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First published in 1926, the adventures of Dr.Taverner and Dr. Rhodes take readers across the marshy moonlit fields of nightfall, hunting spirits and keeping watch over souls. Suffering from vampirism? Being stalked by a death hound? Haunted by past ...
First published in 1926, the adventures of Dr.Taverner and Dr. Rhodes take readers across the marshy moonlit fields of nightfall, hunting spirits and keeping watch over souls. Suffering from vampirism? Being stalked by a death hound? Haunted by past life debts? Family under a suicidal curse? From across the countryside patients and their desperate families come to seek treatment for unconventional diseases from an unconventional doctor. His secret? Treating the diseases of the occult.
Though Fortune wrote The Secrets of Doctor Taverner as her first novel, she maintained that all the events were based on true occurrences. Many believe Taverner to be Fortune's own spiritual teacher, Dr. Moriarty, and Rhodes to be based on Fortune herself.
An essential and fun read for anyone interested in the Western Mystery Tradition, Dion Fortune, the melding of medicine and magic, or just good old-fashioned paranormal fiction.
I have never been able to make up my mind whether Dr. Taverner should be the hero or the villain of these histories. That he was a man of the most selfless ideals could not be questioned, but in his methods of putting these ideals into practice he was absolutely unscrupulous. He did not evade the law, he merely ignored it, and though the exquisite tenderness with which he handled his cases was an education in itself, yet he would use that wonderful psychological method of his to break a soul to pieces, going to work as quietly and methodically and benevolently as if bent upon the cure of his patient. The manner of my meeting with this strange man was quite simple. After being gazetted out of the Royal Army Medical Corps. I went to a medical agency and inquired what posts were available.
I said: 'I have come out of the Army with my nerves shattered. I want some quiet place till I can pull myself together.'
'So does everybody else,' said the clerk.
He looked at me thoughtfully. 'I wonder whether you would care to try a place we have had on our books for some time. We have sent several men down to it but none of them would stop.'
He sent me round to one of the tributaries of Harley Street, and there I made the acquaintance of the man who, whether he was good or bad, I have always regarded as the greatest mind I ever met.
Tall and thin, with a parchment-like countenance, he might have been any age from 35 to 65. I have seen him look both ages within the hour. He lost no time in coming to the point.
'I want a medical superintendent for my nursing home,' he told me. 'I understand that you have specialized, as far as the Army permitted you to, in mental cases. I am afraid you will find my methods very different from the orthodox ones. However, as I sometimes succeed where others fail, I consider I am justified in continuing to experiment, which I think, Dr. Rhodes, is all any of my colleagues can claim to do.'
The man's cynical manner annoyed me, though I could not deny that mental treatment is not an exact science at the present moment. As if in answer to my thought he continued:
'My chief interest lies in those regions of psychology which orthodox science has not as yet ventured to explore. If you will work with me you will see some queer things, but all I ask of you is, that you should keep an open mind and a shut mouth.'
This I undertook to do, for, although I shrank instinctively from the man, yet there was about him such a curious attraction, such a sense of power and adventurous research, that I determined at least to give him the benefit of the doubt and see what it might lead to. His extraordinarily stimulating personality, which seemed to key my brain to concert pitch, made me feel that he might be a good tonic for a man who had lost his grip on life for the time being.
'Unless you have elaborate packing to do,' he said, 'I can motor you down to my place. If you will walk over with me to the garage I will drive you round to your lodgings, pick up your things, and we shall get in before dark.'
We drove at a pretty high speed down the Portsmouth road till we came to Thursley, and, then, to my surprise, my companion turned off to the right and took the big car by a cart track over the heather.
'This is Thor's Ley or field,' he said, as the blighted country unrolled before us. 'The old worship is still kept up about here.'
'The Catholic faith?' I inquired.
