The Land of Mist, by Arthur Conan Doyle

9. Which Introduces Some Very Physical Phenomena

MALONE seemed destined to be entangled in the affairs of the Linden family, for he had hardly seen the last of the unfortunate Tom before he became involved in a very much more unpleasant fashion with his unsavoury brother.

The episode began by a telephone ring in the morning and the voice of Algernon Mailey at the far end of the wire.

“Are you clear for this afternoon?”

“At your service.”

“I say, Malone, you are a hefty man. You played Rugger for Ireland, did you not? You don’t mind a possible rough-and-tumble, do you?”

Malone grinned over the receiver.

“You can count me in.”

“It may be really rather formidable. We shall have possibly to tackle a prize-fighter.”

“Right-o!” said Malone, cheerfully.

“And we want another man for the job. Do you know any fellow who would come along just for the sake of the adventure. If he knows anything about psychic matters, all the better.”

Malone puzzled for a moment. Then he had an inspiration.

“There is Roxton,” said he. “He’s not a chicken, but he is a useful man in a row. I think I could get him. He has been keen on your subject since his Dorsetshire experience.”

“Right! Bring him along! If he can’t come, we shall have to tackle the job ourselves. Forty-one, Belshaw Gardens, S.W. Near Earl’s Court Station. Three p.m. Right!”

Malone at once rang up Lord Roxton, and soon heard the familiar voice.

“What’s that, young fellah? A scrap? Why, certainly. What . . . I mean I had a golf match at Richmond Deer Park, but this sounds more attractive . . . What? Very good. I’ll meet you there.”

And so it came about that at the hour of three, Mailey, Lord Roxton and Malone found themselves seated round the fire in the comfortable drawing-room of the barrister. His wife, a sweet and beautiful woman, who was his helpmate in his spiritual as well as in his material life, was there to welcome them.

“Now, dear, you are not on in this act,” said Mailey. “You will retire discreetly into the wings. Don’t worry if you hear a row.”

“But I do worry, dear. You’ll get hurt.”

Mailey laughed.

“I think your furniture may possibly get hurt. You have nothing else to fear, dear. And it’s all for the good of the Cause. That always settles it,” he explained, as his wife reluctantly left the room. “I really think she would go to the stake for the Cause. Her great, loving, womanly heart knows what it would mean for this grey earth if people could get away from the shadow of death, and realize the great happiness that is to come. By Jove! she is an inspiration to me . . . Well,” he went on with a laugh, “I must not get on to that subject. We have something very different to think of — something as hideous and vile as she is beautiful and good. It concerns Tom Linden’s brother.”

“I’ve heard of the fellow,” said Malone. “I used to box a bit and I am still a member of the N.S.C. Silas Linden was very nearly champion in the Welters.”

“That’s the man. He is out of a job and thought he would take up mediumship. Naturally I and other Spiritualists took him seriously, for we all love his brother, and these powers often run in families, so that his claim seemed reasonable. So we gave him a trial last night.”

“Well, what happened?”

“I suspected the fellow from the first. You understand that it is hardly possible for a medium to deceive an experienced Spiritualist. When there is deception it is at the expense of outsiders. I watched him carefully from the first, and I seated myself near the cabinet. Presently he emerged clad in white. I broke the contact by prearrangement with my wife who sat next me, and I felt him as he passed me. He was, of course, in white. I had a pair of scissors in my pocket and snipped off a bit from the edge.”

Mailey drew a triangular piece of linen from his pocket.

“There it is, you see. Very ordinary linen. I have no doubt the fellow was wearing his night-gown.”

“Why did you not have a show-up at once?” asked Lord Roxton.

“There were several ladies there, and I was the only really able-bodied man in the room.”

“Well, what do you propose?”

“I have appointed that he come here at three-thirty. He is due now. Unless he has noticed the small cut in his linen, I don’t think he has any suspicion why I want him.”

“What will you do?”

“Well, that depends on him. We have to stop him at any cost. That is the way our Cause gets bemired. Some villain who knows nothing about it comes into it for money and so the labours of the honest mediums get discounted. The public very naturally brackets them all together. With your help I can talk to this fellow on equal terms which I certainly could not do if I were alone. By Jove, here he is!”

There was a heavy step outside. The door was opened and Silas Linden, fake medium and ex-prize-fighter, walked in. His small, piggy grey eyes under their shaggy brows looked round with suspicion at the three men. Then he forced a smile and nodded to Mailey.

“Good day, Mr. Mailey. We had a good evening last night, had we not?”

“Sit down, Linden,” said Mailey, indicating a chair. “It’s about last night that I want to talk to you. You cheated us.”

Silas Linden’s heavy face flushed red with anger.

“What’s that?” he cried, sharply.

