The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

10. De Profundis

THEY were still having tea when Mr. Charles Mason was ushered in. Nothing draws people together into such intimate soul-to-soul relationship as psychic quest, and thus it was that Roxton and Malone, who had only known him in the one episode, felt more near to this man than to others with whom they had associated for years. This close vital comradeship is one of the out-standing features of such communion. When his loosely-built, straggling, lean clerical figure appeared, with that gaunt, worn face illuminated by its human grin and dignified by its earnest eyes, through the doorway, they both felt as if an old friend had entered. His own greeting was equally cordial.

“Still exploring!” he cried, as he shook them by the hand. “We will hope your new experiences will not be so nerve-racking as our last.”

“By Jove, padre!” said Roxton. “I’ve worn out the brim of my hat taking it off to you since then.”

“Why, what did he do?” asked Mrs. Mailey.

“No, no!” cried Mason. “I tried in my poor way to guide a darkened soul. Let us leave it at that. But that is exactly what we are here for now, and what these dear people do every week of their lives. It was from Mr. Mailey here that I learned how to attempt it.”

“Well, certainly we have plenty of practice,” said Mailey. “You have seen enough of it, Mason, to know that.”

“But I can’t get the focus of this at all!” cried Malone. “Could you clear my mind a little on the point? I accept, for the moment, your hypothesis that we are surrounded by material earth-bound spirits who find themselves under strange conditions which they don’t understand, and who want counsel and guidance. That more or less expresses it, does it not?”

The Maileys both nodded their agreement.

“Well, their dead friends and relatives are presumably on the other side and cognizant of their benighted condition They know the truth. Could they not minister to the wants of these afflicted ones far better than we can?”

“It is a most natural question,” Mailey answered. “Of course we put that objection to them and we can only accept their answer. They appear to be actually anchored to the surface of this earth, too heavy and gross to rise. The others are, presumably, on a spiritual level and far separated from them. They explain that they are much nearer to us and that they are cognizant of us, but not of anything higher. Therefore it is we who can reach them best.”

“There was one poor dear dark soul —”

“My wife loves everybody and everything,” Mailey explained. “She is capable of talking of the poor dear devil.”

“Well, surely they are to be pitied and loved!” cried the lady. “This poor fellow was nursed along by us, week by week. He had really come from the depths. Then one day he cried in rapture, ‘My mother has come! My mother is here!’ We naturally said, ‘But why did she not come before?’ ‘How could she’, said he, ‘when I was in so dark a place that she could not see me?’”

“That’s very well,” said Malone, “but so far as I can follow your methods it is some guide or control or higher Spirit who regulates the whole matter and brings the sufferer to you. If he can be cognizant, one would think other higher spirits could also be.”

“No, for it is his particular mission.” said Mailey. “To show how marked the divisions are I can remember one occasion when we had a dark soul here. Our own people came through and did not know he was there until we called their attention to it. When we said to the dark soul, ‘Don’t you see our friends beside you?’ he answered, ‘I can see a light but nothing else’.”

At this point the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Mr. John Terbane from Victoria Station, where his mundane duties lay. He was dressed now in civil garb and appeared as a pale, sad-faced, clean-shaven, plump-featured man with dreamy, thoughtful eyes, but no other indication of the remarkable uses to which he was put.

“Have you my record?” was his first question.

Mrs. Mailey, smiling, handed him an envelope. “We kept it all ready for you but you can read it at home. You see,” she explained, “poor Mr. Terbane is in trance and knows nothing of the wonderful work of which he is the instrument, so after each sitting my husband and I draw up an account for him.”

“Very much astonished I am when I read it,” said Terbane.

“And very proud, I should think,” added Mason.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Terbane answered humbly. “I don’t see that the tool need to be proud because the worker happens to use it. Yet it is a privilege, of course.”

“Good old Terbane!” said Mailey, laying his hand affectionately on the railwayman’s shoulder. “The better the medium the more unselfish. That is my experience. The whole conception of a medium is one who gives himself up for the use of others, and that is incompatible with selfishness. Well, I suppose we had better get to work or Mr. Chang will scold us.”

“Who is he?” asked Malone.

“Oh, you will soon make the acquaintance of Mr. Chang! We need not sit round the table. A semi-circle round the fire does very well. Lights half-down. That is all right. You’ll make yourself comfortable, Terbane. Snuggle among the cushions.”

The medium was in the corner of a comfortable sofa, and had fallen at once into a doze. Both Mailey and Malone at with notebooks upon their knees awaiting developments.

