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Tales of Terror and Mystery
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Tales of Terror
The Horror of the Heights
The Leather Funnel
The New Catacomb
The Case of Lady Sannox
The Terror of Blue John Gap
The Brazilian Cat
Tales of Mystery
The Lost Special
The Man with the Watches
The Japanned Box
The Black Doctor
The Jew's Breastplate
Tales of Terror
The Horror of the Heights
The idea that the extraordinary narrative which has been called the
Joyce-Armstrong Fragment is an elaborate practical joke evolved by
some unknown person, cursed by a perverted and sinister sense of
humour, has now been abandoned by all who have examined the matter.
The most macabre and imaginative of plotters would hesitate
before linking his morbid fancies with the unquestioned and tragic
facts which reinforce the statement. Though the assertions
contained in it are amazing and even monstrous, it is none the less
forcing itself upon the general intelligence that they are true,
and that we must readjust our ideas to the new situation. This
world of ours appears to be separated by a slight and precarious
margin of safety from a most singular and unexpected danger. I
will endeavour in this narrative, which reproduces the original
document in its necessarily somewhat fragmentary form, to lay
before the reader the whole of the facts up to date, prefacing my
statement by saying that, if there be any who doubt the narrative
of Joyce-Armstrong, there can be no question at all as to the facts
concerning Lieutenant Myrtle, R. N., and Mr. Hay Connor, who
undoubtedly met their end in the manner described.
The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment was found in the field which is
called Lower Haycock, lying one mile to the westward of the village
of Withyham, upon the Kent and Sussex border. It was on the 15th
September last that an agricultural labourer, James Flynn, in the
employment of Mathew Dodd, farmer, of the Chauntry Farm, Withyham,
perceived a briar pipe lying near the footpath which skirts the
hedge in Lower Haycock. A few paces farther on he picked up a pair
of broken binocular glasses. Finally, among some nettles in the
ditch, he caught sight of a flat, canvas-backed book, which proved
to be a note-book with detachable leaves, some of which had
come loose and were fluttering along the base of the hedge. These
he collected, but some, including the first, were never recovered,
and leave a deplorable hiatus in this all-important statement. The
note-book was taken by the labourer to his master, who in turn
showed it to Dr. J. H. Atherton, of Hartfield. This gentleman at
once recognized the need for an expert examination, and the
manuscript was forwarded to the Aero Club in London, where it now
The first two pages of the manuscript are missing. There is
also one torn away at the end of the narrative, though none of
these affect the general coherence of the story. It is conjectured
that the missing opening is concerned with the record of Mr. Joyce-
Armstrong's qualifications as an aeronaut, which can be gathered
from other sources and are admitted to be unsurpassed among the
air-pilots of England. For many years he has been looked upon as
among the most daring and the most intellectual of flying men, a
combination which has enabled him to both invent and test several
new devices, including the common gyroscopic attachment which is
known by his name. The main body of the manuscript is written
neatly in ink, but the last few lines are in pencil and are so
ragged as to be hardly legible--exactly, in fact, as they might be
expected to appear if they were scribbled off hurriedly from the
seat of a moving aeroplane. There are, it may be added, several
stains, both on the last page and on the outside cover which have
been pronounced by the Home Office experts to be blood--probably
human and certainly mammalian. The fact that something closely
resembling the organism of malaria was discovered in this blood,
and that Joyce-Armstrong is known to have suffered from
intermittent fever, is a remarkable example of the new weapons
which modern science has placed in the hands of our detectives.
And now a word as to the personality of the author of this
epoch-making statement. Joyce-Armstrong, according to the few
friends who really knew something of the man, was a poet and a
dreamer, as well as a mechanic and an inventor. He was a man of
considerable wealth, much of which he had spent in the pursuit of
his aeronautical hobby. He had four private aeroplanes in his
hangars near Devizes, and is said to have made no fewer than one
hundred and seventy ascents in the course of last year. He was a
retiring man with dark moods, in which he would avoid the
society of his fellows. Captain Dangerfield, who knew him better
than anyone, says that there were times when his eccentricity
threatened to develop into something more serious. His habit of
carrying a shot-gun with him in his aeroplane was one manifestation
Another was the morbid effect which the fall of Lieutenant
Myrtle had upon his mind. Myrtle, who was attempting the height
record, fell from an altitude of something over thirty thousand
feet. Horrible to narrate, his head was entirely obliterated,
though his body and limbs preserved their configuration. At every
gathering of airmen, Joyce-Armstrong, according to Dangerfield,
would ask, with an enigmatic smile: "And where, pray, is Myrtle's
On another occasion after dinner, at the mess of the Flying
School on Salisbury Plain, he started a debate as to what will be
the most permanent danger which airmen will have to encounter.
Having listened to successive opinions as to air-pockets, faulty
construction, and over-banking, he ended by shrugging his shoulders
and refusing to put forward his own views, though he gave the
impression that they differed from any advanced by his companions.
It is worth remarking that after his own complete disappearance
it was found that his private affairs were arranged with a
precision which may show that he had a strong premonition of
disaster. With these essential explanations I will now give the
narrative exactly as it stands, beginning at page three of the
"Nevertheless, when I dined at Rheims with Coselli and Gustav
Raymond I found that neither of them was aware of any particular
danger in the higher layers of the atmosphere. I did not actually
say what was in my thoughts, but I got so near to it that if they
had any corresponding idea they could not have failed to express
it. But then they are two empty, vainglorious fellows with no
thought beyond seeing their silly names in the newspaper. It is
interesting to note that neither of them had ever been much beyond
the twenty-thousand-foot level. Of course, men have been higher
than this both in balloons and in the ascent of mountains. It
must be well above that point that the aeroplane enters the danger
zone--always presuming that my premonitions are correct.
"Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years,
and one might well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing
itself in our day? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak
engines, when a hundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered
ample for every need, the flights were very restricted. Now that
three hundred horse-power is the rule rather than the exception,
visits to the upper layers have become easier and more common.
Some of us can remember how, in our youth, Garros made a world-wide
reputation by attaining nineteen thousand feet, and it was
considered a remarkable achievement to fly over the Alps. Our
standard now has been immeasurably raised, and there are twenty
high flights for one in former years. Many of them have been
undertaken with impunity. The thirty-thousand-foot level has been
reached time after time with no discomfort beyond cold and asthma.
What does this prove? A visitor might descend upon this planet a
thousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers exist, and if he
chanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured. There are
jungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers
which inhabit them. I believe in time they will map these jungles
accurately out. Even at the present moment I could name two of
them. One of them lies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France.
Another is just over my head as I write here in my house in
Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in the Homburg-
"It was the disappearance of the airmen that first set me
thinking. Of course, everyone said that they had fallen into the
sea, but that did not satisfy me at all. First, there was Verrier
in France; his machine was found near Bayonne, but they never got
his body. There was the case of Baxter also, who vanished, though
his engine and some of the iron fixings were found in a wood in
Leicestershire. In that case, Dr. Middleton, of Amesbury, who was
watching the flight with a telescope, declares that just before the
clouds obscured the view he saw the machine, which was at an
enormous height, suddenly rise perpendicularly upwards in a
succession of jerks in a manner that he would have thought to
be impossible. That was the last seen of Baxter. There was a
correspondence in the papers, but it never led to anything. There
were several other similar cases, and then there was the death of
Hay Connor. What a cackle there was about an unsolved mystery of
the air, and what columns in the halfpenny papers, and yet how
little was ever done to get to the bottom of the business! He came
down in a tremendous vol-plane from an unknown height. He never
got off his machine and died in his pilot's seat. Died of what?
`Heart disease,' said the doctors. Rubbish! Hay Connor's heart
was as sound as mine is. What did Venables say? Venables was the
only man who was at his side when he died. He said that he was
shivering and looked like a man who had been badly scared. `Died
of fright,' said Venables, but could not imagine what he was
frightened about. Only said one word to Venables, which sounded
like `Monstrous.' They could make nothing of that at the inquest.
But I could make something of it. Monsters! That was the last
word of poor Harry Hay Connor. And he DID die of fright, just
as Venables thought.
"And then there was Myrtle's head. Do you really believe--does
anybody really believe--that a man's head could be driven clean
into his body by the force of a fall? Well, perhaps it may be
possible, but I, for one, have never believed that it was so with
Myrtle. And the grease upon his clothes--`all slimy with grease,'
said somebody at the inquest. Queer that nobody got thinking after
that! I did--but, then, I had been thinking for a good long time.
I've made three ascents--how Dangerfield used to chaff me about my
shot-gun--but I've never been high enough. Now, with this new,
light Paul Veroner machine and its one hundred and seventy-five
Robur, I should easily touch the thirty thousand tomorrow. I'll
have a shot at the record. Maybe I shall have a shot at something
else as well. Of course, it's dangerous. If a fellow wants to
avoid danger he had best keep out of flying altogether and subside
finally into flannel slippers and a dressing-gown. But I'll visit
the air-jungle tomorrow--and if there's anything there I shall know
it. If I return, I'll find myself a bit of a celebrity. If I
don't this note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and how I
lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please.
"I chose my Paul Veroner monoplane for the job. There's
nothing like a monoplane when real work is to be done.
Beaumont found that out in very early days. For one thing it
doesn't mind damp, and the weather looks as if we should be in the
clouds all the time. It's a bonny little model and answers my hand
like a tender-mouthed horse. The engine is a ten-cylinder rotary
Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five. It has all the
modern improvements--enclosed fuselage, high-curved landing skids,
brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, worked by an
alteration of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blind
principle. I took a shot-gun with me and a dozen cartridges filled
with buck-shot. You should have seen the face of Perkins, my old
mechanic, when I directed him to put them in. I was dressed like
an Arctic explorer, with two jerseys under my overalls, thick socks
inside my padded boots, a storm-cap with flaps, and my talc
goggles. It was stifling outside the hangars, but I was going for
the summit of the Himalayas, and had to dress for the part.
