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The Silvered Sentinel by Schuyler Hamilton
Murder

The Silvered Sentinel

by Schuyler Hamilton

The Black Mask | May 1920 | Vol. 1, No. 2 THE RED FILE | Oct. 21, 2018 | Vol. 13 No. 49

He was broke. But the miserly orchid hunter had a hidden fortune. Could De Collyer's skill as an "imitator" be enough to get the old man's money?

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Reflection

De Collyer grimaced slightly at his reflection in the long pier-glass as he applied the rabbit’s foot to his eyebrows in a final, deft movement. If it is true that nine-tenths of the actor’s art is comprehended in the knowledge of make-up, De Collyer was an artist to his fingertips — long, sensitive, slender — the fingers of a man with imagination — and something more.

De Collyer, or it was the face in the mirror, mouthed an unintelligible guttural in a voice thick, turgid, a burring mumble, husky with age, and a sort of senile mirth:

“Heh! Heh! Heh!

“I don’t know nothin’ … I ain’t wantin’ nothin’ … thankee … I minds m’ own business … “

De Collyer leaned back in his chair, and a throaty chuckle escaped him. He spoke in his natural voice, but with no boastfulness:

“Perfect … perfect … to the letter … and … and … “

He paused as if a sudden thought, and a little smile twitched the comers of his mouth — a wolfish grin.

De Collyer did “imitations” when he could get booking, which had become increasingly difficult as he had acquired and fostered an increasing fondness for strong drink, despite its growing scarcity and the difficulty of acquisition.

Besides his really remarkable mobility of features and genius at make-up, he was a superior mimic, but it had availed him little of late. For he had come to the pass where he would lie, beg, borrow, or steal for a drink. And perhaps, if the provocation were strong enough … Already he owed his landlady, Mrs. Finchley for three weeks’ board — and he had had no booking for months.

His face held a brooding, introspective look not pleasant to contemplate. De Collyer was desperately in need of money — and he had exhausted every possible source of revenue except — one.

The previous night, with his eye at the keyhole of a locked door leading to the room next his own, he had seen that which had inspired him with a plan — a sure way, as he told himself — out of his difficulties. All that it required was nerve — just a little nerve — the silencing of a conscience already almost atrophied in the sordid business of his hand-to-mouth existence.

Hurriedly, with flying fingers he obliterated the face in the mirror as a heavy step sounded in the hall without. It passed on — hesitated — paused at his door. It was locked, and the key turned to prevent its being pushed inward from without, but, of course …

De Collyer held his breath, but Mrs. Finchley evidently had reconsidered. Already he owed her for three weeks’ board. Well — he would owe her more than that before he had finished …

It would be a near thing, he decided — but — it could not fail.

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Chapter 2

Th’ Last Word from Luther D. Gammage

Old Luther Gammage was a “character” who never spoke unless directly addressed, and then in monosyllables.

“I minds m’ own business,” he had vouchsafed on one occasion to the somewhat indiscreet advances of a fledgling boarder. “I ain’t got nothin’ — I ain’t wantin’ nothin’ — heh — heh — heh!”

Rumor had it that he was a miser — but even this speculation had died with the passage of years.

Gammage, however, did have a hobby, and a rather unusual one, namely, the collection of orchid blooms and their culture, and it had been the actor’s attempt to foist upon him a counterfeit seed of the rare, greenish Crane-Fly orchid which had aroused the old collector’s undying enmity — and suspicion.

This hobby, however, he had concealed as effectually as the source from which he derived his income. For he always paid cash. How De Collyer had accomplished the discovery of Gammage’s small conservatory in a cypress swamp in the outskirts was his own secret, but he had kept himself out of sight most effectually — a specialty of his — biding his time with an infinite patience which, valuable as Gammage’s collection undoubtedly was, was yet not aimed at the specimens which the silent old man had accumulated.

