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Title: Tales of the Midnight Club
Author: C. E. Van Loan
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606681.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Tales of the Midnight Club
C. E. Van Loan

The Midnight Club is the house of peace and harmony. It is the place
where actors of rival companies meet and pass each other judicious
compliments; it is the place where reporters on rival papers bury
their hammers and forget to refer with proper pride to their past
scoops; it is the neutral ground where all good men are good friends.
There is a rule which provides that the man who starts any
unpleasantness loses ten numbers and must buy the next two rounds, but
this rule has never been enforced, because it has never been broken.

Mr. Blackwood, of the Belasco, dropped in the other night just in time
to hear Thomas Oberle close a learned dissertation on mind reading,
thought transference and other occult subjects.

"And that's why I know there's no fake about it," said Thomas, absent-
mindedly pouring half a bottle of tomato catsup on the white cat's
back. The outraged feline immediately leaped into MacVicars' lap and
shook himself violently, whereat the Irish giant turned a back flip in
a vain endeavor to save his new serge suit. A new suit is no joke with
Mr. McVicars, for the tailors measure him twice and charge him

After Mr. Oberle had been fined one round of Pilsener for this
atrocity and Alphonse had removed a fair half of the sticky mess from
MacVicars' waistcoat, the culprit proceeded:

"This mind reader was the talk of Washington--he had 'em all
buffaloed! He answered all our sealed questions, called us out by name
and things like that, you know. He came from India, but he had an
English name--Sir--Sir--"

"Sir Russell Dequi," suggested Mr. Blackwood, quietly.

"Now, how in the deuce did you know that?" sputtered Tommy excitedly.
"Did you know him?"

"A little over seven thousand dollars worth," grinned Belasco's
manager. "I ought to know him. I put him in the business."

"Mr. Chairman!" bawled Oberle, rising and addressing the still fuming
MacVicars. "I move that Mr. Blackwood tell us the true story of the
Simla seances!"

The motion was seconded with a rush and carried with a roar, and after
Oberle had been fined one more round on general principles and another
one for taking unwarranted liberties with the house cat, Mr. Blackwood
lighted a nine-inch perfecto and proceeded:

"About five years ago I was in Washington ahead of a show--"

"How much ahead?" innocently asked Mestayer, the child wonder.

For this bit of impertinence Harry was justly fined two oyster stews
and a package of cigarettes.

"As I was saying," continued Mr. Blackwood, "I was in Washington ahead
of a very bum comedy company. They stranded in Baltimore, and though
nominally ahead of them, I found myself behind, if you understand me.
I needed the money.

"Now Washington is the greatest place in the world for fakes of every
kind--fake palmists, bum mind readers and phony psychists. They're
everywhere. As I was walking down the street one day wondering how
long I could stall my landlord, I saw a sign which said that the
future would be revealed and sealed questions answered for twenty-five
cents. Now it struck me that I would be willing to give a quarter to
see my finish, and I went in. I wrote my question all right, sealed
it, and then the man came back into the room, smote his forehead with
the palm of his hand and told me exactly what I had written. I had
been looking for some mirror arrangement or other, but there was
nothing of that kind in sight, and I was a trifle dazed.

"I had some talk with the man, whose name was Simmons--a long thin,
cadaverous chap with a seldom-looking black mustache. I found out
afterward that he used to beat his wife, but that's a detail. I said
to him. 'You've got a good money-making graft here--why don't you put
it on the stage? Why don't you get hundreds instead of quarters?'

"Simmons pulled me into the back room and talked a blue streak. That
was the very idea he had been figuring on for months, only he didn't
know how to go about it. He showed me how the whole business was
worked--stuffed bull's head on the wall--bull's eyes were the biggest
magnifying glasses you ever saw in your life--made a sheet of paper
six feet away look as big as a house. Simmons just ducked into the
other room, and while you were writing your question on the one table
in the reception room, he was on a step ladder with his head poked
through into that bull's head, reading off every letter as it was put

"Simmons was crazy to stage that act, and as he was a loose, free
talker, I made up my mind to take a chance. Joe Luckett had the
Columbia theater on F Street, and I cracked the scheme to him. Joe had
been putting on a lot of rummy concerts Sunday nights, and I showed
him where we could all make a little money. I booked my mind reader
for a week from Sunday and began to get busy. I had to furnish the
paper, and I finally found an old darkey with a foot press who was
willing to wait a week for the money. He printed me about a million
hand bills advertising Sir Russell Dequi, the White Mahatma, the Adept
of the Himalayas, the Wonder of the Century.