'The Catholic faith, my dear sir, is an innovation. I was referring to the pagan worship. The peasants about here still retain bits of the old ritual; they think that it brings them luck, or some such superstition. They have no knowledge of its inner meaning.' He paused a moment, and then turned to me and said with extraordinary emphasis: 'Have you ever thought what it would mean if a man who had the Knowledge could piece that ritual together?'
I admitted I had not. I was frankly out of my depth, but he had certainly brought me to the most unchristian spot I had ever been in my life.
His nursing home, however, was in delightful contrast to the wild and barren country that surrounded it. The garden was a mass of colour, and the house, old and rambling and covered with creepers, as charming within as without; it reminded me of the East, it reminded me of the Renaissance, and yet it had no style save that of warm rich colouring and comfort.
I soon settled down to my job, which I found exceedingly interesting. As I have already said, Taverner's work began where ordinary medicine ended, and I have under my care cases such as the ordinary doctor would have referred to the safe keeping of an asylum, as being nothing else but mad. Yet Taverner, by his peculiar methods of work, laid bare causes operating both within the soul and in the shadowy realm where the soul has its dwelling, that threw an entirely new light upon the problem, and oft en enabled him to rescue a man from the dark influences that were closing in upon him. The affair of the sheep-killing was an interesting example of his methods.
One showery afternoon at the nursing home we had a call from a neighbor&mdas;not a very common occurrence, for Taverner and his ways were regarded somewhat askance. Our visitor shed her dripping mackintosh, but declined to loosen the scarf which, warm as the day was, she had twisted tightly round her neck.
'I believe you specialize in mental cases,' she said to my colleague. 'I should very much like to talk over with you a matter that is troubling me.'
Taverner nodded, his keen eyes watching her for symptoms.
'It concerns a friend of mine&mdas;in fact, I think I may call him my fiancé, for, although he has asked me to release him from his engagement, I have refused to do so; not because I should wish to hold a man who no longer loved me, but because I am convinced that he still cares for me, and there is something which has come between us that he will not tell me of.
'I have begged him to be frank with me and let us share the trouble together, for the thing that seems an insuperable obstacle to him may not appear in that light to me; but you know what men are when they consider their honour is in question.' She looked from one to the other of us smiling. No woman ever believes that her men folk are grown up; perhaps she is right. Then she leant forward and clasped her hands eagerly. 'I believe I have found the key to the mystery. I want you to tell me whether it is possible or not.'
'Will you give me particulars?' said Taverner.
Clearly and concisely she gave us what was required.
'We got engaged while Donald was stationed here for his training (that would be nearly five years ago now), and there was always the most perfect harmony between us until he came out of the Army, when we all began to notice a change in him. He came to the house as often as ever, but he always seemed to want to avoid being alone with me. We used to take long walks over the moors together, but he has absolutely refused to do this recently. Then, without any warning, he wrote and told me he could not marry me and did not wish to see me again, and he put a curious thing in his letter. He said: "Even if I should come to you and ask you to see me, I beg you not to do it."
'My people thought he had got entangled with some other girl, and were furious with him for jilting me, but I believe there is something more in it than that. I wrote to him, but could get no answer, and I had come to the conclusion that I must try and put the whole thing out of my life, when he suddenly turned up again. Now, this is where the queer part comes in.
'We heard the fowls shrieking one night, and thought a fox was after them. My brothers turned out armed with golf clubs, and I went too. When we got to the hen-house we found several fowl with their throats torn as if a rat had been at them; but the boys discovered that the hen-house door had been forced open, a thing no rat could do. They said a gipsy must have been trying to steal the birds, and told me to go back to the house. I was returning by way of the shrubberies when someone suddenly stepped out in front of me. It was quite light, for the moon was nearly full, and I recognized Donald. He held out his arms and I went to him, but, instead of kissing me, he suddenly bent his head and&mdas;look!'
She drew her scarf from her neck and showed us a semicircle of little blue marks on the skin just under the ear, the unmistakable print of human teeth.
