Medium Virginia Roberts . USA.
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CHAPTER XXVII - Virginia Roberts
WHEN I returned to New York, it was under exceptional circumstances. I had taken cold whilst traveling in the Western States, had had a severe attack of bronchitis and pneumonia at Chicago, was compelled to relinquish my business, and as soon as I was well enough to travel was ordered back to New York to recuperate my health. Here I took up my abode in the Victoria Hotel, where a lady, whose acquaintance I had made on my former visit to the city, was living. As I have no permission to publish this lady's name, I must call her Mrs. S---. She had been a
232Spiritualist for some time before I knew her, and she much interested me by showing me an entry in her diary, made four years previous to my arrival in America. It was an account of the utterances of a Mrs. Philips, a clairvoyant then resident in New York, during which she had prophesied my arrival in the city, described my personal appearance, profession, and general surroundings perfectly, and foretold my acquaintanceship with Mrs. S---. The prophecy ended with words to the effect that our meeting would be followed by certain effects that would influence her future life, and that on the 17th of March, 1885, would commence a new era in her existence. It was at the beginning of March that we first lived under the same roof. As soon as Mrs. S--- found that I was likely to have some weeks of leisure, she became very anxious that we should visit the New York media together; for although she had so long been a believer in Spiritualism, she had not (owing to family opposition) met with much sympathy on the subject, or had the opportunity of much investigation. So we determined, as soon as I was well enough to go out in the evening, that we would attend some seances. As it happened, when that time came, we found the medium most accessible to be Miss Virginia Roberts, of whom neither of us knew anything but what we had learned from the public papers. However, it was necessary that I should be exposed as little as possible to the night air, and so we fixed, by chance as it were, to visit Miss Roberts first. We found her living with her mother and brother in a small house in one of the back streets of the city. She was a young girl of sixteen, very reserved and rather timid- looking, who had to be drawn out before she could be made to talk. She had only commenced sitting a few months before, and that because her brother (who was also a medium) had had an illness and been obliged to give up his seances for a while. The seance room was very small, the manifestations taking place almost in the midst of the circle, and the cabinet (so-called)
233was the flimsiest contrivance I had ever seen. Four uprights of iron, not thicker than the rod of a muslin blind with cross-bars of the same, on which were hung thin curtains of lilac print, formed the construction of this cabinet, which shook and swayed about each time a form left or entered it. A harmonium. for accompanying the voices, and a few chairs for the audience, was all the furniture the room contained. The first evening we went to see Miss Roberts there were only two or three sitters beside ourselves. The medium seemed to be pretty nearly unknown, and I resolved, as I usually do in such cases, not to expect anything, for fear I should be disappointed.
Mrs. S---, on the contrary, was all expectation and excitement. If she had ever sat for materializations, it had been long before, and the idea was like a new one to her. After two or three forms had appeared, of no interest to us, a gentleman in full evening dress walked suddenly out of the cabinet, and said., Kate, which was the name of Mrs. S---.
He was a stout, well-formed man, of an imposing presence, with dark hair and eyes, and he wore a solitaire of diamonds of unusual brilliancy in his shirt front. I had no idea who he was; but Mrs. S--- recognized him at once as an old lover who had died whilst under a misunderstanding with her, and she was powerfully affected---more, she was terribly frightened. It seems that she wore at her throat a brooch which he had given her; but every time he approached her with the view of touching it, she shrieked so loudly, and threw herself into such a state of nervous agitation, that I thought she would have to return home again. However, on her being accommodated with a chair in the last row so that she might have the other sitters between her and the materialized spirits, she managed to calm herself. The only friend who appeared for me that evening was John Powles; and, to my surprise and pleasure, he appeared in the old uniform of the 12th Madras Native Infantry. This corps wore facings of fawn,
234with buttons bearing the word Ava, encircled by a wreath of laurel. The mess jackets were lined with wadded fawn silk, and the waistcoats were trimmed with three lines of narrow gold braid. Their karkee, or undress uniform, established in 1859, consisted of a tunic and trousers of a sad green cloth, with the regimental buttons and a crimson silk sash. The marching dress of all officers in the Indian service is made of white drill, with a cap cover of the same material. Their forage cloak is of dark blue cloth, and hangs to their heels. Their forage cap has a broad square peak to shelter the face and eyes. I mention these details for the benefit of those who are not acquainted with the general dress of the Indian army, and to show how difficult it would have been for Virginia Roberts, or any other medium, to have procured them, even had she known the private wish expressed by me to John Powles in Boston, that he would try and come to me in uniform. On this first occasion of his appearing so, he wore the usual everyday coat, buttoned up to his chin, and he made me examine the buttons to see that they bore the crest and motto of the regiment. And I may say here, that before I left New York he appeared to me in every one of the various dresses I have described above, and became quite a marked figure in the city.
