The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review, October 1918
Percy the Psychist — A Tale of the Beyond
Percy the Psychist
A Tale of the Beyond
On the evening of the 29th March, 19—, I called at the home of Percy Poselthwaite, whom I had not seen for ten years. As my carriage rumbled up the grove, the gaunt, ugly trees, wreathing fantastic shapes, leered black as the coal at their roots; the glow-worms, as if annoyed by the curfew-sounding wheels, put out their lights and went to bed; the silk-worms, hushed into silence, sulked in their sanctuary. In the flash of a moment memories raced each other along the road of the years. The ball—the dim irreligious light—the tadpoles splashing in the tank—Priscilla Poselthwaite with her lovely shoulders swathed in the flimsiest creation of green tulle—the irresistible proposal between a waltz and a schottische—her remarks, à propos of everything but the supreme possibilities of the occasion—everything came back to me. Poor, poor Priscilla—she's married now. My revenge is complete.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Reginald Ffallover. Very few have heard of me, as my life has not been sad enough to be amusing nor ordinary enough to be tragical. Nevertheless, my name has appeared in print on four occasions, as the newspaper cuttings that are pasted above the shaving-mirror in my bedroom bear ample witness. A man with a mission in life, wherever I have gone, I am proud to say I have always made acquaintances enough to last page 31 me until the end of my ready cash; friends who, rather than suffer the agony of not being able to reciprocate, have departed in haste. Mournfully I confess it—I have a purpose in life—one that has sent me to the strangest and most wonderful countries—I am a traveller for Brinewater's "Finest English Brandy"; and although at home they have always failed to appreciate my singular qualities, in every country except those suffering from the lack of religion, has my advent been hailed as a blessing from Heaven. Percy and I studied psychology together at Cambridge, and as we never agreed on any subject we were always the best friends. In my last year he was Senior Wrangler: I had my quarrels, too, I remember—in fact, all the Ffallovers have been noted for the temerity with which they approach the brink of the precipice of exalted anger. Then we came to part, I to Durban, he to his country home, Honkay Castle, Hants (named after his granduncles, Sir Holloway Honkay, of hunting fame). We thought that our acquaintance which, in the heat of the experimental laboratory, had ripened into mature friendship, should never have been allowed to fall into decay, and consequently we determined to meet at his home in ten years' time—to come, if necessary, from the very ends of the earth for the event.
Had I but known. Twelve . . . the watchful owl uttered a piercing screech in trying to outvie the weird noises produced by the village clock. It was ten years to the minute when I crossed the threshold of the poselthwaites. As I entered the library, Percy leapt towards me (with the same motion as the hero leaps towards the heroine in any modern novel) and shook my hand in a mysterious fashion. "Alive, alive," he murmured, in a mournful moan; "something must be wrong. What disappointment. No, no. It cannot be. His spirit is not with him."
"Of course I'm alive, old spark," I retaliated, with some animation; "I haven't written you letters because you know perfectly well I have a horror of the thought of my private correspondence becoming a future classic, and therefore being used to disguise some of the ugliness and the bareness of our modern walls. And as to my spirit not being with me, well I sold the last of it at Yokohama and would have sold another hundred cases had I had them. But why whine about it now?"
Percy tuned round, coming at the same time into the light cast by a swinging chandelier of solid gold inlaid with what at first sight looked to be the most precious stones. In seeking to avoid the sway of the massive contrivance I noticed however the most were stones of Venice or very clever imitations of peach and cherry stones. Then a cold shiver played a sonata on my spinal cord as Percy tuned his moony eyes—optics not uncommon to an astronomer who has wasted his life looking for a star—and said to me, "I cannot believe you. I who am a Spiritualist have many times spoken to you, frequenter of the nether worlds. You said you were very happy—that I knew to be sign that you no longer lived. If you had known what pleasure it gave me to speak to you of old times; to argue with you and to get the last words—despite all compacts you would not have disappointed me thus. Oh, Reginald, I had better opinions of you in the other world." And with that he buried his face on his sleeve and wept most bitterly just a little on one side of the buttons. Fortunately a fire in the room removed the anxiety on my part that he would take cold.page 32
Percy was going mad. I based my conclusions not on the fact that I did not concur with him—for I am not narrow-minded; but that he was ruining the traditions of his family by becoming morbidly serious over life. Had I heard the Poselthwaites had installed a telephone in their home I could have got over the shock with difficulty and Time would have eventually healed the wound. Yet to think that the sole surviving member of that illustrious family should waste his career on such a new-fangled idea as spiritualism! Fate and circumstance have, however, always been unkind to him. He was too independent for politics, too educated for the Army and too sincere for the Church.
A deathly silence, broken only by intermittent and unmusical sobs, pervaded the atmosphere. A cinder dropped out on the hearth, then another, then another, making I all three cinders. Silence prevailed. I summoned up my courage. "Percy, old man," I said, "it is an unfortunate fact that my being alive disproves a theory and perhaps presents spiritualism to you in a somewhat faded colour. Yet surely my presence is more welcome to you than all your theories."
"Alas, Reginald," he exclaimed bitterly, "my art was my life. To speak to you dead was to see you alive. You are not yourself. You are the psycho-spookistical representation. While that self is here it is impossible to get into communication with the other self. I feel lost and cast upon a Sahara with only sand to eat."
The metaphor pierced me to the heart. Percy was suffering-palpitating with pain. That my friend of yore, who hated the name of "tradesman," should have said this to me, that I was to him better dead than alive. Ah! How cool the atmosphere had become. Every thing was unbearable—horrible. Without uttering a syllable, I left the room. He stood there, with his back to the fire, thinking alone—all alone. . . .
Aucun chemin de fleurs ne conduit à la gloire. Fontaine is right. Greatness demands its fee. I am resolved to save Percy Poselthwaite and the glory of his house from the gloriousness of a failure. I feel that my nature is not miserable and discontented enough ever to hurl me into marriage. It is different with Percy. He is weak, and perhaps, if dazzled by the success of his theory, he may plunge recklessly into matrimony and become the father of several little Poselthwaites. I think "Reginald Percival Ffallover Poselthwaite" will be the name of the first son. If names mean anything, then surely this youth will grow up to be either a politician or a clever man.
I am about to die. Yesterday I purchased a modern work of art, but it had not the necessary effect. It is bequeathed now to maiden aunt. I am about to take my life. It will be the only thing I have ever taken. Already I can see the words "who died to save the theory of his greatest friend. Greater love hath no man." To-night I shall die, but I am not afraid. To-night the gas will be left on, and to-morrow—ah.
"To-morrow. Why, to-morrow I may be—
"Myself with Yesterday's sev'n thousand Years . . ."
My poor landlady. How terribly she will fret at the loss when gas is so high. But Percy will probably foot the bill.
W. E. L.