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Title:      The Inmost Light
Author:     Arthur Machen
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Language:   English
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Title:      The Inmost Light
Author:     Arthur Machen


One evening in autumn, when the deformities of London were veiled in
faint blue mist, and its vistas and far-reaching streets seemed
splendid, Mr. Charles Salisbury was slowly pacing down Rupert Street,
drawing nearer to his favourite restaurant by slow degrees. His eyes
were downcast in study of the pavement, and thus it was that as he
passed in at the narrow door a man who had come up from the lower end of
the street jostled against him.

'I beg your pardon--wasn't looking where I was going. Why, it's Dyson!'

'Yes, quite so. How are you, Salisbury?'

'Quite well. But where have you been, Dyson? I don't think I can have
seen you for the last five years?'

'No; I dare say not. You remember I was getting rather hard up when you
came to my place at Charlotte Street?'

'Perfectly. I think I remember your telling me that you owed five weeks'
rent, and that you had parted with your watch for a comparatively small

'My dear Salisbury, your memory is admirable. Yes, I was hard up. But
the curious thing is that soon after you saw me I became harder up. My
financial state was described by a friend as "stone broke." I don't
approve of slang, mind you, but such was my condition. But suppose we go
in; there might be other people who would like to dine--it's a human
weakness, Salisbury.'

'Certainly; come along. I was wondering as I walked down whether the
corner table were taken. It has a velvet back you know.'

'I know the spot; it's vacant. Yes, as I was saying, I became even
harder up.'

'What did you do then?' asked Salisbury, disposing of his hat, and
settling down in the corner of the seat, with a glance of fond
anticipation at the _menu_.

'What did I do? Why, I sat down and reflected. I had a good classical
education, and a positive distaste for business of any kind: that was
the capital with which I faced the world. Do you know, I have heard
people describe olives as nasty! What lamentable Philistinism! I have
often thought, Salisbury, that I could write genuine poetry under the
influence of olives and red wine. Let us have Chianti; it may not be
very good, but the flasks are simply charming.'

'It is pretty good here. We may as well have a big flask.'

'Very good. I reflected, then, on my want of prospects, and I determined
to embark in literature.'

'Really; that was strange. You seem in pretty comfortable circumstances,

'Though! What a satire upon a noble profession. I am afraid, Salisbury,
you haven't a proper idea of the dignity of an artist. You see me
sitting at my desk--or at least you can see me if you care to call--with
pen and ink, and simple nothingness before me, and if you come again in
a few hours you will (in all probability) find a creation!'

'Yes, quite so. I had an idea that literature was not remunerative.'

'You are mistaken; its rewards are great. I may mention, by the way,
that shortly after you saw me I succeeded to a small income. An uncle
died, and proved unexpectedly generous.'

'Ah, I see. That must have been convenient.'

'It was pleasant--undeniably pleasant. I have always considered it in
the light of an endowment of my researches. I told you I was a man of
letters; it would, perhaps, be more correct to describe myself as a man
of science.'

'Dear me, Dyson, you have really changed very much in the last few
years. I had a notion, don't you know, that you were a sort of idler
about town, the kind of man one might meet on the north side of
Piccadilly every day from May to July.'

'Exactly. I was even then forming myself, though all unconsciously. You
know my poor father could not afford to send me to the University. I
used to grumble in my ignorance at not having completed my education.
That was the folly of youth, Salisbury; my University was Piccadilly.
There I began to study the great science which still occupies me.'

'What science do you mean?'

'The science of the great city; the physiology of London; literally and
metaphysically the greatest subject that the mind of man can conceive.
What an admirable _salmi_ this is; undoubtedly the final end of the
pheasant. Yet I feel sometimes positively overwhelmed with the thought
of the vastness and complexity of London. Paris a man may get to
understand thoroughly with a reasonable amount of study; but London is
always a mystery. In Paris you may say: 'Here live the actresses, here
the Bohemians, and the _RatÚs_'; but it is different in London. You may
point out a street, correctly enough, as the abode of washerwomen; but,
in that second floor, a man may be studying Chaldee roots, and in the
garret over the way a forgotten artist is dying by inches.'

'I see you are Dyson, unchanged and unchangeable,' said Salisbury,
slowly sipping his Chianti. 'I think you are misled by a too fervid
imagination; the mystery of London exists only in your fancy. It seems
to me a dull place enough. We seldom hear of a really artistic crime in
London, whereas I believe Paris abounds in that sort of thing.'

'Give me some more wine. Thanks. You are mistaken, my dear fellow, you
are really mistaken. London has nothing to be ashamed of in the way of
crime. Where we fail is for want of Homers, not Agamemnons. _Carent quia
vate sacro_, you know.'

'I recall the quotation. But I don't think I quite follow you.'

'Well, in plain language, we have no good writers in London who make a
speciality of that kind of thing. Our common reporter is a dull dog;
every story that he has to tell is spoilt in the telling. His idea of
horror and of what excites horror is so lamentably deficient. Nothing
will content the fellow but blood, vulgar red blood, and when he can get
it he lays it on thick, and considers that he has produced a telling
article. It's a poor notion. And, by some curious fatality, it is the
most commonplace and brutal murders which always attract the most
attention and get written up the most. For instance, I dare say that you
never heard of the Harlesden case?'

'No; no, I don't remember anything about it.'

'Of course not. And yet the story is a curious one. I will tell you over
our coffee. Harlesden, you know, or I expect you don't know, is quite on
the out-quarters of London; something curiously different from your fine
old crusted suburb like Norwood or Hampstead, different as each of these
is from the other. Hampstead, I mean, is where you look for the head of
your great China house with his three acres of land and pine-houses,
though of late there is the artistic substratum; while Norwood is the
home of the prosperous middle-class family who took the house 'because
it was near the Palace,' and sickened of the Palace six months
afterwards; but Harlesden is a place of no character. It's too new to
have any character as yet. There are the rows of red houses and the rows
of white houses and the bright green Venetians, and the blistering
doorways, and the little backyards they call gardens, and a few feeble
shops, and then, just as you think you're going to grasp the physiognomy
of the settlement, it all melts away.'

'How the dickens is that? The houses don't tumble down before one's
eyes, I suppose!'

