On the road leading north from Manchester, in eastern Kentucky, to Booneville, twenty miles away, stood, in 1862, a wooden plantation house of a somewhat better quality than most of the dwellings in that region. The house was destroyed by ... Read more of The Spook House at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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V

May Day Eve
The Inmost Light
The Man With The Pale Eyes
The Rival Ghosts
The Secret Of Goresthorpe Grange

Masterpieces Of Mystery

A Ghost[1]
A Terribly Strange Bed
Chan Tow The Highrob
May Day Eve
Mr Bloke's Item
My Fascinating Friend
The Birth-mark
The Box With The Iron Clamps
The Diamond Lens
The Great Valdez Sapphire
The Inmost Light
The Lost Room
The Man Who Went Too Far
The Man With The Pale Eyes
The Mummy's Foot
The Mysterious Card
The Oblong Box
The Rival Ghosts
The Secret Of Goresthorpe Grange
The Torture By Hope



The Inmost Light








One evening in autumn, when the deformities of London were veiled in
faint, blue mist and its vistas and far-reaching streets seemed
splendid, Mr. Charles Salisbury was slowly pacing down Rupert Street,
drawing nearer to his favourite restaurant by slow degrees. His eyes
were downcast in study of the pavement, and thus it was that as he
passed in at the narrow door a man who had come up from the lower end
of the street jostled against him.

"I beg your pardon--wasn't looking where I was going. Why, it's Dyson!"

"Yes, quite so. How are you, Salisbury?"

"Quite well. But where have you been, Dyson? I don't think I can have
seen you for the last five years."

"No; I dare say not. You remember I was getting rather hard up when you
came to my place at Charlotte Street?"

"Perfectly. I think I remember your telling me that you owed five
weeks' rent, and that you had parted with your watch for a
comparatively small sum."

"My dear Salisbury, your memory is admirable. Yes, I was hard up. But
the curious thing is that soon after you saw me I became harder up. My
financial state was described by a friend as 'stone broke.' I don't
approve of slang, mind you, but such was my condition. But suppose we
go in; there might be other people who would like to dine--it's a human
weakness, Salisbury."

"Certainly; come along. I was wondering as I walked down whether the
corner table were taken. It has a velvet back, you know."

"I know the spot; it's vacant. Yes, as I was saying, I became even
harder up."

"What did you do then?" asked Salisbury, disposing of his hat, and
settling down in the corner of the seat, with a glance of fond
anticipation at the menu.

"What did I do? Why, I sat down and reflected. I had a good classical
education, and a positive distaste for business of any kind; that was
the capital with which I faced the world. Do you know, I have heard
people describe olives as nasty! What lamentable philistinism! I have
often thought, Salisbury, that I could write genuine poetry under the
influence of olives and red wine. Let us have Chianti; it may not be
very good, but the flasks are simply charming."

"It is pretty good here. We may as well have a big flask."

"Very good. I reflected, then, on my want of prospects, and I
determined to embark in literature."

"Really, that was strange. You seem in pretty comfortable
circumstances, though."

"Though! What a satire upon a noble profession. I am afraid, Salisbury,
you haven't a proper idea of the dignity of an artist. You see me
sitting at my desk,--or at least you can see me if you care to
call,--with pen and ink, and simple nothingness before me, and if you
come again in a few hours you will (in all probability) find a
creation!"

"Yes, quite so. I had an idea that literature was not remunerative."

"You are mistaken; its rewards are great. I may mention, by the way,
that shortly after you saw me I succeeded to a small income. An uncle
died, and proved unexpectedly generous."

"Ah, I see. That must have been convenient."

"It was pleasant,--undeniably pleasant. I have always considered it in
the light of an endowment of my researches. I told you I was a man of
letters; it would, perhaps, be more correct to describe myself as a man
of science."

"Dear me, Dyson, you have really changed very much in the last few
years. I had a notion, don't you know, that you were a sort of idler
about town, the kind of man one might meet on the north side of
Piccadilly every day from May to July."

"Exactly. I was even then forming myself, though all unconsciously. You
know my poor father could not afford to send me to the university. I
used to grumble in my ignorance at not having completed my education.
That was the folly of youth, Salisbury; my university was Piccadilly.
There I began to study the great science which still occupies me."

"What science do you mean?"

"The science of the great city; the physiology of London; literally and
metaphysically the greatest subject that the mind of man can conceive.
What an admirable salmi this is; undoubtedly the final end of the
pheasant. Yes, I feel sometimes positively overwhelmed with the thought
of the vastness and complexity of London. Paris a man may get to
understand thoroughly with a reasonable amount of study; but London is
always a mystery. In Paris you may say, 'Here live the actresses, here
the Bohemians, and the Rates;' but it is different in London. You may
point out a street, correctly enough, as the abode of washerwomen; but,
in that second floor, a man may be studying Chaldee roots, and in the
garret over the way a forgotten artist is dying by inches."

"I see you are Dyson, unchanged and unchangeable," said Salisbury,
slowly sipping his Chianti. "I think you are misled by a too fervid
imagination; the mystery of London exists only in your fancy. It seems
to me a dull place enough. We seldom hear of a really artistic crime in
London, whereas I believe Paris abounds in that sort of thing."

"Give me some more wine. Thanks. You are mistaken, my dear fellow, you
are really mistaken. London has nothing to be ashamed of in the way of
crime. Where we fail is for want of Homers, not Agamemnons. Carent
quia vale sacro, you know."

"I recall the quotation. But I don't think I quite follow you."

"Well, in plain language, we have no good writers in London who make a
specialty of that kind of thing. Our common reporter is a dull dog;
every story that he has to tell is spoilt in the telling. His idea of
horror and of what excites horror is so lamentably deficient. Nothing
will content the fellow but blood, vulgar red blood, and when he can
get it he lays it on thick, and considers that he has produced a
telling story. It's a poor notion. And, by some curious fatality, it is
the most commonplace and brutal murders which always attract the most
attention and get written up the most. For instance, I dare say that
you never heard of the Harlesden case?"

"No, no; I don't remember anything about it."

"Of course not. And yet the story is a curious one. I will tell it you
over our coffee. Harlesden, you know, or I expect you don't know, is
quite on the out-quarters of London; something curiously different from
your fine old crusted suburb like Norwood or Hampstead, different as
each of these is from the other. Hampstead, I mean, is where you look
for the head of your great China house with his three acres of land and
pine houses, though of late there is the artistic substratum; while
Norwood is the home of the prosperous middle-class family who took the
house 'because it was near the Palace,' and sickened of the Palace six
months afterwards; but Harlesden is a place of no character. It's too
new to have any character as yet. There are the rows of red houses and
the rows of white houses and the bright green venetians, and the
blistering doorways, and the little back-yards they call gardens, and a
few feeble shops, and then, just as you think you're going to grasp the
physiognomy of the settlement it all melts away."

