The Dream Detective (New York, 1925)/Case of the Veil of Isis
CASE OF THE VEIL OF ISIS
I HAVE made no attempt, in these chronicles, to arrange the cases of my remarkable friend, Moris Klaw, in sections. Yet, as has recently been pointed out to me, they seem naturally to fall into two orders. There were those in which he appeared in the role of criminal investigator, and in which he was usually associated with Inspector Grimsby. There was another class of inquiry in which the criminal element was lacking: mysteries which never came under the notice of New Scotland Yard.
Since Moris Klaw's methods were, if not supernatural, at any rate supernormal, I have been asked if he ever, to my knowledge, inquired into a case which proved insusceptible of a natural explanation—which fell strictly within the province of the occult.
To that I answer that I am aware of several; but I have refrained from including them because readers of these papers would be unlikely to appreciate the nature of Klaw's investigations outside the sphere of ordinary natural laws. Those who are curious upon the point cannot do better than consult the remarkable work by Moris Klaw entitled, "Psychic Angles."
But there was one case with which I found myself concerned that I am disposed to include, for it fell between the provinces of the natural and supernatural in such a way that it might, with equal legitimacy, be included under either head. On the whole, I am disposed to bracket it with the case of the headless mummies.
I will take leave to introduce you, then, to the company which met at Otter Brearley's house one night in August.
"This is most truly amazing," Moris Klaw was saying; "and I am indebted to my good friend Searles"—he inclined his sparsely covered head in my direction—"for the opportunity to be one of you. It is a séance? Yes and no. But there is a mummy in it—and those mummies are so instructive!"
He extracted the scent spray from his pocket and refreshed his yellow brow with verbena.
"How to be regretted that my daughter is in Paris" he continued, his rumbling voice echoing queerly about the room. "She loves them like a mother—those mummies! Ah, Mr. Brearley, this will cement your great reputation!"
Otter Brearley shook his head.
"I am not yet prepared to make it public property," he declared, slowly. "No one, outside the present circle, knows of my discovery. I do not wish it to go farther—at present."
He glanced around the table, his prominent blue eyes passing from myself to Moris Klaw and from Klaw to the clean-cut dark face of Doctor Fairbank. The latter, scarce heeding his host's last words, sat watching how the shaded light played, tenderly, amid the soft billows of Ailsa Brearley's wonderful hair.
"Shall you make it the subject of a paper?" he asked suddenly.
"My dear Doctor Fairbank!" rumbled Moris Klaw, solemnly, "if you had been paying attention to our good friend you would have heard him say that he was not prepared, at present, to make public his wonderful discovery."
"Sorry!" said Fairbank, turning to Brearley. "But if it is not to be made public I don't altogether follow the idea. What do you intend, Brearley?"
"I intend to experiment," answered Brearley.
"In what way?" I asked.
"In every way possible!"
Doctor Fairbank sat back in his chair and looked thoughtful.
"Rather a comprehensive scheme?"
Brearley toyed with the bundle of notes under his hand.
"I have already," he said, "exhaustively examined seven of the possibilities; the eighth, and—I believe, the last—remains to be considered."
"Listen now to me, Mr. Brearley," said Moris Klaw, wagging a long finger. "I am here, the old curious, and find myself in delightful company. But until this evening I know nothing of your work except that I have read all your books. For me you will be so good as to outline all the points—yes?"
Otter Brearley mutely sought permission of the company, and turned the leaves of his manuscript. All men have an innate love of "talking shop," but few can make such talk of general interest. Brearley was an exception in this respect. He loved to talk of Egypt, of the Pharaohs, of the temples, of the priesthood and its mysteries; but others loved to hear him. That made all the difference.
