; for so at best would words express this wonder.
With a trembling ecstasy, which in vain she tried to reason down, she began to prepare herself for the presence of one fresh from the face of God and the awful precincts of eternity.
As for Paul, there was no conflict of feeling with prejudice in his case; he gave himself wholly up to a delirious expectation. How would his immortal mistress look? How would she move? What would be her stature--what her bearing? How would she gaze upon him? If not with love he should die at her feet. If with love how should he bear it?
Mrs. Rhinehart's letter had been received in the morning, and during the rest of the day Miss Ludington and Paul seemed quite to forget each other in their absorption in the thoughts suggested by the approaching event. They sat abstracted and silent at table, and, on rising, went each their own way. In the exalted state of their imaginations the enterprise they had in hand would not bear talking over.
When she retired to bed Miss Ludington found that sleep was out of the question. About two o'clock in the morning she heard Paul leave his room and go downstairs. Putting on dressing-gown and slippers she softly followed him. There was a light in the sitting-room and the door was ajar. Stepping noiselessly to it she looked in.
Paul was standing before, the fireplace, leaning on the mantelpiece, and looking up into the eyes of the girl above, smiling and talking softly to her, Miss Ludington entered the room and laid her hand gently on his arm. Her appearance did not seem to startle him in the least. "Paul, my dear boy!" she said, "you had better go to bed."
"It's no use," he said; "I can't sleep, and I had to come down here and look at her. Think, just think, aunty, that to-morrow we shall see her."
The young fellow's nervous excitement culminated in a burst of ecstatic tears, and soon afterwards Miss Ludington induced him to go to bed.
How much more he loved the girl than even she did! She was filled with dread as she thought of the effect which a disappointment of the hope he had given himself up to might produce. And what folly, after all, it was to expect anything but disappointment!
The spectacle of Paul's fatuous confidence had taken hers away.