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Title: Aylmer Vance and the Vampire
Author: Alice and Claude Askew
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0605091.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: December 2007

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Aylmer Vance and the Vampire
Alice and Claude Askew




Aylmer Vance had rooms in Dover Street, Piccadilly, and now that I had
decided to follow in his footsteps and to accept him as my instructor
in matters psychic, I found it convenient to lodge in the same house.
Aylmer and I quickly became close friends, and he showed me how to
develop that faculty of clairvoyance which I had possessed without
being aware of it. And I may say at once that this particular faculty
of mine proved of service on several important occasions.

At the same time I made myself useful to Vance in other ways, not the
least of which was that of acting as recorder of his many strange
adventures. For himself, he never cared much about publicity, and it
was some time before I could persuade him, in the interests of
science, to allow me to give any detailed account of his experiences
to the world.

The incidents which I will now narrate occurred very soon after we had
taken up our residence together, and while I was still, so to speak, a
novice.

It was about ten o'clock in the morning that a visitor was announced.
He sent up a card which bore upon it the name of Paul Davenant.

The name was familiar to me, and I wondered if this could be the same
Mr Davenant who was so well known for his polo playing and for his
success as an amateur rider, especially over the hurdles? He was a
young man of wealth and position, and I recollected that he had
married, about a year ago, a girl who was reckoned the greatest beauty
of the season. All the illustrated papers had given their portraits at
the time, and I remember thinking what a remarkably handsome couple
they made.

Mr Davenant was ushered in, and at first I was uncertain as to whether
this could be the individual whom I had in mind, so wan and pale and
ill did he appear. A finely-built, upstanding man at the time of his
marriage, he had now acquired a languid droop of the shoulders and a
shuffling gait, while his face, especially about the lips, was
bloodless to an alarming degree.

And yet it was the same man, for behind all this I could recognize the
shadow of the good looks that had once distinguished Paul Davenant.

He took the chair which Aylmer offered him--after the usual
preliminary civilities had been exchanged--and then glanced doubtfully
in my direction. 'I wish to consult you privately, Mr Vance,' he said.
'The matter is of considerable importance to myself, and, if I may say
so, of a somewhat delicate nature.'

Of course I rose immediately to withdraw from the room, but Vance laid
his hand upon my arm.

'If the matter is connected with research in my particular line, Mr
Davenant,' he said, 'if there is any investigation you wish me to take
up on your behalf, I shall be glad if you will include Mr Dexter in
your confidence. Mr Dexter assists me in my work. But, of course--.'

'Oh, no,' interrupted the other, 'if that is the case, pray let Mr
Dexter remain. I think,' he added, glancing at me with a friendly
smile, 'that you are an Oxford man, are you not, Mr Dexter? It was
before my time, but I have heard of your name in connection with the
river. You rowed at Henley, unless I am very much mistaken.'

I admitted the fact, with a pleasurable sensation of pride. I was very
keen upon rowing in those days, and a man's prowess at school and
college always remain dear to his heart. After this we quickly became
on friendly terms, and Paul Davenant proceeded to take Aylmer and
myself into his confidence.

He began by calling attention to his personal appearance. 'You would
hardly recognize me for the same man I was a year ago,' he said. 'I've
been losing flesh steadily for the last six months. I came up from
Scotland about a week ago, to consult a London doctor. I've seen two--
in fact, they've held a sort of consultation over me--but the result,
I may say, is far from satisfactory. They don't seem to know what is really 
the matter with me.'

'Anaemia--heart,' suggested Vance. He was scrutinizing his visitor
keenly, and yet without any particular appearance of doing so. 'I
believe it not infrequently happens that you athletes overdo
yourselves--put too much strain upon the heart--'

'My heart is quite sound,' responded Davenant. 'Physically it is in
perfect condition. The trouble seems to be that it hasn't enough blood
to pump into my veins. The doctors wanted to know if I had met with an
accident involving a great loss of blood--but I haven't. I've had no
accident at all, and as for anaemia, well, I don't seem to show the
ordinary symptoms of it. The inexplicable thing is that I've lost
blood without knowing it, and apparently this has been going on for
some time, for I have been getting steadily worse. It was almost
imperceptible at first--not a sudden collapse, you understand, but a
gradual failure of health.'

'I wonder,' remarked Vance slowly, 'what induced you to consult me?
For you know, of course, the direction in which I pursue my
investigations. May I ask if you have reason to consider that your
state of health is due to some cause which we may describe as super-
physical?'

A slight colour came to Davenant's white cheeks.

