The Magician

by William Somerset Maugham

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Chapter 14

Susie never forgot the horror of that journey to England. They arrived in London early in the morning and, without stopping, drove to Euston. For three or four days there had been unusual heat, and even at that hour the streets were sultry and airless. The train north was crowded, and it seemed impossible to get a breath of air. Her head ached, but she was obliged to keep a cheerful demeanour in the effort to allay Arthur's increasing anxiety. Dr Porhoet sat in front of her. After the sleepless night his eyes were heavy and his face deeply lined. He was exhausted. At length, after much tiresome changing, they reached Venning. She had expected a greater coolness in that northern country; but there was a hot blight over the place, and, as they walked to the inn from the little station, they could hardly drag their limbs along.

Arthur had telegraphed from London that they must have rooms ready, and the landlady expected them. She recognized Arthur. He passionately desired to ask her whether anything had happened since he went away, but forced himself to be silent for a while. He greeted her with cheerfulness.

'Well, Mrs Smithers, what has been going on since I left you?' he cried.

'Of course you wouldn't have heard, sir,' she answered gravely.

He began to tremble, but with an almost superhuman effort controlled his voice.

'Has the squire hanged himself?' he asked lightly.

'No sir--but the poor lady's dead.'

He did not answer. He seemed turned to stone. He stared with ghastly eyes.

'Poor thing!' said Susie, forcing herself to speak. 'Was it--very sudden?'

The woman turned to Susie, glad to have someone with whom to discuss the event. She took no notice of Arthur's agony.

'Yes, mum; no one expected it. She died quite sudden like. She was only buried this morning.'

'What did she die of?' asked Susie, her eyes on Arthur.

She feared that he would faint. She wanted enormously to get him away, but did not know how to manage it.

'They say it was heart disease,' answered the landlady. 'Poor thing! It's a happy release for her.'

'Won't you get us some tea, Mrs Smithers? We're very tired, and we should like something immediately.'

'Yes, miss. I'll get it at once.'

The good woman bustled away. Susie quickly locked the door. She seized Arthur's arm.

'Arthur, Arthur.'

She expected him to break down. She looked with agony at Dr Porhoet, who stood helplessly by.

'You couldn't have done anything if you'd been here. You heard what the woman said. If Margaret died of heart disease, your suspicions were quite without ground.'

He shook her away, almost violently.

'For God's sake, speak to us,' cried Susie.

His silence terrified her more than would have done any outburst of grief. Dr Porhoet went up to him gently.

'Don't try to be brave, my friend. You will not suffer as much if you allow yourself a little weakness.'

'For Heaven's sake leave me alone!' said Arthur, hoarsely.

They drew back and watched him silently. Susie heard their hostess come along to the sitting-room with tea, and she unlocked the door. The landlady brought in the things. She was on the point of leaving them when Arthur stopped her.

'How do you know that Mrs Haddo died of heart disease?' he asked suddenly.

His voice was hard and stern. He spoke with a peculiar abruptness that made the poor woman look at him in amazement.

'Dr Richardson told me so.'

'Had he been attending her?'

'Yes, sir. Mr Haddo had called him in several times to see his lady.'

'Where does Dr Richardson live?'

'Why, sir, he lives at the white house near the station.'

She could not make out why Arthur asked these questions.

'Did Mr Haddo go to the funeral?'

'Oh yes, sir. I've never seen anyone so upset.'

'That'll do. You can go.'

Susie poured out the tea and handed a cup to Arthur. To her surprise, he drank the tea and ate some bread and butter. She could not understand him. The expression of strain, and the restlessness which had been so painful, were both gone from his face, and it was set now to a look of grim determination. At last he spoke to them.

'I'm going to see this doctor. Margaret's heart was as sound as mine.'

'What are you going to do?'


He turned on her with a peculiar fierceness.

'I'm going to put a rope round that man's neck, and if the law won't help me, by God, I'll kill him myself.'

'Mais, mon ami, vous etes fou,' cried Dr Porhoet, springing up.

Arthur put out his hand angrily, as though to keep him back. The frown on his face grew darker.

'You must leave me alone. Good Heavens, the time has gone by for tears and lamentation. After all I've gone through for months, I can't weep because Margaret is dead. My heart is dried up. But I know that she didn't die naturally, and I'll never rest so long as that fellow lives.'

