The Anomaly: Part Four
“We are getting nowhere,” Lisha said glumly, placing her book facedown in her lap to stare out the window at the freezing gusts of wind.
“Do you think so?” Lockwood asked lightly, removing his trim black overcoat and gloves (the gardener having absolutely demanded his attention in the matter of an ailing pear tree in the east garden). “Your opinion is most singular. By my reckoning we have achieved a great deal; nothing could have been more amusing than the housekeeper’s account of all the rude names with which Mr. Daley honored the Earl.”
Lisha only glared at him in reply. “If we are to go by how amused Mr. Harlan Lockwood has been, then I have no doubt that we were extremely successful.”
“I was not aware that success could be measured in any other way.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Henry Daley is likely to be hanged or at the very least imprisoned in a dungeon over this amusing little affair.”
“Which he will, no doubt, find exceedingly uncomfortable,” agreed Lockwood, glancing at the clock. “Goodness! – I had not the least idea that it was so late. What can Cecilia be doing? It is long past time for dinner.”
“I am very glad to hear that you can think of your dinner,” Lisha remarked acidly. “Meanwhile, as I say, we are getting nowhere.”
“Ah! I wondered when we might return there; I quite enjoyed that phase of our conversation. No, upon further reflection you are entirely correct,” he continued, switching tactics abruptly; “we are getting nowhere. We are wasting our time. All Meridell to concern ourselves with, and we are doing this. Speaking of which I very much hope that we will return to Meridell Castle in time for the New Years Ball...”
“Doesn’t it bother you at all?” she cried. “Your selfishness never fails to amaze me –”
“Surely you will allow me the liberty of being as selfish as I choose, and you in turn may be fully as stubborn.”
“I am not stubborn; I am idealistic.”
Lockwood, turning away, smiled slightly to himself. “I will not quarrel with your addition; however, many people can be described in not only one way but two, not excluding your honored self. In this particular case I have a great idea that you are more perturbed by our inability to act than by the actual plight of Mr. Daley.”
There was perhaps more truth in this than Lisha cared to admit, and consequently she found herself seriously irritated by the accusation. “I suppose it’s understandable that you would be unable to comprehend my motives!”
“Yes, I imagine so,” agreed Lockwood, good-naturedly and rather irrelevantly.
Lisha looked as though she intended to say something else, but was deprived of the chance by Cecilia’s entrance; and between the ample apologies that were made for her lateness, and the really excellent dinner that had been laid out, Lisha forgot it altogether.
The subject was revived, however, by Miss Lockwood herself; she inquired, innocent of the earlier little disagreement between her two companions, whether they had yet got to the bottom of the affair with Mr. Daley.
“Oh!” exclaimed her brother, “you had better not ask that when we are both of us present, for you will find yourself excessively confused by the disparity in our answers. I will answer for as much success as can be hoped for, and Lisha will vehemently protest that we have done nothing.”
Lisha, convinced at present that she liked Lockwood better in a bad humor than a good, answered as coolly as she could manage that they had made some progress, in talking with the Earl and Countess of Harcourt.
“Lisha is remiss,” Lockwood remarked to Cecilia. “She forgets the housekeeper. I am sure the excellent Mrs. Lawrence will be most offended that you have not mentioned her.”
He seemed – contrary as ever – disposed to be in extraordinarily good spirits, more irritating to Lisha’s disordered ones than anything else could have been. For her part, she felt that the day had been long, cold, and unproductive; the Countess had been so unpleasant as to leave her with a lasting impression of discontent; and there had been just that, in the Earl’s manner, which so distressingly reminded her of Lockwood. This last indeed was a source of discomfort which even his sister’s quiet, gracious attentions could not soothe away. It put Lisha out of sorts, though she knew not why – she told herself that it was this business with Henry Daley – surely it could be nothing else. She knew full well Lockwood’s faults; and they were numerous, to be certain. She had never deceived herself as to that, and therefore could not imagine why it troubled her now.
Occupied even so unsatisfactorily as this, she failed to realize what Cecilia was suggesting until the Ixi had very nearly finished, and was obliged to ask her to suggest it again.
