Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 3

“I brought this body to Urban’s house the night before Heschler, the condemned murderer, was to be executed, and we laid it on the library table. Urban viewed it with disgust and skepticism, but I prayed over it, begging God to work a miracle, to permit the body to move, if only very slightly, and so convince my poor, misguided cousin. You know, gentlemen” a” he turned his sorrowful lackluster eyes on us with a melancholy smilea”” such things are not entirely unknown. Sudden changes in temperature or in the moisture content of the atmosphere often lead to a movement as the dehydrated tissues take up water from the air. The mummy of Rameses the Great, for instance, moved its arm when first exposed to the outdoor air.

“A few minutes after midnight was the time set for Heschler’s electrocution, and as the town clocks began sounding the hour I felt as though the heavens must fall if no sign were manifested to us.

“Urban sat beside the mummy, smoking his pipe and sneering-part of the time reading an impious book by Freud. I bowed my head in silent prayer, asking for a miracle to save him despite his hardness of heart. The city hall clock struck the quarter-hour, then the half, and still there was no sound. Urban laid his pipe and book aside and looked at me with his familiar sneer, then turned as though to thrust the body of the Egyptian from the table a” then it sat up!

“Like a sleeper waking from a dream, like a patient coming forth from the ether it was the corpse that had been dead four thousand years rose from the table and looked at us. For a moment it seemed to smile with its fleshless lips, then it looked down at itself, and gave a scream of surprise and fury.

“‘So!’ it shrieked; ‘so this is the body you’ve given me to work out my salvation! This is the form in which I must walk the earth until my sins be wiped away, is it? You’ve tricked me, cheated me, but I’ll have vengeance. No one living can harm me, and I’ll take my toll of human kind before I finally go forth to stew and burn in Satan’s fires!’

“It was stiff and brittle, but somehow it managed to crawl from the table and make at Urban. He seized a heavy whip which hung on the wall and struck the thing on the head with its loaded butt. The blow would have killed an ordinary man a” indeed, I saw the mummy’s dried-up skull cave in beneath the force of Urban’s flailings, but it never faltered in its attack, never missed a step in its pursuit of vengeance.

“Then I went mad. I fled from that accursed house and buried myself in this retreat, where I have spent every moment since, denying myself both food and sleep, deeming every second left me all too short to beg divine forgiveness for the terrible sacrilege I have committed.”

“So, my friends, you see?” de Grandin turned to Costello and me as the half-hysterical Pole concluded his preposterous narrative.

“Sure, I do,” the detective returned. “Didn’t th’ felly say he’s mad? Be dad, they say crazy folks tell th’ truth, an’ he ain’t stretchin’ it none when he says his steeple’s full o’ bats.”

“Ah bah!” de Grandin shot back. “You weary me, my friend.”

To Kolisko he said: “Your story supplies the information which we so sorely needed, sir. Whatever the result of your experiment, your motives were good, nor do I think the good God will be too hard upon you. If you do truly wish forgiveness, pray that we shall be successful in destroying the monster before more harm is done. Cordieu, but we shall need all your prayers, and a vast deal of luck as well, I think; for killing that which is already dead is no small task.”

“Now what?” demanded Costello with a sidelong glance at de Grandin as we emerged from the religious house. “Got some more loonies for us to listen to?”

“Parbleu, if you will but give ear to your own prattle, you shall have all that sort of conversation you wish, I think, cher Sergent,” the little Frenchman jerked back with a smile which took half the acid from his words. Then: “Friend Trowbridge, convoy our good, unbelieving friend to Harrisonville and await my return. I have one or two things to attend to before I join you; but when I come I think I can promise you a show the like of which you have not before seen. Au revoir, mes enfants.”

Ten o’clock sounded on the city’s clocks; eleven; half-past, Costello and I consumed innumerable cigars and more than one potion of some excellent cognac I had stored in my cellar since the days before prohibition; still no sign of my little friend. The sergeant was on the point of taking his departure when a light step sounded on the porch and de Grandin came bounding into the consulting room, his face wreathed in smiles, a heavy-looking parcel gripped under his right arm.

“Bien, my friends, I find you in good time,” he greeted, poured himself a monstrous stoup of amber liquor, then helped himself to one of my cigars. “I think it high time we were on our way. There is that to do which may take considerable doing this night, but I would not that we delay our expedition because of difficulties in the road.”

