The Hound of Death By Agatha Christie
‘The Hound of Death’ was first published in the hardback
The Hound of Death and Other Stories (Odhams Press,
1933). No previous appearances have been found.
It was from William P. Ryan, American newspaper correspondent, that I first heard of the affair. I was dining with him in London on the eve of his return to New York and happened to mention that on the morrow I was going down to Folbridge.
He looked up and said sharply: ‘Folbridge, Cornwall?’
Now only about one person in a thousand knows that there is a Folbridge in Cornwall. They always take it for granted that the Folbridge, Hampshire, is meant. So Ryan’s knowledge aroused my curiosity.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Do you know it?’
He merely replied that he was darned. He then asked if I happened to know a house called Trearne down there.
My interest increased.
‘Very well indeed. In fact, it’s to Trearne I’m going. It’s my sister’s house.’
‘Well,’ said William P. Ryan. ‘If that doesn’t beat the band!’
I suggested that he should cease making cryptic remarks and explain himself.
‘Well,’ he said. ‘To do that I shall have to go back to an experience of mine at the beginning of the war.’
I sighed. The events which I am relating to took place in 1921. To be reminded of the war was the last thing any man wanted. We were, thank God, beginning to forget . . . Besides, William P. Ryan on his war experiences was apt, as I knew, to be unbelievably long-winded.
But there was no stopping him now. ‘At the start of the war, as I dare say you know, I was in Belgium for my paper – moving about some. Well, there’s a little village – I’ll call it X. A one horse place if there ever was one, but there’s quite a big convent there. Nuns in white what do you call ’em – I don’t know the name of the order. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Well, this little burgh was right in the way of the German advance. The Uhlans arrived -‘
I shifted uneasily. William P. Ryan lifted a hand reassuringly. ‘It’s all right,’ he said. ‘This isn’t a German atrocity story. It might have been, perhaps, but it isn’t. As a matter of fact, the boot’s on the other leg. The Huns made for that convent – they got there and the whole thing blew up.’
‘Oh!’ I said, rather startled. ‘Odd business, wasn’t it? Of course, off hand, I should say the Huns had been celebrating and had monkeyed round with their own explosives. But is seems they hadn’t anything of that kind with them. They weren’t the high explosive johnnies. Well, then, I ask you, what should a pack of nuns know about high explosive? Some nuns, I should say!’
‘It is odd,’ I agreed. ‘I was interested in hearing the peasants’ account of the matter. They’d got it all cut and dried. According to them it was a slap-up one hundred percent efficient first-class modern miracle. It seems one of the nuns had got something of a reputation – a budding saint – went into trances and saw visions. And according to them she worked the stunt. She called down the lightning to blast the impious Hun – and it blasted him all right – and everything else within range. A pretty efficient miracle, that!
‘I never really got at the truth of the matter – hadn’t time. But miracles were all the rage just then – angels at Mons and all that. I wrote up the thing, put in a bit of sob stuff, and pulled the religious stop out well, and sent it to my paper. It went down very well in the States. They were liking that kind of thing just then.
‘But (I don’t know if you’ll understand this) in writing, I got kinder interested. I felt I’d like to know what really had happened. There was nothing to see at the spot itself. Two walls still left standing, and on one of them was a black powder mark that was the exact shape of a great hound.
‘The peasants round about were scared to death of that mark. They called it the Hound of Death and they wouldn’t pass that way after dark.
‘Superstition’s always interesting. I felt I’d like to see the lady who worked the stunt. She hadn’t perished, it seemed. She’d gone to England with a batch of other refugees. I took the trouble to trace her. I found she’d been sent to Trearne, Folbridge, Cornwall.’
I nodded. ‘My sister took in a lot of Belgian refugees the beginning of the war. About twenty.’
‘Well, I always meant, if I had time, to look up the lady. I wanted to hear her own account of the disaster. Then, what with being busy and one thing and another, it slipped my memory. Cornwall’s a bit out of the way anyhow. In fact, I’d forgotten the whole thing till your mentioning Folbridge just now brought it back.’
