The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

16. In Which Challenger has the Experience of his Lifetime

So now the nets were set and the pit was dug and the hunters were all ready for the great quarry, but the question was whether the creature would allow himself to be driven in the right direction. Had Challenger been told that the meeting was really held in the hope of putting convincing evidence before him as to the truth of spirit intercourse with the aim of his eventual conversion, it would have roused mingled anger and derision in his breast. But the clever Malone, aided and abetted by Enid, still put forward the idea that his presence would be a protection against fraud, and that he would be able to point out to them how and why they had been deceived. With this thought in his mind, Challenger gave a contemptuous and condescending consent to the proposal that he should grace with his presence a proceeding which was, in his opinion, more fitted to the stone cabin of a neolithic savage than to the serious attention of one who represented the accumulated culture and wisdom of the human race.

Enid accompanied her father, and he also brought with him a curious companion who was strange both to Malone and to the rest of the company. This was a large, raw-boned Scottish youth, with a freckled face, a huge figure, and a taciturnity which nothing could penetrate. No question could discover where his interests in psychic research might lie, and the only positive thing obtained from him was that his name was Nicholl. Malone and Mailey went together to the rendezvous at Holland Park, where they found awaiting them Delicia Freeman, the Rev. Charles Mason, Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvy of the College, Mr. Bolsover of Hammersmith, and Lord Roxton, who had become assiduous in his psychic studies, and was rapidly progressing in knowledge. There were nine in all, a mixed, inharmonious assembly, from which no experienced investigator could expect great results. On entering the seance room Linden was found seated in the armchair, his wife beside him, and was introduced collectively to the company, most of whom were already his friends. Challenger took up the matter at once with the air of a man who will stand no nonsense.

“Is this the medium?” he asked, eyeing Linden with much disfavour.

“Yes.”

“Has he been searched?”

“Not yet.”

“Who will search him?”

“Two men of the company have been selected.”

Challenger sniffed his suspicions.

“Which men?” he asked.

“It is suggested that you and your friend, Mr. Nicholl shall do so. There is a bedroom next door.”

Poor Linden was marched off between them in a manner which reminded him unpleasantly of his prison experiences. He had been nervous before, but this ordeal and the overpowering presence of Challenger made him still more. He shook his head mournfully at Mailey when he reappeared.

“I doubt we will get nothing today. Maybe it would be wise to postpone the sitting,” said he.

Mailey came round and patted him on the shoulder, while Mrs. Linden took his hand.

“It’s all right, Tom,” said Mailey. “Remember that you have a bodyguard of friends round you who won’t see you ill-used.” Then Mailey spoke to Challenger in a sterner way than was his wont. “I beg you to remember, sir, that a medium is as delicate an instrument as any to be found in your laboratories. Do not abuse it. I presume that you found nothing compromising upon his person?”

“No, sir, I did not. And as a result he assures us that we will get nothing today.”

“He says so because your manner has disturbed him. You must treat him more gently.”

Challenger’s expression did not promise any amendment. His eyes fell upon Mrs. Linden.

“I understand that this person is the medium’s wife. She should also be searched.”

“That is a matter of course,” said the Scotsman Ogilvy. “My wife and your daughter will take her out. But I beg you, Professor Challenger, to be as harmonious as you can, and to remember that we are all as interested in the results as you are, so that the whole company will suffer if you should disturb the conditions.”

Mr. Bolsover, the grocer, rose with as much dignity as if he were presiding at his favourite temple.

“I move,” said he, “that Professor Challenger be searched.”

Challenger’s beard bristled with anger.

“Search me! What do you mean, sir?”

Bolsover was not to be intimidated.

“You are here not as our friend but as our enemy. If you was to prove fraud it would be a personal triumph for you — see? Therefore I, for one, says as you should be searched.”

“Do you mean to insinuate, sir, that I am capable of cheating?” trumpeted Challenger.

“Well, Professor, we are all accused of it in turn,” said Mailey smiling. “We all feel as indignant as you are at first, but after a time you get used to it. I’ve been called a liar, a lunatic — goodness knows what. What does it matter?”

“It is a monstrous proposition,” said Challenger, glaring all round him.

“Well, sir,” said Ogilvy, who was a particularly pertinacious Scot. “Of course, it is open to you to walk out of the room and leave us. But if you sit, you must sit under what we consider to be scientific conditions. It is not scientific that a man who is known to be bitterly hostile to the movement should sit with us in the dark with no check as to what he may have in his pockets.”

