Chapter 16 In Which Challenger Has the Experience of His Life
So now the nets were set and the pit was dug and the hunters were all read_or the great quarry, but the question was whether the creature would allo_imself to be driven in the right direction. Had Challenger been told that th_eeting was really held in the hope of putting convincing evidence before hi_s to the truth of spirit intercourse with the aim of his eventual conversion, it would have roused mingled anger and derision in his breast. But the cleve_alone, aided and abetted by Enid, still put forward the idea that hi_resence would be a protection against fraud, and that he would be able t_oint out to them how and why they had been deceived. With this thought in hi_ind, Challenger gave a contemptuous and condescending consent to the proposa_hat he should grace with his presence a proceeding which was, in his opinion, more fitted to the stone cabin of a neolithic savage than to the seriou_ttention of one who represented the accumulated culture and wisdom of th_uman race.
Enid accompanied her father, and he also brought with him a curious companio_ho was strange both to Malone and to the rest of the company. This was _arge, raw-boned Scottish youth, with a freckled face, a huge figure, and _aciturnity which nothing could penetrate. No question could discover wher_is interests in psychic research might lie, and the only positive thin_btained from him was that his name was Nicholl. Malone and Mailey wen_ogether to the rendezvous at Holland Park, where they found awaiting the_elicia Freeman, the Rev. Charles Mason, Mr. and Mrs. Ogilvy of the College, Mr. Bolsover of Hammersmith, and Lord Roxton, who had become assiduous in hi_sychic studies, and was rapidly progressing in knowledge. There were nine i_ll, a mixed, inharmonious assembly, from which no experienced investigato_ould expect great results. On entering the seance room Linden was foun_eated in the armchair, his wife beside him, and was introduced collectivel_o the company, most of whom were already his friends. Challenger took up th_atter at once with the air of a man who will stand no nonsense.
"Is this the medium?" he asked, eyeing Linden with much disfavour.
"Has he been searched?"
"Who will search him?"
"Two men of the company have been selected.'-
Challenger sniffed his suspicions.
"Which men?" he asked.
"It is suggested that you and your friend, Mr. Nicholl,shall do so. There is _edroom next door."
Poor Linden was marched off between them in a manner which reminded hi_npleasantly of his prison experiences. He had been nervous before, but thi_rdeal and the overpowering presence of Challenger made him still more. H_hook his head mournfully at Mailey when he reappeared.
"I doubt we will get nothing to-day. Maybe it would be wise to postpone th_itting," said he.
Mailey came round and patted him on the shoulder, while Mrs. Linden took hi_and.
"It's all right, Tom," said Mailey. "Remember that you have a bodyguard o_riends round you who won't see you ill-used." Then Mailey spoke to Challenge_n a sterner way than was his wont. "I beg you to remember, sir, that a mediu_s as delicate an instrument as any to be found in your laboratories. Do no_buse it. I presume that you found nothing compromising upon his person?"
"No, sir, I did not. And as a result he assures us that we will get nothin_o-day."
"He says so because your manner has disturbed him. You must treat him mor_ently."
Challenger's expression did not promise any amendment. His eyes fell upon Mrs.
"I understand that this person is the medium's wife. She should also b_earched."
"That is a matter of course," said the Scotsman Ogilvy. "My wife and you_aughter will take her out. But I beg you, Professor Challenger, to be a_armonious as you can, and to remember that we are all as interested in th_esults as you are, so that the whole company will suffer if you shoul_isturb the conditions."
Mr. Bolsover, the grocer, rose with as much dignity as if he were presiding a_is favourite temple.
"I move," said he, "that Professor Challenger be searched."
Challenger's beard bristled with anger.
"Search me! What do you mean, sir?"
Bolsover was not to be intimidated.
"You are here not as our friend but as our enemy. If you was to prove fraud i_ould be a personal triumph for you — see? Therefore I, for one, says as yo_hould be searched."
"Do you mean to insinuate, sir, that I am capable of cheating?" trumpete_hallenger.
"Well, Professor, we are all accused of it in turn," said Mailey smiling. "W_ll feel as indignant as you are at first, but after a time you get used t_t. I've been called a liar, a lunatic — goodness knows what. What does i_atter?"
"It is a monstrous proposition," said Challenger, glaring all round him.
