|Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History|
The Golden Rat
What secret of her troubled soul could the youthful and lovely wife of old Gerald Lancaster be concealing now from me? She was decidedly the most baffling of all my patients. I was comparatively young, as men in the professions reckon age, yet I had devoted eleven arduous years to the practice of that department of psychology which goes by the name of psycho-analysis. It seemed obvious, from the very first appearance of the lady in my consultation room, that she suffered from the shock of an underlying emotional disturbance. Mrs. Lancaster, that is to say, had passed through a painful experience. She had striven to banish it from her consciousness.
Now what had been the emotional disturbance in her case? I could but conjecture vaguely. Her experience, whatever it had been, was not extinguished. It remained latent in her sub-consciousness, buried below the level of her waking mentality. The case of Mrs. Lancaster was, to use the technical phraseology one of repression, the experience or emotion which she strove to put out of her mind and her life being what we psychologists call a "complex."
As I concentrated my gaze upon the large but troubled eyes of Mrs. Lancaster, it dawned upon me that the "complex"the idea or sorrow she strove to annihilatewas emotional, sentimental. Had she formed some unhappy attachment which the fiercest efforts of her will failed to subdue? I made the suggestion which seemed to me the best possible under the circumstances.
"I shall have to hypnotize you."
Speaking in the fluted accents which made her voice harmonize so perfectly with the sweetness of her face, Mrs. Lancaster objected to the very idea. She declined to be hypnotized because she feared the process might undermine the strength of her will. It was not difficult to reassure her on this point. To my surprise, however, I found my patient absolutely unhypnotizable. There remained only the alternative of imploring her to tell me frankly all that was in her mind, all that might be below the level of her consciousness, all that she would hide even from herself.
"I fear," I remarked, as considerately as I could"I fear you are concealing something from me something of which you do not perhaps realize the importance or even the nature."
She searched her memory in vain. I had, on the occasion of our last interview in my study, forborne to press her. It was my hope that in the course of a subsequent consultation I should elicit the mysterious cause of her nervous state.
How well I remember that summer afternoon! The wife of old Lancaster had taken her departure, and I stood absorbed in baffling reflections with reference to this most mysterious patient. Slowly, at last, I opened the door that afforded access to the garden stretching from my study window quite to the stables. The garden, like the stables themselves, was a luxury, a whim of mine. The value of improved real estate in my native city made the taxes upon my cultivated acres, anything but a trifle. I might have kept a motor car, but my love of horseflesh made it impossible to give up the stables for a garage.
"More rats, doctor."
It was Boggs, the grim coachman. I found him rubbing down the most spirited of the steeds behind which it pleased me to spin through the streets of the city. Boggs indicated a pail near one of the stalls.
I gazed vacantly at the nestful of tiny young rats. My mind was still absorbed by the repressed "complex" of the puzzling Mrs. Lancaster. I still stared at the seven blind, feeble creatures, too young for even a growth of hair to be manifest upon their hides. Boggs had stepped over to my side by this time. He clutched the nozzle of a streaming line of hose.
"I'll drown 'em, drat 'em!"
He would have flooded the wriggling nestful in a trice had I not stayed his hand.
"That little fellow there," I remarked"he looks differentlighter than the others."
Boggs peered down into the bottom of the pail.
"Yes, doctor," he conceded, his voice thick with the disgust and annoyance the sight of rats in the stables invariably caused him. "One there is yellow-like."
To the amazement of the honest Boggs, I plunged my hand among the young rats and picked up the specimen that had caught my eye. There he lay now, in the palm of my hand, blind, weak, helpless. The hairs upon his odd little frame were sparse. They were sufficiently thick, none the less, to impart an aspect of fluffy gold to his coat. I was half inclined to drop him to his doom among his brothers when his tiny tail waved vaguely. It was covered nearly to the tip with a growth of down that made it look like a golden wand. Before Boggs had closed his mouth from sheer wonder at my behavior, I had slipped the baby rat into a pocket of my coat.
Slowly I retraced my steps across the grass from the stables to the study door. I was in some perplexity. Should I risk an experiment with the tiny thing breathing still in my pocket? The query vexed me as I paced from the desk in my little study to the door of the laboratory beyond. In this laboratory were stored the test tubes, the culture mediums, the beef broth and the apparatus for clarifying and sterilizing through the medium of which I enlarged the range of my biological knowledge by artificial cultivation of bacteria. Here, too, were the cages in which, at one time, I had bred three generations of white mice. The creatures were all dead long since. I was quite an adept, however, in the care of these rodents. Many a specimen had been inoculated in this laboratory with "cultures" of my own.
