Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive By William Dudley Pelley


Chapter XV


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 their intimates.

As Irish traffic policeman who was present, but not in uniform, sprang up with an exclamation. Apparently this was his mother.

“Dennis, me 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 they’re going to take your toes off.” “Are you there with me, mother?” the copper asked incredulously. “All the time I’m with ye, to keep ye from harm. But ye scare the wits from ye mither a dozen toimes an hour. Why don’t ye give up the job, Dennis, and git a dacent job at man’s wages?”

“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 there’s going to be a new wedding ring on your finger in the spring. May ye be happy, me son!”

Why I Believe the Dead Are Alive

“THAT’S pretty realistic,” I whispered to George in the ruby dark, as a new hymn played sweetly.

“Look!” 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 did.

“Would you play an accompaniment for me,” the brother asked wistfully, “and let me sing with you again?”

Mischa acted embarrassed. She didn’t enthuse. “Some other night, brother,” she begged.

“Oh, all right—nichivo!” the man said, the tone of disappointment bitter in his voice.

The audience broke out in a storm of protestations. “Play, Mischa, play!” they insisted.

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 man’s 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 man’s 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. “It’s 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 hadn’t 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 German—for 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 me—within 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.

“No,” 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 people—striving against time to cram all their troubles and sorrows into a brief few minutes of contact—choking hectically over the questions and answers, was heart-rending.

But the nun kept her poise and terminated the interview. Back near the cabinet—I should say some three feet in front of it and yet standing slightly off-center forward the right—she suddenly raised both arms heavenward. She looked like one of those Angels of Mercy on the Red Cross posters. I heard a hoarse whisper: “She’s blessing us. Listen!”

It was a Catholic blessing, uttered in Latin. The nun was talking swiftly, almost parroting her words.

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 seeing?

The nun’s 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 sight—through 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 dematerialized—sloughed off her clothing of substantiality—directly before our eyes! I was to have a second such demonstration before the night was over.

It was to be my own paternal grandfather!