The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

6. In Which the Reader is Shown the Habits of a Notorious Criminal

WE will now leave that little group with whom we have made our first exploration of these grey and ill-defined, but immensely important, regions of human thought and experiences. From the researchers we will turn to the researched. Come with me and we will visit Mr. Linden at home, and will examine the lights and shades which make up the life of a professional medium.

To reach him we will pass down the crowded thoroughfare of Tottenham Court Road, where the huge furniture emporia flank the way, and we will turn into a small street of drab houses which leads eastwards towards the British Museum. Tullis Street is the name and 40 the number. Here it is, one of a row, flat-faced, dull-coloured and commonplace, with railed steps leading up to a discoloured door, and one front-room window, in which a huge gilt-edged Bible upon a small round table reassures the timid visitor. With the universal pass-key of imagination we open the dingy door, pass down a dark passage and up a narrow stair. It is nearly ten o’clock in the morning and yet it is in his bedroom that we must seek the famous worker of miracles. The fact us that he has had, as we have seen, an exhausting sitting the night before, and that he has to conserve his strength in the mornings.

At the moment of our inopportune, but invisible, visit he was sitting up, propped by the pillows, with a breakfast-tray upon his knees. The vision he presented would have amused those who have prayed with him in the bumble Spiritualist temples, or had sat with awe at the seances where he had exhibited the modern equivalents of the gifts of the Spirit. He looked unhealthily pallid in the dim morning light, and his curly hair rose up in a tangled pyramid above his broad, intellectual brow. The open collar of his nightshirt displayed a broad, bull’s neck, and the depth of his chest and spread of his shoulders showed that he was a man of considerable personal strength. He was eating his breakfast with avidity while he conversed with the little, eager, dark-eyed wife who was seated on the side of the bed.

“And you reckon it a good meeting, Mary?”

“Fair to middling, Tom. There was two of them researchers raking round with their feet and upsetting everybody. D’ye think those folk in the Bible would have got their phenomena if they had chaps of that sort on the premises? ‘Of one accord’, that’s what they say in the book.”

“Of course!” cried Linden heartily. “Was the Duchess pleased?”

“Yes, I think she was very pleased. So was Mr. Atkinson, the surgeon. There was a new man there called Malone of the Press. Then Lord and Lady Montnoir got evidence, and so did Sir James Smith and Mr. Mailey.”

“I wasn’t satisfied with the clairvoyance,” said the medium. “The silly idiots kept on putting things into my mind. ‘That’s surely my Uncle Sam’, and so forth. It blurs me so that I can see nothing clear.”

“Yes, and they think they are helping! Helping to muddle you and deceive themselves. I know the kind.”

“But I went under nicely and I am glad there were some fine materializations. It took it out of me, though. I’m a rag this morning.”

“They work you too hard, dear. I’ll take you to Margate and build you up.”

“Well, maybe at Easter we could do a week. It would be fine. I don’t mind readings and clairvoyance, but the physicals do try you. I’m not as bad as Hallows. They say he just lies white and gasping on the floor after them.”

“Yes,” cried the woman bitterly. “And then they run to him with whisky, and so they teach him to rely on the bottle and you get another case of a drunken medium. I know them. You keep off it, Tom!”

“Yes, one of our trade should stick to soft drinks. If he can stick to vegetables, too, he’s all the better, but I can’t preach that while I am wolfin’ up ham and eggs. By Gosh, Mary! it’s past ten and I have a string of them comin’ this morning. I’m going to make a bit today.”

“You give it away as quick as you make it, Tom.”

“Well, some hard cases come my way. So long as we can make both ends meet what more do we want? I expect they will look after us all right.”

“They have let down a lot of other poor mediums who did good work in their day.”

“It’s the rich folk that are to blame not the Spirit-people,” said Tom Linden hotly. “It makes me see red when I remember these folk, Lady This and Countess That, declaring all the comfort they have had, and then leaving those who gave it to die in the gutter or rot in the workhouse. Poor old Tweedy and Soames and the rest all living on old-age pensions and the papers talking of the money that mediums make, while some damned conjuror makes more than all of us put together by a rotten imitation with two tons of machinery to help him.”

“Don’t worry, dear,” cried the medium’s wife, putting her thin hand caressingly upon the tangled mane of her man. “It all comes level in time and everybody pays the price for what they have done.”

Linden laughed loudly. “It’s my Welsh half that comes out when I flare up. Let the conjurors take their dirty money and let the rich folk keep their purses shut. I wonder what they think money is for. Paying death duties is about the only fun some of them seem to get out of it. If I had their money . . . ”

There was a knock at the door.