“Come, come!” cried Malone. “Surely we can trust to the honour of Professor Challenger.”

“That’s all very well,” said Bolsover. “I did not observe that Professor Challenger trusted so very much to the honour of Mr. and Mrs. Linden.”

“We have cause to be careful,” said Ogilvy. “I can assure you that there are frauds practised on mediums just as there are frauds practised by mediums. I could give you plenty of examples. No, sir, you will have to be searched.”

“It won’t take a minute,” said Lord Roxton. “What I mean, young Malone here and I could give you a once over in no time.”

“Quite so, come on!” said Malone.

And so Challenger, like a red-eyed bull with dilating nostrils, was led from the room. A few minutes later, all preliminaries being completed, they were seated in the circle and the seance had begun.

But already the conditions had been destroyed. Those meticulous researchers who insist upon tying up a medium until the poor creature resembles a fowl trussed for roasting, or who glare their suspicions at him before the lights are lowered, do not realize that they are like people who add moisture to gunpowder and then expect to explode it. They ruin their own results, and then when those results do not occur imagine that their own astuteness, rather than their own lack of understanding, has been the cause.

Hence it is that at humble gatherings all over the land, in an atmosphere of sympathy and of reverence, there are such happenings as the cold man of “Science” is never privileged to see.

All the sitters felt churned up by the preliminary altercation, but how much more did it mean to the sensitive centre of it all! To him the room was filled with conflicting rushes and eddies of psychic power, whirling this way or that, and as difficult for him to navigate as the rapids below Niagara. He groaned in his despair. Everything was mixed and confused. He was beginning as usual with his clairvoyance, but names buzzed in his etheric ears without sequence or order. The word “John” seemed to predominate, so he said. Did “John” mean anything to anyone? A cavernous laugh from Challenger was the only reply. Then he had the surname of Chapman. Yes, Mailey had lost a friend named Chapman. But, it was years ago and there seemed no reason for his presence, nor could he furnish his Christian name. “Budworth” — no; no one would own to a friend named Budworth. Definite messages came across, but they seemed to have no reference to the present company. Everything was going amiss, and Malone’s spirits sank to zero. Challenger sniffed so loudly that Ogilvy remonstrated.

“You make matters worse, sir, when you show your feelings,” said he. “I can assure you that in ten years of constant experience I have never known the medium so far out, and I attribute it entirely to your own conduct.”

“Quite so,” said Challenger with satisfaction.

“I am afraid it is no use, Tom,” said Mrs. Linden. “How are you feeling now, dear? Would you wish to stop?” But Linden under all his gentle exterior, was a fighter. He had in another form those same qualities which had brought his brother within an ace of the Lonsdale Belt.

“No, I think, maybe, it is only the mental part that is confused. If I am in trance I’ll get past that. The physicals may be better. Anyhow I’ll try.”

The lights were turned lower until they were a mere crimson glimmer. The curtain of the cabinet was drawn. Outside it on the one side, dimly outlined to his audience, Tom Linden, breathing stertorously in his trance, lay back in a wooden armchair. His wife kept watch and ward at the other side of the cabinet.

But nothing happened.

Quarter of an hour passed. Then another quarter of an hour. The company was patient, but Challenger had begun to fidget in his seat. Everything seemed to have gone cold and dead. Not only was nothing happening, but somehow all expectation of anything happening seemed to have passed away.

“It’s no use!” cried Mailey at last.

“I fear not,” said Malone.

The medium stirred and groaned; he was waking up. Challenger gave an ostentatious yawn.

“Is not this a waste of time?” he asked.

Mrs. Linden was passing her hand over the medium’s head and brow. His eyes had opened.

“Any results?” he asked.

“It’s no use, Tom. We shall have to postpone.”

“I think so, too,” said Mailey.

“It is a great strain upon him under these adverse conditions,” remarked Ogilvy, looking angrily at Challenger.

“I should think so,” said the latter with a complacent smile.

But Linden was not to be beaten.

“The conditions are bad,” said he. “The vibrations are all wrong. But I’ll try inside the cabinet. It concentrates the force.”

“Well, it’s the last chance,” said Mailey. “We may as well try it.”