He stretched out his hands and with clenched jaws prayed that one day he might hold the man's neck between them, and see his face turn livid and purple as he died.

'I am going to this fool of a doctor, and then I shall go to Skene.'

'You must let us come with you,' said Susie.

'You need not be frightened,' he answered. 'I shall not take any steps of my own till I find the law is powerless.'

'I want to come with you all the same.'

'As you like.'

Susie went out and ordered a trap to be got ready. But since Arthur would not wait, she arranged that it should be sent for them to the doctor's door. They went there at once, on foot.

Dr Richardson was a little man of five-and-fifty, with a fair beard that was now nearly white, and prominent blue eyes. He spoke with a broad Staffordshire accent. There was in him something of the farmer, something of the well-to-do tradesman, and at the first glance his intelligence did not impress one.

Arthur was shewn with his two friends into the consulting-room, and after a short interval the doctor came in. He was dressed in flannels and had an old-fashioned racket in his hand.

'I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, but Mrs Richardson has got a few lady-friends to tea, and I was just in the middle of a set.'

His effusiveness jarred upon Arthur, whose manner by contrast became more than usually abrupt.

'I have just learnt of the death of Mrs Haddo. I was her guardian and her oldest friend. I came to you in the hope that you would be able to tell me something about it.'

Dr Richardson gave him at once, the suspicious glance of a stupid man.

'I don't know why you come to me instead of to her husband. He will be able to tell you all that you wish to know.'

'I came to you as a fellow-practitioner,' answered Arthur. 'I am at St Luke's Hospital.' He pointed to his card, which Dr Richardson still held. 'And my friend is Dr Porhoet, whose name will be familiar to you with respect to his studies in Malta Fever.'

'I think I read an article of yours in the B.M.J.' said the country doctor.

His manner assumed a singular hostility. He had no sympathy with London specialists, whose attitude towards the general practitioner he resented. He was pleased to sneer at their pretensions to omniscience, and quite willing to pit himself against them.

'What can I do for you, Mr Burdon?'

'I should be very much obliged if you would tell me as exactly as possible how Mrs Haddo died.'

'It was a very simple case of endocarditis.'

'May I ask how long before death you were called in?'

The doctor hesitated. He reddened a little.

'I'm not inclined to be cross-examined,' he burst out, suddenly making up his mind to be angry. 'As a surgeon I daresay your knowledge of cardiac diseases is neither extensive nor peculiar. But this was a very simple case, and everything was done that was possible. I don't think there's anything I can tell you.'

Arthur took no notice of the outburst.

'How many times did you see her?'

'Really, sir, I don't understand your attitude. I can't see that you have any right to question me.'

'Did you have a post-mortem?'

'Certainly not. In the first place there was no need, as the cause of death was perfectly clear, and secondly you must know as well as I do that the relatives are very averse to anything of the sort. You gentlemen in Harley Street don't understand the conditions of private practice. We haven't the time to do post-mortems to gratify a needless curiosity.'

Arthur was silent for a moment. The little man was evidently convinced that there was nothing odd about Margaret's death, but his foolishness was as great as his obstinacy. It was clear that several motives would induce him to put every obstacle in Arthur's way, and chief of these was the harm it would do him if it were discovered that he had given a certificate of death carelessly. He would naturally do anything to avoid social scandal. Still Arthur was obliged to speak.

'I think I'd better tell you frankly that I'm not satisfied, Dr Richardson. I can't persuade myself that this lady's death was due to natural causes.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' cried the other angrily. 'I've been in practice for hard upon thirty-five years, and I'm willing to stake my professional reputation on it.'

'I have reason to think you are mistaken.'

'And to what do you ascribe death, pray?' asked the doctor.

'I don't know yet.'

'Upon my soul, I think you must be out of your senses. Really, sir, your behaviour is childish. You tell me that you are a surgeon of some eminence ...'

'I surely told you nothing of the sort.'

'Anyhow, you read papers before learned bodies and have them printed. And you come with as silly a story as a Staffordshire peasant who thinks someone has been trying to poison him because he's got a stomach-ache. You may be a very admirable surgeon, but I venture to think I am more capable than you of judging in a case which I attended and you know nothing about.'

'I mean to take the steps necessary to get an order for exhumation, Dr Richardson, and I cannot help thinking it will be worth your while to assist me in every possible way.'

