To be in an old age better men and women, more unselfish, more broadminded, more genial and tolerant, that is what we are for. It is a soul factory, and it is turning out a bad article. But Hullo!" he burst into his infectious laugh. "Here I am delivering my lecture in the street. Force of habit, you see. My son says that if you press the third button of my waistcoat I automatically deliver a lecture. But here is the good Bolsover to your rescue."
The worthy grocer had caught sight of them through the window and came bustling out, untying his white apron.
"Good evening, all! I won't have you waiting in the cold. Besides, there's the clock, and time's up. It does not do to keep them waiting. Punctuality for all that's my motto and theirs. My lads will shut up the shop. This way, and mind the sugar-barrel."
They threaded their way amid boxes of dried fruits and piles of cheese, finally passing between two great casks which hardly left room for the grocer's portly form. A narrow door beyond opened into the residential part of the establishment. Ascending the narrow stair, Bolsover threw open a door and the visitors found themselves in a considerable room in which a number of people were seated round a large table. There was Mrs. Bolsover herself, large, cheerful and buxom like her husband. Three daughters were all of the same pleasing type. There was an elderly woman who seemed to be some relation, and two other colourless females who were described as neighbours and Spiritualists. The only other man was a little grey-headed fellow with a pleasant face and quick, twinkling eyes, who sat at a harmonium in the corner.
"Mr. Smiley, our musician," said Bolsover. "I don't know what we could do without Mr. Smiley. It's vibrations, you know. Mr. Mailey could tell you about that. Ladies, you know Mr. Mailey, our very good friend. And these are the two inquirers -- Miss Challenger and Mr. Malone." The Bolsover family all smiled genially, but the nondescript elderly person rose to her feet and surveyed them with an austere face.
"You're very welcome here, you two strangers," she said. "But we would say to you that we want outward reverence. We respect the shining ones and we will not have them insulted."
"I assure you we are very earnest and fairminded," said Malone.
"We've had our lesson. We haven't forgotten the Meadows' affair, Mr. Bolsover."
"No, no, Mrs. Seldon. That won't happen again. We were rather upset over that," Bolsover added, turning to the visitors. "That man came here as our guest, and when the lights were out he poked the other sitters with his finger so as to make them think it was a spirit hand. Then he wrote the whole thing up as an exposure in the public Press, when the only fraudulent thing present had been himself."
Malone was honestly shocked. "I can assure you we are incapable of such conduct."
The old lady sat down, but still regarded them with a suspicious eye. Bolsover bustled about and got things ready.
"You sit here" Mr. Mailey. Mr. Malone, will you sit between my wife and my daughter? Where would the young lady like to sit?""
Enid was feeling rather nervous. "I think," said she, "that I would like to sit next to Mr. Malone."
Bolsover chuckled and winked at his wife.
"Quite so. Most natural, I am sure." They all settled into their places. Mr. Bolsover had switched off the electric light, but a candle burned in the middle of the table. Malone thought what a picture it would have made for a Rembrandt. Deep shadows draped it in, but the yellow light flickered upon the circle of faces -- the strong, homely, heavy features of Bolsover, the solid line of his family circle, the sharp, austere countenance of Mrs. Seldon, the earnest eyes and yellow beard of Mailey, the worn, tired faces of the two Spiritualist women, and finally the firm, noble profile of the girl who sat beside him. The whole world had suddenly narrowed down to that one little group, so intensely concentrated upon its own purpose.
On the table there was scattered a curious collection of objects, which had all the same appearance of tools which had long been used.