She came up—a modest, charming-looking girl of about twenty. I explained the circumstances, and apologised for being unable to join in the tea-party, but felt rather desperate when I realised that even the effort of taking any share in the conversation was beyond me.
Suddenly a brilliant idea passed through my throbbing head. The day before, in planning the visit, which Miss Boyle had been unable to carry out herself, she had mentioned that her friend Lizzie Maynard was a very good automatic writer, and this seemed a solution of the difficulty.
So when my little friend had finished her tea, but was still looking tired from the long walk, I said to her: "I am so sorry to be so stupid to-day, Miss Maynard. I cannot talk, but I can listen; or do you think possibly you could get a little writing for me? Miss Boyle told me you wrote automatically sometimes?"
"I will try, certainly," was the ready response. "I never know, of course, what may come, and as this is our first meeting, it may be a little more difficult, but I should like to try."
She found paper and pencil, and sat by my bedside, holding the pencil very loosely between the second and third fingers, instead of between the thumb and first two fingers in the usual way.
She continued talking to me during the whole time, and not being well versed in automatic writing then, I could not believe that any writing could really be going on in this very casual sort of way.
"Is any writing really coming?" I questioned at last.
"Oh yes; but I can't make out the last long word," she said, turning the paper round, so that she could see it, for the first time. "Kindly give me that word again," she remarked casually, and continued her conversation with me.
Finally the three or four sheets of rather large but not always very distinct caligraphy were submitted to me, and I saw that "Miscellaneous" had been the long word at the beginning which Lizzie had asked to have repeated.
The whole message was intensely interesting to me, for it began: "I who on earth was known as George Eliot."
Now I had more than once seen, but had never spoken to, George Eliot in earth life, and although admiring her genius, as all who read her books are bound to do, there seemed no very obvious reason why she should come to me. Moreover, Lizzie Maynard, a charming but not highly educated girl (as I discovered later), seemed to know little about the famous author beyond her name. Another, and infinitely inferior, lady writer had been discussed with bated breath the day before in Lizzie's presence. Her books—just then in the zenith of their popularity—had newly penetrated to the Colonies, and were being talked of there as though Minerva herself, helmet and all complete, had suddenly arrived in Melbourne. I had personally been greatly interested by one of this lady's earlier books, and had a much less definite opinion of the author then, than I have at the present moment.
Threshing my brains for any sort of tie with George Eliot, I remembered having often stayed at Oxford as a young woman, when Jowett of Balliol was entertaining her and Mr Lewes, in his own home.
Of course, there was no question in those far-away days of my being asked to meet such a brilliant star; but it amused me often to hear the dull and uninteresting people of some standing in the University, whom Jowett had not favoured with an invitation, declaring that nothing would have induced them to accept it!
This was, however, but a feeble link, even when added to the righteous indignation one had so often experienced on hearing similar remarks made, about a woman too far above her critics both in genius and morals, for them to be able to catch the faintest glimpse of her personality.
Apparently it only now lay with me to cease asking why, and accept the goods provided by the gods, making the most of such an opportunity. On these occasions so many possible questions tumble over each other in the brain that it is difficult to select any one to start with.
At length I asked the following question:—
"What did George Eliot think of the author who had been so much discussed and so highly applauded on the previous afternoon?"
Very quickly came the answer: "I have no sympathy there—a mere puppet."
Certainly this was not thought reading; for my own opinion then was very indefinite, and Lizzie's views, as it turned out, were as enthusiastic as those of most people in the Colony. It was not until several years later that I realised that an extraordinarily apt criticism had been made; for a puppet is made to dance by other entities.
I was longing to ask another question, but had some natural hesitation in doing so before such a young girl. Moreover, I feared the answer must almost of necessity be coloured by the traditions of the latter, and therefore would be of no great value either way. But taking my courage "in both hands," I put the question:
"Please ask George Eliot if she now thinks that she was justified in the position she took up with regard to George Lewes?"
The answer came in a flash: "CERTAINLY. We are one here, as we were on earth."
Anything less likely to emanate from the brain of an orthodox young girl can hardly be conceived!
Amongst other details, George Eliot said finally that she had come to know my mother in spirit life, where she was called STELLA. Now my mother's name in earth life was Ellen, which has the same root for its origin. Of course, Miss Maynard did not then know whether my mother were alive or dead, and nothing naturally concerning her Christian name.
The last statement made by George Eliot on this occasion was that "before another year had rolled by, a great gift would come to me, and I must be very careful to use without abusing it." I was too tired at the moment to ask whether "another year rolling by" meant a whole year from 28th October 1887 (the date of the message), or the end of the current year—namely, 31st December 1887.
When the message had come to an end, Miss Maynard gathered up the scattered sheets, and promising to copy them out for me, took her departure, and left me to muse—so far as a racking brain would allow—on the curious and interesting result of her visit. No cup of tea to thirsty wayfarer was ever surely so grandly rewarded!
My next adventure had a distant connection with these Australian experiences.
I had come out to join the friend (Miss Greenlow) who had been my companion in America, and who had thence sailed for Sydney when I returned for a year to England. She had been anxious for me to rejoin her in Australia, and from thence visit Japan and China; but my arrival having been delayed by literary matters, this lady had finally lost patience, and, without my knowledge, had gone on to New Zealand, and thence, as it turned out, to Samoa. When I heard of the New Zealand episode there was nothing for it but to follow her there, on a will-o'-the-wisp expedition, as it turned out, but, fortunately, I was unaware of this at the time. I say fortunately, because had I known that she had already left Australia for Samoa, I should certainly have returned to England, in despair of tracing her any further, and thereby one of my most interesting experiences would have been lost.
The illness in Melbourne, already referred to, detained me for over a fortnight, so it was necessary to transfer my New Zealand ticket from one boat to another. So the illness also must have been one of the factors that was involved in the adventure, as I have called it. For the delay led to my meeting—in a friend's house—Mr Arthur Kitchener (a younger brother of Lord Kitchener), who was introduced to me on the special ground that we were to be fellow-travellers to New Zealand a day or two later. As a matter of fact, Mr Kitchener was on his way from England to New Zealand, where he was superintending a sheep-run for his father in those days. He had come out by P. & O., and transhipped at Melbourne after two or three days' delay there.
Several other passengers from the Massilia were also going on to New Zealand, and naturally they felt like old friends after the five or six weeks already spent together. They thought I wanted to be alone, and I thought they wanted to be alone, and so I kept severely to the upper deck, feeling often lonely, and they all remained on the lower deck, wishing I would come down and talk to them sometimes. In spite of these misconceptions on either side, Mr Kitchener and I became sufficiently friendly for him to give me a very kind and hospitable invitation to spend the last few days of the year at his "station," about nine miles from Dunback, in the Dunedin district. I think I must have told him of my disappointment in missing my companion in Sydney, after travelling so many thousand miles to join her, and doubtless he felt some interest in this Stanley and Livingstone sort of chase, with two women taking the principal characters!
Anyway, the invitation was given and accepted, and he kindly promised to ask one or two people to meet me in his house.
All this came to pass some weeks later, on my return from the New Zealand lakes, and just before an expedition to the "Sounds," generally known as the "Sounds Trip."
This is a pleasure trip, organised for early January, which is, of course, midsummer there. It lasts for ten days, and gives one the opportunity of seeing to the best advantage these glorious inlets of the sea.
My week at the sheep station was to precede this, as I have explained; in fact, as the steamer sailed late in the afternoon, it was possible to go on board without stopping for the night at Dunedin, whence we were to sail. But at the last moment a slight contretemps took place. Owing to some delay the steamer would not be able to leave till Monday, instead of the Saturday morning as arranged, and our kind host insisted on extending his hospitality for the two extra days.
Now each day there had been some talk about having an impromptu seance, and each day I had successfully evaded the arrangement. I have a great dislike to sitting in casual circles with strangers, and it seemed to me that no good purpose would be served by doing so. It is impossible on these occasions to convince anyone else that you are not pushing or "muscle moving," or generally playing tricks, and it has always seemed to me that the time wasted over mutual recriminations on these points, or the silly jokes that appear inevitable, when two or three human beings at a table get together in a private house; might be much more profitably spent.
Table turning as a parlour game is about as stupid and aimless an amusement as I know. I represented all this to Mr Kitchener, but in vain. He had attended some psychic meetings in Dunback or Dunedin, and evidently wished me to reconsider the matter. Also it happened to be the last day of the year, when people are always more inclined to be obliging, I suppose; anyway that Saturday night, 31st December 1887, found me sitting down to a table in the little drawing-room of that far-away sheep station.
As some reward for any virtue there may have been in yielding my point, I remembered suddenly that George Eliot's message on 28th October—two months previously—had been rather vague, and that it might be interesting, if the chance came, to find out whether "before another year has rolled away" meant a year from 28th October, or the year of which so few hours still remained to us.
