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CHAPTER IX BASIL
The odd conversation with the Squire and Theodore Dane strangely affected Patricia, and in rather an unhealthy way. She was an ordinary commonsense Irish girl, whose father had been a matter-of-fact military man, and in her conventional life there had been no place for the supernatural. And when, with Colonel Carrol's death, came his daughter's subsequent poverty, Patricia had been far too much taken up with battling for existence to think of the Unseen. To be over-inquisitive about the next world seemed to her sensible mind unnecessary, since there was so much to be done on earth. She knew very well that she was sensitive to things which other people did not perceive, but she put this down to having highly-strung nerves, and thought very little about the matter. Now, apparently, the time had come for her to consciously use organs hitherto unguessed at.

Patricia could scarcely help feeling that the atmosphere of Beckleigh Hall was unusual. The isolation, the dreamy nature of Mara, the uncanny conversation of Theodore, which his uncle appeared to accept as quite ordinary--all these things had an effect on her mind. She began to be vaguely afraid of the darkness, and her sleep was greatly disturbed by vivid dreams. In vain she assured herself that all this was owing to her imagination, and that she was losing her nerve in a most ridiculous manner, for the spell of the place was laid upon her, and she felt that she was being caught in those nets of the Unseen of which Mr. Colpster had spoken. To a healthy-minded girl, such as Miss Carrol undoubtedly was, the feeling was highly unpleasant, and she resented the influence which seemed bent upon controlling her, even against her will. Yet to this influence which she vaguely felt, but could not describe, she could not even put a name. The only thing she could tell herself was that some powerful Influence was setting itself to capture her mind and will and body and soul--all that there was of herself that she knew.

Later, she became aware that the Influence seemed to be centred in Theodore, for when in his presence she felt more than ever the desire to peer behind the veil. He had always been polite to her, since the night she arrived, but had looked upon her, she felt certain, as merely a pretty, commonplace girl, content with earthly things. And this was surely true, or had been, until the Influence came to draw her away from the concrete to the abstract. But since she had confessed to experiencing the weird sensation of the Jewel, Theodore had haunted her steps persistently. He talked to her during meals; he strolled with her in the gardens; he exerted himself to please her in every way, and finally asked her to visit his special set of rooms, which were at the back of the house. With a sense that some danger to the soul lurked within them, she at first refused, but finally, over-borne by his insistency, she consented to enter along with Mara. The girl was absentminded and indifferent; still she would form a convenient third, and would prevent Theodore from performing any of the experiments she hated. And, as a matter of fact, Mara mentioned that she objected to these.

"You need not be afraid, my dear cousin," said Dane dryly, as he led the way along the corridor. "I only wish to show Miss Carrol my books and have a chat with her about psychic matters."

"I don't think it's healthy," murmured Patricia, feeling distressed and uneasy. "I wish you would talk of something else."

"There is nothing else which interests me in the world," retorted Theodore, throwing open a door. "This is my study, Miss Carrol, and through that door is my bedroom, so you see I have this part of the house all to myself."

The room was large and broad, with a low ceiling, and a wide casement looking towards the east. The walls were plastered with some darkly-red material, smooth and glistening, and a frieze of vividly-coloured Egyptian hieroglyphics ran round them directly under the broad expanse of the ceiling, which was painted with zodiacal signs. The floor was of polished white wood, with a square of grimly red carpet in the centre. There was scarcely any furniture, so that the vast room looked almost empty. The casement was draped with purple hangings, and before it stood a large mahogany table, covered with papers and writing materials. There was also a sofa, two deep arm-chairs, besides the one placed before the table, and one wall half-way up was lined with books. A purple curtain also hung before the door which led into the bedroom. The apartment looked bare and somewhat bleak, and an atmosphere of incense pervaded it generally, so that when Patricia sat down in one of the arm-chairs, she involuntarily thought of a church. Yet there seemed to be something evil hanging about the place which was foreign to a place of worship.

