by Richard Connell
“Off there to the right–somewhere–is a large island,” said Whitney. “It’s rather a mystery–”
“What island is it?” Rainsford asked.
“The old charts call it ‘Ship-Trap Island’,” Whitney replied. “A suggestive name, isn’t it? Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don’t know why. Some superstition–”
“Can’t see it,” remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness in upon the yacht.
“You’ve good eyes,” said Whitney, with a laugh,” and I’ve seen you pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards, but even you can’t see four miles or so through a moonless Caribbean night.”
“Nor four yards,” admitted Rainsford. “Ugh! It’s like moist black velvet.”
“It will be light enough in Rio,” promised Whitney. “We should make it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey’s. We should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting.”
“The best sport in the world,” agreed Rainsford.
“For the hunter,” amended Whitney. “Not for the jaguar.”
“Don’t talk rot, Whitney,” said Rainsford. “You’re a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?”
“Perhaps the jaguar does,” observed Whitney. “If you were lost in the jungle without a gun perhaps you would view the Jaguar differently.”
“Bah! They’ve no understanding.”
“Even so, I rather think they understand one thing–fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.”
“Nonsense,” laughed Rainsford. “This hot weather is making you soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes–the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. Do you think we’ve passed that island yet?”
“I can’t tell in the dark. I hope so.”
“Why? “ asked Rainsford.
“The place has a reputation–a bad one.”
“Cannibals?” suggested Rainsford.
“Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn’t live in such a God-forsaken place. But it’s gotten into sailor lore, somehow. Didn’t you notice that the crew’s nerves seemed a bit jumpy today?”
“They were a bit strange, now you mention it. Even Captain Nielsen–”
“Yes, even that tough-minded old Swede, who’d go up to the devil himself and ask him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I never saw there before. All I could get out of him was ‘This place has an evil name among seafaring men, sir.’ Then he said to me, very gravely, ‘Don’t you feel anything?’–as if the air about us was actually poisonous. Now, you mustn’t laugh when I tell you this–I did feel something like a sudden chill.
“There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass window. We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was a–a mental chill; a sort of sudden dread.”
“Pure imagination,” said Rainsford.
“One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship’s company with his fear.”
“Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a tangible thing–with wave lengths, just as sound and light have. An evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I’m glad we’re getting out of this zone. Well, I think I’ll turn in now, Rainsford.”
“I’m not sleepy,” said Rainsford. “I’m going to smoke another pipe up on the afterdeck.”
“Good night, then, Rainsford. See you at breakfast.”
“Right. Good night, Whitney.”
There was no sound in the night as Rainsford sat there but the muffled throb of the engine that drove the yacht swiftly through the darkness, and the swish and ripple of the wash of the propeller.
Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his favorite brier. The sensuous drowsiness of the night was on him.” It’s so dark,” he thought, “that I could sleep without closing my eyes; the night would be my eyelids–”
An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a gun three times.
He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the wash from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face and the salt water in his open mouth made him gag and strangle. Desperately he struck out with strong strokes after the receding lights of the yacht, but he stopped before he had swum fifty feet. A certain coolheadedness had come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place. There was a chance that his cries could be heard by someone aboard the yacht, but that chance was slender and grew more slender as the yacht raced on. He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all his power. The lights of the yacht became faint and ever-vanishing fireflies; then they were blotted out entirely by the night.
Rainsford remembered the shots. They had come from the right, and doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate strokes, conserving his strength.
For a seemingly endless time he fought the sea. He began to count his strokes; here could do possibly a hundred more and then–
Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the darkness, a high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an extremity of anguish and terror.
Despite an effort he did not recognize the animal that made the sound; he did not try to; with fresh vitality he swam toward the sound. He heard it again; then it was cut short by another noise, crisp, staccato.
“Pistol shot,” muttered Rainsford, swimming on.
Ten minutes of determined effort brought another sound to his ears–the most welcome he had ever heard–the muttering and growling of the sea breaking on a rocky shore. He was almost on the rocks before he saw them; on a night less calm he would have been shattered against them. With his remaining strength he dragged himself from the swirling waters.
Jagged crags appeared to jut up into the opaqueness; he forced himself upward, hand over hand. Gasping, his hands raw, he reached a flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the very edge of the cliffs. What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush might hold for him did not concern Rainsford just then. All he knew was that he was safe from his enemy, the sea, and that utter weariness was on him. He flung himself down at the jungle edge and tumbled headlong into the deepest sleep of his life.
When he opened his eyes he knew from the position of the sun that it was late in the afternoon. Although sleep had given him new vigor, a sharp hunger was picking at him. He looked about him, almost cheerfully.
“Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men, there is food,” he thought. But what kind of men, he wondered, in so forbidding a place? An unbroken front of snarled and ragged jungle fringed the shore.
He saw no sign of a trail through the closely knit web of weeds and trees; it was easier to go along the shore, and Rainsford floundered along by the water. Not far from where he landed, he stopped.
Some wounded thing–by the evidence, a large animal–had thrashed about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds was stained crimson. A small, glittering object not far away caught Rainsford’s eye and he picked it up. It was an empty cartridge.
“A twenty-two,” he remarked. “That’s odd. It must have been a fairly large animal too. The hunter had his nerve with him to tackle it with a light gun. It’s clear that the brute put up a fight. I suppose the first three shots I heard was when the hunter flushed his quarry and wounded it. The last shot was when he trailed it here and finished it.”
He examined the ground closely and found what he had hoped to find–the print of hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff in the direction he had been going. Eagerly he hurried along, now slipping on a rotten log or a loose stone, but making headway; night was beginning to settle down on the island.
Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford sighted the lights. He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast line; and his first thought was that be had come upon a village, for there were many lights. But as he forged along he saw to his great astonishment that all the lights were in one enormous building–a lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.
“Mirage,” thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when he opened the tall spiked iron gate. The stone steps were real enough; the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker was real enough; yet above it all hung an air of unreality.
He lifted the knocker, and it creaked up stiffly, as if it had never before been used.
He let it fall, and it startled him with its booming loudness. Although he thought he heard steps within, the door remained closed. Again Rainsford lifted the heavy knocker, and let it fall. The door opened then–opened as suddenly as if it were on a spring–and Rainsford stood blinking in the river of glaring gold light that poured out. The first thing Rainsford’s eyes discerned was the largest man Rainsford had ever seen–a gigantic creature, solidly made and black bearded to the waist. In his hand the man held a long-barreled revolver, and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford’s heart.
Out of the snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainsford.
“Don’t be alarmed,” said Rainsford, with a smile which he hoped was disarming.
“I’m no robber. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger Rainsford of New York City.”
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointing as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. He gave no sign that he understood Rainsford’s words, or that he had even heard them. He was dressed in uniform–a black uniform trimmed with gray astrakhan.
“I’m Sanger Rainsford of New York,” Rainsford began again. “I fell off a yacht. I am hungry.”
The man’s only answer was to raise with his thumb the hammer of his revolver.
Then Rainsford saw the man’s free hand go to his forehead in a military salute, and he saw him click his heels together and stand at attention. Another man was coming down the broad marble steps, an erect, slender man in evening clothes. He advanced to Rainsford and held out his hand.
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added precision and deliberateness, he said, “It is a very great pleasure and honor to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my home.”
Automatically Rainsford shook the man’s hand.
“I’ve read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet, you see,” explained the man. “I am General Zaroff.”
Rainsford’s first impression was that the man was singularly handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre quality about the general’s face. He was a tall man past middle age, for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed military mustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had come.
His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face–the face of a man used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat.
Turning to the giant in uniform, the general made a sign. The giant put away his pistol, saluted, withdrew.
“Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow,” remarked the general, “but he has the
misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I’m afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage.”
“Is he Russian?”
“He is a Cossack,” said the general, and his smile showed red lips and pointed teeth.
“So am I.”
“Come,” he said, “we shouldn’t be chatting here. We can talk later. Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a most-restful spot.”
Ivan had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips that moved but gave forth no sound.
“Follow Ivan, if you please, Mr. Rainsford,” said the general. “I was about to have my dinner when you came. I’ll wait for you. You’ll find that my clothes will fit you, I think.”
It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopied bed big enough for six men that Rainsford followed the silent giant. Ivan laid out an evening suit, and Rainsford, as he put it on, noticed that it came from a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below the rank of duke.
The dining room to which Ivan conducted him was in many ways remarkable. There was a medieval magnificence about it; it suggested a baronial hall of feudal times with its oaken panels, its high ceiling, its vast refectory tables where twoscore men could sit down to eat. About the hall were mounted heads of many animals–lions, tigers, elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had never seen. At the great table the general was sitting, alone.
“You’ll have a cocktail, Mr. Rainsford,” he suggested. The cocktail was surpassingly good; and, Rainsford noted, the table appointments were of the finest–the linen, the crystal, the silver, the china.
They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so dear to Russian palates. Half apologetically General Zaroff said, “We do our best to preserve the amenities of civilization here. Please forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?”
“Not in the least,” declared Rainsford. He was finding the general a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was one small trait of the general’s that made Rainsford uncomfortable. Whenever he looked up from his plate he found the general studying him, appraising him narrowly.
“Perhaps,” said General Zaroff, “you were surprised that I recognized your name.
You see, I read all books on hunting published in English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion in my life, Mr. Rainsford, and it is the hunt.”
“You have some wonderful heads here,” said Rainsford as he ate a particularly well-cooked filet mignon. “ That Cape buffalo is the largest I ever saw.”
“Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster.”
“Did he charge you?”
“Hurled me against a tree,” said the general. “Fractured my skull. However I got the brute.”
“I’ve always thought,” said Rainsford, “that the Cape buffalo is the most dangerous of all big game.”
For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious red-lipped smile.
Then he said slowly, “No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is not the most dangerous big game.” He sipped his wine. “Here in my preserve on this island,” he said in the same slow tone, “I hunt more dangerous game.”
Rainsford expressed his surprise. “Is there big game on this island?”
The general nodded. “The biggest.”
“Oh, it isn’t here naturally, of course. I have to stock the island.”
“What have you imported, general?” Rainsford asked. “Tigers?”
The general smiled. “No,” he said. “Hunting tigers ceased to interest me some years ago. I exhausted their possibilities, you see. No thrill left in tigers, no real danger. I live for danger, Mr. Rainsford.”
The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and offered his guest a long black cigarette with a silver tip; it was perfumed and gave off a smell like incense.
“We will have some capital hunting, you and I,” said the general. “I shall be most glad to have your society.”
“But what game–” began Rainsford.
“I’ll tell you,” said the general. “You will be amused, I know. I think I may say, in all modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I have invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of port?”
“Thank you, general.”
The general filled both glasses, and said, “God makes some men poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter.
My hand was made for the trigger, my father said. He was a very rich man with a quarter of a million acres in the Crimea, and he was an ardent sportsman. When I was only five years old he gave me a little gun, specially made in Moscow for me, to shoot sparrows with. When I shot some of his prize turkeys with it, he did not punish me; he complimented me on my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the Caucasus when I was ten. My whole life has been one prolonged hunt. I went into the army–it was expected of noblemen’s sons–and for a time commanded a division of Cossack cavalry. But my real interest was always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It would be impossible for me to tell you
how many animals I have killed.”
The general puffed at his cigarette.
“After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was imprudent for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American securities, so I shall never have to open a tearoom in Monte Carlo or drive a taxi in Paris. Naturally, I continued to hunt–grizzlies in your Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinoceroses in East Africa. It was in Africa that the Cape buffalo hit me and laid me up for six months.
As soon as I recovered I started for the Amazon to hunt jaguars, for I had heard they were unusually cunning. They weren’t.” The Cossack sighed. “They were no match at all for a hunter with his wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed. I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one night when a terrible thought pushed its way into my mind. Hunting was beginning to bore me! And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in America businessmen often go to pieces when they give up the business that has been their life.”
“Yes, that’s so,” said Rainsford.
The general smiled. “I had no wish to go to pieces,” he said. “I must do something.
Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr. Rainsford. Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the chase.”
“No doubt, General Zaroff.”
“So,” continued the general, “I asked myself why the hunt no longer fascinated me.
You are much younger than I am, Mr. Rainsford, and have not hunted as much, but you perhaps can guess the answer.”
“What was it?”
“Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting proposition.’ It had become too easy. I always got my quarry. Always. However there is no greater bore than perfection.”
The general lit a fresh cigarette.
“No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast; it is a mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. When I thought of this it was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you.”
Rainsford leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host was saying.
“It came to me as an inspiration what I must do,” the general went on.
“And that was?”
The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has faced an obstacle and surmounted it with success. “I had to invent a new animal to hunt,” he said.
“A new animal? You’re joking.” “Not at all,” said the general. “I never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal and I found one. That’s why I bought this island, built this house, and here I do my hunting. The island is perfect for my purposes–there are jungles with a maze of trails in them, hills, swamps–”
“But the animal, General Zaroff?”
“Oh,” said the general, “it supplies me with the most exciting hunting in the world.
No other hunting compares with it for an instant. Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a quarry with which I can match my wits.”
Rainsford’s bewilderment showed in his face.
“I wanted the ideal animal to hunt,” explained the general. “So I said, `What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?’ And the answer was, of course, `It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be able to reason.’”
“But no animal can reason,” objected Rainsford.
“My dear fellow,” said the general, “there is one that can.”
“But you can’t mean–” gasped Rainsford.
“And why not?”
“I can’t believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly joke.”
“Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting.”
“Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder.”
The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainsford quizzically. “I refuse to believe that so modern and civilized a young man as you seem to be harbors romantic ideas about the value of human life. Surely your experiences in the war–”
“Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder,” finished Rainsford stiffly.
Laughter shook the general. “How extraordinarily droll you are!” he said. “One does not expect nowadays to find a young man of the educated class, even in America, with such a naive, and, if I may say so, mid-Victorian point of view. It’s like finding a snuffbox in a limousine. Ah, well, doubtless you had Puritan ancestors. So many Americans appear to have had. I’ll wager you’ll forget your notions when you go hunting with me. You’ve a genuine new thrill in store for you, Mr. Rainsford.”
“Thank you, I’m a hunter, not a murderer.”
“Dear me,” said the general, quite unruffled, “again that unpleasant word. But I think I can show you that your scruples are quite ill founded.”
“Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs be, taken by the strong.
“The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships — lassars, Chinese, whites, mongrels–a thoroughbred horse or hound is worth more than a score of them.”
“But they are men,” said Rainsford hotly.
“Precisely,” said the general. “That is why I use them. It gives me pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. Hence they are dangerous.”
“But where do you get them?”
The general’s left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. “This island is called Ship Trap,” he answered. “Sometimes an angry god of the high seas sends them to me. But sometimes, as well, when Providence is not so kind, I help Providence a bit. Come to the window with me.”
Rainsford went to the window and looked out toward the sea.
“Watch! Out there!” exclaimed the general, pointing into the night. Rainsford’s eyes saw only blackness, and then, as the general pressed a button, far out to sea Rainsford saw the flash of lights.
The general chuckled. “They indicate a channel,” he said, “where there’s none; giant rocks with razor edges crouch like a sea monster with wide-open jaws. They can crush a ship as easily as I crush this nut.” He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and brought his heel grinding down on it. “Oh, yes,” he said, casually, as if in answer to a question, “I have electricity. We try to be civilized here.”
“Civilized? And you shoot down men?”
A trace of anger was in the general’s black eyes, but it was there for but a second; and he said, in his most pleasant manner, “Dear me, what a righteous young man you are!
I assure you I do not do the thing you suggest. That would be barbarous. I treat these visitors with every consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise. They get into splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow.”
“What do you mean?”
“We’ll visit my training school,” smiled the general. “It’s in the cellar. I have about a dozen pupils down there now. They’re from the Spanish bark San Lucar that had the bad luck to go on the rocks out there. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more accustomed to the deck than to the jungle.” He raised his hand, and Ivan, who served as waiter, brought thick Turkish coffee. Rainsford, with an effort, held his tongue in check.