“Please, sir, your brother Silas is below.” The two looked at each other with some dismay.

“More trouble,” said Mrs. Linden sadly.

Linden shrugged his shoulders. “All right, Susan!” he cried. “Tell him I’ll be down. Now, dear, you keep him going and I’ll be with you in a quarter of an hour.”

In less time than he named he was down in the front room — his consulting room — where his wife was evidently having some difficulty in making agreeable conversation with their visitor. He was a big, heavy man, not unlike his elder brother, but with all the genial chubbiness of the medium coarsened into pure brutality. He had the same pile of curly hair, but he was clean-shaven with a heavy, obstinate jowl. He sat by the window with his huge freckled hands upon his knees. A very important part of Mr. Silas Linden lay in those hands, for he had been a professional boxer, and at one time was fancied for the welter-weight honours of England. Now, as his stained tweed suit and frayed boots made clear, he had fallen on evil days, which he endeavoured to mitigate by cadging on his brother.

“Mornin’, Tom,” he said in a husky voice. Then as the wife left the room: “Got a drop of Scotch about? I’ve a head on me this morning. I met some of the old set last night down at ‘The Admiral Vernon’. Quite a reunion it was — chaps I hadn’t seen since my best ring days.”

“Sorry, Silas,” said the medium, seating himself behind his desk. “I keep nothing in the house.”

“Spirits enough, but not the right sort,” said Silas.

“Well, the price of a drink will do as well. If you’ve got a Bradbury about you I could do with it, for there’s nothing coming my way.”

Torn Linden took a pound note from his desk.

“Here you are, Silas. So long as I have any you have your share. But you had two pounds last week. Is it gone?”

“Gone! I should say so!” He put the note in his pocket. “Now, look here, Tom, I want to speak to you very serious as between man and man.”

“Yes, Silas, what is it?”

“You see that!” He pointed to a lump on the back of his hand. “That’s a bone! See? It will never be right. It was when I hit Curly Jenkins third round and outed him at the N.S.C. I outed myself for life that night. I can put up a show fight and exhibition bout, but I’m done for the real thing. My right has gone west.”

“It’s a hard case, Silas.”

“Damned hard! But that’s neither here nor there. What matters is that I’ve got to pick up a living and I want to know how to do it. An old scrapper don’t find many openings. Chucker-out at a pub with free drinks. Nothing doing there. What I want to know’ Tom, is what’s the matter with my becoming a medium?”

“A medium?”

“Why the devil should you stare at me! If it’s good enough for you it’s good enough for me.”

“But you are not a medium.”

“Oh, come! Keep that for the newspapers. It’s all in the family, and between you an’ me, how d’ye do it?”

“I don’t do it. I do nothing.”

“And get four or five quid a week for it. That’s a good yarn. Now you can’t fool me. Tom, I’m not one o’ those duds that pay you a thick ’un for an hour in the dark. We’re on the square, you an’ me. How d’ye do it?”

“Do what?”

“Well, them raps, for example. I’ve seen you sit there at your desk, as it might be, and raps come answerin’ questions over yonder on the bookshelf. It’s damned clever — fair puzzles ’em every time. How d’ye get them?”

“I tell you I don’t. It’s outside myself.”

“Rats! You can tell me, Tom. I’m Griffiths, the safe man. It would set me up for life if I could do it.”

For the second time in one morning the medium’s Welsh strain took control.

“You’re an impudent, blasphemous rascal, Silas Linden. It’s men like you who come into our movement and give it a bad name. You should know me better than to think that I am a cheat. Get out of my house, you ungrateful rascal!”

“Not too much of your lip,” growled the ruffian.

“Out you go, or I’ll put you out, brother or no brother.” Silas doubled his great fists and looked ugly for a moment. Then the anticipation of favours to come softened his mood.

“Well, well, no harm meant,” he growled, as he made for the door. “I expect I can make a shot at it without your help.” His grievance suddenly overcame his prudence as he stood in the doorway. “You damned, canting, hypocritical box-of-tricks. I’ll be even with you yet.”

The heavy door slammed behind him.

Mrs. Linden had rushed in to her husband.

“The hulking blackguard!” she cried. “I ‘eard ’im. What did ‘e want?”

“Wanted me to put him wise to mediumship. Thinks it’s a trick of some sort that I could teach him.”

“The foolish lump! Well, it’s a good thing, for he won’t dare show his face here again.”

“Oh, won’t he?”

“If he does I’ll slap it for him. To think of his upsettin’ you like this. Why, you’re shakin’ all over!”

