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The Hound of Death Agatha Christie A collection of macabre mysteries, including the superlative short story Witness for the Prosecution…Twelve unexplained phenomena with no apparent earthly explanation…A dog-shaped gunpowder mark; an omen from ‘the other side’; a haunted house; a chilling seance; a case of split personalities; a recurring nightmare; an eerie wireless message; an elderly lady’s hold over a young man; a disembodied cry of ‘murder’; a young man’s sudden amnesia; a levitation experience; a mysterious SOS.To discover the answers, delve into the supernatural storytelling of Agatha Christie. Copyright (#ulink_fe23df59-53c3-5755-a2c2-2e8ce2f47380) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Odhams Press 1933 Agatha Christie The Hound of Death copyright © Agatha Christie Limited 1933. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by www.juliejenkinsdesign.com (http://www.juliejenkinsdesign.com) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2008 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008196424 Ebook Edition © December 2016 ISBN: 9780007422401 Version: 2017-04-13 Contents Cover (#u7a077fc6-25db-5ef4-86b7-89fd37dd9d60) Title Page (#ue4f52d19-b2d7-5f7d-8ec5-137b653b8743) Copyright (#u23bb81c5-3abf-5f2f-9af6-32ee2e898f73) 1. The Hound of Death (#u2e6d7689-dbbb-5dfb-a03f-96c31e5a0737) 2. The Red Signal (#u0d7adb2a-a78f-58a1-9be3-21703e3637a3) 3. The Fourth Man (#u04d2390f-b546-5e55-b305-8bfdf26034be) 4. The Gipsy (#litres_trial_promo) 5. The Lamp (#litres_trial_promo) 6. Wireless (#litres_trial_promo) 7. The Witness for the Prosecution (#litres_trial_promo) 8. The Mystery of the Blue Jar (#litres_trial_promo) 9. The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael (#litres_trial_promo) 10. The Call of Wings (#litres_trial_promo) 11. The Last Séance (#litres_trial_promo) 12. S.O.S. (#litres_trial_promo) Keep Reading … (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) The Hound of Death (#ulink_ed59628f-7bbc-56a3-be34-69c565981bb7) It was from William P. Ryan, American newspaper correspondent, that I first heard of the affair. I was dining with him in London on the eve of his return to New York and happened to mention that on the morrow I was going down to Folbridge. He looked up and said sharply: ‘Folbridge, Cornwall?’ Now only about one person in a thousand knows that there is a Folbridge in Cornwall. They always take it for granted that the Folbridge, Hampshire, is meant. So Ryan’s knowledge aroused my curiosity. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Do you know it?’ He merely replied that he was darned. He then asked if I happened to know a house called Trearne down there. My interest increased. ‘Very well indeed. In fact, it’s to Trearne I’m going. It’s my sister’s house.’ ‘Well,’ said William P. Ryan. ‘If that doesn’t beat the band!’ I suggested that he should cease making cryptic remarks and explain himself. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘To do that I shall have to go back to an experience of mine at the beginning of the war.’ I sighed. The events which I am relating took place in 1921. To be reminded of the war was the last thing any man wanted. We were, thank God, beginning to forget … Besides, William P. Ryan on his war experiences was apt, as I knew, to be unbelievably long-winded. But there was no stopping him now. ‘At the start of the war, as I dare say you know, I was in Belgium for my paper—moving about some. Well, there’s a little village—I’ll call it X. A one horse place if there ever was one, but there’s quite a big convent there. Nuns in white what do you call ’em—I don’t know the name of the order. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Well, this little burgh was right in the way of the German advance. The Uhlans arrived—’ I shifted uneasily. William P. Ryan lifted a hand reassuringly. ‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘This isn’t a German atrocity story. It might have been, perhaps, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact, the boot’s on the other leg. The Huns made for that convent—they got there and the whole thing blew up.’ ‘Oh!’ I said, rather startled. ‘Odd business, wasn’t it? Of course, off hand, I should say the Huns had been celebrating and had monkeyed round with their own explosives. But it seems they hadn’t anything of that kind with them. They weren’t the high explosive johnnies. Well, then, I ask you, what should a pack of nuns know about high explosive? Some nuns, I should say!’ ‘It is odd,’ I agreed. ‘I was interested in hearing the peasants’ account of the matter. They’d got it all cut and dried. According to them it was a slap-up one hundred per cent efficient first-class modern miracle. It seems one of the nuns had got something of a reputation—a budding saint—went into trances and saw visions. And according to them she worked the stunt. She called down the lightning to blast the impious Hun—and it blasted him all right—and everything else within range. A pretty efficient miracle, that! ‘I never really got at the truth of the matter—hadn’t time. But miracles were all the rage just then—angels at Mons and all that. I wrote up the thing, put in a bit of sob stuff, and pulled the religious stop out well, and sent it to my paper. It went down very well in the States. They were liking that kind of thing just then. ‘But (I don’t know if you’ll understand this) in writing, I got kinder interested. I felt I’d like to know what really had happened. There was nothing to see at the spot itself. Two walls still left standing, and on one of them was a black powder mark that was the exact shape of a great hound. The peasants round about were scared to death of that mark. They called it the Hound of Death and they wouldn’t pass that way after dark. ‘Superstition’s always interesting. I felt I’d like to see the lady who worked the stunt. She hadn’t perished, it seemed. She’d gone to England with a batch of other refugees. I took the trouble to trace her. I found she’d been sent to Trearne, Folbridge, Cornwall.’ I nodded. ‘My sister took in a lot of Belgian refugees the beginning of the war. About twenty.’ ‘Well, I always meant, if I had time, to look up the lady. I wanted to hear her own account of the disaster. Then, what with being busy and one thing and another, it slipped my memory. Cornwall’s a bit out of the way anyhow. In fact, I’d forgotten the whole thing till your mentioning Folbridge just now brought it back.’ ‘I must ask my sister,’ I said. ‘She may have heard something about it. Of course, the Belgians have all been repatriated long ago.’ ‘Naturally. All the same, in case your sister does know anything I’ll be glad if you’d pass it on to me.’ ‘Of course I will,’ I said heartily. And that was that. It was the second day after my arrival at Trearne that the story recurred to me. My sister and I were having tea on the terrace. ‘Kitty,’ I said, ‘didn’t you have a nun among your Belgians?’ ‘You don’t mean Sister Marie Angelique, do you?’ ‘Possibly I do,’ I said cautiously. ‘Tell me about her.’ ‘Oh! my dear, she was the most uncanny creature. She’s still here, you know.’ ‘What? In the house?’ ‘No, no, in the village. Dr Rose—you remember Dr Rose?’ I shook my head. ‘I remember an old man of about eighty-three.’ ‘Dr Laird. Oh! he died. Dr Rose has only been here a few years. He’s quite young and very keen on new ideas. He took the most enormous interest in Sister Marie Angelique. She has hallucinations and things, you know, and apparently is most frightfully interesting from a medical point of view. Poor thing, she’d nowhere to go—and really was in my opinion quite potty—only impressive, if you know what I mean—well, as I say, she’d nowhere to go, and Dr Rose very kindly fixed her up in the village. I believe he’s writing a monograph or whatever it is that doctors write, about her.’ She paused and then said: ‘But what do you know about her?’ ‘I heard a rather curious story.’ I passed on the story as I had received it from Ryan. Kitty was very much interested. ‘She looks the sort of person who could blast you—if you know what I mean,’ she said. ‘I really think,’ I said, my curiosity heightened, ‘that I must see this young woman.’ ‘Do. I’d like to know what you think of her. Go and see Dr Rose first. Why not walk down to the village after tea?’ I accepted the suggestion. I found Dr Rose at home and introduced myself. He seemed a pleasant young man, yet there was something about his personality that rather repelled me. It was too forceful to be altogether agreeable. The moment I mentioned Sister Marie Angelique he stiffened to attention. He was evidently keenly interested. I gave him Ryan’s account of the matter. ‘Ah!’ he said thoughtfully. ‘That explains a great deal.’ He looked up quickly at me and went on. ‘The case is really an extraordinarily interesting one. The woman arrived here having evidently suffered some severe mental shock. She was in a state of great mental excitement also. She was given to hallucinations of a most startling character. Her personality is most unusual. Perhaps you would like to come with me and call upon her. She is really well worth seeing.’ I agreed readily. We set out together. Our objective was a small cottage on the outskirts of the village. Folbridge is a most picturesque place. It lies at the mouth of the river Fol mostly on the east bank, the west bank is too precipitous for building, though a few cottages do cling to the cliffside there. The doctor’s own cottage was perched on the extreme edge of the cliff on the west side. From it you looked down on the big waves lashing against the black rocks. The little cottage to which we were now proceeding lay inland out of sight of the sea. ‘The district nurse lives here,’ explained Dr Rose. ‘I have arranged for Sister Marie Angelique to board with her. It is just as well that she should be under skilled supervision.’ ‘Is she quite normal in her manner?’ I asked curiously. ‘You can judge for yourself in a minute,’ he replied, smiling. The district nurse, a dumpy pleasant little body, was just setting out on her bicycle when we arrived. ‘Good evening, nurse, how’s your patient?’ called out the doctor. ‘She’s much as usual, doctor. Just sitting there with her hands folded and her mind far away. Often enough she’ll not answer when I speak to her, though for the matter of that it’s little enough English she understands even now.’ Rose nodded, and as the nurse bicycled away, he went up to the cottage door, rapped sharply and entered. Sister Marie Angelique was lying in a long chair near the window. She turned her head as we entered. It was a strange face—pale, transparent looking, with enormous eyes. There seemed to be an infinitude of tragedy in those eyes. ‘Good evening, my sister,’ said the doctor in French. ‘Good evening, M. le docteur.’ ‘Permit me to introduce a friend, Mr Anstruther.’ I bowed and she inclined her head with a faint smile. ‘And how are you today?’ inquired the doctor, sitting down beside her. ‘I am much the same as usual.’ She paused and then went on. ‘Nothing seems real to me. Are they days that pass—or months—or years? I hardly know. Only my dreams seem real to me.’ ‘You still dream a lot, then?’ ‘Always—always—and, you understand?—the dreams seem more real than life.’ ‘You dream of your own country—of Belgium?’ She shook her head. ‘No. I dream of a country that never existed—never. But you know this, M. le docteur. I have told you many times.’ She stopped and then said abruptly: ‘But perhaps this gentleman is also a doctor—a doctor perhaps for the diseases of the brain?’ ‘No, no.’ Rose said reassuring, but as he smiled I noticed how extraordinarily pointed his canine teeth were, and it occurred to me that there was something wolf-like about the man. He went on: ‘I thought you might be interested to meet Mr Anstruther. He knows something of Belgium. He has lately been hearing news of your convent.’ Her eyes turned to me. A faint flush crept into her cheeks. ‘It’s nothing, really,’ I hastened to explain. ‘But I was dining the other evening with a friend who was describing the ruined walls of the convent to me.’ ‘So it was ruined!’ It was a soft exclamation, uttered more to herself than to us. Then looking at me once more she asked hesitatingly: ‘Tell me, Monsieur, did your friend say how—in what way—it was ruined?’ ‘It was blown up,’ I said, and added: ‘The peasants are afraid to pass that way at night.’ ‘Why are they afraid?’ ‘Because of a black mark on a ruined wall. They have a superstitious fear of it.’ She leaned forward. ‘Tell me, Monsieur—quick—quick—tell me! What is that mark like?’ ‘It has the shape of a huge hound,’ I answered. ‘The peasants call it the Hound of Death.’ ‘Ah!’ A shrill cry burst from her lips. ‘It is true then—it is true. All that I remember is true. It is not some black nightmare. It happened! It happened!’ ‘What happened, my sister?’ asked the doctor in a low voice. She turned to him eagerly. ‘I remembered. There on the steps, I remembered. I remembered the way of it. I used the power as we used to use it. I stood on the altar steps and I bade them to come no farther. I told them to depart in peace. They would not listen, they came on although I warned them. And so—’ She leaned forward and made a curious gesture. ‘And so I loosed the Hound of Death on them …’ She lay back on her chair shivering all over, her eyes closed. The doctor rose, fetched a glass from a cupboard, half-filled it with water, added a drop or two from a little bottle which he produced from his pocket, then took the glass to her. ‘Drink this,’ he said authoritatively. She obeyed—mechanically as it seemed. Her eyes looked far away as though they contemplated some inner vision of her own. ‘But then it is all true,’ she said. ‘Everything. The City of the Circles, the People of the Crystal—everything. It is all true.’ ‘It would seem so,’ said Rose. His voice was low and soothing, clearly designed to encourage and not to disturb her train of thought. ‘Tell me about the City,’ he said. ‘The City of Circles, I think you said?’ She answered absently and mechanically. ‘Yes—there were three circles. The first circle for the chosen, the second for the priestesses and the outer circle for the priests.’ ‘And in the centre?’ She drew her breath sharply and her voice sank to a tone of indescribable awe. ‘The House of the Crystal …’ As she breathed the words, her right hand went to her forehead and her finger traced some figure there. Her figure seemed to grow more rigid, her eyes closed, she swayed a little—then suddenly she sat upright with a jerk, as though she had suddenly awakened. ‘What is it?’ she said confusedly. ‘What have I been saying?’ ‘It is nothing,’ said Rose. ‘You are tired. You want to rest. We will leave you.’ She seemed a little dazed as we took our departure. ‘Well,’ said Rose when we were outside. ‘What do you think of it?’ He shot a sharp glance sideways at me. ‘I suppose her mind must be totally unhinged,’ I said slowly. ‘It struck you like that?’ ‘No—as a matter of fact, she was—well, curiously convincing. When listening to her I had the impression that she actually had done what she claimed to do—worked a kind of gigantic miracle. Her belief that she did so seems genuine enough. That is why—’ ‘That is why you say her mind must be unhinged. Quite so. But now approach the matter from another angle. Supposing that she did actually work that miracle—supposing that she did, personally, destroy a building and several hundred human beings.’ ‘By the mere exercise of will?’ I said with a smile. ‘I should not put it quite like that. You will agree that one person could destroy a multitude by touching a switch which controlled a system of mines.’ ‘Yes, but that is mechanical.’ ‘True, that is mechanical, but it is, in essence, the harnessing and controlling of natural forces. The thunder-storm and the power house are, fundamentally, the same thing.’ ‘Yes, but to control the thunderstorm we have to use mechanical means.’ Rose smiled. ‘I am going off at a tangent now. There is a substance called wintergreen. It occurs in nature in vegetable form. It can also be built up by man synthetically and chemically in the laboratory.’ ‘Well?’ ‘My point is that there are often two ways of arriving at the same result. Ours is, admittedly, the synthetic way. There might be another. The extraordinary results arrived at by Indian fakirs for instance, cannot be explained away in any easy fashion. The things we call supernatural are not necessarily supernatural at all. An electric flashlight would be supernatural to a savage. The supernatural is only the natural of which the laws are not yet understood.’ ‘You mean?’ I asked, fascinated. ‘That I cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that a human being might be able to tap some vast destructive force and use it to further his or her ends. The means by which this was accomplished might seem to us supernatural—but would not be so in reality.’ I stared at him. He laughed. ‘It’s a speculation, that’s all,’ he said lightly. ‘Tell me, did you notice a gesture she made when she mentioned the House of the Crystal?’ ‘She put her hand to her forehead.’ ‘Exactly. And traced a circle there. Very much as a Catholic makes the sign of the cross. Now, I will tell you something rather interesting, Mr Anstruther. The word crystal having occurred so often in my patient’s rambling, I tried an experiment. I borrowed a crystal from someone and produced it unexpectedly one day to test my patient’s reaction to it.’ ‘Well?’ ‘Well, the result was very curious and suggestive. Her whole body stiffened. She stared at it as though unable to believe her eyes. Then she slid to her knees in front of it, murmured a few words—and fainted.’ ‘What were the few words?’ ‘Very curious ones. She said: “The Crystal! Then the Faith still lives!”’ ‘Extraordinary!’ ‘Suggestive, is it not? Now the next curious thing. When she came round from her faint she had forgotten the whole thing. I showed her the crystal and asked her if she knew what it was. She replied that she supposed it was a crystal such as fortune tellers used. I asked her if she had ever seen one before? She replied: “Never, M. le docteur.” But I saw a puzzled look in her eyes. “What troubles you, my sister?” I asked. She replied: “Because it is so strange. I have never seen a crystal before and yet—it seems to me that I know it well. There is something—if only I could remember …” The effort at memory was obviously so distressing to her that I forbade her to think any more. That was two weeks ago. I have purposely been biding my time. Tomorrow, I shall proceed to a further experiment.’ ‘With the crystal?’ ‘With the crystal. I shall get her to gaze into it. I think the result ought to be interesting.’ ‘What do you expect to get hold of?’ I asked curiously. The words were idle ones but they had an unlooked-for result. Rose stiffened, flushed, and his manner when he spoke changed insensibly. It was more formal, more professional. ‘Light on certain mental disorders imperfectly understood. Sister Marie Angelique is a most interesting study.’ So Rose’s interest was purely professional? I wondered. ‘Do you mind if I come along too?’ I asked. It may have been my fancy, but I thought he hesitated before he replied. I had a sudden intuition that he did not want me. ‘Certainly. I can see no objection.’ He added: ‘I suppose you’re not going to be down here very long?’ ‘Only till the day after tomorrow.’ I fancied that the answer pleased him. His brow cleared and he began talking of some recent experiments carried out on guinea pigs. I met the doctor by appointment the following afternoon, and we went together to Sister Marie Angelique. Today, the doctor was all geniality. He was anxious, I thought, to efface the impression he had made the day before. ‘You must not take what I said too seriously,’ he observed, laughing. ‘I shouldn’t like you to believe me a dabbler in occult sciences. The worst of me is I have an infernal weakness for making out a case.’ ‘Really?’ ‘Yes, and the more fantastic it is, the better I like it.’ He laughed as a man laughs at an amusing weakness. When we arrived at the cottage, the district nurse had something she wanted to consult Rose about, so I was left with Sister Marie Angelique. I saw her scrutinizing me closely. Presently she spoke. ‘The good nurse here, she tells me that you are the brother of the kind lady at the big house where I was brought when I came from Belgium?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘She was very kind to me. She is good.’ She was silent, as though following out some train of thought. Then she said: ‘M. le docteur, he too is a good man?’ I was a little embarrassed. ‘Why, yes. I mean—I think so.’ ‘Ah!’ She paused and then said: ‘Certainly he has been very kind to me.’ ‘I’m sure he has.’ She looked up at me sharply. ‘Monsieur—you—you who speak to me now—do you believe that I am mad?’ ‘Why, my sister, such an idea never—’ She shook her head slowly—interrupting my protest. ‘Am I mad? I do not know—the things I remember—the things I forget …’ She sighed, and at that moment Rose entered the room. He greeted her cheerily and explained what he wanted her to do. ‘Certain people, you see, have a gift for seeing things in a crystal. I fancy you might have such a gift, my sister.’ She looked distressed. ‘No, no, I cannot do that. To try to read the future—that is sinful.’ Rose was taken aback. It was the nun’s point of view for which he had not allowed. He changed his ground cleverly. ‘One should not look into the future. You are quite right. But to look into the past—that is different.’ ‘The past?’ ‘Yes—there are many strange things in the past. Flashes come back to one—they are seen for a moment—then gone again. Do not seek to see anything in the crystal since that is not allowed you. Just take it in your hands—so. Look into it—look deep. Yes—deeper—deeper still. You remember, do you not? You remember. You hear me speaking to you. You can answer my questions. Can you not hear me?’ Sister Marie Angelique had taken the crystal as bidden, handling it with a curious reverence. Then, as she gazed into it, her eyes became blank and unseeing, her head drooped. She seemed to sleep. Gently the doctor took the crystal from her and put it on the table. He raised the corner of her eyelid. Then he came and sat by me. ‘We must wait till she wakes. It won’t be long, I fancy.’ He was right. At the end of five minutes, Sister Marie Angelique stirred. Her eyes opened dreamily. ‘Where am I?’ ‘You are here—at home. You have had a little sleep. You have dreamt, have you not?’ She nodded. ‘Yes, I have dreamt.’ ‘You have dreamt of the Crystal?