Due to unforseen circumstances involving a shortage of appropriate clothing, a badly pronounced French phrase and a princess of a minor European country…there will be a delay to our story. Normal service will resume tomorrow.
“Arthur Clackprattle!” bellowed Mr Copperwaite. “You’re here for weeks at my expense and when I ask you what you’ve found out, that’s all you can give me?”
“Well, there is a little more” said Sir John, sitting, along with Marie, across from the desk. “I take it you’re not familiar with the gentleman?”
“No!” said Mr Copperwaite. “I am not familiar with the gentleman. I am, however, familiar with your antics. I know, for example, that part of your so called investigations involved a trip to the theater. I know that you, Sir John, treated my beloved daughter as a plaything. And I know that you bought a member of my staff a dinner of lobster and champagne.”
Mr Copperwaite was looking quite as red as that lobster, Marie thought.
“Yes, that was a misunderstanding,” started Sir John.
“I don’t mind what you waste your money on Sir John. That’s your business, even if it does mean my Christmas bonus to the staff will raise eyebrows rather than spirits. No, Sir John, what really bothers me is that a man who’s supposed to be an expert investigator of the occult can’t even see what’s in front of his bloody nose. That must be the oldest trick in the book, and you fell for it. How then, Sir John, am I to judge your performance when I ask what you’ve learned and you give me a name that sounds like it belongs to a bloody clown.”
Mr Copperwaite slumped back. Sir John waited but it seemed the rant was over.
“Well, that name belongs, so I’m told, to a master mesmerist,” said Sir John.
Mr Copperwaite gasped.
“What new nonsense is this? Now I’ve heard it all!” he said, starting up again. “What does this master of mesmerism do? Let me guess, he’s keeping my daughter asleep.”
“That’s what we suspect,” said Sir John.
“And why is he doing this, may I ask?” said Mr Copperwaite.
“We don’t know,” admitted Sir John.
“And where can he be found, so we can ask him?” said Mr Copperwaite.
“We don’t know that, either,” said Sir John.
“And how is he carrying out this marvellous trick?” said Mr Copperwaite.
“Ah, there I do have some information. We believe he is firing electricity at her from his pineal gland,” said Sir John, more confidently.
“He’s doing what!” roared Mr Copperwaite and thumped the desk.
“That’s just a theory at this point,” said Sir John, hoping to placate the man.
“Sir John, let me be clear, when we started I had no faith in you, and I now have less than that. You have three days to tell me something useful and plausible about my daughter’s condition or you’ll be back on that train to London, where you can con the gullible fools who live there as much as you like. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I have some real work to attend to.”
Mr Copperwaite started to rise.
“Mr Copperwaite?” said Marie. “May I ask a question?”
Copperwaite glared down at her. “What?”
“Your daughter runs an institute of some kind, for art, could you tell us what the name is?” asked Marie.
“Was,” said Mr Copperwaite. “That was the first thing I put a stop to, pulled the funding out of it. I can’t remember the name, something like python institute. Forget it, it’s gone. As you will be if I don’t see results. Three days, Sir John, three days.”
With that, Mr Copperwaite left. Sir John let out a breath.
“Well, that could have gone worse,” he said. “Possibly. We have three days, at least.”
“We should investigate the institute,” said Marie. “They are the ones who bought this sphere you mentioned.”
“If it still exists,” said Sir John glumly. “I’ll try to find it tomorrow. But I’ll go alone. If this Clackprattle chap is as dangerous as we think, I don’t want you near him. Will you be alright on your own tomorrow?”
Marie felt a tapping against her shoe. She looked down and saw a small stone.
“I think I can keep myself entertained,” she said.
It has come to my attention that a minor error has slipped into our current tale, which I feel the need to explain. You see, Sir John and Marie, as intrepid psychic explorers in the latter part of the nineteenth century would not be, as they seem in our story, unaware of mesmerism.
I hear you gasp at this obvious flaw, but I can explain.
