The tired voice went on. It seemed to surmount enormous obstacles to speech. The man’s sick, Colonel Crashaw thought, with pity and irritation. When a young man he had climbed in the Himalayas, and he remembered bow at great heights several breaths had to be taken for every step advanced. The five-foot-high platform in the Music Rooms of The Spa seemed to entail for the speaker some of the same effort, he should never have come out on such a raw afternoon, thought Colonel Crashaw, pouring out a glass of water and pushing it across the lecturer’s table. The rooms were badly heated, and yellow fingers of winter fog fell for cracks in the many windows. There was little doubt that the speaker had lost all touch with his audience. It was scattered in patches about the hall – elderly ladies who made no attempt to hide their cruel boredom, and a few men, with the appearance of retired officers, who put a show of attention.
Colonel Crashaw, as president of the local
Psychical Society, had received a note from the speaker a little more than a week before. Written by a hand which trembled with sickness, age or drunkenness, it asked urgently for a special meeting of the society. An extraordinary, a really impressive, experience was to be described while still fresh in the mind, thought what the experience had been was left vague. Colonel Crashaw would have hesitated to comply if the note had not been signed by a Major Philip Weaver, Indian Army, retired. One had to do what one could for a brother officer; the trembling of the hand must be either age or sickness.
It proved principally to be the latter when the two men met for the first time on the platform. Major Weaver was not more than sixty, tall, thin, and dark, with an ugly obstinate nose and, satire in his eye, the most unlikely person to experience anything unexplainable. What antagonised Crashaw most was that Weaver used scent; a white handkerchief which drooped from his breast pocket exhaled as rich and sweet an odour as a whole altar of lilies. Several ladies prinked their noses, and General Leadbitter asked loudly whether lie might smoke.
It was quite obvious that Weaver understood. He smiled provocatively and asked very slowly, “Would you mind not smoking? My throat has been bad for some time.” Crashaw murmured that it was terrible weather; influenza throats were common. The satirical eye came round to him and considered him thoughtfully, while Weaver said in a voice which carried halfway across the hall, “It’s cancer in my case.”
In the shocked vexed silence that followed the unnecessary intimacy he began to speak without waiting for any introduction from Crashaw. He seemed at first to be in a hurry. It was only later that the terrible impediments were placed in the way of his speech. He had a high voice, which sometimes broke into a squeal, and must have been peculiarly disagreeable on the parade ground. He paid a few compliments to the local society; his remarks were just sufficiently exaggerated to be irritating. He was glad, lie said, to give them the chance of hearing him; what he had to say might after their whole view of the relative values of matter and spirit.
Mystic stuff, thought Crashaw.
Weaver’s high voice began to shoot out hurried platitudes. The spirit, he said, was stronger than anyone realised; the physiological action of heart and brain and nerves were subordinate to the spirit. The spirit was everything. He said again, his voice squeaking up like bats into the ceiling, “The spirit is so much stronger than you think.