'There are curious circumstances,' he said in a low and earnest tone
of voice. 'I've been turning them over in my mind, trying to see light
through them. I daresay it's all the sheerest folly--and I must tell
you that I'm not in the least a superstitious sort of man. I don't
mean to say that I'm absolutely incredulous, but I've never given
thought to such things--I've led too active a life. But, as I have
said, there are curious circumstances about my case, and that is why I
decided upon consulting you.'

'Will you tell me everything without reserve?' said Vance. I could see
that he was interested.

He was sitting up in his chair, his feet supported on a stool, his
elbows on his knees, his chin in his hands--a favourite attitude of
his. 'Have you,' he suggested, slowly, 'any mark upon your body,
anything that you might associate, however remotely, with your present
weakness and ill-health?'

'It's a curious thing that you should ask me that question,' returned
Davenant, 'because I have got a curious mark, a sort of scar, that I
can't account for. But I showed it to the doctors, and they assured me
that it could have nothing whatever to do with my condition. In any
case, if it had, it was something altogether outside their experience.
I think they imagined it to be nothing more than a birthmark, a sort
of mole, for they asked me if I'd had it all my life. But that I can
swear I haven't. I only noticed it for the first time about six months
ago, when my health began to fail. But you can see for yourself.'

He loosened his collar and bared his throat. Vance rose and made a
careful scrutiny of the suspicious mark. It was situated a very little
to the left of the central line, just above the clavicle, and, as
Vance pointed out, directly over the big vessels of the throat. My
friend called to me so that I might examine it, too. Whatever the
opinion of the doctors may have been, Aylmer was obviously deeply
interested. And yet there was very little to show. The skin was quite
intact, and there was no sign of inflammation. There were two red
marks, about an inch apart, each of which was inclined to be crescent
in shape. They were more visible than they might otherwise have been
owing to the peculiar whiteness of Davenant's skin.

'It can't be anything of importance,' said Davenant, with a slightly
uneasy laugh. 'I'm inclined to think the marks are dying away.'

'Have you ever noticed them more inflamed than they are at present?'
inquired Vance. 'If so, was it at any special time?'

Davenant reflected. 'Yes,' he replied slowly, 'there have been times,
usually, I think perhaps invariably, when I wake up in the morning,
that I've noticed them larger and more angry looking. And I've felt a
slight sensation of pain--a tingling--oh, very slight, and I've never
worried about it. Only now you suggest it to my mind, I believe that
those same mornings I have felt particularly tired and done up--a
sensation of lassitude absolutely unusual to me. And once, Mr Vance, I
remember quite distinctly that there was a stain of blood close to the
mark. I didn't think anything of it at the time, and just wiped it
away.'

'I see.' Aylmer Vance resumed his seat and invited his visitor to do
the same. 'And now,' he resumed, 'you said, Mr Davenant, that there
are certain peculiar circumstances you wish to acquaint me with. Will
you do so?'

And so Davenant readjusted his collar and proceeded to tell his story.
I will tell it as far as I can, without any reference to the
occasional interruptions of Vance and myself.

Paul Davenant, as I have said, was a man of wealth and position, and
so, in every sense of the word, he was a suitable husband for Miss
Jessica MacThane, the young lady who eventually became his wife.
Before coming to the incidents attending his loss of health, he had a
great deal to recount about Miss MacThane and her family history.

She was of Scottish descent, and although she had certain
characteristic features of her race, she was not really Scotch in
appearance. Hers was the beauty of the far South rather than that of
the Highlands from which she had her origin. Names are not always
suited to their owners, and Miss MacThane's was peculiarly
inappropriate. She had, in fact, been christened Jessica in a sort of
pathetic effort to counteract her obvious departure from normal type.
There was a reason for this which we were soon to learn.

Miss MacThane was especially remarkable for her wonderful red hair,
hair such as one hardly ever sees outside of Italy--not the Celtic
red--and it was so long that it reached to her feet, and it had an
extraordinary gloss upon it so that it seemed almost to have
individual life of its own.

Then she had just the complexion that one would expect with such hair,
the purest ivory white, and not in the least marred by freckles, as is
so often the case with red-haired girls. Her beauty was derived from
an ancestress who had been brought to Scotland from some foreign
shore--no one knew exactly whence.

Davenant fell in love with her almost at once and he had every reason
to believe, in spite of her many admirers, that his love was returned.
At this time he knew very little about her personal history. He was
aware only that she was very wealthy in her own right, an orphan, and
the last representative of a race that had once been famous in the
annals of history--or rather infamous, for the MacThanes had
distinguished themselves more by cruelty and lust of blood than by
deeds of chivalry. A clan of turbulent robbers in the past, they had
helped to add many a blood-stained page to the history of their
country.