“It’s a game, you see,” pursued the general blandly. “I suggest to one of them that we go hunting. him a supply of food and an excellent hunting knife, I give him three hours’ star follow, armed only with a pistol of the smallest caliber and range. If my quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him” –the general smiled– “he loses.”
“Suppose he refuses to be hunted?”
“Oh,” said the general, “I give him his option, of course. He need not play that game if he doesn’t wish to. If he does not wish to hunt, I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honor of serving as official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt.”
“And if they win?”
The smile on the general’s face widened. “To date I have not lost,” he said. Then he added, hastily: “I don’t wish you to think me a braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them afford only the most elementary sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar. One almost did win. I eventually had to use the dogs.”
“This way, please. I’ll show you.”
The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from the windows sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on the courtyard below, and Rainsford could see moving about there a dozen or so huge black shapes; as they turned toward him, their eyes glittered greenly.
“A rather good lot, I think,” observed the general. “They are let out at seven every night. If anyone should try to get into my house — or out of it — something extremely regrettable would occur to him.” He hummed a snatch of song from the Folies Bergere.
“And now,” said the general, “I want to show you my new collection of heads. Will you come with me to the library?”
“I hope,” said Rainsford, “that you will excuse me tonight, General Zaroff. I’m really not feeling well.”
“Ah, indeed?” the general inquired solicitously. “Well, I suppose that’s only natural, after your long swim. You need a good, restful night’s sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel like a new man, I’ll wager. Then we’ll hunt, eh? I’ve one rather promising prospect–”
Rainsford was hurrying from the room.
“Sorry you can’t go with me tonight,” called the general. “I expect rather fair sport — a big, strong, mongrel. He looks resourceful. Well, good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you have a good night’s rest.”
The bed was good, and the pajamas of the softest silk, and he was tired in every fiber of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford could not quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep.
He lay, eyes wide open. Once he thought he heard stealthy steps in the corridor outside his room. He sought to throw open the door; it would not open. He went to the window and looked out. His room was high up in one of the towers. The lights of the chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent; but there was a fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see, dimly, the courtyard.
There, weaving in and out in the pattern of shadow, were black, noiseless forms; the hounds heard him at the window and looked up, expectantly, with their green eyes. Rainsford went back to the bed and lay down. By many methods he tried to put himself to sleep. He had achieved a doze when, just as morning began to come, he heard, far off in the jungle, the faint report of a pistol.
General Zaroff did not appear until luncheon. He was dressed faultlessly in the tweeds of a country squire. He was solicitous about the state of Rainsford’s health.
“As for me,” sighed the general, “I do not feel so well. I am worried, Mr. Rainsford.
Last night I detected traces of my old complaint.”
To Rainsford’s questioning glance the general said, “Ennui. Boredom.”
Then, taking a second helping of crêpes Suzette, the general explained: “The hunting was not good last night. The fellow lost his head. He made a straight trail that offered no problems at all. That’s the trouble with these sailors; they have dull brains to begin with, and they do not know how to get about in the woods. They do excessively stupid and obvious things. It’s most annoying. Will you have another glass of Chablis, Mr. Rainsford?”
“General,” said Rainsford firmly, “I wish to leave this island at once.”
The general raised his thickets of eyebrows; he seemed hurt. “But, my dear fellow,” the general protested, “you’ve only just come. You’ve had no hunting–”
“I wish to go today,” said Rainsford. He saw the dead black eyes of the general on him, studying him. General Zaroff’s face suddenly brightened.
He filled Rainsford’s glass with venerable Chablis from a dusty bottle.
“Tonight,” said the general, “we will hunt–you and I.”
Rainsford shook his head. “No, general,” he said. “I will not hunt.”
The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse grape. “As you wish, my friend,” he said. “The choice rests entirely with you. But may I not venture to suggest that you will find my idea of sport more diverting than Ivan’s?”
He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest.
“You don’t mean–” cried Rainsford.
“My dear fellow,” said the general, “have I not told you I always mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink to a foeman worthy of my steel–at last.” The general raised his glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.
“You’ll find this game worth playing,” the general said enthusiastically.” Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against mine. Your strength and stamina against mine. Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?”
“And if I win–” began Rainsford huskily.
“I’ll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeated if I do not find you by midnight of the third day,” said General Zaroff. “My sloop will place you on the mainland near a town.”
The general read what Rainsford was thinking.
“Oh, you can trust me,” said the Cossack. “I will give you my word as a gentleman and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn, must agree to say nothing of your visit here.”
“I’ll agree to nothing of the kind,” said Rainsford.
“Oh,” said the general, “in that case — But why discuss that now? Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot, unless–”
The general sipped his wine.
Then a businesslike air animated him. “Ivan,” he said to Rainsford, “will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail. I suggest, too, that you avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island.
We call it Death Swamp. There’s quicksand there. One foolish fellow tried it. The deplorable part of it was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my feelings, Mr. Rainsford. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my pack. Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always’ take a siesta after lunch. You’ll hardly have time for a nap, I fear. You’ll want to start, no doubt. I shall not follow till dusk. Hunting at night is so much more exciting than by day, don’t you think? Au revoir, Mr. Rainsford, au revoir.”
General Zaroff, with a deep, courtly bow, strolled from the room.
From another door came Ivan. Under one arm he carried khaki hunting clothes, a haversack of food, a leather sheath containing a long-bladed hunting knife; his right hand rested on a cocked revolver thrust in the crimson sash about his waist.
Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two hours. “I must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve,” he said through tight teeth.
He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau gates snapped shut behind him. His whole idea at first was to put distance between himself and General Zaroff; and, to this end, he had plunged along, spurred on by the sharp rowers of something very like panic. Now he had got a grip on himself, had stopped, and was taking stock of himself and the situation. He saw that straight flight was futile; inevitably it would bring him face to face with the sea. He was in a picture with a frame of water, and his operations, clearly, must take place within that frame.
“I’ll give him a trail to follow,” muttered Rainsford, and he struck off from the rude path he had been following into the trackless wilderness. He executed a series of intricate loops; he doubled on his trail again and again, recalling all the lore of the fox hunt, and all the dodges of the fox. Night found him leg-weary, with hands and face lashed by the branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be insane to blunder on through the dark, even if he had the strength. His need for rest was imperative and he thought, “I have played the fox, now I must play the cat of the fable.”
A big tree with a thick trunk and outspread branches was near by, and, taking care to leave not the slightest mark, he climbed up into the crotch, and, stretching out on one of the broad limbs, after a fashion, rested. Rest brought him new confidence and almost a feeling of security. Even so zealous a hunter as General Zaroff could not trace him there, he told himself; only the devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle after dark. But perhaps the general was a devil–
An apprehensive night crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit Rainsford, although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle. Toward morning when a dingy gray was varnishing the sky, the cry of some startled bird focused Rainsford’s attention in that direction. Something was coming through the bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming by the same winding way Rainsford had come. He flattened himself down on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost as thick as tapestry, he watched. . . . That which was approaching was a man.
It was General Zaroff. He made his way along with his eyes fixed in utmost
concentration on the ground before him. He paused, almost beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and studied the ground. Rainsford’s impulse was to hurl himself down like a panther, but he saw that the general’s right hand held something metallic–a small automatic pistol.
The hunter shook his head several times, as if he were puzzled. Then he straightened up and took from his case one of his black cigarettes; its pungent incenselike smoke floated up to Rainsford’s nostrils.
Rainsford held his breath. The general’s eyes had left the ground and were traveling inch by inch up the tree. Rainsford froze there, every muscle tensed for a spring. But the sharp eyes of the hunter stopped before they reached the limb where Rainsford lay; a smile spread over his brown face. Very deliberately he blew a smoke ring into the air; then he turned his back on the tree and walked carelessly away, back along the trail he had come. The swish of the underbrush against his hunting boots grew fainter and fainter.
The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford’s lungs. His first thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail through the woods at night; he could follow an extremely difficult trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by the merest chance had the Cossack failed to see his quarry.
Rainsford’s second thought was even more terrible. It sent a shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the general smiled? Why had he turned back?
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed through the morning mists. The general was playing with him! The general was saving him for another day’s sport! The Cossack was the cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning of terror.
“I will not lose my nerve. I will not.”
He slid down from the tree, and struck off again into the woods. His face was set and he forced the machinery of his mind to function. Three hundred yards from his hiding place he stopped where a huge dead tree leaned precariously on a smaller, living one.
Throwing off his sack of food, Rainsford took his knife from its sheath and began to work with all his energy.
The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind a fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat was coming again to play with the mouse.
Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came General Zaroff. Nothing escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. So intent was the Cossack on his stalking that he was upon the thing Rainsford had made before he saw it. His foot touched the protruding bough that was the trigger.
Even as he touched it, the general sensed his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. But he was not quite quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it. He staggered, but he did not fall; nor did he drop his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general’s mocking laugh ring through the jungle.
“Rainsford,” called the general, “if you are within sound of my voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know how to make a Malay mancatcher.
Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed; it’s only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back.”
When the general, nursing his bruised shoulder, had gone, Rainsford took up his flight again. It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless flight, that carried him on for some hours. Dusk came, then darkness, and still he pressed on. The ground grew softer under his moccasins; the vegetation grew ranker, denser; insects bit him savagely.
Then, as he stepped forward, his foot sank into the ooze. He tried to wrench it back, but the muck sucked viciously at his foot as if it were a giant leech. With a violent effort, he tore his feet loose. He knew where he was now. Death Swamp and its quicksand.
His hands were tight closed as if his nerve were something tangible that someone in the darkness was trying to tear from his grip. The softness of the earth had given him anidea. He stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so and, like some huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig.
Rainsford had dug himself in in France when a second’s delay meant death. That had been a placid pastime compared to his digging now. The pit grew deeper; when it was above his shoulders, he climbed out and from some hard saplings cut stakes and sharpened them to a fine point. These stakes he planted in the bottom of the pit with the points sticking up. With flying fingers he wove a rough carpet of weeds and branches and with it he covered the mouth of the pit. Then, wet with sweat and aching with tiredness, he crouched behind the stump of a lightning-charred tree.
He knew his pursuer was coming; he heard the padding sound of feet on the soft earth, and the night breeze brought him the perfume of the general’s cigarette. It seemed to Rainsford that the general was coming with unusual swiftness; he was not feeling his way along, foot by foot. Rainsford, crouching there, could not see the general, nor could he see the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to cry aloud with joy, for he heard the sharp crackle of the breaking branches as the cover of the pit gave way; he heard the sharp scream of pain as the pointed stakes found their mark. He leaped up from his place of concealment. But t he cowered back. Three feet from the pit a man was standing, with an electric torch in his hand.
“You’ve done well, Rainsford,” the voice of the general called. “Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, I’ll see what you can do against my whole pack. I’m going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing evening.”
At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened by a sound that made him know that he had new things to learn about fear. Although it was a distant sound, faint and wavering, he knew it. It was the baying of a pack of hounds.
Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay where he was and wait.
That was suicide. He could flee. That was postponing the inevitable. For a moment he stood there, thinking. An idea that held a wild chance came to him, and, tightening his belt, he headed away from the swamp.
The baying of the hounds drew nearer, then still nearer, nearer, ever nearer. On a ridge Rainsford climbed a tree. Down a watercourse, not a quarter of a mile away, he could see the bush moving. Straining his eyes, he saw the lean figure of General Zaroff; just ahead of him Rainsford made out another figure whose wide shoulders surged through the tall jungle weeds; it was the giant Ivan, and he seemed pulled forward by some unseen force; Rainsford knew that Ivan must be holding the pack in leash.
They would be on him any minute now. His mind worked frantically. He thought of a native trick he had learned in Uganda. First he slid down the tree. Second he caught hold of a springy young sapling and to it he fastened his hunting knife, with the blade pointing down the trail; with a bit of wild grapevine he tied back the sapling. Third he ran for his life. The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent. Rainsford knew now how an animal at bay feels.
He had to stop to get his breath. The baying of the hounds stopped abruptly, and Rainsford’s heart stopped too. They must have reached the knife.
He shinned excitedly up a tree and looked back. His pursuers had stopped. But the hope that was in Rainsford’s brain when he climbed died, for he saw in the shallow valley that General Zaroff was still on his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the springing tree, had not wholly failed.
Rainsford had hardly tumbled to the ground when the pack took up the cry again.
“Nerve, nerve, nerve!” he panted, as he dashed along. A blue gap showed between the trees dead ahead. Ever nearer drew the hounds. Rainsford forced himself on toward that gap. He reached it. It was the shore of the sea. Across a cove he could see the gloomy gray stone of the chateau. Twenty feet below him the sea rumbled and hissed. Rainsford hesitated. He heard the hounds. Then he leaped far out into the sea. . . .
When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, the Cossack stopped.
For some minutes he stood regarding the blue-green expanse of water. He shrugged his shoulders. Then be sat down, took a drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed a bit from Madame Butterfly.
General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great paneled dining hall that evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol Roger and half a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect enjoyment. One was the thought that it would be difficult to replace Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him; of course, the American hadn’t played the game–so thought the general as he tasted his after-dinner liqueur. In his library he read, to soothe himself, from the works of Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He was deliciously tired, he said to himself, as he locked himself in. There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on his light, he went to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He could see the great hounds, and he called,
“Better luck another time,” to them. Then he switched on the light.
A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was standing there.
“Rainsford!” screamed the general. “How in God’s name did you get here?”
“Swam,” said Rainsford. “I found it quicker than walking through the jungle.”
The general sucked in his breath and smiled. “I congratulate you,” he said. “You have won the game.”
Rainsford did not smile. “I am still a beast at bay,” he said, in a low, hoarse voice.
“Get ready, General Zaroff.”
The general made one of his deepest bows. “I see,” he said. “Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford.” . . .
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.
quiz about this story!
[On casting curses]
By M.R. James
by Edgar Allan Poe
The “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.
The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease were the incidents of half an hour.
But the Prince Prospero ordered a masque for he was happy and dauntless. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted “friends” from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated cays. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron.
The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress nor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or frenzy from within. This was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were within. Without was the “Red Death.”
It was towards the close of the fifth or sixth month of his seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad, that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand guests at a masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.
It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me tell of the rooms in which it was held. These were seven—an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different, as might have been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embraced but little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect.
To the right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glass whose colour varied in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was hung, for example in blue—and vividly blue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout, and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth with white—the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue.
But in this chamber only, the colour of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood colour. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances.
But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound.
Thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused revery or meditation.
But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.
But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colours and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion. His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.
He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishments of the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fête; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has been since seen in “Hernani”. Many were the arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, the wanton, the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not little that excited disgust. To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in and about taking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as the echo of their steps.
Anon, there strikes the ebony clock which stands in the hall of the velvet. Then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the echoes of the chime die away—they have endured but an instant—and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking hue from the many tinted windows through which stream the rays from the tripods.
But to the chamber which lies most westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture; for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier light through the blood-coloured panes; further, the blackness of the sable drapery appals; yet to him whose foot falls upon the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their ears who indulged in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.
But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the clock. But then the music ceased, as I have told; and the evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was an uneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those who revelled.
Thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure which had arrested the attention of no single individual before. And the rumour of this new presence having spread itself whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.
Assembly of phantasms
In an assembly of phantasms it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade licence of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made.
The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance of a stiffened corpse. The closest scrutiny must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.
And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in blood. And his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.
When the eyes of the Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) he was seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his brow reddened with rage.
“Who dares,”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near him—”who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whom we have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”
It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout the seven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince was a bold and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving of his hand.
It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker.
To arrest him
But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who put forth hand to seize him; so that, unimpeded, he passed within a yard of the prince’s person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn and measured step which had distinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber to the purple—through the purple to the green—through the green to the orange—through this again to the white—and even thence to the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest him.
It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer.
There was a sharp cry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero.
Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpse-like mask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall. Even the life of the ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
A scary chat story in 4 parts
By Algernon Blackwood
Adapted to Chat Story format by Captivated Chat
The rising wind
‘The wind is still rising’
‘The psychology of places’
Look for Part 2!
