THE CAMP OF THE DOG by Algernon Blackwood
Everything changed from the moment John Silence set foot on that island; it was like the effect produced by calling in some big doctor, some great arbiter of life and death, for consultation. The sense of gravity increased a hundredfold. Even inanimate objects took upon themselves a subtle alteration, for the setting of the adventure—this deserted bit of sea with its hundreds of uninhabited islands—somehow turned sombre. An element that was mysterious, and in a sense disheartening, crept unbidden into the severity of grey rock and dark pine forest and took the sparkle from the sunshine and the sea.
I, at least, was keenly aware of the change, for my whole being shifted, as it were, a degree higher, becoming keyed up and alert. The figures from the background of the stage moved forward a little into the light—nearer to the inevitable action. In a word this man’s arrival intensified the whole affair.
And, looking back down the years to the time when all this happened, it is clear to me that he had a pretty sharp idea of the meaning of it from the very beginning. How much he knew beforehand by his strange divining powers, it is impossible to say, but from the moment he came upon the scene and caught within himself the note of what was going on amongst us, he undoubtedly held the true solution of the puzzle and had no need to ask questions. And this certitude it was that set him in such an atmosphere of power and made us all look to him instinctively; for he took no tentative steps, made no false moves, and while the rest of us floundered he moved straight to the climax. He was indeed a true diviner of souls.
I can now read into his behaviour a good deal that puzzled me at the time, for though I had dimly guessed the solution, I had no idea how he would deal with it. And the conversations I can reproduce almost verbatim, for, according to my invariable habit, I kept full notes of all he said.
To Mrs. Maloney, foolish and dazed; to Joan, alarmed, yet plucky; and to the clergyman, moved by his daughter’s distress below his usual shallow emotions, he gave the best possible treatment in the best possible way, yet all so easily and simply as to make it appear naturally spontaneous. For he dominated the Bo’sun’s Mate, taking the measure of her ignorance with infinite patience; he keyed up Joan, stirring her courage and interest to the highest point for her own safety; and the Reverend Timothy he soothed and comforted, while obtaining his implicit obedience, by taking him into his confidence, and leading him gradually to a comprehension of the issue that was bound to follow.
And Sangree—here his wisdom was most wisely calculated—he neglected outwardly because inwardly he was the object of his unceasing and most concentrated attention. Under the guise of apparent indifference his mind kept the Canadian under constant observation.
There was a restless feeling in the Camp that evening and none of us lingered round the fire after supper as usual. Sangree and I busied ourselves with patching up the torn tent for our guest and with finding heavy stones to hold the ropes, for Dr. Silence insisted on having it pitched on the highest point of the island ridge, just where it was most rocky and there was no earth for pegs. The place, moreover, was midway between the men’s and women’s tents, and, of course, commanded the most comprehensive view of the Camp.
“So that if your dog comes,” he said simply, “I may be able to catch him as he passes across.”
The wind had gone down with the sun and an unusual warmth lay over the island that made sleep heavy, and in the morning we assembled at a late breakfast, rubbing our eyes and yawning. The cool north wind had given way to the warm southern air that sometimes came up with haze and moisture across the Baltic, bringing with it the relaxing sensations that produced enervation and listlessness.
And this may have been the reason why at first I failed to notice that anything unusual was about, and why I was less alert than normally; for it was not till after breakfast that the silence of our little party struck me and I discovered that Joan had not yet put in an appearance. And then, in a flash, the last heaviness of sleep vanished and I saw that Maloney was white and troubled and his wife could not hold a plate without trembling.
A desire to ask questions was stopped in me by a swift glance from Dr. Silence, and I suddenly understood in some vague way that they were waiting till Sangree should have gone. How this idea came to me I cannot determine, but the soundness of the intuition was soon proved, for the moment he moved off to his tent, Maloney looked up at me and began to speak in a low voice.
“You slept through it all,” he half whispered.
“Through what?” I asked, suddenly thrilled with the knowledge that something dreadful had happened.
“We didn’t wake you for fear of getting the whole Camp up,” he went on, meaning, by the Camp, I supposed, Sangree. “It was just before dawn when the screams woke me.”
“The dog again?” I asked, with a curious sinking of the heart.
“Got right into the tent,” he went on, speaking passionately but very low, “and woke my wife by scrambling all over her. Then she realised that Joan was struggling beside her. And, by God! the beast had torn her arm; scratched all down the arm she was, and bleeding.”
“Joan injured?” I gasped.
“Merely scratched—this time,” put in John Silence, speaking for the first time; “suffering more from shock and fright than actual wounds.”
“Isn’t it a mercy the doctor was here,” said Mrs. Maloney, looking as if she would never know calmness again. “I think we should both have been killed.”