Jessica had lived with her father, who owned a house in London, until
his death when she was about fifteen years of age. Her mother had died
in Scotland when Jessica was still a tiny child. Mr MacThane had been
so affected by his wife's death that, with his little daughter, he had
abandoned his Scotch estate altogether--or so it was believed--leaving
it to the management of a bailiff--though, indeed, there was but
little work for the bailiff to do, since there were practically no
tenants left. Blackwick Castle had borne for many years a most
unenviable reputation.

After the death of her father, Miss MacThane had gone to live with a
certain Mrs Meredith, who was a connection of her mother's--on her
father's side she had not a single relation left.

Jessica was absolutely the last of a clan once so extensive that
intermarriage had been a tradition of the family, but for which the
last two hundred years had been gradually dwindling to extinction.

Mrs Meredith took Jessica into Society--which would never have been
her privilege had Mr MacThane lived, for he was a moody, self-absorbed
man, and prematurely old--one who seemed worn down by the weight of a
great grief.

Well, I have said that Paul Davenant quickly fell in love with
Jessica, and it was not long before he proposed for her hand. To his
great surprise, for he had good reason to believe that she cared for
him, he met with a refusal; nor would she give any explanation, though
she burst into a flood of pitiful tears.

Bewildered and bitterly disappointed, he consulted Mrs Meredith, with
whom he happened to be on friendly terms, and from her he learnt that
Jessica had already had several proposals, all from quite desirable
men, but that one after another had been rejected.

Paul consoled himself with the reflection that perhaps Jessica did not
love them, whereas he was quite sure that she cared for himself. Under
these circumstances he determined to try again.

He did so, and with better result. Jessica admitted her love, but at
the same time she repeated that she would not marry him. Love and
marriage were not for her. Then, to his utter amazement, she declared
that she had been born under a curse--a curse which, sooner or later
was bound to show itself in her, and which, moreover, must react
cruelly, perhaps fatally, upon anyone with whom she linked her life.
How could she allow a man she loved to take such a risk? Above all,
since the evil was hereditary, there was one point upon which she had
quite made up her mind: no child should ever call her mother--she must
be the last of her race indeed.

Of course, Davenant was amazed and inclined to think that Jessica had
got some absurd idea into her head which a little reasoning on his
part would dispel. There was only one other possible explanation. Was
it lunacy she was afraid of? But Jessica shook her head, She did not
know of any lunacy in her family. The ill was deeper, more subtle than
that. And then she told him all that she knew.

The curse--she made us of that word for want of a better--was attached
to the ancient race from which she had her origin. Her father had
suffered from it, and his father and grandfather before him. All three
had taken to themselves young wives who had died mysteriously, of some
wasting disease, within a few years. Had they observed the ancient
family tradition of intermarriage this might possibly not have
happened, but in their case, since the family was so near extinction,
this had not been possible.

For the curse--or whatever it was--did not kill those who bore the
name of MacThane. It only rendered them a danger to others. It was as
if they absorbed from the blood-soaked walls of their fatal castle a
deadly taint which reacted terribly upon those with whom they were
brought into contact, especially their nearest and dearest.

'Do you know what my father said we have it in us to become?' said
Jessica with a shudder.

'He used the word vampires. Paul, think of it--vampires--preying upon
the life blood of others.'And then, when Davenant was inclined to
laugh, she checked him. 'No,' she cried out, 'it is not impossible.
Think. We are a decadent race. From the earliest times our history has
been marked by bloodshed and cruelty. The walls of Blackwick Castle
are impregnated with evil--every stone could tell its tale, of
violence, pain, lust, and murder. What can one expect of those who
have spent their lifetime between its walls?'

'But you have not done so,' exclaimed Paul. 'You have been spared
that, Jessica. You were taken away after your mother died, and you
have no recollection of Blackwick Castle, none at all. And you need
never set foot in it again.'

'I'm afraid the evil is in my blood,' she replied sadly, 'although I
am unconscious of it now.

And as for not returning to Blackwick--I'm not sure I can help myself.
At least, that is what my father warned me of. He said there is
something there, some compelling force, that will call me to it in
spite of myself. But, oh, I don't know--I don't know, and that is what
makes it so difficult. If I could only believe that all this is
nothing but an idle superstition, I might be happy again, for I have
it in me to enjoy life, and I'm young, very young, but my father told
me these things when he was on his death-bed.' She added the last
words in a low, awe-stricken tone.

Paul pressed her to tell him all that she knew, and eventually she
revealed another fragment of family history which seemed to have some
bearing upon the case. It dealt with her own astonishing likeness to
that ancestress of a couple of hundred years ago, whose existence
seemed to have presaged the gradual downfall of the clan of the
MacThanes.

