How Siva Spoke
Scary Books: A Master Of Mysteries
During the summer of the past year a medical friend of mine sent me an invitation to dine with him and two of his fellow-craftsmen at the Welcome Club at the Earl's Court Exhibition. One of our party was a certain Dr. Laurier, a young man of considerable ability, whose special attention had been directed to mental diseases. He was, indeed, a noted authority on this subject, and had just completed an appointment at one of the large London asylums. During dinner he entertained us with a few of his
"I assure you, Mr. Bell," he said, "there is absolutely no limit to the vagaries of the human mind. At the present moment a most grotesque and painful form of mental disease has come under my notice. The patient is not a pauper, but a gentleman of good standing and means. He is unmarried, and owns a lovely place in the country. He spent the early years of his life in India, and when there the craze began which now assumes the magnitude of a monomania."
"Pray let me hear about him, if your professional etiquette allows you to talk on the subject," I answered.
"I will certainly tell you what I can," he replied. "I have known the man for years, having met him in town on several occasions. Last week his nephew came to see me, and spoke seriously with regard to his uncle's state of mind. His great craze for years has been spiritualism, theosophy, and mahatmas, with all their attendant hocus-pocus. He firmly believes in his power to call up spirits from the vasty deep, and holds many extraordinary séances."
"But surely such a craze is not sufficient to prove insanity!" I said. "Hundreds of people believe in such manifestations at the present day."
"I know that well, and perfectly harmless such crazes are so long as the victims confine their beliefs to spirit-rapping, table-turning, and humbug of that sort; but when their convictions lead them to commit actions which compromise serious interests, and when, as in this case, there is a possibility of life itself being in danger, it is time they should be looked after."
"What is the particular nature of your friend's delusion?" I asked.
"This. He is practically a Brahmin, having been deeply imbued with the peculiar doctrines of Brahminism when in India. Amongst his friends in the East was a Brahmin of high degree in whose house were three idols, representing the Hindu Trinity—Vishnu, Brahma, and Siva. By some means which have never been explained to me, my friend managed to get possession of Siva, and brought the idol home. He placed it in a gallery which he has in his house, believing from the first that it possessed mystical properties which it was his duty to fathom. The nephew now tells me that he has brought his craze to such a pass that he firmly believes that Siva speaks to him in Hindustanee. The unhappy man kneels nightly at the altar in front of the idol, receiving, as he imagines, directions from him. The consequence is that he does all sorts of mad and extraordinary things, spending his large fortune lavishly in the decoration of this hideous monster, buying pearls, rubies, and even diamonds for the purpose, and really being, as he imagines, guided by it in the disposition of his life and property. He has a young niece residing with him, to whom he has always been very much attached; but of late he has been cruel to her, banishing her from his presence, refusing her his sympathy, and has even gone to the length of threatening to take her life, saying quite openly that Siva informs him night after night of her treachery towards him. Now the nephew is engaged to this girl, and is naturally anxious about her; but, say what he will, nothing will induce her to turn against her uncle, to whom she is deeply attached. She denies that he threatens her life, although the nephew declares that he did so in his own presence. Under such circumstances, her friends are, naturally, most anxious about her, and feel it their duty to get a medical opinion with regard to the uncle. I am going down to his place to-morrow, and shall there meet his regular medical attendant in consultation."
"And then, I suppose, certify as to his insanity?" I answered.
"Doubtless; that is, if we come to the conclusion that the man is really insane."
"What an awful responsibility is reposed in you doctors!" I said. "Think what it means to condemn a man to a lunatic asylum. In the hands of the unscrupulous such a power is terrible."
Dr. Laurier knitted his brows, and looked keenly at me.
"What do you mean?" he said in a curious tone. "Of course mistakes are made now and then, but not, I believe, often. To act in good faith and exercise reasonable care are the two requisites of the law."
"Of course," I replied, "there are great difficulties on both sides of this momentous question; but if I belonged to the profession, I can frankly say that nothing would induce me to sign a certificate of lunacy."
A few moments afterwards we all rose and strolled about the grounds. As we were parting at the exit gates I called Dr. Laurier aside.
"The love of mystery is to me a ruling passion," I said. "Will you excuse the great liberty I take when I ask you to let me know the result of your visit of to-morrow? I am immensely interested in your spiritualist patient."
