It would be difficult to imagine a person less suited for the sort of employment chosen; but that is "another story."
I never care to recommend anything or anybody of which or of whom I have no personal knowledge; at the same time, I was anxious to help my kindly acquaintance in her philanthropy, and as I had arranged to spend some weeks in London that autumn—to be near an invalid brother—it struck me that I might stay at the house so strongly recommended, instead of taking private rooms as usual.
So I journeyed to Sussex Gardens, found a charming house, newly furnished and decorated, and as clean as the proverbial "new pin," and, moreover, a very good-looking mistress of the house, still a youngish woman of five or six and thirty.
She spoke most warmly of the kindness she had received from the lady who had given me her address, showed me some pleasant rooms, and the arrangement was quickly completed.
I chose a small sitting-room in addition to my bedroom, although, as a matter of fact, this was scarcely necessary, as I was the first guest received. Only one deaf old lady appeared upon the scene during the six weeks I spent there.
I had not been forty-eight hours in the house before I discovered that my hostess was a convinced and very remarkable psychic. Naturally she was delighted to find someone to whom she could speak of her various experiences without being laughed at or put down as a lunatic. At the same time I am bound to confess that Mrs Peters, although extremely interesting, was also rather agitating, and certainly much too erratic to make an entirely satisfactory Chatelaine. She was given to reading "Aurora Leigh," instead of ordering dinner, and had to be sent for occasionally to sit at the head of the table, with a volume of Browning or Tennyson firmly clutched in her reluctant hand. Even when duly "found and delivered," curious things happened during the meals—especially at dinner in the evening, when she often put down knife and fork and directed my attention to the far end of the handsome dining-room, where she was wont to see the ghost of her late husband.
"Look, dear Miss Bates! Surely you must see him—dear Henry, I mean. There he stands, beard and all, just between the sofa and the wall. I can see him as clearly as I see you!"
I am bound to say I never did see "dear Henry"; but the fine tabby cat certainly saw something in that corner, for it would rush most frantically to the sofa, jump on to one end, and sit staring at Henry (presumably), with its tail stuck out and its fur rising up, glaring into the corner with a look of combined fear and fascination.
My little sitting-room was invaded at all hours by my too interesting landlady, who would suddenly remember some thrilling experience, which she wished to share with me. At length I took to my bed for three days, not in the least ill, but simply for a much-needed rest in the midst of all these excitements.
A day or two after emerging from this haven of peace, I received a visit from a young lady, whose parents were well known to me in Yorkshire, and who had recently become engaged to a very rich man, many years her senior; in fact, considerably older than her own father, who had lately passed away. The daughters of this family were all devoted to their father, and most of the visit was occupied in giving me details of his last illness, and in my sympathising with her upon his loss. It was, in fact, far more a visit of condolence than of congratulation upon her future prospects of happiness. As to the latter, I found it difficult to be quite truthful and yet conventionally ecstatic.
To marry a man nearly old enough to be your grandfather struck me as risky, to say the least of it, even with all the emollients which riches and position undoubtedly add to domestic life.
The young woman in question did not at all resent my frankness on the subject, but assured me that her greatest consolation in thinking of her late father was the fact that she was about to make a marriage which he had always wished, and of which he had emphatically given his approval on his death-bed. "I told him I had decided upon it, just before he died, and he was so relieved and happy about it," she said simply as she turned to leave the room. Having mentioned that a younger sister was also in town, I sent a message to the latter, asking her to take early dinner with me on the following Sunday, which happened to be my only spare day just then.
On the evening of this visit from the coming bride, I had accepted an invitation to a large musical party in the house of the lady who had begged me to interest myself in Mrs Peters. It was within a stone's-throw of Sussex Gardens, and I came down to dinner at seven-thirty P.M., intending to dress later, and go round there about nine P.M.
For an hour or so before dinner I had been conscious of a growing despondency, to which I could attribute no cause, and this increased so much during the meal that Mrs Peters noticed it at last, and asked me if I were feeling unwell.
"No—not unwell—but I am absolutely miserable, and cannot imagine why."
"Then you have not had bad news?" was the next remark. "I feared you must have had, seeing you so silent and not able to eat anything."
In answer to this I said that I had not even the excuse of hearing of other people's misfortunes, for a young lady had been calling upon me that afternoon, who was about to make what the world calls a very successful marriage. I did not, however, mention her name, as Mrs Peters knew none of my friends.
Dinner over, I felt still so unaccountably wretched that I determined to give up the evening party, and write my excuses. Mrs Peters did her best to combat this decision, fearing that her kind benefactress might be disappointed, and also urging that the evening's enjoyment would cheer me up. But finding me inexorable, she then said: "Well, if you have quite determined not to go, shall I come into your sitting-room and see if we can get any explanation of your curious feeling of depression?"
I closed with this suggestion, knowing Mrs Peters to be a really remarkable sensitive.
So we sat in the dark for a few minutes; and then I heard a soft frou-frou on Mrs Peters' silk gown, and knew she was tracing out words with her hand in a fashion of her own.
"It is a spirit that young lady brought with her," she announced at length. "The spirit has remained here with you, and is worried about this marriage you spoke of. She wants you to try and break it off. She seems to have been nearly related to the lady, or perhaps a godmother; anyway, she takes great interest in her."
"Will she give a name?" I asked.
"ELIZA is all I get," Mrs Peters replied.
It then occurred to me that my young friend's name was Eliza, and that she had been so named after a great-aunt, to the best of my recollection; but as she was invariably called Elsa, by friends and relations alike, it was only by chance that I remembered hearing her teased about her far less romantic baptismal name.
I asked if no surname could be given, thinking at the moment that it would be Waverly—the family name; but my thought was evidently not transferred to Mrs Peters, who said she could not get the name accurately, but that it was certainly not Waverly. I found later that the Great-Aunt Eliza had a name entirely different from that of her descendants.
Nothing further happened on this occasion, except that I sent a message to "Great-Aunt Eliza" to say that nothing would induce me to take the responsibility of trying to break off any marriage, either by the advice of people in this sphere or in any other sphere. In this case I should have had neither the authority nor the influence to make any such unwise attempt.
Sunday came round in due course, and brought the bride's younger sister, then a girl of twenty-four or twenty-five. We discussed the usual midday Sunday dinner of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, Mrs Peters sitting at the head of the table, I on her right hand, and Carrie Waverly next to me.
Suddenly realising that my remarks to the latter were receiving very scant attention, I looked up, and found the girl's black eyes fixed in a basilisk stare upon our unfortunate hostess, whose own eyes were cast down, but who appeared uneasy and troubled by the determined gaze of my guest. At length the poor woman threw down her knife and fork, rose hastily from the dining-table, and made her way eagerly to the sofa at the other end of the room, where she lay down at full length, murmuring: "I can't stand it any longer!"
Carrie Waverly was at length induced to come away to my sitting-room and leave the poor woman in peace, which she did, asserting her complete innocence, and assuring me she "only wanted to see if she could make Mrs Peters look up at her!"
I explained to her that "sensitives" may be as much upset by this sort of thing as another person would be by a blow on the back. She looked incredulous, and then said cheerfully: "Well, if it is as bad as that, don't you think you ought to go and see how she is?"
"Two for yourself and your own curiosity and one for her!" I thought; but I took the hint, and found Mrs Peters still prostrate on the sofa, but full of apologies for her sudden collapse:
"You must have thought me so very rude," etc., etc.
I reassured her on this point, and expressed regret that my visitor should have upset her so much by looking so fixedly at her.
"It was not her fault," said Mrs Peters eagerly. "It was the man standing over her. He had his hands upon her shoulders, and was trying so hard to influence her, and she was resisting it all the time, and the whole conflict of their wills was thrown upon me, and I could not stand it at last—that was why I left the table," she gasped out.
"Could you describe the man at all?"
"Quite clearly," she said. "I shall never forget his face—I saw him so distinctly." She then proceeded to describe in detail the very clear-cut features and bushy eyebrows of Carrie Waverly's father, giving also his colouring, which was very distinctive. I suggested trying to find out what he wanted to say to his daughter, but this distressed Mrs Peters so much that I was sorry to have made the suggestion.
"No! no! dear Miss Bates!—don't ask me to do that—dear Henry never likes my taking messages from strangers—I have promised him that I would never do it without his permission. It upsets me so much, and I feel so weak already."
So I came away, promising to look in later and see if I could do anything for her.
Carrie was naturally greatly interested by the accurate description given of her father, and was very impatient for me to pay Mrs Peters a second visit.
I went in presently, and found the latter standing up, and in a state of great excitement. She had, in fact, been on the point of coming to us when I entered.
