Note: this is another short gas-lamp fantasy story featuring the wizard Edwyn Le Fay. While it is not essential, it is suggested that the reader check out The Dark House first.
The House on the Cliff
“Oh please, Wilfred, we might only get this one chance to get our hands on those spellbooks.”
Wilfred Hay sighed. He had not seen Edwyn le Fay since they had been the in the same class, seven years ago and more, back at High Tor in Glastonbury. He had not really expected to see Le Fay again. Then, out of the blue, Edwyn had turned up at his surgery, begging him to go on some sort of a wild goose chase to the house of some old wizard who had just died. Wilfred Hay was beginning to wish that he had not agreed to give him five minutes, as those five minutes had already turned into a quarter of an hour, with Le Fay begging his old schoolmate to go on some wild and possibly illegal escapade.
“Edwyn,” – and Wilfred Hay would have preferred to call him Le Fay than use such a personal term – “Edwyn, I haven’t seen you in over seven years. I am now trained to be a doctor, rather than a wizard. Yes, I spent my early years training to be a wizard, but I made the sensible choice of concentrating on a medical career, rather than spells, and I am a locum at a local surgery.
“Being a wizard does not pay the bills. Not everybody is lucky enough to have a small fortune or a wealthy father to fall back on.”
“We can take a train down there.” Edwyn said. It was like he had not listened to anything his former schoolmate had said. “It won’t take long. I’ve already looked up the times in Bradshaw’s.
“It won’t take that long, really, the house is on the top of some cliffs on the south coast. We can catch the train down, get the spellbooks before anybody else finds them, and catch the last train back. If we are quick enough in finding the books then we won’t even have to catch the last train to Kent. You’ll have plenty of time to get back for your doctoring on the next day.”
Hay sighed. He could see that Le Fay was not paying any attention.
“What you are proposing sounds to me like breaking and entering and theft.” Hay said. “I don’t care if those spellbooks belonged to Merlin, I am having no part of this. And I advise you, if you know what is good for you, to forget all this nonsense and try to find a proper occupation.”
“Wilfred, if we don’t go now they will be gone. I got the tip off from the doorman of the Trismegistus Club. That mans that all f the wizards there will now know that Obadiah Monk has died, and his books are in the house, just ripe for the taking.”
“Edwyn Le Fay, if you carry on you will end up in Bradley Tower, or worse. Please forget about those spellbooks. And please go away. I want no part of this.”
Edwyn Le Fay went away, but he could not forget about the fact that the old wizard Obadiah Monk had died. That fact burned like a red hot poker. He had been told by the doorman at the Trismegistus Club that monk had been almost a hundred years old when he had died, and that he had spent his entire life collecting and collating Magick spells.
Monk must have collected a lot of spells which nobody else possessed. Many wizards used to write variants of existing spells, or create their own, even though that was a laborious process. But Monk might have collected spells from a dozen different sources, for all that Edwyn knew. Somewhere in the house where Monk had lived there might be spells from the Middle Ages.
Such thoughts explained why, in the end, despite trying to follow the advice of Hay, Edwyn Le Fay caught an evening train down from Victoria to the nearest station to the house of Obadiah Monk and began walking the two miles to the house.
By the time that Edwyn Le Fay neared the house it had gone eleven o’clock at night. It was a moonless night, and, normally, it would have been pitch black. But Edwyn had suffered problems with darkness in the past, and he had a powerful lantern with him. In addition to that he was carrying not one, but two ever-burning tapers, just in case one should suddenly have the Magick burn out. But those were in his jacket pocket. He was saving them for emergencies. In addition, he had been practicing a spell which, when cast, would produce a cold, glowing flame in his left palm, which could provide light in an emergency. After his adventure in the Dark House Edwyn was taking no chances.
