Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: John Silence, Physician Extraordinary
Author: Blackwood, Algernon
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Silence, Physician Extraordinary" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Libraries.)



  JOHN SILENCE
  Physician Extraordinary

  BY
  ALGERNON BLACKWOOD

  AUTHOR OF
  “THE LISTENER” “THE EMPTY HOUSE” ETC.

  BOSTON
  JOHN W. LUCE & COMPANY
  1909



  TO
  M. L. W.
  THE ORIGINAL OF JOHN SILENCE
  AND
  MY COMPANION IN MANY ADVENTURES



CONTENTS


  CASE I
                         PAGE
  A PSYCHICAL INVASION      1

  CASE II
  ANCIENT SORCERIES        75

  CASE III
  THE NEMESIS OF FIRE     143

  CASE IV
  SECRET WORSHIP          245

  CASE V
  THE CAMP OF THE DOG     295



JOHN SILENCE

CASE I

A PSYCHICAL INVASION


“And what is it makes you think I could be of use in this particular
case?” asked Dr. John Silence, looking across somewhat sceptically at
the Swedish lady in the chair facing him.

“Your sympathetic heart and your knowledge of occultism----”

“Oh, please--that dreadful word!” he interrupted, holding up a finger
with a gesture of impatience.

“Well, then,” she laughed, “your wonderful clairvoyant gift and your
trained psychic knowledge of the processes by which a personality may
be disintegrated and destroyed--these strange studies you’ve been
experimenting with all these years----”

“If it’s only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,”
interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.

“It’s not that; now, please, be serious, for I want your help,” she
said; “and if I choose my words poorly you must be patient with my
ignorance. The case I know will interest you, and no one else could
deal with it so well. In fact, no ordinary professional man could deal
with it at all, for I know of no treatment or medicine that can restore
a lost sense of humour!”

“You begin to interest me with your ‘case,’” he replied, and made
himself comfortable to listen.

Mrs. Sivendson drew a sigh of contentment as she watched him go to the
tube and heard him tell the servant he was not to be disturbed.

“I believe you have read my thoughts already,” she said; “your
intuitive knowledge of what goes on in other people’s minds is
positively uncanny.”

Her friend shook his head and smiled as he drew his chair up to a
convenient position and prepared to listen attentively to what she had
to say. He closed his eyes, as he always did when he wished to absorb
the real meaning of a recital that might be inadequately expressed,
for by this method he found it easier to set himself in tune with the
living thoughts that lay behind the broken words.

By his friends John Silence was regarded as an eccentric, because
he was rich by accident, and by choice--a doctor. That a man of
independent means should devote his time to doctoring, chiefly
doctoring folk who could not pay, passed their comprehension entirely.
The native nobility of a soul whose first desire was to help those who
could not help themselves, puzzled them. After that, it irritated them,
and, greatly to his own satisfaction, they left him to his own devices.

Dr. Silence was a free-lance, though, among doctors, having neither
consulting-room, bookkeeper, nor professional manner. He took no
fees, being at heart a genuine philanthropist, yet at the same time
did no harm to his fellow-practitioners, because he only accepted
unremunerative cases, and cases that interested him for some very
special reason. He argued that the rich could pay, and the very poor
could avail themselves of organised charity, but that a very large
class of ill-paid, self-respecting workers, often followers of the
arts, could not afford the price of a week’s comforts merely to be told
to travel. And it was these he desired to help: cases often requiring
special and patient study--things no doctor can give for a guinea, and
that no one would dream of expecting him to give.

But there was another side to his personality and practice, and one
with which we are now more directly concerned; for the cases that
especially appealed to him were of no ordinary kind, but rather of that
intangible, elusive, and difficult nature best described as psychical
afflictions; and, though he would have been the last person himself to
approve of the title, it was beyond question that he was known more or
less generally as the “Psychic Doctor.”

In order to grapple with cases of this peculiar kind, he had submitted
himself to a long and severe training, at once physical, mental, and
spiritual. What precisely this training had been, or where undergone,
no one seemed to know,--for he never spoke of it, as, indeed, he
betrayed no single other characteristic of the charlatan,--but the fact
that it had involved a total disappearance from the world for five
years, and that after he returned and began his singular practice no
one ever dreamed of applying to him the so easily acquired epithet of
quack, spoke much for the seriousness of his strange quest and also for
the genuineness of his attainments.

For the modern psychical researcher he felt the calm tolerance of the
“man who knows.” There was a trace of pity in his voice--contempt he
never showed--when he spoke of their methods.

“This classification of results is uninspired work at best,” he said
once to me, when I had been his confidential assistant for some years.
“It leads nowhere, and after a hundred years will lead nowhere. It is
playing with the wrong end of a rather dangerous toy. Far better, it
would be, to examine the causes, and then the results would so easily
slip into place and explain themselves. For the sources are accessible,
and open to all who have the courage to lead the life that alone makes
practical investigation safe and possible.”

And towards the question of clairvoyance, too, his attitude was
significantly sane, for he knew how extremely rare the genuine power
was, and that what is commonly called clairvoyance is nothing more than
a keen power of visualising.

“It connotes a slightly increased sensibility, nothing more,” he would
say. “The true clairvoyant deplores his power, recognising that it adds
a new horror to life, and is in the nature of an affliction. And you
will find this always to be the real test.”

Thus it was that John Silence, this singularly developed doctor, was
able to select his cases with a clear knowledge of the difference
between mere hysterical delusion and the kind of psychical affliction
that claimed his special powers. It was never necessary for him to
resort to the cheap mysteries of divination; for, as I have heard him
observe, after the solution of some peculiarly intricate problem--

“Systems of divination, from geomancy down to reading by tea-leaves,
are merely so many methods of obscuring the outer vision, in order
that the inner vision may become open. Once the method is mastered, no
system is necessary at all.”

And the words were significant of the methods of this remarkable man,
the keynote of whose power lay, perhaps, more than anything else,
in the knowledge, first, that thought can act at a distance, and,
secondly, that thought is dynamic and can accomplish material results.

“Learn how to _think_,” he would have expressed it, “and you have
learned to tap power at its source.”

To look at--he was now past forty--he was sparely built, with speaking
brown eyes in which shone the light of knowledge and self-confidence,
while at the same time they made one think of that wondrous gentleness
seen most often in the eyes of animals. A close beard concealed the
mouth without disguising the grim determination of lips and jaw,
and the face somehow conveyed an impression of transparency, almost
of light, so delicately were the features refined away. On the
fine forehead was that indefinable touch of peace that comes from
identifying the mind with what is permanent in the soul, and letting
the impermanent slip by without power to wound or distress; while, from
his manner,--so gentle, quiet, sympathetic,--few could have guessed the
strength of purpose that burned within like a great flame.

“I think I should describe it as a psychical case,” continued the
Swedish lady, obviously trying to explain herself very intelligently,
“and just the kind you like. I mean a case where the cause is hidden
deep down in some spiritual distress, and----”

“But the symptoms first, please, my dear Svenska,” he interrupted, with
a strangely compelling seriousness of manner, “and your deductions
afterwards.”

She turned round sharply on the edge of her chair and looked him in the
face, lowering her voice to prevent her emotion betraying itself too
obviously.

“In my opinion there’s only one symptom,” she half whispered, as though
telling something disagreeable--“fear--simply fear.”

“Physical fear?”

“I think not; though how can I say? I think it’s a horror in the
psychical region. It’s no ordinary delusion; the man is quite sane; but
he lives in mortal terror of something----”

“I don’t know what you mean by his ‘psychical region,’” said the
doctor, with a smile; “though I suppose you wish me to understand that
his spiritual, and not his mental, processes are affected. Anyhow, try
and tell me briefly and pointedly what you know about the man, his
symptoms, his need for help, _my_ peculiar help, that is, and all that
seems vital in the case. I promise to listen devotedly.”

“I am trying,” she continued earnestly, “but must do so in my own words
and trust to your intelligence to disentangle as I go along. He is a
young author, and lives in a tiny house off Putney Heath somewhere. He
writes humorous stories--quite a genre of his own: Pender--you must
have heard the name--Felix Pender? Oh, the man had a great gift, and
married on the strength of it; his future seemed assured. I say ‘had,’
for quite suddenly his talent utterly failed him. Worse, it became
transformed into its opposite. He can no longer write a line in the
old way that was bringing him success----”

Dr. Silence opened his eyes for a second and looked at her.

“He still writes, then? The force has not gone?” he asked briefly, and
then closed his eyes again to listen.

“He works like a fury,” she went on, “but produces nothing”--she
hesitated a moment--“nothing that he can use or sell. His earnings have
practically ceased, and he makes a precarious living by book-reviewing
and odd jobs--very odd, some of them. Yet, I am certain his talent has
not really deserted him finally, but is merely----”

Again Mrs. Sivendson hesitated for the appropriate word.

“In abeyance,” he suggested, without opening his eyes.

“Obliterated,” she went on, after a moment to weigh the word, “merely
obliterated by something else----”

“By some _one_ else?”

“I wish I knew. All I can say is that he is haunted, and temporarily
his sense of humour is shrouded--gone--replaced by something dreadful
that writes other things. Unless something competent is done, he will
simply starve to death. Yet he is afraid to go to a doctor for fear of
being pronounced insane; and, anyhow, a man can hardly ask a doctor to
take a guinea to restore a vanished sense of humour, can he?”

“Has he tried any one at all----?”

“Not doctors yet. He tried some clergymen and religious people; but
they _know_ so little and have so little intelligent sympathy. And
most of them are so busy balancing on their own little pedestals----”

John Silence stopped her tirade with a gesture.

“And how is it that you know so much about him?” he asked gently.

“I know Mrs. Pender well--I knew her before she married him----”

“And is she a cause, perhaps?”

“Not in the least. She is devoted; a woman very well educated, though
without being really intelligent, and with so little sense of humour
herself that she always laughs at the wrong places. But she has
nothing to do with the cause of his distress; and, indeed, has chiefly
guessed it from observing him, rather than from what little he has
told her. And he, you know, is a really lovable fellow, hard-working,
patient--altogether worth saving.”

Dr. Silence opened his eyes and went over to ring for tea. He did
not know very much more about the case of the humorist than when he
first sat down to listen; but he realised that no amount of words from
his Swedish friend would help to reveal the real facts. A personal
interview with the author himself could alone do that.

“All humorists are worth saving,” he said with a smile, as she poured
out tea. “We can’t afford to lose a single one in these strenuous days.
I will go and see your friend at the first opportunity.”

She thanked him elaborately, effusively, with many words, and he, with
much difficulty, kept the conversation thenceforward strictly to the
teapot.

And, as a result of this conversation, and a little more he had
gathered by means best known to himself and his secretary, he was
whizzing in his motor-car one afternoon a few days later up the Putney
Hill to have his first interview with Felix Pender, the humorous writer
who was the victim of some mysterious malady in his “psychical region”
that had obliterated his sense of the comic and threatened to wreck his
life and destroy his talent. And his desire to help was probably of
equal strength with his desire to know and to investigate.

The motor stopped with a deep purring sound, as though a great black
panther lay concealed within its hood, and the doctor--the “psychic
doctor,” as he was sometimes called--stepped out through the gathering
fog, and walked across the tiny garden that held a blackened fir tree
and a stunted laurel shrubbery. The house was very small, and it was
some time before any one answered the bell. Then, suddenly, a light
appeared in the hall, and he saw a pretty little woman standing on
the top step begging him to come in. She was dressed in grey, and the
gaslight fell on a mass of deliberately brushed light hair. Stuffed,
dusty birds, and a shabby array of African spears, hung on the wall
behind her. A hat-rack, with a bronze plate full of very large cards,
led his eye swiftly to a dark staircase beyond. Mrs. Pender had round
eyes like a child’s, and she greeted him with an effusiveness that
barely concealed her emotion, yet strove to appear naturally cordial.
Evidently she had been looking out for his arrival, and had outrun the
servant girl. She was a little breathless.

“I hope you’ve not been kept waiting--I think it’s _most_ good of you
to come----” she began, and then stopped sharp when she saw his face in
the gaslight. There was something in Dr. Silence’s look that did not
encourage mere talk. He was in earnest now, if ever man was.

“Good evening, Mrs. Pender,” he said, with a quiet smile that won
confidence, yet deprecated unnecessary words, “the fog delayed me a
little. I am glad to see you.”

They went into a dingy sitting-room at the back of the house, neatly
furnished but depressing. Books stood in a row upon the mantelpiece.
The fire had evidently just been lit. It smoked in great puffs into the
room.

“Mrs. Sivendson said she thought you might be able to come,” ventured
the little woman again, looking up engagingly into his face and
betraying anxiety and eagerness in every gesture. “But I hardly dared
to believe it. I think it is really too good of you. My husband’s case
is so peculiar that--well, you know, I am quite sure any _ordinary_
doctor would say at once the asylum----”

“Isn’t he in, then?” asked Dr. Silence gently.

“In the asylum?” she gasped. “Oh dear, no--not yet!”

“In the house, I meant,” he laughed.

She gave a great sigh.

“He’ll be back any minute now,” she replied, obviously relieved to see
him laugh; “but the fact is, we didn’t expect you so early--I mean, my
husband hardly thought you would come at all.”

“I am always delighted to come--when I am really wanted, and can be of
help,” he said quickly; “and, perhaps, it’s all for the best that your
husband is out, for now that we are alone you can tell me something
about his difficulties. So far, you know, I have heard very little.”

Her voice trembled as she thanked him, and when he came and took a
chair close beside her she actually had difficulty in finding words
with which to begin.

“In the first place,” she began timidly, and then continuing with a
nervous incoherent rush of words, “he will be simply delighted that
you’ve really come, because he said you were the only person he would
consent to see at all--the only doctor, I mean. But, of course, he
doesn’t know how frightened I am, or how much I have noticed. He
pretends with me that it’s just a nervous breakdown, and I’m sure he
doesn’t realise all the odd things I’ve noticed him doing. But the main
thing, I suppose----”

“Yes, the main thing, Mrs. Pender,” he said encouragingly, noticing her
hesitation.

“----is that he thinks we are not alone in the house. That’s the chief
thing.”

“Tell me more facts--just facts.”

“It began last summer when I came back from Ireland; he had been here
alone for six weeks, and I thought him looking tired and queer--ragged
and scattered about the face, if you know what I mean, and his manner
worn out. He said he had been writing hard, but his inspiration had
somehow failed him, and he was dissatisfied with his work. His sense of
humour was leaving him, or changing into something else, he said. There
was something in the house, he declared, that”--she emphasised the
words--“prevented his feeling funny.”

“Something in the house that prevented his feeling funny,” repeated the
doctor. “Ah, now we’re getting to the heart of it!”

“Yes,” she resumed vaguely; “that’s what he kept saying.”

“And what was it he _did_ that you thought strange?” he asked
sympathetically. “Be brief, or he may be here before you finish.”

“Very small things, but significant it seemed to me. He changed his
workroom from the library, as we call it, to the sitting-room. He
said all his characters became wrong and terrible in the library;
they altered, so that he felt like writing tragedies--vile, debased
tragedies, the tragedies of broken souls. But now he says the same of
the smoking-room, and he’s gone back to the library.”

“Ah!”

“You see, there’s so little I can tell you,” she went on, with
increasing speed and countless gestures. “I mean it’s only very small
things he does and says that are queer. What frightens me is that he
assumes there is some one else in the house all the time--some one I
never see. He does not actually say so, but on the stairs I’ve seen him
standing aside to let some one pass; I’ve seen him open a door to let
some one in or out; and often in our bedroom he puts chairs about as
though for some one else to sit in. Oh--oh yes, and once or twice,” she
cried--“once or twice----”

She paused, and looked about her with a startled air.

“Yes?”

“Once or twice,” she resumed hurriedly, as though she heard a sound
that alarmed her, “I’ve heard him running--coming in and out of the
rooms breathless as if something were after him----”

The door opened while she was still speaking, cutting her words off in
the middle, and a man came into the room. He was dark and clean-shaven
sallow rather, with the eyes of imagination, and dark hair growing
scantily about the temples. He was dressed in a shabby tweed suit, and
wore an untidy flannel collar at the neck. The dominant expression of
his face was startled--hunted; an expression that might any moment
leap into the dreadful stare of terror and announce a total loss of
self-control.

The moment he saw his visitor a smile spread over his worn features,
and he advanced to shake hands.

“I hoped you would come; Mrs. Sivendson said you might be able to find
time,” he said simply. His voice was thin and reedy. “I am very glad to
see you, Dr. Silence. It is ‘Doctor,’ is it not?”

“Well, I am entitled to the description,” laughed the other, “but I
rarely get it. You know, I do not practise as a regular thing; that is,
I only take cases that specially interest me, or----”

He did not finish the sentence, for the men exchanged a glance of
sympathy that rendered it unnecessary.

“I have heard of your great kindness.”

“It’s my hobby,” said the other quickly, “and my privilege.”

“I trust you will still think so when you have heard what I have to
tell you,” continued the author, a little wearily. He led the way
across the hall into the little smoking-room where they could talk
freely and undisturbed.

In the smoking-room, the door shut and privacy about them, Pender’s
attitude changed somewhat, and his manner became very grave. The doctor
sat opposite, where he could watch his face. Already, he saw, it
looked more haggard. Evidently it cost him much to refer to his trouble
at all.

“What I have is, in my belief, a profound spiritual affliction,” he
began quite bluntly, looking straight into the other’s eyes.

“I saw that at once,” Dr. Silence said.

“Yes, you saw that, of course; my atmosphere must convey that much to
any one with psychic perceptions. Besides which, I feel sure from all
I’ve heard, that you are really a soul-doctor, are you not, more than a
healer merely of the body?”

“You think of me too highly,” returned the other; “though I prefer
cases, as you know, in which the spirit is disturbed first, the body
afterwards.”

“I understand, yes. Well, I have experienced a curious disturbance
in--_not_ in my physical region primarily. I mean my nerves are all
right, and my body is all right I have no delusions exactly, but my
spirit is tortured by a calamitous fear which first came upon me in a
strange manner.”

John Silence leaned forward a moment and took the speaker’s hand and
held it in his own for a few brief seconds, closing his eyes as he
did so. He was not feeling his pulse, or doing any of the things that
doctors ordinarily do; he was merely absorbing into himself the main
note of the man’s mental condition, so as to get completely his own
point of view, and thus be able to treat his case with true sympathy. A
very close observer might perhaps have noticed that a slight tremor ran
through his frame after he had held the hand for a few seconds.

“Tell me quite frankly, Mr. Pender,” he said soothingly, releasing the
hand, and with deep attention in his manner, “tell me all the steps
that led to the beginning of this invasion. I mean tell me what the
particular drug was, and why you took it, and how it affected you----”

“Then you know it began with a drug!” cried the author, with
undisguised astonishment.

“I only know from what I observe in you, and in its effect upon myself.
You are in a surprising psychical condition. Certain portions of your
atmosphere are vibrating at a far greater rate than others. This is the
effect of a drug, but of no ordinary drug. Allow me to finish, please.
If the higher rate of vibration spreads all over, you will become, of
course, permanently cognisant of a much larger world than the one you
know normally. If, on the other hand, the rapid portion sinks back to
the usual rate, you will lose these occasional increased perceptions
you now have.”

“You amaze me!” exclaimed the author; “for your words exactly describe
what I have been feeling----”

“I mention this only in passing, and to give you confidence before
you approach the account of your real affliction,” continued the
doctor. “All perception, as you know, is the result of vibrations; and
clairvoyance simply means becoming sensitive to an increased scale of
vibrations. The awakening of the inner senses we hear so much about
means no more than that. Your partial clairvoyance is easily explained.
The only thing that puzzles me is how you managed to procure the drug,
for it is not easy to get in pure form, and no adulterated tincture
could have given you the terrific impetus I see you have acquired. But,
please proceed now and tell me your story in your own way.”

“This _Cannabis indica_,” the author went on, “came into my possession
last autumn while my wife was away. I need not explain how I got it,
for that has no importance; but it was the genuine fluid extract, and
I could not resist the temptation to make an experiment. One of its
effects, as you know, is to induce torrential laughter----”

“Yes; sometimes.”

“----I am a writer of humorous tales, and I wished to increase my own
sense of laughter--to see the ludicrous from an abnormal point of view.
I wished to study it a bit, if possible, and----”

“Tell me!”

“I took an experimental dose. I starved for six hours to hasten the
effect, locked myself into this room, and gave orders not to be
disturbed. Then I swallowed the stuff and waited.”

“And the effect?”

“I waited one hour, two, three, four, five hours. Nothing happened. No
laughter came, but only a great weariness instead. Nothing in the room
or in my thoughts came within a hundred miles of a humorous aspect.”

“Always a most uncertain drug,” interrupted the doctor. “We make very
small use of it on that account.”

“At two o’clock in the morning I felt so hungry and tired that I
decided to give up the experiment and wait no longer. I drank some
milk and went upstairs to bed. I felt flat and disappointed. I fell
asleep at once and must have slept for about an hour, when I awoke
suddenly with a great noise in my ears. It was the noise of my
own laughter! I was simply shaking with merriment. At first I was
bewildered and thought I had been laughing in dreams, but a moment
later I remembered the drug, and was delighted to think that after
all I had got an effect. It had been working all along, only I had
miscalculated the time. The only unpleasant thing _then_ was an odd
feeling that I had not waked naturally, but had been wakened by some
one else--deliberately. This came to me as a certainty in the middle of
my noisy laughter and distressed me.”

“Any impression who it could have been?” asked the doctor, now
listening with close attention to every word, very much on the alert.

Pender hesitated and tried to smile. He brushed his hair from his
forehead with a nervous gesture.

“You must tell me all your impressions, even your fancies; they are
quite as important as your certainties.”

“I had a vague idea that it was some one connected with my forgotten
dream, some one who had been at me in my sleep, some one of great
strength and great ability--of great force--quite an unusual
personality--and, I was certain, too--a woman.”

“A good woman?” asked John Silence quietly.

Pender started a little at the question and his sallow face flushed;
it seemed to surprise him. But he shook his head quickly with an
indefinable look of horror.

“Evil,” he answered briefly, “appallingly evil, and yet mingled with
the sheer wickedness of it was also a certain perverseness--the
perversity of the unbalanced mind.”

He hesitated a moment and looked up sharply at his interlocutor. A
shade of suspicion showed itself in his eyes.

“No,” laughed the doctor, “you need not fear that I’m merely humouring
you, or think you mad. Far from it. Your story interests me exceedingly
and you furnish me unconsciously with a number of clues as you tell it.
You see, I possess some knowledge of my own as to these psychic byways.”

“I was shaking with such violent laughter,” continued the narrator,
reassured in a moment, “though with no clear idea what was amusing me,
that I had the greatest difficulty in getting up for the matches, and
was afraid I should frighten the servants overhead with my explosions.
When the gas was lit I found the room empty, of course, and the door
locked as usual. Then I half dressed and went out on to the landing,
my hilarity better under control, and proceeded to go downstairs. I
wished to record my sensations. I stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth
so as not to scream aloud and communicate my hysterics to the entire
household.”

“And the presence of this--this----?”

“It was hanging about me all the time,” said Pender, “but for the
moment it seemed to have withdrawn. Probably, too, my laughter killed
all other emotions.”

“And how long did you take getting downstairs?”

“I was just coming to that I see you know all my ‘symptoms’ in advance,
as it were; for, of course, I thought I should never get to the bottom.
Each step seemed to take five minutes, and crossing the narrow hall at
the foot of the stairs--well, I could have sworn it was half an hour’s
journey had not my watch certified that it was a few seconds. Yet I
walked fast and tried to push on. It was no good. I walked apparently
without advancing, and at that rate it would have taken me a week to
get down Putney Hill.”

“An experimental dose radically alters the scale of time and space
sometimes----”

“But, when at last I got into my study and lit the gas, the change came
horridly, and sudden as a flash of lightning. It was like a douche of
icy water, and in the middle of this storm of laughter----”

“Yes; what?” asked the doctor, leaning forward and peering into his
eyes.

“----I was overwhelmed with terror,” said Pender, lowering his reedy
voice at the mere recollection of it.

He paused a moment and mopped his forehead. The scared, hunted look in
his eyes now dominated the whole face. Yet, all the time, the corners
of his mouth hinted of possible laughter as though the recollection of
that merriment still amused him. The combination of fear and laughter
in his face was very curious, and lent great conviction to his story;
it also lent a bizarre expression of horror to his gestures.

“Terror, was it?” repeated the doctor soothingly.

“Yes, terror; for, though the Thing that woke me seemed to have gone,
the memory of it still frightened me, and I collapsed into a chair.
Then I locked the door and tried to reason with myself, but the
drug made my movements so prolonged that it took me five minutes to
reach the door, and another five to get back to the chair again. The
laughter, too, kept bubbling up inside me--great wholesome laughter
that shook me like gusts of wind--so that even my terror almost made
me laugh. Oh, but I may tell you, Dr. Silence, it was altogether vile,
that mixture of fear and laughter, altogether vile!

“Then, all at once, the things in the room again presented their
funny side to me and set me off laughing more furiously than ever.
The bookcase was ludicrous, the arm-chair a perfect clown, the way
the clock looked at me on the mantelpiece too comic for words; the
arrangement of papers and inkstand on the desk tickled me till I roared
and shook and held my sides and the tears streamed down my cheeks. And
that footstool! Oh, that absurd footstool!”

He lay back in his chair, laughing to himself and holding up his hands
at the thought of it, and at the sight of him Dr. Silence laughed too.

“Go on, please,” he said, “I quite understand. I know something myself
of the hashish laughter.”

The author pulled himself together and resumed, his face growing
quickly grave again.

“So, you see, side by side with this extravagant, apparently causeless
merriment, there was also an extravagant, apparently causeless terror.
The drug produced the laughter, I knew; but what brought in the terror
I could not imagine. Everywhere behind the fun lay the fear. It was
terror masked by cap and bells; and I became the playground for two
opposing emotions, armed and fighting to the death. Gradually, then,
the impression grew in me that this fear was caused by the invasion--so
you called it just now--of the ‘person’ who had wakened me: she was
utterly evil; inimical to my soul, or at least to all in me that wished
for good. There I stood, sweating and trembling, laughing at everything
in the room, yet all the while with this white terror mastering my
heart. And this creature was putting--putting her----”

He hesitated again, using his handkerchief freely.

“Putting what?”

“----putting ideas into my mind,” he went on, glancing nervously about
the room. “Actually tapping my thought-stream so as to switch off the
usual current and inject her own. How mad that sounds! I know it,
but it’s true. It’s the only way I can express it. Moreover, while
the operation terrified me, the skill with which it was accomplished
filled me afresh with laughter at the clumsiness of men by comparison.
Our ignorant, bungling methods of teaching the minds of others, of
inculcating ideas, and so on, overwhelmed me with laughter when I
understood this superior and diabolical method. Yet my laughter seemed
hollow and ghastly, and ideas of evil and tragedy trod close upon the
heels of the comic. Oh, doctor, I tell you again, it was unnerving!”

John Silence sat with his head thrust forward to catch every word of
the story which the other continued to pour out in nervous, jerky
sentences and lowered voice.

“You _saw_ nothing--no one--all this time?” he asked.

“Not with my eyes. There was no visual hallucination. But in my mind
there began to grow the vivid picture of a woman--large, dark-skinned,
with white teeth and masculine features, and one eye--the left--so
drooping as to appear almost closed. Oh, such a face----!”

“A face you would recognise again?”

Pender laughed dreadfully.

“I wish I could forget it,” he whispered, “I only wish I could forget
it!” Then he sat forward in his chair suddenly, and grasped the
doctor’s hand with an emotional gesture.

“I _must_ tell you how grateful I am for your patience and sympathy,”
he cried, with a tremor in his voice, “and--that you do not think
me mad. I have told no one else a quarter of all this, and the
mere freedom of speech--the relief of sharing my affliction with
another--has helped me already more than I can possibly say.”

Dr. Silence pressed his hand and looked steadily into the frightened
eyes. His voice was very gentle when he replied.

“Your case, you know, is very singular, but of absorbing interest to
me,” he said, “for it threatens, not your physical existence, but
the temple of your psychical existence--the inner life. Your mind
would not be permanently affected here and now, in this world; but in
the existence after the body is left behind, you might wake up with
your spirit so twisted, so distorted, so befouled, that you would be
_spiritually insane_--a far more radical condition than merely being
insane here.”

There came a strange hush over the room, and between the two men
sitting there facing one another.

“Do you really mean--Good Lord!” stammered the author as soon as he
could find his tongue.

“What I mean in detail will keep till a little later, and I need only
say now that I should not have spoken in this way unless I were quite
positive of being able to help you. Oh, there’s no doubt as to that,
believe me. In the first place, I am very familiar with the workings
of this extraordinary drug, this drug which has had the chance effect
of opening you up to the forces of another region; and, in the second,
I have a firm belief in the reality of super-sensuous occurrences as
well as considerable knowledge of psychic processes acquired by long
and painful experiment. The rest is, or should be, merely sympathetic
treatment and practical application. The hashish has partially opened
another world to you by increasing your rate of psychical vibration,
and thus rendering you abnormally sensitive. Ancient forces attached to
this house have attacked you. For the moment I am only puzzled as to
their precise nature; for were they of an ordinary character, I should
myself be psychic enough to feel them. Yet I am conscious of feeling
nothing as yet. But now, please continue, Mr. Pender, and tell me the
rest of your wonderful story; and when you have finished, I will talk
about the means of cure.”

Pender shifted his chair a little closer to the friendly doctor and
then went on in the same nervous voice with his narrative.

“After making some notes of my impressions I finally got upstairs again
to bed. It was four o’clock in the morning. I laughed all the way
up--at the grotesque banisters, the droll physiognomy of the staircase
window, the burlesque grouping of the furniture, and the memory of that
outrageous footstool in the room below; but nothing more happened to
alarm or disturb me, and I woke late in the morning after a dreamless
sleep, none the worse for my experiment except for a slight headache
and a coldness of the extremities due to lowered circulation.”

“Fear gone, too?” asked the doctor.

“I seemed to have forgotten it, or at least ascribed it to mere
nervousness. It’s reality had gone, anyhow for the time, and all
that day I wrote and wrote and wrote. My sense of laughter seemed
wonderfully quickened and my characters acted without effort out of
the heart of true humour. I was exceedingly pleased with this result
of my experiment But when the stenographer had taken her departure and
I came to read over the pages she had typed out, I recalled her sudden
glances of surprise and the odd way she had looked up at me while I was
dictating. I was amazed at what I read and could hardly believe I had
uttered it.”

“And why?”

“It was so distorted. The words, indeed, were mine so far as I could
remember, but the meanings seemed strange. It frightened me. The sense
was so altered. At the very places where my characters were intended to
tickle the ribs, only curious emotions of sinister amusement resulted.
Dreadful innuendoes had managed to creep into the phrases. There was
laughter of a kind, but it was bizarre, horrible, distressing; and
my attempt at analysis only increased my dismay. The story, as it
read then, made me shudder, for by virtue of these slight changes it
had come somehow to hold the soul of horror, of horror disguised as
merriment. The framework of humour was there, if you understand me, but
the characters had turned sinister, and their laughter was evil.”

“Can you show me this writing?”

The author shook his head.

“I destroyed it,” he whispered. “But, in the end, though of course
much perturbed about it, I persuaded myself that it was due to some
after-effect of the drug, a sort of reaction that gave a twist to my
mind and made me read macabre interpretations into words and situations
that did not properly hold them.”

“And, meanwhile, did the presence of this person leave you?”

“No; that stayed more or less. When my mind was actively employed I
forgot it, but when idle, dreaming, or doing nothing in particular,
there she was beside me, influencing my mind horribly----”

“In what way, precisely?” interrupted the doctor.

“Evil, scheming thoughts came to me, visions of crime, hateful pictures
of wickedness, and the kind of bad imagination that so far has been
foreign, indeed impossible, to my normal nature----”

“The pressure of the Dark Powers upon the personality,” murmured the
doctor, making a quick note.

“Eh? I didn’t quite catch----”

“Pray, go on. I am merely making notes; you shall know their purport
fully later.”

“Even when my wife returned I was still aware of this Presence in the
house; it associated itself with my inner personality in most intimate
fashion; and outwardly I always felt oddly constrained to be polite and
respectful towards it--to open doors, provide chairs and hold myself
carefully deferential when it was about. It became very compelling at
last, and, if I failed in any little particular, I seemed to know that
it pursued me about the house, from one room to another, haunting my
very soul in its inmost abode. It certainly came before my wife so far
as my attentions were concerned.

“But, let me first finish the story of my experimental dose, for I took
it again the third night, and underwent a very similar experience,
delayed like the first in coming, and then carrying me off my feet
when it did come with a rush of this false demon-laughter. This time,
however, there was a reversal of the changed scale of space and
time; it shortened, instead of lengthened, so that I dressed and got
downstairs in about twenty seconds, and the couple of hours I stayed
and worked in the study passed literally like a period of ten minutes.”

“That is often true of an overdose,” interjected the doctor, “and you
may go a mile in a few minutes, or a few yards in a quarter of an hour.
It is quite incomprehensible to those who have never experienced it,
and is a curious proof that time and space are merely forms of thought.”

“This time,” Pender went on, talking more and more rapidly in his
excitement, “another extraordinary effect came to me, and I experienced
a curious changing of the senses, so that I perceived external things
through one large main sense-channel instead of through the five
divisions known as sight, smell, touch, and so forth. You will, I
know, understand me when I tell you that I _heard_ sights and _saw_
sounds. No language can make this comprehensible, of course, and I
can only say, for instance, that the striking of the clock I saw as a
visible picture in the air before me. I saw the sounds of the tinkling
bell. And in precisely the same way I heard the colours in the room,
especially the colours of those books in the shelf behind you. Those
red bindings I heard in deep sounds, and the yellow covers of the
French bindings next to them made a shrill, piercing note not unlike
the chattering of starlings. That brown bookcase muttered, and those
green curtains opposite kept up a constant sort of rippling sound like
the lower notes of a wood-horn. But I only was conscious of these
sounds when I looked steadily at the different objects, and thought
about them. The room, you understand, was not full of a chorus of
notes; but when I concentrated my mind upon a colour, I heard, as well
as saw, it.”

“That is a known, though rarely-obtained, effect of _Cannabis indica_,”
observed the doctor. “And it provoked laughter again, did it?”

“Only the muttering of the cupboard-bookcase made me laugh. It was so
like a great animal trying to get itself noticed, and made me think
of a performing bear--which is full of a kind of pathetic humour, you
know. But this mingling of the senses produced no confusion in my
brain. On the contrary, I was unusually clear-headed and experienced
an intensification of consciousness, and felt marvellously alive and
keen-minded.

“Moreover, when I took up a pencil in obedience to an impulse to
sketch--a talent not normally mine--I found that I could draw nothing
but heads, nothing, in fact, but one head--always the same--the head
of a dark-skinned woman, with huge and terrible features and a very
drooping left eye; and so well drawn, too, that I was amazed, as you
may imagine----”

“And the expression of the face----?”

Pender hesitated a moment for words, casting about with his hands in
the air and hunching his shoulders. A perceptible shudder ran over him.

“What I can only describe as--_blackness_,” he replied in a low tone;
“the face of a dark and evil soul.”

“You destroyed that, too?” queried the doctor sharply.

“No; I have kept the drawings,” he said, with a laugh, and rose to get
them from a drawer in the writing-desk behind him.

“Here is all that remains of the pictures, you see,” he added, pushing
a number of loose sheets under the doctor’s eyes; “nothing but a few
scrawly lines. That’s all I found the next morning. I had really drawn
no heads at all--nothing but those lines and blots and wriggles. The
pictures were entirely subjective, and existed only in my mind which
constructed them out of a few wild strokes of the pen. Like the altered
scale of space and time it was a complete delusion. These all passed,
of course, with the passing of the drug’s effects. But the other thing
did not pass. I mean, the presence of that Dark Soul remained with me.
It is here still. It is real. I don’t know how I can escape from it.”

“It is attached to the house, not to you personally. You must leave the
house.”

“Yes. Only I cannot afford to leave the house, for my work is my sole
means of support, and--well, you see, since this change I cannot even
write. They are horrible, these mirthless tales I now write, with their
mockery of laughter, their diabolical suggestion. Horrible! I shall go
mad if this continues.”

He screwed his face up and looked about the room as though he expected
to see some haunting shape.

“The influence in this house, induced by my experiment, has killed in
a flash, in a sudden stroke, the sources of my humour, and, though I
still go on writing funny tales--I have a certain name, you know--my
inspiration has dried up, and much of what I write I have to burn--yes,
doctor, to burn, before any one sees it.”

“As utterly alien to your own mind and personality?”

“Utterly! As though some one else had written it----”

“Ah!”

“And shocking!” He passed his hand over his eyes a moment and let the
breath escape softly through his teeth. “Yet most damnably clever in
the consummate way the vile suggestions are insinuated under cover of
a kind of high drollery. My stenographer left me, of course--and I’ve
been afraid to take another----”

John Silence got up and began to walk about the room leisurely without
speaking; he appeared to be examining the pictures on the wall and
reading the names of the books lying about. Presently he paused on the
hearthrug, with his back to the fire, and turned to look his patient
quietly in the eyes. Pender’s face was grey and drawn; the hunted
expression dominated it; the long recital had told upon him.

“Thank you, Mr. Pender,” he said, a curious glow showing about his
fine, quiet face, “thank you for the sincerity and frankness of your
account. But I think now there is nothing further I need ask you.” He
indulged in a long scrutiny of the author’s haggard features, drawing
purposely the man’s eyes to his own and then meeting them with a look
of power and confidence calculated to inspire even the feeblest soul
with courage. “And, to begin with,” he added, smiling pleasantly, “let
me assure you without delay that you need have no alarm, for you are no
more insane or deluded than I myself am----”

Pender heaved a deep sigh and tried to return the smile.

“----and this is simply a case, so far as I can judge at present, of a
very singular psychical invasion, and a very sinister one, too, if you
perhaps understand what I mean----”

“It’s an odd expression; you used it before, you know,” said the
author wearily, yet eagerly listening to every word of the diagnosis,
and deeply touched by the intelligent sympathy which did not at once
indicate the lunatic asylum.

“Possibly,” returned the other, “and an odd affliction too, you’ll
allow, yet one not unknown to the nations of antiquity, nor to those
moderns, perhaps, who recognise the freedom of action under certain
pathogenic conditions between this world and another.”

“And you think,” asked Pender hastily, “that it is all primarily due to
the _Cannabis_? There is nothing radically amiss with myself--nothing
incurable, or----?”

“Due entirely to the overdose,” Dr. Silence replied emphatically, “to
the drug’s direct action upon your psychical being. It rendered you
ultra-sensitive and made you respond to an increased rate of vibration.
And, let me tell you, Mr. Pender, that your experiment might have had
results far more dire. It has brought you into touch with a somewhat
singular class of Invisible, but of one, I think, chiefly human in
character. You might, however, just as easily have been drawn out of
human range altogether, and the results of such a contingency would
have been exceedingly terrible. Indeed, you would not now be here to
tell the tale. I need not alarm you on that score, but mention it as
a warning you will not misunderstand or underrate after what you have
been through.

“You look puzzled. You do not quite gather what I am driving at; and
it is not to be expected that you should, for you, I suppose, are
the nominal Christian with the nominal Christian’s lofty standard of
ethics, and his utter ignorance of spiritual possibilities. Beyond
a somewhat childish understanding of ‘spiritual wickedness in high
places,’ you probably have no conception of what is possible once you
break down the slender gulf that is mercifully fixed between you and
that Outer World. But my studies and training have taken me far outside
these orthodox trips, and I have made experiments that I could scarcely
speak to you about in language that would be intelligible to you.”

He paused a moment to note the breathless interest of Pender’s face and
manner. Every word he uttered was calculated; he knew exactly the value
and effect of the emotions he desired to waken in the heart of the
afflicted being before him.

“And from certain knowledge I have gained through various experiences,”
he continued calmly, “I can diagnose your case as I said before to be
one of psychical invasion.”

“And the nature of this--er--invasion?” stammered the bewildered writer
of humorous tales.

“There is no reason why I should not say at once that I do not yet
quite know,” replied Dr. Silence. “I may first have to make one or two
experiments----”

“On me?” gasped Pender, catching his breath.

“Not exactly,” the doctor said, with a grave smile, “but with your
assistance, perhaps. I shall want to test the conditions of the
house--to ascertain, if possible, the character of the forces, of this
strange personality that has been haunting you----”

“At present you have no idea exactly who--what--why----” asked the
other in a wild flurry of interest, dread and amazement.

“I have a very good idea, but no proof rather,” returned the doctor.
“The effects of the drug in altering the scale of time and space, and
merging the senses have nothing primarily to do with the invasion. They
come to any one who is fool enough to take an experimental dose. It is
the other features of your case that are unusual. You see, you are now
in touch with certain violent emotions, desires, purposes, still active
in this house, that were produced in the past by some powerful and evil
personality that lived here. How long ago, or why they still persist
so forcibly, I cannot positively say. But I should judge that they are
merely forces acting automatically with the momentum of their terrific
original impetus.”

“Not directed by a living being, a conscious will, you mean?”

“Possibly not--but none the less dangerous on that account, and more
difficult to deal with. I cannot explain to you in a few minutes the
nature of such things, for you have not made the studies that would
enable you to follow me; but I have reason to believe that on the
dissolution at death of a human being, its forces may still persist
and continue to act in a blind, unconscious fashion. As a rule they
speedily dissipate themselves, but in the case of a very powerful
personality they may last a long time. And, in some cases--of which I
incline to think this is one--these forces may coalesce with certain
non-human entities who thus continue their life indefinitely and
increase their strength to an unbelievable degree. If the original
personality was evil, the beings attracted to the left-over forces
will also be evil. In this case, I think there has been an unusual and
dreadful aggrandisement of the thoughts and purposes left behind long
ago by a woman of consummate wickedness and great personal power of
character and intellect. Now, do you begin to see what I am driving at
a little?”

Pender stared fixedly at his companion, plain horror showing in his
eyes. But he found nothing to say, and the doctor continued--

“In your case, predisposed by the action of the drug, you have
experienced the rush of these forces in undiluted strength. They
wholly obliterate in you the sense of humour, fancy, imagination,--all
that makes for cheerfulness and hope. They seek, though perhaps
automatically only, to oust your own thoughts and establish themselves
in their place. You are the victim of a psychical invasion. At the same
time, you have become clairvoyant in the true sense. You are also a
clairvoyant victim.”

Pender mopped his face and sighed. He left his chair and went over to
the fireplace to warm himself.

“You must think me a quack to talk like this, or a madman,” laughed
Dr. Silence. “But never mind that. I have come to help you, and I can
help you if you will do what I tell you. It is very simple: you must
leave this house at once. Oh, never mind the difficulties; we will deal
with those together. I can place another house at your disposal, or
I would take the lease here off your hands, and later have it pulled
down. Your case interests me greatly, and I mean to see you through, so
that you have no anxiety, and can drop back into your old groove of
work to-morrow! The drug has provided you, and therefore me, with a
short-cut to a very interesting experience. I am grateful to you.”

The author poked the fire vigorously, emotion rising in him like a
tide. He glanced towards the door nervously.

“There is no need to alarm your wife or to tell her the details of
our conversation,” pursued the other quietly. “Let her know that you
will soon be in possession again of your sense of humour and your
health, and explain that I am lending you another house for six months.
Meanwhile I may have the right to use this house for a night or two for
my experiment. Is that understood between us?”

“I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart,” stammered Pender,
unable to find words to express his gratitude.

Then he hesitated for a moment, searching the doctor’s face anxiously.

“And your experiment with the house?” he said at length.

“Of the simplest character, my dear Mr. Pender. Although I am myself an
artificially trained psychic, and consequently aware of the presence
of discarnate entities as a rule, I have so far felt nothing here at
all. This makes me sure that the forces acting here are of an unusual
description. What I propose to do is to make an experiment with a view
of drawing out this evil, coaxing it from its lair, so to speak, in
order that it may _exhaust itself through me_ and become dissipated for
ever. I have already been inoculated,” he added; “I consider myself to
be immune.”

“Heavens above!” gasped the author, collapsing on to a chair.

“Hell beneath! might be a more appropriate exclamation,” the doctor
laughed. “But, seriously, Mr. Pender, this is what I propose to
do--with your permission.”

“Of course, of course,” cried the other, “you have my permission and my
best wishes for success. I can see no possible objection, but----”

“But what?”

“I pray to Heaven you will not undertake this experiment alone, will
you?”

“Oh dear, no; not alone.”

“You will take a companion with good nerves, and reliable in case of
disaster, won’t you?”

“I shall bring two companions,” the doctor said.

“Ah, that’s better. I feel easier. I am sure you must have among your
acquaintances men who----”

“I shall not think of bringing men, Mr. Pender.”

The other looked up sharply.

“No, or women either; or children.”

“I don’t understand. Who will you bring, then?”

“Animals,” explained the doctor, unable to prevent a smile at his
companion’s expression of surprise--“two animals, a cat and a dog.”

Pender stared as if his eyes would drop out upon the floor, and then
led the way without another word into the adjoining room where his wife
was awaiting them for tea.


II

A few days later the humorist and his wife, with minds greatly
relieved, moved into a small furnished house placed at their free
disposal in another part of London; and John Silence, intent upon his
approaching experiment, made ready to spend a night in the empty house
on the top of Putney Hill. Only two rooms were prepared for occupation:
the study on the ground floor and the bedroom immediately above it;
all other doors were to be locked, and no servant was to be left in
the house. The motor had orders to call for him at nine o’clock the
following morning.

And, meanwhile, his secretary had instructions to look up the past
history and associations of the place, and learn everything he could
concerning the character of former occupants, recent or remote.

The animals, by whose sensitiveness he intended to test any unusual
conditions in the atmosphere of the building, Dr. Silence selected
with care and judgment. He believed (and had already made curious
experiments to prove it) that animals were more often, and more truly,
clairvoyant than human beings. Many of them, he felt convinced,
possessed powers of perception far superior to that mere keenness of
the senses common to all dwellers in the wilds where the senses grow
specially alert; they had what he termed “animal clairvoyance,” and
from his experiments with horses, dogs, cats, and even birds, he had
drawn certain deductions, which, however, need not be referred to in
detail here.

Cats, in particular, he believed, were almost continuously conscious of
a larger field of vision, too detailed even for a photographic camera,
and quite beyond the reach of normal human organs. He had, further,
observed that while dogs were usually terrified in the presence of such
phenomena, cats on the other hand were soothed and satisfied. They
welcomed manifestations as something belonging peculiarly to their own
region.

He selected his animals, therefore, with wisdom so that they might
afford a differing test, each in its own way, and that one should not
merely communicate its own excitement to the other. He took a dog and a
cat.

The cat he chose, now full grown, had lived with him since kittenhood,
a kittenhood of perplexing sweetness and audacious mischief. Wayward
it was and fanciful, ever playing its own mysterious games in the
corners of the room, jumping at invisible nothings, leaping sideways
into the air and falling with tiny mocassined feet on to another part
of the carpet, yet with an air of dignified earnestness which showed
that the performance was necessary to its own well-being, and not done
merely to impress a stupid human audience. In the middle of elaborate
washing it would look up, startled, as though to stare at the approach
of some Invisible, cocking its little head sideways and putting out a
velvet pad to inspect cautiously. Then it would get absent-minded, and
stare with equal intentness in another direction (just to confuse the
onlookers), and suddenly go on furiously washing its body again, but in
quite a new place. Except for a white patch on its breast it was coal
black. And its name was--Smoke.

“Smoke” described its temperament as well as its appearance. Its
movements, its individuality, its posing as a little furry mass of
concealed mysteries, its elfin-like elusiveness, all combined to
justify its name; and a subtle painter might have pictured it as a
wisp of floating smoke, the fire below betraying itself at two points
only--the glowing eyes.

All its forces ran to intelligence--secret intelligence, the wordless,
incalculable intuition of the Cat. It was, indeed, _the_ cat for the
business in hand.

The selection of the dog was not so simple, for the doctor owned many;
but after much deliberation he chose a collie, called Flame from his
yellow coat. True, it was a trifle old, and stiff in the joints, and
even beginning to grow deaf, but, on the other hand, it was a very
particular friend of Smoke’s, and had fathered it from kittenhood
upwards so that a subtle understanding existed between them. It was
this that turned the balance in its favour, this and its courage.
Moreover, though good-tempered, it was a terrible fighter, and its
anger when provoked by a righteous cause was a fury of fire, and
irresistible.

It had come to him quite young, straight from the shepherd, with the
air of the hills yet in its nostrils, and was then little more than
skin and bones and teeth. For a collie it was sturdily built, its nose
blunter than most, its yellow hair stiff rather than silky, and it had
full eyes, unlike the slit eyes of its breed. Only its master could
touch it, for it ignored strangers, and despised their pattings--when
any dared to pat it. There was something patriarchal about the old
beast. He was in earnest, and went through life with tremendous
energy and big things in view, as though he had the reputation of his
whole race to uphold. And to watch him fighting against odds was to
understand why he was terrible.

In his relations with Smoke he was always absurdly gentle; also he
was fatherly; and at the same time betrayed a certain diffidence or
shyness. He recognised that Smoke called for strong yet respectful
management. The cat’s circuitous methods puzzled him, and his elaborate
pretences perhaps shocked the dog’s liking for direct, undisguised
action. Yet, while he failed to comprehend these tortuous feline
mysteries, he was never contemptuous or condescending; and he presided
over the safety of his furry black friend somewhat as a father,
loving but intuitive, might superintend the vagaries of a wayward and
talented child. And, in return, Smoke rewarded him with exhibitions of
fascinating and audacious mischief.

And these brief descriptions of their characters are necessary for the
proper understanding of what subsequently took place.

With Smoke sleeping in the folds of his fur coat, and the collie lying
watchful on the seat opposite, John Silence went down in his motor
after dinner on the night of November 15th.

And the fog was so dense that they were obliged to travel at quarter
speed the entire way.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was after ten o’clock when he dismissed the motor and entered the
dingy little house with the latchkey provided by Pender. He found the
hall gas turned low, and a fire in the study. Books and food had also
been placed ready by the servant according to instructions. Coils of
fog rushed in after him through the opened door and filled the hall and
passage with its cold discomfort.

The first thing Dr. Silence did was to lock up Smoke in the study with
a saucer of milk before the fire, and then make a search of the house
with Flame. The dog ran cheerfully behind him all the way while he
tried the doors of the other rooms to make sure they were locked. He
nosed about into corners and made little excursions on his own account.
His manner was expectant. He knew there must be something unusual about
the proceeding, because it was contrary to the habits of his whole
life not to be asleep at this hour on the mat in front of the fire. He
kept looking up into his master’s face, as door after door was tried,
with an expression of intelligent sympathy, but at the same time a
certain air of disapproval. Yet everything his master did was good in
his eyes, and he betrayed as little impatience as possible with all
this unnecessary journeying to and fro. If the doctor was pleased to
play this sort of game at such an hour of the night, it was surely not
for him to object. So he played it too; and was very busy and earnest
about it into the bargain.

After an uneventful search they came down again to the study, and here
Dr. Silence discovered Smoke washing his face calmly in front of the
fire. The saucer of milk was licked dry and clean; the preliminary
examination that cats always make in new surroundings had evidently
been satisfactorily concluded. He drew an arm-chair up to the fire,
stirred the coals into a blaze, arranged the table and lamp to his
satisfaction for reading, and then prepared surreptitiously to watch
the animals. He wished to observe them carefully without their being
aware of it.

Now, in spite of their respective ages, it was the regular custom of
these two to play together every night before sleep. Smoke always made
the advances, beginning with grave impudence to pat the dog’s tail, and
Flame played cumbrously, with condescension. It was his duty, rather
than pleasure; he was glad when it was over, and sometimes he was very
determined and refused to play at all.

And this night was one of the occasions on which he was firm.

The doctor, looking cautiously over the top of his book, watched
the cat begin the performance. It started by gazing with an innocent
expression at the dog where he lay with nose on paws and eyes wide open
in the middle of the floor. Then it got up and made as though it meant
to walk to the door, going deliberately and very softly. Flame’s eyes
followed it until it was beyond the range of sight, and then the cat
turned sharply and began patting his tail tentatively with one paw.
The tail moved slightly in reply, and Smoke changed paws and tapped
it again. The dog, however, did not rise to play as was his wont, and
the cat fell to patting it briskly with both paws. Flame still lay
motionless.

This puzzled and bored the cat, and it went round and stared hard into
its friend’s face to see what was the matter. Perhaps some inarticulate
message flashed from the dog’s eyes into its own little brain, making
it understand that the programme for the night had better not begin
with play. Perhaps it only realised that its friend was immovable. But,
whatever the reason, its usual persistence thenceforward deserted it,
and it made no further attempts at persuasion. Smoke yielded at once to
the dog’s mood; it sat down where it was and began to wash.

But the washing, the doctor noted, was by no means its real purpose;
it only used it to mask something else; it stopped at the most busy
and furious moments and began to stare about the room. Its thoughts
wandered absurdly. It peered intently at the curtains; at the shadowy
corners; at empty space above; leaving its body in curiously awkward
positions for whole minutes together. Then it turned sharply and stared
with a sudden signal of intelligence at the dog, and Flame at once
rose somewhat stiffly to his feet and began to wander aimlessly and
restlessly to and fro about the floor. Smoke followed him, padding
quietly at his heels. Between them they made what seemed to be a
deliberate search of the room.

And, here, as he watched them, noting carefully every detail of
the performance over the top of his book, yet making no effort to
interfere, it seemed to the doctor that the first beginnings of a
faint distress betrayed themselves in the collie, and in the cat the
stirrings of a vague excitement.

He observed them closely. The fog was thick in the air, and the
tobacco smoke from his pipe added to its density; the furniture at the
far end stood mistily, and where the shadows congregated in hanging
clouds under the ceiling, it was difficult to see clearly at all; the
lamplight only reached to a level of five feet from the floor, above
which came layers of comparative darkness, so that the room appeared
twice as lofty as it actually was. By means of the lamp and the fire,
however, the carpet was everywhere clearly visible.

The animals made their silent tour of the floor, sometimes the dog
leading, sometimes the cat; occasionally they looked at one another
as though exchanging signals; and once or twice, in spite of the
limited space, he lost sight of one or other among the fog and the
shadows. Their curiosity, it appeared to him, was something more than
the excitement lurking in the unknown territory of a strange room;
yet, so far, it was impossible to test this, and he purposely kept his
mind quietly receptive lest the smallest mental excitement on his part
should communicate itself to the animals and thus destroy the value of
their independent behaviour.

They made a very thorough journey, leaving no piece of furniture
unexamined, or unsmelt. Flame led the way, walking slowly with lowered
head, and Smoke followed demurely at his heels, making a transparent
pretence of not being interested, yet missing nothing. And, at length,
they returned, the old collie first, and came to rest on the mat
before the fire. Flame rested his muzzle on his master’s knee, smiling
beatifically while he patted the yellow head and spoke his name; and
Smoke, coming a little later, pretending he came by chance, looked from
the empty saucer to his face, lapped up the milk when it was given him
to the last drop, and then sprang upon his knees and curled round for
the sleep it had fully earned and intended to enjoy.

Silence descended upon the room. Only the breathing of the dog upon the
mat came through the deep stillness, like the pulse of time marking
the minutes; and the steady drip, drip of the fog outside upon the
window-ledges dismally testified to the inclemency of the night beyond.
And the soft crashings of the coals as the fire settled down into the
grate became less and less audible as the fire sank and the flames
resigned their fierceness.

It was now well after eleven o’clock, and Dr. Silence devoted himself
again to his book. He read the words on the printed page and took
in their meaning superficially, yet without starting into life
the correlations of thought and suggestion that should accompany
interesting reading. Underneath, all the while, his mental energies
were absorbed in watching, listening, waiting for what might come.
He was not over sanguine himself, yet he did not wish to be taken
by surprise. Moreover, the animals, his sensitive barometers, had
incontinently gone to sleep.

After reading a dozen pages, however, he realised that his mind was
really occupied in reviewing the features of Pender’s extraordinary
story, and that it was no longer necessary to steady his imagination
by studying the dull paragraphs detailed in the pages before him. He
laid down his book accordingly, and allowed his thoughts to dwell upon
the features of the Case. Speculations as to the meaning, however, he
rigorously suppressed, knowing that such thoughts would act upon his
imagination like wind upon the glowing embers of a fire.

As the night wore on the silence grew deeper and deeper, and only
at rare intervals he heard the sound of wheels on the main road a
hundred yards away, where the horses went at a walking pace owing to
the density of the fog. The echo of pedestrian footsteps no longer
reached him, the clamour of occasional voices no longer came down the
side street The night, muffled by fog, shrouded by veils of ultimate
mystery, hung about the haunted villa like a doom. Nothing in the house
stirred. Stillness, in a thick blanket, lay over the upper storeys.
Only the mist in the room grew more dense, he thought, and the damp
cold more penetrating. Certainly, from time to time, he shivered.

The collie, now deep in slumber, moved occasionally,--grunted, sighed,
or twitched his legs in dreams. Smoke lay on his knees, a pool of warm,
black fur, only the closest observation detecting the movement of his
sleek sides. It was difficult to distinguish exactly where his head and
body joined in that circle of glistening hair; only a black satin nose
and a tiny tip of pink tongue betrayed the secret.

Dr. Silence watched him, and felt comfortable. The collie’s breathing
was soothing. The fire was well built, and would burn for another two
hours without attention. He was not conscious of the least nervousness.
He particularly wished to remain in his ordinary and normal state of
mind, and to force nothing. If sleep came naturally, he would let it
come--and even welcome it. The coldness of the room, when the fire
died down later, would be sure to wake him again; and it would then be
time enough to carry these sleeping barometers up to bed. From various
psychic premonitions he knew quite well that the night would not pass
without adventure; but he did not wish to force its arrival; and he
wished to remain normal, and let the animals remain normal, so that,
when it came, it would be unattended by excitement or by any straining
of the attention. Many experiments had made him wise. And, for the
rest, he had no fear.

Accordingly, after a time, he did fall asleep as he had expected, and
the last thing he remembered, before oblivion slipped up over his eyes
like soft wool, was the picture of Flame stretching all four legs at
once, and sighing noisily as he sought a more comfortable position for
his paws and muzzle upon the mat.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a good deal later when he became aware that a weight lay upon
his chest, and that something was pencilling over his face and mouth. A
soft touch on the cheek woke him. Something was patting him.

He sat up with a jerk, and found himself staring straight into a pair
of brilliant eyes, half green, half black. Smoke’s face lay level with
his own; and the cat had climbed up with its front paws upon his chest.

The lamp had burned low and the fire was nearly out, yet Dr. Silence
saw in a moment that the cat was in an excited state. It kneaded with
its front paws into his chest, shifting from one to the other. He felt
them prodding against him. It lifted a leg very carefully and patted
his cheek gingerly. Its fur, he saw, was standing ridgewise upon its
back; the ears were flattened back somewhat; the tail was switching
sharply. The cat, of course, had wakened him with a purpose, and the
instant he realised this, he set it upon the arm of the chair and
sprang up with a quick turn to face the empty room behind him. By some
curious instinct, his arms of their own accord assumed an attitude
of defence in front of him, as though to ward off something that
threatened his safety. Yet nothing was visible. Only shapes of fog hung
about rather heavily in the air, moving slightly to and fro.

His mind was now fully alert, and the last vestiges of sleep gone. He
turned the lamp higher and peered about him. Two things he became aware
of at once: one, that Smoke, while excited, was _pleasurably_ excited;
the other, that the collie was no longer visible upon the mat at his
feet. He had crept away to the corner of the wall farthest from the
window, and lay watching the room with wide-open eyes, in which lurked
plainly something of alarm.

Something in the dog’s behaviour instantly struck Dr. Silence as
unusual, and, calling him by name, he moved across to pat him. Flame
got up, wagged his tail, and came over slowly to the rug, uttering a
low sound that was half growl, half whine. He was evidently perturbed
about something, and his master was proceeding to administer comfort
when his attention was suddenly drawn to the antics of his other
four-footed companion, the cat.

And what he saw filled him with something like amazement.

Smoke had jumped down from the back of the arm-chair and now occupied
the middle of the carpet, where, with tail erect and legs stiff as
ramrods, it was steadily pacing backwards and forwards in a narrow
space, uttering, as it did so, those curious little guttural sounds of
pleasure that only an animal of the feline species knows how to make
expressive of supreme happiness. Its stiffened legs and arched back
made it appear larger than usual, and the black visage wore a smile of
beatific joy. Its eyes blazed magnificently; it was in an ecstasy.

