Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 2
“A murder?” de Grandin’s little eyes snapped with sudden excitement. “Do you say a murder? My friend, you delight me!”
“Yes, sor, I knew y’d be pleased to hear about it,” the Irishman answered soberly. “Will we be goin’ up to th’ house at once, sor?”
“But of course, by all means,” de Grandin assented. “Trowbridge, my friend, you will have the charity to convey us thither, will you not? Come, let us hasten to this Monsieur Kolisko’s house and observe what we can see. And” a” his little eyes twinkled as he spoke a” “I beseech you, implore the so excellent Nora to reserve sufficient breakfast against the time of our return. Mordieu, already I feel my appetite assuming giant proportions!”
Two minutes later the detective, de Grandin and I were speeding uptown toward the isolated cottage where Urban Kolisko, one-time professor of psychology at the University at Warsaw, had passed the declining years of his life as a political refugee.
“Tell me, Friend Costello,” the Frenchman demanded; “this Monsieur Kolisko, how did he die?”
“H’m, that’s just what’s puzzlin’ all of us,” the detective admitted. “All we know about th’ case is that Murphy, who has th’ beat where th’ old felly lived, wuz passin’ by there a little after midnight an’ heard th’ devil’s own row goin’ on inside. Th’ lights wuz all goin’ in th’ lower part o’ th’ house, which warn’t natural, an’ when Murphy stopped to hear what it wuz all about, he thought he heard someone shoutin’ an swearin’, an’ once or twice th’ crack o’ a whip, then nothin’ at all.
“Murphy’s a good lad, sor; I’ve knowed him, man an’ boy, these last eighteen years, an’ he did just what I’d expected o’ him. Went up an’ knocked on th’ door, an’ when he couldn’t get no response, broke it in. There was hell broke loose for certain, sor.”
“Ah?” returned de Grandin. “What did the excellent Murphy observe?”
“Plenty,” Costello replied laconically. “Ye’ll be seein’ it for yerself in a minute.”
Inside the Kolisko house was that peculiar hush which does reverence to the Grim Reaper’s visits. Acting on telephoned instructions, Officer Murphy mounted guard before the door, permitting no one to enter the place, and the scene in the small, poorly lighted livingroom was exactly as he had come upon it several hours earlier.
Like most dyed-in-the-wool students, Kolisko had regarded his home merely as a place to sleep, eat and store books. The room was lined from floor to ceiling on all sides with rough deal shelving which groaned and sagged under the weight of ponderous volumes in every language known to print. Piles of other books, unable to find accommodation on the shelves, were littered about the floor. The rough, benchlike table and the littered, untidy desk which stood between the two small windows were also piled high with books.
Between the desk and table, flat on its back, staring endlessly at the rough whitewashed ceiling with bulging, sightless eyes, lay the relic of Professor Kolisko. Clothed in a tattered bathrobe and soiled pajamas the body lay, and it was not a pretty sight even to a medical man to whom death in its unloveliest phases is no stranger. Kolisko had been thin to the point of emaciation, and his scrawniness was accentuated in death. His white-thatched head was thrown back and bent grotesquely to one side, his straggling white beard thrust upward truculently, and his lower jaw had fallen downward with the flaccidity of death, half an inch or so of tongue protruding beyond the line of his lower teeth. Any doctor, soldier or undertaker a” any man whose business has to do habitually with death a” could not fail to recognize the signs. The man was dead, and had been so for upward of seven hours.
“Howly-Mither!” Costello’s brogue came strongly to the surface as he blessed himself involuntarily. “Will ye be lookin’ at th’ awfulness o’ him, sors?”
“U’m,” murmured Jules de Grandin, sinking to one knee beside the corpse, raising the lolling head and fingering the back of the neck with quick, practiced hands, then brushing back the bristling beard to examine the scrawny throat attentively, “he had cause to be dead, this one. See, Friend Trowbridge” a” taking my hand he guided my fingers slowly down the dead man’s neck, then pointed to the throat “there is a clean fracture of the spine between the third and fourth dorsal vertebrae, probably involving a rupture of the cord, as well. The autopsy will disclose that. And here “a”he tapped the throat with a well-manicured forefingera””are the marks of strangulation. Mordieu, whatever gripped this poor one’s neck possessed a hold like Death himself, for he not only choked him, but broke his spine as well! If it were not for one thing, I should say such strength a” such ferocity of grip a” could only have been exerted by one of the great apes, buta””
He broke off, staring with preoccupied, unseeing eyes at the farther wall.
