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A Psychical Invasion





I


"And what is it makes you think I could be of use in this particular
case?" asked Dr. John Silence, looking across somewhat sceptically at
the Swedish lady in the chair facing him.

"Your sympathetic heart and your knowledge of occultism--"

"Oh, please--that dreadful word!" he interrupted, holding up a finger
with a gesture of impatience.

"Well, then," she laughed, "your wonderful clairvoyant gift and your
trained psychic knowledge of the processes by which a personality may be
disintegrated and destroyed--these strange studies you've been
experimenting with all these years--"

"If it's only a case of multiple personality I must really cry off,"
interrupted the doctor again hastily, a bored expression in his eyes.

"It's not that; now, please, be serious, for I want your help," she
said; "and if I choose my words poorly you must be patient with my
ignorance. The case I know will interest you, and no one else could deal
with it so well. In fact, no ordinary professional man could deal with
it at all, for I know of no treatment or medicine that can restore a
lost sense of humour!"

"You begin to interest me with your 'case,'" he replied, and made
himself comfortable to listen.

Mrs. Sivendson drew a sigh of contentment as she watched him go to the
tube and heard him tell the servant he was not to be disturbed.

"I believe you have read my thoughts already," she said; "your intuitive
knowledge of what goes on in other people's minds is positively
uncanny."

Her friend shook his head and smiled as he drew his chair up to a
convenient position and prepared to listen attentively to what she had
to say. He closed his eyes, as he always did when he wished to absorb
the real meaning of a recital that might be inadequately expressed, for
by this method he found it easier to set himself in tune with the living
thoughts that lay behind the broken words.

By his friends John Silence was regarded as an eccentric, because he was
rich by accident, and by choice--a doctor. That a man of independent
means should devote his time to doctoring, chiefly doctoring folk who
could not pay, passed their comprehension entirely. The native nobility
of a soul whose first desire was to help those who could not help
themselves, puzzled them. After that, it irritated them, and, greatly to
his own satisfaction, they left him to his own devices.

Dr. Silence was a free-lance, though, among doctors, having neither
consulting-room, book-keeper, nor professional manner. He took no fees,
being at heart a genuine philanthropist, yet at the same time did no
harm to his fellow-practitioners, because he only accepted
unremunerative cases, and cases that interested him for some very
special reason. He argued that the rich could pay, and the very poor
could avail themselves of organized charity, but that a very large class
of ill-paid, self-respecting workers, often followers of the arts, could
not afford the price of a week's comforts merely to be told to travel.
And it was these he desired to help; cases often requiring special and
patient study--things no doctor can give for a guinea, and that no one
would dream of expecting him to give.

But there was another side to his personality and practice, and one with
which we are now more directly concerned; for the cases that especially
appealed to him were of no ordinary kind, but rather of that intangible,
elusive, and difficult nature best described as psychical afflictions;
and, though he would have been the last person himself to approve of the
title, it was beyond question that he was known more or less generally
as the "Psychic Doctor."

In order to grapple with cases of this peculiar kind, he had submitted
himself to a long and severe training, at once physical, mental, and
spiritual. What precisely this training had been, or where undergone, no
one seemed to know,--for he never spoke of it, as, indeed, he betrayed
no single other characteristic of the charlatan,--but the fact that it
had involved a total disappearance from the world for five years, and
that after he returned and began his singular practice no one ever
dreamed of applying to him the so easily acquired epithet of quack,
spoke much for the seriousness of his strange quest and also for the
genuineness of his attainments.

For the modern psychical researcher he felt the calm tolerance of the
"man who knows." There was a trace of pity in his voice--contempt he
never showed--when he spoke of their methods.

"This classification of results is uninspired work at best," he said
once to me, when I had been his confidential assistant for some years.
"It leads nowhere, and after a hundred years will lead nowhere. It is
playing with the wrong end of a rather dangerous toy. Far better, it
would be, to examine the causes, and then the results would so easily
slip into place and explain themselves. For the sources are accessible,
and open to all who have the courage to lead the life that alone makes
practical investigation safe and possible."

And towards the question of clairvoyance, too, his attitude was
significantly sane, for he knew how extremely rare the genuine power
was, and that what is commonly called clairvoyance is nothing more than
a keen power of visualizing.

"It connotes a slightly increased sensibility, nothing more," he would
say. "The true clairvoyant deplores his power, recognizing that it adds
a new horror to life, and is in the nature of an affliction. And you
will find this always to be the real test."

Thus it was that John Silence, this singularly developed doctor, was
able to select his cases with a clear knowledge of the difference
between mere hysterical delusion and the kind of psychical affliction
that claimed his special powers. It was never necessary for him to
resort to the cheap mysteries of divination; for, as I have heard him
observe, after the solution of some peculiarly intricate problem--

"Systems of divination, from geomancy down to reading by tea-leaves, are
merely so many methods of obscuring the outer vision, in order that the
inner vision may become open. Once the method is mastered, no system is
necessary at all."

And the words were significant of the methods of this remarkable man,
the keynote of whose power lay, perhaps, more than anything else, in the
knowledge, first, that thought can act at a distance, and, secondly,
that thought is dynamic and can accomplish material results.

"Learn how to think," he would have expressed it, "and you have
learned to tap power at its source."

To look at--he was now past forty--he was sparely built, with speaking
brown eyes in which shone the light of knowledge and self-confidence,
while at the same time they made one think of that wondrous gentleness
seen most often in the eyes of animals. A close beard concealed the
mouth without disguising the grim determination of lips and jaw, and the
face somehow conveyed an impression of transparency, almost of light, so
delicately were the features refined away. On the fine forehead was that
indefinable touch of peace that comes from identifying the mind with
what is permanent in the soul, and letting the impermanent slip by
without power to wound or distress; while, from his manner,--so gentle,
quiet, sympathetic,--few could have guessed the strength of purpose that
burned within like a great flame.

"I think I should describe it as a psychical case," continued the
Swedish lady, obviously trying to explain herself very intelligently,
"and just the kind you like. I mean a case where the cause is hidden
deep down in some spiritual distress, and--"

"But the symptoms first, please, my dear Svenska," he interrupted, with
a strangely compelling seriousness of manner, "and your deductions
afterwards."

She turned round sharply on the edge of her chair and looked him in the
face, lowering her voice to prevent her emotion betraying itself too
obviously.

"In my opinion there's only one symptom," she half whispered, as though
telling something disagreeable--"fear--simply fear."

"Physical fear?"