The armchair was lifted inside the cloth tent and the medium followed, drawing the curtain behind him.

“It condenses the ectoplasmic emanations,” Ogilvy explained.

“No doubt,” said Challenger. “At the same time in the interests of truth, I must point out that the disappearance of the medium is most regrettable.”

“For goodness sake, don’t start wrangling again,” cried Mailey with impatience. “Let us get some results, and then it will be time enough to discuss their value.”

Again there was a weary wait. Then came some hollow groanings from inside the cabinet. The Spiritualists sat up expectantly.

“That’s ectoplasm,” said Ogilvy. “It always causes pain on emission.”

The words were hardly out of his mouth when the curtains were torn open with sudden violence and a rattling of all the rings. In the dark aperture there was outlined a vague white figure. It advanced slowly and with hesitation into the centre of the room. In the red-tinted gloom all definite outline was lost, and it appeared simply as a moving white patch in the darkness. With the deliberation which suggested fear it came, step by step, until it was opposite the professor.

“Now!” he bellowed in his stentorian voice.

There was a shout, a scream, a crash. “I’ve got him!” roared someone. “Turn up the lights!” yelled another. “Be careful! You may kill the medium!” cried a third. The circle was broken. Challenger rushed to the switch and put on all the lights. The place was so flooded with radiance that it was some seconds before the bewildered and half-blinded spectators could see the details.

When they had recovered their sight and their balance, the spectacle was a deplorable one for the majority of the company. Tom Linden, looking white, dazed, and ill, was seated upon the ground. Over him stood the huge young Scotsman who had borne him to earth; while Mrs. Linden, kneeling beside her husband, was glaring up at his assailant. There was a silence as the company surveyed the scene. It was broken by Professor Challenger.

“Well, gentlemen, I presume that there is no more to be said. Your medium has been exposed as he deserved to be. You can see now the nature of your ghosts. I must thank Mr Nicholl, who, I may remark, is the famous football player of that name, for the prompt way in which he has carried out his instructions.”

“I collared him low,” said the tall youth. “He was easy.”

“You did it very effectively. You have done public service by helping to expose a heartless cheat. I need not say that a prosecution will follow.”

But Mailey now intervened and with such authority that Challenger was forced to listen.

“Your mistake is not unnatural, sir, though the course which you adopted in your ignorance is one which might well have been fatal to the medium.”

“My ignorance indeed! If you speak like that I warn you that I will look upon you not as dupes, but as accomplices.”

“One moment, Professor Challenger. I would ask you one direct question, and I ask for an equally direct reply. Was not the figure which we all saw before this painful episode a white figure?”

“Yes, it was.”

“You see now that the medium is entirely dressed in black. Where is the white garment?”

“It is immaterial to me where it is. No doubt his wife and himself are prepared for all eventualities. They have their own means of secreting the sheet, or whatever ii may have been. These details can be explained in the police court.”

“Examine now. Search the room for anything white.”

“I know nothing of the room. I can only use my common sense. The man is exposed masquerading as a spirit. Into what corner or crevice he has thrust his disguise is a matter of small importance.”

“On the contrary, it is a vital matter. What you have seen has not been an imposture, but has been a very real phenomenon.”

Challenger laughed.

“Yes, sir, a very real phenomenon. You have seen a transfiguration which is the half-way state of materialization. You will kindly realize that spirit guides, who conduct such affairs, care nothing for your doubts and suspicions. They set themselves to get certain results, and if they are prevented by the infirmities of the circle from getting them one way they get them in another, without consulting your prejudice or convenience. In this case being unable, owing to the evil conditions which you have yourself created, to build up an ectoplasmic form they wrapped the unconscious medium in an ectoplasmic covering, and sent him forth from the cabinet. He is as innocent of imposture as you are.”

“I swear to God,” said Linden, “that from the time I entered the cabinet until I found myself upon the floor I knew nothing.” He had staggered to his feet and was shaking all over in his agitation, so that he could not hold the glass of water which his wife had brought him.

Challenger shrugged his shoulders.

“Your excuses,” he said, “only open up fresh abysses of credulity. My own duty is obvious, and it will be done to the uttermost. Whatever you have to say will, no doubt, receive such consideration as it deserves from the magistrate.” Then Professor Challenger turned to go as one who has triumphantly accomplished that for which he came. “Come, Enid!” said he.

