The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael By Agatha Christie
‘The Strange Case of Sir Arthur Carmichael’ was first
published in the hardback The Hound of Death and Other
Stories (Odhams Press, 1933). No previous appearances
have been found.
(Taken from the notes of the late Dr Edward Carstairs, M.D. the eminent psychologist.)
I am perfectly aware that there are two distinct ways of looking at the strange and tragic events which I have set down here. My own opinion has never wavered. I have been persuaded to write the story out in full, and indeed I believe it to be due to science that such strange and inexplicable facts should not be buried in oblivion.
It was a wire from my friend, Dr Settle, that first introduced me to the matter. Beyond mentioning the name Carmichael, the wire was not explicit, but in obedience to it I took the 12.20 train from Paddington to Wolden, in Hertfordshire.
The name of Carmichael was not unfamiliar to me. I had been slightly acquainted with the late Sir William Carmichael of Wolden, though I had seen nothing of him for the last eleven years. He had, I knew, one son, the present baronet, who must now be a young man of about twenty-three. I remembered vaguely having heard some rumours about Sir William’s second marriage, but could recall nothing definite unless it were a vague impression detrimental to the second Lady Carmichael.
Settle met me at the station. ‘Good of you to come,’ he said as he wrung my hand. ‘Not at all. I understand this is something in my line?’
‘Very much so.’
‘A mental case, then?’ I hazarded. ‘Possessing some unusual features?’
We had collected my luggage by this time and were seated in a dogcart driving away from the station in the direction of Wolden, which lay about three miles away. Settle did not answer for a minute or two. Then he burst out suddenly.
‘The whole thing’s incomprehensible! Here is a young man, twenty-three years of age, thoroughly normal in every respect. A pleasant amiable boy, with no more than his fair share of conceit, not brilliant intellectually perhaps, but an excellent type of the ordinary upperclass young Englishman. Goes to bed in his usual health one evening, and is found the next morning wandering about the village in a semi-idiotic condition, incapable of recognizing his nearest and dearest.’
‘Ah!’ I said, stimulated. This case promised to be interesting. ‘Complete loss of memory? And this occurred -?’
‘Yesterday morning. The 9th of August.’
‘And there has been nothing – no shock that you know of – to account for this state?’
I had a sudden suspicion. ‘Are you keeping anything back?’
‘N – no.’
His hesitation confirmed my suspicion. ‘I must know everything.’
‘It’s nothing to do with Arthur. It’s to do with – with the house.’
‘With the house,’ I repeated, astonished. ‘You’ve had a great deal to do with that sort of thing, haven’t you, Carstairs? You’ve “tested” so-called haunted houses. What’s your opinion of the whole thing?’
‘In nine cases out of ten, fraud,’ I replied. ‘But the tenth – well, I have come across phenomena that are absolutely unexplainable from the ordinary materialistic standpoint. I am a believer in the occult.’
Settle nodded. We were just turning in at the Park gates. He pointed with his whip at a lowlying white mansion on the side of a hill.
‘That’s the house,’ he said. ‘And – there’s something in that house, something uncanny – horrible. We all feel it . . . And I’m not a superstitious man . . .’
‘What form does it take?’ I asked.
He looked straight in front of him. ‘I’d rather you knew nothing. You see, if you – coming here unbiased – knowing nothing about it – see it too – well -‘
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it’s better so. But I should be glad if you will tell me a little more about the family.’
‘Sir William,’ said Settle, ‘was twice married. Arthur is the child of his first wife. Nine years ago he married again, and the present Lady Carmichael is something of a mystery. She is only half English, and, I suspect, has Asiatic blood in her veins.’
He paused. ‘Settle,’ I said, ‘you don’t like Lady Carmichael.’
He admitted it frankly. ‘No, I don’t. There has always seemed to be something sinister about her. Well, to continue, by his second wife Sir William had another child, also a boy, who is now eight years old. Sir William died three years ago, and Arthur came into the title and place. His stepmother and half brother continued to live with him at Wolden. The estate, I must tell you, is very much impoverished. Nearly the whole of Sir Arthur’s income goes to keeping it up. A few hundreds a year was all Sir William could leave his wife, but fortunately Arthur has always got on splendidly with his stepmother, and has been only too delighted to have her live with him. Now -‘
‘Two months ago Arthur became engaged to a charming girl, a Miss Phyllis Patterson.’ He added, lowering his voice with a touch of emotion: ‘They were to have been married next month. She is staying here now. You can imagine her distress -‘
I bowed my head silently.