"I think not; though how can I say? I think it's a horror in the
psychical region. It's no ordinary delusion; the man is quite sane; but
he lives in mortal terror of something--"

"I don't know what you mean by his 'psychical region,'" said the doctor,
with a smile; "though I suppose you wish me to understand that his
spiritual, and not his mental, processes are affected. Anyhow, try and
tell me briefly and pointedly what you know about the man, his symptoms,
his need for help, my peculiar help, that is, and all that seems vital
in the case. I promise to listen devotedly."

"I am trying," she continued earnestly, "but must do so in my own words
and trust to your intelligence to disentangle as I go along. He is a
young author, and lives in a tiny house off Putney Heath somewhere. He
writes humorous stories--quite a genre of his own: Pender--you must have
heard the name--Felix Pender? Oh, the man had a great gift, and married
on the strength of it; his future seemed assured. I say 'had,' for quite
suddenly his talent utterly failed him. Worse, it became transformed
into its opposite. He can no longer write a line in the old way that was
bringing him success--"

Dr. Silence opened his eyes for a second and looked at her.

"He still writes, then? The force has not gone?" he asked briefly, and
then closed his eyes again to listen.

"He works like a fury," she went on, "but produces nothing"--she
hesitated a moment--"nothing that he can use or sell. His earnings have
practically ceased, and he makes a precarious living by book-reviewing
and odd jobs--very odd, some of them. Yet, I am certain his talent has
not really deserted him finally, but is merely--"

Again Mrs. Sivendson hesitated for the appropriate word.

"In abeyance," he suggested, without opening his eyes.

"Obliterated," she went on, after a moment to weigh the word, "merely
obliterated by something else--"

"By some one else?"

"I wish I knew. All I can say is that he is haunted, and temporarily his
sense of humour is shrouded--gone--replaced by something dreadful that
writes other things. Unless something competent is done, he will simply
starve to death. Yet he is afraid to go to a doctor for fear of being
pronounced insane; and, anyhow, a man can hardly ask a doctor to take a
guinea to restore a vanished sense of humour, can he?"

"Has he tried any one at all--?"

"Not doctors yet. He tried some clergymen and religious people; but they
know so little and have so little intelligent sympathy. And most of
them are so busy balancing on their own little pedestals--"

John Silence stopped her tirade with a gesture.

"And how is it that you know so much about him?" he asked gently.

"I know Mrs. Pender well--I knew her before she married him--"

"And is she a cause, perhaps?"

"Not in the least. She is devoted; a woman very well educated, though
without being really intelligent, and with so little sense of humour
herself that she always laughs at the wrong places. But she has nothing
to do with the cause of his distress; and, indeed, has chiefly guessed
it from observing him, rather than from what little he has told her.
And he, you know, is a really lovable fellow, hard-working,
patient--altogether worth saving."

Dr. Silence opened his eyes and went over to ring for tea. He did not
know very much more about the case of the humorist than when he first
sat down to listen; but he realized that no amount of words from his
Swedish friend would help to reveal the real facts. A personal interview
with the author himself could alone do that.

"All humorists are worth saving," he said with a smile, as she poured
out tea. "We can't afford to lose a single one in these strenuous days.
I will go and see your friend at the first opportunity."

She thanked him elaborately, effusively, with many words, and he, with
much difficulty, kept the conversation thenceforward strictly to the
teapot.

And, as a result of this conversation, and a little more he had gathered
by means best known to himself and his secretary, he was whizzing in his
motor-car one afternoon a few days later up the Putney Hill to have his
first interview with Felix Pender, the humorous writer who was the
victim of some mysterious malady in his "psychical region" that had
obliterated his sense of the comic and threatened to wreck his life and
destroy his talent. And his desire to help was probably of equal
strength with his desire to know and to investigate.

The motor stopped with a deep purring sound, as though a great black
panther lay concealed within its hood, and the doctor--the "psychic
doctor," as he was sometimes called--stepped out through the gathering
fog, and walked across the tiny garden that held a blackened fir tree
and a stunted laurel shrubbery. The house was very small, and it was
some time before any one answered the bell. Then, suddenly, a light
appeared in the hall, and he saw a pretty little woman standing on the
top step begging him to come in. She was dressed in grey, and the
gaslight fell on a mass of deliberately brushed light hair. Stuffed,
dusty birds, and a shabby array of African spears, hung on the wall
behind her. A hat-rack, with a bronze plate full of very large cards,
led his eye swiftly to a dark staircase beyond. Mrs. Pender had round
eyes like a child's, and she greeted him with an effusiveness that
barely concealed her emotion, yet strove to appear naturally cordial.
Evidently she had been looking out for his arrival, and had outrun the
servant girl. She was a little breathless.

"I hope you've not been kept waiting--I think it's most good of you to
come--" she began, and then stopped sharp when she saw his face in the
gaslight. There was something in Dr. Silence's look that did not
encourage mere talk. He was in earnest now, if ever man was.

"Good evening, Mrs. Pender," he said, with a quiet smile that won
confidence, yet deprecated unnecessary words, "the fog delayed me a
little. I am glad to see you."

They went into a dingy sitting-room at the back of the house, neatly
furnished but depressing. Books stood in a row upon the mantelpiece. The
fire had evidently just been lit. It smoked in great puffs into the
room.

"Mrs. Sivendson said she thought you might be able to come," ventured
the little woman again, looking up engagingly into his face and
betraying anxiety and eagerness in every gesture. "But I hardly dared to
believe it. I think it is really too good of you. My husband's case is
so peculiar that--well, you know, I am quite sure any ordinary doctor
would say at once the asylum--"

"Isn't he in, then?" asked Dr. Silence gently.

"In the asylum?" she gasped. "Oh dear, no--not yet!"

"In the house, I meant," he laughed.

She gave a great sigh.

"He'll be back any minute now," she replied, obviously relieved to see
him laugh; "but the fact is, we didn't expect you so early--I mean, my
husband hardly thought you would come at all."

"I am always delighted to come--when I am really wanted, and can be of
help," he said quickly; "and, perhaps, it's all for the best that your
husband is out, for now that we are alone you can tell me something
about his difficulties. So far, you know, I have heard very little."

Her voice trembled as she thanked him, and when he came and took a chair
close beside her she actually had difficulty in finding words with which
to begin.

"In the first place," she began timidly, and then continuing with a
nervous incoherent rush of words, "he will be simply delighted that
you've really come, because he said you were the only person he would
consent to see at all--the only doctor, I mean. But, of course, he
doesn't know how frightened I am, or how much I have noticed. He
pretends with me that it's just a nervous breakdown, and I'm sure he
doesn't realize all the odd things I've noticed him doing. But the main
thing, I suppose--"

"Yes, the main thing, Mrs. Pender," he said encouragingly, noticing her
hesitation.

