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Authors: Dennis Wheatley

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BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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‘But certainly.' The Duke bowed again. ‘Do you think we shall have a good meeting tonight?'

‘If the sky clears we should learn much,' answered the old lady cryptically.

‘Ho! Ho!' thought the Duke. ‘We are about to make use of Simon's observatory it seems. Good, let us learn more.' But before he could pump the elderly Frenchwoman further, Simon deftly interrupted the conversation and drew him away.

‘So you have taken up the study of the stars, my friend,' remarked the Duke as his host led him to the buffet.

‘Oh, er, yes. Find astronomy very interesting, you know. Have some caviare?' Simon's eyes flickered anxiously towards Rex, who was deep in conversation with the girl.

As he admired her burnished hair and slumbrous eyes, for a moment the Duke was reminded of a Boticelli painting. She had, he thought, that angel look, the golden virgin to the outward eye whose veins were filled with unlit fire. A rare cinquecento type who should have lived in the Italy of the Borgias. Then he turned again to Simon. ‘It was because of the observatory then that you acquired this house, I suppose?'

‘Yes. You must come up one night and we'll watch a few stars together.' Something of the old warmth had crept into Simon's tone and he was obviously in earnest as he offered the invitation, but the Duke was not deceived into believing that he was welcome on the present occasion.

‘Thank you, I should enjoy that,' he said promptly, while over Simon's shoulder he studied the other two men who made up the party. One, a tall, fair fellow, stood talking to Mocata. His thin, flaxen hair brushed flatly back, and whose mysterious, light eyes proclaimed him an Albino; the other, a stout man dressed in a green plaid and ginger kilt, was walking softly up and down with his hands clasped behind his back, muttering to himself inaudibly. His wild, flowing white hair and curious costume suggested an Irish bard.

‘Altogether a most unprepossessing lot,' thought the Duke, and his opinion was not improved by three new arrivals. A grave-faced Chinaman wearing the robes of a Mandarin, whose eyes betrayed a cold, merciless nature: a Eurasian with only one arm, the left, and a tall, thin woman with a scraggy throat and beetling eyebrows which met across the bridge of her nose.

Mocata received them as though he were the host, but as the tall woman bore down on Simon he promptly left the Duke, who guessed that the move was to get out of earshot. However, the lady's greeting in a high-pitched, Middle Western accent came clearly to him.

‘Well, Simon, all excitement about what we'll learn tonight? It should help a heap, this being your natal conjunction.'

‘Ha! Ha!' said De Richleau to himself. ‘Now I begin to understand a little and I like this party even less.' Then, with the idea of trying to verify his surmise, he turned towards the one-armed Eurasian, but Simon, apparently guessing his intention, quickly excused himself to the American woman, and cut off the Duke's advance.

‘So, my young friend,' thought De Richleau, ‘you mean to prevent me from obtaining any further information about this strange gathering, do you? All right! I'll twist your tail a little,' and he remarked sweetly:

‘Did you say that you were interested in Astronomy or Astrology, Simon? There is a distinct difference you know.'

‘Oh, Astronomy, of course,' Simon ran a finger down his long nose. ‘It
is
nice to see you again, have some more champagne?'

‘Thank you, no, later perhaps.' The Duke smothered a smile as he caught Mocata, who had overheard him, exchange a quick look with Simon.

‘Wish this were an ordinary meeting,' Simon said, a moment later, with an uneasy frown. ‘Then I'd ask you to stay, but we're going through the Society's annual balance-sheet tonight, and you and Rex not being members, you know …'

‘Quite, quite, my dear fellow, of course,' De Richleau agreed amicably, while to himself he thought. ‘That's a nasty fence young sly-boots has put up for me, but I'll be damned if I go before I find out for certain what I came
for'. Then he added in a cheerful whisper: ‘I should have gone before but Rex seems so interested in the young woman in green, I want to give him as long as possible.'

‘My dear chap,' Simon protested, ‘I feel horribly embarrassed at having to ask you to go at all.'

A fat, oily-looking Babu in a salmon-pink turban and gown had just arrived and was shaking hands with Mocata; behind him came a red-faced Teuton, who suffered the deformity of a hare lip.