“Be gorry, he’s caught it from th’ other nut!” Costello confided to the surrounding atmosphere with a seriocomic grimace. “Which crazy house are we goin’ to now, sor?”

“Where but to the house of Monsieur Kolisko?” returned the Frenchman with a grin. “I think there will be another there before long, and it is highly expedient that we be there first,”

“Humph, if it’s Coroner Martin or his physician, you needn’t be worryin’ yourself army,” Costello assured him. “They’ll be takin’ no more interest in th’ case till someone else gets kilt, I’m thinkin’.”

“Morbleu, then their days of interest are ended, or Jules de Grandin is a colossal liar,” was the response. “Come, allons vite!”

The lowest workings of a coal mine were not darker than the Kolisko house when we let ourselves in some fifteen minutes later. Switching on the electric light, de Grandin proceeded to unpack his parcel, taking from it a folded black object which resembled a deflated association football. Next he produced a shining nickel-plated apparatus consisting of a thick upright cylinder and a transverse fiat piece which opened in two on hinges, disclosing an interior resembling a waffle-iron with small, close-set knobs. Into a screw-stopped opening in the hollow cylinder of the contrivance he poured several ounces of grayblack powder; then, taking the flat rubber bag, he hurried from the house to my car, attached the valve of the bag to my tire pump and proceeded to inflate the rubber bladder almost to the bursting point. This done, he attached the bag to a valve in the nickeled cylinder by a two-foot length of rubber hose, poured some liquid over the corrugated “waffle-iron” at the top of the cylinder, and, with the inflated bag hugged under his arm, as a Highland piper might hold the bag of his pipes, he strode across the room, snapped off the light, and took his station near the open window.

Several times Costello and I addressed him, but each time he cut us short with a sharp, irritable “Sssh!” continuing his crouching watch beside the window, staring intently into the shaded garden beyond.

It must have been some three-quarters of an hour later that we sensed, rather than heard, the scuffling of light footfalls on the grass outside, heard the door-knob cautiously tested, then the scuttering of more steps, scarcely louder than the sound of windblown leaves, as the visitant rounded the cottage wall and made for the window beside which de Grandin mounted guard.

A puff of autumn wind, scented with the last blooms of summer’s rose beds, sent the light clouds drifting from before the moor’s pale lantern, and, illuminated in the pallid light of the night’s goddess, we saw framed at the window-square the terrifying vision which had followed young Ratliff’s story of his escape two nights before.

“My Gawd!” Costello’s bass voice was shrill and treble with sudden terror as the thing gazed malevolently in at us. Next instant his heavy service revolver was out, and shot after shot poured straight into the hideous, grinning face at the window.

He might as well have fired boiled beans from a pea-shooter for all the effect his bullets had. Distinctly I saw a portion of the mummy’s ear clipped off by a flying slug of lead, saw an indentation sink in the thing’s head half an inch above the right eye as a soft-nosed bullet tore through skin and withered flesh and frontal bone; but the emaciated body never paused in its progress. One withered leg was lifted across the window-sill; two long, unfleshed arms, terminating in hands of enormous length, were thrust out toward the Irishman; a grin of such hellish hatred and triumph as I had never conceived possible disfigured the object’s visage as it pressed onward, its long, bony fingers opening and closing convulsively, as though they already felt their victim’s neck within their grasp.

“Monsieur, you do play truant from hell!” De Grandin’s announcement was made in the most casual manner as he rose from his half-kneeling posture beside the window and placed himself directly in the mummy’s path, but there was a quaver in his voice which betrayed the intensity of his emotion.

A noise a” you could hardly call it a snarl nor yet a scream, but a sound midway between the two a” emanated from the thing’s desiccated throat as it turned on him, threw out one hand and snatched at his throat.

There was a tiny spark of light, as though a match had been struck, then a mighty, bursting blaze, as if time had turned backward in its flight for a second and the midday sun had thrown its beams through the midnight blackness of the room, a swishing whistling sound, as of air suddenly released from tremendous pressure, and a shriek of mad, unsupportable anguish. Then the fierce blazing of some inflammable substance suddenly set alight. My eyes started from my face as I seemed to see the mummy’s scraggy limbs and emaciated torso writhe within a very inferno of fire. Then: “Cher Sergent, it might be well to call the fire department; this place will surely burn about our ears unless les pompiers hurry with their hose, I fear,” remarked Jules de Grandin as calmly as though advising us the night was fine.