"The discovery," he now began, "upon which I have blundered—for pure accident, alone, led me to it—assumes its great importance by reason of the absolute mystery surrounding certain phases of Egyptian worship. In the old days, Fairbank, you will recall that it was my supreme ambition to learn the secrets of Isis-worship as practised in early Egyptian times. Save for impostors, and legitimate imaginative writers, no one has yet lifted the veil of Isis. That mystical ceremony by which a priest was consecrated to the goddess, or made an arch adept, was thought to be hopelessly lost, or, by others, to be a myth devised by the priesthood to awe the ignorant masses. In fact, we know little of the entire religion but its outward form. Of that occult lore so widely attributed to its votaries we know nothing—absolutely nothing! By we, I mean students in general. I, individually, have made a step, if not a stride, into that holy of holies!"
"Mind you don't lose yourself!" said Fairbank, lightly.
But, professionally, he was displeased with Brearley's drawn face and with the feverish brightness of his eyes. So much was plain for all to see. In the eyes of Ailsa Brearley, so like, yet so unlike, her brother's, he read understanding of his displeasure, I think, together with a pathetic appeal.
Brearley waved his long white hand carelessly.
"Rest assured of that, Doctor!" he replied. "The labyrinth in which I find myself is intricate, I readily admit; but all my steps have been well considered. To return, Mr. Klaw"—addressing the latter—"I have secured the mummy of one of those arch adepts! That he was one is proved by the papyrus, presumably in his own writing, which lay upon his breast! I unwrapped the mummy in Egypt, where it now reposes; but the writing I brought back with me and have recently deciphered. A glance had showed me that it was not the usual excerpts from the 'Book of the Dead.' Six months' labour has proved it to be a detailed account of his initiation into the inner mysteries!"
"Is such a papyrus unique?" I asked.
"Unique!" cried Moris Klaw. "Name of a little blue man! It is priceless!"
"But why," I pursued, "should this priest, alone among the many who must have been so initiated, have left an account of the ceremony?"
"It was forbidden to divulge any part, any word, of it, Searles!" said Brearley. "Departure from this law was visited with fearful punishments in this world and dire penalties in the next. Khamus, for so this priest was named, well knew this. But some reason which, I fear, can never be known, prompted him to write the papyrus. It is probable, if not certain, that no eye but his, and mine, has read what is written there."
A silence of a few seconds followed his words.
"Yes," rumbled Klaw, presently; "it is undoubtedly a discovery of extraordinary importance, this. You agree, my friend?"
"That's evident," I replied. "But I cannot altogether get the hang of the ceremony itself, Brearley. That is the point upon which I am particularly hazy."
"To read you the entire account in detail," Brearley resumed, "would occupy too long, and would almost certainly confuse you. But the singular thing is this: Khamus distinctly asserts that the goddess appeared to him. His writing is eminently sane and reserved, and his account of the ceremony, up to that point, highly interesting. Now, I have tested the papyrus itself—though no possibility of fraud is really admissible, and I have been able to confirm many of the statements made therein. There is only one point, it seems to me, remaining to be settled."
"What is that?" I asked.
"Whether, as a result of the ceremony described, Khamus did see Isis, or whether he merely imagined he did!"
No one spoke for a moment. Then—
"My friend," said Moris Klaw, "I have a daughter whom I have named Isis. Why did I name her Isis? Mr. Brearley, you must know that that name has a mystic and beautiful significance. But I will say something—I am glad that my daughter is not here! Mr. Brearley—beware! Beware, I say: you play with burning fires; my friend—beware!"
His words impressed us all immensely; for there was something underlying them more portentous than appeared upon the surface.
Fairbank stared at Brearley, hard.
"Do I understand," he began, quietly, "that you admit the first possibility?"
"Certainly!" replied Brearley, with conviction.
"You are prepared to admit the existence, as an entity, of Isis?"
"I am prepared to admit the existence of anything until it can be proved not to exist!"
"Then, admitting the existence of Isis, what should you assume it, or her, to be?"
"That is not a matter for presumption; it is a matter for inquiry!"
The doctor glanced quickly toward Ailsa Brearley, and her beautiful face was troubled.
"And this inquiry—how should you propose to conduct it?"
"In surroundings as nearly as possible identical with those described in the papyrus," replied Brearley, with growing excitement. "I should follow the ceremony, word by word, as Khamus did!"
His eyes gleamed with pent-up enthusiasm. We four listeners, again stricken silent, watched him; and again it was the doctor who broke the silence.
