This was my conclusion, but evidently not the conclusion of young Talbot Forbes. I had never seen this boy in my life, nor his mother; but I suppose my old friendship with his father, and my deep sympathy with the latter, enabled the son to approach me soon after he had passed into the next sphere.
Anyway, he made me conscious of his presence by my bedside during the greater part of the night following my receipt of his father's letter.
Owing to my severe illness I was sleeping very little, and once or twice in the night an attendant came in to make up my fire and keep the temperature of the room even, so that I had ample opportunity for realising the presence of my hitherto unknown visitor.
Those who know what "hearing with the inner ear" means will realise the method through which the following conversation took place, so far as I can now recall it:—
TALBOT.—"Yes, it is Talbot Forbes. I want to speak to you. Please listen to me! I want to tell you, you must do more for them than this—you have to help them about me."
E. K. B.—"Who do you mean by 'them'?"
TALBOT.—"My parents, of course. Don't you understand what I am saying? You have to do more for them—you must make them know I am close to them."
Now I could only suppose that he wished me to write again to his father, and explain more fully my own ideas on the subject of our departed friends. As this would have involved a wearisome and almost certainly useless discussion on a topic which I had reason to know was very distasteful to the boy's father, I said rather shortly, and I am afraid with some of the petulance of an invalid:
"Oh, do be quiet, and leave me alone! I have done all I can, and there is no more to be said about it. I am very sorry for you, but I really can't help you in this. I don't know your mother or what her views about it may be; and as for your father—well, I am not going to worry and torment him about ideas that he dislikes and disapproves of, and just now, too, when he is so miserable! No, I won't do it, not even if you come and worry me about it every night."
I was feeling ill and weary, and longing for sleep, and hoped this would be a quietus to my young friend. Not a bit of it! His next remark was:
"What does it matter what YOU think or what you mean to do or not to do? You have to help them, not to think about your own feelings."
This was frank at anyrate, but not altogether convincing. Soon afterwards, tired out with the discussion, I really did fall asleep, and only woke a short time before my breakfast and daily budget of letters arrived. Amongst these letters was one in an unknown handwriting, which proved to be from Mrs Forbes, saying she had seen my letter to her husband, and begging that I would tell her the grounds I had for my assurance that those we love are close to us after the great change we call death.
Evidently the boy knew that this letter was coming to me, and was trying to prepare me to answer it in such a way as should help him to convince his mother of his continued existence in her immediate presence.
As this case is one well known to the Society for Psychical Research (the lady I have called Mrs Forbes appearing on their records both as Mrs Scott and under the pseudonym I have borrowed from them), it is unnecessary to go into further details. Suffice it to say that my nocturnal visitor was successful in his aim.
I answered his mother's letter as he wished. This led to a long correspondence between us, and to my making her acquaintance shortly afterwards and renewing my old friendship with her husband.
Mrs Forbes had several sittings with Mrs Thompson and other mediums, became convinced of her son's presence with her, and very soon was independent of outside assistance in communicating with him. The judge also declared himself "unable to resist the evidence," but I don't think he ever quite honestly rejoiced in his convictions. It is hard to eradicate prejudices and traditions after fifty years of age, and the human element in his son's bright and happy messages always seemed to worry and perplex him a little.
He knows all about it now! Much as I deplore the earthly disappearance of such an old and faithful friend of my youth, I can sincerely rejoice in thinking of him as once more united with his son, in ways that will no longer appear to him unnatural or undesirable.
During the judge's lifetime, and after the son's death, I often stayed with him and his wife in their northern home. Mrs Forbes used frequently to say: "It was Talbot who brought us all three together, we must remember!"
It was during my first visit to Judge and Mrs Forbes, in the north of England, that another curious experience came to me.
This happened on the 4th of July 1900, for I remember saying to Mrs Forbes next morning: "I shall remember the date from its being American Independence Day."
It was the year of the Boxer rebellion in China, when the Pekin Embassy was in a state of siege, and by July almost all hope that any Europeans would be saved from their dire peril had faded away.
The Memorial Service, arranged by a too eager dignitary of the Church to take place in St Paul's, had certainly been adjourned at the last moment; but as days and weeks passed, and the little garrison was still unrelieved, very little hope was entertained. In fact, by July most people hoped and believed that their troubles must be already over, through the merciful interposition of death.
A connection of mine, whom I had known well when she was a child, but had not seen for many years, was shut up with her husband, children, and sister in the Pekin Embassy at the time. Thousands were lamenting her sad fate, and I naturally amongst them; but I wish to make clear that, owing to the years that had elapsed since I had seen this special member of the family, it was not in any sense a very personal sorrow, nor was I then—nor am I now—aware of any special tie of affinity between this lady and myself.
I had gone to bed about eleven o'clock on the night of 4th July 1900, and had been in bed about half-an-hour, without any attempt at going to sleep, when suddenly I felt extremely alert in mind, very much as Miss Porter described herself in the Captain Carbury episode. Almost immediately upon this feeling of mental alertness came the conviction that Mabel M'Leod (as I will call her) was in the room, close to me, and that she was in some dire and urgent need of help—instantaneous help, I mean. I could neither see nor hear on this occasion—I only knew these facts through some power of intuition, all the more remarkable because, having made up my mind that all was over at the Embassy, I had not been thinking of her or of her fellow-sufferers for some days past.
My thoughts were fully engaged at the time with the grief of my host and hostess.
With the knowledge of Mabel's presence came also the conviction that she was still alive—in the physical body—and that it was no excarnate spirit that was appealing to me for help.
The impression was so vivid that I called out instinctively: "What is it, Mabel? What can I do for you?" There was no response, either by outward or inner voice, only the insistent appeal for help, and knowledge of some imminent danger at hand for her. I am trying to explain that something more than the usual hourly peril in which they must be living, if on this side the veil, was implied by the impression I received. It was some acute and additional danger which threatened her at the moment. Feeling it was useless to waste time trying to find out by writing or other means what the exact nature of this danger might be, I jumped out of bed as quickly as possible, saying: "Never mind trying to make me understand—I will pray for you, whatever it is!" So I knelt down, and prayed most earnestly that this poor woman, whose spirit had appealed for help at some dread crisis, might be comforted, and delivered from any dangers threatening her at the time.
I had been very comfortably tucked up in bed, looking forward to the pleasant drowsiness which promises sleep, and I am quite sure I should not have put myself to all this inconvenience without a very strong motive.
When I felt the poor, tormented spirit was calmed and soothed by the atmosphere of prayer, I returned to my bed, and eventually fell asleep.
Next morning I told Mrs Forbes of my experience, making the remark quoted about the date.
The following week she and I were together at one of the meetings of the Society for Psychical Research, at the close of which, in shaking hands with Mr Frederic Myers, I begged him to make a note of my experience and the date.
"Ah, Miss Bates!" he said, taking out a small note-book, "I will make a note of it, but I fear there is not the remotest chance of any of them having been alive ten days ago."
"Then my experience goes for nothing," I answered. "It was a living woman, not an excarnate one, who came to my bedside on the 4th July."
Later, when the Embassy was relieved, and this lady (who had presented such a "stiff upper lip" to Fortune) was once more safe at home for a much-needed rest, I found that she had gone through a special time of accentuated suffering just when I felt her presence in my room. Her husband was down with dysentery, and she had not enough food either for him or for her poor little children, and the strain was almost too great, even for that brave soul.
Of course, she had been quite unconscious of any appeal to me.
But she has Scottish as well as Irish blood in her veins, and this heredity may have enabled her subconscious self to sense my locality and to realise my power and will to help her in her desperate need.
Truly it was a case of "vain is the help of man," or woman either! But we know too little of spiritual laws to be able to deny off-hand the efficacy of any earnest prayer.
I saw Mr Myers make a note of the circumstance, but, unfortunately, this cannot be found amongst his papers. I asked Mrs Myers about it, and she remembered distinctly her husband having mentioned the case to her when he returned home after that meeting, but when I last saw her, she had hunted amongst his papers in vain for the note which he made at the time.
* * * * *
Early in January 1901, the day after Lord Robert's triumphant procession through London, I went to spend some weeks at an "open-air cure" in Devonshire, high up in the hills, and in a bleak part of the county. Several severe illnesses had left me so supersensitive to colds and draughts that it seemed a vital necessity to take some such drastic step, even at this inclement time of the year, unless I were prepared to sink into a state of chronic invalidism, and become a burden to myself and my neighbours for the rest of my natural life.