"Well, sir," said Ogilvy, who was a particularly pertinacious Scot. "O_ourse, it is open to you to walk out of the room and leave us. But if yo_it, you must sit under what we consider to be scientific conditions. It i_ot scientific that a man who is known to be bitterly hostile to the movemen_hould sit with us in the dark with no check as to what he may have in hi_ockets."
"Come, come!" cried Malone. "Surely we can trust to the honour of Professo_hallenger."
"That's all very well," said Bolsover. "I did not observe that Professo_hallenger trusted so very much to the honour of Mr. and Mrs. Linden."
"We have cause to be careful," said Ogilvy. "I can assure you that there ar_rauds practised on mediums just as there are frauds practised by mediums. _ould give you plenty of examples. No, sir, you will have to be searched."
"It won't take a minute," said Lord Roxton. "What I mean, young Malone her_nd I could give you a once over in no time."
"Quite so, come on!" said Malone.
And so Challenger, like a red-eyed bull with dilating nostrils, was led fro_he room. A few minutes later, all preliminaries being completed, they wer_eated in the circle and the seance had begun.
But already the conditions had been destroyed. Those meticulous researcher_ho insist upon tying up a medium until the poor creature resembles a fow_russed for roasting, or who glare their suspicions at him before the light_re lowered, do not realize that they are like people who add moisture t_unpowder and then expect to explode it. They ruin their own results, and the_hen those results do not occur imagine that their own astuteness, rather tha_heir own lack of understanding, has been the cause.
Hence it is that at humble gatherings all over the land, in an atmosphere o_ympathy and of reverence, there are such happenings as the cold man of
"Science" is never privileged to see.
All the sitters felt churned up by the preliminary altercation, but how muc_ore did it mean to the sensitive centre of it all! To him the room was fille_ith conflicting rushes and eddies of psychic power, whirling this way o_hat, and as difficult for him to navigate as the rapids below Niagara. H_roaned in his despair. Everything was mixed and confused. He was beginning a_sual with his clairvoyance, but names buzzed in his etheric ears withou_equence or order. The word "John " seemed to predominate, so he said. Did
"John " mean anything to anyone? A cavernous laugh from Challenger was th_nly reply. Then he had the surname of Chapman. Yes, Mailey had lost a frien_amed Chapman. But, it was years ago and there seemed no reason for hi_resence, nor could he furnish his Christian name. "Budworth " — no; no on_ould own to a friend named Budworth. Definite messages came across, but the_eemed to have no reference to the present company. Everything was goin_miss, and Malone's spirits sank to zero. Challenger sniffed so loudly tha_gilvy remonstrated.
"You make matters worse, sir, when you show your feelings," said he. "I ca_ssure you that in ten years of constant experience I have never known th_edium so far out, and I attribute it entirely to your own conduct."
"Quite so," said Challenger with satisfaction.
"I am afraid it is no use, Tom," said Mrs. Linden. "How are you feeling now, dear? Would you wish to stop?" But Linden under all his gentle exterior, was _ighter. He had in another form those same qualities which had brought hi_rother within an ace of the Lonsdale Belt.
"No, I think, maybe, it is only the mental part that is confused. If I am i_rance I'll get past that. The physicals may be better. Anyhow I'll try."
The lights were turned lower until they were a mere crimson glimmer. Th_urtain of the cabinet was drawn. Outside it on the one side, dimly outline_o his audience, Tom Linden, breathing stertorously in his trance, lay back i_ wooden armchair. His wife kept watch and ward at the other side of th_abinet.
But nothing happened.
Quarter of an hour passed. Then another quarter of an hour. The company wa_atient, but Challenger had begun to fidget in his seat. Everything seemed t_ave gone cold and dead. Not only was nothing happening, but somehow al_xpectation of anything happening seemed to have passed away.
"It's no use!" cried Mailey at last.
"I fear not," said Malone.
The medium stirred and groaned; he was waking up. Challenger gave a_stentatious yawn
"Is not this a waste of time?" he asked.
Mrs. Linden was passing her hand over the medium's head and brow. His eyes ha_pened.
"Any results?" he asked.
"It's no use, Tom. We shall have to postpone."
"I think so, too, " said Mailey.
"It is a great strain upon him under these adverse conditions," remarke_gilvy, looking angrily at Challenger.
"I should think so," said the latter with a complacent smile.
But Linden was not to be beaten.
"The conditions are bad," said he. "The vibrations are all wrong. But I'll tr_nside the cabinet. It concentrates the force."
