upstairs to bed. I felt flat and disappointed. I fell asleep at once and
must have slept for about an hour, when I awoke suddenly with a great
noise in my ears. It was the noise of my own laughter! I was simply
shaking with merriment.
At first I was bewildered and thought I had been
laughing in dreams, but a moment later I remembered the drug, and was
delighted to think that after all I had got an effect. It had been
working all along, only I had miscalculated the time. The only
unpleasant thing _then_ was an odd feeling that I had not waked
naturally, but had been wakened by some one else - deliberately. This
came to me as a certainty in the middle of my noisy laughter and
"Any impression who it could have been?" asked the doctor, now listening
with close attention to every word, very much on the alert.
Pender hesitated and tried to smile. He brushed his hair from his
forehead with a nervous gesture.
"You must tell me all your impressions, even your fancies; they are
quite as important as your certainties."
"I had a vague idea that it was some one connected with my forgotten
dream, some one who had been at me in my sleep, some one of great
strength and great ability - of great force - quite an unusual
personality - and, I was certain, too - a woman."
"A good woman?" asked John Silence quietly.
Pender started a little at the question and his sallow face flushed; it
seemed to surprise him. But he shook his head quickly with an
indefinable look of horror.
"Evil," he answered briefly, "appallingly evil, and yet mingled with the
sheer wickedness of it was also a certain perverseness - the perversity
of the unbalanced mind."
He hesitated a moment and looked up sharply at his interlocutor. A shade
of suspicion showed itself in his eyes.
"No," laughed the doctor, "you need not fear that I'm merely humouring
you, or think you mad. Far from it. Your story interests me exceedingly
and you furnish me unconsciously with a number of clues as you tell it.
You see, I possess some knowledge of my own as to these psychic byways."
"I was shaking with such violent laughter," continued the narrator,
reassured in a moment, "though with no clear idea what was amusing me,
that I had the greatest difficulty in getting up for the matches, and
was afraid I should frighten the servants overhead with my explosions.
When the gas was lit I found the room empty, of course, and the door
locked as usual. Then I half dressed and went out on to the landing, my
hilarity better under control, and proceeded to go downstairs. I wished
to record my sensations. I stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth so as
not to scream aloud and communicate my hysterics to the entire
"And the presence of this - this - ?"
"It was hanging about me all the time," said Pender, "but for the moment
it seemed to have withdrawn. Probably, too, my laughter killed all other
"And how long did you take getting downstairs?"
"I was just coming to that. I see you know all my 'symptoms' in advance,
as it were; for, of course, I thought I should never get to the bottom.
Each step seemed to take five minutes, and crossing the narrow hall at
the foot of the stairs - well, I could have sworn it was half an hour's
journey had not my watch certified that it was a few seconds. Yet I
walked fast and tried to push on. It was no good. I walked apparently
without advancing, and at that rate it would have taken me a week to get
down Putney Hill."
"An experimental dose radically alters the scale of time and space
sometimes - "
"But, when at last I got into my study and lit the gas, the change came
horridly, and sudden as a flash of lightning. It was like a douche of
icy water, and in the middle of this storm of laughter - "
"Yes; what?" asked the doctor, leaning forward and peering into his
" - I was overwhelmed with terror," said Pender, lowering his reedy
voice at the mere recollection of it.
He paused a moment and mopped his forehead. The scared, hunted look in
his eyes now dominated the whole face. Yet, all the time, the corners of
his mouth hinted of possible laughter as though the recollection of that
merriment still amused him. The combination of fear and laughter in his
face was very curious, and lent great conviction to his story; it also
lent a bizarre expression of horror to his gestures.
"Terror, was it?" repeated the doctor soothingly.
"Yes, terror; for, though the Thing that woke me seemed to have gone,
the memory of it still frightened me, and I collapsed into a chair. Then
I locked the door and tried to reason with myself, but the drug made my
movements so prolonged that it took me five minutes to reach the door,
and another five to get back to the chair again. The laughter, too, kept
bubbling up inside me - great wholesome laughter that shook me like gusts
of wind - so that even my terror almost made me laugh. Oh, but I may tell
you, Dr. Silence, it was altogether vile, that mixture of fear and
laughter, altogether vile!
