Mrs. Andrews's Control
MRS. ANDREWS'S CONTROL
By E. F. BENSON
MRS. ANDREWS was certainly an Athenian by nature, and it was her delight not only to hear some new thing, but to put it in practice. Enjoying excellent health, she was able to take almost any liberties with her constitution, and for a long time was absorbed in the maelstrom of diets, each of which seemed to suit her to perfection. For a couple of months she adopted the Pembroke treatment, and droves of sheep were sacrificed to supply her with sufficient minced mutton, while the utmost resources of the kitchen boiler were needed to give her the oceans of hot water which she found it necessary to drink all day except at meals. Having obtained the utmost benefits derivable from this system, she nourished her ample and vigorous frame, by way of a change, on pyramids of grated nuts, carefully weighed out, and it cannot be doubted that she would enthusiastically have fed herself on chopped up hard-boiled egg like a canary, if she could have found any system of diet that inculcated such a proceeding.
Her husband, for all his mild and apparently yielding disposition, must at bottom have been a man of iron soul, for he absolutely refused to embark on any of these experiments, though he never dissuaded his wife from so doing, and stuck firmly, like a limpet, to his three solid and satisfactory meals, not disdaining minced lamb, nor even a modicum of milled nuts, when he felt that they would be agreeable, but adding them to his ordinary diet, without relying on them. The two, childless and middle-aged, lived in extreme happiness and comfort together, and no doubt Mrs. Andrews's enthusiasms, and the perennial amusement her husband derived from them, served to keep the sunlight of life shining on them. They were never bored and always busy, which, perhaps, even more than diet, secured them serenity of health.
But the time came when Mrs. Andrews, in an unacknowledged despair of feeling better and more vigorous physically than she always did, turned her Athenian mind towards mental and psychical fads. She began by telling the fortunes of her friends in Oakley by means of cards, and, though she could always say how she knew, following the rules of her primer, that her husband had had scarlet fever when he was twenty-three, yet the fact that she knew it perfectly well without the help of the cards made the discovery rather less amazing. She tried Christian Science, though only for a short time, since no amount of demonstration over false claims could rid her one day of the conviction that she had a raging toothache, whereas the dentist convinced her in a moment, by the short though agonising application of the pincers, that he could remove the toothache, which had resisted all the precepts of her temporary creed. An excursion into the realms of astrology succeeded this, and conjointly a study of palmistry, and at this point her husband, for the first time, began to take an interest in his wife's preoccupations. It certainly did seem very odd that his horoscope should testify to the identical events which the lines in his hand so plainly showed his wife, and certain apparent discrepancies were no doubt capable of explanation. When he knew that the right hand indicated what Nature meant him to be, and the left what he had made of himself, it could not but be gratifying to find he had lived so closely up to his possibilities, and it was pleasant, again, to find his wife so enthusiastic about his plump, pink palm.
"A most remarkable hand, my dear," she said. "I never saw evidence of such pluck and determination. And look at your Mount of Jupiter! Splendid!"
Mr. Andrews did not know exactly what the Mount of Jupiter was, but he knew what pluck and determination were.
"Upon my word, my dear," he said, "there may be something in it. I will borrow your primer, if I may. And now about the future."
Mrs. Andrews was already peering eagerly into the future. This was as splendid as the Mount of Jupiter.
"Such a line of life!" she said. "Let me see, you are fifty-eight, are you not? Well, on it goes—sixty, seventy, eighty, without a break in it. Why, I declare it reaches ninety, Henry!"
This was very gratifying, and it showed but only ordinary politeness on Henry's part to inquire into his wife's prospects.
"Ah, I haven't such a line as you, dear," she said. "But, after all, if I live in perfect health till I am eighty-two, which is what my hand tells me, I'm sure there's no reason to complain."
But when Mrs. Andrews had told the fortunes of her husband and all her friends, and secured them, on the whole, such charming futures, it was no wonder that she went further into matters more psychical and occult. A course of gazing into the most expensive crystal proved disappointing, since she could never see anything except the reflection of the objects in the room, while her husband, now actively taking part in these investigations, merely fell asleep when he attempted to see anything there. They both hoped that this might not be ordinary sleep, but the condition of deep trance which they found was one of the accompanying phenomena, and productive of great results; but these trances were so deep that no recollection of what occurred therein ever remained in his mind, with the exception of one occasion, on which he dreamed about a boiled rabbit. As he had partaken of this disgusting provender at lunch that day, both Mrs. Andrews and he regarded this dream as retrospective in character, and as not possessed of prophetic significance.