“But what, sor?” Costello prompted as the little man’s silence continued.
“Parbleu, it could not be an ape and leave such a thumb-mark, my friends,” de Grandin returned. “The gorilla, the orangutan, the chimpanzee, all have such strength of hand as to accomplish what we see here, but they are not human, no matter how much they parody mankind. Their thumbs are undeveloped; the thumb which closed on this one’s neck was long and thin, more like a finger than a thumb. See for yourselves, it closed about the throat, meeting the fingers which clasped it on the other side. Mordieu, if we are to find this murderer we must look for one with twice the length and five times the strength of hand of the average man. Bethink you a” this one’s grip was great enough to snap Kolisko’s spine like a clay-pipe stem by merely squeezing his neck! Dieu de Dieu, but he will be an uncomfortable one to meet in the dark!”
“Sergeant Costello,” Murphy’s hail came sharply from the cottage door, “they’re comin’; Coroner Martin an’ Dr. Schuester just drove up!”
“All right, Murphy, good lad!” Costello returned, then glanced sharply at de Grandin. “Leave him be, Doc,” he ordered. “If the coroner an’ Dr. Schuester catch us monkeyin’ with their property there’ll be hell poppin’ at headquarters.”
“Very good, my friend,” de Grandin rejoined, rising and brushing the dust from his trousers knees, “we have seen as much of the body as we desire. Let them have it and perform their gruesome rites; we shall look elsewhere for what we seek.”
Coroner Martin and his physician came bustling in almost as the little Frenchman ceased speaking, glanced casually at Costello and suspiciously at de Grandin and me, then went at their official duties with only a mumbled word of greeting.
“What do you make of it?” I inquired as we drove toward my house.
“Eh bien, as yet I make nothing,” de Grandin returned. “The man was killed by paralysis resulting from a broken neck, although the pressure on his windpipe would have been sufficient to have slain him, had it but continued long enough. We know his murderer possessed hands of extraordinary strength and size, and is, therefore, in all probability, a man of more than usual height. Thus far we step with assurance. When the coroner has finished with the deceased gentleman’s premises, we shall afford ourselves the pleasure of a protracted search; before that we shall request our good friend Costello to inquire into Monsieur Kolisko’s antecedents and discover if he possessed any enemies, especially any enemies capable of doing him to death in this manner. Meantime I famish for my breakfast. I am hungry as a cormorant.”
The boasted appetite was no mere figure of speech. Three bowls of steaming cereal, two generous helpings of bacon and eggs, half a dozen cups of well-creamed coffee disappeared into his interior before he pushed back his chair and lighted a ranksmelling French cigarette with a sigh of utter content. “Eh bien, but it is difficult to think on an empty stomach,” he assured me as he blew a column of smoke toward the ceiling. “Me, I am far from my best when there is nothing but flatulence beneath my belt. I require stimu a” Mon Dieu, what a fool I am!”
Striking his forehead with the heel of his hand, he rose so abruptly that his chair almost capsized behind him.
“What’s the matter?” I asked, but he waved my question and me aside with an impatient hand.
“Non, non, do not stop me, do not hinder me, my friend!” he ordered. “Me, I have important duties to perform, if it be not too late to do them. Go upon your errands of mercy, Friend Trowbridge, and should you chance to return before I quit the surgery, I pray you leave me undisturbed. I have to do that which is needful, and I must do it uninterrupted, if you please.”
Having thus served notice on me that I would be unwelcome in my own workshop, he turned and fled toward the front door like a luckless debtor pursued by collectors.
It was nearly four o’clock that afternoon when I returned from my round of calls and tiptoed past the surgery door, only to find my caution unnecessary, for de Grandin sat in the cool, darkened library, smoking a cigar and chuckling over some inane story in L’Illustration.
“Finish the important duties?” I asked regarding him ironically.
