CHAPTER XXIV III
The Misses Berry
No one introduced me to the Misses Berry. I saw their advertisement in the public papers and went incognita to their séance, as I had done to those of others. The first thing that struck me about them was the superior class of patrons whom they drew. In the ladies' cloak room, where they left their heavy wraps and umbrellas, the conversation that took place made this sufficiently evident. Helen and Gertrude Berry were pretty, unaffected, lady-like girls; and their conductor, Mr. Abrow, one of the most courteous gentlemen I have ever met. The sisters, both highly mediumistic, never sat together, but on alternate nights, but the one who did not sit always took a place in the audience, in order to prevent suspicion attaching to her absence. Gertrude Berry had been lately married to a Mr. Thompson, and on account of her health gave up her séances, soon after I made her acquaintance. She was a tall, finely-formed young woman, with golden hair and a beautiful complexion. Her sister Helen was smaller, paler and more slightly built. She had been engaged to be married to a gentleman who died shortly before the time fixed for their wedding, and his spirit, whom she called "Charley," was the principal control at her séances, though he never showed himself.
I found the séance room, which was not very large, crammed with chairs which had all been engaged beforehand, so Mr. Abrow fetched one from downstairs and placed it next his own for me, which was the very position I should have chosen. I asked him afterwards how he dared admit a stranger to such close proximity, and he replied that he was a medium himself and knew who he could and who he could not trust at a glance. As my professional duties took me backwards and forwards to Boston, which was my central starting-point, sometimes giving me only a day's rest there, I was in the habit afterwards, when I found I should have "a night off," of wiring to Mr. Abrow to keep me a seat, so difficult was it to secure one unless it were bespoken. Altogether I sat five or six times with the Berry sisters, and wished I could have sat fifty or sixty times instead, for I never enjoyed any séances so much in my life before. The cabinet was formed of an inner room with a separate door, which had to undergo the process of being sealed up by a committee of strangers every evening. Strips of gummed paper were provided for them, on which they wrote their names before affixing them across the inside opening of the door. On the first night I inspected the cabinet also as a matter of principle, and gummed my paper with "Mrs. Richardson" written on it across the door. The cabinet contained only a sofa for Miss Helen Berry to recline upon. The floor was covered with a nailed-down carpet. The door which led into the cabinet was shaded by two dark curtains hung with rings upon a brass rod. The door of the séance room was situated at a right angle with that of the cabinet, both opening upon a square landing, and, to make "assurance doubly sure," the door of the séance room was left open, so that the eyes of the sitters at that end commanded a view, during the entire sitting, of the outside of the locked and gummed-over cabinet door. To make this fully understood, I append a diagram of the two rooms. By the position of these doors, it will be seen how impossible it would have been for anybody to leave or enter the cabinet without being detected by the sitters, who had their faces turned towards the séance room door.
The first materialization that appeared that evening was a bride, dressed in her bridal costume; and a gentleman, who was occupying a chair in the front row, and holding a white flower in his hand, immediately rose, went up to her, embraced her, and whispered a few words, then gave her the white flower, which she fastened in the bosom of her dress, after which he bowed slightly to the company, and, instead of resuming his seat, left the room. Mr. Abrow then said to me, "If you like, madam, you can take that seat now," and as the scene had excited my curiosity I accepted his offer, hoping to find some one to tell me the meaning of it. I found myself next to a very sweetlooking lady, whom I afterwards knew personally as Mrs. Seymour. "Can you tell me why that gentleman left so suddenly?" I asked her in a whisper. "He seldom stays through a séance; " she replied; "he is a business man, and has no time to spare, but he is here every night. The lady you saw him speak to is his wife. She died on her wedding day, eleven years ago, and he has never failed to meet her on every opportunity since. He brings her a white flower every time he comes. She appears always first, in order that he may be able to return to his work." This story struck me as very interesting, and I always watched for this gentleman afterwards, and never failed to see him waiting for his bride, with the white flower in his hand.
