THE BREAKAWAY had to come
between Gertrude and her parents. Seeing her withdraw and go backward
into the cabinet was not unlike having her die a second death to them, I
suppose, in that she could not walk out of what meeting with them. When
she drapes had fallen befo re her figure, we were brought back to
realities by another bit of sacred music coming from the victorla. Who
would emerge from the cabinet next? We had not long to wait. The
curtains parted, the form of an elderly lady stepped through. She paused
a moment and then stepped back. The drapes fell before her figure. A
second time she opened the drapes. This time she stepped through and at
least six feet out into the room. She cried with a husky Irish brogue:
Dennis! Mind you
these voices were not spookish whispers, unless their possessors did not
particularly want the whole roomful to hear what they were saying to
As Irish traffic policeman who was
present, but not in uniform, sprang up with an exclamation. Apparently
this was his mother.
son, me son! she cried. What they said
privately up close together I could not hear, for the woman dropped her
voice a few moments. Then louder we heard her say, Oh
why do ye have to be all the time standing down under thim terrible
elevated tracks with the trolley cars going past ye, and thim trucks
nearly hitting ye? A dozen toimes a day, me bye, ye give your mither the
conniption fits that theyre going to take
your toes off. Are you there with me,
mother? the copper asked incredulously.
All the time Im
with ye, to keep ye from harm. But ye scare the wits from ye mither a
dozen toimes an hour. Why dont ye give up the
job, Dennis, and git a dacent job at mans
Somebody has to do that
sort of thing, mother, Dennis argued.
Yes, I suppose so. But do ye take
care of yourself. And I know theres going to
be a new wedding ring on your finger in the spring. May ye be happy, me
Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive
THATS pretty realistic,
I whispered to George in the ruby dark, as a new hymn played sweetly.
George cried presently.
Out from the curtains had
stepped a tall foreign-looking cleric in vestments that seemed to me to
be of the Greek Catholic church as I had seen them in Siberian mosques
in 1918. He wanted his sister Mischa. A stocky Slav girl sprang up and
came forward. After the usual emotional greetings, they began talking
about family affairs, with references to papa and mama and other
relatives and their troubles, which the brother the brother contended he
was daily helping to iron out. We thought it was to be just another of
those domestic visits which mean nothing to a stranger excepting the
humanness of the problems. Suddenly, however, the Russian said,
Do you recall, Mischa, how we once played and
sang together at the piano? Indeed, Mischa
you play an accompaniment for me, the brother
asked wistfully, and let me sing with you
Mischa acted embarrassed. She didnt
enthuse. Some other night, brother,
Oh, all rightnichivo!
the man said, the tone of disappointment bitter in his voice.
The audience broke out in a storm of
protestations. Play, Mischa, play!
The brother, in retreat toward the cabinet, seemed to pause and wait.
What do you want me to play?
she asked him. Would you play The Rosary?
Mischa went to the piano on the dais. That she was an expert
musician was evident the instant her fingers
touched the keys. She sounded off on the proper chord. Then, to my
stupefaction at least, the brother who had remortalized himself for this
epochal evening by courtesy of the gracious Florida woman asleep inside
that cabinet, cleared his throat and started in with the words. He sang
the three verses without slip or falter, though sometimes not quite
making the true tone on the high notes. There he was, within five feet
of me, doing that thing, his voice having quite as much volume as any
mans in that room. My eyes had grown quite
accustomed to the red light by this time. His figure between me and the
opposite wall was as opaque as any figure within reach of my vision. It
was perfectly made. I could see the mans
chest rise and fall. His accent, not pure English, often flatted on the
words. But singing the song seemed to mean a lot to him. When the solo
was over, he thanked his sister like a grateful little boy. The approval
of the audience, of course, was noisy. Its
quite like old times, he murmured to Mischa
as he finally backed toward the cabinet. A moment later, he had
disappeared from out sight. What do you think
of that? asked George.
Why I Believe the
Dead Are Alive
If I hadnt heard
it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it,
I replied. The victrola hymn had started up again.
A PORTLY German father
stepped out from the drapes and called to his son and his family,
sitting directly opposite the cabinet. The son brought up his new bride
to be introduced, a girl who had never seen the old gentleman in flesh.
The conversation began in German and finished in Germanfor
a full ten minutes. Not knowing German, I could not follow it. But it
seemed to be all about relatives, for I distinguished several Christian
names, both men and women. Suddenly, when the German had finished his
visit, the voice of Silverleaf called to the hostess over the drapes,
put on the Bells of St. Mary, Nora!
It took a moment to find the record out of the pile by the aid of
a tiny flashlight. Nora played it once and nothing happened. But just as
at started up a second time, the drapes parted and the figure that
advanced out of the cabinet was that of a nun, muttering in what I took
to be Latin. She was clad in sharp blacks and whites in headdress and
girdle. Her presence was so impelling that the audience forgot to
welcome her audibly.
Strangely enough, the room happened to be so silent
for an instant that as the Sister trod past mewithin
at least two feet of where I was leaning forward I
could hear the scuff of what seemed to be her naked feet on the nap of
the heavy Brussels rug. That too was pretty convincing evidence in view
of what happened when she later went out.
She moved toward one of the women at the back of the room and spoke. The
woman started up. What relation she was to the nun I could not make out.
But if I recall correctly, the woman was perplexed over whether or not
she should give up her present work and take up nursing.
the nun advised against it. If I were
you I would keep on where you are. You are doing more good to humanity.
On and on they talked about more family complications.
The way in which these good peoplestriving
against time to cram all their troubles and sorrows into a brief few
minutes of contactchoking hectically over the
questions and answers, was heart-rending.
But the nun kept her poise and terminated the
interview. Back near the cabinetI should say
some three feet in front of it and yet standing slightly off-center
forward the rightshe suddenly raised both
arms heavenward. She looked like one of those Angels of Mercy on the Red
Cross posters. I heard a hoarse whisper: Shes
blessing us. Listen!
It was a Catholic blessing,
uttered in Latin. The nun was talking swiftly, almost parroting her
And as she repeated the
blessing, I beheld her start to sink through the floor with a curious
twist of her uniformed figure.
I blinked my eyes. I did
everything but pinch myself or jab a pin in my leg. What on earth was I
The nuns figure sank further. She went down
to her knees, her waist, her
Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive
shoulders. Finally her head went
out of sightthrough the rug! It was like
watching a person sink beneath the surface of water.
Finally we watched the awesome sight of two upraised
arms and hands, still heavy with vestments, thrusting upward from the
carpet. Finally the left hand nearest me vanished. The right hand lingered
as a pool of fluorescence on the rug for ten or fifteen seconds, and then
that too disappeared. No part of her had gone back into the cabinet. She
had dematerializedsloughed off her clothing of
substantialitydirectly before our eyes! I was
to have a second such demonstration before the night was over.
It was to be my own