The Sorcery Club

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The tests

Seven days later, Hamar again knocked at Curtis's and Kelson's door and walked in. A faint sigh of relief escaped him.

"I see we are all right so far," he said. "I wondered whether I should find you both flown, or lying stretched in the icy hands of death. Have you experimented?"

"We have," Curtis said. "We've done our best. In what way, we prefer not to say."

"Perhaps there is no need," Hamar replied, eyeing the mantelshelf which bore ample testimony to a full larder, and glancing at Curtis's feet which were encased in a pair of new and very shiny boots. (A handsome overcoat that was hanging on the door also attracted his attention; but that he had seen before, and concluded that it had been there on the occasion of his last visit.) "But you had better dry up now, Ed," he continued somewhat caustically, "or there'll be no chance of forming the Sorcery Society; it will be dissolved before it's started. There's no need to ask if you've tried to carry out instructions as to thoughts, I see it—in your faces. I could never have believed one experimental week in badness would have made such a difference to your looks."

"You told us to try hard!" Kelson murmured, "and naturally we did. I reckon you've done the same by your expression. I should hardly have known you."

"It shows pretty clearly," Curtis said, "what a lot of bad is latent in most people; and that the right circumstances only are needed to bring it out. Starvation, for instance, is calculated to bring out the evil in any one—no matter whom. But what puzzles me, is how we have escaped being caught!"

"That's a good sign," Hamar said. "It bears out what is written in the book. If you give your whole mind to doing wrong during this trial week you'll meet with no mishap. But you must be heart and soul in it. Hunger made us—hunger has been our friend."

"What do you mean?" Curtis said.

"Why," Hamar replied, "if we hadn't been well-nigh starving we shouldn't have been able to carry out the instructions quite so thoroughly."

"Have you, too, stolen?" Curtis queried.

"I have certainly appropriated a few necessaries," Hamar said shortly, "but I mean to stop now. We have higher game to fly at. Now, with regard to the tests. I have not been idle I can assure you. I have secured all the requisites. The mirror and black cat I—well, er—to use a conventionalism that comes in rather handy—the mirror and cat—I picked up. The skull I borrowed from a medical I know—the moth—er—from some one's private collection—and the elderberries, hemlock and chemicals I obtained from a drug store man in Battery Street with whom I used to deal. The moon will be full to-night so that we may as well begin. Will you come round to my room at eleven-thirty?"

They promised; and Hamar, as he took his departure, again glanced at the handsome fur coat hanging on the door.

He was hardly out of hearing when Curtis looked across at Kelson. "Do you think he recognised it!" he whispered. "You may bet he did, and he had only just stolen it himself! However, it's his own fault. He told us to lie and steal, and we've done his bidding."

"We have indeed!" Kelson sighed; "at least you have. For my part I'd rather be content with food!"

"Well, I needed clothes just as much as food!" Curtis snarled. "If I went about naked I should only be sent to prison—that's the law. It punishes you for taking clothes, and it punishes you for going without them. There's logic for you!"

Curtis and Kelson spent the rest of the day indoors; and at night sallied forth to Hamar's.

The solitary attic—if one could thus designate a space of about three square feet—which comprised Hamar's lodging—had the advantage of being situated in the top storey of a skyscraper—at least a skyscraper for that part of the city. From its window could be seen, high above the serried ranks of chimney-pots on the opposite side of the street, those two newly erected buildings: William Carman's chewing gum factory in Hearnes Street, and Mark Goddard's eight-storied private residence in Van Ness Avenue; and, as if this were not enough architectural grace for the eye to dwell on, glimmering away to the right was the needle-like spire of Moss Bates's devil-dodging establishment in Branman Street; whilst, just behind it, in saucy mocking impudence, peeped out the gilded roof of the Knee Brothers' recently erected Cinematograph Palace.

All this and more—much more—was to be seen from Hamar's outlook, and all for the sum of one dollar and a half per week. When Curtis and Kelson entered, the room was aglow with moonlight, and Hamar and the black cat were stealthily regarding one another from opposite corners of the room. From far away—from somewhere in the very base of the building, came the dull echo of a shout, succeeded by the violent slamming of a door; whilst from outside, from one of the many deserted thoroughfares below, rose the frightened cry of a fugitive woman. Otherwise all was comparatively still.

"You're a bit early!" was Hamar's greeting, "but better that than late. Everything is ready, and all we've got to do is to wait till twelve. Sit down."