After the usual inanities—"I am sure you are pushing." "No; you are! I saw your fingers pressing heavily." "Why, how extraordinary! that is exactly what I thought about you," etc. etc., it was intimated that a spirit was there giving the name of George Eliot, so I put my question at once.
"I did not mean another year from October last—I referred to this year," was the answer.
"Shall I be able to write automatically?" was my next query.
"No; leave that alone—it would be very dangerous for you at present."
"Shall I be able to hear? Shall I become clair-audient?"
"No," came for the second time.
My next question naturally was: "Then shall I be able to see very soon?"
"Yes; for you will become clairvoyant for the first time. Remember my warning to use but not abuse the gift."
Now I must explain that all this time a good deal of the usual kind of joking had been going on. Moreover, I felt intuitively that Mr Kitchener thought I was deceiving myself into the idea that human muscles could not account for the movements, and, in fact, the very worst possible conditions for getting anything of value were present.
So much so that I did not for one moment suppose that it was really George Eliot, or that she would countenance that particular sort of buffoonery, and the incident made no impression upon me at all. I had already taken my hands off the table, when someone—Mr Kitchener, I think—banged it down four times, and then triumphantly observed: "Yes, of course, you will see somebody during the night, or rather at four o'clock in the morning, you see!" The whole thing was the kind of fiasco I had expected, "degenerating into a romp," as poor Corney Grain used to remark about the "Lancers" and the stern old lady in the suburban villa.
The bathos of table turning had surely been reached when it came to banging the leg of the table down four times, and calmly announcing four o'clock as the time for my first vision!
But the remarkable point is that I did have my first vision that night, though it had come and gone long before four A.M.
It is necessary to remember that the sun rises about three-thirty A.M. during the end of December or first week in January out there, so it would have been fairly light before four A.M.; whereas when I woke out of my first sleep that night, it was pitch dark.
My room was the usual whitewashed apartment to be found in the ordinary colonial "station," with a wooden bed standing about two or three feet from the wall, and parallel with the only window in the room; which faced the door (at the foot of my bed), and was fitted with a very dark green blind, on account of the hot summer sunshine.
But it was now pitch dark in the room. I woke facing the window, but turned on my side, as one generally does on such occasions, and this brought me face to face with the wall. To my infinite amazement there stood between the wall and my bed, a diaphanous figure of a woman, quite life size or rather more, with one arm held out in a protecting fashion towards me, and some drapery about the head. The features were, moreover, quite distinct, and, as I afterwards realised, the counterpart of George Eliot's curious and Savonarola-like countenance. But at the moment, oddly enough, I only thought of two things—first, how extraordinary that what had appeared to me such a silly waste of time overnight should have had any element of reality about it! Then swiftly came the second idea: "And how in the world does it happen that I don't feel a bit frightened?"
I lay there absolutely content and peaceful, with a feeling of blissful satisfaction which I have never exactly realised either before or since that one occasion.
"Everything is all right—nothing can really ever go wrong—nothing at least that matters at all. All the real things are all right. I can never doubt the truth of these things after this experience. It was promised, and the promise has been redeemed." These were the thoughts that passed idly through my brain as I lay—fully awake—and looked up at the comforting woman's figure. For it seemed more—much more—than a mere vision. I have spoken of the figure as diaphanous because it was not as solid as an ordinary human being, but, on the other hand, I could not see the wall through it: it was too solid for that. Then I remembered a story told in The Athenaeum—of all papers—and written by a Dr Jephson, of his experience whilst paying a visit to Lord Offord, and making notes—late at night—in the library of the house for some literary work on hand. He had finished his notes, put away the book of reference, looked at his watch, found the hands marking two A.M. (so far as I remember), and had just said to himself: "Well, I shall be in bed by two-thirty after all," when, turning round, he found a large leather chair close to his own, tenanted by a Spanish priest in some ancient dress!
Thinking it might be an hallucination, he deliberately turned round—away from the priest—rubbed his eyes, and then slowly looked back again. Still the priest was there, and Dr Jephson then realised for the first time that, although not consciously frightened or alarmed in any way, he was quite unable to speak to the intruder. So he quietly chose a pencil, sat down, and calmly took his portrait. The priest politely remained until the sketch was completed, and then vanished.
This story, read some years previously, flashed through my brain, and I thought: "I will try turning round, and then seeing if she is still there." I turned deliberately, facing the window, and then realised that it was pitch dark in my room—not the faintest glimmer of light came through the heavily shrouded window. "Then it can't be four o'clock," was my triumphant comment.
It would have been too disappointing had my distinguished visitor condoned the unblushing banging down four times of the table leg, by choosing that hour for her arrival in my room! But then again, how could I see her, since the room was quite dark? It was only necessary to turn round once more to the wall to realise that I did see her in fact, although I ought not to have done so in theory! I saw her as distinctly as I ever saw a marble statue in the Vatican Gallery by the light of noon. Although I had recalled the Jephson story so circumstantially, it never struck me that it might be interesting to attempt any conversation, and see whether I also were tongue-tied. I did not want to speak—there seemed no special reason for speaking. It was quite enough to lie there with this blissful feeling of protection and love folding me round like a cloud with golden lining. And as this consciousness held me in its loving grasp, to my infinite sorrow the kind, protecting figure disappeared, gently and very slowly, sinking into the ground on the spot where I had first seen her; and once more all was dark in the room.
I lay, too happy and peaceful for movement or even speculation for some ten minutes, and then it struck me that I had better light the candle by my side, and find out what o'clock it might be.
Now I have a rather accurate idea of time, and can generally tell within a minute or two how long any special work may have taken me. Looking at my watch, I saw it was just two-twenty-five A.M., so I settled in my own mind that I must have seen the figure at two-fifteen A.M., or possibly at two-ten A.M., for I think the experience lasted nearly five minutes altogether. Anyway, I felt sure that ten minutes, as nearly as possible, had elapsed between the sinking of the figure out of sight and my lighting the match in order to consult my watch. It may have been nine minutes, or possibly eleven, but I feel confident the time mentioned would be within these limits.
Therefore next morning, when our host appeared, and I was chaffed about "the vision," I said boldly: "You think it all nonsense, and I confess I did not believe anything that came last night when so much joking was going on, but I was mistaken. I did see, for the first time in my life, anything abnormal." And I repeated my experience, just as I have now written it down.
Incredulous looks greeted me, and then Mr Kitchener said quietly:
"Oh yes, you saw something at four A.M. I am not at all surprised to hear that."
"Not at four A.M.," I answered, "but at two-fifteen A.M. I made a special note of the time. I was asleep again long before four A.M., and never slept better in my life."
He looked puzzled, and then suggested that my watch must have gone wrong; but we compared notes, and our watches were registering exactly the same hour within a minute or two.
I found out later that, having learnt something of the Thought Transference Theory at the Dunedin Circle or Metaphysical Club which he had attended, Mr Kitchener had attempted to make me see a vision at four A.M., but as he confessed he had been fast asleep when I did see (an hour and three quarters before his efforts started), it would take a very ingenious person to prove that the latter had anything to do with the occurrence.
A deeply interesting corroboration reached me, however, a few weeks later, by which time I had visited the "Sounds," and many other places of interest, and had arrived safely at Auckland, in the North Island.
On the morning of my vision, I must not forget to mention, that I had spoken of it to Mr Kitchener's faithful Irish housekeeper, whose nationality I knew would prevent her thinking me a mere lunatic. By this time scepticism had the upper hand, and I was beginning to try to explain away everything in the true Podmorian spirit.
Could Mr Kitchener or any other person present have had to do with the matter? In this case my blissful feelings would naturally be merely the result of imagination, and easily disposed of on this ground. So I questioned the little housekeeper when she brought my hot water as to whether it could have been possible for Mr Kitchener or anyone else in the house to have access to a clean sheet or tablecloth, and to have masqueraded in the garden outside my room. She indignantly denied the possibility. "The linen is all locked up by me; besides, no one would have been so wicked. It might have frightened you out of your senses, ma'am! Do you suppose the master would have done such a thing?"
No; I did not really accuse anyone of such a cruel and stupid joke. Moreover, it was a little difficult, even for Podmorian ingenuity, to explain how man or woman, masquerading in a white sheet in the garden outside, could convey the fairly solid figure of a faked "George Eliot," who stood well out between the wall and my bed; and this through a thick green blind and curtains, when garden and room alike were shrouded in absolute darkness!
Foiled in all my attempts to find a "sensible solution" to the mystery, I determined to write and ask Lizzie Maynard of Melbourne if she could throw any light upon matters, my decision in taking this step being strengthened by the curious coincidence which I had just discovered—i.e. that Mr Kitchener's housekeeper had lived with the Maynards when they had had a house in Dunedin, which was later burnt down, as so often happens in the Colonies. "Jane" had lost sight of the Maynard family for years, and was much excited by my promising to write and tell them of my meeting with her.
