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Title: Burn, Witch, Burn!
Author: Abraham Merritt
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0607481.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2007

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Burn, Witch, Burn!
Abraham Merritt




FOREWORD

I am a medical man specializing in neurology and diseases of the
brain. My peculiar field is abnormal psychology, and in it I am
recognized as an expert. I am closely connected with two of the
foremost hospitals in New York, and have received many honors in this
country and abroad. I set this down, risking identification, not
through egotism but because I desire to show that I was competent to
observe, and competent to bring practiced scientific judgment upon,
the singular events I am about to relate.

I say that I risk identification, because Lowell is not my name.
It is a pseudonym, as are the names of all the other characters in
this narrative. The reasons for this evasion will become increasingly
apparent.

Yet I have the strongest feeling that the facts and observations
which in my case-books are grouped under the heading of "The Dolls of
Mme. Mandilip" should be clarified, set down in orderly sequence and
be made known. Obviously, I could do this in the form of a report to
one of my medical societies, but I am too well aware of the way my
colleagues would receive such a paper, and with what suspicion, pity
or even abhorrence, they would henceforth regard me so counter to
accepted notions of cause and effect do many of these facts and
observations run.

But now, orthodox man of medicine that I am, I ask myself whether
there may not be causes other than those we admit. Forces and energies
which we stubbornly disavow because we can find no explanation for
them within the narrow confines of our present knowledge. Energies
whose reality is recognized in folk-lore, the ancient traditions, of
all peoples, and which, to justify our ignorance, we label myth and
superstition.

A wisdom, a science, immeasurably old. Born before history, but
never dying nor ever wholly lost. A secret wisdom, but always with its
priests and priestesses guarding its dark flame, passing it on from
century to century. Dark flame of forbidden knowledge...burning in
Egypt before even the Pyramids were raised; and in temples crumbling
now beneath the Gobi's sands; known to the sons of Ad whom Allah, so
say the Arabs, turned to stone for their sorceries ten thousand years
before Abraham trod the streets of Ur of the Chaldees; known in
China--and known to the Tibetan lama, the Buryat shaman of the steppes
and to the warlock of the South Seas alike.

Dark flame of evil wisdom...deepening the shadows of
Stonehenge's brooding menhirs; fed later by hands of Roman
legionaries; gathering strength, none knows why, in medieval Europe
...and still burning, still alive, still strong.

Enough of preamble. I begin where the dark wisdom, if that it
were, first cast its shadow upon me.



CHAPTER I: THE UNKNOWN DEATH



I heard the clock strike one as I walked up the hospital steps.
Ordinarily I would have been in bed and asleep, but there was a case
in which I was much interested, and Braile, my assistant, had
telephoned me of certain developments which I wished to observe. It
was a night in early November. I paused for a moment at the top of the
steps to look at the brilliancy of the stars. As I did so an
automobile drew up at the entrance to the hospital.

As I stood, wondering what its arrival at that hour meant, a man
slipped out of it. He looked sharply up and down the deserted street,
then threw the door wide open. Another man emerged. The two of them
stooped and seemed to be fumbling around inside. They straightened and
then I saw that they had locked their arms around the shoulders of a
third. They moved forward, not supporting but carrying this other man.
His head hung upon his breast and his body swung limply.

A fourth man stepped from the automobile.

I recognized him. He was Julian Ricori, a notorious underworld
chieftain, one of the finished products of the Prohibition Law. He had
been pointed out to me several times. Even if he had not been, the
newspapers would have made me familiar with his features and figure.
Lean and long, with silvery white hair, always immaculately dressed, a
leisured type from outward seeming, rather than leader of such
activities as those of which he was accused.

I had been standing in the shadow, unnoticed. I stepped out of the
shadow. Instantly the burdened pair halted, swiftly as hunting hounds.
Their free hands dropped into the pockets of their coats. Menace was
in that movement.

"I am Dr. Lowell," I said, hastily. "Connected with the hospital.
Come right along."

They did not answer me. Nor did their gaze waver from me; nor did
they move. Ricori stepped in front of them. His hands were also in his
pockets. He looked me over, then nodded to the others; I felt the
tension relax.

"I know you, Doctor," he said pleasantly, in oddly precise
English. "But that was quite a chance you took. If I might advise you,
it is not well to move so quickly when those come whom you do not
know, and at night--not in this town."

"But," I said, "I do know you, Mr. Ricori."

"Then," he smiled, faintly, "your judgment was doubly at fault.
And my advice doubly pertinent."

There was an awkward moment of silence. He broke it.

"And being who I am, I shall feel much better inside your doors
than outside."

I opened the doors. The two men passed through with their burden,
and after them Ricori and I. Once within, I gave way to my
professional instincts and stepped up to the man the two were
carrying. They shot a quick glance at Ricori. He nodded. I raised the
man's head.

A little shock went through me. The man's eyes were wide open. He
was neither dead nor unconscious. But upon his face was the most
extraordinary expression of terror I had ever seen in a long
experience with sane, insane and borderland cases. It was not
undiluted fear. It was mixed with an equally disturbing horror. The
eyes, blue and with distended pupils, were like exclamation points to
the emotions printed upon that face. They stared up at me, through me
and beyond me. And still they seemed to be looking inward--as though
whatever nightmare vision they were seeing was both behind and in
front of them.

"Exactly!" Ricori had been watching me closely. "Exactly, Dr.
Lowell, what could it be that my friend has seen--or has been given--
that could make him appear so? I am most anxious to learn. I am
willing to spend much money to learn. I wish him cured, yes--but I
shall be frank with you, Dr. Lowell. I would give my last penny for
the certainty that those who did this to him could not do the same
thing to me--could not make me as he is, could not make me see what he
is seeing, could not make feel what he is feeling."

At my signal, orderlies had come up. They took the patient and
laid him on a stretcher. By this time the resident physician had
appeared. Ricori touched my elbow.

"I know a great deal about you, Dr. Lowell," he said. "I would
like you to take full charge of this case."

I hesitated.

He continued, earnestly: "Could you drop everything else? Spend
all your time upon it? Bring in any others you wish to consult--don't
think of expense--"

"A moment, Mr. Ricori," I broke in. "I have patients who cannot be
neglected. I will give all the time I can spare, and so will my
assistant, Dr. Braile. Your friend will be constantly under
observation here by people who have my complete confidence. Do you
wish me to take the case under those conditions?"

He acquiesced, though I could see he was not entirely satisfied. I
had the patient taken to an isolated private room, and went through
the necessary hospital formalities. Ricori gave the man's name as
Thomas Peters, asserted that he knew of no close relations, had
himself recorded at Peters' nearest friend, assumed all
responsibility, and taking out a roll of currency, skimmed a thousand
dollar bill from it, passing it to the desk as "preliminary costs."

I asked Ricori if he would like to be present at my examination.
He said that he would. He spoke to his two men, and they took
positions at each side of the hospital doors--on guard. Ricori and I
went to the room assigned to the patient. The orderlies had stripped
him, and he lay upon the adjustable cot, covered by a sheet. Braile,
for whom I had sent, was bending over Peters, intent upon his face,
and plainly puzzled. I saw with satisfaction that Nurse Walters, an
unusually capable and conscientious young woman, had been assigned to
the case. Braile looked up at me. He said: "Obviously some drug."

"Maybe," I answered. "But if so then a drug I have never
encountered. Look at his eyes--"

I closed Peters' lids. As soon as I had lifted my fingers they
began to rise, slowly, until they were again wide open. Several times
I tried to shut them. Always they opened: the terror, the horror in
them, undiminished.

I began my examination. The entire body was limp, muscles and
joints. It was as flaccid, the simile came to me, as a doll. It was as
though every motor nerve had gone out of business. Yet there was none
of the familiar symptoms of paralysis. Nor did the body respond to any
sensory stimulus, although I struck down into the nerve trunks. The
only reaction I could obtain was a slight contraction of the dilated
pupils under strongest light.

Hoskins, the pathologist, came in to take his samples for blood
tests. When he had drawn what he wanted, I went over the body
minutely. I could find not a single puncture, wound, bruise or
abrasion. Peters was hairy. With Ricori's permission, I had him shaved
clean--chest, shoulders, legs, even the head. I found nothing to
indicate that a drug might have been given him by hypodermic. I had
the stomach emptied and took specimens from the excretory organs,
including the skin. I examined the membranes of nose and throat: they
seemed healthy and normal; nevertheless, I had smears taken from them.
The blood pressure was low, the temperature slightly subnormal; but
that might mean nothing. I gave an injection of adrenaline. There was
absolutely no reaction from it. That might mean much.

"Poor devil," I said to myself. "I'm going to try to kill that
nightmare for you, at any rate."

I gave him a minimum hypo of morphine. It might have been water
for all the good it did. Then I gave him all I dared. His eyes
remained open, terror and horror undiminished. And pulse and
respiration unchanged.

Ricori had watched all these operations with intense interest. I
had done all I could for the time, and told him so.

"I can do no more," I said, "until I receive the reports of the
specimens. Frankly, I am all at sea. I know of no disease nor drug
which would produce these conditions."

"But Dr. Braile," he said, "mentioned a drug--"

"A suggestion only," interposed Braile hastily. "Like Dr. Lowell,
I know of no drug which would cause such symptoms."

Ricori glanced at Peters' face and shivered.

"Now," I said, "I must ask you some questions. Has this man been
ill? If so, has he been under medical care? If he has not actually
been ill, has he spoken of any discomfort? Or have you noticed
anything unusual in his manner or behavior?"

"No, to all questions," he answered. "Peters has been in closest
touch with me for the past week. He has not been ailing in the least.
Tonight we were talking in my apartments, eating a late and light
dinner. He was in high spirits. In the middle of a word, he stopped,
half-turned his head as though listening; then slipped from his chair
to the floor. When I bent over him he was as you see him now. That was
precisely half after midnight. I brought him here at once."

"Well," I said, "that at least gives us the exact time of the
seizure. There is no use of your remaining, Mr. Ricori, unless you
wish."

He studied his hands a few moments, rubbing the carefully
manicured nails.

"Dr. Lowell," he said at last, "if this man dies without your
discovering what killed him, I will pay you the customary fees and the
hospital the customary charges and no more. If he dies and you make
this discovery after his death, I will give a hundred thousand dollars
to any charity you name. But if you make the discovery before he dies,
and restore him to health--I will give you the same sum."

We stared at him, and then as the significance of this remarkable
offer sank in, I found it hard to curb my anger.

"Ricori," I said, "you and I live in different worlds, therefore I
answer you politely, although I find it difficult. I will do all in my
power to find out what is the matter with your friend and to cure him.
I would do that if he and you were paupers. I am interested in him
only as a problem which challenges me as a physician. But I am not
interested in you in the slightest. Nor in your money. Nor in your
offer. Consider it definitely rejected. Do you thoroughly understand
that?"