"Is the ceremony spoken?"
"In the first half there is a long prayer, which is chanted."
"But Egyptian, as a spoken language, is lost, surely?"
"The exact pronunciation, or accent, is lost, of course; but there are many who can speak it. I can, for instance."
"And I," rumbled Moris Klaw, gloomily. "But these special surroundings? Eh, my friend?"
"I have spent a year in searching for the necessary things, as specified in the writing. At last my collection is complete. Some of the things I have had made, in the proper materials mentioned. These materials, in some cases, have been exceedingly difficult to procure. But now I have a complete shrine of Isis fitted up! Khamus's initiation took place in a small chamber of which he gives a concise and detailed account. It is because my duplicate of this chamber is ready that I have asked you to meet me here to-night."
"How long have you been at work upon this inquiry?" said Fairbank.
He put the question as he might have put one relating to a patient's symptoms; and this Brearley detected in his tone, with sudden resentment.
"Fairbank," he said, huskily, "I believe you think me insane!"
With his pale, drawn face and long, fair hair, he certainly looked anything but normal, as he sat with bright, staring eyes fixed upon the other across the table.
"My dear chap," replied the doctor, soothingly, "what a strange idea! My question was prompted by a professional spirit, I will admit, for I thought you had been sticking to this business too closely. You are the last man in the world I should expect to go mad, Brearley, but I should not care to answer for your nerves if you don't give this Isis affair a rest."
Brearley smiled, and waved his hand characteristically. "Excuse me, Fairbank," he said, "but to the average person my ideas do seem fantastic, I know. That is what makes me so touchy on the point, I suppose."
"You are hoping for too much from what is at most only a wild conjecture, Brearley. Your translation of the manuscript, alone, is a sufficiently notable achievement. If I were in your place, I should leave the occult business to the psychical societies. 'Let the cobbler,' you know."
"It has gone too far for that," returned Brearley, "and I must see it through, now."
"You are putting too much into it," said the doctor, severely. "I want you to promise me that if nothing results from your final experiment, you will drop the whole inquiry."
Brearley frowned thoughtfully.
"Do you really think I am overdoing it?" he asked.
"Sure," was the answer. "Drop the whole thing for a month or two."
"That is impossible."
"Because the ceremony must take place upon the first night of Panoi, the tenth month of the Sacred Sothic year. This we take to correspond to the April of the Julian year."
"Yes," rumbled Moris Klaw, "it is to-night!"
"Why!" I cried, "of course it is! Do you mean, Brearley, that you are going to conduct your experiment now?"
"Exactly," was the calm reply; "and I have asked you all—Mr. Moris Klaw in particular—in order that it may take place in the presence of competent witnesses!"
Moris Klaw shook his massive head and pulled at his scanty, toneless beard in a very significant manner. All of us were vaguely startled, I think, and through my mind the idea flashed that the first of April was a date pathetically appropriate for such an undertaking. Frankly, I was beginning to entertain serious doubts regarding Brearley's sanity.
"I have given the servants a holiday," said the latter. "They are at a theatre in town; so there is no possibility of the experiment being interrupted,"
Something of his enthusiasm, unnatural though it seemed, strangely enough began to communicate itself to me.
"Come upstairs," he continued, "and I will explain what we all have to do."
Moris Klaw squirted verbena upon his brow.
Fairbank, startled by the touch on his arm, stopped. It was Ailsa Brearley who had dropped behind her brother and now stood confronting us. In the dense shadows of the corridor one could barely distinguish her figure, but a stray beam of light touched one side of her pure oval face and burnished her fair hair.
She wanted help, guidance. I had read it in her eyes before. I was sorry that her sweet lips should have that pathetic little droop.
"Doctor Fairbank! I have wanted to ask you all night—do you think he——"
She could not speak the words, and stood biting her lips, with eyes averted.
"Miss Brearley," he replied, "I do, certainly, fear that your brother is liable to a nervous breakdown at any moment. He has applied his mind too closely to this inquiry, and has studiously surrounded himself with a morbid atmosphere."
