Ghost Hunters And Psychic Detectives / Ghost Hunters and Psychic Detectives Part 8

Another board creaked, and now Terry felt his knees growing limp. But that was the doctor’s firm step on the lower stairs. Terry’s knees stiffened and he began to be able to breath once more. In a few seconds the strong comforting presence of that iron-nerved man would be with him and he would be himself again.

The shadow seemed to know that too. Terry was aware of a rush, of a dimly monstrous density of blackness that launched itself at him. He was hurled numbingly against the wall by a muffling air-cushion sort of impact. Helplessly dazed, smothered, he did not know how to resist, to defend himself. He was lost. And then the glutinous pressure recoiled, foiled. He could almost hear the baffled hate that withdrew from him and hurtled down the stairs.

His senses registered the fact that without his own volition he shouted, “Look out!” and that there was a commotion somewhere below. He heard a stamping of feet and a surge of wind as though a window had been blasted open; and the next thing was the doctor’s inquiry “Are you hurt?” and the beam of a flashlight racing up the steps.

He was not hurt; miraculously, it seemed to him, for the annihilating malevolence of that formless creature had appeared to be a vast force. But the doctor dressed him down severely.

“You lost your nerve, you poor sap, in spite of all that I explained to you. You let it influence your mind to fear and so play right into its hands. You laid yourself open to attack as smoothly as though you were Mrs. Jarrett herself. But out of that very evil we can draw the good of exemplary proof.

“You were helpless; paralyzed. And yet the thing drew off.

Why? Because you had your iron blackjack in your hand. If it had known you had that defense it would never have attacked you, or it would have influenced you to put the iron down first. Knowing now that you have it, it will not, in its present condition of weakness, attack you again. So stick that in your hat and don’t get panicky again. But we’ve got to keep after it. If we can keep it out of the house; if we can continue so to guard the sick man that the thing cannot draw any further energy from him its power to manifest itself must dwindle. We shall starve it out. And the more we can starve it, the, less power will it have to break through the resistance of a new victim.”

“Come on, then,” said Terry.

“Good man,” approved the doctor. “Come ahead. It went through the living room window; that was the only one open. But, why, I ask myself. Why did it go out? That was just what we wanted it to do. I wonder whether it is up to some devilish trick. The thing can think with a certain animal cunning. We must shut and lock the living room window and go out at the door. What trick has that thing in store, I wonder? What damnable trick?”

“How are we going to find an abstract hate in this maze of shadows?” Terry wanted to know.

“It is more than, abstract,” said the doctor seriously. “Having broken into our plane of existence, this thing has achieved, as you have already felt, a certain state of semi-materialization. A ponderable substance has formed round the nucleus of malignant intelligence. As long as it can draw upon human energy from its victim that material substance will remain. In moving from place to place it must make a certain amount of noise. And, drawing its physical energy from this particular sick man, it must cough as he does. In a good light, even in this bright moonlight, it will be to a certain extent visible.”

But no rustlings and scurryings fled before their flashlights amongst the ornamental evergreens; no furtive shadow flitted across moonlight patches; no sense of hate hung in the darkest corners.

“I hope to God it didn’t give us the slip and sneak in again before we got the entries fixed. But no, I’m sure it wasn’t in the house. I wish I could guess what tricks it’s up to.” The doctor was more worried than he cared to let his friend see. He was convinced that leaving the house had been a deliberate move on the thing’s part and he wished that he might fathom whatever cunning purpose lay back of that move.

All of a sudden the sound of footsteps impinged upon their ears; faint shuffling. Both men tensed to listen, and they could hear the steps coming nearer. The doctor shook his head.

“It’s just some countryman trudging home along the road. If he sees us with flashlights at this hour he’ll raise a howl of burglars, no doubt.”

The footsteps approached ploddingly behind the fence, one of those nine-foot high ornamental screens made of split chestnut saplings that are so prevalent around many country houses. Presently the dark figure of the man a” Terry was quite relieved to see that it was a man a” passed before the open gate, and the footsteps trudged on behind the tall barrier.

Fifty feet, a hundred feet; the crunch of heavy nailed boots was growing fainter. Then something rustled amongst the bushes. Terry caught at the doctor’s sleeve.

“There! My God! There again!”

A crouching something ran with incredible speed along this side of the fence after the unsuspecting footsteps of the other. In the patches of moonlight between black shadows it was easily distinguishable. It came abreast with the retreating footsteps and suddenly it jumped. Without preparation or take-off, apparently without effort, the swiftly scuttling thing shot itself straight into the air.

