A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance
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Enistor's unnatural complaisance extended to Hardwick, as, now that he was aware of the artist's rejection, he did not forbid his visits. Julian guessed that the Squire merely tolerated him, and simply came to Tremore on all and every occasion to aid Alice, since he knew that she was something of an alien in her home. His host was always pointedly agreeable, and so – strange to say – was Don Pablo. The dark dour old man, for some hidden reason, appeared to take a great interest in the artist. As he had formerly neglected him in every way, Julian was puzzled to know why he should be thus honoured. Not liking Narvaez, he did not reciprocate this belated amiability, and always escaped with Alice on to the moors when it was possible. He trained her to observe the beauties of Nature, and opened her eyes to a more glorious world of form and colour. Alice accepted such behaviour with sisterly thankfulness, and looked upon him as a large comfortable Newfoundland dog, able to protect and please her. Therefore the young people found life very pleasant, and all was sunshine for the moment, as Eberstein had predicted. That more glorious sunshine would come with her lover's arrival Alice knew very well, but she never forgot that clouds would sooner or later overshadow the summer sky, although she could not see in which quarter they would arise. A vague feeling, however, intimated that disaster would come with Montrose, and that her belief in his love would be severely tested. Nevertheless, she looked forward to his arrival, knowing that Eberstein would follow him shortly. And in the doctor she had the most implicit confidence, assured that whatever sorrow descended upon her or her lover, Eberstein would guard them and help them in every way. Also there was Julian upon whom she could rely in the hour of her need. The suspense indeed was unpleasant, but Alice fought it with prayer and high thinking, girding herself as it were with armour of light against the time when the Dark Powers would assault the citadel of her being. But in her innocence she was ignorant, save from the hints of Eberstein, that an assault was intended.
At length came the golden day when Douglas was to arrive, and Alice rejoiced to receive a letter stating that the young man would leave London by the early morning train at five o'clock. At half-past three he would be at Perchton, and there Julian was to meet him in his friend's motor-car which he had again procured, so that Montrose might be with Alice as speedily as was possible. Enistor, indeed, mindful of Don Pablo's injunction to be courteous, had offered to send the carriage, but Alice, anxious that some swifter method should be found to bring her lover to her longing arms, had accepted the offer of Julian. She did not go to the Perchton station herself, but waited a mile beyond Polwellin village in a green nook beside the high road for the happy moment. Hardwick had purposely arranged to bring the lover to Tremore, as he was anxious for the sake of the girl's happiness to see what was the nature of the man she had chosen to be her husband, and deemed that he could discover the same more easily when Alice was not present.Apparently his reading of Montrose's character was satisfactory, for when the car came swirling round the corner, Alice saw that the two young men were chatting together as if they had known one another for years. Of course when Alice was espied waving her hand on the green hill above the nook, the car was stopped on the dusty white road, and equally of course Montrose jumped down to run like a deer up the ascent. In another moment she was in his fond arms, and heart was beating against heart. Neither could speak, so full of joyful emotion was the moment, and guessing this, Julian told the chauffeur to drive on. With some astonishment the couple saw the motor slipping round the bend of the road, through the village, and up towards Tremore, bearing the portmanteau of Montrose. They were alone in the purple world amongst the gorgeous coloured bracken, which was vivid with autumnal tints. The sun was just sinking and the glory of its rainbow hues bathed them in opal lights.
"That is one of the nicest fellows I ever met," said Montrose, when the first surprise at Julian's prompt action was over. "And he is so sensible. He knew I wanted to be alone with you at the first opportunity."
"Julian is always considerate," said Alice gaily.
"You call him Julian – Mrs. Barrast's brother?" said Montrose jealously.
"Dear," she took him by the lapels of his coat and looked into his dark eyes. "Of course I call him by his Christian name. I told you about Julian in London. How he proposed to me: how I refused him, and how we are now like brother and sister. There is no need to be – "
Montrose stopped her mouth with a kiss. "Don't say the word. I am a fool," he said penitently. "I remember what you said in Town. And Hardwick is a brick; a really true, honest-hearted fellow. I like him immensely. And – and – oh, we have so much to talk about, Alice, that we need not waste the time in discussing Hardwick, even though he is so decent."
Alice quite agreed with this sentiment, so the two started to climb the hills on their way to Tremore, and talked all the way of near and dear matters so necessary and interesting to lovers, and so dull when a third person overhears. They went over their meeting in Hans Crescent, recalled what he had said and what she had replied; explained how each had been hungry for this precious moment of meeting and punctuated the enthralling conversation with frequent kisses. And as the magical light died out of the western sky, they conversed on graver subjects which had to do with some vague thought of evil coming to them both. Montrose explained how he had seen Eberstein shortly before leaving London.
"He sent for me yesterday," said the young man, fumbling at his breast, "and gave me this, which he said was necessary for my protection."