“But certainly,” he returned. “First, dear friend, I must apologize most humbly for my so abominable rudeness of this morning. It is ever my misfortune, I fear, to show only incivility to those who most deserve my courtesy, but I was all afire with the necessity of haste when I spoke. Great emptyhead that I was, I had completely forgotten for the moment that one of the best places to seek clues of a murder is the person of the victim himself, and when I did remember I was almost beside myself until I ascertained to which entrepreneur des pompes funmres a” how do you say it? undertaker? a” my God, what a language! Monsieur Kolisko’s body had been entrusted by the coroner. Friend Costello informed me that Monsieur Mitchell was in charge, and to the excellent Mitchell I hurried post-haste, begging that he would permit me one little minute alone with the deceased before he commenced his ministrations.
“H’m, and did you find anything?” I asked.
“Parbleu, yes; I found almost too much. From the nails of Monsieur Kolisko’s hands I rescued some fragments, and in your surgery I subjected them to microscopic examination. They proved to be a” what do you say?”
“Tobacco?” I hazarded.
“Tobacco!” he scoffed. “Friend Trowbridge, sometimes I think you foolish; at others I fear you are merely stupid. Beneath the dead man’s fingernails I found some bits of human skin a” and a fragment of human hair.”
“Well,” I returned unenthusiastically, “what of it? Kolisko was an exceedingly untidy sort of person a” the kind who cared so little for social amenities that he was apt to scratch himself vigorously when he chose and probably he was also addicted to the habit of scrabbling through his beard with his fingers. Most of those European scientists with birds’ nests sprouting from their chins are that sort, you know. He was shockingly uncouth, anda””
“And you annoy me most thoroughly, Friend Trowbridge,” the little Frenchman broke in. “Listen, attend me, regard that which I am about to tell you: The skin and hair which I did find were black, my friend, black as bitumen, and subjected to chemical reagents, showed themselves to be strongly impregnated with natron, oil of cedar and myrrh. What have you to say now?”
“And if these things suggest an Egyptian mummy to you, as they may if you think steadily for the next ten or more years, I make so bold as to ask what would a professor of psychology be doing in contact with a mummy. Hein? Answer me that, if you please. Had he been an Egyptologist, or even a student of comparative anatomy, there would be reason for it, but a psychologist a” it does not make sense!”
“Well, then, why bother about it?” I retorted.
“Ah, but I think maybe, perhaps there is an answer to the riddle, after all,” he insisted. “Recall the events of last night, if you please. Remember how that young Monsieur Ratliff came bawling like a frightened calf to our door, begging to be taken in and protected from something which assaulted him in the public thoroughfares. Recollect how we suspected him of an overindulgence in alcohol, and how, as we were about to turn him out, there appeared at our window a most unpleasant-looking thing which made mock of Jules de Grandin’s marksmanship. Parbleu, yes, you will recall all that, as well as that the ungrateful Ratliff child did sneak away from the house without so much as saying ‘thank you’ for our hospitality while we were out with Sergeant Costello viewing Monsieur Kolisko’s remains.”
“Then you’d suggesta”” I began incredulously, but he rose with an impatient shrug.
“Ah, bah, I think nothing, my friend,” he assured me. “He who thinks without knowing is a fool. A connection there may be between that which we saw last night and that which we viewed this morning. We shall see, perhaps. I have an engagement to search Kolisko’s house with Sergeant Costello this evening, and I suggest you accompany us. There may be that there which shall cause your eyes to pop from out your face with wonder. Meantime, I hear visitors in the reception room. Go to your duties, my friend. Some neurotic old lady undoubtlessly desires you to sympathize with her latest symptoms.”
“Well, sor,” confided Sergeant Costello as he, de Grandin and I set out for the Kolisko cottage that evening, “this case beats th’ Jews, an’ th’ Jews beat the devil.”
“Indeed?” responded de Grandin politely.