Or read another scary story concerning travel and adventure, The Most Dangerous Game.SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
Scary chat stories, by Algernon Blackwood
Adapted as scary chat stories by Captivated ChatSHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
I awoke at around midnight and looked out. Feeling some disquiet, I crawled quietly out of the tent. I noticed the tops of the bushes opposite, with their moving tracery of leaves. It was incredible, surely, but there, opposite and slightly above me, were shapes of some indeterminate sort, and as the moonlit branches swayed in the wind they grouped themselves about these, forming a series of monstrous outlines that shifted rapidly.
But the state of his mind is more interesting than anything in his words. He has changed it overnight. His manner is different—a trifle excited, and shy, with a sort of suspicion. I am certain he has gotten frightened, this brave man who is not given to imagining things. He ate little at breakfast.
This was exactly what I had dreaded, and I screwed myself up to the point of asking the direct question.
Look for part 3
By Algernon Blackwood
Our meal was beyond question a gloomy one, and we ate it almost in silence, avoiding one another’s eyes, and keeping the fire bright. Then we washed up and prepared for the night.
Look for Part 4!
A horror story presented here in 4 parts
By Algernon Blackwood
Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat
I realized what he realized, only with less power of analysis than his. Then he suddenly thrust his face again close into mine across the firelight and began to speak in a very earnest whisper. He amazed me by his calmness and pluck, his apparent control of the situation. This man I had for years deemed unimaginative, stolid!
I stopped in the middle, seized anew by the old horror. I tried to smother the sound of my voice as something sacrilegious. The Swede, of course, heard it too—the strange cry overhead in the darkness—and that sudden drop in the air as though something had come nearer.
He had turned ashen white under the tan. He stood bolt upright in front of the fire, stiff as a rod, staring at me. The terror had caught him at last.
The humming overhead never ceased, but seemed to me to grow louder as we increased our distance from the fire. It was shivery work!
I gave one terrified glance, which just enabled me to see that the shadowy form was swinging towards us through the bushes, and then I collapsed backwards with a crash into the branches.
But it was the pain, he declared afterwards, that saved me; it caused me to forget them and think of something else at the very instant when they were about to find me. It concealed my mind from them at the moment of discovery, yet just in time to evade their terrible seizing of me. He himself, he says, actually passed out at the next moment, and that was what saved him.
Neither of us said a word. We both knew that sleep was the safest thing we could do, and to bed we went without delay, having first thrown sand on the fire and brought the provision sack and paddle inside the tent with us. The canoe, too, we propped at the end of the tent so that our feet touched it, and the least motion would disturb and wake us.
In case of emergency, too, we again went to bed in our clothes, ready for a sudden start.
It was my firm intention to lie awake all night and watch, but the exhaustion of nerves and body decreed otherwise, and sleep after a while came over me with a welcome blanket of oblivion. The fact that my companion also slept quickened its approach. At first he fidgeted and constantly sat up, asking me if I “heard this” or “heard that.”
A difficulty in breathing woke me, and I found the blanket over my face. But something else besides the blanket was pressing upon me, and my first thought was that my companion had rolled off his mattress on to my own in his sleep. I called to him and sat up, and at the same moment it came to me that the tent was surrounded. That sound of multitudinous soft pattering was again audible outside, filling the night with horror.
I called again to him, louder than before. He did not answer, but I missed the sound of his snoring, and also noticed that the flap of the tent was down. This was the unpardonable sin. I crawled out in the darkness to hook it back securely, and it was then for the first time I realized positively that the Swede was not there. He had gone.
I dashed out in a mad run, seized by a dreadful agitation, and the moment I was out I plunged into a sort of torrent of humming that surrounded me completely and came out of every quarter of the heavens at once. It was that same familiar humming—gone mad! A swarm of great invisible bees might have been about me in the air. The sound seemed to thicken the very atmosphere, and breathing was difficult.
But my friend was in danger, and I could not hesitate.
The dawn was just about to break, and a faint whitish light spread upwards over the clouds from a thin strip of clear horizon. No wind stirred. I could just make out the bushes and river beyond, and the pale sandy patches. In my excitement I ran frantically to and fro about the island, calling him by name, shouting at the top of my voice the first words that came into my head. But the willows smothered my voice, and the humming muffled it, so that the sound only traveled a few feet round me. I plunged among the bushes, tripping headlong, tumbling over roots, and scraping my face as I tore this way and that among the preventing branches.
Then, quite unexpectedly, I came out upon the island’s point and saw a dark figure outlined between the water and the sky. It was the Swede. And already he had one foot in the river! A moment more and he would have taken the plunge.
I threw myself on him, flinging my arms about his waist and dragging him shorewards with all my strength. Of course he struggled furiously, making a noise all the time just like that cursed humming, and using the most outlandish phrases in his anger about “going inside to Them,” and “taking the way of the water and the wind,” and God only knows what more besides, that I tried in vain to recall afterwards, but which turned me sick with horror and amazement as I listened. But in the end I managed to get him into the comparative safety of the tent, and flung him down breathless and cursing, where I held him with one foot until his fit had passed.
I think the suddenness with which it all went and he grew calm, coinciding as it did with the equally abrupt cessation of the humming and pattering outside—I think this was almost the strangest part of the whole business. For he had just opened his eyes and turned his tired face up to me so that the dawn threw a pale light upon it through the doorway, and said, for all the world just like a frightened child:
He was pointing with his stick at a large black object that lay half in the water and on the sand. It appeared to be caught by some twisted willow roots so that the river could not sweep it away. A few hours before the spot must have been under water.
Halfway down the bank my companion suddenly stopped and held up his hand in warning; but either my foot slipped, or I had gained too much momentum to halt, for I bumped into him and sent him forward with a sort of leap to save himself. We tumbled together on to the hard sand so that our feet splashed into the water. And, before anything could be done, we had collided a little heavily against the corpse.
But before either of us had time properly to recover from the unexpected shock, we saw that the current was turning the corpse round so that it became released from the grip of the willow roots.
And when I turned my eyes again from the dead man’s ghastly face to the river, the current had done its work, and the body had been swept away into mid-stream and was already beyond our reach and almost out of sight, turning over and over on the waves like an otter.
Get items to enjoy your favorite haunts this Halloween!
Horror comics, toys, clothing, and graphic novels, oh my! Or “go to the mattresses” for the coming zombie apocalypse! Just click on any ad on this page to visit our affiliate marketing partners. Then if you buy something after shopping these affiliated advertisers after the new year, money comes in to us to pay off the zombies and really live. Or don’t buy anything and just enjoy the shopping experience. Have some fun shopping!
Go to the mattresses and get a good night's sleep!
Chat stories: Publishing super scary ghost stories, comedy, horror stories, sci-fi, and scary ghost stories for young people!
Read Fun Stories
21st March 2019
22nd August 2018
6th December 2019
- The Music on the Hill, Part 1
- The Music on the Hill, Part 2
- Big Mr. Little, Part 4
- Big Mr. Little, Part 3
- Big Mr. Little, Part 2
- Big Mr. Little, Part 1
View Full Site
Proudly powered by WordPress
Again affiliate ads for choice items are here to support our many free chat stories available here, so check out any posted story.
By Edgar Allan Poe
Click arrow above to play a carefully selected musical accompaniment while you read, it’s a creepy, cinema-style tune titled Lurking, by Silent Partner.
Look for the next segment, Part 3!
A scary chat story
By Edgar Allan Poe
Look for the ending, Part 4, coming soon!
By Edgar Allan Poe
Excited to fury
Making a mockery
By Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted by Captivated Chat
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before; So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeatingPresently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token, And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, Lenore! This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore; Not the least obeisance made he; not an instant stopped or stayed he; But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door— Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door— Perched, and sat, and nothing more. Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling, By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore, Quoth the raven Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly, Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore; For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door— Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door, With such name as Nevermore. But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour. Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered— Till I scarcely more than muttered: SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted to chat story format by Captivated ChatSHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
* * * * * * * * *
Here’s the deal
Into the vaults
That’s not all…
Watch for Part 2 of the story!
Part 1 of 3 scary stories <br>By W. W. Jacobs
format by Captivated Chat
By W. W. Jacobs
format by Captivated Chat
(Eight hours later.)
(The old man smiled faintly, put out his hands like a sightless man, and dropped, a senseless heap, to the floor.)
Look for part 3, the finale of the scary ghost story, The Monkey’s Paw
By W. W. Jacobs
format by Captivated Chat
An unnatural look
In the dark room he found the talisman in its place, and a horrible fear seized him that the unspoken wish might bring his mutilated son before him ere he could escape from the room.
Even his wife’s face seemed changed as he entered the room. It was white and expectant, and to his fears seemed to have an unnatural look upon it. He was afraid of her.
The matches fell from his hand and spilled in the passage. He stood motionless, his breath suspended until the knock was repeated. Then he turned and fled swiftly back to his room, and closed the door behind him. A third knock sounded through the house.
(Loud knock resounds through the house)
Long loud wail
There was another knock, and another. Finally the old woman, with a sudden wrench, broke free and ran from the room. Therefore her husband followed to the landing, and called after her appealingly as she hurried downstairs. But he heard the chain rattle back and the bottom bolt drawn slowly and stiffly from the socket. Then the old woman’s voice, strained and panting.
But her husband was on his hands and knees groping wildly on the floor in search of the paw. If he could only find it before the thing outside got in.
A perfect fusillade of knocks reverberated through the house, and he heard the scraping of a chair as his wife put it down in the passage against the door. Finally, he heard the creaking of the bolt as it came slowly back, and at the same moment he found the monkey’s paw, and frantically breathed his third and last wish.
The knocking ceased suddenly, although the echoes of it were still in the house. He heard the chair drawn back, and the door opened.
A cold wind rushed up the staircase, and a long loud wail of disappointment and misery from his wife gave him courage to run down to her side, and then to the gate beyond. The street lamp flickering opposite shone on a quiet and deserted road.
by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted to chat story format by captivated chat
My roommate and I were strolling one night down a long dirty street in the vicinity of the Palais Royal. Being both occupied in thought, neither of us had spoken a syllable for fifteen minutes at least. All at once, Monsieur Dupin interrupted my thoughts.SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
Paving the way
A house in the Rue Morgue
(Ten minutes later)
Money left behind
Look for Part 2!
By Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted to chat story format by Captivated Chat
Reputed to have money
A good house
Gruff voice: ‘diable’
//Image: [Odenheimer] [https://captivatedchat.com/wp-content/uploads/Restauranteur-e1557773367866.jpg]
No person seen
More witness testimony
Look for Part 4, the denouement!
Dupin seemed singularly interested in the progress of this affair—at least so I judged from his manner, for he made no comments. It was only after the announcement that Le Bon had been imprisoned, that he asked me my opinion respecting the murders.
I could merely agree with all Paris in considering them an insoluble mystery. I saw no means by which it would be possible to trace the murderer.
“We must not judge of the means,” said Dupin, “by this shell of an examination. The Parisian police, so much extolled for acumen, are cunning, but no more. There is no method in their proceedings, beyond the method of the moment. They make a vast parade of measures; but, not unfrequently, these are so ill adapted to the objects proposed, as to put us in mind of Monsieur Jourdain’s calling for his robe-de-chambre—pour mieux entendre la musique.
The results attained by them are not unfrequently surprising, but, for the most part, are brought about by simple diligence and activity. When these qualities are unavailing, their schemes fail. Vidocq, for example, was a good guesser and a persevering man. But, without educated thought, he erred continually by the very intensity of his investigations. He impaired his vision by holding the object too close. He might see, perhaps, one or two points with unusual clearness, but in so doing he, necessarily, lost sight of the matter as a whole. Thus there is such a thing as being too profound. Truth is not always in a well. In fact, as regards the more important knowledge, I do believe that she is invariably superficial. The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.
The modes and sources of this kind of error are well typified in the contemplation of the heavenly bodies. To look at a star by glances—to view it in a side-long way, by turning toward it the exterior portions of the retina (more susceptible of feeble impressions of light than the interior), is to behold the star distinctly—is to have the best appreciation of its lustre—a lustre which grows dim just in proportion as we turn our vision fully upon it. A greater number of rays actually fall upon the eye in the latter case, but, in the former, there is the more refined capacity for comprehension. By undue profundity we perplex and enfeeble thought; and it is possible to make even Venus herself vanish from the firmament by a scrutiny too sustained, too concentrated, or too direct.
“As for these murders, let us enter into some examinations for ourselves, before we make up an opinion respecting them. An inquiry will afford us amusement,” [I thought this an odd term from Dupin, so applied, but said nothing] “and, besides, Le Bon once rendered me a service for which I am not ungrateful. We will go and see the premises with our own eyes. I know G——, the Prefect of Police, and shall have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary permission.”
The permission was obtained, and we proceeded at once to the Rue Morgue. This is one of those miserable thoroughfares which intervene between the Rue Richelieu and the Rue St. Roch. It was late in the afternoon when we reached it; as this quarter is at a great distance from that in which we resided. The house was readily found; for there were still many persons gazing up at the closed shutters, with an objectless curiosity, from the opposite side of the way.
It was an ordinary Parisian house, with a gateway, on one side of which was a glazed watch-box, with a sliding panel in the window, indicating a loge de concierge. Before going in we walked up the street, turned down an alley, and then, again turning, passed in the rear of the building—Dupin, meanwhile examining the whole neighborhood, as well as the house, with a minuteness of attention for which I could see no possible object.
Retracing our steps, we came again to the front of the dwelling, rang, and, having shown our credentials, were admitted by the agents in charge. We went up stairs—into the chamber where the body of Mademoiselle L’Espanaye had been found, and where both the deceased still lay. The disorders of the room had, as usual, been suffered to exist. I saw nothing beyond what had been stated in the “Gazette des Tribunaux.” Dupin scrutinized every thing—not excepting the bodies of the victims. We then went into the other rooms, and into the yard; a gendarme accompanying us throughout. The examination occupied us until dark, when we took our departure. On our way home my companion stepped in for a moment at the office of one of the daily papers.
I have said that the whims of my friend were manifold, and that Je les ménageais:—for this phrase there is no English equivalent. It was his humor, now, to decline all conversation on the subject of the murder, until about noon the next day. He then asked me, suddenly, if I had observed any thing peculiar at the scene of the atrocity.
There was something in his manner of emphasizing the word “peculiar,” which caused me to shudder, without knowing why.
“No, nothing peculiar,” I said; “nothing more, at least, than we both saw stated in the paper.”
“The ‘Gazette,’” he replied, “has not entered, I fear, into the unusual horror of the thing. But dismiss the idle opinions of this print. It appears to me that this mystery is considered insoluble, for the very reason which should cause it to be regarded as easy of solution—I mean for the outré character of its features.
The police are confounded by the seeming absence of motive—not for the murder itself—but for the atrocity of the murder. They are puzzled, too, by the seeming impossibility of reconciling the voices heard in contention, with the facts that no one was discovered up stairs but the assassinated Mademoiselle L’Espanaye, and that there were no means of egress without the notice of the party ascending. The wild disorder of the room; the corpse thrust, with the head downward, up the chimney; the frightful mutilation of the body of the old lady; these considerations, with those just mentioned, and others which I need not mention, have sufficed to paralyze the powers, by putting completely at fault the boasted acumen, of the government agents.
They have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse. But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked ‘what has occurred,’ as ‘what has occurred that has never occurred before.’ In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ratio of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police.”
I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment.
“I am now awaiting,” continued he, looking toward the door of our apartment—“I am now awaiting a person who, although perhaps not the perpetrator of these butcheries, must have been in some measure implicated in their perpetration. Of the worst portion of the crimes committed, it is probable that he is innocent. I hope that I am right in this supposition; for upon it I build my expectation of reading the entire riddle. I look for the man here—in this room—every moment. It is true that he may not arrive; but the probability is that he will. Should he come, it will be necessary to detain him. Here are pistols; and we both know how to use them when occasion demands their use.”
I took the pistols, scarcely knowing what I did, or believing what I heard, while Dupin went on, very much as if in a soliloquy. I have already spoken of his abstract manner at such times. His discourse was addressed to myself; but his voice, although by no means loud, had that intonation which is commonly employed in speaking to some one at a great distance. His eyes, vacant in expression, regarded only the wall.
