A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance
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"You must have gone to his lodgings immediately after I left," said Enistor quickly. "Well, don't you think his recovery is wonderful?"
"Yes! Mr. Sparrow said the doctor was sure Julian was dead, so it is little less than a miracle that he is alive and well. But – " Alice hesitated, and looked highly perplexed.
"Julian is different from what he was."
"In a way I admit that, Alice. He has more strength. It is a wonderful recovery, and I expect the case will be reported in The Lancet."
"I don't mean that exactly," replied the girl reluctantly; "but somehow Julian is quite different. I liked him very much, as he was always so good and kind," she hesitated again, then ended abruptly: "I don't like him now."
"Rather whimsical, don't you think?" said her father tartly, and wondering if the girl's intuition had informed her of the marvellous truth.
"I suppose it is," said his daughter wearily; "but whatever may be the reason Julian's illness has changed him into something different. I used to be so happy when with him, but now I shudder in his presence. He has the same terrifying effect on me that Don Pablo used to have."
"You are talking nonsense," said the Squire roughly.
"I know I am. An illness could not change any one into other than he was. I can't help my impression all the same. Julian was good, now he is evil. I never wish to see him again."
"That is a pity," said the man slowly, "for now that Narvaez is dead and Montrose has proved himself to be unworthy of your hand, I wish you to marry Julian Hardwick."
Alice started to her feet. "Never! Never! Never!" she cried vehemently.
"You are capricious, my dear. You were willing enough to marry Julian rather than Don Pablo."
"Of two evils I chose the least."
"You shall choose the least still, if Julian is the least. I objected to you marrying him because he was poor. Now that he has inherited the money of Narvaez he is a good match for you."
"No!" Alice struck the table so violently that the cups rattled in the saucers. "Douglas is innocent and Douglas shall be my husband. Even when Julian was his own dear self I would not have married him after meeting Douglas; much less would I do so now, when he has changed into something horrid."
Enistor saw that she sensed the presence of Don Pablo's black soul in Hardwick's body, but as she could not explain and would not be believed if she did explain, he merely laughed at her vehemence. "You are a silly girl to talk in this way. First you like the man, then you don't, and talk of a change which only exists in your imagination. Are you going mad?"
"I may be," said Alice moodily. "I have had enough to send me mad. But you will understand this, father, that I love Douglas and intend to marry him."
This was her final determination, and before Enistor could argue further she left the room, fearing a breakdown. When alone she flung herself face downward on the bed and tried to compose her mind.It was necessary that she should do so, as late at night she intended to steal out with food for her lover. Her father – as she thought – would never suspect her, and she could leave the house when he and the servants were in bed. Already the housekeeper had made up a bundle, which lay in a convenient cupboard, and would have accompanied her as chaperon, but that her mistress declined such companionship. Montrose was nearer at hand than any one suspected, so it was just as well that as few people as possible should seek the hiding-place. Alice, nerved by love to walk the lonely moors in the chilly gloom, intended to go alone, and in holding to this resolve became more heroic than she ever thought she could be. But in her heart perfect love had cast out fear, and she would have faced an army to succour the man she intended to marry.
The dinner was quiet and the evening was quiet, as Enistor spoke little and Alice was not inclined for conversation. Indeed there was nothing to say, as father and daughter were silently hostile to one another. Owing to the Squire's want of paternal affection they never had been friendly, and now that he wished to ruin her life by handing over Montrose to the police, Alice felt that she hated her father. Eberstein would have told her that it was wrong to do so, even in the face of excellent reasons. But Eberstein was absent and silent, so in this dark hour the girl had to fight entirely unaided. As a matter of fact, she was being guided along the dreadful path skilfully, and her every movement was being watched, as her every thought was known to her guardian. But her clairvoyant power being in abeyance, she did not guess this, and so far as she was aware, only the strength of her love for Douglas enabled her to battle against the dark influences which tried hard to sap her strength.
When Enistor retired to his library, Alice excused herself on the plea of a bad headache and went to her room. There she sat in the faint light of a solitary candle sending loving thoughts to the lonely lover in the cave under the cliffs. Nine o'clock struck and then ten, but it was not until eleven that the house became dark and quiet. A stolen visit to the library assured her that her father had gone to rest, so, thinking that all was well, the girl put on a warm cloak with a hood and took the basket, to leave by a side door which the housekeeper had left unlatched. In ten minutes she was through the darkling wood and on the bare spaces of the moor. But she did not see that her father was following with the skill of a Redskin on the trail. Enistor had watched and waited pertinaciously, and had little difficulty in getting on the track.
