The Brood of the Witch-Queen by Sax Rohmer
Chapter XXI. The Magician
Half-Moon Street was bathed in tropical sunlight. Dr. Cairn, with his hands behind him, stood looking out of the window. He turned to his son, who leant against a corner of the bookcase in the shadows of the big room.
"Hot enough for Egypt, Rob," he said.
Robert Cairn nodded.
"Antony Ferrara," he replied, "seemingly travels his own atmosphere with him. I first became acquainted with his hellish activities during a phenomenal thunderstorm. In Egypt his movements apparently corresponded with those of the Khamsin. Now,"--he waved his hand vaguely towards the window--"this is Egypt in London."
"Egypt is in London, indeed," muttered Dr. Cairn. "Jermyn has decided that our fears are well-founded."
"You mean, sir, that the will--?"
"Antony Ferrara would have an almost unassailable case in the event of--of Myra--"
"You mean that her share of the legacy would fall to that fiend, if she--"
"If she died? Exactly."
Robert Cairn began to stride up and down the room, clenching and unclenching his fists. He was a shadow of his former self, but now his cheeks were flushed and his eyes feverishly bright.
"Before Heaven!" he cried suddenly, "the situation is becoming unbearable. A thing more deadly than the Plague is abroad here in London. Apart from the personal aspect of the matter--of which I dare not think!--what do we know of Ferrara's activities? His record is damnable. To our certain knowledge his victims are many. If the murder of his adoptive father, Sir Michael, was actually the first of his crimes, we know of three other poor souls who beyond any shadow of doubt were launched into eternity by the Black Arts of this ghastly villain--"
"We do, Rob," replied Dr. Cairn sternly.
"He has made attempts upon you; he has made attempts upon me. We owe our survival"--he pointed to a row of books upon a corner shelf--"to the knowledge which you have accumulated in half a life-time of research. In the face of science, in the face of modern scepticism, in the face of our belief in a benign God, this creature, Antony Ferrara, has proved himself conclusively to be--"
"He is what the benighted ancients called a magician," interrupted Dr. Cairn quietly. "He is what was known in the Middle Ages as a wizard. What that means, exactly, few modern thinkers know; but I know, and one day others will know. Meanwhile his shadow lies upon a certain house."
Robert Cairn shook his clenched fists in the air. In some men the gesture had seemed melodramatic; in him it was the expression of a soul's agony.
"But, sir!" he cried--"are we to wait, inert, helpless? Whatever he is, he has a human body and there are bullets, there are knives, there are a hundred drugs in the British Pharmacopoeia!"
"Quite so," answered Dr. Cairn, watching his son closely, and, by his own collected manner, endeavouring to check the other's growing excitement. "I am prepared at any personal risk to crush Antony Ferrara as I would crush a scorpion; but where is he?"
Robert Cairn groaned, dropping into the big red-leathern armchair, and burying his face in his hands.
"Our position is maddening," continued the elder man. "We know that Antony Ferrara visits Mr. Saunderson's house; we know that he is laughing at our vain attempts to trap him. Crowning comedy of all, Saunderson does not know the truth; he is not the type of man who could ever understand; in fact we dare not tell him--and we dare not tell Myra. The result is that those whom we would protect, unwittingly are working against us, and against themselves."
"That perfume!" burst out Robert Cairn; "that hell's incense which loads the atmosphere of Saunderson's house! To think that we know what it means--that we know what it means!"
"Perhaps I know even better than you do, Rob. The occult uses of perfume are not understood nowadays; but you, from experience, know that certain perfumes have occult uses. At the Pyramid of Meydum in Egypt, Antony Ferrara dared--and the just God did not strike him dead--to make a certain incense. It was often made in the remote past, and a portion of it, probably in a jar hermetically sealed, had come into his possession. I once detected its dreadful odour in his rooms in London. Had you asked me prior to that occasion if any of the hellish stuff had survived to the present day, I should most emphatically have said no; I should have been wrong. Ferrara had some. He used it all--and went to the Meydum pyramid to renew his stock."
Robert Cairn was listening intently.
"All this brings me back to a point which I have touched upon before, sir," he said: "To my certain knowledge, the late Sir Michael and yourself have delved into the black mysteries of Egypt more deeply than any men of the present century. Yet Antony Ferrara, little more than a boy, has mastered secrets which you, after years of research, have failed to grasp. What does this mean, sir?"
Dr. Cairn, again locking his hands behind him, stared out of the window.
"He is not an ordinary mortal," continued his son. "He is supernormal--and supernaturally wicked. You have admitted--indeed it was evident--that he is merely the adopted son of the late Sir Michael. Now that we have entered upon the final struggle--for I feel that this is so--I will ask you again: Who is Antony Ferrara?"
Dr. Cairn spun around upon the speaker; his grey eyes were very bright.
"There is one little obstacle," he answered, "which has deterred me from telling you what you have asked so often. Although--and you have had dreadful opportunities to peer behind the veil--you will find it hard to believe, I hope very shortly to be able to answer that question, and to tell you who Antony Ferrara really is."
Robert Cairn beat his fist upon the arm of the chair.
"I sometimes wonder," he said, "that either of us has remained sane. Oh! what does it mean? What can we do? What can we do?"
"We must watch, Rob. To enlist the services of Saunderson, would be almost impossible; he lives in his orchid houses; they are his world. In matters of ordinary life I can trust him above most men, but in this--"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Could we suggest to him a reason--any reason but the real one--why he should refuse to receive Ferrara?"
"It might destroy our last chance."
"But sir," cried Robert wildly, "it amounts to this: we are using Myra as a lure!"
"In order to save her, Rob--simply in order to save her," retorted Dr. Cairn sternly.
"How ill she looks," groaned the other; "how pale and worn. There are great shadows under her eyes--oh! I cannot bear to think about her!"
"When was he last there?"
"Apparently some ten days ago. You may depend upon him to be aware of our return! He will not come there again, sir. But there are other ways in which he might reach her--does he not command a whole shadow army! And Mr. Saunderson is entirely unsuspicious--and Myra thinks of the fiend as a brother! Yet--she has never once spoken of him. I wonder...."
Dr. Cairn sat deep in reflection. Suddenly he took out his watch.
"Go around now," he said--"you will be in time for lunch--and remain there until I come. From to-day onward, although actually your health does not permit of the strain, we must watch, watch night and day."