18. Stage three
The weeks sped by. Gladys Martin went on the Stage, and thanks to beauty and influence, rather than to talent—though in the latter respect she was certainly not wanting—she became an immediate success. Her photos, some taken alone, and some with Bromley Burnham, occupied a conspicuous place in all the weekly illustrateds, and in innumerable shop windows. People talked of her as they do of all actresses. Some said her father was a broken-down peer; some, a needy parson, and some, a policeman! Some said the Duke of Warminster was madly in love with her; others that Seaton Smyth, the notorious Cabinet Minister, was pining for a divorce on her behalf, and others, that she was seldom seen off the stage—she was entertaining the King of the Belgians.
"I've met her," Lilian Rosenberg said to Shiel, as they stopped one evening to gaze at Gladys's portraits outside the Imperial Theatre. "She came to our place to have a dream interpreted, and I thought nothing of her. I don't admire her the least bit in the world, do you?"
"I do," Shiel replied, rather sharply.
"Why, you sound quite angry," Lilian Rosenberg laughed. "One would think you knew her. I wonder if Bromley Burnham is very much in love with her! He looks as if he were in these photographs! Do you think it possible for a man and woman to make love to each other every night on the stage, like they do, without one or other of them being affected?"
"I really couldn't say," Shiel replied. "I'm no authority on such matters—they don't interest me in the least."
But this was an untruth—they did interest him—and very much, too. He seldom, indeed, thought of anything else. Had Gladys fallen in love with Bromley Burnham? Could she resist the fascinations of so handsome a man? He did not, of course, pay any heed to the gossip that coupled her name with dukes and other notorieties. He knew Gladys too well for that, but when he saw her thus photographed, clasped in the arms of Bromley Burnham, he had grave apprehensions. He longed to see her—to ask her if she were still free; but his every attempt failed. She always avoided him, and there was no other alternative save to further his scheme—his scheme for crushing the Sorcery Company—and to hope for the best.
And in these dark days of his life, when he was tormented by the yellow demon of jealousy, and at the same time endured hunger, Lilian Rosenberg was his solacing angel. Utterly regardless of appearances—she did not exaggerate when she said, "I am not conventional; I don't care twopence for Mrs. Grundy." She visited him in his garret, and she seldom went empty-handed.
"I don't want your things," he rudely expostulated, when she loaded his table with cold chicken, jellies and potted meats. "I'm not starving."
"Yes, you are," she said, "and you've got to eat all I bring you." And she made him eat. She made him, too, go for walks with her, and she insisted that he should go with her on Saturday afternoons for long rambles in the country, knowing all the time that Kelson was eating his heart out for love of her, and prophesying all kinds of terrible happenings to himself, unless she returned his affections.
Up to this point, at all events, Shiel did not allow his friendship with Lilian to blind him to the fact that he was cultivating her acquaintance with a set object. He frequently sounded her to see how much she knew of the inner workings of the Firm, and he satisfied himself that she knew very little.
"They never discuss their powers in my presence," she told him, "but I see them do very queer things, Mr. Kelson seldom walks to his room, he flies. He takes a little jump into the air, moves his arms and legs as if he were swimming, and flies upstairs and along the corridor. And what do you think happened the other day? Some men were carrying into the building a huge, oak chest and several large pictures that Mr. Hamar had bought at a sale, when Mr. Kelson arrived on the scene.
"'There is no need to lift these things,' he said to the men, 'put them down.' He then made some rapid signs in the air and muttered something; whereupon the chest and pictures rose in the air, and followed him into the building, and up the stairs to their respective quarters."
"The men must have been surprised," Shiel said.
"Surprised!" Lilian Rosenberg ejaculated. "They were simply bowled over, and looked at one another with such idiotic expressions in their bulging eyes and gaping mouths, that I nearly died with laughter."
"And you've no idea how Kelson did that trick?"
"None, excepting, of course, that the signs he made, and what he said, must have had something to do with it."
It was on the tip of Shiel's tongue to ask her, if she would try and find out for him, but he checked himself. Even at this juncture of their friendship he dare not appear too curious. He must wait.
To go back to Hamar. He had seen Gladys act; he had become more infatuated with her than ever; and his passion was stimulated by the knowledge that she was universally admired, and that half the men in London were dying to be introduced to her.
"Money will do anything," one of Hamar's friends—they were all Jews—remarked to him. "Offer the manager of the Imperial a hundred pounds and he'll do anything you like with regard to the girl. Every manager can be bought and every actress, too."
The suggestion was a welcome one, and Hamar acted on it. But whether or not the exception proves the rule, he was immeasurably disconcerted to find that with regard to money and managers, his friend had deceived him. Far from being pleased at the offer of a bribe, the manager of the Imperial, an old Harrovian, raised his foot, and Hamar, who invariably paled at the prospect of violence, hurriedly withdrew.
On the eve of the initiation into Stage Three, the trio were very much perturbed.
"I hope to goodness nothing will appear to me," Kelson said. "My heart isn't strong enough to stand the shock of seeing striped figures. They should come to you, Curtis—a few jumps wouldn't do you any harm—you're fat enough."
