27. The right girl to marry
Though the wind was nothing more than the usual night breeze of early autumn, the lime-tree was swaying violently to and fro, as if under the influence of a stupendous hurricane. Lilian Rosenberg and Kelson were so fascinated that they stood and watched it in silence. At last it left off swaying and became absolutely motionless. They then noticed, for the first time, that there were three figures standing under its branches, and that one of the figures was a policeman.
"Hide quickly," Kelson whispered, "those two are Hamar and Curtis. Quick, for God's sake—or they will see you."
Lilian Rosenberg hid behind an elm.
"Hulloa!" Kelson called out, advancing to the group.
"Why it's you, Matt!" Curtis cried. "Hamar said you would come!"
"Said I would come! How the deuce did he know?" Kelson exclaimed. "I didn't know myself till the moment before I started."
"I willed you," Hamar explained; "as soon as I got back to my rooms after the Show, a voice said in my ears—I heard it distinctly—'Be at the Serpentine—the south bank—underneath a lime-tree—you will know which—at twelve to-night.' I looked round—there was no one there. Naturally, concluding this was a message from the Unknown I hastened off to Curtis, who was in his digs—and needless to say—eating, and having dragged him away with me in a diabolical temper—I then sought you. Where were you?"
"Taking a walk. I felt I needed it."
"Alone! Are you sure you weren't out with some girl."
"I swear it."
"It seems as if I'm not the only liar!" Lilian Rosenberg said to herself in her place of concealment. "What would Shiel say to that?"
"Humph! I don't know if I ought to believe you," Hamar remarked. "Did you feel me willing you to come here?"
"Rather!" Kelson said. "That is why I came. I seemed to hear your voice say 'To Hyde Park—to Hyde Park—the Serpentine—the Serpentine.'" Then sinking his voice he whispered, "What's up with the policeman, he looks deuced queer?"
"He's in a trance. We found him like this," Hamar said. "He is undoubtedly under the control of the Unknown. I expect it to speak through him every moment. Get ready to take down all he says. I've come prepared," and he handed Kelson and Curtis, each, a pencil and a reporter's notebook.
He had hardly done so, when the policeman—a burly man well over six feet in height, who was standing bolt upright as if at "attention," his limbs absolutely rigid, his eyes wide open and expressionless—began to speak in a soft, lisping voice that the trio at once identified with the voice of the Unknown—the voice of the tree on that eventful night in San Francisco.
"The great secret of medicine—the secret of healing—will now be revealed to you," the voice said. "Pay heed. In cases of tumours and ulcers take a young seringa, lay it for half an hour over the stomach of the afflicted person, then plant it with the mumia, i. e. either the hair, blood, or spittle of the sick person, at midnight. As soon as the seringa begins to rot, the ulcer will heal.
"In phthisis pulmonalis, the mumia of the sick person should be planted with a cutting of the catalpa, after the latter has been subjected for some minutes to the breath of the diseased person. As soon as the cutting shows signs of decay, the sick person will be cured.
"In diabetes, plant the mumia of the patient with a bignonia, and as soon as the latter begins to rot, the diabetes will go.
"In appendicitis, cover the stomach of the sick person with a piece of raw beef, until the sweat enters it. Then give the meat to a cat, and as soon as the latter has eaten it, the patient will recover."
"What becomes of the cat?" Kelson asked.
"The appendicitis is transferred to it," the voice explained. "It should be killed at once.
"In cancer take the sea wrack Torrek Mendrek—a weed of deep mauve colour streaked with white. It must be boiled for three hours in clear spring water (3 ozs. of wrack to half a pint of water), and then let to cool. When quite cold, a dessert-spoon of it should be taken by the sufferer every four hours—and at the end of two days the disease will have completely disappeared. The wrack is to be found at the twenty fathom level, six miles west-south-west of the Scilly Isles.
"In Bright's disease, the mumia of the afflicted should be planted at 1 a.m., with a cutting of sassafras, after the latter has been slept on, for one whole night, by the sufferer. As soon as the sassafras begins to rot, the patient will be cured.