At the end of every few paces it turned sharply and stalked back again
along the same line, padding softly, and purring like a roll of little
muffled drums. It behaved precisely as though it were rubbing against
the ankles of some one who remained invisible. A thrill ran down the
doctor’s spine as he stood and stared. His experiment was growing
interesting at last.

He called the collie’s attention to his friend’s performance to see
whether he too was aware of anything standing there upon the carpet;
and the dog’s behaviour was significant and corroborative. He came
as far as his master’s knees and then stopped dead, refusing to
investigate closely. In vain Dr. Silence urged him; he wagged his
tail, whined a little, and stood in a half-crouching attitude, staring
alternately at the cat and at his master’s face. He was, apparently,
both puzzled and alarmed, and the whine went deeper and deeper down
into his throat till it changed into an ugly snarl of awakening anger.

Then the doctor called to him in a tone of command he had never known
to be disregarded; but still the dog, though springing up in response,
declined to move nearer. He made tentative motions, pranced a little
like a dog about to take to water, pretended to bark, and ran to and
fro on the carpet. So far there was no actual fear in his manner, but
he was uneasy and anxious, and nothing would induce him to go within
touching distance of the walking cat. Once he made a complete circuit,
but always carefully out of reach; and in the end he returned to his
master’s legs and rubbed vigorously against him. Flame did not like the
performance at all: that much was quite clear.

For several minutes John Silence watched the performance of the cat
with profound attention and without interfering. Then he called to the
animal by name.

“Smoke, you mysterious beastie, what in the world are you about?” he
said, in a coaxing tone.

The cat looked up at him for a moment, smiling in its ecstasy, blinking
its eyes, but too happy to pause. He spoke to it again. He called to it
several times, and each time it turned upon him its blazing eyes, drunk
with inner delight, opening and shutting its lips, its body large and
rigid with excitement. Yet it never for one instant paused in its short
journeys to and fro.

He noted exactly what it did: it walked, he saw, the same number of
paces each time, some six or seven steps, and then it turned sharply
and retraced them. By the pattern of the great roses in the carpet
he measured it. It kept to the same direction and the same line. It
behaved precisely as though it were rubbing against something solid.
Undoubtedly, there was something standing there on that strip of
carpet, something invisible to the doctor, something that alarmed the
dog, yet caused the cat unspeakable pleasure.

“Smokie!” he called again, “Smokie, you black mystery, what is it
excites you so?”

Again the cat looked up at him for a brief second, and then continued
its sentry-walk, blissfully happy, intensely preoccupied. And, for an
instant, as he watched it, the doctor was aware that a faint uneasiness
stirred in the depths of his own being, focusing itself for the moment
upon this curious behaviour of the uncanny creature before him.

There rose in him quite a new realisation of the mystery connected
with the whole feline tribe, but especially with that common member
of it, the domestic cat--their hidden lives, their strange aloofness,
their incalculable subtlety. How utterly remote from anything that
human beings understood lay the sources of their elusive activities.
As he watched the indescribable bearing of the little creature mincing
along the strip of carpet under his eyes, coquetting with the powers
of darkness, welcoming, maybe, some fearsome visitor, there stirred in
his heart a feeling strangely akin to awe. Its indifference to human
kind, its serene superiority to the obvious, struck him forcibly with
fresh meaning; so remote, so inaccessible seemed the secret purposes of
its real life, so alien to the blundering honesty of other animals.
Its absolute poise of bearing brought into his mind the opium-eater’s
words that “no dignity is perfect which does not at some point ally
itself with the mysterious”; and he became suddenly aware that the
presence of the dog in this foggy, haunted room on the top of Putney
Hill was uncommonly welcome to him. He was glad to feel that Flame’s
dependable personality was with him. The savage growling at his heels
was a pleasant sound. He was glad to hear it. That marching cat made
him uneasy.

Finding that Smoke paid no further attention to his words, the doctor
decided upon action. Would it rub against his leg, too? He would take
it by surprise and see.

He stepped quickly forward and placed himself upon the exact strip of
carpet where it walked.

But no cat is ever taken by surprise! The moment he occupied the space
of the Intruder, setting his feet on the woven roses midway in the line
of travel, Smoke suddenly stopped purring and sat down. It lifted up
its face with the most innocent stare imaginable of its green eyes. He
could have sworn it laughed. It was a perfect child again. In a single
second it had resumed its simple, domestic manner; and it gazed at him
in such a way that he almost felt Smoke was the normal being, and _his_
was the eccentric behaviour that was being watched. It was consummate,
the manner in which it brought about this change so easily and so
quickly.

“Superb little actor!” he laughed in spite of himself, and stooped to
stroke the shining black back. But, in a flash, as he touched its fur,
the cat turned and spat at him viciously, striking at his hand with
one paw. Then, with a hurried scutter of feet, it shot like a shadow
across the floor and a moment later was calmly sitting over by the
window-curtains washing its face as though nothing interested it in the
whole world but the cleanness of its cheeks and whiskers.

John Silence straightened himself up and drew a long breath. He
realised that the performance was temporarily at an end. The
collie, meanwhile, who had watched the whole proceeding with marked
disapproval, had now lain down again upon the mat by the fire, no
longer growling. It seemed to the doctor just as though something that
had entered the room while he slept, alarming the dog, yet bringing
happiness to the cat, had now gone out again, leaving all as it was
before. Whatever it was that excited its blissful attentions had
retreated for the moment.

He realised this intuitively. Smoke evidently realised it, too, for
presently he deigned to march back to the fireplace and jump upon his
master’s knees. Dr. Silence, patient and determined, settled down once
more to his book. The animals soon slept; the fire blazed cheerfully;
and the cold fog from outside poured into the room through every
available chink and cranny.

For a long time silence and peace reigned in the room and Dr. Silence
availed himself of the quietness to make careful notes of what had
happened. He entered for future use in other cases an exhaustive
analysis of what he had observed, especially with regard to the
effect upon the two animals. It is impossible here, nor would it be
intelligible to the reader unversed in the knowledge of the region
known to a scientifically trained psychic like Dr. Silence, to
detail these observations. But to him it was clear, up to a certain
point--and for the rest he must still wait and watch. So far, at least,
he realised that while he slept in the chair--that is, while his will
was dormant--the room had suffered intrusion from what he recognised
as an intensely active Force, and might later be forced to acknowledge
as something more than merely a blind force, namely, a distinct
personality.

So far it had affected himself scarcely at all, but had acted directly
upon the simpler organisms of the animals. It stimulated keenly the
centres of the cat’s psychic being, inducing a state of instant
happiness (intensifying its consciousness probably in the same way
a drug or stimulant intensifies that of a human being); whereas it
alarmed the less sensitive dog, causing it to feel a vague apprehension
and distress.

His own sudden action and exhibition of energy had served to disperse
it temporarily, yet he felt convinced--the indications were not lacking
even while he sat there making notes--that it still remained near to
him, conditionally if not spatially, and was, as it were, gathering
force for a second attack.

And, further, he intuitively understood that the relations between the
two animals had undergone a subtle change: that the cat had become
immeasurably superior, confident, sure of itself in its own peculiar
region, whereas Flame had been weakened by an attack he could not
comprehend and knew not how to reply to. Though not yet afraid, he was
defiant--ready to act against a fear that he felt to be approaching. He
was no longer fatherly and protective towards the cat. Smoke held the
key to the situation; and both he and the cat knew it.

Thus, as the minutes passed, John Silence sat and waited, keenly on
the alert, wondering how soon the attack would be renewed, and at what
point it would be diverted from the animals and directed upon himself.

The book lay on the floor beside him, his notes were complete. With one
hand on the cat’s fur, and the dog’s front paws resting against his
feet, the three of them dozed comfortably before the hot fire while the
night wore on and the silence deepened towards midnight.

It was well after one o’clock in the morning when Dr. Silence turned
the lamp out and lighted the candle preparatory to going up to bed.
Then Smoke suddenly woke with a loud sharp purr and sat up. It neither
stretched, washed nor turned: it listened. And the doctor, watching it,
realised that a certain indefinable change had come about that very
moment in the room. A swift readjustment of the forces within the four
walls had taken place--a new disposition of their personal equations.
The balance was destroyed, the former harmony gone. Smoke, most
sensitive of barometers, had been the first to feel it, but the dog was
not slow to follow suit, for on looking down he noted that Flame was no
longer asleep. He was lying with eyes wide open, and that same instant
he sat up on his great haunches and began to growl.

Dr. Silence was in the act of taking the matches to re-light the lamp
when an audible movement in the room behind made him pause. Smoke
leaped down from his knee and moved forward a few paces across the
carpet. Then it stopped and stared fixedly; and the doctor stood up on
the rug to watch.

As he rose the sound was repeated, and he discovered that it was not
in the room as he first thought, but outside, and that it came from
more directions than one. There was a rushing, sweeping noise against
the window-panes, and simultaneously a sound of something brushing
against the door--out in the hall. Smoke advanced sedately across the
carpet, twitching his tail, and sat down within a foot of the door. The
influence that had destroyed the harmonious conditions of the room had
apparently moved in advance of its cause. Clearly, something was about
to happen.

For the first time that night John Silence hesitated; the thought of
that dark narrow hall-way, choked with fog, and destitute of human
comfort, was unpleasant. He became aware of a faint creeping of his
flesh. He knew, of course, that the actual opening of the door was not
necessary to the invasion of the room that was about to take place,
since neither doors nor windows, nor any other solid barriers could
interpose an obstacle to what was seeking entrance. Yet the opening of
the door would be significant and symbolic, and he distinctly shrank
from it.

But for a moment only. Smoke, turning with a show of impatience,
recalled him to his purpose, and he moved past the sitting, watching
creature, and deliberately opened the door to its full width.

What subsequently happened, happened in the feeble and flickering light
of the solitary candle on the mantelpiece.

Through the opened door he saw the hall, dimly lit and thick with fog.
Nothing, of course, was visible--nothing but the hat-stand, the African
spears in dark lines upon the wall and the high-backed wooden chair
standing grotesquely underneath on the oilcloth floor. For one instant
the fog seemed to move and thicken oddly; but he set that down to the
score of the imagination. The door had opened upon nothing.

Yet Smoke apparently thought otherwise, and the deep growling of the
collie from the mat at the back of the room seemed to confirm his
judgment.

For, proud and self-possessed, the cat had again risen to his feet,
and having advanced to the door, was now ushering some one slowly into
the room. Nothing could have been more evident. He paced from side to
side, bowing his little head with great _empressement_ and holding his
stiffened tail aloft like a flagstaff. He turned this way and that,
mincing to and fro, and showing signs of supreme satisfaction. He was
in his element. He welcomed the intrusion, and apparently reckoned that
his companions, the doctor and the dog, would welcome it likewise.

The Intruder had returned for a second attack.

Dr. Silence moved slowly backwards and took up his position on the
hearthrug, keying himself up to a condition of concentrated attention.

He noted that Flame stood beside him, facing the room, with body
motionless, and head moving swiftly from side to side with a curious
swaying movement. His eyes were wide open, his back rigid, his neck and
jaws thrust forward, his legs tense and ready to leap. Savage, ready
for attack or defence, yet dreadfully puzzled and perhaps already a
little cowed, he stood and stared, the hair on his spine and sides
positively bristling outwards as though a wind played through them. In
the dim firelight he looked like a great yellow-haired wolf, silent,
eyes shooting dark fire, exceedingly formidable. It was Flame, the
terrible.

Smoke, meanwhile, advanced from the door towards the middle of the
room, adopting the very slow pace of an invisible companion. A few
feet away it stopped and began to smile and blink its eyes. There
was something deliberately coaxing in its attitude as it stood there
undecided on the carpet, clearly wishing to effect some sort of
introduction between the Intruder and its canine friend and ally.
It assumed its most winning manners, purring, smiling, looking
persuasively from one to the other, and making quick tentative steps
first in one direction and then in the other. There had always existed
such perfect understanding between them in everything. Surely Flame
would appreciate Smoke’s intentions now, and acquiesce.

But the old collie made no advances. He bared his teeth, lifting
his lips till the gums showed, and stood stockstill with fixed eyes
and heaving sides. The doctor moved a little farther back, watching
intently the smallest movement, and it was just then he divined
suddenly from the cat’s behaviour and attitude that it was not only a
single companion it had ushered into the room, but _several_. It kept
crossing over from one to the other, looking up at each in turn. It
sought to win over the dog to friendliness with them all. The original
Intruder had come back with reinforcements. And at the same time he
further realised that the Intruder was something more than a blindly
acting force, impersonal though destructive. It was a Personality, and
moreover a great personality. And it was accompanied for the purposes
of assistance by a host of other personalities, minor in degree, but
similar in kind.

He braced himself in the corner against the mantelpiece and waited,
his whole being roused to defence, for he was now fully aware that
the attack had spread to include himself as well as the animals,
and he must be on the alert. He strained his eyes through the foggy
atmosphere, trying in vain to see what the cat and dog saw; but the
candlelight threw an uncertain and flickering light across the room and
his eyes discerned nothing. On the floor Smoke moved softly in front of
him like a black shadow, his eyes gleaming as he turned his head, still
trying with many insinuating gestures and much purring to bring about
the introductions he desired.

But it was all in vain. Flame stood riveted to one spot, motionless as
a figure carved in stone.

Some minutes passed, during which only the cat moved, and then there
came a sharp change. Flame began to back towards the wall. He moved
his head from side to side as he went, sometimes turning to snap at
something almost behind him. _They_ were advancing upon him, trying to
surround him. His distress became very marked from now onwards, and
it seemed to the doctor that his anger merged into genuine terror and
became overwhelmed by it. The savage growl sounded perilously like a
whine, and more than once he tried to dive past his master’s legs, as
though hunting for a way of escape. He was trying to avoid something
that everywhere blocked the way.

This terror of the indomitable fighter impressed the doctor enormously;
yet also painfully; stirring his impatience; for he had never before
seen the dog show signs of giving in, and it distressed him to witness
it. He knew, however, that he was not giving in easily, and understood
that it was really impossible for him to gauge the animal’s sensations
properly at all. What Flame felt, and saw, must be terrible indeed to
turn him all at once into a coward. He faced something that made him
afraid of more than his life merely. The doctor spoke a few quick words
of encouragement to him, and stroked the bristling hair. But without
much success. The collie seemed already beyond the reach of comfort
such as that, and the collapse of the old dog followed indeed very
speedily after this.

And Smoke, meanwhile, remained behind, watching the advance, but not
joining in it; sitting, pleased and expectant, considering that all
was going well and as it wished. It was kneading on the carpet with
its front paws--slowly, laboriously, as though its feet were dipped in
treacle. The sound its claws made as they caught in the threads was
distinctly audible. It was still smiling, blinking, purring.

Suddenly the collie uttered a poignant short bark and leaped heavily to
one side. His bared teeth traced a line of whiteness through the gloom.
The next instant he dashed past his master’s legs, almost upsetting his
balance, and shot out into the room, where he went blundering wildly
against walls and furniture. But that bark was significant; the doctor
had heard it before and knew what it meant: for it was the cry of the
fighter against odds and it meant that the old beast had found his
courage again. Possibly it was only the courage of despair, but at any
rate the fighting would be terrific. And Dr. Silence understood, too,
that he dared not interfere. Flame must fight his own enemies in his
own way.

But the cat, too, had heard that dreadful bark; and it, too, had
understood. This was more than it had bargained for. Across the dim
shadows of that haunted room there must have passed some secret signal
of distress between the animals. Smoke stood up and looked swiftly
about him. He uttered a piteous meow and trotted smartly away into the
greater darkness by the windows. What his object was only those endowed
with the spirit-like intelligence of cats might know. But, at any rate,
he had at last ranged himself on the side of his friend. And the little
beast meant business.

At the same moment the collie managed to gain the door. The doctor saw
him rush through into the hall like a flash of yellow light. He shot
across the oilcloth, and tore up the stairs, but in another second he
appeared again, flying down the steps and landing at the bottom in a
tumbling heap, whining, cringing, terrified. The doctor saw him slink
back into the room again and crawl round by the wall towards the cat.
Was, then, even the staircase occupied? Did _They_ stand also in the
hall? Was the whole house crowded from floor to ceiling?

The thought came to add to the keen distress he felt at the sight of
the collie’s discomfiture. And, indeed, his own personal distress had
increased in a marked degree during the past minutes, and continued
to increase steadily to the climax. He recognised that the drain on
his own vitality grew steadily, and that the attack was now directed
against himself even more than against the defeated dog, and the too
much deceived cat.

It all seemed so rapid and uncalculated after that--the events that
took place in this little modern room at the top of Putney Hill between
midnight and sunrise--that Dr. Silence was hardly able to follow and
remember it all. It came about with such uncanny swiftness and terror;
the light was so uncertain; the movements of the black cat so difficult
to follow on the dark carpet, and the doctor himself so weary and taken
by surprise--that he found it almost impossible to observe accurately,
or to recall afterwards precisely what it was he had seen or in what
order the incidents had taken place. He never could understand what
defect of vision on his part made it seem as though the cat had
duplicated itself at first, and then increased indefinitely, so that
there were at least a dozen of them darting silently about the floor,
leaping softly on to chairs and tables, passing like shadows from the
open door to the end of the room, all black as sin, with brilliant
green eyes flashing fire in all directions. It was like the reflections
from a score of mirrors placed round the walls at different angles.
Nor could he make out at the time why the size of the room seemed to
have altered, grown much larger, and why it extended away behind him
where ordinarily the wall should have been. The snarling of the enraged
and terrified collie sounded sometimes so far away; the ceiling seemed
to have raised itself so much higher than before, and much of the
furniture had changed in appearance and shifted marvellously.

It was all so confused and confusing, as though the little room he knew
had become merged and transformed into the dimensions of quite another
chamber, that came to him, with its host of cats and its strange
distances, in a sort of vision.

But these changes came about a little later, and at a time when his
attention was so concentrated upon the proceedings of Smoke and the
collie, that he only observed them, as it were, subconsciously. And the
excitement, the flickering candlelight, the distress he felt for the
collie, and the distorting atmosphere of fog were the poorest possible
allies to careful observation.

At first he was only aware that the dog was repeating his short
dangerous bark from time to time, snapping viciously at the empty
air, a foot or so from the ground. Once, indeed, he sprang upwards
and forwards, working furiously with teeth and paws, and with a noise
like wolves fighting, but only to dash back the next minute against
the wall behind him. Then, after lying still for a bit, he rose to a
crouching position as though to spring again, snarling horribly and
making short half-circles with lowered head. And Smoke all the while
meowed piteously by the window as though trying to draw the attack upon
himself.

Then it was that the rush of the whole dreadful business seemed to turn
aside from the dog and direct itself upon his own person. The collie
had made another spring and fallen back with a crash into the corner,
where he made noise enough in his savage rage to waken the dead before
he fell to whining and then finally lay still. And directly afterwards
the doctor’s own distress became intolerably acute. He had made a half
movement forward to come to the rescue when a veil that was denser
than mere fog seemed to drop down over the scene, draping room, walls,
animals and fire in a mist of darkness and folding also about his own
mind. Other forms moved silently across the field of vision, forms
that he recognised from previous experiments, and welcomed not. Unholy
thoughts began to crowd into his brain, sinister suggestions of evil
presented themselves seductively. Ice seemed to settle about his heart,
and his mind trembled. He began to lose memory--memory of his identity,
of where he was, of what he ought to do. The very foundations of his
strength were shaken. His will seemed paralysed.

And it was then that the room filled with this horde of cats, all dark
as the night, all silent, all with lamping eyes of green fire. The
dimensions of the place altered and shifted. He was in a much larger
space. The whining of the dog sounded far away, and all about him the
cats flew busily to and fro, silently playing their tearing, rushing
game of evil, weaving the pattern of their dark purpose upon the floor.
He strove hard to collect himself and remember the words of power he
had made use of before in similar dread positions where his dangerous
practice had sometimes led; but he could recall nothing consecutively;
a mist lay over his mind and memory; he felt dazed and his forces
scattered. The deeps within were too troubled for healing power to come
out of them.

It was glamour, of course, he realised afterwards, the strong glamour
thrown upon his imagination by some powerful personality behind the
veil; but at the time he was not sufficiently aware of this and, as
with all true glamour, was unable to grasp where the true ended and
the false began. He was caught momentarily in the same vortex that
had sought to lure the cat to destruction through its delight, and
threatened utterly to overwhelm the dog through its terror.

There came a sound in the chimney behind him like wind booming and
tearing its way down. The windows rattled. The candle flickered and
went out. The glacial atmosphere closed round him with the cold of
death, and a great rushing sound swept by overhead as though the
ceiling had lifted to a great height. He heard the door shut. Far
away it sounded. He felt lost, shelterless in the depths of his soul.
Yet still he held out and resisted while the climax of the fight came
nearer and nearer.... He had stepped into the stream of forces awakened
by Pender and he knew that he must withstand them to the end or come to
a conclusion that it was not good for a man to come to. Something from
the region of utter cold was upon him.

And then quite suddenly, through the confused mists about him, there
slowly rose up the Personality that had been all the time directing
the battle. Some force entered his being that shook him as the
tempest shakes a leaf, and close against his eyes--clean level with
his face--he found himself staring into the wreck of a vast dark
Countenance, a countenance that was terrible even in its ruin.

For ruined it was, and terrible it was, and the mark of spiritual
evil was branded everywhere upon its broken features. Eyes, face and
hair rose level with his own, and for a space of time he never could
properly measure, or determine, these two, a man and a woman, looked
straight into each other’s visages and down into each other’s hearts.

And John Silence, the soul with the good, unselfish motive, held his
own against the dark discarnate woman whose motive was pure evil, and
whose soul was on the side of the Dark Powers.

It was the climax that touched the depth of power within him and began
to restore him slowly to his own. He was conscious, of course, of
effort, and yet it seemed no superhuman one, for he had recognised the
character of his opponent’s power, and he called upon the good within
him to meet and overcome it. The inner forces stirred and trembled
in response to his call. They did not at first come readily as was
their habit, for under the spell of glamour they had already been
diabolically lulled into inactivity, but come they eventually did,
rising out of the inner spiritual nature he had learned with so much
time and pain to awaken to life. And power and confidence came with
them. He began to breathe deeply and regularly, and at the same time
to absorb into himself the forces opposed to him, and to _turn them to
his own account_. By ceasing to resist, and allowing the deadly stream
to pour into him unopposed, he used the very power supplied by his
adversary and thus enormously increased his own.

For this spiritual alchemy he had learned. He understood that force
ultimately is everywhere one and the same; it is the motive behind
that makes it good or evil; and his motive was entirely unselfish. He
knew--provided he was not first robbed of self-control--how vicariously
to absorb these evil radiations into himself and change them magically
into his own good purposes. And, since his motive was pure and his soul
fearless, they could not work him harm.

Thus he stood in the main stream of evil unwittingly attracted by
Pender, deflecting its course upon himself; and after passing through
the purifying filter of his own unselfishness these energies could only
add to his store of experience, of knowledge, and therefore of power.
And, as his self-control returned to him, he gradually accomplished
this purpose, even though trembling while he did so.

Yet the struggle was severe, and in spite of the freezing chill of the
air, the perspiration poured down his face. Then, by slow degrees, the
dark and dreadful countenance faded, the glamour passed from his soul,
the normal proportions returned to walls and ceiling, the forms melted
back into the fog, and the whirl of rushing shadow-cats disappeared
whence they came.

And with the return of the consciousness of his own identity John
Silence was restored to the full control of his own will-power. In a
deep, modulated voice he began to utter certain rhythmical sounds that
slowly rolled through the air like a rising sea, filling the room with
powerful vibratory activities that whelmed all irregularities of lesser
vibrations in its own swelling tone. He made certain sigils, gestures
and movements at the same time. For several minutes he continued to
utter these words, until at length the growing volume dominated the
whole room and mastered the manifestation of all that opposed it. For
just as he understood the spiritual alchemy that can transmute evil
forces by raising them into higher channels, so he knew from long study
the occult use of sound, and its direct effect upon the plastic region
wherein the powers of spiritual evil work their fell purposes. Harmony
was restored first of all to his own soul, and thence to the room and
all its occupants.

And, after himself, the first to recognise it was the old dog lying
in his corner. Flame began suddenly uttering sounds of pleasure, that
“something” between a growl and a grunt that dogs make upon being
restored to their master’s confidence. Dr. Silence heard the thumping
of the collie’s tail against the ground. And the grunt and the thumping
touched the depth of affection in the man’s heart, and gave him some
inkling of what agonies the dumb creature had suffered.

Next, from the shadows by the window, a somewhat shrill purring
announced the restoration of the cat to its normal state. Smoke was
advancing across the carpet. He seemed very pleased with himself, and
smiled with an expression of supreme innocence. He was no shadow-cat,
but real and full of his usual and perfect self-possession. He marched
along, picking his way delicately, but with a stately dignity that
suggested his ancestry with the majesty of Egypt. His eyes no longer
glared; they shone steadily before him; they radiated, not excitement,
but knowledge. Clearly he was anxious to make amends for the mischief
to which he had unwittingly lent himself owing to his subtle and
electric constitution.

Still uttering his sharp high purrings he marched up to his master and
rubbed vigorously against his legs. Then he stood on his hind feet and
pawed his knees and stared beseechingly up into his face. He turned his
head towards the corner where the collie still lay, thumping his tail
feebly and pathetically.

John Silence understood. He bent down and stroked the creature’s living
fur, noting the line of bright blue sparks that followed the motion of
his hand down its back. And then they advanced together towards the
corner where the dog was.

Smoke went first and put his nose gently against his friend’s muzzle,
purring while he rubbed, and uttering little soft sounds of affection
in his throat. The doctor lit the candle and brought it over. He
saw the collie lying on its side against the wall; it was utterly
exhausted, and foam still hung about its jaws. Its tail and eyes
responded to the sound of its name, but it was evidently very weak and
overcome. Smoke continued to rub against its cheek and nose and eyes,
sometimes even standing on its body and kneading into the thick yellow
hair. Flame replied from time to time by little licks of the tongue,
most of them curiously misdirected.

But Dr. Silence felt intuitively that something disastrous had
happened, and his heart was wrung. He stroked the dear body, feeling
it over for bruises or broken bones, but finding none. He fed it with
what remained of the sandwiches and milk, but the creature clumsily
upset the saucer and lost the sandwiches between its paws, so that the
doctor had to feed it with his own hand. And all the while Smoke meowed
piteously.

Then John Silence began to understand. He went across to the farther
side of the room and called aloud to it.

“Flame, old man! come!”

At any other time the dog would have been upon him in an instant,
barking and leaping to the shoulder. And even now he got up, though
heavily and awkwardly, to his feet. He started to run, wagging his
tail more briskly. He collided first with a chair, and then ran
straight into a table. Smoke trotted close at his side, trying his very
best to guide him. But it was useless. Dr. Silence had to lift him up
into his own arms and carry him like a baby. For he was blind.


III

It was a week later when John Silence called to see the author in his
new house, and found him well on the way to recovery and already busy
again with his writing. The haunted look had left his eyes, and he
seemed cheerful and confident.

“Humour restored?” laughed the doctor, as soon as they were comfortably
settled in the room overlooking the Park.

“I’ve had no trouble since I left that dreadful place,” returned Pender
gratefully; “and thanks to you----”

The doctor stopped him with a gesture.

“Never mind that,” he said, “we’ll discuss your new plans afterwards,
and my scheme for relieving you of the house and helping you settle
elsewhere. Of course it must be pulled down, for it’s not fit for any
sensitive person to live in, and any other tenant might be afflicted
in the same way you were. Although, personally, I think the evil has
exhausted itself by now.”

He told the astonished author something of his experiences in it with
the animals.

“I don’t pretend to understand,” Pender said, when the account was
finished, “but I and my wife are intensely relieved to be free of it
all. Only I must say I should like to know something of the former
history of the house. When we took it six months ago I heard no word
against it.”

Dr. Silence drew a typewritten paper from his pocket.

“I can satisfy your curiosity to some extent,” he said, running
his eye over the sheets, and then replacing them in his coat; “for
by my secretary’s investigations I have been able to check certain
information obtained in the hypnotic trance by a ‘sensitive’ who helps
me in such cases. The former occupant who haunted you appears to have
been a woman of singularly atrocious life and character who finally
suffered death by hanging, after a series of crimes that appalled the
whole of England and only came to light by the merest chance. She came
to her end in the year 1798, for it was not this particular house she
lived in, but a much larger one that then stood upon the site it now
occupies, and was then, of course, not in London, but in the country.
She was a person of intellect, possessed of a powerful, trained will,
and of consummate audacity, and I am convinced availed herself of the
resources of the lower magic to attain her ends. This goes far to
explain the virulence of the attack upon yourself, and why she is still
able to carry on after death the evil practices that formed her main
purpose during life.”

“You think that after death a soul can still consciously direct----”
gasped the author.

“I think, as I told you before, that the forces of a powerful
personality may still persist after death in the line of their original
momentum,” replied the doctor; “and that strong thoughts and purposes
can still react upon suitably prepared brains long after their
originators have passed away.

“If you knew anything of magic,” he pursued, “you would know that
thought is dynamic, and that it may call into existence forms and
pictures that may well exist for hundreds of years. For, not far
removed from the region of our human life, is another region where
floats the waste and drift of all the centuries, the limbo of the
shells of the dead; a densely populated region crammed with horror and
abomination of all descriptions, and sometimes galvanised into active
life again by the will of a trained manipulator, a mind versed in the
practices of lower magic. That this woman understood its vile commerce,
I am persuaded, and the forces she set going during her life have
simply been accumulating ever since, and would have continued to do so
had they not been drawn down upon yourself, and afterwards discharged
and satisfied through me.

“Anything might have brought down the attack, for, besides drugs,
there are certain violent emotions, certain moods of the soul, certain
spiritual fevers, if I may so call them, which directly open the inner
being to a cognisance of this astral region I have mentioned. In your
case it happened to be a peculiarly potent drug that did it.

“But now, tell me,” he added, after a pause, handing to the perplexed
author a pencil-drawing he had made of the dark countenance that had
appeared to him during the night on Putney Hill--“tell me if you
recognise this face?”

Pender looked at the drawing closely, greatly astonished. He shuddered
a little as he looked.

“Undoubtedly,” he said, “it is the face I kept trying to draw--dark,
with the great mouth and jaw, and the drooping eye. That is the woman.”

Dr. Silence then produced from his pocket-book an old-fashioned woodcut
of the same person which his secretary had unearthed from the records
of the Newgate Calendar. The woodcut and the pencil drawing were two
different aspects of the same dreadful visage. The men compared them
for some moments in silence.

“It makes me thank God for the limitations of our senses,” said
Pender quietly, with a sigh; “continuous clairvoyance must be a sore
affliction.”

“It is indeed,” returned John Silence significantly, “and if all
the people nowadays who claim to be clairvoyant were really so, the
statistics of suicide and lunacy would be considerably higher than they
are. It is little wonder,” he added, “that your sense of humour was
clouded, with the mind-forces of that dead monster trying to use your
brain for their dissemination. You have had an interesting adventure,
Mr. Felix Pender, and, let me add, a fortunate escape.”

The author was about to renew his thanks when there came a sound of
scratching at the door, and the doctor sprang up quickly.

“It’s time for me to go. I left my dog on the step, but I suppose----”

Before he had time to open the door, it had yielded to the pressure
behind it and flew wide open to admit a great yellow-haired collie.
The dog, wagging his tail and contorting his whole body with delight,
tore across the floor and tried to leap up upon his owner’s breast. And
there was laughter and happiness in the old eyes; for they were clear
again as the day.



CASE II

ANCIENT SORCERIES


I

There are, it would appear, certain wholly unremarkable persons, with
none of the characteristics that invite adventure, who yet once or
twice in the course of their smooth lives undergo an experience so
strange that the world catches its breath--and looks the other way! And
it was cases of this kind, perhaps, more than any other, that fell into
the widespread net of John Silence, the psychic doctor, and, appealing
to his deep humanity, to his patience, and to his great qualities of
spiritual sympathy, led often to the revelation of problems of the
strangest complexity, and of the profoundest possible human interest.

Matters that seemed almost too curious and fantastic for belief he
loved to trace to their hidden sources. To unravel a tangle in the
very soul of things--and to release a suffering human soul in the
process--was with him a veritable passion. And the knots he untied
were, indeed, often passing strange.

The world, of course, asks for some plausible basis to which it can
attach credence--something it can, at least, pretend to explain.
The adventurous type it can understand: such people carry about
with them an adequate explanation of their exciting lives, and their
characters obviously drive them into the circumstances which produce
the adventures. It expects nothing else from them, and is satisfied.
But dull, ordinary folk have no right to out-of-the-way experiences,
and the world having been led to expect otherwise, is disappointed
with them, not to say shocked. Its complacent judgment has been rudely
disturbed.

“Such a thing happen to _that_ man!” it cries--“a commonplace person
like that! It is too absurd! There must be something wrong!”

Yet there could be no question that something did actually happen to
little Arthur Vezin, something of the curious nature he described to
Dr. Silence. Outwardly, or inwardly, it happened beyond a doubt, and in
spite of the jeers of his few friends who heard the tale, and observed
wisely that “such a thing might perhaps have come to Iszard, that
crack-brained Iszard, or to that odd fish Minski, but it could never
have happened to commonplace little Vezin, who was fore-ordained to
live and die according to scale.”

But, whatever his method of death was, Vezin certainly did not “live
according to scale” so far as this particular event in his otherwise
uneventful life was concerned; and to hear him recount it, and watch
his pale delicate features change, and hear his voice grow softer
and more hushed as he proceeded, was to know the conviction that his
halting words perhaps failed sometimes to convey. He lived the thing
over again each time he told it. His whole personality became muffled
in the recital. It subdued him more than ever, so that the tale became
a lengthy apology for an experience that he deprecated. He appeared to
excuse himself and ask your pardon for having dared to take part in so
fantastic an episode. For little Vezin was a timid, gentle, sensitive
soul, rarely able to assert himself, tender to man and beast, and
almost constitutionally unable to say No, or to claim many things that
should rightly have been his. His whole scheme of life seemed utterly
remote from anything more exciting than missing a train or losing an
umbrella on an omnibus. And when this curious event came upon him he
was already more years beyond forty than his friends suspected or he
cared to admit.

John Silence, who heard him speak of his experience more than once,
said that he sometimes left out certain details and put in others;
yet they were all obviously true. The whole scene was unforgettably
cinematographed on to his mind. None of the details were imagined
or invented. And when he told the story with them all complete, the
effect was undeniable. His appealing brown eyes shone, and much of the
charming personality, usually so carefully repressed, came forward and
revealed itself. His modesty was always there, of course, but in the
telling he forgot the present and allowed himself to appear almost
vividly as he lived again in the past of his adventure.

He was on the way home when it happened, crossing northern France from
some mountain trip or other where he buried himself solitary-wise
every summer. He had nothing but an unregistered bag in the rack, and
the train was jammed to suffocation, most of the passengers being
unredeemed holiday English. He disliked them, not because they were
his fellow-countrymen, but because they were noisy and obtrusive,
obliterating with their big limbs and tweed clothing all the quieter
tints of the day that brought him satisfaction and enabled him to melt
into insignificance and forget that he was anybody. These English
clashed about him like a brass band, making him feel vaguely that he
ought to be more self-assertive and obstreperous, and that he did not
claim insistently enough all kinds of things that he didn’t want and
that were really valueless, such as corner seats, windows up or down,
and so forth.

So that he felt uncomfortable in the train, and wished the journey were
over and he was back again living with his unmarried sister in Surbiton.

And when the train stopped for ten panting minutes at the little
station in northern France, and he got out to stretch his legs on the
platform, and saw to his dismay a further batch of the British Isles
debouching from another train, it suddenly seemed impossible to him to
continue the journey. Even _his_ flabby soul revolted, and the idea of
staying a night in the little town and going on next day by a slower,
emptier train, flashed into his mind. The guard was already shouting
“_en voiture_” and the corridor of his compartment was already packed
when the thought came to him. And, for once, he acted with decision and
rushed to snatch his bag.

Finding the corridor and steps impassable, he tapped at the window
(for he had a corner seat) and begged the Frenchman who sat opposite
to hand his luggage out to him, explaining in his wretched French that
he intended to break the journey there. And this elderly Frenchman, he
declared, gave him a look, half of warning, half of reproach, that to
his dying day he could never forget; handed the bag through the window
of the moving train; and at the same time poured into his ears a long
sentence, spoken rapidly and low, of which he was able to comprehend
only the last few words: “_à cause du sommeil et à cause des chats_.”

In reply to Dr. Silence, whose singular psychic acuteness at once
seized upon this Frenchman as a vital point in the adventure,
Vezin admitted that the man had impressed him favourably from the
beginning, though without being able to explain why. They had sat
facing one another during the four hours of the journey, and though
no conversation had passed between them--Vezin was timid about his
stuttering French--he confessed that his eyes were being continually
drawn to his face, almost, he felt, to rudeness, and that each, by a
dozen nameless little politenesses and attentions, had evinced the
desire to be kind. The men liked each other and their personalities
did not clash, or would not have clashed had they chanced to come to
terms of acquaintance. The Frenchman, indeed, seemed to have exercised
a silent protective influence over the insignificant little Englishman,
and without words or gestures betrayed that he wished him well and
would gladly have been of service to him.

“And this sentence that he hurled at you after the bag?” asked John
Silence, smiling that peculiarly sympathetic smile that always melted
the prejudices of his patient, “were you unable to follow it exactly?”

“It was so quick and low and vehement,” explained Vezin, in his small
voice, “that I missed practically the whole of it. I only caught the
few words at the very end, because he spoke them so clearly, and his
face was bent down out of the carriage window so near to mine.”

“_‘A cause du sommeil et à cause des chats’?_” repeated Dr. Silence, as
though half speaking to himself.

“That’s it exactly,” said Vezin; “which, I take it, means something
like ‘because of sleep and because of the cats,’ doesn’t it?”

“Certainly, that’s how I should translate it,” the doctor observed
shortly, evidently not wishing to interrupt more than necessary.

“And the rest of the sentence--all the first part I couldn’t
understand, I mean--was a warning not to do something--not to stop in
the town, or at some particular place in the town, perhaps. That was
the impression it made on me.”

Then, of course, the train rushed off, and left Vezin standing on the
platform alone and rather forlorn.

The little town climbed in straggling fashion up a sharp hill rising
out of the plain at the back of the station, and was crowned by the
twin towers of the ruined cathedral peeping over the summit. From the
station itself it looked uninteresting and modern, but the fact was
that the mediæval position lay out of sight just beyond the crest. And
once he reached the top and entered the old streets, he stepped clean
out of modern life into a bygone century. The noise and bustle of the
crowded train seemed days away. The spirit of this silent hill-town,
remote from tourists and motor-cars, dreaming its own quiet life under
the autumn sun, rose up and cast its spell upon him. Long before he
recognised this spell he acted under it. He walked softly, almost on
tiptoe, down the winding narrow streets where the gables all but met
over his head, and he entered the doorway of the solitary inn with a
deprecating and modest demeanour that was in itself an apology for
intruding upon the place and disturbing its dream.

At first, however, Vezin said, he noticed very little of all this. The
attempt at analysis came much later. What struck him then was only the
delightful contrast of the silence and peace after the dust and noisy
rattle of the train. He felt soothed and stroked like a cat.

“Like a cat, you said?” interrupted John Silence, quickly catching him
up.

“Yes. At the very start I felt that.” He laughed apologetically. “I
felt as though the warmth and the stillness and the comfort made me
purr. It seemed to be the general mood of the whole place--then.”

The inn, a rambling ancient house, the atmosphere of the old coaching
days still about it, apparently did not welcome him too warmly. He felt
he was only tolerated, he said. But it was cheap and comfortable, and
the delicious cup of afternoon tea he ordered at once made him feel
really very pleased with himself for leaving the train in this bold,
original way. For to him it had seemed bold and original. He felt
something of a dog. His room, too, soothed him with its dark panelling
and low irregular ceiling, and the long sloping passage that led to it
seemed the natural pathway to a real Chamber of Sleep--a little dim
cubby hole out of the world where noise could not enter. It looked
upon the courtyard at the back. It was all very charming, and made
him think of himself as dressed in very soft velvet somehow, and the
floors seemed padded, the walls provided with cushions. The sounds of
the streets could not penetrate there. It was an atmosphere of absolute
rest that surrounded him.

On engaging the two-franc room he had interviewed the only person
who seemed to be about that sleepy afternoon, an elderly waiter with
Dundreary whiskers and a drowsy courtesy, who had ambled lazily towards
him across the stone yard; but on coming downstairs again for a little
promenade in the town before dinner he encountered the proprietress
herself. She was a large woman whose hands, feet, and features seemed
to swim towards him out of a sea of person. They emerged, so to speak.
But she had great dark, vivacious eyes that counteracted the bulk of
her body, and betrayed the fact that in reality she was both vigorous
and alert. When he first caught sight of her she was knitting in a low
chair against the sunlight of the wall, and something at once made him
see her as a great tabby cat, dozing, yet awake, heavily sleepy, and
yet at the same time prepared for instantaneous action. A great mouser
on the watch occurred to him.

She took him in with a single comprehensive glance that was polite
without being cordial. Her neck, he noticed, was extraordinarily supple
in spite of its proportions, for it turned so easily to follow him, and
the head it carried bowed so very flexibly.

“But when she looked at me, you know,” said Vezin, with that little
apologetic smile in his brown eyes, and that faintly deprecating
gesture of the shoulders that was characteristic of him, “the odd
notion came to me that really she had intended to make quite a
different movement, and that with a single bound she could have leaped
at me across the width of that stone yard and pounced upon me like some
huge cat upon a mouse.”

He laughed a little soft laugh, and Dr. Silence made a note in his book
without interrupting, while Vezin proceeded in a tone as though he
feared he had already told too much and more than we could believe.

“Very soft, yet very active she was, for all her size and mass, and I
felt she knew what I was doing even after I had passed and was behind
her back. She spoke to me, and her voice was smooth and running. She
asked if I had my luggage, and was comfortable in my room, and then
added that dinner was at seven o’clock, and that they were very early
people in this little country town. Clearly, she intended to convey
that late hours were not encouraged.”

Evidently, she contrived by voice and manner to give him the impression
that here he would be “managed,” that everything would be arranged and
planned for him, and that he had nothing to do but fall into the groove
and obey. No decided action or sharp personal effort would be looked
for from him. It was the very reverse of the train. He walked quietly
out into the street feeling soothed and peaceful. He realised that he
was in a _milieu_ that suited him and stroked him the right way. It was
so much easier to be obedient. He began to purr again, and to feel that
all the town purred with him.

About the streets of that little town he meandered gently, falling
deeper and deeper into the spirit of repose that characterised it. With
no special aim he wandered up and down, and to and fro. The September
sunshine fell slantingly over the roofs. Down winding alleyways,
fringed with tumbling gables and open casements, he caught fairylike
glimpses of the great plain below, and of the meadows and yellow copses
lying like a dream-map in the haze. The spell of the past held very
potently here, he felt.

The streets were full of picturesquely garbed men and women, all busy
enough, going their respective ways; but no one took any notice of him
or turned to stare at his obviously English appearance. He was even
able to forget that with his tourist appearance he was a false note in
a charming picture, and he melted more and more into the scene, feeling
delightfully insignificant and unimportant and unselfconscious. It was
like becoming part of a softly-coloured dream which he did not even
realise to be a dream.

On the eastern side the hill fell away more sharply, and the plain
below ran off rather suddenly into a sea of gathering shadows in which
the little patches of woodland looked like islands and the stubble
fields like deep water. Here he strolled along the old ramparts of
ancient fortifications that once had been formidable, but now were
only vision-like with their charming mingling of broken grey walls
and wayward vine and ivy. From the broad coping on which he sat for a
moment, level with the rounded tops of clipped plane trees, he saw the
esplanade far below lying in shadow. Here and there a yellow sunbeam
crept in and lay upon the fallen yellow leaves, and from the height
he looked down and saw that the townsfolk were walking to and fro in
the cool of the evening. He could just hear the sound of their slow
footfalls, and the murmur of their voices floated up to him through the
gaps between the trees. The figures looked like shadows as he caught
glimpses of their quiet movements far below.

He sat there for some time pondering, bathed in the waves of murmurs
and half-lost echoes that rose to his ears, muffled by the leaves of
the plane trees. The whole town, and the little hill out of which it
grew as naturally as an ancient wood, seemed to him like a being lying
there half asleep on the plain and crooning to itself as it dozed.

And, presently, as he sat lazily melting into its dream, a sound of
horns and strings and wood instruments rose to his ears, and the town
band began to play at the far end of the crowded terrace below to
the accompaniment of a very soft, deep-throated drum. Vezin was very
sensitive to music, knew about it intelligently, and had even ventured,
unknown to his friends, upon the composition of quiet melodies with
low-running chords which he played to himself with the soft pedal when
no one was about. And this music floating up through the trees from an
invisible and doubtless very picturesque band of the townspeople wholly
charmed him. He recognised nothing that they played, and it sounded as
though they were simply improvising without a conductor. No definitely
marked time ran through the pieces, which ended and began oddly after
the fashion of wind through an Æolian harp. It was part of the place
and scene, just as the dying sunlight and faintly-breathing wind were
part of the scene and hour, and the mellow notes of old-fashioned
plaintive horns, pierced here and there by the sharper strings, all
half smothered by the continuous booming of the deep drum, touched his
soul with a curiously potent spell that was almost too engrossing to be
quite pleasant.

There was a certain queer sense of bewitchment in it all. The music
seemed to him oddly unartificial. It made him think of trees swept by
the wind, of night breezes singing among wires and chimney-stacks, or
in the rigging of invisible ships; or--and the simile leaped up in his
thoughts with a sudden sharpness of suggestion--a chorus of animals,
of wild creatures, somewhere in desolate places of the world, crying
and singing as animals will, to the moon. He could fancy he heard the
wailing, half-human cries of cats upon the tiles at night, rising and
falling with weird intervals of sound, and this music, muffled by
distance and the trees, made him think of a queer company of these
creatures on some roof far away in the sky, uttering their solemn music
to one another and the moon in chorus.

It was, he felt at the time, a singular image to occur to him, yet it
expressed his sensation pictorially better than anything else. The
instruments played such impossibly odd intervals, and the crescendos
and diminuendos were so very suggestive of cat-land on the tiles at
night, rising swiftly, dropping without warning to deep notes again,
and all in such strange confusion of discords and accords. But, at the
same time a plaintive sweetness resulted on the whole, and the discords
of these half-broken instruments were so singular that they did not
distress his musical soul like fiddles out of tune.

He listened a long time, wholly surrendering himself as his character
was, and then strolled homewards in the dusk as the air grew chilly.

“There was nothing to alarm?” put in Dr. Silence briefly.

“Absolutely nothing,” said Vezin; “but you know it was all so
fantastical and charming that my imagination was profoundly impressed.
Perhaps, too,” he continued, gently explanatory, “it was this stirring
of my imagination that caused other impressions; for, as I walked back,
the spell of the place began to steal over me in a dozen ways, though
all intelligible ways. But there were other things I could not account
for in the least, even then.”

“Incidents, you mean?”

“Hardly incidents, I think. A lot of vivid sensations crowded
themselves upon my mind and I could trace them to no causes. It was
just after sunset and the tumbled old buildings traced magical outlines
against an opalescent sky of gold and red. The dusk was running down
the twisted streets. All round the hill the plain pressed in like a
dim sea, its level rising with the darkness. The spell of this kind of
scene, you know, can be very moving, and it was so that night. Yet I
felt that what came to me had nothing directly to do with the mystery
and wonder of the scene.”

“Not merely the subtle transformations of the spirit that come with
beauty,” put in the doctor, noticing his hesitation.

“Exactly,” Vezin went on, duly encouraged and no longer so fearful
of our smiles at his expense. “The impressions came from somewhere
else. For instance, down the busy main street where men and women were
bustling home from work, shopping at stalls and barrows, idly gossiping
in groups, and all the rest of it, I saw that I aroused no interest and
that no one turned to stare at me as a foreigner and stranger. I was
utterly ignored, and my presence among them excited no special interest
or attention.

“And then, quite suddenly, it dawned upon me with conviction that
all the time this indifference and inattention were merely feigned.
Everybody as a matter of fact was watching me closely. Every movement
I made was known and observed. Ignoring me was all a pretence--an
elaborate pretence.”

He paused a moment and looked at us to see if we were smiling, and then
continued, reassured--

“It is useless to ask me how I noticed this, because I simply cannot
explain it. But the discovery gave me something of a shock. Before I
got back to the inn, however, another curious thing rose up strongly in
my mind and forced my recognition of it as true. And this, too, I may
as well say at once, was equally inexplicable to me. I mean I can only
give you the fact, as fact it was to me.”

The little man left his chair and stood on the mat before the fire.
His diffidence lessened from now onwards, as he lost himself again in
the magic of the old adventure. His eyes shone a little already as he
talked.

“Well,” he went on, his soft voice rising somewhat with his excitement,
“I was in a shop when it came to me first--though the idea must have
been at work for a long time subconsciously to appear in so complete
a form all at once. I was buying socks, I think,” he laughed, “and
struggling with my dreadful French, when it struck me that the woman in
the shop did not care two pins whether I bought anything or not. She
was indifferent whether she made a sale or did not make a sale. She was
only pretending to sell.

“This sounds a very small and fanciful incident to build upon what
follows. But really it was not small. I mean it was the spark that lit
the line of powder and ran along to the big blaze in my mind.

“For the whole town, I suddenly realised, was something other than I
so far saw it. The real activities and interests of the people were
elsewhere and otherwise than appeared. Their true lives lay somewhere
out of sight behind the scenes. Their busy-ness was but the outward
semblance that masked their actual purposes. They bought and sold, and
ate and drank, and walked about the streets, yet all the while the main
stream of their existence lay somewhere beyond my ken, underground, in
secret places. In the shops and at the stalls they did not care whether
I purchased their articles or not; at the inn, they were indifferent
to my staying or going; their life lay remote from my own, springing
from hidden, mysterious sources, coursing out of sight, unknown. It
was all a great elaborate pretence, assumed possibly for my benefit,
or possibly for purposes of their own. But the main current of their
energies ran elsewhere. I almost felt as an unwelcome foreign substance
might be expected to feel when it has found its way into the human
system and the whole body organises itself to eject it or to absorb it.
The town was doing this very thing to me.

“This bizarre notion presented itself forcibly to my mind as I walked
home to the inn, and I began busily to wonder wherein the true life of
this town could lie and what were the actual interests and activities
of its hidden life.

“And, now that my eyes were partly opened, I noticed other things
too that puzzled me, first of which, I think, was the extraordinary
silence of the whole place. Positively, the town was muffled. Although
the streets were paved with cobbles the people moved about silently,
softly, with padded feet, like cats. Nothing made noise. All was
hushed, subdued, muted. The very voices were quiet, low-pitched like
purring. Nothing clamorous, vehement or emphatic seemed able to live
in the drowsy atmosphere of soft dreaming that soothed this little
hill-town into its sleep. It was like the woman at the inn--an outward
repose screening intense inner activity and purpose.

“Yet there was no sign of lethargy or sluggishness anywhere about it.
The people were active and alert. Only a magical and uncanny softness
lay over them all like a spell.”

Vezin passed his hand across his eyes for a moment as though the memory
had become very vivid. His voice had run off into a whisper so that
we heard the last part with difficulty. He was telling a true thing
obviously, yet something that he both liked and hated telling.

“I went back to the inn,” he continued presently in a louder voice,
“and dined. I felt a new strange world about me. My old world of
reality receded. Here, whether I liked it or no, was something new and
incomprehensible. I regretted having left the train so impulsively.
An adventure was upon me, and I loathed adventures as foreign to my
nature. Moreover, this was the beginning apparently of an adventure
somewhere deep within me, in a region I could not check or measure,
and a feeling of alarm mingled itself with my wonder--alarm for the
stability of what I had for forty years recognised as my ‘personality.’

“I went upstairs to bed, my mind teeming with thoughts that were
unusual to me, and of rather a haunting description. By way of
relief I kept thinking of that nice, prosaic noisy train and all
those wholesome, blustering passengers. I almost wished I were with
them again. But my dreams took me elsewhere. I dreamed of cats, and
soft-moving creatures, and the silence of life in a dim muffled world
beyond the senses.”


II

Vezin stayed on from day to day, indefinitely, much longer than he
had intended. He felt in a kind of dazed, somnolent condition. He did
nothing in particular, but the place fascinated him and he could not
decide to leave. Decisions were always very difficult for him and he
sometimes wondered how he had ever brought himself to the point of
leaving the train. It seemed as though some one else must have arranged
it for him, and once or twice his thoughts ran to the swarthy Frenchman
who had sat opposite. If only he could have understood that long
sentence ending so strangely with “_à cause du sommeil et à cause des
chats_.” He wondered what it all meant.

Meanwhile the hushed softness of the town held him prisoner and he
sought in his muddling, gentle way to find out where the mystery
lay, and what it was all about. But his limited French and his
constitutional hatred of active investigation made it hard for him to
buttonhole anybody and ask questions. He was content to observe, and
watch, and remain negative.

The weather held on calm and hazy, and this just suited him. He
wandered about the town till he knew every street and alley. The
people suffered him to come and go without let or hindrance, though
it became clearer to him every day that he was never free himself from
observation. The town watched him as a cat watches a mouse. And he got
no nearer to finding out what they were all so busy with or where the
main stream of their activities lay. This remained hidden. The people
were as soft and mysterious as cats.

But that he was continually under observation became more evident from
day to day.

For instance, when he strolled to the end of the town and entered a
little green public garden beneath the ramparts and seated himself upon
one of the empty benches in the sun, he was quite alone--at first.
Not another seat was occupied; the little park was empty, the paths
deserted. Yet, within ten minutes of his coming, there must have been
fully twenty persons scattered about him, some strolling aimlessly
along the gravel walks, staring at the flowers, and others seated on
the wooden benches enjoying the sun like himself. None of them appeared
to take any notice of him; yet he understood quite well they had all
come there to watch. They kept him under close observation. In the
street they had seemed busy enough, hurrying upon various errands; yet
these were suddenly all forgotten and they had nothing to do but loll
and laze in the sun, their duties unremembered. Five minutes after
he left, the garden was again deserted, the seats vacant. But in the
crowded street it was the same thing again; he was never alone. He was
ever in their thoughts.

By degrees, too, he began to see how it was he was so cleverly watched,
yet without the appearance of it. The people did nothing _directly_.
They behaved _obliquely_. He laughed in his mind as the thought thus
clothed itself in words, but the phrase exactly described it. They
looked at him from angles which naturally should have led their sight
in another direction altogether. Their movements were oblique, too,
so far as these concerned himself. The straight, direct thing was
not their way evidently. They did nothing obviously. If he entered a
shop to buy, the woman walked instantly away and busied herself with
something at the farther end of the counter, though answering at once
when he spoke, showing that she knew he was there and that this was
only her way of attending to him. It was the fashion of the cat she
followed. Even in the dining-room of the inn, the be-whiskered and
courteous waiter, lithe and silent in all his movements, never seemed
able to come straight to his table for an order or a dish. He came
by zigzags, indirectly, vaguely, so that he appeared to be going to
another table altogether, and only turned suddenly at the last moment,
and was there beside him.

Vezin smiled curiously to himself as he described how he began to
realise these things. Other tourists there were none in the hostel, but
he recalled the figures of one or two old men, inhabitants, who took
their _déjeuner_ and dinner there, and remembered how fantastically
they entered the room in similar fashion. First, they paused in
the doorway, peering about the room, and then, after a temporary
inspection, they came in, as it were, sideways, keeping close to the
walls so that he wondered which table they were making for, and at the
last minute making almost a little quick run to their particular seats.
And again he thought of the ways and methods of cats.

Other small incidents, too, impressed him as all part of this queer,
soft town with its muffled, indirect life, for the way some of the
people appeared and disappeared with extraordinary swiftness puzzled
him exceedingly. It may have been all perfectly natural, he knew, yet
he could not make it out how the alleys swallowed them up and shot
them forth in a second of time when there were no visible doorways or
openings near enough to explain the phenomenon. Once he followed two
elderly women who, he felt, had been particularly examining him from
across the street--quite near the inn this was--and saw them turn the
corner a few feet only in front of him. Yet when he sharply followed
on their heels he saw nothing but an utterly deserted alley stretching
in front of him with no sign of a living thing. And the only opening
through which they could have escaped was a porch some fifty yards
away, which not the swiftest human runner could have reached in time.

And in just such sudden fashion people appeared when he never expected
them. Once when he heard a great noise of fighting going on behind a
low wall, and hurried up to see what was going on, what should he see
but a group of girls and women engaged in vociferous conversation which
instantly hushed itself to the normal whispering note of the town when
his head appeared over the wall. And even then none of them turned
to look at him directly, but slunk off with the most unaccountable
rapidity into doors and sheds across the yard. And their voices, he
thought, had sounded so like, so strangely like, the angry snarling of
fighting animals, almost of cats.

The whole spirit of the town, however, continued to evade him as
something elusive, protean, screened from the outer world, and at the
same time intensely, genuinely vital; and, since he now formed part of
its life, this concealment puzzled and irritated him; more--it began
rather to frighten him.

Out of the mists that slowly gathered about his ordinary surface
thoughts, there rose again the idea that the inhabitants were waiting
for him to declare himself, to take an attitude, to do this, or to do
that; and that when he had done so they in their turn would at length
make some direct response, accepting or rejecting him. Yet the vital
matter concerning which his decision was awaited came no nearer to him.

Once or twice he purposely followed little processions or groups of
the citizens in order to find out, if possible, on what purpose they
were bent; but they always discovered him in time and dwindled away,
each individual going his or her own way. It was always the same: he
never could learn what their main interest was. The cathedral was ever
empty, the old church of St. Martin, at the other end of the town,
deserted. They shopped because they had to, and not because they wished
to. The booths stood neglected, the stalls unvisited, the little cafés
desolate. Yet the streets were always full, the townsfolk ever on the
bustle.

“Can it be,” he thought to himself, yet with a deprecating laugh that
he should have dared to think anything so odd, “can it be that these
people are people of the twilight, that they live only at night their
real life, and come out honestly only with the dusk? That during the
day they make a sham though brave pretence, and after the sun is down
their true life begins? Have they the souls of night-things, and is the
whole blessed town in the hands of the cats?”

The fancy somehow electrified him with little shocks of shrinking and
dismay. Yet, though he affected to laugh, he knew that he was beginning
to feel more than uneasy, and that strange forces were tugging with a
thousand invisible cords at the very centre of his being. Something
utterly remote from his ordinary life, something that had not waked for
years, began faintly to stir in his soul, sending feelers abroad into
his brain and heart, shaping queer thoughts and penetrating even into
certain of his minor actions. Something exceedingly vital to himself,
to his soul, hung in the balance.

And, always when he returned to the inn about the hour of sunset,
he saw the figures of the townsfolk stealing through the dusk from
their shop doors, moving sentry-wise to and fro at the corners of
the streets, yet always vanishing silently like shadows at his near
approach. And as the inn invariably closed its doors at ten o’clock he
had never yet found the opportunity he rather half-heartedly sought to
see for himself what account the town could give of itself at night.

“----_à cause du sommeil et à cause des chats_”--the words now rang in
his ears more and more often, though still as yet without any definite
meaning.

Moreover, something made him sleep like the dead.


III

It was, I think, on the fifth day--though in this detail his story
sometimes varied--that he made a definite discovery which increased
his alarm and brought him up to a rather sharp climax. Before that he
had already noticed that a change was going forward and certain subtle
transformations being brought about in his character which modified
several of his minor habits. And he had affected to ignore them. Here,
however, was something he could no longer ignore; and it startled him.

At the best of times he was never very positive, always negative
rather, compliant and acquiescent; yet, when necessity arose he was
capable of reasonably vigorous action and could take a strongish
decision. The discovery he now made that brought him up with such a
sharp turn was that this power had positively dwindled to nothing.
He found it impossible to make up his mind. For, on this fifth day,
he realised that he had stayed long enough in the town and that for
reasons he could only vaguely define to himself it was wiser _and
safer_ that he should leave.

And he found that he could not leave!

This is difficult to describe in words, and it was more by gesture and
the expression of his face that he conveyed to Dr. Silence the state
of impotence he had reached. All this spying and watching, he said,
had as it were spun a net about his feet so that he was trapped and
powerless to escape; he felt like a fly that had blundered into the
intricacies of a great web; he was caught, imprisoned, and could not
get away. It was a distressing sensation. A numbness had crept over
his will till it had become almost incapable of decision. The mere
thought of vigorous action--action towards escape--began to terrify
him. All the currents of his life had turned inwards upon himself,
striving to bring to the surface something that lay buried almost
beyond reach, determined to force his recognition of something he had
long forgotten--forgotten years upon years, centuries almost ago. It
seemed as though a window deep within his being would presently open
and reveal an entirely new world, yet somehow a world that was not
unfamiliar. Beyond that, again, he fancied a great curtain hung; and
when that too rolled up he would see still farther into this region and
at last understand something of the secret life of these extraordinary
people.

