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Home -> Arthur Conan Doyle -> The Parasite -> - III -

The Parasite - - III -

1. - I -

2. - II -

3. - III -

4. - IV -


I read over my notes of what the woman said when she
spoke about her powers. There is one point which fills
me with dismay. She implies that when the influence is
slight the subject knows what he is doing, but cannot
control himself, whereas when it is strongly exerted he
is absolutely unconscious. Now, I have always known
what I did, though less so last night than on the
previous occasions. That seems to mean that she has
never yet exerted her full powers upon me. Was ever a
man so placed before?

Yes, perhaps there was, and very near me, too. Charles
Sadler must know something of this! His vague words of
warning take a meaning now. Oh, if I had only listened
to him then, before I helped by these repeated sittings
to forge the links of the chain which binds me! But I
will see him to-day. I will apologize to him for
having treated his warning so lightly. I will see if
he can advise me.

4 P. M. No, he cannot. I have talked with him, and he
showed such surprise at the first words in which I
tried to express my unspeakable secret that I went no
further. As far as I can gather (by hints and
inferences rather than by any statement), his own
experience was limited to some words or looks such as I
have myself endured. His abandonment of Miss Penclosa
is in itself a sign that he was never really in her
toils. Oh, if he only knew his escape! He has to
thank his phlegmatic Saxon temperament for it. I am
black and Celtic, and this hag's clutch is deep in my
nerves. Shall I ever get it out? Shall I ever be the
same man that I was just one short fortnight ago?

Let me consider what I had better do. I cannot leave
the university in the middle of the term. If I were
free, my course would be obvious. I should start at
once and travel in Persia. But would she allow me to
start? And could her influence not reach me in Persia,
and bring me back to within touch of her crutch? I can
only find out the limits of this hellish power by my
own bitter experience. I will fight and fight and
fight--and what can I do more?

I know very well that about eight o'clock to-night that
craving for her society, that irresistible
restlessness, will come upon me. How shall I overcome
it? What shall I do? I must make it impossible for me
to leave the room. I shall lock the door and throw the
key out of the window. But, then, what am I to do in
the morning? Never mind about the morning. I must at
all costs break this chain which holds me.

April 9. Victory! I have done splendidly! At seven
o'clock last night I took a hasty dinner, and then
locked myself up in my bedroom and dropped the key into
the garden. I chose a cheery novel, and lay in bed for
three hours trying to read it, but really in a horrible
state of trepidation, expecting every instant that I
should become conscious of the impulse. Nothing of the
sort occurred, however, and I awoke this morning with
the feeling that a black nightmare had been lifted off
me. Perhaps the creature realized what I had done, and
understood that it was useless to try to influence me.
At any rate, I have beaten her once, and if I can do it
once, I can do it again.

It was most awkward about the key in the morning.
Luckily, there was an under-gardener below, and I asked
him to throw it up. No doubt he thought I had just
dropped it. I will have doors and windows screwed up
and six stout men to hold me down in my bed before I
will surrender myself to be hag-ridden in this way.

I had a note from Mrs. Marden this afternoon asking me
to go round and see her. I intended to do so in any
case, but had not excepted to find bad news waiting for
me. It seems that the Armstrongs, from whom Agatha has
expectations, are due home from Adelaide in the Aurora,
and that they have written to Mrs. Marden and her to
meet them in town. They will probably be away for a
month or six weeks, and, as the Aurora is due on
Wednesday, they must go at once--to-morrow, if they are
ready in time. My consolation is that when we meet
again there will be no more parting between Agatha and

"I want you to do one thing, Agatha," said I, when we
were alone together. "If you should happen to meet
Miss Penclosa, either in town or here, you must promise
me never again to allow her to mesmerize you."

Agatha opened her eyes.

"Why, it was only the other day that you were saying
how interesting it all was, and how determined you were
to finish your experiments."

"I know, but I have changed my mind since then."

"And you won't have it any more?"


