Fergus Hume.

A Son of Perdition: An Occult Romance



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"Why, that is true. You are clever in saying that."

"But perhaps this possible loss of money is the danger."

"No. The danger is a greater one than the loss of money. It has to do with your life and my life in Chaldea; with our adversary and with the unknown man, who is coming to take part in the drama of repayment. I have a feeling," said Narvaez, passing his hand across his brow, "that the curtain rises on our drama with this loss of money."

"I don't believe Lucy will cheat me," cried Enistor desperately.

"Wait until to-morrow's post," said Narvaez significantly, "you will find that I am a true prophet. Our bargain of my marriage with Alice must continue on its present basis, as the want of money will still prevent your becoming independent. I might suggest," he added, opening the door, "that you forbid your daughter to see too much of young Hardwick. She might fall in love with him and that would in a great measure destroy her clairvoyant powers. She will be of no use to either of us then. Good night! When you sleep we shall meet as usual on the other plane!"

Narvaez departed chuckling, for disagreeables befalling others always amused him. He was absolutely without a heart and without feelings, since for ages in various bodies he had worked hard to rid himself of his humanity. Enistor was on the same evil path, but as yet was human enough to worry over the inevitable. Until he slept he did his best to convince himself that Narvaez spoke falsely, but failed utterly in the attempt.

CHAPTER III
FULFILMENT

Next morning Enistor was gloomy and apprehensive, for he had slept very badly during the hours of darkness. He tried to persuade himself that the Spaniard prophesied falsely, but some inward feeling assured him that this was not the case. Before the sun set he was convinced, against his inclinations, that the sinister prediction would be fulfilled. Therefore he picked up his morning letters nervously, quite expecting to find a legal one stating that Lady Staunton was dead and had left her five thousand a year to some stranger. Fortunately for his peace of mind there was no letter of the kind, and he made a better breakfast than he might have done. All the same he was morose and sullen, so that Alice had anything but a pleasant time. Towards the end of the meal he relieved his feelings by scolding the girl.

"I forbid you to see much of that young Hardwick," he declared imperiously, "he is in love with you, and I don't wish you to marry a pauper painter!"

Aware that her father wished her to accept Narvaez, it would have been wise for the girl to have held her tongue, since a later confession of a feigned engagement to the artist was her sole chance of resisting the loveless marriage. But Enistor was one of those people who invariably drew what was worst in a person to the surface, and she answered prematurely. "Mr. Hardwick proposed yesterday and I refused him. Therefore I can see as much of him as I want to, without running any risk of becoming his wife."

Enistor ignored the latter part of her reply, proposing to deal with it later.

"You refused him? And why, may I ask?"

"He is not the man I want for my husband. He does not complete me!"

"Are you then incomplete?" sneered Enistor scornfully.

"To my mind every woman and every man must be incomplete until a true marriage takes place!"

"What is a true marriage, you silly girl?"

"A marriage of souls!"

"Pooh! Pooh! That foolish affinity business."

"Is it foolish?" queried Alice sedately. "It appears to me to be a great truth."

"Appears to you!" scoffed her father. "What does a child such as you are know about such things? At your age you should be healthy enough not to think of your soul and even forget that you have one. Nevertheless I am glad that you have refused Hardwick, as I have other views for you."

"If they include marriage with Don Pablo, I decline to entertain them."

"Do you indeed? Rubbish! You are my daughter and shall do as I order."

"I am a human being also, and in this instance I shall not obey."

Enistor frowned like a thunderstorm. "You dare to set your will against my will?" he demanded, looking at her piercingly.

"In this instance I do," replied Alice, meeting his gaze firmly. "I am quite willing to be an obedient daughter to you in all else. But marriage concerns my whole future and therefore I have a right to choose for myself."

"You have no rights, save those I allow you to have! In refusing Hardwick you have shown more sense than I expected. But Don Pablo you must marry!"

"Must I, father? And why?"

"He is wealthy and he adores you."

Alice in spite of her nervousness laughed outright. "I am woman enough to see that Don Pablo only adores himself. He wants a hostess to sit at the foot of his table and entertain his friends: he has no use for a wife. As to his wealth, I would sooner be happy with a pauper than with a millionaire, provided I loved him."

"Silly romance: silly romance."

"Perhaps it is. But that is my view!"

Enistor frowned still more darkly, as he saw very plainly that, frail as she was, he could not hope to bend her to his will. In some way he could not explain the girl baffled his powerful personality. Yet it was necessary that she should become the wife of Narvaez, if the danger which the old man hinted at was to be known and conquered. "Alice, listen to me," said the man entreatingly, "we are very poor and Don Pablo is very rich. If you marry him, you will soon be his wealthy widow, as he cannot live long. Then with the money you will be able to restore the fortunes of our family and marry whomsoever you desire. Be sensible!"