Perkins knew there was something on and implored me to take him
with me. Perhaps I should if I were using the biplane, but a
monoplane is a one-man show--if you want to get the last foot of
life out of it. Of course, I took an oxygen bag; the man who goes
for the altitude record without one will either be frozen or
"I had a good look at the planes, the rudder-bar, and the
elevating lever before I got in. Everything was in order so far as
I could see. Then I switched on my engine and found that she was
running sweetly. When they let her go she rose almost at once upon
the lowest speed. I circled my home field once or twice just to
warm her up, and then with a wave to Perkins and the others, I
flattened out my planes and put her on her highest. She skimmed
like a swallow down wind for eight or ten miles until I turned her
nose up a little and she began to climb in a great spiral for the
cloud-bank above me. It's all-important to rise slowly and adapt
yourself to the pressure as you go.
"It was a close, warm day for an English September, and there
was the hush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there
came sudden puffs of wind from the south-west--one of them so gusty
and unexpected that it caught me napping and turned me half-round
for an instant. I remember the time when gusts and whirls and air-
pockets used to be things of danger--before we learned to put
an overmastering power into our engines. Just as I reached the
cloud-banks, with the altimeter marking three thousand, down came
the rain. My word, how it poured! It drummed upon my wings and
lashed against my face, blurring my glasses so that I could hardly
see. I got down on to a low speed, for it was painful to travel
against it. As I got higher it became hail, and I had to turn tail
to it. One of my cylinders was out of action--a dirty plug, I
should imagine, but still I was rising steadily with plenty of
power. After a bit the trouble passed, whatever it was, and I
heard the full, deep-throated purr--the ten singing as one. That's
where the beauty of our modern silencers comes in. We can at last
control our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak and sob
when they are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted in
the old days, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous
racket of the machine. If only the early aviators could come back
to see the beauty and perfection of the mechanism which have been
bought at the cost of their lives!
"About nine-thirty I was nearing the clouds. Down below me,
all blurred and shadowed with rain, lay the vast expanse of
Salisbury Plain. Half a dozen flying machines were doing hackwork
at the thousand-foot level, looking like little black swallows
against the green background. I dare say they were wondering what
I was doing up in cloud-land. Suddenly a grey curtain drew across
beneath me and the wet folds of vapours were swirling round my
face. It was clammily cold and miserable. But I was above the
hail-storm, and that was something gained. The cloud was as dark
and thick as a London fog. In my anxiety to get clear, I cocked
her nose up until the automatic alarm-bell rang, and I actually
began to slide backwards. My sopped and dripping wings had made me
heavier than I thought, but presently I was in lighter cloud, and
soon had cleared the first layer. There was a second--opal-
coloured and fleecy--at a great height above my head, a white,
unbroken ceiling above, and a dark, unbroken floor below, with the
monoplane labouring upwards upon a vast spiral between them. It is
deadly lonely in these cloud-spaces. Once a great flight of some
small water-birds went past me, flying very fast to the westwards.
The quick whir of their wings and their musical cry were cheery to
my ear. I fancy that they were teal, but I am a wretched
zoologist. Now that we humans have become birds we must really
learn to know our brethren by sight.
"The wind down beneath me whirled and swayed the broad cloud-
pain. Once a great eddy formed in it, a whirlpool of vapour, and
through it, as down a funnel, I caught sight of the distant world.
A large white biplane was passing at a vast depth beneath me. I
fancy it was the morning mail service betwixt Bristol and London.
Then the drift swirled inwards again and the great solitude was
"Just after ten I touched the lower edge of the upper cloud-
stratum. It consisted of fine diaphanous vapour drifting swiftly
from the westwards. The wind had been steadily rising all this
time and it was now blowing a sharp breeze--twenty-eight an hour by
my gauge. Already it was very cold, though my altimeter only
marked nine thousand. The engines were working beautifully, and we
went droning steadily upwards. The cloud-bank was thicker than I
had expected, but at last it thinned out into a golden mist before
me, and then in an instant I had shot out from it, and there was an
unclouded sky and a brilliant sun above my head--all blue and gold
above, all shining silver below, one vast, glimmering plain as far
as my eyes could reach. It was a quarter past ten o'clock, and the
barograph needle pointed to twelve thousand eight hundred. Up I
went and up, my ears concentrated upon the deep purring of my
motor, my eyes busy always with the watch, the revolution
indicator, the petrol lever, and the oil pump. No wonder aviators
are said to be a fearless race. With so many things to think of
there is no time to trouble about oneself. About this time I noted
how unreliable is the compass when above a certain height from
earth. At fifteen thousand feet mine was pointing east and a point
south. The sun and the wind gave me my true bearings.
"I had hoped to reach an eternal stillness in these high
altitudes, but with every thousand feet of ascent the gale grew
stronger. My machine groaned and trembled in every joint and rivet
as she faced it, and swept away like a sheet of paper when I banked
her on the turn, skimming down wind at a greater pace, perhaps,
than ever mortal man has moved. Yet I had always to turn again and
tack up in the wind's eye, for it was not merely a height
record that I was after. By all my calculations it was above
little Wiltshire that my air-jungle lay, and all my labour might be
lost if I struck the outer layers at some farther point.
"When I reached the nineteen-thousand-foot level, which was
about midday, the wind was so severe that I looked with some
anxiety to the stays of my wings, expecting momentarily to see them
snap or slacken. I even cast loose the parachute behind me, and
fastened its hook into the ring of my leathern belt, so as to be
ready for the worst. Now was the time when a bit of scamped work
by the mechanic is paid for by the life of the aeronaut. But she
held together bravely. Every cord and strut was humming and
vibrating like so many harp-strings, but it was glorious to see
how, for all the beating and the buffeting, she was still the
conqueror of Nature and the mistress of the sky. There is surely
something divine in man himself that he should rise so superior to
the limitations which Creation seemed to impose--rise, too, by such
unselfish, heroic devotion as this air-conquest has shown. Talk of
human degeneration! When has such a story as this been written in
the annals of our race?
"These were the thoughts in my head as I climbed that
monstrous, inclined plane with the wind sometimes beating in my
face and sometimes whistling behind my ears, while the cloud-land
beneath me fell away to such a distance that the folds and hummocks
of silver had all smoothed out into one flat, shining plain. But
suddenly I had a horrible and unprecedented experience. I have
known before what it is to be in what our neighbours have called a
tourbillon, but never on such a scale as this. That huge,
sweeping river of wind of which I have spoken had, as it appears,
whirlpools within it which were as monstrous as itself. Without a
moment's warning I was dragged suddenly into the heart of one. I
spun round for a minute or two with such velocity that I almost
lost my senses, and then fell suddenly, left wing foremost, down
the vacuum funnel in the centre. I dropped like a stone, and lost
nearly a thousand feet. It was only my belt that kept me in my
seat, and the shock and breathlessness left me hanging half-
insensible over the side of the fuselage. But I am always capable
of a supreme effort--it is my one great merit as an aviator. I was
conscious that the descent was slower. The whirlpool was a cone
rather than a funnel, and I had come to the apex. With a
terrific wrench, throwing my weight all to one side, I levelled my
planes and brought her head away from the wind. In an instant I
had shot out of the eddies and was skimming down the sky. Then,
shaken but victorious, I turned her nose up and began once more my
steady grind on the upward spiral. I took a large sweep to avoid
the danger-spot of the whirlpool, and soon I was safely above it.
Just after one o'clock I was twenty-one thousand feet above the
sea-level. To my great joy I had topped the gale, and with every
hundred feet of ascent the air grew stiller. On the other hand, it
was very cold, and I was conscious of that peculiar nausea which
goes with rarefaction of the air. For the first time I unscrewed
the mouth of my oxygen bag and took an occasional whiff of the
glorious gas. I could feel it running like a cordial through my
veins, and I was exhilarated almost to the point of drunkenness.
I shouted and sang as I soared upwards into the cold, still outer
"It is very clear to me that the insensibility which came upon
Glaisher, and in a lesser degree upon Coxwell, when, in 1862, they
ascended in a balloon to the height of thirty thousand feet, was
due to the extreme speed with which a perpendicular ascent is made.
Doing it at an easy gradient and accustoming oneself to the
lessened barometric pressure by slow degrees, there are no such
dreadful symptoms. At the same great height I found that even
without my oxygen inhaler I could breathe without undue distress.
It was bitterly cold, however, and my thermometer was at zero,
Fahrenheit. At one-thirty I was nearly seven miles above the
surface of the earth, and still ascending steadily. I found,
however, that the rarefied air was giving markedly less support to
my planes, and that my angle of ascent had to be considerably
lowered in consequence. It was already clear that even with my
light weight and strong engine-power there was a point in front of
me where I should be held. To make matters worse, one of my
sparking-plugs was in trouble again and there was intermittent
misfiring in the engine. My heart was heavy with the fear of
"It was about that time that I had a most extraordinary
experience. Something whizzed past me in a trail of smoke and
exploded with a loud, hissing sound, sending forth a cloud of
steam. For the instant I could not imagine what had happened.
Then I remembered that the earth is for ever being bombarded by
meteor stones, and would be hardly inhabitable were they not in
nearly every case turned to vapour in the outer layers of the
atmosphere. Here is a new danger for the high-altitude man, for
two others passed me when I was nearing the forty-thousand-foot
mark. I cannot doubt that at the edge of the earth's envelope the
risk would be a very real one.
"My barograph needle marked forty-one thousand three hundred
when I became aware that I could go no farther. Physically, the
strain was not as yet greater than I could bear but my machine had
reached its limit. The attenuated air gave no firm support to the
wings, and the least tilt developed into side-slip, while she
seemed sluggish on her controls. Possibly, had the engine been at
its best, another thousand feet might have been within our
capacity, but it was still misfiring, and two out of the ten
cylinders appeared to be out of action. If I had not already
reached the zone for which I was searching then I should never see
it upon this journey. But was it not possible that I had attained
it? Soaring in circles like a monstrous hawk upon the forty-
thousand-foot level I let the monoplane guide herself, and with my
Mannheim glass I made a careful observation of my surroundings.