“Is this why they wait and watch?” he asked himself with rather a
shaking heart, “for the time when I shall join them--or refuse to join
them? Does the decision rest with me after all, and not with them?”

And it was at this point that the sinister character of the adventure
first really declared itself, and he became genuinely alarmed. The
stability of his rather fluid little personality was at stake, he felt,
and something in his heart turned coward.

Why otherwise should he have suddenly taken to walking stealthily,
silently, making as little sound as possible, for ever looking behind
him? Why else should he have moved almost on tiptoe about the passages
of the practically deserted inn, and when he was abroad have found
himself deliberately taking advantage of what cover presented itself?
And why, if he was not afraid, should the wisdom of staying indoors
after sundown have suddenly occurred to him as eminently desirable?
Why, indeed?

And, when John Silence gently pressed him for an explanation of these
things, he admitted apologetically that he had none to give.

“It was simply that I feared something might happen to me unless I kept
a sharp look-out. I felt afraid. It was instinctive,” was all he could
say. “I got the impression that the whole town was after me--wanted me
for something; and that if it got me I should lose myself, or at least
the Self I knew, in some unfamiliar state of consciousness. But I am
not a psychologist, you know,” he added meekly, “and I cannot define it
better than that.”

It was while lounging in the courtyard half an hour before the evening
meal that Vezin made this discovery, and he at once went upstairs to
his quiet room at the end of the winding passage to think it over
alone. In the yard it was empty enough, true, but there was always the
possibility that the big woman whom he dreaded would come out of some
door, with her pretence of knitting, to sit and watch him. This had
happened several times, and he could not endure the sight of her. He
still remembered his original fancy, bizarre though it was, that she
would spring upon him the moment his back was turned and land with one
single crushing leap upon his neck. Of course it was nonsense, but then
it haunted him, and once an idea begins to do that it ceases to be
nonsense. It has clothed itself in reality.

He went upstairs accordingly. It was dusk, and the oil lamps had not
yet been lit in the passages. He stumbled over the uneven surface of
the ancient flooring, passing the dim outlines of doors along the
corridor--doors that he had never once seen opened--rooms that seemed
never occupied. He moved, as his habit now was, stealthily and on
tiptoe.

Half-way down the last passage to his own chamber there was a sharp
turn, and it was just here, while groping round the walls with
outstretched hands, that his fingers touched something that was
not wall--something that moved. It was soft and warm in texture,
indescribably fragrant, and about the height of his shoulder; and he
immediately thought of a furry, sweet-smelling kitten. The next minute
he knew it was something quite different.

Instead of investigating, however,--his nerves must have been too
overwrought for that, he said,--he shrank back as closely as possible
against the wall on the other side. The thing, whatever it was, slipped
past him with a sound of rustling, and retreating with light footsteps
down the passage behind him, was gone. A breath of warm, scented air
was wafted to his nostrils.

Vezin caught his breath for an instant and paused, stockstill, half
leaning against the wall--and then almost ran down the remaining
distance and entered his room with a rush, locking the door hurriedly
behind him. Yet it was not fear that made him run: it was excitement,
pleasurable excitement. His nerves were tingling, and a delicious glow
made itself felt all over his body. In a flash it came to him that this
was just what he had felt twenty-five years ago as a boy when he was
in love for the first time. Warm currents of life ran all over him and
mounted to his brain in a whirl of soft delight. His mood was suddenly
become tender, melting, loving.

The room was quite dark, and he collapsed upon the sofa by the window,
wondering what had happened to him and what it all meant. But the only
thing he understood clearly in that instant was that something in him
had swiftly, magically changed: he no longer wished to leave, or to
argue with himself about leaving. The encounter in the passage-way
had changed all that. The strange perfume of it still hung about him,
bemusing his heart and mind. For he knew that it was a girl who had
passed him, a girl’s face that his fingers had brushed in the darkness,
and he felt in some extraordinary way as though he had been actually
kissed by her, kissed full upon the lips.

Trembling, he sat upon the sofa by the window and struggled to collect
his thoughts. He was utterly unable to understand how the mere passing
of a girl in the darkness of a narrow passage-way could communicate
so electric a thrill to his whole being that he still shook with the
sweetness of it. Yet, there it was! And he found it as useless to deny
as to attempt analysis. Some ancient fire had entered his veins, and
now ran coursing through his blood; and that he was forty-five instead
of twenty did not matter one little jot. Out of all the inner turmoil
and confusion emerged the one salient fact that the mere atmosphere,
the merest casual touch, of this girl, unseen, unknown in the darkness,
had been sufficient to stir dormant fires in the centre of his heart,
and rouse his whole being from a state of feeble sluggishness to one of
tearing and tumultuous excitement.

After a time, however, the number of Vezin’s years began to assert
their cumulative power; he grew calmer; and when a knock came at
length upon his door and he heard the waiter’s voice suggesting that
dinner was nearly over, he pulled himself together and slowly made his
way downstairs into the dining-room.

Every one looked up as he entered, for he was very late, but he took
his customary seat in the far corner and began to eat. The trepidation
was still in his nerves, but the fact that he had passed through the
courtyard and hall without catching sight of a petticoat served to calm
him a little. He ate so fast that he had almost caught up with the
current stage of the table d’hôte, when a slight commotion in the room
drew his attention.

His chair was so placed that the door and the greater portion of the
long _salle à manger_ were behind him, yet it was not necessary to
turn round to know that the same person he had passed in the dark
passage had now come into the room. He felt the presence long before he
heard or saw any one. Then he became aware that the old men, the only
other guests, were rising one by one in their places, and exchanging
greetings with some one who passed among them from table to table. And
when at length he turned with his heart beating furiously to ascertain
for himself, he saw the form of a young girl, lithe and slim, moving
down the centre of the room and making straight for his own table in
the corner. She moved wonderfully, with sinuous grace, like a young
panther, and her approach filled him with such delicious bewilderment
that he was utterly unable to tell at first what her face was like, or
discover what it was about the whole presentment of the creature that
filled him anew with trepidation and delight.

“Ah, Ma’mselle est de retour!” he heard the old waiter murmur at his
side, and he was just able to take in that she was the daughter of the
proprietress, when she was upon him, and he heard her voice. She was
addressing him. Something of red lips he saw and laughing white teeth,
and stray wisps of fine dark hair about the temples; but all the rest
was a dream in which his own emotion rose like a thick cloud before
his eyes and prevented his seeing accurately, or knowing exactly what
he did. He was aware that she greeted him with a charming little bow;
that her beautiful large eyes looked searchingly into his own; that the
perfume he had noticed in the dark passage again assailed his nostrils,
and that she was bending a little towards him and leaning with one
hand on the table at his side. She was quite close to him--that was
the chief thing he knew--explaining that she had been asking after the
comfort of her mother’s guests, and was now introducing herself to the
latest arrival--himself.

“M’sieur has already been here a few days,” he heard the waiter say;
and then her own voice, sweet as singing, replied--

“Ah, but M’sieur is not going to leave us just yet, I hope. My mother
is too old to look after the comfort of our guests properly, but now
I am here I will remedy all that.” She laughed deliciously. “M’sieur
shall be well looked after.”

Vezin, struggling with his emotion and desire to be polite, half rose
to acknowledge the pretty speech, and to stammer some sort of reply,
but as he did so his hand by chance touched her own that was resting
upon the table, and a shock that was for all the world like a shock of
electricity, passed from her skin into his body. His soul wavered and
shook deep within him. He caught her eyes fixed upon his own with a
look of most curious intentness, and the next moment he knew that he
had sat down wordless again on his chair, that the girl was already
half-way across the room, and that he was trying to eat his salad with
a dessert-spoon and a knife.

Longing for her return, and yet dreading it, he gulped down the
remainder of his dinner, and then went at once to his bedroom to be
alone with his thoughts. This time the passages were lighted, and he
suffered no exciting contretemps; yet the winding corridor was dim with
shadows, and the last portion, from the bend of the walls onwards,
seemed longer than he had ever known it. It ran downhill like the
pathway on a mountain side, and as he tiptoed softly down it he felt
that by rights it ought to have led him clean out of the house into
the heart of a great forest. The world was singing with him. Strange
fancies filled his brain, and once in the room, with the door securely
locked, he did not light the candles, but sat by the open window
thinking long, long thoughts that came unbidden in troops to his mind.


IV

This part of the story he told to Dr. Silence, without special coaxing,
it is true, yet with much stammering embarrassment. He could not in
the least understand, he said, how the girl had managed to affect him
so profoundly, and even before he had set eyes upon her. For her mere
proximity in the darkness had been sufficient to set him on fire. He
knew nothing of enchantments, and for years had been a stranger to
anything approaching tender relations with any member of the opposite
sex, for he was encased in shyness, and realised his overwhelming
defects only too well. Yet this bewitching young creature came to him
deliberately. Her manner was unmistakable, and she sought him out on
every possible occasion. Chaste and sweet she was undoubtedly, yet
frankly inviting; and she won him utterly with the first glance of her
shining eyes, even if she had not already done so in the dark merely by
the magic of her invisible presence.

“You felt she was altogether wholesome and good?” queried the doctor.
“You had no reaction of any sort--for instance, of alarm?”

Vezin looked up sharply with one of his inimitable little apologetic
smiles. It was some time before he replied. The mere memory of the
adventure had suffused his shy face with blushes, and his brown eyes
sought the floor again before he answered.

“I don’t think I can quite say that,” he explained presently. “I
acknowledged certain qualms, sitting up in my room afterwards. A
conviction grew upon me that there was something about her--how shall I
express it?--well, something unholy. It is not impurity in any sense,
physical or mental, that I mean, but something quite indefinable that
gave me a vague sensation of the creeps. She drew me, and at the same
time repelled me, more than--than----”

He hesitated, blushing furiously, and unable to finish the sentence.

“Nothing like it has ever come to me before or since,” he concluded,
with lame confusion. “I suppose it was, as you suggested just now,
something of an enchantment. At any rate, it was strong enough to make
me feel that I would stay in that awful little haunted town for years
if only I could see her every day, hear her voice, watch her wonderful
movements, and sometimes, perhaps, touch her hand.”

“Can you explain to me what you felt was the source of her power?” John
Silence asked, looking purposely anywhere but at the narrator.

“I am surprised that _you_ should ask me such a question,” answered
Vezin, with the nearest approach to dignity he could manage. “I think
no man can describe to another convincingly wherein lies the magic of
the woman who ensnares him. I certainly cannot. I can only say this
slip of a girl bewitched me, and the mere knowledge that she was living
and sleeping in the same house filled me with an extraordinary sense of
delight.

“But there’s one thing I can tell you,” he went on earnestly, his eyes
aglow, “namely, that she seemed to sum up and synthesise in herself
all the strange hidden forces that operated so mysteriously in the
town and its inhabitants. She had the silken movements of the panther,
going smoothly, silently to and fro, and the same indirect, oblique
methods as the townsfolk, screening, like them, secret purposes of
her own--purposes that I was sure had _me_ for their objective. She
kept me, to my terror and delight, ceaselessly under observation, yet
so carelessly, so consummately, that another man less sensitive, if I
may say so”--he made a deprecating gesture--“or less prepared by what
had gone before, would never have noticed it at all. She was always
still, always reposeful, yet she seemed to be everywhere at once, so
that I never could escape from her. I was continually meeting the stare
and laughter of her great eyes, in the corners of the rooms, in the
passages, calmly looking at me through the windows, or in the busiest
parts of the public streets.”

Their intimacy, it seems, grew very rapidly after this first encounter
which had so violently disturbed the little man’s equilibrium. He was
naturally very prim, and prim folk live mostly in so small a world that
anything violently unusual may shake them clean out of it, and they
therefore instinctively distrust originality. But Vezin began to forget
his primness after awhile. The girl was always modestly behaved, and
as her mother’s representative she naturally had to do with the guests
in the hotel. It was not out of the way that a spirit of camaraderie
should spring up. Besides, she was young, she was charmingly pretty,
she was French, and--she obviously liked him.

At the same time, there was something indescribable--a certain
indefinable atmosphere of other places, other times--that made him try
hard to remain on his guard, and sometimes made him catch his breath
with a sudden start. It was all rather like a delirious dream, half
delight, half dread, he confided in a whisper to Dr. Silence; and more
than once he hardly knew quite what he was doing or saying, as though
he were driven forward by impulses he scarcely recognised as his own.

And though the thought of leaving presented itself again and again to
his mind, it was each time with less insistence, so that he stayed on
from day to day, becoming more and more a part of the sleepy life of
this dreamy mediæval town, losing more and more of his recognisable
personality. Soon, he felt, the Curtain within would roll up with an
awful rush, and he would find himself suddenly admitted into the
secret purposes of the hidden life that lay behind it all. Only, by
that time, he would have become transformed into an entirely different
being.

And, meanwhile, he noticed various little signs of the intention
to make his stay attractive to him: flowers in his bedroom, a more
comfortable arm-chair in the corner, and even special little extra
dishes on his private table in the dining-room. Conversations, too,
with “Mademoiselle Ilsé” became more and more frequent and pleasant,
and although they seldom travelled beyond the weather, or the details
of the town, the girl, he noticed, was never in a hurry to bring them
to an end, and often contrived to interject little odd sentences that
he never properly understood, yet felt to be significant.

And it was these stray remarks, full of a meaning that evaded him, that
pointed to some hidden purpose of her own and made him feel uneasy.
They all had to do, he felt sure, with reasons for his staying on in
the town indefinitely.

“And has M’sieur not even yet come to a decision?” she said softly in
his ear, sitting beside him in the sunny yard before _déjeuner_, the
acquaintance having progressed with significant rapidity. “Because, if
it’s so difficult, we must all try together to help him!”

The question startled him, following upon his own thoughts. It was
spoken with a pretty laugh, and a stray bit of hair across one eye, as
she turned and peered at him half roguishly. Possibly he did not quite
understand the French of it, for her near presence always confused
his small knowledge of the language distressingly. Yet the words, and
her manner, and something else that lay behind it all in her mind,
frightened him. It gave such point to his feeling that the town was
waiting for him to make his mind up on some important matter.

At the same time, her voice, and the fact that she was there so close
beside him in her soft dark dress, thrilled him inexpressibly.

“It is true I find it difficult to leave,” he stammered, losing his
way deliciously in the depths of her eyes, “and especially now that
Mademoiselle Ilsé has come.”

He was surprised at the success of his sentence, and quite delighted
with the little gallantry of it. But at the same time he could have
bitten his tongue off for having said it.

“Then after all you like our little town, or you would not be pleased
to stay on,” she said, ignoring the compliment.

“I am enchanted with it, and enchanted with you,” he cried, feeling
that his tongue was somehow slipping beyond the control of his brain.
And he was on the verge of saying all manner of other things of the
wildest description, when the girl sprang lightly up from her chair
beside him, and made to go.

“It is _soupe à l’onion_ to-day!” she cried, laughing back at him
through the sunlight, “and I must go and see about it. Otherwise, you
know, M’sieur will not enjoy his dinner, and then, perhaps, he will
leave us!”

He watched her cross the courtyard, moving with all the grace and
lightness of the feline race, and her simple black dress clothed her,
he thought, exactly like the fur of the same supple species. She turned
once to laugh at him from the porch with the glass door, and then
stopped a moment to speak to her mother, who sat knitting as usual in
her corner seat just inside the hall-way.

But how was it, then, that the moment his eye fell upon this ungainly
woman, the pair of them appeared suddenly as other than they were?
Whence came that transforming dignity and sense of power that enveloped
them both as by magic? What was it about that massive woman that
made her appear instantly regal, and set her on a throne in some
dark and dreadful scenery, wielding a sceptre over the red glare of
some tempestuous orgy? And why did this slender stripling of a girl,
graceful as a willow, lithe as a young leopard, assume suddenly an air
of sinister majesty, and move with flame and smoke about her head, and
the darkness of night beneath her feet?

Vezin caught his breath and sat there transfixed. Then, almost
simultaneously with its appearance, the queer notion vanished again,
and the sunlight of day caught them both, and he heard her laughing to
her mother about the _soupe à l’onion_, and saw her glancing back at
him over her dear little shoulder with a smile that made him think of a
dew-kissed rose bending lightly before summer airs.

And, indeed, the onion soup was particularly excellent that day,
because he saw another cover laid at his small table and, with
fluttering heart, heard the waiter murmur by way of explanation that
“Ma’mselle Ilsé would honour M’sieur to-day at _déjeuner_, as her
custom sometimes is with her mother’s guests.”

So actually she sat by him all through that delirious meal, talking
quietly to him in easy French, seeing that he was well looked after,
mixing the salad-dressing, and even helping him with her own hand.
And, later in the afternoon, while he was smoking in the courtyard,
longing for a sight of her as soon as her duties were done, she came
again to his side, and when he rose to meet her, she stood facing him a
moment, full of a perplexing sweet shyness before she spoke--

“My mother thinks you ought to know more of the beauties of our little
town, and _I_ think so too! Would M’sieur like me to be his guide,
perhaps? I can show him everything, for our family has lived here for
many generations.”

She had him by the hand, indeed, before he could find a single word
to express his pleasure, and led him, all unresisting, out into the
street, yet in such a way that it seemed perfectly natural she should
do so, and without the faintest suggestion of boldness or immodesty.
Her face glowed with the pleasure and interest of it, and with her
short dress and tumbled hair she looked every bit the charming child of
seventeen that she was, innocent and playful, proud of her native town,
and alive beyond her years to the sense of its ancient beauty.

So they went over the town together, and she showed him what she
considered its chief interest: the tumble-down old house where her
forebears had lived; the sombre, aristocratic-looking mansion where her
mother’s family dwelt for centuries, and the ancient market-place where
several hundred years before the witches had been burnt by the score.
She kept up a lively running stream of talk about it all, of which he
understood not a fiftieth part as he trudged along by her side, cursing
his forty-five years and feeling all the yearnings of his early manhood
revive and jeer at him. And, as she talked, England and Surbiton
seemed very far away indeed, almost in another age of the world’s
history. Her voice touched something immeasurably old in him, something
that slept deep. It lulled the surface parts of his consciousness to
sleep, allowing what was far more ancient to awaken. Like the town,
with its elaborate pretence of modern active life, the upper layers
of his being became dulled, soothed, muffled, and what lay underneath
began to stir in its sleep. That big Curtain swayed a little to and
fro. Presently it might lift altogether....

He began to understand a little better at last. The mood of the town
was reproducing itself in him. In proportion as his ordinary external
self became muffled, that inner secret life, that was far more real and
vital, asserted itself. And this girl was surely the high-priestess of
it all, the chief instrument of its accomplishment. New thoughts, with
new interpretations, flooded his mind as she walked beside him through
the winding streets, while the picturesque old gabled town, softly
coloured in the sunset, had never appeared to him so wholly wonderful
and seductive.

And only one curious incident came to disturb and puzzle him, slight
in itself, but utterly inexplicable, bringing white terror into the
child’s face and a scream to her laughing lips. He had merely pointed
to a column of blue smoke that rose from the burning autumn leaves
and made a picture against the red roofs, and had then run to the
wall and called her to his side to watch the flames shooting here and
there through the heap of rubbish. Yet, at the sight of it, as though
taken by surprise, her face had altered dreadfully, and she had turned
and run like the wind, calling out wild sentences to him as she ran,
of which he had not understood a single word, except that the fire
apparently frightened her, and she wanted to get quickly away from it,
and to get him away too.

Yet five minutes later she was as calm and happy again as though
nothing had happened to alarm or waken troubled thoughts in her, and
they had both forgotten the incident.

They were leaning over the ruined ramparts together listening to
the weird music of the band as he had heard it the first day of his
arrival. It moved him again profoundly as it had done before, and
somehow he managed to find his tongue and his best French. The girl
leaned across the stones close beside him. No one was about. Driven by
some remorseless engine within he began to stammer something--he hardly
knew what--of his strange admiration for her. Almost at the first word
she sprang lightly off the wall and came up smiling in front of him,
just touching his knees as he sat there. She was hatless as usual, and
the sun caught her hair and one side of her cheek and throat.

“Oh, I’m _so_ glad!” she cried, clapping her little hands softly in his
face, “so very glad, because that means that if you like me you must
also like what I do, and what I belong to.”

Already he regretted bitterly having lost control of himself. Something
in the phrasing of her sentence chilled him. He knew the fear of
embarking upon an unknown and dangerous sea.

“You will take part in our real life, I mean,” she added softly,
with an indescribable coaxing of manner, as though she noticed his
shrinking. “You will come back to us.”

Already this slip of a child seemed to dominate him; he felt her power
coming over him more and more; something emanated from her that stole
over his senses and made him aware that her personality, for all its
simple grace, held forces that were stately, imposing, august. He saw
her again moving through smoke and flame amid broken and tempestuous
scenery, alarmingly strong, her terrible mother by her side. Dimly this
shone through her smile and appearance of charming innocence.

“You will, I know,” she repeated, holding him with her eyes.

They were quite alone up there on the ramparts, and the sensation that
she was overmastering him stirred a wild sensuousness in his blood. The
mingled abandon and reserve in her attracted him furiously, and all of
him that was man rose up and resisted the creeping influence, at the
same time acclaiming it with the full delight of his forgotten youth.
An irresistible desire came to him to question her, to summon what
still remained to him of his own little personality in an effort to
retain the right to his normal self.

The girl had grown quiet again, and was now leaning on the broad wall
close beside him, gazing out across the darkening plain, her elbows on
the coping, motionless as a figure carved in stone. He took his courage
in both hands.

“Tell me, Ilsé,” he said, unconsciously imitating her own purring
softness of voice, yet aware that he was utterly in earnest, “what is
the meaning of this town, and what is this real life you speak of? And
why is it that the people watch me from morning to night? Tell me what
it all means? And, tell me,” he added more quickly with passion in his
voice, “what you really are--yourself?”

She turned her head and looked at him through half-closed eyelids, her
growing inner excitement betraying itself by the faint colour that ran
like a shadow across her face.

“It seems to me,”--he faltered oddly under her gaze--“that I have some
right to know----”

Suddenly she opened her eyes to the full. “You love me, then?” she
asked softly.

“I swear,” he cried impetuously, moved as by the force of a rising
tide, “I never felt before--I have never known any other girl who----”

“Then you _have_ the right to know,” she calmly interrupted his
confused confession; “for love shares all secrets.”

She paused, and a thrill like fire ran swiftly through him. Her words
lifted him off the earth, and he felt a radiant happiness, followed
almost the same instant in horrible contrast by the thought of death.
He became aware that she had turned her eyes upon his own and was
speaking again.

“The real life I speak of,” she whispered, “is the old, old life
within, the life of long ago, the life to which you, too, once
belonged, and to which you still belong.”

A faint wave of memory troubled the deeps of his soul as her low
voice sank into him. What she was saying he knew instinctively to be
true, even though he could not as yet understand its full purport.
His present life seemed slipping from him as he listened, merging his
personality in one that was far older and greater. It was this loss of
his present self that brought to him the thought of death.

“You came here,” she went on, “with the purpose of seeking it, and the
people felt your presence and are waiting to know what you decide,
whether you will leave them without having found it, or whether----”

Her eyes remained fixed upon his own, but her face began to change,
growing larger and darker with an expression of age.

“It is their thoughts constantly playing about your soul that makes
you feel they watch you. They do not watch you with their eyes. The
purposes of their inner life are calling to you, seeking to claim you.
You were all part of the same life long, long ago, and now they want
you back again among them.”

Vezin’s timid heart sank with dread as he listened; but the girl’s
eyes held him with a net of joy so that he had no wish to escape. She
fascinated him, as it were, clean out of his normal self.

“Alone, however, the people could never have caught and held you,”
she resumed. “The motive force was not strong enough; it has faded
through all these years. But I”--she paused a moment and looked at him
with complete confidence in her splendid eyes--“I possess the spell to
conquer you and hold you: the spell of old love. I can win you back
again and make you live the old life with me, for the force of the
ancient tie between us, if I choose to use it, is irresistible. And
I do choose to use it I still want you. And you, dear soul of my dim
past”--she pressed closer to him so that her breath passed across his
eyes, and her voice positively sang--“I mean to have you, for you love
me and are utterly at my mercy.”

Vezin heard, and yet did not hear; understood, yet did not understand.
He had passed into a condition of exaltation. The world was beneath his
feet, made of music and flowers, and he was flying somewhere far above
it through the sunshine of pure delight. He was breathless and giddy
with the wonder of her words. They intoxicated him. And, still, the
terror of it all, the dreadful thought of death, pressed ever behind
her sentences. For flames shot through her voice out of black smoke and
licked at his soul.

And they communicated with one another, it seemed to him, by a process
of swift telepathy, for his French could never have compassed all he
said to her. Yet she understood perfectly, and what she said to him was
like the recital of verses long since known. And the mingled pain and
sweetness of it as he listened were almost more than his little soul
could hold.

“Yet I came here wholly by chance----” he heard himself saying.

“No,” she cried with passion, “you came here because I called to you. I
have called to you for years, and you came with the whole force of the
past behind you. You had to come, for I own you, and I claim you.”

She rose again and moved closer, looking at him with a certain
insolence in the face--the insolence of power.

The sun had set behind the towers of the old cathedral and the darkness
rose up from the plain and enveloped them. The music of the band had
ceased. The leaves of the plane trees hung motionless, but the chill
of the autumn evening rose about them and made Vezin shiver. There
was no sound but the sound of their voices and the occasional soft
rustle of the girl’s dress. He could hear the blood rushing in his
ears. He scarcely realised where he was or what he was doing. Some
terrible magic of the imagination drew him deeply down into the tombs
of his own being, telling him in no unfaltering voice that her words
shadowed forth the truth. And this simple little French maid, speaking
beside him with so strange authority, he saw curiously alter into quite
another being. As he stared into her eyes, the picture in his mind grew
and lived, dressing itself vividly to his inner vision with a degree
of reality he was compelled to acknowledge. As once before, he saw her
tall and stately, moving through wild and broken scenery of forests and
mountain caverns, the glare of flames behind her head and clouds of
shifting smoke about her feet. Dark leaves encircled her hair, flying
loosely in the wind, and her limbs shone through the merest rags of
clothing. Others were about her too, and ardent eyes on all sides cast
delirious glances upon her, but her own eyes were always for One only,
one whom she held by the hand. For she was leading the dance in some
tempestuous orgy to the music of chanting voices, and the dance she led
circled about a great and awful Figure on a throne, brooding over the
scene through lurid vapours, while innumerable other wild faces and
forms crowded furiously about her in the dance. But the one she held by
the hand he knew to be himself, and the monstrous shape upon the throne
he knew to be her mother.

The vision rose within him, rushing to him down the long years
of buried time, crying aloud to him with the voice of memory
reawakened.... And then the scene faded away and he saw the clear
circle of the girl’s eyes gazing steadfastly into his own, and she
became once more the pretty little daughter of the innkeeper, and he
found his voice again.

“And you,” he whispered tremblingly--“you child of visions and
enchantment, how is it that you so bewitch me that I loved you even
before I saw?”

She drew herself up beside him with an air of rare dignity.

“The call of the Past,” she said; “and besides,” she added proudly, “in
the real life I am a princess----”

“A princess!” he cried.

“----and my mother is a queen!”

At this, little Vezin utterly lost his head. Delight tore at his heart
and swept him into sheer ecstasy. To hear that sweet singing voice, and
to see those adorable little lips utter such things, upset his balance
beyond all hope of control. He took her in his arms and covered her
unresisting face with kisses.

But even while he did so, and while the hot passion swept him, he
felt that she was soft and loathsome, and that her answering kisses
stained his very soul.... And when, presently, she had freed herself
and vanished into the darkness, he stood there, leaning against the
wall in a state of collapse, creeping with horror from the touch of
her yielding body, and inwardly raging at the weakness that he already
dimly realised must prove his undoing.

And from the shadows of the old buildings into which she disappeared
there rose in the stillness of the night a singular, long-drawn cry,
which at first he took for laughter, but which later he was sure he
recognised as the almost human wailing of a cat.


V

For a long time Vezin leant there against the wall, alone with his
surging thoughts and emotions. He understood at length that he had
done the one thing necessary to call down upon him the whole force of
this ancient Past. For in those passionate kisses he had acknowledged
the tie of olden days, and had revived it. And the memory of that soft
impalpable caress in the darkness of the inn corridor came back to him
with a shudder. The girl had first mastered him, and then led him to
the one act that was necessary for her purpose. He had been waylaid,
after the lapse of centuries--caught, and conquered.

Dimly he realised this, and sought to make plans for his escape. But,
for the moment at any rate, he was powerless to manage his thoughts or
will, for the sweet, fantastic madness of the whole adventure mounted
to his brain like a spell, and he gloried in the feeling that he was
utterly enchanted and moving in a world so much larger and wilder than
the one he had ever been accustomed to.

The moon, pale and enormous, was just rising over the sea-like plain,
when at last he rose to go. Her slanting rays drew all the houses into
new perspective, so that their roofs, already glistening with dew,
seemed to stretch much higher into the sky than usual, and their gables
and quaint old towers lay far away in its purple reaches.

The cathedral appeared unreal in a silver mist. He moved softly,
keeping to the shadows; but the streets were all deserted and very
silent; the doors were closed, the shutters fastened. Not a soul was
astir. The hush of night lay over everything; it was like a town of
the dead, a churchyard with gigantic and grotesque tombstones.

Wondering where all the busy life of the day had so utterly disappeared
to, he made his way to a back door that entered the inn by means of
the stables, thinking thus to reach his room unobserved. He reached
the courtyard safely and crossed it by keeping close to the shadow of
the wall. He sidled down it, mincing along on tiptoe, just as the old
men did when they entered the _salle à manger_. He was horrified to
find himself doing this instinctively. A strange impulse came to him,
catching him somehow in the centre of his body--an impulse to drop upon
all fours and run swiftly and silently. He glanced upwards and the idea
came to him to leap up upon his window-sill overhead instead of going
round by the stairs. This occurred to him as the easiest, and most
natural way. It was like the beginning of some horrible transformation
of himself into something else. He was fearfully strung up.

The moon was higher now, and the shadows very dark along the side of
the street where he moved. He kept among the deepest of them, and
reached the porch with the glass doors.

But here there was light; the inmates, unfortunately, were still about.
Hoping to slip across the hall unobserved and reach the stairs, he
opened the door carefully and stole in. Then he saw that the hall was
not empty. A large dark thing lay against the wall on his left. At
first he thought it must be household articles. Then it moved, and he
thought it was an immense cat, distorted in some way by the play of
light and shadow. Then it rose straight up before him and he saw that
it was the proprietress.

What she had been doing in this position he could only venture a
dreadful guess, but the moment she stood up and faced him he was aware
of some terrible dignity clothing her about that instantly recalled the
girl’s strange saying that she was a queen. Huge and sinister she stood
there under the little oil lamp; alone with him in the empty hall. Awe
stirred in his heart, and the roots of some ancient fear. He felt that
he must bow to her and make some kind of obeisance. The impulse was
fierce and irresistible, as of long habit. He glanced quickly about
him. There was no one there. Then he deliberately inclined his head
towards her. He bowed.

“Enfin! M’sieur s’est donc décidé. C’est bien alors. J’en suis
contente.”

Her words came to him sonorously as through a great open space.

Then the great figure came suddenly across the flagged hall at him and
seized his trembling hands. Some overpowering force moved with her and
caught him.

“On pourrait faire un p’tit tour ensemble, n’est-ce pas? Nous y allons
cette nuit et il faut s’exercer un peu d’avance pour cela. Ilsé, Ilsé,
viens donc ici. Viens vite!”

And she whirled him round in the opening steps of some dance that
seemed oddly and horribly familiar. They made no sound on the stones,
this strangely assorted couple. It was all soft and stealthy. And
presently, when the air seemed to thicken like smoke, and a red glare
as of flame shot through it, he was aware that some one else had joined
them and that his hand the mother had released was now tightly held
by the daughter. Ilsé had come in answer to the call, and he saw her
with leaves of vervain twined in her dark hair, clothed in tattered
vestiges of some curious garment, beautiful as the night, and horribly,
odiously, loathsomely seductive.

“To the Sabbath! to the Sabbath!” they cried. “On to the Witches’
Sabbath!”

Up and down that narrow hall they danced, the women on each side of
him, to the wildest measure he had ever imagined, yet which he dimly,
dreadfully remembered, till the lamp on the wall flickered and went
out, and they were left in total darkness. And the devil woke in his
heart with a thousand vile suggestions and made him afraid.

Suddenly they released his hands and he heard the voice of the mother
cry that it was time, and they must go. Which way they went he did
not pause to see. He only realised that he was free, and he blundered
through the darkness till he found the stairs and then tore up them to
his room as though all hell was at his heels.

He flung himself on the sofa, with his face in his hands, and groaned.
Swiftly reviewing a dozen ways of immediate escape, all equally
impossible, he finally decided that the only thing to do for the moment
was to sit quiet and wait. He must see what was going to happen. At
least in the privacy of his own bedroom he would be fairly safe. The
door was locked. He crossed over and softly opened the window which
gave upon the courtyard and also permitted a partial view of the hall
through the glass doors.

As he did so the hum and murmur of a great activity reached his ears
from the streets beyond--the sound of footsteps and voices muffled by
distance. He leaned out cautiously and listened. The moonlight was
clear and strong now, but his own window was in shadow, the silver
disc being still behind the house. It came to him irresistibly that
the inhabitants of the town, who a little while before had all been
invisible behind closed doors, were now issuing forth, busy upon some
secret and unholy errand. He listened intently.

At first everything about him was silent, but soon he became aware of
movements going on in the house itself. Rustlings and cheepings came
to him across that still, moonlit yard. A concourse of living beings
sent the hum of their activity into the night. Things were on the move
everywhere. A biting, pungent odour rose through the air, coming he
knew not whence. Presently his eyes became glued to the windows of
the opposite wall where the moonshine fell in a soft blaze. The roof
overhead, and behind him, was reflected clearly in the panes of glass,
and he saw the outlines of dark bodies moving with long footsteps over
the tiles and along the coping. They passed swiftly and silently,
shaped like immense cats, in an endless procession across the pictured
glass, and then appeared to leap down to a lower level where he lost
sight of them. He just caught the soft thudding of their leaps.
Sometimes their shadows fell upon the white wall opposite, and then
he could not make out whether they were the shadows of human beings
or of cats. They seemed to change swiftly from one to the other. The
transformation looked horribly real, for they leaped like human beings,
yet changed swiftly in the air immediately afterwards, and dropped like
animals.

The yard, too, beneath him, was now alive with the creeping movements
of dark forms all stealthily drawing towards the porch with the glass
doors. They kept so closely to the wall that he could not determine
their actual shape, but when he saw that they passed on to the great
congregation that was gathering in the hall, he understood that these
were the creatures whose leaping shadows he had first seen reflected in
the window-panes opposite. They were coming from all parts of the town,
reaching the appointed meeting-place across the roofs and tiles, and
springing from level to level till they came to the yard.

Then a new sound caught his ear, and he saw that the windows all about
him were being softly opened, and that to each window came a face. A
moment later figures began dropping hurriedly down into the yard. And
these figures, as they lowered themselves down from the windows, were
human, he saw; but once safely in the yard they fell upon all fours and
changed in the swiftest possible second into--cats--huge, silent cats.
They ran in streams to join the main body in the hall beyond.

So, after all, the rooms in the house had not been empty and unoccupied.

Moreover, what he saw no longer filled him with amazement. For he
remembered it all. It was familiar. It had all happened before just
so, hundreds of times, and he himself had taken part in it and known
the wild madness of it all. The outline of the old building changed,
the yard grew larger, and he seemed to be staring down upon it from
a much greater height through smoky vapours. And, as he looked, half
remembering, the old pains of long ago, fierce and sweet, furiously
assailed him, and the blood stirred horribly as he heard the Call of
the Dance again in his heart and tasted the ancient magic of Ilsé
whirling by his side.

Suddenly he started back. A great lithe cat had leaped softly up from
the shadows below on to the sill close to his face, and was staring
fixedly at him with the eyes of a human. “Come,” it seemed to say,
“come with us to the Dance! Change as of old! Transform yourself
swiftly and come!” Only too well he understood the creature’s soundless
call.

It was gone again in a flash with scarcely a sound of its padded feet
on the stones, and then others dropped by the score down the side of
the house, past his very eyes, all changing as they fell and darting
away rapidly, softly, towards the gathering point. And again he felt
the dreadful desire to do likewise; to murmur the old incantation,
and then drop upon hands and knees and run swiftly for the great
flying leap into the air. Oh, how the passion of it rose within him
like a flood, twisting his very entrails, sending his heart’s desire
flaming forth into the night for the old, old Dance of the Sorcerers
at the Witches’ Sabbath! The whirl of the stars was about him; once
more he met the magic of the moon. The power of the wind, rushing
from precipice and forest, leaping from cliff to cliff across the
valleys, tore him away.... He heard the cries of the dancers and their
wild laughter, and with this savage girl in his embrace he danced
furiously about the dim Throne where sate the Figure with the sceptre
of majesty....

Then, suddenly, all became hushed and still, and the fever died down a
little in his heart. The calm moonlight flooded a courtyard empty and
deserted. They had started. The procession was off into the sky. And he
was left behind--alone.

Vezin tiptoed softly across the room and unlocked the door. The murmur
from the streets, growing momentarily as he advanced, met his ears. He
made his way with the utmost caution down the corridor. At the head of
the stairs he paused and listened. Below him, the hall where they had
gathered was dark and still, but through opened doors and windows on
the far side of the building came the sound of a great throng moving
farther and farther into the distance.

He made his way down the creaking wooden stairs, dreading yet longing
to meet some straggler who should point the way, but finding no one;
across the dark hall, so lately thronged with living, moving things,
and out through the opened front doors into the street. He could not
believe that he was really left behind, really forgotten, that he had
been purposely permitted to escape. It perplexed him.

Nervously he peered about him, and up and down the street; then, seeing
nothing, advanced slowly down the pavement.

The whole town, as he went, showed itself empty and deserted, as
though a great wind had blown everything alive out of it. The doors
and windows of the houses stood open to the night; nothing stirred;
moonlight and silence lay over all. The night lay about him like a
cloak. The air, soft and cool, caressed his cheek like the touch of a
great furry paw. He gained confidence and began to walk quickly, though
still keeping to the shadowed side. Nowhere could he discover the
faintest sign of the great unholy exodus he knew had just taken place.
The moon sailed high over all in a sky, cloudless and serene.

Hardly realising where he was going, he crossed the open market-place
and so came to the ramparts, whence he knew a pathway descended to the
high road and along which he could make good his escape to one of the
other little towns that lay to the northward, and so to the railway.

But first he paused and gazed out over the scene at his feet where the
great plain lay like a silver map of some dream country. The still
beauty of it entered his heart, increasing his sense of bewilderment
and unreality. No air stirred, the leaves of the plane trees stood
motionless, the near details were defined with the sharpness of day
against dark shadows, and in the distance the fields and woods melted
away into haze and shimmering mistiness.

But the breath caught in his throat and he stood stockstill as though
transfixed when his gaze passed from the horizon and fell upon the near
prospect in the depth of the valley at his feet. The whole lower slopes
of the hill, that lay hid from the brightness of the moon, were aglow,
and through the glare he saw countless moving forms, shifting thick and
fast between the openings of the trees; while overhead, like leaves
driven by the wind, he discerned flying shapes that hovered darkly one
moment against the sky and then settled down with cries and weird
singing through the branches into the region that was aflame.

Spellbound, he stood and stared for a time that he could not measure.
And then, moved by one of the terrible impulses that seemed to control
the whole adventure, he climbed swiftly upon the top of the broad
coping, and balanced a moment where the valley gaped at his feet. But
in that very instant, as he stood hovering, a sudden movement among the
shadows of the houses caught his eye, and he turned to see the outline
of a large animal dart swiftly across the open space behind him, and
land with a flying leap upon the top of the wall a little lower down.
It ran like the wind to his feet and then rose up beside him upon the
ramparts. A shiver seemed to run through the moonlight, and his sight
trembled for a second. His heart pulsed fearfully. Ilsé stood beside
him, peering into his face.

Some dark substance, he saw, stained the girl’s face and skin, shining
in the moonlight as she stretched her hands towards him; she was
dressed in wretched tattered garments that yet became her mightily; rue
and vervain twined about her temples; her eyes glittered with unholy
light. He only just controlled the wild impulse to take her in his arms
and leap with her from their giddy perch into the valley below.

“See!” she cried, pointing with an arm on which the rags fluttered in
the rising wind towards the forest aglow in the distance. “See where
they await us! The woods are alive! Already the Great Ones are there,
and the dance will soon begin! The salve is here! Anoint yourself and
come!”

Though a moment before the sky was clear and cloudless, yet even while
she spoke the face of the moon grew dark and the wind began to toss
in the crests of the plane trees at his feet. Stray gusts brought the
sounds of hoarse singing and crying from the lower slopes of the hill,
and the pungent odour he had already noticed about the courtyard of the
inn rose about him in the air.

“Transform, transform!” she cried again, her voice rising like a song.
“Rub well your skin before you fly. Come! Come with me to the Sabbath,
to the madness of its furious delight, to the sweet abandonment of
its evil worship! See! the Great Ones are there, and the terrible
Sacraments prepared. The Throne is occupied. Anoint and come! Anoint
and come!”

She grew to the height of a tree beside him, leaping upon the wall with
flaming eyes and hair strewn upon the night. He too began to change
swiftly. Her hands touched the skin of his face and neck, streaking him
with the burning salve that sent the old magic into his blood with the
power before which fades all that is good.

A wild roar came up to his ears from the heart of the wood, and the
girl, when she heard it, leaped upon the wall in the frenzy of her
wicked joy.

“Satan is there!” she screamed, rushing upon him and striving to draw
him with her to the edge of the wall. “Satan has come! The Sacraments
call us! Come, with your dear apostate soul, and we will worship and
dance till the moon dies and the world is forgotten!”

Just saving himself from the dreadful plunge, Vezin struggled to
release himself from her grasp, while the passion tore at his reins and
all but mastered him. He shrieked aloud, not knowing what he said, and
then he shrieked again. It was the old impulses, the old awful habits
instinctively finding voice; for though it seemed to him that he merely
shrieked nonsense, the words he uttered really had meaning in them, and
were intelligible. It was the ancient call. And it was heard below. It
was answered.

The wind whistled at the skirts of his coat as the air round him
darkened with many flying forms crowding upwards out of the valley. The
crying of hoarse voices smote upon his ears, coming closer. Strokes of
wind buffeted him, tearing him this way and that along the crumbling
top of the stone wall; and Ilsé clung to him with her long shining
arms, smooth and bare, holding him fast about the neck. But not Ilsé
alone, for a dozen of them surrounded him, dropping out of the air.
The pungent odour of the anointed bodies stifled him, exciting him to
the old madness of the Sabbath, the dance of the witches and sorcerers
doing honour to the personified Evil of the world.

“Anoint and away! Anoint and away!” they cried in wild chorus about
him. “To the Dance that never dies! To the sweet and fearful fantasy of
evil!”

Another moment and he would have yielded and gone, for his will turned
soft and the flood of passionate memory all but overwhelmed him,
when--so can a small thing alter the whole course of an adventure--he
caught his foot upon a loose stone in the edge of the wall, and
then fell with a sudden crash on to the ground below. But he fell
towards the houses, in the open space of dust and cobble stones, and
fortunately not into the gaping depth of the valley on the farther side.

And they, too, came in a tumbling heap about him, like flies upon a
piece of food, but as they fell he was released for a moment from
the power of their touch, and in that brief instant of freedom there
flashed into his mind the sudden intuition that saved him. Before he
could regain his feet he saw them scrabbling awkwardly back upon the
wall, as though bat-like they could only fly by dropping from a height,
and had no hold upon him in the open. Then, seeing them perched there
in a row like cats upon a roof, all dark and singularly shapeless,
their eyes like lamps, the sudden memory came back to him of Ilsé’s
terror at the sight of fire.

Quick as a flash he found his matches and lit the dead leaves that lay
under the wall.

Dry and withered, they caught fire at once, and the wind carried the
flame in a long line down the length of the wall, licking upwards as
it ran; and with shrieks and wailings, the crowded row of forms upon
the top melted away into the air on the other side, and were gone with
a great rush and whirring of their bodies down into the heart of the
haunted valley, leaving Vezin breathless and shaken in the middle of
the deserted ground.

“Ilsé!” he called feebly; “Ilsé!” for his heart ached to think that she
was really gone to the great Dance without him, and that he had lost
the opportunity of its fearful joy. Yet at the same time his relief
was so great, and he was so dazed and troubled in mind with the whole
thing, that he hardly knew what he was saying, and only cried aloud in
the fierce storm of his emotion....

The fire under the wall ran its course, and the moonlight came out
again, soft and clear, from its temporary eclipse. With one last
shuddering look at the ruined ramparts, and a feeling of horrid wonder
for the haunted valley beyond, where the shapes still crowded and flew,
he turned his face towards the town and slowly made his way in the
direction of the hotel.

And as he went, a great wailing of cries, and a sound of howling,
followed him from the gleaming forest below, growing fainter and
fainter with the bursts of wind as he disappeared between the houses.


VI

“It may seem rather abrupt to you, this sudden tame ending,” said
Arthur Vezin, glancing with flushed face and timid eyes at Dr. Silence
sitting there with his notebook, “but the fact is--er--from that moment
my memory seems to have failed rather. I have no distinct recollection
of how I got home or what precisely I did.

“It appears I never went back to the inn at all. I only dimly recollect
racing down a long white road in the moonlight, past woods and
villages, still and deserted, and then the dawn came up, and I saw the
towers of a biggish town and so came to a station.

“But, long before that, I remember pausing somewhere on the road and
looking back to where the hill-town of my adventure stood up in the
moonlight, and thinking how exactly like a great monstrous cat it lay
there upon the plain, its huge front paws lying down the two main
streets, and the twin and broken towers of the cathedral marking its
torn ears against the sky. That picture stays in my mind with the
utmost vividness to this day.

“Another thing remains in my mind from that escape--namely, the sudden
sharp reminder that I had not paid my bill, and the decision I made,
standing there on the dusty highroad, that the small baggage I had left
behind would more than settle for my indebtedness.

“For the rest, I can only tell you that I got coffee and bread at a
café on the outskirts of this town I had come to, and soon after found
my way to the station and caught a train later in the day. That same
evening I reached London.”

“And how long altogether,” asked John Silence quietly, “do you think
you stayed in the town of the adventure?”

Vezin looked up sheepishly.

“I was coming to that,” he resumed, with apologetic wrigglings of his
body. “In London I found that I was a whole week out in my reckoning of
time. I had stayed over a week in the town, and it ought to have been
September 15th,--instead of which it was only September 10th!”

“So that, in reality, you had only stayed a night or two in the inn?”
queried the doctor.

Vezin hesitated before replying. He shuffled upon the mat.

“I must have gained time somewhere,” he said at length--“somewhere or
somehow. I certainly had a week to my credit. I can’t explain it. I can
only give you the fact.”

“And this happened to you last year, since when you have never been
back to the place?”

“Last autumn, yes,” murmured Vezin; “and I have never dared to go
back. I think I never want to.”

“And, tell me,” asked Dr. Silence at length, when he saw that the
little man had evidently come to the end of his words and had nothing
more to say, “had you ever read up the subject of the old witchcraft
practices during the Middle Ages, or been at all interested in the
subject?”

“Never!” declared Vezin emphatically. “I had never given a thought to
such matters so far as I know----”

“Or to the question of reincarnation, perhaps?”

“Never--before my adventure; but I have since,” he replied
significantly.

There was, however, something still on the man’s mind that he wished
to relieve himself of by confession, yet could with difficulty bring
himself to mention; and it was only after the sympathetic tactfulness
of the doctor had provided numerous openings that he at length availed
himself of one of them, and stammered that he would like to show him
the marks he still had on his neck where, he said, the girl had touched
him with her anointed hands.

He took off his collar after infinite fumbling hesitation, and lowered
his shirt a little for the doctor to see. And there, on the surface of
the skin, lay a faint reddish line across the shoulder and extending
a little way down the back towards the spine. It certainly indicated
exactly the position an arm might have taken in the act of embracing.
And on the other side of the neck, slightly higher up, was a similar
mark, though not quite so clearly defined.

“That was where she held me that night on the ramparts,” he whispered,
a strange light coming and going in his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was some weeks later when I again found occasion to consult John
Silence concerning another extraordinary case that had come under my
notice, and we fell to discussing Vezin’s story. Since hearing it,
the doctor had made investigations on his own account, and one of his
secretaries had discovered that Vezin’s ancestors had actually lived
for generations in the very town where the adventure came to him. Two
of them, both women, had been tried and convicted as witches, and had
been burned alive at the stake. Moreover, it had not been difficult to
prove that the very inn where Vezin stayed was built about 1700 upon
the spot where the funeral pyres stood and the executions took place.
The town was a sort of headquarters for all the sorcerers and witches
of the entire region, and after conviction they were burnt there
literally by scores.

“It seems strange,” continued the doctor, “that Vezin should have
remained ignorant of all this; but, on the other hand, it was not the
kind of history that successive generations would have been anxious to
keep alive, or to repeat to their children. Therefore I am inclined to
think he still knows nothing about it.

“The whole adventure seems to have been a very vivid revival of the
memories of an earlier life, caused by coming directly into contact
with the living forces still intense enough to hang about the place,
and, by a most singular chance too, with the very souls who had taken
part with him in the events of that particular life. For the mother
and daughter who impressed him so strangely must have been leading
actors, with himself, in the scenes and practices of witchcraft which
at that period dominated the imaginations of the whole country.

“One has only to read the histories of the times to know that
these witches claimed the power of transforming themselves into
various animals, both for the purposes of disguise and also to
convey themselves swiftly to the scenes of their imaginary orgies.
Lycanthropy, or the power to change themselves into wolves, was
everywhere believed in, and the ability to transform themselves into
cats by rubbing their bodies with a special salve or ointment provided
by Satan himself, found equal credence. The witchcraft trials abound in
evidences of such universal beliefs.”

Dr. Silence quoted chapter and verse from many writers on the subject,
and showed how every detail of Vezin’s adventure had a basis in the
practices of those dark days.

“But that the entire affair took place subjectively in the man’s own
consciousness, I have no doubt,” he went on, in reply to my questions;
“for my secretary who has been to the town to investigate, discovered
his signature in the visitors’ book, and proved by it that he had
arrived on September 8th, and left suddenly without paying his bill.
He left two days later, and they still were in possession of his dirty
brown bag and some tourist clothes. I paid a few francs in settlement
of his debt, and have sent his luggage on to him. The daughter was
absent from home, but the proprietress, a large woman very much as he
described her, told my secretary that he had seemed a very strange,
absent-minded kind of gentleman, and after his disappearance she had
feared for a long time that he had met with a violent end in the
neighbouring forest where he used to roam about alone.

“I should like to have obtained a personal interview with the daughter
so as to ascertain how much was subjective and how much actually took
place with her as Vezin told it. For her dread of fire and the sight of
burning must, of course, have been the intuitive memory of her former
painful death at the stake, and have thus explained why he fancied more
than once that he saw her through smoke and flame.”

“And that mark on his skin, for instance?” I inquired.

“Merely the marks produced by hysterical brooding,” he replied, “like
the stigmata of the _religieuses_, and the bruises which appear on
the bodies of hypnotised subjects who have been told to expect them.
This is very common and easily explained. Only it seems curious that
these marks should have remained so long in Vezin’s case. Usually they
disappear quickly.”

“Obviously he is still thinking about it all, brooding, and living it
all over again,” I ventured.

“Probably. And this makes me fear that the end of his trouble is not
yet. We shall hear of him again. It is a case, alas! I can do little to
alleviate.”

Dr. Silence spoke gravely and with sadness in his voice.

“And what do you make of the Frenchman in the train?” I asked
further--“the man who warned him against the place, _à cause du sommeil
et à cause des chats_? Surely a very singular incident?”

“A _very_ singular incident indeed,” he made answer slowly, “and one I
can only explain on the basis of a highly improbable coincidence----”

“Namely?”

“That the man was one who had himself stayed in the town and undergone
there a similar experience. I should like to find this man and ask him.
But the crystal is useless here, for I have no slightest clue to go
upon, and I can only conclude that some singular psychic affinity, some
force still active in his being out of the same past life, drew him
thus to the personality of Vezin, and enabled him to fear what might
happen to him, and thus to warn him as he did.

“Yes,” he presently continued, half talking to himself, “I suspect in
this case that Vezin was swept into the vortex of forces arising out of
the intense activities of a past life, and that he lived over again a
scene in which he had often played a leading part centuries before. For
strong actions set up forces that are so slow to exhaust themselves,
they may be said in a sense never to die. In this case they were not
vital enough to render the illusion complete, so that the little man
found himself caught in a very distressing confusion of the present
and the past; yet he was sufficiently sensitive to recognise that it
was true, and to fight against the degradation of returning, even in
memory, to a former and lower state of development.

“Ah yes!” he continued, crossing the floor to gaze at the darkening
sky, and seemingly quite oblivious of my presence, “subliminal
up-rushes of memory like this can be exceedingly painful, and sometimes
exceedingly dangerous. I only trust that this gentle soul may soon
escape from this obsession of a passionate and tempestuous past. But I
doubt it, I doubt it.”

His voice was hushed with sadness as he spoke, and when he turned back
into the room again there was an expression of profound yearning upon
his face, the yearning of a soul whose desire to help is sometimes
greater than his power.



CASE III

THE NEMESIS OF FIRE


I

By some means which I never could fathom, John Silence always contrived
to keep the compartment to himself, and as the train had a clear run
of two hours before the first stop, there was ample time to go over
the preliminary facts of the case. He had telephoned to me that very
morning, and even through the disguise of the miles of wire the thrill
of incalculable adventure had sounded in his voice.

“As if it were an ordinary country visit,” he called, in reply to my
question; “and don’t forget to bring your gun.”

“With blank cartridges, I suppose?” for I knew his rigid principles
with regard to the taking of life, and guessed that the guns were
merely for some obvious purpose of disguise.

Then he thanked me for coming, mentioned the train, snapped down the
receiver, and left me vibrating with the excitement of anticipation
to do my packing. For the honour of accompanying Dr. John Silence on
one of his big cases was what many would have considered an empty
honour--and risky. Certainly the adventure held all manner of
possibilities, and I arrived at Waterloo with the feelings of a man who
is about to embark on some dangerous and peculiar mission in which the
dangers he expects to run will not be the ordinary dangers to life and
limb, but of some secret character difficult to name and still more
difficult to cope with.

“The Manor House has a high sound,” he told me, as we sat with our
feet up and talked, “but I believe it is little more than an overgrown
farmhouse in the desolate heather country beyond D----, and its owner,
Colonel Wragge, a retired soldier with a taste for books, lives there
practically alone, I understand, with an elderly invalid sister. So you
need not look forward to a lively visit, unless the case provides some
excitement of its own.”

“Which is likely?”

By way of reply he handed me a letter marked “Private.” It was dated a
week ago, and signed “Yours faithfully, Horace Wragge.”

“He heard of me, you see, through Captain Anderson,” the doctor
explained modestly, as though his fame were not almost world-wide; “you
remember that Indian obsession case----”

I read the letter. Why it should have been marked private was difficult
to understand. It was very brief, direct, and to the point. It referred
by way of introduction to Captain Anderson, and then stated quite
simply that the writer needed help of a peculiar kind and asked for a
personal interview--a morning interview, since it was impossible for
him to be absent from the house at night. The letter was dignified
even to the point of abruptness, and it is difficult to explain how
it managed to convey to me the impression of a strong man, shaken
and perplexed. Perhaps the restraint of the wording, and the mystery
of the affair had something to do with it; and the reference to the
Anderson case, the horror of which lay still vivid in my memory, may
have touched the sense of something rather ominous and alarming. But,
whatever the cause, there was no doubt that an impression of serious
peril rose somehow out of that white paper with the few lines of firm
writing, and the spirit of a deep uneasiness ran between the words and
reached the mind without any visible form of expression.

“And when you saw him----?” I asked, returning the letter as the train
rushed clattering noisily through Clapham Junction.

“I have not seen him,” was the reply. “The man’s mind was charged to
the brim when he wrote that; full of vivid mental pictures. Notice
the restraint of it. For the main character of his case psychometry
could be depended upon, and the scrap of paper his hand has touched
is sufficient to give to another mind--a sensitive and sympathetic
mind--clear mental pictures of what is going on. I think I have a very
sound general idea of his problem.”

“So there may be excitement after all?”

John Silence waited a moment before he replied.

“Something very serious is amiss there,” he said gravely, at length.
“Some one--not himself, I gather,--has been meddling with a rather
dangerous kind of gunpowder. So--yes, there may be excitement, as you
put it.”

“And my duties?” I asked, with a decidedly growing interest. “Remember,
I am your ‘assistant.’”

“Behave like an intelligent confidential secretary. Observe everything,
without seeming to. Say nothing--nothing that means anything. Be
present at all interviews. I may ask a good deal of you, for if my
impressions are correct this is----”

He broke off suddenly.

“But I won’t tell you my impressions yet,” he resumed after a moment’s
thought. “Just watch and listen as the case proceeds. Form your
own impressions and cultivate your intuitions. We come as ordinary
visitors, of course,” he added, a twinkle showing for an instant in his
eye; “hence, the guns.”

Though disappointed not to hear more, I recognised the wisdom of
his words and knew how valueless my impressions would be once the
powerful suggestion of having heard his own lay behind them. I likewise
reflected that intuition joined to a sense of humour was of more use to
a man than double the quantity of mere “brains,” as such.

Before putting the letter away, however, he handed it back, telling me
to place it against my forehead for a few moments and then describe any
pictures that came spontaneously into my mind.

“Don’t deliberately look for anything. Just imagine you see the inside
of the eyelid, and wait for pictures that rise against its dark screen.”

I followed his instructions, making my mind as nearly a blank as
possible. But no visions came. I saw nothing but the lines of light
that pass to and fro like the changes of a kaleidoscope across the
blackness. A momentary sensation of warmth came and went curiously.

“You see--what?” he asked presently.

“Nothing,” I was obliged to admit disappointedly; “nothing but the
usual flashes of light one always sees. Only, perhaps, they are more
vivid than usual.”

He said nothing by way of comment or reply.

“And they group themselves now and then,” I continued, with painful
candour, for I longed to see the pictures he had spoken of, “group
themselves into globes and round balls of fire, and the lines that
flash about sometimes look like triangles and crosses--almost like
geometrical figures. Nothing more.”

I opened my eyes again, and gave him back the letter.

“It makes my head hot,” I said, feeling somehow unworthy for not seeing
anything of interest. But the look in his eyes arrested my attention at
once.

“That sensation of heat is important,” he said significantly.

“It was certainly real, and rather uncomfortable,” I replied, hoping
he would expand and explain. “There was a distinct feeling of
warmth--internal warmth somewhere--oppressive in a sense.”

“That is interesting,” he remarked, putting the letter back in his
pocket, and settling himself in the corner with newspapers and books.
He vouchsafed nothing more, and I knew the uselessness of trying to
make him talk. Following his example I settled likewise with magazines
into my corner. But when I closed my eyes again to look for the
flashing lights and the sensation of heat, I found nothing but the
usual phantasmagoria of the day’s events--faces, scenes, memories,--and
in due course I fell asleep and then saw nothing at all of any kind.

When we left the train, after six hours’ travelling, at a little
wayside station standing without trees in a world of sand and heather,
the late October shadows had already dropped their sombre veil upon the
landscape, and the sun dipped almost out of sight behind the moorland
hills. In a high dogcart, behind a fast horse, we were soon rattling
across the undulating stretches of an open and bleak country, the keen
air stinging our cheeks and the scents of pine and bracken strong
about us. Bare hills were faintly visible against the horizon, and the
coachman pointed to a bank of distant shadows on our left where he told
us the sea lay. Occasional stone farmhouses, standing back from the
road among straggling fir trees, and large black barns that seemed to
shift past us with a movement of their own in the gloom, were the only
signs of humanity and civilisation that we saw, until at the end of a
bracing five miles the lights of the lodge gates flared before us and
we plunged into a thick grove of pine trees that concealed the Manor
House up to the moment of actual arrival.

Colonel Wragge himself met us in the hall. He was the typical army
officer who had seen service, real service, and found himself in the
process. He was tall and well built, broad in the shoulders, but lean
as a greyhound, with grave eyes, rather stern, and a moustache turning
grey. I judged him to be about sixty years of age, but his movements
showed a suppleness of strength and agility that contradicted the
years. The face was full of character and resolution, the face of a man
to be depended upon, and the straight grey eyes, it seemed to me, wore
a veil of perplexed anxiety that he made no attempt to disguise. The
whole appearance of the man at once clothed the adventure with gravity
and importance. A matter that gave such a man cause for serious alarm,
I felt, must be something real and of genuine moment.