“It sure does. We’ve been over Kolisko’s antecedents, as ye might call ’em, an’ th’ devil a thing can we find that might lead us to a clue as to who killed him. ‘Twas little enough they knew about him, at best, for he was a standoffish old felly, wid never a word for annybody, except when he wanted sumpin’, which warn’t often. He had a few Polack cronies, but they wuz few an’ far between. Five months ago a felly broke into his house an’ stole some stuff o’ triflin’ value, an’ shot up a state trooper while tryin’ to escape to th’ next town. Kolisko appeared agin ‘im at th’ trial, as wuz his dooty, for he wuz subpenaed, an’ later visited ‘im in jail, I understand, but this felly-name o’ Heschler, he wuz a” didn’t take anny too kindly to th’ professor’s visits, an’ he cut ’em out.”
“Ah,” de Grandin nursed his narrow chin in the cradle of his hand, “perhaps it is that this Heschler harbored malice and wreaked vengeance on Monsieur Kolisko for the part he had in his conviction?”
“P’raps,” agreed Costello shortly, “but ’tain’t likely.”
“And why not?” the Frenchman demanded shortly. Like most men who keep their own counsel, he was easily annoyed by others’ reticence.
“Because they burned him at Camden last night, sor.”
“Burned? How do you meana””
“Sure, burned him. Bumped ‘im off, rubbed ‘im out, gave ‘im th’ chair electrocuted ‘im. He was a murderer, warn’t he?” Costello elucidated.
“Um,” the Frenchman gulped over the information like on trying to clear his mouth of an unpalatable morsel, “you are doubtless right, Sergeant; we may regard this Heschler as eliminated a” perhaps.”
“P’raps?” echoed the amazed Irishman as I brought the car to a halt before the cottage door. “P’raps me neck! If you’ll listen to me, I’ll say he’s been eliminated altogether entirely be th’ state executioner!”
Our search was startlingly unproductive. A few letters in envelopes with foreign postmarks, receipts for small bills for groceries and kindred household items, one or two invitations to meetings of learned societies a” this was the sum total produced by an hour’s rummaging among the dead man’s papers.
“Tiens, it would seem we have come on the chase of the wild goose,” de Grandin admitted disconsolately, wiping the sweat from his forehead with a pale blue silk handkerchief. “Zut, it seems impossible that any man should have so much paper of so little importance. Me, I think thata””
“Here’s sumpin’ that might help us, if it’s papers ye’re after,” Costello interrupted, appearing at the kitchen door with a rough wooden box in his hand. “I found it behint th’ stove, sor. Most of it seems of little enough account, but you might find sumpin’ that’da””
“Aside, stand aside, my friend!” the Frenchman ordered, leaping on the box like a famished cat on a mouse and scattering its contents over the living-room table. “What have we here? Mordieu, another receipt from that twenty-times-damned Public Service Company! Name of a rooster, did the man do nothing but contract and pay bills for electric light? Another one a” and another! Grand Dieu, if I find but one more of these receipts I shall require a strait-waistcoat to restrain myself. What, another a” ah, triomphe! At last we find something else!” From the pile of scrambled papers he unearthed a small, black-leather book and began riffling through its pages.
Pausing to read an inscription at random, he regarded the page with upraised brows and pursed lips, seated himself beside the table and brought his eyes to within a few inches of the small, crabbed writing with which the book seemed filled.
Five minutes he sat thus studying the memoranda, his brows gradually rising till I feared they would impinge upon the line of his smoothly combed blond hair. Finally: “My friends, this is of the importance,” he assured us, looking quickly from one to the other with his queer, direct glance. “Monsieur Kolisko made these entries in his diary in mingled Polish and French. I shall endeavor to render them into English tonight, and tomorrow morning we shall go over them together. Thus far I have read little, but that little may explain much, or I am much mistaken.”
“Trowbridge, my friend,” de Grandin requested the following morning when my round of calls was finished, “will you please read what I have written? All night I labored over this translation, and this morning my eyes are not sufficient to the task of reading my own script.”
He thrust a sheaf of neatly written foolscap into my hands, then lighted a cigarette and leaned back in his chair, his small hands locked behind his head, his eyes half closed, as he surveyed Costello and me lazily.