‘I must ask my sister,’ I said. ‘She may have heard something about it. Of course, the Belgians have all been repatriated long ago.’
‘Naturally. All the same, in case your sister does know anything I’ll be glad if you pass it on to me.’
‘Of course I will,’ I said heartily.
And that was that.
It was the second day after my arrival at Trearne that the story recurred to me. My sister and I were having tea on the terrace.
‘Kitty,’ I said, ‘didn’t you have a nun among your Belgians?’
‘You don’t mean Sister Marie Angelique, do you?’
‘Possibly I do,’ I said cautiously. ‘Tell me about her.’
‘Oh! my dear, she was the most uncanny creature. She’s still here, you know.’
‘What? In the house?’
‘No, no, in the village. Dr Rose – you remember Dr Rose?’
I shook my head. ‘I remember an old man of about eighty-three.’
‘Dr Laird. Oh! he died. Dr Rose has only been here a few years. He’s quite young and very keen on new ideas. He took the most enormous interest in Sister Marie Angelique. She has hallucinations and things, you know, and apparently is most frightfully interesting from a medical point of view. Poor thing, she’d nowhere to go – and really was in my opinion quite potty – only impressive, if you know what I mean – well, as I say, she’d nowhere to go, and Dr Rose very kindly fixed her up in the village. I believe he’s writing a monograph or whatever it is that doctors write, about her.’
She paused and then said: ‘But what do you know about her?’
‘I heard a rather curious story.’
I passed on the story as I had received it from Ryan. Kitty was very much interested.
‘She looks the sort of person who could blast you – if you know what I mean,’ she said.
‘I really think,’ I said, my curiosity heightened, ‘that I must see this young woman.’
‘Do. I’d like to know what you think of her. Go and see Dr Rose first. Why not walk down to the village after tea?’
I accepted the suggestion.
I found Dr Rose at home and introduced myself. He seemed a pleasant young man, yet there was something about his personality that rather repelled me. It was too forceful to be altogether agreeable.
The moment I mentioned Sister Marie Angelique he stiffened to attention. He was evidently keenly interested. I gave him Ryan’s account of the matter.
‘Ah!’ he said thoughtfully. ‘That explains a great deal.’
He looked up quickly at me and went on. ‘The case is really an extraordinarily interesting one. The woman arrived here having evidently suffered some severe mental shock. She was in a state of great mental excitement also. She was given to hallucinations of a most startling character. Her personality is most unusual. Perhaps you would like to come with me and call upon her. She is really well worth seeing.’
I agreed readily.
We set out together. Our objective was a small cottage on the outskirts of the village. Folbridge is a most picturesque place. It lies at the mouth of the river Fol mostly on the east bank, the west bank is too precipitous for building, though a few cottages do cling to the cliffside there. The doctor’s own cottage was perched on the extreme edge of the cliff on the west side. From it you looked down on the big waves lashing against the black rocks.
The little cottage to which we were now proceeding lay inland out of the sight of the sea.
‘The district nurse lives here,’ explained Dr Rose. ‘I have arranged for Sister Marie Angelique to board with her. It is just as well that she should be under skilled supervision.’
‘Is she quite normal in her manner?’ I asked curiously. ‘You can judge for yourself in a minute,’ he replied, smiling.
The district nurse, a dumpy pleasant little body, was just setting out on her bicycle when we arrived.
‘Good evening, nurse, how’s your patient?’ called out the doctor. ‘She’s much as usual, doctor. Just sitting there with her hands folded and her mind far away. Often enough she’ll not answer when I speak to her, though for the matter of that it’s little enough English she understands even now.’
Rose nodded, and as the nurse bicycled away, he went up to the cottage door, rapped sharply and entered.
Sister Marie Angelique was lying in a long chair near the window. She turned her head as we entered.
It was a strange face – pale, transparent looking, with enormous eyes. There seemed to be an infinitude of tragedy in those eyes.
‘Good evening, my sister,’ said the doctor in French. ‘Good evening, M. le docteur.’
‘Permit me to introduce a friend, Mr Anstruther.’