Truly, De Collyer knew nothing of the five tribes, the 370 genera, or the five thousand species, and cared less. It had been from an altogether different motive that he had approached Gammage with his crude conterfeit — it was, after all, a seed, and, in his way, De Collyer was a rather clever sower of such …

Now, on a misty evening of late Autumn, supper being over, Gammage approached Mrs. Finchley in what she afterward described as a kind of breathless excitement — for him. Afterward she declared to the coroner’s jury that she felt in her bones that something was wrong — there had been something — a premonition, a presentiment — but the good lady did not express it in just that fashion:

“He ain’t never spoke three words in a month, gentlemen — not him — an’ this mornin’ he seemed all of a tremble, like — he says t’ me, he says: ‘Mis’ Finchley,’ he says, I’m goin’ a journey,’ he says, ‘an’ I mayn’t be back till late.’

” ‘You ain’t well, Mr. Gammage,’ I says. ‘You better not go out t’day,’ I says. For his breath come sort of whistlin’ in his throat.

“An’ then, f’r th’ first an’ last time in th’ days I knew him he seemed t’ get excited — a kind of queer fever come in his cheeks. ‘No, no, Mrs. Finchley,’ he quavers — ‘No, no — I must go — I gotta — but I’ll be back — t’night — late.’

“An’ that’s th’ last word I had from Luther D. Gammage, gentlemen — th’ very last word, though 1 must say as I don’t rightly un’erstand … “

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Chapter 3

The Old Orchid Hunter’s Fear

Luther Gammage left Mrs. Finchley’s a little while after supper, and he returned — late — as he had promised. He left the house openly, walked a matter of six blocks to a little-used car line, and there boarded a trolley which ran to the city limits.

Half a mile from the end of the tracks he entered the cypress swamp. For a heart-beat he stood, with his head upon his shoulder, listening — then plunged into the swamp as a man who burns his bridges behind him.

It was a gray evening, but even at high noon of blazing sunshine here there was perpetual twilight — greenish gray, sombre, repellent, daunting to a dweller of the sun-washed world without. Round about, for a radius of five miles, there were no houses, no living human abode in this whispering labyrinth, but there were not wanting tales of sights and sounds, witch-fires, will-o-the-wisps, which, rumor had it, were uneasy ghosts, pale wraiths whose luminance rose upon the fetid night in an unspeakable suggestion of old crimes, ancient victims.

The seed planted by De Collyer had borne fruit. As he went forward, delicately, across a quaking bog, Gammage’s hand felt for something in his pocket: something cold and hard and smooth — and a sudden, red rage possessed him as he envisaged the spoiler at his work …

As he approached the conservatory a brooding silence, like the dead, lifeless silence before storm, had settled upon the swamp, like a vast and smothering hand. Presently, just ahead, he made out the dim bulk of the building, squat, and somehow shapeless, sinister, silent.

He paused then, and waited, tense, quivering, but no sound nor sign issued out of the dimness. A minute passed — a minute of time, an hour of thought.

Suddenly, as he watched, a thin, red pencil of light grew and broadened to a fanlike arc of yellow flame — a broad blotch of radiance quivered and died across the marsh.

“Anstey!” he called suddenly, in a high, eager voice.

Anstey was the caretaker. But with the words the light winked out, and as suddenly he remembered — or did he? Wasn’t this the day for the caretaker’s weekly trip to the city for supplies? Yes, of course, it was … it — - it was true, then …

“Hophead” as well as drunkard, De Collyer, Gammage was convinced, would not have paused at murder for the accomplishment of his ends — and with the thought of a sudden, desperate resolution girded his sinews with steel. He covered the intervening space at a stumbling run — circled the corner of the low building — and came face to face with the intruder.

And at what he saw in that face — the strangeness of it — the old orchid hunter’s fear and fury simmered to a sort of boiling quiet. He knew now what he had come to do. His resolution was taken.

“You … you … damn ye, De Collyer!” he said evenly. “So that’s y’r game, hey? Well — I knowed ye first off … now … whut hev ye done with Anstey?”

In the dim twilight the face of the actor appeared oddly contorted. There was infinite venom, and an ugliness of unspeakable suggestion in his words as he answered lightly, hardily:

“Whut hev I done with Anstey?” he mimicked. The tone was perfect. He went on in his natural voice:

“Why — not a thing, old man,” he said. “I haven’t even seen him, if you ask me.”

