Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 6
“Yes, it was hot weather a” early in August. This room has not been occupied since. After Platt’s affair, I have always avoided this side of the house, so that it was only by chance that Lawrence and I came round to this part of the lawn to smoke.”
“Then we may suppose that the danger, whatever it is, exists on this side of the house only?”
“So it seems,” replied Montesson.
“Your sister was last seen alive in this room? Platt in the room directly below? And your friend a” what of him?”
“Lawrence was lying on the gravel path under the study window. All of them have died under the shadow of the cedar. Did Fremantle give you his idea? Poor Lawrence’s death disposed of that theory. No big ape could live in England all those five years in the open and in any case it must have been seen sometime in the interval!”
“I think so,” replied Low abstractedly. “Now as to what we must do to try and get at the meaning of all this: considering all you have gone through in this house, do you feel equal to remaining here with me for a night or two?”
Montesson again glanced over his shoulder nervously. “Yes,” he said. “I know my nerves are not as stiff and steady as they should be, but I’ll stand by you a” especially as you would not find another man about here willing to run the risk. You see, it is not a ghost or any fanciful trouble; it means a, real danger. Think over it, Mr. Low, before you undertake so hazardous an attempt!”
Low looked into the blue eyes Montesson had fixed upon him. They were weary, anxious eyes, and, taken in combination with his compressed lips and square’ chin, told Low of the struggle this man constantly endured between his shaken nervous system and the strong will that mastered it. Montesson was a fighter.
“If you’ll stand by me, I’ll try to get to the bottom of it,” said Low.
“I wonder if I should allow you to risk your life in this way?” returned Montesson, passing his hand over his prematurely lined forehead.
“Why not? Besides it is my own wish.
As for risking our lives a” it is for the good of mankind.”
“I can’t say I see it in that light,” said Montesson in surprise.
“If we lose our lives, it will be in the effort to make another spot of earth clean and wholesome and safe for men to live on. Our duty to the public requires us to run a murderer to earth. Here we have a murderous power of some subtle kind. Is it not quite as much our duty to destroy it if we can, even at risk to ourselves?” Low asked.
The result of this conversation was an arrangement to pass the night at the Grey House. About ten o’clock they set out, intending to follow the path they had more or less successfully cleared for themselves in the afternoon. By Flaxman Low’s advice, Montesson carried a long knife.
The night was unusually hot and still, and lit only by a thin moon as they made their way along, stumbling over matted weeds and roots and literally feeling for the path, until they came to the little gate by the lawn. There they stopped a moment to look at the house standing out among its strange sea of overgrowth, the dim moon low on the horizon, glinting palely upon the windows and over the deserted countryside. As they waited a night bird hooted and flapped its way across the open.
At any moment they might be at handgrips with the mysterious power of death which haunted the place. The warm lush-scented air and the sinister shadows seemed charged with some ominous influence.
As they drew near the house Low perceived a sweet-heavy odor. “What is it?” he asked.
“It comes from those scarlet Rowers. It’s unbearable! Lampurt imported the thing,” replied Montesson irritably.
“Which room will you spend the night in?” asked Low as they gained the hall.
Montesson hesitated. “Have you ever heard the expression ‘gray with fear’?” he said, laughing in the dark; “I’m that!”
Low did not like the laugh a” it was only one removed, and that a very little one, from hysteria. “We won’t find out much unless we each remain alone, and with open windows as they did,” said Low.
Montesson shook himself. “No, I suppose not. They were each alone when a” good night, I’ll call if anything happens, and you must do the same for me. For Heaven’s sake, don’t go to sleep!”
“And remember,” added Low, “with your knife to cut at anything that touches you!” Then he stood at the study door and listened to Montesson’s heavy steps as they passed up the stairs, for he had elected to pass the night in his sister’s room. Low heard him walk across the floor above and’ throw wide the window.
When Mr. Low turned into the study and tried to open the window there, he found it impossible to do so; the creeper outside had fastened upon the woodwork, binding the sashes together. There was but one thing left for him to do a” he must go outside and stand where Lawrence had stood on that fatal night. He let himself out softly and went round to the south side of the house. There he paced up and down in the shadows for perhaps an hour.
In the deceptive, iridescent moonlight, a pallid head seemed to wag at him from the gloom below the cedar, but, moving towards it, he grasped only the yellow bunched blossom of a giant ragwort. Then he stood still and looked up into the branches above; the gnarled black branches with their fringes of black sticky leaves. Fremantle’s theory of the ape passing stealthily among them to spring upon his victims found a sudden horror of possibility in Low’s mind. He imagined the girl awaking in the brute’s cruel handsa”
Out upon the quiet brooding of the night broke a scream a” or rather a roar, a harsh, jagged, pulsating roar, that ceased as abruptly as it had begun.
