Jerome had gone. I was alone. I had dragged myself to the desk and my notes and data. It was along toward spring and in the first shadows of the early evening. I had turned on the lights. It was the first labour I had done for several days. I had a great deal of work before me. I had begun sometime before to take down my temperature. I was careful of everything now, as much as I could be under the depression. So far I had discerned nothing that could be classed as pathological.
There is something subtle about the Nervina. She is much like the Rhamda. Perhaps they are the same. I hear no sound, I have no notion of a door or entrance. Watson had said of the Rhamda, "Sometimes you see him, sometimes you don't." It is so with the Nervina. I remember only my working at the data and the sudden movement of a hand upon my desk—a girl's hand. It was bewildering. I looked up.
I had not seen her since that night. It was now eight months—did I not know, I would have recorded them as years. Her expression was a bit more sad—and beautiful. The same wonderful glow of her eyes, night-black and tender; the softness that comes from passion, and love, and virtue. The same wistful droop of the perfect mouth. What a wondrous mass of hair she had! I dropped my pen. She took my hand. I could sense the thrill of contact; cool and magnetic.
She said no more; I did not answer; I was too taken by surprise and wonder. I could feel her concern as I would a mother's. What was her interest in myself? The contact of her hand sent a strange pulse through my vitals; she was so beautiful. Could it be? Watson said he loved her. Could I blame him?
"Harry," she asked, "how long is it to continue?"
So that was it. Merely an envoy to accept surrender. I was worn utterly, weary of the world, lonely. But I hadn't given up. I had strength still, and will enough to hold out to the end. Perhaps I was wrong. If I gave her the ring? what then?
"I am afraid," I answered, "that I must go on. I have given my word. It has been much harder than I expected. This jewel? What has it to do with the Blind Spot?"
"It controls it."
"Does the Rhamda desire it?"
"Why doesn't he call for it personally? Why doesn't he make a clean breast of it? It would be much easier. He knows and you know that I am after Dr. Holcomb and Watson. I might even forego the secret. Would he release the doctor?"
"No, Harry, he would not."
"I see. If I gave up the ring it would be merely for my personal safety. I am a coward—"
"Oh," she said, "don't say that. You must give the ring to me—not to the Rhamda. He must not control the Blind Spot."
"What is the Blind Spot? Tell me."
"Harry," she spoke, "I cannot. It is not for you or any other mortal. It is a secret that should never have been uncovered. It might be the end. In the hands of the Rhamda it would certainly be the end of mankind."
"Who is the Rhamda? Who are you? You are too beautiful to be merely woman. Are you a spirit?"
She pressed my hand ever so slightly. "Do I feel like a spirit? I am material as much as you are. We live, see—everything."
"But you are not of this world?"
Her eyes grew sadder; a soft longing.
"Not exactly, Harry, not exactly. It is a long story and a very strange one. I may not tell you. It is for your own good. I am your friend"—her eyes were moist—"I—don't you see? Oh, I would save you!"
I did not doubt it. Somehow she was like a girl of dreams, pure as an angel; her wistfulness only deepened her beauty. It came like a shock at the moment. I could love this woman. She was—what was I thinking? My guilty mind ran back to Charlotte. I had loved her since boyhood. I would be a coward—then a wild fear. Perhaps of jealousy.
"The Rhamda? Is he your husband? You are the same—"
"Oh," she answered, "why do you say it?" Her eyes snapped and she grew rigid. "The Rhamda! My husband! If you only knew. I hate him! We are enemies. It was he who opened the Blind Spot. I am here because he is evil. To watch him. I love your world, I love it all. I would save it. I love—"
She dropped her head. Whatever she was, she was not above sobbing.
I touched her hair; it was of the softest texture I have ever seen; the lustre was like all the beauty of night woven into silk. She loved, loved; I could love—I was on the point of surrender.
"Tell me," I asked, "just one thing more. If I gave you this ring would you save the doctor and Chick Watson?"
She raised her head; her eyes glistened; but she did not answer.
She shook her head. "I cannot," she answered. "That cannot be. I can only save you for—for—Charlotte."
Was it vanity in myself? I don't know. It seemed to me that it was hard for her to say it. Frankly, I loved her. I knew it. I loved Charlotte. I loved them both. But I held to my purpose.
"Are the professor and Watson living?"
"Are they conscious?"
She nodded. "Harry," she said, "I can tell you that. They are living and conscious. You have seen them. They have only one enemy—the Rhamda. But they must never come out of the Blind Spot. I am their friend and yours."
A sudden courage came upon me. I remembered my word to Watson. I had loved the old professor. I would save them. If necessary I would follow to the end. Either myself or Fenton. One of us would solve it!
"I shall keep the ring," I said. "I shall avenge them. Somehow, somewhere, I feel that I shall do it. Even if I must follow—"
She straightened at that. Her eyes were frightened.
"Oh," she said, "why do you say it? It must not be! You would perish! You shall not do it! I must save you. You must not go alone. Three—it may not be. If you go, I go with you. Perhaps— oh, Harry!"
She dropped her head again; her body shook with her sobbing; plainly she was a girl. No real man is ever himself in the presence of a woman's tears. I was again on the point of surrender. Suddenly she looked up.
"Harry," she spoke sadly, "I have just one thing to ask. You must see Charlotte. You must forget me; we can never—you love Charlotte. I have seen her; she's a beautiful girl. You haven't written. She is worried. Remember what you mean to her happiness. Will you go?"
That I could promise.
"Yes, I shall see Charlotte."
She rose from her chair. I held her hand. Again, as in the restaurant, I lifted it to my lips. She flushed and drew it away. She bit her lip. Her beauty was a kind I could not understand.
"You must see Charlotte," she said, "and you must do as she says."
With that she was gone. There was a car waiting; the last I saw was its winking tail-light dimming into the darkness.
Left alone, I began thinking of Charlotte. I loved her; of that I was certain. I could not compare her with the Nervina. She was like myself, human. I had known her since boyhood. The other was out of the ether; my love for her was something different; she was of dreams and moonbeams; there was a film about her beauty, illusion; she was of spirit.
I wrote a note to the detective and left it upon my desk. After that I packed a suitcase and hurried to the station. If I was going I would do it at once, I could not trust myself too far. This visit had been like a breath of air; for the moment I was away from the isolation. The loneliness and the weariness! How I dreaded it! I was only free from it for a few moments. On the train it came back upon me and in a manner that was startling.
I had purchased my ticket. When the conductor came through he passed me. He gathered tickets all about me; but he did not notice me. At first I paid no attention; but when he had gone through the car several times I held up my ticket. He did not stop. It was not until I had touched him that he gave me a bit of attention.
"Where have you been sitting?" he asked.
I pointed to the seat. He frowned slightly.
"There?" he asked. "Did you say you were sitting in that seat? Where did you get on?"
"Queer," he answered; he punched the ticket. "Queer. I passed that seat several times. It was empty!"
Empty! It was almost a shock. Could it be that my isolation was becoming physical as well as mental? What was this gulf that was widening between myself and my fellows?
It was the beginning of another phase. I have noticed it many times; on the street, in public places, everywhere. I thread in and out among men. Sometimes they see me, sometimes they don't. It is strange. I feel at times as though I might be vanishing out of the world!
It was late when I reached my old home; but the lights were still burning. My favourite dog, Queen, was on the veranda. As I came up the steps she growled slightly, but on recognition went into a series of circles about the porch. My father opened the door. I stepped inside. He touched me on the shoulder, his jaw dropped.
"Harry!" he exclaimed.
Was it as bad as that? How much meaning may be placed in a single intonation! I was weary to the point of exhaustion. The ride upon the train had been too much.
My mother came in. For some moments I was busy protesting my health. But it was useless; it wasn't until I had partaken of a few of the old nostrums that I could placate her.
"Work, work, work, my boy," said my father, "nothing but work. It really won't do. You're a shadow. You must take a vacation. Go to the mountains; forget your practice for a short time."
I didn't tell them. Why should I? I decided right then it was my own battle. It was enough for me without casting the worry upon others. Yet I could not see Charlotte without calling on my parents.
As soon as possible I crossed the street to the Fentons'. Someone had seen me in town. Charlotte was waiting. She was the same beautiful girl I had known so long; the blue eyes, the blonde, wavy mass of hair, the laughing mouth and the gladness. But she was not glad now. It was almost a repetition of what had happened at home, only here a bit more personal. She clung to me almost in terror. I didn't realise I had gone down so much. I knew my weariness; but I hadn't thought my appearance so dejected. I remembered Watson. He had been wan, pale, forlorn. After what brief explanation I could give, I proposed a stroll in the moonlight.
It was a full moon; a wonderful night; we walked down the avenue under the elm trees. Charlotte was beautiful, and worried; she clung to my arm with the eagerness of possession. I could not but compare her with Nervina. There was a contrast; Charlotte was fresh, tender, affectionate, the girl of my boyhood. I had known her all my life; there was no doubt of our love.