As I spoke I scribbled my address on a card and handed it to him, half expecting that he would resent my intrusiveness. A smile flitted across his clever face, and he stood looking at me for a moment under the glare of the great arc lights.
"I will certainly give you the result of my visit, as you are so much interested," he replied. "Good-night."
We got into our respective hansoms, and drove off in different directions.
I had much to do, and soon forgot both Dr. Laurier and his patient; therefore, on the following Monday, when he was ushered into my presence, my surprise was great.
"I have come to fulfil my promise," he began. "I am here not only to satisfy your curiosity about my patient, but also to ask your advice. The fact is the matter has, I think, now merged more into your domain than mine."
"Pray tell me what has happened," I asked.
"That is what I am about to do; but first I must ensure your absolute confidence and secrecy, for my professional reputation may be seriously compromised if it is known that I consulted you."
I gave him the assurance, and he proceeded:—
"My patient's name is Edward Thesiger; he lives in a place called The Hynde, in Somersetshire. I went down as I had arranged, and was met at the station by his nephew, Jasper Bagwell. Bagwell is a thin, anxious-looking man of about five-and-thirty. He drove me over to The Hynde, and I was there met by Thesiger's own physician, Dr. Dalton. Dalton and I each made a separate examination of the patient, and came to the conclusion that he was undoubtedly queer.
"In the course of the afternoon we were all wandering round the grounds, when we were joined by the young girl to whom Bagwell is engaged. When she saw me she gave me a very eager glance, and soon attached herself to my side.
"'I want to speak to you, Dr. Laurier,' she said in a low voice.
"I managed to drop behind in order to give her an opportunity.
"'I know what you have come about,' she said. 'What do you think of my uncle's case?'
"'I am not prepared to hazard an opinion,' I replied.
"'Well, please listen to something I have got to say. Jasper Bagwell has his own reasons for what he tells you. You do very wrong to listen to him. Uncle Edward is queer, I grant, with regard to the idol Siva, that is because he is in reality a Brahmin; but if you sign a certificate to the effect that he is mad, you will be making a very terrible mistake.'
"As she spoke her lips trembled, and tears filled her eyes.
"'I am terribly unhappy about it all,' she continued.
"I looked at her earnestly, then I said in a low voice:
"'Forgive me if I reply to you as plainly as you have just spoken to me. You arouse my surprise when you speak as you do of Mr. Bagwell. Is it not the case that you are engaged to marry him?'
"She gave a visible start.
"'It is the case,' she answered slowly. Then she continued, speaking with great emphasis, 'I only marry my cousin because it is the one—the one chance of saving Uncle Edward.'
"'What do you mean?' I asked in astonishment.
"'I wish I could tell you, but I dare not. I am a very miserable girl. There is foul play somewhere, of that I am convinced. Oh, believe me! won't you believe me?'
"To these extraordinary words I made a somewhat dubious reply, and she soon left me, to walk by her uncle's side.
"Late that evening I was alone with the patient, and he then confided to me much which he had withheld at first. He spoke about the years he had spent in India, and in especial alluded to the Brahmin religion. He told me also that he now possesses the idol Siva, and has set it up in a marble gallery where he can hold his spiritualistic séances. Bending forward as he spoke, and fixing me with his intelligent and yet strange glance, he said solemnly, and with an appearance of perfect truth on his face, that by certain incenses and secret incantations he could make the idol speak to him in Hindustanee. He said further that he felt himself completely dominated by it, and was bound to obey all its dictates. As he said the latter words his face grew white to the lips.
"'Siva is exigent in his demands,' he said slowly—'exigent and terrible. But come, I will take you into the gallery, and you shall see him for yourself.'
"I went gladly. We had to go through a long conservatory which opened out of the dining-room; from there we entered an oval-shaped room. Thesiger brought me straight up to the idol. It was placed upon a pedestal. It is a hideous monster made of wood, and has five heads; in its hand it holds a trident. I could hardly refrain from smiling when I first saw it. It was difficult to believe that any man, sane or insane, could hold faith in such a monstrosity. My object, however, was to draw the poor mad fellow out, and I begged of him to take what steps he considered necessary in order to induce the creature to speak. He willingly obeyed my desire, and with great solemnity went through elaborate operations; then, turning the lamp very low, knelt at the altar in front of the idol and began to address it. He waited for its replies, which were, of course, inaudible, and then continued speaking again. After some moments spent in this way he declared solemnly that it had replied to him, and practically called me a liar when I said I had not heard it.