"Well, it's the last chance," said Mailey. "We may as well try it."
The armchair was lifted inside the cloth tent and the medium followed, drawin_he curtain behind him.
"It condenses the ectoplasmic emanations," Ogilvy explained.
"No doubt," said Challenger. "At the same time in the interests of truth, _ust point out that the disappearance of the medium is most regrettable."
"For goodness sake, don't start wrangling again," cried Mailey wit_mpatience. "Let us get some results, and then it will be time enough t_iscuss their value."
Again there was a weary wait. Then came some hollow groanings from inside th_abinet. The Spiritualists sat up expectantly.
"That's ectoplasm," said Ogilvy. "It always causes pain on emission."
The words were hardly out of his mouth when the curtains were torn open wit_udden violence and a rattling of all the rings. In the dark aperture ther_as outlined a vague white figure. It advanced slowly and with hesitation int_he centre of the room. In the red-tinted gloom all definite outline was lost, and it appeared simply as a moving white patch in the darkness. With th_eliberation which suggested fear it came, step by step, until it was opposit_he professor.
"Now!" he bellowed in his stentorian voice.
There was a shout, a scream, a crash. "I've got him!" roared someone. "Turn u_he lights!" yelled another. "Be careful! You may kill the medium!" cried _hird. The circle was broken. Challenger rushed to the switch and put on al_he lights. The place was so flooded with radiance that it was some second_efore the bewildered and half-blinded spectators could see the details.
When they had recovered their sight and their balance, the spectacle was _eplorable one for the majority of the company. Tom Linden, looking white, dazed, and ill, was seated upon the ground. Over him stood the huge youn_cotsman who had borne him to earth; while Mrs. Linden, kneeling beside he_usband, was glaring up at his assailant. There was a silence as the compan_urveyed the scene. It was broken by Professor Challenger.
"Well, gentlemen, I presume that there is no more to be said. Your medium ha_een exposed as he deserved to be. You can see now the nature of your ghosts.
I must thank Mr Nicholl, who, I may remark, is the famous football player o_hat name, for the prompt way in which he has carried out his instructions."
"I collared him low," said the tall youth. "He was easy."
"You did it very effectively. You have done public service by helping t_xpose a heartless cheat. I need not say that a prosecution will follow."
But Mailey now intervened and with such authority that Challenger was force_o listen.
"Your mistake is not unnatural, sir, though the course which you adopted i_our ignorance is one which might well have been fatal to the medium."
"My ignorance indeed! If you speak like that I warn you that I will look upo_ou not as dupes, but as accomplices. "
"One moment, Professor Challenger. I would ask you one direct question, and _sk for an equally direct reply. Was not the figure which we all saw befor_his painful episode a white figure?"
"Yes, it was."
"You see now that the medium is entirely dressed in black. Where is the whit_arment?"
"It is immaterial to me where it is. No doubt his wife and himself ar_repared for all eventualities. They have their own means of secreting th_heet, or whatever ii may have been. These details can be explained in th_olice court."
"Examine now. Search the room for anything white."
"I know nothing of the room. I can only use my common sense. The man i_xposed masquerading as a spirit. Into what corner or crevice he has thrus_is disguise is a matter of small importance."
"On the contrary, it is a vital matter. What you have seen has not been a_mposture, but has been a very real phenomenon."
"Yes, sir, a very real phenomenon. You have seen a transfiguration which i_he half-way state of materialization. You will kindly realize that spiri_uides, who conduct such affairs, care nothing for your doubts and suspicions.
They set themselves to get certain results, and if they are prevented by th_nfirmities of the circle from getting them one way they get them in another, without consulting your prejudice or convenience. In this case being unable, owing to the evil conditions which you have yourself created, to build up a_ctoplasmic form they wrapped the unconscious medium in an ectoplasmi_overing, and sent him forth from the cabinet. He is as innocent of impostur_s you are."
"I swear to God," said Linden, "that from the time I entered the cabinet unti_ found myself upon the floor I knew nothing." He had staggered to his fee_nd was shaking all over in his agitation, so that he could not hold the glas_f water which his wife had brought him.
Challenger shrugged his shoulders.
"Your excuses," he said, "only open up fresh abysses of credulity. My own dut_s obvious, and it will be done to the uttermost. Whatever you have to sa_ill, no doubt, receive such consideration as it deserves from th_agistrate." Then Professor Challenger turned to go as one who ha_riumphantly accomplished that for which he came. "Come, Enid!" said he.
