“I beg your pardon,” I said; “I did not see you, sir.”
“You could hardly be expected to see me,” the man replied, civilly, approaching the side of the vehicle; “and the noise of the creek prevented my hearing you.”
I at once recognized the voice, although five years had passed since I had heard it. I was not particularly well pleased to hear it now.
“You are Dr. Dorrimore, I think,” said I.
“Yes; and you are my good friend Mr. Manrich. I am more than glad to see you—the excess,” he added, with a light laugh, “being due to the fact that I am going your way, and naturally expect an invitation to ride with you.”
“Which I extend with all my heart.”
That was not altogether true.
Dr. Dorrimore thanked me as he seated himself beside me, and I drove cautiously forward, as before. Doubtless it is fancy, but it seems to me now that the remaining distance was made in a chill fog; that I was uncomfortably cold; that the way was longer than ever before, and the town, when we reached it, cheerless, forbidding, and desolate. It must have been early in the evening, yet I do not recollect a light in any of the houses nor a living thing in the streets. Dorrimore explained at some length how he happened to be there, and where he had been during the years that had elapsed since I had seen him. I recall the fact of the narrative, but none of the facts narrated. He had been in foreign countries and had returned—this is all that my memory retains, and this I already knew. As to myself I cannot remember that I spoke a word, though doubtless I did. Of one thing I am distinctly conscious: the man’s presence at my side was strangely distasteful and disquieting—so much so that when I at last pulled up under the lights of the Putnam House I experienced a sense of having escaped some spiritual peril of a nature peculiarly forbidding. This sense of relief was somewhat modified by the discovery that Dr. Dorrimore was living at the same hotel.
In partial explanation of my feelings regarding Dr. Dorrimore I will relate briefly the circumstances under which I had met him some years before. One evening a half-dozen men of whom I was one were sitting in the library of the Bohemian Club in San Francisco. The conversation had turned to the subject of sleight-of-hand and the feats of the prestidigitateurs, one of whom was then exhibiting at a local theatre.
“These fellows are pretenders in a double sense,” said one of the party; “they can do nothing which it is worth one’s while to be made a dupe by. The humblest wayside juggler in India could mystify them to the verge of lunacy.”
“For example, how?” asked another, lighting a cigar.
“For example, by all their common and familiar performances—throwing large objects into the air which never come down; causing plants to sprout, grow visibly and blossom, in bare ground chosen by spectators; putting a man into a wicker basket, piercing him through and through with a sword while he shrieks and bleeds, and then—the basket being opened nothing is there; tossing the free end of a silken ladder into the air, mounting it and disappearing.”