Arthur Burdon spent two or three days in a state of utter uncertainty, but at last the idea he had in mind grew so compelling as to overcome all objections. He went to the Carlton and asked for Margaret. He had learnt from the porter that Haddo was gone out and so counted on finding her alone. A simple device enabled him to avoid sending up his name. When he was shown into her private room Margaret was sitting down. She neither read nor worked.
'You told me I might call upon you,' said Arthur.
She stood up without answering, and turned deathly pale.
'May I sit down?' he asked.
She bowed her head. For a moment they looked at one another in silence. Arthur suddenly forgot all he had prepared to say. His intrusion seemed intolerable.
'Why have you come?' she said hoarsely.
They both felt that it was useless to attempt the conventionality of society. It was impossible to deal with the polite commonplaces that ease an awkward situation.
'I thought that I might be able to help you,' he answered gravely.
'I want no help. I'm perfectly happy. I have nothing to say to you.'
She spoke hurriedly, with a certain nervousness, and her eyes were fixed anxiously on the door as though she feared that someone would come in.
'I feel that we have much to say to one another,' he insisted. 'If it is inconvenient for us to talk here, will you not come and see me?'
'He'd know,' she cried suddenly, as if the words were dragged out of her. 'D'you think anything can be hidden from him?'
Arthur glanced at her. He was horrified by the terror that was in her eyes. In the full light of day a change was plain in her expression. Her face was strangely drawn, and pinched, and there was in it a constant look as of a person cowed. Arthur turned away.
'I want you to know that I do not blame you in the least for anything you did. No action of yours can ever lessen my affection for you.'
'Oh, why did you come here? Why do you torture me by saying such things?'
She burst on a sudden into a flood of tears, and walked excitedly up and down the room.
'Oh, if you wanted me to be punished for the pain I've caused you, you can triumph now. Susie said she hoped I'd suffer all the agony that I've made you suffer. If she only knew!'
Margaret gave a hysterical laugh. She flung herself on her knees by Arthur's side and seized his hands.
'Did you think I didn't see? My heart bled when I looked at your poor wan face and your tortured eyes. Oh, you've changed. I could never have believed that a man could change so much in so few months, and it's I who've caused it all. Oh, Arthur, Arthur, you must forgive me. And you must pity me.'
'But there's nothing to forgive, darling,' he cried.
She looked at him steadily. Her eyes now were shining with a hard brightness.
'You say that, but you don't really think it. And yet if you only knew, all that I have endured is on your account.'
She made a great effort to be calm.
'What do you mean?' said Arthur.
'He never loved me, he would never have thought of me if he hadn't wanted to wound you in what you treasured most. He hated you, and he's made me what I am so that you might suffer. It isn't I who did all this, but a devil within me; it isn't I who lied to you and left you and caused you all this unhappiness.'
She rose to her feet and sighed deeply.
'Once, I thought he was dying, and I helped him. I took him into the studio and gave him water. And he gained some dreadful power over me so that I've been like wax in his hands. All my will has disappeared, and I have to do his bidding. And if I try to resist ...'
Her face twitched with pain and fear.
'I've found out everything since. I know that on that day when he seemed to be at the point of death, he was merely playing a trick on me, and he got Susie out of the way by sending a telegram from a girl whose name he had seen on a photograph. I've heard him roar with laughter at his cleverness.'
She stopped suddenly, and a look of frightful agony crossed her face.
'And at this very minute, for all I know, it may be by his influence that I say this to you, so that he may cause you still greater suffering by allowing me to tell you that he never cared for me. You know now that my life is hell, and his vengeance is complete.'
'Vengeance for what?'
'Don't you remember that you hit him once, and kicked him unmercifully? I know him well now. He could have killed you, but he hated you too much. It pleased him a thousand times more to devise this torture for you and me.'
Margaret's agitation was terrible to behold. This was the first time that she had ever spoken to a soul of all these things, and now the long restraint had burst as burst the waters of a dam. Arthur sought to calm her.
'You're ill and overwrought. You must try to compose yourself. After all, Haddo is a human being like the rest of us.'
'Yes, you always laughed at his claims. You wouldn't listen to the things he said. But I know. Oh, I can't explain it; I daresay common sense and probability are all against it, but I've seen things with my own eyes that pass all comprehension. I tell you, he has powers of the most awful kind. That first day when I was alone with him, he seemed to take me to some kind of sabbath. I don't know what it was, but I saw horrors, vile horrors, that rankled for ever after like poison in my mind; and when we went up to his house in Staffordshire, I recognized the scene; I recognized the arid rocks, and the trees, and the lie of the land. I knew I'd been there before on that fatal afternoon. Oh, you must believe me! Sometimes I think I shall go mad with the terror of it all.'
