An address given by Miss Mary Hamilton in the upper room of the Wheatsheaf Public House, Rathbone Place, London, on the 12th of July 1904.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
You have come here tonight expecting miracles. Perhaps some of you are familiar with my act. You have seen me read minds. You have witnessed me channelling the spirits of the dead. They have spelled out messages, moved furniture, perhaps even materialised before you.
So I will begin with a confession. I am a fraud, and everything you have witnessed was nothing but a conjuring act.
I, Mary Hamilton, have never seen a ghost in my life; never spoken with the dead; never had any hint whatsoever of a world beyond this one, except on one occasion.
It is that occasion which I am going to describe for you tonight.
My story begins in the aftermath of one of my private séances. It had been a successful evening; I had, so my clients believed, fallen into a deep trance, been temporarily possessed by an Egyptian princess, and contacted various relatives inhabiting the next world. I had also taken several subscriptions for my newsletter.
I was packing my things into my carpet-bag when a woman approached me. She was in her early thirties, fashionably dressed, and evidently well-to-do. However, I got the sense from her of immense agitation of mind. She was constantly opening and closing her purse as we spoke, adjusting her clothing, looking around the room as if she feared being overheard.
‘Miss Hamilton,’ she said, ‘I would be most grateful for your advice.’
‘I will give it gladly,’ I replied, wondering how much it would be worth.
‘I come to you regarding my son, Miss Hamilton.’
‘Do you wish to me to contact him?’ I asked.
She looked confused for a moment.
‘My son is alive, Miss Hamilton,’ she said, ‘it is my husband who is deceased.’
Temporarily wrong-footed, I decided to hurry her along.
‘And when was it that your husband passed over? Do you believe he has a message for your son? Does your son wish to speak to him? I can promise nothing, but I can do my best. I know how important a father is to a boy of your son’s age.’
The woman nodded, ‘Yes, my son has been asking more questions about his father of late.’
I smiled and prompted her to continue, my guesses having hit home.
‘In fact, our family doctor believes the manifestation is the result of the boy’s longing for a father.’
‘But you believe there is more to it,’ I said.
‘My son,’ she said, ‘speaks of being visited at night. The intruder says nothing to him, but -’
The woman pulled a handkerchief from her sleeve and covered her mouth. She began to sob with a high, keening sound.
‘Pray continue,’ I said.
‘He says that the man is - is weeping. And when the dawn breaks, he is gone.’
‘How old is your house?’ I asked.
‘No more than ten years,’ she replied, ‘however - ’
‘There is something about where it is built, I feel,’ I added.
She looked at me, surprised ‘Yes, yes that is exactly it. We live next to Highgate Cemetery. My husband is buried there. We visit every Sunday after church.’
‘And you have not sat up with the boy, to see for yourself if these visitations are real?’
This provoked another fit of sobbing.
‘Forgive me,’ she said, ‘but I have been too afraid.’
I took her face in my hands. ‘You are afraid, because Death is a bully and a tyrant. But I have the measure of him. He is like all bullies. When you stand up to him, as I do, you find that there is nothing to fear.’
The lady offered me a large sum of money, and I accepted eagerly. I had, as you may have read in the newspapers, been planning a tour of North America. The preparations were proving very expensive; in Spiritualism, as in any other business, one has to spend money in order to make money.
The woman and her son lived in a modern house on one of the major roads that leads down the hill from Highgate and into the basin of London. I will not give too many details, as my client was keen not to be identified. She has been in a state of such distress since my investigation that I am more than willing to comply with her wishes.
I will, however, say this: one does not need any supernatural powers to detect an aura of sadness in a house. My client’s home was tastefully decorated, well furnished and clean. But this only accentuated the feeling of desolation that pervaded it. It was like a respectable member of society who has maintained appearances following a bereavement, but inside is all emptiness and despair.
The woman’s son was seven years old, a pale, dark-haired child. She introduced me to him one Saturday afternoon, as we sat in her garden over tea. The boy was taciturn and sullen, a natural rebel; he gulped down his glass of lemonade quickly, and made to leave. The woman explained to her son that I was there to remove the spirit that had been troubling him. He merely shrugged, as if to say that I could try if I wanted to, but it was a fool’s errand. As his mother apologised to me, the boy ran off into the depths of the garden to play in the cool shadows of the trees and bushes.
I returned to the house later that night. The maid let me in; the boy’s mother was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a lantern. She led me up to the second floor of the tall, narrow building, and along the thickly carpeted hallway to her son’s bedroom. The flickering lantern glinted off the framed engravings of colonial scenes displayed on the walls. When we got to the boy’s room, she listened for a moment at the door, gestured to indicate that I could enter, and then withdrew.
