The Sorcery Club

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23. Love

To bring about plagues of insects Hamar had resorted to a very simple method. He had first of all made a wax image representing a cockroach—scorpion—centipede, or whatever other species came into his mind. Then, placing the image he had made in front of him, and repeating the prayer he had learned from the Unknown, through the medium of Mrs. Anderson-Waite's table, he had concentrated body, soul, and spirit on plaguing Gladys with the insect, which the image represented. When his concentration reached the highest degree, insects in their actual physical bodies were transported from the tropics;[23] but when he was unable to concentrate to the utmost, only the ethereal projections of the insects were obtainable; hence the hybrid—partly scorpion and partly beetle, that appeared and disappeared in Gladys's bed and bedroom.

To produce the rappings on the walls of Gladys's room, he had made a wax representation of a wall, and whilst concentrating to the very utmost, had struck it with his knuckles.

The plaguing of the servants Hamar had also accomplished by means of images and concentration.

But in order to bewitch milk, he had been obliged to resort to other means. He had converted the mumia of an idiot into a magnes microcosmi; and bribing the man who delivered the milk, he gave him instructions to soak the magnes microcosmi, for a few minutes, in every portion that he left at the Cottage.[24]

At length Hamar having failed to gain his object by plaguing Gladys and the servants, set about tormenting John Martin. He made a wax image of the latter, and after pronouncing the necessary prayer, stuck the image full of pins, crying out as he did so "John Martin, I hate you. John Martin, I curse you. John Martin, a plague on you." And each time Hamar stuck a pin in the image he had made of John Martin, the real John Martin felt an acute pain in the region of his body corresponding to that in which the pin was stuck.

The doctor, who was called in, could make nothing of the malady, but, following the etiquette of the profession, cloaked his ignorance with a look of profound wisdom, and the pronouncement that he would tell them, in a day or two, what was the matter. In the meanwhile, he found it necessary and politic to prescribe a non-committal mixture of chalk and rhubarb, which, although disguised under the usual fanciful pharmacopœia appellation, did not, however, allay the pain. Sharp, agonizing pricks, now on the neck now in the chest, now in the most sensitive part of the knee-cap, now under the toe-nail, now—most painful of all—under the finger-nail—continued to torment John Martin, who, though as a rule fairly stoical, could not stand these attacks with any degree of composure. He screamed, and swore, and cursed, until the whole household was terrified—and Gladys, pretty nearly out of her mind.

During a lull—an interval, wherein John Martin enjoyed a brief respite, the telephone bell rang.

"Hulloa," called a voice, "I'm Hamar. Haven't you had about enough of it? Remember, you've only to say the word and I'll stop."

"Tell him I'll do nothing of the sort," John Martin said, "that he'll never get the better of me this way."

Miss Templeton gave the message, and Hamar replied "Wait! Wait and see!"

He then thrust wool, pins, horsenails, straw, needles and moss into the mouth of the image, and John Martin had such frightful pains in his stomach that he went into convulsions; and, after an emetic had been given him, vomited up all the above-named articles, save the pins and needles which worked their way out through his flesh, causing him the most exquisite tortures.

Gladys, having given up going to the theatre in order to be with her father during these attacks, now declared that she could no longer bear to see him in such excruciating pain, whilst it was in her power to prevent it.

"Tell him," she said, "tell Hamar you'll accept his conditions. Don't think of me! I would rather do anything than see you suffer like this."

"I can hold out a bit longer," he groaned, "at any rate I needn't give in yet."

Every now and then there came a respite—perhaps for several hours, perhaps for several days—then the tortures recommenced. And always John Martin steeled himself to bear them. At last came the climax.

Hamar, infuriated that his efforts, so far, had proved fruitless, resolved, since time was pressing, to play his trump card and either win, or lose all. He rang up Gladys on the telephone.

"My patience is exhausted," he said. "I'll give you one more chance, and one—only. Agree to be engaged to me at once—or I'll smite your father with the most virulent form of cancer, and leave him to die."