His speech and manner, as he welcomed us, were like his letter, simple
and sincere. He had a nature as direct and undeviating as a bullet.
Thus, he showed plainly his surprise that Dr. Silence had not come
alone.

“My confidential secretary, Mr. Hubbard,” the doctor said, introducing
me, and the steady gaze and powerful shake of the hand I then
received were well calculated, I remember thinking, to drive home the
impression that here was a man who was not to be trifled with, and
whose perplexity must spring from some very real and tangible cause.
And, quite obviously, he was relieved that we had come. His welcome was
unmistakably genuine.

He led us at once into a room, half library, half smoking-room,
that opened out of the low-ceilinged hall. The Manor House gave the
impression of a rambling and glorified farmhouse, solid, ancient,
comfortable, and wholly unpretentious. And so it was. Only the heat of
the place struck me as unnatural. This room with the blazing fire may
have seemed uncomfortably warm after the long drive through the night
air; yet it seemed to me that the hall itself, and the whole atmosphere
of the house, breathed a warmth that hardly belonged to well-filled
grates or the pipes of hot air and water. It was not the heat of the
greenhouse; it was an oppressive heat that somehow got into the head
and mind. It stirred a curious sense of uneasiness in me, and I caught
myself thinking of the sensation of warmth that had emanated from the
letter in the train.

I heard him thanking Dr. Silence for having come; there was no
preamble, and the exchange of civilities was of the briefest
description. Evidently here was a man who, like my companion, loved
action rather than talk. His manner was straightforward and direct. I
saw him in a flash: puzzled, worried, harassed into a state of alarm by
something he could not comprehend; forced to deal with things he would
have preferred to despise, yet facing it all with dogged seriousness
and making no attempt to conceal that he felt secretly ashamed of his
incompetence.

“So I cannot offer you much entertainment beyond that of my own
company, and the queer business that has been going on here, and is
still going on,” he said, with a slight inclination of the head towards
me by way of including me in his confidence.

“I think, Colonel Wragge,” replied John Silence impressively, “that we
shall none of us find the time hang heavy. I gather we shall have our
hands full.”

The two men looked at one another for the space of some seconds, and
there was an indefinable quality in their silence which for the first
time made me admit a swift question into my mind; and I wondered a
little at my rashness in coming with so little reflection into a big
case of this incalculable doctor. But no answer suggested itself, and
to withdraw was, of course, inconceivable. The gates had closed behind
me now, and the spirit of the adventure was already besieging my mind
with its advance guard of a thousand little hopes and fears.

Explaining that he would wait till after dinner to discuss anything
serious, as no reference was ever made before his sister, he led the
way upstairs and showed us personally to our rooms; and it was just as
I was finishing dressing that a knock came at my door and Dr. Silence
entered.

He was always what is called a serious man, so that even in moments of
comedy you felt he never lost sight of the profound gravity of life,
but as he came across the room to me I caught the expression of his
face and understood in a flash that he was now in his most grave and
earnest mood. He looked almost troubled. I stopped fumbling with my
black tie and stared.

“It _is_ serious,” he said, speaking in a low voice, “more so even than
I imagined. Colonel Wragge’s control over his thoughts concealed a
great deal in my psychometrising of the letter. I looked in to warn you
to keep yourself well in hand--generally speaking.”

“Haunted house?” I asked, conscious of a distinct shiver down my back.

But he smiled gravely at the question.

“Haunted House of Life more likely,” he replied, and a look came into
his eyes which I had only seen there when a human soul was in the toils
and he was thick in the fight of rescue. He was stirred in the deeps.

“Colonel Wragge--or the sister?” I asked hurriedly, for the gong was
sounding.

“Neither directly,” he said from the door. “Something far older,
something very, very remote indeed. This thing has to do with the ages,
unless I am mistaken greatly, the ages on which the mists of memory
have long lain undisturbed.”

He came across the floor very quickly with a finger on his lips,
looking at me with a peculiar searchingness of gaze.

“Are you aware yet of anything--odd here?” he asked in a whisper.
“Anything you cannot quite define, for instance. Tell me, Hubbard, for
I want to know all your impressions. They may help me.”

I shook my head, avoiding his gaze, for there was something in the eyes
that scared me a little. But he was so in earnest that I set my mind
keenly searching.

“Nothing yet,” I replied truthfully, wishing I could confess to a real
emotion; “nothing but the strange heat of the place.”

He gave a little jump forward in my direction.

“The heat again, that’s it!” he exclaimed, as though glad of my
corroboration. “And how would you describe it, perhaps?” he asked
quickly, with a hand on the door knob.

“It doesn’t seem like ordinary physical heat,” I said, casting about in
my thoughts for a definition.

“More a mental heat,” he interrupted, “a glowing of thought and desire,
a sort of feverish warmth of the spirit. Isn’t that it?”

I admitted that he had exactly described my sensations.

“Good!” he said, as he opened the door, and with an indescribable
gesture that combined a warning to be ready with a sign of praise for
my correct intuition, he was gone.

I hurried after him, and found the two men waiting for me in front of
the fire.

“I ought to warn you,” our host was saying as I came in, “that my
sister, whom you will meet at dinner, is not aware of the real object
of your visit. She is under the impression that we are interested in
the same line of study--folklore--and that your researches have led to
my seeking acquaintance. She comes to dinner in her chair, you know. It
will be a great pleasure to her to meet you both. We have few visitors.”

So that on entering the dining-room we were prepared to find Miss
Wragge already at her place, seated in a sort of bath-chair. She was
a vivacious and charming old lady, with smiling expression and bright
eyes, and she chatted all through dinner with unfailing spontaneity.
She had that face, unlined and fresh, that some people carry through
life from the cradle to the grave; her smooth plump cheeks were
all pink and white, and her hair, still dark, was divided into two
glossy and sleek halves on either side of a careful parting. She wore
gold-rimmed glasses, and at her throat was a large scarab of green
jasper that made a very handsome brooch.

Her brother and Dr. Silence talked little, so that most of the
conversation was carried on between herself and me, and she told me a
great deal about the history of the old house, most of which I fear I
listened to with but half an ear.

“And when Cromwell stayed here,” she babbled on, “he occupied the very
rooms upstairs that used to be mine. But my brother thinks it safer for
me to sleep on the ground floor now in case of fire.”

And this sentence has stayed in my memory only because of the sudden
way her brother interrupted her and instantly led the conversation
on to another topic. The passing reference to fire seemed to have
disturbed him, and thenceforward he directed the talk himself.

It was difficult to believe that this lively and animated old lady,
sitting beside me and taking so eager an interest in the affairs of
life, was practically, we understood, without the use of her lower
limbs, and that her whole existence for years had been passed between
the sofa, the bed, and the bath-chair in which she chatted so naturally
at the dinner-table. She made no allusion to her affliction until the
dessert was reached, and then, touching a bell, she made us a witty
little speech about leaving us “like time, on noiseless feet,” and was
wheeled out of the room by the butler and carried off to her apartments
at the other end of the house.

And the rest of us were not long in following suit, for Dr. Silence and
myself were quite as eager to learn the nature of our errand as our
host was to impart it to us. He led us down a long flagged passage to a
room at the very end of the house, a room provided with double doors,
and windows, I saw, heavily shuttered. Books lined the walls on every
side, and a large desk in the bow window was piled up with volumes,
some open, some shut, some showing scraps of paper stuck between the
leaves, and all smothered in a general cataract of untidy foolscap and
loose half sheets.

“My study and workroom,” explained Colonel Wragge, with a delightful
touch of innocent pride, as though he were a very serious scholar.
He placed arm-chairs for us round the fire. “Here,” he added
significantly, “we shall be safe from interruption and can talk
securely.”

During dinner the manner of the doctor had been all that was natural
and spontaneous, though it was impossible for me, knowing him as I
did, not to be aware that he was subconsciously very keenly alert and
already receiving upon the ultra-sensitive surface of his mind various
and vivid impressions; and there was now something in the gravity
of his face, as well as in the significant tone of Colonel Wragge’s
speech, and something, too, in the fact that we three were shut away in
this private chamber about to listen to things probably strange, and
certainly mysterious--something in all this that touched my imagination
sharply and sent an undeniable thrill along my nerves. Taking the chair
indicated by my host, I lit my cigar and waited for the opening of the
attack, fully conscious that we were now too far gone in the adventure
to admit of withdrawal, and wondering a little anxiously where it was
going to lead.

What I expected precisely, it is hard to say. Nothing definite,
perhaps. Only the sudden change was dramatic. A few hours before the
prosaic atmosphere of Piccadilly was about me, and now I was sitting in
a secret chamber of this remote old building waiting to hear an account
of things that held possibly the genuine heart of terror. I thought of
the dreary moors and hills outside, and the dark pine copses soughing
in the wind of night; I remembered my companion’s singular words up in
my bedroom before dinner; and then I turned and noted carefully the
stern countenance of the Colonel as he faced us and lit his big black
cigar before speaking.

The threshold of an adventure, I reflected as I waited for the first
words, is always the most thrilling moment--until the climax comes.

But Colonel Wragge hesitated--mentally--a long time before he began.
He talked briefly of our journey, the weather, the country, and other
comparatively trivial topics, while he sought about in his mind for an
appropriate entry into the subject that was uppermost in the thoughts
of all of us. The fact was he found it a difficult matter to speak of
at all, and it was Dr. Silence who finally showed him the way over the
hedge.

“Mr Hubbard will take a few notes when you are ready--you won’t
object,” he suggested; “I can give my undivided attention in this way.”

“By all means,” turning to reach some of the loose sheets on the
writing table, and glancing at me. He still hesitated a little, I
thought. “The fact is,” he said apologetically, “I wondered if it
was quite fair to trouble you so soon. The daylight might suit you
better to hear what I have to tell. Your sleep, I mean, might be less
disturbed, perhaps.”

“I appreciate your thoughtfulness,” John Silence replied with his
gentle smile, taking command as it were from that moment, “but really
we are both quite immune. There is nothing, I think, that could prevent
either of us sleeping, except--an outbreak of fire, or some such very
physical disturbance.”

Colonel Wragge raised his eyes and looked fixedly at him. This
reference to an outbreak of fire I felt sure was made with a purpose.
It certainly had the desired effect of removing from our host’s manner
the last signs of hesitancy.

“Forgive me,” he said. “Of course, I know nothing of your methods in
matters of this kind--so, perhaps, you would like me to begin at once
and give you an outline of the situation?”

Dr. Silence bowed his agreement. “I can then take my precautions
accordingly,” he added calmly.

The soldier looked up for a moment as though he did not quite gather
the meaning of these words; but he made no further comment and
turned at once to tackle a subject on which he evidently talked with
diffidence and unwillingness.

“It’s all so utterly out of my line of things,” he began, puffing out
clouds of cigar smoke between his words, “and there’s so little to tell
with any real evidence behind it, that it’s almost impossible to make
a consecutive story for you. It’s the total cumulative effect that is
so--so disquieting.” He chose his words with care, as though determined
not to travel one hair’s breadth beyond the truth.

“I came into this place twenty years ago when my elder brother died,”
he continued, “but could not afford to live here then. My sister, whom
you met at dinner, kept house for him till the end, and during all
these years, while I was seeing service abroad, she had an eye to the
place--for we never got a satisfactory tenant--and saw that it was not
allowed to go to ruin. I myself took possession, however, only a year
ago.

“My brother,” he went on, after a perceptible pause, “spent much of
his time away, too. He was a great traveller, and filled the house
with stuff he brought home from all over the world. The laundry--a
small detached building beyond the servants’ quarters--he turned into a
regular little museum. The curios and things I have cleared away--they
collected dust and were always getting broken--but the laundry-house
you shall see tomorrow.”

Colonel Wragge spoke with such deliberation and with so many pauses
that this beginning took him a long time. But at this point he came to
a full stop altogether. Evidently there was something he wished to say
that cost him considerable effort. At length he looked up steadily into
my companion’s face.

“May I ask you--that is, if you won’t think it strange,” he said, and a
sort of hush came over his voice and manner, “whether you have noticed
anything at all unusual--anything queer, since you came into the house?”

Dr. Silence answered without a moment’s hesitation.

“I have,” he said. “There is a curious sensation of heat in the place.”

“Ah!” exclaimed the other, with a slight start. “You _have_ noticed it.
This unaccountable heat----”

“But its cause, I gather, is not in the house itself--but outside,” I
was astonished to hear the doctor add.

Colonel Wragge rose from his chair and turned to unhook a framed map
that hung upon the wall. I got the impression that the movement was
made with the deliberate purpose of concealing his face.

“Your diagnosis, I believe, is amazingly accurate,” he said after a
moment, turning round with the map in his hands. “Though, of course, I
can have no idea how you should guess----”

John Silence shrugged his shoulders expressively. “Merely my
impression,” he said. “If you pay attention to impressions, and do not
allow them to be confused by deductions of the intellect, you will
often find them surprisingly, uncannily, accurate.”

Colonel Wragge resumed his seat and laid the map upon his knees. His
face was very thoughtful as he plunged abruptly again into his story.

“On coming into possession,” he said, looking us alternately in
the face, “I found a crop of stories of the most extraordinary and
impossible kind I had ever heard--stories which at first I treated with
amused indifference, but later was forced to regard seriously, if only
to keep my servants. These stories I thought I traced to the fact of my
brother’s death--and, in a way, I think so still.”

He leant forward and handed the map to Dr. Silence.

“It’s an old plan of the estate,” he explained, “but accurate enough
for our purpose, and I wish you would note the position of the
plantations marked upon it, especially those near the house. That
one,” indicating the spot with his finger, “is called the Twelve Acre
Plantation. It was just there, on the side nearest the house, that my
brother and the head keeper met their deaths.”

He spoke as a man forced to recognise facts that he deplored, and would
have preferred to leave untouched--things he personally would rather
have treated with ridicule if possible. It made his words peculiarly
dignified and impressive, and I listened with an increasing uneasiness
as to the sort of help the doctor would look to me for later. It seemed
as though I were a spectator of some drama of mystery in which any
moment I might be summoned to play a part.

“It was twenty years ago,” continued the Colonel, “but there was much
talk about it at the time, unfortunately, and you may, perhaps, have
heard of the affair. Stride, the keeper, was a passionate, hot-tempered
man, but I regret to say, so was my brother, and quarrels between them
seem to have been frequent.”

“I do not recall the affair,” said the doctor. “May I ask what was the
cause of death?” Something in his voice made me prick up my ears for
the reply.

“The keeper, it was said, from suffocation. And at the inquest the
doctors averred that both men had been dead the same length of time
when found.”

“And your brother?” asked John Silence, noticing the omission, and
listening intently.

“Equally mysterious,” said our host, speaking in a low voice with
effort. “But there was one distressing feature I think I ought to
mention. For those who saw the face--I did not see it myself--and
though Stride carried a gun its chambers were undischarged----” He
stammered and hesitated with confusion. Again that sense of terror
moved between his words. He stuck.

“Yes,” said the chief listener sympathetically.

“My brother’s face, they said, looked as though it had been scorched.
It had been swept, as it were, by something that burned--blasted. It
was, I am told, quite dreadful. The bodies were found lying side by
side, faces downwards, both pointing away from the wood, as though they
had been in the act of running, and not more than a dozen yards from
its edge.”

Dr. Silence made no comment. He appeared to be studying the map
attentively.

“I did not see the face myself,” repeated the other, his manner somehow
expressing the sense of awe he contrived to keep out of his voice,
“but my sister unfortunately did, and her present state I believe to
be entirely due to the shock it gave to her nerves. She never can be
brought to refer to it, naturally, and I am even inclined to think that
the memory has mercifully been permitted to vanish from her mind. But
she spoke of it at the time as a face swept by flame--blasted.”

John Silence looked up from his contemplation of the map, but with the
air of one who wished to listen, not to speak, and presently Colonel
Wragge went on with his account. He stood on the mat, his broad
shoulders hiding most of the mantelpiece.

“They all centred about this particular plantation, these stories. That
was to be expected, for the people here are as superstitious as Irish
peasantry, and though I made one or two examples among them to stop the
foolish talk, it had no effect, and new versions came to my ears every
week. You may imagine how little good dismissals did, when I tell you
that the servants dismissed themselves. It was not the house servants,
but the men who worked on the estate outside. The keepers gave notice
one after another, none of them with any reason I could accept; the
foresters refused to enter the wood, and the beaters to beat in it.
Word flew all over the countryside that Twelve Acre Plantation was a
place to be avoided, day or night.

“There came a point,” the Colonel went on, now well in his swing, “when
I felt compelled to make investigations on my own account. I could
not kill the thing by ignoring it; so I collected and analysed the
stories at first hand. For this Twelve Acre Wood, you will see by the
map, comes rather near home. Its lower end, if you will look, almost
touches the end of the back lawn, as I will show you tomorrow, and its
dense growth of pines forms the chief protection the house enjoys from
the east winds that blow up from the sea. And in olden days, before my
brother interfered with it and frightened all the game away, it was one
of the best pheasant coverts on the whole estate.”

“And what form, if I may ask, did this interference take?” asked Dr.
Silence.

“In detail, I cannot tell you, for I do not know--except that I
understand it was the subject of his frequent differences with the head
keeper; but during the last two years of his life, when he gave up
travelling and settled down here, he took a special interest in this
wood, and for some unaccountable reason began to build a low stone wall
round it. This wall was never finished, but you shall see the ruins
tomorrow in the daylight.”

“And the result of your investigations--these stories, I mean?” the
doctor broke in, anxious to keep him to the main issues.

“Yes, I’m coming to that,” he said slowly, “but the wood first, for
this wood out of which they grew like mushrooms has nothing in any way
peculiar about it. It is very thickly grown, and rises to a clearer
part in the centre, a sort of mound where there is a circle of large
boulders--old Druid stones, I’m told. At another place there’s a small
pond. There’s nothing distinctive about it that I could mention--just
an ordinary pine-wood, a very ordinary pine-wood--only the trees are a
bit twisted in the trunks, some of ’em, and very dense. Nothing more.

“And the stories? Well, none of them had anything to do with my poor
brother, or the keeper, as you might have expected; and they were all
odd--such odd things, I mean, to invent or imagine. I never could make
out how these people got such notions into their heads.”

He paused a moment to relight his cigar.

“There’s no regular path through it,” he resumed, puffing vigorously,
“but the fields round it are constantly used, and one of the gardeners
whose cottage lies over that way declared he often saw moving lights in
it at night, and luminous shapes like globes of fire over the tops of
the trees, skimming and floating, and making a soft hissing sound--most
of ’em said that, in fact--and another man saw shapes flitting in and
out among the trees, things that were neither men nor animals, and all
faintly luminous. No one ever pretended to see human forms--always
queer, huge things they could not properly describe. Sometimes the
whole wood was lit up, and one fellow--he’s still here and you shall
see him--has a most circumstantial yarn about having seen great stars
lying on the ground round the edge of the wood at regular intervals----”

“What kind of stars?” put in John Silence sharply, in a sudden way that
made me start.

“Oh, I don’t know quite; ordinary stars, I think he said, only very
large, and apparently blazing as though the ground was alight. He was
too terrified to go close and examine, and he has never seen them
since.”

He stooped and stirred the fire into a welcome blaze--welcome for its
blaze of light rather than for its heat. In the room there was already
a strange pervading sensation of warmth that was oppressive in its
effect and far from comforting.

“Of course,” he went on, straightening up again on the mat, “this was
all commonplace enough--this seeing lights and figures at night. Most
of these fellows drink, and imagination and terror between them may
account for almost anything. But others saw things in broad daylight.
One of the woodmen, a sober, respectable man, took the shortcut home to
his midday meal, and swore he was followed the whole length of the wood
by something that never showed itself, but dodged from tree to tree,
always keeping out of sight, yet solid enough to make the branches sway
and the twigs snap on the ground. And it made a noise, he declared--but
really”--the speaker stopped and gave a short laugh--“it’s too
absurd----”

“_Please!_” insisted the doctor; “for it is these small details that
give me the best clues always.”

“----it made a crackling noise, he said, like a bonfire. Those were his
very words: like the crackling of a bonfire,” finished the soldier,
with a repetition of his short laugh.

“Most interesting,” Dr. Silence observed gravely. “Please omit nothing.”

“Yes” he went on, “and it was soon after that the fires began--the
fires in the wood. They started mysteriously burning in the patches of
coarse white grass that cover the more open parts of the plantation. No
one ever actually saw them start, but many, myself among the number,
have seen them burning and smouldering. They are always small and
circular in shape, and for all the world like a picnic fire. The head
keeper has a dozen explanations, from sparks flying out of the house
chimneys to the sunlight focusing through a dewdrop, but none of them,
I must admit, convince me as being in the least likely or probable.
They are most singular, I consider, most singular, these mysterious
fires, and I am glad to say that they come only at rather long
intervals and never seem to spread.

“But the keeper had other queer stories as well, and about things that
are verifiable. He declared that no life ever willingly entered the
plantation; more, that no life existed in it at all. No birds nested in
the trees, or flew into their shade. He set countless traps, but never
caught so much as a rabbit or a weasel. Animals avoided it, and more
than once he had picked up dead creatures round the edges that bore no
obvious signs of how they had met their death.

“Moreover, he told me one extraordinary tale about his retriever
chasing some invisible creature across the field one day when he was
out with his gun. The dog suddenly pointed at something in the field at
his feet, and then gave chase, yelping like a mad thing. It followed
its imaginary quarry to the borders of the wood, and then went in--a
thing he had never known it to do before. The moment it crossed the
edge--it is darkish in there even in daylight--it began fighting
in the most frenzied and terrific fashion. It made him afraid to
interfere, he said. And at last, when the dog came out, hanging its
tail down and panting, he found something like white hair stuck to its
jaws, and brought it to show me. I tell you these details because----”

“They are important, believe me,” the doctor stopped him. “And you have
it still, this hair?” he asked.

“It disappeared in the oddest way,” the Colonel explained. “It was
curious looking stuff, something like asbestos, and I sent it to be
analysed by the local chemist. But either the man got wind of its
origin, or else he didn’t like the look of it for some reason, because
he returned it to me and said it was neither animal, vegetable, nor
mineral, so far as he could make out, and he didn’t wish to have
anything to do with it. I put it away in paper, but a week later, on
opening the package--it was gone! Oh, the stories are simply endless. I
could tell you hundreds all on the same lines.”

“And personal experiences of your own, Colonel Wragge?” asked John
Silence earnestly, his manner showing the greatest possible interest
and sympathy.

The soldier gave an almost imperceptible start. He looked distinctly
uncomfortable.

“Nothing, I think,” he said slowly, “nothing--er--I should like to rely
on. I mean nothing I have the right to speak of, perhaps--yet.”

His mouth closed with a snap. Dr. Silence, after waiting a little to
see if he would add to his reply, did not seek to press him on the
point.

“Well,” he resumed presently, and as though he would speak
contemptuously, yet dared not, “this sort of thing has gone on at
intervals ever since. It spreads like wildfire, of course, mysterious
chatter of this kind, and people began trespassing all over the estate,
coming to see the wood, and making themselves a general nuisance.
Notices of man-traps and spring-guns only seemed to increase their
persistence; and--think of it,” he snorted, “some local Research
Society actually wrote and asked permission for one of their members
to spend a night in the wood! Bolder fools, who didn’t write for
leave, came and took away bits of bark from the trees and gave them
to clairvoyants, who invented in their turn a further batch of tales.
There was simply no end to it all.”

“Most distressing and annoying, I can well believe,” interposed the
doctor.

“Then suddenly the phenomena ceased as mysteriously as they had begun,
and the interest flagged. The tales stopped. People got interested in
something else. It all seemed to die out. This was last July. I can
tell you exactly, for I’ve kept a diary more or less of what happened.”

“Ah!”

“But now, quite recently, within the past three weeks, it has all
revived again with a rush--with a kind of furious attack, so to speak.
It has really become unbearable. You may imagine what it means, and the
general state of affairs, when I say that the possibility of leaving
has occurred to me.”

“Incendiarism?” suggested Dr. Silence, half under his breath, but not
so low that Colonel Wragge did not hear him.

“By Jove, sir, you take the very words out of my mouth!” exclaimed
the astonished man, glancing from the doctor to me and from me to the
doctor, and rattling the money in his pocket as though some explanation
of my friend’s divining powers were to be found that way.

“It’s only that you are thinking very vividly,” the doctor said
quietly, “and your thoughts form pictures in my mind before you utter
them. It’s merely a little elementary thought-reading.”

His intention, I saw, was not to perplex the good man, but to impress
him with his powers so as to ensure obedience later.

“Good Lord! I had no idea----” He did not finish the sentence, and
dived again abruptly into his narrative.

“I did not see anything myself, I must admit, but the stories of
independent eye-witnesses were to the effect that lines of light, like
streams of thin fire, moved through the wood and sometimes were seen
to shoot out precisely as flames might shoot out--in the direction of
this house. There,” he explained, in a louder voice that made me jump,
pointing with a thick finger to the map, “where the westerly fringe of
the plantation comes up to the end of the lower lawn at the back of
the house--where it links on to those dark patches, which are laurel
shrubberies, running right up to the back premises--that’s where these
lights were seen. They passed from the wood to the shrubberies, and
in this way reached the house itself. Like silent rockets, one man
described them, rapid as lightning and exceedingly bright.”

“And this evidence you spoke of?”

“They actually reached the sides of the house. They’ve left a mark of
scorching on the walls--the walls of the laundry building at the other
end. You shall see ’em tomorrow.” He pointed to the map to indicate the
spot, and then straightened himself and glared about the room as though
he had said something no one could believe and expected contradiction.

“Scorched--just as the faces were,” the doctor murmured, looking
significantly at me.

“Scorched--yes,” repeated the Colonel, failing to catch the rest of the
sentence in his excitement.

There was a prolonged silence in the room, in which I heard the
gurgling of the oil in the lamp and the click of the coals and the
heavy breathing of our host. The most unwelcome sensations were
creeping about my spine, and I wondered whether my companion would
scorn me utterly if I asked to sleep on the sofa in his room. It was
eleven o’clock, I saw by the clock on the mantelpiece. We had crossed
the dividing line and were now well in the movement of the adventure.
The fight between my interest and my dread became acute. But, even if
turning back had been possible, I think the interest would have easily
gained the day.

“I have enemies, of course,” I heard the Colonel’s rough voice break
into the pause presently, “and have discharged a number of servants----”

“It’s not that,” put in John Silence briefly.

“You think not? In a sense I am glad, and yet--there are some things
that can be met and dealt with----”

He left the sentence unfinished, and looked down at the floor with
an expression of grim severity that betrayed a momentary glimpse of
character. This fighting man loathed and abhorred the thought of an
enemy he could not see and come to grips with. Presently he moved over
and sat down in the chair between us. Something like a sigh escaped
him. Dr. Silence said nothing.

“My sister, of course, is kept in ignorance, as far as possible, of all
this,” he said disconnectedly, and as if talking to himself. “But even
if she knew, she would find matter-of-fact explanations. I only wish I
could. I’m sure they exist.”

There came then an interval in the conversation that was very
significant. It did not seem a real pause, or the silence real silence,
for both men continued to think so rapidly and strongly that one almost
imagined their thoughts clothed themselves in words in the air of the
room. I was more than a little keyed up with the strange excitement
of all I had heard, but what stimulated my nerves more than anything
else was the obvious fact that the doctor was clearly upon the trail of
discovery. In his mind at that moment, I believe, he had already solved
the nature of this perplexing psychical problem. His face was like a
mask, and he employed the absolute minimum of gesture and words. All
his energies were directed inwards, and by those incalculable methods
and processes he had mastered with such infinite patience and study, I
felt sure he was already in touch with the forces behind these singular
phenomena and laying his deep plans for bringing them into the open,
and then effectively dealing with them.

Colonel Wragge meanwhile grew more and more fidgety. From time to time
he turned towards my companion, as though about to speak, yet always
changing his mind at the last moment. Once he went over and opened
the door suddenly, apparently to see if any one were listening at
the keyhole, for he disappeared a moment between the two doors, and I
then heard him open the outer one. He stood there for some seconds and
made a noise as though he were sniffing the air like a dog. Then he
closed both doors cautiously and came back to the fireplace. A strange
excitement seemed growing upon him. Evidently he was trying to make up
his mind to say something that he found it difficult to say. And John
Silence, as I rightly judged, was waiting patiently for him to choose
his own opportunity and his own way of saying it. At last he turned and
faced us, squaring his great shoulders, and stiffening perceptibly.

Dr. Silence looked up sympathetically.

“Your own experiences help me most,” he observed quietly.

“The fact is,” the Colonel said, speaking very low, “this past week
there have been outbreaks of fire in the house itself. Three separate
outbreaks--and all--in my sister’s room.”

“Yes,” the doctor said, as if this was just what he had expected to
hear.

“Utterly unaccountable--all of them,” added the other, and then sat
down. I began to understand something of the reason of his excitement.
He was realising at last that the “natural” explanation he had held to
all along was becoming impossible, and he hated it. It made him angry.

“Fortunately,” he went on, “she was out each time and does not know.
But I have made her sleep now in a room on the ground floor.”

“A wise precaution,” the doctor said simply. He asked one or two
questions. The fires had started in the curtains--once by the window
and once by the bed. The third time smoke had been discovered by the
maid coming from the cupboard, and it was found that Miss Wragge’s
clothes hanging on the hooks were smouldering. The doctor listened
attentively, but made no comment.

“And now can you tell me,” he said presently, “what your own feeling
about it is--your general impression?”

“It sounds foolish to say so,” replied the soldier, after a moment’s
hesitation, “but I feel exactly as I have often felt on active service
in my Indian campaigns: just as if the house and all in it were in a
state of siege; as though a concealed enemy were encamped about us--in
ambush somewhere.” He uttered a soft nervous laugh. “As if the next
sign of smoke would precipitate a panic--a dreadful panic.”

The picture came before me of the night shadowing the house, and the
twisted pine trees he had described crowding about it, concealing some
powerful enemy; and, glancing at the resolute face and figure of the
old soldier, forced at length to his confession, I understood something
of all he had been through before he sought the assistance of John
Silence.

“And tomorrow, unless I am mistaken, is full moon,” said the doctor
suddenly, watching the other’s face for the effect of his apparently
careless words.

Colonel Wragge gave an uncontrollable start, and his face for the first
time showed unmistakable pallor.

“What in the world----?” he began, his lip quivering.

“Only that I am beginning to see light in this extraordinary affair,”
returned the other calmly, “and, if my theory is correct, each month
when the moon is at the full should witness an increase in the activity
of the phenomena.”

“I don’t see the connection,” Colonel Wragge answered almost savagely,
“but I am bound to say my diary bears you out.” He wore the most
puzzled expression I have ever seen upon an honest face, but he
abhorred this additional corroboration of an explanation that perplexed
him.

“I confess,” he repeated; “I cannot see the connection.”

“Why should you?” said the doctor, with his first laugh that evening.
He got up and hung the map upon the wall again. “But I do--because
these things are my special study--and let me add that I have yet
to come across a problem that is not natural, and has not a natural
explanation. It’s merely a question of how much one knows--and admits.”

Colonel Wragge eyed him with a new and curious respect in his face. But
his feelings were soothed. Moreover, the doctor’s laugh and change of
manner came as a relief to all, and broke the spell of grave suspense
that had held us so long. We all rose and stretched our limbs, and took
little walks about the room.

“I am glad, Dr. Silence, if you will allow me to say so, that you are
here,” he said simply, “very glad indeed. And now I fear I have kept
you both up very late,” with a glance to include me, “for you must be
tired, and ready for your beds. I have told you all there is to tell,”
he added, “and tomorrow you must feel perfectly free to take any steps
you think necessary.”

The end was abrupt, yet natural, for there was nothing more to say, and
neither of these men talked for mere talking’s sake.

Out in the cold and chilly hall he lit our candles and took us
upstairs. The house was at rest and still, every one asleep. We moved
softly. Through the windows on the stairs we saw the moonlight falling
across the lawn, throwing deep shadows. The nearer pine trees were just
visible in the distance, a wall of impenetrable blackness.

Our host came for a moment to our rooms to see that we had everything.
He pointed to a coil of strong rope lying beside the window, fastened
to the wall by means of an iron ring. Evidently it had been recently
put in.

“I don’t think we shall need it,” Dr. Silence said, with a smile.

“I trust not,” replied our host gravely. “I sleep quite close to you
across the landing,” he whispered, pointing to his door, “and if
you--if you want anything in the night you will know where to find me.”

He wished us pleasant dreams and disappeared down the passage into his
room, shading the candle with his big muscular hand from the draughts.

John Silence stopped me a moment before I went.

“You know what it is?” I asked, with an excitement that even overcame
my weariness.

“Yes,” he said, “I’m almost sure. And you?”

“Not the smallest notion.”

He looked disappointed, but not half as disappointed as I felt.

“Egypt,” he whispered, “Egypt!”


II

Nothing happened to disturb me in the night--nothing, that is, except a
nightmare in which Colonel Wragge chased me amid thin streaks of fire,
and his sister always prevented my escape by suddenly rising up out of
the ground in her chair--dead. The deep baying of dogs woke me once,
just before the dawn, it must have been, for I saw the window frame
against the sky; there was a flash of lightning, too, I thought, as I
turned over in bed. And it was warm, for October oppressively warm.

It was after eleven o’clock when our host suggested going out with
the guns, these, we understood, being a somewhat thin disguise for
our true purpose. Personally, I was glad to be in the open air, for
the atmosphere of the house was heavy with presentiment. The sense
of impending disaster hung over all. Fear stalked the passages, and
lurked in the corners of every room. It was a house haunted, but really
haunted; not by some vague shadow of the dead, but by a definite
though incalculable influence that was actively alive, and dangerous.
At the least smell of smoke the entire household quivered. An odour
of burning, I was convinced, would paralyse all the inmates. For the
servants, though professedly ignorant by the master’s unspoken orders,
yet shared the common dread; and the hideous uncertainty, joined with
this display of so spiteful and calculated a spirit of malignity,
provided a kind of black doom that draped not only the walls, but also
the minds of the people living within them.

Only the bright and cheerful vision of old Miss Wragge being pushed
about the house in her noiseless chair, chatting and nodding briskly
to every one she met, prevented us from giving way entirely to the
depression which governed the majority. The sight of her was like a
gleam of sunshine through the depths of some ill-omened wood, and just
as we went out I saw her being wheeled along by her attendant into the
sunshine of the back lawn, and caught her cheery smile as she turned
her head and wished us good sport.

The morning was October at its best. Sunshine glistened on the
dew-drenched grass and on leaves turned golden-red. The dainty
messengers of coming hoar-frost were already in the air, asearch for
permanent winter quarters. From the wide moors that everywhere swept up
against the sky, like a purple sea splashed by the occasional grey of
rocky clefts, there stole down the cool and perfumed wind of the west.
And the keen taste of the sea ran through all like a master-flavour,
borne over the spaces perhaps by the seagulls that cried and circled
high in the air.

But our host took little interest in this sparkling beauty, and had
no thought of showing off the scenery of his property. His mind was
otherwise intent, and, for that matter, so were our own.

“Those bleak moors and hills stretch unbroken for hours,” he said, with
a sweep of the hand; “and over there, some four miles,” pointing in
another direction, “lies S---- Bay, a long, swampy inlet of the sea,
haunted by myriads of seabirds. On the other side of the house are the
plantations and pine-woods. I thought we would get the dogs and go
first to the Twelve Acre Wood I told you about last night. It’s quite
near.”

We found the dogs in the stable, and I recalled the deep baying of the
night when a fine bloodhound and two great Danes leaped out to greet
us. Singular companions for guns, I thought to myself, as we struck out
across the fields and the great creatures bounded and ran beside us,
nose to ground.

The conversation was scanty. John Silence’s grave face did not
encourage talk. He wore the expression I knew well--that look of
earnest solicitude which meant that his whole being was deeply absorbed
and preoccupied. Frightened, I had never seen him, but anxious
often--it always moved me to witness it--and he was anxious now.

“On the way back you shall see the laundry building,” Colonel Wragge
observed shortly, for he, too, found little to say. “We shall attract
less attention then.”

Yet not all the crisp beauty of the morning seemed able to dispel the
feelings of uneasy dread that gathered increasingly about our minds as
we went.

In a very few minutes a clump of pine trees concealed the house from
view, and we found ourselves on the outskirts of a densely-grown
plantation of conifers. Colonel Wragge stopped abruptly, and, producing
a map from his pocket, explained once more very briefly its position
with regard to the house. He showed how it ran up almost to the walls
of the laundry building--though at the moment beyond our actual
view--and pointed to the windows of his sister’s bedroom where the
fires had been. The room, now empty, looked straight on to the wood.
Then, glancing nervously about him, and calling the dogs to heel,
he proposed that we should enter the plantation and make as thorough
examination of it as we thought worth while. The dogs, he added, might
perhaps be persuaded to accompany us a little way--and he pointed to
where they cowered at his feet--but he doubted it. “Neither voice
nor whip will get them very far, I’m afraid,” he said. “I know by
experience.”

“If you have no objection,” replied Dr. Silence, with decision, and
speaking almost for the first time, “we will make our examination
alone--Mr. Hubbard and myself. It will be best so.”

His tone was absolutely final, and the Colonel acquiesced so politely
that even a less intuitive man than myself must have seen that he was
genuinely relieved.

“You doubtless have good reasons,” he said.

“Merely that I wish to obtain my impressions uncoloured. This delicate
clue I am working on might be so easily blurred by the thought-currents
of another mind with strongly preconceived ideas.”

“Perfectly. I understand,” rejoined the soldier, though with an
expression of countenance that plainly contradicted his words. “Then I
will wait here with the dogs; and we’ll have a look at the laundry on
our way home.”

I turned once to look back as we clambered over the low stone wall
built by the late owner, and saw his straight, soldierly figure
standing in the sunlit field watching us with a curiously intent look
on his face. There was something to me incongruous, yet distinctly
pathetic, in the man’s efforts to meet all far-fetched explanations
of the mystery with contempt, and at the same time in his stolid,
unswerving investigation of it all. He nodded at me and made a gesture
of farewell with his hand. That picture of him, standing in the
sunshine with his big dogs, steadily watching us, remains with me to
this day.

Dr. Silence led the way in among the twisted trunks, planted closely
together in serried ranks, and I followed sharp at his heels. The
moment we were out of sight he turned and put down his gun against the
roots of a big tree, and I did likewise.

“We shall hardly want these cumbersome weapons of murder,” he observed,
with a passing smile.

“You are sure of your clue, then?” I asked at once, bursting with
curiosity, yet fearing to betray it lest he should think me unworthy.
His own methods were so absolutely simple and untheatrical.

“I am sure of my clue,” he answered gravely. “And I think we have come
just in time. You shall know in due course. For the present--be content
to follow and observe. And think steadily. The support of your mind
will help me.”

His voice had that quiet mastery in it which leads men to face death
with a sort of happiness and pride. I would have followed him anywhere
at that moment. At the same time his words conveyed a sense of dread
seriousness. I caught the thrill of his confidence; but also, in this
broad light of day, I felt the measure of alarm that lay behind.

“You still have no strong impressions?” he asked. “Nothing happened in
the night, for instance? No vivid dreamings?”

He looked closely for my answer, I was aware.

“I slept almost an unbroken sleep. I was tremendously tired, you know,
and, but for the oppressive heat----”

“Good! You still notice the heat, then,” he said to himself, rather
than expecting an answer. “And the lightning?” he added, “that
lightning out of a clear sky--that flashing--did you notice _that_?”

I answered truly that I thought I had seen a flash during a moment of
wakefulness, and he then drew my attention to certain facts before
moving on.

“You remember the sensation of warmth when you put the letter to your
forehead in the train; the heat generally in the house last evening,
and, as you now mention, in the night. You heard, too, the Colonel’s
stories about the appearances of fire in this wood and in the house
itself, and the way his brother and the gamekeeper came to their deaths
twenty years ago.”

I nodded, wondering what in the world it all meant.

“And you get no clue from these facts?” he asked, a trifle surprised.

I searched every corner of my mind and imagination for some inkling of
his meaning, but was obliged to admit that I understood nothing so far.

“Never mind; you will later. And now,” he added, “we will go over the
wood and see what we can find.”

His words explained to me something of his method. We were to keep our
minds alert and report to each other the least fancy that crossed the
picture-gallery of our thoughts. Then, just as we started, he turned
again to me with a final warning.

“And, for your safety,” he said earnestly, “imagine _now_--and for that
matter, imagine always until we leave this place--imagine with the
utmost keenness, that you are surrounded by a shell that protects you.
Picture yourself inside a protective envelope, and build it up with the
most intense imagination you can evoke. Pour the whole force of your
thought and will into it. Believe vividly all through this adventure
that such a shell, constructed of your thought, will and imagination,
surrounds you completely, and that nothing can pierce it to attack.”

He spoke with dramatic conviction, gazing hard at me as though to
enforce his meaning, and then moved forward and began to pick his way
over the rough, tussocky ground into the wood. And meanwhile, knowing
the efficacy of his prescription, I adopted it to the best of my
ability.

The trees at once closed about us like the night. Their branches met
overhead in a continuous tangle, their stems crept closer and closer,
the brambly undergrowth thickened and multiplied. We tore our trousers,
scratched our hands, and our eyes filled with fine dust that made it
most difficult to avoid the clinging, prickly network of branches and
creepers. Coarse white grass that caught our feet like string grew here
and there in patches. It crowned the lumps of peaty growth that stuck
up like human heads, fantastically dressed, thrusting up at us out of
the ground with crests of dead hair. We stumbled and floundered among
them. It was hard going, and I could well conceive it impossible to
find a way at all in the night-time. We jumped, when possible, from
tussock to tussock, and it seemed as though we were springing among
heads on a battlefield, and that this dead white grass concealed eyes
that turned to stare as we passed.

Here and there the sunlight shot in with vivid spots of white light,
dazzling the sight, but only making the surrounding gloom deeper by
contrast And on two occasions we passed dark circular places in the
grass where fires had eaten their mark and left a ring of ashes. Dr.
Silence pointed to them, but without comment and without pausing, and
the sight of them woke in me a singular realisation of the dread that
lay so far only just out of sight in this adventure.

It was exhausting work, and heavy going. We kept close together. The
warmth, too, was extraordinary. Yet it did not seem the warmth of the
body due to violent exertion, but rather an inner heat of the mind that
laid glowing hands of fire upon the heart and set the brain in a kind
of steady blaze. When my companion found himself too far in advance,
he waited for me to come up. The place had evidently been untouched by
hand of man, keeper, forester or sportsman, for many a year; and my
thoughts, as we advanced painfully, were not unlike the state of the
wood itself--dark, confused, full of a haunting wonder and the shadow
of fear.

By this time all signs of the open field behind us were hid. No
single gleam penetrated. We might have been groping in the heart of
some primeval forest. Then, suddenly, the brambles and tussocks and
string-like grass came to an end; the trees opened out; and the ground
began to slope upwards towards a large central mound. We had reached
the middle of the plantation, and before us stood the broken Druid
stones our host had mentioned. We walked easily up the little hill,
between the sparser stems, and, resting upon one of the ivy-covered
boulders, looked round upon a comparatively open space, as large,
perhaps, as a small London Square.

Thinking of the ceremonies and sacrifices this rough circle of
prehistoric monoliths might have witnessed, I looked up into my
companion’s face with an unspoken question. But he read my thought and
shook his head.

“Our mystery has nothing to do with these dead symbols,” he said,
“but with something perhaps even more ancient, and of another country
altogether.”

“Egypt?” I said half under my breath, hopelessly puzzled, but recalling
his words in my bedroom.

He nodded. Mentally I still floundered, but he seemed intensely
preoccupied and it was no time for asking questions; so while his words
circled unintelligibly in my mind I looked round at the scene before
me, glad of the opportunity to recover breath and some measure of
composure. But hardly had I time to notice the twisted and contorted
shapes of many of the pine trees close at hand when Dr. Silence leaned
over and touched me on the shoulder. He pointed down the slope. And the
look I saw in his eyes keyed up every nerve in my body to its utmost
pitch.

A thin, almost imperceptible column of blue smoke was rising among the
trees some twenty yards away at the foot of the mound. It curled up and
up, and disappeared from sight among the tangled branches overhead. It
was scarcely thicker than the smoke from a small brand of burning wood.

“Protect yourself! Imagine your shell strongly,” whispered the doctor
sharply, “and follow me closely.”

He rose at once and moved swiftly down the slope towards the smoke,
and I followed, afraid to remain alone. I heard the soft crunching of
our steps on the pine needles. Over his shoulder I watched the thin
blue spiral, without once taking my eyes off it. I hardly know how
to describe the peculiar sense of vague horror inspired in me by the
sight of that streak of smoke pencilling its way upwards among the
dark trees. And the sensation of increasing heat as we approached was
phenomenal. It was like walking towards a glowing yet invisible fire.

As we drew nearer his pace slackened. Then he stopped and pointed, and
I saw a small circle of burnt grass upon the ground. The tussocks were
blackened and smouldering, and from the centre rose this line of smoke,
pale, blue, steady. Then I noticed a movement of the atmosphere beside
us, as if the warm air were rising and the cooler air rushing in to
take its place: a little centre of wind in the stillness. Overhead the
boughs stirred and trembled where the smoke disappeared. Otherwise, not
a tree sighed, not a sound made itself heard. The wood was still as a
graveyard. A horrible idea came to me that the course of nature was
about to change without warning, _had_ changed a little already, that
the sky would drop, or the surface of the earth crash inwards like a
broken bubble. Something, certainly, reached up to the citadel of my
reason, causing its throne to shake.

John Silence moved forward again. I could not see his face, but his
attitude was plainly one of resolution, of muscles and mind ready for
vigorous action. We were within ten feet of the blackened circle when
the smoke of a sudden ceased to rise, and vanished. The tail of the
column disappeared in the air above, and at the same instant it seemed
to me that the sensation of heat passed from my face, and the motion
of the wind was gone. The calm spirit of the fresh October day resumed
command.

Side by side we advanced and examined the place. The grass was
smouldering, the ground still hot. The circle of burned earth was a
foot to a foot and a half in diameter. It looked like an ordinary
picnic fire-place. I bent down cautiously to look, but in a second
I sprang back with an involuntary cry of alarm, for, as the doctor
stamped on the ashes to prevent them spreading, a sound of hissing rose
from the spot as though he had kicked a living creature. This hissing
was faintly audible in the air. It moved past us, away towards the
thicker portion of the wood in the direction of our field, and in a
second Dr. Silence had left the fire and started in pursuit.

And then began the most extraordinary hunt of invisibility I can ever
conceive.

He went fast even at the beginning, and, of course, it was perfectly
obvious that he was following something. To judge by the poise of his
head he kept his eyes steadily at a certain level--just above the
height of a man--and the consequence was he stumbled a good deal over
the roughness of the ground. The hissing sound had stopped. There was
no sound of any kind, and what he saw to follow was utterly beyond me.
I only know, that in mortal dread of being left behind, and with a
biting curiosity to see whatever there was to be seen, I followed as
quickly as I could, and even then barely succeeded in keeping up with
him.

And, as we went, the whole mad jumble of the Colonel’s stories ran
through my brain, touching a sense of frightened laughter that was only
held in check by the sight of this earnest, hurrying figure before me.
For John Silence at work inspired me with a kind of awe. He looked
so diminutive among these giant twisted trees, while yet I knew that
his purpose and his knowledge were so great, and even in hurry he was
dignified. The fancy that we were playing some queer, exaggerated game
together met the fact that we were two men dancing upon the brink of
some possible tragedy, and the mingling of the two emotions in my mind
was both grotesque and terrifying.

He never turned in his mad chase, but pushed rapidly on, while I panted
after him like a figure in some unreasoning nightmare. And, as I ran,
it came upon me that he had been aware all the time, in his quiet,
internal way, of many things that he had kept for his own secret
consideration; he had been watching, waiting, planning from the very
moment we entered the shade of the wood. By some inner, concentrated
process of mind, dynamic if not actually magical, he had been in direct
contact with the source of the whole adventure, the very essence of the
real mystery. And now the forces were moving to a climax. Something
was about to happen, something important, something possibly dreadful.
Every nerve, every sense, every significant gesture of the plunging
figure before me proclaimed the fact just as surely as the skies, the
winds, and the face of the earth tell the birds the time to migrate and
warn the animals that danger lurks and they must move.

In a few moments we reached the foot of the mound and entered the
tangled undergrowth that lay between us and the sunlight of the field.
Here the difficulties of fast travelling increased a hundredfold. There
were brambles to dodge, low boughs to dive under, and countless tree
trunks closing up to make a direct path impossible. Yet Dr. Silence
never seemed to falter or hesitate. He went, diving, jumping, dodging,
ducking, but ever in the same main direction, following a clean trail.
Twice I tripped and fell, and both times, when I picked myself up
again, I saw him ahead of me, still forcing a way like a dog after
its quarry. And sometimes, like a dog, he stopped and pointed--human
pointing it was, psychic pointing,--and each time he stopped to point I
heard that faint high hissing in the air beyond us. The instinct of an
infallible dowser possessed him, and he made no mistakes.

At length, abruptly, I caught up with him, and found that we stood
at the edge of the shallow pond Colonel Wragge had mentioned in his
account the night before. It was long and narrow, filled with dark
brown water, in which the trees were dimly reflected. Not a ripple
stirred its surface.

“Watch!” he cried out, as I came up. “It’s going to cross. It’s bound
to betray itself. The water is its natural enemy, and we shall see the
direction.”

And, even as he spoke, a thin line like the track of a water-spider,
shot swiftly across the shiny surface; there was a ghost of steam in
the air above; and immediately I became aware of an odour of burning.

Dr. Silence turned and shot a glance at me that made me think of
lightning. I began to shake all over.

“Quick!” he cried with excitement, “to the trail again! We must run
round. It’s going to the house!”

The alarm in his voice quite terrified me. Without a false step I
dashed round the slippery banks and dived again at his heels into the
sea of bushes and tree trunks. We were now in the thick of the very
dense belt that ran round the outer edge of the plantation, and the
field was near; yet so dark was the tangle that it was some time before
the first shafts of white sunlight became visible. The doctor now ran
in zigzags. He was following something that dodged and doubled quite
wonderfully, yet had begun, I fancied, to move more slowly than before.

“Quick!” he cried. “In the light we shall lose it!”

I still saw nothing, heard nothing, caught no suggestion of a trail;
yet this man, guided by some interior divining that seemed infallible,
made no false turns, though how we failed to crash headlong into the
trees has remained a mystery to me ever since. And then, with a sudden
rush, we found ourselves on the skirts of the wood with the open field
lying in bright sunshine before our eyes.

“Too late!” I heard him cry, a note of anguish in his voice. “It’s
out--and, by God, it’s making for the house!”

I saw the Colonel standing in the field with his dogs where we had left
him. He was bending double, peering into the wood where he heard us
running, and he straightened up like a bent whip released. John Silence
dashed passed, calling him to follow.

“We shall lose the trail in the light,” I heard him cry as he ran. “But
quick! We may yet get there in time!”

That wild rush across the open field, with the dogs at our heels,
leaping and barking, and the elderly Colonel behind us running as
though for his life, shall I ever forget it? Though I had only vague
ideas of the meaning of it all, I put my best foot forward, and, being
the youngest of the three, I reached the house an easy first. I drew
up, panting, and turned to wait for the others. But, as I turned,
something moving a little distance away caught my eye, and in that
moment I swear I experienced the most overwhelming and singular shock
of surprise and terror I have ever known, or can conceive as possible.

For the front door was open, and the waist of the house being narrow, I
could see through the hall into the dining-room beyond, and so out on
to the back lawn, and there I saw no less a sight than the figure of
Miss Wragge--running. Even at that distance it was plain that she had
seen me, and was coming fast towards me, running with the frantic gait
of a terror-stricken woman. She had recovered the use of her legs.

Her face was a livid grey, as of death itself, but the general
expression was one of laughter, for her mouth was gaping, and her eyes,
always bright shone with the light of a wild merriment that seemed the
merriment of a child, yet was singularly ghastly. And that very second,
as she fled past me into her brother’s arms behind, I smelt again most
unmistakably the odour of burning, and to this day the smell of smoke
and fire can come very near to turning me sick with the memory of what
I had seen.

Fast on her heels, too, came the terrified attendant, more mistress of
herself, and able to speak--which the old lady could not do--but with a
face almost, if not quite, as fearful.

“We were down by the bushes in the sun,”--she gasped and screamed in
reply to Colonel Wragge’s distracted questionings,--“I was wheeling the
chair as usual when she shrieked and leaped--I don’t know exactly--I
was too frightened to see--Oh, my God! she jumped clean out of the
chair--_and ran!_ There was a blast of hot air from the wood, and she
hid her face and jumped. She didn’t make a sound--she didn’t cry out,
or make a sound. She just ran.”

But the nightmare horror of it all reached the breaking point a few
minutes later, and while I was still standing in the hall temporarily
bereft of speech and movement; for while the doctor, the Colonel and
the attendant were half-way up the staircase, helping the fainting
woman to the privacy of her room, and all in a confused group of dark
figures, there sounded a voice behind me, and I turned to see the
butler, his face dripping with perspiration, his eyes starting out of
his head.

“The laundry’s on fire!” he cried; “the laundry building’s a-caught!”

I remember his odd expression “a-caught,” and wanting to laugh, but
finding my face rigid and inflexible.

“The devil’s about again, s’help me Gawd!” he cried, in a voice thin
with terror, running about in circles.

And then the group on the stairs scattered as at the sound of a shot,
and the Colonel and Dr. Silence came down three steps at a time,
leaving the afflicted Miss Wragge to the care of her single attendant.

We were out across the front lawn in a moment and round the corner
of the house, the Colonel leading, Silence and I at his heels, and
the portly butler puffing some distance in the rear, getting more and
more mixed in his addresses to God and the devil; and the moment we
passed the stables and came into view of the laundry building, we saw a
wicked-looking volume of smoke pouring out of the narrow windows, and
the frightened women-servants and grooms running hither and thither,
calling aloud as they ran.

The arrival of the master restored order instantly, and this retired
soldier, poor thinker perhaps, but capable man of action, had the
matter in hand from the start. He issued orders like a martinet, and,
almost before I could realise it, there were streaming buckets on the
scene and a line of men and women formed between the building and the
stable pump.

“Inside,” I heard John Silence cry, and the Colonel followed him
through the door, while I was just quick enough at their heels to hear
him add, “the smoke’s the worst part of it. There’s no fire yet, I
think.”

And, true enough, there was no fire. The interior was thick with smoke,
but it speedily cleared and not a single bucket was used upon the floor
or walls. The air was stifling, the heat fearful.

“There’s precious little to burn in here; it’s all stone,” the Colonel
exclaimed, coughing. But the doctor was pointing to the wooden covers
of the great cauldron in which the clothes were washed, and we saw that
these were smouldering and charred. And when we sprinkled half a bucket
of water on them the surrounding bricks hissed and fizzed and sent up
clouds of steam. Through the open door and windows this passed out with
the rest of the smoke, and we three stood there on the brick floor
staring at the spot and wondering, each in our own fashion, how in the
name of natural law the place could have caught fire or smoked at all.
And each was silent--myself from sheer incapacity and befuddlement, the
Colonel from the quiet pluck that faces all things yet speaks little,
and John Silence from the intense mental grappling with this latest
manifestation of a profound problem that called for concentration of
thought rather than for any words.

There was really nothing to say. The facts were indisputable.

Colonel Wragge was the first to utter.

“My sister,” he said briefly, and moved off. In the yard I heard him
sending the frightened servants about their business in an excellently
matter-of-fact voice, scolding some one roundly for making such a big
fire and letting the flues get over-heated, and paying no heed to the
stammering reply that no fire had been lit there for several days. Then
he dispatched a groom on horseback for the local doctor.

Then Dr. Silence turned and looked at me. The absolute control he
possessed, not only over the outward expression of emotion by gesture,
change of colour, light in the eyes, and so forth, but also, as I well
knew, over its very birth in his heart, the mask-like face of the dead
he could assume at will, made it extremely difficult to know at any
given moment what was at work in his inner consciousness. But now, when
he turned and looked at me, there was no sphinx-expression there, but
rather the keen, triumphant face of a man who had solved a dangerous
and complicated problem, and saw his way to a clean victory.

“_Now_ do you guess?” he asked quietly, as though it were the simplest
matter in the world, and ignorance were impossible.

I could only stare stupidly and remain silent. He glanced down at the
charred cauldron-lids, and traced a figure in the air with his finger.
But I was too excited, or too mortified, or still too dazed, perhaps,
to see what it was he outlined, or what it was he meant to convey. I
could only go on staring and shaking my puzzled head.

“A fire-elemental,” he cried, “a fire-elemental of the most powerful
and malignant kind----”

“A what?” thundered the voice of Colonel Wragge behind us, having
returned suddenly and overheard.

“It’s a fire-elemental,” repeated Dr. Silence more calmly, but
with a note of triumph in his voice he could not keep out, “and a
fire-elemental enraged.”

The light began to dawn in my mind at last. But the Colonel--who had
never heard the term before, and was besides feeling considerably
worked-up for a plain man with all this mystery he knew not how to
grapple with--the Colonel stood, with the most dumfoundered look ever
seen on a human countenance, and continued to roar, and stammer, and
stare.

“And why,” he began, savage with the desire to find something visible
he could fight--“why, in the name of all the blazes----?” and then
stopped as John Silence moved up and took his arm.

“There, my dear Colonel Wragge,” he said gently, “you touch the heart
of the whole thing. You ask ‘Why.’ That is precisely our problem.” He
held the soldier’s eyes firmly with his own. “And that, too, I think,
we shall soon know. Come and let us talk over a plan of action--that
room with the double doors, perhaps.”

The word “action” calmed him a little, and he led the way, without
further speech, back into the house, and down the long stone passage to
the room where we had heard his stories on the night of our arrival.
I understood from the doctor’s glance that my presence would not make
the interview easier for our host, and I went upstairs to my own
room--shaking.

But in the solitude of my room the vivid memories of the last hour
revived so mercilessly that I began to feel I should never in my whole
life lose the dreadful picture of Miss Wragge running--that dreadful
human climax after all the non-human mystery in the wood--and I was not
sorry when a servant knocked at my door and said that Colonel Wragge
would be glad if I would join them in the little smoking-room.

“I think it is better you should be present,” was all Colonel Wragge
said as I entered the room. I took the chair with my back to the
window. There was still an hour before lunch, though I imagine that
the usual divisions of the day hardly found a place in the thoughts of
any one of us.

The atmosphere of the room was what I might call electric. The Colonel
was positively bristling; he stood with his back to the fire, fingering
an unlit black cigar, his face flushed, his being obviously roused
and ready for action. He hated this mystery. It was poisonous to his
nature, and he longed to meet something face to face--something he
could gauge and fight. Dr. Silence, I noticed at once, was sitting
before the map of the estate which was spread upon a table. I knew
by his expression the state of his mind. He was in the thick of it
all, knew it, delighted in it, and was working at high pressure. He
recognised my presence with a lifted eyelid, and the flash of the eye,
contrasted with his stillness and composure, told me volumes.

“I was about to explain to our host briefly what seems to me afoot in
all this business,” he said without looking up, “when he asked that you
should join us so that we can all work together.” And, while signifying
my assent, I caught myself wondering what quality it was in the calm
speech of this undemonstrative man that was so full of power, so
charged with the strange, virile personality behind it, and that seemed
to inspire us with his own confidence as by a process of radiation.

“Mr. Hubbard,” he went on gravely, turning to the soldier, “knows
something of my methods, and in more than one--er--interesting
situation has proved of assistance. What we want now”--and here he
suddenly got up and took his place on the mat beside the Colonel, and
looked hard at him--“is men who have self-control, who are sure of
themselves, whose minds at the critical moment will emit positive
forces, instead of the wavering and uncertain currents due to negative
feelings--due, for instance, to fear.”

He looked at us each in turn. Colonel Wragge moved his feet farther
apart, and squared his shoulders; and I felt guilty but said nothing,
conscious that my latent store of courage was being deliberately hauled
to the front. He was winding me up like a clock.

“So that, in what is yet to come,” continued our leader, “each of us
will contribute his share of power, and ensure success for my plan.”

“I’m not afraid of anything I can _see_,” said the Colonel bluntly.

“I’m ready,” I heard myself say, as it were automatically, “for
anything,” and then added, feeling the declaration was lamely
insufficient, “and everything.”

