from Florence Marryat's book There is no Death Chapter VIII
THE SAME year that John Powles died, 1860, I passed through the greatest trouble of my life. It is quite unnecessary to my narrative to relate what that trouble was, nor how it affected me, but I suffered terribly both in mind and body, and it was chiefly for this reason that the medical men advised my return to England, which I reached on the 14th of December, and on the 30th of the same month a daughter was born to me, who survived her birth for only ten days. The child was born with a most peculiar blemish, which it is necessary for the purpose of my argument to describe. On the left side of the upper lip was a mark as though a semicircular piece of flesh had been cut out by a bullet-mould, which exposed part of the gum. The swallow also had been submerged into the gullet, so that she had for the short period of her earthly existence to be fed by artificial means, and the jaw itself had been so twisted that could she have lived to cut her teeth, the double ones would have been in front. This blemish was considered to be of so remarkable a type that Dr. Frederick Butler of Winchester, who attended me, invited several other medical men from Southampton and other places, to examine the infant with him, and they all agreed that a similar case had never come under their notice before. This is a very important factor in my narrative. I was closely catechized as to whether I had suffered any physical or mental shock, that should account for the injury to my child, and it was decided that the trouble I had experienced was sufficient to produce it. The case, under feigned names, was fully reported in the Lancet as something quite out of the common way. My little child, who was baptized by the name of "Florence," lingered until the 10th of January, 1861, and then passed quietly away, and when my first natural disappointment was over I ceased to think of her except as of something which "might have been," but never would be again. In this world of misery, the loss of an infant is soon swallowed up in more active trouble. Still I never quite forgot my poor baby, perhaps because at that time she was happily the "one dead lamb" of my little flock. In recounting the events of my first sťance with Mrs. Holmes, I have mentioned how a young girl much muffled up about the mouth and chin appeared, and intimated that she came for me, although I could not recognize her. I was so ignorant of the life beyond the grave at that period, that it never struck me that the baby who had left me at ten days old had been growing since our separation, until she had reached the age of ten years.
The first sťance made such an impression on my mind that two nights afterwards I again presented myself (this time alone) at Mrs. Holmes' rooms to attend another. It was a very different circle on the second occasion. There were about thirty people present, all strangers to each other, and the manifestations were proportionately ordinary. Another professional medium, a Mrs. Davenport, was present, as one of her controls, whom she called "Bell," had promised, if possible, to show her face to her. As soon, therefore, as the first spirit face appeared (which was that of the same little girl that I had seen before), Mrs. Davenport exclaimed, "There, 'Bell ... Why!" I said, "that's the little nun we saw on Monday." "O! no! that's my 'Bell'," persisted Mrs. Davenport. But Mrs. Holmes took my side, and was positive the spirit came for me. She told me she had been trying to communicate with her since the previous sťance. "I know she is nearly connected with you," she said. "Have you never lost a relation of her age?" "Never!" I replied; and at that declaration the little spirit moved away, sorrowfully as before.
A few weeks after I received an invitation from Mr. Henry Dunphy (the gentleman who had introduced me to Mrs. Holmes) to attend a private sťance given at his own house in Upper Gloucester Place, by the well-known medium Florence Cook. The double drawing-rooms were divided by velvet curtains, behind which Miss Cook was seated in an armchair, the curtains being pinned together half-way up, leaving a large aperture in the shape of a V. Being a complete stranger to Miss Cook, I was surprised to hear the voice of her control direct that I should stand by the curtains and hold the lower parts together whilst the forms appeared above, lest the pins should give way, and necessarily from my position I could hear every word that passed between Miss Cook and her guide. The first face that showed itself was that of a man unknown to me; then ensued a kind of frightened colloquy between the medium and her control. "Take it away. Go away! I don't like you. Don't touch
me - you frighten me! Go away!" I heard Miss Cook exclaim, and then her guide's voice interposed itself, "Don't be silly, Florrie. Don't be unkind. It won't hurt you," etc., and immediately afterwards the same little girl I had seen at Mrs. Holmes' rose to view at the aperture of the curtains, muffled up as before, but smiling with her eyes at me. I directed the attention of the company to her, calling her again "my little nun," I was surprised, however, at the evident distaste Miss Cook had displayed towards the spirit, and when the sťance was concluded and she had regained her normal condition, I asked her if she could recall the faces she saw under trance. "Sometimes," she replied. I told her of the "little nun," and demanded the reason of her apparent dread of her. "I can hardly tell you," said Miss Cook; "I don't know anything about her. She is quite a stranger to me, but her face is not fully developed, I think. There is something wrong about her mouth. She frightens me.