We were driving up close to the house now. On our right the green lawn sloped gently away. And suddenly I saw a most charming picture. A young girl was coming slowly across the lawn to the house. She wore no hat, and the sunlight enhanced the gleam of her glorious golden hair. She carried a great basket of roses, and a beautiful grey Persian cat twined itself lovingly round her feet as she walked.
I looked at Settle interrogatively. ‘That is Miss Patterson,’ he said. ‘Poor girl,’ I said, ‘poor girl. What a picture she makes with the roses and her grey cat.’
I heard a faint sound and looked quickly round at my friend. The reins had slipped out of his fingers, and his face was quite white.
‘What’s the matter?’ I exclaimed.
He recovered himself with an effort.
In a few moments more we had arrived, and I was following him into the green drawing-room, where tea was laid out.
A middle-aged but still beautiful woman rose as we entered and came forward with an outstretched hand.
‘This is my friend, Dr Carstairs, Lady Carmichael.’
I cannot explain the instinctive wave of repulsion that swept over me as I took the proffered hand of this charming and stately woman who moved with the dark and languorous grace that recalled Settle’s surmise of Oriental blood.
‘It is very good of you to come, Dr Carstairs,’ she said in a low musical voice, ‘and to try and help us in our great trouble.’
I made some trivial reply and she handed me my tea.
In a few minutes the girl I had seen on the lawn outside entered the room. The cat was no longer with her, but she still carried the basket of roses in her hand.
Settle introduced me and she came forward impulsively.
‘Oh! Dr Carstairs, Dr Settle has told us so much about you. I have a feeling that you will be able to do something for poor Arthur.’
Miss Patterson was certainly a very lovely girl, though her cheeks were pale, and her frank eyes were outlined with dark circles.
‘My dear young lady,’ I said reassuringly, ‘indeed you must not despair. These cases of lost memory, or secondary personality, are often of very short duration. At any minute the patient may return to his full powers.’
She shook her head. ‘I can’t believe in this being a second personality,’ she said. ‘This isn’t Arthur at all. It is no personality of his. It isn’t him. I -‘
‘Phyllis, dear,’ said Lady Carmichael’s soft voice, ‘here is your tea.’ And something in the expression of her eyes as they rested on the girl told me that Lady Carmichael had little love for her prospective daughter-in-law.
Miss Patterson declined the tea, and I said, to ease the conversation: ‘Isn’t the pussy cat going to have a saucer of milk?’
She looked at me rather strangely. ‘The – pussy cat?’
‘Yes, your companion of a few moments ago in the garden -‘
I was interrupted by a crash. Lady Carmichael had upset the tea kettle, and the hot water was pouring all over the floor. I remedied the matter, and Phyllis Patterson looked questioningly at Settle. He rose.
‘Would you like to see your patient now, Carstairs?’
I followed him at once. Miss Patterson came with us. We went upstairs and Settle took a key from his pocket.
‘He sometimes has a fit of wandering,’ he explained. ‘So I usually lock the door when I’m away from the house.’
He turned the key in the lock and went in.
The young man was sitting on the window seat where the last rays of the westerly sun struck broad and yellow. He sat curiously still, rather hunched together, with every muscle relaxed. I thought at first that he was quite unaware of our presence until I suddenly saw that, under immovable lids, he was watching us closely. His eyes dropped as they met mine, and he blinked. But he did not move.
‘Come, Arthur,’ said Settle cheerfully. ‘Miss Patterson and a friend of mine have come to see you.’
But the young fellow in the window seat only blinked. Yet a moment or two later I saw him watching us again – furtively and secretly.
‘Want your tea?’ asked Settle, still loudly and cheerfully, as though talking to a child.
He set on the table a cup full of milk. I lifted my eyebrows in surprise, and
‘Funny thing,’ he said, ‘the only drink he’ll touch is milk.’
In a moment or two, without undue haste, Sir Arthur uncoiled himself, limb by limb, from his huddled position, and walked slowly over to the table. I recognized suddenly that his movements were absolutely silent, his feet made no sound as they trod. Just as he reached the table he gave a tremendous stretch, poised on one leg forward, the other stretching out behind him. He prolonged this exercise to its utmost extent, and then yawned. Never have I seen such a yawn! It seemed to swallow up his entire face.