And now occurred a development so sudden, so unexpected, so dramatic, that no one present will ever cease to have it in vivid memory.

No answer was returned to Challenger’s call. Everyone else had risen to their feet. Only Enid remained in her chair. She sat with her head on one shoulder, her eyes closed, her hair partly loosened — a model for a sculptor.

“She is asleep,” said Challenger. “Wake up, Enid. I am going.”

There was no response from the girl. Mailey was bending over her.

“Hush! Don’t disturb her! She is in trance.”

Challenger rushed forward. “What have you done? Your infernal hankey-pankey has frightened her. She has fainted.”

Mailey had raised her eyelid.

“No, no, her eyes are turned up. She is in trance. Your daughter, sir, is a powerful medium.”

“A medium! You are raving. Wake up girl! wake up!”

“For God’s sake leave her! You may regret it all your life if you don’t. It is not safe to break abruptly into the mediumistic trance.”

Challenger stood in bewilderment. For once his presence of mind had deserted him. Was it possible that his child stood on the edge of some mysterious precipice and that he might push her over?

“What shall I do?” he asked helplessly.

“Have no fear. All will be well. Sit down! Sit down, all of you. Ah! she is about to speak.”

The girl had stirred. She had sat straight in her chair. Her lips trembled. One hand was outstretched:

“For him!” she cried, pointing to Challenger. “He must not hurt my Medi. It is a message. For him.”

There was breathless silence among the persons who had gathered round the girl.

“Who speaks?” asked Mailey.

“Victor speaks. Victor. He shall not hurt my Medi. I have a message. For him!”

“Yes, yes. What is the message?”

“His wife is here.”

“Yes!”

“She says that she has been once before. That she came through this girl. It was after she was cremated. She knock and he hear her knocking, but not understand.”

“Does this mean anything to you, Professor Challenger?”

His great eyebrows were bunched over his suspicious, questioning eyes, and he glared like a beast at bay from one to the other of the faces round him. There was a trick — a vile trick. They had suborned his own daughter. It was damnable. He would expose them, every one. No, he had no questions to ask. He could see through it all. She had been won over. He could not have believed it of her, and yet it must be so. She was doing it for Malone’s sake. A woman would do anything for a man she loved. Yes, it was damnable. Far from being softened he was more vindictive than ever. His furious face, his broken words, expressed his convictions.

Again the girl’s arm shot out, pointing in front of her.

“Another message!”

“To whom?”

“To him. The man who wanted to hurt my Medi. He must not hurt my Medi. A man here — two men — wish to give him a message.”

“Yes, Victor, let us have it.”

“First man’s name is . . . ” The girl’s head slanted and her ear was upturned, as if listening. “Yes, yes, I have it! It is Al-Al-Aldridge.”

“Does that mean anything to you?”

Challenger staggered. A look of absolute wonder had come upon his face.

“What is the second man?” he asked.

“Ware. Yes that is it. Ware.”

Challenger sat down suddenly. He passed his hand over his brow. He was deadly pale. His face was clammy with sweat.

“Do you know them?”

“I knew two men of those names.”

“They have message for you,” said the girl.

Challenger seemed to brace himself for a blow.

“Well, what is it?”

“Too private. Not speak, all these people here.”

“We shall wait outside,” said Mailey. “Come, friends, let the Professor have his message.”

They moved towards the door leaving the man seated in front of his daughter. An unwonted nervousness seemed suddenly to seize him. “Malone, stay with me!”

The door closed and the three were left together.

“What is the message?”

“It is about a powder.”

“Yes, yes.”

“A grey powder?”

“Yes.”

“The message that men want me to say is: ‘You did not kill us’.”

“Ask them then — ask them — how did they die?” His voice was broken and his great frame was quivering with his emotion.

“They die disease.”

“What disease?”

“New — new. What that? Pneumonia.”

Challenger sank back in his chair with an immense sigh of relief. “My God!” he cried, wiping his brow. Then:

“Call in the others, Malone.”

They had waited on the landing and now streamed into the room. Challenger had risen to meet them. His first words were to Tom Linden. He spoke like a shaken man whose pride for the instant was broken.

“As to you, sir, I do not presume to judge you. A thing has occurred to me which is so strange, and also so certain, since my own trained senses have attested it, that I am not prepared to deny any explanation which has been offered of your previous conduct. I beg to withdraw any injurious expressions I may have used.”