An old friend was "second in command" in this special establishment, which she had asked me to recommend, and a bright thought struck me that I might do my friend a good turn, and myself also, by spending a few weeks in the house.
I did not bargain, however, for the deep snow which fell on the very day after my arrival, nor for the howling west winds, which continued to blow during the whole of my stay.
In these parts, the west wind corresponds with our eastern variety, and is quite as cold and disagreeable.
Nor were the surroundings inside of a very cheerful nature. All the other patients (six or seven) were quite young girls, and all more or less consumptive. Several of them were very attractive, which made it seem all the more sad. Without exception, all were, or had been, engaged to be married, as the coping-stone to this tragedy of their lives! In several cases the engagements had been broken off, sometimes by mutual consent, on the score of health. In a few exceptions, where love had proved stronger than prudence and common-sense, it was equally melancholy to realise that the future could hold nothing but disappointment on the one side, and a hopeless regret on the other.
Under these circumstances it was perhaps only to be expected that my first impressions of the establishment should not be entirely couleur de rose. Yet the house itself was pleasant enough, and the view from the drawing-room windows was simply magnificent, including sea as well as moor.
Curtainless windows, with sashes thrown wide open, and chilly linoleum to replace warm carpets, were rather a trial to the uninitiated, early in January, with deep snow on the ground and fires none too plentiful. In addition to these drawbacks I had another personal one. Coming in the middle of the winter, it was naturally Hobson's choice as regarded the bedrooms. All the best and warmest aspects had been appropriated in the autumn, and an ugly little room, with cold, west outlook and depressing, mustard-coloured distempered walls, fell to my lot.
Yet even these facts did not sufficiently account for the extremely depressing effect of that room upon me.
"Has anyone died here lately?" was my first and natural query in a house of this kind.
I had heard the girls casually mention two gentlemen patients who had been in the house the previous year—one of these had gone into rooms in a neighbouring town with his nurse. I did not hear what had become of the other one, and had not sufficient curiosity to ask the question.
My friend reassured me by saying she was sure no one had died recently in my room. She had only lately come to the house herself, as I knew; having been matron for some years of a small hospital in the country.
"The second poor gentleman, who was a patient here, did die in the house, I believe, but that was months ago," she said, "and I understand that he had Laura Pearce's room," mentioning one of the girls, who had a specially cheerful apartment. It seemed quite natural that a sick man, confined to his bed, should occupy a large and sunny room, so I thought no more of the matter. Still, I was always conscious of an unpleasant and sad atmosphere in my own room, and took occasion one day to ask the lady at the head of the establishment whether she knew anything of the predecessors in the house.
It struck me that the psychic atmosphere in my room might be connected with some of them.
Miss Hunter replied laughingly: "I can't tell you anything about them, for the very good reason that they don't exist. I am the first tenant of this house. It was only built two years ago, and remained vacant for the first twelve months."
Then I told her very cautiously of my feeling about my room, and that I had supposed it might have to do with someone who had slept there before she took the house.
Two or three of the young girls were in the room at the time, and it struck me that one of them—the one who was there for her second winter—looked a little surprised and interested; but the matron passed off the subject with a few bantering words, and again I had no suspicion of the truth.
Six weeks passed, and my last night in the house had arrived. My nurse friend was in the habit of giving me massage twice a day, before getting up in the morning and the last thing at night. She left me on this occasion about ten-thirty P.M., expressing a hope that I should soon sleep, and have a good night before my long journey next day.
"Not much doubt of that," I murmured. "Why, I'm half asleep already!" And I turned round, tired and yet soothed by the massage, and soon fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Several hours must have passed, when I woke up, trembling and terror-struck, after passing through an experience which seems as vivid to me to-day as on that February night or early morning. My heart was beating, my limbs trembling, beads of perspiration covered my face, as I discovered later.
No wonder! I had been through an experience from which few, I imagine, return to tell the tale. For I had passed through every detail of dying, and dying a very hard and difficult death.
Body and soul were being literally torn apart, in spite of the desperate effort to cling together, and my spirit seemed to be launched into unknown depths of darkness and possible horror. It was the feeling that I did not know where I was going nor what awaited me that seemed so terrible—this and the horrible fight for mastery between my poor body and soul and some unknown force that was inexorably set upon dividing them.
This, so far as I can express it, exactly describes the experience I had just gone through, and from which I had awakened in such abject terror.
As the beating of my heart subsided, and I could think more calmly, I remembered with startling distinctness that in the very worst of the struggle I had been vainly endeavouring to say that text in the twenty-third Psalm which begins:
"Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me: Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." I could say the first part of it quite easily, but some fiendish enemy seemed bent upon preventing my saying the last sentence, and in my terrible dream, rescue and safety depended upon my getting to the end of the text. I tried again and again, always to be driven back in despair before the crucial words were uttered. At last, with a desperate effort, I seemed to shake off the incubus which was weighing me down, and I finished the words triumphantly, and so loud that I had positively wakened myself up by shouting them out. With returning memory I knew this had happened, and hearing a door open and shut on the half landing below my room, I thought for the moment that someone must have heard me, and must be coming to see what was the matter. I looked at my watch—just two-thirty A.M. No one appeared; and to my relief I remembered that this was just the hour when either Miss Hunter or my friend went round to the invalids, giving them milk or bovril, in the night.
I had no inclination to seek out either of these ladies. The horror was past, and no one could undo what I had endured; so I lay quiet, and in course of time managed to go to sleep again, not waking until the servant came into my room to light the fire at seven-thirty A.M.
It happened to be a certain Minnie on this occasion, a very respectable young woman, who had accompanied Miss Hunter when she gave up the matronship of a well-known hospital, and who had therefore been with her since this establishment had been started.
My night's experience convinced me so absolutely that, in spite of all that had been said, the gentleman patient had died in this room, and that I had just gone through his death agonies, that instead of asking any question about it, I said very quietly to Minnie, as she was on her knees lighting my fire: "The poor gentleman who died here last summer died in this room, I find."
"Yes, ma'am," she said quietly, not knowing, as it turned out, that any mystery had been made about the fact.
My personal friend was guiltless of any deceit, for she had been told the story about Laura Pearce's room, but the young girls confessed when I went down to breakfast that they had been specially warned not to let me know the true facts.
Miss Hunter did not appear at breakfast, as she was suffering from a chill, so I went to her bedroom to say good-bye before going up to London.
Feeling naturally annoyed and rather shaken by my night's experience, I said to her rather drily:
"You need not have taken the trouble to deceive me about my room, Miss Hunter, nor to warn the girls to do the same. I know that gentleman died there, for I have just gone through his experiences." And then I told her about my terrible night.
Although forced to admit the facts, Miss Hunter fought every inch of the ground, so far as the painful experiences were concerned.
"Such an excellent man! so interested in everything—a clergyman, my dear Miss Bates, and so good! How could there be anything painful connected with his death?" etc. etc.
I suggested that, as Christians, we had the most overwhelming proof that holiness of life does not always preclude even mental suffering at death; but she would not hear of this argument, and doubtless considered it blasphemous.
By dint of questioning, however, I made two discoveries—first, that the death was quite unexpected. The man had only been a fortnight in the house, and when I expressed surprise that he should have been moved there so late in a fatal illness, she said unguardedly:
"Oh, but he was very slightly ill when he came—it was more a preventive measure. None of us had any idea that he was a dying man, the symptoms developed so suddenly."
I also elicited another fact—i.e. that this delightfully interesting personality "so intellectual—so full of interest in everything" (to quote Miss Hunter's words), had died at the age of forty, in the very prime of life. No wonder, under the circumstances of so short an illness, in the very zenith of life and enjoyment, that body and soul should have been loath to separate, and thus free the imprisoned spirit! But Miss Hunter was adamant, and would admit nothing.
Just before leaving her, it struck me that I had not yet told her about the text, so I repeated that episode, and then, for the first time, a startled look came into her eyes. She was taken by surprise, and said hastily: "That is extraordinary! I was with him when he died in the night, and he kept on asking for that text. That is not so remarkable, many might have asked for that text, but I stopped once or twice after the first sentence, and he kept on urging me: "Say it to the end, Miss Hunter! Say it to the end!"
Later the good lady even consented to write out the evidential points in this story, which I sent at once to my friend Dr Richard Hodgson.