"--is that he thinks we are not alone in the house. That's the chief
thing."

"Tell me more facts--just facts."

"It began last summer when I came back from Ireland; he had been here
alone for six weeks, and I thought him looking tired and queer--ragged
and scattered about the face, if you know what I mean, and his manner
worn out. He said he had been writing hard, but his inspiration had
somehow failed him, and he was dissatisfied with his work. His sense of
humour was leaving him, or changing into something else, he said. There
was something in the house, he declared, that"--she emphasized the
words--"prevented his feeling funny."

"Something in the house that prevented his feeling funny," repeated the
doctor. "Ah, now we're getting to the heart of it!"

"Yes," she resumed vaguely, "that's what he kept saying."

"And what was it he did that you thought strange?" he asked
sympathetically. "Be brief, or he may be here before you finish."

"Very small things, but significant it seemed to me. He changed his
workroom from the library, as we call it, to the sitting-room. He said
all his characters became wrong and terrible in the library; they
altered, so that he felt like writing tragedies--vile, debased
tragedies, the tragedies of broken souls. But now he says the same of
the smoking-room, and he's gone back to the library."

"Ah!"

"You see, there's so little I can tell you," she went on, with
increasing speed and countless gestures. "I mean it's only very small
things he does and says that are queer. What frightens me is that he
assumes there is some one else in the house all the time--some one I
never see. He does not actually say so, but on the stairs I've seen him
standing aside to let some one pass; I've seen him open a door to let
some one in or out; and often in our bedroom he puts chairs about as
though for some one else to sit in. Oh--oh yes, and once or twice," she
cried--"once or twice--"

She paused, and looked about her with a startled air.

"Yes?"

"Once or twice," she resumed hurriedly, as though she heard a sound that
alarmed her, "I've heard him running--coming in and out of the rooms
breathless as if something were after him--"

The door opened while she was still speaking, cutting her words off in
the middle, and a man came into the room. He was dark and
clean-shaven sallow rather, with the eyes of imagination, and dark hair
growing scantily about the temples. He was dressed in a shabby tweed
suit, and wore an untidy flannel collar at the neck. The dominant
expression of his face was startled--hunted; an expression that might
any moment leap into the dreadful stare of terror and announce a total
loss of self-control.

The moment he saw his visitor a smile spread over his worn features, and
he advanced to shake hands.

"I hoped you would come; Mrs. Sivendson said you might be able to find
time," he said simply. His voice was thin and reedy. "I am very glad to
see you, Dr. Silence. It is 'Doctor,' is it not?"

"Well, I am entitled to the description," laughed the other, "but I
rarely get it. You know, I do not practice as a regular thing; that is,
I only take cases that specially interest me, or--"

He did not finish the sentence, for the men exchanged a glance of
sympathy that rendered it unnecessary.

"I have heard of your great kindness."

"It's my hobby," said the other quickly, "and my privilege."

"I trust you will still think so when you have heard what I have to tell
you," continued the author, a little wearily. He led the way across the
hall into the little smoking-room where they could talk freely and
undisturbed.

In the smoking-room, the door shut and privacy about them, Pender's
attitude changed somewhat, and his manner became very grave. The doctor
sat opposite, where he could watch his face. Already, he saw, it looked
more haggard. Evidently it cost him much to refer to his trouble at all.

"What I have is, in my belief, a profound spiritual affliction," he
began quite bluntly, looking straight into the other's eyes.

"I saw that at once," Dr. Silence said.

"Yes, you saw that, of course; my atmosphere must convey that much to
any one with psychic perceptions. Besides which, I feel sure from all I
have heard, that you are really a soul-doctor, are you not, more than a
healer merely of the body?"

"You think of me too highly," returned the other; "though I prefer
cases, as you know, in which the spirit is disturbed first, the body
afterwards."

"I understand, yes. Well, I have experienced a curious disturbance
in--not in my physical region primarily. I mean my nerves are all
right, and my body is all right. I have no delusions exactly, but my
spirit is tortured by a calamitous fear which first came upon me in a
strange manner."

John Silence leaned forward a moment and took the speaker's hand and
held it in his own for a few brief seconds, closing his eyes as he did
so. He was not feeling his pulse, or doing any of the things that
doctors ordinarily do; he was merely absorbing into himself the main
note of the man's mental condition, so as to get completely his own
point of view, and thus be able to treat his case with true sympathy. A
very close observer might perhaps have noticed that a slight tremor ran
through his frame after he had held the hand for a few seconds.

"Tell me quite frankly, Mr. Pender," he said soothingly, releasing the
hand, and with deep attention in his manner, "tell me all the steps that
led to the beginning of this invasion. I mean tell me what the
particular drug was, and why you took it, and how it affected you--"

"Then you know it began with a drug!" cried the author, with undisguised
astonishment.

"I only know from what I observe in you, and in its effect upon myself.
You are in a surprising psychical condition. Certain portions of your
atmosphere are vibrating at a far greater rate than others. This is the
effect of a drug, but of no ordinary drug. Allow me to finish, please.
If the higher rate of vibration spreads all over, you will become, of
course, permanently cognisant of a much larger world than the one you
know normally. If, on the other hand, the rapid portion sinks back to
the usual rate, you will lose these occasional increased perceptions you
now have."

"You amaze me!" exclaimed the author; "for your words exactly describe
what I have been feeling--"

"I mention this only in passing, and to give you confidence before you
approach the account of your real affliction," continued the doctor.
"All perception, as you know, is the result of vibrations; and
clairvoyance simply means becoming sensitive to an increased scale of
vibrations. The awakening of the inner senses we hear so much about
means no more than that. Your partial clairvoyance is easily explained.
The only thing that puzzles me is how you managed to procure the drug,
for it is not easy to get in pure form, and no adulterated tincture
could have given you the terrific impetus I see you have acquired. But,
please proceed now and tell me your story in your own way."

"This Cannabis indica," the author went on, "came into my possession
last autumn while my wife was away. I need not explain how I got it, for
that has no importance; but it was the genuine fluid extract, and I
could not resist the temptation to make an experiment. One of its
effects, as you know, is to induce torrential laughter--"

"Yes; sometimes."

"--I am a writer of humorous tales, and I wished to increase my own
sense of laughter--to see the ludicrous from an abnormal point of view.
I wished to study it a bit, if possible, and--"

"Tell me!"

"I took an experimental dose. I starved for six hours to hasten the
effect, locked myself into this room, and gave orders not to be
disturbed. Then I swallowed the stuff and waited."

"And the effect?"

"I waited one hour, two, three, four, five hours. Nothing happened. No
laughter came, but only a great weariness instead. Nothing in the room
or in my thoughts came within a hundred miles of a humorous aspect."