'He was after the jugular,' said Taverner, 'lucky for you he did not break the skin.'
'I said to him: "Donald, what are you doing?" My voice seemed to bring him to himself, and he let me go and tore off through the bushes. The boys chased him but did not catch him, and we have never seen him since.'
'You have informed the police, I suppose?' said Taverner.
'Father told them someone had tried to rob the hen-roost, but they do not know who it was. You see, I did not tell them I had seen Donald.'
'And you walk about the moors by yourself, knowing that he may be lurking in the neighbourhood?'
'I should advise you not to, Miss Wynter; the man is probably exceedingly dangerous, especially to you. We will send you back in the car.'
'You think he has gone mad? That is exactly what I think. I believe he knew he was going mad, and that was why he broke off our engagement. Dr. Taverner, is there nothing that can be done for him? It seems to me that Donald is not mad in the ordinary way. We had a housemaid once who went off her head, and the whole of her seemed to be insane, if you can understand; but with Donald it seems as if only a little bit of him were crazy, as if his insanity were outside himself. Can you grasp what I mean?'
'It seems to me you have given a very clear description of a case of psychic interference&mdas; what was known in scriptural days as "being possessed by a devil,"' said Taverner.
'Can you do anything for him?' the girl inquired eagerly.
'I may be able to do a good deal if you can get him to come to me.'
On our next day at the Harley Street consulting-room we found that the butler had booked an appointment for a Captain Donald Craigie. We discovered him to be a personality of singular charm&mdas;one of those highly-strung, imaginative men who have the makings of an artist in them. In his normal state he must have been a delightful companion, but as he faced us across the consulting-room desk he was a man under a cloud.
'I may as well make a clean breast of this matter,' he said. 'I suppose Beryl told you about their chickens?'
'She told us that you tried to bite her.'
'Did she tell you I bit the chickens?'
'Well, I did.'
Silence fell for a moment. Then Taverner broke it.
'When did this trouble first start?'
'After I got shell shock. I was blown right out of a trench, and it shook me up pretty badly. I thought I had got off lightly, for I was only in hospital about 10 days, but I suppose this is the aftermath.'
'Are you one of those people who have a horror of blood?'
'Not especially so. I didn't like it, but I could put up with it. We had to get used to it in the trenches; someone was always getting wounded, even in the quietest times.'
'And killed,' put in Taverner.
'Yes, and killed,' said our patient.
'So you developed a blood hunger?'
'That's about it.'
'Underdone meat and all the rest of it, I suppose?'
'No, that is no use to me. It seems a horrible thing to say, but it is fresh blood that attracts me, blood as it comes from the veins of my victim.'
'Ah!' said Taverner. 'That puts a different complexion on the case.'
'I shouldn't have thought it could have been much blacker.'
'On the contrary, what you have just told me renders the out-look much more hopeful. You have not so much a blood lust, which might well be an effect of the subconscious mind, as a vitality hunger which is quite a different matter.'
Craigie looked up quickly. 'That's exactly it. I have never been able to put it into words before, but you have hit the nail on the head.'
I saw that my colleague's perspicacity had given him great confidence.
'I should like you to come down to my nursing home for a time and be under my personal observation,' said Taverner.
'I should like to very much, but I think there is something further you ought to know before I do so. This thing has begun to affect my character. At first it seemed something outside myself, but now I am responding to it, almost helping, and trying to find out ways of gratifying it without getting myself into trouble. That is why I went for the hens when I came down to the Wynters' house. I was afraid I should lose my self-control and go for Beryl. I did in the end, as it happened, so it was not much use. In fact I think it did more harm than good, for I seemed to get into much closer touch with "It" after I had yielded to the impulse. I know that the best thing I could do would be to do away with myself, but I daren't. I feel that after I am dead I should have to meet&mdas;whatever it is&mdas;face to face.'