Mara felt this even more than did her companion, for she walked to the casement and threw it wide open, so as to let in the salt breath of the sea. It was growing dusk, and the room was filled with shadows which added to its eerie appearance and accentuated the eerie feeling of Miss Carrol. Yet Theodore did not offer to light the lamp which stood on a tall brass pedestal near an alcove, masked with purple curtains, which was at the end of the room opposite the casement. Patricia noted that there was no fire-place.

"Don't you feel cold here at times?" she asked, more because she wished to break the silence than because she desired to know.

Theodore smiled. "I am never cold," he said smoothly; "cold and heat and pain and pleasure exist only in thought, and I can control my thoughts in every way. Why did you open the window, Mara?"

"I don't like your stuffy atmosphere," said the girl bluntly; then her nostrils dilated, and she sniffed the air like a wild animal. "Pah! What bad things you have in this room, Theodore!"

"What kind of things?" asked Patricia, looking round uneasily.

"Things that dwell in darkness and dare not face the light," chanted Mara in soft tones. "This room reeks with selfishness."

"So does the whole world," retorted her cousin with a sneer.

"Yes; but the effect is not so great as you make it."

"What do you mean?"

"You have transferred the selfish energies to a higher and more fluid plane."

"Mara!" Theodore came close to the girl and peered curiously into her pale face with vivid curiosity. "Who told you that?"

"It came to me."

"You don't know what you are talking about," he said roughly.

"Perhaps not," she replied dreamily; "but what I mean is plain to you. I can see your soul shivering with shame at being forced to obey the animal."

Theodore shrugged his great shoulders and looked at Patricia. "I sometimes think that Mara is mad," he remarked impolitely; "do you understand?"

"No," answered Patricia truthfully; "what does she mean?"

Mara slipped off the writing-table whereon she had perched herself, and pointed one lean finger at Theodore. "I mean that he is an utterly selfish man, who strives to sweep aside all who stand in his path. By egotism he isolates himself from the Great Whole, and wishes to dwell apart in self-conscious power." She faced Dane, and in the twilight looked like a wavering shadow. "There is nothing you would not do to obtain power, and for that reason your punishment will be greater than that of others."

"Why?" asked Theodore tartly, "seeing that all desire power?"

"You have more Light. You know, others do not." Mara paused as though she was listening. "It is a warning," she finished solemnly, "a last chance which is given to you, who are so strong in evil might."

"But, Mara----"

"I have said all that I am told to say, and now I say no more," said the pale girl enigmatically, and returned to seat herself on the table and gaze into the rapidly gathering night.

"What does it all mean?" asked Patricia, under her breath.

"Simply that Mara doesn't like me," said Dane coolly, but Miss Carrol noticed that he wiped the perspiration from his high forehead as he spoke; "her standard is too lofty for us ever to become husband and wife. I can see plainly that Basil will marry her and inherit the property." He looked round the room with a savage expression. "To lose all this is terrible!"

"But your brother will let you stay here," said Patricia consolingly.

"No, he won't. Basil doesn't care for my occult studies, and he doesn't care for me. You would never think we were brothers, so different he is to me. We are Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Polynices and Eteocles, and have never been friends since birth. I hate him, and he hates me."

"Oh, no, no, Mr. Dane," said Patricia, quite distressed and shocked, "you must not talk in that way. It is wrong."

"It is human," retorted Theodore bitterly. "All his life Basil has been the petted darling. Uncle George always loved him and ignored me. Basil is good-looking; I am not. Basil is popular; I am not. Basil will marry Mara and inherit Beckleigh, while I am forced to wander homeless and friendless. And if----"

His cousin, who had been listening quietly, interrupted at this moment. "I shall not marry Basil," she said very decidedly. "We are good friends, but nothing more."

"If you don't marry him, Mara, you will lose the property."

"I don't care," she answered indifferently. "I can always live somewhere."

"If you would marry me," said Theodore eagerly, "you could go away and live where you liked. I only want to inherit Beckleigh."

"Oh!" cried Patricia, revolted by this selfish sentiment.

