The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

4. Which Describes Some Strange Doings in Hammersmith

THE article by the Joint Commissioners (such was their glorious title) aroused interest and contention. It had been accompanied by a depreciating leaderette from the sub-editor which was meant to calm the susceptibilities of his orthodox readers, as who should say: “These things have to be noticed and seem to be true, but of course you and I recognize how pestilential it all is.” Malone found himself at once plunged into a huge correspondence, for and against, which in itself was enough to show how vitally the question was in the minds of men. All the previous articles had only elicited a growl here or there from a hide-bound Catholic or from an iron-clad Evangelical, but now his post-bag was full. Most of them were ridiculing the idea that psychic forces existed and many were from writers who, whatever they might know of psychic forces, had obviously not yet learned to spell. The Spiritualists were in many cases not more pleased than the others, for Malone had — even while his account was true — exercised a journalist’s privilege of laying an accent on the more humorous sides of it.

One morning in the succeeding week Mr. Malone was aware of a large presence in the small room wherein he did his work at the office. A page-boy, who preceded the stout visitor, had laid a card on the corner of the table which bore the legend ‘James Bolsover, Provision Merchant, High Street, Hammersmith.’ It was none other than the genial president of last Sunday’s congregation. He wagged a paper accusingly at Malone, but his good-humoured face was wreathed in smiles.

“Well, well,” said he. “I told you that the funny side would get you.”

“Don’t you think it a fair account?”

“Well, yes, Mr. Malone, I think you and the young woman have done your best for us. But, of course, you know nothing and it all seems queer to you. Come to think of it, it would be a deal queerer if all the clever men who leave this earth could not among them find some way of getting a word back to us.”

“But it’s such a stupid word sometimes.”

“Well, there are a lot of stupid people leave the world. They don’t change. And then, you know, one never knows what sort of message is needed. We had a clergyman in to see Mrs. Debbs yesterday. He was broken-hearted because he had lost his daughter. Mrs. Debbs got several messages through that she was happy and that only his grief hurt her. ‘That’s no use’, said he. ‘Anyone could say that. That’s not my girl’. And then suddenly she said: ‘But I wish to goodness you would not wear a Roman collar with a coloured shirt’. That sounded a trivial message, but the man began to cry. ‘That’s her’, he sobbed. ‘She was always chipping me about my collars’. It’s the little things that count in this life — just the homely, intimate things, Mr. Malone.”

Malone shook his head.

“Anyone would remark on a coloured shirt and a clerical collar.”

Mr. Bolsover laughed. “You’re a hard proposition. So was I once, so I can’t blame you. But I called here with a purpose. I expect you are a busy man and I know that I am, so I’ll get down to the brass tacks. First, I wanted to say that all our people that have any sense are pleased with the article. Mr. Algernon Mailey wrote me that it would do good, and if he is pleased we are all pleased.”

“Mailey the barrister?”

“Mailey, the religious reformer. That’s how he will be known.”

“Well, what else?”

“Only that we would help you if you and the young lady wanted to go further in the matter. Not for publicity, mind you, but just for your own good — though we don’t shrink from publicity, either. I have psychical phenomena seances at my own home without a professional medium, and if you would like . . . ”

“There’s nothing I would like so much.”

“Then you shall come — both of you. I don’t have many outsiders. I wouldn’t have one of those psychic research people inside my doors. Why should I go out of my way to be insulted by all their suspicions and their traps? They seem to think that folk have no feelings. But you have some ordinary common sense. That’s all we ask.”

“But I don’t believe. Would that not stand in the way?”

“Not in the least. So long as you are fair-minded and don’t disturb the conditions, all is well. Spirits out of the body don’t like disagreeable people any more than spirits in the body do. Be gentle and civil, same as you would to any other company.”

“Well, I can promise that.”

“They are funny sometimes,” said Mr. Bolsover, in reminiscent vein. “It is as well to keep on the right side of them. They are not allowed to hurt humans, but we all do things we’re not allowed to do, and they are very human themselves. You remember how The Times correspondent got his head cut open with the tambourine in one of the Davenport Brothers’ seances. Very wrong, of course, but it happened. No friend ever got his head cut open. There was another case down Stepney way. A money lender went to a seance. Some victim that he had driven to suicide got into the medium. He got the moneylender by the throat and it was a close thing for his life. But I’m off, Mr. Malone. We sit once a week and have done for four years without a break. Eight o’clock Thursdays. Give us a day’s notice and I’ll get Mr. Mailey to meet you. He can answer questions better than I. Next Thursday! Very good.” And Mr. Bolsover lurched out of the room.

Both Malone and Enid Challenger had, perhaps, been more shaken by their short experience than they had admitted, but both were sensible people who agreed that every possible natural cause should be exhausted — and very thoroughly exhausted — before the bounds of what is possible should be enlarged. Both of them had the utmost respect for the ponderous intellect of Challenger and were affected by his strong views, though Malone was compelled to admit in the frequent arguments in which he was plunged that the opinion of a clever man who has had no experience is really of less value than that of the man in the street who has actually been there.