"Do you expect to see any friends tonight?" I said to my new acquaintance. "O! yes!" she replied. "I have come to see my daughter 'Bell.' She died some years ago, and I am bringing up the two little children she left behind her. I never do anything for them without consulting their mother. Just now I have to change their nurse, and I have received several excellent characters of others, and I have brought them here this evening that 'Bell' may tell me which to write for. " I have the pattern for the children's winter frocks, too," she continued, producing some squares of woolen cloths, "and I always like to let 'Bell' choose which she likes best." This will give my readers some idea of how much more the American spiritualists regard their departed friends as still forming part of the home circle, and interested in their domestic affairs. "Bell" soon after made her appearance, and Mrs. Seymour brought her up to me. She was a young woman of about three or four and twenty, and looked very happy and smiling. She perused the servants' characters as practically as her mother might have done, but said she would have none of them, and Mrs. Seymour was to wait till she received some more. The right one had not come yet. She also looked at the patterns, and indicated the one she liked best. Then, as she was about to retire, she whispered to her mother, and Mrs. Seymour said, to my surprise (for it must be remembered I had not disclosed my name to her), "Bell tells me she knows a daughter of yours in the spirit life, called 'Florence.' Is that the case?" I answered I had a daughter of that name; and Mrs. Seymour added " 'Bell' says she will be here this evening, that she is a very pure and very elevated spirit, and they are great friends." Very shortly after this, Mr. Abrow remarked, "There is a young girl in the cabinet now, who says that if her mother's name is 'Mrs. Richardson' she must have married for the third time since she saw her last, for she was 'Mrs. Lean' then." At this remark I laughed; and Mr. Abrow said, "Is she come for you, madam? Does the cap fit?" I was obliged to acknowledge then that I had given a false name in order to avoid recognition. But the mention of my married name attracted no attention to me, and was only a proof that it had not been given from any previous knowledge of Mr. Abrow's concerning myself I was known in the United States as "Florence Marryat" only, and to this day they believe me to be still "Mrs. Ross-Church," that being the name under which my first novels were written.
So I recognized Florence at once in the trick that had been played me, and had risen to approach the curtain, when she came bounding out and ran into my arms. I don't think I had ever seen her look so charming and girlish before. She looked like an embodiment of sunshine. She was dressed in a low frock which seemed manufactured of lace and muslin, her hair fell loose down her back to her knees, and her hands were full of damask roses. This was in December, when hothouse roses were selling for a dollar a piece in Boston, and she held, perhaps, twenty. Their scent was delicious, and she kept thrusting them under my nose, saying, "Smell my roses, Mother. Don't you wish you had my garden? We have fields of them in the Summer Land! O! how I wish you were there." "Shan't I come soon, darling?" I said. "No! not yet," replied Florence. "You have a lot of work to do still. But when you come, it will be all flowers for you and me." I asked her if she knew "Bell," and she said, "O! yes! We came together this evening." Then I asked her to come and speak to "Bell's" mother, and her manner changed at once. She became shy and timid, like a young girl, unused to strangers, and quite hung on my arm, as I took her up to Mrs. Seymour's side. When she had spoken a few words to her in a very low voice, she turned to me and said, I must go now, because we have a great surprise for you this evening—-a very great surprise." I told her I like great surprises, when they were pleasant ones, and Florence laughed, and went away. I found that her debut had created such a sensation amongst the sitters—it being so unusual for a materialized spirit to appear so strong and perfect on the first occasion of using a medium that I felt compelled to give them a little explanation on the subject. And when I told them how I had lost her as a tiny infant of ten days old—how she had returned to me through various media in England, and given such unmistakable proofs of her identity-and how I, being a stranger in their country, and only landed there a few weeks, had already met her through Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Hatch and Miss Berry—they said it was one of the most wonderful and perfect instances of materialization they had ever heard of. And when one considers how perfect the chain is, from the time when Florence first came back to me as a child, too weak to speak, or even to understand where she was, to the years through which she had grown and became strong almost beneath my eyes, till she could "bound" (as I have narrated) into my arms like a human being, and talk as distinctly as (and far more sensible than) I did myself, I think my readers will acknowledge also, that hers is no common story, and that I have some reason to believe in Spiritualism.