"I am so glad, Austin. You can't think how pale and
worn you have been lately. It was really our principal
objection to going to London now that we did not wish
to leave you when you were so pulled down. And your
manner has been so strange occasionally--especially
that night when you left poor Professor Pratt-Haldane
to play dummy. I am convinced that these experiments
are very bad for your nerves."

"I think so, too, dear."

"And for Miss Penclosa's nerves as well. You have
heard that she is ill?"


"Mrs. Wilson told us so last night. She described it
as a nervous fever Professor Wilson is coming back this
week, and of course Mrs. Wilson is very anxious that
Miss Penclosa should be well again then, for he has
quite a programme of experiments which he is anxious to
carry out."

I was glad to have Agatha's promise, for it was enough
that this woman should have one of us in her clutch.
On the other hand, I was disturbed to hear about Miss
Penclosa's illness. It rather discounts the victory
which I appeared to win last night. I remember that
she said that loss of health interfered with her power.
That may be why I was able to hold my own so easily.
Well, well, I must take the same precautions to-night
and see what comes of it. I am childishly frightened
when I think of her.

April 10. All went very well last night. I was amused
at the gardener's face when I had again to hail him
this morning and to ask him to throw up my key. I
shall get a name among the servants if this sort of
thing goes on. But the great point is that I stayed in
my room without the slightest inclination to leave it.
I do believe that I am shaking myself clear of this
incredible bond--or is it only that the woman's power
is in abeyance until she recovers her strength? I can
but pray for the best.

The Mardens left this morning, and the brightness seems
to have gone out of the spring sunshine. And yet it is
very beautiful also as it gleams on the green chestnuts
opposite my windows, and gives a touch of gayety to the
heavy, lichen-mottled walls of the old colleges. How
sweet and gentle and soothing is Nature! Who would
think that there lurked in her also such vile forces,
such odious possibilities! For of course I understand
that this dreadful thing which has sprung out at me is
neither supernatural nor even preternatural. No, it is
a natural force which this woman can use and society is
ignorant of. The mere fact that it ebbs with her
strength shows how entirely it is subject to physical
laws. If I had time, I might probe it to the bottom
and lay my hands upon its antidote. But you cannot
tame the tiger when you are beneath his claws. You can
but try to writhe away from him. Ah, when I look in
the glass and see my own dark eyes and clear-cut
Spanish face, I long for a vitriol splash or a bout of
the small-pox. One or the other might have saved me
from this calamity.

I am inclined to think that I may have trouble to-
night. There are two things which make me fear so.
One is that I met Mrs. Wilson in the street, and that
she tells me that Miss Penclosa is better, though still
weak. I find myself wishing in my heart that the
illness had been her last. The other is that Professor
Wilson comes back in a day or two, and his presence
would act as a constraint upon her. I should not fear
our interviews if a third person were present. For
both these reasons I have a presentiment of trouble to-
night, and I shall take the same precautions as before.

April 10. No, thank God, all went well last night. I
really could not face the gardener again. I locked my
door and thrust the key underneath it, so that I had to
ask the maid to let me out in the morning. But the
precaution was really not needed, for I never had any
inclination to go out at all. Three evenings in
succession at home! I am surely near the end of my
troubles, for Wilson will be home again either today or
tomorrow. Shall I tell him of what I have gone through
or not? I am convinced that I should not have the
slightest sympathy from him. He would look upon me as
an interesting case, and read a paper about me at the
next meeting of the Psychical Society, in which he
would gravely discuss the possibility of my being a
deliberate liar, and weigh it against the chances of my
being in an early stage of lunacy. No, I shall get no
comfort out of Wilson.

I am feeling wonderfully fit and well. I don't think I
ever lectured with greater spirit. Oh, if I could only
get this shadow off my life, how happy I should be!
Young, fairly wealthy, in the front rank of my
profession, engaged to a beautiful and charming girl--
have I not every thing which a man could ask for? Only
one thing to trouble me, but what a thing it is!

Midnight. I shall go mad. Yes, that will be the end
of it. I shall go mad. I am not far from it now. My
head throbs as I rest it on my hot hand. I am
quivering all over like a scared horse. Oh, what a
night I have had! And yet I have some cause to be
satisfied also.