"When he turned up the lamp at the end of this strange scene, I noticed for the first time that the idol was decorated with precious stones of extraordinary value. To leave such valuables in a room with an unlocked door was in itself a symptom of insanity, and when I parted with Thesiger for the night I had not the least doubt that my unfortunate host was really insane. All the same, I had a curious unwillingness with regard to signing the certificate. Bagwell eagerly asked me if I did not intend to sign. To his astonishment, I replied in the negative. I said that the case was a very peculiar one, and that it would be necessary for me to pay a second visit to the patient before I could take this extreme step. He was, I could see, intensely annoyed, but I remained firm."
Laurier stopped speaking and looked me full in the face.
"Well?" I asked.
"I have come to consult with you over the matter. You remember what you said about the responsibility of signing such certificates! It is on account of those words I have come to you."
"Well, Dr. Laurier," I answered, "I shall of course be happy to do anything I can to help you, but I must frankly confess that I fail to see exactly on what point I can be of service. I know little about disease in general, and nothing about mental diseases in particular. Miss Thesiger seems to think that there is foul play; but have you any suspicions on your own account?"
"I have no proofs, but, all the same, I do suspect foul play, although, perhaps, I have no right to say so."
"Then what do you want me to do?" I asked.
"This," he answered. "Will you come down with me to Somersetshire as my friend, and in the rôle of a great spiritualist? Thesiger will be only too delighted to meet some one of his own way of thinking. Will you come?"
I thought for a moment—it was not a rôle I cared to assume, but the case was peculiar, and might possibly lie within my province. I eventually agreed to accompany Laurier into Somersetshire, and, as a matter of fact, went down with him the next day. He had telegraphed our arrival to The Hynde, and a hearty invitation was accorded to me.
As we were driving through the grounds late the following afternoon we were met by a tall girl, who was accompanied by two thoroughbred retrievers.
"Here is Miss Thesiger," said Laurier. He called to the driver to stop, and jumping down, went to her side. I accompanied him.
"Miss Thesiger," said Laurier, "let me introduce my friend, Mr. John Bell."
She looked me full in the face, then her grey eyes seemed to lighten with momentary pleasure, and she held out her hand.
"What have you come back for?" she asked the next moment, turning to Laurier.
"To see your uncle."
"Are you to meet Dr. Dalton?" her lips trembled.
"I believe so. I assure you, Miss Thesiger, I have come with no sinister design." Laurier smiled as he spoke. "On the contrary, I am here to-day in order, if possible, to get at the truth. There is no one who can help me better than this gentleman."
"Then you do suspect foul play?" she said, her eyes lighting up with sudden hope.
"I have no reason to do so," he answered.
"It exists," she replied. "I know what I am saying; will you not believe me?" As she spoke she glanced hurriedly behind her—footsteps were heard rapidly approaching.
"There is my cousin," she said; "he follows me like a shadow. Dr. Laurier and Mr. Bell, I must see you both, or one of you, in private. I have something of great importance which you ought to know."
Before either of us could answer her, Jasper Bagwell came up. He gave us a polite welcome, and glanced keenly at his cousin, who took no notice of him, but continued her walk.
"Poor girl!" he said with a deep sigh, as we three walked slowly to the house.
"Why do you pity her?" I could not help asking.
"Because she is nearly as much under a delusion as my uncle himself. The fact is she is in the utmost danger, and yet refuses absolutely to believe it. The more eccentric my unfortunate uncle grows, the more she clings to him; she scarcely leaves his side, although it is most unsafe for her to be with him. I think it my absolute duty to watch her day and night, and am really almost worn out with anxiety. The whole of last night I spent in the corridor which divides her room from Mr. Thesiger's. Three times in the course of the night I saw the unfortunate madman gliding down this corridor, and but for my timely appearance on the scene I have not the slightest doubt that he would have entered Helen's room with the most fell design. I see the madness in his eye when he even glances at her. He told me solemnly not later than yesterday that Siva had laid it upon him to take her life, as she was opposed heart and soul to the doctrines of Brahminism, and was a serious obstacle in the way of the great work which my uncle was meant by the idol to undertake. I told Helen exactly what he said, but she goes on as if nothing were wrong. The fact is this, Laurier, if you don't sign that certificate I must get another doctor who will."
