From "Shadowland or Light From the Other Side" - Elisabeth d'Esperance


Before the close of the series of seances, we had progressed so far that Walter was able, apparently without difficulty, to appear in our midst, evidently as solid and material in body as one of ourselves. He would frequently describe in writing some other spirits who were present though invisible to us, unable to perform the work of clothing themselves with material as he had done. This evidently suggested to Walter the idea of acting the part of valet to these less clever ones, and assisting them in the work of materializing.

After this conclusion on his part we saw little of Walter, but scarcely an evening passed that two or more strange forms did not pay us a visit. Among them was one who appeared to quickly become independent of Walter's helpful offices. This was "Yolande," a young Arab girl of fifteen or sixteen years, according to Walters statements who soon became, as it were, the leading feature of our seances; a slender olive-skinned maiden whose naivete and gracefulness made her the wonder and admiration of the circle.


The materialized Yolande photographed by magnesium light March 1890

The first time she made her appearance among us, her curiosity and inquisitiveness seemed unbounded. Everything she saw interested her deeply, from the dresses of the company to the furniture of the room. The organ was her special delight, and she was quick in imitating the melodies which Mrs. B. played for her, though she was never able to manage the bellows of which, apparently she could not understand the use. One of the gentlemen, a detective in the police force, possessed a silver cornet on which he was an accomplished performer, and on noticing Yolande's love for music, he one evening brought it with him, and played for her some of the tunes she liked. He had some arrangement by which the sound of the otherwise loud notes was softened to a sweet mellowness that was not out of place in the room.

Yolande had seated herself on the floor to listen to this wonder. When Mr. J. had played a tune, Yolande begged to have the instrument which she examined with great care. Every part of it was inspected minutely, and when this was done she tried to play upon it. She failed, however, in producing a sound, although she tried both ends, and at last gave up the attempt in evident disappointment.

Someone had given her some small silver bells, which pleased her mightily. They were strung on a tape, and she frequently put them round her ankles or her wrists, and when Mr. J. played on his cornet Yolande kept time to the tune by movements of her graceful feet or arms, producing an admirable accompaniment with the sound of the tinkling bells. This performance seemed to her a great delight, and it became a matter of wonder how she could, by her clever movements, alter the sound of the bells to suit the melody that was being played. Sometimes they would ring out in a slow soft sleepy manner like trickling water-drops heard in the distance, then quick and clear like the rippling notes of a song-bird; and again like castanets played by a proficient hand, her body and arms waving gracefully the while, as she sat on the floor or stood in the centre of the circle.

For most of the descriptions of Yolande's many charms I am indebted to the members of the circle, and to minutes from the notes kept by Mr. F., because, though I was as it were, all ears, my necessary position within the cabinet deprived me of the use of my eyes during the seances. It seemed to me that the "spirits" rather avoided me, at any rate they never appeared to consider it necessary to gratify my very natural curiosity when anything called for more attention or wonder than usual.

Once I saw Yolande very distinctly, but I believe it was more by accident than by design on her part. She had been amusing herself outside for some time, and opened the curtains of the next compartment to where I sat, with the evident intention of entering, but something called her attention and she stood holding back both curtains, the light falling full upon her face and form, the gas-lighted room enabling me to make a careful survey of her figure. Her thin draperies allowed the rich olive tint of her neck, shoulders, arms, and ankles to be plainly visible. The long black waving hair hung over her shoulders to below her waist and was confined by a small turban-shaped headdress. Her features were small, straight, and piquant; the eyes were dark, large, and lively; her every movement was as full of grace as those of a young child, or, as it struck me then when I saw her standing half shyly, half boldly, between the curtains, like a young roe-deer.