On Christmas Eve I happened to be in Boston, and disengaged, and as I found it was a custom of the American spiritualists to hold meetings on that anniversary for the purpose of seeing their spirit friends, I engaged a seat for the occasion. I arrived some time before the séance commenced, and next to me was seated a gentleman, rather roughly dressed, who was eyeing everything about him with the greatest attention. Presently he turned to me and said, rather sheepishly, "Do you believe in this sort of thing?" "I do," I replied, "and I have believed in it for the last fifteen years." "Have you ever seen anybody whom you recognized?" he continued. " Plenty," I said. Then he edged a little nearer to me, and lowered his voice. "Do you know," he commenced, "that I have ridden on horseback forty miles through the snow today to be present at this meeting, because my old mother sent me a message that she would meet me here! I don't believe in it, you know. I've never been at a séance before, and I feel as if I was making a great fool of myself now, but I couldn't neglect my poor old mother's message, whatever came of it." "Of course not," I answered, "and I hope your trouble will be rewarded."
I had not much faith in my own words, though because I had seen people disappointed again and again over their first séance, from either the spirits of their friends being too weak to materialize, or from too many trying to draw power at once, and so neutralizing the effect on all. My bridegroom friend was all ready on that occasion with his white flowers in his hand and I ventured to address him and tell him how very beautiful I considered his wife's fidelity and his own. He seemed pleased at my notice, and began to talk quite freely about her. He told me she had returned to him before her body was buried, and had been with him ever since. "She is so really and truly my wife," he said, "as I received her at the altar, that I could no more marry again than I could if she were living in my house." When the séance commenced she appeared first as usual, and her husband brought her up to my side. "This is Miss Florence Marryat, dear," he said (for by this time I had laid aside my incognita with the Berrys). "You know her name, don't you?" "O! yes," she answered, as she gave me her hand," I know you quite well. I used to read your books." Her face was covered with her bridal veil, and her husband turned it back that I might see her. She was a very pretty girl of perhaps twenty—quite a gipsy, with large dark eyes and dark curling hair, and a brown complexion. "She has not altered one bit since the day we were married," said her husband, looking fondly at her, "whilst I have grown into an old man." She put up her hand and stroked his cheek. "We shall be young together some day," she said. Then he asked her if she was not going to kiss me, and she held up her face to mine like a child, and he dropped the veil over her again and led her away.
The very next spirit that appeared was my rough friend's mother, and his astonishment and emotion at seeing her were very unmistakable. When first he went up to the cabinet and saw her his head drooped, and his shoulders shook with the sobs he could not repress. After a while he became calmer, and talked to her, and then I saw him also bringing her up to me. I must bring my mother to you, " he said, "that you may see she has really come back to me." I rose, and the old lady shook hands with me. She must have been, at the least, seventy years old, and was a most perfect specimen of old age. Her face was like wax, and her hair like silver; but every wrinkle was distinct, and her hands were lined with blue veins. She had lost her teeth, and mumbled somewhat in speaking, and her son said, "She is afraid you will not understand what she says; but she wants you to know that she will be quite happy if her return will make me believe in a future existence." "And will it?" I asked. He looked at his mother. "I don't understand it," he replied. "It seems too marvelous to be true; but how can I disbelieve it, when here she is?" And his words were so much the echo of my own grounds for belief, that I quite sympathized with them.
John Powles, and Ted, and Florence, all came to see me that evening; and when I bid Florence "good-bye" she said, "oh, it isn't 'good-bye' yet, Mother! I'm coming again, before you go." Presently something that was the very farthest thing from my mind—that had, indeed, never entered it—happened to me. I was told that a young lady wanted to speak to me, and on going up to the cabinet I recognized a girl whom I knew by sight, but had never spoken to—one of a large family of children, living in the same terrace in London as myself, and who had died of malignant scarlet fever about a year before. "Mrs. Lean," she said, hurriedly, noting my surprise, "don't you know me? I am May —." "Yes, I do recognize you, my dear child," I replied; "but what makes you come to me?" "Minnie and Katie are so unhappy about me," she said. "They do not understand. They think I have gone away. They do not know what death is—that it is only like going into the next room, and shutting the door." "And what can I do, May?" I asked her. "Tell them you have seen me, Mrs. Lean. Say I am alive—more alive than they are; that if they sit for me, I will come to them and tell them so much they know nothing of now." "But where are your sisters?" I said. She looked puzzled. I don't know. I can't say the place; but you will meet them soon, and you will tell them." "If I meet them, I certainly will tell them," I said; but I had not the least idea at that moment where the other girls might be. Four months later, however, when I was staying in London, Ontario, they burst unexpectedly into my hotel room, having driven over (I forget how many miles) to see me play. Naturally I kept my promise; but though they cried when "May" was alluded to, they evidently could not believe my story of having seen her, and so, I suppose, the poor little girl's wish remains ungratified. I think the worst purgatory in the next world must be to find how comfortably our friends get on without us in this.