"How the dickens is that? The houses don't tumble down before one's
eyes I suppose."

"Well, no, not exactly that. But Harlesden as an entity disappears.
Your street turns into a quiet lane, and your staring houses into elm
trees, and the back gardens into green meadows. You pass instantly from
town to country; there is no transition as in a small country town, no
soft gradations of wider lawns and orchards, with houses gradually
becoming less dense, but a dead stop. I believe the people who live
there mostly go into the city. I have seen once or twice a laden 'bus
bound thitherwards. But however that may be, I can't conceive a greater
loneliness in a desert at midnight than there is there at midday. It is
like a city of the dead; the streets are glaring and desolate, and as
you pass it suddenly strikes you that this, too, is part of London.
Well, a year or two ago there was a doctor living there; he had set up
his brass plate and his red lamp at the very end of one of those
shining streets, and from the back of the house the fields stretched
away to the north. I don't know what his reason was in settling down in
such an out-of-the-way place, perhaps Dr. Black, as we will call him,
was a far-seeing man and looked ahead. His relations, so it appeared
afterwards, had lost sight of him for many years and didn't even know
he was a doctor, much less where he lived. However, there he was,
settled in Harlesden, with some fragments of a practice, and an
uncommonly pretty wife. People used to see them walking out together in
the summer evenings soon after they came to Harlesden, and, so far as
could be observed, they seemed a very affectionate couple. These walks
went on through the autumn, and then ceased; but, of course, as the
days grew dark and the weather cold, the lanes near Harlesden might be
expected to lose many of their attractions. All through the winter
nobody saw anything of Mrs. Black; the doctor used to reply to his
patients' inquiries that she was a 'little out of sorts, would be
better, no doubt, in the spring.' But the spring came, and the summer,
and no Mrs. Black appeared, and at last people began to rumor and talk
amongst themselves, and all sorts of queer things were said at 'high
teas,' which you may possibly have heard are the only form of
entertainment known in such suburbs. Dr. Black began to surprise some
very odd looks cast in his direction, and the practice, such as it was,
fell off before his eyes. In short, when the neighbours whispered about
the matter, they whispered that Mrs. Black was dead, and that the
doctor had made away with her. But this wasn't the case; Mrs. Black was
seen alive in June. It was a Sunday afternoon, one of those few
exquisite days that an English climate offers, and half London had
strayed out into the fields North, South, East, and West, to smell the
scent of the white May, and to see if the wild roses were yet in
blossom in the hedges. I had gone out myself early in the morning, and
had had a long ramble, and somehow or other, as I was steering
homeward, I found myself in this very Harlesden we have been talking
about. To be exact, I had a glass of beer in the 'General Gordon,' the
most flourishing house in the neighbourhood, and as I was wandering
rather aimlessly about I saw an uncommonly tempting gap in a hedgerow,
and resolved to explore the meadow beyond. Soft grass is very grateful
to the feet after the infernal grit strewn on suburban sidewalks, and
after walking about for some time, I thought I should like to sit down
on a bank and have a smoke. While I was getting out my pouch, I looked
up in the direction of the houses, and as I looked I felt my breath
caught back, and my teeth began to chatter, and the stick I had in one
hand snapped in two with the grip I gave it. It was as if I had had an
electric current down my spine, and yet for some moment of time which
seemed long, but which must have been very short, I caught myself
wondering what on earth was the matter. Then I knew what had made my
very heart shudder and my bones grind together in an agony. As I
glanced up I had looked straight towards the last house in the row
before me, and in an upper window of that house I had seen for some
short fraction of a second a face. It was the face of a woman, and yet
it was not human. You and I, Salisbury, have heard in our time, as we
sat in our seats in church in sober English fashion, of a lust that
cannot be satiated, and of a fire that is unquenchable, but few of us
have any notion what these words mean. I hope you never may, for as I
saw that face at the window, with the blue sky above me and the warm
air playing in gusts about me, I knew I had looked into another
world--looked through the window of a commonplace, brand-new house, and
seen hell open before me. When the first shock was over, I thought once
or twice that I should have fainted; my face streamed with a cold
sweat, and my breath came and went in sobs, as if I had been half
drowned. I managed to get up at last, and walked round to the street,
and there I saw the name Dr. Black on the post by the front gate. As
fate or my luck would have it, the door opened and a man came down the
steps as I passed by. I had no doubt it was the doctor himself. He was
of a type rather common in London,--long and thin with a pasty face and
a dull black moustache. He gave me a look as we passed each other on
the pavement, and though it was merely the casual glance which one
foot-passenger bestows on another, I felt convinced in my mind that
here was an ugly customer to deal with. As you may imagine I went my
way a good deal puzzled and horrified, too, by what I had seen; for I
had paid another visit to the 'General Gordon,' and had got together a
good deal of the common gossip of the place about the Blacks. I didn't
mention the fact that I had seen a woman's face in the window; but I
heard that Mrs. Black had been much admired for her beautiful golden
hair, and round what had struck me with such a nameless terror there
was a mist of flowing yellow hair, as it were an aureole of glory round
the visage of a satyr. The whole thing bothered me in an indescribable
manner; and when I got home I tried my best to think of the impression
I had received as an illusion, but it was no use. I knew very well I
had seen what I have tried to describe to you, and I was morally
certain that I had seen Mrs. Black. And then there was the gossip of
the place, the suspicion of foul play, which I knew to be false, and my
own conviction that there was some deadly mischief or other going on in
that bright red house at the corner of the Devon Road,--how to
construct a theory of a reasonable kind out of these two elements. In
short, I found myself in a world of mystery; I puzzled my head over it
and filled up my leisure moments by gathering together odd threads of
speculation, but I never moved a step toward any real solution, and as
the summer days went on the matter seemed to grown misty and
indistinct, shadowing some vague terror, like a nightmare of last
month. I suppose it would before long have faded into the background of
my brain--I should not have forgotten it, for such a thing could never
be forgotten--but one morning as I was looking over the paper my eye
was caught by a heading over some two dozen lines of small type. The
words I had seen were simply, 'The Harlesden Case,' and I knew what I
was going to read. Mrs. Black was dead. Black had called in another
medical man to certify as to cause of death, and something or other had
aroused the strange doctor's suspicions, and there had been an inquest
and post-mortem. And the result? That, I will confess, did astonish
me considerably; it was the triumph of the unexpected. The two doctors
who made the autopsy were obliged to confess that they could not
discover the faintest trace of any kind of foul play; their most
exquisite tests and reagents failed to detect the presence of poison in
the most infinitesimal quantity. Death, they found, had been caused by
a somewhat obscure and scientifically interesting form of brain
disease. The tissue of the brain and the molecules of the gray matter
had undergone a most extraordinary series of changes; and the younger
of the two doctors, who has some reputation, I believe, as a specialist
in brain trouble, made some remarks in giving his evidence, which
struck me deeply at the time, though I did not then grasp their full
significance. He said: 'At the commencement of the examination I was
astonished to find appearances of a character entirely new to me,
notwithstanding my somewhat large experience. I need not specify these
appearances at present; it will be sufficient for me to state that as I
proceeded in my task I could scarcely believe that the brain before me
was that of a human being at all.' There was some surprise at this
statement, as you may imagine, and the coroner asked the doctor if he
meant to say that the brain resembled that of an animal. 'No,' he
replied, 'I should not put it in that way. Some of the appearances I
noticed seemed to point in that direction, but others, and these were
the more surprising, indicated a nervous organization of a wholly
different character to that either of man or of the lower animals.' It
was a curious thing to say, but of course the jury brought in a verdict
of death from natural causes, and, so far as the public was concerned,
the case came to an end. But after I had read what the doctor said, I
made up my mind that I should like to know a good deal more, and I set
to work on what seemed likely to prove an interesting investigation. I
had really a good deal of trouble, but I was successful in a measure.
Though--why, my dear fellow, I had no notion of the time. Are you aware
that we have been here nearly four hours? The waiters are staring at
us. Let's have the bill and be gone."

