BROOD OF THE
C. ARTHUR PEARSON, LIMITED
HENRIETTA STREET, W.C.
* * * * *
I. ANTONY FERRARA
II. THE PHANTOM HANDS
III. THE RING OF THOTH
IV. AT FERRARA'S CHAMBERS
V. THE RUSTLING SHADOWS
VI. THE BEETLES
VII. SIR ELWIN GROVES' PATIENT
VIII. THE SECRET OF DHOON
IX. THE POLISH JEWESS
X. THE LAUGHTER
XII. THE MASK OF SET
XIII. THE SCORPION WIND
XIV. DR. CAIRN ARRIVES
XV. THE WITCH-QUEEN
XVI. LAIR OF THE SPIDERS
XVII. THE STORY OF ALI MOHAMMED
XVIII. THE BATS
XX. THE INCENSE
XXI. THE MAGICIAN
XXIII. THE FACE IN THE ORCHID-HOUSE
XXIV. FLOWERING OF THE LOTUS
XXV. CAIRN MEETS FERRARA
XXVI. THE IVORY HAND
XXVII. THE THUG'S CORD
XXVIII. THE HIGH PRIEST HORTOTEF
XXIX. THE WIZARD'S DEN
XXX. THE ELEMENTAL
XXXI. THE BOOK OF THOTH
* * * * *
The strange deeds of Antony Ferrara, as herein related, are intended to illustrate certain phases of Sorcery as it was formerly practised (according to numerous records) not only in Ancient Egypt but also in Europe, during the Middle Ages. In no case do the powers attributed to him exceed those which are claimed for a fully equipped Adept.
* * * * *
BROOD OF THE WITCH-QUEEN
Robert Cairn looked out across the quadrangle. The moon had just arisen, and it softened the beauty of the old college buildings, mellowed the harshness of time, casting shadow pools beneath the cloisteresque arches to the west and setting out the ivy in stronger relief upon the ancient walls. The barred shadow on the lichened stones beyond the elm was cast by the hidden gate; and straight ahead, where, between a quaint chimney-stack and a bartizan, a triangular patch of blue showed like spangled velvet, lay the Thames. It was from there the cooling breeze came.
But Cairn's gaze was set upon a window almost directly ahead, and west below the chimneys. Within the room to which it belonged a lambent light played.
Cairn turned to his companion, a ruddy and athletic looking man, somewhat bovine in type, who at the moment was busily tracing out sections on a human skull and checking his calculations from Ross's Diseases of the Nervous System.
"Sime," he said, "what does Ferrara always have a fire in his rooms for at this time of the year?"
Sime glanced up irritably at the speaker. Cairn was a tall, thin Scotsman, clean-shaven, square jawed, and with the crisp light hair and grey eyes which often bespeak unusual virility.
"Aren't you going to do any work?" he inquired pathetically. "I thought you'd come to give me a hand with my basal ganglia. I shall go down on that; and there you've been stuck staring out of the window!"
"Wilson, in the end house, has got a most unusual brain," said Cairn, with apparent irrelevance.
"Has he!" snapped Sime.
"Yes, in a bottle. His governor is at Bart's; he sent it up yesterday. You ought to see it."
"Nobody will ever want to put your brain in a bottle," predicted the scowling Sime, and resumed his studies.
Cairn relighted his pipe, staring across the quadrangle again. Then—
"You've never been in Ferrara's rooms, have you?" he inquired.
Followed a muffled curse, crash, and the skull went rolling across the floor.
"Look here, Cairn," cried Sime, "I've only got a week or so now, and my nervous system is frantically rocky; I shall go all to pieces on my nervous system. If you want to talk, go ahead. When you're finished, I can begin work."
"Right-oh," said Cairn calmly, and tossed his pouch across. "I want to talk to you about Ferrara."
"Go ahead then. What is the matter with Ferrara?"
"Well," replied Cairn, "he's queer."
"That's no news," said Sime, filling his pipe; "we all know he's a queer chap. But he's popular with women. He'd make a fortune as a nerve specialist."
"He doesn't have to; he inherits a fortune when Sir Michael dies."
"There's a pretty cousin, too, isn't there?" inquired Sime slyly.
"There is," replied Cairn. "Of course," he continued, "my governor and Sir Michael are bosom friends, and although I've never seen much of young Ferrara, at the same time I've got nothing against him. But—" he hesitated.
"Spit it out," urged Sime, watching him oddly.
"Well, it's silly, I suppose, but what does he want with a fire on a blazing night like this?"
"Perhaps he's a throw-back," he suggested lightly. "The Ferraras, although they're counted Scotch—aren't they?—must have been Italian originally—"
"Spanish," corrected Cairn. "They date from the son of Andrea Ferrara, the sword-maker, who was a Spaniard. Caesar Ferrara came with the Armada in 1588 as armourer. His ship was wrecked up in the Bay of Tobermory and he got ashore—and stopped."
"Married a Scotch lassie?"
"Exactly. But the genealogy of the family doesn't account for Antony's habits."
"Well, look." Cairn waved in the direction of the open window. "What does he do in the dark all night, with a fire going?"
"Nonsense! You've never been in his rooms, have you?"
"No. Very few men have. But as I said before, he's popular with the women."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean there have been complaints. Any other man would have been sent down."
"You think he has influence—"
"Influence of some sort, undoubtedly."
"Well, I can see you have serious doubts about the man, as I have myself, so I can unburden my mind. You recall that sudden thunderstorm on Thursday?"
"Rather; quite upset me for work."
"I was out in it. I was lying in a punt in the backwater—you know, our backwater."
"To tell you the truth, I was trying to make up my mind whether I should abandon bones and take the post on the Planet which has been offered me."
"Pills for the pen—Harley for Fleet? Did you decide?"
"Not then; something happened which quite changed my line of reflection."
The room was becoming cloudy with tobacco smoke.
"It was delightfully still," Cairn resumed. "A water rat rose within a foot of me and a kingfisher was busy on a twig almost at my elbow. Twilight was just creeping along, and I could hear nothing but faint creakings of sculls from the river and sometimes the drip of a punt-pole. I thought the river seemed to become suddenly deserted; it grew quite abnormally quiet—and abnormally dark. But I was so deep in reflection that it never occurred to me to move.
"Then the flotilla of swans came round the bend, with Apollo—you know Apollo, the king-swan?—at their head. By this time it had grown tremendously dark, but it never occurred to me to ask myself why. The swans, gliding along so noiselessly, might have been phantoms. A hush, a perfect hush, settled down. Sime, that hush was the prelude to a strange thing—an unholy thing!"
Cairn rose excitedly and strode across to the table, kicking the skull out of his way.
"It was the storm gathering," snapped Sime.
"It was something else gathering! Listen! It got yet darker, but for some inexplicable reason, although I must have heard the thunder muttering, I couldn't take my eyes off the swans. Then it happened—the thing I came here to tell you about; I must tell somebody—the thing that I am not going to forget in a hurry."
He began to knock out the ash from his pipe.
"Go on," directed Sime tersely.
"The big swan—Apollo—was within ten feet of me; he swam in open water, clear of the others; no living thing touched him. Suddenly, uttering a cry that chilled my very blood, a cry that I never heard from a swan in my life, he rose in the air, his huge wings extended—like a tortured phantom, Sime; I can never forget it—six feet clear of the water. The uncanny wail became a stifled hiss, and sending up a perfect fountain of water—I was deluged—the poor old king-swan fell, beat the surface with his wings—and was still."
"The other swans glided off like ghosts. Several heavy raindrops pattered on the leaves above. I admit I was scared. Apollo lay with one wing right in the punt. I was standing up; I had jumped to my feet when the thing occurred. I stooped and touched the wing. The bird was quite dead! Sime, I pulled the swan's head out of the water, and—his neck was broken; no fewer than three vertebrae fractured!"
A cloud of tobacco smoke was wafted towards the open window.
"It isn't one in a million who could wring the neck of a bird like Apollo, Sime; but it was done before my eyes without the visible agency of God or man! As I dropped him and took to the pole, the storm burst. A clap of thunder spoke with the voice of a thousand cannon, and I poled for bare life from that haunted backwater. I was drenched to the skin when I got in, and I ran up all the way from the stage."
"Well?" rapped the other again, as Cairn paused to refill his pipe.
"It was seeing the firelight flickering at Ferrara's window that led me to do it. I don't often call on him; but I thought that a rub down before the fire and a glass of toddy would put me right. The storm had abated as I got to the foot of his stair—only a distant rolling of thunder.
"Then, out of the shadows—it was quite dark—into the flickering light of the lamp came somebody all muffled up. I started horribly. It was a girl, quite a pretty girl, too, but very pale, and with over-bright eyes. She gave one quick glance up into my face, muttered something, an apology, I think, and drew back again into her hiding-place."
"He's been warned," growled Sime. "It will be notice to quit next time."
"I ran upstairs and banged on Ferrara's door. He didn't open at first, but shouted out to know who was knocking. When I told him, he let me in, and closed the door very quickly. As I went in, a pungent cloud met me—incense."
"His rooms smelt like a joss-house; I told him so. He said he was experimenting with Kyphi—the ancient Egyptian stuff used in the temples. It was all dark and hot; phew! like a furnace. Ferrara's rooms always were odd, but since the long vacation I hadn't been in. Good lord, they're disgusting!"
