Smith: An Episode In A Lodging-house
Scary Books: The Empty House And Other Ghost Stories
"When I was a medical student," began the doctor, half turning towards
his circle of listeners in the firelight, "I came across one or two very
curious human beings; but there was one fellow I remember particularly,
for he caused me the most vivid, and I think the most uncomfortable,
emotions I have ever known.
"For many months I knew Smith only by name as the occupant of the floor
above me. Obviously his
name meant nothing to me. Moreover I was busy
with lectures, reading, cliniques and the like, and had little leisure
to devise plans for scraping acquaintance with any of the other lodgers
in the house. Then chance brought us curiously together, and this fellow
Smith left a deep impression upon me as the result of our first meeting.
At the time the strength of this first impression seemed quite
inexplicable to me, but looking back at the episode now from a
stand-point of greater knowledge I judge the fact to have been that he
stirred my curiosity to an unusual degree, and at the same time awakened
my sense of horror--whatever that may be in a medical student--about as
deeply and permanently as these two emotions were capable of being
stirred at all in the particular system and set of nerves called ME.
"How he knew that I was interested in the study of languages was
something I could never explain, but one day, quite unannounced, he came
quietly into my room in the evening and asked me point-blank if I knew
enough Hebrew to help him in the pronunciation of certain words.
"He caught me along the line of least resistance, and I was greatly
flattered to be able to give him the desired information; but it was
only when he had thanked me and was gone that I realised I had been in
the presence of an unusual individuality. For the life of me I could not
quite seize and label the peculiarities of what I felt to be a very
striking personality, but it was borne in upon me that he was a man
apart from his fellows, a mind that followed a line leading away from
ordinary human intercourse and human interests, and into regions that
left in his atmosphere something remote, rarefied, chilling.
"The moment he was gone I became conscious of two things--an intense
curiosity to know more about this man and what his real interests were,
and secondly, the fact that my skin was crawling and that my hair had a
tendency to rise."
The doctor paused a moment here to puff hard at his pipe, which,
however, had gone out beyond recall without the assistance of a match;
and in the deep silence, which testified to the genuine interest of his
listeners, someone poked the fire up into a little blaze, and one or two
others glanced over their shoulders into the dark distances of the big
"On looking back," he went on, watching the momentary flames in the
grate, "I see a short, thick-set man of perhaps forty-five, with immense
shoulders and small, slender hands. The contrast was noticeable, for I
remember thinking that such a giant frame and such slim finger bones
hardly belonged together. His head, too, was large and very long, the
head of an idealist beyond all question, yet with an unusually strong
development of the jaw and chin. Here again was a singular
contradiction, though I am better able now to appreciate its full
meaning, with a greater experience in judging the values of
physiognomy. For this meant, of course, an enthusiastic idealism
balanced and kept in check by will and judgment--elements usually
deficient in dreamers and visionaries.
"At any rate, here was a being with probably a very wide range of
possibilities, a machine with a pendulum that most likely had an unusual
length of swing.
"The man's hair was exceedingly fine, and the lines about his nose and
mouth were cut as with a delicate steel instrument in wax. His eyes I
have left to the last. They were large and quite changeable, not in
colour only, but in character, size, and shape. Occasionally they seemed
the eyes of someone else, if you can understand what I mean, and at the
same time, in their shifting shades of blue, green, and a nameless sort
of dark grey, there was a sinister light in them that lent to the whole
face an aspect almost alarming. Moreover, they were the most luminous
optics I think I have ever seen in any human being.
"There, then, at the risk of a wearisome description, is Smith as I saw
him for the first time that winter's evening in my shabby student's
rooms in Edinburgh. And yet the real part of him, of course, I have
left untouched, for it is both indescribable and un-get-atable. I have
spoken already of an atmosphere of warning and aloofness he carried
about with him. It is impossible further to analyse the series of little
shocks his presence always communicated to my being; but there was that
about him which made me instantly on the _qui vive_ in his presence,
every nerve alert, every sense strained and on the watch. I do not mean
that he deliberately suggested danger, but rather that he brought forces
in his wake which automatically warned the nervous centres of my system
to be on their guard and alert.