Simon stepped quickly forward again as the two advanced, but De Richleau once more caught the first words which were snuffled out by the hare-lipped man.

‘Well, Abraham, wie geht es?' Then there came the fulsome chuckle of the fleshy Indian. ‘You must not call him that, it is unlucky to do so before the great night.'

‘The devil it is!' muttered the Duke to himself, but Simon had left the other two with almost indecent haste in order to rejoin him, so he said with a smile: ‘I gather you are about to execute Deed Poll, my friend?'

‘Eh!' Simon exclaimed with a slight start.

‘To change your name,' De Richleau supplemented.

‘Ner.' He shook his head rapidly as he uttered the curious negative that he often used. It came of his saying ‘No' without troubling to close the lips of his full mouth. ‘Ner–that's only a sort of joke we have between us, a sort of initiation ceremony, I'm not a full member yet.'

‘I see, then you have ceremonies in your Astronomical Society, how interesting!'

As he spoke De Richleau, out of the corner of his eye, saw Mocata make a quick sign to Simon and then glance at the ormolu clock on the mantelpiece; so to save his host the awkwardness of having actually to request his departure, he exclaimed: ‘Dear me! Twenty past eleven, I had no idea it was so late. I must drag Rex away from that lovely lady after all, I fear.'

‘Well, if you must go.' Simon looked embarrassed and worried, but catching Mocata's eye again, he promptly led the way over to his other unwelcome guest.

Rex gave a happy grin as they came up. ‘This is marvellous Simon. I've been getting glimpses of this lady in different continents these two years past, and she seems to recall having seen me too. It's just great that we should become acquainted at last through you.' Then he smiled quickly at the girl: ‘May I present my friend De Richleau? Duke, this is Miss Tanith.'

De Richleau bent over her long, almost transparent hand and raised it to his lips. ‘How unfortunate I am,' he said with old-fashioned gallantry, ‘to be presented to you only in time to say good-bye, and perhaps gain your displeasure by taking your new friend with me as well.'

‘But,' she regarded him steadily out of large, clear, amber eyes. ‘Surely you do not depart before the ceremony?'

‘I fear we must. We are not members of your, er, Circle you see, only old friends of Simon's.'

A strange look of annoyance and uncertainty crept into her glance, and the Duke guessed that she was searching her mind for any indiscretions she might have committed in her conversation with Rex. Then she shrugged lightly and, with a brief inclination of the head which dismissed them
both, turned coldly away.

The Duke took Simon's arm affectionately, as the three friends left the salon. ‘I wonder,' he said persuasively, ‘if you could spare me just two minutes before we go–no more I promise you.'

‘Rather, of course.' Simon seemed now to have regained his old joviality. ‘I'll never forgive myself for missing your dinner tonight—this wretched meeting—and I've seen nothing of you for weeks. Now Rex is over we must throw a party together.'

‘We will, we will,' De Richleau agreed heartily, ‘but listen; is not Mars in conjunction with Venus tonight?'

‘Ner,' Simon replied promptly. ‘With Saturn, that's what they've all come to see.'

‘Ah, Saturn! My Astronomy is so rusty, but I saw some mention of it in the paper yesterday, and at one time I was a keen student of the Stars. Would it be asking too much, my dear fellow, to have just one peep at it through your telescope? We should hardly delay your meeting for five minutes.'

Simon's hesitation was barely perceptible before he nodded his bird-like head with vigorous assent. ‘Um, that's all right, they haven't all arrived yet, let's go up.' Then, with his hands thrust deep in the trouser pockets of his exceedingly well-cut suit, he led them hurriedly through the hall and up three flights of stairs.'

De Richleau followed more slowly. Stairs were the one thing which ruffled his otherwise equable temper and he had no desire to lose it now. By the time he arrived in the lofty chamber, with Rex behind him, Simon had all the lights switched on.

‘Well you've certainly gone in for it properly,' Rex remarked as he surveyed the powerful telescope slanting to the roof and a whole arsenal of sextants, spheres and other astrological impedimenta ranged about the room.

‘It's rather an exact science you see,' Simon volunteered.

‘Quite,' agreed the Duke briefly. ‘But I wonder, a little, that you should consider charts of the Macrocosm necessary to your studies.

