The Case of Sir
Editor C. Arthur
"Ethne?" My aunt looked at me with raised
brows and smiled. "My dear Maurice, hadn't
you heard? Ethne went abroad directly after
Christmas, with the Wilmotts, for a trip to
Egypt. She's having a glorious time!"
I am afraid I looked as blank as I felt. I had
only landed in England three days ago, after
two years' service in India, and the one thing
I had been looking forward to was seeing my
cousin Ethne again.
"Then, since you did not know she was away,
you, of course, have not heard the other news?"
went on my aunt.
"No," I answered in a wooden voice. "I've
She beamed. "The dear child is engaged to
a Sir Alister Moeran, whom she met in Luxor.
Everyone is delighted, as it is a splendid match
for her. Lady Wilmott speaks most highly
of him, a man of excellent family and position,
and perfectly charming to boot."
I believe I murmured something suitable,
but it was absurd to pretend to be overjoyed at
the news. The galling part of it was that Aunt
Linda knew, and was chuckling, so to speak,
over my discomfiture.
"If you are going up to Wimberley Park,"
she went on sweetly, "you will probably meet
them both, as your Uncle Bob has asked us all
there for the February house-party. He cabled
an invitation to Sir Alister as soon as he heard
of the engagement. Wasn't it good of him?"
I replied that it was; then, having heard quite
enough for one day of the charms of Ethne's
fiancé, I took my leave.
That night, after cursing myself for a churl,
I wrote and wished her good luck. The next
morning I received a letter from Uncle Bob
asking me to go to Wimberley; and early in
the following week I travelled up to Cumberland.
I received a warm welcome from the old General.
As a boy I used to spend the greater part of my
holidays with him, and being childless himself,
he regarded me more or less as a son.
On February 16th Ethne, her mother, and Sir
Alister Moeran arrived. I motored to the
station to meet them. The evening was cold
and raw and so dark that it was almost impossible
to distinguish people on the badly lighted little
platform. However, as I groped my way along,
I recognised Ethne's voice, and thus directed,
hurried towards the group. As I did so two
gleaming, golden eyes flashed out at me through
"Hullo!" I thought. "So she's carted along
the faithful Pincher!" But the next moment I
found I was mistaken, for Ethne was holding
out both hands to me in greeting. There was
no dog with her, and in the bustle that followed,
I forgot to seek further for the solution of those
two fiery lights.
"It was good of you to come, Maurice," Ethne
said with unmistakable pleasure, then, turning
to the man at her side, "Alister, this is my
cousin, Captain Kilvert, of whom you have heard
We murmured the usual formalities in the
usual manner, but as my fingers touched his,
I experienced the most curious sensation down
the region of my spine. It took me back to
Burma and a certain very uncomfortable night
that I once passed in the jungle. But the
impression was so fleeting as to be indefinable,
and soon I was busy getting everyone settled
in the car.
So far, except that he possessed an exceptionally
charming voice, I had no chance of forming
an opinion of my cousin's fiancé. It was
half-past seven when we got back to the house,
so we all went straight up to our rooms to dress
Everyone was assembled in the drawing-room
when Sir Alister Moeran came in, and I shall
never forget the effect his appearance made.
Conversation ceased entirely for an instant.
There was a kind of breathless pause, which was
almost audible as my uncle rose to greet him.
In all my life I had never seen a handsomer man,
and I don't suppose anyone else there had either.
It was the most startling, arresting style of
beauty one could possibly imagine, and yet,
even as I stared at him in admiration, the word
"Black!" flashed into my mind.
Black! I pulled myself up sharply. We
English, who have lived out in the East, are far
too prone to stigmatise thus anyone who shows
the smallest trace of being a "half breed";
but in Sir Alister's case there was not even a
suspicion of this. He was no darker than scores
of men of my own nationality, and besides, he
belonged, I knew, to a very old Scottish family.
Yet, try as I would to strangle the idea, all through
the evening the same horrible, unaccountable
notion clung to me.
That he was the personality of the gathering
there was not the slightest doubt. Men and
women alike seemed attracted by him, for his
individuality was on a par with his looks.