"How? Ferrara spent vacation in Egypt; I suppose he's brought things back?"
"Things—yes! Unholy things! But that brings me to something too. I ought to know more about the chap than anybody; Sir Michael Ferrara and the governor have been friends for thirty years; but my father is oddly reticent—quite singularly reticent—regarding Antony. Anyway, have you heard about him, in Egypt?"
"I've heard he got into trouble. For his age, he has a devil of a queer reputation; there's no disguising it."
"What sort of trouble?"
"I've no idea. Nobody seems to know. But I heard from young Ashby that Ferrara was asked to leave."
"There's some tale about Kitchener—"
"By Kitchener, Ashby says; but I don't believe it."
"Well—Ferrara lighted a lamp, an elaborate silver thing, and I found myself in a kind of nightmare museum. There was an unwrapped mummy there, the mummy of a woman—I can't possibly describe it. He had pictures, too—photographs. I shan't try to tell you what they represented. I'm not thin-skinned; but there are some subjects that no man anxious to avoid Bedlam would willingly investigate. On the table by the lamp stood a number of objects such as I had never seen in my life before, evidently of great age. He swept them into a cupboard before I had time to look long. Then he went off to get a bath towel, slippers, and so forth. As he passed the fire he threw something in. A hissing tongue of flame leapt up—and died down again."
"What did he throw in?"
"I am not absolutely certain; so I won't say what I think it was, at the moment. Then he began to help me shed my saturated flannels, and he set a kettle on the fire, and so forth. You know the personal charm of the man? But there was an unpleasant sense of something—what shall I say?—sinister. Ferrara's ivory face was more pale than usual, and he conveyed the idea that he was chewed up—exhausted. Beads of perspiration were on his forehead."
"Heat of his rooms?"
"No," said Cairn shortly. "It wasn't that. I had a rub down and borrowed some slacks. Ferrara brewed grog and pretended to make me welcome. Now I come to something which I can't forget; it may be a mere coincidence, but—. He has a number of photographs in his rooms, good ones, which he has taken himself. I'm not speaking now of the monstrosities, the outrages; I mean views, and girls—particularly girls. Well, standing on a queer little easel right under the lamp was a fine picture of Apollo, the swan, lord of the backwater."
Sime stared dully through the smoke haze.
"It gave me a sort of shock," continued Cairn. "It made me think, harder than ever, of the thing he had thrown in the fire. Then, in his photographic zenana, was a picture of a girl whom I am almost sure was the one I had met at the bottom of the stair. Another was of Myra Duquesne."
"Yes. I felt like tearing it from the wall. In fact, the moment I saw it, I stood up to go. I wanted to run to my rooms and strip the man's clothes off my back! It was a struggle to be civil any longer. Sime, if you had seen that swan die—"
Sime walked over to the window.
"I have a glimmering of your monstrous suspicions," he said slowly. "The last man to be kicked out of an English varsity for this sort of thing, so far as I know, was Dr. Dee of St. John's, Cambridge, and that's going back to the sixteenth century."
"I know; it's utterly preposterous, of course. But I had to confide in somebody. I'll shift off now, Sime."
Sime nodded, staring from the open window. As Cairn was about to close the outer door:
"Cairn," cried Sime, "since you are now a man of letters and leisure, you might drop in and borrow Wilson's brains for me."
"All right," shouted Cairn.
Down in the quadrangle he stood for a moment, reflecting; then, acting upon a sudden resolution, he strode over towards the gate and ascended Ferrara's stair.
For some time he knocked at the door in vain, but he persisted in his clamouring, arousing the ancient echoes. Finally, the door was opened.
Antony Ferrara faced him. He wore a silver-grey dressing gown, trimmed with white swansdown, above which his ivory throat rose statuesque. The almond-shaped eyes, black as night, gleamed strangely beneath the low, smooth brow. The lank black hair appeared lustreless by comparison. His lips were very red. In his whole appearance there was something repellently effeminate.
"Can I come in?" demanded Cairn abruptly.
"Is it—something important?" Ferrara's voice was husky but not unmusical.
"Why, are you busy?"
"Well—er—" Ferrara smiled oddly.
"Oh, a visitor?" snapped Cairn.
"Not at all."
"Accounts for your delay in opening," said Cairn, and turned on his heel. "Mistook me for the proctor, in person, I suppose. Good-night."
Ferrara made no reply. But, although he never once glanced back, Cairn knew that Ferrara, leaning over the rail, above, was looking after him; it was as though elemental heat were beating down upon his head.
THE PHANTOM HANDS
A week later Robert Cairn quitted Oxford to take up the newspaper appointment offered to him in London. It may have been due to some mysterious design of a hidden providence that Sime 'phoned him early in the week about an unusual case in one of the hospitals.
"Walton is junior house-surgeon there," he said, "and he can arrange for you to see the case. She (the patient) undoubtedly died from some rare nervous affection. I have a theory," etc.; the conversation became technical.
Cairn went to the hospital, and by courtesy of Walton, whom he had known at Oxford, was permitted to view the body.
"The symptoms which Sime has got to hear about," explained the surgeon, raising the sheet from the dead woman's face, "are—"
He broke off. Cairn had suddenly exhibited a ghastly pallor; he clutched at Walton for support.
Cairn, still holding on to the other, stooped over the discoloured face. It had been a pretty face when warm life had tinted its curves; now it was congested—awful; two heavy discolorations showed, one on either side of the region of the larynx.
"What on earth is wrong with you?" demanded Walton.
"I thought," gasped Cairn, "for a moment, that I knew—"
"Really! I wish you did! We can't find out anything about her. Have a good look."
"No," said Cairn, mastering himself with an effort—"a chance resemblance, that's all." He wiped the beads of perspiration from his forehead.
"You look jolly shaky," commented Walton. "Is she like someone you know very well?"
"No, not at all, now that I come to consider the features; but it was a shock at first. What on earth caused death?"
"Asphyxia," answered Walton shortly. "Can't you see?"
"Someone strangled her, and she was brought here too late?"
"Not at all, my dear chap; nobody strangled her. She was brought here in a critical state four or five days ago by one of the slum priests who keep us so busy. We diagnosed it as exhaustion from lack of food—with other complications. But the case was doing quite well up to last night; she was recovering strength. Then, at about one o'clock, she sprang up in bed, and fell back choking. By the time the nurse got to her it was all over."
"But the marks on her throat?"
Walton shrugged his shoulders.
"There they are! Our men are keenly interested. It's absolutely unique. Young Shaw, who has a mania for the nervous system, sent a long account up to Sime, who suffers from a similar form of aberration."
"Yes; Sime 'phoned me."
"It's nothing to do with nerves," said Walton contemptuously. "Don't ask me to explain it, but it's certainly no nerve case."
"One of the other patients—"
"My dear chap, the other patients were all fast asleep! The nurse was at her table in the corner, and in full view of the bed the whole time. I tell you no one touched her!"
"How long elapsed before the nurse got to her?"
"Possibly half a minute. But there is no means of learning when the paroxysm commenced. The leaping up in bed probably marked the end and not the beginning of the attack."
Cairn experienced a longing for the fresh air; it was as though some evil cloud hovered around and about the poor unknown. Strange ideas, horrible ideas, conjectures based upon imaginings all but insane, flooded his mind darkly.
Leaving the hospital, which harboured a grim secret, he stood at the gate for a moment, undecided what to do. His father, Dr. Cairn, was out of London, or he would certainly have sought him in this hour of sore perplexity.
"What in Heaven's name is behind it all!" he asked himself.
For he knew beyond doubt that the girl who lay in the hospital was the same that he had seen one night at Oxford, was the girl whose photograph he had found in Antony Ferrara's rooms!
He formed a sudden resolution. A taxi-cab was passing at that moment, and he hailed it, giving Sir Michael Ferrara's address. He could scarcely trust himself to think, but frightful possibilities presented themselves to him, repel them how he might. London seemed to grow dark, overshadowed, as once he had seen a Thames backwater grow. He shuddered, as though from a physical chill.
The house of the famous Egyptian scholar, dull white behind its rampart of trees, presented no unusual appearances to his anxious scrutiny. What he feared he scarcely knew; what he suspected he could not have defined.
Sir Michael, said the servant, was unwell and could see no one. That did not surprise Cairn; Sir Michael had not enjoyed good health since malaria had laid him low in Syria. But Miss Duquesne was at home.
Cairn was shown into the long, low-ceiled room which contained so many priceless relics of a past civilisation. Upon the bookcase stood the stately ranks of volumes which had carried the fame of Europe's foremost Egyptologist to every corner of the civilised world. This queerly furnished room held many memories for Robert Cairn, who had known it from childhood, but latterly it had always appeared to him in his daydreams as the setting for a dainty figure. It was here that he had first met Myra Duquesne, Sir Michael's niece, when, fresh from a Norman convent, she had come to shed light and gladness upon the somewhat, sombre household of the scholar. He often thought of that day; he could recall every detail of the meeting—
Myra Duquesne came in, pulling aside the heavy curtains that hung in the arched entrance. With a granite Osiris flanking her slim figure on one side and a gilded sarcophagus on the other, she burst upon the visitor, a radiant vision in white. The light gleamed through her soft, brown hair forming a halo for a face that Robert Cairn knew for the sweetest in the world.
