The Great God Pan
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THE GREAT GOD PAN
"I am glad you came, Clarke; very glad indeed. I was
not sure you could spare the time."
"I was able to make arrangements for a few days; things
are not very lively just now. But have you no misgivings,
Raymond? Is it absolutely safe?"
The two men were slowly pacing the terrace in front of
Dr. Raymond's house. The sun still hung above the western
mountain-line, but it shone with a dull red glow that cast no
shadows, and all the air was quiet; a sweet breath came from the
great wood on the hillside above, and with it, at intervals, the
soft murmuring call of the wild doves. Below, in the long
lovely valley, the river wound in and out between the lonely
hills, and, as the sun hovered and vanished into the west, a
faint mist, pure white, began to rise from the hills. Dr.
Raymond turned sharply to his friend.
"Safe? Of course it is. In itself the operation is a
perfectly simple one; any surgeon could do it."
"And there is no danger at any other stage?"
"None; absolutely no physical danger whatsoever, I give
you my word. You are always timid, Clarke, always; but you know
my history. I have devoted myself to transcendental medicine
for the last twenty years. I have heard myself called quack and
charlatan and impostor, but all the while I knew I was on the
right path. Five years ago I reached the goal, and since then
every day has been a preparation for what we shall do tonight."
"I should like to believe it is all true." Clarke knit
his brows, and looked doubtfully at Dr. Raymond. "Are you
perfectly sure, Raymond, that your theory is not a
phantasmagoria--a splendid vision, certainly, but a mere
vision after all?"
Dr. Raymond stopped in his walk and turned sharply.
He was a middle-aged man, gaunt and thin, of a pale yellow
complexion, but as he answered Clarke and faced him, there was a
flush on his cheek.
"Look about you, Clarke. You see the mountain, and
hill following after hill, as wave on wave, you see the woods
and orchard, the fields of ripe corn, and the meadows reaching
to the reed-beds by the river. You see me standing here beside
you, and hear my voice; but I tell you that all these things --
yes, from that star that has just shone out in the sky to the
solid ground beneath our feet--I say that all these are but
dreams and shadows; the shadows that hide the real world from
our eyes. There is a real world, but it is beyond this glamour
and this vision, beyond these 'chases in Arras, dreams in a
career,'beyond them all as beyond a veil. I do not know whether
any human being has ever lifted that veil; but I do know,
Clarke, that you and I shall see it lifted this very night from
before another's eyes. You may think this all strange nonsense;
it may be strange, but it is true, and the ancients knew what
lifting the veil means. They called it seeing the god Pan."
Clarke shivered; the white mist gathering over the
river was chilly.
"It is wonderful indeed," he said. "We are standing on
the brink of a strange world, Raymond, if what you say
is true. I suppose the knife is absolutely necessary?"
"Yes; a slight lesion in the grey matter, that is all;
a trifling rearrangement of certain cells, a microscopical
alteration that would escape the attention of ninety-nine brain
specialists out of a hundred. I don't want to bother you with
'shop,'Clarke; I might give you a mass of technical detail which
would sound very imposing, and would leave you as enlightened as
you are now. But I suppose you have read, casually, in
out-of-the-way corners of your paper, that immense strides have
been made recently in the physiology of the brain. I saw a
paragraph the other day about Digby's theory, and Browne Faber's
discoveries. Theories and discoveries! Where they are standing
now, I stood fifteen years ago, and I need not tell you that I
have not been standing still for the last fifteen years. It
will be enough if I say that five years ago I made the discovery
that I alluded to when I said that ten years ago I reached the
goal. After years of labour, after years of toiling and groping
in the dark, after days and nights of disappointments and
sometimes of despair, in which I used now and then to tremble
and grow cold with the thought that perhaps there were others
seeking for what I sought, at last, after so long, a pang of
sudden joy thrilled my soul, and I knew the long journey was at
an end. By what seemed then and still seems a chance, the
suggestion of a moment's idle thought followed up upon familiar
lines and paths that I had tracked a hundred times already, the
great truth burst upon me, and I saw, mapped out in lines of
sight, a whole world, a sphere unknown; continents and islands,
and great oceans in which no ship has sailed (to my belief)
since a Man first lifted up his eyes and beheld the sun, and the
stars of heaven, and the quiet earth beneath. You will think
this all high-flown language, Clarke, but it is hard to be
literal. And yet; I do not know whether what I am hinting at
cannot be set forth in plain and lonely terms. For instance,
this world of ours is pretty well girded now with the telegraph
wires and cables; thought, with something less than the speed
of thought, flashes from sunrise to sunset, from north to south,
across the floods and the desert places. Suppose that an
electrician of today were suddenly to perceive that he and his
friends have merely been playing with pebbles and mistaking them
for the foundations of the world; suppose that such a man saw
uttermost space lie open before the current, and words of men
flash forth to the sun and beyond the sun into the systems
beyond, and the voice of articulate-speaking men echo in the
waste void that bounds our thought. As analogies go, that is a
pretty good analogy of what I have done; you can understand now
a little of what I felt as I stood here one evening; it was a
summer evening, and the valley looked much as it does now; I
stood here, and saw before me the unutterable, the unthinkable
gulf that yawns profound between two worlds, the world of matter
and the world of spirit; I saw the great empty deep stretch dim
before me, and in that instant a bridge of light leapt from the
earth to the unknown shore, and the abyss was spanned. You may
look in Browne Faber's book, if you like, and you will find
that to the present day men of science are unable to account for
the presence, or to specify the functions of a certain group of
nerve-cells in the brain. That group is, as it were, land to
let, a mere waste place for fanciful theories. I am not in the
position of Browne Faber and the specialists, I am perfectly
instructed as to the possible functions of those nerve-centers
in the scheme of things. With a touch I can bring them into
play, with a touch, I say, I can set free the current, with a
touch I can complete the communication between this world of
sense and--we shall be able to finish the sentence later on.
Yes, the knife is necessary; but think what that knife will
effect. It will level utterly the solid wall of sense, and
probably, for the first time since man was made, a spirit will
gaze on a spirit-world. Clarke, Mary will see the god Pan!"
"But you remember what you wrote to me? I thought it
would be requisite that she--"
He whispered the rest into the doctor's ear.
"Not at all, not at all. That is nonsense. I assure
you. Indeed, it is better as it is; I am quite certain of
"Consider the matter well, Raymond. It's a great
responsibility. Something might go wrong; you would be a
miserable man for the rest of your days."
"No, I think not, even if the worst happened. As you
know, I rescued Mary from the gutter, and from almost certain
starvation, when she was a child; I think her life is mine, to
use as I see fit. Come, it's getting late; we had better go
Dr. Raymond led the way into the house, through the
hall, and down a long dark passage. He took a key from his
pocket and opened a heavy door, and motioned Clarke into his
laboratory. It had once been a billiard-room, and was lighted
by a glass dome in the centre of the ceiling, whence there still
shone a sad grey light on the figure of the doctor as he lit a
lamp with a heavy shade and placed it on a table in the middle
of the room.
Clarke looked about him. Scarcely a foot of wall
remained bare; there were shelves all around laden with bottles
and phials of all shapes and colours, and at one end stood a
little Chippendale book-case. Raymond pointed to this.
"You see that parchment Oswald Crollius? He was one of
the first to show me the way, though I don't think he ever found
it himself. That is a strange saying of his: 'In every grain of
wheat there lies hidden the soul of a star.'"
There was not much furniture in the laboratory. The
table in the centre, a stone slab with a drain in one corner,
the two armchairs on which Raymond and Clarke were sitting; that
was all, except an odd-looking chair at the furthest end of the
room. Clarke looked at it, and raised his eyebrows.
"Yes, that is the chair," said Raymond. "We may as
well place it in position." He got up and wheeled the chair to
the light, and began raising and lowering it, letting down the
seat, setting the back at various angles, and adjusting the
foot-rest. It looked comfortable enough, and Clarke passed his
hand over the soft green velvet, as the doctor manipulated the
"Now, Clarke, make yourself quite comfortable. I have
a couple hours' work before me; I was obliged to leave certain
matters to the last."
Raymond went to the stone slab, and Clarke watched him
drearily as he bent over a row of phials and lit the flame under
the crucible. The doctor had a small hand-lamp, shaded as the
larger one, on a ledge above his apparatus, and Clarke, who sat
in the shadows, looked down at the great shadowy room, wondering
at the bizarre effects of brilliant light and undefined darkness
contrasting with one another. Soon he became conscious of an
odd odour, at first the merest suggestion of odour, in the room,
and as it grew more decided he felt surprised that he was not
reminded of the chemist's shop or the surgery. Clarke found
himself idly endeavouring to analyse the sensation, and half
conscious, he began to think of a day, fifteen years ago, that
he had spent roaming through the woods and meadows near his own
home. It was a burning day at the beginning of August, the heat
had dimmed the outlines of all things and all distances with a
faint mist, and people who observed the thermometer spoke of an
abnormal register, of a temperature that was almost tropical.
Strangely that wonderful hot day of the fifties rose up again in
Clarke's imagination; the sense of dazzling all-pervading
sunlight seemed to blot out the shadows and the lights of the
laboratory, and he felt again the heated air beating in gusts
about his face, saw the shimmer rising from the turf, and heard
the myriad murmur of the summer.
"I hope the smell doesn't annoy you, Clarke; there's
nothing unwholesome about it. It may make you a bit sleepy,
Clarke heard the words quite distinctly, and knew that
Raymond was speaking to him, but for the life of him he could
not rouse himself from his lethargy. He could only think of the
lonely walk he had taken fifteen years ago; it was his last look
at the fields and woods he had known since he was a child, and
now it all stood out in brilliant light, as a picture, before
him. Above all there came to his nostrils the scent of summer,
the smell of flowers mingled, and the odour of the woods, of
cool shaded places, deep in the green depths, drawn forth by the
sun's heat; and the scent of the good earth, lying as it were
with arms stretched forth, and smiling lips, overpowered all.
His fancies made him wander, as he had wandered long ago, from
the fields into the wood, tracking a little path between the
shining undergrowth of beech-trees; and the trickle of water
dropping from the limestone rock sounded as a clear melody in
the dream. Thoughts began to go astray and to mingle with other
thoughts; the beech alley was transformed to a path between
ilex-trees, and here and there a vine climbed from bough to
bough, and sent up waving tendrils and drooped with purple
grapes, and the sparse grey-green leaves of a wild olive-tree
stood out against the dark shadows of the ilex. Clarke, in the
deep folds of dream, was conscious that the path from his
father's house had led him into an undiscovered country, and he
was wondering at the strangeness of it all, when suddenly, in
place of the hum and murmur of the summer, an infinite silence
seemed to fall on all things, and the wood was hushed, and for a
moment in time he stood face to face there with a presence, that
was neither man nor beast, neither the living nor the dead, but
all things mingled, the form of all things but devoid of all
form. And in that moment, the sacrament of body and soul was
dissolved, and a voice seemed to cry "Let us go hence," and
then the darkness of darkness beyond the stars, the darkness of
When Clarke woke up with a start he saw Raymond pouring
a few drops of some oily fluid into a green phial, which he
"You have been dozing," he said; "the journey must have
tired you out. It is done now. I am going to fetch Mary; I
shall be back in ten minutes."
Clarke lay back in his chair and wondered. It seemed
as if he had but passed from one dream into another. He half
expected to see the walls of the laboratory melt and disappear,
and to awake in London, shuddering at his own sleeping fancies.
But at last the door opened, and the doctor returned, and behind
him came a girl of about seventeen, dressed all in white. She
was so beautiful that Clarke did not wonder at what the doctor
had written to him. She was blushing now over face and neck and
arms, but Raymond seemed unmoved.
"Mary," he said, "the time has come. You are quite
free. Are you willing to trust yourself to me entirely?"
"Do you hear that, Clarke? You are my witness. Here
is the chair, Mary. It is quite easy. Just sit in it and lean
back. Are you ready?"
"Yes, dear, quite ready. Give me a kiss before you
The doctor stooped and kissed her mouth, kindly enough.
