before I could realise it, there were streaming buckets on the scene and
a line of men and women formed between the building and the stable pump.
"Inside," I heard John Silence cry, and the Colonel followed him through
the door, while I was just quick enough at their heels to hear him add,
"the smoke's the worst part of it. There's no fire yet, I think."
And, true enough, there was no fire. The interior was thick with smoke,
but it speedily cleared and not a single bucket was used upon the floor
or walls. The air was stifling, the heat fearful.
"There's precious little to burn in here; it's all stone," the Colonel
exclaimed, coughing. But the doctor was pointing to the wooden covers of
the great cauldron in which the clothes were washed, and we saw that
these were smouldering and charred. And when we sprinkled half a bucket
of water on them the surrounding bricks hissed and fizzed and sent up
clouds of steam. Through the open door and windows this passed out with
the rest of the smoke, and we three stood there on the brick floor
staring at the spot and wondering, each in our own fashion, how in the
name of natural law the place could have caught fire or smoked at all.
And each was silent - myself from sheer incapacity and befuddlement, the
Colonel from the quiet pluck that faces all things yet speaks little,
and John Silence from the intense mental grappling with this latest
manifestation of a profound problem that called for concentration of
thought rather than for any words.
There was really nothing to say. The facts were indisputable.
Colonel Wragge was the first to utter.
"My sister," he said briefly, and moved off. In the yard I heard him
sending the frightened servants about their business in an excellently
matter-of-fact voice, scolding some one roundly for making such a big
fire and letting the flues get over-heated, and paying no heed to the
stammering reply that no fire had been lit there for several days. Then
he dispatched a groom on horseback for the local doctor.
Then Dr. Silence turned and looked at me. The absolute control he
possessed, not only over the outward expression of emotion by gesture,
change of colour, light in the eyes, and so forth, but also, as I well
knew, over its very birth in his heart, the masklike face of the dead he
could assume at will, made it extremely difficult to know at any given
moment what was at work in his inner consciousness. But now, when he
turned and looked at me, there was no sphinx-expression there, but
rather the keen triumphant face of a man who had solved a dangerous and
complicated problem, and saw his way to a clean victory.
"_Now_ do you guess?" he asked quietly, as though it were the simplest
matter in the world, and ignorance were impossible.
I could only stare stupidly and remain silent. He glanced down at the
charred cauldron-lids, and traced a figure in the air with his finger.
But I was too excited, or too mortified, or still too dazed, perhaps, to
see what it was he outlined, or what it was he meant to convey. I could
only go on staring and shaking my puzzled head.
"A fire-elemental," he cried, "a fire-elemental of the most powerful and
malignant kind - "
"A what?" thundered the voice of Colonel Wragge behind us, having
returned suddenly and overheard.
"It's a fire-elemental," repeated Dr. Silence more calmly, but with a
note of triumph in his voice he could not keep out, "and a
The light began to dawn in my mind at last. But the Colonel - who had
never heard the term before, and was besides feeling considerably worked
up for a plain man with all this mystery he knew not how to grapple
with - the Colonel stood, with the most dumfoundered look ever seen on a
human countenance, and continued to roar, and stammer, and stare.
"And why," he began, savage with the desire to find something visible he
could fight - "why, in the name of all the blazes - ?" and then stopped as
John Silence moved up and took his arm.
"There, my dear Colonel Wragge," he said gently, "you touch the heart of
the whole thing. You ask 'Why.' That is precisely our problem." He held
the soldier's eyes firmly with his own. "And that, too, I think, we
shall soon know. Come and let us talk over a plan of action - that room
with the double doors, perhaps."
The word "action" calmed him a little, and he led the way, without
further speech, back into the house, and down the long stone passage to
the room where we had heard his stories on the night of our arrival. I
understood from the doctor's glance that my presence would not make the
interview easier for our host, and I went upstairs to my own
room - shaking.
But in the solitude of my room the vivid memories of the last hour
revived so mercilessly that I began to feel I should never in my whole
life lose the dreadful picture of Miss Wragge running - that dreadful
human climax after all the non-human mystery in the wood - and I was not
sorry when a servant knocked at my door and said that Colonel Wragge
would be glad if I would join them in the little smoking-room.