At the risk of becoming the laughing-stock of my own
servant, I again slipped my key under the door,
imprisoning myself for the night. Then, finding it too
early to go to bed, I lay down with my clothes on and
began to read one of Dumas's novels. Suddenly I was
gripped--gripped and dragged from the couch. It is
only thus that I can describe the overpowering nature
of the force which pounced upon me. I clawed at the
coverlet. I clung to the wood-work. I believe that I
screamed out in my frenzy. It was all useless,
hopeless. I MUST go. There was no way out of it. It
was only at the outset that I resisted. The force soon
became too overmastering for that. I thank goodness
that there were no watchers there to interfere with me.
I could not have answered for myself if there had been.
And, besides the determination to get out, there came
to me, also, the keenest and coolest judgment in
choosing my means. I lit a candle and endeavored,
kneeling in front of the door, to pull the key through
with the feather-end of a quill pen. It was just too
short and pushed it further away. Then with quiet
persistence I got a paper-knife out of one of the
drawers, and with that I managed to draw the key back.
I opened the door, stepped into my study, took a
photograph of myself from the bureau, wrote something
across it, placed it in the inside pocket of my coat,
and then started off for Wilson's.

It was all wonderfully clear, and yet disassociated
from the rest of my life, as the incidents of even the
most vivid dream might be. A peculiar double
consciousness possessed me. There was the predominant
alien will, which was bent upon drawing me to the side
of its owner, and there was the feebler protesting
personality, which I recognized as being myself,
tugging feebly at the overmastering impulse as a led
terrier might at its chain. I can remember recognizing
these two conflicting forces, but I recall nothing of
my walk, nor of how I was admitted to the house.

Very vivid, however, is my recollection of how I met
Miss Penclosa. She was reclining on the sofa in the
little boudoir in which our experiments had usually
been carried out. Her head was rested on her hand, and
a tiger-skin rug had been partly drawn over her. She
looked up expectantly as I entered, and, as the lamp-
light fell upon her face, I could see that she was very
pale and thin, with dark hollows under her eyes. She
smiled at me, and pointed to a stool beside her. It
was with her left hand that she pointed, and I, running
eagerly forward, seized it,--I loathe myself as I think
of it,--and pressed it passionately to my lips. Then,
seating myself upon the stool, and still retaining her
hand, I gave her the photograph which I had brought
with me, and talked and talked and talked--of my love
for her, of my grief over her illness, of my joy at her
recovery, of the misery it was to me to be absent a
single evening from her side. She lay quietly looking
down at me with imperious eyes and her provocative
smile. Once I remember that she passed her hand over
my hair as one caresses a dog; and it gave me
pleasure--the caress. I thrilled under it. I was her
slave, body and soul, and for the moment I rejoiced in
my slavery.

And then came the blessed change. Never tell me that
there is not a Providence! I was on the brink of
perdition. My feet were on the edge. Was it a
coincidence that at that very instant help should come?
No, no, no; there is a Providence, and its hand has
drawn me back. There is something in the universe
stronger than this devil woman with her tricks. Ah,
what a balm to my heart it is to think so!

As I looked up at her I was conscious of a change in
her. Her face, which had been pale before, was now
ghastly. Her eyes were dull, and the lids drooped
heavily over them. Above all, the look of serene
confidence had gone from her features. Her mouth had
weakened. Her forehead had puckered. She was
frightened and undecided. And as I watched the change
my own spirit fluttered and struggled, trying hard to
tear itself from the grip which held it--a grip which,
from moment to moment, grew less secure.

"Austin," she whispered, "I have tried to do too much.
I was not strong enough. I have not recovered yet from
my illness. But I could not live longer without seeing
you. You won't leave me, Austin? This is only a
passing weakness. If you will only give me five
minutes, I shall be myself again. Give me the small
decanter from the table in the window."