These arguments, as often as not, were with Mervin, editor of the psychic paper Dawn, which dealt with every phase of the occult, from the lore of the Rosicrucians to the strange regions of the students of the Great Pyramid, or of those who uphold the Jewish origin of our blonde Anglo-Saxons. Mervin was a small, eager man with a brain of a high order, which might have carried him to the most lucrative heights of his profession had he not determined to sacrifice worldly prospects in order to help what seemed to him to be a great truth. As Malone was eager for knowledge and Mervin was equally keen to impart it, the waiters at the Literary Club found it no easy matter to get them away from the corner-table in the window at which they were wont to lunch. Looking down at the long, grey curve of the Embankment and the noble river with its vista of bridges, the pair would linger over their coffee, smoking cigarettes and discussing various sides of this most gigantic and absorbing subject, which seemed already to have disclosed new horizons to the mind of Malone.

There was one warning given by Mervin which aroused impatience amounting almost to anger in Malone’s mind. He had the hereditary Irish objection to coercion and it seemed to him to be appearing once more in an insidious and particularly objectionable form.

“You are going to one of Bolsover’s family seances,” said Mervin. “They are, of course, well known among our people, though few have been actually admitted, so you may consider yourself privileged. He has clearly taken a fancy to you.”

“He thought I wrote fairly about them.”

“Well, it wasn’t much of an article, but still among the dreary, purblind nonsense that assails us it did show some traces of dignity and balance and sense of proportion.”

Malone waved a deprecating cigarette.

“Bolsover’s seances and others like them are, or course, things of no moment to the real psychic. They are like the rude foundations of a building which certainly help to sustain the edifice, but are forgotten when once you come to inhabit it. It is the higher superstructure with which we have to do. You would think that the physical phenomena were the whole subject — those and a fringe of ghosts and haunted houses — if you were to believe the cheap papers who cater for the sensationalist. Of course, these physical phenomena have a use of their own. They rivet the attention of the inquirer and encourage him to go further. Personally, having seen them all, I would not go across the road to see them again. But I would go across many roads to get high messages from the beyond.”

“Yes, I quite appreciate the distinction, looking at it from your point of view. Personally, of course, I am equally agnostic as to the messages and the phenomena.”

“Quite so. St. Paul was a good psychic. He makes the point so neatly that even his ignorant translators were unable to disguise the real occult meanings as they have succeeded in doing in so many cases.”

“Can you quote it?”

“I know my New Testament pretty well, but I am not letter-perfect. It is the passage where he says that the gift of tongues, which was an obvious sensational thing, was for the uninstructed, but that prophecies, that is real spiritual messages, were for the elect. In other words that an experienced Spiritualist has no need of phenomena.”

“I’ll look that passage up.”

“You will find it in Corinthians, I think. By the way, there must have been a pretty high average of intelligence among those old congregations if Paul’s letters could have been read aloud to them and thoroughly comprehended.”

“That is generally admitted, is it not?”

“Well, it is a concrete example of it. However, I am down a side-track. What I wanted to say to you is that you must not take Bolsover’s little spirit circus too seriously. It is honest as far as it goes, but it goes a mighty short way. It’s a disease, this phenomena hunting. I know some of our people, women mostly, who buzz around seance rooms continually, seeing the same thing over and over, sometimes real, sometimes, I fear, imitation. What better are they for that as souls or as citizens or in any other way? No, when your foot is firm on the bottom rung don’t mark time on it, but step up to the next rung and get firm upon that.”

“I quite get your point. But I’m still on the solid ground.”

“Solid!” cried Mervin. “Good Lord! But the paper goes to press today and I must get down to the printer. With a circulation of ten thousand or so we do things modestly, you know — not like you plutocrats of the daily press. I am practically the staff.”

“You said you had a warning.”

“Yes, yes, I wanted to give you a warning.” Mervin’s thin, eager face became intensely serious. “If you have any ingrained religious or other prejudices which may cause you to turn down this subject after you have investigated it, then don’t investigate at all — for it is dangerous.”

“What do you mean — dangerous?”

“They don’t mind honest doubt, or honest criticism, but if they are badly treated they are dangerous.”

“Who are ‘they’?”

“Ah, who are they? I wonder. Guides, controls, psychic entities of some kind. Who the agents of vengeance — or I should say justice — are, is really not essential. The point is that they exist.”

“Oh, rot, Mervin!”

“Don’t be too sure of that.”

“Pernicious rot! These are the old theological bogies of the Middle Ages coming up again. I am surprised at a sensible man like you!”

Mervin smiled — he had a whimsical smile — but his eyes, looking out from under bushy yellow brows, were as serious as ever.

“You may come to change your opinion. There are some queer sides to this question. As a friend I put you wise to this one.”

“Well, put me wise, then.”

Thus encouraged, Mervin went into the matter. He rapidly sketched the career and fate of a number of men who had, in his opinion, played an unfair game with these forces, become an obstruction, and suffered for it. He spoke of judges who had given prejudiced decisions against the cause, of journalists who had worked up stunt cases for sensational purposes and to throw discredit on the movement; of others who had interviewed mediums to make game of them, or who, having started to investigate, had drawn back alarmed, and given a negative decision when their inner soul knew that the facts were true. It was a formidable list, for it was long and precise, but Malone was not to be driven.

