Page Created 1-17-02

© R. Lionel Fanthorpe

"There was something different about the disturbed spirit . . . it could materialise!"

        It was the kind of spiritualist seance room that was much more likely to put people off belief in the hereafter than to encourage them to have any kind of faith at all. The paper, if such ghastly, tangled, tattered, damp mildewed shreds could be called paper, was coming off the walls in large quantities. The whole place stank of dry rot. Three of the windows would not open, one was broken, and the fifth would not close. The door creaked on very ancient hinges. Dingy purple cloths covered small, rickety tables. An old, old man sat at an even older harmonium. There was a kind of platform beyond the tables; a platform or a dais with a rail in front; it had been a very good platform in its day----but its 'day' must have been well over a century ago . . .
        In the centre of the platform was a man in his late seventies with a wing collar and a voice that was indistinct at a range of anything more than four feet, which meant that anybody outside the centre of the front row would not be able to hear anything that was said. This was not quite such a great tragedy as it sounded, because the septuagenarian with the wing collar very rarely said anything that was worth hearing! He was mumbling through an interminable passage from the Book of Numbers at the moment when the door creaked open.
        Into the room stepped a very tall, broad-built, powerful-shouldered man, with curling iron grey hair, steely eyes, and a warm, friendly, and yet somehow pleasantly ugly face. The woman beside him was beautifuly proportioned; her hair was black, almost flue-black, and it was cut in the secret, Egyptian, Cleopatrine style. Where his eyes were grey, hers were jet black, they matched her hair. Her face was perfectly symmetrical, a magnificent face, queenly, regal, there was about her all the eternal mystery of Eve. She was as perfect a specimen of womanhood, as the man beside her was a perfect specimen of manhood. They sat quietly on two of the rickety chairs at the back and exchanged a swift, understanding smile.
        The mumbler looked up from the Book of Numbers, mumbled some more, and finally closed the Book. Beside him was an even more ancient female with a hearing aid, a twisted back, and beady bright little eyes like a parrot. The parroty female with the hearing aid had a voice that contrasted very strongly indeed with the mumbling of the would-be Numbers reader.
        "Let us pray!"screeched the thing with the hearing aid. And pray they did. It was the kind of prayer that has been repeated hundreds of thousands of times in places of this kind. It was not exactly sacrilegious, but something about it somehow failed to ring true.
        As he listened to the pious, hollow nonsense Val Stearman, the big man who had just entered with his wife La Noire, gave her a nudge and said something.
        "It's places like this that spoil the whole of the spiritualist movement, and the Christian faith. The efforts of genuine, sincere people are ruined by nits like these! Absolutely ruined! The outside world thinks that this stupid mockery is representative of real religion."
        "This place is absolutely shocking, I'd no idea it would be as bad as this!" replied La Noire, "Never been here before, have we?"
        "Certainly won't come here again," said Val. Whenever they were on holiday they visited the local spiritualist church, and very often they found it to be an enjoyable and moving experience. Very often it revealed strange glimpses into the psychic unknown, and they came away feeling up-lifted and encouraged. La Noire herself was a very powerful medium, and it was in this capacity that Stearman had first met her many years ago, when he had rescued her from a coven of Black Magicians----since when they had had many adventures. The coven had not given up easily, and even after they had thrown off the attentions of the sinister Dr. Jules and the unpleasant Professor Van Haak, not to mention the ghastly hunchback, there had been other adventures. They had fought with vampires and werewolves, they had destroyed a ghoul, they had been into nearly every haunted house in every secret place in England. But despite La Noire's mediumship they were always on the look-out for something new, there was always something new to learn; it was always possible that some new truth would come to them in some way.
        Now----big Val Stearman felt strangely bitter and disillusioned. This whole place seemed to be filled with a kind of deadly, creeping paralysis. It had got hold of the building and was getting hold of the people. It was a ghastly place. It was just that they were either completely deluded or completely pathetic. Or utterly and absolutely lacking in any kind of spiritual power or development. He thought that he would be doing them all a service if he blew the place up! And Val was by no means an unkindly man as a general rule.
        The service dragged on.
        Finally, the ancient thing with the wing collar mumbled something about:
        "And now our medium is going to address us!"
        The female with the ghastly, squeaky voice and the hearing aid tottered to the front of the platform, raised her eyes piously in the direction that one assumed indicated heaven, closed her eyes, shuddered a little, paused to adjust the cord of her hearing aid and then turned to face the congregation with a rather vacant expression.
        She had a spirit guide, apparently, who addressed the congregation through her in the person of an Arabian desert chieftain called Sheik el Gumbu. Sheik el Gumbu spoke a number of pious platitudes, none of which would have been beyond the mental capacity of the strange female with the hearing aid, and then the microscopic congregation sang another tuneless hymn, to the whistling accompaniments of the ancient man on the ancient harmonium.