"In dropsy, place a hare, that has been strangled, over the diseased portion of the body, and let it remain there for one hour. Then bury the hare, together with the mumia of the sick person, and as soon as the hare begins to decay, the patient will recover.
"In jaundice and liver diseases (apart from sarcoma), plant the mumia of the afflicted, at 2 a.m., with a cutting of black walnut, and as soon as the latter begins to decay, the sufferer will get well.
"In all skin diseases, the mumia of the patient must be planted, at midnight, with a cutting of hickory, and when the latter begins to rot the disease disappears.
"In all fevers, the mumia must be planted, at 3 a.m., with laurel cuttings, after the latter have been placed under the bed of the patient for one night. As soon as the cuttings show signs of rotting, the fever abates.
"In acute inflammations, diseases of the heart, rheumatism, and lumbago, the mumia must be buried, at midnight, with a raven that has been drowned, and placed on a chair by the left side of the patient for one night. As soon as the raven begins to rot, the patient will be fully restored to health.
"In cases of insanity, hysteria, and nervous diseases the mumia of the sufferer must be planted, at 2 a.m., with a cutting of white poplar, and as soon as the latter shows evidences of decay, the afflicted will get well.
"In cases of hypochondria, and melancholia, the mumia of the sufferer must be planted, at 4 a.m., with a crocus, and as soon as the latter begins to rot, the disease will depart.
"In every case it will be necessary to prelude the performance with the following invocation—
"'Oh most powerful and prescient Unknown, before whom the greatest of the Atlanteans prostrate themselves. That was in the Beginning, that is now and always will be. I conjure thee by the magic symbols of the club-foot, the hand with the fingers clenched, and the bat, in this the magical year of Kefana, to extend to me thy wonderful powers of healing. Rena Vadoola Hipsano Eik Deoo Barrinaz.'"
The lisping voice ceased, and, with a convulsive start, the policeman came to himself.
"Hulloa!" he said, in his natural gruff tones, rubbing his eyes. "I must have 'dropped off.' Who are you? What are you doing in the Park at this time of night?"
"We've been watching you!" Hamar said. "It is a bit of a phenomenon to see a London bobby asleep on his beat."
"And to hear him talking in his sleep too," Curtis added.
"I didn't know I was talking," the policeman muttered. "It all comes of being too many hours on duty. What have you got those note-books out for? Not been taking down anything about me, have you?"
"Show us out of the Park and you'll hear no more about it," Hamar said.
"And we'll give you half a sovereign into the bargain," Kelson chimed in.
"Follow me then," the policeman said. "I'll take you to one of the side entrances."
"Matt!" Hamar exclaimed as they passed the tree behind which Lilian Rosenberg was hiding, "I smell scent—and what is more I recognize it. It is Violette de mer—the scent that—Rosenberg uses! You were with her this evening!"
"I swear I wasn't!" Kelson replied. "I bought some scent in Regent Street this afternoon."
"Humph," Hamar grunted. "I have my doubts."
They walked on in silence till they came to a small iron gate, where the policemen left them, whilst he went to the lodge for the keys; and all the while Kelson was in terror, lest Hamar should catch sight of Lilian Rosenberg, who had kept close behind them, and was now standing, but a few yards away, trying to conceal her identity and escape notice.
But the policeman on his return with the keys called out to her, and Kelson, fearing that she might be either taken in charge for loitering there, in apparently suspicious circumstances, or made to remain in the Park all night—neither of which contingencies he could possibly permit—at once came forward, and explained that she was a friend of his.
The policeman was satisfied. The sight of another half-sovereign had rendered him more than polite, and, without saying a word, he let them all out together.
The moment they were in the street, Hamar turned on Kelson, white with passion.
"So," he said, "I was right after all—liar! fool! You would risk all our lives for a few hours' flirtation with this silly girl."
"If it's only flirtation, Leon, what does it matter?" Curtis interposed. "For goodness' sake shut up wrangling and let's get home. I'm starving."
"I shall have something to say to you to-morrow morning," Hamar remarked, in an undertone, to Lilian Rosenberg.