Both men saw a ragged-edged form, as that of an incredibly tall and thin man with an abnormally tiny head, clear the nine-foot fence with bony knees drawn high and attenuated ape arms flung wide; an opium eater’s nightmare silhouette against the dim sky. And then it was gone.

In the instant that they stood rooted to the spot a shriek of inarticulate terror rose from the road. There was a spurt of flying gravel, a mad plunging of racing footsteps, more shrieks, the last rising to the high-pitched falsetto of the acme of fear. Then a lurching fall and an awful silence.

“Good God!” The doctor was racing for the gate, Terry after him. A hundred feet down the road a dark mass huddled on the ground; there was not a sign of anything else. The misshapen shadow had vanished. The man on the ground rolled limp, giving vent to great gulping moans. The doctor lifted his shoulders against his own knee.

“Keep a look out, Jimmy,” he warned. His deft hands were exploring for a hurt or wound, while his rapid fire of comments gave voice to his findings. “What damned luck! Still, I don’t see what it could have done to a sturdy lout like this. How could we have guarded against this sort of a mischance? Though it just couldn’t have crashed into this fellow’s vitality so suddenly; there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong, anyhow. I guess he’s more scared than hurt.”

The moaning hulk of a man squirmed and opened his eyes. Feeling himself in the grip of hands, he let out another fearful yell and struggled in a frenzy to escape.

“Easy, brother, easy,” the doctor said soothingly. “You’re all right. Get a hold of yourself.”

The man shuddered convulsively. Words babbled from his sagging lips.

“It a” It a” its ha a” hand! Oh, G a” got a” over my face. A h a” hand like a eel a” a dead ee a” eel. Ee a” ee!”

He went off into a high-pitched hysteria again.

There was a sound of windows opening up at the house and a confused murmur of anxious voices; then a hail.

“What is it? Who’s there? What’s the matter?”

“Lord help the fools!” The doctor dropped the man cold in the road and sprang across to the other side from where he could look over the high fence and see the square patches of light from the windows high up on their little hill.

“Back!” he screamed. “Get back! For God’s sake, shut those windows!”

He waved his hands and jumped down in an agony of apprehension. “What?” The, fatuous query floated down to him. “What’s that you say?”

Another square of light suddenly sprang out of the looming mass, from the sick man’s room. Laboriously the window went up, and the sick man leaned out.

“What?” he asked, and he coughed out into the night.

“God Almighty! Come on, Jimmy! Leave that fool; he’s only scared.” The doctor shouted and dashed off on the long sprint back to the gate and up the sloping shrubbery to the house that he had thought to leave so well guarded.

“That’s its trick,” he panted as he ran. “That’s why it came out. Please Providence we won’t come too late. But it’s got the start on us, and it can move ten times as fast.”

Together they burst through the front door, slammed it after them, and thundered up the stairs. The white, owlish faces of the Jarrett family gleamed palely at them from their door. The doctor cursed them for fools as he dashed past. He tore at the knob of the sick-room door.

The door did not budge.

Frantically he wrestled with it. It held desperately solid.

“Bolted from the inside!” the doctor screamed. “The fool must have done it himself. Open up in there. Quick! Open for your life.”

The door remained cold and dead. Only from inside the room came the familiar hacking cough. It came in a choking fit. And then Terry’s blood ebbed in a chill wave right down to his feet.

For there were two coughs. A ghastly chorus of rasping and retching in a hell’s paroxysm.

The doctor ran back the length of the hall. Pushing off from the further wall, he dashed across and crashed his big shoulders against the door. Like petty nails the bolt screws flew and he staggered in, clutching the, sagging door for support.

The room was in heavy darkness. The doctor clawed wildly along the wall for the unfamiliar light switch. Terry, at his heels, felt the wave of malevolence that met them.

The sudden light revealed to their blinking eyes the sick man, limp, inert, lying where he had been hurled, half in and half out of the bed, twisted in a horrible paroxysm.

The window was open, as the wretched dupe had left it when he poked his foolish head out into the night to inquire about all the hubbub outside. Above the corner, of the sill, hanging outside, was a horror that drew both men up short. An abnormally long angle of raggy elbow supported a smudgy, formless, yellow face of incredible evil that grinned malignant triumph out of an absurdly infantile head.

The face dropped out of sight. Only hate, like a tangible thing, pervaded the room. From twenty feet below came back to the trembling men a grating, “och-och-och, ha-ha-ha-heh-heh-heck, och-och.” It retreated down the shrubbery.

