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Chapter 17 THE WONDERFUL COROT

  • ### I.
  • On the twentieth of May, 1881 (said John Nicholas, in the smoking room of th_allia), I spent the day and part of the night at the house of my good frien_cott Jordan, President of the Bloomsburgh and Lycoming Railroad. Jordan has _lace in one of the charming suburban neighborhoods a few miles out o_hiladelphia. His character deserves a word.
  • He is an intensely superstitious, intensely practical man—a type of a clas_uch more numerous than people will readily believe. Half a dozen railroads, conceived, built, equipped, and run to the profit of their legitimate owners, bear witness to his honesty and sound business sense. If further evidence o_is worldly judgment is wanted, it may be found in a safe full of marketabl_ecurities. In his power of managing men and handling complicated enterprises, Scott Jordan comes nearer to my idea of Thomas Brassey than does any othe_apitalist-contractor I know. His name on a Board of Direction is a guarante_f conservative, prudent, yet never timid management. I wish he woul_ndertake the comptrollership of my modest finances, to the last dollar _ossess. He is a companionable old gentleman, and likes to be considered as _an of taste. He is in the full sense a man of the world while concerned wit_he affairs of this world, yet he spends nearly half his life in another—_trange world where banjos play and bells ring without human hands, wher_hostly arms are stretched forth from behind the curtains of the unknown, an_im forms belonging to every age of history meet face to face.
  • Jordan's house is the happy hunting ground of all the professional charlatan_n the spirit-raising line. They fasten to him like leeches—the rappers, th_est mediums, the healing mediums, the physical-manifestation people and th_ope tiers, the clairvoyants, the controlled of every sort, male and female, young and old, prosperous and shabby.
  • Jordan has told me that these gentry cost him twelve or fifteen thousan_ollars a year. When they come to his door he welcomes them as aids in hi_ireless investigation of truth. They live like princes in his establishment; every morning brings its honorarium for the performance of the night before.
  • Jordan royally entertains his Egyptians and Greeks until he detects them i_ome piece of imposture cruder than usual. Then he talks to them like _rieved parent, ships them off with a free pass over one of his railroads, an_s all ready to go through the same process with the next corner.
  • You will understand now, gentlemen, that I had looked forward wit_onsiderable interest to my visit to Jordan's house.
  • Although the family was entertaining several professionals, I found that I wa_he only social guest. I make this distinction, but Jordan never does. You ca_ardly help liking the old fellow the better for the magnificent old-schoo_ourtesy with which he treats the seediest humbug of the lot.
  • "It is they who condescend," he is accustomed to say, somewhat pompously,
  • "when they honor me with their company; for do they not bring with them th_ings and great poets and artists and the wisest and best of every century?"
  • And if Jordan's testimony is accorded the same weight in this matter as i_ould have in any railroad suit in any court in Pennsylvania, the wisest an_est of every century, from Socrates down to George Washington, have, in fact, visited his private cabinet.
  • At the dinner table I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. John Roberts and hi_rother William, the celebrated cabinet mediums; fellows with villainou_aces. I was also presented in due form to Mr. Helder, a gentleman o_onsumptive appearance, who is said to possess remarkable developing powers; _at lady whose name I have forgotten, but who practices medicine unde_nspiration of the eminent Dr. Rush; Mrs. Blackwell, the materializing medium, and her daughter, introduced as Mrs. Work, a young lady with black eyes, sai_o be a flower and modeling medium of rare promise. At no time did I see an_r. Work.
  • I thought the flower and modeling medium looked at me with not unkind eye_uring dinner. The behavior of the other professionals indicated suspiciou_eserve. They furtively watched me, as if trying to guess the depth of m_enetration. I contrived to drop a few remarks that seemed to encourage them.
  • Jordan was jovial, and wholly unconscious of all this byplay.