"Then, all at once, the things in the room again presented their funny
side to me and set me off laughing more furiously than ever. The
bookcase was ludicrous, the arm-chair a perfect clown, the way the clock
looked at me on the mantelpiece too comic for words; the arrangement of
papers and inkstand on the desk tickled me till I roared and shook and
held my sides and the tears streamed down my cheeks. And that footstool!
Oh, that absurd footstool!"
He lay back in his chair, laughing to himself and holding up his hands
at the thought of it, and at the sight of him Dr. Silence laughed, too.
"Go on, please," he said, "I quite understand. I know something myself
of the hashish laughter."
The author pulled himself together and resumed, his face growing quickly
"So, you see, side by side with this extravagant, apparently causeless
merriment, there was also an extravagant, apparently causeless terror.
The drug produced the laughter, I knew; but what brought in the terror I
could not imagine. Everywhere behind the fun lay the fear. It was terror
masked by cap and bells; and I became the playground for two opposing
emotions, armed and fighting to the death. Gradually, then, the
impression grew in me that this fear was caused by the invasion - so you
called it just now - of the 'person' who had wakened me: she was utterly
evil; inimical to my soul, or at least to all in me that wished for
good. There I stood, sweating and trembling, laughing at everything in
the room, yet all the while with this white terror mastering my heart.
And this creature was putting - putting her - "
He hesitated again, using his handkerchief freely.
" - putting ideas into my mind," he went on glancing nervously about the
room. "Actually tapping my thought-stream so as to switch off the usual
current and inject her own. How mad that sounds! I know it, but it's
true. It's the only way I can express it. Moreover, while the operation
terrified me, the skill with which it was accomplished filled me afresh
with laughter at the clumsiness of men by comparison. Our ignorant,
bungling methods of teaching the minds of others, of inculcating ideas,
and so on, overwhelmed me with laughter when I understood this superior
and diabolical method. Yet my laughter seemed hollow and ghastly, and
ideas of evil and tragedy trod close upon the heels of the comic. Oh,
doctor, I tell you again, it was unnerving!"
John Silence sat with his head thrust forward to catch every word of the
story which the other continued to pour out in nervous, jerky sentences
and lowered voice.
"You saw nothing - no one - all this time?" he asked.
"Not with my eyes. There was no visual hallucination. But in my mind
there began to grow the vivid picture of a woman - large, dark-skinned,
with white teeth and masculine features, and one eye - the left - so
drooping as to appear almost closed. Oh, such a face - !"
"A face you would recognise again?"
Pender laughed dreadfully.
"I wish I could forget it," he whispered, "I only wish I could forget
it!" Then he sat forward in his chair suddenly, and grasped the doctor's
hand with an emotional gesture.
"I _must_ tell you how grateful I am for your patience and sympathy," he
cried, with a tremor in his voice, "and - that you do not think me mad. I
have told no one else a quarter of all this, and the mere freedom of
speech - the relief of sharing my affliction with another - has helped me
already more than I can possibly say."
Dr. Silence pressed his hand and looked steadily into the frightened
eyes. His voice was very gentle when he replied.
"Your case, you know, is very singular, but of absorbing interest to
me," he said, "for it threatens, not your physical existence but the
temple of your psychical existence - the inner life. Your mind would
not be permanently affected here and now, in this world; but in the
existence after the body is left behind, you might wake up with your
spirit so twisted, so distorted, so befouled, that you would be
_spiritually insane_ - a far more radical condition than merely being
There came a strange hush over the room, and between the two men sitting
there facing one another.
"Do you really mean - Good Lord!" stammered the author as soon as he
could find his tongue.