Bagwell's communications were certainly alarming, but we had scarcely time to reply to them before we reached the house. When we entered the hall the frown departed from his face like magic, he assumed a thoroughly pleasant manner, and conducted us quickly into the presence of the owner of the house.
Edward Thesiger was a handsome old man, tall and dignified in appearance. He possessed a particularly lofty and intelligent cast of face, aquiline features, and silver hair which flowed down over his shoulders. His face was clean shaven, which allowed the handsome curves of his mobile mouth to be plainly seen. His conversation betokened the man of learning, his words were well chosen, his manner was extremely calm and quiet. At a first glance no one could look more thoroughly sane.
During dinner that night I happened to be seated opposite Miss Thesiger. She was very silent, and seemed terribly depressed. I noticed that she often glanced at her uncle, and further observed that he carefully avoided meeting her eyes. When she came into the room he manifested distinct uneasiness, and when she retired to the drawing-room after dinner a look of relief filled his fine face. He drew up his chair near mine and began to talk.
"I am glad you were able to come," he said. "It is not often one has the privilege of meeting a thoroughly kindred spirit. Now, tell me, have you carefully studied Brahminism?"
"I have done so cursorily," I replied, "and have had from time to time curious dealings with the supernatural." I then added abruptly, "I am much interested to hear from Laurier that you, Mr. Thesiger, possess the idol Siva in this house."
"Hush!" he said, starting and turning very pale. "Do not say the name in such a loud and reckless tone." As he spoke he bent towards me, and his voice dropped. "Mr. Bell, I have extraordinary confidences which I can make to you by-and-by."
"I shall be happy to hear them," I answered.
"Have you had wine enough? Shall we go into the gallery now?"
I rose immediately. My host led me into a conservatory, and from there straight into a marble gallery. It was a curious-looking place, being a large oval chamber forty feet long, the walls were faced with marble, and a dado painted in Egyptian style ran round the room. Half way between the middle of the room and the end stood a fountain of curious design. It consisted of the bronze figure of a swan with wings outspread. From its bill the water issued and fell into a circular basin. Facing this fountain, twenty feet away, stood the idol, with its little altar in front of it. I went up and examined it with intense interest. The pedestal on which it rested was about three feet high—the idol itself was the same height, so that its five heads were almost on a level with my face. Round the neck, and decorating each of the heads, were jewels of extraordinary magnificence; the hand which held the trident was loaded with diamond rings. It is almost impossible to describe the sinister effect of this grotesque and horrible monster; and when I saw Mr. Thesiger gazing at it with a peculiar expression of reverence not unmixed with fear, I felt certain that Bagwell was right, and that the man was dangerously insane.
As I was thinking these thoughts my host groaned quite audibly, and then looked steadily at me.
"I am living through a very terrible time," he said in a low voice. "I am the victim of a strange and awful power." Here his words dropped to an intense whisper. "Years ago, when I became a Brahmin," he continued, "voluntarily giving up the faith in which I was born, I little knew to what such a step would lead. I stole Siva from the house of my Indian friend and brought the idol home. From the first it began to exercise a marvellous power over me. I had made a large fortune in India; and when I came to England, bought this place, and finding this curious gallery already in existence, had it lined with marble, and set up Siva in its midst. The study of the faith which I had adopted, the holding of spiritualistic séances and matters of that sort, occupied my time, and I became more and more imbued with the strange mysticism of my belief. As the years flew by I was more and more firmly convinced that what looks like mere wood is in reality imbued with strange and awful qualities. I shall never forget that terrible evening when Siva first spoke to me."
"How long ago was that?" I interrupted.
"Some months ago now. I was kneeling by the altar, and was speaking to him as usual, when I heard words uttered in Hindustanee. At first I could scarcely credit my own ears, but soon I grew accustomed to the fact that Siva wished to hold communication with me, and listened to him nightly. At the beginning of our remarkable intercourse he laid certain mandates upon me which resulted, as you see, in my decorating him with these precious stones. I felt bound to obey him, whatever he dictated; but of late he has told me—he has told me——" The old man began to shudder and tremble.
While he had been speaking to me he had been gazing at the idol; now he walked a few steps away and turned his back on it.