Several times during dinner I glanced at
Ethne, but it was easy to see that all her attention
was taken up by her lover. Yet, oddly
enough, I was not jealous in the ordinary way.
I saw the folly of imagining that I could stand
a chance against a man like Moeran, and, moreover,
he interested me too deeply. His knowledge
of the East was extraordinary, and later,
when the ladies had retired, he related many
"Might I ask," said my uncle's friend, Major
Faucett, suddenly, "whether you were in the
Service, or had you a Government appointment
Sir Alister smiled, and under his moustache
I caught the gleam of strong, white teeth.
"As a matter of fact, neither. I am almost
ashamed to say I have no profession, unless I
may call myself an explorer."
"And why not?" put in Uncle Bob. "Provided
your explorations were to some purpose
and of benefit to the community in general,
I consider you are doing something worth while."
"Exactly," Sir Alister replied. "From my
earliest boyhood I have always had the strangest
hankering for the East. I say strange, because
to my parents it was inexplicable, neither of
them having the slightest leaning in that direction,
though to me it seemed the most natural desire
in the world. I was like an alien in a foreign
land, longing to get home. I recollect, as a
child, my nurse thought me a beastly uncanny
kid because I loved to lie in bed and listen to
the cats howling and fighting outside. I
used to put my head half under the blankets
and imagine I was in my lair in the jungle,
and those were the jackals and panthers prowling
"I suppose you'd been reading adventure
books," Uncle Bob said, with a laugh. "I
played at much the same game when I was a
youngster, only in my case it was Redskins."
"Possibly," Sir Alister answered with a
slight shrug, "only mine wasn't a game that I
played with any other boys, it was a gnawing
desire, which simply had to be satisfied; and the
opportunity came. When I was fourteen, the
father of a school friend of mine, who was going
out to India, asked me to go out with him and
the boy for the trip. Of course, I went."
"I wonder," the Major remarked, "that you
ever came back once you got there, since you
were so frightfully keen."
"I was certain I should return," he replied
A pause followed his last words, then Uncle
Bob rose and led the way to the drawing-room,
where for the remainder of the evening Sir Alister
was chiefly monopolised by the ladies.
"Well, Maurice," Uncle Bob said, when on
the following evening I was sitting in his study
having my usual before-dinner chat with him,
"and how do you like Ethne's future husband?"
I hesitated. "I—I really don't know," I
"Come, boy," he said, with his whimsical
smile, "why not be frank and own to a very
"Because," I answered simply, "the feeling
Sir Alister Moeran inspires in me is not jealousy,
curiously enough. It's something else, something
indefinable that comes over me now and
again. Dogs don't like him, and that's always
a bad sign, to my thinking."
My uncle's bushy eyebrows went up slightly.
"When did you make this discovery?"
"This morning," I replied. "You know I
took him and Ethne round the place. Well,
the first thing I noticed was that Mike refused
to come with us, although both Ethne and I
called him. As we passed through the hall he
slunk away into the library. I thought it a
bit strange, as he's usually so frantic to go out
with me. Still, I didn't attach any significance
to the matter until later, when we visited the
kennels. I don't know why, but one takes it
for granted that a man is keen on dogs somehow
"Isn't Sir Alister?"
"They are not keen on him, anyhow," I
answered grimly. "They had heard my voice
as we approached and were all barking with
delight, but directly we entered the place there
was a dead silence, save for a few ominous growls
from Argo. It was a most extraordinary sight.
They all bristled up, so to speak, sniffing the air
though on the scent of something. I let
Bess and Fritz loose, but instead of jumping
up, as they usually do, they hung back and showed
the whites of their eyes in a way I've never seen
before. I actually had to whistle to them
sharply several times before they came, and
then it was in a slinking manner, taking good
care to put Ethne and me between themselves
and Moeran, and looking askance at him the
"H'm!" murmured the General with puckered
brows. "That was certainly odd, very odd!"
"It was," I agreed, warming to the subject,
"but there's odder still to come. I dare say
you'll think it all my fancy, but the minute
those animals put their heads up and sniffed
in that peculiar way, I distinctly smelt the
musky, savage odour of wild beasts. You
know it well, anyone who has been through
a jungle does."