Of course, I mentioned my strange experience and all the details connected with it—except the exact hour of the occurrence. It was by a pure oversight (as I supposed) that this fact was omitted. I have had reason since to believe that I was unconsciously impressed to leave out this special detail, in order that I might receive far better evidence than would have been possible under other circumstances. Had I mentioned the hour of the vision, the imagination of my young friends in Melbourne might have been at work as regards the hour of their experience, which was as follows:—
Several weeks after leaving Dunback I reached Auckland, and received amongst other letters one from Lizzie Maynard in answer to mine. Mr Kitchener had also written, saying what nice girls my friends the Maynards must be, and how kindly they had written to his excellent little housekeeper, sending her welcome gifts, and saying that her place had never been filled in their hearts, and so forth. Lizzie's letter to me began also about the excellences of "Jane," and the curious coincidence through which she had been once more put in touch with her; then she went on to say:
"It is indeed very remarkable about your experience, dear Miss Bates, but I think you will consider it much more remarkable when I tell you what we were doing that night. I was spending the week-end with our mutual friends Captain and Mrs Boyle" (in whose house she and I had encountered Mrs Burroughes), "and Lily Boyle and I were sleeping in the same room, as the house was full.
"On the evening of 31st December there was a little dance arranged, to 'dance the old year out and the new year in,' and at midnight we dispersed, the visitors going home, and those in the house retiring to bed. Lily and I were too much excited to get into bed at once, so I suggested that we should try to compose a letter to Miss Pearl" (this being the lady whose writings they greatly admired. I had allowed them to use my name as an introduction, should they wish to communicate with her at any time).
Lizzie went on to say how nervous they were about writing the letter, fearing that so popular an author might not take any notice of the badly expressed letter of two young colonial girls. However, she did her best, and Lily Boyle did her best, and the result was a hopeless failure! "Then," continued Lizzie, "a happy thought struck me—George Eliot had used my hand to convey her message to you last October; might we not, remembering this, appeal to her to help us in our difficulty? So we gave up trying to write the letter ourselves, took down planchette from its shelf, and started again. In a few moments an excellent letter was written, giving your name as an introduction, with all the little points you had specially begged us to remember in connection with Miss Pearl's probable prejudices. It was so splendidly written, and so quickly, that you can imagine our delight! We could not bear to give up planchette even after both our names had been signed, and I said pleadingly: 'Oh, don't go away! Do stop and tell us something more.'
"In large letters, as you see" (Lizzie enclosed the script), "was written very decidedly:
"NO, I CANNOT STAY WITH YOU NOW—I HAVE PROMISED TO GO AND SEE STELLA'S DAUGHTER.
"I remembered, dear Miss Bates, that G. Eliot had said your mother's name in spirit life was Stella, so, of course, we knew that she meant us to understand that she was going to see you.
"Unfortunately, you did not mention the hour of her visit, but we took the time when enclosed message was written—very accurately—in order to tell you about it, and the hour was just twelve-thirty A.M. Do write and tell us that was the time when she appeared to you—we feel sure it must have been—but are longing to have our idea confirmed, etc. etc."
Now my young friends had evidently entirely forgotten the difference in time between Dunedin and Melbourne, and I must confess to my own amazement when I found that it was considerably over the sixty minutes, which I should have vaguely supposed it to be.
In fact, I was rather disappointed to think there was so wide a margin between the two occurrences, until I casually asked a gentleman, who was staying in my hotel, if he could tell me the difference in time between the two cities.
"Not exactly, I'm afraid, but it is considerably over an hour. Ah, there is a good atlas! I can easily calculate it for you." He remained silent for a moment, and then raising his head, said: "As nearly an hour and three quarters as possible." This was pretty good evidence of the practically simultaneous experience of my friends in Melbourne at twelve-thirty A.M., with my own at two-fifteen A.M. in the neighbourhood of Dunedin.
When I first became acquainted with Mr Myers, shortly after my return from Australia and New Zealand, I told him this story. He was greatly interested, but pointed out that it was useless from the evidential point of view unless I would take the trouble to write one or two letters to the Colonies.
So I wrote to Mr Kitchener for confirmation of the fact that I was staying in his house on the night of 31st December 1887, and had told him of my experience next morning, exactly as here related. Then I had to get Miss Lizzie Maynard's testimony with regard to her letter to me, and finally, I think, the testimony of Lily Boyle and her father that Miss Maynard was their guest in Melbourne on the occasion of the New Year's Eve dance. These letters are presumably still amongst the archives of the Society of Psychical Research, and the story was printed by them in their Proceedings some years ago.
I may add a last evidential touch by saying that when I met Miss Pearl for the first time after my travels, she referred to the letter she had received—under favour of my introduction—and quite spontaneously remarked upon its excellence, adding:
"I could scarcely believe that two young Australian girls, as they described themselves to me, could have written such an admirable letter."
I did not disclose the real source of the composition, as the popular author thinks that she has no belief in spiritualism.
HONG KONG, ALASKA, AND NEW YORK
The spring months of 1888 found me at Brisbane, en route for China, after spending a pleasant month with old friends on a well-known station belonging to the late Sir Arthur Hodgson, named Eton Vale, and situated on the beautiful and healthy Darling Downs of Queensland.
Before returning to Sydney from New Zealand, my female "Dr Livingstone" had reappeared upon the scene in the most unexpected manner. Our "historical meeting" took place in an Auckland hotel, where she suddenly turned up one day, driven back from Samoa by the intense heat. So after some gentle recriminations, she "having supposed the delay on my part might mean an entire change of plan," and I having supposed—from her letters—that Sydney was such a Paradise that she could hardly be dragged from it even by a flaming sword, we agreed to cry "quits," and continue our travels together. So Miss Greenlow spent the month of March in Sydney, whilst I paid my visit to Queensland, and we met once more at Brisbane to take steamer for Thursday Island, Cape Darwin, and eventually Hong Kong. Only one small matter of psychic interest occurred during this voyage.
I have mentioned in a previous chapter the little "swallows," which I first saw in San Francisco in the year 1886. I had been accustomed to seeing them ever since that date, and had been frequently commiserated for incipient eye trouble in consequence, by more than one sceptical friend.
On the very day we went on board the Hong Kong steamer at Brisbane, a new sign appeared: a single bird, holding in its beak a ring with half hoop of five stones, presumably diamonds. I told my friend about this, but neither she nor I could imagine any significance in it. At that time we had not even met any of our fellow-passengers to speak to, for we were all taken up with settling into our cabins and trying to make ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would permit.
For a whole week the same little bird and the same ring were persistently held up before me. Then an inkling of the possible meaning broke upon me suddenly. Within a fortnight of our sailing this suspicion was confirmed, and the little bird's warning or suggestion amply justified. But "that is another story!" Curiously enough, the new "sign in the heavens" was withdrawn as soon as I had grasped its meaning.
I must hasten over our delightful stay in Japan, because amongst much of extreme interest from artistic, social, and various other points of view, nothing occurred which has any special bearing on my present subject.
Leaving Japan eventually by sailing from Yokohama to Vancouver (Washington territory), the old threads were once more put into my hands.
We made the acquaintance on board the old P. & O. Abyssinia of the late Captain MacArthur, a kindly and genial naval man. He was an Australian by birth, but belonged to our English navy, and was just returning home on his promotion as commander.
He became rather interested in my "queer ideas," and ended by suggesting some experiments with "the table," so he persuaded the ship's carpenter to put together a small rough wooden table. The sittings were held, generally after dinner, in either my cabin or that of my "stable companion" Miss Greenlow. So far as I remember, we three were the only sitters, and I am bound to confess the sittings were sometimes very monotonous, even viewed from the indulgent perspective of a sea voyage. In fact, I can now recall only one incident of any real value.
The dear old nurse, spoken of in my opening chapter, had now been for three or four years on the other side of the veil, but had never given me the slightest sign of her presence. But she came several times during this voyage, and always with the same object—namely, to entreat, and finally implore me, to give up a projected tour in Alaska.
Miss Greenlow and I had been prevented from undertaking this, two years earlier, when visiting Victoria (Vancouver), and she was very keen to go there from Washington territory on this occasion. I was not keen for the expedition, but had made no strong objection to it, and it was understood that we should go together.
This was the tour which my old nurse now pleaded so anxiously should be given up, so far as I was concerned.
"It will ruin your health, my darling," she said more than once. "Don't go there; take my advice." And on one occasion, just before landing, she added: "You will find letters awaiting you which will enable you to make other plans."
This proved true—in a certain way. The first letter opened in the budget which fell to my share, told me of the sudden death of our family solicitor, which would have been a good excuse for a hasty return to England had any such pretext been necessary.