"And I to you," was the furious reply. "I shall not forget the disrespectful way in which you have just spoken of me, in alluding to the scent."
She signalled to a taxi, and giving Kelson a friendly good-night, jumped into it and was speedily whirled away.
On the whole, the evening had been a disappointment. She had wanted to see the Unknown—the awful thing that had inspired Kelson and his colleagues with such unmitigated horror—and instead she had seen only an obsessed policeman—a cataleptic "copper"—who, had he not spoken in a strangely uncanny voice, would certainly have seemed to her absolutely ordinary.
With regard to Hamar's displeasure, she was not in the slightest degree disturbed. He would never dare say anything to her. And after all that had occurred he would never venture to "sack her." All the same she hated him. There was just sufficient in her conduct to make the name he had called her by applicable—therefore her bitterest wrath and indignation were aroused against him. He had behaved unpardonably. She could kill him for it.
"I'll just show him," she said to herself, "what that uncivil tongue of his can do. He shall see that it can do him infinitely more harm than all Kelson's love-making. For one thing I'll spoil his chances with Gladys Martin; and—I wonder if I could make use of what I know about him, as a means of getting friendly again with Shiel. At all events I'll try."
With this object in view she went round to Shiel's lodgings, and was informed by the landlady that Shiel was ill.
"Nothing serious I hope?" she asked.
"It has been," the landlady replied, "but he is better now. It all came through his not taking proper care of himself."
"May I see him, do you think?" Lilian Rosenberg inquired.
"I don't know," the landlady grumbled. "He's in a very touchy mood—no one can do nothing right for him. But maybe there won't be any harm in your trying," she added, her eyes wandering to the half-crown in Lilian Rosenberg's fingers.
She opened the door somewhat wider, and Lilian Rosenberg entered. Shiel was immensely surprised to see her. Illness and solitude had very considerably subdued him, and though at first he showed some resentment, he speedily softened under her sympathetic solicitation for his health. She put his room straight and dusted the furniture, got tea for him, and when she had completely won him over by these kindly actions, and made him beg her pardon for ever having spoken harshly to her, she broached the subject all the while uppermost in her mind—the subject of Hamar and Gladys.
"He hasn't the slightest intention of marrying her," she said. "All he wants is to make her his mistress, so as to be able to throw her over the moment he gets tired of her, and then marry some one of title. He is tremendously taken with her of course—her physical beauty, which he had the impudence to tell me surpassed that of any other woman he had seen, appeals strongly to his grossly sensual nature. If she won't give in to him now, she will be obliged to do so in six months' time."
"I don't understand you," Shiel said feebly; "why in six months' time?"
Lilian Rosenberg then told him what she knew about the compact.
"So you see," she added, "that if the final stage is reached no woman will be safe—the trio will have any girl they fancy entirely at their mercy."
"How inconceivably awful!" Shiel exclaimed. "Surely there is some way of stopping them."
"There is only one way," Lilian said slowly, "the union between the three must be broken—they must quarrel, and dissolve partnership."
"You may be sure they will take good care not to do that."
"Don't be too sure," Lilian Rosenberg replied. "Matthew Kelson is very fond of me. With a little persuasion he would do anything I asked."
"Then do you think you could bring about a rupture between him and Hamar!" Shiel asked eagerly.
"And you will—you will save Gladys Martin after all!"
Lilian did not reply at once.
"Do you think she is the sort of girl who would marry poverty," she said, evasively, "poverty like this!" and she glanced round the room.
"I won't ask her to!" Shiel exclaimed. "Whilst I have been lying in bed, ill, I have thought of many things—and have come to the conclusion I have no right ever to think of marrying. It is difficult for me to earn enough to keep one person in comfort—and I've lost all hope of ever earning enough to keep two."
"Well, if you don't ask her," Lilian Rosenberg said, "there's one thing, she will never ask you. And I think you are remarkably well out of it. If you do ever marry, marry a girl that has grit—a girl that would be a real 'pal' to you—a girl that would help you to win fame!"