"Dear Henry told me to take that message after all," were the words with which she greeted me. "There was some misunderstanding between the father and this daughter, and he wants her to know that it is all right now." (This seemed to me most improbable, as the devoted daughters and father were always on terms of the greatest harmony and mutual understanding. Yet it proved to be quite true.)
Mrs Peters continued: "He is very much upset about this marriage. He tells me he was so anxious for it when on this side, but now he sees all the difficulties and possible dangers. But he says it is too late to reconsider the step now; only he is so very anxious to secure the interests of his daughter before she marries. He wishes to know whether her settlement is signed. It is not one of which he would have approved. And he says there are two houses, and one ought to be settled upon her—you must ask about it, dear Miss Bates. He is most decided and so dreadfully upset about it all, because he says it was he who urged the marriage upon her."
I spent the following fifteen or twenty minutes as a sort of messenger-boy between Mrs Peters in the dining-room and Carrie Waverly in my sitting-room. Needless to say, I knew nothing at all about the settlements or how many houses the prospective bridegroom might possess, and having no sort of curiosity about the financial affairs of my neighbours, it was not at all pleasant to be employed in this way.
Mrs Peters, on the contrary, seemed to know everything connected with the estate and the marriage settlement, except the fact that the latter had not yet been signed, although reluctantly "passed" by both the lady's trustees. Wherefore this special limitation in the father's knowledge it is impossible to say. He certainly showed no limitation in his knowledge of the bridegroom's character and disposition, and gave the most elaborate and detailed instructions as to how his daughter should behave towards her husband, and where she might, with advantage, cultivate tact and patience.
My advice to Miss Waverly was to say nothing on the subject to her sister, but she wisely, as it turned out, determined to take the responsibility of telling her everything. She telegraphed to me next day, asking if she might come and see Mrs Peters and bring the bride with her.
This was done, and they arrived, with several photographs, large and small, of the father, and also of the bridegroom, for identification. Carrie, in fact, tried—a little unfairly perhaps—to make Mrs Peters identify the wrong person by forcing into notice a large photograph of the bridegroom (some years senior to the father), and saying carelessly: "There, Mrs Peters—that is the face you saw yesterday of my father, is it not?" But Mrs Peters would have none of it. She looked staggered for a moment, then caught sight of the second picture, and turned to it with relief: "This is the face I saw, whether it is your father or not," she answered, with decision.
The bride begged for a private interview with Mrs Peters, which lasted for a considerable time. Of course, I knew nothing of this interview, nor should I feel at liberty to speak of it if I did know. I may, however, be permitted to say that I have the bride's own assurance that the accurate knowledge then given her of her future husband's characteristics physical and mental, and the best way of dealing with them, "made all the difference in her married life."
During that interview Mrs Peters also told her the number of years she would be married; and the prophecy was accurately fulfilled, which is the more remarkable, because, as a rule, it seems impossible to predicate time, even when events can be foreseen.
I am happy to add that the marriage turned out a complete success, and that a marriage settlement was made more in accordance with the father's wishes, although neither trustees nor principal in the transaction, had any idea that the actual arrangements were in any way due to the strongly expressed wishes of a discarnate spirit.
If this book should ever fall into their hands, and they should trace the story in spite of the thick veil I have thrown over all the circumstances, I can only trust that, in gratitude for the results, they may become reconciled with the channel through which these were made possible.
People may say: "What a terrible idea that a father or a husband should trouble himself about such sordid details as money, houses, etc."
But this is an extremely foolish remark, although it may appear very spiritual on the surface. It is surely the most natural thing in the world that a near relation—if permitted—should endeavour to secure comfort and happiness for a dearly loved wife or daughter; especially when, as in the above case, he felt mainly responsible for a state of affairs which might have turned out so disastrously, save for his loving care and foresight, exercised as these were from the other side of the veil.
At anyrate it disposes once for all of the weary old "Cui Bono" argument, which is so futile, and yet so constantly and triumphantly quoted by stupid people, who seem to took upon it as a patent extinguisher for any psychic gifts or experiences.
It is mainly in order to meet this senseless observation that I have included this story in my reminiscences.
Most of us are debarred from answering the "Cui Bono" bray, by the fact that our most helpful experiences are generally of a too intimate and often sacred nature to be given to a scoffing world.
But this instance has the advantage of dealing entirely with material matters, and thus being on a level with the ordinary intelligence.
Nobody can say in this case no good was done. It only remains to be deeply shocked by the undignified, "nay, almost blasphemous," intervention in mundane affairs of a spirit "who should certainly have had some more worthy occupation."
It is another case of the old man and the donkey. If discarnate spirits don't trouble about the personal affairs of those on earth, the "Cui Bono" argument is hurled at them. If they do, they are called blasphemous and irreverent!
The mention of the Waverly family reminds me of an incident which took place when I was staying in their house in the country, a year or two earlier than the time of which I am writing. I have reserved it purposely as a sequel to this last story, which is in its proper chronological setting.
In the year 1889 I was spending a pleasant fortnight with the Waverlys in Yorkshire, at the very time when a dear old friend of mine (Mrs Tennant) was dying in London. I had seen her only a week or two before, but had no knowledge of her illness, as we were not in constant correspondence, although there was a deep and strong affection between us.
I did not even hear of her death, in fact, till a few weeks after it took place, having missed the announcement in the papers. When Mrs Tennant's sister, Mrs Lane, wrote me the details, I had left Yorkshire, and was staying with cousins in Worcestershire. Thinking over the dates mentioned in describing the illness, I realised with a shock of pained surprise that the final state of unconsciousness must have set in the very evening when I was enjoying myself in Yorkshire, at a large dinner-party given by my host and hostess.
It seemed terrible to think that my dear and much loved friend should have been lying unconscious upon her death-bed, and that no word or sign should have come to me.
Then suddenly I remembered a curious little incident connected with that dinner-party.
I had been admiring a pretty little slate-coloured kitten belonging to the house, which was calmly sitting upon the grand piano after dinner, when the ladies were alone in the drawing-room. After the gentlemen joined us, I was deep in conversation with my host (a remarkably interesting and intelligent man), when I noticed a small black kitten run past my dress. Probably I should have remarked upon it had we been less occupied in talking, for I am extremely fond of cats and animals in general. I did glance up, as a matter of fact, and satisfied myself that it was not the little slate-coloured kitty, which sat in still triumph on the piano. Besides, this kitten was black, not slate. I thought no more of it until the guests had left and Mrs Waverly and I were going upstairs to bed. She and I were very affinitive, but neither she nor her family had any special interest in psychology.
On this occasion, however, she said rather mysteriously: "I think something will happen to-night to you." A good many jokes had been made about the probably uncanny atmosphere of my room, and the various spooks who were doubtless sharing it with me, so I laughed, thinking this was only the usual family joke. But Mrs Waverly was quite in earnest. At first she would give no reason for her remark, "fearing I should tell her daughters," and that she would be laughed at in consequence.
Reassured on this point, she said to me quite seriously:
"Whilst you were talking to my husband this evening I saw a black kitten run straight across your dress—just opposite to me."
"Well, of course, I saw the kitten!" I answered, to her surprise; "but there is nothing very remarkable about a black kitten in the house."
"But we have no black kitten in the house, or anywhere on the premises. Where did it go to? You never saw it again? No; it was not an ordinary kitten, and I did not suppose till this moment that anyone had seen it but myself."
It was a fact that no one but Mrs Waverly and I had seen any kitten but the slate-coloured one already mentioned.
Thinking over this in the light of the sad news of my dear old friend's death, and noting the correspondence in time between her loss of consciousness and the appearance of the mysterious black kitten—seen only by Mrs Waverly and myself—it was impossible not to ask in the depths of my heart whether, perchance, the spirit of my faithful friend had been trying to send me some symbol of her approaching death.
It may be objected that black cats are generally connected with good luck. Well, I think my dear "London mother," as she called herself sometimes, would have explained this apparent contradiction very simply. She had lived through much sorrow, and was often oppressed by sore doubts of the Cosmic Love. I never knew any woman with such strong and passionate human sympathy, and to such fine spirits, the world, under present conditions, must always offer terrible problems. Her sympathies were sometimes too keen for that robust faith which can always say: "God's in His heaven! All's right with the world!" Yet her last words were: "I am so tired, and God will understand; and I am so glad to go."
To finish my chapter on a merrier note, I will mention an amusing episode connected with the evening of the black kitten's appearance.