"Why, Mr. Cairn," she said, and blushed entrancingly—"we thought you had forgotten us."
"That's not a little bit likely," he replied, taking her proffered hand, and there was that in his voice and in his look which made her lower her frank grey eyes. "I have only been in London a few days, and I find that Press work is more exacting than I had anticipated!"
"Did you want to see my uncle very particularly?" asked Myra.
"In a way, yes. I suppose he could not manage to see me—"
Myra shook her head. Now that the flush of excitement had left her face, Cairn was concerned to see how pale she was and what dark shadows lurked beneath her eyes.
"Sir Michael is not seriously ill?" he asked quickly. "Only one of the visual attacks—"
"Yes—at least it began with one."
She hesitated, and Cairn saw to his consternation that her eyes became filled with tears. The real loneliness of her position, now that her guardian was ill, the absence of a friend in whom she could confide her fears, suddenly grew apparent to the man who sat watching her.
"You are tired out," he said gently. "You have been nursing him?"
She nodded and tried to smile.
"Who is attending?"
"Sir Elwin Groves, but—"
"Shall I wire for my father?"
"We wired for him yesterday!"
"What! to Paris?"
"Yes, at my uncle's wish."
"Then—he thinks he is seriously ill, himself?"
"I cannot say," answered the girl wearily. "His behaviour is—queer. He will allow no one in his room, and barely consents to see Sir Elwin. Then, twice recently, he has awakened in the night and made a singular request."
"What is that?"
"He has asked me to send for his solicitor in the morning, speaking harshly and almost as though—he hated me...."
"I don't understand. Have you complied?"
"Yes, and on each occasion he has refused to see the solicitor when he has arrived!"
"I gather that you have been acting as night-attendant?"
"I remain in an adjoining room; he is always worse at night. Perhaps it is telling on my nerves, but last night—"
Again she hesitated, as though doubting the wisdom of further speech; but a brief scrutiny of Cairn's face, with deep anxiety to be read in his eyes, determined her to proceed.
"I had been asleep, and I must have been dreaming, for I thought that a voice was chanting, quite near to me."
"Yes—it was horrible, in some way. Then a sensation of intense coldness came; it was as though some icily cold creature fanned me with its wings! I cannot describe it, but it was numbing; I think I must have felt as those poor travellers do who succumb to the temptation to sleep in the snow."
Cairn surveyed her anxiously, for in its essentials this might be a symptom of a dreadful ailment.
"I aroused myself, however," she continued, "but experienced an unaccountable dread of entering my uncle's room. I could hear him muttering strangely, and—I forced myself to enter! I saw—oh, how can I tell you! You will think me mad!"
She raised her hands to her face; she was trembling. Robert Cairn took them in his own, forcing her to look up.
"Tell me," he said quietly.
"The curtains were drawn back; I distinctly remembered having closed them, but they were drawn back; and the moonlight was shining on to the bed."
"Bad; he was dreaming."
"But was I dreaming? Mr. Cairn, two hands were stretched out over my uncle, two hands that swayed slowly up and down in the moonlight!"
Cairn leapt to his feet, passing his hand over his forehead.
"Go on," he said.
"I—I cried out, but not loudly—I think I was very near to swooning. The hands were withdrawn into the shadow, and my uncle awoke and sat up. He asked, in a low voice, if I were there, and I ran to him."
"He ordered me, very coldly, to 'phone for his solicitor at nine o'clock this morning, and then fell back, and was asleep again almost immediately. The solicitor came, and was with him for nearly an hour. He sent for one of his clerks, and they both went away at half-past ten. Uncle has been in a sort of dazed condition ever since; in fact he has only once aroused himself, to ask for Dr. Cairn. I had a telegram sent immediately."
"The governor will be here to-night," said Cairn confidently. "Tell me, the hands which you thought you saw: was there anything peculiar about them?"
"In the moonlight they seemed to be of a dull white colour. There was a ring on one finger—a green ring. Oh!" she shuddered. "I can see it now."
"You would know it again?"
"Actually, there was no one in the room, of course?"
"No one. It was some awful illusion; but I can never forget it."
THE RING OF THOTH
Half-Moon Street was very still; midnight had sounded nearly half-an-hour; but still Robert Cairn paced up and down his father's library. He was very pale, and many times he glanced at a book which lay open upon the table. Finally he paused before it and read once again certain passages.
"In the year 1571," it recorded, "the notorious Trois Echelles was executed in the Place de Greve. He confessed before the king, Charles IX.... that he performed marvels.... Admiral de Coligny, who also was present, recollected ... the death of two gentlemen.... He added that they were found black and swollen."
He turned over the page, with a hand none too steady.
"The famous Marechal d'Ancre, Concini Concini," he read, "was killed by a pistol shot on the drawbridge of the Louvre by Vitry, Captain of the Bodyguard, on the 24th of April, 1617.... It was proved that the Marechal and his wife made use of wax images, which they kept in coffins...."
Cairn shut the book hastily and began to pace the room again.
"Oh, it is utterly, fantastically incredible!" he groaned. "Yet, with my own eyes I saw—"
He stepped to a bookshelf and began to look for a book which, so far as his slight knowledge of the subject bore him, would possibly throw light upon the darkness. But he failed to find it. Despite the heat of the weather, the library seemed to have grown chilly. He pressed the bell.
"Marston," he said to the man who presently came, "you must be very tired, but Dr. Cairn will be here within an hour. Tell him that I have gone to Sir Michael Ferrara's."
"But it's after twelve o'clock, sir!"
"I know it is; nevertheless I am going."
"Very good, sir. You will wait there for the Doctor?"
"Exactly, Marston. Good-night!"
Robert Cairn went out into Half-Moon Street. The night was perfect, and the cloudless sky lavishly gemmed with stars. He walked on heedlessly, scarce noting in which direction. An awful conviction was with him, growing stronger each moment, that some mysterious menace, some danger unclassifiable, threatened Myra Duquesne. What did he suspect? He could give it no name. How should he act? He had no idea.
Sir Elwin Groves, whom he had seen that evening, had hinted broadly at mental trouble as the solution of Sir Michael Ferrara's peculiar symptoms. Although Sir Michael had had certain transactions with his solicitor during the early morning, he had apparently forgotten all about the matter, according to the celebrated physician.
"Between ourselves, Cairn," Sir Elwin had confided, "I believe he altered his will."
The inquiry of a taxi driver interrupted Cairn's meditations. He entered the vehicle, giving Sir Michael Ferrara's address.
His thoughts persistently turned to Myra Duquesne, who at that moment would be lying listening for the slightest sound from the sick-room; who would be fighting down fear, that she might do her duty to her guardian—fear of the waving phantom hands. The cab sped through the almost empty streets, and at last, rounding a corner, rolled up the tree-lined avenue, past three or four houses lighted only by the glitter of the moon, and came to a stop before that of Sir Michael Ferrara.
Lights shone from the many windows. The front door was open, and light streamed out into the porch.
"My God!" cried Cairn, leaping from the cab. "My God! what has happened?"
A thousand fears, a thousand reproaches, flooded his brain with frenzy. He went racing up to the steps and almost threw himself upon the man who stood half-dressed in the doorway.
"Felton, Felton!" he whispered hoarsely. "What has happened? Who—"
"Sir Michael, sir," answered the man. "I thought"—his voice broke—"you were the doctor, sir?"
"She fainted away, sir. Mrs. Hume is with her in the library, now."
Cairn thrust past the servant and ran into the library. The housekeeper and a trembling maid were bending over Myra Duquesne, who lay fully dressed, white and still, upon a Chesterfield. Cairn unceremoniously grasped her wrist, dropped upon his knees and placed his ear to the still breast.
"Thank God!" he said. "It is only a swoon. Look after her, Mrs. Hume."
The housekeeper, with set face, lowered her head, but did not trust herself to speak. Cairn went out into the hall and tapped Felton on the shoulder. The man turned with a great start.
"What happened?" he demanded. "Is Sir Michael—?"
"Five minutes before you came, sir." His voice was hoarse with emotion. "Miss Myra came out of her room. She thought someone called her. She rapped on Mrs. Hume's door, and Mrs. Hume, who was just retiring, opened it. She also thought she had heard someone calling Miss Myra out on the stairhead."
"There was no one there, sir. Everyone was in bed; I was just undressing, myself. But there was a sort of faint perfume—something like a church, only disgusting, sir—"
"How—disgusting! Did you smell it?"
"No, sir, never. Mrs. Hume and Miss Myra have noticed it in the house on other nights, and one of the maids, too. It was very strong, I'm told, last night. Well, sir, as they stood by the door they heard a horrid kind of choking scream. They both rushed to Sir Michael's room, and—"
"He was lying half out of bed, sir—"
"Seemed like he'd been strangled, they told me, and—"
"Who is with him now?"
The man grew even paler.
"No one, Mr. Cairn, sir. Miss Myra screamed out that there were two hands just unfastening from his throat as she and Mrs. Hume got to the door, and there was no living soul in the room, sir. I might as well out with it! We're all afraid to go in!"
Cairn turned and ran up the stairs. The upper landing was in darkness and the door of the room which he knew to be Sir Michael's stood wide open. As he entered, a faint scent came to his nostrils. It brought him up short at the threshold, with a chill of supernatural dread.