They were not long in coming. Terbane suddenly sat up, his dreamy self transformed into a very alert and masterful individuality. A subtle change had passed over his ace. An ambiguous smile fluttered upon his lips, his eye seemed more oblique and less open, his face projected. The two hands were thrust into the sleeves of his blue lounge jacket.

“Good evening,” said he, speaking crisply and in short staccato sentences. “New faces! Who these?”

“Good evening, Chang,” said the master of the house.

“You know Mr. Mason. This is Mr. Malone who studies our subject. This is Lord Roxton who has helped me today.”

As each name was mentioned, Terbane made a sweeping Oriental gesture of greeting, bringing his hand down from his forehead. His whole bearing was superbly dignified and very different from the humble little man who had sat down a few minutes before.

“Lord Roxton!” he repeated. “An English milord! I knew Lord — Lord Macart No — I— I cannot say it. Alas I I called him ‘foreign devil’ then. Chang, too, had much to learn.”

“He is speaking of Lord Macartney. That would be over a hundred years ago. Chang was a great living philosopher then,” Mailey explained.

“Not lose time!” cried the control. “Much to do today. Crowd waiting. Some new, some old. I gather strange folk in my net. Now I go.” He sank back among the cushions. A minute elapsed, then he suddenly sat up.

“I want to thank you,” he said, speaking perfect English. “I came two weeks ago. I have thought over all you said. The path is lighter.”

“Were you the spirit who did not believe in God?”

“Yes, yes! I said so in my anger. I was so weary — so weary. Oh, the time, the endless time, the grey mist, the heavy weight of remorse! Hopeless! Hopeless! And you brought me comfort, you and this great Chinese spirit. You gave me the first kind words I have had since I died.”

“When was it that you died?”

“Oh! It seems an eternity. We do not measure as you do. It is a long, horrible dream without change or break.”

“Who was king in England?”

“Victoria was queen. I had attuned my mind to matter and so it clung to matter. I did not believe in a future life. Now I know that I was all wrong, but I could not adapt my mind to new conditions.”

“Is it bad where you are?”

“It is all — all grey. That is the awful part of it. One’s surroundings are so horrible.”

“But there are many more. You are not alone.”

“No, but they know no more than I. They, too, scoff and doubt and are miserable.”

“You will soon get out.”

“For God’s sake, help me to do so!”

“Poor soul!” said Mrs. Mailey in her sweet, caressing voice, a voice which could bring every animal to her side. “You have suffered much. But do not think of yourself. Think of these others. Try to bring one of them up and so you will best kelp yourself.”

“Thank you, lady, I will. There is one here whom I brought. He has heard you. We will go on together. Perhaps some day we may find the light.”

“Do you like to be prayed for?”

“Yes, yes, indeed I do!”

“I will pray for you,” said Mason. “Could you say the ‘Our Father’ now?” He uttered the old universal prayer, but before he had finished Terbane had collapsed again among the cushions. He sat up again as Chang.

“He come on well,” said the control. “He give up time for others who wait. That is good. Now I have hard case. Ow!”

He gave a comical cry of disapprobation and sank back. Next moment he was up, his face long and solemn, his hands palm to palm.

“What is this?” he asked in a precise and affected voice. “I am at a loss to know what right this Chinese person has to summon me here. Perhaps you can enlighten me.”

“It is that we may perhaps help you.”

“When I desire help, sir, I ask for it. At present I do not desire it. The whole proceeding seems to me to be a very great liberty. So far as this Chinaman can explain it, I gather that I am the involuntary spectator of some sort of religious service.”

“We are a spiritualistic circle.”

“A most pernicious sect. A most blasphemous proceeding. As a humble parish priest I protest against such desecrations.”

“You are held back, friend, by those narrow views. It is you who suffer. We want to relieve you.”

“Suffer? What do you mean, sir?”

“You realize that you have passed over?”

“You are talking nonsense!”

“Do you realize that you are dead?”

“How can I be dead when I am talking to you?”

“Because you are using this man’s body.”

“I have certainly wandered into an asylum.”

“Yes, an asylum for bad cases. I fear you are one of them. Are you happy where you are?”

“Happy? No, sir. My present surroundings are perfectly inexplicable to me.”

“Have you any recollection of being ill?”

“I was very ill indeed.”

“So ill that you died.”

“You are certainly out of your senses.”

“How do you know you are not dead?”

“Sir, I must give you some religious instruction. When one dies and has led an honourable life, one assumes a glorified body and one associates with the angels. I am now in exactly the same body as in life, and I am in a very dull, drab place. Such companions as I have are not such as I have been accustomed to associate with in life, and certainly no one could describe them as angels. Therefore your absurd conjecture may be dismissed.”

