Fergus Hume.

A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance



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"Douglas, he is dangerous. Keep away from him."

"I don't want to have anything to do with him. He is old as you say, and I can't thrash the life out of him as I should like to. Come, Alice, you will be all right soon. You have done with Narvaez; he has cut his own throat."

"He is dangerous! He is dangerous!" and that was all the girl could say, or think, since a dim feeling that future evil would come out of present evil haunted her in a way she could not explain.

Had the two overheard what Narvaez was saying and seen what he was doing, Douglas also might have deemed the man dangerous. He gave money to the men and women who had witnessed the affair, and told them to remember the threats of Montrose. "I am an old man. I love Miss Enistor as a daughter," whimpered Don Pablo, "yet my life is in danger. I shall get the police to protect me. As it is, this young ruffian has almost killed me," and with a feeble gait he tottered into his cottage. There he smiled grimly when within four walls and rubbed his hands. "That is the first act of the drama: now for the second."

CHAPTER XVIII
THE NIGHT BEFORE

Enistor was furious when he was told how Narvaez had insulted his daughter, for although he had little love for the girl, yet his family pride rose up in arms against such behaviour. Don Pablo was useful to him, as he knew a great deal about super-physical laws, which the Squire desired to know also, and in which he was being instructed. All the same the Spaniard had proved to be a hard master, and moreover had talked much about the recovery of the fortune, but had done little towards enabling it to be regained. Then again, Narvaez had been struck down in the moment of triumph by a stronger force than any he possessed, and that made him out to be less powerful than he claimed he was. In one word, Enistor was beginning to consider Don Pablo to be something of a humbug.

Certainly there were the pains to which he could subject his pupil when he so chose. But that was, as Enistor knew, mere hypnotic suggestion and could be nullified by an opposing will. Narvaez hitherto had possessed the more dominating influence, but since his capabilities appeared to be shattered by the intervention of the higher powers, it might be that he could not inflict further hurt. The Squire wondered if he could make his dark master suffer by taking him unawares while his forces were weak, and determined to do so if he could, if only to be avenged for the series of petty insults to which he had long been subjected. Why Narvaez should behave in such a crude animal way to Alice, the girl's father could not think. But as he had over-stepped the mark, it gave Enistor an opportunity of becoming openly hostile. Enistor was selfish and unscrupulous, but there was that in him which resented the treatment to which Alice had been subjected. Perhaps the germs of good to which Eberstein had referred were sprouting with unexpected swiftness. But be it as it may, Enistor sought the moorland cottage breathing out fire and fury against his former friend.

Narvaez refused to see him, and when Enistor, sternly angry, sent word by the old housekeeper that he would break his way in and take the consequence, he still refused.

However, he improved upon his former message by sending an intimation that he would receive the Squire on the following afternoon. With this Enistor was fain to be content, as by breaking in he would only cause a scandal, which for Alice's sake was not to be thought of. The master of Tremore was a very proud man, and could not bear to think that his family name should be made the subject of police-court gossip. But when he returned home, he believed more than ever that Narvaez was a fraud, as he had not even attempted to inflict the usual pains by suggestion. The man was getting so old that he was losing his nerve, and shortly would not be worth considering whether as friend or foe. Having therefore lost the magician's dark assistance, Enistor decided to try to recover the fortune in his own way.

Alice, shaken by Don Pablo's conduct, had retired early to bed and Montrose was seated in the library with his host over after-dinner coffee and tobacco. He was still seething with anger, but since the Squire had taken matters into his own hands, he could do nothing but look on. After a full discussion of the affair, Enistor insisted that it should be shelved.

"We have talked enough about it," he said in a peremptory tone. "I promise you that Narvaez shall not enter these doors again. To-morrow I shall explain my opinion to him, and then he can go hang for me. With regard to his desire to marry Alice – "

"Surely after what has taken place, sir, you would never think of any possible marriage," cried Montrose, glowing with wrath, "let alone the fact that you have tacitly agreed to Alice becoming my wife."

"I certainly refuse to think further of Narvaez as my son-in-law," said the Squire stiffly, "in spite of his wealth. But as regards yourself the possibility of your making my daughter your wife rests with you entirely."

The young man laughed and rested his reddish-hued head against the back of the chair. "If it rests with me the matter is soon settled," he said, with a relieved expression in his eyes. He thought that the Squire was talking in a remarkably sensible way.