Ailsa Brearley was now watching him, anxiously.
"Should we allow him to go on with it?"
"I fear any attempt to prevent him would prove most detrimental, in his present condition."
"But——" There was clearly something else which she wanted to say. "But, apart from that"—she suddenly turned to Moris Klaw, instinctively it almost seemed—"Mr. Klaw—is this—ceremony right?"
He peered at her through his pince-nez.
"In what way, my dear Miss Brearley—how right?"
"Well—what I mean is—it amounts to idolatry, does it not?"
I started. It was a point of view which had not, hitherto, occurred to me.
"You probably understand the nature of the thing better than we do, Miss Brearley," said Fairbank. "Do you mean that it involves worship of Isis?"
"He has always avoided a direct answer when I have asked him that," she said. "But it is only reasonable to suppose that it does. His translation of the writing I have never seen. But he has been dieting in a most extraordinary manner for nearly a year! Since the workmen completed it, no one but himself has been inside the chamber which he has had constructed at the end of his study; and he spends hours and hours there every day—and every night!"
Her anxiety became more evident with each word.
"You saw that he ate nothing at dinner," she continued, "and taxed him with faddism. But it is something more than that. Why has he sent the servants away to-night? Oh, Doctor Fairbank! I have a dreadful foreboding! I am so afraid!"
The light in her eyes, suddenly upturned to him in the vague half-light, the tone in her voice, the appeal in her attitude—were unmistakable. Fairbank had been abroad for three years, and I could see that between these two was an undeclared love, and almost I felt that I intruded. Moris Klaw looked away for a moment, too. Then—
"My dear young lady," he rumbled, paternally, "do not be afraid. I, the old know-all, so fortunately am here! Perhaps there is danger—yes, I admit it; there may be danger. But it is such danger as dwells here"—he tapped his yellow brow—"it is a danger of the mind. For thoughts are things, Miss Brearley—that is where it lies, the peril—and thought things can kill"
"Ailsa! Fairbank! Mr. Klaw!" came Brearley's v'oice. "We have none too much time!"
"Proceed, my friends," rumbled Moris Klaw; "I am with you." And, oddly enough, I was comforted by his presence; so, it was evident, were the girl and the doctor; for Moris Klaw, beneath that shabby, ramshackle exterior, Moris Klaw, the Wapping curio dealer, was a man of power—an intellectual ark of refuge.
In the Egyptologist's study all appeared much the same as when last I had set foot there. The cases filled with vases, scarabs, tablets, weapons, and the hundred-and-one relics of the great dead age with which the student had surrounded himself; the sarcophagi; the frames of papyri—all seemed familiar.
Brearley sat at the huge writing table, littered, as of yore, and in picturesque confusion.
"We must begin almost immediately!" he said, as we entered.
A danger spot burned lividly upon either pale cheek. His eyes gleamed brilliantly. The prolonged excitement of his strange experiment was burning the man up. His nerve centres must be taxed abnormally, I knew.
Brearley glanced at his watch.
"I must be very brief," he explained, hurriedly, "as it is vitally important that I commence in time. Beyond the bookcase, there, you will see that a part of the room has been walled off."
We looked in the direction indicated. Although it was not noticeable at first glance I now saw that the apartment was, indeed, smaller than formerly. The usual books covered the new wall, giving it much the same aspect as the old; but, where hitherto there had been nothing but shelves, a small, narrow door of black wood now broke the imposing expanse of faded volumes.
"In there," Brearley resumed, "is the Secret Place described by Khamus!"
He placed his long, thin hand upon a yellow roll that lay partly opened on the table.
"No one but myself may enter there—until after to-night, at any rate!" with a glance at Moris Klaw. "To the most minute particular"—patting the papyrus—"it is equipped as Khamus describes. For many months I have prepared myself, by fasting and meditation, as he prepared! There was, as no doubt you know, a widespread belief in ancient times that for any but the chosen to look upon the goddess was death. As I admit the possibility of Isis existing, I must also admit the possibility of this belief being true—the more so as it is confirmed by Khamus! Therefore none may enter with me."