The name mesmerism comes, of course, from Franz Anton Mesmer, born and practicing in the 18th century. The power he lent his name to was then called animal magnetism. He believed that blockage of this animal force was responsible for illness. His theories spread across to America from Europe and were widely known throughout the 19th century.
Of course, mesmerism is now known merely as a synonym for hypnotism, and the magnetic force is not remembered at all. All of this was uppermost in my mind as I started this tale and I was keen to ensure the reader was carefully introduced to this strange world of magnetic powers and not simply dumped in the midst of it. It is for this reason that the Jennings are curiously unaware of mesmerism.
It might appear to the casual reader that there has been a failure to research thoroughly before starting the story. This could not be farther from the truth. I am merely using a well-worn approach of introducing the reader to a novel or fantastical world by virtue of a character who is themselves new to said world.
And so I apologise for this inaccuracy in our tale, but trust you understand the artistic goal. All I can say, to reassure the disappointed reader, is that all other aspects of our stories, including ghosts, witchcraft and devices which hear the dead, are all verifiably, historically true.
The study was covered in books and had two comfortable chairs in front of a roaring fire. A man was sitting in one of them with a book on his lap and was snoring gently. There was a knock on the door and he sprang up. He opened the door and peered out to see Sir John Jennings in the street.
“Professor Herringbone-Stove?” asked Sir John.
“Who is enquiring?” said the man.
“It’s Sir John Jennings,” said Sir John. “I believe I have an appointment?”
“Ah, yes!” exclaimed Herringbone-Stove. “Come in!”
Sir John walked into the room and the professor glanced up and down the street before closing the door. He indicated the unoccupied chair to Sir John, who sat down.
“Just out of interest,” said Sir John, “which university are you attached to at the moment.”
“Well I’m at…” started Herringbone-Stove, before commencing a long coughing fit, during which he sat down opposite Sir John. The professor leaned forward and arched his fingers and his eyebrows.
“So,” Herringbone-Stove said, “ you wish to know about … mesmerism!”
“Indeed,” said Sir John enthusiastically. Herringbone-Stove looked a little disappointed at this response. “I have a case at the very moment that I feel you may help me with. You see it concerns a woman who I believe is under the thrall of a mesmerist. I believe him to be working to a most diabolical purpose.”
“Strong words sir and easily misused,” said Herringbone-Stove. “Some of my lectures have been described as diabolical.”
“I’m sure they have,” said Sir John. “But the fact remains, she is catatonic, the doctors can do nothing, and her last known contact … was a mesmerist.”
“Fascinating,” said Herringbone-Stove, “but I still doubt your theory. To be able to carry out such an feat, a man would need tremendous mesmeric powers, even with the help of something like the Sphere of Lethe.”
“The Sphere of Lethe?” said Sir John.
“It was an artefact possessed by Mesmer himself, that purportedly amplifies mesmeric power,” said Herringbone-Stove.
“Good Lord! Named for the river, I suppose,” said Sir John.
“The river?” said Herringbone-Stove.
“The River Lethe. One of the rivers of the Greek underworld.”
“Let me just write something down unconnected to our conversation,” said Herringbone-Stove. He started to write on a pad and said “riv – er” under his breath.
“So how does the Sphere work?” asked Sir John.
“Ah! Well, I have a theory,” started Herringbone-Stove, “that it works by enhancing aural electricity. You see, I firmly believe that mesmerists have long misunderstood their own power. They call their powers animal magnetism, and Mesmer himself believed it was identical to actual magnetism. This is palpable nonsense. The power that mesmerists use is clearly based in electricity, produced by the pineal gland, directed at the target and amplified by auditory excitation. The sphere, I believe, further increases this auditory excitation, thus enhancing the mesmerist’s power.”
“Fascinating,” said Sir John. “But how would this auditory excitation work? And how might one defend against it?”
“You, sir, are as ugly as a baboon!” shouted Herringbone-Stove.
“I beg your pardon!” said Sir John turning red.
“You see, that is an example of auditory enhancement of mesmeric electricity. I fired my pineal gland at you and enhanced that with the power of my voice. It provoked in you a marked emotional response, namely rage. That is the power of the mesmerist.”