“It has been a most merciful escape,” Maloney said, his pulpit voice struggling with his emotion. “But, of course, we cannot risk another—we must strike Camp and get away at once—”
“Only poor Mr. Sangree must not know what has happened. He is so attached to Joan and would be so terribly upset,” added the Bo’sun’s Mate distractedly, looking all about in her terror.
“It is perhaps advisable that Mr. Sangree should not know what has occurred,” Dr. Silence said with quiet authority, “but I think, for the safety of all concerned, it will be better not to leave the island just now.” He spoke with great decision and Maloney looked up and followed his words closely.
“If you will agree to stay here a few days longer, I have no doubt we can put an end to the attentions of your strange visitor, and incidentally have the opportunity of observing a most singular and interesting phenomenon—”
“What!” gasped Mrs. Maloney, “a phenomenon? —you mean that you know what it is?”
“I am quite certain I know what it is,” he replied very low, for we heard the footsteps of Sangree approaching, “though I am not so certain yet as to the best means of dealing with it. But in any case it is not wise to leave precipitately—”
“Oh, Timothy, does he think it’s a devil—?” cried the Bo’sun’s Mate in a voice that even the Canadian must have heard.
“In my opinion,” continued John Silence, looking across at me and the clergyman, “it is a case of modern lycanthropy with other complications that may—” He left the sentence unfinished, for Mrs. Maloney got up with a jump and fled to her tent fearful she might hear a worse thing, and at that moment Sangree turned the corner of the stockade and came into view.
“There are footmarks all round the mouth of my tent,” he said with excitement. “The animal has been here again in the night. Dr. Silence, you really must come and see them for yourself. They’re as plain on the moss as tracks in snow.”
But later in the day, while Sangree went off in the canoe to fish the pools near the larger islands, and Joan still lay, bandaged and resting, in her tent, Dr. Silence called me and the tutor and proposed a walk to the granite slabs at the far end. Mrs. Maloney sat on a stump near her daughter, and busied herself energetically with alternate nursing and painting.
“We’ll leave you in charge,” the doctor said with a smile that was meant to be encouraging, “and when you want us for lunch, or anything, the megaphone will always bring us back in time.”
For, though the very air was charged with strange emotions, everyone talked quietly and naturally as with a definite desire to counteract unnecessary excitement.
“I’ll keep watch,” said the plucky Bo’sun’s Mate, “and meanwhile I find comfort in my work.” She was busy with the sketch she had begun on the day after our arrival. “For even a tree,” she added proudly, pointing to her little easel, “is a symbol of the divine, and the thought makes me feel safer.” We glanced for a moment at a daub which was more like the symptom of a disease than a symbol of the divine—and then took the path round the lagoon.
At the far end we made a little fire and lay round it in the shadow of a big boulder. Maloney stopped his humming suddenly and turned to his companion.
“And what do you make of it all?” he asked abruptly.
“In the first place,” replied John Silence, making himself comfortable against the rock, “it is of human origin, this animal; it is undoubted lycanthropy.”
His words had the effect precisely of a bombshell. Maloney listened as though he had been struck.
“You puzzle me utterly,” he said, sitting up closer and staring at him.
“Perhaps,” replied the other, “but if you’ll listen to me for a few moments you may be less puzzled at the end—or more. It depends how much you know. Let me go further and say that you have underestimated, or miscalculated, the effect of this primitive wild life upon all of you.”
“In what way?” asked the clergyman, bristling a trifle.
“It is strong medicine for any town-dweller, and for some of you it has been too strong. One of you has gone wild.” He uttered these last words with great emphasis.
“Gone savage,” he added, looking from one to the other.
Neither of us found anything to reply.
“To say that the brute has awakened in a man is not a mere metaphor always,” he went on presently.
“Of course not!”
“But, in the sense I mean, may have a very literal and terrible significance,” pursued Dr. Silence. “Ancient instincts that no one dreamed of, least of all their possessor, may leap forth—”
“Atavism can hardly explain a roaming animal with teeth and claws and sanguinary instincts,” interrupted Maloney with impatience.
“The term is of your own choice,” continued the doctor equably, “not mine, and it is a good example of a word that indicates a result while it conceals the process; but the explanation of this beast that haunts your island and attacks your daughter is of far deeper significance than mere atavistic tendencies, or throwing back to animal origin, which I suppose is the thought in your mind.”
“You spoke just now of lycanthropy,” said Maloney, looking bewildered and anxious to keep to plain facts evidently, “I think I have come across the word, but really—really—it can have no actual significance to-day, can it? These superstitions of medieval times can hardly—”
He looked round at me with his jolly red face, and the expression of astonishment and dismay on it would have made me shout with laughter at any other time. Laughter, however, was never farther from my mind than at this moment when I listened to Dr. Silence as he carefully suggested to the clergyman the very explanation that had gradually been forcing itself upon my own mind.