“If you pick your cases I have no doubt one could make such a list about any subject. Mr. Jones said that Raphael was a bungler, and Mr. Jones died of angina pectoris. Therefore it is dangerous to criticize Raphael. That seems to be the argument.”

“Well, if you like to think so.”

“Take the other side. Look at Morgate. He has always been an enemy, for he is a convinced materialist. But he prospers — look at his professorship.”

“Ah, an honest doubter. Certainly. Why not?”

“And Morgan who at one time exposed mediums.”

“If they were really false he did good service.”

“And Falconer who has written so bitterly about you?”

“Ah, Falconer! Do you know anything of Falconer’s private life? No. Well, take it from me he has got his dues. He doesn’t know why. Some day these gentlemen will begin to compare notes and then it may dawn on them. But they get it.”

He went on to tell a horrible story of one who had devoted his considerable talents to picking Spiritualism to pieces, though really convinced of its truth, because his worldly ends were served thereby. The end was ghastly — too ghastly for Malone.

“Oh, cut it out, Mervin!” he cried impatiently. “I’ll say what I think, no more and no less, and I won’t be cared by you or your spooks into altering my opinions.”

“I never asked you to.”

“You got a bit near it. What you have said strikes me as pure superstition. If what you say is true you should have the police after you.”

“Yes, if we did it. But it is out of our hands. However, Malone, for what it’s worth I have given you the warning and you can now go your way. Bye-bye! You can always ring me up at the office of Dawn.”

If you want to know if a man is of the true Irish blood there is one infallible test. Put him in front of a swing-door with “Push” or “Pull” printed upon it. The Englishman will obey like a sensible man. The Irishman, with less sense but more individuality, will at once and with vehemence do the opposite. So it was with Malone. Mervin’s well-meant warning simply raised a rebellious spirit within him, and when he called for Enid to take her to the Bolsover seance he had gone back several degrees in his dawning sympathy for the subject. Challenger bade them farewell with many gibes, his beard projecting forward and his eyes closed with upraised eyebrows, as was his wont when inclined to be facetious.

“You have your powder-bag, my dear Enid. If you see a particularly good specimen of ectoplasm in the course of the evening don’t forget your father. I have a microscope, chemical reagents and everything ready. Perhaps even a small poltergeist might come your way. Any trifle would be welcome.”

His bull’s bellow of laughter followed them into the lift.

The provision merchant’s establishment of Mr. Bolsover proved to be a euphemism for an old-fashioned grocer’s shop in the most crowded part of Hammersmith. The neighbouring church was chiming out the three-quarters as the taxi drove up, and the shop was full of people. So Enid and Malone walked up and down outside. As they were so engaged another taxi drove up and a large, untidy-looking, ungainly bearded man in a suit of Harris tweed stepped out of it. He glanced at his watch and then began to pace the pavement. Presently he noted the others and came up to them.

“May I ask if you are the journalists who are going to attend the seance? I thought so. Old Bolsover is terribly busy so you were wise to wait. Bless him, he is one of God’s saints in his way.”

“You are Mr. Algernon Mailey, I presume?”

“Yes. I am the gentleman whose credulity is giving rise to considerable anxiety upon the part of my friends, as one of the rags remarked the other day.” His laugh was so infectious that the others were-bound to laugh also. Certainly, with his athletic proportions, which had run a little to seed but were still notable, and with his virile voice and strong if homely face, he gave no impression of instability.

“We are all labelled with some stigma by our opponents” said he. “I wonder what yours will be.”

“We must not sail under false colours, Mr. Mailey,” said Enid. “We are not yet among the believers.”

“Quite right. You should take your time over it. It is infinitely the most important thing in the world, so it is worth taking time over. I took many years myself. Folk can be blamed for neglecting it, but no one can be blamed for being cautious in examination. Now I am all out for it, as you are aware, because I know it is true. There is such a difference between believing and knowing. I lecture a good deal. But I never want to convert my audience. I don’t believe in sudden conversions. They are shallow, superficial things. All I want is to put the thing before the people as clearly as I can. I just tell them the truth and why we know it is the truth. Then my job is done. They can take it or leave it. If they are wise they will explore along the paths that I indicate. If they are unwise they miss their chance. I don’t want to press them or to proselytize. It’s their affair, not mine.”

“Well, that seems a reasonable view,” said Enid, who was attracted by the frank manner of their new acquaintance. They were standing now in the full flood of light cast by Bolsover’s big plate-glass window. She had a good look at him, his broad forehead, his curious grey eyes, thoughtful and yet eager, his straw-coloured beard which indicated the outline of an aggressive chin. He was solidity personified — the very opposite of the fanatic whom she had imagined. His name had been a good deal in the papers lately as a protagonist in the long battle, and she remembered that it had never been mentioned without an answering snort from her father.

“I wonder,” she said to Malone, “what would happen if Mr. Mailey were locked up in a room with Dad!”

Malone laughed. “There used to be a schoolboy question as to what would occur if an irresistible force were to strike an invincible obstacle.”

