20. The stage of hauntings
Much to the relief of the trio, the end of stage three was at length reached—and, thanks to Hamar, reached without further mishap. To keep Curtis and Kelson up to the mark, Hamar had worked indefatigably. He had never relaxed his efforts in the strict watch he kept over them, and he had unceasingly impressed upon them, the vital importance of obeying, to the very letter, the instructions they had received from the Unknown.
The part he had thus taken upon himself, the difficulties he had to encounter in this unceasing vigilance, had produced a new Hamar—a Hamar that was a personality; a personality so utterly unlike the old Hamar—the meek and servile clerk—as to make one wonder if there could possibly be two Hamars—outwardly and physically the same—inwardly and psychologically diametrically opposed. A year ago, Curtis and Kelson would have ridiculed the idea of being afraid of Hamar—such an idea would have struck them as simply absurd; but they were afraid of him now, they dreaded his anger more than anything, more even than the prospect of infringing their compact with the Unknown.
"We have made pots of money," Curtis remarked one day. "Why can't we give up work and enjoy it?"
"Because I say no!" Hamar hissed. "No! We can't give up—not, at least, until the last stage has been safely gone through. To give up now would be to break the compact!"
"Well, why not?" Curtis mumbled.
"Why not!" Hamar cried. "Heavens, man, can't you understand! Can you form no conception of what failure to keep the compact means? Has the memory of that night—of that tree and all the foul things it suggested, passed completely out of your mind? It hasn't out of mine—it is as clear now as it was then. And often—mark this, both of you—often when I am alone in the night, I see queer luminous shapes—shapes of repulsive vegetable growths—of polyps—and of disgusting tongues that come towards me through the gloom and circle slowly round the bed, whilst the whole room vibrates with soft, mocking laughter! You know how mirrors shine in the moonlight. Well, the other night, when I looked at mine, I saw in it the reflection, not of a face, but of two light evil eyes that looked at me and—smiled! Smiled with a smile that said more plainly than words, 'I am waiting!' and that is what the shapes, and the very atmosphere of the place at night always seem to say—'We are waiting! You are enjoying the joke now—we shall enjoy it later on!' If we knew exactly what was in store for us it wouldn't be so bad, but it is the vagueness of it, the vagueness of the horrors that the Unknown has hinted at, that makes it so appalling! We may die awful deaths—or we may not die AT ALL—the shapes, indefinite and misty no longer, but materialized—wholly and entirely materialized—may come for us and take us away with them! And it is to prevent this, that I am urging you, compelling you, to stick to the compact, and give the Unknown no loophole! Think of the tremendous rewards, if we succeed in passing through the last stage! As I have said before, Curtis need do nothing else but eat, whilst you, Matt, can become a Mormon and marry all the pretty girls in London!"
This speech had the desired effect, and nothing more—for the time at least—was said about retiring.
"Do you think Leon is quite—er—like—er—like us?" Kelson said, when Hamar left them, after administering his admonition. "At times he hardly looks human. His face is such a funny colour, such a lurid yellow, and his eyes, so piercing! He gives me the jumps! I can't bear to think of him at night!"
"Rubbish," Curtis growled. "You imagine it. There's nothing of the spook about Leon! He's of this world and nothing but this world."
It was odd, however, that from that time he, too, began to have the same feeling—the feeling that Hamar was perpetually watching them—watching them awake and watching them asleep! Curtis awoke one night to see, standing on his hearth, a shadowy figure with a lurid yellow face and two gleaming dark eyes, which were fixed on him. He called out, and it vanished!
"Of course it's the nut steak!" And thus he tried to assure himself. But he was badly scared all the same.
Another night, he saw some one, he took to be Hamar, peeping at him from behind the window curtains. He threw a slipper at the figure, and the slipper went right through it. If Hamar's phantom had been the only thing he saw, he would not have minded much; but both he and Kelson soon began to see and hear other things. Curtis frequently saw half-materialized forms, forms of men with cone-shaped heads and peculiarly formed limbs, stealing up the staircase in front of him, and, turning into his bedroom, vanish there. He heard them moving about, long after he had got into bed. Sometimes they would glide up to the bed and bend over him, and though he could never see their eyes, he could feel they were fixed mockingly on him. Once he saw the door of his wardrobe slowly open, and a white something with a dreadful face—half human and half animal—steal slyly out and disappear in the wall opposite. And once when he put out his hand to feel for the matches, they were gently thrust into his palm, whilst the walls of the room shook with laughter.