It was about this time that they both became members of the Psychical Research Society, and their attention could not but be struck by the wonderful phenomena brought into being by the practice of automatic writing. If you had a psychical gift in this direction—and it was now the dream of both Henry Andrews and his wife to find that they had—all apparently that had to be done was to hold a pencil over a writing-pad conveniently placed, abstract your mind from the hand that held the pencil, and sit there to see what happened. The theory was that some controlling spirit might take possession of the pencil and dictate messages from the other world, which the pencil would record. Back numbers of the psychical journals warned them that patient practice might be necessary before any results were arrived at, the reason being that the control must get used to the novel instrument of communication, and warning was given that they must no be discouraged if for a long time nothing was recorded on the paper except meaningless lines. But it appeared that most people, if they would only be patient enough, would be rewarded by symptoms of the presence of a control before very long, and when once a beginning was made, progress was apt to be very rapid. It was recommended also that practice should be regular, and, if possible, should take place at the same time every day.
The idea fired Mrs. Andrews at once.
"Upon my word, dear Henry," she said, "I think it is very well worth trying, for the crystal is yielding no results at all. Psychical gifts are possessed by everybody in some degree, so this very interesting article says, and if ours do not lie in the direction of crystal-gazing, it makes it all the more probable that we shall achieve something in automatic writing. And as for a regular time for practising it, what could be more pleasant than to sit out in the garden after tea, when you have come in from your golf, and enjoy these warm evenings, with the feeling that we are occupying ourselves, instead of sitting idle, as we are apt to do?"
Henry distinctly approved of the suggestion. He was often a little fatigued after his golf, though he was going to live till ninety, and the prospect of sitting quietly in a chair in the garden, instead of feeling that he ought to be weeding, was quite a pleasant one.
"Then shall we each sit with paper and pencil, dear?" he asked.
Mrs. Andrews referred to the essay that gave elementary instruction.
"Certainly," she said. "We will try that first. They say that two hands holding the pencil often produce extraordinary results, but we will begin, as they suggest, singly. I declare that my hand feels quite fidgety already, as if the control was just waiting for the means of communication to be prepared."
Everything in Mrs. Andrews's house was in apple-pie order, and it took her no time at all to find two writing-pads and a couple of sharpened pencils. With these she rejoined her husband on the paved walk, where they had had tea, outside the drawing-room, and, with pencil in hand, fixed her eye firmly on the top of the mulberry tree at the edge of the lawn, and waited. He, with left hand free for his cigarette, did the same, but his mind kept going back to the boiled rabbit he had dreamed of after crystal-gazing, which still seemed to him a very unusual occurrence, for, to the best of his recollection, he had never dreamed of boiled rabbit before.
Within a few days' time very promising developments had taken place. Almost immediately Mrs. Andrews had begun to trace angled lines on the paper, which, if they did not suggest anything else particular, were remarkably like the temperature chart of a very feverish patient. Her hand, seemingly without volition on her part, made energetic dashes and dabs all over the paper, and she felt a very odd tingling sensation in her fingers, which could scarcely be put down to anything else than the presence of the control. Her husband, scarcely less fortunate, also began to trace queer patterns of irregular curves on his sheet, which looked very much as if they were words. But though they were like words, they were not any known words, whichever way up you attempted to read them, though, as Mrs. Andrews said, they might easily be Russian or Chinese, which would account for their being wholly meaningless to the English eye. Sheets of possible Russian were thus poured out by Mr. Andrews, and whole hospital records of fever charts on the part of his wife, but neither at present came within measurable distance of intelligibility. The control seemed incapable of making itself understood. Then on a memorable day Mr. Andrews's pencil evinced an irresistible desire to write figures, and after dictating "one, two, one, two," a great many times, wrote quite distinctly 4958, and gave a great dash as if it had said its last word.
"And what 4958 indicates, my dear," said he, passing it over to Mrs. Andrews, "I think we must leave to the control to determine."
She looked at it a moment in silence; then, a great thought splendidly striking her, she rose in some excitement.
"Henry, it is as plain as plain," she said. "I am forty-nine; you are fifty-eight. Our ages are thus wonderfully conjoined. It certainly means that we must act together. Come and hold my pencil with me."
"Well, that is very curious," said Henry, and did as he was told.
At this point their experiments entered the second phase, and the pencil thus jointly held at once developed an intelligible activity. Instead of mere fever charts and numerals, it began to write whole sentences which were true to the point of being positive truisms. Before they went to dinner that night, they were told, in a large, sprawling hand, that "Wisdom is more than wealth," and that "Fearlessness is best," and that "Hate blinds the eyes of Love." The very next day more unimpeachable sentiments were poured forth, and at the end was written, "From Pocky."