There was no question now in Gladys's mind as to what she should do. Of all things in the world, she dreaded cancer most, and after the many evidences Hamar had given her of his skill in Black Magic, she did not doubt for one instant that he could, immediately he chose, carry out his threat.

"I have decided," she said faintly, "to—to—give in."

"You accept me, then?" Hamar said.

"Y-yes!"

"When may I see you?"

"When you like."

"Then I'll come at once," Hamar replied. "Au revoir."

But Hamar, when he arrived at the Cottage, did not realize any of the gleeful anticipations he had indulged in en route. Gladys was ill—so Miss Templeton informed him—at the same time begging him, if he really had any regard for Miss Martin, not to ask to see her for the next few days; and to this request Hamar, seeing no alternative, was obliged to assent.

Shortly after he had gone, Shiel Davenport called, and found Gladys alone in the garden.

"I've been told that your father is ill," he said, "and should like to hear better news of him. How is he?"

"I think he's all right now," Gladys replied, "but he has suffered frightfully. Indeed, we've all had a terrible time," And she told him what had happened.

"Then you've not been acting at the Imperial lately?" Shiel asked.

"Not for the past week," Gladys replied. "I couldn't leave father."

"How has Mr. Bromley Burnham got on without you?" Shiel asked bitterly.

"I don't understand you," Gladys said quietly. "I have an understudy, and from what I am told she has given every satisfaction. I have some news which I fear won't be altogether welcome to you."

Shiel turned a shade paler. "What is it?" he faltered.

"I'm engaged to be married."

For a few moments there was silence, and then Shiel exclaimed mechanically "Engaged to be married! To whom?"

"To Leon Hamar! I couldn't help it." And she explained the position.

"But he'll never keep you to it," Shiel said. "He couldn't be such a brute."

"I'm afraid he will," Gladys replied. "He's shown pretty clearly that he's capable of anything. I've given him my promise—I must keep it."

"Then it's good-bye to all interest in life—for me," Shiel said, with a gulp. "I've thought of no one but you since we first met. For you—in the hope of someday winning you, I've struggled on; I've reconciled myself to a bare existence. Now I've lost you, I've lost everything. I hate life. I shall—"

"You'll do nothing of the sort," Gladys interrupted, "unless you want me to regret ever having met you. I wonder that you say 'I've nothing to live for'—when we can still be friends; and when you can, at least, win my respect, by putting your shoulder to the wheel, and exerting yourself to the utmost to get on."

"And you—what about you?"

"Never mind me—I can well look after myself."

"You'll live in Hell," Shiel cried, her eyes goading him to madness. "Even though you may not care for me, I do not choose to stand quietly by, whilst you spend your life in Purgatory. Hamar has won you through some diabolical trickery, and if I can't thwart him in any other way—I'll kill him. He shan't marry you."

"He will," Gladys sighed. "No one can stop him. He is omnipotent."

Apparently, Gladys's statement was more or less true; and ninety-nine men out of a hundred, in the same circumstances as Shiel, would have now recognized the hopelessness of the situation. But Shiel was abnormal. As he walked home from the Cottage that evening he kept on repeating to himself "Gladys is my goal. I want only Gladys. I'll have only Gladys." And having once made up his mind to get Gladys, it seemed to him, as if out of every obstacle, that lay between him and Gladys, he could and would merely make a stepping-stone. "Since," he argued to himself, "all's fair in love and war, I'll win Gladys through another woman."

And he straightway telephoned to Lilian Rosenberg to have tea with him.

The latter had already made an engagement for the afternoon; but, all the same, she accepted Shiel's invitation.

"Will you do me a favour?" he asked.

"If it is anything that lies in my power," she said. "What is it?"

"I want you to find out how Hamar works his spells. I asked you before?"

"I know you did and I've not forgotten," Lilian said, "but I have to be very careful. I've played the part of eavesdropper once or twice, and heard enough to confirm me in my suspicions that Hamar is in touch with evil, occult powers. I've heard him praying aloud to them on more than one occasion, and I've also a shrewd idea he performs, at least, some of his spells by means of wax images. But why do you want to know?"