He betrayed no resentment.

"So much so that more than ever do I wish you to take full
charge," he said.

"Very well. Now where can I get you if I want to bring you here
quickly?"

"With your permission," he answered, "I should like to have--well,
representatives--in this room at all times. There will be two of them.
If you want me, tell them--and I will soon be here."

I smiled at that, but he did not.

"You have reminded me," he said, "that we live in different
worlds. You take your precautions to go safely in your world--and I
order my life to minimize the perils of mine. Not for a moment would I
presume to advise you how to walk among the dangers of your
laboratory, Dr. Lowell. I have the counterparts of those dangers.
Bene--I guard against them as best I can."

It was a most irregular request, of course. But I found myself
close to liking Ricori just then, and saw clearly his point of view.
He knew that and pressed the advantage.

"My men will be no bother," he said. "They will not interfere in
any way with you. If what I suspect to be true is true they will be a
protection for you and your aids as well. But they, and those who
relieve them, must stay in the room night and day. If Peters is taken
from the room, they must accompany him--no matter where it is that he
is taken."

"I can arrange it," I said. Then, at his request, I sent an
orderly down to the doors. He returned with one of the men Ricori had
left on guard. Ricori whispered to him, and he went out. In a little
while two other men came up. In the meantime I had explained the
peculiar situation to the resident and the superintendent and secured
the necessary permission for their stay.

The two men were well-dressed, polite, of a singularly tight-
lipped and cold-eyed alertness. One of them shot a glance at Peters.

"Christ!" he muttered.

The room was a corner one with two windows, one opening out on the
Drive, the other on the side street. Besides these, there were no
outer openings except the door to the hall; the private bathroom being
enclosed and having no windows. Ricori and the two inspected the room
minutely, keeping away, I noticed, from the windows. He asked me then
if the room could be darkened. Much interested, I nodded. The lights
were turned off, the three went to the windows, opened them and
carefully scrutinized the six-story sheer drop to both streets. On the
side of the Drive there is nothing but the open space above the park.
Opposite the other side is a church.

"It is at this side you must watch," I heard Ricori say; he
pointed to the church. "You can turn the lights on now, Doctor."

He started toward the door, then turned.

"I have many enemies, Dr. Lowell. Peters was my right hand. If it
was one of these enemies who struck him, he did it to weaken me. Or,
perhaps, because he had not the opportunity to strike at me. I look at
Peters, and for the first time in my life I, Ricori--am afraid. I have
no wish to be the next, I have no wish to look into hell!"

I grunted at that! He had put so aptly what I had felt and had not
formulated into words.

He started to open the door. He hesitated.

"One thing more. If there should be any telephone calls inquiring
as to Peters' condition let one of these men, or their reliefs,
answer. If any should come in person making inquiry, allow them to
come up--but if they are more than one, let only one come at a time.
If any should appear, asserting that they are relations, again let
these men meet and question them."

He gripped my hand, then opened the door of the room. Another pair
of the efficient-appearing retainers were awaiting him at the
threshold. They swung in before and behind him. As he walked away, I
saw that he was crossing himself vigorously.

I closed the door and went back into the room. I looked down on
Peters.

If I had been religious, I too would have been doing some
crossing. The expression on Peters' face had changed. The terror and
horror were gone. He still seemed to be looking both beyond me and
into himself, but it was a look of evil expectancy--so evil that
involuntarily I shot a glance over my shoulder to see what ugly thing
might be creeping upon me.

There was nothing. One of Ricori's gunmen sat in the corner of the
window, in the shadow, watching the parapet of the church roof
opposite; the other sat stolidly at the door.

Braile and Nurse Walters were at the other side of the bed. Their
eyes were fixed with horrified fascination on Peters' face. And then I
saw Braile turn his head and stare about the room as I had.

Suddenly Peters' eyes seemed to focus, to become aware of the
three of us, to become aware of the entire room. They flashed with an
unholy glee. That glee was not maniacal--it was diabolical. It was the
look of a devil long exiled from his well-beloved hell, and suddenly
summoned to return.

Or was it like the glee of some devil sent hurtling out of his
hell to work his will upon whom he might?

Very well do I know how fantastic, how utterly unscientific, are
such comparisons. Yet not otherwise can I describe that strange
change.

Then, abruptly as the closing of a camera shutter, that expression
fled and the old terror and horror came back. I gave an involuntary
gasp of relief, for it was precisely as though some evil presence had
withdrawn. The nurse was trembling; Braile asked, in a strained voice:
"How about another hypodermic?"

"No," I said. "I want you to watch the progress of this--whatever
it is--without drugs. I'm going down to the laboratory. Watch him
closely until I return."

I went down to the laboratory. Hoskins looked up at me.

"Nothing wrong, so far. Remarkable health, I'd say. Of course all
I've results on are the simpler tests."

I nodded. I had an uncomfortable feeling that the other tests also
would show nothing. And I had been more shaken than I would have cared
to confess by those alternations of hellish fear, hellish expectancy
and hellish glee in Peters' face and eyes. The whole case troubled me,
gave me a nightmarish feeling of standing outside some door which it
was vitally important to open, and to which not only did I have no key
but couldn't find the keyhole. I have found that concentration upon
microscopic work often permits me to think more freely upon problems.
So I took a few smears of Peters' blood and began to study them, not
with any expectation of finding anything, but to slip the brakes from
another part of my brain.

I was on my fourth slide when I suddenly realized that I was
looking at the incredible. As I had perfunctorily moved the slide, a
white corpuscle had slid into the field of vision. Only a simple white
corpuscle--but within it was a spark of phosphorescence, shining out
like a tiny lamp!

I thought at first that it was some effect of the light, but no
manipulation of the illumination changed that spark. I rubbed my eyes
and looked again. I called Hoskins.

"Tell me if you see something peculiar in there."

He peered into the microscope. He started, then shifted the light
as I had.

"What do you see, Hoskins?"

He said, still staring through the lens:

"A leucocyte inside of which is a globe of phosphorescence. Its
glow is neither dimmed when I turn on the full illumination, nor is it
increased when I lessen it. In all except the ingested globe the
corpuscle seems normal."

"And all of which," I said, "is quite impossible."

"Quite," he agreed, straightening. "Yet there it is!"

I transferred the slide to the micro-manipulator, hoping to
isolate the corpuscle, and touched it with the tip of the manipulating
needle. At the instant of contact the corpuscle seemed to burst. The
globe of phosphorescence appeared to flatten, and something like a
miniature flash of heat-lightning ran over the visible portion of the
slide.

And that was all--the phosphorescence was gone.

We prepared and examined slide after slide. Twice more we found a
tiny shining globe, and each time with the same result, the bursting
corpuscle, the strange flicker of faint luminosity--then nothing.

The laboratory 'phone rang. Hoskins answered.

"It's Braile. He wants you--quick."

"Keep after it, Hoskins," I said, and hastened to Peters' room.
Entering, I saw Nurse Walters, face chalk white, eyes closed, standing
with her back turned to the bed. Braile was leaning over the patient,
stethoscope to his heart. I looked at Peters; and stood stock still,
something like a touch of unreasoning panic at my own heart. Upon his
face was that look of devilish expectancy, but intensified. As I
looked, it gave way to the diabolic joy, and that, too, was
intensified. The face held it for not many seconds. Back came the
expectancy then on its heels the unholy glee. The two expressions
alternated, rapidly. They flickered over Peters' face like--like the
flickers of the tiny lights within the corpuscles of his blood. Braile
spoke to me through stiff lips:

"His heart stopped three minutes ago! He ought to be dead--yet
listen--"

The body of Peters stretched and stiffened. A sound came from his
lips--a chuckling sound; low yet singularly penetrating, inhuman, the
chattering laughter of a devil. The gunman at the window leaped to his
feet, his chair going over with a crash. The laughter choked and died
away, and the body of Peters lay limp.

I heard the door open, and Ricori's voice: "How is he, Dr. Lowell?
I could not sleep--" He saw Peters' face.

"Mother of Christ!" I heard him whisper. He dropped to his knees.

I saw him dimly for I could not take my eyes from Peters' face. It
was the face of a grinning, triumphant fiend--all humanity wiped from
it--the face of a demon straight out of some mad medieval painter's
hell. The blue eyes, now utterly malignant, glared at Ricori.

And as I looked, the dead hands moved; slowly the arms bent up
from the elbows, the fingers contracting like claws; the dead body
began to stir beneath the covers--

At that the spell of nightmare dropped from me; for the first time
in hours I was on ground that I knew. It was the rigor mortis, the
stiffening of death--but setting in more quickly and proceeding at a
rate I had never known.

I stepped forward and drew the lids down over the glaring eyes. I
covered the dreadful face.

I looked at Ricori. He was still on his knees, crossing himself
and praying. And kneeling beside him, arm around his shoulders, was
Nurse Walters, and she, too, was praying.

Somewhere a clock struck five.



CHAPTER II: THE QUESTIONNAIRE



I offered to go home with Ricori, and somewhat to my surprise he
accepted with alacrity. The man was pitiably shaken. We rode silently,
the tight-lipped gunmen alert. Peters' face kept floating before me.

I gave Ricori a strong sedative, and left him sleeping, his men on
guard. I had told him that I meant to make a complete autopsy.

Returning to the hospital in his car, I found the body of Peters
had been taken to the mortuary. Rigor mortis, Braile told me, had been
complete in less than an hour--an astonishingly short time. I made the
necessary arrangements for the autopsy, and took Braile home with me
to snatch a few hours’ sleep. It is difficult to convey by words the
peculiarly unpleasant impression the whole occurrence had made upon
me. I can only say that I was as grateful for Braile's company as he
seemed to be for mine.

When I awoke, the nightmarish oppression still lingered, though
not so strongly. It was about two when we began the autopsy. I lifted
the sheet from Peters' body with noticeable hesitation. I stared at
his face with amazement. All diabolism had been wiped away. It was
serene, unlined--the face of a man who had died peacefully, with no
agony either of body or mind. I lifted his hand, it was limp, the
whole body flaccid, the rigor gone.

It was then, I think, that I first felt full conviction I was
dealing with an entirely new, or at least unknown, agency of death,
whether microbic or otherwise. As a rule, rigor does not set in for
sixteen to twenty-four hours, depending upon the condition of the
patient before death, temperature and a dozen other things. Normally,
it does not disappear for forty-eight to seventy-two hours. Usually a
rapid setting-in of the stiffening means as rapid a disappearance, and
vice versa. Diabetics stiffen quicker than others. A sudden brain
injury, like shooting, is even swifter. In this case, the rigor had
begun instantaneously with death, and must have completed its cycle in
the astonishingly short time of less than five hours--for the
attendant told me that he had examined the body about ten o'clock and
he had thought that stiffening had not yet set in. As a matter of
fact, it had come and gone.

