The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

7. In Which the Notorious Criminal gets what the British Law Considers to be His Deserts.

BEFORE we pursue further the psychic adventures of our hero and heroine, it would be well to see how the British law dealt with that wicked man, Mr. Tom Linden.

The two policewomen returned in triumph to Bardley Square Station where Inspector Murphy, who had sent them, was waiting for their report. Murphy was a jolly-looking, red-faced, black-moustached man who had a cheerful, fatherly way with women which was by no means justified by his age or virility. He sat behind his official table, his papers strewn in front of him.

“Well, girls,” he said as the two women entered, “what luck?”

“I think it’s a go, Mr. Murphy,” said the elder policewoman. “We have the evidence you want.”

The Inspector took up a written list of questions from his desk.

“You ran it on the general lines that I suggested?” he asked.

“Yes. I said my husband was killed at Ypres.”

“What did he do?”

“Well, he seemed sorry for me.”

“That, of course, is part of the game. He’ll be sorry for himself before he is through with it. He didn’t say, ‘You are a single woman and never had a husband?’”

“No.”

“Well, that’s one up against his spirits, is it not? That should impress the Court. What more?”

“He felt round for names. They were all wrong.”

“Good!”

“He believed me when I said that Miss Bellinger here was my daughter.”

“Good again! Did you try the Pedro stunt?”

“Yes, he considered the name, but I got nothing.”

“Ah, that’s a pity. But, anyhow, he did not know that Pedro was your Alsatian dog. He considered the name. That’s good enough. Make the jury laugh and you have your verdict. Now about fortune-telling? Did you do what I suggested?”

“Yes, I asked about Amy’s young man. He did not give much that was definite.”

“Cunning devil! He knows his business.”

“But he did say that she would be unhappy if she married him.”

“Oh, he did, did he? Well, if we spread that a little we have got all we want. Now sit down and dictate your report while you have it fresh. Then we can go over it together and see how we can put it best. Amy must write one, also.”

“Very good, Mr. Murphy.”

“Then we shall apply for the warrant. You see, it all depends upon which magistrate it comes before. There was Mr. Dalleret who let a medium off last month. He is no we to us. And Mr. Lancing has been mixed up with these people. Mr. Melrose is a stiff materialist. We could depend on him, and have timed the arrest accordingly. It would never do to fail to get our conviction.”

“Couldn’t you get some of the public to corroborate?” The inspector laughed.

“We are supposed to be protecting the public, but between you and me none of the public have ever yet asked to be protected. There are no complaints. Therefore it is left to us to uphold the law as best we can. As long as it is there we have got to enforce it. Well, good-bye, girls! Let me have the report by four o’clock.”

“Nothing for it, I suppose?” said the elder woman, with a smile.

“You wait, my dear. If we get twenty-five pounds fine it has got to go somewhere — Police Fund, of course, but there may be something over. Anyhow, you go and cough it up and then we shall see.”

Next morning a scared maid broke into Linden’s modest study. “Please sir, it’s an officer.”

The man in blue followed hard at her heels.

“Name of Linden?” said he, and handing a folded sheet of foolscap he departed.

The stricken couple who spent their lives in bringing comfort to others were sadly in need of comfort themselves. She put her arm round his neck while they read the cheerless document:

To THOMAS LINDEN of 40, Tullis Street, N.W.

Information has been laid this day by Patrick Murphy, Inspector Of Police, that you the said Thomas Linden on the 10th day of November at the above dwelling did profess to Henrietta Dresser and to Amy Bellinger to tell fortunes to deceive and impose on certain of His Majesty’s subjects, to wit those above mentioned. You are therefore summoned to appear before the Magistrate of the Police Court in Bardsley Square on Wednesday next, the 17th, at the hour of 11 in the forenoon to answer to the said information.

Dated the 10th day of November.

(signed) B.J.WITHERS.

On the same afternoon Mailey called upon Malone and they sat in consultation over this document. Then they went together to see Summerway Jones, an acute solicitor and an earnest student of psychic affairs. Incidentally, he was a hard rider to hounds, a good boxer, and a man who carried a fresh-air flavour into the mustiest law chambers. He arched his eyebrows over the summons.

“The poor devil has not an earthly!” said he. “He’s lucky to have a summons. Usually they act on a warrant. Then the man is carted right off, kept in the cells all night, and tried next morning with no one to defend him. The police are cute enough, of course, to choose either a Roman Catholic or a materialist as the magistrate. Then, by the beautiful judgment of Chief Justice Lawrence — the first judgment, I believe, that he delivered in that high capacity — the profession of mediumship or wonder-working is in itself a legal crime, whether it be genuine or no, so that no defence founded upon good results has a look in. It’s a mixture of religious persecution and police blackmail. As to the public, they don’t care a damn! Why should they? If they don’t want their fortune told, they don’t go. The whole thing is the most absolute bilge and a disgrace to our legislature.”