"I think it is better you should be present," was all Colonel Wragge
said as I entered the room. I took the chair with my back to the window.
There was still an hour before lunch, though I imagine that the usual
divisions of the day hardly found a place in the thoughts of any one of
The atmosphere of the room was what I might call electric. The Colonel
was positively bristling; he stood with his back to the fire, fingering
an unlit black cigar, his face flushed, his being obviously roused and
ready for action. He hated this mystery. It was poisonous to his nature,
and he longed to meet something face to face - something he could gauge
and fight. Dr. Silence, I noticed at once, was sitting before the map of
the estate which was spread upon a table. I knew by his expression the
state of his mind. He was in the thick of it all, knew it, delighted in
it, and was working at high pressure. He recognised my presence with a
lifted eyelid, and the flash of the eye, contrasted with his stillness
and composure, told me volumes.
"I was about to explain to our host briefly what seems to me afoot in
all this business," he said without looking up, "when he asked that you
should join us so that we can all work together." And, while signifying
my assent, I caught myself wondering what quality it was in the calm
speech of this undemonstrative man that was so full of power, so charged
with the strange, virile personality behind it and that seemed to
inspire us with his own confidence as by a process of radiation.
"Mr. Hubbard," he went on gravely, turning to the soldier, "knows
something of my methods, and in more than one - er - interesting situation
has proved of assistance. What we want now" - and here he suddenly got up
and took his place on the mat beside the Colonel, and looked hard at
him - "is men who have self-control, who are sure of themselves, whose
minds at the critical moment will emit positive forces, instead of the
wavering and uncertain currents due to negative feelings - due, for
instance, to fear."
He looked at us each in turn. Colonel Wragge moved his feet farther
apart, and squared his shoulders; and I felt guilty but said nothing,
conscious that my latent store of courage was being deliberately hauled
to the front. He was winding me up like a clock.
"So that, in what is yet to come," continued our leader, "each of us
will contribute his share of power, and ensure success for my plan."
"I'm not afraid of anything I can _see_," said the Colonel bluntly.
"I'm ready," I heard myself say, as it were automatically, "for
anything," and then added, feeling the declaration was lamely
insufficient, "and everything."
Dr. Silence left the mat and began walking to and fro about the room,
both hands plunged deep into the pockets of his shooting-jacket.
Tremendous vitality streamed from him. I never took my eyes off the
small, moving figure; small yes, - and yet somehow making me think of a
giant plotting the destruction of worlds. And his manner was gentle, as
always, soothing almost, and his words uttered quietly without emphasis
or emotion. Most of what he said was addressed, though not too
obviously, to the Colonel.
"The violence of this sudden attack," he said softly, pacing to and fro
beneath the bookcase at the end of the room, "is due, of course, partly
to the fact that tonight the moon is at the full" - here he glanced at me
for a moment - "and partly to the fact that we have all been so
deliberately concentrating upon the matter. Our thinking, our
investigation, has stirred it into unusual activity. I mean that the
intelligent force behind these manifestations has realised that some one
is busied about its destruction. And it is now on the defensive: more,
it is aggressive."
"But 'it' - what is 'it'?" began the soldier, fuming. "What, in the name
of all that's dreadful, _is_ a fire-elemental?"
"I cannot give you at this moment," replied Dr. Silence, turning to him,
but undisturbed by the interruption, "a lecture on the nature and
history of magic, but can only say that an Elemental is the active force
behind the elements, - whether earth, air, water, _or fire_, - it is
impersonal in its essential nature, but can be focused, personified,
ensouled, so to say, by those who know how - by magicians, if you
will - for certain purposes of their own, much in the same way that steam
and electricity can be harnessed by the practical man of this century.