"Always a most uncertain drug," interrupted the doctor. "We make a very
small use of it on that account."

"At two o'clock in the morning I felt so hungry and tired that I decided
to give up the experiment and wait no longer. I drank some milk and went
upstairs to bed. I felt flat and disappointed. I fell asleep at once and
must have slept for about an hour, when I awoke suddenly with a great
noise in my ears. It was the noise of my own laughter! I was simply
shaking with merriment. At first I was bewildered and thought I had been
laughing in dreams, but a moment later I remembered the drug, and was
delighted to think that after all I had got an effect. It had been
working all along, only I had miscalculated the time. The only
unpleasant thing then was an odd feeling that I had not waked
naturally, but had been wakened by some one else--deliberately. This
came to me as a certainty in the middle of my noisy laughter and
distressed me."

"Any impression who it could have been?" asked the doctor, now listening
with close attention to every word, very much on the alert.

Pender hesitated and tried to smile. He brushed his hair from his
forehead with a nervous gesture.

"You must tell me all your impressions, even your fancies; they are
quite as important as your certainties."

"I had a vague idea that it was some one connected with my forgotten
dream, some one who had been at me in my sleep, some one of great
strength and great ability--or great force--quite an unusual
personality--and, I was certain, too--a woman."

"A good woman?" asked John Silence quietly.

Pender started a little at the question and his sallow face flushed; it
seemed to surprise him. But he shook his head quickly with an
indefinable look of horror.

"Evil," he answered briefly, "appallingly evil, and yet mingled with the
sheer wickedness of it was also a certain perverseness--the perversity
of the unbalanced mind."

He hesitated a moment and looked up sharply at his interlocutor. A shade
of suspicion showed itself in his eyes.

"No," laughed the doctor, "you need not fear that I'm merely humouring
you, or think you mad. Far from it. Your story interests me exceedingly
and you furnish me unconsciously with a number of clues as you tell it.
You see, I possess some knowledge of my own as to these psychic byways."

"I was shaking with such violent laughter," continued the narrator,
reassured in a moment, "though with no clear idea what was amusing me,
that I had the greatest difficulty in getting up for the matches, and
was afraid I should frighten the servants overhead with my explosions.
When the gas was lit I found the room empty, of course, and the door
locked as usual. Then I half dressed and went out on to the landing, my
hilarity better under control, and proceeded to go downstairs. I wished
to record my sensations. I stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth so as
not to scream aloud and communicate my hysterics to the entire
household."

"And the presence of this--this--?"

"It was hanging about me all the time," said Pender, "but for the moment
it seemed to have withdrawn. Probably, too, my laughter killed all other
emotions."

"And how long did you take getting downstairs?"

"I was just coming to that. I see you know all my 'symptoms' in advance,
as it were; for, of course, I thought I should never get to the bottom.
Each step seemed to take five minutes, and crossing the narrow hall at
the foot of the stairs--well, I could have sworn it was half an hour's
journey had not my watch certified that it was a few seconds. Yet I
walked fast and tried to push on. It was no good. I walked apparently
without advancing, and at that rate it would have taken me a week to get
down Putney Hill."

"An experimental dose radically alters the scale of time and space
sometimes--"

"But, when at last I got into my study and lit the gas, the change came
horridly, and sudden as a flash of lightning. It was like a douche of
icy water, and in the middle of this storm of laughter--"

"Yes; what?" asked the doctor, leaning forward and peering into his
eyes.

"--I was overwhelmed with terror," said Pender, lowering his reedy
voice at the mere recollection of it.

He paused a moment and mopped his forehead. The scared, hunted look in
his eyes now dominated the whole face. Yet, all the time, the corners of
his mouth hinted of possible laughter as though the recollection of that
merriment still amused him. The combination of fear and laughter in his
face was very curious, and lent great conviction to his story; it also
lent a bizarre expression of horror to his gestures.

"Terror, was it?" repeated the doctor soothingly.

"Yes, terror; for, though the Thing that woke me seemed to have gone,
the memory of it still frightened me, and I collapsed into a chair. Then
I locked the door and tried to reason with myself, but the drug made my
movements so prolonged that it took me five minutes to reach the door,
and another five to get back to the chair again. The laughter, too, kept
bubbling up inside me--great wholesome laughter that shook me like gusts
of wind--so that even my terror almost made me laugh. Oh, but I may tell
you, Dr. Silence, it was altogether vile, that mixture of fear and
laughter, altogether vile!

"Then, all at once, the things in the room again presented their funny
side to me and set me off laughing more furiously than ever. The
bookcase was ludicrous, the arm-chair a perfect clown, the way the clock
looked at me on the mantelpiece too comic for words; the arrangement of
papers and inkstand on the desk tickled me till I roared and shook and
held my sides and the tears streamed down my cheeks. And that footstool!
Oh, that absurd footstool!"

He lay back in his chair, laughing to himself and holding up his hands
at the thought of it, and at the sight of him Dr. Silence laughed too.

"Go on, please," he said, "I quite understand. I know something myself
of the hashish laughter."

The author pulled himself together and resumed, his face growing quickly
grave again.

"So, you see, side by side with this extravagant, apparently causeless
merriment, there was also an extravagant, apparently causeless, terror.
The drug produced the laughter, I knew; but what brought in the terror I
could not imagine. Everywhere behind the fun lay the fear. It was terror
masked by cap and bells; and I became the playground for two opposing
emotions, armed and fighting to the death. Gradually, then, the
impression grew in me that this fear was caused by the invasion--so you
called it just now--of the 'person' who had wakened me; she was utterly
evil; inimical to my soul, or at least to all in me that wished for
good. There I stood, sweating and trembling, laughing at everything in
the room, yet all the while with this white terror mastering my heart.
And this creature was putting--putting her--"

He hesitated again, using his handkerchief freely.

"Putting what?"

"--putting ideas into my mind," he went on, glancing nervously about the
room. "Actually tapping my thought-stream so as to switch off the usual
current and inject her own. How mad that sounds! I know it, but it's
true. It's the only way I can express it. Moreover, while the operation
terrified me, the skill with which it was accomplished filled me afresh
with laughter at the clumsiness of men by comparison. Our ignorant,
bungling methods of teaching the minds of others, of inculcating ideas,
and so on, overwhelmed me with laughter when I understood this superior
and diabolical method. Yet my laughter seemed hollow and ghastly, and
ideas of evil and tragedy trod close upon the heels of the comic. Oh,
doctor, I tell you again, it was unnerving!"

John Silence sat with his head thrust forward to catch every word of the
story which the other continued to pour out in nervous, jerky sentences
and lowered voice.