“Do not continue to deceive yourself. We wish to help you. You can never progress until you realize your position.”

“Really, you try my patience too far. Have I not said —?”

The medium fell back among the cushions. An instant later the Chinese control, with his whimsical smile and his hands tucked away in his sleeves, was talking to the circle.

“He good man — fool man — learn sense soon. Bring him again. Not waste more time. Oh, my God! My God! Help! Mercy! Help!”

He had fallen full length upon the sofa, face upwards, and his cries were so terrible that the little audience all sprang to their feet. “A saw! A saw! Fetch a saw!” yelled the medium. His voice sank into a moan.

Even Mailey was agitated. The rest were horrified.

“Someone has obsessed him. I can’t understand it. It may be some strong evil entity.”

“Shall I speak to him?” asked Mason.

“Wait a moment! Let it develop. We shall soon see.”

The medium writhed in agony. “Oh, my God! Why don’t you fetch a saw!” he cried. “It’s here across my breast-bone. It is cracking! I feel it! Hawkin! Hawkin! Pull me from under! Hawkin! Push up the beam! No, no, that’s worse! And it’s on fire! Oh, horrible! Horrible!”

His cries were blood-curdling. They were all chilled with horror. Then in an instant the Chinaman was blinking at them with his slanting eyes.

“What you think of that, Mister Mailey?”

“It was terrible, Chang. What was it?”

“It was for him,” nodding towards Malone. “He want newspaper story, I give him newspaper story. He will understand. No time ‘splain now. Too many waiting. Sailor man come next. Here he come!”

The Chinaman was gone, and a jovial, puzzled grin passed over the face of the medium. He scratched his head.

“Well, damn me,” said he. “I never thought I would take orders from a Chink, but he says ‘hist!’ and by crums you’ve got to hist and no back talk either. Well, here I am. What did you want?”

“We wanted nothing.”

“Well, the Chink seemed to think you did, for he slung me in here.”

“It was you that wanted something. You wanted knowledge.”

“Well, I’ve lost my bearings, that’s true. I know I am dead ‘cause I’ve seen the gunnery lootenant, and he was blown to bits before my eyes. If he’s dead I’m dead and all the rest of us, for we are over to the last man. But we’ve got the laugh on our sky-pilot, for he’s as puzzled as the rest of us. Damned poor pilot, I call him. We’re all taking our own soundings now.”

“What was your ship?”

“The Monmouth.”

“She that went down in battle with the German?”

“That’s right. South American waters. It was clean hell. Yes, it was hell.” There was a world of emotion in his voice. “Well,” he added more cheerfully, “I’ve heard our mates got level with them later. That is so, sir, is it not?”

“Yes, they all went to the bottom.”

“We’ve seen nothing of them this side. Just as well, maybe. We don’t forget nothing.”

“But you must,” said Mailey. “That’s what is the matter with you. That is why the Chinese control brought you through. We are here to teach you. Carry our message to your mates.”

“Bless your heart, sir, they are all here behind me.”

“Well, then, I tell you and them that the time for hard thoughts and worldly strife is over. Your faces are to be turned forward, not back. Leave this earth which still holds you by the ties of thought and let all your desire be to make yourself unselfish and worthy of a higher, more peaceful, more beautiful life. Can you understand?”

“I hear you, sir. So do they. We want steering, sir, for, indeed, we’ve had wrong instructions, and we never expected to find ourselves cast away like this. We had heard of heaven and we had heard of hell, but this don’t seem to fit in with either. But this Chinese gent says time is up, and we can report again next week. I thank you, sir, for self and company. I’ll come again.”

There was silence.

“What an incredible conversation!” gasped Malone.

“If I were to put down that man’s sailor talk and slang as emanating from a world of spirits, what would the public say?”

Mailey shrugged his shoulders.

“Does it matter what the public says? I started as a fairly sensitive person, and now a tank takes as much notice of small shot as I do of newspaper attacks. They honestly don’t even interest me. Let us just stick fast to truth as near as we can get it, and leave all else to find its own level.”

“I don’t pretend to know much of these things,” said Roxton, “but what strikes me most is that these folk are very decent ordinary people. What? Why should they be wanderin’ about in the dark, and hauled up here by this Chinaman when they’ve done no partic’lar harm in life?”

“It is the strong earth tie and the absence of any spiritual nexus in each case,” Mailey explained. “Here is a clergyman with his mind entangled with formulas and ritual. Here is a materialist who has deliberately attuned himself to matter. Here is a seaman brooding over revengeful thoughts. They are there by the million million.”

“Where?” asked Malone.