"Since the days of my first acquaintance with this man I have lived
through other experiences and have seen much I cannot pretend to explain
or understand; but, so far in my life, I have only once come across a
human being who suggested a disagreeable familiarity with unholy things,
and who made me feel uncanny and 'creepy' in his presence; and that
unenviable individual was Mr. Smith.
"What his occupation was during the day I never knew. I think he slept
until the sun set. No one ever saw him on the stairs, or heard him move
in his room during the day. He was a creature of the shadows, who
apparently preferred darkness to light. Our landlady either knew
nothing, or would say nothing. At any rate she found no fault, and I
have since wondered often by what magic this fellow was able to convert
a common landlady of a common lodging-house into a discreet and
uncommunicative person. This alone was a sign of genius of some sort.
"'He's been here with me for years--long before you come, an' I don't
interfere or ask no questions of what doesn't concern me, as long as
people pays their rent,' was the only remark on the subject that I ever
succeeded in winning from that quarter, and it certainly told me nothing
nor gave me any encouragement to ask for further information.
"Examinations, however, and the general excitement of a medical
student's life for a time put Mr. Smith completely out of my head. For a
long period he did not call upon me again, and for my part, I felt no
courage to return his unsolicited visit.
"Just then, however, there came a change in the fortunes of those who
controlled my very limited income, and I was obliged to give up my
ground-floor and move aloft to more modest chambers on the top of the
house. Here I was directly over Smith, and had to pass his door to
reach my own.
"It so happened that about this time I was frequently called out at all
hours of the night for the maternity cases which a fourth-year student
takes at a certain period of his studies, and on returning from one of
these visits at about two o'clock in the morning I was surprised to hear
the sound of voices as I passed his door. A peculiar sweet odour, too,
not unlike the smell of incense, penetrated into the passage.
"I went upstairs very quietly, wondering what was going on there at this
hour of the morning. To my knowledge Smith never had visitors. For a
moment I hesitated outside the door with one foot on the stairs. All my
interest in this strange man revived, and my curiosity rose to a point
not far from action. At last I might learn something of the habits of
this lover of the night and the darkness.
"The sound of voices was plainly audible, Smith's predominating so much
that I never could catch more than points of sound from the other,
penetrating now and then the steady stream of his voice. Not a single
word reached me, at least, not a word that I could understand, though
the voice was loud and distinct, and it was only afterwards that I
realised he must have been speaking in a foreign language.
"The sound of footsteps, too, was equally distinct. Two persons were
moving about the room, passing and repassing the door, one of them a
light, agile person, and the other ponderous and somewhat awkward.
Smith's voice went on incessantly with its odd, monotonous droning, now
loud, now soft, as he crossed and re-crossed the floor. The other person
was also on the move, but in a different and less regular fashion, for I
heard rapid steps that seemed to end sometimes in stumbling, and quick
sudden movements that brought up with a violent lurching against the
wall or furniture.
"As I listened to Smith's voice, moreover, I began to feel afraid. There
was something in the sound that made me feel intuitively he was in a
tight place, and an impulse stirred faintly in me--very faintly, I
admit--to knock at the door and inquire if he needed help.
"But long before the impulse could translate itself into an act, or even
before it had been properly weighed and considered by the mind, I heard
a voice close beside me in the air, a sort of hushed whisper which I am
certain was Smith speaking, though the sound did not seem to have come
to me through the door. It was close in my very ear, as though he stood
beside me, and it gave me such a start, that I clutched the banisters to
save myself from stepping backwards and making a clatter on the stairs.
"'There is nothing you can do to help me,'" it said distinctly, 'and you
will be much safer in your own room.'
"I am ashamed to this day of the pace at which I covered the flight of
stairs in the darkness to the top floor, and of the shaking hand with
which I lit my candles and bolted the door. But, there it is, just as it
"This midnight episode, so odd and yet so trivial in itself, fired me
with more curiosity than ever about my fellow-lodger. It also made me
connect him in my mind with a sense of fear and distrust. I never saw
him, yet I was often, and uncomfortably, aware of his presence in the
upper regions of that gloomy lodging-house. Smith and his secret mode of
life and mysterious pursuits, somehow contrived to awaken in my being a
line of reflection that disturbed my comfortable condition of ignorance.