A certain Robert MacThane, departing from the traditions of his
family, which demanded that he should not marry outside his clan,
brought home a wife from foreign shores, a woman of wonderful beauty,
who was possessed of glowing masses of red hair and a complexion of
ivory whiteness--such as had more or less distinguished since then
every female of the race born in the direct line.

It was not long before this woman came to be regarded in the
neighbourhood as a witch. Queer stories were circulated abroad as to
her doings, and the reputation of Blackwick Castle became worse than
ever before.

And then one day she disappeared. Robert MacThane had been absent upon
some business for twenty-four hours, and it was upon his return that
he found her gone. The neighbourhood was searched, but without avail,
and then Robert, who was a violent man and who had adored his foreign
wife, called together certain of his tenants whom he suspected,
rightly or wrongly, of foul play, and had them murdered in cold blood.
Murder was easy in those days, yet such an outcry was raised that
Robert had to take to flight, leaving his two children in the care of
their nurse, and for a long while Blackwick Castle was without a
master.

But its evil reputation persisted. It was said that Zaida, the witch,
though dead, still made her presence felt. Many children of the
tenantry and young people of the neighbourhood sickened and died--
possibly of quite natural causes; but this did not prevent a mantle of
terror settling upon the countryside, for it was said that Zaida had
been seen--a pale woman clad in white--
flitting about the cottages at night, and where she passed sickness
and death were sure to supervene.

And from that time the fortune of the family gradually declined. Heir
succeeded heir, but no sooner was he installed at Blackwick Castle
than his nature, whatever it may previously have been, seemed to
undergo a change. It was as if he absorbed into himself all the weight
of evil that had stained his family name--as if he did, indeed, become
a vampire, bringing blight upon any not directly connected with his
own house. And so, by degrees, Blackwick was deserted of its tenantry.
The land around it was left uncultivated--the farms stood empty. This
had persisted to the present day, for the superstitious peasantry
still told their tales of the mysterious white woman who hovered about
the neighbourhood, and whose appearance betokened death--and possibly
worse than death.

And yet it seemed that the last representatives of the MacThanes could
not desert their ancestral home. Riches they had, sufficient to live
happily upon elsewhere, but, drawn by some power they could not
contend against, they had preferred to spend their lives in the
solitude of the now half-ruined castle, shunned by their neighbours,
feared and execrated by the few tenants that still clung to their
soil.

So it had been with Jessica's grandfather and great-grandfather. Each
of them had married a young wife, and in each case their love story
had been all too brief. The vampire spirit was still abroad,
expressing itself--or so it seemed--through the living representatives
of bygone generations of evil, and young blood had been demanded as
the sacrifice.

And to them had succeeded Jessica's father. He had not profited by
their example, but had followed directly in their footsteps. And the
same fate had befallen the wife whom he passionately adored. She had
died of pernicious anaemia--so the doctors said--but he had regarded
himself as her murderer.

But, unlike his predecessors, he had torn himself away from
Blackwick--and this for the sake of his child. Unknown to her,
however, he had returned year after year, for there were times when
the passionate longing for the gloomy, mysterious halls and corridors
of the old castle, for the wild stretches of moorland, and the dark
pinewoods, would come upon him too strongly to be resisted. And so he
knew that for his daughter, as for himself, there was no escape, and
he warned her, when the relief of death was at last granted to him, of
what her fate must be.

This was the tale that Jessica told the man who wished to make her his
wife, and he made light of it, as such a man would, regarding it all
as foolish superstition, the delusion of a mind overwrought. And at
last--perhaps it was not very difficult, for she loved him with all
her heart and soul--he succeeded in inducing Jessica to think as he
did, to banish morbid ideas, as he called them from her brain, and to
consent to marry him at an early date.

'I'll take any risk you like,' he declared. 'I'll even go and live at
Blackwick if you should desire it. To think of you, my lovely Jessica,
a vampire! Why, I never heard such nonsense in my life.'

'Father said I'm very like Zaida, the witch,' she protested, but he
silenced her with a kiss.

And so they were married and spent their honeymoon abroad, and in the
autumn Paul accepted an invitation to a house party in Scotland for
the grouse shooting, a sport to which he was absolutely devoted, and
Jessica agreed with him that there was no reason why he should forgo
his pleasure.

Perhaps it was an unwise thing to do, to venture to Scotland, but by
this time the young couple, more deeply in love with each other than
ever, had got quite over their fears. Jessica was redolent with health
and spirits, and more than once she declared that if they should be
anywhere in the neighbourhood of Blackwick she would like to see the
old castle out of curiosity, and just to show how absolutely she had
got over the foolish terrors that used to assail her.