“I see,” said Sir John, still shaking a little.
“I posit that there are two forms of defense against this. The first is that one must block up the ears to ensure they do not hear the voice of the mesmerist. The second is to direct a beam of electricity back at the mesmerist’s pineal gland. Sadly, I am no engineer, but I have no doubt that in this modern age a suitable device could be made.”
“So where is this sphere?” asked Sir John.
“Well, until recently it was held in the British Museum in London in a display of Mesmer’s effects. But I believe last year the whole collection was sold to a local artistic foundation. Around March, I think. They were displayed here in Manchester briefly. But really, Sir John, it would take a master mesmerist to use this device.”
“Professor Herringbone-Stove, my client is connected with an artistic foundation and last April was when she was struck down. I now wonder whether this Sphere was used to do that.”
“Good Lord!” said Herringbone-Stove, leaning forward and lowering his voice. “But there is only one man I can think of so powerful and malignant. Only one who would dare to defy the laws of nature in such a way. Only one who might sink to such depravity!”
“Who, man? Tell me!” said Sir John, leaning forward too.
Professor Herringbone-Stove moved as close to Sir John as he could. His face was pale and his voice barely a whisper.
“His name sir … is Arthur Clackprattle.”
It was silent in Miss Copperwaite’s bedroom. Weak moonlight trickled in from the tall, thin windows, barely illuminating her as she lay in her catatonic state. The door began to creak open and a figure came in quietly. The figure kept to the shadows and looked down at the supine form of Miss Copperwaite.
“You cannot wake, and I cannot sleep,” said the figure. “I keep seeing that man whenever I close my eyes. The terror on his face. And it was my fault. All my fault. What is it, this terrible thing?”
Marie stepped out of the shadow.
“What is this mesmerism?”
“I knew it!” she said, staring at the bed.
The figure of Miss Copperwaite began to rise slowly out of the bed. She made one slow lurching circuit of the bedroom before heading to the window. Suddenly she slumped forward, her hands just inches from the floor. She grabbed the bottom of the sash window and stepped back, pulling it up. Then she placed one hand on the low window ledge. Miss Copperwaite continued to stare blankly as her hand felt around the ledge. Eventually it found some pieces of paper and brought them into the room. She walked clumsily to a desk, sat down and opened a drawer. Again, her hand acted alone as she stared ahead, producing a pen. The hand wrote quickly on the bits of paper, finishing each with a flourish. Then Miss Copperwaite gathered the papers in her hand, and walked back to the window. She put the papers back outside, closed the window then lumbered back into bed.
Marie watched all of this in silence from the shadows. When Miss Copperwaite was back in bed, Marie went to the window. She could see a figure, a short man, scurrying away in the distance. The papers were gone.
Marie carefully open the window again and put her hand out. The ledge was low enough that she could touch the ground, and she picked up a small stone from outside. She brought the stone up to her lips, kissed it lightly and said, “vivre”. Then she held her hand flat.
The stone started to shake a little, then small cracks appeared on its side. There were three cracks on each side and from each a tiny leg came out. Then two cracks appeared at the front and two antennae appeared. The stone insect walked around Marie’s hand a few circuits, trying out its new legs.
“Little one,” said Marie, “I have a job for you. You will be a stone again in a little while, and you will wait outside the window. A man will come in the night and come to this window. When he leaves, you will follow him and then come back to me. Then you will show me where he goes.”
The insect walked around a bit more then seemed to nod. Marie put it gently on the ground. The legs and antennae curled back into the stone and it was normal again. Marie shut the window and stared outside for a while.
“I will find you, you monster,” she said, then quietly left the room.
by Professor Marmaduke Herringbone-Stove
There has been much interest recently in these fair shores on the topic of the diabolical and malevolent practice of mesmerism.
I hear you gasp at my mention of the word, but as an expert I hold no fear of these devious practices. I have spent many years studying this foul perversion of natural forces. I understand how it operates, how it can control the mind of a more fragile being, how it can destroy a man. But I have no wish now to expand on this topic. I have written elsewhere on it and frequently give speeches and lectures.