Uncle Bob nodded. "I know it, too; 'Musky'
is the very word—the smell of sun-warmed
fur. Jove, how it carries me back! I remember
once, years ago, coming upon a litter of lion
cubs, in a cave, when I was out in Africa——"
"Yes! Yes!" I cried eagerly. "And that
is what I smelt this morning. Those dogs
smelt it, too. They felt that there was something
alien, abnormal in their midst."
"That something being—Sir Alister Moeran?"
I felt myself flush up under his gaze. I got
up and walked about the room.
"I don't understand it," I said doggedly.
"I tell you plainly, Uncle Bob, I don't understand.
My impression of the man last night
was 'black,' but he's not black, I know that
perfectly well, no more than you or I are, and
yet I can't get over the behaviour of those
hounds. It wasn't only one of 'em, it was
the whole lot. They seemed to regard him as
their natural enemy! And that smell! I'm
sure Ethne detected it too, for she kept glancing
about her in a startled, mystified way."
"And Sir Alister?" queried the General.
"Do you mean to say he did not notice anything
I shrugged my shoulders. "He didn't appear
to. I called attention myself to the singular
attitude of the hounds, and he said quite casually:
'Dogs never do take to me much.'"
Uncle Bob gave a short laugh. "Our friend
is evidently not sensitive." He paused and
rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then added:
"It certainly is rather curious, but, for Heaven's
sake, boy, don't get imagining all sorts of
This nettled me and made me wish I had held
my tongue. I was quite aware that my story
might have sounded somewhat fantastic from
a stranger; still, he ought to have known me
better than to accuse me of imagination. I
abruptly changed the subject, and shortly after
left the room.
But I could not banish from my mind the
incident of the morning. I could not forget
the appealing faces of those dogs. Ethne and
Sir Alister had left me there and returned to
the house together, and, after their departure,
those poor, dumb beasts had gathered round
me in a way that was absolutely pathetic, licking
and fondling my hands, as though apologising
for their previous misconduct. Still, I understood.
That bristling up their spines was precisely
the same sensation I had experienced
when I first met Sir Alister Moeran.
As I was slowly mounting the stairs on my
way up to dress, I heard someone running up
after me, and turned round to find Ethne beside
"Maurice," she said, rather breathlessly, "tell
me, you did not punish Fritz and Bess for
not coming at once when you called them this
"No," I answered.
She gave a nervous little laugh. "I'm glad
of that. I thought perhaps——" She stopped
short, then rushed on, "You know how queer
mother is about cats—can't bear one in the
room, and how they always fly out directly
she comes in? Well, dogs are the same with
Alister. He—he told me so himself. It seems
funny to me, and I suppose to you, because
we're so fond of all kinds of animals; but I don't
really see why it should be any more extraordinary
to have an antipathy for dogs than for cats,
and no one thinks anything of it if you dislike
"That is so," I said thoughtfully.
"Anyway," she went on, "it is not our own
fault if a certain animal does not instinctively
take to us."
"Of course not," I replied stoutly. "You're
surely not worrying about it, are you?"
She hastened to assure me that she was not,
but I could see that my indorsing her opinion
was a great relief to her. She had been afraid
that I should think it unnatural. I did for
that matter, but I could not, of course, tell her
That night Sir Alister and I sat up late talking
after the other men had retired. We had got
on the subject of India and had been comparing
notes as to our different adventures. From
this we went on to discussing perilous situations
and escapes, and it was then that he narrated
to me a very curious incident.
"It happened when I was only twenty-one,"
he said, "the year after my father died.
I think I told you that as soon as ever I became
my own master, I packed up and was off to the
East. I had a friend with me, a boy who had
been my best pal at school. They used to
call us 'Black and White.' He was fair and
girlish-looking, and his name was Buchanan.
He was just as keen on India as I was, and
purposed writing a book afterwards on our
"Our intention was to explore the wildest,
most savage districts, and as a start we selected
the province of Orissa. The forests there are
wonderful, and it is there, if anywhere, that
the almost extinct Indian lion is still to be
found. We engaged two sturdy hillmen to
accompany us and pushed our way downwards
from Calcutta over mountains, rivers and through
some of the densest jungles I've ever traversed.