It was a stormy, blowy night, with a mighty wind rushing inward from the sea, and Alice struggled against the blast incessantly on her way to the cliffs. Every now and then there was a lull and she could hear the clamour of the waves and the thunder of the waters hammering against the rocks. In the vast hollow of the sky, black clouds were hurtling across the firmament at tremendous speed, unveiling every now and then a haggard moon, full-orbed yet with waning fire. It was a Walpurgis night, when warlocks and witches should have been abroad, rather than this delicately nurtured girl, made heroic by love. Enistor, toiling after her at a distance, wondered at a strength of character which he had been far from thinking his daughter possessed, and laughed grimly to think that unknowingly she was placing her lover within reach of the gripping hands of justice. Amidst the clash and clang of the elemental forces the girl, on her mission of love, and the man, on his errand of vengeance, staggered across the waste land drenched by the fierce rain and buffeted by the roaring winds. Occasionally a zigzag flash cut through the inky clouds, but the subsequent thunder was almost lost in the furious crying of sea and wind. Great as was the hate of Enistor to enable him to face such forces, greater was the love which strengthened Alice to attempt such a task of high endeavour.
Alice led her father down to the very verge of the cliffs, and halted there a stone's-throw from the coastguard station. Lurking in the background, the Squire strained his eyes to see her, and did see her, a momentarily clear silhouette against the pale illumination of the horizon, where the moonlight struggled to assert itself. Then a big black cloud drove ponderously across the moon, and when it passed, Alice was no longer to be seen. In some way she had descended the cliffs, and a cold feeling of fear lest she should fall and be dashed to pieces gripped Enistor's heart, rather to his surprise. He had never thought that he possessed sufficient love for Alice to make him wince in this way. But the love was evidently latent in him, and sent the man pell-mell towards the lip of the land to stay the girl from her rash adventure.
Bending over to look into the seething hell of water below, which bubbled and boiled like a witches' cauldron, Enistor caught sight, in the fitful moonlight, of a tiny dark figure dropping down to some unknown destination. Alice was safe as yet in spite of the fury of wind and wave, and scrambled down a narrow track with the sure-footedness of a goat. Not for nothing had she adventured her life in hazardous ways during the past year, and now the nerve she had gained came in useful when her lover's neck was in danger. She did not think of her own at the moment, but Enistor's heart was in his mouth, as the saying is, as he lay on his stomach peering down at the daring girl. Then a turn of the path below concealed the clambering figure from his eyes, and he debated within himself as to the best course to adopt. He was surprised to think that Montrose was concealed so near to the coastguard station, and no great distance from Tremore itself. But in the very daring of selecting so dangerous a hiding-place lay its safety, as he soon came to comprehend. But what Alice with her youth and lightness could do Enistor did not dare to attempt. He decided to wait until she came up the cliff again, and then he could force her to reveal the exact spot where Montrose lay hidden. Rolling into the shelter of a venturesome gorse bush which grew near the verge, he kept his eyes partly on the light of the not far distant station and partly on the place where the girl had descended. In this way he hoped to seize his daughter and to guard against being surprised by the Navy men, although these latter would be useful at a pinch to arrest the fugitive, when Alice was forced to reveal the truth. So Enistor lay there and the rain beat upon him, the wind blew, and the thunder rolled overhead a challenge to the tumult of the waves below.
Meanwhile Alice, never suspecting that she had led her father to within a stone's-throw of her lover's lurking-place, swung still further downward from the point where Enistor had lost sight of her. Finally the path, which was a mere goat's track, excessively narrow and dangerous, terminated in a small jagged hole no very great distance up the cliff from the sands and rocks below. It was marked by bushes, and would have passed unnoticed even by an experienced climber. The girl had found it during a day in spring, never thinking that it would ever be required for the purpose for which it was now being used. Speedily thrusting herself into this rabbit-burrow, as it might be called, she scrambled on hands and knees along a narrow passage until she emerged into a fair-sized cave. There she saw Montrose ready to greet her with a candle in his hand, and this he soon put down to take her in his arms. "My darling! My darling! How brave you are!"
"Oh, my dear! My dear! My dearest!" She could only cling to him and kiss him and feel that she had reached the heaven of his embrace. "You are trembling!"