“Oh, you are the daughter of Professor Challenger,” said Mailey with interest. “He is a big figure in the scientific world. What a grand world it would be if it would only realize its own limitations.”

“I don’t quite follow you.”

“It is this scientific world which is at the bottom of much of our materialism. It has helped us in comfort — if comfort is any use to us. Otherwise it has usually been a curse to us, for it has called itself progress and given us a false impression that we are making progress, whereas we are really drifting very steadily backwards.”

“Really, I can’t quite agree with you there, Mr. Mailey,” said Malone, who was getting restive under what seemed to him dogmatic assertion. “Look at wireless. Look at the S.O.S. call at sea. Is that not a benefit to mankind?”

“Oh, it works out all right sometimes. I value my electric reading-lamp, and that is a product of science. It gives us, as I said before, comfort and occasionally safety.”

“Why, then, do you depreciate it?”

“Because it obscures the vital thing — the object of life. We were not put into this planet in order that we should go fifty miles an hour in a motor-car, or cross the Atlantic in an airship, or send messages either with or without wires. These are the mere trimmings and fringes of life. But these men of science have so riveted our attention on these fringes that we forget the central object.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“It is not how fast you go that matters, it is the object of your journey. It is not how you send a message, it is what the value of the message may be. At every stage this so-called progress may be a curse, and yet as long as we use the word we confuse it with real progress and imagine that we are doing that for which God sent us into the world.”

“Which is?”

“To prepare ourselves for the next phase of life. There is mental preparation and spiritual preparation, and we are neglecting both. To be in an old age better men and women, more unselfish, more broadminded, more genial and tolerant, that is what we are for. It is a soul factory, and it is turning out a bad article. But Hullo!” he burst into his infectious laugh. “Here I am delivering my lecture in the street. Force of habit, you see. My son says that if you press the third button of my waistcoat I automatically deliver a lecture. But here is the good Bolsover to your rescue.”

The worthy grocer had caught sight of them through the window and came bustling out, untying his white apron.

“Good evening, all! I won’t have you waiting in the cold. Besides, there’s the clock, and time’s up. It does not do to keep them waiting. Punctuality for all that’s my motto and theirs. My lads will shut up the shop. This way, and mind the sugar-barrel.”

They threaded their way amid boxes of dried fruits and piles of cheese, finally passing between two great casks which hardly left room for the grocer’s portly form. A narrow door beyond opened into the residential part of the establishment. Ascending the narrow stair, Bolsover threw open a door and the visitors found themselves in a considerable room in which a number of people were seated round a large table. There was Mrs. Bolsover herself, large, cheerful and buxom like her husband. Three daughters were all of the same pleasing type. There was an elderly woman who seemed to be some relation, and two other colourless females who were described as neighbours and Spiritualists. The only other man was a little grey-headed fellow with a pleasant face and quick, twinkling eyes, who sat at a harmonium in the corner.

“Mr. Smiley, our musician,” said Bolsover. “I don’t know what we could do without Mr. Smiley. It’s vibrations, you know. Mr. Mailey could tell you about that. Ladies, you know Mr. Mailey, our very good friend. And these are the two inquirers — Miss Challenger and Mr. Malone.” The Bolsover family all smiled genially, but the nondescript elderly person rose to her feet and surveyed them with an austere face.

“You’re very welcome here, you two strangers,” she said. “But we would say to you that we want outward reverence. We respect the shining ones and we will not have them insulted.”

“I assure you we are very earnest and fairminded,” said Malone.

“We’ve had our lesson. We haven’t forgotten the Meadows’ affair, Mr. Bolsover.”

“No, no, Mrs. Seldon. That won’t happen again. We were rather upset over that,” Bolsover added, turning to the visitors. “That man came here as our guest, and when the lights were out he poked the other sitters with his finger so as to make them think it was a spirit hand. Then he wrote the whole thing up as an exposure in the public Press, when the only fraudulent thing present had been himself.”

Malone was honestly shocked. “I can assure you we are incapable of such conduct.”

The old lady sat down, but still regarded them with a suspicious eye. Bolsover bustled about and got things ready.

“You sit here Mr. Mailey. Mr. Malone, will you sit between my wife and my daughter? Where would the young lady like to sit?”

Enid was feeling rather nervous. “I think,” said she, “that I would like to sit next to Mr. Malone.”

Bolsover chuckled and winked at his wife.

“Quite so. Most natural, I am sure.” They all settled into their places. Mr. Bolsover had switched off the electric light, but a candle burned in the middle of the table. Malone thought what a picture it would have made for a Rembrandt. Deep shadows draped it in, but the yellow light flickered upon the circle of faces — the strong, homely, heavy features of Bolsover, the solid line of his family circle, the sharp, austere countenance of Mrs. Seldon, the earnest eyes and yellow beard of Mailey, the worn, tired faces of the two Spiritualist women, and finally the firm, noble profile of the girl who sat beside him. The whole world had suddenly narrowed down to that one little group, so intensely concentrated upon its own purpose.

On the table there was scattered a curious collection of objects, which had all the same appearance of tools which had long been used. There was a battered brass speaking-trumpet, very discoloured, a tambourine, a musical-box, and a number of smaller objects. “We never know what they may want,” said Bolsover, waving his hand over them. “If Wee One calls for a thing and it isn’t there she lets us know all about it — oh, yes, something shocking!”

