A great medium is a great artist and is to be judged by the same standards."
"He seems to me, gentlemen, to be preparing you for the worst," said the medium with a charming smile, while the company laughed in sympathy.
"We are sitting in the hopes that some remarkable materializations which we have recently had may be renewed in such a form that we may get a permanent record of them." Dr. Maupuis was talking in his dry, unemotional voice. "These materializations have taken very unexpected forms of late, and I would beg the company to repress any feelings of fear, however strange these forms may be, as a calm and judicial atmosphere is most necessary. We shall now turn out the white light and begin with the lowest degree of red light until the conditions will admit of further illumination."
The lamps were controlled from Dr. Maupuis' seat at the table. For a moment they were plunged in utter darkness. Then a dull red glow came in the corner, enough to show the dim outlines of the men round the table. There was no music and no religious atmosphere of any sort. The company conversed in whispers.
"This is different to your English procedure," said Malone.
"Very," Mailey answered. "It seems to me that we are wide open to anything which may come. It's all wrong. They don't realize the danger."
"What danger can there be?"
"Well, from my point of view, it is like sitting at the edge of a pond which may have harmless frogs in it, or may have man-eating crocodiles. You can't tell what may come."
Professor Richet, who spoke excellent English, overheard the words.
"I know your views, Mr. Mailey," said he. "Don't think that I treat them lightly. Some things which I have seen make me appreciate your comparison of the frog and the crocodile. In this very room I have been conscious of the presence of creatures which could, if moved to anger, make our experiments seem rather hazardous. I believe with you that evil people here might bring an evil reflection into our circle."
"I am glad, sir, that you are moving in our direction," said Mailey, for like everyone else he regarded Richet as one of the world's great men.
"Moving, perhaps, and yet I cannot claim to be altogether with you yet. The latent powers of the human incarnate spirit may be so wonderful that they may extend to regions which seem at present to be quite beyond their scope. As an old materialist, I fight every inch of the ground, though I admit that I have lost several lines of trenches. My illustrious friend Challenger still holds his front intact, as I understand."
"Yes, sir" said Malone, "and yet I have some hopes -- "
"Hush!" cried Maupuis in an eager voice. There was dead silence. Then there came a sound of uneasy movement with a strange flapping vibration.
"The bird!" said an awestruck whisper.
There was silence and then once again came the sound of movement and an impatient flap.
"Have you all ready, Rene?" asked the doctor.
"All is ready."
The flash of the luminant mixture filled the room, while the shutter of the camera fell. In that sudden glare of light the visitors had a momentary glimpse of a marvellous sight. The medium lay with his head upon his hands in apparent insensibility. Upon his rounded shoulders there was perched a huge bird of prey -- a large falcon or an eagle. For one instant the strange picture was stamped upon their retinas even as it was upon the photographic plate. Then the darkness closed down again, save for the two red lamps, like the eyes of some baleful demon lurking in the corner.
"My word!" gasped Malone. "Did you see it?"
"A crocodile out of the pond," said Mailey.
"But harmless," added Professor Richet. "the bird has been with us several times. He moves his wings, as you have heard, but otherwise is inert. We may have another and a more dangerous visitor."
The flash of the light had, of course, dispelled all ectoplasm. It was necessary to begin again The company may have sat for a quarter of an hour when Richet touched Mailey's arm.