  • In my friend's library after dinner, there was the usual jugglery, with th_as turned halfway down. A small extension room, separated by a portiere fro_he library, served as a cabinet. William Roberts suffered me to tie him wit_ clothesline. He produced some of the commoner manifestations, and the_eclared that the conditions were unfavorable. At Jordan's urgent request, Mrs. Blackwell went into the cabinet. Hands and vague white faces were show_etween the curtains. The lights were turned still lower. Mrs. Work touche_he piano, singing in a very musical voice, "Scots wha hae" and "Comin_hrough the Rye." The persistent repetition of these airs finally elicited _ull-length figure in a cloud of white, and the apparition was pronounced t_e Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary withdrew and reappeared several times. At last, as if gaining courage, she ventured forth from the cabinet, advanced a yard o_ore into the room, and curtsied. Jordan called my attention in a whisper t_he supernal beauty of her face and apparel. In a reverent voice he inquire_f she would permit a stranger to approach. A slight inclination of Mary'_ead granted the boon. I stood face to face with the Queen; she allowed m_and to rest lightly for a second upon one of the folds of mull that drape_er form. Her face was so near mine that even in the dim light I could see he_yes shining through the eye holes of her absurd papier-mache mask.
  • The impulse to seize Mary and expose the ridiculous imposture was almos_rresistible. I must have raised my hands unconsciously, for the Queen too_right and disappeared behind the portiere. Mrs. Work hastily left the pian_nd turned up the gas. In the glance that she gave me I read a piteous appeal.
  • Jordan's face was beaming with satisfaction. "So beautiful," he murmured, "an_o gracious!"
  • "Yes, beautiful," I repeated, still looking at the flower and modeling medium;
  • "beautiful and uncommonly gracious!" "Thanks!" she whispered. "You ar_enerous."
  • Half ashamed of myself as the voluntary accomplice of vulgar tricksters, _istened with growing impatience to Jordan's ecstatic account of othe_aterializations not less marvelous and convincing than this of Mary, Queen o_cots. The mediums had returned to the ordinary occupations of evenin_eisure. The younger Roberts and Mr. Helder were playing backgammon, conversing at the same time in low voices. The fat representative of Dr. Rus_as asleep in her chair. Mrs. Work was crocheting. Her mother was sippin_randy and water—a necessary restorative, Jordan was careful to tell me, afte_he draft made upon her vital forces by the recent materialization of Mary.
  • The situation would have been thoroughly commonplace had it not been fo_ccasional rattling detonations, or successions of sharp raps, apparently i_he ceiling, in the partition walls, all over the furniture, and underneat_he floor.
  • "They are playful tonight," said Roberts, looking up from his backgammo_oard.
  • "Yes," said Mrs. Work's mother, as she stirred her brandy and water. "They ar_ery fond of Mr. Jordan. They hover around him always. Sometimes, when m_nner vision is clearer, I see the air full of their beautiful forms, following him wherever he goes. They love and reward him for his grea_nterest in them and us."
  • "Mr. Jordan," said I, "do you never find yourself imposed on?"
  • "Oh, often," he replied. "Frequently by wicked spirits; frequently b_raudulent mediums."
  • "There are frauds in every profession, you know," said Mrs. Blackwell.
  • "There would be no paste diamonds," suggested Helder, "if there were no rea_iamonds."
  • "And your repeated discoveries of imposture," I persisted, "have not shake_our faith?"
  • "Why should they?" replied the railroad president "Nine hundred and ninety- nine experiments with negative results prove nothing; but the one-thousandt_ase, if established, proves everything. Demonstrated once, the possibility o_ommunication with disembodied spirits is demonstrated forever."
  • A fusillade of raps in every part of the room greeted this proposition.
  • "I grant that," said I. "Prove one instance of the interference of spirits i_he affairs of men and you have established the whole case."
  • "But you believe," he rejoined, with a smile, "that the thousandth an_bsolutely authentic instance will never be proved; and meanwhile you reserv_he right to explain away all such things as you have seen tonight by th_ypothesis of jugglery."
  • "I'm sure the gentleman doesn't think that," insinuated Mrs. Blackwell, wh_ad now finished her brandy and water.
  • "Nevertheless," continued Jordan, "the one-thousandth instance may happen, ma_appen at any time, and may happen to you. Come and see my pictures."
  • I tried to keep a grave face while my host did the honors of a score or mor_f Raphaels, Titans, Correggios, Guidos, and what not, all painted in his ow_ouse by mediums under inspiration. Jordan's old masters make a collectio_robably unlike any other on earth. When he demanded what I thought of th_nternal evidence of their authenticity, I was able to reply with perfec_ruthfulness that nobody could mistake them.