“I suppose I wouldn’t be a medium if I wasn’t high strung. Someone said we were poets, only more so. But it’s bad just when work is beginning.”

“I’ll give you healing.”

She put her little work-worn hands over his high forehead and held them there in silence.

“That’s better!” said he. “Well done, Mary. I’ll have a cigarette in the kitchen. That will finish it.”

“No, there’s someone here.” She had looked out of the window. “Are you fit to see her? It’s a woman.”

“Yes, yes. I am all right now. Show her in.”

An instant later a woman entered, a pale, tragic figure in black, whose appearance told its own tale. Linden motioned her to a chair away from the light. Then he looked through his papers.

“You are Mrs. Blount, are you not? You had an appointment?”

“Yes — I wanted to ask —”

“Please ask me nothing. It confuses me.”

He was looking at her with the medium’s gaze in his light grey eyes — that gaze which looks round and through a thing rather than at it.

“You have been wise to come, very wise. There is someone beside you who has an urgent message which could not be delayed. I get a name . . . Francisyes, Francis.” The woman clasped her hands.

“Yes, yes, it is the name.”

“A dark man, very sad, very earnest — oh, so earnest. He will speak. He must speak! It is urgent. He says, ‘Tink-a-bell’. Who is Tink-a-bell?”

“Yes, yes, he called me so. Oh, Frank, Frank, speak to me! Speak!”

“He is speaking. His hand is on your head. ‘Tink-a-bell’, he says, ‘If you do what you purpose doing it will make a gap that it will take many years to cross’. Does that mean anything?”

She sprang from her chair. “It means everything. Oh, Mr. Linden, this was my last chance. If this had failed — if I found that I had really lost him I meant to go and seek him. I would have taken poison this night.”

“Thank God that I have saved you. It is a terrible thing, madame, to take one’s life. It breaks the law of Nature, and Nature’s laws cannot be broken without punishment. I rejoice that he has been able to save you. He has more to say to you. His message is, ‘If you will live and do your duty I will for ever be by your side, far closer to you than ever I was in life. My presence will surround you and guard both you and our three babes.’”

It was marvellous the change! The pale, worn woman who had entered the room was now standing with flushed cheeks and smiling lips. It is true that tears were pouring down her face’ but they were tears of joy. She clapped her hands. She made little convulsive movements as if she would dance.

“He’s not dead! He’s not dead! How can he be dead if he can speak to me and be closer to me than ever? Oh, it’s glorious! Oh, Mr. Linden, what can I do for you? You have saved me from shameful death! You have restored my husband to me! Oh, what a God-like power you have!”

The medium was an emotional man and his own tears were moist upon his cheeks.

“My dear lady, say no more. It is not I. I do nothing. You can thank God Who in His mercy permits some of His mortals to discern a spirit or to carry a message. Well, well, a guinea is my fee, if you can afford it. Come back to me if ever you are in trouble.”

“I am content now,” she cried, drying her eyes, “to await God’s will and to do my duty in the world until such time as it shall be ordained that we unite once more.”

The widow left the house walking on air. Tom Linden also felt that the clouds left by his brother’s visit had been blown away by this joyful incident, for there is no happiness like giving happiness and seeing the beneficient workings of one’s own power. He had hardly settled down in his chair, however, before another client was ushered in. This time it was a smartly-dressed, white-spatted, frock-coated man of the world, with a bustling air as of one to whom minutes are precious.

“Mr. Linden, I believe? I have heard, sir, of your powers. I am told that by handling an object you can often get some clue as to the person who owned it?”

“It happens sometimes. I cannot command it.”

“I should like to test you. I have a letter here which I received this morning. Would you try your powers upon that?”

The medium took the folded letter, and, leaning back in his chair, he pressed it upon his forehead. He sat with his eyes closed for a minute or more. Then he returned the paper.

“I don’t like it” he said. “I get a feeling of evil. I see a man dressed all in white. He has a dark face. He writes at a bamboo table. I get a sensation of heat. The letter is from the tropics.”

“Yes, from Central America.”

“I can tell you no more.”

“Are the spirits so limited? I thought they knew everything.”

“They do not know everything. Their power and knowledge are as closely limited as ours. But this is not a matter for the spirit people. What I did then was psychometry, which, so far as we know, is a power of the human soul.”

“Well, you are right as far as you have gone. This man, my correspondent, wants me to put up the money for the half-share in an oil boring. Shall I do it?”

Tom Linden shook his head.