"Now shut your eyes," he said. The girl closed her eyelids, as
if she were tired, and longed for sleep, and Raymond placed the
green phial to her nostrils. Her face grew white, whiter than
her dress; she struggled faintly, and then with the feeling of
submission strong within her, crossed her arms upon her breast
as a little child about to say her prayers. The bright light
of the lamp fell full upon her, and Clarke watched changes
fleeting over her face as the changes of the hills when the
summer clouds float across the sun. And then she lay all white
and still, and the doctor turned up one of her eyelids. She was
quite unconscious. Raymond pressed hard on one of the levers
and the chair instantly sank back. Clarke saw him cutting away
a circle, like a tonsure, from her hair, and the lamp was moved
nearer. Raymond took a small glittering instrument from a
little case, and Clarke turned away shudderingly. When he
looked again the doctor was binding up the wound he had made.
"She will awake in five minutes." Raymond was still
perfectly cool. "There is nothing more to be done; we can only
The minutes passed slowly; they could hear a slow,
heavy, ticking. There was an old clock in the passage. Clarke
felt sick and faint; his knees shook beneath him, he could
Suddenly, as they watched, they heard a long-drawn
sigh, and suddenly did the colour that had vanished return to
the girl's cheeks, and suddenly her eyes opened. Clarke quailed
before them. They shone with an awful light, looking far away,
and a great wonder fell upon her face, and her hands stretched
out as if to touch what was invisible; but in an instant the
wonder faded, and gave place to the most awful terror. The
muscles of her face were hideously convulsed, she shook from
head to foot; the soul seemed struggling and shuddering within
the house of flesh. It was a horrible sight, and Clarke rushed
forward, as she fell shrieking to the floor.
Three days later Raymond took Clarke to Mary's bedside.
She was lying wide-awake, rolling her head from side to side,
and grinning vacantly.
"Yes," said the doctor, still quite cool, "it is a
great pity; she is a hopeless idiot. However, it could not be
helped; and, after all, she has seen the Great God Pan."
MR. CLARKE'S MEMOIRS
Mr. Clarke, the gentleman chosen by Dr. Raymond to
witness the strange experiment of the god Pan, was a person in
whose character caution and curiosity were oddly mingled; in his
sober moments he thought of the unusual and eccentric with
undisguised aversion, and yet, deep in his heart, there was a
wide-eyed inquisitiveness with respect to all the more recondite
and esoteric elements in the nature of men. The latter tendency had
prevailed when he accepted Raymond's invitation, for though his
considered judgment had always repudiated the doctor's theories
as the wildest nonsense, yet he secretly hugged a belief in
fantasy, and would have rejoiced to see that belief confirmed.
The horrors that he witnessed in the dreary laboratory were to a
certain extent salutary; he was conscious of being involved in
an affair not altogether reputable, and for many years
afterwards he clung bravely to the commonplace, and rejected all
occasions of occult investigation. Indeed, on some homeopathic
principle, he for some time attended the seances of
distinguished mediums, hoping that the clumsy tricks of these
gentlemen would make him altogether disgusted with mysticism of
every kind, but the remedy, though caustic, was not efficacious.
Clarke knew that he still pined for the unseen, and little by
little, the old passion began to reassert itself, as the face of
Mary, shuddering and convulsed with an unknown terror, faded
slowly from his memory. Occupied all day in pursuits both
serious and lucrative, the temptation to relax in the evening
was too great, especially in the winter months, when the fire
cast a warm glow over his snug bachelor apartment, and a bottle
of some choice claret stood ready by his elbow. His dinner
digested, he would make a brief pretence of reading the evening
paper, but the mere catalogue of news soon palled upon him, and
Clarke would find himself casting glances of warm desire in the
direction of an old Japanese bureau, which stood at a pleasant
distance from the hearth. Like a boy before a jam-closet, for
a few minutes he would hover indecisive, but lust always
prevailed, and Clarke ended by drawing up his chair, lighting a
candle, and sitting down before the bureau. Its pigeon-holes
and drawers teemed with documents on the most morbid subjects,
and in the well reposed a large manuscript volume, in which he
had painfully entered he gems of his collection. Clarke had a
fine contempt for published literature; the most ghostly story
ceased to interest him if it happened to be printed; his sole
pleasure was in the reading, compiling, and rearranging what he
called his "Memoirs to prove the Existence of the Devil," and
engaged in this pursuit the evening seemed to fly and the night
appeared too short.
On one particular evening, an ugly December night,
black with fog, and raw with frost, Clarke hurried over his
dinner, and scarcely deigned to observe his customary ritual of
taking up the paper and laying it down again. He paced two or
three times up and down the room, and opened the bureau, stood
still a moment, and sat down. He leant back, absorbed in one
of those dreams to which he was subject, and at length drew out
his book, and opened it at the last entry. There were three or
four pages densely covered with Clarke's round, set penmanship,
and at the beginning he had written in a somewhat larger hand:
Singular Narrative told me by my Friend, Dr. Phillips.
He assures me that all the facts related
therein are strictly and wholly True, but
refuses to give either the Surnames of the
Persons Concerned, or the Place where these
Extraordinary Events occurred.
Mr. Clarke began to read over the account for the
tenth time, glancing now and then at the pencil notes he had
made when it was told him by his friend. It was one of his
humours to pride himself on a certain literary ability; he
thought well of his style, and took pains in arranging the
circumstances in dramatic order. He read the following story:--
The persons concerned in this statement are Helen V.,
who, if she is still alive, must now be a woman of
twenty-three, Rachel M., since deceased, who was a year younger
than the above, and Trevor W., an imbecile, aged eighteen.
These persons were at the period of the story inhabitants of a
village on the borders of Wales, a place of some importance in
the time of the Roman occupation, but now a scattered hamlet,
of not more than five hundred souls. It is situated on rising
ground, about six miles from the sea, and is sheltered by a
large and picturesque forest.
Some eleven years ago, Helen V. came to the village under
rather peculiar circumstances. It is understood that she, being
an orphan, was adopted in her infancy by a distant relative, who
brought her up in his own house until she was twelve years old.
Thinking, however, that it would be better for the child to have
playmates of her own age, he advertised in several local papers
for a good home in a comfortable farmhouse for a girl of twelve,
and this advertisement was answered by Mr. R., a well-to-do
farmer in the above-mentioned village. His references proving
satisfactory, the gentleman sent his adopted daughter to Mr.
R., with a letter, in which he stipulated that the girl should
have a room to herself, and stated that her guardians need be
at no trouble in the matter of education, as she was already
sufficiently educated for the position in life which she would
occupy. In fact, Mr. R. was given to understand that the girl
be allowed to find her own occupations and to spend her time
almost as she liked. Mr. R. duly met her at the nearest
station, a town seven miles away from his house, and seems to
have remarked nothing extraordinary about the child except that
she was reticent as to her former life and her adopted father.
She was, however, of a very different type from the inhabitants
of the village; her skin was a pale, clear olive, and her
features were strongly marked, and of a somewhat foreign
character. She appears to have settled down easily enough into
farmhouse life, and became a favourite with the children, who
sometimes went with her on her rambles in the forest, for this
was her amusement. Mr. R. states that he has known her to go
out by herself directly after their early breakfast, and not
return till after dusk, and that, feeling uneasy at a young
girl being out alone for so many hours, he communicated with
her adopted father, who replied in a brief note that Helen must
do as she chose. In the winter, when the forest paths are
impassable, she spent most of her time in her bedroom, where
she slept alone, according to the instructions of her relative.
It was on one of these expeditions to the forest that the first
of the singular incidents with which this girl is connected
occurred, the date being about a year after her arrival at the
village. The preceding winter had been remarkably severe, the
snow drifting to a great depth, and the frost continuing for an
unexampled period, and the summer following was as noteworthy
for its extreme heat. On one of the very hottest days in this
summer, Helen V. left the farmhouse for one of her long rambles
in the forest, taking with her, as usual, some bread and meat
for lunch. She was seen by some men in the fields making for
the old Roman Road, a green causeway which traverses the
highest part of the wood, and they were astonished to observe
that the girl had taken off her hat, though the heat of the sun
was already tropical. As it happened, a labourer, Joseph W. by
name, was working in the forest near the Roman Road, and at
twelve o'clock his little son, Trevor, brought the man his
dinner of bread and cheese. After the meal, the boy, who was
about seven years old at the time, left his father at work,
and, as he said, went to look for flowers in the wood, and the
man, who could hear him shouting with delight at his
discoveries, felt no uneasiness. Suddenly, however, he was
horrified at hearing the most dreadful screams, evidently the
result of great terror, proceeding from the direction in which
his son had gone, and he hastily threw down his tools and ran
to see what had happened. Tracing his path by the sound, he
met the little boy, who was running headlong, and was evidently
terribly frightened, and on questioning him the man elicited
that after picking a posy of flowers he felt tired, and lay
down on the grass and fell asleep. He was suddenly awakened,
as he stated, by a peculiar noise, a sort of singing he called
it, and on peeping through the branches he saw Helen V. playing
on the grass with a "strange naked man," who he seemed unable
to describe more fully. He said he felt dreadfully frightened
and ran away crying for his father. Joseph W. proceeded in the
direction indicated by his son, and found Helen V. sitting on
the grass in the middle of a glade or open space left by
charcoal burners. He angrily charged her with frightening his
little boy, but she entirely denied the accusation and laughed
at the child's story of a "strange man," to which he himself
did not attach much credence. Joseph W. came to the
conclusion that the boy had woke up with a sudden fright, as
children sometimes do, but Trevor persisted in his story, and
continued in such evident distress that at last his father took
him home, hoping that his mother would be able to soothe him.
For many weeks, however, the boy gave his parents much anxiety;
he became nervous and strange in his manner, refusing to leave
the cottage by himself, and constantly alarming the household
by waking in the night with cries of "The man in the wood!
In course of time, however, the impression seemed to
have worn off, and about three months later he accompanied his
father to the home of a gentleman in the neighborhood, for whom
Joseph W. occasionally did work. The man was shown into the
study, and the little boy was left sitting in the hall, and a
few minutes later, while the gentleman was giving W. his
instructions, they were both horrified by a piercing shriek and
the sound of a fall, and rushing out they found the child lying
senseless on the floor, his face contorted with terror. The
doctor was immediately summoned, and after some examination he
pronounced the child to be suffering form a kind of fit,
apparently produced by a sudden shock. The boy was taken to
one of the bedrooms, and after some time recovered
consciousness, but only to pass into a condition described by
the medical man as one of violent hysteria. The doctor
exhibited a strong sedative, and in the course of two hours
pronounced him fit to walk home, but in passing through the
hall the paroxysms of fright returned and with additional
violence. The father perceived that the child was pointing at
some object, and heard the old cry, "The man in the wood," and
looking in the direction indicated saw a stone head of
grotesque appearance, which had been built into the wall above
one of the doors. It seems the owner of the house had recently
made alterations in his premises, and on digging the
foundations for some offices, the men had found a curious head,
evidently of the Roman period, which had been placed in the
manner described. The head is pronounced by the most
experienced archaeologists of the district to be that of a faun
or satyr. [Dr. Phillips tells me that he has seen the head in
question, and assures me that he has never received such a
vivid presentment of intense evil.]
From whatever cause arising, this second shock seemed
too severe for the boy Trevor, and at the present date he
suffers from a weakness of intellect, which gives but little
promise of amending. The matter caused a good deal of
sensation at the time, and the girl Helen was closely
questioned by Mr. R., but to no purpose, she steadfastly
denying that she had frightened or in any way molested Trevor.
The second event with which this girl's name is
connected took place about six years ago, and is of a still
more extraordinary character.
At the beginning of the summer of 1882, Helen
contracted a friendship of a peculiarly intimate character with
Rachel M., the daughter of a prosperous farmer in the
neighbourhood. This girl, who was a year younger than Helen,
was considered by most people to be the prettier of the two,
though Helen's features had to a great extent softened as she
became older. The two girls, who were together on every
available opportunity, presented a singular contrast, the one
with her clear, olive skin and almost Italian appearance, and
the other of the proverbial red and white of our rural
districts. It must be stated that the payments made to Mr. R.
for the maintenance of Helen were known in the village for their
excessive liberality, and the impression was general that she
would one day inherit a large sum of money from her relative.
