offices, with laurel shrubberies crowding thickly behind it, and the
kitchen-garden so close on the other side that the strong smells of soil
and growing things came across almost heavily.
The shadows of the
haunted plantation, hugely lengthened by the rising moon behind them,
reached to the very walls and covered the stone tiles of the roof with a
dark pall. So keenly were my senses alert at this moment that I believe
I could fill a chapter with the endless small details of the impression
I received - shadows, odour, shapes, sounds - in the space of the few
seconds I stood and waited before the closed wooden door.
Then I became aware of some one moving towards me through the moonlight,
and the figure of John Silence, without overcoat and bareheaded, came
quickly and without noise to join me. His eyes, I saw at once, were
wonderfully bright, and so marked was the shining pallor of his face
that I could hardly tell when he passed from the moonlight into the
He passed without a word, beckoning me to follow, and then pushed the
door open, and went in.
The chill air of the place met us like that of an underground vault; and
the brick floor and whitewashed walls, streaked with damp and smoke,
threw back the cold in our faces. Directly opposite gaped the black
throat of the huge open fireplace, the ashes of wood fires still piled
and scattered about the hearth, and on either side of the projecting
chimney-column were the deep recesses holding the big twin cauldrons for
boiling clothes. Upon the lids of these cauldrons stood the two little
oil lamps, shaded red, which gave all the light there was, and
immediately in front of the fireplace there was a small circular table
with three chairs set about it. Overhead, the narrow slit windows, high
up the walls, pointed to a dim network of wooden rafters half lost among
the shadows, and then came the dark vault of the roof. Cheerless and
unalluring, for all the red light, it certainly was, reminding me of
some unused conventicle, bare of pews or pulpit, ugly and severe, and I
was forcibly struck by the contrast between the normal uses to which the
place was ordinarily put, and the strange and medieval purpose which had
brought us under its roof tonight.
Possibly an involuntary shudder ran over me, for my companion turned
with a confident look to reassure me, and he was so completely master of
himself that I at once absorbed from his abundance, and felt the chinks
of my failing courage beginning to close up. To meet his eye in the
presence of danger was like finding a mental railing that guided and
supported thought along the giddy edges of alarm.
"I am quite ready," I whispered, turning to listen for approaching
He nodded, still keeping his eyes on mine. Our whispers sounded hollow
as they echoed overhead among the rafters.
"I'm glad you are here," he said. "Not all would have the courage. Keep
your thoughts controlled, and imagine the protective shell round
you - round your inner being."
"I'm all right," I repeated, cursing my chattering teeth.
He took my hand and shook it, and the contact seemed to shake into me
something of his supreme confidence. The eyes and hands of a strong man
can touch the soul. I think he guessed my thought, for a passing smile
flashed about the corners of his mouth.
"You will feel more comfortable," he said, in a low tone, "when the
chain is complete. The Colonel we can count on, of course.
Remember, though," he added warningly, "he may perhaps become
controlled - possessed - when the thing comes, because he won't know how
to resist. And to explain the business to such a man - !" He shrugged
his shoulders expressively. "But it will only be temporary, and I will
see that no harm comes to him."
He glanced round at the arrangements with approval.
"Red light," he said, indicating the shaded lamps, "has the lowest rate
of vibration. Materialisations are dissipated by strong light - won't
form, or hold together - in rapid vibrations."
I was not sure that I approved altogether of this dim light, for in
complete darkness there is something protective - the knowledge that one
cannot be seen, probably - which a half-light destroys, but I remembered
the warning to keep my thoughts steady, and forbore to give them
There was a step outside, and the figure of Colonel Wragge stood in the
doorway. Though entering on tiptoe, he made considerable noise and
clatter, for his free movements were impeded by the burden he carried,
and we saw a large yellowish bowl held out at arms' length from his
body, the mouth covered with a white cloth. His face, I noted, was
rigidly composed. He, too, was master of himself. And, as I thought of
this old soldier moving through the long series of alarms, worn with
watching and wearied with assault, unenlightened yet undismayed, even
down to the dreadful shock of his sister's terror, and still showing the
dogged pluck that persists in the face of defeat, I understood what Dr.