Immediately upon my return to London on this occasion, I was attacked quite suddenly by a very acute form of rheumatism, which laid me on my back—perfectly helpless—for several days.
When the doctor arrived, his first question was: "Have you had any special shock lately? This particular form of rheumatism does not generally come on with so little warning unless there has been a previous shock."
I was about to deny this, thinking he referred to unexpected news, but with the memory of my Devonshire experience so keen and clear, I felt bound to tell him that I had certainly had a shock to my nerves twenty-four hours previously.
Soon after this sudden and sharp attack of illness I found myself in Portugal for the first time in my life.
I had gone there with an English friend—Mrs Frampton—in order to be near connections who had lived in the country for many years.
A cousin and I spent a delightful afternoon in that Cintra paradise of Monserrat, with General and Mrs Sartorius, who were living there at the time of my visit to Portugal. I have heard that even this charming house could tell strange tales if only walls could speak. It is easy to imagine that any spirits—carnate or discarnate—might deem it a privilege to haunt so exquisite a spot. Personally, I can only testify to the hospitality of our kind host and hostess and the excellence of the spirit of "Robur," which refreshed our weary bodies, and made the walk back to the Cintra Hotel, through the lovely woodland paths, a "thing of beauty and a joy for ever."
To return to Lisbon. My friend Mrs Frampton had never been present at any sort of psychic phenomena, so we planned a little sitting for her during one of these Lisbon evenings.
She and I descended in solemn state to the fine library of our host, on the ground floor, whilst his wife and sister elected to remain in the drawing-room upstairs. A sister-in-law also begged to be excused from accompanying us, and spent the whole time occupied by our seance, in playing Moody and Sankey hymns, doubtless hoping thereby to exorcise the evil spirits whom we should presumably evoke.
Unfortunately, she did not play loud enough to divert the attention of the Portuguese cook, who promptly gave warning next day, saying she could not stand these "devilish practices"! We had failed to realise that the very wall, close to which our small table was placed, divided the kitchen from the large ground-floor library, so the poor woman doubtless sat with her ear well jammed up against this partition, and considered every rap of the table leg on the floor, a distinct footstep of the devil!
Nothing more terrible happened to us that evening than being forced to look up our English history once more, in "Hume" and "Green's Short History of the English People," both of which volumes were close at hand. For the whole seance might have been an "easy lesson in English history," with John, Duke of Northumberland, Lady Jane Grey, the Earl of Leicester, and the famous Elizabeth as its exponents. All these purported to be with us that evening, and I am bound to say that all dates and details mentioned, which our middle-aged memories could not verify at the moment, were in every case corroborated by reference to the library books later.
It was just before leaving England for Portugal that I first met a lady (with whom I have since become more intimate), under rather exceptional circumstances—these latter were unknown to me at the time.
My brother, Colonel C. E. Bates, was living at this time (1901) in rooms in Cambridge Terrace, and the drawing-room floor was occupied by a Miss Isabel Smith, who was then only a name to us both. His landlady had given him to understand that this lady had connections in India, and was the niece of a General Propert, still on the active list, and an old friend of my brother's in Indian days.
The last Sunday before starting for Lisbon I called in as usual to spend the afternoon in Cambridge Terrace, and found that the "drawing-room lady" had just been paying him a visit, and had left him most enthusiastic.
This visit surprised me, because my brother, being a very great invalid, had an inveterate dislike to meeting strangers, with whom he generally found it difficult to carry on any lengthy conversation. But this visitor had evidently been an exception. My brother expressed some regret that I should have missed seeing her, so to please him I suggested sending his valet upstairs with his compliments, and asking if I might pay the lady a short visit, should she be disengaged.
She came downstairs kindly, a second time, and we had a pleasant chat, whilst my brother and an old Indian brother officer carried on their conversation.
I left England a few days later, and scarcely expected to see or hear any more of Miss Isabel Smith. Fate, however, ordained otherwise. Some weeks elapsed, and then I received a letter from my brother, mentioning the curious circumstances that, he had just heard, had led to his making the acquaintance of this pleasant neighbour. "It is too long a story to write," he concluded, "but I will tell you all about it next time we meet."
He did so, and as his account exactly tallies with the one Miss Isabel Smith (now Mrs Finch) has kindly written out for me for insertion in this volume, I will quote the latter from her own words. I must premise that Miss Smith turned out to be naturally clairvoyant and clair-audient, rather to the disgust of my brother, who considered himself superior to these "superstitions." Her narrative is interesting not only in itself, but because it is an object lesson in the curious "hits and misses" in psychic investigation. In this case a spirit confessed to an impersonation; but it was an impersonation of the brother of a man whom my brother had really known in India—a fact entirely apart from any possible knowledge on the part of Miss Smith, who had never met my brother at the time of her adventure. I will now give Miss Smith's narrative.
"When at Grindelwald in the winter 1900-1901 an excarnate entity came and spoke to me. He seemed much interested in the South African campaign; told me he had been a soldier, first in the Rifle Brigade, then in the Indian army. When I asked his name he said he was Henry Arthur Chomley (the name of a celebrated ambassador was the one given), that he was a brother of Sir Frederic Chomley, and had been in the Rifle Brigade and in India, and had passed over two or three years before.
When, shortly afterwards, I returned to Cambridge Terrace, he realised the changed surroundings, and asked where I was. On learning I was in rooms he asked whether there was anyone else in the house, and on my telling him there was a paralysed military man downstairs named Bates, he exclaimed 'What! Charlie Bates? I knew him very well in India—do ask him if he remembers me!'
I said I did not know the gentleman, but would certainly ask him if an opportunity should occur.
A few days after this, a message was brought up to me from Colonel Bates, asking for my uncle, General Propert's, address in Burmah. This gave me the opening. I wrote giving the required information, and suggested that I might come and have a talk with him.
In my next conversation with 'Colonel Chomley' I told him all this, and he again said: 'Mind you ask him about me!' I answered: 'How can I, when I don't know what Colonel Bates' ideas are on these subjects? He might look on me as a dangerous lunatic!'
Colonel Chomley remarked: 'I think you will find that he is interested in psychic matters.'
I discovered that this was true, for on my first visit I saw a copy of the S.P.R. Proceedings lying on the table.
I found him interested, but unable to get beyond the 'subliminal consciousness' theory.
A few days later I asked Colonel Bates if he had ever met a Colonel Henry Arthur Chomley in India. He thought for a moment, then said:
'Chomley? Why, of course I knew a Chomley, but I don't know his Christian name. He was Brigade Major at Meean Meer, and I took over the brigade from him, and bought his horses, etc. Where did you know him?'
I then told him of the spirit who had given me the name of Henry Arthur Chomley, who said he had known him in India, and had over and over again begged to be remembered to him.
The day following this conversation Colonel Bates sent me up his Army List, open, and marked at the name of Colonel Walter Chomley, and a note explaining that it was not Henry Arthur, but Walter Chomley whom he had known at Meean Meer.
I then asked 'Henry Arthur' if his name was Walter or Henry Arthur.
He said: 'Henry Arthur. Surely I ought to know my own name!'
Colonel Bates told the story to you the next time you (i.e. E. K. Bates) came to see him, and I remember we discussed it together when we met again.
Shortly afterwards you wrote to tell me that you had looked up a Debrett for 1895, and had there found Colonel Henry Arthur Chomley, a brother of Sir Frederic Chomley, of the Rifle Brigade, etc., so that Henry Arthur Chomley was evidently alive in that year, and had been in the Rifle Brigade.
I was much pleased to get this corroborative evidence, though the mistake in initials must have been Colonel Bates' error, and apologised to Colonel Henry Arthur Chomley in the Unseen.
A few weeks later, however, you wrote again, and told me that you had been staying with a friend, who drove you over to call upon Colonel and Mrs Henry Arthur Chomley, that he was a brother of Sir Frederic Chomley, and was certainly alive, although not at home, at the time of your visit!
This information startled me, and my guide, at my request, went to look up the soi-disant Colonel to find out what it all meant.
The latter then confessed to having taken a friend's name, said a sudden impulse came over him when I first asked his name, and having told one lie, he felt bound to go on deceiving me, but that he had known both Colonel Bates and Colonel Henry Arthur Chomley in India, and that his own real name was Anstruther!"
This was Miss Smith's narrative.