Montrose lighted another candle from the stock she had brought and made her sit down on a block of stone fallen from the roof. "No wonder I tremble when I think of you climbing down that terrible cliff. You must not do it again. Do you hear? I would rather give myself up than expose you to such a risk. You might fall and – "
Alice stopped his protestations with a kiss. "I shall not fall. Again and again I have gone down that path out of a spirit of sheer adventure. Shall I then not come when your life depends upon my coming?"
"There never was such a woman as you are," cried Douglas brokenly, "but oh, my darling heart, how can you love me when I lurk here so shamefully?"
"You are doing right. Dr. Eberstein said that you were to fly. When the truth comes to light you can reappear."
"Will it ever come to light?" questioned Montrose uneasily. "Everything is dead against me. I must stay here for ever."
"You will not stay here for ever!" said a quiet steady voice, and the lovers turned their heads with a start to see Eberstein standing some little distance away, calm, benevolent, and encouraging as he ever was.
Alice cried out with natural terror at the sudden appearance of a man whom they supposed to be miles away, and Montrose, thrilled with the deadly fear of the supernatural, could scarcely speak. "How – how – did – you – come here?" he gasped, holding Alice tightly to his breast.
"In a way you know not," replied Eberstein, smiling so kindly as to strengthen both. "My true physical body is asleep in the hotel at Perchton. This I use now is one created for the moment, so that I may be seen and heard to speak by you both."
But for that reassuring smile and their knowledge of Eberstein's goodwill the lovers would have been terrified out of their lives. "But you are – you are flesh and blood," stammered Alice nervously.
"In one way, yes: in another way, no. The knowledge of certain laws which has been entrusted to me enables me to materialise myself in this way." He advanced to place one hand on the girl's shoulder and the other on that of Montrose. "You can feel my touch, can you not?"
"We can feel, hear and see," said Douglas, and his inclination was to kneel before his Master who manifested such power. All fear had departed now both from himself and Alice. It was as if an angel had come to them.
"Kneel only to God," said Eberstein solemnly. "It is His great mercy that permits me to come to your aid. The moment is at hand which will decide your future – the future of you both. Before you, Montrose, will be placed good and evil: as you choose so shall it be."
"I shall choose the good," cried the young man impetuously.
"Be not over-confident, lest you fall," warned the Master gravely. "One whom you wronged in the past has you at his mercy."
"My father?" questioned Alice, with a gasp.
Eberstein bowed his head. "In Chaldea you killed him, Montrose, and therefore you owe him a life for a life. Humanly speaking you are in his power for the moment, and he can hand you over to the officers of law."
"But I am innocent of the crime!"
"Yes! And he knows that you are innocent. But the teaching of the son of perdition, whom you know as Narvaez, has warped his nature, and to gain the money he claims he will place you, if he can, in the shadow of the gallows."
"He does not know where I am! He is – "
"Peace!" The Master raised his arm slowly. "What will be, will be as love or hate, fear or trust triumphs in your breast. Ascend the cliff, alone!"
"Alone!" Alice uttered a shriek. "No! No! Let me go also."
"Ascend the cliff alone," repeated Eberstein calmly, "and you, my daughter, kneel here in prayer that good may triumph over evil. May the will of God be fulfilled, and may the love of Christ" – he made the sign of the cross – "be with you in the hour of need, with the saving grace of the Holy Ghost."
Where he had been there was but the gloom of the cave faintly illuminated by the candlelight. Motionless with awe the lovers clung to one another, and Montrose, looking upward when movement came to him, breathed a voiceless prayer. Then he bent to kiss Alice, who had sunk on her knees, and loosening his clasp moved slowly towards the entrance to the cave. She did not seek to stay him, but with folded hands looked at his retiring form – it might be for the last time. But as she looked the exaltation and awe of that solemn moment opened her interior senses, and she saw a triangle of white flame, which showered on her lover's head purple rays of ineffable beauty. These shaped themselves into a cross as he disappeared, and then drew inward to a star, radiant and glorious, which shone in the gloom as the symbol of hope and salvation. To that high splendour – to the Power beyond – to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost proceeding from the Father through the Son, did she pray fervently. Not that her earthly parent might be spared the commission of a crime, not that her lover might be saved, but that the holy purpose of God, unknown and inexplicable, might be fulfilled according to His will. To such a height of trust in the Love which saves had the ever-compassionate Mercy of The Christ raised this weak, faltering, bruised soul.