No, today I wish to keep you abreast of events on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, namely in America. It has come to my attention that there has been a legal trial most recently near the famed city of Salem. A trial that was called by the newspapers the “Second Salem Witch Trials” although it features no witch. Indeed the indicted, one Daniel H Spofford, was accused of none other than mesmerism!
Daniel H Spofford, Alleged Mesmerist
Let me acquaint you of the facts as they appear to me. This seems a tragic tale indeed, a “fall from grace” if you will. For Mr Spofford was very much engaged with the brilliant if theoretically misguided Mary Baker Eddy and her Christian Science movement. Clearly, there he was exposed to the powers and practice that Mrs Eddy and others have called “animal magnetism”. But these powers have a dark side too. A power that Mrs Eddy has written about in a chapter of her famed “Science and Health” book. That she has called Malignant Animal Magnetism, or more simply, mindcrime.
Daniel H Spofford, for all his years of service to Mrs Eddy, must have been seduced by these dark powers. It was said in court that he
“is a mesmerist, and practices the art of mesmermism, and by his said art and the power of his mind influences and controls the minds and bodies of other persons, and uses his said power and art for the purposes of injuring the persons and property and social relations of others and does by said means so injure them”
In particular, the unfortunate Lucretia Brown was a target of his terrible powers, being made invalided by this devious soul Spofford. Yes, it is true she had received the injury decades before and yes, Spofford had fallen out with Mrs Eddy. It is also alleged that Mrs Eddy’s lawyers assisted in drawing up the complaint, but surely this is merely the act of a benevolent friend.
In any account, the law proved once again what an ass it can be. The case was thrown out by the Judge, who foolishly suggested the claim was vague, that no law had been broken and that the law would not be able to stop Mr Spofford if he did have the powers that Mrs Brown suggested he had. I say the law is an ass, but maybe there is another, more sinister reason why the case was rejected. My conjecture is this, Mr Spofford used his powers as a mesmerist…to mesmerise the judge!
Now surely we can see how powerful these mesmerists are and surely all good men and women should arm themselves against such mental meddling. The truth should be told, explained, and given to all mankind, that they may keep themselves safe
Professor Herringbone-Stove, Greater Manchester
(Professor Herringbone-Stove is available to deliver lectures to meetings attended by appropriate gentlefolk, birthdays for over 10s and weddings where liqour is not served.)
Please Note: The views expressed by contributors to The Benthic Times may not reflect the views of the editors or owners. Students of legal history are earnestly encouraged to study this document for an alternative perspective.
Sir John and Marie both looked silently at their menus as they sat at a table for three in the pleasant restaurant. It was Marie who broke the silence first.
“I keep thinking about that poor man,” she said.
“Yes, it was a shame about that chap. I do hope he recovers,” said Sir John, “but we really weren’t to know. We merely asked him a couple of questions, it’s not like we twisted his arm or anything.”
Marie looked back down at her menu again.
“Still, the maid is coming soon,” said Sir John. “Perhaps we’ll get some information from her.”
“If we don’t kill her too,” said Marie, still looking down.
“And I saw this poster for some chap called Herringbone-Stove. He had a talk on you-know-what a couple of weeks ago. I think I’ll try and track him down too. We’ll get to the bottom of this,” said Sir John cheerily.
The maid from Miss Copperwaite’s bedroom appeared wearing her Sunday best.
“Good evening your highnesses,” she said somewhat nervously and stood behind the vacant chair.
Sir John stood up quickly.
“Please, Miss…” he started.
“Harper,” said the maid. “Mrs Harper.”
“Please, Mrs Harper, take a seat. Thank you for coming, and for your discretion,” said Sir John. “We wanted to talk to you after you mentioned to us… in the room… about… you know.”
“You mean about…” said Mrs Harper.
A waitress walked past with a tray with several bowls of soup.
“Probably best not mention it,” interrupted Sir John. “But please, we’d like to know why you said what you said.”
Mrs Harper looked at the menu in front of her.
“Oh, my… These prices are a little dear for one on my poor income,” she said. “I could barely afford a bread roll.”