The house was right on the top of the chalk cliffs of the south coast. Walking towards the old house Edwyn could see it silhouetted against the stars of the night sky. The house, although only two storeys, was a little bigger than Edwyn had been expecting. It was certainly no small cottage. Edwyn stopped, and studied the house for a second, as he tried to work up his courage to approach the place.
Then Edwyn suddenly heard a noise off to his left. Something was out there, in the dark. He shone the bean of the lantern to the torch, and lit up a pair of eyes in the ugliest face which Edwyn had ever seen: a great hairy face, with small bright eyes, and features which were definitely not human. Edwyn was so surprised that he dropped the lantern.
There was a screeching sound, and the creature gambolled away from Edwyn. By the time that Edwyn picked up his lantern and shone the beam around the creature, whatever it was, had gone.
That had shaken Edwyn. He had not expected to see some sort of strange animal on this trip. He tried to tell himself that it had been only a dog which he had glimpsed. But, in reality, it had looked more like the face of some great ape.
Perhaps something had escaped from London Zoo. But Edwyn had not read of any such escape in the newspaper; and it was a fair distance from London Zoo to where this house stood.
Edwyn told himself that he had imagined what he had seen, and that there was not really anything out there. He moved on towards the house of the recently expired Obadiah Monk.
That was when Edwyn had his second shock. For a brief moment he saw a ghostly green light go past one of the upstairs windows. Somebody was in the house! The light could only have been that of an ever-burning taper. That meant that there was already some wizard in the house, searching through Monk’s belongings.
Edwyn hurried on towards the house. Perhaps he was not too late. Maybe there were still things in the house which had not yet been filched by whoever was in there.
There was a veranda running along what Edwyn thought of the front of the house, in that a cliff top path ran to a door which led from the veranda to the inside of the house. Edwyn walked up the steps into the veranda, and tried the door to the house. He was not surprised to discover that the door was unlocked.
Edwyn stepped through the door, into the main hall of the house. Stairs led upwards, to a balcony overlooking the hall. a passage almost opposite the door led towards the rear of the house, while corridors led off to the left and right of the house.
As Edwyn stood there, shining the lantern about, he saw a tall, thin man approach him, coming down the corridor from the rear of the house.
The man stood well over six feet tall, but was as thin as a rake. He wore a black suit. Even his shirt was black – as was his top hat. The way that he was dressed reminded Edwyn of a funeral director. All that he needed was some men trailing behind him, carrying a coffin.
The man’s cheeks were sunken, giving him an almost corpse-like appearance. His skin was also very pale, as though any colour had been bleached out of it.
What was surprising was that the man did not carry a lantern or an ever-burning taper. The man had to have some spell going which allowed him to see in the dark – which meant that this tall, cadaverous man was not responsible for the light which Edwyn had glimpsed through the window as he had approached the house. The tall man raised his hat when he saw Edwyn.
“Good evening.” the tall man said. His voice was very deep. It reminded Edwyn of the grave.
“I take it that you are here to search for Monk’s spellbooks.” Edwyn commented. At least the tall man was not carrying anything, so it looked like he hadn’t found any yet. The tall man smiled, but did not say anything else. Instead he walked up the stairs leading to the first floor. Edwyn watched him go.
Edwyn did not bother to start his search at the back of the house, as that was where the tall man had just come from. He presumed that anything of interest there would already have been discovered. So, instead, he turned to the left, to have a look down that wing of the house. Perhaps there was still something to find, and this journey would not prove to have been a total waste of time.
The left wing of the house held only two doors. One of those doors opened as Edwyn walked towards it, Out of the door, and the room beyond, walked the same cadaverous, tall man who Edwyn had just seen walk upstairs.
“How did you do that?” Edwyn asked. There was no way that the man could have got back downstairs in time to walk out of that room. The tall man frowned, as though Edwyn had said something incomprehensible, and walked past the wizard.
