The Diary of a Nobody, by George Grossmith

Chapter xxii

Master Percy Edgar Smith James. Mrs. James (of Sutton) visits us again and introduces “Spiritual Séances.”

MAY 26, Sunday. — We went to Sutton after dinner to have meat-tea with Mr. and Mrs. James. I had no appetite, having dined well at two, and the entire evening was spoiled by little Percy — their only son — who seems to me to be an utterly spoiled child.

Two or three times he came up to me and deliberately kicked my shins. He hurt me once so much that the tears came into my eyes. I gently remonstrated with him, and Mrs. James said: “Please don’t scold him; I do not believe in being too severe with young children. You spoil their character.”

Little Percy set up a deafening yell here, and when Carrie tried to pacify him, he slapped her face.

I was so annoyed, I said: “That is not my idea of bringing up children, Mrs. James.”

Mrs. James said. “People have different ideas of bringing up children — even your son Lupin is not the standard of perfection.”

A Mr. Mezzini (an Italian, I fancy) here took Percy in his lap. The child wriggled and kicked and broke away from Mr. Mezzini, saying: “I don’t like you — you’ve got a dirty face.”

A very nice gentleman, Mr. Birks Spooner, took the child by the wrist and said: “Come here, dear, and listen to this.”

He detached his chronometer from the chain and made his watch strike six.

To our horror, the child snatched it from his hand and bounced it down upon the ground like one would a ball.

Mr. Birks Spooner was most amiable, and said he could easily get a new glass put in, and did not suppose the works were damaged.

To show you how people’s opinions differ, Carrie said the child was bad-tempered, but it made up for that defect by its looks, for it was — in her mind — an unquestionably beautiful child.

I may be wrong, but I do not think I have seen a much uglier child myself. That is my opinion.

MAY 30. — I don’t know why it is, but I never anticipate with any pleasure the visits to our house of Mrs. James, of Sutton. She is coming again to stay for a few days. I said to Carrie this morning, as I was leaving: “I wish, dear Carrie, I could like Mrs. James better than I do.”

Carrie said: “So do I, dear; but as for years I have had to put up with Mr. Gowing, who is vulgar, and Mr. Cummings, who is kind but most uninteresting, I am sure, dear, you won’t mind the occasional visits of Mrs. James, who has more intellect in her little finger than both your friends have in their entire bodies.”

I was so entirely taken back by this onslaught on my two dear old friends, I could say nothing, and as I heard the ’bus coming, I left with a hurried kiss — a little too hurried, perhaps, for my upper lip came in contact with Carrie’s teeth and slightly cut it. It was quite painful for an hour afterwards. When I came home in the evening I found Carrie buried in a book on Spiritualism, called There is no Birth, by Florence Singleyet. I need scarcely say the book was sent her to read by Mrs. James, of Sutton. As she had not a word to say outside her book, I spent the rest of the evening altering the stair-carpets, which are beginning to show signs of wear at the edges.

Mrs. James arrived and, as usual, in the evening took the entire management of everything. Finding that she and Carrie were making some preparations for table-turning, I thought it time really to put my foot down. I have always had the greatest contempt for such nonsense, and put an end to it years ago when Carrie, at our old house, used to have séances every night with poor Mrs. Fussters (who is now dead). If I could see any use in it, I would not care. As I stopped it in the days gone by, I determined to do so now.

I said: “I am very sorry Mrs. James, but I totally disapprove of it, apart from the fact that I receive my old friends on this evening.”

Mrs. James said: “Do you mean to say you haven’t read There is no Birth?” I said: “No, and I have no intention of doing so.” Mrs. James seemed surprised and said: “All the world is going mad over the book.” I responded rather cleverly: “Let it. There will be one sane man in it, at all events.”

Mrs. James said she thought it was very unkind, and if people were all as prejudiced as I was, there would never have been the electric telegraph or the telephone.

I said that was quite a different thing.

Mrs. James said sharply: “In what way, pray — in what way?”

I said: “In many ways.”

Mrs. James said: “Well, mention one way.”

I replied quietly: “Pardon me, Mrs. James; I decline to discuss the matter. I am not interested in it.”

Sarah at this moment opened the door and showed in Cummings, for which I was thankful, for I felt it would put a stop to this foolish table-turning. But I was entirely mistaken; for, on the subject being opened again, Cummings said he was most interested in Spiritualism, although he was bound to confess he did not believe much in it; still, he was willing to be convinced.

I firmly declined to take any part in it, with the result that my presence was ignored. I left the three sitting in the parlour at a small round table which they had taken out of the drawing-room. I walked into the hall with the ultimate intention of taking a little stroll. As I opened the door, who should come in but Gowing!