The results of the autopsy can be told in two sentences. There was
no ascertainable reason why Peters should not be alive. And he was
dead!

Later, when Hoskins made his reports, both of these utterly
conflicting statements continued to be true. There was no reason why
Peters should be dead. Yet dead he was. If the enigmatic lights we had
observed had anything to do with his death, they left no traces. His
organs were perfect, all else as it should have been; he was, indeed,
an extraordinarily healthy specimen. Nor had Hoskins been able to
capture any more of the light-carrying corpuscles after I had left
him.

That night I framed a short letter describing briefly the symptoms
observed in Peters' case, not dwelling upon the changes in expression
but referring cautiously to "unusual grimaces" and a "look of intense
fear." Braile and I had this manifold and mailed to every physician in
Greater New York. I personally attended to a quiet inquiry to the same
effect among the hospitals. The letters asked if the physicians had
treated any patients with similar symptoms, and if so to give
particulars, names, addresses, occupations and any characteristic
interest under seal, of course, of professional confidence. I
flattered myself that my reputation was such that none of those who
received the questionnaires would think the request actuated either by
idle curiosity or slightest unethical motive.

I received in response seven letters and a personal visit from the
writer of one of them. Each letter, except one, gave me in various
degrees of medical conservatism, the information I had asked. After
reading them, there was no question that within six months seven
persons of oddly dissimilar characteristics and stations in life had
died as had Peters.

Chronologically, the cases were as follows:

May 25: Ruth Bailey, spinster; fifty years old; moderately
wealthy; Social Registerite and best of reputation; charitable and
devoted to children. June 20: Patrick McIlraine; bricklayer; wife and
two children. August 1: Anita Green; child of eleven; parents in
moderate circumstances and well educated. August 15: Steve Standish;
acrobat; thirty; wife and three children. August 30: John J. Marshall;
banker; sixty interested in child welfare. September 10: Phineas
Dimott; thirty-five; trapeze performer; wife and small child. October
12: Hortense Darnley; about thirty; no occupation.

Their addresses, except two, were widely scattered throughout the
city.

Each of the letters noted the sudden onset of rigor mortis and its
rapid passing. Each of them gave the time of death following the
initial seizure as approximately five hours. Five of them referred to
the changing expressions which had so troubled me; in the guarded way
they did it I read the bewilderment of the writers.

"Patient's eyes remained open," recorded the physician in charge
of the spinster Bailey. "Staring, but gave no sign of recognition of
surroundings and failed to focus upon or present any evidence of
seeing objects held before them. Expression one of intense terror,
giving away toward death to others peculiarly disquieting to observer.
The latter intensified after death ensued. Rigor mortis complete and
dissipated within five hours."

The physician in charge of McIlraine, the bricklayer, had nothing
to say about the ante-mortem phenomena, but wrote at some length about
the expression of his patient's face after death.

"It had," he reported, "nothing in common with the muscular
contraction of the so-called 'Hippocratic countenance,' nor was it in
any way the staring eyes and contorted mouth familiarly known as the
death grin. There was no suggestion of agony, after the death--rather
the opposite. I would term the expression one of unusual malice."

The report of the physician who had attended Standish, the
acrobat, was perfunctory, but it mentioned that "after patient had
apparently died, singularly disagreeable sounds emanated from his
throat." I wondered whether these had been the same demonic
machinations that had come from Peters, and, if so, I could not wonder
at all at my correspondent's reticence concerning them.

I knew the physician who had attended the banker--opinionated,
pompous, a perfect doctor of the very rich.

"There can be no mystery as to the cause of death," he wrote. "It
was certainly thrombosis, a clot somewhere in the brain. I attach no
importance whatever to the facial grimaces, nor to the time element
involved in the rigor. You know, my dear Lowell," he added,
patronizingly, "it is an axiom in forensic medicine that one can prove
anything by rigor mortis."

I would have liked to have replied that when in doubt thrombosis
as a diagnosis is equally as useful in covering the ignorance of
practitioners, but it would not have punctured his complacency.

The Dimott report was a simple record with no comment whatever
upon grimaces or sounds.

But the doctor who had attended little Anita had not been so
reticent.

"The child," he wrote, "had been beautiful. She seemed to suffer
no pain, but at the onset of the illness I was shocked by the
intensity of terror in her fixed gaze. It was like a waking
nightmare--for unquestionably she was conscious until death. Morphine
in almost lethal dosage produced no change in this symptom, nor did it
seem to have any effect upon heart or respiration. Later the terror
disappeared, giving way to other emotions which I hesitate to describe
in this report, but will do so in person if you so desire. The aspect
of the child after death was peculiarly disturbing, but again I would
rather speak than write of that."

There was a hastily scrawled postscript; I could see him
hesitating, then giving way at last to the necessity of unburdening
his mind, dashing off that postscript and rushing the letter away
before he could reconsider--

"I have written that the child was conscious until death. What
haunts me is the conviction that she was conscious after physical
death! Let me talk to you."

I nodded with satisfaction. I had not dared to put that
observation down in my questionnaire. And if it has been true of the
other cases, as I now believed it must have been, all the doctors
except Standish's had shared my conservatism--or timidity. I called
little Anita's physician upon the 'phone at once. He was strongly
perturbed. In every detail his case had paralleled that of Peters. He
kept repeating over and over:

"The child was sweet and good as an angel, and she changed into a
devil!"

I promised to keep him apprised of any discoveries I might make,
and shortly after our conversation I was visited by the young
physician who had attended Hortense Darnley. Doctor Y, as I shall call
him, had nothing to add to the medical aspect other than what I
already knew, but his talk suggested the first practical line of
approach toward the problem.

His office, he said, was in the apartment house which had been
Hortense Darnley's home. He had been working late, and had been
summoned to her apartment about ten o'clock by the woman's maid, a
colored girl. He had found the patient lying upon her bed, and had at
once been struck by the expression of terror on her face and the
extraordinary limpness of her body. He described her as blonde, blue-
eyed--"the doll type."

A man was in the apartment. He had at first evaded giving his
name, saying that he was merely a friend. At first glance, Dr. Y had
thought the woman had been subjected to some violence, but examination
revealed no bruises or other injuries. The "friend" had told him they
had been eating dinner when "Miss Darnley flopped right down on the
floor as though all her bones had gone soft, and we couldn't get
anything out of her." The maid confirmed this. There was a half-eaten
dinner on the table, and both man and servant declared Hortense had
been in the best of spirits. There had been no quarrel. Reluctantly,
the "friend" had admitted that the seizure had occurred three hours
before, and that they had tried to "bring her about" themselves,
calling upon him only when the alternating expressions which I have
referred to in the case of Peters began to appear.

As the seizure progressed, the maid had become hysterical with
fright and fled. The man was of tougher timber and had remained until
the end. He had been much shaken, as had Dr. Y, by the after-death
phenomena. Upon the physician declaring that the case was one for the
coroner, he had lost his reticence, volunteering his name as James
Martin, and expressing himself as eager for a complete autopsy. He was
quite frank as to his reasons. The Darnley woman had been his
mistress, and he "had enough trouble without her death pinned to me."

There had been a thorough autopsy. No trace of disease or poison
had been found. Beyond a slight valvular trouble of the heart,
Hortense Darnley had been perfectly healthy. The verdict had been
death by heart disease. But Dr. Y was perfectly convinced the heart
had nothing to do with it.

It was, of course, quite obvious that Hortense Darnley had died
from the same cause or agency as had all the others. But to me the
outstanding fact was that her apartment had been within a stone's
throw of the address Ricori had given me as that of Peters.
Furthermore, Martin was of the same world, if Dr. Y's impressions were
correct. Here was conceivably a link between two of the cases--missing
in the others. I determined to call in Ricori, to lay all the cards
before him, and enlist his aid if possible.

My investigation had consumed about two weeks. During that time I
had become well acquainted with Ricori. For one thing he interested me
immensely as a product of present-day conditions; for another I liked
him, despite his reputation. He was remarkably well read, of a high
grade of totally unmoral intelligence, subtle and superstitious--in
olden time he would probably have been a Captain of Condottieri, his
wits and sword for hire. I wondered what were his antecedents. He had
paid me several visits since the death of Peters, and quite plainly my
liking was reciprocated. On these visits he was guarded by the tight-
lipped man who had watched by the hospital window. This man's name, I
learned, was McCann. He was Ricori's most trusted bodyguard,
apparently wholly devoted to his white-haired chief. He was an
interesting character too, and quite approved of me. He was a drawling
Southerner who had been, as he put it, "a cow-nurse down Arizona way,
and then got too popular on the Border."

"I'm for you, Doc," he told me. "You're sure good for the boss.
Sort of take his mind off business. An' when I come here I can keep my
hands outa my pockets. Any time anybody's cutting in on your cattle,
let me know. I'll ask for a day off."

Then he remarked casually that he "could ring a quarter with six
holes at a hundred-foot range."

I did not know whether this was meant humorously or seriously. At
any rate, Ricori never went anywhere without him; and it showed me how
much he had thought of Peters that he had left McCann to guard him.

I got in touch with Ricori and asked him to take dinner with
Braile and me that night at my house. At seven he arrived, telling his
chauffeur to return at ten. We sat at the table with McCann, as usual,
on watch in my hall, thrilling, I knew, my two night nurses--I have a
small private hospital adjunct--by playing the part of a gunman as
conceived by the motion pictures.

Dinner over, I dismissed the butler and came to the point. I told
Ricori of my questionnaire, remarking that by it I had unearthed seven
cases similar to that of Peters.

"You can dismiss from your mind any idea that Peters' death was
due to his connection with you, including the tiny globes of radiance
in the blood of Peters."

At that his face grew white. He crossed himself.

"La strega!" he muttered. "The Witch! The Witch-fire!"

"Nonsense, man!" I said. "Forget your damned superstitions. I want
help."

"You are scientifically ignorant! There are some things, Dr.
Lowell--" he began, hotly; then controlled himself.

"What is it you want me to do?"

"First," I said, "let's go over these eight cases, analyze them.
Braile, have you come to any conclusions?"

"Yes," Braile answered. "I think all eight were murdered!"



CHAPTER III: THE DEATH AND NURSE WALTERS



That Braile had voiced the thought lurking behind my own mind--and
without a shred of evidence so far as I could see to support it--
irritated me.

"You're a better man than I am, Sherlock Holmes," I said
sarcastically. He flushed, but repeated stubbornly:

"They were murdered."

"La strega!" whispered Ricori. I glared at him.

"Quit beating around the bush, Braile. What's your evidence?"

"You were away from Peters almost two hours; I was with him
practically from start to finish. As I studied him, I had the feeling
that the whole trouble was in the mind--that it was not his body, his
nerves, his brain, that refused to function, but his will. Not quite
that, either. Put it that his will had ceased to care about the
functions of the body--and was centered upon killing it!"