"Alone, these blind elemental energies can accomplish little, but
governed and directed by the trained will of a powerful manipulator they
may become potent activities for good or evil. They are the basis of all
magic, and it is the motive behind them that constitutes the magic
'black' or 'white'; they can be the vehicles of curses or of blessings,
for a curse is nothing more than the thought of a violent will
perpetuated. And in such cases - cases like this - the conscious,
directing will of the mind that is using the elemental stands always
behind the phenomena - "
"You think that my brother - !" broke in the Colonel, aghast.
"Has nothing whatever to do with it - directly. The fire-elemental that
has here been tormenting you and your household was sent upon its
mission long before you, or your family, or your ancestors, or even the
nation you belong to - unless I am much mistaken - was even in existence.
We will come to that a little later; after the experiment I propose to
make we shall be more positive. At present I can only say we have to
deal now, not only with the phenomenon of Attacking Fire merely, but
with the vindictive and enraged intelligence that is directing it from
behind the scenes - vindictive and enraged," - he repeated the words.
"That explains - " began Colonel Wragge, seeking furiously for words he
could not find quickly enough.
"Much," said John Silence, with a gesture to restrain him.
He stopped a moment in the middle of his walk, and a deep silence came
down over the little room. Through the windows the sunlight seemed less
bright, the long line of dark hills less friendly, making me think of a
vast wave towering to heaven and about to break and overwhelm us.
Something formidable had crept into the world about us. For,
undoubtedly, there was a disquieting thought, holding terror as well as
awe, in the picture his words conjured up: the conception of a human
will reaching its deathless hand, spiteful and destructive, down through
the ages, to strike the living and afflict the innocent.
"But what is its object?" burst out the soldier, unable to restrain
himself longer in the silence. "Why does it come from that plantation?
And why should it attack us, or any one in particular?" Questions began
to pour from him in a stream.
"All in good time," the doctor answered quietly, having let him run on
for several minutes. "But I must first discover positively what, or who,
it is that directs this particular fire-elemental. And, to do that, we
must first" - he spoke with slow deliberation - "seek to capture - to
confine by visibility - to limit its sphere in a concrete form."
"Good heavens almighty!" exclaimed the soldier, mixing his words in his
"Quite so," pursued the other calmly; "for in so doing I think we can
release it from the purpose that binds it, restore it to its normal
condition of latent fire, and also" - he lowered his voice perceptibly
- "also discover the face and form of the Being that ensouls it."
"The man behind the gun!" cried the Colonel, beginning to understand
something, and leaning forward so as not to miss a single syllable.
"I mean that in the last resort, before it returns to the womb of
potential fire, it will probably assume the face and figure of its
Director, of the man of magical knowledge who originally bound it with
his incantations and sent it forth upon its mission of centuries."
The soldier sat down and gasped openly in his face, breathing hard; but
it was a very subdued voice that framed the question.
"And how do you propose to make it visible? How capture and confine it?
What d'ye mean, Dr. John Silence?"
"By furnishing it with the materials for a form. By the process of
materialisation simply. Once limited by dimensions, it will become slow,
heavy, visible. We can then dissipate it. Invisible fire, you see, is
dangerous and incalculable; locked up in a form we can perhaps manage
it. We must betray it - to its death."
"And this material?" we asked in the same breath, although I think I had
"Not pleasant, but effective," came the quiet reply; "the exhalations of
freshly spilled blood."
"Not human blood!" cried Colonel Wragge, starting up from his chair with
a voice like an explosion. I thought his eyes would start from their
The face of Dr. Silence relaxed in spite of himself, and his spontaneous
little laugh brought a welcome though momentary relief.