Who was the other? She was something higher, out of mystery, out of life—almost—out of the moonbeams. I stopped and looked up. The great full orb was shining. I didn't know that I spoke.
"Harry," asked Charlotte, "who is the Nervina?"
Had I spoken?
"What do you know about the Nervina?" I asked.
"She has been to see me. She told me. She said you would be here tonight. I was waiting. She is very beautiful. I never saw anyone like her. She is wonderful!"
"What did she say?"
"She! Oh, Harry. Tell me. I have waited. Something has happened. Tell me. You have told me nothing. You are not like the old Harry."
"Tell me about the Nervina. What did she say? Charlotte, tell me everything. Am I so much different from the old Harry?"
She clutched at my arm fearfully; she looked into my eyes.
"Oh," she said, "how can you say it? You haven't laughed once. You are melancholy; you are pale, drawn, haggard. You keep muttering. You are not the old Harry. Is it this Nervina? At first I thought she loved you; but she does not. She wanted to know all about you, and about our love. She was so interested. What is this danger?"
I didn't answer.
"You must tell me. This ring? She said that you must give it to me. What is it?" she insisted.
"Did she ask that? She told you to take the ring? My dear," I asked, "if it were the ring and it were so sinister would I be a man to give it to my loved one?"
"It would not hurt me."
But I would not. Something warned me. It was a ruse to get it out of my possession. The whole thing was haunting, weird, ghostly. Always I could hear Watson. I still had a small quota of courage and will-power. I clung steadfastly to my purpose.
It was a sad three hours. Poor Charlotte! I shall never forget it. It is the hardest task on earth to deny one's loved one.
She had grown into my heart and into its possession. She clung to me tenderly, tearfully. I could not tell her. Her feminine instinct sensed disaster. In spite of her tears I insisted. When I kissed her goodnight she did not speak. But she looked up at me through her tears. It was the hardest thing of all for me to bear.
When I returned to the city next morning I took my dog. It was a strange whim; but one which was to lead to a remarkable development. I have always been a lover of dogs. I was lonely. There is a bond between a dog and his master. It goes beyond definition; it roots down into nature. I was to learn much.
She was an Australian shepherd. She was of a tawny black and bob- tailed from birth.
What is the power that lies behind instinct? How far does it go? I had a notion that the dog would be outside the sinister clutch that was dragging me under.
Happily Jerome was fond of dogs. He was reading. When I entered with Queen tugging at the chain he looked up. The dog recognised the heart of the man; when he stooped to pet her she moved her stub tail in an effusion of affectionate acceptance. Jerome had been reading Le Bon's theory on the evolution of force. His researches after the mystery had led him into the depths of speculation; he had become quite a scholar. After our first greeting I unhooked the chain and let Queen have the freedom of the house. I related what had happened. The detective closed the book and sat down. The dog waited a bit for further petting; but missing that she began sniffing about the room. There was nothing strange about it of course. I myself paid not the slightest attention. But the detective was watching. While I was telling my story he was following every movement of the shepherd. Suddenly he held up one finger. I turned.
It was Queen. A low growl, guttural and suspicious. She was standing about a foot from the portieres that separated the library from the other room—where we had lost Watson, and where Jerome had had his experience with the old lady. Tense and rigid, one forepaw held up stealthily, her stub tail erect and the hair along her back bristled. Again the low growl. I caught Jerome's eyes. It was queer.
"What is it, Queen?" I spoke.
At the sound of my voice she wagged her tail and looked round, then stepped between the curtains. Just her head. She drew back; her lips drawn from her teeth, snarling. She was rigid, alert, vitalised. Somehow it made me cold. She was a brave dog; she feared nothing. The detective stepped forward and pulled the curtains apart. The room was empty. We looked into each other's faces. What is there to instinct? What is its range? We could see nothing.
But not to the dog. Her eyes glowed. Hate, fear, terror, her whole body rigid.
"I wonder," I said. I stepped into the room. But I hadn't counted on the dog. With a yelp she was upon me, had me by the calf of the leg and was drawing me back. She stepped in front of me; a low, guttural growl of warning. But there was nothing in that room; of that we were certain.
"Beats me," said the detective. "How does she know? Wonder if she would stop me?" He stepped forward. It was merely a repetition. She caught him by the trouser-leg and drew him back. She crowded us away from the curtain. It was almost magnetic. We could see nothing, neither could we feel; was it possible that the dog could see beyond us? The detective spoke first:
"Take her out of the room. Put her in the hall; tie her up."
"What's the idea?"
"Merely this; I am going to examine the room. No, I am not afraid. I'll be mighty glad if it does catch me. Anything so long as I get results."
But it did us no good. We examined the room many times that night; both of us. In the end there was nothing, only the weirdness and uncertainty and the magnetic undercurrent which we could feel, but could not fathom. When we called in the dog she stepped to the portieres and commenced her vigil. She crouched slightly behind the curtains, alert, ready, waiting, at her post of honour. From that moment she never left the spot except under compulsion. We could hear her at all times of the night; the low growl, the snarl, the defiance.
But there was a great deal more that we were to learn from the dog. It was Jerome who first called my attention. A small fact at the beginning; but of a strange sequence. This time it was the ring. Queen had the habit that is common to most dogs; she would lick my hand to show her affection. It was nothing in itself; but for one fact—she always chose the left hand. It was the detective who first noticed it. Always and every opportunity she would lick the jewel. We made a little test to try her. I would remove the ring from one hand to the other; then hold it behind me. She would follow.
It was a strange fact; but of course not inexplicable. A scent or the attraction of taste might account for it. However, these little tests led to a rather remarkable discovery.
One night we had called the dog from her vigil. As usual she came to the jewel; by chance I pressed the gem against her head. It was a mere trifle; yet it was of consequence. A few minutes before I had dropped a handkerchief on the opposite side of the room; I was just thinking about picking it up. It was only a small thing, yet it put us on the track of the gem's strangest potency. The dog walked to the handkerchief. She brought it back in her mouth. At first I took it for a pure coincidence. I repeated the experiment with a book. The same result. I looked up at Jerome.
"What's the matter?" Then when I explained: "The dickens! Try it again."
Over and over again we repeated it, using different articles, pieces of which I was certain she didn't know the name. There was a strange bond between the gem and the intelligence, some strange force emanating from its lustre. On myself it was depressing; on the dog it was life itself. At last Jerome had an inspiration.
"Try the Rhamda," he said; "think of him. Perhaps—"
It was most surprising. Certainly it was remarkable. It was too much like intelligence; a bit too uncanny. At the instant of the thought the dog leaped backward.
Such a strange transformation; she was naturally gentle. In one instant she had gone mad. Mad? Not in the literal interpretation; but figuratively. She sprang back, snapping; her teeth bared, her hair bristled. Her nostrils drawn. With one bound she leaped between the curtains.
Jerome jumped up. With an exclamation he drew the portieres. I was behind him. The dog was standing at the edge of the room, bristling.
The room was empty. What did she see? What?
One thing was certain. Though we were sure of nothing else we were certain of the Rhamda. We could trust the canine's instinct. Every previous experiment we had essayed had been crowned with success. We had here a fact but no explanation. If we could only put things together and extract the law.
It was late when we retired. I could not sleep. The restlessness of the dog held back my slumber. She would growl sullenly, then stir about for a new position; she was never quite still. I could picture her there in the library, behind the curtains, crouched, half resting, half slumbering, always watching. I would awaken in the night and listen; a low guttural warning, a sullen whine—then stillness. It was the same with my companion. We could never quite understand it. Perhaps we were a bit afraid.
But one can become accustomed to almost anything. It went on for many nights without anything happening, until one night.
It was dark, exceedingly dark, with neither moon nor starlight; one of those nights of inky intenseness. I cannot say just exactly what woke me. The house was strangely silent and still; the air seemed stretched and laden. It was summer. Perhaps it was the heat. I only knew that I woke suddenly and blinked in the darkness.
In the next room with the door open I could hear the heavy breathing of the detective. A heavy feeling lay against my heart. I had grown accustomed to dread and isolation; but this was different. Perhaps it was premonition. I do not know. And yet I was terribly sleepy; I remember that.
I struck a match and looked at my watch on the bureau—twelve thirty-five. No sound—not even Queen—not even a rumble from the streets. I lay back and dropped into slumber. Just as I drifted off to sleep I had a blurring fancy of sound, guttural, whining, fearful—then suddenly drifting into incoherent rumbling phantasms—a dream. I awoke suddenly. Someone was speaking. It was Jerome.
I was frightened. It was like something clutching out of the darkness. I sat up. I didn't answer. It wasn't necessary. The incoherence of my dream had been external. The library was just below me. I could hear the dog pacing to and fro, and her snarling. Snarling? It was just that. It was something to arouse terror.
She had never growled like that—I was positive, I could hear her suddenly leap back from the curtains. She barked. Never before had she come to that. Then a sudden lunge into the other room—a vicious series of snapping barks, yelps—pandemonium—I could picture her leaping—at what? Then suddenly I leaped out of bed. The barks grew faint, faint, fainter—into the distance.