Arthur did not speak. Her words caused a ghastly suspicion to flash through his mind, and he could hardly contain himself. He thought that some dreadful shock had turned her brain. She buried her face in her hands.
'Look here,' he said, 'you must come away at once. You can't continue to live with him. You must never go back to Skene.'
'I can't leave him. We're bound together inseparably.'
'But it's monstrous. There can be nothing to keep you to him. Come back to Susie. She'll be very kind to you; she'll help you to forget all you've endured.'
'It's no use. You can do nothing for me.'
'Because, notwithstanding, I love him with all my soul.'
'I hate him. He fills me with repulsion. And yet I do not know what there is in my blood that draws me to him against my will. My flesh cries out for him.'
Arthur looked away in embarrassment. He could not help a slight, instinctive movement of withdrawal.
'Do I disgust you?' she said.
He flushed slightly, but scarcely knew how to answer. He made a vague gesture of denial.
'If you only knew,' she said.
There was something so extraordinary in her tone that he gave her a quick glance of surprise. He saw that her cheeks were flaming. Her bosom was panting as though she were again on the point of breaking into a passion of tears.
'For God's sake, don't look at me!' she cried.
She turned away and hid her face. The words she uttered were in a shamed, unnatural voice.
'If you'd been at Monte Carlo, you'd have heard them say, God knows how they knew it, that it was only through me he had his luck at the tables. He's contented himself with filling my soul with vice. I have no purity in me. I'm sullied through and through. He has made me into a sink of iniquity, and I loathe myself. I cannot look at myself without a shudder of disgust.'
A cold sweat came over Arthur, and he grew more pale than ever. He realized now he was in the presence of a mystery that he could not unravel. She went on feverishly.
'The other night, at supper, I told a story, and I saw you wince with shame. It wasn't I that told it. The impulse came from him, and I knew it was vile, and yet I told it with gusto. I enjoyed the telling of it; I enjoyed the pain I gave you, and the dismay of those women. There seem to be two persons in me, and my real self, the old one that you knew and loved, is growing weaker day by day, and soon she will be dead entirely. And there will remain only the wanton soul in the virgin body.'
Arthur tried to gather his wits together. He felt it an occasion on which it was essential to hold on to the normal view of things.
'But for God's sake leave him. What you've told me gives you every ground for divorce. It's all monstrous. The man must be so mad that he ought to be put in a lunatic asylum.'
'You can do nothing for me,' she said.
'But if he doesn't love you, what does he want you for?'
'I don't know, but I'm beginning to suspect.'
She looked at Arthur steadily. She was now quite calm.
'I think he wishes to use me for a magical operation. I don't know if he's mad or not. But I think he means to try some horrible experiment, and I am needful for its success. That is my safeguard.'
'He won't kill me because he needs me for that. Perhaps in the process I shall regain my freedom.'
Arthur was shocked at the callousness with which she spoke. He went up to her and put his hands on her shoulders.
'Look here, you must pull yourself together, Margaret. This isn't sane. If you don't take care, your mind will give way altogether. You must come with me now. When you're out of his hands, you'll soon regain your calmness of mind. You need never see him again. If you're afraid, you shall be hidden from him, and lawyers shall arrange everything between you.'
'But I promise you that you can come to no harm. Be reasonable. We're in London now, surrounded by people on every side. How do you think he can touch you while we drive through the crowded streets? I'll take you straight to Susie. In a week you'll laugh at the idle fears you had.'
'How do you know that he is not in the room at this moment, listening to all you say?'
The question was so sudden, so unexpected, that Arthur was startled. He looked round quickly.
'You must be mad. You see that the room is empty.'
'I tell you that you don't know what powers he has. Have you ever heard those old legends with which nurses used to frighten our childhood, of men who could turn themselves into wolves, and who scoured the country at night?' She looked at him with staring eyes. 'Sometimes, when he's come in at Skene in the morning, with bloodshot eyes, exhausted with fatigue and strangely discomposed, I've imagined that he too ...' She stopped and threw back her head. 'You're right, Arthur, I think I shall go mad.'