The parents of Rachel were therefore not averse from their
daughter's friendship with the girl, and even encouraged the
intimacy, though they now bitterly regret having done so.
Helen still retained her extraordinary fondness for the forest,
and on several occasions Rachel accompanied her, the two
friends setting out early in the morning, and remaining in the
wood until dusk. Once or twice after these excursions Mrs. M.
thought her daughter's manner rather peculiar; she seemed
languid and dreamy, and as it has been expressed, "different
from herself," but these peculiarities seem to have been
thought too trifling for remark. One evening, however, after
Rachel had come home, her mother heard a noise which sounded
like suppressed weeping in the girl's room, and on going in
found her lying, half undressed, upon the bed, evidently in the
greatest distress. As soon as she saw her mother, she
exclaimed, "Ah, mother, mother, why did you let me go to the
forest with Helen?" Mrs. M. was astonished at so strange a
question, and proceeded to make inquiries. Rachel told her a
wild story. She said --
Clarke closed the book with a snap, and turned his
chair towards the fire. When his friend sat one evening in
that very chair, and told his story, Clarke had interrupted him
at a point a little subsequent to this, had cut short his words
in a paroxysm of horror. "My God!" he had exclaimed, "think,
think what you are saying. It is too incredible, too
monstrous; such things can never be in this quiet world, where
men and women live and die, and struggle, and conquer, or maybe
fail, and fall down under sorrow, and grieve and suffer strange
fortunes for many a year; but not this, Phillips, not such
things as this. There must be some explanation, some way out
of the terror. Why, man, if such a case were possible, our
earth would be a nightmare."
But Phillips had told his story to the end, concluding:
"Her flight remains a mystery to this day; she vanished
in broad sunlight; they saw her walking in a meadow, and a few
moments later she was not there."
Clarke tried to conceive the thing again, as he sat by
the fire, and again his mind shuddered and shrank back,
appalled before the sight of such awful, unspeakable elements
enthroned as it were, and triumphant in human flesh. Before
him stretched the long dim vista of the green causeway in the
forest, as his friend had described it; he saw the swaying
leaves and the quivering shadows on the grass, he saw the
sunlight and the flowers, and far away, far in the long
distance, the two figure moved toward him. One was Rachel, but
Clarke had tried his best to disbelieve it all, but at
the end of the account, as he had written it in his book, he
had placed the inscription:
ET DIABOLUS INCARNATE EST. ET HOMO FACTUS EST.
THE CITY OF RESURRECTIONS
"Herbert! Good God! Is it possible?"
"Yes, my name's Herbert. I think I know your face,
too, but I don't remember your name. My memory is very queer."
"Don't you recollect Villiers of Wadham?"
"So it is, so it is. I beg your pardon, Villiers, I
didn't think I was begging of an old college friend.
"My dear fellow, this haste is unnecessary. My rooms
are close by, but we won't go there just yet. Suppose we walk
up Shaftesbury Avenue a little way? But how in heaven's name
have you come to this pass, Herbert?"
"It's a long story, Villiers, and a strange one too,
but you can hear it if you like."
"Come on, then. Take my arm, you don't seem very
The ill-assorted pair moved slowly up Rupert Street;
the one in dirty, evil-looking rags, and the other attired in
the regulation uniform of a man about town, trim, glossy, and
eminently well-to-do. Villiers had emerged from his restaurant
after an excellent dinner of many courses, assisted by an
ingratiating little flask of Chianti, and, in that frame of mind
which was with him almost chronic, had delayed a moment by the
door, peering round in the dimly-lighted street in search of
those mysterious incidents and persons with which the streets of
London teem in every quarter and every hour. Villiers prided
himself as a practised explorer of such obscure mazes and byways
of London life, and in this unprofitable pursuit he displayed an
assiduity which was worthy of more serious employment. Thus he
stood by the lamp-post surveying the passers-by with
undisguised curiosity, and with that gravity known only to the
systematic diner, had just enunciated in his mind the formula:
"London has been called the city of encounters; it is more than
that, it is the city of Resurrections," when these reflections
were suddenly interrupted by a piteous whine at his elbow, and
a deplorable appeal for alms. He looked around in some
irritation, and with a sudden shock found himself confronted
with the embodied proof of his somewhat stilted fancies. There,
close beside him, his face altered and disfigured by poverty and
disgrace, his body barely covered by greasy ill-fitting rags,
stood his old friend Charles Herbert, who had matriculated on
the same day as himself, with whom he had been merry and wise
for twelve revolving terms. Different occupations and varying
interests had interrupted the friendship, and it was six years
since Villiers had seen Herbert; and now he looked upon this
wreck of a man with grief and dismay, mingled with a certain
inquisitiveness as to what dreary chain of circumstances had
dragged him down to such a doleful pass. Villiers felt together
with compassion all the relish of the amateur in mysteries, and
congratulated himself on his leisurely speculations outside the
They walked on in silence for some time, and more than
one passer-by stared in astonishment at the unaccustomed
spectacle of a well-dressed man with an unmistakable beggar
hanging on to his arm, and, observing this, Villiers led the way
to an obscure street in Soho. Here he repeated his question.
"How on earth has it happened, Herbert? I always
understood you would succeed to an excellent position in
Dorsetshire. Did your father disinherit you? Surely not?"
"No, Villiers; I came into all the property at my poor
father's death; he died a year after I left Oxford. He was a
very good father to me, and I mourned his death sincerely
enough. But you know what young men are; a few months later I
came up to town and went a good deal into society. Of course I
had excellent introductions, and I managed to enjoy myself very
much in a harmless sort of way. I played a little, certainly,
but never for heavy stakes, and the few bets I made on races
brought me in money--only a few pounds, you know, but enough
to pay for cigars and such petty pleasures. It was in my second
season that the tide turned. Of course you have heard of my
"No, I never heard anything about it."
"Yes, I married, Villiers. I met a girl, a girl of the
most wonderful and most strange beauty, at the house of some
people whom I knew. I cannot tell you her age; I never knew it,
but, so far as I can guess, I should think she must have been
about nineteen when I made her acquaintance. My friends had
come to know her at Florence; she told them she was an orphan,
the child of an English father and an Italian mother, and she
charmed them as she charmed me. The first time I saw her was at
an evening party. I was standing by the door talking to a
friend, when suddenly above the hum and babble of conversation I
heard a voice which seemed to thrill to my heart. She was
singing an Italian song. I was introduced to her that evening,
and in three months I married Helen. Villiers, that woman, if I
can call her woman, corrupted my soul. The night of the wedding
I found myself sitting in her bedroom in the hotel, listening to
her talk. She was sitting up in bed, and I listened to her as
she spoke in her beautiful voice, spoke of things which even now
I would not dare whisper in the blackest night, though I stood
in the midst of a wilderness. You, Villiers, you may think you
know life, and London, and what goes on day and night in this
dreadful city; for all I can say you may have heard the talk of
the vilest, but I tell you you can have no conception of what I
know, not in your most fantastic, hideous dreams can you have
imaged forth the faintest shadow of what I have heard--and
seen. Yes, seen. I have seen the incredible, such horrors that
even I myself sometimes stop in the middle of the street and ask
whether it is possible for a man to behold such things and live.
In a year, Villiers, I was a ruined man, in body and soul--in
body and soul."
"But your property, Herbert? You had land in Dorset."
"I sold it all; the fields and woods, the dear old
"And the money?"
"She took it all from me."
"And then left you?"
"Yes; she disappeared one night. I don't know where
she went, but I am sure if I saw her again it would kill me.
The rest of my story is of no interest; sordid misery, that is
all. You may think, Villiers, that I have exaggerated and
talked for effect; but I have not told you half. I could tell
you certain things which would convince you, but you would never
know a happy day again. You would pass the rest of your life,
as I pass mine, a haunted man, a man who has seen hell."
Villiers took the unfortunate man to his rooms, and
gave him a meal. Herbert could eat little, and scarcely touched
the glass of wine set before him. He sat moody and silent by
the fire, and seemed relieved when Villiers sent him away with a
small present of money.
"By the way, Herbert," said Villiers, as they parted at
the door, "what was your wife's name? You said Helen, I think?
"The name she passed under when I met her was Helen
Vaughan, but what her real name was I can't say. I don't think
she had a name. No, no, not in that sense. Only human beings
have names, Villiers; I can't say anymore. Good-bye; yes, I
will not fail to call if I see any way in which you can help me.
The man went out into the bitter night, and Villiers
returned to his fireside. There was something about Herbert
which shocked him inexpressibly; not his poor rags nor the marks
which poverty had set upon his face, but rather an indefinite
terror which hung about him like a mist. He had acknowledged
that he himself was not devoid of blame; the woman, he had
avowed, had corrupted him body and soul, and Villiers felt that
this man, once his friend, had been an actor in scenes evil
beyond the power of words. His story needed no confirmation: he
himself was the embodied proof of it. Villiers mused curiously
over the story he had heard, and wondered whether he had heard
both the first and the last of it. "No," he thought, "certainly
not the last, probably only the beginning. A case like this is
like a nest of Chinese boxes; you open one after the other and
find a quainter workmanship in every box. Most likely poor
Herbert is merely one of the outside boxes; there are stranger
ones to follow."
Villiers could not take his mind away from Herbert and
his story, which seemed to grow wilder as the night wore on.
The fire seemed to burn low, and the chilly air of the morning
crept into the room; Villiers got up with a glance over his
shoulder, and, shivering slightly, went to bed.
A few days later he saw at his club a gentleman of his
acquaintance, named Austin, who was famous for his intimate
knowledge of London life, both in its tenebrous and luminous
phases. Villiers, still full of his encounter in Soho and its
consequences, thought Austin might possibly be able to shed some
light on Herbert's history, and so after some casual talk he
suddenly put the question:
"Do you happen to know anything of a man named Herbert
-- Charles Herbert?"
Austin turned round sharply and stared at Villiers with
"Charles Herbert? Weren't you in town three years ago?
No; then you have not heard of the Paul Street case? It caused
a good deal of sensation at the time."
"What was the case?"
"Well, a gentleman, a man of very good position, was
found dead, stark dead, in the area of a certain house in Paul
Street, off Tottenham Court Road. Of course the police did not
make the discovery; if you happen to be sitting up all night and
have a light in your window, the constable will ring the bell,
but if you happen to be lying dead in somebody's area, you will
be left alone. In this instance, as in many others, the alarm
was raised by some kind of vagabond; I don't mean a common
tramp, or a public-house loafer, but a gentleman, whose business
or pleasure, or both, made him a spectator of the London streets
at five o'clock in the morning. This individual was, as he
said, 'going home,'it did not appear whence or whither, and had
occasion to pass through Paul Street between four and five a.m.
Something or other caught his eye at Number 20; he said,
absurdly enough, that the house had the most unpleasant
physiognomy he had ever observed, but, at any rate, he glanced
down the area and was a good deal astonished to see a man lying
on the stones, his limbs all huddled together, and his face
turned up. Our gentleman thought his face looked peculiarly
ghastly, and so set off at a run in search of the nearest
policeman. The constable was at first inclined to treat the
matter lightly, suspecting common drunkenness; however, he came,
and after looking at the man's face, changed his tone, quickly
enough. The early bird, who had picked up this fine worm, was
sent off for a doctor, and the policeman rang and knocked at the
door till a slatternly servant girl came down looking more than
half asleep. The constable pointed out the contents of the area
to the maid, who screamed loudly enough to wake up the street,
but she knew nothing of the man; had never seen him at the
house, and so forth. Meanwhile, the original discoverer had
come back with a medical man, and the next thing was to get into
the area. The gate was open, so the whole quartet stumped down
the steps. The doctor hardly needed a moment's examination; he
said the poor fellow had been dead for several hours, and it was
then the case began to get interesting. The dead man had not
been robbed, and in one of his pockets were papers identifying
him as--well, as a man of good family and means, a favourite
in society, and nobody's enemy, as far as could be known. I
don't give his name, Villiers, because it has nothing to do with
the story, and because it's no good raking up these affairs
about the dead when there are no relations living. The next
curious point was that the medical men couldn't agree as to how
he met his death. There were some slight bruises on his
shoulders, but they were so slight that it looked as if he had
been pushed roughly out of the kitchen door, and not thrown over
the railings from the street or even dragged down the steps.