The bed was placed between the windows, and one curtain had been pulled aside, admitting a flood, of moonlight. Cairn remembered that Myra had mentioned this circumstance in connection with the disturbance of the previous night.
"Who, in God's name, opened that curtain!" he muttered.
Fully in the cold white light lay Sir Michael Ferrara, his silver hair gleaming and his strong, angular face upturned to the intruding rays. His glazed eyes were starting from their sockets; his face was nearly black; and his fingers were clutching the sheets in a death grip. Cairn had need of all his courage to touch him.
He was quite dead.
Someone was running up the stairs. Cairn turned, half dazed, anticipating the entrance of a local medical man. Into the room ran his father, switching on the light as he did so. A greyish tinge showed through his ruddy complexion. He scarcely noticed his son.
"Ferrara!" he cried, coming up to the bed. "Ferrara!"
He dropped on his knees beside the dead man.
"Ferrara, old fellow—"
His cry ended in something like a sob. Robert Cairn turned, choking, and went downstairs.
In the hall stood Felton and some other servants.
"She has recovered, sir. Mrs. Hume has taken her to another bedroom."
Cairn hesitated, then walked into the deserted library, where a light was burning. He began to pace up and down, clenching and unclenching his fists. Presently Felton knocked and entered. Clearly the man was glad of the chance to talk to someone.
"Mr. Antony has been 'phoned at Oxford, sir. I thought you might like to know. He is motoring down, sir, and will be here at four o'clock."
"Thank you," said Cairn shortly.
Ten minutes later his father joined him. He was a slim, well-preserved man, alert-eyed and active, yet he had aged five years in his son's eyes. His face was unusually pale, but he exhibited no other signs of emotion.
"Well, Rob," he said, tersely. "I can see you have something to tell me. I am listening."
Robert Cairn leant back against a bookshelf.
"I have something to tell you, sir, and something to ask you."
"Tell your story, first; then ask your question."
"My story begins in a Thames backwater—"
Dr. Cairn stared, squaring his jaw, but his son proceeded to relate, with some detail, the circumstances attendant upon the death of the king-swan. He went on to recount what took place in Antony Ferrara's rooms, and at the point where something had been taken from the table and thrown in the fire—
"Stop!" said Dr. Cairn. "What did he throw in the fire?"
The doctor's nostrils quivered, and his eyes were ablaze with some hardly repressed emotion.
"I cannot swear to it, sir—"
"Never mind. What do you think he threw in the fire?"
"A little image, of wax or something similar—an image of—a swan."
At that, despite his self-control, Dr. Cairn became so pale that his son leapt forward.
"All right, Rob," his father waved him away, and turning, walked slowly down the room.
"Go on," he said, rather huskily.
Robert Cairn continued his story up to the time that he visited the hospital where the dead girl lay.
"You can swear that she was the original of the photograph in Antony's rooms and the same who was waiting at the foot of the stair?"
"I can, sir."
Again the younger man resumed his story, relating what he had learnt from Myra Duquesne; what she had told him about the phantom hands; what Felton had told him about the strange perfume perceptible in the house.
"The ring," interrupted Dr. Cairn—"she would recognise it again?"
"She says so."
"Only that if some of your books are to be believed, sir, Trois Echelle, D'Ancre and others have gone to the stake for such things in a less enlightened age!"
"Less enlightened, boy!" Dr. Cairn turned his blazing eyes upon him. "More enlightened where the powers of hell were concerned!"
"Then you think—"
"Think! Have I spent half my life in such studies in vain? Did I labour with poor Michael Ferrara in Egypt and learn nothing? Just God! what an end to his labour! What a reward for mine!"
He buried his face in quivering hands.
"I cannot tell exactly what you mean by that, sir," said Robert Cairn; "but it brings me to my question."
Dr. Cairn did not speak, did not move.
"Who is Antony Ferrara?"
The doctor looked up at that; and it was a haggard face he raised from his hands.
"You have tried to ask me that before."
"I ask now, sir, with better prospect of receiving an answer."
"Yet I can give you none, Rob."
"Why, sir? Are you bound to secrecy?"
"In a degree, yes. But the real reason is this—I don't know."
"You don't know!"
"I have said so."
"Good God, sir, you amaze me! I have always felt certain that he was really no Ferrara, but an adopted son; yet it had never entered my mind that you were ignorant of his origin."
"You have not studied the subjects which I have studied; nor do I wish that you should; therefore it is impossible, at any rate now, to pursue that matter further. But I may perhaps supplement your researches into the history of Trois Echelles and Concini Concini. I believe you told me that you were looking in my library for some work which you failed to find?"
"I was looking for M. Chabas' translation of the Papyrus Harris."
"What do you know of it?"
"I once saw a copy in Antony Ferrara's rooms."
Dr. Cairn started slightly.
"Indeed. It happens that my copy is here; I lent it quite recently to—Sir Michael. It is probably somewhere on the shelves."
He turned on more lights and began to scan the rows of books. Presently—
"Here it is," he said, and took down and opened the book on the table. "This passage may interest you." He laid his finger upon it.
His son bent over the book and read the following:—
"Hai, the evil man, was a shepherd. He had said: 'O, that I might have a book of spells that would give me resistless power!' He obtained a book of the Formulas.... By the divine powers of these he enchanted men. He obtained a deep vault furnished with implements. He made waxen images of men, and love-charms. And then he perpetrated all the horrors that his heart conceived."
"Flinders Petrie," said Dr. Cairn, "mentions the Book of Thoth as another magical work conferring similar powers."
"But surely, sir—after all, it's the twentieth century—this is mere superstition!"
"I thought so—once!" replied Dr. Cairn. "But I have lived to know that Egyptian magic was a real and a potent force. A great part of it was no more than a kind of hypnotism, but there were other branches. Our most learned modern works are as children's nursery rhymes beside such a writing as the Egyptian Ritual of the Dead! God forgive me! What have I done!"
"You cannot reproach yourself in any way, sir!"
"Can I not?" said Dr. Cairn hoarsely. "Ah, Rob, you don't know!"
There came a rap on the door, and a local practitioner entered.
"This is a singular case, Dr. Cairn," he began diffidently. "An autopsy—"
"Nonsense!" cried Dr. Cairn. "Sir Elwin Groves had foreseen it—so had I!"
"But there are distinct marks of pressure on either side of the windpipe—"
"Certainly. These marks are not uncommon in such cases. Sir Michael had resided in the East and had contracted a form of plague. Virtually he died from it. The thing is highly contagious, and it is almost impossible to rid the system of it. A girl died in one of the hospitals this week, having identical marks on the throat." He turned to his son. "You saw her, Rob?"
Robert Cairn nodded, and finally the local man withdrew, highly mystified, but unable to contradict so celebrated a physician as Dr. Bruce Cairn.
The latter seated himself in an armchair, and rested his chin in the palm of his left hand. Robert Cairn paced restlessly about the library. Both were waiting, expectantly. At half-past two Felton brought in a tray of refreshments, but neither of the men attempted to avail themselves of the hospitality.
"Miss Duquesne?" asked the younger.
"She has just gone to sleep, sir."
"Good," muttered Dr. Cairn. "Blessed is youth."
Silence fell again, upon the man's departure, to be broken but rarely, despite the tumultuous thoughts of those two minds, until, at about a quarter to three, the faint sound of a throbbing motor brought Dr. Cairn sharply to his feet. He looked towards the window. Dawn was breaking. The car came roaring along the avenue and stopped outside the house.
Dr. Cairn and his son glanced at one another. A brief tumult and hurried exchange of words sounded in the hall; footsteps were heard ascending the stairs, then came silence. The two stood side by side in front of the empty hearth, a haggard pair, fitly set in that desolate room, with the yellowing rays of the lamps shrinking before the first spears of dawn.
Then, without warning, the door opened slowly and deliberately, and Antony Ferrara came in.
His face was expressionless, ivory; his red lips were firm, and he drooped his head. But the long black eyes glinted and gleamed as if they reflected the glow from a furnace. He wore a motor coat lined with leopard skin and he was pulling off his heavy gloves.
"It is good of you to have waited, Doctor," he said in his huskily musical voice—"you too, Cairn."
He advanced a few steps into the room. Cairn was conscious of a kind of fear, but uppermost came a desire to pick up some heavy implement and crush this evilly effeminate thing with the serpent eyes. Then he found himself speaking; the words seemed to be forced from his throat.
"Antony Ferrara," he said, "have you read the Harris Papyrus?"
Ferrara dropped his glove, stooped and recovered it, and smiled faintly.
"No," he replied. "Have you?" His eyes were nearly closed, mere luminous slits. "But surely," he continued, "this is no time, Cairn, to discuss books? As my poor father's heir, and therefore your host, I beg of you to partake—"
A faint sound made him turn. Just within the door, where the light from the reddening library windows touched her as if with sanctity, stood Myra Duquesne, in her night robe, her hair unbound and her little bare feet gleaming whitely upon the red carpet. Her eyes were wide open, vacant of expression, but set upon Antony Ferrara's ungloved left hand.
Ferrara turned slowly to face her, until his back was towards the two men in the library. She began to speak, in a toneless, unemotional voice, raising her finger and pointing at a ring which Ferrara wore.
