Her fear was so real and her physical distress so evident that Kennedy, who had been listening silently for the most part, rose and hastened to reassure her.
“Not unless you make your own fears affect yourself and so play into their hands,” he said earnestly.
Veda looked at him a moment, then shook her head mournfully. “I have seen Dr. Vaughn,” she said slowly.
Dr. Gilbert Vaughn, I recollected, was a well-known alienist in the city.
“He tried to tell me the same thing,” she resumed doubtfully. “But—oh—I know what I know! I have felt the death thought—and he knows it!”
“What do you mean?” inquired Kennedy, leaning forward keenly.
“The death thought,” she repeated, “a malicious psychic attack. Some one is driving me to death by it. I thought I could fight it off. I went away to escape it. Now I have come back—and I have not escaped. There is always that disturbing influence—always— directed against me. I know it will—kill me!”
I listened, startled. The death thought! What did it mean? What terrible power was it? Was it hypnotism? What was this fearsome, cruel belief, this modern witchcraft that could unnerve a rich and educated woman? Surely, after all, I felt that this was not a case for a doctor alone; it called for a detective.
“You see,” she went on, heroically trying to control herself, “I have always been interested in the mysterious, the strange, the occult. In fact my father and my husband’s father met through their common interest. So, you see, I come naturally by it.
“Not long ago I heard of Professor and Madame Rapport and their new Temple of the Occult. I went to it, and later Seward became interested, too. We have been taken into a sort of inner circle,” she continued fearfully, as though there were some evil power in the very words themselves, “the Red Lodge.”
“You have told Dr. Vaughn?” shot out Kennedy suddenly, his eyes fixed on her face to see what it would betray.
Veda leaned forward, as if to tell a secret, then whispered in a low voice, “He knows. Like us—he—he is a—Devil Worshiper!”
“What?” exclaimed Kennedy in wide-eyed astonishment.
“A Devil Worshiper,” she repeated. “You haven’t heard of the Red Lodge?”
Kennedy nodded negatively. “Could you get us—initiated?” he hazarded.
“P—perhaps,” she hesitated, in a half-frightened tone. “I—I’ll try to get you in to-night.”
She had risen, half dazed, as if her own temerity overwhelmed her.
“You—poor girl,” blurted out Kennedy, his sympathies getting the upper hand for the moment as he took the hand she extended mutely. “Trust me. I will do all in my power, all in the power of modern science to help you fight off this—influence.”
There must have been something magnetic, hypnotic in his eye.
“I will stop here for you,” she murmured, as she almost fled from the room.