They did as they were bid. Presently the cat, forsaking its sanctuary, and ignoring Curtis's solicitations, glided across the floor, and climbing on to Kelson's knee, refused to budge. The trio sat in silence till a few minutes before midnight, when Hamar rose, and, selecting a spot where the moonbeams lay thickest, placed thereon the tub of water, in which—with its face uppermost—he proceeded to float a small mirror, set in a cheap wooden frame. He then calmly produced a pocket knife.

"What's that for?" Kelson inquired nervously.

"Blood!" Hamar responded. "One of us must spare three drops. The conditions demand it—and after all the ham and sausages you two have eaten I think one of you can spare it best. Which of you shall it be? Come, there's no time to lose!"

"Matt has more blood than I have!" Curtis growled; "but why not the cat?"

"It would spoil our chances with it for the other experiment," Hamar said. "It's a sulky, cross-grained brute, and would give us no end of trouble. Besides it can bite. Look here, let's draw lots!"

Curtis and Kelson were inclined to demur; but the proposed method was so in accordance with custom that there really did not seem any feasible objection to raise to it. Accordingly lots were drawn—and Hamar himself was the victim. Curtis laughed coarsely, and Kelson hid his smiles in the cat's coat. A neighbouring clock now began to strike twelve.

"Look alive, Leon!" Curtis cried, nudging Kelson's elbow. "Look alive or it will be too late. The Unknown is mighty particular to a few seconds. Let me operate on you. I've always fancied I was born to use the knife—that I've really missed my vocation. You needn't be afraid—there's no artery in the palm of your hand—you won't bleed to death."

Thus goaded, Hamar pricked away nervously at his hand, and, after sundry efforts, at last succeeded in drawing blood; three drops of which he very carefully let fall in the tub.

"I wish it was light so that we could see it," Curtis whispered in Kelson's ear. "I believe Jews have different coloured blood to other people."

Though Kelson was apprehensive, Hamar did not appear to have heard; his whole attention was riveted on the mirror, on the face of which was a reflection of the moon.

"I knew nothing would happen," Curtis cried, "you had better wipe your knife or you'll be arrested for severing some one's jugular. Hulloa! what's up with the cat?"

Hamar was about to tell him to be quiet when Kelson caught his arm. "Look, Leon! Look! What's the brute doing? Is it mad?" Kelson gasped.

Hamar turned his head—and there crouching on the floor, in the moonlight, was the cat, its hair bristling on end and its green eyes ablaze with an expression which held all three men speechless. When they were at last able to avert their eyes a fresh surprise awaited them; the reflection of the moon in the mirror was red—not an ordinary red—not merely a colour—but red with a lurid luminosity that vibrated with life—with a life that all three men at once recognized as emanating from nothing physical—from nothing good.

It vanished suddenly, quite as suddenly as it had come; and the reflection of the moon was once again only a reflection—a white, placid sphere.

For some seconds no one spoke. Hamar was the first to break the silence. "Well!" he exclaimed, drawing a long breath; "what do you think of that!"

"Are you sure you weren't faking?" Curtis said.

"I swear I wasn't," Hamar replied; "besides could any one produce a thing like THAT? The cat didn't think it was a fake—it knew what it was right enough. Besides, why are your teeth chattering?"

"Why are yours?" Curtis retorted; "why are Matt's?"

"Shall we try the second?" Hamar asked.

"No!" Kelson and Curtis said in chorus. "No! We've had enough for one night. We'll be off!"

"I think I'll come with you," Hamar said, "after what has happened I don't quite relish sleeping here alone—or rather with that cat. Hi—Satan, where are you?"

Satan was not visible. It had probably hidden under the bed, but as no one cared to look, its whereabouts remained undiscovered.

With the coming of the sun, the terrors of the night wore off, and the trio separated. Hamar would on no account accept his friends' invitation to breakfast on the sausages and ham they had run such risks in procuring; he made hasty tracks for a snug restaurant in Bolter's Street, where he had a sumptuous repast for a dollar; and then slunk home.

Shortly before midnight all three met again, and at once commenced preparations for the second test. The question arose as to who should hold Satan. They all had vivid recollections of the cat's behaviour the previous night; consequently no one was anxious to officiate. Finally they drew lots, and fate settled on Curtis. An exciting chase now began. Satan, demonstrating his resentment of their treatment of him, at every turn, knocked over a water bottle, ripped the skin of Kelson's knuckles, and made his teeth meet in the fleshy part of Curtis's thumb.

"Hulloa! what are you up to?" Curtis savagely demanded, as Hamar thrust a cup at him.

"Hold your hand over it!" Hamar said sharply. "Don't suck it! We want blood for this test and for the next."