"One moment, Mr. Brearley," interrupted Klaw; "in what form does Khamus relate that the goddess appeared?"
A cloud crossed Brearley's face.
"It is the one point upon which he is not clear," was the reply. "I do not know, in the least, what to expect!"
"Go on!" I said, quickly. Although I seriously doubted my poor friend's sanity, I began to find the affair weirdly, uncannily fascinating.
"The ritual opens with a chant, which I may broadly translate as 'The Hymn of Dedication.' Its exact purport is not very clear to me. This hymn is the only part of the ceremony in which I am assisted. It is to be 'sung by a virgin beyond the door.' That is, directly I have entered yonder it must be sung out here. Ailsa has composed a sort of chant to the words, which, I think, is the proper kind of setting. Have you not, Ailsa?"
She bowed her graceful head, glancing, under her lashes, toward Fairbank.
"She has learned the words—for, of course, it must be sung in Egyptian——"
"But have no idea of their meaning," said his sister, softly.
"That is unnecessary," he went on, quickly. "After this, I want you all just to remain here in this room. I am afraid you will have to sit in the dark! Any sounds which you detect, please note. I will not tell you what to expect, then imagination cannot deceive you. I will be back in a moment."
With another hasty glance at his watch, he went out in high excitement.
"Please," began Ailsa Brearley, the moment he was gone, "do not think that because I assist him I approve of this attempt! I think it is horrible! But what am I to do? He is wrapped up in it! I dare not try to check him!"
"We understand that," said Fairbank; "all of us. Do as he desires. When he has made the attempt, and failed—as, of course, he must do—the folly of the whole thing will become apparent to him. Do not let it worry you, Miss Brearley. Your brother is not the first man to succumb, temporarily, to the glamour of the Unknown."
She shook her head sadly.
"It is an unpleasant farce," she said. "But there is something more in it than that."
Her blue eyes were full of trouble.
"What do you mean, Miss Brearley?" asked Moris Klaw.
"I hardly know, myself!" was the reply; "but for the past two months an indefinable horror of some kind has been growing upon me."
With a deep sigh, she turned to a tall case and took from it a kind of slender harp. The instrument, of which the frame, at any rate, was evidently ancient Egyptian work, rested upon a claw-shaped pedestal.
"Do you play this? Yes? No?" inquired Moris Klaw, with interest.
"Yes," she said, wearily. "It comes from the tomb of a priestess of Isis and was played by her in the temple. It is scaled differently from the modern harp, but any one with a slight knowledge of the ordinary harp, or even of the piano, can perform upon it with ease. It is sweet toned, but—creepy!"
She smiled slightly at her own expression, and I was glad to see it.
He wore a single loose garment of white linen, and thin sandals were upon his feet. Save for his long, fair hair, he looked a true pagan priest, his eyes bright with the fire of research that consumed him, his features gaunt, ascetic.
Some ghost of his old humorous expression played, momentarily, about his lips as he observed the astonishment depicted upon our faces. But it was gone almost in the moment of its coming.
"You wonder at me, no doubt," he said; "and at times I have wondered at myself! Do not think me fanatic. I scarcely hope for any result. But remembering that the writing is authentic and that there prevails, to this day, a widespread belief in the occult wisdom of the Egyptians, why should not this problem in psychics receive the same attention from me that one in physics would receive from you, Fairbank?"
There was reason in his argument and in his manner of advancing it. Fairbank glanced from Brearley to the girl sitting with her white hands listlessly caressing the harp strings. The silence of the great empty house grew oppressive. Suppose the ancients indeed possessed the strange lore attributed to them? Suppose in those Dark Continents, the Past and the Future, somewhere in the vast unknown, there existed a power, a being, a spirit, named by the Egyptians, Isis?
Those were my thoughts, when Moris Klaw said suddenly:
"Mr. Brearley, it is not yet too late to turn back! This sensitive plate"—he tapped his forehead—"warns me that some evil thought thing hovers about us! You are about to give form to that thought being. Be wise, Mr. Brearley—abandon your experiment!"