I never saw him, as I have said, and exchanged no sort of communication
with him, yet it seemed to me that his mind was in contact with mine,
and some of the strange forces of his atmosphere filtered through into
my being and disturbed my equilibrium. Those upper floors became haunted
for me after dark, and, though outwardly our lives never came into
contact, I became unwillingly involved in certain pursuits on which his
mind was centred. I felt that he was somehow making use of me against my
will, and by methods which passed my comprehension.
"I was at that time, moreover, in the heavy, unquestioning state of
materialism which is common to medical students when they begin to
understand something of the human anatomy and nervous system, and jump
at once to the conclusion that they control the universe and hold in
their forceps the last word of life and death. I 'knew it all,' and
regarded a belief in anything beyond matter as the wanderings of weak,
or at best, untrained minds. And this condition of mind, of course,
added to the strength of this upsetting fear which emanated from the
floor below and began slowly to take possession of me.
"Though I kept no notes of the subsequent events in this matter, they
made too deep an impression for me ever to forget the sequence in which
they occurred. Without difficulty I can recall the next step in the
adventure with Smith, for adventure it rapidly grew to be."
The doctor stopped a moment and laid his pipe on the table behind him
before continuing. The fire had burned low, and no one stirred to poke
it. The silence in the great hall was so deep that when the speaker's
pipe touched the table the sound woke audible echoes at the far end
among the shadows.
"One evening, while I was reading, the door of my room opened and Smith
came in. He made no attempt at ceremony. It was after ten o'clock and I
was tired, but the presence of the man immediately galvanised me into
activity. My attempts at ordinary politeness he thrust on one side at
once, and began asking me to vocalise, and then pronounce for him,
certain Hebrew words; and when this was done he abruptly inquired if I
was not the fortunate possessor of a very rare Rabbinical Treatise,
which he named.
"How he knew that I possessed this book puzzled me exceedingly; but I
was still more surprised to see him cross the room and take it out of
my book-shelf almost before I had had time to answer in the affirmative.
Evidently he knew exactly where it was kept. This excited my curiosity
beyond all bounds, and I immediately began asking him questions; and
though, out of sheer respect for the man, I put them very delicately to
him, and almost by way of mere conversation, he had only one reply for
the lot. He would look up at me from the pages of the book with an
expression of complete comprehension on his extraordinary features,
would bow his head a little and say very gravely--
"'That, of course, is a perfectly proper question,'--which was
absolutely all I could ever get out of him.
"On this particular occasion he stayed with me perhaps ten or fifteen
minutes. Then he went quickly downstairs to his room with my Hebrew
Treatise in his hand, and I heard him close and bolt his door.
"But a few moments later, before I had time to settle down to my book
again, or to recover from the surprise his visit had caused me, I heard
the door open, and there stood Smith once again beside my chair. He made
no excuse for his second interruption, but bent his head down to the
level of my reading lamp and peered across the flame straight into my
"'I hope,' he whispered, 'I hope you are never disturbed at night?'
"'Eh?' I stammered, 'disturbed at night? Oh no, thanks, at least, not
that I know of--'
"'I'm glad,' he replied gravely, appearing not to notice my confusion
and surprise at his question. 'But, remember, should it ever be the
case, please let me know at once.'
"And he was gone down the stairs and into his room again.
"For some minutes I sat reflecting upon his strange behaviour. He was
not mad, I argued, but was the victim of some harmless delusion that had
gradually grown upon him as a result of his solitary mode of life; and
from the books he used, I judged that it had something to do with
mediaeval magic, or some system of ancient Hebrew mysticism. The words he
asked me to pronounce for him were probably 'Words of Power,' which,
when uttered with the vehemence of a strong will behind them, were
supposed to produce physical results, or set up vibrations in one's own
inner being that had the effect of a partial lifting of the veil.
"I sat thinking about the man, and his way of living, and the probable
effects in the long-run of his dangerous experiments, and I can recall
perfectly well the sensation of disappointment that crept over me when I
realised that I had labelled his particular form of aberration, and that
my curiosity would therefore no longer be excited.