The two men went out in silence, and stood a moment in the cool air,
watching the hurrying traffic of Coventry Street pass before them to
the accompaniment of ringing bells of hansoms and the cries of the
newsboys, the deep far murmur of London surging up ever and again from
beneath these louder noises.

"It is a strange case, isn't it?" said Dyson, at length. "What do you
think of it?"

"My dear fellow, I haven't heard the end, so I will reserve my opinion.
When will you give me the sequel?"

"Come to my rooms some evening; say next Thursday. Here's the address.
Good-night; I want to get down to the Strand."

Dyson hailed a passing hansom, and Salisbury turned northward to walk
home to his lodgings.




Mr. Salisbury, as may have been gathered from the few remarks which he
had found it possible to introduce in the course of the evening, was a
young gentleman of a peculiarly solid form of intellect, coy and
retiring before the mysterious and the uncommon, with a constitutional
dislike of paradox. During the restaurant dinner he had been forced to
listen in almost absolute silence to a strange tissue of
improbabilities strung together with the ingenuity of a born meddler in
plots and mysteries, and it was with a feeling of weariness that he
crossed Shaftesbury Avenue, and dived into the recesses of Soho, for
his lodgings were in a modest neighbourhood to the north of Oxford
Street. As he walked he speculated on the probable fate of Dyson,
relying on literature unbefriended by a thoughtful relative; and could
not help concluding that so much subtlety united to a too vivid
imagination would in all likelihood have been rewarded with a pair of
Sandwich-boards or a super's banner. Absorbed in this train of thought,
and admiring the perverse dexterity which could transmute the face of a
sickly woman and a case of brain disease into the crude elements of
romance, Salisbury strayed on through the dimly lighted streets, not
noticing the gusty wind which drove sharply round corners and whirled
the stray rubbish of the pavement into the air in eddies, while black
clouds gathered over the sickly yellow moon. Even a stray drop or two
of rain blown into his face did not rouse him from his meditations, and
it was only when with a sudden rush the storm tore down upon the street
that he began to consider the expediency of finding some shelter. The
rain, driven by the wind, pelted down with the violence of a
thunder-storm, dashing up from the stones and hissing through the air,
and soon a perfect torrent of water coursed along the kennels and
accumulated in pools over the choked-up drains. The few stray
passengers who had been loafing rather than walking about the street,
had scuttered away like frightened rabbits to some invisible places of
refuge, and though Salisbury whistled loud and long for a hansom, no
hansom appeared. He looked about him, as if to discover how far he
might be from the haven of Oxford Street; but strolling carelessly
along he had turned out of his way, and found himself in an unknown
region, and one to all appearance devoid even of a public-house where
shelter could be bought for the modest sum of twopence. The street
lamps were few and at long intervals, and burned behind grimy glasses
with the sickly light of oil lamps, and by this wavering light
Salisbury could make out the shadowy and vast old houses of which the
street was composed. As he passed along, hurrying, and shrinking from
the full sweep of the rain, he noticed the innumerable bell-handles,
with names that seemed about to vanish of old age graven on brass
plates beneath them, and here and there a richly carved pent-house
overhung the door, blackening with the grime of fifty years. The storm
seemed to grow more and more furious; he was wet through, and a new hat
had become a ruin, and still Oxford Street seemed as far off as ever.
It was with deep relief that the dripping man caught sight of a dark
archway which seemed to promise shelter from the rain if not from the
wind. Salisbury took up his position in the dryest corner and looked
about him; he was standing in a kind of passage contrived under part of
a house, and behind him stretched a narrow footway leading between
blank walls to regions unknown. He had stood there for some time,
vainly endeavouring to rid himself of some of his superfluous moisture,
and listening for the passing wheel of a hansom, when his attention was
aroused by a loud noise coming from the direction of the passage
behind, and growing louder as it drew nearer. In a couple of minutes he
could make out the shrill, raucous voice of a woman, threatening and
denouncing and making the very stones echo with her accents, while now
and then a man grumbled and expostulated. Though to all appearance
devoid of romance, Salisbury had some relish for street rows, and was,
indeed, somewhat of an amateur in the more amusing phases of
drunkenness; he therefore composed himself to listen and observe with
something of the air of a subscriber to grand opera. To his annoyance,
however, the tempest seemed suddenly to be composed, and he could hear
nothing but the impatient steps of the woman and the slow lurch of the
man as they came toward him. Keeping back in the shadow of the wall, he
could see the two drawing nearer; the man was evidently drunk, and had
much ado to avoid frequent collision with the wall as he tacked across
from one side to the other, like some bark beating up against a wind.
The woman was looking straight in front of her, with tears streaming
from her eyes, but suddenly as they went by, the flame blazed up again,
and she burst forth into a torrent of abuse, facing round upon her
companion.

"You low rascal! You mean, contemptible cur!" she went on, after an
incoherent storm of curses: "You think I'm to work and slave for you
always, I suppose, while you're after that Green Street girl and
drinking every penny you've got. But you're mistaken, Sam,--indeed,
I'll bear it no longer. Damn you, you dirty thief, I've done with you
and your master too, so you can go your own errands, and I only hope
they'll get you into trouble."

The woman tore at the bosom of her dress, and taking something out that
looked like paper, crumpled it up and flung it away. It fell at
Salisbury's feet. She ran out and disappeared in the darkness, while
the man lurched slowly into the street, grumbling indistinctly to
himself in a perplexed tone of voice. Salisbury looked out after him,
and saw him maundering along the pavement, halting now and then and
swaying indecisively, and then starting off at some fresh tangent. The
sky had cleared, and white fleecy clouds were fleeting across the moon,
high in the heaven. The light came and went by turns as the clouds
passed by, and, turning round as the clear white rays shone into the
passage, Salisbury saw the little ball of crumpled paper which the
woman had cast down. Oddly curious to know what it might contain, he
picked it up and put it in his pocket, and set out afresh on his
journey.




