The Institut Métapsychique was an imposing stone building in the Avenue Wagra_ith a door like a baronial castle. Here it was that the three friend_resented themselves late in the evening. A footman showed them into _eception-room where they were presently welcomed by Dr. Maupuis in person.
The famous authority on psychic science was a short, broad man with a larg_ead, a clean-shaven face, and an expression in which worldly wisdom an_indly altruism were blended. His conversation was in French with Mailey an_oxton, who both spoke the language well, but he had to fall back upon broke_nglish with Malone, who could only utter still more broken French in reply.
He expressed his pleasure at their visit, as only a graceful Frenchman can, said a few words as to the wonderful qualities of Panbek, the Galician medium, and finally led the way downstairs to the room in which the experiments wer_o be conducted. His air of vivid intelligence and penetrating sagacity ha_lready shown the strangers how preposterous were those theories which trie_o explain away his wonderful results by the supposition that he was a man wh_as the easy victim of impostors.
Descending a winding stair they found themselves in a large chamber whic_ooked at first glance like a chemical laboratory, for shelves full o_ottles, retorts, test-tubes, scales and other apparatus lined the walls. I_as more elegantly furnished, however, than a mere workshop, and a larg_assive oak table occupied the centre of the room with a fringe of comfortabl_hairs. At one end of the room was a large portrait of Professor Crookes, which was flanked by a second of Lombroso, while between them was a remarkabl_icture of one of Eusapia Palladino's seances. Round the table there wa_athered a group of men who were talking in low tones, too much absorbed i_heir own conversation to take much notice of the newcomers.
"Three of these are distinguished visitors like yourselves," said Dr. Maupuis.
"Two others are my laboratory assistants, Dr. Sauvage and Dr. Buisson. Th_thers are Parisians of note. The Press is represented to-day by Mr. Forte, sub-editor of the Matin. The tall, dark man who looks like a retired genera_ou probably know… . Not? That is Professor Charles Richet, our honoure_oyen, who has shown great courage in this matter, though he has not quit_eached the same conclusions as you, Monsieur Mailey. But that also may come.
You must remember that we have to show policy, and that the less we mix thi_ith religion, the less trouble we shall have with the Church, which is stil_ery powerful in this country. The distinguished-looking man with the hig_orehead is the Count de Grammont. The gentleman with the head of a Jupite_nd the white beard is Flammarion, the astronomer. Now, gentlemen," he added, in a louder voice, "if you will take your places we shall get to work."
They sat at random round the long table, the three Britons keeping together.
At one end a large photographic camera was reared aloft. Two zinc buckets als_ccupied a prominent position upon a side table. The door was locked and th_ey given to Professor Richet. Dr. Maupuis sat at one end of the table with _mall middle-aged man, moustached, bald-headed and intelligent, upon hi_ight.
"Some of you have not met Monsieur Panbek," said the doctor. "Permit me t_resent him to you. Monsieur Panbek, gentlemen, has placed his remarkabl_owers at our disposal for scientific investigation, and we all owe him a deb_f gratitude. He is now in his forty-seventh year, a man of normal health, o_ neuro-arthritic disposition. Some hyper-excitability of his nervous syste_s indicated, and his reflexes arc exaggerated, but his blood-pressure i_ormal. The pulse is now at seventy-two, but rises to one hundred under tranc_onditions. There are zones of marked hyper-aesthesia on his limbs. His visua_ield and pupillary reaction is normal. I do not know that there is anythin_o add."
"I might say," remarked Professor Richet, "that the hyper-sensibility is mora_s well as physical. Panbek is impressionable and full of emotion, with th_emperament of the poet and all those little weaknesses, if we may call the_o, which the poet pays as a ransom for his gifts. A great medium is a grea_rtist and is to be judged by the same standards."
"He seems to me, gentlemen, to be preparing you for the worst," said th_edium with a charming smile, while the company laughed in sympathy.
"We are sitting in the hopes that some remarkable materializations which w_ave recently had may be renewed in such a form that we may get a permanen_ecord of them." Dr. Maupuis was talking in his dry, unemotional voice. "Thes_aterializations have taken very unexpected forms of late, and I would beg th_ompany to repress any feelings of fear, however strange these forms may be, as a calm and judicial atmosphere is most necessary. We shall now turn out th_hite light and begin with the lowest degree of red light until the condition_ill admit of further illumination."
The lamps were controlled from Dr. Maupuis' seat at the table. For a momen_hey were plunged in utter darkness. Then a dull red glow came in the corner, enough to show the dim outlines of the men round the table. There was no musi_nd no religious atmosphere of any sort. The company conversed in whispers.
"This is different to your English procedure," said Malone.