"You saw nothing--no one--all this time?" he asked.

"Not with my eyes. There was no visual hallucination. But in my mind
there began to grow the vivid picture of a woman--large, dark-skinned,
with white teeth and masculine features, and one eye--the left--so
drooping as to appear almost closed. Oh, such a face--!"

"A face you would recognize again?"

Pender laughed dreadfully.

"I wish I could forget it," he whispered, "I only wish I could forget
it!" Then he sat forward in his chair suddenly, and grasped the doctor's
hand with an emotional gesture.

"I must tell you how grateful I am for your patience and sympathy," he
cried, with a tremor in his voice, "and--that you do not think me mad. I
have told no one else a quarter of all this, and the mere freedom of
speech--the relief of sharing my affliction with another--has helped me
already more than I can possibly say."

Dr. Silence pressed his hand and looked steadily into the frightened
eyes. His voice was very gentle when he replied.

"Your case, you know, is very singular, but of absorbing interest to
me," he said, "for it threatens, not your physical existence, but the
temple of your psychical existence--the inner life. Your mind would not
be permanently affected here and now, in this world; but in the
existence after the body is left behind, you might wake up with your
spirit so twisted, so distorted, so befouled, that you would be
spiritually insane--a far more radical condition than merely being
insane here."

There came a strange hush over the room, and between the two men sitting
there facing one another.

"Do you really mean--Good Lord!" stammered the author as soon as he
could find his tongue.

"What I mean in detail will keep till a little later, and I need only
say now that I should not have spoken in this way unless I were quite
positive of being able to help you. Oh, there's no doubt as to that,
believe me. In the first place, I am very familiar with the workings of
this extraordinary drug, this drug which has had the chance effect of
opening you up to the forces of another region; and, in the second, I
have a firm belief in the reality of super-sensuous occurrences as well
as considerable knowledge of psychic processes acquired by long and
painful experiment. The rest is, or should be, merely sympathetic
treatment and practical application. The hashish has partially opened
another world to you by increasing your rate of psychical vibration, and
thus rendering you abnormally sensitive. Ancient forces attached to this
house have attacked you. For the moment I am only puzzled as to their
precise nature; for were they of an ordinary character, I should myself
be psychic enough to feel them. Yet I am conscious of feeling nothing as
yet. But now, please continue, Mr. Pender, and tell me the rest of your
wonderful story; and when you have finished, I will talk about the means
of cure."

Pender shifted his chair a little closer to the friendly doctor and then
went on in the same nervous voice with his narrative.

"After making some notes of my impressions I finally got upstairs again
to bed. It was four o'clock in the morning. I laughed all the way up--at
the grotesque banisters, the droll physiognomy of the staircase window,
the burlesque grouping of the furniture, and the memory of that
outrageous footstool in the room below; but nothing more happened to
alarm or disturb me, and I woke late in the morning after a dreamless
sleep, none the worse for my experiment except for a slight headache and
a coldness of the extremities due to lowered circulation."

"Fear gone, too?" asked the doctor.

"I seemed to have forgotten it, or at least ascribed it to mere
nervousness. Its reality had gone, anyhow for the time, and all that day
I wrote and wrote and wrote. My sense of laughter seemed wonderfully
quickened and my characters acted without effort out of the heart of
true humour. I was exceedingly pleased with this result of my
experiment. But when the stenographer had taken her departure and I came
to read over the pages she had typed out, I recalled her sudden glances
of surprise and the odd way she had looked up at me while I was
dictating. I was amazed at what I read and could hardly believe I had
uttered it."

"And why?"

"It was so distorted. The words, indeed, were mine so far as I could
remember, but the meanings seemed strange. It frightened me. The sense
was so altered. At the very places where my characters were intended to
tickle the ribs, only curious emotions of sinister amusement resulted.
Dreadful innuendoes had managed to creep into the phrases. There was
laughter of a kind, but it was bizarre, horrible, distressing; and my
attempt at analysis only increased my dismay. The story, as it read
then, made me shudder, for by virtue of these slight changes it had come
somehow to hold the soul of horror, of horror disguised as merriment.
The framework of humour was there, if you understand me, but the
characters had turned sinister, and their laughter was evil."

"Can you show me this writing?"

The author shook his head.

"I destroyed it," he whispered. "But, in the end, though of course much
perturbed about it, I persuaded myself that it was due to some
after-effect of the drug, a sort of reaction that gave a twist to my
mind and made me read macabre interpretations into words and situations
that did not properly hold them."

"And, meanwhile, did the presence of this person leave you?"

"No; that stayed more or less. When my mind was actively employed I
forgot it, but when idle, dreaming, or doing nothing in particular,
there she was beside me, influencing my mind horribly--"

"In what way, precisely?" interrupted the doctor.

"Evil, scheming thoughts came to me, visions of crime, hateful pictures
of wickedness, and the kind of bad imagination that so far has been
foreign, indeed impossible, to my normal nature--"

"The pressure of the Dark Powers upon the personality," murmured the
doctor, making a quick note.

"Eh? I didn't quite catch--"

"Pray, go on. I am merely making notes; you shall know their purport
fully later."

"Even when my wife returned I was still aware of this Presence in the
house; it associated itself with my inner personality in most intimate
fashion; and outwardly I always felt oddly constrained to be polite and
respectful towards it--to open doors, provide chairs and hold myself
carefully deferential when it was about. It became very compelling at
last, and, if I failed in any little particular, I seemed to know that
it pursued me about the house, from one room to another, haunting my
very soul in its inmost abode. It certainly came before my wife so far
as my attentions were concerned.

"But, let me first finish the story of my experimental dose, for I took
it again the third night, and underwent a very similar experience,
delayed like the first in coming, and then carrying me off my feet when
it did come with a rush of this false demon-laughter. This time,
however, there was a reversal of the changed scale of space and time; it
shortened instead of lengthened, so that I dressed and got downstairs
in about twenty seconds, and the couple of hours I stayed and worked in
the study passed literally like a period of ten minutes."

"That is often true of an overdose," interjected the doctor, "and you
may go a mile in a few minutes, or a few yards in a quarter of an hour.
It is quite incomprehensible to those who have never experienced it, and
is a curious proof that time and space are merely forms of thought."