Salisbury was a man of habit. When he got home, drenched to the skin,
his clothes hanging lank about him, and a ghastly dew besmearing his
hat, his only thought was of his health, of which he took studious
care. So, after changing his clothes and encasing himself in a warm
dressing-gown he proceeded to prepare a sudorific in the shape of hot
gin and water, warming the latter over one of those spirit lamps which
mitigate the austerities of the modern hermit's life. By the time this
preparation had been imbibed, and Salisbury's disturbed feelings had
been soothed by a pipe of tobacco, he was able to get into bed in a
happy state of vacuity, without a thought of his adventure in the dark
archway, or of the weird fancies with which Dyson had seasoned his
dinner. It was the same at breakfast the next morning, for Salisbury
made a point of not thinking of anything until that meal was over; but
when the cup and saucer were cleared away, and the morning pipe was
lit, he remembered the little ball of paper, and began fumbling in the
pockets of his wet coat. He did not remember into which pocket he had
put it, and as he dived now into one, and now into another, he
experienced a strange feeling of apprehension lest it should not be
there at all, though he could not for the life of him have explained
the importance he attached to what was in all probability mere rubbish.
But he sighed with relief when his fingers touched the crumpled surface
in an inside pocket, and he drew it out gently and laid it on the
little desk by his easy chair with as much care as if it had been some
rare jewel. Salisbury sat smoking and staring at his find for a few
minutes, an odd temptation to throw the thing in the fire and have done
with it struggling with as odd a speculation as to its possible
contents and as to the reason why the infuriated woman should have
flung a bit of paper from her with such vehemence. As might be
expected, it was the latter feeling that conquered in the end, and yet
it was with something like repugnance that he at last took the paper
and unrolled it, and laid it out before him. It was a piece of common
dirty paper, to all appearance torn out of a cheap exercise book, and
in the middle were a few lines written in a queer cramped hand.
Salisbury bent his head and stared eagerly at it for a moment, drawing
a long breath, and then fell back in his chair gazing blankly before
him, till at last with a sudden revulsion he burst into a peal of
laughter, so long and loud and uproarious that the landlady's baby in
the floor below awoke from sleep and echoed his mirth with hideous
yells. But he laughed again and again, and took up the paper to read a
second time what seemed such meaningless nonsense.

"Q. has had to go and see his friends in Paris," it began. "Traverse
Handel S. 'Once around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice
around the maple tree.'"

Salisbury took up the paper and crumpled it as the angry woman had
done, and aimed it at the fire. He did not throw it there, however, but
tossed it carelessly into the well of the desk, and laughed again. The
sheer folly of the thing offended him, and he was ashamed of his own
eager speculation, as one who pores over the high-sounding
announcements in the agony column of the daily paper, and finds nothing
but advertisement and triviality. He walked to the window, and stared
out at the languid morning life of his quarter; the maids in slatternly
print-dresses washing door-steps, the fishmonger and the butcher on
their rounds, and the tradesmen standing at the doors of their small
shops, drooping for lack of trade and excitement. In the distance a
blue haze gave some grandeur to the prospect, but the view as a whole
was depressing, and would have only interested a student of the life of
London, who finds something rare and choice in its every aspect.
Salisbury turned away in disgust, and settled himself in the easy
chair, upholstered in a bright shade of green, and decked with yellow
gimp, which was the pride and attraction of the apartments. Here he
composed himself to his morning's occupation, the perusal of a novel
that dealt with sport and love in a manner that suggested the
collaboration of a stud-groom and a ladies' college. In an ordinary
way, however, Salisbury would have been carried on by the interest of
the story up to lunch time, but this morning he fidgeted in and out of
his chair, took the book up and laid it down again, and swore at last
to himself and at himself in mere irritation. In point of fact the
jingle of the paper found in the archway had "got into his head," and
do what he would he could not help muttering over and over, "Once
around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice around the
maple tree." It became a positive pain, like the foolish burden of a
music-hall song, everlastingly quoted, and sung at all hours of the day
and night, and treasured by the street boys as an unfailing resource
for six months together. He went out into the streets, and tried to
forget his enemy in the jostling of the crowds, and the roar and
clatter of the traffic; but presently he would find himself stealing
quietly aside and pacing some deserted byway, vainly puzzling his
brains, and trying to fix some meaning to phrases that were
meaningless. It was a positive relief when Thursday came, and he
remembered that he had made an appointment to go and see Dyson; the
flimsy reveries of the self-styled man of letters appeared entertaining
when compared with this ceaseless iteration, this maze of thought from
which there seemed no possibility of escape. Dyson's abode was in one
of the quietest of the quiet streets that lead down from the Strand to
the river, and when Salisbury passed from the narrow stairway into his
friend's room, he saw that the uncle had been beneficent indeed. The
floor glowed and flamed with all the colours of the east; it was, as
Dyson pompously remarked, "a sunset in a dream," and the lamplight, the
twilight of London streets, was shut out with strangely worked
curtains, glittering here and there with threads of gold. In the
shelves of an oak armoire stood jars and plates of old French china,
and the black and white of etchings not to be found in the Haymarket or
in Bond Street, stood out against the splendour of a Japanese paper.
Salisbury sat down on the settle by the hearth, and sniffed the mingled
fumes of incense and tobacco, wondering and dumb before all this
splendour after the green rep and the oleographs, the gilt-framed
mirror and the lustres of his own apartment.

"I am glad you have come," said Dyson. "Comfortable little room, isn't
it? But you don't look very well, Salisbury. Nothing disagreed with
you, has it?"

"No; but I have been a good deal bothered for the last few days. The
fact is I had an odd kind of--of--adventure, I suppose I may call it,
that night I saw you, and it has worried me a good deal. And the
provoking part of it is that it's the merest nonsense--but, however, I
will tell you all about it, by and by. You were going to let me have
the rest of that odd story you began at the restaurant."

"Yes. But I am afraid, Salisbury, you are incorrigible. You are a slave
to what you call matter of fact. You know perfectly well that in your
heart you think the oddness in that case is of my making, and that it
is all really as plain as the police reports. However, as I have begun,
I will go on. But first we will have something to drink, and you may as
well light your pipe."

Dyson went up to the oak cupboard, and drew from its depths a rotund
bottle and two little glasses quaintly gilded.

"It's Benedictin," he said. "You'll have some, won't you?"

Salisbury assented, and the two men sat sipping and smoking
reflectively for some minutes before Dyson began.