'Well, no, not exactly that. But Harlesden as an entity disappears. Your
street turns into a quiet lane, and your staring houses into elm trees,
and the back-gardens into green meadows. You pass instantly from town to
country; there is no transition as in a small country town, no soft
gradations of wider lawns and orchards, with houses gradually becoming
less dense, but a dead stop. I believe the people who live there mostly
go into the City. I have seen once or twice a laden bus bound
thitherwards. But however that may be, I can't conceive a greater
loneliness in a desert at midnight than there is there at mid-day. It is
like a city of the dead; the streets are glaring and desolate, and as
you pass it suddenly strikes you that this too is part of London. Well,
a year or two ago there was a doctor living there; he had set up his
brass plate and his red lamp at the very end of one of those shining
streets, and from the back of the house, the fields stretched away to
the north. I don't know what his reason was in settling down in such an
out-of-the-way place, perhaps Dr. Black, as we call him, was a
far-seeing man and looked ahead. His relations, so it appeared
afterwards, had lost sight of him for many years and didn't even know he
was a doctor, much less where he lived. However, there he was settled in
Harlesden, with some fragments of a practice, and an uncommonly pretty
wife. People used to see them walking out together in the summer
evenings soon after they came to Harlesden, and, so far as could be
observed, they seemed a very affectionate couple. These walks went on
through the autumn, and then ceased, but, of course, as the days grew
dark and the weather cold, the lanes near Harlesden might be expected to
lose many of their attractions. All through the winter nobody saw
anything of Mrs. Black, the doctor used to reply to his patients'
inquiries that she was a "little out of sorts, would be better, no
doubt, in the spring." But the spring came, and the summer, and no Mrs.
Black appeared, and at last people began to rumour and talk amongst
themselves, and all sorts of queer things were said at "high teas,"
which you may possibly have heard are the only form of entertainment
known in such suburbs. Dr. Black began to surprise some very odd looks
cast in his direction, and the practice, such as it was, fell off before
his eyes. In short, when the neighbours whispered about the matter, they
whispered that Mrs. Black was dead, and that the doctor had made away
with her. But this wasn't the case; Mrs. Black was seen alive in June.
It was a Sunday afternoon, one of those few exquisite days that an
English climate offers, and half London had strayed out into the fields,
north, south, east, and west to smell the scent of the white May, and to
see if the wild roses were yet in blossom in the hedges. I had gone out
myself early in the morning, and had had a long ramble, and somehow or
other as I was steering homeward I found myself in this very Harlesden
we have been talking about. To be exact, I had a glass of beer in the
"General Gordon", the most flourishing house in the neighbourhood, and
as I was wandering rather aimlessly about, I saw an uncommonly tempting
gap in a hedgerow, and resolved to explore the meadow beyond. Soft grass
is very grateful to the feet after the infernal grit strewn on suburban
sidewalks, and after walking about for some time I thought I should like
to sit down on a bank and have a smoke. While I was getting out my
pouch, I looked up in the direction of the houses, and as I looked I
felt my breath caught back, and my teeth began to chatter, and the stick
I had in one hand snapped in two with the grip I gave it. It was as if I
had had an electric current down my spine, and yet for some moment of
time which seemed long, but which must have been very short, I caught
myself wondering what on earth was the matter. Then I knew I what had
made my very heart shudder and my bones grind together in an agony. As I
glanced up I had looked straight towards the last house in the row
before me, and in an upper window of that house I had seen for some
short fraction of a second a face. It was the face of a woman, and yet
it was not human. You and I, Salisbury, have heard in our time, as we
sat in our seats in church in sober English fashion, of a lust that
cannot be satiated and of a fire that is unquenchable, but few of us
have any notion what these words mean. I hope you never may, for as I
saw that face at the window, with the blue sky above me and the warm air
playing in gusts about me, I knew I had looked into another
world--looked through the window of a commonplace, brand-new house, and
seen hell open before me. When the first shock was over, I thought once
or twice that I should have fainted; my face streamed with a cold sweat,
and my breath came and went in sobs, as if I had been half drowned. I
managed to get up at last, and walk round to the street, and there I saw
the name "Dr. Black" on the post by the front gate. As fate or my luck
would have it, the door opened and a man came down the steps as I passed
by. I had no doubt it was the doctor himself. He was of a type rather
common in London; long and thin, with a pasty face and a dull black
moustache. He gave me a look as we passed each other on the pavement,
and though it was merely the casual glance which one foot-passenger
bestows on another, I felt convinced in my mind that here was an ugly
customer to deal with. As you may imagine, I went my way a good deal
puzzled and horrified too by what I had seen; for I had paid another
visit to the "General Gordon", and had got together a good deal of the
common gossip of the place about the Blacks. I didn't mention the fact
that I had seen a woman's face in the window; but I heard that Mrs.
Black had been much admired for her beautiful golden hair, and round
what had struck me with such a nameless terror, there was a mist of
flowing yellow hair, as it were an aureole of glory round the visage of
a satyr. The whole thing bothered me in an indescribable manner; and
when I got home I tried my best to think of the impression I had
received as an illusion, but it was no use. I knew very well I had seen
what I have tried to describe to you, and I was morally certain that I
had seen Mrs. Black. And then there was the gossip of the place, the
suspicion of foul play, which I knew to be false, and my own conviction
that there was some deadly mischief or other going on in that bright red
house at the corner of Devon Road: how to construct a theory of a
reasonable kind out of these two elements. In short, I found myself in a
world of mystery; I puzzled my head over it and filled up my leisure
moments by gathering together odd threads of speculation, but I never
moved a step towards any real solution, and as the summer days went on
the matter seemed to grow misty and indistinct, shadowing some vague
terror, like a nightmare of last month. I suppose it would before long
have faded into the background of my brain--I should not have forgotten
it, for such a thing could never be forgotten--but one morning as I was
looking over the paper my eye was caught by a heading over some two
dozen lines of small type. The words I had seen were simply: "The
Harlesden Case," and I knew what I was going to read. Mrs. Black was
dead. Black had called in another medical man to certify as to cause of
death, and something or other had aroused the strange doctor's
suspicions and there had been an inquest and _post-mortem_. And the
result? That, I will confess, did astonish me considerably; it was the
triumph of the unexpected. The two doctors who made the autopsy were
obliged to confess that they could not discover the faintest trace of
any kind of foul play; their most exquisite tests and reagents failed to
detect the presence of poison in the most infinitesimal quantity. Death,
they found, had been caused by a somewhat obscure and scientifically
interesting form of brain disease. The tissue of the brain and the
molecules of the grey matter had undergone a most extraordinary series
of changes; and the younger of the two doctors, who has some reputation,
I believe, as a specialist in brain trouble, made some remarks in giving
his evidence which struck me deeply at the time, though I did not then
grasp their full significance. He said: "At the commencement of the
examination I was astonished to find appearances of a character entirely
new to me, notwithstanding my somewhat large experience. I need not
specify these appearances at present, it will be sufficient for me to
state that as I proceeded in my task I could scarcely believe that the
brain before me was that of a human being at all." There was some
surprise at this statement, as you may imagine, and the coroner asked
the doctor if he meant that the brain resembled that of an animal. "No,"
he replied, "I should not put it in that way. Some of the appearances I
noticed seemed to point in that direction, but others, and these were
the more surprising, indicated a nervous organization of a wholly
different character from that either of man or the lower animals." It
was a curious thing to say, but of course the jury brought in a verdict
of death from natural causes, and, so far as the public was concerned,
the case came to an end. But after I had read what the doctor said I
made up my mind that I should like to know a good deal more, and I set
to work on what seemed likely to prove an interesting investigation. I
had really a good deal of trouble, but I was successful in a measure.
Though why--my dear fellow, I had no notion at the time. Are you aware
that we have been here nearly four hours? The waiters are staring at us.
Let's have the bill and be gone.'

