The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham


  He came to the park gates at last and stood for some time in front of them. At the end of a long avenue, among the trees, he could see part of a splendid house. He walked along the wooden palisade that surrounded the park. Suddenly he came to a spot where a board had been broken down. He looked up and down the road. No one was in sight. He climbed up the low, steep bank, wrenched down a piece more of the fence, and slipped in.

  He found himself in a dense wood. There was no sign of a path, and he advanced cautiously. The bracken was so thick and high that it easily concealed him. Dead owners had plainly spent much care upon the place, for here alone in the neighbourhood were trees in abundance; but of late it had been utterly neglected. It had run so wild that there were no traces now of its early formal arrangement; and it was so hard to make one's way, the vegetation was so thick, that it might almost have been some remnant of primeval forest. But at last he came to a grassy path and walked along it slowly. He stopped on a sudden, for he heard a sound. But it was only a pheasant that flew heavily through the low trees. He wondered what he should do if he came face to face with Oliver. The innkeeper had assured him that the squire seldom came out, but spent his days locked in the great attics at the top of the house. Smoke came from the chimneys of them, even in hottest days of summer, and weird tales were told of the devilries there committed.

  Arthur went on, hoping in the end to catch sight of Margaret, but he saw no one. In that grey, chilly day the woods, notwithstanding their greenery, were desolate and sad. A sombre mystery seemed to hang over them. At last he came to a stone bench at a cross-way among the trees, and, since it was the only resting-place he had seen, it struck him that Margaret might come there to sit down. He hid himself in the bracken. He had forgotten his watch and did not know how the time passed; he seemed to be there for hours.

  But at length his heart gave a great beat against his ribs, for all at once, so silently that he had not heard her approach, Margaret came into view. She sat on the stone bench. For a moment he dared not move in case the sound frightened her. He could not tell how to make his presence known. But it was necessary to do something to attract her attention, and he could only hope that she would not cry out.

  "Margaret," he called softly.

  She did not move, and he repeated her name more loudly. But still she made no sign that she had heard. He came forward and stood in front of her.

  "Margaret."

  She looked at him quietly. He might have been someone she had never set eyes on, and yet from her composure she might have expected him to be standing there.

  "Margaret, don't you know me?"

  "What do you want?" she answered placidly.

  He was so taken aback that he did not know what to say. She kept gazing at him steadfastly. On a sudden her calmness vanished, and she sprang to her feet.

  "Is it you really?" she cried, terribly agitated. "I thought it was only a shape that mimicked you."

  "Margaret, what do you mean? What has come over you?"

  She stretched out her hand and touched him.

  "I'm flesh and blood all right," he said, trying to smile.

  She shut her eyes for a moment, as though in an effort to collect herself.

  "I've had hallucinations lately," she muttered. "I thought it was some trick played upon me."

  Suddenly she shook herself.

  "But what are you doing here? You must go. How did you come? Oh, why won't you leave me alone?"

  "I've been haunted by a feeling that something horrible was going to happen to you. I was obliged to come."

  "For God's sake, go. You can do me no good. If he finds out you've been here——"

  She stopped, and her eyes were dilated with terror. Arthur seized her hands.

  "Margaret, I can't go—I can't leave you like this. For Heaven's sake, tell me what is the matter. I'm so dreadfully frightened."

  He was aghast at the difference wrought in her during the two months since he had seen her last. Her colour was gone, and her face had the greyness of the dead. There were strange lines on her forehead, and her eyes had an unnatural glitter. Her youth had suddenly left her. She looked as if she were struck down by mortal illness.

  "What is the matter with you?" he asked.

  "Nothing." She looked about her anxiously. "Oh, why don't you go? How can you be so cruel?"

  "I must do something for you," he insisted.

  She shook her head.

  "It's too late. Nothing can help me now." She paused; and when she spoke again it was with a voice so ghastly that it might have come from the lips of a corpse. "I've found out at last what he's going to do with me. He wants me for his great experiment, and the time is growing shorter."