Agreeing each to sleep with a light in his room, they separated, and at about two o'clock Curtis, who had been suffering of late from his liver—the effect, so the doctor told him, of living a little too well—and could not sleep, heard a knock at his door. To his astonishment it was Kelson—Kelson, in his pyjamas.
"Hulloa!" Curtis exclaimed. "What on earth brings you here, and however did you come?"
"The usual way!" Kelson said, in what struck Curtis as rather unusual tones. "I flew here to tell you that we are now in stage three. Give me paper and ink. I want to write down the instructions I have received."
Curtis conducted him into his sitting-room, switched on the lights and, giving him what he wanted, poured out a couple of tumblers of soda-and-milk.
"This will lower my temperature," he said to himself. "I shall know if I'm dreaming."
He then sat by Kelson's side and observed what he wrote.
"The properties of walking on the water, and of breathing under the water are conferred on you during the forthcoming stage. You must refrain from red flesh and alcohol, but may eat poultry, fish, fruit, and vegetables in abundance."
"The devil I may!" Curtis said, in a fury. "How very kind! I would rather have roast beef than all the poulets and kippers in Christendom."
Without noticing this interruption, Kelson went on writing.
"You must also concentrate for one hour every morning. Grade two in the scale of concentration, though sufficient for projection through ether, will not enable you to offer sufficient resistance to the pressure of water. You must reach grade three in the scale of concentration, before you can either walk on, or breathe under, the water. From six to seven a.m. you must fix your eyes on a glass of fresh spring water, and concentrate your very hardest on amalgamating with it, on passing your immaterial ego into it. At night, before going to bed, you must drink a mixture composed of two drachms of Vindroo Sookum, one drachm of Harnoon Oobey, and one ounce of distilled water. Vindroo Sookum and Harnoon Oobey are a species of seaweed; the former of a pale salmon colour, the latter of a deep blue. They were formerly shrubs growing in the wood of Endlemoker in Atlantis, and are now to be found at a depth of two hundred fathoms, twenty miles to the north-east of Achill Island. These weeds must be well rinsed first; and when the prescribed amount of each has been carefully cut off and weighed, it must be boiled in the distilled water, and the compound, thus formed, allowed to cool before being drunk. This mixture renders the lungs immune to the action of fluid, and will enable you to breathe as easily in water as in air. There is still, however, the action of gravity to be considered, and this must be counteracted by sound. Before experimenting, these Atlantean words must be repeated aloud in the following order: Karma—nardka—rapto—nooman—K—arma—oola—piskooskte.'"
"It's all very well to write all these directions," Curtis said, "but how am I to obtain the weeds? I can't go and fish for them."
"You must engage the services of Mr. John Waley, formerly employed by the Brazilian Government in repairing marine cables. He will do all you want for the sum of £200."
Kelson left off writing, and, wishing Curtis good-night, walked out of the room.
"You'll be deuced cold without an overcoat," Curtis called out after him. "Won't you have mine?"
But there was no reply, and though Curtis strained his ears to listen, he could catch no sound of a vehicle.
Kelson left Curtis at twenty minutes past two. At half-past two, Hamar, who had been sound asleep, was awakened by a loud rap.
"Kelson!" he gasped. "How on earth did you get here? Are you a projection?"
"Don't worry me with questions," Kelson replied. "I have come to give you instructions. A paper and ink, quick."
Hamar obeyed with alacrity.
"On you," Kelson wrote, "is conferred the property of invisibility—a property common in Atlantis, and still possessed by the Fakirs of Hindoostan, the natives of Easter Island and certain tribes in New Guinea. You must reach grade three in the scale of concentration, by concentrating, from five to six o'clock, every morning, on amalgamating yourself with the ether. You must sit, with your head thrown back, gazing up into space—allowing nothing to distract your mind. Wholly and solely, your thoughts must be fixed on the ether. This property of invisibility can only be successfully practised, when the third grade in the scale of concentration has been reached. Carry out these instructions, and, in a week's time, you will then be able to experiment—to become invisible at will. But before experimenting it will always be necessary to repeat the words 'Bakra—naka—taksomana,' and to swallow a pill, composed of two drachms of Derhens Voskry, one drachm of Karka Voli and one drachm of saffron. Derhens Voskry and Karka Voli are a crimson and white species of seaweed, that grows on the hundred-fathom level, thirty miles west-southwest of the Aran Islands, Galway Bay. Mr. John Waley, employed by the Brazilian Government for repairing cables, will procure these ingredients for you. To become visible, you've only to repeat the words, 'Bakra—naka—taksomana,' backwards."
"But how about my clothes?" Hamar asked. "Will they disappear too?"
"Everything!" Kelson answered. "Hat, boots, tie and breeches. All you have on! Good-night!" And walking out of the room, he leaped into the air, and flew downstairs. But though Hamar listened attentively, he could not hear him leave the building—there was no sound of any door.
When they met the following mid-day in Cockspur Street, Kelson remembered nothing of his visits.