He now turned his attention to the milk, bending down to the table until his lips touched the fluid.
Settle answered my inquiring look. ‘Won’t make use of his hands at all. Seems to have returned to a primitive state. Odd, isn’t it?’
I felt Phyllis Patterson shrink against me a little, and I laid my hand soothingly on her arm.
The milk was finished at last, and Arthur Carmichael stretched himself once more, and then with the same quiet noiseless footsteps he regained the window seat, where he sat, huddled up as before, blinking at us.
Miss Patterson drew us out into the corridor. She was trembling all over.
‘Oh! Dr Carstairs,’ she cried. ‘It isn’t him – that thing in there isn’t Arthur! I should feel – I should know -‘
I shook my head sadly. ‘The brain can play strange tricks, Miss Patterson.’
I confess that I was puzzled by the case. It presented unusual features. Though I had never seen young Carmichael before there was something about his peculiar manner of walking, and the way he blinked, that reminded me of someone or something that I could not quite place.
Our dinner that night was a quiet affair, the burden of conversation being sustained by Lady Carmichael and myself. When the ladies had withdrawn Settle asked me my impression of my hostess.
‘I must confess,’ I said, ‘that for no cause or reason I dislike her intensely. You are quite right, she has Eastern blood, and, I should say, possesses marked occult powers. She is a woman of extraordinary magnetic force.’
Settle seemed on the point of saying something, but checked himself and merely remarked after a minute or two: ‘She is absolutely devoted to her little son.’
We sat in the green drawing-room again after dinner. We had just finished coffee and were conversing rather stiffly on the topics of the day when the cat began to miaow piteously for admission outside the door. No one took any notice, and, as I am fond of animals, after a moment or two I rose.
‘May I let the poor thing in?’ I asked Lady Carmichael.
Her face seemed very white, I thought, but she made a faint gesture of the head which I took as assent and, going to the door, I opened it. But the corridor outside was quite empty.
‘Strange,’ I said, ‘I could have sworn I heard a cat.’
As I came back to my chair I noticed they were all watching me intently. It somehow made me feel a little uncomfortable.
We retired to bed early. Settle accompanied me to my room. ‘Got everything you want?’ he asked, looking around. ‘Yes, thanks.’
He still lingered rather awkwardly as though there was something he wanted to say but could not quite get out.
‘By the way,’ I remarked, ‘you said there was something uncanny about this house? As yet it seems most normal.’
‘You call it a cheerful house?’
‘Hardly that, under the circumstances. It is obviously under the shadow of a great sorrow. But as regards any abnormal influence, I should give it a clean bill of health.’
‘Good night,’ said Settle abruptly. ‘And pleasant dreams.’
Dream I certainly did. Miss Patterson’s grey cat seemed to have impressed itself upon my brain. All night long, it seemed to me, I dreamt of the wretched animal.
Awaking with a start, I suddenly realized what had brought the cat so forcibly into my thoughts. The creature was miaowing persistently outside my door. Impossible to sleep with that racket going on. I lit my candle and went to the door. But the passage outside my room was empty, though the miaowing still continued. A new idea struck me. The unfortunate animal was shut up somewhere, unable to get out. To the left was the end of the passage, where Lady Carmichael’s room was situated. I turned therefore to the right and had taken but a few paces when the noise broke out again from behind me. I turned sharply and the sound came again, this time distinctly on the right of me.
Something, probably a draught in the corridor, made me shiver, and I went sharply back to my room. Everything was silent now, and I was soon asleep once more – to wake to another glorious summer’s day.
As I was dressing I saw from my window the disturber of my night’s rest. The grey cat was creeping slowly and stealthily across the lawn. I judged its object of attack to be a small flock of birds who were busy chirruping and preening themselves not far away.
And then a very curious thing happened. The cat came straight on and passed through the midst of the birds, its fur almost brushing against them – and the birds did not fly away. I could not understand it – the thing seemed incomprehensible.
So vividly did it impress me that I could not refrain from mentioning it at breakfast.
‘Do you know?’ I said to Lady Carmichael, ‘that you have a very unusual cat?’