Now out of this curious jumble of true and false, two points remain clear:
My brother had known a Chomley in India, and had succeeded him as Brigade Major at Meean Meer. This Chomley was a brother of Sir Frederic Chomley, the well-known diplomatist, but his name was Walter, not Henry Arthur. Yet Sir Frederic had a brother named Henry Arthur, and the impersonating Anstruther had borrowed the wrong brother's name when trying to pose as the friend of Colonel Charles Bates. To make confusion worse confounded, Walter Chomley was alive, as well as Henry Arthur, at the time of Miss Mabel Smith's experiences, for I have seen his death within the last eight months!
The second point is that, personally, my brother and I had reason to be grateful to the deceiving Anstruther. He was certainly the means of introducing a pleasant acquaintance to my brother and to me.
Miss Mabel Smith's experience at Grindelwald reminds me of one of my own in the same place during the following year.
I had gone there with a cousin, who was eager for skating and tobogganing, in January 1902, on my way to Rome. After a pleasant week at a charmingly quiet and comfortable hotel—the Alpenruehe I think was the name—my cousin wished, for purposes of policy, to change over to a more famous, but noisy and overcrowded one.
So on the evening of 3rd February we found ourselves in this immense caravanserai, having exchanged our large, comfortable, steam-heated rooms for small, oblong apartments, each provided with three doors as well as the window, and a wood fire to be fed from small "five-franc baskets," and always going out at that!
There was deep snow on the ground and a heavy fog of snow falling when we made our change, so that one was not in the most brilliant spirits; and being suddenly thrust into the midst of a big, heterogeneous company of strangers is never exhilarating.
Our bedrooms, though small and not specially comfortable, were perfectly commonplace, the very last milieu with which one would have associated any interesting experience. The window of my room faced the door into the passage, my bed lay between the two; right and left of it were two other doors, each communicating with other occupied rooms.
Therefore I thought little the first night of noises and moving of furniture, taking for granted that these must be occurring either right or left of me, and that the clearness of the atmosphere accounted for my odd impression that a table and chair—between my bed and the window—were being moved.
The following night (4th February), however, this fact was indisputable. I had heard both my neighbours retire to bed by ten P.M., as so many do who have been skating and tobogganing all day long. I had sat up reading for half-an-hour beyond this, and went to bed at eleven P.M., by which time there was perfect silence in the hotel, as no special entertainment was going on.
Very shortly, this movement of the furniture began again, unmistakably in my room this time. Curiously enough, it did not frighten me at all nor suggest burglars (a far greater terror to me than ghosts!). I cannot at this distance of time remember why the idea of Mr Myers should have come to me in connection with these noises; but I am quite certain that I did think of him at the time, and fully expected his name to be given, when I asked if anyone wished to speak to me and were trying to attract my attention by moving the furniture about.
It was greatly to my surprise, therefore, that the name of Gifford was given. I may here note that this was the real name given to me. He said he was a judge, one who had lived fifty or sixty years previously, that he had once unintentionally condemned an innocent man to be hanged, and he was evidently still greatly perturbed about this, and begged for my prayers.
All this put Mr Myers entirely out of my head—unfortunately, as events proved.
I had some further talk with Judge Gifford, but do not remember it in detail.
Next morning I told my cousin of my experience, and on the evening of the following day mentioned it in the presence of some neighbours at table d'hote who had introduced psychic subjects to us.
This gentleman and his wife were both impressed, and yet incredulous, and when my cousin laughingly declared that "Gifford had come to her the second night, but that she told him she was too tired out to listen to him," we all three supposed that she was turning the whole subject into ridicule. This would have been quite characteristic of her, although I have always thought she had some mediumistic faculty, and was one of the many people whom I should advise to leave these matters alone. I was the more convinced that she was merely "chaffing" on this occasion, because when I warned our acquaintances of her powers of exaggeration in "making fun" of things, she said nothing.
But when we had returned to our rooms that night she remarked quite quietly: "But he did come, Emmie! When you said that at table d'hote about my exaggerating things, I let it pass, because very often it is true. But what I said this evening was absolutely correct, though perhaps it is as well those people should not believe it. Someone did come to my bedside last night, and said: 'I am Gifford—will you listen to me?' And I said: 'No; not to-night. I am too tired,' just as I told you."
I think poor Gifford came again more than once to me; but I had done all I could for him, and explained this, adding that he must now leave me alone, which he did.
Later my cousin returned to Paris, and I went on to Rome, where I received a letter from Dr Richard Hodgson enclosing some Piper script.
F. W. H. Myers communicating, said that he had come to me on the evening of 4th February, that I seemed to recognise him, and that he thought he had "got his message through to me," and hoped that I should write to Dr Hodgson to that effect.
In answering Dr Hodgson's letter I denied the Myers' episode in toto, so far as my consciousness was concerned. In fact, the Gifford incident put all else so entirely out of my mind that I fear I did not even mention to Dr Hodgson that my first thought that night had been connected with Mr Myers.
Anyway, the next letter from Boston enclosed an account of a sitting, where Mr Myers came and apologised for having misled Dr Hodgson about my recognition of him.
His words were almost literally as follows:—
"I am extremely sorry, my dear Hodgson, about that affair with Miss Bates. I should not have thought of mentioning it to you had I not felt convinced that she recognised me. Her astral body was quite aware of my presence, and I quite thought she had realised it on the physical plane" (the italics are mine).
It would seem that the Myers' message was in the very act of transmission from my astral to my normal consciousness when this man Gifford must have come, switching off the telephone for Mr Myers, and getting on to it himself. Probably his great distress of mind would have made him the stronger force of the two for the time being.
There must always be many disappointments of this kind in our research. There is always something which so nearly succeeds and then just fails at last. This must be the case where conditions are so fine and subtle and so easily disturbed, and where our own ignorance of many necessary factors is so profound. This makes it none the less disheartening at times!
Later I made an attempt with my friend Baroness Rosenkrantz of Rome to get a message through the other way—i.e. from Mr Myers and myself to Dr Hodgson, via Mrs Piper.
The Baroness and I had a little "sitting" alone, wrote one or two short messages with a couple of extracts from Mr Myers' own writings, sealed up the envelope carefully, and I forwarded it to Dr Hodgson.
But the test failed. Two years later Dr Hodgson spoke of the letter as being still intact.
A SECOND VISIT TO INDIA, 1903
My second visit to India took place in the early months of 1903, and I approached it this time from Burmah. Fielding Hall's "Soul of a People" had thrown its magic spell over me, and Miss Greenlow and I were both anxious also to see the far-famed Shwe Dagon Temple.
I came to the conclusion from what I saw, and still more from what I heard, that Mr Fielding Hall must have appealed sometimes to his imagination for his facts, and allowed an exquisite poetical fancy to cast its glamour even over these. But the beautiful Golden Temple of Rangoon defies all powers of exaggeration. We went there again and again, and wandered amongst its endless small temples, representing various forms of worship, including even a Chinese joss-house, which is stamped upon my memory through a disaster, which I have always connected with this special temple; rank superstition though it be.
We had spent several weeks upon the Irrawaddy River; had wandered through beautiful, dusty Mandalay; had explored Bhamo and marvelled over the exquisite visions of fairy-like beauty, painted anew for us morning and evening, on this most glorious river; and had finally returned to Rangoon for a few days' rest before starting for Calcutta.
It was an exquisite evening, just before our departure, when we went, towards sunset, to say farewell to the Shwe Dagon. At that hour it is to be seen at its best, for the level rays of the Eastern sun, light up the golden cupola into startling and fairy-like magnificence.
Having watched this glorious spectacle for some minutes, the air grew chilly, compared with the intense heat of the day, and darkness was coming on apace as we turned to retrace our steps.
A few days before, we had noticed a Chinese joss-house, standing in one corner of the huge elevated platform upon which the Shwe Dagon rests. In the maze of buildings, and owing to the swiftly falling darkness, we could not at once locate this temple; and most unfortunately for me, with the stupid persistence which such a failure sometimes brings, both Miss Greenlow and I were determined to find it out before leaving the Golden Temple. At last a joyous exclamation warned me that my friend had been successful in her quest.
The first time I had seen this joss-house I had run up the steps heedlessly, but felt such an unpleasant influence on entering it that I came away at once, and only regret not having been equally prudent a second time.
Miss Greenlow was gazing at some grotesque carvings in one corner of the temple, still dimly visible, and called out to me to come and look at them also. Very reluctantly I joined her, and stood for a few minutes waiting, till she was ready to leave.