Edwyn walked into the room which the tall man had just come out of. The room had once been some kind of drawing room. There was an old bookcase, in one corner of the room. But the few books which had been on the bookcase were now in a higgledy-piggledy pile on the floor. It looked like they had been well-searched, just in case something had been hidden between their pages. Edwyn tapped on a couple of the walls. But they didn’t sound hollow. He did not think that he was going to find anything in there. He went back out of the room, and along the passage to the only other room in the left wing of the house. He opened the door, and walked in, shining his lantern beam about.
The room was a library – a proper library. At first Edwyn thought that he had discovered what he had been after. But, on looking at the books, he discovered that they were novels, rather than mystic tomes or books on studying Magick. Novels! What on earth did he want with the likes of Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray? He had no desire to read these petty fictions.
Edwyn went around the shelves, working from top to bottom, studying the spines of each and every book. He did not realise that, as he searched for something of value, he was being spied on through the keyhole of the door. But, as nobody actually entered the room while he was there, how could Edwyn know that he had been spied on?
The most interesting book was one on gemstones. At least that was not fiction. But Edwyn did not bother taking it with him. He was only interested in Magick. That was all that he cared about in his life.
Edwyn walked out of the library, and back into the main hall. He walked along the corridor to what he thought of as the back of the house. He passed a door under the stairs, but he presumed that it led to nothing other than a broom closet. He ignored it for the moment. He had not come all of the way down to Kent just to go back home with a dustpan and brush.
The corridor led to a kitchen area. There was a wood-burning stove, and a sink. But the sink did not have any taps. There was a tall ewer on the floor beside the sink. It was clear that the old wizard, Monk, had not possessed running water in this house, but that he had had to fetch his water from somewhere.
There was a cupboard beneath the sink. Edwyn opened it, even though he did not think that there would be any books in the cupboard. He was quite correct in that guess, as all that there was beneath the sink was cleaning materials. What use did he have for Izal’s Disinfectant or a bar of Puritan soap?
He closed the cupboard door and stood up. He shone the beam of the lantern around the kitchen. There was a door which led to some patio are at the back. He could see a water pump there.
Edwyn recalled the creature which he had glimpsed, out in the dark, as he had approached the house. For an instant he wondered if he should warn the tall man. Then he put the thought out of his mind – the man was competing with him. He could take his own chances.
Edwyn began to walk down the corridor, to the door which he had checked. His lantern light picked out two tall men, standing in the hall, arguing with each other. Ah, that explained things! There were two of them! They had to be twins.
He should have guessed that was the answer, rather than that the tall man had used some spell which had opened a portal between two places. Such spells were almost forgotten, now – and those few wizards who knew such rare Magicks guarded their knowledge closer than the Crown Jewels. Ah, but Edwyn would have loved to know such Magick, so that he could be in one place one moment, and the next second be miles away! Perhaps there were details on how to learn this school of spells in the books belonging to Monk. All that he had to do was to find them.
Edwyn Le Fay opened the door which he had presumed had led to some broom cupboard. But he found himself looking at some stone steps going down into the darkness. The place had a cellar.
He glanced at the twins, but they were still arguing with each other about something or other. Edwyn slipped through the door, pulled it shut behind him as quietly as he could, and descended down the stone steps.
The cellar was quite large, being as big as the back of the house. There were cobwebs hanging from the ceiling, however, and Edwyn did his best to avoid them. He was not particularly fond of cobwebs, as cobwebs meant spiders, and he did not particularly like creepy-crawlies.
There were bottles of wine in the cellar. It seemed that Obadiah Monk had laid down quite a store before he died. Edwyn did not bother to look at them. He was not interested in wine. It did not occur to him to take any for himself. Besides, he would not even have known which were read and which were white.
There had to be something down here. Edwyn guessed that the rest of the house had probably been searched by now. If the spellbooks were not on the cellar then he would never get his greedy little hands on them.
There were a couple of wall sconces, the sort which, before the advent of gaslight, had been used to hold burning wooden torches. He tried pulling down on each sconce. Nothing happened.