"Your protection," echoed Alice with a sudden qualm, and she stared at the small golden heart swung on a thin golden chain, which Montrose had produced unexpectedly. "Why should you want protection, Douglas?"
"Ah, that I cannot truly say. But I am so accustomed to obey the doctor implicitly that I did as he asked me and wear this amulet round my neck. He has always a reason for what he does, Alice. Remember, dear, he said plainly that our sunshine would not last for ever," ended Montrose gravely.
"There is to be a period of sorrow, I know," murmured Alice, nestling close to her lover's side. "But with Dr. Eberstein's help we shall come out of the darkness into the light once more. I don't know what he means," she added after a pause. "Why should sorrow come?"
"I have an idea that it has something to do with our meeting in former lives, Alice, and that we have enemies to encounter and conquer."
"Don Pablo very likely."
"I think so, although I am not sure." Montrose spoke dreamily, remembering his wonderful vision and the warning of Eberstein. "We must watch and pray, dear, for, more or less, we are moving in the darkness. This will aid us," and he held up the talisman, which glittered in the sunset rays.
"But how can that golden heart help?" asked Alice disbelievingly.
"You only see the exterior, dear. It holds," Montrose made the sign of the cross on his breast, "a portion of the Host, as Dr. Eberstein told me, and is therefore powerful against evil. I called it an amulet: rightly, I should have said a reliquary. Look, dearest!"
Then a most wonderful thing happened. The two had reached the shade of the wood surrounding Tremore, and had halted on its verge in a spot where the sunlight could not penetrate. But as Alice stared at the golden heart it blazed as a star with a far more brilliant light than any she had ever seen before. In a flash of thought she knew that her interior senses had been opened by the mightiest influence on earth. She was looking through the sheath of metal at the very Host itself in its supernal aspect, radiant, glorious, wonderful, holy. "Oh!" she breathed in a hushed voice and bowed her head reverently.
"What is it?" asked her lover in surprise, for her expression was angelic.
"Do you not see the light that is brighter than the sun?"
"No," he whispered nervously, and seized her hand, like a child seeking for the comfort of a mother's touch. "Where is the light?"
"It is gone now." Alice passed her disengaged hand across her brow. "It disappeared when you touched me. When you held up that heart it shone like a marvellous star of splendour."
Then Montrose understood. "You have seen the Power itself," he murmured, and with trembling hands restored the reliquary to his breast. For the moment what Alice had seen shook him to the core of his being. "How glorious to be able to see through the veil even for a single moment. But why should you not when it is said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God'?"
Like children they clung to one another on the borders of that dark wood, and it was some time before they could proceed. The sacred light they felt was yet around them, and would act as a shield against all evil. That it did so far as Alice was concerned was certain, for while walking under the yews amidst the heavy darkness, her sense of protection was unusually strong. Not so Montrose, for even though he carried the reliquary, he was less sensitive to its helpful influence than the girl who was more attuned to spirituality. It might be that with him the preponderance of earthly desires placed him more in touch with the lower planes than with the higher, but undoubtedly he felt strongly the tremendous pressure of the evil around him. And when the two halted on the verge of the beaten ground, barren of herb and flower, the house of hate bulked largely, silent, black, brooding and menacing.
"Alice, how can you live here?" demanded Montrose, grasping her hand tightly.
"You feel it also?" she whispered, "that sense of doom and dread?"
"I feel the power that rends and tears and parts asunder: the disintegrating force of Chaos, which is necessary for creation before Cosmos – the Cosmos of Love can be formed!" and unconsciously he gripped her hand with crushing force, so great was the emotion which stirred him.
"Douglas, you hurt me," cried the girl, writhing.
"Oh, forgive me," he descended to the commonplace and tenderly kissed the pained finger. "But the feeling of dread was so strong that I forgot what I was doing. There," he kissed her hand twice, "is it better, darling?"
Alice laughed. "You are a child," she said, advancing towards the house.
Her lover sighed. "We are all children, I think. Afraid of the dark."
"There is no darkness where God is, dear. Think of God and the light comes."
"You are nearer to the Great Spirit of Love than I am," said Douglas, peering nervously into the gloom. Then he made an effort to throw off the still persistent influence of evil. "Let us get into the lamplight."
"Come then," said Alice, and stepping into the porch, she laid her hand on the handle of the door. Immediately, as by magic, it retreated from her fingers, and the portal swung wide to reveal Enistor on the threshold, dimly seen in what light still radiated from the fading sunset over the heavy tree-tops.
"I heard your voices," he explained genially, "and knew that our guest had arrived. Welcome to Tremore, Mr. Montrose."
"Thank you, sir, oh, thank you," replied the young man, reassured by this reception and warmly clasping the hand extended to him.
