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The Psychical Mallards
Edward Frederic Benson
That incident, naturally enough, was put to the credit of coincidence, and it was considered "very lucky" that his nurse had taken Master Tim out of the cradle just then, though it would have, perhaps, been "luckier" if there had been no such fall of lath and plaster. But from that time onwards the young years of Timothy Mallard were enveloped in a net of such curious phenomena, that it became impossible to attribute them all to coincidence, and his parents—healthy, normal people—were forced to the reluctant conclusion that there was something very odd about the child himself.
It was no use, for instance, making him put out his tongue, and then, with a bright smile, telling him that for a treat he was going to be given a spoonful of the most delicious red-currant jelly, because, without having tasted it, he announced that it was "powdery." But he tempered the obduracy of his refusal to indulge in red-currant jelly with a promise to "fink" his ache away. Tim then closed his eyes, gave a few little twitches, and seemed to relapse into unconsciousness. They had hardly begun to shake him when he came to himself, and it was quite apparent that he had thought away that troublesome ache, while his tongue, on re-examination, was discovered to be of the requisite rose-leaf description. Similarly, when his first visit to the dentist was planned, and he was told that he and nurse were going for a jolly walk in the High Street, he made the astounding announcement that he hadn't got toothache, and that he would bite any alien finger that intruded itself into his mouth. In this case (so the scientific student may observe) it was conceivable that he might, subconsciously, have overheard a conversation about dentists between his mother and his nurse, but such an explanation does not account for the fact that at the age of six he drew a detailed sketch of his own inside, showing with complete accuracy the position of the liver, pancreas, kidneys, and other interesting organs. The family doctor, to whom this artistic effort was submitted without hint as to authorship, said it was the work of a trained pathologist.
Dr. Farmer was interested in occult phenomena, and, when informed that this accurate and beautiful map was the work of Timothy, he told his disgusted parents that the boy was possessed of some supernormal power of lucidity or clairvoyance, which enabled him to perceive what was hidden from the ordinary vision. Other instances of this gift were shown in the fact that he could announce that his Aunt Anne was putting on her hat and cloak with the intention of calling on her sister-in-law, and that his father, who was up in town for the day, had missed his train at Charing Cross. So, though weird, this gift had its practical advantages, for his mother had time on the one hand to tell her parlour-maid that she was out, and on the other to put off dinner. Together with clairvoyance he developed a power of clair-audience, and by day and night heard voices which were quite inaudible to his elders and betters.
Apart from these little peculiarities Tim was normal enough, and at the age of thirteen presented the similitude of a big, merry boy, with large boots and tousled hair. His father determined to send him to Eton, where he had himself imbibed a love of cricket and a hatred of Greek, in the hopes that a sound classical education would speedily disperse those strange "clouds of glory" that the boy still trailed behind him. Roman history and hexameters and supines were powerful solvents of the unusual.
Mr. Mallard, puzzled though he was by these occult phenomena, still had a lurking feeling that the boy could curb them if he chose, and on the eve of his departure spoke to him kindly, but firmly, about it all.
"Remember, my dear Tim," he said, "that I am going to all this trouble and expense of sending you to Eton not merely that you should be able to write Latin verses and pass examinations with credit. You are growing up—boyhood passes very soon into manhood—and you must learn to behave as men behave. Those childish tricks, for instance—"
Tim, as is the custom of the new generation, treated his father like a child.
"But I've told you often and often," he said, "that I can't help it. I wish you would try to remember that. I don't want to see Aunt Anne in her bath, or know you are going to fall off your bicycle."
His father thumped the table.
"Now, I beg of you, Tim," he said, "not to argue like that. You can control those tricks perfectly well if you like. Dr. Farmer told me that they were of hysterico-ideo-exteriorizative origin—"
"What?" said Tim.
"The same as fidgets," said his father. "Occupy your mind with something else when you feel them coming on. You won't find yourself popular either with your teachers or your companions if you behave queerly. Queer! That's the word I wanted instead of Dr. Farmer's definition. There's nothing which wholesome English boys dislike so much as queerness. Get over your queerness, my dear, and do credit to the great middle class from which you come. I can let you enjoy an excellent education, and mix on equal terms with your superiors—never mind that—but you'll have to make your way in the world, and there's nothing that so goes against a man as queerness—"
He broke off suddenly and looked at Tim, who had shut his eyes and was twitching violently. He was naturally very much annoyed that the boy should give so small an attention to the remarks which he had so carefully prepared, and raised his voice.