Lifting the little rat from my pocket, I laid him, seemingly more dead than alive, in one of my small cages. A spirit lamp had next to be set aflame. With its aid I soon heated enough milk to fill a small bottle, from the corked neck of which protruded a tiny quill. The little rat absorbed the first meal I gave him greedily enough. I had the satisfaction of seeing him curled snugly in sleep upon a litter of scrapped rags before the milk was half consumed.
Many days had not elapsed before I saw the hair upon his coat grow sleek and plentiful. To my surprise, the yellowish tint which had first attracted my attention to the young rat deepened into one of fine gold before I possessed him a week. In a fortnight he was strong enough to climb the side of the box which was his home in my laboratory. He ran about the floor so recklessly that I was forced to keep a careful lookout for stray cats and dogs. My original fear that he would prefer the freedom of the open air or of the cellarage to my laboratory proved groundless. He seemed to be destitute of the quality of timidity. Never in my experience of pets had I acquired one so recklessly tame. It was a source of perennial delight to him to spring from my shoe to the hem of my trousers and climb up to my shoulder. There he remained perched contentedly while I read or wrote or even walked about. As day succeeded day, the exquisite golden color of his coat grew richer. I discovered his tastes in edibles, especially for roasted chestnuts, and gratified it to the full. He seemed to tire of bread and milk as he grew fatter and more golden of hue. I fed him upon cake and nuts. His place of refuge, when pressed for one, was the pocket of my coat. Again and again have I felt him stirring about there while I received a patient in my study. When we were left at last alone, he would peep forth prettily and give a little shriek of delight while returning to my shoulder.
Never was quadruped more careful of its personal appearance. The golden rat balanced itself on its hind legs to lick its belly clean, and it had a trick of wiping itself all over with its forepaws. One of these paws would be passed over the head and the ears and licked into an immaculate cleanliness at each wipe. Philander, for that was the name I bestowed upon the golden rat, was a dazzling spectacle when the light from my study lamp fell upon him. He slept for an hour at a time on the desk before which I sat to read, seeming motionless, a gleaming ornament that might have come in perfect beauty from the cunning of the hand of Benvenuto Cellini.
Philander was washing his golden coat as he sat on my shoulder one morning, when we were interrupted by the unexpected arrival of a patient. The rathe was a good-sized animal nowtook refuge in my pocket the instant old Pawkins was announced. Pawkins, I should explain, was one of the prominent bankers of the city, who had long been under my care because of his neurasthenia. It had not been easy for me in the beginning to trace the source of his disorder. It seemed due primarily to an idea implanted in his mind by the physician who first treated his symptoms. Pawkins had been told that he was threatened with Bright's disease. He had seized this diagnosis eagerly. His ailment was, on its physical side, solely due to a false suggestion. Unfortunately, however, I found it no easy matter to win my way to his confidence. There was in his mind, latent and unconquerable, a suppressed "complex," an idea he would not avow, a thought that held him prisoner. No effort of mine could bring it to the surface. In accordance with my practice, I did not force the revelation I sought from old Pawkins. I was content to bide my time, as I was biding my time with the wife of Lancaster.
The elderly financier had barely seated himself in a chair facing me when I got a sudden fright. It seemed as if he had brought a dog with him. I thought of Philander in my pocket and had difficulty in suppressing an impulse of alarm. A closer inspection of the crouching figure at the feet of old Pawkins sufficed to correct my blunder. It was no dog that sat so near him. It was rather a shadowy outline than a reality, a suggestion of a shape. As I gazed the thing seemed to be a wolfor shall I say the wraith of a wolf? A minute or two elapsed before I could withdraw my gaze from what I felt now must be a spectre. I had seen what was too evidently a ghost, for when I dropped my eyes once more to the floor the thing had disappeared.