Glancing from de Grandin to the waiting detective, I set my pince-nez firmly on my nose and began: * * *
April 5 a” Michel was here again last night, nagging me with his silly talk of the soul and its immortality. To think that one so well educated should entertain such childish ideas! I would have ordered him from the house in anger, as I did once before, had he not been more than usually insulting. After taunting me with the old story about a body’s being weighed a few minutes after death and found lighter than before, thereby proving that something of material weight had passed from it, he challenged me to prove the nonexistence of any entity separate from the physical being. Fool! It is he who asserts the proposition, not I. Yet I must think of some way to confound him, or he will be everlastingly reminding me that I failed to meet his test.
April 10 a” Michel is a greater fool than I thought. I hold him and his faith in the hollow of my hand, and by his own act. Last night he proposed the wildest scheme ever broached by man. The burglar who broke into my house last month has been sentenced to death for killing a policeman. Michel would have me see the fellow in prison, arrange for a transmigration of his soul to a body which he will secure, and await results of the experiment. It is a childish folly; I insult my own intelligence by agreeing to it, but I must silence Michel and his everlasting patter of the soul’s immortality. I shall undertake the task, if only to prove my cousin a fool.
May 16 a” Yesterday I saw Heschler in prison. The poor fellow was almost beside himself with joy when I told him of Michel’s wild plan. Not dying, but fear of punishment in the world to come seems to terrify the man. If I can provide a tenement for his soul which will enable it to remain away from the seat of judgment a little longer, he will be content, even though he has to live in the body of a child, a cripple or one already bowed with age. Living out the span of life in the second body we provide, he will so conduct himself as to win pardon for misdeeds committed in the frame he now wears, he vows. Poor, hoodwinked fool! Like all Christians, he is bound hand and foot by the old superstitions which have come down to us through the ages. That Heschler, the burglar, should adhere to the Christus myth, the God fairy-tale, is not surprising, for he is but an ignorant clod; but that my cousin Michel Kolisko, a learned man, should give credit to beliefs which were outworn and disproved in the nineteenth century is beyond my understanding.
May 30 a” Today I had another talk with Heschler. He is pitiably anxious to begin the experiment. It was childishly simple. Ordering him to gaze steadfastly into my eyes through the bars of his cell, I soon had him completely hypnotized. “You will hereafter cease to dread your coming execution,” I told him. “From this time forth you will think of nothing but the opportunity of living on in another body which is to be afforded you. At the moment of execution you will concentrate all your will upon entering the body which will be waiting at my home to receive your soul.” He nodded as I gave each command, and I left him. It will not be necessary to repeat my orders. He was already half insane with the obsession of prolonging his life. My work was more than half done before I gave him the directions. I shall not see him again.
The next page bore a clipping from the Newark Call: * * *
Adolph Heschler, confined in the penitentiary at Camden awaiting execution for the murder of State Trooper James Donovan on the night of March 20th last, seems resigned to his fate. When first taken to the state prison he seemed in deadly fear of death and spent most of his time in prayer. Prison officials say that he began to show signs of resignation following the memorial services on May 20th, and it is said he declares his conscience is cleared by the thought that he shall be allowed the opportunity of atoning for his misdeeds. Curiously enough, Heschler, who has heretofore shown the most devout appreciation of the ministrations of the prison’s Catholic chaplain, will have nothing further to do with the spiritual advisor, declaring “atonement for his sins has been arranged.” There is talk of having him examined by a lunacy commission before the date set for his execution.
Another translation of the diary followed: * * *
August 30 a” Michel has come with the body. It is a mummy! When I expressed my astonishment, he told me it was the best possible corpse for the purpose. After hearing him, I realized he has the pseudo-logic of the mildly insane. The body of one who has died from natural causes or by violence would be unfitted for our purposes, he says, since some of its organs must inevitably be unable to function properly. This mummy is not a true mummy, but the body of an Egyptian guilty of sacrilege, who was sealed up alive in a tomb during the Hyksos dynasty. He died of asphyxia, in all probability, and his body is in perfect condition, except for the dehydration due to lying so many thousands of years in a perfectly dry atmosphere. Michel rescued the mummy during his last expedition to Egypt, and tells me there was evidence of the man’s having made a terrific struggle before death put an end to his sufferings. Other bodies, properly mummified, were found in the same tomb, and the dying man had overturned many of the cases and spilled their contents about the place. His body was so thoroughly impregnated with the odor of the spices and preservatives, absorbed from the mummies lying in the tomb, that it was not for some time his discoverers realized he had not been eviscerated and embalmed. Michel assures me the dead man will be perfectly able to act as an envelope for Heschler’s soul when the electrocution has been performed. Cousin Michel, if this body does but so much as wiggle its fingers or toes after the authorities have killed Heschler, I will believe, I will believe.