        It would all have been terribly funny, if at the same time it hadn't been terribly tragic.
        Val Stearman whispered to La Noire:
        "Just imagine that we didn't know anything about religion. If we thought that religion was really like this? If we didn't know that in vast and beautiful cathedrals, congregations packed to the doors are singing magnificent melodies in perfect harmony and with absolute sincerity, and in chapels and churches of every denomination throughout this land and many lands, sincere people, including many Christian spiritualists, are really doing their best to understand the mysteries of infinity and to worship Almighty God: If a stranger were to walk in here he would surely walk out as a convinced atheist, or at least as an agnostic."
        "I agree with you," said La Noire, "this place is awful, more like a music hall version of a church."
        "I didn't think they really existed," said Val. "I didn't honestly, not till I walked in here."
        The hymn was concluded and they all sat down on the rickety chairs; feet scraped impatiently on the floor. An old man with a gigantic red nose blew it violently. Val Stearman jumped a little, and his chair threatened to collapse beneath his sixteen stone bulk.
        "Steady," whispered La Noire; "darling, they're not meant to jump on!,"
        "I know!" hissed Val, "I didn't intend to jump! It was that old man there with the shotgun!"
        "It's not a shotgun," said La Noire, "it's his nose!"
        "Help," murmured Val.
        "----and now," the old septuagenarian with the wing collar was addressing the brethren----and sistrine----"----and now," he bleated, sounding more like a mumbling goat than anything they had yet heard, "Now, dear Sister, Madam Ikon-Ababa, is to bring us spirit messages. We are all so very glad that she could be with us. And I am sure that we shall have a time of great uplift, and a time of great consolation, and a time of enlightenment----" his voice droned on and on.
        "I wish he'd cut the cackle and get on with it, I want to see whether this woman is a genuine medium," said Val.
        "I'm sure she isn't," said La Noire, "she can't be!"
        "Well, she's obviously been in the game for some time. She must have some kind of gift, or some kind of imagination!"
        At long last it appeared that the aged man in the wing collar had heard them whispering together, he leaned forward.
        "I would remind you," and his watery eyes were fixed on them to the best of his ability, "I would remind you"----he had an inane habit of repeating what he said, "that if we are to have the fullest possible contact with the spirit world----the great world of spirit beyond----then it will be absolutely necessary that we all approach the messages in a reverent and a quiet and a peaceful, psychic frame of mind. I would remind you of the words of that beautiful hymn:

                'Blind unbelief is sure to err
                And scan His work in vain,'

        Do not be blinded by disbelief, come forward in faith----"
        "If that old goat doesn't shut up," said Val, loudly enough for everybody around him to hear, "I shall be sorely tempted to go and wring his neck!"
        The Chairman, who rejoiced in the name of Professor Monketon Moulte, decided that the time had come to give up.
        "Now I will call on our dear sister to speak to us." He sat down, still looking with watery eyes in the direction of Val and La Noire Stearman.
        "Persistent old codger, isn't he?" said Val, "but I think we've silenced him now . . ."
        La Noire was giggling.
        "What's the matter?" demanded Val.
        "I was just going to say, 'If you don't shut up they'll throw you out'----and then I looked out to see who there was to throw you out----and then I giggled," she whispered, and giggled again.
        Val glanced round.
        "I see what you mean," he agreed, "unless they conjure up a couple of werewolves and a vampire I don't think any of this lot are going to do much throwing out! That old boy near the door there, who looks as if he's got fowl pest----I reckon he'd be pretty formidable! I shouldn't like to tangle with him! He'd probably breathe enough germs over you to knock out a healthy man in two seconds!"
        "Sshh," chided La Noire, "give the poor old thing a chance!"
        The 'poor old thing' adjusted its hearing aid, and looked around the room.
        "She knows the act, anyway," whispered La Noire.
        "Hmmm," commented Val, not sounding very impressed or convinced.
        'The poor old thing' continued to look around her, finally her hand wavered towards a particular spot.
        "The lady at the back," she said, her screeching voice reaching a very, very high tremolo.
        "Me?" quavered an old woman in a feather boa.
        "Yes----you, dear sister," said the thing on the platform.
        The one in the feather boa shifted in its seat excitedly, glad to be the centre of attraction. Necks craned in its direction.
        "Do you know someone called----" there was a pause, as though the medium was unsure of the name, "Do you know someone called Roland? Roland, from the world of spirit, I see a middle-aged, dark man, a very tall, upright man, a soldier----let me see, many years ago, passed over long ago, perhaps from your girlhood?"