“Here,” Mailey answered. “Actually on the surface of the earth. Well, you saw it for yourself, I understand, when you went down to Dorsetshire. That was on the surface, was it not? That was a very gross case, and that made it more visible and obvious, but it did not change the general law. I believe that the whole globe is infested with the earth-bound, and that when a great cleansing comes, as is prophesied, it will be for their benefit as much as for that of the living.”

Malone thought of the strange visionary Miromar and his speech at the Spiritualistic Church on the first night of his quest.

“Do you, then, believe in some impending event?” he asked.

Mailey smiled. “That is rather a large subject to open up,” he said. “I believe — But here is Mr. Chang again!”

The control joined in the conversation.

“I heard you. I sit and listen,” said he. “You speak now of what is to come. Let it be! Let it be! The Time is not yet. You will be told when it is good that you know. Remember this. All is best. Whatever come all is best. God makes no mistakes. Now others here who wish your help, I leave you.”

Several spirits came through in quick succession. One was an architect who said that he had lived at Bristol. He had not been an evil man, but had simply banished all thoughts of the future. Now he was in the dark and needed guidance. Another had lived in Birmingham. He was an educated man but a materialist. He refused to accept the assurances of Mailey, and was by no means convinced that he was really dead. Then came a very noisy and violent man of a crudely-religious and narrow, intolerant type, who spoke repeatedly of “the blood “.

“What is this ribald nonsense?” he asked several times.

“It is not nonsense. We are here to help,” said Mailey.

“Who wants to be helped by the devil?”

“Is it likely that the devil would wish to help souls in trouble?”

“It is part of his deceit. I tell you it is of the devil! Be warned! I will take no further part in it.”

The placid, whimsical Chinaman was back like a flash.

“Good man. Foolish man,” he repeated once more. “Plenty time. He learn better some day. Now I bring bad case — very bad case. Ow!”

He reclined his head in the cushion and did not raise it as the voice, a feminine voice, broke out:

“Janet! Janet t”

There was a pause.

“Janet, I say! Where is the morning tea? Janet! This is intolerable! I have called you again and again I Janet!” The figure sat up, blinking and rubbing his eyes.

“What is this?” cried the voice. “Who are you? What right have you here? Are you aware that this is my house?”

“No, friend, this is my house.”

“Your house! How can it be your house when this is my bedroom? Go away this moment!”

“No, friend. You do not understand your position.”

“I will have you put out. What insolence! Janet! Janet! Will no one look after me this morning?”

“Look round you, lady. Is this your bedroom?”

Terbane looked round with a wild stare.

“It is a room I never saw in my life. Where am I? What is the meaning of it? You look like a kind lady. Tell me, for God’s sake, what is the meaning of it? Oh, I am so terrified, so terrified! Where are John and Janet?”

“What do you last remember?”

“I remember speaking severely to Janet. She is my maid, you know. She has become so very careless. Yes, I was very angry with her. I was so angry that I was ill. I went to bed feeling very ill. They told me that I should not get excited. How can one help getting excited? Yes, I remember being breathless. That was after the light was out. I tried to call Janet. But why should I be in another room?”

“You passed over in the night.”

“Passed over? Do you mean I died?”

“Yes, lady, you died.”

There was a long silence. Then there came a shrill scream. “No, no, no! It is a dream! A nightmare! Wake me! Wake me! How can I be dead? I was not ready to die? I never thought of such a thing. If I am dead, why am I not in heaven or hell? What is this room? This room is real room.”

“Yes, lady, you have been brought here and allowed to use this man’s body.”

“A man?” She convulsively felt the coat and passed her hand over the face. “Yes, it is a man. Oh, I am dead! I am dead! What shall I do?”

“You are here that we may explain to you. You have been, I judge, a worldly woman — a society woman. You have lived always for material things.”

“I went to church. I was at St. Saviour’s every Sunday.”

“That is nothing. It is the inner daily life that counts. You were material. Now you are held down to the world. When you leave this man’s body you will be in your own body once more and in your old surroundings. But no one will see you. You will remain there unable to show yourself. Your body of flesh will be buried. You will still persist, the same as ever.”

“What am I to do? Oh, what can I do?”

“You will take what comes in a good spirit and understand that it is for your cleansing. We only clear ourselves of matter by suffering. All will be well. We will pray for you.”

“Oh, do! I need it so! Oh my God! . . . ” The voice trailed away.

“Bad case,” said the Chinaman, sitting up. “Selfish woman! Bad woman! Live for pleasure. Hard on those around her. She have much to suffer. But you put her feet on the path. Now my medium tired. Plenty waiting, but no more today.”

“Have we done good, Chang?”

“Plenty good. Plenty good.”

“Where are all these people, Chang?”