It was easy enough to get rid of old Pawkins after a few perfunctory questions. When he had taken his departure, I gave myself up to a profound reverie. Philander had emerged from his retreat and was gorging himself on the floor with roasted chestnuts. It was borne in upon me at this moment, for the first time, that some connection must exist between the golden rat and a series of emotional and physical experiences and sensations in myself. I asked myself if the golden rat had not communicated to me the symptoms of that fevered state in which I now so often found myself. The state was one of exhilarationlike the first effects of some delightful stimulant. It was an exhilaration which wore away. It left, unlike the thrills that go with opium, no baneful consequences. It brought me a singular capacity to verify with my own eyeat intervalsthe fact that practically all sources of illumination emit an ultraviolet light playing no part in ordinary vision. This is the result of the circumstance that the eye is sensitive only to a small proportion of the radiation reaching it. There were times, however, when my eyes became more than ever camera-like, detecting and measuring the intensity of what physicists call the infrared rays. I could see at such times by the aid of a light which physicists have pronounced invisible or at least discernible only through photography.
It occurred to me, after the departure of old Pawkins, that the wolf I had seen at his feet was an optical eccentricity in me. I recalled just then a fit of trembling in Philander while he lay concealed in my pocket. I recalled, too, the peculiarities of his conduct when certain other patients were in my study. The golden rat was subject to an inexplicable panic whenever the wife of a certain clergyman poured the tale of her neurosis into my ear. Philander took refuge under a bookcase or in the remotest recesses of a drawer in my desk. My eye chanced to light upon his frolicking form as I pondered these things. He held a walnut in his forepaws and, perched upon his hind limbs like an educated poodle, was devouring the morsel greedily. I waited until he had satisfied his appetite and then called him by his name. In a trice he was upon my shoulder.
The exigencies of a laboratory experiment that day required the use of a pair of black silk gloves. These were in my lap. The rat was creeping around my neck as I drew one of these gloves over my left hand, fitting it snugly and carefully from force of habit, although my mind was engaged solely with the mystery of the Pawkins wolf. On a sudden I saw a minute speck moving against the blackness of the glove. It was a mere mite of a speck, but it shone in golden luster as it flitted and fluttered.
The darting and dancing mite in the palm of my gloved hand was a flea.
A flood of light was let into every nook and cranny of my mind the moment I had caught the golden insect on the tip of my finger with the aid of a dab of vaseline. Philander, then, was infested with fleas. They were like himself in their peculiarly golden aspect. I brought the rat from his place of rest on my shoulder down to my knee. The critical inspection of his fur to which I abandoned myselfnot neglecting a microscope in the processrevealed a quantity of golden fleas. I was unable to identify the species. It is true that the varieties of flea already classified are infinite. I had studied a few in my student days. Here was a species as new as it was strange. There could be no doubt that the fleas on Philander had been the agents of the spread of some infection to me. My symptoms of late had been very puzzling.
I was quite certain that Philander could not have imparted to me the bacillus of any infection so dire as plague. That dread disease appears only in fleas which have bitten affected rats or persons at least twelve hours prior to death. The organism causing the disease itself must exist for a certain interval in the body of Philander, there to undergo a definite alteration, before it could induce an infection in me by transmission through the flea. And there was no known case of plague affecting a human being sufficiently near to involve Philander in the slightest suspicion.
The dilemma of my situation seemed greater on the following morning. I found my fever slightly higher, although the exhilaration was quite pleasant. I observed an accentuation of the eccentricity of my vision. I detected ultra-violet light without the aid of an instrument. There was one close friend to whom I could turn in this crisis. Having ascertained over the telephone that Thorburn, the renowned specialist, who had been my classmate at the medical school, could receive me at once, I hastened to his office.
My brilliant friend, whose researches in microbiology fill the world with his fame, had a touch or two of gray at the temples, I noticed. He received me most effusively, for we had not met in a long time. My eye was held for a minute, as we shook hands, by the large stork standing gravely at Thorburn's side.
"Are you fond of storks?"
I asked the question smilingly. He looked at me in some surprise.
"Not particularly," he replied. "Why?"
It flashed through my mind at once that this bird by Thorburn's side was no more real than the wolf at Pawkins' feet.
"Why?" I repeated, a flash of inspiration rescuing me from the dilemma. "You have been married six years and you have no children."
His face clouded at once.
"You are a great psychologist," I heard him murmur, as if he were talking to himself. "You have guessed the longing that fills my heart, the preoccupation of my life."