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Tell us about it.’ ‘You will think me mad, M. le docteur. For see you, in my dream, the Crystal was a holy emblem. I even figured to myself a second Christ, a Teacher of the Crystal who died for his faith, his followers hunted down—persecuted … But the faith endured. ‘The faith endured?’ ‘Yes—for fifteen thousand full moons—I mean, for fifteen thousand years.’ ‘How long was a full moon?’ ‘Thirteen ordinary moons. Yes, it was in the fifteen thousandth full moon—of course, I was a Priestess of the Fifth Sign in the House of the Crystal. It was in the first days of the coming of the Sixth Sign …’ Her brows drew together, a look of fear passed over her face. ‘Too soon,’ she murmured. ‘Too soon. A mistake … Ah! yes, I remember! The Sixth Sign!’ She half sprang to her feet, then dropped back, passing her hand over her face and murmuring: ‘But what am I saying? I am raving. These things never happened.’ ‘Now don’t distress yourself.’ But she was looking at him in anguished perplexity. ‘M. le docteur, I do not understand. Why should I have these dreams—these fancies? I was only sixteen when I entered the religious life. I have never travelled. Yet I dream of cities, of strange people, of strange customs. Why?’ She pressed both hands to her head. ‘Have you ever been hypnotized, my sister? Or been in a state of trance?’ ‘I have never been hypnotized, M. le docteur. For the other, when at prayer in the chapel, my spirit has often been caught up from my body, and I have been as one dead for many hours. It was undoubtedly a blessed state, the Reverend Mother said—a state of grace. Ah! yes,’ she caught her breath. ‘I remember, we too called it a state of grace.’ ‘I would like to try an experiment, my sister.’ Rose spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. ‘It may dispel those painful half-recollections. I will ask you to gaze once more in the crystal. I will then say a certain word to you. You will answer with another. We will continue in this way until you become tired. Concentrate your thoughts on the crystal, not upon the words.’ As I once more unwrapped the crystal and gave it into Sister Marie Angelique’s hands, I noticed the reverent way her hands touched it. Reposing on the black velvet, it lay between her slim palms. Her wonderful deep eyes gazed into it. There was a short silence, and then the doctor said: ‘Hound.’ Immediately Sister Marie Angelique answered ‘Death.’ I do not propose to give a full account of the experiment. Many unimportant and meaningless words were purposely introduced by the doctor. Other words he repeated several times, sometimes getting the same answer to them, sometimes a different one. That evening in the doctor’s little cottage on the cliffs we discussed the result of the experiment. He cleared his throat, and drew his note-book closer to him. ‘These results are very interesting—very curious. In answer to the words “Sixth Sign,” we get variously Destruction, Purple, Hound, Power, then again Destruction, and finally Power. Later, as you may have noticed, I reversed the method, with the following results. In answer to Destruction, I get Hound; to Purple, Power; to Hound, Death, again, and to Power, Hound. That all holds together, but on a second repetition of Destruction, I get Sea, which appears utterly irrelevant. To the words “Fifth Sign,” I get Blue, Thoughts, Bird, Blue again, and finally the rather suggestive phrase Opening of mind to mind. From the fact that “Fourth Sign” elicits the word Yellow, and later Light, and that “First Sign” is answered by Blood, I deduce that each Sign had a particular colour, and possibly a particular symbol, that of the Fifth Sign being a bird, and that of the Sixth a hound. However, I surmise that the Fifth Sign represented what is familiarly known as telepathy—the opening of mind to mind. The Sixth Sign undoubtedly stands for the Power of Destruction.’ ‘What is the meaning of Sea?’ ‘That I confess I cannot explain. I introduced the word later and got the ordinary answer of Boat. To Seventh Sign I got first Life, the second time Love. To Eighth Sign, I got the answer None. I take it therefore that Seven was the sum and number of the signs.’ ‘But the Seventh was not achieved,’ I said on a sudden inspiration. ‘Since through the Sixth came Destruction!’ ‘Ah! You think so? But we are taking these—mad ramblings very seriously. They are really only interesting from a medical point of view.’ ‘Surely they will attract the attention of psychic investigators?’ The doctor’s eyes narrowed. ‘My dear sir, I have no intention of making them public.’ ‘Then your interest?’ ‘Is purely personal. I shall make notes on the case, of course.’ ‘I see.’ But for the first time I felt, like the blind man, that I didn’t see at all. I rose to my feet. ‘Well, I’ll wish you good night, doctor. I’m off to town again tomorrow.’ ‘Ah!’ I fancied there was satisfaction, relief perhaps, behind the exclamation. ‘I wish you good luck with your investigations,’ I continued lightly. ‘Don’t loose the Hound of Death on me next time we meet!’ His hand was in mine as I spoke, and I felt the start it gave. He recovered himself quickly. His lips drew back from his long pointed teeth in a smile. ‘For a man who loved power, what a power that would be!’ he said. ‘To hold every human being’s life in the hollow of your hand!’ And his smile broadened. That was the end of my direct connection with the affair. Later, the doctor’s note-book and diary came into my hands. I will reproduce the few scanty entries in it here, though you will understand that it did not really come into my possession until some time afterwards. Aug. 5th. Have discovered that by ‘the Chosen,’ Sister M.A. means those who reproduced the race. Apparently they were held in the highest honour, and exalted above the Priesthood. Contrast this with early Christians. Aug. 7th. Persuaded Sister M.A. to let me hypnotise her. Succeeded in inducing hypnoptic sleep and trance, but no rapport established. Aug. 9th. Have there been civilizations in the past to which ours is as nothing? Strange if it should be so, and I the only man with the clue to it … Aug. 12th. Sister M.A. not at all amenable to suggestion when hypnotized. Yet state of trance easily induced. Cannot understand it. Aug. 13th. Sister M.A. mentioned today that in ‘state of grace’ the ‘gate must be closed, lest another should command the body’. Interesting—but baffling. Aug. 18th. So the First Sign is none other than … (words erased here) … then how many centuries will it take to reach the Sixth? But if there should be a short-cut to Power … Aug. 20th. Have arranged for M.A. to come here with Nurse. Have told her it is necessary to keep patient under morphia. Am I mad? Or shall I be the Superman, with the Power of Death in my hands? (Here the entries cease.) It was, I think, on August 29th that I received the letter. It was directed to me, care of my sister-in-law, in a sloping foreign handwriting. I opened it with some curiosity. It ran as follows: Cher Monsieur,—I have seen you but twice, but I have felt I could trust you. Whether my dreams are real or not, they have grown clearer of late … And, Monsieur, one thing at all events, the Hound of Death is no dream … In the days I told you of (whether they are real or not, I do not know) He Who was Guardian of the Crystal revealed the Sixth Sign to the people too soon … Evil entered into their hearts. They had the power to slay at will—and they slew without justice—in anger. They were drunk with the lust of Power. When we saw this, We who