And now occurred a development so sudden, so unexpected, so dramatic, that n_ne present will ever cease to have it in vivid memory.
No answer was returned to Challenger's call. Everyone else had risen to thei_eet. Only Enid remained in her chair. She sat with her head on one shoulder, her eyes closed, her hair partly loosened — a model for a sculptor.
"She is asleep," said Challenger. "Wake up, Enid. I am going."
There was no response from the girl. Mailey was bending over her.
"Hush! Don't disturb her! She is in trance."
Challenger rushed forward. "What have you done? Your infernal hankey-panke_as frightened her. She has fainted."
Mailey had raised her eyelid.
"No, no, her eyes are turned up. She is in trance. Your daughter, sir, is _owerful medium."
"A medium! You are raving. Wake up girl,! wake up!"
"For God's sake leave her! You may regret it all your life if you don't. It i_ot safe to break abruptly into the mediumistic trance."
Challenger stood in bewilderment. For once his presence of mind had deserte_im. Was it possible that his child stood on the edge of some mysteriou_recipice and that he might push her over?
"What shall I do?" he asked helplessly.
"Have no fear. All will be well. Sit down! Sit down, all of you. Ah! she i_bout to speak."
The girl had stirred. She had sat straight in her chair. Her lips trembled.
One hand was outstretched:
"For him!" she cried, pointing to Challenger. "He must not hurt my Medi. It i_ message. For him."
There was breathless silence among the persons who had gathered round th_irl.
"Who speaks?" asked Mailey.
"Victor speaks. Victor. He shall not hurt my Medi. I have a message. For him!"
"Yes, yes. What is the message?"
"His wife is here."
"She says that she has been once before. That she came through this girl. I_as after she was cremated. She knock and he hear her knocking, but no_nderstand."
"Does this mean anything to you, Professor Challenger?"
His great eyebrows were bunched over his suspicious, questioning eyes, and h_lared like a beast at bay from one to the other of the faces round him. Ther_as a trick — a vile trick. They had suborned his own daughter. It wa_amnable. He would expose them, every one. No, he had no questions to ask. H_ould see through it all. She had been won over. He could not have believed i_f her, and yet it must be so. She was doing it for Malone's sake. A woma_ould do anything for a man she loved. Yes, it was damnable. Far from bein_oftened he was more vindictive than ever. His furious face, his broken words, expressed his convictions.
Again the girl's arm shot out, pointing in front of her.
"To him. The man who wanted to hurt my Medi. He must not hurt my Medi. A ma_ere — two men — wish to give him a message."
"Yes, Victor, let us have it."
"First man's name is… " The girl's head slanted and her ear was upturned, a_f listening. " Yes, yes, I have it! It is Al-Al-Aldridge."
"Does that mean anything to you?"
Challenger staggered. A look of absolute wonder had come upon his face.
"What is the second man?" he asked.
"Ware. Yes that is it. Ware."
Challenger sat down suddenly. He passed his hand over his brow. He was deadl_ale. His face was clammy with sweat.
"Do you know them?"
"I knew two men of those names."
"They have message for you," said the girl.
Challenger seemed to brace himself for a blow.
"Well, what is it?"
"Too private. Not speak, all these people here."
"We shall wait outside," said Mailey. "Come, friends, let the Professor hav_is message."
They moved towards the door leaving the man seated in front of his daughter.
An unwonted nervousness seemed suddenly to seize him. "Malone, stay with me!"
The door closed and the three were left together.
"What is the message?"
"It is about a powder."
"A grey powder?"
"The message that men want me to say is: 'You did not kill us'."
"Ask them then — ask them — how did they die?" His voice was broken and hi_reat frame was quivering with his emotion.
"They die disease."
"New — new… What that?… Pneumonia."
Challenger sank back in his chair with an immense sigh of relief. "My God!" h_ried, wiping his brow. Then:
"Call in the others, Malone."
They had waited on the landing and now streamed into the room. Challenger ha_isen to meet them. His first words were to Tom Linden. He spoke like a shake_an whose pride for the instant was broken.
"As to you, sir, I do not presume to judge you. A thing has occurred to m_hich is so strange, and also so certain, since my own trained senses hav_ttested it, that I am not prepared to deny any explanation which has bee_ffered of your previous conduct. I beg to withdraw any injurious expression_ may have used."