        The old thing in the feather boa simpered again.
        "I did know a Roland, yes," she simpered again.
        "Roland wants you to know that all is well, and that he is at peace. Do you know Ethel, very old, well in her eighties----possibly more. I get a feeling of tiredness, as though she had had some kind of heart weakness, she was very, very tired when she passed over into the world of spirit. Do you place Ethel?"
        "Yes, yes, I know Ethel, yeesss," answered the woman with the feathered boa.
        "Ethel also sends you her love and she says something has been worrying you; now do you understand what that is? Something has been on your mind, something is troubling you, a decision, maybe, Now Ethel says everything will be all right, just go on as you are now. Ethel says 'let things simmer' and 'let things take their own course', what the dear French would call 'laisez faire'----'let things be'----All right! All right!" She turned her head sideways and went through the dramatic miming motions of asking a waiting spirit to join the queue of those who were wanting to use her as a means of communication.
        "Now----for the gentleman at the back, William is here! A tall man, with a very prominent nose! Bald, big ears, a sign of dental trouble----no teeth! Yes, I see----what an odd gesture! He is showing me his false teeth, now does that convey anything to you?" The old man whom Val Stearman had accused of having fowl pest grunted enthusiastically.
        "Ugh, pgh, pgh!" he enthused.
        "Good . . . good . . ." returned the medium. She sounded like a teacher encouraging a backward child who has just discovered that if you turn the pencil in such a way that the point is on the paper it makes marks! "Good!" she repeated, "William wants you to know that he is in the world of spirit, that he has been there for several years and that he is very happy and that he has met George. George is here in the world of spirit, George is with me now, I believe they are brothers, are they brothers?"
        "Ugh, ugh, ugh," went on the old man by the door, sounding more like an otter than a human being.
        "Good," said the medium again, encouragingly.
        "This makes me sick!" hissed Stearman out of the side of his mouth, "I could get up there and do a damn sight better than this! These nits will say 'yes' to anything you tell 'em!"
        And suddenly the medium finished her message and came towards the Stearmans, pointing her finger.
        "The lady and gentleman here, you know someone called Vernon?"
        "No!" said Stearman.
        "Think hard, please," said the medium. "I'm sure if you think hard you will know someone called Vernon! Do you know a Sebastian? Vernon and Sebastian, they are both here waiting to speak to you!"
        "No!" said Stearman again, coldly. "I do not know any Vernons or any Sebastians! Neither do I know anybody named Snackleton-Whipplethwaite!"
        The medium was taken aback, but she pressed on.
        "Well, I'm sure you will be able to remember Vernon when you get home and think about it. Vernon wants you to know----"
        "That he is very well and happy," interrupted Stearman. "and that he's been in the world of spirit for some time, and that if I'm worrying about anything just carry on doing what I am doing, and everything will come all right! Oh, you make me sick! This meeting is an utter and absolute disgrace to the whole spiritualist movement!" And so saying he rose to his feet and stormed out,
        There was deathly silence for a moment and then the medium regained her composure.
        "I have a message for the lady over there, Alec is calling you. Alec is wearing soldier's uniform and I think he was in the artillery. Now did you know anybody named Alec? Alec wants you to know that he is very well and happy . . ."
        Stearman could hear the voice droning on as he clumped down the stairs.
        "Of all the dam' ridiculous nonsense," he said, "however those people dare to call themselves mediums, God above knows, I don't. I've never come across anything, so utterly and absolutely ridiculous. A slur on the whole movement, you know, La Noire, something ought to be done about them! They ought to be reported and get struck off, or something! There isn't enough control! There is a certain amount of control, I know, some of it is pretty thorough, but places like this still can exist and that is the tragedy of it. They shouldn't be allowed to exist!"
        "I see what you mean," said La Noire, "of course, this one isn't linked up with any of the big unions, is it? It's not in the Christian Spiritualist Union, or the National Spiritualist Union?"
        "No, it's not," said Val. "I suppose that's why it's surviving, neither of the big Unions would have anything to do with it, would they?"
        La Noire shook her head.
        "No, they wouldn't," she said, emphatically.
        They walked down the street in silence.
        "I'm going to have a drink," said Val.
        One drink turned into two, and two became a dozen. He was feeling a great deal more mellow when an hour had passed during which he had slugged his way through half a bottle of brandy.
        "I now feel a great deal more human," he said expansively, slapping his muscular abdomen with a powerful hand, "a great deal more human"----then he laughed. "That old codger at the meeting kept repeating himself! What was his name? Monketon Moulte! He looked as if he was in a blasted moult." When Stearman was slightly inebriated his humour deteriorated a bit, but he laughed even more raucously than he did when he was sober. "You still look terribly straight-laced, me dear," he said, "have another beer!"