“We’ll pay,” said Sir John. “As a thank you.”
“You’re very kind!” said Mrs Harper. “Now, our story begins just over a year ago. I was maid to Miss Copperwaite around that time, and she often confided to me her most innermost thoughts and secrets. Mostly it was sentimental tosh, but she had some unusual interests. She believed that art and religion could raise the common man and woman out of the poverty of their existence. She meant spiritually, of course. I don’t think she was that bothered about raising them out of their actual poverty.”
“I see,” said Sir John. “What manner of interests did she have?”
“May I take your orders?” said a waiter.
“Oh, I’ll take the soup,” said Sir John.
“And also me,” said Marie.
“I’ll have this, and this,” said Mrs Harper, pointing to the menu, “and one of them.”
The waiter left, and Mrs Harper continued her tale.
“She started an organisation that was trying to share art with people. Free galleries, art on a horse and cart, music down those telephonic devices, that sort of thing. Well, it seemed to me to be a great way to throw money away. I had to remind her that most impoverished people don’t have telephonic devices, for example. But she also got involved with what you might call new-fangled religions. Or what my father might have called utter codswallop. She went from group to group until she met this one man. She said he was the real thing. That he had powers.”
“Two soups,” said the waiter to the Jennings’, then turning to Mrs Harper, “and your lobster. The caviar is here in the bowl, and the bottle of champagne should be arriving shortly.”
“Oh, very nice,” said Mrs Harper. “Very kind of you, Sir Jenkins.”
“You’re, er, welcome,” said Sir John, a little flustered. “Perhaps you can tell us about this man?”
“She’d always meet him at the theatre, he had a box there, said he told her all sorts of things that she couldn’t tell anyone about,” said Mrs Harper. “Then one night she went to his home. That night, she came back and went to sleep like she is now. The one thing she told me was the name for what he could do… Mesmerism!”
Sir John gasped. He waved a hand in front of his open mouth.
“This soup is rather hot,” he said. “Be careful Marie, dear. Mrs Harper, do you know the name of this mysterious gentleman?”
“That’s the funny thing,” said Mrs Harper. “You know, she told me many a time and not once did I remember his name.”
The dressing room was damp, cold and filled with mismatched furniture. A dusty mirror sat on a cluttered desk next to a chair piled up with clothes. The room was silent.
Suddenly the door handle rattled and a muffled voice came from outside.
“Locked,” said Sir John. “Looks like our luck has run out.”
“Let me try,” said Marie. There was a pause and something muttered in French. The door handle turned and the door swung in. Sir John and Marie went into the tiny room.
“How did you do that?” said Sir John. “I was sure it was locked.”
“Oh, it turned the French way,” said Marie absently. Sir John immediately lifted his modified opera glasses and moved around the miserable room.
“Nothing, nothing,” he muttered. “It’s the same as before. It seems like anything paranormal was coming from that box. Perhaps we should go and look there.”
“It might not be safe to confront something powerful,” said Marie. “We should look around here first and get some clues about this thing of mind control.”
“Mesmerism,” said Sir John and Marie let out a gasp. Sir John turned to look, and saw she was surprised by the stage mesmerist. He had come into the room without making a sound.
“Can I help you?” he said, a half smile on his face. “I’m afraid the show has finished and you’ll have to leave.” He waved his hand quickly in front of his face, his eyes not blinking. Sir John continued to stare through his opera glasses and came close to the man. He stared intently through them at the man’s face then down his body to the hand he had just waved.
“Fascinating,” said Sir John. “You’re utterly normal.” The mesmerist looked crestfallen.
“Who are you?” said the mesmerist. “There’s supposed to be a man to stop people getting back here.”
“We had a bit of luck there in that he didn’t notice us,” said Sir John, who had gone round the back of the man and was examining his hat. “Can you tell us how you do it?”
“The show? No I cannot, it is a trade secret of mesmerists. I am sworn to the darkest of oaths. It would be more than my mortal soul is worth to whisper even a scintilla of the craft.”
