A Curious Transformation

Adrian listened to this strange recital in silent astonishment, and in
spite of the trouble in which he was involved, felt inclined to regard
the whole as the whimsical outcome of a madman’s brain. He had heard a
great deal about occult science, theosophy, and spiritist belief, but,
engaged in a frivolous life, had not paid much attention to their
teachings and looked upon them as the religions of charlatans and
quacks. But here was a man who far outstripped the powers which
theosophists and spiritists professed to exercise, arrogating to
himself the functions of the Creator in dealing with souls. The whole
narration was too fantastical for belief, still he was in such
desperate danger that he gladly seized any chance that promised
safety, and proceeded to interrogate Roversmire in order to find out
if there was anything tangible in the weird belief he held.

“If I accept your offer,” he said slowly, “and permit you to incarnate
my soul in your body, what becomes of my own?”

“It will remain, to all appearances, dead, until your soul again
returns to animate it.”

“I will go back to it again, then?”

“Yes!–I think so. My body is sixty years old, yours is, I should say,
about twenty-six years, and as things stand now, there is every
prospect that you will outlive me. When, therefore your soul inhabits
my body, such body will die at my allotted time, and your soul, having
no habitation, will be forced to return to your own body in order to
work out its period.”

“But, suppose I am incarnated in your body for years, will not my own
decay?”

“No–because it is not dead–only asleep. If, however, it is fated
that you should die before myself, your body will begin to decay, and
then you will remain in mine till the period fixed by God for
solution, and your soul will then mingle in the world of spirits as if
you had died in your own frame.”

“I understand,” said Adrian thoughtfully; “it is a curious idea.”

“It is a very fortunate one–for you,” replied Roversmire quietly.

“Where will my body remain during the time I am incarnated in yours?”

“In this house,” said the doctor, rising and going over to the
fireplace. “As there was danger that my body might be meddled with by
ignorant people during the periods my soul was absent, it was
necessary to place it in safety, so I sent my servant away for a few
weeks and had a secret chamber constructed, about which he knows
nothing. When I want to assume my astral body I tell him I am going
out of town for a few days so that he may not think my disappearance
strange. Then I enter into my secret chamber, leave my body there and
go where I will, knowing that my fleshly envelope is safe till I
return. When you entered to-night, however, I left my body sitting in
yonder chair, but your presence warned my spirit of danger to the
physical part of myself, so I returned in time to stay your exit.”

“Where is this secret chamber,” asked Adrian, rising, now more
inclined to believe the fantastic story of the doctor. “Can I see it?”

“Certainly, it is important you should know it as you will have to
leave your present body in it for safety. Look!”

He touched a spring in the mantelpiece, whereupon the whole of the
fireplace swung round on a kind of pivot, showing that the back was
hollow and that a narrow flight of steps led downward into darkness.
Roversmire lighted a candle which stood on the mantelpiece, then
taking it in his hands, bent down and entered into the cavity,
beckoning to Adrian to follow. The young man did so, and as soon as
they were on the verge of the steps, the doctor, touching another
spring in the stone wall, caused the fireplace to swing back again
into its place.

“You see, anyone in the room could not tell we were hidden here,” said
Roversmire, smiling. “Come downstairs and I will show you the secret
of the pyramid.”

Somewhat bewildered by this strange experience, Adrian followed the
doctor down the narrow stairs guided by the glimmering light of the
taper. They went down for some distance, then found themselves in a
small square vault, with room enough for three people to stand in it.
Roversmire again touched a spring and one part of the wall slid slowly
aside, showing a space beyond in utter darkness.

“Another precaution, you see,” said the doctor, pointing to the third
spring. “Anyone who found the first secret would never guess the
second. Come!”

He advanced into the vault, and going towards one end of it turned an
ivory handle fixed in the wall, whereupon the whole apartment was
irradiated with a powerful electric light. Adrian gave an exclamation
of surprise and put his hands over his eyes as they felt quite painful
in the sudden glare after the dense darkness, only lighted by the
candle.