Dr. Muncing stood a long minute in choked silence. Then bitterly he swore. Slowly, with incisive grimness he spoke a truth: “Man’s ingenuity can guard against everything except the, sheer dumb stupidity of man.”

It was morning. Dr. Muncing was taking his leave. He was leaving behind him a few last words of advice. They were not gentle.

“I shall say no more about the criminal stupidity of opening your windows after my warning to you; perhaps the thing was able to influence all of you. Your brother, madam, has paid the price. Through your fault and his, there is now loose, somewhere in our world, an elemental entity, malignant and having sufficient human energy to continue. Where or how, I cannot say. It may turn up in the next town, it may do so in China; or something may happen to dissipate it.

“As far as you are concerned it is through. It has tapped this source of energy and has gone on. It will not come back, unless you, madam, go out of your way deliberately to attract it by fooling with these silly seances before you have learned a lot more about them than you know now.”

Mrs. Jarrett was penitent and very wholesomely frightened, besides. She would never play with fire again, she vowed; she would have nothing at all to do with it ever again; she would be glad if the doctor would take away her ouija board and her planchette and all her note books; everything. She was afraid of them; she felt that some horrible influence still attached to them.

“Notebooks.” The doctor was interested. “You mean you took notes of the babble that came through? Let me see. Hm-m, the usual stuff; projected reversal of your own conceptions of the hereafter and how happy all your relatives are there. Ha, what’s this? Numbers, numbers a” twelve, twenty-four, eight a” all the bad combinations of numbers. What perversity made you think only of bad numbers? Hello, hello, what? From where did you get this recurring ten, five, eight, one, fourteen? A whole page of it. And here again. And here; eighteen, one, ten? Pages and pages a” and a lot of worse ones here? How did this come?”

Mrs. Jarrett was tearful and appeared somewhat hesitant.

“They just came through like that, Doctor. They kept on coming. We just wrote them down.”

The doctor was very serious. A thin whistle formed in his pursed lips. His eyes were dark pools of wonder.

“There are more things in heaven and eartha”” he muttered. Then shaking off the awe that had come over him, he turned to Mrs. Jarrett.

“My dear lady,” he said. “I apologize about those open windows. This thing was able to project influence from even the other of the veil. It made you invite it. Don’t ask me to explain these mysteries. But listen to what you have been playing with.” The doctor paused to let his words soak in.

“These numbers, translated into their respective letters, are the beginning of an ancient Hindoo Yogi spell to invoke a devil. Merciful heaven, how many things we don’t understand. So that’s how it came through. And there is no Yogi spell to send it back. We shall probably meet again, that thing and I.”

THE WARDER OF THE DOOR.

[Psychic sleuth: Bell, the Master of Mysteries].

L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace.

“If you don’t believe it, you can read it for yourself,” said Allen Clinton, climbing up the steps and searching among the volumes on the top shelf.

I lay back in my chair. The beams from the sinking sun shone through the stained glass of the windows of the old library, and dyed the rows of black leather volumes with bands of red and yellow.

“Here, Bell!”

I took a musty volume from Allen Clinton, which he had unearthed from its resting-place.

“It is about the middle of the book,” he continued eagerly. ‘You will see it in big, black, old English letters.”

I turned over the pages containing the family tree and other archives of the Clintons till I came to the one I was seeking. It contained the curse which had rested on the family since 1400. Slowly and with difficulty I deciphered the words of this terrible denunciation.

“And in this cell its coffin lieth, the coffin which hath not human shape, for which reason no holy ground receiveth it. Here shall it rest to curse the family of ye Clyntons from generation to generation. And for this reason, as soon as the soul shall pass from the body of each first-born, which is the heir, it shall become the warder of the door by day and by night. Day and night shall his spirit stand by the door, to keep the door close till the son shall release the spirit of the father from the watch and take his place, till his son in turn shall die. And whoso entereth into the cell shall be the prisoner of the soul that guardeth the door till it shall let him go.”

“What a ghastly idea!’ I said, glancing up at the young man who was watching me as I read. ‘But you say this cell has never been found. I should say its existence was a myth, and, of course, the curse on the soul of the first-born to keep the door shut as warder is absurd. Matter does not obey witchcraft.”

“The odd part of it is,” replied Allen, ‘that every other detail of the Abbey referred to in this record has been identified; but this cell with its horrible contents has never been found.”