“I’ll write it up,” said Malone, glowing with Celtic fire.

“What do you call the Act?”

“Well, there are two Acts, each more putrid than the other, and both passed long before Spiritualism was ever heard of. There is the Witchcraft Act dating from George the Second. That has become too absurd, so they only use it as a second string. Then there is the Vagrancy Act of 1824. It was passed to control the wandering gipsy folk on the roadside, and was never intended, of course, to be used like this.” He hunted among his papers. “Here is the beastly thing. ‘Every person professing to tell fortunes or using any subtle craft, means or device to deceive and impose on any of His Majesty’s subjects shall be deemed a rogue and a vagabond’, and so on and so forth. The two Acts together would have roped in the whole Early Christian movement just as surely as the Roman persecution did.”

“Lucky there are no lions now,” said Malone.

“Jackasses!” said Mailey. “That’s the modern substitute. But what are we to do?”

“I’m damned if I know!” said the solicitor, scratching his head. “It’s perfectly hopeless!”

“Oh, dash it all!” cried Malone, “we can’t give it up so easily. We know the man is an honest man.”

Mailey turned and grasped Malone’s hand.

“I don’t know if you call yourself a Spiritualist yet,” he said, “but you are the kind of chap we want. There are too many white-livered folk in our movement who fawn on a medium when all is well, and desert him at the first breath of an accusation But, thank God! there are a few stalwarts. There is Brookes and Rodwin and Sir James Smith. We can put up a hundred or two among us.”

“Right-o!” said the solicitor, cheerily. “If you feel like that we will give you a run for your money.”

“How about a K.C.?”

“Well, they don’t plead in police courts. If you’ll leave it in my hands I fancy I can do as well as anyone, for I’ve had a lot of these cases. It will keep the costs down, too.”

“Well, we are with you. And we will have a few good men at our back.”

“If we do nothing else we shall ventilate it,” said Malone.

“I believe in the good old British public. Slow and stupid, but sound at the core. They will not stand for injustice if you can get the truth into their heads.”

“They damned well need trepanning before you can get it there,” said the solicitor. “Well, you do your bit and I’ll do mine and we will see what comes of it.”

The fateful morning arrived and Linden found himself in the dock facing a spruce, middle-aged man with rat-trap jaws, Mr. Melrose, the redoubtable police magistrate. Mr. Melrose had a reputation for severity with fortune-tellers and all who foretold the future, though he spent the intervals in his court by reading up the sporting prophets, for he was an ardent follower of the Turf, and his trim, fawn-coloured coat and rakish hat were familiar objects at every race meeting which was within his reach. He was in no particularly good humour this morning as he glanced at the charge-sheet and then surveyed the prisoner. Mrs. Linden had secured a position below the dock, and occasionally extended her hand to pat that of the prisoner which rested on the edge. The court was crowded and many of the prisoner’s clients had attended to show their sympathy.

“Is this case defended?” asked Mr. Melrose.

“Yes, your worship,” said Summerway Jones. “May I, before it opens, make an objection?”

“If you think it worth while, Mr. Jones.”

“I beg to respectfully request your ruling before the case is proceeded with. My client is not a vagrant, but a respectable member of the community, living in his own house, paying rates and taxes, and on the same footing as every other citizen. He is now prosecuted under the fourth section of the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which is styled, ‘An Act for punishing idle and disorderly persons, and rogues and vagabonds’. The Act was intended, as the words imply, to restrain lawless gipsies and others, who at that time infested the country. I ask your worship to rule that my client is clearly not a person within the purview of this Act or liable to its penalties.”

The magistrate shook his head.

“I fear, Mr. Jones, that there have been too many precedents for the Act to be now interpreted in this limited fashion. I will ask the solicitor prosecuting on behalf of the Commissioner of Police to put forward his evidence.” A little bull of a man with side-whiskers and a raucous voice sprang to his feet.

“I call Henrietta Dresser.”

The elder policewoman popped up in the box with the alacrity of one who is used to it. She held an open notebook in her hand.

“You are a policewoman, are you not?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I understand that you watched the prisoner’s home the day before you called on him?”

“Yes, sir.”

“How many people went in?”

“Fourteen, sir.”

“Fourteen people. And I believe the prisoner’s average fee is ten and sixpence.”

“Yes.”

“Seven pounds in one day! Pretty good wages when many an honest man is content with five shillings.”

“These were the tradespeople!” cried Linden.

“I must ask you not to interrupt. You are already very efficiently represented” said the magistrate severely.

“Now, Henrietta Dresser,” continued the prosecutor, wagging his pince-nez. “Let’s hear what occurred when you and Amy Bellinger visited the prisoner.”