        "I'm not drinking beer," La Noire informed him, "I'm drinking Martinis!"
        "Well, have another Martini," said Val. "One thing I consider the height of ignorance, my darling, is for a man's wife to remain sober when he's gloriously tight----or rapidly approaching that blissful state!"
        "One of us has got to remain sober, otherwise we shan't be able to drive home," reminded La Noire practically.
        "Wisely said, O queen," chorlted Val, "wisely said, indeed! Now, the point is, which of us is it to be?"
        "It can't be you," La Noire pointed out, "because you're drunk already!"
        "Thank you for those few kind words," said Val. He crashed a heavy fist on the bar. "Seeing the damage is already done, landlord, let's have another brandy! And get your skates on, will you!"
        "Yessir? Coming, sir!" The landlord took one look at the size of big Val Stearman, the spread of the gigantic shoulders, the depth of the great barrel chest, the sinews that bulged beneath the jacket, and he really 'got his skates on'.
        "Quite a good drop of turps you serve here under the pseudonym of 'brandy'," said Val, "I'll come and see you again one day if I can remember the name of the pub."
        "Thank you, sir!" said the landlord. "Pleased to have you, sir!"
        "Have one yourself," expanded Val. "Come on, anything you like!"
        "I'll just have half of ale, sir, if you don't mind," said the landlord.
        "All right then, make it a half of ale," said Stearman. The landlord drew his half of ale, and they both drank up.
        "Very kind of you, sir, I'm sure," said the landlord, "your very good health and spirits, sir."
        "Spirits!" laughed Val, "There's only one kind of spirits that are any good, mate! That's the sort in this brandy bottle!"
        At that second the door opened, and in walked the strange little man with the wing collar, the mumbly, goatlike professor, Monketon Moulte.
        "Did I hear someone mention 'spirits'?" His voice was tremulous, he was as white as a sheet.
        "Ah, here's Father Christmas from the seance!" said Val. "What are you doing in here, grandad? I didn't think you came in naughty, rough public houses, with wicked men like me!"
        "Oh, you were at the meeting," said the professor. "You're the young man who walked out!"
        "I walked out," returned Val. "And flattery will get you nowhere!"
        He ran a hand through his tousled, iron-grey curls.
        "Have a drink, old man." He suddenly felt terribly sorry for the shrunken figure in the wing collar. "Have a drink," he repeated.
        "I don't normally partake of alcohol . . ."
        "Come on," urged Stearman.
        "----but seeing you absolutely insist----I've had a most trying experience----most trying!" He was very close to tears, and suddenly all the bitterness had gone from Val Stearman, as though he had opened a tap somewhere at the bottom of his mind and let it flood away.
        "What's the matter?" he asked, and in that same instant he was practically sober again, for at heart Val was a very humanitarian character. He bought the Professor a double Scotch.
        "Thank you, thank you so much!" He helped the old man to soda, and watched him, like a hen with a lame chick, as he sipped it.
        "Oh, that feels much better," said Monketon Moulte. "I don't suppose it's any use telling you any of this because you're an unbeliever!"
        "I'm not an unbeliever," said Val. "I've seen more supernatural phenomena than most people in that so-called church of yours have seen between 'em! Would you believe me, Professor Moulte, if I told you I had not actually seen, but destroyed, a vampire? My wife will vouch for anything I tell you. Every word of it is true."
        "And a ghoul," said La Noire softly in the Professor's ear.
        "I didn't know such things existed!" gasped the old man. "I only thought that there were disincarnate human spirits! In the ether!"
        "Don't you believe it," said Stearman, "there are 'more things than are dreamed of in our philosophies' and I reckon there always will be, no matter how much we find out."
        "Then perhaps you are the man to help me. What is your name?" asked the Professor.
        "Stearman," replied Val. "I'm a journalist, adventurer, call me what you like, a psychic investigator most of the time, Special Agent extraordinary! They call me in when nobody else can do anything about it. They call me in when the criminal can't be arrested because it's not human."
        "I see what you mean," murmured the professor. He looked very thoughtful, his wizened old face screwed up. "Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" he exclaimed suddenly, "I've heard of you, of course! Oh, if only I'd known, if only I'd known at the outset of the meeting!"
        "What difference would it have made?" enquired Val. "You can't turn a self-deluded old woman into a genuine medium simply by telling her that there is a well-known psychic investigator sitting in the audience. It would just put her on her guard a bit, and make her do a better show, it wouldn't make her genuine."
        "I'm sorry," said the old man, "I had no idea that----"
        "She hasn't any idea, either," said Val.