"Sooner or later I must obey him," he said in a feeble voice; "but the thing is driving me crazed—crazed."
"What is it?" I asked; "tell me, I beseech you."
"I cannot; it is too awful—it relates to the one I love best in the world. The sacrifice is too horrible, and yet I am drawn to it—I am drawn to the performing of an awful deed by a terrific power. Ask me no more, Mr. Bell; I see by your face that I have your pity."
"You have, truly," I answered.
I had scarcely said the last words before the door of the gallery was opened, and Miss Thesiger, Bagwell, and Laurier appeared. Miss Thesiger went straight to her uncle's side, and laid her hand on his shoulder.
"Must you stay up any longer?" she asked in a gentle voice. "I heard you walking about last night; you were restless and did not sleep. Do go to bed now; you seem so tired. I know these gentlemen will excuse you," she added, glancing from Laurier to me.
"Certainly," said Laurier. "I should recommend Mr. Thesiger to retire at once; he looks quite worn out."
"I shall go presently—presently," said Thesiger, in a somewhat curt voice. "Leave us, Helen; there's a good child; go, my dear."
"Go, Helen; don't irritate him," I heard Bagwell say.
She gave a quick, despairing glance from one man to the other; then, turning, left the room.
"And now, Mr. Thesiger," I said, "will you not grant me the favour of a séance?"
Mr. Thesiger remained gravely silent for a moment; then he said:
"By virtue of your power as a medium, you may be able to hear the voice, and so convince Dr. Laurier of its reality."
"It was the strangest scene I ever witnessed." A Master of Mysteries. Page 207
"It was the strangest scene I ever witnessed."
A Master of Mysteries. Page 207
He then proceeded to go through some elaborate operations, and finally kneeling at the altar, began to speak Hindustanee.
It was about the strangest scene I had ever witnessed; and though I stood almost at his elbow, I could hear no sound whatever but his own voice.
"Siva will not speak to-night," he said, rising; "there must be some one here whose influence is adverse. I cannot hear him. It is strange!"
He looked puzzled, and more relieved than otherwise.
"You will go to bed now, sir," said Bagwell; "you look very tired."
"I am," he replied. "I will leave my friends with you, Jasper. You will see that they have all they want." He bade Laurier and me a courteous good-night, nodded to his nephew, and left the room.
"This is the most extraordinary phase of mental delusion I ever heard of," I said. "If you will permit me, Mr. Bagwell, I will examine this idol more particularly."
"You can do so if you please," he said, but he did not speak in a cordial tone.
"Examine it to your heart's content," he continued a moment later; "only pray don't disarrange it—he seems to know by instinct if it is touched. Bah! it is sickening. Shall we go into another room, gentlemen?"
Watching his face carefully, I resolved to make my examination in private, and now followed him into the smoking-room. We stayed there for a short time, talking in a desultory manner, and soon afterwards retired for the night.
On my dressing-table a note awaited me. I opened it hastily, and saw to my surprise that it was from Miss Thesiger.
"I could not get the opportunity I needed to-night," she wrote, "but will you meet me in the Laurel Walk to-morrow morning at five o'clock?"
I tore up the letter after reading it, and soon afterwards got into bed. I must confess that I slept badly that night; I felt worried and anxious. There was not the least doubt that Thesiger was mad; it was all too apparent that his madness was daily and hourly assuming a more and more dangerous form. The affectionate girl who clung to him ought undoubtedly to be removed from his neighbourhood.
At the hour named by Miss Thesiger, I rose, dressed, and stole downstairs through the silent house. I found her as she had indicated in the Laurel Walk.
"How good of you to come!" she said. "But we must not talk here; it would not be safe."
"What do you mean?" I answered. "No one can possibly watch us at this hour."
"Jasper may be about," she said; "as far as I can tell he seems never to sleep. I believe he paces outside my room the greater part of the night."
"You can scarcely blame him for that," I said; "he does it in order to ensure your safety."
She gave me an impatient glance.
"I see he has been talking to you," she replied; "but now it is necessary for you to hear my side of the story. Come into this summer-house; he will never guess that we are here."
Turning abruptly, she led the way into a small, tastefully arranged summer-house. Shutting the door behind her, she turned at once and faced me.