When it was made known through the papers that an old friend of Florence Marryat had appeared through the mediumship of Virginia Roberts, in a uniform of thirty years before, I received numbers of private letters inquiring if it were true, and dozens of people visited Miss Roberts' seances for the sole purpose of seeing him. He took a great liking for Mrs. S---, and when she had conquered her first fear she became quite friendly with him, and I heard, after leaving New York, that he continued to appear for her as long as she attended those seances.
There was one difference in the female spirits that came through Virginia Roberts from those of other media. Those
But this occurred some weeks after. I must relate first what happened after our first seance with Miss Roberts.
236Mrs. S--- and I were well enough pleased with the result to desire to test her capabilities further, and with that intent we invited her to visit us at our hotel. Spiritualism is as much tabooed by one section of the American public as it is encouraged by the other, and so we resolved to breathe nothing of our intentions, but invite the girl to dine and spend the evening in our rooms with us just as if she were an ordinary visitor. Consequently, we dined together at the table d'hote before we took our way upstairs. Mrs. S--- and I had a private sitting-room, the windows of which were draped with white lace curtains only, and we had no other means to shut out the light. Consequently, when we wished to sit, all we could do was to place a chair for Virginia Roberts in the window recess, behind one of
these pairs of curtains, and pin them together in front of her, which formed the airiest cabinet imaginable. We then locked the door, lowered the gas, and sat down on a sofa before the curtains.
In the space of five minutes, without the lace curtains having been in the slightest degree disturbed, Francis Lean, my step-son, walked through them, and came up to my side. He was dressed in his ordinary costume of jersey and jumpers, and had a little worsted cap upon his head. He displayed all the peculiarities of speech and manner I have noticed before; but he was much less timid, and stood by me for a long time talking of my domestic affairs, which were rather complicated, and giving me a detailed account of the accident which caused his death, and which had been always somewhat of a mystery. In doing this, he mentioned names of people hitherto unknown to me, but which I found on after inquiry to be true. He seemed quite delighted to be able to manifest so indisputably like himself, and remarked more than once, I'm not much like a girl now, am I, Ma?
Next, Mrs. S---'s old lover came, of whom she was still considerably alarmed, and her father, who had been a great politician and a well-known man. Florence, too, of course,
237though never so lively through Miss Roberts as through other media, but still happy though pensive, and full of advice how I was to act when I reached England again. Presently a soft voice said, Aunt Flo, don't you know me? And I saw standing in front of me my niece and godchild, Lilian Thomas, who had died as a nun in the Convent of the Dames Anglaises at Bruges. She was clothed in her nun's habit, which was rather peculiar, the face being surrounded by a white cap, with a crimped border that hid all the hair, and surmounted by a white veil of some heavy woollen material which covered the head and the black serge dress. Lilian had died of consumption, and the death-like, waxy complexion which she had had for some time before was exactly reproduced. She had not much to say for herself; indeed, we had been completely separated since she had entered the convent, but she was undoubtedly there. She was succeeded by my sister Emily, whom I have already so often described. And these apparitions, six in number, and all recognizable, were produced in the private room of Mrs. S--- and myself, and with no other person but Virginia Roberts, sixteen years old.
