The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

3. In Which Professor Challenger Gives His Opinion

ENID had stepped into the cab and Malone was following when his name was called and a man came running down the street. He was tall, middle-aged, handsome and well-dressed, with the clean-shaven, self-confident face of the successful surgeon.

“Hullo, Malone! Stop!”

“Why, it’s Atkinson! Enid, let me introduce you. This is Mr. Atkinson of St. Mary’s about whom I spoke to your father. Can we give you a lift? We are going towards Victoria.”

“Capital!” The surgeon followed them into the cab. “I was amazed to see you at a Spiritualist meeting.”

“We were only there professionally. Miss Challenger and I are both on the Press.”

“Oh, really! The Daily Gazette, I suppose, as before. Well, you will have one more subscriber, for I shall want to see what you made of to-night’s show.”

“You’ll have to wait till next Sunday. It is one of a series.”

“Oh, I say, I can’t wait as long as that. What did you make of it?”

“I really don’t know. I shall have to read my notes carefully tomorrow and think it over, and compare impressions with my colleague here. She has the intuition, you see, which goes for so much in religious matters.”

“And what is your intuition, Miss Challenger?”

“Good — oh yes, good! But, dear me, what an extraordinary mixture!”

“Yes, indeed. I have been several times and it always leaves the same mixed impression upon my own mind. Some of it is ludicrous, and some of it might be dishonest, and yet again some of it is clearly wonderful.”

“But you are not on the Press. Why were you there?”

“Because I am deeply interested. You see, I am a student of psychic matters and have been for some years am not a convinced one but I am sympathetic, and I have sufficient sense of proportion to realize that while I seem to be sitting in judgment upon the subject it may in truth be the subject which is sitting in judgment upon me.”

Malone nodded appreciation.

“It is enormous. You will realize that as you get to close grips with it. It is half a dozen great subjects in one. And it is all in the hands of these good humble folk who, in the face of every discouragement and personal loss, have carried it on for more than seventy years. It is really very like the rise of Christianity. It was run by slaves and underlings until it gradually extended upwards. There were three hundred years between Caesar’s slave and Caesar getting the light.”

“But the preacher!” cried Enid in protest.

Mr. Atkinson laughed.

“You mean our friend from Atlantis. What a terrible bore the fellow was! I confess I don’t know what to make of performances like that. Self-deception, I think, and the temporary emergence of some fresh strand of personality which dramatizes itself in this way. The only thing I am quite sure of is that it is not really an inhabitant of Atlantis who arrives from his long voyage with this awful cargo of platitudes. Well, here we are!”

“I have to deliver this young lady safe and sound to her father,” said Malone. “Look here, Atkinson, don’t leave us. The Professor would really like to see you.”

“What at this hour! Why, he would throw me down the stairs.”

“You’ve been hearing stories,” said Enid. “Really it is not so bad as that. Some people annoy him, but I am sure you are not one of them. Won’t you chance it?”

“With that encouragement, certainly.” And the three walked down the bright outer corridor to the lift. Challenger, clad now in a brilliant blue dressing-gown, was eagerly awaiting them. He eyed Atkinson as a fighting bulldog eyes some canine stranger. The inspection seemed to satisfy him, however, for he growled that he was glad to meet him.

“I’ve heard of your name, sir, and of your rising reputation. Your resection of the cord last year made some stir, I understand. But have you been down among the lunatics also?”

“Well, if you call them so,” said Atkinson with a laugh.

“Good Heavens, what else could I call them? I remember now that my young friend here” (Challenger had a way of alluding to Malone as if he were a promising boy of ten) “told me you were studying the subject.” He roared with offensive laughter. “‘The proper study of mankind is spooks’, eh, Mr. Atkinson?”

“Dad really knows nothing about it, so don’t be offended with him,” said Enid. “But I assure you, Dad, you would have been interested.” She proceeded to give a sketch of their adventures, though interrupted by a running commentary of groans, grunts and derisive jeers. It was only when the Summerlee episode was reached that Challenger’s indignation and contempt could no longer be restrained. The old volcano blew his head off and a torrent of red-hot invective descended upon his listeners.

“The blasphemous rascals!” he shouted. “To think that they can’t let poor old Summerlee rest in his grave. We had our differences in his time and I will admit that I was compelled to take a moderate view of his intelligence” but if he came back from the grave he would certainly have something worth hearing to say to us. It is an absurdity — a wicked, indecent absurdity upon the face of it. I object to any friend of mine being made a puppet for the laughter of an audience of fools. They didn’t laugh! They must have laughed when they heard an educated man, a man whom I have met upon equal terms, talking such nonsense. I say it was nonsense. Don’t contradict me, Malone. I won’t have it! His message might have been the postscript of a schoolgirl’s letter. Isn’t that nonsense, coming from such a source? Are you not in agreement, Mr. Atkinson? No! I had hoped better things from you.”

“But the description?”

“Good Heavens, where are your brains? Have not the names of Summerlee and Malone been associated with my own in some peculiarly feeble fiction which attained some notoriety? Is it not also known that you two innocents were doing the Churches week by week? Was it not patent that sooner or later you would come to a Spiritualist gathering? Here was a chance for a convert! They set a bait and poor old gudgeon Malone came along and swallowed it. Here he is with the hook still stuck in his silly mouth. Oh, yes, Malone, plain speaking is needed and you shall have it.” The Professor’s black mane was bristling and his eyes glaring from one member of the company to another.

“Well, we want every view expressed,” said Atkinson.

“You seem very qualified, sir, to express the negative one. At the same time I would repeat in my own person the words of Thackeray. He said to some objector: ‘What you say is natural, but if you had seen what I have seen you might alter your opinion’. Perhaps sometime you will be able to look into the matter, for your high position in the scientific world would give your opinion great weight.”

“If I have a high place in the scientific world as you say, it is because I have concentrated upon what is useful and discarded what is nebulous or absurd. My brain, sir, does not pare the edges. It cuts right through. It has cut right through this and has found fraud and folly.”

“Both are there at times,” said Atkinson, “and yetand yet! Ah, well, Malone, I’m some way from home and it is late. You will excuse me, Professor. I am honoured to have met you.”

Malone was leaving also and the two friends had a few minutes’ chat before they went their separate ways, Atkinson to Wimpole Street and Malone to South Norwood, where he was now living.

“Grand old fellow!” said Malone, chuckling. “You must never get offended with him. He means no harm. He is splendid.”

“Of course he is. But if anything could make me a real out-and-out Spiritualist it is that sort of intolerance. It is very common, though it is generally cast rather in the tone of the quiet sneer than of the noisy roar. I like the latter best. By the way, Malone, if you care to go deeper into this subject I may be able to help you. You’ve heard of Linden?”

“Linden, the professional medium. Yes, I’ve been told he is the greatest blackguard unhung.”

“Ah, well, they usually talk of them like that. You must judge for yourself. He put his knee-cap out last winter and I put it in again, and that has made a friendly bond between us. It’s not always easy to get him, and of course a small fee, a guinea I think, is usual, but if you wanted a sitting I could work it.”

“You think him genuine?”

Atkinson shrugged his shoulders.

“I daresay they all take the line of least resistance. I can only say that I have never detected him in fraud. You must judge for yourself.”

“I will,” said Malone. “I am getting hot on this trail. And there is copy in it, too. When things are more easy I’ll write to you, Atkinson, and we can go more deeply into the matter.”

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