The heavens were perfectly clear; there was no indication of those
dangers which I had imagined.
"I have said that I was soaring in circles. It struck me
suddenly that I would do well to take a wider sweep and open up a
new airtract. If the hunter entered an earth-jungle he would drive
through it if he wished to find his game. My reasoning had led me
to believe that the air-jungle which I had imagined lay somewhere
over Wiltshire. This should be to the south and west of me. I
took my bearings from the sun, for the compass was hopeless and no
trace of earth was to be seen--nothing but the distant, silver
cloud-plain. However, I got my direction as best I might and kept
her head straight to the mark. I reckoned that my petrol supply
would not last for more than another hour or so, but I could afford
to use it to the last drop, since a single magnificent vol-plane
could at any time take me to the earth.
"Suddenly I was aware of something new. The air in front of me
had lost its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged wisps
of something which I can only compare to very fine cigarette
smoke. It hung about in wreaths and coils, turning and
twisting slowly in the sunlight. As the monoplane shot through it,
I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon my lips, and there was a
greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine. Some infinitely fine
organic matter appeared to be suspended in the atmosphere. There
was no life there. It was inchoate and diffuse, extending for many
square acres and then fringing off into the void. No, it was not
life. But might it not be the remains of life? Above all, might
it not be the food of life, of monstrous life, even as the humble
grease of the ocean is the food for the mighty whale? The thought
was in my mind when my eyes looked upwards and I saw the most
wonderful vision that ever man has seen. Can I hope to convey it
to you even as I saw it myself last Thursday?
"Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell-
shaped and of enormous size--far larger, I should judge, than the
dome of St. Paul's. It was of a light pink colour veined with a
delicate green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was
but a fairy outline against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a
delicate and regular rhythm. From it there depended two long,
drooping, green tentacles, which swayed slowly backwards and
forwards. This gorgeous vision passed gently with noiseless
dignity over my head, as light and fragile as a soap-bubble, and
drifted upon its stately way.
"I had half-turned my monoplane, that I might look after this
beautiful creature, when, in a moment, I found myself amidst a
perfect fleet of them, of all sizes, but none so large as the
first. Some were quite small, but the majority about as big as an
average balloon, and with much the same curvature at the top.
There was in them a delicacy of texture and colouring which
reminded me of the finest Venetian glass. Pale shades of pink and
green were the prevailing tints, but all had a lovely iridescence
where the sun shimmered through their dainty forms. Some hundreds
of them drifted past me, a wonderful fairy squadron of strange
unknown argosies of the sky--creatures whose forms and substance
were so attuned to these pure heights that one could not conceive
anything so delicate within actual sight or sound of earth.
"But soon my attention was drawn to a new phenomenon--the
serpents of the outer air. These were long, thin, fantastic coils
of vapour-like material, which turned and twisted with great speed,
flying round and round at such a pace that the eyes could
hardly follow them. Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty
or thirty feet long, but it was difficult to tell their girth, for
their outline was so hazy that it seemed to fade away into the air
around them. These air-snakes were of a very light grey or smoke
colour, with some darker lines within, which gave the impression of
a definite organism. One of them whisked past my very face, and I
was conscious of a cold, clammy contact, but their composition was
so unsubstantial that I could not connect them with any thought of
physical danger, any more than the beautiful bell-like creatures
which had preceded them. There was no more solidity in their
frames than in the floating spume from a broken wave.
"But a more terrible experience was in store for me. Floating
downwards from a great height there came a purplish patch of
vapour, small as I saw it first, but rapidly enlarging as it
approached me, until it appeared to be hundreds of square feet in
size. Though fashioned of some transparent, jelly-like substance,
it was none the less of much more definite outline and solid
consistence than anything which I had seen before. There were more
traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast,
shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been
eyes, and a perfectly solid white projection between them which was
as curved and cruel as the beak of a vulture.
"The whole aspect of this monster was formidable and
threatening, and it kept changing its colour from a very light
mauve to a dark, angry purple so thick that it cast a shadow as it
drifted between my monoplane and the sun. On the upper curve of
its huge body there were three great projections which I can only
describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced as I looked at
them that they were charged with some extremely light gas which
served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied
air. The creature moved swiftly along, keeping pace easily with
the monoplane, and for twenty miles or more it formed my horrible
escort, hovering over me like a bird of prey which is waiting to
pounce. Its method of progression--done so swiftly that it was not
easy to follow--was to throw out a long, glutinous streamer in
front of it, which in turn seemed to draw forward the rest of the
writhing body. So elastic and gelatinous was it that never for
two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change
made it more threatening and loathsome than the last.
"I knew that it meant mischief. Every purple flush of its
hideous body told me so. The vague, goggling eyes which were
turned always upon me were cold and merciless in their viscid
hatred. I dipped the nose of my monoplane downwards to escape it.
As I did so, as quick as a flash there shot out a long tentacle
from this mass of floating blubber, and it fell as light and
sinuous as a whip-lash across the front of my machine. There was
a loud hiss as it lay for a moment across the hot engine, and it
whisked itself into the air again, while the huge, flat body drew
itself together as if in sudden pain. I dipped to a vol-pique, but
again a tentacle fell over the monoplane and was shorn off by the
propeller as easily as it might have cut through a smoke wreath.
A long, gliding, sticky, serpent-like coil came from behind and
caught me round the waist, dragging me out of the fuselage. I tore
at it, my fingers sinking into the smooth, glue-like surface, and
for an instant I disengaged myself, but only to be caught round the
boot by another coil, which gave me a jerk that tilted me almost on
to my back.
"As I fell over I blazed off both barrels of my gun, though,
indeed, it was like attacking an elephant with a pea-shooter to
imagine that any human weapon could cripple that mighty bulk. And
yet I aimed better than I knew, for, with a loud report, one of the
great blisters upon the creature's back exploded with the puncture
of the buck-shot. It was very clear that my conjecture was right,
and that these vast, clear bladders were distended with some
lifting gas, for in an instant the huge, cloud-like body turned
sideways, writhing desperately to find its balance, while the white
beak snapped and gaped in horrible fury. But already I had shot
away on the steepest glide that I dared to attempt, my engine still
full on, the flying propeller and the force of gravity shooting me
downwards like an aerolite. Far behind me I saw a dull, purplish
smudge growing swiftly smaller and merging into the blue sky behind
it. I was safe out of the deadly jungle of the outer air.
"Once out of danger I throttled my engine, for nothing tears a
machine to pieces quicker than running on full power from a height.
It was a glorious, spiral vol-plane from nearly eight miles of
altitude--first, to the level of the silver cloud-bank, then to
that of the storm-cloud beneath it, and finally, in beating rain,
to the surface of the earth. I saw the Bristol Channel beneath me
as I broke from the clouds, but, having still some petrol in my
tank, I got twenty miles inland before I found myself stranded in
a field half a mile from the village of Ashcombe. There I got
three tins of petrol from a passing motor-car, and at ten minutes
past six that evening I alighted gently in my own home meadow at
Devizes, after such a journey as no mortal upon earth has ever yet
taken and lived to tell the tale. I have seen the beauty and I
have seen the horror of the heights--and greater beauty or greater
horror than that is not within the ken of man.
"And now it is my plan to go once again before I give my
results to the world. My reason for this is that I must surely
have something to show by way of proof before I lay such a tale
before my fellow-men. It is true that others will soon follow and
will confirm what I have said, and yet I should wish to carry
conviction from the first. Those lovely iridescent bubbles of the
air should not be hard to capture. They drift slowly upon their
way, and the swift monoplane could intercept their leisurely
course. It is likely enough that they would dissolve in the
heavier layers of the atmosphere, and that some small heap of
amorphous jelly might be all that I should bring to earth with me.
And yet something there would surely be by which I could
substantiate my story. Yes, I will go, even if I run a risk by
doing so. These purple horrors would not seem to be numerous. It
is probable that I shall not see one. If I do I shall dive at
once. At the worst there is always the shot-gun and my knowledge
of . . ."
Here a page of the manuscript is unfortunately missing. On the
next page is written, in large, straggling writing:
"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again.
They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful
death to die!"
Such in its entirety is the Joyce-Armstrong Statement. Of the
man nothing has since been seen. Pieces of his shattered monoplane
have been picked up in the preserves of Mr. Budd-Lushington
upon the borders of Kent and Sussex, within a few miles of the spot
where the note-book was discovered. If the unfortunate aviator's
theory is correct that this air-jungle, as he called it, existed
only over the south-west of England, then it would seem that he had
fled from it at the full speed of his monoplane, but had been
overtaken and devoured by these horrible creatures at some spot in
the outer atmosphere above the place where the grim relics were
found. The picture of that monoplane skimming down the sky, with
the nameless terrors flying as swiftly beneath it and cutting it
off always from the earth while they gradually closed in upon their
victim, is one upon which a man who valued his sanity would prefer
not to dwell. There are many, as I am aware, who still jeer at the
facts which I have here set down, but even they must admit that
Joyce-Armstrong has disappeared, and I would commend to them his
own words: "This note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and
how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please."
The Leather Funnel
My friend, Lionel Dacre, lived in the Avenue de Wagram, Paris.
