Chapter IX. The Polish Jewess
 

There was a silence of some minutes' duration. Lord Lashmore sat staring straight before him, his fists clenched upon his knees. Then:

"It was after death that the third baron developed--certain qualities?" inquired Dr. Cairn.

"There were six cases of death in the district within twelve months," replied Lashmore. "The gruesome cry of 'vampire' ran through the community. The fourth baron--son of Paul Dhoon--turned a deaf ear to these reports, until the mother of a child--a child who had died--traced a man, or the semblance of a man, to the gate of the Dhoon family vault. By night, secretly, the son of Paul Dhoon visited the vault, and found....

"The body, which despite twelve months in the tomb, looked as it had looked in life, was carried to the dungeon--in the Middle Ages a torture-room; no cry uttered there can reach the outer world--and was submitted to the ancient process for slaying a vampire. From that hour no supernatural visitant has troubled the district; but--"

"But," said Dr. Cairn quietly, "the strain came from Mirza, the sorceress. What of her?"

Lord Lashmore's eyes shone feverishly.

"How do you know that she was a sorceress?" he asked, hoarsely. "These are family secrets."

"They will remain so," Dr. Cairn answered. "But my studies have gone far, and I know that Mirza, wife of the third Baron Lashmore, practised the Black Art in life, and became after death a ghoul. Her husband surprised her in certain detestable magical operations and struck her head off. He had suspected her for some considerable time, and had not only kept secret the birth of her son but had secluded the child from the mother. No heir resulting from his second marriage, however, the son of Mirza became Baron Lashmore, and after death became what his mother had been before him.

"Lord Lashmore, the curse of the house of Dhoon will prevail until the Polish Jewess who originated it has been treated as her son was treated!"

"Dr. Cairn, it is not known where her husband had her body concealed. He died without revealing the secret. Do you mean that the taint, the devil's taint, may recur--Oh, my God! do you want to drive me mad?"

"I do not mean that after so many generations which have been free from it, the vampirism will arise again in your blood; but I mean that the spirit, the unclean, awful spirit of that vampire woman, is still earth-bound. The son was freed, and with him went the hereditary taint, it seems; but the mother was not freed! Her body was decapitated, but her vampire soul cannot go upon its appointed course until the ancient ceremonial has been performed!"

Lord Lashmore passed his hand across his eyes.

"You daze me, Dr. Cairn. In brief, what do you mean?"

"I mean that the spirit of Mirza is to this day loose upon the world, and is forced, by a deathless, unnatural longing to seek incarnation in a human body. It is such awful pariahs as this, Lord Lashmore, that constitute the danger of so-called spiritualism. Given suitable conditions, such a spirit might gain control of a human being."

"Do you suggest that the spirit of the second lady--"

"It is distinctly possible that she haunts her descendants. I seem to remember a tradition of Dhoon Castle, to the effect that births and deaths are heralded by a woman's mocking laughter?"

"I, myself, heard it on the night--I became Lord Lashmore."

"That is the spirit who was known, in life, as Mirza, Lady Lashmore!"

"But--"

"It is possible to gain control of such a being."

"By what means?"

"By unhallowed means; yet there are those who do not hesitate to employ them. The danger of such an operation is, of course, enormous."

"I perceive, Dr. Cairn, that a theory, covering the facts of my recent experiences, is forming in your mind."

"That is so. In order that I may obtain corroborative evidence, I should like to call at your place this evening. Suppose I come ostensibly to see Lady Lashmore?"

Lord Lashmore was watching the speaker.

"There is someone in my household whose suspicions you do not wish to arouse?" he suggested.

"There is. Shall we make it nine o'clock?"

"Why not come to dinner?"

"Thanks all the same, but I think it would serve my purpose better if I came later."

       *       *       *       *       *

Dr. Cairn and his son dined alone together in Half-Moon Street that night.

"I saw Antony Ferrara in Regent Street to-day," said. Robert Cairn. "I was glad to see him."

Dr. Cairn raised his heavy brows.

"Why?" he asked.

"Well, I was half afraid that he might have left London."

"Paid a visit to Myra Duquesne in Inverness?"

"It would not have surprised me."

"Nor would it have surprised me, Rob, but I think he is stalking other game at present."

Robert Cairn looked up quickly.

"Lady Lashmore," he began--

"Well?" prompted his father.

"One of the Paul Pry brigade who fatten on scandal sent a veiled paragraph in to us at The Planet yesterday, linking Ferrara's name with Lady Lashmores.' Of course we didn't use it; he had come to the wrong market; but--Ferrara was with Lady Lashmore when I met him to-day."

"What of that?"

"It is not necessarily significant, of course; Lord Lashmore in all probability will outlive Ferrara, who looked even more pallid than usual."

"You regard him as an utterly unscrupulous fortune-hunter?"

"Certainly."

"Did Lady Lashmore appear to be in good health?"

"Perfectly."

"Ah!"

A silence fell, of some considerable duration, then:

"Antony Ferrara is a menace to society," said Robert Cairn. "When I meet the reptilian glance of those black eyes of his and reflect upon what the man has attempted--what he has done--my blood boils. It is tragically funny to think that in our new wisdom we have abolished the only laws that could have touched him! He could not have existed in Ancient Chaldea, and would probably have been burnt at the stake even under Charles II.; but in this wise twentieth century he dallies in Regent Street with a prominent society beauty and laughs in the face of a man whom he has attempted to destroy!"

"Be very wary," warned Dr. Cairn. "Remember that if you died mysteriously to-morrow, Ferrara would be legally immune. We must wait, and watch. Can you return here to-night, at about ten o'clock?"

"I think I can manage to do so--yes."

"I shall expect you. Have you brought up to date your record of those events which we know of, together with my notes and explanations?"

"Yes, sir, I spent last evening upon the notes."

"There may be something to add. This record, Rob, one day will be a weapon to destroy an unnatural enemy. I will sign two copies to-night and lodge one at my bank."