A chill wind rose and grew, like the whispering voices of dead fears upon the night. Had De Collyer … had he … something up his sleeve. To Gammage his collection was his life. Now, as he faced the sneering interloper before him, his rage and fear caught, as it were, a sudden, leaping spark from the green.eyes which mirrored his own — a premonition — a warning which burned into his with a sudden, leaping flame.

As if at a silent signal there came a sudden rush — the impact of two straining bodies — the flat crack of an automatic — then a dull, crunching thud — a quick heave — a stirring of the osiers at the edge of the deep tarn below. There followed a heavy splash — a gurgle — and the viscid slime heaving throughout its oily surface.

One more had been added to the grisly toll of the cypress swamp.

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Chapter 4

Out of the Swamp

Out of the swamp presently there emerged, alone, the bent and shuffling figure of the little old man, but now he walked as with an added burden of years, for behind him there stalked a Shadow — a shadow which henceforth would be with him, waking and sleeping — a shadow with stiff fingers and sightless eyes — a shadow reaching — reaching from the black ooze and the slime and the whispering silence which he had left behind.

He shivered a moment in the warm air as he waited for the trolley which presently roared down upon him with clanging bell and sharp screaming of brakes. He boarded it silently, a drab, inconspicuous figure which gained but a perfunctory notice from the conductor and the few passengers.

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Chapter 5

Murderer!

Luther Gammage left Mrs. Finchley’s a little while after supper — and he returned — late — as he had promised.

A pin-point of gas burned in the narrow, malodorous hallway. It was the custom of the boarding-house that any lodger returning after midnight and finding the gas alight should extinguish it. Doubtless Mrs. Finchley’s star boarder remembered this. He extended a hand; the light winked out, and the thick darkness of the sleeping house took him to its heart.

He reached the hall above. His door was to the left — at the stairhead — and usually he could have found it blindfolded. For he was invariably a creature of habit.

He went forward a few paces. Now his groping hand, thrust out before him, fumbled at a door-knob, and then withdrew nervously at the feel of the cold, porcelain surface. Gammage’s door-knob was of glass, six-sided — - whereas this was round, and cold, and smooth — like the … like the … top of a skull.

It was De Collyer’s door. He paused as if to listen to the deep breathing within — but there was no sound that he could hear — his pale lips in the darkness trembled.

Murderer! The word seemed to stand out in letters of fire, etched upon the black pall of the night like a corroding flame. For he had killed a man.

No one had seen. No one would ever discover the grisly evidence save at the beckoning finger of a remote and unthinkable chance. And yet … he had killed a man …

De Collyer had simply disappeared. He had often disappeared … for days at a time … He had sunk into that oblivious sea of missing men from which no faintest bubble of doubt or hint or trace would evermore rise upward into the ken of humankind. And there would be none to mourn him.

He wheeled to the right-about — and this time his thin fingers closed on the glass outline of the door-knob he sought.

He opened the door, stood for a moment, trembling as with fatigue, and then, steering an uncertain course in the velvet black, brought up sharply against the foot-board of an old-fashioned bed.

Darkness plays strange tricks with one’s sense of direction … that bed had always stood … somewhere else … it was in the wrong place! Mrs. Finchley did not as a rule move her boarders’ furniture without due notice, but this … this …

With fumbling fingers, after several attempts, at length he lighted a match — and gargantuan shadows ran along walls and ceiling, in caricature of a little old man, lean, old. bearded and be whiskered of face.

He lit the gas. The bed was in its proper place, facing a blank wall between two closets, behind it the windows. Well … the darkness plays strange tricks with one’s sense of direction …

He gazed about him as one who sees that which is familiar and yet unfamiliar, his eyes flaming beneath their pent-house brows. Then, in a sudden, senseless panic he gained the door, laid his hand upon the bolt. With shaking fingers he slid it home.

It shrieked, rasping — not loudly — but with the quick squeak of a mouse in the wainscot. He moved backward to the bed, which stood, immovable, steadfast, facing, as it had always faced, the blank wall with its pattern of blood-red roses …

He undressed with a fumbling, clumsy haste, his fingers all thumbs, snapped out the light — to lie with staring eyes envisaging the impenetrable blank above him. After a while he closed them — but not to sleep …

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Chapter 6

You’re In the Wrong Seat

Luther Gammage had always been an early riser. And this morning his seat was occupied when Mrs. Finchley came into the basement dining-room. None of the other boarders had as yet put in an appearance, and at the landlady’s :

“Good morning, Mr. Gammage!”

