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.