Brood of the Witch Queen/Chapter 29

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Robert Cairn entered a photographer's shop in Baker Street.

"You recently arranged to do views of some houses in the West End for a gentleman?" he said to the girl in charge.

"That is so," she replied, after a moment's hesitation. "We did pictures of the house of some celebrated specialist—for a magazine article they were intended. Do you wish us to do something similar?"

"Not at the moment," replied Robert Cairn, smiling slightly. "I merely want the address of your client."

"I do not know that I can give you that," replied the girl doubtfully, "but he will be here about eleven o'clock for proofs, if you wish to see him."

"I wonder if I can confide in you," said Robert Cairn, looking the girl frankly in the eyes.

She seemed rather confused.

"I hope there is nothing wrong," she murmured.

"You have nothing to fear," he replied, "but unfortunately there is something wrong, which, however, I cannot explain. Will you promise me not to tell your client—I do not ask his name—that I have been here, or have been making any inquiries respecting him?"

"I think I can promise that," she replied.

"I am much indebted to you."

Robert Cairn hastily left the shop, and began to look about him for a likely hiding-place from whence, unobserved, he might watch the photographer's. An antique furniture dealer's, some little distance along on the opposite side, attracted his attention. He glanced at his watch. It was half-past ten.

If, upon the pretence of examining some of the stock, he could linger in the furniture shop for half-an-hour, he would be enabled to get upon the track of Ferrara!

His mind made up, he walked along and entered the shop. For the next half-an-hour, he passed from item to item of the collection displayed there, surveying each in the leisurely manner of a connoisseur; but always he kept a watch, through the window, upon the photographer's establishment beyond.

Promptly at eleven o'clock a taxi cab drew up at the door, and from it a slim man alighted. He wore, despite the heat of the morning, an overcoat of some woolly material; and in his gait, as he crossed the pavement to enter the shop, there was something revoltingly effeminate; a sort of cat-like grace which had been noticeable in a woman, but which in a man was unnatural, and for some obscure reason, sinister.

It was Antony Ferrara!

Even at that distance and in that brief time, Robert Cairn could see the ivory face, the abnormal, red lips, and the long black eyes of this arch fiend, this monster masquerading as a man. He had much ado to restrain his rising passion; but, knowing that all depended upon his cool action, he waited until Ferrara had entered the photographer's. With a word of apology to the furniture dealer, he passed quickly into Baker Street. Everything rested, now, upon his securing a cab before Ferrara came out again. Ferrara's cabman, evidently, was waiting for him.

A taxi driver fortunately hailed Cairn at the very moment that he gained the pavement; and Cairn, concealing himself behind the vehicle, gave the man rapid instructions:

"You see that taxi outside the photographer's?" he said.

The man nodded.

"Wait until someone comes out of the shop and is driven off in it; then follow. Do not lose sight of the cab for a moment. When it draws up, and wherever it draws up, drive right past it. Don't attract attention by stopping. You understand?"

"Quite, sir," said the man, smiling slightly. And Cairn entered the cab.

The cabman drew up at a point some little distance beyond, from whence he could watch. Two minutes later Ferrara came out and was driven off. The pursuit commenced.

His cab, ahead, proceeded to Westminster Bridge, across to the south side of the river, and by way of that commercial thoroughfare at the back of St. Thomas' Hospital, emerged at Vauxhall. Thence the pursuit led to Stockwell, Herne Hill, and yet onward towards Dulwich.

It suddenly occurred to Robert Cairn that Ferrara was making in the direction of Mr. Saunderson's house at Dulwich Common; the house in which Myra had had her mysterious illness, in which she had remained until it had become evident that her safety depended upon her never being left alone for one moment.

"What can be his object?" muttered Cairn.

He wondered if Ferrara, for some inscrutable reason, was about to call upon Mr. Saunderson. But when the cab ahead, having passed the park, continued on past the lane in which the house was situated, he began to search for some other solution to the problem of Ferrara's destination.

Suddenly he saw that the cab ahead had stopped. The driver of his own cab without slackening speed, pursued his way. Cairn crouched down upon the floor, fearful of being observed. No house was visible to right nor left, merely open fields; and he knew that it would be impossible for him to delay in such a spot without attracting attention.

Ferrara's cab passed:

"Keep on till I tell you to stop!" cried Cairn.

He dropped the speaking-tube, and, turning, looked out through the little window at the back.

Ferrara had dismissed his cab; he saw him entering a gate and crossing a field on the right of the road. Cairn turned again and took up the tube.

"Stop at the first house we come to!" he directed. "Hurry!"

Presently a deserted-looking building was reached, a large straggling house which obviously had no tenant. Here the man pulled up and Cairn leapt out. As he did so, he heard Ferrara's cab driving back by the way it had come.

"Here," he said, and gave the man half a sovereign, "wait for me."