It certainly was a curious legend, and I allow it made some impression on me. I fancied, too, that somewhere I had heard something similar, but my memory failed to trace it.

I had come down to Clinton Abbey three days before for some pheasant shooting.

It was now Sunday afternoon. The family, with the exception of old Sir Henry, Allen and myself, were at church. Sir Henry, now nearly eighty years of age and a chronic invalid, had retired to his room for his afternoon sleep. The younger Clinton and I had gone out for a stroll round the grounds, and since we returned our conversation had run upon the family history till it arrived at the legend of the family curse. Presently, the door of the library was slowly opened, and Sir Henry, in his black velvet coat, which formed such a striking contrast to his snowy white beard and hair, entered the room. I rose from my chair, and, giving him my arm, assisted him to his favourite couch. He sank into its luxurious depths with a sigh, but as he did so his eyes caught the old volume which I had laid on the table beside it. He started forward, took the book in his hand and looked across at his son.

“Did you take this book down?” he said sharply.

“Yes, father; I got it out to show it to Bell. He is interested in the history of the Abbey, anda””

“Then return it to its place at once,” interrupted the old man, his black eyes blazing with sudden passion. “You know how I dislike having my books disarranged, and this one above all. Stay, give it to me.”

He struggled up from the couch, and, taking the volume, locked it up in one of the drawers of his writing-table, and then sat back again on the sofa. His hands were trembling, as if some sudden fear had taken possession of him.

“Did you say that Phyllis Curzon is coming tomorrow?” asked the old man presently of his son in an irritable voice.

“Yes, father, of course; don’t you remember? Mrs. Curzon and Phyllis are coming to stay for a fortnight; and, by the way,” he added, starting to his feet as he spoke, “that reminds me I must go and tell Gracea””

The rest of the sentence was lost in the closing of the door. As soon as we were alone, Sir Henry looked across at me for a few moments without speaking. Then he saida”

“I am sorry I was so short just now. I am not myself. I do not know what is the matter with me. I feel all to pieces. I cannot sleep. I do not think my time is very long now, and I am worried about Allen. The fact is, I would give anything to stop this engagement. I wish he would not marry.”

“I am sorry to hear you say that, sir,” I answered. “I should have thought you would have been anxious to see your son happily married.”

“Most men would,” was the reply; ‘but I have my reasons for wishing things otherwise.”

“What do you mean?” I could not help asking.

“I cannot explain myself; I wish I could. It would be best for Allen to let the old family die out. There, perhaps I am foolish about it, and of course I cannot really stop the marriage, but I am worried and troubled about many things.”

“I wish I could help you, sir,” I said impulsively. “If there is anything I can possibly do, you know you have only to ask me.”

“Thank you, Bell, I know you would; but I cannot tell you. Some day I may. But there, I am afraid a” horribly afraid.”

The trembling again seized him, and he put his hands over his eyes as if to shut out some terrible sight.

“Don’t repeat a word of what I have told you to Allen or anyone else,” he said suddenly. “It is possible that some day I may ask you to help me; and remember, Bell, I trust you.”

He held out his hand, which I took. In another moment the butler entered with the lamps, and I took advantage of the interruption to make my way to the drawing-room.

The next day the Curzons arrived, and a hasty glance showed me that Phyllis was a charming girl. She was tall, slightly built, with a figure both upright and graceful, and a handsome, somewhat proud face. When in perfect repose her expression was somewhat haughty; but the moment she spoke her face became vivacious, kindly, charming to an extraordinary degree; she had a gay laugh, a sweet smile, a sympathetic manner. I was certain she had the kindest of hearts, and was sure that Allen had made an admirable choice.

A few days went by, and at last the evening before the day when I was to return to London arrived. Phyllis’ mother had gone to bed a short time before, as she had complained of headache, and Allen suddenly proposed, as the night was a perfect one, that we should go out and enjoy a moonlight stroll.

Phyllis laughed with glee at the suggestion, and ran at once into the hall to take a wrap from one of the pegs.

“Allen,” she said to her lover, who was following her, “you and I will go first.”

“No, young lady, on this occasion you and I will have that privilege,” said Sir Henry. He had also come into the hall, and, to our astonishment, announced his intention of accompanying us in our walk.

Phyllis bestowed upon him a startled glance, then she laid her hand lightly on his arm, nodded back at Allen with a smile and walked on in front somewhat rapidly. Allen and I followed in the rear.

“Now, what does my father mean by this?’ said Allen to me. “He never goes out at night; but he has not been well lately. I sometimes think he grows queerer every day.”

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