This seemed to Paul to be quite a wise plan, and so one day, since
they were actually staying at no great distance, they motored over to
Blackwick, and finding the bailiff, got him to show them over the
castle.

It was a great castellated pile, grey with age, and in places falling
into ruin. It stood on a steep hillside, with the rock of which it
seemed to form part, and on one side of it there was a precipitous
drop to a mountain stream a hundred feet below. The robber MacThanes
of the old days could not have desired a better stronghold.

At the back, climbing up the mountainside were dark pinewoods, from
which, here and there, rugged crags protruded, and these were
fantastically shaped, some like gigantic and misshapen human forms,
which stood up as if they mounted guard over the castle and the narrow
gorge, by which alone it could be approached.

This gorge was always full of weird, uncanny sounds. It might have
been a storehouse for the wind, which, even on calm days, rushed up
and down as if seeking an escape, and it moaned among the pines and
whistled in the crags and shouted derisive laughter as it was tossed
from side to side of the rocky heights. It was like the plaint of lost
souls--that is the expression Davenant made use of--the plaint of lost
souls.

The road, little more than a track now, passed through this gorge, and
then, after skirting a small but deep lake, which hardly knew the
light of the sun so shut in was it by overhanging trees, climbed the
hill to the castle.

And the castle! Davenant used but a few words to describe it, yet
somehow I could see the gloomy edifice in my mind's eye, and something
of the lurking horror that it contained communicated itself to my
brain. Perhaps my clairvoyant sense assisted me, for when he spoke of
them I seemed already acquainted with the great stone halls, the long
corridors, gloomy and cold even on the brightest and warmest of days,
the dark, oak-panelled rooms, and the broad central staircase up which
one of the early MacThanes had once led a dozen men on horseback in
pursuit of a stag which had taken refuge within the precincts of the
castle. There was the keep, too, its walls so thick that the ravages
of time had made no impression upon them, and beneath the keep were
dungeons which could tell terrible tales of ancient wrong and
lingering pain.

Well, Mr and Mrs Davenant visited as much as the bailiff could show
them of this ill-omened edifice, and Paul, for his part, thought
pleasantly of his own Derbyshire home, the fine Georgian mansion,
replete with every modern comfort, where he proposed to settle with
his wife. And so he received something of a shock when, as they drove
away, she slipped her hand into his and whispered:

'Paul, you promised, didn't you, that you would refuse me nothing?'

She had been strangely silent till she spoke those words. Paul,
slightly apprehensive, assured her that she only had to ask--but the
speech did not come from his heart, for he guessed vaguely what she
desired.

She wanted to go and live at the castle--oh, only for a little while,
for she was sure she would soon tire of it. But the bailiff had told
her that there were papers, documents, which she ought to examine,
since the property was now hers--and, besides, she was interested in
this home of her ancestors, and wanted to explore it more thoroughly.
Oh, no, she wasn't in the least influenced by the old superstition--
that wasn't the attraction--she had quite got over those silly ideas.
Paul had cured her, and since he himself was so convinced that they
were without foundation he ought not to mind granting her her whim.

This was a plausible argument, not easy to controvert. In the end Paul
yielded, though it was not without a struggle. He suggested
amendments. Let him at least have the place done up for her--that
would take time; or let them postpone their visit till next year--in
the summer--not move in just as the winter was upon them.

But Jessica did not want to delay longer than she could help, and she
hated the idea of redecoration. Why, it would spoil the illusion of
the old place, and, besides, it would be a waste of money since she
only wished to remain there for a week or two. The Derbyshire house
was not quite ready yet; they must allow time for the paper to dry on
the walls.

And so, a week later, when their stay with their friends was
concluded, they went to Blackwick, the bailiff having engaged a few
raw servants and generally made things as comfortable for them as
possible. Paul was worried and apprehensive, but he could not admit
this to his wife after having so loudly proclaimed his theories on the
subject of superstition.

They had been married three months at this time--nine had passed since
then, and they had never left Blackwick for more than a few hours--
till now Paul had come to London--alone.

'Over and over again,' he declared, 'my wife has begged me to go. With
tears in her eyes, almost upon her knees, she has entreated me to
leave her, but I have steadily refused unless she will accompany me.
But that is the trouble, Mr Vance, she cannot; there is something,
some mysterious horror, that holds her there as surely as if she were
bound with fetters. It holds her more strongly even than it held her
father--we found out that he used to spend six months at least of
every year at Blackwick--months when he pretended that he was
travelling abroad. You see the spell--or whatever the accursed thing
may be--never really relaxed its grip of him.'

'Did you never attempt to take your wife away?' asked Vance.