“However medieval ideas may have exaggerated the idea is not of much importance to us now,” he said quietly, “when we are face to face with a modern example of what, I take it, has always been a profound fact. For the moment let us leave the name of any one in particular out of the matter and consider certain possibilities.”
We all agreed with that at any rate. There was no need to speak of Sangree, or of anyone else, until we knew a little more.
“The fundamental fact in this most curious case,” he went on, “is that the ‘Double’ of a man—”
“You mean the astral body? I’ve heard of that, of course,” broke in Maloney with a snort of triumph.
“No doubt,” said the other, smiling, “no doubt you have; —that this Double, or fluidic body of a man, as I was saying, has the power under certain conditions of projecting itself and becoming visible to others. Certain training will accomplish this, and certain drugs likewise; illnesses, too, that ravage the body may produce temporarily the result that death produces permanently, and let loose this counterpart of a human being and render it visible to the sight of others.
“Everyone, of course, knows this more or less to-day; but it is not so generally known, and probably believed by none who have not witnessed it, that this fluidic body can, under certain conditions, assume other forms than human, and that such other forms may be determined by the dominating thought and wish of the owner. For this Double, or astral body as you call it, is really the seat of the passions, emotions and desires in the psychical economy. It is the Passion Body; and, in projecting itself, it can often assume a form that gives expression to the overmastering desire that moulds it; for it is composed of such tenuous matter that it lends itself readily to the moulding by thought and wish.”
“I follow you perfectly,” said Maloney, looking as if he would much rather be chopping firewood elsewhere and singing.
“And there are some persons so constituted,” the doctor went on with increasing seriousness, “that the fluid body in them is but loosely associated with the physical, persons of poor health as a rule, yet often of strong desires and passions; and in these persons it is easy for the Double to dissociate itself during deep sleep from their system, and, driven forth by some consuming desire, to assume an animal form and seek the fulfilment of that desire.”
There, in broad daylight, I saw Maloney deliberately creep closer to the fire and heap the wood on. We gathered in to the heat, and to each other, and listened to Dr. Silence’s voice as it mingled with the swish and whirr of the wind about us, and the falling of the little waves.
“For instance, to take a concrete example,” he resumed; “suppose some young man, with the delicate constitution I have spoken of, forms an overpowering attachment to a young woman, yet perceives that it is not welcomed, and is man enough to repress its outward manifestations. In such a case, supposing his Double be easily projected, the very repression of his love in the daytime would add to the intense force of his desire when released in deep sleep from the control of his will, and his fluidic body might issue forth in monstrous or animal shape and become actually visible to others. And, if his devotion were dog-like in its fidelity, yet concealing the fires of a fierce passion beneath, it might well assume the form of a creature that seemed to be half dog, half wolf—”
“A werewolf, you mean?” cried Maloney, pale to the lips as he listened.
John Silence held up a restraining hand. “A werewolf,” he said, “is a true psychical fact of profound significance, however absurdly it may have been exaggerated by the imaginations of a superstitious peasantry in the days of unenlightenment, for a werewolf is nothing but the savage, and possibly sanguinary, instincts of a passionate man scouring the world in his fluidic body, his passion body, his body of desire. As in the case at hand, he may not know it—”
“It is not necessarily deliberate, then?” Maloney put in quickly, with relief.
“—It is hardly ever deliberate. It is the desires released in sleep from the control of the will finding a vent. In all savage races it has been recognised and dreaded, this phenomenon styled ‘Wehr Wolf,’ but to-day it is rare. And it is becoming rarer still, for the world grows tame and civilised, emotions have become refined, desires lukewarm, and few men have savagery enough left in them to generate impulses of such intense force, and certainly not to project them in animal form.”
“By Gad!” exclaimed the clergyman breathlessly, and with increasing excitement, “then I feel I must tell you—what has been given to me in confidence—that Sangree has in him an admixture of savage blood—of Red Indian ancestry—”
“Let us stick to our supposition of a man as described,” the doctor stopped him calmly, “and let us imagine that he has in him this admixture of savage blood; and further, that he is wholly unaware of his dreadful physical and psychical infirmity; and that he suddenly finds himself leading the primitive life together with the object of his desires; with the result that the strain of the untamed wild-man in his blood—”
“Red Indian, for instance,” from Maloney.
“Red Indian, perfectly,” agreed the doctor; “the result, I say, that this savage strain in him is awakened and leaps into passionate life. What then?”
He looked hard at Timothy Maloney, and the clergyman looked hard at him.
“The wild life such as you lead it here on this island, for instance, might quickly awaken his savage instincts—his buried instincts—and with profoundly disquieting results.”
“You mean his Subtle Body, as you call it, might issue forth automatically in deep sleep and seek the object of its desire?” I said, coming to Maloney’s aid, who was finding it more and more difficult to get words.