"I know you now," she said; "I know you, son of an evil woman, for you wear her ring, the sacred ring of Thoth. You have stained that ring with blood, as she stained it—with the blood of those who loved and trusted you. I could name you, but my lips are sealed—I could name you, brood of a witch, murderer, for I know you now."
Dispassionately, mechanically, she delivered her strange indictment. Over her shoulder appeared the anxious face of Mrs. Hume, finger to lip.
"My God!" muttered Cairn. "My God! What—"
"S—sh!" his father grasped his arm. "She is asleep!"
Myra Duquesne turned and quitted the room, Mrs. Hume hovering anxiously about her. Antony Ferrara faced around; his mouth was oddly twisted.
"She is troubled with strange dreams," he said, very huskily.
"Clairvoyant dreams!" Dr. Cairn addressed him for the first time. "Do not glare at me in that way, for it may be that I know you, too! Come, Rob."
Dr. Cairn laid his hand upon his son's shoulder, fixing his eyes upon him steadily.
"Nothing in this house can injure Myra," he replied quietly; "for Good is higher than Evil. For the present we can only go."
Antony Ferrara stood aside, as the two walked out of the library.
AT FERRARA'S CHAMBERS
Dr. Bruce Cairn swung around in his chair, lifting his heavy eyebrows interrogatively, as his son, Robert, entered the consulting-room. Half-Moon Street was bathed in almost tropical sunlight, but already the celebrated physician had sent those out from his house to whom the sky was overcast, whom the sun would gladden no more, and a group of anxious-eyed sufferers yet awaited his scrutiny in an adjoining room.
"Hullo, Rob! Do you wish to see me professionally?"
Robert Cairn seated himself upon a corner of the big table, shaking his head slowly.
"No, thanks sir; I'm fit enough; but I thought you might like to know about the will—"
"I do know. Since I was largely interested, Jermyn attended on my behalf; an urgent case detained me. He rang up earlier this morning."
"Oh, I see. Then perhaps I'm wasting your time; but it was a surprise—quite a pleasant one—to find that Sir Michael had provided for Myra—Miss Duquesne."
Dr. Cairn stared hard.
"What led you to suppose that he had not provided for his niece? She is an orphan, and he was her guardian."
"Of course, he should have done so; but I was not alone in my belief that during the—peculiar state of mind—which preceded his death, he had altered his will—"
"In favour of his adopted son, Antony?"
"Yes. I know you were afraid of it, sir! But as it turns out they inherit equal shares, and the house goes to Myra. Mr. Antony Ferrara"—he accentuated the name—"quite failed to conceal his chagrin."
"Rather. He was there in person, wearing one of his beastly fur coats—a fur coat, with the thermometer at Africa!—lined with civet-cat, of all abominations!"
Dr. Cairn turned to his table, tapping at the blotting-pad with the tube of a stethoscope.
"I regret your attitude towards young Ferrara, Rob."
His son started.
"Regret it! I don't understand. Why, you, yourself brought about an open rupture on the night of Sir Michael's death."
"Nevertheless, I am sorry. You know, since you were present, that Sir Michael has left his niece—to my care—"
"Thank God for that!"
"I am glad, too, although there are many difficulties. But, furthermore, he enjoined me to—"
"Keep an eye on Antony! Yes, yes—but, heavens! he didn't know him for what he is!"
Dr. Cairn turned to him again.
"He did not; by a divine mercy, he never knew—what we know. But"—his clear eyes were raised to his son's—"the charge is none the less sacred, boy!"
The younger man stared perplexedly.
"But he is nothing less than a ——"
His father's upraised hand checked the word on his tongue.
"I know what he is, Rob, even better than you do. But cannot you see how this ties my hands, seals my lips?"
Robert Cairn was silent, stupefied.
"Give me time to see my way clearly, Rob. At the moment I cannot reconcile my duty and my conscience; I confess it. But give me time. If only as a move—as a matter of policy—keep in touch with Ferrara. You loathe him, I know; but we must watch him! There are other interests—"
"Myra!" Robert Cairn flushed hotly. "Yes, I see. I understand. By heavens, it's a hard part to play, but—"
"Be advised by me, Rob. Meet stealth with stealth. My boy, we have seen strange ends come to those who stood in the path of someone. If you had studied the subjects that I have studied you would know that retribution, though slow, is inevitable. But be on your guard. I am taking precautions. We have an enemy; I do not pretend to deny it; and he fights with strange weapons. Perhaps I know something of those weapons, too, and I am adopting—certain measures. But one defence, and the one for you, is guile—stealth!"
Robert Cairn spoke abruptly.
"He is installed in palatial chambers in Piccadilly."
"Have you been there?"
"Call upon him. Take the first opportunity to do so. Had it not been for your knowledge of certain things which happened in a top set at Oxford we might be groping in the dark now! You never liked Antony Ferrara—no men do; but you used to call upon him in college. Continue to call upon him, in town."
Robert Cairn stood up, and lighted a cigarette.
"Right you are, sir!" he said. "I'm glad I'm not alone in this thing! By the way, about—?"
"Myra? For the present she remains at the house. There is Mrs. Hume, and all the old servants. We shall see what is to be done, later. You might run over and give her a look-up, though."
"I will, sir! Good-bye."
"Good-bye," said Dr. Cairn, and pressed the bell which summoned Marston to usher out the caller, and usher in the next patient.
In Half-Moon Street, Robert Cairn stood irresolute; for he was one of those whose mental moods are physically reflected. He might call upon Myra Duquesne, in which event he would almost certainly be asked to stay to lunch; or he might call upon Antony Ferrara. He determined upon the latter, though less pleasant course.
Turning his steps in the direction of Piccadilly, he reflected that this grim and uncanny secret which he shared with his father was like to prove prejudicial to his success in journalism. It was eternally uprising, demoniac, between himself and his work. The feeling of fierce resentment towards Antony Ferrara which he cherished grew stronger at every step. He was the spider governing the web, the web that clammily touched Dr. Cairn, himself, Robert Cairn, and—Myra Duquesne. Others there had been who had felt its touch, who had been drawn to the heart of the unclean labyrinth—and devoured. In the mind of Cairn, the figure of Antony Ferrara assumed the shape of a monster, a ghoul, an elemental spirit of evil.
And now he was ascending the marble steps. Before the gates of the lift he stood and pressed the bell.
Ferrara's proved to be a first-floor suite, and the doors were opened by an Eastern servant dressed in white.
"His beastly theatrical affectation again!" muttered Cairn. "The man should have been a music-hall illusionist!"
The visitor was salaamed into a small reception room. Of this apartment the walls and ceiling were entirely covered by a fretwork in sandalwood, evidently Oriental in workmanship. In niches, or doorless cup-boards; stood curious-looking vases and pots. Heavy curtains of rich fabric draped the doors. The floor was of mosaic, and a small fountain played in the centre. A cushioned divan occupied one side of the place, from which natural light was entirely excluded and which was illuminated only by an ornate lantern swung from the ceiling. This lantern had panes of blue glass, producing a singular effect. A silver mibkharah, or incense-burner, stood near to one corner of the divan and emitted a subtle perfume. As the servant withdrew:
"Good heavens!" muttered Cairn, disgustedly; "poor Sir Michael's fortune won't last long at this rate!" He glanced at the smoking mibkharah. "Phew! effeminate beast! Ambergris!"
No more singular anomaly could well be pictured than that afforded by the lean, neatly-groomed Scotsman, with his fresh, clean-shaven face and typically British air, in this setting of Eastern voluptuousness.
The dusky servitor drew back a curtain and waved him to enter, bowing low as the visitor passed. Cairn found himself in Antony Ferrara's study. A huge fire was blazing in the grate, rendering the heat of the study almost insufferable.
It was, he perceived, an elaborated copy of Ferrara's room at Oxford; infinitely more spacious, of course, and by reason of the rugs, cushions and carpets with which its floor was strewn, suggestive of great opulence. But the littered table was there, with its nameless instruments and its extraordinary silver lamp; the mummies were there; the antique volumes, rolls of papyrus, preserved snakes and cats and ibises, statuettes of Isis, Osiris and other Nile deities were there; the many photographs of women, too (Cairn had dubbed it at Oxford "the zenana"); above all, there was Antony Ferrara.
He wore the silver-grey dressing-gown trimmed with white swansdown in which Cairn had seen him before. His statuesque ivory face was set in a smile, which yet was no smile of welcome; the over-red lips smiled alone; the long, glittering dark eyes were joyless; almost, beneath the straightly-pencilled brows, sinister. Save for the short, lustreless hair it was the face of a handsome, evil woman.
"My dear Cairn—what a welcome interruption. How good of you!"
There was strange music in his husky tones. He spoke unemotionally, falsely, but Cairn could not deny the charm of that unique voice. It was possible to understand how women—some women—would be as clay in the hands of the man who had such a voice as that.
His visitor nodded shortly. Cairn was a poor actor; already his role was oppressing him. Whilst Ferrara was speaking one found a sort of fascination in listening, but when he was silent he repelled. Ferrara may have been conscious of this, for he spoke much, and well.
"You have made yourself jolly comfortable," said Cairn.
"Why not, my dear Cairn? Every man has within him something of the Sybarite. Why crush a propensity so delightful? The Spartan philosophy is palpably absurd; it is that of one who finds himself in a garden filled with roses and who holds his nostrils; who perceives there shady bowers, but chooses to burn in the sun; who, ignoring the choice fruits which tempt his hand and court his palate, stoops to pluck bitter herbs from the wayside!"