This remark, though made with the utmost carelessness, set me thinking, and after I had returned home, I wrote to Miss Cook, asking her to inquire of her guides who the little spirit was.
She replied as follows:
"Dear Mrs. Ross-Church, I have asked Katie King, but she cannot tell me anything further about the spirit that came through me the other evening than that she is a young girl closely connected with
I was not, however, yet convinced of the spirit's identity, although John Powles constantly assured me that it was my child. I tried hard to communicate with her at home, but without success. I find in the memoranda I kept of our private sťances at that period several messages from Powles referring to Florence. In one he says, "Your child's want of power to communicate with you is not because she is too pure, but because she is too weak. She will speak to you some day. She is not in heaven." This last assertion, knowing so little as I did of a future state, both puzzled and grieved me. I could not believe that an innocent infant was not in the Beatific Presence - yet I could not understand what motive my friend could have in leading me astray. I had yet to learn that once received into Heaven no spirit could return to earth, and that a spirit may have a training to undergo, even though it has never committed a mortal sin. A further proof, however, that my dead child had never died was to reach me from a quarter where I least expected it. I was editor of the magazine London Society at that time, and amongst my contributors was Dr. Keningale Cook, who had married Mabel Collins, the now well-known writer of spiritualistic novels. One day Dr. Cook brought me an invitation from his wife (whom I had never met) to spend Saturday to Monday with them in their cottage at Redhill, and I accepted it, knowing nothing of the proclivities of either of them, and they knowing as little of my private history as I did of theirs. And I must take this opportunity to observe that, at this period, I had never made my lost child the subject of conversation even with my most intimate friends. The memory of her life and death, and the troubles that caused it, was not a happy one, and of no interest to any but myself .So little, therefore, had it been discussed amongst us that until Florence reappeared to revive the topic, my elder children were ignorant that their sister had been marked in any way differently from themselves. It may, therefore, be supposed how unlikely it was that utter strangers and public media should have gained any inkling of the matter. I went down to Redhill, and as I was sitting with the Keningale Cooks after dinner, the subject of Spiritualism came on the tapis, and I was informed that the wife was a powerful trance medium, which much interested me, as I had not, at that period, had any experience of her particular class of mediumship. In the evening we "sat" together, and Mrs. Cook having become entranced, her husband took shorthand notes of her utterances. Several old friends of their family spoke through her, and I was listening to them in the listless manner in which we hear the conversation of strangers, when my attention was aroused by the medium suddenly leaving her seat, and falling on her knees before me, kissing my hands and face, and sobbing violently the while. I waited in expectation of hearing who this might be, when the manifestations as suddenly ceased, the medium returned to her seat, and the voice of one of her guides said that the spirit was unable to speak through excess of emotion, but would try again later in the evening. I had almost forgotten the circumstances in listening to other communications, when I was startled by hearing the word "Mother!" sighed rather than spoken. I was about to make some excited reply, when the medium raised her hand to enjoin silence, and the following communication was taken down by Mr. Cook as she pronounced the words. The sentences in parentheses are my replies to
"Mother! I am Florence. I must be very quiet. I want to feel I have a mother still. I am so lonely. Why should I be so? I cannot speak well. I want to be like one of you. I want to feel I have a mother and sisters. I am so far away from you all now.
("But I always think of you, my dear dead baby.")