As he did so a strong feeling of repulsion possessed his mind with overwhelming force, and it was all he could do to prevent himself from wrenching his hand away. Not that there was any need for the action on his part, for Enistor actually translated the thought into swift doing, and loosened his grip, to stand back with a startled look. Without doubt the same repugnance at the same instant of time obsessed the older man, but, less self-controlled, he had been unable to prevent the unfriendly action. In the twilight each man strove to see the face of the other, but it was impossible to distinguish clearly. In shadows they met as shadows.
It was Alice who broke the spell of confused hatred, as, in spite of her clairvoyant faculty, she was apparently ignorant of the thunder in the air.
"I am sure you will be glad to have tea, Douglas. Is it in the library, father?"
"Yes!" muttered Enistor, regaining his self-control by a powerful effort, and with that one word he led the way into the lamplight. Douglas followed arm in arm with the girl, feeling that but for her and all she meant to him he would have escaped immediately from the grim house and its unseen owner.
In the mellow radiance which flooded the library Enistor beheld a slim and delicate man with the dreamy face of a poet. Scorning himself that such a stripling should cause him even momentary dread, and despising him as one of the enemies indicated by Narvaez, the Squire became good-naturedly tolerant. During tea-time he behaved courteously, and proved himself to be a genial and hospitable host. But Montrose was markedly silent, as his repulsion increased immediately he caught sight of that dark and powerful countenance. Also in his heart there lurked an uncomfortable fear that Enistor was in a position to injure him in some inexplicable way. It was not physical fear, for Montrose was a brave man, but a hateful influence which seemed in some way to paralyse him. Why this should be so he was naturally unable to guess, but the desire to fly the neighbourhood of an implacable foe was so strong that it took him all his strength to resist the desire for an ignominious retreat. But for Alice's sake he did so resist, as her gracious presence enabled him to bear the strain with some equanimity. Therefore, as he had been trained by Eberstein to control his feelings, he drank and ate in quite a conventional manner. Alice, still ignorant of the hatred with which her father and her lover regarded one another, presided over what was outwardly a merry little meal, chatting and laughing in a smiling and whole-hearted way, as though she had not a care in the world. As indeed she had not for the moment.
"I fear you will feel dull here, Mr. Montrose," said Enistor, formal and cold.
"Oh, father, what a compliment to me!"
"My dear, we are quiet folk at Tremore, you must admit."
"I like quietness," said Montrose, smiling, "and would much rather be here than in London. And of course with Alice – "
"It is paradise," ended Enistor cynically. "You have the usual stock-in-trade of pretty phrases which lovers delight in. Well, we must see what we can do to amuse you. I am usually busy myself, but Alice can be your guide to the few sights of the neighbourhood. You can ride a horse, or a bicycle, and drive in the carriage or dog-cart. There is a tennis-lawn at the back of the house and golf-links in Perchton. Then you can go sketching on the moors with Mr. Hardwick and Alice; or Job Trevel will take you out fishing. Mr. Sparrow, the vicar of Polwellin, will show you the church and cromlechs and rocking-stones and other such things, as he is something of an arch?ologist. We can have music and bridge and conversation in the evenings, and – "
"Stop! Stop!" interrupted Montrose, now more at his ease, as he saw that the Squire was endeavouring to make himself agreeable. "It would require six months to do all these things. I shall enjoy myself immensely, especially if you will introduce me to Se?or Narvaez."
"What do you know about him?" asked Enistor sharply, and frowning.
"All that Alice and Hardwick could tell me. He seems to be a very interesting man, and an unusual character."
"He is original," assented Enistor quickly, "so much so that he does not choose to know every one. However, as he is my very good friend I daresay I shall be able to induce him to meet you here. You will find him very interesting indeed," ended the Squire significantly, and he stared hard at Montrose, wondering if he guessed how the Spaniard regarded him.
But the young man, having nothing to conceal, and quite innocent of Don Pablo's enmity towards him, met the Squire's gaze with a forced friendly smile. "I like interesting people," he said amiably. "And I hope you do also, Mr. Enistor, as my friend Dr. Eberstein is coming to Perchton shortly."
"I shall be pleased to welcome any friend of yours," replied the elder man in a formal way, and then rose to leave the room. He felt that he had done enough as host for the time being and wished to be alone, so that he might send mental messages to Narvaez about the new arrival. "You will excuse me until dinner-time, Mr. Montrose. Alice will entertain you."
When the Squire departed Alice did her best in the way of entertainment, but found it difficult to banish the thoughtful look from her lover's face. Pleading fatigue, the young man soon sought the room assigned to him, and pondered over the odd distaste which the sight of Enistor induced. He could not account for it, and wished that Eberstein would appear to elucidate the problem. Across his mind flashed insistently the question of Ahab, "Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?" and the deadly answer of Elijah the seer, "I have found thee!" Much as he loved Alice, he felt that the situation was uncomfortable and perplexing and quite beyond human explanation.