The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

15. In Which Traps are Laid for a Great Quarry

MALONE was bound in honour not to speak of love to Enid Challenger, but looks can speak, and so their communications had not broken down completely. In all other ways he adhered closely to the agreement, though the situation was a difficult one. It was the more difficult since he was a constant visitor to the Professor, and now that the irritation of the debate was over, a very welcome one. The one object of Malone’s life w as to get the great man’s sympathetic consideration of those psychic subjects which had gained such a hold upon himself. This he pursued with assiduity, but also with great caution, for he knew that the lava was thin, and that a fiery explosion was always possible. Once or twice it came and caused Malone to drop the subject for a week or two, until the ground seemed a little more firm.

Malone developed a remarkable cunning in his approaches. One favourite device was to consult Challenger upon some scientific point — on the zoological importance of the Straits of Banda, for example, or the Insects of the Malay Archipelago, and lead him on until Challenger in due course would explain that our knowledge on the point was due to Alfred Russel Wallace. “Oh, really! To Wallace the Spiritualist!” Malone would say in an innocent voice, on which Challenger would glare and change the topic.

Sometimes it was Lodge that Malone would use as a trap. “I suppose you think highly of him.”

“The first brain in Europe,” said Challenger.

“He is the greatest authority on ether, is he not?”


“Of course, I only know him by his psychic works.”

Challenger would shut up like a clam. Then Malone would wait a few days and remark casually: “Have you ever met Lombroso!”

“Yes, at the Congress at Milan.”

“I have been reading a book of his.”

“Criminology, I presume?”

“No, it was called After Death — What?”

“I have not heard of it.”

“It discusses the psychic question.”

“Ah, a man of Lombroso’s penetrating brain would make short work of the fallacies of these charlatans.”

“No, it is written to support them.”

“Well, even the greatest mind has its inexplicable weakness.” Thus, with infinite patience and cunning did Malone drop his little drops of reason in the hope of slowly wearing away the casing of prejudice, but no very visible effects could be seen. Some stronger measure must be adopted, and Malone determined upon direct demonstration. But how, when, and where? Those were the all-important points upon which he determined to consult Algernon Mailey. One spring afternoon found him back in that drawing-room where he had once rolled upon the carpet in the embrace of Silas Linden. He found the Reverend Charles Mason, and Smith, the hero of the Queen’s Hall debate, in deep consultation with Mailey upon a subject which may seem much more important to our descendants than those topics which now bulk large in the eyes of the public. It was no less than whether the psychic movement in Britain was destined to take a Unitarian or a Trinitarian course. Smith had always been in favour of the former, as had the old leaders of the movement and the present organized Spiritualist Churches. On the other hand, Charles Mason was a loyal son of the Anglican Church, and was the spokesman of a host of others, including such weighty names as Lodge and Barrett among the laymen, or Wilberforce, Haweis and Chambers among the clergy, who clung fast to the old teachings while admitting the fact of spirit communication. Mailey stood between the two parties, and, like the zealous referee in a boxing-match who separates the two combatants, he always took a chance of getting a knock from each. Malone was only too glad to listen, for now that he realized that the future of the world might be bound up in this movement, every phase of it was of intense interest to him. Mason was holding forth in his earnest but good-humoured way as he entered.

“The people are not ready for a great change. It is not necessary. We have only to add our living knowledge and direct communion of the saints to the splendid liturgy and traditions of the Church, and you will have a driving force which will revitalize all religion. You can’t pull a thing up from the roots like that. Even the early Christians found that they could not, and so they made all sorts of concessions to the religions around them.”

“Which was exactly what ruined them,” said Smith.

“That was the real end of the Church in its original strength and purity.”

“It lasted, anyhow.”

“But it was never the same from the time that villain Constantine laid his hands on it.”

“Oh, come!” said Mailey. “You must not write down the first Christian emperor as a villain.”

But Smith was a forthright, uncompromising, bull-doggy antagonist. “What other name will you give to a man who murdered half his own family?”

“Well, his personal character is not the question. We were talking of the organization of the Christian Church.”

“You don’t mind my frankness, Mr. Mason?”

Mason smiled his jolly smile. “So long as you grant me the existence of the New Testament I don’t care what you do. If you were to prove that our Lord was a myth, as that German Drews tried to do, it would not in the least affect me so long as I could point to that body of sublime teaching. It must have come from somewhere, and I adopt it and say, ‘That is my creed’.”