"Tim, drop it!" he said. "Listen to me, Tim. Tim!"
Tim's twitching had ceased, and he lay back in his chair, breathing slowly and heavily. His father, irritated beyond endurance at this untimely exhibition of one of his tricks, was about to shake him violently by the shoulder, when his attention was attracted by a loud rattling noise behind him, and he observed his heavy knee-hole table advancing across the room without visible agency in the direction of the trance-stricken boy. He had barely time to skip out of the way of its ponderous march, when it came to a standstill, and he found himself with shaking knees and a dry throat staring at Tim across it. Dr. Farmer had already asked him whether Tim had shown any symptoms of teleo-kinesis, which (the obliging doctor explained) signified the movements of inanimate objects towards or from the boy, occurring without intervention of any visible agency, and, with a sinking of his heart, Mr. Mallard realized that here was a teleo-kinetic phenomenon. Then, without warning, this heavy table began to creak and groan again, and, retreating from Tim with the same swiftness with which it had advanced, came to rest in its usual position. So, even if Tim had pulled it towards him with a string in some inexplicable manner, he would have had to employ some strong and rigid rod to repel it again. Mr. Mallard's common sense rejected such a theory, and he was forced to suppose that his poor boy had suddenly developed teleo-kinetic power.
At this moment, while Tim still lay inert in his chair, there came a hurried step on the stair, and Mrs. Mallard, who had been sitting below, waddled into the room.
"I heard such a noise overhead," she said, "as if you were moving all the furniture instead of telling Tim about Eton. Why, what's the matter with him?"
"Teleo-kinesis," muttered Mr. Mallard. "My knee-hole table has been behaving like a three-year-old."
Mrs. Mallard had the same wholesale dislike of occult phenomena as her husband.
"Oh, how tiresome!" she said. "But, thank goodness, the table has gone back. So upsetting for a housemaid to find all the furniture moved about. Dr. Farmer told me that we mustn't be surprised if something of the sort happened. He is a very naughty boy. He—"
Her voice froze in her throat, and she pointed a trembling finger at her only son. Mr. Mallard followed its faltering direction.
Tim was lying with closed eyes and crossed legs in his father's large arm-chair, and now began to rise out of it, not on to his feet, but into the air. It was as if some unseen arm-chair still supported him, for he rose in precisely the same position as that in which he had been lolling when he went into a trance, like a balloon gently leaving the ground. He was apparently without weight, for the draught from the door, which Mrs. Mallard had left wide, gently wafted him towards the open window, and, to his parents' horror, he floated out of it and lay suspended thirty feet above the pavement of the High Street. Then some opposing current took possession of him, and after he had bumped once or twice against the panes of the second window, Mr. Mallard had the good sense to open it, and Tim floated in again. He circled round the room as if in a slow eddy, and then came to rest on the top of the knee-hole table.
"Levitation, drat it!" moaned Mr. Mallard. "Dr. Farmer—"
Tim shook himself, upset an ink-bottle, and rubbed his eyes. "Oh, bother!" he said to his father. "What have I been doing now? Hallo, I'm sitting in a pool of ink! Why on earth didn't you stop me, one of you?"
Mr. Mallard did not feel himself bound to repeat these tiresome occurrences to Tim's house-master, for it was not fair that the boy should begin his school-life under a cloud, and Tim left for Eton (in a new pair of trousers) next day. For some weeks Mr. Mallard had reason to congratulate himself on his high opinion of classics and congenial companionship as a cure for psychical tendencies, for nothing unusual disturbed the scholastic serenity of that educational establishment. But often before the deplorable agencies that were responsible for occult phenomena had remained dormant for long periods, and Mr. Mallard, when he received a letter with the Eton postmark, never opened it without a qualm. The weeks, however, went on, and his apprehensions began to get drowsy, and when, eventually, on a Monday morning he took out of its envelope a letter from Tim's house-master, he had no premonition of disastrous news. But he turned white as he read it, and passed it over to his wife with a hollow groan.