“She has a temper of her own has Wee One,” remarked Mrs. Bolsover.

“Why not, the pretty dear?” said the austere lady. “I expect she has enough to try it with researchers and what-not. I often wonder she troubles to come at all.”

“Wee One is our little girl guide,” said Bolsover. “You’ll hear her presently.”

“I do hope she will come,” said Enid.

“Well, she never failed us yet, except when that man Meadows clawed hold of the trumpet and put it outside the circle.”

“Who is the medium?” asked Malone.

“Well, we don’t know ourselves. We all help, I think. Maybe, I give as much as anyone. And mother, she is a help.”

“Our family is a co-operative store,” said his wife, and everyone laughed.

“I thought one medium was necessary.”

“It is usual but not necessary,” said Mailey in his deep, authoritative voice. “Crawford showed that pretty clearly in the Gallagher seances when he proved, by weighing chairs, that everyone in the circle lost from half to two pounds at a sitting, though the medium, Miss Kathleen, lost as many as ten or twelve. Here the long series of sittings — How long, Mr. Bolsover?”

“Four years unbroken.”

“The long series has developed everyone to some extent, so that there is a high average output from each, instead of an extraordinary amount from one.”

“Output of what?”

“Animal magnetism, ectoplasm — in fact, power. That is the most comprehensive word. The Christ used that word. ‘Much power has gone out of me’. It is ‘dunamis’ in the Greek, but the translators missed the point and translated it ‘virtue’. If a good Greek scholar who was also a profound occult student was to re-translate the New Testament we should get some eye-openers. Dear old Ellis Powell did a little in that direction. His death was a loss to the world.”

“Aye, indeed,” said Bolsover in a reverent voice. “But now, before we get to work, Mr. Malone, I want you just to note one or two things. You see the white spots on the trumpet and the tambourine? Those are luminous points so that we can see where they are. The table is just our dining-table, good British oak. You can examine it if you like. But you’ll see things that won’t depend upon the table. Now, Mr. Smiley, out goes the light and we’ll ask you for ‘The Rock of Ages’.”

The harmonium droned in the darkness and the circle sang. They sang very tunefully, too, for the girls had fresh voices and true ears. Low and vibrant, the solemn rhythm became most impressive when no sense but that of hearing was free to act. Their hands, according to instructions, were laid lightly upon the table, and they were warned not to cross their legs. Malone, with his hand touching Enid’s, could feel the little quiverings which showed that her nerves were highly strung. The homely, jovial voice of Bolsover relieved the tension.

“That should do it,” he said. “I feel as if the conditions were good to-night. Just a touch of frost in the air, too. I’ll ask you now to join with me in prayer.”

It was effective, that simple, earnest prayer in the darkness — an inky darkness which was only broken by the last red glow of a dying fire.

“Oh, great Father of us all,” said the voice. “You who are beyond our thoughts and who yet pervade our lives, grant that all evil may be kept from us this night and that we may be privileged to get in touch, if only for an hour, with those who dwell upon a higher plane than ours. You are our Father as well as theirs. Permit us, for a short space, to meet in brotherhood, that we may have an added knowledge of that eternal life which awaits us, and so be helped during our years of waiting in this lower world.” He ended with the “Our Father”, in which we all joined. Then they all sat in expectant silence Outside was the dull roar of traffic and the occasional ill-tempered squawk of a passing car. Inside there was absolute stillness. Enid and Malone felt every sense upon the alert and every nerve on edge as they gazed out into the gloom.

“Nothing doing, mother,” said Bolsover at last. “It’s the strange company. New vibrations. They have to tune them in to get harmony. Give us another tune, Mr. Smiley.” Again the harmonium droned. It was still playing when a woman’s voice cried: “Stop! Stop! They are here!”

Again they waited without result.

“Yes! Yes! I heard Wee One. She is here, right enough. I’m sure of it.”

Silence again, and then it came — such a marvel to the visitors, such a matter of course to the circle.

“Gooda evenin’!” cried a voice.

There was a burst of greeting and of welcoming laughter from the circle. They were all speaking at once. “Good evening, Wee One!” “There you are, dear!” “I knew you would come!” “Well done, little girl guide!”

“Gooda evenin’, all!” replied the voice. “Wee One so glad see Daddy and Mummy and the rest. Oh, what big man with beard! Mailey, Mister Mailey, I meet him before. He big Mailey, I little femaley. Glad to see you, Mr. Big Man.”

Enid and Malone listened with amazement, but it was impossible to be nervous in face of the perfectly natural way in which the company accepted it. The voice was very thin and high — more so than any artificial falsetto could produce. It was the voice of a female child. That was certain. Also that there was no female child in the room unless one had been smuggled in after the light went out. That was possible. But the voice seemed to be in the middle of the table. How could a child get there?

“Easy get there, Mr. Gentleman,” said the voice, answering his unspoken thought. “Daddy strong man. Daddy lift Wee One on to table. Now I show what Daddy not able to do.”

“The trumpet’s up!” cried Bolsover.