“That the voices heard in contention,” he said, “by the party upon the stairs, were not the voices of the women themselves, was fully proved by the evidence. This relieves us of all doubt upon the question whether the old lady could have first destroyed the daughter and afterward have committed suicide. I speak of this point chiefly for the sake of method; for the strength of Madame L’Espanaye would have been utterly unequal to the task of thrusting her daughter’s corpse up the chimney as it was found; and the nature of the wounds upon her own person entirely preclude the idea of self-destruction.
Murder, then, has been committed by some third party; and the voices of this third party were those heard in contention. Let me now advert—not to the whole testimony respecting these voices—but to what was peculiar in that testimony. Did you observe any thing peculiar about it?”
I remarked that, while all the witnesses agreed in supposing the gruff voice to be that of a Frenchman, there was much disagreement in regard to the shrill, or, as one individual termed it, the harsh voice.
“That was the evidence itself,” said Dupin, “but it was not the M of the evidence. You have observed nothing distinctive. Yet there was something to be observed. The witnesses, as you remark, agreed about the gruff voice; they were here unanimous. But in regard to the shrill voice, the peculiarity is—not that they disagreed—but that, while an Italian, an Englishman, a Spaniard, a Hollander, and a Frenchman attempted to describe it, each one spoke of it as that of a foreigner. Each is sure that it was not the voice of one of his own countrymen. Each likens it—not to the voice of an individual of any nation with whose language he is conversant—but the converse.
The Frenchman supposes it the voice of a Spaniard, and ‘might have distinguished some words had he been acquainted with the Spanish.’ The Dutchman maintains it to have been that of a Frenchman; but we find it stated that ‘not understanding French this witness was examined through an interpreter.’ The Englishman thinks it the voice of a German, and ‘does not understand German.’ The Spaniard ‘is sure’ that it was that of an Englishman, but ‘judges by the intonation’ altogether, ‘as he has no knowledge of the English.’ The Italian believes it the voice of a Russian, but ‘has never conversed with a native of Russia.’ A second Frenchman differs, moreover, with the first, and is positive that the voice was that of an Italian; but, not being cognizant of that tongue, is, like the Spaniard, ‘convinced by the intonation.’
Now, how strangely unusual must that voice have really been, about which such testimony as this could have been elicited!—in whose tones, even, denizens of the five great divisions of Europe could recognise nothing familiar! You will say that it might have been the voice of an Asiatic—of an African. Neither Asiatics nor Africans abound in Paris; but, without denying the inference, I will now merely call your attention to three points. The voice is termed by one witness ‘harsh rather than shrill.’ It is represented by two others to have been ‘quick and unequal.’ No words—no sounds resembling words—were by any witness mentioned as distinguishable.
“I know not,” continued Dupin, “what impression I may have made, so far, upon your own understanding; but I do not hesitate to say that legitimate deductions even from this portion of the testimony—the portion respecting the gruff and shrill voices—are in themselves sufficient to engender a suspicion which should give direction to all farther progress in the investigation of the mystery. I said ‘legitimate deductions;’ but my meaning is not thus fully expressed. I designed to imply that the deductions are the sole proper ones, and that the suspicion arises inevitably from them as the single result. What the suspicion is, however, I will not say just yet. I merely wish you to bear in mind that, with myself, it was sufficiently forcible to give a definite form—a certain tendency—to my inquiries in the chamber.
“Let us now transport ourselves, in fancy, to this chamber. What shall we first seek here? The means of egress employed by the murderers. It is not too much to say that neither of us believe in præternatural events. Madame and Mademoiselle L’Espanaye were not destroyed by spirits. The doers of the deed were material, and escaped materially. Then how? Fortunately, there is but one mode of reasoning upon the point, and that mode leads us to a definite decision.
—Let us examine, each by each, the possible means of egress. It is clear that the assassins were in the room where Mademoiselle L’Espanaye was found, or at least in the room adjoining, when the party ascended the stairs. It is then only from these two apartments that we have to seek issues. The police have laid bare the floors, the ceilings, and the masonry of the walls, in every direction. No secret issues could have escaped their vigilance. But, not trusting to their eyes, I examined with my own.
There were, then, no secret issues. Both doors leading from the rooms into the passage were securely locked, with the keys inside. Let us turn to the chimneys. These, although of ordinary width for some eight or ten feet above the hearths, will not admit, throughout their extent, the body of a large cat. The impossibility of egress, by means already stated, being thus absolute, we are reduced to the windows. Through those of the front room no one could have escaped without notice from the crowd in the street. The murderers must have passed, then, through those of the back room. Now, brought to this conclusion in so unequivocal a manner as we are, it is not our part, as reasoners, to reject it on account of apparent impossibilities. It is only left for us to prove that these apparent ‘impossibilities’ are, in reality, not such.
“There are two windows in the chamber. One of them is unobstructed by furniture, and is wholly visible. The lower portion of the other is hidden from view by the head of the unwieldy bedstead which is thrust close up against it. The former was found securely fastened from within. It resisted the utmost force of those who endeavored to raise it. A large gimlet-hole had been pierced in its frame to the left, and a very stout nail was found fitted therein, nearly to the head. Upon examining the other window, a similar nail was seen similarly fitted in it; and a vigorous attempt to raise this sash, failed also. The police were now entirely satisfied that egress had not been in these directions. And, therefore, it was thought a matter of supererogation to withdraw the nails and open the windows.
“My own examination was somewhat more particular, and was so for the reason I have just given—because here it was, I knew, that all apparent impossibilities must be proved to be not such in reality.
“I proceeded to think thus—a posteriori. The murderers did escape from one of these windows. This being so, they could not have refastened the sashes from the inside, as they were found fastened;—the consideration which put a stop, through its obviousness, to the scrutiny of the police in this quarter. Yet the sashes were fastened. They must, then, have the power of fastening themselves. There was no escape from this conclusion.
I stepped to the unobstructed casement, withdrew the nail with some difficulty and attempted to raise the sash. It resisted all my efforts, as I had anticipated. A concealed spring must, I now know, exist; and this corroboration of my idea convinced me that my premises at least, were correct, however mysterious still appeared the circumstances attending the nails. A careful search soon brought to light the hidden spring. I pressed it, and, satisfied with the discovery, forbore to upraise the sash.
“I now replaced the nail and regarded it attentively. A person passing out through this window might have reclosed it, and the spring would have caught—but the nail could not have been replaced. The conclusion was plain, and again narrowed in the field of my investigations. The assassins must have escaped through the other window. Supposing, then, the springs upon each sash to be the same, as was probable, there must be found a difference between the nails, or at least between the modes of their fixture.
Getting upon the sacking of the bedstead, I looked over the head-board minutely at the second casement. Passing my hand down behind the board, I readily discovered and pressed the spring, which was, as I had supposed, identical in character with its neighbor. I now looked at the nail. It was as stout as the other, and apparently fitted in the same manner—driven in nearly up to the head.
“You will say that I was puzzled; but, if you think so, you must have misunderstood the nature of the inductions. To use a sporting phrase, I had not been once ‘at fault.’ The scent had never for an instant been lost. There was no flaw in any link of the chain. I had traced the secret to its ultimate result,—and that result was the nail. It had, I say, in every respect, the appearance of its fellow in the other window; but this fact was an absolute nullity (conclusive us it might seem to be) when compared with the consideration that here, at this point, terminated the clew.
‘There must be something wrong,’ I said, ‘about the nail.’ I touched it; and the head, with about a quarter of an inch of the shank, came off in my fingers. The rest of the shank was in the gimlet-hole where it had been broken off. The fracture was an old one (for its edges were incrusted with rust), and had apparently been accomplished by the blow of a hammer, which had partially imbedded, in the top of the bottom sash, the head portion of the nail. I now carefully replaced this head portion in the indentation whence I had taken it, and the resemblance to a perfect nail was complete—the fissure was invisible.
Pressing the spring, I gently raised the sash for a few inches; the head went up with it, remaining firm in its bed. I closed the window, and the semblance of the whole nail was again perfect.
“The riddle, so far, was now unriddled. The assassin had escaped through the window which looked upon the bed. Dropping of its own accord upon his exit (or perhaps purposely closed), it had become fastened by the spring; and it was the retention of this spring which had been mistaken by the police for that of the nail,—farther inquiry being thus considered unnecessary.
“The next question is that of the mode of descent. Upon this point I had been satisfied in my walk with you around the building. About five feet and a half from the casement in question there runs a lightning-rod. From this rod it would have been impossible for anyone to reach the window itself, never mind to enter it.
I observed, however, that the shutters of the fourth story were of the peculiar kind called by Parisian carpenters ferrades—a kind rarely employed at the present day, but frequently seen upon very old mansions at Lyons and Bordeaux. They are in the form of an ordinary door, (a single, not a folding door) except that the lower half is latticed or worked in open trellis—thus affording an excellent hold for the hands. In the present instance these shutters are fully three feet and a half broad. When we saw them from the rear of the house, they were both about half open—that is to say, they stood off at right angles from the wall.
It is probable that the police, as well as myself, examined the back of the tenement; but, if so, in looking at these ferrades in the line of their breadth (as they must have done), they did not perceive this great breadth itself, or, at all events, failed to take it into due consideration. In fact, having once satisfied themselves that no egress could have been made in this quarter, they would naturally bestow here a very cursory examination.
It was clear to me, however, that the shutter belonging to the window at the head of the bed, would, if swung fully back to the wall, reach to within two feet of the lightning-rod. It was also evident that, by exertion of a very unusual degree of activity and courage, an entrance into the window, from the rod, might have been thus effected.—By reaching to the distance of two feet and a half (we now suppose the shutter open to its whole extent) a robber might have taken a firm grasp upon the trellis-work. Letting go, then, his hold upon the rod, placing his feet securely against the wall, and springing boldly from it, he might have swung the shutter so as to close it, and, if we imagine the window open at the time, might even have swung himself into the room.
“I wish you to bear especially in mind that I have spoken of a very unusual degree of activity as requisite to success in so hazardous and so difficult a feat. It is my design to show you, first, that the thing might possibly have been accomplished:—but, secondly and chiefly, I wish to impress upon your understanding the very extraordinary—the almost præternatural character of that agility which could have accomplished it.
“You will say, no doubt, using the language of the law, that ‘to make out my case,’ I should rather undervalue, than insist upon a full estimation of the activity required in this matter. This may be the practice in law, but it is not the usage of reason. My ultimate object is only the truth. My immediate purpose is to lead you to place in juxtaposition, that very unusual activity of which I have just spoken with that very peculiar shrill (or harsh) and unequal voice, about whose nationality no two persons could be found to agree, and in whose utterance no syllabification could be detected.”
At these words a vague and half-formed conception of the meaning of Dupin flitted over my mind. I seemed to be upon the verge of comprehension without power to comprehend—men, at times, find themselves upon the brink of remembrance without being able, in the end, to remember. My friend went on with his discourse.
“You will see,” he said, “that I have shifted the question from the mode of egress to that of ingress. It was my design to convey the idea that both were effected in the same manner, at the same point.
Let us now revert to the interior of the room. Let us survey the appearances here. The drawers of the bureau, it is said, had been rifled, although many articles of apparel still remained within them. The conclusion here is absurd. It is a mere guess—a very silly one—and no more. How are we to know that the articles found in the drawers were not all these drawers had originally contained?
Madame L’Espanaye and her daughter lived an exceedingly retired life—saw no company—seldom went out—had little use for numerous changes of habiliment. Those found were at least of as good quality as any likely to be possessed by these ladies. If a thief had taken any, why did he not take the best—why did he not take all? In a word, why did he abandon four thousand francs in gold to encumber himself with a bundle of linen?
The gold was abandoned. Nearly the whole sum mentioned by Monsieur Mignaud, the banker, was discovered, in bags, upon the floor. I wish you, therefore, to discard from your thoughts the blundering idea of motive, engendered in the brains of the police by that portion of the evidence which speaks of money delivered at the door of the house. Coincidences ten times as remarkable as this (the delivery of the money, and murder committed within three days upon the party receiving it), happen to all of us every hour of our lives, without attracting even momentary notice.
Coincidences, in general, are great stumbling-blocks in the way of that class of thinkers who have been educated to know nothing of the theory of probabilities—that theory to which the most glorious objects of human research are indebted for the most glorious of illustration. In the present instance, had the gold been gone, the fact of its delivery three days before would have formed something more than a coincidence. It would have been corroborative of this idea of motive. But, under the real circumstances of the case, if we are to suppose gold the motive of this outrage, we must also imagine the perpetrator so vacillating an idiot as to have abandoned his gold and his motive together.
“Keeping now steadily in mind the points to which I have drawn your attention—that peculiar voice, that unusual agility, and that startling absence of motive in a murder so singularly atrocious as this—let us glance at the butchery itself. Here is a woman strangled to death by manual strength, and thrust up a chimney, head downward.
Ordinary assassins employ no such modes of murder as this. Least of all, do they thus dispose of the murdered. In the manner of thrusting the corpse up the chimney, you will admit that there was something excessively outré—something altogether irreconcilable with our common notions of human action, even when we suppose the actors the most depraved of men. Think, too, how great must have been that strength which could have thrust the body up such an aperture so forcibly that the united vigor of several persons was found barely sufficient to drag it down!
“Turn, now, to other indications of the employment of a vigor most marvellous. On the hearth were thick tresses—very thick tresses—of grey human hair. These had been torn out by the roots. You are aware of the great force necessary in tearing thus from the head even twenty or thirty hairs together. You saw the locks in question as well as myself. Their roots (a hideous sight!) were clotted with fragments of the flesh of the scalp—sure token of the prodigious power which had been exerted in uprooting perhaps half a million of hairs at a time. The throat of the old lady was not merely cut, but the head absolutely severed from the body: the instrument was a mere razor. I wish you also to look at the brutal ferocity of these deeds.
Of the bruises upon the body of Madame L’Espanaye I do not speak. Monsieur Dumas, and his worthy coadjutor Monsieur Etienne, have pronounced that they were inflicted by some obtuse instrument; and so far these gentlemen are very correct. The obtuse instrument was clearly the stone pavement in the yard, upon which the victim had fallen from the window which looked in upon the bed. This idea, however simple it may now seem, escaped the police for the same reason that the breadth of the shutters escaped them—because, by the affair of the nails, their perceptions had been hermetically sealed against the possibility of the windows having ever been opened at all.
“If now, in addition to all these things, you have properly reflected upon the odd disorder of the chamber, we have gone so far as to combine the ideas of an agility astounding, a strength superhuman, a ferocity brutal, a butchery without motive, a grotesquerie in horror absolutely alien from humanity, and a voice foreign in tone to the ears of men of many nations, and devoid of all distinct or intelligible syllabification. What result, then, has ensued? What impression have I made upon your fancy?”
I felt a creeping of the flesh as Dupin asked me the question. “A madman,” I said, “has done this deed—some raving maniac, escaped from a neighboring Maison de Santé.”
“In some respects,” he replied, “your idea is not irrelevant. But the voices of madmen, even in their wildest paroxysms, are never found to tally with that peculiar voice heard upon the stairs. Madmen are of some nation, and their language, however incoherent in its words, has always the coherence of syllabification. Besides, the hair of a madman is not such as I now hold in my hand. I disentangled this little tuft from the rigidly clutched fingers of Madame L’Espanaye. Tell me what you can make of it.”
“Dupin!” I said, completely unnerved; “this hair is most unusual—this is no human hair.”
“I have not asserted that it is,” said he; “but, before we decide this point, I wish you to glance at the little sketch I have here traced upon this paper. It is a fac-simile drawing of what has been described in one portion of the testimony as ‘dark bruises, and deep indentations of finger nails,’ upon the throat of Mademoiselle L’Espanaye, and in another, (by Messrs. Dumas and Etienne,) as a ‘series of livid spots, evidently the impression of fingers.’
“You will perceive,” continued my friend, spreading out the paper upon the table before us, “that this drawing gives the idea of a firm and fixed hold. There is no slipping apparent. Each finger has retained—possibly until the death of the victim—the fearful grasp by which it originally imbedded itself. Attempt, now, to place all your fingers, at the same time, in the respective impressions as you see them.”