"All I know is," he said, "that the moment I got into bed, I fell asleep, and suddenly found myself standing in a kind of brown desert, talking to a tall man with most peculiar features and eyes, and a dazzling, white skin. He informed me he had been an animal-trainer in the State of Ballyynkan, Atlantis, and was ordered to give me instructions as to the taming of the present day wild beast.
"'You must obtain a stone called the Red Laryx,' he said. 'It is to be found in great quantities on the three-hundred fathom level, forty miles to the west-south-west of North Aran Island, and can be procured for you by the same man that gets the weeds for Hamar and Curtis. It is a blood-red pebble, covered with peculiarly vivid green spots, and cannot be mistaken. Sit with it pressed against your forehead for an hour every morning, and concentrate hard on amalgamating yourself with it—i. e. passing into it, and its properties will gradually be imparted to you. Do this regularly, for a week, and by the end of that time, you will be able to experiment with animals. All you will have to do, will be to hold the stone slightly clenched in your left hand, whilst, with your right, you make these signs in the air,' and he showed me certain passes. 'Stare fixedly into the animal's eyes all the while, and, by the time you have finished making the passes, you will find the animals are subdued. Pronounce these words "Meta—ra—ka—va—Avakana," holding up, as you do so, your right hand with the thumb turned down and held right across the palm, and the little finger stretched out as wide as it will go, and you will understand what any animal wishes to say.'
"He ceased speaking, and approaching close to me, tapped my forehead; whereupon there was a blank; and on recovering consciousness, I found myself in bed, feeling somewhat exhausted and very cold."
"You have no recollection of coming to see us, in your pyjamas, about two o'clock in the morning?" Hamar asked.
"Don't talk rot," Kelson said. "I'm in no mood for fooling, I've got a chill on my liver."
"What was it, Leon?" Curtis inquired.
"A case of unconscious projection," Hamar said. "Clearly the work of the Unknown. We must commence carrying out the instructions at once."
At the end of a week, Hamar, Kelson and Curtis, began to put in practice their newly acquired properties.
Hamar tested his, in a first-class railway carriage, on the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway.
"I'll go for a day's trip to Brighton," he said, "and cheat the Company. They deserve it."
He went to Victoria, and ignoring the booking-office, calmly seated himself in a first-class compartment, where, amongst other occupants, sat a quite remarkably proper-looking clergyman, and a very handsomely dressed lady, with a haughty stare, and a typical nouveau riche nose!
When the ticket collector came round before the train started, Hamar waited, till every one else in the compartment had shown him their tickets, and then, just as the man was about to demand his, swallowed one of the prescribed pills, repeating immediately, in a loud voice, which caused considerable excitement among the other passengers, the words, "Bakra—naka—taksomana!" The next moment he had disappeared.
"Strike me red!" the collector gasped, putting one hand to his heart, and grasping the door with the other. "What's become of him? Was he—a—a—gho—st?"
"I don't—er—know—er what to—to make of it," the parson said, heroically preserving his Oxford drawl, in spite of his chattering teeth. "I don't—er, of course—er, believe in gho—sts! He must—er have been—a—a—an evil spirit. Dear me—aw!"
"Help me out of the carriage at once," the lady with the stare panted. "I consider the whole thing most disgraceful. I shall report it to the Company."
"What's the matter, Joe?" an inspector called out, threading his way through the crowd of people, that had commenced to collect at the door of the compartment.
"I'm blessed if I know!" the collector said. "The honly explanation I can give is that a gent who was seated here has dissolved—the hot weather has melted him like butter!"
At this there was a shout of laughter, the inspector slammed the door, the guard whistled, and the next moment the train was off.
As soon as the train was well out of the station Hamar repeated the words he had used, backwards, and he was once again visible.
The effect of his reappearance amongst them was even more striking than that of his previous disappearance.
"Take it away—take it away!" the lady opposite him shouted, throwing up her hands to ward him off. "It's there again! Take it away! I shall die—I shall go mad!"
"How hideous! How diabolical!" a stout, elderly man said in slow, measured tones, as if he were reading his own funeral service. "It must be the devil! The devil! Ha!" and burying his face in his hands, he indulged in a loud fit of mirthless laughter.
"Why don't you do something? Talk theology to it, exorcise it," a remarkably plain woman, in the far corner of the carriage said, in highly indignant tones to the clergyman. "As usual, whenever there is something to be done, it is woman who must do it!"
She got up, and casting a look of infinite scorn at the clergyman—whose condition of terror prevented him uttering even the one telling, biting word—Suffragette—that had risen and stuck in his throat—raised her umbrella, and, before Hamar could stop her, struck it vigorously at him.
"Ghost, demon, devil!" she cried. "I know no fear! Begone!" And the point of her umbrella coming in violent contact with Hamar's waistcoat, all the breath was unceremoniously knocked out of him; and with a ghastly groan he rolled off his seat on to the floor, where he writhed and grovelled in the most dreadful agony, whilst his assailant continued to stab and jab at him.
In all probability, she would have succeeded, eventually, in reaching some vital part of his body, had not one of the frenzied passengers pulled the communication-cord and stopped the train!