The Recluse

The rapidity or slowness with which time passes depends entirely upon
the feelings, and although the drive to Hampstead occupied only an
hour, it seemed to Adrian Lancaster as if centuries had passed since
he left his chambers. Between his past life of carelessness and ease
and this one of agonizing feelings, a great gulf had widened which he
knew would ever more separate him from his former state. A short time
ago, he was a pleasure-loving man, rich, honoured and courted, but now
he was a hunted fugitive–a social outcast, scorned of all men and
pitied by none. The shock had been so great that he did not yet
understand his position, but lay back among the cushions in a kind of
dull apathy, the whole journey seeming to him to be a kind of hideous
nightmare.

Suddenly the cab stopped, and the trapdoor
in the roof was opened by
the driver.

“This is Hampstead, sir,” he said in a hoarse voice, “and the limit of
the radius.”

“Very good,” replied Adrian dully, “I will get out here.”

He jumped out on to the sodden ground, turning up the collar of his
coat, for the rain was still coming down heavily, and gave the cabman
ten shillings in gold.

“I have no change, sir,” began the driver. “I–”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Adrian, waving his hand. “Good night,” and
he tramped off into the darkness, while the cabman, with a muttered
expression of thanks, drove back to town.

It was a lonely road, with a high fence on each side, topped by trees,
and, beyond, great houses all in darkness, as the inmates had
apparently gone to bed. Adrian had no idea where he was, but walked
slowly along the muddy path with downcast head, and his hands thrust
well into his pockets. His boots were more adapted to Piccadilly than
to country roads, and the cold chill struck through the thin soles,
but he paid no attention, mechanically walking onward without heeding
where he was going. Above, the heavens were slightly clearing of their
masses of clouds, and a few stars showed brightly in the cold blue,
while the trees on each side shook their branches complainingly in the
cold wind, and heavy drops of rain fell from their moist leaves.

At last he found himself walking along under a weather-stained brick
wall, on the top of which grew luxurious ivy, and towards the end a
low door appeared, which stood slightly open. Half thinking that it
would admit him into some park where he could conceal himself, Adrian,
with no very definite purpose in his mind, pushed it wide open and
entered.

He found himself in dense darkness, standing in a path which
apparently ran through a belt of beech trees whose branches meeting
overhead shut out the midnight sky. With outstretched hands he
carefully advanced, following the windings of the path, and carefully
avoiding collision with the trunks of the tall trees on either side.
At last he emerged into a wide lawn, half ringed by dense masses of
trees, while at one end stood a large house with many gables and
turrets standing black against the clear sky beyond.

Adrian recognized it as one of those old country houses which still
remain in Hampstead, isolating themselves in sullen pride amid their
wide parks, although enclosed on all sides by rows of red-brick villas
and desirable residences. The long drive, the frightful excitement
through which he had passed, and the dampness of the night were all
telling on him physically, and he longed to find some place where he
could lie down and rest. With this idea he stole across the lawn
towards the house, and on turning the corner of a great beech tree
which stood high up in a little knoll, he saw a bright light shining
through an open French window. With stealthy steps and bated breath,
he stepped up to it, keeping in the shadow beyond the stream of light,
and on looking through espied a large comfortably-furnished apartment,
with a man seated in a chair near a table covered with a white
table-cloth, on which was spread a comfortable supper. Hardly knowing
what he was doing, but only anxious to have someone to talk to and
relieve his overburdened mind, Adrian boldly stepped into the room, a
tall, sombre figure with muddy boots and wet with rain.

“Sir,” said Lancaster, taking off his hat, “will you permit me to–”

Suddenly he broke off his speech with a low cry for the figure in the
chair, that of an old man wrapped in a comfortable dressing-gown did
not stir, but remained in the same position with still limbs and
closed eyes. Adrian at first thought he was asleep, but his case was
too urgent to permit him remaining till the man awoke, so stepping
forward he touched him on the shoulder. To his dismay, the figure did
not stir, and on looking closely at the still face, the closed eyes,
and the rigid limbs, Lancaster saw that he was dead. This fearful
sight in connection with the horrors he had already undergone was too
much for his nerves, and with an ejaculation of terror he put on his
hat, and strode rapidly towards the window with the intention of
seeking safety once more in flight.

