16 - 22 May, 2015

“Not altogether. Any numerologist who knew of your devotion to each other would expect to find some affinity in your numbers. You will see, too, that your other friend, Richard Eaton is a four person, which accounts for his sympathy towards you. The eight is formed by two halves or circles and, four being the half of eight, persons with those numbers will always incline towards each other. Then his wife, like myself, is a two which is again linked to all four of you because it is divisible into eight.” Rex nodded.
“It's the strangest mystery I've met up with in a whale of a while. There isn't a single odd number in the whole series, but tell me, would this combination of eights be a good thing, d'you reckon or no?”
“It is very, very potent,” she said slowly. “888 is the number given to Our Lord by students of Occultism in his aspect as the Redeemer.
Add them together and you get 24. 2+4=6 which is the number of Venus, the representative of Love. That is the complete opposite of 666 which Revelations give as the number of the Beast. The three sixes add to eighteen and 1+8=9, the symbol of Mars – De Richleau's secondary quality which makes him a great leader and fighter, but in its pure state represents Destruction, Force and War.”
At the mention of War, Rex's whole mind was jerked from the quiet, comfortable, old-fashioned inn parlour to a mental picture of De Richleau as he had stood only a few hours before with the light of dawn breaking over Stonehenge. He saw again the Duke's grey face and unnaturally bright eyes as he spoke of the Talisman of Set; that terrible gateway out of Hell through which, if Mocata found it, those dreaded four horsemen would come riding, invisible but all-powerful to poison the thoughts of peace-loving people and manipulate unscrupulous statesmen, influencing them to plunge Europe into fresh calamity. Not only had they to fight Mocata for Simon's safety and Tanith's but, murder, though it might be to people lacking in understanding, they had to kill him even if they were forced to sacrifice themselves.
With sudden clarity, Rex saw that Tanith's appeal for protection offered a golden opportunity to carry the war into the enemy's camp.
She was so certain that Mocata would appear to claim her, and De Richleau had stated positively that while daylight lasted, the Satanist was no more powerful than any other thug.
“Why,” Rex thought with a quick tightening of his great muscles, “should he not seize Mocata by force when he arrived; then send for the Duke to decide what they should do with him. Only one difficulty seemed to stand in the way. He could hardly attack a visitor and hold him prisoner in `The Pride of Peacocks.' Mr. Wilkes might object to that. But apparently Mocata could find Tanith with equal ease wherever she was, so she must be taken out of the inn to some place where business could be done without interference.
For a moment the thought of Cardinals Folly entered his mind again, but if he once took Tanith there, they could hardly turn her out later on and she might become a highly dangerous focus in the coming night; besides, Mocata might not care to risk a visit to the house in daylight with the odds so heavily against him, and that would ruin the whole plan. Then he remembered the woods at the bottom of the garden behind the inn. If he took Tanith there and Mocata did turn up, he would have a perfectly free hand in dealing with him. He glanced across at Tanith and suggested casually:
“How about a little stroll?” She shook her fair head and lay back with half-closed eyes in the arm-chair.
“I would love to, but I am so terribly tired. I had no proper sleep you know last night.” He nodded.