It was on the outskirts of one of the latter that
the tragedy took place. We had pitched our
tents one evening after a long, tiring day, and
turned in early to sleep, Buchanan and I in one,
and the two Bhils in the other."
Sir Alister paused for a few moments, toying
with his cigar in an abstracted manner, then
continued in the same clear, even voice:
"When I awoke next morning, I found my
friend lying beside me dead, and blood all round
us! His throat was torn open by the teeth of
some wild beast, his breast was horribly mauled
and lacerated, and his eyes were wide, staring
open, and their expression was awful. He must
have died a hideous death and known it!"
Again he stopped, but I made no comment,
only waited with breathless interest till he went on.
"I called the two men. They came and
looked, and for the first time I saw terror written
on their faces. Their nostrils quivered as though
scenting something; then 'Tiger!' they gasped
"One of them said he had heard a stifled
scream in the night, but had thought it merely
some animal in the jungle. The whole thing was
a mystery. How I came to sleep undisturbed
through it all, how I escaped the same fate, and
why the tiger did not carry off his prey——"
"You are sure it was a tiger?" I put in.
"I think there was no doubt of it," Sir Alister
replied. "The Bhils swore the teeth-marks were
unmistakable, and not only that, but I saw
another case seven years later. The body of a
young woman was found in the compound outside
my bungalow, done to death in precisely the same
way. And several of the natives testified as to
there being a tiger in that vicinity, for they had
found three or four young goats destroyed in
"Who was the girl?" I asked.
Moeran slowly turned his lucent, amber eyes
upon me as he answered. "She was a German,
a sort of nursery governess at the English doctor's.
He was naturally frightfully upset about it, and a
regular panic sprang up in the neighbourhood.
The natives got a superstitious scare—thought one
of their gods was wroth about something and
demanded sacrifice; but the white people were
simply out to kill the tiger."
"And did they?" I queried eagerly.
Sir Alister shook his head. "That I can't say,
as I left the place very soon afterwards and went
up to the mountains."
A long silence followed, during which I stared
at him in mute fascination. Then an unaccountable
impulse made me say abruptly: "Moeran,
how old are you?"
His finely-marked eyebrows went up in surprise
at the irrelevance of my question, but he smiled.
"Funny you should ask! It so happens that
it's my birthday to-morrow. I shall be thirty-five."
"Thirty-five!" I repeated. Then with a
shiver I rose from my seat. The room seemed to
have turned suddenly cold.
"Come," I said, "let's go to bed."
Next night at dinner I proposed Sir Alister's
health, and we all drank to him and his "bride-to-be."
They had that day definitely settled the
date of their marriage for two months ahead;
Ethne was looking radiant and everyone seemed
in the best of spirits.
We danced and romped and played rowdy
games like a pack of children. Nothing was too
silly for us to attempt. While a one-step was in
full swing some would-be wag suddenly turned
off all the lights. It was then that for a moment
I caught sight of a pair of glowing, fiery eyes
shining through the darkness. Instantly my
thoughts flew back to that meeting at the station,
when I had fancied that Ethne had her dog in
her arms. A chill, sinister feeling crept over me,
but I kept my gaze fixed steadily in the same
direction. The next minute the lights went up,
and I found myself staring straight at Sir Alister
Moeran. His arm was round Ethne's waist and
she was smiling up into his face. Almost immediately
they took up the dance again, and I and
my partner followed suit. But all my gaiety
had departed. An indefinable oppression seized
me and clung to me for the rest of the evening.
As I emerged from my room next morning I
saw old Giles, the butler, hurrying down the
corridor towards me.
"Oh, Mr. Maurice—Captain Kilvert, sir!" he
burst out, consternation in every line of his usually
stolid countenance. "A dreadful thing has
happened! How it's come about I can't for the
life of me say, and how we're going to tell the
General, the Lord only knows!"
"What?" I asked, seizing him by the arm.
"What is it?"
"The dawg, sir," he answered in a hoarse
whisper, "Mike—in the study——"
I waited to hear no more, but strode off down
the stairs, Giles hobbling beside me as fast as he
could, and together we entered the study.
In the middle of the floor lay the body of Mike.