He started back along the road at a run. Even had he suspected that he was followed, Ferrara could not have seen him. But when Cairn came up level with the gate through which Ferrara had gone, he slowed down and crept cautiously forward.

Ferrara, who by this time had reached the other side of the field, was in the act of entering a barn-like building which evidently at some time had formed a portion of a farm. As the distant figure, opening one of the big doors, disappeared within:

"The place of which Myra has been dreaming!" muttered Cairn.

Certainly, viewed from that point, it seemed to answer, externally, to the girl's description. The roof was of moss-grown red tiles, and Cairn could imagine how the moonlight would readily find access through the chinks which beyond doubt existed in the weather-worn structure. He had little doubt that this was the place dreamt of, or seen clairvoyantly, by Myra, that this was the place to which Ferrara had retreated in order to conduct his nefarious operations.

It was eminently suited to the purpose, being entirely surrounded by unoccupied land. For what ostensible purpose Ferrara has leased it, he could not conjecture, nor did he concern himself with the matter. The purpose for which actually he had leased the place was sufficiently evident to the man who had suffered so much at the hands of this modern sorcerer.

To approach closer would have been indiscreet; this he knew; and he was sufficiently diplomatic to resist the temptation to obtain a nearer view of the place. He knew that everything depended upon secrecy. Antony Ferrara must not suspect that his black laboratory was known. Cairn decided to return to Half-Moon Street without delay, fully satisfied with the result of his investigation.

He walked rapidly back to where the cab waited, gave the man his father's address, and, in three-quarters of an hour, was back in Half-Moon Street.

Dr. Cairn had not yet dismissed the last of his patients; Myra, accompanied by Miss Saunderson, was out shopping; and Robert found himself compelled to possess his soul in patience. He paced restlessly up and down the library, sometimes taking a book at random, scanning its pages with unseeing eyes, and replacing it without having formed the slightest impression of its contents. He tried to smoke; but his pipe was constantly going out, and he had littered the hearth untidily with burnt matches, when Dr. Cairn suddenly opened the library door, and entered.

"Well?" he said eagerly.

Robert Cairn leapt forward.

"I have tracked him, sir!" he cried. "My God! while Myra was at Saunderson's, she was almost next door to the beast! His den is in a field no more than a thousand yards from the garden wall—from Saunderson's orchid-houses!"

"He is daring," muttered Dr. Cairn, "but his selection of that site served two purposes. The spot was suitable in many ways; and we were least likely to look for him next-door, as it were. It was a move characteristic of the accomplished criminal."

Robert Cairn nodded.

"It is the place of which Myra dreamt, sir. I have not the slightest doubt about that. What we have to find out is at what times of the day and night he goes there—"

"I doubt," interrupted Dr. Cairn, "if he often visits the place during the day. As you know, he has abandoned his rooms in Piccadilly, but I have no doubt, knowing his sybaritic habits, that he has some other palatial place in town. I have been making inquiries in several directions, especially in—certain directions—"

He paused, raising his eyebrows, significantly.

"Additions to the Zenana!" inquired Robert.

Dr. Cairn nodded his head grimly.

"Exactly," he replied. "There is not a scrap of evidence upon which, legally, he could be convicted; but since his return from Egypt, Rob, he has added other victims to the list!"

"The fiend!" cried the younger man, "the unnatural fiend!"

"Unnatural is the word; he is literally unnatural; but many women find him irresistible; he is typical of the unholy brood to which he belongs. The evil beauty of the Witch-Queen sent many a soul to perdition; the evil beauty of her son has zealously carried on the work."

"What must we do?"

"I doubt if we can do anything to-day. Obviously the early morning is the most suitable time to visit his den at Dulwich Common."

"But the new photographs of the house? There will be another attempt upon us to-night."

"Yes, there will be another attempt upon us, to-night," said the doctor wearily. "This is the year 1914; yet, here in Half-Moon Street, when dusk falls, we shall be submitted to an attack of a kind to which mankind probably has not been submitted for many ages. We shall be called upon to dabble in the despised magical art; we shall be called upon to place certain seals upon our doors and windows; to protect ourselves against an enemy, who, like Eros, laughs at locks and bars."

"Is it possible for him to succeed?"

"Quite possible, Rob, in spite of all our precautions. I feel in my very bones that to-night he will put forth a supreme effort."

A bell rang.

"I think," continued the doctor, "that this is Myra. She must get all the sleep she can, during the afternoon; for to-night I have determined that she, and you, and I, must not think of sleep, but must remain together, here in the library. We must not lose sight of one another—you understand?"

"I am glad that you have proposed it!" cried Robert Cairn eagerly, "I, too, feel that we have come to a critical moment in the contest."

"To-night," continued the doctor, "I shall be prepared to take certain steps. My preparations will occupy me throughout the rest of to-day."