The Weapons of Mystery - Joseph Hocking - ebook
Kategoria: Sensacja, thriller, horror Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1890

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About
Chapter 1 - INTRODUCES THE WRITER AND OTHERS
Chapter 2 - CHRISTMAS EVE

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Chapter 1 INTRODUCES THE WRITER AND OTHERS

My story begins on the morning of December 18, 18— , while sitting at breakfast. Let it be understood before we go further that I was a bachelor living in lodgings. I had been left an orphan just before I came of age, and was thus cast upon the world at a time when it is extremely dangerous for young men to be alone. Especially was it so in my case, owing to the fact that at twenty-one I inherited a considerable fortune. One thing saved me from ruin, viz. a passionate love for literature, which led me to make it my profession. I had at the time of my story been following the bent of my inclinations for two years with a fair amount of success, and was regarded by those who knew me as a lucky fellow. That is all I think I need say concerning myself prior to the time when my story opens, except to tell my name; but that will drop out very soon. I had not made very great inroads into the omelette my landlady had prepared for me when I heard the postman’s knock, and soon after a servant entered with a letter. One only. I had expected at least half-a-dozen, but only one lay on the tray before me.

“Are you sure this is all, Jane?” I asked.

“Quite sure, sir,” said Jane, smiling, and then with a curtsey she took her leave.

The envelope was addressed in a bold hand-writing to—

Justin M. Blake, Esq.,
Gower Street,
London, W.

“Surely I know the writing,” I mused, and then began to look at the postmarks as if a letter were something of very uncommon occurrence. I could make nothing of the illegible smear in the corner, however, and so opened it, and read as follows:—

Dear old Justin Martyr,

I suppose you have about forgotten your old schoolfellow, Tom Temple, and it’s natural you should; but he has not forgotten you. You see, you have risen to fame, and I have remained in obscurity. Ah well, such is the fate of that community called ‘country gentlemen.’ But this is not what I want to write about, and I am going straight to the real object of this letter.

We— that is, mother, the girls, and myself— are contemplating a real jolly Christmas. We are inviting a few friends to spend Christmas and New Year with us, and we wish you to make one of the number. Will you come and spend a fortnight or so at Temple Hall? Of course it is rather quiet here, but we are going to do our best to make it more lively than usual. The weather looks frosty, and that promises skating. We have a few good horses, so that we can have some rides across the country. There is also plenty of shooting, hunting, etc., etc. Altogether, if you will come and help us; we can promise a fairly good bill of fare. What do you say? You must excuse me for writing in this unconventional strain, but I can’t write otherwise to my old schoolfellow.

We shall all be really disappointed if you say ‘no,’ so write at once and tell us you will come, also when we may expect you. All the news when we meet.

Your sincere friend,

Tom Temple.

P.S.— I might say that most of the guests will arrive on Christmas Eve.

“Just the very thing,” I exclaimed. “I had been wondering what to do and where to go this Christmas time, and this invitation comes in splendidly.”

Tom Temple lived in Yorkshire, at a fine old country house some distance from the metropolis of that county, and was a really good fellow. As for his mother and sisters, I knew but little about them, but I judged from the letters his mother wrote him when at school, that she must be a true, kind-hearted, motherly woman.

I accordingly turned to my desk, wrote to Tom, telling him to expect me on the 24th inst., and then, without finishing my breakfast, endeavoured to go on with my work. It was very difficult, however. My thoughts were ever running away to Yorkshire, and on the pleasant time I hoped to spend. Between the lines on my paper I was ever seeing the old baronial hall that was Tom Temple’s home, and the people who had been invited to spend the festive season there. Presently I began to chide myself for my foolishness. Why should the thoughts of a Christmas holiday so unfit me, a staid old bachelor of thirty, for my usual work? Nevertheless it did, so I put on my overcoat, and went away in the direction of Hyde Park in order, if possible, to dispel my fancies. I did dispel them, and shortly afterwards returned to my lodgings, and did a good morning’s work.