But this was not the case, for my companion, although quite determined to go to Alaska herself, was not in the least inclined to over-persuade me to accompany her. She was a very independent woman, quite accustomed to travelling alone, and I knew that neither her enjoyment nor her convenience would be affected by my decision one way or the other. I had no wish to go myself, and, moreover, thought it quite probable that my dear old nurse's warnings might be amply justified. But there were other grave considerations to be taken into account, and I still feel that I adopted the right, although not the pleasanter course, when I allowed my fellow-passengers to depart East, joking me on my want of faith in the warnings from the spirits, and accompanied my friend, very unwillingly, to Alaska.
My nurse's earnest entreaties were only too fully justified on the physical plane, to say nothing of the miserable discomfort of the trip (which in those days had to be made in an overcrowded cargo boat.) I took a chill in those Arctic regions, which later developed into the longest and most serious illness of my life. It took months to make even a partial recovery, and the effects will remain during my life. Yet I have never regretted my decision.
This little episode seems to throw some light upon the way such warnings should be treated. To give no heed to them on the one hand, or to follow them blindly, in spite of every other consideration, on the other; these seem to me the Scylla and Charybdis of our lives. It shows that we must judge for ourselves; we cannot shift the burden of responsibility on any other shoulders. How could we gain the real education of life were it otherwise?
Had I turned my back on Alaska I should have gained enormously, physically speaking, and yet failed in a moral test. But my dear old nurse, who considered only—probably saw only—the physical evils to be avoided, was entirely in the right, from her standpoint. The faithful soul was doing her best to shield her nursling from danger.
A severe illness was entailed by my Alaska experiences. "Livingstone and Stanley" were once more separated. In other words, Miss Greenlow was obliged to return to England alone, leaving me to be nursed through a long and painful illness by kind friends and connections in Toronto. One of my doctors—the brother of my hostess—kindly made time to take me and my nurse to New York, in order that he might put me under the special care of the ship's doctor, and also be able to certify, as required, that I was in a fit condition to undertake the voyage.
It was during the day or two spent in New York before sailing, that I induced this gentleman to accompany me one evening to a seance held by Mrs Stoddart Gray, who has been previously mentioned in this narrative.
Dr Theodore Covernton had all the ordinary doctor's prejudices against anything unseen or unknown. He had read my book on America, and considered the chapter on "Spiritualism" a lamentable lapse "from the good sense shown in the rest of the book!" I represented to him that for a physician to deny all possibilities of Hypnotism or Mesmerism, Thought Transmission, etc., meant losing some very valuable aids in his profession, and would probably soon mean being left pretty badly behind in the race.
Knowing of no specially good hypnotist in New York, and as there was no time to find one out, I boldly suggested that he should plunge into still deeper depths of "folly," and accompany me to the house of Mrs Stoddart Gray.
The usual performances went on, but whether owing to Dr Covernton's attitude of mind or other causes, nothing of any special interest to him or to me occurred.
One incident impressed him, I think; certainly he could suggest no possible explanation of it, for it happened in a very fair amount of light and close to our feet. A gentleman and lady were sitting in the circle who had brought with them their little boy, a child of seven years old. I had asked the lady if she considered it wise to bring so young a child into such a milieu, several hours after an English child would have been put to bed, and her answer was cheery and characteristic:
"Well, I guess we shouldn't have much peace at home if we didn't bring Charlie along with us to see his Granny. We took him once, and since then he always insists upon coming. He loves talking to his Granny, and he is not a bit afraid of her."
At this moment a small frail woman stepped out from the cabinet, and came right up towards us, motioning to the little grandson that she wished him to go into the cabinet with her. This he did without a moment's hesitation, and the curtain fell, and concealed them both from view. The interview lasted for some minutes, and when the little boy reappeared, he was holding his Granny by the hand, and was evidently on the best of terms with her. I do not expect my readers to believe me, but this is exactly what happened next:
The child had brought some toys—a little train and some building blocks—"to get Granny to play with him as usual," and the fragile old lady knelt down on the floor, and played with him just as any ordinary Granny might have done, only with far more agility.
In the very midst of their brick building and train starting, a terrible catastrophe occurred, which spoilt the rest of the evening for the poor child. Granny had evidently forgotten that her time was limited, by conditions of which we are still profoundly ignorant.
Quite suddenly, and without a word of warning, she disappeared, not into the cabinet at her back, but right through the carpet under our feet, and well within a yard of the said feet, and this with two or three gas-jets burning over our heads!
There was no mistake about it. Dr Covernton and I were sitting next to the father and mother, whilst the child and his grandmother played at our feet. One moment she was there; the next she had disappeared like a flash into a mere cloud of mist, and even this was quickly withdrawn, apparently through the floor. No trap-door theory could account for this, because the woman had disappeared, and only the wisp of ethereal garments remained, before the latter were also dissipated. We must, moreover, note the difficulty of working a trap door immediately under the feet of a sceptical young physician, who at once investigated the carpet, hoping in vain to find in it some solution of the mystery!
I have already mentioned that the whole incident took place, in light sufficiently good to read a book without straining the eyes.
The poor little boy was terribly upset, and sobbed bitterly. His parents said they had brought him many times before, and such a fiasco had never before taken place. Mrs Stoddart Gray was very indignant about it.
"Too bad! She ought to have known she was staying too long, and risking a fright for the child. If she had only gone back into the cabinet he would not have been frightened. But she stayed too long and had not enough strength to get back."
The child was too thoroughly frightened and upset to admit of any consolation, and the parents were obliged to take him away, still sobbing, and asking why Granny had gone away like that and given him such a fright.
A year later, in London, I took Dr Covernton—by appointment—to see Dr Carl Hansen, who was then giving hypnotic treatment, and also doing some work in demonstrations for the Society for Psychical Research. Dr Hansen tried in vain to put either Dr Theodore Covernton or myself under the influence, so was obliged to have recourse to his wife. Naturally this was considered a "most suspicious circumstance" by my companion; but I noticed that he was very much interested in his conversation with her—from the medical point of view—and he was sufficiently honest to admit that he could not explain what happened in his presence, upon any normal hypothesis.
In the month of November 1890 I started with a young friend for my first visit to India.
My companion was still at the age when social India was naturally more interesting to her than either the historical or mystical aspects of the country. And, for myself, I went there in those days rather to see the glorious buildings of a magnificent Past, than with any view of wresting occult secrets from the Fakirs and Yogis of the Present.
It was well perhaps that one's ambitions were so limited by the Possible, for I am very much inclined to think that Mystic India is and must remain a sealed book for the English.
We must always remember the natural prejudices of a conquered race towards the conqueror. In addition to this, the Hindoostanees consider (and who shall say without ample cause?) that Englishmen are hopelessly "borne" and sunk in materialism, incapable of exercising an imagination which they don't possess; with a top dressing of conventional orthodoxy, so far as their own special religion is concerned, but with nothing but ridicule or thinly veiled contempt for the religious channels through which other races may be taking their spiritual food. We have given them only too much reason for these conclusions.
As a consequence of this state of things, Englishmen and women are looked upon as "quite impossible" from the Indian point of view, and a devout and educated Hindoo would no more think of discussing his transcendental ideas with such people than we should think of discussing delicate questions of Art—in its various branches—with the first village yokel we happened to meet in the road. I was confirmed in these ideas by noticing the difference in the welcome accorded to a charming young Swedish lady, whom we met at Benares on her wedding tour. She had brought excellent native introductions from her own country, where certain Rajahs and Maharajahs had been entertained by her King, and thanks to these, and, as she said, "to the fact of my not being English," she had access to many interesting places, and took part in interesting functions, from which the rest of us were debarred.
I am hoping to pay a third visit to India some day, with the special object in view of occult investigation. It remains to be seen whether, by any fortunate accident, I may then be more successful in encountering anything more interesting than the ordinary clever conjurers, who sometimes pose as Fakirs, and may be found by the tourist on every hotel veranda in India.
Meanwhile I am limited by the title of my book to personal incidents, as to which I find one or two notes in my Indian diary.
Making the usual tour, but including Lahore—where my brother had lived at Government House for several years as Military Secretary to Sir Robert Egerton (who was in his day), Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab—we came in due course to Delhi.
Our first day there was devoted to tracing Mutiny relics of all kinds, and about four P.M. in the afternoon we drove out to the famous Ridge to see the Mutiny Memorial. This, as most people nowadays know, is a red standstone tower, with staircase of rough stone inside, and small windows pierced through at varying intervals. It stands upon an extensive marble flooring, which is inscribed with the names of the various regiments—officers and men—who took part in the renowned siege, and died for their country in consequence.
As we drove towards the Memorial, the whole place seemed to be in a flutter of excitement. Hundreds of coolies were flocking round, and we both remarked how much more interested they appeared to be in these monuments of past events than the corresponding class of English labourers would have been. But on arrival we found there was no question of intelligent historical interest. The fact was that a poor coolie—who had just climbed up the Memorial Tower by the inner staircase—had fallen out of one of the windows described, and was lying on the marble floor below, at the far side from us, crushed and dying. We were told that an Englishman had, fortunately, been present, and had driven off at once for a doctor. So nothing could be done for the poor man until the latter arrived.