"That's just it - your baby. But I'm not a baby now. I shall get nearer. They tell me I shall. I do not know if I can come when you are alone. It's all so dark. I know you are there, but so dimly. I've grown all by myself. I'm not really unhappy, but I want to get nearer you. I know you think of me, but you think of me as a baby. You don't know me as I am. You've seen me, because in my love I have forced myself upon you. I've not been amongst the flowers yet, but I shall be, very soon now; but I want my mother to take me there. All has been given me that can be given me, but I cannot receive it, except in so far-"
Here she seemed unable to express
("Did the trouble I had before your birth affect your spirit, Florence?")
"Only as things cause each other. I was with you, Mother, all through that trouble. I should be nearer to you, than any child you have, if I could only get close to you."
("I can't bear to hear you speak so sadly, dear. I have always believed that you, at least, were happy in Heaven.")
"I am not in Heaven! But there will come a day, Mother - I can laugh when I say it - when we shall go to Heaven together and pick blue flowers - blue flowers. They are so good to me here, but if your eye cannot bear the daylight you cannot see the buttercups and daisies."
I did not learn till afterwards that in the spiritual language blue flowers are typical of happiness. The next question I asked her was if she thought she could write through me. "I don't seem able to write through you, but why, I know not."
("Do you know your sisters, Eva and Ethel?'')
"No! no! in a weary voice. "The link of sisterhood is only through the mother. That kind of sisterhood does not last, because there is a higher."
("Do you ever see your father?'')
"No! he is far, far away. I went once, not more. Mother dear, he'll love me when he comes here. They've told me so, and they always tell truth here! I am but a child, yet not so very little. I seem composed of two things - a child in ignorance and a woman in years. Why can't I speak at other places? I have wished and tried! I've come very near, but it seems so easy to speak now. This medium seems so different."
("I wish you could come to me when I am alone, Florence.")
"You shall know me! I will come, Mother dear. I shall always be able to come here. I do come to you., but not in the same way."
She spoke in such a plaintive, melancholy voice that Mrs. Cook, thinking she would depress my spirits, said, "Don't make your state out to be sadder than it really is." Her reply was very remarkable.
"I am, as I am! Friend! when you come here, if you find that sadness is, you will not be able to alter it by plunging into material pleasures. Our sadness makes the world we live in. It is not deeds that make us wrong. It is the state in which we were born. Mother! you say I died sinless. That is nothing. I was born in a state. Had I lived, I should have caused you more pain than you can know. I am better here. I was not fit to battle with the world, and they took me from it. Mother! you won't let this make you sad. You must not."
("What can I do to bring you nearer to me?")
"I don't know what will bring me nearer, but I'm helped already by just talking to you. There's a ladder of brightness every step. I believe I've gained just one step now. O! the Divine teachings are so mysterious. Mother! does it seem strange to you to hear your 'baby' say things as if she knew them? I'm going now.
And so Florence went. The next voice that spoke was that of a guide of the medium, and I asked her for a personal description of my daughter as she then appeared. She replied, "Her face is downcast. We have tried to cheer her, but she is very sad. It is the state in which she was born. Every physical deformity is the mark of a condition. A weak body is not necessarily the mark of a weak spirit, but the prison of it, because the spirit might be too passionate otherwise. You cannot judge in what way the mind is deformed because the body is deformed. It does not follow that a canker in the body is a canker in the mind. But the mind may be too exuberant - may need a canker to restrain it."
I have copied this conversation, word for word, from the shorthand notes taken at the time of utterance; and when it is remembered that neither Mrs. Keningale Cook nor her husband knew that I had lost a child - that they had never been in my house nor associated with any of my friends - it will at least be acknowledged, even by the most sceptical, that it was a very remarkable coincidence that I should receive such a communication from the lips of a perfect stranger. Only once after this did Florence communicate with me through the same source. She found congenial media nearer home, and naturally availed herself of them. But the second occasion was almost more convincing than the first. I went one afternoon to consult my solicitor in the strictest confidence as to how I should act under some very painful circumstances, and he gave me his advice. The next morning as I sat at breakfast, Mrs. Cook, who was still living at Redhill, ran into my room with an apology for the unceremoniousness of her visit, on the score that she had received a message for me the night before which Florence had begged her to deliver without delay. The message was to this effect: "Tell my mother that I was with her this afternoon at the lawyer's, and she is not to follow the advice given her, as it will do harm instead of good." Mrs. Cook added, "I don't know to what Florence alludes, of course, but I thought it best, as I was coming to town, to let you know at once."