Amongst the guests invited to that dinner-party was a clergyman-squire, a man of some means who had taken orders. A "squarson" is the "portmanteau name" for such a gentleman in Yorkshire, I believe; one who combines squire and parson.
This particular specimen of the genus was both a vegetarian and a celibate. The latter fact had been made clear to me by the many regrets expressed in the neighbourhood that he had remained a bachelor owing to religious scruples. The vegetarianism was equally certain, for I had heard orders given for special dishes to be prepared for this guest; and sitting next to him at the dinner-table, I knew that he had not touched either meat or game, although it was not a fast day.
After dinner, when the gentlemen had joined us in the drawing-room, the conversation turned upon psychic matters and my experiences in America of a few years before. This extreme High Churchman denounced all these, "lock, stock, and barrel."
He believed that everything might have happened as described, but was equally certain that the devil alone could have had a hand in "such goings on"! Perhaps it will be wise to explain that he did not make use of this latter expression!
My host, instead of coming to the rescue, which he might have done, as one of "the Cloth"; looked much amused when I fielded most of my adversary's theological balls.
At length, being unaccustomed to such irreverent handling, my enemy lost his temper, and, as usual on such occasions, he tried to "take my wicket" by quoting texts against me!
"Well, all I can say is that everything you have told us is in direct opposition to Holy Writ. In fact, we are specially warned in the Scriptures that in the latter days seducing spirits shall arise."
At this fatal moment, when the Theological Closure was descending upon my unhappy head, a really brilliant thought occurred to me.
Was it a seducing spirit or a friendly intelligence who reminded me that my opponent had only quoted half the text—the half that suited him?
I pointed this fact out meekly.
He looked puzzled, and probably had honestly forgotten what he did not wish to remember.
"Finish the text? What do you mean?" he said irritably.
So I finished it for him:
"In the latter days seducing spirits shall arise, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats."
He had pressed me very hard and rather unfairly. Still, the counsel of perfection would have been to refrain from the comment that, if I were a celibate and vegetarian, it was not the text I should have chosen with which to clinch an argument!
I have headed this chapter an Interlude, for the following reason:—
It is the only one in this book which does not record a personal experience.
The opportunity came to me at Florence, two years ago, of hearing one of the best old-fashioned Christmas ghost stories I ever came across; also a ghost story which has two rather unique advantages. First, it has never been published before; secondly, the percipient was the matron of a boys' school (a well-known one), and wrote out her experiences within twelve hours of their occurrence.
Now, the matron of a large boys' school must, of necessity, be an exceptionally practical woman, and her daily experiences can scarcely tend to encourage undue Romance or Imagination.
When I add that this story was given to me, and a copy of the original letter placed in my hands, by a sister of two of the schoolboys who were under the matron's supervision, I shall have cleared the way for my ghost to appear upon the scene.
I must add, however, that I met this sister, a young widow, in Florence, two years ago. She then told me this story, finding that I was intimately acquainted both with the county and the small county town where it happened.
The matron had gone there for the prosaic purpose of taking the baths for her rheumatism.
The adventure took place in the early morning of 14th April 1875, and was recorded, within a few hours, in a long letter written by the percipient to a favourite cousin.
My friend, Mrs Barker's brothers being at school at the time, begged to be allowed to read this letter and take a copy of it. The copy was made by their sister—then a young girl—and I have it in my hands at the present moment of writing.
It is, of course, necessary to change the name of the county and town, as the old family mansion, let in lodgings in 1875, has since then been sold and turned into a boarding-house.
Mrs Barker's mother made an expedition to this town, a few years ago, to verify the facts, and went over the house, which has been considerably altered and reconstructed inside since 1875.
The small park mentioned in the story is now built over entirely, as the town has increased in popularity, owing to its baths, and the family portraits here mentioned have been removed since the house was sold.
I will now quote verbatim from the matron's letter, written on the morning of her experiences.
"The Priory, Grantwich. "14th April 1875. "MY DEAR EDIE,—When you asked me once for a ghost story, I daresay you as little expected, as I did, how soon I should have to reveal to you an experience which will doubtless give you, as it has me, much ground for thought and speculation about those mysterious laws which rule the spirit world.
"How true it is that Thought and Feeling annihilate Time and Space! Since last night, I seem to have lived through half a lifetime, such an effect have its events had upon my inner life. But before I begin to relate the strange circumstances I have to tell you, I must describe to you more particularly this house in which they happened.
"I think I told you that 'The Priory'—where I am now lodging—is an old mansion, belonging to the Carbury family. For some years past, it has been let to the present occupiers who make the rent by letting lodgings. Some ancient pieces of furniture remain, and a great many portraits, none of the earliest date, but a handsome and respectable collection—soldiers, bishops, and judges, in their uniforms, robes, and wigs, and ladies with powdered hair, hoops, and trains.
"Of these portraits, two have engaged my attention, especially, from the first moment of seeing them, but I am not going to speak of them yet; my first object is to give you an idea of the house, or rather that part of it with which my story is connected.
"I think I have told you that the grand staircase goes up from the inner hall, and that round the staircase runs a gallery; in this gallery and in the hall below, are hung most of the portraits.
"On the first turn and landing of the staircase, there is a door opening into a trellised walk which leads into the garden. On a level with this door is a large window which looks on to sweeps of soft turf, shaded by fine trees.
"Standing often to look from this window, as I passed up and down the staircase, one tree has always riveted my attention. It is a large old plane-tree, standing by itself, and having a strange, melancholy, decayed look about it. I noticed—why, I cannot imagine—that on one side of it the ground was bare and black, though everywhere else the grass was green and fresh. I mention this, because it had struck me before the strange events occurred which I am going to tell you.
"You must now go with me to the top of the staircase. Just at the top, on your right hand, hangs one of the portraits I mentioned. It is a life-sized painting of Captain Richard Carbury, who landed, on the 19th September 1738, in the Colony of Georgia, with General Oglethorpe's regiment.
"Opposite to this, on the other side of the gallery, is the portrait of a lady, with black, resolute brows and full, voluptuous mouth and chin. She has a high colour, an exquisite hand and arm, and an Amazonian bearing.
"Passing from the gallery, you enter a long passage, leading to other passages and staircases, with which we have nothing to do.
"I only want you now to become acquainted with my own rooms. As you enter the passage from the gallery, two doors open, one on either hand. To the right is my sitting-room, a square, cheerful room, looking on the street; to the left is my bedroom, which will require a more particular description.
"It is a large, low room. As you enter from the passage, the window, which looks into the garden, is opposite to you. In the middle of the wall to your right hand stands the bed, and opposite to that, the fireplace, and, as you will see, if you have taken in my description, just at the back of the portrait of the lady with the black eyebrows, is another door. Opposite to this last is yet another, which caught my attention when I first entered the room from a peculiarity about it. The upper part of this door is of glass, rendered opaque by being washed or lined with some red substance.
"As soon as I was alone in the room I tried to open this door, but it was firmly fastened. I don't know why I should have felt disquieted by this circumstance, but certainly I did feel annoyed. I thought at first that it probably opened into a dressing-room. There must have been a strong light behind it, for a red light always fell on that side of the room through the coloured glass, and I could see that red light in the morning, before any light penetrated the window-blind.
"I think I have now told you all that is necessary for understanding my experience.
"I must ask you to remember that yesterday was the thirteenth of April. I went to bed about eleven o'clock, and soon fell asleep. I could not, however, have slept long before I woke with an unusual feeling that something strange was going to happen.
"I awoke, not as one does in the morning, with a drowsy resolve not to go to sleep again because it is time to get up, but as one awakes when a journey or some similar event is imminent, for which one's faculties have to be clear, and one's body active and alert. I was rather wondering at and enjoying the unusual clearness and energy of thought of which I felt capable, when the clock in the hall began striking, and, almost at the same moment, the clock of the old Church of St Andrew began striking also.
"I knew that both were striking twelve, though I did not count the blows, but just as the last stroke of the church clock died away, another sound caught my ear.
"The door by the fireplace gave a loud crack and then opened, as if with some difficulty.
"The red door at the same time rattled, as if someone were trying vainly to open it. The room had previously been dark, but I now plainly saw a tall figure come through the doorway and stand near the foot of the bed. There was a dull, yellowish light round the figure, which illumined it, leaving the rest of the room in darkness; but this yellow light, I perceived, became red at one point of the figure's left side, and shone down on the floor with a red glow, like that which came through the opposite door.
"The apparition stood quite silent whilst I looked at it. The features and figure were familiar to me for they were those of Captain Richard Carbury, in the portrait, who had gone out to Georgia with the regiment of His Excellency, General Oglethorpe!