He watched her helplessly. He did not know what to do. Margaret went on, her voice quivering with anguish.
'When we were married, I reminded him that he'd promised to take me to his mother. He would never speak of her, but I felt I must see her. And one day, suddenly, he told me to get ready for a journey, and we went a long way, to a place I did not know, and we drove into the country. We seemed to go miles and miles, and we reached at last a large house, surrounded by a high wall, and the windows were heavily barred. We were shown into a great empty room. It was dismal and cold like the waiting-room at a station. A man came in to us, a tall man, in a frock-coat and gold spectacles. He was introduced to me as Dr Taylor, and then, suddenly, I understood.'
Margaret spoke in hurried gasps, and her eyes were staring wide, as though she saw still the scene which at the time had seemed the crowning horror of her experience.
'I knew it was an asylum, and Oliver hadn't told me a word. He took us up a broad flight of stairs, through a large dormitory--oh, if you only knew what I saw there! I was so horribly frightened, I'd never been in such a place before--to a cell. And the walls and the floor were padded.'
Margaret passed her hand across her forehead to chase away the recollection of that awful sight.
'Oh, I see it still. I can never get it out of my mind.'
She remembered with a morbid vividness the vast misshapen mass which she had seen heaped strangely in one corner. There was a slight movement in it as they entered, and she perceived that it was a human being. It was a woman, dressed in shapeless brown flannel; a woman of great stature and of a revolting, excessive corpulence. She turned upon them a huge, impassive face; and its unwrinkled smoothness gave it an appearance of aborted childishness. The hair was dishevelled, grey, and scanty. But what most terrified Margaret was that she saw in this creature an appalling likeness to Oliver.
'He told me it was his mother, and she'd been there for five-and-twenty years.'
Arthur could hardly bear the terror that was in Margaret's eyes. He did not know what to say to her. In a little while she began to speak again, in a low voice and rapidly, as though to herself, and she wrung her hands.
'Oh, you don't know what I've endured! He used to spend long periods away from me, and I remained alone at Skene from morning till night, alone with my abject fear. Sometimes, it seemed that he was seized with a devouring lust for the gutter, and he would go to Liverpool or Manchester and throw himself among the very dregs of the people. He used to pass long days, drinking in filthy pot-houses. While the bout lasted, nothing was too depraved for him. He loved the company of all that was criminal and low. He used to smoke opium in foetid dens--oh, you have no conception of his passion to degrade himself--and at last he would come back, dirty, with torn clothes, begrimed, sodden still with his long debauch; and his mouth was hot with the kisses of the vile women of the docks. Oh, he's so cruel when the fit takes him that I think he has a fiendish pleasure in the sight of suffering!'
It was more than Arthur could stand. His mind was made up to try a bold course. He saw on the table a whisky bottle and glasses. He poured some neat spirit into a tumbler and gave it to Margaret.
'Drink this,' he said.
'What is it?'
'Never mind! Drink it at once.'
Obediently she put it to her lips. He stood over her as she emptied the glass. A sudden glow filled her.
'Now come with me.'
He took her arm and led her down the stairs. He passed through the hall quickly. There was a cab just drawn up at the door, and he told her to get in. One or two persons stared at seeing a woman come out of that hotel in a teagown and without a hat. He directed the driver to the house in which Susie lived and looked round at Margaret. She had fainted immediately she got into the cab.
When they arrived, he carried Margaret upstairs and laid her on a sofa. He told Susie what had happened and what he wanted of her. The dear woman forgot everything except that Margaret was very ill, and promised willingly to do all he wished.
* * * * *
For a week Margaret could not be moved. Arthur hired a little cottage in Hampshire, opposite the Isle of Wight, hoping that amid the most charming, restful scenery in England she would quickly regain her strength; and as soon as it was possible Susie took her down. But she was much altered. Her gaiety had disappeared and with it her determination. Although her illness had been neither long nor serious, she seemed as exhausted, physically and mentally, as if she had been for months at the point of death. She took no interest in her surroundings, and was indifferent to the shady lanes through which they drove and to the gracious trees and the meadows. Her old passion for beauty was gone, and she cared neither for the flowers which filled their little garden nor for the birds that sang continually. But at last it seemed necessary to discuss the future. Margaret acquiesced in all that was suggested to her, and agreed willingly that the needful steps should be taken to procure her release from Oliver Haddo. He made apparently no effort to trace her, and nothing had been heard of him. He did not know where Margaret was, but he might have guessed that Arthur was responsible for her flight, and Arthur was easily to be found. It made Susie vaguely uneasy that there was no sign of his existence. She wished that Arthur were not kept by his work in London.
