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Title: The Spiritualist
Author: Rafael Sabatini
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0603421.txt
Edition: 1
Language: English
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Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: July 2006

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The Spiritualist: A Story of the Occult.
Rafael Sabatini

In quest of local colour in that part of France that once was known as
Languedoc, I spent a week last autumn in the little village of
Aubepine. I stayed at the Hotel du Cerf, whereof Jules Coupri is host,
and for companions of an evening I had the village notary, a couple of
grocers, a haberdasher--who was in his way a leader of fashion in
Aubepine--the postmaster, and half-a-dozen young farmers, who were in
the habit of coming there to drink their petit-vin and exchange their

A student of human nature in my humble way, I made a point of mingling
freely with them, and I am afraid that their patience and good nature
drew me to talk a good deal. But on the eve of my departure I was for
once cast into the shade by a young seafaring man of the better sort,
who was, he informed us, on his way to Carcassonne. He expatiated upon
the wonders of Greece and Italy with such eloquent picturesqueness
that he monopolised the attention which hitherto I had enjoyed without

But my revenge was to come. Towards nine o'clock a tall, swarthy man,
dressed in black clothes, which, if seedy, were of more or less
fashionable cut, and wearing a chimney-pot hat, stalked into the room,
and called for the landlord. He wanted supper as quickly as possible
for himself and his driver--he travelled in a ramshackle carriage--and
announced to all that he must push on that night to St. Hilaire. He
was evil-looking of face, yet not without distinction. The nose was
thin as the bill of an eagle, and as curved; the forehead high and
narrow, with absurdly long, black hair brushed straight back; the eyes
were close-set and piercing; the mouth little more than a straight
line above the square, lean chin. He was on the whole a striking
individual, and from the moment of his advent he absorbed the
attention of all present.

Seemingly aware of the impression he had created, he came over to the
table at which I sat, and fell easily into conversation with those
about upon small matters of provincial interest. In less than five
minutes the sailor and his voyages were forgotten.

I was still speculating upon the man's business in life--for I am of
those who believe that a man bears upon him the outward signs of his
profession--when a young farmer happened to mention that his vineyards
had been doing badly for the last three years--ever since his
brother's death. The stranger's gimlet eyes were instantly turned upon

"What do you suppose to be the reason of it?" he inquired in a voice
that was curiously impressive.

"Reason?" echoed young Pascal. "There is no reason. It is an
unpleasant coincidence."

A saturnine smile overspread the stranger's face.

"So the ignorant ever say," he deprecated. "Young man, there is no
such thing as coincidence in the vulgar sense." Then he galvanised the
peasant by asking: "Have you seen your brother since?"

"Seen him? But then monsieur has not understood that he is dead!"

"And since when may we not see the dead?"

"Do you mean his spirit?" gasped Pascal.

"Call it by what name you will, I mean your brother."

"Does monsieur believe then in revenants?"

"No, monsieur, I do not. There are no revenants; that is to say, there
are none who return, for they are always with us; here, around us,
everywhere." And he tossed his arms about him, and glanced this way
and that to emphasise his meaning. "It is the body only which they
quit. The earth never. And their souls, no longer clogged and
stultified by the obsessing flesh, are not confined to the present as
are we. For them the past is clear, and the future holds no mysteries.

"They know the causes of things, the origin of matter, and its final
ending. That, monsieur, is why I asked you had you seen your brother.
It is clear that you have not done so. That would be foolish, were it
not that it is in ignorance that you have submitted to the fate which
is ruining your vineyard. If you had been better informed touching
these matters you would have held intercourse with your brother, and
obtained from him enlightenment. Thus might you by now have remedied
the evil."

Those present sat silent and awe-stricken. To many of them, in their
ignorant, credulous, superstitious way, this man, who spoke so
seriously of communion with the dead, must have appeared a wizard, if
not the very fiend himself--a belief to which his fantastic
personality would lend colour.

"Does monsieur mean that I can cause my brother to appear to me!"

"If you were enlightened you might do so. As it is---" He paused,
shrugged his shoulders, and curled his lips contemptuously--"I am
afraid you cannot."

"But can such things be done?" cried the haberdasher.

"Assuredly," answered the spiritualist. "In Paris they are done every

"Ah--in Paris," sighed one to whom nothing seemed impossible when
associated with that wonderful name.