“I only mentioned,” Miss Lockwood said without any trace of ill-will at being made to repeat herself, “that perhaps no solution is possible without a thorough examination of – not merely the events at hand, but also of the magic. Of course I know nothing about it; you must excuse me if I am entirely nonsensical; but could you not investigate Mr. Daley himself for traces of sorcery?”
“Yes,” said Lisha, surprised. “Yes, that would be a very good idea. In fact I think we will do that tomorrow.”
“I am very glad to have helped at all, although I am sure it must have occurred to you before.”
Lisha endeavored most earnestly to assure her that it had not, for she suspected that Cecilia rarely received credit for her contributions. Truthfully, she had a regrettable tendency to forget that Miss Lockwood could be as clever as her brother, and full as charming in her way – it was only, she supposed, that under Lockwood’s dominating influence anybody was easy to forget. Cecilia was pretty – very pretty, Lisha could allow – but certainly there was no comparison between their looks; Mr. Lockwood must always outshine Miss. Nevertheless, though unfailingly deferential, Cecilia was neither shy, nor unintelligent, nor at all lacking in social graces. She had manners which, while unmemorable upon first contact, were sure to please. Lisha resolved not to underestimate her in future.
“Yes,” Lockwood was saying, “let us do that punctually tomorrow morning and have done with it.”
“Punctually!” Cecilia replied with a smile. “If it is to be punctual, it will have to be rather late.”
“Untrue – a very reasonable time such as one o’clock will suffice.”
“So much for morning,” Lisha remarked scathingly.
“One o’clock is absolutely morning,” asserted Lockwood. “I cannot answer for the hours you keep, but it is only natural that they must lead you astray.”
“I have a theory that your habit of getting up ridiculously late is linked to your overall selfishness and conceit.”
“What a charming reflection! Do you not find it pleasingly clever, Cecilia? I am sure I do.”
Cecilia, so called upon, smiled and said that Lady Borodere was always clever; but Lisha, too out of humor to continue with any levity, and unwilling to say anything in seriousness about Lockwood which might give pain to his sister, thanked her and allowed the subject to drop.
Before the meal had proceeded very far, and long before Lisha could contrive to settle herself into a happier state of mind, Lockwood took his leave, announcing that he had absolutely promised to wait on Miss Colton during his sojourn in Knightfield. Cecilia requested that he give Miss Colton her best wishes; he agreed that he would; and Lisha had the pleasure of finding that at least one source of her vexation had been removed.
“I am afraid you are not in good spirits,” observed Miss Lockwood, when he had gone. “Forgive me – I am not afraid to be open with you – but forgive me if I am being impertinent.”
“Oh! Not in the least!” exclaimed Lisha. “No, certainly not. You’re right; I am not.”
“Is there anything I can do for you? Perhaps a game of cards, or a book?”
“A book would be just the thing,” Lisha said gratefully.
“I will take you to the library, then; - there is a very extensive library here, and I am sure it is not used as much as it ought to be.”
“Does Lockwood not use it, then?”
“Oh!” She hesitated for a moment. “Lockwood has never been a great reader, no... if I can presume to speak for him, I should say that he has no value for the act of reading, independent of what he reads.”
Lisha could not but be curious; having begun the subject, she was rather eager to hear more of what Cecilia – who surely knew her brother better than anybody else – had to say about him. “I suppose you both grew up in this house?”
“Yes,” replied Cecilia, leading her guest into a remarkably spacious, handsome library. “That is to say, I did; and Lockwood, as much as any boy can, for you know they are all sent to school for a great part of the year.”
“But the house is his, now.”
“At least for any legal purpose, though goodness knows he uses it little enough! It has belonged to him for nearly two years now, along with all the rest.”
“I’ve always imagined,” Lisha remarked with a smile, “that he is extremely rich.”
Cecilia laughed. “I would be ashamed to tell you exactly how rich. But then who can quarrel with independence, and the luxuries of wealth?”