Nothing of importance happened between the 18th and the 24th, and early in the afternoon of the latter date I found my way to St. Pancras Station, and booked for the station nearest Tom Temple’s home. Although it was Christmas Eve, I found an empty first-class carriage, and soon comfortably ensconced myself therein. I don’t know why, but we English people generally try to get an empty carriage, and feel annoyed when some one comes in to share our possession. I, like the rest of my countrymen are apt to do in such a case, began to hope I might retain the entire use of the carriage, at least to Leeds, when the door opened, and a porter brought a number of wraps and shawls, evidently the property of a lady.

“Bother it!” I mentally exclaimed, “and so I suppose I am to have some fidgety old women for my travelling companions.”

The reader will imagine from this that I was not a lady’s man. At any rate, such was the case. I had lived my thirty years without ever being in love; indeed, I had from principle avoided the society of ladies, that is, when they were of the flirtable or marriageable kind.

No sooner had the porter laid the articles mentioned on a corner seat, the one farthest away from me, than their owner entered, and my irritation vanished. It was a young lady under the ordinary size, and, from what I could see of her, possessed of more than ordinary beauty. Her skin was dark and clear, her eyes very dark, her mouth pleasant yet decided, her chin square and determined. This latter feature would in the eyes of many destroy her pretensions to beauty, but I, who liked persons with a will of their own, admired the firm resoluteness the feature indicated.

She took no notice of me, but quietly arranged her belongings as if she were accustomed to take care of herself. She had only just sat down, when she was followed by another lady, who appeared, from the sign of recognition that passed between them, an acquaintance.

Evidently, however, the younger lady was not delighted at the advent of the elder. A look of annoyance swept across her face, as if she could have very comfortably excused her presence. I did not wonder at it. This second comer was a woman of about fifty-five years of age. She had yellow wrinkled skin, a square upright forehead, shaggy grey eyebrows, beneath which, in two cavernous sockets, were two black beady-looking eyes. Her mouth was large and coarse, and, to make that feature still more objectionable, two large teeth, like two fangs, stuck out at a considerable angle from her upper jaw and rested on the lower lip. Altogether the face was repulsive. Added to this, she was tall and bony, and would have passed anywhere for one of the witches of olden time.

“I have altered my mind, Gertrude, and am going with you.” This was said in a harsh, thick voice.

“I see you are here, Miss Staggles,” said the younger lady very coolly.

“I did not intend coming at first, but your aunt, poor silly thing, said you would not take your maid with you, and so I thought it would be a sin for a young girl like you to travel alone to Yorkshire on a day like this.”

“Yorkshire?” I thought. “Is that old woman to be in this carriage with me for five or six long hours? I’ll get out.”

I was too late; at that moment the guard’s whistle blew, and the train moved slowly out of the station. At all events, I had to remain until the train stopped, so I composed myself as well as I could, and resolved to make the best of it. Neither of them paid the slightest attention to me. The elder lady sat bolt upright opposite the younger, and began to harangue her.

“Don’t you know it was very foolish of you to think of coming alone?”

“No,” said the younger lady; “I’m tired of having a maid dogging my every footstep, as if I were a child and unable to do for myself.”

“Nevertheless, Gertrude, you should have brought her; no young lady should travel alone. However, you will have a chaperon, so the deficiency will be more than remedied;” and there was grim satisfaction in the woman’s voice.

There was no satisfaction in the young lady’s face, however, and she turned with what I thought an angry look towards the scrawny duenna, who had claimed guardianship over her, and said——

“But, Miss Staggles, you are in a false position. You have received no invitation.”

“No, I have not; but your aunt had one, poor silly creature, and so, for duty’s sake, I am breaking the rules of etiquette. Those fine people you are about to visit did not think it worth their while to invite your aunt’s late husband’s step-sister— perhaps because she is poor; but she has a soul above formalities, and so determined to come and take care of her niece.”

The young lady made no reply.

“You will be thankful, Gertrude Forrest, some day that I do care for you,” Miss Staggles continued, “although I never expect to get any reward for my kindness.”

By this time the train was going rapidly, and so loud was the roar it made that I heard only the growling of Miss Staggles’ voice without distinguishing any words. Indeed, I was very glad I could not. It was by no means pleasant to have to sit and listen to her hoarse voice, so I pulled down the laps of my travelling cap over my ears and, closing my eyes, began to think who Gertrude Forrest was, and where she was going.