Without a moment’s consideration, Mr. Low seized the branch nearest to him and, swinging himself up into the tree, he climbed with a frantic effort towards the window of Montesson’s room, from which he was almost sure the sound had come. Being an unusually active and athletic man, he leaped from the branch towards the open window, and fell headlong in upon the floor. As he did so, something seemed to pass him, something swift and sinuous that might have been a snake, and disappear out of the window!
Remembering a flashlight on the toilet table, he lit it, when he regained his feet, and looked around him.
Montesson lay on the floor “crumpled up” as he had himself described Lawrence’s position. Low recalled this with misgiving as he hurried to his side. A dark smear like blood was on Montesson’s cheek, but though unconscious, he was still alive. Low lifted him on to the bed and did what he could to rouse him, but without success. He lay rigid, breathing the slow, almost imperceptible respiration of deep stupor.
Low was about to go to the window, when the flashlight suddenly went out, and he was left in the increasing darkness.
The low window sill was scarcely more than a foot above the floor, and presently he fancied something was moving along the carpet among the entangling shadows of the leaves, but the darkness was now intensified, and he could not be sure.
Suddenly Low felt a soft touch upon his knee. His whole consciousness had been so absorbed in the act of listening that this unexpected appeal to another sense startled him. Here and there, rapid, soft, and light, the touches passed over his body. It might have been some animal nosing about him in the dark. Then a smooth, cold touch fell upon his cheek.
Low sprang up, and slashed about him in the darkness with his knife. In that instant the thing closed with him a” a flexuous, snaky thing that flung its coils about his limbs and body in one swift spring like a curling whiplash!
Flaxman Low was all but helpless in the winding grasp of what? a” the tentacles of some strange creature? Or was it some great snake, this sentient thing that was feeling for his throat? There was not an instant to lose! The knife was pressed against his body; with a violent effort he drew it sharply, edge outwards, against those rope-like coils. A spurt of clammy fluid fell upon his hand, and the thing loosed and fell away from him into the stifling gloom.
In the morning, Montesson came to himself in one of the lower rooms at the other side of the house. Fremantle was beside him.
“What’s the matter?” Montesson asked. “Ah, I remember now. There’s Low. It has beaten us again, Fremantle! It is hopeless. I don’t know what happened a” I was not asleep, when I found myself seized, lifted up, drawn towards the window, and strangled by living ropes. Look at Low!” He went on harshly, raising himself. “Why, man, you’re all over blood!”
Flaxman Low glanced down at his hands. “Looks like it,” he said.
Montesson, who had been looking at his neck in the glass, turned quickly.
“It’s some horrible thing in nature! Something between a snake and an octopus! What do you say to it, Low?”
“First of all,” explained Low, “we know where all the deaths have occurred.”
“To speak precisely, they have all occurred in different places,” interposed Fremantle.
“True; but within a strictly limited area. The slight differences have been of material help to me. In all cases they have occurred in the vicinity of one thing.”
“The cedar!” cried Montesson, with some excitement.
“That was my first idea a” now I refer to the wall. Will you tell me the probable weight of Lawrence and Platt at the date of death?”
“Platt was a small man a” perhaps under nine stone. Lawrence, though much taller, was thin, and could not have weighed more than eleven. As for poor little Fan, she was only a slip of a girl.”
“Three people have been killed a” one has escaped. In what way do you differ from the others, Montesson?” asked Low.
“If you mean I’m heavier, I certainly am. I scale something like fifteen. But what has that to do with it?”
“Everything. The coils have evidently not sufficient compressive power to destroy life by strangulation simply a” there must be suspension as well. You were simply too heavy for them to tackle.”
“Coils of what?”
“Of this.” Low held up a tapering, reddish-brown tendon or line, which had red, curved triangular teeth set on it at intervals.
The other men stared at this object, and then Montesson burst out: “The creeper on the wall!” he said, in a tone of disappointment. “It couldn’t be! Besides, has a plant blood?”
“Let us go and look at it,” said Low. “This creeper has never been cut because it withers away every winter to the ground and grows again in the spring. Look here!” He took out his knife and cut a leathery shoot. A crimson stain spurted out on his cuff. “The only person, as far as I can gather, who cut this plant was Mr. Lampurt in nailing it to the wall. He died of shock when he saw the red stain on his finger, for he knew something of its deadly properties. But though stupefying, as your condition last night proved, Montesson, they are not fatal. Even to stupefy, they must get into the blood. Now the deaths have all occurred within reach of the tendrils of this plant. And all have happened at the same season of the year, that is to say, at the time when it attains its full annual strength and growth. Another point in favor of Montesson’s escape, was the dryness of the season. The growth is not quite so good as usual this, summer, is it?”