        "That's quite true," said La Noire. "She is self-deluded, poor old thing. Now all those people just agree for the point of it, professor. Think back, how many other times has she been to your spiritualist circle?"
        "Many times."
        "And you have thought that you recognised the person in the world of spirit whom she was talking about? How often has that been the case?"
        "Not----very often,"murmured the professor, he sounded suddenly very old and tired, "Not very often at all, I'm afraid. But one likes to encourage her, otherwise she doesn't go on, you see." He paused, "If you say 'yes' she'll go on and tell you a bit more, and I was hoping that the 'bit more' might contain something that was really true, really helpful. And I thought that on the occasions when she mentioned somebody I didn't know I ought to know them and I had forgotten them----I'm an old man and my memory is not what it was . . ."
        Val put a comforting arm around the old man's shoulder.
        "Have another drink," he said. "It'll do you the world of good!"
        "I must admit it's making me feel a lot better," agreed the Professor.
        "Come on," said Val, "drink up! You'll be twice the man to-morrow!"
        The barman hurried to pour another double Scotch for the professor and another double brandy for Stearman.
        "That's a lot better," said Val. "Come and sit down over here," and they changed to a comfortable corner seat of red rexine.
        "This trouble," said Stearman. "Tell me all about it, this trouble that you thought you couldn't tell me about because you thought I was an unbeliever . . ."
        "Well, now you've turned out to be a well-known psychic investigator," said Monketon Moulte, "I feel that perhaps you are the one man who could help me. Oh, what providence that I came in here! I so rarely touch alcohol, I just came in here to see if there was anybody who could help me. It's such a problem . . . After the meeting I went home, and after I went home----I live all alone, I'm afraid I'm a confirmed old bachelor, and I don't suppose anybody will be able to change me----" Val and La Noire exchanged swift smiles, as the old man grinned at them, "I----er----I suddenly heard a strange noise, a very strange noise indeed, a knocking sound coming from the wall. At first I thought that my neighbour was ill, so I went round to investigate. The neighbour came to the door looking rather angry, and he said he thought it was me. Luckily the knocking started again while I was talking to the neighbour, so we both went upstairs into the neighbour's room. There was nothing more!"
        "Nothing at all?" asked Val.
        "Nothing at all," said the Professor, "a fourteen-year old boy asleep in bed, and this 'bang, bang, bang', just as if somebody on the other side----my side----of the wall, was hitting at it with a heavy hammer knocking a nail in, or something like that. Of course, I asked the neighbours---- Mr. and Mrs. Jordan, the name is----if they'd come round to my house and I'd show them, so they did."
        He paused thoughtfully.
        "When we got round to my house there was the same noise, but my room was perfectly empty, Well, we didn't know what to do about it, so we got a tape-measure and measured up the external and internal dimensions of the room, and it was only a fourteen inch brick wall . . . nothing else at all!"
        "Nothing?" said Val,
        "Just solid brick," answered the old Professor, "nothing to account for that noise----at least nothing human, nothing natural, nothing which could be explained by the laws of co-called 'mortal' science. What do you think?"
        Val looked at La Noire and La Noire looked at Val.
        "I think it's a poltergeist," answered Val.
        "So do I," whispered the old Professor hoarsely.
        "I'm inclined to agree," said La Noire, "especially in view of that fourteen-year-old boy. I would suggest that we hold a genuine seance, in either your room or your neighbour's, and perhaps as they have the boy asleep in bed it would be a lot easier if we held it in your room. I'll just go back to our hotel and get the equipment."
        "May I come with you?" asked the old man. "I don't want to be alone just at the moment, I'm sorry, but I hope you understand how I feel!"
        "Absolutely," said Stearman. "Come on, come with us!" They had another swift drink, and with La Noire at the wheel of the Stearman's powerful car they drove swiftly back to Val's hotel, picked up a suitcase full of odds and ends, and walked out, carrying it, under the suspicious eyes of the night porter.
        Night porters do not question men the size of Val Stearman, especially when they look slightly inebriated.
        For Val, like 'Big John' of the popular song, had the kind of right hand that could kill a man with one crashing blow. He had the kind of left hand to back it up, as well. And the night porter had a strange desire to draw his old age pension----it was something of a fetish with him! It was part of his 'religion' not to question men as big as Val Stearman----especially the kind of pointed question that one has to ask a guest who leaves in the middle of the night, carrying a suitcase.
        Stearman looked the kind of man who might be very touchy if someone accused him of not paying his bills, and in that the night porter had judged correctly. For Val would have been very annoyed indeed!
        Once they were back in the car the old Professor gave directions and La Noire drove to the old man's suburban, semi-detached dwelling. It was quite a pleasant house, not by any means enormous, nor was it by any means unduly cramped. There were four bedrooms upstairs and four rooms downstairs. The place was supplied with what the house agents would refer to as 'the usual offices' and the professor gestured towards a dark patch which he said was the 'kitchen garden'.