'I shall do nothing of the kind. I think you very impertinent, sir. There is no need for exhumation, and I shall do everything in my power to prevent it. And I tell you as chairman of the board of magistrates, my opinion will have as great value as any specialist's in Harley Street.'

He flounced to the door and held it open. Susie and Dr Porhoet walked out; and Arthur, looking down thoughtfully, followed on their heels. Dr Richardson slammed the street-door angrily.

Dr Porhoet slipped his arm in Arthur's.

'You must be reasonable, my friend,' he said. 'From his own point of view this doctor has all the rights on his side. You have nothing to justify your demands. It is monstrous to expect that for a vague suspicion you will be able to get an order for exhumation.'

Arthur did not answer. The trap was waiting for them.

'Why do you want to see Haddo?' insisted the doctor. 'You will do no more good than you have with Dr Richardson.'

'I have made up my mind to see him,' answered Arthur shortly. 'But there is no need that either of you should accompany me.'

'If you go, we will come with you,' said Susie.

Without a word Arthur jumped into the dog-cart, and Susie took a seat by his side. Dr Porhoet, with a shrug of the shoulders, mounted behind. Arthur whipped up the pony, and at a smart trot they traversed the three miles across the barren heath that lay between Venning and Skene.

When they reached the park gates, the lodgekeeper, as luck would have it, was standing just inside, and she held one of them open for her little boy to come in. He was playing in the road and showed no inclination to do so. Arthur jumped down.

'I want to see Mr Haddo,' he said.

'Mr Haddo's not in,' she answered roughly.

She tried to close the gate, but Arthur quickly put his foot inside.

'Nonsense! I have to see him on a matter of great importance.'

'Mr Haddo's orders are that no one is to be admitted.'

'I can't help that, I'm proposing to come in, all the same.'

Susie and Dr Porhoet came forward. They promised the small boy a shilling to hold their horse.

'Now then, get out of here,' cried the woman. 'You're not coming in, whatever you say.'

She tried to push the gate to, but Arthur's foot prevented her. Paying no heed to her angry expostulations, he forced his way in. He walked quickly up the drive. The lodge-keeper accompanied him, with shrill abuse. The gate was left unguarded, and the others were able to follow without difficulty.

'You can go to the door, but you won't see Mr Haddo,' the woman cried angrily. 'You'll get me sacked for letting you come.'

Susie saw the house. It was a fine old building in the Elizabethan style, but much in need of repair; and it had the desolate look of a place that has been uninhabited. The garden that surrounded it had been allowed to run wild, and the avenue up which they walked was green with rank weeds. Here and there a fallen tree, which none had troubled to remove, marked the owner's negligence. Arthur went to the door and rang a bell. They heard it clang through the house as though not a soul lived there. A man came to the door, and as soon as he opened it, Arthur, expecting to be refused admission, pushed in. The fellow was as angry as the virago, his wife, who explained noisily how the three strangers had got into the park.

'You can't see the squire, so you'd better be off. He's up in the attics, and no one's allowed to go to him.'

The man tried to push Arthur away.

'Be off with you, or I'll send for the police.'

'Don't be a fool,' said Arthur. 'I mean to find Mr Haddo.'

The housekeeper and his wife broke out with abuse, to which Arthur listened in silence. Susie and Dr Porhoet stood by anxiously. They did not know what to do. Suddenly a voice at their elbows made them start, and the two servants were immediately silent.

'What can I do for you?'

Oliver Haddo was standing motionless behind them. It startled Susie that he should have come upon them so suddenly, without a sound. Dr Porhoet, who had not seen him for some time, was astounded at the change which had taken place in him. The corpulence which had been his before was become now a positive disease. He was enormous. His chin was a mass of heavy folds distended with fat, and his cheeks were puffed up so that his eyes were preternaturally small. He peered at you from between the swollen lids. All his features had sunk into that hideous obesity. His ears were horribly bloated, and the lobes were large and swelled. He had apparently a difficulty in breathing, for his large mouth, with its scarlet, shining lips, was constantly open. He had grown much balder and now there was only a crescent of long hair stretching across the back of his head from ear to ear. There was something terrible about that great shining scalp. His paunch was huge; he was a very tall man and held himself erect, so that it protruded like a vast barrel. His hands were infinitely repulsive; they were red and soft and moist. He was sweating freely, and beads of perspiration stood on his forehead and on his shaven lip.

For a moment they all looked at one another in silence. Then Haddo turned to his servants.

'Go,' he said.

As though frightened out of their wits, they made for the door and with a bustling hurry flung themselves out. A torpid smile crossed his face as he watched them go. Then he moved a step nearer his visitors. His manner had still the insolent urbanity which was customary to him.

'And now, my friends, will you tell me how I can be of service to you?'

'I have come about Margaret's death,' said Arthur.

Haddo, as was his habit, did not immediately answer. He looked slowly from Arthur to Dr Porhoet, and from Dr Porhoet to Susie. His eyes rested on her hat, and she felt uncomfortably that he was inventing some gibe about it.

'I should have thought this hardly the moment to intrude upon my sorrow,' he said at last. 'If you have condolences to offer, I venture to suggest that you might conveniently send them by means of the penny post.'

Arthur frowned.

'Why did you not let me know that she was ill?' he asked.

'Strange as it may seem to you, my worthy friend, it never occurred to me that my wife's health could be any business of yours.'

A faint smile flickered once more on Haddo's lips, but his eyes had still the peculiar hardness which was so uncanny. Arthur looked at him steadily.

'I have every reason to believe that you killed her,' he said.

Haddo's face did not for an instant change its expression.

'And have you communicated your suspicions to the police?'

'I propose to.'

'And, if I am not indiscreet, may I inquire upon what you base them?'

'I saw Margaret three weeks ago, and she told me that she went in terror of her life.'

'Poor Margaret! She had always the romantic temperament. I think it was that which first brought us together.'

'You damned scoundrel!' cried Arthur.

'My dear fellow, pray moderate your language. This is surely not an occasion when you should give way to your lamentable taste for abuse. You outrage all Miss Boyd's susceptibilities.' He turned to her with an airy wave of his fat hand. 'You must forgive me if I do not offer you the hospitality of Skene, but the loss I have so lately sustained does not permit me to indulge in the levity of entertaining.'

He gave her an ironical, low bow; then looked once more at Arthur.

'If I can be of no further use to you, perhaps you would leave me to my own reflections. The lodgekeeper will give you the exact address of the village constable.'

Arthur did not answer. He stared into vacancy, as if he were turning over things in his mind. Then he turned sharply on his heel and walked towards the gate. Susie and Dr Porhoet, taken completely aback, did not know what to do; and Haddo's little eyes twinkled as he watched their discomfiture.

'I always thought that your friend had deplorable manners,' he murmured.

Susie, feeling very ridiculous, flushed, and Dr Porhoet awkwardly took off his hat. As they walked away, they felt Haddo's mocking gaze fixed upon them, and they were heartily thankful to reach the gate. They found Arthur waiting for them.

'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I forgot that I was not alone.'

The three of them drove slowly back to the inn.

'What are you going to do now?' asked Susie.

For a long time Arthur made no reply, and Susie thought he could not have heard her. At last he broke the silence.

'I see that I can do nothing by ordinary methods. I realize that it is useless to make a public outcry. There is only my own conviction that Margaret came to a violent end, and I cannot expect anyone to pay heed to that.'

'After all, it's just possible that she really died of heart disease.'

Arthur gave Susie a long look. He seemed to consider her words deliberately.

'Perhaps there are means to decide that conclusively,' he replied at length, thoughtfully, as though he were talking to himself.

'What are they?'

Arthur did not answer. When they came to the door of the inn, he stopped.

'Will you go in? I wish to take a walk by myself,' he said.

Susie looked at him anxiously.

'You're not going to do anything rash?'

'I will do nothing till I have made quite sure that Margaret was foully murdered.'

He turned on his heel and walked quickly away. It was late now, and they found a frugal meal waiting for them in the little sitting-room. It seemed no use to delay it till Arthur came back, and silently, sorrowfully, they ate. Afterwards, the doctor smoked cigarettes, while Susie sat at the open window and looked at the stars. She thought of Margaret, of her beauty and her charming frankness, of her fall and of her miserable end; and she began to cry quietly. She knew enough of the facts now to be aware that the wretched girl was not to blame for anything that had happened. A cruel fate had fallen upon her, and she had been as powerless as in the old tales Phaedra, the daughter of Minos, or Myrrha of the beautiful hair. The hours passed, and still Arthur did not return. Susie thought now only of him, and she was frightfully anxious.

But at last he came in. The night was far advanced. He put down his hat and sat down. For a long while he looked silently at Dr. Porhoet.