I saw now what the stork meant. It was the symbol of the desire in my friend's heart, the thought that would not leave him, the longing he had put out of his mind. His wish for a child to bless his union with Florella had been put from the upper level of his consciousness into that lower level of forgetfulness where his "repressed complex" lay buried. All men living, I knew, bore in their minds the wishes, the aspirations, they had buried in the well of the subconsciousness. Not until this moment did I suspect that the longing buried in the mind, the fond wish one dare not avow but over which one gloated inwardly, was a wraith, a ghost. Thorburn's buried wish was haunting him. The stork at his side was its ghost.
Not a word of all this escaped me; no hint of the presence of the grave bird passed my lips. I laid my case before him to the extent of avowing my fear of some infection. He examined me from head to foot. He made every laboratory test possible in the circumstances. As he came and went, now peering into my eyes, again holding a tube aloft in the bright electric light of his laboratory, I saw the stork follow him, sit at his feet, flap noiseless wings or prepare for some wild flight that was never even attempted.
"There is no organic disorder," was Thorburn's report at last. "I see no evidence yet of the presence of any infection. I can let you know definitely in a week."
The stork, invisible to Thorburn, eyed me gravely as I took my leave. In much perplexity I walked slowly to my home, letting myself in with my own key and repairing to my study with a profound problem on my mind. The first thing was to find Philander. He had a trick of fashioning a nest for himself out of old newspapers under a corner of my desk. I called him by name.
There was no response. At first I suspected him of hiding from me by design, a thing he was very prone to when he feared being shut up in his cage for the night. He had a great affection for the chimney. The soot in that retreat begrimed his coat most sadly, although he never failed to wash himself clean the moment he emerged. There had been no fire in my study since the spring. I thrust my head into the empty grate and called his name loudly. There was again no response.
I was not in any great alarm. He had a way of disappearing now and then, sometimes for as long as twenty-four hours. My one dread was that a stray cat or dog might pounce upon my pet. There was now nothing for it but to compose myself in my easy chair and ponder the events of this day.
My eye wandered vacantly over the papers and test tubes forming a litter in front of me until a gleam of something like light, a flash like the twinkle of a distant star, enchained my glance. The shimmer and slash were a series of stains upon a handkerchief. I picked up the silken article in some bewilderment at first. It looked like some fantastic flag with suns in gold designed upon its center. My own initials worked in a corner of the piece of silk brought back to my recollection a slight bleeding of the nose which had troubled me that morning. I had applied this silk handkerchief to my face. The slight hemorrhage ceased. I had given the matter no further thought. Now I saw spots of shining gold where in the morning my blood had stained this piece of silk a bright red.
In my bewilderment I took the handkerchief over to the window. There could be no doubt now of the brightness of the gold. Never in my experience had I heard of man or woman who bled gold. I resolved to despatch the handkerchief to Thorburn for an immediate analysis. The ringing of the bell, a voice at the door and the entrance of a visitor postponed the execution of this purpose.
"And how is our rising young psychoanalyst?" cried a cheery voice, as a burly form broke rather than appeared through the door. "Upon my word, that last talk of yours upon the mental mechanism of the banished idea has made you famous."
My visitor carried with him, I saw now, a late number of the official organ of a psychological society. One of my studies was given a very prominent place in the periodical. I glanced at the printed page and then rose to greet old Graham. I dearly loved this man, for he had been one of my most honored preceptors in my student days.
"My dear Graham!" I cried.
A silvery dove fluttered about his head, but I was accustomed by this time to my capacity for this species of visualization and I betrayed by neither word nor glance the effect of the sight upon me. The dove, I could see, corresponded to the system of ideas making up the "complex" of this good and generous man. What a contract to the predatory old Pawkins, whose repressed ideas emerged in spite of himself under the guise of a wolfat least to my vision! It has been well said that in the psychical sphere complexes have an action resembling that of energy in the physical sphere. A system of ideas may lie latent in a man's mind for a long time, becoming active only when stimulated. This explained, no doubt, why the dove hovering over old Doctor Graham flitted out of sight now and then.
"My boy," said the old man, looking somewhat anxiously about him before he sank into the chair I brought, "are we alone?"
I nodded. There was an anxiety on his mind which became more manifest as he proceeded:
"You may have heard that one or two well-defined cases of plague came recently to the notice of the board."