But I had regained my soul. With her waning strength
the influence had cleared away from me and left me
free. And I was aggressive--bitterly, fiercely
aggressive. For once at least I could make this woman
understand what my real feelings toward her were. My
soul was filled with a hatred as bestial as the love
against which it was a reaction. It was the savage,
murderous passion of the revolted serf. I could have
taken the crutch from her side and beaten her face in
with it. She threw her hands up, as if to avoid a
blow, and cowered away from me into the corner of the

"The brandy!" she gasped. "The brandy!"

I took the decanter and poured it over the roots of a
palm in the window. Then I snatched the photograph
from her hand and tore it into a hundred pieces.

"You vile woman," I said, "if I did my duty to society,
you would never leave this room alive!"

"I love you, Austin; I love you!" she wailed.

"Yes," I cried, "and Charles Sadler before. And how
many others before that?"

"Charles Sadler!" she gasped. "He has spoken to you?
So, Charles Sadler, Charles Sadler!" Her voice came
through her white lips like a snake's hiss.

"Yes, I know you, and others shall know you, too. You
shameless creature! You knew how I stood. And yet you
used your vile power to bring me to your side. You
may, perhaps, do so again, but at least you will
remember that you have heard me say that I love Miss
Marden from the bottom of my soul, and that I loathe
you, abhor you!

The very sight of you and the sound of your voice fill
me with horror and disgust. The thought of you is
repulsive. That is how I feel toward you, and if it
pleases you by your tricks to draw me again to your
side as you have done to-night, you will at least, I
should think, have little satisfaction in trying to
make a lover out of a man who has told you his real
opinion of you. You may put what words you will into
my mouth, but you cannot help remembering----"

I stopped, for the woman's head had fallen back, and
she had fainted. She could not bear to hear what I had
to say to her! What a glow of satisfaction it gives me
to think that, come what may, in the future she can
never misunderstand my true feelings toward her. But
what will occur in the future? What will she do next?
I dare not think of it. Oh, if only I could hope that
she will leave me alone! But when I think of what I
said to her---- Never mind; I have been stronger than
she for once.

April 11. I hardly slept last night, and found myself
in the morning so unstrung and feverish that I was
compelled to ask Pratt-Haldane to do my lecture for me.
It is the first that I have ever missed. I rose at
mid-day, but my head is aching, my hands quivering, and
my nerves in a pitiable state.

Who should come round this evening but Wilson. He has
just come back from London, where he has lectured, read
papers, convened meetings, exposed a medium, conducted
a series of experiments on thought transference,
entertained Professor Richet of Paris, spent hours
gazing into a crystal, and obtained some evidence as to
the passage of matter through matter. All this he
poured into my ears in a single gust.

"But you!" he cried at last. "You are not looking
well. And Miss Penclosa is quite prostrated to-day.
How about the experiments?"

"I have abandoned them."

"Tut, tut! Why?"

"The subject seems to me to be a dangerous one."

Out came his big brown note-book.

"This is of great interest," said he. "What are your
grounds for saying that it is a dangerous one? Please
give your facts in chronological order, with
approximate dates and names of reliable witnesses with
their permanent addresses."

"First of all," I asked, "would you tell me whether you
have collected any cases where the mesmerist has gained
a command over the subject and has used it for evil

"Dozens!" he cried exultantly. "Crime by

"I don't mean suggestion. I mean where a sudden
impulse comes from a person at a distance--an
uncontrollable impulse."

"Obsession!" he shrieked, in an ecstasy of delight.
"It is the rarest condition. We have eight cases, five
well attested. You don't mean to say----" His
exultation made him hardly articulate.

"No, I don't," said I. "Good-evening! You will excuse
me, but I am not very w ell to-night." And so at last
I got rid of him, still brandishing his pencil and his
note-book. My troubles may be bad to hear, but at
least it is better to hug them to myself than to have
myself exhibited by Wilson, like a freak at a fair. He
has lost sight of human beings. Every thing to him is
a case and a phenomenon. I will die before I speak to
him again upon the matter.

April 12. Yesterday was a blessed day of quiet, and I
enjoyed an uneventful night. Wilson's presence is a
great consolation. What can the woman do now? Surely,
when she has heard me say what I have said, she will
conceive the same disgust for me which I have for her.
She could not, no, she COULD not, desire to have a
lover who had insulted her so. No, I believe I am free
from her love--but how about her hate? Might she not
use these powers of hers for revenge? Tut! why should
I frighten myself over shadows? She will forget about
me, and I shall forget about her, and all will be well.