Theodore wheeled to face her. "It is a brutal thing for a man to say to a woman, is it not?" he asked derisively; "and if Mara loved me, I would not say what I have said. But she hates me, as you can see."

"I don't hate you!" put in Mara. "I am merely indifferent to you! Besides, as you said just now, you only want the property."

"Yes, I do," declared Dane boldly; "and I only put into words what other people think. I wish to have this house all to myself."

"Why this house particularly?" asked Patricia, after a pause.

"Because it is so secluded, and so safe for my purpose."

"What is your purpose?"

"I wish to continue my occult studies. I wish to get others to join me so that we may form a school. If I teach what I have learned to others, we can create a power which will be able to dominate the world. Here," he grew excited and seemed to swell with arrogance, "in this hidden spot, and by the exercise of certain powers, it is possible to sway the minds of men at a distance. The Wisdom of Solomon is no fable, Miss Carrol."

"And for that reason," said Mara, in her cold, unemotional voice, "you will not be permitted to acquire it."

"I know much," retorted Dane, still bulking hugely in the shadows, "and as time goes on I shall know more."

"The time is very short now," whispered Mara.

Patricia, peering through the soft twilight, saw the big man's face suddenly grow white. He moved, soft-footed as a cat, to the girl's side. "Mara," he breathed, and his voice was sick with terror, "do you see danger?"

"Great danger, and very near."

"What is it? Where is it? Look and see!" He raised his hands and made a pass before her face. Mara slipped from between him and the table like an eel.

"I won't submit to your experiments," she said angrily. "Father told you that you were not to worry me."

"But the danger?" faltered Theodore, who seemed to be quite unnerved.

"I can sense it, but I cannot see it," said Mara, wearily; "and all this talk makes me tired." She walked across to the other arm-chair and sank down into its depths gladly. "I am glad that Basil will soon be here."

"When do you expect him?" asked Patricia, anxious to turn the conversation, which had taken a mystical turn of which she did not approve.

"He may be here at any minute. Father said that he received a letter by the mid-day post. I like Basil; I love Basil, and I am glad he is coining."

"Let us ask Mr. Colpster when he will arrive," said Patricia, rising.

She moved two steps towards the door, but before she could reach it, Theodore had placed himself before her. "Don't go, Miss Carrol," he entreated, "just wait for a few minutes. Perhaps you don't like the darkness, so I shall light the lamp." He walked towards the tall brass pedestal.

"You need not be in a hurry, Patricia," said the voice of Mara out of the gloom, "it will be an hour before Basil appears."

Patricia sat down again, although her instinct told her to fly from this room and the evil influences with which it was impregnated. "I shall wait for a few minutes," she said, determined not to be cowardly; "but do let us talk of more healthy things, Mr. Dane."

The lamp was lighted by this time, and its radiance spread gradually through the room, as the wick was turned up. Patricia felt more comfortable in the flood of cheerful light, although the shadows still lurked in the corners. Silent and pale, in her deep chair sat Mara, but her cousin moved about the room actively and brightly: with an effort, however, as it seemed from the glimpse she caught of his eyes. These were filled with a vague terror, and he frequently moistened his dry lips. Nevertheless, he began to talk lightly and discursively about this, that, and the other thing, evidently anxious to keep his guests. He described the neighbourhood to Patricia, and the people who dwelt therein. He advised her to make excursions round about with Mara, and examine old rocking-stones and the remains of British villages and Phoenician towers. He extolled the healthiness of the place, and the beauty of its landscapes, and finally promised to take the two girls out in a sailing-boat. "Oh, we can give you much pleasure here, in spite of our isolation, Miss Carrol," he declared, with laboured gaiety, "and in spite of this danger which Mara says that I stand in. Who is going to hurt me, Mara?" he asked with assumed lightness, but real eagerness.

"No one," she replied quietly; "but"--she drew her hand across her face and said peevishly, "I wish you wouldn't ask me silly questions."

"You have told me such silly things," retorted Theodore snappishly. "You mustn't mind what Mara says, Miss Carrol: she does nothing but dream."

"We must rouse her out of such dreaming, Mr. Dane."