"Say, we just painted Washington with those bills. I wasn't a
newspaper man once for nothing, and of all of the boosting you ever
saw, those posters were the limit. Sir Russell Dequi in his great
Simla Seances--thanks to Kipling, a lot of people knew where Simla
was, and were interested right away--Sir Russell Dequi, a titled
English gentleman, famed as the most adept of the age, would repeat
his old world triumphs before a cultured Washington audience. He would
reveal the past, explain the present and foretell the future. He would
answer sealed questions, and that there might be no deception--that
last was in big type, no deception--people were urged to write their
questions at home and bring them sealed to the theater. He would
answer all questions relating to love, matrimony, business, lost
treasure, reveal the whereabouts of missing ones, and everything else
I could think of at the time.

"That was a great bill, and the language of it would have turned a
Pike barker green with envy. Then, just to make the play strong again,
I wound up with press notices from London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Hong
Kong and other towns. I had one from the Calcutta Mail and another
from the Simla Advertiser, boosting Sir Russell as the most wonderful
adept in the world. I wrote 'em all in a hall bedroom in Washington--
that's what metropolitan journalism did for me, gentlemen.

"Well, the first night the theater was jammed to the roof--those
handbills did the trick. We had a nice program, lecture by the
Professor--we always called Simmons that--then a lot of sleight of
hand tricks which he told the people he had learned from the Yogis up
at the monasteries in Thibet--! I think he called 'em Yogis, but never
mind that, it was a good spiel, anyway--and then the answering of
sealed questions. Honest, that man Simmons was a gold mine! He had
more useless information in him than forty encyclopedias and the way
he shot the bull was a wonder! He sent that crowd home talking in
whispers, and every one of them swearing to come back the next Sunday

"How did he do it? The easiest thing in the world. He sat on a small
elevated platform in the middle of the stage--no draperies, no
curtains, no deception anywhere. The chair was a plain wooden one so
there could be no deception. We courted investigation on that no
deception gag--in fact, we courted it so strong that nobody seemed to
want to investigate. That chair was just like all other chairs except
that the back of one of the legs was hollowed out and a simple little
tin tube ran up into the seat and from there to the top of one of the
arms. The rest of that tube went through the stage floor into the
basement, and ended in a big phonograph horn suspended over a table.

"Simmons wore the yellow robes of the Indian Fakir and on his head he
had a smashing big yellow turban. It hid him completely with the
exception of his eyes, nose and mouth, and that was providential
because he had a couple of phonograph clips in his ears with a rubber
tube running down the back of his neck and from there down his right
sleeve to wrist. When he sat down, he just rested one hand naturally
on the arm of the chair, poked the rubber tube into the end of the tin
one and then he was ready to hear from the other world.

"How did he get the questions? Easy again. When the Professor called
for volunteers to collect the sealed envelopes, four of our boosters
jumped up in the front of the house and got busy. They came down the
aisles toward the back of the house and at the head of each aisle
another booster was stationed. These fellows were always in evening
dress, with their overcoats over their arms. Inside their hats, they
had a hundred envelopes or so, all of them sealed and addressed, but
there was nothing in them. The collectors would stop an instant as if
to pick up another envelope, the transfer would be made, and then the
collectors would carry a lot of dead ones up on the stage and put them
in the wicker basket on the table, where they were in plain view of
the audience every minute of the time. No deception again, you see.

"While the Professor was handing out the Simla talk, Joe Luckett and I
were down in the cellar opening those envelopes and planning what talk
we would shoot upstairs to his nibs in the chair.

"I'll never forget a question we got that first night. It said, 'Where
is the purest water in Washington found?' and it was signed 'Dr.
Barton.' I wanted to throw that one out, but Luckett, who had lived in
Washington all his life and knew that town like a cat knows a back
fence, wouldn't hear of it.