A horrible foreboding gripped me, and I quickly
knelt down and raised the dog's head. His neck
was torn open, bitten right through to the windpipe,
the blood still dripping from it into a dark
pool on the carpet.
A cold, numbing sensation stole down my
spine and made my legs grow suddenly weak.
Beads of perspiration gathered on my forehead
as I slowly rose to my feet and faced Giles.
"What's the meaning of it, sir?" he asked,
passing his hand across his brow in utter bewilderment.
"That dawg was as right as possible
when I shut up last night, and he couldn't
have got out."
"No," I answered mechanically, "he couldn't
have got out."
"Looks like some wild beast had attacked
him," muttered the old man, in awed tones,
as he bent over the lifeless body. "D'ye see
the teeth marks, sir? But it's not possible—not
"No," I said again, in the same wooden
fashion. "It's not possible."
"But how're we going to account for it to
the General?" he cried brokenly. "Oh, Mr.
Maurice, sir, it's dreadful!"
I nodded. "You're right, Giles! Still, it
isn't your fault, nor mine. Leave the matter
to me. I'll break it to my uncle."
It was a most unenviable task, but I did it.
Poor Uncle Bob! I shall never forget his face
when he saw the mutilated body of the dog
that for years had been his faithful companion.
He almost wept, only rage and resentment
against the murderer were so strong in him that
they thrust grief for the time into the background.
The mysterious, incomprehensible manner of
the dog's death only added to his anger, for there
was apparently no one on whom to wreak his
The news caused general concern throughout
the house, and Ethne was frightfully upset.
"Oh, Alister, isn't it awful?" she exclaimed,
tears standing in her pretty blue eyes. "Poor,
"Yes," he answered rather absently. "It's
most unfortunate. Valuable dog, too, wasn't
I walked away. The man's calm, handsome
face filled me suddenly with unspeakable revulsion.
The atmosphere of the room seemed to
become heavy and noisome. I felt compelled
to get out into the open to breathe.
I found the General tramping up and down
the drive in the rain, his chin sunk deep into
the collar of his overcoat, his hat pulled low
down over his eyes. I joined him without
speaking, and in silence we paced side by side
for another quarter of an hour.
"Uncle Bob," I said abruptly at last, "take
my advice. Have one of the hounds indoors
to-night—Princep, he's a good watch-dog."
The General stopped short in his walk and
looked at me.
"You've something on your mind, boy. What
"This," I answered grimly. "Whoever, or
whatever killed Mike was in the house last night,
or got in, after Giles shut up. It may still be
there for all we know. In the dark, dark deeds
are done, and—well, I think it's wise to take
"Good God, Maurice, if there is any creature
in hiding, we'll soon have it out! I'll have the
place searched now. But the thing's impossible,
I shrugged my shoulders. "Then Mike died
a natural death?"
"Natural?" he echoed fiercely. "Don't talk
"In that case," I said quietly, "you'll agree
to let one of the dogs sleep in."
He gave me a long, troubled, searching look,
then said gruffly: "Very well, but don't make
any fuss about it. Women are such nervous
beings and we don't want to upset anyone."
"You needn't be afraid of that," I replied,
"I'll manage it all right."
There was no further talk of Mike that day.
The visitors, seeing how distressed the General
was, by tacit consent avoided the subject, but
everyone felt the dampening effect.
That night, before I retired to my room, I
took a lantern, went out to the kennels and
brought in Princep, a pure-bred Irish setter.
He was a dog of exceptional intelligence, and when
I spoke to him, explaining the reason of his
presence indoors, he seemed to know instinctively
what was required of him.
As I passed the study I noticed a light coming
from under the door. Somewhat surprised, I
turned the handle and looked in. My uncle
was seated before his desk in the act of loading
a revolver. He glanced up sharply as I entered.
"Oh, it's you, is it? Got the dog in?"
"Yes," I replied, "I've left him in the library
with the door open."
He regarded the revolver pensively for a few
moments, then laid it down in front of him.
"You've no theory as to this—this business?"
I shook my head, I could offer no explanation.
Yet all the while there lurked, deep down in
my heart, a hideous suspicion, a suspicion so
monstrous that had I voiced it, I should probably
have been considered mad. And so I held my
peace on the subject and merely wished my
It was about one o'clock when I got into bed,
but my brain was far too agitated for sleep.