"Let me see," he said at last; "we were at the inquest, weren't we? No,
we had done with that. Ah, I remember. I was telling you that on the
whole I had been successful in my inquiries, investigation, or what
ever you like to call it, into the matter. Wasn't that where I left
off?"

"Yes, that was it. To be precise, I think 'though' was the last word
you said on the matter."

"Exactly. I have been thinking it all over since the other night, and I
have come to the conclusion that that 'though' is a very big 'though'
indeed. Not to put too fine a point on it, I have had to confess that
what I found out, or thought I found out, amounts in reality to
nothing. I am as far away from the heart of the case as ever. However,
I may as well tell you what I do know. You may remember my saying that
I was impressed a good deal by some remarks of one of the doctors who
gave evidence at the inquest. Well, I determined that my first step
must be to try if I could get something more definite and intelligible
out of that doctor. Somehow or other I managed to get an introduction
to the man, and he gave me an appointment to come and see him. He
turned out to be a pleasant, genial fellow; rather young and not in the
least like the typical medical man, and he began the conference by
offering me whiskey and cigars. I didn't think it worth while to beat
about the bush, so I began by saying that part of his evidence at the
Harlesden Inquest struck me as very peculiar, and I gave him the
printed report, with the sentences in question underlined. He just
glanced at the slip, and gave me a queer look. 'It struck you as
peculiar, did it?' said he. 'Well, you must remember the Harlesden case
was very peculiar. In fact, I think I may safely say that in some
features it was unique--quite unique.' 'Quite so,' I replied, 'and
that's exactly why it interests me, and why I want to know more about
it. And I thought that if anybody could give me any information it
would be you. What is your opinion of the matter?'

"It was a pretty downright sort of question, and my doctor looked
rather taken aback.

"'Well,' he said, 'as I fancy your motive in inquiring into the
question must be mere curiosity, I think I may tell you my opinion with
tolerable freedom. So, Mr.--Mr. Dyson, if you want to know my theory,
it is this: I believe that Dr. Black killed his wife.'

"'But the verdict,' I answered, 'the verdict was given from your own
evidence.'

"'Quite so, the verdict was given in accordance with the evidence of my
colleague and myself, and, under the circumstances, I think the jury
acted very sensibly. In fact I don't see what else they could have
done. But I stick to my opinion, mind you, and I say this also: I don't
wonder at Black's doing what I firmly believe he did. I think he was
justified.'

"'Justified! How could that be?' I asked. I was astonished, as you may
imagine, at the answer I had got. The doctor wheeled round his chair,
and looked steadily at me for a moment before he answered.

"'I suppose you are not a man of science yourself? No; then it would be
of no use my going into detail. I have always been firmly opposed
myself to any partnership between physiology and psychology. I believe
that both are bound to suffer. No one recognizes more decidedly than I
do the impassable gulf, the fathomless abyss that separates the world
of consciousness from the sphere of matter. We know that every change
of consciousness is accompanied by a rearrangement of the molecules in
the gray matter; and that is all. What the link between them is, or why
they occur together, we do not know, and most authorities believe that
we never can know. Yet, I will tell you that as I did my work, the
knife in my hand, I felt convinced, in spite of all theories, that what
lay before me was not the brain of a dead woman; not the brain of a
human being at all. Of course I saw the face; but it was quite placid,
devoid of all expression. It must have been a beautiful face, no doubt;
but I can honestly say that I would not have looked in that face when
there was life behind it for a thousand guineas, no, nor for twice that
sum.'

"'My dear sir,' I said, 'you surprise me extremely. You say that it was
not the brain of a human being. What was it then?'

"'The brain of a devil.' He spoke quite coolly, and never moved a
muscle. 'The brain of a devil,' he repeated, 'and I have no doubt that
Black put a pillow over her mouth and kept it there for a few minutes.
I don't blame him if he did. Whatever Mrs. Black was, she was not fit
to stay in this world. Will you have anything more? No? Good-night,
good-night.'

"It was a queer sort of opinion to get from a man of science, wasn't
it? When he was saying that he would not have looked on that face when
alive for a thousand guineas or two thousand guineas, I was thinking of
the face I had seen, but I said nothing. I went again to Harlesden, and
passed from one shop to another, making small purchases, and trying to
find out whether there was anything about the Blacks which was not
already common property; but there was very little to hear. One of the
tradesmen to whom I spoke said he had known the dead woman well--she
used to buy of him such quantities of grocery as were required for
their small household, for they never kept a servant, but had a
charwoman in occasionally, and she had not seen Mrs. Black for months
before she died. According to this man, Mrs. Black was 'a nice lady,'
always kind and considerate, so fond of her husband, and he of her, as
everyone thought. And yet, to put the doctor's opinion on one side, I
knew what I had seen. And then, after thinking it all over and putting
one thing with another, it seemed to me that the only person likely to
give me much assistance would be Black himself, and I made up my mind
to find him. Of course he wasn't to be found in Harlesden; he had left,
I was told, directly after the funeral. Everything in the house had
been sold, and one fine day Black got into the train with a small
portmanteau, and went nobody knew where. It was a chance if he were
ever heard of again, and it was by a mere chance that I came across him
at last. I was walking one day along Gray's Inn Road, not bound for
anywhere in particular, but looking about me, as usual, and holding on
to my hat, for it was a gusty day in early March, and the wind was
making the tree-tops in the Inn rock and quiver. I had come up from the
Holborn end, and I had almost got to Theobald's Road, when I noticed a
man walking in front of me, leaning on a stick and to all appearance
very feeble. There was something about his look that made me curious, I
don't know why; and I began to walk briskly, with the idea of
overtaking him, when of a sudden his hat blew off, and came bounding
along the pavement to my feet. Of course I rescued the hat, and gave it
a glance as I went towards its owner. It was a biography in itself; a
Piccadilly maker's name in the inside, but I don't think a beggar would
have picked it out of the gutter. Then I looked up, and saw Dr. Black
of Harlesden waiting for me. A queer thing, wasn't it? But, Salisbury,
what a change! When I saw Dr. Black come down the steps of his house at
Harlesden, he was an upright man, walking firmly with well-built limbs;
a man, I should say, in the prime of his life. And now before me there
crouched this wretched creature, bent and feeble, with shrunken cheeks,
and hair that was whitening fast, and limbs that trembled and shook
together, and misery in his eyes. He thanked me for bringing him his
hat, saying, 'I don't think I should ever have got it, I can't run much
now. A gusty day, sir, isn't it?' and with this he was turning away;
but by little and little I contrived to draw him into the current of
conversation, and we walked together eastward. I think the man would
have been glad to get rid of me, but I didn't intend to let him go, and
he stopped at last in front of a miserable house in a miserable street.
It was, I verily believe, one of the most wretched quarters I have ever
seen,--houses that must have been sordid and hideous enough when new,
that had gathered foulness with every year, and now seemed to lean and
totter to their fall. 'I live up there,' said Black, pointing to the
tiles, 'not in the front,--in the back. I am very quiet there. I won't
ask you to come in now, but perhaps some other day----'