I heard the quick rattle of a cup on a saucer, and I saw Phyllis Patterson, her lips parted and her breath coming quickly, gazing earnestly at me.
There was a moment’s silence, and then Lady Carmichael said in a distinctly disagreeable manner: ‘I think you must have made a mistake. There is no cat here. I have never had a cat.’
It was evident that I had managed to put my foot in it badly, so I hastily changed the subject.
But the matter puzzled me. Why had Lady Carmichael declared there was no cat in the house? Was it perhaps Miss Patterson’s, and its presence concealed from the mistress of the house? Lady Carmichael might have one of those strange antipathies to cats which are so often met with nowadays. It hardly seemed a plausible explanation, but I was forced to rest content with it for the moment.
Our patient was still in the same condition. This time I made a thorough examination and was able to study him more closely than the night before. At my suggestion it was arranged that he should spend as much time with the family as possible. I hoped not only to have a better opportunity of observing him when he was off his guard, but the ordinary everyday routine might awaken some gleam of intelligence. His demeanour, however, remained unchanged. He was quiet and docile, seemed vacant, but was in point of fact, intensely and rather slyly watchful. One thing certainly came as a surprise to me, the intense affection he displayed towards his stepmother. Miss Patterson he ignored completely, but he always managed to sit as near Lady Carmichael as possible, and once I saw him rub his head against her shoulder in a dumb expression of love.
I was worried about the case. I could not but feel that there was some clue to the whole matter which had so far escaped me.
‘This is a very strange case,’ I said to Settle. ‘Yes,’ said he, ‘it’s very – suggestive.’
He looked at me rather furtively, I thought. ‘Tell me,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t – remind you of anything?’
The words struck me disagreeably, reminding me of my impression of the day before.
‘Remind me of what?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘Perhaps it’s my fancy,’ he muttered. ‘Just my fancy.’
And he would say no more on the matter.
Altogether there was mystery shrouding the affair. I was still obsessed with that baffling feeling of having missed the clue that should elucidate it to me. And concerning a lesser matter there was also mystery. I mean that trifling affair of the grey cat. For some reason or other the thing was getting on my nerves. I dreamed of cats – I continually fancied I heard him. Now and then in the distance I caught a glimpse of the beautiful animal. And the fact that there was some mystery connected with it fretted me unbearably. On a sudden impulse I applied one afternoon to the footman for information.
‘Can you tell me anything,’ I said, ‘about the cat I see?’
‘The cat, sir?’ He appeared politely surprised. ‘Wasn’t there – isn’t there – a cat?’
‘Her ladyship had a cat, sir. A great pet. Had to be put away though. A great pity, as it was a beautiful animal.’
‘A grey cat?’ I asked slowly. ‘Yes, sir. A Persian.’
‘And you say it was destroyed?’
‘You’re quite sure it was destroyed?’
‘Oh! quite sure, sir. Her ladyship wouldn’t have him sent to the vet – but did it herself. A little less than a week ago now. He’s buried out there under the copper beech, sir.’ And he went out of the room, leaving me to my meditations.
Why had Lady Carmichael affirmed so positively that she had never had a cat?
I felt an intuition that this trifling affair of the cat was in some way significant. I found Settle and took him aside.
‘Settle,’ I said. ‘I want to ask you a question. Have you, or have you not, both seen and heard a cat in this house?’
He did not seem surprised at the question. Rather did he seem to have been expecting it.
‘I’ve heard it,’ he said. ‘I’ve not seen it.’
‘But the first day,’ I cried. ‘On the lawn with Miss Patterson!’
He looked at me very steadily. ‘I saw Miss Patterson walking across the lawn. Nothing else.’
I began to understand. ‘Then,’ I said, ‘the cat -?’
He nodded. ‘I wanted to see if you – unprejudiced – would hear what we all hear . . . ?
‘You all hear it then?’
He nodded again.
‘It’s strange,’ I murmured thoughtfully. ‘I never heard of a cat haunting a place before.’
I told him what I had learnt from the footman, and he expressed surprise.
‘That’s news to me. I didn’t know that.’
‘But what does it mean?’ I asked helplessly.
He shook his head. ‘Heaven only knows! But I’ll tell you, Carstairs – I’m afraid. The – thing’s voice sounds – menacing.’
‘Menacing?’ I said sharply. ‘To whom?’
