remembering, the old pains of long ago, fierce and sweet, furiously
assailed him, and the blood stirred horribly as he heard the Call of the
Dance again in his heart and tasted the ancient magic of Ilsé whirling
by his side.
Suddenly he started back. A great lithe cat had leaped softly up from
the shadows below on to the sill close to his face, and was staring
fixedly at him with the eyes of a human. "Come," it seemed to say, "come
with us to the Dance! Change as of old! Transform yourself swiftly and
come!" Only too well he understood the creature's soundless call.
It was gone again in a flash with scarcely a sound of its padded feet
on the stones, and then others dropped by the score down the side of
the house, past his very eyes, all changing as they fell and darting
away rapidly, softly, towards the gathering point. And again he felt the
dreadful desire to do likewise; to murmur the old incantation, and then
drop upon hands and knees and run swiftly for the great flying leap into
the air. Oh, how the passion of it rose within him like a flood,
twisting his very entrails, sending his heart's desire flaming forth
into the night for the old, old Dance of the Sorcerers at the Witches'
Sabbath! The whirl of the stars was about him; once more he met the
magic of the moon. The power of the wind, rushing from precipice and
forest, leaping from cliff to cliff across the valleys, tore him
away.... He heard the cries of the dancers and their wild laughter, and
with this savage girl in his embrace he danced furiously about the dim
Throne where sat the Figure with the sceptre of majesty....
Then, suddenly, all became hushed and still, and the fever died down a
little in his heart. The calm moonlight flooded a courtyard empty and
deserted. They had started. The procession was off into the sky. And he
was left behind - alone.
Vezin tiptoed softly across the room and unlocked the door. The murmur
from the streets, growing momentarily as he advanced, met his ears. He
made his way with the utmost caution down the corridor. At the head of
the stairs he paused and listened. Below him, the hall where they had
gathered was dark and still, but through opened doors and windows on the
far side of the building came the sound of a great throng moving farther
and farther into the distance.
He made his way down the creaking wooden stairs, dreading yet longing to
meet some straggler who should point the way, but finding no one; across
the dark hall, so lately thronged with living, moving things, and out
through the opened front doors into the street. He could not believe
that he was really left behind, really forgotten, that he had been
purposely permitted to escape. It perplexed him.
Nervously he peered about him, and up and down the street; then, seeing
nothing, advanced slowly down the pavement.
The whole town, as he went, showed itself empty and deserted, as though
a great wind had blown everything alive out of it. The doors and windows
of the houses stood open to the night; nothing stirred; moonlight and
silence lay over all. The night lay about him like a cloak. The air,
soft and cool, caressed his cheek like the touch of a great furry paw.
He gained confidence and began to walk quickly, though still keeping to
the shadowed side. Nowhere could he discover the faintest sign of the
great unholy exodus he knew had just taken place. The moon sailed high
over all in a sky cloudless and serene.
Hardly realising where he was going, he crossed the open market-place
and so came to the ramparts, whence he knew a pathway descended to the
high road and along which he could make good his escape to one of the
other little towns that lay to the northward, and so to the railway.
But first he paused and gazed out over the scene at his feet where the
great plain lay like a silver map of some dream country. The still
beauty of it entered his heart, increasing his sense of bewilderment and
unreality. No air stirred, the leaves of the plane trees stood
motionless, the near details were defined with the sharpness of day
against dark shadows, and in the distance the fields and woods melted
away into haze and shimmering mistiness.
But the breath caught in his throat and he stood stockstill as though
transfixed when his gaze passed from the horizon and fell upon the near
prospect in the depth of the valley at his feet. The whole lower slopes
of the hill, that lay hid from the brightness of the moon, were aglow,
and through the glare he saw countless moving forms, shifting thick and
fast between the openings of the trees; while overhead, like leaves
driven by the wind, he discerned flying shapes that hovered darkly one
moment against the sky and then settled down with cries and weird
singing through the branches into the region that was aflame.
Spellbound, he stood and stared for a time that he could not measure.