Meanwhile our native servant—Bobajee—had, of course, rushed off to see what was to be seen of the tragedy, and, rather to my horror, my girl friend seemed about to follow his example! It was terrible to think of the poor man lying there in his death agony; but he was already surrounded by natives, and no real help could be given without fear of doing more harm than good before the doctor was brought to the spot. Therefore merely to go and look on, without being able to succour, seemed to me an added horror to the tragedy, and I turned round rather sharply on my young friend, and expostulated with her. As a matter of fact, she did not go; but I am obliged to mention the incident as accounting for a certain momentary excitement and annoyance on my part, which proved to be factors in the story about to be related.
Allowing for difference of time between Delhi and London, a very old friend of mine, Lady Wincote (who was then living in London, where I was in the habit of visiting her constantly when in town), was lying in bed, resting after a disturbed night, at the very hour of our visit to the Mutiny Memorial.
It was about noon in England; she was fully awake, and had been reading. Looking at her watch she realised it was time to make a move if she meant to come down for luncheon. Suddenly the door opened, and I walked into her bedroom, and right round the bed, until I stood between her and the window, which was to her left as she lay in bed.
I was dressed in ordinary outdoor attire, and seemed much excited and annoyed about something. I was talking continuously, as it seemed to her; but she could not make out any connected sentences, and "wondered what had upset me" so much. She spoke to me, asking what had happened; but I took no notice of her questions, standing with my face to the window and my back to her for a few moments. Then I turned round, and deliberately retraced my steps, past the ottoman, skirting round the bed, and was just disappearing through the door, when she made a final effort to attract my attention, asking a very practical question:
"Emmie! Do tell me before you go, what number you are staying at in Oxford Terrace" (the part of town where I always stayed at that time). Lady Wincote said: "You made no answer at all, but whisked out of the door in a great hurry, and then for the first time I remembered that you were in India. It had all seemed so natural, as you had often been in my bedroom, that I only thought at the moment that you must have returned unexpectedly to London from the country. My one anxiety was to know which number on the Terrace would find you, in case you had changed your address there."
Now all this was, fortunately, written out to me by my friend on the very day that it happened—i.e. 8th January 1891—and crossed my letter to her telling her of the incident. My letter was written a day or two later I think; but I was keeping a strict diary at the time, and under date of 8th January have the record of the event, corresponding with the date of Lady Wincote's letter to me.
 Both my diary and Lady Wincote's letter were shown to Mr Myers on my return to England, also my letter which crossed the one from Lady Wincote to me. He was greatly interested in the account.
Probably in any case I should have written to tell this friend of the incident, on account of a conversation I had with Bobajee when he returned from his ghastly entertainment. I had looked inside the Memorial, and had seen that the stone steps were crumbling away and looked very unsafe, so when he came back and said: "Something bad inside there, Lady Sahib," I concluded naturally that he was referring to the state of the staircase, and attributing the poor coolie's fall to some such cause.
But he denied this strenuously: "No! no! Lady Sahib—some bad debil inside there. He threw coolie over!" Then he went on to tell us that on one special night in the year no native man, woman, or child in the whole city could be induced to pass the Mutiny Memorial at midnight. The few daring souls who had passed there, had found the tower all lighted up inside, and the Sepoys and the British soldiers had come back, and were fighting their battles over again! The man spoke in simple good faith, and assured me that all Delhi people knew this to be a fact, and gave the place a wide berth on that anniversary.
The idea of the "bad debil" throwing the poor coolie down from the top of the tower, followed by this curious legend, interested me as a bit of folk-lore, but my companion was drastic in her remarks. "Silly nonsense, Bobajee!" was her reception of the story; and this made me feel intensely sorry for the moment, that Lady Wincote, who would have been as much interested as myself, should not have been present. Did this moment of intense desire for her, project itself into the appearance she saw in her room? Who can say? Certainly it was a curious coincidence that she should see me in an annoyed and excited state just when I was feeling annoyed and excited—so many thousand miles away.
Delhi seems to have been specially favourable to psychic experiences, for I find another one recorded on the very day succeeding the last event.
My friend, having some slight ailment, I had driven out alone with our native servant, and we made a long tour, returning about six P.M. past Ludlow Castle, of famous Mutiny memory, and still—in the year 1891—a Government bungalow.
The present Czar of Russia was travelling through India at the time as Czarewitch, with his cousin, Prince George of Greece, and they were expected to arrive in Delhi that same evening. The Royal party and suite were to be lodged at Ludlow Castle, and were expected within an hour.
Bobajee jumped off the box of my carriage, and urged me to "go look, see!"
"No, Bobajee! Drive on—can't go look see—they no let me in."
"Yes, yes, Lady Sahib," he said eagerly—"everything ready—all gone away—nobody in there yet."
With our English notions this seems inconceivable, but it proved to be absolutely true. I went in, expecting to be turned back ignominiously before I had crossed the hall, but there was positively no one there! The place was like a City of the Dead. Yet within an hour, a banquet arranged for about seventy people was to take place! I made the best of my opportunity, ranged through the numerous bedrooms—with hanging Japanese blinds shutting them off and each one inscribed with the card of the special Russian or Greek general who formed part of the suite. At length I strolled into the dining-room—a long, narrow room—arranged for the coming festivity (at least sixty to seventy covers were laid), the flowers arranged on the tablecloth in the pretty, artistic Indian fashion, all the beautiful glass and silver placed in readiness.
Nothing was wanting but the presence of the guests for whom all this preparation had been made.
The short Indian twilight was already upon us as I stood there for a moment, contrasting the dead and almost eerie silence, with the lights and laughter that would so quickly replace it.
A fireplace was close to me as I stood at the far end of the room, looking down the whole length of the table. Glancing up, I realised that the only picture in the room was hung over this fireplace. The picture in question had no artistic value—the painting was flat and poor; even the subject did not strike me for the first moment as anything very remarkable. It was the portrait of a man in the prime of life—about thirty-five, I should have supposed—with the long whiskers and rather prim pose of a portrait made by an evidently poor artist, probably thirty or forty years previous to my visit.
But as I looked again, a curious sensation came over me. In spite of the painter's failure to convey anything more like a living man than a dead pressed rose is like a living rose, there was something in the eyes of the portrait that held me, something that rose triumphant above the artist's limitations. At the same moment I was conscious of a Presence behind my back; of somebody who was looking at the picture with me; of somebody who was saying to me (not with the outer, but an inner voice): "That is a picture of me, but I am not there—I am here, close to you; behind your shoulder—I am looking at it with you."
The impression was so strong that it seemed almost as if a hand were pressing on my shoulder. I turned round involuntarily, but no one was there. Then I looked at the picture again, and always with the same weird sensation that the man whom the picture represented had been strong enough to make me feel his actual presence in the room, although I could see nothing. There was no name on the picture of either subject or artist, no possible clue to identity, and looked at as a picture alone, there was nothing in the flat, conventional presentment of the features to account for my experience. This made it the more remarkable. I could scarcely tear myself away from the almost overwhelming sense of the presence of some strong and strangely magnetic personality, but the fast fading twilight warned me not to risk an ignominious retreat. So I went hurriedly through the large and handsome drawing-room, which was filled with portraits, chiefly of deceased governors and generals, many of them admirably painted, and a striking contrast to the one poor and commonplace picture already seen.
The absolute incongruity between the impression received and the object which roused it, led me to make inquiries, in spite of my friend's jokes over my powers of imagination.
"Anyway, I am going to clear this up," I said with determination; and in a few days my perseverance was rewarded, and my impression amply justified, by finding that I had been looking at the portrait—feeble and poor as it was—of Brigadier-General Nicholson.
None of my readers need to be told that if any dead man could impress himself upon the living, this would be the man capable of such a feat.
Even to this day there is a small religious sect in India called the Nicholasain, who have handed down the memory of this "god rather than man," who had to dismount from his horse occasionally, to thrash his would-be worshippers, and put a stop to their inconvenient adoration!
Nicholson's brilliant achievements in the Mutiny; his absolute control over men of the most diverse character; the devotion with which he inspired his soldiers, and his own glorious death in the very moment of victory—all these are matters of history.
I feel glad and grateful to have known, even for a few passing moments, what that influence had been; and when I found out Brigadier-General Nicholson's grave at Delhi, after my Ludlow Castle experience, I left my flowers on the grave of an honoured acquaintance, rather than of a man known to me only through historical records.
One more incident, or rather coincidence, and I must close my Indian chapter.
This also is connected with the Mutiny and with Delhi, but the special coincidence, to which I refer, took place at Agra, when my friend and I were staying at the hotel there in the early spring of 1891.