'Yes, several times; but it was hopeless. She would become so ill as
soon as we were beyond the limit of the estate that I invariably had
to take her back. Once we got as far as Dorekirk--that is the nearest
town, you know--and I thought I should be successful if only I could
get through the night. But she escaped me; she climbed out of a
window--she meant to go back on foot, at night, all those long miles.
Then I have had doctors down; but it is I who wanted the doctors, not
she. They have ordered me away, but I have refused to obey them till
now.'

'Is your wife changed at all--physically?' interrupted Vance.

Davenant reflected. 'Changed,' he said, 'yes, but so subtly that I
hardly know how to describe it. She is more beautiful than ever--and
yet it isn't the same beauty, if you can understand me. I have spoken
of her white complexion, well, one is more than ever conscious of it
now, because her lips have become so red--they are almost like a
splash of blood upon her face. And the upper one has a peculiar curve
that I don't think it had before, and when she laughs she doesn't
smile--

Do you know what I mean? Then her hair--it has lost its wonderful
gloss. Of course, I know she is fretting about me; but that is so
peculiar, too, for at times, as I have told you, she will implore me
to go and leave her, and then perhaps only a few minutes later, she
will wreathe her arms round my neck and say she cannot live without
me. And I feel that there is a struggle going on within her, that she
is only yielding slowly to the horrible influence--whatever it is--
that she is herself when she begs me to go, but when she entreats me
to stay--and it is then that her fascination is most intense--oh, I
can't help remembering what she told me before we were married, and
that word'--he lowered his voice-'the word "vampire"--'

He passed his hand over his brow that was wet with perspiration. 'But
that's absurd, ridiculous,' he muttered; 'these fantastic beliefs have
been exploded years ago. We live in the twentieth century.'

A pause ensued, then Vance said quietly, 'Mr Davenant, since you have
taken me into your confidence, since you have found doctors of no
avail, will you let me try to help you? I think I may be of some use--
if it is not already too late. Should you agree, Mr Dexter and I will
accompany you, as you have suggested, to Blackwick Castle as early as
possible--by tonight's mail North. Under ordinary circumstances I
should tell you as you value your life, not to return--'. Davenant
shook his head. 'That is advice which I should never take,' he
declared. 'I had already decided, under any circumstances, to travel
North tonight. I am glad that you both will accompany me.'

And so it was decided. We settled to meet at the station, and
presently Paul Davenant took his departure. Any other details that
remained to be told he would put us in possession of during the course
of the journey.

'A curious and most interesting case,' remarked Vance when we were
alone. 'What do you make of it, Dexter?'

'I suppose,' I replied cautiously, 'that there is such a thing as
vampirism even in these days of advanced civilization? I can
understand the evil influence that a very old person may have upon a
young one if they happen to be in constant intercourse--the worn-out
tissue sapping healthy vitality for their own support. And there are
certain people--I could think of several myself--who seem to depress
one and undermine one's energies, quite unconsciously, of course, but
one feels somehow that vitality has passed from oneself to them. And
in this case, when the force is centuries old, expressing itself, in
some mysterious way, through Davenant's wife, is it not feasible to
believe that he may be physically affected by it, even though the
whole thing is sheerly mental?'

'You think, then,' demanded Vance, 'that it is sheerly mental? Tell
me, if that is so, how do you account for the marks on Davenant's
throat?'

This was a question to which I found no reply, and though I pressed
him for his views, Vance would not commit himself further just then.

Of our long journey to Scotland I need say nothing. We did not reach
Blackwick Castle till late in the afternoon of the following day. The
place was just as I had conceived it--as I have already described it.
And a sense of gloom settled upon me as our car jolted us over the
rough road that led through the Gorge of the Winds--a gloom that
deepened when we penetrated into the vast cold hall of the castle.

Mrs Davenant, who had been informed by telegram of our arrival,
received us cordially. She knew nothing of our actual mission,
regarding us merely as friends of her husband's. She was most
solicitous on his behalf, but there was something strained about her
tone, and it made me feel vaguely uneasy. The impression that I got
was that the woman was impelled to everything that she said or did by
some force outside herself--but, of course, this was a conclusion that
the circumstances I was aware of might easily have conduced to. In
every other aspect she was charming, and she had an extraordinary
fascination of appearance and manner that made me readily understand
the force of a remark made by Davenant during our journey.

'I want to live for Jessica's sake. Get her away from Blackwick,
Vance, and I feel that all will be well. I'd go through hell to have
her restored to me--as she was.'

And now that I had seen Mrs Davenant I realized what he meant by those
last words. Her fascination was stronger than ever, but it was not a
natural fascination--not that of a normal woman, such as she had been.
It was the fascination of a Circe, of a witch, of an enchantress--and
as such was irresistible.

