I had not noticed before, but it seemed that the sounds of the calculating engines in the machine hall had diminished over the past five minutes or so. As I listened, the noises lessened further, the rumble and whine fading into the characteristic arrhythmic ticking noises of powerful computational machinery idling. Callaghan watched me, eyebrow raised quizzically, as I attended to the engines completing their work.
"While we wait, perhaps I can top up your brandy?" he said, getting up from his chair.
My drink had been sitting unregarded and untasted in my hand. I glared at the glass then drained the entire contents at a draught. Callaghan smiled faintly, took the glass from my hand, refilled it from the decanter and returned it without saying a word. As he resumed his seat, there was a tap at the door though which we had entered earlier.
Another servant entered the room, this one younger and rather sharp-looking. He moved swiftly across the room, glancing all about him in a cautious way that suggested half a lifetime spent in some East London rookery, for all the polished brass buttons on his footman's uniform. He was carrying a stack of programme cards, slotted and punched neatly, which he handed to Callaghan.
"Thank you, Jack," he said quietly, "That will be all for this evening."
"Very good, sir," the youth replied in the marked accents of the lower classes, barely managing to convey the appropriate degree of subservience when he added, "And I think you'll like the results this time."
Again Callaghan smiled, perhaps slightly condescendingly.
"Well, we'll see, shall we, Jack? Good night."
As the young man made his way out, Callaghan studied the cards minutely in complete silence. I fumed impatiently and took a pull from my brandy glass. From my chair, I could make out punched holes and see the pencil marks where somebody - presumably the eager youth who had attended earlier - had transcribed words and other symbols impossible to see clearly at this distance, presumably decoding the information enciphered on the cards. Finally he sorted the cards casually into what could only be assumed was a more pleasing order and placed them on an occasional table at his side illuminated by a gas-lamp under a green shade.
"Well?" I asked brusquely.
"You will be involved in a scandal," Callaghan said without hesitation, picking up the top card from the stack and glancing at it, "Accusations of financial impropriety will be made to the Committee of the Royal Society."
He held up a hand to forestall my angry objections.
"Hear me out," he said calmly, "Remember this is a test of Cassandra's predictive capabilities."
I subsided back into the chair. Suddenly it seemed best to play along with his absurd charade, just to get it over with. Callaghan picked up some further cards from the stack.
"Your wife will stand by you; your brother will denounce you; your club will black-ball you," he went on, turning over the card in his hand, "And the whole affair will inevitably, it seems, be dragged into the criminal courts."
He took another card from the stack under the lamp, giving the impression, for a fleeting second, of a gypsy fortune-teller in a carnival tent.
"Where you will be acquitted, it seems," Callaghan added, raising his eyebrows in apparent surprise at his own predictions, "It will become clear that the whole affair is a fiction, a fabrication by your professional rivals, and perhaps politically motivated, to besmirch your name and remove you from your influential position."
He swept up the remaining cards with a theatrical flourish.
"You will be welcomed back by the Royal Society and by your club; you will remain estranged from your brother. The whole sorry affair will be decently forgotten."
Callaghan squared the deck of cards carefully, then stood and handed them over to me with a formal half-bow. "Cassandra's predictions do not have times and dates attached to them," he said, returning to his own chair, "But they do have a tendency to occur sooner rather than later."
I regarded my own brandy glass and shook my head solemnly, wordlessly. My mind was a whirl. I did not know what to make of his performance, unsure whether I was in the presence of a genius or a madman. The other man, whatever he was, watched me levelly for a long minute.
"I have formed the impression that you do not believe my predictions," Callaghan said into the silence, "No matter. I shall watch your progress with interest through the pages of The Times."
He stood again and moved to the fireplace, where he pressed a bell buzzer. Then he turned to me, his form outlined against the flicker of the flames.
"I am a recluse, Professor, rarely leaving my estates, and then only when I absolutely have to,” he said dispassionately, "I shall wait here, patiently, for your verdict. I know you to be a sophisticated man of science, and I trust you will form a judgement of your own, based on the evidence I have presented this evening."
Callaghan drained the last of his own brandy and soda. I stared at him, still unable to give voice to the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions which swirled in my brain. Just then the door opened and the taciturn servant entered.
"Professor Stephenson will be leaving now," Callaghan announced, then turned to me, "Good evening to you, sir."
I made my way out in a near-daze, pausing only to retrieve my hat and cloak and gloves and cane.