  • From this amazing trash I turned with feelings of relief to a landscap_anging in the hallway. "I moved it out here," said Jordan, "to make room fo_hat superb Carracci, 'Daniel in the Lion's Den'—the large canvas yo_articularly admired."
  • I looked at the old gentleman to see if he was in earnest. Then I looked agai_t the glorious landscape.
  • Here was no painted fiction, but truth itself: A clump of rounded willows, seen by early morning light and seen again in the perfectly calm water of th_anal or sluggish stream which they overhung; a skiff, resting partly on th_ater and partly on the wet grass of the nearer bank; beyond, an indistinc_istance and the outline of a château tower with the conical Burgundian peak; a marvelous humid atmosphere of blue and mist, a soft light envelopin_verything and caressing everything. No painted fiction, I say, but a windo_hrough which anyone having eyes might survey nature in her eternal truth.
  • I said: "That comes nearer to the supernatural than anything I have ever seen.
  • It is worth all your old masters together."
  • "You like it?" said he. "It is well enough, I suppose, though of a school fo_hich I have no particular fancy. It was painted here about a year ago by _pirit who did not choose to identify himself."
  • "Nonsense," said I, for this passed all endurance, "Corot has been dead si_ears."
  • Jordan led the way back into the library. "Mrs. Work," said he, "do yo_emember the circumstances under which the large landscape in the hall—th_azy green one—was painted?"
  • "Certainly," replied the young lady, looking up from her needles; "I recollec_ery well. It was painted through me."
  • In claiming the authorship of this wonderful work of genius, she used th_atter-of-fact tone in which she would have acknowledged a stork and sunflowe_n crewel, or a sleeping pussy cat in Berlin wools.
  • "And you are an artist yourself—that is to say, when not in the trance state?"
  • "Oh, yes," she replied, returning my gaze with unflinching eyes; and thereupo_he produced from one of Mr. Jordan's portfolios a preposterous bunch o_ilacs in water color. Meanwhile, Jordan had been rummaging in his desk. H_ow brought forth an account book. "Here we have it," he said, "all set dow_n black and white." In the middle of a page of similar memoranda I read thi_tem:
  • > 1880, May 13—Pd. M. A. Work for painting done under control; large view (trees, stream, boat, etc.)… $25.00
  • "All I can say, madam," I exclaimed, turning to Mrs. Work, "is that Knoedle_r Avery would have been most happy to pay you ten thousand dollars for tha_orot, for Corot it is, and a masterpiece at that."
  • "Good night," said Jordan, a little later, when I rose to retire. "After wha_ou have already experienced I need hardly warn you not to be disturbed by an_oises you may hear in your bedroom." A hailstorm of raps punctuated hi_entence. "They hover, hover around," Mrs. Blackwell was saying, as I left th_ibrary; "but in this house it is as guardian—"
  • I went to bed thoroughly bewildered. Was there, after all, behind thi_retched jack-in-the-box jugglery something incomprehensible, unexplainable, unspeakable—something which the jugglers themselves understood no better tha_heir dupes? When I thought of Mary, Queen of Scots, ogling me through he_asteboard mask, and of Jordan's rhapsody over her unearthly beauty, th_roblem seemed too ignoble to engage an intelligent man's attention for _ingle minute; but there was the Corot. The whole machinery of raps, hands, ropes, apparitions, guitars, Raphaels, Correggios, and Carraccis was almos_hildish in its simplicity; but there again was the Corot. Every train o_ogical thought, every analytical process led me back to the marvelous Corot.
  • One of three things must be true: The picture was a commonplace daub, like th_ld masters, and I was laboring under a strange delusion or hallucination i_egard to its merits. Or, Mrs. Work and her accomplices had procured a Coro_nknown to connoisseurs and had sold it for one five-hundredth part of it_arket value, to bolster up a petty deception. Or, the landscape was a marve_nd the manner of its production a miracle. The first supposition was the mos_lausible, yet I was not disposed to accept it at the expense of my self- possession and judgment; no doubt daylight would confirm my estimate of th_icture. The second supposition involved a degree of folly—disinterested an_xpensive folly—on the part of these precious mediums that did not tally wit_y observations of their character. To accept the third supposition was, o_ourse, to accept the theory of the spiritualists. Thus reasoning I fel_sleep, and was awakened, about half-past two o'clock, by a muffled hammerin_irectly beneath my bed.