There was something so gloomy, so uncanny, and depressing—I must even say malignant—in the building at this twilight hour, that I could stand the influence no longer, and as Miss Greenlow seemed inclined to linger, I hurried down the stone steps, saying: "I can't stay in that place! I will wait for you at the top of the marble stairs."
Now these steps, broken and dirty, and lined by small booths selling every imaginable toy and bit of tinsel, including small models of the various temples, led by steep flights up and down from the huge platform of ground I have mentioned. Some small link-boys were crowding round as Miss Greenlow rejoined me, clamouring to be allowed to light us down the steps—a very necessary precaution, for the darkness was quickly replacing the exquisite sunset colouring.
I am, as a rule, rather a remarkably sure-footed person, and the lanterns of the boys threw ample light upon the steps, yet the first moment of my descent I was considerably surprised to find myself at the bottom of the first whole flight of hard marble steps! I had no recollection of a slip even—one moment I was standing, carefully prepared to descend; the next I was lying on my back at the bottom of a long flight of steps, with the link-boys gaping in astonishment. They could not have been more astonished than I was! The very swiftness of the fall was probably my salvation; otherwise I think my spine must have been injured. As it was, I was very much hurt, however; the pain was intense for a time, and the muscles of my back were so swollen that they stood up in ridges as big as a good-sized finger, for some time after the escapade. In fact, it was quite six weeks before all local trouble was over, and many more weeks before I had recovered from the unexpected shock.
I have had several falls in my life, but never one other where there was absolutely no preliminary warning or sense of slipping, however swift.
The experience was exactly that of being suddenly hurled down the steps by some outside force. I can only add that I deeply deplored my unguarded words to Miss Greenlow, when I told her I was sure there was some malignant spirit in the joss-house.
Perhaps he wished politely to demonstrate the correctness of my remark.
The short voyage from Rangoon to Calcutta was made pleasant by the kindness of a European friend in Rangoon, who came "to see us off," and asked if he should introduce to me a little Burmese lady, very rich and very devote, who was on board with us, going to Calcutta to pay a visit to her husband, who lived in that city.
"She is one of our principal native residents," my Rangoon friend explained to me before introducing her. "She is also intensely interested in her Buddhist religion, and I think this may interest you, from what you have told me of your investigations."
So the little lady was duly presented, and thinking to open our conversation pleasantly, I remarked that Mr Rowell had told me that she was much interested in religious questions, and that although not a theosophist myself, I numbered several of them amongst my friends.
But I found myself quite on the wrong tack. She screwed up her little mouth, as if tasting some nasty medicine, and then said in excellent colloquial English:
"Oh, they are no good at all. They have muddled everything up, and got it all wrong. That is why we are beginning to write tracts and send out missionaries. The great Buddha made no propaganda; neither did we for many, many centuries. We believe that people must grow into this knowledge; but now when you Western people come and take little bits of our system, and piece them together all wrong—well, then, we are forced to show you what is the truth! It is like a puzzle map, and all you theosophists are trying to fit the pieces in, wrong side upward." And she finished with a merry and apologetic laugh, remembering, no doubt, that I had spoken of having friends amongst these "stupid muddlers"!
She gave me quite a number of the "tracts" of which she had spoken, setting forth the true Buddhism, and mostly printed in Mandalay, and I made a point of passing these on to some of the friends I had mentioned to her.
I can only trust they were appreciated, and efficacious in reducing the confusion resulting from trying to adapt Eastern mysticism to Western consumption!
Our conversation became still more interesting when I discovered that a mysterious fellow-passenger of ours on board the Devonshire, sailing from Marseilles to Rangoon, had taken this voyage at the expense of the Burmese lady, and, I am sorry to say, had occasioned her a great and quite inexcusable disappointment.
This man, whom I will call Dr Groene, was a professor at a celebrated university in the south of Europe, and was certainly a scholar—if not a gentleman!
He had studied the Buddhist writings very deeply, and his name had been conveyed to this Burmese lady as that of one eager to throw off all ties of kinship, and retire—like the great Buddha himself—from the world, and find repose and enlightenment in a Burmese monastery. The only thing lacking in carrying out this excellent resolve was—as usual—money.
The native lady, delighted to hear of so learned a gentleman, and one holding such an honourable position in Europe, being converted to the tenets of her religion, and thus wishing to give the best example of their influence upon him, agreed joyfully to forward the funds for his journey and to make arrangements for his stay in Rangoon before proceeding to Mandalay, where he was to be received as a Buddhist priest after a certain course of initiation.
We had all remarked Dr Groene on board—partly because he was so thin and tall, and walked the deck so persistently in fine weather or foul; partly because he owned an exceptionally fine and long beard, which parted and waved in the breeze as he passed to and fro in his lonely perambulations. I never saw him speak to anyone on board except my own table companion, Dr Gall, the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, and a very interesting and intelligent man. This latter was also a distinguished Arabic scholar, and had lent me some striking monographs he had written on the Mohammedan faith, striking both by the scholarship and breadth of view and tolerance, which one does not generally associate with the Society that he represented.
I had seen him more than once in the company of Dr Groene, and when we reached Colombo, and read in the papers handed to us on broad that our ship contained the famous European professor who was journeying to Mandalay to become a Buddhist priest, after a touching farewell with wife and children, Dr Gall expressed both astonishment and incredulity.
"He never said a word about it to me," was his remark. "I know he has studied the Buddhist religion very deeply, and he is anxious to get access to some MSS., which he hopes to find in Burmah; but that is not the same thing as becoming a priest. I expect the papers have exaggerated the facts."
As a matter of fact, Dr Groene certainly gave a lecture on Buddhism in Colombo on the day of our arrival, for one of our fellow-passengers had the curiosity to be present, but he, also, told me nothing had been said about the lecturer becoming a priest.
The matter did not specially interest me; but on arrival at Rangoon, the only decent (?) hotel was crowded, and most of us had to put up with a very inferior class of accommodation.
A few hours of this establishment sufficed for most of the passengers, who promptly went up country or on the river; but Miss Greenlow and I were obliged to spend three or four days in Rangoon, and Dr Groene was at first our only companion.
So, of course, we spoke to each other in self-defence. He talked of his home life and university work, and casually mentioned the death of his wife, five years previously, and the children who were awaiting him at home.
This certainly tallied more with Dr Gall's ideas than the sensational Colombo newspaper account of his wife and children, to whom, like the great Buddha, he had bidden an eternal farewell! Naturally one did not touch upon this delicate subject, but I asked him how long he expected to remain in Rangoon. To my surprise, he said at once that his stay was quite uncertain—he might even be returning by the Devonshire, which was to sail within a week of her arrival.
It seemed a long and expensive journey to take for so short a stay; but doubtless he had business reasons, and the matter dropped from my mind.
When we returned, three or four weeks later, he was no longer in Rangoon apparently, and I did not expect to come upon his tracks again.
The Burmese lady explained the Groene mystery with some bitterness, and no wonder!
Having come out free, upon the understanding with her, already mentioned, she had taken a room for him at the hotel, and had busied herself in buying blankets and a carpet and other small luxuries, to break the Mandalay monastery to him as gently as possible.
When three days passed and he made no sign of moving on, she quietly intimated that it might be as well to begin the new life without delay, and said she had written to her brother, himself a priest in the monastery, to meet Dr Groene at Mandalay and present him to the authorities at the monastery.
This must probably have been about the time that I asked him innocently how long he would be staying in Rangoon.
His plan had doubtless been to go to Mandalay in a dilettante sort of fashion, and to live in the monastery for a time, with the hope of getting access to some valuable and little known MSS.; but it did not suit his plans at all to be met at once by the brother of his benefactress, and kept under the eye of this priest, who knew exactly the circumstances under which he had been enabled to take the long journey from Marseilles.
Being evidently a prudent man, he determined to seize the first opportunity for retreat from an impossible situation. How he raised enough money for the return voyage is not known. My Burmese acquaintance thought he must have applied to one of the Consulates, and that his university position would doubtless ensure his raising a loan.
Anyway, he shipped himself surreptitiously once more on board the Devonshire, and arranged that the letter, containing the usual excuse of a "sudden telegram from Marseilles announcing the unexpected death of a near relation," should not be handed to his benefactress until the anchor was safely weighed.