On hearing what was going on, he proposed that we should join the circle and he would go into a trance. He added that he knew a few things about old Cummings, and would invent a few about Mrs. James. Knowing how dangerous Gowing is, I declined to let him take part in any such foolish performance. Sarah asked me if she could go out for half an hour, and I gave her permission, thinking it would be more comfortable to sit with Gowing in the kitchen than in the cold drawing-room. We talked a good deal about Lupin and Mr. and Mrs. Murray Posh, with whom he is as usual spending the evening. Gowing said: “I say, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for Lupin if old Posh kicked the bucket.”

My heart gave a leap of horror, and I rebuked Gowing very sternly for joking on such a subject. I lay awake half the night thinking of it — the other half was spent in nightmares on the same subject.

MAY 31. — I wrote a stern letter to the laundress. I was rather pleased with the letter, for I thought it very satirical. I said: “You have returned the handkerchiefs without the colour. Perhaps you will return either the colour or the value of the handkerchiefs.” I shall be rather curious to know what she will have to say.

More table-turning in the evening. Carrie said last night was in a measure successful, and they ought to sit again. Cummings came in, and seemed interested. I had the gas lighted in the drawing-room, got the steps, and repaired the cornice, which has been a bit of an eyesore to me. In a fit of unthinkingness — if I may use such an expression — I gave the floor over the parlour, where the séance was taking place, two loud raps with the hammer. I felt sorry afterwards, for it was the sort of ridiculous, foolhardy thing that Gowing or Lupin would have done.

However, they never even referred to it, but Carrie declared that a message came through the table to her of a wonderful description, concerning someone whom she and I knew years ago, and who was quite unknown to the others.

When we went to bed, Carrie asked me as a favour to sit tomorrow night, to oblige her. She said it seemed rather unkind and unsociable on my part. I promised I would sit once.

JUNE 1. — I sat reluctantly at the table in the evening, and I am bound to admit some curious things happened. I contend they were coincidences, but they were curious. For instance, the table kept tilting towards me, which Carrie construed as a desire that I should ask the spirit a question. I obeyed the rules, and I asked the spirit (who said her name was Lina) if she could tell me the name of an old aunt of whom I was thinking, and whom we used to call Aunt Maggie. The table spelled out C A T. We could make nothing out of it, till I suddenly remembered that her second name was Catherine, which it was evidently trying to spell. I don’t think even Carrie knew this. But if she did, she would never cheat. I must admit it was curious. Several other things happened, and I consented to sit at another séance on Monday.

JUNE 3. — The laundress called, and said she was very sorry about the handkerchiefs, and returned ninepence. I said, as the colour was completely washed out and the handkerchiefs quite spoiled, ninepence was not enough. Carrie replied that the two handkerchiefs originally only cost sixpence, for she remembered bring them at a sale at the Holloway Bon Marché. In that case, I insisted that threepence buying should be returned to the laundress. Lupin has gone to stay with the Poshs for a few days. I must say I feel very uncomfortable about it. Carrie said I was ridiculous to worry about it. Mr. Posh was very fond of Lupin, who, after all, was only a mere boy.

In the evening we had another séance, which, in some respects, was very remarkable, although the first part of it was a little doubtful. Gowing called, as well as Cummings, and begged to be allowed to join the circle. I wanted to object, but Mrs. James, who appears a good Medium (that is, if there is anything in it at all), thought there might be a little more spirit power if Gowing joined; so the five of us sat down.

The moment I turned out the gas, and almost before I could get my hands on the table, it rocked violently and tilted, and began moving quickly across the room. Gowing shouted out: “Way oh! steady, lad, steady!” I told Gowing if he could not behave himself I should light the gas, and put an end to the séance.

To tell the truth, I thought Gowing was playing tricks, and I hinted as much; but Mrs. James said she had often seen the table go right off the ground. The spirit Lina came again, and said, “WARN” three or four times, and declined to explain. Mrs. James said “Lina” was stubborn sometimes. She often behaved like that, and the best thing to do was to send her away.

She then hit the table sharply, and said: “Go away, Lina; you are disagreeable. Go away!” I should think we sat nearly three-quarters of an hour with nothing happening. My hands felt quite cold, and I suggested we should stop the séance. Carrie and Mrs. James, as well as Cummings, would not agree to it. In about ten minutes’ time there was some tilting towards me. I gave the alphabet, and it spelled out S P O O F. As I have heard both Gowing and Lupin use the word, and as I could hear Gowing silently laughing, I directly accused him of pushing the table. He denied it; but, I regret to say, I did not believe him.

Gowing said: “Perhaps it means ‘Spook,’ a ghost.”