“No, the tendrils are thinner a” a good deal thinner and smaller.”
“Just so. Therefore your weight saved you, though you were stupefied by the punctures of the thorns. I feared that, and warned you to use your knife.”
“But the brain of the thing?” cried Fremantle. “Why, man, has a plant will and knowledge and malevolence?”
“Not of itself, as I believe,” answered Low. “Perhaps you will prefer to attribute much to the long arm of coincidence, but the explanation I can offer is one that has long been held by occultists in other countries. Pythagoras and others have taught that forms of incarnation change as the soul raises or debases itself during each spell of Life. Connect with this the belief of the Brahmins, and I may add of various African tribes, that an earthbound spirit, at the moment of a premature or sudden death, may pass into plants or trees of certain species, by virtue of an inherent attraction possessed by these plants for such entities. To go further, it is said that these degraded souls have intervals during which they have power of voluntary action to do good or evil, and such action has influence on their future incarnations.”
“What do you mean? What do you intend us to believe?” Montesson said, and stopped.
“It is hard to put it into words in these latter days of unbelief,” said Low, “but the evidence goes to show that a man a” presumably not a good man a” dies a sudden death near this plant, even inoculated with its sap.”
“It is incredible!” said Fremantle almost angrily.
“I don’t ask you to believe it,” said Flaxman Low quietly, “I only tell you such beliefs exist. Montesson can do something towards proving my theory. Let me have the plant destroyed, and judge by results.”
Mr. Montesson has acted upon Mr. Flaxman Low’s suggestions. The Grey House is now occupied and safe.
DR. MUNCING, EXORCIST.
[Psychic sleuth: Dr. Muncing].
A plate upon the gatepost of the trim white wicket said only: “Dr. Muncing, Exorcist.”
Aside from that, the house was just the same as all the others in that street a” semidetached, stuccoed, respectable. A few more brass plates announced other sober citizens with their sprinkling of doctors of law and doctors of medicine, and one of divinity. But “Dr. Muncing, Exorcist”; that was darkly suggestive of something queer.
The man who gazed reflectively out of the window at the driving rain was, like his brass sign, vaguely suggestive, too, of something queer; of having the capacity to do something that the other sober citizens, doctors and lawyers, did not do.
He was of a little more than middle height, broad, with strong, capable-looking hands; his face was square cut, finely crisscrossed with weather-beaten lines, tanned from much travel in faraway lands; a strong nose hung over a thin, wide mouth that closed with an extraordinary determination.
The face of a normal man of strong character. It was the eyes that conveyed that vague impression of something unusual. Deep set, they were, of an indeterminate color, hidden beneath a frown of reflective brows; brooding eyes, suggestive of a knowledge of dark things that other sober citizens did not know.
The other man who stared out of the other window was younger, bigger in every way; an immense young fellow who carried in his big shoulders and clean complexion every mark of having devoted more of his college years to the study of football rather than of medicine. This one grunted an ejaculation.
“I’ll bet a dollar this is a patient for you.”
Dr. Muncing came over to the other window.
“I don’t bet dollars with Dr. James Terry. Gambling seems to have been one of the few things you did really well at John College. The fellow does look plentifully frightened, at that.”
The man in question was hurrying down the street, looking anxiously at the house numbers; bent over, huddled in a rain coat, he read the numbers furtively, as though reluctant to turn his head out of the protection of his upturned collar. He uttered a glad cry as he saw the plate of Dr. Muncing, Exorcist, and, letting the gate slam, he stumbled up the path to the door.
Dr. Muncing met the man personally, led him to a comfortable chair, mixed a stimulant for him, offered him a cigarette. Calm, methodical, matter-of-fact, this was his “bedside manner” with such cases. Forcefully he compelled the impression that, whatever might be the trouble, it was nothing that could not be cured. He stood waiting for an explanation. The man stammered an incoherent jumble of nothings.
“I a” Doctor, I don’t know how, I can’t tell you what it is, but the Reverend Hendryx sent me to you. Yet, I don’t know what to tell you; there’s nothing to describe.”
“Well,” said the doctor judicially, “that is already interesting. If there’s nothing and if the Reverend Hendryx feels that he can’t pray it away, we probably have something that we can get hold of.”