        Mr. and Mrs. Jordan were on their doorstep; they heard the car pull up and came across to it. The Professor introduced them to the Stearman's, explained that Val and La Noire were eminent psychic investigators, and with Val carrying the suitcase, the Professor and the Stearmans' walked upstairs into the old man's bedroom.
        They had scarcely closed the door behind them when there was a renewed outbreak of the frenzied knocking. Val drew a deep breath and shouted with all his lung power through the wall:
        "Is that boy of yours doing anything?" "No, mate!" shouted back Jordan. "Are you hitting the wall?" went on Jordan,
        "No!" shouted Val. "Then it must be that thing!" said Jordan.
        The knocking stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
        "This is one of the strongest I have ever encountered," said La Noire. "I can sense it! We must hold the seance at once! A small table, if you please, Professor; let us get it as near to the wall as we can."
        The three of them sat around the table and La Noire went into a trance . . . Suddenly a strange voice, a voice that was not hers, began to emanate from her beautiful mouth. It was unnaturally deep, and Val had the impression that had it not been for the limiting female vibrations of La Noire's feminine vocal chords, the voice would have tried to register even more deeply than it was now doing. At first it was just a very low, guttural growl, like the snarl of a lion or a tiger.
        "Can you hear me and understand me?" asked Val.
        "Yeesss," growled the voice.
        "Is it you who have been knocking?"
        "Yeess," growled the voice again,
        "Are you the spirit of a departed human being?" asked Val.
        There was silence while whatever it was considered that one.
        "I do not understand the question," came back the voice. Val took a deep breath himself and then tried again.
        "Were you ever one of us, living upon this earth?"
        Now the growl turned into a kind of sinister laugh.
        "No! Never!"
        It was dark save for a small red photographic light which the old professor had turned on; he had gone and fetched it from his 'dark room' expressly for the purpose, He looked rather anxiously from Val to La Noire.
        "What is it?" he whispered. "It said it was never one of us!"
        "I believe it's telling the truth," answered Val, "if it really is a poltergeist, a mischievous knocking spirit, I think the word 'mischievous' is rather misplaced----"
        "How so?" asked the old professor.
        "You associate 'mischief' with the harmless pranks of naughty children, Little Johnny stealing mother's jam----that sort of thing----but this is more like 'mischief' in its old, medieval sense, really dangerous, malicious damage! Really deliberate antagonism of the worst possible kind . . . 'mischief' in its old sense, meaning 'harm'. I don't like this thing that we've got here, at all!"
        "At least it's honest enough to admit that it's not human," said the old 'Professor.
        "Yes----that may be just part of its terror campaign," said Val, "there's nothing like frightening your victim, you know!"
        "No, I suppose not!" answered the old Professor, his teeth were chattering a little, and as his dentures were loose to begin with, it did not make him into the most prepossessing or pleasant of sights! Particularly as he was illumined by the dim, red light!
        Val tried another line of questioning.
        "Why have you come to this place?" Again there was silence. Val repeated the question.
        "Why have you come here?"
        Just a low, indeterminate growl that time . . .
        "What do you want?" asked Val.
        This time the growl was less indeterminate, and the word 'pleasure' came out rather reluctantly.
        "You are here to amuse yourself?" said Val. "You are here because it suits some whim?"
        "Pleasure," answered the creature.
        "How long have you been in existence?" asked Val.
        "I do not know what 'existence' means," came that strange, deep voice from La Noire's throat again, "but I have been many, many times your life-span. I do not know if I was ever not in 'existence' . . ."
        Val felt an icy shiver of fear running down his spine. What was to be done, he asked himself, what was to be done? He didn't like the way the seance was going at all!"
        "Are you a good or evil spirit?" he asked suddenly. But the only answer was a laugh.
        "Well?" Val Stearman lost his temper. "I abjure thee to go, in the Name of the Most High God!" he commanded. "I exorcise you!"
        "You are no priest! You have not the power!" returned the voice angrily. "Do not cross my path! Do not bring a priest! Otherwise the consequences may be very serious for yourself and for anyone else who is in my way! I have not come just to be sent away again!"
        "I see," said Val, "We thank you for speaking with us." He couldn't think of anything else to say. It seemed strange, this weird conversation with a disembodied thing that was using La Noire's lips and a strange, deep voice.
        "I have other powers," said the deep voice again, that deep voice that seemed to be coming from La Noire, and which, while using her vocal chords, was somehow completely alien to her, and absolutely out-of-character, Val didn't like the strength which the thing had demonstrated.