The two men went out in silence, and stood a moment in the cool air,
watching the hurrying traffic of Coventry Street pass before them to the
accompaniment of the ringing bells of hansoms and the cries of the
newsboys; the deep far murmur of London surging up ever and again from
beneath these louder noises.

'It is a strange case, isn't it?' said Dyson at length. 'What do you
think of it?'

'My dear fellow. I haven't heard the end, so I will reserve my opinion.
When will you give me the sequel?'

'Come to my rooms some evening; say next Thursday. Here's the address.
Good-night; I want to get down to the Strand.' Dyson hailed a passing
hansom, and Salisbury turned northward to walk home to his lodgings.


Mr. Salisbury, as may have been gathered from the few remarks which he
had found it possible to introduce in the course of the evening, was a
young gentleman of a peculiarly solid form of intellect, coy and
retiring before the mysterious and the uncommon, with a constitutional
dislike of paradox. During the restaurant dinner he had been forced to
listen in almost absolute silence to a strange tissue of improbabilities
strung together with the ingenuity of a born meddler in plots and
mysteries, and it was with a feeling of weariness that he crossed
Shaftesbury Avenue, and dived into the recesses of Soho, for his
lodgings were in a modest neighbourhood to the north of Oxford Street.
As he walked he speculated on the probable fate of Dyson, relying on
literature, unbefriended by a thoughtful relative, and could not help
concluding that so much subtlety united to a too vivid imagination would
in all likelihood have been rewarded with a pair of sandwich-boards or a
super's banner. Absorbed in this train of thought, and admiring the
perverse dexterity which could transmute the face of a sickly woman and
a case of brain disease into the crude elements of romance, Salisbury
strayed on through the dimly-lighted streets, not noticing the gusty
wind which drove sharply round corners and whirled the stray rubbish of
the pavement into the air in eddies, while black clouds gathered over
the sickly yellow moon. Even a stray drop or two of rain blown into his
face did not rouse him from his meditations, and it was only when with a
sudden rush the storm tore down upon the street that he began to
consider the expediency of finding some shelter. The rain, driven by the
wind, pelted down with the violence of a thunderstorm, dashing up from
the stones and hissing through the air, and soon a perfect torrent of
water coursed along the kennels and accumulated in pools over the
choked-up drains. The few stray passengers who had been loafing rather
than walking about the street had scuttered away, like frightened
rabbits, to some invisible places of refuge, and though Salisbury
whistled loud and long for a hansom, no hansom appeared. He looked about
him, as if to discover how far he might be from the haven of Oxford
Street, but strolling carelessly along, he had turned out of his way,
and found himself in an unknown region, and one to all appearance devoid
even of a public-house where shelter could be bought for the modest sum
of twopence. The street lamps were few and at long intervals, and burned
behind grimy glasses with the sickly light of oil, and by this wavering
glimmer Salisbury could make out the shadowy and vast old houses of
which the street was composed. As he passed along, hurrying, and
shrinking from the full sweep of the rain, he noticed the innumerable
bell-handles, with names that seemed about to vanish of old age graven
on brass plates beneath them, and here and there a richly carved
penthouse overhung the door, blackening with the grime of fifty years.
The storm seemed to grow more and more furious; he was wet through, and
a new hat had become a ruin, and still Oxford Street seemed as far off
as ever; it was with deep relief that the dripping man caught sight of a
dark archway which seemed to promise shelter from the rain if not from
the wind. Salisbury took up his position in the driest corner and looked
about him; he was standing in a kind of passage contrived under part of
a house, and behind him stretched a narrow footway leading between blank
walls to regions unknown. He had stood there for some time, vainly
endeavouring to rid himself of some of his superfluous moisture, and
listening for the passing wheel of a hansom, when his attention was
aroused by a loud noise coming from the direction of the passage behind,
and growing louder as it drew nearer. In a couple of minutes he could
make out the shrill, raucous voice of a woman, threatening and
renouncing and making the very stones echo with her accents, while now
and then a man grumbled and expostulated. Though to all appearance
devoid of romance, Salisbury had some relish for street rows, and was,
indeed, somewhat of an amateur in the more amusing phases of
drunkenness; he therefore composed himself to listen and observe with
something of the air of a subscriber to grand opera. To his annoyance,
however, the tempest seemed suddenly to be composed, and he could hear
nothing but the impatient steps of the woman and the slow lurch of the
man as they came towards him. Keeping back in the shadow of the wall, he
could see the two drawing nearer; the man was evidently drunk, and had
much ado to avoid frequent collision with the wall as he tacked across
from one side to the other, like some bark beating up against a wind.
The woman was looking straight in front of her, with tears streaming
from her blazing eyes, but suddenly as they went by the flame blazed up
again, and she burst forth into a torrent of abuse, facing round upon
her companion.

'You low rascal, you mean, comtemptible cur,' she went on, after an
incoherent storm of curses, 'you think I'm to work and slave for you
always, I suppose, while you're after that Green Street girl and
drinking every penny you've got? But you're mistaken, Sam--indeed, I'll
bear it no longer. Damn you, you dirty thief, I've done with you and
your master too, so you can go your own errands, and I only hope they'll
get you into trouble.'

The woman tore at the bosom of her dress, and taking something out that
looked like paper, crumpled it up and flung it away. It fell at
Salisbury's feet. She ran out and disappeared in the darkness, while the
man lurched slowly into the street, grumbling indistinctly to himself in
a perplexed tone of voice. Salisbury looked out after him, and saw him
maundering along the pavement, halting now and then and swaying
indecisively, and then starting off at some fresh tangent. The sky had
cleared, and white fleecy clouds were fleeting across the moon, high in
the heaven. The light came and went by turns, as the clouds passed by,
and, turning round as the clear, white rays shone into the passage,
Salisbury saw the little ball of crumpled paper which the woman had cast
down. Oddly curious to know what it might contain, he picked it up and
put it in his pocket, and set out afresh on his journey.