“Mornin’, ma’am,” he mumbled, as he conveyed the spoon to his mouth, spilling a little of its contents on his none too immaculate stock.

Suddenly the landlady, who had been scrutinizing him oddly, remarked with an air of stolid wonder:

“Why — why, Mr. Gammage — you — you’re in the wrong seat — you’re … “

“Heh?” came the muttered answer.

“You — you’re in — Mr. De Collyer’s place.”

A little silence fell — like a stone dropped into the placid surface of a pond, the ripples widening — expanding … in waves of suggestion. De Collyer’s chair! Coward conscience — mental suggestion — was that what it was? Well … he would have to be careful.

A sudden, silent panic seized him, so that it seemed that his heart, throbbing dully within his ribs, would every instant betray him. What was it that was written of murderers … what was it?

*“In the deep night; in the dark night Will I search thee out …

Yea, though thou coverest.thyself As with a mountain, yet will I find thee …”*

It seemed to the woman that the silent figure in the chair had aged overnight. She thought he looked ill, with a deep-seated illness. For he was a creature of habit, and as such it must be something more than mere absentmindedness which had caused him to depart from the habit of years — to pass his own accustomed place and to take the place of another. But before he could reply the landlady had gone on hurriedly:

“Oh — but it don’t make no difference — of course … you stay right where you are, Mr. Gammage … De Collyer, now, he … he ain’t got exactly a mortgage on that seat, ‘f you ask me.” She released a laugh of blended sarcasm and friendly familiarity — turned — went to the window, fussed a moment with the shade — and then bustled outward to the kitchen.

His breakfast over, the little old man returned to his room, where, once inside, and the door closed and bolted, he stood a moment uncertainly — then, abruptly, there appeared in his face and bearing a sudden, startling transformation. He appeared to straighten visibly — his lips lost their accustomed slackness of age — his eyes glowed with sudden, biting life. He seemed to be in the grip of an overpowering and hard-held excitement.

A small, leafed panel in the old-fashioned escritoire fell open at his touch. His exploring fingers thrust inward, and came away — empty. With a little, darting rush he was at the bureau — had ransacked the drawers in a twinkling — then turned to an ancient clothes-press, the which he laboriously explored — to no avail.

That which he sought still eluded him. Could it — was it possible that someone had been before him? No — -it was unthinkable — it simply could not be — it must not. Otherwise …

Haste, haste, and more haste — speed, speed, and yet more speed! And yet — and yet — above everything he must avoid the appearance of hurry. That grisly Something by now fathoms deep in sludge — who could find it — who would even think to look …?

He glanced at his watch with a nervous, sidewise jerking of the head; then at an ancient clock set on a heavy, imitation porphyry base which stood on the mantel.

Ah! Now he remembered — stupid to have so forgotten! Was it …? Yes! Nerves … nerves … what a devil they played with one!

For with a quick, grasping movement he had lifted the clock — and there, wedged in at the bottom, between its four sprawling legs, was a bankbook — his bankbook.

“I need a rest, that’s certain — that’s what I need,” he muttered. “Travel — that’s th’ ticket — a long trip.”

There sounded in the hall without a step — muffled voices — they were — they were approaching his door. His knees trembled, his hand stole with a convulsive gesture to the automatic in his pocket. There sounded a double rap upon the door, firm, authoritative, like a summons of doom.

At last!

An hour — an aeon — an eternity was compassed in his brief passage to the door. Under his futile fingers the bolt clanged and rattled — of what use to resist, unless … unless … Then it seemed as if the heavy door was flung inward from without, and in the aperture there loomed the vast bulk of brass-buttoned Authority: a policeman, behind him the grey face of the landlady. It had come, then!

“We’re looking for … a gent named De Collyer,” came the booming voice. “This lady here … “

Before he could continue, or the other answer, came the landlady’s voice, apologetic, hurried:

“Th’ officer’d like a description, sir. I — I give it to him, but he says mebbe y’ c’d tell us something else. He — he’s wanted f’r larceny, an’ I don’t know what-all.”

