Bong! Bong! Bong! The sonorous tones of the grandfather clock in the front hall rang out ten times announcing that the moment had arrived for Mlle. Shires’ séance to commence. In the hour since dinner, she had transformed the drawing room. Colorful scarves draped the electric lamps, candles burned in every corner giving a warm, roseate glow to the room. Snow had started to fall softly outside and the deep silence of the night penetrated to room, giving the space a hollow feeling as if it were larger than it really was. A strong scent of sandalwood emanated from the fire where the young medium had sprinkled nuggets of incense.
“Entrez, mes amis,” she drew her hosts and the other house guests into the room, guiding them to sit at a small Chippendale table that has been moved in front of the fireplace, placing each person at an assigned seat.
“Chevalier, sit here, if you will, next to me,” she steered Sir Brian to his place. “And Doctor McWhirter on the other side of me. Madame Leatherby, beside him, and Major Gregg across from me. Just so. Next to him, Monsieur McPherson; then Mlle. Gabby alongside Sir Brian. Now our circle is complete.”
She sat down and placed her hands on the table in front of her. She wore a long shawl of cream colored raw silk that draped her like a mystic’s robe.
“Lady Jane has asked me to contact her father, who died last year,” she explained to the others. “She has given me some of his personal effects to establish a connection.” The mystic laid out a hair brush, a pocket knife and a cigar case on the table in front of her.
“For those of you who have not attended a séance before, I work by contacting a spirit guide who acts as my intermediary on the other side. My guide is a Roman Legionnaire who died more than eighteen hundred years ago. His name is Gaius. He speaks Latin and very bad French, I’m afraid, but once he has contacted Monsieur Greggs, we will be able to speak with him in English.”
Having given this brief explanation of what she planned to do, Eloise closed her eyes and hummed quietly, a tuneless sound that droned on for many minutes, seeming to expand into the room and get louder. Over the course of many moments the lights visibly dimmed and the air was suddenly chill.
The humming sound continued, though now it seemed to come from the very air itself. Eloise’s lips moved and a raspy very male voice spoke in the middle of the table, it seemed. “Bonum vespere, domina,”
“Bon nuit, mon ami, Gaius,” said Eloise in her own voice. “Nous sommes ici pour parler avec un homme, le pere de Dame Jane.”
“Invenies,” said the man’s voice and there was a growing tightness in the air, as if they were in a very confined space and it was hard to breath. The lights dimmed down even more, and as Gabriela looked around she could see the candle flames actually shrink to tiny points. The electric light had only a very small glow to it, and the fire looked like nothing more than dead coals
“Janey? Janey? Is that you?” said a new voice through Mlle. Shires’ lips. “It’s so dark. I can’t see you, but I sense you’re there, girl. Speak up, please, I seem to have lost my way.”
“Papa!” burst Jane. “It is Papa. I would recognize his voice anywhere.”
Indeed, Gabriela also recognized the voice of her childhood friend’s aged father, and Major Greggs, at the far end of the table stiffened in fear. His eyes flew wide at the sound of his dead father’s words.
“Speak to him quickly,” hissed Mlle. Shires. “There is another force. Some one trying . . .”
The beautiful French woman spasmed and shook as if a terrier had seized her.
“Oh! Hello,” said yet another voice, very calmly and politely through the woman’s mouth. “Sorry to intrude and all that, but I rather need a bit of help . . .”
“Avaunt!” commanded Eloise in her own voice. “Allez, allez, immediatement!”
“Not yet,” came the calm, new voice. “There’s something very nasty quite close by that you should be most cautious about. And I do need a bit of help myself to open my . . .”
“Papa? Papa where are you?” cried Jane, mystified at this new intruder in their communing.
“Ah. You’ll do just fine,” said the calm voice.
The lights flared back to full power and Lady Jane cried aloud, falling back in her chair seemingly in a dead faint. The fire blazed up, roaring in the chimney like a lost soul.
“Jane!” cried Sir Brain, jumping up to reach his wife.
Major Greggs blanched white and swallowed heavily.
“That was the old man,” he whispered. “How could that be?”