I bowed and she inclined her head with a faint smile. ‘And how are you today?’ inquired the doctor, sitting down beside her.
‘I am much the same as usual.’ She paused and then went on. ‘Nothing seems real to me. Are they days that pass – or months – or years? I hardly know. Only my dreams seem real to me.’
‘You still dream a lot, then?’
‘Always – always – and, you understand? – the dreams seem more real than life.’
‘You dream of your own country – of Belgium?’
She shook her head. ‘No. I dream of a country that never existed – never. But you know this, M. le docteur. I have told you many times.’ She stopped and then said abruptly: ‘But perhaps this gentleman is also a doctor – a doctor perhaps for the diseases of the brain?’
‘No, no.’ Rose said reassuring, but as he smiled I noticed how extraordinarily pointed his canine teeth were, and it occurred to me that there was something wolf-like about the man. He went on:
‘I thought you might be interested to meet Mr Anstruther. He knows something of Belgium. He has lately been hearing news of your convent.’
Her eyes turned to me. A faint flush crept into her cheeks. ‘It’s nothing, really,’ I hastened to explain. ‘But I was dining the other evening with a friend who was describing the ruined walls of the convent to me.’
‘So it is ruined!’
It was a soft exclamation, uttered more to herself than to us. Then looking at me once more she asked hesitatingly: ‘Tell me, Monsieur, did your friend say how – in what way – it was ruined?’
‘It was blown up,’ I said, and added: ‘The peasants are afraid to pass that way at night.’
‘Why are they afraid?’
‘Because of a black mark on a ruined wall. They have a superstitious fear of it.’
She leaned forward.
‘Tell me, Monsieur – quick – quick – tell me! What is that mark like?’
‘It has the shape of a huge hound,’ I answered. ‘The peasants call it the Hound of Death.’
A shrill cry burst from her lips.
‘It is true then – it is true. All that I remember is true. It is not some black nightmare. It happened! It happened!’
‘What happened, my sister?’ asked the doctor in a low voice.
She turned to him eagerly. ‘I remembered. There on the steps, I remembered. I remembered the way of it. I used the power as we used to use it. I stood on the altar steps and I bade them to come no farther. I told them to depart in peace. They would not listen, they came on although I warned them. And so -‘ She leaned forward and made a curious gesture. ‘And so I loosed the Hound of Death on them . . .’
She lay back on her chair shivering all over, her eyes closed.
The doctor rose, fetched a glass from a cupboard, half-filled it with water, added a drop or two from a little bottle which he produced from his pocket, then took the glass to her.
‘Drink this,’ he said authoritatively.
She obeyed – mechanically as it seemed. Her eyes looked far away as though they contemplated some inner vision of her own.
‘But then it is all true,’ she said. ‘Everything. The City of the Circles, the People of the Crystal – everything. It is all true.’
‘It would seem so,’ said Rose.
His voice was low and soothing, clearly designed to encourage and not to disturb her train of thought.
‘Tell me about the City,’ he said. ‘The City of Circles, I think you said?’
She answered absently and mechanically. ‘Yes – there were three circles. The first circle for the chosen, the second for the priestesses and the outer circle for the priests.’
‘And in the centre?’
She drew her breath sharply and her voice sank to a tone of indescribable awe.
‘The House of the Crystal . . .’
As she breathed the words, her right hand went to her forehead and her finger traced some figure there.
Her figure seemed to grow more rigid, her eyes closed, she swayed a little – then suddenly she sat upright with a jerk, as though she had suddenly awakened.
‘What is it?’ she said confusedly. ‘What have I been saying?’
‘It is nothing,’ said Rose. ‘You are tired. You want to rest. We will leave you.’
She seemed a little dazed as we took our departure. ‘Well,’ said Rose when we were outside. ‘What do you think of it?’ He shot a sharp glance sideways at me.
‘I suppose her mind must be totally unhinged,’ I said slowly. ‘It struck you like that?’
‘No – as a matter of fact, she was – well, curiously convincing. When listening to her I had the impression that she actually had done what she claimed to do – worked a kind of gigantic miracle. Her belief that she did so seems genuine enough. That is why -‘
‘That is why you say her mind must be unhinged. Quite so. But now approach the matter from another angle. Supposing that she did actually work that miracle – supposing that she did, personally, destroy a building and several hundred human beings.’
