The Tangled Miracle

By (author): Bertram Brooker

A first-rate thriller from one of Canada’s pioneer abstract painters.

A cult leader announces a miracle will take place and she will rise to heaven. A medium prophesies the date, publicity gets to work, and all of America hums with anticipation. On the appointed day, she disappears and scientist Mortimer Hood, there to verify the miracle, must investigate how—and whether—the whole thing is a hoax, or if the priestess has been murdered.

Originally published in 1936, this edition features a new introduction by poet and academic Gregory Betts.


Bertram Brooker

Bertram Brooker (1888–1955) was one of Canada’s first abstract painters. A self-taught polymath, in addition to being a visual artist, Brooker was a Governor General’s Award–winning novelist, as well as a poet, screenwriter, playwright, essayist, copywriter, graphic designer, and advertising executive.


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Part 1

“What’s all this nonsense?” said Mortimer Hood. He waved the newspaper in Rhoda Groves’s direction as though she were responsible for every word it contained.

On the front page was a life-sized photo of Mrs. Agatha Weir, the notorious founder of Assumptionism—latest and queerest of American cults. Her Madonna-like face was as familiar to millions of newspaper readers as the best-known beauties of Hollywood. Above the photo were two lines of heavy, black type:



Dr. Hood glared at the words again. “What sort of trick is this woman up to now?” he demanded.

He had once been eminent as a psychic investigator, and in the public mind his name was associated with Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Conan Doyle, although, unlike them, he had remained a convinced unbeliever. His best-known book, The World of Spooks and Spoofs, had been an international best seller, but he had taken up painting as a hobby late in life, and in recent years had devoted himself entirely to art, dropping out of scientific circles altogether.

His studio was a long, dim room in a remote backwater of New York’s west side. There were stacks of canvases against the walls, and three or four easels stood in a corner like masts in a harbour. It was a big, cheerless place, and in comparison with the dwarfish figure who stood straddle-legged on the wide hearth, his grey hair standing on end—“like Einstein’s,” Rhoda thought—everything looked huge and inaccessible, as though maliciously designed to be out of the little man’s reach.

“Don’t look at me like that. I didn’t write it,” laughed Rhoda Groves.

“Oh, you didn’t write it.”

“No. When I wrote those articles about you a year or two ago I was a newspaper woman. But I’ve gone up in the world a bit. I’m now what they call a ghost writer.”

“That sounds interesting—and right in my line,” smiled Hood roguishly.

“Not the kind of ghosts you’re used to,” said Rhoda. “In this case—I’m the ghost.”

You’re the ghost!” the little scientist exploded. He glanced at the close-fitting, dove-grey suit which smoothly indicated a plump, well formed body. “I only wish spirits were as substantial—and as easy to look at. I might begin to believe in them.”

“D’you mean to say you’ve never heard of a ghost writer?” she asked, with a smile which lightly accepted his gallantry.

“Never. I can’t imagine…”

“Well, you’ve read—or seen—lots of books by celebrities—written in the first person and signed with their names. In most cases they’re written by somebody else—a competent journalist—whose name never appears. Hence the term ‘ghost.’”

“I see—I see!” Hood glanced sharply at her and twisted the newspaper in his fingers. “And just now you’re ghosting for the famous Agatha Weir—is that it?”

“Not exactly—but that’s what I’ve come to see you about. And that’s why it struck me as a coincidence—finding you in the middle of reading that story, just as I rang your bell.”

“Oh!” said the scientist, with an even sharper glance than before. “You’re a great believer in coincidences, are you?”

“No, I’m not. But…”

“But—you find me reading it—or just about to read it. And because you came to see me about Mrs. Weir—yes, I see.”

“If you would finish it,” suggested Rhoda, “it would cut short what I have to say.”

The scientist fumbled for his glasses, which hung from a black ribbon around his neck, perched them on his hawk-like nose, and began to read:



From Port Fletcher, Conn., where Mrs. Agatha Weir founded the cult of Assumptionism some twelve years ago, come strange rumours of the probability of a spectacular twentieth-century miracle being enacted there within the next few days.