It did not take long for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the room. The window was open, and the curtains drawn back slightly to allow the air to circulate. An armchair had been placed at the side of the bed. I made myself comfortable, and began inventing a convincing story to give to the boy’s mother in the morning.
I had decided that I would sit awake until dawn, just in case the boy woke from his dream - for a recurring dream it must be - and discovered me, his supposed protector, fast asleep. It was, however, a difficult task. It had been a warm day, and a dull heat pervaded the room. My eyelids were heavy, and I found myself drifting in and out of sleep.
I was brought back into full consciousness by a sensation of movement around me. The room felt suddenly cold; and I found myself afraid. What if there really was an intruder? It was at that moment I saw the man sitting on the boy’s bed. He did not materialise in a puff of smoke; he did not walk through a wall. Quite simply, he was not there one moment, and the next, he was. It is like when one is looking for something, and then one realises that it has been there, in front of one’s face, all along.
He was leaning over the boy; his shoulders were hunched, and I could make out a head of close-cropped, dark hair. He was wearing a military uniform, an ill-fitting thing made of a heavy khaki cloth. He paused, as if he had heard something; although I am sure I had not made a sound. He sat upright, and slowly turned to face me.
His face was pale, as if drained of blood. It was a young man’s face; he had grown a moustache, presumably to give himself some gravitas. The effect was of a child playing at being grown-up.
‘Why are you here?’ I asked him.
‘I have come a long way tonight,’ he said.
‘But why?’ I repeated.
He sighed and shrugged his shoulders. There was something familiar in the gesture. I noticed that his right hand was covered with something dark and glistening. He followed my gaze, and held his hand up as if he were seeing it anew. The patch of his jacket to which he had been pressing it was similarly stained; as I watched, the darkness spread quickly until it covered his chest.
He fixed me with his dark, pitiful eyes.
‘You,’ he said, ‘I remember. You were here. You were in the garden, and later you were in this room.’
My head swam. I looked between the soldier and the boy. It was, undoubtedly, a spirit. But it was not the spirit of the boy’s father.
It was the spirit of the boy himself.
‘You – you are from the future,’ I said.
He nodded once.
‘The dead do not come from the past.’
‘What has happened to you?’ I asked.
The soldier regarded the boy’s sleeping form as he spoke.
‘In ten years’ time,’ he said, ‘this world will come to an end.’
‘War,’ he said, ‘a war the like of which mankind has never seen.’
‘Is that why you are here?’ I said, forcing the words out, my throat tightening, ‘Am I to be your messenger? Can this thing be prevented?’
The soldier looked at me with a pitying expression.
‘The dead do not concern themselves with such things,’ he replied.
The boy stirred under the bedclothes; he opened his eyes and saw the soldier. They looked at each other. The soldier raised his hand and passed it through the boy’s hair, affectionately. The boy put his hand on the soldier’s wounded chest, as if to staunch the bleeding. The man bowed his head solemnly, moved forward and whispered something into the boy’s ear; and then he was gone. The boy continued to stare at his hands for some minutes, flexing his fingers in the strip of moonlight that fell across his bed. But they were still the hands of a child, and quite clean of blood.
I tell you this story, Ladies and Gentlemen, not for fame, not for profit, but because I believe that we have the chance to avert a great evil. You paid nothing for your tickets tonight, and I will not charge anyone a single penny to hear what I have to say.
It may be hard to believe that the world as we know it will end within the next decade; that the tyranny of war will consume all that we hold dear.
I can only ask you to consider this. I have ended my career as a medium. I have spent my personal fortune on this tour of speaking engagements. I would not do this were I not convinced that a terrible catastrophe is approaching. I began with a confession. I end with a call to arms.
It is within my power – within our power – to avert this coming war. There is nothing else, no supernatural force from any other world that can help us. The dead do not concern themselves with such things.
I am most grateful to those of you who have had the forbearance to stay and listen to my story. I have but one more thing to add. If you believe that I have been the victim of a hoax; if you believe I am labouring under a delusion; if for any other reason you believe my prophecy cannot come to pass, I can only say this: I sincerely hope that you are right.
Goodnight, Ladies and Gentlemen. Goodnight and farewell.
A Call to Arms by Niall Boyce was read by Annalie Wilson at the Liars' League Rebels & Tyrants event at The Wheatsheaf on Tuesday 14 July 2009
Niall Boyce lives and works in London. His stories have been or will soon be published by 'Liars' League', 'Tales of the DeCongested', 'The Absent Willow Review', 'Aposiopieces', 'Sonar 4 Ezine', 'The Fabulist' and 'A cappella Zoo'. Linkage is provided at http://strange-powers.blogspot.com