I made the attempt in vain.
“We are possibly not giving this matter a fair trial,” he said. “The paper is spread out upon a plane surface; but the human throat is cylindrical. Here is a billet of wood, the circumference of which is about that of the throat. Wrap the drawing around it, and try the experiment again.”
I did so; but the difficulty was even more obvious than before. “This,” I said, “is the mark of no human hand.”
“Read now,” replied Dupin, “this passage from Cuvier.”
It was a minute anatomical and generally descriptive account of the large fulvous Ourang-Outang of the East Indian Islands. The gigantic stature, the prodigious strength and activity, the wild ferocity, and the imitative propensities of these mammalia are sufficiently well known to all. I understood the full horrors of the murder at once.
“The description of the digits,” said I, as I made an end of reading, “is in exact accordance with this drawing. I see that no animal but an Ourang-Outang, of the species here mentioned, could have impressed the indentations as you have traced them. This tuft of tawny hair, too, is identical in character with that of the beast of Cuvier. But I cannot possibly comprehend the particulars of this frightful mystery. Besides, there were two voices heard in contention, and one of them was unquestionably the voice of a Frenchman.”
“True; and you will remember an expression attributed almost unanimously, by the evidence, to this voice,—the expression, ‘mon Dieu!’ This, under the circumstances, has been justly characterized by one of the witnesses (Montani, the confectioner,) as an expression of remonstrance or expostulation. Upon these two words, therefore, I have mainly built my hopes of a full solution of the riddle. A Frenchman was cognizant of the murder. It is possible—indeed it’s far more than probable—that he was innocent of all participation in the bloody transactions. The Ourang-Outang may have escaped from him. He may have traced it to the chamber; but, under the agitating circumstances which ensued, he could never have re-captured it. It is still at large.
I will not pursue these guesses—for I have no right to call them more—since the shades of reflection upon which they are based are scarcely of sufficient depth to be appreciable by my own intellect, and since I could not pretend to make them intelligible to the understanding of another. We will call them guesses then, and speak of them as such. If the Frenchman in question is indeed, as I suppose, innocent of this atrocity, this advertisement which I left last night, upon our return home, at the office of ‘Le Monde,’ (a paper devoted to the shipping interest, and much sought by sailors,) will bring him to our residence.”
He handed me a paper, and I read thus:
CAUGHT—In the Bois de Boulogne, early in the morning of the—inst., (the morning of the murder,) a very large, tawny Ourang-Outang of the Bornese species. The owner, (who is ascertained to be a sailor, belonging to a Maltese vessel,) may have the animal again, upon identifying it satisfactorily, and paying a few charges arising from its capture and keeping. Call at No. ——, Rue ——, Faubourg St. Germain—au troisième.
“How was it possible,” I asked, “that you knew the man was a sailor, and belonged to a Maltese vessel?”
“I do not know it,” said Dupin. “I am not sure of it. Here, however, is a small piece of ribbon, which from its form, and from its greasy appearance, has evidently been used in tying the hair in one of those long queues of which sailors are so fond.
Moreover, this knot is one which few besides sailors can tie, and is peculiar to the Maltese. I picked the ribbon up at the foot of the lightning-rod. It could not have belonged to either of the deceased. Now if, after all, I am wrong in my induction from this ribbon, that the Frenchman was a sailor belonging to a Maltese vessel, still I can have done no harm in saying what I did in the advertisement. If I am in error, he will merely suppose that I have been misled by some circumstance into which he will not take the trouble to inquire. But if I am right, a great point is gained. Cognizant although innocent of the murder, the Frenchman will naturally hesitate about replying to the advertisement—about demanding the Ourang-Outang.
He will reason thus:—‘I am innocent; I am poor; my Ourang-Outang is of great value—to one in my circumstances a fortune of itself—why should I lose it through idle apprehensions of danger? Here it is, within my grasp. It was found in the Bois de Boulogne—at a vast distance from the scene of that butchery. How can it ever be suspected that a brute beast should have done the deed?
He further reasons the police are at fault—they have failed to procure the slightest clew. Should they even trace the animal, it would be impossible to prove me cognizant of the murder, or to implicate me in guilt on account of that cognizance. Above all, I am known. The advertiser designates me as the possessor of the beast. I am not sure to what limit his knowledge may extend. Should I avoid claiming a property of so great value, which it is known that I possess, I will render the animal at least, liable to suspicion. It is not my policy to attract attention either to myself or to the beast. I will answer the advertisement, get the Ourang-Outang, and keep it close until this matter has blown over.’”
At this moment we heard a step upon the stairs.
“Be ready,” said Dupin, “with your pistols, but neither use them nor show them until at a signal from myself.”
The front door of the house had been left open, and the visitor had entered, without ringing, and advanced several steps upon the staircase. Now, however, he seemed to hesitate. Presently we heard him descending. Dupin was moving quickly to the door, when we again heard him coming up. He did not turn back a second time, but stepped up with decision and rapped at our door.
“Come in,” said Dupin, in a cheerful and hearty tone.
A man entered. He was a sailor, evidently,—a tall, stout, and muscular-looking person, with a certain dare-devil expression of countenance, not altogether unprepossessing. His face, greatly sunburnt, was more than half hidden by whisker and mustachio. He had with him a huge oaken cudgel, but appeared to be otherwise unarmed. He bowed awkwardly, and bade us “good evening,” in French accents, which, although somewhat Neufchatel, were indicative of the Parisian.
“Sit down, my friend,” said Dupin. “I suppose you have called about the Ourang-Outang. Upon my word, I almost envy you the possession of him; a remarkably fine, and no doubt a very valuable animal. How old do you suppose him to be?”
The sailor drew a long breath, with the air of a man relieved of some intolerable burden. Then he replied in an assured tone: “I have no way of telling. But he can’t be more than four or five years old. Have you got him here?”
“Oh no, we had no conveniences for keeping him here. He is at a livery stable in the Rue Dubourg, just by. You can get him in the morning. Of course you are prepared to identify the property?”
“To be sure I am, sir.”
“I shall be sorry to part with him,” said Dupin.
“I don’t mean that you should be at all this trouble for nothing, sir,” said the man. “Couldn’t expect it. Am very willing to pay a reward for the finding of the animal—that is to say, any thing in reason.”
“Well,” replied my friend, “that is all very fair, to be sure. Let me think!—what should I have? Oh! I will tell you. My reward shall be this. You shall give me all the information in your power about these murders in the Rue Morgue.”
Dupin said the last words in a very low tone, and very quietly. Just as quietly, too, he walked toward the door, locked it and put the key in his pocket. He then drew a pistol from his bosom and placed it, without the least flurry, upon the table.
The sailor’s face flushed up as if he were struggling with suffocation. He started to his feet and grasped his cudgel. But the next moment he fell back into his seat, trembling violently, and with the countenance of death itself. He spoke not a word. I pitied him from the bottom of my heart.
“My friend,” said Dupin, in a kind tone, “you are alarming yourself unnecessarily—you are indeed. We mean you no harm whatever. I pledge you the honor of a gentleman, and of a Frenchman, that we intend you no injury. I perfectly well know that you are innocent of the atrocities in the Rue Morgue. It will not do, however, to deny that you are in some measure implicated in them. From what I’ve said, you know I have had means of information about this matter—means you could never have dreamed.
Now the thing stands thus. You have done nothing which you could have avoided—nothing, certainly, which renders you culpable. I believe you were not even guilty of robbery, when you might have robbed with impunity. You have nothing to conceal. You have no reason for concealment. On the other hand, you are bound by every principle of honor to confess all you know. An innocent man is now imprisoned, charged with that crime of which you can point out the perpetrator.”
by Edgar Allan Poe
Adapted to chat story format by captivated chat
A man entered. He was a sailor, evidently,—a tall, stout, and muscular-looking person, with a certain dare-devil expression of countenance, not altogether unprepossessing. The man kept his face, greatly sunburnt, more than half hidden beneath whisker and mustachio. He carried a huge oaken cudgel under one arm. At once he bowed awkwardly, and bade us “good evening,” in French accents, which, although somewhat Neufchatelish, were still sufficiently indicative of a Parisian origin.
(An hour later)
(*) Rousseau—Nouvelle Heloise. This quotation means that he [the Prefect] ‘denies what is, and explains what is not.’
Scary stories such as this can give a person the creeps at any age. Enjoy!SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
(The two boys have heard the choice. One is to live, one is to die, and their hysteria has grown with the terror. Look for Part 3.)SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Look for part 2
Look for part 2
(Wright Lauer had lost his medical alert ID; that is, he had lost the identification telling of his condition, and a similar letter that was in the inside pocket of his jacket. The silver chain he wore on his right wrist had snapped and fallen to the pavement. Two youngsters had picked up the chain: Roberto Pinella, aged nine and one half, and Tommy Stoner, eight.)
by Jack London
Adapted to chat format and condensed by Captivated Chat
* * * * * * * * *
Ten minutes later
[Look for Part 2]
Look for Part 2
* * * * * * * * * *
by Karen Adkins
“Poor old Fred,” sighed Lucy, as she watched a smoke ring slowly rise to the ceiling. She and Ricky had just finished their third cup of Irish coffee, emphasis on the Irish,and things were moving at a leisurely pace.
“Poor old Fred,” echoed Ricky, oblivious to the fact that he was, again, repeating what his wife had just said. He had been doing it all morning, to her irritation.
“Well, it isn’t as if he wasn’t a lot older than us…it shouldn’t come as that big of a shock,”snapped Lucy. The friendly feelings produced by the whisky were beginning to wear off. She ground out her cigarette and lit another.
“That would be fine, ‘cept he din’t die of old age.”
“I know he “din’t”— really — can’t you speak proper English? You “din’t” just get off the boat. I just can’t get over it — Fred falling down those basement stairs like that — he knew every inch of this building.”
“Even if he din–PARDON ME–DIDN’T–take care of every inch of it,” murmured Ricky scratching a flurry of paint flakes loose from a place near the window. Looking down on him from the ceiling were several large, brown stains. They served as reminders of how wet spring weather and a landlord’s scrimping on roof maintenance could add color to a room.
“Ricky, don’t speak ill of the dead!,” hissed Lucy, as if she was afraid it was Fred’s spirit, and not tobacco smoke, floating above their heads. “He’s only been gone three weeks. So he wasn’t perfect and didn’t keep the building up the way he should have. So he was miserly where money was concerned, whether it was for repairs or for Ethel — he hardly ever let her get a new hat or dress. She had to fight him for the money to get her hair done, even though the building was in her name and she did most of the work! I don’t know how she put up with him for all those years…”
“Poor ol’ Fred,” repeated Ricky mournfully as he stared out the window. He wasn’t listening. Again. Lucy stuck her tongue out at his back.
“I think I’ll go give Ethel a call and see how she’s holding up.”
As soon as Lucy left, Ricky regained conciousness. He furiously ground his cigarette to bits. Finally some time alone. And some quiet. Two things he was constantly seeking and rarely found in his life with Lucy.
Poor old Fred — Ha! That’s a good one! That old ham — always pesterin’ me for a part in my show — thinkin’ people would still get a kick out of his stale, third-rate, vaudeville routines. A real flint-skin — he din’t fix a thin’ in this broken-down, rat-trap unless it was an emergency. And all of that money I “loaned” him! Like I had a choice, when it’s winter and he’s controllin’ the heat! Never saw THAT money again. Always puttin’ me off when I brought it up, sayin’ he couldn’t get his hands on it now, but he’d have it for me soon, then changin’ the subject.
I wonder what he wanted it for. Gambling probably.
Ricky had come across some racing forms when he’d gone to the basement to get Fred for a card game. The basement (and the roof when the weather was good) was Fred’s not-so-secret hideout, and Ricky knew he spent a large part of each day there with his tip sheet and forms, his radio and a bottle, ducking work and his wife, dreaming of hitting it big.
And eavesdropping. Fred had told him he had a pretty good thing going: he found he could (plainly) hear his tenants through the furnace pipe whenever the furnace wasn’t on. Seeing Ricky’s shocked face, Fred had hurried to defend himself:
“It’s just smart business Rick! A landlord always has to be a step ahead of his tenants. He has to know who’s planning to skip out before the end of the month; who’s gonna try to hand you what hard-luck story, instead of cash. Ethel may fall for their stories, but not me, brother. You don’t get ahead in this business by being a pushover.”
Then he’d wiped off his bottle with his sleeve and offered Ricky what was left, which, declined, Fred finished off in one loud gulp, followed by an even louder burp. As he wiped his mouth on his other sleeve, he chuckled and began talking, almost to himself:
“Yep, a landlord has to know every trick in the book…a master key helps…but this clues you in to things you’d miss, a lot of things…”
Then he’d roused himself (from his reverie) and painfully clapped Ricky on the back.
“And Rick, old boy! You wouldn’t believe the goings-on!
It’s better than television! It’s right up there with goin’ to the track and winning a bundle!”
Then he said that the h’actin’ bug had been bitin’ him again an’ maybe I could “find” a part for him–better yet, why not plan a bunch of shows aroun’ him and his vaudeville bits,ay-yi-yi! Din’t seem to care if the club folded–an’ when I told him, sorry ol’ man but no, he said no, HE was sorry but he would have to tell Lucy ’bout Valerie.
Ricky pressed his forehead against the window and listened to the pigeons cooing on the ledge.
Ah, Valerie! Complete opposite from Lucy — quiet, almost shy. He smiled thinking of the peaceful hours they’d shared and winced as he compared them to the shrill voice, the quarrels, the questions. Where had he been? Why was he so late and why didn’t he call? Why can’t I be in the show, Ricky?
He poured another drink, minus the coffee this time, and lifted his glass. Sorry ol’ man, but I like to eat my cake and have it too. An’ you thought you were goin’ to put a stop to that…
Lucy slammed the receiver down on another busy signal.
Drat–will you look at that nail? A perfectly manicured, blood-red polished nail had torn, threatening her nylons.
Honestly–there’s so much”upkeep” to keep up with, Lucy thought, filing the nail smooth. That done, she sat down at her vanity and began to brush her naturally curly, naturally red hair. (She divided the recommended hundred strokes throughout the day.) She glanced sideways at the bedroom door, remembered it was locked and parted the mass of curls covering her forehead. Brown and silver roots were now visible in what had been uniformly, if artificially, red. Darn it! It seems like I was just at Henri’s! I’ll have to see if he can fit me in for a touch-up. I can’t afford to look less than perfect with all the glamorous dancers Ricky works with.
Lucy eyed herself critically. She was paler than usual and her makeup couldn’t completely hide the circles under her eyes. She hadn’t been sleeping well. For the last several months, Ricky had been keeping more late nights. Much later. He used to come home directly from the club. He used to bring her flowers for no other reason than that he thought she might enjoy them. There were a lot of things he used to do. Now, a couple of nights a week he’d get in at dawn and tiptoe around, trying not to wake her. Fat chance of that; she’d been listening for him and only pretended sleep on hearing his key in the door.
One day after discussing her suspicions with Ethel, she’d run into Fred coming up from the basement where he claimed he’d been working on the furnace. He said he hoped she and Ethel weren’t too sore about the late nights he and Rick had been keeping lately. They’d been taking in some late fights, with drinks afterwards, and started up their old poker sessions again. One of the boys had it pretty rough right now and they were just trying to be pals.
Now that Fred was gone, Lucy thought Ricky would keep more regular hours, but he stayed out just as late as before. Unasked, Ricky said that he and the”boys” were now keeping the poker games going in Fred’s honor and that he didn’t know what he would do without them.
At first, Lucy felt relieved. It was a perfectly reasonable explanation but she couldn’t help wondering if it was the real one. Was Ricky running around on her? With one of those big-eyed dancers with the twenty-three inch waists? She looked at her waist. It seemed enormous–surely it wasn’t THAT big. Add “diet” to the list of things I need to do, she wrote down mentally. And where on earth did all these wrinkles come from? With her forehead free of curls for the moment, the lines stood out plainly. There weren’t that many yesterday. She’d had plenty of chances to see those dancers up close–everything about them was taut and smooth. Even their foreheads.