"The days of human sacrifice, I hope, will never come again," he
explained. "Animal blood will answer the purpose, and we can make the
experiment as pleasant as possible. Only, the blood must be freshly
spilled and strong with the vital emanations that attract this peculiar
class of elemental creature. Perhaps - perhaps if some pig on the estate
is ready for the market - "
He turned to hide a smile; but the passing touch of comedy found no echo
in the mind of our host, who did not understand how to change quickly
from one emotion to another. Clearly he was debating many things
laboriously in his honest brain. But, in the end, the earnestness and
scientific disinterestedness of the doctor, whose influence over him was
already very great, won the day, and he presently looked up more calmly,
and observed shortly that he thought perhaps the matter could be
"There are other and pleasanter methods," Dr. Silence went on to
explain, "but they require time and preparation, and things have gone
much too far, in my opinion, to admit of delay. And the process need
cause you no distress: we sit round the bowl and await results. Nothing
more. The emanations of blood - which, as Levi says, is the first
incarnation of the universal fluid - furnish the materials out of which
the creatures of discarnate life, spirits if you prefer, can fashion
themselves a temporary appearance. The process is old, and lies at the
root of all blood sacrifice. It was known to the priests of Baal, and it
is known to the modern ecstasy dancers who cut themselves to produce
objective phantoms who dance with them. And the least gifted clairvoyant
could tell you that the forms to be seen in the vicinity of
slaughter-houses, or hovering above the deserted battlefields,
are - well, simply beyond all description. I do not mean," he added,
noticing the uneasy fidgeting of his host, "that anything in our
laundry-experiment need appear to terrify us, for this case seems a
comparatively simple one, and it is only the vindictive character of the
intelligence directing this fire-elemental that causes anxiety and makes
for personal danger."
"It is curious," said the Colonel, with a sudden rush of words, drawing
a deep breath, and as though speaking of things distasteful to him,
"that during my years among the Hill Tribes of Northern India I came
across - personally came across - instances of the sacrifices of blood to
certain deities being stopped suddenly, and all manner of disasters
happening until they were resumed. Fires broke out in the huts, and even
on the clothes, of the natives - and - and I admit I have read, in the
course of my studies," - he made a gesture toward his books and heavily
laden table, - "of the Yezidis of Syria evoking phantoms by means of
cutting their bodies with knives during their whirling dances - enormous
globes of fire which turned into monstrous and terrible forms - and I
remember an account somewhere, too, how the emaciated forms and pallid
countenances of the spectres, that appeared to the Emperor Julian,
claimed to be the true Immortals, and told him to renew the sacrifices
of blood 'for the fumes of which, since the establishment of
Christianity, they had been pining' - that these were in reality the
phantoms evoked by the rites of blood."
Both Dr. Silence and myself listened in amazement, for this sudden
speech was so unexpected, and betrayed so much more knowledge than we
had either of us suspected in the old soldier.
"Then perhaps you have read, too," said the doctor, "how the Cosmic
Deities of savage races, elemental in their nature, have been kept alive
through many ages by these blood rites?"
"No," he answered; "that is new to me."
"In any case," Dr. Silence added, "I am glad you are not wholly
unfamiliar with the subject, for you will now bring more sympathy, and
therefore more help, to our experiment. For, of course, in this case, we
only want the blood to tempt the creature from its lair and enclose it
in a form - "
"I quite understand. And I only hesitated just now," he went on, his
words coming much more slowly, as though he felt he had already said too
much, "because I wished to be quite sure it was no mere curiosity, but
an actual sense of necessity that dictated this horrible experiment."
"It is your safety, and that of your household, and of your sister, that
is at stake," replied the doctor. "Once I have _seen_, I hope to
discover whence this elemental comes, and what its real purpose is."
Colonel Wragge signified his assent with a bow.
"And the moon will help us," the other said, "for it will be full in the
early hours of the morning, and this kind of elemental-being is always
most active at the period of full moon. Hence, you see, the clue
furnished by your diary."
So it was finally settled. Colonel Wragge would provide the materials
for the experiment, and we were to meet at midnight. How he would
contrive at that hour - but that was his business. I only know we both
realised that he would keep his word, and whether a pig died at
midnight, or at noon, was after all perhaps only a question of the sleep
and personal comfort of the executioner.
"Tonight, then, in the laundry," said Dr. Silence finally, to clinch the
plan; "we three alone - and at midnight, when the household is asleep and
we shall be free from disturbance."
He exchanged significant glances with our host, who, at that moment, was
called away by the announcement that the family doctor had arrived, and
was ready to see him in his sister's room.