I did not change carriages as I intended. Miss Staggles got tired after awhile, and so there was relief in that quarter, while my seat was most comfortable, and I did not want to be disturbed. Hour after hour passed by, until night came on; then the wind blew colder, and I began to wonder how soon the journey would end, when the collector came to take all the tickets from the Leeds passengers. Shortly after we arrived at the Midland station, for which I was truly thankful. I did not wait there long; a train stood at another platform, which stopped at a station some two miles from Tom Temple’s home. By this time there was every evidence of the holiday season. The train was crowded, and I was glad to get in at all, unmindful of comfort.

What had become of my two travelling companions I was not aware, but concluded that they would be staying at Leeds, as they had given up their tickets at the collecting station. I cannot but admit, however, that I was somewhat anxious as to the destination of Gertrude Forrest, for certainly she had made an impression upon me I was not likely to forget. Still I gave up the idea of ever seeing her again, and tried to think of the visit I was about to pay.

Arrived at the station, I saw Tom Temple, who gave me a hearty welcome, after which he said, “Justin, my boy, do you want to be introduced to some ladies at present?”

“A thousand times no,” I replied. “Let’s wait till we get to Temple Hall.”

“Then, in that case, you will have to go home in a cab. I retained one for you, knowing your dislike to the fair sex; for, of course, they will have to go in the carriage, and I must go with them. Stay, though. I’ll go and speak to them, and get them all safe in the carriage, and then, as there will be barely room for me, I’ll come back and ride home with you.”

He rushed away as he spoke, and in a few minutes came back again. “I am sorry those ladies had to be made rather uncomfortable, but guests have been arriving all the day, and thus things are a bit upset. There are five people in yon carriage; three came from the north, and two from the south. The northern train has been in nearly half-an-hour, so the three had to wait for the two. Well, I think I’ve made them comfortable, so I don’t mind so much.”

“You’re a capital host, Tom,” I said.

“Am I, Justin? Well, I hope I am to you, for I have been really longing for you to come, and I want you to have a jolly time.”

“I’m sure I shall,” I replied.

“Well, I hope so; only you don’t care for ladies’ society, and I’m afraid I shall have to be away from you a good bit.”

“Naturally you will, old fellow. You see, you are master of the hall, and will have to look after the comfort of all the guests.”

“Oh, as to that, mother will do all that’s necessary; but I— that is— ” and Tom stopped.

“Any particular guest, Tom?” I asked.

“Yes, there is, Justin. I don’t mind telling you, but I’m in love, and I want to settle the matter this Christmas. She’s an angel of a girl, and I’m in hopes that— Well, I don’t believe she hates me.”

“Good, Tom. And her name?”

“Her name,” said Tom slowly, “is Edith Gray.”

I gave a sigh of relief. I could not help it— why I could not tell; and yet I trembled lest he should mention another name.

We reached Temple Hall in due time, where I was kindly welcomed by Mrs. Temple and her two daughters. The former was just the kind of lady I had pictured her, while the daughters gave promise of following in the footsteps of their kind-hearted mother.

Tom took me to my room, and then, looking at his watch, said, “Make haste, old fellow. Dinner has been postponed on account of you late arrivals, but it will be ready in half-an-hour.”

I was not long over my toilet, and soon after hearing the first dinner bell I wended my way to the drawing-room, wondering who and what kind of people I should meet, but was not prepared for the surprises that awaited me.


Chapter 2 CHRISTMAS EVE

Just before I reached the drawing-room door, Mrs. Temple came up and took me by the arm.

“We are all going to be very unceremonious, Mr. Blake,” she said, “and I shall expect my son’s friend to make himself perfectly at home.”

I thanked her heartily, for I began to feel a little strange.

We entered the drawing-room together, where I found a number of people had gathered. They were mostly young, although I saw one or two ancient-looking dames, who, I supposed, had come to take care of their daughters.

“I am going to introduce you to everybody,” continued the old lady, “for this is to be a family gathering, and we must all know each other. I know I may not be acting according to the present usages of society, but that does not trouble me a little bit.”

Accordingly, with the utmost good taste, she introduced me to a number of the people who had been invited.