"For some time I had been sitting alone with these reflections--it may
have been ten minutes or it may have been half an hour--when I was
aroused from my reverie by the knowledge that someone was again in the
room standing close beside my chair. My first thought was that Smith had
come back again in his swift, unaccountable manner, but almost at the
same moment I realised that this could not be the case at all. For the
door faced my position, and it certainly had not been opened again.
"Yet, someone was in the room, moving cautiously to and fro, watching
me, almost touching me. I was as sure of it as I was of myself, and
though at the moment I do not think I was actually afraid, I am bound to
admit that a certain weakness came over me and that I felt that strange
disinclination for action which is probably the beginning of the
horrible paralysis of real terror. I should have been glad to hide
myself, if that had been possible, to cower into a corner, or behind a
door, or anywhere so that I could not be watched and observed.
"But, overcoming my nervousness with an effort of the will, I got up
quickly out of my chair and held the reading lamp aloft so that it shone
into all the corners like a searchlight.
"The room was utterly empty! It was utterly empty, at least, to the
_eye_, but to the nerves, and especially to that combination of sense
perception which is made up by all the senses acting together, and by no
one in particular, there was a person standing there at my very elbow.
"I say 'person,' for I can think of no appropriate word. For, if it
_was_ a human being, I can only affirm that I had the overwhelming
conviction that it was _not_, but that it was some form of life wholly
unknown to me both as to its essence and its nature. A sensation of
gigantic force and power came with it, and I remember vividly to this
day my terror on realising that I was close to an invisible being who
could crush me as easily as I could crush a fly, and who could see my
every movement while itself remaining invisible.
"To this terror was added the certain knowledge that the 'being' kept
in my proximity for a definite purpose. And that this purpose had some
direct bearing upon my well-being, indeed upon my life, I was equally
convinced; for I became aware of a sensation of growing lassitude as
though the vitality were being steadily drained out of my body. My heart
began to beat irregularly at first, then faintly. I was conscious, even
within a few minutes, of a general drooping of the powers of life in the
whole system, an ebbing away of self-control, and a distinct approach of
drowsiness and torpor.
"The power to move, or to think out any mode of resistance, was fast
leaving me, when there rose, in the distance as it were, a tremendous
commotion. A door opened with a clatter, and I heard the peremptory and
commanding tones of a human voice calling aloud in a language I could
not comprehend. It was Smith, my fellow-lodger, calling up the stairs;
and his voice had not sounded for more than a few seconds, when I felt
something withdrawn from my presence, from my person, indeed from my
_very skin_. It seemed as if there was a rushing of air and some large
creature swept by me at about the level of my shoulders. Instantly the
pressure on my heart was relieved, and the atmosphere seemed to resume
its normal condition.
"Smith's door closed quietly downstairs, as I put the lamp down with
trembling hands. What had happened I do not know; only, I was alone
again and my strength was returning as rapidly as it had left me.
"I went across the room and examined myself in the glass. The skin was
very pale, and the eyes dull. My temperature, I found, was a little
below normal and my pulse faint and irregular. But these smaller signs
of disturbance were as nothing compared with the feeling I had--though
no outward signs bore testimony to the fact--that I had narrowly escaped
a real and ghastly catastrophe. I felt shaken, somehow, shaken to the
very roots of my being."
The doctor rose from his chair and crossed over to the dying fire, so
that no one could see the expression on his face as he stood with his
back to the grate, and continued his weird tale.
"It would be wearisome," he went on in a lower voice, looking over our
heads as though he still saw the dingy top floor of that haunted
Edinburgh lodging-house; "it would be tedious for me at this length of
time to analyse my feelings, or attempt to reproduce for you the
thorough examination to which I endeavoured then to subject my whole
being, intellectual, emotional, and physical. I need only mention the
dominant emotion with which this curious episode left me--the indignant
anger against myself that I could ever have lost my self-control enough
to come under the sway of so gross and absurd a delusion. This protest,
however, I remember making with all the emphasis possible. And I also
remember noting that it brought me very little satisfaction, for it was
the protest of my reason only, when all the rest of my being was up in
arms against its conclusions.
"My dealings with the 'delusion,' however, were not yet over for the
night; for very early next morning, somewhere about three o'clock, I was
awakened by a curiously stealthy noise in the room, and the next minute
there followed a crash as if all my books had been swept bodily from
their shelf on to the floor.