It was not a pleasant story, and treachery is no less perfidious for having an intellectual motive. I felt glad that Dr Groene was not a fellow-countryman.
Having disburdened herself on this one point of righteous indignation, our little Burmese lady became as bright and cheery as a child, wearing her collection of pretty native dresses, which could all have been packed easily into a fair-sized doll's trunk, with singular grace and charm. When the tender arrived to disembark us in Calcutta, her husband came with it, and was speedily introduced.
We had tea with them a few days later in their handsome Calcutta flat, and this gave me the opportunity for a long and interesting talk with the husband, who proved to be a most intelligent and open-minded man.
He spoke of Fielding Hall's delightful book with appreciation tinged by kindly amusement.
"He has been many years in the country, but he still judges us as a foreigner."
When I suggested that the judgment was at least very flattering to the Burmese, this Burmese gentleman laughed, and said:
"Flattering? Yes—but not always quite true. One must see from inside, not from outside, to be quite true in one's judgments; and no foreigner can see from outside. It is a question of race and heredity, not of having spent twenty or thirty years, or even a lifetime, in a foreign land."
I suggested that those who saw from inside only, might also lack some essential factor in forming an accurate judgment.
He agreed heartily to this, adding: "Yes, indeed. The ideal critic must have lived neither too near nor too far—mentally as well as physically; also he must have intuition. Now Mr Fielding Hall is an artist as well as a poet, but in judging my country he lets his intuition run riot sometimes, as well as his imagination."
After reporting this conversation, it is unnecessary to add that my Burmese friend spoke English rather better than I did myself.
We then talked about the position of woman in Burmah, and how much this had been extolled and held up as a object lesson to the rest of the world.
If the position of woman is the true test of a nation's civilisation, as has been so often affirmed, then certainly Burmah must be in the van of the nations! Yet this is scarcely borne out by facts.
I put this point as politely as I could, and my mind was at once set at ease by the purely impersonal way in which he met my remark.
"Of course, we are not in the van of the nations, and yet it is quite true that our women have an exceptional position—quite a good enough one for an election cry for the Woman's Suffrage! Ah, yes! I have been in England," he added, with a merry twinkle in his little black eyes. "But you must realise that the unique position of woman with us is somewhat accidental. It is not the result of philosophical or moral conviction on the part of our men; it has been the natural outcome of circumstances, and a question of expediency rather than of ethics. So it was not really a 'test paper' for us at all! Our frequent wars in the past have taken the men out of their homes, and the women, at such times, were left alone to cope with not only the domestic, but the agricultural problems. All business of this kind passed through their hands, and in time they developed the qualities of industry, good judgment and power of taking responsibility, necessary for success in such a life. Then when the husbands came back and found everything going on so well and without trouble to themselves, they were only too glad to fall in with the existing state of things. We Burmese are lazy fellows after all. We can rise to a big call, but if our women will look after our business for us, we are quite content to smoke our pipes in peace and look on—and, of course, the one who makes the wheels go round is the one who really drives the coach. Believe me, there is more of expediency than nobility in the attitude of our men towards our women, and more of laziness than either, perhaps! But Fielding Hall would call this blasphemy, I am afraid!"
And so, with a joking word, our interesting talk came to an end, leaving me with a sincere hope that I might some day meet again both the intelligent husband and the charming wife.
I found the air at Simla quite marvellous for psychic possibilities, and this was certainly a great surprise to me; nor was it only a question of altitude and a dry atmosphere. Missouri and the Dhera Doon are celebrated for the purity of air and climate generally, but the influences there were quite different.
Even Peshawar, with its glorious crown of snow-capped mountains, brought no special psychic atmosphere to me; nor the Khyber Pass, where I had thoroughly expected to be haunted by the horrors of the past; nothing of the kind occurred. The beauty of the day when we visited this historic pass was only to be matched by its own extreme natural beauty; but no haunting memories hung round it for me.
Perhaps a night passed in those rocky defiles might have brought some weird experience, but no European would be allowed to woo adventure in this way, even with the laudable desire for advance in psychological phenomena! But I stayed there quite long enough to prove—for the hundredth time—that an attitude of expectation acts with me as a deterrent rather than encouragement, where the Unseen is in question.
I had heard so much of Simla Society and Simla Scandals, and so little of Simla Beauty and Loveliness!—in Nature, I mean—not Human Nature.
It is true we were there at the most exquisite time in the year, when the air was still fresh and keen, when the last snows and the first blooms of rhododendrons were greeting each other, when the long stretches of valley, brown and purple and emerald green, lay like soft velvet in the immense distances towards the horizon line.
As I looked at all this, day after day, it seemed to me that Simla, without its crowds of social butterflies, male and female, and the dust and the flies, and even the heat that they bring with them, was one of the most exquisitely beautiful spots that the Great Creator ever "thought out" in His mind. Nowhere have I seen such a velvety effect of rolling hill and soft mountain-side; such gorgeous atmospheric visions; such a carnival of beauty and colour.
We must have seen Simla at the most ideal time in the year, or people must become blase and blinded to its intoxicating beauty, thanks to tennis tournaments and Government House receptions and the whole stupid Social mill.
Not even the beauties of Kashmir have dimmed the memory of Simla for me; but I would not go there again, and in the season, for anything that could be offered to me.
All beauty is sacred, and I guard jealously my sacred memory of the place, known to so many merely as a byword for folly and flirtation.
Some strange and curious experiences came to me there, both in automatic writing and other ways; but these are of too private a nature for publication.
And so, with the beauty of Simla and the romance of Kashmir as jewels in my memory, I must end my second visit to India.
It is said that pleasant as well as painful experiences are apt to run in threes. I trust this may be the case. If so, it will mean that once again I shall tread upon Indian soil.
A FAMILY PORTRAIT AND PSYCHIC PHOTOGRAPHY
In the very heart of Warwickshire there is a beautiful old "half timber" hall, approached by a noble avenue of elms. The hall has come down from father to son, in the direct line, for nearly six hundred years, as the dates upon the front of the house testify.
The present Squire is not only an old friend of my early youth, but is connected through marriage, and he and his wife and I have always been on very friendly terms. He is the usual type of fox-hunting squire and county magistrate, did good service during the South African War by raising a corps of Yeomanry from the estate, and going out with them to fight his country's battles, and, needless to say, he received a hearty ovation from his wife and his county when he returned to them in safety. He is devoted to his beautiful house and estate, and is the last man to entertain fancies or superstitions in connection with either.
It is necessary to give these few words of explanation before relating an "incident in my life" for which I have always found it difficult to account, except on the supposition that some germ of psychic sensitiveness may exist, even under a hunting squire's "pink coat and top-boots."
I have known Greba Hall since I was a child, and all its quaint old family portraits, especially those in the fine oak-panelled hall, with the old-fashioned open fireplace and "dogs" of the fifteenth century. But there were so many of these pictures massed together that I have never distinguished one from the other, with the exception of the few immediate ancestors of my friend.
Some years ago I was staying with a lady who lived about three miles from Greba, and we had driven over there to have tea with the Squire's wife, whom I will call Mrs Lyon. The friend I have mentioned had become interested in psychic matters since my acquaintance with her, and I had discovered that she possessed some psychometric capacity.
In the interests of non-psychic readers, I may explain that psychometry is the science of learning to receive impressions and intuitions from the atmosphere surrounding any material object—a letter, a ring, a piece of pebble or shell, and so forth. We seem capable of impressing all material objects with our personality, and naturally this is especially the case in letters written and signed by us.
The lady with whom I was then staying—Mrs Fitz Herbert—had tried receiving impressions from letters several times, at my suggestion, and always with more or less success. We had been speaking of this with Mrs Lyon, who was always very sympathetic, and she suggested giving one of her own letters to Mrs Fitz Herbert to be "psychometrised."
The latter was sitting facing a door which led from the hall to an inner room, and over this door hung the half-length portrait of an old gentleman, whom I had never specially remarked before, as the picture was hung rather high, and there was nothing very characteristic about the face.
Mrs Fitz Herbert glanced at the portrait once or twice as she held the letter, and began her remarks upon the writer; but I had no reason to suppose that the glance was other than casual and accidental.
She gave, however, a very remarkably accurate description (as it turned out) of Mrs Lyon's unknown friend, both as to his character and the special and rather unique conditions of his life.