One of my oldest and most valued friends is Lieutenant-Colonel Alfred S. Jones, V.C., formerly of the 9th Lancers, and one of our Mutiny heroes. As everything connected with that historical tragedy seems to have perennial interest for every Englishman—no matter what his creed or politics—I make no excuse for furnishing some details connected with my friend's career. His record from Hart's Army List is as follows:—
"Lieutenant-Colonel Jones was present at the battle of Budlekee Serai, and at Delhi throughout the siege operations, including the assault and capture of the city, having been D.A.Q.M.G. from 8th August to 23rd September 1857. Served with the 9th Lancers in Greathead's pursuing column, and was present in the actions of Bolimshuhur and Alighur and battle of Agra—where he was dangerously wounded, having received a musket-shot wound and twenty-two sabre cuts. He was mentioned in the despatches of Sir Hope Grant on three different occasions, and has received the Victoria Cross for taking a nine-pounder gun, with the assistance of some men from his squadron, in the action of Budlekee Serai (medal with clasp and Brevet of Major)."
Although, as a child, I had heard of the bravery and the terrible wounds of one who was to become later in life one of my greatest friends, the actual details of the Agra catastrophe were hazy in my memory. Two things, however, had remained firmly imbedded in my mind—first, that a brother officer had told me that he was standing close by Colonel Jones when, as a young officer, the latter attended the Levee to receive his Victoria Cross, and that the Queen was so much agitated by his appearance that she could hardly pin it on. Also, that this brother officer heard her whisper to her husband: "My God, Albert! look at that poor boy! He has been cut to pieces!"
The other childish memory is that the Taj had been turned into a hospital at the time of the Mutiny, and that my friend, amongst others, had been nursed there. This latter proved to have been a mistake on the part of my informants. It was the Moti Musjid (the Pearl Mosque) which was turned to this account, and in which my friend was nursed back to life, to the surprise of all who knew the extent of his disaster.
It is specially important for people blessed, or cursed, with psychic gifts "to give no occasion to the enemy" by exaggeration or inexact memory of details. So, with the wholesome dread of a well-read reviewer before my eyes, I determined to go to the fountain-head, and ask Colonel Jones himself to supply me with the true incidents which make the Agra episode a moving picture before our eyes. He has kindly consented to do this, and I give the narrative in his own words:—
After the fall of Delhi, a column, under General Greathead, was sent down to Lucknow, and as three squadrons of the 9th Lancers were told off to go, I resigned my staff appointment, and went with my troop.
After two fights—Bolimshuhur and Alighur—we were hurried off to Agra, sixty-six miles in thirty-six hours. But on arrival we found that the Agra people had recovered from their fright and Greathead was fool enough to believe their story that the enemy was twelve miles away, and therefore took up ground for our camp, just by the graveyard and parade-ground, which you will remember. There was a high crop of sugar-cane, concealing everything beyond the parade-ground, and after most of the officers of the whole force had gone off to Agra Fort to breakfast with friends, cannon-shot began to fall amongst us; and everyone had time to fall in, as the horses had not been unsaddled.
My squadron, consisting of French's and my troops, was told off as an escort to Blunt's Battery, F.A., which formed the left of the line, consisting of our other two squadrons, more F. Artillery, 8th and 75th Regiments, etc., all moving to the front through high crops.
Then we saw the enemy—700 or 800 yards off—and Blunt unlimbered his guns, and began to fire, when we soon saw a body of cavalry moving off across our front, to turn our left flank, and Blunt said we must go back to defend our camp. So he limbered up, and we all (i.e. our squadron and Blunt's guns) began to straggle back through the high crops. But Blunt said he must leave one troop with two of his guns, and French's troop was stopped for the purpose. Instead of staying with it, he felt so sure we should have a chance at the cavalry we had seen (Mutineers) that he came on with me, and together we formed up my troop on the parade-ground, close to Blunt's guns, which we saw already unlimbered.
A squadron of Irregular (mutinied) cavalry was coming in our direction over the parade-ground, with a blue squadron of (mutinied) regular cavalry in support, both trotting; so, of course, we went for the Red (head of the echellon they formed).
Then I saw French shot, and the hind quarters of his grey horse pass round the left flank of my little troop; then I gave the word GALLOP, and the Red squadron, to my surprise, halted.
Observing its leader taking aim at me with his carbine, I inclined a little to my left, in order to stick him, never dreaming that I should be hit before I could do so, and I was almost within reach before he fired, and his bullet went through my bridle arm, so I had to take my reins on my sword hand and jam my horse into the ranks, just behind the squadron leader who had shot me.
Now to clear up your mystery about my being left to my fate (I had specially asked Colonel Jones how he happened to be left alone amongst the Sepoys, whose numbers were registered by his sabre cuts in so ghastly a fashion), I was not left to my fate; on the contrary, the man on the left of my troop, who alone could see, put his lance through the squadron leader, and stayed about—outside the ring—trying to get to me to the last, and got the V.C. on my report to that effect.
My troop, occupying, in double rank, about twenty yards, went straight on after the twenty yards or so front of the enemy's probable front of perhaps fifty yards. So there were plenty of Sowars left to mob round me and to keep off the man who tried to save me. Of course, my men were quite right in pursuing the broken force as they did, right off the field.
This account has the immense advantage of being taken verbatim from Colonel Jones' letter just received by me. It has the disadvantage that such a letter, from a brave man, would naturally possess—i.e. that of minimising his share in the episode to the point of making it difficult for the lay mind to realise where the heroism came in—which heroism is a vital point in my "coincidence." Fortunately, I have the best authority for saying that the "Blunt" mentioned in this record always maintained that Colonel Alfred Jones had "saved his guns." It appears that at the time of the unexpected attack from the enemy, Colonel Jones and two or three friends (who had not gone to the fort) were breakfasting under the shade of the cemetery wall when the alarm was given. My friend, wishing to rest his charger after the long forced march from Agra, had taken a spare troop horse, saddled with a hunting saddle.
When the round shot began to fall, there was no time to get his charger. There was nothing for it but to put on sword and pistol and ride straight in to the enemy's ranks. No wonder the poor people shut up in Agra were enthusiastic over this "charge of cavalry in their shirt sleeves," as they called it.
In 1891 I was staying in Agra, at the hotel, with my friend of the Delhi incident. A certain Major Pulford, who had come to Agra to race some ponies, divided us at the table d'hote. He and I had been neighbours for two or three days, when he asked me carelessly one evening what I had been doing that afternoon, as my friend confessed to having taken a "day off."
Now I had spent the afternoon at the Taj, and had made many inquiries about the tradition that this building had once been turned into a hospital. No one knew anything about it. One old Hindoo, evidently thinking I wished him to say "Yes," remembered hearing that this had been the case "about eighty years ago." This last artistic touch of accuracy was fatal to his bona fides, and I turned away in disgust.
So I told Major Pulford my story, and we laughed over the well-known fact that a Hindoo of that class always tries to find out what you wish him to say, and then says it!
Major Pulford asked why I was so keen on the subject.
"Because a very old friend of mine was badly wounded at Agra during the Mutiny, and from a child I have had the impression that he was nursed in the Taj."
"No," he answered. "I am sure the Taj was never used as a hospital, but I think the Pearl Mosque may have been. This would account for the mistake, probably."
Now the point in this incident is the fact that I had not mentioned my friend's name to Major Pulford.
Had the name been a more distinctive one, I might have mentioned it, although realising that Major Pulford was too young a man to have known anything about the Mutiny at first hand.
We talked casually on the subject for a few minutes, and then he said: "Of course, I was a baby at the time, but I have read and heard any amount about it, naturally. My boyish hero was a fellow named Jones of the 9th Lancers, who was so awfully plucky in their celebrated charge, when surprised by the enemy on the Agra parade-ground. I know nothing about the fellow except what I have read. I believe he is alive still, but they say he was almost cut to pieces then."
"That is the friend whom I thought had been nursed in the Taj," was my astonished answer.
Major Pulford's delight was unbounded to have come by so strange a coincidence even thus near to the hero of his youth. For myself, I recognised that I had sat next to the only man, probably then in India, who could have given me the accurate and precise details of the whole affair!
"I know every inch of the ground, and just where it all happened," he said eagerly. "Do let me drive you and your friend over there to-morrow in my buggy, and I will point out every detail."
He did so next day, leaving me with the most vivid impression of the scene of my friend's gallant fight for life, against such overwhelming odds.
That he should still be alive and active—nearly fifty years later—seems little short of a miracle!
SWEDEN AND RUSSIA, 1892
Travelling in Sweden in the spring of 1892, I carried with me from England an introduction to the Swedish Consul at Gottenburg. One of the sisters of this gentleman was married to an Englishman—a Mr Romilly—and he and his wife chanced to come over for a visit during my stay.
Speaking of psychic matters one day, Mr Romilly told me the story of his first cousin (a well-known woman of title) and her Egyptian necklace. A present had been made to her (I think on her marriage) of a very beautiful Egyptian necklace with stones of the exquisite blue shade so well known by travellers in Egypt.
These special stones, alas! must evidently have been genuine, and rifled from some old tomb, for the owner of the necklace appeared one night by the lady's bedside, and warned her that she would have no peace so long as she persisted in wearing his property.
