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Authors: Dennis Wheatley

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BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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My failure last night was regrettable, since it has caused the death of a young woman recently discovered by me as an exceptional medium, for whom I might have had some further use. Mr Van Ryn removed her body while I slept and it is now in your keeping; I am anxious that every care should be taken of it. You will leave the body just as it is in your library
until further instructions
and refrain from taking any steps towards a coroner's examination or its burial. If you disobey me in this matter, I shall command certain forces at my disposal, of which Monsieur Le Duc de Richleau may be able to inform you, to take possession of it.

All of you will confine yourselves in the library during the coming day, giving such reasons as you choose to your servants that you are not to be disturbed.

Lastly, my friend Simon Aron is to rejoin me for the continuance of those experiments in which we are engaged. He will leave the house alone at mid-day and proceed on foot to the cross-roads which lie a mile and a half to the southwest of Cardinals Folly, where I shall arrange for him to be met and, having surrendered himself to my representative, he must agree to give me his willing co-operation in the ritual to Satan tonight, which is necessary for the rediscovery of the Talisman of Set.

If any of these injunctions are disregarded in the least degree, you already know the penalty, but if they are carried out to my entire satisfaction, Simon Aron shall return to you sane and well after I have carried out my operations, and the child shall be restored as innocent and happy as she was yesterday.

Marie Lou read the document over De Richleau's shoulder. ‘Oh, what are we to do?' she wailed, wringing her hands together. ‘Greyeyes, this is too awful. What are we going to do?'

‘God knows,' De Richleau muttered miserably. ‘He has the whip hand of us now with a vengeance. The devil of it is that I don't trust his promise to return the child even if Simon is game to sacrifice himself.'

At that moment Simon's head appeared above the window sill, and he scrambled up the last rungs of the ladder into the room.

‘Well!' the Duke shot at him, but Simon shook his head.

‘The three of us have been round the grounds but in this filthy fog it's
impossible to see any distance. He's got clean away by now.'

‘I feared as much,' the Duke murmured despondently, and with a new access of miserable unhappiness, he watched Richard climb into the room.

‘Not a trace,' Richard exclaimed hoarsely. ‘No footmarks, even on the flower beds, to show which way he went. Where the hell is nurse? I'll sack the woman for her damned incompetence. With her door ajar, there's no excuse for her not having heard Fleur cry out.'

‘It was not her fault,' said De Richleau mildly. ‘Mocata threw her into a deep sleep and she is sleeping still. Until the time he has set it will be impossible to rouse her.'

Rex followed the others through the window, muttering angrily: ‘This filthy mist! A dozen toughs might be racketing round the garden, but we'd never get a sight of them. Is it supposed to be daylight yet, or isn't it?'

Simon glanced at the clock on the nursery mantelpiece. ‘According to this it's only ten to five. Surely it must be later than that.'

‘It's stopped,' announced Richard, ‘but it can't be much after half past six, or the servants would be getting up, and when I ran round the far side of the house just now, there were no lights in their windows.'

‘All the better,' said the Duke abruptly. ‘Mocata's left a letter, Richard, with certain instructions which he orders us to carry out if Fleur is to remain unharmed.'

‘Let's see it.' Richard held out his hand.

De Richleau hesitated. ‘I'd rather you read it when we are downstairs again, if you don't mind. It doesn't help us for the present and there are certain things which we should do at once–before the servants start moving about.'

‘Good Lord, man! I mean to have the lot of them out of bed inside ten minutes. We shall need their help.'

‘I wish, instead, that while I connect the telephone again and see if I can find out anything from the inn, you would write a brief note to Malin saying that our experiments are still in progress and that we are to be left undisturbed in this wing of the house for the whole day.'

‘If you think I'm going to stay here twiddling my thumbs while Fleur's in danger–you're crazy!' cried Richard indignantly.

The Duke knew that his suggestion of continued inactivity must make his apparent negligence seem even worse, but he had never yet been known to lose his head in a crisis and he managed to keep his voice quiet and even.

