Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1158
London is home to many bachelors, including Ronald Bridges, a thirty-seven-year-old epileptic who works as an assistant curator at a small handwriting museum. One Saturday morning, he meets his friend Martin Bowles, a thirty-five-year-old lawyer. After completing some shopping, they stop at a coffeehouse, where they spot a thin, anxious-looking...
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- Critical Essays
London is home to many bachelors, including Ronald Bridges, a thirty-seven-year-old epileptic who works as an assistant curator at a small handwriting museum. One Saturday morning, he meets his friend Martin Bowles, a thirty-five-year-old lawyer. After completing some shopping, they stop at a coffeehouse, where they spot a thin, anxious-looking man of about fifty-five talking with a young girl. Martin tells Ronald not to stare at the couple because next week he will be prosecuting the man, whose name is Patrick Seton. Patrick, a spiritualistic medium, is charged with fraudulent conversion and forgery and is under orders to report to the police daily. Ronald looks slightly ill and says that he wants to search for his newspaper, so Martin leaves. Actually, Ronald thinks he recognizes Patrick from somewhere and is trying to assure himself that his epilepsy is not causing him to lose his memory. Experimental treatment in America was not successful, but he learned to control his attacks, even to the point of being able to order a beer when his bachelor friends Walter Prett, Matthew Finch, and Ewart Thornton gather at a pub.
In addition to the legal charges, Patrick has personal problems. Alice, his girlfriend, is pregnant. Despite her friend Elsie’s admonishments, she steadfastly defends Patrick and wants him to divorce his wife and marry her before the baby is born. Alice is a dependent person and believes that Patrick, by taking charge of her insulin injections, has only her best interests in mind.
The next evening, at a meeting of the spiritualist group where he is holding a séance, Patrick encounters more difficulties. Freda Flower, the wealthy widow who charged him with bilking her out of a sum of money by forging a letter, appears for the séance. Tossing his body about and groaning, Patrick works himself into a heavy trance and succeeds in contacting the spirit of Freda’s husband despite the presence of another spiritual medium, Dr. Mike Garland, who tries to interrupt. It is a tricky situation, but with clever manipulations Patrick manages to get through the séance unscathed.
The competition between the two mediums polarizes the group members and causes quite a stir among them. Several meet over lunch to discuss the matter. Some plan to create an Inner Spiral of the most faithful members while others pursue less spiritual interests. After talking with Elsie about the beautiful Alice and her attachment to Patrick, Matthew spends the night with her. In his own rooms, Patrick thinks over his statement to the police and his plan to get rid of Alice if he is acquitted. His discussion with Ferguson, the policeman, did not reassure him. To set up a potential alibi for himself, he goes to see Dr. Lyte to get advice about giving insulin to Alice. At Alice’s apartment, he convinces her of his solicitous nature.
To solidify the prosecution’s case against Patrick, Martin elicits Ronald’s handwriting expertise on the allegedly forged letter. He gives the letter to Ronald, who hides it in his apartment. In the coffeehouse later, Ronald and Matthew discuss the evidence with Alice, but she continues to believe Patrick innocent of everything, despite some suspicious information on his background. Matthew, who loves Alice, is ready to sacrifice his longtime bachelor status to marry her. Ronald promises to get more information on the case to relieve her worries. All the talk about marriage appears to trigger an epileptic fit. Luckily, Ronald has his medication with him and quickly recovers.
While these various people discuss his case, Patrick is not idle. He returns to Dr. Lyte’s office and reminds the doctor about a forgotten incident involving spiritualism and séances. He then demands that the doctor lend him his chalet in the Alps so that he and Alice can go there for a secluded honeymoon. That is where he plans to implement his plan for Alice’s demise. The doctor agrees and, feeling secure in his escape plans, Patrick confidently makes his daily report to the police. He even gives Ferguson some details about the appearance and background of his rival, Garland.
When Ronald returns home, he discovers that the letter he is examining for forgery is stolen from his apartment. Later, at a party, members of the group discuss the matter. Feelings run high both for and against Patrick. Ronald suspects that Elsie, pretending to be a cleaning lady, stole the letter. Elsie sometimes does secretarial work for the Reverend T. W. Sockett, another of Patrick’s rival spiritualists, and she believes that he will fall in love with her if she has something valuable to offer him. When she brings the letter to his apartment, however, she sees Garland there dressed in women’s clothes. Realizing that there is something going on between the two men, she takes the letter and runs out. When she fails to appear at the café, Matthew, who is hanging around Alice, begins to understand what happened. The next day, he tells Ronald that Elsie does in fact have the letter but will give it to him only if he sleeps with her that night. At her apartment, Ronald manages to convince her to return the letter and to tell Alice what she did. Alice, however, remains convinced of Patrick’s spiritual claims and of his intentions to make a life for her and the baby. Meanwhile at the spiritualist group’s meetings, gossip continues. Some think Freda and Patrick are lovers and that maybe she wrote the letter. Sockett, learning that Garland is a fake clairvoyant, goes over to Patrick’s side. At one meeting the group closely monitors Patrick’s writhing to make sure he is really in a trance. The next day, when the court case is to begin, several witnesses against him leave town, but the experts are ready with their testimony.
In court, Ronald, the star witness for the prosecution, as well as Freda and others, give testimony about Patrick’s capabilities as a medium and a forger. In the middle of a debate over what constitutes a genuine trance, Ronald has an epileptic attack in the courtroom. The defense brings in another graphologist, but Ronald takes his medication and recovers. The surprise comes when Sockett testifies in favor of Patrick. The trial proceeds, with one witness discrediting the other. Through it all, Matthew stays by Alice’s side.
At the end of all the testimony, Patrick believes himself to be safe and envisions himself away from London, giving Alice the fatal insulin injection in a remote region of the Alps. When the judge sentences Patrick to no less than five years, even after he pleads that he is about to become a father, the prosecution reveals his past as a con man. The next morning, as the sun rises over London and all the sleeping bachelors, Ronald ponders it all and wonders when Matthew will marry Alice.