“These powers are given to some of us, sir, for the consolation of humanity and for a proof of immortality. They were never meant for worldly use. Trouble always comes of such use, trouble to the medium and trouble to the client. I will not go into the matter.”

“Money’s no object,” said the man, drawing a wallet from his inner pocket.

“No, sir, nor to me. I am poor, but I have never ill-used my gift.”

“A fat lot of use the gift is, then!” said the visitor, rising from his chair. “I can get all the rest from the parsons who are licensed, and you are not. There is your guinea, but I have not had the worth of it.”

“I am sorry, sir, but I cannot break a rule. There is a lady beside you — near your left shoulder — an elderly lady . . . ”

“Tut! tut!” said the financier, turning towards the door.

“She wears a large gold locket with an emerald cross upon her breast.”

The man stopped, turned and stared.

“Where did you pick that up?”

“I see it before me, now.”

“Why, dash it, man, that is what my mother always wore! D’you tell me you can see her?”

“No, she is gone.”

“What was she like? What was she doing?”

“She was your mother. She said so. She was weeping.”

“Weeping! My mother! Why, she is in heaven if ever a woman was. They don’t weep in heaven!”

“Not in the imaginary heaven. They do in the real heaven. It is only we who ever make them weep. She left a message.”

“Give it to me!”

“The message was: ‘Oh, Jack! Jack! you are drifting ever further from my reach’”

The man made a contemptuous gesture.

“I was a damned fool to let you have my name when I made the appointment. You have been making inquiries. You don’t take me in with your tricks. I’ve had enough of it — more than enough!”

For the second time that morning the door was slammed by an angry visitor.

“He didn’t like his message.” Linden explained to his wife. “It was his poor mother. She is fretting over him. Lord! If folk only knew these things it would do them more good than all the forms and ceremonies.”

“Well, Tom, it’s not your fault if they don’t,” his wife answered. “There are two women waiting to see you. They have not an introduction but they seem in great trouble.”

“I’ve a bit of a headache. I haven’t got over last night. Silas and I are the same in that. Our night’s work finds us out next morning. I’ll just take these and no more, for it is bad to send anyone sorrowin’ away if one can help it.”

The two women were shown in, both of them austere figures dressed in black, one a stern-looking person of fifty, the other about half that age.

“I believe your fee is a guinea,” said the elder, putting that sum upon the table.

“To those who can afford it,” Linden answered. As a matter of fact, the guinea often went the other way.

“Oh yes, I can afford it,” said the woman. “I am in sad trouble and they told me maybe you could help me.”

“Well, I will if I can. That’s what I am for.”

“I lost my poor husband in the war — killed at Ypres he was. Could I get in touch with him?”

“You don’t seem to bring any influence with you. I get no impression. I am sorry but we can’t command these things. I get the name Edmund. Was that his name?”

“No.”

“Or Albert?”

“No.”

“I am sorry, but it seems confused — cross vibrations, perhaps, and a mix-up of messages like crossed telegraph wires.”

“Does the name Pedro help you?”

“Pedro! Pedro! No, I get nothing. Was Pedro an elderly man?”

“No, not elderly.”

“I can get no impression.”

“It was about this girl of mine that I really wanted advice. My husband would have told me what to do. She has got engaged to a young man, a fitter by trade, but there are one or two things against it and I want to know what to do.”

“Do give us some advice,” said the young woman, looking at the medium with a hard eye.

“I would if I could, my dear. Do you love this man?”

“Oh yes, he’s all right.”

“Well, if you don’t feel more than that about him, I hould leave him alone. Nothing but unhappiness comes of such a marriage.”

“Then you see unhappiness waiting for her?”

“I see a good chance of it. I think she should be careful.”

“Do you see anyone else coming along?”

“Everyone, man or woman, meets their mate sometime somewhere.”

“Then she will get a mate?”

“Most certainly she will.”

“I wonder if I should have any family?” asked the girl.

“Nay, that’s more than I can say.”

“And money — will she have money? We are down hearted, Mr. Linden, and we want a little.”

At this moment there came a most surprising interruption. The door flew open and little Mrs. Linden rushed into the room with pale face and blazing eyes.

“They are policewomen, Tom. I’ve had a warning about them. It’s only just come. Get out of this house, you pair of snivelling hypocrites. Oh, what a fool! What a fool I was not to recognize what you were.” The two women had risen.

“Yes, you are rather late, Mrs. Linden,” said the senior. “The money has passed.”

“Take it back! Take it back! It’s on the table.”

“No, no, the money has passed. We have had our fortune told. You will hear more of this, Mr. Linden.”