His tone surprised everyone. Otter Brearley looked at him with an odd expression and then glanced at the watch upon the writing table.
"Mr. Klaw," he said, quietly, "I had hoped for a different attitude in you; but if you really disapprove of what I am about to attempt, I can only ask you to withdraw; it is too late for further arguments."
"I remain, my friend! I spoke not for myself—my life has been passed in this coping with evil things; I spoke for others."
None of us entirely understood his words, but Brearley went on, impatiently:
"Listen, please. I rely upon your coöperation. From now onward I require absolute silence. Whatever happens make no noise."
"I shall not be noisy, I, my friend!" rumbled Moris Klaw. "I am the old silent; I watch and wait—until I am wanted."
He shrugged his shoulders and nodded, significantly.
"Good!" said Brearley, and his voice quivered with excitement; "then the experiment, the final experiment, has begun!"
He suddenly extinguished the light.
Passing to a window, he looked up to the moon, and, a moment later, lowered the blind. Dimly visible in his white garment, he crossed the room. He might be heard unfastening the door of the inner chamber, and a faint, church-like smell crept to our nostrils. The door closed.
Immediately the harp sounded.
Its tone was peculiar—uncomfortable. The strain which Ailsa played was a mere repetition of three notes. Then she began to sing.
Our eyes becoming more accustomed to the gloom, we could vaguely discern her now; the soft outlines of her figure; the white, ghost-like fingers straying over the strings of the instrument. The music of the chant was very monotonous, and weird to a marked degree. The sound of that ancient tongue, dead for many ages, chanted softly by Ailsa Brearley's beautiful voice, was almost incredibly eerie. I found myself gripped hard by a powerful sense of the uncanny.
No other sound was audible. Throughout the rambling old house intense silence prevailed. A slight breeze stirred the cedars outside. Every now and again it came—like a series of broken sighs.
How long the chant lasted I cannot pretend to state. It seemed interminable. I became aware of a curious sense of physical loss. I found myself drawn to high tension, as though the continuance of the chant demanded a vast effort on my part. Though I told myself that imagination was tricking me, the music seemed to be draining my nerve force!
Ailsa's voice grew louder and clearer, until the queer words, of unknown purport, rang out passionately, imperatively.
In the ensuing silence I could hear distinctly Moris Klaw's heavy breathing. A compelling atmosphere of mystery had grown up about us. Repel it how we might, it was there—commanding acknowledgment.
Fairbank, who sat nearest, was the first to see Ailsa Brearley rise, unsteadily, and move in the direction of the study door.
Something in her manner alarmed us all, and the doctor quietly left his seat and followed her. As she quitted the room, he came out behind her; and in the better light on the landing, as he told us later, saw that she was deathly pale.
"Miss Brearley!" he said.
"Ssh!" she whispered, anxiously, "it is nothing—Doctor Fairbank. The excitement has made me rather faint, that is all. I shall go to my room and lie down. Believe me, I am quite well!"
"But there is no servant in the house," he whispered, "if you should become worse——"
"If I need anything I shall not hesitate to ring," she answered. "It is so still, you will hear the bell. Please go back! He has hoped for so much from this."
Fairbank was nonplussed. But the appeal was so obviously sincere, and the situation so difficult, that he saw no alternative. Ailsa Brearley passed along the corridor. Fairbank slipped back into the study, where Moris Klaw and I anxiously awaited him.
From the inner room came Brearley's voice, muffled.
The long vigil began.
I found myself claimed by the all-pervading spirit of mystery. For some little time I listened in expectation of hearing Ailsa Brearley returning. But soon the strange business of the night claimed my mind, to the exclusion of every other idea. I found myself listening only for Brearley's muffled voice. Although the half-audible words were meaningless, their sound assumed, as time wore on, a curious significance. They seemed potent with a strange power proceeding not from them, but to them.
Then I heard a new sound.
Fairbank heard it—for I saw him start, and Moris Klaw muttered something.
It did not come from the trees outside, nor from the inner room. It was somewhere in the house.