"I caught him up at that, and told him I should be only too glad to
come and see him. He gave me an odd sort of glance, as if he was
wondering what on earth I or anybody else could care about him, and I
left him fumbling with his latch-key. I think you will say I did pretty
well, when I tell you that within a few weeks I had made myself an
intimate friend of Black's. I shall never forget the first time I went
to this room; I hope I shall never see such abject, squalid misery
again. The foul paper, from which all pattern or trace of a pattern had
long vanished, subdued and penetrated with the grime of the evil
street, was hanging in mouldering pennons from the wall. Only at the
end of the room was it possible to stand upright; and the sight of the
wretched bed and the odour of corruption that pervaded the place made
me turn faint and sick. Here I found him munching a piece of bread; he
seemed surprised to find that I had kept my promise, but he gave me his
chair, and sat on the bed while we talked. I used to go and see him
often, and we had long conversations together, but he never mentioned
Harlesden or his wife. I fancy that he supposed me ignorant of the
matter, or thought that if I had heard of it, I should never connect
the respectable Dr. Black of Harlesden with a poor garreteer in the
backwoods of London. He was a strange man, and as we sat together
smoking, I often wondered whether he were mad or sane, for I think the
wildest dreams of Paracelsus and the Rosicrucians would appear plain
and sober fact, compared with the theories I have heard him earnestly
advance in that grimy den of his. I once ventured to hint something of
the sort to him; I suggested that something he had said was in flat
contradiction to all science and all experience. 'No, Dyson,' he
answered, 'not all experience, for mine counts for something. I am no
dealer in unproved theories; what I say I have proved for myself, and
at a terrible cost. There is a region of knowledge of which you will
never know, which wise men, seeing from afar off, shun like the plague,
as well they may; but into that region I have gone. If you knew, if you
could even dream of what may be done, of what one or two men have done,
in this quiet world of ours, your very soul would shudder and faint
within you. What you have heard from me has been but the merest husk
and outer covering of true science,--that science which means death and
that which is more awful than death to those who gain it. No, Dyson,
when men say that there are strange things in the world, they little
know the awe and the terror that dwell always within them and about
them.'"

There was a sort of fascination about the man that drew me to him, and
I was quite sorry to have to leave London for a month or two; I missed
his odd talk. A few days after I came back to town I thought I would go
and look him up; but when I gave the two rings at the bell that used to
summon him, there was no answer. I rang and rang again, and was just
turning to go away, when the door opened and a dirty woman asked me
what I wanted. From her look I fancy she took me for a plain-clothes
officer after one of her lodgers; but when I inquired if Mr. Black was
in, she gave me a stare of another kind. 'There's no Mr. Black lives
here,' she said. 'He's gone. He's dead this six weeks. I always thought
he was a bit queer in his head, or else had been and got into some
trouble or other. He used to go out every morning from ten till one,
and one Monday morning we heard him come in and go into his room and
shut the door, and a few minutes after, just as we was a-sitting down
to our dinner, there was such a scream that I thought I should have
gone right off. And then we heard a stamping, and down he came raging
and cursing most dreadful, swearing he had been robbed of something
that was worth millions. And then he just dropped down in the passage,
and we thought he was dead. We got him up to his room, and put him on
his bed, and I just sat there and waited, while my 'usband he went for
the doctor. And there was the winder wide open, and a little tin box he
had lying on the floor open and empty; but of course nobody could
possible have got in at the winder, and as for him having anything that
was worth anything, it's nonsense, for he was often weeks and weeks
behind with his rent, and my 'usband he threatened often and often to
turn him into the street, for, as he said, we've got a living to myke
like other people, and of course that's true; but somehow I didn't like
to do it, though he was an odd kind of a man, and I fancy had been
better off. And then the doctor came and looked at him, and said as he
couldn't do nothing, and that night he died as I was a-sitting by his
bed; and I can tell you that, with one thing and another, we lost money
by him, for the few bits of clothes as he had were worth next to
nothing when they came to be sold.'

"I gave the woman half a sovereign for her trouble, and went home
thinking of Dr. Black and the epitaph she had made him, and wondering
at his strange fancy that he had been robbed. I take it that he had
very little to fear on that score, poor fellow; but I suppose that he
was really mad, and died in a sudden access of his mania. His landlady
said that once or twice when she had had occasion to go into his room
(to dun the poor wretch for his rent, most likely), he would keep her
at the door for about a minute, and that when she came in she would
find him putting away his tin box in the corner by the window. I
suppose he had become possessed with the idea of some great treasure,
and fancied himself a wealthy man in the midst of all his misery.

"Explicit, my tale is ended; and you see that though I knew Black I
know nothing of his wife or of the history of her death. That's the
Harlesden case, Salisbury, and I think it interests me all the more
deeply because there does not seem the shadow of a possibility that I
or anyone else will ever know more about it. What do you think of it?"

"Well, Dyson, I must say that I think you have contrived to surround
the whole thing with a mystery of your own making. I go for the
doctor's solution,--Black murdered his wife, being himself, in all
probability, an undeveloped lunatic."

"What? Do you believe, then, that this woman was something too awful,
too terrible, to be allowed to remain on the earth? You will remember
that the doctor said it was the brain of a devil?"

"Yes, yes; but he was speaking, of course, metaphorically. It's really
quite a simple matter, Dyson, if you only look at it like that."

"Ah, well, you may be right; but yet I am sure you are not. Well, well,
it's no good discussing it anymore. A little more Benedictine? That's
right; try some of this tobacco. Didn't you say that you had been
bothered by something,--something which happened that night we dined
together?"

"Yes, I have been worried, Dyson,--worried a great deal. I--But it's
such a trivial matter, indeed, such an absurdity, that I feel ashamed
to trouble you with it."

"Never mind; let's have it, absurd or not."

With many hesitations, and with much inward resentment of the folly of
the thing, Salisbury told his tale, and repeated reluctantly the absurd
intelligence and the absurder doggerel of the scrap of paper, expecting
to hear Dyson burst out into a roar of laughter.

"Isn't it too bad that I should let myself be bothered by such stuff as
that?" he asked, when he had stuttered out the jingle of once and twice
and thrice.

Dyson had listened to it all gravely, even to the end, and meditated
for a few minutes in silence.

"Yes," he said at length, "it was a curious chance, your taking shelter
in that archway just as those two went by. But I don't know that I
should call what was written on the paper nonsense; it is bizarre
certainly, but I expect it has a meaning for somebody. Just repeat it
again, will you? and I will write it down. Perhaps we might find a
cipher of some sort, though I hardly think we shall."