"As soon as I was sure of this, I said: 'You are Captain Richard Carbury?'
"The apparition nodded.
"'Why do you come to me?' I said. 'Cannot you speak?'
"He seemed to have some difficulty in doing so, but after two or three efforts, such as one makes to move a rusty hinge, he parted his lips, and said: 'Yes! I am Richard Carbury, and I am come to make you a witness.'
"'A witness of what?' I said. 'Can I be of use to you? You come from the spirit world. Is it then permitted to mortals to have personal intercourse with spirits?'
"He held up his hand as if to silence me.
"'Listen to me,' he said. 'You are not frightened of me?'
"'No,' I replied; nor did I feel the slightest awe or fear. I felt stimulated, a kind of electricity ran through my veins—I longed earnestly to learn something of the mysterious realm from which he came, but I had no vulgar or superstitious fear.
"'Nor need you have any dread,' he returned. 'I have no wish nor power to hurt you, but you must listen to my story. Once in fifty years I am allowed to leave my grave and revisit the scene of my tragical death, and this must always be on the 14th of April, which is the anniversary of the event. I am also permitted to recount my story if I find anyone sleeping in this room who is willing to listen to me. Are you willing?'
 There is evidently some mistake here in the figures given by the ghost or received by the matron. If his death took place in 1741 (three years after landing in Georgia), his first spirit return was due in 1791, the second, 1841, and the third, not till 1891. It appears to have been anticipated by sixteen years, if the dates given are correct. A friend suggests that "once in fifty years" does not necessitate exact intervals of fifty years.
"I replied that I should gladly hear what he had to tell, but would he allow me to ask him one question?
"He inclined his head in assent, and I said I had always thought that the spirits of the dead, if they were allowed to appear on earth, came with shadowy and skeleton forms. Why did he appear with flesh like a living man?
"'Ah!' he said, 'that is owing to the peculiarity of my grave. I am buried in salt.'
"' Have you anything more to ask?' said my visitor.
"'Nothing more at present,' I replied. 'I am ready now to hear your story.'
"'I will make it as short as possible and not detain you long. You have noticed my portrait in the gallery?'
"'And that of the lady opposite, my cousin, Lucretia Carbury?'
"'Certainly.' (Here the red door was violently shaken).
"'She cannot open it,' said Captain Carbury, 'it is sealed.'
"'When I went out to Georgia,' he resumed, 'in 1738, I was engaged to be married to her; we had been betrothed by our parents in our childhood, and family reasons made it almost a necessity that we should be united, but as we grew up neither of us was very anxious to fulfil the engagement, and, to tell the truth, I was glad of the summons to join my regiment. However, after three years in that distant colony, I came home, having made up my mind I would marry Lucretia and settle down on the family property—which could only be enjoyed by that means—for we were the only representatives of the family, and the property was so left by our fathers that only by marrying could we enter into possession. Either by marrying or by the death of one of us; when the whole of the property would go to the other. I knew that Lucretia was at the old house at Grantwich, and I came straight to her.
"'I had written to say when she might expect me, and she received me with apparent kindness and agreed to all my propositions about our marriage. I arrived late at night, and she let me into the house herself and got food for me. We supped together, and she pledged me in a cup, which I now know was drugged to make me sleep heavily.
"'I then retired to my room—this room, this bed, on which you now lie!
"'What I am now going to tell you has been made clear to me since; at the time I was conscious of nothing. As soon as I got into bed, I fell asleep, and whilst I thus slept Lucretia came through that door (pointing to the red door opposite), and stabbed me to the heart. I will show you the instrument with which she did it, if you like.'
"'Pray do,' I said, and he unbuttoned his scarlet uniform coat and drew from his left side a slender dagger or stiletto.
"I looked at it with great interest and asked if I might take it in my hand.
"'Certainly, if you wish it,' he said, 'but I do not advise you to touch it. It is rusty now from the salt, but I assure you it was bright and keen when she drove it into my heart. The stroke was so cleverly aimed that I died instantly. Lucretia then made a signal, which was answered by the entrance of a man, and between them they carried my body through the door by which I entered to-night.'
"He paused, and I thought he looked more ghastly. 'Is anything the matter?' I asked.
"'I am thinking,' he answered, 'that I can show you the rest, if you will follow me, but I must tell you that when we leave this room and enter the gallery, it is possible the murderess will follow us. Shall you be afraid?'
"'Not in the least,' I said, 'I will follow you with pleasure, but you must allow me to put something on, as I am suffering from rheumatism, and am afraid of the cold and damp.'
"'By all means,' said Captain Carbury. 'I will wait for you in the gallery.'
"I then got up and put on my dressing-gown and slippers. Whilst I was doing so, I heard a rustling in the passage as of a woman passing slowly along. I found Captain Carbury, and followed him along the gallery without looking round, but when we reached the end of the gallery and turned to go down the first flight of stairs, I saw the lady with the black brows—whom I now knew to be Lucretia Carbury, the murderess—standing in the doorway, between the gallery and the passage.
"'I do not think she can come any farther,' said my guide, and he opened the door leading from the staircase into the garden.
"'I am showing you just where they brought me,' said he.
"'Who was the man?' I asked.
"'I never knew his name, but she married him afterwards.'
"He then moved across the lawn to the bare spot under the plane-tree. Here he stopped, and, pointing downwards, showed me on the bare ground an exact outline of the dagger which he had drawn from his side.
"'Here they dug my grave and here they buried me; a salt spring washes over me.'
"At this moment the great clock of St Andrew struck ONE.
"'All that you have told me is very sad and strange,' I said, 'but now, will you allow me to ask you why you have appeared to me? Is there anything you want done on earth that I can do? Is there any restitution to be made, or justice to be administered? Anything that you require, I am ready to do, if you will grant me one favour when you return to the spirit realm.'
"I had been speaking with my eyes fixed on the ground, but now, happening to raise them, I was surprised to see that my companion appeared to be sinking into the ground.
"'My time is up,' he said. 'Remember!'—and, as his head disappeared, his words came in a hollow, sepulchral voice from beneath that spot of black earth—'remember you are my witness!'
"I was left standing alone under the plane-tree, with the thought, that in returning to my room, I might probably meet the restless spirit of Lucretia Carbury.
"Nothing of the kind, however, occurred. I passed through the doors that had opened at the touch of Captain Carbury, and I noticed that they closed behind me without any effort on my part. I regained my bed, and almost immediately fell asleep. All had passed so naturally, and as a matter of course, that only when I woke this morning, and thought over the events of the night, did I realise that I had passed through such an experience as is given to few human beings.
"You see, dear Edie, that my narrative has taken so long to write that I have no time to speak of other things, even if I could bring my mind to think of anything else, which, I confess, I should have great difficulty in doing.—Ever your very affectionate, "M. PORTER."
Copied verbatim from Miss Porter's letter, written on the morning of 14th April 1875.
* * * * *
So ends the story, with apologies to the S.P.R.!
I claim nothing for it beyond the following facts:
The Priory still exists at Grantwich, and is known to have been the family mansion of the Carbury family.
Miss Porter was undoubtedly matron of the school where my friend's brothers were educated. She was a woman of unblemished character and truthfulness, and would certainly not have invented this long and detailed account of her personal experiences within a few hours of their occurrence.
My friend most certainly copied this letter, which her brothers had obtained leave to read, from their school matron—Miss Porter herself.
Lastly, my friend, Mrs Barker's mother (who is still alive), verified the existence of the Priory (as I have called it) in the town of Grantwich, and it had been turned into a boarding-house at the time of her visit, having been previously let in lodgings. Also she found that Captain Richard Carbury was supposed to have died in Georgia in the year 1741, as is inferred in the story.
As the murderess and her accomplice alone seem to have been aware of his return on that fateful night, this would be the natural opinion of the world.
As an old associate of the S.P.R., and quite conversant with their methods, two criticisms of the story at once suggest themselves, in addition to the confusion of dates, which might perhaps be excused, owing to the abnormal nature of the interview described. But the obvious Podmorian remark would be that the whole adventure was a dream on the part of Miss Porter, induced by her interest in the two family portraits she had seen, and the curious sensations she had experienced in looking at a specially gloomy tree in the park.
This would certainly cover the ground, but it proves, perhaps, rather too much.
It requires very robust "Faith in Unfaith" to suppose that a sensible, practical woman, suffering from rheumatism, should carry her dream to the verge of following her dream man into the garden and grounds of the house. It may be urged that she dreamt all this also, but "that way madness lies." We must be able to formulate that certain acts of ours took place during full consciousness, or daily life would become impossible and moral responsibility would cease.