"Now," she said in an eager voice, "I will tell you everything. There is an unexplained mystery about all this, and I am convinced that Jasper is at the bottom of it."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I have nothing whatever but a woman's intuition to guide me, but, all the same, I am convinced of what I am saying. Before Jasper came home Uncle Edward was a Brahmin beyond doubt. His séances were intensely disagreeable to me, and I took care never to witness them nor to speak to him on the terrible subject of Siva; but, beyond the fact that he was a Brahmin deeply imbued with the mysteries of his so-called religion, he was a perfectly sane, happy, intelligent, and affectionate man. He loved me devotedly, as I am the child of his favourite brother, and told me just before Jasper's arrival that he had made me his heiress, leaving me all that he possessed in the world. He had never liked Jasper, and was annoyed when he came here and made this house his headquarters. I had not met my cousin since I was a little child, and when he arrived on the scene took a great dislike to him. He began at once to pay me hateful attentions, and to question me eagerly with regard to Uncle Edward and his ways. By a curious coincidence, he had known this house before he went to India, having stayed here as a boy. He showed particular interest in the oval gallery, and encouraged Uncle Edward to talk of Siva, although he saw that the subject excited him considerably.
"Jasper had been about a fortnight in the house when my poor uncle made, as he considered, the astounding discovery that Siva could speak to him. I shall never forget the first day when he told me of this, the sparkle in his eyes, the tremble of his hands, the nervous energy which seemed to animate him. From that hour day by day came the gradual diminution of strength both of mind and body, the loss of appetite, the feverish touch. All these things puzzled and distressed me, but I could not bear to confide my fears to Jasper.
"These things went on for over a month, and Uncle Edward certainly deteriorated in every way. He spent the greater part of both day and night in the gallery, begging of me to come with him, imploring me to listen for the voice. During that month he spent a large fortune in precious stones for Siva, showing them to me first before he decorated the hideous thing with them. I felt wild with misery, and all the time Jasper was here watching and watching. At the end of the first month there came a distinct change. Uncle Edward, who had been devoted to me up to then, began to show a new attitude. He now began to dislike to have me in his presence, often asking me as a special favour to leave the room. One day he said to me:
"'Do you keep your door locked at night?'
"I laughed when he spoke.
"'Certainly not,' I answered.
"'I wish you would do so,' he said very earnestly; 'will you, as a personal favour to me?'
"Jasper was in the room when he spoke. I saw a queer light flashing through his eyes, and then he bent over his book as if he had not heard.
"'As a special favour to me, keep your door locked, Helen,' said Uncle Edward.
"I made him a soothing answer, and pretended to assent. Of course I never locked my door. Then Jasper began to talk to me. He said that Uncle Edward was not only mad, but that his mania was assuming a terrible form, and against me. He said that my life was in danger—he thought to frighten me—little he knew!"
Here the brave girl drew herself up, indignation sweeping over her face and filling her eyes.
"I told him I did not believe a word of what he said; I declared that Uncle Edward could not hate me—is he not the one I love best in the world? Jasper grew very angry.
"'Look here, Helen,' he said, 'I know enough to lock him up.'
"'To lock him up in a lunatic asylum?' I cried.
"'Yes,' he answered. 'I have only to get two doctors to certify to the fact of his insanity, and the deed is done. I have made up my mind to do it.'
"'You could never be so cruel,' I replied. 'Think of his grey hairs, Jasper,' I pleaded. 'He is the dearest to me in all the world; you could not take his liberty away. Do just respect his one little craze; believe me, he is not really mad. Go away if you are afraid of him; I am not. Oh, why don't you leave us both in peace?'
"'I dare not,' he answered. 'I love you, and I am determined you shall marry me. Engage yourself to me at once, and I will do nothing to take away Uncle Edward's liberty for at least a month.'
"I struggled against this horrible wish of my cousin's, but in the end I yielded to it. I became engaged to him secretly, for he did not wish Uncle Edward to know. I knew, of course, why he wished to marry me; he had heard that I am some day to inherit my uncle's wealth. Jasper himself is a very poor man. Now, Mr. Bell, you know everything. Things get worse and worse, and at times I am almost inclined to believe that my life is in some danger. A fiend has taken possession of the uncle whose heart was so warm and loving. Ah, it is fearful! I do not believe a bitterer trial could be given to any girl—it is too awful to feel that the one she loves best in all the world has changed in his feelings towards her. It is not so much the sacrifice of my poor life I mind as the feeling that things are so bitterly altered with him. Jasper put an alternative to me last night. Either I am to marry him within a week, or I am to use my influence to induce Dr. Laurier to sign the certificate. If I accept neither proposal, he will get down two other doctors from London for the purpose."