He spread out his hands. ‘I can’t say.’
It was not till that evening after dinner that I realized the meaning of his words. We were sitting in the green drawing-room, as on the night of my arrival, when it came – the loud insistent miaowing of a cat outside the door. But this time it was unmistakably angry in its tone – a fierce cat yowl, long-drawn and menacing. And then as it ceased the brass hook outside the door was rattled violently as by a cat’s paw.
Settle started up.
‘I swear that’s real,’ he cried.
He rushed to the door and flung it open.
There was nothing there.
He came back mopping his brow. Phyllis was pale and trembling, Lady Carmichael deathly white. Only Arthur, squatting contentedly like a child, his head against his stepmother’s knee, was calm and undisturbed.
Miss Patterson laid her hand on my arm and we went upstairs. ‘Oh! Dr Carstairs,’ she cried. ‘What is it? What does it all mean?’
‘We don’t know yet, my dear young lady,’ I said. ‘But I mean to find out. But you mustn’t be afraid. I am convinced there is no danger to you personally.’
She looked at me doubtfully. ‘You think that?’
‘I am sure of it,’ I answered firmly. I remembered the loving way the grey cat had twined itself round her feet, and I had no misgivings. The menace was not for her.
I was some time dropping off to sleep, but at length I fell into an uneasy slumber from which I awoke with a sense of shock. I heard a scratching sputtering noise as of something being violently ripped or torn. I sprang out of bed and rushed out into the passage. At the same moment Settle burst out of his room opposite. The sound came from our left.
‘You hear it, Carstairs?’ he cried. ‘You hear it?’
We came swiftly up to Lady Carmichael’s door. Nothing had passed us, but the noise had ceased. Our candles glittered blankly on the shiny panels of Lady
Carmichael’s door. We stared at one another.
‘You know what it was?’ he half whispered.
I nodded. ‘A cat’s claws ripping and tearing something.’ I shivered a little. Suddenly I gave an exclamation and lowered the candle I held.
‘Look here, Settle.’
‘Here’ was a chair that rested against the wall – and the seat of it was ripped and torn in long strips . . .
We examined it closely. He looked at me and I nodded. ‘Cat’s claws,’ he said, drawing in his breath sharply. ‘Unmistakable.’ His eyes went from the chair to the closed door. ‘That’s the person who is menaced. Lady Carmichael!’
I slept no more that night. Things had come to a pass where something must be done. As far as I knew there was only one person who had the key to the situation. I suspected Lady Carmichael of knowing more than she chose to tell.
She was deathly pale when she came down the next morning, and only toyed with the food on her plate. I was sure that only an iron determination kept her from breaking down. After breakfast I requested a few words with her. I went straight to the point.
‘Lady Carmichael,’ I said. ‘I have reason to believe that you are in very grave danger.’
‘Indeed?’ She braved it out with wonderful unconcern. ‘There is in this house,’ I continued, ‘A Thing – a Presence – that is obviously hostile to you.’
‘What nonsense,’ she murmured scornfully. ‘As if I believed in any rubbish of that kind.’
‘The chair outside your door,’ I remarked drily, ‘was ripped to ribbons last night.’
‘Indeed?’ With raised eyebrows she pretended surprise, but I saw that I had told her nothing she did not know. ‘Some stupid practical joke, I suppose.’
‘It was not that,’ I replied with some feeling. ‘And I want you to tell me – for your own sake -‘ I paused.
‘Tell you what?’ she queried. ‘Anything that can throw light on the matter,’ I said gravely.
She laughed. ‘I know nothing,’ she said. ‘Absolutely nothing.’
And no warnings of danger could induce her to relax the statement. Yet I was convinced that she did know a great deal more than any of us, and held some clue to the affair of which we were absolutely ignorant. But I saw that it was quite impossible to make her speak.
I determined, however, to take every precaution that I could, convinced as I was that she was menaced by a very real and immediate danger. Before she went to her room the following night Settle and I made a thorough examination of it.
We had agreed that we would take it in turns to watch the passage.
I took the first watch, which passed without incident, and at three o’clock Settle relieved me. I was tired after my sleepless night the day before, and dropped off at once. And I had a very curious dream.