“Stay!”

Adrian faced round rapidly with a thrill of horror, for it was the man
whom he had thought dead was speaking, and who was now standing up
with outstretched hand.

“Do not be alarmed,” he said in a full rich voice, with a reassuring
smile. “I am not dead although you thought I was. Sit down for a few
moments, and tell me who you are, and what you want here.” Adrian was
too astonished at this reception to make any remark, and still felt
inclined to retreat, but his host seemed to exert some mesmeric power
over him, and he mechanically sank down into a chair near the table,
letting his walking-stick fall on the floor. The unknown was a tall,
massive looking man, with boldly cut features and a head of grey hair,
worn rather long. He also had a heavy grey beard which swept his
chest, and his hands were long and slender with sinewy fingers; but
what attracted Adrian’s attention most were his eyes–dark brilliant
eyes which had a look of power in their depths, and seemed to dominate
everything with their piercing gaze. The expression of his features
was calm, a terrible calm such as is seen upon the faces of Egyptian
sphinxes, giving the onlooker the idea of some dread power concealed
under the placid exterior.

“My name,” observed this man in his musical voice, resuming his seat,
“is Doctor Michael Roversmire, and I shall be very glad if you will
kindly explain your presence in my house, but first take a glass of
wine, as you seem quite worn out.”

The young man, whose face looked worn and ill in the mellow light of
the lamp, took the glass pushed forward by the doctor and drank off
the contents. The generous liquor did him good, for it took away his
feeling of fatigue, and as he replaced the glass on the table he felt
able to reply to the question of his host. A feeling of caution,
however, dictated his answer as he felt too much afraid of this calm
man with the brilliant eyes to reveal all the events of the night.

“What my name is does not matter,” he said in a somewhat defiant
manner, “but for the rest I was walking along the road and finding the
garden door open, I entered. Coming into this room I saw you sitting
apparently dead, and was going away to seek assistance when you called
on me to stop.”

“A very fair explanation,” said Roversmire, calmly fixing his gaze
steadily on the young man, “but one that does not satisfy me–what
right had you to come into my garden at this hour, and why are you in
such a dishevelled state? Gentlemen don’t usually walk about country
roads in evening dress.”

“I came from town,” replied Adrian sullenly.

“That’s more like it–but you’re not telling me everything. I could
compel you to do so but at present prefer you to exercise your free
will.”

“I won’t tell you a thing.”

“Reflect,” said the doctor, a faint smile curling his lips, “you are
in my power. I have only to touch a bell and my servants will come
in–I can give you in charge as a burglar and then, once in the
clutches of the law, who knows what truths may be revealed?”

Adrian drew a long breath and looked earnestly at his host, who on his
part eyed him in a masterful manner, which seemed to compel him to
answer even against his will. He sank back in his chair with a groan,
feeling that in this room he was utterly powerless and at the absolute
disposal of Dr. Roversmire.

“Come,” said the latter quietly, “why set your will against mine? you
are sure to be overpowered. I do not need to summon aid to enable me
to retain you here; although apparently you can escape with the utmost
ease through yonder window, yet unless I give you leave you will not
be able to do so.”

Adrian cast a frightful look of anguish at this man who seemed able to
unveil the whole of the events of the night, which he was desirous of
concealing, and made an effort to rise but in vain, for his limbs felt
paralyzed and refused to obey his will, so he remained seated in his
chair waiting for Roversmire to speak.

“You see,” said that gentleman with a slight laugh, “you can do
nothing contrary to my will, so your best plan is to tell me who you
are and why you came here–perhaps I can help you.”

