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by [?]

[* Transcriber’s note: So in original. One would rather expect the accent trema on the ‘e’, not on the ‘a’.]

My conversion to a deeper interest in the obscurer psychic phenomena befell through encountering a theatrical touring company in a dull provincial town. The barber told me about it–a dapper young Englishman of twenty-five, with an unimpeachable necktie.

BARBER. “They’re playing ‘Macbeth’ to-night, sir.”

AUTHOR. (growling). “Indeed?”

B. “Yes, sir; I’m told it’s pretty thick.”

A. “What’s pretty thick?”

B. “‘Macbeth.'”

A. “What do you mean by ‘thick’?”

B. “Full of gore, sir. I don’t like those sort o’ pieces. I like opera–‘Utopia’ and that sort o’ thing. You can see plenty o’ thick things in real life. I don’t want to go to the theatre to get the creeps and horrors. But I’ve seen ‘Othello’ and ‘Virginius.'”

A. “Ha! Do you know who wrote ‘Othello’?”

B. “No, that I don’t.”

A. “Do you know who wrote ‘Macbeth’?”

B. “Now you ask me something!”

A. (speculating sadly on the vanity of fame and the absurdity of being a national bard, but determined to vindicate a brother author) “‘Othello’ and ‘Macbeth’ were written by Shakespeare.”

B. (unmoved) “Ah! that’s the man that wrote ‘Taming of the Shrew,’ isn’t it?”

A. (astonished) “Yes.”

So the Author went to see the thick play, and found he knew Lady Macbeth, nay, had–by an odd episode–first seen her in dressing-gown and curl-papers; so, presuming upon this intimate acquaintanceship, he got himself bidden to the Banquet–in less Shakespearian language, he went to supper. The Banquet was uninterrupted by Banquos or other bogies. Lady Macbeth–in a Parisian art-gown–sipped milk after her bloody exertions, and listened graciously, her fair young head haloed in smoke, to her guest’s comparison of herself with Mrs. Siddons. But Lady Macbeth’s Chaperon was a Medium, self-made, and when the compliments and the supper had been cleared away, the Medium kindly proposed to exhibit her newly-discovered prowess with the Planchette. The Planchette, as everybody knows, and as I didn’t know myself till I saw it, is a wooden heart that runs on two hind wheels, and has a pencil stuck through the centre of its apex. The Medium gracefully places her hand upon the heart, which after an interval of Quaker-like meditation begins to write, as abruptly as a Quaker is moved by the Spirit, and as abruptly finishes.

AUTHOR. “What do I want to do early to-morrow morning?”

What was in his mind was: “Send a wire to Manchester.” The Planchette almost instantly scribbled: “Send a telegram to your brother.” Now, his brother was connected with the matter; and although at the time he considered the Planchette half wrong, yet in the morning, after reconsidering the question, the Author actually did send the wire to his brother instead. Sundry other things did the Planchette write, mostly wise, but sometimes foolish. It did not hesitate, for example, over the publisher of a certain anonymous book, but failed to give the title, though it wrote glibly, “Children of Night.” These results were sufficiently startling to invite further investigation, so the trio next proceeded to “call spirits from the vasty deep” by making a circle of their thirty fingers upon a wooden table. Very soon the table gave signs of upheaval, while some cobbling sprite fell to tapping merrily at his trade within its ligneous recesses. Lady Macbeth said that these taps denoted its readiness to hold communion with the grosser earth, and constituted its sole vocabulary. As in the game of Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral, its information was to be extracted by a series of queries admitting of “yes” or “no” in answer. One tap denoted “no,” three “yes,” and two “doubtful.” It could also give numerical replies. The table or the sprite, having indicated its acquiescence in this code, proceeded to give a most satisfactory account of itself. It told the Author his age, the time of day, the date of the month, carefully allowing for its being past midnight (which none of the human trio had thought of); it was excellently posted on his private concerns, knowing the date of his projected visit to America, and the name of his past work and his future wife. Its orthography was impeccable, though its method was somewhat todious, for the Author had to run through the alphabet to provoke the sprite into tapping at any particular letter. But one soon grew reconciled to its cumbrous methods, as though holding converse with a foreigner; and its remarks made up in emphasis what they lacked in brevity, and were given with exemplary promptitude. Interrogated as to its own personality, it declared it was an unborn spirit, destined to be born in ten years. “Do you know what makes you be born?” inquired the Author. “Yes,” it replied. “Will you tell us?” “Yes.” “Tell us, then.” “F-O-R-C-E.” “Is it God’s force?” “No.” “Is He not omnipotent, then?” “No.” “What is the true religion?” “Buddhism.” “Do you mean Madame Blavatsky was right?” “Yes.” “Is there a heaven?” “Yes.” “A Hell?” “No.” To hear a small still voice rapping, rapping in the silence of the small hours, rapping out the secrets of the universe, was weird enough. It was as though Milton’s words were indeed inspired, and–