He tapped around the walls of the cellar, working his way from where the stairs came down into the cellar, all around the racks of wine, until he came back to the stone steps again. He had not found any secret passages, despite the care he had taken in looking for them.
Disappointed by failing to discover any secret passages, Edwyn decided to go home. If there had ever been any spellbooks in the house he guessed that they would have been discovered by now.
Edwyn left the cellar, walking back up the stone steps. He would check the right wing of the house, and then go upstairs. He feared, though, that he had arrived too late, and that the strange tall man had already claimed the Magickal tomes.
There was the sound of some explosion, coming from down in the cellar, where Edwyn had just come from. Edwyn rushed back down the steps into the cellar. Most people do not run down towards an explosion, but all that Edwyn could think of was that somebody had blasted their way into a secret room.
Edwyn shone his torch around the cellar, looking for some hole in the wall. But it looked exactly the same as before.
Edwyn stared at the stone walls of the cellar. There was nobody in the place. He spent some time searching the walls, looking for some secret passage. He knocked all along the walls, hoping that he would hear a hollow sound. But he was to be disappointed.
Suddenly it struck him – there had to be two cellars, not one, and the explosion must have come from the other cellar.
Edwyn knew that if he did not act quickly he might miss getting his hands on anything of value. He had to get something for his time spent searching this place. He rushed back upstairs, coming out into the corridor next to the kitchen. He shone his torch in the kitchen, but it looked the same.
He ran down the corridor and turned left, to look in the right wing of the house. There were two rooms in that wing. While both had obviously been searched, neither bore any evidence of the sound which he had heard.
Edwyn ran back down to the left wing of the house. He went in the sitting room, but it looked no different than before. The explosion had not been connected with that room.
Edwyn opened the door to the library, the second room, which he had already searched once. The carpet had been rolled back in the north-west corner of the room, revealing an open trapdoor.
Edwyn stopped and stared. He had not bothered looking under the carpet. He had missed the trapdoor.
He rushed over, and looked down into the hole. There were some steep steps going down into the darkness. Hoping that there might be something left for him, he hurried down the steps. They led down into something which was obviously some sort of alchemical laboratory. There were glass vials with coloured powders in them, rubber tubing, and a Bunsen burner. Edwyn, though, had never really been interested in chemistry. It had not really been his best subject when he had been at High Tor in Glastonbury.
What interested Edwyn, though, was where part of the stone wall had opened up at the far end of the laboratory. It was a secret door, one leading off from this secret cellar.
He ran through, not thinking once about any possible danger to his person (and there had been an explosion not all that long ago). The room beyond has a smashed wooden table, which looked like it had been blown apart; and two skeletons on the floor. The bones of their chest areas had been burned and smashed inwards, as though by some Magickal attack.
There was a high-backed wooden chair at the end of what remained of the table. Behind the chair there was a small bookcase. It must have held the spellbooks of Obadiah Monk. But it was empty. Somebody had beaten him to them.
Edwyn Le Fay stared at the empty bookcase. Sighting inwardly, he got out his mythometer, and cast a spell of detection, to see if there might be something else worth acquiring. There was the faint aura of necromancy coming from the destroyed skeletons. It appeared that Obadiah Stone had known a little Black Magick, and had employed a pair of skeletal guardians to protect his spellbooks. Edwyn had missed out on gaining that forgotten Magick.
There was also the fading aura of something else, something which Edwyn did not recognise. Which could cover any number of rare schools of Magick.
He left the house. There was nobody left in it, and nothing worth taking. The two tall men had gone, presumably carrying the mystic tomes between them.
Edwyn walked slowly back to the railway station, not even thinking about the ape-like monster which he had seen earlier in the evening. All that he could think about was the great opportunity which he had missed.
When he got back to the railway station he discovered that he had missed the last train of the night back to London by five minutes. It really had not been his day.