"I see!" snapped Cairn. "Aren't you thinking of doing any more work, then?"
"Work!" Antony Ferrara smiled and sank upon a heap of cushions. "Forgive me, Cairn, but I leave it, gladly and confidently, to more robust characters such as your own."
He proffered a silver box of cigarettes, but Cairn shook his head, balancing himself on a corner of the table.
"No; thanks. I have smoked too much already; my tongue is parched."
"My dear fellow!" Ferrara rose. "I have a wine which, I declare, you will never have tasted but which you will pronounce to be nectar. It is made in Cyprus—"
Cairn raised his hand in a way that might have reminded a nice observer of his father.
"Thank you, nevertheless. Some other time, Ferrara; I am no wine man."
"A whisky and soda, or a burly British B. and S., even a sporty 'Scotch and Polly'?"
There was a suggestion of laughter in the husky voice, now, of a sort of contemptuous banter. But Cairn stolidly shook his head and forced a smile.
"Many thanks; but it's too early."
He stood up and began to walk about the room, inspecting the numberless oddities which it contained. The photographs he examined with supercilious curiosity. Then, passing to a huge cabinet, he began to peer in at the rows of amulets, statuettes and other, unclassifiable, objects with which it was laden. Ferrara's voice came.
"That head of a priestess on the left, Cairn, is of great interest. The brain had not been removed, and quite a colony of Dermestes Beetles had propagated in the cavity. Those creatures never saw the light, Cairn. Yet I assure you that they had eyes. I have nearly forty of them in the small glass case on the table there. You might like to examine them."
Cairn shuddered, but felt impelled to turn and look at these gruesome relics. In a square, glass case he saw the creatures. They lay in rows on a bed of moss; one might almost have supposed that unclean life yet survived in the little black insects. They were an unfamiliar species to Cairn, being covered with unusually long, black hair, except upon the root of the wing-cases where they were of brilliant orange.
"The perfect pupae of this insect are extremely rare," added Ferrara informatively.
"Indeed?" replied Cairn.
He found something physically revolting in that group of beetles whose history had begun and ended in the skull of a mummy.
"Filthy things!" he said. "Why do you keep them?"
Ferrara shrugged his shoulders.
"Who knows?" he answered enigmatically. "They might prove useful, some day."
A bell rang; and from Ferrara's attitude it occurred to Cairn that he was expecting a visitor.
"I must be off," he said accordingly.
And indeed he was conscious of a craving for the cool and comparatively clean air of Piccadilly. He knew something of the great evil which dwelt within this man whom he was compelled, by singular circumstances, to tolerate. But the duty began to irk.
"If you must," was the reply. "Of course, your press work no doubt is very exacting."
The note of badinage was discernible again, but Cairn passed out into the mandarah without replying, where the fountain plashed coolly and the silver mibkharah sent up its pencils of vapour. The outer door was opened by the Oriental servant, and Ferrara stood and bowed to his departing visitor. He did not proffer his hand.
"Until our next meeting. Cairn, es-selam aleykum!" (peace be with you) he murmured, "as the Moslems say. But indeed I shall be with you in spirit, dear Cairn."
There was something in the tone wherein he spoke those last words that brought Cairn up short. He turned, but the doors closed silently. A faint breath of ambergris was borne to his nostrils.
THE RUSTLING SHADOWS
Cairn stepped out of the lift, crossed the hall, and was about to walk out on to Piccadilly, when he stopped, staring hard at a taxi-cab which had slowed down upon the opposite side whilst the driver awaited a suitable opportunity to pull across.
The occupant of the cab was invisible now, but a moment before Cairn had had a glimpse of her as she glanced out, apparently towards the very doorway in which he stood. Perhaps his imagination was playing him tricks. He stood and waited, until at last the cab drew up within a few yards of him.
Myra Duquesne got out.
Having paid the cabman, she crossed the pavement and entered the hall-way. Cairn stepped forward so that she almost ran into his arms.
"Mr. Cairn!" she cried. "Why! have you been to see Antony?"
"I have," he replied, and paused, at a loss for words.
It had suddenly occurred to him that Antony Ferrara and Myra Duquesne had known one another from childhood; that the girl probably regarded Ferrara in the light of a brother.
"There are so many things I want to talk to him about," she said. "He seems to know everything, and I am afraid I know very little."
Cairn noted with dismay the shadows under her eyes—the grey eyes that he would have wished to see ever full of light and laughter. She was pale, too, or seemed unusually so in her black dress; but the tragic death of her guardian, Sir Michael Ferrara, had been a dreadful blow to this convent-bred girl who had no other kin in the world. A longing swept into Cairn's heart and set it ablaze; a longing to take all her sorrows, all her cares, upon his own broad shoulders, to take her and hold her, shielded from whatever of trouble or menace the future might bring.
"Have you seen his rooms here?" he asked, trying to speak casually; but his soul was up in arms against the bare idea of this girl's entering that perfumed place where abominable and vile things were, and none of them so vile as the man she trusted, whom she counted a brother.
"Not yet," she answered, with a sort of childish glee momentarily lighting her eyes. "Are they very splendid?"
"Very," he answered her, grimly.
"Can't you come in with me for awhile? Only just a little while, then you can come home to lunch—you and Antony." Her eyes sparkled now. "Oh, do say yes!"
Knowing what he did know of the man upstairs, he longed to accompany her; yet, contradictorily, knowing what he did he could not face him again, could not submit himself to the test of being civil to Antony Ferrara in the presence of Myra Duquesne.
"Please don't tempt me," he begged, and forced a smile. "I shall find myself enrolled amongst the seekers of soup-tickets if I completely ignore the claims of my employer upon my time!"
"Oh, what a shame!" she cried.
Their eyes met, and something—something unspoken but cogent—passed between them; so that for the first time a pretty colour tinted the girl's cheeks. She suddenly grew embarrassed.
"Good-bye, then," she said, holding out her hand. "Will you lunch with us to-morrow?"
"Thanks awfully," replied Cairn. "Rather—if it's humanly possible. I'll ring you up."
He released her hand, and stood watching her as she entered the lift. When it ascended, he turned and went out to swell the human tide of Piccadilly. He wondered what his father would think of the girl's visiting Ferrara. Would he approve? Decidedly the situation was a delicate one; the wrong kind of interference—the tactless kind—might merely render it worse. It would be awfully difficult, if not impossible, to explain to Myra. If an open rupture were to be avoided (and he had profound faith in his father's acumen), then Myra must remain in ignorance. But was she to be allowed to continue these visits?
Should he have permitted her to enter Ferrara's rooms?
He reflected that he had no right to question her movements. But, at least, he might have accompanied her.
"Oh, heavens!" he muttered—"what a horrible tangle. It will drive me mad!"
There could be no peace for him until he knew her to be safely home again, and his work suffered accordingly; until, at about midday, he rang up Myra Duquesne, on the pretence of accepting her invitation to lunch on the morrow, and heard, with inexpressible relief, her voice replying to him.
In the afternoon he was suddenly called upon to do a big "royal" matinee, and this necessitated a run to his chambers in order to change from Harris tweed into vicuna and cashmere. The usual stream of lawyers' clerks and others poured under the archway leading to the court; but in the far corner shaded by the tall plane tree, where the ascending steps and worn iron railing, the small panes of glass in the solicitor's window on the ground floor and the general air of Dickens-like aloofness prevailed, one entered a sort of backwater. In the narrow hall-way, quiet reigned—a quiet profound as though motor 'buses were not.
Cairn ran up the stairs to the second landing, and began to fumble for his key. Although he knew it to be impossible, he was aware of a queer impression that someone was waiting for him, inside his chambers. The sufficiently palpable fact—that such a thing was impossible—did not really strike him until he had opened the door and entered. Up to that time, in a sort of subconscious way, he had anticipated finding a visitor there.
"What an ass I am!" he muttered; then, "Phew! there's a disgusting smell!"
He threw open all the windows, and entering his bedroom, also opening both the windows there. The current of air thus established began to disperse the odour—a fusty one as of something decaying—and by the time that he had changed, it was scarcely perceptible. He had little time to waste in speculation, but when, as he ran out to the door, glancing at his watch, the nauseous odour suddenly rose again to his nostrils, he stopped with his hand on the latch.
"What the deuce is it!" he said loudly.
Quite mechanically he turned and looked back. As one might have anticipated, there was nothing visible to account for the odour.
The emotion of fear is a strange and complex one. In this breath of decay rising to his nostril, Cairn found something fearsome. He opened the door, stepped out on to the landing, and closed the door behind him.
At an hour close upon midnight, Dr. Bruce Cairn, who was about to retire, received a wholly unexpected visit from his son. Robert Cairn followed his father into the library and sat down in the big, red leathern easy-chair. The doctor tilted the lamp shade, directing the light upon Robert's face. It proved to be slightly pale, and in the clear eyes was an odd expression—almost a hunted look.
"What's the trouble, Rob? Have a whisky and soda."
Robert Cairn helped himself quietly.
"Now take a cigar and tell me what has frightened you."
"Frightened me!" He started, and paused in the act of reaching for a match. "Yes—you're right, sir. I am frightened!"