"'There's a well up by the Convention Hall where the water is said to
be absolutely pure,' said he. 'We'll take a chance.' Then he 'phoned
to the professor that the water question was a good one and for him to
play it up to beat the band. I sneaked upstairs to watch him. I wish
you could have heard Simmons--he was immense.

"'I receive the impression,' said he, 'that Dr. Barton is present.
Will you please stand up, doctor? Thank you.' The Doctor stood there
and looked foolish and wondered what was coming next.

"'Unless I am mistaken, Doctor, your question is about water is it
not? Ah, I thought so. You wish to know, as near as I can make out,
where the purest water in Washington is to be found? Ah, yes, quite

"And then that fakir Simmons tore off a rambling long-winded spiel
about different springs, Carlsbad, Saratoga, every spring you've ever
heard of, and he knew just about enough to get away with the bluff.
But he wound up strong: 'The purest water in Washington, Doctor, is in
a well near Convention Hall on K Street!'

"Dr. Barton got red in the face and climbed up on his chair. 'This is
marvelous!' he roared, 'Marvelous! The Professor is absolutely right!'

"Now wasn't it lucky that Luckett knew about that spring?

"One woman wanted to know if she was to marry again. Luckett looked at
the signature and thought a minute. Then he grabbed the tin horn and
began to talk.

"'Here's a beaut, Simmons! Mrs. Opdyke wants to know if she will marry
again. She had a pretty warm divorce suit about six years ago. Here
are the details.' And when the Professor began to receive revelations
about that divorce suit, Mrs. Opdyke jumped up and ran screaming from
the house. Oh, it made a sensation, I tell you!

"For six Sundays we packed the Columbia every time. Raised the price
on them after the second Sunday, but it was 'Standing Room Only' every
time. The papers cut in on it and interviewed Sir Russell Dequi until
he was black in the face. He talked mind currents and special
revelation until the reporters were dizzy and of course that made the
game better every time.

"But it couldn't last forever. We got ours at last, and this is how it
happened. The sixth performance had all fashionable Washington in the
house. Sir Russell Dequi was the reigning fad. The Professor made his
usual request that the envelopes be collected, and I was simply
paralyzed to see four big Johnnies in evening clothes tumble out of
the stage boxes and bump our boosters out of the way. They thought it
would be a great joke to collect the cards, and they did it. Our
boosters followed them, but they made a clean sweep and didn't leave a
thing. I looked over at Luckett and he looked back at me and we both
knew that it was all off with the Simla seance. I tried to stop the
man who collected in my aisle and tell him that I would put the
letters on the stage, but he only grinned and said:

"'Oh, I guess not! I'm doing this!'

"Two minutes after I met Luckett under the stage and he was blue
around the nose. He worked the wireless and told the professor how
things stood, and then I ducked up on the stage to see how Simmons
would get out of it. I was afraid he would be mobbed if he lost his

"Right there was where I underestimated the Professor--he was a peach
if there ever was one. He made a great business of rubbing his
forehead with his hand, and all the time he was talking he kept
nodding his head like a man dead for sleep. All at once, right in the
middle of a sentence his voice trailed away to nothing and he did a
face fall out of his chair that was a wonder! It was the finest stage
fall I ever saw, and it ought to be, for it broke the Professor's nose
in two places. But he kept right on rolling until the footlights
stopped him. The house was in an uproar and the first thing I knew I
was out on the stage with my hand raised.

"The plan came to me like a flash of light. It was a long and
desperate chance, but I had to take it.

"'Ladies and Gentlemen,' I said, 'I implore you to keep your seats.
Sir Russell has only fallen into a trance. As you doubtless know, the
Adepts of the Himalayas go into trances and sometimes remain
unconscious for many days. Sir Russell has been working very hard of
late, and the strain of these performances has been too much for his
nerves. Last week he was in a trance for eight hours, and this being
the second one within ten days, it is impossible to say when he will
awake. Your money will be returned at the door.'

"Then I gave the orchestra leader the high sign and he played the
loudest march he had in stock. We got away all right, but the
Professor's nerve smashed along with his nose. We couldn't get him to
try it again in New York, and the last I heard of Simmons he was
revealing futures at twenty-five cents a throw, via the bull's head.
He was a grand fakir, but he lacked ambition. Let's have another stein
all around. Oberle, it's up to you to buy!"


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