"What you're outlining now is not murder but suicide. Well, it has
been done. I've watched a few die because they had lost the will to
live--"

"I don't mean that," he interrupted. "That's passive. This was
active--"

"Good God, Braile!" I was honestly shocked. "Don't tell me you're
suggesting all eight passed from the picture by willing themselves out
of it--and one of them only an eleven-year-old child!"

"I didn't say that," he replied. "What I felt was that it was not
primarily Peters' own will doing it, but another's will, which had
gripped his, had wound itself around, threaded itself through his
will. Another's will which he could not, or did not want to resist--at
least toward the end."

"La maledetta strega!" muttered Ricori again.

I curbed my irritation and sat considering; after all, I had a
wholesome respect for Braile. He was too good a man, too sound, for
one to ride roughshod over any idea he might voice.

"Have you any idea as to how these murders, if murders they are,
were carried out?" I asked politely.

"Not the slightest," said Braile.

"Let's consider the murder theory. Ricori, you have had more
experience in this line than we, so listen carefully and forget your
witch," I said, brutally enough. "There are three essential factors to
any murder--method, opportunity, motive. Take them in order. First--
the method.

"There are three ways a person can be killed by poison or by
infection: through the nose--and this includes by gases--through the
mouth and through the skin. There are two or three other avenues.
Hamlet's father, for example, was poisoned, we read, through the ears,
although I've always had my doubts about that. I think, pursuing the
hypothesis of murder, we can bar out all approaches except mouth,
nose, skin--and, by the last, entrance to the blood can be
accomplished by absorption as well as by penetration. Was there any
evidence whatever on the skin, in the membranes of the respiratory
channels, in the throat, in the viscera, stomach, blood, nerves,
brain--of anything of the sort?"

"You know there wasn't," he answered.

"Quite so. Then except for the problematical lighted corpuscle,
there is absolutely no evidence of method. Therefore we have
absolutely nothing in essential number one upon which to base a theory
of murder. Let's take number two--opportunity.

"We have a tarnished lady, a racketeer, a respectable spinster, a
bricklayer, an eleven-year-old schoolgirl, a banker, an acrobat and a
trapeze performer. There, I submit, is about as incongruous a
congregation as is possible. So far as we can tell, none of them
except conceivably the circus men--and Peters and the Darnley woman--
had anything in common. How could anyone, who had opportunity to come
in close enough contact to Peters the racketeer to kill him, have
equal opportunity to come in similar close contact with Ruth Bailey,
the Social Registerite maiden lady? How could one who had found a way
to make contact with banker Marshall come equally close to acrobat
Standish? And so on--you perceive the difficulty? To administer
whatever it was that caused the deaths--if they were murder--could
have been no casual matter. It implies a certain degree of intimacy.
You agree?"

"Partly," he conceded.

"Had all lived in the same neighborhood, we might assume that they
might normally have come within range of the hypothetical killer. But
they did not--"

"Pardon me, Dr. Lowell," Ricori interrupted, "but suppose they had
some common interest which brought them within that range."

"What possible common interest could so divergent a group have
had?"

"One common interest is very plainly indicated in these reports
and in what McCann has told us."

"What do you mean, Ricori?"

"Babies," he answered. "Or at least--children."

Braile nodded: "I noticed that."

"Consider the reports," Ricori went on. "Miss Bailey is described
as charitable and devoted to children. Her charities, presumably, took
the form of helping them. Marshall, the banker, was interested in
child-welfare. The bricklayer, the acrobat and the trapeze performer
had children. Anita was a child. Peters and the Darnley woman were, to
use McCann's expression, 'daffy' over a baby."

"But," I objected, "if they are murders, they are the work of one
hand. It is beyond range of possibility that all of the eight were
interested in one baby, one child, or one group of children."

"Very true," said Braile. "But all could have been interested in
one especial, peculiar thing which they believed would be of benefit
to or would delight the child or children to whom each was devoted.
And that peculiar article might be obtainable in only one place. If we
could find that this is the fact, then certainly that place would bear
investigation."

"It is," I said, "undeniably worth looking into. Yet it seems to
me that the common-interest idea works two ways. The homes of those
who died might have had something of common interest to an individual.
The murderer, for example, might be a radio adjuster. Or a plumber. Or
a collector. An electrician, and so and so on."

Braile shrugged a shoulder. Ricori did not answer; he sat deep in
thought, as though he had not heard me.

"Please listen, Ricori," I said. "We've gotten this far. Method of
murder--if it is murder--unknown. Opportunity for killing--find some
person whose business, profession or what not was a matter of interest
to each of the eight, and whom they visited or who visited them; said
business being concerned, possibly, in some way with babies or older
children. Now for motive. Revenge, gain, love, hate, jealousy, self-
protection? None of these seems to fit, for again we come to that
barrier of dissimilar stations in life."

"How about the satisfaction of an appetite for death--wouldn't you
call that a motive?" asked Braile, oddly. Ricori half rose from his
chair, stared at him with a curious intentness; then sank back, but I
noticed he was now all alert.

"I was about to discuss the possibility of a homicidal maniac," I
said, somewhat testily.

"That's not exactly what I mean. You remember Longfellow's lines:

'I shot an arrow into the air.
It fell to earth I know not where.'

"I've never acquiesced in the idea that that was an inspired bit
of verse meaning the sending of an argosy to some unknown port and
getting it back with a surprise cargo of ivory and peacocks, apes and
precious stones. There are some people who can't stand at a window
high above a busy street, or on top of a skyscraper, without wanting
to throw something down. They get a thrill in wondering who or what
will be hit. The feeling of power. It's a bit like being God and
unloosing the pestilence upon the just and the unjust alike.
Longfellow must have been one of those people. In his heart, he wanted
to shoot a real arrow and then mull over in his imagination whether it
had dropped in somebody's eye, hit a heart, or just missed someone and
skewered a stray dog. Carry this on a little further. Give one of
these people power and opportunity to loose death at random, death
whose cause he is sure cannot be detected. He sits in his obscurity,
in safety, a god of death. With no special malice against anyone,
perhaps--impersonal, just shooting his arrows in the air, like
Longfellow's archer, for the fun of it."

"And you wouldn't call such a person a homicidal maniac?" I asked,
dryly.

"Not necessarily. Merely free of inhibitions against killing. He
might have no consciousness of wrongdoing whatever. Everybody comes
into this world under sentence of death--time and method of execution
unknown. Well, this killer might consider himself as natural as death
itself. No one who believes that things on earth are run by an all-
wise, all-powerful God thinks of Him as a homicidal maniac. Yet He
looses wars, pestilences, misery, disease, floods, earthquakes--on
believers and unbelievers alike. If you believe things are in the
hands of what is vaguely termed Fate--would you call Fate a homicidal
maniac?"

"Your hypothetical archer," I said, "looses a singularly
unpleasant arrow, Braile. Also, the discussion is growing far too
metaphysical for a simple scientist like me. Ricori, I can't lay this
matter before the police. They would listen politely and laugh
heartily after I had gone. If I told all that is in my mind to the
medical authorities, they would deplore the decadence of a hitherto
honored intellect. And I would rather not call in any private
detective agency to pursue inquiries."

"What do you want me to do?" he asked.

"You have unusual resources," I answered. "I want you to sift
every movement of Peters and Hortense Darnley for the past two months.
I want you to do all that is possible in the same way with the
others--"

I hesitated.

"I want you to find that one place to which, because of their love
for children, each of these unfortunates was drawn. For though my
reason tells me you and Braile have not the slightest real evidence
upon which to base your suspicions, I grudgingly admit to you that I
have a feeling you may be right."

"You progress, Dr. Lowell," Ricori said, formally. "I predict that
it will not be long before you will as grudgingly admit the
possibility of my witch."

"I am sufficiently abased," I replied, "by my present credulity
not to deny even that."

Ricori laughed, and busied himself copying the essential
information from the reports. Ten o'clock struck. McCann came up to
say that the car was waiting and we accompanied Ricori to the door.
The gunman had stepped out and was on the steps when a thought came to
me.

"Where do you begin, Ricori?"

"With Peters' sister."

"Does she know Peters is dead?"

"No," he answered, reluctantly. "She thinks him away. He is often
away for long, and for reasons which she understands he is not able to
communicate with her directly. At such times I keep her informed. And
the reason I have not told her of Peters' death is because she dearly
loved him and would be in much sorrow--and in a month, perhaps, there
is to be another baby."

"Does she know the Darnley woman is dead, I wonder?"

"I do not know. Probably. Although McCann evidently does not."

"Well," I said, "I don't see how you're going to keep Peters'
death from her now. But that's your business."

"Exactly," he answered, and followed McCann to the car.

Braile and I had hardly gotten back to my library when the
telephone rang. Braile answered it. I heard him curse, and saw that
the hand that held the transmitter was shaking. He said: "We will come
at once."

He set the transmitter down slowly, then turned to me with
twitching face.

"Nurse Walters has it!"

I felt a distinct shock. As I have written, Walters was a perfect
nurse, and besides that a thoroughly good and attractive young person.
A pure Gaelic type--blue black hair, blue eyes with astonishingly long
lashes, milk-white skin--yes, singularly attractive. After a moment or
two of silence I said:

"Well, Braile, there goes all your fine-spun reasoning. Also your
murder theory. From the Darnley woman to Peters to Walters. No doubt
now that we're dealing with some infectious disease."

"Isn't there?" he asked, grimly. "I'm not prepared to admit it. I
happen to know Walters spends most of her money on a little invalid
niece who lives with her--a child of eight. Ricori's thread of common
interest moves into her case."

"Nevertheless," I said as grimly, "I intend to see that every
precaution is taken against an infectious malady."

By the time we had put on our hats and coats, my car was waiting.
The hospital was only two blocks away, but I did not wish to waste a
moment. I ordered Nurse Walters removed to an isolated ward used for
observation of suspicious diseases. Examining her, I found the same
flaccidity as I had noted in the case of Peters. But I observed that,
unlike him, her eyes and face showed little of terror. Horror there
was, and a great loathing. Nothing of panic. She gave me the same
impression of seeing both within and without. As I studied her I
distinctly saw a flash of recognition come into her eyes, and with it
appeal. I looked at Braile--he nodded; he, too, had seen it.

I went over her body inch by inch. It was unmarked except for a
pinkish patch upon her right instep. Closer examination made me think
this had been some superficial injury, such as a chafing, or a light
burn or scald. If so, it had completely healed; the skin was healthy.

In all other ways her case paralleled that of Peters--and the
others. She had collapsed, the nurse told me, without warning while
getting dressed to go home. My inquiry was interrupted by an
exclamation from Braile. I turned to the bed and saw that Walters'
hand was slowly lifting, trembling as though its raising was by some
terrific strain of will. The index finger was half-pointing. I
followed its direction to the disclosed patch upon the foot. And then
I saw her eyes, by that same tremendous effort, focus there.