At last a suit for divorce was instituted.
Two days after this, when Arthur was in his consultingroom, Haddo's card was brought to him. Arthur's jaw set more firmly.
'Show the gentleman in,' he ordered.
When Haddo entered, Arthur, standing with his back to the fireplace, motioned him to sit down.
'What can I do for you?' he asked coldly.
'I have not come to avail myself of your surgical skill, my dear Burdon,' smiled Haddo, as he fell ponderously into an armchair.
'So I imagined.'
'You perspicacity amazes me. I surmise that it is to you I owe this amusing citation which was served on me yesterday.'
'I allowed you to come in so that I might tell you I will have no communication with you except through my solicitors.'
'My dear fellow, why do you treat me with such discourtesy? It is true that you have deprived me of the wife of my bosom, but you might at least so far respect my marital rights as to use me civilly.'
'My patience is not as good as it was,' answered Arthur, 'I venture to remind you that once before I lost my temper with you, and the result you must have found unpleasant.'
'I should have thought you regretted that incident by now, O Burdon,' answered Haddo, entirely unabashed.
'My time is very short,' said Arthur.
'Then I will get to my business without delay. I thought it might interest you to know that I propose to bring a counter-petition against my wife, and I shall make you co-respondent.'
'You infamous blackguard!' cried Arthur furiously. 'You know as well as I do that your wife is above suspicion.'
'I know that she left my hotel in your company, and has been living since under your protection.'
Arthur grew livid with rage. He could hardly restrain himself from knocking the man down. He gave a short laugh.
'You can do what you like. I'm really not frightened.'
'The innocent are so very incautious. I assure you that I can make a good enough story to ruin your career and force you to resign your appointments at the various hospitals you honour with your attention.'
'You forget that the case will not be tried in open court,' said Arthur.
Haddo looked at him steadily. He did not answer for a moment.
'You're quite right,' he said at last, with a little smile. 'I had forgotten that.'
'Then I need not detain you longer.'
Oliver Haddo got up. He passed his hand reflectively over his huge face. Arthur watched him with scornful eyes. He touched a bell, and the servant at once appeared.
'Show this gentleman out.'
Not in the least disconcerted, Haddo strolled calmly to the door.
Arthur gave a sigh of relief, for he concluded that Haddo would not show fight. His solicitor indeed had already assured him that Oliver would not venture to defend the case.
Margaret seemed gradually to take more interest in the proceedings, and she was full of eagerness to be set free. She did not shrink from the unpleasant ordeal of a trial. She could talk of Haddo with composure. Her friends were able to persuade themselves that in a little while she would be her old self again, for she was growing stronger and more cheerful; her charming laughter rang through the little house as it had been used to do in the Paris studio. The case was to come on at the end of July, before the long vacation, and Susie had agreed to take Margaret abroad as soon as it was done.
But presently a change came over her. As the day of the trial drew nearer, Margaret became excited and disturbed; her gaiety deserted her, and she fell into long, moody silences. To some extent this was comprehensible, for she would have to disclose to callous ears the most intimate details of her married life; but at last her nervousness grew so marked that Susie could no longer ascribe it to natural causes. She thought it necessary to write to Arthur about it.
My Dear Arthur:
I don't know what to make of Margaret, and I wish you would come down and see her. The good-humour which I have noticed in her of late has given way to a curious irritability. She is so restless that she cannot keep still for a moment. Even when she is sitting down her body moves in a manner that is almost convulsive. I am beginning to think that the strain from which she suffered is bringing on some nervous disease, and I am really alarmed. She walks about the house in a peculiarly aimless manner, up and down the stairs, in and out of the garden. She has grown suddenly much more silent, and the look has come back to her eyes which they had when first we brought her down here. When I beg her to tell me what is troubling her, she says: 'I'm afraid that something is going to happen.' She will not or cannot explain what she means. The last few weeks have set my own nerves on edge, so that I do not know how much of what I observe is real, and how much is due to my fancy; but I wish you would come and put a little courage into me. The oddness of it all is making me uneasy, and I am seized with preposterous terrors. I don't know what there is in Haddo that inspires me with this unaccountable dread. He is always present to my thoughts. I seem to see his dreadful eyes and his cold, sensual smile. I wake up at night, my heart beating furiously, with the consciousness that something quite awful has happened.