“But a” but a” howly Mither o’ Moses!” Sergeant Costello demanded as we turned from watching the firemen salvaging the remnants of Kolisko’s cottage; “how did ye manage it, Doctor de Grandin, sor? May I never eat another mess o’ corned beef an’ cabbage if I didn’t shoot th’ thing clean through th’ head wid me gun, an’ it never so much as batted an eye, yet ye burned it up as clean asa””

“Precisely, mon vieux,” the Frenchman admitted with a chuckle. “Have you never heard the adage that one must fight the Devil with fire? It was something like that which I did.

“No later than night before last a young man came crying and whimpering at Friend Trowbridge’s door, begging for shelter from some ghastly thing which pursued him through the streets. Both Trowbridge and I thought he suffered from an overdose of the execrable liquor with which Monsieur Volstead has flooded this unhappy land, but before we could boot him from the door, behold, the same thing which you so unsuccessfully shot tonight did stick its unlovely countenance against our window and I who always go armed test some miscreant do me a mischief, did fire eight shots directly into his face. Believe me, my friend, when Jules de Grandin shoots, he does not miss, and that night I shot exceptionally well. Yet when Friend Trowbridge and I searched the garden, neither hide nor hair of the one who should have been eight times dead did we find. ‘There is something here which will take much explaining,’ I say to me after we could not find him.

“Next morning you did come and tell us of Professor Kolisko’s murder and when we had viewed his remains, I wondered much what sort of creature could have done the thing. The pressure exerted on his neck was superhuman, but the marks of the hand were not those of an ape, for no ape possesses such a long, thin thumb.

“Then we did find the dead professor’s diary and I have the tiny shivers playing tag with each other up and down my back as I read and translate it. It sounds like the dream of one crazed with dope, I know, but there was the possibility of truth in it. Do you know the vampire, my friends?”

“The vampire?” I echoed.

“Pricisiment; the vampire, you have said it. He is not always one who cannot die because of sin or misfortune in life. No.

Sometimes he is a dead body possessed by some demon a” perhaps by some unhappy, earthbound spirit. Yes.

“Now, as I read the professor’s journal, I see that everything which had transpired were most favorable for the envampirement of that body which his cousin had brought from Egypt so long ago. Yet the idea seemed a” how do you say? a” ah, yes a” to have the smell of the fish on it.

“But when you come and say Miss Adkinson have been erased in the same manner as Professor Kolisko, I begin to wonder if perhaps I have not less nuts in my belfry than I at first thought.

In Professor Kolisko’s journal there was reference to his cousin. ‘How does it come that this cousin have not come forward and told us what, if anything, he knows? I ask me as we view the poor dead woman’s body, and the answer was, ‘He has most doubtless seen that which will not be believed, and hides because he fears arrest on a false charge of murder.”

“Right away I rush to New York and inquire at the Musie Metropolitain for the address of Monsieur Michel Kolisko the Egyptologist. I find his living-quarters in East Eighty-sixth Street. There they tell me he have gone to the Carmelite retreat. Morbleu, had he hidden in lost Atlantis, I should have hunted him out, for I desired speech with him!

“At first he would not talk, dreading I intended to drag him to the jail, but after I had spoken with him for a time, he opened his heart, and told me what he later told you.

“Now, what to do? By Monsieur Kolisko’s story, it were useless to battle with this enlivened mummy, for the body of him was but the engine moved by an alien spirit a” he had no need of brains, hearts and such things as we must use. Also, I knew from experience, bullets were as useless against him as puffs of wind against a fortress wall. ‘Very well,’ I tell me, ‘he may be invulnerable to bullets and blows, but living or dead, he is still a mummy a” a dry, desiccated mummy a” and we have had no rain lately. It are entirely unlikely that he have gotten greatly moistened in his trips through the streets, and all mummies are as tinder to fire. Mordieu, did they not once use them as fuel for locomotives in Egypt when railways were first built there? Yes.”

“And so I prepare the warm reception for him. At one time and another I have taken photographs at night, and to do so I have used magnesium flares a” what you call flashlight powder. At a place where they sell such things in New York I procure a flashlight burner a” a hollow cylinder for the powder magazine with a benzine wick at its top and a tube through which air can be blown to force the powder through the burning petrol and so give a continuous blaze. I get me also a rubber bag which I can inflate and attach to the windpipe of the apparatus, thus leaving my lips free for swearing and other important things, and also giving a greater force of air.