I recalled such a report. I had first heard of the matter at a gathering of physicians some time before. Graham who was in the service of the Board of Health, had taken the matter seriously at the time, but the affair had dropped out of my thoughts long since. The old man leaned forward to impress me with what he had now to say:
"The cases have been increasing. We have made up our minds to make war on the rats."
I spoke in a tone of some consternation. The words brought the missing Philander back to my memory.
"The rats," repeated Graham solemnly. "We have actually discovered the bacillus in the bodies of no less than three rats."
"Were they rats caught in the city?"
"In this very neighborhood. We have been quietly trapping here and there. We don't want to start a plague panic until we are sure of our facts."
I watched the dove flitting above his head and I thought of Philander. Had they trapped the golden rat? I had to steady my voice with an effort before I could put my question:
"These ratsthey are the ordinary gray variety?"
The elderly physician looked troubled.
"Yesand no," said he slowly. "Our traps have contained gray rats as a rule. But in two instances we have captured a very peculiar variety of the animalgray rats with a spot of gold on the breast."
He drew from his pocket as he spoke a small leather casket. It opened at the touch of a spring. I saw the stuffed skin of a gray rat, splashed in the spot indicated with gleaming gold.
"This rat," explained old Graham, lifting the stuffed object up for my inspection, "was trapped in the house next door. It is one of six marked in this very extraordinary manner a species never seen before by any authority I have consulted."
I took the stuffed rat from the grasp of my elderly friend and examined its aspect critically. Those who have never studied at first hand the habits of a rodent of such sinister fame can form no idea of the natural cleanliness of the little animal. Apart from the tendency of the flea to infest the rat, it is one of the daintiest of quadrupeds, not, indeed, without a beauty of its own. The spot of gold between the forepaws of this specimen set off its gray coat effectively.
"Although we have trapped rats all over the city," proceeded old Graham earnestly, "they are all of the usual gray type except those few caught next door. I have just been setting traps in your cellar."
The thought of Philander made my blood run cold at these words. I gazed in blank dismay at the physician. What had become of the golden rat?
"Have you"I faltered before I could speak the question completely"caught anything here?"
"My dear lad, the traps have just been settwo of them. I can let you know the result in a few days."
"You spoke just now," I resumed, in as natural a voice as I could command, "of having isolated the bacillus in the blood of some of your rats. How about these?"
Graham took the stuffed rat from me and looked it over.
"We have isolated a most curious organism in the blood stream of this little creature," he observed. "A golden microbe."
"What disease does it cause?"
I tried again to speak naturally, but I remembered the golden blood I had shed and felt faint. What if I had acquired a new and strange leprosy from the bite of the golden fleas of Philander!
"Strange as it must seem," I now heard Graham aver, "the microbeit is really a bacillus with its nucleus and protoplasmgives rise to no discoverable disease in the rat infected by it. Perhaps it is responsible for the gold spot."
He touched the flaming breast of the stuffed creature.
"The remarkable thing," the old doctor added, "is the golden element in the rod-like process of these organisms. One might almost say the blood of this rat was golden."
My mind reverted to the analysis of my own blood cells which Thorburn was at that moment engaged upon.
"You don't mean to say," I rejoined, smiling, "that you have discovered a form of bacteria that is beneficial to the invaded organism?"
"I'll know more about that when I have trapped more of these rats," the old man told me. "I expect to get some here by the end of the week."
The moment he had taken his leave, which he did almost immediately, the dove fluttering out with him, I rang up Thorburn.
"Come over at once, if you can," he said at the other end of the wire. "I have news for you."
I put on my hat and paced the streets hurriedly. I caught sight of a policeman at the corner taking a prisoner to the lockup. The man in the toils of the law was obviously a beggar. At his heels trotted a snow-white lamb. The policeman was followed by a hawk. I turned and gazed after the pair until both had disappeared around a corner. Was I doomed to see at the heels of every fellow creature the symbol of his suppressed idea, the ghost of his complex? I fairly raced to Thorburn's door.
"There is something very remarkable here," was his first utterance, as he led the way to his laboratory. "What do you make of that?"
He held up a glass slide of the sort used in experimental biology. It was stained with a golden spot.
"Your blood," said he. "It has yielded a pure gold bacterium of the strangest character. Your blood is like the stream in which King Midas bathedfilled with golden sands."