Miss Porter might have been in a dream all through the night—granted.
But in these cases it is the "morning that brings counsel." We are all aware of the extraordinary lifelike dreams which, with the return of normal memory, we recognise as dream visions, no matter how vivid and credible they may have appeared to us in the night.
But with Miss Porter this normal process was reversed. She went to sleep quite calmly, and first realised, upon waking in the morning, how thoroughly abnormal her experiences had been.
I pass on to the next criticism, which a little "editing" on my part could have averted:
"Is it credible that a woman, only just recovering from the surprise and marvel of such an experience, should write about it, within a few hours, to a favourite cousin, as if she were preparing a story for The Family Herald?"
I confess that this was my own feeling when the record was placed in my hands.
We must, however, remember—first, that the percipient was obviously a lady of great courage, or she would not have followed her ghost into the garden; secondly, that she was a keen observer and very accurate in details. Probably, many generations of schoolboys, passing through her hands, may have quickened her perceptions in both these ways.
As for the stilted style, that presents little difficulty, when one remembers that people of a certain rank in life never use a short word when a long one will answer the purpose!
I claim nothing for the story, beyond the points already mentioned. These are matters of fact.
Each one must interpret it according to his own views and prejudices.
It is quite enough for me to be responsible for the truth and accuracy of my own experiences, to which we will now return.
* * * * *
Note.—Since writing the above I have consulted the "Century Encyclopaedia," and find there:
"Oglethorpe—James Edward, born in London, December 21st, 1696, died at Cranham Hall, Essex, England, 1785. An English General and Philanthropist. He projected the Colony of Georgia for insolvent debtors, and persecuted Protestants; conducted the expedition for its settlement, 1733, and returned to England, 1743."
The apparent discrepancy between the date 1733 given in the Encyclopaedia, and the 1738 of Captain Carbury's ghostly narrative, may be due to one of two causes:
The young girl copying Miss Porter's letter may have mistaken a three for an eight rather easily.
Again, Captain Carbury did not state that he landed with General Oglethorpe, 19th September 1738, but with General Oglethorpe's regiment. This latter may have been a reinforcement sent out to the General after his first landing in the Colony.
LADY CAITHNESS AND AVENUE WAGRAM
Having spent the winter months of 1894 (from January to April) in Egypt, I was returning thence in the latter month with my friend Mrs Judge of Windsor. Our route was via Paris, and I had arranged to spend a week there in the same hotel as the young Swedish lady whom I first met in India, and who has been referred to more than once in this record.
She told me she had made the acquaintance that winter of the famous "Countess of Caithness and Duchesse de Pomar," and thinking it would interest me to meet this lady, she had asked for permission to introduce me to her.
As it turned out, Madame Bruegel was unable to accompany me to the house, having several engagements for the afternoon, but she promised to "put in an appearance" later. So Mrs Judge and I drove off to the well-known mansion in the Avenue de Wagram, and were received very cordially by Lady Caithness.
I had once tried to read a very abstruse and mystic book by this lady, and had heard her spoken of as a more or less hopeless lunatic, "who imagined herself Mary Queen of Scots," and so forth.
Otherwise I went without prejudice, and being accustomed to judge for myself in such matters, came to the conclusion that Lady Caithness was an extremely shrewd woman, with her head remarkably "well screwed on," as the saying is. As regards her claims to be Mary Queen of Scots, I never heard these from her own lips, although I saw her daily for a week, and we had many interesting talks.
She certainly did claim to be in very close relations with the ill-fated Queen of Scotland, but I do not know what views she may have held privately as to varied manifestations of the one spirit. I have heard Lord Monkswell propound an interesting theory, with Archdeacon Wilberforce in the chair, to the effect that as one short earth life gave small scope for spiritual experience and development, he thought it quite possible that the same spirit might have several bodily manifestations simultaneously, and that the judge and the criminal might conceivably be one and the same individual in two personalities!
It is possible that Lady Caithness may have had some such view, not theoretically (as was the case with Lord Monkswell), but as a matter of conviction, and apart from the limits of Time and Space involved in the conception of the latter.
I can only say that I never heard her speak of Mary Queen of Scots except as an entity, quite distinct from herself. But that she carried the "Marie" culte to great extremes is an undoubted fact. The hall and rooms on the ground floor of the Avenue Wagram House were arranged and furnished in close imitation of Holyrood Palace. I counted over fifty miniatures and other pictures of the Scottish Queen in the Countess's beautiful bedroom alone, and later on shall have to speak more definitely of one life size and exquisitely painted portrait of the Queen.
But to return to this first reception.
I must confess that a somewhat inconveniently keen sense of humour found only too much nourishment on this occasion.
The Countess was magnificently dressed, as was usual with her, in priceless lace, falling over head and shoulders, and a beautiful tiara of various coloured jewels arranged over the lace. This was eccentric perhaps, considering the occasion, but not laughable. Lady Caithness, in addition to geniality, had enough quiet dignity to carry off the lace and jewels with success. I was chiefly amused by the attitude of adoring humility and flattering appreciation shown by the numerous ladies already assembled when we arrived. Only one man was present, and he was a priest. Later I learned to appreciate the friendliness of the Abbe Petit and to admire his intellectual courage and manliness.
For the moment, seeing him surrounded by these female worshippers, hanging upon his lips as he discoursed to us about new readings of old truths, one was irresistibly reminded of certain scenes in Moliere's "Femmes Savantes."
A lively little American lady (married to an Italian count) plied him with numerous questions in fluent French, spoken with an atrocious accent. Finally, she wished to hear the Abbe's views upon Melchisedech! In the midst of other questions and answers, the kindly little man managed to turn round to her with a cheery "Ah, Madame la Comtesse! pour le Melchisedech—nous reviendrons tout de suite a Melchisedech!" All the affairs of the religious universe were being wound up at a similar pace and in like fashion, and this final word of cheerful assurance would have proved absolutely disastrous to me had I not been sitting close to my friend and able to whisper to her: "Please dig your nails into my wrist—hard." Any bodily pain was preferable to the hysterical laughter which had been so long suppressed and seemed now imminent.
But there was worse to come!
An Englishwoman, the very type of the characteristic British spinster, turned round, and addressed M. l'Abbe in laboured and extremely British French (I must leave the accent to be imagined and supplied by my reader):
"Mais, Monsieur l'Abbe! c'est le Protestantisme que vous nous enseignez la."
He turned round upon her in his wrath:
"Mais, Madame—ou MADEMOISELLE." (No print can convey the utter scorn and contempt of this last word.)
The rest of the sentence was lost to us in the loud laugh of the genial, good-tempered woman: "Moi, Mademoiselle! J'ai ete mariee vingt ans et j'ai six enfants!"
The whole scene was too funny for words, and, with the exception of this good lady, all present took themselves as seriously as a University don!
It was a real relief when the solemnity of the reception broke up and we were ushered into the adjoining dining-room for an excellent tea. Here I came upon my Swedish friend, who had only just arrived, and "missed all the fun." She told me there was to be a seance held in the house next day, and that she had been asking the Countess if I might not be present. "It might amuse you, Kat!" was her irreverent way of putting it. "Unfortunately, there seems to be some difficulty about it."
At this moment Lady Caithness came up, and cordially expressed her regrets that she could not accede to Madame Bruegel's suggestion.
"Had you been staying until next week, Miss Bates, I would gladly have arranged for it, but to-morrow is a very special occasion. As a matter of fact, I have promised M. Petit that no one shall be present except himself and me, and the two female mediums, of course. On Wednesday we are to have a crowded meeting here—all the well-known people in Paris will come—and M. l'Abbe will read his paper explaining that he can no longer blind his eyes to the new light breaking upon the world through scientific discovery, etc., but that he remains a loyal son of the Church, if the Church will allow him to do so. It is, of course, a very trying and anxious ordeal; for many priests will be present, also a cardinal and one or more of our bishops. So the seance to-morrow will be specially devoted to receiving last instructions for the paper he is about to read, and some words, we trust, of encouragement and hope."
Of course, I hastened to assure Lady Caithness of my full comprehension of her point, and added that I was only sorry she should have been asked to alter her arrangements on my account.
"But you will join us on Wednesday at the meeting, I trust? It will be held at three P.M., in a large room on the ground floor, which is arranged for such gatherings. I shall expect you then, so we will not say good-bye."
This was heaping coals of fire on my head; for so observant a woman as Lady Caithness must have noticed my difficulty in keeping a grave face earlier in the afternoon!
Now comes a curious point. As we left the house Madame Bruegel in expressing disappointment about the next evening, added: "And yet somehow I think you will go after all."