‘By the mere exercise of will?’ I said with a smile. ‘I should not put it quite like that. You will agree that one person could destroy a multitude by touching a switch which controlled a system of mines.’
‘Yes, but that is mechanical.’
‘True, that is mechanical, but it is, in essence, the harnessing and controlling of natural forces. The thunderstorm and the power house are, fundamentally, the same thing.’
‘Yes, but to control the thunderstorm we have to use mechanical means.’ Rose smiled. ‘I am going off at a tangent now. There is a substance called wintergreen. It occurs in nature in vegetable form. It can also be built up by man synthetically and chemically in the laboratory.’
‘My point is that there are often two ways of arriving at the same result. Ours is, admittedly, the synthetic way. There might be another. The extraordinary results arrived at by Indian fakirs for instance, cannot be explained away in any easy fashion. The things we call supernatural is only the natural of which the laws are not yet understood.’
‘You mean?’ I asked, fascinated. ‘That I cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that a human being might be able to tap some vast destructive force and use it to further his or her ends. The means by which this was accomplished might seem to us supernatural – but would not be so in reality.’
I stared at him.
He laughed. ‘It’s a speculation, that’s all,’ he said lightly. ‘Tell me, did you notice a gesture she made when she mentioned the House of the Crystal?’
‘She put her hand to her forehead.’
‘Exactly. And traced a circle there. Very much as a Catholic makes the sign of the cross. Now, I will tell you something rather interesting, Mr Anstruther. The word crystal having occurred so often in my patient’s rambling, I tried an experiment. I borrowed a crystal from someone and produced it unexpectedly one day to test my patient’s reaction to it.’
‘Well, the result was very curious and suggestive. Her whole body stiffened. She stared at it as though unable to believe her eyes. Then she slid to her knees in front of it, murmured a few words – and fainted.’
‘What were the few words?’
‘Very curious ones. She said: “The Crystal! Then the Faith still lives!”’
‘Suggestive, is it not? Now the next curious thing. When she came round from her faint she had forgotten the whole thing. I showed her the crystal and asked her if she knew what it was. She replied that she supposed it was a crystal such as fortune tellers used. I asked her if she had ever seen one before? She replied: “Never, M. le docteur.” But I saw a puzzled look in her eyes. “What troubles you, my sister?” I asked. She replied: “Because it is so strange. I have never seen a crystal before and yet – it seems to me that I know it well. There is something – if only I could remember . . .” The effort at memory was obviously so distressing to her that I forbade her to think any more. That was two weeks ago. I have purposely been biding my time. Tomorrow, I shall proceed to a further experiment.’
‘With the crystal?’
‘With the crystal. I shall get her to gaze into it. I think the result ought to be interesting.’
‘What do you expect to get hold of?’ I asked curiously.
The words were idle ones but they had an unlooked-for result. Rose stiffened, flushed, and his manner when he spoke changed insensibly. It was more formal, more professional.
‘Light on certain mental disorders imperfectly understood. Sister Marie Angelique is a most interesting study.’
So Rose’s interest was purely professional? I wondered. ‘Do you mind if I come along too?’ I asked.
It may have been my fancy, but I thought he hesitated before he replied. I had a sudden intuition that he did not want me.
‘Certainly. I can see no objection.’
He added: ‘I suppose you’re not going to be down here very long?’
‘Only till the day after tomorrow.’
I fancied that the answer pleased him. His brow cleared and he began talking of some recent experiments carried out on guinea pigs.
I met the doctor by appointment the following afternoon, and we went together to Sister Marie Angelique. Today, the doctor was all geniality.
He was anxious, I thought, to efface the impression he had made the day before.
‘You must not take what I said too seriously,’ he observed, laughing. ‘I shouldn’t like you to believe me a dabbler in occult sciences. The worst of me is I have an infernal weakness for making out a case.’
‘Yes, and the more fantastic it is, the better I like it.’