‘Oh, those!' Simon shrugged his narrow shoulders as he glanced around the walls. ‘They're only for fun–relics of the Alchemistic nonsense in the Middle Ages, but quite suitable for decoration.'

‘How clever of you to carry out your scheme of decoration on the floor as well.' The Duke was thoughtfully regarding a five-pointed star enclosed within two circles between which numerous mystic characters in Greek and Hebrew had been carefully drawn.

‘Yes, good idea, wasn't it?' Simon tittered into his hand. It was the familiar gesture which both his friends knew so well, yet somehow his chuckle had not quite its usual ring.

The silence that followed was a little awkward, and in it, all three plainly heard a muffled scratching noise that seemed to come from a large wicker basket placed against the wall.

‘You've got mice here, Simon,' said Rex casually, but De Richleau had stiffened where he stood. Then, before Simon could bar his way, he leapt towards the hamper and ripped open the lid.

‘Stop that!' cried Simon angrily, and dashing forward he forced it shut again, but too late, for within the basket the Duke had seen two living pinioned fowls—a black rooster and a white hen.

With a sudden access of bitter fury he turned on Simon, and seizing him by his silk lapels, shook him as a terrier shakes a rat. ‘You fool,' he thundered. ‘I'd rather see you dead than monkeying with Black Magic.'

3
The Esoteric Doctrine

‘Take… take your hands off me,' Simon gasped.

His dark eyes blazed in a face that had gone deathly white and only a superhuman effort enabled him to keep his clenched fists pressed to his sides.

In another second he would have hit the Duke but Rex, a head taller than either of them, laid a mighty hand on the shoulder of each and forced them apart.

‘Have a heart now, just what is all this?' His quiet, familiar voice, with its faint American intonation, sobered the others immediately. De Richleau swinging on his heel, strode to the other side of the observatory where he stood for a moment, with his back towards them, regaining control of his emotions.

Simon, panting a little, gave a quick, nervous wriggle of his bird-like head and smoothed out the lapels of his evening coat.

‘Now, I'll tell you,' he said jerkily, ‘I never asked either of you to come here tonight, and even my oldest friends have no right to butt in on my private affairs. I think you'd better go.'

The Duke turned, passing one hand over his greying hair. All trace of his astonishing outburst had disappeared and he was once more the handsome, distinguished figure that they knew so well.

‘I'm sorry, Simon,' he said gravely. ‘But I felt as a father might who sees his child trying to pick live coals out of the fire.'

‘I'm not a child,' muttered Simon, sullenly.

‘No, but I could not have more affection for you if you were actually my son, and it is useless now to deny that you are playing the most dangerous game that has ever been known to mankind throughout the ages.'

‘Oh, come,' a quick smile spread over Rex's ugly, attractive face. ‘That's a gross exaggeration. What's the harm if Simon wants to try out a few old parlour games?'

‘Parlour games!' De Richleau took him up sharply. ‘My dear Rex, I fear your prowess in aeroplanes and racing cars hardly qualifies you to judge the soul destroying powers of these ancient cults.'

‘Thanks. I'm not quite a half-wit, and plenty of spiritualistic séances take place in the States, but I've never heard of anyone as sane as Simon going bats because of them yet.'

Simon nodded his narrow head slowly up and down. ‘Of course Rex is right, and you're only making a mountain out of a molehill.'

‘As you like,' De Richleau shrugged. ‘In that case will you permit us to stay and participate in your operations tonight?'

‘Ner, I'm sorry, but you're not a member of our Circle.'

‘No matter. We have already met most of your friends downstairs, surely
they will not object to our presence on just this one occasion?'

‘Ner.' Simon shook his head again. ‘Our number is made up.'

‘I see, you are already thirteen, is that it? Now listen, Simon.' The Duke laid his hands gently on the young man's shoulders. ‘One of the reasons why my friendship with Rex and yourself has developed into such a splendid intimacy, is because I have always refrained from stressing my age and greater experience, but tonight I break the rule. My conscious life, since we both left our schools, has been nearly three times as long as yours and, in addition, although I have never told you of it, I made a deep study of these esoteric doctrines years ago when I lived in the East. I beg of you, as I have never begged for anything in my life before, that you should give up whatever quest you are engaged upon and leave this house with us immediately.'

BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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