Dr. Silence left the mat and began walking to and fro about the room,
both hands plunged deep into the pockets of his shooting-jacket.
Tremendous vitality streamed from him. I never took my eyes off the
small, moving figure; small, yes,--and yet somehow making me think of
a giant plotting the destruction of worlds. And his manner was gentle,
as always, soothing almost, and his words uttered quietly without
emphasis or emotion. Most of what he said was addressed, though not too
obviously, to the Colonel.

“The violence of this sudden attack,” he said softly, pacing to and
fro beneath the bookcase at the end of the room, “is due, of course,
partly to the fact that to-night the moon is at the full”--here he
glanced at me for a moment--“and partly to the fact that we have all
been so deliberately concentrating upon the matter. Our thinking, our
investigation, has stirred it into unusual activity. I mean that the
intelligent force behind these manifestations has realised that some
one is busied about its destruction. And it is now on the defensive:
more, it is aggressive.”

“But ‘it’--what is ‘it’?” began the soldier, fuming. “What, in the name
of all that’s dreadful, _is_ a fire-elemental?”

“I cannot give you at this moment,” replied Dr. Silence, turning to
him, but undisturbed by the interruption, “a lecture on the nature and
history of magic, but can only say that an Elemental is the active
force behind the elements,--whether earth, air, water, _or fire_,--it
is impersonal in its essential nature, but can be focused, personified,
ensouled, so to say, by those who know how--by magicians, if you
will--for certain purposes of their own, much in the same way that
steam and electricity can be harnessed by the practical man of this
century.

“Alone, these blind elemental energies can accomplish little, but
governed and directed by the trained will of a powerful manipulator
they may become potent activities for good or evil. They are the basis
of all magic, and it is the motive behind them that constitutes the
magic ‘black’ or ‘white’; they can be the vehicles of curses or of
blessings, for a curse is nothing more than the thought of a violent
will perpetuated. And in such cases--cases like this--the conscious,
directing will of the mind that is using the elemental stands always
behind the phenomena----”

“You think that my brother----!” broke in the Colonel, aghast.

“Has nothing whatever to do with it--directly. The fire-elemental that
has here been tormenting you and your household was sent upon its
mission long before you, or your family, or your ancestors, or even the
nation you belong to--unless I am much mistaken--was even in existence.
We will come to that a little later; after the experiment I propose to
make we shall be more positive. At present I can only say we have to
deal now, not only with the phenomenon of Attacking Fire merely, but
with the vindictive and enraged intelligence that is directing it from
behind the scenes--vindictive and enraged,”--he repeated the words.

“That explains----” began Colonel Wragge, seeking furiously for words
he could not find quickly enough.

“Much,” said John Silence, with a gesture to restrain him.

He stopped a moment in the middle of his walk, and a deep silence
came down over the little room. Through the windows the sunlight
seemed less bright, the long line of dark hills less friendly, making
me think of a vast wave towering to heaven and about to break and
overwhelm us. Something formidable had crept into the world about us.
For, undoubtedly, there was a disquieting thought, holding terror as
well as awe, in the picture his words conjured up: the conception of a
human will reaching its deathless hand, spiteful and destructive, down
through the ages, to strike the living and afflict the innocent.

“But what _is_ its object?” burst out the soldier, unable to restrain
himself longer in the silence. “Why does it come from that plantation?
And why should it attack us, or any one in particular?” Questions
began to pour from him in a stream.

“All in good time,” the doctor answered quietly, having let him run
on for several minutes. “But I must first discover positively what,
or who, it is that directs this particular fire-elemental. And, to
do that, we must first”--he spoke with slow deliberation--“seek to
capture--to confine by visibility--to limit its sphere in a concrete
form.”

“Good heavens almighty!” exclaimed the soldier, mixing his words in his
unfeigned surprise.

“Quite so,” pursued the other calmly; “for in so doing I think we
can release it from the purpose that binds it, restore it to its
normal condition of latent fire, and also”--he lowered his voice
perceptibly--“also discover the face and form of the Being that ensouls
it.”

“The man behind the gun!” cried the Colonel, beginning to understand
something, and leaning forward so as not to miss a single syllable.

“I mean that in the last resort, before it returns to the womb of
potential fire, it will probably assume the face and figure of its
Director, of the man of magical knowledge who originally bound it with
his incantations and sent it forth upon its mission of centuries.”

The soldier sat down and gasped openly in his face, breathing hard; but
it was a very subdued voice that framed the question.

“And how do you propose to make it visible? How capture and confine it?
What d’ye mean, Dr. John Silence?”

“By furnishing it with the materials for a form. By the process of
materialisation simply. Once limited by dimensions, it will become
slow, heavy, visible. We can then dissipate it. Invisible fire, you
see, is dangerous and incalculable; locked up in a form we can perhaps
manage it. We must betray it--to its death.”

“And this material?” we asked in the same breath, although I think I
had already guessed.

“Not pleasant, but effective,” came the quiet reply; “the exhalations
of freshly-spilled blood.”

“Not human blood!” cried Colonel Wragge, starting up from his chair
with a voice like an explosion. I thought his eyes would start from
their sockets.

The face of Dr. Silence relaxed in spite of himself, and his
spontaneous little laugh brought a welcome though momentary relief.

“The days of human sacrifice, I hope, will never come again,” he
explained. “Animal blood will answer the purpose, and we can make the
experiment as pleasant as possible. Only, the blood must be freshly
spilled and strong with the vital emanations that attract this peculiar
class of elemental creature. Perhaps--perhaps if some pig on the estate
is ready for the market----”

He turned to hide a smile; but the passing touch of comedy found
no echo in the mind of our host, who did not understand how to
change quickly from one emotion to another. Clearly he was debating
many things laboriously in his honest brain. But, in the end, the
earnestness and scientific disinterestedness of the doctor, whose
influence over him was already very great, won the day, and he
presently looked up more calmly, and observed shortly that he thought
perhaps the matter could be arranged.

“There are other and pleasanter methods,” Dr. Silence went on to
explain, “but they require time and preparation, and things have gone
much too far, in my opinion, to admit of delay. And the process need
cause you no distress: we sit round the bowl and await results. Nothing
more. The emanations of blood--which, as Levi says, is the first
incarnation of the universal fluid--furnish the materials out of which
the creatures of discarnate life, spirits if you prefer, can fashion
themselves a temporary appearance. The process is old, and lies at
the root of all blood sacrifice. It was known to the priests of Baal,
and it is known to the modern ecstasy dancers who cut themselves to
produce objective phantoms who dance with them. And the least gifted
clairvoyant could tell you that the forms to be seen in the vicinity of
slaughterhouses, or hovering above the deserted battlefield, are--well,
simply beyond all description. I do not mean,” he added, noticing the
uneasy fidgeting of his host, “that anything in our laundry-experiment
need appear to terrify us, for this case seems a comparatively simple
one, and it is only the vindictive character of the intelligence
directing this fire-elemental that causes anxiety and makes for
personal danger.”

“It is curious,” said the Colonel, with a sudden rush of words,
drawing a deep breath, and as though speaking of things distasteful
to him, “that during my years among the Hill Tribes of Northern India
I came across--personally came across--instances of the sacrifices of
blood to certain deities being stopped suddenly, and all manner of
disasters happening until they were resumed. Fires broke out in the
huts, and even on the clothes, of the natives--and--and I admit I
have read, in the course of my studies,”--he made a gesture towards
his books and heavily laden table,--“of the Yezidis of Syria evoking
phantoms by means of cutting their bodies with knives during their
whirling dances--enormous globes of fire which turned into monstrous
and terrible forms--and I remember an account somewhere, too, how the
emaciated forms and pallid countenances of the spectres, that appeared
to the Emperor Julian, claimed to be the true Immortals, and told him
to renew the sacrifices of blood ‘for the fumes of which, since the
establishment of Christianity, they had been pining’--that these were
in reality the phantoms evoked by the rites of blood.”

Both Dr. Silence and myself listened in amazement, for this sudden
speech was so unexpected, and betrayed so much more knowledge than we
had either of us suspected in the old soldier.

“Then perhaps you have read, too,” said the doctor, “how the Cosmic
Deities of savage races, elemental in their nature, have been kept
alive through many ages by these blood rites?”

“No,” he answered; “that is new to me.”

“In any case,” Dr. Silence added, “I am glad you are not wholly
unfamiliar with the subject, for you will now bring more sympathy, and
therefore more help, to our experiment. For, of course, in this case,
we only want the blood to tempt the creature from its lair and enclose
it in a form----”

“I quite understand. And I only hesitated just now,” he went on,
his words coming much more slowly, as though he felt he had already
said too much, “because I wished to be quite sure it was no mere
curiosity, but an actual sense of necessity that dictated this horrible
experiment.”

“It is your safety, and that of your household, and of your sister,
that is at stake,” replied the doctor. “Once I have _seen_, I hope to
discover whence this elemental comes, and what its real purpose is.”

Colonel Wragge signified his assent with a bow.

“And the moon will help us,” the other said, “for it will be full in
the early hours of the morning, and this kind of elemental-being is
always most active at the period of full moon. Hence, you see, the clue
furnished by your diary.”

So it was finally settled. Colonel Wragge would provide the materials
for the experiment, and we were to meet at midnight. How he would
contrive at that hour--but that was his business. I only know we
both realised that he would keep his word, and whether a pig died at
midnight, or at noon, was after all perhaps only a question of the
sleep and personal comfort of the executioner.

“To-night, then, in the laundry,” said Dr. Silence finally, to clinch
the plan; “we three alone--and at midnight, when the household is
asleep and we shall be free from disturbance.”

He exchanged significant glances with our host, who, at that moment,
was called away by the announcement that the family doctor had arrived,
and was ready to see him in his sister’s room.

For the remainder of the afternoon John Silence disappeared. I had my
suspicions that he made a secret visit to the plantation and also to
the laundry building; but, in any case, we saw nothing of him, and
he kept strictly to himself. He was preparing for the night, I felt
sure, but the nature of his preparations I could only guess. There was
movement in his room, I heard, and an odour like incense hung about the
door, and knowing that he regarded rites as the vehicles of energies,
my guesses were probably not far wrong.

Colonel Wragge, too, remained absent the greater part of the afternoon,
and, deeply afflicted, had scarcely left his sister’s bedside, but in
response to my inquiry when we met for a moment at tea-time, he told me
that although she had moments of attempted speech, her talk was quite
incoherent and hysterical, and she was still quite unable to explain
the nature of what she had seen. The doctor, he said, feared she had
recovered the use of her limbs, only to lose that of her memory, and
perhaps even of her mind.

“Then the recovery of her legs, I trust, may be permanent, at any
rate,” I ventured, finding it difficult to know what sympathy to offer.
And he replied with a curious short laugh, “Oh yes; about that there
can be no doubt whatever.”

And it was due merely to the chance of my overhearing a fragment of
conversation--unwillingly, of course--that a little further light was
thrown upon the state in which the old lady actually lay. For, as I
came out of my room, it happened that Colonel Wragge and the doctor
were going downstairs together, and their words floated up to my ears
before I could make my presence known by so much as a cough.

“Then you must find a way,” the doctor was saying with decision; “for
I cannot insist too strongly upon that--and at all costs she must be
kept quiet. These attempts to go out must be prevented--if necessary,
by force. This desire to visit some wood or other she keeps talking
about is, of course, hysterical in nature. It cannot be permitted for a
moment.”

“It shall not be permitted,” I heard the soldier reply, as they reached
the hall below.

“It has impressed her mind for some reason----” the doctor went on, by
way evidently of soothing explanation, and then the distance made it
impossible for me to hear more.

At dinner Dr. Silence was still absent, on the public plea of a
headache, and though food was sent to his room, I am inclined to
believe he did not touch it, but spent the entire time fasting.

We retired early, desiring that the household should do likewise, and
I must confess that at ten o’clock when I bid my host a temporary
good-night, and sought my room to make what mental preparation I could,
I realised in no very pleasant fashion that it was a singular and
formidable assignation, this midnight meeting in the laundry building,
and that there were moments in every adventure of life when a wise
man, and one who knew his own limitations, owed it to his dignity
to withdraw discreetly. And, but for the character of our leader, I
probably should have then and there offered the best excuse I could
think of, and have allowed myself quietly to fall asleep and wait for
an exciting story in the morning of what had happened. But with a man
like John Silence, such a lapse was out of the question, and I sat
before my fire counting the minutes and doing everything I could think
of to fortify my resolution and fasten my will at the point where I
could be reasonably sure that my self-control would hold against all
attacks of men, devils, or elementals.


III

At a quarter before midnight, clad in a heavy ulster, and with
slippered feet, I crept cautiously from my room and stole down the
passage to the top of the stairs. Outside the doctor’s door I waited
a moment to listen. All was still; the house in utter darkness; no
gleam of light beneath any door; only, down the length of the corridor,
from the direction of the sick-room, came faint sounds of laughter
and incoherent talk that were not things to reassure a mind already
half a-tremble, and I made haste to reach the hall and let myself out
through the front door into the night.

The air was keen and frosty, perfumed with night smells, and
exquisitely fresh; all the million candles of the sky were alight, and
a faint breeze rose and fell with far-away sighings in the tops of the
pine trees. My blood leaped for a moment in the spaciousness of the
night, for the splendid stars brought courage; but the next instant,
as I turned the corner of the house, moving stealthily down the gravel
drive, my spirits sank again ominously. For, yonder, over the funereal
plumes of the Twelve Acre Plantation, I saw the huge and yellow face
of the full moon just rising in the east, staring down like some vast
Being come to watch upon the progress of our doom. Seen through the
distorting vapours of the earth’s atmosphere, her face looked weirdly
unfamiliar, her usual expression of benignant vacancy somehow a-twist.
I slipped along by the shadows of the wall, keeping my eyes upon the
ground.

The laundry-house, as already described, stood detached from the other
offices, with laurel shrubberies crowding thickly behind it, and the
kitchen-garden so close on the other side that the strong smells of
soil and growing things came across almost heavily. The shadows of the
haunted plantation, hugely lengthened by the rising moon behind them,
reached to the very walls and covered the stone tiles of the roof with
a dark pall. So keenly were my senses alert at this moment that I
believe I could fill a chapter with the endless small details of the
impression I received--shadows, odour, shapes, sounds--in the space of
the few seconds I stood and waited before the closed wooden door.

Then I became aware of some one moving towards me through the
moonlight, and the figure of John Silence, without overcoat and
bareheaded, came quickly and without noise to join me. His eyes, I saw
at once, were wonderfully bright, and so marked was the shining pallor
of his face that I could hardly tell when he passed from the moonlight
into the shade.

He passed without a word, beckoning me to follow, and then pushed the
door open, and went in.

The chill air of the place met us like that of an underground vault;
and the brick floor and whitewashed walls, streaked with damp and
smoke, threw back the cold in our faces. Directly opposite gaped the
black throat of the huge open fireplace, the ashes of wood fires
still piled and scattered about the hearth, and on either side of
the projecting chimney-column were the deep recesses holding the big
twin cauldrons for boiling clothes. Upon the lids of these cauldrons
stood the two little oil lamps, shaded red, which gave all the light
there was, and immediately in front of the fireplace there was a small
circular table with three chairs set about it. Overhead, the narrow
slit windows, high up the walls, pointed to a dim network of wooden
rafters half lost among the shadows, and then came the dark vault of
the roof. Cheerless and unalluring, for all the red light, it certainly
was, reminding me of some unused conventicle, bare of pews or pulpit,
ugly and severe, and I was forcibly struck by the contrast between the
normal uses to which the place was ordinarily put, and the strange and
mediæval purpose which had brought us under its roof to-night.

Possibly an involuntary shudder ran over me, for my companion turned
with a confident look to reassure me, and he was so completely master
of himself that I at once absorbed from his abundance, and felt the
chinks of my failing courage beginning to close up. To meet his eye in
the presence of danger was like finding a mental railing that guided
and supported thought along the giddy edges of alarm.

“I am quite ready,” I whispered, turning to listen for approaching
footsteps.

He nodded, still keeping his eyes on mine. Our whispers sounded hollow
as they echoed overhead among the rafters.

“I’m glad you are here,” he said. “Not all would have the courage.
Keep your thoughts controlled, and imagine the protective shell round
you--round your _inner_ being.”

“I’m all right,” I repeated, cursing my chattering teeth.

He took my hand and shook it, and the contact seemed to shake into me
something of his supreme confidence. The eyes and hands of a strong man
can touch the soul. I think he guessed my thought, for a passing smile
flashed about the corners of his mouth.

“You will feel more comfortable,” he said, in a low tone, “when
the chain is complete. The Colonel we can count on, of course.
Remember, though,” he added warningly, “he may perhaps become
controlled--possessed--when the thing comes, because he won’t know how
to resist. And to explain the business to such a man----!” He shrugged
his shoulders expressively. “But it will only be temporary, and I will
see that no harm comes to him.”

He glanced round at the arrangements with approval.

“Red light,” he said, indicating the shaded lamps, “has the lowest rate
of vibration. Materialisations are dissipated by strong light--won’t
form, or hold together--in rapid vibrations.”

I was not sure that I approved altogether of this dim light, for in
complete darkness there is something protective--the knowledge that one
cannot be seen, probably--which a half-light destroys, but I remembered
the warning to keep my thoughts steady, and forbore to give them
expression.

There was a step outside, and the figure of Colonel Wragge stood in the
doorway. Though entering on tiptoe, he made considerable noise and
clatter, for his free movements were impeded by the burden he carried,
and we saw a large yellowish bowl held out at arms’ length from his
body, the mouth covered with a white cloth. His face, I noted, was
rigidly composed. He, too, was master of himself. And, as I thought of
this old soldier moving through the long series of alarms, worn with
watching and wearied with assault, unenlightened yet undismayed, even
down to the dreadful shock of his sister’s terror, and still showing
the dogged pluck that persists in the face of defeat, I understood what
Dr. Silence meant when he described him as a man “to be counted on.”

I think there was nothing beyond this rigidity of his stern features,
and a certain greyness of the complexion, to betray the turmoil of the
emotions that was doubtless going on within; and the quality of these
two men, each in his own way, so keyed me up that, by the time the door
was shut and we had exchanged silent greetings, all the latent courage
I possessed was well to the fore, and I felt as sure of myself as I
knew I ever could feel.

Colonel Wragge set the bowl carefully in the centre of the table.

“Midnight,” he said shortly, glancing at his watch, and we all three
moved to our chairs.

There, in the middle of that cold and silent place, we sat, with
the vile bowl before us, and a thin, hardly perceptible steam
rising through the damp air from the surface of the white cloth and
disappearing upwards the moment it passed beyond the zone of red light
and entered the deep shadows thrown forward by the projecting wall of
chimney.

The doctor had indicated our respective places, and I found myself
seated with my back to the door and opposite the black hearth. The
Colonel was on my left, and Dr. Silence on my right, both half facing
me, the latter more in shadow than the former. We thus divided the
little table into even sections, and sitting back in our chairs we
awaited events in silence.

For something like an hour I do not think there was even the faintest
sound within those four walls and under the canopy of that vaulted
roof. Our slippers made no scratching on the gritty floor, and our
breathing was suppressed almost to nothing; even the rustle of our
clothes as we shifted from time to time upon our seats was inaudible.
Silence smothered us absolutely--the silence of night, of listening,
the silence of a haunted expectancy. The very gurgling of the lamps was
too soft to be heard, and if light itself had sound, I do not think we
should have noticed the silvery tread of the moonlight as it entered
the high narrow windows and threw upon the floor the slender traces of
its pallid footsteps.

Colonel Wragge and the doctor, and myself too for that matter, sat thus
like figures of stone, without speech and without gesture. My eyes
passed in ceaseless journeys from the bowl to their faces, and from
their faces to the bowl. They might have been masks, however, for all
the signs of life they gave; and the light steaming from the horrid
contents beneath the white cloth had long ceased to be visible.

Then presently, as the moon rose higher, the wind rose with it. It
sighed, like the lightest of passing wings, over the roof; it crept
most softly round the walls; it made the brick floor like ice beneath
our feet. With it I saw mentally the desolate moorland flowing like
a sea about the old house, the treeless expanse of lonely hills, the
nearer copses, sombre, and mysterious in the night. _The_ plantation,
too, in particular I saw, and imagined I heard the mournful whisperings
that must now be a-stirring among its tree-tops as the breeze played
down between the twisted stems. In the depth of the room behind us the
shafts of moonlight met and crossed in a growing network.

It was after an hour of this wearing and unbroken attention, and I
should judge about one o’clock in the morning, when the baying of
the dogs in the stable-yard first began, and I saw John Silence move
suddenly in his chair and sit up in an attitude of attention. Every
force in my being instantly leaped into the keenest vigilance. Colonel
Wragge moved too, though slowly, and without raising his eyes from the
table before him.

The doctor stretched his arm out and took the white cloth from the bowl.

It was perhaps imagination that persuaded me the red glare of the lamps
grew fainter and the air over the table before us thickened. I had been
expecting something for so long that the movement of my companions,
and the lifting of the cloth, may easily have caused the momentary
delusion that something hovered in the air before my face, touching
the skin of my cheeks with a silken run. But it was certainly not a
delusion that the Colonel looked up at the same moment and glanced over
his shoulder, as though his eyes followed the movements of something
to and fro about the room, and that he then buttoned his overcoat more
tightly about him and his eyes sought my own face first, and then the
doctor’s. And it was no delusion that his face seemed somehow to have
turned dark, become spread as it were with a shadowy blackness. I saw
his lips tighten and his expression grow hard and stern, and it came to
me then with a rush that, of course, this man had told us but a part of
the experiences he had been through in the house, and that there was
much more he had never been able to bring himself to reveal at all.
I felt sure of it. The way he turned and stared about him betrayed a
familiarity with other things than those he had described to us. It was
not merely a sight of fire he looked for; it was a sight of something
alive, intelligent, something able to evade his searching; it was _a
person_. It was the watch for the ancient Being who sought to obsess
him.

And the way in which Dr. Silence answered his look--though it was only
by a glance of subtlest sympathy--confirmed my impression.

“We may be ready now,” I heard him say in a whisper, and I understood
that his words were intended as a steadying warning, and braced myself
mentally to the utmost of my power.

Yet long before Colonel Wragge had turned to stare about the room, and
long before the doctor had confirmed my impression that things were at
last beginning to stir, I had become aware in most singular fashion
that the place held more than our three selves. With the rising of the
wind this increase to our numbers had first taken place. The baying of
the hounds almost seemed to have signalled it. I cannot say how it may
be possible to realise that an empty place has suddenly become--not
empty, when the new arrival is nothing that appeals to any one of the
senses; for this recognition of an “invisible,” as of the change in the
balance of personal forces in a human group, is indefinable and beyond
proof. Yet it is unmistakable. And I knew perfectly well at what given
moment the atmosphere within these four walls became charged with the
presence of other living beings besides ourselves. And, on reflection,
I am convinced that both my companions knew it too.

“Watch the light,” said the doctor under his breath, and, then I knew
too that it was no fancy of my own that had turned the air darker, and
the way he turned to examine the face of our host sent an electric
thrill of wonder and expectancy shivering along every nerve in my body.

Yet it was no kind of terror that I experienced, but rather a sort of
mental dizziness, and a sensation as of being suspended in some remote
and dreadful altitude where things might happen, indeed were about to
happen, that had never before happened within the ken of man. Horror
may have formed an ingredient, but it was not chiefly horror, and in no
sense ghostly horror.

Uncommon thoughts kept beating on my brain like tiny hammers, soft yet
persistent, seeking admission; their unbidden tide began to wash along
the far fringes of my mind, the currents of unwonted sensations to rise
over the remote frontiers of my consciousness. I was aware of thoughts,
and the fantasies of thoughts, that I never knew before existed.
Portions of my being stirred that had never stirred before, and things
ancient and inexplicable rose to the surface and beckoned me to follow.
I felt as though I were about to fly off, at some immense tangent,
into an outer space hitherto unknown even in dreams. And so singular
was the result produced upon me that I was uncommonly glad to anchor my
mind, as well as my eyes, upon the masterful personality of the doctor
at my side, for there, I realised, I could draw always upon the forces
of sanity and safety.

With a vigorous effort of will I returned to the scene before me, and
tried to focus my attention, with steadier thoughts, upon the table,
and upon the silent figures seated round it. And then I saw that
certain changes had come about in the place where we sat.

The patches of moonlight on the floor, I noted, had become curiously
shaded; the faces of my companions opposite were not so clearly
visible as before; and the forehead and cheeks of Colonel Wragge were
glistening with perspiration. I realised further, that an extraordinary
change had come about in the temperature of the atmosphere. The
increased warmth had a painful effect, not alone on Colonel Wragge, but
upon all of us. It was oppressive and unnatural. We gasped figuratively
as well as actually.

“You are the first to feel it,” said Dr. Silence in low tones, looking
across at him. “You are in more intimate touch, of course----”

The Colonel was trembling, and appeared to be in considerable distress.
His knees shook, so that the shuffling of his slippered feet became
audible. He inclined his head to show that he had heard, but made no
other reply. I think, even then, he was sore put to it to keep himself
in hand. I knew what he was struggling against. As Dr. Silence had
warned me, he was about to be obsessed, and was savagely, though
vainly, resisting.

But, meanwhile, a curious and whirling sense of exhilaration began
to come over me. The increasing heat was delightful, bringing a
sensation of intense activity, of thoughts pouring through the mind
at high speed, of vivid pictures in the brain, of fierce desires and
lightning energies alive in every part of the body. I was conscious of
no physical distress, such as the Colonel felt, but only of a vague
feeling that it might all grow suddenly too intense--that I might be
consumed--that my personality as well as my body, might become resolved
into the flame of pure spirit. I began to live at a speed too intense
to last. It was as if a thousand ecstasies besieged me----

“Steady!” whispered the voice of John Silence in my ear, and I looked
up with a start to see that the Colonel had risen from his chair. The
doctor rose too. I followed suit, and for the first time saw down into
the bowl. To my amazement and horror I saw that the contents were
troubled. The blood was astir with movement.

The rest of the experiment was witnessed by us standing. It came, too,
with a curious suddenness. There was no more dreaming, for me at any
rate.

I shall never forget the figure of Colonel Wragge standing there beside
me, upright and unshaken, squarely planted on his feet, looking about
him, puzzled beyond belief, yet full of a fighting anger. Framed by
the white walls, the red glow of the lamps upon his streaming cheeks,
his eyes glowing against the deathly pallor of his skin, breathing
hard and making convulsive efforts of hands and body to keep himself
under control, his whole being roused to the point of savage fighting,
yet with nothing visible to get at anywhere--he stood there, immovable
against odds. And the strange contrast of the pale skin and the burning
face I had never seen before, or wish to seen again.

But what has left an even sharper impression on my memory was the
blackness that then began crawling over his face, obliterating the
features, concealing their human outline, and hiding him inch by
inch from view. This was my first realisation that the process of
materialisation was at work. His visage became shrouded. I moved from
one side to the other to keep him in view, and it was only then I
understood that, properly speaking, the blackness was not upon the
countenance of Colonel Wragge, but that something had inserted itself
between me and him, thus screening his face with the effect of a dark
veil. Something that apparently rose through the floor was passing
slowly into the air above the table and above the bowl. The blood in
the bowl, moreover, was considerably less than before.

And, with this change in the air before us, there came at the same
time a further change, I thought, in the face of the soldier. One-half
was turned towards the red lamps, while the other caught the pale
illumination of the moonlight falling aslant from the high windows,
so that it was difficult to estimate this change with accuracy of
detail. But it seemed to me that, while the features--eyes, nose,
mouth--remained the same, the life informing them had undergone some
profound transformation. The signature of a new power had crept into
the face and left its traces there--an expression dark, and in some
unexplained way, terrible.

Then suddenly he opened his mouth and spoke, and the sound of this
changed voice, deep and musical though it was, made me cold and set
my heart beating with uncomfortable rapidity. The Being, as he had
dreaded, was already in control of his brain, using his mouth.

“I see a blackness like the blackness of Egypt before my face,” said
the tones of this unknown voice that seemed half his own and half
another’s. “And out of this darkness they come, they come.”

I gave a dreadful start. The doctor turned to look at me for an
instant, and then turned to centre his attention upon the figure of our
host, and I understood in some intuitive fashion that he was there to
watch over the strangest contest man ever saw--to watch over and, if
necessary, to protect.

“He is being controlled--possessed,” he whispered to me through the
shadows. His face wore a wonderful expression, half triumph, half
admiration.

Even as Colonel Wragge spoke, it seemed to me that this visible
darkness began to increase, pouring up thickly out of the ground by
the hearth, rising up in sheets and veils, shrouding our eyes and
faces. It stole up from below--an awful blackness that seemed to drink
in all the radiations of light in the building, leaving nothing but
the ghost of a radiance in their place. Then, out of this rising sea
of shadows, issued a pale and spectral light that gradually spread
itself about us, and from the heart of this light I saw the shapes of
fire crowd and gather. And these were not human shapes, or the shapes
of anything I recognised as alive in the world, but outlines of fire
that traced globes, triangles, crosses, and the luminous bodies of
various geometrical figures. They grew bright, faded, and then grew
bright again with an effect almost of pulsation. They passed swiftly
to and fro through the air, rising and falling, and particularly in
the immediate neighbourhood of the Colonel, often gathering about his
head and shoulders, and even appearing to settle upon him like giant
insects of flame. They were accompanied, moreover, by a faint sound of
hissing--the same sound we had heard that afternoon in the plantation.

“The fire-elementals that precede their master,” the doctor said in an
undertone. “Be ready.”

And while this weird display of the shapes of fire alternately flashed
and faded, and the hissing echoed faintly among the dim rafters
overhead, we heard the awful voice issue at intervals from the lips of
the afflicted soldier. It was a voice of power, splendid in some way I
cannot describe, and with a certain sense of majesty in its cadences,
and, as I listened to it with quickly-beating heart, I could fancy it
was some ancient voice of Time itself, echoing down immense corridors
of stone, from the depths of vast temples, from the very heart of
mountain tombs.

“I have seen my divine Father, Osiris,” thundered the great tones. “I
have scattered the gloom of the night. I have burst through the earth,
and am one with the starry Deities!”

Something grand came into the soldier’s face. He was staring fixedly
before him, as though seeing nothing.

“Watch,” whispered Dr. Silence in my ear, and his whisper seemed to
come from very far away.

Again the mouth opened and the awesome voice issued forth.

“Thoth,” it boomed, “has loosened the bandages of Set which fettered my
mouth. I have taken my place in the great winds of heaven.”

I heard the little wind of night, with its mournful voice of ages,
sighing round the walls and over the roof.

“Listen!” came from the doctor at my side, and the thunder of the voice
continued--

“I have hidden myself with you, O ye stars that never diminish. I
remember my name--in--the--House--of--Fire!”

The voice ceased and the sound died away. Something about the face and
figure of Colonel Wragge relaxed, I thought. The terrible look passed
from his face. The Being that obsessed him was gone.

“The great Ritual,” said Dr. Silence aside to me, very low, “the Book
of the Dead. Now it’s leaving him. Soon the blood will fashion it a
body.”

Colonel Wragge, who had stood absolutely motionless all this time,
suddenly swayed, so that I thought he was going to fall,--and, but for
the quick support of the doctor’s arm, he probably would have fallen,
for he staggered as in the beginning of collapse.

“I am drunk with the wine of Osiris,” he cried,--and it was half with
his own voice this time--“but Horus, the Eternal Watcher, is about my
path--for--safety.” The voice dwindled and failed, dying away into
something almost like a cry of distress.

“Now, watch closely,” said Dr. Silence, speaking loud, “for after the
cry will come the Fire!”

I began to tremble involuntarily; an awful change had come without
warning into the air; my legs grew weak as paper beneath my weight and
I had to support myself by leaning on the table. Colonel Wragge, I
saw, was also leaning forward with a kind of droop. The shapes of fire
had vanished all, but his face was lit by the red lamps and the pale
shifting moonlight rose behind him like mist.

We were both gazing at the bowl, now almost empty; the Colonel stooped
so low I feared every minute he would lose his balance and drop into
it; and the shadow, that had so long been in process of forming, now at
length began to assume material outline in the air before us.

Then John Silence moved forward quickly. He took his place between us
and the shadow. Erect, formidable, absolute master of the situation, I
saw him stand there, his face calm and almost smiling, and fire in his
eyes. His protective influence was astounding and incalculable. Even
the abhorrent dread I felt at the sight of the creature growing into
life and substance before us, lessened in some way so that I was able
to keep my eyes fixed on the air above the bowl without too vivid a
terror.

But as it took shape, rising out of nothing as it were, and growing
momentarily more defined in outline, a period of utter and wonderful
silence settled down upon the building and all it contained. A hush of
ages, like the sudden centre of peace at the heart of the travelling
cyclone, descended through the night, and out of this hush, as out of
the emanations of the steaming blood, issued the form of the ancient
being who had first sent the elemental of fire upon its mission. It
grew and darkened and solidified before our eyes. It rose from just
beyond the table so that the lower portions remained invisible, but I
saw the outline limn itself upon the air, as though slowly revealed by
the rising of a curtain. It apparently had not then quite concentrated
to the normal proportions, but was spread out on all sides into space,
huge, though rapidly condensing, for I saw the colossal shoulders, the
neck, the lower portion of the dark jaws, the terrible mouth, and then
the teeth and lips--and, as the veil seemed to lift further upon the
tremendous face--I saw the nose and cheek bones. In another moment I
should have looked straight into the eyes----

But what Dr. Silence did at that moment was so unexpected, and took me
so by surprise, that I have never yet properly understood its nature,
and he has never yet seen fit to explain in detail to me. He uttered
some sound that had a note of command in it--and, in so doing, stepped
forward and intervened between me and the face. The figure, just
nearing completeness, he therefore hid from my sight--and I have always
thought purposely hid from my sight.

“The fire!” he cried out. “The fire! Beware!”

There was a sudden roar as of flame from the very mouth of the pit,
and for the space of a single second all grew light as day. A blinding
flash passed across my face, and there was heat for an instant that
seemed to shrivel skin, and flesh, and bone. Then came steps, and I
heard Colonel Wragge utter a great cry, wilder than any human cry I
have ever known. The heat sucked all the breath out of my lungs with a
rush, and the blaze of light, as it vanished, swept my vision with it
into enveloping darkness.

When I recovered the use of my senses a few moments later I saw that
Colonel Wragge with a face of death, its whiteness strangely stained,
had moved closer to me. Dr. Silence stood beside him, an expression of
triumph and success in his eyes. The next minute the soldier tried to
clutch me with his hand. Then he reeled, staggered, and, unable to save
himself, fell with a great crash upon the brick floor.

After the sheet of flame, a wind raged round the building as though it
would lift the roof off, but then passed as suddenly as it came. And in
the intense calm that followed I saw that the form had vanished, and
the doctor was stooping over Colonel Wragge upon the floor, trying to
lift him to a sitting position.

“Light,” he said quietly, “more light. Take the shades off.”

Colonel Wragge sat up and the glare of the unshaded lamps fell upon
his face. It was grey and drawn, still running heat, and there was a
look in the eyes and about the corners of the mouth that seemed in this
short space of time to have added years to its age. At the same time,
the expression of effort and anxiety had left it. It showed relief.

“Gone!” he said, looking up at the doctor in a dazed fashion, and
struggling to his feet. “Thank God! it’s gone at last.” He stared
round the laundry as though to find out where he was. “Did it control
me--take possession of me? Did I talk nonsense?” he asked bluntly.
“After the heat came, I remember nothing----”

“You’ll feel yourself again in a few minutes,” the doctor said. To my
infinite horror I saw that he was surreptitiously wiping sundry dark
stains from the face. “Our experiment has been a success and----”

He gave me a swift glance to hide the bowl, standing between me and our
host while I hurriedly stuffed it down under the lid of the nearest
cauldron.

“----and none of us the worse for it,” he finished.

“And fires?” he asked, still dazed, “there’ll be no more fires?”

“It is dissipated--partly, at any rate,” replied Dr. Silence cautiously.

“And the man behind the gun,” he went on, only half realising what he
was saying, I think; “have you discovered _that_?”

“A form materialised,” said the doctor briefly. “I know for certain now
what the directing intelligence was behind it all.”

Colonel Wragge pulled himself together and got upon his feet. The words
conveyed no clear meaning to him yet. But his memory was returning
gradually, and he was trying to piece together the fragments into a
connected whole. He shivered a little, for the place had grown suddenly
chilly. The air was empty again, lifeless.

“You feel all right again now,” Dr. Silence said, in the tone of a man
stating a fact rather than asking a question.

“Thanks to you--both, yes.” He drew a deep breath, and mopped his face,
and even attempted a smile. He made me think of a man coming from the
battlefield with the stains of fighting still upon him, but scornful of
his wounds. Then he turned gravely towards the doctor with a question
in his eyes. Memory had returned and he was himself again.

“Precisely what I expected,” the doctor said calmly; “a fire-elemental
sent upon its mission in the days of Thebes, centuries before Christ,
and to-night, for the first time all these thousands of years, released
from the spell that originally bound it.”

We stared at him in amazement, Colonel Wragge opening his lips for
words that refused to shape themselves.

“And, if we dig,” he continued significantly, pointing to the floor
where the blackness had poured up, “we shall find some underground
connection--a tunnel most likely--leading to the Twelve Acre Wood. It
was made by--your predecessor.”

“A tunnel made by my brother!” gasped the soldier. “Then my sister
should know--she lived here with him----” He stopped suddenly.

John Silence inclined his head slowly. “I think so,” he said quietly.
“Your brother, no doubt, was as much tormented as you have been,”
he continued after a pause in which Colonel Wragge seemed deeply
preoccupied with his thoughts, “and tried to find peace by burying it
in the wood, and surrounding the wood then, like a large magic circle,
with the enchantments of the old formulæ. So the stars the man saw
blazing----”

“But burying _what_?” asked the soldier faintly, stepping backwards
towards the support of the wall.

Dr. Silence regarded us both intently for a moment before he replied.
I think he weighed in his mind whether to tell us now, or when the
investigation was absolutely complete.

“The mummy,” he said softly, after a moment; “the mummy that your
brother took from its resting-place of centuries, and brought
home--here.”

Colonel Wragge dropped down upon the nearest chair, hanging
breathlessly on every word. He was far too amazed for speech.

“The mummy of some important person--a priest most likely--protected
from disturbance and desecration by the ceremonial magic of the time.
For they understood how to attach to the mummy, to lock up with it in
the tomb, an elemental force that would direct itself even after ages
upon any one who dared to molest it. In this case it was an elemental
of fire.”

Dr. Silence crossed the floor and turned out the lamps one by one. He
had nothing more to say for the moment. Following his example, I folded
the table together and took up the chairs, and our host, still dazed
and silent, mechanically obeyed him and moved to the door.

We removed all traces of the experiment, taking the empty bowl back to
the house concealed beneath an ulster.

The air was cool and fragrant as we walked to the house, the stars
beginning to fade overhead and a fresh wind of early morning blowing up
out of the east where the sky was already hinting of the coming day. It
was after five o’clock.

Stealthily we entered the front hall and locked the door, and as we
went on tiptoe upstairs to our rooms, the Colonel, peering at us over
his candle as he nodded good-night, whispered that if we were ready
the digging should be begun that very day.

Then I saw him steal along to his sister’s room and disappear.


IV

But not even the mysterious references to the mummy, or the prospect of
a revelation by digging, were able to hinder the reaction that followed
the intense excitement of the past twelve hours, and I slept the sleep
of the dead, dreamless and undisturbed. A touch on the shoulder woke
me, and I saw Dr. Silence standing beside the bed, dressed to go out.

“Come,” he said, “it’s tea-time. You’ve slept the best part of a dozen
hours.”

I sprang up and made a hurried toilet, while my companion sat and
talked. He looked fresh and rested, and his manner was even quieter
than usual.

“Colonel Wragge has provided spades and pickaxes. We’re going out to
unearth this mummy at once,” he said; “and there’s no reason we should
not get away by the morning train.”

“I’m ready to go to-night, if you are,” I said honestly.

But Dr. Silence shook his head.

“I must see this through to the end,” he said gravely, and in a tone
that made me think he still anticipated serious things, perhaps. He
went on talking while I dressed.

“This case is really typical of all stories of mummy-haunting, and
none of them are cases to trifle with,” he explained, “for the mummies
of important people--kings, priests, magicians--were laid away with
profoundly significant ceremonial, and were very effectively protected,
as you have seen, against desecration, and especially against
destruction.

“The general belief,” he went on, anticipating my questions, “held,
of course, that the perpetuity of the mummy guaranteed that of its
Ka,--the owner’s spirit,--but it is not improbable that the magical
embalming was also used to retard reincarnation, the preservation of
the body preventing the return of the spirit to the toil and discipline
of earth-life; and, in any case, they knew how to attach powerful
guardian-forces to keep off trespassers. And any one who dared to
remove the mummy, or especially to unwind it--well,” he added, with
meaning, “you have seen--and you _will_ see.”

I caught his face in the mirror while I struggled with my collar. It
was deeply serious. There could be no question that he spoke of what he
believed and knew.

“The traveller-brother who brought it here must have been haunted too,”
he continued, “for he tried to banish it by burial in the wood, making
a magic circle to enclose it. Something of genuine ceremonial he must
have known, for the stars the man saw were of course the remains of the
still flaming pentagrams he traced at intervals in the circle. Only he
did not know enough, or possibly was ignorant that the mummy’s guardian
was a fire-force. Fire cannot be enclosed by fire, though, as you saw,
it can be released by it.”

“Then that awful figure in the laundry?” I asked, thrilled to find him
so communicative.

“Undoubtedly the actual Ka of the mummy operating always behind its
agent, the elemental, and most likely thousands of years old.”

“And Miss Wragge----?” I ventured once more.

“Ah, Miss Wragge,” he repeated with increased gravity, “Miss Wragge----”

A knock at the door brought a servant with word that tea was ready,
and the Colonel had sent to ask if we were coming down. The thread was
broken. Dr. Silence moved to the door and signed to me to follow. But
his manner told me that in any case no real answer would have been
forthcoming to my question.

“And the place to dig in,” I asked, unable to restrain my curiosity,
“will you find it by some process of divination or----?”

He paused at the door and looked back at me, and with that he left me
to finish my dressing.

It was growing dark when the three of us silently made our way to the
Twelve Acre Plantation; the sky was overcast, and a black wind came out
of the east. Gloom hung about the old house and the air seemed full of
sighings. We found the tools ready laid at the edge of the wood, and
each shouldering his piece, we followed our leader at once in among the
trees. He went straight forward for some twenty yards and then stopped.
At his feet lay the blackened circle of one of the burned places. It
was just discernible against the surrounding white grass.

“There are three of these,” he said, “and they all lie in a line with
one another. Any one of them will tap the tunnel that connects the
laundry--the former Museum--with the chamber where the mummy now lies
buried.”

He at once cleared away the burnt grass and began to dig; we all began
to dig. While I used the pick, the others shovelled vigorously. No
one spoke. Colonel Wragge worked the hardest of the three. The soil
was light and sandy, and there were only a few snake-like roots and
occasional loose stones to delay us. The pick made short work of these.
And meanwhile the darkness settled about us and the biting wind swept
roaring through the trees overhead.

Then, quite suddenly, without a cry, Colonel Wragge disappeared up to
his neck.

“The tunnel!” cried the doctor, helping to drag him out, red,
breathless, and covered with sand and perspiration. “Now, let me lead
the way.” And he slipped down nimbly into the hole, so that a moment
later we heard his voice, muffled by sand and distance, rising up to us.

“Hubbard, you come next, and then Colonel Wragge--if he wishes,” we
heard.

“I’ll follow you, of course,” he said, looking at me as I scrambled in.

The hole was bigger now, and I got down on all-fours in a channel not
much bigger than a large sewer-pipe and found myself in total darkness.
A minute later a heavy thud, followed by a cataract of loose sand,
announced the arrival of the Colonel.

“Catch hold of my heel,” called Dr. Silence, “and Colonel Wragge can
take yours.”

In this slow, laborious fashion we wormed our way along a tunnel
that had been roughly dug out of the shifting sand, and was shored up
clumsily by means of wooden pillars and posts. Any moment, it seemed to
me, we might be buried alive. We could not see an inch before our eyes,
but had to grope our way feeling the pillars and the walls. It was
difficult to breathe, and the Colonel behind me made but slow progress,
for the cramped position of our bodies was very severe.

We had travelled in this way for ten minutes, and gone perhaps as much
as ten yards, when I lost my grasp of the doctor’s heel.

“Ah!” I heard his voice, sounding above me somewhere. He was standing
up in a clear space, and the next moment I was standing beside him.
Colonel Wragge came heavily after, and he too rose up and stood. Then
Dr. Silence produced his candles and we heard preparations for striking
matches.

Yet even before there was light, an indefinable sensation of awe came
over us all. In this hole in the sand, some three feet under ground,
we stood side by side, cramped and huddled, struck suddenly with an
overwhelming apprehension of something ancient, something formidable,
something incalculably wonderful, that touched in each one of us a
sense of the sublime and the terrible even before we could see an inch
before our faces. I know not how to express in language this singular
emotion that caught us here in utter darkness, touching no sense
directly, it seemed, yet with the recognition that before us in the
blackness of this underground night there lay something that was mighty
with the mightiness of long past ages.

I felt Colonel Wragge press in closely to my side, and I understood the
pressure and welcomed it. No human touch, to me at least, has ever been
more eloquent.

Then the match flared, a thousand shadows fled on black wings, and I
saw John Silence fumbling with the candle, his face lit up grotesquely
by the flickering light below it.

I had dreaded this light, yet when it came there was apparently nothing
to explain the profound sensations of dread that preceded it. We stood
in a small vaulted chamber in the sand, the sides and roof shored with
bars of wood, and the ground laid roughly with what seemed to be tiles.
It was six feet high, so that we could all stand comfortably, and may
have been ten feet long by eight feet wide. Upon the wooden pillars at
the side I saw that Egyptian hieroglyphics had been rudely traced by
burning.

Dr. Silence lit three candles and handed one to each of us. He placed a
fourth in the sand against the wall on his right, and another to mark
the entrance to the tunnel. We stood and stared about us, instinctively
holding our breath.

“Empty, by God!” exclaimed Colonel Wragge. His voice trembled with
excitement. And then, as his eyes rested on the ground, he added, “And
footsteps--look--footsteps in the sand!”

Dr. Silence said nothing. He stooped down and began to make a search
of the chamber, and as he moved, my eyes followed his crouching figure
and noted the queer distorted shadows that poured over the walls and
ceiling after him. Here and there thin trickles of loose sand ran
fizzing down the sides. The atmosphere, heavily charged with faint yet
pungent odours, lay utterly still, and the flames of the candles might
have been painted on the air for all the movement they betrayed.

And, as I watched, it was almost necessary to persuade myself forcibly
that I was only standing upright with difficulty in this little
sand-hole of a modern garden in the south of England, for it seemed to
me that I stood, as in vision, at the entrance of some vast rock-hewn
Temple far, far down the river of Time. The illusion was powerful,
and persisted. Granite columns, that rose to heaven, piled themselves
about me, majestically uprearing, and a roof like the sky itself spread
above a line of colossal figures that moved in shadowy procession along
endless and stupendous aisles. This huge and splendid fantasy, borne I
knew not whence, possessed me so vividly that I was actually obliged to
concentrate my attention upon the small stooping figure of the doctor,
as he groped about the walls, in order to keep the eye of imagination
on the scene before me.

But the limited space rendered a long search out of the question, and
his footsteps, instead of shuffling through loose sand, presently
struck something of a different quality that gave forth a hollow and
resounding echo. He stooped to examine more closely.

He was standing exactly in the centre of the little chamber when this
happened, and he at once began scraping away the sand with his feet. In
less than a minute a smooth surface became visible--the surface of a
wooden covering. The next thing I saw was that he had raised it and was
peering down into a space below. Instantly, a strong odour of nitre
and bitumen, mingled with the strange perfume of unknown and powdered
aromatics, rose up from the uncovered space and filled the vault,
stinging the throat and making the eyes water and smart.

“The mummy!” whispered Dr. Silence, looking up into our faces over his
candle; and as he said the word I felt the soldier lurch against me,
and heard his breathing in my very ear.

“The mummy!” he repeated under his breath, as we pressed forward to
look.

It is difficult to say exactly why the sight should have stirred in
me so prodigious an emotion of wonder and veneration, for I have had
not a little to do with mummies, have unwound scores of them, and even
experimented magically with not a few. But there was something in the
sight of that grey and silent figure, lying in its modern box of lead
and wood at the bottom of this sandy grave, swathed in the bandages of
centuries and wrapped in the perfumed linen that the priests of Egypt
had prayed over with their mighty enchantments thousands of years
before--something in the sight of it lying there and breathing its own
spice-laden atmosphere even in the darkness of its exile in this remote
land, something that pierced to the very core of my being and touched
that root of awe which slumbers in every man near the birth of tears
and the passion of true worship.

I remember turning quickly from the Colonel, lest he should see my
emotion, yet fail to understand its cause, turn and clutch John Silence
by the arm, and then fall trembling to see that he, too, had lowered
his head and was hiding his face in his hands.

A kind of whirling storm came over me, rising out of I know not what
utter deeps of memory, and in a whiteness of vision I heard the magical
old chauntings from the Book of the Dead, and saw the Gods pass by in
dim procession, the mighty, immemorial Beings who were yet themselves
only the personified attributes of the true Gods, the God with the
Eyes of Fire, the God with the Face of Smoke. I saw again Anubis, the
dog-faced deity, and the children of Horus, eternal watcher of the
ages, as they swathed Osiris, the first mummy of the world, in the
scented and mystic bands, and I tasted again something of the ecstasy
of the justified soul as it embarked in the golden Boat of Ra, and
journeyed onwards to rest in the fields of the blessed.

And then, as Dr. Silence, with infinite reverence, stooped and touched
the still face, so dreadfully staring with its painted eyes, there rose
again to our nostrils wave upon wave of this perfume of thousands of
years, and time fled backwards like a thing of naught, showing me in
haunted panorama the most wonderful dream of the whole world.

A gentle hissing became audible in the air, and the doctor moved
quickly backwards. It came close to our faces and then seemed to play
about the walls and ceiling.

“The last of the Fire--still waiting for its full accomplishment,” he
muttered; but I heard both words and hissing as things far away, for I
was still busy with the journey of the soul through the Seven Halls of
Death, listening for echoes of the grandest ritual ever known to men.

The earthen plates covered with hieroglyphics still lay beside the
mummy, and round it, carefully arranged at the points of the compass,
stood the four jars with the heads of the hawk, the jackal, the
cynocephalus, and man, the jars in which were placed the hair, the nail
parings, the heart, and other special portions of the body. Even the
amulets, the mirror, the blue clay statues of the Ka, and the lamp with
seven wicks were there. Only the sacred scarabæus was missing.

“Not only has it been torn from its ancient resting-place,” I heard Dr.
Silence saying in a solemn voice as he looked at Colonel Wragge with
fixed gaze, “but it has been partially unwound,”--he pointed to the
wrappings of the breast,--“and--the scarabæus has been removed from the
throat.”

The hissing, that was like the hissing of an invisible flame, had
ceased; only from time to time we heard it as though it passed
backwards and forwards in the tunnel; and we stood looking into each
other’s faces without speaking.

Presently Colonel Wragge made a great effort and braced himself. I
heard the sound catch in his throat before the words actually became
audible.

“My sister,” he said, very low. And then there followed a long pause,
broken at length by John Silence.

“It must be replaced,” he said significantly.

“I knew nothing,” the soldier said, forcing himself to speak the words
he hated saying. “Absolutely nothing.”

“It must be returned,” repeated the other, “if it is not now too late.
For I fear--I fear----”

Colonel Wragge made a movement of assent with his head.

“It shall be,” he said.

The place was still as the grave.

I do not know what it was then that made us all three turn round with
so sudden a start, for there was no sound audible to my ears, at least.

The doctor was on the point of replacing the lid over the mummy, when
he straightened up as if he had been shot.

“There’s something coming,” said Colonel Wragge under his breath, and
the doctor’s eyes, peering down the small opening of the tunnel, showed
me the true direction.

A distant shuffling noise became distinctly audible coming from a point
about half-way down the tunnel we had so laboriously penetrated.

“It’s the sand falling in,” I said, though I knew it was foolish.

“No,” said the Colonel calmly, in a voice that seemed to have the ring
of iron, “I’ve heard it for some time past. It is something alive--and
it is coming nearer.”

He stared about him with a look of resolution that made his face almost
noble. The horror in his heart was overmastering, yet he stood there
prepared for anything that might come.

“There’s no other way out,” John Silence said.

He leaned the lid against the sand, and waited. I knew by the mask-like
expression of his face, the pallor, and the steadiness of the eyes,
that he anticipated something that might be very terrible--appalling.

The Colonel and myself stood on either side of the opening. I still
held my candle and was ashamed of the way it shook, dripping the
grease all over me; but the soldier had set his into the sand just
behind his feet.

Thoughts of being buried alive, of being smothered like rats in a trap,
of being caught and done to death by some invisible and merciless force
we could not grapple with, rushed into my mind. Then I thought of
fire--of suffocation--of being roasted alive. The perspiration began to
pour from my face.

“Steady!” came the voice of Dr. Silence to me through the vault.

For five minutes, that seemed fifty, we stood waiting, looking from
each other’s faces to the mummy, and from the mummy to the hole, and
all the time the shuffling sound, soft and stealthy, came gradually
nearer. The tension, for me at least, was very near the breaking point
when at last the cause of the disturbance reached the edge. It was
hidden for a moment just behind the broken rim of soil. A jet of sand,
shaken by the close vibration, trickled down on to the ground; I have
never in my life seen anything fall with such laborious leisure. The
next second, uttering a cry of curious quality, it came into view.

And it was far more distressingly horrible than anything I had
anticipated.

For the sight of some Egyptian monster, some god of the tombs, or
even of some demon of fire, I think I was already half prepared; but
when, instead, I saw the white visage of Miss Wragge framed in that
round opening of sand, followed by her body crawling on all-fours, her
eyes bulging and reflecting the yellow glare of the candles, my first
instinct was to turn and run like a frantic animal seeking a way of
escape.

But Dr. Silence, who seemed no whit surprised, caught my arm and
steadied me, and we both saw the Colonel then drop upon his knees and
come thus to a level with his sister. For more than a whole minute, as
though struck in stone, the two faces gazed silently at each other:
her’s, for all the dreadful emotion in it, more like a gargoyle than
anything human; and his, white and blank with an expression that was
beyond either astonishment or alarm. She looked up; he looked down. It
was a picture in a nightmare, and the candle, stuck in the sand close
to the hole, threw upon it the glare of impromptu footlights.

Then John Silence moved forward and spoke in a voice that was very low,
yet perfectly calm and natural.

“I am glad you have come,” he said. “You are the one person whose
presence at this moment is most required. And I hope that you may yet
be in time to appease the anger of the Fire, and to bring peace again
to your household, and,” he added lower still so that no one heard it
but myself, “_safety to yourself_.”

And while her brother stumbled backwards, crushing a candle into the
sand in his awkwardness, the old lady crawled farther into the vaulted
chamber and slowly rose upon her feet.

At the sight of the wrapped figure of the mummy I was fully prepared
to see her scream and faint, but on the contrary, to my complete
amazement, she merely bowed her head and dropped quietly upon her
knees. Then, after a pause of more than a minute, she raised her eyes
to the roof and her lips began to mutter as in prayer. Her right hand,
meanwhile, which had been fumbling for some time at her throat,
suddenly came away, and before the gaze of all of us she held it out,
palm upwards, over the grey and ancient figure outstretched below. And
in it we beheld glistening the green jasper of the stolen scarabæus.

Her brother, leaning heavily against the wall behind, uttered a sound
that was half cry, half exclamation, but John Silence, standing
directly in front of her, merely fixed his eyes on her and pointed
downwards to the staring face below.

“Replace it,” he said sternly, “where it belongs.”

Miss Wragge was kneeling at the feet of the mummy when this happened.
We three men all had our eyes riveted on what followed. Only the reader
who by some remote chance may have witnessed a line of mummies, freshly
laid from their tombs upon the sand, slowly stir and bend as the heat
of the Egyptian sun warms their ancient bodies into the semblance of
life, can form any conception of the ultimate horror we experienced
when the silent figure before us moved in its grave of lead and sand.
Slowly, before our eyes, it writhed, and, with a faint rustling of the
immemorial cerements, rose up, and, through sightless and bandaged
eyes, stared across the yellow candle-light at the woman who had
violated it.

I tried to move--her brother tried to move--but the sand seemed to hold
our feet. I tried to cry--her brother tried to cry--but the sand seemed
to fill our lungs and throat. We could only stare--and, even so, the
sand seemed to rise like a desert storm and cloud our vision....

And when I managed at length to open my eyes again, the mummy was lying
once more upon its back, motionless, the shrunken and painted face
upturned towards the ceiling, and the old lady had tumbled forward and
was lying in the semblance of death with her head and arms upon its
crumbling body.

But upon the wrappings of the throat I saw the green jasper of the
sacred scarabæus shining again like a living eye.

Colonel Wragge and the doctor recovered themselves long before I did,
and I found myself helping them clumsily and unintelligently to raise
the frail body of the old lady, while John Silence carefully replaced
the covering over the grave and scraped back the sand with his foot,
while he issued brief directions.

I heard his voice as in a dream; but the journey back along that
cramped tunnel, weighted by a dead woman, blinded with sand, suffocated
with heat, was in no sense a dream. It took us the best part of half
an hour to reach the open air. And, even then, we had to wait a
considerable time for the appearance of Dr. Silence. We carried her
undiscovered into the house and up to her own room.

“The mummy will cause no further disturbance,” I heard Dr. Silence say
to our host later that evening as we prepared to drive for the night
train, “provided always,” he added significantly, “that you, and yours,
cause _it_ no disturbance.”

It was in a dream, too, that we left.

“You did not see her face, I know,” he said to me as we wrapped our
rugs about us in the empty compartment. And when I shook my head, quite
unable to explain the instinct that had come to me not to look, he
turned towards me, his face pale, and genuinely sad.

“Scorched and blasted,” he whispered.



CASE IV

SECRET WORSHIP


Harris, the silk merchant, was in South Germany on his way home from
a business trip when the idea came to him suddenly that he would take
the mountain railway from Strassbourg and run down to revisit his old
school after an interval of something more than thirty years. And it
was to this chance impulse of the junior partner in Harris Brothers of
St. Paul’s Churchyard that John Silence owed one of the most curious
cases of his whole experience, for at that very moment he happened to
be tramping these same mountains with a holiday knapsack, and from
different points of the compass the two men were actually converging
towards the same inn.

Now, deep down in the heart that for thirty years had been concerned
chiefly with the profitable buying and selling of silk, this school had
left the imprint of its peculiar influence, and, though perhaps unknown
to Harris, had strongly coloured the whole of his subsequent existence.
It belonged to the deeply religious life of a small Protestant
community (which it is unnecessary to specify), and his father had
sent him there at the age of fifteen, partly because he would learn
the German requisite for the conduct of the silk business, and partly
because the discipline was strict, and discipline was what his soul and
body needed just then more than anything else.

The life, indeed, had proved exceedingly severe, and young Harris
benefited accordingly; for though corporal punishment was unknown,
there was a system of mental and spiritual correction which somehow
made the soul stand proudly erect to receive it, while it struck at the
very root of the fault and taught the boy that his character was being
cleaned and strengthened, and that he was not merely being tortured in
a kind of personal revenge.

That was over thirty years ago, when he was a dreamy and impressionable
youth of fifteen; and now, as the train climbed slowly up the winding
mountain gorges, his mind travelled back somewhat lovingly over the
intervening period, and forgotten details rose vividly again before him
out of the shadows. The life there had been very wonderful, it seemed
to him, in that remote mountain village, protected from the tumults
of the world by the love and worship of the devout Brotherhood that
ministered to the needs of some hundred boys from every country in
Europe. Sharply the scenes came back to him. He smelt again the long
stone corridors, the hot pinewood rooms, where the sultry hours of
summer study were passed with bees droning through open windows in the
sunshine, and German characters struggling in the mind with dreams of
English lawns--and then the sudden awful cry of the master in German--

“Harris, stand up! You sleep!”

And he recalled the dreadful standing motionless for an hour, book in
hand, while the knees felt like wax and the head grew heavier than a
cannon-ball.

The very smell of the cooking came back to him--the daily _Sauerkraut_,
the watery chocolate on Sundays, the flavour of the stringy meat
served twice a week at _Mittagessen_; and he smiled to think again of
the half-rations that was the punishment for speaking English. The
very odour of the milk-bowls,--the hot sweet aroma that rose from the
soaking peasant-bread at the six-o’clock breakfast,--came back to him
pungently, and he saw the huge _Speisesaal_ with the hundred boys in
their school uniform, all eating sleepily in silence, gulping down
the coarse bread and scalding milk in terror of the bell that would
presently cut them short--and, at the far end where the masters sat,
he saw the narrow slit windows with the vistas of enticing field and
forest beyond.