"Can you do it?" asked the haberdasher bluntly, yet with a certain awe
lurking in his question.

The man smiled the quiet smile of one who is conscious of his

"Have you never heard of M. Delamort?" he asked--much as he might have
asked: "Have you never heard of Bonaparte?"

They were silent, from which he seemed to gather that his fame,
however great elsewhere, had not travelled yet as far as this.

"I am a member of the Societe Transemperique, which devotes itself to
researches in the spirit-world," he informed them.

Thereupon they fell to questioning him fearfully as to whether he had
ever held communion with a spirit, to which he answered

"With hundreds, messieurs."

At that the sailor, who, I imagined, would be nursing a grudge against
this man who had stripped him of his popularity, burst into a
contemptuous laugh, which acted as a cold douche upon the audience. M.
Delamort glared at him with angry eyes, but the man's expression of
disbelief found many an echo, and from one or two I even caught the
contemptuous word "Charlatan!"

"Fools," cried the spiritualist, his voice like a rumble of distant
thunder. "Crass, ignorant clods! You live out your animal lives in
this corner of the world much as a rat lives in its burrow. As your
minds are closed to intelligence, so, too, do you close your ears to
knowledge. Derision is the ever-ready weapon of the ignorant, and
because the things I tell you are things of which you never dreamt in
your unenlightened lives, you laugh and call me charlatan. But I will
give you proof that what I have said is true. I will let you see the
extent of my powers."

He addressed us all, collectively; but ever and anon his glance
wandered to the sailor, who had been the first to express his want of
faith, as though to him he conveyed a special challenge.

Receiving no answer, Delamort looked about from one to another, until
his sinister glance lighted on Pascal.

"Will you submit yourself to the test?" he asked. "Will you let me
summon your brother's spirit for you?"

The young man recoiled and made the sign of the cross. "God forbid!"
he ejaculated.

With a contemptuous laugh the spiritualist turned from him to the

"Are you also afraid?" he demanded witheringly.

"I?" faltered the fellow, and a sickly smile spread over his weather-
beaten face. "I am not afraid. I do not believe in your impostures."

"Excellent," exclaimed Delamort with a satanic grin. "You do not
believe, therefore you are not afraid."

"Certainly I am not afraid," answered the young man with more
assurance. Delamort's contempt seemed to have effectively roused him.

"Then you will submit to the test, and you shall see whether or not I
have the power to raise the spirit of the dead--to render them visible
to mortal eyes. You shall tell these gentlemen then whether I am an
impostor. Whose ghost shall I evoke for you, monsieur?" he ended,
rising as he spoke. All sat staring in horror and genuinely afraid.
But the sailor's scepticism was not again to be shaken.

"I'll not submit to any mummeries of yours," he announced. "I know
your ways, and I am not to be humbugged by any lying conjurer."

"It is not mummery and it is not humbug as I shall prove. Why insult
me so? Name rather some dead friend or relative with whom you wish to
commune, and I will gratify your wish."

A sudden look of cunning flashed in the sailor's face.

"Can I have my own way in this?" he asked briskly. "May I select the
room in which I am to commune with the spirit?"

"But certainly."

"And may I also keep it from your knowledge whose spirit I wish to

His tone and manner were full of insolence and craftiness. Delamort
hesitated for an instant.

"It were better that I should know," he said at last.

"There," cried the sailor triumphantly, appealing to the audience. And
he would have added more but that Delamort interrupted him.

"Fool, if you insist upon it, I will remain in ignorance of the name
of your spirit. But lest you should tell us afterwards that I have
evoked the wrong one, I shall ask you to impart the name to these
gentlemen whilst I am out of earshot. Come now, are we agreed?"

The sailor announced himself ready to comply, and Delamort left the
room at once, Pascal, at the sailor's bidding, stationing himself at
the door. Then the sailor set himself to harangue us.

He had seen an illusionist do such things, he announced, at a theatre
at Marseilles, by means of ventriloquism and a magic-lantern. It was
nothing but trickery, he swore, and if we would unite with him, we
would teach this impostor a lesson that he would remember.