And then, moved by one of the terrible impulses that seemed to control
the whole adventure, he climbed swiftly upon the top of the broad
coping, and balanced a moment where the valley gaped at his feet. But in
that very instant, as he stood hovering, a sudden movement among the
shadows of the houses caught his eye, and he turned to see the outline
of a large animal dart swiftly across the open space behind him, and
land with a flying leap upon the top of the wall a little lower down. It
ran like the wind to his feet and then rose up beside him upon the
ramparts. A shiver seemed to run through the moonlight, and his sight
trembled for a second. His heart pulsed fearfully. Ilsé stood beside
him, peering into his face.
Some dark substance, he saw, stained the girl's face and skin, shining
in the moonlight as she stretched her hands towards him; she was dressed
in wretched tattered garments that yet became her mightily; rue and
vervain twined about her temples; her eyes glittered with unholy light.
He only just controlled the wild impulse to take her in his arms and
leap with her from their giddy perch into the valley below.
"See!" she cried, pointing with an arm on which the rags fluttered in
the rising wind towards the forest aglow in the distance. "See where
they await us! The woods are alive! Already the Great Ones are there,
and the dance will soon begin! The salve is here! Anoint yourself and
Though a moment before the sky was clear and cloudless, yet even while
she spoke the face of the moon grew dark and the wind began to toss in
the crests of the plane trees at his feet. Stray gusts brought the
sounds of hoarse singing and crying from the lower slopes of the hill,
and the pungent odour he had already noticed about the courtyard of the
inn rose about him in the air.
"Transform, transform!" she cried again, her voice rising like a song.
"Rub well your skin before you fly. Come! Come with me to the Sabbath,
to the madness of its furious delight, to the sweet abandonment of its
evil worship! See! the Great Ones are there, and the terrible Sacraments
prepared. The Throne is occupied. Anoint and come! Anoint and come!"
She grew to the height of a tree beside him, leaping upon the wall with
flaming eyes and hair strewn upon the night. He too began to change
swiftly. Her hands touched the skin of his face and neck, streaking him
with the burning salve that sent the old magic into his blood with the
power before which fades all that is good.
A wild roar came up to his ears from the heart of the wood, and the
girl, when she heard it, leaped upon the wall in the frenzy of her
"Satan is there!" she screamed, rushing upon him and striving to draw
him with her to the edge of the wall. "Satan has come. The Sacraments
call us! Come, with your dear apostate soul, and we will worship and
dance till the moon dies and the world is forgotten!"
Just saving himself from the dreadful plunge, Vezin struggled to release
himself from her grasp, while the passion tore at his reins and all but
mastered him. He shrieked aloud, not knowing what he said, and then he
shrieked again. It was the old impulses, the old awful habits
instinctively finding voice; for though it seemed to him that he merely
shrieked nonsense, the words he uttered really had meaning in them, and
were intelligible. It was the ancient call. And it was heard below. It
The wind whistled at the skirts of his coat as the air round him
darkened with many flying forms crowding upwards out of the valley. The
crying of hoarse voices smote upon his ears, coming closer. Strokes of
wind buffeted him, tearing him this way and that along the crumbling top
of the stone wall; and Ilsé clung to him with her long shining arms,
smooth and bare, holding him fast about the neck. But not Ilsé alone,
for a dozen of them surrounded him, dropping out of the air. The
pungent odour of the anointed bodies stifled him, exciting him to the
old madness of the Sabbath, the dance of the witches and sorcerers doing
honour to the personified Evil of the world.
"Anoint and away! Anoint and away!" they cried in wild chorus about him.
"To the Dance that never dies! To the sweet and fearful fantasy of
Another moment and he would have yielded and gone, for his will turned
soft and the flood of passionate memory all but overwhelmed him,
when - so can a small thing after the whole course of an adventure - he
caught his foot upon a loose stone in the edge of the wall, and then
fell with a sudden crash on to the ground below. But he fell towards the
houses, in the open space of dust and cobblestones, and fortunately not
into the gaping depth of the valley on the farther side.