A faint rattling it was, bell-like but toneless.
Brearley's voice had ceased.
Again the sound rose—nearer.
I turned my head toward Fairbank, and seemed to perceive him more clearly. I had less difficulty in distinguishing the objects about.
Again it came—the shivering, bell-like sound.
Even the strings of the harp were visible now.
"Curse me!" came Moris Klaw's hoarse whisper; "it seems to grow light! That is a delusion of the mind, my friends—repel it—repel it!"
Fairbank drew a quick, sibilant breath. A half-suppressed exclamation from Klaw followed; for the high-pitched rattle came from close at hand! The sense of the supernormal had grown unbearable. Fairbank's science and my own semi-scepticism were but weapons of sand against it.
The door opened silently, admitting a flood of the soft moon-like radiance. And Ailsa Brearley entered!
Her slim figure was bathed in light; her fair hair, unbound, swept like a gleaming torrent about her shoulders. She looked magnificently, unnaturally beautiful. A diaphanous veil was draped over her face. From her radiant figure I turned away my head in sudden, stark fear!
Fairbank, clutching the arms of his chair, seemed to strive to look away, too.
Her widely opened eyes, visible even through the veil, were awful in their supernormal, significant beauty. Was it Ailsa Brearley? I clenched my fists convulsively; I felt my reason tottering. As the luminous figure, so terrible in its perfect loveliness, moved slowly toward the inner door, with set gaze that was not for any about her, Doctor Fairbank wrenched himself from his chair and leapt forward.
His voice came in a hoarse shriek. But it was drowned by a rumbling roar from Moris Klaw.
"Look away! Look away!" he shouted. "The good God! Do not look at her! Look away!"
The warning came too late. Fairbank had all but reached her side, when she turned her eyes upon him—looking fully in his face.
With no sound or cry he went down as though felled with a mighty blow!
She passed to the door of the inner room. It swung open noiselessly. A stifling cloud of some pungent perfume swept into the study; and the door reclosed.
"Fairbank!" I whispered, huskily. "My God! he's dead!"
Moris Klaw sprang forward to where Fairbank, clearly visible in the soft light, lay huddled upon the floor.
"Lift him!" he hissed. "We must get him out—before she returns—you understand?—before she returns!"
Bending together, we raised the doctor's inanimate body and half dragged, half carried him from the room. On the landing we laid him down and stood panting. A voice, clear and sweet, was speaking. I recognized neither the language nor the voice. But each liquid syllable thrilled me like an icy shock. I met Moris Klaw's gaze, set upon me through the pince-nez.
"Do not listen, my friend!" he said.
Raising Fairbank, we dragged him into the first room we came to—and Klaw locked the door.
"Here we remain," he rumbled, "until something has gone back where it came from!"
Fairbank lay motionless at our feet.
Presently came the rattling.
"It is the sistrum," whispered Moris Klaw, "the sacred instrument of the Isis temples."
The sound passed—and faded.
"Searles! Fairbank!"—it was Brearley's voice, sobbingly intense—"do not touch her! Do not look at her!"
The study door crashed open and I heard his sandals pattering on the landing.
"Fairbank! Mr. Klaw! Good God! Answer me! Tell me you are safe!"
Moris Klaw unlocked the door.
Brearley, his face white as death and bathed in perspiration, stood outside. As Klaw appeared, he leapt forward, wild eyed.
"Quick! Did any one——"
"Fairbank!" I said, huskily.
Brearley pushed into the room and turned on the light. Fairbank, very pale, lay propped against an armchair. Moris Klaw immediately dropped on his knee beside him and felt his heart.
"Ah, the good God! He is alive!" he whispered. "Get some water—no brandy, my friend—water. Then look to your sister!"
Brearley plunged his trembling hands into his hair and tugged at it distractedly.
"How was I to know!" he moaned, "how was I to know! There is water in the bottle, Mr. Klaw. Searles will come with me. I must look for Ailsa!"
A bizarre figure, in his linen robe, he ran off. Moris Klaw waved me to follow him.
The door of his sister's room was closed.