Tom Linden was a true Christian in his character. His forgiveness was instant and sincere.

“I cannot doubt that my daughter has some strange power which bears out much which you, Mr. Mailey, have told me. I was justified in my scientific scepticism, but you have today offered me some incontrovertible evidence.”

“We all go through the same experience, Professor. We doubt, and then in turn we are doubted.”

“I can hardly conceive that my word will be doubted upon such a point,” said Challenger, with dignity. “I can truly say that I have had information to-night which no living person upon this earth was in a position to give. So much is beyond all question.”

“The young lady is better,” said Mrs. Linden.

Enid was sitting up and staring round her with bewildered eyes.

“What has happened, Father? I seem to have been asleep.”

“All right, dear. We will talk of that later. Come home with me now. I have much to think over. Perhaps you will come back with us, Malone. I feel that I owe you some explanation.”

When Professor Challenger reached his flat, he gave Austin orders that he was on no account to be disturbed, and he led the way into his library, where he sat in his big armchair with Malone upon his left and his daughter upon his right. He had stretched out his great paw and enclosed Enid’s small hand.

“My dear,” he said, after a long silence, “I cannot doubt that you are possessed of a strange power, for it has been shown to me to-night with a fullness and a clearness which is final. Since you have it I cannot deny that others may have it also, and the general idea of mediumship has entered within my conceptions of what is possible. I will not discuss the question, for my thoughts are still confused upon the subject, and I will need to thrash the thing out with you, young Malone, and with your friends, before I can get a more definite idea. I will only say that my mind has received a shock, and that a new avenue of knowledge seems to have opened up before me.”

“We shall be proud indeed,” said Malone, “if we can help you.”

Challenger gave a wry smile.

“Yes, I have no doubt that a headline in your paper, ‘Conversion of Professor Challenger’ would be a triumph. I warn you that I have not got so far.”

“We certainly would do nothing premature and your opinions may remain entirely private.”

“I have never lacked the moral courage to proclaim my opinions when they are formed, but the time has not yet come. However, I have received two messages to-night, and I can only ascribe to them an extra-corporeal origin. I take it for granted, Enid, that you were indeed insensible.”

“I assure you, Father, that I knew nothing.”

“Quite so. You have always been incapable of deceit. First there came a message from your mother. She assured me that she had indeed produced those sounds which I heard and of which I have told you. It is clear now that you were the medium and that you were not in sleep but in trance. It is incredible, inconceivable, grotesquely wonderful — but it would seem to be true.”

“Crookes used almost those very words,” said Malone. He wrote that it was all ‘perfectly impossible and absolutely true’.”

“I owe him an apology. Perhaps I owe a good many people an apology.”

“None will ever be asked for,” said Malone. “These people are not made that way.”

“It is the second case which I would explain.” The Professor fidgeted uneasily in his chair. “It is a matter of great privacy — one to which I have never alluded, and which no one on earth could have known. Since you heard so much you may as well hear all.

“It happened when I was a young physician, and it is not too much to say that it cast a cloud over my life — a cloud which has only been raised to-night. Others may try to explain what has occurred by telepathy, by subconscious mind action, by what they will, but I cannot doubt — it is impossible to doubt — that a message has come to me from the dead.

“There was a new drug under discussion at that time. It is useless to enter into details which you would be incapable of appreciating. Suffice it that it was of the datura family which supplies deadly poisons as well as powerful medicines. I had received one of the earliest specimens, and I desired my name to be associated with the first exploration of its properties. I gave it to two men, Ware and Aldridge. I gave it in what I thought was a safe dose. They were patients, you understand, in my ward in a public hospital. Both were found dead in the morning.

“I had given it secretly. None knew of it. There was no scandal for they were both very ill, and their death seemed natural. But in my own heart I had fears. I believed that I had killed them. It has always been a dark background to my life. You heard yourselves to-night that it was from the disease, and not from the drug that they died.”

“Poor Dad!” whispered Enid patting the great hirsute hand. “Poor Dad! What you must have suffered!”

Challenger was too proud a man to stand pity, even from his own daughter. He pulled away his hand.

“I worked for science,” he said. “Science must take risks. I do not know that I am to blame. And yet — and yet — my heart is very light to-night.”

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