He had scarcely said the words when a movement of flapping wings behind him drew my eyes to the stork. It stood for a moment erect and then retreated to the remotest corner of the laboratory, where it regarded both of us with all its characteristic solemnity. Thorburn was unaware of the ghostly presence. He sat me down in a great chair and questioned me most minutely regarding my symptoms.
"You must have contracted a disease of some sort," was his final verdict.
"I am using the word in a technical sense," he laughed, seeing my sober visage. "Disease is, in one aspect, the invasion of one organism by another. Your organism has been invaded by a new and strange bacterium, all gold. You say it does not debilitate you?"
"I never felt better in my life."
I glanced unshrinkingly into his puzzled face. I had carefully concealed from him the fact that I had acquired the novel faculty of beholding the repressed complexes of my fellow creatures.
"Your disease," he went on, "whatever it may be, is the effect of the interaction of two different organisms, just as plague is such an effect, or malaria."
"A new idea?"
"Not at all," retorted Thorburn. "It is not generally disseminated, of course, yet. Since disease is but the effect of one organism upon another, there is necessarily such a thing as an evolution in disease. A disease that has long been among men is a very different thing from the same disease when it first appeared on earth. The lizard is but the survivor of a far more powerful and far more intelligent creature."
I had caught the idea in his mind. The sudden appearance of a new organism is a possible thing, as the mutation theory of evolution has convinced the world. May not a totally new disease make its appearance among men, thanks to the emergence of a fresh form among the bacteria? Has not Burbank evolved new forms of vegetable life by a seeming miracle of metamorphosis? But this was by no means all that Thorburn meant. May it not be that the bacteria which cause disease are prejudicial only because they represent types of degeneracy? They have been corrupted, that is to say, by passing in and out of the blood streams of a fallen human race. It is we who have poisoned the bacteria, not the bacteria which have poisoned us. In that event, science is on the wrong track. We must purify ourselves, in order that the microbe may regain its pristine purity and become the blessing it may have been to our prehistoric ancestors.
I remained in a profound reverie long after Thorburn had finished his elucidation. If what he told me was true, I had acquired an infection, but it was a benevolent process, a source of strength. The flea had transferred to me from the body of Philander an organism that endowed me with a more wonderful power than had been possessed before by any mortal man.
"By the way," remarked Thorburn, suddenly changing the subject, "shall you be at Mrs. Lancaster's dance to-morrow night?"
I started at mention of that name. It had been weeks since I had given a thought to my patient. I replied vaguely that I expected to dine at her house. My mind was running on Philander once more, and I bade him adieu with some abruptness.
There was not the least trace of the presence of the golden rat when I arrived breathless once more in my study. I called him by name more than once. In vain. I thought of the trap set by old Graham. Before visiting the cellars I resolved to peer up the fire-place.
"Philander!" I called. "Philander!" There was a faint sound up the chimney. In a trice I had thrust my arm up the sooty embrasure. Philander descended, clinging to the sleeve of my coat. What a begrimed and blackened aspect his body now wore! I set him upon my desk, where he fell to an assiduous licking and washing of his fur. I had the satisfaction of seeing him restored to his original color before he had completed his toilet. Then he frisked his way to my shoulder, upon which he perched with all his familiar sauciness.
It was vitally important to keep Philander out of reach of the trap set for him. I might have ordered the stableman to remove the horrid instrument, to be sure. Yet that might inspire too much wonder in the mind of old Graham. On the other hand, I must not let the golden rat out of my sight. He spent the night securely locked in his cage. He was not released during the entire next day. His squeaks of protest were incessant. I would have no mercy on him.
After some reflection, I resolved to attend the dinner and dance at the house of Mrs. Lancaster. It seemed the surest method of providing for the safety of Philander. It would be no difficult thing to take him with me, concealed in the pocket of my coat. The golden rat was always shy when strangers were about. I knew that nothing could lure him from the refuge my clothes afforded him if there seemed the least prospect that he might be handled by an unfamiliar acquaintance.
The hour appointed for the dinner at the house of Mrs. Lancaster was already chiming when I entered the dining-room. The guests were barely a dozen. I was already familiar with their faces. Philander was snugly ensconced in a breast pocket of my dress coat. He was fast asleep.
"What a stranger you are, doctor!"