Wanted! The orchid-hunter gulped, swallowed, managed to articulate: “Why — I dunno, officer — he — I wasn’t — ain’t — he’s wanted, ye’ say? Well, well!”

His tones seemed suddenly more virile, but on the instant he seemed to shrink within himself. He seemed what he was: old, broken, as he continued :

“I — I ain’t extry well, sir — I — I finds it hard to remember — hut — but — well — he wuz always hard up, I reckon … he wuz always broke, s’far ‘s I know. Heh — heh — heh! That’s ‘bout all I kin tell ye.”

The policeman grunted something inarticulate — swung on his heel without ceremony, glanced at the landlady, received a significant look, and the two turned, and passed on down the stairs.

Scraps of talk floated upward: “A regular title-taper, ‘f you ask me”; “A fine crook, sir!”

“That’s what he was — a fine crook! An’ him owin’ me th’ best part of three weeks’ board … “

The little old man closed the door softly. He gave a smothered, nervous laugh. He was getting old — that was it — he had been growing older all the time — and now, at one stride, as it were, he was reaping the result. The door again bolted, he glanced carefully over the array of figures in the pass book, and a breathless ejaculation escaped him. He peered closely, as if disbelieving the evidence of his eyes — then slumped downward into a chair, muttering as if in disbelief.

Presently he sat up — leaned over the old-fashioned marble-top table, drew toward him paper and pen, tracing words put down aimlessly in a meaningless repetition of the name: “Luther Gammage,” many times repeated. He ceased finally with a grunt of satisfaction:

“‘s good,” he muttered. “Couldn’t challenge that!”

A senile cackle sounded in his throat. “What’s in a name? A … a rose … by any other name … an orchid … money … money … money — that’s it — money — that’s in a name … my name.”

Then: “The pen is … is … mightier than the … than the …”

A curious expression, almost of fear, passed like a shadow over his face. He rose abruptly, and jamming the passbook in an inside pocket, descended the stairs. He met no one. The front door opened — clicked shut behind him — and he was gone.

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Chapter 7

All About the Murder of …

Gammage’s bank was the Thirteenth National, and thither, after leaving the boarding-house, the little old man proceeded. He was secure — safe — he told himself — both as to this and as to that other secret even now sunk fathoms deep in those unplumbed depths — but as he passed along the street he felt rather than saw a shadow detach itself from the opposite curb: a lean, hawklike face, hanging for a moment in a sort of vague menace, like a face without a body, projected out of the kaleidoscope of shifting humans, and then withdrew even as he looked.

In the brief instant that he had seen the face he had been conscious of its malevolent interest: the sardonic flicker of a ghastly meaning in the eyes … he shivered in the humid air.

He became aware that a ragged nondescript was following him, or so it seemed — was keeping pace with him, step for step … . With a tremendous effort of the will he glanced sidewise at the features of the newsboy: pinched, young-old, wise beyond imagining, and he fancied he detected in its expression that same calculating, studied appraisal.

“Paper — sir — paper!” the gamin shrilled suddenly … . “All about …”

And as suddenly he knew, with a curious, dread, shivering certainty, what he was about to hear: “All about the murder of … of …”

Proffering a coin with shaking fingers, he snatched the extra — then gasped almost audibly in overwhelming relief, as he made out to see, in one blinding survey, that it was the famous case of the “Pine-Tree Murder,” figuring a corpus delicti which had baffled the best efforts of the most efficient detectives. And now — and now — despite the more than Satanic ingenuity of the crime — the diabolical cleverness of its simplicity — they had — caught the murderer! And in his own case he knew but too well of what avail would be his plea of self-defence.

“In the deep night; in the dark night Will I search thee out … Yea, though thou covercst thyself As with a mountain, yet will I find thee …”

He entered the bank, and as he went through the marble portal a man brushed by him furtively, yet with a certain meaning in his look, he could have sworn. And — was it the face he had seen in the crowd? Something told him that it was — an inner voice which he felt somehow to he an enemy — why, he could not have told. He noticed particularly the shoes: broad, square-toed, such as are worn commonly by plainclothesmen.