Gabriela looked quickly at Mlle. Shires and was shocked to see the young woman’s face writhing in the grip of a strong emotion, or perhaps pain.
“Are you alright?” she asked the clairvoyant.
“He’s here. At the threshold. He comes and may not be denied,” she whispered, looking the writer full in the eyes, terrified. And with that she too lay back in her chair, her eyes fluttered up in her face to show the whites and she swooned, panting rapidly for breath.
“Who are you?” cried Gabriella to Mlle. Shires as the young woman’s eyes fluttered up and she started to swoon.
Jane had fainted in her chair. Sir Brian was first at her side, patting her hand and holding her head. Dr. McWhirter took a small vial from his waistcoat pocket and twisted off the top. The strong smell of ammonia established the contents as smelling salts and he wafted the vial under Jane’s nose.
“What? Who? Whaaa…?” The lady’s eyes flickered open and she looked around in momentary befuddlement at the many worried faces looking down at her.
“Brian, darling, did I faint? It was Papa wasn’t it, Peter?” she said to her brother who hovered behind her husband’s shoulder. “It was his voice we heard.”
Sitting up in her chair, seemingly non the worse for her swoon, she glanced across the table at Eloise.
“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I seem not to be the only weak female at the table. Dr. McWhirter, please help Eloise. I’m fine. I was just startled, I suppose. I knew Eloise was the genuine article, but to speak so clearly to my dear father. It quite overcame me.”
The doctor took his container of salts to treat the medium and Jane collected herself sheepishly.
“How silly of me,” she said, taking Gabriela’s hand and looking directly into her old friend’s eyes. “Just an hysterical girl. Please don’t concern yourself, my dear. I’m fine now.”
Indeed, her friend’s eyes seemed clear and free of any hint of taint. Gabriela allowed herself to breath easy again, but the uncertainty was still in her mind. What had happened here? What spirits had reached into the corporeal world through the spirit gate that Eloise had opened?
A sudden spluttering cough from the other side of the table drew everyone’s attention to Mlle. Shires, who had also aroused quickly after the doctor applied the spirits of hartshorn. The strong pungent salts penetrated even the most dense mental fogs.
The clairvoyant looked in panic at the others.
“Que’st que ce?” she asked. “What has happened? I remember Gaius, his searching for Monsieur Greggs. A moment of the old man, and then? Rien! Nothing.
“This is not normal. I am usually aware of all the spirits who speak through my lips. But tonight? I recall only darkness.”
She sees the worried group gather around Lady Jane and gasps aloud.
“Madame Jane! You are well? Did something frighten you? Attack you?”
Jane laughed, though it sounded a bit hollow to Gabriela, and spoke lightly in reply.
“Nothing but a silly faint, ma cheri. You brought me my Papa, as I asked, and then I got scared. How foolish of me. Perhaps we should try again?”
“Certainly not,” said Sir Brian in no uncertain terms. “We’ve all had a scare tonight and while I am still not one hundred percent convinced that Miss Shires can speak to the dead, I am bloody well certain that she will not do so again in my house.”
He stood up from beside his wife and offered her his arm
“Let us go to bed, my dear, and put this frightful event behind us. I advice you all to do the same.”
Watching my friend Jane get up from the table with her husband, I am not sure if she is telling the truth. I believe something is amiss here. Knowing Sir Brian is helping her to their room, I stand up and shift my attention to Eloise. I quickly come to her aid and help her out of her chair. “My dear Eloise, are you sure you are okay? You really scared everyone tonight. Can I do anything for you? Maybe help you to your room? I believe we’ve all had a long day.” Composing my self, I bid the men a good night and gather myself to retire for the night.
I’ll offer to stay with Eloise as long as she needs me.
Eloise was clearly embarrassed at what had happened and turned away Gabriela’s attentions, politely but firmly.
“No, no, Mlle. Gabby. You are too kind, but I will be well. We shall all sleep soundly tonight and tomorrow will be bright and merry. You shall see. Voila! The snow is falling, and it will be Christmas time all of a sudden.”
Outside the snow fall had indeed settled in to a steady accumulation, already and inch or two thick on the lawn and the holly trees they could see out of the windows, faintly illuminated by the lights from within the house.