In the darkness I couldn't find the switch. I bumped into Jerome. We were lost in our confusion. It was a moment before we could find either a match or a switch to turn on the lights. But at last—I shall not forget that moment; nor Jerome. He was rigid; one arm held aloft, his eyes bulged out. The whole house was full of sound—full-toned—vibrant—magnetic. It was the bell.
I jumped for the stairway, but not so quick as Jerome. With three bounds we were in the library with the lights on. The sound was running down to silence. We tore down the curtains and rushed into the room. It was empty!
There was not even the dog. Queen had gone! In a vain rush of grief I began calling and whistling. It was an overwhelming moment. The poor, brave shepherd. She had seen it and rushed into its face.
It was the last night I was to have Jerome. We sat up until daylight. For the thousandth time we went over the house in detail, but there was nothing. Only the ring. At the suggestion of the detective I touched the match to the sapphire. It was the same. The colour diminishing, and the translucent corridors deepening into the distance; then the blur and the coming of shadows—the men, Watson and the professor—and my dog.
Of the men, only the heads showed; but the dog was full figure; she was sitting, apparently on a pedestal, her tongue was lolling out of her mouth and her face of that gentle intelligence which only the Australian shepherd is heir to. That is all—no more— nothing. If we had hoped to discover anything through her medium we were disappointed. Instead of clearing up, the whole thing had grown deeper.
I have said that it was the last night I was to have Jerome. I didn't know it then. Jerome went out early in the morning. I went to bed. I was not afraid in the daylight. I was certain now that the danger was localised. As long as I kept out of that apartment I had nothing to fear. Nevertheless, the thing was magnetic. A subtle weirdness pervaded the building. I did not sleep soundly. I was lonely; the isolation was crowding on me. In the afternoon I stepped out on the streets.
I have spoken of my experience with the conductor. On this day I had the certainty of my isolation; it was startling. In the face of what I was and what I had seen it was almost terrifying. It was the first time I thought of sending for Hobart. I had thought I could hold out. The complete suddenness of the thing set me to thinking. I thought of Watson. It was the last phase, the feebleness, the wanness, the inertia! He had been a far stronger man than I in the beginning.
I must cable Fenton. While I had still an ego in the presence of men, I must reach out for help. It was a strange thing and inexplicable. I was not invisible. Don't think that. I simply did not individualise. Men didn't notice me—till I spoke. As if I was imperceptibly losing the essence of self. I still had some hold on the world. While it remained I must get word to Hobart. I did not delay. Straight to the office I went and paid for the cable.
CANNOT HOLD OUT MUCH LONGER. COME AT ONCE.—HARRY.
I was a bit ashamed. I had hoped. I had counted upon myself. I had trusted in the full strength of my individuality. I had been healthy—strong—full blooded. On the fullness of vitality one would live forever. There is no tomorrow. It was not a year ago. I was eighty. It had been so with Watson. What was this subtle thing that ate into one's marrow? I had read of banshees, lemures and leprechauns; they were the ghosts and the fairies of ignorance but they were not like this. It was impersonal, hidden, inexorable. It was mystery. And I believed that it was Nature.
I know it now. Even as I write I can sense the potency of the force about me. Some law, some principle, some force that science has not uncovered.
What is that law that shall bridge the chaos between the mystic and the substantial? I am standing on the bridge; and I cannot see it. What is the great law that was discovered by Dr. Holcomb? Who is the Rhamda? Who is the Nervina?
Jerome has not returned. I cannot understand it. It has been a week. I am living on brandy—not much of anything else—I am waiting for Fenton. I have taken all my elaborations and notes and put them together. Perhaps I—
(This is the last of the strange document left by Harry Wendel. The following memorandum is written by Charlotte Fenton.)
I do not know. It is hard to write after what has happened.
Hobart says that it is why I am to write it. It is to be a plain narrative. Besides, he is very busy and cannot do it himself. There must be some record. I shall do my best and hold out of my writing as much as I can of my emotion. I shall start with the Nervina.
It was the first I knew; the first warning. Looking back I cannot but wonder. No person I think who has ever seen the Nervina can do much else; she is so beautiful! Beautiful? Why do I say it? I should be jealous and I should hate her. Yet I do not. Why is it?
It was about eight months after Hobart had left for South America. I remember those eight months as the longest in my life; because of Harry. I am a girl and I like attention; all girls do. Ordinarily he would come over every fortnight at least. After Hobart had gone he came once only, and of course I resented the inattention.
It seemed to me that no business could be of enough importance if he really loved me. Even his letters were few and far between. What he wrote were slow and weary and of an undertone that I could not fathom. I—loved Harry. I could not understand it. I had a thousand fearful thoughts and jealousies; but they were feminine and in no way approximated even the beginning of the truth. Inattention was not like Harry. It was not until the coming of the Nervina that I was afraid.
Afraid? I will not say that—exactly. It was rather a suspicion, a queer undercurrent of wonder and doubt. The beauty of the girl, her interest in Harry and myself, her concern over this ring, put me a bit on guard. I wondered what this ring had to do with Harry Wendel.
She did not tell me in exact words or in literal explanation; but she managed to convey all too well a lurking impression of its sinister potency. It was something baleful, something the very essence of which would break down the life of one who wore it. Harry had come into its possession by accident and she would save him. She had failed through direct appeal. Now she had come to me. She did not say a word of the Blind Spot.
And the next day came Harry. It was really a shock, though I had been warned by the girl. He was not Harry at all, but another. His eyes were dim and they had lost their lustre; when they did show light at all, it was a kind that was a bit fearful. He was wan, worn, and shrunk to a shadow, as if he had gone through a long illness.
He said he had not been sick. He maintained that he was quite well physically. And on his finger was the ring of which the girl had spoken. Its value must have been incalculable. Wherever he moved his hand its blue flame cut a path through the darkness. But he said nothing about it. I waited and wondered and was afraid. It was not until our walk under the elm trees that it was mentioned.
It was a full moon; a wonderful, mellow moon of summer. He stopped suddenly and gazed up at the orb above us. It seemed to me that his mind was wandering, he held me closely—tenderly. He was not at all like Harry. There was a missing of self, of individuality; he spoke in abstractions.
"The maiden of the moonbeams?" he said. "What can it mean?"
And then I asked him. He has already told of our conversation. It was the ring of which the Nervina had told me. It had to do with the Blind Spot—the great secret that had taken Dr. Holcomb. He would not give it to me. I worked hard, for even then I was not afraid of it. Something told me—I must do it to save him. It was weird, and something I could not understand—but I must do it for Harry.
I failed. Though he was broken in every visible way there was one thing as strong as ever—his honour. He was not afraid; he had been the same in his boyhood. When we parted that night he kissed me. I shall never forget how long he looked into my eyes, nor his sadness. That is all. The next morning he left for San Francisco.
And then came the end. A message; abrupt and sudden. It was some time after and put a period to my increasing stress and worry. It read:
CITY OF PERU DOCKS TONIGHT AT EIGHT. MEET ME AT THE PIER. HOBART COMING,—HARRY.
It was a short message and a bit twisted. In ordinary circumstances he would have motored down and brought me back to greet Hobart. It was a bit strange that I should meet him at the pier. However, I had barely time to get to the city if I hurried.
I shall never forget that night.
It was dark when I reached San Francisco. I was a full twenty minutes early at the pier. A few people were waiting. I looked about for Harry. He was to meet me and I was certain that I would find him. But he was not there. Of course there was still time. He was sure to be on hand to greet Hobart.
Nevertheless, I had a vague mistrust. Since that strange visit I had not been sure. Harry wasn't well. There was something to this mystery that he had not told me. Why had he asked me to meet him at the pier? Why didn't he come? When the boat docked and he was still missing I was doubly worried.
Hobart came down the gangplank. He was great, strong, healthy, and it seemed to me in a terrible hurry. He scanned the faces hurriedly and ran over to me.
"Where's Harry?" He kissed me and in the same breath repeated, "Where's Harry?"
"Oh, Hobart!" I exclaimed. "What's the matter with Harry? Tell me. It's something terrible!"
He was afraid. Plainly I could see that! There were lines of anxiety about his eyes. He clutched me by the arm and drew me away.
"He was to meet me here," I said. "He didn't come. He was to meet me here! Oh, Hobart, I saw him some time ago. He was—it was not Harry at all! Do you know anything about it?"
For a minute he stood still, looking at me. I had never seen Hobart frightened; but at that moment there was that in his eyes which I could not understand. He caught me by the arm and started out almost at a run. There were many people and we dodged in and out among them. Hobart carried a suitcase. He hailed a taxi.