Silence meant when he described him as a man "to be counted on."
I think there was nothing beyond this rigidity of his stern features,
and a certain greyness of the complexion, to betray the turmoil of the
emotions that were doubtless going on within; and the quality of these
two men, each in his own way, so keyed me up that, by the time the door
was shut and we had exchanged silent greetings, all the latent courage I
possessed was well to the fore, and I felt as sure of myself as I knew I
ever could feel.
Colonel Wragge set the bowl carefully in the centre of the table.
"Midnight," he said shortly, glancing at his watch, and we all three
moved to our chairs.
There, in the middle of that cold and silent place, we sat, with the
vile bowl before us, and a thin, hardly perceptible steam rising through
the damp air from the surface of the white cloth and disappearing
upwards the moment it passed beyond the zone of red light and entered
the deep shadows thrown forward by the projecting wall of chimney.
The doctor had indicated our respective places, and I found myself
seated with my back to the door and opposite the black hearth. The
Colonel was on my left, and Dr. Silence on my right, both half facing
me, the latter more in shadow than the former. We thus divided the
little table into even sections, and sitting back in our chairs we
awaited events in silence.
For something like an hour I do not think there was even the faintest
sound within those four walls and under the canopy of that vaulted roof.
Our slippers made no scratching on the gritty floor, and our breathing
was suppressed almost to nothing; even the rustle of our clothes as we
shifted from time to time upon our seats was inaudible. Silence
smothered us absolutely - the silence of night, of listening, the silence
of a haunted expectancy. The very gurgling of the lamps was too soft to
be heard, and if light itself had sound, I do not think we should have
noticed the silvery tread of the moonlight as it entered the high narrow
windows and threw upon the floor the slender traces of its pallid
Colonel Wragge and the doctor, and myself too for that matter, sat thus
like figures of stone, without speech and without gesture. My eyes
passed in ceaseless journeys from the bowl to their faces, and from
their faces to the bowl. They might have been masks, however, for all
the signs of life they gave; and the light steaming from the horrid
contents beneath the white cloth had long ceased to be visible.
Then presently, as the moon rose higher, the wind rose with it. It
sighed, like the lightest of passing wings, over the roof; it crept most
softly round the walls; it made the brick floor like ice beneath our
feet. With it I saw mentally the desolate moorland flowing like a sea
about the old house, the treeless expanse of lonely hills, the nearer
copses, sombre and mysterious in the night. The plantation, too, in
particular I saw, and imagined I heard the mournful whisperings that
must now be a-stirring among its tree-tops as the breeze played down
between the twisted stems. In the depth of the room behind us the shafts
of moonlight met and crossed in a growing network.
It was after an hour of this wearing and unbroken attention, and I
should judge about one o'clock in the morning, when the baying of the
dogs in the stableyard first began, and I saw John Silence move suddenly
in his chair and sit up in an attitude of attention. Every force in my
being instantly leaped into the keenest vigilance. Colonel Wragge moved
too, though slowly, and without raising his eyes from the table before
The doctor stretched his arm out and took the white cloth from the bowl.
It was perhaps imagination that persuaded me the red glare of the lamps
grew fainter and the air over the table before us thickened. I had been
expecting something for so long that the movement of my companions, and
the lifting of the cloth, may easily have caused the momentary delusion
that something hovered in the air before my face, touching the skin of
my cheeks with a silken run. But it was certainly not a delusion that
the Colonel looked up at the same moment and glanced over his shoulder,
as though his eyes followed the movements of something to and fro about
the room, and that he then buttoned his overcoat more tightly about him
and his eyes sought my own face first, and then the doctor's. And it was
no delusion that his face seemed somehow to have turned dark, become
spread as it were with a shadowy blackness. I saw his lips tighten and
his expression grow hard and stern, and it came to me then with a rush
that, of course, this man had told us but a part of the experiences he
had been through in the house, and that there was much more he had never
been able to bring himself to reveal at all. I felt sure of it. The way
he turned and stared about him betrayed a familiarity with other things
than those he had described to us. It was not merely a sight of fire he
looked for; it was a sight of something alive, intelligent, something
able to evade his searching; it was _a person_. It was the watch for the
ancient Being who sought to obsess him.
