The tired and faded state of the decoration of the theater showed that it had seen better days, although the gaudy and sensational paintwork suggested they hadn’t been that much better. Marie and Sir John were positioned in the middle of the stalls, surrounded by a clientele that had clearly been preparing for the performance by consuming large amounts of alcohol. There was a ribald, boisterous mood amongst the crowd.
Sir John was unusual in having brought opera glasses and even more unusual in having adapted them to function as an ectoscope. As the crowd settled down a little he was staring at the stage muttering that he couldn’t see anything.
“That’s cos it ain’t started,” said someone jeeringly and there was much laughter at this. Marie was fiddling with the necklace she had brought when the clasp holding it seemed to break and it fell in her lap.
The theatre went dark and a man walked on stage. He had a long black cloak, impressive top hat and a moustache with an exaggerated curl at the end. He too looked like he had seen better days and not recently.
“Ladees and gennelmen,” he drawled, “if indeed we have such creatures here tonight…” This provoked more laughter.
“I am delighted to present for your entertainment and education a display of that most mysterious, most magnificent, most malignant art of… Mesmerism.” There was a gasp from the crowd.
“Do I have a volunteer?” asked the man on stage. Almost immediately a hand shot up and a voice rang out. It was an older lady who spoke.
“Yes sir, with pleasure, for this practice is nothing more than a trick on the mentally feeble.” The crowd roared their approval at being described this way.
“Well, madam, if indeed you are,” said the man to more laugher, “please make your way to the stage.”
The woman, who proved to be somewhat on the heavy side, made her way toward the stage. Sir John was still staring intently at the stage through the glasses and Marie let the pendant that had come loose dangle from her fingers. She whispered “chercher” and the pendant began to swing round gently. Marie kept her gaze on the spiralling pendant. By now the woman had arrived at the stage.
“Tell me madam, a little about yourself, so that we may know you better.”
“My name, sir,” said the woman, “is Mrs Buttermoss. I am a member of the Salvation Army, a member of the Temperance Society and a God-fearing Christian who has no fear of your so called powers.” She glared at the man on stage as the crowd woo-ed.
“Of course, madam,” said the man, “I may well have met my match, with a woman of your fortitude.” Then he suddenly said “sleep” and the woman shut her eyes and went rigid.
Immediately the pendant in Marie’s hand shot horizontal, pointing right toward the box. As the Mesmerist whispered to the woman on stage, Marie tried to see into the box, but it was obscured by a curtain. Sir John was muttering again. “Nothing… how odd.” Marie suddenly nudged her husband in the ribs, knocking him into facing the box.
“What is… my god… it’s glowing like the Blackpool Illuminations”.
The mesmerist on stage had stopped talking to the woman and said, “Please continue,” to the inert woman.
“I said I am not so easy game for one such as…”
Suddenly the mesmerist clicked his fingers and music started from somewhere. It was the can-can, played loudly and badly. Instantly the woman started dancing to the music, lifting her skirts and kicking into the air. The crowd was laughing and shouting.
“The box!” said Sir John. “There’s something coming from the box!”