He laughed as a man laughs at an amusing weakness.
When we arrived at the cottage, the district nurse had something she wanted to consult Rose about, so I was left with Sister Marie Angelique.
I saw her scrutinizing me closely. Presently she spoke. ‘The good nurse here, she tells me that you are the brother of the kind lady at the big house where I was brought when I came from Belgium?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘She was very kind to me. She is good.’
She was silent, as though following out some train of thought. Then she said:
‘M. le docteur, he too is a good man?’
I was a little embarrassed. ‘Why, yes. I mean – I think so.’
‘Ah!’ She paused and then said: ‘Certainly he has been very kind to me.’
‘I’m sure he has.’
She looked up at me sharply. ‘Monsieur – you – you who speak to me now – do you believe that I am mad?’
‘Why, my sister, such an idea never -‘
She shook her head slowly – interrupting my protest. ‘Am I mad? I do not know – the things I remember – the things I forget . . .’
She sighed, and at that moment Rose entered the room.
He greeted her cheerily and explained what he wanted her to do. ‘Certain people, you see, have a gift for seeing things in a crystal. I fancy you might have such a gift, my sister.’
She looked distressed.
‘No, no, I cannot do that. To try to read the future – that is sinful.’ Rose was taken aback. It was the nun’s point of view for which he had not allowed. He changed his ground cleverly.
‘One should not look into the future. You are quite right. But to look into the past – that is different.’
‘Yes – there are many strange things in the past. Flashes come back to one – they are seen for a moment – then gone again. Do not seek to see anything in the crystal since that is not allowed you. Just take it in your hands – so. Look into it – look deep. Yes – deeper – deeper still. You remember, do you not? You remember. You hear me speaking to you. You can answer my questions. Can you not hear me?’
Sister Marie Angelique had taken the crystal as bidden, handling it with a curious reverence. Then, as she gazed into it, her eyes became blank and unseeing, her head drooped. She seemed to sleep.
Gently the doctor took the crystal from her and put it on the table. He raised the corner of her eyelid. Then he came and sat by me.
‘We must wait till she wakes. It won’t be long, I fancy.’
He was right. At the end of five minutes, Sister Marie Angelique stirred. Her eyes opened dreamily.
‘Where am I?’
‘You are here – at home. You have had a little sleep. You have dreamt, have you not?’
She nodded. ‘Yes, I have dreamt.’
‘You have dreamt of the Crystal?’
‘Tell us about it.’
‘You will think me mad, M. le docteur. For see you, in my dream, the Crystal was a holy emblem. I even figured to myself a second Christ, a Teacher of the Crystal who died for his faith, his followers hunted down – persecuted . . . But the faith endured.
‘Yes – for fifteen thousand full moons – I mean, for fifteen thousand years.’
‘How long was a full moon?’
‘Thirteen ordinary moons. Yes, it was in the fifteen thousandth full moon – of course, I was a Priestess of the Fifth Sign in the House of the Crystal. It was in the first days of the coming of the Sixth Sign . . .’
Her brows drew together, a look of fear passed over her face. ‘Too soon,’ she murmured. ‘Too soon. A mistake . . . Ah! yes, I remember! The Sixth Sign . . .’
She half sprang to her feet, then dropped back, passing her hand over her face and murmuring:
‘But what am I saying? I am raving. These things never happened.’
‘Now don’t distress yourself.’
But she was looking at him in anguished perplexity. ‘M. le docteur, I do not understand. Why should I have these dreams – these fancies? I was only sixteen when I entered the religious life. I have never travelled. Yet I dream of cities, of strange people, of strange customs. Why?’ She pressed both hands to her head.
‘Have you ever been hypnotized, my sister? Or been in a state of trance?’
‘I have never been hypnotized, M. le docteur. For the other, when at prayer in the chapel, my spirit has often been caught up from my body, and I have been as one dead for many hours. It was undoubtedly a blessed state, the Reverend Mother said – a state of grace. Ah! yes,’ she caught her breath. ‘I remember, we too called it a state of grace.’