“I tell you before.”

“Yes but I want these gentlemen to hear.”

“Seven spheres round the world, heaviest below, lightest above. First sphere is on the earth. These people belong to that sphere. Each sphere is separate from the other. Therefore it is easier for you to speak with these people than for those in any other sphere.”

“And easier for them to speak to us?”

“Yes. That why you should be plenty careful when you do not know to whom you talk. Try the spirits.”

“What sphere do you belong to, Chang?”

“I come from Number Four sphere.”

“Which is the first really happy sphere?”

“Number Three. Summerland. Bible book called it the third heaven. Plenty sense in Bible book, but people do not understand.”

And the seventh heaven?”

“Ah! That is where the Christs are. All come there at last — you, me, everybody.”

“And after that?”

“Too much question, Mr. Mailey. Poor old Chang not know so much as that. Now good-bye! God bless you! I go.”

It was the end of the sitting of the rescue circle. A few minutes later Terbane was sitting up smiling and alert, but with no apparent recollection of anything which had occurred. He was pressed for time and lived afar, so that he had to make his departure, unpaid save by the blessing of those who he had helped. Modest little unvenal man, where will he stand when we all find our real places in the order of creation upon the further side?

The circle did not break up at once. The visitors wanted to talk, and the Maileys to listen.

“What I mean,” said Roxton, “it’s doosed interestin’ and all that, but there is a sort of variety-show element in it. What! difficult to be sure it’s really real, if you take what I mean.”

“That is what I feel also,” said Malone. “Of course on its face value it is simply unspeakable. It is a thing so great that all ordinary happenings become commonplace. That I grant. But the human mind is very strange. I’ve read that case Moreton Prince examined, and Miss Beauchamp and the rest; also the results of Charcot, the great Nancy hypnotic school. They could turn a man into anything. The mind seems to be like a rope which can be unravelled into its various threads. Then each thread is a different personality which may take dramatic form, and act and speak as such. That man is honest, and he could not normally produce these effects. But how do we know that he is not self-hypnotized, and that under those conditions one strand of him becomes Mr. Chang and another becomes a sailor and another a society lady, and so forth?”

Mailey laughed. “Every man his own Cinquevalli” said he, “but it is a rational objection and has to be met.”

“We have traced some of the cases,” said Mrs. Mailey. “There is not a doubt of it — names, addresses, everything.”

“Well, then, we have to consider the question of Terbane’s normal knowledge. How can you possibly know what he has learned? I should think a railway-porter is particularly able to pick up such information.”

“You have seen one sitting,” Mailey answered. “If you had been present at as many as we and noted the cumulative effect of the evidence you would not be sceptical.”

“That is very possible,” Malone answered. “And I daresay my doubts are very annoying to you. And yet one is bound to be brutally honest in a case like this. Anyhow, whatever the ultimate cause, I have seldom spent so thrilling an hour. Heavens! If it only is true, and if you had a thousand circles instead of one, what regeneration would result?”

“That will come,” said Mailey in his patient, determined fashion. “We shall live to see it. I am sorry the thing has not forced conviction upon you. However, you must come again.”

But it so chanced that a further experience became unnecessary. Conviction came in a full flood and in a strange fashion that very evening. Malone had hardly got back to the office, and was seated at his desk drawing up some sort of account from his notes of all that had happened in the afternoon, when Mailey burst into the room, his yellow beard bristling with excitement. He was waving an Evening News in his hand. Without a word he seated himself beside Malone and turned the paper over. Then he began to read:


This afternoon shortly after five o’clock, an old house, said to date from the fifteenth century, suddenly collapsed. It was situated between Lesser Colman Street and Elliot Square, and next door to the Veterinary Society’s Headquarters. Some preliminary cracking warned the occupants and most of them had time to escape. Three of them, however, James Beale William Moorson, and a woman whose name has not been ascertained, were caught by the falling rubbish. Two of these seem to have perished at once, but the third, James Beale, was pinned down by a large beam and loudly demanded help. A saw was brought, and one of the occupants of the house, Samuel Hawkin, showed great gallantry in an attempt to free the unfortunate man. Whilst he was sawing the beam, however, a fire broke out among the debris around him, and though he persevered most manfully, and continued until he was himself badly scorched, it was impossible for him to save Beale, who probably died from suffocation. Hawkin was removed to the London Hospital, and it is reported to-night that he is in no immediate danger.

“That’s that!” said Mailey, folding up the paper. “Now, Mr. Thomas Didymus, I leave you to your conclusions,” and the enthusiast vanished out of the office as precipitately as he had entered.

For the incidents recorded in this chapter vide Appendix.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53