And the way in which Dr. Silence answered his look - though it was only
by a glance of subtlest sympathy - confirmed my impression.
"We may be ready now," I heard him say in a whisper, and I understood
that his words were intended as a steadying warning, and braced myself
mentally to the utmost of my power.
Yet long before Colonel Wragge had turned to stare about the room, and
long before the doctor had confirmed my impression that things were at
last beginning to stir, I had become aware in most singular fashion that
the place held more than our three selves. With the rising of the wind
this increase to our numbers had first taken place. The baying of the
hounds almost seemed to have signalled it. I cannot say how it may be
possible to realise that an empty place has suddenly become - not empty,
when the new arrival is nothing that appeals to any one of the senses;
for this recognition of an "invisible," as of the change in the balance
of personal forces in a human group, is indefinable and beyond proof.
Yet it is unmistakable. And I knew perfectly well at what given moment
the atmosphere within these four walls became charged with the presence
of other living beings besides ourselves. And, on reflection, I am
convinced that both my companions knew it too.
"Watch the light," said the doctor under his breath, and then I knew too
that it was no fancy of my own that had turned the air darker, and the
way he turned to examine the face of our host sent an electric thrill of
wonder and expectancy shivering along every nerve in my body.
Yet it was no kind of terror that I experienced, but rather a sort of
mental dizziness, and a sensation as of being suspended in some remote
and dreadful altitude where things might happen, indeed were about to
happen, that had never before happened within the ken of man. Horror may
have formed an ingredient, but it was not chiefly horror, and in no
sense ghostly horror.
Uncommon thoughts kept beating on my brain like tiny hammers, soft yet
persistent, seeking admission; their unbidden tide began to wash along
the far fringes of my mind, the currents of unwonted sensations to rise
over the remote frontiers of my consciousness. I was aware of thoughts,
and the fantasies of thoughts, that I never knew before existed.
Portions of my being stirred that had never stirred before, and things
ancient and inexplicable rose to the surface and beckoned me to follow.
I felt as though I were about to fly off, at some immense tangent, into
an outer space hitherto unknown even in dreams. And so singular was the
result produced upon me that I was uncommonly glad to anchor my mind, as
well as my eyes, upon the masterful personality of the doctor at my
side, for there, I realised, I could draw always upon the forces of
sanity and safety.
With a vigorous effort of will I returned to the scene before me, and
tried to focus my attention, with steadier thoughts, upon the table, and
upon the silent figures seated round it. And then I saw that certain
changes had come about in the place where we sat.
The patches of moonlight on the floor, I noted, had become curiously
shaded; the faces of my companions opposite were not so clearly visible
as before; and the forehead and cheeks of Colonel Wragge were glistening
with perspiration. I realised further, that an extraordinary change had
come about in the temperature of the atmosphere. The increased warmth
had a painful effect, not alone on Colonel Wragge, but upon all of us.
It was oppressive and unnatural. We gasped figuratively as well as
"You are the first to feel it," said Dr. Silence in low tones, looking
across at him. "You are in more intimate touch, of course - "
The Colonel was trembling, and appeared to be in considerable distress.
His knees shook, so that the shuffling of his slippered feet became
audible. He inclined his head to show that he had heard, but made no
other reply. I think, even then, he was sore put to it to keep himself
in hand. I knew what he was struggling against. As Dr. Silence had
warned me, he was about to be obsessed, and was savagely, though vainly,
But, meanwhile, a curious and whirling sense of exhilaration began to
come over me. The increasing heat was delightful, bringing a sensation
of intense activity, of thoughts pouring through the mind at high speed,
of vivid pictures in the brain, of fierce desires and lightning energies
alive in every part of the body. I was conscious of no physical
distress, such as the Colonel felt, but only of a vague feeling that it
might all grow suddenly too intense - that I might be consumed - that my
personality as well as my body, might become resolved into the flame of
pure spirit. I began to live at a speed too intense to last. It was as
if a thousand ecstasies besieged me -
"Steady!" whispered the voice of John Silence in my ear, and I looked up
with a start to see that the Colonel had risen from his chair. The
doctor rose too. I followed suit, and for the first time saw down into
the bowl. To my amazement and horror I saw that the contents were
troubled. The blood was astir with movement.