Kelson was equally tormented, though the phenomena took rather a different form. Alone in his bedroom at night, the shape of the room would frequently change; either the walls and ceiling would recede, and recede, until they assumed the proportions of some vast chamber, full of gloom and strange shadows; or they would slowly, very slowly, close in upon him, as if it were their intention to crush him to death. A feeling of suffocation would come over him, and he would gasp, choke, beat the air with his arms, be at the verge of losing consciousness, when there would be a loud, mocking laugh—and the walls and ceiling would be in their proper places again. At other times he would see strange figures on the wall—numbers of circles, that would keep on revolving in the most bewildering fashion. Then, suddenly, they would leave the wall and slowly approach him, increasing in circumference; and the same thing would happen, as happened with the wall and ceiling; he would undergo the whole sensation of asphyxiation, and be on the brink of swooning, when there would be a loud peal of evil, satirical laughter, and the circles would instantly disappear.
Sometimes the bedclothes would assume extraordinary shapes; sometimes the articles on his dressing-table; sometimes his clothes; and once, when he was about to put on his bedroom slippers, he found them already occupied—occupied by icy cold feet. Another time, when he put out his hand to take hold of a tumbler, he put it on the back of another hand—smooth, cold and pulpy!
Hardly a night passed without some sort of manifestation happening to one or other of the trio, and even Curtis—fat and stolid Curtis—began to lose flesh and look harassed.
On the eve of the initiation into stage four, the three, separating for the night, retired to their respective quarters in a far from pleasant state of expectation.
Hamar was undressing, when there came a loud ring at the telephone, outside his door.
"Holloa!" he called out, "who are you?"
"Are you Mr. Hamar?" a voice asked, breathlessly.
Hamar replied in the affirmative, and the voice continued—
"I'm Mrs. Anderson-Waite, of 30 Queen's Mansions, Queen's Gate. I have been holding a séance here, with some of my friends, and most extraordinary things have happened, and are still happening. There are violent knockings on the wall and ceiling, and the table has become positively dangerous. It has repeatedly sprung into the air, and savagely assaulted several of the sitters. It has thrown one lady on to the floor, and despite our efforts to prevent it, has rampled on her so viciously that she is badly hurt, and the doctor who has just arrived thinks very seriously of it. We wanted to stop, but some strange power seems to be forcing us to go on. The table has rapped out your name and address, and says it has something important to communicate with you, and that unless you come here at once, it won't answer for the consequences."
"All right!" Hamar said. "I'll come. I'll be with you in less than half an hour."
When Hamar arrived at Queen's Mansions, he found a terrified party of ladies awaiting him in the entrance to the flat.
"Thank goodness, you've come!" they exclaimed, all together. "We've been having an awful time. The table has driven us out of the drawing-room—it is obsessed by a devil."
"Let me have a look at it," Hamar said, "and I'll soon tell you."
The leader of the party, Mrs. Anderson-Waite, very cautiously opened the drawing-room door, and Hamar peered in. In the centre of the room was a large, round, ebony table, that commenced to rock, in the most sinister fashion, the moment Hamar looked at it.
"It evidently wants to speak with me," Hamar said; "you had better leave me here with it for a few minutes."
"Do take care," Mrs. Anderson-Waite said, as she shut the door. "It may want to murder you. If it does, ring this bell, and we will all come to your assistance."
Hamar gave her an assuring smile, but he was by no means as much at ease as he pretended to be. He stood staring at the table, too fascinated to take his eyes off it, and too afraid to move.
At length, however, pulling himself together, and convinced the table was the medium, through which the Unknown wished to give him fresh instructions, he stealthily approached it. He addressed it, and it rapped out to him that he must at once obtain pen and ink and take down what it wished to say.
Obtaining the requisite materials from Mrs. Anderson-Waite, he sat down and was preparing to write on his knee, when the table told him to rub its surface briskly with his left hand, to trace on it the three Atlantean symbols, i. e. a club foot, a hand with the fingers clenched and the long pointed thumb standing upright, and a bat—and then—to place his paper on it, and transcribe what it had to say.
Hamar obeyed, and after sitting for exactly three minutes with his pencil between his fingers, he felt a cold, pulpy hand laid over his, impelling him to write with lightning-like rapidity. The script read as follows:—
"To Hamar, Curtis and Kelson—to the three of you in common—is given the knowledge of inflicting all manner of torments and diseases, of imparting all kinds of injurious properties, and of causing plagues.