Lucy furiously brushed and rearranged her hair, dabbed on some rouge and re-did her lips, admiring the crimson impression they made when she blotted them. That’s better. She stood up, smoothed her dress and checked her front and rear views. If I ever found out that Ricky was cheating on me and that someone was covering for him … the thought brought more color to her face than rouge ever could.
Read part 2 of the story!
Copyright: Karen Adkins
She quickly dialed Ethel’s number again. Damned busy signal. One of the girls must’ve got to gabbing and won’t let her off the phone. Or the other way around. Poor Ethel.
Lucy pulled her chair up to the window and lit another cigarette.
Or was it poor Ethel?
As Ethel had repeatedly said, theirs was no match made in heaven. Fred was twenty-five years older and the trickle of charm he had once possessed had long since dried up.
He had grown into a full-time nitpicker, finding fault with whatever she did. There was plenty to choose from — she did most of the work.
And it was hard to believe there was a time when Fred had won ANYONE over with how he looked or dressed; he prided himself on being a slob. He felt it showed who was boss.
Then, there was Fred and money. Fred and cheap went together like milk and cookies. And he didn’t just cut corners when it came to the building, he was miserly in his personal life as well. He didn’t notice or care how outdated and worn his and Ethel’s furniture and clothes were. Fortunately, Ethel did.
When I decided it was time for us to redecorate last year, Ethel waged an all-out war to get Fred to agree to redecorate their apartment too. After months of arguing, he finally gave in–but only on the condition that they could have our old furniture.
During one of our club meetings, when Ethel was getting the refreshments, the girls all said how bad they felt for her and how embarrassing it must be not to be able to pick out your own things.
Ethel would’ve died if she’d known.
And the clothes. Making due with my old hats and coats — fiddling with hems, buttons and dye trying to make them look new — or at least like they didn’t come from my closet! Still, it didn’t take long for the girls to catch on…Ethel’s last name would have to be Dior to have pulled that off!
She never gave up though. Every couple of weeks, Ethel would tell me about her latest struggle to get Fred to cough up the price of a dress (even half-off!) or a permanent. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it was a losing battle… learned how to give herself a home perm…pretty good at it too, now…still can’t touch Henri’s, of course, but pretty good. And she’s been able to get some fairly decent bargain-basement stuff by pocketing some of the grocery money and buying Fred the cheapest of everything, especially meat. No wonder he complains! But he certainly deserves, er…deserved, it.
Ethel always did do most of the work around here, thought Lucy, angrily blowing smoke, smothering the cheap perfume — collecting and depositing the rents, keeping the books, inspecting, cleaning and showing apartments — and acting as a buffer when tenants demanded to know what had happened to an ancient repair request. Fred preferred napping to filling those.
Except for that day about a week before he died. Our bridge game broke up early and I found him WITH his tool kit in our apartment. He had promised to fix the garbage disposal months ago but kept “forgetting” as usual. Then, out of the blue, he’d fixed it. Left in a hurry, too. That wasn’t like Fred either….he liked to stand around jawing, mooching food and putting off the next job.
Later, as I was going into the kitchen to make dinner, something white caught my eye. It was the corner of a racing form that looked like it had been shoved under the sofa cushion in a hurry. That, plus the phone being out of place and the way Fred had acted earlier, made me wonder if he’d been placing bets from our apartment.
I should have suspected something when Ethel proudly announced that Fred had been a big help to her lately: he had voluntarily taken over the collecting and depositing of the rent money. He also appeared to be developing a soft side because he’d mentioned letting several tenants who were in a bad way slide. I tried to get her to say who, but she said she didn’t know; Fred had been very vague about it. Ethel said she thought it was very gentlemanly of him and she couldn’t remember when he had pleased her so much.
She had also confided feeling horribly guilty; she’d been on the verge of accusing him of dipping into the emergency money she kept in the china sugar-bowl. How could she have thought he’d stoop so low, when he was being so helpful and selfless? Then she laughed and admitted her memory wasn’t what it used to be and she’d probably forgotten the amount she’d put in it in the first place.
She was going to have to start writing notes to herself to remind her what was what.
Lucy had hesitated about going to Ethel with her suspicions. If she was wrong, it might cost her her best friend. If she was right, things between tenant and landlord could (and probably would) get very uncomfortable.
But then Fred had died and that took care of that. She wouldn’t tell Ethel. Fred could rest in peace.
Lucy dialed Ethel again, let it ring ten times, hung up and re-dialed, thinking she might have made a mistake. Figures. I probably missed her by a minute. I’ll try her after Ricky leaves for the club.
Won’t that darn phone ever stop ringing?
Ethel had periodically taken the phone off the receiver to give herself a break from several well-meaning friends, but she couldn’t just leave it off
— somebody used to jumping to ridiculous conclusions might think she had killed herself over Fred and show up with the police! That would be just like Lucy. She was certain this current annoyance was Lucy (she was the only one with the chutzpah to let it ring ten times), and was equally certain she could keep it up for hours. With her nosiness, hare-brained schemes and lack of normal consideration, Lucy could be a real pip of a friend sometimes. There she goes again! She’s driving me crazy!
Ethel pulled open a drawer of sweaters and pushed them aside to make room for the phone. Hoping to at least muffle any further outbursts, she piled layers of wool over and around it and shut the drawer.
As she leaned back against the dresser and closed her eyes, Ethel began to feel the relief that was always the happy result of shutting the door behind Lucy. Eyes open, she reached for her whisky sour. She’d made a pitcher-full after breakfast. Now that Fred was gone, so were all his bottles of prune juice and beer and the space they took up. There was plenty of room, now, for pitchers. Ethel thought it was a much better use of space.
She fluffed up some pillows, kicked off her shoes and lay back on, what was now solely her bed, to relax. No more drafts and sleeping on the edge of the mattress while somebody else hogs the blankets and the bed, snores to beat the band and then complains all the next day about what a bad night’s sleep he got. She grimaced at the valley-like depression that marked what used to be his side of the bed. Time for a new bed.
Ethel gulped her drink. That closet’s all mine too. She smiled as she looked at its empty hangers and clean floor. With Fred’s stuff gone and my ratty, old things burned, it certainly seems roomy. She chuckled — that was one trip to the incinerator she’d enjoyed! This time I’ll fill it the WAY I want, with WHAT I want, without asking anybody’s permission or begging for a few dollars just to get some reject from the “bargain basement.” (I’ll never have to go there again.)
Ethel’s glance came to rest upon a small mountain of hat, shoe and dress boxes next to the dresser. It’s a start…but only a start. Won’t they be jealous? I heard what they said when they thought I was out of earshot. It’s too bad I burnt everything — I could’ve offered Lucy some castoffs and see how she liked it!
She lifted a newly purchased rose out of its equally new bud vase and breathed in the sweet scent–it reminded her of ripe peaches. Fred had only given her flowers when they were courting–once they were married they (like so many other enjoyable things) were “a waste of money.” If he could only see what I’m “wasting” money on now! The old goat’s eyes would pop right out of his head! Ethel took another gulp of her drink and picked up a home decorating catalog, pausing to stare at her freshly manicured and polished nails. They didn’t look like her hands.
Pretty soon you won’t even notice ’em. A standing appointment every week. Even Lucy doesn’t go that often. Out of habit, Ethel raised her hand, to try to pat her usually drooping home perm into place, when she caught herself. Her fingers couldn’t believe the pert curls of her recent, long-desired permanent were hers.
“What do ya want to go wasting all my hard-earned money for?” yelled Fred when approached for money for the hairdresser’s.
“It don’t last; you’re just gonna want another in a couple a months — it’s a waste!” She made a face as she mimicked him and stuck out her tongue at the end. Well Fred, it may not be permanent, but neither were you!
Eddie Tanner toweled himself off with a thick, white hotel towel. The cold shower had finally jump-started his brain. He squinted at his clock–6:30. Starting to get dark out. He was just waking up.
He slathered on the shaving cream and began to shave with quick, sure strokes. Too quick; he cut himself. Eddie laughed and pinched the skin until it stopped bleeding. Then he ran his styptic pencil over the cut again and again, sealing it. He picked up the razor, rinsed it off and resumed shaving with the same speed as before. (Eddie couldn’t be bothered by cuts; he had business to attend to.
First, the boys. He flung himself on his bed and dialed.
“Tony? Eddie. I want you and the boys to come over later so we can discuss our plans for this evening.”
Tony laughed. “‘Discuss…for this evening’…gettin’ a little formal, ain’t ya Eddie?”
“Not at all, Anthony. Recent experience has shown me one can’t be too careful.” He dropped the refined diction and his voice returned to its normal threatening tone.
“Yeah. Sure, Eddie. When do ya want us?”
“Let’s say eleven — go on in if I’m not back and make sure you bring everything and everyone with you.”
“Right, Eddie. See ya.”
Eddie hung up and lit a cigarette. It paid to watch what you said on the phone. He took a deep drag and slowly exhaled. Yep, smarter to head off a problem than to deal with one. He and the boys could plan to their heart’s content in his apartment without any fear of being overheard. Now that Fred was out of the way.
What could that old guy have been thinking? Eddie laughed and flicked his ashes onto the Mertz’s dirty, worn carpet. He didn’t know who he was dealing with.
Look for the story’s conclusion in Part 3!
Copyright: Karen Adkins
Look for Part 2!
Another of our scary stories for kids
From the Captivating app on Android, and the web app CaptivatedChat.com
[The next morning]
[14 hours later]
Be sure to read Part 2!
Look for PART 2.
[15 Minutes later]
[Twenty minutes later]
By Karen Adkins
Sylvia stretched and wriggled her toes, still pleasantly aware of wearing slippers at ten a.m. Retirement agreed with her. Being home agreed with her. She took another sip of coffee and looked happily around the kitchen. After years of re-modeling and re-decorating, everything was exactly the way she wanted it.
Recalling the junk she had thrown away, she wished every irritation could be disposed of as easily. She had in mind a particularly nettlesome one: her neighbor Agnes Braxton.
Agnes was an annoying woman who always scheduled noisy outdoor projects for the break of day, often on Saturdays and, almost psychically, on her neighbor’s days off. Also, she conducted one sprawling, ongoing garage sale from April to December.
Agnes would wrap up business early in the evenings so she could get what she dubbed her “beauty sleep.” Her calls complaining about Harry’s barking, other sounds and bright lights could be expected shortly after eight o’clock.
For once Agnes’ early-to-bed habit was about to benefit, rather than disturb, her neighbor.
Walking Harry, a wire-haired terrier, Sylvia checked to see if Agnes’s lights were out. All but one. She always left the light in the bathroom turned on “so burglars will think someone’s awake.”
By eleven-thirty, the surrounding homes would be dark, despite Mrs. Braxton’s complaints of late-night parties. At midnight, Sylvia slipped out her freshly oiled side door, crept close along her juniper bushes, then darted across her neighbor’s yard and onto the front porch. Patches of ice still remained there.
Sylvia planned to turn the woman’s front porch into a skating rink and cause one of those accidents she had read about so often. She laid a section of her garden soaker-hose over the porch, supported by a pair of stone gnomes. She turned it on.
Sylvia had found it all too easy to get used to sleeping late again. She had to force herself to open her eyes and keep them open. Ten-thirty! She jumped out of bed and tore open her curtains. Nothing had happened. The street was deserted.
She pulled on sweats, attached Harry to his leash, and strolled out. To Harry’s dismay, Sylvia stopped abruptly. Everything was melting — it must be at least forty degrees!
She had called for the latest forecast before setting her plan in motion. The robust voice had advised her to expect “flurries tonight and much colder temperatures toward morning, well-below freezing, and wind chills in the single digits.
“What did we ever do to deserve such great weather?,” asked Mrs. Darby brightly as she surveyed the world from her driveway.
“Just lucky I guess.”
Returning home, Sylvia noticed the light flashing on her answering machine. So she pressed the message button releasing a booming voice.
“Hello? Are you there? (A large pause. . .I know you’re there, pick up the phone!) This is Connie Braxton. (Another pause. . .now that you know it’s me, I’m sure you’ll want to pick up.) Aunt Agnes had an accident. . .she fell down the escalator at the mall. They took her away in an ambulance! It was just a bad sprained leg and some deep bruises. Of course, she’ll be on crutches and painkillers for a while. I know you’ll want to get her mail and help her out. Aunt Agnes said you wouldn’t mind, with all the time you have on your hands now. Bye-bye.”
She watched the light blink, dumbly. Her plan ruined, only to be drafted to help Agnes. Pushiness thy name is Braxton! She considered her next move.
Sylvia’s mind drifted back to last summer:
“What are you up to Syl? Pulling weeds I hope. I was wondering why I have so many dandelions this year. . .must’ve come from your yard. While you’re at it, yank those tiger lilies—they’re over for the year—I wish you’d dig ’em up and plant something nice.
Now that the pain was lessening, Sylvia could think. Press your advantage; she’ll be more wobbly than ever; any accident now will be put down to her injury.
Many of the next-door neighbors held each other’s key as insurance against being locked out; Sylvia had Agnes Braxton’s.
The rusty black box sporting the name BRAXTON in curling plastic letters was stuffed with catalogs, bills and ads. No letters.
She remembered the times Agnes had said she was so sorry but the mail carrier must have made a mistake. She’d already opened it before realizing it wasn’t addressed to her.
Now Sylvia let herself in, dropped the mail on a dusty entry table and went into the kitchen.
Dirty coffee cups smeared with lipstick dotted the counter and table. Smatters of dried egg and bits of burnt toast decorated dishes stacked in the sink.
In the midst of the clutter, four throw-rugs caught her attention. The worn chenille had not been attractive when new. She tested one rug with her foot. It immediately bunched and slid forward. Sylvia knew just what would set things in motion: the silicone spray she used to lubricate her treadmill.
But how could she get Agnes to come out here? She needed her to come tearing into the room, not paying attention to what she was doing. She would not be moving around much, let alone racing into rooms.
Something would have to demand her attention. Something impossible to ignore. The smoke detector!
She had seen one in the kitchen. It didn’t take much to set these older models off: dust, a wisp of smoke or steam from the stove. The ear-splitting noise had led many people to remove the batteries, including Mrs. Braxton.
Sylvia wondered whether she had the right batteries at home. Her gaze wandered to an empty humidifier. Its mist could set off the smoke detector. The rugs could be arranged just so. Hurriedly, she straightened the room. She refilled the humidifier and then darted home, undetected.
She gave Harry food and water and retrieved the silicone spray and some thin latex gloves. Next she found a fresh battery. She shoved everything in her coat pockets and popped next door.
Sylvia took a stepladder from the laundry room. She climbed up, attached the battery and pressed a button. The shrieking was immediate. After resetting the detector, she returned the ladder and took out the silicone. She sprayed the linoleum and rearranged the rugs in the path to the detector.
While admiring her handiwork, she heard a car pull up. From the peephole, she watched Connie attempt to help her aunt out of the car.
Sylvia bounded outside. “Sorry to hear about your accident, Agnes. How do you feel?”
“How d’ja think I feel? Damn pills. Want to go to bed.”
Connie rolled her eyes and muttered: “She’s a load.”
“Stop griping and let’s go. I’m cold,” snapped Agnes.
Connie looked as though she might use what energy she had left to push her aunt onto the driveway before peeling out.
“I’ll get her inside,” Sylvia said quickly. She offered a shoulder and arm to Mrs. Braxton who leaned on them heavily.
Connie fished around in her aunt’s bag for her medicine with no success until, exasperated, she took it to the more brightly lit bathroom and dumped it on the counter.
“It says `take one pill every four hours,’” yelled Connie. “I’ll get some water.”
“If that doctor thinks I’m wakin’ up just to take his damn pills,” said Agnes.
Connie returned with the water and medicine.
“I heard that. Just take this pill and I’ll set your alarm for four hours. You must follow the doctor’s instructions,” said Connie.
“I can cope,” mumbled Agnes. “Gonna sleep late. I’ll call when I want you.”
“I’d be glad to check on her tomorrow morning.”
“Thanks Sylvia, but I have some early errands to run anyway.”