The words were uttered by my fair hostess. I had never seen a more pensive melancholy upon her exquisite features: She sat at some distance from me at the foot of the table. I made my very best bow and smiled before I sat down to the oysters.
"Ha!" exclaimed Thorburn, who chanced to be seated directly opposite me. "You are looking very wellstill."
There was a meaning smile upon his kindly features, and I was at no loss to interpret it. The silent stork at his side peered myopically into my face and flapped a pair of wings. I saw the hideous wolf peering greedily from beneath the chair of old Pawkins, who absorbed champagne moodily. Old Lancaster had a fierce ferret on his shoulder, a circumstance to which I was inclined to attribute the restlessness of Philander, who stirred now and then in his sleep. The most interesting object at the dinner table to me was a hyena, which chafed and fretted at the back of a distinguished member of the judiciary. One old lady, whom I had met before, and who was a notorious gambler, revealed to my secret vision as her repressed complex a gigantic pike. The fish literally swam in the air over the dame's head, darting every now and then ferociously at prey invisible to me.
"I hear," observed Pawkins at last, "that there is a case of plague in quarantine."
The wolf leered over his shoulder and licked its hideous jaw. The introduction of so dire a theme at that crisis in my life spoiled the dinner for me. I listened to the flow of talk about me, hearing much speculation regarding such things as fleas and the bacilli. Mrs. Lancaster seemed only half aware of what was transpiring around her. My attention was drawn particularly to her by the suggestion of a wraith upon her shoulder. I had looked eagerly in her direction more than once, hoping to descry the symbolized embodiment of her complex. That there was a form of some description outlined upon her shoulder seemed clear. I thought at first it might be a bird. Later it wore the aspect of a fish. At last, I had to abandon the effort to define to myself the shadowy thing moving from her right arm around her shoulders to her left. The secret of my patient's repressed complex was almost mine. Again and again it eluded me. The vexation of that circumstance made the end of the dinner a welcome relief. I strolled into the smoking room, listening vaguely to the din of the violins, tuning for the dance.
Finding myself alone, I peered into my pocket. Philander was fast asleep. I hated to disturb the repose of the golden creature, and for that reason remained with my cigar alone to the last possible minute. In the end I was obliged to make my appearance in the ballroom.
There was not a dancer on the whole vast floor without his or her attendant creature. A member of the United States Senate was closely followed in the mazes of a waltz by an opossum, while his partner, a lady with some fame as a landscape painter, kept a porcupine in her train. The pastor of a church led a vampire in its flight among the dancers, above whom it poised itself, fanning sundry individuals with its wings. There was one gigantic crocodile in a corner which every now and then abandoned the shelter of the wall to cavort and caper after the founder of fifteen hospitals. In short, wherever I looked I beheld specimens of a zoology unsuspected by those who danced in and about among pelicans, pumas, guinea pigs and polar bears. One gigantic creature, symbolizing the repressed complex of the most famous lawyer in the country, was evidently an antediluvian monster. It appeared to my astonished gaze somewhat like a lepidosiren. These creatures were like the men and women they all haunted in turning, twisting and waltzing to the music. Now and then there were collisions of a significant sort. I beheld a fierce fight between two bantam roosters, one being the repressed complex of a well known novelist and the other that of a successful merchant. The repressed complex of the merchant's wifea lily white henwatched the struggle complacently. When the bird symbolizing her husband was routed from the field, I saw the lady begin a fresh dance with the novelist.
It occurred to me to seek my hostess. She had not appeared on the floor for some time. I felt an uneasy movement in the pocket of my coat. For the sake of Philander rather than to secure any repose for myself, I sought the shelter of the Japanese room. I was quite alone when I sank back wearily upon a sofa and looked at my watch. It would soon be time to go.
I was opening my cigarette case when Mrs. Lancaster appeared in the doorway. Her exquisite features wore an unusual gravity, even for her, as she advanced. I divined that she had a revelation to make. Whatever I might have said remained unspoken, however, in the shock of discovering a golden rat perched upon her shoulder. For a moment the idea entered my head that Philander must have escaped from my pocket. I perceived, as soon as I had looked at the creature again, that I could not implicate Philander. The golden rat on the shoulder of Mrs. Lancaster was smaller than my pet. It was of less robust physique, softer in outline, more graceful.
