Telepathy and mesmerism enter considerably into the conversation of a small dinner party at the luxurious Louisville home of Jack Brookfield, "square" gambler and politician. His sister, Alice Campbell, recalls the Brookfield--now a handsome, middle-aged man--had possessed pronounced mesmeric powers in his youth, powers apparently shared by his niece, Viola Campbell.
Telepathy appears evident, too, when young Clay, the son of Helen Whipple, an old friend, comes to propose successfully to Viola, and to protest the attention shown her by another guest, Frank Hardmuth, the county prosecutor. In talking with Viola of their future, Clay, an architect, discloses that he has been visualizing with amazing accuracy the jobs he undertakes; he seems always to glimpse in them the figure of Viola. In designing Brookfield's library he has even seen the very Corot painting which now hangs there.
Hardmuth tells Brookfield that he, too, has proposed to Viola, but Brookfield replies bluntly that he does not approve of his evasiveness as an official, and terms him "just a little too slick." Brookfield adds: "Frank, someday the truth'll come out as to who murdered the governor-elect of this State.... I don't want my niece mixed up in it." Hardmuth is protesting that the killer, Raynor, is already in jail, when Mrs. Whipple interrupts their conversation.
Brookfield suggests to Mrs. Whipple that they renew the romance, broken off in their youth because he refused to give up his gambling. He says he has always felt that she, now a widow, would be coming back to him. Mrs. Whipple recalls that throughout the years she has felt the "nagging" of Brookfield's telepathic power--when he was in college she could not sleep until she had written to him at his psychic bidding. Their conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a Justice Prentice of the Supreme Court who has called to look at the Corot. Thought transference becomes immediately apparent between Brookfield and Prentice, an enthusiast in its study, and he promises Brookfield a book on hypnotism, a power with which he believes the gambler is already unconsciously endowed.
As the Justice leaves, Tom Denning, a drunken guest, rushes in in search of Clay, whom he has been pursuing with a cat's eye stick-pin, a stone of which the boy has an inherent fear. Tauntingly, Denning thrusts the pin into Clay's face. As Brookfield enters, Clay, in a frenzy, swings a huge paper cutter in a blind blow that kills his tormentor.
Some months later, in Washington, Justice Prentice and a friend, Justice Henderson, are playing chess and discussing the Whipple case which now has come before the Supreme Court. Clay has been convicted, but the defense has claimed undue influence by the prosecution, and an appeal is pending. As Henderson is leaving, Brookfield is announced; he is accompanied by Viola and Helen Whipple.
Mrs. Whipple reveals that Prentice was a youthful lover of her mother, and once fought a duel to protect her from a man who was annoying her with a cat's eye jewel. Prentice remembers, and agrees that Clay evidently committed his crime when temporarily insane from the inherited fear. He agrees to favor a new trial. When his visitors have gone, he reflects that the spirit of Helen's mother, dead thirty years, surely has been in the room; a miniature of her dropped from the table just before her daughter arrived.
Several weeks later, another jury is considering Clay's case, and Brookfield, encouraged by his rapidly developing psychic powers, remains at home, concentrating his will upon a friendly juryman. He is disturbed, however, by the appearance of Hardmuth who is furious because Brookfield has told a newspaperman that he, Hardmuth, instigated the assassination of Scoville, the governor-elect. Brookfield refuses to retract his statement, declaring that Raynor, accused of the shooting and now a fugitive in Indiana from Hardmuth's feeble efforts at extradition, had incriminated the prosecutor.
Hardmuth returns to court, and Brookfield confesses to Prentice that he has exposed him now because the prosecutor is about to be nominated for governor and a possible appeal to him for clemency for Clay would be futile. Brookfield and Prentice have been counting, too, on the psychic effect upon the jury of a statewide condemnation of the prosecutor who has so unfairly hounded young Whipple.
Then there is a commotion in the hall and Clay enters--he has been acquitted. As the family, happily filing out with Clay, leave Brookfield and Prentice alone, Hardmuth rushes in and thrusts a derringer against Brookfield's back, just as he is about to press the switch to light a large lamp. Hardmuth shouts a threat to kill Brookfield, but the gambler snaps on the light full in Hardmuth's eyes, and, aided by Prentice's equally potent stare, gaces hypnotically at Hardmuth, saying calmly: "You can't shoot that gun.... You can't even hold the gun." Hardmuth drops the weapon; he leaves hurriedly when Brookfield finally permits him to go.
Brookfield now cures Clay of his fear of cat's eyes. Then, to complete his education in courage and to further a scheme of his own, he sends the youth and Viola to bring back Hardmuth, who is hiding in a Negro cabin. When the fugitive returns, Brookfield reveals that, after all, he is not wholly convinced of Hardmuth's guilt and will help him to safety.
When Hardmuth has gone from the room, Brookfield explains his change of heart to Helen Whipple and Lew Ellinger, a friend with whom he formerly gambled. Brookfield recalls that, a short time before, he had played an experimental game with Ellinger and had unerringly identified the cards, unseen, that were held by his opponent. He had never tried the trick before, consciously, and had been deeply depressed at the thought that he had, even unwittingly, employed a psychic gift to win at gambling. Now he tells his friends: "Suppose, instead of the cards, there's been in your mind a well-developed plan of assassination--the picture of murder...."
Ellinger asks: "Did you drop to him that way?"
Brookfield goes on: "No. Raynor told me all I know of Hardmuth--but here's the very hell of it: long before Scoville was killed I thought he deserved killing and I thought it could be done just--as--it--was--done.... I've always had a considerable influence over that poor devil that's running away tonight, and I'm not sure that before the Judge of both of us the guilt isn't mostly mine."
He asks Ellinger and Helen to accompany him as he escorts Hardmuth out of the state, and appeals to Helen to stand by him in his own fight to atone. "You've made your fight, Jack, and you've won," she answers, and gives him her hand.