  "What do you mean by saying he wants you?"

  "He wants—my life."

  Arthur gave a cry of dismay, but she put up her hand.

  "It's no use resisting. It can't do any good—I think I shall be glad when the moment comes. I shall at least cease to suffer."

  "But you must be mad."

  "I don't know. I know that he is."

  "But if your life is in danger, come away for God's sake. After all, you're free. He can't stop you."

  "I should have to go back to him, as I did last time," she answered, shaking her head. "I thought I was free then, but gradually I knew that he was calling me. I tried to resist, but I couldn't. I simply had to go to him."

  "But it's awful to think that you are alone with a man who's practically raving mad."

  "I'm safe for to-day," she said quietly. "It can only be done in the very hot weather. If there's no more this year, I shall live till next summer."

  "Oh, Margaret, for God's sake don't talk like that. I love you—I want to have you with me always. Won't you come away with me and let me take care of you? I promise you that no harm shall come to you."

  "You don't love me any more; you're only sorry for me now."

  "It's not true."

  "Oh yes it is. I saw it when we were in the country. Oh, I don't blame you. I'm a different woman from the one you loved. I'm not the Margaret you knew."

  "I can never care for anyone but you."

  She put her hand on his arm.

  "If you ever loved me, I implore you to go. You don't know what you expose me to. And when I'm dead, you must marry Susie. She loves you with all her heart, and she deserves your love."

  "Margaret, don't go. Come with me."

  "And take care. He will never forgive you for what you did. If he can, he will kill you."

  She started violently, as though she heard a sound. Her face was convulsed with sudden fear.

  "For God's sake go, go!"

  She turned from him quickly, and, before he could prevent her, had vanished. With heavy heart he plunged again into the bracken.

  When Arthur had given his friends some account of this meeting, he stopped and looked at Dr. Porhoët. The doctor went thoughtfully to his bookcase.

  "What is it you want me to tell you?" he asked.

  "I think the man is mad," said Arthur. "I found out at what asylum his mother was, and by good luck was able to see the superintendent on my way through London. He told me that he had grave doubts about Haddo's sanity, but it was impossible at present to take any steps. I came straight here because I wanted your advice. Granting that the man is out of his mind, is it possible that he may be trying some experiment that entails a sacrifice of human life?"

  "Nothing more is probable," said Dr. Porhoët gravely.

  Susie shuddered. She remembered the rumour that had reached her ears in Monte Carlo.

  "They said there that he was attempting to make living creatures by a magical operation." She glanced at the doctor, but spoke to Arthur. "Just before you came in, our friend was talking of that book of Paracelsus in which he speaks of feeding the monsters he had made on human blood."

  Arthur gave a horrified cry.

  "The most significant thing to my mind is that fact about Margaret which we are certain of," said Dr
. Porhoët. "All works that deal with the Black Arts are unanimous upon the supreme efficacy of the virginal condition."

  "But what is to be done?" asked Arthur is desperation. "We can't leave her in the hands of a raving madman." He turned on a sudden deathly white. "For all we know she may be dead now."

  "Have you ever heard of Gilles de Rais?" said Dr. Porhoët, continuing his reflections. "That is the classic instance of human sacrifice. I know the country in which he lived; and the peasants to this day dare not pass at night in the neighbourhood of the ruined castle which was the scene of his horrible crimes."

  "It's awful to know that this dreadful danger hangs over her, and to be able to do nothing."

  "We can only wait," said Dr. Porhoët.

  "And if we wait too long, we may be faced by a terrible catastrophe."

  "Fortunately we live in a civilised age. Haddo has a great care of his neck. I hope we are frightened unduly."

  It seemed to Susie that the chief thing was to distract Arthur, and she turned over in her mind some means of directing his attention to other matters.