"Yes," I said involuntarily. "I believe I shall go, but I cannot think how it will come about; nothing could be more decided than what we have just heard, and I cannot possibly put off my journey to England the end of this week."
I think we were both a little disappointed when no letter arrived by the morning's post. "Local letters often come by second post," urged my friend, who was very keen upon her presentiment.
A long morning at the Louvre prevented my reaching home till one P.M., when the dejeuner a la fourchette was half way through its course. No letter on my plate! So Madame Bruegel and I agreed that the wish must have been father to the thought with both of us, and put the matter out of our heads once for all.
At two-thirty P.M., however, a depeche letter arrived for me.
Lady Caithness wrote to beg that I would make a point of being with her that evening by nine p.m. "You will think this very inconsistent with what I told you yesterday," she wrote, "but I said only what was the exact truth, as matters then stood. It is the Queen herself who has communicated with me this morning, and insists upon your being present this evening. The Abbe and I can only bow to this decision. I need not tell you how pleased I shall be personally to greet you this evening."
I was again shown into the spacious bedroom of the Countess, where she "received" in general, quite after the manner of the French kings in the days of the old monarchy.
Her bed was quite a State bed too, with its beautiful silk furnishings and heavy velvet hangings. On the wall behind this, was a very valuable fresco painting, representing Jacob's ladder, with the angels ascending and descending, executed by a famous modern artist.
We soon descended to the ground floor, and passing through the large lecture-room, of which Lady Caithness had spoken, and which had sufficient gilt and cane chairs to seat a large audience; we stepped down some marble stairs into a small but exquisitely appointed room. It was a sort of chapel, in fact, built "by the Queen's instructions," and used for all purposes and occasions of direct communication with her. A general impression remains with me of rare woods and exquisite marbles, and the walls were hung with framed tapestries representing various scenes in the Queen's life.
To me the most striking and beautiful thing in the room was a full-length, life-sized portrait of Mary herself, so arranged that a hidden lamp threw its soft light on the features; whilst the hanging velvet curtains of deep crimson on either side concealed the frame of the picture, and conveyed the illusion that a living woman was standing there ready to receive her guests.
I have never seen anything more perfect than the way in which this impression was conveyed, without a jarring note of sensational effect.
The two French women mediums were already in the room, and I am bound to say they did not attract me pleasantly nor impress me very favourably. They were mother and daughter, and "Harpy" was written large over either countenance. Doubtless they were very good mediums, in spite of this fact. They must have been so, unless one supposes that Lady Caithness and the Abbe Petit were themselves abnormally strong sensitives; in which case one would have thought this extraneous help would have been unnecessary.
We sat down at a fairly large wooden table, polished, but without covering of any kind, and having only one solid support to it, coming from the centre, passing down as a single wooden pillar, and spreading out in the usual fashion at the bottom. I had noted this on first entering the room.
The two women sat together on my right-hand side. On my left was the Abbe, and the Countess sat exactly opposite to me, with a printed alphabet pasted on to a card, and a long pencil as pointer.
This made up the party. At a side table, placed some distance away, sat a pleasant young French lady, who was writing automatically all the time; a secretary to the Countess, I believe. This young lady had no possible connection with the table.
The seance began with a few words of prayer from the Abbe for light and guidance.
The process was as follows:—First, the Countess and then I took the printed alphabet, and pointed silently and at a fair pace to the letters, going on from one to the other without pause. At the letter needed the table did not rise, but gave a sound more like a bang than a rap. I have never heard anything quite so loud and definite in my long investigation. The sound seemed to come from within the wood, as in ordinary "raps," when these are genuine, but it was far louder and more rapid and decided than the usual seance rap. There was no hesitation, no gathering up of force. Any amount of vitality was evidently present, and the intelligence, from whatever source, was unerring. The Countess and I were the only two persons who held the alphabet and pointed, and when she held it the mediums could not have seen the letters from their position at the table with regard to hers. Yet the letters were banged out (I can use no other expression) with absolute accuracy, and at a pace which, quick to start with, became more and more rapid as we wearied of the monotonous task and handed the alphabet to each other in turn.
When the name of GOD or of OUR LORD came, only the first letter was indicated, and then the table swayed slowly to and fro in a very reverent and characteristic way for a few seconds; after which we began the alphabet again for the next word.
When these loud bangs came I could trace the reverberation in the wood, and it seemed to me practically impossible that the Harpies could be producing them by any unlawful methods, whilst sitting in full light and with immovable faces, the daughter writing down the letters as quickly as these were indicated.
One did not feel quite comfortable about making investigations in a private house without being invited to do so.
Again, if the women were tricking, and I caught them at it, there was always the chance of a disagreeable scene with people of their class.
On the other hand, it was losing a great opportunity, to refrain, as a mere matter of courtesy. Also I comforted myself by thinking that if anyone needed to feel ashamed it would be the ones who cheated, and not the detective.
So I pushed my chair a little nearer to the table, and the next time the Countess took the alphabet from me and the bangs were in full swing, I put my foot cautiously but very effectually entirely round the one leg of the table, moving it also up and down freely. Not a vestige of another foot, nor even of the flimsiest particle of dress or other obstruction! I could positively and distinctly hear the reverberation of the loud bangs on the wood, between me and the centre of the table, whilst my own leg and foot were firmly embracing the single wooden pillar upon which the latter stood. So the Harpies were justified, so far as this one phenomenon was concerned. The letters written down so rapidly by the daughter on large sheets of paper presented an apparently hopeless jumble, but when the sitting was over at the last, the Abbe and I were able to make out the words and sentences without great difficulty (he being accustomed to the task), and we then found a long, coherent, and at anyrate perfectly sensible, message addressed to him, and referring to the points of his coming discourse. This had to be proved upon its own merits, and without prejudice, arising from the fact that St Paul's name was given as the author. It was quite as helpful as some of the Apostle's letters, with the advantage of being up to date as regarded the question in hand. After all, the Abbe was about to embark upon an enterprise requiring much courage and great tact, in the forlorn hope that the walls of narrow Orthodoxy and Priestcraft might fall down before the trumpets of advancing Knowledge and Light.
It may or may not have been St Paul who stood by the Abbe with words of encouragement that night; but I, for one, find no difficulty in thinking it conceivable that the great Apostle should take a keen interest in the evolution of the planet upon which he once lived.
The charming young lady delivered up her script also. It was interesting and well written, but the only paragraph which remains in my memory was an excellent analysis of the initial difference between Christianity and Theosophy.
The Abbe kindly copied it out for me next day, but I must quote from memory.
"Christianity is a stretching down of the Divinity to Man.
"Theosophy is the attempt of Man, by his own efforts, to reach the Divine."
This seems to me both terse and true.
We had sat from nine P.M. till one A.M., and I think we were all relieved when an adjournment for supper was suggested by Lady Caithness.
Her son, the Duc de Pomar, joined us for this part of the evening, and was introduced to me. My enjoyment of the excellent fare, after so many hours of exhaustion, was only tempered by an unfortunate and violent quarrel between the mother and daughter mediums, on the score of the age of the latter! The mother declared her daughter was forty-five; the daughter said: "Not a day over thirty-five," and intimated that she surely might be supposed to know her own age! The mother, however, murmured provokingly: "Moi, je sais mieux que ca"; and so the wrangle went on, until I made a diversion by taking leave of my hostess and promising to be present at the lecture the "following afternoon," which, by the way, had become "this afternoon" by the time I left the Hotel Wagram.
When I entered the house once more, it was to be shown into the large lecture-room previously described, which was already three parts full, and very shortly entirely so.
Lady Caithness had kindly reserved a front seat for me, so I could see and hear without difficulty. On the raised platform stood my friend the Abbe looking very grave and rather nervous. A cardinal, two bishops, and some half-dozen priests were seated close to him, and very shortly the lecture, which was, I think, extempore, began.
The Abbe was so manifestly in dead earnest and without any suspicion of pose, that one could not fail to be deeply impressed by the scene. It needed all the help of a sincere purpose and a brave heart, to stand up amongst those of his own cloth, and, in face of a partially indifferent and partially unfriendly audience, to declare boldly "the faith that was in him"—a faith that burned all the more brightly and warmly from the fact that it was being purged of the superstitions which must always become the accretions of every form of religion; the clinging refuse of weed and shell, which from time to time must be scraped off the bottom of the grand old ship if it is to convey us safely from port to harbour.
The Cardinal sat twirling his big seal ring, with a look of cynical amusement on his face, or so it seemed to me.