“Oh, well, there is not so much between us on that point,” said Smith. “If there is any better teaching I have not seen it. It is good enough to go on with, anyhow. But we want to cut out the frills and superfluities. Where did they all come from? They were compromises with many religions, so that our friend C. could get uniformity in his world-wide Empire. He made a patchwork quilt of it. He took an Egyptian ritual — vestments, mitre, crozier, tonsure, marriage ring — all Egyptian. The Easter ceremonies are pagan and refer to the vernal equinox. Confirmation is mithraism. So is baptism, only it was blood instead of water. As to the sacrificial meal . . . ”

Mason put his fingers in his ears. “This is some old lecture of yours,” he laughed. “Hire a hall, but don’t obtrude it in a private house. But, seriously, Smith, all this is beside the question. If it is true it will not affect my position at all, which is that we have a great body of doctrine which is working well, and which is regarded with veneration by many people, your humble servant included, and that it would be wrong and foolish to scrap it. Surely you must agree.”

“No, I don’t,” Smith answered, setting his obstinate jaw. “You are thinking too much of the feelings of your blessed church-goers. But you have also to think of the nine people out of ten who never enter into a church. They have been choked off by what they, including your humble servant, consider to be unreasonable and fantastic. How will you gain them while you continue to offer them the same things, even though you mix spirit-teaching with it? If, however, you approach these agnostic or atheistic ones, and say to them: ‘I quite agree that all this is unreal and is tainted by a long history of violence and reaction. But here we have something pure and new. Come and examine it!’ In that way I could coax them back into a belief in God and in all the fundamentals of religion without their having to do violence to their reason by accepting your theology.”

Mailey had been tugging at his tawny beard while he listened to these conflicting counsels. Knowing the two men he was aware that there was not really much between them, when one got past mere words, for Smith revered the Christ as a God-like man, and Mason as a man-like God, and the upshot was much the same. At the same time he knew that their more extreme followers on either side were in very truth widely separated, so that compromise became impossible.

“What I can’t understand,” said Malone, “is why you don’t ask your spirit friends these questions and abide by their decisions.”

“It is not so simple as you think,” Mailey answered. “We all carry on our earthly prejudices after death, and we all find ourselves in an atmosphere which more or less represents them. Thus each would echo his old views at first. Then in time the spirit broadens out and it ends in a universal creed which includes only the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. But that takes time. I have heard most furious bigots talking through the veil.”

“So have I, for that matter,” said Malone, “and in this very room. But what about the materialists? They at least cannot remain unchanged.”

“I believe their mind influences their state and that they lie inert for ages sometimes, under their own obsession that nothing can occur. Then at last they wake, realize their own loss of time, and finally, in many cases, get to the head of the procession, since they are often men of fine character and influenced by lofty motives however mistaken in their views.”

“Yes, they are often among the salt of the earth,” said the clergyman heartily.

“And they offer the very best recruits for our movement,” said Smith. “There comes such a reaction when they find by the evidence of their own senses that there really is intelligent force outside themselves, that it gives them an enthusiasm that makes them ideal missionaries. You fellows who have a religion and then add to it cannot even imagine what it means to the man who has a complete vacuum and suddenly; finds something to fill it. When I meet some poor earnest chap feeling out into the darkness I just yearn to put it into his hand.”

At this stage, tea and Mrs. Mailey appeared together. But the conversation did not flag. It is one of the characteristics of those who explore psychic possibilities that the subject is so many-sided and the interest so intense that when they meet together they plunge into the most fascinating exchange of views and experiences. It was with some difficulty that Malone got the conversation round to that which had been the particular object of his visit. He could have found no group of men more fit to advise him, and all were equally keen that so great a man as Challenger should have the best available.

Where should it be? On that they were unanimous. The large seance room of the Psychic College was the most select, the most comfortable, in every way the best appointed in London. When should it be? The sooner the better. Every spiritualist and every medium would surely put any engagement aside in order to help on such an occasion.

“Who should the medium be? Ah! There was the rub. Of course, the Bolsover circle would be ideal. It was private and unpaid, but Bolsover was a man of quick temper and Challenger was sure to be very insulting and annoying. The meeting might end in riot and fiasco. Such a chance should not be taken. Was it worth while to take him over to Paris? But who would take the responsibility of letting loose such a bull in Dr. Maupuis’ china-shop?

“He would probably seize pithecanthropus by the throat and risk every life in the room,” said Mailey. “No, no, it would never do.”