  "I was thinking of going down to Chartres for two days with Mrs. Bloomfield," she said. "Won't you come with me? It is the most lovely cathedral in the world, and I think you will find it restful to wander about it for a little while. You can do no good, here or in London. Perhaps when you are calm, you will be able to think of something practical."

  Dr. Porhoët saw what her plan was, and joined his entreaties to hers that Arthur should spend a day or two in a place that had no associations for him. Arthur was too exhausted to argue, and from sheer weariness consented. Next day Susie took him to Chartres. Mrs. Bloomfield was no trouble to them, and Susie induced him to linger for a week in that pleasant, quiet town. They passed many hours in the stately cathedral, and they wandered about the surrounding country. Arthur was obliged to confess that the change had done him good, and a certain apathy succeeded the agitation from which he had suffered so long. Finally Susie persuaded him to spend three or four weeks in Brittany with Dr. Porhoët, who was proposing to revisit the scenes of his childhood. They returned to Paris. When Arthur left her at the station, promising to meet her again in an hour at the restaurant where they were going to dine with Dr. Porhoët, he thanked her for all she had done.

  "I was in an absurdly hysterical condition," he said, holding her hand. "You've been quite angelic. I knew that nothing could be done, and yet I was tormented with the desire to do something. Now I've got myself in hand once more. I think my common sense was deserting me, and I was on the point of believing in the farrago of nonsense which they call magic. After all, it's absurd to think that Haddo is going to do any harm to Margaret. As soon as I get back to London, I'll see my lawyers, and I daresay something can be done. If he's really mad, we'll have him put under restraint, and Margaret will be free. I shall never forget your kindness."

  Susie smiled and shrugged her shoulders.

  She was convinced that he would forget everything if Margaret came back to him. But she chid herself for the bitterness of the thought. She loved him, and she was glad to be able to do anything for him.

  She returned to the hotel, changed her frock, and walked slowly to the Chien Noir. It always exhilarated her to come back to Paris; and she looked with happy, affectionate eyes at the plane trees, the yellow trams that rumbled along incessantly, and the lounging people. When she arrived, Dr. Porhoët was waiting, and his delight at seeing her again was flattering and pleasant. They talked of Arthur. They wondered why he was late.

  In a moment he came in. They saw at once that something quite extraordinary had taken place.

  "Thank God, I've found you at last!" he cried.

  His face was moving strangely. They had never seen him so discomposed.

  "I've been round to your hotel, but I just missed you. Oh, why did you insist on my going away?"

  "What on earth's the matter?" cried Susie.

  "Something awful has happened to Margaret."

  Susie started to her feet with a sudden cry of dismay.

  "How do you know?" she asked quickly.

  He looked at them for a moment and flushed. He kept his eyes upon them, as though actually to force his listeners into believing what he was about to say.

  "I feel it," he answered hoarsely.

  "What do you mean?"

  "It came upon me quite suddenly, I can't explain why or how. I only know that something has happened."

  He began again to walk up and down, prey to an agitation that was frightful to behold. Susie and Dr. Porhoët stared at him helplessly. They tried to think of something to say that would calm him.

  "Surely if anything had occurred, we should have been informed."

  He turned to Susie angrily.

  "How do you suppose we could know anything? She was quite helpless. She was imprisoned like a rat in a trap."

  "But, my dear friend, you mustn't give way in this fashion," said the doctor. "What would you say of a patient who came to you with such a story?"

  Arthur answered the question with a shrug of the shoulders.

  "I should say he was absurdly hysterical."

  "Well?"

  "I can't help it, the feeling's there. If you try all night you'll never be able to argue me out of it. I feel it in every bone of my body. I couldn't be more certain if I saw Margaret lying dead in front of me."

  Susie saw that it was indeed useless to reason with him. The only course was to accept his conviction and make the best of it.

  "What do you want us to do?" she asked.

  "I want you both to come to England with me at once. If we start now we can catch the evening train."

  Susie did not answer, but she got up. She touched the doctor on the arm.