"In the first place, you must understand that the essence of life, comprising the psychical, psychological and physical, permeates every part of the living corporeal body—and that any limb, or fragment of skin or flesh, cut off from the living corporeal body, retains the essence of life, comprising the psychical and physical in its full vigour and entirety. Consequently, if a person have grafted on to them a piece of skin or flesh, or be inoculated with the blood or veins of a tiger—then that person not merely becomes liable to all the physical infirmities of the tiger, but may—if the counteracting influences are not sufficiently strong—partake of all the tiger's psychological characteristics.
"Thus, if you give a person, in whom there is a latent tendency to drink, a drop of a drunkard's blood—in a glass of wine, or sweet, or pill, no matter what—that person will at once take to drink. Thus—mark you—people can be metamorphosed into libertines, suicides, idiots and murderers. This metamorphosis can also be produced by means of a magnet called the 'magnes microcosmi,' which is prepared from substances that have had a long association with the human body, and are penetrated by its vitality. Such substances are the hair and blood. Take either one of them, and dry it in a shady and moderately warm place, until it has lost its humidity and odour. By this process it will have lost, too, all its mumia—that is to say, its essence of life—and is hungry to regain it. It is now a magnes microcosmi, or a magnet for attracting diseases and properties, and if it be placed in close contact with a criminal or lunatic, it will be filled with his essence of life, and may then be used as a means of infecting other people with his pernicious qualities. Bury it under the doorstep of the person you wish infected, or hide it in his house, or mix it well with earth, and plant a shrub in the earth, and the vitality the magnet took from the criminal or lunatic will pass into the plant; and if the plant, or even flower of the plant, be given to any one, that person—unless she or he be a person absolutely free from the germs of vice—will be attracted to it, and greatly affected by it.
"Or again, the earth over the grave of a lunatic or criminal will contain his essence of life, i. e. his vitality, which impregnates everything around it, and if that earth be placed somewhere in the immediate presence of a person, in whom there are latent tendencies to vice—then that person will be affected by it.
"And through these methods of using the essence of life, that is impregnated with the disease you wish to inflict—you may infect people with all kinds of incurable ailments.
"But a quicker, and equally sure method of smiting people with disease, such as cancer, fever, epilepsy, apoplexy, etc.; of smiting them blind, deaf, dumb, lame, etc.; or bringing upon them all kinds of accidents, is to make an image of the person you wish to torment, and, setting it in front of you, preferably, at times when the moon is new, or in conjunction with Venus, Mars or Saturn, concentrate with all your will on whatever injury you wish to inflict. If, for example, you desire the person to become blind, stick a pin, or thorn, or nail in the eyes of the image; if deaf, in its ears; if maimed, cut a limb off the image; if to have a certain disease, will very earnestly that he or she shall have that disease. You may thus, too, torment the object of your aversion with plagues of insects and vermin.
"If you desire to bewitch your neighbour's milk, wine, or any food he or she has, you may do it by placing the mumia, i. e. the vehicle containing the essence of life of some criminal or lunatic, in the immediate vicinity of the food, etc.; or in the case of milk, by giving it to the cow to eat; or you may accomplish your design simply by means of concentration and an image.
"Always, however, whatever methods you employ, prelude them with this prayer: 'I conjure thee, Great Unknown Power that is Antagonistic to man, that was at the Beginning, that is now, that always will be; by the winds and rain, and thunder and lightning; by the swirling rivers; by the Moon; by the sinister influence of the Moon with Venus, Mars and Saturn; help me obtain the perfect issue of all my desires, which I seek to perform solely for the furtherment of what is detrimental to humanity. Amen.' And conclude them with the signs of the foot, the hand and the bat. If you desire to know anything further it will be unfolded to you in your dreams."
The hand that had been laid on Hamar's was now removed. The writing ceased. The table rose several inches from the floor, and struck the latter three times in quick, violent succession. Then it remained quiet, and Hamar knew, by a subtle change in the atmosphere, that all occult manifestations—for that night at least—were at an end. The ladies were, of course, dying to know what had happened; and like most ladies, who dabble in spiritualism, were ready to believe anything they were told. Hamar, who had no intention whatever of telling them what had actually occurred, satisfied them admirably.
He went home delighted—far too delighted to sleep—for he had in his possession now the greatest of all weapons—the weapon to torment. And with it what could he not do! What could he not get! He could get—Gladys!