“You brace of frauds! You talk of frauds when it is you who are the frauds all the time! He would not have seen you if it had not been for compassion.”

“It is no use scolding us,” the woman answered. “We do our duty and we did not make the law. So long as it is on the Statute Book we have to enforce it. We must report the case at headquarters.”

Tom Linden seemed stunned by the blow, but, when the policewomen had disappeared, he put his arm round his weeping wife and consoled her as best he might.

“The typist at the police office sent down the warning,” she said. “Oh, Tom, it is the second time!” she cried. “It means gaol and hard labour for you.”

“Well, dear, so long as we are conscious of having done no wrong and of having done God’s work to the best of our power, we must take what comes with a good heart.”

“But where were they? How could they let you down so? Where was your guide?”

“Yes, Victor,” said Tom Linden, shaking his head at the air above him, “where were you? I’ve got a crow to pick with you. You know, dear,” he added, “just as a doctor can never treat his own case, a medium is very helpless when things come to his own address. That’s the law. And yet I should have known. I was feeling in the dark. I had no inspiration of any sort. It was just a foolish pity and sympathy that led me on when I had no sort of a real message. Well, dear Mary, we will take what’s coming to us with a brave heart. Maybe they have not enough to make a case, and maybe the beak is not as ignorant as most of them. We’ll hope for the best.”

In spite of his brave words the medium was shaking and quivering at the shock. His wife had put her hands upon him and was endeavouring to steady him, when Susan, the maid, who knew nothing of the trouble, admitted a fresh visitor into the room. It was none other than Edward Malone.

“He can’t see you,” said Mrs. Linden, “the medium is ill. He will see no one this morning.”

But Linden had recognized his visitor.

“This is Mr. Malone, my dear, of the Daily Gazette. He was with us last night. We had a good sitting, had we not, sir?”

“Marvellous!” said Malone. “But what is amiss?”

Both husband and wife poured out their sorrows.

“What a dirty business!” cried Malone, with disgust.

“I am sure the public does not realize how this law is enforced, or there would be a row. This agent-provocateur business is quite foreign to British justice. But in any case, Linden, you are a real medium. The law was made to suppress false ones.”

“There are no real mediums in British law,” said Linden, ruefully. “I expect the more real you are the greater the offence. If you are a medium at all and take money you are liable. But how can a medium live if he does not take money? It’s a man’s whole work and needs all his strength. You can’t be a carpenter all day and a first-class medium in the evening.”

“What a wicked law! It seems to be deliberately stifling all physical proofs of spiritual power.”

“Yes, that is just what it is. If the Devil passed a law it would be just that. It is supposed to be for the protection of the public and yet no member of the public has ever been known to complain. Every case is a police trap. And yet the police know as well as you or I that every Church charity garden-party has got its clairvoyante or its fortune-teller.”

“It does seem monstrous. What will happen now?”

“Well, I expect a summons will come along. Then a police court case. Then fine or imprisonment. It’s the second time, you see.”

“Well, your friends will give evidence for you and we will have a good man to defend you.”

Linden shrugged his shoulders.

“You never know who are your friends. They slip away like water when it comes to the pinch.”

“Well, I won’t, for one,” said Malone, heartily. “Keep me in touch with what is going on. But I called because I had something to ask you.”

“I am sorry, but I am really not fit.” Linden held out a quivering hand.

“No, no, nothing psychic. I simply wanted to ask you whether the presence of a strong sceptic would stop all your phenomena?”

“Not necessarily. But, of course, it makes everything more difficult. If they will be quiet and reasonable we can get results. But they know nothing, break every law, and ruin their own sittings. There was old Sherbank, the doctor, the other day. When the raps came on the table he jumped up, put his hand on the wall, and cried, ‘Now then, put a rap on the palm of my hand within five seconds’. Because he did not get it he declared it was all humbug and stamped out of the room. They will not admit that there are fixed laws in this as in everything else.”

“Well, I must confess that the man I am thinking of might be quite as unreasonable. It is the great Professor Challenger.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard he is a hard case.”

“Would you give him a sitting?”

“Yes, if you desired it.”

“He won’t come to you or to any place you name. He imagines all sorts of wires and contrivances. You might have to come down to his country house.”

“I would not refuse if it might convert him.”

“And when?”

“I can do nothing until this horrible affair is over. It will take a month or two.”

“Well, I will keep in touch with you till then. When all is well again we shall make our plans and see if we can bring these facts before him, as they have been brought before me. Meanwhile, let me say how much I sympathize. We will form a committee of your friends and all that can will surely be done.”

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