So the lady very wisely locked up the necklace in her dressing-case, and fondly trusted the Egyptian ghost would be satisfied.
Not a bit of it! In a short time he appeared again, and told her that she would be haunted by his unwelcome presence so long as the necklace remained in her possession. She then drove off with it, and deposited it with her lawyer, who locked it up in a tin case, doubtless with a secret smile at his noble client's superstitions. But Nemesis lay in wait for him, and the last thing Mr Romilly had heard upon the subject was that the lawyer himself was made so exceedingly uncomfortable by the attentions of the Egyptian gentleman that he was obliged to have necklace and tin case buried together in his back garden! To have forced a lawyer into such extreme measures was certainly a "score" for the ghost!
A few months later, I met the heroine of the story at a friend's house at tea, and speaking of her relation, who had married a Swedish wife, and whom I had met in Gottenburg, I alluded discreetly to the story of the blue necklace.
My companion at once endorsed it in toto, and did not seem at all annoyed by the fact that her cousin had mentioned it to me. I remember that Mrs Romilly "laid the cards" for me, with astonishing success, and told me she had learnt the mystic lore from an old Finnish nurse, who had been brought over from Finland by her own Swedish grandfather when quite a young girl, and had lived in the family until her death. She assured me that the Finns were specially gifted in all kinds of gipsy lore.
From Stockholm we paid a visit to Russia, and in St Petersburg I had my first personal experience since leaving home.
We had engaged, as courier during our stay in the city, a German who had lived there for forty years, named Kuentze, I think.
We were staying at the Hotel de France, and this man told me one day that a celebrated French modiste had rooms in our hotel, having come there to show her beautiful Parisian costumes, and to take orders as usual from the Russian Royal Family and Ladies of the Court. He also mentioned the Frenchwoman's recent misfortune in hearing—since her arrival in Russia—that her trusted manager in Paris had disappeared suddenly, carrying away with him 100,000 francs.
Two nights later I had gone to bed as usual about ten-thirty P.M., and must have slept for nearly four hours, when I awoke feeling the heat very oppressive. It was almost the end of June at the time. Getting out of bed to open my window still farther, I gazed down upon the courtyard which it overlooked, noting the absolute stillness of the house and the hot, oppressive air outside.
Suddenly this stillness was rent by the most horrible and appalling shrieks! Peal after peal rang out. I have never heard anything so ghastly nor so blood-curdling either before or since. For a moment it seemed that one must be dreaming. What horrors, to justify such awful shrieks, could be taking place at this quiet hour and in this quiet, respectable hotel?
Nothing less than murder suggested itself to me, and I quickly crossed the room, and turned the key in the lock. My next thought was for my companion—the Miss Greenlow of American days. She was sleeping next door to me, with an intervening door between us.
I hammered loudly upon this, and finally opened it. I knew she always locked her outer door, but feared she might go into the passage, not realising the danger in the moment of waking, and might fall into the murderer's hands. So I called out: "Wake up—wake up, Miss Greenlow!—but don't open your door. Someone is being murdered out there."
I had heard every other door in the passage opening, and the scared inmates rushing to and fro, so there was no question of feeling bound to give the alarm.
Miss Greenlow, being an extremely lymphatic person, was still sleeping the sleep of the just. I gave her a good shake at last, finding knocks and calls of no avail; but she only turned over sleepily, murmuring: "Oh, it's all right! I don't suppose there is anything much the matter—do go to bed again!"
So I returned to my own room, and as the horrible screams had now ceased, I opened my door very gently, and looked down the dimly lighted passage. My room was a corner one, exactly at the head of the wide staircase; to the left-hand side, for anyone mounting the stairs. Exactly opposite my door, with a wide passage between, was the room which had been pointed out to me as belonging to the famous French modiste.
Miss Greenlow was evidently the only person in the hotel who had slept through the horrors of that night, for small groups were gathered together at various points along the corridor, and at every door some scared man or woman was looking out, anxious, like myself, to solve the dreadful mystery.
At that moment my eyes lighted on my special German waiter talking in a hushed whisper to a musjig—in the usual red coat. So I beckoned to him, and very reluctantly he came to my door.
Being asked in German what was the meaning of the shrieks we had heard, he said at once that a lady had been taken ill suddenly.
The man was a bad liar, and a child would have seen that he was repeating a made-up story. But nothing more could be got out of him, so I dismissed him impatiently, saying: "What is the good of telling me such nonsense? I shall find out for myself to-morrow."
Once more I shut and locked the door, and lay for an hour or two thinking over the ghastly disturbance, and wondering who could have been the hapless victim. It was now about five A.M., and full dawn. As so often happens, even after the most sleepless night, I dozed off then, and slept for more than an hour, and during my sleep I dreamed—and this was my dream. It must first be noted that the wide staircase I have described as passing close to my room was thence continued upward to the next floor. In my dream or vision I saw distinctly a woman in a white nightgown, with dark hair streaming down her back, rushing up this second flight of stairs in the most distraught and reckless fashion. In one hand she held a knife, and was trying to stab herself with it, as a musjig—in crimson coat—rushed after her, and endeavoured to wrench it out of her hand. Two or three other people ran up the stairs behind her, but only this peasant seemed to have the courage or presence of mind to grapple with her. In a few moments, as it seemed to me, the vision, so startling and clear cut, faded away, and I sank into a dreamless sleep, I suppose, for it was past six A.M. when I woke finally.
When the German waiter appeared with my breakfast I said rather curtly to him: "You need not have troubled to make up that foolish story last night; I know what happened—I have seen it."
He looked very incredulous, so I went on: "The lady was trying to kill herself, and rushed up to the next floor with a knife in her hand. I saw the musjig run after her and force it from her."
The man was absolutely speechless. He said not one syllable, either of corroboration or denial, but left the room as quickly as possible, looking scared, and certainly left the impression upon my mind that my vision represented what had actually taken place an hour or two previously.
To my great surprise, however, our respectable and dependable courier, Kuentze, gave quite a different version of the affair.
He came as usual to my room to take his orders for the day—Miss Greenlow being present—and at once referred to the terrible tragedy.
"Ah, poor lady! you remember my telling you about her the other day, and how her manager had run away with all that money? Now this frightful misfortune has happened to her, and no one knows if she will survive it. She is still alive, however, and is to be taken to the hospital at one P.M."
"But what has happened, Kuentze?" I said impatiently, rather irritated, if the truth must be told, by his mysterious allusions and Miss Greenlow's assumption of profound indifference. Of course, no self-respecting person, having calmly slept through such a tragedy, could be otherwise than indifferent next morning! Kuentze's story was far more artistic than that of the waiter, and was skilfully interwoven with shreds of truth, as I discovered later.
He said that "the poor lady" was in the habit of making herself a cup of tea in the middle of the night when wakeful; also that she wore wide, hanging muslin sleeves with her night attire. She had risen as usual from a sleepless bed to make tea with her little Etna. Unfortunately, she had set fire to a sleeve, which at once burned up, and in a few moments she was enveloped in flames, owing to the flimsy material she wore. Then the shrieks began which had so thrilled our nerves. A Russian gentleman, sleeping near her, was awakened by the noise, and knowing that she was a rich woman, and had brought many valuables with her, he concluded she was being murdered; so he rushed to the rescue with a revolver, found the burning woman, and he and the musjig at length succeeded in putting out the flames.
The story was well told, and perfectly credible. Miss Greenlow could not resist pointing out how entirely it annihilated my vision. No suicide!—no knife!—no rush up the staircase!—nothing, in fact, that might not have been, and, of course, must have been a mere freak of imagination during my troubled sleep. In the face of Kuentze's quiet and detailed statement I could only agree with her, and so the matter rested for some months. The poor woman meanwhile remained in the hospital, and her son and daughter were telegraphed for from Paris. We found them at the hotel on our return there, three weeks later, from Moscow. There was then some slight hope of ultimate recovery, but within six or seven weeks from the "accident" the unfortunate woman died from shock and exhaustion.
From Russia we returned to Stockholm and Christiania, where Miss Greenlow took the steamer for Hull, and I went up into the Dovre Feld Mountains to join a Swedish friend, already mentioned in my chapter on India.
I told her my story of the poor French modiste and her sad and painful accident, also about my curiously vivid and yet inaccurate vision, and we discussed the latter in quite an S.P.R. spirit! We were then in a very remote part of the Dovre Feld, where foreign papers were practically inaccessible.
I had left my friend in Norway, and returned to England a week or two before receiving a very interesting letter from her.
In it she said: "I have just got hold of some French papers, and I see that poor woman you told me about, has just died in Petersburg, and the real story has now come out.
"It seems that it was suicide after all, so your vision was quite true!