"But this time I was not frightened. Cursing the disturbance with all
the resounding and harmless words I could accumulate, I jumped out of
bed and lit the candle in a second, and in the first dazzle of the
flaring match--but before the wick had time to catch--I was certain I
_saw_ a dark grey shadow, of ungainly shape, and with something more or
less like a human head, drive rapidly past the side of the wall farthest
from me and disappear into the gloom by the angle of the door.
"I waited one single second to be sure the candle was alight, and then
dashed after it, but before I had gone two steps, my foot stumbled
against something hard piled up on the carpet and I only just saved
myself from falling headlong. I picked myself up and found that all the
books from what I called my 'language shelf' were strewn across the
floor. The room, meanwhile, as a minute's search revealed, was quite
empty. I looked in every corner and behind every stick of furniture, and
a student's bedroom on a top floor, costing twelve shillings a week, did
not hold many available hiding-places, as you may imagine.
"The crash, however, was explained. Some very practical and physical
force had thrown the books from their resting-place. That, at least, was
beyond all doubt. And as I replaced them on the shelf and noted that not
one was missing, I busied myself mentally with the sore problem of how
the agent of this little practical joke had gained access to my room,
and then escaped again. _For my door was locked and bolted._
"Smith's odd question as to whether I was disturbed in the night, and
his warning injunction to let him know at once if such were the case,
now of course returned to affect me as I stood there in the early
morning, cold and shivering on the carpet; but I realised at the same
moment how impossible it would be for me to admit that a more than
usually vivid nightmare could have any connection with himself. I would
rather stand a hundred of these mysterious visitations than consult such
a man as to their possible cause.
"A knock at the door interrupted my reflections, and I gave a start that
sent the candle grease flying.
"'Let me in,' came in Smith's voice.
"I unlocked the door. He came in fully dressed. His face wore a curious
pallor. It seemed to me to be under the skin and to shine through and
almost make it luminous. His eyes were exceedingly bright.
"I was wondering what in the world to say to him, or how he would
explain his visit at such an hour, when he closed the door behind him
and came close up to me--uncomfortably close.
"'You should have called me at once,' he said in his whispering voice,
fixing his great eyes on my face.
"I stammered something about an awful dream, but he ignored my remark
utterly, and I caught his eye wandering next--if any movement of those
optics can be described as 'wandering'--to the book-shelf. I watched
him, unable to move my gaze from his person. The man fascinated me
horribly for some reason. Why, in the devil's name, was he up and
dressed at three in the morning? How did he know anything had happened
unusual in my room? Then his whisper began again.
"'It's your amazing vitality that causes you this annoyance,' he said,
shifting his eyes back to mine.
"I gasped. Something in his voice or manner turned my blood into ice.
"'That's the real attraction,' he went on. 'But if this continues one of
us will have to leave, you know.'
"I positively could not find a word to say in reply. The channels of
speech dried up within me. I simply stared and wondered what he would
say next. I watched him in a sort of dream, and as far as I can
remember, he asked me to promise to call him sooner another time, and
then began to walk round the room, uttering strange sounds, and making
signs with his arms and hands until he reached the door. Then he was
gone in a second, and I had closed and locked the door behind him.
"After this, the Smith adventure drew rapidly to a climax. It was a week
or two later, and I was coming home between two and three in the morning
from a maternity case, certain features of which for the time being had
very much taken possession of my mind, so much so, indeed, that I passed
Smith's door without giving him a single thought.
"The gas jet on the landing was still burning, but so low that it made
little impression on the waves of deep shadow that lay across the
stairs. Overhead, the faintest possible gleam of grey showed that the
morning was not far away. A few stars shone down through the sky-light.
The house was still as the grave, and the only sound to break the
silence was the rushing of the wind round the walls and over the roof.
But this was a fitful sound, suddenly rising and as suddenly falling
away again, and it only served to intensify the silence.
"I had already reached my own landing when I gave a violent start. It
was automatic, almost a reflex action in fact, for it was only when I
caught myself fumbling at the door handle and thinking where I could
conceal myself quickest that I realised a voice had sounded close beside
me in the air. It was the same voice I had heard before, and it seemed
to me to be calling for help. And yet the very same minute I pushed on
into the room, determined to disregard it, and seeking to persuade
myself it was the creaking of the boards under my weight or the rushing
noise of the wind that had deceived me.