Salisbury was a man of habit. When he got home, drenched to the skin,
his clothes hanging lank about him, and a ghastly dew besmearing his
hat, his only thought was of his health, of which he took studious care.
So, after changing his clothes and encasing himself in a warm
dressing-gown, he proceeded to prepare a sudorific in the shape of hot
gin and water, warming the latter over one of those spirit-lamps which
mitigate the austerities of the modern hermit's life. By the time this
preparation had been exhibited, and Salisbury's disturbed feelings had
been soothed by a pipe of tobacco, he was able to get into bed in a
happy state of vacancy, without a thought of his adventure in the dark
archway, or of the weird fancies with which Dyson had seasoned his
dinner. It was the same at breakfast the next morning, for Salisbury
made a point of not thinking of anything until that meal was over; but
when the cup and saucer were cleared away, and the morning pipe was lit,
he remembered the little ball of paper, and began fumbling in the
pockets of his wet coat. He did not remember into which pocket he had
put it, and as he dived now into one and now into another, he
experienced a strange feeling of apprehension lest it should not be
there at all, though he could not for the life of him have explained the
importance he attached to what was in all probability mere rubbish. But
he sighed with relief when his fingers touched the crumpled surface in
an inside pocket, and he drew it out gently and laid it on the little
desk by his easy chair with as much care as if it had been some rare
jewel. Salisbury sat smoking and staring at his find for a few minutes,
an odd temptation to throw the thing in the fire and have done with it
struggling with as odd a speculation as to its possible contents, and as
to the reason why the infuriated woman should have flung a bit of paper
from her with such vehemence. As might be expected, it was the latter
feeling that conquered in the end, and yet it was with something like
repugnance that he at last took the paper and unrolled it, and laid it
out before him. It was a piece of common dirty paper, to all appearance
torn out of a cheap exercise-book, and in the middle were a few lines
written in a queer cramped hand. Salisbury bent his head and stared
eagerly at it for a moment, drawing a long breath, and then fell back in
his chair gazing blankly before him, till at last with a sudden
revulsion he burst into a peal of laughter, so long and loud and
uproarious that the landlady's baby in the floor below awoke from sleep
and echoed his mirth with hideous yells. But he laughed again and again,
and took the paper up to read a second time what seemed such meaningless

'Q. has had to go and see his friends in Paris,' it began. 'Traverse
Handel S. "Once around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice
around the maple-tree."'

Salisbury took up the paper and crumpled it as the angry woman had done,
and aimed it at the fire. He did not throw it there, however, but tossed
it carelessly into the well of the desk, and laughed again. The sheer
folly of the thing offended him, and he was ashamed of his own eager
speculation, as one who pores over the high-sounding announcements in
the agony column of the daily paper, and finds nothing but advertisement
and trivality. He walked to the window, and stared out at the languid
morning life of his quarter; the maids in slatternly print dresses
washing door-steps, the fish-monger and the butcher on their rounds, and
the tradesmen standing at the doors of their small shops, drooping for
lack of trade and excitement. In the distance a blue haze gave some
grandeur to the prospect, but the view as a whole was depressing, and
would only have interested a student of the life of London, who finds
something rare and choice in its every aspect. Salisbury turned away in
disgust, and settled himself in the easy-chair, upholstered in a bright
shade of green, and decked with yellow gimp, which was the pride and
attraction of the apartments. Here he composed himself to his morning's
occupation--the perusal of a novel that dealt with sport and love in a
manner that suggested the collaboration of a stud-groom and a ladies'
college. In an ordinary way, however, Salisbury would have been carried
on by the interest of the story up to lunch-time, but this morning he
fidgeted in and out of his chair, took the book up and laid it down
again, and swore at last to himself and at himself in mere irritation.

In point of fact the jingle of the paper found in the archway had 'got
into his head,' and do what he would he could not help muttering over
and over, 'Once around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice
around the maple-tree.' It became a positive pain, like the foolish
burden of a music-hall song, everlastingly quoted, and sung at all hours
of the day and night, and treasured by the street boys as an unfailing
resource for six months together. He went out into the streets, and
tried to forget his enemy in the jostling of the crowds and the roar and
clatter of the traffic, but presently he would find himself stealing
quietly aside, and pacing some deserted byway, vainly puzzling his
brains, and trying to fix some meaning to phrases that were meaningless.
It was a positive relief when Thursday came, and he remembered that he
had made an appointment to go and see Dyson; the flimsy reveries of the
self-styled man of letters appeared entertaining when compared with this
ceaseless iteration, this maze of thought from which there seemed no
possibility of escape. Dyson's abode was in one of the quietest of the
quiet streets that lead down from the Strand to the river, and when
Salisbury passed from the narrow stairway into his friend's room, he saw
that the uncle had been beneficent indeed. The floor glowed and flamed
with all the colours of the East; it was, as Dyson pompously remarked,
'a sunset in a dream,' and the lamplight, the twilight of London
streets, was shut out with strangely worked curtains, glittering here
and there with threads of gold. In the shelves of an oak _armoire_ stood
jars and plates of old French china, and the black and white of etchings
not to be found in the Haymarket or in Bond Street, stood out against
the splendour of a Japanese paper. Salisbury sat down on the settle by
the hearth, and sniffed and mingled fumes of incense and tobacco,
wondering and dumb before all this splendour after the green rep and the
oleographs, the gilt-framed mirror, and the lustres of his own

'I am glad you have come,' said Dyson. 'Comfortable little room, isn't
it? But you don't look very well, Salisbury. Nothing disagreed with you,
has it?'

'No; but I have been a good deal bothered for the last few days. The
fact is I had an odd kind of--of--adventure, I suppose I may call it,
that night I saw you, and it has worried me a good deal. And the
provoking part of it is that it's the merest nonsense--but, however, I
will tell you all about it, by and by. You were going to let me have the
rest of that odd story you began at the restaurant.'

'Yes. But I am afraid, Salisbury, you are incorrigible. You are a slave
to what you call matter of fact. You know perfectly well that in your
heart you think the oddness in that case is of my making, and that it is
all really as plain as the police reports. However, as I have begun, I
will go on. But first we will have something to drink, and you may as
well light your pipe.'

Dyson went up to the oak cupboard, and drew from its depths a rotund
bottle and two little glasses, quaintly gilded.

'It's Benedictine,' he said. 'You'll have some, won't you?'

Salisbury assented, and the two men sat sipping and smoking reflectively
for some minutes before Dyson began.

'Let me see,' he said at last, 'we were at the inquest, weren't we? No,
we had done with that. Ah, I remember. I was telling you that on the
whole I had been successful in my inquiries, investigation, or whatever
you like to call it, into the matter. Wasn't that where I left off?'

