One evening in 1921, a few people are gathered in a salon of the Institut psychique de Paris. Among them, Gustave Geley, the author of works on the Unconscious, Doctor Osty, who has published studies on the phenomena of premonition, Charles Richet, a member of the Institut, a professor at the University, and the author of a famous book on the “sixth sense”, and a few foreign scholars who have been studying for years, with the greatest scientific rigour, the phenomena of extra-sensory perception.
This evening, among all these men of science, there is a writer, playwright, art critic, who has been brought along by a friend. His name is Pascal Forthuny. He is a cultivated man, of great sensitivity, brilliant intelligence and universal curiosity. Extremely gifted in many domains, he fluently speaks French, Chinese, English, Spanish, Italian and German. He plays the piano admirably, composes music, writes poems and regularly exhibits greatly appreciated paintings at the Salon.
Attracted to the phenomena of metapsychism (the word “parapsychology” is not yet used) Pascal Forthuny has wanted for a long time to attend a meeting of the Institut, directed by Gustave Geley. So he is delighted for, this evening, the greatest researchers in this rather special domain are gathered here. And he is very happy to think that he is certainly going to see some enthralling experiments.
The seance begins.
Doctor Geley holds out a letter folded in four to a clairvoyant, Madame de B. He asks her to touch the letter and tell him what this contact suggests to her. Pascal Forthuny intervenes with a smile:
“It can’t be difficult to recount something applicable to anything. Allow me.”
And he takes hold of the letter. Immediately, he says:
“Oh, oh! I see a monstrous person… A beard… cadavers… It’s Bluebeard!!!”
Very impressed, Doctor Geley takes back the letter and tells him that it was written by Landru. All of the members of the Institut look at each other in amazement. Madame Geley tells Forthuny that he has an extraordinary gift. He laughingly denies it.
“I have no gift. I just said whatever came into my head… Luck did the rest… “
Mme Geley asks him to attempt another experiment. He agrees.
The Institute Director’s wife then takes a fan from a little side-table and puts it into Pascal Forthuny’s hand. She asks him to tell her where it comes from. He says that he doesn’t know. She insists, asking him what it makes him think of.
“I don’t know why, a name comes to mind: Elisa… Yes, Elisa… It’s strange, I feel as if I’m suffocating… “
Mme Geley is now looking at him, astounded.
“It’s fabulous! This fan belonged to an elderly lady who was one of my friends. She died of pulmonary congestion. During her illness, she used it to give herself some air and breathe more freely… And the lady who cared for her was called Elisa!… “
Mme Geley calls everyone over and they form a circle around the writer, who is a bit taken aback at being transformed into a star attraction. Mme Geley, who had left for a moment, comes back with a walking-stick.
Pascal Forthuny, who does not at all believe in his gift, jokingly takes on the voice and the manner of a fairground somnambulist and begins to describe countrysides and army movements “far away, somewhere in the Orient”. Then he talks about a young officer who had owned this walking-stick. And he adds:
“This officer was coming back to France when his boat was torpedoed… “
This time, Mme Geley considers Pascal Forthuny in stupefaction:
“All this is rigorously exact. This walking-stick belonged to a young Frenchman who, as an officer, participated in the Greek campaign. Upon his return to France, his vessel was torpedoed. Saved from the wreck, he died some time later… “
Pascal Forthuny still remains incredulous, in spite of the emotion of those around him. He asks if they are playing a joke on him. Dr Osty answers:
“No, Sir, I assure you that everything that you said is true. I know the story of this walking-stick.”
Then, for the first time, Pascal Forthuny seems troubled:
“So I have a faculty that I didn’t know I had?”
Dr Osty says:
But Mme Geley, who wants to continue with the experiment, has gone to her bedroom. She comes back this time with a letter that she puts into Pascal Forthuny’s hand, and asks him what he sees. The writer doesn’t hesitate for even a second:
“Oh! Madame, this letter was written in a very pretty town. It’s the Orient… There is a port. It’s admirable! What a magnificent view! What a beautiful blue sky!… “
Mme Geley then reveals that this letter had been writtten to her twenty years before at Constantinople, by her father…
The members of the Institut metapsychique, who had never met a subject of this quality, immediately decide to perform public experiments with Pascal Forthuny.
Here is how they proceed. The writer penetrates the room where there are around fifty people who are absolutely unknown to him. Following his inspiration, he addresses one or the other of them and says aloud whatever enters his head. The results, often “verbal approximations”, according to Mr Geley’s expression, are astounding.
Dr Osty and Charles Richet wrote down a great number of them. Here are a few.
One day, Pascal Forthuny approaches a lady who is carrying a muff. He takes it and says:
“This muff gives me the impression of being a block of crystal rather than fur. It is becoming brighter and brighter… I see this object growing smaller now, diminishing and taking on a geometric aspect… It has the form of a cut stone… of a diamond… I see you surrounded by diamonds… If I wanted to give you a nickname, I would call you Mme Diamond… Gagne! Gagne! [Won!] I hear Gagne!… Fortune!… Diamond!… “
The lady tells him that her husband sells diamonds. Pascal Forthuny asks:
“But what does the word “gagne” mean?”
The lady explains that her name is Mme Gagnerot…
To be continued.