The rest of the experiment was witnessed by us standing. It came, too,
with a curious suddenness. There was no more dreaming, for me at any
I shall never forget the figure of Colonel Wragge standing there beside
me, upright and unshaken, squarely planted on his feet, looking about
him, puzzled beyond belief, yet full of a fighting anger. Framed by the
white walls, the red glow of the lamps upon his streaming cheeks, his
eyes glowing against the deathly pallor of his skin, breathing hard and
making convulsive efforts of hands and body to keep himself under
control, his whole being roused to the point of savage fighting, yet
with nothing visible to get at anywhere - he stood there, immovable
against odds. And the strange contrast of the pale skin and the burning
face I had never seen before, or wish to see again.
But what has left an even sharper impression on my memory was the
blackness that then began crawling over his face, obliterating the
features, concealing their human outline, and hiding him inch by inch
from view. This was my first realisation that the process of
materialisation was at work. His visage became shrouded. I moved from
one side to the other to keep him in view, and it was only then I
understood that, properly speaking, the blackness was not upon the
countenance of Colonel Wragge, but that something had inserted itself
between me and him, thus screening his face with the effect of a dark
veil. Something that apparently rose through the floor was passing
slowly into the air above the table and above the bowl. The blood in the
bowl, moreover, was considerably less than before.
And, with this change in the air before us, there came at the same time
a further change, I thought, in the face of the soldier. One-half was
turned towards the red lamps, while the other caught the pale
illumination of the moonlight falling aslant from the high windows, so
that it was difficult to estimate this change with accuracy of detail.
But it seemed to me that, while the features - eyes, nose,
mouth - remained the same, the life informing them had undergone some
profound transformation. The signature of a new power had crept into the
face and left its traces there - an expression dark, and in some
unexplained way, terrible.
Then suddenly he opened his mouth and spoke, and the sound of this
changed voice, deep and musical though it was, made me cold and set my
heart beating with uncomfortable rapidity. The Being, as he had dreaded,
was already in control of his brain, using his mouth.
"I see a blackness like the blackness of Egypt before my face," said
the tones of this unknown voice that seemed half his own and half
another's. "And out of this darkness they come, they come."
I gave a dreadful start. The doctor turned to look at me for an instant,
and then turned to centre his attention upon the figure of our host, and
I understood in some intuitive fashion that he was there to watch over
the strangest contest man ever saw - to watch over and, if necessary, to
"He is being controlled - possessed," he whispered to me through the
shadows. His face wore a wonderful expression, half triumph, half
Even as Colonel Wragge spoke, it seemed to me that this visible darkness
began to increase, pouring up thickly out of the ground by the hearth,
rising up in sheets and veils, shrouding our eyes and faces. It stole up
from below - an awful blackness that seemed to drink in all the
radiations of light in the building, leaving nothing but the ghost of a
radiance in their place. Then, out of this rising sea of shadows, issued
a pale and spectral light that gradually spread itself about us, and
from the heart of this light I saw the shapes of fire crowd and gather.
And these were not human shapes, or the shapes of anything I recognised
as alive in the world, but outlines of fire that traced globes,
triangles, crosses, and the luminous bodies of various geometrical
figures. They grew bright, faded, and then grew bright again with an
effect almost of pulsation. They passed swiftly to and fro through the
air, rising and falling, and particularly in the immediate neighbourhood
of the Colonel, often gathering about his head and shoulders, and even
appearing to settle upon him like giant insects of flame. They were
accompanied, moreover, by a faint sound of hissing - the same sound we
had heard that afternoon in the plantation.
"The fire-elementals that precede their master," the doctor said in an
undertone. "Be ready."