"This time," Pender went on, talking more and more rapidly in his
excitement, "another extraordinary effect came to me, and I experienced
a curious changing of the senses, so that I perceived external things
through one large main sense-channel instead of through the five
divisions known as sight, smell, touch, and so forth. You will, I know,
understand me when I tell you that I heard sights and saw sounds. No
language can make this comprehensible, of course, and I can only say,
for instance, that the striking of the clock I saw as a visible picture
in the air before me. I saw the sounds of the tinkling bell. And in
precisely the same way I heard the colours in the room, especially the
colours of those books in the shelf behind you. Those red bindings I
heard in deep sounds, and the yellow covers of the French bindings next
to them made a shrill, piercing note not unlike the chattering of
starlings. That brown bookcase muttered, and those green curtains
opposite kept up a constant sort of rippling sound like the lower notes
of a woodhorn. But I only was conscious of these sounds when I looked
steadily at the different objects, and thought about them. The room, you
understand, was not full of a chorus of notes; but when I concentrated
my mind upon a colour, I heard, as well as saw, it."

"That is a known, though rarely-obtained, effect of Cannabis indica,"
observed the doctor. "And it provoked laughter again, did it?"

"Only the muttering of the cupboard-bookcase made me laugh. It was so
like a great animal trying to get itself noticed, and made me think of a
performing bear--which is full of a kind of pathetic humour, you know.
But this mingling of the senses produced no confusion in my brain. On
the contrary, I was unusually clear-headed and experienced an
intensification of consciousness, and felt marvellously alive and
keen-minded.

"Moreover, when I took up a pencil in obedience to an impulse to
sketch--a talent not normally mine--I found that I could draw nothing
but heads, nothing, in fact, but one head--always the same--the head of
a dark-skinned woman, with huge and terrible features and a very
drooping left eye; and so well drawn, too, that I was amazed, as you may
imagine--"

"And the expression of the face--?"

Pender hesitated a moment for words, casting about with his hands in the
air and hunching his shoulders. A perceptible shudder ran over him.

"What I can only describe as--blackness," he replied in a low tone;
"the face of a dark and evil soul."

"You destroyed that, too?" queried the doctor sharply.

"No; I have kept the drawings," he said, with a laugh, and rose to get
them from a drawer in the writing-desk behind him.

"Here is all that remains of the pictures, you see," he added, pushing a
number of loose sheets under the doctor's eyes; "nothing but a few
scrawly lines. That's all I found the next morning. I had really drawn
no heads at all--nothing but those lines and blots and wriggles. The
pictures were entirely subjective, and existed only in my mind which
constructed them out of a few wild strokes of the pen. Like the altered
scale of space and time it was a complete delusion. These all passed, of
course, with the passing of the drug's effects. But the other thing did
not pass. I mean, the presence of that Dark Soul remained with me. It is
here still. It is real. I don't know how I can escape from it."

"It is attached to the house, not to you personally. You must leave the
house."

"Yes. Only I cannot afford to leave the house, for my work is my sole
means of support, and--well, you see, since this change I cannot even
write. They are horrible, these mirthless tales I now write, with their
mockery of laughter, their diabolical suggestion. Horrible! I shall go
mad if this continues."

He screwed his face up and looked about the room as though he expected
to see some haunting shape.

"The influence in this house, induced by my experiment, has killed in a
flash, in a sudden stroke, the sources of my humour, and, though I still
go on writing funny tales--I have a certain name, you know--my
inspiration has dried up, and much of what I write I have to burn--yes,
doctor, to burn, before any one sees it."

"As utterly alien to your own mind and personality?"

"Utterly! As though some one else had written it--"

"Ah!"

"And shocking!" He passed his hand over his eyes a moment and let the
breath escape softly through his teeth. "Yet most damnably clever in the
consummate way the vile suggestions are insinuated under cover of a kind
of high drollery. My stenographer left me, of course--and I've been
afraid to take another--"

John Silence got up and began to walk about the room leisurely without
speaking; he appeared to be examining the pictures on the wall and
reading the names of the books lying about. Presently he paused on the
hearthrug, with his back to the fire, and turned to look his patient
quietly in the eyes. Pender's face was grey and drawn; the hunted
expression dominated it; the long recital had told upon him.

"Thank you, Mr. Pender," he said, a curious glow showing about his fine,
quiet face, "thank you for the sincerity and frankness of your account.
But I think now there is nothing further I need ask you." He indulged in
a long scrutiny of the author's haggard features, drawing purposely the
man's eyes to his own and then meeting them with a look of power and
confidence calculated to inspire even the feeblest soul with courage.
"And, to begin with," he added, smiling pleasantly, "let me assure you
without delay that you need have no alarm, for you are no more insane
or deluded than I myself am--"

Pender heaved a deep sigh and tried to return the smile.

"--and this is simply a case, so far as I can judge at present, of a
very singular psychical invasion, and a very sinister one, too, if you
perhaps understand what I mean--"

"It's an odd expression; you used it before, you know," said the author
wearily, yet eagerly listening to every word of the diagnosis, and
deeply touched by the intelligent sympathy which did not at once
indicate the lunatic asylum.

"Possibly," returned the other, "and an odd affliction too, you'll
allow, yet one not unknown to the nations of antiquity, nor to those
moderns, perhaps, who recognize the freedom of action under certain
pathogenic conditions between this world and another."

"And you think," asked Pender hastily, "that it is all primarily due to
the Cannabis? There is nothing radically amiss with myself--nothing
incurable, or--?"

"Due entirely to the overdose," Dr. Silence replied emphatically, "to
the drug's direct action upon your psychical being. It rendered you
ultra-sensitive and made you respond to an increased rate of vibration.
And, let me tell you, Mr. Pender, that your experiment might have had
results far more dire. It has brought you into touch with a somewhat
singular class of Invisible, but of one, I think, chiefly human in
character. You might, however, just as easily have been drawn out of
human range altogether, and the results of such a contingency would
have been exceedingly terrible. Indeed, you would not now be here to
tell the tale. I need not alarm you on that score, but mention it as a
warning you will not misunderstand or underrate after what you have been
through.

"You look puzzled. You do not quite gather what I am driving at; and it
is not to be expected that you should, for you, I suppose, are the
nominal Christian with the nominal Christian's lofty standard of ethics,
and his utter ignorance of spiritual possibilities. Beyond a somewhat
childish understanding of 'spiritual wickedness in high places,' you
probably have no conception of what is possible once you break down the
slender gulf that is mercifully fixed between you and that Outer World.
But my studies and training have taken me far outside these orthodox
trips, and I have made experiments that I could scarcely speak to you
about in language that would be intelligible to you."

He paused a moment to note the breathless interest of Pender's face and
manner. Every word he uttered was calculated; he knew exactly the value
and effect of the emotions he desired to waken in the heart of the
afflicted being before him.

"And from certain knowledge I have gained through various experiences,"
he continued calmly, "I can diagnose your case as I said before to be
one of psychical invasion."

"And the nature of this--er--invasion?" stammered the bewildered writer
of humorous tales.

