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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

his opportunity.

"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."