Yolande soon became remarkably clever. Her fearless activity, childlike curiosity, and wonder over every new thing that came under her observation, were a source of constant interest to us all. She had a great love for bright colors and glittering objects, examining with the utmost attention any trinkets which the ladies wore, sometimes adorning herself with them, and appearing to derive immense satisfaction from the admiring remarks of the circle. A lady once brought a brilliantly colored Persian silk scarf, which Yolande regarded with great delight, and immediately draped about her shoulders and waist. This scarf she could not be induced to part with. When she had disappeared and the seance closed a careful search was made, but it was not to be found. The next time she came, the lady asked her what she had done with it. Yolande seemed a little non-plussed at the question, but in an instant she made a few movements with her hands in the air and over her shoulders, and the scarf was there, draped as she had arranged it on the previous evening.

How it came, where it came from, no one saw. Yolande stood before them without it, robed in the soft white spirit garments which scarcely concealed her graceful form; yet a movement of her slender brown hand, and the bare shoulders were covered with the brightly colored folds of the silken shawl. She never trusted this scarf out of her hands. When sometimes she herself gradually dissolved into mist under the scrutiny of twenty pairs of eyes, the shawl was left lying on the floor we would say, "At last she has forgotten it"; but no, the shawl would itself gradually vanish in the same manner as its wearer and no search which we might afterwards make ever discovered its whereabouts. Yet Yolande assured us gleefully that we failed to see it only because we were blind, for the shawl never left the room. This seemed to amuse her, and she was never tired of mystifying us by making things invisible to our eyes or by introducing into the room flowers which had not been brought by human hands.

One of the members of the circle giving an account at the time of this wonderful creature, describes her strange appearances and disappearances in the following words:

"First a filmy, cloudy, patch of something white is observed on the floor, in front of the cabinet. It then gradually expands, visibly extending itself as if it were an animated patch of muslin, lying fold upon fold, on the floor, until extending about two and a half by three feet and having a depth of a few inches—perhaps six or more. Presently it begins to rise slowly in or near the centre, as if a human head were underneath it, while the cloudy film on the floor begins to look more like muslin falling into folds about the portion so mysteriously rising. By the time it has attained two or more feet, it looks as if a child were under it and moving its arms about in all directions as if manipulating something underneath.

"It continues rising, oftentimes sinking somewhat to rise again higher than before, until it attains a height of about five feet, when its form can he seen as if arranging the folds of drapery about its figure.

"Presently the arms rise considerably above the head and open outwards through a mass of cloud like spirit drapery, and Yolande stands before us unveiled, graceful and beautiful, nearly five feet in height, having a turban-like head-dress, from beneath which her long black hair hangs over her shoulders and down her back.

"Her body dress, of Eastern form, displays every limb and contour of the body, while the superfluous white veil-like drapery is wrapped round her for convenience, or thrown down on the carpet out of the way till required again.

"All this occupies from ten to fifteen minutes to accomplish.

"When she disappears or dematerializes it is as follows: "Stepping forward to show herself and be identified by any strangers then present, she slowly and deliberately opens out the veil-like superfluous drapery; expanding it she places it over her head, and spreads it around her like a great bridal veil, and then immediately but slowly sinks down, becoming less bulky as she collapses, dematerialising her body beneath the cloud-like drapery until it has little or no resemblance to Yolande. Then she further collapses until she has no resemblance to a human form, and more rapidly sinks down to fifteen or twelve inches. Then suddenly the form falls into a heaped patch of drapery—literally Yolande's left-off clothing which slowly but visibly melts into nothingness.

"The dematerializing of Yolande's body occupies from two to five minutes, while the disappearance of the drapery occupies from a half to two minutes. On one occasion, however, she did not dematerialise this drapery or veil, but left the whole lying on the carpet in a heap, until another spirit came out of the cabinet to look at it for a moment, as if moralising on poor Yolande's disappearance. This taller spirit also disappeared and was replaced by the little brisk vivacious child form of Ninia, the Spanish girl, who likewise came to look at Yolande's remains; and curiously picking up the left off garments, proceeded to wrap them round her own little body, which was already well clothed with drapery."