'You should not be afraid to come down to the nursing home,' said Taverner. 'We will look after you.'
After he had gone Taverner said to me: 'Have you ever heard of vampires, Rhodes?'
'Yes, rather,' I said. 'I used to read myself to sleep with Dracula once when I had a spell of insomnia.'
'That,' nodding his head in the direction of the departing man, 'is a singularly good specimen.'
'Do you mean to say you are going to take a revolting case like that down to Hindhead?'
'Not revolting, Rhodes, a soul in a dungeon. The soul may not be very savoury, but it is a fellow creature. Let it out and it will soon clean itself.'
I often used to marvel at the wonderful tolerance and compassion Taverner had for erring humanity.
'The more you see of human nature,' he said to me once, 'the less you feel inclined to condemn it, for you realize how hard it has struggled. No one does wrong because he likes it, but because it is the lesser of the two evils.'
A couple of days later I was called out of the nursing home office to receive a new patient. It was Craigie. He had got as far as the doormat, and there he had stuck. He seemed so thoroughly ashamed of himself that I had not the heart to administer the judicious bullying which is usual under such circumstances.
'I feel as if I were driving a baulking horse,' he said. 'I want to come in, but I can't.'
I called Taverner and the sight of him seemed to relieve our patient.
'Ah,' he said, 'you give me confidence. I feel that I can defy "It,"' and he squared his shoulders and crossed the threshold. Once inside, a weight seemed lifted from his mind, and he settled down quite happily to the routine of the place. Beryl Wynter used to walk over almost every afternoon, unknown to her family, and cheer him up; in fact he seemed on the high road to recovery.
One morning I was strolling round the grounds with the head gardener, planning certain small improvements, when he made a remark to me which I had reason to remember later.
'You would think all the German prisoners should have been returned by now, wouldn't you, sir? But they haven't. I passed one the other night in the lane outside the back door. I never thought that I should see their filthy field-grey again.'
I sympathized with his antipathy; he had been a prisoner in their hands, and the memory was not one to fade.
I thought no more of his remarks, but a few days later I was reminded of it when one of our patients came to me and said:
'Dr. Rhodes, I think you are exceedingly unpatriotic to employ German prisoners in the garden when so many discharged soldiers cannot get work.'
I assured her that we did not do so, no German being likely to survive a day's work under the superintendence of our exprisoner head gardener.
'But I distinctly saw the man going round the greenhouses at shutting-up time last night,' she declared. 'I recognized him by his flat cap and grey uniform.'
I mentioned this to Taverner.
'Tell Craigie he is on no account to go out after sundown,' he said, 'and tell Miss Wynter she had better keep away for the present.'
A night or two later, as I was strolling round the grounds smoking an after-dinner cigarette, I met Craigie hurrying through the shrubbery.
'You will have Dr. Taverner on your trail,' I called after him.
'I missed the post-bag,' he replied, 'and I am going down to the pillar-box.'
Next evening I again found Craigie in the grounds after dark. I bore down on him.
'Look here, Craigie,' I said, 'if you come to this place you must keep the rules, and Dr.
Taverner wants you to stay indoors after sundown.'
Craigie bared his teeth and snarled at me like a dog. I took him by the arm and marched him into the house and reported the incident to Taverner.
'The creature has re-established its influence over him,' he said. 'We cannot evidently starve it out of existence by keeping it away from him; we shall have to use other methods. Where is Craigie at the present moment?'
Excerpted from The Secrets of DOCTOR TAVERNER by DION FORTUNE. Copyright © 2011 Diana L. Paxson. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Foreword Diana L. Paxson vii
Blood Lust 1
The Return of the Ritual 19
The Man Who Sought 37
The Soul That Would Not Be Born 51
The Scented Poppies 64
The Death Hound 84
A Daughter of Pan 100
The Subletting of the Mansion 123
The Sea Lure 160
The Power House 177
A Son of the Night 198