"I say!" he exclaimed, "have we no protection?"
"Yes, I think we have. If we had not, such a creature could devastate the earth. Our protection is that there are white forces as well as dark ones. We may call them 'guardian angels' as the Catholics do, or 'guides' or 'controls', but whatever you call them, they really do exist and they guard us from evil on the spiritual plane."
"What about the chap who was driven mad, padre? Where was your guide when the spook put the rug round you? What!"
"The power of our guides may depend upon our own worthiness. Evil may always win for a time. Good wins in the end. That's my experience in life."
Lord Roxton shook his head.
"If good wins, then it runs a doosed long waitin' race, and most of us never live to see the finish. Look at those rubber devils that I had a scrap with up the Putomayo River. Where are they? What! Mostly in Paris havin' a good time. And the poor niggers they murdered. What about them?"
"Yes, we need faith sometimes. We have to remember that we don't see the end. 'To be continued in our next' is the conclusion of every life-story. That's where the enormous value of the other world accounts come in. They give us at least one chapter more."
"Where can I get that chapter?" asked Malone.
"There are many wonderful books, though the world has not yet learned to appreciate them -- records of the life beyond. I remember one incident -- you may take it as a parable, if you like -- but it is really more than that. The dead rich man pauses before the lovely dwelling. His sad guide draws him away. 'It is not for you. It is for your gardener'. He shows him a wretched shack. 'You gave us nothing to build with. It was the best that we could do'. That may be the next chapter in the story of our rubber millionaires."
Roxton laughed grimly.
"I gave some of them a shack that was six foot long and two foot deep," said he. "No good shakin' your head, padre. What I mean -- I don't love my neighbour as myself, and never shall. I hate some of 'em like poison."
"Well, we should hate sin, and, for my own part, I have never been strong enough to separate sin from the sinner. How can I preach when I am as human and weak as anyone?"
"Why, that's the only preachin' I could listen to," said Lord Roxton. "The chap in the pulpit is over my head. If he comes down to my level I have some use for him. Well, it strikes me we won't get much sleep to-night. We've just an hour before we reach Dryfont. Maybe we had better use it."
It was past eleven o'clock of a cold, frosty night when the party reached their destination. The station of the little watering-place was almost deserted, but a small, fat man in a fur overcoat ran forward to meet them, and greeted them warmly.
"I am Mr. Belchamber, owner of the house. How do you do, gentlemen? I got your wire, Lord Roxton, and everything is in order. It is indeed kind of you to come down. If you can do anything to ease my burden I shall indeed be grateful."
Mr. Belchamber led them across to the little Station Hotel where they partook of sandwiches and coffee, which he had thoughtfully ordered. As they ate he told them something of his troubles. "It isn't as if I was a rich man, gentlemen. I am a retired grazier and all my savings are in three houses. That is one of them, the Villa Maggiore. Yes, I got it cheap, that's true. But how could I think there was anything in this story of the mad doctor?"
"Let's have the yarn," said Lord Roxton, munching at a sandwich.
"He was there away back in Queen Victoria's time. I've seen him myself. A long, stringy, dark-faced kind of man, with a round back and a queer, shuffling way of walking. They say he had been in India all his life, and some thought he was hiding from some crime, for he would never show his face in the village and seldom came out till after dark. He broke a dog's leg with a stone, and there was some talk of having him up for it, but the people were afraid of him, and no one would prosecute. The little boys would run past, for he would sit glowering and glooming in the front window.