It was a moderate-sized apartment, circular in shape, with a domed
roof of pure white, painted with signs of the Zodiac, and from the
centre blazed the electric light hidden in a large semi-opaque globe.
The walls were hung with strange tapestries of brilliant colours,
whereon were depicted the animal gods of Egypt and the fantastic
deities of India, while the floor was covered by a thick, soft carpet
with a bizarre pattern in blue, yellow and red, the outcome of some
opium-confused, oriental imagination. At one side of this queer place
was a low couch covered with a magnificent tiger skin, and near at
hand a mother-of-pearl inlaid Moorish table, whereon stood a decanter
of red wine and some glasses, together with a plate of white bread.

“The existence of this is only known to ourselves,” said Dr.
Roversmire, casting a satisfied look around, “and here you can leave
your body until such time as it is fated mine should die, when your
soul will of course return to its former dwelling-place, but as the
body left so long without action or food will be weak, you will find
the wine and bread of great service in restoring your vital powers.”

“But suppose your body dies soon and I have to return to my own,” said
the young man miserably. “I will then be arrested.”

“That, of course, will be your own look out,” retorted the doctor,
shrugging his shoulders. “I provide you with a hiding-place for a
time, and if my body dies and you lose your city of refuge–well, it
is not my fault; but I think you can rest assured that unless some
accident happens or you commit suicide, my body will continue on this
earth for a few more years, and by the time it dies the whole affair
of this murder will have blown over and you can re-animate your own
body, go out of the county and live on my money, which I freely make
over to you.”

“Are you rich?”

“Yes, I think you will find plenty of ready money standing in my name
in the International Bank, and moreover in my desk is a small box of
gems which are worth a great deal; whatever income you may possess
now, I don’t think you’ll suffer by the change into my body.”

“But are you not sorry to give up all this wealth?”

Dr. Roversmire laughed in an amused manner, as if Adrian had asked a
childish question, which, indeed, he had, from the doctor’s point of
view.

“Sorry,” he echoed, “sorry to exchange this weary body for an astral
one–sorry to give up the gross pleasures of earth for the pure
delights of the spiritual world? No, I am not sorry; the change to me
will be like that of a beggar man passing suddenly from abject poverty
to kingly affluence.”

“But reflect,” said Adrian earnestly, “if I accept your offer, think
of what I am–I have committed a crime. According to my own showing I
am not a good man; my soul in your body may commit many foolish
actions, and yet you will be held guilty of them.”

“My body will, not my soul,” replied Roversmire coolly. “Whatever you
do in my body will have to be expiated by your own soul since it is
your freewill that acts and not mine–as to my personality, which you
seem afraid of harming, it does not matter to me in the least–I have
no relations on whom your actions in my body would bring disgrace; you
can do what you like with my shell–I am only concerned about my soul.

“But how about your past life?”

“I have told you all my past life, but should you need to know more
there are plenty of papers in my desk which will tell you every action
of mine since my arrival in England; with my Indian life you have
nothing to do, as no trouble will come from there; my reputation is
that of a savant and a recluse; when you occupy my body you can
indulge in whatever pranks you like, but I warn you, that however
youthful your soul may be, the body is old and weak, and if you play
with it you will kill it and thus lose your city of refuge sooner than
you expect, so your safety rests entirely with yourself.”

“It’s impossible to undo the past,” said Adrian gloomily, “and
although I committed the crime in a moment of passion, I will never
cease to feel remorse.

“That is part of your punishment,” said Roversmire seriously. “I can
give you a new body but not a new soul, so whatever acts of evil you
have done in your past life the remembrance will always cling to you;
but if you expiate your crime on earth by prayers and repentance in my
body and in your own, it will purify your spirit for the world beyond.
Now I think everything has been explained, so if you will lie down on
that couch I will release my own soul and accomplish the
transformation of yours into my body.”

“One moment,” cried Adrian, as he sat down on the couch, “how can I
sign your name to cheques and imitate your handwriting?”

“You will do so mechanically,” said Roversmire, who was lighting a
fire in a small brazier; “writing is an operation of the body, not of
the soul. I cannot give you my learning, as that pertains to the soul
and I take it with me, but all material knowledge I possess or
physical dexterity I have acquired will be yours, to use as you
will–now, are you ready?”

“Yes,” said Adrian, obediently lying down, “but I am engaged to marry
a girl called Olive Maunders–how will that affect me in your body?”

“Of course she won’t know you,” replied the doctor with a peculiar
smile, fanning the fire which was now at red heat. “You will have to
wait till you reassume your own body before marrying her–but it is
simply a question of safety for you just now, so you’d better leave
love out of the question or you will lose your life, your love, and
everything else.”

Adrian gave a sigh of sorrow, and slightly turning his head, watched
the preparations of the doctor. The fire was now burning a deep red,
and the brazier was standing in the centre of a ring of white powder
which had been strewn around it. The doctor bent down and touched this
powder with his finger, muttering some words, whereupon a blue lambent
flame sprang up and ran round the circle. Roversmire then cast some
herbs on the fire, which he took out of a small silver box, and
raising his arms chanted a kind of hymn in a low soft voice. The wild
music, barbaric in the extreme, rose and fell like the rhythmical fall
of waves on a lonely beach, and a thick white smoke curled upward from
the brazier, spreading a pungent odour through the vault.

After a time Roversmire, looking strange and spectral amid the veil of
smoke, paused in his chanting, crossed over to the young man and spoke
solemnly:

“I am about to leave this world for that of the spirits and I leave
your soul in charge of my body–make good use of it, for what you do
will be of your own free will and must be expiated by your own spirit.
Are you ready and willing to take this burden upon you?”

“I am ready,” replied Adrian slowly.

“Then close your eyes,” commanded Roversmire going over to the
brazier. “Farewell, and may your crime-stained soul be cleansed by
prayer, repentance and expiation.”

In obedience to the instructions, Adrian closed his eyes and felt the
acrid odour of the smoke titillate his nostrils, while the doctor
resumed his measured chant. The strange melody which sounded like the
wailing of a lost spirit seemed to recede further and further away as
the senses of the young man became clouded by the fumes spreading
through the apartment. Suddenly his whole body felt contorted with
extreme pain, every muscle, every nerve seemed to be wrenched asunder,
and in a paroxysm of terror he strove to cry out, but was unable to do
so. Fire seemed to run all through his body, burning up his physical
frame, and he writhed and twisted in an agony of torture, then a thick
darkness seemed to descend on his brain and he remembered no more.

How long the thick darkness continued he did not know, for when he
opened his eyes again he was lying on the floor near the brazier, from
whence all the fire had died away. A cold air pervaded the vault, and
raising himself from the floor, Adrian saw with a sudden thrill of
horror that his body, pale and still, was lying on the couch while he
himself, looking down at his limbs, saw that they were wrapped in
Roversmire’s dressing-gown. With a cry which did not sound like his
own voice he walked to a mirror which was hanging on the wall and then
recoiled with a shudder, for the face which looked from the glass was
not his own handsome countenance, but the old, grey-bearded, wrinkled
face of Roversmire, now no longer calm and placid but convulsed with
terror and anguish.

The transformation had taken place.

Adrian, in the person of Dr. Michael Roversmire, walked languidly over
to the table, already feeling in his limbs the difference between
youth and age, and pouring out a glass of wine drank it up. Then
looking at his own body lying so still on the couch, he folded the
arms across the chest, lighted the candle, and after turning out the
electric light, left the vault.

He soon found his way back to the room above, as his hands seemed to
mechanically discover the secret springs, then putting back the
fireplace into its original condition, he blew out the candle and
replaced it on the table, then falling on his knees prayed long and
earnestly.

He was safe so far, for his guilty soul now inherited the body of
Roversmire, and his outward semblance, which would have caused his
arrest, was safely hidden in the secret room below.

The events of the night had been terrible, and quite worn out with the
anguish and misery his soul had undergone, he staggered to a couch,
flung himself down on it and was soon fast asleep.