"What have you decided to do?" I asked.
"I will marry Jasper; yes, within a week I shall be his wife, unless something happens to show us what is the meaning of this fearful mystery, for I cannot—never, never can I deprive Uncle Edward of his liberty."
"I am glad you have confided in me," I said after a pause, "and I will do my utmost for you. When did you say that your uncle first heard the idol speak?"
"Two or three months ago now, soon after Jasper came home. Mr. Bell, is there any chance of your being able to help me?"
"I will promise to do my utmost, but just at present I can see no special light. By the way, would it not be well for you to leave The Hynde for a short time?"
"No, I am not at all afraid; I can take care of myself. It is not my dear uncle whom I fear; it is Jasper."
Soon afterwards she left me, and as it was still quite early, and the servants were not yet even up, I considered that an excellent opportunity had occurred for examining the idol.
I made my way to the gallery, and softly opening the door, stole in. The bright sunlight which was now flooding the chamber seemed to rob the grotesque old idol of half its terrors, and I made up my mind not to leave a stone unturned to discover if any foul play in connection with it could possibly be perpetrated. But the impossibility of such being the case seemed more and more evident as I went on with my search. Only a pigmy could be secreted inside the idol. There was no vulgar form of deception possible on the lines, for instance, of the ancient priests of Pompeii who conducted a speaking-tube to an idol's mouth. Siva was not even standing by the wall, thus precluding the possibility of the sounds being conducted on the plan of a whispering gallery. No—I was, against my own will, forced to the absolute conviction that the voice was an hallucination of the diseased mind of Edward Thesiger.
I was just going to abandon my investigations and return to my own room, when, more by chance than design, I knelt down for a moment at the little altar. As I was about to rise I noticed something rather odd. I listened attentively. It was certainly remarkable. As I knelt I could just hear a low, continuous hissing sound. Directly I moved away it ceased. As I tried it several times with the same invariable result, I became seriously puzzled to account for it. What devilry could be at work to produce this? Was it possible that some one was playing a trick on me?—and if so, by what means?
I glanced rapidly round, and as I did so a mad thought struck me. I hurried across to the fountain and put my ear close to the swan's mouth, from which a tiny jet of water was issuing. The low, scarcely audible noise that the water made as it flowed out through the swan's bill was exactly the same sound I had heard nearly twenty feet away at the altar. The enormity of the situation stunned me for a moment, then gradually, piece by piece, the plot revealed itself.
The shape of the gallery was a true oval, a geometrical ellipse, the extraordinary acoustic properties of which I knew well. This peculiarly shaped gallery contained two foci—one towards each end—and the nature of the curve of the walls was such that sound issuing from either focus was directed by reflection at various points to the other focus, and to the other focus alone. Even across an enormous distance between such would be the case. The swan's mouth was evidently at one focus; the position of a man's head as he knelt at the altar would be without the slightest doubt at the other. Could the pipe be used as a speaking-tube when the water was turned off?
I felt so excited by this extraordinary discovery that it was only with an effort that I maintained my self-control. I knew that presence of mind was absolutely necessary in order to expose this horrible scheme. I left the gallery and passed through the conservatory. Here I found the gardener arranging some pots. I chatted to him for a few moments. He looked surprised at seeing me up at such an unusual hour.
"Can you tell me how the fountain in the gallery is turned on or off?" I asked.
"Yes, I can, sir," he replied; "the pipe runs along outside this stand, and here's the tap."
I went across and looked at it. In the leaden pipe that was fastened to the wall were two nuts, which could be turned by a small spanner, and between them was a brass cap, which fitted on to a circular outlet from the pipe.
"What is this used for?" I asked, pointing to the little outlet which was closed by the cap.
"We screw the hose on there, sir, to water the flowers."
"I see," I answered; "so when you use the hose you shut off the water from the fountain in the gallery."
"That's it, sir, and a wonderful deal of trouble it saves. Why it was never done before I can't think."
"When was it done, then?" I asked. My heart was beating fast.
"It was Mr. Bagwell's thought, sir; he had it fixed on soon after he came. He wanted to have plenty of water handy in order to water the plants he brought back from India; but, lor! sir, they'll never live through the winter, even under glass."