Like a wind-driven spectre of fear, he walked into the bank: a little, old, bent, gray, shuffling figure of a man — bearded and bewhiskered — like an elderly and timorous mouse. That was the word the voluble Mrs. Finchley had used afterward at the inquest — a ghastly simile, indeed, when the amazing and unbelievable finale was written — when the face in the shadow had withdrawn forever — when behind the arras of Eternity there remained merely the voiceless answer of an impenetrable and infinite Silence … .

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Chapter 8

A Little — Unpleasantness

The murderer passed, with his dragging shuffle, down the ornate marble foyer, and approached the paying teller’s wicket.

“Er — how much will it be this time, Mr. Gammage?” inquired the teller, perfunctorily. “The — the same, I presume, as usual?” Then, at the other’s muttered, scarce audible rejoinder: “Why — why — Mr. Gammage — “ he replied–“all of it?”

The teller gave an almost imperceptible shrug. “Very well, Mr. Gammage,” he pronounced. “Just as you sir … of course. … “ Automatically he pushed a white square of paper, together with a pen, across the space between them for the other’s signature. Idly the teller watched the long, slim fingers as they pot together the words:

Luther D. Gammage Something — some seeming incongruity began tapping at the back of his brain, like the shadow of a suggestion, in a vague effort to recall — now, just what was it? But this passed in a fugitive glimmer of diminishing recollection as he recovered the slip, scanned it casually, made the usual comparison, and with a mechanical exactitude placed it in its proper compartment.

But — $17,000!

He would have liked to question the old man about it, but instead he asked merely:

“How’ll you have it, Mr. Gammage?” at the other’s reply pushing a number of bills with saffron edges through the wicket, when there came a sudden, startling interruption: a long, gray-clad arm thrust between — there came a voice, hoarse, excited:

“Mr. Dinsmore — just a moment …”

With the bills almost in his hand the bent figure stiffened — his mouth opened, then closed in a tight, quivering line as the teller disappeared from the window.

It had come, then! It was upon him! In some unforeseen, some unexpected, some inexplicable way, they had found him out!

But while he waited, in a sort of numb expectancy, for the hand on his shoulder and the word which should spell his doom, behind him there arose sounds of a scuffle, oaths, a quick panting.

He turned with an effort, in time to see a little knot of men split suddenly apart — the flash of steel — a gruff order — then two sullen individuals herded toward the offices in the rear by the uniformed man in gray and another in plain clothes. After an interval the face of Dinsmore, the teller, appeared, unwontedly flushed.

“Ah … you’ll pardon me, Mr. Gammage. Just a little — unpleasantness … . I’m sorry … but it’s quite all right now, sir … . Here’s your money.”

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Chapter 9

The Disappearance of De Collyer

But the little old man did not return immediately to the boarding-house, where, after notifying Mrs. Finchley of his intention of an indefinite leave (he would make it definite enough!) he meant to spend his last night in the city. It would not do for him to disappear too abruptly, although an insistent voice within him, an urgent, frantic voice dictated haste, haste, while there was time, while there was yet time. He had sent the caretaker a verbal message — the latter would question him in nothing — and as for that — that which was buried against all resurrection in the blind depths of the swamp — Anstey knew nothing — he would be as silent as his master. It was inconceivable that it would ever be found … .

Still, he would leave nothing to chance — he would turn in his key in regular order to Ma Finchley, give up his room, and — disappear, like a stone sunk in a fathomless pool of silence and unplumbed depth. The encounter in the boarding-house; the face in the street; the preferred newspaper; the meeting in the doorway of the bank; the sudden apprehension of the bank-sneaks; these, whatever their significance, had left him curiously shaken.

Gammage had never been what is known as a drinking-man, but now he pushed open the swing-doors of a cafe on a side street, where, despite the Prohibition Act, certain commodities were dispensed on occasion for a price. Now, as he entered its cool gloom things were happening at Mrs. Finchley’s — things insignificant enough in themselves — neutral threads, if you will — but which, when woven into the tragic tapestry of my tale, showed bright scarlet against its sombre background of high light — and shadow:

Threads of Destiny!