Oh, I wish the trial were over, and that we were happy in Germany.
Yours ever SUSAN BOYD
Susie took a certain pride in her common sense, and it was humiliating to find that her nerves could be so distraught. She was worried and unhappy. It had not been easy to take Margaret back to her bosom as if nothing had happened. Susie was human; and, though she did ten times more than could be expected of her, she could not resist a feeling of irritation that Arthur sacrificed her so calmly. He had no room for other thoughts, and it seemed quite natural to him that she should devote herself entirely to Margaret's welfare.
Susie walked some way along the road to post this letter and then went to her room. It was a wonderful night, starry and calm, and the silence was like balm to her troubles. She sat at the window for a long time, and at last, feeling more tranquil, went to bed. She slept more soundly than she had done for many days. When she awoke the sun was streaming into her room, and she gave a deep sigh of delight. She could see trees from her bed, and blue sky. All her troubles seemed easy to bear when the world was so beautiful, and she was ready to laugh at the fears that had so affected her.
She got up, put on a dressing-gown, and went to Margaret's room. It was empty. The bed had not been slept in. On the pillow was a note.
It's no good; I can't help myself. I've gone back to him. Don't trouble about me any more. It's quite hopeless and useless.
Susie gave a little gasp. Her first thought was for Arthur, and she uttered a wail of sorrow because he must be cast again into the agony of desolation. Once more she had to break the dreadful news. She dressed hurriedly and ate some breakfast. There was no train till nearly eleven, and she had to bear her impatience as best she could. At last it was time to start, and she put on her gloves. At that moment the door was opened, and Arthur came in.
She gave a cry of terror and turned pale.
'I was just coming to London to see you,' she faltered. 'How did you find out?'
'Haddo sent me a box of chocolates early this morning with a card on which was written: I think the odd trick is mine.'
This cruel vindictiveness, joined with a schoolboy love of taunting the vanquished foe, was very characteristic. Susie gave Arthur Burdon the note which she had found in Margaret's room. He read it and then thought for a long time.
'I'm afraid she's right,' he said at length. 'It seems quite hopeless. The man has some power over her which we can't counteract.'
Susie wondered whether his strong scepticism was failing at last. She could not withstand her own feeling that there was something preternatural about the hold that Oliver had over Margaret. She had no shadow of a doubt that he was able to affect his wife even at a distance, and was convinced now that the restlessness of the last few days was due to this mysterious power. He had been at work in some strange way, and Margaret had been aware of it. At length she could not resist and had gone to him instinctively: her will was as little concerned as when a chip of steel flies to a magnet.
'I cannot find it in my heart now to blame her for anything she has done,' said Susie. 'I think she is the victim of a most lamentable fate. I can't help it. I must believe that he was able to cast a spell on her; and to that is due all that has happened. I have only pity for her great misfortunes.'
'Has it occurred to you what will happen when she is back in Haddo's hands?' cried Arthur. 'You know as well as I do how revengeful he is and how hatefully cruel. My heart bleeds when I think of the tortures, sheer physical tortures, which she may suffer.'
He walked up and down in desperation.
'And yet there's nothing whatever that one can do. One can't go to the police and say that a man has cast a magic spell on his wife.'
'Then you believe it too?' said Susie.
'I don't know what I believe now,' he cried. 'After all, we can't do anything if she chooses to go back to her husband. She's apparently her own mistress.' He wrung his hands. 'And I'm imprisoned in London! I can't leave it for a day. I ought not to be here now, and I must get back in a couple of hours. I can do nothing, and yet I'm convinced that Margaret is utterly wretched.'
Susie paused for a minute or two. She wondered how he would accept the suggestion that was in her mind.
'Do you know, it seems to me that common methods are useless. The only chance is to fight him with his own weapons. Would you mind if I went over to Paris to consult Dr Porhoet? You know that he is learned in every branch of the occult, and perhaps he might help us.'
But Arthur pulled himself together.
'It's absurd. We mustn't give way to superstition. Haddo is merely a scoundrel and a charlatan. He's worked on our nerves as he's worked on poor Margaret's. It's impossible to suppose that he has any powers greater than the common run of mankind.'
'Even after all you've seen with your own eyes?'
'If my eyes show me what all my training assures me is impossible, I can only conclude that my eyes deceive me.'
'Well, I shall run over to Paris.'