I don't know how I got into the car. It was a blur. I was frightened. Some terrible thing had occurred, and Hobart knew it. I remember a few words spoken to the driver. "Speed, speed, no limit; never mind the law—and Chatterton Place!" After that the convulsive jerking over the cobbled streets, a climbing over hills and twisted corners. And Hobart at my side. "Faster—faster," he was saying; "faster! My lord, was there ever a car so slow! Harry! Harry!" I could hear him breathing a prayer. Another hill; the car turned and came suddenly to a stop! Hobart leaped out.
A sombre two-storey house; a light burning in one of the windows, a dim light, almost subdued and uncanny. I had never seen anything so lonely as that light; it was grey, uncertain, scarcely a flicker. Perhaps it was my nerves. I had scarcely strength to climb the steps. Hobart grasped the knob and thrust open the door; I can never forget it.
It is hard to write. The whole thing! The room; the walls lined with books; the dim, pale light, the faded green carpet, and the man. Pale, worn, almost a shadow of his former self. Was it Harry Wendel? He had aged forty years. He was stooped, withered, exhausted. A bottle of brandy on the desk before him. In his weak, thin hand an empty wineglass. The gem upon his finger glowed with a flame that was almost wicked; it was blue, burning, giving out sparkles of light—like a colour out of hell. The path of its light was unholy—it was too much alive.
We both sprang forward. Hobart seized him by the shoulders.
"Harry, old boy; Harry! Don't you know us? It's Hobart and Charlotte."
It was terrible. He didn't seem to know. He looked right at us. But he spoke in abstractions.
"Two," he said. And he listened. "Two! Don't you hear it?" He caught Hobart by the arm. "Now, listen. Two! No, it's three. Did I say three? Can't you hear? It's the old lady. She speaks out of the shadows. There! There! Now, listen. She has been counting to me. Always she says three! Soon it will be four."
What did he mean? What was it about? Who was the old lady? I looked round. I saw no one. Hobart stooped over. Harry began slowly to recognise us. It was as if his mind had wandered and was coming back from a far place. He spoke slowly; his words were incoherent and rambling.
"Hobart," he said; "you know her. She is the maiden out of the moonbeams. The Rhamda, he is our enemy. Hobart, Charlotte. I know so much. I cannot tell you. You are two hours late. It's a strange thing. I have found it and I think I know. It came suddenly. The discovery of the great professor. Why didn't you come two hours earlier? We might have conquered."
He dropped his head upon his arms; then as suddenly he looked up. He drew the ring from his finger.
"Give it to Charlotte," he said. "It won't hurt her. Don't touch it yourself. Had I only known. Watson didn't know—"
He straightened; he was tense, rigid, listening.
"Do you hear anything? Listen! Can you hear? It's the old lady. There—"
But there was not a sound; only the rumble of the streets, the ticking of the clock, and our heart-beats. Again he went through the counting.
"And Charlotte! The ring—ah, yet it was there, Keep it. Give it to no one. Two hours ago we might have conquered. But I had to keep the ring. It was too much, too powerful; a man may not wear it. Charlotte"—he took my hand and ran the ring upon my finger. "Poor Charlotte. Here is the ring. The most wonderful—"
Again he dropped over. He was weak—there was something going from him minute by minute.
"Water," he asked. "Hobart, some water."
It was too pitiful. Harry, our Harry—come to a strait like this! Hobart rushed to another room with the tumbler. I could hear him fumbling. I stooped over Harry. But he held up his hand.
"No, Charlotte, no. You must not. If—"
He stopped. Again the strange attention, as if he was listening to something far off in the distance; the pupils of his hollow, worn, lustreless eyes were pin-points. He stood on his feet rigid, quivering; then he held up his hand. "Listen!"
But there was nothing. It was just as before; merely the murmuring of the city night, and the clock ticking.
"It's the dog! D'you hear her? And the old lady. Now listen, 'Two! Now there are two! Three! Three! Now there are three!' There— now." He turned to me. "Can you hear it, Charlotte? No? How strange. Perhaps—" He pointed to the corner of the room. "That paper. Will you—"
I shall always go over that moment. I have thought over it many times and have wondered at the sequence. Had I not stepped across the library, what would have happened?
What was it.
I had stooped to pick up the piece of paper. There came a queer, cracking, snapping sound, almost audible, I have a strange recollection of Harry standing up by the side of the desk—a flitting vision. An intuition of some terrible force. It was out of nothing—nowhere—approaching. I turned about. And I saw it— the dot of blue.
Blue! That is what it was at first. Blue and burning, like the flame of a million jewels centred into a needlepoint. On the ceiling directly above Harry's head. It was scintillating, coruscating, opalescent; but it was blue most of all. It was the colour of life and of death; it was burning, throbbing, concentrated. I tried to scream. But I was frozen with horror. The dot changed colour and went to a dead-blue. It seemed to grow larger and to open. Then it turned to white and dropped like a string of incandescence, touching Harry on the head.
What was it? It was all so sudden. A door flung open and a swish of rushing silk. A woman! A beautiful girl! The Nervina! It was she!
Never have I seen anyone like her. She was so beautiful. In her face all the compassion a woman is heir to. For scarcely a second she stopped.
"Charlotte," she called. "Charlotte—oh, why didn't you save him! He loves you!" Then she turned to Harry. "It shall not be. He shall not go alone. I shall save him, even beyond—"
With that she rushed upon Harry. It was all done in an instant. Her arms were outstretched to the dimming form of Harry and the incandescence. The splendid impassioned girl. Their forms intermingled. A blur of her beautiful body and Harry's wan, weary face. A flash of light, a thread of incandescence, a quiver—and they were gone.
The next I knew was the strong arms of my brother Hobart. He gave me the water he had fetched for Harry. He was terribly upset, but very calm. He held the glass up to my lips. He was speaking.
"Don't worry. Don't worry. I know now. I think I know. I was just in time to see them go. I heard the bell. Harry is safe. It is the Nervina. I shall get Harry. We'll solve the Blind Spot."
HOBART FENTON TAKES UP THE TALE
Right here at the outset, I had better make a clean breast of something which the reader will very soon suspect, anyhow: I am a plain, unpoetic, blunt-speaking man, trained as a civil engineer, and in most respects totally dissimilar from the man who wrote the first account of the Blind Spot.
Harry had already touched upon this. He came of an artistic family. I think he must have taken up law in the hope that the old saying would prove true: "The only certain thing about law is its uncertainty." For he dearly loved the mysterious, the unknowable; he liked uncertainty for its excitement: and it is a mighty good thing that he was honest, for he would have made a highly dangerous crook.
Observe that I use the past tense in referring to my old friend. I do this in the interests of strict, scientific accuracy, to satisfy those who would contend that, having utterly vanished from sight and sound of man, Harry Wendel is no more.
But in my own heart is the firm conviction that he is still very much alive.
Within an hour of his astounding disappearance, my sister, Charlotte, and I made our way to an hotel; and despite the terrible nature of what had happened, we managed to get a few hours rest. The following morning Charlotte declared herself quite strong enough to discuss the situation. We lost no time.
It will be remembered that I had spent nearly the whole of the preceding year in South America, putting through an irrigation scheme. Thus, I knew little of what had occurred in that interval. On the other hand, Harry and I had never seen fit to take Charlotte into our confidence as, I now see, we should have done.
So we fairly pounced upon the manuscript which Harry had left behind. And by the time we had finished reading it, I for one, had reached one solid conclusion.
"I'm convinced," I said, "that the stranger—Rhamda Avec—is an out-and-out villain. Despite his agreeable ways, I think he was solely and deliberately to blame for Professor Holcomb's disappearance. Consequently, this Rhamda is, in himself, a very valuable clue as to Harry's present predicament."
Referring to Harry's notes, I pointed out the fact that, although Avec had often been seen on the streets of San Francisco, yet the police had never been able to lay hands on him. This seemed to indicate that the man might possess the power of actually making himself visible or invisible, at will.
"Only"—I was careful to add—"understand, I don't rank him as a magician, or sorcerer; nothing like that. I'd rather think that he's merely in possession of a scientific secret, no more wonderful in itself than, say, wireless. He's merely got hold of it in advance of the others; that's all."
"Then you think that the woman, too, is human?"
"The Nervina?" I hesitated. "Perhaps you know more of this part of the thing than I do."
"I only know"—slowly—"that she came and told me that Harry was soon to call. And somehow, I never felt jealous of her, Hobart." Then she added: "At the same time, I can understand that Harry might—might have fallen in love with her. She—she was very beautiful."
Charlotte is a brave girl. She kept her voice as steady as my own.
We next discussed the disappearance of Chick Watson. These details are already familiar to the reader of Harry's story; likewise what happened to Queen, his Australian shepherd. Like the other vanishings, it was followed by a single stroke on that prodigious, invisible bell—what Harry calls "The Bell of the Blind Spot." And he has already mentioned my opinion, that this phenomenon signifies the closing of the portal of the unknown—the end of the special conditions which produce the bluish spot on the ceiling, the incandescent streak of light, and the vanishing of whoever falls into the affected region. The mere fact that no trace of the bell ever was found has not shaken my opinion.