'What is it, my friend?' asked the good doctor at length.

'Do you remember that you told us once of an experiment you made in Alexandria?' he said, after some hesitation.

He spoke in a curious voice.

'You told us that you took a boy, and when he looked in a magic mirror, he saw things which he could not possibly have known.'

'I remember very well,' said the doctor.

'I was much inclined to laugh at you at the time. I was convinced that the boy was a knave who deceived you.'


'Of late I've thought of that story often. Some hidden recess of my memory has been opened, and I seem to remember strange things. Was I the boy who looked in the ink?'

'Yes,' said the doctor quietly.

Arthur did not say anything. A profound silence fell upon them, while Susie and the doctor watched him intently. They wondered what was in his mind.

'There is a side of my character which I did not know till lately,' Arthur said at last. 'When first it dawned upon me, I fought against it. I said to myself that deep down in all of us, a relic from the long past, is the remains of the superstition that blinded our fathers; and it is needful for the man of science to fight against it with all his might. And yet it was stronger than I. Perhaps my birth, my early years, in those Eastern lands where everyone believes in the supernatural, affected me although I did not know it. I began to remember vague, mysterious things, which I never knew had been part of my knowledge. And at last one day it seemed that a new window was opened on to my soul, and I saw with extraordinary clearness the incident which you had described. I knew suddenly it was part of my own experience. I saw you take me by the hand and pour the ink on my palm and bid me look at it. I felt again the strange glow that thrilled me, and with an indescribable bitterness I saw things in the mirror which were not there before. I saw people whom I had never seen. I saw them perform certain actions. And some force I knew not, obliged me to speak. And at length everything grew dim, and I was as exhausted as if I had not eaten all day.'

He went over to the open window and looked out. Neither of the others spoke. The look on Arthur's face, curiously outlined by the light of the lamp, was very stern. He seemed to undergo some mental struggle of extraordinary violence. He breath came quickly. At last he turned and faced them. He spoke hoarsely, quickly.

'I must see Margaret again.'

'Arthur, you're mad!' cried Susie.

He went up to Dr Porhoet and, putting his hands on his shoulders, looked fixedly into his eyes.

'You have studied this science. You know all that can be known of it. I want you to show her to me.'

The doctor gave an exclamation of alarm.

'My dear fellow, how can I? I have read many books, but I have never practised anything. I have only studied these matters for my amusement.'

'Do you believe it can be done?'

'I don't understand what you want.'

'I want you to bring her to me so that I may speak with her, so that I may find out the truth.'

'Do you think I am God that I can raise men from the dead?'

Arthur's hands pressed him down in the chair from which he sought to rise. His fingers were clenched on the old man's shoulders so that he could hardly bear the pain.

'You told us how once Eliphas Levi raised a spirit. Do you believe that was true?'

'I don't know. I have always kept an open mind. There was much to be said on both sides.'

'Well, now you must believe. You must do what he did.'

'You must be mad, Arthur.'

'I want you to come to that spot where I saw her last. If her spirit can be brought back anywhere, it must be in that place where she sat and wept. You know all the ceremonies and all the words that are necessary.'

But Susie came forward and laid her hand on his arm. He looked at her with a frown.

'Arthur, you know in your heart that nothing can come of it. You're only increasing your unhappiness. And even if you could bring her from the grave for a moment, why can you not let her troubled soul rest in peace?'

'If she died a natural death we shall have no power over her, but if her death was violent perhaps her spirit is earthbound still. I tell you I must be certain. I want to see her once more, and afterwards I shall know what to do.'

'I cannot, I cannot,' said the doctor.

'Give me the books and I will do it alone.'

'You know that I have nothing here.'

'Then you must help me,' said Arthur. 'After all, why should you mind? We perform a certain operation, and if nothing happens we are no worse off then before. On the other hand, if we succeed.... Oh, for God's sake, help me! If you have any care for my happiness do this one thing for me.'

He stepped back and looked at the doctor. The Frenchman's eyes were fixed upon the ground.

'It's madness,' he muttered.

He was intensely moved by Arthur's appeal. At last he shrugged his shoulders.

'After all, if it is but a foolish mummery it can do no harm.'

'You will help me?' cried Arthur.

'If it can give you any peace or any satisfaction, I am willing to do what I can. But I warn you to be prepared for a great disappointment.'

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