were yet pure, we knew that once again we should not complete the Circle and come to the Sign of Everlasting Life. He who would have been the next Guardian of the Crystal was bidden to act. That the old might die, and the new, after endless ages, might come again, he loosed the Hound of Death upon the sea (being careful not to close the circle), and the sea rose up in the shape of a Hound and swallowed the land utterly … Once before I remembered this— on the altar steps in Belgium … The Dr Rose, he is of the Brotherhood. He knows the First Sign, and the form of the Second, though its meaning is hidden to all save a chosen few. He would learn of me the Sixth. I have withstood him so far—but I grow weak. Monsieur, it is not well that a man should come to power before his time. Many centuries must go by ere the world is ready to have the power of death delivered into its hand … I beseech of you, Monsieur, you who love goodness and truth, to help me … before it is too late. Your sister in Christ, Marie Angelique I let the paper fall. The solid earth beneath me seemed a little less solid than usual. Then I began to rally. The poor woman’s belief, genuine enough, had almost affected me! One thing was clear. Dr Rose, in his zeal for a case, was grossly abusing his professional standing. I would run down and— Suddenly I noticed a letter from Kitty amongst my other correspondence. I tore it open. ‘Such an awful thing has happened,’ I read. ‘You remember Dr Rose’s little cottage on the cliff? It was swept away by a landslide last night, the doctor and that poor nun, Sister Marie Angelique, were killed. The debris on the beach is too awful—all piled up in a fantastic mass—from a distance it looks like a great hound …’ The letter dropped from my hand. The other facts may be coincidence. A Mr Rose, whom I discovered to be a wealthy relative of the doctor’s, died suddenly that same night—it was said struck by lightning. As far as was known no thunderstorm had occurred in the neighbourhood, but one or two people declared they had heard one peal of thunder. He had an electric burn on him ‘of a curious shape’. His will left everything to his nephew, Dr Rose. Now, supposing that Dr Rose succeeded in obtaining the secret of the Sixth Sign from Sister Marie Angelique. I had always felt him to be an unscrupulous man—he would not shrink at taking his uncle’s life if he were sure it could not be brought home to him. But one sentence of Sister Marie Angelique’s letter rings in my brain … ‘being careful not to close the Circle …’ Dr Rose did not exercise that care—was perhaps unaware of the steps to take, or even of the need for them. So the Force he employed returned, completing its circuit … But of course it is all nonsense! Everything can be accounted for quite naturally. That the doctor believed in Sister Marie Angelique’s hallucinations merely proves that his mind, too, was slightly unbalanced. Yet sometimes I dream of a continent under the seas where men once lived and attained to a degree of civilization far ahead of ours … Or did Sister Marie Angelique remember backwards—as some say is possible—and is this City of the Circles in the future and not in the past? Nonsense—of course the whole thing was mere hallucination! The Red Signal (#ulink_53eda320-2eb4-5d60-ad63-507abde35a6b) ‘No, but how too thrilling,’ said pretty Mrs Eversleigh, opening her lovely, but slightly vacant eyes very wide. ‘They always say women have a sixth sense; do you think it’s true, Sir Alington?’ The famous alienist smiled sardonically. He had an unbounded contempt for the foolish pretty type, such as his fellow guest. Alington West was the supreme authority on mental disease, and he was fully alive to his own position and importance. A slightly pompous man of full figure. ‘A great deal of nonsense is talked, I know that, Mrs Eversleigh. What does the term mean—a sixth sense?’ ‘You scientific men are always so severe. And it really is extraordinary the way one seems to positively know things sometimes—just know them, feel them, I mean—quite uncanny—it really is. Claire knows what I mean, don’t you, Claire?’ She appealed to her hostess with a slight pout, and a tilted shoulder. Claire Trent did not reply at once. It was a small dinner party, she and her husband, Violet Eversleigh, Sir Alington West, and his nephew, Dermot West, who was an old friend of Jack Trent’s. Jack Trent himself, a somewhat heavy florid man, with a good-humoured smile, and a pleasant lazy laugh, took up the thread. ‘Bunkum, Violet! Your best friend is killed in a railway accident. Straight away you remember that you dreamt of a black cat last Tuesday—marvellous, you felt all along that something was going to happen!’ ‘Oh, no, Jack, you’re mixing up premonitions with intuition now. Come, now, Sir Alington, you must admit that premonitions are real?’ ‘To a certain extent, perhaps,’ admitted the physician cautiously. ‘But coincidence accounts for a good deal, and then there is the invariable tendency to make the most of a story afterwards—you’ve always got to take that into account.’ ‘I don’t think there is any such thing as premonition,’ said Claire Trent, rather abruptly. ‘Or intuition, or a sixth sense, or any of the things we talk about so glibly. We go through life like a train rushing through the darkness to an unknown destination.’ ‘That’s hardly a good simile, Mrs Trent,’ said Dermot West, lifting his head for the first time and taking part in the discussion. There was a curious glitter in the clear grey eyes that shone out rather oddly from the deeply tanned face. ‘You’ve forgotten the signals, you see.’ ‘The signals?’ ‘Yes, green if it’s all right, and red—for danger!’ ‘Red—for danger—how thrilling!’ breathed Violet Eversleigh. Dermot turned from her rather impatiently. ‘That’s just a way of describing it, of course. Danger ahead! The red signal! Look out!’ Trent stared at him curiously. ‘You speak as though it were an actual experience, Dermot, old boy.’ ‘So it is—has been, I mean.’ ‘Give us the yarn.’ ‘I can give you one instance. Out in Mesopotamia—just after the Armistice, I came into my tent one evening with the feeling strong upon me. Danger! Look out! Hadn’t the ghost of a notion what it was all about. I made a round of the camp, fussed unnecessarily, took all precautions against an attack by hostile Arabs. Then I went back to my tent. As soon as I got inside, the feeling popped up again stronger than ever. Danger! In the end, I took a blanket outside, rolled myself up in it and slept there.’ ‘Well?’ ‘The next morning, when I went inside the tent, first thing I saw was a great knife arrangement—about half a yard long—struck down through my bunk, just where I would have lain. I soon found out about it—one of the Arab servants. His son had been shot as a spy. What have you got to say to that, Uncle Alington, as an example of what I call the red signal?’ The specialist smiled non-committally. ‘A very interesting story, my dear Dermot.’ ‘But not one that you would accept unreservedly?’ ‘Yes, yes, I have no doubt that you had the premonition of danger, just as you state. But it is the origin of the premonition I dispute. According to you, it came from without, impressed by some outside source upon your mentality. But nowadays we find that nearly everything comes from within—from our subconscious self.’ ‘Good old subconscious,’ cried Jack Trent. ‘It’s the jack-of-all-trades nowadays.’ Sir Alington continued without heeding the interruption. ‘I suggest that by some glance or look this Arab had betrayed himself. Your conscious self did not notice or remember, but with your subconscious self it was otherwise. The subconscious never forgets. We believe, too, that it can reason and deduce quite independently of the higher or conscious will. Your subconscious self, then, believed that an attempt might be made to assassinate you, and succeeded in forcing its fear upon your conscious realization.’ ‘That sounds very convincing, I admit,’ said Dermot, smiling. ‘But not nearly so exciting,’ pouted Mrs Eversleigh. ‘It is also possible that you may have been subconsciously aware of the hate felt by the man towards you. What in old days used to be called telepathy certainly exists, though the conditions governing it are very little understood.’ ‘Have there been any other instances?’ asked Claire of Dermot. ‘Oh! yes, but nothing very pictorial—and I suppose they could all be explained under the heading of coincidence. I refused an invitation to a country house once, for no other reason than the hoisting of the “red signal”. The place was burnt out during the week. By the way, Uncle Alington, where does the subconscious come in there?’ ‘I’m afraid it doesn’t,’ said Alington, smiling. ‘But you’ve got an equally good explanation. Come, now. No need to be tactful with near relatives.’ ‘Well, then, nephew, I venture to suggest that you refused the invitation for the ordinary reason that you didn’t much want to go, and that after the fire, you suggested to yourself that you had had a warning of danger, which explanation you now believe implicitly.’ ‘It’s hopeless,’ laughed Dermot. ‘It’s heads you win, tails I lose.’ ‘Never mind, Mr West,’ cried Violet Eversleigh. ‘I believe in your Red Signal implicitly. Is the time in Mesopotamia the last time you had it?’ ‘Yes—until—’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘Nothing.’ Dermot sat silent. The words which had nearly left his lips were: ‘Yes, until tonight.’ They had come quite unbidden to his lips, voicing a thought which had as yet not been consciously realized, but he was aware at once that they were true. The Red Signal was looming up out of the darkness. Danger! Danger close at hand! But why? What conceivable danger could there be here? Here in the house of his friends? At least—well, yes, there was that kind of danger. He looked at Claire Trent—her whiteness, her slenderness, the exquisite droop of her golden head. But that danger had been there for some time—it was never likely to get acute. For Jack Trent was his best friend, and more than his best friend, the man who had saved his life in Flanders and had been recommended for the VC for doing so. A good fellow, Jack, one of the best. Damned bad luck that he should have fallen in love with Jack’s wife. He’d get over it some day, he supposed. A thing couldn’t go on hurting like this for ever. One could starve it out—that was it, starve it out. It was not as though she would ever guess—and if she did guess, there was no danger of her caring. A statue, a beautiful statue, a thing of gold and ivory and pale pink coral … a toy for a king, not a real woman … Claire … the very thought of her name, uttered silently, hurt him … He must get over it. He’d cared for women before … ‘But not like this!’ said something. ‘Not like this.’ Well, there it was. No danger there—heartache, yes, but not danger. Not the danger of the Red Signal. That was for something else. He looked round the table and it struck him for the first time that it was rather an unusual little gathering. His uncle, for instance, seldom dined out in this small, informal way. It was not as though the Trents were old friends; until this evening Dermot had not been aware that he knew them at all. To be sure, there was an excuse. A rather notorious medium was coming after dinner to give a séance. Sir Alington professed to be mildly interested in spiritualism. Yes, that was an excuse, certainly. The word forced itself on his notice. An excuse. Was the séance just an excuse to make the specialist’s presence at dinner natural? If so, what was the real object of his being here? A host of details came rushing into Dermot’s mind, trifles unnoticed at the time, or, as his uncle would have said, unnoticed by the conscious mind. The great physician had looked oddly, very oddly, at Claire more than once. He seemed to be watching her. She was uneasy under his scrutiny. She made little twitching motions with her hands. She was nervous, horribly nervous, and was it, could it be, frightened? Why was she frightened? With a jerk, he came back to the conversation round the table. Mrs Eversleigh had got the great man talking upon his own subject. ‘My dear lady,’ he was saying, ‘what is madness? I can assure you that the more we study the subject, the more difficult we find it to pronounce. We all practise a certain amount of self-deception, and when we carry it so far as to believe we are the Czar of Russia, we are shut up or restrained. But there is a long road before we reach that point. At what particular spot on it shall we erect a post and say, “On this side sanity, on the other madness?” It can’t be done, you know. And I will tell you this, if the man suffering from a delusion happened to hold his tongue about it, in all probability we should never be able to distinguish him from a normal individual. The extraordinary sanity of the insane is a most interesting subject.’ Sir Alington sipped his wine with appreciation, and beamed upon the company. ‘I’ve always heard they are very cunning,’ remarked Mrs Eversleigh. ‘Loonies, I mean.’ ‘Remarkably so. And suppression of one’s particular delusion has a disastrous effect very often. All suppressions are dangerous, as psychoanalysis has taught us. The man who has a harmless eccentricity, and can indulge it as such, seldom goes over the border line. But the man’—he paused—‘or woman who is to all appearance perfectly normal may be in reality a poignant source of danger to the community.’ His gaze travelled gently down the table to Claire, and then back again. He sipped his wine once more. A horrible fear shook Dermot. Was that what he meant? Was that what he was driving at? Impossible, but— ‘And all from suppressing oneself,’ sighed Mrs Eversleigh. ‘I quite see that one should be very careful always to—to express one’s personality. The dangers of the other are frightful.’ ‘My dear Mrs Eversleigh,’ expostulated the physician. ‘You have quite misunderstood me. The cause of the mischief is in the physical matter of the brain—sometimes arising from some outward agency such as a blow; sometimes, alas, congenital.’ ‘Heredity is so sad,’ sighed the lady vaguely. ‘Consumption and all that.’ ‘Tuberculosis is not hereditary,’ said Sir Alington drily. ‘Isn’t it? I always thought it was. But madness is! How dreadful. What else?’ ‘Gout,’ said Sir Alington smiling. ‘And colour blindness—the latter is rather interesting. It is transmitted direct to males, but is latent in females. So, while there are many colour-blind men, for a woman to be colour-blind, it must have been latent in her mother as well as present in her father—rather an unusual state of things to occur. That is what is called sex-limited heredity.’ ‘How interesting. But madness is not like that, is it?’ ‘Madness can be handed down to men or women equally,’ said the physician gravely. Claire rose suddenly, pushing back her chair so abruptly that it overturned and fell to the ground. She was very pale and the nervous motions of her fingers were very apparent. ‘You—you will not be long, will you?’ she begged. ‘Mrs Thompson will be here in a few minutes now.’ ‘One glass of port, and I will be with you, for one,’ declared Sir Alington. ‘To see this wonderful Mrs Thompson’s performance is what I have come for, is it not? Ha, ha! Not that I needed any inducement.’ He bowed. Claire gave a faint smile of acknowledgment and passed out of the room, her hand on Mrs Eversleigh’s shoulder. ‘Afraid I’ve been talking shop,’ remarked the physician as he resumed his seat. ‘Forgive me, my dear fellow.’ ‘Not at all,’ said Trent perfunctorily. He looked strained and worried. For the first time Dermot felt an outsider in the company of his friend. Between these two was a secret that even an old friend might not share. And yet the whole thing was fantastic and incredible. What had he to go upon? Nothing but a couple of glances and a woman’s nervousness. They lingered over their wine but a very short time, and arrived up in the drawing-room just as Mrs Thompson was announced. The medium was a plump middle-aged woman, atrociously dressed in magenta velvet, with a loud rather common voice. ‘Hope I’m not late, Mrs Trent,’ she said cheerily. ‘You did say nine o’clock, didn’t you?’ ‘You are quite punctual, Mrs Thompson,’ said Claire in her sweet, slightly husky voice. ‘This is our little circle.’ No further introductions were made, as was evidently the custom. The medium swept them all with a shrewd, penetrating eye. ‘I hope we shall get some good results,’ she remarked briskly. ‘I can’t tell you how I hate it when I go out and I can’t give satisfaction, so to speak. It just makes me mad. But I think Shiromako (my Japanese control, you know) will be able to get through all right tonight. I’m feeling ever so fit, and I refused the welsh rabbit, fond of toasted cheese though I am.’ Dermot listened, half amused, half disgusted. How prosaic the whole thing was! And yet, was he not judging foolishly? Everything, after all, was natural—the powers claimed by mediums were natural powers, as yet imperfectly understood. A great surgeon might be wary of indigestion on the eve of a delicate operation. Why not Mrs Thompson? Chairs were arranged in a circle, lights so that they could conveniently be raised or lowered. Dermot noticed that there was no question of tests, or of Sir Alington satisfying himself as to the conditions of the séance. No, this business of Mrs Thompson was only a blind. Sir Alington was here for quite another purpose. Claire’s mother, Dermot remembered, had died abroad. There had been some mystery about her … Hereditary … With a jerk he forced his mind back to the surroundings of the moment. Everyone took their places, and the lights were turned out, all but a small red-shaded one on a far table. For a while nothing was heard but the low even breathing of the medium. Gradually it grew more and more stertorous. Then, with a suddenness that made Dermot jump, a loud rap came from the far end of the room. It was repeated from the other side. Then a perfect crescendo of raps was heard. They died away, and a sudden high peal of mocking laughter rang through the room. Then silence, broken by a voice utterly unlike that of Mrs Thompson, a high-pitched quaintly inflected voice. ‘I am here, gentlemen,’ it said. ‘Yess, I am here. You wish to ask me things?’ ‘Who are you? Shiromako?’ ‘Yess. I Shiromako. I pass over long time ago. I work. I very happy.’ Further details of Shiromako’s life followed. It was all very flat and uninteresting, and Dermot had heard it often before. Everyone was happy, very happy. Messages were given from vaguely described relatives, the description being so loosely worded as to fit almost any contingency. An elderly lady, the mother of someone present, held the floor for some time, imparting copy book maxims with an air of refreshing novelty hardly borne out by her subject matter. ‘Someone else want to get through now,’ announced Shiromako. ‘Got a very important message for one of the gentlemen.’ There was a pause, and then a new voice spoke, prefacing its remark with an evil demoniacal chuckle. ‘Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha! Better not go home. Better not go home. Take my advice.’ ‘Who are you speaking to?’ asked Trent. ‘One of you three. I shouldn’t go home if I were him. Danger! Blood! Not very much blood—quite enough. No, don’t go home.’ The voice grew fainter. ‘Don’t go home!’ It died away completely. Dermot felt his blood tingling. He was convinced that the warning was meant for him. Somehow or other, there was danger abroad tonight. There was a sigh from the medium, and then a groan. She was coming round. The lights were turned on, and presently she sat upright, her eyes blinking a little. ‘Go off well, my dear? I hope so.’ ‘Very good indeed, thank you, Mrs Thompson.’ ‘Shiromako, I suppose?’ ‘Yes, and others.’ Mrs Thompson yawned. ‘I’m dead beat. Absolutely down and out. Does fairly take it out of you. Well, I’m glad it was a success. I was a bit afraid it mightn’t be—afraid something disagreeable might happen. There’s a queer feel about this room tonight.’ She glanced over each ample shoulder in turn, and then shrugged them uncomfortably. ‘I don’t like it,’ she said. ‘Any sudden deaths among any of you people lately?’ ‘What do you mean—among us?’ ‘Near relatives—dear friends? No? Well, if I wanted to be melodramatic, I’d say there was death in the air tonight. There, it’s only my nonsense. Goodbye, Mrs Trent. I’m glad you’ve been satisfied.’ Mrs Thompson in her magenta velvet gown went out. ‘I hope you’ve been interested, Sir Alington,’ murmured Claire. ‘A most interesting evening, my dear lady. Many thanks for the opportunity. Let me wish you good night. You are all going to a dance, are you not?’ ‘Won’t you come with us?’ ‘No, no. I make it a rule to be in bed by half past eleven. Good night. Good night, Mrs Eversleigh. Ah! Dermot, I rather want to have a word with you. Can you come with me now? You can rejoin the others at the Grafton Galleries.’ ‘Certainly, uncle. I’ll meet you there then, Trent.’ Very few words were exchanged between uncle and nephew during the short drive to Harley Street. Sir Alington made a semi-apology for dragging Dermot away, and assured him that he would only detain him a few minutes. ‘Shall I keep the car for you, my boy?’ he asked, as they alighted. ‘Oh, don’t bother, uncle. I’ll pick up a taxi.’ ‘Very good. I don’t like to keep Charlson up later than I can help. Good night, Charlson. Now where the devil did I put my key?’ The car glided away as Sir Alington stood on the steps vainly searching his pockets. ‘Must have left it in my other coat,’ he said at length. ‘Ring the bell, will you? Johnson is still up, I dare say.’ The imperturbable Johnson did indeed open the door within sixty seconds. ‘Mislaid my key, Johnson,’ explained Sir Alington. ‘Bring a couple of whiskies and sodas into the library, will you?’ ‘Very good, Sir Alington.’ The physician strode on into the library and turned on the lights. He motioned to Dermot to close the door behind him after entering. ‘I won’t keep you long, Dermot, but there’s just something I want to say to you. Is it my fancy, or have you a certain—tendresse, shall we say, for Mrs Jack Trent?’ The blood rushed to Dermot’s face. ‘Jack Trent is my best friend.’ ‘Pardon me, but that is hardly answering my question. I dare say that you consider my views on divorce and such matters highly puritanical, but I must remind you that you are my only near relative and that you are my heir.’ ‘There is no question of a divorce,’ said Dermot angrily. ‘There certainly is not, for a reason which I understand perhaps better than you do. That particular reason I cannot give you now, but I do wish to warn you. Claire Trent is not for you.’ The young man faced his uncle’s gaze steadily. ‘I do understand—and permit me to say, perhaps better than you think. I know the reason for your presence at dinner tonight.’ ‘Eh?’ The physician was clearly startled. ‘How did you know that?’ ‘Call it a guess, sir. I am right, am I not, when I say that you were there in your—professional capacity.’ Sir Alington strode up and down. ‘You are quite right, Dermot. I could not, of course, have told you so myself, though I am afraid it will soon be common property.’ Dermot’s heart contracted. ‘You mean that you have—made up your mind?’ ‘Yes, there is insanity in the family—on the mother’s side. A sad case—a very sad case.’ ‘I can’t believe it, sir.’ ‘I dare say not. To the layman there are few if any signs apparent.’ ‘And to the expert?’ ‘The evidence is conclusive. In such a case, the patient must be placed under restraint as soon as possible.’ ‘My God!’ breathed Dermot. ‘But you can’t shut anyone up for nothing at all.’ ‘My dear Dermot! Cases are only placed under restraint when their being at large would result in danger to the community. ‘Danger?’ ‘Very grave danger. In all probability a peculiar form of homicidal mania. It was so in the mother’s case.’ Dermot turned away with a groan, burying his face in his hands. Claire—white and golden Claire! ‘In the circumstances,’ continued the physician comfortably, ‘I felt it incumbent on me to warn you.’ ‘Claire,’ murmured Dermot. ‘My poor Claire.’ ‘Yes, indeed, we must all pity her.’ Suddenly Dermot raised his head. ‘I don’t believe it.’ ‘What?’ ‘I say I don’t believe it. Doctors make mistakes. Everyone knows that. And they’re always keen on their own speciality.’ ‘My dear Dermot,’ cried Sir Alington angrily. ‘I tell you I don’t believe it—and anyway, even if it is so, I don’t care. I love Claire. If she will come with me, I shall take her away—far away—out of the reach of meddling physicians. I shall guard her, care for her, shelter her with my love.’ ‘You will do nothing of the sort. Are you mad?’ Dermot laughed scornfully. ‘You would say so, I dare say.’ ‘Understand me, Dermot.’ Sir Alington’s face was red with suppressed passion. ‘If you do this thing—this shameful thing—it is the end. I shall withdraw the allowance I am now making you, and I shall make a new will leaving all I possess to various hospitals.’ ‘Do as you please with your damned money,’ said Dermot in a low voice. ‘I shall have the woman I love.’ ‘A woman who—’ ‘Say a word against her, and, by God! I’ll kill you!’ cried Dermot. A slight clink of glasses made them both swing round. Unheard by them in the heat of their argument, Johnson had entered with a tray of glasses. His face was the imperturbable one of the good servant, but Dermot wondered how much he had overheard. ‘That’ll do, Johnson,’ said Sir Alington curtly. ‘You can go to bed.’ ‘Thank you, sir. Good night, sir.’ Johnson withdrew. The two men looked at each other. The momentary interruption had calmed the storm. ‘Uncle,’ said Dermot. ‘I shouldn’t have spoken to you as I did. I can quite see that from your point of view you are perfectly right. But I have loved Claire Trent for a long time. The fact that Jack Trent is my best friend has hitherto stood in the way of my ever speaking of love to Claire herself. But in these circumstances that fact no longer counts. The idea that any monetary conditions can deter me is absurd. I think we’ve both said all there is to be said. Good night.’ ‘Dermot—’ ‘It is really no good arguing further. Good night, Uncle Alington. I’m sorry, but there it is.’ He went out quickly, shutting the door behind him. The hall was in darkness. He passed through it, opened the front door and emerged into the street, banging the door behind him. A taxi had just deposited a fare at a house farther along the street and Dermot hailed it, and drove to the Grafton Galleries. In the door of the ballroom he stood for a minute bewildered, his head spinning. The raucous jazz music, the smiling women—it was as though he had stepped into another world. Had he dreamt it all? Impossible that that grim conversation with his uncle should have really taken place. There was Claire floating past, like a lily in her white and silver gown that fitted sheathlike to her slenderness. She smiled at him, her face calm and serene. Surely it was all a dream. The dance had stopped. Presently she was near him, smiling up into his face. As in a dream he asked her to dance. She was in his arms now, the raucous melodies had begun again. He felt her flag a little. ‘Tired? Do you want to stop?’ ‘If you don’t mind. Can we go somewhere where we can talk? There is something I want to say to you.’ Not a dream. He came back to earth with a bump. Could he ever have thought her face calm and serene? It was haunted with anxiety, with dread. How much did she know? He found a quiet corner, and they sat down side by side. ‘Well,’ he said, assuming a lightness he did not feel. ‘You said you had something you wanted to say to me?’ ‘Yes.’ Her eyes were cast down. She was playing nervously with the tassel of her gown. ‘It’s difficult—rather.’ ‘Tell me, Claire.’ ‘It’s just this. I want you to—to go away for a time.’ He was astonished. Whatever he had expected, it was not this. ‘You want me to go away? Why?’ ‘It’s best to be honest, isn’t it? I—I know that you are a—a gentleman and my friend. I want you to go away because I—I have let myself get fond of you.’ ‘Claire.’ Her words left him dumb—tongue-tied. ‘Please do not think that I am conceited enough to fancy that you—that you would ever be likely to fall in love with me. It is only that—I am not very happy—and—oh! I would rather you went away.’ ‘Claire, don’t you know that I have cared—cared damnably—ever since I met you?’ She lifted startled eyes to his face. ‘You cared? You have cared a long time?’ ‘Since the beginning.’ ‘Oh!’ she cried. ‘Why didn’t you tell me? Then? When I could have come to you! Why tell me now when it’s too late. No, I’m mad—I don’t know what I’m saying. I could never have come to you.’ ‘Claire, what did you mean when you said “now that it’s too late?” Is it—is it because of my uncle? What he knows? What he thinks?’ She nodded dumbly, the tears running down her face. ‘Listen, Claire, you’re not to believe all that. You’re not to think about it. Instead you will come away with me. We’ll go to the South Seas, to islands like green jewels. You will be happy there, and I will look after you—keep you safe for always.’ His arms went round her. He drew her to him, felt her tremble at his touch. Then suddenly she wrenched herself free. ‘Oh, no, please. Can’t you see? I couldn’t now. It would be ugly—ugly—ugly. All along I’ve wanted to be good—and now—it would be ugly as well.’ He hesitated, baffled by her words. She looked at him appealingly. ‘Please,’ she said. ‘I want to be good …’ Without a word, Dermot got up and left her. For the moment he was touched and racked by her words beyond argument. He went for his hat and coat, running into Trent as he did so. ‘Hallo, Dermot, you’re off early.’ ‘Yes, I’m not in the mood for dancing tonight.’ ‘It’s a rotten night,’ said Trent gloomily. ‘But you haven’t got my worries.’ Dermot had a sudden panic that Trent might be going to confide in him. Not that—anything but that! ‘Well, so long,’ he said hurriedly. ‘I’m off home.’ ‘Home, eh? What about the warning of the spirits?’ ‘I’ll risk that. Good night, Jack.’ Dermot’s flat was not far away. He walked there, feeling the need of the cool
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