I dreamed that the grey cat was sitting at the foot of my bed and that its eyes were fixed on mine with a curious pleading. Then, with the ease of dreams, I knew that the creature wanted me to follow it. I did so, and it led me down the great staircase and right to the opposite wing of the house to a room which was obviously the library. It paused there at one side of the room and raised its front paws till they rested on one of the lower shelves of books, while it gazed at me once more with that same moving look of appeal.
Then – cat and library faded, and I awoke to find that morning had come.
Settle’s watch had passed without incident, but he was keenly interested to hear of my dream. At my request he took me to the library, which coincided in every particular with my vision of it. I could even point out the exact spot where the animal had given me that last sad look.
We both stood there in silent perplexity. Suddenly an idea occurred to me, and I stooped to read the title of the book in that exact place. I noticed that there was a gap in the line.
‘Some book has been taken out of here,’ I said to Settle.
He stooped also to the shelf. ‘Hallo,’ he said. ‘There’s a nail at the back here that has torn off a fragment of the missing volume.’
He detached the little scrap of paper with care. It was not more than an inch square – but on it were printed two significant words: ‘The cat . . .’
‘This thing gives me the creeps,’ said Settle. ‘It’s simply horribly uncanny.’
‘I’d give anything to know,’ I said, ‘what book it is that is missing from here. Do you think there is any way of finding out?’
‘May be a catalogue somewhere. Perhaps Lady Carmichael -‘
I shook my head. ‘Lady Carmichael will tell you nothing.’
‘You think so?’
‘I am sure of it. While we are guessing and feeling about in the dark Lady Carmichael knows. And for reasons of her own she will say nothing. She prefers to run a most horrible risk sooner than break silence.’
The day passed with an uneventfulness that reminded me of the calm before a storm. And I had a strange feeling that the problem was near solution. I was groping about in the dark, but soon I should see. The facts were all there, ready, waiting for the little flash of illumination that should weld them together and show out their significance.
And come it did! In the strangest way!
It was when we were all sitting together in the green drawing-room as usual after dinner. We had been very silent. So noiseless indeed was the room that a little mouse ran across the floor – and in an instant the thing happened.
With one long spring Arthur Carmichael leapt from his chair. His quivering body was swift as an arrow on the mouse’s track. It had disappeared behind the wainscoting, and there he crouched – watchful – his body still trembling with eagerness.
It was horrible! I have never known such a paralysing moment. I was no longer puzzled as to that something that Arthur Carmichael reminded me of with his stealthy feet and watching eyes. And in a flash an explanation, wild, incredible, unbelievable, swept into my mind. I rejected it as impossible – unthinkable! But I could not dismiss it from my thoughts.
I hardly remember what happened next. The whole thing seemed blurred and unreal. I know that somehow we got upstairs and said our good nights briefly, almost with a dread of meeting each other’s eyes, lest we should see there some confirmation of our own fears.
Settle established himself outside Lady Carmichael’s door to take the first watch, arranging to call me at 3 a.m. I had no special fears for Lady Carmichael; I was too taken up with my fantastic impossible theory. I told myself it was impossible – but my mind returned to it, fascinated.
And then suddenly the stillness of the night was disturbed. Settle’s voice rose in a shout, calling me. I rushed out to the corridor.
He was hammering and pounding with all his might on Lady Carmichael’s door.
‘Devil take the woman!’ he cried. ‘She’s locked it!’
‘It’s in there, man! In with her! Can’t you hear it?’
From behind the locked door a long-drawn cat yowl sounded fiercely. And then following it a horrible scream – and another . . . I recognized Lady Carmichael’s voice.
‘The door!’ I yelled. ‘We must break it in. In another minute we shall be too late.’
We set our shoulders against it, and heaved with all our might. It gave with a crash – and we almost fell into the room.
Lady Carmichael lay on the bed bathed in blood. I have seldom seen a more horrible sight. Her heart was still beating, but her injuries were terrible, for the skin of the throat was all ripped and torn . . . Shuddering, I whispered: ‘The Claws . . .’ A thrill of superstitious horror ran over me.
I dressed and bandaged the wounds carefully and suggested to Settle that the exact nature of the injuries had better be kept secret, especially from Miss Patterson. I wrote out a telegram for a hospital nurse, to be despatched as soon as the telegraph office was open.
The dawn was now stealing in at the window. I looked out on the lawn below.