His house was that small one, with the iron railings and grass
plot in front of it, on the left-hand side as you pass down from
the Arc de Triomphe. I fancy that it had been there long before
the avenue was constructed, for the grey tiles were stained with
lichens, and the walls were mildewed and discoloured with age. It
looked a small house from the street, five windows in front, if
I remember right, but it deepened into a single long chamber at
the back. It was here that Dacre had that singular library of
occult literature, and the fantastic curiosities which served as a
hobby for himself, and an amusement for his friends. A wealthy man
of refined and eccentric tastes, he had spent much of his life and
fortune in gathering together what was said to be a unique private
collection of Talmudic, cabalistic, and magical works, many of them
of great rarity and value. His tastes leaned toward the marvellous
and the monstrous, and I have heard that his experiments in the
direction of the unknown have passed all the bounds of civilization
and of decorum. To his English friends he never alluded to such
matters, and took the tone of the student and virtuoso; but a
Frenchman whose tastes were of the same nature has assured me that
the worst excesses of the black mass have been perpetrated in that
large and lofty hall, which is lined with the shelves of his books,
and the cases of his museum.
Dacre's appearance was enough to show that his deep interest in
these psychic matters was intellectual rather than spiritual.
There was no trace of asceticism upon his heavy face, but there was
much mental force in his huge, dome-like skull, which curved upward
from amongst his thinning locks, like a snowpeak above its fringe
of fir trees. His knowledge was greater than his wisdom, and his
powers were far superior to his character. The small bright eyes,
buried deeply in his fleshy face, twinkled with intelligence and an
unabated curiosity of life, but they were the eyes of a sensualist
and an egotist. Enough of the man, for he is dead now, poor devil,
dead at the very time that he had made sure that he had at last
discovered the elixir of life. It is not with his complex
character that I have to deal, but with the very strange and
inexplicable incident which had its rise in my visit to him in the
early spring of the year '82.
I had known Dacre in England, for my researches in the Assyrian
Room of the British Museum had been conducted at the time when he
was endeavouring to establish a mystic and esoteric meaning in the
Babylonian tablets, and this community of interests had brought us
together. Chance remarks had led to daily conversation, and that
to something verging upon friendship. I had promised him that on
my next visit to Paris I would call upon him. At the time when I
was able to fulfil my compact I was living in a cottage at
Fontainebleau, and as the evening trains were inconvenient, he
asked me to spend the night in his house.
"I have only that one spare couch," said he, pointing to a
broad sofa in his large salon; "I hope that you will manage to be
It was a singular bedroom, with its high walls of brown
volumes, but there could be no more agreeable furniture to a
bookworm like myself, and there is no scent so pleasant to my
nostrils as that faint, subtle reek which comes from an ancient
book. I assured him that I could desire no more charming chamber,
and no more congenial surroundings.
"If the fittings are neither convenient nor conventional, they
are at least costly," said he, looking round at his shelves. "I
have expended nearly a quarter of a million of money upon these
objects which surround you. Books, weapons, gems, carvings,
tapestries, images--there is hardly a thing here which has not its
history, and it is generally one worth telling."
He was seated as he spoke at one side of the open fire-place,
and I at the other. His reading-table was on his right, and the
strong lamp above it ringed it with a very vivid circle of golden
light. A half-rolled palimpsest lay in the centre, and around it
were many quaint articles of bric-a-brac. One of these was a large
funnel, such as is used for filling wine casks. It appeared to be
made of black wood, and to be rimmed with discoloured brass.
"That is a curious thing," I remarked. "What is the history of
"Ah!" said he, "it is the very question which I have had
occasion to ask myself. I would give a good deal to know. Take it
in your hands and examine it."
I did so, and found that what I had imagined to be wood was in
reality leather, though age had dried it into an extreme hardness.
It was a large funnel, and might hold a quart when full. The brass
rim encircled the wide end, but the narrow was also tipped with
"What do you make of it?" asked Dacre.
"I should imagine that it belonged to some vintner or maltster
in the Middle Ages," said I. "I have seen in England leathern
drinking flagons of the seventeenth century--'black jacks' as
they were called--which were of the same colour and hardness as
"I dare say the date would be about the same," said Dacre,
"and, no doubt, also, it was used for filling a vessel with liquid.
If my suspicions are correct, however, it was a queer vintner who
used it, and a very singular cask which was filled. Do you observe
nothing strange at the spout end of the funnel."
As I held it to the light I observed that at a spot some five
inches above the brass tip the narrow neck of the leather funnel
was all haggled and scored, as if someone had notched it round with
a blunt knife. Only at that point was there any roughening of the
dead black surface.
"Someone has tried to cut off the neck."
"Would you call it a cut?"
"It is torn and lacerated. It must have taken some strength to
leave these marks on such tough material, whatever the instrument
may have been. But what do you think of it? I can tell that you
know more than you say."
Dacre smiled, and his little eyes twinkled with knowledge.
"Have you included the psychology of dreams among your learned
studies?" he asked.
"I did not even know that there was such a psychology."
"My dear sir, that shelf above the gem case is filled with
volumes, from Albertus Magnus onward, which deal with no other
subject. It is a science in itself."
"A science of charlatans "
"The charlatan is always the pioneer. From the astrologer came
the astronomer, from the alchemist the chemist, from the mesmerist
the experimental psychologist. The quack of yesterday is the
professor of tomorrow. Even such subtle and elusive things as
dreams will in time be reduced to system and order. When that time
comes the researches of our friends on the bookshelf yonder will no
longer be the amusement of the mystic, but the foundations of a
"Supposing that is so, what has the science of dreams to do
with a large, black, brass-rimmed funnel?"
"I will tell you. You know that I have an agent who is always
on the look-out for rarities and curiosities for my collection.
Some days ago he heard of a dealer upon one of the Quais who
had acquired some old rubbish found in a cupboard in an ancient
house at the back of the Rue Mathurin, in the Quartier Latin. The
dining-room of this old house is decorated with a coat of arms,
chevrons, and bars rouge upon a field argent, which prove, upon
inquiry, to be the shield of Nicholas de la Reynie, a high official
of King Louis XIV. There can be no doubt that the other articles
in the cupboard date back to the early days of that king. The
inference is, therefore, that they were all the property of this
Nicholas de la Reynie, who was, as I understand, the gentleman
specially concerned with the maintenance and execution of the
Draconic laws of that epoch."
"I would ask you now to take the funnel into your hands once
more and to examine the upper brass rim. Can you make out any
lettering upon it?"
There were certainly some scratches upon it, almost obliterated
by time. The general effect was of several letters, the last of
which bore some resemblance to a B.
"You make it a B?"
"Yes, I do."
"So do I. In fact, I have no doubt whatever that it is a B."
"But the nobleman you mentioned would have had R for his
"Exactly! That's the beauty of it. He owned this curious
object, and yet he had someone else's initials upon it. Why did he
"I can't imagine; can you?"
"Well, I might, perhaps, guess. Do you observe something drawn
a little farther along the rim?"
"I should say it was a crown."
"It is undoubtedly a crown; but if you examine it in a good
light, you will convince yourself that it is not an ordinary crown.
It is a heraldic crown--a badge of rank, and it consists of an
alternation of four pearls and strawberry leaves, the proper badge
of a marquis. We may infer, therefore, that the person whose
initials end in B was entitled to wear that coronet."
"Then this common leather filler belonged to a marquis?"
Dacre gave a peculiar smile.
"Or to some member of the family of a marquis," said he. "So
much we have clearly gathered from this engraved rim."
"But what has all this to do with dreams?" I do not know
whether it was from a look upon Dacre's face, or from some subtle
suggestion in his manner, but a feeling of repulsion, of
unreasoning horror, came upon me as I looked at the gnarled old
lump of leather.
"I have more than once received important information through
my dreams," said my companion in the didactic manner which he loved
to affect. "I make it a rule now when I am in doubt upon any
material point to place the article in question beside me as I
sleep, and to hope for some enlightenment. The process does not
appear to me to be very obscure, though it has not yet received the
blessing of orthodox science. According to my theory, any object
which has been intimately associated with any supreme paroxysm of
human emotion, whether it be joy or pain, will retain a certain
atmosphere or association which it is capable of communicating to
a sensitive mind. By a sensitive mind I do not mean an abnormal
one, but such a trained and educated mind as you or I possess."
"You mean, for example, that if I slept beside that old sword
upon the wall, I might dream of some bloody incident in which that
very sword took part?"
"An excellent example, for, as a matter of fact, that sword was
used in that fashion by me, and I saw in my sleep the death of its
owner, who perished in a brisk skirmish, which I have been unable
to identify, but which occurred at the time of the wars of the
Frondists. If you think of it, some of our popular observances
show that the fact has already been recognized by our ancestors,
although we, in our wisdom, have classed it among superstitions."
"Well, the placing of the bride's cake beneath the pillow in
order that the sleeper may have pleasant dreams. That is one of
several instances which you will find set forth in a small
brochure which I am myself writing upon the subject. But to
come back to the point, I slept one night with this funnel beside
me, and I had a dream which certainly throws a curious light upon
its use and origin."
"What did you dream?"
"I dreamed----" He paused, and an intent look of interest came
over his massive face. "By Jove, that's well thought of," said he.
"This really will be an exceedingly interesting experiment. You
are yourself a psychic subject--with nerves which respond readily
to any impression."
"I have never tested myself in that direction."
"Then we shall test you tonight. Might I ask you as a very
great favour, when you occupy that couch tonight, to sleep with
this old funnel placed by the side of your pillow?"
The request seemed to me a grotesque one; but I have myself, in
my complex nature, a hunger after all which is bizarre and
fantastic. I had not the faintest belief in Dacre's theory, nor
any hopes for success in such an experiment; yet it amused me that
the experiment should be made. Dacre, with great gravity, drew a
small stand to the head of my settee, and placed the funnel upon
it. Then, after a short conversation, he wished me good night and
I sat for some little time smoking by the smouldering fire,
and turning over in my mind the curious incident which had
occurred, and the strange experience which might lie before me.
