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CHAPTER IX BASIL
The odd conversation with the Squire and Theodore Dane strangely affected Patricia, and in rather an unhealthy way. She was an ordinary commonsense Irish girl, whose father had been a matter-of-fact military man, and in her conventional life there had been no place for the supernatural. And when, with Colonel Carrol\'s death, came his daughter\'s subsequent poverty, Patricia had been far too much taken up with battling for existence to think of the Unseen. To be over-inquisitive about the next world seemed to her sensible mind unnecessary, since there was so much to be done on earth. She knew very well that she was sensitive to things which other people did not perceive, but she put this down to having highly-strung nerves, and thought very little about the matter. Now, apparently, the time had come for her to consciously use organs hitherto unguessed at.

Patricia could scarcely help feeling that the atmosphere of Beckleigh Hall was unusual. The isolation, the dreamy nature of Mara, the uncanny conversation of Theodore, which his uncle appeared to accept as quite ordinary--all these things had an effect on her mind. She began to be vaguely afraid of the darkness, and her sleep was greatly disturbed by vivid dreams. In vain she assured herself that all this was owing to her imagination, and that she was losing her nerve in a most ridiculous manner, for the spell of the place was laid upon her, and she felt that she was being caught in those nets of the Unseen of which Mr. Colpster had spoken. To a healthy-minded girl, such as Miss Carrol undoubtedly was, the feeling was highly unpleasant, and she resented the influence which seemed bent upon controlling her, even against her will. Yet to this influence which she vaguely felt, but could not describe, she could not even put a name. The only thing she could tell herself was that some powerful Influence was setting itself to capture her mind and will and body and soul--all that there was of herself that she knew.

Later, she became aware that the Influence seemed to be centred in Theodore, for when in his presence she felt more than ever the desire to peer behind the veil. He had always been polite to her, since the night she arrived, but had looked upon her, she felt certain, as merely a pretty, commonplace girl, content with earthly things. And this was surely true, or had been, until the Influence came to draw her away from the concrete to the abstract. But since she had confessed to experiencing the weird sensation of the Jewel, Theodore had haunted her steps persistently. He talked to her during meals; he strolled with her in the gardens; he exerted himself to please her in every way, and finally asked her to visit his special set of rooms, which were at the back of the house. With a sense that some danger to the soul lurked within them, she at first refused, but finally, over-borne by his insistency, she consented to enter along with Mara. The girl was absentminded and indifferent; still she would form a convenient third, and would prevent Theodore from performing any of the experiments she hated. And, as a matter of fact, Mara mentioned that she objected to these.

"You need not be afraid, my dear cousin," said Dane dryly, as he led the way along the corridor. "I only wish to show Miss Carrol my books and have a chat with her about psychic matters."

"I don\'t think it\'s healthy," murmured Patricia, feeling distressed and uneasy. "I wish you would talk of something else."

"There is nothing else which interests me in the world," retorted Theodore, throwing open a door. "This is my study, Miss Carrol, and through that door is my bedroom, so you see I have this part of the house all to myself."

The room was large and broad, with a low ceiling, and a wide casement looking towards the east. The walls were plastered with some darkly-red material, smooth and glistening, and a frieze of vividly-coloured Egyptian hieroglyphics ran round them directly under the broad expanse of the ceiling, which was painted with zodiacal signs. The floor was of polished white wood, with a square of grimly red carpet in the centre. There was scarcely any furniture, so that the vast room looked almost empty. The casement was draped with purple hangings, and before it stood a large mahogany table, covered with papers and writing materials. There was also a sofa, two deep arm-chairs, besides the one placed before the table, and one wall half-way up was lined with books. A purple curtain also hung before the door which led into the bedroom. The apartment looked bare and somewhat bleak, and an atmosphere of incense pervaded it generally, so that when Patricia sat down in one of the arm-chairs, she involuntarily thought of a church. Yet there seemed to be something evil hanging about the place which was foreign to a place of worship.