  • Now, gentlemen, what followed passed very rapidly, but every incident i_istinct in my memory, and I ask you to reserve judgment until you have hear_e through.
  • The noise came from the room under mine. As nearly as I could judge, this wa_he library. Notwithstanding Jordan's advice, I determined to see what was th_atter. I jumped into my trousers and cautiously proceeded toward th_tairway. At the head of the stairs a door opened as I passed and a hand wa_aid upon my shoulder.
  • "Don't go down!" was eagerly whispered into my ear. "Don't go down! Return t_our chamber!"
  • A white figure stood before me. It was the flower and modeling medium in he_ightdress, her black hair all loose.
  • "Why should I not go down?" I demanded. "Are you afraid that I shall embarras_he spirits in their carpenter work?"
  • She spoke hurriedly and with evident excitement: "You believe it all a fraud, but it isn't. There's fraud enough, Lord knows, for mediums must live; but, then, there are things—once in a while, not often—that stun us."
  • "Tell me the truth about the Corot."
  • "As truly as I stand here, it was produced in the way we said—on my easel, with my brush held in my hand, yet not by me. I can tell you no more, for _now no more." The noise of pounding downstairs increased.
  • "And if I go down, shall I encounter one of the mysteries that you speak of!"
  • "No, but you will run into great danger. It is for your own sake I ask you no_o go." By this time I was in the lower hall.
  • Downstairs I discovered the Roberts brothers holding a seance at Jordan'_late closet, while the developing medium, Mr. Helder, with a dark lantern i_is hand, was developing the combination lock of Jordan's safe.
  • In my brief and not victorious struggle with the three rascals I must hav_eceived some hurt upon the head. My eyes were half blinded with blood. With _ague idea of shouting for help at the foot of the stairs, I staggered bac_nto the lower hall, closely pushed by two of the mediums. I heard one of the_hisper, "Hit hard! It's got to be done," and saw a heavy iron bar raised an_imed at my head.
  • At this moment I stood directly in front of the Corot. Even in the imperfec_ight, that wonderful glimpse of nature opened beside me like a window in th_all. In another instant the crowbar would have buried itself in my skull.
  • Then there reached my ears a cry from the head of the stairs, where I had lef_he flower medium standing, "Jump! Jump into the picture! For God's sake, jump!"
  • Resting one hand upon the frame, as upon a window sill, I launched mysel_gainst the canvas. The weapon descended, but I was already beyond its range.
  • I fell, fell, fell, as if falling through infinite space, yet partially born_p by invisible hands. Then I found myself upon the wet grass of the cana_ank. I jumped into the skiff and hurriedly poled it across the stream; an_hen, having reached the other bank, I fainted dead away under the willows.
  • When I came to my senses I was lying in snowy linen in the Hôtel Dieu a_ijon, with a good sister to take care of me. Here is a translation of th_ntry in the hospital books:
  • > 1881, May 21—Received from Monsieur the Mayor of Flavigny an Unknown, foun_arly this morning, unconscious, and only partially clad, on the bank of th_anal of Burgundy, near the limits of the arrondissement. Injuries—Sever_calp wound and slight fracture of the right parietal bone. Property—One pai_f trousers, one nightshirt, pair slippers. Means of identification—None.
  • Gentlemen, that is the end of my statement of facts. I am now on my way bac_o America. I shall establish the interference of spirits in human affairs b_ffording conclusive evidence that a wonderful picture was painted by a dea_rtist; that this picture was used by the spirits in my behalf as a way o_scape out of mortal danger, and that, by the most extraordinary instance o_evitation on record, I was borne bodily more than three thousand miles in _ew seconds.
  • Do not laugh just yet. To the scientific world and to all fair-minde_nvestigators of the truth of spiritualism, I shall soon offer in the way o_vidence:
  • 1\. The register of the Continental Hotel in Philadelphia for May 19, 1881. _topped there on my way to visit Jordan. My name will be found under tha_ate.
  • 2\. The testimony of Mr. Jordan and his family that I was with them at Bry_awr on May 20, 1881, up to eleven o'clock at night.
  • 3\. The duly attested record of my admission to the hospital at Dijon, France, on May 21, 1881.
  • 4\. The wonderful picture now in the possession of Jordan.