        There were very few spirits which would remain after being abjured to leave in the Name of the Divinity Itself. He had heard of instances in which the English word 'God' had not been as effective as an Indian or Eastern name for the Divinity, but at the same time it was frightening . . . He tried some of the other names:
        "I bid thee go in the name of Allah!"
        "I charge thee to depart in the name of Ormuzd!"
        "Go, in the name of Buddha!"
        "Go----in the name of Mohamed!"
        "Go, in the name of Zeus!"
        "----in the name of Mithra!"
        But nothing happened, save that the strange voice kept issuing from La Noire, now laughing now angry.
        Val didn't like it at all.
        He found himself sweating a little in the presence of this strange thing . . .
        Then an idea struck him, a powerful idea, an inspiration.
        "Are you able to materialise?" he asked. And his hair stood on end as the creature said:
        Val Stearman had seen ghouls, and werewolves; he had seen zombies, he had seen the living dead, he had seen vampires, he had seen things that fly by night, he had seen weird, other-worldy creatures of every conceivable shape and kind, but in the whole of his experience a poltergeist had always been heard, and never seen!
        No poltergeist had ever materialised before in the whole history of psychic phenomena! What form would it take if it materialised? What shape would it assume? What hideous, terrifying, unworldly thing was about to be revealed?
        Stearman got a grip on himself. He unfastened the suit case and made a pentogram of garlic and candles and the Bible. He chalked symbols on the floor around the edge of the pentogram . . .
        "Very well, materialise if you can!" he said.
        La Noire suddenly snapped out of her trance gave a little involuntary cry. Val reached across lifted her bodily from her chair and put her outside the pentogram. He himself stepped across the line and in the same second there was a cloud of smoke, as though a genie was emerging from a bottle but there was no bottle, the smoke was just apparently coming from nowhere. It was in that second that Val remembered the old professor. He plunged back in the direction from which he had just come, and lifted the old man, like a limp rag doll in his arms and carried him to the outside of the sacred, mystical barrier. Old Monketon Moulte was trembling with terror, but otherwise he appeared physically unharmed.
        "What is it? What is it?" he mumbled.
        "You are about to witness something that has never been witnessed before in the whole history of psychic phenomena," Val informed him. "In the whole history of psychical research nobody has ever seen anything like this!"
        "But what is it?" persisted the old man.
        "It's our friend the poltergeist," said Val. "I asked it if it could materialise."
        "But why?" asked the old man.
        "To get rid of it!" hissed Val.
        "I didn't think that materialising it would get rid of it----"
        "Ssshh!" said Stearman.
        A face was forming in the smoke, or something that might have been a face, under happier circumstances. A hideous, blemished thing, whose contours changed and shifted with every movement of the gaseous vapour. There was a suspicion of something that might have been horns, and a great ridge of something dark and evil running down the back. The eyes were very bright, glittering in the smoke like hot embers seen through a cloud of steam in a boiler room; and there was a mouth, a great, cavernous, maw of a mouth----with fangs!
        All outlined in smoke, all changing and swirling and twisting at the same time. It was as if the face was made of some very thin and flexible glass into which smoke was being puffed and poured----so that the outlines of the face were apparently changing, but also as though strong lights were being shone into it from many directions, so that the shadows of the smoke and the refractions of the diffused light played strange and ghastly tricks.
        "It's horrible!" wailed the old man.
        There was a body below the head, a huge, horrible, terrifying body, a body of sinister propensity, an enormous, amorphous body, a body of something that must have been spawned in hell.
        There was a foul smell accompanying the creature, a stench of decay and graveyard mould . . . a smell of moss on tombstones. The aroma of sickly-sweet night flowers. Old Professor Monketon Moulte was coughing and spluttering, having a job to breathe in that evil atmosphere.
        "It's awful----it's awful!" he panted. "Why did you make it materialise, Mr. Stearman? Why? Why? It'll kill us all!"
        "No it won't!" declared Val. "This is the only way to get rid of it! You see, now that it has materialised it cannot escape the pentogram! Can you?"
        He turned and challenged the thing: "Now that you have materialised you cannot get back! Old you may be, but no poltergeist has ever materialised before! So you are inexperienced in materialisation. You thought it would be a good joke to try! To scare us half out of our wits, but we won't scare easily, my friend, because we have had rather more experience of this than you have, even though you yourself may be centuries old!"
        The thing was roaring in anger, the eyes were flashing dreadful fire, but Stearman looked at it, unafraid.
        "That was your mistake!" he said. "Now I can either make you go back to your own dimension, or I can destroy you!"
        "Destroy me?" said the poltergeist. "You----mere flesh and blood!"
