Книга The Land Of Mist. Содержание - 4. Which Describes Some Strange Doings in Hammersmith
«I've heard of your name, sir, and of your rising reputation. Your resection of the cord last year made some stir, I understand. But have you been down among the lunatics also?»
«Well, if you call them so,» said Atkinson with a laugh.
«Good Heavens, what else could I call them? I remember now that my young friend here « (Challenger had a way of alluding to Malone as if he were a promising boy of ten) «told me you were studying the subject.» He roared with offensive laughter. «'The proper study of mankind is spooks', eh, Mr. Atkinson?»
«Dad really knows nothing about it, so don't be offended with him,» said Enid. «But I assure you, Dad, you would have been interested.» She proceeded to give a sketch of their adventures, though interrupted by a running commentary of groans, grunts and derisive jeers. It was only when the Summerlee episode was reached that Challenger's indignation and contempt could no longer be restrained. The old volcano blew his head off and a torrent of red-hot invective descended upon his listeners.
«The blasphemous rascals!» he shouted. «To think that they can't let poor old Summerlee rest in his grave. We had our differences in his time and I will admit that I was compelled to take a moderate view of his intelligence» but if he came back from the grave he would certainly have something worth hearing to say to us. It is an absurdity – a wicked, indecent absurdity upon the face of it. I object to any friend of mine being made a puppet for the laughter of an audience of fools. They didn't laugh! They must have laughed when they heard an educated man, a man whom I have met upon equal terms, talking such nonsense. I say it was nonsense. Don't contradict me, Malone. I won't have it! His message might have been the postscript of a schoolgirl's letter. Isn't that nonsense, coming from such a source? Are you not in agreement, Mr. Atkinson? No! I had hoped better things from you.»
«But the description?»
«Good Heavens, where are your brains? Have not the names of Summerlee and Malone been associated with my own in some peculiarly feeble fiction which attained some notoriety? Is it not also known that you two innocents were doing the Churches week by week? Was it not patent that sooner or later you would come to a Spiritualist gathering? Here was a chance for a convert! They set a bait and poor old gudgeon Malone came along and swallowed it. Here he is with the hook still stuck in his silly mouth. Oh, yes, Malone, plain speaking is needed and you shall have it.» The Professor's black mane was bristling and his eyes glaring from one member of the company to another.
«Well, we want every view expressed,» said Atkinson.
«You seem very qualified, sir, to express the negative one. At the same time I would repeat in my own person the words of Thackeray. He said to some objector: 'What you say is natural, but if you had seen what I have seen you might alter your opinion'. Perhaps sometime you will be able to look into the matter, for your high position in the scientific world would give your opinion great weight.»
«If I have a high place in the scientific world as you say, it is because I have concentrated upon what is useful and discarded what is nebulous or absurd. My brain, sir, does not pare the edges. It cuts right through. It has cut right through this and has found fraud and folly.»
«Both are there at times,» said Atkinson, «and yet . . . and yet! Ah, well, Malone, I'm some way from home and it is late. You will excuse me, Professor. I am honoured to have met you.»
Malone was leaving also and the two friends had a few minutes' chat before they went their separate ways, Atkinson to Wimpole Street and Malone to South Norwood, where he was now living.
«Grand old fellow!» said Malone, chuckling. «You must never get offended with him. He means no harm. He is splendid.»
«Of course he is. But if anything could make me a real out-and-out Spiritualist it is that sort of intolerance. It is very common, though it is generally cast rather in the tone of the quiet sneer than of the noisy roar. I like the latter best. By the way, Malone, if you care to go deeper into this subject I may be able to help you. You've heard of Linden?»
«Linden, the professional medium. Yes, I've been told he is the greatest blackguard unhung.»
«Ah, well, they usually talk of them like that. You must judge for yourself. He put his knee-cap out last winter and I put it in again, and that has made a friendly bond between us. It's not always easy to get him, and of course a small fee, a guinea I think, is usual, but if you wanted a sitting I could work it.»
«You think him genuine?»
Atkinson shrugged his shoulders.
«I daresay they all take the line of least resistance. I can only say that I have never detected him in fraud. You must judge for yourself.»
«I will,» said Malone. «I am getting hot on this trail. And there is copy in it, too. When things are more easy I'll write to you, Atkinson, and we can go more deeply into the matter.»
4. Which Describes Some Strange Doings in Hammersmith
THE article by the Joint Commissioners (such was their glorious title) aroused interest and contention. It had been accompanied by a depreciating leaderette from the sub-editor which was meant to calm the susceptibilities of his orthodox readers, as who should say: «These things have to be noticed and seem to be true, but of course you and I recognize how pestilential it all is.» Malone found himself at once plunged into a huge correspondence, for and against, which in itself was enough to show how vitally the question was in the minds of men. All the previous articles had only elicited a growl here or there from a hide-bound Catholic or from an iron-clad Evangelical, but now his post-bag was full. Most of them were ridiculing the idea that psychic forces existed and many were from writers who, whatever they might know of psychic forces, had obviously not yet learned to spell. The Spiritualists were in many cases not more pleased than the others, for Malone had – even while his account was true – exercised a journalist's privilege of laying an accent on the more humorous sides of it.
One morning in the succeeding week Mr. Malone was aware of a large presence in the small room wherein he did his work at the office. A page-boy, who preceded the stout visitor, had laid a card on the corner of the table which bore the legend 'James Bolsover, Provision Merchant, High Street, Hammersmith.' It was none other than the genial president of last Sunday's congregation. He wagged a paper accusingly at Malone, but his good-humoured face was wreathed in smiles.
«Well, well,» said he. «I told you that the funny side would get you.»
«Don't you think it a fair account?»
» Well, yes, Mr. Malone, I think you and the young woman have done your best for us. But, of course, you know nothing and it all seems queer to you. Come to think of it, it would be a deal queerer if all the clever men who leave this earth could not among them find some way of getting a word back to us.»
«But it's such a stupid word sometimes.»
«Well, there are a lot of stupid people leave the world. They don't change. And then, you know, one never knows what sort of message is needed. We had a clergyman in to see Mrs. Debbs yesterday. He was broken-hearted because he had lost his daughter. Mrs. Debbs got several messages through that she was happy and that only his grief hurt her. 'That's no use', said he. 'Anyone could say that. That's not my girl'. And then suddenly she said: 'But I wish to goodness you would not wear a Roman collar with a coloured shirt'. That sounded a trivial message, but the man began to cry. 'That's her', he sobbed. 'She was always chipping me about my collars'. It's the little things that count in this life – just the homely, intimate things, Mr. Malone.»