The basis of Mrs. Weir’s teaching has been the belief that the human body need not be separated from the soul at death, but may ascend to heaven in its corporeal state. The “translations” of Enoch and Elijah are regarded as a reward not beyond the expectation of any one who lives a pure life.

That the Assumptionist leader will herself be miraculously “assumed” or “translated” into heaven within the present week is the astonishing belief of many adherents of the Assumptionist Temple, over which Mrs. Weir presides. It is claimed by some inhabitants of Port Fletcher, who refuse to be quoted, that the actual date of her “assumption” has been fixed. One rumour is to the effect that the announcement came to Mrs. Weir in a dream. On the other hand, it is learned on good authority that the Assumptionist leader has lately become interested in Spiritualism, and it is believed that the date was recently fixed by a spirit voice, purporting to be none other than the prophet Elijah, communicated through a well-known medium.

Efforts to interview Mrs. Weir have been met with the repeated statement that “the leader cannot be seen.” Members of the temple board will neither confirm nor deny local expectations that the strangest event in many centuries is about to take place in a little Connecticut town.

The temple, within easy reach of New York, which has become the Mecca of thousands of tourists, is a monument to the conception that “translation” by miracle is a modern possibility. The roofless tower was designed to provide perfect facility for a physical ascension.

From a local sect, numbering not more than twenty-five people at its inception, Assumptionism has had an extraordinary growth, and now numbers thousands of adherents in every state of the Union.

The picture on this page is the latest
photograph of Agatha Weir, wearing the familiar white robe and veil which she recently adopted for her temple appearances.

“Good lord—what next?” exclaimed Hood, dropping the paper and staring across the room.

“I’ve been asked to see you—by one of the directors of the temple—Theodore Garth,” said Rhoda quietly.

“The magazine publisher?”


“I suppose he wants me to investigate Mrs. Weir’s venture into Spiritualism and find out if…”

“No. It’s really better than that.”

Better?” cried Hood, holding his hands in the air in mock horror.

“Yes. You’ll probably hit the roof—but I promised to come. He found out I knew you—at least that I’d written some stuff about you—and he insisted that I might—”

“Because I’m an artist,” interrupted Hood, with a little bow, “he thinks I can be—bribed with beauty.” He slanted his massive head on one side, and repeated the words—“bribed with beauty”—as though childishly pleased with the phrase.

“Wrong again,” said Rhoda, acknowledging his bow with a deep nod. “He thinks I’m a good business woman—and he’s right. He’s just given me an advance of a thousand dollars for what I’m going to do.”

“And what are you going to do? You see—you have me inquisitive already.”

“I’m going to write a book about the whole thing—from the beginning until—until Mrs. Weir’s—departure.”

“What a world!” ejaculated Hood, clasping his hands behind him and fastening an unforgiving glance on the ceiling.

“You see—at one time—two years ago,” said Rhoda, “when the new temple was in all the papers, Garth wanted me to help Mrs. Weir write an autobiography, to be published serially in one of his magazines. It would have been a sensational feature. But she wouldn’t hear of it.”

“Does this idiot believe in her “departure”—as you call it? You don’t, of course.”

“Of course not, and it’s unbelievable that he does—
and yet…”

“And yet—what?”

“He’s going about things as though he’s swallowed the whole business. He wants you to be there on the day—to investigate the—the miracle—and declare it…”

Bona fide,” said Hood.

“Exactly,” said Rhoda, amazed by the quietness of his tone and the sudden seriousness of the glance he flung at her. “I expected you would…”

“No, my dear,” said Hood. “The whole thing sounded mad—that newspaper story—and everything I’ve ever read or heard about her—but this—wanting me there to verify—to authenticate a miracle—that’s different. They can’t be such fools…” He stopped and fell into his favourite attitude of thought, his face turned to the ceiling, his hands behind him, his heel grinding the floor.

“Perhaps they are,” he decided, bringing his head down sharply and flinging out a finger. “What sort of a chap is this Garth?”