“We didn't get much either. We were sitting around Stonehenge till dawn. After that we went into Amesbury where the Duke took a room. The people there must have thought us a queer party – one room for three people and beds being specially shifted into it at half-past seven in the morning, but he was insistent that we shouldn't leave Simon for a second. So we had about four shut-eyes on those three beds, all tied together by our wrists and ankles; but it's a glorious afternoon and the woods round here are just lovely, now that it's May."
“If you like,” she rose sleepily, “I dare not go to sleep in any case. You mustn't let me until tomorrow morning. After midnight it will be May 2, the mystic two again you see, and my birthday. So during the dark hours tonight I shall be passing into my fatal day. It may be good or evil, but in such circumstances it is almost certain to bring some crisis in my life, and I'm afraid, Rex, terribly afraid.”
He drew her arm protectively through hers and led her out through the back door into the pleasant garden which boasted two large, gay archery targets, a pastime that Jeremiah Wilkes had seen fit to institute for the amusement of the local gentry, deriving considerable profit there from when they bet each other numerous rounds of drinks upon their prowess with the six foot bow. A deep border of dark wallflowers sent out their heady scent at the farther end of the lawn and beyond them the garden opened on to a natural wooded glade. A small strum marked the boundary of Mr. Wilkes' domain and when they reached it Rex passed his arm round Tanith's body, lifted her before she could protest, and with one spring of his long legs cleared the brook. She did not struggle from his grasp, but looked up at him curiously as she lay placid in his arms.
“You must be very strong,” she said. “Most men can lift a woman, but it can't be easy to jump a five foot brook with one.”
“I'm strong enough,” he smiled into her face, not attempting to put her down, “strong enough for both of us. You needn't worry.” Then, still carrying her in his arms, he walked on into the depths of the wood until the fresh, green beech trees hid them from the windows of the inn.
“You will get awfully tired,” she said lazily.
“Not me,” he declared, shaking his head. “You may be tall, but you're only a featherweight. I could carry you a mile if I wanted and it wouldn't hurt me any.”
“You needn't,” she smiled up at him. “You can put me down now and we'll sit under the trees. It's lovely here.” He laid her down very gently on a sloping bank, but instead of rising, knelt above her with one arm still about her shoulders and looked down into her eyes.
“You love me,” he said suddenly, “don't you?”
“Yes,” she confessed with troubled shadows brooding in her golden eyes, “I do. But you mustn't love me, Rex. You know what I told you yesterday. I'm going to die. I'm going to die soon, before the year is out.”
“You're not,” he said, almost fiercely. “We'll break this devil Mocata – De Richleau will. I'm certain.”
“But, my dear, it's nothing to do with him,” she protested sadly. “It's just fate and you haven't known me long, so it's not too late yet for you to keep a hold on yourself. You mustn't love me because if you do, it will make you terribly unhappy when I die.”
“You're not going to die,” he repeated and then he laughed suddenly, boyishly, ail his mercurial nature rising to dispel such gloomy thoughts. “If we both die tomorrow,” he said suddenly, “we've still got today and I love you, Tanith. That's all there is to it.” She clung to him, laughing a little hysterically although she was not far from tears. This strange new happiness was overwhelming to her, flooding her whole being now with a desperate desire to live; to put behind her those nightmare dreams from which she had woken shuddering in the past months at visions of herself torn and bleeding, the victim of some horrible railway accident, or trapped upon the top storey of a blazing building with no alternative, but to leap into the street below. For a moment it almost seemed to her that no real foundation existed for the dread which had haunted her since childhood. She was young, healthy and full of life. Why should she not enjoy to the full all the normal pleasures of life with this strong, merry-eyed man who had come so suddenly into her existence.
Again and again he assured her that all those thoughts of fatality being certain to overtake her were absurd. He told her that once she was out of Europe she would see things differently; Tanith did not really believe him.
“Rex,” she said softly, “I'm utterly done with this on top of all the rest. I haven't slept for nearly thirty-six hours. I ought not to now, but I'll never be able to stay awake tonight unless I do. No harm can come to me while you're with me, can it?”
“No,” he said huskily, “neither man nor devil shall harm you while I'm around. You poor sweet, you must be just about at the end. Go to sleep now.” With a little sigh she turned over, nestling her fair head into the crook of his arm, where he sat with his back propped up against a tree-trunk. In another moment she was sound asleep. The afternoon drew into evening. Rex's arms and legs were cold and stiff, but he would not move for fear of waking her. A new anxiety began to trouble him. Mocata had not appeared, and what would they think had become of him at Cardinals Folly? Marie Lou knew he had gone to the inn and they would probably have rung up by now. But, like a fool, he had neglected to leave any message for them. Had she consciously or unconsciously lured him from Simon's side on purpose? Simon would be safe enough with Richard and Marie Lou and De Richleau had promised to rejoin them before dusk, but perhaps Mocata was plotting some evil to prevent the Duke's return. If that were so, Rex shivered slightly at the thought. * * *

