25. Curtis in a new rôle
In an instant, Lilian Rosenberg had decided the course she would adopt.
"What a disgusting thing to do," she indignantly exclaimed. "I wouldn't have believed it of Shiel. The idea of forcing me to give evidence—of forcing me to save the situation for the sake of the woman he thinks he loves! I shan't do it!"
And she proved as good as her word. Apart from her importance as a witness, considerable interest attached to her on account of her appearance—she was infinitely more attractive than any of the women who had hitherto appeared in the witness-box—though many of them were so-called Society beauties.
"You were wrong," was the look which Shiel read in H.V. Sevenning's eyes, as Lilian Rosenberg took the oath. "She is on our side."
But simple as Shiel was in many ways, he knew women better than the lawyer, and the exceedingly sweet expression Lilian Rosenberg had assumed, and which he knew to be quite foreign to her, filled him with misgivings. Nor was he mistaken. The evidence she gave was entirely in favour of the trio.
The case for the prosecution was concluded. For the defence, Gerald Kirby, K.C., resorted to satire. He characterized the whole proceedings as the most absurd heard in any Court for the past two centuries, and wondered, only, that it had been possible to procure a counsel for such a ridiculous prosecution.
"Even though," he remarked, "spirits such as have been specified by the prosecution do exist—which is extremely dubious—there has never yet been produced any reliable corroborative evidence respecting them, and the Prosecution has wholly failed to prove, that it is through the medium of these spirits, that the Modern Sorcery Company have worked their spells. The marvellous feats that we have all seen performed in Cockspur Street have been accomplished—as the defendants have all along stated—through will—sheer will power and nothing else; and I intend producing evidence to show that the secret of the wonderful efficacy of all the charms and spells sold by the Sorcery Company, lies in will power also. Whenever they have been consulted with regard to the purchasing of a spell, the Firm have invariably pointed out this fact to the purchasers, carefully explaining at the same time that the rings, lockets and other articles sold to them were merely to assist them in concentration. It is ridiculous to suppose that such trivial articles could have produced, of themselves, such calamities as the witnesses for the prosecution attributed to them. But, of course you did not believe the statements of such witnesses. How could you? How could you expect anything but falsehood from women who, upon cross-examination, had owned that their object in obtaining the spells was a far more dangerous object than they had at first led you to suppose. They sought spells that would do evil, and that evil was not accomplished. Now, I ask you, if the Firm worked their spells through the instrumentality of evil spirits—for it is assuredly only evil spirits that are associated with Sorcery—would not the spells they sold naturally have brought about the sinister results for which they were required? Undoubtedly they would! And they failed to produce the desired effect, simply because their efficacy depended, not on spirit agency, but on human will power; which power one could only too plainly see the society ladies—who had witnessed for the prosecution—did not possess.
"It may be asked, why the defendants, if they do not accomplish their spells through black magic, style themselves 'The Sorcery Company'—and so mislead the public? Obviously they do so purely for advertisement. 'The Sorcery Company' is an attractive title, a 'catchy' title, and for this reason, which is surely a legitimate one, since it is strictly in accordance with the prevailing custom of advertisement—the firm of Hamar, Curtis and Kelson adopted it. They did not expect—they were not so extraordinarily foolish as to expect—any one would take them literally. They thought—as you and I think—that sorcery cannot be taken seriously—that it is confined to fairy tales—and that, as a fairy tale, it is potent only in the nursery."
This was the gist of counsel's speech for the defence. A number of witnesses then gave evidence for the defendants; and when the prosecuting counsel rose, it was only too evident that he was pleading for a lost cause. The Court with ill-concealed derision barely accorded him a hearing.
Two hours later the Meteor, always the first in the field when sensations crop up, headed the first column of their front page with—
Collapse of the Sorcery Case
Crushing Speech by Gerald Kirby, K.C.
Acquittal of the Defendants
"The Judge"—so the Meteor reported—"expressed himself in absolute agreement with the defending counsel. 'The action,' he said, 'ought never to have been brought—it was sublimely ridiculous to accuse any one of being in league with forces in the existence of which no sane person could possibly believe.'"
Shiel was in despair. All chance of saving Gladys seemed to be fast disappearing. He telephoned to her, and was answered by Miss Templeton.
"Gladys," she said, "had gone out with Hamar, who had motored down to the cottage the moment the trial was over and the verdict known."
"I wish to God we had won the case," Shiel observed.
"So do I," Miss Templeton replied, "and so did Gladys—she regards her position now as absolutely hopeless!"
"Tell her not to lose heart," Shiel answered hurriedly. "If I can't find any other means, I'll—" but Miss Templeton rang off, and he spoke to the wind.
Full of wrath against Lilian Rosenberg, he went round to see her, and met her, just as she was entering her house.
"I've come to see you for the last time," he announced. "After the way you behaved in Court, we can no longer be friends."
"I don't understand," she said in rather a faltering voice. "What have I done?"
"Only perjured yourself," Shiel retorted. "The tale you told the judge was very different to the tale you told me, therefore it is impossible for us to continue our friendship. I could never have anything to do with a woman whose word I can't rely upon—whose character I scorn, whom I despise—and—" he was going to add, "detest," but checked himself, and unable to trust himself in her presence any longer, he gave her a glance of the utmost contempt, and wheeling round, walked quickly away.