'Yes, that was it. To be precise, I think "though" was the last word you
said on the matter.'

'Exactly. I have been thinking it all over since the other night, and I
have come to the conclusion that that "though" is a very big "though"
indeed. Not to put too fine a point on it, I have had to confess that
what I found out, or thought I found out, amounts in reality to nothing.
I am as far away from the heart of the case as ever. However, I may as
well tell you what I do know. You may remember my saying that I was
impressed a good deal by some remarks of one of the doctors who gave
evidence at the inquest. Well, I determined that my first step must be
to try if I could get something more definite and intelligible out of
that doctor. Somehow or other I managed to get an introduction to the
man, and he gave me an appointment to come and see him.

'He turned out to be a pleasant, genial fellow; rather young and not in
the least like the typical medical man, and he began the conference by
offering me whisky and cigars. I didn't think it worth while to beat
about the bush, so I began by saying that part of his evidence at the
Harlesden inquest struck me as very peculiar, and I gave him the printed
report, with the sentences in question underlined. He just glanced at
the slip, and gave me a queer look.

'"It struck you as peculiar, did it?" said he. "Well, you must remember
that the Harlesden case was very peculiar. In fact, I think I may
safely say that in some features it was unique--quite unique."

'"Quite so," I replied, "and that's exactly why it interests me, and
why I want to know more about it. And I thought that if anybody could
give me any information it would be you. What is your opinion of
the matter?"

'It was a pretty downright sort of question, and my doctor looked rather
taken aback.

'"Well," he said, "as I fancy your motive in inquiring into the question
must be mere curiosity, I think I may tell you my opinion with tolerable
freedom. So, Mr. Dyson, if you want to know my theory, it is this:
I believe that Dr. Black killed his wife."

'"But the verdict," I answered, "the verdict was given from your own

'"Quite so; the verdict was given in accordance with the evidence of my
colleague and myself, and, under the circumstances, I think the jury
acted very sensibly. In fact, I don't see what else they could have
done. But I stick to my opinion, mind you, and I say this also. I don't
wonder at Black's doing what I firmly believe he did. I think he was

'"Justified! How could that be?" I asked. I was astonished, as you may
imagine, at the answer I had got. The doctor wheeled round his chair and
looked steadily at me for a moment before he answered.

'"I suppose you are not a man of science yourself? No; then it would be
of no use my going into detail. I have always been firmly opposed myself
to any partnership between physiology and psychology. I believe that
both are bound to suffer. No one recognizes more decidedly than I do the
impassable gulf, the fathomless abyss that separates the world of
consciousness from the sphere of matter. We know that every change of
consciousness is accompanied by a rearrangement of the molecules in the
grey matter; and that is all. What the link between them is, or why they
occur together, we do not know, and the most authorities believe that we
never can know. Yet, I will tell you that as I did my work, the knife in
my hand, I felt convinced, in spite of all theories, that what lay
before me was not the brain of a dead woman--not the brain of a human
being at all. Of course I saw the face; but it was quite placid, devoid
of all expression. It must have been a beautiful face, no doubt, but I
can honestly say that I would not have looked in that face when there
was life behind it for a thousand guineas, no, nor for twice that sum."'

'"My dear sir," I said, "you surprise me extremely. You say that it was
not the brain of a human being. What was it, then?"

'"The brain of a devil." He spoke quite coolly, and never moved a
muscle. "The brain of a devil," he repeated, "and I have no doubt that
Black found some way of putting an end to it. I don't blame him if he
did. Whatever Mrs. Black was, she was not fit to stay in this world.
Will you have anything more? No? Good-night, good-night."