I was feeling naturally gratified that my "pupil" should have acquitted herself so well, when she suddenly uttered a little expression of pain and complained of severe headache.
I knew that she suffered from these headaches at times, and was therefore not surprised by her asking leave to ring for the pony carriage at once, and we were soon on our way home.
Mrs Fitz Herbert was driving the pony, and as we turned out of the long elm avenue she murmured in a tone of relief:
"How thankful I am to have got away from that old man! I knew he was telling me what to say about that letter, but afterwards he wanted to give me some message himself, and I could not understand it, and that is what made my head so bad." Then she explained, seeing my bewilderment, that she was referring to the old gentleman whose portrait hung over the door I have mentioned.
I suggested that we had better try to find out what the old man wanted to say, and we arranged to do so that evening after dinner; but as Mr Fitz Herbert (who had a very charming tenor voice) elected to come in and sing to us, the old gentleman's communication had to be postponed until the morning.
Mrs Fitz Herbert and I sat down in the drawing-room the next day, armed with pencils and paper, so soon as her domestic duties were over. She was most anxious that I should take the message, but this seemed to me absurd, considering that I had received no sort of impression about the picture and could not even recall the face. So she took up the pencil very unwillingly, and after some difficulty the name of Richard Lyon was given, with the information that he had owned Greba, and had passed over to the next sphere about one hundred and thirty years previously. But when it came to trying to find out what he wanted to say, she professed herself quite unable to grasp it, and passed the pencil determinedly over to me.
Much to my surprise (for I had seemed to have no link with the old man at all), he was able to write through my hand with great ease.
He explained to me that he had been much devoted to the property, had lived only to improve it in every possible way, and that through his concentration of interest on this one subject his life had been a very limited one, and that now he could not get away from the remembrance of his earth life and his beloved Greba.
"I suppose he is trying to explain that he is earth-bound," suggested Mrs Fitz Herbert.
"Yes; that is just the truth," was the eager response through my hand, "and it is so sad to think that my own descendants are the ones to keep me imprisoned in this way. I am told that I could progress, as they call it here, and be much happier if I could only forget Greba, even for a time. And it worries me to see things done so differently and not to be able to do anything myself for the old place. There is no happiness for me here. Do ask them to set me free," he continued rather pathetically.
"But they don't want to hold you down," I answered. "Tell me how they do it and what you wish them to do."
The old man then explained the position very carefully and sensibly. He admitted that his own deep love for his old property and surroundings and his failure in life to develop any other very deep affection, was chiefly in fault, but he added, that his portrait being hung there, in the hall of his descendants, was also very unfortunate for him.
"It drags me down—I don't know why—but I am sure I could get away more easily if they would not keep that picture in the old hall."
A few more practical questions elicited the following instructions:—He said the picture might remain in the county, so long as it was not in any house owned by a Lyon (there were several members of the family in Warwickshire); or it might be sent to London or elsewhere, and kept by members of the Lyon family, so long as they were not in the direct descent, and did not live in his old county.
We drove over to Greba that afternoon, and took the "message" with us, knowing there was no fear of encountering the gibes of my fox-hunting friend at three P.M. on any week day in the hunting season.
Mrs Lyon was extremely interested; she not only endorsed the Richard Lyon and his dates, but told us that he had done an immense deal for the property, as her husband had often impressed upon her, and that at his death, about one hundred and thirty years before, he had lain in state for three days in the very hall where we had taken our tea, and where his picture now hung. This was great encouragement, so we put our heads together, wondering how the poor old man's entreaty might be complied with.
Mrs Lyon remembered that several of the old portraits were shortly to be sent to a picture dealer in the neighbouring town (some ten miles away) to be cleaned, but this special picture was not in need of restoration, unfortunately.
"Still, I could put it with the others, and let it go to Warwick, and then tell the man not to do anything with it—but what would Edward say? Can you imagine his allowing the picture to be taken down upon this evidence?"
From an acquaintance with "Edward" extending over large tracts of years, I was forced to admit that even my robust imagination could not reach so far. "Skittles!" or "Confounded cheek!" would be his mildest reply to such a request, even from the friend of his youth! I did not care to think how much further his indignation might carry him!
But I felt so strongly that something outside myself had inspired the message, with its accurate instructions, that at last I prevailed upon Mrs Lyon to promise she would mention the matter to her husband, and thus leave the responsibility of refusal with him.
She did so, and the refusal was all my fancy had painted—and more!
Several months passed, and the following spring I was once more in the neighbourhood, staying with my own relations this time, who were related also to the Squire and his wife.
The first piece of news I received at dinner the night of my arrival was that the Greba Hall picture had been sent in to Warwick!
I could hardly believe my ears. My relatives could tell me nothing beyond the fact, and advised my paying an early visit to Greba Hall during the absence of the master.
I did this, and Mrs Lyon told me all she knew about the matter, which was not very much.
"After you were here last," she said, "I spoke to Edward as I promised, and, of course, he laughed the whole thing to scorn, and was very rude about our tomfoolery."
"Yes, I know all about that," I answered hastily. "But what happened afterwards—after I left Warwickshire, I mean?"
"That was the queerest part of it all," she resumed. "A few days after you had gone away he stood under the picture one evening, coming in from hunting and waiting for tea in the hall, and said as he looked up at old Richard Lyon:
"'Do you suppose I should allow your picture to be taken down—you who did so much for my property? Of course not!'"
"This happened once or twice, at intervals. Then he said nothing, but I used to notice that he always looked up at the picture whenever he came into the hall or stood by the fireplace. At last, about three months ago, he turned round suddenly, and said:
"'When are you going to send those pictures to be cleaned?' Now you know I had been keeping the other pictures back, with a dim hope that Edward might relent. But I saw it was quite useless, so I told him they were going next day. To my intense surprise he said rather abruptly: 'Then send this picture with them, and don't ask me any questions.'"
His wife took the hint, and waited for no second bidding. Off went the picture to the Warwick shop, and there it remained for nearly six months.
When it came back eventually, the Squire was very triumphant on the subject, but I was equally triumphant in pointing out that nothing could alter the fact that the picture had been sent away, in spite of his earlier denunciations of our folly.
Also I suggested that a good deal can happen in six months on either side of the veil, and that no doubt poor old Richard Lyon had had ample opportunity to "get free," as he called it, thanks to the unaccountable action of his descendant!
I have reserved this story for my last chapter for two reasons. It happened within the last few years, but I cannot remember the exact date, and dare not inquire from my irascible hunting friend; and also it did not specially link on to any of the previous incidents described.
* * * * *
I must now pass on to the autumn months of 1905, which found me in Eastbourne, where I have various kind friends.
I had been going through a time of great anxiety, owing to family reasons, and went down to Eastbourne with every prospect of finding rest and peace there. I arrived on the 11th of November, and the first few days amply justified my hopes.
Then a feeling of the most intense depression came over me, quite unexpected and unaccountable. My family anxieties and responsibilities were happily over. I had been able to make a wise, and, as it turned out, most admirable choice, in finding a fresh attendant for an invalid brother, and there was nothing now to be done but to rest on my oars and be thankful that a most trying time—requiring infinite patience and tact—was over.
When this unaccountable depression came on so suddenly, I put it down to reaction, and expected it to pass away with returning strength, after the heavy strain. But it increased as the weeks passed on into December, and did not lift until about eight A.M. on the morning of 22nd December.
Then I had one of the most vivid experiences of my life. As suddenly as they had enveloped me some weeks before, so did the heavy clouds now roll off, leaving me with a sense of freedom and exaltation such as I have seldom experienced. This sense of freedom and joy and happiness was so marked that I mentioned it at once to an intimate friend, who came to see me that day after breakfast. I said to her: "I can only describe it as if one had suddenly been let out of prison or taken from a dark, dismal room into one with glorious sunshine streaming through the windows, where the very sense of being alive is sufficient joy; in fact, I never felt so thoroughly alive before. And the curious thing is that there is no apparent reason for this—nothing is changed—I have not even had any specially pleasant letters. Life is just the same on the outer; but on the inner? Well, I cannot describe it!"
"But can't you account for it at all?" asked my friend, who had been with me through all the depressing influences of the former weeks and was astounded, as well as delighted, by the inexplicable change in my spirits.
"Well, it is the day after the shortest day," I said, laughing. "But it has never had such an extraordinary effect upon me before."