The strain was too great; the hand dropped, the eyes again were
pools of horror. Yet clearly she had tried to convey to us some
message, something that had to do with that healed wound.

I questioned the nurse as to whether Walters had said anything to
anyone about any injury to her foot. She replied that she had said
nothing to her, nor had any of the other nurses spoken of it. Nurse
Robbins, however, shared the apartment with Harriet and Diana. I asked
who Diana was, and she told me that was the name of Walters' little
niece. This was Robbins' night off, I found, and gave instructions to
have her get in touch with me the moment she returned to the
apartment.

By now Hoskins was taking his samples for the blood tests. I asked
him to concentrate upon the microscopic smears and to notify me
immediately if he discovered one of the luminous corpuscles. Bartano,
an outstanding expert upon tropical diseases, happened to be in the
hospital, as well as Somers, a brain specialist in whom I had strong
confidence. I called them in for observation, saying nothing of the
previous cases. While they were examining Walters, Hoskins called up
to say he had isolated one of the shining corpuscles. I asked the pair
to go to Hoskins and give me their opinion upon what he had to show
them. In a little while they returned, somewhat annoyed and mystified.
Hoskins, they said, had spoken of a "leucocyte containing a
phosphorescent nucleus." They had looked at the slide but had been
unable to find it. Somers very seriously advised me to insist upon
Hoskins having his eyes examined. Bartano said caustically that he
would have been quite as surprised to have seen such a thing as he
would have been to have observed a miniature mermaid swimming around
in an artery. By these remarks, I realized afresh the wisdom in my
silence.

Nor did the expected changes in expression occur. The horror and
loathing persisted, and were commented upon by both Bartano and Somers
as "unusual." They agreed that the condition must be caused by a brain
lesion of some kind. They did not think there was any evidence either
of microbic infection or of drugs or poison. Agreeing that it was a
most interesting case, and asking me to let them know its progress and
outcome, they departed.

At the beginning of the fourth hour, there was a change of
expression, but not what I had been expecting. In Walters' eyes, on
her face, was only loathing. Once I thought I saw a flicker of the
devilish anticipation flash over her face. If so, it was quickly
mastered. About the middle of the fourth hour, we saw recognition
again return to her eyes. Also, there was a perceptible rally of the
slowing heart. I sensed an intense gathering of nervous force.

And then her eyelids began to rise and fall, slowly, as though by
tremendous effort, in measured time and purposefully. Four times they
raised and lowered; there was a pause; then nine times they lifted and
fell; again the pause, then they closed and opened once. Twice she did
this--

"She's trying to signal," whispered Braile. "But what?"

Again the long-lashed lids dropped and rose--four times...pause
...nine times...pause...once...

"She's going," whispered Braile.

I knelt, stethoscope at ears...slower...slower beat the heart
...and slower...and stopped.

"She's gone!" I said, and arose. We bent over her, waiting for
that last hideous spasm, convulsion--whatever it might be.

It did not come. Stamped upon her dead face was the loathing, and
that only. Nothing of the devilish glee. Nor was there sound from her
dead lips. Beneath my hand I felt the flesh of her white arm begin to
stiffen.

The unknown death had destroyed Nurse Walters--there was no doubt
of that. Yet in some obscure, vague way I felt that it had not
conquered her.

Her body, yes. But not her will!



CHAPTER IV: THE THING IN RICORI'S CAR



I returned home with Braile, profoundly depressed. It is difficult
to describe the effect the sequence of events I am relating had upon
my mind from beginning to end--and beyond the end. It was as though I
walked almost constantly under the shadow of an alien world, nerves
prickling as if under surveillance of invisible things not of our life
...the subconsciousness forcing itself to the threshold of the
conscious battering at the door between and calling out to be on guard
...every moment to be on guard. Strange phrases for an orthodox man
of medicine? Let them stand.

Braile was pitiably shaken. So much so that I wondered whether
there had been more than professional interest between him and the
dead girl. If there had been, he did not confide in me.

It was close to four o'clock when we reached my house. I insisted
that he remain with me. I called the hospital before retiring, but
they had heard nothing of Nurse Robbins. I slept a few hours, very
badly. Shortly after nine, Robbins called me on the telephone. She was
half hysterical with grief. I bade her come to my office, and when she
had done so Braile and I questioned her.

"About three weeks ago," she said, "Harriet brought home to Diana
a very pretty doll. The child was enraptured. I asked Harriet where
she had gotten it, and she said in a queer little store way downtown.

"'Job,' she said--my name is Jobina--'There's the queerest woman
down there. I'm sort of afraid of her, Job.'

"I didn't pay much attention. Besides, Harriet wasn't ever very
communicative. I had the idea she was a bit sorry she had said what
she had.

"Now I think of it though, Harriet acted rather funny after that.
She'd be gay and then she'd be--well, sort of thoughtful. About ten
days ago she came home with a bandage around her foot. The right foot?
Yes. She said she'd been having tea with the woman she'd gotten
Diana's doll from. The teapot upset and the hot tea had poured down on
her foot. The woman had put some salve on it right away, and now it
didn't hurt a bit.

"'But I think I'll put something on it I know something about,'
she told me. Then she slipped off her stocking and began to strip the
bandage. I'd gone into the kitchen and she called to me to come and
look at her foot.

"'It's queer,' she said. 'That was a bad scald, Job. Yet it's
practically healed. And that salve hasn't been on more than an hour.'

"I looked at her foot. There was a big red patch on the instep.
But it wasn't sore, and I told her the tea couldn't have been very
hot.

"'But it was really scalded, Job,' she said. 'I mean it was
blistered.'

"She sat looking at the bandage and at her foot for quite a while.
The salve was bluish and had a queer shine to it. I never saw anything
like it before. No, I couldn't detect any odor to it. Harriet reached
down and took the bandage and said:

"'Job, throw it in the fire.'

"I threw the bandage in the fire. I remember that it gave a queer
sort of flicker. It didn't seem to burn. It just flickered and then it
wasn't there. Harriet watched it, and turned sort of white. Then she
looked at her foot again.

"'Job,' she said. 'I never saw anything heal as quick as that.
She, must be a witch.'

"'What on earth are you talking about, Harriet?' I asked her.

"'Oh, nothing,' she said. 'Only I wish I had the courage to rip
that place on my foot wide open and rub in an antidote for snake-
bite!'

"Then she laughed, and I thought she was fooling. But she painted
it with iodine and bandaged it with an antiseptic besides. The next
morning she woke me up and said:

"'Look at that foot now. Yesterday a whole pot of scalding tea
poured over it. And now it isn't even tender. And the skin ought to be
just smeared off. Job, I wish to the Lord it was!'

"That's all, Dr. Lowell. She didn't say any more about it and
neither did I. And she just seemed to forget all about it. Yes. I did
ask her where the shop was and who the woman was, but she wouldn't
tell me. I don't know why.

"And after that I never knew her so gay and carefree. Happy,
careless...Oh, I don't know why she should have died...I don't...
I don't!"

Braile asked:

"Do the numbers 491 mean anything to you, Robbins? Do you
associate them with any address Harriet knew?"

She thought, then shook her head. I told her of the measured
closing and opening of Walters' eyes.

"She was clearly attempting to convey some message in which those
numbers figured. Think again."

Suddenly she straightened, and began counting upon her fingers.
She nodded.

"Could she have been trying to spell out something? If they were
letters they would read d, i and a. They're the first three letters of
Diana's name."

"Well, of course that seemed the simple explanation. She might
have been trying to ask us to take care of the child." I suggested
this to Braile. He shook his head.

"She knew I'd do that," he said. "No, it was something else."

A little after Robbins had gone, Ricori called up. I told him of
Walters' death. He was greatly moved. And after that came the
melancholy business of the autopsy. The results were precisely the
same as in that of Peters. There was nothing whatever to show why the
girl had died.

At about four o'clock the next day Ricori again called me on the
telephone.

"Will you be at home between six and nine, Dr. Lowell?" There was
suppressed eagerness in his voice.

"Certainly, if it is important," I answered, after consulting my
appointment book. "Have you found out anything, Ricori?"

He hesitated.

"I do not know. I think perhaps--yes."

"You mean," I did not even try to hide my own eagerness. "You
mean--the hypothetical place we discussed?"

"Perhaps. I will know later. I go now, to where it may be."

"Tell me this, Ricori--what do you expect to find?"

"Dolls!" he answered.

And as though to avoid further questions he hung up before I could
speak.

Dolls!

I sat thinking. Walters had bought a doll. And in that same
unknown place where she had bought it, she had sustained the injury
which had so worried her--or rather, whose unorthodox behavior had so
worried her. Nor was there doubt in my mind, after hearing Robbins'
story, that it was to that injury she had attributed her seizure, and
had tried to tell us so. We had not been mistaken in our
interpretation of that first desperate effort of will I have
described. She might, of course, have been in error. The scald or,
rather, the salve had had nothing whatever to do with her condition.
Yet Walters had been strongly interested in a child. Children were the
common interest of all who had died as she had. And certainly the one
great common interest of children is dolls. What was it that Ricori
had discovered?

I called Braile, but could not get him. I called up Robbins and
told her to bring the doll to me immediately, which she did.

The doll was a peculiarly beautiful thing. It had been cut from
wood, then covered with gesso. It was curiously life-like. A baby
doll, with an elfin little face. Its dress was exquisitely
embroidered, a folk-dress of some country I could not place. It was, I
thought, almost a museum piece, and one whose price Nurse Walters
could hardly have afforded. It bore no mark by which either maker or
seller could be identified. After I had examined it minutely, I laid
it away in a drawer. I waited impatiently to hear from Ricori.

At seven o'clock there was a sustained, peremptory ringing of the
doorbell. Opening my study door, I heard McCann's voice in the hall,
and called to him to come up. At first glance I knew something was
very wrong. His tight-mouthed tanned face was a sallow yellow, his
eyes held a dazed look. He spoke from stiff lips:

"Come down to the car. I think the boss is dead."

"Dead!" I exclaimed, and was down the stairs and out beside the
car in a breath. The chauffeur was standing beside the door. He opened
it, and I saw Ricori huddled in a corner of the rear seat. I could
feel no pulse, and when I raised the lids of his eyes they stared at
me sightlessly. Yet he was not cold.

"Bring him in," I ordered.

McCann and the chauffeur carried him into the house and placed him
on the examination table in my office. I bared his breast and applied
the stethoscope. I could detect no sign of the heart functioning. Nor
was there, apparently, any respiration. I made a few other rapid
tests. To all appearances, Ricori was quite dead. And yet I was not
satisfied. I did the things customary in doubtful cases, but without
result.

McCann and the chauffeur had been standing close beside me. They
read my verdict in my face. I saw a strange glance pass between them;
and obviously each of them had a touch of panic, the chauffeur more
markedly than McCann. The latter asked in a level, monotonous voice:

"Could it have been poison?"