“You cheated us. You dressed up and pretended to be a spirit.”

“You are a damned liar!” cried Linden. “I did nothing of the sort.”

Mailey took the rag of linen from his pocket and spread it on his knee.

“What about that?” he asked.

“Well, what about it?”

“It was cut out of the white gown you wore. I cut it out myself as you stood in front of me. If you examine the gown you will find the place. It’s no use, Linden. The game is up. You can’t deny it.”

For a moment the man was completely taken aback. Then he burst into a stream of horrible profanity.

“What’s the game?” he cried, glaring round him. “Do you think I am easy and that you can play me for a sucker? Is it a frame-up, or what? You’ve chose the wrong man for a try-on of that sort.”

“There is no use being noisy or violent, Linden,” said Mailey quietly, “I could bring you up in the police court tomorrow. I don’t want any public scandal, for your brother’s sake. But you don’t leave this room until you have signed a paper that I have here on my desk.”

“Oh, I don’t, don’t I? Who will stop me?”

“We will.”

The three men were between him and the door.

“You will! Well, try that!” He stood before them with rage in his eyes and his great hands knotted. “Will you get out of the way?”

They did not answer, but they all three gave the fighting snarl which is perhaps the oldest of all human expressions. The next instant Linden was upon them, his fists flashing out with terrific force. Mailey, who had boxed in his youth, stopped one blow, but the next beat in his guard and he fell with a crash against the door. Lord Roxton was hurled to one side, but Malone, with a footballer’s instinct, ducked his head and caught the prize-fighter round the knees. If a man is too good for you on his feet, then put him on his back, for he cannot be scientific there. Over went Linden, crashing through an armchair before he reached the ground. He staggered to one knee and got in a short jolt to the chin, but Malone had him down again and Roxton’s bony hand had closed upon his throat. Silas Linden had a yellow streak in him and he was cowed.

“Let up!” he cried. “That’s enough!”

He lay now spreadeagled upon his back. Malone and Roxton were bending over him. Mailey had gathered himself together, pale and shaken after his fall.

“I’m all right!” he cried, in answer to a feminine voice at the other side of the door. “No, not yet, dear, but we shall soon be ready for you. Now, Linden, there’s no need for you to get up, for you can talk very nicely where you are. You’ve got to sign this paper before you leave the room.”

“What is the paper?” croaked Linden, as Roxton’s grip upon his throat relaxed.

“I’ll read it to you.”

Mailey took it from the desk and read aloud.

“I, Silas Linden, hereby admit that I have acted as a rogue and a scoundrel by simulating to be a spirit, and I swear that I will never again in my life pretend to be a medium. Should I break this oath, then this signed confession may be used for my conviction in the police court.”

“Will you sign that?”

“No, I am damned if I will!”

“Shall I give him another squeeze?” asked Lord Roxton. “Perhaps I could choke some sense into him — what!”

“Not at all,” said Mailey. “I think that his case now would do good in the police court, for it would show the public that we are determined to keep our house clean. I’ll give you one minute for consideration, Linden, and then I ring up the police.”

But it did not take a minute for the impostor to make up his mind.

“All right,” said he in a sulky voice, “I’ll sign.” He was allowed to rise with a warning that if he played any tricks he would not get off so lightly the second time. But there was no kick left in him and he scrawled a big, coarse “Silas Linden” at the bottom of the paper without a word. The three men signed as witnesses.

“Now, get out!” said Mailey, sharply. “Find some honest trade in future and leave sacred things alone!”

“Keep your damned cant to yourself!” Linden answered, and so departed, grumbling and swearing, into the outer darkness from which he had come. He had hardly passed before Mrs. Mailey had rushed into the room to reassure herself as to her husband. Once satisfied as to this she mourned over her broken chair, for like all good women she took a personal pride and joy in every detail of her little menage.

“Never mind, dear. It’s a cheap price to pay in order to get that blackguard out of the movement. Don’t go away, you fellows. I want to talk to you.”

“And tea is just coming in.”

“Perhaps something stronger would be better,” said Mailey, and indeed, all three were rather exhausted, for it was sharp while it lasted. Roxton, who had enjoyed the whole thing immensely, was full of vitality, but Malone was shaken and Mailey had narrowly escaped serious injury from that ponderous blow.

“I have heard,” said Mailey, as they all settled down round the fire, “that this blackguard has sweated money out of poor Tom Linden for years. It was a form of blackmail, for he was quite capable of denouncing him. By Jove!” he cried, with sudden inspiration, “that would account for the police raid. Why should they pick Linden out of all the mediums in London? I remember now that Tom told me the fellow had asked to be taught to be a medium, and that he had refused to teach him.”

