Resurrection Rock (1920)/Chapter 21

CHAPTER XXIA DIFFICULTY WITH HEAVEN

"THE impression which Mrs. Brand has made in New York could scarcely be better for our purpose," said Jaccard, upon the occasion of one of Lucas's visits to the many-windowed corner room, high up in a Dearborn Avenue office building, where Jaccard schemed and talked. Folded before him were copies of New York newspapers reporting the results of the English medium's "sittings" attended by many prominent New York people; the Chicago papers also had devoted prominent columns to the telegraphed story of Mrs. Brand's messages from the world beyond.

"No," agreed Lucas, hunching his chair closer, so he could more comfortably rest his arm on the desk. Jaccard with his foot hooked out a cuspidor and arranged it on the side and fairly between them. He kept it concealed from callers who were not, such as Lucas, old-timers like himself; Jaccard also preferred chewing his cigar to smoking it; indeed, Jaccard kept secreted in his drawer a bit of "plug", which he now produced and proffered.

Lucas looked at it longingly but shook his head. "No," he denied himself. "It would ruin me for this," and he continued to mouth his cigar.

"I won't make you miserable then," said Jaccard generously, and restored the chewing tobacco to its hiding place.

He was a tall, square man, Jaccard, kept in good condition by golf and moderate eating, and apparently unharmed by somewhat immoderate drinking; he was gray, baldish, and his blue eyes required, when he read, pince-nez which he kept on a black ribbon. If one knew nothing of his record, or of his personal habits, he passed for an ascetic, almost Puritanical individual; he had been, in his younger days, a great "jury lawyer"; but it was a generation since he had personally pleaded in any lower court.

"You see she has just been performing in New York the essential act," Jaccard resumed the subject of the medium. "She's been getting evidential messages. You know what they are?"

"Yes," said Lucas; but he knew that Jaccard would explain anyhow.

"Communications which no one can explain unless they came from people that are dead," Jaccard dutifully persisted. "They say mind reading must be absolutely barred out. Now that's precisely what we want her to do. We don't want to get her here in a séance and ask some spook, 'Is Agnes D. Cullen there?' and have the answer come, 'Yes, sir; present.' That's no good to us; we want some speech or answer or evidence which could have come from Agnes D. Cullen and no one else. Then we've something to go on.

"That's not enough to go to court with, even when we get it," Jaccard added hastily. "But it's for the impression—if properly advertised. Most cases are won before the courts open anyway. Any fool knows that. Half the case is the preparation of the jury before they're picked. Now we're going to use this spirit stuff to prepare every venireman in the County of Cook, State of Illinois, who can read or hear, with the fact that Agnes D. Cullen not only is dead but has proved it herself. We will then go to court and ask a jury picked from competent veniremen of County of Cook, State of Illinois, to pass upon the validity of certain material facts, witnessed at the time of the destruction of the Gallantic, to have caused the death of Agnes D. Cullen, beyond any reasonable doubt. Now when already they know she's dead, how do you think they'll decide?"

Jaccard previously had convinced Lucas how a jury, which he selected, was likely to decide; and Lucas, being fond of crowing himself, had no preference for that taste in others; so he did not directly reply but sat regarding his lawyer dubitatively.

"What do you, yourself, think of 'evidential messages,' Jaccard?" he suddenly demanded.

"Think?" said Jaccard. "I've just told you they will land you eighteen million or so in your lifetime instead of seven years from now—not saying you won't live seven years more, however."

"I mean," said Lucas, "what do you think of it, not as a lawyer, but as a man sixty-seven years old?"

"Sixty-six," Jaccard corrected.

"It's all the same; in your condition, you're about as likely to die in seven years, or in one, as I am. What do you think of that—material, Jaccard?"

"The material in general? 'Raymond'; 'The New Revelation'; 'After Death'?"

"Eh?" said Lucas. "You've read all those too?"

"How do you suppose I prepare a case?" Jaccard returned. "But what'd you read 'em for?"

"I bought them, so I read them," Lucas vouchsafed. "Well, Jaccard?"

