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





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