And thus we reached the final disappearance, that which took away Harry. Charlotte contrived to keep her voice as resolute as before, as she said:
"He and the Nervina vanished together. I turned round just as she rushed in, crying out, 'I can't let you go alone! I'll save you, even beyond.' That's all she said, before—it happened."
"You saw nothing of the Rhamda then?"
And we had neither seen nor heard of him since. Until we got in touch with him, one important clue as to Harry's fate was out of our reach. There remained to us just one thread of hope—the ring, which Charlotte was now wearing on her finger.
I lit a match and held it to the face of the gem. As happened many times before, the stone exhibited its most astounding quality. As soon as faintly heated, the surface at first clouded, then cleared in a curious fashion, revealing a startling distinct, miniature likeness of the four who had vanished into the Blind Spot.
I make no attempt to explain this. Somehow or other, that stone possesses a telescopic quality which brings to a focus, right in front of the beholder's eyes, a tiny "close-up" of our vanished friends. Also, the gem magnifies what it reveals, so that there is not the slightest doubt that Dr. Holcomb, Chick Watson, Queen and Harry Wendel are actually reproduced—I shall not say, contained— in that gem. Neither shall I say that they are reflected; they are simply reproduced there.
Also, it should be understood that their images are living. Only the heads and shoulders of the men are to be seen; but there is animation of the features, such as cannot be mistaken. Granted that these four vanished in the Blind Spot—whatever that is—and granted that this ring is some inexplicable window or vestibule between that locality and this commonplace world of ours, then, manifestly, it would seem that all four are still alive.
"I am sure of it!" declared Charlotte, managing to smile, wistfully, at the living reproduction of her sweetheart. "And I think Harry did perfectly right, in handing it to me to keep."
"Well, if for no other reason than because it behaves so differently with me, than it did with him.
"Hobart, I am inclined to think that this fact is very significant. If Chick had only known of it, he wouldn't have insisted that Harry should wear it; and then—"
"Can't be helped," I interrupted quickly. "Chick didn't know; he was only certain that someone—SOMEONE—must wear the ring; that it mustn't pass out of the possession of humans. Moreover, much as Rhamda Avec may desire it—and the Nervina, too—neither can secure it through the use of force. Nobody knows why."
Charlotte shivered. "I'm afraid there's something spooky about it, after all."
"Nothing of the sort," with a conviction that has never left me. "This ring is a perfectly sound fact, as indisputable as the submarine. There's nothing supernatural about it; for that matter, I personally doubt if there's ANYTHING supernatural. Every phenomenon which seems, at first, so wonderful, becomes commonplace enough as soon as explained. Isn't it true that you yourself are already getting used to that ring?"
"Ye—es," reluctantly. "That is, partly. If only it were someone other than Harry!"
"Of course," I hurried to say, "I only wanted to make it clear that we haven't any witchcraft to deal with. This whole mystery will become plain as day, and that damned soon!"
"You've got a theory?"—hopefully.
"Several; that's the trouble!" I had to admit. "I don't know which is best to follow out.—It may be a spiritualistic thing after all. Or it may fall under the head of 'abnormal psychology'. Nothing but hallucinations, in other words."
"Oh, that won't do!"—evidently distressed. "I know what I saw! I'd doubt my reason if I thought I'd only fancied it!"
"So would I. Well, laying aside the spiritualistic theory, there remains the possibility of some hitherto undiscovered scientific secret. And if the Rhamda is in possession of it, then the matter simmers down to a plain case of villainy."
"But how does he do it?"
"That's the whole question. However, I'm sure of this"—I was fingering the ring as I spoke. The reproduction of our friends had faded, now, leaving that dully glowing pale blue light once more. "This ring is absolutely real; it's no hallucination. It performs as well in broad daylight as in the night; no special conditions needed. It's neither a fraud nor an illusion.
"In short, this ring is merely a phenomenon which science has not YET explained! That it can and will be explained is strictly up to us! Once we understand its peculiar properties, we can mighty soon rescue Harry!"
And it was just then that a most extraordinary thing occurred. It happened so very unexpectedly, so utterly without warning, that it makes me shaky to this day whenever I recall it.
From the gem on Charlotte's finger—or rather, from the air surrounding the ring—came an unmistakable sound. We saw nothing whatever; we only heard. And it was clear, as loud and as startling as though it had occurred right in the room where we were discussing the situation.
It was the sharp, joyous bark of a dog.
THE HOUSE OF MIRACLES
Looking back over what has just been written, I am sensible of a profound gratitude. I am grateful, both because I have been given the privilege of relating these events, and because I shall not have to leave this wilderness of facts for someone else to explain.
Really, if I did not know that I shall have the pleasure of piecing together these phenomena and of setting my finger upon the comparatively simple explanation; if I had to go away and leave this account unfinished, a mere collection of curiosity-provoking mysteries, I should not speak at all. I should leave the whole affair for another to finish, as it ought to be finished.
All of which, it will soon appear, I am setting forth largely in order to brace and strengthen myself against what I must now relate.
Before resuming, however, I should mention one detail which Harry was too modest to mention. He was—or is—unusually good-looking. I don't mean to claim that he possessed any Greek-god beauty; such wouldn't gibe with a height of five foot seven. No; his good looks were due to the simple outward expression, through his features, of a certain noble inward quality which would have made the homeliest face attractive. Selfishness will spoil the handsomest features; unselfishness will glorify.
Moreover, simply because he had given his word to Chick Watson that he would wear the ring, Harry took upon himself the most dangerous task that any man could assume, and he had lost. But had he known in advance exactly what was going to happen to him, he would have stuck to his word, anyhow. And since there was a sporting risk attached to it, since the thing was not perfectly sure to end tragically, he probably enjoyed the greater part of his experience.
But I'm not like that. Frankly, I'm an opportunist; essentially, a practical sort of fellow. I have a great admiration for idealists, but a much greater admiration for results. For instance, I have seldom given my word, even though the matter is unimportant; for I will cheerfully break my word if, later on, it should develop that the keeping of my word would do more harm than good.
I realise perfectly well that it is dangerous ground to tread upon; yet I must refer the reader to what I have accomplished in this world, as proof that my philosophy is not as bad as it looks.
I beg nobody's pardon for talking about myself so much at the outset. This account will be utterly incomprehensible if I am not understood. My method of solving the Blind Spot mystery is, when analysed, merely the expression of my personality. My sole idea has been to get RESULTS.
As Harry has put it, a proposition must be reduced to concrete form before I will have anything to do with it. If the Blind Spot had been a totally occult affair, demanding that the investigation be conducted under cover of darkness, surrounded by black velvet, crystal spheres and incense; demanding the aid of a clairvoyant or other "medium," I should never have gone near it. But as soon as the mystery began to manifest itself in terms that I could understand, appreciate and measure, then I took interest.
That is why old Professor Holcomb appealed to me; he had proposed that we prove the occult by physical means. "Reduce it to the scope of our five senses," he had said, in effect. From that moment on I was his disciple.
I have told of hearing that sharp, welcoming bark, emitted either from the gem or from the air surrounding it. This event took place on the front porch of the house at 288 Chatterton Place, as Charlotte and I sat there talking it over. We had taken a suite at the hotel, but had come to the house of the Blind Spot in order to decide upon a course of action. And, in a way, that mysterious barking decided it for us.
We returned to the hotel, and gave notice that we would leave the next day. Next, we began to make preparations for moving into the Chatterton Place dwelling.
That afternoon, while in the midst of giving orders for furnishings and the like, there at the hotel, I was called to the telephone. It was from a point outside the building.
"Mr. Fenton?"—in a man's voice. And when I had assured him; "You have no reason to recognise my voice. I am—Rhamda Avec."
"The Rhamda! What do you want?"
"To speak with your sister, Mr. Fenton." Odd how very agreeable the man's tones! "Will you kindly call her to the telephone?"
I saw no objection. However, when Charlotte came to my side I whispered for her to keep the man waiting while I darted out into the corridor and slipped downstairs, where the girl at the switchboard put an instrument into the circuit for me. Money talks. However—
"My dear child," the voice of Avec was saying, "you do me an injustice. I have nothing but your welfare at heart. I assure you that if anything should happen to you and your brother while at Chatterton Place, it will be through no fault of mine.
"At the same time I can positively assure you that, if you stay away from there, no harm will come to either of you; absolutely none! I can guarantee that. Don't ask me why; but, if you value your safety, stay where you are, or go elsewhere, anywhere other than to the house in Chatterton Place."
"I can hardly agree with you, Mr. Avec." Plainly Charlotte was deeply impressed with the man's sincerity and earnestness. "My brother's judgment is so much better than mine, that I—" and she paused regretfully.
"I only wish," with his remarkable gracefulness, "that your intuition were as strong as your loyalty to your brother. If it were, you would know that I speak the truth when I say that I have only your welfare at heart."
"I—I am sorry, Mr. Avec."