"Thirteen years ago," said Jaccard, looking reflectively out the window, "I happened to be in London and met W. T. Stead; he was getting his letters from 'Julia' about that time and having himself photographed with spooks. He showed 'em to me; I was sorry for him. I thought he was touched. That was in nineteen-six."

"This is nineteen nineteen," said Lucas.

"Yes," said Jaccard, "and over there in that office," he jerked with his head toward a suite in another part of the building, "is Vin Parding, who goes to a medium every few days to talk to his boy; and on the next floor there's Bill Woolston. I reckon on about every floor of this building, or in any other, there's a man or two these days—not counting any women—who know they're able to talk 'through the veil.'"

"But you," Lucas persisted. "How 'bout yourself?"

"Me?" said Jaccard. "I wouldn't care to talk 'through', even if I was sure I could. That communicating process doesn't appeal to me. May be so; may not be so; I don't care much. But there's something I do care about that reached me out of it all, since you want to know. That's this," and Jaccard's eyes rested upon a small framed photograph which always stood turned toward him upon his desk. "I'm going to see my wife again, Lucas Cullen, that I lost thirty-two years ago; and I'm not going to find her just a washed-out angel in a silly, white, psalm-singing choir that'd mean nothing to me. I'm going to find her—her that went away that night. I'll know her; and she'll know me." Jaccard checked short his feeling. "I mean," he said after a minute, "that whatever else all this spiritual stir has done, it knocked out that old Christian Endeavor idea of heaven from anybody who can think. As they used to sketch heaven to us, no one but a half-wit would want to go there; personally, to myself, hell was more appealing, Cullen. But they," he turned and swept his hand to a space on his shelves where he had the books which he had used in the preparation of his case, "they show you a place you want to go to—a good human heaven where you'll know people, and they'll know you a good deal as you were and as they were. That what you want to know?"

"Yes," said Lucas and abruptly changed the subject and soon departed; for he had sought Jaccard, the old skeptic and sinner, to argue him out of that human idea of heaven which had been fastening itself upon him during these long days; and instead, he found Jaccard was accepting that idea for himself.

For Lucas's whole philosophy of life, now that he had to think it over, had been based upon belief of no accountability at the end—or at any other time—to any other heaven than that populated by half-witted, washed-out angels in silly, psalm-singing choirs which could mean little or nothing, one way or another, to a new arrival in the Beyond. So he had thought of everything which was real and actual—either of reward or punishment—as being here. He had never, like Macbeth before the murder, boldly upon this bank and shoal of time "jumped" the life to come; he had thought of that life to come—whether in the old one-hundredth-believed-in hell or in the old, orthodox milk-and-honey-blest heaven—as to be lived, not by Lucas Cullen, but perhaps by some characterless emanation of his spirit impossible to keep identified with himself. And this characterless soul would encounter, in the monotonous heavenly choir, only other spirits as lacking in human, personal attributes; so such meetings held for Lucas no terror. But the books which he recently had been reading and their illustration in the recent return of "J.Q." of Galilee to display his flaming torch presented far different images; in these even Jaccard now believed; and these portrayed Lucas Cullen, remaining in his own character and personality, encountering the spirits of the departed as individuals retaining personalities which were their own upon earth. Lucas did not relish such encounters.

Kincheloe would be there; and J. Q. and Henry Laylor and, worst of all, Richard Drane. They would not seek to injure him, so said the books; but Lucas rather preferred, if he met them again, that they should try. But no; they would be kind to him. Kincheloe "kind" to him! And Quinlan and Laylor and Drane! The thought made Lucas writhe. And others, whom he had injured or deceived in life, would be there to be "kind" to him; and they would know all about him—his daughter Deborah and Carew, Ethel's father. They would know, for instance, what he had recently done to Ethel. Well, whatever men like Parding and Jaccard thought, Lucas would have no faith in such inhabitants of heaven; he preferred to continue to believe in the perpetual chorus of washed-out half-wits.

But a belief, he found, was not a thing which one can command.