"Yes, it could--" I stopped.

Poison! And that mysterious errand about which he had telephoned
me! And the possibility of poison in the other cases! But this death--
and again I felt the doubt--had not been like those others.

"McCann," I said, "when and where did you first notice anything
wrong?"

He answered, still in that monotonous voice:

"About six blocks down the street. The boss was sitting close to
me. All at once he says 'Jesu!' Like he's scared. He shoves his hands
up to his chest. He gives a kind of groan an' stiffens out. I says to
him: 'What's the matter, boss, you got a pain?' He don't answer me,
an' then he sort of falls against me an' I see his eyes is wide open.
He looks dead to me. So I yelps to Paul to stop the car and we both
look him over. Then we beat it here like hell."

I went to a cabinet and poured them stiff drinks of brandy. They
needed it. I threw a sheet over Ricori.

"Sit down," I said, "and you, McCann, tell me exactly what
occurred from the time you started out with Mr. Ricori to wherever it
was he went. Don't skip a single detail."

He said:

"About two o'clock the boss goes to Mollie's--that's Peters'
sister--stays an hour, comes out, goes home and tells Paul to be back
at four-thirty. But he's doing a lot of 'phoning so we don't start
till five. He tells Paul where he wants to go, a place over in a
little street down off Battery Park. He says to Paul not to go through
the street, just park the car over by the Battery. And he says to me,
'McCann, I'm going in this place myself. I don't want 'em to know I
ain't by myself.' He says, 'I got reasons. You hang around an' look in
now an' then, but don't come in unless I call you.' I says, 'Boss, do
you think it's wise?' An' he says, 'I know what I'm doing an' you do
what I tell you.' So there ain't any argument to that.

"We get down to this place an' Paul does like he's told, an' the
boss walks up the street an' he stops at a little joint that's got a
lot of dolls in the window. I looks in the place as I go past. There
ain't much light but I see a lot of other dolls inside an' a thin gal
at a counter. She looks white as a fish's belly to me, an' after the
boss has stood at the window a minute or two he goes in, an' I go by
slow to look at the gal again because she sure looks whiter than I
ever saw a gal look who's on her two feet. The boss is talkin' to the
gal who's showing him some dolls. The next time I go by there's a
woman in the place. She's so big, I stand at the window a minute to
look at her because I never seen anybody that looks like her. She's
got a brown face an' it looks sort of like a horse, an' a little
mustache an' moles, an' she's as funny a looking brand as the fish-
white gal. Big an' fat. But I get a peep at her eyes--Geeze, what
eyes! Big an' black an' bright, an' somehow I don't like them any more
than the rest of her. The next time I go by, the boss is over in a
corner with the big dame. He's got a wad of bills in his hand and I
see the gal watching sort of frightened like. The next time I do my
beat, I don't see either the boss or the woman.

"So I stand looking through the window because I don't like the
boss out of my sight in this joint. An' the next thing I see is the
boss coming out of a door at the back of the shop. He's madder than
hell an' carrying something an' the woman is behind him an' her eyes
spitting fire. The boss is jabbering but I can't hear what he's
saying, an' the dame is jabbering too an' making funny passes at him.
Funny passes? Why, funny motions with her hands. But the boss heads
for the door an' when he gets to it I see him stick what he's carrying
inside his overcoat an' button it up round it.

"It's a doll. I see its legs dangling down before he gets it under
his coat. A big one, too, for it makes quite a bulge--"

He paused, began mechanically to roll a cigarette, than glanced at
the covered body and threw the cigarette away. He went on:

"I never see the boss so mad before. He's muttering to himself in
Italian an' saying something over an' over that sounds like 'strayga-'
I see it ain't no time to talk so I just walk along with him. Once he
says to me, more as if he's talking to himself than me, if you get
what I mean--he says, 'The Bible says you shall not suffer a witch to
live.' Then he goes on muttering an' holding one arm fast over this
doll inside his coat.

"We get to the car an' he tells Paul to beat it straight to you
an' to hell with traffic--that's right, ain't it, Paul? Yes. When we
get in the car he stops muttering an' just sits there quiet, not
saying anything to me until I hear him say Jesu!' like I told you. And
that's all, ain't it, Paul?"

The chauffeur did not answer. He sat staring at McCann with
something of entreaty in his gaze. I distinctly saw McCann shake his
head. The chauffeur said, in a strongly marked Italian accent,
hesitatingly:

"I do not see the shop, but everything else McCann say is truth."

I got up and walked over to Ricori's body. I was about to lift the
sheet when something caught my eye. A red spot about as big as a
dime--a blood stain. Holding it in place with one finger, I carefully
lifted the edge of the sheet. The blood spot was directly over
Ricori's heart.

I took one of my strongest glasses and one of my finest probes.
Under the glass, I could see on Ricori's breast a minute puncture, no
larger than that made by a hypodermic needle. Carefully I inserted the
probe. It slipped easily in and in until it touched the wall of the
heart. I went no further.

Some needle-pointed, exceedingly fine instrument had been thrust
through Ricori's breast straight into his heart!

I looked at him, doubtfully; there was no reason why such a minute
puncture should cause death. Unless, of course, the weapon which had
made it had been poisoned; or there had been some other violent shock
which had contributed to that of the wound itself. But such shock or
shocks might very well bring about in a person of Ricori's peculiar
temperament some curious mental condition, producing an almost perfect
counterfeit of death. I had heard of such cases.

No, despite my tests, I was not sure Ricori was dead. But I did
not tell McCann that. Alive or dead, there was one sinister fact that
McCann must explain. I turned to the pair, who had been watching me
closely.

"You say there were only the three of you in the car?"

Again I saw a glance pass between them.

"There was the doll," McCann answered, half-defiantly. I brushed
the answer aside, impatiently.

"I repeat: there were only the three of you in the car?"

"Three men, yes."

"Then," I said grimly, "you two have a lot to explain. Ricori was
stabbed. I'll have to call the police."

McCann arose and walked over to the body. He picked up the glass
and peered through it at the tiny puncture. He looked at the
chauffeur. He said:

"I told you the doll done it, Paul!"



CHAPTER V: THE THING IN RICORI'S CAR (CONTINUED)



I said, incredulously, "McCann, you surely don't expect me to
believe that?"

He did not answer, rolling another cigarette which this time he
did not throw away. The chauffeur staggered over to Ricori's body; he
threw himself on his knees and began mingled prayers and implorations.
McCann, curiously enough, was now completely himself. It was as though
the removal of uncertainty as to the cause of Ricori's death had
restored all his old cold confidence. He lighted the cigarette; he
said, almost cheerfully:

"I'm aiming to make you believe."

I walked over to the telephone. McCann jumped in front of me and
stood with his back against the instrument.

"Wait a minute, Doc. If I'm the kind of a rat that'll stick a
knife in the heart of the man who hired me to protect him--ain't it
occurred to you the spot you're on ain't so healthy? What's to keep me
an' Paul from giving you the works an' making our getaway?"

Frankly, that had not occurred to me. Now I realized in what a
truly dangerous position I was placed. I looked at the chauffeur. He
had risen from his knees and was standing, regarding McCann intently.

"I see you get it." McCann smiled, mirthlessly. He walked to the
Italian. "Pass your rods, Paul."

Without a word the chauffeur dipped into his pockets and handed
him a pair of automatics. McCann laid them on my table. He reached
under his left arm and placed another pistol beside them; reached into
his pocket and added a second.

"Sit there, Doc," he said, and indicated my chair at the table.
"That's all our artillery. Keep the guns right under your hands. If we
make any breaks, shoot. All I ask is you don't do any calling up till
you've listened."

I sat down, drawing the automatics to me, examining them to see
that they were loaded. They were.

"Doc," McCann said, "there's three things I want you to consider.
First, if I'd had anything to do with smearing the boss, would I be
giving you a break like this? Second, I was sitting at his right side.
He had on a thick overcoat. How could I reach over an' run anything as
thin as whatever killed him must have been all through his coat, an'
through the doll, through his clothes, an' through him without him
putting up some kind of a fight. Hell, Ricori was a strong man. Paul
would have seen us--"

"What difference would that have made," I interrupted, "if Paul
were an accomplice?"

"Right," he acquiesced, "that's so. Paul's as deep in the mud as I
am. Ain't that so, Paul?" He looked sharply at the chauffeur, who
nodded. "All right, we'll leave that with a question mark after it.
Take the third point--if I'd killed the boss that way, an' Paul was in
it with me, would we have took him to the one man who'd be expected to
know how he was killed? An' then when you'd found out as expected,
hand you an alibi like this? Christ, Doc, I ain't loco enough for
that!"

His face twitched.

"Why would I want to kill him? I'd a-gone through hell an' back
for him an' he knew it. So would've Paul."

I felt the force of all this. Deep within me I was conscious of a
stubborn conviction that McCann was telling the truth--or at least the
truth as he saw it. He had not stabbed Ricori. Yet to attribute the
act, to a doll was too fantastic. And there had been only the three
men in the car. McCann had been reading my thoughts with an uncanny
precision.

"It might've been one of them mechanical dolls," he said. "Geared
up to stick."

"McCann, go down and bring it up to me," I said sharply--he had
voiced a rational explanation.

"It ain't there," he said, and grinned at me again mirthlessly.
"It out!"

"Preposterous--" I began. The chauffeur broke in:

"It's true. Something out. When I open the door. I think it cat,
dog, maybe. I say, 'What the hell-' Then I see it. It run like hell.
It stoop. It duck in shadow. I see it just as flash an' then no more.
I say to McCann--'What the hell!' McCann, he's feeling around bottom
of car. He say--'It's the doll. It done for the boss!' I say: 'Doll!
What you mean doll?' He tell me. I know nothing of any doll before. I
see the boss carry something in his coat, si. But I don't know what.
But I see one goddam thing that don't look like cat, dog. It jump out
of car, through my legs, si!"

I said ironically: "Is it your idea, McCann, that this mechanical
doll was geared to run away as well as to stab?"

He flushed, but answered quietly:

"I ain't saying it was a mechanical doll. But anything else would
be--well, pretty crazy, wouldn't it?"

"McCann," I asked abruptly, "what do you want me to do?"

"Doc, when I was down Arizona way, there was a ranchero died. Died
sudden. There was a feller looked as if he had a lot to do with it.
The marshal said: 'Hombre, I don't think you done it--but I'm the lone
one on the jury. What say?' The hombre say, 'Marshal, give me two
weeks, an' if I don't bring in the feller that done it, you hang me.'
The marshal says, 'Fair enough. The temporary verdict is deceased died
by shock.' It was shock all right. Bullet shock. All right, before the
two weeks was up, along comes this feller with the murderer hog-tied
to his saddle."

"I get your point, McCann. But this isn't Arizona."