“There is no doubt that Banderby is the strongest physical medium in England,” said Smith. “But we all know what his personal character is. You could not rely upon him.”

“Why not?” asked Malone. “What’s the matter with him?”

Smith raised his hand to his lips.

“He has gone the way that many a medium has gone before him.”

“But surely,” said Malone, “that is a strong argument against our cause. How can a thing be good if it leads to such a result?”

“Do you consider poetry to be good?”

“Why, of course I do!”

“Yet Poe was a drunkard, and Coleridge an addict, and Byron a rake, and Verlaine a degenerate. You have to separate the man from the thing. The genius has to pay a ransom for his genius in the instability of his temperament. A great medium is even more sensitive than a genius. Many are beautiful in their lives. Some are not. The excuse for them is great. They practise a most exhausting profession and stimulants are needed. Then they lose control. But their physical mediumship carries on all the same.”

“Which reminds me of a story about Banderby,” said Mailey. “Perhaps you have not seen him, Malone. He is a funny figure at any time — a little, round, bouncing man who has not seen his own toes for years. When drunk he is funnier still. A few weeks ago I got an urgent message that he was in the bar of a certain hotel, and too far gone to get home unassisted. A friend and I set forth to rescue him. We got him home after some unsavoury adventures, and what would the man do but insist upon holding a seance. We tried to restrain him, but the trumpet was on a side-table, and he suddenly switched off the light. In an instant the phenomena began. Never were they more powerful. But they were interrupted by Princeps, his control, who seized the trumpet and began belabouring him with it. ‘You rascal! You drunken rascal! How dare you!’ The trumpet was all dinted with the blows. Banderby ran bellowing out of the room, and we took our departure.”

“Well, it wasn’t the medium that time, at any rate,” said Mason. “But about Professor Challenger — it would never do to risk the chance.”

“What about Tom Linden?” asked Mrs. Mailey. Mailey shook his head.

“Tom has never been quite the same since his imprisonment. These fools not only persecute our precious mediums, but they ruin their powers. It is like putting a razor into a damp place and then expecting it to have a fine edge.”

“What! Has he lost his powers?”

“Well, I would not go so far as that. But they are not so good as they were. He sees a disguised policeman in every sitter and it distracts him. Still, he is dependable so far as he goes. Yes, on the whole we had better have Tom.”

“And the sitters?”

“I expect Professor Challenger may wish to bring a friend or two of his own.”

“They will form a horrible block of vibrations! We must have some of our own sympathetic people to counteract it. There is Delicia Freeman. She would come. I could come myself. You would come, Mason?”

“Of course I would.”

“And you, Smith?”

“No, no! I have my paper to look after, three services, two burials, one marriage, and five meetings all next week.”

“Well, we can easily get one or two more. Eight is Linden’s favourite number. So now, Malone, you have only to get the great man’s consent and the date.”

“And the spirit of confirmation,” said Mason, seriously. “We must take our partners into consultation.”

“Of course we must, padre. That is the right note to strike. Well, that’s settled, Malone, and we can only await the event.”

As it chanced, a very different event was awaiting Malone that evening, and he came upon one of those chasms which unexpectedly open across the path of life. When, in his ordinary routine, he reached the office of the Gazette, he was informed by the commissionaire that Mr. Beaumont desired to see him. Malone’s immediate superior was the old Scotch sub-editor, Mr. McArdle, and it was rare indeed for the supreme editor to cast a glimpse down from that peak whence he surveyed the kingdoms of the world, or to show any cognizance of his humble fellow-workers upon the slopes beneath him. The great man, clean-shaven, prosperous and capable, sat in his palatial sanctum amid a rich assortment of old oak furniture and sealing-wax-red leather. He continued his letter when Malone entered, and only raised his shrewd, grey eyes after some minutes’ interval.

“Ah, Mr. Malone, good evening! I have wanted to see you for some little time. Won’t you sit down? It is in reference to these articles on psychic matters which you have been writing. You opened them in a tone of healthy scepticism, tempered by humour, which was very acceptable both to me and to our public. I regret, however, to observe that your view changed as you proceeded, and that you have now assumed a position in which you really seem to condone some of these practices. That, I need not say, is not the policy of the Gazette, and we should have discontinued the articles had it not been that we had announced a series by an impartial investigator. We have to continue but the tone must change.”

“What do you wish me to do, sir?”

“You must get the funny side of it again. That is what our public loves. Poke fun at it all. Call up the maiden aunt and make her talk in an amusing fashion. You grasp my meaning?”