The little circle of luminous paint rose noiselessly into the air. Now it was swaying above their heads.

“Go up and hit the ceiling!” cried Bolsover. Up it went and they heard the metallic tapping above them. Then the high voice came from above:

“Clever Daddy! Daddy got fishing-rod and put trumpet up to ceiling. But how Daddy make the voice, eh? What you say, pretty English Missy? Here is a present from Wee One.”

Something soft dropped on Enid’s lap. She put her hand down and felt it.

“It’s a flower — a chrysanthemum. Thank you, Wee One!”

“An apport?” asked Mailey.

“No, no, Mr. Mailey,” said Bolsover. “They were in the vase on the harmonium. Speak to her, Miss Challenger. Keep the vibrations going.”

“Who are you, Wee One?” asked Enid, looking up at the moving spot above her.

“I am little black girl. Eight-year-old little black girl.”

“Oh, come, dear,” said mother in her rich, coaxing voice. “You were eight when you came to us first, and that was years ago.”

“Years ago to you. All one time to me. I to do my job as eight-year child. When job done then Wee One become Big One all in one day. No time here, same as you have. I always eight-year-old.”

“In the ordinary way they grow up exactly as we do here,” said Mailey. “But if they have a special bit of work for which a child is needed, then as a child they remain It’s a sort of arrested development.”

“That’s me. ‘Rested envelopment’,” said the voice proudly. “I learn good England when big man here.”

They all laughed. It was the most genial, free-and-easy association possible. Malone heard Enid’s voice whispering in his ear.

“Pinch me from time to time, Edward — just to make me sure that I am not in a dream.”

“I have to pinch myself, too.”

“What about your song, Wee One?” asked Bolsover.

“Oh, yes, indeeda! Wee One sing to you.” She began some simple song, but faded away in a squeak, while the trumpet clattered on to the table.

“Ah, power run down!” said Mailey. “I think a little more music will set us right. ‘Lead, Kindly Light’”

They sang the beautiful hymn together. As the verse closed an amazing thing happened — amazing, at least, to the novices, though it called for no remark from the circle. The trumpet still shone upon the table, but two voices, those apparently of a man and a woman, broke out in the air above them and joined very tunefully in the singing. The hymn died away and all was silence and tense expectancy once more.

It was broken by a deep male voice from the darkness. It was an educated English voice, well modulated, a voice which spoke in a fashion to which the good Bolsover could never attain.

“Good evening, friends. The power seems good tonight.”

“Good evening, Luke. Good evening!” cried everyone.

“It is our teaching guide,” Bolsover explained. “He is a high spirit from the sixth sphere who gives us instruction.”

“I may seem high to you,” said the voice. “But what am I to those in turn who instruct me! It is not my wisdom. Give me no credit. I do but pass it on.”

“Always like that,” said Bolsover. “No swank. It’s a sign of his height.”

“I see you have two inquirers present. Good evening, young lady! You know nothing of your own powers or destiny. You will find them out. Good evening, sir, you are on the threshold of great knowledge. Is there any subject upon which you would wish me to say a few words? I see that you are making notes.”

Malone had, as a fact, disengaged his hand in the darkness and was jotting down in shorthand the sequence of events.

“What shall I speak of?”

“Of love and marriage,” suggested Mrs. Bolsover, nudging her husband.

“Well, I will say a few words on that. I will not take long, for others are waiting. The room is crowded with spirit people. I wish you to understand that there is one man, and only one, for each woman, and one woman only for each man. When those two meet they fly together and are one through all the endless chain of existence. Until they meet all unions are mere accidents which have no meaning. Sooner or later each couple becomes complete. It may not be here. It may be in the next sphere where the sexes meet as they do on earth. Or it may be further delayed. But every man and every woman has his or her affinity, and will find it. Of earthly marriages perhaps one in five is permanent. The others are accidental. Real marriage is of the soul and spirit. Sex actions are a mere external symbol which mean nothing and are foolish, or even pernicious, when the thing which they should symbolize is wanting. Am I clear?”

“Very clear,” said Mailey.

“Some have the wrong mate here. Some have no mate, which is more fortunate. But all will sooner or later get the right mate. That is certain. Do not think that you will not necessarily have your present husband when you pass over.”

“Gawd be praised! Gawd be thanked!” cried a voice.

“No. Mrs. Melder, it is love — real love — which unites us here. He goes his way. You go yours. You are on separate planes, perhaps. Some day you will each find your own, when your youth has come back as it will over here.”

“You speak of love. Do you mean sexual love?” asked Mailey.

“Where are we gettin’ to?” murmured Mrs. Bolsover.

“Children are not born here. That is only on the earth plane. It was this aspect of marriage to which the great Teacher referred when he said: ‘There will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage’. No! It is purer, deeper, more wonderful, a unity of souls, a complete merging of interests and knowledge without a loss of individuality. The nearest you ever get to it is the first high passion, too beautiful for physical expression when two high-souled lovers meet upon your plane. They find lower expression afterwards, but they will always in their hearts know that the first delicate, exquisite soul-union was the more lovely. So it is with us. Any question?”

“If a woman loves two men equally, what then?” asked Malone.