"I know it ain't. But couldn't you certify it was heart disease?
Temporarily? An' give me a week? Then if I don't come through, shoot
the works. I won't run away. It's this way, Doc. If you tell the
bulls, you might just as well pick up one of them guns an' shoot me
an' Paul dead right now. If we tell the bulls about the doll, they'll
laugh themselves sick an' fry us at Sing Sing. If we don't, we fry
anyway. If by a miracle the bulls drop us--there's them in the boss's
crowd that'll soon remedy that. I'm telling you, Doc, you'll be
killing two innocent men. An' worse, you'll never find out who did
kill the boss, because they'll never look any further than us. Why
should they?"

A cloud of suspicion gathered around my conviction of the pair's
innocence. The proposal, naive as it seemed, was subtle. If I
assented, the gunman and the chauffeur would have a whole week to get
away, if that was the plan. If McCann did not come back, and I told
the truth of the matter, I would be an accessory after the fact--in
effect, co-murderer. If I pretended that my suspicions had only just
been aroused, I stood, at the best, convicted of ignorance. If they
were captured, and recited the agreement, again I could be charged as
an accessory. It occurred to me that McCann's surrender of the pistols
was extraordinarily clever. I could not say that my assent had been
constrained by threats. Also, it might have been only a cunningly
conceived gesture to enlist my confidence, weaken my resistance to his
appeal. How did I know that the pair did not have still other weapons,
ready to use if I refused?

Striving to find a way out of the trap, I walked over to Ricori. I
took the precaution of dropping the automatics into my pockets as I
went. I bent over Ricori. His flesh was cold, but not with the
peculiar chill of death. I examined him once more, minutely. And now I
could detect the faintest of pulsation in the heart a bubble began to
form at the corner of his lips--Ricori lived!

I continued to bend over him, thinking faster than ever I had
before. Ricori lived, yes. But it did not lift my peril. Rather it
increased it. For if McCann had stabbed him, if the pair had been in
collusion, and learned that they had been unsuccessful, would they not
finish what they had thought ended? With Ricori alive, Ricori able to
speak and to accuse them--a death more certain than the processes of
law confronted them. Death at Ricori's command at the hands of his
henchmen. And in finishing Ricori they would at the same time be
compelled to kill me.

Still bending, I slipped a hand into my pocket, clenched an
automatic, and then whirled upon them with the gun leveled.

"Hands up! Both of you!" I said.

Amazement flashed over McCann's face, consternation over the
chauffeur's. But their hands went up.

I said, "There's no need of that clever little agreement, McCann.
Ricori is not dead. When he's able to talk he'll tell what happened to
him."

I was not prepared for the effect of this announcement. If McCann
was not sincere, he was an extraordinary actor. His lanky body
stiffened, I had seldom seen such glad relief as was stamped upon his
face. Tears rolled down his tanned cheeks. The chauffeur dropped to
his knees, sobbing and praying. My suspicions were swept away. I did
not believe this could be acting. In some measure I was ashamed of
myself.

"You can drop your hands, McCann," I said, and slipped the
automatic back in my pocket.

He said, hoarsely: "Will he live?"

I answered: "I think he has every chance. If there's no infection,
I'm sure of it."

"Thank God!" whispered McCann, and over and over, "Thank God!"

And just then Braile entered, and stood staring in amazement at
us.

"Ricori has been stabbed. I'll explain the whole matter later," I
told him. "Small puncture over the heart and probably penetrating it.
He's suffering mainly from shock. He's coming out of it. Get him up to
the Annex and take care of him until I come."

Briefly I reviewed what I had done and suggested the immediate
further treatment. And when Ricori had been removed, I turned to the
gunmen.

"McCann," I said, "I'm not going to explain. Not now. But here are
your pistols, and Paul's. I'm giving you your chance."

He took the automatics, looking at me with a curious gleam in his
eyes.

"I ain't saying I wouldn't like to know what touched you off,
Doc," he said. "But whatever you do is all right by me--if only you
can bring the boss around."

"Undoubtedly there are some who will have to be notified of his
condition," I replied. "I'll leave that all to you. All I know is that
he was on his way to me. He had a heart attack in the car. You brought
him to me. I am now treating him--for heart attack. If he should die,
McCann--well, that will be another matter."

"I'll do the notifying," he answered. "There's only a couple that
you'll have to see. Then I'm going down to that doll joint an' get the
truth outa that hag."

His eyes were slits, his mouth a slit, too.

"No," I said, firmly. "Not yet. Put a watch on the place. If the
woman goes out, discover where she goes. Watch the girl as closely. If
it appears as though either of them or both of them are moving away--
running off--let them. But follow them. I don't want them molested or
even alarmed until Ricori can tell what happened there."

"All right," he said, but reluctantly.

"Your doll story," I reminded him, sardonically, "would not be so
convincing to the police as to my somewhat credulous mind. Take no
chance of them being injected into the matter. As long as Ricori is
alive, there is no need of them being so injected."

I took him aside.

"Can you trust the chauffeur to do no talking?"

"Paul's all right," he said.

"Well, for both your sakes, he would better be," I warned.

They took their departure. I went up to Ricori's room. His heart
was stronger, his respiration weak but encouraging. His temperature,
although still dangerously subnormal, had improved. If, as I had told
McCann, there was no infection, and if there had been no poison nor
drug upon the weapon with which he had been stabbed, Ricori should
live.

Later that night two thoroughly polite gentlemen called upon me,
heard my explanation of Ricori's condition, asked if they might see
him, did see him, and departed. They assured me that "win or lose" I
need have no fear about my fees, nor have any hesitancy in bringing in
the most expensive consultants. In exchange, I assured them that I
believed Ricori had an excellent chance to recover. They asked me to
allow no one to see him except themselves, and McCann. They thought it
might save me trouble to have a couple of men whom they would send to
me, to sit at the door of the room--outside, of course, in the hall. I
answered that I would be delighted.

In an exceedingly short time two quietly watchful men were on
guard at Ricori's door, just as they had been over Peters'.

In my dreams that night dolls danced around me, pursued me,
threatened me. My sleep was not pleasant.



CHAPTER VI: STRANGE EXPERIENCE OF OFFICER SHEVLIN



Morning brought a marked improvement in Ricori's condition. The
deep coma was unchanged, but his temperature was nearly normal;
respiration and heart action quite satisfactory. Braile and I divided
duties so that one of us could be constantly within call of the
nurses. The guards were relieved after breakfast by two others. One of
my quiet visitors of the night before made his appearance, looked at
Ricori and received with unfeigned gratification my reassuring
reports.

After I had gone to bed the obvious idea had occurred to me that
Ricori might have made some memorandum concerning his quest; I had
felt reluctance about going through his pockets, however. Now seemed
to be the opportunity to ascertain whether he had or had not. I
suggested to my visitor that he might wish to examine any papers
Ricori had been carrying, adding that we had been interested together
in a certain matter, that he had been on his way to discuss this with
me when he had undergone his seizure; and that he might have carried
some notes of interest to me. My visitor agreed; I sent for Ricori's
overcoat and suit and we went through them. There were a few papers,
but nothing relating to our investigation.

In the breast pocket of his overcoat, however, was a curious
object--a piece of thin cord about eight inches long in which had been
tied nine knots, spaced at irregular intervals. They were curious
knots too, not quite like any I could recollect having observed. I
studied the cord with an unaccountable but distinct feeling of
uneasiness. I glanced at my visitor and saw a puzzled look in his
eyes. And then I remembered Ricori's superstition, and reflected that
the knotted cord was probably a talisman or charm of some sort. I put
it back in the pocket.

When again alone, I took it out and examined it more minutely. The
cord was of human hair, tightly braided--the hair a peculiarly pale
ash and unquestionably a woman's. Each knot, I now saw, was tied
differently. Their structure was complex. The difference between them,
and their irregular spacing, gave a vague impression of forming a word
or sentence. And, studying the knots, I had the same sensation of
standing before a blank door, vitally important for me to open, that I
had felt while watching Peters die. Obeying some obscure impulse, I
did not return the cord to the pocket but threw it into the drawer
with the doll which Nurse Robbins had brought me.

Shortly after three, McCann telephoned me. I was more than glad to
hear from him. In the broad light of day his story of the occurrence
in Ricori's car had become incredibly fantastic, all my doubts
returning.

I had even begun again to review my unenviable position if he
disappeared. Some of this must have shown in the cordiality of my
greeting, for he laughed.

"Thought I'd rode off the range, did you, Doc? You couldn't drive
me away. Wait till you see what I got."

I awaited his arrival with impatience. When he appeared he had
with him a sturdy, red-faced man who carried a large paper clothing-
bag. I recognized him as a policeman I had encountered now and then on
the Drive, although I had never before seen him out of uniform. I bade
the two be seated, and the officer sat on the edge of a chair, holding
the clothes-bag gingerly across his knees. I looked at McCann
inquiringly.

"Shevlin," he waved his hand at the officer, "said he knew you,
Doc. But I'd have brought him along, anyway."

"If I didn't know Dr. Lowell, it's not me that'd be here, McCann
me lad," said Shevlin, glumly. "But it's brains the Doc has got in his
head, an' not a cold boiled potato like that damned lootenant."

"Well," said McCann, maliciously, "the Doc'll prescribe for you
anyway, Tim."

"'Tis no prescribin' I want, I tell you," Shevlin bellowed, "I
seen it wit' me own eyes, I'm tellin' you! An' if Dr. Lowell tells me
I was drunk or crazy I'll tell him t'hell wit' him, like I told the
lootenant. An' I'm tellin' you, too, McCann."

I listened to this with growing amazement.

"Now, Tim, now, Tim," soothed McCann, "I believe you. You don't
know how much I want to believe you--or why, either."

He gave me a quick glance, and I gathered that whatever the reason
he had brought the policeman to see me, he had not spoken to him of
Ricori.

"You see, Doc, when I told you about that doll getting up an'
jumping out of the car you thought I was loco. All right, I says to
me, maybe it didn't get far. Maybe it was one of them improved
mechanical dolls, but even if it was it has to run down sometime. So I
goes hunting for somebody else that might have seen it. An' this
morning I runs into Shevlin here. An' he tells me. Go on, Tim, give
the Doc what you gave me."

Shevlin blinked, shifted the bag cautiously and began. He had the
dogged air of repeating a story that he had told over and over. And to
unsympathetic audiences; for as he went on he would look at me
defiantly, or raise his voice belligerently.

"It was one o'clock this mornin'. I am on me beat when I hear
somebody yellin' desperate like. 'Help!' he yells. 'Murder! Take it
away!' he yells. I go runnin', an' there standin' on a bench is a guy
in his soup-an'-nuts an' high hat jammed over his ears, an' a-hittin'
this way an' that wit' his cane, an' a-dancin' up an' down an' it's
him that's doin' the yellin'.