And while this weird display of the shapes of fire alternately flashed
and faded, and the hissing echoed faintly among the dim rafters
overhead, we heard the awful voice issue at intervals from the lips of
the afflicted soldier. It was a voice of power, splendid in some way I
cannot describe, and with a certain sense of majesty in its cadences,
and, as I listened to it with quickly beating heart, I could fancy it
was some ancient voice of Time itself, echoing down immense corridors of
stone, from the depths of vast temples, from the very heart of mountain
"I have seen my divine Father, Osiris," thundered the great tones. "I
have scattered the gloom of the night. I have burst through the earth,
and am one with the starry Deities!"
Something grand came into the soldier's face. He was staring fixedly
before him, as though seeing nothing.
"Watch," whispered Dr. Silence in my ear, and his whisper seemed to come
from very far away.
Again the mouth opened and the awesome voice issued forth.
"Thoth," it boomed, "has loosened the bandages of Set which fettered my
mouth. I have taken my place in the great winds of heaven."
I heard the little wind of night, with its mournful voice of ages,
sighing round the walls and over the roof.
"Listen!" came from the doctor at my side, and the thunder of the voice
"I have hidden myself with you, O ye stars that never diminish. I
remember my name - in - the - House - of - Fire!"
The voice ceased and the sound died away. Something about the face and
figure of Colonel Wragge relaxed, I thought. The terrible look passed
from his face. The Being that obsessed him was gone.
"The great Ritual," said Dr. Silence aside to me, very low, "the Book of
the Dead. Now it's leaving him. Soon the blood will fashion it a body."
Colonel Wragge, who had stood absolutely motionless all this time,
suddenly swayed, so that I thought he was going to fall, - and, but for
the quick support of the doctor's arm, he probably would have fallen,
for he staggered as in the beginning of collapse.
"I am drunk with the wine of Osiris," he cried, - and it was half with
his own voice this time - "but Horus, the Eternal Watcher, is about my
path - for - safety." The voice dwindled and failed, dying away into
something almost like a cry of distress.
"Now, watch closely," said Dr. Silence, speaking loud, "for after the
cry will come the Fire!"
I began to tremble involuntarily; an awful change had come without
warning into the air; my legs grew weak as paper beneath my weight and I
had to support myself by leaning on the table. Colonel Wragge, I saw,
was also leaning forward with a kind of droop. The shapes of fire had
vanished all, but his face was lit by the red lamps and the pale,
shifting moonlight rose behind him like mist.
We were both gazing at the bowl, now almost empty; the Colonel stooped
so low I feared every minute he would lose his balance and drop into it;
and the shadow, that had so long been in process of forming, now at
length began to assume material outline in the air before us.
Then John Silence moved forward quickly. He took his place between us
and the shadow. Erect, formidable, absolute master of the situation, I
saw him stand there, his face calm and almost smiling, and fire in his
eyes. His protective influence was astounding and incalculable. Even the
abhorrent dread I felt at the sight of the creature growing into life
and substance before us, lessened in some way so that I was able to keep
my eyes fixed on the air above the bowl without too vivid a terror.
But as it took shape, rising out of nothing as it were, and growing
momentarily more defined in outline, a period of utter and wonderful
silence settled down upon the building and all it contained. A hush of
ages, like the sudden centre of peace at the heart of the travelling
cyclone, descended through the night, and out of this hush, as out of
the emanations of the steaming blood, issued the form of the ancient
being who had first sent the elemental of fire upon its mission. It grew
and darkened and solidified before our eyes. It rose from just beyond
the table so that the lower portions remained invisible, but I saw the
outline limn itself upon the air, as though slowly revealed by the
rising of a curtain. It apparently had not then quite concentrated to
the normal proportions, but was spread out on all sides into space,
huge, though rapidly condensing, for I saw the colossal shoulders, the
neck, the lower portion of the dark jaws, the terrible mouth, and then
the teeth and lips - and, as the veil seemed to lift further upon the
tremendous face - I saw the nose and cheek bones. In another moment I
should have looked straight into the eyes -
But what Dr. Silence did at that moment was so unexpected, and took me