And this, in turn, made him think of the great barn-like room on the
top floor where all slept together in wooden cots, and he heard in
memory the clamour of the cruel bell that woke them on winter mornings
at five o’clock and summoned them to the stone-flagged _Waschkammer_,
where boys and masters alike, after scanty and icy washing, dressed in
complete silence.

From this his mind passed swiftly, with vivid picture-thoughts,
to other things, and with a passing shiver he remembered how
the loneliness of never being alone had eaten into him, and how
everything--work, meals, sleep, walks, leisure--was done with his
“division” of twenty other boys and under the eyes of at least two
masters. The only solitude possible was by asking for half an hour’s
practice in the cell-like music rooms, and Harris smiled to himself as
he recalled the zeal of his violin studies.

Then, as the train puffed laboriously through the great pine forests
that cover these mountains with a giant carpet of velvet, he found the
pleasanter layers of memory giving up their dead, and he recalled with
admiration the kindness of the masters, whom all addressed as Brother,
and marvelled afresh at their devotion in burying themselves for years
in such a place, only to leave it, in most cases, for the still rougher
life of missionaries in the wild places of the world.

He thought once more of the still, religious atmosphere that hung
over the little forest community like a veil, barring the distressful
world; of the picturesque ceremonies at Easter, Christmas, and New
Year; of the numerous feast-days and charming little festivals. The
_Beschehr-Fest_, in particular, came back to him,--the feast of gifts
at Christmas,--when the entire community paired off and gave presents,
many of which had taken weeks to make or the savings of many days to
purchase. And then he saw the midnight ceremony in the church at New
Year, with the shining face of the _Prediger_ in the pulpit,--the
village preacher who, on the last night of the old year, saw in the
empty gallery beyond the organ loft the faces of all who were to die
in the ensuing twelve months, and who at last recognised himself among
them, and, in the very middle of his sermon, passed into a state of
rapt ecstasy and burst into a torrent of praise.

Thickly the memories crowded upon him. The picture of the small village
dreaming its unselfish life on the mountain-tops, clean, wholesome,
simple, searching vigorously for its God, and training hundreds of
boys in the grand way, rose up in his mind with all the power of an
obsession. He felt once more the old mystical enthusiasm, deeper than
the sea and more wonderful than the stars; he heard again the winds
sighing from leagues of forest over the red roofs in the moonlight; he
heard the Brothers’ voices talking of the things beyond this life as
though they had actually experienced them in the body; and, as he sat
in the jolting train, a spirit of unutterable longing passed over his
seared and tired soul, stirring in the depths of him a sea of emotions
that he thought had long since frozen into immobility.

And the contrast pained him,--the idealistic dreamer then, the man of
business now,--so that a spirit of unworldly peace and beauty known
only to the soul in meditation laid its feathered finger upon his
heart, moving strangely the surface of the waters.

Harris shivered a little and looked out of the window of his empty
carriage. The train had long passed Hornberg, and far below the streams
tumbled in white foam down the limestone rocks. In front of him, dome
upon dome of wooded mountain stood against the sky. It was October,
and the air was cool and sharp, wood-smoke and damp moss exquisitely
mingled in it with the subtle odours of the pines. Overhead, between
the tips of the highest firs, he saw the first stars peeping, and the
sky was a clean, pale amethyst that seemed exactly the colour all these
memories clothed themselves with in his mind.

He leaned back in his corner and sighed. He was a heavy man, and he had
not known sentiment for years; he was a big man, and it took much to
move him, literally and figuratively; he was a man in whom the dreams
of God that haunt the soul in youth, though overlaid by the scum that
gathers in the fight for money, had not, as with the majority, utterly
died the death.

He came back into this little neglected pocket of the years, where
so much fine gold had collected and lain undisturbed, with all his
semi-spiritual emotions aquiver; and, as he watched the mountain-tops
come nearer, and smelt the forgotten odours of his boyhood, something
melted on the surface of his soul and left him sensitive to a degree he
had not known since, thirty years before, he had lived here with his
dreams, his conflicts, and his youthful suffering.

A thrill ran through him as the train stopped with a jolt at a tiny
station and he saw the name in large black lettering on the grey stone
building, and below it, the number of metres it stood above the level
of the sea.

“The highest point on the line!” he exclaimed. “How well I remember
it--Sommerau--Summer Meadow. The very next station is mine!”

And, as the train ran downhill with brakes on and steam shut off, he
put his head out of the window and one by one saw the old familiar
landmarks in the dusk. They stared at him like dead faces in a dream.
Queer, sharp feelings, half poignant, half sweet, stirred in his heart.

“There’s the hot, white road we walked along so often with the two
Brüder always at our heels,” he thought; “and there, by Jove, is the
turn through the forest to ‘_Die Galgen_,’ the stone gallows where they
hanged the witches in olden days!”

He smiled a little as the train slid past.

“And there’s the copse where the Lilies of the Valley powdered the
ground in spring; and, I swear,”--he put his head out with a sudden
impulse,--“if that’s not the very clearing where Calame, the French
boy, chased the swallow-tail with me, and Bruder Pagel gave us
half-rations for leaving the road without permission, and for shouting
in our mother tongues!” And he laughed again as the memories came back
with a rush, flooding his mind with vivid detail.

The train stopped, and he stood on the grey gravel platform like a man
in a dream. It seemed half a century since he last waited there with
corded wooden boxes, and got into the train for Strassbourg and home
after the two years’ exile. Time dropped from him like an old garment
and he felt a boy again. Only, things looked so much smaller than his
memory of them; shrunk and dwindled they looked, and the distances
seemed on a curiously smaller scale.

He made his way across the road to the little Gasthaus, and, as he
went, faces and figures of former schoolfellows,--German, Swiss,
Italian, French, Russian,--slipped out of the shadowy woods and
silently accompanied him. They flitted by his side, raising their eyes
questioningly, sadly, to his. But their names he had forgotten. Some
of the Brothers, too, came with them, and most of these he remembered
by name--Bruder Röst, Bruder Pagel, Bruder Schliemann, and the bearded
face of the old preacher who had seen himself in the haunted gallery
of those about to die--Bruder Gysin. The dark forest lay all about
him like a sea that any moment might rush with velvet waves upon the
scene and sweep all the faces away. The air was cool and wonderfully
fragrant, but with every perfumed breath came also a pallid memory....

Yet, in spite of the underlying sadness inseparable from such an
experience, it was all very interesting, and held a pleasure peculiarly
its own, so that Harris engaged his room and ordered supper feeling
well pleased with himself, and intending to walk up to the old school
that very evening. It stood in the centre of the community’s village,
some four miles distant through the forest, and he now recollected for
the first time that this little Protestant settlement dwelt isolated
in a section of the country that was otherwise Catholic. Crucifixes
and shrines surrounded the clearing like the sentries of a beleaguring
army. Once beyond the square of the village, with its few acres of
field and orchard, the forest crowded up in solid phalanxes, and beyond
the rim of trees began the country that was ruled by the priests of
another faith. He vaguely remembered, too, that the Catholics had
showed sometimes a certain hostility towards the little Protestant
oasis that flourished so quietly and benignly in their midst. He had
quite forgotten this. How trumpery it all seemed now with his wide
experience of life and his knowledge of other countries and the great
outside world. It was like stepping back, not thirty years, but three
hundred.

There were only two others besides himself at supper. One of them, a
bearded, middle-aged man in tweeds, sat by himself at the far end,
and Harris kept out of his way because he was English. He feared he
might be in business, possibly even in the silk business, and that
he would perhaps talk on the subject. The other traveller, however,
was a Catholic priest. He was a little man who ate his salad with a
knife, yet so gently that it was almost inoffensive, and it was the
sight of “the cloth” that recalled his memory of the old antagonism.
Harris mentioned by way of conversation the object of his sentimental
journey, and the priest looked up sharply at him with raised eyebrows
and an expression of surprise and suspicion that somehow piqued him. He
ascribed it to his difference of belief.

“Yes,” went on the silk merchant, pleased to talk of what his mind was
so full, “and it was a curious experience for an English boy to be
dropped down into a school of a hundred foreigners. I well remember the
loneliness and intolerable Heimweh of it at first.” His German was very
fluent.

The priest opposite looked up from his cold veal and potato salad and
smiled. It was a nice face. He explained quietly that he did not belong
here, but was making a tour of the parishes of Württemberg and Baden.

“It was a strict life,” added Harris. “We English, I remember, used to
call it _Gefängnisleben_--prison life!”

The face of the other, for some unaccountable reason, darkened. After a
slight pause, and more by way of politeness than because he wished to
continue the subject, he said quietly--

“It was a flourishing school in those days, of course. Afterwards,
I have heard----” He shrugged his shoulders slightly, and the odd
look--it almost seemed a look of alarm--came back into his eyes. The
sentence remained unfinished.

Something in the tone of the man seemed to his listener uncalled
for--in a sense reproachful, singular. Harris bridled in spite of
himself.

“It has changed?” he asked. “I can hardly believe----”

“You have not heard, then?” observed the priest gently, making a
gesture as though to cross himself, yet not actually completing it.
“You have not heard what happened there before it was abandoned----?”

It was very childish, of course, and perhaps he was overtired and
overwrought in some way, but the words and manner of the little priest
seemed to him so offensive--so disproportionately offensive--that he
hardly noticed the concluding sentence. He recalled the old bitterness
and the old antagonism, and for a moment he almost lost his temper.

“Nonsense,” he interrupted with a forced laugh, “_Unsinn!_ You must
forgive me, sir, for contradicting you. But I was a pupil there
myself. I was at school there. There was no place like it. I cannot
believe that anything serious could have happened to--to take away its
character. The devotion of the Brothers would be difficult to equal
anywhere----”

He broke off suddenly, realising that his voice had been raised unduly
and that the man at the far end of the table might understand German;
and at the same moment he looked up and saw that this individual’s
eyes were fixed upon his face intently. They were peculiarly bright.
Also they were rather wonderful eyes, and the way they met his own
served in some way he could not understand to convey both a reproach
and a warning. The whole face of the stranger, indeed, made a vivid
impression upon him, for it was a face, he now noticed for the first
time, in whose presence one would not willingly have said or done
anything unworthy. Harris could not explain to himself how it was he
had not become conscious sooner of its presence.

But he could have bitten off his tongue for having so far forgotten
himself. The little priest lapsed into silence. Only once he said,
looking up and speaking in a low voice that was not intended to be
overheard, but that evidently _was_ overheard, “You will find it
different.” Presently he rose and left the table with a polite bow that
included both the others.

And, after him, from the far end rose also the figure in the tweed
suit, leaving Harris by himself.

He sat on for a bit in the darkening room, sipping his coffee and
smoking his fifteen-pfennig cigar, till the girl came in to light the
oil lamps. He felt vexed with himself for his lapse from good manners,
yet hardly able to account for it. Most likely, he reflected, he
had been annoyed because the priest had unintentionally changed the
pleasant character of his dream by introducing a jarring note. Later he
must seek an opportunity to make amends. At present, however, he was
too impatient for his walk to the school, and he took his stick and hat
and passed out into the open air.

And, as he crossed before the Gasthaus, he noticed that the priest
and the man in the tweed suit were engaged already in such deep
conversation that they hardly noticed him as he passed and raised his
hat.

He started off briskly, well remembering the way, and hoping to reach
the village in time to have a word with one of the Brüder. They might
even ask him in for a cup of coffee. He felt sure of his welcome, and
the old memories were in full possession once more. The hour of return
was a matter of no consequence whatever.

It was then just after seven o’clock, and the October evening was
drawing in with chill airs from the recesses of the forest. The road
plunged straight from the railway clearing into its depths, and in a
very few minutes the trees engulfed him and the clack of his boots
fell dead and echoless against the serried stems of a million firs. It
was very black; one trunk was hardly distinguishable from another. He
walked smartly, swinging his holly stick. Once or twice he passed a
peasant on his way to bed, and the guttural “Gruss Got,” unheard for
so long, emphasised the passage of time, while yet making it seem as
nothing. A fresh group of pictures crowded his mind. Again the figures
of former schoolfellows flitted out of the forest and kept pace by his
side, whispering of the doings of long ago. One reverie stepped hard
upon the heels of another. Every turn in the road, every clearing of
the forest, he knew, and each in turn brought forgotten associations to
life. He enjoyed himself thoroughly.

He marched on and on. There was powdered gold in the sky till the moon
rose, and then a wind of faint silver spread silently between the
earth and stars. He saw the tips of the fir trees shimmer, and heard
them whisper as the breeze turned their needles towards the light. The
mountain air was indescribably sweet. The road shone like the foam of a
river through the gloom. White moths flitted here and there like silent
thoughts across his path, and a hundred smells greeted him from the
forest caverns across the years.

Then, when he least expected it, the trees fell away abruptly on both
sides, and he stood on the edge of the village clearing.

He walked faster. There lay the familiar outlines of the houses,
sheeted with silver; there stood the trees in the little central square
with the fountain and small green lawns; there loomed the shape of
the church next to the Gasthof der Brüdergemeinde; and just beyond,
dimly rising into the sky, he saw with a sudden thrill the mass of
the huge school building, blocked castle-like with deep shadows in
the moonlight, standing square and formidable to face him after the
silences of more than a quarter of a century.

He passed quickly down the deserted village street and stopped close
beneath its shadow, staring up at the walls that had once held
him prisoner for two years--two unbroken years of discipline and
homesickness. Memories and emotions surged through his mind; for the
most vivid sensations of his youth had focused about this spot, and
it was here he had first begun to live and learn values. Not a single
footstep broke the silence, though lights glimmered here and there
through cottage windows; but when he looked up at the high walls of
the school, draped now in shadow, he easily imagined that well-known
faces crowded to the windows to greet him--closed windows that really
reflected only moonlight and the gleam of stars.

This, then, was the old school building, standing foursquare to the
world, with its shuttered windows, its lofty, tiled roof, and the
spiked lightning-conductors pointing like black and taloned fingers
from the corners. For a long time he stood and stared. Then,
presently, he came to himself again, and realised to his joy that a
light still shone in the windows of the _Bruderstube_.

He turned from the road and passed through the iron railings; then
climbed the twelve stone steps and stood facing the black wooden door
with the heavy bars of iron, a door he had once loathed and dreaded
with the hatred and passion of an imprisoned soul, but now looked upon
tenderly with a sort of boyish delight.

Almost timorously he pulled the rope and listened with a tremor of
excitement to the clanging of the bell deep within the building. And
the long-forgotten sound brought the past before him with such a
vivid sense of reality that he positively shivered. It was like the
magic bell in the fairy-tale that rolls back the curtain of Time and
summons the figures from the shadows of the dead. He had never felt so
sentimental in his life. It was like being young again. And, at the
same time, he began to bulk rather large in his own eyes with a certain
spurious importance. He was a big man from the world of strife and
action. In this little place of peaceful dreams would he, perhaps, not
cut something of a figure?

“I’ll try once more,” he thought after a long pause, seizing the iron
bell-rope, and was just about to pull it when a step sounded on the
stone passage within, and the huge door slowly swung open.

A tall man with a rather severe cast of countenance stood facing him in
silence.

“I must apologise--it is somewhat late,” he began a trifle pompously,
“but the fact is I am an old pupil. I have only just arrived and really
could not restrain myself.” His German seemed not quite so fluent as
usual. “My interest is so great. I was here in ’70.”

The other opened the door wider and at once bowed him in with a smile
of genuine welcome.

“I am Bruder Kalkmann,” he said quietly in a deep voice. “I myself was
a master here about that time. It is a great pleasure always to welcome
a former pupil.” He looked at him very keenly for a few seconds,
and then added, “I think, too, it is splendid of you to come--very
splendid.”

“It is a very great pleasure,” Harris replied, delighted with his
reception.

The dimly-lighted corridor with its flooring of grey stone, and the
familiar sound of a German voice echoing through it,--with the peculiar
intonation the Brothers always used in speaking,--all combined to lift
him bodily, as it were, into the dream-atmosphere of long-forgotten
days. He stepped gladly into the building and the door shut with the
familiar thunder that completed the reconstruction of the past. He
almost felt the old sense of imprisonment, of aching nostalgia, of
having lost his liberty.

Harris sighed involuntarily and turned towards his host, who returned
his smile faintly and then led the way down the corridor.

“The boys have retired,” he explained, “and, as you remember, we keep
early hours here. But, at least, you will join us for a little while in
the _Bruderstube_ and enjoy a cup of coffee.” This was precisely what
the silk merchant had hoped, and he accepted with an alacrity that he
intended to be tempered by graciousness. “And tomorrow,” continued the
Bruder, “you must come and spend a whole day with us. You may even find
acquaintances, for several pupils of your day have come back here as
masters.”

For one brief second there passed into the man’s eyes a look that
made the visitor start. But it vanished as quickly as it came. It was
impossible to define. Harris convinced himself it was the effect of a
shadow cast by the lamp they had just passed on the wall. He dismissed
it from his mind.

“You are very kind, I’m sure,” he said politely. “It is perhaps a
greater pleasure to me than you can imagine to see the place again.
Ah,”--he stopped short opposite a door with the upper half of glass
and peered in--“surely there is one of the music rooms where I used to
practise the violin. How it comes back to me after all these years!”

Bruder Kalkmann stopped indulgently, smiling, to allow his guest a
moment’s inspection.

“You still have the boys’ orchestra? I remember I used to play ‘_zweite
Geige_’ in it. Bruder Schliemann conducted at the piano. Dear me, I can
see him now with his long black hair and--and----” He stopped abruptly.
Again the odd, dark look passed over the stern face of his companion.
For an instant it seemed curiously familiar.

“We still keep up the pupils’ orchestra,” he said, “but Bruder
Schliemann, I am sorry to say----” he hesitated an instant, and then
added, “Bruder Schliemann is dead.”

“Indeed, indeed,” said Harris quickly. “I am sorry to hear it.” He was
conscious of a faint feeling of distress, but whether it arose from
the news of his old music teacher’s death, or--from something else--he
could not quite determine. He gazed down the corridor that lost itself
among shadows. In the street and village everything had seemed so
much smaller than he remembered, but here, inside the school building,
everything seemed so much bigger. The corridor was loftier and longer,
more spacious and vast, than the mental picture he had preserved. His
thoughts wandered dreamily for an instant.

He glanced up and saw the face of the Bruder watching him with a smile
of patient indulgence.

“Your memories possess you,” he observed gently, and the stern look
passed into something almost pitying.

“You are right,” returned the man of silk, “they do. This was the most
wonderful period of my whole life in a sense. At the time I hated
it----” He hesitated, not wishing to hurt the Brother’s feelings.

“According to English ideas it seemed strict, of course,” the other
said persuasively, so that he went on.

“----Yes, partly that; and partly the ceaseless nostalgia, and the
solitude which came from never being really alone. In English schools
the boys enjoy peculiar freedom, you know.”

Bruder Kalkmann, he saw, was listening intently.

“But it produced one result that I have never wholly lost,” he
continued self-consciously, “and am grateful for.”

“_Ach! Wie so, denn?_”

“The constant inner pain threw me headlong into your religious life, so
that the whole force of my being seemed to project itself towards the
search for a deeper satisfaction--a real resting-place for the soul.
During my two years here I yearned for God in my boyish way as perhaps
I have never yearned for anything since. Moreover, I have never quite
lost that sense of peace and inward joy which accompanied the search. I
can never quite forget this school and the deep things it taught me.”

He paused at the end of his long speech, and a brief silence fell
between them. He feared he had said too much, or expressed himself
clumsily in the foreign language, and when Bruder Kalkmann laid a hand
upon his shoulder, he gave a little involuntary start.

“So that my memories perhaps do possess me rather strongly,” he added
apologetically; “and this long corridor, these rooms, that barred and
gloomy front door, all touch chords that--that----” His German failed
him and he glanced at his companion with an explanatory smile and
gesture. But the brother had removed the hand from his shoulder and was
standing with his back to him, looking down the passage.

“Naturally, naturally so,” he said hastily without turning round. “_Es
ist doch selbstverständlich._ We shall all understand.”

Then he turned suddenly, and Harris saw that his face had turned most
oddly and disagreeably sinister. It may only have been the shadows
again playing their tricks with the wretched oil lamps on the wall,
for the dark expression passed instantly as they retraced their steps
down the corridor, but the Englishman somehow got the impression that
he had said something to give offence, something that was not quite to
the other’s taste. Opposite the door of the _Bruderstube_ they stopped.
Harris realised that it was late and he had possibly stayed talking too
long. He made a tentative effort to leave, but his companion would not
hear of it.

“You must have a cup of coffee with us,” he said firmly as though he
meant it, “and my colleagues will be delighted to see you. Some of them
will remember you, perhaps.”

The sound of voices came pleasantly through the door, men’s voices
talking together. Bruder Kalkmann turned the handle and they entered a
room ablaze with light and full of people.

“Ah,--but your name?” he whispered, bending down to catch the reply;
“you have not told me your name yet.”

“Harris,” said the Englishman quickly as they went in. He felt nervous
as he crossed the threshold, but ascribed the momentary trepidation
to the fact that he was breaking the strictest rule of the whole
establishment, which forbade a boy under severest penalties to come
near this holy of holies where the masters took their brief leisure.

“Ah, yes, of course--Harris,” repeated the other as though he
remembered it “Come in, Herr Harris, come in, please. Your visit will
be immensely appreciated. It is really very fine, very wonderful of you
to have come in this way.”

The door closed behind them and, in the sudden light which made his
sight swim for a moment, the exaggeration of the language escaped his
attention. He heard the voice of Bruder Kalkmann introducing him. He
spoke very loud, indeed, unnecessarily,--absurdly loud, Harris thought.

“Brothers,” he announced, “it is my pleasure and privilege to introduce
to you Herr Harris from England. He has just arrived to make us a
little visit, and I have already expressed to him on behalf of us all
the satisfaction we feel that he is here. He was, as you remember, a
pupil in the year ’70.”

It was a very formal, a very German introduction, but Harris rather
liked it. It made him feel important and he appreciated the tact that
made it almost seem as though he had been expected.

The black forms rose and bowed; Harris bowed; Kalkmann bowed. Every one
was very polite and very courtly. The room swam with moving figures;
the light dazzled him after the gloom of the corridor; there was thick
cigar smoke in the atmosphere. He took the chair that was offered to
him between two of the Brothers, and sat down, feeling vaguely that his
perceptions were not quite as keen and accurate as usual. He felt a
trifle dazed perhaps, and the spell of the past came strongly over him,
confusing the immediate present and making everything dwindle oddly to
the dimensions of long ago. He seemed to pass under the mastery of a
great mood that was a composite reproduction of all the moods of his
forgotten boyhood.

Then he pulled himself together with a sharp effort and entered into
the conversation that had begun again to buzz round him. Moreover,
he entered into it with keen pleasure, for the Brothers--there were
perhaps a dozen of them in the little room--treated him with a charm
of manner that speedily made him feel one of themselves. This, again,
was a very subtle delight to him. He felt that he had stepped out
of the greedy, vulgar, self-seeking world, the world of silk and
markets and profit-making--stepped into the cleaner atmosphere where
spiritual ideals were paramount and life was simple and devoted.
It all charmed him inexpressibly, so that he realised--yes, in a
sense--the degradation of his twenty years’ absorption in business.
This keen atmosphere under the stars where men thought only of their
souls, and of the souls of others, was too rarefied for the world he
was now associated with. He found himself making comparisons to his
own disadvantage,--comparisons with the mystical little dreamer that
had stepped thirty years before from the stern peace of this devout
community, and the man of the world that he had since become,--and
the contrast made him shiver with a keen regret and something like
self-contempt.

He glanced round at the other faces floating towards him through
tobacco smoke--this acrid cigar smoke he remembered so well: how keen
they were, how strong, placid, touched with the nobility of great aims
and unselfish purposes. At one or two he looked particularly. He hardly
knew why. They rather fascinated him. There was something so very stern
and uncompromising about them, and something, too, oddly, subtly,
familiar, that yet just eluded him. But whenever their eyes met his own
they held undeniable welcome in them; and some held more--a kind of
perplexed admiration, he thought, something that was between esteem and
deference. This note of respect in all the faces was very flattering to
his vanity.

Coffee was served presently, made by a black-haired Brother who sat
in the corner by the piano and bore a marked resemblance to Bruder
Schliemann, the musical director of thirty years ago. Harris exchanged
bows with him when he took the cup from his white hands, which he
noticed were like the hands of a woman. He lit a cigar, offered to him
by his neighbour, with whom he was chatting delightfully, and who, in
the glare of the lighted match, reminded him sharply for a moment of
Bruder Pagel, his former room-master.

“_Es ist wirklich merkwürdig_,” he said, “how many resemblances I see,
or imagine. It is really _very_ curious!”

“Yes,” replied the other, peering at him over his coffee cup, “the
spell of the place is wonderfully strong. I can well understand that
the old faces rise before your mind’s eye--almost to the exclusion of
ourselves perhaps.”

They both laughed pleasantly. It was soothing to find his mood
understood and appreciated. And they passed on to talk of the mountain
village, its isolation, its remoteness from worldly life, its peculiar
fitness for meditation and worship, and for spiritual development--of a
certain kind.

“And your coming back in this way, Herr Harris, has pleased us all so
much,” joined in the Bruder on his left. “We esteem you for it most
highly. We honour you for it.”

Harris made a deprecating gesture. “I fear, for my part, it is only a
very selfish pleasure,” he said a trifle unctuously.

“Not all would have had the courage,” added the one who resembled
Bruder Pagel.

“You mean,” said Harris, a little puzzled, “the disturbing
memories----?”

Bruder Pagel looked at him steadily, with unmistakable admiration and
respect. “I mean that most men hold so strongly to life, and can give
up so little for their beliefs,” he said gravely.

The Englishman felt slightly uncomfortable. These worthy men really
made too much of his sentimental journey. Besides, the talk was getting
a little out of his depth. He hardly followed it.

“The worldly life still has _some_ charms for me,” he replied
smilingly, as though to indicate that sainthood was not yet quite
within his grasp.

“All the more, then, must we honour you for so freely coming,” said the
Brother on his left; “so unconditionally!”

A pause followed, and the silk merchant felt relieved when the
conversation took a more general turn, although he noted that it never
travelled very far from the subject of his visit and the wonderful
situation of the lonely village for men who wished to develop their
spiritual powers and practise the rites of a high worship. Others
joined in, complimenting him on his knowledge of the language,
making him feel utterly at his ease, yet at the same time a little
uncomfortable by the excess of their admiration. After all, it was such
a very small thing to do, this sentimental journey.

The time passed along quickly; the coffee was excellent, the cigars
soft and of the nutty flavour he loved. At length, fearing to outstay
his welcome, he rose reluctantly to take his leave. But the others
would not hear of it. It was not often a former pupil returned to visit
them in this simple, unaffected way. The night was young. If necessary
they could even find him a corner in the great _Schlafzimmer_ upstairs.
He was easily persuaded to stay a little longer. Somehow he had become
the centre of the little party. He felt pleased, flattered, honoured.

“And perhaps Bruder Schliemann will play something for us--now.”

It was Kalkmann speaking, and Harris started visibly as he heard the
name, and saw the black-haired man by the piano turn with a smile. For
Schliemann was the name of his old music director, who was dead. Could
this be his son? They were so exactly alike.

“If Bruder Meyer has not put his Amati to bed, I will accompany him,”
said the musician suggestively, looking across at a man whom Harris had
not yet noticed, and who, he now saw, was the very image of a former
master of that name.

Meyer rose and excused himself with a little bow, and the Englishman
quickly observed that he had a peculiar gesture as though his neck had
a false join on to the body just below the collar and feared it might
break. Meyer of old had this trick of movement. He remembered how the
boys used to copy it.

He glanced sharply from face to face, feeling as though some silent,
unseen process were changing everything about him. All the faces seemed
oddly familiar. Pagel, the Brother he had been talking with, was of
course the image of Pagel, his former room-master; and Kalkmann, he now
realised for the first time, was the very twin of another master whose
name he had quite forgotten, but whom he used to dislike intensely in
the old days. And, through the smoke, peering at him from the corners
of the room, he saw that all the Brothers about him had the faces he
had known and lived with long ago--Röst, Fluheim, Meinert, Rigel, Gysin.

He stared hard, suddenly grown more alert, and everywhere saw, or
fancied he saw, strange likenesses, ghostly resemblances,--more, the
identical faces of years ago. There was something queer about it all,
something not quite right, something that made him feel uneasy. He
shook himself, mentally and actually, blowing the smoke from before his
eyes with a long breath, and as he did so he noticed to his dismay that
every one was fixedly staring. They were watching him.

This brought him to his senses. As an Englishman, and a foreigner, he
did not wish to be rude, or to do anything to make himself foolishly
conspicuous and spoil the harmony of the evening. He was a guest, and a
privileged guest at that. Besides, the music had already begun. Bruder
Schliemann’s long white fingers were caressing the keys to some purpose.

He subsided into his chair and smoked with half-closed eyes that yet
saw everything.

But the shudder had established itself in his being, and, whether he
would or not, it kept repeating itself. As a town, far up some inland
river, feels the pressure of the distant sea, so he became aware that
mighty forces from somewhere beyond his ken were urging themselves
up against his soul in this smoky little room. He began to feel
exceedingly ill at ease.

And as the music filled the air his mind began to clear. Like a lifted
veil there rose up something that had hitherto obscured his vision.
The words of the priest at the railway inn flashed across his brain
unbidden: “You will find it different.” And also, though why he
could not tell, he saw mentally the strong, rather wonderful eyes of
that other guest at the supper-table, the man who had overhead his
conversation, and had later got into earnest talk with the priest. He
took out his watch and stole a glance at it. Two hours had slipped by.
It was already eleven o’clock.

Schliemann, meanwhile, utterly absorbed in his music, was playing a
solemn measure. The piano sang marvellously. The power of a great
conviction, the simplicity of great art, the vital spiritual message
of a soul that had found itself--all this, and more, were in the
chords, and yet somehow the music was what can only be described as
impure--atrociously and diabolically impure. And the piece itself,
although Harris did not recognise it as anything familiar, was surely
the music of a Mass--huge, majestic, sombre? It stalked through the
smoky room with slow power, like the passage of something that was
mighty, yet profoundly intimate, and as it went there stirred into each
and every face about him the signature of the enormous forces of which
it was the audible symbol. The countenances round him turned sinister,
but not idly, negatively sinister: they grew dark with purpose. He
suddenly recalled the face of Bruder Kalkmann in the corridor earlier
in the evening. The motives of their secret souls rose to the eyes, and
mouths, and foreheads, and hung there for all to see like the black
banners of an assembly of ill-starred and fallen creatures. Demons--was
the horrible word that flashed through his brain like a sheet of fire.

When this sudden discovery leaped out upon him, for a moment he lost
his self-control. Without waiting to think and weigh his extraordinary
impression, he did a very foolish but a very natural thing. Feeling
himself irresistibly driven by the sudden stress to some kind of
action, he sprang to his feet--and screamed! To his own utter
amazement he stood up and shrieked aloud!

But no one stirred. No one, apparently, took the slightest notice of
his absurdly wild behaviour. It was almost as if no one but himself
had heard the scream at all--as though the music had drowned it and
swallowed it up--as though after all perhaps he had not really screamed
as loudly as he imagined, or had not screamed at all.

Then, as he glanced at the motionless, dark faces before him, something
of utter cold passed into his being, touching his very soul.... All
emotion cooled suddenly, leaving him like a receding tide. He sat down
again, ashamed, mortified, angry with himself for behaving like a fool
and a boy. And the music, meanwhile, continued to issue from the white
and snake-like fingers of Bruder Schliemann, as poisoned wine might
issue from the weirdly-fashioned necks of antique phials.

And, with the rest of them, Harris drank it in.

Forcing himself to believe that he had been the victim of some kind of
illusory perception, he vigorously restrained his feelings. Then the
music presently ceased, and every one applauded and began to talk at
once, laughing, changing seats, complimenting the player, and behaving
naturally and easily as though nothing out of the way had happened.
The faces appeared normal once more. The Brothers crowded round their
visitor, and he joined in their talk and even heard himself thanking
the gifted musician.

But, at the same time, he found himself edging towards the door, nearer
and nearer, changing his chair when possible, and joining the groups
that stood closest to the way of escape.

“I must thank you all _tausendmal_ for my little reception and the
great pleasure--the very great honour you have done me,” he began in
decided tones at length, “but I fear I have trespassed far too long
already on your hospitality. Moreover, I have some distance to walk to
my inn.”

A chorus of voices greeted his words. They would not hear of his
going,--at least not without first partaking of refreshment. They
produced pumpernickel from one cupboard, and rye-bread and sausage from
another, and all began to talk again and eat. More coffee was made,
fresh cigars lighted, and Bruder Meyer took out his violin and began to
tune it softly.

“There is always a bed upstairs if Herr Harris will accept it,” said
one.

“And it is difficult to find the way out now, for all the doors are
locked,” laughed another loudly.

“Let us take our simple pleasures as they come,” cried a third. “Bruder
Harris will understand how we appreciate the honour of this last visit
of his.”

They made a dozen excuses. They all laughed, as though the politeness
of their words was but formal, and veiled thinly--more and more
thinly--a very different meaning.

“And the hour of midnight draws near,” added Bruder Kalkmann with a
charming smile, but in a voice that sounded to the Englishman like the
grating of iron hinges.

Their German seemed to him more and more difficult to understand.
He noted that they called him “Bruder” too, classing him as one of
themselves.

And then suddenly he had a flash of keener perception, and
realised with a creeping of his flesh that he had all along
misinterpreted--grossly misinterpreted all they had been saying. They
had talked about the beauty of the place, its isolation and remoteness
from the world, its peculiar fitness for certain kinds of spiritual
development and worship--yet hardly, he now grasped, in the sense in
which he had taken the words. They had meant something different.
Their spiritual powers, their desire for loneliness, their passion
for worship, were not the powers, the solitude, or the worship that
_he_ meant and understood. He was playing a part in some horrible
masquerade; he was among men who cloaked their lives with religion in
order to follow their real purposes unseen of men.

What did it all mean? How had he blundered into so equivocal a
situation? Had he blundered into it at all? Had he not rather been led
into it, deliberately led? His thoughts grew dreadfully confused, and
his confidence in himself began to fade. And why, he suddenly thought
again, were they so impressed by the mere fact of his coming to revisit
his old school? What was it they so admired and wondered at in his
simple act? Why did they set such store upon his having the courage to
come, to “give himself so freely,” “unconditionally” as one of them had
expressed it with such a mockery of exaggeration?

Fear stirred in his heart most horribly, and he found no answer to any
of his questionings. Only one thing he now understood quite clearly:
it was their purpose to keep him here. They did not intend that he
should go. And from this moment he realised that they were sinister,
formidable and, in some way he had yet to discover, inimical to
himself, inimical to his life. And the phrase one of them had used a
moment ago--“this _last_ visit of his”--rose before his eyes in letters
of flame.

Harris was not a man of action, and had never known in all the course
of his career what it meant to be in a situation of real danger. He
was not necessarily a coward, though, perhaps, a man of untried nerve.
He realised at last plainly that he was in a very awkward predicament
indeed, and that he had to deal with men who were utterly in earnest.
What their intentions were he only vaguely guessed. His mind, indeed,
was too confused for definite ratiocination, and he was only able to
follow blindly the strongest instincts that moved in him. It never
occurred to him that the Brothers might all be mad, or that he himself
might have temporarily lost his senses and be suffering under some
terrible delusion. In fact, nothing occurred to him--he realised
nothing--except that he meant to escape--and the quicker the better. A
tremendous revulsion of feeling set in and overpowered him.

Accordingly, without further protest for the moment, he ate his
pumpernickel and drank his coffee, talking meanwhile as naturally and
pleasantly as he could, and when a suitable interval had passed, he
rose to his feet and announced once more that he must now take his
leave. He spoke very quietly, but very decidedly. No one hearing him
could doubt that he meant what he said. He had got very close to the
door by this time.

“I regret,” he said, using his best German, and speaking to a hushed
room, “that our pleasant evening must come to an end, but it is now
time for me to wish you all good-night.” And then, as no one said
anything, he added, though with a trifle less assurance, “And I thank
you all most sincerely for your hospitality.”

“On the contrary,” replied Kalkmann instantly, rising from his chair
and ignoring the hand the Englishman had stretched out to him, “it is
we who have to thank you; and we do so most gratefully and sincerely.”

And at the same moment at least half a dozen of the Brothers took up
their position between himself and the door.

“You are very good to say so,” Harris replied as firmly as he could
manage, noticing this movement out of the corner of his eye, “but
really I had no conception that--my little chance visit could have
afforded you so much pleasure.” He moved another step nearer the door,
but Bruder Schliemann came across the room quickly and stood in front
of him. His attitude was uncompromising. A dark and terrible expression
had come into his face.

“But it was _not_ by chance that you came, Bruder Harris,” he said so
that all the room could hear; “surely we have not misunderstood your
presence here?” He raised his black eyebrows.

“No, no,” the Englishman hastened to reply. “I was--I am delighted
to be here. I told you what pleasure it gave me to find myself among
you. Do not misunderstand me, I beg.” His voice faltered a little, and
he had difficulty in finding the words. More and more, too, he had
difficulty in understanding _their_ words.

“Of course,” interposed Bruder Kalkmann in his iron bass, “_we_ have
not misunderstood. You have come back in the spirit of true and
unselfish devotion. You offer yourself freely, and we all appreciate
it. It is your willingness and nobility that have so completely won our
veneration and respect.” A faint murmur of applause ran round the room.
“What we all delight in--what our great Master will especially delight
in--is the value of your spontaneous and voluntary----”

He used a word Harris did not understand. He said “_Opfer_.” The
bewildered Englishman searched his brain for the translation, and
searched in vain. For the life of him he could not remember what it
meant. But the word, for all his inability to translate it, touched his
soul with ice. It was worse, far worse, than anything he had imagined.
He felt like a lost, helpless creature, and all power to fight sank out
of him from that moment.

“It is magnificent to be such a willing----” added Schliemann, sidling
up to him with a dreadful leer on his face. He made use of the same
word--“_Opfer_.”

God! What could it all mean? “Offer himself!” “True spirit of
devotion!” “Willing,” “unselfish,” “magnificent!” _Opfer, Opfer,
Opfer!_ What in the name of heaven did it mean, that strange,
mysterious word that struck such terror into his heart?

He made a valiant effort to keep his presence of mind and hold his
nerves steady. Turning, he saw that Kalkmann’s face was a dead white.
Kalkmann! He understood that well enough. _Kalkmann_ meant “Man of
Chalk”; he knew that. But what did “_Opfer_” mean? That was the real
key to the situation. Words poured through his disordered mind in an
endless stream--unusual, rare words he had perhaps heard but once in
his life--while “_Opfer_,” a word in common use, entirely escaped him.
What an extraordinary mockery it all was!

Then Kalkmann, pale as death, but his face hard as iron, spoke a few
low words that he did not catch, and the Brothers standing by the walls
at once turned the lamps down so that the room became dim. In the half
light he could only just discern their faces and movements.

“It is time,” he heard Kalkmann’s remorseless voice continue just
behind him. “The hour of midnight is at hand. Let us prepare. He comes!
He comes; Bruder Asmodelius comes!” His voice rose to a chant.

And the sound of that name, for some extraordinary reason, was
terrible--utterly terrible; so that Harris shook from head to foot as
he heard it. Its utterance filled the air like soft thunder, and a hush
came over the whole room. Forces rose all about him, transforming the
normal into the horrible, and the spirit of craven fear ran through all
his being, bringing him to the verge of collapse.

_Asmodelius! Asmodelius!_ The name was appalling. For he understood at
last to whom it referred and the meaning that lay between its great
syllables. At the same instant, too, he suddenly understood the meaning
of that unremembered word. The import of the word “_Opfer_” flashed
upon his soul like a message of death.

He thought of making a wild effort to reach the door, but the weakness
of his trembling knees, and the row of black figures that stood
between, dissuaded him at once. He would have screamed for help, but
remembering the emptiness of the vast building, and the loneliness of
the situation, he understood that no help could come that way, and he
kept his lips closed. He stood still and did nothing. But he knew now
what was coming.

Two of the brothers approached and took him gently by the arm.

“Bruder Asmodelius accepts you,” they whispered; “are you ready?”

Then he found his tongue and tried to speak. “But what have I to do
with this Bruder Asm--Asmo----?” he stammered, a desperate rush of
words crowding vainly behind the halting tongue.

The name refused to pass his lips. He could not pronounce it as they
did. He could not pronounce it at all. His sense of helplessness then
entered the acute stage, for this inability to speak the name produced
a fresh sense of quite horrible confusion in his mind, and he became
extraordinarily agitated.

“I came here for a friendly visit,” he tried to say with a great
effort, but, to his intense dismay, he heard his voice saying something
quite different, and actually making use of that very word they had all
used: “I came here as a willing _Opfer_,” he heard his own voice say,
“and _I am quite ready_.”

He was lost beyond all recall now! Not alone his mind, but the very
muscles of his body had passed out of control. He felt that he was
hovering on the confines of a phantom or demon-world,--a world in which
the name they had spoken constituted the Master-name, the word of
ultimate power.

What followed he heard and saw as in a nightmare.

“In the half light that veils all truth, let us prepare to worship and
adore,” chanted Schliemann, who had preceded him to the end of the room.

“In the mists that protect our faces before the Black Throne, let us
make ready the willing victim,” echoed Kalkmann in his great bass.

They raised their faces, listening expectantly, as a roaring sound,
like the passing of mighty projectiles, filled the air, far, far away,
very wonderful, very forbidding. The walls of the room trembled.

“He comes! He comes! He comes!” chanted the Brothers in chorus.

The sound of roaring died away, and an atmosphere of still and utter
cold established itself over all. Then Kalkmann, dark and unutterably
stern, turned in the dim light and faced the rest.

“Asmodelius, our _Hauptbruder_, is about us,” he cried in a voice that
even while it shook was yet a voice of iron; “Asmodelius is about us.
Make ready.”

There followed a pause in which no one stirred or spoke. A tall Brother
approached the Englishman; but Kalkmann held up his hand.

“Let the eyes remain uncovered,” he said, “in honour of so freely
giving himself.” And to his horror Harris then realised for the first
time that his hands were already fastened to his sides.

The Brother retreated again silently, and in the pause that followed
all the figures about him dropped to their knees, leaving him standing
alone, and as they dropped, in voices hushed with mingled reverence and
awe, they cried softly, odiously, appallingly, the name of the Being
whom they momentarily expected to appear.

Then, at the end of the room, where the windows seemed to have
disappeared so that he saw the stars, there rose into view far up
against the night sky, grand and terrible, the outline of a man. A
kind of grey glory enveloped it so that it resembled a steel-cased
statue, immense, imposing, horrific in its distant splendour; while,
at the same time, the face was so spiritually mighty, yet so proudly,
so austerely sad, that Harris felt as he stared, that the sight was
more than his eyes could meet, and that in another moment the power
of vision would fail him altogether, and he must sink into utter
nothingness.

So remote and inaccessible hung this figure that it was impossible to
gauge anything as to its size, yet at the same time so strangely close,
that when the grey radiance from its mightily broken visage, august and
mournful, beat down upon his soul, pulsing like some dark star with the
powers of spiritual evil, he felt almost as though he were looking into
a face no farther removed from him in space than the face of any one of
the Brothers who stood by his side.

And then the room filled and trembled with sounds that Harris
understood full well were the failing voices of others who had preceded
him in a long series down the years. There came first a plain, sharp
cry, as of a man in the last anguish, choking for his breath, and
yet, with the very final expiration of it, breathing the name of the
Worship--of the dark Being who rejoiced to hear it. The cries of the
strangled; the short, running gasp of the suffocated; and the smothered
gurgling of the tightened throat, all these, and more, echoed back
and forth between the walls, the very walls in which he now stood a
prisoner, a sacrificial victim. The cries, too, not alone of the broken
bodies, but--far worse--of beaten, broken souls. And as the ghastly
chorus rose and fell, there came also the faces of the lost and unhappy
creatures to whom they belonged, and, against that curtain of pale grey
light, he saw float past him in the air, an array of white and piteous
human countenances that seemed to beckon and gibber at him as though he
were already one of themselves.

Slowly, too, as the voices rose, and the pallid crew sailed past, that
giant form of grey descended from the sky and approached the room that
contained the worshippers and their prisoner. Hands rose and sank about
him in the darkness, and he felt that he was being draped in other
garments than his own; a circlet of ice seemed to run about his head,
while round the waist, enclosing the fastened arms, he felt a girdle
tightly drawn. At last, about his very throat, there ran a soft and
silken touch which, better than if there had been full light, and a
mirror held to his face, he understood to be the cord of sacrifice--and
of death.

At this moment the Brothers, still prostrate upon the floor, began
again their mournful, yet impassioned chanting, and as they did so a
strange thing happened. For, apparently without moving or altering its
position, the huge Figure seemed, at once and suddenly, to be inside
the room, almost beside him, and to fill the space around him to the
exclusion of all else.

He was now beyond all ordinary sensations of fear, only a drab feeling
as of death--the death of the soul--stirred in his heart. His thoughts
no longer even beat vainly for escape. The end was near, and he knew
it.

The dreadfully chanting voices rose about him in a wave: “We worship!
We adore! We offer!” The sounds filled his ears and hammered, almost
meaningless, upon his brain.

Then the majestic grey face turned slowly downwards upon him, and his
very soul passed outwards and seemed to become absorbed in the sea
of those anguished eyes. At the same moment a dozen hands forced him
to his knees, and in the air before him he saw the arm of Kalkmann
upraised, and felt the pressure about his throat grow strong.

It was in this awful moment, when he had given up all hope, and the
help of gods or men seemed beyond question, that a strange thing
happened. For before his fading and terrified vision, there slid, as
in a dream of light,--yet without apparent rhyme or reason--wholly
unbidden and unexplained,--the face of that other man at the supper
table of the railway inn. And the sight, even mentally, of that strong,
wholesome, vigorous English face, inspired him suddenly with a new
courage.

It was but a flash of fading vision before he sank into a dark and
terrible death, yet, in some inexplicable way, the sight of that face
stirred in him unconquerable hope and the certainty of deliverance. It
was a face of power, a face, he now realised, of simple goodness such
as might have been seen by men of old on the shores of Galilee; a face,
by heaven, that could conquer even the devils of outer space.

And, in his despair and abandonment, he called upon it, and called with
no uncertain accents. He found his voice in this overwhelming moment
to some purpose; though the words he actually used, and whether they
were in German or English, he could never remember. Their effect,
nevertheless, was instantaneous. The Brothers understood, and that grey
Figure of evil understood.

For a second the confusion was terrific. There came a great shattering
sound. It seemed that the very earth trembled. But all Harris
remembered afterwards was that voices rose about him in the clamour of
terrified alarm--

“A man of power is among us! A man of God!”

The vast sound was repeated--the rushing through space as of huge
projectiles--and he sank to the floor of the room, unconscious. The
entire scene had vanished, vanished like smoke over the roof of a
cottage when the wind blows.

And, by his side, sat down a slight, un-German figure,--the figure of
the stranger at the inn,--the man who had the “rather wonderful eyes.”

       *       *       *       *       *

When Harris came to himself he felt cold. He was lying under the open
sky, and the cool air of field and forest was blowing upon his face.
He sat up and looked about him. The memory of the late scene was
still horribly in his mind, but no vestige of it remained. No walls
or ceiling enclosed him; he was no longer in a room at all. There
were no lamps turned low, no cigar smoke, no black forms of sinister
worshippers, no tremendous grey Figure hovering beyond the windows.

Open space was about him, and he was lying on a pile of bricks and
mortar, his clothes soaked with dew, and the kind stars shining
brightly overhead. He was lying, bruised and shaken, among the
heaped-up débris of a ruined building.

He stood up and stared about him. There, in the shadowy distance, lay
the surrounding forest, and here, close at hand, stood the outline of
the village buildings. But, underfoot, beyond question, lay nothing
but the broken heaps of stones that betokened a building long since
crumbled to dust. Then he saw that the stones were blackened, and
that great wooden beams, half burnt, half rotten, made lines through
the general débris. He stood, then, among the ruins of a burnt and
shattered building, the weeds and nettles proving conclusively that it
had lain thus for many years.

The moon had already set behind the encircling forest, but the stars
that spangled the heavens threw enough light to enable him to make
quite sure of what he saw. Harris, the silk merchant, stood among these
broken and burnt stones and shivered.

Then he suddenly became aware that out of the gloom a figure had risen
and stood beside him. Peering at him, he thought he recognised the face
of the stranger at the railway inn.

“Are _you_ real?” he asked in a voice he hardly recognised as his own.

“More than real--I’m friendly,” replied the stranger; “I followed you
up here from the inn.”

Harris stood and stared for several minutes without adding anything.
His teeth chattered. The least sound made him start; but the simple
words in his own language, and the tone in which they were uttered,
comforted him inconceivably.

“You’re English too, thank God,” he said inconsequently. “These German
devils----” He broke off and put a hand to his eyes. “But what’s
become of them all--and the room--and--and----” The hand travelled
down to his throat and moved nervously round his neck. He drew a long,
long breath of relief. “Did I dream everything--everything?” he said
distractedly.

He stared wildly about him, and the stranger moved forward and took his
arm. “Come,” he said soothingly, yet with a trace of command in the
voice, “we will move away from here. The high-road, or even the woods
will be more to your taste, for we are standing now on one of the most
haunted--and most terribly haunted--spots of the whole world.”

He guided his companion’s stumbling footsteps over the broken masonry
until they reached the path, the nettles stinging their hands, and
Harris feeling his way like a man in a dream. Passing through the
twisted iron railing they reached the path, and thence made their way
to the road, shining white in the night. Once safely out of the ruins,
Harris collected himself and turned to look back.

“But, how is it possible?” he exclaimed, his voice still shaking.
“How can it be possible? When I came in here I saw the building in
the moonlight. They opened the door. I saw the figures and heard the
voices and touched, yes touched their very hands, and saw their damned
black faces, saw them far more plainly than I see you now.” He was
deeply bewildered. The glamour was still upon his eyes with a degree
of reality stronger than the reality even of normal life. “Was I so
utterly deluded?”

Then suddenly the words of the stranger, which he had only half heard
or understood, returned to him.

“Haunted?” he asked, looking hard at him; “haunted, did you say?” He
paused in the roadway and stared into the darkness where the building
of the old school had first appeared to him. But the stranger hurried
him forward.

“We shall talk more safely farther on,” he said. “I followed you from
the inn the moment I realised where you had gone. When I found you it
was eleven o’clock----”

“Eleven o’clock,” said Harris, remembering with a shudder.

“----I saw you drop. I watched over you till you recovered
consciousness of your own accord, and now--now I am here to guide you
safely back to the inn. I have broken the spell--the glamour----”

“I owe you a great deal, sir,” interrupted Harris again, beginning
to understand something of the stranger’s kindness, “but I don’t
understand it all. I feel dazed and shaken.” His teeth still chattered,
and spells of violent shivering passed over him from head to foot. He
found that he was clinging to the other’s arm. In this way they passed
beyond the deserted and crumbling village and gained the high-road that
led homewards through the forest.

“That school building has long been in ruins,” said the man at his side
presently; “it was burnt down by order of the Elders of the community
at least ten years ago. The village has been uninhabited ever since.
But the simulacra of certain ghastly events that took place under
that roof in past days still continue. And the ‘shells’ of the chief
participants still enact there the dreadful deeds that led to its final
destruction, and to the desertion of the whole settlement. They were
devil-worshippers!”

Harris listened with beads of perspiration on his forehead that did
not come alone from their leisurely pace through the cool night.
Although he had seen this man but once before in his life, and had
never before exchanged so much as a word with him, he felt a degree of
confidence and a subtle sense of safety and well-being in his presence
that were the most healing influences he could possibly have wished
after the experience he had been through. For all that, he still felt
as if he were walking in a dream, and though he heard every word that
fell from his companion’s lips, it was only the next day that the full
import of all he said became fully clear to him. The presence of this
quiet stranger, the man with the wonderful eyes which he felt now,
rather than saw, applied a soothing anodyne to his shattered spirit
that healed him through and through. And this healing influence,
distilled from the dark figure at his side, satisfied his first
imperative need, so that he almost forgot to realise how strange and
opportune it was that the man should be there at all.

It somehow never occurred to him to ask his name, or to feel any undue
wonder that one passing tourist should take so much trouble on behalf
of another. He just walked by his side, listening to his quiet words,
and allowing himself to enjoy the very wonderful experience after his
recent ordeal, of being helped, strengthened, blessed. Only once,
remembering vaguely something of his reading of years ago, he turned to
the man beside him, after some more than usually remarkable words, and
heard himself, almost involuntarily it seemed, putting the question:
“Then are you a Rosicrucian, sir, perhaps?” But the stranger had
ignored the words, or possibly not heard them, for he continued with
his talk as though unconscious of any interruption, and Harris became
aware that another somewhat unusual picture had taken possession of his
mind, as they walked there side by side through the cool reaches of the
forest, and that he had found his imagination suddenly charged with the
childhood memory of Jacob wrestling with an angel,--wrestling all night
with a being of superior quality whose strength eventually became his
own.

“It was your abrupt conversation with the priest at supper that first
put me upon the track of this remarkable occurrence,” he heard the
man’s quiet voice beside him in the darkness, “and it was from him
I learned after you left the story of the devil-worship that became
secretly established in the heart of this simple and devout little
community.”

“Devil-worship! Here----!” Harris stammered, aghast.

“Yes--here;--conducted secretly for years by a group of Brothers before
unexplained disappearances in the neighbourhood led to its discovery.
For where could they have found a safer place in the whole wide world
for their ghastly traffic and perverted powers than here, in the very
precincts--under cover of the very shadow of saintliness and holy
living?”

“Awful, awful!” whispered the silk merchant, “and when I tell you the
words they used to me----”

“I know it all,” the stranger said quietly. “I saw and heard
everything. My plan first was to wait till the end and then to take
steps for their destruction, but in the interest of your personal
safety,”--he spoke with the utmost gravity and conviction,--“in the
interest of the safety of your soul, I made my presence known when I
did, and before the conclusion had been reached----”

“My safety! The danger, then, was real. They were alive and----” Words
failed him. He stopped in the road and turned towards his companion,
the shining of whose eyes he could just make out in the gloom.

“It was a concourse of the shells of violent men, spiritually-developed
but evil men, seeking after death--the death of the body--to prolong
their vile and unnatural existence. And had they accomplished their
object you, in turn, at the death of your body, would have passed into
their power and helped to swell their dreadful purposes.”

Harris made no reply. He was trying hard to concentrate his mind upon
the sweet and common things of life. He even thought of silk and St.
Paul’s Churchyard and the faces of his partners in business.

“For you came all prepared to be caught,” he heard the other’s
voice like some one talking to him from a distance; “your deeply
introspective mood had already reconstructed the past so vividly, so
intensely, that you were _en rapport_ at once with any forces of those
days that chanced still to be lingering. And they swept you up all
unresistingly.”

Harris tightened his hold upon the stranger’s arm as he heard. At the
moment he had room for one emotion only. It did not seem to him odd
that this stranger should have such intimate knowledge of his mind.

“It is, alas, chiefly the evil emotions that are able to leave their
photographs upon surrounding scenes and objects,” the other added, “and
who ever heard of a place haunted by a noble deed, or of beautiful and
lovely ghosts revisiting the glimpses of the moon? It is unfortunate.
But the wicked passions of men’s hearts alone seem strong enough to
leave pictures that persist; the good are ever too lukewarm.”

The stranger sighed as he spoke. But Harris, exhausted and shaken as
he was to the very core, paced by his side, only half listening. He
moved as in a dream still. It was very wonderful to him, this walk
home under the stars in the early hours of the October morning, the
peaceful forest all about them, mist rising here and there over the
small clearings, and the sound of water from a hundred little invisible
streams filling in the pauses of the talk. In after life he always
looked back to it as something magical and impossible, something that
had seemed too beautiful, too curiously beautiful, to have been quite
true. And, though at the time he heard and understood but a quarter of
what the stranger said, it came back to him afterwards, staying with
him till the end of his days, and always with a curious, haunting sense
of unreality, as though he had enjoyed a wonderful dream of which he
could recall only faint and exquisite portions.

But the horror of the earlier experience was effectually dispelled; and
when they reached the railway inn, somewhere about three o’clock in
the morning, Harris shook the stranger’s hand gratefully, effusively,
meeting the look of those rather wonderful eyes with a full heart, and
went up to his room, thinking in a hazy, dream-like way of the words
with which the stranger had brought their conversation to an end as
they left the confines of the forest--

“And if thought and emotion can persist in this way so long after
the brain that sent them forth has crumbled into dust, how vitally
important it must be to control their very birth in the heart, and
guard them with the keenest possible restraint.”

But Harris, the silk merchant, slept better than might have been
expected, and with a soundness that carried him half-way through the
day. And when he came downstairs and learned that the stranger had
already taken his departure, he realised with keen regret that he had
never once thought of asking his name.

“Yes, he signed in the visitors’ book,” said the girl in reply to his
question.

And he turned over the blotted pages and found there, the last entry,
in a very delicate and individual handwriting--

“_John Silence_, London.”



CASE V

THE CAMP OF THE DOG


I

Islands of all shapes and sizes troop northward from Stockholm by the
hundred, and the little steamer that threads their intricate mazes in
summer leaves the traveller in a somewhat bewildered state as regards
the points of the compass when it reaches the end of its journey at
Waxholm. But it is only after Waxholm that the true islands begin, so
to speak, to run wild, and start up the coast on their tangled course
of a hundred miles of deserted loveliness, and it was in the very heart
of this delightful confusion that we pitched our tents for a summer
holiday. A veritable wilderness of islands lay about us: from the mere
round button of a rock that bore a single fir, to the mountainous
stretch of a square mile, densely wooded, and bounded by precipitous
cliffs; so close together often that a strip of water ran between no
wider than a country lane, or, again, so far that an expanse stretched
like the open sea for miles.

Although the larger islands boasted farms and fishing stations, the
majority were uninhabited. Carpeted with moss and heather, their
coast-lines showed a series of ravines and clefts and little sandy
bays, with a growth of splendid pine-woods that came down to the
water’s edge and led the eye through unknown depths of shadow and
mystery into the very heart of primitive forest.

The particular islands to which we had camping rights by virtue
of paying a nominal sum to a Stockholm merchant lay together in a
picturesque group far beyond the reach of the steamer, one being a mere
reef with a fringe of fairy-like birches, and two others, cliff-bound
monsters rising with wooded heads out of the sea. The fourth, which we
selected because it enclosed a little lagoon suitable for anchorage,
bathing, night-lines, and what-not, shall have what description is
necessary as the story proceeds; but, so far as paying rent was
concerned, we might equally well have pitched our tents on any one of a
hundred others that clustered about us as thickly as a swarm of bees.

It was in the blaze of an evening in July, the air clear as crystal,
the sea a cobalt blue, when we left the steamer on the borders of
civilisation and sailed away with maps, compasses, and provisions for
the little group of dots in the Skärgård that were to be our home for
the next two months. The dinghy and my Canadian canoe trailed behind
us, with tents and dunnage carefully piled aboard, and when the point
of cliff intervened to hide the steamer and the Waxholm hotel we
realised for the first time that the horror of trains and houses was
far behind us, the fever of men and cities, the weariness of streets
and confined spaces. The wilderness opened up on all sides into endless
blue reaches, and the map and compasses were so frequently called
into requisition that we went astray more often than not and progress
was enchantingly slow. It took us, for instance, two whole days to
find our crescent-shaped home, and the camps we made on the way were
so fascinating that we left them with difficulty and regret, for each
island seemed more desirable than the one before it, and over all lay
the spell of haunting peace, remoteness from the turmoil of the world,
and the freedom of open and desolate spaces.

And so many of these spots of world-beauty have I sought out and
dwelt in, that in my mind remains only a composite memory of their
faces, a true map of heaven, as it were, from which this particular
one stands forth with unusual sharpness because of the strange things
that happened there, and also, I think, because anything in which John
Silence played a part has a habit of fixing itself in the mind with a
living and lasting quality of vividness.

For the moment, however, Dr. Silence was not of the party. Some private
case in the interior of Hungary claimed his attention, and it was not
till later--the 15th of August, to be exact--that I had arranged to
meet him in Berlin and then return to London together for our harvest
of winter work. All the members of our party, however, were known to
him more or less well, and on this third day as we sailed through the
narrow opening into the lagoon and saw the circular ridge of trees in a
gold and crimson sunset before us, his last words to me when we parted
in London for some unaccountable reason came back very sharply to my
memory, and recalled the curious impression of prophecy with which I
had first heard them:

“Enjoy your holiday and store up all the force you can,” he had said as
the train slipped out of Victoria; “and we will meet in Berlin on the
15th--unless you should send for me sooner.”

And now suddenly the words returned to me so clearly that it seemed
I almost heard his voice in my ear: “Unless you should send for me
sooner;” and returned, moreover, with a significance I was wholly at a
loss to understand that touched somewhere in the depths of my mind a
vague sense of apprehension that they had all along been intended in
the nature of a prophecy.

In the lagoon, then, the wind failed us this July evening, as was only
natural behind the shelter of the belt of woods, and we took to the
oars, all breathless with the beauty of this first sight of our island
home, yet all talking in somewhat hushed voices of the best place to
land, the depth of water, the safest place to anchor, to put up the
tents in, the most sheltered spot for the camp-fires, and a dozen
things of importance that crop up when a home in the wilderness has
actually to be made.

And during this busy sunset hour of unloading before the dark, the
souls of my companions adopted the trick of presenting themselves very
vividly anew before my mind, and introducing themselves afresh.

In reality, I suppose, our party was in no sense singular. In the
conventional life at home they certainly seemed ordinary enough,
but suddenly, as we passed through these gates of the wilderness,
I saw them more sharply than before, with characters stripped of
the atmosphere of men and cities. A complete change of setting
often furnishes a startlingly new view of people hitherto held for
well-known; they present another facet of their personalities. I seemed
to see my own party almost as new people--people I had not known
properly hitherto, people who would drop all disguises and henceforth
reveal themselves as they really were. And each one seemed to say: “Now
you will see me as I am. You will see me here in this primitive life
of the wilderness without clothes. All my masks and veils I have left
behind in the abodes of men. So, look out for surprises!”

The Reverend Timothy Maloney helped me to put up the tents, long
practice making the process easy, and while he drove in pegs and
tightened ropes, his coat off, his flannel collar flying open without
a tie, it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that he was cut out
for the life of a pioneer rather than the church. He was fifty years
of age, muscular, blue-eyed and hearty, and he took his share of the
work, and more, without shirking. The way he handled the axe in cutting
down saplings for the tent-poles was a delight to see, and his eye in
judging the level was unfailing.

Bullied as a young man into a lucrative family living, he had in turn
bullied his mind into some semblance of orthodox beliefs, doing the
honours of the little country church with an energy that made one think
of a coal-heaver tending china; and it was only in the past few years
that he had resigned the living and taken instead to cramming young men
for their examinations. This suited him better. It enabled him, too, to
indulge his passion for spells of “wild life,” and to spend the summer
months of most years under canvas in one part of the world or another
where he could take his young men with him and combine “reading” with
open air.

His wife usually accompanied him, and there was no doubt she enjoyed
the trips, for she possessed, though in less degree, the same joy of
the wilderness that was his own distinguishing characteristic. The only
difference was that while he regarded it as the real life, she regarded
it as an interlude. While he camped out with his heart and mind, she
played at camping out with her clothes and body. None the less, she
made a splendid companion, and to watch her busy cooking dinner over
the fire we had built among the stones was to understand that her heart
was in the business for the moment and that she was happy even with the
detail.

Mrs. Maloney at home, knitting in the sun and believing that the world
was made in six days, was one woman; but Mrs. Maloney, standing with
bare arms over the smoke of a wood fire under the pine trees, was
another; and Peter Sangree, the Canadian pupil, with his pale skin,
and his loose, though not ungainly figure, stood beside her in very
unfavourable contrast as he scraped potatoes and sliced bacon with
slender white fingers that seemed better suited to hold a pen than a
knife. She ordered him about like a slave, and he obeyed, too, with
willing pleasure, for in spite of his general appearance of debility he
was as happy to be in camp as any of them.

But more than any other member of the party, Joan Maloney, the
daughter, was the one who seemed a natural and genuine part of the
landscape, who belonged to it all just in the same way that the trees
and the moss and the grey rocks running out into the water belonged to
it. For she was obviously in her right and natural setting, a creature
of the wilds, a gipsy in her own home.

To any one with a discerning eye this would have been more or less
apparent, but to me, who had known her during all the twenty-two
years of her life and was familiar with the ins and outs of her
primitive, utterly un-modern type, it was strikingly clear. To see
her there made it impossible to imagine her again in civilisation. I
lost all recollection of how she looked in a town. The memory somehow
evaporated. This slim creature before me, flitting to and fro with the
grace of the woodland life, swift, supple, adroit, on her knees blowing
the fire, or stirring the frying-pan through a veil of smoke, suddenly
seemed the only way I had ever really seen her. Here she was at home;
in London she became some one concealed by clothes, an artificial doll
overdressed and moving by clockwork, only a portion of her alive. Here
she was alive all over.

I forget altogether how she was dressed, just as I forget how any
particular tree was dressed, or how the markings ran on any one of the
boulders that lay about the Camp. She looked just as wild and natural
and untamed as everything else that went to make up the scene, and more
than that I cannot say.

Pretty, she was decidedly not. She was thin, skinny, dark-haired, and
possessed of great physical strength in the form of endurance. She had,
too, something of the force and vigorous purpose of a man, tempestuous
sometimes and wild to passionate, frightening her mother, and puzzling
her easy-going father with her storms of waywardness, while at the same
time she stirred his admiration by her violence. A pagan of the pagans
she was besides, and with some haunting suggestion of old-world pagan
beauty about her dark face and eyes. Altogether an odd and difficult
character, but with a generosity and high courage that made her very
lovable.

In town life she always seemed to me to feel cramped, bored, a devil
in a cage, in her eyes a hunted expression as though any moment she
dreaded to be caught. But up in these spacious solitudes all this
disappeared. Away from the limitations that plagued and stung her, she
would show at her best, and as I watched her moving about the Camp
I repeatedly found myself thinking of a wild creature that had just
obtained its freedom and was trying its muscles.

Peter Sangree, of course, at once went down before her. But she was so
obviously beyond his reach, and besides so well able to take care of
herself, that I think her parents gave the matter but little thought,
and he himself worshipped at a respectful distance, keeping admirable
control of his passion in all respects save one; for at his age the
eyes are difficult to master, and the yearning, almost the devouring,
expression often visible in them was probably there unknown even to
himself. He, better than any one else, understood that he had fallen in
love with something most hard of attainment, something that drew him
to the very edge of life, and almost beyond it. It, no doubt, was a
secret and terrible joy to him, this passionate worship from afar; only
I think he suffered more than any one guessed, and that his want of
vitality was due in large measure to the constant stream of unsatisfied
yearning that poured for ever from his soul and body. Moreover, it
seemed to me, who now saw them for the first time together, that there
was an unnamable something--an elusive quality of some kind--that
marked them as belonging to the same world, and that although the girl
ignored him she was secretly, and perhaps unknown to herself, drawn by
some attribute very deep in her own nature to some quality equally deep
in his.

This, then, was the party when we first settled down into our two
months’ camp on the island in the Baltic Sea. Other figures flitted
from time to time across the scene, and sometimes one reading man,
sometimes another, came to join us and spend his four hours a day in
the clergyman’s tent, but they came for short periods only, and they
went without leaving much trace in my memory, and certainly they played
no important part in what subsequently happened.

The weather favoured us that night, so that by sunset the tents were
up, the boats unloaded, a store of wood collected and chopped into
lengths, and the candle-lanterns hung round ready for lighting on the
trees. Sangree, too, had picked deep mattresses of balsam boughs for
the women’s beds, and had cleared little paths of brushwood from their
tents to the central fireplace. All was prepared for bad weather. It
was a cosy supper and a well-cooked one that we sat down to and ate
under the stars, and, according to the clergyman, the only meal fit to
eat we had seen since we left London a week before.

The deep stillness, after that roar of steamers, trains, and tourists,
held something that thrilled, for as we lay round the fire there was
no sound but the faint sighing of the pines and the soft lapping of
the waves along the shore and against the sides of the boat in the
lagoon. The ghostly outline of her white sails was just visible
through the trees, idly rocking to and fro in her calm anchorage,
her sheets flapping gently against the mast. Beyond lay the dim blue
shapes of other islands floating in the night, and from all the great
spaces about us came the murmur of the sea and the soft breathing of
great woods. The odours of the wilderness--smells of wind and earth,
of trees and water, clean, vigorous, and mighty--were the true odours
of a virgin world unspoilt by men, more penetrating and more subtly
intoxicating than any other perfume in the whole world. Oh!--and
dangerously strong, too, no doubt, for some natures!

“Ahhh!” breathed out the clergyman after supper, with an indescribable
gesture of satisfaction and relief. “Here there is freedom, and room
for body and mind to turn in. Here one can work and rest and play. Here
one can be alive and absorb something of the earth-forces that never
get within touching-distance in the cities. By George, I shall make a
permanent camp here and come when it is time to die!”

The good man was merely giving vent to his delight at being under
canvas. He said the same thing every year, and he said it often. But it
more or less expressed the superficial feelings of us all. And when, a
little later, he turned to compliment his wife on the fried potatoes,
and discovered that she was snoring, with her back against a tree,
he grunted with content at the sight and put a ground-sheet over her
feet, as if it were the most natural thing in the world for her to fall
asleep after dinner, and then moved back to his own corner, smoking his
pipe with great satisfaction.

And I, smoking mine too, lay and fought against the most delicious
sleep imaginable, while my eyes wandered from the fire to the stars
peeping through the branches, and then back again to the group about
me. The Rev. Timothy soon let his pipe go out, and succumbed as his
wife had done, for he had worked hard and eaten well. Sangree, also
smoking, leaned against a tree with his gaze fixed on the girl, a
depth of yearning in his face that he could not hide, and that really
distressed me for him. And Joan herself, with wide staring eyes, alert,
full of the new forces of the place, evidently keyed up by the magic of
finding herself among all the things her soul recognised as “home,” sat
rigid by the fire, her thoughts roaming through the spaces, the blood
stirring about her heart. She was as unconscious of the Canadian’s gaze
as she was that her parents both slept. She looked to me more like a
tree, or something that had grown out of the island, than a living
girl of the century; and when I spoke across to her in a whisper and
suggested a tour of investigation, she started and looked up at me as
though she heard a voice in her dreams.

Sangree leaped up and joined us, and without waking the others we three
went over the ridge of the island and made our way down to the shore
behind. The water lay like a lake before us still coloured by the
sunset. The air was keen and scented, wafting the smell of the wooded
islands that hung about us in the darkening air. Very small waves
tumbled softly on the sand. The sea was sown with stars, and everywhere
breathed and pulsed the beauty of the northern summer night. I confess
I speedily lost consciousness of the human presences beside me, and I
have little doubt Joan did too. Only Sangree felt otherwise, I suppose
for presently we heard him sighing; and I can well imagine that he
absorbed the whole wonder and passion of the scene into his aching
heart, to swell the pain there that was more searching even than the
pain at the sight of such matchless and incomprehensible beauty.

The splash of a fish jumping broke the spell.

“I wish we had the canoe now,” remarked Joan; “we could paddle out to
the other islands.”

“Of course,” I said; “wait here and I’ll go across for it,” and was
turning to feel my way back through the darkness when she stopped me in
a voice that meant what it said.

“No; Mr. Sangree will get it. We will wait here and cooee to guide him.”

The Canadian was off in a moment, for she had only to hint of her
wishes and he obeyed.

“Keep out from shore in case of rocks,” I cried out as he went, “and
turn to the right out of the lagoon. That’s the shortest way round by
the map.”

My voice travelled across the still waters and woke echoes in the
distant islands that came back to us like people calling out of space.
It was only thirty or forty yards over the ridge and down the other
side to the lagoon where the boats lay, but it was a good mile to coast
round the shore in the dark to where we stood and waited. We heard him
stumbling away among the boulders, and then the sounds suddenly ceased
as he topped the ridge and went down past the fire on the other side.

“I didn’t want to be left alone with him” the girl said presently in a
low voice. “I’m always afraid he’s going to say or do something----”
She hesitated a moment, looking quickly over her shoulder towards the
ridge where he had just disappeared--“something that might lead to
unpleasantness.”

She stopped abruptly.

“_You_ frightened, Joan!” I exclaimed, with genuine surprise. “This is
a new light on your wicked character. I thought the human being who
could frighten you did not exist.” Then I suddenly realised she was
talking seriously--looking to me for help of some kind--and at once I
dropped the teasing attitude.

“He’s very far gone, I think, Joan,” I added gravely. “You must be kind
to him, whatever else you may feel. He’s exceedingly fond of you.”

“I know, but I can’t help it,” she whispered, lest her voice should
carry in the stillness; “there’s something about him that--that makes
me feel creepy and half afraid.”

“But, poor man, it’s not his fault if he is delicate and sometimes
looks like death,” I laughed gently, by way of defending what I felt to
be a very innocent member of my sex.

“Oh, but it’s not that I mean,” she answered quickly; “it’s something
I feel about him, something in his soul, something he hardly knows
himself, but that may come out if we are much together. It draws me, I
feel, tremendously. It stirs what is wild in me--deep down--oh, very
deep down,--yet at the same time makes me feel afraid.”

“I suppose his thoughts are always playing about you,” I said, “but
he’s nice-minded and----”

“Yes, yes,” she interrupted impatiently, “I can trust myself absolutely
with him. He’s gentle and singularly pure-minded. But there’s something
else that----” She stopped again sharply to listen. Then she came up
close beside me in the darkness, whispering--

“You know, Mr. Hubbard, sometimes my intuitions warn me a little too
strongly to be ignored. Oh yes, you needn’t tell me again that it’s
difficult to distinguish between fancy and intuition. I know all that.
But I also know that there’s something deep down in that man’s soul
that calls to something deep down in mine. And at present it frightens
me. Because I cannot make out what it is; and I know, I _know_, he’ll
do something some day that--that will shake my life to the very
bottom.” She laughed a little at the strangeness of her own description.

I turned to look at her more closely, but the darkness was too great to
show her face. There was an intensity, almost of suppressed passion, in
her voice that took me completely by surprise.

“Nonsense, Joan,” I said, a little severely; “you know him well. He’s
been with your father for months now.”

“But that was in London; and up here it’s different--I mean, I feel
that it may be different. Life in a place like this blows away the
restraints of the artificial life at home. I know, oh, I know what I’m
saying. I feel all untied in a place like this; the rigidity of one’s
nature begins to melt and flow. Surely _you_ must understand what I
mean!”

“Of course I understand,” I replied, yet not wishing to encourage her
in her present line of thought, “and it’s a grand experience--for a
short time. But you’re overtired to-night, Joan, like the rest of us.
A few days in this air will set you above all fears of the kind you
mention.”

Then, after a moment’s silence, I added, feeling I should estrange her
confidence altogether if I blundered any more and treated her like a
child--

“I think, perhaps, the true explanation is that you pity him for loving
you, and at the same time you feel the repulsion of the healthy,
vigorous animal for what is weak and timid. If he came up boldly and
took you by the throat and shouted that he would force you to love
him--well, then you would feel no fear at all. You would know exactly
how to deal with him. Isn’t it, perhaps, something of that kind?”

The girl made no reply, and when I took her hand I felt that it
trembled a little and was cold.

“It’s not his love that I’m afraid of,” she said hurriedly, for at this
moment we heard the dip of a paddle in the water, “it’s something in
his very soul that terrifies me in a way I have never been terrified
before,--yet fascinates me. In town I was hardly conscious of his
presence. But the moment we got away from civilisation, it began to
come. He seems so--so _real_ up here. I dread being alone with him. It
makes me feel that something must burst and tear its way out--that he
would do something--or I should do something--I don’t know exactly what
I mean, probably,--but that I should let myself go and scream----”

“Joan!”

“Don’t be alarmed,” she laughed shortly; “I shan’t do anything silly,
but I wanted to tell you my feelings in case I needed your help. When
I have intuitions as strong as this they are never wrong, only I don’t
know yet what it means exactly.”

“You must hold out for the month, at any rate,” I said in as
matter-of-fact a voice as I could manage, for her manner had somehow
changed my surprise to a subtle sense of alarm. “Sangree only stays the
month, you know. And, anyhow, you are such an odd creature yourself
that you should feel generously towards other odd creatures,” I ended
lamely, with a forced laugh.

She gave my hand a sudden pressure. “I’m glad I’ve told you at any
rate,” she said quickly under her breath, for the canoe was now gliding
up silently like a ghost to our feet, “and I’m glad you’re here too,”
she added as we moved down towards the water to meet it.

I made Sangree change into the bows and got into the steering seat
myself, putting the girl between us so that I could watch them both by
keeping their outlines against the sea and stars. For the intuitions
of certain folk--women and children usually, I confess--I have always
felt a great respect that has more often than not been justified by
experience; and now the curious emotion stirred in me by the girl’s
words remained somewhat vividly in my consciousness. I explained it in
some measure by the fact that the girl, tired out by the fatigue of
many days’ travel, had suffered a vigorous reaction of some kind from
the strong, desolate scenery, and further, perhaps, that she had been
treated to my own experience of seeing the members of the party in a
new light--the Canadian, being partly a stranger, more vividly than the
rest of us. But, at the same time, I felt it was quite possible that
she had sensed some subtle link between his personality and her own,
some quality that she had hitherto ignored and that the routine of town
life had kept buried out of sight. The only thing that seemed difficult
to explain was the fear she had spoken of, and this I hoped the
wholesome effects of camp-life and exercise would sweep away naturally
in the course of time.

We made the tour of the island without speaking. It was all too
beautiful for speech. The trees crowded down to the shore to hear us
pass. We saw their fine dark heads, bowed low with splendid dignity
to watch us, forgetting for a moment that the stars were caught in
the needled network of their hair. Against the sky in the west, where
still lingered the sunset gold, we saw the wild toss of the horizon,
shaggy with forest and cliff, gripping the heart like the motive in
a symphony, and sending the sense of beauty all a-shiver through the
mind--all these surrounding islands standing above the water like low
clouds, and like them seeming to post along silently into the engulfing
night. We heard the musical drip-drip of the paddle, and the little
wash of our waves on the shore, and then suddenly we found ourselves at
the opening of the lagoon again, having made the complete circuit of
our home.

The Reverend Timothy had awakened from sleep and was singing to
himself; and the sound of his voice as we glided down the fifty yards
of enclosed water was pleasant to hear and undeniably wholesome. We saw
the glow of the fire up among the trees on the ridge, and his shadow
moving about as he threw on more wood.

“There you are!” he called aloud. “Good again! Been setting the
night-lines, eh? Capital! And your mother’s still fast asleep, Joan.”

His cheery laugh floated across the water; he had not been in the least
disturbed by our absence, for old campers are not easily alarmed.

“Now, remember,” he went on, after we had told our little tale of
travel by the fire, and Mrs. Maloney had asked for the fourth time
exactly where her tent was and whether the door faced east or south,
“every one takes their turn at cooking breakfast, and one of the men is
always out at sunrise to catch it first. Hubbard, I’ll toss you which
you do in the morning and which I do!” He lost the toss. “Then I’ll
catch it,” I said, laughing at his discomfiture, for I knew he loathed
stirring porridge. “And mind you don’t burn it as you did every blessed
time last year on the Volga,” I added by way of reminder.

Mrs. Maloney’s fifth interruption about the door of her tent, and her
further pointed observation that it was past nine o’clock, set us
lighting lanterns and putting the fire out for safety.

But before we separated for the night the clergyman had a time-honoured
little ritual of his own to go through that no one had the heart to
deny him. He always did this. It was a relic of his pulpit habits.
He glanced briefly from one to the other of us, his face grave and
earnest, his hands lifted to the stars and his eyes all closed and
puckered up beneath a momentary frown. Then he offered up a short,
almost inaudible prayer, thanking Heaven for our safe arrival, begging
for good weather, no illness or accidents, plenty of fish, and strong
sailing winds.

And then, unexpectedly--no one knew why exactly--he ended up with an
abrupt request that nothing from the kingdom of darkness should be
allowed to afflict our peace, and no evil thing come near to disturb us
in the night-time.

And while he uttered these last surprising words, so strangely unlike
his usual ending, it chanced that I looked up and let my eyes wander
round the group assembled about the dying fire. And it certainly seemed
to me that Sangree’s face underwent a sudden and visible alteration.
He was staring at Joan, and as he stared the change ran over it like a
shadow and was gone. I started in spite of myself, for something oddly
concentrated, potent, collected, had come into the expression usually
so scattered and feeble. But it was all swift as a passing meteor, and
when I looked a second time his face was normal and he was looking
among the trees.

And Joan, luckily, had not observed him, her head being bowed and her
eyes tightly closed while her father prayed.

“The girl has a vivid imagination indeed,” I thought, half laughing,
as I lit the lanterns, “if her thoughts can put a glamour upon mine in
this way;” and yet somehow, when we said good-night, I took occasion to
give her a few vigorous words of encouragement, and went to her tent
to make sure I could find it quickly in the night in case anything
happened. In her quick way the girl understood and thanked me, and
the last thing I heard as I moved off to the men’s quarters was Mrs.
Maloney crying that there were beetles in her tent, and Joan’s laughter
as she went to help her turn them out.

Half an hour later the island was silent as the grave, but for the
mournful voices of the wind as it sighed up from the sea. Like white
sentries stood the three tents of the men on one side of the ridge,
and on the other side, half hidden by some birches, whose leaves just
shivered as the breeze caught them, the women’s tents, patches of
ghostly grey, gathered more closely together for mutual shelter and
protection. Something like fifty yards of broken ground, grey rock,
moss and lichen, lay between, and over all lay the curtain of the night
and the great whispering winds from the forests of Scandinavia.

And the very last thing, just before floating away on that mighty
wave that carries one so softly off into the deeps of forgetfulness,
I again heard the voice of John Silence as the train moved out of
Victoria Station; and by some subtle connection that met me on the very
threshold of consciousness there rose in my mind simultaneously the
memory of the girl’s half-given confidence, and of her distress. As by
some wizardry of approaching dreams they seemed in that instant to be
related; but before I could analyse the why and the wherefore, both
sank away out of sight again, and I was off beyond recall.

“Unless you should send for me sooner.”


II

Whether Mrs. Maloney’s tent door opened south or east I think she
never discovered, for it is quite certain she always slept with the
flap tightly fastened; I only know that my own little “five by seven,
all silk” faced due east, because next morning the sun, pouring in as
only the wilderness sun knows how to pour, woke me early, and a moment
later, with a short run over soft moss and a flying dive from the
granite ledge, I was swimming in the most sparkling water imaginable.

It was barely four o’clock, and the sun came down a long vista of blue
islands that led out to the open sea and Finland. Nearer by rose the
wooded domes of our own property, still capped and wreathed with smoky
trails of fast-melting mist, and looking as fresh as though it was the
morning of Mrs. Maloney’s Sixth Day and they had just issued, clean and
brilliant, from the hands of the great Architect.

In the open spaces the ground was drenched with dew, and from the sea a
cool salt wind stole in among the trees and set the branches trembling
in an atmosphere of shimmering silver. The tents shone white where the
sun caught them in patches. Below lay the lagoon, still dreaming of
the summer night; in the open the fish were jumping busily, sending
musical ripples towards the shore; and in the air hung the magic of
dawn--silent, incommunicable.

I lit the fire, so that an hour later the clergyman should find good
ashes to stir his porridge over, and then set forth upon an examination
of the island, but hardly had I gone a dozen yards when I saw a figure
standing a little in front of me where the sunlight fell in a pool
among the trees.

It was Joan. She had already been up an hour, she told me, and had
bathed before the last stars had left the sky. I saw at once that the
new spirit of this solitary region had entered into her, banishing the
fears of the night, for her face was like the face of a happy denizen
of the wilderness, and her eyes stainless and shining. Her feet were
bare, and drops of dew she had shaken from the branches hung in her
loose-flying hair. Obviously she had come into her own.

“I’ve been all over the island,” she announced laughingly, “and there
are two things wanting.”

“You’re a good judge, Joan. What are they?”

“There’s no animal life, and there’s no--water.”

“They go together,” I said. “Animals don’t bother with a rock like this
unless there’s a spring on it.”

And as she led me from place to place, happy and excited, leaping
adroitly from rock to rock, I was glad to note that my first
impressions were correct. She made no reference to our conversation of
the night before. The new spirit had driven out the old. There was no
room in her heart for fear or anxiety, and Nature had everything her
own way.

The island, we found, was some three-quarters of a mile from point
to point, built in a circle, or wide horseshoe, with an opening of
twenty feet at the mouth of the lagoon. Pine-trees grew thickly all
over, but here and there were patches of silver birch, scrub oak, and
considerable colonies of wild raspberry and gooseberry bushes. The two
ends of the horseshoe formed bare slabs of smooth granite running into
the sea and forming dangerous reefs just below the surface, but the
rest of the island rose in a forty-foot ridge and sloped down steeply
to the sea on either side, being nowhere more than a hundred yards wide.

The outer shore-line was much indented with numberless coves and bays
and sandy beaches, with here and there caves and precipitous little
cliffs against which the sea broke in spray and thunder. But the inner
shore, the shore of the lagoon, was low and regular, and so well
protected by the wall of trees along the ridge that no storm could ever
send more than a passing ripple along its sandy marges. Eternal shelter
reigned there.

On one of the other islands, a few hundred yards away--for the rest of
the party slept late this first morning, and we took to the canoe--we
discovered a spring of fresh water untainted by the brackish flavour of
the Baltic, and having thus solved the most important problem of the
Camp, we next proceeded to deal with the second--fish. And in half an
hour we reeled in and turned homewards, for we had no means of storage,
and to clean more fish than may be stored or eaten in a day is no wise
occupation for experienced campers.

And as we landed towards six o’clock we heard the clergyman singing as
usual and saw his wife and Sangree shaking out their blankets in the
sun, and dressed in a fashion that finally dispelled all memories of
streets and civilisation.

“The Little People lit the fire for me,” cried Maloney, looking natural
and at home in his ancient flannel suit and breaking off in the middle
of his singing, “so I’ve got the porridge going--and this time it’s
_not_ burnt.”

We reported the discovery of water and held up the fish.

“Good! Good again!” he cried. “We’ll have the first decent breakfast
we’ve had this year. Sangree’ll clean ’em in no time, and the Bo’sun’s
Mate----”

“Will fry them to a turn,” laughed the voice of Mrs. Maloney, appearing
on the scene in a tight blue jersey and sandals, and catching up the
frying-pan. Her husband always called her the Bo’sun’s Mate in Camp,
because it was her duty, among others, to pipe all hands to meals.

“And as for you, Joan,” went on the happy man, “you look like the
spirit of the island, with moss in your hair and wind in your eyes,
and sun and stars mixed in your face.” He looked at her with delighted
admiration. “Here, Sangree, take these twelve, there’s a good fellow,
they’re the biggest; and we’ll have ’em in butter in less time than you
can say Baltic island!”

I watched the Canadian as he slowly moved off to the cleaning pail.
His eyes were drinking in the girl’s beauty, and a wave of passionate,
almost feverish, joy passed over his face, expressive of the ecstasy of
true worship more than anything else. Perhaps he was thinking that he
still had three weeks to come with that vision always before his eyes;
perhaps he was thinking of his dreams in the night. I cannot say. But
I noticed the curious mingling of yearning and happiness in his eyes,
and the strength of the impression touched my curiosity. Something in
his face held my gaze for a second, something to do with its intensity.
That so timid, so gentle a personality should conceal so virile a
passion almost seemed to require explanation.

But the impression was momentary, for that first breakfast in Camp
permitted no divided attentions, and I dare swear that the porridge,
the tea, the Swedish “flatbread,” and the fried fish flavoured with
points of frizzled bacon, were better than any meal eaten elsewhere
that day in the whole world.

The first clear day in a new camp is always a furiously busy one, and
we soon dropped into the routine upon which in large measure the real
comfort of every one depends. About the cooking-fire, greatly improved
with stones from the shore, we built a high stockade consisting of
upright poles thickly twined with branches, the roof lined with moss
and lichen and weighted with rocks, and round the interior we made low
wooden seats so that we could lie round the fire even in rain and eat
our meals in peace. Paths, too, outlined themselves from tent to tent,
from the bathing places and the landing stage, and a fair division of
the island was decided upon between the quarters of the men and the
women. Wood was stacked, awkward trees and boulders removed, hammocks
slung, and tents strengthened. In a word, Camp was established, and
duties were assigned and accepted as though we expected to live on
this Baltic island for years to come and the smallest detail of the
Community life was important.

Moreover, as the Camp came into being, this sense of a community
developed, proving that we were a definite whole, and not merely
separate human beings living for a while in tents upon a desert island.
Each fell willingly into the routine. Sangree, as by natural selection,
took upon himself the cleaning of the fish and the cutting of the wood
into lengths sufficient for a day’s use. And he did it well. The pan
of water was never without a fish, cleaned and scaled, ready to fry
for whoever was hungry; the nightly fire never died down for lack of
material to throw on without going farther afield to search.

And Timothy, once reverend, caught the fish and chopped down the
trees. He also assumed responsibility for the condition of the boat,
and did it so thoroughly that nothing in the little cutter was ever
found wanting. And when, for any reason, his presence was in demand,
the first place to look for him was--in the boat, and there, too, he
was usually found, tinkering away with sheets, sails, or rudder and
singing as he tinkered.

Nor was the “reading” neglected; for most mornings there came a sound
of droning voices from the white tent by the raspberry bushes, which
signified that Sangree, the tutor, and whatever other man chanced to be
in the party at the time, were hard at it with history or the classics.

And while Mrs. Maloney, also by natural selection, took charge of
the larder and the kitchen, the mending and general supervision of
the rough comforts, she also made herself peculiarly mistress of the
megaphone which summoned to meals and carried her voice easily from one
end of the island to the other; and in her hours of leisure she daubed
the surrounding scenery on to a sketching block with all the honesty
and devotion of her determined but unreceptive soul.

Joan, meanwhile, Joan, elusive creature of the wilds, became I know
not exactly what. She did plenty of work in the Camp, yet seemed to
have no very precise duties. She was everywhere and anywhere. Sometimes
she slept in her tent, sometimes under the stars with a blanket. She
knew every inch of the island and kept turning up in places where she
was least expected--for ever wandering about, reading her books in
sheltered corners, making little fires on sunless days to “worship by
to the gods,” as she put it, ever finding new pools to dive and bathe
in, and swimming day and night in the warm and waveless lagoon like a
fish in a huge tank. She went bare-legged and bare-footed, with her
hair down and her skirts caught up to the knees, and if ever a human
being turned into a jolly savage within the compass of a single week,
Joan Maloney was certainly that human being. She ran wild.

So completely, too, was she possessed by the strong spirit of the
place that the little human fear she had yielded to so strangely on
our arrival seemed to have been utterly dispossessed. As I hoped and
expected, she made no reference to our conversation of the first
evening. Sangree bothered her with no special attentions, and after
all they were very little together. His behaviour was perfect in that
respect, and I, for my part, hardly gave the matter another thought.
Joan was ever a prey to vivid fancies of one kind or another, and this
was one of them. Mercifully for the happiness of all concerned, it had
melted away before the spirit of busy, active life and deep content
that reigned over the island. Every one was intensely alive, and peace
was upon all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the effect of the camp-life began to tell. Always a searching
test of character, its results, sooner or later, are infallible, for
it acts upon the soul as swiftly and surely as the hypo bath upon the
negative of a photograph. A readjustment of the personal forces takes
place quickly; some parts of the personality go to sleep, others wake
up: but the first sweeping change that the primitive life brings about
is that the artificial portions of the character shed themselves one
after another like dead skins. Attitudes and poses that seemed genuine
in the city, drop away. The mind, like the body, grows quickly hard,
simple, uncomplex. And in a camp as primitive and close to nature as
ours was, these effects became speedily visible.

Some folk, of course, who talk glibly about the simple life when it
is safely out of reach, betray themselves in camp by for ever peering
about for the artificial excitements of civilisation which they miss.
Some get bored at once; some grow slovenly; some reveal the animal in
most unexpected fashion; and some, the select few, find themselves in
very short order and are happy.

And, in our little party, we could flatter ourselves that we all
belonged to the last category, so far as the general effect was
concerned. Only there were certain other changes as well, varying with
each individual, and all interesting to note.

It was only after the first week or two that these changes became
marked, although this is the proper place, I think, to speak of them.
For, having myself no other duty than to enjoy a well-earned holiday,
I used to load my canoe with blankets and provisions and journey forth
on exploration trips among the islands of several days together; and
it was on my return from the first of these--when I rediscovered the
party, so to speak--that these changes first presented themselves
vividly to me, and in one particular instance produced a rather curious
impression.

In a word, then, while every one had grown wilder, naturally wilder,
Sangree, it seemed to me, had grown much wilder, and what I can only
call unnaturally wilder. He made me think of a savage.

To begin with, he had changed immensely in mere physical appearance,
and the full brown cheeks, the brighter eyes of absolute health, and
the general air of vigour and robustness that had come to replace his
customary lassitude and timidity, had worked such an improvement that I
hardly knew him for the same man. His voice, too, was deeper and his
manner bespoke for the first time a greater measure of confidence in
himself. He now had some claims to be called nice-looking, or at least
to a certain air of virility that would not lessen his value in the
eyes of the opposite sex.

All this, of course, was natural enough, and most welcome. But,
altogether apart from this physical change, which no doubt had also
been going forward in the rest of us, there was a subtle note in his
personality that came to me with a degree of surprise that almost
amounted to shock.

And two things--as he came down to welcome me and pull up the
canoe--leaped up in my mind unbidden, as though connected in some way
I could not at the moment divine--first, the curious judgment formed
of him by Joan; and secondly, that fugitive expression I had caught in
his face while Maloney was offering up his strange prayer for special
protection from Heaven.

The delicacy of manner and feature--to call it by no milder term--which
had always been a distinguishing characteristic of the man, had been
replaced by something far more vigorous and decided, that yet utterly
eluded analysis. The change which impressed me so oddly was not easy
to name. The others--singing Maloney, the bustling Bo’sun’s Mate, and
Joan, that fascinating half-breed of undine and salamander--all showed
the effects of a life so close to nature; but in their case the change
was perfectly natural and what was to be expected, whereas with Peter
Sangree, the Canadian, it was something unusual and unexpected.

It is impossible to explain how he managed gradually to convey to my
mind the impression that something in him had turned savage, yet this,
more or less, is the impression that he did convey. It was not that
he seemed really less civilised, or that his character had undergone
any definite alteration, but rather that something in him, hitherto
dormant, had awakened to life. Some quality, latent till now--so
far, at least, as we were concerned, who, after all, knew him but
slightly--had stirred into activity and risen to the surface of his
being.

And while, for the moment, this seemed as far as I could get, it was
but natural that my mind should continue the intuitive process and
acknowledge that John Silence, owing to his peculiar faculties, and the
girl, owing to her singularly receptive temperament, might each in a
different way have divined this latent quality in his soul, and feared
its manifestation later.

On looking back to this painful adventure, too, it now seems equally
natural that the same process, carried to its logical conclusion,
should have wakened some deep instinct in me that, wholly without
direction from my will, set itself sharply and persistently upon the
watch from that very moment. Thenceforward the personality of Sangree
was never far from my thoughts, and I was for ever analysing and
searching for the explanation that took so long in coming.

“I declare, Hubbard, you’re tanned like an aboriginal, and you look
like one, too,” laughed Maloney.

“And I can return the compliment,” was my reply, as we all gathered
round a brew of tea to exchange news and compare notes.

And later, at supper, it amused me to observe that the distinguished
tutor, once clergyman, did not eat his food quite as “nicely” as he did
at home--he devoured it; that Mrs. Maloney ate more, and, to say the
least, with less delay, than was her custom in the select atmosphere
of her English dining-room; and that while Joan attacked her tin
plateful with genuine avidity, Sangree, the Canadian, bit and gnawed
at his, laughing and talking and complimenting the cook all the while,
and making me think with secret amusement of a starved animal at its
first meal. While, from their remarks about myself, I judged that I had
changed and grown wild as much as the rest of them.

In this and in a hundred other little ways the change showed, ways
difficult to define in detail, but all proving--not the coarsening
effect of leading the primitive life, but, let us say, the more direct
and unvarnished methods that became prevalent. For all day long we
were in the bath of the elements--wind, water, sun--and just as the
body became insensible to cold and shed unnecessary clothing, the mind
grew straightforward and shed many of the disguises required by the
conventions of civilisation.

And in each, according to temperament and character, there stirred the
life-instincts that were natural, untamed, and, in a sense--savage.


III

So it came about that I stayed with our island party, putting off
my second exploring trip from day to day, and I think that this
far-fetched instinct to watch Sangree was really the cause of my
postponement.

For another ten days the life of the Camp pursued its even and
delightful way, blessed by perfect summer weather, a good harvest
of fish, fine winds for sailing, and calm, starry nights. Maloney’s
selfish prayer had been favourably received. Nothing came to disturb
or perplex. There was not even the prowling of night animals to vex
the rest of Mrs. Maloney; for in previous camps it had often been her
peculiar affliction that she heard the porcupines scratching against
the canvas, or the squirrels dropping fir-cones in the early morning
with a sound of miniature thunder upon the roof of her tent. But on
this island there was not even a squirrel or a mouse. I think two toads
and a small and harmless snake were the only living creatures that had
been discovered during the whole of the first fortnight. And these two
toads in all probability were not two toads, but one toad.

Then, suddenly, came the terror that changed the whole aspect of the
place--the devastating terror.

It came, at first, gently, but from the very start it made me realise
the unpleasant loneliness of our situation, our remote isolation in
this wilderness of sea and rock, and how the islands in this tideless
Baltic ocean lay about us like the advance guard of a vast besieging
army. Its entry, as I say, was gentle, hardly noticeable, in fact,
to most of us: singularly undramatic it certainly was. But, then, in
actual life this is often the way the dreadful climaxes move upon us,
leaving the heart undisturbed almost to the last minute, and then
overwhelming it with a sudden rush of horror. For it was the custom at
breakfast to listen patiently while each in turn related the trivial
adventures of the night--how they slept, whether the wind shook their
tent, whether the spider on the ridge pole had moved, whether they had
heard the toad, and so forth--and on this particular morning Joan, in
the middle of a little pause, made a truly novel announcement:

“In the night I heard the howling of a dog,” she said, and then flushed
up to the roots of her hair when we burst out laughing. For the idea
of there being a dog on this forsaken island that was only able to
support a snake and two toads was distinctly ludicrous, and I remember
Maloney, half-way through his burnt porridge, capping the announcement
by declaring that he had heard a “Baltic turtle” in the lagoon, and his
wife’s expression of frantic alarm before the laughter undeceived her.

But the next morning Joan repeated the story with additional and
convincing detail.

“Sounds of whining and growling woke me,” she said, “and I distinctly
heard sniffing under my tent, and the scratching of paws.”

“Oh, Timothy! Can it be a porcupine?” exclaimed the Bo’sun’s Mate with
distress, forgetting that Sweden was not Canada.

But the girl’s voice had sounded to me in quite another key, and
looking up I saw that her father and Sangree were staring at her hard.
They, too, understood that she was in earnest, and had been struck by
the serious note in her voice.

“Rubbish, Joan! You are always dreaming something or other wild,” her
father said a little impatiently.

“There’s not an animal of any size on the whole island,” added Sangree
with a puzzled expression. He never took his eyes from her face.

“But there’s nothing to prevent one swimming over,” I put in briskly,
for somehow a sense of uneasiness that was not pleasant had woven
itself into the talk and pauses. “A deer, for instance, might easily
land in the night and take a look round----”

“Or a bear!” gasped the Bo’sun’s Mate, with a look so portentous that
we all welcomed the laugh.

But Joan did not laugh. Instead, she sprang up and called to us to
follow.

“There,” she said, pointing to the ground by her tent on the side
farthest from her mother’s; “there are the marks close to my head. You
can see for yourselves.”

We saw plainly. The moss and lichen--for earth there was hardly
any--had been scratched up by paws. An animal about the size of a large
dog it must have been, to judge by the marks. We stood and stared in a
row.

“Close to my head,” repeated the girl, looking round at us. Her face,
I noticed, was very pale, and her lip seemed to quiver for an instant.
Then she gave a sudden gulp--and burst into a flood of tears.

The whole thing had come about in the brief space of a few minutes, and
with a curious sense of inevitableness, moreover, as though it had all
been carefully planned from all time and nothing could have stopped it.
It had all been rehearsed before--had actually happened before, as the
strange feeling sometimes has it; it seemed like the opening movement
in some ominous drama, and that I knew exactly what would happen next.
Something of great moment was impending.

For this sinister sensation of coming disaster made itself felt from
the very beginning, and an atmosphere of gloom and dismay pervaded the
entire Camp from that moment forward.

I drew Sangree to one side and moved away, while Maloney took the
distressed girl into her tent, and his wife followed them, energetic
and greatly flustered.

For thus, in undramatic fashion, it was that the terror I have
spoken of first attempted the invasion of our Camp, and, trivial and
unimportant though it seemed, every little detail of this opening scene
is photographed upon my mind with merciless accuracy and precision.
It happened exactly as described. This was exactly the language used.
I see it written before me in black and white. I see, too, the faces
of all concerned with the sudden ugly signature of alarm where before
had been peace. The terror had stretched out, so to speak, a first
tentative feeler towards us and had touched the hearts of each with a
horrid directness. And from this moment the Camp changed.

Sangree in particular was visibly upset. He could not bear to see the
girl distressed, and to hear her actually cry was almost more than he
could stand. The feeling that he had no right to protect her hurt him
keenly, and I could see that he was itching to do something to help,
and liked him for it. His expression said plainly that he would tear in
a thousand pieces anything that dared to injure a hair of her head.

We lit our pipes and strolled over in silence to the men’s quarters,
and it was his odd Canadian expression “Gee whiz!” that drew my
attention to a further discovery.

“The brute’s been scratching round my tent too,” he cried, as he
pointed to similar marks by the door and I stooped down to examine
them. We both stared in amazement for several minutes without speaking.

“Only I sleep like the dead,” he added, straightening up again, “and so
heard nothing, I suppose.”

We traced the paw-marks from the mouth of his tent in a direct line
across to the girl’s, but nowhere else about the Camp was there a
sign of the strange visitor. The deer, dog, or whatever it was that
had twice favoured us with a visit in the night, had confined its
attentions to these two tents. And, after all, there was really
nothing out of the way about these visits of an unknown animal, for
although our own island was destitute of life, we were in the heart
of a wilderness, and the mainland and larger islands must be swarming
with all kinds of four-footed creatures, and no very prolonged swimming
was necessary to reach us. In any other country it would not have
caused a moment’s interest--interest of the kind we felt, that is.
In our Canadian camps the bears were for ever grunting about among
the provision bags at night, porcupines scratching unceasingly, and
chipmunks scuttling over everything.

“My daughter is overtired, and that’s the truth of it,” explained
Maloney presently when he rejoined us and had examined in turn the
other paw-marks. “She’s been overdoing it lately, and camp-life, you
know, always means a great excitement to her. It’s natural enough. If
we take no notice she’ll be all right.” He paused to borrow my tobacco
pouch and fill his pipe, and the blundering way he filled it and
spilled the precious weed on the ground visibly belied the calm of his
easy language. “You might take her out for a bit of fishing, Hubbard,
like a good chap; she’s hardly up to the long day in the cutter. Show
her some of the other islands in your canoe, perhaps. Eh?”

And by lunch-time the cloud had passed away as suddenly, and as
suspiciously, as it had come.

But in the canoe, on our way home, having till then purposely ignored
the subject uppermost in our minds, she suddenly spoke to me in a way
that again touched the note of sinister alarm--the note that kept on
sounding and sounding until finally John Silence came with his great
vibrating presence and relieved it; yes, and even after he came, too,
for a while.

“I’m ashamed to ask it,” she said abruptly, as she steered me home,
her sleeves rolled up, her hair blowing in the wind, “and ashamed of
my silly tears too, because I really can’t make out what caused them;
but, Mr. Hubbard, I want you to promise me not to go off for your long
expeditions--just yet. I beg it of you.” She was so in earnest that
she forgot the canoe, and the wind caught it sideways and made us roll
dangerously. “I have tried hard not to ask this,” she added, bringing
the canoe round again, “but I simply can’t help myself.”

It was a good deal to ask, and I suppose my hesitation was plain; for
she went on before I could reply, and her beseeching expression and
intensity of manner impressed me very forcibly.

“For another two weeks only----”

“Mr. Sangree leaves in a fortnight,” I said, seeing at once what she
was driving at, but wondering if it was best to encourage her or not.

“If I knew you were to be on the island till then,” she said, her face
alternately pale and blushing, and her voice trembling a little, “I
should feel so much happier.”

I looked at her steadily, waiting for her to finish.

“And safer,” she added almost in a whisper; “especially--at night, I
mean.”

“Safer, Joan?” I repeated, thinking I had never seen her eyes so soft
and tender. She nodded her head, keeping her gaze fixed on my face.

It was really difficult to refuse, whatever my thoughts and judgment
may have been, and somehow I understood that she spoke with good
reason, though for the life of me I could not have put it into words.

“Happier--and safer,” she said gravely, the canoe giving a dangerous
lurch as she leaned forward in her seat to catch my answer. Perhaps,
after all, the wisest way was to grant her request and make light of
it, easing her anxiety without too much encouraging its cause.

“All right, Joan, you queer creature; I promise,” and the instant look
of relief in her face, and the smile that came back like sunlight to
her eyes, made me feel that, unknown to myself and the world, I was
capable of considerable sacrifice after all.

“But, you know, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” I added sharply; and
she looked up in my face with the smile women use when they know we are
talking idly, yet do not wish to tell us so.

“_You_ don’t feel afraid, I know,” she observed quietly.

“Of course not; why should I?”

“So, if you will just humour me this once I--I will never ask anything
foolish of you again as long as I live,” she said gratefully.

“You have my promise,” was all I could find to say.

She headed the nose of the canoe for the lagoon lying a quarter of a
mile ahead, and paddled swiftly; but a minute or two later she paused
again and stared hard at me with the dripping paddle across the thwarts.

“You’ve not heard anything at night yourself, have you?” she asked.

“I never hear anything at night,” I replied shortly, “from the moment I
lie down till the moment I get up.”

“That dismal howling, for instance,” she went on, determined to get
it out, “far away at first and then getting closer, and stopping just
outside the Camp?”

“Certainly not.”

“Because, sometimes I think I almost dreamed it.”

“Most likely you did,” was my unsympathetic response.

“And you don’t think father has heard it either, then?”

“No. He would have told me if he had.”

This seemed to relieve her mind a little. “I know mother hasn’t,” she
added, as if speaking to herself, “for she hears nothing--ever.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was two nights after this conversation that I woke out of deep
sleep and heard sounds of screaming. The voice was really horrible,
breaking the peace and silence with its shrill clamour. In less than
ten seconds I was half dressed and out of my tent. The screaming had
stopped abruptly, but I knew the general direction, and ran as fast as
the darkness would allow over to the women’s quarters, and on getting
close I heard sounds of suppressed weeping. It was Joan’s voice. And
just as I came up I saw Mrs. Maloney, marvellously attired, fumbling
with a lantern. Other voices became audible in the same moment behind
me, and Timothy Maloney arrived, breathless, less than half dressed,
and carrying another lantern that had gone out on the way from being
banged against a tree. Dawn was just breaking, and a chill wind blew in
from the sea. Heavy black clouds drove low overhead.

The scene of confusion may be better imagined than described. Questions
in frightened voices filled the air against this background of
suppressed weeping. Briefly--Joan’s silk tent had been torn, and the
girl was in a state bordering upon hysterics. Somewhat reassured by
our noisy presence, however,--for she was plucky at heart,--she pulled
herself together and tried to explain what had happened; and her broken
words, told there on the edge of night and morning upon this wild
island ridge, were oddly thrilling and distressingly convincing.

“Something touched me and I woke,” she said simply, but in a voice
still hushed and broken with the terror of it, “something pushing
against the tent; I felt it through the canvas. There was the same
sniffing and scratching as before, and I felt the tent give a little
as when wind shakes it. I heard breathing--very loud, very heavy
breathing--and then came a sudden great tearing blow, and the canvas
ripped open close to my face.”

She had instantly dashed out through the open flap and screamed at
the top of her voice, thinking the creature had actually got into the
tent. But nothing was visible, she declared, and she heard not the
faintest sound of an animal making off under cover of the darkness.
The brief account seemed to exercise a paralysing effect upon us all
as we listened to it. I can see the dishevelled group to this day, the
wind blowing the women’s hair, and Maloney craning his head forward to
listen, and his wife, open-mouthed and gasping, leaning against a pine
tree.

“Come over to the stockade and we’ll get the fire going,” I said;
“that’s the first thing,” for we were all shaking with the cold in
our scanty garments. And at that moment Sangree arrived wrapped in a
blanket and carrying his gun; he was still drunken with sleep.

“The dog again,” Maloney explained briefly, forestalling his questions;
“been at Joan’s tent. Torn it, by Gad! this time. It’s time we did
something.” He went on mumbling confusedly to himself.

Sangree gripped his gun and looked about swiftly in the darkness. I
saw his eyes flame in the glare of the flickering lanterns. He made a
movement as though to start out and hunt--and kill. Then his glance
fell on the girl crouching on the ground, her face hidden in her
hands, and there leaped into his features an expression of savage
anger that transformed them. He could have faced a dozen lions with a
walking-stick at that moment, and again I liked him for the strength of
his anger, his self-control, and his hopeless devotion.

But I stopped him going off on a blind and useless chase.

“Come and help me start the fire, Sangree,” I said, anxious also to
relieve the girl of our presence; and a few minutes later the ashes,
still glowing from the night’s fire, had kindled the fresh wood,
and there was a blaze that warmed us well while it also lit up the
surrounding trees within a radius of twenty yards.

“I heard nothing,” he whispered; “what in the world do you think it is?
It surely can’t be only a dog!”

“We’ll find that out later,” I said, as the others came up to the
grateful warmth; “the first thing is to make as big a fire as we can.”

Joan was calmer now, and her mother had put on some warmer, and less
miraculous, garments. And while they stood talking in low voices
Maloney and I slipped off to examine the tent. There was little enough
to see, but that little was unmistakable. Some animal had scratched up
the ground at the head of the tent, and with a great blow of a powerful
paw--a paw clearly provided with good claws--had struck the silk and
torn it open. There was a hole large enough to pass a fist and arm
through.

“It can’t be far away,” Maloney said excitedly. “We’ll organise a hunt
at once; this very minute.”

We hurried back to the fire, Maloney talking boisterously about his
proposed hunt. “There’s nothing like prompt action to dispel alarm,” he
whispered in my ear; and then turned to the rest of us.

“We’ll hunt the island from end to end at once,” he said, with
excitement; “that’s what we’ll do. The beast can’t be far away. And the
Bosun’s Mate and Joan must come too, because they can’t be left alone.
Hubbard, you take the right shore, and you, Sangree, the left, and
I’ll go in the middle with the women. In this way we can stretch clean
across the ridge, and nothing bigger than a rabbit can possibly escape
us.” He was extraordinarily excited, I thought. Anything affecting
Joan, of course, stirred him prodigiously. “Get your guns and we’ll
start the drive at once,” he cried. He lit another lantern and handed
one each to his wife and Joan, and while I ran to fetch my gun I heard
him singing to himself with the excitement of it all.

Meanwhile the dawn had come on quickly. It made the flickering lanterns
look pale. The wind, too, was rising, and I heard the trees moaning
overhead and the waves breaking with increasing clamour on the shore.
In the lagoon the boat dipped and splashed, and the sparks from the
fire were carried aloft in a stream and scattered far and wide.

We made our way to the extreme end of the island, measured our
distances carefully, and then began to advance. None of us spoke.
Sangree and I, with cocked guns, watched the shore lines, and all
within easy touch and speaking distance. It was a slow and blundering
drive, and there were many false alarms, but after the best part of
half an hour we stood on the farther end, having made the complete
tour, and without putting up so much as a squirrel. Certainly there was
no living creature on that island but ourselves.

“_I_ know what it is!” cried Maloney, looking out over the dim expanse
of grey sea, and speaking with the air of a man making a discovery;
“it’s a dog from one of the farms on the larger islands”--he pointed
seawards where the archipelago thickened--“and it’s escaped and turned
wild. Our fires and voices attracted it, and it’s probably half starved
as well as savage, poor brute!”

No one said anything in reply, and he began to sing again very low to
himself.

The point where we stood--a huddled, shivering group--faced the wider
channels that led to the open sea and Finland. The grey dawn had broken
in earnest at last, and we could see the racing waves with their angry
crests of white. The surrounding islands showed up as dark masses
in the distance, and in the east, almost as Maloney spoke, the sun
came up with a rush in a stormy and magnificent sky of red and gold.
Against this splashed and gorgeous background black clouds, shaped
like fantastic and legendary animals, filed past swiftly in a tearing
stream, and to this day I have only to close my eyes to see again that
vivid and hurrying procession in the air. All about us the pines made
black splashes against the sky. It was an angry sunrise. Rain, indeed,
had already begun to fall in big drops.

We turned, as by a common instinct, and, without speech, made our way
back slowly to the stockade, Maloney humming snatches of his songs,
Sangree in front with his gun, prepared to shoot at a moment’s notice,
and the women floundering in the rear with myself and the extinguished
lanterns.

Yet it was only a dog!

Really, it was most singular when one came to reflect soberly upon
it all. Events, say the occultists, have souls, or at least that
agglomerate life due to the emotions and thoughts of all concerned
in them, so that cities, and even whole countries, have great
astral shapes which may become visible to the eye of vision; and
certainly here, the soul of this drive--this vain, blundering, futile
drive--stood somewhere between ourselves and--laughed.

All of us heard that laugh, and all of us tried hard to smother the
sound, or at least to ignore it. Every one talked at once, loudly, and
with exaggerated decision, obviously trying to say something plausible
against heavy odds, striving to explain naturally that an animal might
so easily conceal itself from us, or swim away before we had time to
light upon its trail. For we all spoke of that “trail” as though it
really existed, and we had more to go upon than the mere marks of
paws about the tents of Joan and the Canadian. Indeed, but for these,
and the torn tent, I think it would, of course, have been possible to
ignore the existence of this beast intruder altogether.

And it was here, under this angry dawn, as we stood in the shelter of
the stockade from the pouring rain, weary yet so strangely excited--it
was here, out of this confusion of voices and explanations, that--very
stealthily--the ghost of something horrible slipped in and stood among
us. It made all our explanations seem childish and untrue; the false
relation was instantly exposed. Eyes exchanged quick, anxious glances,
questioning, expressive of dismay. There was a sense of wonder, of
poignant distress, and of trepidation. Alarm stood waiting at our
elbows. We shivered.

Then, suddenly, as we looked into each other’s faces, came the long,
unwelcome pause in which this new arrival established itself in our
hearts.

And, without further speech, or attempt at explanation, Maloney moved
off abruptly to mix the porridge for an early breakfast; Sangree to
clean the fish; myself to chop wood and tend the fire; Joan and her
mother to change their wet garments; and, most significant of all, to
prepare her mother’s tent for its future complement of two.

Each went to his duty, but hurriedly, awkwardly, silently; and this new
arrival, this shape of terror and distress stalked, viewless, by the
side of each.

“If only I could have traced that dog,” I think was the thought in the
minds of all.

       *       *       *       *       *

But in Camp, where every one realises how important the individual
contribution is to the comfort and well-being of all, the mind speedily
recovers tone and pulls itself together.

During the day, a day of heavy and ceaseless rain, we kept more or less
to our tents, and though there were signs of mysterious conferences
between the three members of the Maloney family, I think that most of
us slept a good deal and stayed alone with his thoughts. Certainly, I
did, because when Maloney came to say that his wife invited us all to a
special “tea” in her tent, he had to shake me awake before I realised
that he was there at all.

And by supper-time we were more or less even-minded again, and almost
jolly. I only noticed that there was an undercurrent of what is best
described as “jumpiness,” and that the merest snapping of a twig, or
plop of a fish in the lagoon, was sufficient to make us start and look
over our shoulders. Pauses were rare in our talk, and the fire was
never for one instant allowed to get low. The wind and rain had ceased,
but the dripping of the branches still kept up an excellent imitation
of a downpour. In particular, Maloney was vigilant and alert, telling
us a series of tales in which the wholesome humorous element was
especially strong. He lingered, too, behind with me after Sangree had
gone to bed, and while I mixed myself a glass of hot Swedish punch, he
did a thing I had never known him do before--he mixed one for himself,
and then asked me to light him over to his tent. We said nothing on
the way, but I felt that he was glad of my companionship.

I returned alone to the stockade, and for a long time after that kept
the fire blazing, and sat up smoking and thinking. I hardly knew why;
but sleep was far from me for one thing, and for another, an idea
was taking form in my mind that required the comfort of tobacco and
a bright fire for its growth. I lay against a corner of the stockade
seat, listening to the wind whispering and to the ceaseless drip-drip
of the trees. The night, otherwise, was very still, and the sea quiet
as a lake. I remember that I was conscious, peculiarly conscious, of
this host of desolate islands crowding about us in the darkness, and
that we were the one little spot of humanity in a rather wonderful kind
of wilderness.

But this, I think, was the only symptom that came to warn me of
highly strung nerves, and it certainly was not sufficiently alarming
to destroy my peace of mind. One thing, however, did come to disturb
my peace, for just as I finally made ready to go, and had kicked the
embers of the fire into a last effort, I fancied I saw, peering at me
round the farther end of the stockade wall, a dark and shadowy mass
that might have been--that strongly resembled, in fact--the body of a
large animal. Two glowing eyes shone for an instant in the middle of
it. But the next second I saw that it was merely a projecting mass of
moss and lichen in the wall of our stockade, and the eyes were a couple
of wandering sparks from the dying ashes I had kicked. It was easy
enough, too, to imagine I saw an animal moving here and there between
the trees, as I picked my way stealthily to my tent. Of course, the
shadows tricked me.

And though it was after one o’clock, Maloney’s light was still burning,
for I saw his tent shining white among the pines.

It was, however, in the short space between consciousness and
sleep--that time when the body is low and the voices of the submerged
region tell sometimes true--that the idea which had been all this
while maturing reached the point of an actual decision, and I suddenly
realised that I had resolved to send word to Dr. Silence. For, with
a sudden wonder that I had hitherto been so blind, the unwelcome
conviction dawned upon me all at once that some dreadful thing was
lurking about us on this island, and that the safety of at least one
of us was threatened by something monstrous and unclean that was too
horrible to contemplate. And, again remembering those last words of his
as the train moved out of the platform, I understood that Dr. Silence
would hold himself in readiness to come.

“Unless you should send for me sooner,” he had said.

       *       *       *       *       *

I found myself suddenly wide awake. It is impossible to say what woke
me, but it was no gradual process, seeing that I jumped from deep sleep
to absolute alertness in a single instant. I had evidently slept for an
hour and more, for the night had cleared, stars crowded the sky, and
a pallid half-moon just sinking into the sea threw a spectral light
between the trees.

I went outside to sniff the air, and stood upright. A curious
impression that something was astir in the Camp came over me, and when
I glanced across at Sangree’s tent, some twenty feet away, I saw that
it was moving. He too, then, was awake and restless, for I saw the
canvas sides bulge this way and that as he moved within.

Then the flap pushed forward. He was coming out, like myself, to sniff
the air; and I was not surprised, for its sweetness after the rain was
intoxicating. And he came on all fours, just as I had done. I saw a
head thrust round the edge of the tent.

And then I saw that it was not Sangree at all. It was an animal. And
the same instant I realised something else too--it was _the_ animal;
and its whole presentment for some unaccountable reason was unutterably
malefic.

A cry I was quite unable to suppress escaped me, and the creature
turned on the instant and stared at me with baleful eyes. I could
have dropped on the spot, for the strength all ran out of my body
with a rush. Something about it touched in me the living terror that
grips and paralyses. If the mind requires but the tenth of a second
to form an impression, I must have stood there stockstill for several
seconds while I seized the ropes for support and stared. Many and vivid
impressions flashed through my mind, but not one of them resulted in
action, because I was in instant dread that the beast any moment would
leap in my direction and be upon me. Instead, however, after what
seemed a vast period, it slowly turned its eyes from my face, uttered a
low whining sound, and came out altogether into the open.

Then, for the first time, I saw it in its entirety and noted two
things: it was about the size of a large dog, but at the same time it
was utterly unlike any animal that I had ever seen. Also, that the
quality that had impressed me first as being malefic, was really only
its singular and original strangeness. Foolish as it may sound, and
impossible as it is for me to adduce proof, I can only say that the
animal seemed to me then to be--not real.

But all this passed through my mind in a flash, almost subconsciously,
and before I had time to check my impressions, or even properly verify
them; I made an involuntary movement, catching the tight rope in my
hand so that it twanged like a banjo string, and in that instant the
creature turned the corner of Sangree’s tent and was gone into the
darkness.

Then, of course, my senses in some measure returned to me, and I
realised only one thing: it had been inside his tent!

I dashed out, reached the door in half a dozen strides, and looked in.
The Canadian, thank God! lay upon his bed of branches. His arm was
stretched outside, across the blankets, the fist tightly clenched, and
the body had an appearance of unusual rigidity that was alarming. On
his face there was an expression of effort, almost of painful effort,
so far as the uncertain light permitted me to see, and his sleep seemed
to be very profound. He looked, I thought, so stiff, so unnaturally
stiff, and in some indefinable way, too, he looked smaller--shrunken.

I called to him to wake, but called many times in vain. Then I decided
to shake him, and had already moved forward to do so vigorously when
there came a sound of footsteps padding softly behind me, and I felt a
stream of hot breath burn my neck as I stooped. I turned sharply. The
tent door was darkened and something silently swept in. I felt a rough
and shaggy body push past me, and knew that the animal had returned. It
seemed to leap forward between me and Sangree--in fact, to leap upon
Sangree, for its dark body hid him momentarily from view, and in that
moment my soul turned sick and coward with a horror that rose from the
very dregs and depth of life, and gripped my existence at its central
source.

The creature seemed somehow to melt away into him, almost as though
it belonged to him and were a part of himself, but in the same
instant--that instant of extraordinary confusion and terror in my
mind--it seemed to pass over and behind him, and, in some utterly
unaccountable fashion, it was gone! And the Canadian woke and sat up
with a start.

“Quick! You fool!” I cried, in my excitement, “the beast has been in
your tent, here at your very throat while you sleep like the dead. Up,
man! Get your gun! Only this second it disappeared over there behind
your head. Quick! or Joan----!”

And somehow the fact that he was there, wide-awake now, to corroborate
me, brought the additional conviction to my own mind that this was no
animal, but some perplexing and dreadful form of life that drew upon my
deeper knowledge, that much reading had perhaps assented to, but that
had never yet come within actual range of my senses.

He was up in a flash, and out. He was trembling, and very white. We
searched hurriedly, feverishly, but found only the traces of paw-marks
passing from the door of his own tent across the moss to the women’s.
And the sight of the tracks about Mrs. Maloney’s tent, where Joan now
slept, set him in a perfect fury.

“Do you know what it is, Hubbard, this beast?” he hissed under his
breath at me; “it’s a damned wolf, that’s what it is--a wolf lost among
the islands, and starving to death--desperate. So help me God, I
believe it’s that!”

He talked a lot of rubbish in his excitement. He declared he would
sleep by day and sit up every night until he killed it. Again his rage
touched my admiration; but I got him away before he made enough noise
to wake the whole Camp.

“I have a better plan than that,” I said, watching his face closely. “I
don’t think this is anything we can deal with. I’m going to send for
the only man I know who can help. We’ll go to Waxholm this very morning
and get a telegram through.”

Sangree stared at me with a curious expression as the fury died out of
his face and a new look of alarm took its place.

“John Silence,” I said, “will know----”

“You think it’s something--of that sort?” he stammered.

“I am sure of it.”

There was a moment’s pause. “That’s worse, far worse than anything
material,” he said, turning visibly paler. He looked from my face to
the sky, and then added with sudden resolution, “Come; the wind’s
rising. Let’s get off at once. From there you can telephone to
Stockholm and get a telegram sent without delay.”

I sent him down to get the boat ready, and seized the opportunity
myself to run and wake Maloney. He was sleeping very lightly, and
sprang up the moment I put my head inside his tent. I told him briefly
what I had seen, and he showed so little surprise that I caught myself
wondering for the first time whether he himself had seen more going on
than he had deemed wise to communicate to the rest of us.

He agreed to my plan without a moment’s hesitation, and my last
words to him were to let his wife and daughter think that the great
psychic doctor was coming merely as a chance visitor, and not with any
professional interest.

So, with frying-pan, provisions, and blankets aboard, Sangree and I
sailed out of the lagoon fifteen minutes later, and headed with a good
breeze for the direction of Waxholm and the borders of civilisation.


IV

Although nothing John Silence did ever took me, properly speaking, by
surprise, it was certainly unexpected to find a letter from Stockholm
waiting for me. “I have finished my Hungary business,” he wrote, “and
am here for ten days. Do not hesitate to send if you need me. If you
telephone any morning from Waxholm I can catch the afternoon steamer.”

My years of intercourse with him were full of “coincidences” of this
description, and although he never sought to explain them by claiming
any magical system of communication with my mind, I have never doubted
that there actually existed some secret telepathic method by which he
knew my circumstances and gauged the degree of my need. And that this
power was independent of time in the sense that it saw into the future,
always seemed to me equally apparent.

Sangree was as much relieved as I was, and within an hour of sunset
that very evening we met him on the arrival of the little coasting
steamer, and carried him off in the dinghy to the camp we had prepared
on a neighbouring island, meaning to start for home early next morning.

“Now,” he said, when supper was over and we were smoking round the
fire, “let me hear your story.” He glanced from one to the other,
smiling.

“You tell it, Mr. Hubbard,” Sangree interrupted abruptly, and went
off a little way to wash the dishes, yet not so far as to be out of
earshot. And while he splashed with the hot water, and scraped the tin
plates with sand and moss, my voice, unbroken by a single question from
Dr. Silence, ran on for the next half-hour with the best account I
could give of what had happened.

My listener lay on the other side of the fire, his face half hidden
by a big sombrero; sometimes he glanced up questioningly when a
point needed elaboration, but he uttered no single word till I had
reached the end, and his manner all through the recital was grave and
attentive. Overhead, the wash of the wind in the pine branches filled
in the pauses; the darkness settled down over the sea, and the stars
came out in thousands, and by the time I finished the moon had risen to
flood the scene with silver. Yet, by his face and eyes, I knew quite
well that the doctor was listening to something he had expected to
hear, even if he had not actually anticipated all the details.

“You did well to send for me,” he said very low, with a significant
glance at me when I finished; “very well,”--and for one swift second
his eye took in Sangree,--“for what we have to deal with here is
nothing more than a werewolf--rare enough, I am glad to say, but often
very sad, and sometimes very terrible.”

I jumped as though I had been shot, but the next second was heartily
ashamed of my want of control; for this brief remark, confirming as
it did my own worst suspicions, did more to convince me of the gravity
of the adventure than any number of questions or explanations. It
seemed to draw close the circle about us, shutting a door somewhere
that locked us in with the animal and the horror, and turning the key.
Whatever it was had now to be faced and dealt with.

“No one has been actually injured so far?” he asked aloud, but in a
matter-of-fact tone that lent reality to grim possibilities.

“Good heavens, no!” cried the Canadian, throwing down his dish-cloths
and coming forward into the circle of firelight. “Surely there can be
no question of this poor starved beast injuring anybody, can there?”

His hair straggled untidily over his forehead, and there was a gleam in
his eyes that was not all reflection from the fire. His words made me
turn sharply. We all laughed a little, short, forced laugh.

“I trust not, indeed,” Dr. Silence said quietly. “But what makes you
think the creature is starved?” He asked the question with his eyes
straight on the other’s face. The prompt question explained to me why
I had started, and I waited with just a tremor of excitement for the
reply.

Sangree hesitated a moment, as though the question took him by
surprise. But he met the doctor’s gaze unflinchingly across the fire,
and with complete honesty.

“Really,” he faltered, with a little shrug of the shoulders, “I can
hardly tell you. The phrase seemed to come out of its own accord. I
have felt from the beginning that it was in pain and--starved, though
why I felt this never occurred to me till you asked.”

“You really know very little about it, then?” said the other, with a
sudden gentleness in his voice.

“No more than that,” Sangree replied, looking at him with a puzzled
expression that was unmistakably genuine. “In fact, nothing at all,
really,” he added, by way of further explanation.

“I am glad of that,” I heard the doctor murmur under his breath, but
so low that I only just caught the words, and Sangree missed them
altogether, as evidently he was meant to do.

“And now,” he cried, getting on his feet and shaking himself with a
characteristic gesture, as though to shake out the horror and the
mystery, “let us leave the problem till to-morrow and enjoy this wind
and sea and stars. I’ve been living lately in the atmosphere of many
people, and feel that I want to wash and be clean. I propose a swim and
then bed. Who’ll second me?” And two minutes later we were all diving
from the boat into cool, deep water, that reflected a thousand moons as
the waves broke away from us in countless ripples.

We slept in blankets under the open sky, Sangree and I taking the
outside places, and were up before sunrise to catch the dawn wind.
Helped by this early start we were half-way home by noon, and then the
wind shifted to a few points behind us so that we fairly ran. In and
out among a thousand islands, down narrow channels where we lost the
wind, out into open spaces where we had to take in a reef, racing along
under a hot and cloudless sky, we flew through the very heart of the
bewildering and lonely scenery.

“A real wilderness,” cried Dr. Silence from his seat in the bows where
he held the jib sheet. His hat was off, his hair tumbled in the wind,
and his lean brown face gave him the touch of an Oriental. Presently
he changed places with Sangree, and came down to talk with me by the
tiller.

“A wonderful region, all this world of islands,” he said, waving his
hand to the scenery rushing past us, “but doesn’t it strike you there’s
something lacking?”

“It’s--hard,” I answered, after a moment’s reflection. “It has a
superficial, glittering prettiness, without----” I hesitated to find
the word I wanted.

John Silence nodded his head with approval.

“Exactly,” he said. “The picturesqueness of stage scenery that is not
real, not alive. It’s like a landscape by a clever painter, yet without
true imagination. Soulless--that’s the word you wanted.”

“Something like that,” I answered, watching the gusts of wind on the
sails. “Not dead so much, as without soul. That’s it.”

“Of course,” he went on, in a voice calculated, it seemed to me, not
to reach our companion in the bows, “to live long in a place like
this--long and alone--might bring about a strange result in some men.”

I suddenly realised he was talking with a purpose and pricked up my
ears.

“There’s no life here. These islands are mere dead rocks pushed up from
below the sea--not living land; and there’s nothing really alive on
them. Even the sea, this tideless, brackish sea, neither salt water nor
fresh, is dead. It’s all a pretty image of life without the real heart
and soul of life. To a man with too strong desires who came here and
lived close to nature, strange things might happen.”

“Let her out a bit,” I shouted to Sangree, who was coming aft. “The
wind’s gusty and we’ve got hardly any ballast.”

He went back to the bows, and Dr. Silence continued--

“Here, I mean, a long sojourn would lead to deterioration, to
degeneration. The place is utterly unsoftened by human influences, by
any humanising associations of history, good or bad. This landscape has
never awakened into life; it’s still dreaming in its primitive sleep.”

“In time,” I put in, “you mean a man living here might become brutal?”

“The passions would run wild, selfishness become supreme, the instincts
coarsen and turn savage probably.”

“But----”

“In other places just as wild, parts of Italy for instance, where there
are other moderating influences, it could not happen. The character
might grow wild, savage too in a sense, but with a human wildness one
could understand and deal with. But here, in a hard place like this, it
might be otherwise.” He spoke slowly, weighing his words carefully.

I looked at him with many questions in my eyes, and a precautionary cry
to Sangree to stay in the fore part of the boat, out of earshot.

“First of all there would come callousness to pain, and indifference
to the rights of others. Then the soul would turn savage, not from
passionate human causes, or with enthusiasm, but by deadening down into
a kind of cold, primitive, emotionless savagery--by turning, like the
landscape, soulless.”

“And a man with strong desires, you say, might change?”

“Without being aware of it, yes; he might turn savage, his instincts
and desires turn animal. And if”--he lowered his voice and turned for
a moment towards the bows, and then continued in his most weighty
manner--“owing to delicate health or other predisposing causes, his
Double--you know what I mean, of course--his etheric Body of Desire, or
astral body, as some term it--that part in which the emotions, passions
and desires reside--if this, I say, were for some constitutional reason
loosely joined to his physical organism, there might well take place an
occasional projection----”

Sangree came aft with a sudden rush, his face aflame, but whether with
wind or sun, or with what he had heard, I cannot say. In my surprise
I let the tiller slip and the cutter gave a great plunge as she came
sharply into the wind and flung us all together in a heap on the
bottom. Sangree said nothing, but while he scrambled up and made the
jib sheet fast my companion found a moment to add to his unfinished
sentence the words, too low for any ear but mine--

“Entirely unknown to himself, however.”

We righted the boat and laughed, and then Sangree produced the map
and explained exactly where we were. Far away on the horizon, across
an open stretch of water, lay a blue cluster of islands with our
crescent-shaped home among them and the safe anchorage of the lagoon.
An hour with this wind would get us there comfortably, and while Dr.
Silence and Sangree fell into conversation, I sat and pondered over the
strange suggestions that had just been put into my mind concerning
the “Double,” and the possible form it might assume when dissociated
temporarily from the physical body.

The whole way home these two chatted, and John Silence was as gentle
and sympathetic as a woman. I did not hear much of their talk, for the
wind grew occasionally to the force of a hurricane and the sails and
tiller absorbed my attention; but I could see that Sangree was pleased
and happy, and was pouring out intimate revelations to his companion in
the way that most people did--when John Silence wished them to do so.

But it was quite suddenly, while I sat all intent upon wind and sails,
that the true meaning of Sangree’s remark about the animal flared up in
me with its full import. For his admission that he knew it was in pain
and starved was in reality nothing more or less than a revelation of
his deeper self. It was in the nature of a confession. He was speaking
of something that he knew positively, something that was beyond
question or argument, something that had to do directly with himself.
“Poor starved beast” he had called it in words that had “come out of
their own accord,” and there had not been the slightest evidence of any
desire to conceal or explain away. He had spoken instinctively--from
his heart, and as though about his own self.

And half an hour before sunset we raced through the narrow opening of
the lagoon and saw the smoke of the dinner-fire blowing here and there
among the trees, and the figures of Joan and the Bo’sun’s Mate running
down to meet us at the landing-stage.


V

Everything changed from the moment John Silence set foot on that
island; it was like the effect produced by calling in some big doctor,
some great arbiter of life and death, for consultation. The sense of
gravity increased a hundredfold. Even inanimate objects took upon
themselves a subtle alteration, for the setting of the adventure--this
deserted bit of sea with its hundreds of uninhabited islands--somehow
turned sombre. An element that was mysterious, and in a sense
disheartening, crept unbidden into the severity of grey rock and dark
pine forest and took the sparkle from the sunshine and the sea.

I, at least, was keenly aware of the change, for my whole being
shifted, as it were, a degree higher, becoming keyed up and alert.
The figures from the background of the stage moved forward a little
into the light--nearer to the inevitable action. In a word this man’s
arrival intensified the whole affair.

And, looking back down the years to the time when all this happened,
it is clear to me that he had a pretty sharp idea of the meaning of it
from the very beginning. How much he knew beforehand by his strange
divining powers, it is impossible to say, but from the moment he came
upon the scene and caught within himself the note of what was going on
amongst us, he undoubtedly held the true solution of the puzzle and had
no need to ask questions. And this certitude it was that set him in
such an atmosphere of power and made us all look to him instinctively;
for he took no tentative steps, made no false moves, and while the rest
of us floundered he moved straight to the climax. He was indeed a true
diviner of souls.

I can now read into his behaviour a good deal that puzzled me at the
time, for though I had dimly guessed the solution, I had no idea how
he would deal with it. And the conversations I can reproduce almost
verbatim, for, according to my invariable habit, I kept full notes of
all he said.

To Mrs. Maloney, foolish and dazed; to Joan, alarmed, yet plucky;
and to the clergyman, moved by his daughter’s distress below his
usual shallow emotions, he gave the best possible treatment in the
best possible way, yet all so easily and simply as to make it appear
naturally spontaneous. For he dominated the Bo’sun’s Mate, taking the
measure of her ignorance with infinite patience; he keyed up Joan,
stirring her courage and interest to the highest point for her own
safety; and the Reverend Timothy he soothed and comforted, while
obtaining his implicit obedience, by taking him into his confidence,
and leading him gradually to a comprehension of the issue that was
bound to follow.

And Sangree--here his wisdom was most wisely calculated--he neglected
outwardly because inwardly he was the object of his unceasing and most
concentrated attention. Under the guise of apparent indifference his
mind kept the Canadian under constant observation.

There was a restless feeling in the Camp that evening and none of us
lingered round the fire after supper as usual. Sangree and I busied
ourselves with patching up the torn tent for our guest and with finding
heavy stones to hold the ropes, for Dr. Silence insisted on having it
pitched on the highest point of the island ridge, just where it was
most rocky and there was no earth for pegs. The place, moreover, was
midway between the men’s and women’s tents, and, of course, commanded
the most comprehensive view of the Camp.

“So that if your dog comes,” he said simply, “I may be able to catch
him as he passes across.”

The wind had gone down with the sun and an unusual warmth lay over the
island that made sleep heavy, and in the morning we assembled at a
late breakfast, rubbing our eyes and yawning. The cool north wind had
given way to the warm southern air that sometimes came up with haze and
moisture across the Baltic, bringing with it the relaxing sensations
that produced enervation and listlessness.

And this may have been the reason why at first I failed to notice that
anything unusual was about, and why I was less alert than normally; for
it was not till after breakfast that the silence of our little party
struck me and I discovered that Joan had not yet put in an appearance.
And then, in a flash, the last heaviness of sleep vanished and I saw
that Maloney was white and troubled and his wife could not hold a plate
without trembling.

A desire to ask questions was stopped in me by a swift glance from
Dr. Silence, and I suddenly understood in some vague way that they
were waiting till Sangree should have gone. How this idea came to me I
cannot determine, but the soundness of the intuition was soon proved,
for the moment he moved off to his tent, Maloney looked up at me and
began to speak in a low voice.

“You slept through it all,” he half whispered.

“Through what?” I asked, suddenly thrilled with the knowledge that
something dreadful had happened.

“We didn’t wake you for fear of getting the whole Camp up,” he went on,
meaning, by the Camp, I supposed, Sangree. “It was just before dawn
when the screams woke me.”

“The dog again?” I asked, with a curious sinking of the heart.

“Got right into the tent,” he went on, speaking passionately but very
low, “and woke my wife by scrambling all over her. Then she realised
that Joan was struggling beside her. And, by God! the beast had torn
her arm; scratched all down the arm she was, and bleeding.”

“Joan injured?” I gasped.

“Merely scratched--this time,” put in John Silence, speaking for the
first time; “suffering more from shock and fright than actual wounds.”

“Isn’t it a mercy the doctor was here,” said Mrs. Maloney, looking as
if she would never know calmness again. “I think we should both have
been killed.”

“It has been a most merciful escape,” Maloney said, his pulpit
voice struggling with his emotion. “But, of course, we cannot risk
another--we must strike Camp and get away at once----”

“Only poor Mr. Sangree must not know what has happened. He is so
attached to Joan and would be so terribly upset,” added the Bo’sun’s
Mate distractedly, looking all about in her terror.

“It is perhaps advisable that Mr. Sangree should not know what has
occurred,” Dr. Silence said with quiet authority, “but I think, for the
safety of all concerned, it will be better not to leave the island just
now.” He spoke with great decision and Maloney looked up and followed
his words closely.

“If you will agree to stay here a few days longer, I have no doubt
we can put an end to the attentions of your strange visitor, and
incidentally have the opportunity of observing a most singular and
interesting phenomenon----”

“What!” gasped Mrs. Maloney, “a phenomenon?--you mean that you know
what it is?”

“I am quite certain I know what it is,” he replied very low, for we
heard the footsteps of Sangree approaching, “though I am not so certain
yet as to the best means of dealing with it. But in any case it is not
wise to leave precipitately----”

“Oh, Timothy, does he think it’s a devil----?” cried the Bo’sun’s Mate
in a voice that even the Canadian must have heard.

“In my opinion,” continued John Silence, looking across at me and the
clergyman, “it is a case of modern lycanthropy with other complications
that may----” He left the sentence unfinished, for Mrs. Maloney got up
with a jump and fled to her tent fearful she might hear a worse thing,
and at that moment Sangree turned the corner of the stockade and came
into view.

“There are footmarks all round the mouth of my tent,” he said with
excitement. “The animal has been here again in the night. Dr. Silence,
you really must come and see them for yourself. They’re as plain on the
moss as tracks in snow.”

But later in the day, while Sangree went off in the canoe to fish
the pools near the larger islands, and Joan still lay, bandaged and
resting, in her tent, Dr. Silence called me and the tutor and proposed
a walk to the granite slabs at the far end. Mrs. Maloney sat on
a stump near her daughter, and busied herself energetically with
alternate nursing and painting.

“We’ll leave you in charge,” the doctor said with a smile that was
meant to be encouraging, “and when you want us for lunch, or anything,
the megaphone will always bring us back in time.”

For, though the very air was charged with strange emotions, every one
talked quietly and naturally as with a definite desire to counteract
unnecessary excitement.

“I’ll keep watch,” said the plucky Bo’sun’s Mate, “and meanwhile I find
comfort in my work.” She was busy with the sketch she had begun on the
day after our arrival. “For even a tree,” she added proudly, pointing
to her little easel, “is a symbol of the divine, and the thought makes
me feel safer.” We glanced for a moment at a daub which was more like
the symptom of a disease than a symbol of the divine--and then took the
path round the lagoon.

At the far end we made a little fire and lay round it in the shadow of
a big boulder. Maloney stopped his humming suddenly and turned to his
companion.

“And what do you make of it all?” he asked abruptly.

“In the first place,” replied John Silence, making himself comfortable
against the rock, “it is of human origin, this animal; it is undoubted
lycanthropy.”

His words had the effect precisely of a bombshell. Maloney listened as
though he had been struck.

“You puzzle me utterly,” he said, sitting up closer and staring at him.

“Perhaps,” replied the other, “but if you’ll listen to me for a few
moments you may be less puzzled at the end--or more. It depends how
much you know. Let me go further and say that you have underestimated,
or miscalculated, the effect of this primitive wild life upon all of
you.”

“In what way?” asked the clergyman, bristling a trifle.

“It is strong medicine for any town-dweller, and for some of you it has
been too strong. One of you has gone wild.” He uttered these last words
with great emphasis.

“Gone savage,” he added, looking from one to the other.

Neither of us found anything to reply.

“To say that the brute has awakened in a man is not a mere metaphor
always,” he went on presently.

“Of course not!”

“But, in the sense I mean, may have a very literal and terrible
significance,” pursued Dr. Silence. “Ancient instincts that no one
dreamed of, least of all their possessor, may leap forth----”

“Atavism can hardly explain a roaming animal with teeth and claws and
sanguinary instincts,” interrupted Maloney with impatience.

“The term is of your own choice,” continued the doctor equably, “not
mine, and it is a good example of a word that indicates a result while
it conceals the process; but the explanation of this beast that haunts
your island and attacks your daughter is of far deeper significance
than mere atavistic tendencies, or throwing back to animal origin,
which I suppose is the thought in your mind.”

“You spoke just now of lycanthropy,” said Maloney, looking bewildered
and anxious to keep to plain facts evidently, “I think I have come
across the word, but really--really--it can have no actual significance
to-day, can it? These superstitions of mediæval times can hardly----”

He looked round at me with his jolly red face, and the expression of
astonishment and dismay on it would have made me shout with laughter at
any other time. Laughter, however, was never farther from my mind than
at this moment when I listened to Dr. Silence as he carefully suggested
to the clergyman the very explanation that had gradually been forcing
itself upon my own mind.

“However mediæval ideas may have exaggerated the idea is not of much
importance to us now,” he said quietly, “when we are face to face with
a modern example of what, I take it, has always been a profound fact.
For the moment let us leave the name of any one in particular out of
the matter and consider certain possibilities.”

We all agreed with that at any rate. There was no need to speak of
Sangree, or of any one else, until we knew a little more.

“The fundamental fact in this most curious case,” he went on, “is that
the ‘Double’ of a man----”

“You mean the astral body? I’ve heard of that, of course,” broke in
Maloney with a snort of triumph.

“No doubt,” said the other, smiling, “no doubt you have;--that this
Double, or fluidic body of a man, as I was saying, has the power under
certain conditions of projecting itself and becoming visible to others.
Certain training will accomplish this, and certain drugs likewise;
illnesses, too, that ravage the body may produce temporarily the result
that death produces permanently, and let loose this counterpart of a
human being and render it visible to the sight of others.

“Every one, of course, knows this more or less to-day; but it is not so
generally known, and probably believed by none who have not witnessed
it, that this fluidic body can, under certain conditions, assume other
forms than human, and that such other forms may be determined by the
dominating thought and wish of the owner. For this Double, or astral
body as you call it, is really the seat of the passions, emotions and
desires in the psychical economy. It is the Passion Body; and, in
projecting itself, it can often assume a form that gives expression to
the overmastering desire that moulds it; for it is composed of such
tenuous matter that it lends itself readily to the moulding by thought
and wish.”

“I follow you perfectly,” said Maloney, looking as if he would much
rather be chopping firewood elsewhere and singing.

“And there are some persons so constituted,” the doctor went on with
increasing seriousness, “that the fluid body in them is but loosely
associated with the physical, persons of poor health as a rule, yet
often of strong desires and passions; and in these persons it is easy
for the Double to dissociate itself during deep sleep from their
system, and, driven forth by some consuming desire, to assume an animal
form and seek the fulfilment of that desire.”

There, in broad daylight, I saw Maloney deliberately creep closer to
the fire and heap the wood on. We gathered in to the heat, and to each
other, and listened to Dr. Silence’s voice as it mingled with the swish
and whirr of the wind about us, and the falling of the little waves.

“For instance, to take a concrete example,” he resumed; “suppose some
young man, with the delicate constitution I have spoken of, forms an
overpowering attachment to a young woman, yet perceives that it is not
welcomed, and is man enough to repress its outward manifestations.
In such a case, supposing his Double be easily projected, the very
repression of his love in the daytime would add to the intense force of
his desire when released in deep sleep from the control of his will,
and his fluidic body might issue forth in monstrous or animal shape and
become actually visible to others. And, if his devotion were dog-like
in its fidelity, yet concealing the fires of a fierce passion beneath,
it might well assume the form of a creature that seemed to be half dog,
half wolf----”

“A werewolf, you mean?” cried Maloney, pale to the lips as he listened.

John Silence held up a restraining hand. “A werewolf,” he said, “is a
true psychical fact of profound significance, however absurdly it may
have been exaggerated by the imaginations of a superstitious peasantry
in the days of unenlightenment, for a werewolf is nothing but the
savage, and possibly sanguinary, instincts of a passionate man scouring
the world in his fluidic body, his passion body, his body of desire. As
in the case at hand, he may not know it----”

“It is not necessarily deliberate, then?” Maloney put in quickly, with
relief.

“----It is hardly ever deliberate. It is the desires released in sleep
from the control of the will finding a vent. In all savage races it has
been recognised and dreaded, this phenomenon styled ‘Wehr Wolf,’ but
to-day it is rare. And it is becoming rarer still, for the world grows
tame and civilised, emotions have become refined, desires lukewarm, and
few men have savagery enough left in them to generate impulses of such
intense force, and certainly not to project them in animal form.”

“By Gad!” exclaimed the clergyman breathlessly, and with increasing
excitement, “then I feel I must tell you--what has been given to me in
confidence--that Sangree has in him an admixture of savage blood--of
Red Indian ancestry----”

“Let us stick to our supposition of a man as described,” the doctor
stopped him calmly, “and let us imagine that he has in him this
admixture of savage blood; and further, that he is wholly unaware of
his dreadful physical and psychical infirmity; and that he suddenly
finds himself leading the primitive life together with the object of
his desires; with the result that the strain of the untamed wild-man in
his blood----”

“Red Indian, for instance,” from Maloney.

“Red Indian, perfectly,” agreed the doctor; “the result, I say, that
this savage strain in him is awakened and leaps into passionate life.
What then?”

He looked hard at Timothy Maloney, and the clergyman looked hard at him.

“The wild life such as you lead it here on this island, for instance,
might quickly awaken his savage instincts--his buried instincts--and
with profoundly disquieting results.”

“You mean his Subtle Body, as you call it, might issue forth
automatically in deep sleep and seek the object of its desire?” I said,
coming to Maloney’s aid, who was finding it more and more difficult to
get words.

“Precisely;--yet the desire of the man remaining utterly
unmalefic--pure and wholesome in every sense----”

“Ah!” I heard the clergyman gasp.

“The lover’s desire for union run wild, run savage, tearing its way out
in primitive, untamed fashion, I mean,” continued the doctor, striving
to make himself clear to a mind bounded by conventional thought and
knowledge; “for the desire to possess, remember, may easily become
importunate, and, embodied in this animal form of the Subtle Body which
acts as its vehicle, may go forth to tear in pieces all that obstructs,
to reach to the very heart of the loved object and seize it. _Au fond_,
it is nothing more than the aspiration for union, as I said--the
splendid and perfectly clean desire to absorb utterly into itself----”

He paused a moment and looked into Maloney’s eyes.

“To bathe in the very heart’s blood of the one desired,” he added with
grave emphasis.

The fire spurted and crackled and made me start, but Maloney found
relief in a genuine shudder, and I saw him turn his head and look about
him from the sea to the trees. The wind dropped just at that moment and
the doctor’s words rang sharply through the stillness.

“Then it might even kill?” stammered the clergyman presently in a
hushed voice, and with a little forced laugh by way of protest that
sounded quite ghastly.

“In the last resort it might kill,” repeated Dr. Silence. Then, after
another pause, during which he was clearly debating how much or how
little it was wise to give to his audience, he continued: “And if the
Double does not succeed in getting back to its physical body, that
physical body would wake an imbecile--an idiot--or perhaps never wake
at all.”

Maloney sat up and found his tongue.

“You mean that if this fluid animal thing, or whatever it is, should be
prevented getting back, the man might never wake again?” he asked, with
shaking voice.

“He might be dead,” replied the other calmly. The tremor of a positive
sensation shivered in the air about us.

“Then isn’t that the best way to cure the fool--the brute----?”
thundered the clergyman, half rising to his feet.

“Certainly it would be an easy and undiscoverable form of murder,” was
the stern reply, spoken as calmly as though it were a remark about the
weather.

Maloney collapsed visibly, and I gathered the wood over the fire and
coaxed up a blaze.

“The greater part of the man’s life--of his vital forces--goes out with
this Double,” Dr. Silence resumed, after a moment’s consideration, “and
a considerable portion of the actual material of his physical body. So
the physical body that remains behind is depleted, not only of force,
but of matter. You would see it small, shrunken, dropped together, just
like the body of a materialising medium at a séance. Moreover, any mark
or injury inflicted upon this Double will be found exactly reproduced
by the phenomenon of repercussion upon the shrunken physical body lying
in its trance----”

“An injury inflicted upon the one you say would be reproduced also on
the other?” repeated Maloney, his excitement growing again.

“Undoubtedly,” replied the other quietly; “for there exists all
the time a continuous connection between the physical body and the
Double--a connection of matter, though of exceedingly attenuated,
possibly of etheric, matter. The wound _travels_, so to speak, from one
to the other, and if this connection were broken the result would be
death.”

“Death,” repeated Maloney to himself, “death!” He looked anxiously at
our faces, his thoughts evidently beginning to clear.

“And this solidity?” he asked presently, after a general pause; “this
tearing of tents and flesh; this howling, and the marks of paws? You
mean that the Double----?”

“Has sufficient material drawn from the depleted body to produce
physical results? Certainly!” the doctor took him up. “Although to
explain at this moment such problems as the passage of matter through
matter would be as difficult as to explain how the thought of a mother
can actually break the bones of the child unborn.”

Dr. Silence pointed out to sea, and Maloney, looking wildly about
him, turned with a violent start. I saw a canoe, with Sangree in the
stern-seat, slowly coming into view round the farther point. His hat
was off, and his tanned face for the first time appeared to me--to us
all, I think--as though it were the face of some one else. He looked
like a wild man. Then he stood up in the canoe to make a cast with the
rod, and he looked for all the world like an Indian. I recalled the
expression of his face as I had seen it once or twice, notably on that
occasion of the evening prayer, and an involuntary shudder ran down my
spine.

At that very instant he turned and saw us where we lay, and his face
broke into a smile, so that his teeth showed white in the sun. He
looked in his element, and exceedingly attractive. He called out
something about his fish, and soon after passed out of sight into the
lagoon.

For a time none of us said a word.

“And the cure?” ventured Maloney at length.

“Is not to quench this savage force,” replied Dr. Silence, “but to
steer it better, and to provide other outlets. This is the solution
of all these problems of accumulated force, for this force is the raw
material of usefulness, and should be increased and cherished, not
by separating it from the body by death, but by raising it to higher
channels. The best and quickest cure of all,” he went on, speaking very
gently and with a hand upon the clergyman’s arm, “is to lead it towards
its object, provided that object is not unalterably hostile--to let it
find rest where----”

He stopped abruptly, and the eyes of the two men met in a single glance
of comprehension.

“Joan?” Maloney exclaimed, under his breath.

“Joan!” replied John Silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

We all went to bed early. The day had been unusually warm, and after
sunset a curious hush descended on the island. Nothing was audible but
that faint, ghostly singing which is inseparable from a pine-wood even
on the stillest day--a low, searching sound, as though the wind had
hair and trailed it o’er the world.

With the sudden cooling of the atmosphere a sea fog began to form. It
appeared in isolated patches over the water, and then these patches
slid together and a white wall advanced upon us. Not a breath of air
stirred; the firs stood like flat metal outlines; the sea became as
oil. The whole scene lay as though held motionless by some huge weight
in the air; and the flames from our fire--the largest we had ever
made--rose upwards, straight as a church steeple.

As I followed the rest of our party tent-wards, having kicked the
embers of the fire into safety, the advance guard of the fog was
creeping slowly among the trees, like white arms feeling their way.
Mingled with the smoke was the odour of moss and soil and bark, and
the peculiar flavour of the Baltic, half salt, half brackish, like the
smell of an estuary at low water.

It is difficult to say why it seemed to me that this deep stillness
masked an intense activity; perhaps in every mood lies the suggestion
of its opposite, so that I became aware of the contrast of furious
energy, for it was like moving through the deep pause before a
thunderstorm, and I trod gently lest by breaking a twig or moving
a stone I might set the whole scene into some sort of tumultuous
movement. Actually, no doubt, it was nothing more than a result of
overstrung nerves.

There was no more question of undressing and going to bed than there
was of undressing and going to bathe. Some sense in me was alert and
expectant. I sat in my tent and waited. And at the end of half an hour
or so my waiting was justified, for the canvas suddenly shivered,
and some one tripped over the ropes that held it to the earth. John
Silence came in.

The effect of his quiet entry was singular and prophetic: it was just
as though the energy lying behind all this stillness had pressed
forward to the edge of action. This, no doubt, was merely the
quickening of my own mind, and had no other justification; for the
presence of John Silence always suggested the near possibility of
vigorous action, and, as a matter of fact, he came in with nothing more
than a nod and a significant gesture.

He sat down on a corner of my ground-sheet, and I pushed the blanket
over so that he could cover his legs. He drew the flap of the tent
after him and settled down, but hardly had he done so when the canvas
shook a second time, and in blundered Maloney.

“Sitting in the dark?” he said self-consciously, pushing his head
inside, and hanging up his lantern on the ridge-pole nail. “I just
looked in for a smoke. I suppose----”

He glanced round, caught the eye of Dr. Silence, and stopped. He
put his pipe back into his pocket and began to hum softly--that
under-breath humming of a nondescript melody I knew so well and had
come to hate.

Dr. Silence leaned forward, opened the lantern and blew the light out.
“Speak low,” he said, “and don’t strike matches. Listen for sounds
and movements about the Camp, and be ready to follow me at a moment’s
notice.” There was light enough to distinguish our faces easily, and I
saw Maloney glance again hurriedly at both of us.

“Is the Camp asleep?” the doctor asked presently, whispering.

“Sangree is,” replied the clergyman, in a voice equally low. “I can’t
answer for the women; I think they’re sitting up.”

“That’s for the best.” And then he added: “I wish the fog would thin a
bit and let the moon through; later--we may want it.”

“It is lifting now, I think,” Maloney whispered back. “It’s over the
tops of the trees already.”

I cannot say what it was in this commonplace exchange of remarks
that thrilled. Probably Maloney’s swift acquiescence in the doctor’s
mood had something to do with it; for his quick obedience certainly
impressed me a good deal. But, even without that slight evidence,
it was clear that each recognised the gravity of the occasion, and
understood that sleep was impossible and sentry duty was the order of
the night.

“Report to me,” repeated John Silence once again, “the least sound, and
do nothing precipitately.”

He shifted across to the mouth of the tent and raised the flap,
fastening it against the pole so that he could see out. Maloney stopped
humming and began to force the breath through his teeth with a kind
of faint hissing, treating us to a medley of church hymns and popular
songs of the day.

Then the tent trembled as though some one had touched it.

“That’s the wind rising,” whispered the clergyman, and pulled the flap
open as far as it would go. A waft of cold damp air entered and made us
shiver, and with it came a sound of the sea as the first wave washed
its way softly along the shores.

“It’s got round to the north,” he added, and following his voice came
a long-drawn whisper that rose from the whole island as the trees sent
forth a sighing response. “The fog’ll move a bit now. I can make out a
lane across the sea already.”

“Hush!” said Dr. Silence, for Maloney’s voice had risen above a
whisper, and we settled down again to another long period of watching
and waiting, broken only by the occasional rubbing of shoulders against
the canvas as we shifted our positions, and the increasing noise of
waves on the outer coast-line of the island. And over all whirred the
murmur of wind sweeping the tops of the trees like a great harp, and
the faint tapping on the tent as drops fell from the branches with a
sharp pinging sound.

We had sat for something over an hour in this way, and Maloney and I
were finding it increasingly hard to keep awake, when suddenly Dr.
Silence rose to his feet and peered out. The next minute he was gone.

Relieved of the dominating presence, the clergyman thrust his face
close into mine. “I don’t much care for this waiting game,” he
whispered, “but Silence wouldn’t hear of my sitting up with the others;
he said it would prevent anything happening if I did.”

“He knows,” I answered shortly.

“No doubt in the world about that,” he whispered back; “it’s this
‘Double’ business, as he calls it, or else it’s obsession as the Bible
describes it. But it’s bad, whichever it is, and I’ve got my Winchester
outside ready cocked, and I brought this too.” He shoved a pocket Bible
under my nose. At one time in his life it had been his inseparable
companion.

“One’s useless and the other’s dangerous,” I replied under my breath,
conscious of a keen desire to laugh, and leaving him to choose. “Safety
lies in following our leader----”

“I’m not thinking of myself,” he interrupted sharply; “only, if
anything happens to Joan to-night I’m going to shoot first--and pray
afterwards!”

Maloney put the book back into his hip-pocket, and peered out of the
doorway. “What is he up to now, in the devil’s name, I wonder!” he
added; “going round Sangree’s tent and making gestures. How weird he
looks disappearing in and out of the fog.”

“Just trust him and wait,” I said quickly, for the doctor was already
on his way back. “Remember, he has the knowledge, and knows what he’s
about. I’ve been with him through worse cases than this.”

Maloney moved back as Dr. Silence darkened the doorway and stooped to
enter.

“His sleep is very deep,” he whispered, seating himself by the door
again. “He’s in a cataleptic condition, and the Double may be released
any minute now. But I’ve taken steps to imprison it in the tent, and it
can’t get out till I permit it. Be on the watch for signs of movement.”
Then he looked hard at Maloney. “But no violence, or shooting,
remember, Mr. Maloney, unless you want a murder on your hands. Anything
done to the Double acts by repercussion upon the physical body. You had
better take out the cartridges at once.”

His voice was stern. The clergyman went out, and I heard him emptying
the magazine of his rifle. When he returned he sat nearer the door than
before, and from that moment until we left the tent he never once took
his eyes from the figure of Dr. Silence, silhouetted there against sky
and canvas.

And, meanwhile, the wind came steadily over the sea and opened the mist
into lanes and clearings, driving it about like a living thing.

It must have been well after midnight when a low booming sound drew my
attention; but at first the sense of hearing was so strained that it
was impossible exactly to locate it, and I imagined it was the thunder
of big guns far out at sea carried to us by the rising wind. Then
Maloney, catching hold of my arm and leaning forward, somehow brought
the true relation, and I realised the next second that it was only a
few feet away.

“Sangree’s tent,” he exclaimed in a loud and startled whisper.

I craned my head round the corner, but at first the effect of the
fog was so confusing that every patch of white driving about before
the wind looked like a moving tent and it was some seconds before I
discovered the one patch that held steady. Then I saw that it was
shaking all over, and the sides, flapping as much as the tightness of
the ropes allowed, were the cause of the booming sound we had heard.
Something alive was tearing frantically about inside, banging against
the stretched canvas in a way that made me think of a great moth
dashing against the walls and ceiling of a room. The tent bulged and
rocked.

“It’s trying to get out, by Jupiter!” muttered the clergyman, rising to
his feet and turning to the side where the unloaded rifle lay. I sprang
up too, hardly knowing what purpose was in my mind, but anxious to be
prepared for anything. John Silence, however, was before us both, and
his figure slipped past and blocked the doorway of the tent. And there
was some quality in his voice next minute when he began to speak that
brought our minds instantly to a state of calm obedience.

“First--the women’s tent,” he said low, looking sharply at Maloney,
“and if I need your help, I’ll call.”

The clergyman needed no second bidding. He dived past me and was out
in a moment. He was labouring evidently under intense excitement. I
watched him picking his way silently over the slippery ground, giving
the moving tent a wide berth, and presently disappearing among the
floating shapes of fog.

Dr. Silence turned to me. “You heard those footsteps about half an hour
ago?” he asked significantly.

“I heard nothing.”

“They were extraordinarily soft--almost the soundless tread of a wild
creature. But now, follow me closely,” he added, “for we must waste
no time if I am to save this poor man from his affliction and lead
his werewolf Double to its rest. And, unless I am much mistaken”--he
peered at me through the darkness, whispering with the utmost
distinctness--“Joan and Sangree are absolutely made for one another.
And I think she knows it too--just as well as he does.”

My head swam a little as I listened, but at the same time something
cleared in my brain and I saw that he was right. Yet it was all so
weird and incredible, so remote from the commonplace facts of life
as commonplace people know them; and more than once it flashed upon
me that the whole scene--people, words, tents, and all the rest of
it--were delusions created by the intense excitement of my own mind
somehow, and that suddenly the sea-fog would clear off and the world
become normal again.

The cold air from the sea stung our cheeks sharply as we left the close
atmosphere of the little crowded tent. The sighing of the trees, the
waves breaking below on the rocks, and the lines and patches of mist
driving about us seemed to create the momentary illusion that the whole
island had broken loose and was floating out to sea like a mighty raft.

The doctor moved just ahead of me, quickly and silently; he was making
straight for the Canadian’s tent where the sides still boomed and shook
as the creature of sinister life raced and tore about impatiently
within. A little distance from the door he paused and held up a hand to
stop me. We were, perhaps, a dozen feet away.

“Before I release it, you shall see for yourself,” he said, “that the
reality of the werewolf is beyond all question. The matter of which
it is composed is, of course, exceedingly attenuated, but you are
partially clairvoyant--and even if it is not dense enough for normal
sight you will see something.”

He added a little more I could not catch. The fact was that the
curiously strong vibrating atmosphere surrounding his person somewhat
confused my senses. It was the result, of course, of his intense
concentration of mind and forces, and pervaded the entire Camp and all
the persons in it. And as I watched the canvas shake and heard it boom
and flap I heartily welcomed it. For it was also protective.

At the back of Sangree’s tent stood a thin group of pine trees, but
in front and at the sides the ground was comparatively clear. The
flap was wide open and any ordinary animal would have been out and
away without the least trouble. Dr. Silence led me up to within a few
feet, evidently careful not to advance beyond a certain limit, and then
stooped down and signalled to me to do the same. And looking over his
shoulder I saw the interior lit faintly by the spectral light reflected
from the fog, and the dim blot upon the balsam boughs and blankets
signifying Sangree; while over him, and round him, and up and down him,
flew the dark mass of “something” on four legs, with pointed muzzle and
sharp ears plainly visible against the tent sides, and the occasional
gleam of fiery eyes and white fangs.

I held my breath and kept utterly still, inwardly and outwardly,
for fear, I suppose, that the creature would become conscious of my
presence; but the distress I felt went far deeper than the mere sense
of personal safety, or the fact of watching something so incredibly
active and real. I became keenly aware of the dreadful psychic calamity
it involved. The realisation that Sangree lay confined in that narrow
space with this species of monstrous projection of himself--that he was
wrapped there in the cataleptic sleep, all unconscious that this thing
was masquerading with his own life and energies--added a distressing
touch of horror to the scene. In all the cases of John Silence--and
they were many and often terrible--no other psychic affliction has
ever, before or since, impressed me so convincingly with the pathetic
impermanence of the human personality, with its fluid nature, and with
the alarming possibilities of its transformations.

“Come,” he whispered, after we had watched for some minutes the frantic
efforts to escape from the circle of thought and will that held it
prisoner, “come a little farther away while I release it.”

We moved back a dozen yards or so. It was like a scene in some
impossible play, or in some ghastly and oppressive nightmare from which
I should presently awake to find the blankets all heaped up upon my
chest.

By some method undoubtedly mental, but which, in my confusion and
excitement, I failed to understand, the doctor accomplished his
purpose, and the next minute I heard him say sharply under his breath,
“It’s out! Now, watch!”

At this very moment a sudden gust from the sea blew aside the mist, so
that a lane opened to the sky, and the moon, ghastly and unnatural as
the effect of stage limelight, dropped down in a momentary gleam upon
the door of Sangree’s tent, and I perceived that something had moved
forward from the interior darkness and stood clearly defined upon the
threshold. And, at the same moment, the tent ceased its shuddering and
held still.

There, in the doorway, stood an animal, with neck and muzzle thrust
forward, its head poking into the night, its whole body poised in that
attitude of intense rigidity that precedes the spring into freedom,
the running leap of attack. It seemed to be about the size of a calf,
leaner than a mastiff, yet more squat than a wolf, and I can swear that
I saw the fur ridged sharply upon its back. Then its upper lip slowly
lifted, and I saw the whiteness of its teeth.

Surely no human being ever stared as hard as I did in those next few
minutes. Yet, the harder I stared the clearer appeared the amazing and
monstrous apparition. For, after all, it was Sangree--and yet it was
not Sangree. It was the head and face of an animal, and yet it was the
face of Sangree: the face of a wild dog, a wolf, and yet his face. The
eyes were sharper, narrower, more fiery, yet they were his eyes--his
eyes run wild; the teeth were longer, whiter, more pointed--yet they
were his teeth, his teeth grown cruel; the expression was flaming,
terrible, exultant--yet it was his expression carried to the border of
savagery--his expression as I had already surprised it more than once,
only dominant now, fully released from human constraint, with the mad
yearning of a hungry and importunate soul. It was the soul of Sangree,
the long suppressed, deeply loving Sangree, expressed in its single and
intense desire--pure utterly and utterly wonderful.

Yet, at the same time, came the feeling that it was all an illusion.
I suddenly remembered the extraordinary changes the human face can
undergo in circular insanity, when it changes from melancholia to
elation; and I recalled the effect of hascheesh, which shows the human
countenance in the form of the bird or animal to which in character
it most approximates; and for a moment I attributed this mingling of
Sangree’s face with a wolf to some kind of similar delusion of the
senses. I was mad, deluded, dreaming! The excitement of the day, and
this dim light of stars and bewildering mist combined to trick me. I
had been amazingly imposed upon by some false wizardry of the senses.
It was all absurd and fantastic; it would pass.

And then, sounding across this sea of mental confusion like a bell
through a fog, came the voice of John Silence bringing me back to a
consciousness of the reality of it all--

“Sangree--in his Double!”

And when I looked again more calmly, I plainly saw that it was indeed
the face of the Canadian, but his face turned animal, yet mingled with
the brute expression a curiously pathetic look like the soul seen
sometimes in the yearning eyes of a dog,--the face of an animal shot
with vivid streaks of the human.

The doctor called to him softly under his breath--

“Sangree! Sangree, you poor afflicted creature! Do you know me? Can you
understand what it is you’re doing in your ‘Body of Desire’?”

For the first time since its appearance the creature moved. Its ears
twitched and it shifted the weight of its body on to the hind legs.
Then, lifting its head and muzzle to the sky, it opened its long jaws
and gave vent to a dismal and prolonged howling.

But, when I heard that howling rise to heaven, the breath caught and
strangled in my throat and it seemed that my heart missed a beat; for,
though the sound was entirely animal, it was at the same time entirely
human. But, more than that, it was the cry I had so often heard in the
Western States of America where the Indians still fight and hunt and
struggle--it was the cry of the Redskin!

“The Indian blood!” whispered John Silence, when I caught his arm for
support; “the ancestral cry.”

And that poignant, beseeching cry, that broken human voice, mingling
with the savage howl of the brute beast, pierced straight to my
very heart and touched there something that no music, no voice,
passionate or tender, of man, woman or child has ever stirred before
or since for one second into life. It echoed away among the fog and
the trees and lost itself somewhere out over the hidden sea. And some
part of myself--something that was far more than the mere act of
intense listening--went out with it, and for several minutes I lost
consciousness of my surroundings and felt utterly absorbed in the pain
of another stricken fellow-creature.

Again the voice of John Silence recalled me to myself.

“Hark!” he said aloud. “Hark!”

His tone galvanised me afresh. We stood listening side by side.

Far across the island, faintly sounding through the trees and
brushwood, came a similar, answering cry. Shrill, yet wonderfully
musical, shaking the heart with a singular wild sweetness that defies
description, we heard it rise and fall upon the night air.

“It’s across the lagoon,” Dr. Silence cried, but this time in full
tones that paid no tribute to caution. “It’s Joan! She’s answering him!”

Again the wonderful cry rose and fell, and that same instant the animal
lowered its head, and, muzzle to earth, set off on a swift easy canter
that took it off into the mist and out of our sight like a thing of
wind and vision.

The doctor made a quick dash to the door of Sangree’s tent, and,
following close at his heels, I peered in and caught a momentary
glimpse of the small, shrunken body lying upon the branches but half
covered by the blankets--the cage from which most of the life, and not
a little of the actual corporeal substance, had escaped into that other
form of life and energy, the body of passion and desire.

By another of those swift, incalculable processes which at this stage
of my apprenticeship I failed often to grasp, Dr. Silence reclosed the
circle about the tent and body.

“Now it cannot return till I permit it,” he said, and the next second
was off at full speed into the woods, with myself close behind him.
I had already had some experience of my companion’s ability to run
swiftly through a dense wood, and I now had the further proof of his
power almost to see in the dark. For, once we left the open space
about the tents, the trees seemed to absorb all the remaining vestiges
of light, and I understood that special sensibility that is said to
develop in the blind--the sense of obstacles.

And twice as we ran we heard the sound of that dismal howling drawing
nearer and nearer to the answering faint cry from the point of the
island whither we were going.

Then, suddenly, the trees fell away, and we emerged, hot and
breathless, upon the rocky point where the granite slabs ran bare into
the sea. It was like passing into the clearness of open day. And there,
sharply defined against sea and sky, stood the figure of a human being.
It was Joan.

I at once saw that there was something about her appearance that was
singular and unusual, but it was only when we had moved quite close
that I recognised what caused it. For while the lips wore a smile that
lit the whole face with a happiness I had never seen there before, the
eyes themselves were fixed in a steady, sightless stare as though they
were lifeless and made of glass.

I made an impulsive forward movement, but Dr. Silence instantly dragged
me back.

“No,” he cried, “don’t wake her!”

“What do you mean?” I replied aloud, struggling in his grasp.

“She’s asleep. It’s somnambulistic. The shock might injure her
permanently.”

I turned and peered closely into his face. He was absolutely calm. I
began to understand a little more, catching, I suppose, something of
his strong thinking.

“Walking in her sleep, you mean?”

He nodded. “She’s on her way to meet him. From the very beginning he
must have drawn her--irresistibly.”

“But the torn tent and the wounded flesh?”

“When she did not sleep deep enough to enter the somnambulistic trance
he missed her--he went instinctively and in all innocence to seek her
out--with the result, of course, that she woke and was terrified----”

“Then in their heart of hearts they love?” I asked finally.

John Silence smiled his inscrutable smile: “Profoundly,” he answered,
“and as simply as only primitive souls can love. If only they both come
to realise it in their normal waking states his Double will cease these
nocturnal excursions. He will be cured, and at rest.”

The words had hardly left his lips when there was a sound of rustling
branches on our left, and the very next instant the dense brushwood
parted where it was darkest and out rushed the swift form of an animal
at full gallop. The noise of feet was scarcely audible, but in that
utter stillness I heard the heavy panting breath and caught the swish
of the low bushes against its sides. It went straight towards Joan--and
as it went the girl lifted her head and turned to meet it. And the same
instant a canoe that had been creeping silently and unobserved round
the inner shore of the lagoon, emerged from the shadows and defined
itself upon the water with a figure at the middle thwart. It was
Maloney.

It was only afterwards I realised that we were invisible to him where
we stood against the dark background of trees; the figures of Joan and
the animal he saw plainly, but not Dr. Silence and myself standing just
beyond them. He stood up in the canoe and pointed with his right arm. I
saw something gleam in his hand.

“Stand aside, Joan girl, or you’ll get hit,” he shouted, his voice
ringing horribly through the deep stillness, and the same instant a
pistol-shot cracked out with a burst of flame and smoke, and the figure
of the animal, with one tremendous leap into the air, fell back in the
shadows and disappeared like a shape of night and fog. Instantly, then,
Joan opened her eyes, looked in a dazed fashion about her, and pressing
both hands against her heart, fell with a sharp cry into my arms that
were just in time to catch her.

And an answering cry sounded across the lagoon--thin, wailing, piteous.
It came from Sangree’s tent.

“Fool!” cried Dr. Silence, “you’ve wounded him!” and before we could
move or realise quite what it meant, he was in the canoe and half-way
across the lagoon.

Some kind of similar abuse came in a torrent from my lips too--though
I cannot remember the actual words--as I cursed the man for his
disobedience and tried to make the girl comfortable on the ground. But
the clergyman was more practical. He was spreading his coat over her
and dashing water on her face.

“It’s not Joan I’ve killed at any rate,” I heard him mutter as she
turned and opened her eyes and smiled faintly up in his face. “I swear
the bullet went straight.”

Joan stared at him; she was still dazed and bewildered, and still
imagined herself with the companion of her trance. The strange lucidity
of the somnambulist still hung over her brain and mind, though
outwardly she appeared troubled and confused.

“Where has he gone to? He disappeared so suddenly, crying that he was
hurt,” she asked, looking at her father as though she did not recognise
him. “And if they’ve done anything to him--they have done it to me
too--for he is more to me than----”

Her words grew vaguer and vaguer as she returned slowly to her normal
waking state, and now she stopped altogether, as though suddenly aware
that she had been surprised into telling secrets. But all the way back,
as we carried her carefully through the trees, the girl smiled and
murmured Sangree’s name and asked if he was injured, until it finally
became clear to me that the wild soul of the one had called to the
wild soul of the other and in the secret depths of their beings the
call had been heard and understood. John Silence was right. In the
abyss of her heart, too deep at first for recognition, the girl loved
him, and had loved him from the very beginning. Once her normal waking
consciousness recognised the fact they would leap together like twin
flames, and his affliction would be at an end; his intense desire would
be satisfied; he would be cured.

And in Sangree’s tent Dr. Silence and I sat up for the remainder of the
night--this wonderful and haunted night that had shown us such strange
glimpses of a new heaven and a new hell--for the Canadian tossed upon
his balsam boughs with high fever in his blood, and upon each cheek a
dark and curious contusion showed, throbbing with severe pain although
the skin was not broken and there was no outward and visible sign of
blood.

“Maloney shot straight, you see,” whispered Dr. Silence to me after the
clergyman had gone to his tent, and had put Joan to sleep beside her
mother, who, by the way, had never once awakened. “The bullet must have
passed clean through the face, for both cheeks are stained. He’ll wear
these marks all his life--smaller, but always there. They’re the most
curious scars in the world, these scars transferred by repercussion
from an injured Double. They’ll remain visible until just before his
death, and then with the withdrawal of the subtle body they will
disappear finally.”

His words mingled in my dazed mind with the sighs of the troubled
sleeper and the crying of the wind about the tent. Nothing seemed to
paralyse my powers of realisation so much as these twin stains of
mysterious significance upon the face before me.

It was odd, too, how speedily and easily the Camp resigned itself
again to sleep and quietness, as though a stage curtain had suddenly
dropped down upon the action and concealed it; and nothing contributed
so vividly to the feeling that I had been a spectator of some kind of
visionary drama as the dramatic nature of the change in the girl’s
attitude.

Yet, as a matter of fact, the change had not been so sudden and
revolutionary as appeared. Underneath, in those remoter regions
of consciousness where the emotions, unknown to their owners, do
secretly mature, and owe thence their abrupt revelation to some abrupt
psychological climax, there can be no doubt that Joan’s love for the
Canadian had been growing steadily and irresistibly all the time. It
had now rushed to the surface so that she recognised it; that was all.

And it has always seemed to me that the presence of John Silence,
so potent, so quietly efficacious, produced an effect, if one may
say so, of a psychic forcing-house, and hastened incalculably the
bringing together of these two “wild” lovers. In that sudden awakening
had occurred the very psychological climax required to reveal the
passionate emotion accumulated below. The deeper knowledge had leaped
across and transferred itself to her ordinary consciousness, and in
that shock the collision of the personalities had shaken them to the
depths and shown her the truth beyond all possibility of doubt.

“He’s sleeping quietly now,” the doctor said, interrupting my
reflections. “If you will watch alone for a bit I’ll go to Maloney’s
tent and help him to arrange his thoughts.” He smiled in anticipation
of that “arrangement.” “He’ll never quite understand how a wound on the
Double can transfer itself to the physical body, but at least I can
persuade him that the less he talks and ‘explains’ tomorrow, the sooner
the forces will run their natural course now to peace and quietness.”

He went away softly, and with the removal of his presence Sangree,
sleeping heavily, turned over and groaned with the pain of his broken
head.

And it was in the still hour just before the dawn, when all the islands
were hushed, the wind and sea still dreaming, and the stars visible
through clearing mists, that a figure crept silently over the ridge and
reached the door of the tent where I dozed beside the sufferer, before
I was aware of its presence. The flap was cautiously lifted a few
inches and in looked--Joan.

That same instant Sangree woke and sat up on his bed of branches. He
recognised her before I could say a word, and uttered a low cry. It was
pain and joy mingled, and this time all human. And the girl too was no
longer walking in her sleep, but fully aware of what she was doing. I
was only just able to prevent him springing from his blankets.

“Joan, Joan!” he cried, and in a flash she answered him, “I’m here--I’m
with you always now,” and had pushed past me into the tent and flung
herself upon his breast.

“I knew you would come to me in the end,” I heard him whisper.

“It was all too big for me to understand at first,” she murmured, “and
for a long time I was frightened----”

“But not now!” he cried louder; “you don’t feel afraid now of--of
anything that’s in me----”

“I fear nothing,” she cried, “nothing, nothing!”

I led her outside again. She looked steadily into my face with eyes
shining and her whole being transformed. In some intuitive way,
surviving probably from the somnambulism, she knew or guessed as much
as I knew.

“You must talk tomorrow with John Silence,” I said gently, leading her
towards her own tent. “He understands everything.”

I left her at the door, and as I went back softly to take up my place
of sentry again with the Canadian, I saw the first streaks of dawn
lighting up the far rim of the sea behind the distant islands.

And, as though to emphasise the eternal closeness of comedy to tragedy,
two small details rose out of the scene and impressed me so vividly
that I remember them to this very day. For in the tent where I had
just left Joan, all aquiver with her new happiness, there rose plainly
to my ears the grotesque sounds of the Bo’sun’s Mate heavily snoring,
oblivious of all things in heaven or hell; and from Maloney’s tent, so
still was the night, where I looked across and saw the lantern’s glow,
there came to me, through the trees, the monotonous rising and falling
of a human voice that was beyond question the sound of a man praying to
his God.


_Printed by_ MORRISON & GIBB LIMITED _Edinburgh_



Transcriber’s Note:

  Punctuation has been standardised. Hyphenation and spelling have been
  retained as appears in the original publication except as follows:

  Page 51
  available chink and crannie _changed to_
  available chink and cranny

  Page 56
  looking persuasivly from one _changed to_
  looking persuasively from one

  Page 280
  yet at the same time so strangly _changed to_
  yet at the same time so strangely





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "John Silence, Physician Extraordinary" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home