The force of this anecdote does not lie in the context. The mystery is contained in the fact of a secret interview having been overheard and commented upon. But the truth is, that having greater confidence in the counsel of my visible guide than in that of my invisible one, I abided by the former, and regretted it ever afterwards.
The first conversation I held with Florence had a great effect upon me. I knew before that my uncontrolled grief had been the cause of the untimely death of her body, but it had never struck me that her spirit would carry the effects of it into the unseen world. It was a warning to me (as it should be to all mothers) not to take the solemn responsibility of maternity upon themselves without being prepared to sacrifice their own feelings for the sake of their children. Florence assured me, however, that communion with myself in my improved condition of happiness would soon lift her spirit from its state of depression and consequently I seized every opportunity of seeing and speaking with her.
During the succeeding twelve months I attended numerous sťances with various media, and my spirit child (as she called herself) never failed to manifest through the influence of any one of them, though, of course, in different ways. Through some she touched me only, and always with an infant's hand, that I might recognize it as hers, or laid her mouth against mine that I might feel the scar upon her lips; through others she spoke, or wrote, or showed her face, but I never attended a sťance at which she omitted to notify her presence. Once at a dark circle, held with Mr. Charles Williams, after having had my dress and that of my next neighbour, Lady Archibald Campbell, pulled several times, as if to attract our attention, the darkness opened before us, and there stood my child, smiling at us like a happy dream, her fair hair waving about her temples, and her blue eyes fixed on me. She was clothed in white, but we saw no more than her head and bust, about which her hands held her drapery. Lady Archibald Campbell saw her as plainly as I did. On another occasion Mr. William Eglinton proposed to me to try and procure the spirit-writing on his arm. He directed me to go into another room and write the name of the friend I loved best in the spirit world upon a scrap of paper, which I was to twist up tightly and take back to him. I did so, writing the name of "John Powles." When I returned to Mr. Eglinton, he bared his arm, and holding the paper to the candle till it was reduced to tinder, rubbed his flesh with the ashes. I know what was expected to ensue. The name written on the paper was to reappear in red or white letters on the medium's arm. The sceptic would say it was a trick of thought-reading, and that, the medium knowing what I had written, had prepared the writing during my absence. But to his surprise and mine, when, at last he shook the ashes from his arm, we read, written in a bold, clear hand, the words - 'Florence is the dearest, " as though my spirit child had given me a gentle rebuke for writing any name but her own. It seems curious to me now to look back and remember how melancholy she used to be when she first came back to me, for as soon as she had established an unbroken communication between us, she developed into the merriest little spirit I have ever known, and though her childhood has now passed away, and she is more dignified and thoughtful and womanly, she always appears joyous and happy. She has manifested largely to me through the mediumship of Mr. Arthur Colman. I had known her during a dark sťance with a very small private circle (the medium being securely held and fastened the while) run about the room, like the child she was, and speak to and kiss each sitter in turn, pulling off the sofa and chair covers and piling them up in the middle of the table, and changing the ornaments of everyone present-placing the gentlemen's neckties round the throats of the ladies, and hanging the ladies' earrings in the buttonholes of the gentlemen's coats - just as she might have done had she been still with us, a happy, petted child, on earth. I have known her come in the dark and sit on my lap and kiss my face and hands, and let me feel the defect in her mouth with my own. One bright evening on the 9th of July - my birthday - Arthur Colman walked in quite unexpectedly to pay me a visit, and as I had some friends with me, we agreed to have a sťance. It was impossible to make the room dark, as the windows were only shaded by venetian blinds, but we lowered them, and sat in the twilight. The first thing we heard was the voice of Florence whispering, "A present for dear Mother's birthday," when something was put into my hand. Then she crossed to the side of a lady present and dropped something into her hand, saying, "And a present for dear Mother's friend!" I knew at once by the feel of it that what Florence had given me was a chaplet of beads, and knowing how often, under similar circumstances, articles are merely carried about a room, I concluded it was one which lay upon my drawing-room mantelpiece, and said as much. I was answered by the voice of "Aimee", the medium's nearest control.