“I reason: ‘Where will this living mummy go most naturally? Why not to the house where he received his new life, for the town in which he goes about committing murder is still new to him!”

And so, when Monsieur la Momie returns to the place of his second nativity, I am all ready for him. Your shots, they are as ineffectual as were mine two nights ago, but I have my magnesium flare ready, and as he turns on me I blow the fierce flame from it all over him. He are dry like tinder, the fire seized on him like a hungry little boy on a jam-tart, and-pouf-he is burn up, incinerated; he is no more!”

“Do you actually mean Heschler’s soul entered that dried-up body?” I demanded.

The Frenchman shook his head. “I do not know,” he replied. “Perhaps it were Heschler; more likely not. The air is full of strange and terrible things, my friend. Not for nothing did the old divines call Satan the Prince of the Powers of the Air. How do we know some of those elementals who are ever on the watch to do mankind an injury did not hear the mad Koliskos’ scheme and take advantage of the opportunity to enter into the mummy’s body? Such things have been before; why may they not be again?”

“But,” I commenced.

“Buta”” expostulated Sergeant Costello.

“But, my friends,” the little man cut in, “did you behold how dry that so abominable mummy was before I applied the fire?”

“Yes,” I answered wonderingly.

“Cordieu, he was wet as the broad Atlantic Ocean beside the dryness of Jules de Grandin at this moment! Friend Trowbridge, unless my memory plays me false, I beheld a bottle of cognac upon your office table. Come, I faint, I die, I perish; talk to me no more till I have consumed the remainder of that bottle, I do beseech you!”

CASE OF THE HEADLESS MUMMIES.

[Psychic sleuth: Moris Klaw].

Sax Rohmer.

I.

The mysteries which my eccentric friend, Moris Klaw, was most successful in handling, undoubtedly, were those which had their origin in kinks of the human brain or in the mysterious history of some relic of ancient times.

I have seen his theory of the Cycle of Crime proven triumphantly time and time again; I have known him successfully to demonstrate how the history of a valuable gem or curio automatically repeats itself, subject, it would seem, to that obscure law of chance into which he had made particular inquiry. Then his peculiar power a” assiduously cultivated by a course of obscure study a” of recovering from the atmosphere, the ether, call it what you will, the thought-forms a” the ideas thrown out by the scheming mind of the criminal he sought for a” enabled him to succeed where any ordinary investigator must inevitably have failed.

“They destroy,” he would say in his odd, rumbling voice, “the clumsy tools of their crime; they hide away the knife, the bludgeon; they sop up the blood, they throw it, the jemmy, the dead man, the suffocated poor infant, into the ditch, the pool a” and they leave intact the odic negative, the photograph of their sin, the thought-thing in the air!” He would tap his high yellow brow significantly. “Here upon this sensitive plate I reproduce it, the hanging evidence! The headless child is buried in the garden, but the thought of the beheader is left to lie about. I pick it up. Poof! he swings a” that child-slayer! triumph. He is a dead man. What an art is the art of the odic photograph.”

But I propose to relate here an instance of Moris Klaw’s amazing knowledge in matters of archeology a” of the history of relics. In his singular emporium at Wapping, where dwelt the white rats, the singing canary, the cursing parrot, and the other stock-in-trade of this supposed dealer in oddities, was furthermore a library probably unique. It contained obscure works on criminology; it contained catalogues of every relic known to European collectors with elaborate histories of the same. What else it contained I am unable to say, for the dazzling Isis Klaw was a jealous librarian.

You who have followed these records will have made the acquaintance of Coram, the curator of the Menzies Museum; and it was through Coram that I first came to hear of the inexplicable beheading of mummies, which, commencing with that of Mr. Pettigrew’s valuable mummy of the priestess Horankhu, developed into a perfect epidemic. No more useless outrage, could well be imagined than the decapitation of an ancient Egyptian corpse; and if I was surprised when I heard of the first case, my surprise became stark amazement when yet other mummies began mysteriously to lose their heads. But I will deal with the first instance, now, as it was brought under my notice by Coram.

He rang me up early one morning.

“I say, Searles,” he said; “a very odd thing has happened. You’ve heard me speak of Pettigrew the collector; he lives out Wandsworth way; he’s one of our trustees. Well, some demented burglar broke into his house last night, took nothing, but cut off the head of a valuable mummy!”

“Good Heavens!” I cried. “What an original idea!

“Highly so,” agreed Coram. “The police are hopelessly mystified, and as I know you are keen on this class of copy I thought you might like to run down and have a chat with Pettigrew. Shall I tell him you are coming?