"I refuse to sacrifice myself to a loveless marriage for your sake," said Alice doggedly, and standing up like a weak lily against the force of a tempest. "You don't love me, father: you have never loved me, so why – "

"I am not going to argue the point with you any longer," stormed Enistor, rising hastily; "I shall force you to marry Don Pablo."

"In that case I shall marry Julian Hardwick and ask him to protect me," said the girl, rising in her turn, shaking and white, but sullenly determined.

"Protect you! Who can protect you against me? I can deal with Hardwick and with you in a way you little dream of."

"What you can do to Mr. Hardwick I do not know," said the girl steadily, "but me you cannot harm in any way, nor can you compel me, else you would long ago have used your boasted power."

"Are you aware that you are speaking to your father?" demanded Enistor, astonished at her daring.

"Perfectly! I wish to be a good daughter to you, father, but in a matter which concerns my whole life I must decline to yield either to your commands or prayers!"

Enistor could have struck her pale face in his wrath, but, sensitive to invisible things, he became aware that there was a barrier around her which kept him at arm's length. He knew instinctively that the powerful influence pervading the room had to do with the unknown individual whom Narvaez called "Our Adversary," and felt that he was not prepared to measure his strength against such a force. So uncomfortable and daunted did he feel, that his one desire was to leave the room, and he began to back towards the door. Alice was astonished to see the perspiration beading her father's forehead and watched his departure in dismay. Unaware of what was taking place, she looked upon the withdrawal as a declaration of war, and believed, with some truth, that she would have to suffer for opposing resistance to the marriage with Narvaez. Yet she still held out, as she felt a singular sense of security. The same power which weakened Enistor strengthened her, but not being a trained occultist, she wondered how she could dare to face her father so boldly.

"I shall talk to you later," breathed Enistor with an effort, so hostile was the atmosphere. "Meanwhile you may as well know that if you decline to become Don Pablo's wife, you will ruin me."

The Squire – that was his title as the owner of Polwellin village – left his obstinate daughter in the room, and went to the library, which was his own particular domain. Here the opposing influence did not follow him. Sitting down heavily, he began to breathe more freely, and wondered why he had been so craven as to fly from the field of battle. Although he had been anxious all his life to acquire forbidden lore, he had only learned something of the practical side of occultism since the arrival of Narvaez, some three years ago. That ancient sinner was accomplished in black arts, and for his own ends was willing to impart something of his knowledge to Enistor. A considerable amount of sinister teaching had been given to the Squire, but as yet he was but a neophyte, and ignorant of many things. Narvaez withheld much purposely, as he was keenly aware of Enistor's powerful will and unscrupulous greed for power. The Spaniard did not so much desire to instruct his host as to make use of him. Those servants of Christ, who walk on the Right-hand Path, are possessed entirely by the Spirit of Love, and are only too anxious to teach to the ignorant all that they may be capable of assimilating. But the Brothers of the Shadow are too inherently selfish to be generous, and merely give out sufficient knowledge to render their pupils useful servants and docile slaves. Narvaez had no intention of cultivating Enistor's latent powers to such a strength that they might be dangerous to himself. Consequently, although the man was on the threshold of power, he had not yet crossed it, and therefore was unable to deal with the force in the dining-room, the strength of which he could not calculate. To influence Alice to work for self in a way which would lure her from behind the barrier of the protecting power required more knowledge than Enistor possessed. Yet Narvaez likewise professed fear of the Adversary, and could only use cunning instead of command. The Squire smiled grimly to himself as he reflected that the Master himself would have been ignominiously driven from the dining-room in the same way, had he been present.

Of course Enistor did not wish to injure his daughter in any way at which the world would look askance. He merely desired her to make a loveless marriage so as to acquire the wealth of Narvaez, and so that she might be educated in clear-seeing for the purpose of averting a possible danger. What that danger might be Enistor did not know, and so far as he could guess Don Pablo was equally ignorant. Therefore it was absolutely necessary that the latent clairvoyant powers of the girl should be brought to the surface and trained, if the safety of the Black Magician and his pupil was to be assured. Enistor was aggressively selfish, and to save himself was ready to sacrifice his daughter and a dozen human beings if necessary to the Dark Powers. Her body, her fortune, her honour, would not be injured, but – as Enistor very well knew – her soul would be in danger. For this however he cared nothing. Better that the girl should perish than that he should be balked of his daring ambition. But he did not intend to surrender Alice to Don Pablo unless his price was paid, and that price included unlimited wealth together with unlimited power over weaker mortals. Narvaez alone could instruct him in the arts which could command such things.