I said: “You know it doesn’t mean anything of the sort.”

Gowing said: “Oh! very well — I’m sorry I ‘spook,’” and he rose from the table.

No one took any notice of the stupid joke, and Mrs. James suggested he should sit out for a while. Gowing consented and sat in the arm-chair.

The table began to move again, and we might have had a wonderful séance but for Gowing’s stupid interruptions. In answer to the alphabet from Carrie the table spelt “NIPUL,” then the “WARN” three times. We could not think what it meant till Cummings pointed out that “NIPUL” was Lupin spelled backwards. This was quite exciting. Carrie was particularly excited, and said she hoped nothing horrible was going to happen.

Mrs. James asked if “Lina” was the spirit. The table replied firmly, “No,” and the spirit would not give his or her name. We then had the message, “NIPUL will be very rich.”

Carrie said she felt quite relieved, but the word “WARN” was again spelt out. The table then began to oscillate violently, and in reply to Mrs. James, who spoke very softly to the table, the spirit began to spell its name. It first spelled “DRINK.”

Gowing here said: “Ah! that’s more in my line.”

I asked him to be quiet as the name might not be completed.

The table then spelt “WATER.”

Gowing here interrupted again, and said: “Ah! that’s not in my line. Outside if you like, but not inside.”

Carrie appealed to him to be quiet.

The table then spelt “CAPTAIN,” and Mrs. James startled us by crying out, “Captain Drinkwater, a very old friend of my father’s, who has been dead some years.”

This was more interesting, and I could not help thinking that after all there must be something in Spiritualism.

Mrs. James asked the spirit to interpret the meaning of the word “Warn” as applied to “NIPUL.” The alphabet was given again, and we got the word “BOSH.”

Gowing here muttered: “So it is.”

Mrs. James said she did not think the spirit meant that, as Captain Drinkwater was a perfect gentleman, and would never have used the word in answer to a lady’s question. Accordingly the alphabet was given again.

This time the table spelled distinctly “POSH.” We all thought of Mrs. Murray Posh and Lupin. Carrie was getting a little distressed, and as it was getting late we broke up the circle.

We arranged to have one more tomorrow, as it will be Mrs. James’ last night in town. We also determined not to have Gowing present.

Cummings, before leaving, said it was certainly interesting, but he wished the spirits would say something about him.

JUNE 4. — Quite looking forward to the séance this evening. Was thinking of it all the day at the office.

Just as we sat down at the table we were annoyed by Gowing entering without knocking.

He said: “I am not going to stop, but I have brought with me a sealed envelope, which I know I can trust with Mrs. Pooter. In that sealed envelope is a strip of paper on which I have asked a simple question. If the spirits can answer that question, I will believe in Spiritualism.”

I ventured the expression that it might be impossible.

Mrs. James said: “Oh no! it is of common occurrence for the spirits to answer questions under such conditions — and even for them to write on locked slates. It is quite worth trying. If ‘Lina’ is in a good temper, she is certain to do it.”

Gowing said: “All right; then I shall be a firm believer. I shall perhaps drop in about half-past nine or ten, and hear the result.”

He then left and we sat a long time. Cummings wanted to know something about some undertaking in which he was concerned, but he could get no answer of any description whatever — at which he said he was very disappointed and was afraid there was not much in table-turning after all. I thought this rather selfish of him. The séance was very similar to the one last night, almost the same in fact. So we turned to the letter. “Lina” took a long time answering the question, but eventually spelt out “ROSES, LILIES, AND COWS.” There was great rocking of the table at this time, and Mrs. James said: “If that is Captain Drinkwater, let us ask him the answer as well?”

It was the spirit of the Captain, and, most singular, he gave the same identical answer: “ROSES, LILIES, AND COWS.”

I cannot describe the agitation with which Carrie broke the seal, or the disappointment we felt on reading the question, to which the answer was so inappropriate. The question was, “What’s old Pooter’s age?”

This quite decided me.

As I had put my foot down on Spiritualism years ago, so I would again.

I am pretty easy-going as a rule, but I can be extremely firm when driven to it.

I said slowly, as I turned up the gas: “This is the last of this nonsense that shall ever take place under my roof. I regret I permitted myself to be a party to such tomfoolery. If there is anything in it — which I doubt — it is nothing of any good, and I won’t have it again. That is enough.”

Mrs. James said: “I think, Mr. Pooter, you are rather over-stepping —”

I said: “Hush, madam. I am master of this house — please understand that.”

Mrs. James made an observation which I sincerely hope I was mistaken in. I was in such a rage I could not quite catch what she said. But if I thought she said what it sounded like, she should never enter the house again.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37