"I feel bound to tell you," wrote Tim's house-master, "that I am puzzled and pained by your son's conduct. Hitherto he has, beyond a few acts of boyish carelessness and disobedience, given me no cause for complaint. But this morning (Sunday), while attending chapel, some events occurred which it is impossible for me to pass over. He must have thrown his prayer-book at the chaplain (though no one actually saw him do it), for the book in question, with his name written in it by his mother, whose gift it was, certainly hit the reverend gentleman a severe blow in the eye, which completely incapacitated him from conducting divine service. He was led out of chapel, and the head master continued the office. What makes the offence more heinous is that your son then feigned complete unconsciousness. Had he owned up to throwing his prayer-book at the chaplain in some fit of boyish exasperation, I probably should not have troubled you with this serious report, and the head master would have dealt briefly with the whole question."
Mrs. Mallard raised a blanched face from the perusal of this terrible letter.
"Poor darling," she said. "Teleo-kinesis."
"Read on," said Mr. Mallard, brokenly.
"I write," said Tim's house-master, "in a confusion of mind to which I am wholly unaccustomed. The Marquis of Essex and Moses Samuelson, two admirable and steady boys, both in my house, assisted your son out of chapel. They both aver, with the honesty that characterizes the English aristocracy and the ancient Semites, that when they came to the flight of steps leading from the chapel into the schoolyard, your son, still unconscious, floated out of their hands ('Levitation,' sobbed Mrs. Mallard), and was wafted on to the railings of the statue of Henry VI, where he came to himself in considerable pain. I have just had a long talk with the head master, who, as you may know, is an enthusiastic member of the Society for Psychical Research, and he is inclined (in my judgment) to take an altogether too lenient view of your son's conduct. I told him, however, as I am now telling you, that if any further incidents of the sort occur, I shall be unable to keep T. Mallard in my house. You need be under no apprehension about his physical well-being, for the school doctor tells me that, beyond a few abrasions and punctures (owing to the railings), the boy is no worse for his adventure. But for myself I hold all psychical phenomena in contempt and abhorrence as being wholly un-English, and on any repetition of them I shall have to ask you to remove T. Mallard from my care."
It was no wonder that the news of this sensational Sunday morning soon got abroad, for every boy in the school wrote home to his parents saying how much he had enjoyed chapel that day, and Tim's parents were besieged with requests from various Occult and Psychical Societies to let the boy embrace the mediumistic profession. These they invariably refused, and appeals pointing out to them their obvious duty in allowing their son's young energies to be employed in the noble task of tearing away the veil between the seen and the unseen did not produce the smallest effect on them. Offers of considerable sums of money for séances given by Tim were even harder to resist, and it does the utmost credit to Mr. and Mrs. Mallard that neither avarice nor duty (according to occultists) made them swerve a hairbreadth from their resolve to give Tim every chance of growing up into a sensible and conventional man. Like decent parents they had their son's true welfare at heart, and they returned emphatic negatives to all the allurements of even the wealthiest Psychical Associations. As if to reward them, for a long time after this no further disturbance took place, and three happy years passed. Tim got his "Field" colours for football, he was likely to play at Lord's in the cricket team, and he developed an excellent repugnance for learning.... Poor wretches! They had no idea how his psychical reservoir was filling.
Mr. Mallard, in Tim's last year but one at Eton, was the prey of financial anxieties, but as long as the Khamshot Oil Company continued to pay a dividend of thirty-five per cent, no wolf could come within reasonable distance of his doors. But one evening during the Christmas holidays Tim, while in the middle of an account of a football match, became cataleptic, and, with groanings and screams, had shouted out "Horrible Khamshot: sell, sell, sell!" It was very disappointing that after three years' immunity from nonsense he had suddenly become nonsensical again, and Khamshot was expected to pay a forty per cent dividend this year, so Mr. Mallard, intentionally defiant, sold out next day all that he was possessed of in other investments in order to put his entire fortune into Khamshots. The forty per cent dividend was duly declared, and Mr. Mallard very naturally said, "So much for poor Tim's clairvoyance."