"Fortunately, there is one alternative," even more agreeable than before. "If you prefer not to take my advice, but cling to your brother's decision, you can still avoid the consequences of his determination to live in that house. As I say, I cannot prevent harm from befalling you, under present conditions; but these conditions can be completely altered if you will make a single concession, Miss Fenton."
"What is it?" eagerly.
"That you give me the ring!"
He paused for a very tense second. I wished I could see his peculiar, young-old face—the face with the inscrutable eyes; the face that urged, rather than inspired, both curiosity and confidence.
Then he added:
"I know why you wear it; I realise that the trinket carries some very tender associations. And I would never ask such a concession did I not know, were your beloved here at this moment, he would endorse every word that I say, and—"
"Harry!" cried Charlotte, her voice shaking. "He would tell me to give it to you?"
"I am sure of it! It is as though he, through me, were urging you to do this!"
For some moments there was silence. Charlotte must have been tremendously impressed. It certainly was amazing the degree of confidence that Avec's voice induced. I wouldn't have been greatly surprised had my sister—
"Mr. Avec," came Charlotte's voice, hesitatingly, almost sorrowfully. "I—I would like to believe you; but—but Harry himself gave me the ring, and I feel—oh, I'm sure that my brother would never agree to it!"
"I understand." Somehow the fellow managed to conceal any disappointment he may have felt. He contrived to show only a deep sympathy for Charlotte as he finished: "If I find it possible to protect you, I shall, Miss Fenton."
After it was all over, and I returned to the rooms, Charlotte and I concluded that it might have been better had we made some sort of compromise. If we had made a partial concession, he might have told us something of the mystery. We ought to have bargained. We decided that if he made any attempt to carry out what I felt sure were merely a thinly veiled threat to punish us for keeping the gem, we must not only be ready for whatever he might do, but try to trap and keep him as well.
That same day found us back at Chatterton Place. Inside, there was altogether too much evidence that the place had been bachelors' quarters.
The first step was to clean up. We hired lots of help, and made a quick thorough job of both floors. The basement we left untouched. And the next day we put a force of painters and decorators to work; whereby hangs the tale.
"Mr. Fenton," called the head painter, as he varnished the "trim" in the parlour, "I wish you'd come and see what to make of this."
I stepped into the front room. He was pointing to the long piece of finish which spanned the doorway leading into the dining-room. And he indicated a spot almost in the exact middle, a spot covering a space about five inches broad and as high as the width of the wood. In outline it was roughly octagonal.
"I've been trying my best," stated Johnson, "to varnish that spot for the past five minutes. But I'll be darned if I can do it!"
And he showed what he meant. Every other part of the door glistened with freshly applied varnish; but the octagonal region remained dull, as though no liquid had ever touched it. Johnson dipped his brush into the can, and applied a liberal smear of the fluid to the place. Instantly the stuff disappeared.
"Blamed porous piece of wood," eyeing me queerly. "Or—do you think it's merely porous, Mr. Fenton?"
For answer I took a brush and repeatedly daubed the place. It was like dropping ink on a blotter. The wood sucked up the varnish as a desert might suck up water.
"There's about a quart of varnish in the wood already," observed Johnson, as I stared and pondered. "Suppose we take it down and weigh it?"
Inside of a minute we had that piece of trim down from its place. First, I carefully examined the timber framework behind, expecting to see traces of the varnish where, presumably, it had seeped through. There was no sign. Then I inspected the reverse side of the finish, just behind the peculiar spot. I thought I might see a region of wide open pores in the grain of the pine. But the back looked exactly the same as the front, with no difference in the grain at any place.
Placing the finish right side up, I proceeded to daub the spot some more. There was no change in the results. At last I took the can, and without stopping, poured a quart and a half of the fluid into that paradoxical little area.
"Well I'll be darned!"—very loudly from Johnson. But when I looked up I saw his face was white, and his lips shaking.
His nerves were all a-jangle. To give his mind a rest, I sent him for a hatchet. When he came back his face had regained its colour. I directed him to hold the pine upright, while I, with a single stroke, sank the tool into the end of the wood.
It split part way. A jerk, and the wood fell in two halves.
"Well?" from Johnson, blankly.
"Perfectly normal wood, apparently." I had to admit that it was impossible to distinguish the material which constituted the peculiar spot from that which surrounded it.
I sent Johnson after more varnish. Also, I secured several other fluids, including water, milk, ink, and machine oil. And when the painter returned we proceeded with a very thorough test indeed.
Presently it became clear that we were dealing with a phenomenon of the Blind Spot. All told, we poured about nine pints of liquid into an area of about twenty square inches; all on the outer surface, for the split side would absorb nothing. And to all appearances we might have continued to pour indefinitely.
Ten minutes later I went down into the basement to dispose of some rubbish. (Charlotte didn't know of this defection in our housekeeping.) It was bright sunlight outside. Thanks to the basement windows, I needed no artificial luminant. And when my gaze rested upon the ground directly under the parlour, I saw something there that I most certainly had never noticed before.
The fact is, the basement at 288 Chatterton Place never did possess anything worthy of special notice. Except for the partition which Harry Wendel and Jerome, the detective, were the first in years to penetrate—except for that secret doorway, there was nothing down there to attract attention. To be sure, there was a quantity of up-turned earth, the result of Jerome's vigorous efforts to see whether or not there was any connection between the Blind Spot phenomena which he had witnessed and the cellar. He had secured nothing but an appetite for all his digging.
However, it was still too dark for me to identify what I saw at once. I stood for a few moments, accustoming my eyes to the light. Except that the thing gleamed oddly like a piece of glass, and that it possessed a nearly circular outline about two feet across, I couldn't tell much about it.
Then I stooped and examined it closely. At once I became conscious of a smell which, somehow, I had hitherto not noticed. Small wonder; it was as indescribable a smell as one could imagine. It seemed to be a combination of several that are not generally combined.
Next instant it flashed upon me that the predominating odour was a familiar one. I had been smelling it, in fact, all the morning.
But this did not prevent me from feeling very queer, indeed, as I realised what lay before me. A curious chill passed around my shoulders, and I scarcely breathed.
At my feet lay a pool, composed of all the various liquids that had been poured, upstairs, into that baffling spot in the wood.
OUT OF THIN AIR
Except for the incident just related, when several pints of very real fluids were somehow "materialised" at a spot ten feet below where they had vanished, nothing worth recording occurred during the first seven days of our stay at Chatterton Place.
Seemingly nothing was to come of the Rhamda's warning.
On the other hand we succeeded, during that week, in working a complete transformation of the old house. It became one of the brightest spots in San Francisco. It cost a good deal of money, all told, but I could well afford it. I possessed the hundred thousand with which, I had promised myself and Harry, I should solve the Blind Spot. That was what the money was for.
On the seventh day after the night of Harry's going, our household was increased to three members. For it was then that Jerome returned from Nevada, whence he had gone two weeks before on a case.
"Not at all surprised," he commented, when I told him of Harry's disappearance. "Sorry I wasn't here. That crook, Rhamda Avec, in at the end?"
He gnawed stolidly at his cigar as I told him the story. Then, after briefly approving what I had done to brighten the house, he announced:
"Tell you what. I've got a little money out of that Nevada case; I'm going to take another vacation and see this thing through."
We shook hands on this, and he moved right into his old room. I felt, in fact, mighty glad to have Jerome with us. Although he lacked a regular academic training, he was fifteen years my senior, and because of contact with a wide variety of people in his work, both well-informed and reserved in his judgment. He could not be stampeded; he had courage; and, above everything else, he had the burning curiosity of which Harry has written.
I was upstairs when he unpacked. And I noted among his belongings a large, rather heavy automatic pistol. He nodded when I asked if he was willing to use it in this case.
"Although"—unbuttoning his waistcoat—"I don't pin as much faith to pistols as I used to.
"The Rhamda is, I'm convinced, the very cleverest proposition that ever lived. He has means to handle practically anything in the way of resistance." Jerome knew how the fellow had worsted Harry and me. "I shouldn't wonder if he can read the mind to some extent; he might be able to foresee that I was going to draw a gun, and beat me to it with some new weapon of his own."
Having unbuttoned his waistcoat, Jerome then displayed a curious contrivance mounted upon his breast. It consisted of a broad metal plate, strapped across his shirt, and affixed to this plate was a flat-springed arrangement for firing, simultaneously, the contents of a revolver cylinder. To show how it worked, Jerome removed the five cartridges and then faced me.
"Tell me to throw up my hands," directed he. I did so; his palms flew into the air; and with a steely snap the mechanism was released.
Had there been cartridges in it, I should have been riddled, for I stood right in front. And I shuddered as I noted the small straps around Jerome's wrists, running up his sleeves, so disposed that the act of surrendering meant instant death to him who might demand.
"May not be ethical, Fenton"—quietly—"but it certainly is good sense to shoot first and explain later when you're handling a chap like Avec. Better make preparations, too."