"There is no reason why I should not say at once that I do not yet
quite know," replied Dr. Silence. "I may first have to make one or two
experiments--"

"On me?" gasped Pender, catching his breath.

"Not exactly," the doctor said, with a grave smile, "but with your
assistance, perhaps. I shall want to test the conditions of the
house--to ascertain, if possible, the character of the forces, of this
strange personality that has been haunting you--"

"At present you have no idea exactly who--what--why--" asked the other
in a wild flurry of interest, dread and amazement.

"I have a very good idea, but no proof rather," returned the doctor.
"The effects of the drug in altering the scale of time and space, and
merging the senses have nothing primarily to do with the invasion. They
come to any one who is fool enough to take an experimental dose. It is
the other features of your case that are unusual. You see, you are now
in touch with certain violent emotions, desires, purposes, still active
in this house, that were produced in the past by some powerful and evil
personality that lived here. How long ago, or why they still persist so
forcibly, I cannot positively say. But I should judge that they are
merely forces acting automatically with the momentum of their terrific
original impetus."

"Not directed by a living being, a conscious will, you mean?"

"Possibly not--but none the less dangerous on that account, and more
difficult to deal with. I cannot explain to you in a few minutes the
nature of such things, for you have not made the studies that would
enable you to follow me; but I have reason to believe that on the
dissolution at death of a human being, its forces may still persist and
continue to act in a blind, unconscious fashion. As a rule they speedily
dissipate themselves, but in the case of a very powerful personality
they may last a long time. And, in some cases--of which I incline to
think this is one--these forces may coalesce with certain non-human
entities who thus continue their life indefinitely and increase their
strength to an unbelievable degree. If the original personality was
evil, the beings attracted to the left-over forces will also be evil. In
this case, I think there has been an unusual and dreadful aggrandizement
of the thoughts and purposes left behind long ago by a woman of
consummate wickedness and great personal power of character and
intellect. Now, do you begin to see what I am driving at a little?"

Pender stared fixedly at his companion, plain horror showing in his
eyes. But he found nothing to say, and the doctor continued--

"In your case, predisposed by the action of the drug, you have
experienced the rush of these forces in undiluted strength. They wholly
obliterate in you the sense of humour, fancy, imagination,--all that
makes for cheerfulness and hope. They seek, though perhaps automatically
only, to oust your own thoughts and establish themselves in their place.
You are the victim of a psychical invasion. At the same time, you have
become clairvoyant in the true sense. You are also a clairvoyant
victim."

Pender mopped his face and sighed. He left his chair and went over to
the fireplace to warm himself.

"You must think me a quack to talk like this, or a madman," laughed Dr.
Silence. "But never mind that. I have come to help you, and I can help
you if you will do what I tell you. It is very simple: you must leave
this house at once. Oh, never mind the difficulties; we will deal with
those together. I can place another house at your disposal, or I would
take the lease here off your hands, and later have it pulled down. Your
case interests me greatly, and I mean to see you through, so you have no
anxiety, and can drop back into your old groove of work tomorrow! The
drug has provided you, and therefore me, with a short-cut to a very
interesting experience. I am grateful to you."

The author poked the fire vigorously, emotion rising in him like a tide.
He glanced towards the door nervously.

"There is no need to alarm your wife or to tell her the details of our
conversation," pursued the other quietly. "Let her know that you will
soon be in possession again of your sense of humour and your health, and
explain that I am lending you another house for six months. Meanwhile I
may have the right to use this house for a night or two for my
experiment. Is that understood between us?"

"I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart," stammered Pender,
unable to find words to express his gratitude.

Then he hesitated for a moment, searching the doctor's face anxiously.

"And your experiment with the house?" he said at length.

"Of the simplest character, my dear Mr. Pender. Although I am myself an
artificially trained psychic, and consequently aware of the presence of
discarnate entities as a rule, I have so far felt nothing here at all.
This makes me sure that the forces acting here are of an unusual
description. What I propose to do is to make an experiment with a view
of drawing out this evil, coaxing it from its lair, so to speak, in
order that it may exhaust itself through me and become dissipated for
ever. I have already been inoculated," he added; "I consider myself to
be immune."

"Heavens above!" gasped the author, collapsing on to a chair.

"Hell beneath! might be a more appropriate exclamation," the doctor
laughed. "But, seriously, Mr. Pender, that is what I propose to do--with
your permission."

"Of course, of course," cried the other, "you have my permission and my
best wishes for success. I can see no possible objection, but--"

"But what?"

"I pray to Heaven you will not undertake this experiment alone, will
you?"

"Oh dear, no; not alone."

"You will take a companion with good nerves, and reliable in case of
disaster, won't you?"

"I shall bring two companions," the doctor said.

"Ah, that's better. I feel easier. I am sure you must have among your
acquaintances men who--"

"I shall not think of bringing men, Mr. Pender."

The other looked up sharply.

"No, or women either; or children."

"I don't understand. Who will you bring, then?"

"Animals," explained the doctor, unable to prevent a smile at his
companion's expression of surprise--"two animals, a cat and a dog."

Pender stared as if his eyes would drop out upon the floor, and then led
the way without another word into the adjoining room where his wife was
awaiting them for tea.


II

A few days later the humorist and his wife, with minds greatly relieved,
moved into a small furnished house placed at their free disposal in
another part of London; and John Silence, intent upon his approaching
experiment, made ready to spend a night in the empty house on the top of
Putney Hill. Only two rooms were prepared for occupation: the study on
the ground floor and the bedroom immediately above it; all other doors
were to be locked, and no servant was to be left in the house. The motor
had orders to call for him at nine o'clock the following morning.

And, meanwhile, his secretary had instructions to look up the past
history and associations of the place, and learn everything he could
concerning the character of former occupants, recent or remote.

The animals, by whose sensitiveness he intended to test any unusual
conditions in the atmosphere of the building, Dr. Silence selected with
care and judgment. He believed (and had already made curious experiments
to prove it) that animals were more often, and more truly, clairvoyant
than human beings. Many of them, he felt convinced, possessed powers of
perception far superior to that mere keenness of the senses common to
all dwellers in the wilds where the senses grow specially alert; they
had what he termed "animal clairvoyance," and from his experiments with
horses, dogs, cats, and even birds, he had drawn certain deductions,
which, however, need not be referred to in detail here.

Cats, in particular, he believed, were almost continuously conscious of
a larger field of vision, too detailed even for a photographic camera,
and quite beyond the reach of normal human organs. He had, further,
observed that while dogs were usually terrified in the presence of such
phenomena, cats on the other hand were soothed and satisfied. They
welcomed manifestations as something belonging peculiarly to their own
region.