"Not at the moment. You have been."
"Right again." He lighted his cigar. "I want to begin by saying that—well, how can I put it? When I took up newspaper work, we thought it would be better if I lived in chambers—"
"Well, at that time—" he examined the lighted end of his cigar—"there was no reason—why I should not live alone. But now—"
"Now I feel, sir, that I have need of more or less constant companionship. Especially I feel that it would be desirable to have a friend handy at—er—at night time!"
Dr. Cairn leant forward in his chair. His face was very stern.
"Hold out your fingers," he said, "extended; left hand."
His son obeyed, smiling slightly. The open hand showed in the lamplight steady as a carven hand.
"Nerves quite in order, sir."
Dr. Cairn inhaled a deep breath.
"Tell me," he said.
"It's a queer tale," his son began, "and if I told it to Craig Fenton, or Madderley round in Harley Street I know what they would say. But you will understand. It started this afternoon, when the sun was pouring in through the windows. I had to go to my chambers to change; and the rooms were filled with a most disgusting smell."
His father started.
"What kind of smell?" he asked. "Not—incense?"
"No," replied Robert, looking hard at him—"I thought you would ask that. It was a smell of something putrid—something rotten, rotten with the rottenness of ages."
"Did you trace where it came from?"
"I opened all the windows, and that seemed to disperse it for a time. Then, just as I was going out, it returned; it seemed to envelop me like a filthy miasma. You know, sir, it's hard to explain just the way I felt about it—but it all amounts to this: I was glad to get outside!"
Dr. Cairn stood up and began to pace about the room, his hands locked behind him.
"To-night," he rapped suddenly, "what occurred to-night?"
"To-night," continued his son, "I got in at about half-past nine. I had had such a rush, in one way and another, that the incident had quite lost its hold on my imagination; I hadn't forgotten it, of course, but I was not thinking of it when I unlocked the door. In fact I didn't begin to think of it again until, in slippers and dressing-gown, I had settled down for a comfortable read. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to influence my imagination—in that way. The book was an old favourite, Mark Twain's Up the Mississippi, and I sat in the armchair with a large bottle of lager beer at my elbow and my pipe going strong."
Becoming restless in turn, the speaker stood up and walking to the fireplace flicked off the long cone of grey ash from his cigar. He leant one elbow upon the mantel-piece, resuming his story:
"St. Paul's had just chimed the half-hour—half-past ten—when my pipe went out. Before I had time to re-light it, came the damnable smell again. At the moment nothing was farther from my mind, and I jumped up with an exclamation of disgust. It seemed to be growing stronger and stronger. I got my pipe alight quickly. Still I could smell it; the aroma of the tobacco did not lessen its beastly pungency in the smallest degree.
"I tilted the shade of my reading-lamp and looked all about. There was nothing unusual to be seen. Both windows were open and I went to one and thrust my head out, in order to learn if the odour came from outside. It did not. The air outside the window was fresh and clean. Then I remembered that when I had left my chambers in the afternoon, the smell had been stronger near the door than anywhere. I ran out to the door. In the passage I could smell nothing; but—"
He paused, glancing at his father.
"Before I had stood there thirty seconds it was rising all about me like the fumes from a crater. By God, sir! I realised then that it was something ... following me!"
Dr. Cairn stood watching him, from the shadows beyond the big table, as he came forward and finished his whisky at a gulp.
"That seemed to work a change in me," he continued rapidly; "I recognised there was something behind this disgusting manifestation, something directing it; and I recognised, too, that the next move was up to me. I went back to my room. The odour was not so pronounced, but as I stood by the table, waiting, it increased, and increased, until it almost choked me. My nerves were playing tricks, but I kept a fast hold on myself. I set to work, very methodically, and fumigated the place. Within myself I knew that it could do no good, but I felt that I had to put up some kind of opposition. You understand, sir?"
"Quite," replied Dr. Cairn quietly. "It was an organised attempt to expel the invader, and though of itself it was useless, the mental attitude dictating it was good. Go on."
"The clocks had chimed eleven when I gave up, and I felt physically sick. The air by this time was poisonous, literally poisonous. I dropped into the easy-chair and began to wonder what the end of it would be. Then, in the shadowy parts of the room, outside the circle of light cast by the lamp, I detected—darker patches. For awhile I tried to believe that they were imaginary, but when I saw one move along the bookcase, glide down its side, and come across the carpet, towards me, I knew that they were not. Before heaven, sir"—his voice shook—"either I am mad, or to-night my room was filled with things that crawled! They were everywhere; on the floor, on the walls, even on the ceiling above me! Where the light was I couldn't detect them, but the shadows were alive, alive with things—the size of my two hands; and in the growing stillness—"
His voice had become husky. Dr. Cairn stood still, as a man of stone, watching him.
"In the stillness, very faintly, they rustled!"
Silence fell. A car passed outside in Half-Moon Street; its throb died away. A clock was chiming the half-hour after midnight. Dr. Cairn spoke:
"One other thing, sir. I was gripping the chair arms; I felt that I had to grip something to prevent myself from slipping into madness. My left hand—" he glanced at it with a sort of repugnance—"something hairy—and indescribably loathsome—touched it; just brushed against it. But it was too much. I'm ashamed to tell you, sir; I screamed, screamed like any hysterical girl, and for the second time, ran! I ran from my own rooms, grabbed a hat and coat; and left my dressing gown on the floor!"
He turned, leaning both elbows on the mantel-piece, and buried his face in his hands.
"Have another drink," said Dr. Cairn. "You called on Antony Ferrara to-day, didn't you? How did he receive you?"
"That brings me to something else I wanted to tell you," continued Robert, squirting soda-water into his glass. "Myra—goes there."
"Where—to his chambers?"
Dr. Cairn began to pace the room again.
"I am not surprised," he admitted; "she has always been taught to regard him in the light of a brother. But nevertheless we must put a stop to it. How did you learn this?"
Robert Cairn gave him an account of the morning's incidents, describing Ferrara's chambers with a minute exactness which revealed how deep, how indelible an impression their strangeness had made upon his mind.
"There is one thing," he concluded, "against which I am always coming up, I puzzled over it at Oxford, and others did, too; I came against it to-day. Who is Antony Ferrara? Where did Sir Michael find him? What kind of woman bore such a son?"
"Stop boy!" cried Dr. Cairn.
Robert started, looking at his father across the table.
"You are already in danger, Rob. I won't disguise that fact from you. Myra Duquesne is no relation of Ferrara's; therefore, since she inherits half of Sir Michael's fortune, a certain course must have suggested itself to Antony. You, patently, are an obstacle! That's bad enough, boy; let us deal with it before we look for further trouble."
"He took up a blackened briar from the table and began to load it.
"Regarding your next move," he continued slowly, "there can be no question. You must return to your chambers!"
"There can be no question, Rob. A kind of attack has been made upon you which only you can repel. If you desert your chambers, it will be repeated here. At present it is evidently localised. There are laws governing these things; laws as immutable as any other laws in Nature. One of them is this: the powers of darkness (to employ a conventional and significant phrase) cannot triumph over the powers of Will. Below the Godhead, Will is the supreme force of the Universe. Resist! You must resist, or you are lost!"
"What do you mean, sir?"
"I mean that destruction of mind, and of something more than mind, threatens you. If you retreat you are lost. Go back to your rooms. Seek your foe; strive to haul him into the light and crush him! The phenomena at your rooms belong to one of two varieties; at present it seems impossible to classify them more closely. Both are dangerous, though in different ways. I suspect, however, that a purely mental effort will be sufficient to disperse these nauseous shadow-things. Probably you will not be troubled again to-night, but whenever the phenomena return, take off your coat to them! You require no better companion than the one you had:—Mark Twain! Treat your visitors as one might imagine he would have treated them; as a very poor joke! But whenever it begins again, ring me up. Don't hesitate, whatever the hour. I shall be at the hospital all day, but from seven onward I shall be here and shall make a point of remaining. Give me a call when you return, now, and if there is no earlier occasion, another in the morning. Then rely upon my active co-operation throughout the following night."
"I said active, Rob. The next repetition of these manifestations shall be the last. Good-night. Remember, you have only to lift the receiver to know that you are not alone in your fight."
Robert Cairn took a second cigar, lighted it, finished his whisky, and squared his shoulders.
"Good-night, sir," he said. "I shan't run away a third time!"
When the door had closed upon his exit, Dr. Cairn resumed his restless pacing up and down the library. He had given Roman counsel, for he had sent his son out to face, alone, a real and dreadful danger. Only thus could he hope to save him, but nevertheless it had been hard. The next fight would be a fight to the finish, for Robert had said, "I shan't run away a third time;" and he was a man of his word.
As Dr. Cairn had declared, the manifestations belonged to one of two varieties. According to the most ancient science in the world, the science by which the Egyptians, and perhaps even earlier peoples, ordered their lives, we share this, our plane of existence, with certain other creatures, often called Elementals. Mercifully, these fearsome entities are invisible to our normal sight, just as the finer tones of music are inaudible to our normal powers of hearing.
Victims of delirium tremens, opium smokers, and other debauchees, artificially open that finer, latent power of vision; and the horrors which surround them are not imaginary but are Elementals attracted to the victim by his peculiar excesses.