For the remainder of the afternoon John Silence disappeared. I had my
suspicions that he made a secret visit to the plantation and also to the
laundry building; but, in any case, we saw nothing of him, and he kept
strictly to himself. He was preparing for the night, I felt sure, but
the nature of his preparations I could only guess. There was movement in
his room, I heard, and an odour like incense hung about the door, and
knowing that he regarded rites as the vehicles of energies, my guesses
were probably not far wrong.
Colonel Wragge, too, remained absent the greater part of the afternoon,
and, deeply afflicted, had scarcely left his sister's bedside, but in
response to my inquiry when we met for a moment at tea-time, he told me
that although she had moments of attempted speech, her talk was quite
incoherent and hysterical, and she was still quite unable to explain the
nature of what she had seen. The doctor, he said, feared she had
recovered the use of her limbs, only to lose that of her memory, and
perhaps even of her mind.
"Then the recovery of her legs, I trust, may be permanent, at any rate,"
I ventured, finding it difficult to know what sympathy to offer. And he
replied with a curious short laugh, "Oh yes; about that there can be no
And it was due merely to the chance of my overhearing a fragment of
conversation - unwillingly, of course - that a little further light was
thrown upon the state in which the old lady actually lay. For, as I came
out of my room, it happened that Colonel Wragge and the doctor were
going downstairs together, and their words floated up to my ears before
I could make my presence known by so much as a cough.
"Then you must find a way," the doctor was saying with decision; "for I
cannot insist too strongly upon that - and at all costs she must be kept
quiet. These attempts to go out must be prevented - if necessary, by
force. This desire to visit some wood or other she keeps talking about
is, of course, hysterical in nature. It cannot be permitted for a
"It shall not be permitted," I heard the soldier reply, as they reached
the hall below.
"It has impressed her mind for some reason - " the doctor went on, by way
evidently of soothing explanation, and then the distance made it
impossible for me to hear more.
At dinner Dr. Silence was still absent, on the public plea of a
headache, and though food was sent to his room, I am inclined to believe
he did not touch it, but spent the entire time fasting.
We retired early, desiring that the household should do likewise, and I
must confess that at ten o'clock when I bid my host a temporary
good-night, and sought my room to make what mental preparation I could,
I realised in no very pleasant fashion that it was a singular and
formidable assignation, this midnight meeting in the laundry building,
and that there were moments in every adventure of life when a wise man,
and one who knew his own limitations, owed it to his dignity to withdraw
discreetly. And, but for the character of our leader, I probably should
have then and there offered the best excuse I could think of, and have
allowed myself quietly to fall asleep and wait for an exciting story in
the morning of what had happened. But with a man like John Silence, such
a lapse was out of the question, and I sat before my fire counting the
minutes and doing everything I could think of to fortify my resolution
and fasten my will at the point where I could be reasonably sure that my
self-control would hold against all attacks of men, devils, or
At a quarter before midnight, clad in a heavy ulster, and with slippered
feet, I crept cautiously from my room and stole down the passage to the
top of the stairs. Outside the doctor's door I waited a moment to
listen. All was still; the house in utter darkness; no gleam of light
beneath any door; only, down the length of the corridor, from the
direction of the sick-room, came faint sounds of laughter and incoherent
talk that were not things to reassure a mind already half a-tremble, and
I made haste to reach the hall and let myself out through the front
door into the night.
The air was keen and frosty, perfumed with night smells, and exquisitely
fresh; all the million candles of the sky were alight, and a faint
breeze rose and fell with far-away sighings in the tops of the pine
trees. My blood leaped for a moment in the spaciousness of the night,
for the splendid stars brought courage; but the next instant, as I
turned the corner of the house, moving stealthily down the gravel drive,
my spirits sank again ominously. For, yonder, over the funereal plumes
of the Twelve Acre Plantation, I saw the broken, yellow disc of the
half-moon just rising in the east, staring down like some vast Being
come to watch upon the progress of our doom. Seen through the distorting
vapours of the earth's atmosphere, her face looked weirdly unfamiliar,
her usual expression of benignant vacancy somehow a-twist. I slipped
along by the shadows of the wall, keeping my eyes upon the ground.
The laundry-house, as already described, stood detached from the other