"Very," Mailey answered. "It seems to me that we are wide open to anythin_hich may come. It's all wrong. They don't realize the danger."
"What danger can there be?"
"Well, from my point of view, it is like sitting at the edge of a pond whic_ay have harmless frogs in it, or may have man-eating crocodiles. You can'_ell what may come."
Professor Richet, who spoke excellent English, overheard the words.
"I know your views, Mr. Mailey," said he. "Don't think that I treat the_ightly. Some things which I have seen make me appreciate your comparison o_he frog and the crocodile. In this very room I have been conscious of th_resence of creatures which could, if moved to anger, make our experiment_eem rather hazardous. I believe with you that evil people here might bring a_vil reflection into our circle."
"I am glad, sir, that you are moving in our direction," said Mailey, for lik_veryone else he regarded Richet as one of the world's great men.
"Moving, perhaps, and yet I cannot claim to be altogether with you yet. Th_atent powers of the human incarnate spirit may be so wonderful that they ma_xtend to regions which seem at present to be quite beyond their scope. As a_ld materialist, I fight every inch of the ground, though I admit that I hav_ost several lines of trenches. My illustrious friend Challenger still hold_is front intact, as I understand."
"Yes, sir" said Malone, "and yet I have some hopes — "
"Hush!" cried Maupuis in an eager voice. There was dead silence. Then ther_ame a sound of uneasy movement with a strange flapping vibration.
"The bird!" said an awestruck whisper.
There was silence and then once again came the sound of movement and a_mpatient flap.
"Have you all ready, Rene?" asked the doctor.
"All is ready."
The flash of the luminant mixture filled the room, while the shutter of th_amera fell. In that sudden glare of light the visitors had a momentar_limpse of a marvellous sight. The medium lay with his head upon his hands i_pparent insensibility. Upon his rounded shoulders there was perched a hug_ird of prey — a large falcon or an eagle. For one instant the strange pictur_as stamped upon their retinas even as it was upon the photographic plate.
Then the darkness closed down again, save for the two red lamps, like the eye_f some baleful demon lurking in the corner.
"My word!" gasped Malone. "Did you see it?"
"A crocodile out of the pond," said Mailey.
"But harmless," added Professor Richet. "the bird has been with us severa_imes. He moves his wings, as you have heard, but otherwise is inert. We ma_ave another and a more dangerous visitor."
The flash of the light had, of course, dispelled all ectoplasm. It wa_ecessary to begin again The company may have sat for a quarter of an hou_hen Richet touched Mailey's arm.
"Do you smell anything, Monsieur Mailey?"
Mailey sniffed the air.
"Yes, surely, it reminds me of our London Zoo."
"There is another more ordinary analogy. Have you been in a warm room with _et dog?"
"Exactly," said Mailey. "That is a perfect description. But where is the dog?"
"It is not a dog. Wait a little! Wait!"
The animal smell became more pronounced. It was overpowering. Then suddenl_alone became conscious of something moving round the table. In the dim re_ight he was aware of a mis-shapen figure, crouching, ill-formed, with som_esemblance to man. He silhouetted it against the dull radiance. It was bulky, broad, with a bullet-head, a short neck, heavy, clumsy shoulders. It slouche_lowly round the circle. Then it stopped, and a cry of surprise, not unmixe_ith fear, came from one of the sitters.
"Do not be alarmed," said Dr. Maupuis' quiet voice. "It is th_ithecanthropus. He is harmless." Had it been a cat which had strayed into th_oom the scientist could not have discussed it more calmly.
"It has long claws. It laid them on my neck," cried a voice.
"Yes, yes. He means it as a caress."
"You may have my share of his caresses!" cried the sitter in a quaverin_oice.
"Do not repulse him. It might be serious. He is well disposed. But he has hi_eelings, no doubt, like the rest of us."
The creature had resumed its stealthy progress. Now it turned the end of th_able and stood behind the three friends. Its breath came in quick puffs a_he back of their necks. Suddenly Lord Roxton gave a loud exclamation o_isgust.
"Quiet! Quiet! " said Maupuis.
"It's licking my hand!" cried Roxton.
An instant later Malone was aware of a shaggy head extended between Lor_oxton and himself. With his left hand he could feel long, coarse hair. I_urned towards him, and it needed all his self-control to hold his hand stil_hen a long soft tongue caressed it. Then it was gone.
"In heaven's name, what is it?" he asked.
"We have been asked not to photograph it. Possibly the light would infuriat_t. The command through the medium was definite. We can only say that it i_ither an apelike man or a man-like ape. We have seen it more clearly than to- night. The face is Simian, but the brow is straight; the arms long, the hand_uge, the body covered with hair."
"Tom Linden gave us something better than that," whispered Mailey. He spok_ow but Richet caught the words.
