The Secrets of Dr. John Taverner
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Pages (PDF): 218
Publication Date: 1922
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A collection of occult fiction stories. Dr. Taverner runs a nursing home -- but it is not by any means a conventional one. It is a hospital for all manner of unorthodox mental disturbances, ranging from psychic attack and disruptions in group minds to vampirism. These are cases that conventional psychology cannot cure. Only the secret knowledge of Taverner, based on esoteric training, is enough to unravel the solutions.Each story in this collection is a complete case.
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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 R.A.M.C. 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 thirty-five to sixty-five. 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 I 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 often 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—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.
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