But in spite of the affluence which the forty per cent dividend produced, those Christmas holidays were very trying to Tim's parents, for the boy was prey to continuous psychical invasions just when it might have been hoped that he was growing out of such irregularities. He constantly went into rigid and profound trances, during which the heaviest articles of furniture were wont to whirl about the room; levitations were of almost daily occurrence; and he developed a new and uncomfortable gift which Dr. Farmer told the parents was undoubtedly ideo-plasticity. While in trance dreadful luminous spots used to appear on his waistcoat, from which exuded some wax-like substance that weaved itself into the semblance of human figures. These materializations took place in broad daylight, and since Dr. Farmer told Mr. Mallard that on no account must Tim be startled or violently awakened while these horrid simulacra were manifest (for a shock of any kind might derange his mind or even prove fatal), it was necessary to wait, with such patience as was possible, till these revolving exudations were absorbed again. Dinner on Christmas Day, for instance, was a very sorry banquet, for Tim had hardly begun on his turkey before he went into a profound trance, and plum pudding could not be served till nearly ten o'clock. He became markedly more clairvoyant, and what gave rise to profound uneasiness in his father, in view of the fact that Tim had so strongly urged him to sell Khamshot Oils, was that these visions invariably proved correct. He saw Aunt Anne writing her will afresh, and leaving her money to an orphan asylum instead of her brother; he saw himself holing a mashie shot at golf; he saw his mother sprain her ankle by slipping on a banana skin—all of which visions were promptly fulfilled. Aunt Anne died of pneumonia, and her will revealed this abominable codicil; Tim holed a topped mashie shot; and his mother was on the sofa for three days. But, with the obstinacy of a thoroughly sensible person, Mr. Mallard clung to his Khamshot Oils.
Tim still remembers with dreadful vividness the ensuing Ash Wednesday, when he was, of course, back at Eton. He had had a slight levitation that morning, but it had passed off unobserved, and his bureau had shown a tendency towards teleo-kinesis. But a keen game of fives had made him feel himself again, and he was on his way back to his house when he experienced a moment of terrible clairvoyance. Of its exact nature he never spoke, but the effect was that he rushed to the nearest telegraph office and sent off a wire to his mother, saying: "Don't let father get near razors." Ten minutes afterwards, passing a newsboard, his heart stood still, for he saw on it in large letters: "Stupendous Earthquake at Khamshot." He went in and bought the paper, and read ruinous tidings. All the oil wells had been engulfed in an immense schism in the earth, and the island had nearly entirely disappeared under the sea. A few scattered reefs alone stuck out. This, of course, explained his clairvoyance about his father, and he could only pray that his telegram had arrived in time. Alas! it had not, for later in the day, his house-master broke to him the terrible news that, in a fit of temporary insanity, caused by the loss of his entire fortune, his father had cut the throats of his cook, his wife, and his parlour-maid, and, subsequently, his own.
Youth is gifted with divine powers of recuperation, and after his first outburst of passionate grief was over, Tim resolutely faced the future. He was now quite alone in the world, his father's meagre balance at the bank was not more than sufficient to pay his school bills for this term, and it was clear that if he was to enjoy (as his poor father had wished) the full benefit of a Public School education, and spend another year at Eton, he must set himself to work to earn money in the holidays. With the full approval and consent of the head master, who, as has been already mentioned, was a serious student of the occult, he hired a couple of rooms in Sloane Street, neatly, but not expensively furnished, and announced in all the leading papers that Timothy Mallard, Esq. (the famous Eton medium) would give during the Easter Holidays a series of clairvoyant, teleo-kinetic, ideo-plastic and other séances at his rooms in Sloane Street. He claimed no spiritualistic powers, professed to tell no fortunes, and invited the inspection of the police and other trained observers of the occult. References were permitted to the head master of Eton and his brother the Suffragan Bishop of Winchelsea.
Under such scholastic and ecclesiastical patronage the Eton medium spent a very busy and profitable Easter holiday. But, do what he would, he could not prevent enthusiastic spiritualists believing that he received and transmitted to them messages from the other side. It was no use Tim asserting that he only read their minds; they knew better than that, and insisted that they were in communication with all manner of defunct friends and relatives. Almost as popular were the materializations (ideo-plasticity), of which he could produce any quantity in broad daylight under the most searching test conditions, and the inexplicable movements of the largest pieces of furniture. Occasionally, the power failed altogether; but Tim, with a shrewdness that did credit to his classical education, never attempted to make good the temporary failure by fraud or conjuring tricks which, sooner or later, would be detected. The honest English boy refused to take the usual fees, and waited for the return of the power. But, though highly remunerative, the Easter holidays were very strenuous, and he was glad to get back to the quiet and leisure of the summer half.