We had a strong proof of the evil within her soon after our arrival.
It was a test that Vance had quietly prepared. Davenant had mentioned
that no flowers grew at Blackwick, and Vance declared that we must
take some with us as a present for the lady of the house. He purchased
a bouquet of pure white roses at the little town where we left the
train, for the motorcar has been sent to meet us. Soon after our
arrival he presented these to Mrs Davenant. She took them it seemed to
me nervously, and hardly had her hand touched them before they fell to
pieces, in a shower of crumpled petals, to the floor.

'We must act at once,' said Vance to me when we were descending to
dinner that night. 'There must be no delay.'

'What are you afraid of?' I whispered.

'Davenant has been absent a week,' he replied grimly. 'He is stronger
than when he went away, but not strong enough to survive the loss of
more blood. He must be protected. There is danger tonight.'

'You mean from his wife?' I shuddered at the ghastliness of the
suggestion.

'That is what time will show.' Vance turned to me and added a few
words with intense earnestness. 'Mrs Davenant, Dexter, is at present
hovering between two conditions. The evil thing has not yet completely
mastered her--you remember what Davenant said, how she would beg him
to go away and the next moment entreat him to stay? She has made a
struggle, but she is gradually succumbing, and this last week, spent
here alone, has strengthened the evil. And that is what I have got to
fight, Dexter--it is to be a contest of will, a contest that will go
on silently till one or the other obtains the mastery. If you watch,
you may see. Should a change show itself in Mrs Davenant you will know
that I have won.'

Thus I knew the direction in which my friend proposed to act. It was
to be a war of his will against the mysterious power that had laid its
curse upon the house of MacThane. Mrs Davenant must be released from
the fatal charm that held her.

And I, knowing what was going on, was able to watch and understand. I
realized that the silent contest had begun even while we ate dinner.
Mrs Davenant ate practically nothing and seemed ill at ease; she
fidgeted in her chair, talked a great deal, and laughed--it was the
laugh without a smile, as Davenant had described it. And as soon as
she was able to she withdrew.

Later, as we sat in the drawing-room, I could feel the clash of wills.
The air in the room felt electric and heavy, charged with tremendous
but invisible forces. And outside, round the castle, the wind whistled
and shrieked and moaned--it was as if all the dead and gone MacThanes,
a grim army, had collected to fight the battle of their race.

And all this while we four in the drawing-room were sitting and
talking the ordinary commonplaces of after--dinner conversation! That
was the extraordinary part of it--Paul Davenant suspected nothing, and
I, who knew, had to play my part. But I hardly took my eyes from
Jessica's face. When would the change come, or was it, indeed, too
late!

At last Davenant rose and remarked that he was tired and would go to
bed. There was no need for Jessica to hurry. We would sleep that night
in his dressing-room and did not want to be disturbed.

And it was at that moment, as his lips met hers in a goodnight kiss,
as she wreathed her enchantress arms about him, careless of our
presence, her eyes gleaming hungrily, that the change came.

It came with a fierce and threatening shriek of wind, and a rattling
of the casement, as if the horde of ghosts without was about to break
in upon us. A long, quivering sigh escaped from Jessica's lips, her
arms fell from her husband's shoulders, and she drew back, swaying a
little from side to side.

'Paul,' she cried, and somehow the whole timbre of her voice was
changed, 'what a wretch I've been to bring you back to Blackwick, ill
as you are! But we'll go away, dear; yes, I'll go, too. Oh, will you
take me away--take me away tomorrow?' She spoke with an intense
earnestness--unconscious all the time of what had been happening to
her. Long shudders were convulsing her frame. 'I don't know why I've
wanted to stay here,' she kept repeating. 'I hate the place, really--
it's evil--evil.'

Having heard these words I exulted, for surely Vance's success was
assured. But I was to learn that the danger was not yet past.

Husband and wife separated, each going to their own room. I noticed
the grateful, if mystified glance that Davenant threw at Vance,
vaguely aware, as he must have been, that my friend was somehow
responsible for what had happened. It was settled that plans for
departure were to be discussed on the morrow.

'I have succeeded,' Vance said hurriedly, when we were alone, 'but the
change may be a transitory. I must keep watch tonight. Go you to bed,
Dexter, there is nothing that you can do.'

I obeyed--though I would sooner have kept watch, too--watch against a
danger of which I had no understanding. I went to my room, a gloomy
and sparsely furnished apartment, but I knew that it was quite
impossible for me to think of sleeping. And so, dressed as I was, I
went and sat by the open window, for now the wind that had raged round
the castle had died down to a low moaning in the pinetrees--a
whimpering of time-worn agony.