  "Please come," she whispered.

  He nodded and untucked the napkin he had already arranged over his waistcoat.

  "I've got a cab at the door," said Arthur.

  "And what about clothes for Miss Susie?" said the doctor.

  "Oh, we can't wait for that," cried Arthur. "For God's sake, come quickly."

  Susie knew that there was plenty of time to fetch a few necessary things before the train started, but Arthur's impatience was too great to be withstood.

  "It doesn't matter," she said. "I can get all I want in England."

  He hurried them to the door and told the cabman to drive to the station as quickly as ever he could.

  "For Heaven's sake, calm down a little," said Susie. "You'll be no good to anyone in that state."

  "I feel certain we're too late."

  "Nonsense! I'm convinced that you'll find Margaret safe and sound."

  He did not answer. He gave a sigh of relief as they drove into the courtyard of the station.

  XIV

  SUSIE never forgot the horror of that journey to England. They arrived in London early in the morning and, without stopping, drove to Euston. For three or four days there had been unusual heat, and even at that hour the streets were sultry and airless. The train north was crowded, and it seemed impossible to get a breath of air. Her head ached, but she was obliged to keep a cheerful demeanour in the effort to allay Arthur's increasing anxiety. Dr. Porhoët sat in front of her. After the sleepless night his eyes were heavy and his face deeply lined. He was exhausted. At length, after much tiresome changing, they reached Venning. She had expected a greater coolness in that northern country; but there was a hot blight over the place, and, as they walked to the inn from the little station, they could hardly drag their limbs along.

  Arthur had telegraphed from London that they must have rooms ready, and the landlady expected them. She recognised Arthur. He passionately desired to ask her whether anything had happened since he went away, but forced himself to be silent for a while. He greeted her with cheerfulness.

  "Well, Mrs. Smithers, what has been going on since I left you?" he cried.

  "Of course you wouldn't have heard, sir," she answered gravely.

  He began to tremble, b
ut with an almost superhuman effort controlled his voice.

  "Has the squire hanged himself?" he asked lightly.

  "No, sir—but the poor lady's dead."

  He did not answer. He seemed turned to stone. He stared with ghastly eyes.

  "Poor thing!" said Susie, forcing herself to speak. "Was it—very sudden?"

  The woman turned to Susie, glad to have someone with whom to discuss the event. She took no notice of Arthur's agony.

  "Yes, mum; no one expected it. She died quite sudden like. She was only buried this morning."

  "What did she die of?" asked Susie, her eyes on Arthur.

  She feared that he would faint. She wanted enormously to get him away, but did not know how to manage it.

  "They say it was heart disease," answered the landlady. "Poor thing! It's a happy release for her."

  "Won't you get us some tea, Mrs. Smithers? We're very tired, and we should like something immediately."

  "Yes, miss. I'll get it at once."

  The good woman bustled away. Susie quickly locked the door. She seized Arthur's arm.

  "Arthur, Arthur."

  She expected him to break down. She looked with agony at Dr. Porhoët, who stood helplessly by.

  "You couldn't have done anything if you'd been here. You heard what the woman said. If Margaret died of heart disease, your suspicions were quite without ground."

  He shook her away, almost violently.

  "For God's sake, speak to us," cried Susie.

  His silence terrified her more than would have done any outburst of grief. Dr. Porhoët went up to him gently.

  "Don't try to be too brave, my friend. You will not suffer so much if you allow yourself a little weakness."

  "For Heaven's sake leave me alone!" said Arthur, hoarsely.

  They drew back and watched him silently. Susie heard their hostess come along to the sitting-room with tea, and she unlocked the door. The landlady brought in the things. She was on the point of leaving them when Arthur stopped her.

  "How do you know that Mrs. Haddo died of heart disease?" he asked suddenly.

  His voice was hard and stern. He spoke with a peculiar abruptness that made the poor woman look at him in amazement.

 
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