Sceptical as I was, there was something impressive in the assurance
of Dacre's manner, and my extraordinary surroundings, the huge room
with the strange and often sinister objects which were hung round
it, struck solemnity into my soul. Finally I undressed, and
turning out the lamp, I lay down. After long tossing I fell
asleep. Let me try to describe as accurately as I can the scene
which came to me in my dreams. It stands out now in my memory more
clearly than anything which I have seen with my waking eyes. There
was a room which bore the appearance of a vault. Four spandrels
from the corners ran up to join a sharp, cup-shaped roof. The
architecture was rough, but very strong. It was evidently part of
a great building.
Three men in black, with curious, top-heavy, black velvet
hats, sat in a line upon a red-carpeted dais. Their faces were
very solemn and sad. On the left stood two long-gowned men with
port-folios in their hands, which seemed to be stuffed with papers.
Upon the right, looking toward me, was a small woman with
blonde hair and singular, light-blue eyes--the eyes of a child.
She was past her first youth, but could not yet be called middle-
aged. Her figure was inclined to stoutness and her bearing was
proud and confident. Her face was pale, but serene. It was a
curious face, comely and yet feline, with a subtle suggestion of
cruelty about the straight, strong little mouth and chubby jaw.
She was draped in some sort of loose, white gown. Beside her stood
a thin, eager priest, who whispered in her ear, and continually
raised a crucifix before her eyes. She turned her head and looked
fixedly past the crucifix at the three men in black, who were, I
felt, her judges.
As I gazed the three men stood up and said something, but I
could distinguish no words, though I was aware that it was the
central one who was speaking. They then swept out of the room,
followed by the two men with the papers. At the same instant
several rough-looking fellows in stout jerkins came bustling in and
removed first the red carpet, and then the boards which formed the
dais, so as to entirely clear the room. When this screen was
removed I saw some singular articles of furniture behind it. One
looked like a bed with wooden rollers at each end, and a winch
handle to regulate its length. Another was a wooden horse. There
were several other curious objects, and a number of swinging cords
which played over pulleys. It was not unlike a modern gymnasium.
When the room had been cleared there appeared a new figure upon
the scene. This was a tall, thin person clad in black, with a
gaunt and austere face. The aspect of the man made me shudder.
His clothes were all shining with grease and mottled with stains.
He bore himself with a slow and impressive dignity, as if he took
command of all things from the instant of his entrance. In spite
of his rude appearance and sordid dress, it was now his business,
his room, his to command. He carried a coil of light ropes over
his left forearm. The lady looked him up and down with a searching
glance, but her expression was unchanged. It was confident--even
defiant. But it was very different with the priest. His face was
ghastly white, and I saw the moisture glisten and run on his high,
sloping forehead. He threw up his hands in prayer and he stooped
continually to mutter frantic words in the lady's ear.
The man in black now advanced, and taking one of the cords from
his left arm, he bound the woman's hands together. She held them
meekly toward him as he did so. Then he took her arm with a rough
grip and led her toward the wooden horse, which was little higher
than her waist. On to this she was lifted and laid, with her back
upon it, and her face to the ceiling, while the priest, quivering
with horror, had rushed out of the room. The woman's lips were
moving rapidly, and though I could hear nothing I knew that she was
praying. Her feet hung down on either side of the horse, and I saw
that the rough varlets in attendance had fastened cords to her
ankles and secured the other ends to iron rings in the stone floor.
My heart sank within me as I saw these ominous preparations,
and yet I was held by the fascination of horror, and I could not
take my eyes from the strange spectacle. A man had entered the
room with a bucket of water in either hand. Another followed with
a third bucket. They were laid beside the wooden horse. The
second man had a wooden dipper--a bowl with a straight handle--in
his other hand. This he gave to the man in black. At the same
moment one of the varlets approached with a dark object in his
hand, which even in my dream filled me with a vague feeling of
familiarity. It was a leathern filler. With horrible energy he
thrust it--but I could stand no more. My hair stood on end with
horror. I writhed, I struggled, I broke through the bonds of
sleep, and I burst with a shriek into my own life, and found myself
lying shivering with terror in the huge library, with the moonlight
flooding through the window and throwing strange silver and black
traceries upon the opposite wall. Oh, what a blessed relief to
feel that I was back in the nineteenth century--back out of that
mediaeval vault into a world where men had human hearts within
their bosoms. I sat up on my couch, trembling in every limb, my
mind divided between thankfulness and horror. To think that such
things were ever done--that they could be done without God striking
the villains dead. Was it all a fantasy, or did it really stand
for something which had happened in the black, cruel days of the
world's history? I sank my throbbing head upon my shaking
hands. And then, suddenly, my heart seemed to stand still in my
bosom, and I could not even scream, so great was my terror.
Something was advancing toward me through the darkness of the room.
It is a horror coming upon a horror which breaks a man's
spirit. I could not reason, I could not pray; I could only sit
like a frozen image, and glare at the dark figure which was coming
down the great room. And then it moved out into the white lane of
moonlight, and I breathed once more. It was Dacre, and his face
showed that he was as frightened as myself.
"Was that you? For God's sake what's the matter?" he asked in
a husky voice.
"Oh, Dacre, I am glad to see you! I have been down into hell.
It was dreadful."
"Then it was you who screamed?"
"I dare say it was."
"It rang through the house. The servants are all terrified."
He struck a match and lit the lamp. "I think we may get the fire
to burn up again," he added, throwing some logs upon the embers.
"Good God, my dear chap, how white you are! You look as if you had
seen a ghost."
"So I have--several ghosts."
"The leather funnel has acted, then?"
"I wouldn't sleep near the infernal thing again for all the
money you could offer me."
"I expected that you would have a lively night of it," said he.
"You took it out of me in return, for that scream of yours wasn't
a very pleasant sound at two in the morning. I suppose from what
you say that you have seen the whole dreadful business."
"What dreadful business?"
"The torture of the water--the `Extraordinary Question,' as it
was called in the genial days of `Le Roi Soleil.' Did you stand it
out to the end?"
"No, thank God, I awoke before it really began."
"Ah! it is just as well for you. I held out till the third
bucket. Well, it is an old story, and they are all in their graves
now, anyhow, so what does it matter how they got there? I suppose
that you have no idea what it was that you have seen?"
"The torture of some criminal. She must have been a terrible
malefactor indeed if her crimes are in proportion to her penalty."
"Well, we have that small consolation," said Dacre, wrapping
his dressing-gown round him and crouching closer to the fire.
"They WERE in proportion to her penalty. That is to say, if I
am correct in the lady's identity."
"How could you possibly know her identity?"
For answer Dacre took down an old vellum-covered volume from
"Just listen to this," said he; "it is in the French of the
seventeenth century, but I will give a rough translation as I go.
You will judge for yourself whether I have solved the riddle or
"`The prisoner was brought before the Grand Chambers and
Tournelles of Parliament, sitting as a court of justice, charged
with the murder of Master Dreux d'Aubray, her father, and of her
two brothers, MM. d'Aubray, one being civil lieutenant, and the
other a counsellor of Parliament. In person it seemed hard to
believe that she had really done such wicked deeds, for she was of
a mild appearance, and of short stature, with a fair skin and blue
eyes. Yet the Court, having found her guilty, condemned her to the
ordinary and to the extraordinary question in order that she might
be forced to name her accomplices, after which she should be
carried in a cart to the Place de Greve, there to have her head cut
off, her body being afterwards burned and her ashes scattered to
"The date of this entry is July 16, 1676."
"It is interesting," said I, "but not convincing. How do you
prove the two women to be the same?"
"I am coming to that. The narrative goes on to tell of the
woman's behaviour when questioned. `When the executioner
approached her she recognized him by the cords which he held in his
hands, and she at once held out her own hands to him, looking at
him from head to foot without uttering a word.' How's that?"
"Yes, it was so."
"`She gazed without wincing upon the wooden horse and rings
which had twisted so many limbs and caused so many shrieks of
agony. When her eyes fell upon the three pails of water, which
were all ready for her, she said with a smile, "All that water
must have been brought here for the purpose of drowning me,
Monsieur. You have no idea, I trust, of making a person of my
small stature swallow it all."' Shall I read the details of the
"No, for Heaven's sake, don't."
"Here is a sentence which must surely show you that what is
here recorded is the very scene which you have gazed upon tonight:
`The good Abbe Pirot, unable to contemplate the agonies which were
suffered by his penitent, had hurried from the room.' Does that
"It does entirely. There can be no question that it is indeed
the same event. But who, then, is this lady whose appearance was
so attractive and whose end was so horrible?"
For answer Dacre came across to me, and placed the small lamp
upon the table which stood by my bed. Lifting up the ill-omened
filler, he turned the brass rim so that the light fell full upon
it. Seen in this way the engraving seemed clearer than on the
"We have already agreed that this is the badge of a marquis or
of a marquise," said he. "We have also settled that the last
letter is B."
"It is undoubtedly so."
"I now suggest to you that the other letters from left to right
are, M, M, a small d, A, a small d, and then the final B."
"Yes, I am sure that you are right. I can make out the two
small d's quite plainly."
"What I have read to you tonight," said Dacre, "is the official
record of the trial of Marie Madeleine d'Aubray, Marquise de
Brinvilliers, one of the most famous poisoners and murderers of all
I sat in silence, overwhelmed at the extraordinary nature of
the incident, and at the completeness of the proof with which Dacre
had exposed its real meaning. In a vague way I remembered some
details of the woman's career, her unbridled debauchery, the cold-
blooded and protracted torture of her sick father, the murder of
her brothers for motives of petty gain. I recollected also that
the bravery of her end had done something to atone for the horror
of her life, and that all Paris had sympathized with her last
moments, and blessed her as a martyr within a few days of the
time when they had cursed her as a murderess. One objection, and
one only, occurred to my mind.
"How came her initials and her badge of rank upon the filler?
Surely they did not carry their mediaeval homage to the nobility to
the point of decorating instruments of torture with their titles?"