I objected. I pointed out what I have already mentioned; that, together with the ring, the Rhamda offered our only clues to the Blind Spot. Destroy the man and we would destroy one of our two hopes of rescuing our friends from the unthinkable fate that had overtaken them.
"No"—decisively. "We don't want to kill; we want to KEEP him. Bullets won't do. I see no reason, however, why you shouldn't load that thing with cartridges containing chemicals which would have an effect similar to that of a gas bomb. Once you can make him helpless, so that you can put those steel bracelets on him, we'll see how dangerous he is with his hands behind him!"
"I get you"—thoughtfully. "I know a chemist who will make up 'Paralysis' gas for me, in the form of gelatine capsules. Shoot 'em at the Rhamda; burst upon striking. Safe enough for me, and yet put him out of business long enough to fit him with the jewellery."
"That's the idea."
But I had other notions about handling the Rhamda. Being satisfied that mere strength and agility were valueless against him, I concluded that he, likewise realising this, would be on the lookout for any possible trap.
Consequently, if I hoped to keep the man, and force him to tell us what we wanted to know, then I must make use of something other than physical means. Moreover, I gave him credit for an exceptional amount of insight. Call it super-instinct, or what you will, the fellow's intellect was transcendental.
Once having decided that it must be a battle of wits I took a step which may seem, at first, a little peculiar.
I called upon a certain lady to whom I shall give the name of Clarke, since that is not the correct one. I took her fully and frankly into my confidence. It is the only way, when dealing with a practitioner. And since, like most of my fellow citizens, she had heard something of the come and go, elusive habits of our men, together with the Holcomb affair, it was easy for her to understand just what I wanted.
"I see," she mused. "You wish to be surrounded by an influence that will not so much protect you, as vitalise and strengthen you whenever you come in contact with Avec. It will be a simple matter. How far do you wish to go?" And thus it was arranged, the plan calling for the co-operation of some twenty of her colleagues.
My fellow engineers may sneer, if they like. I know the usual notion: that the "power of mind over matter" is all in the brain of the patient. That the efforts of the practitioner are merely inductive, and so on.
But I think that the most sceptical will agree that I did quite right in seeking whatever support I could get before crossing swords with a man as keen as Avec.
Nevertheless, before an opportunity arrived to make use of the intellectual machinery which my money had started into operation, something occurred which almost threw the whole thing out of gear.
It was the evening after I had returned from Miss Clarke's office. Both Charlotte and I had a premonition, after supper, that things were going to happen. We all went into the parlour, sat down, and waited.
Presently we started the gramophone. Jerome sat nearest the instrument, where he could without rising, lean over and change the records. And all three of us recall that the selection being played at the moment was "I Am Climbing Mountains," a sentimental little melody sung by a popular tenor. Certainly the piece was far from being melancholy, mysterious, or otherwise likely to attract the occult.
I remember that we played it twice, and it was just as the singer reached the beginning of the final chorus that Charlotte, who sat nearest the door, made a quick move and shivered, as though with cold.
From where I sat, near the dining-room door, I could see through into the hall. Charlotte's action made me think that the door might have become unlatched, allowing a draught to come through. Afterwards she said that she had felt something rather like a breeze pass her chair.
In the middle of the room stood a long, massive table, of conventional library type. Overhead was a heavy, burnished copper fixture, from which a cluster of electric bulbs threw their brilliance upward, so that the room was evenly lighted with the diffused rays as reflected from the ceiling. Thus, there were no shadows to confuse the problem.
The chorus of the song was almost through when I heard from the direction of the table a faint sound, as though someone had drawn fingers lightly across the polished oak. I listened; the sound was not repeated, at least not loud enough for me to catch it above the music. Next moment, however, the record came to an end; Jerome leaned forward to put on another, and Charlotte opened her mouth as though to suggest what the new selection might be. But she never said the words.
It began with a scintillating iridescence, up on the ceiling, not eight feet from where I sat. As I looked the spot grew, and spread, and flared out. It was blue like the elusive blue of the gem; only, it was more like flame—the flame of electrical apparatus.
Then, down from that blinding radiance there crept, rather than dropped a single thread of incandescence, vivid, with a tinge of the colour from which it had surged. Down it crept to the floor; it was like an irregular streak of lightning, hanging motionless between ceiling and floor, just for the fraction of a second. All in total silence.
And then the radiance vanished, disappeared, snuffed out as one might snuff out a candle. And in its stead—
There appeared a fourth person in the room.
THE ROUSING OF A MIND
It was a girl. Not the Nervina. No; this girl was quite another person.
Even now I find it curiously hard to describe her. For me to say that she was the picture of innocence, of purity, and of youth, is still to leave unsaid the secret of her loveliness.
For this stranger, coming out of the thin air into our midst, held me with a glorious fascination. From the first I felt no misgivings, such as Harry confesses he experienced when he fell under the Nervina's charm. I knew as I watched the stranger's wondering, puzzled features, that I had never before seen anyone so lovely, so attractive, and so utterly beyond suspicion.
It was only later that I noted her amazingly delicate complexion, fair as her hair was golden; her deep blue eyes, round face, and the girlish supple figure; or her robe-like garments of very soft, white material. For she commenced almost instantly to talk.
But we understood only with the greatest of difficulty. She spoke as might one who, after living in perfect solitude for a score of years, is suddenly called upon to use language. And I remembered that Rhamda Avec had told Jerome that he had only BEGUN the use of language.
"Who are you?" was her first remark, in the sweetest voice conceivable. But there was both fear and anxiety in her manner. "How—did I—get—here?"
"You came out of the Blind Spot!" I spoke, jerking out the words nervously and, as I saw, too rapidly. I repeated them more slowly. But she did not comprehend.
"The—Blind—Spot," she pondered. "What—is that?"
Next instant, before I could think to warn her, the room trembled with the terrific clang of the Blind Spot bell. Just one overwhelming peal; no more. At the same time there came a revival of the luminous spot in the ceiling. But, with the last tones of the bell, the spot faded to nothing.
The girl was pitifully frightened. I sprang to my feet and steadied her with one hand—something that I had not dared to do as long as the Spot remained open. The touch of my fingers, as she swayed, had the effect of bringing her to herself. She listened intelligently to what I said.
"The Blind Spot"—speaking with the utmost care—"is the name we have given to a certain mystery. It is always marked by the sound you have just heard; that bell always rings when the phenomenon is at an end."
"And—the—phenomenon," uttering the word with difficulty, "what is that?"
"You," I returned. "Up till now three human beings have disappeared into what we call the Blind Spot. You are the first to be seen coming out of it."
"Hobart," interrupted Charlotte, coming to my side. "Let me."
I stepped back, and Charlotte quietly passed an arm round the girl's waist. Together they stepped over to Charlotte's chair.
I noted the odd way in which the newcomer walked, unsteadily, uncertainly, like a child taking its first steps. I glanced at Jerome, wondering if this tallied with what he recalled of the Rhamda; and he gave a short nod.
"Don't be frightened," said Charlotte softly, "we are your friends. In a way we have been expecting you, and we shall see to it that no harm comes to you.
"Which would you prefer—to ask questions, or to answer them?"
"I"—the girl hesitated—"I—hardly—know. Perhaps—you had— better—ask something first."
"Good. Do you remember where you came from? Can you recall the events just prior to your arrival here?"
The girl looked helplessly from the one to the other of us. She seemed to be searching for some clue. Finally she shook her head in a hopeless, despairing fashion.
"I can't remember," speaking with a shade less difficulty. "The last thing—I recall is—seeing—you three—staring—at me."
This was a poser. To think, a person who, before our very eyes, had materialised out of the Blind Spot, was unable to tell us anything about it!
Still this lack of memory might be only a temporary condition, brought on by the special conditions under which she had emerged; an after-effect, as it were, of the semi-electrical phenomena. And it turned out that I was right.
"Then," suggested Charlotte, "suppose you ask us something."
The girl's eyes stopped roving and rested definitely, steadily, upon my own. And she spoke; still a little hesitantly:
"Who are you? What is your name?"
"Name?" taken wholly by surprise. "Ah—it is Hobart Fenton. And"— automatically—"this is my sister Charlotte. The gentleman over there is Mr. Jerome."
"I am glad to know you, Hobart," with perfect simplicity and apparent pleasure; "and you, Charlotte," passing an arm round my sister's neck; "and you—Mister." Evidently she thought the title of "mister" to be Jerome's first name.
Then she went on to say, her eyes coming back to mine:
"Why do you look at me that way, Hobart?"
Just like that! I felt my cheeks go hot and cold by turns. For a moment I was helpless; then I made up my mind to be just as frank and candid as she.
"Because you're so good to look at!" I blurted out. "I never appreciated my eyesight as I do right now!"
"I am glad," she returned, simply and absolutely without a trace of confusion or resentment. "I know that I rather like to look at you—too."
Another stunned silence. And this time I didn't notice any change in the temperature of my face; I was too busily engaged in searching the depths of those warm blue eyes.