"But hardly had I reached the table where the candles stood when the
sound was unmistakably repeated: 'Help! help!' And this time it was
accompanied by what I can only describe as a vivid tactile
hallucination. I was touched: the _skin_ of my arm was clutched by
"Some compelling force sent me headlong downstairs as if the haunting
forces of the whole world were at my heels. At Smith's door I paused.
The force of his previous warning injunction to seek his aid without
delay acted suddenly and I leant my whole weight against the panels,
little dreaming that I should be called upon to give help rather than
to receive it.
"The door yielded at once, and I burst into a room that was so full of a
choking vapour, moving in slow clouds, that at first I could distinguish
nothing at all but a set of what seemed to be huge shadows passing in
and out of the mist. Then, gradually, I perceived that a red lamp on the
mantelpiece gave all the light there was, and that the room which I now
entered for the first time was almost empty of furniture.
"The carpet was rolled back and piled in a heap in the corner, and upon
the white boards of the floor I noticed a large circle drawn in black of
some material that emitted a faint glowing light and was apparently
smoking. Inside this circle, as well as at regular intervals outside it,
were curious-looking designs, also traced in the same black, smoking
substance. These, too, seemed to emit a feeble light of their own.
"My first impression on entering the room had been that it was full
of--_people_, I was going to say; but that hardly expresses my meaning.
_Beings_, they certainly were, but it was borne in upon me beyond the
possibility of doubt, that they were not human beings. That I had caught
a momentary glimpse of living, intelligent entities I can never doubt,
but I am equally convinced, though I cannot prove it, that these
entities were from some other scheme of evolution altogether, and had
nothing to do with the ordinary human life, either incarnate or
"But, whatever they were, the visible appearance of them was exceedingly
fleeting. I no longer saw anything, though I still felt convinced of
their immediate presence. They were, moreover, of the same order of life
as the visitant in my bedroom of a few nights before, and their
proximity to my atmosphere in numbers, instead of singly as before,
conveyed to my mind something that was quite terrible and overwhelming.
I fell into a violent trembling, and the perspiration poured from my
face in streams.
"They were in constant motion about me. They stood close to my side;
moved behind me; brushed past my shoulder; stirred the hair on my
forehead; and circled round me without ever actually touching me, yet
always pressing closer and closer. Especially in the air just over my
head there seemed ceaseless movement, and it was accompanied by a
confused noise of whispering and sighing that threatened every moment to
become articulate in words. To my intense relief, however, I heard no
distinct words, and the noise continued more like the rising and falling
of the wind than anything else I can imagine.
"But the characteristic of these 'Beings' that impressed me most
strongly at the time, and of which I have carried away the most
permanent recollection, was that each one of them possessed what seemed
to be a _vibrating centre_ which impelled it with tremendous force and
caused a rapid whirling motion of the atmosphere as it passed me. The
air was full of these little vortices of whirring, rotating force, and
whenever one of them pressed me too closely I felt as if the nerves in
that particular portion of my body had been literally drawn out,
absolutely depleted of vitality, and then immediately replaced--but
replaced dead, flabby, useless.
"Then, suddenly, for the first time my eyes fell upon Smith. He was
crouching against the wall on my right, in an attitude that was
obviously defensive, and it was plain he was in extremities. The terror
on his face was pitiable, but at the same time there was another
expression about the tightly clenched teeth and mouth which showed that
he had not lost all control of himself. He wore the most resolute
expression I have ever seen on a human countenance, and, though for the
moment at a fearful disadvantage, he looked like a man who had
confidence in himself, and, in spite of the working of fear, was waiting
"For my part, I was face to face with a situation so utterly beyond my
knowledge and comprehension, that I felt as helpless as a child, and as
"'Help me back--quick--into that circle,' I heard him half cry, half
whisper to me across the moving vapours.
"My only value appears to have been that I was not afraid to act.
Knowing nothing of the forces I was dealing with I had no idea of the
deadly perils risked, and I sprang forward and caught him by the arms.
He threw all his weight in my direction, and by our combined efforts his
body left the wall and lurched across the floor towards the circle.