He selected his animals, therefore, with wisdom so that they might
afford a differing test, each in its own way, and that one should not
merely communicate its own excitement to the other. He took a dog and a
cat.

The cat he chose, now full grown, had lived with him since kittenhood, a
kittenhood of perplexing sweetness and audacious mischief. Wayward it
was and fanciful, ever playing its own mysterious games in the corners
of the room, jumping at invisible nothings, leaping sideways into the
air and falling with tiny mocassined feet on to another part of the
carpet, yet with an air of dignified earnestness which showed that the
performance was necessary to its own well-being, and not done merely to
impress a stupid human audience. In the middle of elaborate washing it
would look up, startled, as though to stare at the approach of some
Invisible, cocking its little head sideways and putting out a velvet pad
to inspect cautiously. Then it would get absent-minded, and stare with
equal intentness in another direction (just to confuse the onlookers),
and suddenly go on furiously washing its body again, but in quite a new
place. Except for a white patch on its breast it was coal black. And its
name was--Smoke.

"Smoke" described its temperament as well as its appearance. Its
movements, its individuality, its posing as a little furry mass of
concealed mysteries, its elfin-like elusiveness, all combined to justify
its name; and a subtle painter might have pictured it as a wisp of
floating smoke, the fire below betraying itself at two points only--the
glowing eyes.

All its forces ran to intelligence--secret intelligence, wordless,
incalculable intuition of the Cat. It was, indeed, the cat for the
business in hand.

The selection of the dog was not so simple, for the doctor owned many;
but after much deliberation he chose a collie, called Flame from his
yellow coat. True, it was a trifle old, and stiff in the joints, and
even beginning to grow deaf, but, on the other hand, it was a very
particular friend of Smoke's, and had fathered it from kittenhood
upwards so that a subtle understanding existed between them. It was this
that turned the balance in its favour, this and its courage. Moreover,
though good-tempered, it was a terrible fighter, and its anger when
provoked by a righteous cause was a fury of fire, and irresistible.

It had come to him quite young, straight from the shepherd, with the air
of the hills yet in its nostrils, and was then little more than skin and
bones and teeth. For a collie it was sturdily built, its nose blunter
than most, its yellow hair stiff rather than silky, and it had full
eyes, unlike the slit eyes of its breed. Only its master could touch it,
for it ignored strangers, and despised their pattings--when any dared to
pat it. There was something patriarchal about the old beast. He was in
earnest, and went through life with tremendous energy and big things in
view, as though he had the reputation of his whole race to uphold. And
to watch him fighting against odds was to understand why he was
terrible.

In his relations with Smoke he was always absurdly gentle; also he was
fatherly; and at the same time betrayed a certain diffidence or shyness.
He recognized that Smoke called for strong yet respectful management.
The cat's circuitous methods puzzled him, and his elaborate pretences
perhaps shocked the dog's liking for direct, undisguised action. Yet,
while he failed to comprehend these tortuous feline mysteries, he was
never contemptuous or condescending; and he presided over the safety of
his furry black friend somewhat as a father, loving but intuitive, might
superintend the vagaries of a wayward and talented child. And, in
return, Smoke rewarded him with exhibitions of fascinating and audacious
mischief.

And these brief descriptions of their characters are necessary for the
proper understanding of what subsequently took place.

With Smoke sleeping in the folds of his fur coat, and the collie lying
watchful on the seat opposite, John Silence went down in his motor after
dinner on the night of November 15th.

And the fog was so dense that they were obliged to travel at quarter
speed the entire way.

* * * * *

It was after ten o'clock when he dismissed the motor and entered the
dingy little house with the latchkey provided by Pender. He found the
hall gas turned low, and a fire in the study. Books and food had also
been placed ready by the servant according to instructions. Coils of fog
rushed in after him through the opened door and filled the hall and
passage with its cold discomfort.

The first thing Dr. Silence did was to lock up Smoke in the study with a
saucer of milk before the fire, and then make a search of the house with
Flame. The dog ran cheerfully behind him all the way while he tried the
doors of the other rooms to make sure they were locked. He nosed about
into corners and made little excursions on his own account. His manner
was expectant. He knew there must be something unusual about the
proceeding, because it was contrary to the habits of his whole life not
to be asleep at this hour on the mat in front of the fire. He kept
looking up into his master's face, as door after door was tried, with an
expression of intelligent sympathy, but at the same time a certain air
of disapproval. Yet everything his master did was good in his eyes, and
he betrayed as little impatience as possible with all this unnecessary
journeying to and fro. If the doctor was pleased to play this sort of
game at such an hour of the night, it was surely not for him to object.
So he played it too; and was very busy and earnest about it into the
bargain.

After an uneventful search they came down again to the study, and here
Dr. Silence discovered Smoke washing his face calmly in front of the
fire. The saucer of milk was licked dry and clean; the preliminary
examination that cats always make in new surroundings had evidently been
satisfactorily concluded. He drew an arm-chair up to the fire, stirred
the coals into a blaze, arranged the table and lamp to his satisfaction
for reading, and then prepared surreptitiously to watch the animals. He
wished to observe them carefully without their being aware of it.

Now, in spite of their respective ages, it was the regular custom of
these two to play together every night before sleep. Smoke always made
the advances, beginning with grave impudence to pat the dog's tail, and
Flame played cumbrously, with condescension. It was his duty, rather
than pleasure; he was glad when it was over, and sometimes he was very
determined and refused to play at all.

And this night was one of the occasions on which he was firm.

The doctor, looking cautiously over the top of his book, watched the cat
begin the performance. It started by gazing with an innocent expression
at the dog where he lay with nose on paws and eyes wide open in the
middle of the floor. Then it got up and made as though it meant to walk
to the door, going deliberately and very softly. Flame's eyes followed
it until it was beyond the range of sight, and then the cat turned
sharply and began patting his tail tentatively with one paw. The tail
moved slightly in reply, and Smoke changed paws and tapped it again. The
dog, however, did not rise to play as was his wont, and the cat fell to
patting it briskly with both paws. Flame still lay motionless.

This puzzled and bored the cat, and it went round and stared hard into
its friend's face to see what was the matter. Perhaps some inarticulate
message flashed from the dog's eyes into its own little brain, making it
understand that the program for the night had better not begin with
play. Perhaps it only realized that its friend was immovable. But,
whatever the reason, its usual persistence thenceforward deserted it,
and it made no further attempts at persuasion. Smoke yielded at once to
the dog's mood; it sat down where it was and began to wash.

But the washing, the doctor noted, was by no means its real purpose; it
only used it to mask something else; it stopped at the most busy





Next: The Afflictions Of An English Cat

Previous: Zut



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