Once Yolande stepped out of the cabinet and came just by me, having her veil over her head, and playfully peeping towards another part of the cabinet in evident expectation of somebody coming. Presently the curtains opened and another taller form came forward into full view of us all. It was amusing to see Yolande's impatience at the delay in emerging from the cabinet, which she expressed by stamping her bare feet on the floor.

Another of these mysterious visitants was one whose name we were told was Y-Ay-Ali, one of the most perfectly beautiful creatures the mind can conceive, her tall stately form and dazzling fairness, majestic bearing and graceful movements, being a distinct contrast to Yolande's kitten-like gestures. Y-Ay-Ali was indeed a creature from a higher world. She came only once or twice visibly, though we were told frequently that she was present; but no one who ever saw her is likely to forget her.

She was evidently one in authority, a teacher for whom Yolande exhibited a loving respect and veneration. We were told that it was she who, though unseen by us, assisted in the production of the magnificent flowers which were so mysteriously brought into our midst.

On one occasion I received a letter from a well known gentleman from Manchester, Mr. W. Oxley, as well as from two equally well known persons in Germany, asking permission to be present at one our seances. I laid their requests before the rest of our members and asked them to decide, with the result that all three strangers were present at the next following seance. This seance turned out to be one of extraordinary interest, if indeed one may say that any one of these strange things is more extraordinary than the other: but the circumstance has been published so often in different countries that at least some people have thought it specially worthy of mention.

Mr. Oxley told us he had come with a special object in view, but of which he would not speak unless he gained it; also that the spirits, through another medium, had told him he would succeed in his object, if he could obtain admission to our private circle. We naturally wondered what his object was, and there was some little fear expressed that we, by allowing the other two strangers to be present, might cause the purpose to he frustrated. Just then, too, a slip on descending the stairs had caused me to hurt my arm, putting the elbow out of joint, an accident which was not likely to increase our probabilities of success; so that I went to the seance-room that evening feeling very much inclined to propose putting off the experiment; but on arriving and learning that our visitors' time was extremely limited I decided to try.

We took our accustomed places. Mrs. B. played a solo on the organ and silence reigned, when the curtains of the middle compartment of the cabinet were drawn aside and Yolande stepped out into the room. She glanced inquisitively at the strangers who returned her gaze with interest, evidently admiring the lithe graceful form and the dark eyes of our little Arabian.

One of the circle describes what followed and I repeat it here for the same reason as I have mentioned elsewhere, that I was not an eye—but a an ear-witness:

"Yolande crossed the room to where Mr. Reimers sat, a gentleman well known throughout Europe as a prominent spiritualist, and beckoned him to go nearer the cabinet and witness some preparations she was about to make. Here it is as well to say that on previous occasions when Yolande had produced flowers for us, she had given us to understand that sand and water were necessary for the purpose, consequently a supply of fine clean white sand and plenty of water were kept in readiness for possible contingences.

When Yolande, accompanied by Mr. Reimers, came to the centre of the circle, she signified her wish for sand and water, and making Mr. R. kneel down on the floor beside her, she directed him to pour sand into the water-carafe, which he did until it was about half full. Then he was instructed to pour in water. This was done, and then by her direction he shook it well and handed it back to her.

"Yolande, after scrutinizing it carefully, placed it on the floor, covering it lightly with the drapery which she took from her shoulders. She then retired to the cabinet, from which she returned once or twice at short intervals as though to see how it was getting on.

"In the meantime Mr. Armstrong had carried away the superfluous water and sand, leaving the carafe standing on the middle of the floor covered by the thin veil, which however did not in the least conceal its shape, the ring or top edge being especially visible.  "We were directed by raps on the floor to sing in order to harmonise our thoughts, and to take off the edge as it were of the curiosity we were all more or less feeling.

"While we were singing we observed the drapery to be rising from the rim of the carafe. This was perfectly patent to every one of the twenty witnesses watching it closely.

"Yolande came out again from the cabinet and regarded it anxiously. She appeared to examine it carefully, and partially supported the drapery as though afraid of its crushing some tender object underneath. Finally she raised it altogether, exposing to our astonished gaze a perfect plant, of what appeared to be a kind of laurel.

