New Wine In An Old Bottle

When Adrian awoke next morning he half thought that the fantastic
events of the night were but the outcome of some strange dream, but a
single glance in the mirror soon disillusioned him as he saw reflected
back the countenance of Dr. Michael Roversmire. It was true then–he
had voluntarily placed his soul in the outward semblance of the old
man, and would have to lead his life, be bound by his physical
restrictions and be to all intents and purposes another person, until
such time as the worn-out body died and he could return once more to
his own frame. And then there would be the danger of paying the
penalty of the crime he had committed. No! there was no safety for him
save in the guise of age, and he would have to patiently endure this
servitude which he had brought upon himself.

While he was seated on the couch in the disordered sitting-room,
wondering what was the first step to take in his new existence, the
door opened and a pale, lean man, quietly dressed in black, appeared.
This was Dentham, the servant alluded to by Doctor Roversmire, and his
appearance by no means impressed Adrian in a favourable manner. Tall,
thin and supple, his movements seemed to have the sinuosity of a
serpent, and his pallid face, clean shaven and serious, looked cold
and cunning under a sparse crop of thin red hair, giving the young man
an uneasy feeling of repulsion, similar to that provoked by the sight
of a noxious animal. The shifty grey eyes, habitually downcast, the
thin lips twitching involuntarily at the corners and the air of
self-restraint, all clearly pointed to the fact that this man had a
cunning nature and would by no means be averse to performing any
treacherous action for the sake of money. Adrian took an immediate
dislike to his physiognomy, which dislike was not lessened when he heard
the soft, hissing voice which issued from the thin lips.

“Have you not been in bed, sir?” he asked, closing the door softly
after him, and coming forward to the centre of the room.

“No,” replied Adrian, in a dull voice, feeling it incumbent upon him
to keep up the character he had assumed, “I have been engaged in
writing and just slept here for a few hours.”

Dentham cast a swift glance at the writing materials lying on a desk
standing near the window, let his cold glance dwell doubtfully for a
moment on his master’s face and then spoke again.

“What would you be pleased to have for breakfast, sir?”

“The same as usual,” replied Adrian, who had not the slightest idea
but that Roversmire might have been a vegetarian, and therefore felt
afraid to say anything. “Meanwhile I’ll go up to my room and have a
bath.”

“You will find everything ready, sir,” answered Dentham, respectfully
holding the door open.

Adrian did not know where the bedroom was, but did not like to ask
Dentham, knowing it would look curious in his eyes, so left the room,
trusting to chance to find it. Luckily he had not proceeded very far
when he saw through an open door a sponge-bath filled with water, and
guessing this to be Roversmire’s bedroom, went-inside, closing the
door after him.

Left alone in the sitting-room, Dentham’s manner underwent a rapid
change and from wearing an air of cold self-restraint he became as
eager and as anxious as a ferret. He glanced rapidly round the room,
went across to the writing-desk, turned over the papers quickly with
his lean hands, marked the two arm-chairs set opposite one another
near the table, noticed that two glasses had been filled with wine,
then suddenly caught sight of Adrian’s stick, which he had thrown down
the previous evening.

“I knew I was right,” murmured Dentham to himself, pouncing eagerly on
the stick. “It was the voice of a stranger. Someone’s been to see him.
I wonder what’s up; this ain’t his stick.”

He looked carefully at the stick, a massive oaken staff, round the top
of which was a gold band, marked with the letters “A. L.,” which
discovery seemed to afford him much satisfaction.

“I wonder who it was came,” he repeated, twisting the stick round and
round. “The letters of his name are ‘A. L.,’ and he’s gone off again,
leaving his stick behind him. That’s queer! Rum old cove, my master. I
can’t make him out.”

The fact was, Dr. Roversmire’s peculiar mode of life had roused the
curiosity of Mr. Dentham, who was of a very suspicious nature, and he
was anxious to find out the reason of his master’s solitary life, and
if possible turn it to his own advantage. Up till the present,
although he had watched the movements of the doctor closely, nothing
had occurred to justify his suspicions that anything was wrong, but on
the previous night he had heard two voices in conversation, and now
that he saw two separate glasses of wine had been drunk, and had found
the tangible evidence of the walking-stick, he became assured that his
master had received a visitor during the night.

“Wish I’d listened,” said Mr. Dentham, in a disappointed tone. “I
might have found out what was up. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to
find the old cove was a forger or a thief–there must be some reason
for the way he lives, and if I find out anything, I’ll make some money
out of it.”

He went off to his own room, hid the stick safely away, returning with
a self-satisfied air to lay the table, fully determined to keep his
eyes open and watch the actions of Dr. Roversmire so as to trip him up
should he espy anything wrong.

Meanwhile Adrian had freshened himself with a bath, and changed his
clothes for some which he found in the wardrobe, still, however,
retaining the dressing-gown, as he did not want to make too sudden a
change in his outward appearance. He intended to make a close
examination of all Roversmire’s papers in order to get himself
thoroughly conversant with the daily life of the recluse. It was
curious that he should take so much trouble in learning all the
tricks, manners and daily actions of his usual body, seeing that it
was impossible anyone could comprehend the change that had taken
place, and however strikingly he altered his habits it would be put
down by every person to the well-known eccentricities of the doctor.
Assuming a new body as a disguise is very different from assuming a
new garb, and it was this very novelty that made Adrian so painfully
careful, as it seemed almost impossible to him that no one should
notice the transformation.

Having finished his toilet, he returned to the sitting-room and found
the table spread for breakfast consisting of milk, eggs, watercress
and fruit.

Dentham was in attendance, but Adrian speedily dismissed him, as he
felt ill at ease under the stealthy glances which the servant bestowed
upon him whenever he felt himself unobserved.

“I wonder if he notices any difference,” said Adrian to himself when
Dentham had retired, closing the door softly after him, “Pshaw! of
course not–it would be a clever person who could find the soul of
Adrian Lancaster in the body of Michael Roversmire.”

He made a very good breakfast and was about to devote himself to the
task of looking over Roversmire’s private papers, when he suddenly
recollected his hat, cloak and stick, not wishing to leave them about,
lest the keen eyes of Dentham should see them and an awkward
explanation might ensue. Although he searched the sitting-room yet he
could not find them; then suddenly recollected that he might have
taken them down with him to the secret chamber. In order to be certain
of this and set his mind at rest, he lighted a candle, touched the
spring and having replaced the fireplace in its normal condition so as
to obviate discovery by Dentham, descended into the vault, turned on
the electric light and looked around.

The sight of his former body lying so still and deathlike gave him a
momentary pang, and he could not help contrasting its handsome face
and fine figure with his present uncouth exterior, for owing to the
ordeals to which it had been subjected, the body of Dr. Roversmire was
in a rather battered condition. Adrian saw that his own frame was
still wrapped in the ulster, and the hat lay beside the couch on the
floor, but although he hunted in every corner of the vault he could
not find the stick. With a thrill of terror he extinguished the
electric light and then in the darkness, feebly lighted by the
glimmering taper, he seemed to feel the spiritual presence of the old
fakir, who had doubtless returned to see how the occupant of his body
was getting on. A cold breath of air seemed to break suddenly into the
warm atmosphere of the vault, and Adrian half thought he saw a
luminous cloud hovering near him. The half vision however soon
vanished, and the young man put it down to the excited state of his
mind. Still, the vault seemed to be occupied by some strange presence,
and he hurriedly left this nether apartment and returned hurriedly to
the upper room, which he luckily found still untenanted.

“Thank heaven that infernal servant didn’t discover my absence,” he
thought, blowing out the candle. “I don’t trust him in any way, and
the old doctor was more easily gulled than I should have thought
possible if he believed in a man with such a treacherous face.”

At this moment the subject of his reflections entered the room and
proceeded to clear away the breakfast things, at the same time handing
the Daily Telegraph of the day to his master.

“By-the-way, Dentham, you did not see a walking-stick lying about
here–an oak stick with a gold band round it?” asked Adrian unfolding
the paper.

“No sir, I did not,” replied Dentham, telling the lie without moving a
muscle of his pale face, “was it yours sir?”

“Yes! I carried it yesterday and left it lying about the room.”

“I did not know you were out yesterday, sir.”

“You don’t know a good many things,” said Adrian tartly, smoothing out
the newspaper, “you can go.”

Dentham withdrew without a word and smiled subtly to himself when safe
outside.

“Says it’s his own stick,” he muttered under his breath. “Oh, yes, I
dare say–but your name don’t begin with ‘A. L.’ Dr. Roversmire–there’s
something queer about all this; I believe he’s the head of a gang of
forgers and one of ’em came to see him. I’ll keep my eyes open in case
there’s a row.”

Adrian soon dismissed the episode of the stick from his mind, as he
did not remember all the events of the previous night and half thought
he might have lost the stick in his journey from the garden door to
the house. Meantime he looked at the paper anxious to see if there was
anything about his crime of the previous night. As he anticipated
there was a short statement, but owing to the late hour at which the
affair had taken place, a very full report had not come to hand.

The paragraph was headed “A Curious Affair,” and it stated that a
gentleman called Lancelot Alther, had gone up to Mr. Adrian
Lancaster’s rooms early in the morning and found the owner absent, and
a mutual friend, Mr. Philip Trevanna, lying half-dead on the floor. He
had been stunned, but on administration of remedies had revived,
although he could not give any explanation of the assault as he was
now in a high fever, and it was doubtful if he would recover. Mr.
Lancaster had disappeared and no trace of him had been discovered.

Adrian laid down the paper with a sigh of relief as he read the news.

“I didn’t kill him after all,” he said in a thankful tone, “he was
only stunned, and it would have been better if I had remained and
explained the affair, although in any case I would certainly have been
arrested. At all events, even if he does recover, it’s too late now to
do anything. I’m imprisoned in this body, and, unless something
happens, will have no opportunity of becoming Adrian Lancaster again.
I have indeed vanished completely from the world, and I don’t think
all the police in London will be able to trace my whereabouts. I must
just wait patiently for the chapter of accidents to redeem me–curses
on me for a fool in accepting Roversmire’s offer so readily–I am
lost to the world–to Olive and to everything else, and all by my own
act. I’ll wait and see if Philip Trevanna recovers, then some chance
may release me from this mask of old age, and I’ll be able to face my
fellow men once more as Adrian Lancaster.”