He played cricket against Harrow that year at Lord's, and, naturally, as he walked out from the pavilion to bat, he made an experiment or two to see whether his occult powers were in working order. He tried to read the umpire's mind, but was disappointed to find that he could get no telepathic impression. But the teleo-kinetic gift was in full force, for without effort he caused one of the wicket-keeper's gloves to slip off his hand and trundle towards him along the ground. He felt, therefore, the utmost confidence in his batting powers, for he could apply the same treatment to the balls he received. The first was a yorker, but just before it touched his bat he exerted the full force of his mind, and, making a slogging gesture, caused it to soar away and break a window in the pavilion. This counted six runs, and, just to get his eye in, he repeated the feat with the remainder of the over. Then, to show he could play all round the wicket, he made some crisp cuts and pulled a few balls round to the boundary at mid-on. The power then completely failed, and he was bowled after just completing his century.
He had another year at Eton, and, by judicious mind-reading, won a scholarship at King's College, Cambridge. His holidays were spent in strenuous work, and before he took his degree he was not only living in the lap of luxury, but had taken a spacious house in Belgrave Square instead of the more modest quarters in Sloane Street, and had a thousand pounds to his credit at the bank. He was extremely industrious, and, finding that his power grew with practice, often spent an hour or two in trance without sitters, but with a stenographer to take down all that he said or did.
On one such evening he came to himself after a prolonged trance, bathed in perspiration, and feeling that his telepathic powers had projected his subconscious mind to some immense distance. He absently sipped a glass of Perrier Jouet (1894) as the stenographer arranged her notes.
"Well, what have I been saying?" he asked wearily.
She cleared her throat.
"Khamshot, Khamshot," she said. "Buy, buy, buy! Buy Khamshot! Fortune and opulence. Fresh earthquake and lakes of oil. Island emerged from sea again with enormous lake of oil constantly replenished by innumerable gushers."
"What?" said Tim.
She drew her finger down the page.
"Then you said, 'Buy!' nothing but 'Buy!' Mr. Mallard," said Miss Gray. "Then there's some more about the lake of oil. You talked about nothing else."
Tim put off his early sitters next morning, and went down to the city with a cheque in his pocket for a thousand and seventeen pounds, which represented his balance at Messrs Barclays. By an effort of cryptomnesia (or recalling what he had once known but completely forgotten) he remembered the name of his father's broker, and invested the whole of his savings in Khamshot Oils. The shares were to be had at the price of a few pence, and his money thus purchased (inclusive of brokerage) fifty-three thousand of them. He was already possessed of twenty thousand more, the only legacy which he had received from his poor father, so that he was now the holder of seventy-three thousand shares. Then he went back to Belgrave Square and resumed his séances. The evening papers reported a prodigious earthquake among the reefs which had once been Khamshot Island.
This year a new medium took London by storm, and occult circles were evenly and acutely bisected as to whether she or Tim was the more remarkable repository of supernormal power. Her name was Miriam Starlight, a girl of not more than twenty and of extraordinary physical beauty. The two met at a psychical tea-party and instantly fell violently in love with each other. Nothing could have been more suitable, and the occult world of London was thrilled with the anticipation of what manifestations would result from their joint mediumship. Within a few weeks of their meeting they were engaged, and a few weeks more saw them married.
It was quite in the earlier days of their honeymoon, which they spent at Rye, that it became apparent that psychical London was doomed to experience a most terrible disappointment. Not wishing to let their blissful weeks slip by without some little practice in their life-work, they trifled with some easy feats in levitation, cryptomnesia, teleo-kinesis, and ideo-plasticity. Tim and Miriam in turn went off singly into trance, and the most amazing results followed. Each of them, singly, levitated with the greatest ease, and floated out of the window into the street or the garden; the furniture of the house (kindly lent them by the President of the Psychical Association) whirled round the room, and materializations followed each other in bewildering succession. Thus they knew that marriage had not spoiled their individual gifts, and with Tim's stenographer to note results, they began on the experiments which they hoped would add an entirely new chapter to the veracious history of mediumship, and composing themselves in two arm-chairs, went into trance together. Miss Gray, the stenographer, was quite accustomed to psychical phenomena, and as soon as she had satisfied herself (by pinching them) that they were completely unconscious, sharpened her pencils and adopted the procedure which she often followed when observing Tim.