With one accord we all pronounced ourselves ready to conspire with
him--for what is there sweeter in all the world than to trick a
trickster, to hoist him with his own petard? His plan was simple
enough. He would choose the room in which to receive his ghostly
visitant at the last moment, and we were to remain outside with
Delamort, and see that he never for a second set foot within it. Thus
should he be completely baffled. Already he was labouring under
serious difficulties by not knowing whose spirit he was desired to
evoke. The sailor announced then to us that he wished to see the ghost
of his friend Gravine who had fallen overboard on the last voyage.

The plot being laid, Delamort was recalled and informed that the
sailor was ready to submit himself to the test.

"You will not tell me whom you wish to see?" he asked.

"No, monsieur. You yourself confessed that it was not essential."

"Parfaitement," answered Delamort, bowing. "Monsieur is still

"So sceptical that if you care to make a little wager with me---"

"This is a serious matter," interrupted the spiritualist sternly. "It
would ill become me to employ my powers for purposes of gain."

"I was proposing," said the sailor readily, "that you should employ
them for purposes of loss, but I thought you would refuse," he
sneered, winking at us.

Delamort threw back his head like one affronted.

"Since you put it that way," he cried angrily, "I will consent even to
a wager. I am a poor man, monsieur, but I will stake every penny that
I have about me that you shall not be disappointed."

He took out his purse, and emptied a cascade of gold on to the table.

"Here, monsieur, are fifty napoleons. When you have covered that sum I
shall be ready to begin the seance."

At that the sailor was taken aback. He looked about him pathetically.
Then he drew from his breast-pocket a coloured kerchief, and carefully
untied it. From this he took six gold pieces, which he placed very
quietly and humbly upon the table.

"I am only a sailor, monsieur, and I am very poor. This is all that at
the moment I am possessed of. It seems, sir, that for want of money I
am only to earn six of your napoleons?" He paused, and his eyes
wandered timidly over the company. Then he sighed. "It is a sin that
where fifty napoleons are to be picked up, only six should be taken."

At that, up leapt Pascal, and slapped two louis upon the table,
announcing that he would wager that amount against M. Delamort. He was
followed by the haberdasher with four louis; then came another with
three, and another with five, and so on, until forty napoleons stood
against the spiritualist's pile of fifty. And then, lest he should
retain the ten napoleons that had not been covered, the landlord ran
upstairs and fetched that amount himself. I was the only man who had
taken no part in the wager. I was not altogether so sure that the
seafaring man was right. I had heard strange things concerning
spiritualism, and whilst I had not heard enough to induce me to attach
any appreciable degree of credit to it, still I knew too little to
dare to disbelieve utterly.

Delamort, who had been looking on with an anxiety which heightened the
saturnine expression of his countenance, observed this fact, and now
that the money was all there, he gathered up the hundred napoleons,
slipped them into his purse, and handed this to me.

"Monsieur is a gentleman," he said by way of explaining why he
selected me as the man to be intrusted with the stakes. "Also he has
no interest in the money. Will you keep this, monsieur, and afterwards
either deliver it to me or divide it amongst these good people should
I fail?"

"If it is the wish of all---" I began, when they at once proclaimed
their unanimous consent.

"And now, M. Delamort," said the sailor with a leer and a swagger, "I
have announced to the company whose is the ghost I wish to commune
with, and I am ready. Come with me."

"But whither?" inquired poor Delamort, who appeared by now to have
lost the last shred of his magnificent assurance.

"To the room I have chosen."

Delamort bit his lip, and a look of vexation crossed his face; whereat
those good fellows nudged each other, grinned and whispered. But the
spiritualist made no objection, and so we went upstairs to the room in
which the sailor was to sleep. At the door he paused and turned to us.

"Remain here with M. Delamort. I will enter alone."

"I only ask, monsieur," said Delamort--and his tone seemed firmer
again, as though he were regaining confidence--"that you sit without
light of any description, whilst here, too, we must remain in the
dark, if you please, gentlemen. M. l'Hote, will you have the goodness
to extinguish the lamp? I have no directions to give you touching the
arrangements of your room, monsieur," he continued, turning to the
sailor again "but I must ask you to leave a sheet of paper on the
table. I will command the spirit to inscribe his name on it, so that
all here may be satisfied that your visitor is the one you have
desired to see."

At that a thrill of doubt ran through the audience. Much might be done
by ventriloquism and magic lanterns--as the sailor had assured them--
but of the magic lantern they saw no sign, and, in any event, neither
magic lantern nor ventriloquism could write a name on paper. The
sailor himself seemed staggered for a moment.