And they, too, came in a tumbling heap about him, like flies upon a
piece of food, but as they fell he was released for a moment from the
power of their touch, and in that brief instant of freedom there flashed
into his mind the sudden intuition that saved him. Before he could
regain his feet he saw them scrabbling awkwardly back upon the wall, as
though bat-like they could only fly by dropping from a height, and had
no hold upon him in the open. Then, seeing them perched there in a row
like cats upon a roof, all dark and singularly shapeless, their eyes
like lamps, the sudden memory came back to him of Ilsé's terror at the
sight of fire.
Quick as a flash he found his matches and lit the dead leaves that lay
under the wall.
Dry and withered, they caught fire at once, and the wind carried the
flame in a long line down the length of the wall, licking upwards as it
ran; and with shrieks and wailings, the crowded row of forms upon the
top melted away into the air on the other side, and were gone with a
great rush and whirring of their bodies down into the heart of the
haunted valley, leaving Vezin breathless and shaken in the middle of the
"Ilsé!" he called feebly; "Ilsé!" for his heart ached to think that she
was really gone to the great Dance without him, and that he had lost the
opportunity of its fearful joy. Yet at the same time his relief was so
great, and he was so dazed and troubled in mind with the whole thing,
that he hardly knew what he was saying, and only cried aloud in the
fierce storm of his emotion....
The fire under the wall ran its course, and the moonlight came out
again, soft and clear, from its temporary eclipse. With one last
shuddering look at the ruined ramparts, and a feeling of horrid wonder
for the haunted valley beyond, where the shapes still crowded and flew,
he turned his face towards the town and slowly made his way in the
direction of the hotel.
And as he went, a great wailing of cries, and a sound of howling,
followed him from the gleaming forest below, growing fainter and fainter
with the bursts of wind as he disappeared between the houses.
"It may seem rather abrupt to you, this sudden tame ending," said Arthur
Vezin, glancing with flushed face and timid eyes at Dr. Silence sitting
there with his notebook, "but the fact is - er - from that moment my
memory seems to have failed rather. I have no distinct recollection of
how I got home or what precisely I did.
"It appears I never went back to the inn at all. I only dimly recollect
racing down a long white road in the moonlight, past woods and villages,
still and deserted, and then the dawn came up, and I saw the towers of a
biggish town and so came to a station.
"But, long before that, I remember pausing somewhere on the road and
looking back to where the hill-town of my adventure stood up in the
moonlight, and thinking how exactly like a great monstrous cat it lay
there upon the plain, its huge front paws lying down the two main
streets, and the twin and broken towers of the cathedral marking its
torn ears against the sky. That picture stays in my mind with the utmost
vividness to this day.
"Another thing remains in my mind from that escape - namely, the sudden
sharp reminder that I had not paid my bill, and the decision I made,
standing there on the dusty highroad, that the small baggage I had left
behind would more than settle for my indebtedness.
"For the rest, I can only tell you that I got coffee and bread at a café
on the outskirts of this town I had come to, and soon after found my way
to the station and caught a train later in the day. That same evening I
"And how long altogether," asked John Silence quietly, "do you think you
stayed in the town of the adventure?"
Vezin looked up sheepishly.
"I was coming to that," he resumed, with apologetic wrigglings of his
body. "In London I found that I was a whole week out in my reckoning of
time. I had stayed over a week in the town, and it ought to have been
September 15th, - instead of which it was only September 10th!"
"So that, in reality, you had only stayed a night or two in the inn?"
queried the doctor.
Vezin hesitated before replying. He shuffled upon the mat.
"I must have gained time somewhere," he said at length - "somewhere or
somehow. I certainly had a week to my credit. I can't explain it. I can
only give you the fact."
"And this happened to you last year, since when you have never been back
to the place?"
"Last autumn, yes," murmured Vezin; "and I have never dared to go back.
I think I never want to."
"And, tell me," asked Dr. Silence at length, when he saw that the little
man had evidently come to the end of his words and had nothing more to
say, "had you ever read up the subject of the old witchcraft practices
during the Middle Ages, or been at all interested in the subject?"