But there were positively no other marks of violence about him,
certainly none that would account for his death; and when they
came to the autopsy there wasn't a trace of poison of any kind.
Of course the police wanted to know all about the people at
Number 20, and here again, so I have heard from private sources,
one or two other very curious points came out. It appears that
the occupants of the house were a Mr. and Mrs. Charles Herbert;
he was said to be a landed proprietor, though it struck most
people that Paul Street was not exactly the place to look for
country gentry. As for Mrs. Herbert, nobody seemed to know
who or what she was, and, between ourselves, I fancy the divers
after her history found themselves in rather strange waters. Of
course they both denied knowing anything about the deceased, and
in default of any evidence against them they were discharged.
But some very odd things came out about them. Though it was
between five and six in the morning when the dead man was
removed, a large crowd had collected, and several of the
neighbours ran to see what was going on. They were pretty free
with their comments, by all accounts, and from these it appeared
that Number 20 was in very bad odour in Paul Street. The
detectives tried to trace down these rumours to some solid
foundation of fact, but could not get hold of anything. People
shook their heads and raised their eyebrows and thought the
Herberts rather 'queer,' 'would rather not be seen going into
their house,'and so on, but there was nothing tangible. The
authorities were morally certain the man met his death in some
way or another in the house and was thrown out by the kitchen
door, but they couldn't prove it, and the absence of any
indications of violence or poisoning left them helpless. An odd
case, wasn't it? But curiously enough, there's something more
that I haven't told you. I happened to know one of the doctors
who was consulted as to the cause of death, and some time after
the inquest I met him, and asked him about it. 'Do you really
mean to tell me,' I said, 'that you were baffled by the case,
that you actually don't know what the man died of?' 'Pardon me,'
he replied, 'I know perfectly well what caused death. Blank
died of fright, of sheer, awful terror; I never saw features so
hideously contorted in the entire course of my practice, and I
have seen the faces of a whole host of dead.' The doctor was
usually a cool customer enough, and a certain vehemence in his
manner struck me, but I couldn't get anything more out of him.
I suppose the Treasury didn't see their way to prosecuting the
Herberts for frightening a man to death; at any rate, nothing
was done, and the case dropped out of men's minds. Do you
happen to know anything of Herbert?"
"Well," replied Villiers, "he was an old college friend
"You don't say so? Have you ever seen his wife?"
"No, I haven't. I have lost sight of Herbert for many
"It's queer, isn't it, parting with a man at the
college gate or at Paddington, seeing nothing of him for years,
and then finding him pop up his head in such an odd place. But
I should like to have seen Mrs. Herbert; people said
extraordinary things about her."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, I hardly know how to tell you. Everyone who saw
her at the police court said she was at once the most beautiful
woman and the most repulsive they had ever set eyes on. I have
spoken to a man who saw her, and I assure you he positively
shuddered as he tried to describe the woman, but he couldn't
tell why. She seems to have been a sort of enigma; and I expect
if that one dead man could have told tales, he would have told
some uncommonly queer ones. And there you are again in another
puzzle; what could a respectable country gentleman like Mr.
Blank (we'll call him that if you don't mind) want in such a
very queer house as Number 20? It's altogether a very odd case,
"It is indeed, Austin; an extraordinary case. I
didn't think, when I asked you about my old friend, I should
strike on such strange metal. Well, I must be off; good-day."
Villiers went away, thinking of his own conceit of the
Chinese boxes; here was quaint workmanship indeed.
THE DISCOVERY IN PAUL STREET
A few months after Villers'meeting with Herbert, Mr.
Clarke was sitting, as usual, by his after-dinner hearth,
resolutely guarding his fancies from wandering in the direction
of the bureau. For more than a week he had succeeded in keeping
away from the "Memoirs," and he cherished hopes of a complete
self-reformation; but, in spite of his endeavours, he could not
hush the wonder and the strange curiosity that the last case he
had written down had excited within him. He had put the case,
or rather the outline of it, conjecturally to a scientific
friend, who shook his head, and thought Clarke getting queer,
and on this particular evening Clarke was making an effort to
rationalize the story, when a sudden knock at the door roused
him from his meditations.
"Mr. Villiers to see you sir."
"Dear me, Villiers, it is very kind of you to look me
up; I have not seen you for many months; I should think nearly a
year. Come in, come in. And how are you, Villiers? Want any
advice about investments?"
"No, thanks, I fancy everything I have in that way is
pretty safe. No, Clarke, I have really come to consult you
about a rather curious matter that has been brought under my
notice of late. I am afraid you will think it all rather absurd
when I tell my tale. I sometimes think so myself, and that's
just what I made up my mind to come to you, as I know you're a
Mr. Villiers was ignorant of the "Memoirs to prove the
Existence of the Devil."
"Well, Villiers, I shall be happy to give you my
advice, to the best of my ability. What is the nature of the
"It's an extraordinary thing altogether. You know my
ways; I always keep my eyes open in the streets, and in my time
I have chanced upon some queer customers, and queer cases too,
but this, I think, beats all. I was coming out of a restaurant
one nasty winter night about three months ago; I had had a
capital dinner and a good bottle of Chianti, and I stood for a
moment on the pavement, thinking what a mystery there is about
London streets and the companies that pass along them. A bottle
of red wine encourages these fancies, Clarke, and I dare say I
should have thought a page of small type, but I was cut short by
a beggar who had come behind me, and was making the usual
appeals. Of course I looked round, and this beggar turned out
to be what was left of an old friend of mine, a man named
Herbert. I asked him how he had come to such a wretched pass,
and he told me. We walked up and down one of those long and
dark Soho streets, and there I listened to his story. He said
he had married a beautiful girl, some years younger than
himself, and, as he put it, she had corrupted him body and
soul. He wouldn't go into details; he said he dare not, that
what he had seen and heard haunted him by night and day, and
when I looked in his face I knew he was speaking the truth.
There was something about the man that made me shiver. I don't
know why, but it was there. I gave him a little money and sent
him away, and I assure you that when he was gone I gasped for
breath. His presence seemed to chill one's blood."
"Isn't this all just a little fanciful, Villiers? I
suppose the poor fellow had made an imprudent marriage, and, in
plain English, gone to the bad."
"Well, listen to this." Villiers told Clarke the story
he had heard from Austin.
"You see," he concluded, "there can be but little doubt
that this Mr. Blank, whoever he was, died of sheer terror; he
saw something so awful, so terrible, that it cut short his life.
And what he saw, he most certainly saw in that house, which,
somehow or other, had got a bad name in the neighbourhood. I
had the curiosity to go and look at the place for myself. It's
a saddening kind of street; the houses are old enough to be mean
and dreary, but not old enough to be quaint. As far as I could
see most of them are let in lodgings, furnished and unfurnished,
and almost every door has three bells to it. Here and there the
ground floors have been made into shops of the commonest kind;
it's a dismal street in every way. I found Number 20 was to
let, and I went to the agent's and got the key. Of course I
should have heard nothing of the Herberts in that quarter, but
I asked the man, fair and square, how long they had left the
house and whether there had been other tenants in the meanwhile.
He looked at me queerly for a minute, and told me the Herberts
had left immediately after the unpleasantness, as he called it,
and since then the house had been empty."
Mr. Villiers paused for a moment.
"I have always been rather fond of going over empty
houses; there's a sort of fascination about the desolate empty
rooms, with the nails sticking in the walls, and the dust thick
upon the window-sills. But I didn't enjoy going over Number 20,
Paul Street. I had hardly put my foot inside the passage when I
noticed a queer, heavy feeling about the air of the house. Of
course all empty houses are stuffy, and so forth, but this was
something quite different; I can't describe it to you, but it
seemed to stop the breath. I went into the front room and the
back room, and the kitchens downstairs; they were all dirty and
dusty enough, as you would expect, but there was something
strange about them all. I couldn't define it to you, I only
know I felt queer. It was one of the rooms on the first floor,
though, that was the worst. It was a largish room, and once on
a time the paper must have been cheerful enough, but when I saw
it, paint, paper, and everything were most doleful. But the
room was full of horror; I felt my teeth grinding as I put my
hand on the door, and when I went in, I thought I should have
fallen fainting to the floor. However, I pulled myself
together, and stood against the end wall, wondering what on
earth there could be about the room to make my limbs tremble,
and my heart beat as if I were at the hour of death. In one
corner there was a pile of newspapers littered on the floor, and
I began looking at them; they were papers of three or four years
ago, some of them half torn, and some crumpled as if they had
been used for packing. I turned the whole pile over, and
amongst them I found a curious drawing; I will show it to you
presently. But I couldn't stay in the room; I felt it was
overpowering me. I was thankful to come out, safe and sound,
into the open air. People stared at me as I walked along the
street, and one man said I was drunk. I was staggering about
from one side of the pavement to the other, and it was as much
as I could do to take the key back to the agent and get home. I
was in bed for a week, suffering from what my doctor called
nervous shock and exhaustion. One of those days I was reading
the evening paper, and happened to notice a paragraph headed:
'Starved to Death.' It was the usual style of thing; a model
lodging-house in Marlyebone, a door locked for several days, and
a dead man in his chair when they broke in. 'The deceased,'said
the paragraph, 'was known as Charles Herbert, and is believed to
have been once a prosperous country gentleman. His name was
familiar to the public three years ago in connection with the
mysterious death in Paul Street, Tottenham Court Road, the
deceased being the tenant of the house Number 20, in the area of
which a gentleman of good position was found dead under
circumstances not devoid of suspicion.' A tragic ending, wasn't
it? But after all, if what he told me were true, which I am
sure it was, the man's life was all a tragedy, and a tragedy of
a stranger sort than they put on the boards."
"And that is the story, is it?" said Clarke musingly.
"Yes, that is the story."
"Well, really, Villiers, I scarcely know what to say
about it. There are, no doubt, circumstances in the case which
seem peculiar, the finding of the dead man in the area of
Herbert's house, for instance, and the extraordinary opinion of
the physician as to the cause of death; but, after all, it is
conceivable that the facts may be explained in a straightforward
manner. As to your own sensations, when you went to see the
house, I would suggest that they were due to a vivid
imagination; you must have been brooding, in a semi-conscious
way, over what you had heard. I don't exactly see what more can
be said or done in the matter; you evidently think there is a
mystery of some kind, but Herbert is dead; where then do you
propose to look?"
"I propose to look for the woman; the woman whom he
married. She is the mystery."
The two men sat silent by the fireside; Clarke secretly
congratulating himself on having successfully kept up the
character of advocate of the commonplace, and Villiers wrapped
in his gloomy fancies.
"I think I will have a cigarette," he said at last, and
put his hand in his pocket to feel for the cigarette-case.
"Ah!" he said, starting slightly, "I forgot I had
something to show you. You remember my saying that I had found
a rather curious sketch amongst the pile of old newspapers at
the house in Paul Street? Here it is."
Villiers drew out a small thin parcel from his pocket.
It was covered with brown paper, and secured with string, and
the knots were troublesome. In spite of himself Clarke felt
inquisitive; he bent forward on his chair as Villiers painfully
undid the string, and unfolded the outer covering. Inside was a
second wrapping of tissue, and Villiers took it off and handed
the small piece of paper to Clarke without a word.
There was dead silence in the room for five minutes or
more; the two man sat so still that they could hear the ticking
of the tall old-fashioned clock that stood outside in the hall,
and in the mind of one of them the slow monotony of sound woke
up a far, far memory. He was looking intently at the small
pen-and-ink sketch of the woman's head; it had evidently been
drawn with great care, and by a true artist, for the woman's
soul looked out of the eyes, and the lips were parted with a
strange smile. Clarke gazed still at the face; it brought to
his memory one summer evening, long ago; he saw again the long
lovely valley, the river winding between the hills, the meadows
and the cornfields, the dull red sun, and the cold white mist
rising from the water. He heard a voice speaking to him across
the waves of many years, and saying "Clarke, Mary will see the
god Pan!" and then he was standing in the grim room beside the
doctor, listening to the heavy ticking of the clock, waiting and
watching, watching the figure lying on the green char beneath
the lamplight. Mary rose up, and he looked into her eyes, and
his heart grew cold within him.