As in a dream, Lilian Rosenberg went upstairs to her room, and throwing herself on the bed, buried her face in the pillow and indulged in a fit of crying. It was not the thought of losing Shiel that was so painful to her—she might have grown reconciled to that—it was the thought of losing his esteem. Most people would agree with her—would assure her she had done the right thing in looking after number one. "What, after all, is perjury?" she argued. "Nearly every one in this world perjure themselves at one time or another—certainly all women."
But it was not the opinion of the majority she cared about—it was the respect of the one; the respect she had wilfully and spitefully sacrificed.
Was it too late to recover it?
With regard to Gladys she was very sceptical. The reluctance to accept Hamar as her future husband she still believed to be all pretence, and she felt convinced that Gladys, in her heart of hearts, was only too glad to get the chance of marrying any one so rich. This being so, she could not bring herself to think she had done Shiel any actual wrong. Gladys would never marry him. The only person she had harmed was herself. She had lied, and Shiel was not the sort of man to condone an offence of that sort easily. Still, weeping would do no good; it would only make her ugly. She got up, had tea, and went out. She could think better in the open air—it soothed her. For some reason or other—custom perhaps—she strolled towards Cockspur Street, and there ran into one of the few people she particularly wished to avoid—Kelson.
He was delighted to see her.
"It's nectar to me to be out again," he said. "Jerusalem!—it was awful in the Courts. Have supper with me."
It was a fine starlight night—the air cool and refreshing, and a wild abandonment seized Lilian Rosenberg. She would have supped with the devil had he asked her.
"I've nothing to lose now," she said to herself. "Nothing! I'll have my fling."
"Where shall we go?" she asked. "It must be somewhere entertaining."
"Why not to my rooms?" he said. "We can talk better there—we shall be all alone!"
She raised no objection, and they were about to step into a taxi, when Hamar and Curtis suddenly put in appearance.
"Matt!" Hamar cried, seizing his elbow. "I want a word with you."
"Not now," Kelson protested, looking hungrily at Lilian.
"Yes, now!" Hamar said. "At once! I shan't keep you more than five minutes"—and he dragged Kelson away with him.
The moment they had gone, Curtis, who was obviously the worse for drink, addressed Lilian.
"Kelson won't come back," he said. "Hamar is mad with him. He says if he ever sees you two together again he'll sack you. Let me take his place!"
A sudden inspiration came to her. There were one or two things she badly wanted to know—and with a bit of coaxing, Curtis, in his present state, might tell her anything. She would try.
"All right," she said. "I'll come."
They got into the taxi and Curtis, as far as his fuddled senses would allow, made violent love to her.
After supper—they had supper in his rooms—he grew a great deal more amorous. She let him sit close beside her, she let him put his arm round her waist; but before she let him kiss her, she struck her bargain.
"No!" she said, thrusting him away. "Not just yet. That can come later—if you are good. I want you to tell me something first. About this marriage of Mr. Hamar and Miss Martin—is it likely to come off?"
"Ish it likely!" Curtis said with a stupid leer. "Ish it likely! Not much. Leon means nothing! He only wants the fun of being engaged to a pretty girl—like I wantsh fun with you. Nothing more."
"Then he'll throw her over after a while."
"After he gets what he wantsh to get."
"And suppose she prove different to what he expects?"
"After he pashes stage seven—that will be all right!" Curtis said giving her waist an emphatic squeeze. "Everybody will be all right then. You and Matt—for exshample—and I and—and—whishky!"
"Stage seven! What do you mean?"
"Why don't—you know!" Curtis gurgled—and then a sudden gleam of intelligence coming into his watery eyes, he added. "Then I shan't tell you—nothing shall make me. It's a shecret!"
"I won't kiss you till you do!" Lilian Rosenberg said.
"I'll make you."
"Oh, no, you won't," Lilian Rosenberg cried, disengaging herself from his grasp, and rising. "Don't you dare touch me. I'm going."
Curtis watched her with a helpless grin. Then he suddenly cried out, "Come back! Come back, I shay!"
"Well, will you do as I want?" Lilian Rosenberg said.
"I'll do anything—anything to please you—if only you shtay with me."
She sat down, and his arm once again encircled her.
"Now," she said, pushing his face away. "Tell me!"
Bit by bit she drew out of him the whole history of the compact with the Unknown, how in stage five, the stage they were about to enter, they would have fresh powers conferred upon them—their present power, i. e. of working spells and causing diseases, being then cancelled; how they would obtain supreme power over women when they reached the final stage—stage seven; and how the compact would be broken and their ruin brought about, should either of them marry, or should anything happen before this final stage was reached, to disunite them.
Lilian could account for a great deal now. The uncanny feeling she had always experienced in the building; the curious enigmatical shadows she had seen hovering about the doorways and flitting down the passages; the extraordinary nature of the feats and spells; Hamar's mutterings and his fury, whenever Kelson spoke to her—were no longer wholly unintelligible. But she must know all. She must be most exacting.
Finally, she got from Curtis everything there was to be got from him, and she laughed immoderately, when he excused himself on the grounds that it was all Leon's doings—Leon had told him to offer her a little compensation for the loss of her escort.
"And you have compensated me more than enough," Lilian Rosenberg said. "Now you shall have your reward," and she kissed him—kissed him three times for luck.
"But you're not going?" he said, staggering to his feet and attempting to hold her. "You're not going till the roshy morning sun shines shaucily in on us."
"Oh, yes, I am," she said. "I've had quite enough of you! Good-bye!"
And before he could prevent her, she had run to the front door and let herself out.