Meanwhile, as Enistor needed money, it was necessary for him to attend to practical matters, which had to do with Lady Staunton! For many years Enistor had influenced his sister strongly to leave her entire fortune to him, and until Narvaez had spoken on the previous evening, he had every reason to believe that he would get what he wanted. But the prediction rendered him uneasy, even though the expected letter had not yet arrived. The Ides of March had truly come, but had not passed, and although the fatal epistle had failed to appear in the morning's batch of letters, it might be delivered by the evening post. All that day Enistor was naturally uncomfortable and apprehensive. Positive that his sister would leave him her fortune, he had rejoiced when the news of her illness arrived, and in his fancied security he had not even gone up to London to make sure that all was safe. Certainly he had never dreamed of taking so long a journey to console the old lady on her death-bed; but he deeply regretted for the sake of the inheritance that he had not sought her company during her sickness. Also it might have been advisable to enlist the evil services of Narvaez to clinch the matter, and this omission the Squire deeply lamented. However, it was now too late to do anything save wait for the post and hope for the best. He suffered as only a selfish nature can suffer, and the agonies of a truly selfish man are very great when he is thwarted.

It was close upon three o'clock when he was put out of his misery by the arrival of an unexpected stranger. Enistor, finding that Alice had betaken herself to the safer spaces of the moorlands, had no one to torment, so he busied himself with evil practices in his gloomy library. That is, he used the teaching of Narvaez to concentrate his will-power on Lady Staunton, so that she might still desire to leave him her money. With her visualised image in his mind's eye, he was sending powerful thoughts to her sick-bed insisting that he and he only should benefit by the will. An ignorant person would have laughed at the idea of any one being so controlled from a distance, but Enistor knew perfectly well what he was doing, and made ardent use of his unholy telepathy. Later when the footman announced that Lady Staunton's solicitor, Mr. Cane, desired an interview, Enistor granted it without delay. It was better, he wisely thought, to know the best or the worst at once, without suffering the agonies of suspense until the evening post.

The new-comer was a bustling, rosy-cheeked little man, well dressed, expansive and voluble. He had no nerves to speak of, and still less imagination, therefore he was not in the least impressed by the grey atmosphere of Tremore. In fact before he condescended to business, he complimented his host on the breezy altitude of the house and the beauty of the surroundings. His courtesy was not at all appreciated, as Enistor soon let him know.

"I don't suppose you came here to admire the view, Mr. Cane," said the Squire irritably. "Your unexpected presence argues that my sister is dead."

Mr. Cane's lively face assumed a solemn expression, and his airy manner became heavily professional. "You are right, Mr. Enistor," he said pompously, "my lamented client, Lady Staunton, passed away to the better land in a peaceful frame of mind at ten o'clock last night."

Enistor frowned and winced as he remembered his wasted telepathy. "I am sorry," he said conventionally, "and I regret greatly that I was not at hand to soothe her last moments. But unexpected business prevented my taking the journey. Still, had I guessed that she was likely to die, I should have managed to be with her."

"Pray do not grieve, Mr. Enistor," exclaimed the solicitor with unintentional irony. "My lamented client's last moments were tenderly soothed by her best friend."

"Her best friend?"

"So Lady Staunton termed Mr. Montrose!"

"I never heard of him," said Enistor abruptly. "Who is he?"

A most unexpected reply took away the Squire's breath. "He is the fortunate young gentleman who inherits Lady Staunton's property."

Enistor rose in a black fury, with clenched fists and incredulous looks. "I don't understand: you must be mistaken," he said hoarsely.

"I am not mistaken," replied Cane dryly. "I was never more in earnest in my life, sir. It is hard on you as my late lamented client's nearest relative, I admit. In fact Lady Staunton thought so too, and asked me to come down as soon as she died to explain her reasons for leaving the money to Mr. Montrose. Otherwise, since your sister, Mr. Enistor, did not encourage legal matters being attended to out of order, you would not have heard the news until the reading of the will after the funeral. As Lady Staunton died last night, the burial will take place in four days. I have no doubt as a sincere mourner you will be there."

"A sincere mourner!" cried Enistor, pacing the room hastily to work off his rage. "How can I be that when my sister has cheated me in this way?"