Mara felt this even more than did her companion, for she walked to the casement and threw it wide open, so as to let in the salt breath of the sea. It was growing dusk, and the room was filled with shadows which added to its eerie appearance and accentuated the eerie feeling of Miss Carrol. Yet Theodore did not offer to light the lamp which stood on a tall brass pedestal near an alcove, masked with purple curtains, which was at the end of the room opposite the casement. Patricia noted that there was no fire-place.

"Don\'t you feel cold here at times?" she asked, more because she wished to break the silence than because she desired to know.

Theodore smiled. "I am never cold," he said smoothly; "cold and heat and pain and pleasure exist only in thought, and I can control my thoughts in every way. Why did you open the window, Mara?"

"I don\'t like your stuffy atmosphere," said the girl bluntly; then her nostrils dilated, and she sniffed the air like a wild animal. "Pah! What bad things you have in this room, Theodore!"

"What kind of things?" asked Patricia, looking round uneasily.

"Things that dwell in darkness and dare not face the light," chanted Mara in soft tones. "This room reeks with selfishness."

"So does the whole world," retorted her cousin with a sneer.

"Yes; but the effect is not so great as you make it."

"What do you mean?"

"You have transferred the selfish energies to a higher and more fluid plane."

"Mara!" Theodore came close to the girl and peered curiously into her pale face with vivid curiosity. "Who told you that?"

"It came to me."

"You don\'t know what you are talking about," he said roughly.

"Perhaps not," she replied dreamily; "but what I mean is plain to you. I can see your soul shivering with shame at being forced to obey the animal."

Theodore shrugged his great shoulders and looked at Patricia. "I sometimes think that Mara is mad," he remarked impolitely; "do you understand?"

"No," answered Patricia truthfully; "what does she mean?"

Mara slipped off the writing-table whereon she had perched herself, and pointed one lean finger at Theodore. "I mean that he is an utterly selfish man, who strives to sweep aside all who stand in his path. By egotism he isolates himself from the Great Whole, and wishes to dwell apart in self-conscious power." She faced Dane, and in the twilight looked like a wavering shadow. "There is nothing you would not do to obtain power, and for that reason your punishment will be greater than that of others."

"Why?" asked Theodore tartly, "seeing that all desire power?"

"You have more Light. You know, others do not." Mara paused as though she was listening. "It is a warning," she finished solemnly, "a last chance which is given to you, who are so strong in evil might."

"But, Mara----"

"I have said all that I am told to say, and now I say no more," said the pale girl enigmatically, and returned to seat herself on the table and gaze into the rapidly gathering night.

"What does it all mean?" asked Patricia, under her breath.

"Simply that Mara doesn\'t like me," said Dane coolly, but Miss Carrol noticed that he wiped the perspiration from his high forehead as he spoke; "her standard is too lofty for us ever to become husband and wife. I can see plainly that Basil will marry her and inherit the property." He looked round the room with a savage expression. "To lose all this is terrible!"

"But your brother will let you stay here," said Patricia consolingly.

"No, he won\'t. Basil doesn\'t care for my occult studies, and he doesn\'t care for me. You would never think we were brothers, so different he is to me. We are Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob, Polynices and Eteocles, and have never been friends since birth. I hate him, and he hates me."

"Oh, no, no, Mr. Dane," said Patricia, quite distressed and shocked, "you must not talk in that way. It is wrong."

"It is human," retorted Theodore bitterly. "All his life Basil has been the petted darling. Uncle George always loved him and ignored me. Basil is good-looking; I am not. Basil is popular; I am not. Basil will marry Mara and inherit Beckleigh, while I am forced to wander homeless and friendless. And if----"

His cousin, who had been listening quietly, interrupted at this moment. "I shall not marry Basil," she said very decidedly. "We are good friends, but nothing more."

"If you don\'t marry him, Mara, you will lose the property."

"I don\'t care," she answered indifferently. "I can always live somewhere."

"If you would marry me," said Theodore eagerly, "you could go away and live where you liked. I only want to inherit Beckleigh."

"Oh!" cried Patricia, revolted by this selfish sentiment.

Theodore wheeled to face her. "It is a bru............
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