All day long this exuberant feeling of delight and happiness remained. I had no specially spiritual or religious experience in connection with it, but rather the happy feeling of confidence that a child might have, who, after wandering about in unknown lanes and thorny paths, suddenly found himself transported, with no effort of his own, to the dear, familiar house and loving home faces.
Five days later, in a private letter, I read the first allusion to the death of Dr Richard Hodgson. It came to me in a letter from Mrs Forbes, not as a fact, but as an uncorroborated report, which would probably be found incorrect.
"There is nothing about it in The Times this morning, so I don't suppose it is true." These were her exact words. I don't think I ever really doubted the truth of it, although it came as a bolt out of the blue.
Only a few days previously, a letter from an intimate friend of Dr Hodgson in America (he had brought us together) mentioned her having seen him lately and thinking he was really much depressed over his work and other matters, "though, doubtless, if I taxed him with this he would say it was quite untrue; but I feel quite convinced that it is true."
These words had not at the time given me any clue to my own curious depression, but when the first rumour of his death reached me, I felt convinced that it was true, and that I must have taken on his joyful conditions when he first found himself on the other side of the veil. I can only surmise, therefore, that the weeks of my depression may have corresponded with feelings alluded to by his intimate friend; although less intuitive, if not less valued associates, may have noticed nothing but his usual cheery and genial spirits.
A telegram sent to Mr Stead showed me clearly that my inquiry had been his first intimation of anything wrong. Then, in despair of getting accurate information, I wrote to Sir Oliver Lodge, who kindly responded at once, confirming my worst fears. He was good enough to send me later the particulars of the event, supplied by Professor William James.
It was a bitter blow for us, but for him how joyous an awakening!
I am grateful for having had, through personal experience, even a dim reflection of that wonderful New Life, so overwhelming and so exuberant, that its rays could reach to the hearts of some of those who had been honoured by his friendship.
On comparing notes I found that, allowing for difference of time, forty-eight hours must have elapsed between his physical departure and my experience of his awakening to new conditions.
There may be various ways of accounting for this. The spirit may not have been wholly freed at once from its physical envelope, but may have remained possibly, in some condition of unconsciousness, after the strangely sudden severance of the tie that binds body and soul together.
Note.—Since the above was written, I have received an explanation of the lapse of time between the passing of Doctor Hodgson, 20th December, and my experience of 22nd December 1905.
On 6th February 1907 I had the privilege of a sitting with Miss MacCreadie, who not only gave an accurate description of Doctor Hodgson's personal appearance, and of his sudden call hence, but added that this spirit wished to explain to me that he had not been able to get entirely away from the body for quite two days after physical death, and that meanwhile he must have been in a state of trance. Miss MacCreadie did not know the name of the spirit whom she described so accurately, and whose message was thus conveyed to me.—E. K. B.
Some time after Dr Hodgson left us, a friend in London wrote to me that she had either just read or heard that he had made some communication, to the effect that "he was not very happy, as he had regarded his work only from the intellectual point of view."
This seemed to me a most unlikely sort of message to come from such a man.
In such cases there is nothing like going to the fountain-head for information, and this came to me in the following words, which are, I think, characteristic and certainly sensible:—
"My work was intellectual—how could I regard it from any other point of view? That has nothing to do with the spiritual side of things. My spiritual life was very latent, it is true; but it was sincere, so far as it went, and in this more favourable atmosphere, the buds are unfolding, and I am learning more and more of the love and wisdom which I always dimly saw and appreciated. It is the attitude of mind which is all-important, and my attitude, though critical, was never obstructive, as you know."
* * * * *
I should like to say a few words now on the subject of superstitions. We are all superstitious in various ways and upon different points—I may laugh at your superstition because it does not happen to appeal to me, but you may be quite sure you could find out my "Achilles Heel" if we lived together long enough.
The only difference between people is, that some are honest about their superstitions and others—are not!
I met a lady not long ago at a foreign table d'hote who started our acquaintance by remarking that she was thankful to say she had not a single superstition. Before we had spent ten days under the same roof I discovered that she believed in portents and lucky stones and the "whole bag of tricks," and possessed the power of seeing people in their astral bodies.
This is to introduce my own strongest superstition, which is a horror of seeing the new moon for the first time through glass. Breaking glass is almost as disastrous in my experience, even if the article itself only costs a few pence.
Now I do not for one moment suggest that either one or other is the cause of my subsequent misfortunes. No one surely can be childish enough to suppose such a thing; yet I have known sensible people labour this point in order to show me the folly of my ways—and thoughts.
Again, I am quite aware that some people may break as much glass or china as the proverbial bull, and see the moon through the former medium every month of their lives, and not be a penny the worse for it—beyond the amount of their breakages. I only maintain that for me these two things are invariably the precursors of misfortune.
When people say to me: "How can a sensible woman like yourself be so foolish as to think such things?" I can only truthfully answer that I should be very much more foolish if so many years of my life had passed without my noticing the sequence of events.
But to explain the phenomena is quite another matter.
It seems to me quite reasonable that, allowing the possibility of influences coming to us from the other side, some sign—no matter how trivial—might be impressed upon us as a gentle warning to be prepared for disasters, more or less severe.
Another curious thing is this: I have never found that avoiding seeing the moon through glass in any artificial way prevents disaster. I used to let kind friends, indulgent to my "folly," lead me blindfold up to the window, carefully thrown open for my benefit. I can remember a most elaborate scene of precaution once, in an American railway carriage between Philadelphia and Boston, when a charming American lady, about to lecture on Woman's Suffrage, and grateful to me for some points I had given her with regard to the woman's question in New Zealand, insisted upon having a heavy window pulled up by a negro attendant, when she found out my little weakness.
It was all of no avail. Left alone, I should most certainly have seen the moon through glass on that occasion, and I felt, even at the moment, that I had not really altered anything by falling in with the kind American lady's suggestion.
In September 1906 I was going through a course of baths at Buxton, and on a certain Sunday (2nd September) I saw the moon through glass in my bedroom window in the most unmistakable way. There was no friendly cloud, no other twinkling light to throw the smallest shadow of doubt upon the fact. There was much good-humoured laughter over my "superstition" in the house; but I knew some trouble was on its way, little dreaming that it was one which would alter my whole life.
On the Wednesday morning (5th September) I received the first intimation of what proved to be the last illness of a brother who has been mentioned in these pages already, and who had been an invalid for nearly thirty years. A point to be noticed is that on the Sunday, when the sign came to me, he was in his usual health, and even on Monday went out for a long drive. The first attack of angina pectoris only came on in the middle of the night of Monday-Tuesday, 3rd to 4th September.
Later, when the disease had become acute, and I was in the south of England, living in hourly suspense, and receiving telegrams and letters several times a day, another curious incident occurred which has a bearing upon our subject.
As my readers are probably aware, in this sad and painful illness the only proof of unselfish affection which one can give, may be to keep away from the patient, when you know that all is being done for him that skill and devotion can suggest. The smallest agitation is almost certain to bring on a fresh attack of the terrible pain, and so long as there is any hope of a rally, or, in fact, any consciousness that can possibly result in increased suffering, everyone should be kept away from the patient except those who are in actual and necessary attendance.
This naturally entails great mental distress and suffering upon those who are living from hour to hour, in a state of tension and suspense.
After more than a fortnight of alternate hopes and fears, the position became almost unendurable, and I was making all preparations for a visit to the patient, or at least to the house where he lay (against my better judgment), when letters and a telegram arrived imploring me not to come, as a short visit from another relative had proved most disastrous in bringing on another attack of the terrible pain; from which he never really rallied.
Under these distressing circumstances, there could be but one course open to me.
I was staying with my kind friends Admiral and Mrs Usborne Moore at this sad time, and can never feel sufficiently grateful for their goodness to me and sympathy with my distress.
The Admiral, as many of us know, is a most persevering student of psychic science, and I think it was by his suggestion, or at anyrate with his approval, that I determined to pay a visit to a lady of whom he had spoken to me—Mrs Arnold, a daughter-in-law of Sir Edwin Arnold—who is a gifted clairvoyant.
I went alone to the house, that she might not be able to connect me with my host and hostess; and the interview was a remarkable one.
There were many evidential points given, which, for family reasons, it is impossible to publish. She gave me the crystal ball to hold for a good five minutes, in order that it might become impregnated by my influence; and then she took it from me, and began making a series of statements, without pausing for a moment or attempting to "fish," to use a technical term.