“I think I shall understand soon. At present I understand nothing. I have said I cannot dine with him.”
“I cannot ... before the servants. One of them at least suspects something. But I will sit with him afterwards, if that is right.”
“Very good. You must be with him as much as you can. Remember, it is not the worst yet. It is to prevent that worst happening that you must use all the power you’ve got.”
“Am I to speak to him straight out? And what shall I tell Father Mahon?”
“You must use your judgment. Your object is to fight on his side, remember, against this thing that is obsessing him. Miss Deronnais, I must give you another warning.”
She bowed. She did not wish to use more words than were necessary. The strain was frightful.
“It is this: whatever you may see—little tricks of speech or movement—you must not for one instant yield to the thought that the creature that is obsessing him is what he thinks it is. Remember the thing is wholly evil, wholly evil; but it may, perhaps, do its utmost to hide that, and to keep up the illusion. It is intelligent, but not brilliant; it has the intelligence only of some venomous brute in the slime. Or it may try to frighten you. You must not be frightened.”
She understood hints here and there of what the old man said—enough, at any rate, to act.
“And you must keep up to the utmost pitch your sympathy with him himself. You must remember that he is somewhere there, underneath, in chains; and that, probably, he is struggling too, and needs you. It is not Possession yet: he is still partly conscious.... Did he know you?”
“Yes; he just knew me. He was puzzled, I think.”
“Has he seen anyone else he knows?”
“His mother ... yes. He just knew her too. He did not speak to her. I would not let him.”
“Miss Deronnais, you have acted admirably.... What is he doing now?”
“I don’t know. I left him in his room. He was quite quiet.”
“You must go back directly.... Shall we turn? I don’t think there’s much more to say just now.”
Then she noticed that he had said nothing about the priest.
“And what about Father Mahon?” she said.
The old man was silent a moment.
“Well?” she said again.
“Miss Deronnais, I wouldn’t rely on Father Mahon. I’ve hardly ever met a priest who takes these things seriously. In theory—yes, of course; but not in concrete instances. However, Father Mahon may be an exception. And the worst of it is that the priesthood has enormous power, if they only knew it.”
The tinkle of a bicycle bell sounded down the road behind them. Maggie wheeled on the instant, and caught the profile she was expecting.
“Is that you?” she said, as the rider passed.
The man jumped off, touched his hat, and handed her a note. She tore it open, and glanced through it in the light of the bicycle lamp. Then she crumpled it up and threw it into the ditch with a quick, impatient movement.