The crawling things, then, which reeked abominably might be Elementals (so Dr. Cairn reasoned) superimposed upon Robert Cairn's consciousness by a directing, malignant intelligence. On the other hand they might be mere glamours—or thought-forms—thrust upon him by the same wizard mind; emanations from an evil, powerful will.
His reflections were interrupted by the ringing of the 'phone bell. He took up the receiver.
"That you, sir? All's clear here, now. I'm turning in."
"Right. Good-night, Rob. Ring me in the morning."
Dr. Cairn refilled his charred briar, and, taking from a drawer in the writing table a thick MS., sat down and began to study the closely-written pages. The paper was in the cramped handwriting of the late Sir Michael Ferrara, his travelling companion through many strange adventures; and the sun had been flooding the library with dimmed golden light for several hours, and a bustle below stairs acclaiming an awakened household, ere the doctor's studies were interrupted. Again, it was the 'phone bell. He rose, switched off the reading-lamp, and lifted the instrument.
"That you, Rob?"
"Yes, sir. All's well, thank God! Can I breakfast with you?"
"Certainly, my boy!" Dr. Cairn glanced at his watch. "Why, upon my soul it's seven o'clock!"
Sixteen hours had elapsed and London's clocks were booming eleven that night, when the uncanny drama entered upon its final stage. Once more Dr. Cairn sat alone with Sir Michael's manuscript, but at frequent intervals his glance would stray to the telephone at his elbow. He had given orders to the effect that he was on no account to be disturbed and that his car should be ready at the door from ten o'clock onward.
As the sound of the final strokes was dying away the expected summons came. Dr. Cairn's jaw squared and his mouth was very grim, when he recognised his son's voice over the wires.
"They're here, sir—now, while I'm speaking! I have been fighting—fighting hard—for half an hour. The place smells like a charnel-house and the—shapes are taking definite, horrible form! They have ... eyes!" His voice sounded harsh. "Quite black the eyes are, and they shine like beads! It's gradually wearing me down, although I have myself in hand, so far. I mean I might crack up—at any moment. Bah!—"
His voice ceased.
"Hullo!" cried Dr. Cairn. "Hullo, Rob!"
"It's all right, sir," came, all but inaudibly. "The—things are all around the edge of the light patch; they make a sort of rustling noise. It is a tremendous, conscious effort to keep them at bay. While I was speaking, I somehow lost my grip of the situation. One—crawled ... it fastened on my hand ... a hairy, many-limbed horror.... Oh, my God! another is touching...."
"Rob! Rob! Keep your nerve, boy! Do you hear?"
"Pray, my boy—pray for strength, and it will come to you! You must hold out for another ten minutes. Ten minutes—do you understand?"
"Yes! yes!—Merciful God!—if you can help me, do it, sir, or—"
"Hold out, boy! In ten minutes you'll have won."
Dr. Cairn hung up the receiver, raced from the library, and grabbing a cap from the rack in the hall, ran down the steps and bounded into the waiting car, shouting an address to the man.
Piccadilly was gay with supper-bound theatre crowds when he leapt out and ran into the hall-way which had been the scene of Robert's meeting with Myra Duquesne. Dr. Cairn ran past the lift doors and went up the stairs three steps at a time. He pressed his finger to the bell-push beside Antony Ferrara's door and held it there until the door opened and a dusky face appeared in the opening.
The visitor thrust his way in, past the white-clad man holding out his arms to detain him.
"Not at home, effendim—"
Dr. Cairn shot out a sinewy hand, grabbed the man—he was a tall fellahin—by the shoulder, and sent him spinning across the mosaic floor of the mandarah. The air was heavy with the perfume of ambergris.
Wasting no word upon the reeling man, Dr. Cairn stepped to the doorway. He jerked the drapery aside and found himself in a dark corridor. From his son's description of the chambers he had no difficulty in recognising the door of the study.
He turned the handle—the door proved to be unlocked—and entered the darkened room.
In the grate a huge fire glowed redly; the temperature of the place was almost unbearable. On the table the light from the silver lamp shed a patch of radiance, but the rest of the study was veiled in shadow.
A black-robed figure was seated in a high-backed, carved chair; one corner of the cowl-like garment was thrown across the table. Half rising, the figure turned—and, an evil apparition in the glow from the fire, Antony Ferrara faced the intruder.
Dr. Cairn walked forward, until he stood over the other.
"Uncover what you have on the table," he said succinctly.
Ferrara's strange eyes were uplifted to the speaker's with an expression in their depths which, in the Middle Ages, alone would have sent a man to the stake.
The husky voice had lost something of its suavity.
"You heard my order!"
"Your order! Surely, doctor, since I am in my own—"
"Uncover what you have on the table. Or must I do so for you!"
Antony Ferrara placed his hand upon the end of the black robe which lay across the table.
"Be careful, Dr. Cairn," he said evenly. "You—are taking risks."
Dr. Cairn suddenly leapt, seized the shielding hand in a sure grip and twisted Ferrara's arm behind him. Then, with a second rapid movement, he snatched away the robe. A faint smell—a smell of corruption, of ancient rottenness—arose on the superheated air.
A square of faded linen lay on the table, figured with all but indecipherable Egyptian characters, and upon it, in rows which formed a definite geometrical design, were arranged a great number of little, black insects.
Dr. Cairn released the hand which he held, and Ferrara sat quite still, looking straight before him.
"Dermestes beetles! from the skull of a mummy! You filthy, obscene beast!"
Ferrara spoke, with a calm suddenly regained:
"Is there anything obscene in the study of beetles?"
"My son saw these things here yesterday; and last night, and again to-night, you cast magnified doubles—glamours—of the horrible creatures into his rooms! By means which you know of, but which I know of, too, you sought to bring your thought-things down to the material plane."
"Dr. Cairn, my respect for you is great; but I fear that much study has made you mad."
Ferrara reached out his hand towards an ebony box; he was smiling.
"Don't dare to touch that box!"
He paused, glancing up.
"More orders, doctor?"
Dr. Cairn grabbed the faded linen, scooping up the beetles within it, and, striding across the room, threw the whole unsavoury bundle into the heart of the fire. A great flame leapt up; there came a series of squeaky explosions, so that, almost, one might have imagined those age-old insects to have had life. Then the doctor turned again.
Ferrara leapt to his feet with a cry that had in it something inhuman, and began rapidly to babble in a tongue that was not European. He was facing Dr. Cairn, a tall, sinister figure, but one hand was groping behind him for the box.
"Stop that!" rapped the doctor imperatively—"and for the last time do not dare to touch that box!"
The flood of strange words was dammed. Ferrara stood quivering, but silent.
"The laws by which such as you were burnt—the wise laws of long ago—are no more," said Dr. Cairn. "English law cannot touch you, but God has provided for your kind!"
"Perhaps," whispered Ferrara, "you would like also to burn this box to which you object so strongly?"
"No power on earth would prevail upon me to touch it! But you—you have touched it—and you know the penalty! You raise forces of evil that have lain dormant for ages and dare to wield them. Beware! I know of some whom you have murdered; I cannot know how many you have sent to the madhouse. But I swear that in future your victims shall be few. There is a way to deal with you!"
He turned and walked to the door.
"Beware also, dear Dr. Cairn," came softly. "As you say, I raise forces of evil—"
Dr. Cairn spun about. In three strides he was standing over Antony Ferrara, fists clenched and his sinewy body tense in every fibre. His face was pale, as was apparent even in that vague light, and his eyes gleamed like steel.
"You raise other forces," he said—and his voice, though steady was very low; "evil forces, also."
Antony Ferrara, invoker of nameless horrors, shrank before him—before the primitive Celtic man whom unwittingly he had invoked. Dr. Cairn was spare and lean, but in perfect physical condition. Now he was strong, with the strength of a just cause. Moreover, he was dangerous, and Ferrara knew it well.
"I fear—" began the latter huskily.
"Dare to bandy words with me," said Dr. Cairn, with icy coolness, "answer me back but once again, and before God I'll strike you dead!"
Ferrara sat silent, clutching at the arms of his chair, and not daring to raise his eyes. For ten magnetic seconds they stayed so, then again Dr. Cairn turned, and this time walked out.
The clocks had been chiming the quarter after eleven as he had entered Antony Ferrara's chambers, and some had not finished their chimes when his son, choking, calling wildly upon Heaven to aid him, had fallen in the midst of crowding, obscene things, and, in the instant of his fall, had found the room clear of the waving antennae, the beady eyes, and the beetle shapes. The whole horrible phantasmagoria—together with the odour of ancient rottenness—faded like a fevered dream, at the moment that Dr. Cairn had burst in upon the creator of it.
Robert Cairn stood up, weakly, trembling; then dropped upon his knees and sobbed out prayers of thankfulness that came from his frightened soul.
SIR ELWIN GROVES' PATIENT
When a substantial legacy is divided into two shares, one of which falls to a man, young, dissolute and clever, and the other to a girl, pretty and inexperienced, there is laughter in the hells. But, to the girl's legacy add another item—a strong, stern guardian, and the issue becomes one less easy to predict.
In the case at present under consideration, such an arrangement led Dr. Bruce Cairn to pack off Myra Duquesne to a grim Scottish manor in Inverness upon a visit of indefinite duration. It also led to heart burnings on the part of Robert Cairn, and to other things about to be noticed.