Brood of the Witch Queen/Chapter 30
At dusk that evening, Dr. Cairn, his son, and Myra Duquesne met together in the library. The girl looked rather pale.
An odour of incense pervaded the house, coming from the doctor's study, wherein he had locked himself early in the evening, issuing instructions that he was not to be disturbed. The exact nature of the preparations which he had been making, Robert Cairn was unable to conjecture; and some instinct warned him that his father would not welcome any inquiry upon the matter. He realised that Dr. Cairn proposed to fight Antony Ferrara with his own weapons, and now, when something in the very air of the house seemed to warn them of a tremendous attack impending, that the doctor, much against his will, was entering the arena in the character of a practical magician—a character new to him, and obviously abhorrent.
At half-past ten, the servants all retired in accordance with Dr. Cairn's orders. From where he stood by the tall mantel-piece, Robert Cairn could watch Myra Duquesne, a dainty picture in her simple evening-gown, where she sat reading in a distant corner, her delicate beauty forming a strong contrast to the background of sombre volumes. Dr. Cairn sat by the big table, smoking, and apparently listening. A strange device which he had adopted every evening for the past week, he had adopted again to-night—there were little white seals, bearing a curious figure, consisting in interlaced triangles, upon the insides of every window in the house, upon the doors, and even upon the fire-grates.
Robert Cairn at another time might have thought his father mad, childish, thus to play at wizardry; but he had had experiences which had taught him to recognise that upon such seemingly trivial matters, great issues might turn, that in the strange land over the Border, there were stranger laws—laws which he could but dimly understand. There he acknowledged the superior wisdom of Dr. Cairn; and did not question it.
At eleven o'clock a comparative quiet had come upon Half-Moon Street. The sound of the traffic had gradually subsided, until it seemed to him that the house stood, not in the busy West End of London, but isolated, apart from its neighbours; it seemed to him an abode, marked out and separated from the other abodes of man, a house enveloped in an impalpable cloud, a cloud of evil, summoned up and directed by the wizard hand of Antony Ferrara, son of the Witch-Queen.
Although Myra pretended to read, and Dr. Cairn, from his fixed expression, might have been supposed to be pre-occupied, in point of fact they were all waiting, with nerves at highest tension, for the opening of the attack. In what form it would come—whether it would be vague moanings and tappings upon the windows, such as they had already experienced, whether it would be a phantasmal storm, a clap of phenomenal thunder—they could not conjecture, if the enemy would attack suddenly, or if his menace would grow, threatening from afar off, and then gradually penetrating into the heart of the garrison.
It came, then, suddenly and dramatically.
Dropping her book, Myra uttered a piercing scream, and with eyes glaring madly, fell forward on the carpet, unconscious!
Robert Cairn leapt to his feet with clenched fists. His father stood up so rapidly as to overset his chair, which fell crashingly upon the floor.
Together they turned and looked in the direction in which the girl had been looking. They fixed their eyes upon the drapery of the library window—which was drawn together. The whole window was luminous as though a bright light shone outside, but luminous, as though that light were the light of some unholy fire!
Involuntarily they both stepped back, and Robert Cairn clutched his father's arm convulsively.
The curtains seemed to be rendered transparent, as if some powerful ray were directed upon them; the window appeared through them as a rectangular blue patch. Only two lamps were burning in the library, that in the corner by which Myra had been reading, and the green shaded lamp upon the table. The best end of the room by the window, then, was in shadow, against which this unnatural light shone brilliantly.
"My God!" whispered Robert Cairn—"that's Half-Moon Street—outside. There can be no light—"
He broke off, for now he perceived the Thing which had occasioned the girl's scream of horror.
In the middle of the rectangular patch of light, a grey shape, but partially opaque, moved—shifting, luminous clouds about it—was taking form, growing momentarily more substantial!
It had some remote semblance of a man; but its unique characteristic was its awful greyness. It had the greyness of a rain cloud, yet rather that of a column of smoke. And from the centre of the dimly defined head, two eyes—balls of living fire—glared out into the room!
Heat was beating into the library from the window—physical heat, as though a furnace door had been opened ... and the shape, ever growing more palpable, was moving forward towards them—approaching—the heat every instant growing greater.
It was impossible to look at those two eyes of fire; it was almost impossible to move. Indeed Robert Cairn was transfixed in such horror as, in all his dealings with the monstrous Ferrara, he had never known before. But his father, shaking off the dread which possessed him also, leapt at one bound to the library table.
Robert Cairn vaguely perceived that a small group of objects, looking like balls of wax, lay there. Dr. Cairn had evidently been preparing them in the locked study. Now he took them all up in his left hand, and confronted the Thing—which seemed to be growing into the room—for it did not advance in the ordinary sense of the word.
One by one he threw the white pellets into that vapoury greyness. As they touched the curtain, they hissed as if they had been thrown into a fire; they melted; and upon the transparency of the drapings, as upon a sheet of gauze, showed faint streaks, where, melting, they trickled down the tapestry.
As he cast each pellet from his hand, Dr. Cairn took a step forward, and cried out certain words in a loud voice—words which Robert Cairn knew he had never heard uttered before, words in a language which some instinct told him to be Ancient Egyptian.
Their effect was to force that dreadful shape gradually to disperse, as a cloud of smoke might disperse when the fire which occasions it is extinguished slowly. Seven pellets in all he threw towards the window—and the seventh struck the curtains, now once more visible in their proper form.
The Fire Elemental had been vanquished!
Robert Cairn clutched his hair in a sort of frenzy. He glared at the draped window, feeling that he was making a supreme effort to retain his sanity. Had it ever looked otherwise? Had the tapestry ever faded before him, becoming visible in a great light which had shone through it from behind? Had the Thing, a Thing unnameable, indescribable, stood there?
He read his answer upon the tapestry.
Whitening streaks showed where the pellets, melting, had trickled down the curtain!
"Lift Myra on the settee!"
It was Dr. Cairn speaking, calmly, but in a strained voice.
Robert Cairn, as if emerging from a mist, turned to the recumbent white form upon the carpet. Then, with a great cry, he leapt forward and raised the girl's head.
"Myra!" he groaned. "Myra, speak to me."
"Control yourself, boy," rapped Dr. Cairn, sternly; "she cannot speak until you have revived her! She has swooned—nothing worse."
"We have conquered!"