I have long held a fascination with the life and times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; not, however, his detective writing, nor the subsequent debunking of the many psychic charlatans that courted him, but more his inimitable style in documenting sensational tales of hauntings, and the rather odd relationship he had with women, in particular his mother, Mary Doyle, a preeminent force in Conan Doyle’s life.
In 1927, several newspapers ran articles on a tale that was eventually to become one of the many compiled in his last published work, The Edge of the Unknown. It is a particularly curious tale, and, I must say, one that always tends to send a slight shiver down my spine; though I am at odds to explain why – whether it is the strangeness of the medium’s gender mutation or the ghost’s mother-fixation so curiously reminiscent of Doyle’s own life, I can’t quite say.
The tale is presented below. Read it if you like; and if you do, then I’d love to know your opinion on it…
The Times, 1927
What must be the most amazing document from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle describes how a woman medium changed her personality in an instant to that of a ghostly ostler, a spirit inhabitant of a moated grange in Sussex. The medium was Mrs. Wickland, the wife of Dr. Carl Wickland, a noted psychic investigator.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle prefaces his amazing statement by saying: “I could not out-rival it if I gave free play to my imagination.”
He proceeds:-“We drove to a moated grange in Sussex, and while we stood surveying the lichened walls, a door entering upon the moat opened and a woman looked out, then closed the door. We passed on through a meadow, dismissing the incident, though Mrs. Wickland kept looking back. (Presently she said: ‘There is a strange old man beside us.’ In answer to our questions she said: ‘He is old and his face is sunk forward, and his back hunched. He wears knee breeches, a striped vest, and a short coat. He came out of the door.’)”
Sir Arthur adds:-.”We went home and were seated among the roses on my verandah talking of other things when Mrs. Wickland said suddenly, ‘He is here.’ Then a most amazing thing occurred before our eyes. She changed in an instant into a heavy-faced, sullen old man, with a bent back and loose senile lips. He choked and spluttered but there was no trace of Mrs. Wickland. The doctor massaged the throat of the newcomer who shook off his hand angrily.”
Sir Arthur proceeds to give a full account of the dialogue in which the old man stated how he was an ostler at the grange, and was pushed into the moat by a fellow employee whom he dragged in also.
Dr. Wickland interrupted: “You are dead.”
The ostler exclaimed: “Dead, why, I am here talkin’ to you. How can I be dead? I’d be with God if I was dead.” (Suddenly started.) “Look at my hand? Why there are rings on it. They look like my lady’s rings. No, I don’t know how they came to be there.”
“I don’t understand a lot of things. I don’t know who them folk are in the house. They have no call to be there. Me and the others try to put them out.”
“Yes, master was a good master, but he died, and the others came in. The house was sold. We wasn’t well treated after that. What could I do? No, I couldn’t go away. Where was I to go out in the wide world, and me with a hump on my back? I belonged to the house. I had to do the best I could.”
“What have I done? I don’t rightly understand it. I’ve slept always in the same old corner. It seems a long, long time.”
“Now tell us, David, don’t you remember being very ill?”
“Me ill? No, I was never ill. But I’ll tell you what happened. He pushed me into the water.”
“Into the moat?”
“Yes, into the water.”
“Who was he?”
“It was Sam.” (Many chuckles.) “But I held on to him, I did. He came in the water, too.” (Dr. Wickland remarked that the man was probably drowned on that occasion.)
“Is there no one who loved you among the dead? Was your mother dead?”
“Mother was dead. No one ever loved me, except mother. She loved me, mother did. No one could love me, because I looked queer. They laughed.”
(He burst into noisy sobbing.) “Mother loved me. Nobody else. They said it wasn’t right that I wait upon the ladies, and me with a hump.”
“Cheer up, David; we will soon get the hump off you. How came you to follow us?”
“I don’t know. I think I was told. Then I got bread and tea. I have not had tea since I can remember. I would like more. I am always hungry. But what was that wagon? That was the devil’s wagon, I think. I got in, but it went that fast that I was afeared to get out again.” (This was my motor.)
“It’s as well for you that you did not, for we are going to do you good, David. First of all you have got to realize that you are dead. You were drowned that time you fell into the moat.”
“Well I never. That’s a queer idea.”
“Now understand this.” (It is Dr. Wickland, who is talking in cool, gentle, assured tones.) “You can do anything now by the power of thought, if you know how to use it. This hump of yours. Take it off. Take it off, I say. Your back is as straight as mine.” (The bent figure
began to straighten up and to sit erect in the chair. Suddenly both hands were thrown forward.)
“Mother, mother.” (His face had become younger, more intelligent and was shining with ecstasy.) “I see her and it’s mother, but she looks younger than I can remember.”
“She will take charge of you now. You have been brought here by higher powers for a purpose–to save you. Do you want to go back to the old house?”
“No, no, I want to go to mother. Oh you good kind people”–the rest was just incoherent gratitude.
And so it was that the earth-bound ostler found his mother at last among the rambler roses of my balcony. Have I not said truly that the actual experiences of the Spiritualist, of which this is one in a hundred, are stranger far than what I should dare to invent?
Is it all a fairy-tale? How about the change in the medium? How about the ostler’s dress so accurately described? How about the cases where the actual names and addresses have been verified by the Wicklands?
It is not a fairy-tale, but it is a new realm of knowledge which the human race has now to explore and to conquer.