At quarter to six, De Richleau arrived back at Cardinals Folly and Richard, meeting him in the hall, told him of Mocata's visit.
“I am not altogether surprised,” the Duke admitted sombrely. “He must be pretty desperate to come here in daylight on the chance of seeing Simon, but of course, he is working against time now. Did he threaten to return?”
“Yes.” Richard launched into full particulars of the Satanist's attempt on Marie Lou and the conversation that had followed. As he talked, he studied De Richleau's face, struck by his anxious harassed expression.
Never before had he thought of the Duke as old, but now for the first time it was brought home to him that De Richleau must be nearly double his own age. And this evening he showed it. He seemed somehow to have shrunk in stature, but perhaps that was because he was standing with bent shoulders as though some invisible load was borne upon them. Richard was so impressed by that tired, lined face that he found himself ending quite seriously:
“Do you really think he can work some devilry tonight?” De Richleau nodded.
“I am certain of it, and I'm worried Richard. My luck was out today. Father Brandon, whom I went to see, was unfortunately away. He has a great knowledge of this terrible "other world" that we are up against, and knowing me well, would have helped us, but the young priest I saw in his place would not entrust me with the Host, nor could I persuade him to come with it himself and that is the only certain protection against the sort of thing Mocata may send against us.”
“We'll manage somehow,” Richard smiled, trying to cheer him.
“Yes, we've got to.” A note of the old determination came into De Richleau's voice. “Since the Church cannot help us we must rely upon my knowledge of esoteric formulas. Fortunately, I have the most important aides with me already, but I should be glad if you would send down to the village blacksmith for five horseshoes. Tell whoever you send, that they must be brand new.” At this apparently childish request for horseshoes, Richard's scepticism welled up with renewed force, but he concealed it with his usual tact and agreed readily enough. Then, the mention of the village having reminded him of Rex, he told the Duke how their friend had been called away to the inn. De Richleau's face fell suddenly.
“I thought Rex had more sense!” he exclaimed bitterly. “We must telephone at once.”
Richard got on to Mr. Wilkes, but the landlord could give them little information. A lady had arrived at about three and the American gentleman had joined her shortly after. Then they had gone out into the garden and he had seen nothing of them since. De Richleau shrugged angrily.
“The young fool! I should have thought that he would have seen enough of this horror by now to realise the danger of going off with that young woman. It's a hundred to one that she is Mocata's puppet if nothing else. I only pray to God that he turns up again before nightfall. Where is Simon now?”
“With Marie Lou. They are upstairs in the nursery I think, watching Fleur bathed and put to bed.”
“Good. Let us go up then. Fleur can help us very greatly in protecting him tonight.”
“Fleur!” exclaimed Richard in amazement. The Duke nodded.
“The prayers of such a woman are amazingly powerful in such instances, and the younger she is, the stronger her vibrations. You see, a little child like Fleur who is old enough to pray, but absolutely unsoiled in any way, is the nearest that any human being can get to absolute purity. You will remember the words of Our Lord:
‘Except ye become as little children ye shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.’ You have no objection?”
“None,” agreed Richard quickly. “Saying a prayer for Simon cannot possibly harm the child in any way. We'll go up through the library.” Richard led the way to one of the book-lined walls and pressed the gilded cardinal's hat upon a morocco binding. They ascended the stone steps and a moment later entered Fleur's nursery on the floor above, through a sliding panel in the wall. When they arrived, the nursery was empty, but in the bathroom beyond they found Simon with Nanny's apron tied about his waist. It was an operation which Simon performed on every visit that he had made to Cardinals Folly so Fleur was used to the business and regarded it as a definite treat; but this tubbing of his friend's child was a privilege which De Richleau had never claimed and as he entered, Fleur suddenly exhibited signs of maidenly modesty, surprising in one so young.
“Oh, Mummy,” she exclaimed, “he must not see me, muss he, 'cause he's a man.'” On which the whole party gave way to a fit of laughter.
“Sen' him away!” yelled the excited Fleur, standing up and clutching an enormous bath sponge to her chest. De Richleau's firm mouth twitched with his old humour, as he apologised most gravely and backed into the nursery beside Richard. A few minutes later the others joined them, and the Duke held a hurried conversation in whispers with Marie Lou.
“Of course,” she said, “if it will help, do just what you think. I will get rid of Nanny for a few minutes.” Walking over, he smiled down at Fleur.
“Does Mummy watch you say
your prayers every night?” he
asked gently.
“Oh, yes,” she lisped, “and you shall all hear me now.” He smiled again. “Have you ever heard her say hers?” Fleur thought hard for a moment.
“No,” she shook her dark head and the big blue eyes looked up at him seriously. “Mummy says her prayers to Daddy when he’s asleep.” He nodded quietly.
“Well, we're all going to say them together tonight.'

to be continued...

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