"All Nature is the field of our study, Mr. Mailey. It is not for us to choose.
Shall we classify the flowers but neglect the fungi?"
"But you admit it is dangerous."
"The X-rays were dangerous. How many martyrs lost their arms, joint by joint, before those dangers were realized? And yet it was necessary. So it is wit_s. We do not know yet what it is that we are doing. But if we can indeed sho_he world that this Pithecanthropus can come to us from the Invisible, an_epart again as it came, then the knowledge is so tremendous that even if h_ore us to pieces with those formidable claws it would none the less be ou_uty to go forward with our experiments."
"Science can be heroic," said Mailey. "Who can deny it? And yet I have hear_hese very scientific men tell us that we imperil our reason when we try t_et in touch with spiritual forces. Gladly would we sacrifice our reason, o_ur lives, if we could help mankind. Should we not do as much for spiritua_dvance as they for material?"
The lights had been turned up and there was a pause for relaxation before th_reat experiment of the evening was attempted. The men broke into littl_roups, chatting in hushed tones over their recent experience. Looking roun_t the comfortable room with its up-to-date appliances, the strange bird an_he stealthy monster seemed like dreams. And yet they had been very real a_as shown presently by the photographer, who had been allowed to leave and no_ushed excitedly from the adjacent dark room waving the plate which he ha_ust developed and fixed. He held it up against the light, and there, sur_nough, was the bald head of the medium sunk between his hands, and crouchin_losely over his shoulders the outline of that ominous figure. Dr. Maupui_ubbed his little fat hands with glee. Like all pioneers he had endured muc_ersecution from the Parisian Press, and every fresh phenomenon was anothe_eapon for his own defence.
"Nous marchons! Hein! Nous Marchons!" he kept on repeating while Richet, los_n thought, answered mechanically:
"Oui, mon ami, vous marchez!"
The little Galician was sitting nibbling a biscuit with a glass of red win_efore him. Malone went round to him and found that he had been in America an_ould talk a little English.
"Are you tired? Does it exhaust you?"
"In moderation, no. Two sittings a week. Behold my allowance. The doctor wil_llow no more."
"Do you remember anything?"
"It comes to me like dreams. A little here — a little there."
"Has the power always been with you?"
"Yes, yes, ever since a child. And my father, and my uncle. Their talk was o_isions. For me, I would go and sit in the woods and strange animals woul_ome round me. It did me such a surprise when I found that the other childre_ould not see them "
"Est ce que vous êtes prêtes?" asked Dr. Maupuis.
"Parfaitment," answered the medium, brushing away the crumbs. The doctor lit _pirit-lamp under one of the zinc buckets.
"We are about to co-operate in an experiment, gentlemen, which should, onc_nd for all, convince the world as to the existence of these ectoplasmi_orms. Their nature may be disputed, but their objectivity will be beyon_oubt from now onwards unless my plans miscarry. I would first explain thes_wo buckets to you. This one, which I am warming, contains paraffin, which i_ow in process of liquefaction. This other contains water. Those who have no_een present before must understand that Panbek's phenomena occur usually i_he same order, and that at this stage of the evening we may expect th_pparition of the old man. To-night we lie in wait for the old man, and w_hall, I hope, immortalize him in the history of psychic research. I resume m_eat, and I switch on the red light, Number Three, which allows of greate_isibility."
The circle was now quite visible. The medium's head had fallen forward and hi_eep snoring showed that he was already in trance. Every face was turne_owards him, for the wonderful process of materialization was going on befor_heir very eyes. At first it was a swirl of light, steam-like vapour whic_ircled round his head. Then there was a waving, as of white diaphanou_rapery, behind him. It thickened. It coalesced. It hardened in outline an_ook definite shape. There was a head. There were shoulders. Arms grew ou_rom them. Yes, there could not be a doubt of it — there was a man, an ol_an, standing behind the chair. He moved his head slowly from side lo side. H_eemed to be peering in indecision towards the company. One could imagine tha_e was asking himself, "Where am I, and what am I here for?"
"He does not speak, but he hears and has intelligence," said Dr. Maupuis, glancing over his shoulder at the apparition. "We are here, sir, in the hop_hat you will aid us in a very important experiment. May we count upon you_o-operation?"
The figure bowed his head in assent.
"We thank you. When you have attained your full power you will, no doubt, mov_way from the medium." The figure again bowed, but remained motionless. I_eemed to Malone that it was growing denser every moment. He caught glimpse_f the face. It was certainly an old man, heavy-faced, long-nosed, with _uriously projecting lower lip. Suddenly with a brusque movement it stoo_lear from Panbeck and stepped out into the room.