Bustle of activity in the second floor as something tall and oblong and heavy was shunted into Gammage’s room. The old man had always wanted it — why, no one knew exactly — and now Mrs. Finchley had been able to gratify his wish, or whim, or whatever it was — since, and this was made possible by event number.

The disappearance of De Collyer, the impecunious actor, whose room was “done up” in preparation for a future tenant, and the door locked. The day passed, and at the supper hour Mrs. Finchley wondered vaguely at the continued absence of Gammage.

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Chapter 10

Macbeth Hath Murdered Sleep

Shadows were massed solidly so that the street seemed a canyon of darkness, a black well of silence without sound, yet curiously fluid, like a tide rising between the houses, which thrust upward on either hand in a dint jumble of roof and skylight and shaft. Presently there would be a moon, but just now there was deep, smothering blackness.

Out of this dense darkness there emerged suddenly a lesser shadow — a grotesque, he seemed — a shadow figure in some curiously terrible pantomime in the faintly luminous dusk filtering downward from the remote pall of the sky.

A key clattered in the latch — the door swung inward noiselessly — long, tapering fingers reached upward to the light, and a monstrous, leaping silhouette fled along the wall like a gigantic and menacing hand. Then the light winked out — there followed the muffled sounds of the ascent — heavy breathing.

The door of Gammage’s room opened silently — there came the brief noise of a scratching match — a creak of protest sounded from the ancient bed — the muffled thud of a shoe falling upon thick carpet — then a heavy, stertorous breathing. Long he slept, when presently, above the dreaming roofs, there grew a pale radiance — uprose the moon, like a silvered sentinel of night.

The sleeper stirred, moaned, tossing his arms abroad like a man in the grip of a viselike and inexorable terror — of a malignant and vengeful personality. Then, suddenly, with a strangled gasp, he awoke, and before him, upon the black wall of the night, in his mind’s eye — as one sees the after-reflection of a dazzling light upon the blackness — he beheld a vision: the grim portal of the swamp … facilis decensus Avemi … thither at whispering dusk, had he gone … and behind him had stalked … a Shadow … . For in truth had he murdered … sleep:

Macbeth hath murdered sleep, and therefore Banquo Shall sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more … .

Once more the sleeper seemed to see the swamp with its green glooms, its strange and perverted beauty of decay, in its heart that strange, amorphous excrescence of rocky ledge rising like a wart out of the morass. Here might one find, down-flung like a pale star at thunderous dawn, the exotic blooms of crane-fly or cyprepedium. Yet Gammage had gone far afield to fill his storehouse with the plunder of the outlands. And as such was it not worth the taking?

And out of the swamp, presently, there had emerged, alone, a little old man, bearded and bewhiskered … alone … and yet behind him there seemed to peer another … behind …

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The words seemed suddenly alive — hoarse with a sort of hypnotic cadence. Like a cinematographic impression, the vision persisted: the face, its lips writhed backward in a soundless snarl of rage and terror and surprise, appeared to stay — to remain — unfading, almost, he might have thought …

Into the shadows at the foot of the bed there penetrated a long shaft of radiance, like a leprous-silvered finger, striking at the blank wall between the two closets — the rising moon. And in that ghostly radiance the face which he had seen moved — it was coming toward him — and upon it was the same expression of horror and surprise that it had worn when … when …

“Dead men rise up never!”

A lie — it was a lie — a cheat — for this was no figment of the imagination — it was real, it was horrible … it was … it was … .

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Chapter 11

Reflected In the Mirror

With a windy shriek De Collyer fell backward upon the bed, the mounting tide of his alcoholic frenzy culminating in an overwhelming wave of insane and blasphemous mouthing: the grim justice of a retributive madness.

For the face which he had seen had indeed been that of Gammage — and yet as in a glass darkly — for, by a strange, retributive, poetic justice, he had seen it with his own eyes, indeed: the bearded image of his victim — the perfect likeness which he had counterfeited — the speaking likeness, indeed, which he had put on in the cypress swamp and since retained — reflected in the mirror which in his absence the landlady had caused to be transferred from his own room to the bare space between the closets at the foot of Gammage’s bed!

THE END


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Blueberry Pie, by Thrya Samter Winslow

Blueberry Pie
By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)

The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5

The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.


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