"You are mistaken," she said, "'Florence has given you a chaplet you have never seen before. She was exceedingly anxious to give you a present on your birthday, so I gave her the beads which were buried with me. They came from my coffin. I held them in my hand. All I ask is that you will not show them to Arthur until I give you leave. He is not well at present, and the sight of them will upset him."
I was greatly astonished, but, of course, I followed her instructions, and when I had an opportunity to examine the beads, I found that they really were strangers to me, and had not been in the house before. The present my lady friend had received was a large, unset topaz. The chaplet was made of carved wood and steel. It was not till months had elapsed that I was given permission to show it to Arthur Colman. He immediately recognized it as the one he had himself placed in the hands of "Aimee" as she lay in her coffin, and when I saw how the sight affected him, I regretted I had told him anything about it. I offered to give the beads up to him, but he refused to receive them, and they remain in my possession to this day.
But the great climax that was to prove beyond all question the personal identity of the spirit who communicated with me, with the body I had brought into the world, was yet to come. Mr. William Harrison, the editor of the Spiritualist (who, after seventeen years' patient research into the science of Spiritualism, had never received a personal proof of the return of his own friends, or relations) wrote me word that he had received a message from his lately deceased friend, Mrs. Stewart, to the effect that if he would sit with the medium Florence Cook, and one or two harmonious companions, she would do her best to appear to him in her earthly likeness and afford him the test he had so long sought after. Mr. Harrison asked me, therefore, if I would join him and Miss Kidlingbury - the secretary to the British National Association of Spiritualists - in holding a sťance with Miss Cook, to which I agreed, and we met in one of the rooms of the Association for that purpose. It was a very small room, about 8 feet by 16 feet, was uncarpeted and contained no furniture, so we carried in three cane-bottomed chairs for our accommodation. Across one comer of the room, about four feet from the floor, we nailed an old black shawl, and placed a cushion behind it for Miss Cook to lean her head against. Miss Florence Cook, who is a brunette, of a small, slight figure, with dark eyes and hair which she wore in a profusion of curls, was dressed in light grey merino, ornamented with crimson ribbons. She informed me previous to sitting, that she had become restless during her trances lately, and in the habit of walking out amongst the circle, and she asked me as a friend (for such we had by that time become) to scold her well should such a thing occur, and order her to go back Into the cabinet as if she were "a child or a dog and I promised her I would do so. After Florence Cook had sat down on the floor, behind the black shawl (which left her grey merino skirt exposed), and laid her head against the cushion, we lowered the gas a little, and took our seats on the three cane chairs. The medium appeared very uneasy at first, and we heard her remonstrating with the influences for using her so roughly. In a few minutes, however, there was a tremulous movement of the black shawl, and a large white hand was several times thrust into view and withdrawn again. I had never seen Mrs. Stewart (for whom we were expressly sitting) in this life, and could not, therefore, recognize the hand; but we all remarked how large and white it was. In another minute the shawl was lifted up, and a female figure crawled on its hands and knees from behind it, and then stood UP and regarded us. It was impossible, in the dim light and at the distance she stood from us, to identify the features, so Mr. Harrison asked if she were Mrs. Stewart. The figure shook its head. I had lost a sister a few months previously, and the thought flashed across me that it might be her. "Is it you, Emily?" I asked; but the head was still shaken to express a negative, and a similar question on the part of Miss Kidlingbury, with respect to a friend of her own, met with the same response. "Who can it be?" I remarked curiously to Mr. Harrison.
"Mother! don't you know me?" sounded in Florence's whispering voice. I started up to approach her exclaiming, "O! my darling child! I never thought I should meet you here!" But she said, "Go back to your chair, and I will come to you?" I reseated myself, and Florence crossed the room come and sat down on my lap. She was more unclothed on that occasion than any materialized spirit I have ever seen. She wore nothing on her head, only her hair, of which she appears to have an immense quantity, fell down her back and covered her shoulders. Her arms were bare and her feet part of her legs, and the dress she wore had no shape, but seemed like so many yards of soft thick muslin, wound round her body from
the bosom to below the knees. She was a heavy weight - perhaps ten stone - and had well covered limbs. In fact, she was then, and has appeared for several years past, to be, in point of size and shape, so like her oldest sister Eva, that I always observe the resemblance between them. This sťance took place at a period when Florence must have been about seventeen years old.