"Yolande raised the carafe, in which the plant seemed to have firmly grown; its roots visible through the glass, being closely packed in the sand.

"She regarded it with evident pride and pleasure and carrying it in both her hands, crossed the room and presented it to Mr. Oxley, one of the strangers who were present, the Mr. Oxley who is so well known by his philosophical writings on spiritual subjects, and the pyramids of Egypt.

"He received the carafe with the plant, and Yolande retired as though she had completed her task. After examining the plant Mr. Oxley, for convenience sake, placed it on the floor beside him, there being no table near at hand. Many questions were asked and curiosity ran high. The plant resembled a large-leafed laurel with dark glossy leaves, but without any blossom. No one present recognized the plant or could assign it to any known species.

"We were called to order by raps, and were told not to discuss the matter but to sing something and then be quiet. We obeyed the command, and after singing, more raps told us to examine the plant anew, which we were only too delighted to do. To our great surprise we then observed that a large circular head of bloom, forming a flower fully five inches in diameter, had opened itself, while standing on the floor at Mr. Oxley's feet.

"The flower was of a beautiful orange pink color, or perhaps I might say that salmon color would be a nearer description, for I have never seen the same tints and it is difficult to describe shades of color in words.

"The head was composed of some hundred and fifty of four-star corollas projecting considerably from the stem. The plant was twenty two inches in height, having a thick woody stem which filled the neck of the water carafe. It had twenty nine leaves, averaging from two to two and a half inches in breadth to seven and a half inches at its greatest length. Each leaf was smooth and glossy, resembling at the first glance the laurel which we had at first supposed it to be. The fibrous roots appeared to be growing naturally in the sand.

"We afterwards photographed the plant in the water-bottle, from which by the way it was found impossible to remove it, the neck being much too small to allow the roots to pass; indeed the comparatively slender stem entirely filled the orifice.

"The name we learned was "Ixora Crocata" and the plant a native of India. How did the plant come there? Did it grow in the bottle? Had it been brought from India in a dematerialised state and rematerialised in the seance-room?

These were questions which we put to one another without result. We got no satisfactory explanation. Yolande dither could not or would not tell us. As far as we could judge,—and the opinion of a professional gardener corroborated our own, the plant had evidently some years of growth.

"We could see where other leaves had grown and fallen off, and wound-marks which seemed to have healed and grown over long ago. But there was every evidence to show that the plant had grown in the sand in the bottle as the roots were naturally wound around the inner surface of the glass, all the fibres perfect and unbroken as though they had germinated on the spot and had apparently never been disturbed. It had not been thrust into the bottle for the simple reason that it was impossible to pass the large fibrous roots and lower part of the stem through the neck of the bottle, which had to be broken in order to take out the plant."

Mr. Oxley in his account which was afterwards published says "I had the plant photographed next morning and afterwards brought it home and placed it in my conservatory under the gardener's care. It lived for three months, when it shriveled up. I kept the leaves, giving most of them away except the flower and the three top-leaves which the gardener cut off when he took charge of the plant and these I have yet preserved under glass, but they show no signs of dematerialising as yet. Previous to the creation or materialisation of this wonderful plant, the 'Ixora Crocata,' Yolande brought me a rose with a short stem not more than an inch long which I put into my bosom. Feeling something was transpiring, I drew it out and found there were two roses. I then replaced them, and withdrawing them at the conclusion of the meeting, to my astonishment the stem had elongated to seven inches with three full blown roses and a bud upon it with several thorns. These I brought home and kept till they faded, the leaves dropped off and the stem dried up, a proof of their materiality and actuality."

This was only one of Yolande's clever feats but will serve to show how intensely interesting the manifestations were which attended our experiments.

Mr. Oxley after the conclusion of the seance explained to us that he had been promised a specimen of this particular plant to complete a collection and that the object of his visit to us had been to obtain it.