"What I mean in detail will keep till a little later, and I need only
say now that I should not have spoken in this way unless I were quite
positive of being able to help you. Oh, there's no doubt as to that,
believe me. In the first place, I am very familiar with the workings of
this extraordinary drug, this drug which has had the chance effect of
opening you up to the forces of another region; and, in the second, I
have a firm belief in the reality of supersensuous occurrences as well
as considerable knowledge of psychic processes acquired by long and
painful experiment. The rest is, or should be, merely sympathetic
treatment and practical application. The hashish has partially opened
another world to you by increasing your rate of psychical vibration, and
thus rendering you abnormally sensitive. Ancient forces attached to this
house have attacked you. For the moment I am only puzzled as to their
precise nature; for were they of an ordinary character, I should myself
be psychic enough to feel them. Yet I am conscious of feeling nothing as
yet. But now, please continue, Mr. Pender, and tell me the rest of your
wonderful story; and when you have finished, I will talk about the means
Pender shifted his chair a little closer to the friendly doctor and then
went on in the same nervous voice with his narrative.
"After making some notes of my impressions I finally got upstairs again
to bed. It was four o'clock in the morning. I laughed all the way up - at
the grotesque banisters, the droll physiognomy of the staircase window,
the burlesque grouping of the furniture, and the memory of that
outrageous footstool in the room below; but nothing more happened to
alarm or disturb me, and I woke late in the morning after a dreamless
sleep, none the worse for my experiment except for a slight headache and
a coldness of the extremities due to lowered circulation."
"Fear gone, too?" asked the doctor.
"I seemed to have forgotten it, or at least ascribed it to mere
nervousness. Its reality had gone, anyhow for the time, and all that day
I wrote and wrote and wrote. My sense of laughter seemed wonderfully
quickened and my characters acted without effort out of the heart of
true humour. I was exceedingly pleased with this result of my
experiment. But when the stenographer had taken her departure and I came
to read over the pages she had typed out, I recalled her sudden glances
of surprise and the odd way she had looked up at me while I was
dictating. I was amazed at what I read and could hardly believe I had
"It was so distorted. The words, indeed, were mine so far as I could
remember, but the meanings seemed strange. It frightened me. The sense
was so altered. At the very places where my characters were intended to
tickle the ribs, only curious emotions of sinister amusement resulted.
Dreadful innuendoes had managed to creep into the phrases. There was
laughter of a kind, but it was bizarre, horrible, distressing; and my
attempt at analysis only increased my dismay. The story, as it read
then, made me shudder, for by virtue of these slight changes it had come
somehow to hold the soul of horror, of horror disguised as merriment.
The framework of humour was there, if you understand me, but the
characters had turned sinister, and their laughter was evil."
"Can you show me this writing?"
The author shook his head.
"I destroyed it," he whispered. "But, in the end, though of course much
perturbed about it, I persuaded myself that it was due to some
after-effect of the drug, a sort of reaction that gave a twist to my
mind and made me read macabre interpretations into words and situations
that did not properly hold them."
"And, meanwhile, did the presence of this person leave you?"
"No; that stayed more or less. When my mind was actively employed I
forgot it, but when idle, dreaming, or doing nothing in particular,
there she was beside me, influencing my mind horribly - "
"In what way, precisely?" interrupted the doctor.
"Evil, scheming thoughts came to me, visions of crime, hateful pictures
of wickedness, and the kind of bad imagination that so far has been
foreign, indeed impossible, to my normal nature - "
"The pressure of the Dark Powers upon the personality," murmured the
doctor, making a quick note.
"Eh? I didn't quite catch - "
"Pray, go on. I am merely making notes; you shall know their purport
"Even when my wife returned I was still aware of this Presence in the
house; it associated itself with my inner personality in most intimate
fashion; and outwardly I always felt oddly constrained to be polite and
respectful towards it - to open doors, provide chairs and hold myself
carefully deferential when it was about. It became very compelling at
last, and, if I failed in any little particular, I seemed to know that
it pursued me about the house, from one room to another, haunting my
very soul in its inmost abode. It certainly came before my wife so far
as my attentions were concerned.
"But, let me first finish the story of my experimental dose, for I took
it again the third night, and underwent a very similar experience,
delayed like the first in coming, and then carrying me off my feet when
it did come with a rush of this false demon-laughter. This time,
however, there was a reversal of the changed scale of space and time; it
shortened instead of lengthened, so that I dressed and got downstairs in
about twenty seconds, and the couple of hours I stayed and worked in the
study passed literally like a period of ten minutes."