Pocky, then, was clearly the control; he became to Mr. and Mrs. Andrews an established personality with a fund of moral generalities. Very often some practical application could be made of his dicta, as, for instance, when Mr. Andrews was hesitating as to whether to invest quite a considerable sum of money in a rather speculative venture. But, recollecting that Pocky had said that "Wisdom is better than wealth," he very prudently refrained, and had the satisfaction of seeing the speculative concern come a most tremendous smash very soon after. But it required a good deal of ingenuity to fit Pocky's utterances into the affairs of daily life, and Mr. Andrews was getting a little tired of these generalities, when the curtain went up on the third phase.
This was coincident with the outbreak of the German war, when nothing else was present in the minds of husband and wife, and Pocky suddenly became patriotic and truculent. For a whole evening he wrote, "Kill them. Treacherous Germans. Avenge the scrap of paper," and very soon after, just when England generally was beginning to be excited over the rumour that hosts of Russians were passing through the country to the French battle-front, he made the final revelation of himself.
"The hosts of Russia are with you," he wrote, "Cossacks from the steppes, troops of the Great White Czar. Hundreds and thousands, Russia to England, England to France. The Allies triumph. From Pocksky." The pencil gave a great dash and flew from the fingers that held it.
It was all most clearly written, and, in a voice that trembled mth excitement, Mrs. Andrews read it out.
"There, my dear," she said, "I don't think we need have any further doubt about the Russians. And look how it is signed—not Pocky any longer, but Pocksky. That is a Russian name, if ever there was one!"
"Pocksky—so it is," said Mr. Andrews, putting on his spectacles. "Well, that is most wonderful. And to think that in those early days, when my pencil used to write things we couldn't read, you suggested it might be Russian!"
"I feel no doubt that it was," said Mrs. Andrews firmly. "I wish now that we had kept them, and my writing, too, which you used to call the fever charts. I dare say some poor fellow in hospital had temperatures like that."
Mr. Andrews did not feel so sure of this.
"That sounds a little far-fetched, dear," he said, "though I quite agree with you about the possibility of its being Pocksky who wrote through me. I wonder who he was? Some great general, probably."
You can easily imagine the excitement that pervaded Oakley in the weeks that followed, when every day brought some fresh butler or railway-porter into the public press, who had told somebody who had told the author of the letter in question that he had seen bearded soldiers stepping out of trains with blinds drawn down, and shaking the snow off their boots. It mattered nothing that the whole romance was officially denied; indeed, it only made Mrs. Andrews very indignant at the suppression of war news.
"The War Office may say what it likes," she exclaimed, "and, indeed, it seems to make it its business to deny what we all know to be true. I think I must learn a few words of Russian, in case I meet any soldier with a beard—'God Save the Czar!' or something of the kind. I shall send for a Russian grammar. Now, let us see what Pocksky has to tell us to-night."
That no further confirmation of Pocksky's announcement on this subject ever came to light was scarcely noticed by the automatic writers, for Pocksky was bursting with other news. He rather terrified his interpreters, when there was nervousness about possible Zeppelin raids, by saying: "Fires from the wicked ones in the clouds. Fourteen, twelve, fourteen, cellar best," since this could hardly mean anything but that a raid was to be expected on the fourteenth of December; and Mr. and Mrs. Andrews—and, indeed, a large number of their friends—spent the evening in their cellars, coming out again when it was definitely after midnight. But the relief at finding that no harm had been done speedily obliterated the feeling that Pocksky had misled them, and when, on Christmas Eve, he said, "Spirit of Peace descends," though certain people thought he meant that the War would soon be over, the truce on the Western Front for Christmas Day was more generally believed to bear out this remarkable prophecy.
All through the spring Pocksky continued voluble. He would not definitely commit himself over the course that Italy was to take, but, as Mrs. Andrews triumphantly pointed out, Italy would not definitely commit herself either, which just showed how right Pocksky was. He rather went back to the Pocky style over this, and said: "Prudence is better than precipitation; Italy prepares before making decision. Wisdom guides her counsels, and wisdom is ever best. From Pocksky."
Intermittently the forcing of the Dardanelles occupied him.
Now, here a rather odd point arose. Mr. Andrews at this time had to spend a week in town, and Pocksky managed the pencil which his wife held alone. In all these messages Pocksky spelled the name of the straits "Dardanels," which, for all I know, may be the Russian form. But two days ago Mrs. Andrews kindly sent me one of his messages, which I was glad to see was most optimistic in tone. She enclosed a note from herself, saying—
"You will like to see what Pocksky says about the Dardanels. Isn't he wonderful?"
So Mrs. Andrews, writing independently of Pocksky, spells Dardanelles the same way as Pocksky does when he controls the pencil. I cannot help wondering if the control is—shall we say?—quite complete. I wonder also how the straits will get themselves spelt when Mr. Andrews returns. It is all rather puzzling