Millie and the Séance (A chapter from the Telephone for Carolyn Keene, Telephone – C. Webb)
Millie Augustine Wirt was at the Toledo County Public library. The year was 1939. It looked very much like war was in the air as the great depression dragged on and on.
It was a Saturday and she was taking time off from working on her Nancy Drew books for Stratemeyer Syndicate. She liked working on the series but the publisher was demanding and she felt like she needed a breather. She was becoming increasingly annoyed with the constraints put on her writing style by Harriet Stratemeyer, the daughter and new editor of the Syndicate. Having less vision than her father, Edward Stratemeyer; Harriet kept insisting that Nancy act and talk more like a ‘lady’ than the tomboy that Millie had created.
“Might as well go back to finishing school,” Millie mumbled to herself as she poked through the stacks. She loved libraries, one of her favorite places to go. She loved books especially mystery writers. However today, it needed to be something…different. A fresh perspective. Something…she stopped at one of the display tables just past the front door. It was a collection of different Arthur Conan Doyle books. Millie fingered the display.
Of course, dead center was the forever favorite, Sherlock Holmes. Millie had read every last story at least once. Then there were some other books she was not familiar with: The Lost World, Professor Challenger Series, and The White Company. Then toward the back – what was this? A History of Spiritualism (1926.). Milly picked up the book and browsed the contents. Hadn’t she heard that Doyle had come to the States a few years back to give talks on the subject? Something about fairies?
On the same table were books about Franz Mesmer and his hyponosis technique and Andrew Jackson Davis and his view on spiritualism. She was curious and leafed through the books.
It was probably a bunch of bunk, she thought to herself. Still….she grabbed more books and trotted to the front desk and presented her library card. The young lady behind the desk carefully stamped the return date on the paper card attached inside of the front covers.
“Hunting for ghosts, Mrs. Wirt?” the girl asked playfully.
“Well, not so far, Doris. But you’ll be the first to know if I find any,” Millie responded with a smile.
The girl giggled and Millie hurried home. She needed to get dinner started for her family so she could have some time to dig into the books. “Doyle first,” she said to the air as she trotted home.
Two weeks later, Millie was standing in the foyer of their home and pulling on her long coat and adjusting a scarf.
“Are you really going to this thing?” Asa, her husband asked.
“I really am,” Millie replied.
“But this is so crazy,” Asa replied, “it’s nothing but a bunch of nonsense!”
“Asa, I am a reporter. A reporter investigates and gets the facts. Think of this as another investigation.”
“Are you paying this woman?”
“Yes, five dollars per head.”
“Five dollars,” he complained, “that would pay for a dinner out!”
“Oh, poo,” she told him, “you lose that amount playing golf with your golf buddies.” He looked guilty. “And don’t bother telling me you don’t. I see how much money you leave on the dresser at night.”
Asa looked like the kid caught in the cookie jar.
“Are you going to drive me or not?” Her shoulder bag was on her shoulder and her hand on the front door knob.
“Alright,” he sighed, “let me get my jacket.”
They drove to another part of town and found the address. Asa stopped the Ford so Millie could get out.
“It should take an hour and a half. You can stay if you want or just come back.”
“Nah,” he waved at her, “not wasting my time.”
“Okay,” then she responded, “I’ll see you at 9 pm.”
Asa nodded and waited until Millie got up the steps, rang the doorbell and someone answered. When she went in, he shook his head and drove home.
The tall, thin man at the door was dark-complexed with slicked down black hair. He was wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie. He had a clipboard in his hand.
“And you are?” his pen was posed above the paper.
“Millie A., just Millie if you don’t mind. I’d rather my husband not know much about this…what we…what we are doing this evening.”
The man nodded and checked his list. “We understand completely,” he answered with a deep, melodious voice. He bowed. “If madam will follow me.” He turned and Millie followed.
She wasn’t exactly sure who the ‘we’ was here but, still, the house had a nice feel to it. An old fashioned clapboard affair with big rooms and a faint scent of …what…old roses she decided. Large fat candles burned in nooks and cranied everywhere. The man led her through an arched doorway into what must at one time have been the family dining room. The light in the room was dim, the fragrant scent of roses was even stronger here but Millie found it pleasant. The light was from a series of candles lit around the room. A low fire crackled in a far wall. The room was cozy warm but not stifling. The man pulled out a padded chair with embroidered roses on the seat and she sat down.