"That is often true of an overdose," interjected the doctor, "and you
may go a mile in a few minutes, or a few yards in a quarter of an hour.
It is quite incomprehensible to those who have never experienced it, and
is a curious proof that time and space are merely forms of thought."
"This time," Pender went on, talking more and more rapidly in his
excitement, "another extraordinary effect came to me, and I experienced
a curious changing of the senses, so that I perceived external things
through one large main sense-channel instead of through the five
divisions known as sight, smell, touch, and so forth. You will, I know,
understand me when I tell you that I _heard_ sights and _saw_ sounds. No
language can make this comprehensible, of course, and I can only say,
for instance, that the striking of the clock I saw as a visible picture
in the air before me. I saw the sounds of the tinkling bell. And in
precisely the same way I heard the colours in the room, especially the
colours of those books in the shelf behind you. Those red bindings I
heard in deep sounds, and the yellow covers of the French bindings next
to them made a shrill, piercing note not unlike the chattering of
starlings. That brown bookcase muttered, and those green curtains
opposite kept up a constant sort of rippling sound like the lower notes
of a wood-horn. But I only was conscious of these sounds when I looked
steadily at the different objects, and thought about them. The room, you
understand, was not full of a chorus of notes; but when I concentrated
my mind upon a colour, I heard, as well as saw, it."
"That is a known, though rarely obtained, effect of _Cannabis indica_,"
observed the doctor. "And it provoked laughter again, did it?"
"Only the muttering of the cupboard-bookcase made me laugh. It was so
like a great animal trying to get itself noticed, and made me think of a
performing bear - which is full of a kind of pathetic humour, you know.
But this mingling of the senses produced no confusion in my brain. On
the contrary, I was unusually clear-headed and experienced an
intensification of consciousness, and felt marvellously alive and
"Moreover, when I took up a pencil in obedience to an impulse to
sketch - a talent not normally mine - I found that I could draw nothing
but heads, nothing, in fact, but one head - always the same - the head of
a dark-skinned woman, with huge and terrible features and a very
drooping left eye; and so well drawn, too, that I was amazed, as you may
imagine - "
"And the expression of the face - ?"
Pender hesitated a moment for words, casting about with his hands in the
air and hunching his shoulders. A perceptible shudder ran over him.
"What I can only describe as - _blackness_," he replied in a low tone;
"the face of a dark and evil soul."
"You destroyed that, too?" queried the doctor sharply.
"No; I have kept the drawings," he said, with a laugh, and rose to get
them from a drawer in the writing-desk behind him.
"Here is all that remains of the pictures, you see," he added, pushing a
number of loose sheets under the doctor's eyes; "nothing but a few
scrawly lines. That's all I found the next morning. I had really drawn
no heads at all - nothing but those lines and blots and wriggles. The
pictures were entirely subjective, and existed only in my mind which
constructed them out of a few wild strokes of the pen. Like the altered
scale of space and time it was a complete delusion. These all passed, of
course, with the passing of the drug's effects. But the other thing did
not pass. I mean, the presence of that Dark Soul remained with me. It is
here still. It is real. I don't know how I can escape from it."
"It is attached to the house, not to you personally. You must leave the
"Yes. Only I cannot afford to leave the house, for my work is my sole
means of support, and - well, you see, since this change I cannot even
write. They are horrible, these mirthless tales I now write, with their
mockery of laughter, their diabolical suggestion. Horrible? I shall go
mad if this continues."
He screwed his face up and looked about the room as though he expected
to see some haunting shape.
"This influence in this house induced by my experiment, has killed in a
flash, in a sudden stroke, the sources of my humour, and though I still
go on writing funny tales - I have a certain name you know - my
inspiration has dried up, and much of what I write I have to burn - yes,
doctor, to burn, before any one sees it."
"As utterly alien to your own mind and personality?"