        "Flesh, blood and spirit," corrected Stearman, "against spirit alone. Flesh and blood is not always a disadvantage. It is only a disadvantage when you let it blind you to the fact that you are spirit as well. When you realise that you are a soul plus a body, then you realise that you have an advantage over a mere disembodied soul----or----a thing like yourself. A psychic entity which has never had any kind of physical environment!"
        The poltergeist made no answer, its face continued to blaze wrath.
        "You are bluffing," it said, "you cannot destroy or injure me! I, who was old before the Sphinx was built! I, who was on this earth before ever human kind came down from the trees. I will not be threatened by an intelligent ape that has learned to stand on its hind legs!"
        "I am not threatening," said Stearman, "I am simply stating facts. Either you will go back to your own dimension, or----or----I will destroy you!"
        "You cannot," snarled the poltergeist, "you cannot! It is not so!"
        "We shall see," replied Stearman. "You are obviously not in the hierarchy of light and goodness, otherwise you would have obeyed when I asked you to leave in the Name of God, because you would have acknowledged that name and given it obedience."
        The thing said nothing but flashed angry looks at him.
        "So I must conclude," went on Val, "that you are in the service of evil!"
        Still there was no answer except an angry glare.
        "That being the case," went on Val, "your metabolism, spiritual though it may be, is like any other evil metabolism. There are certain things which are deadly poison to it:----one," he held up a Cross, "is this!"
        Some of the fear faded from the eyes of the poltergeist, to be replaced by fear . . .
        "And two," said Stearman, "is this!" He held up a silver flask emblazoned with the sign of the Cross.
        "What is in that?" mumbled the poltergeist, and a great deal of the bombasity had gone out of its voice. It was no longer using La Noire's vocal chords. It was communicating with some kind of psychic speech of its own.
        "This is Holy Water," answered Stearman. "If you are an evil entity, as I know you to be, it will burn and blister like acid upon living tissue----you cannot endure its touch!"
        The thing seemed to contract a little within itself,
        "And," said Stearman, "this is the third thing!"
        "That's a gun," said the poltergeist, "that can have no effect on me!"
        "It's not an ordinary gun," replied Stearman, "I can assure you of that. It's loaded with silver; it's a kind of psychic hypodermic syringe, you see. It gives you a silver injection! And silver, as you know, is deadly poison! This gun," he went on, half to himself and half to the creature, "has despatched ghouls and vampires, werewolves and zombies, and a whole host of other things that belong to the world of shades and shadows, Now if you like to add your name to the long list----"
        "No! I believe you! I believe you!" said the poltergeist.
        "If I let you go," said Stearman, "what guarantee do I have that you will not return?"
        The poltergeist remained silent, and Val saw anger and fury mounting in its eyes.
        "In fact," said Val, "if I did let you go, you would return in vengeance and the vengeance of a poltergeist would be the destruction of myself, in fact, of all of us----I'm afraid I cannot permit that! Your eyes have given me your answer. You leave me no choice but to destroy you."
        There was fear in the thing's eyes now.
        "I don't like playing executioner," said Stearman, "but after all, you did have your chance to go!" He reached for the Holy Water.
        "Not that!" the poltergeist's words were impregnated with horror, "the silver if you must, but not that!"
        "Very well," said Stearman.
        "Wait," said the poltergeist. "Wait! There is a solution."
        "Is there?" asked Stearman, "Is there some guarantee that I can have that you will never return? That you will never come back seeking vengeance?"
        The poltergeist was silent for a moment.
        "I am not a good spirit, but neither am I evil in the sense that you think me evil. You may find that difficult to believe, but I assure you it is the truth. I am neither moral nor immoral, I am amoral, I am in a sense super moral. I do not understand ethics, they do not come within my field. I am just an elemental spirit, something wild and free and wandering. I do not mean you harm, but I have thoughts and feelings and sensations, and I enjoy my 'existence' . . ."
        "I am still waiting for something useful in the way of an agreement," said Stearman.
        "Although you are not a priest and could not command me in the Name of the Most High God to disappear and although I did not obey it voluntarily because I am not in the service of the powers of Light, I am nevertheless unable to break an oath which is sworn upon the Sacred Name, for if I did so it would mean my automatic destruction."
        "This I know," said Stearman, "for I understand the psychic laws. If you are willing to make such a promise then I will release you from the pentagram and you can return to your own realm. I will not even bind you never to return, but I will make this one oath binding upon you, Never return to do harm!"
        "Agreed, agreed," said the strange face in the smoke, and now it looked much less evil and much less frightening, and solemnly it made the necessary vow.
        Stearman kicked aside the garlic and blew out the candles. "You may leave," he said, and the smoke dissolved into nothingness . . .


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