‘I would like to try an experiment, my sister.’ Rose spoke in a matter-of-fact voice. ‘It may dispel those painful half-recollections. I will ask you to gaze once more in the crystal. I will then say a certain word to you. You will answer another. We will continue in this way until you become tired. Concentrate your thoughts on the crystal, not upon the words.’
As I once more unwrapped the crystal and gave it into Sister Marie Angelique’s hands, I noticed the reverent way her hands touched it. Reposing on the black velvet, it lay between her slim palms. Her wonderful deep eyes gazed into it. There was a short silence, and then the doctor said:
Immediately Sister Marie Angelique answered ‘Death.’
I do not propose to give a full account of the experiment. Many unimportant and meaningless words were purposely introduced by the doctor. Other words he repeated several times, sometimes getting the same answer to them, sometimes a different one.
That evening in the doctor’s little cottage on the cliffs we discussed the result of the experiment.
He cleared his throat, and drew his note-book closer to him. ‘These results are very interesting – very curious. In answer to the words “Sixth Sign,” we get variously Destruction, Purple, Hound, Power, then again Destruction, and finally Power. Later, as you may have noticed, I reversed the method, with the following results. In answer to Destruction, I get Hound; to Purple, Power; to Hound, Death, again, and to Power, Hound. That all holds together, but on a second repetition of Destruction, I get Sea, which appears utterly irrelevant. To the words “Fifth Sign,” I get Blue, Thoughts, Bird, Blue again, and finally the rather suggestive phrase Opening of mind to mind. From the fact that “Fourth Sign” elicits the word Yellow, and later Light, and that “First Sign” is answered by Blood, I deduce that each Sign had a particular colour, and possibly a particular symbol, that of the Fifth Sign being a bird, and that of the Sixth a hound. However, I surmise that the Fifth Sign represented what is familiarly known as telepathy – the opening of mind to mind. The Sixth Sign undoubtedly stands for the Power of Destruction.’
‘What is the meaning of Sea?’
‘That I confess I cannot explain. I introduced the word later and got the ordinary answer of Boat. To “Seventh Sign” I got first Life, the second time Love. To “Eighth Sign,” I got the answer None. I take it therefore that Seven was the sum and number of the signs.’
‘But the Seventh was not achieved,’ I said on a sudden inspiration. ‘Since through the Sixth came Destruction!’
‘Ah! You think so? But we are taking these – mad ramblings very seriously. They are really only interesting from a medical point of view.’
‘Surely they will attract the attention of psychic investigators.’
The doctor’s eyes narrowed. ‘My dear sir, I have no intention of making them
‘Then your interest?’
‘Is purely personal. I shall make notes on the case, of course.’
‘I see.’ But for the first time I felt, like the blind man, that I didn’t see at all. I rose to my feet.
‘Well, I’ll wish you good night, doctor. I’m off to town again tomorrow.’
‘Ah!’ I fancied there was satisfaction, relief perhaps, behind the exclamation.
‘I wish you good luck with your investigations,’ I continued lightly. ‘Don’t loose the Hound of Death on me next time we meet!’
His hand was in mine as I spoke, and I felt the start it gave. He recovered himself quickly. His lips drew back from his long pointed teeth in a smile.
‘For a man who loved power, what a power that would be!’ he said. ‘To hold every human being’s life in the hollow of your hand!’
And his smile broadened.
That was the end of my direct connection with the affair.
Later, the doctor’s note-book and diary came into my hands. I will reproduce the few scant entries in it here, though you will understand that it did not really come into my possession until some time afterwards.
Aug. 5th. Have discovered that by ‘the Chosen,’ Sister M.A. means those who reproduced the race. Apparently they were held in the highest honour, and exalted above the Priesthood. Contrast this with early Christians.
Aug. 7th. Persuaded Sister M.A. to let me hypnotize her. Succeeded in inducing hypnoptic sleep and trance, but no rapport established.
Aug. 9th. Have there been civilizations in the past to which ours is as nothing? Strange if it should be so, and I the only man with the clue to it . . .
Aug. 12th. Sister M.A. not at all amenable to suggestion when hypnotized. Yet state of trance easily induced. Cannot understand it.