I need make no special mention of most of them. Some of the young ladies simpered, others were frank, some were fairly good looking, while others were otherwise, and that is about all that could be said. None had sufficient individuality to make a distinct impression upon me. The young men were about on a par with the young ladies. Some lisped and were affected, some were natural and manly; and I began to think that, as far as the people were concerned, the Christmas gathering would be a somewhat tame affair.

This thought had scarcely entered my mind when two men entered the room, who were certainly not of the ordinary type, and will need a few words of description; for both were destined, as my story will show, to have considerable influence over my life.

I will try to describe the more striking of the two first.

He was a young man. Not more than thirty-five. He was fairly tall, well built, and had evidently enjoyed the education and advantages of a man of wealth. His hair was black as the raven’s wings, and was brushed in a heavy mass horizontally across his forehead. His eyes were of a colour that did not accord with his black hair and swarthy complexion. They were of an extremely light grey, and were tinted with a kind of green. They were placed very close together, and, the bridge of the nose being narrow, they appeared sometimes as if only one eye looked upon you. The mouth was well cut, the lips rather thin, which often parted, revealing a set of pearly white teeth. There was something positively fascinating about the mouth, and yet it betrayed malignity— cruelty. He was perfectly self-possessed, stood straight, and had a soldier-like bearing. I instinctively felt that this was a man of power, one who would endeavour to make his will law. His movements were perfectly graceful, and from the flutter among the young ladies when he entered, I judged he had already spent some little time with them, and made no slight impression.

His companion was much smaller, and even darker than he was. His every feature indicated that he was not an Englishman. With small wiry limbs, black, restless, furtive eyes, rusty black hair, and a somewhat unhealthy colour in his face, he formed a great contrast to the man I have just tried to describe. I did not like him. He seemed to carry a hundred secrets around with him, and each one a deadly weapon he would some day use against any who might offend him. He, too, gave you the idea of power, but it was the power of a subordinate.

Instinctively I felt that I should have more to do with these men than with the rest of the company present.

Although I have used a page of good paper in describing them, I was only a very few seconds in seeing and realizing what I have written.

Both walked up to us, and both smiled on Mrs. Temple, whereupon she introduced them. The first had a peculiar name; at least, so it seemed to me.

“Mr. Herod Voltaire— Mr. Justin Blake,” she said; and instantly we were looking into each other’s eyes, I feeling a strange kind of shiver pass through me.

The name of the smaller man was simply that of an Egyptian, “Aba Wady Kaffar.” The guests called him Mr. Kaffar, and thus made it as much English as possible.

Scarcely had the formalities of introduction been gone through between the Egyptian and myself, when my eyes were drawn to the door, which was again opening. Do what I would I could not repress a start, for, to my surprise, I saw my travelling companions enter with Miss Temple— Gertrude Forrest looking more charming and more beautiful than ever, and beside her Miss Staggles, tall, gaunt, and more forbidding than when in the railway carriage.

It is no use denying the fact, for my secret must sooner or later drop out. My heart began to throb wildly, while my brain seemed on fire. I began to picture myself in conversation with her, and becoming acquainted with her, when I accidentally looked at Herod Voltaire. His eyes were fixed on Miss Forrest, as if held by a magnet, and I fancied I saw a faint colour tinge his cheek.

What I am now going to write may appear foolish and unreal, especially when you remember that I was thirty years of age, but the moment I saw his ardent, admiring gaze, I felt madly jealous.

The second dinner bell rang, and so, mechanically offering my arm to a lady who had, I thought, been neglected on account of her plain looks, I followed the guests to the dining-room.

Nothing happened there worth recording. We had an old-fashioned English dinner, and that is about all I can remember, except that the table looked exceedingly nice. I don’t think there was much talking; evidently the guests were as yet strangers to each other, and were only gradually wearing away the restraint that naturally existed. I could not see Miss Gertrude Forrest, for she was sitting on my side of the table, but I could see the peculiar eyes of Herod Voltaire constantly looking at some one nearly opposite him, while he scarcely touched the various dishes that were placed on the table.

Presently dinner came to an end. The ladies retired to the drawing-room, while the gentlemen prepared to sit over their wine. Being an abstainer, I asked leave to retire with the ladies. I did this for two reasons besides my principles of abstinence. First, I thought the custom a foolish one, as well as being harmful; and, second, I hoped by entering the drawing-room early, I might have a chance to speak to Miss Forrest.