‘Get dressed and come out,’ I said abruptly to Settle. ‘Lady Carmichael will be all right now.’
He was soon ready, and we went out into the garden together. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘Dig up the cat’s body,’ I said briefly. ‘I must be sure -‘
I found a spade in a toolshed and we set to work beneath the large copper beech tree. At last our digging was rewarded. It was not a pleasant job. The animal had been dead a week. But I saw what I wanted to see.
‘That’s the cat,’ I said. ‘The identical cat I saw the first day I came here.’
Settle sniffed. An odour of bitter almonds was still perceptible. ‘Prussic acid,’ he said.
I nodded. ‘What are you thinking?’ he asked curiously. ‘What you think too!’
My surmise was no new one to him – it had passed through his brain also, I could see.
‘It’s impossible,’ he murmured. ‘Impossible! It’s against all science – all nature . . .’ His voice tailed off in a shudder. ‘That mouse last night,’ he said. ‘But – oh! it couldn’t be!’
‘Lady Carmichael,’ I said, ‘is a very strange woman. She has occult powers – hypnotic powers. Her forebears came from the East. Can we know what use she might have made of these powers over a weak lovable nature such as Arthur Carmichael’s? And remember, Settle, if Arthur Carmichael remains a hopeless imbecile, devoted to her, the whole property is practically hers and her son’s – whom you have told me she adores. And Arthur was going to be married!’
‘But what are we going to do, Carstairs?’
‘There’s nothing to be done,’ I said. ‘We’ll do our best though to stand between Lady Carmichael and vengeance.’
Lady Carmichael improved slowly. Her injuries healed themselves as well as could be expected – the scars of that terrible assault she would probably bear to the end of her life.
I had never felt more helpless. The power that defeated us was still at large, undefeated, and though quiescent for the minute we could hardly regard it as doing otherwise than biding its time. I was determined upon one thing. As soon as Lady Carmichael was well enough to be moved she must be taken away from Wolden. There was just a chance that the terrible manifestation might be unable to follow her. So the days went on.
I had fixed September 18th as the date of Lady Carmichael’s removal. It was on the morning of the 14th when the unexpected crisis arose.
I was in the library discussing details of Lady Carmichael’s case with Settle when an agitated housemaid rushed into the room.
‘Oh! sir,’ she cried. ‘Be quick! Mr Arthur – he’s fallen into the pond. He stepped on the punt and it pushed off with him, and he overbalanced and fell in! I saw it from the window.’
I waited for no more, but ran straight out of the room followed by Settle. Phyllis was just outside and had heard the maid’s story. She ran with us.
‘But you needn’t be afraid,’ she cried. ‘Arthur is a magnificent swimmer.’ I felt forebodings, however, and redoubled my pace. The surface of the pond was unruffled. The empty punt floated lazily about – but of Arthur there was no sign.
Settle pulled off his coat and his boots. ‘I’m going in,’ he said. ‘You take the boathook and fish about from the other punt. It’s not very deep.’
Very long the time seemed as we searched vainly. Minute followed minute. And then, just as we were despairing, we found him, and bore the apparently lifeless body of Arthur Carmichael to shore.
As long as I live I shall never forget the hopeless agony of Phyllis’s face.
‘Not – not -‘ her lips refused to frame the dreadful word.
‘No, no, my dear,’ I cried. ‘We’ll bring him round, never fear.’
But inwardly I had little hope. He had been under water for half an hour. I sent off Settle to the house for hot blankets and other necessaries, and began myself to apply artificial respiration.
We worked vigorously with him for over an hour but there was no sign of life. I motioned to Settle to take my place again, and I approached Phyllis.
‘I’m afraid,’ I said gently, ‘that it is no good. Arthur is beyond our help.’
She stayed quite still for a moment and then suddenly flung herself down on the lifeless body.
‘Arthur!’ she cried desperately. ‘Arthur! Come back to me! Arthur – come back – come back!’
Her voice echoed away into silence. Suddenly I touched Settle’s arm. ‘Look!’ I said.
A faint tinge of colour crept into the drowned man’s face. I felt his heart.
‘Go on with the respiration,’ I cried. ‘He’s coming round!’
The moments seemed to fly now. In a marvellously short time his eyes opened.
Then suddenly I realized a difference. These were intelligent eyes, human eyes
They rested on Phyllis. ‘Hallo! Phil,’ he said weakly. ‘Is it you? I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.’