It was about this time that we received an invitation to attend a private seance in a large house in the city, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Newman, who had Maud Lord staying with them as a visitor. Maud Lord's mediumship is a peculiar one. She places her sitters in a circle, holding hands. She then seats herself on a chair in the centre, and keeps on clapping her hands, to intimate that she has not changed her position. The seance is held in darkness, and the manifestations consist of direct voices, i.e. voices that every one can hear, and by what they say to you, you must judge of their identity and truthfulness. I had only witnessed powers of this kind once before-through Mrs. Bassett, who is now Mrs. Herne-but as no one spoke to me through her whom I recognized, I have omitted to give any account of it.
238As soon as Maud Lord's sitting was fully established I heard her addressing various members of the company, telling them who stood beside them, and I heard them putting questions to, or holding conversations with, creatures who were invisible to me. The time went on, and I believed I was going to be left out of it, when I heard a voice close to my ear whisper, Arthur. At the same moment Maud Lord's voice sounded in my direction, saying that the lady in the brown velvet hat had a gentleman standing near her, named Arthur, who wished to be recognized. I was the only lady present in a brown velvet hat, yet I could not recall any deceased friend of the name of Arthur who might wish to communicate with me. (It is a constant occurrence at a seance that the mind refuses to remember a name, or a circumstance, and on returning home, perhaps the whole situation makes itself clear, and one wonders how one could have been so dull as not to perceive it.) So I said that I knew no one in the spirit world of that name, and Maud Lord replied, 'Well, he knows you, at all events. A few more minutes elapsed, when I felt a touch on the third finger of my left hand, and the voice spoke again and said, Arthur! 'Arthur's ring.' Have you quite forgotten? This action brought the person to my memory, and I exclaimed, Oh! Johnny Cope, is it You?
To explain this, I must tell my readers that when I went out to India in 1854, Arthur Cope of the Lancers was a passenger by the same steamer; and when we landed in Madras, he made me a present of a diamond ring, which I wore at that seance as a guard. But he was never called by anything but his nickname of Johnny, so that his real appellation had quite slipped my memory. The poor fellow died in 1856 or 1857, and I had been ungrateful enough to forget all about him, and should never have remembered his name had it not been coupled with the ring. It would have been still more remarkable, though, if Maud Lord, who had never seen me till that
239evening, had discovered an incident which happened thirty years before, and which I had completely forgotten.
Before I had been many days in New York, I fell ill again from exposing myself to the weather, this time with a bad throat. Mrs. S--- and I slept in the same room, and our sitting-room opened into the bedroom. She was indefatigable in her attentions and kindness to me during my illness, and kept running backwards and forwards from the bedroom to the sitting-room, both by night and day, to get me fresh poultices, which she kept hot on the steam stove.
One evening about eleven o'clock she got out of bed in her nightdress, and went into the next room for this purpose. Almost directly after she entered it, I heard a heavy fall. I called her by name, and receiving no answer, became frightened, jumped out of bed, and followed her. To my consternation, I found her stretched out, at full length, on a white bearskin rug, and quite insensible. She was a delicate woman, and I thought at first that she had fainted from fatigue; but when she showed no signs of returning consciousness, I became alarmed. I was very weak myself from my illness, and hardly able to stand, but I managed to put on a dressinggown and summon the assistance of a lady who occupied the room next to us, and whose acquaintance we had already made. She was strong and capable, and helped me to place Mrs. S--- upon the sofa, where she lay in the same condition. After we had done all we could think of to bring her to herself without effect, the next-door lady became frightened. She said to me, I don't like this. I think we ought to call in a doctor. Supposing she were to die without regaining consciousness. I replied, I should say the same, excepting I begin to believe she has not fainted at all, but is in a trance; and in that case, any violent attempts to bring her to herself might injure her. Just see how quietly she breathes, and how very young she looks.