"I was puzzled with the same point," said Dacre, "but it admits
of a simple explanation. The case excited extraordinary interest
at the time, and nothing could be more natural than that La Reynie,
the head of the police, should retain this filler as a grim
souvenir. It was not often that a marchioness of France underwent
the extraordinary question. That he should engrave her initials
upon it for the information of others was surely a very ordinary
proceeding upon his part."
"And this?" I asked, pointing to the marks upon the leathern
"She was a cruel tigress," said Dacre, as he turned away. "I
think it is evident that like other tigresses her teeth were both
strong and sharp."
The New Catacomb
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would
confide in me."
The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in
Kennedy's comfortable room overlooking the Corso. The night
was cold, and they had both pulled up their chairs to the
unsatisfactory Italian stove which threw out a zone of stuffiness
rather than of warmth. Outside under the bright winter stars lay
the modern Rome, the long, double chain of the electric lamps, the
brilliantly lighted cafes, the rushing carriages, and the dense
throng upon the footpaths. But inside, in the sumptuous chamber of
the rich young English archaelogist, there was only old Rome to be
seen. Cracked and timeworn friezes hung upon the walls, grey old
busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting heads and their
hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the centre
table, amidst a litter of inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments,
there stood the famous reconstruction by Kennedy of the Baths of
Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it was
exhibited in Berlin. Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter
of curiosities strewed the rich red Turkey carpet. And of them all
there was not one which was not of the most unimpeachable
authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and value; for Kennedy,
though little more than thirty, had a European reputation in this
particular branch of research, and was, moreover, provided with
that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap to the
student's energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose,
gives him an enormous advantage in the race for fame. Kennedy had
often been seduced by whim and pleasure from his studies, but his
mind was an incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts
which ended in sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome
face, with its high, white forehead, its aggressive nose, and its
somewhat loose and sensual mouth, was a fair index of the
compromise between strength and weakness in his nature.
Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He
came of a curious blend, a German father and an Italian mother,
with the robust qualities of the North mingling strangely with the
softer graces of the South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-
browned face, and above them rose a square, massive forehead, with
a fringe of close yellow curls lying round it. His strong, firm
jaw was clean-shaven, and his companion had frequently remarked how
much it suggested those old Roman busts which peered out from the
shadows in the corners of his chamber. Under its bluff German
strength there lay always a suggestion of Italian subtlety, but
the smile was so honest, and the eyes so frank, that one understood
that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no actual
bearing upon his character. In age and in reputation, he was on
the same level as his English companion, but his life and his work
had both been far more arduous. Twelve years before, he had come
as a poor student to Rome, and had lived ever since upon some small
endowment for research which had been awarded to him by the
University of Bonn. Painfully, slowly, and doggedly, with
extraordinary tenacity and single-mindedness, he had climbed from
rung to rung of the ladder of fame, until now he was a member of
the Berlin Academy, and there was every reason to believe that he
would shortly be promoted to the Chair of the greatest of German
Universities. But the singleness of purpose which had brought him
to the same high level as the rich and brilliant Englishman, had
caused him in everything outside their work to stand infinitely
below him. He had never found a pause in his studies in which to
cultivate the social graces. It was only when he spoke of his own
subject that his face was filled with life and soul. At other
times he was silent and embarrassed, too conscious of his own
limitations in larger subjects, and impatient of that small talk
which is the conventional refuge of those who have no thoughts to
And yet for some years there had been an acquaintanceship which
appeared to be slowly ripening into a friendship between these two
very different rivals. The base and origin of this lay in the fact
that in their own studies each was the only one of the younger men
who had knowledge and enthusiasm enough to properly appreciate the
other. Their common interests and pursuits had brought them
together, and each had been attracted by the other's knowledge.
And then gradually something had been added to this. Kennedy had
been amused by the frankness and simplicity of his rival, while
Burger in turn had been fascinated by the brilliancy and vivacity
which had made Kennedy such a favourite in Roman society. I say
"had," because just at the moment the young Englishman was somewhat
under a cloud. A love-affair, the details of which had never quite
come out, had indicated a heartlessness and callousness upon his
part which shocked many of his friends. But in the bachelor
circles of students and artists in which he preferred to move
there is no very rigid code of honour in such matters, and though
a head might be shaken or a pair of shoulders shrugged over the
flight of two and the return of one, the general sentiment was
probably one of curiosity and perhaps of envy rather than of
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, looking hard at the placid
face of his companion, "I do wish that you would confide in me."
As he spoke he waved his hand in the direction of a rug which
lay upon the floor. On the rug stood a long, shallow fruit-basket
of the light wicker-work which is used in the Campagna, and this
was heaped with a litter of objects, inscribed tiles, broken
inscriptions, cracked mosaics, torn papyri, rusty metal ornaments,
which to the uninitiated might have seemed to have come straight
from a dustman's bin, but which a specialist would have speedily
recognized as unique of their kind. The pile of odds and ends in
the flat wicker-work basket supplied exactly one of those missing
links of social development which are of such interest to the
student. It was the German who had brought them in, and the
Englishman's eyes were hungry as he looked at them.
"I won't interfere with your treasure-trove, but I should very
much like to hear about it," he continued, while Burger very
deliberately lit a cigar. "It is evidently a discovery of the
first importance. These inscriptions will make a sensation
"For every one here there are a million there!" said the
German. "There are so many that a dozen savants might spend a
lifetime over them, and build up a reputation as solid as the
Castle of St. Angelo."
Kennedy sat thinking with his fine forehead wrinkled and his
fingers playing with his long, fair moustache.
"You have given yourself away, Burger!" said he at last. "Your
words can only apply to one thing. You have discovered a new
"I had no doubt that you had already come to that conclusion
from an examination of these objects."
"Well, they certainly appeared to indicate it, but your last
remarks make it certain. There is no place except a catacomb which
could contain so vast a store of relics as you describe."
"Quite so. There is no mystery about that. I HAVE
discovered a new catacomb."
"Ah, that is my secret, my dear Kennedy. Suffice it that it is
so situated that there is not one chance in a million of anyone
else coming upon it. Its date is different from that of any known
catacomb, and it has been reserved for the burial of the highest
Christians, so that the remains and the relics are quite different
from anything which has ever been seen before. If I was not aware
of your knowledge and of your energy, my friend, I would not
hesitate, under the pledge of secrecy, to tell you everything about
it. But as it is I think that I must certainly prepare my own
report of the matter before I expose myself to such formidable
Kennedy loved his subject with a love which was almost a
mania--a love which held him true to it, amidst all the
distractions which come to a wealthy and dissipated young man. He
had ambition, but his ambition was secondary to his mere abstract
joy and interest in everything which concerned the old life and
history of the city. He yearned to see this new underworld which
his companion had discovered.
"Look here, Burger," said he, earnestly, "I assure you that you
can trust me most implicitly in the matter. Nothing would induce
me to put pen to paper about anything which I see until I have your
express permission. I quite understand your feeling and I think it
is most natural, but you have really nothing whatever to fear from
me. On the other hand, if you don't tell me I shall make a
systematic search, and I shall most certainly discover it. In that
case, of course, I should make what use I liked of it, since I
should be under no obligation to you."
Burger smiled thoughtfully over his cigar.
"I have noticed, friend Kennedy," said he, "that when I want
information over any point you are not always so ready to supply
"When did you ever ask me anything that I did not tell you?
You remember, for example, my giving you the material for your
paper about the temple of the Vestals."
"Ah, well, that was not a matter of much importance. If I were
to question you upon some intimate thing would you give me an answer, I
wonder! This new catacomb is a very intimate thing
to me, and I should certainly expect some sign of confidence in
"What you are driving at I cannot imagine," said the
Englishman, "but if you mean that you will answer my question about
the catacomb if I answer any question which you may put to me I can
assure you that I will certainly do so."
"Well, then," said Burger, leaning luxuriously back in his
settee, and puffing a blue tree of cigar-smoke into the air, "tell
me all about your relations with Miss Mary Saunderson."
Kennedy sprang up in his chair and glared angrily at his
"What the devil do you mean?" he cried. "What sort of a
question is this? You may mean it as a joke, but you never made a
"No, I don't mean it as a joke," said Burger, simply. "I am
really rather interested in the details of the matter. I don't
know much about the world and women and social life and that sort
of thing, and such an incident has the fascination of the unknown
for me. I know you, and I knew her by sight--I had even spoken to
her once or twice. I should very much like to hear from your own
lips exactly what it was which occurred between you."
"I won't tell you a word."
"That's all right. It was only my whim to see if you would
give up a secret as easily as you expected me to give up my secret
of the new catacomb. You wouldn't, and I didn't expect you to.
But why should you expect otherwise of me? There's Saint John's
clock striking ten. It is quite time that I was going home."
"No; wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy; "this is really a
ridiculous caprice of yours to wish to know about an old love-
affair which has burned out months ago. You know we look upon a
man who kisses and tells as the greatest coward and villain
"Certainly," said the German, gathering up his basket of
curiosities, "when he tells anything about a girl which is
previously unknown he must be so. But in this case, as you must be
aware, it was a public matter which was the common talk of Rome, so
that you are not really doing Miss Mary Saunderson any injury
by discussing her case with me. But still, I respect your
scruples; and so good night!"
"Wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy, laying his hand upon the
other's arm; "I am very keen upon this catacomb business, and I
can't let it drop quite so easily. Would you mind asking me
something else in return--something not quite so eccentric this
"No, no; you have refused, and there is an end of it," said
Burger, with his basket on his arm. "No doubt you are quite right
not to answer, and no doubt I am quite right also--and so again, my
dear Kennedy, good night!"
The Englishman watched Burger cross the room, and he had his
hand on the handle of the door before his host sprang up with the
air of a man who is making the best of that which cannot be helped.