Something I had heard years ago, some old wives'
tales about a man's life changing every seven
years, kept dinning in my head. I was striving
to remember how the story went, when a slight
sound outside caught my ear. In a second I
was out of bed and had silently opened the door.
As I did so, someone passed close by me down the
Cautiously, with beating heart, I crept out and
followed. However, I almost exclaimed aloud
in my amazement, for the light from a window
fell full on the figure ahead of me, and I recognised
my cousin Ethne. She was sleep-walking,
a habit she had had from her childhood, and
which apparently she had never outgrown.
For some minutes I stood there, undecided how
to act, while she passed on down the stairs, out
of sight. To wake her I knew would be wrong.
I knew, also, that she had walked thus a score
of times without coming to any harm. There
was, therefore, no reason why I should not return
to my room and leave her to her wandering,
yet still I remained rooted to the spot, all my
senses strained, alert. And then suddenly I
heard Princep whine. A series of low, stertorous
growls followed, growls that made my blood
run cold! With swift, noiseless steps, I stole
along to the minstrel's gallery which overlooked
that portion of the hall that communicated
with the library. As I did so, there arose from
immediately below me a succession of sharp
snarls, such as a dog gives when he is in deadly
fear or pain.
A shaft of moonlight fell across the polished
floor, and by its aid I was just able to distinguish
the form of Princep crouched against the wainscoting.
He was breathing heavily, his head
turned all the while towards the opposite side
of the room. I looked in the same direction.
Out of the darkness gleamed two fiery, golden
orbs, two eyes that moved slowly to and fro,
backwards and forwards, as though the Thing
were prowling round and round. Now it seemed
to crouch as though ready to spring, and I could
hear the savage growling as of some beast of
As I watched, horrified, fascinated, a portière
close by was lifted, and the white-robed figure
of Ethne appeared. All heedless of danger
she came on across the hall, and the Thing, with
soft, stealthy tread, came after her. I knew
then that there was not an instant to be lost,
and like a flash I darted along the gallery and
down the stairs. But ere I gained the hall
a piercing scream rent the air, and I was just
in time to see Ethne borne to the ground by a
great, dark form, which had sprung at her like
Half frantic, I dashed forward, snatching as
I did so a rapier from the wall, the only weapon
handy. But before I reached the spot, a voice
from the study doorway called: "Stop!" and
the next moment the report of a pistol rang out.
"Good God!" I cried. "Who have you
"Not the girl," answered the grim voice of
my uncle, "you may trust my aim for that!
I fired at the eyes of the Thing. Here, quick,
get lights and let's see what has happened."
But my one and only thought was for Ethne.
Moving across to the dark mass on the floor,
I stretched out my hand. My fingers touched
a smooth, fabric-like cloth, but the smell was the
smell of fur, the musky, sun-warmed fur of the
jungle! With sickening repugnance, I seized
the Thing by its two broad shoulders and rolled
it over. Then I carefully raised Ethne from the
ground. At that moment Giles and a footman
appeared with candles. In silence my uncle
took one and came towards me, the servants
with scared, blanched countenances following.
The light fell full upon the dead, upturned face
of Sir Alister Moeran. His upper lip was drawn
back, showing the strong, white teeth. The
two front ones were tipped with blood. Instantly
my eyes turned to Ethne's throat, and there
I saw deep, horrible marks, like the marks of
a tiger's fangs; but, thank God, they had not
penetrated far enough to do any serious injury!
My uncle's shot had come just in time to save her.
"Merely fainted, hasn't she?" he asked
I nodded. My relief at finding this was so,
was too great for words.
"Heaven be praised!" I heard him mutter.
Then lifting my beautiful, unconscious burden
in my arms, I carried her upstairs to her room.
Can I explain, can anyone explain, the
mysterious vagaries of atavism? I only know
that there are amongst us, rare instances fortunately,
but existent nevertheless—men with
the souls of beasts. They may be cognisant
of the fact or otherwise. In the case of Sir Alister
I feel sure it was the latter. He had probably
no more idea than I what far-reaching, evil
strain it was that came out in his blood and turned
him, every seven years, practically into a vampire.