"Only curiosity. I am intensely interested in the occult."

"You don't want to start a rival show, do you?" Lilian asked jestingly.

"With a maximum capital of two pounds—and a minimum of knowledge!" Shiel laughed. "Hardly. I wish I could. I would offer you the post of manageress."

"Partner!"

"Well, partner, if you like. Would you take it?"

"Perhaps!" she said, looking at him with a sudden shyness. "What a pity you are not rich. Can't you get a post that would bring you in about £200 a year for a start? I believe you really want something to stimulate you, to make you work in grim earnest—then you would succeed. There's grit in you—I love grit—but at present it's latent, it wants bringing out."

"You are very kind," Shiel said, "but I'm afraid I'm a hopeless case, and, being such, have no business to be in your company. Will you come to the theatre with me?"

"The theatre! When you've no business to be in my company, and when it is as much as you can do to pay the rent of a back attic!"

"Oh, never mind that. I've had tickets given me. I've been doing odd bits of journalism lately, and a dramatic critic I know has given me two stalls at the Imperial!"

"The Imperial!" Lilian Rosenberg ejaculated. "That's where Gladys Martin is acting, surely! I can't bear her!"

"She's not the only person in the cast," Shiel observed drily, "and the play's a good one! Do come!"

With a little more persuasion Shiel gained her consent; and both he and she enjoyed the play, or more correctly speaking, the occasion, immensely. So long as Gladys was on the stage Shiel's eyes never once left her; whilst throughout the performance Lilian Rosenberg saw only Shiel, thought only of Shiel. The interest she had taken in him, the interest she had so confidently asserted was only interest, had grown apace—had grown out of all recognition. It needed only a fillip now to convert that interest into something warmer; and the fillip was not long in coming.

Shiel was seeing Lilian home to her lodgings in Margaret Terrace, a turning off Oakley Street, when a man knocked a woman down right in front of them. He was just the ordinary type of street ruffian—the whitewashed English labourer—and the woman, having without doubt been served by him in the same manner fifty times before, was probably well used to such treatment. But it was more than Shiel, who had spent so much of his life where they treat women differently, could stand, and before Lilian Rosenberg had time to remonstrate, he had rushed up to the prostrate woman, and was holding the man at bay. A scuffle now began, in which the woman, whom Shiel had helped to regain her feet, joined. Both man and woman now attacked Shiel, who, placing himself with his back against the railings, defended himself as best he could.

The hour was late, there were no police about, and it seemed only too probable that the fracas would end in a tragedy. The labourer was a burly fellow, shorter than Shiel, but far broader and heavier, and any one could see at a glance that Shiel stood no chance against him. Lilian Rosenberg, at her wits' end to know what to do, ran into Oakley Street, and as there was no one in sight, she made for the nearest lighted house and rang the bell furiously. A man came to the door, whom, unheeding his expostulations, she caught by the arm and dragged into the street.

They arrived on the scene of action, just as the ruffian, breaking through Shiel's guard, struck him a terrific blow on the forehead, which sent him reeling against the railings. The newcomer (upon whom, both man and woman, seeing Shiel incapacitated, instantly turned) would probably have shared the same fate, had not the occupants of several of the neighbouring houses—amongst whom were some half-dozen athletic young men—roused by the noise, come out into the street, and the ruffian and his companion, seeing the odds were against them, decamped.

Shiel had not fully regained consciousness, when Lilian Rosenberg, regardless of propriety, led him into her sitting-room, bathed his forehead, dosed him with brandy, and making up a bed for him on the sofa, bade him rest there, till the morning.

When he took his departure, he had quite recovered, and Lilian Rosenberg had, at last, realized that she loved him.

Footnotes:

[23] There is no doubt that Moses inflicted the plagues, with which he tormented Pharaoh, in this way.

[24] In stage two this might have been performed by ethereal projection, but Hamar could not resort to this method as the power of projection had now passed from him.


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