‘I would like you to see this letter first and talk it over with Marie Lou before you do anything reckless. In any case Tanith's body is still downstairs. It must remain there for the moment and that is quite sufficient reason for the servants to be kept away from the library. You, Rex, go along to the kitchen, take Simon with you, and between you bring us back the best cold meal that you can muster. We're half starved, and fasting has its limits of usefulness, even in an affair like this.'

Marie Lou stood there listening to the argument. She could not really believe that this awful thing had actually happened to
her.
If she had lost Fleur she would die. Even Richard would never be able to console her. It simply could not be true. The four men were phantoms talking—, yet she could see every object in the room with a curious supernormal clarity. Strange that she had never noticed one handle on the old walnut chest of drawers to be odd before, or that one of the wires in the fireguard protruded
a little. Fleur might cut herself if she fell against it. She must tell nanny to have it seen to tomorrow. Yet all the time these thoughts were drifting through her mind she was conscious of what the others were saying and of an urgent need to comfort De Richleau. Her poor ‘Greyeyes' was feeling desperately unhappy, she knew, and held himself entirely responsible for the terrible thing which could not possibly be true. When he mentioned breakfast she said at once: ‘I will go down and cook you some eggs or something.'

‘No, no, my dear,' De Richleau looked round and then lowered his eyes quickly, his heart wrung at the sight of her dead-white face. ‘Please go down to the library and read this letter of Mocata's through again quietly with Richard. Then you can talk it over together and will have made up your minds what you think best by the time the rest of us get back.'

Richard gave in to the Duke's wishes for the moment. They all descended to the ground floor again and, when the other three had gone off to the kitchen quarters, he remained with Marie Lou and read Mocata's letter quickly.

As he finished he looked up at her in miserable indecision. ‘My poor sweet. This is ghastly for you.'

‘It's just as bad for you,' she said softly. Then, with a little cry, she flung her arms round his neck. ‘Oh, Richard, darling, what are we to do?'

‘Dearest.' He hugged her to him, soothing her gently as best he could now that the storm had broken. Her small body heaved with desperate sobbing, while great tears ran down her cheeks, falling in large, damp splashes upon his hands and neck.

As he held her, murmuring little phrases of endearment and optimistic comfort, he thought her weeping would never cease. Her body trembled as it was swept with terrible emotion at the loss of her cherished Fleur.

‘Marie Lou, my angel,' he whispered softly, ‘try and pull yourself together, do, or else you'll have me breaking down as well in a minute. No harm can have happened to her yet, and it isn't likely to until tonight at the earliest. Even then, he'll think twice before he carries out his threat. Only a fool destroys his hostage to spite his enemy. Mocata may be every sort of rogue, but he's a civilised one at least, so he won't maltreat her in any way, you can be sure of that, and if we only play our cards properly, we'll get her back before it comes to any question of his carrying out this appalling threat.'

‘But what can we do, Richard? What can we do?' she cried, looking at him wildly from large, tear-dimmed eyes.

‘Get after him the second the others come back,' Richard declared promptly. ‘He's human, isn't he? He had to use a ladder to get up to the nursery just like any other thug. If we act at once we'll have him under lock and key by nightfall.'

De Richleau's quiet voice broke in from behind them. ‘You have decided, then, to call in the police?'

‘Of course.' Richard turned to stare at him. ‘This is totally different from last night's affair. It is a case of kidnapping, pure and simple, and I'm going to pull every gun I know to get the police of the whole country after him in the next half hour. If you've reconnected that line, I'll get straight through to Scotland Yard–now.'

‘Yes, the telephone is all right. I've been through to the inn and had old
Wilkes out of bed. He remembers Rex and Tanith dining there last night, of course, but when I described Mocata to him, he said he hadn't seen anyone who answers to that description there at all, either yesterday or this morning. Have you written that letter for the servants?'

‘Not yet. I will.' Richard left the library just as Simon and Rex came in, carrying a collection of plates and dishes on two trays, prominent upon which were a large China teapot and the half of a York ham.

