Brood of the WITCH-QUEEN: New Edition

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Read Brood of the WITCH-QUEEN: New Edition

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Robert Cairn looked out across the quadrangle. The moon had just arisen, and it softened the beauty of the old college buildings, mellowed the harshness of time, casting shadow pools beneath the cloisteresque arches to the west and setting out the ivy in stronger relief upon the ancient walls. The barred shadow on the lichened stones beyond the elm was cast by the hidden gate; and straight ahead, where, between a quaint chimney-stack and a bartizan, a triangular patch of blue showed like spangled velvet, lay the Thames. It was from there the cooling breeze came. But Cairn's gaze was set upon a window almost directly ahead, and west below the chimneys. Within the room to which it belonged a lambent light played. Cairn turned to his companion, a ruddy and athletic looking man, somewhat bovine in type, who at the moment was busily tracing out sections on a human skull and checking his calculations from Ross's Diseases of the Nervous System. "Sime," he said, "what does Ferrara always have a fire in his rooms for at this time of the year?" Sime glanced up irritably at the speaker. Cairn was a tall, thin Scotsman, clean-shaven, square jawed, and with the crisp light hair and grey eyes which often bespeak unusual virility. "Aren't you going to do any work?" he inquired pathetically. "I thought you'd come to give me a hand with my basal ganglia. I shall go down on that; and there you've been stuck staring out of the window!" "Wilson, in the end house, has got a most unusual brain," said Cairn, with apparent irrelevance. "Has he!" snapped Sime. "Yes, in a bottle. His governor is at Bart's; he sent it up yesterday. You ought to see it." "Nobody will ever want to put your brain in a bottle," predicted the scowling Sime, and resumed his studies. Cairn relighted his pipe, staring across the quadrangle again. Then— "You've never been in Ferrara's rooms, have you?" he inquired. Followed a muffled curse, crash, and the skull went rolling across the floor. "Look here, Cairn," cried Sime, "I've only got a week or so now, and my nervous system is frantically rocky; I shall go all to pieces on my nervous system. If you want to talk, go ahead. When you're finished, I can begin work." "Right-oh," said Cairn calmly, and tossed his pouch across. "I want to talk to you about Ferrara." "Go ahead then. What is the matter with Ferrara?" "Well," replied Cairn, "he's queer." "That's no news," said Sime, filling his pipe; "we all know he's a queer chap. But he's popular with women. He'd make a fortune as a nerve specialist." "He doesn't have to; he inherits a fortune when Sir Michael dies." "There's a pretty cousin, too, isn't there?" inquired Sime slyly. "There is," replied Cairn. "Of course," he continued, "my governor and Sir Michael are bosom friends, and although I've never seen much of young Ferrara, at the same time I've got nothing against him. But—" he hesitated. "Spit it out," urged Sime, watching him oddly. "Well, it's silly, I suppose, but what does he want with a fire on a blazing night like this?" Sime stared. "Perhaps he's a throw-back," he suggested lightly. "The Ferraras, although they're counted Scotch—aren't they?—must have been Italian originally—" "Spanish," corrected Cairn. "They date from the son of Andrea Ferrara, the sword-maker, who was a Spaniard. Cæsar Ferrara came with the Armada in 1588 as armourer. His ship was wrecked up in the Bay of Tobermory and he got ashore—and stopped." "Married a Scotch lassie?" "Exactly. But the genealogy of the family doesn't account for Antony's habits." "What habits?" "Well, look." Cairn waved in the direction of the open window. "What does he do in the dark all night, with a fire going?" "Influenza?" "Nonsense! You've never been in his rooms, have you?" "No. Very few men have. But as I said before, he's popular with the women." "What do you mean?" "I mean there have been complaints. Any other man would have been sent down." "You think he has influence—" "Influence of some sort, undoubtedly."


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