I laid down the final page of de Grandin’s translation and looked wonderingly at him. “Where’s the rest of it?” I demanded. “Couldn’t you do any more last night?”
“The rest,” he answered ironically, “is for us to find out, my friends. The journal stops with the entry you have just read. There was no more.”
“Humph,” Sergeant Costello commented, “crazy as a pair o’ fish out o’ water, weren’t they? Be gorry, gentlemen, I’m thinkin’ it’s a crazy man we’d best be lookin’ for. I can see it all plain, now. This here Cousin Michael o’ Professor Kolisko’s was a religious fy-nat-ic, as th’ felly says, an’ th’ pair o’ ’em got to fightin’ among themselves an’ th’ professor came out second best. That’s th’ answer, or my name ain’ta””
The sudden shrilling of the office telephone interrupted him. “Sergeant Costello, please,” a sharp voice demanded as I picked up the receiver.
“Yeah, this is Costello speakin’,” the detective announced, taking the instrument from me. “Yep. All right, go ahead. What? Just like th’ other one? My Gawd!”
“What is it?” de Grandin and I asked in chorus as he put down the receiver and turned a serious face to us.
“Miss Adkinson, an old lady livin’ by herself out by th’ cemetery, has been found murdered,” he replied slowly, “an’ th’ marks on her throat tally exactly wid those on Professor Kolisko’s!”
“Cordieu!” de Grandin shouted, leaping from his chair as if it had suddenly become white-hot. “We must hasten, we must rush, we must fly to that house, my friends! We must examine the body, we must assure ourselves before some bungling coroner’s physician spoils everything!”
Two minutes later we were smashing the speed ordinances in an effort to reach the Adkinson house before Coroner Martin arrived.
Stark tragedy repeated itself in the Adkinson cottage. The old lady, gaunt with the leanness of age to which time has not been over-kind, lay in a crumpled heap on her kitchen floor, and a moment’s examination disclosed the same livid marks on her throat and the same horrifying limberness of neck which we had observed when viewing Professor Kolisko’s body.
“By Gawd, gentlemen, this is terrible!” Costello swore as he turned from the grisly relic. “Here’s an old man kilt at night an’ a harmless old woman murdered in broad daylight, an’ no one to tell us anything certain about th’ murderer!”
“Ha, do you say so?” de Grandin responded sharply, his little eyes flashing with excitement. “Parbleu, my friend, but you are greatly wrong, as wrong as can be. There is one who can tell us, and tell us he shall, if I must wring the truth from him with my bare hands!”
“What d’ye meana”” Sergeant Costello began, but the little Frenchman had already turned toward the door, dragging frantically at my elbow.
“Clutch everything, mes amis,” he commanded. “Retain all; me, I go to find him who can tell us what we need to know. Mordieu, I shall find him though he takes refuge in the nethermost subcellar of hell! Come, Trowbridge, my friend; I would that you drive me to the station where I can entrain for New York.”
Shortly after seven o’clock that evening I answered the furious ringing of my telephone to hear de Grandin’s excited voice come tumbling out of the receiver. “Come at once, my friend,” he ordered, fairly stuttering in his elation. “Rush with all speed to the Carmelite Fathers’ retreat in East Thirty-second Street. Bring the excellent Costello with you, too, for there is one here who can shed the light of intelligence on our ignorance.”
“Who is it?” I began, but the sharp click of a receiver smashed into its hook cut short my query, and I turned in disgust from the unresponsive instrument to transmit the Frenchman’s message to Sergeant Costello.