"Now, sir," said Maupuis in his precise fashion. "You will perceive the zin_ucket upon the left. I would beg you to have the kindness to approach it an_o plunge your right hand into it."
The figure moved across. He seemed interested in the buckets, for he examine_hem with some attention. Then he dipped one of his hands into that which th_octor had indicated.
"Excellent!" cried Maupuis, his voice shrill with excitement. "Now, sir, migh_ ask you to have the kindness to dip the same hand into the cold water of th_ther bucket."
The form did so.
"Now, sir, you would bring our experiment to complete success if you would la_our hand upon the table, and while it is resting there you would yoursel_ematerialize and return into the medium."
The figure bowed its comprehension and assent. Then it slowly advanced toward_he table, stooped over it, extended its hand — and vanished. The heav_reathing of the medium ceased and he moved uneasily as if about to wake.
Maupuis turned on the white light, and threw up his hands with a loud cry o_onder and joy which was echoed by the company.
On the shining wooden surface of the table there lay a delicate yellow-pin_love of paraffin, broad at the knuckles, thin at the wrist, two of th_ingers bent down to the palm. Maupuis was beside himself with delight. H_roke off a small bit of the wax from the wrist and handed it to an assistant, who hurried from the room.
"It is final!" he cried. "What can they say now? Gentlemen, I appeal to you.
You have seen what occurred. Can any of you give any rational explanation o_hat paraffin mould, save that it was the result of dematerialization of th_and within it?"
"I can see no other solution," Richet answered. "But you have to do with ver_bstinate and very prejudiced people. If they cannot deny it, they wil_robably ignore it."
"The Press is here and the Press represents the public," said Maupuis. "Fo_he Press Engleesh, Monsieur Malone," he went on in his broken way. "Is i_hat you can see any answer?"
"I can see none," Malone answered.
"And you, monsieur?" addressing the representative of the Matin."
The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
"For us who had the privilege of being present it was indeed convincing," sai_e, "and yet you will certainly be met with objections. They will not realiz_ow fragile this thing is. They will say that the medium brought it on hi_erson and laid it upon the table."
Maupuis clapped his hands triumphantly. His assistant had just brought him _lip of paper from the next room.
"Your objection is already answered," he cried, waving the paper in the air.
"I had foreseen it and I had put some cholesterine among the paraffin in th_inc pail. You may have observed that I broke off a corner of the mould. I_as for purpose of chemical analysis. This has now been done. It is here an_holesterine has been detected."
"Excellent!" said the French journalist. "You have closed the last hole. Bu_hat next?"
"What we have done once we can do again," Maupuis answered. "I will prepare _umber of these moulds. In some cases I will have fists and hands. Then I wil_ave plaster casts made from them. I will run the plaster inside the mould. I_s delicate, but it can be done. I will have dozens of them so treated, and _ill send them broadcast to every capital in the world that people may se_ith their own eyes. Will that not at last convince them of the reality of ou_onclusions?"
"Do not hope for too much, my poor friend," said Richet, with his hand upo_he shoulder of the enthusiast. "You have not yet realized the enormous vi_nertioe of the world. But as you have said, 'Vous marchez — vous marche_oujours'."
"And our march is regulated," said Mailey. "There is a gradual release t_ccommodate it to the receptivity of mankind."
Richet smiled and shook his head.
"Always transcendental, Monsieur Mailey! Always seeing more than meets the ey_nd changing science into philosophy! I fear you are incorrigible. Is you_osition reasonable?"
"Professor Richet," said Mailey, very earnestly, "I would beg you to answe_he same question. I have a deep respect for your talents and complet_ympathy with your caution, but have you not come to the dividing of the ways?
You are now in the position that you admit — you must admit — that a_ntelligent apparition in human form, built up from the substance which yo_ave yourself named ectoplasm, can walk the room and carry out instruction_hile the medium lay senseless under our eyes, and yet you hesitate to asser_hat spirit has an independent existence. Is that reasonable?"
Richet smiled and shook his head. Without answering he turned and bid farewel_o Dr. Maupuis, and to offer him his congratulations. A few minutes later th_ompany had broken up and our friends were in a taxi speeding towards thei_otel.
Malone was deeply impressed with what he had seen, and he sat up half th_ight drawing up a full account of it for the Central News, with the names o_hose who had endorsed the result — honourable names which no one in the worl_ould associate with folly or deception.
"Surely, surely, this will be a turning point and an epoch." So ran his dream.
Two days later he opened the great London dailies one after the other. Column_bout football. Columns about golf. A full page as to the value of shares. _ong and earnest correspondence in The Times about the habits of the lapwing.
Not one word in any of them as to the wonders which he had seen and reported.
Mailey laughed at his dejected face.
"A mad world, my masters," said he. "A crazy world! But the end is not yet!"