“Impossible.”

“That depends,” replied the doctor placidly. “I possess powers, as you
can see for yourself, which can do more for you than ordinary
assistance–now there is no time to lose–tell me your name.”

“Adrian Lancaster.”

Roversmire’s face flushed, and with an effort he preserved his
composure, but it was evident that the young man’s name conveyed some
meaning to him for he muttered to himself:

“Adrian Lancaster–the man she loves–this is better than I
thought–he will be of service to me and while helping him I may teach
her a lesson she sorely needs. I must learn all this youth has to tell
me.”

He gazed steadily at the young man, and Adrian felt that in another
moment he would reveal all he wished to keep secret, when by a
powerful effort of will he checked the impulse.

“No! no!” he said thickly. “I won’t tell you–I dare not–I dare not.”

“You must,” replied the doctor, in a relentless voice. “Judging from
your speech you are in great trouble. I alone can help you, and to do
so I must learn all the events which have brought you here–speak!”

“No! no! no!” cried Lancaster, with a terrible contortion of his face,
“I refuse.”

It was all in vain, however, setting his feeble will against that of
the other, for little by little he felt the influence of the master
mind dominate his own until at last all his resolution gave way with a
rush, and in a quick, hurried voice, he told his tormentor all the
events which had happened since he was playing cards with Philip
Trevanna.

“Is that all?” said Roversmire, when Lancaster stopped in his recital
from utter exhaustion. The young man made a motion with his head to
signify it was, and the doctor, seeing that the effort had exhausted
him both mentally and physically, made him drink another glass of
wine, and then sitting down again in his own chair began to talk in a
slow, deliberate manner.

“Judging from the explanation you have given me, you are in a very
unpleasant position–however the man may be only stunned.”

“No–no,” interrupted Lancaster hurriedly, clasping his hands, “he is
dead–I feel sure I killed him–oh, if I could only undo what I have
done.”

“That is impossible,” said Roversmire a little sadly, “whatever we do
always bears fruit either for good or evil, and we must abide by the
consequences of our own acts–of course you killed Trevanna in a fit
of passion, but I’m afraid such a plea will not hold good with a
jury.”

“Do you intend to give me up?” cried Adrian in a voice of anguish.

“By no means–I was only putting a supposititious case–far from
wishing to give you up for a crime committed in such an irresponsible
manner I am going to save you.”

“But how?”

“That I will explain, but in order to do so I must tell you my
history–it will sound like a romance to you, but luckily I shall be
able to prove the truth of it to you by putting you in my own place.”

“In your own place,” said the young man in amazement.

“Exactly!” replied Roversmire gravely, “literally in my own place; as
it happens I want to do something for which I must have assistance and
you are the very person I want to assist me.”

“Then the garden door–”

“Was standing open on purpose. I thought sooner or later it would
catch some bird, but I tell you frankly I expected a rough
customer–say a burglar–not a gentleman like yourself who is–”

“A murderer,” groaned Adrian, hiding his face in his hands.

“Do not call yourself hard names,” said Roversmire with a mocking
smile; “you’ll find plenty of people who will do that for you, if they
see you, and even if they don’t–the absent are always wrong.”

“But they must see me–where can I hide?”

“In a very curious place,” observed the doctor, “and one where they
will never find you. I intend you to vanish.”

“And fly the country?”

“No, you will stay in London, go about everywhere, meet your friends,
and lead whatever life pleases you.”

“But how can I do this if I vanish? I will be arrested if I go out.”

“No, you will not.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nor will you till you hear my story.”

“I’m ready.”

The doctor looked piercingly at the young man for a moment, and then
gave a satisfied laugh.

“I think you’ll do,” he said coolly, “desperate diseases require
desperate remedies, and if you want to escape the strong arm of the
law, you will have to undergo a very curious experience.”

“And that experience.”

“Forms the sequel to the story I am now going to tell you.”