"Florence, my darling," I said, "is this really you'' "Turn the gas," she answered, "and look at my mouth." Mr. Harrison did as she desired, and we all saw distinctly that peculiar defect on the lip with which she was born - a defect, be remembered, which some of the most experienced members the profession had affirmed to be "so rare as never to have fallen under their notice before." She also opened her mouth that I might see she had no gullet. I promised at the commencement of my book to confine myself to facts, and leave the deductions to be drawn from them to my readers, so I will not interrupt my narrative to make any remarks upon this controvertible proof of identity. I know it struck me dumb, and melted me into tears. At this juncture Miss Cook, who had been moaning and moving about a good deal behind black shawl, suddenly exclaimed, "I can't stand this any longer," and walked out into the room. There she stood in her dress and crimson ribbons whilst Florence sat on my lap in white drapery. But only for a moment, for directly the medium, was fully in view, the spirit sprung up and darted behind the curtain. Recalling Miss Cook's injunctions to me, I scolded her heartily for leaving her seat, until she crept back, whimpering, to her former position. The shawl had scarcely closed behind her before Florence reappeared and clung to me saying, "Don't let her do that again. She frightens me so." She was actually trembling all over. "Why, Florence,"' I replied, "do you mean to tell me you are frightened of your medium? In this world it is we poor mortals who are frightened of the spirits." "I am afraid she will send me away, Mother," she whispered. However, Miss Cook did not disturb us again, and Florence stayed with us for some time longer. She clasped her arms round my neck, and laid her head upon my bosom, and kissed me dozens of times. She took my hand and spread it out, and said she felt sure I should recognize her hand when she thrust it outside the curtain, because it was so much like my own. I was suffering much trouble at that time, and Florence told me the reason God had permitted her to show herself to me in her earthly deformity was so that I might be sure that she was herself, and that Spiritualism was a truth to comfort me. "Sometimes you doubt, Mother," she said, "and think your eyes and ears have misled you; but after this you must never doubt again. Don't fancy I am like this in the spirit land. The blemish left me long ago. But I put it on tonight to make you certain. Don't fret, dear Mother. Remember I am always near you. No one can take me away. Your earthly children may grow up and go out into the world and leave you, but you will always have your spirit child close to you." I did not, and cannot, calculate for how long Florence remained visible on that occasion. Mr. Harrison told me afterwards that she had remained for nearly twenty minutes. But her undoubted presence was such a stupendous fact to me, that I could only think that she was there-that I actually held in my arms the tiny infant I had laid with my own hands in her coffin - that she was no more dead than I was myself, but had grown to be a woman. So I sat, with my arms tight round her, and my heart beating against hers, until the power decreased, and Florence was compelled to give me a last kiss and leave me stupefied and bewildered by what had so unexpectedly occurred. Two other spirits materialized and appeared after she had left us, but as neither of them was Mrs. Stewart, the sťance, as far as Mr. Harrison was concerned, was a failure. I have seen and heard Florence on numerous occasions since the one I have narrated, but not with the mark upon her mouth, which she assures me will never trouble either of us again. I could fill pages with accounts of her pretty, caressing ways and her affectionate and sometimes solemn messages; but I have told as much of her story as will interest the general reader. It has been wonderful to me to mark how her ways and mode of communication have changed with the passing years. It was a simple child who did not know how to express itself that appeared to me in 1873. It is a woman full of counsel and tender warning that comes to me in 1890. But yet she is only nineteen. When she reached that age, Florence told me she should never grow any older in years or appearance, and that she had reached the climax of womanly perfection in the spirit world. Only tonight--the night before Christmas Day - as I write her story, she comes to me and says, "Mother! you must not give way to sad thoughts. The Past is past. Let it be buried in the blessings that remain to you."
And amongst the greatest of those blessings I reckon my belief in the existence of my