Again had the reluctant lips of Salisbury to slowly stammer out the
rubbish he abhorred, while Dyson jotted it down on a slip of paper.

"Look over it, will you?" he said, when it was done; "it may be
important that I should have every word in its place. Is that all
right?"

"Yes, that is an accurate copy. But I don't think you will get much out
of it. Depend upon it, it is mere nonsense, a wanton scribble. I must
be going now, Dyson. No, no more; that stuff of yours is pretty strong.
Good-night."

"I suppose you would like to hear from me, if I did find out anything?"

"No, not I; I don't want to hear about the thing again. You may regard
the discovery, if it is one as your own."

"Very well. Good-night."




A good many hours after Salisbury had returned to the company of the
green rep chairs, Dyson still sat at his desk, itself a Japanese
romance, smoking many pipes, and meditating over his friend's story.
The bizarre quality of the inscription which had annoyed Salisbury was
to him an attraction; and now and again he took it up and scanned
thoughtfully what he had written, especially the quaint jingle at the
end. It was a token, a symbol, he decided, and not a cipher; and the
woman who had flung it away was, in all probability, entirely ignorant
of its meaning. She was but the agent of the "Sam" she had abused and
discarded, and he, too, was again the agent of some one
unknown,--possibly of the individual styled Q., who had been forced to
visit his French friends. But what to make of "Traverse Handel S.?"
Here was the root and source of the enigma, and not all the tobacco of
Virginia seemed likely to suggest any clew here. It seemed almost
hopeless; but Dyson regarded himself as the Wellington of mysteries,
and went to bed feeling assured that sooner or later he would hit upon
the right track. For the next few days he was deeply engaged in his
literary labours,--labours which were a profound mystery even to the
most intimate of his friends, who searched the railway bookstalls in
vain for the result of so many hours spent at the Japanese bureau in
company with strong tobacco and black tea. On this occasion Dyson
confined himself to his room for four days, and it was with genuine
relief that he laid down his pen and went out into the streets in quest
of relaxation and fresh air. The gas lamps were being lighted, and the
fifth edition of the evening papers was being howled through the
streets; and Dyson, feeling that he wanted quiet, turned away from the
clamorous Strand, and began to trend away to the northwest. Soon he
found himself in streets that echoed to his foot-steps; and crossing a
broad new throughfare, and verging still to the west, Dyson discovered
that he had penetrated to the depths of Soho. Here again was life; rare
vintages of France and Italy, at prices which seemed contemptibly
small, allured the passer-by; here were cheeses, vast and rich; here
olive oil, and here a grove of Rabelaisian sausages; while in a
neighbouring shop the whole press of Paris appeared to be on sale. In
the middle of the roadway a strange miscellany of nations sauntered to
and fro; for there cab and hansom rarely ventured, and from window over
window the inhabitants looked forth in pleased contemplation of the
scene. Dyson made his way slowly along, mingling with the crowd on the
cobblestones, listening to the queer babel of French and German and
Italian and English, glancing now and again at the shop windows with
their levelled batteries of bottles, and had almost gained the end of
the street, when his attention was arrested by a small shop at the
corner, a vivid contrast to its neighbours. It was the typical shop of
the poor quarter, a shop entirely English. Here were vended tobacco and
sweets, cheap pipes of clay and cherry wood; penny exercise-books and
penholders jostled for precedence with comic songs, and story papers
with appalling cuts showed that romance claimed its place beside the
actualities of the evening paper, the bills of which fluttered at the
doorway. Dyson glanced up at the name above the door, and stood by the
kennel trembling; for a sharp pang, the pang of one who has made a
discovery, had for a moment left him incapable of motion. The name over
the little shop was Travers. Dyson looked up again, this time at the
corner of the wall above the lamp-post, and read, in white letters on a
blue ground, the words "Handel Street, W.C.," and the legend was
repeated in fainter letters just below. He gave a little sigh of
satisfaction, and without more ado walked boldly into the shop, and
stared the fat man who was sitting behind the counter full in the face.
The fellow rose to his feet and returned the stare a little curiously,
and then began in stereotyped phrase,--

"What can I do for you, sir?"

Dyson enjoyed the situation, and a dawning perplexity on the man's
face. He propped his stick carefully against the counter, and leaning
over it, said slowly and impressively:

"Once around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice around
the maple-tree."

Dyson had calculated on his words producing an effect, and he was not
disappointed. The vendor of miscellanies gasped, open-mouthed, like a
fish, and steadied himself against the counter. When he spoke, after a
short interval, it was in a hoarse mutter, tremulous and unsteady.

"Would you mind saying that again, sir? I didn't quite catch it."

"My good man, I shall most certainly do nothing of the kind. You heard
what I said perfectly well. You have got a clock in your shop, I see;
an admirable timekeeper I have no doubt. Well, I give you a minute by
your own clock."

The man looked about him in perplexed indecision, and Dyson felt that
it was time to be bold.

"Look here, Travers, the time is nearly up. You have heard of Q., I
think. Remember, I hold your life in my hands. Now!"

Dyson was shocked at the result of his own audacity. The man shrunk and
shrivelled in terror, the sweat poured down a face of ashy white, and
he held up his hands before him.

"Mr. Davies, Mr. Davies, don't say that, don't for Heaven's sake. I
didn't know you at first, I didn't indeed. Good God! Mr. Davies, you
wouldn't ruin me? I'll get it in a moment."

"You had better not lose any more time."

The man slunk piteously out of his shop, and went into a back parlour.
Dyson heard his trembling fingers fumbling with a bunch of keys, and
the creak of an opening box. He came back presently with a small
package neatly tied up in brown paper in his hands, and, still full of
terror, handed it to Dyson.

"I'm glad to be rid of it," he said. "I'll take no more jobs of this
sort."

Dyson took the parcel and his stick, and walked out of the shop with a
nod, turning round as he passed the door. Travers had sunk into his
seat, his face still white with terror, with one hand over his eyes,
and Dyson speculated a good deal as he walked rapidly away as to what
queer chords those could be on which he had played so roughly. He
hailed the first hansom he could see, and drove home, and when he had
lit his hanging lamp, and laid his parcel on the table, he paused for a
moment, wondering on what strange thing the lamplight would soon shine.
He locked his door, and cut the strings, and unfolded the paper layer
after layer, and came at last to a small wooden box, simply but solidly
made. There was no lock, and Dyson had simply to raise the lid, and as
he did so he drew a long breath and started back. The lamp seemed to
glimmer feebly like a single candle, but the whole room blazed with
light--and not with light alone but with a thousand colours, with all
the glories of some painted window; and upon the walls of his room and
on the familiar furniture, the glow flamed back and seemed to flow
again to its source, the little wooden box. For there upon a bed of
soft wool lay the most splendid jewel,--a jewel such as Dyson had never
dreamed of, and within it shone the blue of far skies, and the green of
the sea by the shore, and the red of the ruby, and deep violet rays,
and in the middle of all it seemed aflame as if a fountain of fire rose
up, and fell, and rose again with sparks like stars for drops. Dyson
gave a long deep sigh, and dropped into his chair, and put his hands
over his eyes to think. The jewel was like an opal, but from a long
experience of the shop windows he knew there was no such thing as an
opal one quarter or one eighth of its size. He looked at the stone
again, with a feeling that was almost awe, and placed it gently on the
table under the lamp, and watched the wonderful flame that shone and
sparkled in its centre, and then turned to the box, curious to know
whether it might contain other marvels. He lifted the bed of wool on
which the opal had reclined, and saw beneath, no more jewels, but a
little old pocket-book, worn and shabby with use. Dyson opened it at
the first leaf, and dropped the book again appalled. He had read the
name of the owner, neatly written in blue ink:--

STEVEN BLACK, M.D.,
Oranmore,
Devon Road,
Harlesden.