'It was a queer sort of opinion to get from a man of science, wasn't it?
When he was saying that he would not have looked on that face when alive
for a thousand guineas, or two thousand guineas, I was thinking of the
face I had seen, but I said nothing. I went again to Harlesden, and
passed from one shop to another, making small purchases, and trying to
find out whether there was anything about the Blacks which was not
already common property, but there was very little to hear. One of the
tradesmen to whom I spoke said he had known the dead woman well; she
used to buy of him such quantities of grocery as were required for their
small household, for they never kept a servant, but had a charwoman in
occasionally, and she had not seen Mrs. Black for months before she
died. According to this man Mrs. Black was "a nice lady," always kind
and considerate, and so fond of her husband and he of her, as everyone
thought. And yet, to put the doctor's opinion on one side, I knew what I
had seen. And then after thinking it over, and putting one thing with
another, it seemed to me that the only person likely to give me much
assistance would be Black himself, and I made up my mind to find him. Of
course he wasn't to be found in Harlesden; he had left, I was told,
directly after the funeral. Everything in the house had been sold, and
one fine day Black got into the train with a small portmanteau, and
went, nobody knew where. It was a chance if he were ever heard of again,
and it was by a mere chance that I came across him at last. I was
walking one day along Gray's Inn Road, not bound for anywhere in
particular, but looking about me, as usual, and holding on to my hat,
for it was a gusty day in early March, and the wind was making the
treetops in the Inn rock and quiver. I had come up from the Holborn end,
and I had almost got to Theobald's Road when I noticed a man walking in
front of me, leaning on a stick, and to all appearance very feeble.
There was something about his look that made me curious, I don't know
why, and I began to walk briskly with the idea of overtaking him, when
of a sudden his hat blew off and came bounding along the pavement to my
feet. Of course I rescued the hat, and gave it a glance as I went
towards its owner. It was a biography in itself; a Piccadilly maker's
name in the inside, but t don't think a beggar would have picked it out
of the gutter. Then I looked up and saw Dr. Black of Harlesden waiting
for me. A queer thing, wasn't it? But, Salisbury, what a change! When I
saw Dr. Black come down the steps of his house at Harlesden he was an
upright man, walking firmly with well-built limbs; a man, should say, in
the prime of his life. And now before me there crouched this wretched
creature, bent and feeble, with shrunken cheeks, and hair that was
whitening fast, and limbs that trembled and shook together, and misery
in his eyes. He thanked me for bringing him his hat, saying, "I don't
think I should ever have got it, I can't run much now. A gusty day, sir,
isn't it?" and with this he was turning away, but by little and little I
contrived to draw him into the current of conversation, and we walked
together eastward. I think the man would have been glad to get rid of
me; but I didn't intend to let him go, and he stopped at last in front
of a miserable house in a miserable street. It was, I verily believe,
one of the most wretched quarters I have ever seen: houses that must
have been sordid and hideous enough when new, that had gathered foulness
with every year, and now seemed to lean and totter to their fall. "I
live up there," said Black, pointing to the tiles, "not in the front--in
the back. I am very quiet there. I won't ask you to come in now, but
perhaps some other day----" I caught him up at that, and told him I
should be only too glad to come and see him. He gave me an odd sort of
glance, as if he were wondering what on earth I or anybody else could
care about him, and I left him fumbling with his latch-key. I think you
will say I did pretty well when I tell you that within a few weeks I had
made myself an intimate friend of Black's. I shall never forget the
first time I went to his room; I hope I shall never see such abject,
squalid misery again. The foul paper, from which all pattern or trace of
a pattern had long vanished, subdued and penetrated with the grime of
the evil street, was hanging in mouldering pennons from the wall. Only
at the end of the room was it possible to stand upright, and the sight
of the wretched bed and the odour of corruption that pervaded the place
made me turn faint and sick. Here I found him munching a piece of bread;
he seemed surprised to find that I had kept my promise, but he gave me
his chair and sat on the bed while we talked. I used to go to see him
often, and we had long conversations together, but he never mentioned
Harlesden or his wife. I fancy that he supposed me ignorant of the
matter, or thought that if I had heard of it, I should never connect the
respectable Dr. Black of Harlesden with a poor garreteer in the
backwoods of London. He was a strange man, and as we sat together
smoking, I often wondered whether he were made or sane, for I think the
wildest dreams of Paracelsus and the Rosicrucians would appear plain and
sober fact compared with the theories I have heard him earnestly advance
in that grimy den of his. I once ventured to hint something of the sort
to him. I suggested that something he had said was in flat contradiction
to all science and all experience. "No," he answered, "not all
experience, for mine counts for something. I am no dealer in unproved
theories; what I say I have proved for myself, and at a terrible cost.
There is a region of knowledge which you will never know, which wise men
seeing from afar off shun like the plague, as well they may, but into
that region I have gone. If you knew, if you could even dream of what
may be done, of what one or two men have done in this quiet world of
ours, your very soul would shudder and faint within you. What you have
heard from me has been but the merest husk and outer covering of true
science--that science which means death, and that which is more awful
than death, to those who gain it. No, when men say that there are
strange things in the world, they little know the awe and the terror
that dwell always with them and about them." There was a sort of
fascination about the man that drew me to him, and I was quite sorry to
have to leave London for a month or two; I missed his odd talk. A few
days after I came back to town I thought I would look him up, but when I
gave the two rings at the bell that used to summon him, there was no
answer. I rang and rang again, and was just turning to go away, when the
door opened and a dirty woman asked me what I wanted. From her look I
fancy she took me for a plain-clothes officer after one of her lodgers,
but when I inquired if Mr. Black were in, she gave me a stare of another
kind. "There's no Mr. Black lives here," she said. "He's gone. He's dead
this six weeks. I always thought he was a bit queer in his head, or else
had been and got into some trouble or other. He used to go out every
morning from ten till one, and one Monday morning we heard him come in,
and go into his room and shut the door, and a few minutes after, just as
we was a-sitting down to our dinner, there was such a scream that I
thought I should have gone right off. And then we heard a stamping, and
down he came, raging and cursing most dreadful, swearing he had been
robbed of something that was worth millions. And then he just dropped
down in the passage, and we thought he was dead. We got him up to his
room, and put him on his bed, and I just sat there and waited, while my
'usband he went for the doctor. And there was the winder wide open, and
a little tin box he had lying on the floor open and empty, but of course
nobody could possible have got in at the winder, and as for him having
anything that was worth anything, it's nonsense, for he was often weeks
and weeks behind with his rent, and my 'usband he threatened often and
often to turn him into the street, for, as he said, we've got a living
to myke like other people--and, of course, that's true; but, somehow, I
didn't like to do it, though he was an odd kind of a man, and I fancy
had been better off. And then the doctor came and looked at him, and
said as he couldn't do nothing, and that night he died as I was
a-sitting by his bed; and I can tell you that, with one thing and
another, we lost money by him, for the few bits of clothes as he had
were worth next to nothing when they came to be sold." I gave the woman
half a sovereign for her trouble, and went home thinking of Dr. Black
and the epitaph she had made him, and wondering at his strange fancy
that he had been robbed. I take it that he had very little to fear on
that score, poor fellow; but I suppose that he was really mad, and died
in a sudden access of his mania. His landlady said that once or twice
when she had had occasion to go into his room (to dun the poor wretch
for his rent, most likely), he would keep her at the door for about a
minute, and that when she came in she would find him putting away his
tin box in the corner by the window; I suppose he had become possessed
with the idea of some great treasure, and fancied himself a wealthy man
in the midst of all his misery. _Explicit_, my tale is ended, and you
see that though I knew Black, I knew nothing of his wife or of the
history of her death--That's the Harlesden case, Salisbury, and I think
it interests me all the more deeply because there does not seem the
shadow of a possibility that I or any one else will ever know more about
it. What do you think of it?'

'Well, Dyson, I must say that I think you have contrived to surround the
whole thing with a mystery of your own making. I go for the doctor's
solution: Black murdered his wife, being himself in all probability an
undeveloped lunatic.'

'What? Do you believe, then, that this woman was something too awful,
too terrible to be allowed to remain on the earth? You will remember
that the doctor said it was the brain of a devil?'

'Yes, yes, but he was speaking, of course, metaphorically. It's really
quite a simple matter if you only look at it like that.'

'Ah, well, you may be right; but yet I am sure you are not. Well, well,
it's not good discussing it any more. A little more Benedictine? That's
right; try some of this tobacco. Didn't you say that you had been
bothered by something--something which happened that night we dined

'Yes, I have been worried, Dyson, worried a great deal. I----But it's
such a trivial matter--indeed, such an absurdity--that I feel ashamed to
trouble you with it.'

'Never mind, let's have it, absurd or not.'

With many hesitations, and with much inward resentment of the folly of
the thing, Salisbury told his tale, and repeated reluctantly the absurd
intelligence and the absurder doggerel of the scrap of paper, expecting
to hear Dyson burst out into a roar of laughter.

'Isn't it too bad that I should let myself be bothered by such stuff as
that?' he asked, when he had stuttered out the jingle of once, and
twice, and thrice.

Dyson had listened to it all gravely, even to the end, and meditated for
a few minutes in silence.

'Yes,' he said at length, 'it was a curious chance, your taking shelter
in that archway just as those two went by. But I don't know that I
should call what was written on the paper nonsense; it is bizarre
certainly but I expect it has a meaning for somebody. Just repeat it
again, will you, and I will write it down. Perhaps we might find a
cipher of some sort, though I hardly think we shall.'

Again had the reluctant lips of Salisbury slowly to stammer out the
rubbish that he abhorred, while Dyson jotted it down on a slip of paper.