April 13. My nerves have quite recovered their tone.
I really believe that I have conquered the creature.
But I must confess to living in some suspense. She is
well again, for I hear that she was driving with Mrs.
Wilson in the High Street in the afternoon.

April 14. I do wish I could get away from the place
altogether. I shall fly to Agatha's side the very day
that the term closes. I suppose it is pitiably weak of
me, but this woman gets upon my nerves most terribly.
I have seen her again, and I have spoken with her.

It was just after lunch, and I was smoking a cigarette
in my study, when I heard the step of my servant Murray
in the passage. I was languidly conscious that a
second step was audible behind, and had hardly troubled
myself to speculate who it might be, when suddenly a
slight noise brought me out of my chair with my skin
creeping with apprehension. I had never particularly
observed before what sort of sound the tapping of a
crutch was, but my quivering nerves told me that I
heard it now in the sharp wooden clack which alternated
with the muffled thud of the foot fall. Another
instant and my servant had shown her in.

I did not attempt the usual conventions of society, nor
did she. I simply stood with the smouldering cigarette
in my hand, and gazed at her. She in her turn looked
silently at me, and at her look I remembered how in
these very pages I had tried to define the expression
of her eyes, whether they were furtive or fierce. To-
day they were fierce--coldly and inexorably so.

"Well," said she at last, "are you still of the same
mind as when I saw you last?"

"I have always been of the same mind."

"Let us understand each other, Professor Gilroy," said
she slowly. "I am not a very safe person to trifle
with, as you should realize by now. It was you who
asked me to enter into a series of experiments with
you, it was you who won my affections, it was you who
professed your love for me, it was you who brought me
your own photograph with words of affection upon it,
and, finally, it was you who on the very same evening
thought fit to insult me most outrageously, addressing
me as no man has ever dared to speak to me yet. Tell
me that those words came from you in a moment of
passion and I am prepared to forget and to forgive
them. You did not mean what you said, Austin? You do
not really hate me?"

I might have pitied this deformed woman--such a longing
for love broke suddenly through the menace of her eyes.
But then I thought of what I had gone through, and my
heart set like flint.

"If ever you heard me speak of love," said I, "you know
very well that it was your voice which spoke, and not
mine. The only words of truth which I have ever been
able to say to you are those which you heard when last
we met."

"I know. Some one has set you against me. It was he!"
She tapped with her crutch upon the floor. "Well, you
know very well that I could bring you this instant
crouching like a spaniel to my feet. You will not find
me again in my hour of weakness, when you can insult me
with impunity. Have a care what you are doing,
Professor Gilroy. You stand in a terrible position.
You have not yet realized the hold which I have upon

I shrugged my shoulders and turned away.

"Well," said she, after a pause, "if you despise my
love, I must see what can be done with fear. You
smile, but the day will come when you will come
screaming to me for pardon. Yes, you will grovel on
the ground before me, proud as you are, and you will
curse the day that ever you turned me from your best
friend into your most bitter enemy. Have a care,
Professor Gilroy!" I saw a white hand shaking in the
air, and a face which was scarcely human, so convulsed
was it with passion. An instant later she was gone,
and I heard the quick hobble and tap receding down the

But she has left a weight upon my heart. Vague
presentiments of coming misfortune lie heavy upon me.
I try in vain to persuade myself that these are only
words of empty anger. I can remember those relentless
eyes too clearly to think so. What shall I do--ah,
what shall I do? I am no longer master of my own soul.
At any moment this loathsome parasite may creep into
me, and then---- I must tell some one my hideous
secret--I must tell it or go mad. If I had some one to
sympathize and advise! Wilson is out of the question.
Charles Sadler would understand me only so far as his
own experience carries him. Pratt-Haldane! He is a
well-balanced man, a man of great common-sense and
resource. I will go to him. I will tell him every
thing. God grant that he may be able to advise me!

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