I did not leave alone. Two young Englishmen also declared themselves to be abstainers, and wanted to go with me, while Herod Voltaire likewise asked leave to abide by the rules he had ever followed in the countries in which he had lived.

Of course there was some laughing demur among those who enjoyed their after-dinner wine, but we followed the bent of our inclination, and found our way to the drawing-room.

Evidently the ladies were not sorry to see us, for a look of pleasure and surprise greeted us, and soon the conversation became general. Presently, however, our attention was by degrees drawn to that part of the room where Herod Voltaire sat, and I heard him speaking fluently and smoothly on some subject he was discussing with a young lady.

“Yes, Miss Emery,” he said, “I think European education is poor, is one-sided. Take, for example, the ordinary English education, and what does it amount to? Arithmetic, and sometimes a little mathematics, reading, writing, French, sometimes German, and of course music and dancing. Nearly all are educated in one groove, until there is in the English mind an amount of sameness that becomes monotonous.”

“You are speaking of the education of ladies, Mr. Voltaire?” said Miss Emery.

“Yes, more particularly, although there is but little more variation among the men. Take your University degrees— your Cambridge and Oxford Master of Arts, for example; what a poor affair it is! I have been looking over the subjects of examination, and what are they? A couple of languages, the literature of two or three countries, mathematics, and something else which I have forgotten now.”

“You are scarcely correct, sir,” said one of the young men who came in with me. “I happen to have passed through Cambridge, and have taken the degree you mention. I found it stiff enough.”

“Not so stiff, when it can be taken at your age,” replied Voltaire. “But, admitting what you say, you are all cast in the same mould. You study the same subjects, and thus what one of you knows, all know.”

“And what may be your ideas concerning education?” said Miss Forrest.

Herod Voltaire turned and looked admiringly on her, and I saw that a blush tinged both their cheeks.

“My ideas are such as would not find much favour in ordinary English circles,” he said smilingly. “But I should do away with much of the nonsense of ordinary English education, and deal with the more occult sciences.”

“Pardon me, but I do not quite understand you.”

“I will endeavour to make my meaning plain. There are subjects relating to the human body, mind, and soul, which cannot be said to have been really studied at all, except by some recluse here and there, who is generally considered mad. You deal with the things which are seen, but think not of the great unsolved spiritual problems of life. For example, the effect of mind upon mind, animal magnetism, mesmerism, biology, and kindred subjects are unknown to you. The secrets of mind and spirit are left unnoticed by you Western people. You seek not to solve the occult truths which exist in the spirit of all men. You shudder at the problem of what you call death, and fancy nothing can be known of the spirit which leaves the world in which you live; whereas there is no such thing as death. The spirits of the so-called dead are living forces all around us, who can tell their condition to those who understand some of the secrets of spiritualism. Nay, more than that. There are occult laws of the soul which, if understood by some powerful mind, can be made to explain some of the deepest mysteries of the universe. For example, a man versed in the secrets of the spirit life can cause the soul of any human being to leave its clay tenement, and go to the world of spirits, and learn its secrets; and by the powers of his soul life, which can be a thousand times strengthened by means of a knowledge of the forces at the command of all, he can summon it back to the body again. Of course I can only hint at these things here, as only the initiated can understand these secret laws; but these are the things I would have studied, and thus lift the life of man beyond his poor material surroundings.” By this time the drawing-room was pretty well full. Nearly all the men had left their wine, and all were listening intently to what Voltaire was saying.

“You have lived in the East?” said Miss Forrest, evidently fascinated by the strange talk.

“For the last ten years. I spent a year in Cairo, two more up by the banks of the Nile, among the ruins of ancient cities, where, in spite of the degradation that exists, there is still to be found those who have some of the wisdom of past ages. Four years did I live in India among the sages who hold fast to the teaching of Buddha. The three remaining years I have spent in Arabia, Syria, and Chaldea.”

“And do you mean to say that what you have mentioned exists in reality?” said Miss Forrest.