Tom Linden was a true Christian in his character. His forgiveness was instan_nd sincere.
"I cannot doubt that my daughter has some strange power which bears out muc_hich you, Mr. Mailey, have told me. I was justified in my scientifi_cepticism, but you have to-day offered me some incontrovertible evidence."
"We all go through the same experience, Professor. We doubt, and then in tur_e are doubted."
"I can hardly conceive that my word will be doubted upon such a point," sai_hallenger, with dignity. "I can truly say that I have had information to- night which no living person upon this earth was in a position to give. S_uch is beyond all question."
"The young lady is better," said Mrs. Linden.
Enid was sitting up and staring round her with bewildered eyes.
"What has happened, Father? I seem to have been asleep."
"All right, dear. We will talk of that later. Come home with me now. I hav_uch to think over. Perhaps you will come back with us, Malone. I feel that _we you some explanation."
When Professor Challenger reached his flat, he gave Austin orders that he wa_n no account to be disturbed, and he led the way into his library, where h_at in his big armchair with Malone upon his left and his daughter upon hi_ight. He had stretched out his great paw and enclosed Enid's small hand.
"My dear," he said, after a long silence, "I cannot doubt that you ar_ossessed of a strange power, for it has been shown to me to-night with _ullness and a clearness which is final. Since you have it I cannot deny tha_thers may have it also, and the general idea of mediumship has entered withi_y conceptions of what is possible. I will not discuss the question, for m_houghts are still confused upon the subject, and I will need to thrash th_hing out with you, young Malone, and with your friends, before I can get _ore definite idea. I will only say that my mind has received a shock, an_hat a new avenue of knowledge seems to have opened up before me."
"We shall be proud indeed," said Malone, "if we can help you."
Challenger gave a wry smile.
"Yes, I have no doubt that a headline in your paper, 'Conversion of Professo_hallenger' would be a triumph. I warn you that I have not got so far."
"We certainly would do nothing premature and your opinions may remain entirel_rivate."
"I have never lacked the moral courage to proclaim my opinions when they ar_ormed, but the time has not yet come. However, I have received two message_o-night, and I can only ascribe to them an extra-corporeal origin. I take i_or granted, Enid, that you were indeed insensible."
"I assure you, Father, that I knew nothing."
"Quite so. You have always been incapable of deceit. First there came _essage from your mother. She assured me that she had indeed produced thos_ounds which I heard and of which I have told you. It is clear now that yo_ere the medium and that you were not in sleep but in trance. It i_ncredible, inconceivable, grotesquely wonderful — but it would seem to b_rue."
"Crookes used almost those very words," said Malone. He wrote that it was all
'perfectly impossible and absolutely true'."
"I owe him an apology. Perhaps I owe a good many people an apology."
"None will ever be asked for," said Malone. "These people are not made tha_ay."
"It is the second case which I would explain." The Professor fidgeted uneasil_n his chair. "It is a matter of great privacy — one to which I have neve_lluded, and which no one on earth could have known. Since you heard so muc_ou may as well hear all.
"It happened when I was a young physician, and it is not too much to say tha_t cast a cloud over my life — a cloud which has only been raised to-night.
Others may try to explain what has occurred by telepathy, by subconscious min_ction, by what they will, but I cannot doubt — it is impossible to doubt — that a message has come to me from the dead.
"There was a new drug under discussion at that time. It is useless to ente_nto details which you would be incapable of appreciating. Suffice it that i_as of the datura family which supplies deadly poisons as well as powerfu_edicines. I had received one of the earliest specimens, and I desired my nam_o be associated with the first exploration of its properties. I gave it t_wo men, Ware and Aldridge. I gave it in what I thought was a safe dose. The_ere patients, you understand, in my ward in a public hospital. Both wer_ound dead in the morning.
"I had given it secretly. None knew of it. There was no scandal for they wer_oth very ill, and their death seemed natural. But in my own heart I ha_ears. I believed that I had killed them. It has always been a dark backgroun_o my life. You heard yourselves to-night that it was from the disease, an_ot from the drug that they died."
"Poor Dad!" whispered Enid patting the great hirsute hand. "Poor Dad! What yo_ust have suffered!"
Challenger was too proud a man to stand pity, even from his own daughter. H_ulled away his hand.
"I worked for science," he said. "Science must take risks. I do not know tha_ am to blame. And yet — and yet — my heart is very light to-night."