As the Abbe proceeded to mention the advances made in science and the necessity for a restatement of old truths, which should bring them into line with other truths of the nineteenth century, proving the essential unity of all truth, and breaking down the fallacy that the vital part of religion and the vital part of science have anything to fear from one another, the Cardinal's face was a study to me.
"Yes, of course, we know all that, you and I, but what is the use of making this fuss about it? We belong to a system, and this system has worked very well for centuries past, and will work very well for centuries to come if fools don't attempt to upset the coach by restatements and readjustments, as they are called. The people don't want restatements; they want a dead certainty, and that is just what we give them."
All this I seemed to read in his clever, cynical countenance, in direct opposition to the thrilling sentences of the Abbe Petit as he leant forward and said, with uplifted finger and prophetic intensity:
"La lumiere est venue, mes freres—et si vous ne la suivez pas—vous serez laisses seuls dans vos eglises."
It is impossible to exaggerate the affectionate solemnity of this appeal to his brother priests. The tragic note was relieved later by an amused smile which rippled round the audience. This puzzled me until a kind French lady sitting next to me explained that the audience were amused by the "tres chers freres" (dearly beloved brethren), with which the Abbe addressed them in this rather unorthodox lecture. It was evidently looked upon as a curious bit of "professional survival."
On the following day (Thursday) I was invited to lunch with Lady Caithness at two P.M., and being a punctual person, I arrived at that hour. The powdered footman announced that his mistress had not yet emerged from her bedroom, and showed me up into the dining-room adjoining, where I awaited her. In a few minutes I was joined here by the Abbe, who politely expressed his sorrow that he had not known of my arrival earlier.
As we sat chatting together, he told me a curious experience of his of the previous night, which will certainly "cause the enemy" to smile, if not "to blaspheme."
He said (of course, in French): "I was sitting last night in my room, which looks over the back of the house, and where I can hear no sounds from the Avenue, and I was talking to 'La Reine.' Suddenly 'Elle m'a frappe sur l'epaule,' and then said she must leave me at once, in order to meet the Duchesse, who had just returned home. At that moment twelve o'clock struck from a neighbouring church, and I looked at my watch, and found it was indeed midnight. When Madame la Duchesse comes in, I am most anxious to find out whether she and the Duc were returning home at that hour. You will be my witness, madame, that I have told you of this occurrence before seeing the Duchesse."
I assured him that I would gladly testify to this; and in a few moments the Duc de Pomar arrived, and almost immediately after him, Lady Caithness emerged from her bedroom on the other side of the dining-room.
We sat down to luncheon, and I was much amused by the form of the Abbe's question later in the meal.
"Madame la Duchesse! puis je vous demander sans indiscretion, a quelle heure vous etes revenue hier au soir?"
Lady Caithness looked a little surprised, but answered readily enough: "Well, it must have been past midnight; I did not notice very specially."
"Not past midnight, mother," corrected the Duc de Pomar; "I heard a clock strike twelve just as we were driving through the Porte Cochere."
"Bien, Madame, qu'est-ce-que je vous ai dit?" demanded the Abbe, turning to me in triumph. He then repeated his story, and I was able to certify that he had already mentioned it to me on my arrival.
The following day I took my leave of Lady Caithness, with a happy remembrance of her and her great kindness and hospitality to me during this pleasant week. She made me promise to let her know whenever I might happen to be passing through Paris. I wrote to her the next year, when about to make a short stay in Paris, on returning from Algeria, and received an answer from the Riviera. She had been wintering there, and had been packed and ready for the return to Paris, when an obstinate chill had upset all plans. She begged me to go to the Avenue Wagram when I arrived and find out the latest news of her, as the doctors might give leave for the journey at any moment.
Ten days later I did go to her house and interview the lady secretary (not the one I had seen), who was very grudging in her answers, and gave me the impression that she was accustomed to deal with persons who had some "axe to grind" by claiming acquaintance with the Countess.
I did not happen to have the letter in my pocket which authorised my visit, and should probably not have produced it in any case. So I turned away rather shortly, leaving my card, saying: "I must trouble you to forward this at once to Lady Caithness."
The moment the secretary saw my name, her manner entirely changed, and became as servile as it had been "cavalier."
"Miss Bates, I see? Oh, certainly, I shall communicate at once with her ladyship. I had no idea it was Miss Bates. Pray excuse me, so many come and ask for the Duchesse, and we have to be so very particular. But, of course, you must be the lady the Duchesse is so very fond of. She has mentioned you often, and warned us to receive you with every courtesy."
And that is my last recollection of the kindly woman, who died a few months later. No, not absolutely my last recollection: visiting Scotland in 1896, I made a point of going to Holyrood Chapel for the express purpose of finding her grave.
The plain stone slab and simple inscription seemed at first a curious contrast to the gorgeous magnificence of her home and dress and surroundings. Yet I am inclined to think that they represented a side of her character which was quite as real as the other.
In like manner, no one who knew of her only as a "wild visionary" could have realised the shrewd, practical woman of business and of common-sense who shared the personality of Countess of Caithness and Duchesse de Pomar.
I remember that Mr Frederic Myers made the same remark to me after a visit he paid to her, just after my return to England, for the purpose of arranging matters with regard to her generous bequest to the Society for Psychical Research.
FROM OXFORD TO WIMBLEDON
From Paris to England is not a long cry, and my next reminiscence is connected with the University of Oxford.
I was spending a few days there with a friend in the spring of 1896, and went with her one afternoon to an Oxford tea-party, with its usual sprinkling of women, married and unmarried; a few dons captured as a question of friendship, and more than a few undergraduates.
Amongst the latter I chanced to hear the name of a very well-known bishop, whom I had first met and known rather intimately when I was a young girl, and he a young married curate. I had also known his wife (a few years my senior) very intimately in those far-off days, so my curiosity was aroused to know if the young man in this Oxford drawing-room should chance to be a son of this bishop, whom we will call the Bishop of Granchester. I found that my surmise was correct; the young man was introduced to me, and we were soon deep in an interesting conversation about his parents, especially his mother, who had died when he was barely three years old. He knew little or nothing about her. His father had married again, and his paternal grandmother (still alive in 1896) had never cared for his mother—from feelings of jealousy probably—so there was no one to speak to the boy about her, and he was naturally delighted to hear all my girlish recollections of her.
"Do come and have tea with me to-morrow afternoon, or any day that suits you," he said eagerly. "I have one or two old photographs taken of my mother when she was young, and I should like so much to know which of them you consider the best."
Of course, I agreed to go, Mr Blake-Mason promising to ask a "chum" to entertain my hostess whilst he and I discussed the photographs and the old days before he was born.
Returning home from his rooms that February evening, I was conscious once more of an unaccountable depression, and also a certain amount of nervous irritability, which other sensitives will understand, and which often precedes some psychic happening. Just after we had finished dinner, it struck me suddenly, and for the first time, that my discomfort might be connected with my afternoon visit. This young man's mother might be wishing to impress me in some way! I found that this was the fact, but felt unequal to going further into the matter that night.
I promised to listen to anything she might wish to say next morning, and having given this promise, all unpleasant and disturbing influences disappeared, and I had a good night's rest. Next morning, after breakfast, my hostess said very practically:
"Now do get this matter off your mind at once, or you will be worried about it all day. I am going to order dinner, and shall then be in the drawing-room, so you can have this room entirely to yourself."
I sat down, and a very beautiful message was given to me by the friend of my girlhood.
She was evidently very much perturbed and very anxious about something connected with her youngest son, whom I had met for the first time two days previously, and about whose affairs, I need scarcely say, I was in a state of profound ignorance. The little mother was anxious not to "give him away," nor betray confidences, and so her words were very guarded. There was evidently nothing in the least dishonourable or in any way unworthy of her son in question. I gathered, rather, that he might be contemplating some step which she, from her wider outlook, considered undesirable and inexpedient; possibly even disastrous in the future.
It was no business of mine, and I make it a point of honour not to "try to guess" more than I am told, and to forget what I am told as soon as possible, where the affairs of other people are involved.
This is, fortunately, easy for me as a rule, but in this case one sentence remains even now ringing in my ears, and if the son ever comes across this record I hope he will forgive my reproducing his mother's last beautiful words to me:
"Tell my darling boy that life is so solemn and true love so sacred a thing. Tell him to be very, very sure, lest he lose the substance in pursuing the shadow."
The first sentence is given verbatim. In the second my memory may be producing the sense without the exact wording, but I have no doubt at all that my words practically convey what the mother wished me to "tell her boy."
This message gave me a hard problem to solve: "What should I do with it?"
On the one hand, my having agreed to take the message, tacitly bound me to let him have it.