“Quit gabbing and go! I’m tired!”
They laughed their way to the front door as Connie regaled her with a less-than-flattering anecdote about Aunt Agnes.
“I’ll lock up.”
Sylvia waved as Connie sped away. Then, she turned off all but the kitchen light and glanced at the clock. The second hand lurched between ceramic bunches of now-gray grapes. Her gloved hand switched on the humidifier, pointed the nozzle at the smoke detector and adjusted the mist to high. She turned off the light and locked the door behind her.
Sylvia made coffee and waited. She wasn’t sure how long it would take. She decided she’d return in two hours. If her plan failed and Mrs. Braxton was still alive, she’d say she’d come to check on her. If her plan succeeded, everything would have to be cleaned up and put back. Nothing must seem out of place.
She tried to read but couldn’t concentrate. The coffee wasn’t helping her nerves. How could she have thought she’d need it to stay awake? She began to pace and, with increasing frequency, to stare out her bedroom window at Mrs. Braxton’s house.
The house sat as quiet and dark as any other on the street. An hour crept to an end. Sylvia couldn’t stand it any longer. She would get Harry and take a closer look from outside. Then “hearing something,” and being the good and concerned neighbor she was, she’d go in to check on Mrs. Braxton.
Harry strained at his leash, determined to go everywhere, smell everything and claim new territory. Sylvia struck a pose of annoyance mixed with boredom at being dragged out of bed at this hour by her dog, in case any wayward neighbor might be driving by or looking out a window on the way to get an antacid. She was anything but bored, however, and all her senses were primed for any clue as to what was happening next door. But it was no use. The only one getting anything out of this expedition was Harry. She couldn’t detect anything from the front.
Harry didn’t need any prodding to redirect his operations to the back of the house.
The kitchen window shouldn’t be dark. She should have turned on the light when she went to disconnect the alarm. So what is going on?
Sylvia took Harry home, then returned and let herself in through the back door. The only sound she heard was the muffled whooshing of the furnace. From the kitchen doorway, she saw the steady stream of mist continue its climb towards the smoke detector. On the floor lay an overturned stepladder and a crumpled heap of flannel that had once been Mrs. Braxton.
It had worked. Finally.
“I wondered when you’d get here,” said a familiar voice from the darkened living room.
Sylvia jumped. Trying to keep her voice calm, she said, “I didn’t know you were here, Connie…I was out walking Harry and thought I heard a noise so I came over…”
“To check on my poor aunt,” Connie finished. “That’s very neighborly of you. I think that’s the main reason I’m going to enjoy living here. . .the neighborliness.”
“My aunt objected to relatives living too nearby, but that obstacle has been removed…thanks to you.”
“Me? I was just coming by to check on her and see about the noise…”
“Oh yes, the noise,” said Connie as she shifted her position on the couch and drew her aunt’s afghan closer around her. “Do you think it might have come from something like this?”
Connie held up something small that Sylvia had trouble making out. She had a sinking feeling she knew what it was.
“In case your eyes haven’t adjusted, it’s the battery you installed in the smoke detector tonight.”
“Don’t interrupt,” snapped Connie. “She always used to interrupt: another of my aunt’s lovable traits. The smoke detector used to go off while she was cooking, so she disabled it years ago. Said she’d rather take her chances. But when I came by to check on her, it was blaring away.
I found her on the floor. Thought she must’ve lost her balance, but when I got out the stepladder to stop the noise, I slipped on one of those damn throw rugs I’ve been asking her to get rid of for years and almost broke my neck.”
Sylvia, who was periodically wiping her sweaty hands on her jacket and eyeing the nearest door, managed an “oh?”
“When I went to put the rug back, I slipped again and noticed the floor there was slick. I checked under the other rugs and found the same thing. I assume that’s your doing, also? It sure isn’t from cleaning. My aunt was never one for cleanliness…I don’t know the last time she mopped the linoleum. A lot will have to be done to bring this place up to my standards.”
Sylvia could only nod as though hypnotized. Connie seemed to know everything; what was the point of denying it?
“I don’t see any reason why you should have to spend your retirement in prison…if you do as I say.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Sylvia eased herself carefully onto her couch, groaning as she did so. She was stiff and sore all over, as if she’d been in a gardening marathon. She was engaged in a type of marathon, though it involved nothing as enjoyable as gardening. Every day now, beginning at dawn, she started a long-distance relay race whose seemingly unreachable goal was to carry out Connie’s wishes.
Connie’s wishes, her orders, were relentless and exacting. From morning til night Sylvia had to divide her time between the moderate sprucing up of Connie’s soon-to-be previous residence and the extensive, cleaning, repainting and redecorating required to make Agnes Braxton’s home habitable.
It was just past nine now; pleased with her progress, Connie had let her knock off early.
A real treat, thought Sylvia, bitterly sipping her cup of decaf. She gathered a week’s worth of unread newspapers toward her and began skimming them, starting with the oldest. In a matter of minutes she tossed it aside. The news was stale. The radio she listened to while working kept her abreast of major stories. She was just looking for items of local interest: weddings, divorces, births, deaths. A couple more, then bed. (Now that mornings were so ridiculously early, bedtime had to be too.)
Sylvia skimmed several more papers and yawned. Responding to the noise, Harry rearranged himself on the floor but still slept with his back to her, silently protesting all the recent departures from his routine.
Sylvia was about to toss the last paper on the pile when a small item caught her eye: “Accidental overdose causes death.”
She read on: “The coroner’s jury, Wednesday, ruled an accidental overdose was the cause of death of Agnes Braxton, age 76. Braxton was found dead in her home at 64 Laurel Lane, February 23. Autopsy results indicated an overdose of a painkiller recently prescribed for injuries received in a fall. Interviews with relatives led to the verdict of accidental overdose.”
Sylvia was suddenly wide awake. An overdose killed her, not the fall. She read it again. There was no mention of injuries from a fall as the cause, or even a contributing cause, of death.
She took another gulp of coffee. Sylvia tried to recall exactly what happened when they were getting Agnes ready for bed. She remembered Connie saying something about how often the doctor wanted her to take the pills, then Agnes arguing, Connie bringing in the medicine and the water to take it with…
“Interviews with relatives led to the verdict…”
Connie had been Agnes Braxton’s only living relative. And she had handled the medicine. And the water. Plus she was there waiting for Sylvia that night. And wasn’t Connie with Agnes when she had that fall on the escalator?
Sylvia jumped up and began to do a little jig, until her sore muscles reminded her who was boss. She was free!
Tomorrow she would sleep in. Have a big breakfast. Read the morning paper at an unhurried pace. Not dress until noon. When Connie called, threatening her for being late, Sylvia would inform her she had recently caught up on her reading and found it most interesting. So would her attorney if ever anything should happen to her.
Sylvia smiled and (painfully) bent down to pat Harry before turning out the light.
So, Connie Braxton was going to be living next door.
Did she say living?
© Karen Adkins
By M.R. James
SHARE VIA SOCIAL MEDIA
Among the towns of Jutland, Viborg justly holds a high place. It has a lake of great beauty and nearby is Hald, another of the prettiest things in Denmark. Hard by is Finderup, where Marsk Stig murdered King Erik Glipping on Saint Cecilia’s Day, in the year 1286. Fifty-six blows of square-headed iron maces were traced on Erik’s skull when his tomb was opened in the seventeenth century. But I am not writing a guide-book.
There are good hotels in Viborg — Preisler’s and the Phœnix are all that can be desired. But my cousin whose experiences I have to tell you now, instead went to the Golden Lion the first time he visited Viborg. He has not been there since, and this story will explain why.
The Golden Lion is one of the few houses not destroyed in the great fire of 1726, which practically demolished the cathedral, the Sognekirke, the Raadhuus, and so much else that was old and interesting. It is a great, red-brick house.
The sun was declining when my cousin walked up to the door, and the light shined full upon the imposing façade of the house. He was delighted with the old-fashioned aspect of the place, and promised himself a thoroughly satisfactory and amusing stay at an inn so typical of old Jutland.
It was not any ordinary business that had brought Anderson to Viborg. He was engaged upon some researches in Danish history, and it had come to his knowledge that in the Rigsarkiv of Viborg there were papers, saved from the fire, relating to the last days of Roman Catholicism in the country. He proposed, therefore, to spend a considerable time—perhaps as much as a fortnight or three weeks—in examining and copying these.
So he hoped that the Golden Lion could give him a room of sufficient size to serve alike as a bedroom and a study. His wishes were explained to the landlord, and, after a certain amount of thought, the latter suggested that perhaps it might be the best way for the gentleman to look at one or two of the larger rooms and pick one for himself. It seemed a good idea.
The top floor was soon rejected as entailing too much effort getting upstairs after the day’s work; the second floor contained no room of exactly the dimensions required; but on the first floor there was a choice of two or three rooms that would, so far as size went, suit admirably.
The landlord strongly favoured Number 17, but Mr. Anderson pointed out that its windows commanded only the blank wall of the next house, and that it would be very dark in the afternoon. Either Number 12 or Number 14 would be better, for both looked on the street, and the bright evening light and the pretty view would more than compensate him for the additional noise.
Eventually Number 12 was selected. Like its neighbours, it had three windows, all on one side of the room. It was fairly high and long. There was no fireplace, but the stove was handsome and old—of cast-iron construction, on the side of which was a representation of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and the inscription, “1 Bog Mose, Cap. 22,” above. Nothing else in the room was remarkable; the only interesting picture was a colour print of the town from about 1820.
Supper-time was approaching, but when Anderson, refreshed by the ordinary ablutions, descended the staircase, there were still a few minutes before the bell rang. He devoted them to examining the list of his fellow-lodgers. As usual in Denmark, their names were displayed on a large blackboard, divided into columns and lines, the room numbers painted in at the beginning of each line. The list was not exciting. There was an advocate, or Sagförer, a German, and some bagmen from Copenhagen.
The only point that suggested any food for thought was the absence of Number 13 from the tale of the rooms, and even this was something Anderson had already noticed half a dozen times in Danish hotels. He could not help wondering whether the objection to that particular number, common as it is, was so widespread and so strong as to make it difficult to let a room so ticketed, and he resolved to ask the landlord if he and his colleagues in the profession had actually met with many clients who refused to be accommodated in the thirteenth room.
He had nothing to tell me (I am giving the story as I heard it from him) about what passed at supper, and the evening. It was spent in unpacking and arranging his clothes, books, and papers, and was not more eventful.
Toward eleven o’clock he resolved to go to bed, but an almost necessary preliminary to sleep for him was the reading of a few pages of print. He remembered that the book he had been reading in the train, and which alone would satisfy him now, was in the pocket of his greatcoat, then hanging on a peg outside the dining-room.
To run down and secure it was the work of a moment, and, as the passages were by no means dark, it was not difficult for him to find his way back to his own door. So, at least, he thought; but when he arrived there, and turned the handle, the door entirely refused to open, and he caught the sound of a hasty movement toward it from within. He had tried the wrong door, of course. Was his own room to the right or to the left? He glanced at the number: it was 13. His room would be on the left; and so it was.
Not before he had been in bed for some minutes, had read his wonted three or four pages of his book, blown out his light, and turned over to go to sleep, did it occur to him that there had been a room 13. Whereas on the blackboard of the hotel there had been no Number 13, there was undoubtedly a room numbered 13 in the hotel. He felt rather sorry he had not chosen it for his own. Perhaps he might have done the landlord a little service by occupying it, and given him the chance of saying that a well-worn English gentleman had lived in it for three weeks and liked it very much. But probably it was used as a servant’s room or something of the kind. After all, it was most likely not so large or good a room as his own. And he looked drowsily about the room, which was fairly perceptible in the half-light from the street-lamp. It was a curious effect, he thought. Rooms usually look larger in a dim light than a full one, but this seemed to have contracted in length and grown proportionately higher. Well, well! sleep was more important than these vague ruminations—and to sleep he went.
On the day after his arrival, Anderson attacked the Rigsarkiv of Viborg. He was, as one might expect in Denmark, kindly received, and access to all that he wished to see was made as easy for him as possible. The documents laid before him were far more numerous and interesting than he had at all anticipated.
Besides official papers, there was a large bundle of correspondence relating to Bishop Jörgen Friis, the last Roman Catholic who held the see, and in these there cropped up many amusing and “intimate” details of private life and individual character.
He was a disgrace, some said, to the city; he practised secret and wicked arts, and had sold his soul to the enemy.
Anderson had not time to do more than glance at the next letter of the Protestant leader, Rasmus Nielsen, before the record office was closed for the day, but he gathered its general tenor, which was to the effect that Christian men were now no longer bound by the decisions of Bishops of Rome, and that the Bishop’s Court was not, and could not be, a fit or competent tribunal to judge so grave and weighty a cause.
On leaving the office, Mr. Anderson was accompanied by the old gentleman who presided over it, and, as they walked, the conversation very naturally turned to the papers of which I have just been speaking.
Herr Scavenius, the Archivist of Viborg, though very well informed as to the general run of the documents under his charge, was not a specialist in those of the Reformation period. He was much interested in what Anderson had to tell him about them. He looked forward with pleasure, he said, to seeing the publication in which Mr. Anderson spoke of embodying their contents. “This house of the Bishop Friis,” he added, “it is a great puzzle to me where it can have stood. I have studied carefully the topography of old Viborg, but it is most unlucky—of the old terrier of the Bishop’s property that was made in 1560, and of which we have the greater part in the Arkiv, just the piece which had the list of the town property is missing. Never mind. Perhaps I shall some day succeed to find him.”
After taking some exercise—I forget exactly how or where — Anderson went back to the Golden Lion, his supper, his game of patience, and his bed. On the way to his room it occurred to him that he had forgotten to talk to the landlord about the omission of Number 13 from the hotel board, and also that he might as well make sure that Number 13 did actually exist before he made any reference to the matter.
The decision was not difficult. There was the door with its number as plain as could be, and work of some kind was evidently going on inside it, for as he neared the door he could hear footsteps and voices, or a voice, within. During the few seconds in which he halted to make sure of the number, the footsteps ceased, seemingly very near the door, and he was a little startled at hearing a quick hissing breathing as of a person in strong excitement. He went on to his own room, and again he was surprised to find how much smaller it seemed now than it had when he selected it. It was a slight disappointment, but only slight. If he found it really not large enough, he could very easily shift to another.
In the meantime he wanted something—as far as I remember it was a pocket handkerchief—out of his portmanteau, which had been placed by the porter on a very inadequate trestle or stool against the wall at the furthest end of the room from his bed. Here was a very curious thing: the portmanteau was not to be seen. It had been moved by officious servants; doubtless the contents had been put in the wardrobe. No, none of them were there.
This was vexatious. The idea of a theft he dismissed at once. Such things rarely happen in Denmark, but some piece of stupidity had certainly been performed (which is not so uncommon), and the stuepige must be severely spoken to. Whatever it was that he wanted, it was not so necessary to his comfort that he could not wait till the morning for it, and he therefore settled not to ring the bell and disturb the servants. He went to the window—the right-hand window it was—and looked out on the quiet street. There was a tall building opposite, with large spaces of dead wall; no passers by; a dark night; and very little to be seen of any kind.
The light was behind him, and he could see his own shadow clearly cast on the wall opposite. Also he saw the shadow of the bearded man in Number 11 on the left, who passed to and fro in shirt sleeves once or twice. He was seen first brushing his hair, and later on in a nightgown.
Anderson also saw the shadow of the occupant of Number 13 on the right. This might be more interesting. Number 13 was, like himself, leaning on his elbows on the window-sill looking out into the street. He seemed to be a tall thin man — or was it by any chance a woman? At least it was someone who covered his or her head with some kind of drapery before going to bed, and, he thought, must be possessed of a red lamp-shade — and the lamp must be flickering very much. There was a distinct playing up and down of a dull red light on the opposite wall. He craned out a little to see if he could make any more of the figure, but beyond a fold of some light, perhaps white, material on the window-sill he could see nothing.
Now came a distant step in the street, and its approach seemed to recall Number 13 to a sense of his exposed position. Thus he suddenly swept aside from the window, and his red light went out. Anderson, who had been smoking a cigarette, laid the end of it on the window-sill and went to bed.