"Oh, not cheated, Mr. Enistor, not cheated," pleaded the rosy-cheeked little man more volubly than ever. "Lady Staunton's money was her own to dispose of as she desired. Besides, she did not forget you entirely: she has left you the sum of one thousand pounds."

"Really!" sneered the Squire savagely, "and this Montrose creature inherits five thousand a year! It is wicked: infamous, scandalous. I shall upset the will, Mr. Cane!"

The lawyer remonstrated mildly. "I fear that is impossible, Mr. Enistor. My lamented client was quite in her right senses when she signed the will, and as I drew it up in accordance with her instructions, you may be certain that all is in good order. I feel for you: upon my word I feel for you," added Mr. Cane plaintively, "and my errand cannot be called a pleasant one!"

"Oh, hang your feelings: what do I care for your feelings! It is my sister's iniquitous will that I am thinking about. She knew how poor I was: she was proud of being an Enistor, and she faithfully promised that I should have the money in order to mend our family fortunes. What devil made her change her intentions?"

"No devil that I am aware of," said Cane with puny dignity. "Lady Staunton did make a will in your favour. But a year ago she signed a new one leaving her income to Mr. Montrose, who is now my client. I decline on these grounds to hear him spoken of as a devil."

"Oh. Then it was this Montrose beast who made her change her mind?"

"No. Certainly he did not. He is not even aware that he has inherited, as Lady Staunton asked me to see you first. Only when the will is read, after the funeral in four days, will Mr. Montrose learn of his good fortune."

"Montrose does not know," said Enistor, striding forward to stand over the little lawyer in a threatening way. "Then why not destroy this last will and read the old one which is in my favour!"

Cane wriggled beneath Enistor's fiery gaze and slipped sideways out of his chair. "Are you in your right senses to – " he began, puffing indignantly.

Enistor cut him short. "Oh, the deuce take your heroics! You know perfectly well that I should benefit rather than a stranger. I want the money and I intend to get the money. By righting this wrong you will be doing a good act, since it seems you have a conscience of sorts. If it is a matter of money – "

This time it was Cane who interrupted. "You insult me," he vociferated shrilly. "I am an honest lawyer – "

"Rather an anomaly," interpolated Enistor scoffingly.

"An honest lawyer," continued the little man sturdily, "and as such I am bound to consider the wishes of my client. You are asking me to commit a felony, Mr. Enistor. How dare you! How dare you!" he mopped his perspiring brow. "What have you seen in me to lead you to make so infamous a proposition?"

"I thought I saw some vestiges of common sense," said Enistor dryly. "But it seems that you are a fool with a conscience!"

"I have a conscience, but I am no fool, Mr. Enistor! I have a great mind to tell the world at large how you endeavoured to tempt me!"

"If you do, I shall put forth a counter-slander saying that you came down here to tempt me."

"To tempt you? To tempt you, sir?"

"Why not? If I say that you offered to destroy the last will and substitute the first provided I gave you a large sum of money, who will refuse to believe the statement?"

"Any one who knows me."

"Ah. But the whole world does not know you, Mr. Cane. Your immediate friends may reject the calumny, but the majority of people won't. My word is as good as yours, you know!"

"You will not dare – "

"Oh yes, I shall dare if you dare!"

"Am I dealing with a gentleman or a scoundrel?" asked Cane, appealing to the carved ceiling.

"Pooh! Pooh!" said Enistor cynically. "What is the use of calling names? Why, a gentleman is only a scoundrel who is clever enough not to be found out."

"I disagree: I disagree entirely."

"I thought you would. You are not strong enough to be original. However, all this chatter will not alter circumstances. My sister has sold me in favour of this – what do you say his name is?"

"Mr. Montrose. Douglas Montrose!" said Cane sulkily. "He is – "

"Won't you sit down and explain? You will be more comfortable."

"No I won't," said Cane sharply and still fretted by the proposition which had been made to him. "I doubt if it would not be better for me to retire after what you have said."

"Oh," said Enistor ironically, "your duty to your late lamented client forbids."

"It does, and therefore I remain to explain. But I shall not sit down again in your presence, nor drink your wine, nor eat your food."

"Better wait until you are asked, Mr. Cane. Go on and tell me about Montrose."

Confounded by his host's disconcerting calm, the little lawyer came to the point, but delivered his explanation standing. "Mr. Montrose is a young Scotchman, poor and handsome and clever. He is a poet and a journalist, who lives in a Bloomsbury garret, ambitious of literary fame. Eighteen months ago he saved Lady Staunton's life when her horses bolted in Hyde Park. He stopped them at the risk of his limbs, and prevented a serious accident!"



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