On the other hand, there were various questions to consider. In the first place, Mr Blake-Mason might probably, and very naturally, resent my writing to him on the subject, especially as I had no reason to suppose he had any knowledge of psychic matters.
Secondly, he might suppose (quite untruly) that I had heard some private affairs of his discussed, and had taken upon myself to convey a personal warning, under cover of his dead mother's wishes.
This was perhaps exaggerating a possibility, which, nevertheless, could not be ignored.
Thirdly, he might consider me a harmless lunatic, conveying a message which had no slightest foundation in truth.
Fourthly, it might, on the other hand, give him the impression that his mother must have some access to his most private affairs; in which case he might become intensely interested in psychic matters, to the exclusion of more mundane affairs—always a danger with young people—not to mention other possibilities of psychic disaster for inexperienced investigators.
I went over all these chances con, to put against the one pro of his mother's loving anxiety, and my sense of responsibility to her.
Finally, I decided that there was no choice left for me but to send the message, and trust the consequences to a Higher Wisdom.
I did this, adding a few words of explanation, and also of warning, in case he should recognise my absolute bona fides and his mother's personality, and become too much absorbed by these psychic possibilities. Unfortunately, I added, in his own interests, that it was not necessary to acknowledge the letter.
"It would doubtless reach him, and I had nothing more to do with the matter."
I left Oxford next day, and have never seen the young man since; nor have I ever heard from him. I concluded that he was annoyed, or that the message was quite wide of the mark. I never doubted his mother's presence with me, but I might have failed to reproduce her words to her son with sufficient accuracy for recognition.
Anyway, I put the matter out of my head as one of those trying episodes to which all sensitives are exposed at times, when they think more of conscience than personal convenience.
Three or four years passed before the corroboration of that message came to me, in a rather curious manner.
A cousin of mine, having been badly wounded in the West African War, was sent to a London hospital to have the bullet, which had puzzled all the local surgeons, located and extracted.
He was at the hospital for several weeks during the London season of 1899, I think. During these weeks I, in common with many other friends and relations, was in the habit of paying him occasional visits. I had gone to say good-bye to him on leaving town, when "by chance" (as we call it) he mentioned, for the first time, the name of his ward sister, adding how charming and kind and capable she had proved. "By the way, she is a daughter of the Bishop of Granchester," he added. "You know everybody, Cousin Emmie! perhaps you know her," he said, smiling.
"No; I don't know her, Bertie! but I knew her mother and father very well many years ago."
Nothing would satisfy him but that I should ask to see her when I left the hospital, and as he seemed really anxious on the point I promised to do so, though inwardly averse from disturbing a busy woman.
I asked the hall porter for her, but said I had no special business, and would not ask to see her unless she happened to be quite free. In a few moments he returned, and showed me into a pretty sitting-room on the ground floor, saying that the sister would be with me shortly. The door opened again to admit a bright, pleasant-looking young woman of seven or eight and twenty, who gave me a most cordial greeting when she heard my name, saying: "Oh yes, Frank told me all about meeting you at Oxford."
I did not feel very keen about talking of "Frank" just then; but we sat down, and had a long half hour's chat on much the same lines as my conversation with her brother three years before.
I had said good-bye, and she had accompanied me across the hall to the fine stone steps leading from the hospital—she had, in fact, turned towards her own apartments—when I felt I must ask her one more question, so I also turned, and hurried back to her.
"Did your brother Frank ever tell you of a letter he received from me in Oxford?" I asked.
"Oh yes," she answered, without a touch of embarrassment.
Then I continued: "I never heard from him about it. I told him he need not write at the time, but I have been afraid he was hurt or annoyed, and thought it an impertinence on my part perhaps."
"Did Frank never write?" she asked, with genuine astonishment. "I know he intended to do so. Certainly he was not annoyed in any way. Far from it. He was intensely interested, and I have the best of reasons for knowing that that message from our mother made a very great difference in his life."
I thanked her for these words, without asking anything further. As I have said, it was no affair of mine, from first to last; but the verification, after such a lapse of time, was doubly satisfactory to me.
Again I ask: How about the "Cui Bono" argument?
* * * * *
Another shake of the kaleidoscope, and I find myself at Wimbledon, staying with a friend—now, alas! passed away—who had then a pretty house not far from the Common, and with whom I often spent a few days when in London.
On this occasion she had asked some friends to meet me at tea, amongst them Mrs Alfred Wedgwood, to whom I had introduced her some years previously, and my friends "V. C. Desertis" and his wife.
A Miss Farquhar, whom I knew very slightly, was sharing a sofa with me, she sitting at one end and I at the other, leaving a vacant space between us. Mrs Wedgwood was talking to Mr Desertis at the moment, but suddenly looked across the room at our sofa, and began describing very graphically an old man of benevolent aspect sitting between Miss Farquhar and myself, leaning on a stick, and wearing a soft felt hat.
"He has long hair, almost down to his coat collar, and he looks such a dear, kind old man!" Mrs Wedgwood said; then turning round, she added: "Surely some of you must recognise him! he is so very clear and distinct in his whole personality."
Mrs Desertis whispered something to her husband, who asked at once if the old gentleman's hair was very white.
"Yes; quite white," said Mrs Wedgwood hopefully.
"And curly and long?"
"Yes; curly and quite long, reaching to his collar," continued Mrs Wedgwood, still more confidently.
But our hopes were dashed when Mr Desertis turned round drily to his wife: "Then it cannot possibly be my father, as you suggested. His hair was white, but quite short."
It was a cruel blow! But Mrs Wedgwood still affirmed that she had never seen anyone more distinctly, whether we recognised him or not.
I may here mention that I had been sleeping very badly in this house for some nights past, and regretted this the more, because I was shortly going to stay with a friend at Windsor for my first "Fourth of June," and wished to be specially bright and well for the coming festivities.
These bad nights were later proved to have some connection with the benevolent old gentleman just described!
Now I will continue the sequence of events.
Mrs Wedgwood's clairvoyant description had been forgotten by us all, as I supposed, long before the afternoon came to an end. It had passed unrecognised, and other interesting matters arose in conversation.
The following day Miss Farquhar wrote a line to my hostess, asking if she might come to tea towards the end of the week, as she had something very interesting to tell us. She came, of course, and thus unfolded her budget:
"None of you seemed very much impressed about that old gentleman Mrs Wedgwood described here the other day, but her words were so graphic that I felt sure she was really seeing him at the moment, so I determined to try and find out something about him.
"I went to an old lady I know, one of the oldest inhabitants, and asked her if she knew anything of your predecessors in this house. She told me an elderly couple had lived here, a husband and wife, that the husband had died, and that although the wife lived away from Wimbledon now, she could not bear to part with the house which her husband had been so fond of; so let it. In fact, my old friend seemed to think she must be your present landlady."
This was said to my hostess, and proved to be quite true. The house had been let through an agent, and as the present owner lived in a distant county, nothing was known of her personally by my friend.
Then Miss Farquhar continued: "Hearing that the old man was so devoted to the house rather suggested a reason for Mrs Wedgwood seeing him here, so I asked my old lady if she had known this gentleman, and if so, would she describe him. She did this, almost word for word as Mrs Wedgwood had seen him. Also, she added, that he was a good deal of an invalid, often sat indoors, with a hat on for fear of draughts, and carried a stick, upon which he constantly leant for support."
This was very satisfactory, and we applauded Miss Farquhar's detective instincts, and promised to let Mrs Wedgwood know about the matter.
The latter took it all very quietly, only remarking that she felt sure someone ought to be able to find out about the old man.
A sudden thought struck me that my disturbed nights and uncomfortable feelings, in a very cheerful and pretty bedroom, might possibly be connected with the same old man. Without saying a word about this, I asked Mrs Wedgwood to come up into my room before she returned to London, and then I told her that I could not sleep, and had not had a peaceful night since I arrived. Could she find out what was the cause?
Mrs Wedgwood looked round for a moment, and then said in the most casual way: "Not the smallest doubt of the cause. It is that old man, of course. He is earth-bound, I expect, and haunting the house. You had better take a message from him if you want to get rid of him. I would help you if I could, but I shall be late for my train if I don't start at once."
Next morning I took the poor old gentleman's message, which began with an apology and regrets for disturbing me, but went on pathetically:
"You must forgive me, I was so very anxious to send a message to my wife, and I saw that you were a sensitive and could take it from me—I did not realise that it might cause you so much discomfort. That lady called me earth-bound, but if I am, it is only through my deep love for my dear wife, and I am permitted to watch over her. I was drawn here by my old affection for this house, and also by your presence here, knowing you could help me."