"Teleo-kinesis, please," she said, in a business-like voice.
A large bureau instantly began to move towards Tim. But it had hardly started when it came to a standstill and began violently to quiver. It was exactly as if some opposing force had met it and refused to let it advance. There was an ominous creaking sound from somewhere inside it.
Clever Miss Gray grasped the situation instantly.
"Teleo-kinesis, Mr. Mallard alone, please," she said, and the bureau slid swiftly over the carpet.
"Teleo-kinesis, Mrs. Mallard alone, please," she said, and the bureau began to retreat again.
Miss Gray was a fearless observer, and this vastly interested her.
"Teleo-kinesis together," she said, retreating behind her arm-chair. "Full speed ahead."
The bureau, violently agitated, remained exactly where it was, and it was evident to her that the two high horse-power teleo-kinetic agencies were in opposition. Before she had time to realize what the result must inevitably be, it had burst into a thousand fragments. One dynamism, it was clear, attracted it, the other stubbornly repelled it.
Not wishing to risk the destruction of another Queen Anne piece, she changed her tactics.
"Levitation, please," she said, and on the instant the bodies of the lovers rose in the air. But instead of floating placidly out of the window which she had opened for the sake of the experiment, they kept colliding with hollow bumps. More than that, there seemed to be an active antagonism between them, for they drew back, while floating in the air, only to charge each other with augmented violence. She called off the levitation and awoke the lovers, who instantly clasped each other's hands.
"Darling, it was lovely," said Miriam. "Though quite unconscious, I knew I was marvellously at one with you! What did we do, Miss Gray? Oh, what are those splinters all over the room?"
Miss Gray diffidently explained the origin of the splinters, and the pronounced hostility of their levitated bodies. A bruise on Miriam's elbow, and the initial discolorations of a black eye for Tim, proved the truth of her depressing narrative.
Further experiments only confirmed the conclusion that was but too manifest, and the lovers returned to London madly devoted to each other, but in the deepest professional dejection. Their values, it seemed sadly certain, so far from being enhanced by conjunction, neatly cancelled each other; instead of the equation "x+x=2x," they must rate themselves "x-x=nothing at all." It was interesting for their sitters to observe the unparalleled violence with which chairs and tables flew into fragments, and many phenomena of that sort could be instantly obtained (their materializations, for instance, were extremely rude to each other), but psychical science made no further progress there. The two could not even hold separate séances simultaneously, for their bodies instantly levitated, escaped out of the windows, and had butting matches over the garden of Belgrave Square, at risk of doing each other serious injury. It was all very disappointing.
To make up for this, the most wonderful news came from Khamshot Island. The new earthquake had shouldered it out of the sea again, and when the water drained off, it was discovered to be a great crater full of oil renewed daily in prodigious quantities by gushers. An American company was formed, and the Khamshot one pound shares, of which Tim had bought so many thousand at the price of a few coppers, mounted to ten pounds. Even at that figure they paid twenty per cent, and Tim, when his wife was holding séances, and he himself was normal, tried to work out what percentage his thousand and seventeen pounds were bringing him in. Being a classical scholar he had no great grasp of mathematics, and his brain reeled in the computation of his dividends. But he dutifully put up beautiful tombstones, not only to his father and mother, but to the hapless cook and the murdered parlour-maid.
This curious and strictly historical narrative has now a strange sequel. Miriam bore one unique baby, who is close on four years old. Incompatible as were the magnetisms of his father and mother, Nature, by some reconciliatory process, seems to have united in him the psychical powers of each of his parents, and last night only I attended a séance given by this stupendous child. He recited in the original Hebrew the first chapter of the book of Genesis, and the Rabbi, Ben Habakkuk, who was present, confirmed the accuracy of every word (the child knowing no more of Hebrew than I do) and said that his pronunciation was of the purest Judaic inflection. He then gave the temperature at St. Moritz, accurately confirmed by this morning's "Times," and, pointing his baby-finger at me, said that "that man" would live to the very advanced age of ninety-three. So