"That depends upon how you reply to the question I am about to ask," said Enistor dryly. "You inherit the fortune of my sister?"

"Yes!" Douglas sat up, aware that the conversation was becoming serious. "We have not spoken about this matter before, sir, but I would have you know, now that the ice is broken between us, that never in any way did I seek that fortune. It was a surprise to me when I heard the will read by Mr. Cane."

"So I understand from Mr. Cane himself. I absolve you from fortune-hunting, since you knew nothing of Lady Staunton's intentions. But do you think it was quite fair of her to leave the money away from her own family?"

"That is rather a difficult question to put to the man who has benefited, Mr. Enistor. And let me remind you that by marrying Alice I bring back the fortune to your family."

"I think not. Your wife benefits, but I don't."

"Both Alice and I are prepared to be your bankers," said Montrose uneasily.

"To give me what is rightfully my own," retorted the Squire, with a curling lip. "Thank you for nothing. No, that won't do. Until my sister met you it was always her intention to leave the money to me, to restore the position of our family in the county. I want the fortune you hold to myself, as I am a poor man. It is not for a base ambition that I seek the income, but for the sake of going into Parliament and helping to govern. I want power, I want a great sphere to work in. Without money I am condemned to stay in this cramped neighbourhood eating out my heart."

"I quite understand that with such ambitions you feel the need of money, Mr. Enistor, and with Alice's permission I am willing to give you any reasonable sum you desire to forward your aims."

Enistor did not appear to be overcome by this generous offer, or even thankful for the same. "I take nothing as a gift and I claim my rights."

"The whole fortune of your sister?"

"Certainly! She ought to have willed it to me."

"I understood from Alice that you were quite agreeable that Lady Staunton should do what she wished with her own," said Montrose slowly.

"I don't tell Alice everything, Montrose. I accepted my small legacy and said nothing about the matter, as there was nothing to be done until you came. Now," Enistor fixed his dominating gaze on Douglas, "I ask you to let me have the money by deed of gift. In return you shall marry Alice."

"And what are we to live on?"

"I shall allow you five hundred a year."

"In return for five thousand." Montrose laughed at the boldness of the demand. "No, sir. I cannot do what you ask."

"Then you are a fortune-hunter after all," said the Squire bitterly.

"I am not!" Douglas sprang to his feet with the hot blood making red his cheeks. "So far as I am personally concerned I don't care for money, although I don't deny that I am glad my days of poverty are over. But this money has been given to me in trust to help others. I cannot be false to my trust."

Enistor waved his hand disdainfully. "That is only a young man's talk. Why should you help others? Let them look after themselves."

"I think differently. Dr. Eberstein has taught me differently."

"Dr. Eberstein," said the other with a sneer, "is a visionary. If you are to be my son-in-law you must allow me to advise you."

"I have always acted on my own responsibility during life," said Montrose sharply, "and I shall continue to do so. Dr. Eberstein knows so much about things not of this world that I am always glad to hear what he has to say."

"And do what he tells you."

"Certainly, in things which have to do with my spiritual welfare. But as regards earthly affairs I take my own way. Still, I admit," ended the young man frankly, "that in this instance Eberstein advises me to keep the money."

"Naturally! He can do what he likes with you and the money will be useful to him and his ambitions."

The taunt was so puerile that it failed to disturb Montrose. "Eberstein has no ambition save to do good, and is rich enough to execute his plans without aid from me. He cannot do what he likes with me, as you think, although I am always willing to take his advice, which is of the best. I am not a child, Mr. Enistor, but one who has gained experience through bitter trials. I may add that Eberstein's teaching inculcates self-reliance and individual judgment, so that each man may learn to stand alone."

"He is a dreamer as you are. However I care nothing for him or his teaching in any way. You have heard my conditions. Surrender the fortune to me and you marry my daughter: otherwise you must leave my house and never see Alice again. I give you three days in which to make up your mind."

"I make it up now," said Montrose, resolute but calm. "The money I have, and the money I keep. With or without your consent Alice shall be my wife."

"As you please," replied the Squire, frigidly polite. "You have heard my determination, from which I shall not swerve. In three days we can talk about this subject again; meanwhile let things go on as usual." And the conversation terminated in what might be called an armed neutrality.