And it was as I sat thus that I became aware of a white figure that
stole out from the castle by a door that I could not see, and, with
hands clasped, ran swiftly across the terrace to the wood. I had but a
momentary glance, but I felt convinced that the figure was that of
Jessica Davenant.

And instinctively I knew that some great danger was imminent. It was,
I think, the suggestion of despair conveyed by those clasped hands. At
any rate, I did not hesitate. My window was some height from the
ground, but the wall below was ivy-clad and afforded good foothold.
The descent was quite easy. I achieved it, and was just in time to
take up the pursuit in the right direction, which was into the
thickness of the wood that clung to the slope of the hill.

I shall never forget that wild chase. There was just sufficient room
to enable me to follow the rough path, which, luckily, since I had now
lost sight of my quarry, was the only possible way that she could have
taken; there were no intersecting tracks, and the wood was too thick
on either side to permit of deviation.

And the wood seemed full of dreadful sounds--moaning and wailing and
hideous laughter.

The wind, of course, and the screaming of night birds--once I felt the
fluttering of wings in close proximity to my face. But I could not rid
myself of the thought that I, in my turn, was being pursued, that the
forces of hell were combined against me.

The path came to an abrupt end on the border of the sombre lake that I
have already mentioned. And now I realized that I was indeed only just
in time, for before me, plunging knee deep in the water, I recognized
the white-clad figure of the woman I had been pursuing. Hearing my
footsteps, she turned her head, and then threw up her arms and
screamed. Her red hair fell in heavy masses about her shoulders, and
her face, as I saw it in that moment, was hardly human for the agony
of remorse that it depicted.

'Go!' she screamed. 'For God's sake let me die!'

But I was by her side almost as she spoke. She struggled with me--
sought vainly to tear herself from my clasp--implored me, with panting
breath, to let her drown.

'It's the only way to save him!' she gasped. 'Don't you understand
that I am a thing accursed? For it is I--I--who have sapped his life
blood! I know it now, the truth has been revealed to me tonight! I am
a vampire, without hope in this world or the next, so for his sake--
for the sake of his unborn child--let me die--let me die!' Was ever so
terrible an appeal made? Yet I--what could I do? Gently I overcame her
resistance and drew her back to shore. By the time I reached it she
was lying a dead weight upon my arm. I laid her down upon a mossy
bank, and, kneeling by her side, gazed intently into her face.

And then I knew that I had done well. For the face I looked upon was
not that of Jessica the vampire, as I had seen it that afternoon, it
was the face of Jessica, the woman whom Paul Davenant had loved.

And later Aylmer Vance had his tale to tell.

'I waited', he said, 'until I knew that Davenant was asleep, and then
I stole into his room to watch by his bedside. And presently she came,
as I guessed she would, the vampire, the accursed thing that has
preyed upon the souls of her kin, making them like to herself when
they too have passed into Shadowland, and gathering sustenance for her
horrid task from the blood of those who are alien to her race. Paul's
body and Jessica's soul--it is for one and the other, Dexter, that we
have fought.'

'You mean,' I hesitated, 'Zaida the witch?'

'Even so,' he agreed. 'Hers is the evil spirit that has fallen like a
blight upon the house of MacThane. But now I think she may be
exorcized for ever.'

'Tell me.'

'She came to Paul Davenant last night, as she must have done before,
in the guise of his wife.

You know that Jessica bears a strong resemblance to her ancestress. He
opened his arms, but she was foiled of her prey, for I had taken my
precautions; I had placed that upon Davenant's breast while he slept
which robbed the vampire of her power of ill. She sped wailing from
the room--a shadow--she who a minute before had looked at him with
Jessica's eyes and spoken to him with Jessica's voice. Her red lips
were Jessica's lips, and they were close to his when his eyes were
opened and he saw her as she was--a hideous phantom of the corruption
of the ages. And so the spell was removed, and she fled away to the
place whence she had come--'

He paused. 'And now?' I inquired.

'Blackwick Castle must be razed to the ground,' he replied. 'That is
the only way. Every stone of it, every brick, must be ground to powder
and burnt with fire, for therein is the cause of all the evil.
Davenant has consented.'

'And Mrs Davenant?'

'I think,' Vance answered cautiously, 'that all may be well with her.
The curse will be removed with the destruction of the castle. She has
not--thanks to you--perished under its influence. She was less guilty
than she imagined--herself preyed upon rather than preying. But can't
you understand her remorse when she realized, as she was bound to
realize, the part she had played? And the knowledge of the child to
come--its fatal inheritance--'

'I understand.' I muttered with a shudder. And then, under my breath,
I whispered, 'Thank God!'



THE END




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