His manner was dominant and cheerful, he radiated confidence. His bulky young assistant had been cleverly chosen for just that purpose also, to assist in putting over the impression of power, of force to deal with queer and horrible things that could not be sanely described.
The man began to respond to that atmosphere. He got a grip on himself and began to speak more coherently: “Doctor, I don’t know what to tell you. There have been no spooks, or anything of that sort. We’ve seen nothing; heard nothing. It’s only a feeling. You’ll laugh at me, Doctor, but it’s just a something in the dark that brings a feeling of awful fear; and I know that it will catch me. Last night a” my God, last night it almost touched me.”
“I never laugh,” said Dr. Muncing seriously, “until I have laid my ghost. For some ghosts are horribly real. Tell me something about yourself, your family, your home and so on. And as to your f ears, whatever they are, please don’t try to conceal them from me.”
A baffled expression came over the man’s face. He could not divorce his personal affairs from the quite commonplace.
“There’s nothing to tell, Doctor; nothing that’s different to anybody else. I don’t know what could bring this frightful thing about us. My name is Jarrett a” I sell real estate up in the Catskills. I have a little place a hundred feet off the paved state road; two miles from the village. There’s nothing old or dilapidated about the house; there’s modern plumbing, electric lights, and so on. No old grave yards anywhere in the neighborhood. Not a single thing to bring this horror; and yet a” I tell you, Doctor, there’s something frightful in the dark that we can feel.”
“Hma”m!” The doctor pursed his lips and walked a short beat, his hands deep in his pockets. “A new house; no old associations. Begins to sound like an elemental, only how would such a thing have gotten loose? Or it might be a malignant geoplasm, but a” Tell me about your family, Mr. Jarrett.”
“There’s only four of us, Doctor. There’s my wife’s brother, who’s an invalid; anda””
“Aha”h!” a quick breath came from the doctor. “So there’s a sick man, yes? What is his trouble?”
“His lungs are affected. He was advised to come to us for the mountain air; and he was getting very much better; but recently he’s very much worse again. We’ve been thinking that perhaps this constant terror has been too much for him.”
“Hum, yes, indeed.” The doctor strode his quick beat back and forth; his indeterminate eyes were distinctly steel gray just now. “Yes, yes, the terror, and the sick man who grows worse. Quite so. Who else, Mr. Jarrett? What else have you that might attract a visohagig entity?”
“A viso a” what? Good God, Doctor, we haven’t anything to attract anything. Besides my wife’s brother there’s only my son, ten years of age, and my wife. She gets it worse than any of us; she says she has even seen a” but I think there’s a lot of blarney in all that.” The man contrived a sick smile. “You know how women are, Doctor; she says she has seen shapes a” formless things in the dark. She likes to think she is psychic, and she is always seeing things that nobody else knows anything about.”
“Oh, good Lord!” Dr. Muncing groaned and his face was serious. “Verily do fools rush in. All the requirements for piercing the veil. Heavens, what idiots people can be.”
Suddenly he shot an accusing finger at Mr. Jarrett.
“I suppose she makes you sit round a table with her, and all that sort of stuff.”
“Yes, Doctor, she does. Raps and spelt out messages, and so on.”
“Good Lord!” The doctor walked angrily back and forth. “Fools by the silly thousand play with this kind of fire, and this time these poor simpletons have broken in on some, thing.”
He whirled on the frightened realtor with accusing finger laying down the law.
“Mr. Jarrett, your foolish wife doesn’t know what she has done. I myself don’t know what she has turned loose or what this thing might develop into. We may be able to stop it. It may escape and grow into a world menace. I tell you we humans don’t begin to know what forces exist on the other side of that thin dividing line that we don’t begin to understand. The only thing to do now is to come with you immediately to your home; and we must try and find out what this thing is that has broken through and whether we can stop it.”
The Jarrett house turned out exactly as described. Modern and commonplace in every way; situated in an acre of garden and shrubbery on a sunlit slope of the Catskill Mountains. The other houses of the straggly little village were much the same, quiet residences of normal people who preferred to retire a little beyond the noise and activity of the summer resort of Pine Bend about two miles down the state road.
The Jarrett family fitted exactly into their locale. Well-meaning, hospitable rural nonentities. The lady who was psychic was over-plump and short of breath at that elevation; the son, a gangling schoolboy, evinced the shy aloofness of country youth before strangers; the sick man, thin and drawn, with an irritable cough, showed the unnatural flush of color on his cheeks that marked his disease.
It required very much less than Dr. Muncing’s keenness to see that all of these people were in a condition of nervous tension that in itself was proof of something that had made quite an extraordinary effect on their unimaginative minds.