“Well, as far as I can make out,” said Rhoda, puzzled by his unexpected interest, “he got into the thing because he’s a near neighbour. His estate on Long Island Sound is close to the outskirts of Port Fletcher, and he’s built a modern plant in the town where several of his magazines are printed. It seems he tried for years to get a life story of Mrs. Weir for one of his blessed magazines—worried his editors to death about it. Finally, he went after it himself—claimed a genuine interest in ‘the new religion’—and hoped to convince Mrs. Weir that an authentic biography—or autobiography—would refute a lot of the silly rumours that got around about her. But instead of dominating her—he was dominated himself. Half hypnotized, I guess. She’s a remarkable woman—whatever you may think of her. Anyway, after a few visits to the temple, he declared himself a convert. He put up half of the money for the new building, on a proposition that a similar sum would be contributed by other subscribers. His gift enabled him to force himself on to the board. Two years ago he dragged me into the job of trying to get a story out of Mrs. Weir. But you know what she’s like. She’s one of those people—like Lindbergh and Garbo—who create publicity by seeming to avoid it.”

“You’ve talked to her, have you?”

“Yes—but not for long. She asked me about my soul and sent me packing. There’s something about her—even her face—that’s almost mediæval. I mean, she doesn’t seem to belong to our world.”

“Perhaps not,” said Hood doubtfully; “but this chap Garth does. This business of getting her life story has become a sort of mania with him—is that it?”

“It certainly looks like it.”

“He joins the Church—or whatever they call it—gives them a small fortune—sits on their board—all with the idea of scooping the world—some day—with the first publication of her biography.”

“Yes—he’s the kind of man who hangs on doggedly for years, scheming and planning to get his hands on something he wants.”

“He doesn’t want her, does he?”

Rhoda laughed. “No. I can tell from what he said that she despises herself for accepting his money and tolerating him.”

“Perhaps he wants the leadership of the Church.”

“He talks as though he were the power behind the throne—even now—and with her gone…”

“Ah—ah! That’s more like it. It’s getting a little less mad. I didn’t mind—that she should be mad—but Garth, too? That’s too much of a good thing. What about this spirit message? Did he mention it?”

“No. He gave me the newspaper to read—seemed as mad as a hatter that there had been a leak.”

“Didn’t you ask him about the date—the way the date had been fixed?”

“He wouldn’t say.”

“Did you ask him about the medium Mrs. Weir has been consulting?”

“He denied the Spiritualism business. Said it was just newspaper talk—nothing to do with it.”

“But he knows the exact date, does he?”

Hood had stepped close to her and was snapping out a string of questions in a sharp, incisive tone, so unlike his usual half-playful, drawling manner, that Rhoda felt she was witnessing a resuscitation of the famous Mortimer Hood, once the terror of frauds. His fingers clutched at the black ribbon of his glasses, curling tightly like talons.

“Yes,” said Rhoda. “He said a voice had told her when it would happen—the 10th of June.”

“To-morrow!” exclaimed Hood.

“Yes. I am to drive up with him this afternoon. There’s a special board meeting called for five o’clock. He wants you to come too. I have another thousand dollar cheque in my purse—a retainer—made out to you.”

“I won’t go,” said Hood decidedly, stepping back and looking into the black depths of the fireplace. His abrupt changes of attitude made Rhoda wonder what was going on in his mind.

“I was beginning to hope you would,” she said. “You looked for a minute as though you liked the idea of…”

“I may go into it—but not for Garth’s sake—or for his money—or for a clean bill of health for them! And it won’t be because I like it. It will be because I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

He began rocking to and fro on his heels, clasping and unclasping his hands behind him. “It’s probably just a publicity stunt,” he said, in a slower and more deliberate tone. “Tell him I won’t accept. But if you’re going up there this afternoon—observe all you can—and if you think they are going to stage a real trick, phone me first thing in the morning. I’ll come out. It’s only about a two-hour run, isn’t it?”

“That’s all.”

“All right,” he smiled. “Tell him I’m not interested. Tell him I’m married to art.”

Reader Reviews



296 Pages
8.0in * 5.0in * .76in


November 02, 2021



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FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Historical

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