The policewoman gave an account which was in the main true, reading it from her book. She was not a married woman, but the medium had accepted her statement that she was. He had fumbled with several names and had seemed greatly confused. The name of a dog — Pedro had been submitted to him, but he had not recognized it as such. Finally, he had answered questions as to the future of her alleged daughter, who was, in fact, no relation to her, and had foretold that she would be unhappy in her marriage.

“Any questions, Mr. Jones?” asked the magistrate.

“Did you come to this man as one who needed consolation? And did he attempt to give it?”

“I suppose you might put it so.”

“You professed deep grief, I understand.”

“I tried to give that impression.”

“You do not consider that to be hypocrisy?”

“I did what was my duty.”

“You saw no signs of psychic power, or anything abnormal?” asked the prosecutor.

“No, he seemed a very nice, ordinary sort of man.”

Amy Bellinger was the next witness. She appeared with her notebook in her hand.

“May I ask, your worship, whether it is in order that these witnesses should read their evidence?” asked Mr. Jones.

“Why not?” queried the magistrate. “We desire the exact facts” do we not?”

“We do. Possibly Mr. Jones does not,” said the prosecuting solicitor.

“It is clearly a method of securing that the evidence of these two witnesses shall be in accord,” said Jones. “I submit that these accounts are carefully prepared and collated.”

“Naturally, the police prepare their case,” said the magistrate. “I do not see that you have any grievance, Mr. Jones. Now, witness, let us hear your evidence.”

It followed on the exact lines of the other.

“You asked questions about your fiance? You had no fiance,” said Mr. Jones.

“That is so.”

“In fact, you both told a long sequence of lies?”

“With a good object in view.”

“You thought the end justified the means?”

“I carried out my instructions.”

“Which were given you beforehand?”

“Yes, we were told what to ask.”

“I think,” said the magistrate, “that the policewomen have given their evidence very fairly and well. Have you any witnesses for the defence, Mr. Jones?”

“There are a number of people in court, your worship, who have received great benefit from the mediumship of the prisoner. I have subpoenaed one woman who was, by her own account, saved from suicide that very morning by what he told her. I have another man who was an atheist, and had lost all belief in future life. He was completely converted by his experience of psychic phenomena. I can produce men of the highest eminence in science and literature who will testify to the real nature of Mr. Linden’s powers.”

The magistrate shook his head.

“You must know, Mr. Jones, that such evidence would be quite beside the question. It has been clearly laid down by the ruling of the Lord Chief Justice and others that the law of this country does not recognize supernatural powers of any sort whatever, and that a pretence of such powers where payment is involved constitutes a crime in itself. Therefore your suggestion that you should call witnesses could not possibly lead to anything save a wasting of the time of the court. At the same time, I am, of course, ready to listen to any observations which you may care to make after the solicitor for the prosecution has spoken.”

“Might I venture to point out, your worship,” said Jones, “that such a ruling would mean the condemnation of any sacred or holy person of whom we have any record, since even holy persons have to live, and have therefore to receive money.”

“If you refer to Apostolic times, Mr. Jones,” said the magistrate sharply, “I can only remind you that the Apostolic age is past and also that Queen Anne is dead. Such an argument is hardly worthy of your intelligence. Now, sir, if you have anything to add . . . ”

Thus encouraged the prosecutor made a short address, stabbing the air at intervals with his pince-nez as if every stab punctured afresh all claims of the spirit. He pictured the destitution among the working-classes, and yet charlatans, by advancing wicked and blasphemous claims, were able to earn a rich living. That they had real powers was, as had been observed, beside the question, but even that excuse was shattered by the fact that these policewomen, who had discharged an unpleasant duty in a most exemplary way, had received nothing but nonsense in return for their money. Was it likely that other clients fared an better? These parasites were increasing in number, trading upon the finer feelings of bereaved parents, and it was high time that some exemplary punishment should warn them that they would be wise to turn their hands to some more honest trade.

Mr. Summerway Jones replied as best he might. He began by pointing out that the Acts were being used for a purpose for which they were never intended. (“That point has already been considered!” snapped the magistrate.) The whole position was open to criticism. The convictions were secured by evidence from agents-provocateurs, who, if any crime had been committed, were obviously inciters to it and also participants. The fines obtained were often deflected for purposes in which the police had a direct interest.

“Surely, Mr. Jones, you do not mean to cast a reflection upon the honesty of the police!”