Lisha thought she might be tolerably capable of it, in such a case as Lockwood’s; however, she had no very compelling reason to disagree.
Her companion, perhaps perceiving her doubt, added in a lighter tone, “It is very well for me that he is so independent, for I am sure nobody else would allow me full use of this house as often as he does.”
“There may be something in that,” replied Lisha, examining the first page of Stripe, the Strange Skeith. “Why does he dislike it so?”
“Oh! I do not know that he dislikes it. Then again perhaps it reminds him of people, of whom he had rather not be reminded.”
If Miss Lockwood had not intended to rouse Lisha’s curiosity, she had nevertheless done it quite successfully; but the Aisha could really think of no polite way to inquire as to what her hostess meant.
“And of course,” Cecilia continued, “there are certain attendant cares and duties which Lockwood is inclined to find tiresome. I imagine I will not surprise you when I say that my brother is not the most diligent or patient of men.”
At this Lisha grinned. “No – that doesn’t surprise me.”
“One cannot blame him; he was never brought up to it. But,” she interrupted herself, “I will not refuse him his better qualities, which are of no trivial importance – and I have detained you most shockingly. I must let you get to your book.”
“You have not detained me at all,” Lisha assured her, “and if you have, it was very pleasant.”
They parted on the friendliest of terms, and Lisha settled down to read with a sigh of satisfaction. It was curious how well her mood had improved; but Miss Lockwood’s soothing charm and the prospect of a library full of books had been irresistible.
“Magic Spells,” she read on the spine of one. Suddenly a thought struck her – why should she not find her answer here? Among the medley of magical books there would surely be a passage, somewhere, on possession; it was only a matter of searching. She found herself somewhat unaccountably annoyed that Lockwood had not thought of this, as she could not but believe that he was acquainted with the contents of his own library. It was simply, she thought, that he had not bothered to. He had been unwilling from the start of the whole affair and continued so, as it offered no possibility of excitement or interest to him.
“Typical,” she muttered darkly. However, as she flipped through the pages, she was inclined to forgive him; he had, after all, done everything she asked, however reluctantly. He had improved a great deal since the early period of their acquaintance.
Lisha read voraciously, heedless of the late hour, until at last she came upon something that seemed likely to help her. It spoke of possession by other sorcerers, possession by spirits, possession by demons:
Possession is a layman’s term, and like many such others can be difficult to define. The general idea of possession is that an alien influence – whether a malicious spirit or a living sorcerer – invades the mind of another and controls his actions. This influence may be sporadic, or constant; in addition, the awareness of the one possessed may vary. Possession may involve no direct control of action at all, but rather a variation of the state of mind causing uncharacteristic behavior. This is generally the hallmark of demons such as The Three, and here much of the danger lies in the fact that the one possessed generally does not realize the extent of the alien influence. In other cases, the one possessed may have full realization of the fact, but be entirely unable to control his physical actions. The last and arguably least dangerous variation is total unconsciousness of the one possessed, in which the possessor simply takes over the victim entirely for a time.
This, she believed, was at last what they were looking for. On the same page the author detailed spells to draw out and discover a possessor, and more spells to defeat it.
Quite suddenly she became aware, with a jolt, that Lockwood was watching her. The slender shadow Gelert was standing in the doorway, holding his gloves in one hand and stifling a yawn with the other. “It is very late,” he remarked, “even by my standards.”
“Oh,” Lisha replied with a sigh.
“If you would like to stay here, I will certainly tell the servants to bring you anything you might need – you look most excessively busy.”
“No, no,” she assured him quickly, closing her book. “I never intended to stay up so late – but listen! I think I have it! I found this, and we can try the spells tomorrow.”
“Excellent,” he said with another yawn, and she realized that explanations would simply have to wait.
As she walked with him up the handsome marble staircase, however, she did find the energy to scold him over wasting such a lovely library; and he in turn laughed quite pleasantly and replied in some clever way. His good humor, which had struck her as somehow oppressive earlier, she now found rather surprisingly charming. Whether her mood had changed, or his, was a matter that she could not determine.
To be continued...