He knocked, but there was no reply. He turned the knob and went in, whilst I waited in the corridor.
"Ailsa!" I heard him call, and again, "Ailsa!" then, following an interval, "Are you all right, dear?" he whispered.
"Oh, thank Heaven it is finished!" came a murmur in Ailsa Brearley's soft voice. "It is finished, is it not?"
"Quite finished," he answered.
"Just look at my hair!" she went on, with returning animation. "My head was so bad—I think that was why I took it down. Then I must have dropped off to sleep."
"All right, dear," said Brearley. "I want you to come downstairs; be as quick as you can."
He rejoined me in the corridor.
"She was lying with her hair strewn all over the pillow!" he whispered, "and she had been burning something—ashes in the hearth——"
Ailsa came out. She seemed suddenly to observe her brother's haggard face.
"Is there anything the matter?" she said, quickly. "Oh! has something dreadful happened?"
"No, dear," he answered, reassuringly. "Only Doctor Fairbank was overcome——"
She turned very pale.
"He is not ill?"
"No. He became faint. You can come and see for yourself."
Very quickly we all hurried downstairs. Moris Klaw, on his knees beside the doctor, was trying to force something between his clenched teeth. Ailsa, with a little cry, ran forward and knelt upon the other side of him.
"Ralph!" she whispered; "Ralph!"—and smoothed the hair back from his forehead.
He sighed deeply, and with an effort swallowed the draught which Klaw held to his lips. A moment later he opened his eyes, glaring wildly into Ailsa's face.
"Ralph!" she said, brokenly.
Then, realizing how tenderly she had spoken—using his Christian name—she hung her graceful head in hot confusion. But he had heard her. And the wild light died from his eyes. He took both her hands in his own and held them fast; then, rather unsteadily, he stood up.
As his features came more fully into the light, we all saw that a small bruise discoloured his forehead, squarely between the brows.
Then Brearley, who had been back into the study, came running, crying:
"The papyrus! And my translation! Gone!"
I thought of the ashes in Ailsa Brearley's room.
"My friends," rumbled Moris Klaw, impressively, "we are fortunate. We have passed through scorching fires unscathed!"
He applied himself with vigour to the operating of the scent spray.
"God forgive me!" said Brearley. "What did I do?"
"I will tell you, my friend," replied Klaw; "you clothed a thought in the beautiful form which you knew as your sister! Ah! You stare! Ritual, my friends, is the soul of what the ignorant call magic. With the sacred incense, kyphi (yes, I detected it!), you invoked secret powers. Those powers, Mr. Brearley, were but thoughts. All such forces are thoughts.
"Thoughts are things—and you gathered together in this house, by that ancient formula, a thought thing created by generations of worshippers who have worshipped the moon!
"The light that we saw was only the moonlight, the sounds that we heard were thought-sounds. But so powerful was this mighty thought-force, this centuries-old power which you loosed upon us, that it drove out Miss Ailsa's own thoughts from her mind, bringing what she mistook for sleep; and it implanted itself there!
"She was transformed by that mighty power which for a time dwelled within her. She was as powerful, as awful, as a goddess! None might look upon her and be sane. Hypnotism has similarities with the ancient science of thought—yes! Suggestion is the secret of all so-called occult phenomena!"
With his eyes gleaming oddly, he stepped forward, resting his long white hands upon Fairbanks shoulders.
"Doctor," he rumbled, "you have a bruise on your forehead."
"Have I?" said Fairbank, in surprise. "I hadn't noticed it."
"Because it is not a physical bruise; it is a mental bruise, physically reflected! Nearly were you slain, my friend—oh, so nearly! But another force—as great as the force of ancient thought—weakened the blow. Doctor Fairbank, it is fortunate that Miss Ailsa loves you!"
His frank words startled us all.
"Look well at the shape of this little bruise, my friends," continued Moris Klaw. "Mr. Brearley—it is a shape that will be familiar to you. See! it is thus." He drew an imaginary outline with his long forefinger—
_____ | | | |____ | | | |____ | | |___________|
And that is the sign of Isis!"