“…and, you’re not really a mesmerist, are you?” said Marie.
“I say!” said the mesmerist, whose sinister aura was evaporating by the second. “That’s a bit much.”
“Can you tell us about who is in the box?” asked Sir John. The mesmerist looked shocked.
“Look, steady on. Blimey, you’re a strange pair, aren’t you. Chaps gotta earn a crust you know. We can’t all be, you know…” he indicated Sir John.
“Dire,” whispered Marie. The man gave a sigh, his shoulders sank and he spoke.
“The man in the box is…” Then he stopped suddenly, stood up bolt upright and said, “There was no-one in the box.”
“I’m sorry,” said Sir John. “That was a little confusing.”
The mesmerist’s shoulders slumped again and he said, “The man in the box is…” then he stood bolt upright as before.
“There’s no-one the box.” He face convulsed and twitched. “No-one in the box. No-one. No-one. No-one…”
Marie and Sir John backed away and out of the room as the man kept repeating the words over and over, a trickle of blood falling from his nose.
The tired and faded state of the decoration of the theater showed that it had seen better days, although the gaudy and sensational paintwork suggested they hadn’t been that much better. Marie and Sir John were positioned in the middle of the stalls, surrounded by a clientele that had clearly been preparing for the performance by consuming large amounts of alcohol. There was a ribald, boisterous mood amongst the crowd.
Sir John was unusual in having brought opera glasses and even more unusual in having adapted them to function as an ectoscope. As the crowd settled down a little he was staring at the stage muttering that he couldn’t see anything.
“That’s cos it ain’t started,” said someone jeeringly and there was much laughter at this. Marie was fiddling with the necklace she had brought when the clasp holding it seemed to break and it fell in her lap.
The theatre went dark and a man walked on stage. He had a long black cloak, impressive top hat and a moustache with an exaggerated curl at the end. He too looked like he had seen better days and not recently.
“Ladees and gennelmen,” he drawled, “if indeed we have such creatures here tonight…” This provoked more laughter.
“I am delighted to present for your entertainment and education a display of that most mysterious, most magnificent, most malignant art of… Mesmerism.” There was a gasp from the crowd.
“Do I have a volunteer?” asked the man on stage. Almost immediately a hand shot up and a voice rang out. It was an older lady who spoke.
“Yes sir, with pleasure, for this practice is nothing more than a trick on the mentally feeble.” The crowd roared their approval at being described this way.
“Well, madam, if indeed you are,” said the man to more laugher, “please make your way to the stage.”
The woman, who proved to be somewhat on the heavy side, made her way toward the stage. Sir John was still staring intently at the stage through the glasses and Marie let the pendant that had come loose dangle from her fingers. She whispered “chercher” and the pendant began to swing round gently. Marie kept her gaze on the spiralling pendant. By now the woman had arrived at the stage.
“Tell me madam, a little about yourself, so that we may know you better.”
“My name, sir,” said the woman, “is Mrs Buttermoss. I am a member of the Salvation Army, a member of the Temperance Society and a God-fearing Christian who has no fear of your so called powers.” She glared at the man on stage as the crowd woo-ed.
“Of course, madam,” said the man, “I may well have met my match, with a woman of your fortitude.” Then he suddenly said “sleep” and the woman shut her eyes and went rigid.
Immediately the pendant in Marie’s hand shot horizontal, pointing right toward the box. As the Mesmerist whispered to the woman on stage, Marie tried to see into the box, but it was obscured by a curtain. Sir John was muttering again. “Nothing… how odd.” Marie suddenly nudged her husband in the ribs, knocking him into facing the box.
“What is… my god… it’s glowing like the Blackpool Illuminations”.
The mesmerist on stage had stopped talking to the woman and said, “Please continue,” to the inert woman.
“I said I am not so easy game for one such as…”
Suddenly the mesmerist clicked his fingers and music started from somewhere. It was the can-can, played loudly and badly. Instantly the woman started dancing to the music, lifting her skirts and kicking into the air. The crowd was laughing and shouting.
“The box!” said Sir John. “There’s something coming from the box!”