‘Please don't phone Scotland Yard just yet,' Marie Lou called after Richard. ‘I simply must talk to you again before we burn our boats.'

The Duke gave her a sharp glance from under his grey eyebrows. ‘You are not then in favour of calling in the police?'

‘I don't know what to do,' she confessed miserably. ‘Richard is so sane and practical that I suppose he's right, but you read the letter and I should never forgive myself if our calling in the police forced Mocata's hand. Do you–do you really think that he has the power to find out if we go against his instructions?'

De Richleau nodded. ‘I'm afraid so. But Simon can tell you more of his capabilities in that direction than I can.'

Simon and Rex had put down their trays and were reading Mocata's letter together. The former looked up swiftly.

‘Um. He can see things when he wants to in that mirror I told you of, and once he gets to London he'll have half-a-dozen mediums that he can throw into a trance to pick us up. It will be child's play for a man of his powers to find out if we leave this room.'

‘That's my view,' the Duke agreed. ‘And if we once turn to the police, we have either to go to them or else bring them here. Telephoning won't be sufficient. They will want photographs of Fleur and to question everyone concerned, so Mocata stands a pretty good chance of seeing us in conference with them, if he keeps us under psychic observation, whichever way we set to work.'

‘We should be mad to even think of it,' said Simon jerkily. ‘It's pretty useless for me to say I'm sorry, but I brought this whole trouble on you all and there's only one thing to do, that's obvious.'

‘For us to sit here like a lot of dummies while you go off to give yourself up at twelve o'clock, I suppose?' Richard, who had just rejoined them, cut in acidly.

‘I have been expecting that, knowing Simon,' the Duke observed. ‘Terrible as the consquences may be for him and although the idea of surrender makes my blood boil I must confess that I think he's right, with certain modifications!'

‘Oh, isn't there some other way?' Marie Lou exclaimed desperately, catching at Simon's hand. ‘It's too awful that because of our own trouble we should even talk of sacrificing you.'

One of those rare smiles that made him such a lovable person lit Simon's face. ‘Ner,' he said softly, ‘it's been my muddle from the beginning. I'm terribly grateful to you all for trying to get me out of it, but Mocata's been too much for us, and I must throw my hand in now. It's the only thing to do.'

‘It is my damned incompetence which has let us in for this,' grunted the Duke. ‘I deserve to take your place, Simon, and I would–you know that–if it were the least use. The devil of it is that it's you he wants, not me.'

Rex had been cutting thin slices from the ham and pouring out the tea.
Richard took a welcome cup of his favourite Orange Pekoe from him and said firmly:

‘Stop talking nonsense, for God's sake! Neither of you is to blame. After what we've all been through together in the past you did quite rightly to come here. Who should we look to for help in times of trouble if not each other? If I was in a real tight corner I shouldn't hesitate to involve either of you–and I know that Marie Lou feels the same. This blow couldn't possibly have been foreseen by anyone. It was just, well, call it an accident, and the responsibility for protecting Fleur was ours every bit as much as yours. Now let's get down to what we mean to do.'

‘That's decent of you, Richard.' De Richleau tried to smile, knowing what it must have cost his friend to ease their feeling of guilt when he must be so desperately anxious about his child.

‘Damned decent,' Simon echoed. ‘But all the same I'm going to keep the appointment Mocata's made for me. It's the only hope we've got.'

Richard stuck out his chin. ‘You're not, old chap. You placed yourself in my hands by coming to my house, and I won't have it. The business we went through last night scared me as much as anyone, I admit it; but because Greyeyes has proved right about Satanic manifestations, there is no reason for you all to lose your sense of proportion about what the evil powers can do. They have their limitations, just like anything else. Greyeyes admitted last night that they were based on natural laws, and this swine's gone outside them. He's operating now in a country that is strange to him. He confesses as much in his letter. You can see he is scared of calling in the police, and that's the very way we're going to get him. You people seem to have lost your nerve.'

BOOK: The Devil Rides Out
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