'Look over it, will you?' he said, when it was done; 'it may be
important that I should have every word in its place. Is that all

'Yes; that is an accurate copy. But I don't think you will get much out
of it. Depend upon it, it is mere nonsense, a wanton scribble. I must be
going now, Dyson. No, no more; that stuff of yours is pretty strong.

'I suppose you would like to hear from me, if I did find out anything?'

'No, not I; I don't want to hear about the thing again. You may regard
the discovery, if it is one, as your own.'

'Very well. Good-night.'


A good many hours after Salisbury had returned to the company of the
green rep chairs, Dyson still sat at his desk, itself a Japanese
romance, smoking many pipes, and meditating over his friend's story. The
bizarre quality of the inscription which had annoyed Salisbury was to
him an attraction, and now and again he took it up and scanned
thoughtfully what he had written, especially the quaint jingle at the
end. It was a token, a symbol, he decided, and not a cipher, and the
woman who had flung it away was in all probability entirely ignorant of
its meaning; she was but the agent of the 'Sam' she had abused and
discarded, and he too was again the agent of some one unknown; possibly
of the individual styled Q, who had been forced to visit his French
friends. But what to make of 'Traverse Handel S.' Here was the root and
source of the enigma, and not all the tobacco of Virginia seemed likely
to suggest any clue here. It seemed almost hopeless, but Dyson regarded
himself as the Wellington of mysteries, and went to bed feeling assured
that sooner or later he would hit upon the right track. For the next few
days he was deeply engaged in his literary labours, labours which were a
profound mystery even to the most intimate of his friends, who searched
the railway bookstalls in vain for the result of so many hours spent at
the Japanese bureau in company with strong tobacco and black tea. On
this occasion Dyson confined himself to his room for four days, and it
was with genuine relief that he laid down his pen and went out into the
streets in quest of relaxation and fresh air. The gas-lamps were being
lighted, and the fifth edition of the evening papers was being howled
through the streets, and Dyson, feeling that he wanted quiet, turned
away from the clamorous Strand, and began to trend away to the
north-west. Soon he found himself in streets that echoed to his
footsteps, and crossing a broad new thoroughfare, and verging still to
the west, Dyson discovered that he had penetrated to the depths of Soho.
Here again was life; rare vintages of France and Italy, at prices which
seemed contemptibly small, allured the passer-by; here were cheeses,
vast and rich, here olive oil, and here a grove of Rabelaisian sausages;
while in a neighbouring shop the whole Press of Paris appeared to be on
sale. In the middle of the roadway a strange miscellany of nations
sauntered to and fro, for there cab and hansom rarely ventured; and from
window over window the inhabitants looked forth in pleased contemplation
of the scene. Dyson made his way slowly along, mingling with the crowd
on the cobble-stones, listening to the queer babel of French and German,
and Italian and English, glancing now and again at the shop windows with
their levelled batteries of bottles, and had almost gained the end of
the street, when his attention was arrested by a small shop at the
corner, a vivid contrast to its neighbours. It was the typical shop of
the poor quarter; a shop entirely English. Here were vended tobacco and
sweets, cheap pipes of clay and cherry-wood; penny exercise-books and
pen-holders jostled for precedence with comic songs, and story papers
with appalling cuts showed that romance claimed its place beside the
actualities of the evening paper, the bills of which fluttered at the
doorway. Dyson glanced up at the name above the door, and stood by the
kennel trembling, for a sharp pang, the pang of one who has made a
discovery, had for a moment left him incapable of motion. The name over
the shop was Travers. Dyson looked up again, this time at the corner of
the wall above the lamppost, and read in white letters on a blue ground
the words 'Handel Street, W.C.' and the legend was repeated in fainter
letters just below. He gave a little sigh of satisfaction, and without
more ado walked boldly into the shop, and stared full in the face of the
fat man who was sitting behind the counter. The fellow rose to his feet,
and returned the stare a little curiously, and then began in stereotyped

'What can I do for you, sir?'

Dyson enjoyed the situation and a dawning perplexity on the man's face.
He propped his stick carefully against the counter and leaning over it,
said slowly and impressively--

'Once around the grass, and twice around the lass, and thrice around the

Dyson had calculated on his words producing an effect, and he was not
disappointed. The vendor of the miscellanies gasped, open-mouthed like a
fish, and steadied himself against the counter. When he spoke, after a
short interval, it was in a hoarse mutter, tremulous and unsteady.

'Would you mind saying that again, sir? I didn't quite catch it.'

'My good man, I shall most certainly do nothing of the kind. You heard
what I said perfectly well. You have got a clock in your shop, I see; an
admirable time-keeper, I have no doubt. Well, I give you a minute by
your own clock.'

The man looked about him in a perplexed indecision, and Dyson felt that
it was time to be bold.

'Look here, Travers, the time is nearly up. You have heard of Q, I
think. Remember, I hold your life in my hands. Now!'

Dyson was shocked at the result of his own audacity. The man shrank and
shrivelled in terror, the sweat poured down a face of ashy white, and he
held up his hands before him.

'Mr. Davies, Mr. Davies, don't say that--don't for Heaven's sake. I
didn't know you at first, I didn't indeed. Good God! Mr. Davies, you
wouldn't ruin me? I'll get it in a moment.'

'You had better not lose any more time.'

The man slunk piteously out of his own shop, and went into a back
parlour. Dyson heard his trembling fingers fumbling with a bunch of
keys, and the creak of an opening box. He came back presently with a
small package neatly tied up in brown paper in his hands, and still,
full of terror, handed it to Dyson.

'I'm glad to be rid of it,' he said. 'I'll take no more jobs of this

Dyson took the parcel and his stick, and walked out of the shop with a
nod, turning round as he passed the door. Travers had sunk into his
seat, his face still white with terror, with one hand over his eyes, and
Dyson speculated a good deal as he walked rapidly away as to what queer
chords those could be on which he had played so roughly. He hailed the
first hansom he could see and drove home, and when he had lit his
hanging lamp, and laid his parcel on the table, he paused for a moment,
wondering on what strange thing the lamplight would soon shine. He
locked his door, and cut the strings, and unfolded the paper layer after
layer, and came at last to a small wooden box, simply but solidly made.
There was no lock, and Dyson had simply to raise the lid, and as he did
so he drew a long breath and started back. The lamp seemed to glimmer
feebly like a single candle, but the whole room blazed with light--and
not with light alone, but with a thousand colours, with all the glories
of some painted window; and upon the walls of his room and on the
familiar furniture, the glow flamed back and seemed to flow again to its
source, the little wooden box. For there upon a bed of soft wool lay the
most splendid jewel, a jewel such as Dyson had never dreamed of, and
within it shone the blue of far skies, and the green of the sea by the
shore, and the red of the ruby, and deep violet rays, and in the middle
of all it seemed aflame as if a fountain of fire rose up, and fell, and
rose again with sparks like stars for drops. Dyson gave a long deep
sigh, and dropped into his chair, and put his hands over his eyes to
think. The jewel was like an opal, but from a long experience of the
shop-windows he knew there was no such thing as an opal one-quarter or
one-eighth of its size. He looked at the stone again, with a feeling
that was almost awe, and placed it gently on the table under the lamp,
and watched the wonderful flame that shone and sparkled in its centre,
and then turned to the box, curious to know whether it might contain
other marvels. He lifted the bed of wool on which the opal had reclined,
and saw beneath, no more jewels, but a little old pocket-book, worn and
shabby with use. Dyson opened it at the first leaf, and dropped the book
again appalled. He had read the name of the owner, neatly written in
blue ink:

            Devon Road,

It was several minutes before Dyson could bring himself to open the book
a second time; he remembered the wretched exile in his garret; and his
strange talk, and the memory too of the face he had seen at the window,
and of what the specialist had said, surged up in his mind, and as he
held his finger on the cover, he shivered, dreading what might be
written within. When at last he held it in his hand, and turned the
pages, he found that the first two leaves were blank, but the third was
covered with clear, minute writing, and Dyson began to read with the
light of the opal flaming in his eyes.


'Ever since I was a young man'--the record began--'I devoted all my
leisure and a good deal of time that ought to have been given to other
studies to the investigation of curious and obscure branches of
knowledge. What are commonly called the pleasures of life had never any
attractions for me, and I lived alone in London, avoiding my fellow
students, and in my turn avoided by them as a man self-absorbed and
unsympathetic. So long as I could gratify my desire of knowledge of a
peculiar kind, knowledge of which the very existence is a profound
secret to most men, I was intensely happy, and I have often spent whole
nights sitting in the darkness of my room, and thinking of the strange
world on the brink of which I trod. My professional studies, however,
and the necessity of obtaining a degree, for some time forced my more
obscure employment into the background, and soon after I had qualified I
met Agnes, who became my wife. We took a new house in this remote
suburb, and I began the regular routine of a sober practice, and for
some months lived happily enough, sharing in the life about me, and only
thinking at odd intervals of that occult science which had once
fascinated my whole being. I had learnt enough of the paths I had begun
to tread to know that they were beyond all expression difficult and
dangerous, that to persevere meant in all probability the wreck of a
life, and that they led to regions so terrible, that the mind of man
shrinks appalled at the very thought. Moreover, the quiet and the peace
I had enjoyed since my marriage had wiled me away to a great extent from
places where I knew no peace could dwell. But suddenly--I think indeed
it was the work of a single night, as I lay awake on my bed gazing into
the darkness--suddenly, I say, the old desire, the former longing,
returned, and returned with a force that had been intensified ten times
by its absence; and when the day dawned and I looked out of the window,
and saw with haggard eyes the sunrise in the east, I knew that my doom
had been pronounced; that as I had gone far, so now I must go farther
with unfaltering steps. I turned to the bed where my wife was sleeping
peacefully, and lay down again, weeping bitter tears, for the sun had
set on our happy life and had risen with a dawn of terror to us both. I
will not set down here in minute detail what followed; outwardly I went
about the day's labour as before, saying nothing to my wife. But she
soon saw that I had changed; I spent my spare time in a room which I had
fitted up as a laboratory, and often I crept upstairs in the grey dawn
of the morning, when the light of many lamps still glowed over London;
and each night I had stolen a step nearer to that great abyss which I
was to bridge over, the gulf between the world of consciousness and the
world of matter. My experiments were many and complicated in their
nature, and it was some months before I realised whither they all
pointed, and when this was borne in upon me in a moment's time, I felt
my face whiten and my heart still within me. But the power to draw back,
the power to stand before the doors that now opened wide before me and
not to enter in, had long ago been absent; the way was closed, and I
could only pass onward. My position was as utterly hopeless as that of
the prisoner in an utter dungeon, whose only light is that of the
dungeon above him; the doors were shut and escape was impossible.
Experiment after experiment gave the same result, and I knew, and shrank
even as the thought passed through my mind, that in the work I had to do
there must be elements which no laboratory could furnish, which no
scales could ever measure. In that work, from which even I doubted to
escape with life, life itself must enter; from some human being there
must be drawn that essence which men call the soul, and in its place
(for in the scheme of the world there is no vacant chamber)--in its
place would enter in what the lips can hardly utter, what the mind
cannot conceive without a horror more awful than the horror of death
itself. And when I knew this, I knew also on whom this fate would fall;
I looked into my wife's eyes. Even at that hour, if I had gone out and
taken a rope and hanged myself, I might have escaped, and she also, but
in no other way. At last I told her all. She shuddered, and wept, and
called on her dead mother for help, and asked me if I had no mercy, and
I could only sigh. I concealed nothing from her; I told her what she
would become, and what would enter in where her life had been; I told
her of all the shame and of all the horror. You who will read this when
I am dead--if indeed I allow this record to survive--you who have opened
the box and have seen what lies there, if you could understand what lies
hidden in that opal! For one night my wife consented to what I asked of
her, consented with the tears running down her beautiful face, and hot
shame flushing red over her neck and breast, consented to undergo this
for me. I threw open the window, and we looked together at the sky and
the dark earth for the last time; it was a fine star-light night, and
there was a pleasant breeze blowing: and I kissed her on her lips, and
her tears ran down upon my face. That night she came down to my
laboratory, and there, with shutters bolted and barred down, with
curtains drawn thick and close, so that the very stars might be shut out
from the sight of that room, while the crucible hissed and boiled over
the lamp, I did what had to be done, and led out what was no longer a
woman. But on the table the opal flamed and sparkled with such light as
no eyes of man have ever gazed on, and the rays of the flame that was
within it flashed and glittered, and shone even to my heart. My wife had
only asked one thing of me; that when there came at last what I had told
her, I would kill her. I have kept that promise.'

There was nothing more. Dyson let the little pocket-book fall, and
turned and looked again at the opal with its flaming inmost light, and
then with unutterable irresistible horror surging up in his heart,
grasped the jewel, and flung it on the ground, and trampled it beneath
his heel. His face was white with terror as he turned away, and for a
moment stood sick and trembling, and then with a start he leapt across
the room and steadied himself against the door. There was an angry hiss,
as of steam escaping under great pressure, and as he gazed, motionless,
a volume of heavy yellow smoke was slowly issuing from the very centre
of the jewel, and wreathing itself in snakelike coils above it. And then
a thin white flame burst forth from the smoke, and shot up into the air
and vanished; and on the ground there lay a thing like a cinder, black
and crumbling to the touch.


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