"Instantly there descended upon us, out of the empty air of that
smoke-laden room, a force which I can only compare to the pushing,
driving power of a great wind pent up within a narrow space. It was
almost explosive in its effect, and it seemed to operate upon all parts
of my body equally. It fell upon us with a rushing noise that filled my
ears and made me think for a moment the very walls and roof of the
building had been torn asunder. Under its first blow we staggered back
against the wall, and I understood plainly that its purpose was to
prevent us getting back into the circle in the middle of the floor.
"Pouring with perspiration, and breathless, with every muscle strained
to the very utmost, we at length managed to get to the edge of the
circle, and at this moment, so great was the opposing force, that I felt
myself actually torn from Smith's arms, lifted from my feet, and twirled
round in the direction of the windows as if the wheel of some great
machine had caught my clothes and was tearing me to destruction in its
"But, even as I fell, bruised and breathless, against the wall, I saw
Smith firmly upon his feet in the circle and slowly rising again to an
upright position. My eyes never left his figure once in the next few
"He drew himself up to his full height. His great shoulders squared
themselves. His head was thrown back a little, and as I looked I saw the
expression on his face change swiftly from fear to one of absolute
command. He looked steadily round the room and then his voice began to
_vibrate_. At first in a low tone, it gradually rose till it assumed the
same volume and intensity I had heard that night when he called up the
stairs into my room.
"It was a curiously increasing sound, more like the swelling of an
instrument than a human voice; and as it grew in power and filled the
room, I became aware that a great change was being effected slowly and
surely. The confusion of noise and rushings of air fell into the roll of
long, steady vibrations not unlike those caused by the deeper pedals of
an organ. The movements in the air became less violent, then grew
decidedly weaker, and finally ceased altogether. The whisperings and
sighings became fainter and fainter, till at last I could not hear them
at all; and, strangest of all, the light emitted by the circle, as well
as by the designs round it, increased to a steady glow, casting their
radiance upwards with the weirdest possible effect upon his features.
Slowly, by the power of his voice, behind which lay undoubtedly a
genuine knowledge of the occult manipulation of sound, this man
dominated the forces that had escaped from their proper sphere, until
at length the room was reduced to silence and perfect order again.
"Judging by the immense relief which also communicated itself to my
nerves I then felt that the crisis was over and Smith was wholly master
of the situation.
"But hardly had I begun to congratulate myself upon this result, and to
gather my scattered senses about me, when, uttering a loud cry, I saw
him leap out of the circle and fling himself into the air--as it seemed
to me, into the empty air. Then, even while holding my breath for dread
of the crash he was bound to come upon the floor, I saw him strike with
a dull thud against a solid body in mid-air, and the next instant he was
wrestling with some ponderous thing that was absolutely invisible to me,
and the room shook with the struggle.
"To and fro _they_ swayed, sometimes lurching in one direction,
sometimes in another, and always in horrible proximity to myself, as I
leaned trembling against the wall and watched the encounter.
"It lasted at most but a short minute or two, ending as suddenly as it
had begun. Smith, with an unexpected movement, threw up his arms with a
cry of relief. At the same instant there was a wild, tearing shriek in
the air beside me and something rushed past us with a noise like the
passage of a flock of big birds. Both windows rattled as if they would
break away from their sashes. Then a sense of emptiness and peace
suddenly came over the room, and I knew that all was over.
"Smith, his face exceedingly white, but otherwise strangely composed,
turned to me at once.
"'God!--if you hadn't come--You deflected the stream; broke it up--' he
whispered. 'You saved me.'"
The doctor made a long pause. Presently he felt for his pipe in the
darkness, groping over the table behind us with both hands. No one spoke
for a bit, but all dreaded the sudden glare that would come when he
struck the match. The fire was nearly out and the great hall was pitch
But the story-teller did not strike that match. He was merely gaining
time for some hidden reason of his own. And presently he went on with
his tale in a more subdued voice.
"I quite forget," he said, "how I got back to my own room. I only know
that I lay with two lighted candles for the rest of the night, and the
first thing I did in the morning was to let the landlady know I was
leaving her house at the end of the week.
"Smith still has my Rabbinical Treatise. At least he did not return it
to me at the time, and I have never seen him since to ask for it."