I had placed my hand in Mrs. Lancaster's outstretched fingers, when a flashing form sprang from the pocket of my coat. There was a tiny shriek of joy. I saw Philander capering and shrieking on the floor with the diminutive creature that followed him from the shoulders of the lady who had so long been my most baffling patient.
"I think," I managed to say, my eyes riveted upon the gamboling creatures on the floor"I think I have the key to your case."
I saw a flush spread from her cheek to her brow. She bowed her head and, still holding my hand, sank upon the chair from which I had just risen. It seems odd to me, as I look back upon all this, that I never suspected the mutual infatuation out of which our repressed complexes were built up. She loved me. I saw the avowal in the eyes she turned up to my face as I bent over her. As our lips met, I felt a convulsive shudder at my breast. I put my hand in my coat. There lay Philander.
To my profound amazement, the rat bit me. With an effort, I repressed an exclamation of pain. Thrusting the little creature, who seemed disposed to escape, back into my pocket, I literally fled the place.
There was no one stirring as I entered my dark study and turned on the light. How long I sat absorbed in my reflections I knew not. There was a patch of crimson in the sky when at last I got up from my desk and walked over to the window.
How long had this woman loved me? Through what circumstance had it become possible for her to identify me with the golden rat? I was, evidently, her repressed complex. As I stood at the window pondering these things, a figure moved across the lawn.
"Boggs!" I called.
It was that honest hostler. He had just set about the business of the stables.
"Have you seen Mrs. Lancaster?"
"She was here to see you last month, sir."
"Why was I not told?"
"Why, sir, I thought the girl would tell you. She waited for you here an hour. She saw the golden rat."
"You mean," I interrupted, "that you showed it to her."
"I told her how fond of it you had grown, sir."
Here then was the explanation I sought. The mention of the golden rat reminded me at once of Philander. I had quite forgotten, in the bewilderment resulting from my experience with Mrs. Lancaster, to shut him up for the night in his cage.
I called him again and again without effect.
"Boggs," I remarked, "do you remember when Doctor Graham was here to set his traps?"
The stableman scratched his head with a most aggravating stupidity. Yes, he remembered the visit of the physician. He recalled the setting of the traps. He had not seen them placed. He did not know where they were. I lost no time in getting to the stables with a lantern. The search was fruitless. There were no traps that I could discover. Boggs remembered that the old doctor had talked of the cellar. Thither we repaired. I found no traps. The failure to discover the devices did not console me in the least. I knew the old doctor to be a cunning and experienced rat catcher. He might have hidden his deadly devices under a loose plank or in a remote closet.
The full dawn of that morning brought no Philander. I ransacked the house without avail. Neither trap nor rat resulted. The day following was but a repetition of the disappointment. I discovered to my dismay that Doctor Graham had left the city for a few days. The official of the Board of Health to whom I telephoned offered to send an inspector to my house at once. The doctor had left at headquarters a list of every domicile in which a trap was set. I closed with the offer immediately. The result was another vain search of my premises.
The despair to which I was reduced by the continued disappearance of Philander led me to overlook, at the time, a curious circumstance connected with Thorburn. I saw him for a brief interval on the street. He was not accompanied by the ghostly stork. The detail made no impression upon my mind for an hour or more after I had-parted from him. Then I hurried to the street. A week before, I would have beheld the repressed complex of any passerby. Now I saw dozens of pedestrians. No beast or bird attended any.
Turning back into the house with a strange giddiness in my head, I was halted by the arrival before my door of a motor car. Out stepped old Graham.
"The trap!" I shouted. "Where did you set it?"
I observed that no dove fluttered about him now.
"The trap?" he echoed. "In your study, of course."
I staggered after him. He led the way to a corner of a bookcase into which I had not once dreamed of peering. With loud triumph, the old doctor lifted a trap on high. It held Philander, cold and dead.
"Very, very remarkable," he observed. "Wouldn't you say this rat has a golden color?"
His face reflected a grave anxiety. I spoke up savagely:
"It's a golden rat. Are you afraid of itit is dead."
"I hear you've been looking for me," he said, wiping his eyes with a handkerchief. "I was called out of town by the case of Mrs. Lancaster."
"Is she ill?"
He lifted the dead form of Philander from the trap before replying:
"Her people had her committed to a sanitarium. She insists that she is followed everywhere by a golden rat."
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