“It seldom happens. She nearly always knows which is really nearest to her. If she really did so, then it would be a proof that neither was the real affinity, for he is bound to stand high above all. Of course, if she . . . ”

The voice trailed off and the trumpet fell.

“Sing ‘Angels are hoverin’ around’!” cried Bolsover. “Smiley, hit that old harmonium. The vibrations are at zero.”

Another bout of music, another silence, and then a most dismal voice. Never had Enid heard so sad a voice. It was like clods on a coffin. At first it was a deep mutter. Then it was a prayer — a Latin prayer apparently — for twice the word Domine sounded and once the word peccavimus. There was an indescribable air of depression and desolation in the room. “For God’s sake what is it?” cried Malone.

The circle was equally puzzled.

“Some poor chap out of the lower spheres, I think,” said Bolsover. “Orthodox folk say we should avoid them. I say we should hurry up and help them.”

“Right, Bolsover!” said Mailey, with hearty approval. “Get on with it, quick!”

“Can we do anything for you, friend?”

There was silence.

“He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand the conditions. Where is Luke? He’ll know what to do.”

“What is it, friend?” asked the pleasant voice of the guide.

“There is some poor fellow here. We want to help him.”

“Ah! yes, yes, he has come from the outer darkness,” said Luke in a sympathetic voice. “He doesn’t know. He doesn’t understand. They come over here with a fixed idea, and when they find the real thing is quite different from anything they have been taught by the Churches, they are helpless. Some adapt themselves and they go on. Others don’t, and they just wander on unchanging, like this man. He was a cleric, and a very narrow, bigoted one. This is the growth of his own mental seed sown upon earth — sown in ignorance and reaped in misery.”

“What is amiss with him?”

“He does not know he is dead. He walks in the mist. It is all an evil dream to him. He has been years so. To him it seems an eternity.”

“Why do you not tell him — instruct him?”

“We cannot. We —”

The trumpet crashed.

“Music, Smiley, music! Now the vibrations should be better.”

“The higher spirits cannot reach earth-bound folk,” said Mailey. “They are in very different zones of vibration. It is we who are near them and can help them.”

“Yes, you! you!” cried the voice of Luke.

“Mr. Mailey, speak to him. You know him!” The low mutter had broken out again in the same weary monotone.

“Friend, I would have a word with you,” said Mailey in a firm, loud voice. The mutter ceased and one felt that the invisible presence was straining its attention. “Friend, we are sorry at your condition. You have passed on. You see us and you wonder why we do not see you. You are in the other world. But you do not know it, because it is not as you expected. You have not been received as you imagined. It is because you imagined wrong. Understand that all is well, and that God is good, and that all happiness is awaiting you if you will but raise your mind and pray for help, and above all think less of your own condition and more of those other poor souls who are round you.”

There was a silence and Luke spoke again.

“He has heard you. He wants to thank you. He has some glimmer now of his condition. It will grow within him. He wants to know if he may come again.”

“Yes! yes!” cried Bolsover. “We have quite a number who report progress from time to time. God bless you, friend. Come as often as you can.” The mutter had ceased and there seemed to be a new feeling of peace in the air. The high voice of Wee One was heard.

“Plenty power still left. Red Cloud here. Show what he can do, if Daddy likes.”

“Red Cloud is our Indian control. He is usually busy when any purely physical phenomena have to be done. You there, Red Cloud?”

Three loud thuds, like a hammer on wood, sounded from the darkness.

“Good evening, Red Cloud!”

A new voice, slow, staccato, laboured, sounded above them.

“Good day, Chief! How the squaw? How the papooses? Strange faces in wigwam to-night.”

“Seeking knowledge, Red Cloud. Can you show what you can do?”

“I try. Wait a little. Do all I can.”

Again there was a long hush of expectancy. Then the novices were faced once more with the miraculous.

There came a dull glow in the darkness. It was apparently a wisp of luminous vapour. It whisked across from one side to the other and then circled in the air. By degrees it condensed into a circular disc of radiance about the size of a bull’s-eye lantern. It cast no reflection round it and was simply a clean-cut circle in the gloom. Once it approached Enid’s face and Malone saw it clearly from the side.

“Why, there is a hand holding it!” he cried, with sudden suspicion.

“Yes, there is a materialized hand,” said Mailey. “I can see it clearly.”

“Would you like it to touch you” Mr. Malone?”

“Yes, if it will.”

The light vanished and an instant afterwards Malone felt pressure upon his own hand. He turned it palm upwards and clearly felt three fingers laid across it, smooth, warm fingers of adult size. He closed his own fingers and the hand seemed to melt away in his grasp.

“It has gone!” he gasped.

“Yes! Red Cloud is not very good at materializations. Perhaps we don’t give him the proper sort of power. But his lights are excellent.”

Several more had broken out. They were of different types, slow-moving clouds and little dancing sparks like glow-worms. At the same time both visitors were conscious of a cold wind which blew upon their faces. It was no delusion, for Enid felt her hair stream across her forehead.

“You fed the rushing wind,” said Mailey. “Some of these lights would pass for tongues of fire, would they not? Pentecost does not seem such a very remote or impossible thing, does it?”

