He was a pale, enthusiastic young man of the name of Simms; and he held forth to us at great length about his latest hobby.
“Now I’ll just show you a little experiment,” he wound up, “one that I have never known to fail. First of all I want you to hide a needle somewhere, while I am out of the room. You must stick it where it can be seen–on a chair–or on the floor if you like. Then I shall come back blindfolded and find it.”
“Oh, Mr. Simms!” we all said.
“Now, which one of you has the strongest will?”
We pushed Jack forward. Jack is at any rate a big man.
“Very well. I shall want you to take my hand when I come in, and look steadily at the needle–concentrate all your thoughts on it. I, on the other hand, shall make my mind a perfect blank. Then your thoughts will gradually pass into my brain, and I shall feel myself as it were, dragged in the direction of the needle.”
“And I shall feel myself, as it were, dragged after you?” said Jack.
“Yes; you mustn’t put any strain on my arm at all. Let me go just where I like, only will me to go in the right direction. Now then.”
He took out his handkerchief, put it hastily back, and said: “First I shall want to borrow a handkerchief or something.”
Well, we blindfolded him, and led him out of the room. Then Muriel got a needle, which, after some discussion, was stuck into the back of the Chesterfield. Simms returned and took Jack’s left hand.
They stood there together, Jack frowning earnestly at the needle, and Simms swaying uncertainly at the knees. Suddenly his knees went in altogether, and he made a little zig-zag dash across the room, as though he were taking cover. Jack lumbered after him, instinctively bending his head, too. They were brought up by the piano, which Simms struck with great force. We all laughed, and Jack apologised.
“You told me to let you go where you liked, you know,” he said.
“Yes, yes,” said Simms rather peevishly, “but you should have willed me not to hit the piano.”
As he spoke he tripped over a small stool and, flinging out an arm to save himself, swept two photograph frames off an occasional table.
“By Jove,” said Jack, “that’s jolly good. I saw you were going to do that, and I willed that the flower vase should be spared. I’m getting on.”
“I think you had better start from the door again,” I suggested. “Then you can get a clear run.”
They took up their original positions.
“You must think hard, please,” said Simms again. “My mind is a perfect blank, and yet I can feel nothing coming.”
Jack made terrible faces at the needle. Then, without warning, Simms flopped on to the floor at full length, pulling Jack after him.
“You mustn’t mind if I do that,” he said, getting up slowly.
“No,” said Jack, dusting himself.
“I felt irresistibly compelled to go down,” said Simms.
“So did I,” said Jack.
“The needle is very often hidden in the floor, you see. You are sure you are looking at it?”
They were in a corner with their back to it; and Jack, after trying in vain to get it over his right shoulder or his left, bent down and focussed it between his legs. This must have connected the current; for Simms turned right round and marched up to the needle.
“There!” he said triumphantly, taking off the bandage.
We all clapped, while Jack poured himself out a whisky. Simms turned to him.
“You have a very strong will indeed,” he said, “one of the strongest I have met. Now, would one of the ladies like to try?”
“Oh, I’m sure I couldn’t,” said all the ladies.
“I should like to do it again,” said Simms modestly. “Perhaps you, Sir?”
“All right, I’ll try,” I said.
When Simms was outside I told them my idea.
“I’ll hold the needle in my other hand,” I said, “and then I can always look at it easily, and it will always be in a different place, which ought to muddle him.”
We fetched him in, and he took my left hand….
“No, it’s no good,” he said at last. “I don’t seem to get it. Let me try the other hand.”
I had no time to warn him. He clasped the other hand firmly; and from the shriek that followed it seemed that he got it. There ensued the “perfect blank” that he had insisted on all the evening. Then he pulled off the bandage, and showed a very angry face.
Well, we explained how accidental it was, and begged him to try again. He refused rather sulkily.
Suddenly Jack said: “I believe I could do it blindfolded. Miss Muriel, will you look at the needle, and see if you can will me?”
Simms bucked up a bit, and seemed keen on the idea. So Jack was blindfolded, the needle hid, and Muriel took his hand.
“Now is your mind a perfect blank?” said Simms to Jack.
“It always is,” said Jack.
“Very well then. You ought soon to feel in a dreamy state, as though you were in another world. Miss Muriel, you must think only of the needle.”
Jack held her hand tight, and looked most idiotically peaceful. After three minutes Simms spoke again.
“Well?” he said, eagerly.
“I’ve got the dreamy, other-world state perfectly,” said Jack, and then he gave at the knees, just for the look of the thing.
“This is silly,” said Muriel, trying to get her hand away.
Jack staggered violently, and gripped her hand again.
“Please, Miss Muriel,” implored Simms. “I feel sure he is just going to do it.”
Jack staggered again, sawed the air with his disengaged hand, and then turned right round and marched for the door, dragging Muriel behind him. The door slammed after them.
* * * * *
There is a little trick of sitting on a chair and picking a pin out of it with the teeth. I started Simms–who was all eagerness to follow the pair, and find out the mysterious force that was drawing them–upon this trick, for Jack is one of my best friends. When Jack and Muriel came back from the billiard-room and announced that they were engaged, Simms was on his back on the floor with the chair on the top of him–explaining, for the fourth time, that if the thing had not overbalanced at the critical moment he would have secured the object. There is much to be said for this view.