Aug. 13th. Sister M.A. mentioned today that in ‘state of grace’ the ‘gate must be closed, lest another should command the body’. Interesting – but baffling.
Aug. 18th. So the First Sign is none other than . . . (words erased here) . . . then how many centuries will it take to reach the Sixth? But if there should be a short-cut to Power . . .
Aug. 20th. Have arranged for M.A. to come here with Nurse. Have told her it is necessary to keep patient under morphia. Am I mad? Or shall I be the Superman, with the Power of Death in my hands?
(Here the entries cease)
It was, I think, on August 29th that I received the letter. It was directed to me, care of my sister-in-law, in a sloping foreign handwriting. I opened it with some curiosity. It ran as follows:
I have seen you but twice, but I have felt I could trust you. Whether my dreams are real or not, they have grown clearer of late . . . And, Monsieur, one thing at all events, the Hound of Death is no dream . . . In the days I told you of (Whether they are real or not, I do not know) He who was Guardian of the Crystal revealed the Sixth Sign to the people too soon . . . Evil entered into their hearts. They had the power to slay at will – and they slew without justice – in anger. They were drunk with the lust of Power. When we saw this, We who were yet pure, we knew that once again we should not complete the Circle and come to the Sign of Everlasting Life. He who would have been the next Guardian of the Crystal was bidden to act. That the old might die, and the new, after endless ages, might come again, he loosed the Hound of Death upon the sea (being careful not to close the circle), and the sea rose up in the shape of a Hound and swallowed the land utterly . . .
Once before I remembered this – on the altar steps in Belgium . . . The Dr Rose, he is of the Brotherhood. He knows the First Sign, and the form of the Second, though its meaning is hidden to all save a chosen few. He would learn of me the Sixth. I have withstood him so far –
but I grow weak, Monsieur, it is not well that a man should come to power before his time. Many centuries must go by ere the world is ready to have the power of death delivered into its hand . . . I beseech you, Monsieur, you who love goodness and truth, to help me . . . before it is too late.
Your sister in Christ,
I let the paper fall. The solid earth beneath me seemed a little less solid than usual. Then I began to rally. The poor woman’s belief, genuine enough, had almost affected me! One thing was clear. Dr Rose, in his zeal for a case, was grossly abusing his professional standing. I would run down and –
Suddenly I noticed a letter from Kitty amongst my other correspondence. I tore it open.
‘Such an awful thing has happened,’ I read. ‘You remember Dr Rose’s little cottage on the cliff? It was swept away by a landslide last night, the doctor and that poor nun, Sister Marie Angelique, were killed. The debris on the beach is too awful – all piled up in a fantastic mass – from a distance it looks like a great hound . . .’
The letter dropped from my hand.
The other facts may be coincidence. A Mr Rose, whom I discovered to be a wealthy relative of the doctor’s, died suddenly that same night – it was said struck by lightning. As far as was known no thunderstorm had occurred in the neighbourhood, but one or two people declared they had heard one peal of thunder. He had an electric burn on him ‘of a curious shape.’ His will left everything to his nephew, Dr Rose.
Now, supposing that Dr Rose succeeded in obtaining the secret of the sixth Sign from Sister Marie Angelique. I had always felt him to be an unscrupulous man – he would not shrink at taking his uncle’s life if he were sure it could not be brought home to him. But one sentence of Sister Marie Angelique’s letter rings in my brain . . . ‘being careful not to close the Circle . . .’ Dr Rose did not exercise that care – was perhaps unaware of the steps to take, or even of the need for them. So the Force he employed returned, completing its circuit . . .
But of course it is all nonsense! Everything can be accounted for quite naturally. That the doctor believed in Sister Marie Angelique’s hallucinations merely proves that his mind, too, was slightly unbalanced.
Yet sometimes I dream of a continent under the seas where men once lived and attained to a degree of civilization far ahead of ours . . .
Or did Sister Marie Angelique remember backwards – as some say is possible – and is this City of the Circles in the future and not in the past?
Nonsense – of course the whole thing was merely hallucination!