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The Magician 'I tell you that you don't know what powers he has. Have you ever heard those old legends with which nurses used to frighten our childhood, of men who could turn themselves into wolves, and who scoured the country at night?' She looked at him with staring eyes. 'Sometimes, when he's come in at Skene in the morning, with bloodshot eyes, exhausted with fatigue and strangely discomposed, I've imagined that he too ...' She stopped and threw back her head. 'You're right, Arthur, I think I shall go mad.' He watched her helplessly. He did not know what to do. Margaret went on, her voice quivering with anguish. 'When we were married, I reminded him that he'd promised to take me to his mother. He would never speak of her, but I felt I must see her. And one day, suddenly, he told me to get ready for a journey, and we went a long way, to a place I did not know, and we drove into the country. We seemed to go miles and miles, and we reached at last a large house, surrounded by a high wall, and the windows were heavily barred. We were shown into a great empty room. It was dismal and cold like the waiting−room at a station. A man came in to us, a tall man, in a frock−coat and gold spectacles. He was introduced to me as Dr Taylor, and then, suddenly, I understood.' Margaret spoke in hurried gasps, and her eyes were staring wide, as though she saw still the scene which at the time had seemed the crowning horror of her experience. 'I knew it was an asylum, and Oliver hadn't told me a word. He took us up a broad flight of stairs, through a large dormitory—oh, if you only knew what I saw there! I was so horribly frightened, I'd never been in such a place before—to a cell. And the walls and the floor were padded.' Margaret passed her hand across her forehead to chase away the recollection of that awful sight. 'Oh, I see it still. I can never get it out of my mind.' She remembered with a morbid vividness the vast misshapen mass which she had seen heaped strangely in one corner. There was a slight movement in it as they entered, and she perceived that it was a human being. It was a woman, dressed in shapeless brown flannel; a woman of great stature and of a revolting, excessive corpulence. She turned upon them a huge, impassive face; and its unwrinkled smoothness gave it an appearance of aborted childishness. The hair was dishevelled, grey, and scanty. But what most terrified Margaret was that she saw in this creature an appalling likeness to Oliver. 'He told me it was his mother, and she'd been there for five−and−twenty years.' Arthur could hardly bear the terror that was in Margaret's eyes. He did not know what to say to her. In a little while she began to speak again, in a low voice and rapidly, as though to herself, and she wrung her hands. 'Oh, you don't know what I've endured! He used to spend long periods away from me, and I remained alone at Skene from morning till night, alone with my abject fear. Sometimes, it seemed that he was seized with a devouring lust for the gutter, and he would go to Liverpool or Manchester and throw himself among the very dregs of the people. He used to pass long days, drinking in filthy pot−houses. While the bout lasted, nothing was too depraved for him. He loved the company of all that was criminal and low. He used to smoke opium in foetid dens—oh, you have no conception of his passion to degrade himself—and at last he would come back, dirty, with torn clothes, begrimed, sodden still with his long debauch; and his mouth was hot with the kisses of the vile women of the docks. Oh, he's so cruel when the fit takes him that I think he has a fiendish pleasure in the sight of suffering!' It was more than Arthur could stand. His mind was made up to try a bold course. He saw on the table a whisky bottle and glasses. He poured some neat spirit into a tumbler and gave it to Margaret. 12


The Magician  
The Magician  

W. Somerset Maugham