"Who is this woman?" he said at last. His voice was
dry and hoarse.
"That is the woman who Herbert married."
Clarke looked again at the sketch; it was not Mary
after all. There certainly was Mary's face, but there was
something else, something he had not seen on Mary's features
when the white-clad girl entered the laboratory with the doctor,
nor at her terrible awakening, nor when she lay grinning on the
bed. Whatever it was, the glance that came from those eyes,
the smile on the full lips, or the expression of the whole face,
Clarke shuddered before it at his inmost soul, and thought,
unconsciously, of Dr. Phillip's words, "the most vivid
presentment of evil I have ever seen." He turned the paper over
mechanically in his hand and glanced at the back.
"Good God! Clarke, what is the matter? You are as
white as death."
Villiers had started wildly from his chair, as Clarke
fell back with a groan, and let the paper drop from his hands.
"I don't feel very well, Villiers, I am subject to
these attacks. Pour me out a little wine; thanks, that will do.
I shall feel better in a few minutes."
Villiers picked up the fallen sketch and turned it over
as Clarke had done.
"You saw that?" he said. "That's how I identified it
as being a portrait of Herbert's wife, or I should say his
widow. How do you feel now?"
"Better, thanks, it was only a passing faintness. I
don't think I quite catch your meaning. What did you say
enabled you to identify the picture?"
"This word--'Helen'--was written on the back.
Didn't I tell you her name was Helen? Yes; Helen Vaughan."
Clarke groaned; there could be no shadow of doubt.
"Now, don't you agree with me," said Villiers, "that in
the story I have told you to-night, and in the part this woman
plays in it, there are some very strange points?"
"Yes, Villiers," Clarke muttered, "it is a strange
story indeed; a strange story indeed. You must give me time to
think it over; I may be able to help you or I may not. Must you
be going now? Well, good-night, Villiers, good-night. Come and
see me in the course of a week."
THE LETTER OF ADVICE
"Do you know, Austin," said Villiers, as the two
friends were pacing sedately along Piccadilly one pleasant
morning in May, "do you know I am convinced that what you told
me about Paul Street and the Herberts is a mere episode in an
extraordinary history? I may as well confess to you that when I
asked you about Herbert a few months ago I had just seen him."
"You had seen him? Where?"
"He begged of me in the street one night. He was in
the most pitiable plight, but I recognized the man, and I got
him to tell me his history, or at least the outline of it. In
brief, it amounted to this--he had been ruined by his wife."
"In what manner?"
"He would not tell me; he would only say that she had
destroyed him, body and soul. The man is dead now.
"And what has become of his wife?"
"Ah, that's what I should like to know, and I mean to
find her sooner or later. I know a man named Clarke, a dry
fellow, in fact a man of business, but shrewd enough. You
understand my meaning; not shrewd in the mere business sense of
the word, but a man who really knows something about men and
life. Well, I laid the case before him, and he was evidently
impressed. He said it needed consideration, and asked me to
come again in the course of a week. A few days later I received
this extraordinary letter."
Austin took the envelope, drew out the letter, and read
it curiously. It ran as follows:--
"MY DEAR VILLIERS,--I have thought over the matter on
which you consulted me the other night, and my advice to you is
this. Throw the portrait into the fire, blot out the story from
your mind. Never give it another thought, Villiers, or you will
be sorry. You will think, no doubt, that I am in possession of
some secret information, and to a certain extent that is the
case. But I only know a little; I am like a traveller who has
peered over an abyss, and has drawn back in terror. What I know
is strange enough and horrible enough, but beyond my knowledge
there are depths and horrors more frightful still, more
incredible than any tale told of winter nights about the fire.
I have resolved, and nothing shall shake that resolve, to
explore no whit farther, and if you value your happiness you will
make the same determination.
"Come and see me by all means; but we will talk on more
cheerful topics than this."
Austin folded the letter methodically, and returned it
"It is certainly an extraordinary letter," he said,
"what does he mean by the portrait?"
"Ah! I forgot to tell you I have been to Paul Street
and have made a discovery."
Villiers told his story as he had told it to Clarke,
and Austin listened in silence. He seemed puzzled.
"How very curious that you should experience such an
unpleasant sensation in that room!" he said at length. "I
hardly gather that it was a mere matter of the imagination; a
feeling of repulsion, in short."
"No, it was more physical than mental. It was as if I
were inhaling at every breath some deadly fume, which seemed to
penetrate to every nerve and bone and sinew of my body. I felt
racked from head to foot, my eyes began to grow dim; it was like
the entrance of death."
"Yes, yes, very strange certainly. You see, your
friend confesses that there is some very black story connected
with this woman. Did you notice any particular emotion in him
when you were telling your tale?"
"Yes, I did. He became very faint, but he assured me
that it was a mere passing attack to which he was subject."
"Did you believe him?"
"I did at the time, but I don't now. He heard what I
had to say with a good deal of indifference, till I showed him
the portrait. It was then that he was seized with the attack of
which I spoke. He looked ghastly, I assure you."
"Then he must have seen the woman before. But there
might be another explanation; it might have been the name, and
not the face, which was familiar to him. What do you think?"
"I couldn't say. To the best of my belief it was after
turning the portrait in his hands that he nearly dropped from
the chair. The name, you know, was written on the back."
"Quite so. After all, it is impossible to come to any
resolution in a case like this. I hate melodrama, and nothing
strikes me as more commonplace and tedious than the ordinary
ghost story of commerce; but really, Villiers, it looks as if
there were something very queer at the bottom of all this."
The two men had, without noticing it, turned up Ashley
Street, leading northward from Piccadilly. It was a long
street, and rather a gloomy one, but here and there a brighter
taste had illuminated the dark houses with flowers, and gay
curtains, and a cheerful paint on the doors. Villiers glanced
up as Austin stopped speaking, and looked at one of these
houses; geraniums, red and white, drooped from every sill, and
daffodil-coloured curtains were draped back from each window.
"It looks cheerful, doesn't it?" he said.
"Yes, and the inside is still more cheery. One of the
pleasantest houses of the season, so I have heard. I haven't
been there myself, but I've met several men who have, and they
tell me it's uncommonly jovial."
"Whose house is it?"
"A Mrs. Beaumont's."
"And who is she?"
"I couldn't tell you. I have heard she comes from
South America, but after all, who she is is of little
consequence. She is a very wealthy woman, there's no doubt of
that, and some of the best people have taken her up. I hear she
has some wonderful claret, really marvellous wine, which must
have cost a fabulous sum. Lord Argentine was telling me about
it; he was there last Sunday evening. He assures me he has
never tasted such a wine, and Argentine, as you know, is an
expert. By the way, that reminds me, she must be an oddish sort
of woman, this Mrs. Beaumont. Argentine asked her how old the
wine was, and what do you think she said? 'About a thousand
years, I believe.' Lord Argentine thought she was chaffing him,
you know, but when he laughed she said she was speaking quite
seriously and offered to show him the jar. Of course, he
couldn't say anything more after that; but it seems rather
antiquated for a beverage, doesn't it? Why, here we are at my
rooms. Come in, won't you?"
"Thanks, I think I will. I haven't seen the
curiosity-shop for a while."
It was a room furnished richly, yet oddly, where every
jar and bookcase and table, and every rug and jar and ornament
seemed to be a thing apart, preserving each its own
"Anything fresh lately?" said Villiers after a while.
"No; I think not; you saw those queer jugs, didn't you?
I thought so. I don't think I have come across anything for the
last few weeks."
Austin glanced around the room from cupboard to
cupboard, from shelf to shelf, in search of some new oddity.
His eyes fell at last on an odd chest, pleasantly and quaintly
carved, which stood in a dark corner of the room.
"Ah," he said, "I was forgetting, I have got something
to show you." Austin unlocked the chest, drew out a thick quarto
volume, laid it on the table, and resumed the cigar he had put
"Did you know Arthur Meyrick the painter, Villiers?"
"A little; I met him two or three times at the house of
a friend of mine. What has become of him? I haven't heard his
name mentioned for some time."
"You don't say so! Quite young, wasn't he?"
"Yes; only thirty when he died."
"What did he die of?"
"I don't know. He was an intimate friend of mine, and
a thoroughly good fellow. He used to come here and talk to me
for hours, and he was one of the best talkers I have met. He
could even talk about painting, and that's more than can be said
of most painters. About eighteen months ago he was feeling
rather overworked, and partly at my suggestion he went off on a
sort of roving expedition, with no very definite end or aim
about it. I believe New York was to be his first port, but I
never heard from him. Three months ago I got this book, with a
very civil letter from an English doctor practising at Buenos
Ayres, stating that he had attended the late Mr. Meyrick during
his illness, and that the deceased had expressed an earnest wish
that the enclosed packet should be sent to me after his death.
That was all."
"And haven't you written for further particulars?"
"I have been thinking of doing so. You would advise me
to write to the doctor?"
"Certainly. And what about the book?"
"It was sealed up when I got it. I don't think the
doctor had seen it."
"It is something very rare? Meyrick was a collector,
"No, I think not, hardly a collector. Now, what do you
think of these Ainu jugs?"
"They are peculiar, but I like them. But aren't you
going to show me poor Meyrick's legacy?"
"Yes, yes, to be sure. The fact is, it's rather a
peculiar sort of thing, and I haven't shown it to any one. I
wouldn't say anything about it if I were you. There it is."
Villiers took the book, and opened it at haphazard.
"It isn't a printed volume, then?" he said.
"No. It is a collection of drawings in black and white
by my poor friend Meyrick."
Villiers turned to the first page, it was blank; the
second bore a brief inscription, which he read:
Silet per diem universus, nec sine horrore secretus
est; lucet nocturnis ignibus, chorus Aegipanum undique
personatur: audiuntur et cantus tibiarum, et tinnitus cymbalorum
per oram maritimam.
On the third page was a design which made Villiers
start and look up at Austin; he was gazing abstractedly out of
the window. Villiers turned page after page, absorbed, in spite
of himself, in the frightful Walpurgis Night of evil, strange
monstrous evil, that the dead artist had set forth in hard black
and white. The figures of Fauns and Satyrs and Aegipans danced
before his eyes, the darkness of the thicket, the dance on the
mountain-top, the scenes by lonely shores, in green vineyards,
by rocks and desert places, passed before him: a world before
which the human soul seemed to shrink back and shudder.
Villiers whirled over the remaining pages; he had seen enough,
but the picture on the last leaf caught his eye, as he almost
closed the book.
"Well, what is it?"
"Do you know who that is?"
It was a woman's face, alone on the white page.
"Know who it is? No, of course not."
"Who is it?"
"It is Mrs. Herbert."
"Are you sure?"
"I am perfectly sure of it. Poor Meyrick! He is one
more chapter in her history."
"But what do you think of the designs?"
"They are frightful. Lock the book up again, Austin.
If I were you I would burn it; it must be a terrible companion
even though it be in a chest."
"Yes, they are singular drawings. But I wonder what
connection there could be between Meyrick and Mrs. Herbert, or
what link between her and these designs?"
"Ah, who can say? It is possible that the matter may
end here, and we shall never know, but in my own opinion this
Helen Vaughan, or Mrs. Herbert, is only the beginning. She
will come back to London, Austin; depend on it, she will come
back, and we shall hear more about her then. I doubt it will
be very pleasant news."