To remain in the house on such a footing was by no means palatable to a young hot-headed man as Douglas truly was. His first impulse was to leave Tremore and do battle with Enistor from a distance: his second to stay where he was and give Alice the safeguard of his presence. Should he depart it might be that Enistor could coerce the girl into obedience, thereby causing her unnecessary suffering. Montrose loved Alice too well to submit her to such sorrow, so he swallowed his pride and said nothing about the conversation. As he was sufficiently self-controlled to appear at his ease Alice had not the faintest idea of what had taken place. Perhaps if she had observed her father's sudden change towards her lover from geniality to chilly politeness she might have been enlightened. But the insolent conduct of Narvaez had made her nervously ill, and she was too languid to take much interest in any one or anything. So matters remained much as usual, although the visitor felt that the atmosphere of the big house was insistently menacing and sinister. Eberstein could have told him that the conditions heralded the breaking of a storm, but Eberstein, watchful and silent, stayed at Perchton, saying nothing, but thinking much.

Meanwhile Polwellin seethed with gossip. The first item had to do with the sudden illness of Hardwick, who was said to be dying. Every one regretted the news, as the artist was a favourite in the neighbourhood in which he had lived so long. The doctor from Perchton came to see the sick man, and Mr. Sparrow, always a help in time of trouble, visited the bedside. Hardwick was grateful to see them both, but was too weak to take much interest in either his body or his soul. He was simply fading out of life, and things of this world were losing their interest for the departing spirit.

The second item concerned the quarrel of Narvaez and Montrose, which had been reported by those who witnessed it, with many additions. It was freely stated that Montrose had threatened to murder the Spaniard for the insult offered to Miss Enistor, and the gossips said that if he did he would only be forestalling Job Trevel, who was equally bent upon "doing for the foreign gentleman." It puzzled the simple villagers to understand why Don Pablo should return to Miss Enistor, when he had left her to philander with Rose Penwin, and arrived at the conclusion that he was a bad lot. Nevertheless, because the stranger was rich and scattered his money freely, there were a few who spoke in his favour. But the majority were hostile, since the mere presence of Narvaez seemed to irritate those he was with into quarrelling, even though there was no cause to do so. Undoubtedly the man had an evil influence, and the inhabitants of Polwellin would not have been displeased to see this male At? leave the place. Then Mr. Montrose could marry the Squire's daughter and Job could make Rose his wife, which would mean wedding festivities and plenty to eat and drink. In this way the gossips talked and the rumours grew, so that shortly the whole village was infected with uneasy fear as to what would happen. It seemed as though the influence of the dark house on the hill had descended upon Polwellin. Perhaps it had, and perhaps it had been guided in its descent by that man who dealt with supernatural things in the cottage which squatted like a toad amongst the heather.

To that same cottage Enistor repaired the next afternoon to keep his appointment. He found Narvaez, looking older and more withered than ever, crouching over the fire, moody, broken-up and peevish; altogether unlike his ordinary serene self. At the first glance the Squire decided that his master was quite helpless and sat down with a glow of pleasure to take the upper hand. It pleased him immensely to show Narvaez that he also had a will, that he also could bully, and that the former relationship was now reversed. All the latent cruelty in Enistor rose to the surface at the sight of his helpless tyrant. The late under-dog now intended to bite and worry as the top-dog had done.

"Well, sir," said Enistor shortly, "what have you to say for yourself?"

Narvaez whimpered and crouched still lower over the fire. "I am an old man," he moaned, "a very old man."

"An old scoundrel, you mean. How dare you insult my daughter yesterday?"

"Are you against me also? Do you want to see Montrose murder me?"

"It would serve you right if you did get murdered," snapped the Squire with contempt; "you are of no use in the world that I can see."

"You did not think so once," muttered Don Pablo humbly.

"No! That is true. Because I believed you to be a clever man. Now I know that you are a fraud laying claim to a power you never possessed."

"You have felt my power," snarled Narvaez savagely.

"I admit that I have. And why? Because you had a trained will which you could concentrate to compel me to feel what you wished. That is a thing of the past. The Great Power that laid you low the other night has broken your will, and you are no longer able to control me."

"That is true! that is true! I have had a shock, a great shock."

"So if I put forth my will," continued the Squire mercilessly, "I could make you endure the pains you inflicted on me when I disobeyed."

"And would you?"

"I have a mind to do so at this moment. You set the example. As you did to me so I wish to do to you."

"I daresay." Narvaez straightened himself a trifle, and some of his old fire sparkled in his dull eyes. "But I am not yet so feeble that I cannot defend myself if necessary. I cannot control you, certainly, as The Adversary has scattered and weakened my will, but I can prevent you from hurting me."