The tambourine had risen in the air, and the dot of luminous paint showed that it was circling round. Presently it descended and touched their heads each in turn. Then with a jingle it quivered down upon the table.

“Why a tambourine? It seems always to be a tambourine,” remarked Malone.

“It is a convenient little instrument,” Mailey explained.

“The only one which shows automatically by its noise where it is flying. I don’t know what other I could suggest except a musical-box.”

“Our box here flies round somethin’ amazin’,” said Mrs. Bolsover. “It thinks nothing of winding itself up in the air as it flies. It’s a heavy box too.”

“Nine pounds,” said Bolsover. “Well, we seem to have got to the end of things. I don’t think we shall get much more to-night. It has not been a bad sitting — what I should call a fair average sitting. We must wait a little before we turn on the light. Well, Mr. Malone, what do you think of it? Let’s have any objections now before we part. That’s the worst of you inquirers, you know. You often bottle things up in your own minds and let them loose afterwards, when it would have been easy to settle it at the time. Very nice and polite to our faces, and then we are a gang of swindlers in the report.”

Malone’s head was throbbing and he passed his hand over his heated brow.

“I am confused,” he said, “but impressed. Oh, yes, certainly impressed. I’ve read of these things, but it is very different when you see them. What weighs most with me is the obvious sincerity and sanity of all you people. No one could doubt that.”

“Come. We’re gettin’ on.” said Bolsover.

“I try to think the objections which would be raised by others who were not present. I’ll have to answer them. First, there is the oddity of it all. It is so different to our preconceptions of spirit people.”

“We must fit our theories to the facts,” said Mailey. “Up to now we have fitted the facts to our theories. You must remember that we have been dealing to-night — with all respect to our dear good hosts — with a simple, primitive, earthly type of spirit, who has his very definite uses, but is not to be taken as an average type. You might as well take the stevedore whom you see on the quay as being a representative Englishman.”

“There’s Luke” said Bolsover.

“Ah, yes, he is, of course, very much higher. You heard him and could judge. What else, Mr. Malone?”

“Well, the darkness! Everything done in darkness. Why should all mediumship be associated with gloom?”

“You mean all physical mediumship. That is the only branch of the subject which needs darkness. It is purely chemical, like the darkness of the photographic room. It preserves the delicate physical substance which, drawn from the human body, is the basis of these phenomena. A cabinet is used for the purpose of condensing this same vaporous substance and helping it to solidify. Am I clear?”

“Yes, but it is a pity all the same. It gives a horrible air of deceit to the whole business.”

“We get it now and again in the light, Mr. Malone,” said Bolsover. “I don’t know if Wee One is gone yet. Wait a bit! Where are the matches?” He lit the candle, which set them all blinking after their long darkness, “Now let us see what we can do.”

There was a round wood platter or circle of wood lying among the miscellaneous objects littered over the table to serve as playthings for the strange forces. Bolsover stared at it. They all stared at it. They had risen but no one was within three feet of it.

“Please, Wee One, please!” cried Mrs. Bolsover. Malone could hardly believe his eyes. The disc began to move. It quivered and then rattled upon the table, exactly as the lid of a boiling pot might do.

“Up with it, Wee One!” They were all clapping their hands.

The circle of wood, in the full light of the candle, rose upon edge and stood there shaking, as if trying to keep its balance.

“Give three tilts, Wee One.”

The disc inclined forward three times. Then it fell flat and remained so.

“I am so glad you have seen that,” said Mailey. “There is Telekenesis in its simplest and most decisive form.”

“I could not have believed it!” cried Enid.

“Nor I,” said Malone. “I have extended my knowledge of what is possible. Mr. Bolsover, you have enlarged my views.”

“Good, Mr. Malone!”

“As to the power at the back of these things I am still ignorant. As to the thing themselves I have now and henceforward not the slightest doubt in the world. I know that they are true. I wish you all good night. It is not likely that Miss Challenger or I will ever forget the evening that we have spent under your roof”

It was like another world when they came out into the frosty air, and saw the taxis bearing back the pleasure-seekers from the theatre or cinema palace. Mailey stood beside them while they waited for a cab.

“I know exactly how you feel,” he said, smiling. “You look at all these bustling, complacent people, and you marvel to think how little they know of the possibilities of life. Don’t you want to stop them? Don’t you want to tell them? And yet they would only think you a liar or a lunatic. Funny situation, is it not?”

“I’ve lost all my bearings for the moment.”

“They will come back tomorrow morning. It is curious how fleeting these impressions are. You will persuade yourselves that you have been dreaming. Well, good-bye — and let me know if I can help your studies in the future.” The friends — one could hardly yet call them lovers — were absorbed in thought during their drive home. When he reached Victoria Gardens Malone escorted Enid to the door of the flat, but he did not go in with her. Somehow the jeers of Challenger which usually rather woke sympathy within him would now get upon his nerves. As it was he heard his greeting in the hall.

“Well, Enid. Where’s your spook? Spill him out of the bag on the floor and let us have a look at him.” His evening’s adventure ended as it had begun, with a bellow of laughter which pursued him down the lift.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/doyle/arthur_conan/mist/chapter4.html

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