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The Haunters and the Haunted edited by Ernest Rhys online
VI THE HAUNTED AND THE HAUNTERS: OR THE HOUSE AND THE BRAIN
G---- soon after left the stranger, who then took up a scientific journal, which seemed to absorb his attention.
I drew G---- aside. "Who and what is that gentleman?"
"That? Oh, a very remarkable man indeed. I met him last year amidst the caves of Petra--the scriptural Edom. He is the best Oriental scholar I know. We joined company, had an adventure with robbers, in which he showed a coolness that saved our lives; afterwards he invited me to spend a day with him in a house he had bought at Damascus--a house buried amongst almond blossoms and roses--the most beautiful thing! He had lived there for some years, quite as an Oriental, in grand style. I half suspect he is a renegade, immensely rich, very odd; by the by, a great mesmeriser. I have seen him with my own eyes produce an effect on inanimate things. If you take a letter from your pocket and throw it to the other end of the room, he will order it to come to his feet, and you will see the letter wriggle itself along the floor till it has obeyed his command. 'Pon my honour, 'tis true: I have seen him affect even the weather, disperse or collect clouds, by means of a glass tube or wand. But he does not like talking of these matters to strangers. He has only just arrived in England; says he has not been here for a great many years; let me introduce him to you."
"Certainly! He is English, then? What is his name?"
"Oh!--a very homely one--Richards."
"And what is his birth--his family?"
"How do I know? What does it signify?--no doubt some parvenu, but rich--so infernally rich!"
G---- drew me up to the stranger, and the introduction was effected. The manners of Mr Richards were not those of an adventurous traveller. Travellers are in general constitutionally gifted with high animal spirits: they are talkative, eager, imperious. Mr Richards was calm and subdued in tone, with manners which were made distant by the loftiness of punctilious courtesy--the manners of a former age. I observed that the English he spoke was not exactly of our day. I should even have said that the accent was slightly foreign. But then Mr Richards remarked that he had been little in the habit for many years of speaking in his native tongue. The conversation fell upon the changes in the aspect of London since he had last visited our metropolis. G---- then glanced off to the moral changes--literary, social, political--the great men who were removed from the stage within the last twenty years--the new great men who were coming on. In all this Mr Richards evinced no interest. He had evidently read none of our living authors, and seemed scarcely acquainted by name with our younger statesmen. Once and only once he laughed; it was when G---- asked him whether he had any thoughts of getting into Parliament. And the laugh was inward--sarcastic--sinister--a sneer raised into a laugh. After a few minutes G---- left us to talk to some other acquaintances who had just lounged into the room, and I then said quietly:
"I have seen a miniature of you, Mr Richards, in the house you once inhabited, and perhaps built, if not wholly, at least in part, in ---- Street. You passed by that house this morning."
Not till I had finished did I raise my eyes to his, and then his fixed my gaze so steadfastly that I could not withdraw it--those fascinating serpent eyes. But involuntarily, and if the words that translated my thought were dragged from me, I added in a low whisper, "I have been a student in the mysteries of life and nature; of those mysteries I have known the occult professors. I have the right to speak to you thus." And I uttered a certain pass-word.