The English medium, Mrs. Brand, continued her extraordinary work in New York City for about ten days longer; then she came to Chicago, "sitting" in private homes of several of the most prominent people of the city and demonstrating evidences of communication to the full satisfaction of the increasing groups of devotees, and daily convincing the skeptical of the reality of her powers to reach the world beyond. She established, therefore, most ideal conditions for the trial of Lucas's plan to demonstrate the fact of Agnes Cullen's presence in the realm of the dead; and although, a few weeks earlier, Lucas had boasted of his plan and been impatient for opportunity to put it in practice, now when Jaccard told him that the time had come, Lucas delayed and postponed upon one pretext or another.

Not because he at all doubted the death of Agnes; rather, indeed, because he was completely satisfied that she was dead.

"Here's the point," he raised an objection with Jaccard; "when we get into a séance, how can we control that woman?"

"We can't," Jaccard admitted. "She's not doing it for money; besides, she's honest. She'd be no use if she wasn't. It's the known fact that no one can reach her that makes her valuable to us. You get an evidential message through Mrs. Brand from Agnes Cullen, and it'll mean something."

Lucas started a little. "But how can we know what sort of message it'll be?"

"What do we care?" Jaccard returned, "so long as we can prove it's from Mrs. Oliver Cullen." Then the lawyer estimated more keenly his client's face. "Oh!" he said. "Oh! A spirit can't say much," he reassured. "The difficulty is to make them say anything at all which is comprehensible."

Yet Lucas temporized. For he had learned that, under extraordinary conditions, spirits—or some manifestation simulating the effect of spirits and with a good deal of disconcerting information—said a good deal; they might even speak in their own voices and appear, "materialize."

Lucas steadfastly forbade himself the credulity to take such superstition seriously; nevertheless, since he understood that such phenomena were particularly likely to occur in the presence of such a powerful psychic as Mrs. Brand, he had no impulse to visit her. Suppose she could give power not only to Agnes Cullen but to "J.Q." and Laylor and Drane—dead, disembodied spirits—to air each his personal and particular grievance! Lucas wished he had not said so much about his plan to the family and to Jaccard.

The attitude of that fellow who called himself Loutrelle also bothered Lucas; because, so far as Lucas could discover, he was doing nothing but spending certain regular hours each day and evening taking courses in economics and business in the Northwestern University School of Commerce. This meant that, in addition, he undoubtedly was doing something which Lucas's operative could not discover. So Lucas changed operatives but without more enlightening results. Also some one, in these days, watched Lucas whenever he left the hotel, and Lucas felt that he was watched within the hotel, too. He could not help wondering what would happen if he made an evident move to leave the city.

"But they can prove nothing," he constantly reassured himself; and in a few days he conquered his absurd dread of something "uncontrollable" occurring if he visited Mrs. Brand.

The medium then was visiting Mrs. Stanton-Fielding at her home on the Drive, where, in addition to wholly private sittings with individual applicants, Mrs. Brand was giving more public demonstrations upon certain afternoons. Occasionally representatives of the newspapers had been admitted to these sittings; more often Mrs. Stanton-Fielding had issued admission cards, thirty or forty in number for each sitting, which her friends were asked to give to others who were interested and who might not be known to herself. The holders of these cards were expected merely to present them at the door and enter without giving their names, as Mrs. Brand preferred to know nothing whatever about the people in the "circle." Accordingly, many of the attendants at these séances came not only anonymously, but heavily veiled or masked so as not to be recognized

It was one of these sittings, where there were sure to be influential witnesses for any extraordinary "evidential" messages, that Jaccard had chosen for demonstration of Agnes Cullen's presence in the world beyond. When Lucas at last attended one of these séances, he contented himself at first with merely watching and listening to the phenomena which occurred for others; and the result of that first afternoon, while in certain ways disconcerting, yet on the whole seemed so governable that upon the next day he brought with him his daughter-in-law Myra and his grandson Bennet to ask natural questions of the medium out of concern for their lost cousin Agnes; so it was upon this occasion that request was made for proof of the death of Mrs. Oliver Cullen.