A weird ending… but what other ending could be possible?
⁓The Voice before the Void
“The Man Who Found Out
It was five o’clock, and the June sun lay hot upon the pavement. He felt the metal door-knob burn the palm of his hand.
“Ah, Laidlaw, this is well met,” cried a voice at his elbow; “I was in the act of coming to see you. I’ve a case that will interest you, and besides, I remembered that you flavoured your tea with orange leaves!—and I admit—”
It was Alexis Stephen, the great hypnotic doctor.
“I’ve had no tea to-day,” Laidlaw said, in a dazed manner, after staring for a moment as though the other had struck him in the face. A new idea had entered his mind.
“What’s the matter?” asked Dr. Stephen quickly. “Something’s wrong with you. It’s this sudden heat, or overwork. Come, man, let’s go inside.”
A sudden light broke upon the face of the younger man, the light of a heaven-sent inspiration. He looked into his friend’s face, and told a direct lie.
“Odd,” he said, “I myself was just coming to see you. I have something of great importance to test your confidence with. But in your house, please,” as Stephen urged him towards his own door—”in your house. It’s only round the corner, and I—I cannot go back there—to my rooms—till I have told you.
“I’m your patient—for the moment,” he added stammeringly as soon as they were seated in the privacy of the hypnotist’s sanctum, “and I want—er—”
“My dear Laidlaw,” interrupted the other, in that soothing voice of command which had suggested to many a suffering soul that the cure for its pain lay in the powers of its own reawakened will, “I am always at your service, as you know. You have only to tell me what I can do for you, and I will do it.” He showed every desire to help him out. His manner was indescribably tactful and direct.
Dr. Laidlaw looked up into his face.
“I surrender my will to you,” he said, already calmed by the other’s healing presence, “and I want you to treat me hypnotically—and at once. I want you to suggest to me”—his voice became very tense—”that I shall forget—forget till I die—everything that has occurred to me during the last two hours; till I die, mind,” he added, with solemn emphasis, “till I die.”
He floundered and stammered like a frightened boy. Alexis Stephen looked at him fixedly without speaking.
“And further,” Laidlaw continued, “I want you to ask me no questions. I wish to forget for ever something I have recently discovered—something so terrible and yet so obvious that I can hardly understand why it is not patent to every mind in the world—for I have had a moment of absolute clear vision—of merciless clairvoyance. But I want no one else in the whole world to know what it is—least of all, old friend, yourself.”
He talked in utter confusion, and hardly knew what he was saying. But the pain on his face and the anguish in his voice were an instant passport to the other’s heart.
“Nothing is easier,” replied Dr. Stephen, after a hesitation so slight that the other probably did not even notice it. “Come into my other room where we shall not be disturbed. I can heal you. Your memory of the last two hours shall be wiped out as though it had never been. You can trust me absolutely.”
“I know I can,” Laidlaw said simply, as he followed him in.
An hour later they passed back into the front room again. The sun was already behind the houses opposite, and the shadows began to gather.
“I went off easily?” Laidlaw asked.
“You were a little obstinate at first. But though you came in like a lion, you went out like a lamb. I let you sleep a bit afterwards.”
Dr. Stephen kept his eyes rather steadily upon his friend’s face.
“What were you doing by the fire before you came here?” he asked, pausing, in a casual tone, as he lit a cigarette and handed the case to his patient.
“I? Let me see. Oh, I know; I was worrying my way through poor old Ebor’s papers and things. I’m his executor, you know. Then I got weary and came out for a whiff of air.” He spoke lightly and with perfect naturalness. Obviously he was telling the truth. “I prefer specimens to papers,” he laughed cheerily.
“I know, I know,” said Dr. Stephen, holding a lighted match for the cigarette. His face wore an expression of content. The experiment had been a complete success. The memory of the last two hours was wiped out utterly. Laidlaw was already chatting gaily and easily about a dozen other things that interested him. Together they went out into the street, and at his door Dr. Stephen left him with a joke and a wry face that made his friend laugh heartily.
“Don’t dine on the professor’s old papers by mistake,” he cried, as he vanished down the street.
Dr. Laidlaw went up to his study at the top of the house. Half way down he met his housekeeper, Mrs. Fewings. She was flustered and excited, and her face was very red and perspiring.
“There’ve been burglars here,” she cried excitedly, “or something funny! All your things is just any’ow, sir. I found everything all about everywhere!” She was very confused. In this orderly and very precise establishment it was unusual to find a thing out of place.
“Oh, my specimens!” cried the doctor, dashing up the rest of the stairs at top speed. “Have they been touched or—”
He flew to the door of the laboratory. Mrs. Fewings panted up heavily behind him.
“The labatry ain’t been touched,” she explained, breathlessly, “but they smashed the libry clock and they’ve ‘ung your gold watch, sir, on the skelinton’s hands. And the books that weren’t no value they flung out er the window just like so much rubbish. They must have been wild drunk, Dr. Laidlaw, sir!”
The young scientist made a hurried examination of the rooms. Nothing of value was missing. He began to wonder what kind of burglars they were. He looked up sharply at Mrs. Fewings standing in the doorway. For a moment he seemed to cast about in his mind for something.
“Odd,” he said at length. “I only left here an hour ago and everything was all right then.”
“Was it, sir? Yes, sir.” She glanced sharply at him. Her room looked out upon the courtyard, and she must have seen the books come crashing down, and also have heard her master leave the house a few minutes later.
“And what’s this rubbish the brutes have left?” he cried, taking up two slabs of worn gray stone, on the writing-table. “Bath brick, or something, I do declare.”
He looked very sharply again at the confused and troubled housekeeper.
“Throw them on the dust heap, Mrs. Fewings, and—and let me know if anything is missing in the house, and I will notify the police this evening.”
When she left the room he went into the laboratory and took his watch off the skeleton’s fingers. His face wore a troubled expression, but after a moment’s thought it cleared again. His memory was a complete blank.
“I suppose I left it on the writing-table when I went out to take the air,” he said. And there was no one present to contradict him.
He crossed to the window and blew carelessly some ashes of burned paper from the sill, and stood watching them as they floated away lazily over the tops of the trees.