"Of course; of course! She ought to have a season in London; that would do her endless good. There is too much lotus-eating about this place. It suits me, but it would not suit all. That is why Basil entered the Navy: he loves to travel about the world, and only comes to see us once in a blue moon. By the way, Miss Carrol, you must not take what I said about him too seriously, for Basil is really a good fellow. We have different ideas of life, that is all; and fire and water won't mix you know."

In this way he rattled on, and then produced a chafing-dish of bronze on which a charcoal fire smouldered, with thin wisps of smoke curling up. "I find the atmosphere of this room too chilly, Miss Carrol. Would you mind my throwing some incense on this fire?"

"Not at all," said Patricia innocently; but Mara moved with uneasiness.

"Don't you try any experiments, Theodore. Remember what father said."

"My dear child," said the man impatiently, and planting the smoking dish of charcoal at Patricia's elbow, "when I make a promise I always keep it. This is no experiment. By the way, Miss Carrol," he added, while he went to a cupboard and brought back a metal box, "when your eyes are closed at night, do you see colours?"

"Oh, frequently."

"I thought so," muttered Dane, opening the box. "And pictures?"

"Sometimes."

"Have you ever wished to be in any picture you saw?"

"No--that is--I don't exactly follow you, Mr. Dane."

"No matter. I quite understand. If you did wish to find yourself in the picture," he went on with emphasis, "you would find yourself there. I knew you were psychic, and all you tell me makes me more certain than ever."

Patricia shuddered. "Don't talk about these uncanny things. I don't like them: they make me uncomfortable."

Theodore laughed in a constrained manner, and with a spoon threw some powder on the charcoal. At once a thick bluish smoke arose like a column, and a strong perfume spread through the chill atmosphere of the room. "A pleasant scent, is it not, Miss Carrol?" said Dane, restoring the box to its cupboard and fixing his eyes on the girl's face. "It is made after a recipe of Moses. 'Sweet spices, stacte, and onycha and galbanum; these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight.' You will find those words in Exodus. Result of mingling such things a sacred incense, as this is. Smell it; breathe it; the perfume is beautiful."

It was assuredly a wonderful smell, but too overpoweringly sweet. Patricia drew in a deep breath through her nostrils, and the fragrance seemed to impregnate her whole being. She began to feel languid and singularly content, and unwilling to move. And all the time Dane's vividly blue eyes were fixed on her face. They seemed to be sapphire flames. But as she breathed the perfume and looked into his deep eyes, she heard a movement and removed her own eyes--with an effort, as it appeared to her now confused senses. She then saw that Mara was on her feet, moving towards the door. But not as an ordinary human being would walk. She rather appeared to be dancing in a rhythmic way, swaying from side to side, and waving her arms gracefully. With clasped hands she seemed to be shaking some invisible instrument. Theodore put out his hand to stay her, but she waved him aside and danced--if it could be called dancing--through the door. As she disappeared, Patricia tried vainly to rise.

"I must go to her! she is ill!" murmured Patricia, and then fell back in the chair again, enveloped--as it seemed to her--in a dense cloud of perfumed smoke. Her eyes closed, her breath seemed to leave her, and then she appeared to go away to a league-long goal.

Where she went, or how she went, she could not say. Her inward perceptions were only conscious of a vividly brilliant atmosphere through which she passed as swiftly as a swallow. And far away she heard a thin voice, like one speaking through a telephone, bidding her search for the danger. It was the voice of Theodore.

But as Patricia, in her dream or trance, or whatever was her state of being, passed swiftly on, soaring to some unknown end, she became aware that her flight was being stopped. She faltered, paused, then turned, and came swiftly back with the speed of light. Her senses returned to feel water being poured on her forehead, and to feel also the cool night air. She was out of doors, and in the arms of a man, who bathed her face.

"Don't move; don't move," said the man anxiously; "you have fainted."

"Who are you?" asked Patricia, gazing upward at the handsome face.

"I am Basil," said the man, "and my brother has been trying his devilries on you."


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