She could not yet trust herself to speak but she smiled at him. He looked round with increasing bewilderment.
‘But, I say, where am I? And – how rotten I feel! What’s the matter with me? Hallo, Dr Settle!’
‘You’ve been nearly drowned – that’s what’s the matter,’ returned Settle grimly.
Sir Arthur made a grimace. ‘I’ve always heard it was beastly coming back afterwards! But how did it happen? Was I walking in my sleep?’
Settle shook his head. ‘We must get him to the house,’ I said, stepping forward.
He stared at me, and Phyllis introduced me. ‘Dr Carstairs, who is staying here.’
We supported him between us and started for the house. He looked up suddenly as though struck by an idea.
‘I say, doctor, this won’t knock me up for the 12th, will it?’
‘The 12th?’ I said slowly, ‘you mean the 12th of August?’
‘Yes – next Friday.’
‘Today is the 14th of September,’ said Settle abruptly. His bewilderment was evident.
‘But – but I thought it was the 8th of August? I must have been ill then?’
Phyllis interposed rather quickly in her gentle voice. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you’ve been very ill.’
He frowned. ‘I can’t understand it. I was perfectly all right when I went to bed last night – at least of course it wasn’t really last night. I had dreams though. I remember, dreams . . .’ His brow furrowed itself still more as he strove to remember. ‘Something – what was it? Something dreadful – someone had done it to me – and I was angry – desperate . . . And then I dreamed I was a cat – yes, a cat! Funny, wasn’t it? But it wasn’t a funny dream. It was more – horrible! But I can’t remember. It all goes when I think.’
I laid my hand on his shoulder. ‘Don’t try to think, Sir Arthur,’ I said gravely. ‘Be content – to forget.’
He looked at me in a puzzled way and nodded. I heard Phyllis draw a breath of relief. We had reached the house.
‘By the way,’ said Sir Arthur suddenly, ‘where’s the mater?’
‘She has been – ill,’ said Phyllis after a momentary pause. ‘Oh! poor old mater!’ His voice rang with genuine concern. ‘Where is she? In her room?’
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but you had better not disturb -‘
The words froze on my lips. The door of the drawing-room opened and Lady Carmichael, wrapped in a dressing-gown, came out into the hall.
Her eyes were fixed on Arthur, and if ever I have seen a look of absolute guilt- stricken terror I saw it then. Her face was hardly human in its frenzied terror. Her hand went to her throat.
Arthur advanced towards her with boyish affection. ‘Hello, mater! So you’ve been knocked up too? I say, I’m awfully sorry.’ She shrank back before him, her eyes dilating. Then suddenly, with a shriek of a doomed soul, she fell backwards through the open door.
I rushed and bent over her, then beckoned to Settle. ‘Hush,’ I said. ‘Take him upstairs quietly and then come down again. Lady Carmichael is dead.’
He returned in a few minutes. ‘What was it?’ he asked. ‘What caused it?’
‘Shock,’ I said grimly. ‘The shock of seeing Arthur Carmichael, restored to life! Or you may call it, as I prefer to, the judgment of God!’
‘You mean -‘ he hesitated.
I looked at him in the eyes so that he understood. ‘A life for a life,’ I said significantly. ‘But -‘
Oh! I know that a strange and unforeseen accident permitted the spirit of Arthur Carmichael to return to his body. But, nevertheless, Arthur Carmichael was murdered.’
He looked at me half fearfully. ‘With prussic acid?’ he asked in a low tone.
‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘With prussic acid.’
Settle and I have never spoken our belief. It is not one likely to be credited. According to the orthodox point of view Arthur Carmichael merely suffered from loss of memory, Lady Carmichael lacerated her own throat in a temporary fit of mania, and the apparition of the Grey Cat was mere imagination.
But there are two facts that to my mind are unmistakable. One is the ripped chair in the corridor. The other is even more significant. A catalogue of the library was found, and after exhaustive search it was proved that the missing volume was an ancient and curious work on the possibilities of the metamorphosis of human beings into animals!
One thing more. I am thankful to say that Arthur knows nothing. Phyllis has locked the secret of those weeks in her own heart, and she will never, I am sure, reveal them to the husband she loves so dearly, and who came back across the barrier of the grave at the call of her voice.