"Well, I shall let you off this time," said Enistor, sneering, yet wondering why he should show mercy after Don Pablo's teaching.

"Let me off! Let me off!" screamed the Spaniard fiercely. "Try, if you dare, to measure your powers against mine, shattered as I am. I can gather myself together again, remember; then you take care, you take care."

Enistor felt a qualm, wondering if Narvaez was so weak as he pretended to be. There was a look in the rekindled light of those steady eyes which made him doubtful of his ground. Bold as he was, he felt that it would be rash to advance, and therefore he retreated skilfully by changing the conversation immediately. "You are wrong to think that Eberstein struck you down the other night. It was a Higher Power."

"Who told you that?"

"Eberstein himself. It shows me how broken you are, Narvaez, when you don't know that the man has been trying to convert me to his way of thinking."

"Yes! Yes! I am brought very low: very low indeed," muttered Don Pablo with a groan; "but if Eberstein tried to convert you he hasn't succeeded very well, since it is only the remains of my power that prevent you from giving me pain."

"I don't agree with what Eberstein says," retorted the Squire tartly. "He talked the usual weak Christianity of benefiting one's neighbours instead of one's self."

"Why not take his advice?" asked Narvaez, looking up with his former keen glance. "Benefiting one's self has brought me to this. If you follow my teaching you also may come to these depths."

"That is a strange thing for you to advise, Narvaez."

"Very strange! But I should not advise if I dreamed for one moment that you were disposed to take the Right-hand Path. The Power of Self is too strong for you, Enistor. Age after age it has dominated you."

"So Eberstein told me! But this time I have broken your bonds."

"Have you indeed?" said Narvaez in a strange tone, staring into the fire. "Ah! that will please Eberstein. Of course I lose a pupil and he gains one."

"No! I stand alone!" said Enistor proudly.

The answer seemed to satisfy Don Pablo and he chuckled. "I hope you will be able to stand alone against Montrose, now that I cannot aid you. He has the fortune, remember, and he will keep it."

"I have given him three days to surrender it or lose Alice for ever. And the mention of her name," cried the Squire, lashing himself into a fury, "makes me wonder that I don't thrash you for daring to insult her."

"No! No!" cried Narvaez, and his voice broke. "I am such an old man. Besides I can still help you. Montrose has a secret which you can use against him."

"What is that secret?" Enistor's hand, which he had raised to strike, fell by his side.

"Montrose is already married."

"It's a lie!"

"Ask your young friend if it is a lie. You talk about my having insulted your daughter, Enistor: what about the insult of a married man coming to woo the girl in so shameless a fashion?"

The Squire frowned and was too astounded to speak for a few moments, during which Don Pablo eyed him curiously. When he did speak it was again to deny the truth of the amazing statement. "Beyond the fact that Montrose will not give up the money which should be mine I have nothing against him. He is a well-bred gentleman and – "

"Very well bred to pose as a bachelor," sneered Narvaez contemptuously.

"I don't believe it. The man is honest. You will have to prove what you say, Narvaez. Do you hear?"

"Since you are shouting so loudly I can safely say that I do. Prove what I say: oh, certainly. Send Montrose here to-night and I can give him absolute proof that my statement is correct."

"I shall come with him."

"No!" said Narvaez sharply. "If you come I shall refuse to give the proof in any way. Montrose will be convinced that I can prevent him from marrying your daughter, and to put things straight he may be willing to give up the money."

"Even then," cried Enistor furiously, "I can't allow him to marry Alice. He would be a bigamist."

"That is his affair and hers," said Don Pablo cynically. "What you want is the money."

"I do, but not at the price of seeing my daughter's life ruined."

"Pooh! What does her ruin or his matter to you? Are you bent upon following the feeble Christianity of Eberstein?"

"Feeble! He was too strong for you the other night."

"He was not!" Narvaez raised himself to his full height and seemed to recover a trifle of his former dominance. "I could have dealt with The Adversary alone, but the power he summoned to his aid overwhelmed me. However, this is not to the point." The man collapsed again into a weak condition. "Do what I tell you about sending Montrose here at eight o'clock this evening. I can prove that he is a married man. If you like I can get him, through threats to expose him to Alice, to give you the money."

"I shall deal with that," said Enistor angrily. "All you have to do is to prove your statement. He can come alone and when he returns he shall explain what you say. But I don't believe that he is married."



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