"I will do so, monsieur," he faltered.

With that he went within and closed the door, turning the key on the
inside. A moment later the landlord had extinguished the light, and we
were left in utter darkness. The last glimpse I had of Delamort, he
was crouching by the door of the sailor's room.

A silence followed, which seemed to last an eternity. The only sound
was the occasional whispering of the spiritualist and the breathing of
some twenty men in whose hearts doubt was swelling to fear with every
second of that uncanny expectancy. Ten minutes had perhaps gone by
when we heard a rap on the door, and from within came the sailor's

"How much longer am I to wait, M. Delamort? I must ask you to fix a
limit. I have no desire to sit here in the dark all---"

The voice ceased abruptly. There was a dull thud, as of a body
hurtling against the door, and with it there came a groan of fear. The
groan almost found an echo in the gasps of the waiting company.
Myself, I plead guilty to an uncanny thrill, and I might entertain you
with my creepy sensations at some length were not my story more
concerned with other matters.

There followed a silence of some few seconds, then we heard the
sailor's voice raised in a blood-curdling scream.

"Don't come near me, don't come near me!" he shrieked. "Let me out,
Delamort! Let me out, for God's sake, monsieur!" There was a rustle as
of someone moving. Then a long-drawn wail of "Jesu!" That was followed
by the sound of a heavy fall, and then silence.

The landlord was the first to recover the use of his wits; the fear of
a tragedy in his house rousing him to action. He pushed roughly
through to the door.

"Here, someone," he begged. "Help me to break in."

There was a groaning and cracking of woodwork and the report of the
bursting door. Simultaneously a maid appeared with a lamp. I took it
from her and hastened into the room in the wake of Delamort and the

Stretched on the floor, his eyes closed, his face ghastly pale, and
distorted by a fearful grin, lay the sailor. That and a smell of
something that had burned was all that we noticed at first.

The rustics remained on the threshold, their faces pale and scared,
asking whether the sailor were dead. Delamort, who had been on his
knees beside him, reassured us. It was only a swoon. And presently,
when he loosened his neckwear and sponged his head and pulses, the man
opened his eyes and groaned, but was clearly no worse for whatever he
had undergone. The villagers now crowded fearlessly into the room, and
some were already plying the sailor with questions as he sat on the
floor with Delamort supporting him. Suddenly a diversion was created
by Pascal, who uttered a cry that was almost a shriek. Turning quickly
to seek the cause of this, I beheld him pointing to something on the
table at which he was staring in an awe-struck manner. I approached
and beheld a sheet of paper on which had been burnt, as if with a red-
hot iron, the name "Gravine."

Such in brief was my first introduction to spiritualism. M. Delamort
left Aubepine an hour later, and pursued his journey to St. Hilaire.
But the sailor was not himself until the following morning, and even
when he had recovered from the shock occasioned him by his unearthly
visitant, he sustained a fresh one when he realised that he lost his
wager and his six louis.

I was at Angeville a fortnight later, staying with a cousin of mine
who resides there. On the evening of my arrival my cousin took me
round the old-world town, and in the course of things led me into the
Peacock Inn. As we entered the general room, a familiar voice assailed
my ears with familiar words.

"Fools," it cried. "Crass, ignorant fools! You live out your lives in
this wretched corner of the world much as a rat lives in its burrow,
and as your minds are closed to intelligence, so, too, do you close
your ears to knowledge. Derision is the ever-ready weapon of the
ignorant, and because the things that I tell you are things of which
you never dreamt in your unenlightened lives you laugh and call me

It was, of course, M. Delamort. As I craned my neck to catch a glimpse
of his lean, cadaverous face, I heard a sudden and contemptuous laugh,
with which I also seemed familiar. I turned in the direction of the
sound, and there, surely enough, I beheld my friend the sailor,
baiting the spiritualist as he had done at Aubepine.

I was on the point of denouncing them as a couple of impostors and
swindlers, when for some reason or other I held my peace. I had a sort
of feeling that would be like taking vengeance upon them for having
fooled me in common with those others at Aubepine. I am rather ashamed
to confess it, but I turned and quitted the Peacock Inn, leaving those
ingenious tricksters to continue to exploit their spiritualistic


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