"Hold on, old fellow," said he; "I think you are behaving in a
most ridiculous fashion; but still; if this is your condition, I
suppose that I must submit to it. I hate saying anything about a
girl, but, as you say, it is all over Rome, and I don't suppose I
can tell you anything which you do not know already. What was it
you wanted to know?"
The German came back to the stove, and, laying down his basket,
he sank into his chair once more.
"May I have another cigar?" said he. "Thank you very much! I
never smoke when I work, but I enjoy a chat much more when I am
under the influence of tobacco. Now, as regards this young lady,
with whom you had this little adventure. What in the world has
become of her?"
"She is at home with her own people."
"Oh, really--in England?"
"What part of England--London?"
"You must excuse my curiosity, my dear Kennedy, and you must
put it down to my ignorance of the world. No doubt it is quite a
simple thing to persuade a young lady to go off with you for three
weeks or so, and then to hand her over to her own family at--what
did you call the place?"
"Quite so--at Twickenham. But it is something so entirely
outside my own experience that I cannot even imagine how you set
about it. For example, if you had loved this girl your love could
hardly disappear in three weeks, so I presume that you could not
have loved her at all. But if you did not love her why should you
make this great scandal which has damaged you and ruined her?"
Kennedy looked moodily into the red eye of the stove.
"That's a logical way of looking at it, certainly," said he.
"Love is a big word, and it represents a good many different shades
of feeling. I liked her, and--well, you say you've seen her --you
know how charming she could look. But still I am willing to admit,
looking back, that I could never have really loved her."
"Then, my dear Kennedy, why did you do it?"
"The adventure of the thing had a great deal to do with it."
"What! You are so fond of adventures!"
"Where would the variety of life be without them? It was for
an adventure that I first began to pay my attentions to her. I've
chased a good deal of game in my time, but there's no chase like
that of a pretty woman. There was the piquant difficulty of it
also, for, as she was the companion of Lady Emily Rood, it was
almost impossible to see her alone. On the top of all the other
obstacles which attracted me, I learned from her own lips very
early in the proceedings that she was engaged."
"Mein Gott! To whom?"
"She mentioned no names."
"I do not think that anyone knows that. So that made the
adventure more alluring, did it?"
"Well, it did certainly give a spice to it. Don't you think
"I tell you that I am very ignorant about these things."
"My dear fellow, you can remember that the apple you stole from
your neighbour's tree was always sweeter than that which fell from
your own. And then I found that she cared for me."
"Oh, no, it took about three months of sapping and mining. But
at last I won her over. She understood that my judicial separation
from my wife made it impossible for me to do the right thing by
her--but she came all the same, and we had a delightful time, as
long as it lasted."
"But how about the other man?"
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders.
"I suppose it is the survival of the fittest," said he. "If he
had been the better man she would not have deserted him. Let's
drop the subject, for I have had enough of it!"
"Only one other thing. How did you get rid of her in three
"Well, we had both cooled down a bit, you understand. She
absolutely refused, under any circumstances, to come back to face
the people she had known in Rome. Now, of course, Rome is
necessary to me, and I was already pining to be back at my work--so
there was one obvious cause of separation. Then, again, her old
father turned up at the hotel in London, and there was a scene, and
the whole thing became so unpleasant that really--though I missed
her dreadfully at first--I was very glad to slip out of it. Now,
I rely upon you not to repeat anything of what I have said."
"My dear Kennedy, I should not dream of repeating it. But all
that you say interests me very much, for it gives me an insight
into your way of looking at things, which is entirely different
from mine, for I have seen so little of life. And now you want to
know about my new catacomb. There's no use my trying to describe
it, for you would never find it by that. There is only one thing,
and that is for me to take you there."
"That would be splendid."
"When would you like to come?"
"The sooner the better. I am all impatience to see it."
"Well, it is a beautiful night--though a trifle cold. Suppose
we start in an hour. We must be very careful to keep the matter to
ourselves. If anyone saw us hunting in couples they would suspect
that there was something going on."
"We can't be too cautious," said Kennedy. "Is it far?"
"Not too far to walk?"
"Oh, no, we could walk there easily."
"We had better do so, then. A cabman's suspicions would be
aroused if he dropped us both at some lonely spot in the dead
of the night."
"Quite so. I think it would be best for us to meet at the Gate
of the Appian Way at midnight. I must go back to my lodgings for
the matches and candles and things."
"All right, Burger! I think it is very kind of you to let me
into this secret, and I promise you that I will write nothing about
it until you have published your report. Good-bye for the present!
You will find me at the Gate at twelve."
The cold, clear air was filled with the musical chimes from
that city of clocks as Burger, wrapped in an Italian overcoat, with
a lantern hanging from his hand, walked up to the rendezvous.
Kennedy stepped out of the shadow to meet him.
"You are ardent in work as well as in love!" said the German,
"Yes; I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour."
"I hope you left no clue as to where we were going."
"Not such a fool! By Jove, I am chilled to the bone! Come on,
Burger, let us warm ourselves by a spurt of hard walking."
Their footsteps sounded loud and crisp upon the rough stone
paving of the disappointing road which is all that is left of the
most famous highway of the world. A peasant or two going home from
the wine-shop, and a few carts of country produce coming up to
Rome, were the only things which they met. They swung along, with
the huge tombs looming up through the darkness upon each side of
them, until they had come as far as the Catacombs of St. Calistus,
and saw against a rising moon the great circular bastion of Cecilia
Metella in front of them. Then Burger stopped with his hand to his
"Your legs are longer than mine, and you are more accustomed to
walking," said he, laughing. "I think that the place where we turn
off is somewhere here. Yes, this is it, round the corner of the
trattoria. Now, it is a very narrow path, so perhaps I had better
go in front and you can follow."
He had lit his lantern, and by its light they were enabled to
follow a narrow and devious track which wound across the marshes of
the Campagna. The great Aqueduct of old Rome lay like a monstrous
caterpillar across the moonlit landscape, and their road led
them under one of its huge arches, and past the circle of crumbling
bricks which marks the old arena. At last Burger stopped at a
solitary wooden cow-house, and he drew a key from his pocket.
"Surely your catacomb is not inside a house!" cried Kennedy
"The entrance to it is. That is just the safeguard which we
have against anyone else discovering it."
"Does the proprietor know of it?"
"Not he. He had found one or two objects which made me almost
certain that his house was built on the entrance to such a place.
So I rented it from him, and did my excavations for myself. Come
in, and shut the door behind you."
It was a long, empty building, with the mangers of the cows
along one wall. Burger put his lantern down on the ground, and
shaded its light in all directions save one by draping his overcoat
"It might excite remark if anyone saw a light in this lonely
place," said he. "Just help me to move this boarding."
The flooring was loose in the corner, and plank by plank the
two savants raised it and leaned it against the wall. Below there
was a square aperture and a stair of old stone steps which led away
down into the bowels of the earth.
"Be careful!" cried Burger, as Kennedy, in his impatience,
hurried down them. "It is a perfect rabbits'-warren below, and if
you were once to lose your way there the chances would be a hundred
to one against your ever coming out again. Wait until I bring the
"How do you find your own way if it is so complicated?"
"I had some very narrow escapes at first, but I have gradually
learned to go about. There is a certain system to it, but it is
one which a lost man, if he were in the dark, could not possibly
find out. Even now I always spin out a ball of string behind me
when I am going far into the catacomb. You can see for yourself
that it is difficult, but every one of these passages divides and
subdivides a dozen times before you go a hundred yards."
They had descended some twenty feet from the level of the byre,
and they were standing now in a square chamber cut out of the soft
tufa. The lantern cast a flickering light, bright below and
dim above, over the cracked brown walls. In every direction
were the black openings of passages which radiated from this common
"I want you to follow me closely, my friend," said Burger. "Do
not loiter to look at anything upon the way, for the place to which
I will take you contains all that you can see, and more. It will
save time for us to go there direct."
He led the way down one of the corridors, and the Englishman
followed closely at his heels. Every now and then the passage
bifurcated, but Burger was evidently following some secret marks of
his own, for he neither stopped nor hesitated. Everywhere along
the walls, packed like the berths upon an emigrant ship, lay the
Christians of old Rome. The yellow light flickered over the
shrivelled features of the mummies, and gleamed upon rounded skulls
and long, white armbones crossed over fleshless chests. And
everywhere as he passed Kennedy looked with wistful eyes upon
inscriptions, funeral vessels, pictures, vestments, utensils, all
lying as pious hands had placed them so many centuries ago. It was
apparent to him, even in those hurried, passing glances, that this
was the earliest and finest of the catacombs, containing such a
storehouse of Roman remains as had never before come at one time
under the observation of the student.
"What would happen if the light went out?" he asked, as they
"I have a spare candle and a box of matches in my pocket. By
the way, Kennedy, have you any matches?"
"No; you had better give me some."
"Oh, that is all right. There is no chance of our separating."
"How far are we going? It seems to me that we have walked at
least a quarter of a mile."
"More than that, I think. There is really no limit to the
tombs--at least, I have never been able to find any. This is a
very difficult place, so I think that I will use our ball of
He fastened one end of it to a projecting stone and he carried
the coil in the breast of his coat, paying it out as he advanced.
Kennedy saw that it was no unnecessary precaution, for the passages
had become more complex and tortuous than ever, with a perfect
network of intersecting corridors. But these all ended in one
large circular hall with a square pedestal of tufa topped with a
slab of marble at one end of it.
"By Jove!" cried Kennedy in an ecstasy, as Burger swung his
lantern over the marble. "It is a Christian altar--probably the
first one in existence. Here is the little consecration cross cut
upon the corner of it. No doubt this circular space was used as a
"Precisely," said Burger. "If I had more time I should like to
show you all the bodies which are buried in these niches upon the
walls, for they are the early popes and bishops of the Church, with
their mitres, their croziers, and full canonicals. Go over to that
one and look at it!"