Next morning he was woke by the stuepige with hot water, etc. He roused himself, and after thinking out the correct Danish words, said as distinctly as he could:
“You must not move my portmanteau. Where is it?”
As is not uncommon, the maid laughed, and went away without making any distinct answer.
Anderson, rather irritated, sat up in bed, intending to call her back, but he remained sitting up, staring straight in front of him. There was his portmanteau on its trestle, exactly where he had seen the porter put it when he first arrived. This was a rude shock for a man who prided himself on his accuracy of observation. How it could possibly have escaped him the night before he did not pretend to understand; at any rate, there it was now.
The daylight showed more than the portmanteau; it let the true proportions of the room with its three windows appear, and satisfied its tenant that his choice after all had not been a bad one.
When he was almost dressed he walked to the middle one of the three windows to look out at the weather. Another shock awaited him. Strangely unobservant he must have been last night. He could have sworn ten times over that he had been smoking at the right-hand window the last thing before he went to bed, and here was his cigarette-end on the sill of the middle window.
He started to go down to breakfast. Rather late, but Number 13 was later: here were his boots still outside his door—a gentleman’s boots. So then Number 13 was a man, not a woman. Just then he caught sight of the number on the door. It was 14. He thought he must have passed Number 13 without noticing it. Three stupid mistakes in twelve hours were too much for a methodical, accurate-minded man, so he turned back to make sure. The next number to 14 was number 12, his own room. There was no Number 13 at all.
After some minutes devoted to a careful consideration of everything he had had to eat and drink during the last twenty-four hours, Anderson decided to give the question up. If his eyes or his brain were giving way he would have plenty of opportunities for ascertaining that fact; if not, then he was evidently being treated to a very interesting experience. In either case the development of events would certainly be worth watching.
During the day he continued his examination of the episcopal correspondence which I have already summarized. To his disappointment, it was incomplete. Only one other letter could be found that referred to the affair of Mag. Nicolas Francken. It was from the Bishop Jörgen Friis to Rasmus Nielsen. He said:
“Although we are not in the least degree inclined to assent to your judgment concerning our court, and shall be prepared if need be to withstand you to the uttermost in that behalf, yet forasmuch as our trusty and well-beloved Mag. Nicolas Francken, against whom you have dared to allege certain false and malicious charges, hath been suddenly removed from among us, it is apparent that the question for this term falls. But forasmuch as you further allege that the Apostle and Evangelist St. John in his heavenly Apocalypse describes the Holy Roman Church under the guise and symbol of the Scarlet Woman, be it known to you,” etc.
Search as he would, Anderson could find no sequel to this letter nor any clue to the cause or manner of the “removal” of the casus belli. He could only suppose that Francken had died suddenly; and as there were only two days between the date of Nielsen’s last letter—when Francken was evidently still in being—and that of the Bishop’s letter, the death must have been completely unexpected.
In the afternoon he paid a short visit to Hald, and took his tea at Baekkelund; nor could he notice, though he was in a somewhat nervous frame of mind, that there was any indication of such a failure of eye or brain as his experiences of the morning had led him to fear.
At supper he found himself next to the landlord.
“What,” he asked him, after some indifferent conversation, “is the reason why in most of the hotels one visits in this country the number thirteen is left out of the list of rooms? I see you have none here.”
The landlord seemed amused.
“To think that you should have noticed a thing like that! I’ve thought about it once or twice, myself, to tell the truth. An educated man, I’ve said, has no business with these superstitious notions. I was brought up myself here in the high school of Viborg, and our old master was always a man to set his face against anything of that kind. He’s been dead now this many years—a fine upstanding man he was, and ready with his hands as well as his head. I recollect us boys, one snowy day—”
Here he plunged into reminiscence.
“Then you don’t think there is any particular objection to having a Number 13?” said Anderson.
“Ah! to be sure. Well, you understand, I was brought up to the business by my poor old father. He kept an hotel in Aarhuus first, and then, when we were born, he moved to Viborg here, which was his native place, and had the Phœnix here until he died. That was in 1876. Then I started business in Silkeborg, and only the year before last I moved into this house.”
Then followed more details as to the state of the house and business when first taken over.
“And when you came here, was there a Number 13?”
“No, no. I was going to tell you about that. You see, in a place like this, the commercial class—the travellers—are what we have to provide for in general. And put them in Number 13? Why, they’d as soon sleep in the street, or sooner. As far as I’m concerned myself, it wouldn’t make a penny difference to me what the number of my room was, and so I’ve often said to them; but they stick to it that it brings them bad luck. Quantities of stories they have among them of men that have slept in a Number 13 and never been the same again, or lost their best customers, or—one thing and another,” said the landlord, after searching for a more graphic phrase.
“Then, what do you use your Number 13 for?” said Anderson, conscious as he said the words of a curious anxiety quite disproportionate to the importance of the question.
“My Number 13? Why, don’t I tell you that there isn’t such a thing in the house? I thought you might have noticed that. If there was it would be next door to your own room.”
“Well, yes; only I happened to think—that is, I fancied last night that I had seen a door numbered thirteen in that passage; and, really, I am almost certain I must have been right, for I saw it the night before as well.”
Of course, Herr Kristensen laughed this notion to scorn, as Anderson had expected, and emphasized with much iteration the fact that no Number 13 existed or had existed before him in that hotel.
Anderson was in some ways relieved by his certainty, but still puzzled, and he began to think that the best way to make sure whether he had indeed been subject to an illusion or not was to invite the landlord to his room to smoke a cigar later on in the evening. Some photographs of English towns which he had with him formed a sufficiently good excuse.
Herr Kristensen was flattered by the invitation, and most willingly accepted it. At about ten o’clock he was to make his appearance, but before that Anderson had some letters to write, and retired for the purpose of writing them. He almost blushed to himself at confessing it, but he could not deny that it was the fact that he was becoming quite nervous about the question of the existence of Number 13; so much so that he approached his room by way of Number 11, in order that he might not be obliged to pass the door, or the place where the door ought to be. He looked quickly and suspiciously about the room when he entered it, but there was nothing beyond that indefinable air of being smaller than usual, to warrant any misgivings. There was no question of the presence or absence of his portmanteau to-night. He had himself emptied it of its contents and lodged it under his bed. With a certain effort he dismissed the thought of Number 13 from his mind, and sat down to his writing.
His neighbours were quiet enough. Occasionally a door opened in the passage and a pair of boots was thrown out, or a bagman walked past humming to himself, and outside, from time to time a cart thundered over the atrocious cobble-stones, or a quick step hurried along the flags.
Anderson finished his letters, ordered in whiskey and soda, and then went to the window and studied the dead wall opposite and the shadows upon it.
As far as he could remember, Number 14 had been occupied by the lawyer, a staid man, who said little at meals, being generally engaged in studying a small bundle of papers beside his plate. Apparently, however, he was in the habit of giving vent to his animal spirits when alone. Why else should he be dancing? The shadow from the next room evidently showed that he was. Again and again his thin form crossed the window, his arms waved, and a gaunt leg was kicked up with surprising agility. He seemed to be barefooted, and the floor must be well laid, for no sound betrayed his movements. Sagförer Herr Anders Jensen, dancing at ten o’clock at night in a hotel bedroom, seemed a fitting subject for a historical painting in the grand style; and Anderson’s thoughts, like those of Emily in the “Mysteries of Udolpho,” began to “arrange themselves in the following lines”:
“When I return to my hotel,
At ten o’clock P.M.,
The waiters think I am unwell;
I do not care for them.
But when I’ve locked my chamber door,
And put my boots outside,
I dance all night upon the floor.
And even if my neighbours swore,
I’d go on dancing all the more,
For I’m acquainted with the law,
And in despite of all their jaw,
Their protests I deride.”
Had not the landlord at this moment knocked at the door, it is probable that quite a long poem might have been laid before the reader. To judge from his look of surprise when he found himself in the room, Herr Kristensen was struck, as Anderson had been, by something unusual in its aspect. But he made no remark. Anderson’s photographs interested him mightily, and formed the text of many autobiographical discourses. Nor is it quite clear how the conversation could have been diverted into the desired channel of Number 13, had not the lawyer at this moment begun to sing, and to sing in a manner which could leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was either exceedingly drunk or raving mad. It was a high, thin voice that they heard, and it seemed dry, as if from long disuse. Of words or tune there was no question. It went sailing up to a surprising height, and was carried down with a despairing moan as of a winter wind in a hollow chimney, or an organ whose wind fails suddenly. It was a really horrible sound, and Anderson felt that if he had been alone he must have fled for refuge and society to some neighbour bagman’s room.
The landlord sat open-mouthed.
“I don’t understand it,” he said at last, wiping his forehead. “It is dreadful. I have heard it once before, but I made sure it was a cat.”
“Is he mad?” said Anderson.
“He must be; and what a sad thing! Such a good customer, too, and so successful in his business, by what I hear, and a young family to bring up.”
Just then came an impatient knock at the door, and the knocker entered, without waiting to be asked. It was the lawyer, in deshabille and very rough-haired; and very angry he looked.
“I beg pardon, sir,” he said, “but I should be much obliged if you would kindly desist—”
Here he stopped, for it was evident that neither of the persons before him was responsible for the disturbance; and after a moment’s lull it swelled forth again more wildly than before.
“But what in the name of Heaven does it mean?” broke out the lawyer. “Where is it? Who is it? Am I going out of my mind?”
“Surely, Herr Jensen, it comes from your room next door? Isn’t there a cat or something stuck in the chimney?”
This was the best that occurred to Anderson to say, and he realized its futility as he spoke; but any thing was better than to stand and listen to that horrible voice, and look at the broad, white face of the landlord, all perspiring and quivering as he clutched the arms of his chair.
“Impossible,” said the lawyer, “impossible. There is no chimney. I came here because I was convinced the noise was going on here. It was certainly in the next room to mine.”
“Was there no door between yours and mine?” said Anderson eagerly.
“No, sir,” said Herr Jensen, rather sharply. “At least, not this morning.”
“Ah!” said Anderson. “Nor to-night?”
“I am not sure,” said the lawyer with some hesitation.
Suddenly the crying or singing voice in the next room died away, and the singer was heard seemingly to laugh to himself in a crooning manner. The three men actually shivered at the sound. Then there was a silence.
Then there was a silence.
“Come,” said the lawyer, “what have you to say, Herr Kristensen? What does this mean?”
“Good Heaven!” said Kristensen. “How should I tell! I know no more than you, gentlemen. I pray I may never hear such a noise again.”
“So do I,” said Herr Jensen, and he added something under his breath. Anderson thought it sounded like the last words of the Psalter, “omnis spiritus laudet Dominum,” but he could not be sure.
“But we must do something,” said Anderson—”the three of us. Shall we go and investigate in the next room?”
“But that is Herr Jensen’s room,” wailed the landlord. “It is no use; he has come from there himself.”
“I am not so sure,” said Jensen. “I think this gentleman is right: we must go and see.”
The only weapons of defence that could be mustered on the spot were a stick and umbrella. The expedition went out into the passage, not without quakings. There was a deadly quiet outside, but a light shone from under the next door. Anderson and Jensen approached it. The latter turned the handle, and gave a sudden vigorous push. No use. The door stood fast.
“Herr Kristensen,” said Jensen, “will you go and fetch the strongest servant you have in the place? We must see this through.”
The landlord nodded, and hurried off, glad to be away from the scene of action. Jensen and Anderson remained outside looking at the door.
“It is Number 13, you see,” said the latter.
“Yes; there is your door, and there is mine,” said Jensen.
“My room has three windows in the daytime,” said Anderson, with difficulty suppressing a nervous laugh.
“By George, so has mine!” said the lawyer, turning and looking at Anderson. His back was now to the door. In that moment the door opened, and an arm came out and clawed at his shoulder. It was clad in ragged, yellowish linen, and the bare skin, where it could be seen, had long gray hair upon it.
Anderson was just in time to pull Jensen out of its reach with a cry of disgust and fright, when the door shut again, and a low laugh was heard.
Jensen had seen nothing, but when Anderson hurriedly told him what a risk he had run, he fell into a great state of agitation, and suggested that they should retire from the enterprise, and lock themselves up in one or other of their rooms.
However, while he was developing this plan, the landlord and two able-bodied men arrived on the scene, all looking rather serious and alarmed. Jensen met them with a torrent of description and explanation, which did not at all tend to encourage them for the fray.
The men dropped the crowbars they had brought, and said flatly that they were not going to risk their throats in that devil’s den. The landlord was miserably nervous and undecided, conscious that if the danger were not faced his hotel was ruined, and very loath to face it himself. Luckily Anderson hit upon a way of rallying the demoralized force.
“Is this,” he said, “the Danish courage I have heard so much of? It isn’t a German in there, and if it was, we are five to one.”
The two servants and Jensen were stung into action by this, and made a dash at the door.
“Stop!” said Anderson. “Don’t lose your heads. You stay out here with the light, landlord, and one of you two men break in the door, and don’t go in when it gives way.”
The men nodded, and the younger stepped forward, raised his crowbar, and dealt a tremendous blow on the upper panel. The result was not in the least what any of them anticipated. There was no cracking or rending of wood—only a dull sound, as if the solid wall had been struck. The man dropped his tool with a shout, and began rubbing his elbow. His cry drew their eyes upon him for a moment; then Anderson looked at the door again. It was gone; the plaster wall of the passage stared him in the face, with a considerable gash in it where the crowbar had struck it. Number 13 had passed out of existence.
For a brief space they stood perfectly still, gazing at the blank wall. An early cock in the yard beneath was heard to crow; and as Anderson glanced in the direction of the sound, he saw through the window at the end of the long passage that the eastern sky was paling to the dawn.
· · · · · · · ·
“Perhaps,” said the landlord, with hesitation, “you gentlemen would like another room for tonight—a double-bedded one?”
Neither Jensen nor Anderson was averse to it. They felt inclined to hunt in couples after their late experience. It was found convenient, when each of them went to his room to collect the articles he wanted for the night, that the other should go with him and hold the candle. They noticed that both Number 12 and Number 14 had three windows.
Next morning the same party re-assembled in Number 12. The landlord was naturally anxious to avoid engaging outside help, and yet it was imperative that the mystery attaching to that part of the house should be cleared up. Accordingly the two servants had been induced to function as carpenters. The furniture was cleared away, and, at the cost of a good many irretrievably damaged planks, that portion of the floor was taken up that lay nearest to Number 14.
You may naturally suppose that a skeleton—say that of Mag. Nicolas Francken—was discovered. That was not so. What they did find lying between the beams that supported the flooring was a small copper box. In it was a neatly-folded vellum document with about twenty lines of writing. Both Anderson and Jensen (who proved to be something of a palæographer) were much excited by this discovery, which promised to afford the key to these extraordinary phenomena.
· · · · · · · ·
I possess a copy of an astrological work that I have never read. It has, by way of frontispiece, a woodcut by Hans Sebald Beham, representing a number of sages seated round a table. This detail may enable connoisseurs to identify the book. I cannot recollect its title, and it is not at this moment within reach; but the fly-leaves of it are covered with writing, and, during the ten years in which I have owned the volume, I have not been able to determine which way up this writing ought to be read, much less in what language. Similar was the position of Anderson and Jensen after the protracted examination to which they submitted the document in the copper box.
After two days’ contemplation of it, Jensen, who was the bolder spirit of the two, hazarded the conjecture that the language was either Latin or Old Danish.
Anderson ventured upon no surmises, and was very willing to surrender the box and the parchment to the Historical Society of Viborg to be placed in their museum.
I had the whole story from him a few months later, as we sat in a wood near Upsala, after a visit to the library there, where we—or, rather, I—had laughed over the contract by which Daniel Salthenius (in later life Professor of Hebrew at Königsberg) sold himself to Satan. Anderson was not really amused.
“Young idiot!” he said, meaning Salthenius, who was only an undergraduate when he committed that indiscretion, “how did he know what company he was courting?”
And when I suggested the usual considerations he only grunted. That same afternoon he told me what you have read; but he refused to draw any inferences from it, and to assent to any that I drew for him.