“Precisely; —yet the desire of the man remaining utterly unmalefic—pure and wholesome in every sense—”
“Ah!” I heard the clergyman gasp.
“The lover’s desire for union run wild, run savage, tearing its way out in primitive, untamed fashion, I mean,” continued the doctor, striving to make himself clear to a mind bounded by conventional thought and knowledge; “for the desire to possess, remember, may easily become importunate, and, embodied in this animal form of the Subtle Body which acts as its vehicle, may go forth to tear in pieces all that obstructs, to reach to the very heart of the loved object and seize it. Au fond, it is nothing more than the aspiration for union, as I said—the splendid and perfectly clean desire to absorb utterly into itself—”
He paused a moment and looked into Maloney’s eyes.
“To bathe in the very heart’s blood of the one desired,” he added with grave emphasis.
The fire spurted and crackled and made me start, but Maloney found relief in a genuine shudder, and I saw him turn his head and look about him from the sea to the trees. The wind dropped just at that moment and the doctor’s words rang sharply through the stillness.
“Then it might even kill?” stammered the clergyman presently in a hushed voice, and with a little forced laugh by way of protest that sounded quite ghastly.
“In the last resort it might kill,” repeated Dr. Silence. Then, after another pause, during which he was clearly debating how much or how little it was wise to give to his audience, he continued: “And if the Double does not succeed in getting back to its physical body, that physical body would wake an imbecile—an idiot—or perhaps never wake at all.”
Maloney sat up and found his tongue.
“You mean that if this fluid animal thing, or whatever it is, should be prevented getting back, the man might never wake again?” he asked, with shaking voice.
“He might be dead,” replied the other calmly. The tremor of a positive sensation shivered in the air about us.
“Then isn’t that the best way to cure the fool—the brute—?” thundered the clergyman, half rising to his feet.
“Certainly it would be an easy and undiscoverable form of murder,” was the stern reply, spoken as calmly as though it were a remark about the weather.
Maloney collapsed visibly, and I gathered the wood over the fire and coaxed up a blaze.
“The greater part of the man’s life—of his vital forces—goes out with this Double,” Dr. Silence resumed, after a moment’s consideration, “and a considerable portion of the actual material of his physical body. So the physical body that remains behind is depleted, not only of force, but of matter. You would see it small, shrunken, dropped together, just like the body of a materialising medium at a séance. Moreover, any mark or injury inflicted upon this Double will be found exactly reproduced by the phenomenon of repercussion upon the shrunken physical body lying in its trance—”
“An injury inflicted upon the one you say would be reproduced also on the other?” repeated Maloney, his excitement growing again.
“Undoubtedly,” replied the other quietly; “for there exists all the time a continuous connection between the physical body and the Double—a connection of matter, though of exceedingly attenuated, possibly of etheric, matter. The wound travels, so to speak, from one to the other, and if this connection were broken the result would be death.”
“Death,” repeated Maloney to himself, “death!” He looked anxiously at our faces, his thoughts evidently beginning to clear.
“And this solidity?” he asked presently, after a general pause; “this tearing of tents and flesh; this howling, and the marks of paws? You mean that the Double—?”
“Has sufficient material drawn from the depleted body to produce physical results? Certainly!” the doctor took him up. “Although to explain at this moment such problems as the passage of matter through matter would be as difficult as to explain how the thought of a mother can actually break the bones of the child unborn.”
Dr. Silence pointed out to sea, and Maloney, looking wildly about him, turned with a violent start. I saw a canoe, with Sangree in the stern-seat, slowly coming into view round the farther point. His hat was off, and his tanned face for the first time appeared to me—to us all, I think—as though it were the face of someone else. He looked like a wild man. Then he stood up in the canoe to make a cast with the rod, and he looked for all the world like an Indian. I recalled the expression of his face as I had seen it once or twice, notably on that occasion of the evening prayer, and an involuntary shudder ran down my spine.
At that very instant he turned and saw us where we lay, and his face broke into a smile, so that his teeth showed white in the sun. He looked in his element, and exceedingly attractive. He called out something about his fish, and soon after passed out of sight into the lagoon.
For a time none of us said a word.
“And the cure?” ventured Maloney at length.
“Is not to quench this savage force,” replied Dr. Silence, “but to steer it better, and to provide other outlets. This is the solution of all these problems of accumulated force, for this force is the raw material of usefulness, and should be increased and cherished, not by separating it from the body by death, but by raising it to higher channels. The best and quickest cure of all,” he went on, speaking very gently and with a hand upon the clergyman’s arm, “is to lead it towards its object, provided that object is not unalterably hostile—to let it find rest where—”
He stopped abruptly, and the eyes of the two men met in a single glance of comprehension.
“Joan?” Maloney exclaimed, under his breath.
“Joan!” replied John Silence.
CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK