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Chapter Twenty-Six

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« on: July 16, 2023, 08:15:29 am »

IT was a dreadful meal. Fortunately, the others talked so much that no one would notice that Sarah Marlowe had nothing to say. Wilson Cattermole had begun the story of his quarrel with the Psychical Research Society, but he had to contend against his sister who was anxious to go over all the messages she had received from her smuggler, and against Mr. Brown who was quite determined to talk about were-wolves. As the Reverend Peter had very much the advantage in the matter of voice, he was able to boom the Cattermoles out of the conversation and reduce it to a monologue.

Sarah had never heard anyone talk about were-wolves before. She still had that picture of a wrecked and blackened house before her eyes. As Mr. Brown talked, she began to see shadows moving in the fire-shot dusk---wolfish shadows, going soft-foot about some dreadful business. What was a were-wolf but a man with a wolf’s savage treachery in his heart? She sat there and listened to the tale of men turned beast. But it wasn’t your body turning into a beast’s body which was the truth behind the tale. It was much more horrible, and quite true, that a man could go on looking like a man and yet have a wolf’s savage, treacherous heart.

She took some food on her plate and ate a little of it. She refused coffee, because Mr. Brown might, after all, have taken his own way and drugged her cup. She would eat nothing except from the common dish and drink nothing except from the common jug. But if they wanted to drug her they would find a way of doing it. She was one against them all, and she had no chance.

By degrees the effect of the shock she had received began to wear off. She became less numb, less stiff. Painfully the power to think returned, and with the pain courage. She was one against all of them except perhaps Joanna, but she could still put up a fight. What she had overheard gave her an advantage, because she knew their plan. She was to be frightened into letting Wickham rescue her. They would count on her giving him the papers. She could hear his voice now, low and earnest, telling her to bring the papers with her. “Bring the papers, and I’ll get you away.” That had been his burden all along. And she would have brought them and gone with him if the Reverend Peter’s door had had a stronger catch. She had been ready to go with him, as she had been---almost---to trust him with the papers. A little more, and the almost would have been quite. A bitter laughter came up in her, and she remembered that he had told her not to be a fool. Could anyone be more of a fool than Sarah Marlowe who had trusted John Wickham? Why, he hadn’t even taken the trouble to pretend that he was honest. He had come to her a self-confessed thief without shame or remorse. Wolf in wolf’s clothing---and she had trusted him. Why?

She looked back, and knew that she would have done it again. She had not known that it was possible to feel so much ashamed.

“Curious how the silver bullet motif crops up in these stories,” said Mr. Brown. “None of the were-beasts can be killed by an ordinary bullet---that is common to all the stories in every country in the world. Sometimes holy water comes into it of course, but the silver bullet is a great favourite. It keeps on cropping up. Sometimes it is a button off a man’s coat or a link off a woman’s chain, and sometimes it is just a silver coin. Silver being white and bright may have something to do with it---the symbolism of good overcoming evil. Or because it was precious and different, and the sorcerer was not provided with a spell against it. Or because the silver coin was often marked with a cross or some other sacred emblem. And starting from this there may have arisen a confusion between the emblem and the silver, resulting in the idea that any silver bullet possessed the efficacy originally attributed to the bullet made from silver bearing the mark of the cross. There is a wide field for speculation in these borderlands of science and superstition, and I have found a peculiar fascination in wandering there.”

“That,” said Wilson Cattermole, “was precisely my thesis in an article which I wrote---let me see, it must have been fifteen years ago.”

Sarah went back into her thoughts.

Now that she could think, she must make up her mind what she was going to do. The night lay before them all. They had a plan, and she had overheard part of it. She must make a plan too. It was rather like a game of hide-and-seek in the dark, because she must move cautiously for fear of blundering into some part of their plan, and they most fortunately, would not be aware that she had a plan at all. At any moment a foot put wrong would mean disaster.

These are the occasions when courage either fails outright or rises to face the worst. Sarah’s courage rose. Between now and tomorrow the issue would be decided. Her chance to get away was now, before they could put their plan into action.

She began to think what she could do. She could carry out part of the plan Wickham had suggested---say she had a headache and slip off to bed. Then instead of meeting him she could get out at the back---the den had a window which looked that way. Quite easy so far, but what next? Well, she would have to make her way to Hedgeley, and so long as they didn’t find out that she was not in the house and come after her with a car, she thought she could do it. It must be all of seven miles and wicked going, but it would not be quite dark because of the snow, and she would have plenty of time---if they didn’t find out that she was gone. That was one way. The drawback was that Wickham would still be about. He might even think she had changed her mind and was going to come with him after all.

For a moment her mind swung back and showed her, not Sarah Marlowe struggling over an endless icy waste towards a town she might never find, but Sarah Marlowe warm and comfortable in a car, covering those miles easily and safely. What was the good of thinking about things which had never been anything more than a mirage? John Wickham couldn’t make her safe. He was one of the wolf pack, helping to hunt her down.

The other thing she could do was to fall in with their plan, go to their silly séance, and let them think they had frightened her. Then when the proceedings were over and everyone had gone to bed she could still get out of the window and make for Hedgeley.

No, it was too late. She couldn’t risk it. This séance had been got up as a cover for something. She was quite sure about that, and she didn’t know what the something was. She only knew that it smelled of danger. She just couldn’t bring herself to risk it.

It would have to be the first plan.

As soon as she had made up her mind she felt curiously lightened. The pain left her. She took some more food, because if she had to walk to Hedgeley in this bitter cold, it wouldn’t do to start chilled and empty.

“I am afraid I have monopolized the conversation.” The Reverend Peter looked about him with an obvious desire to be contradicted. “But you are such good listeners, my dear people, and when I have an absorbing subject and attentive guests I am afraid I have a tendency to let my tongue run on.”

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