"She had received large sums in advance for commissions from some of the Russian nobility, and had either spent or speculated with them. That was why she had to invent the story of an embezzling manager, to cover her own shortcomings. But the truth was leaking out in spite of her endeavours, and she made up her mind to commit suicide rather than face the horrors of a Russian prison. The paper goes on to say that she chose a most terrible death, little realising what the torture would be. It seems that she waited till the middle of the night you described, and then covered her whole body with oil, and set fire to it! This accounts, of course, for the horrible shrieks you heard. In her awful agony she seized a knife—that she had either secreted or found in her room—rushed out into the passage in a blaze, and when the musjig tried to stop her, she ran from him, and attempted to stab herself as she made her way up the stairs. All this you seem to have seen accurately; also the fact that the musjig pursued her and succeeded in wrenching the knife from her hands before she had injured herself with it. The paper mentions that a Russian gentleman had gone to the rescue when he heard the shrieks, but this was before she had got hold of the knife, and it was the musjig alone who saved her, in the end, from immediate death."
During this Russian visit we had gone down to Moscow from Petersburg, and here again a curious adventure befell me.
It was, as I have said, in the height of the summer, and one was thankful to have a large, handsome room, with three windows looking over the square, and the famous Kremlin Palace in the distance. My room was divided into two unequal parts, separated from each other by a door which was, during the hot season, thrown wide open and fastened back securely. Between this door and the one opening into the outer corridor the washing apparatus stood, and also a wardrobe of white painted deal, with a very poor lock to it, as I discovered later.
On retiring to rest the first night, I locked the outer door, undressed in this ante-room, and finally hung up my gown in the wardrobe I have mentioned. Then, after looking out of the windows on the fast diminishing crowd below in the square, I went to bed, feeling quite cheerful, and looking forward to a long night's rest after a journey which had been hot and tiring.
As so often happens, one was probably over-tired, and sleep was not to be wooed by any of the usual methods. In vain I counted sheep getting over a hedge, added a hundred up backward and forward, tried deep breathing, and other little "parlour games." It was absolutely useless. Twelve o'clock struck, then the half hour, and I gathered from the stillness below that the good Moscow citizens had retired to their respective homes. This seemed an added insult! Then one o'clock struck, and after that I lay for a seeming eternity, before two strokes from the clock outside indicated the half hour. Scarcely had the reverberation ceased when I heard cautious sounds in the corridor, which gave me a good fright, and made me regret the silence I had found so irksome. The outer door of my room was quietly being opened, creaking on its hinges in the most ordinary and commonplace way, but evidently opening under a very wary hand. "Then I could not have locked it after all!" And yet I felt so convinced that I had done so! Certainly I had intended to do so on my first night in a strange hotel! The best I could hope was that some other new arrival had mistaken his room, and was returning late, and consequently trying to be as quiet as possible. This flashed through my mind, and brought a moment's comfort. I expected to see a man's head round the open door at the foot of my bed, and to hear a hurried apology and still more hurried retreat. I say a man's head, for the footsteps, though so quiet and cautious, were without doubt a man's footsteps. But several moments passed in horrible suspense. The outer door had creaked on its hinges and opened without a shadow of doubt. Where was the man?
The door had not closed again, so far as I could hear. From my bed I could not command a view of the smaller portion of the room, where, presumably, he must be hidden. There was nothing but the wash-hand stand and the wardrobe there. What could he be doing or waiting for? My comforting supposition of a mistake in the number of his room, made by an innocent guest, could not be stretched wide enough to account for the long pause. Perhaps it was some robber lurking about the passages! He had tried my door gently, and found it open. I had heard the door creak on its hinges in spite of all his care. Now he was doubtless waiting to make sure that this noise had not awakened me before beginning his operations!
This was the only reasonable supposition, and I lay in absolute terror for some minutes, fearing to stir or almost to breathe at such close quarters, and quite incapable of rising and putting an end to my terrible suspense. I longed to hear the next "quarter" strike, but nothing relieved the dead silence in my room and in the streets outside. At long last the quarter to two struck, and something in the friendly tones of the massive clock relieved the tension and gave me courage—the courage of desperation—to strike a match and light my candle before starting on a tour of discovery. The middle door was fastened back, as I had found it when taking possession of the room. In any case, that was not the door which had been opened—the sound came from the outer door. I must find out if anyone were hiding in the little dressing-room; and in any case, I must lock the outer door, which I had felt so certain I had locked on coming up to my room. I passed through the open inner door with fear and trembling. To my relief, the small apartment was apparently empty. The wardrobe stood partly open, but nothing more terrible than my own gown was inside it. Then I made my way to the outer door, which gave on to the corridor, determined to make sure of locking it firmly this time. After all, it must have been a wandering guest, who had discovered his mistake at once, and retreated noiselessly!
I have seldom been more absolutely dumfounded than when I turned the handle of that door, preparatory to locking it, and found that it was securely locked already, just as I had supposed! How could the hinges have creaked then, and whose cautious footsteps had I heard?
Once more my eyes fell upon the wardrobe, with its cheap varnish and lock. I had certainly not locked this overnight. Could it have creaked itself farther open? It did not for the moment strike me that the noise came from another quarter, and that the footsteps were still to be explained. I was only too thankful to find the barest apology of an explanation. So I locked the wardrobe as carefully as possible, noticing that the lock was not one of the first quality, and once more retired to bed, and put out my candle, greatly relieved.
Scarcely ten minutes had passed (as I afterwards ascertained) when the whole scene was enacted once more! The same cautious tread, the same sound of the outer door creaking slowly on its hinges—there was nothing in the least uncanny about it per se. It was just the normal noise that any late comer would make who was thoughtful enough not to disturb a sleeping house.
But my impatience got the better of my fears this time. I was not going to be decoyed out of bed a second time on a wild-goose chase. "It must have been that wardrobe door after all! As to the footsteps, I don't know and I don't care! The cheap lock must have given way, and I shall find the wardrobe door has swung open, I am sure."
With this comforting assurance I turned round, and in a few minutes fell into a deep sleep, after the varied excitements of the night.
Next morning I stepped gaily into the smaller division of the room to begin my toilet, and triumphantly turned round to convince myself of the truth of my theory about the wardrobe door. To my infinite astonishment and perplexity the wardrobe was securely locked, just as I had left it in the middle of the night.
I have never had any explanation of this mystery; but I changed my fine big room for a much less desirable one that morning, and made some excuse about wishing for a quieter room at the back of the house.
The next evening, sitting in my new abode with my travelling companion, she showed far more interest in my adventure than in the Petersburg tragedy and subsequent vision of mine.
So much so that I invited her to take a pencil and see if she could get any sort of explanation of the mystery; for although not at all intuitive, she knew something of what is called automatic writing.
I give her narrative, not as being in the slightest degree evidential, but for its intrinsic interest, and because I am personally convinced that she had not sufficient imagination to have made it up on the spur of the moment.
Miss Greenlow's "message" was to the following effect:—
About fifty years previously, a Russian gentleman (an officer, I think, but am not certain of this) and his mistress had occupied this large front room. The man had spent all day at a rifle competition, combined with some sort of merry-making, and had returned home very late—at one-thirty A.M., in fact—very much the worse for drink. He had opened the door very carefully, trusting he should find the lady asleep; but, unfortunately, she was not only wide awake, but extremely annoyed by his late return and the state in which he had come back to her. A desperate quarrel had ensued, and getting frightened by his violence, she seized his rifle, giving him a blow on the head with the butt end of it, hoping to stun him, but with no idea of murder in her mind. Whether she gave a more severe blow, in her nervousness, than she had intended, or whether the rifle fell on some specially vital spot, was not explained in the writing. Anyway, the blow proved fatal—to her extreme regret and remorse.
Under these circumstances one would have supposed that it would be more reasonable for the lady to haunt the room, and not the gentleman; but I "tell the tale as 'twas told to us."
It is, however, remarkable that in most of these stories it is the victim who appears—determined to enact the scene of his or her death—and not the murderer.
I think we were also told, by-the-by, that I had slept in the room on the anniversary of the occurrence.
It was obviously impossible to get any corroboration of such a story. Two small points in it, however, were proved to be true.
The Moscow hotels, as a rule, were comparatively modern at the time of our visit, and therefore the "fifty years ago" seemed highly improbable. We learned, however, through a few discreet questions later, that this particular hotel had been in existence so far back as fifty years, and also that rifle competitions had taken place on certain occasions in those far-off days.
For the rest I claim nothing. I have truthfully recounted my experience without a word of exaggeration, and have never been able to account for it normally.
The explanation given to us is, of course, just worth the paper it was written upon from any evidential point of view.
SWEDEN AND RUSSIA, 1892
Taking my experiences chronologically, I must now carry my readers back to England, where the autumn of this year found me in London.
I had been asked to recommend a house for paying guests, well situated, in the West End of London, and newly started by a lady who had been left a widow with very slender provision. Several kind women had interested themselves in the case, and had wisely suggested thinking out a means of livelihood in the future rather than merely supplying present wants.