Millie looked around the room. It was a comfortable setting with some old portraits on the wall. She couldn’t tell if they were real oils or not. Whatever she thought. This is so comfortable, I might even close my eyes and she did. She felt herself start to doze when, with a little bounce of cooler air, two more people entered with the tall man and he seated them also. Millie could hear chatter at the front door and three more people came in and sat. What a crowd! She thought, surprised.
The tall man appeared soundlessly at her side. She jumped a little. “Would Madam care for some water?” he held out a silver tray holding short water glasses. She accepted and took a sip and put it down. The other patrons were still talking to each other but in much lowered voices. She looked around at the guests. There was what looked to be one middle-aged couple, two youngish woman and an older woman who might have been a mother or aunt and then, herself. The others shot glances her way but didn’t engage her in conversation.
She turned to the middle-ages woman next to her. “So, who are you here for?” she inquired quietly.
“Oh, me you mean?” The woman put a hand on her chest. Millie nodded.
“Oh, my father. The old goat died without a will and my step-mother is trying to get her hands on everything. Trying to figure out where he put the thing so we can stop the bat from taking it all.” The man next to her nodded.
“I’m Sarah,” the woman offered her hand,” and my brother Bill.” Millie nodded to the brother.
“And you?” Sarah asked.
“Oh, I lost my grandmother a couple of years ago. I really miss her and would love to speak to her again.”
Sarah nodded with understand. Millie was about to say more when Madame Sophia entered the room.
The woman was short and dark of an indeterminant age. She wore a multi-colored scarf horizontally around her head. In addition to large gold hanging earrings, she had a multitude of bangels around both wrists and her neck. She practically glittered with shiny jewelry. Millie smiled to herself. Just like the fortune teller at the county fair. Maybe Asa was right all along, a bunch of hocus-pocus. The woman had enormous brown eyes ringed with black.
The woman sat and closed her eyes. Millie was on the verge of giggling when the eyes opened and stared at the couple next to her.
Madam Sohpia spoke, “He is in the room. What do you wish to ask him?”
Millie went quiet and listened.
Later she was back home and taking off her coat. She hung it in the closet.
“What did I tell you. A bunch of nonsense, right?” Asa smiled at his little wife indulgently.
“Well,” Millie made her way to the kitchen. She wanted a mint tea to get ready for bed. Filling up the kettle with water she said “Sophia told me my grandmother was very proud of me for my writing. And,” she put the kettle on the gas burner, “that I would be well known one day.” She turned to her husband. “How would she know that, all about my writing?”
Asa frowned and scratched his head. “I dunno, she looked you up somewhere, talked to someone.”
“How? She doesn’t know my name, I listed myself as Millie A. She doesn’t know my full name, where I live, that I write articles for a paper. I mean,” she turned to put tea leaves into her cup, “I would be honestly surprised if these people even read a newspaper.”
“So, what? You think she’s for real, 100% on the level. A true psychic?” Asa sounded unconvinced.
“Well it’s like this, the couple next to me wanted to find their dead father’s will. She told them to look everywhere, really everywhere in his study and bedroom. That he was watching over them and they would be able to ‘feel’ when they got close. So, how difficult would that be to figure out?”
Asa shrugged his shoulders with an “I told you so’ look.
“Then the two girls were sisters and wanted to know who they would marry?”
“So, the one girl was really pretty and her sister had a face like a mud fence.”
“And she told the one she would marry well and have money and the other, well, that she would have to settle for less than she wanted but she would be happy anyway.”
“Okay, so really not genius stuff here,” Asa replied as the water came to a boil. He pour some into Millie’s cup and got out one for himself too. Milly put tea leaves in his.
“Yes, okay, right. But when she came to me, it was like her voice changed and she gave me such a stare! It was almost frightening and then all that stuff about my grandmother. Jeeze, I felt like someone was walking on my grave.” She shivered a little.
Asa gave her a hug. “Mrs. Daring-do you are. Sounds like stuff for another one of your books. Man, I am ready for bed.”
Millie followed her husband and turned off the kitchen light. She had a thoughtful almost sad look on her face. She had not told Asa about that last thing Sophia had said.
“You have a man in your life, yes?”
“Yes,” Millie nodded.
“Ah, so sad, so sorry, Madam.”
“I see great sickness in the future for this man. My regrets.”
Millie was stunned. She was not to know that a year later, Asa was to have a massive stroke that would incapacitate him for the rest of his life.
She sipping her tea going to bed. I don’t think I need to mention this. Who knows? Might be no truth to it anyway.
Read more about Millie Wirt Benson, the original author of the famous Nancy Drew Series.