In March 1882, in the North Atlantic Ocean, the English cargo ship Swallow is navigating in the neighbourhood of Newfoundland. It is eight o’clock in the morning. In his cabin, First Mate Robert Bruce, is busy checking the ship’s position. When he has finished, he calls to Captain Blackman who should be in the neighbouring cabin, also studying the charts.
“Captain!… We’re farther North than I thought… What is your position?…”
Obtaining no answer, he goes to knock on his superior’s door. Silence. Intrigued, he enters the cabin and stops, astounded. Behind the table where Captain Blackman usually sits, there is an unknown man, who is looking at him with a sort of fervour. The First Mate asks him who he is and how he had entered the cabin. The man remains motionless and silent. The officer insists. The stranger smiles without saying a word.
The First Mate climbs to the bridge, finds the Captain and explains what is happening.
“A stowaway? Where did he come from? We’ve been at sea for three weeks!”
The two men go back down and enter the cabin. It is empty. The Captain is not very happy and thinks that Bruce is trying to play some sort of joke on him.
“But, Captain, I assure you, he was there! He was a fairly big man, blond, with very light eyes…”
The Captain asks sarcastically whether the gentleman was dressed in top hat and tails as well.
“Of course not. He was wearing sailor’s clothes…”
The Captain leans over the table:
On the slate that he uses for his calculations, it is written:
Captain Blackman asks:
“What does this mean? Who wrote it?”
The First Mate replies that he doesn’t know. Probably the stranger.
The Captain orders a careful inspection of the boat.
For two hours, the sailors search the Swallow from top to bottom without finding the slightest trace of the unknown man seen by Robert Bruce. Finally, the Captain loses his temper:
“I want to know who wrote these words on my slate. I want each and every sailor to come here for a writing test!”
The whole crew parades through the cabin. Even Robert Bruce has to copy the mysterious words. When everyone has done it, the Captain looks at his First Mate and shakes his head: the writing on the slate does not correspond to that of any of the crew members…
Captain Blackman is now very troubled. Like all sailors at this time, he is superstitious. Having reflected for a moment, he tells his First Mate to steer North-West.
And the cargo ship changes direction.
The hours pass by. From time to time, Captain Blackman takes his spyglass and examines the sea. What is he expecting to find? He doesn’t know; but he has the feeling that this change of direction will not be for nothing.
And around four o’clock in the afternoon, a sailor sees something. They approach. It is an English ship caught in the ice. They can see men waving their arms.
The Captain has boats put to sea and all the crew in distress is brought aboard the Swallow.
One by one, the cold, exhausted men climb the cord ladder, to be greeted by Captain Blackman and his First Mate. They say that they were on their way to Liverpool from Quebec when their boat was caught in the ice. It had happened a week earlier and their situation was becoming desperate… They are very grateful to have been rescued.
The men continue to climb the ladder, clamber over the side, and drink a bowl of mulled wine.
Suddenly, Robert Bruce thinks that his heart has stopped beating. The man who is at this moment pulling himself aboard the Swallow, this fairly big man, blond with light eyes, is the one he had seen in the Captain’s cabin a few hours earlier…
Their eyes meet and Robert Bruce feels that the other man appears troubled. He follows him, watches him drink his glass of hot wine, then approaches him and engages the conversation:
“My name is Robert Bruce, I’m First Mate aboard this boat… It’s a bit of luck that we were passing through here…”
The man agrees, and adds that he knew that they would be saved. The officer asks how he knew.
“This morning, I was asleep and I had a curious dream… I dreamed that I was aboard an English cargo ship like yours and that I met a man… – he looked like you as it happens, it’s strange… I was in a cabin, sitting in front of a table. And then, the man left. So, I took a piece of chalk and I wrote a message on a slate… I remember, I wrote: Steer North-West!… After that, I woke up and I told the others that we would be saved today. I told them about my dream and they laughed. But when they saw you arriving, at four o’clock, they were a bit impressed… So was I…”
Robert Bruce listens to the sailor without interrupting. Then he asks him to follow him because he wants to show him something. He leads him to the Captain’s cabin, shows him the slate and asks him if he recognizes it. The other man sees the words that are still written on it, and blanches:
“It’s my message… But, that’s not possible!”
“Yes it is. You came here this morning, around eight o’clock, and wrote these words. I saw you… Then you disappeared. And it’s because of this message that we changed course, and that we saved you…”
We know of this story by those who lived it: Robert Bruce, Captain Blackman, the man who wrote the words on the slate and the sailors of both cargo ships. All of them talked about it abundantly. To the point that the Society for Metapsychical Research, which already existed at this time in London, heard about it and published an account of it in its magazine.
This is similar to the Emilie Sagee story, except that she split into two while awake, and the sailor whose double Robert Bruce saw in Captain Blackman’s cabin was asleep at the time. However, nothing proves that Emilie Sagee did not become two during sleep as well.
The words written on the slate are of capital importance. They prove that the double has material reality, that it is not a simple virtual image. It is capable of having an action on objects. In certain cases, it can be seen to open a door, turn a key in a lock, move a piece of furniture, take a book. But its comportment with matter is not always so normal. Sometimes, the double traverses walls or covers considerable distances without any notion of time seeming to intervene.
Guy Breton tells a story about one of his female friends. This lady, who is married, very often dreamed of an unknown man, always the same one. She finally told her husband about him – as well as her entourage – who teased her about him, calling him her “lover”.
And one day when she was in a tram at Versailles, a city that she had never visited, she found herself seated opposite a man who was reading a newspaper. The man raised his head. Both of them screamed. It was the man in her dreams.
They didn’t speak, she was too upset. And the gentleman, who also seemed very upset, rose in a hurry, descended from the tram in motion and disappeared into the crowd… Perhaps he also saw her in his dreams, for he screamed at the same time as she did.
So far, there is no explanation for this. But perhaps one day we shall find out what our spirit does – and where it wanders – while we sleep…