The Rev. Charles Mason smiled his kindly, toothsome grin.
"Incorrigible, is he not?" he said to Malone. "Well, I can only wish you a fuller comprehension of the subject." He rose as if to depart.
"Wait a bit, padre!" cried Lord Roxton, hurriedly. "When I'm explorin', I begin by ropin' in a friendly native. I expect you're just the man. Won't you come with me?"
"Well, sit down and I'll tell you." He rummaged among a pile of letters on his desk. "Fine selection of spooks!" he said. "I got on the track of over twenty by the first post. This is an easy winner, though. Read it for yourself. Lonely house, man driven mad, tenants boltin' in the night, horrible spectre. Sounds all right -- what!"
The clergyman read the letter with puckered brows.
"It seems a bad case," said he.
"Well, suppose you come along. What! Maybe you can help clear it up."
The Rev. Mason pulled out a pocket-almanac. "I have a service for ex-Service men on Wednesday, and a lecture the same evening."
"But we could start to-day."
"It's a long way."
"Only Dorsetshire. Three hours."
"What is your plan?"
"Well, I suppose a night in the house should do it."
"If there is any poor soul in trouble it becomes a duty. Very well, I will come."
"And surely there is room for me," pleaded Malone.
"Of course there is, young fellah! What I mean -- I expect that old, red-headed bird at the office sent you round with no other purpose. Ah, I thought so. Well, you can write an adventure that is not perfect bilge for a change -- what! There's a train from Victoria at eight o'clock. We can meet there, and I'll have a look in at old man Challenger as I pass."
They dined together in the train and after dinner reassembled in their first-class carriage, which is the snuggest mode of travel which the world can show. Roxton, behind a big black cigar, was full of his visit to Challenger.
"The old dear is the same as ever. Bit my head off once or twice in his own familiar way. Talked unadulterated tripe. Says I've got brain-softenin', if I could think there was such a thing as a real spook. 'When you're dead you're dead'". That's the old man's cheery slogan. Surveyin' his contemporaries' he said, extinction was a doosed good thing! 'It's the only hope of the world', said he. 'Fancy the awful prospect if they survived'. Wanted to give me a bottle of chlorine to chuck at the ghost. I told him that if my automatic was not a spook-stopper, nothin' else would serve. Tell me, padre, is this the first time you've been on safari after this kind of game?"
"You treat the matter too lightly, Lord John," said the clergyman gravely. "You have clearly had no experience of it. In answer to your question I may say that I have several times tried to help in similar cases."
"And you take it seriously?" asked Malone, making notes for his article.
"Very, very seriously."
"What do you think these influences are?"
"I am no authority upon the general question. You know Algernon Mailey, the barrister, do you not? He could give you facts and figures. I approach the subject rather perhaps from the point of view of instinct and emotion. I remember Mailey lecturing on Professor Bozzano's book on ghosts where over five hundred well-authenticated instances were given, every one of them sufficient to establish an a priori case. There is Flammarion, too. You can't laugh away evidence of that kind."
"I've read Bozzano and Flammarion, too," said Malone, "but it is your own experience and conclusions that I want."
"Well, if you quote me, remember that I do not look on myself as a great authority on psychic research. Wiser brains than mine may come along and give some other explanation. Still, what I have seen has led me to certain conclusions. One of them is to think that there is some truth in the theosophical idea of shells."
"What is that?"
"They imagined that all spirit bodies near the earth were empty shells or husks from which the real entity had departed. Now, of course, we know that a general statement of that sort is nonsense, for we could not get the glorious communications which we do get from anything but high intelligences.