I waited to hear no more—the whole infernal plot was laid bare. The second tap, which shut off the water both from the fountain and the hose pipe, was, of course, quite useless, except for Bagwell's evil purpose.
I hurried straight up to Laurier's room. He was just preparing to rise. His astonishment when I told him of my discovery was beyond words.
"Then, by shutting off the water, and applying his mouth to the place where the hose is fixed on, he could convey his voice to the swan's mouth like an ordinary speaking-tube, which, owing to the peculiar construction of the gallery, would be carried across to the other focus at the altar?" he said.
"Exactly," I replied. "And now, Dr. Laurier, you must please allow me to regulate our future plans. They're simply these. You must tell Bagwell that you absolutely refuse to sign the certificate unless Thesiger declares that he hears the voice again in your presence, and arrange that the séance takes place at nine o'clock to-night. I in the meantime shall ostensibly take my departure, and so leave the ground clear for Bagwell. He is evidently rather afraid of me. My going will throw him completely off his guard; but I shall in reality only leave the train at the next station and return here after dark. You will have to see that the conservatory door leading on to the terrace is left unlocked. I shall steal in, and, hiding myself in the conservatory, shall await Bagwell. You in the meantime will be in the gallery with Thesiger. When you hear me call out, come in at once. Our only hope is to take that wretch red-handed."
To this hastily constructed scheme Laurier instantly agreed, and at four o'clock that afternoon I took my leave, Miss Thesiger, looking white and miserable, standing on the steps to see me off. Bagwell drove me himself to the station, and bade me good-bye with a heartiness which was at least sincere.
I was back again at The Hynde at half-past eight that evening. Laurier had left the conservatory door unlocked, and, slipping in, it being now quite dark, I hid myself behind some large flowering shrubs and waited. Presently I heard the door of the conservatory open, and in stole Bagwell. I saw him approach the pipe, turn the spanner which shut off the water from the fountain and also from the hose pipe, and then proceed to unscrew the brass cap. I waited till I saw him place his mouth to the opening and begin to speak, and then I dashed out upon him and called loudly for Laurier. Bagwell's surprise and terror at my unexpected attack absolutely bereft him of speech, and he stood gazing at me with a mixed expression of fury and fear. The next minute Laurier and Thesiger both burst in from the gallery. I still retained my hold of Bagwell. The moment I saw the sign, I went up to him, and in a few words explained the whole fraud. But it was not until I had demonstrated the trick in the oval gallery that he became convinced; then the relief on his face was marvellous.
"You leave my house at once," he said to Bagwell; "go, sir, if you do not wish to be in the hands of the police. Where is Helen? where is my child?"
He had scarcely said the words, and Bagwell was just slinking off with a white face like a whipped cur towards the door, when Helen appeared upon the scene.
"What is it?" she cried. "Is anything the matter?"
The old man strode up to her; he took her in his arms.
"It is all right, Helen," he said, "all right. I can never explain; but, take my word, it is all right. I was a fool, and worse—nay, I was mad—but I am sane now. Mr. Bell, I can never express my obligations to you. But now, will you do one thing more?"
"What is that? Be assured I will do anything in my power," I answered.
"Then return here to-night and destroy Siva. How I could have been infatuated enough to believe in that senseless piece of wood is beyond my power to understand. But destroy it, sir; take it away; let me never lay eyes on it again."
Early on the following morning, when I was leaving the house, Bagwell, who must have been waiting for the purpose, suddenly stepped across my path.
"I have a word of explanation to give," he said. "You, Mr. Bell, have won, and I have lost. I played a deep game and for a large cause. It did not occur to me as possible that any one could discover the means by which I made Siva speak. I am now about to leave England for ever, but before I do so, it may interest you to know that the temptation offered to me was a very peculiar and strong one. I had not been an hour at the Hynde before I suddenly remembered having spent some months in the old house when a boy. I recollected the oval gallery. Its peculiar acoustic qualities had been pointed out to me by a scientist who happened to live there at the time. The desire to win, not Helen, but my uncle's property, was too strong to be resisted by a penniless man. My object was to terrify Thesiger, whose brain was already nearly overbalanced, into complete insanity, get him locked up, and marry Helen. How I succeeded, and in the end failed, you know well!"