“I am afraid, sir, it has ceased to seem funny in my eyes. On the contrary, I take it more and more seriously.”

Beaumont shook his solemn head.

“So, unfortunately, do our subscribers.” He had a small pile of letters upon the desk beside him and he took one up. “Look at this: ‘I had always regarded your paper as a God-fearing publication, and I would remind you that such practices as your correspondent seems to condone are expressly forbidden both in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. I should share your sin if I continued to be a subscriber’.”

“Bigoted ass!” muttered Malone.

“So he may be, but the penny of a bigoted ass is as good as any other penny. Here is another letter: ‘Surely in this age of free-thought and enlightenment you are not helping a movement which tries to lead us back to the exploded idea of angelic and diabolic intelligences outside ourselves. If so, I must ask you to cancel my subscription’.”

“It would be amusing, sir, to shut these various objectors up in a room and let them settle it among themselves.”

“That may be, Mr. Malone, but what I have to consider is the circulation of the Gazette.”

“Don’t you think, sir, that possibly you underrate the intelligence of the public, and that behind these extremists of various sorts there is a vast body of people who have been impressed by the utterances of so many great and honourable witnesses? Is it not our duty to keep these people abreast of the real facts without making fun of them?”

Mr. Beaumont shrugged his shoulders.

“The Spiritualists must fight their own battle. This is not a propaganda newspaper, and we make no pretence to lead the public on religious beliefs.”

“No, no, I only meant as to the actual facts. Look how systematically they are kept in the dark. When, for example, did one ever read an intelligent article upon ectoplasm in any London paper? Who would imagine that this all-important substance has been examined and described and endorsed by men of science with innumerable photographs to prove their words?”

“Well, well,” said Beaumont, impatiently. “I am afraid I am too busy to argue the question. The point of this interview is that I have had a letter from Mr. Cornelius to say that we must at once take another line.”

Mr. Cornelius was the owner of the Gazette, having become so, not from any personal merit, but because his father left him some millions, part of which he expended upon this purchase. He seldom was seen in the office himself, but occasionally a paragraph in the paper recorded that his yacht had touched at Mentone and that he had been seen at the Monte Carlo tables, or that he was expected in Leicestershire for the season. He was a man of no force of brain or character, though occasionally he swayed public affairs by a manifesto printed in larger type upon his own front page. Without being dissolute, he was a free liver, living in a constant luxury which placed him always on the edge of vice and occasionally over the border. Malone’s hot blood flushed to his head as he thought of this trifler, this insect, coming between mankind and a message of instruction and consolation descending from above. And yet those clumsy, childish fingers could actually turn the tap and cut off the divine stream, however much it might break through in other quarters.

“So that is final, Mr. Malone,” said Beaumont, with the manner of one who ends an argument.

“Quite final!” said Malone. “So final that it marks the end of my connection with your paper. I have a six months’ contract. When it ends, I go!”

“Please yourself, Mr. Malone.” Mr. Beaumont went on with his writing.

Malone, with the flush of battle still upon him, went into McArdle’s room and told him what had happened. The old Scotch sub-editor was very perturbed.

“Eh, man, it’s that Irish blood of yours. A drop o’ Scotch is a good thing, either in your veins or at the bottom o’ a glass. Go back, man, and say you have reconseedered!”

“Not I! The idea of this man Cornelius, with his pot-belly and red face, and — well, you know all about his private life — the idea of such a man dictating what folk are to believe, and asking me to make fun of the holiest thing on this earth!”

“Man, you’ll be ruined!”

“Well, better men than I have been ruined over this cause. But I’ll get another job.”

“Not if Cornelius can stop you. If you get the name of an insubordinate dog there is no place for you in Fleet Street.”

“It’s a damned shame!” cried Malone. “The way this thing has been treated is a disgrace to journalism. It’s not Britain alone. America is worse. We seem to have the lowest, most soulless folk that ever lived on the Press — good-hearted fellows too, but material to a man. And these are the leaders of the people! It’s awful!”

McArdle put a fatherly hand upon the young man’s shoulder.

“Weel, weel, lad, we take the world as we find it. We didn’t make it and we’re no reesponsible. Give it time! Give it time! We’re a’ in such a hurry. Gang hame, now, think it over, remember your career, that young leddy of yours, and then come back and eat the old pie that all of us have to eat if we are to keep our places in the world.”

Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 21:33