"Never!" declared Vezin emphatically. "I had never given a thought to
such matters so far as I know - "
"Or to the question of reincarnation, perhaps?"
"Never - before my adventure; but I have since," he replied
There was, however, something still on the man's mind that he wished to
relieve himself of by confession, yet could only with difficulty bring
himself to mention; and it was only after the sympathetic tactfulness of
the doctor had provided numerous openings that he at length availed
himself of one of them, and stammered that he would like to show him the
marks he still had on his neck where, he said, the girl had touched him
with her anointed hands.
He took off his collar after infinite fumbling hesitation, and lowered
his shirt a little for the doctor to see. And there, on the surface of
the skin, lay a faint reddish line across the shoulder and extending a
little way down the back towards the spine. It certainly indicated
exactly the position an arm might have taken in the act of embracing.
And on the other side of the neck, slightly higher up, was a similar
mark, though not quite so clearly defined.
"That was where she held me that night on the ramparts," he whispered, a
strange light coming and going in his eyes.
* * * * *
It was some weeks later when I again found occasion to consult John
Silence concerning another extraordinary case that had come under my
notice, and we fell to discussing Vezin's story. Since hearing it, the
doctor had made investigations on his own account, and one of his
secretaries had discovered that Vezin's ancestors had actually lived for
generations in the very town where the adventure came to him. Two of
them, both women, had been tried and convicted as witches, and had been
burned alive at the stake. Moreover, it had not been difficult to prove
that the very inn where Vezin stayed was built about 1700 upon the spot
where the funeral pyres stood and the executions took place. The town
was a sort of headquarters for all the sorcerers and witches of the
entire region, and after conviction they were burnt there literally by
"It seems strange," continued the doctor, "that Vezin should have
remained ignorant of all this; but, on the other hand, it was not the
kind of history that successive generations would have been anxious to
keep alive, or to repeat to their children. Therefore I am inclined to
think he still knows nothing about it.
"The whole adventure seems to have been a very vivid revival of the
memories of an earlier life, caused by coming directly into contact with
the living forces still intense enough to hang about the place, and, by
a most singular chance, too, with the very souls who had taken part with
him in the events of that particular life. For the mother and daughter
who impressed him so strangely must have been leading actors, with
himself, in the scenes and practices of witchcraft which at that period
dominated the imaginations of the whole country.
"One has only to read the histories of the times to know that these
witches claimed the power of transforming themselves into various
animals, both for the purposes of disguise and also to convey themselves
swiftly to the scenes of their imaginary orgies. Lycanthropy, or the
power to change themselves into wolves, was everywhere believed in, and
the ability to transform themselves into cats by rubbing their bodies
with a special salve or ointment provided by Satan himself, found equal
credence. The witchcraft trials abound in evidences of such universal
Dr. Silence quoted chapter and verse from many writers on the subject,
and showed how every detail of Vezin's adventure had a basis in the
practices of those dark days.
"But that the entire affair took place subjectively in the man's own
consciousness, I have no doubt," he went on, in reply to my questions;
"for my secretary who has been to the town to investigate, discovered
his signature in the visitors' book, and proved by it that he had
arrived on September 8th, and left suddenly without paying his bill. He
left two days later, and they still were in possession of his dirty
brown bag and some tourist clothes. I paid a few francs in settlement of
his debt, and have sent his luggage on to him. The daughter was absent
from home, but the proprietress, a large woman very much as he described
her, told my secretary that he had seemed a very strange, absent-minded
kind of gentleman, and after his disappearance she had feared for a long
time that he had met with a violent end in the neighbouring forest where
he used to roam about alone.
"I should like to have obtained a personal interview with the daughter
so as to ascertain how much was subjective and how much actually took
place with her as Vezin told it. For her dread of fire and the sight of
burning must, of course, have been the intuitive memory of her former
painful death at the stake, and have thus explained why he fancied more
than once that he saw her through smoke and flame."
"And that mark on his skin, for instance?" I inquired.