"I wish the brute had bitten you!" Curtis snarled; "then, perhaps, you wouldn't be so precious keen on economics. You did right to name it Satan! and if it doesn't attract devils nothing will. I'm not going to touch it again. See if you can hold the beast by yourself, Matt! It seems to be less afraid of you than of either of us."

Kelson called out: "Puss!", and the cat at once came to him.

As it was now striking twelve, Hamar carefully shook three drops of Curtis's blood from the cup on to Satan's back, while he instructed Kelson to rub the animal's coat with the palm of the hand. Kelson cautiously obeyed. There was a loud crackling and a shower of sparks, of the same lurid red colour as the reflection in the mirror on the previous night, flew out into the enveloping darkness.

"That will do!" Hamar observed quietly. "Test two is satisfactorily accomplished. We must be riper for Hell than we imagined. There is no need for you fellows to stay any longer. I can manage the third test alone."

As soon as his colleagues had gone and he felt assured they were no longer within hearing, Hamar took a saucer from the mantelshelf, filled it half full of milk, and poured into it some colourless liquid out of a tiny phial labelled poison.

"Here pussy," he called out, softly. "Pretty pussy, come and have your supper! Pussy!"

And Satan, unable to resist the tempting sight of the milk, crept out of his hiding-place and quite unsuspiciously dipped his tongue into the saucer and lapped. Hamar, in the meanwhile went to a box at the foot of the bed and produced a sack. Then he slipped on his boots and coat, and opening the door of a cupboard near the head of the bed fetched out a small spade.

He was now ready; and—so was pussy.

"That paves the way for test six," Hamar observed; "no one can say I am a waster—I make use of everything—and every one;" and so saying he tumbled the cat into the sack and hurried out.

Some half-hour later he had returned to his room, and was busily engaged making preparations for test three. Letting a drop of Curtis's blood fall on the skull, he put the latter under his pillow, and retired to rest. He had slept for little over an hour, when he awoke with a start. The muffled sound of hammering—as of nails in a coffin—was going on all around him, and occasionally it seemed to him that something big and heavy stalked across the floor; but in spite of the fact that the room was illuminated with a red glow—the same lurid red as had appeared in tests one and two—nothing was to be seen. The phenomena lasted five or six minutes and then everything was again normal. Hamar was so terrified that he lay with his head under the bedclothes till morning, and vowed nothing on earth would persuade him to sleep in that room again. But sunlight soon restored his courage, and by the evening he was quite eager to go on with the next test. He had some difficulty in persuading any one to allow him the use of an oven for so pernicious a mixture as nightshade and hemlock; but at last he over-ruled the objections of some good-natured woman—the mother of one of the office boys at his former employer's—and test four proved as successful as the previous three. The preliminary part of test five was also successfully accomplished; but in carrying out the second part of it, Hamar all but met with disaster. He was walking along Kearney Street with the specially prepared hazel twig carefully concealed beneath his coat, when just opposite Saddler's jewelry store, he came across a child standing by itself. The nearest person being some fifty yards away, and no policeman within sight, Hamar concluded this was too good an opportunity to be lost. He whipped out the twig, and held it, in the manner prescribed, in front of the child. The effect was instantaneous. The child turned white as death, its eyes bulged with terror, and opening its mouth to its full extent it commenced to shriek and yell. Then it fell on the pavement; and clutching and clawing the air, and foaming at the mouth rolled over and over. People from every quarter flocked to the spot, and judging Hamar, from his proximity to the child, to be responsible for its condition, shouted for the police. The latter, however, arrived too late. Hamar, whose presence of mind had only left him for the moment seeing a bicycle leaning against a store door, jumped on it and soon put a respectable distance between himself and the crowd.

That night the trio met once more in Hamar's room for test six. There was a wood fire in the grate, and on it a tin vessel containing the prescribed ingredients. Somewhat unpleasantly conspicuous amongst these ingredients were the death's-head moth, and the soil from Satan's grave. As soon as the mixture had been heated three hours, the vessel was removed, the fire extinguished, and the room made absolutely dark. Then the three sat close together and waited.

On the stroke of two every article in the room began to rattle, whilst out of the tin vessel flew a blood red moth. After circling three times round each of the sitter's heads, the moth flew back again into the vessel, and the silence that ensued was followed by a soft tapping at the window, and the appearance of something, that resembled a big tube filled with a thick, pale blue fluid, made up of a mass of distinct veins. This tube floated into the room, and passing close to the three sitters, who involuntarily shrank away from it, disappeared in the wall, behind them. A loud crack as if the branch of a tree had broken, terminated the phenomena—the room again becoming pitch dark. But the three sitters, although they knew there would be no further manifestation that night, were too terrified to move. They remained huddled together in the same spot till the morning was well advanced.


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