“By all means,” I said, and made an arrangement forthwith.

Accordingly, about eleven o’clock I presented myself at a gloomy Georgian house a” standing well back from the high road, and screened by an unkempt shrubbery. Mr. Mark Pettigrew, a familiar figure at Sotheby auctions, was a little shriveled man, clean shaven and with the complexion of a dried apricot. His big spectacles seemed to occupy a great proportion of his face, but his eyes twinkled merrily and his humor was as dry as his appearance.

“Glad to see you, Mr. Searles,” he said. “You’ve had some experience of the outre, I believe, and where two constables, an imposing inspector, and a plain-clothes gentleman who looked like a horse, have merely upset my domestic arrangements, you may be able to make some intelligent suggestion.”

He conducted me to a large gloomy room in which relics, principally Egyptian, were arranged and ticketed with museum-like precision. Before a wooden sarcophagus containing the swathed figure of a mummy he stopped, pointing. He looked as though he had come out of a sarcophagus himself.

“Hor-ankhu,” he said,” a priestess of Sekhet; a very fine specimen, Mr. Searles. I was present when it was found. See a” here is her head!”

Stooping, he picked up the head of the mummy. Very cleanly and scientifically it had been unwrapped and severed from the trunk. It smelt strongly of bitumen, and the shriveled features reminded me of nothing so much as of Mr. Mark Pettigrew.

“Did you ever hear of a more senseless thing?” he asked. “Come over and look at the window where he got in.”

We crossed the dark apartment, and the collector drew my attention to a round hole which had been drilled in the glass of one of the French windows opening on a kind of miniature prairie which once had been a lawn.

“I am having shutters fitted,” he went on. “It is so easy to cut a hole in the glass and open the catch of these windows.”

“Very easy,” I agreed. “Was anyone disturbed?”

“No one,” he replied excitedly; “that’s the insane part of the thing. The burglar, with all the night before him and with cases containing portable and really priceless objects about him, contented himself with decapitating the priestess. What on earth did he want her head for? Whatever he wanted it for, why the devil didn’t he take it.”

We stared at one another blankly.

“I fear,” said Pettigrew, “I have been guilty of injustice to my horsey visitor, the centaur. You look as stupid as the worst of us!”

“I feel stupid,” I said.

“You are,” Pettigrew assured me with cheerful impertinence. “So am I, so are the police; but the biggest fool of the lot is the fool who came here last night and cut off the head of my mummy.”

That, then, is all which I have occasion to relate regarding the first of these mysterious outrages. I was quite unable to propound any theory covering the facts, to Pettigrew’s evident annoyance; he assured me that I was very stupid, and insisted upon opening a magnum of champagne. I then returned to my rooms, and since reflection upon the subject promised to be unprofitable, had dismissed it from my mind, when some time during the evening Inspector Grimsby rang me up from the Yard.

“Hullo, Mr. Searles,” he said; “I hear you called on Mr. Pettigrew this morning?”

I replied in the affirmative.

“Did anything strike you?”

“No; were you on the case?”

“I wasn’t on the case then, but I’m on it now.”

“How’s that?”

“Well, there’s been another mummy beheaded in Sotheby’s auction rooms!”

II.

I knew quite well what was expected of me.

“Where are you speaking from?” I asked.

“The auction-rooms.”

“I will meet you there in an hour,” I said, “and bring Moris Klaw if I can find him.”

“Good,” replied Grimsby, with much satisfaction in his voice; “this case ought to be right in his line.”

I chartered a taxi and proceeded without delay to the salubrious neighborhood of Wapping Old Stairs. At the head of the blind alley which harbors the Klaw emporium I directed the man to wait. The gloom was very feebly dispelled by a wavering gaslight in the shedlike front of the shop. River noises were about me. Somewhere a drunken man was singing. An old lady who looked like a pantomime dame was critically examining a mahogany chair with only half a back, which formed one of the exhibits displayed before the establishment.

A dilapidated person whose nose chronically blushed for the excesses of its owner hovered about the prospective purchaser. This was William, whose exact position in the Klaw establishment I had never learned, but who apparently acted during his intervals of sobriety as a salesman.

“Good-evening,” I said. “Is Mr. Moris Klaw at home?”

“He is, sir,” husked the derelict, “but he’s very busy, sir, I believe, sir.”

“Tell him Mr. Searles has called.”

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