It was several minutes before Dyson could bring himself to open the
book a second time; he remembered the wretched exile in his garret and
his strange talk, and the memory too of the face he had seen at the
window, and of what the specialist had said surged up in his mind, and
as he held his finger on the cover he shivered, dreading what might be
written within. When at last he held it in his hand, and turned the
pages, he found that the first two leaves were blank, but the third was
covered with clear minute writing, and Dyson began to read with the
light of the opal flaming in his eyes.




"Ever since I was a young man," the record began, "I devoted all my
leisure and a good deal of time that ought to have been given to other
studies to the investigation of curious and obscure branches of
knowledge. What are commonly called the pleasures of life had never any
attractions for me, and I lived alone in London, avoiding my
fellow-students, and in my turn avoided by them as a man self-absorbed
and unsympathetic. So long as I could gratify my desire of knowledge of
a peculiar kind, knowledge of which the very existence is a profound
secret to most men, I was intensely happy, and I have often spent whole
nights sitting in the darkness of my room, and thinking of the strange
world on the brink of which I trod. My professional studies, however,
and the necessity of obtaining a degree, for some time forced my more
obscure employment into the background, and soon after I had qualified
I met Agnes, who became my wife. We took a new house in this remote
suburb, and I began the regular routine of a sober practice, and for
some months lived happily enough, sharing in the life about me, and
only thinking at odd intervals of that occult science which had once
fascinated my whole being. I had learnt enough of the paths I had begun
to tread to know that they were beyond all expression difficult and
dangerous, that to persevere meant in all probability the wreck of a
life, and that they lead to regions so terrible that the mind of man
shrinks appalled at the very thought. Moreover, the quiet and the peace
I had enjoyed since my marriage had wiled me away to a great extent
from places where I knew no peace could dwell. But suddenly,--I think,
indeed, it was the work of a single night, as I lay awake on my bed
gazing into the darkness,--suddenly, I say, the old desire, the former
longing returned, and returned with a force that had been intensified
ten times by its absence; and when the day dawned and I looked out of
the window and saw with haggard eyes the sun rise in the East, I knew
that my doom had been pronounced; that as I had gone far, so now I must
go farther with steps that know no faltering. I turned to the bed where
my wife was sleeping peacefully, and lay down again weeping bitter
tears, for the sun had set on our happy life and had risen with a dawn
of terror to us both. I will not set down here in minute detail what
followed; outwardly I went about the day's labour as before, saying
nothing to my wife. But she soon saw that I had changed. I spent my
spare time in a room which I had fitted up as a laboratory, and often I
crept upstairs in the gray dawn of the morning, when the light of many
lamps still glowed over London; and each night I had stolen a step
nearer to that great abyss which I was to bridge over, the gulf between
the world of consciousness and the world of matter. My experiments were
many and complicated in their nature, and it was some months before I
realized whither they all pointed, and when this was borne in upon me
in a moment's time, I felt my face whiten and my heart still within me.
But the power to draw back, the power to stand before the doors that
now opened wide before me and not to enter in, had long ago been
absent; the way was closed, and I could only pass onward. My position
was as utterly hopeless as that of the prisoner in an utter dungeon,
whose only light is that of the dungeon above him; the doors were shut
and escape was impossible. Experiment after experiment gave the same
result, and I knew, and shrank even as the thought passed through my
mind, that in the work I had to do there must be elements which no
laboratory could furnish, which no scales could ever measure. In that
work, from which even I doubted to escape with life, life itself must
enter; from some human being there must be drawn that essence which men
call the soul, and in its place (for in the scheme of the world there
is no vacant chamber), in its place would enter in what the lips can
hardly utter, what the mind cannot conceive without a horror more awful
than the horror of death itself. And when I knew this, I knew also on
whom this fate would fall; I looked into my wife's eyes. Even at that
hour, if I had gone out and taken a rope and hanged myself I might have
escaped, and she also, but in no other way. At last I told her all. She
shuddered, and wept, and called on her dead mother for help, and asked
me if I had no mercy, and I could only sigh. I concealed nothing from
her; I told her what she would become, and what would enter in where
her life had been; I told her of all the shame and of all the horror.
You who will read this when I am dead,--if indeed I allow this record
to survive--you who have opened the box and have seen what lies there,
if you could understand what lies hidden in that opal! For one night my
wife consented to what I asked of her, consented with the tears running
down her beautiful face, and hot shame flushing red over her neck and
breast, consented to undergo this for me. I threw open the window, and
we looked together at the sky and the dark earth for the last time; it
was a fine starlight night, and there was a pleasant breeze blowing,
and I kissed her on her lips, and her tears ran down upon my face. That
night she came down to my laboratory, and there, with shutters bolted
and barred down, with curtains drawn thick and close so that the very
stars might be shut out from the sight of that room, while the crucible
hissed and boiled over the lamp, I did what had to be done, and led out
what was no longer a woman. But on the table the opal flamed and
sparkled with such light as no eyes of man have ever gazed on, and the
rays of the flame that was within it flashed and glittered, and shone
even to my heart. My wife had only asked one thing of me; that when
there came at last what I had told her, I would kill her. I have kept
that promise."

* * * * *

There was nothing more. Dyson let the little pocket-book fall, and
turned and looked again at the opal with its flaming inmost light, and
then, with unutterable irresistible horror surging up in his heart,
grasped the jewel, and flung it on the ground, and trampled it beneath
his heel. His face was white with terror as he turned away, and for a
moment stood sick and trembling, and then with a start he leapt across
the room and steadied himself against the door. There was an angry
hiss, as of steam escaping under great pressure, and as he gazed,
motionless, a volume of heavy yellow smoke was slowly issuing from the
very centre of the jewel, and wreathing itself in snake-like coils
above it. And then a thin white fl





Next: The Secret Of Goresthorpe Grange

Previous: Chan Tow The Highrob



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