Lord Argentine was a great favourite in London
Society. At twenty he had been a poor man, decked with the
surname of an illustrious family, but forced to earn a
livelihood as best he could, and the most speculative of
money-lenders would not have entrusted him with fifty pounds on
the chance of his ever changing his name for a title, and his
poverty for a great fortune. His father had been near enough to
the fountain of good things to secure one of the family livings,
but the son, even if he had taken orders, would scarcely have
obtained so much as this, and moreover felt no vocation for the
ecclesiastical estate. Thus he fronted the world with no
better armour than the bachelor's gown and the wits of a younger
son's grandson, with which equipment he contrived in some way to
make a very tolerable fight of it. At twenty-five Mr. Charles
Aubernon saw himself still a man of struggles and of warfare
with the world, but out of the seven who stood before him and
the high places of his family three only remained. These three,
however, were "good lives," but yet not proof against the Zulu
assegais and typhoid fever, and so one morning Aubernon woke up
and found himself Lord Argentine, a man of thirty who had faced
the difficulties of existence, and had conquered. The situation
amused him immensely, and he resolved that riches should be as
pleasant to him as poverty had always been. Argentine, after
some little consideration, came to the conclusion that dining,
regarded as a fine art, was perhaps the most amusing pursuit
open to fallen humanity, and thus his dinners became famous in
London, and an invitation to his table a thing covetously
desired. After ten years of lordship and dinners Argentine
still declined to be jaded, still persisted in enjoying life,
and by a kind of infection had become recognized as the cause of
joy in others, in short, as the best of company. His sudden and
tragical death therefore caused a wide and deep sensation.
People could scarcely believe it, even though the newspaper was
before their eyes, and the cry of "Mysterious Death of a
Nobleman" came ringing up from the street. But there stood the
brief paragraph: "Lord Argentine was found dead this morning by
his valet under distressing circumstances. It is stated that
there can be no doubt that his lordship committed suicide,
though no motive can be assigned for the act. The deceased
nobleman was widely known in society, and much liked for his
genial manner and sumptuous hospitality. He is succeeded by,"
By slow degrees the details came to light, but the case
still remained a mystery. The chief witness at the inquest was
the deceased's valet, who said that the night before his death
Lord Argentine had dined with a lady of good position, whose
named was suppressed in the newspaper reports. At about eleven
o'clock Lord Argentine had returned, and informed his man that
he should not require his services till the next morning. A
little later the valet had occasion to cross the hall and was
somewhat astonished to see his master quietly letting himself
out at the front door. He had taken off his evening clothes,
and was dressed in a Norfolk coat and knickerbockers, and wore a
low brown hat. The valet had no reason to suppose that Lord
Argentine had seen him, and though his master rarely kept late
hours, thought little of the occurrence till the next morning,
when he knocked at the bedroom door at a quarter to nine as
usual. He received no answer, and, after knocking two or three
times, entered the room, and saw Lord Argentine's body leaning
forward at an angle from the bottom of the bed. He found that
his master had tied a cord securely to one of the short
bed-posts, and, after making a running noose and slipping it
round his neck, the unfortunate man must have resolutely fallen
forward, to die by slow strangulation. He was dressed in the
light suit in which the valet had seen him go out, and the
doctor who was summoned pronounced that life had been extinct
for more than four hours. All papers, letters, and so forth
seemed in perfect order, and nothing was discovered which
pointed in the most remote way to any scandal either great or
small. Here the evidence ended; nothing more could be
discovered. Several persons had been present at the
dinner-party at which Lord Augustine had assisted, and to all
these he seemed in his usual genial spirits. The valet, indeed,
said he thought his master appeared a little excited when he
came home, but confessed that the alteration in his manner was
very slight, hardly noticeable, indeed. It seemed hopeless to
seek for any clue, and the suggestion that Lord Argentine had
been suddenly attacked by acute suicidal mania was generally
It was otherwise, however, when within three weeks,
three more gentlemen, one of them a nobleman, and the two
others men of good position and ample means, perished miserably
in the almost precisely the same manner. Lord Swanleigh was
found one morning in his dressing-room, hanging from a peg
affixed to the wall, and Mr. Collier-Stuart and Mr. Herries had
chosen to die as Lord Argentine. There was no explanation in
either case; a few bald facts; a living man in the evening, and
a body with a black swollen face in the morning. The police
had been forced to confess themselves powerless to arrest or to
explain the sordid murders of Whitechapel; but before the
horrible suicides of Piccadilly and Mayfair they were
dumbfoundered, for not even the mere ferocity which did duty as
an explanation of the crimes of the East End, could be of
service in the West. Each of these men who had resolved to die
a tortured shameful death was rich, prosperous, and to all
appearances in love with the world, and not the acutest
research should ferret out any shadow of a lurking motive in
either case. There was a horror in the air, and men looked at
one another's faces when they met, each wondering whether the
other was to be the victim of the fifth nameless tragedy.
Journalists sought in vain for their scrapbooks for materials
whereof to concoct reminiscent articles; and the morning paper
was unfolded in many a house with a feeling of awe; no man knew
when or where the next blow would light.
A short while after the last of these terrible events,
Austin came to see Mr. Villiers. He was curious to know whether
Villiers had succeeded in discovering any fresh traces of Mrs.
Herbert, either through Clarke or by other sources, and he asked
the question soon after he had sat down.
"No," said Villiers, "I wrote to Clarke, but he remains
obdurate, and I have tried other channels, but without any
result. I can't find out what became of Helen Vaughan after she
left Paul Street, but I think she must have gone abroad. But to
tell the truth, Austin, I haven't paid much attention to the
matter for the last few weeks; I knew poor Herries intimately,
and his terrible death has been a great shock to me, a great
"I can well believe it," answered Austin gravely, "you
know Argentine was a friend of mine. If I remember rightly, we
were speaking of him that day you came to my rooms."
"Yes; it was in connection with that house in Ashley
Street, Mrs. Beaumont's house. You said something about
Argentine's dining there."
"Quite so. Of course you know it was there Argentine
dined the night before--before his death."
"No, I had not heard that."
"Oh, yes; the name was kept out of the papers to spare
Mrs. Beaumont. Argentine was a great favourite of hers, and it
is said she was in a terrible state for sometime after."
A curious look came over Villiers' face; he seemed
undecided whether to speak or not. Austin began again.
"I never experienced such a feeling of horror as when I
read the account of Argentine's death. I didn't understand it
at the time, and I don't now. I knew him well, and it
completely passes my understanding for what possible cause he
-- or any of the others for the matter of that--could have
resolved in cold blood to die in such an awful manner. You
know how men babble away each other's characters in London, you
may be sure any buried scandal or hidden skeleton would have
been brought to light in such a case as this; but nothing of the
sort has taken place. As for the theory of mania, that is very
well, of course, for the coroner's jury, but everybody knows
that it's all nonsense. Suicidal mania is not small-pox."
Austin relapsed into gloomy silence. Villiers sat
silent, also, watching his friend. The expression of
indecision still fleeted across his face; he seemed as if
weighing his thoughts in the balance, and the considerations he
was resolving left him still silent. Austin tried to shake off
the remembrance of tragedies as hopeless and perplexed as the
labyrinth of Daedalus, and began to talk in an indifferent voice
of the more pleasant incidents and adventures of the season.
"That Mrs. Beaumont," he said, "of whom we were
speaking, is a great success; she has taken London almost by
storm. I met her the other night at Fulham's; she is really a
"You have met Mrs. Beaumont?"
"Yes; she had quite a court around her. She would be
called very handsome, I suppose, and yet there is something
about her face which I didn't like. The features are exquisite,
but the expression is strange. And all the time I was looking
at her, and afterwards, when I was going home, I had a curious
feeling that very expression was in some way or another
familiar to me."
"You must have seen her in the Row."
"No, I am sure I never set eyes on the woman before; it
is that which makes it puzzling. And to the best of my belief I
have never seen anyone like her; what I felt was a kind of dim
far-off memory, vague but persistent. The only sensation I can
compare it to, is that odd feeling one sometimes has in a dream,
when fantastic cities and wondrous lands and phantom personages
appear familiar and accustomed."
Villiers nodded and glanced aimlessly round the room,
possibly in search of something on which to turn the
conversation. His eyes fell on an old chest somewhat like that
in which the artist's strange legacy lay hid beneath a Gothic
"Have you written to the doctor about poor Meyrick?" he
"Yes; I wrote asking for full particulars as to his
illness and death. I don't expect to have an answer for
another three weeks or a month. I thought I might as well
inquire whether Meyrick knew an Englishwoman named Herbert, and
if so, whether the doctor could give me any information about
her. But it's very possible that Meyrick fell in with her at
New York, or Mexico, or San Francisco; I have no idea as to the
extent or direction of his travels."
"Yes, and it's very possible that the woman may have
more than one name."
"Exactly. I wish I had thought of asking you to lend
me the portrait of her which you possess. I might have enclosed
it in my letter to Dr. Matthews."
"So you might; that never occurred to me. We might
send it now. Hark! what are those boys calling?"
While the two men had been talking together a confused
noise of shouting had been gradually growing louder. The noise
rose from the eastward and swelled down Piccadilly, drawing
nearer and nearer, a very torrent of sound; surging up streets
usually quiet, and making every window a frame for a face,
curious or excited. The cries and voices came echoing up the
silent street where Villiers lived, growing more distinct as
they advanced, and, as Villiers spoke, an answer rang up from
"The West End Horrors; Another Awful Suicide; Full
Austin rushed down the stairs and bought a paper and
read out the paragraph to Villiers as the uproar in the street
rose and fell. The window was open and the air seemed full of
noise and terror.
"Another gentleman has fallen a victim to the terrible
epidemic of suicide which for the last month has prevailed in
the West End. Mr. Sidney Crashaw, of Stoke House, Fulham, and
King's Pomeroy, Devon, was found, after a prolonged search,
hanging dead from the branch of a tree in his garden at one
o'clock today. The deceased gentleman dined last night at the
Carlton Club and seemed in his usual health and spirits. He
left the club at about ten o'clock, and was seen walking
leisurely up St. James's Street a little later. Subsequent to
this his movements cannot be traced. On the discovery of the
body medical aid was at once summoned, but life had evidently
been long extinct. So far as is known, Mr. Crashaw had no
trouble or anxiety of any kind. This painful suicide, it will
be remembered, is the fifth of the kind in the last month. The
authorities at Scotland Yard are unable to suggest any
explanation of these terrible occurrences."
Austin put down the paper in mute horror.
"I shall leave London to-morrow," he said, "it is a
city of nightmares. How awful this is, Villiers!"
Mr. Villiers was sitting by the window quietly looking
out into the street. He had listened to the newspaper report
attentively, and the hint of indecision was no longer on his
"Wait a moment, Austin," he replied, "I have made up my
mind to mention a little matter that occurred last night. It
stated, I think, that Crashaw was last seen alive in St.
James's Street shortly after ten?"
"Yes, I think so. I will look again. Yes, you are
"Quite so. Well, I am in a position to contradict that
statement at all events. Crashaw was seen after that;
considerably later indeed."
"How do you know?"
"Because I happened to see Crashaw myself at about two
o'clock this morning."
"You saw Crashaw? You, Villiers?"
"Yes, I saw him quite distinctly; indeed, there were
but a few feet between us."
"Where, in Heaven's name, did you see him?"
"Not far from here. I saw him in Ashley Street. He
was just leaving a house."
"Did you notice what house it was?"
"Yes. It was Mrs. Beaumont's."
"Villiers! Think what you are saying; there must be
some mistake. How could Crashaw be in Mrs. Beaumont's house at
two o'clock in the morning? Surely, surely, you must have been
dreaming, Villiers; you were always rather fanciful."
"No; I was wide awake enough. Even if I had been
dreaming as you say, what I saw would have roused me
"What you saw? What did you see? Was there anything
strange about Crashaw? But I can't believe it; it is
"Well, if you like I will tell you what I saw, or if
you please, what I think I saw, and you can judge for yourself."
"Very good, Villiers."
The noise and clamour of the street had died away,
though now and then the sound of shouting still came from the
distance, and the dull, leaden silence seemed like the quiet
after an earthquake or a storm. Villiers turned from the window
and began speaking.
"I was at a house near Regent's Park last night, and
when I came away the fancy took me to walk home instead of
taking a hansom. It was a clear pleasant night enough, and
after a few minutes I had the streets pretty much to myself.
It's a curious thing, Austin, to be alone in London at night,
the gas-lamps stretching away in perspective, and the dead
silence, and then perhaps the rush and clatter of a hansom on
the stones, and the fire starting up under the horse's hoofs.
I walked along pretty briskly, for I was feeling a little tired
of being out in the night, and as the clocks were striking two
I turned down Ashley Street, which, you know, is on my way. It
was quieter than ever there, and the lamps were fewer;
altogether, it looked as dark and gloomy as a forest in winter.