"Utterly! As though some one else had written it - "
"And shocking!" He passed his hand over his eyes a moment and let the
breath escape softly through his teeth. "Yet most damnably clever in the
consummate way the vile suggestions are insinuated under cover of a kind
of high drollery. My stenographer left me of course - and I've been
afraid to take another - "
John Silence got up and began to walk about the room leisurely without
speaking; he appeared to be examining the pictures on the wall and
reading the names of the books lying about. Presently he paused on the
hearthrug, with his back to the fire, and turned to look his patient
quietly in the eyes. Pender's face was grey and drawn; the hunted
expression dominated it; the long recital had told upon him.
"Thank you, Mr. Pender," he said, a curious glow showing about his fine,
quiet face; "thank you for the sincerity and frankness of your account.
But I think now there is nothing further I need ask you." He indulged in
a long scrutiny of the author's haggard features drawing purposely the
man's eyes to his own and then meeting them with a look of power and
confidence calculated to inspire even the feeblest soul with courage.
"And, to begin with," he added, smiling pleasantly, "let me assure you
without delay that you need have no alarm, for you are no more insane or
deluded than I myself am - "
Pender heaved a deep sigh and tried to return the smile.
" - and this is simply a case, so far as I can judge at present, of a
very singular psychical invasion, and a very sinister one, too, if you
perhaps understand what I mean - "
"It's an odd expression; you used it before, you know," said the author
wearily, yet eagerly listening to every word of the diagnosis, and
deeply touched by the intelligent sympathy which did not at once
indicate the lunatic asylum.
"Possibly," returned the other, "and an odd affliction, too, you'll
allow, yet one not unknown to the nations of antiquity, nor to those
moderns, perhaps, who recognise the freedom of action under certain
pathogenic conditions between this world and another."
"And you think," asked Pender hastily, "that it is all primarily due to
the _Cannabis_? There is nothing radically amiss with myself - nothing
incurable, or - ?"
"Due entirely to the overdose," Dr. Silence replied emphatically, "to
the drug's direct action upon your psychical being. It rendered you
ultra-sensitive and made you respond to an increased rate of vibration.
And, let me tell you, Mr. Pender, that your experiment might have had
results far more dire. It has brought you into touch with a somewhat
singular class of Invisible, but of one, I think, chiefly human in
character. You might, however, just as easily have been drawn out of
human range altogether, and the results of such a contingency would have
been exceedingly terrible. Indeed, you would not now be here to tell the
tale. I need not alarm you on that score, but mention it as a warning
you will not misunderstand or underrate after what you have been
"You look puzzled. You do not quite gather what I am driving at; and it
is not to be expected that you should, for you, I suppose, are the
nominal Christian with the nominal Christian's lofty standard of ethics,
and his utter ignorance of spiritual possibilities. Beyond a somewhat
childish understanding of 'spiritual wickedness in high places,' you
probably have no conception of what is possible once you break-down the
slender gulf that is mercifully fixed between you and that Outer World.
But my studies and training have taken me far outside these orthodox
trips, and I have made experiments that I could scarcely speak to you
about in language that would be intelligible to you."
He paused a moment to note the breathless interest of Pender's face and
manner. Every word he uttered was calculated; he knew exactly the value
and effect of the emotions he desired to waken in the heart of the
afflicted being before him.
"And from certain knowledge I have gained through various experiences,"
he continued calmly, "I can diagnose your case as I said before to be
one of psychical invasion."
"And the nature of this - er - invasion?" stammered the bewildered writer
of humorous tales.
"There is no reason why I should not say at once that I do not yet quite
know," replied Dr. Silence. "I may first have to make one or two
experiments - "
"On me?" gasped Pender, catching his breath.
"Not exactly," the doctor said, with a grave smile, "but with your
assistance, perhaps. I shall want to test the conditions of the
house - to ascertain, impossible, the character of the forces, of this
strange personality that has been haunting you - "
"At present you have no idea exactly who - what - why - " asked the
other in a wild flurry of interest, dread and amazement.
"I have a very good idea, but no proof rather," returned the doctor.
"The effects of the drug in altering the scale of time and space, and
merging the senses have nothing primarily to do with the invasion. They
come to any one who is fool enough to take an experimental dose. It is
the other features of your case that are unusual. You see, you are now