“I have only hinted at what really exists. I could record to you facts that are strange, beyond the imagination of Dumas; so wonderful, that afterwards you could believe the stories told by your most renowned satirist, Dean Swift.”

“Favour us with one,” I suggested.

Voltaire looked at me with his green-tinted eyes, as if he would read my innermost thoughts. Evidently his impression of me was not favourable, for a cynical smile curled his lips, and his eyes gleamed with a steely glitter. “One has to choose times, occasions, and proper circumstances, in order to tell such facts,” he said. “I never speak of a sacred thing jestingly.”

We were all silent. This man had become the centre of attraction. Both men and women hung upon his every word. I looked around the room and I saw a strange interest manifested, except in the face of the Egyptian. Aba Wady Kaffar was looking at the ceiling as if calculating how many square feet there were.

“Perhaps you find it difficult to believe me,” went on Voltaire. “The truth is, I am very unfortunate in many respects. My way of expressing my thoughts is perhaps distasteful to you. You see, I have lived so long in the East that I have lost much of my European training. Then, my name is unfortunate. Herod killed one of your Christian saints, while Voltaire was an infidel. You English people have strong prejudices, and thus my story would be injured by the narrator.”

“Nay, Voltaire,” said Tom Temple, “we are all friendly listeners here.”

“My good host,” said Voltaire, “I am sure you are a friendly listener, but I have been telling of Eastern knowledge. One aspect of that knowledge is that the learned can read the minds, the thoughts of those with whom they come into contact.”

The ladies began to express an intense desire to hear a story of magic and mystery, and to assure him that his name was a delightful one.

“I trust I am not the disciple of either the men whose name I bear. Certainly I am susceptible to the influence of ladies”— and he smiled, thereby showing his white, shining teeth— “but I am a great admirer of honest men, whoever they may be, or whatever be their opinion. I am not a follower of Voltaire, although I admire his genius. He believed but little in the powers of the soul, or in the spirit world; I, on the other hand, believe it to be more real than the world in which we live.”

“We are not altogether strangers to stories about spiritualism or mesmerism here,” said Miss Forrest, “but the votaries of these so-called sciences have been and are such miserable specimens of mankind that educated people treat them with derision.”

There was decision and energy in her voice. Evidently she was not one to be easily deceived or trifled with.

“Counterfeits prove reality,” said Voltaire, looking searchingly at her; “besides, I seek to impose none of my stories on any one. I am not a professional spiritualist, psychologist, or biologist. I simply happen to have lived in countries where these matters are studied, and, as a consequence, have learned some of their mysteries. Seeing what I have seen, and hearing what I have heard, I beg to quote your greatest poet—

  ’There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your
  philosophy.’”

“Your quotation is apropos,” she said in reply, “but it so happens that I have taken considerable interest in the matter about which you have been speaking, and after seeing various representations of these so-called occult sciences, and carefully examining them, I have come to the conclusion that they are only so many fairly clever juggling tricks, which have been attempts to deceive credulous people. Moreover, these have been so often exposed by cultured men, that they have no weight with people of intelligence.”

His eyes gleamed savagely, but he smiled upon her, and said, “Perhaps I may have an opportunity of undeceiving you, some time in the near future.”

“Meanwhile you will tell us an Eastern story,” said one of the young ladies.

“Pardon me,” replied Voltaire, “but tonight is Christmas Eve, and as my story might be regarded as heathenish, I will wait for some more favourable time, when your minds will not be influenced by the memories of the birth of the Christian religion. Besides, I know many of you are longing for other amusement than stories of the unseen.”

As he spoke I saw his eyes travel towards Aba Wady Kaffar, and they exchanged glances; then he looked towards Miss Forrest, and again a look of intelligence passed between him and the Egyptian.

Soon after Kaffar began to talk fluently to one of the Misses Temple, while several members of the party prepared for a charade. Then, when the attention of the guests was drawn towards those who displayed their powers at acting, I saw Voltaire rise and go out, and soon after he was followed by his friend.

Acting upon sudden impulse, which I think was caused by the remembrance of the meaning glances that passed between them after Voltaire had looked at Miss Forrest, I followed them out into the silent night. Somehow I felt that this fascinating man did not like me, while I was sure he had been deeply impressed by the woman who had that day travelled with me from London.