I had done about half the length of the street when I heard a
door closed very softly, and naturally I looked up to see who
was abroad like myself at such an hour. As it happens, there
is a street lamp close to the house in question, and I saw a man
standing on the step. He had just shut the door and his face
was towards me, and I recognized Crashaw directly. I never knew
him to speak to, but I had often seen him, and I am positive
that I was not mistaken in my man. I looked into his face for a
moment, and then--I will confess the truth--I set off at a
good run, and kept it up till I was within my own door."
"Why? Because it made my blood run cold to see that
man's face. I could never have supposed that such an infernal
medley of passions could have glared out of any human eyes; I
almost fainted as I looked. I knew I had looked into the eyes
of a lost soul, Austin, the man's outward form remained, but all
hell was within it. Furious lust, and hate that was like fire,
and the loss of all hope and horror that seemed to shriek aloud
to the night, though his teeth were shut; and the utter
blackness of despair. I am sure that he did not see me; he saw
nothing that you or I can see, but what he saw I hope we never
shall. I do not know when he died; I suppose in an hour, or
perhaps two, but when I passed down Ashley Street and heard the
closing door, that man no longer belonged to this world; it was
a devil's face I looked upon."
There was an interval of silence in the room when
Villiers ceased speaking. The light was failing, and all the
tumult of an hour ago was quite hushed. Austin had bent his
head at the close of the story, and his hand covered his eyes.
"What can it mean?" he said at length.
"Who knows, Austin, who knows? It's a black business,
but I think we had better keep it to ourselves, for the present
at any rate. I will see if I cannot learn anything about that
house through private channels of information, and if I do light
upon anything I will let you know."
THE ENCOUNTER IN SOHO
Three weeks later Austin received a note from Villiers,
asking him to call either that afternoon or the next. He chose
the nearer date, and found Villiers sitting as usual by the
window, apparently lost in meditation on the drowsy traffic of
the street. There was a bamboo table by his side, a fantastic
thing, enriched with gilding and queer painted scenes, and on it
lay a little pile of papers arranged and docketed as neatly as
anything in Mr. Clarke's office.
"Well, Villiers, have you made any discoveries in the
last three weeks?"
"I think so; I have here one or two memoranda which
struck me as singular, and there is a statement to which I
shall call your attention."
"And these documents relate to Mrs. Beaumont? It was
really Crashaw whom you saw that night standing on the doorstep
of the house in Ashley Street?"
"As to that matter my belief remains unchanged, but
neither my inquiries nor their results have any special relation
to Crashaw. But my investigations have had a strange issue. I
have found out who Mrs. Beaumont is!"
"Who is she? In what way do you mean?"
"I mean that you and I know her better under another
"What name is that?"
"Herbert!" Austin repeated the word, dazed with
"Yes, Mrs. Herbert of Paul Street, Helen Vaughan of
earlier adventures unknown to me. You had reason to recognize
the expression of her face; when you go home look at the face
in Meyrick's book of horrors, and you will know the sources of
"And you have proof of this?"
"Yes, the best of proof; I have seen Mrs. Beaumont, or
shall we say Mrs. Herbert?"
"Where did you see her?"
"Hardly in a place where you would expect to see a lady
who lives in Ashley Street, Piccadilly. I saw her entering a
house in one of the meanest and most disreputable streets in
Soho. In fact, I had made an appointment, though not with her,
and she was precise to both time and place."
"All this seems very wonderful, but I cannot call it
incredible. You must remember, Villiers, that I have seen this
woman, in the ordinary adventure of London society, talking and
laughing, and sipping her coffee in a commonplace drawing-room
with commonplace people. But you know what you are saying."
"I do; I have not allowed myself to be led by surmises
or fancies. It was with no thought of finding Helen Vaughan
that I searched for Mrs. Beaumont in the dark waters of the
life of London, but such has been the issue."
"You must have been in strange places, Villiers."
"Yes, I have been in very strange places. It would
have been useless, you know, to go to Ashley Street, and ask
Mrs. Beaumont to give me a short sketch of her previous
history. No; assuming, as I had to assume, that her record was
not of the cleanest, it would be pretty certain that at some
previous time she must have moved in circles not quite so
refined as her present ones. If you see mud at the top of a
stream, you may be sure that it was once at the bottom. I went
to the bottom. I have always been fond of diving into Queer
Street for my amusement, and I found my knowledge of that
locality and its inhabitants very useful. It is, perhaps,
needless to say that my friends had never heard the name of
Beaumont, and as I had never seen the lady, and was quite
unable to describe her, I had to set to work in an indirect
way. The people there know me; I have been able to do some of
them a service now and again, so they made no difficulty about
giving their information; they were aware I had no
communication direct or indirect with Scotland Yard. I had to
cast out a good many lines, though, before I got what I wanted,
and when I landed the fish I did not for a moment suppose it
was my fish. But I listened to what I was told out of a
constitutional liking for useless information, and I found
myself in possession of a very curious story, though, as I
imagined, not the story I was looking for. It was to this
effect. Some five or six years ago, a woman named Raymond
suddenly made her appearance in the neighbourhood to which I am
referring. She was described to me as being quite young,
probably not more than seventeen or eighteen, very handsome,
and looking as if she came from the country. I should be wrong
in saying that she found her level in going to this particular
quarter, or associating with these people, for from what I was
told, I should think the worst den in London far too good for
her. The person from whom I got my information, as you may
suppose, no great Puritan, shuddered and grew sick in telling
me of the nameless infamies which were laid to her charge.
After living there for a year, or perhaps a little more, she
disappeared as suddenly as she came, and they saw nothing of
her till about the time of the Paul Street case. At first she
came to her old haunts only occasionally, then more frequently,
and finally took up her abode there as before, and remained for
six or eight months. It's of no use my going into details as
to the life that woman led; if you want particulars you can
look at Meyrick's legacy. Those designs were not drawn from
his imagination. She again disappeared, and the people of the
place saw nothing of her till a few months ago. My informant
told me that she had taken some rooms in a house which he
pointed out, and these rooms she was in the habit of visiting
two or three times a week and always at ten in the morning. I
was led to expect that one of these visits would be paid on a
certain day about a week ago, and I accordingly managed to be
on the look-out in company with my cicerone at a quarter to
ten, and the hour and the lady came with equal punctuality. My
friend and I were standing under an archway, a little way back
from the street, but she saw us, and gave me a glance that I
shall be long in forgetting. That look was quite enough for me;
I knew Miss Raymond to be Mrs. Herbert; as for Mrs. Beaumont
she had quite gone out of my head. She went into the house,
and I watched it till four o'clock, when she came out, and then
I followed her. It was a long chase, and I had to be very
careful to keep a long way in the background, and yet not lose
sight of the woman. She took me down to the Strand, and then
to Westminster, and then up St. James's Street, and along
Piccadilly. I felt queerish when I saw her turn up Ashley
Street; the thought that Mrs. Herbert was Mrs. Beaumont came
into my mind, but it seemed too impossible to be true. I
waited at the corner, keeping my eye on her all the time, and I
took particular care to note the house at which she stopped.
It was the house with the gay curtains, the home of flowers, the
house out of which Crashaw came the night he hanged himself in
his garden. I was just going away with my discovery, when I
saw an empty carriage come round and draw up in front of the
house, and I came to the conclusion that Mrs. Herbert was going
out for a drive, and I was right. There, as it happened, I met
a man I know, and we stood talking together a little distance
from the carriage-way, to which I had my back. We had not been
there for ten minutes when my friend took off his hat, and I
glanced round and saw the lady I had been following all day.
'Who is that?' I said, and his answer was 'Mrs. Beaumont; lives
in Ashley Street.' Of course there could be no doubt after
that. I don't know whether she saw me, but I don't think she
did. I went home at once, and, on consideration, I thought that
I had a sufficiently good case with which to go to Clarke."
"Why to Clarke?"
"Because I am sure that Clarke is in possession of
facts about this woman, facts of which I know nothing."
"Well, what then?"
Mr. Villiers leaned back in his chair and looked
reflectively at Austin for a moment before he answered:
"My idea was that Clarke and I should call on Mrs.
"You would never go into such a house as that? No, no,
Villiers, you cannot do it. Besides, consider; what result..."
"I will tell you soon. But I was going to say that my
information does not end here; it has been completed in an
"Look at this neat little packet of manuscript; it is
paginated, you see, and I have indulged in the civil coquetry
of a ribbon of red tape. It has almost a legal air, hasn't it?
Run your eye over it, Austin. It is an account of the
entertainment Mrs. Beaumont provided for her choicer guests.
The man who wrote this escaped with his life, but I do not
think he will live many years. The doctors tell him he must
have sustained some severe shock to the nerves."
Austin took the manuscript, but never read it. Opening
the neat pages at haphazard his eye was caught by a word and a
phrase that followed it; and, sick at heart, with white lips and
a cold sweat pouring like water from his temples, he flung the
"Take it away, Villiers, never speak of this again.
Are you made of stone, man? Why, the dread and horror of death
itself, the thoughts of the man who stands in the keen morning
air on the black platform, bound, the bell tolling in his ears,
and waits for the harsh rattle of the bolt, are as nothing
compared to this. I will not read it; I should never sleep
"Very good. I can fancy what you saw. Yes; it is
horrible enough; but after all, it is an old story, an old
mystery played in our day, and in dim London streets instead of
amidst the vineyards and the olive gardens. We know what
happened to those who chanced to meet the Great God Pan, and
those who are wise know that all symbols are symbols of
something, not of nothing. It was, indeed, an exquisite symbol
beneath which men long ago veiled their knowledge of the most
awful, most secret forces which lie at the heart of all things;
forces before which the souls of men must wither and die and
blacken, as their bodies blacken under the electric current.
Such forces cannot be named, cannot be spoken, cannot be
imagined except under a veil and a symbol, a symbol to the most
of us appearing a quaint, poetic fancy, to some a foolish tale.
But you and I, at all events, have known something of the
terror that may dwell in the secret place of life, manifested
under human flesh; that which is without form taking to itself
a form. Oh, Austin, how can it be? How is it that the very
sunlight does not turn to blackness before this thing, the hard
earth melt and boil beneath such a burden?"
Villiers was pacing up and down the room, and the beads
of sweat stood out on his forehead. Austin sat silent for a
while, but Villiers saw him make a sign upon his breast.
"I say again, Villiers, you will surely never enter
such a house as that? You would never pass out alive."
"Yes, Austin, I shall go out alive--I, and Clarke
What do you mean? You cannot, you would not dare..."
"Wait a moment. The air was very pleasant and fresh
this morning; there was a breeze blowing, even through this dull
street, and I thought I would take a walk. Piccadilly stretched
before me a clear, bright vista, and the sun flashed on the
carriages and on the quivering leaves in the park. It was a
joyous morning, and men and women looked at the sky and smiled
as they went about their work or their pleasure, and the wind
blew as blithely as upon the meadows and the scented gorse. But
somehow or other I got out of the bustle and the gaiety, and
found myself walking slowly along a quiet, dull street, where
there seemed to be no sunshine and no air, and where the few
foot-passengers loitered as they walked, and hung indecisively
about corners and archways. I walked along, hardly knowing
where I was going or what I did there, but feeling impelled, as
one sometimes is, to explore still further, with a vague idea of
reaching some unknown goal. Thus I forged up the street, noting
the small traffic of the milk-shop, and wondering at the
incongruous medley of penny pipes, black tobacco, sweets,
newspapers, and comic songs which here and there jostled one
another in the short compass of a single window. I think it was
a cold shudder that suddenly passed through me that first told
me that I had found what I wanted. I looked up from the
pavement and stopped before a dusty shop, above which the
lettering had faded, where the red bricks of two hundred years
ago had grimed to black; where the windows had gathered to
themselves the dust of winters innumerable. I saw what I
required; but I think it was five minutes before I had steadied
myself and could walk in and ask for it in a cool voice and with
a calm face. I think there must even then have been a tremor in
my words, for the old man who came out of the back parlour, and
fumbled slowly amongst his goods, looked oddly at me as he tied
the parcel. I paid what he asked, and stood leaning by the
counter, with a strange reluctance to take up my goods and go.