241not confirmed them to be facts afterwards. This went on for a long time, the spirit expressing the greatest animosity against Mrs. S--- all the while, and then the power seemed suddenly to be spent, and she went off to sleep again upon the sofa, waking up naturally about an hour afterwards, and very much surprised to hear what had happened to her meanwhile. When we came to consider the matter, we found that this unexpected seizure had taken place upon the 17th ofMarch, the day predicted by Mrs. Philips four years previously as one on which a new era would commence for Mrs. S----. From that time she continually went into trances, and used to predict the future for herself and others; but whether she has kept it up to this day I am unable to say, as I have heard nothing from her since I left America.
That event took place on the 13th of June, 1885. We had been in the habit of spending our Sunday evenings in Miss Roberts' seance room, and she begged me not to miss the last opportunity. When we arrived there, we found that the accompanist who usually played the harmonium for them was unable to be present, and Miss Roberts asked if I would be his substitute. I said I would, on condition that they moved the instrument on a line with the cabinet, so that I might not lose a sight of what was going on. This was accordingly done, and I commenced to play Thou art gone from my gaze. Almost immediately John Powles stepped out, dressed in uniform, and stood by the harmomium with his hand upon my shoulder. I never was much of a singer, you know, Flo, he said to me; but if you will sing that song with me, I'll try and go through it. And he actually did sing (after a fashion) the entire two verses of the ballad, keeping his hand on my shoulder the whole time. When we came to the line, I seek thee in vain by the meadow and stream, he stooped down and whispered in my ear, Not quite in vain, Flo, has it been? I do not know if my English Spiritualistic friends can cap this story, but in America they told me it
242was quite a unique performance, particularly at a public seance, where the jarring of so many diverse influences often hinders instead of helping the manifestations.
Powles appeared to be especially strong on that occasion. Towards the middle of the evening a kind of whining was heard to proceed from the cabinet; and Miss Roberts, who was not entranced, said, There's a baby coming out for Miss Marryat. At the same time the face of little Yonnie appeared at the opening of the curtains, but nearly level with the ground, as she was crawling out on all fours. Before she had had time to advance beyond them, Powles stepped over her and came amongst us. Oh! Powles! I exclaimed, you used to love my little babies. Do pick up that one for me that I may see it properly. He immediately returned, took up Yonnie, and brought her out into the circle on his arm. The contrast of the baby's white kind of nightgown with his scarlet uniform was very striking. He carried the child to each sitter that it might be thoroughly examined; and when he had returned Yonnie to the cabinet, he came out again on his own account. That evening I was summoned into the cabinet myself by the medium's guide, a little Italian girl, who had materialized several times for our benefit. When I entered it I stumbled up against Miss Roberts' chair. There was barely room for me to stand beside it. She said to me, Is that you, Miss Marryat? and I replied, Yes; didn't you send for me?'' She said, No; I didn't send, I know nothing about it! A voice behind me said, I sent for you! and at the same moment two strong arms were clasped round my waist, and a man's face kissed me over my shoulder. I asked, Who are you? and he replied, Walk out of the cabinet and you shall see. I turned round, two hands were placed upon my shoulders, and I walked back into the circle with a tall man walking behind me in that position. When I could look at him in the gaslight, I recognized my brother, Frank Marryat, who died in 1855, and whom I had never seen since. Of
243course, the other spirits who were familiar with Mrs. S--- and myself came to wish me a pleasant voyage across the Atlantic, but I have mentioned them all so often that I fear I must already have tired out the patience of my readers. But in order to be impressive it is so necessary to be explicit. All I can bring forward in excuse is, that every word I have written is the honest and unbiassed truth. Here, therefore , ends the account of my experience in Spiritualism up to the present moment---not, by any means, the half, nor yet the quarter of it, but all I consider likely to interest the general public. And those who have been interested in it may see their own friends as I have done, if they will only take the same trouble that I have done.
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