The police were human, and were naturally inclined to stretch a point where there own interests were affected. All these cases were artificial. There was no record at any time of any real complaint from the public or any demand for protection. There were frauds in every profession, and if a man deliberately invested and lost a guinea in a false medium he had no more right to protection than the man who invested his money in a bad company on the stock market. Whilst the police were wasting time upon such cases, and their agents were weeping crocodile tears in the character of forlorn mourners, many of her branches of real crime received far less attention than they deserved. The law was quite arbitrary in its action. Every big garden-party, even, as he had been informed, every police fete was incomplete without its fortune-teller or palmist.

Some years ago the Daily Mail had raised an outcry against fortune-tellers. That great man, the late Lord Northcliffe, had been put in the box by the defence, and it had been shown that one of his other papers was running a palmistry column, and that the fees received were divided equally between the palmist and the proprietors. He mentioned this in no spirit which was derogatory to the memory of this great mall, but merely as an example of the absurdity of the law as it was now administered. Whatever might be the individual opinion of members of that court, it was incontrovertible that a large number of intelligent and useful citizens regarded this power of mediumship as a remarkable manifestation of the power of spirit, making for the great improvement of the race. Was it not a most fatal policy in these days of materialism to crush down by law that which in its higher manifestation might work for the regeneration of mankind? As to the undoubted fact that information received by the policewomen was incorrect and that their lying statements were not detected by the medium, it was a psychic law that harmonious conditions were essential for true results, and that deceit on one side produced confusion on the other. If the court would for a moment adopt the Spiritualistic hypothesis, they would realize how absurd it would be to expect that angelic hosts would descend in order to answer the questions of two mercenary and hypocritical inquirers.

Such, in a short synopsis, was the general line of Mr. Summerway Jones’s defence which reduced Mrs. Linden to tears and threw the magistrate’s clerk into a deep slumber. The magistrate himself rapidly brought the matter to a conclusion.

“Your quarrel, Mr. Jones, seems to be with the law, and that is outside my competence. I administer it as I find it, though I may remark that I am entirely in agreement with it. Such men as the defendant are the noxious fungi which collect on a corrupt society, and the attempt to compare their vulgarities with the holy men of old, or to claim similar gifts, must be reprobated by all right-thinking men.

“As to you, Linden,” he added, fixing his stern eyes upon the prisoner, “I fear that you are a hardened offender since a previous conviction has not altered your ways. I sentence you, therefore, to two months’ hard labour without the option of a fine.”

There was a scream from Mrs. Linden.

“Good-bye, dear, don’t fret,” said the medium, glancing over the side of the dock. An instant later he had been hurried down to the cell.

Summerway Jones, Mailey and Malone met in the hall, and Mailey volunteered to escort the poor stricken woman home.

“What had he ever done but bring comfort to all?” she moaned. “Is there a better man living in the whole great City of London?”

“I don’t think there is a more useful one,” said Mailey. “I’ll venture to say that the whole of Crockford’s Directory with the Archbishops at their head could not prove the things of religion as I have seen Tom Linden prove them, or convert an atheist as I have seen Linden convert him.”

“It’s a shame! A damned shame!” said Malone, hotly.

“The touch about vulgarity was funny,” said Jones. “I wonder if he thinks the Apostles were very cultivated people. Well, I did my best. I had no hopes, and it has worked out as I thought. It is a pure waste of time.”

“Not at all,” Malone answered. “It has ventilated an evil. There were reporters in court. Surely some of them have some sense. They will note the injustice.”

“Not they,” said Mailey. “The Press is hopeless. My God, what a responsibility these people take on themselves, and how little they guess the price that each will pay! I know. I have spoken with them while they were paying it.”

“Well, I for one will speak out,” said Malone, “and I believe others will also. The Press is more independent and intelligent than you seem to think.”

But Mailey was right, after all. When he had left Mrs. Linden in her lonely home and had reached Fleet Street once more, Malone bought a Planet. As he opened it a scare head-line met his eye:

IMPOSTOR IN THE POLICE COURT.


Dog Mistaken for Man. WHO WAS PEDRO? Exemplary Sentence.

He crumpled the paper up in his hand.

“No wonder these Spiritualists feel bitterly,” he thought “They have good cause.”

Yes, poor Tom Linden had a bad Press. He went down into his miserable cell amid universal objurgation. The Planet, an evening paper which depended for its circulation upon the sporting forecasts of Captain Touch-and-go, remarked upon the absurdity of forecasting the future. Honest John, a weekly journal which had been mixed up with some of the greatest frauds of the century, was of the opinion that the dishonesty of Linden was a public scandal. A rich country rector wrote to The Times to express his indignation that anyone should profess to sell the gifts of the spirit. The Churchman remarked that such incidents arose from the growing infidelity, while the Freethinker saw in them a reversion to superstition. Finally Mr. Maskelyne showed the public, to the great advantage of his box office, exactly how the swindle was perpetrated. So for a few days Tom Linden was what the French call a “succes d’execration.” Then the world moved on and he was left to his fate.

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