I asked about the business, and learnt that trade was bad and
the profits cut down sadly; but then the street was not what it
was before traffic had been diverted, but that was done forty
years ago, 'just before my father died,' he said. I got away at
last, and walked along sharply; it was a dismal street indeed,
and I was glad to return to the bustle and the noise. Would you
like to see my purchase?"
Austin said nothing, but nodded his head slightly; he
still looked white and sick. Villiers pulled out a drawer in
the bamboo table, and showed Austin a long coil of cord, hard
and new; and at one end was a running noose.
"It is the best hempen cord," said Villiers, "just as
it used to be made for the old trade, the man told me. Not an
inch of jute from end to end."
Austin set his teeth hard, and stared at Villiers,
growing whiter as he looked.
"You would not do it," he murmured at last. "You would
not have blood on your hands. My God!" he exclaimed, with
sudden vehemence, "you cannot mean this, Villiers, that you will
make yourself a hangman?"
"No. I shall offer a choice, and leave Helen Vaughan
alone with this cord in a locked room for fifteen minutes. If
when we go in it is not done, I shall call the nearest
policeman. That is all."
"I must go now. I cannot stay here any longer; I
cannot bear this. Good-night."
The door shut, but in a moment it was open again, and
Austin stood, white and ghastly, in the entrance.
"I was forgetting," he said, "that I too have something
to tell. I have received a letter from Dr. Harding of Buenos
Ayres. He says that he attended Meyrick for three weeks before
"And does he say what carried him off in the prime of
life? It was not fever?"
"No, it was not fever. According to the doctor, it was
an utter collapse of the whole system, probably caused by some
severe shock. But he states that the patient would tell him
nothing, and that he was consequently at some disadvantage in
treating the case."
"Is there anything more?"
"Yes. Dr. Harding ends his letter by saying: 'I think
this is all the information I can give you about your poor
friend. He had not been long in Buenos Ayres, and knew scarcely
any one, with the exception of a person who did not bear the
best of characters, and has since left--a Mrs. Vaughan.'"
[Amongst the papers of the well-known physician, Dr.
Robert Matheson, of Ashley Street, Piccadilly, who died
suddenly, of apoplectic seizure, at the beginning of 1892, a
leaf of manuscript paper was found, covered with pencil
jottings. These notes were in Latin, much abbreviated, and had
evidently been made in great haste. The MS. was only
deciphered with difficulty, and some words have up to the
present time evaded all the efforts of the expert employed.
The date, "XXV Jul. 1888," is written on the right-hand
corner of the MS. The following is a translation of Dr.
"Whether science would benefit by these brief notes if
they could be published, I do not know, but rather doubt. But
certainly I shall never take the responsibility of publishing or
divulging one word of what is here written, not only on account
of my oath given freely to those two persons who were present,
but also because the details are too abominable. It is probably
that, upon mature consideration, and after weighting the good
and evil, I shall one day destroy this paper, or at least leave
it under seal to my friend D., trusting in his discretion, to
use it or to burn it, as he may think fit.
"As was befitting, I did all that my knowledge
suggested to make sure that I was suffering under no delusion.
At first astounded, I could hardly think, but in a minute's time
I was sure that my pulse was steady and regular, and that I was
in my real and true senses. I then fixed my eyes quietly on
what was before me.
"Though horror and revolting nausea rose up within me,
and an odour of corruption choked my breath, I remained firm.
I was then privileged or accursed, I dare not say which, to see
that which was on the bed, lying there black like ink,
transformed before my eyes. The skin, and the flesh, and the
muscles, and the bones, and the firm structure of the human
body that I had thought to be unchangeable, and permanent as
adamant, began to melt and dissolve.
"I know that the body may be separated into its
elements by external agencies, but I should have refused to
believe what I saw. For here there was some internal force, of
which I knew nothing, that caused dissolution and change.
"Here too was all the work by which man had been made
repeated before my eyes. I saw the form waver from sex to sex,
dividing itself from itself, and then again reunited. Then I
saw the body descend to the beasts whence it ascended, and that
which was on the heights go down to the depths, even to the
abyss of all being. The principle of life, which makes
organism, always remained, while the outward form changed.
"The light within the room had turned to blackness, not
the darkness of night, in which objects are seen dimly, for I
could see clearly and without difficulty. But it was the
negation of light; objects were presented to my eyes, if I may
say so, without any medium, in such a manner that if there had
been a prism in the room I should have seen no colours
represented in it.
"I watched, and at last I saw nothing but a substance
as jelly. Then the ladder was ascended again... [here the MS.
is illegible] ...for one instance I saw a Form, shaped in
dimness before me, which I will not farther describe. But the
symbol of this form may be seen in ancient sculptures, and in
paintings which survived beneath the lava, too foul to be spoken
of... as a horrible and unspeakable shape, neither man nor
beast, was changed into human form, there came finally death.
"I who saw all this, not without great horror and
loathing of soul, here write my name, declaring all that I have
set on this paper to be true.
"ROBERT MATHESON, Med. Dr."
* * *
...Such, Raymond, is the story of what I know and what
I have seen. The burden of it was too heavy for me to bear
alone, and yet I could tell it to none but you. Villiers, who
was with me at the last, knows nothing of that awful secret of
the wood, of how what we both saw die, lay upon the smooth,
sweet turf amidst the summer flowers, half in sun and half in
shadow, and holding the girl Rachel's hand, called and summoned
those companions, and shaped in solid form, upon the earth we
tread upon, the horror which we can but hint at, which we can
only name under a figure. I would not tell Villiers of this,
nor of that resemblance, which struck me as with a blow upon my
heart, when I saw the portrait, which filled the cup of terror
at the end. What this can mean I dare not guess. I know that
what I saw perish was not Mary, and yet in the last agony Mary's
eyes looked into mine. Whether there can be any one who can
show the last link in this chain of awful mystery, I do not
know, but if there be any one who can do this, you, Raymond, are
the man. And if you know the secret, it rests with you to tell
it or not, as you please.
I am writing this letter to you immediately on my
getting back to town. I have been in the country for the last
few days; perhaps you may be able to guess in which part. While
the horror and wonder of London was at its height--for "Mrs.
Beaumont," as I have told you, was well known in society--I
wrote to my friend Dr. Phillips, giving some brief outline, or
rather hint, of what happened, and asking him to tell me the
name of the village where the events he had related to me
occurred. He gave me the name, as he said with the less
hesitation, because Rachel's father and mother were dead, and
the rest of the family had gone to a relative in the State of
Washington six months before. The parents, he said, had
undoubtedly died of grief and horror caused by the terrible
death of their daughter, and by what had gone before that death.
On the evening of the day which I received Phillips'letter I was
at Caermaen, and standing beneath the mouldering Roman walls,
white with the winters of seventeen hundred years, I looked over
the meadow where once had stood the older temple of the "God of
the Deeps," and saw a house gleaming in the sunlight. It was
the house where Helen had lived. I stayed at Caermaen for
several days. The people of the place, I found, knew little and
had guessed less. Those whom I spoke to on the matter seemed
surprised that an antiquarian (as I professed myself to be)
should trouble about a village tragedy, of which they gave a
very commonplace version, and, as you may imagine, I told
nothing of what I knew. Most of my time was spent in the great
wood that rises just above the village and climbs the hillside,
and goes down to the river in the valley; such another long
lovely valley, Raymond, as that on which we looked one summer
night, walking to and fro before your house. For many an hour I
strayed through the maze of the forest, turning now to right and
now to left, pacing slowly down long alleys of undergrowth,
shadowy and chill, even under the midday sun, and halting
beneath great oaks; lying on the short turf of a clearing where
the faint sweet scent of wild roses came to me on the wind and
mixed with the heavy perfume of the elder, whose mingled odour
is like the odour of the room of the dead, a vapour of incense
and corruption. I stood at the edges of the wood, gazing at all
the pomp and procession of the foxgloves towering amidst the
bracken and shining red in the broad sunshine, and beyond them
into deep thickets of close undergrowth where springs boil up
from the rock and nourish the water-weeds, dank and evil. But
in all my wanderings I avoided one part of the wood; it was not
till yesterday that I climbed to the summit of the hill, and
stood upon the ancient Roman road that threads the highest ridge
of the wood. Here they had walked, Helen and Rachel, along this
quiet causeway, upon the pavement of green turf, shut in on
either side by high banks of red earth, and tall hedges of
shining beech, and here I followed in their steps, looking out,
now and again, through partings in the boughs, and seeing on one
side the sweep of the wood stretching far to right and left,
and sinking into the broad level, and beyond, the yellow sea,
and the land over the sea. On the other side was the valley and
the river and hill following hill as wave on wave, and wood and
meadow, and cornfield, and white houses gleaming, and a great
wall of mountain, and far blue peaks in the north. And so at
least I came to the place. The track went up a gentle slope,
and widened out into an open space with a wall of thick
undergrowth around it, and then, narrowing again, passed on into
the distance and the faint blue mist of summer heat. And into
this pleasant summer glade Rachel passed a girl, and left it,
who shall say what? I did not stay long there.
In a small town near Caermaen there is a museum,
containing for the most part Roman remains which have been
found in the neighbourhood at various times. On the day after
my arrival in Caermaen I walked over to the town in question,
and took the opportunity of inspecting the museum. After I had
seen most of the sculptured stones, the coffins, rings, coins,
and fragments of tessellated pavement which the place contains,
I was shown a small square pillar of white stone, which had been
recently discovered in the wood of which I have been speaking,
and, as I found on inquiry, in that open space where the Roman
road broadens out. On one side of the pillar was an
inscription, of which I took a note. Some of the letters have
been defaced, but I do not think there can be any doubt as to
those which I supply. The inscription is as follows:
"To the great god Nodens (the god of the Great Deep or
Abyss) Flavius Senilis has erected this pillar on account of the
marriage which he saw beneath the shade."
The custodian of the museum informed me that local
antiquaries were much puzzled, not by the inscription, or by
any difficulty in translating it, but as to the circumstance or
rite to which allusion is made.
* * *
...And now, my dear Clarke, as to what you tell me
about Helen Vaughan, whom you say you saw die under
circumstances of the utmost and almost incredible horror. I
was interested in your account, but a good deal, nay all, of
what you told me I knew already. I can understand the strange
likeness you remarked in both the portrait and in the actual
face; you have seen Helen's mother. You remember that still
summer night so many years ago, when I talked to you of the
world beyond the shadows, and of the god Pan. You remember
Mary. She was the mother of Helen Vaughan, who was born nine
months after that night.
Mary never recovered her reason. She lay, as you saw
her, all the while upon her bed, and a few days after the child
was born she died. I fancy that just at the last she knew me; I
was standing by the bed, and the old look came into her eyes for
a second, and then she shuddered and groaned and died. It was
an ill work I did that night when you were present; I broke open
the door of the house of life, without knowing or caring what
might pass forth or enter in. I recollect your telling me at
the time, sharply enough, and rightly too, in one sense, that I
had ruined the reason of a human being by a foolish experiment,
based on an absurd theory. You did well to blame me, but my
theory was not all absurdity. What I said Mary would see she
saw, but I forgot that no human eyes can look on such a sight
with impunity. And I forgot, as I have just said, that when the
house of life is thus thrown open, there may enter in that for
which we have no name, and human flesh may become the veil of a
horror one dare not express. I played with energies which I did
not understand, you have seen the ending of it. Helen Vaughan
did well to bind the cord about her neck and die, though the
death was horrible. The blackened face, the hideous form upon
the bed, changing and melting before your eyes from woman to
man, from man to beast, and from beast to worse than beast, all
the strange horror that you witness, surprises me but little.
What you say the doctor whom you sent for saw and shuddered at I
noticed long ago; I knew what I had done the moment the child
was born, and when it was scarcely five years old I surprised
it, not once or twice but several times with a playmate, you may
guess of what kind. It was for me a constant, an incarnate
horror, and after a few years I felt I could bear it no more,
and I sent Helen Vaughan away. You know now what frightened the
boy in the wood. The rest of the strange story, and all else
that you tell me, as discovered by your friend, I have contrived
to learn from time to time, almost to the last chapter. And now
Helen is with her companions...
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