As a rule, I did not take much interest in the spirits that did not come for me; but there was one who appeared several times with the Berrys, and seemed quite like an old friend to me. This was "John Brown," not her Majesty's "John Brown," but the hero of the song "Hang John Brown on a sour apple tree, But his soul goes touting around. Glory!glory! Halleluia! For his soul goes touting around." when I used to hear this song sung with much shouting and some profanity in England, I imagined (and I fancy most people did) that it was a comic song in America. But it was no such thing. It was a patriotic song, and the motive is (however comically put) to give glory to God, that, although they may hang "John Brown" on a sour apple tree, his soul will yet "go touting around."' So, rightly or wrongly, it was explained to me. John Brown is a patriotic hero in America, and when he appeared, the whole room crowded round to see him. He was a short man, with a singularly benevolent countenance, iron grey hair, mutton-chop whiskers and deep china blue eyes. A kind of man, as he appeared to me, made for deeds of love rather than heroism, but from all accounts he was both kind and heroic. A gentleman present on Christmas eve pushed forward eagerly to see the materialization, and called out, "Aye! that's him— that's my old friend—that's John Brown—the best man that ever trod this earth."
Before this evening's séance was concluded Mr. Abrow said, "There is a little lady in the cabinet at present who announces herself as a very high personage. She says she is the Princess Gertrude." " What did you say, Mr. Abrow?" I exclaimed, unable to believe my own ears. " 'The Princess Gertie,' Mother,"' said Florence, popping her head out of the curtains. "You've met her before in England, you know."' I went up to the cabinet, the curtains divided, there stood my daughter Florence as usual, but holding in front of her a little child of about seven years old. I knelt down before this spirit of my own creation. She was a fragile looking little creature, very fair and pale, with large grey eyes and brown hair lying over her forehead. She looked like a lily with her little white hands folded meekly in front of her. "Are you my little Gertie, darling?" I said. "I am the Princess Gertie, " she replied, "and Florence says you are my mother." "And are you glad to see me, Gertie?" I asked. She looked up at her sister, who immediately prompted her. "Say, 'Yes, Mother,' Gertie." "Yes! Mother," repeated the little one like a parrot. "Will you come to me, darling?'' I said. "May I take you in my arms?'' "Not this evening, Mother," whispered Florence, you couldn't. She is attached to me. We are tied together. You couldn't separate us. Next time, perhaps, the 'Princess' will be stronger, and able to talk more. I will take her back now." "But where is 'Yonnie'?" I asked, and Florence laughed. "Couldn't manage two of them at once," she said. " 'Yonnie' shall come another day," and I returned to my seat, more mystified than usual. I alluded to the Princess Gertie in my account of the mediumship of Bessie Fitzgerald, and said that my allusion would find its signification further on. At that time I had hardly believed it could be true that the infants who had been born prematurely and never breathed in this world should be living, sentient spirits to meet me in the next, and half thought some grown spirit must be tricking me for its own pleasure. But here, in this strange land, where my blighted babies had never been mentioned or thought of, to meet the Princess Gertie here, calling herself by her own name, and brought by her sister Florence, set the matter beyond a doubt. It recalled to my mind how once, long before, when Aimee (Mr. Arthur Colman's guide), on being questioned as to her occupation in the spirit spheres, had said she was "a little nurse-maid," and that Florence was one too, my daughter had added, "Yes! I'm Mamma's nurse-maid. I have enough to do to look after her babies.