"Merely the marks produced by hysterical brooding," he replied, "like
the stigmata of the _religieuses_, and the bruises which appear on the
bodies of hypnotised subjects who have been told to expect them. This is
very common and easily explained. Only it seems curious that these marks
should have remained so long in Vezin's case. Usually they disappear
"Obviously he is still thinking about it all, brooding, and living it
all over again," I ventured.
"Probably. And this makes me fear that the end of his trouble is not
yet. We shall hear of him again. It is a case, alas! I can do little to
Dr. Silence spoke gravely and with sadness in his voice.
"And what do you make of the Frenchman in the train?" I asked
further - "the man who warned him against the place, _à cause du sommeil
et à cause des chats?_ Surely a very singular incident?"
"A very singular incident indeed," he made answer slowly, "and one I can
only explain on the basis of a highly improbable coincidence - "
"That the man was one who had himself stayed in the town and undergone
there a similar experience. I should like to find this man and ask him.
But the crystal is useless here, for I have no slightest clue to go
upon, and I can only conclude that some singular psychic affinity, some
force still active in his being out of the same past life, drew him thus
to the personality of Vezin, and enabled him to fear what might happen
to him, and thus to warn him as he did.
"Yes," he presently continued, half talking to himself, "I suspect in
this case that Vezin was swept into the vortex of forces arising out of
the intense activities of a past life, and that he lived over again a
scene in which he had often played a leading part centuries before. For
strong actions set up forces that are so slow to exhaust themselves,
they may be said in a sense never to die. In this case they were not
vital enough to render the illusion complete, so that the little man
found himself caught in a very distressing confusion of the present and
the past; yet he was sufficiently sensitive to recognise that it was
true, and to fight against the degradation of returning, even in
memory, to a former and lower state of development.
"Ah yes!" he continued, crossing the floor to gaze at the darkening sky,
and seemingly quite oblivious of my presence, "subliminal up-rushes of
memory like this can be exceedingly painful, and sometimes exceedingly
dangerous. I only trust that this gentle soul may soon escape from this
obsession of a passionate and tempestuous past. But I doubt it, I doubt
His voice was hushed with sadness as he spoke, and when he turned back
into the room again there was an expression of profound yearning upon
his face, the yearning of a soul whose desire to help is sometimes
greater than his power.
CASE III: THE NEMESIS OF FIRE
By some means which I never could fathom, John Silence always contrived
to keep the compartment to himself, and as the train had a clear run of
two hours before the first stop, there was ample time to go over the
preliminary facts of the case. He had telephoned to me that very
morning, and even through the disguise of the miles of wire the thrill
of incalculable adventure had sounded in his voice.
"As if it were an ordinary country visit," he called, in reply to my
question; "and don't forgot to bring your gun."
"With blank cartridges, I suppose?" for I knew his rigid principles with
regard to the taking of life, and guessed that the guns were merely for
some obvious purpose of disguise.
Then he thanked me for coming, mentioned the train, snapped down the
receiver, and left me, vibrating with the excitement of anticipation, to
do my packing. For the honour of accompanying Dr. John Silence on one of
his big cases was what many would have considered an empty honour - and
risky. Certainly the adventure held all manner of possibilities, and I
arrived at Waterloo with the feelings of a man who is about to embark on
some dangerous and peculiar mission in which the dangers he expects to
run will not be the ordinary dangers to life and limb, but of some
secret character difficult to name and still more difficult to cope
"The Manor House has a high sound," he told me, as we sat with our feet
up and talked, "but I believe it is little more than an overgrown
farmhouse in the desolate heather country beyond D - - , and its owner,
Colonel Wragge, a retired soldier with a taste for books, lives there
practically alone, I understand, with an elderly invalid sister. So you
need not look forward to a lively visit, unless the case provides some
excitement of its own."
"Which is likely?"
By way of reply he handed me a letter marked "Private." It was dated a
week ago, and signed "Yours faithfully, Horace Wragge."
"He heard of me, you see, through Captain Anderson," the doctor
explained modestly, as though his fame were not almost world-wide; "you
remember that Indian obsession case - "