Another favorite feat of Yolande's was to put a glass of water into the hand of one of her particular friends and tell him to watch it. She would then hold her slender taper fingers over the glass and while his eyes were closely scrutinizing the water within it a flower would form itself upon it and fill the glass. This upon inspection would generally be found to be a splendid specimen of some lovely rose with sometimes several blossoms on a stem.

Yolande's delight was equal to that of the favored friend when she succeeded in surprising him, but when we endeavored to learn how she did it she would shrug her shoulders and put her head on one side as though perplexed. I sometimes think she did not know herself how she produced these lovely flowers, but only acted under the supervision of her beloved Y-Ay-Ali who she said knew all about it. But Y-Ay-Ali, if she knew, kept the knowledge to herself, so far as we were concerned. Perhaps, if she had explained, we should have been no more able to produce the same result as Yolande than we are now. But in any case the "modus operandi" of these lovely creations remains as much a mystery as ever to us.

Another of Yolande's pretty feats was to beg a water pitcher, and half filling it with water she would, by the help of one of the friends, lift it to her head or shoulder, carrying it there as she moved from one to another, forming a picture of oriental grace and beauty, with the dusky face and arms, the snowy garments, and the black waving hair falling over her pretty shoulders and swaying form. When, after saluting her friends, Yolande would lift the pitcher from her shoulder it would be found to be filled to the brim with dozens or scores of the most perfect roses, which she would generously distribute so the assembled company, generally offering them the pitcher and letting them help themselves. Sometimes flowers of a particular color would be asked for and always obtained.

Once someone remarked so me. "Why don't you ask for something?" I had really never thought of asking for anything myself, always being sufficiently interested in observing the actions of Yolande whenever I did by chance get an opportunity of seeing what was going on. But on hearing this query Yolande looked at me enquiringly and I asked her to give me a rose,—a black rose. That will puzzle her, I thought to myself, as I then hardly imagined such a flower existed.

Instantly Yolande dipped her fingers into the pitcher and brought out a dark object, dripping with moisture, and handed it to me triumphantly. It was a rose of a distinctly blue black color, the like of which neither I nor any of those assembled had seen. It was a magnificent specimen, though valuable for its uniqueness rather than its beauty, as least to my taste.

This little attention on the part of Yolande was also worthy of remark, for she very seldom favored me with any notice, seeming rather to ignore me, or to accept my presence in the cabinet as a necessary evil.

There seemed to exist a strange link between us. I could do nothing to ensure her appearance amongst us. She came and went, so far as I am aware, entirely independent of my will, but when she had come, she was, I found, dependent on me for her brief material existence. I seemed to lose, not my individuality, but my strength and power of exertion, and though I did not then know is, a great portion of my material substance. I felt that in some way I was changed, but the effort to think logically in some mysterious way affected Yolande, and made her weak. The stronger and livelier she became the less inclination I had to think or reason, but the power of feeling became intensified to a painful extent; I do not mean in the physical sense, but the mental, my brain apparently becoming a sort of whispering gallery where the thoughts of other persons resolved themselves into an embodied form and resounded as though actual substantial objects. Was any one suffering, I felt the pain. Was any one worried or depressed, I felt it instantly. Joy or sorrow made themselves in some way perceptible to me. I could not tell who among the friends assembled was suffering, only that the pain existed and was in some way reproduced in myself.

If anyone left his or her seat, thus breaking the chain, this fact was communicated to me in a mysterious but unmistakable manner.

Sometimes Yolande's peregrinations caused me a vague anxiety. She evidently enjoyed her brief stay in our midst and was so bold, in spite of her apparent timidity, that I was often tormented by fears of what she might do and had a weird sort of feeling that any accident or imprudence on her part would fall back on myself, though in what way I had no clear idea. I had that to learn later.

If at any time my feeling of anxiety really took the shape of a thought, I discovered that it caused Yolande to return to the cabinet reluctantly always, and sometimes with a childish petulance, which showed that my thought exercised a compelling power over her actions, and that she only came back to me because she could not help herself.

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