Kennedy went across, and stared at the ghastly head which lay
loosely on the shredded and mouldering mitre.
"This is most interesting," said he, and his voice seemed to
boom against the concave vault. "As far as my experience goes, it
is unique. Bring the lantern over, Burger, for I want to see them
But the German had strolled away, and was standing in the
middle of a yellow circle of light at the other side of the hall.
"Do you know how many wrong turnings there are between this and
the stairs?" he asked. "There are over two thousand. No doubt it
was one of the means of protection which the Christians adopted.
The odds are two thousand to one against a man getting out, even if
he had a light; but if he were in the dark it would, of course, be
far more difficult."
"So I should think."
"And the darkness is something dreadful. I tried it once for
an experiment. Let us try it again!" He stooped to the lantern,
and in an instant it was as if an invisible hand was squeezed
tightly over each of Kennedy's eyes. Never had he known what such
darkness was. It seemed to press upon him and to smother him. It
was a solid obstacle against which the body shrank from advancing.
He put his hands out to push it back from him.
"That will do, Burger," said he, "let's have the light again."
But his companion began to laugh, and in that circular room the
sound seemed to come from every side at once.
"You seem uneasy, friend Kennedy," said he.
"Go on, man, light the candle!" said Kennedy impatiently.
"It's very strange, Kennedy, but I could not in the least tell
by the sound in which direction you stand. Could you tell where I
"No; you seem to be on every side of me."
"If it were not for this string which I hold in my hand I
should not have a notion which way to go."
"I dare say not. Strike a light, man, and have an end of this
"Well, Kennedy, there are two things which I understand that
you are very fond of. The one is an adventure, and the other is an
obstacle to surmount. The adventure must be the finding of your
way out of this catacomb. The obstacle will be the darkness and
the two thousand wrong turns which make the way a little difficult
to find. But you need not hurry, for you have plenty of time, and
when you halt for a rest now and then, I should like you just to
think of Miss Mary Saunderson, and whether you treated her quite
"You devil, what do you mean?" roared Kennedy. He was running
about in little circles and clasping at the solid blackness with
"Good-bye," said the mocking voice, and it was already at some
distance. "I really do not think, Kennedy, even by your own
showing that you did the right thing by that girl. There was only
one little thing which you appeared not to know, and I can supply
it. Miss Saunderson was engaged to a poor ungainly devil of a
student, and his name was Julius Burger."
There was a rustle somewhere, the vague sound of a foot
striking a stone, and then there fell silence upon that old
Christian church--a stagnant, heavy silence which closed round
Kennedy and shut him in like water round a drowning man.
Some two months afterwards the following paragraph made the
round of the European Press:
"One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years is
that of the new catacomb in Rome, which lies some distance to the
east of the well-known vaults of St. Calixtus. The finding of this
important burial-place, which is exceeding rich in most
interesting early Christian remains, is due to the energy and
sagacity of Dr. Julius Burger, the young German specialist, who is
rapidly taking the first place as an authority upon ancient Rome.
Although the first to publish his discovery, it appears that a less
fortunate adventurer had anticipated Dr. Burger. Some months ago
Mr. Kennedy, the well-known English student, disappeared suddenly
from his rooms in the Corso, and it was conjectured that his
association with a recent scandal had driven him to leave Rome. It
appears now that he had in reality fallen a victim to that fervid
love of archaeology which had raised him to a distinguished place
among living scholars. His body was discovered in the heart of the
new catacomb, and it was evident from the condition of his feet and
boots that he had tramped for days through the tortuous corridors
which make these subterranean tombs so dangerous to explorers. The
deceased gentleman had, with inexplicable rashness, made his way
into this labyrinth without, as far as can be discovered, taking
with him either candles or matches, so that his sad fate was the
natural result of his own temerity. What makes the matter more
painful is that Dr. Julius Burger was an intimate friend of the
deceased. His joy at the extraordinary find which he has been so
fortunate as to make has been greatly marred by the terrible fate
of his comrade and fellow-worker."
The Case of Lady Sannox
The relations between Douglas Stone and the notorious Lady Sannox
were very well known both among the fashionable circles of which
she was a brilliant member, and the scientific bodies which
numbered him among their most illustrious confreres. There
was naturally, therefore, a very widespread interest when it was
announced one morning that the lady had absolutely and for ever
taken the veil, and that the world would see her no more. When,
at the very tail of this rumour, there came the assurance that
the celebrated operating surgeon, the man of steel nerves, had
been found in the morning by his valet, seated on one side of his
bed, smiling pleasantly upon the universe, with both legs jammed
into one side of his breeches and his great brain about as
valuable as a cap full of porridge, the matter was strong enough
to give quite a little thrill of interest to folk who had never
hoped that their jaded nerves were capable of such a sensation.
Douglas Stone in his prime was one of the most remarkable men
in England. Indeed, he could hardly be said to have ever reached
his prime, for he was but nine-and-thirty at the time of this
little incident. Those who knew him best were aware that famous as
he was as a surgeon, he might have succeeded with even greater
rapidity in any of a dozen lines of life. He could have cut his
way to fame as a soldier, struggled to it as an explorer, bullied
for it in the courts, or built it out of stone and iron as an
engineer. He was born to be great, for he could plan what another
man dare not do, and he could do what another man dare not plan.
In surgery none could follow him. His nerve, his judgement, his
intuition, were things apart. Again and again his knife cut away
death, but grazed the very springs of life in doing it, until his
assistants were as white as the patient. His energy, his
audacity, his full-blooded self-confidence--does not the memory
of them still linger to the south of Marylebone Road and the north
of Oxford Street?
His vices were as magnificent as his virtues, and infinitely
more picturesque. Large as was his income, and it was the third
largest of all professional men in London, it was far beneath the
luxury of his living. Deep in his complex nature lay a rich vein
of sensualism, at the sport of which he placed all the prizes of
his life. The eye, the ear, the touch, the palate, all were his
masters. The bouquet of old vintages, the scent of rare exotics,
the curves and tints of the daintiest potteries of Europe, it was
to these that the quick-running stream of gold was transformed.
And then there came his sudden mad passion for Lady Sannox, when a
single interview with two challenging glances and a whispered word
set him ablaze. She was the loveliest woman in London and the only
one to him. He was one of the handsomest men in London, but not
the only one to her. She had a liking for new experiences, and was
gracious to most men who wooed her. It may have been cause or it
may have been effect that Lord Sannox looked fifty, though he was
He was a quiet, silent, neutral-tinted man, this lord, with
thin lips and heavy eyelids, much given to gardening, and full of
home-like habits. He had at one time been fond of acting, had even
rented a theatre in London, and on its boards had first seen Miss
Marion Dawson, to whom he had offered his hand, his title, and the
third of a county. Since his marriage his early hobby had become
distasteful to him. Even in private theatricals it was no longer
possible to persuade him to exercise the talent which he had often
showed that he possessed. He was happier with a spud and a
watering-can among his orchids and chrysanthemums.
It was quite an interesting problem whether he was absolutely
devoid of sense, or miserably wanting in spirit. Did he know his
lady's ways and condone them, or was he a mere blind, doting fool?
It was a point to be discussed over the teacups in snug little
drawing-rooms, or with the aid of a cigar in the bow windows of
clubs. Bitter and plain were the comments among men upon his
conduct. There was but one who had a good word to say for him, and
he was the most silent member in the smoking-room. He had seen
him break in a horse at the University, and it seemed to have left
an impression upon his mind.
But when Douglas Stone became the favourite all doubts as to
Lord Sannox's knowledge or ignorance were set for ever at rest.
There was no subterfuge about Stone. In his high-handed, impetuous
fashion, he set all caution and discretion at defiance. The
scandal became notorious. A learned body intimated that his name
had been struck from the list of its vice-presidents. Two friends
implored him to consider his professional credit. He cursed them
all three, and spent forty guineas on a bangle to take with him to
the lady. He was at her house every evening, and she drove in his
carriage in the afternoons. There was not an attempt on either
side to conceal their relations; but there came at last a little
incident to interrupt them.
It was a dismal winter's night, very cold and gusty, with the
wind whooping in the chimneys and blustering against the window-
panes. A thin spatter of rain tinkled on the glass with each fresh
sough of the gale, drowning for the instant the dull gurgle and
drip from the eaves. Douglas Stone had finished his dinner, and
sat by his fire in the study, a glass of rich port upon the
malachite table at his elbow. As he raised it to his lips, he held
it up against the lamplight, and watched with the eye of a
connoisseur the tiny scales of beeswing which floated in its rich
ruby depths. The fire, as it spurted up, threw fitful lights upon
his bald, clear-cut face, with its widely-opened grey eyes, its
thick and yet firm lips, and the deep, square jaw, which had
something Roman in its strength and its animalism. He smiled from
time to time as he nestled back in his luxurious chair. Indeed, he
had a right to feel well pleased, for, against the advice of six
colleagues, he had performed an operation that day of which only
two cases were on record, and the result had been brilliant beyond
all expectation. No other man in London would have had the daring
to plan, or the skill to execute, such a heroic measure.
But he had promised Lady Sannox to see her that evening and it
was already half-past eight. His hand was outstretched to the bell
to order the carriage when he heard the dull thud of the knocker.
An instant later there was the shuffling of feet in the hall, and
the sharp closing of a door.
"A patient to see you, sir, in the consulting room," said the
"No, sir; I think he wants you to go out."
"It is too late," cried Douglas Stone peevishly. "I won't go."
"This is his card, sir."
The butler presented it upon the gold salver which had been
given to his master by the wife of a Prime Minister.
"`Hamil Ali, Smyrna.' Hum! The fellow is a Turk, I suppose."
"Yes, sir. He seems as if he came from abroad, sir. And he's
in a terrible way."
"Tut, tut! I have an engagement. I must go somewhere else.
But I'll see him. Show him in here, Pim."