“Could he teach him?” asked Malone. Mailey was thoughtful over this question. “Well, perhaps he could,” he said at last. “But Silas Linden as a false medium would be very much less dangerous than Silas Linden as a true medium.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“Mediumship can be developed” said Mrs. Mailey. “One might almost say it was catching.”

“That was what the laying-on of hands meant in the early Church,” Mailey explained. “It was the conferring of thaumaturgic powers. We can’t do it now as rapidly as that. But if a man or woman sits with the desire of development, and especially if that sitting is in the presence of a real medium, the chance is that powers will come.”

“But why do you say that would be worse than false mediumship?”

“Because it could be used for evil. I assure you, Malone, that the talk of black magic and of evil entities is not an invention of the enemy. Such things do happen and centre round the wicked medium. You can get down into a region which is akin to the popular idea of witchcraft, It is dishonest to deny it.”

“Like attracts like,” explained Mrs. Mailey, who was quite as capable an exponent as her husband. “You get what you deserve. If you sit with wicked people you get wicked visitors.”

“Then there is a dangerous side to it?”

“Do you know anything on earth which has not a dangerous side if it is mishandled and exaggerated? This dangerous side exists quite apart from orthodox Spiritualism, and our knowledge is the surest way to counteract it. I believe that the witchcraft of the Middle Ages was a very real thing, and that the best way to meet such practices is to cultivate the higher powers of the spirit. To leave the thing entirely alone is to abandon the field to the forces of evil.”

Lord Roxton interposed in an unexpected way.

“When I was in Paris last year,” said he, “there was a fellah called La Paix who dabbled in the black magic business. He held circles and the like. What I mean, there was no great harm in the thing, but it wasn’t what you would call very spiritual, either.”

“It’s a side that I as a journalist would like to see something of, if I am to report impartially upon the subject” said Malone.

“Quite right!” Mailey agreed. “We want all the cards on the table.”

“Well, young fellah, if you would give me a week of your time and come to Paris, I’ll introduce you to La Paix,” said Roxton.

“It is a curious thing, but I also had a Paris visit in my mind for our friend here,” said Mailey. “I have been asked over by Dr. Maupuis of the Institut Metapsychique to see some of the experiments which he is conducting upon a Galician medium. It is really the religious side of this matter which interests me, and that is conspicuously wanting in the minds of these scientific men of the Continent; but for accurate, careful examination of the psychic facts they are ahead of anyone except poor Crawford of Belfast, who stood in a class by himself. I promised Maupuis to run across and he has certainly been having some wonderful — in some respects, some rather alarming results.”

“Why alarming?”

“Well, his materializations lately have not been human at all. That is confirmed by photographs. I won’t say more, for it is best that, if you go, you should approach it with an open mind.”

“I shall certainly go,” said Malone. “I am sure my chief would wish it.”

Tea had arrived to interrupt the conversation in the irritating way that our bodily needs intrude upon our higher pursuits. But Malone was too keen to be thrown off his scent.

“You speak of these evil forces. Have you ever come in contact with them?”

Mailey looked at his wife and smiled.

“Continually,” he said. “It is part of our job. We specialize on it.”

“I understood that when there was an intrusion of that kind you drove it away.”

“Not necessarily. If we can help any lower spirit we do so, and we can only do it by encouraging it to tell us its troubles. Most of them are not wicked. They are poor, ignorant, stunted creatures who are suffering the effects of the narrow and false views which they have learned in this world. We try to help them — and we do.”

“How do you know that you do?”

“Because they report to us afterwards and register their progress. Such methods are often used by our people. They are called ‘rescue circles’.”

“I have heard of rescue circles. Where could I attend one? This thing attracts me more and more. Fresh gulfs seem always opening. I would take it as a great favour if you would help me to see this fresh side of it.” Mailey became thoughtful.

“We don’t want to make a spectacle of these poor creatures. On the other hand, though we can hardly claim you yet as a Spiritualist, you have treated the subject with some understanding and sympathy.” He looked enquiringly at his wife, who smiled and nodded.

“Ah, you have permission. Well then, you must know that we run our own little rescue circle, and that at five o’clock today we have our weekly sitting. Mr. Terbane is our medium. We don’t usually have anyone else except Mr. Charles Mason, the clergyman. But if you both care to have the experience, we shall be very happy if you will stay. Terbane should be here immediately after tea. He is a railway-porter, you know, so his time is not his own. Yes, psychic power in its varied manifestations is found in humble quarters, but surely that has been its main characteristic from the beginning — fishermen, carpenters, tent-makers, camel drivers, these were the prophets of old. At this moment some of the highest psychic gifts in England lie in a miner, a cotton operative, a railway-porter, a barge-man and a charwoman. Thus does history repeat itself, and that foolish beak, with Tom Linden before him, was but Felix judging Paul. The old wheel goes round.”

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