Within sight of Bellevue’s grim mortuary, enshrouded by the folds of drab East River fog as a body is wrapped in its windingsheet, the little religious community seemed as incongruously out of place in the heart of New York’s poverty-ridden East Side as a nun in a sweatshop. Striding up and down the polished floor of the bare, immaculately clean reception room was Jules de Grandin, a glowing cigarette between his fingers, his tiny, waxed mustache standing straight out from the corners of his mouth like the whiskers of an excited tomcat. “At last!” he breathed as Costello and I followed the porter from the front door to the public room. “Morbleu, I thought you had perished on the way!
“Monsieur,” he paused in his restless pacing and stopped before the figure sitting motionless in the hard, straight-backed chair at the farther side of the room, “you will please tell these gentlemen what you have told me and be of haste in doing so. We have small time to waste.”
I glanced curiously at the seated man. His strong resemblance to the dead Kolisko was remarkable. He possessed a mop of untidy, iron-gray hair and a rather straggling gray beard; his forehead was high, narrow and startlingly white, almost transparent, and the skin of his face was puckered into hundreds of little wrinkles as though his skull had shrunk, leaving the epidermis without support. His eyes, however, differed radically from Kolisko’s, for even in death the professor’s orbs had shown a hard, implacable nature, whereas this man’s eyes, though shaded by beetling, overhanging brows, were soft and brown. Somehow, they reminded me of the eyes of an old and very gentle dog begging not to be beaten.
“I am Michel Kolisko,” he began, clearing his throat with a soft, deprecating cough. “Urban Kolisko was my cousin, son of my father’s brother. We grew up together in Poland, attended the same schools and colleges, and dreamed the same dreams of Polish independence. I was twenty, Urban was twenty-three when the Tsar’s officers swooped down on our fathers, carried them off to rot in Siberia, and confiscated most of our family’s fortune. Both of us were suspected of complicity in the revolutionary movement, and fled for our lives, Urban to Paris, I to Vienna. He matriculated at the Sorbonne and devoted himself to the study of psychology; I studied medicine in Vienna, then went to Rome, and finally took up Egyptology as my life’s work.
“Twenty years passed before I saw my cousin again. The Russian proscription had been raised, and he had gone to Warsaw, where he taught in the university. When I went there to visit him, I was shocked to learn he had abandoned God and taken to the worship of the material world. Kant, Spencer, Richet, Wundt a” these were his prophets and his priests; the God of our fathers he disowned and denied. I argued with him, pleaded with him to return to his childhood’s belief, and he turned me out of his house.
“Once again he earned the displeasure of the Tsar and escaped arrest only by a matter of moments. Fleeing to this country, he took up residence in your city, and devoted himself to penning revolutionary propaganda and atheistic theses. Broken in health, but with sufficient money to insure me of a quiet old age, I followed him to America and made it the work of my declining years to convert him from his apostasy.
“This spring it seemed I was beginning to succeed, for he showed more patience with me than ever before; but he was a hardened sinner, his heart was steeled against the call of consciousness, even as was Pharoah’s of old. He challenged me to offer evidence of God’s truth, and promised he would turn again to religion if I could.”
For a moment the speaker paused in his monotonous, almost mumbled recitation, wrung his bloodless hands together in a gesture of despair, pressed his fingers to his forehead, as though to crowd back departing reason, then took up his story, never raising his voice, never stressing one word more than another, keeping his eyes fixed on vacancy. He reminded me of a child reciting a distasteful lesson by rote.
“I see we were both mad, now,” he confided drearily. “Mad, mad with the sense of our own importance, for Urban defied divine providence, and I forgot that it is not man’s right to attempt to prove God’s truth as revealed to us by his ordained ministers. It is ours to believe, and to question not. But I was carried away by the fervor of my mission. ‘If I can shake Urban’s doubts, I shall surely win a crown of glory,’ I told myself, ‘for surely there is great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.’ And so I went about the sacrilegious business of the test.
“Among the curios I had brought from Egypt was the body of a man sealed alive in a tomb during the Hyksos rule. It was not really a mummy, for no embalming had been performed, but the superheated atmosphere of the tomb in which he had been incarcerated had shriveled his tissues until it was difficult to tell him from a body mummified by artificial methods. Only three or four such bodies are known; one is the celebrated Flinders mummy, and the others are in French and British museums. I had intended leaving mine to the Metropolitan when I died.