She didn't blush, or even drop her eyes. She smiled, however, a gentle, tremulous smile that showed some deep feeling behind her unwavering gaze.
I recovered myself with a start, drew my chair up in front of her and took both her hands firmly in mine. Whereupon my resolution nearly deserted me. How warm and soft, and altogether adorable they were. I drew a long breath and began:
"My dear—By the way, what is your name?"
"I"—regretfully, after a moment's thought—"I don't know, Hobart."
"Quite so," as though the fact was commonplace. "We will have to provide you with a name. Any suggestions?"
Charlotte hesitated only a second. "Let's call her Ariadne; it was Harry's mother's name."
"That's so; fine! Do you like the name—Ariadne?"
"Yes," both pleased and relieved. At the same time she looked oddly puzzled, and I could see her lips moving silently as she repeated the name to herself.
Not for an instant did I let go of those wonderful fingers. "What I want you to know, Ariadne, is that you have come into a world that is, perhaps, more or less like the one that you have just left. For all I know it is one and the same world, only, in some fashion not yet understood, you may have transported yourself to this place. Perhaps not.
"Now, we call this a room, a part of the house. Outside is a street. That street is one of hundreds in a vast city, which consists of a multitude of such houses together with other and vastly larger structures. And these structures all rest upon a solid material which we call the ground or earth.
"The fact that you understand our language indicates that either you have fallen heir to a body and a brain which are thoroughly in tune with ours, or else—and please understand that we know very little of this mystery—or else your own body has somehow become translated into a condition which answers the same purpose.
"At any rate, you ought to comprehend what I mean by the term 'earth.' Do you?"
"Oh, yes," brightly. "I seem to understand everything you say, Hobart."
"Then there is a corresponding picture in your mind to each thought I have given you?"
"I think so," not so positively.
"Well," hoping that I could make it clear, "this earth is formed in a huge globe, part of which is covered by another material, which we term water. And the portions which are not so covered, and are capable of supporting the structures which constitute the city, we call by still another name. Can you supply that name?"
"Continents," without hesitation.
"Fine!" This was a starter anyhow. "We'll soon have your memory working!
"However, what I really began to say is this; each of these continents—and they are several in number—is inhabited by people more or less like ourselves. There is a vast number, all told. Each is either male or female, like ourselves—you seem to take this for granted, however—and you will find them all exceedingly interesting.
"Now, in all fairness," letting go her hands at last "you must understand that there are, among the people whom you have yet to see, great numbers who are far more—well, attractive, than I am.
"And you must know," even taking my gaze away, "that not all persons are as friendly as we. You will find some who are antagonistic to you, and likely to take advantage of—well, your unsophisticated viewpoint. In short"—desperately—"you must learn right away not to accept people without question; you must form the habit of reserving judgment, of waiting until you have more facts, before reaching an opinion of others.
"You must do this as a matter of self-protection, and in the interests of your greatest welfare."
And I stopped.
She seemed to be thinking over what I said. In the end she observed: "This seems reasonable. I feel sure that wherever I came from such advice would have fitted.
"However"—smiling at me in a manner to which I can give no description other than affectionate—"I have no doubts about you, Hobart. I know you are absolutely all right."
And before I could recover from the bliss into which her statement threw me, she turned to Charlotte with "You too, Charlotte; I know I can trust you."
But when she looked at Jerome she commented: "I can trust you, Mister, too; almost as much, but not quite. If you didn't suspect me I could trust you completely."
Jerome went white. He spoke for the first time since the girl's coming.
"How—how did you know that I suspected you?"
"I can't explain; I don't know myself." Then wistfully: "I wish you would stop suspecting me, Mister. I have nothing to conceal from you."
"I know it!" Jerome burst out, excitedly, apologetically. "I know it now! You're all right, I'm satisfied of that from now on!"
She sighed in pure pleasure. And she offered one hand to Jerome. He took it as though it were a humming-bird's egg, and turned almost purple. At the same time the honest, fervid manliness which backed the detective's professional nature shone through for the first time in my knowledge of him. From that moment his devotion to the girl was as absolute as that of the fondest father who ever lived.
Well, no need to detail all that was said during the next hour. Bit by bit we added to the girl's knowledge of the world into which she had emerged, and bit by bit there unfolded in her mind a corresponding image of the world from which she had come. And when, for an experiment, we took her out on the front porch and showed her the stars, we were fairly amazed at the thoughts they aroused.
"Oh!" she cried, in sheer rapture. "I know what those are!" By now she was speaking fairly well. "They are stars!" Then: "They don't look the same. They're not outlined in the same way as I know. But they can't be anything else!"
NOT OUTLINED THE SAME. I took this to be a very significant fact. What did it mean?
"Look"—showing her the constellation Leo, on the ecliptic, and therefore visible to both the northern and southern hemispheres— "do you recognise that?"
"Yes," decisively. "That is, the arrangement; but not the appearance of the separate stars."
And we found this to be true of the entire sky. Nothing was entirely familiar to her; yet, she assured us, the stars could be nothing else. Her previous knowledge told her this without explaining why, and without a hint as to the reason for the dissimilarity.
"Is it possible," said I, speaking half to myself, "that she has come from another planet?"
For we know that the sky, as seen from any of the eight planets in this solar system, would present practically the same appearance; but if viewed from a planet belonging to any other star-sun, the constellations would be more or less altered in their arrangement, because of the vast distance involved. As for the difference in the appearance of the individual stars, that might be accounted for by a dissimilarity in the chemical make-up of the atmosphere.
"Ariadne, it may be you've come from another world!"
"No," seemingly quite conscious that she was contradicting me. For that matter there wasn't anything offensive about her kind of frankness. "No, Hobart. I feel too much at home to have come from any other world than this one."
Temporarily I was floored. How could she, so ignorant of other matters, feel so sure of this? There was no explaining it.
We went back into the house. As it happened, my eye struck first the gramophone. And it seemed a good idea to test her knowledge with this.
"Is this apparatus familiar to you?"
"No. What is it for?"
"Do you understand what is meant by the term 'music'?"
"Yes," with instant pleasure. "This is music." She proceeded, without the slightest self-consciousness, to sing in a sweet clear soprano, and treated us to the chorus of "I Am Climbing Mountains!"
"Good heavens!" gasped Charlotte. "What can it mean?"
For a moment the explanation evaded me. Then I reasoned: "She must have a sub-conscious memory of what was being played just before she materialised."
And to prove this I picked out an instrumental piece which we had not played all the evening. It was the finale of the overture to "Faust"; a selection, by the way, which was a great favourite of Harry's and is one of mine. Ariadne listened in silence to the end.
"I seem to have heard something like it before," she decided slowly. "The melody, not the—the instrumentation. But it reminds me of something that I like very much." Whereupon she began to sing for us. But this time her voice was stronger and more dramatic; and as for the composition—all I can say is it had a wild, fierce ring to it, like "Men of Harlech"; only the notes did not correspond to the chromatic scale. SHE SANG IN AN ENTIRELY NEW MUSICAL SYSTEM.
"By George!" when she had done. "Now we HAVE got something! For the first time, we've heard some genuine, unadulterated Blind Spot stuff!"
"You mean," from Charlotte, excitedly, "that she has finally recovered her memory?"
It was the girl herself who answered. She shot to her feet, and her face became transfigured with a wonderful joy. At the same time she blinked hurriedly, as though to shut off a sight that staggered her.
"Oh, I remember! I"—she almost sobbed in her delight—"it is all plain to me, now! I know who I am!"
THE RHAMDA AGAIN
I could have yelled for joy. We were about to learn something of the Blind Spot—something that might help us to save Harry, and Chick, and the professor!
Ariadne seemed to know that a great deal depended upon what she was about to tell us. She deliberately sat down, and rested her chin upon her hand, as though determining upon the best way of telling something very difficult to express.
As for Charlotte, Jerry, and myself, we managed somehow to restrain our curiosity enough to keep silence. But we could not help glancing more or less wonderingly at our visitor. Presently I realised this, and got up and walked quietly about, as though intent upon a problem of my own.
Which was true enough. I had come to a very startling conclusion— I, Hobart Fenton, had fallen in love!
What was more, this affection of the heart had come to me, a very strong man, just as an affection of the lungs is said to strike such men—all of a sudden and hard. One moment I had been a sturdy, independent soul, intent upon scientific investigation, the only symptoms of sentimental potentialities being my perfectly normal love for my sister and for my old friend. Then, before my very eyes, I had been smitten thus!
And the worst part of it was, I found myself ENJOYING the sensation. It made not the slightest difference to me that I had fallen in love with a girl who was only a step removed from a wraith. Mysteriously she had come to me; as mysteriously she might depart. I had yet to know from what sort of country she had come!
But that made no difference. She was HERE, in the same house with me; I had held her hands; and I knew her to be very, very real indeed just then. And when I considered the possibility of her disappearing just as inexplicably as she had come—well, my face went cold, I admit. But at the same time I felt sure of this much—I should never love any other woman.