"I reach over an' tap him on the shins wit' me night-club, an' he
looks down an' then flops right in me arms. I get a whiff of his
breath an' I think I see what's the matter wit' him all right. I get
him on his feet, an' I says: 'Come on now, the pink'll soon run off
the elephants,' I says. 'It's this Prohibition hooch that makes it look
so thick,' I says. 'Tell me where you live an' I'll put you in a taxi,
or do you want t'go to a hospital?' I says.

"He stands there a-holdin' unto me an' a-shakin', an' he says:
'D'ye think I'm drunk?' An' I begins t'tell him. 'An' how-' when I
looks at him, an' he ain't drunk. He might've been drunk, but he ain't
drunk now. An' all t'once he flops down on the bench an' pulls up his
pants an' down his socks, an' I sees blood runnin' from a dozen little
holes, an' he says, 'Maybe you'll be tellin' me it's pink elephants
done that?'

"I looks at 'em an' feels 'em, an' it's blood all right, as if
somebody's been jabbin' a hat-pin in him--"

Involuntarily I stared at McCann. He did not meet my eyes.
Imperturbably he was rolling a cigarette.

"An' I says: 'What the hell done it?' An' he says 'The doll done
it!'"

A little shiver ran down my back, and I looked again at the
gunman. This time he gave me a warning glance. Shevlin glared up at
me.

"'The doll done it!' he tells me," Shevlin shouted. "He tells me
the doll done it!"

McCann chuckled and Shevlin turned his glare from me to him. I
said hastily:

"I understand, Officer. He told you it was the doll made the
wounds. An astonishing assertion, certainly."

"Y'don't believe it, y'mean?" demanded Shevlin, furiously.

"I believe he told you that, yes," I answered. "But go on."

"All right, would y'be sayin' I was drunk too, t'believe it? Fer
it's what that potato-brained lootenant did."

"No, no," I assured him hastily. Shevlin settled back, and went
on:

"I asks the drunk, 'What's her name?' 'What's whose name?' says
he. 'The doll's,' I says. 'I'll bet you she was a blonde doll,' I
says, 'an' wants her picture in the tabloids. The brunettes don't use
hatpins,' I says. 'They're all fer the knife.'

"'Officer,' he says, solemn, 'it was a doll. A little man doll.
An' when I say doll I mean a doll. I was walkin along,' he says,
'gettin' the air. I won't deny I'd had some drinks,' he says, 'but
nothin' I couldn't carry. I'm swishin' along wit' me cane, when I
drops it by that bush there,' he says, pointin'. 'I reach down to pick
it up,' he says, 'an' there I see a doll. It's a big doll an' it's all
huddled up crouchin', as if somebody dropped it that way. I reaches
over t' pick it up. As I touch it, the doll jumps as if I hit a spring.
It jumps right over me head,' he says. 'I'm surprised,' he says, 'an'
considerably startled, an' I'm crouchin' there lookin' where the doll
was when I feel a hell of a pain in the calf of me leg,' he says,
'like I been stabbed. I jump up, an' there's this doll wit' a big pin
in its hand just ready t' jab me again.'

"'Maybe,' says I to the drunk, 'maybe 'twas a midget you seen?'
'Midget hell!' says he, 'it was a doll! An' it was jabbin' me wit' a
hatpin. It was about two feet high,' he says, 'wit' blue eyes. It was
grinnin' at me in a way that made me blood run cold. An' while I stood
there paralyzed, it jabbed me again. I jumped on the bench,' he says,
'an' it danced around an' around, an' it jumped up an' jabbed me. An'
it jumped down an' up again an' jabbed me. I thought it meant to kill
me, an' I yelled like hell,' says the drunk. 'An' who wouldn't?' he
asks me. 'An' then you come,' he says, 'an' the doll ducked into the
bushes there. Fer God's sake, officer, come wit' me till I can get a
taxi an' go home,' he says, 'fer I make no bones tellin' you I'm
scared right down to me gizzard!' says he.

"So I take the drunk by the arm," went on Shevlin, "thinkin', poor
lad, what this bootleg booze'll make you see, but still puzzled about
how he got them holes in his legs. We come out to the Drive. The drunk
is still a-shakin' an' I'm a-waitin' to hail a taxi, when all of a
sudden he lets out a squeal. 'There it goes! Look, there it goes!'

"I follow his finger, an' sure enough I see somethin' scuttlin'
over the sidewalk an' out on the Drive. The light's none too good, an'
I think it's a cat or maybe a dog. Then I see there's a little coupe
drawn up opposite at the curb. The cat or dog, whatever it is, seems
to be makin' fer it. The drunk's still yellin' an' I'm tryin' to see
what it is, when down the Drive hell-fer-leather comes a big car. It
hits this thing kersmack an' never stops. He's out of sight before I
can raise me whistle. I think I see the thing wriggle an' I think,
still thinkin' it's a cat or dog, 'I'll put you out of your misery,'
an' I run over to it wit' me gun. As I do so the coupe that's been
waitin' shoots off hell-fer-leather too. I get over to what the other
car hit, an' I look at it--"

He slipped the bag off his knees, set it down beside him and
untied the top.

"An' this is what it was."

Out of the bag he drew a doll, or what remained of it. The
automobile had gone across its middle, crushing it. One leg was
missing; the other hung by a thread. Its clothing was torn and
begrimed with the dirt of the roadway. It was a doll--but uncannily
did it give the impression of a mutilated pygmy. Its neck hung limply
over its breast.

McCann stepped over and lifted the doll's head, I stared, and
stared...with a prickling of the scalp...with a slowing of the
heart beat...

For the face that looked up at me, blue eyes glaring, was the face
of Peters!

And on it, like the thinnest of veils, was the shadow of that
demonic exultance I had watched spread over the face of Peters after
death had stilled the pulse of his heart!



CHAPTER VII: THE PETERS DOLL



Shevlin watched me as I stared at the doll. He was satisfied by
its effect upon me.

"A hell of a lookin' thing, ain't it?" he asked. "The doctor sees
it, McCann. I told you he had brains!" He jounced the doll down upon
his knee, and sat there like a red-faced ventriloquist with a
peculiarly malevolent dummy--certainly it would not have surprised me
to have heard the diabolic laughter issue from its faintly grinning
mouth.

"Now, I'll tell you, Dr. Lowell," Shevlin went on. "I stands there
lookin' at this doll, an' I picks it up. 'There's more in this than
meets the eye, Tim Shevlin,' I says to myself. An' I looks to see
what's become of the drunk. He's standin' where I left him, an' I walk
over to him an' he says: 'Was it a doll like I told you? Hah! I told
you it was a doll! Hah! That's him!' he says, gettin' a peck at what
I'm carryin'. So I says to him, 'Young fellow, me lad, there's
somethin' wrong here. You're goin' to the station wit' me an' tell the
lootenant what you told me an' show him your legs an' all,' I says.
An' the drunk says, 'Fair enough, but keep that thing on the other
side of me.' So we go to the station.

"The lootenant's there an' the sergeant an' a coupla flatties. I
marches up an' sticks the doll on the top of the desk in front of the
lootenant.

"'What's this?' he says, grinnin'. 'Another kidnapin'?'

"Show him your legs," I tells the drunk. 'Not unless they're
better than the Follies,' grins this potato-brained ape. But the
drunk's rolled up his pants an' down his socks an' shows 'em.

"'What t'hell done that?' says the lootenant, standin' up.

"'The doll,' says the drunk. The lootenant looks at him, and sits
back blinkin'. An' I tells him about answerin' the drunk's yells, an'
what he tells me, an' what I see. The sergeant laughs an' the flatties
laugh but the lootenant gets red in the face an' says, 'Are you tryin'
to kid me, Shevlin?' An' I says, 'I'm tellin' you what he tells me an'
what I seen, an' there's the doll.' An' he says, 'This bootleg is
fierce but I never knew it was catchin'.' An' he crooks his finger at
me an' says, 'Come up here, I want t' smell your breath.' An' then I
knows it's all up, because t' tell the truth the drunk had a flask an'
I'd took one wit' him. Only one an' the only one I'd had. But there it
was on me breath. An' the lootenant says, 'I thought so. Get down.‘

"An' then he starts bellerin' an' hollerin' at the drunk, 'You
wit' your soup-an'-nuts an' your silk hat, you ought to be a credit to
your city an' what t' hell you think you can do, corrupt a good
officer an' kid me? You done the first but you ain't doin' the
second,' he yelps. 'Put him in the cooler,' he yelps. 'An' throw his
damned doll in wit' him t' keep him company!' An' at that the drunk
lets out a screech an' drops t' the floor. He' out good an' plenty.
An' the lootenant says, 'The poor damned fool by God he believes his
own lie! Bring him around an' let him go.' An' he says t' me, 'If you
weren't such a good man, Tim, I'd have you up for this. Take your
degen'ret doll an' go home,' he says, 'I'll send a relief t' your
beat. An' take t-morrow off an' sober up,' says he. An' I says t' him,
'All right, but I seen what I seen. An' t' hell wit' you all," I says
t' the flatties. An' everybody's laughin' fit t' split. An' I says t'
the lootenant, 'If you break me for it or not, t' hell wit' you too.'
But they keep on laughin', so I take the doll an' walk out."

He paused.

"I take the doll home," he resumed. "I tell it all t' Maggie, me
wife. An' what does she tell me? 'T' think you've been off the hard
stuff or near off so long,' she says, 'an' now look at you!' she says,
'wit' this talk of stabbin' dolls, an' insultin' the lootenant, an'
maybe gettin' sent t' Staten Island,' she says. 'An' Jenny just
gettin' in high school! Go t' bed,' she says, 'an' sleep it off, an'
throw the doll in the garbage,' she says. But by now I am gettin' good
an' mad, an' I do not throw it in the garbage but I take it with me.
An' awhile ago I meet McCann, an' somehow he knows somethin', I tell
him an' he brings me here. An' just fer what, I don't know."

"Do you want me to speak to the lieutenant?" I asked.

"What could you say?" he replied, reasonably enough. "If you tell
him the drunk was right, an' that I'm right an' I did see the doll
run, what'll he think? He'll think you're as crazy as I must be. An'
if you explain maybe I was a little off me nut just for the minute,
it's to the hospital they'll be sendin' me. No, Doctor. I'm much
obliged, but all I can do is say nothin' more an' be dignified an'
maybe hand out a shiner or two if they get too rough. It's grateful I
am fer the kindly way you've listened. It makes me feel better."

Shevlin got to his feet, sighing heavily.

"An' what do you think? I mean about what the drunk said he seen,
an' what I seen?" he asked somewhat nervously.

"I cannot speak for the inebriate," I answered cautiously. "As for
yourself--well, it might be that the doll had been lying out there in
the street, and that a cat or dog ran across just as the automobile
went by. Dog or cat escaped, but the action directed your attention to
the doll and you thought--"

He interrupted me with a wave of his hand.

"All right. All right. 'Tis enough. I'll just leave the doll wit'
you to pay for the diagnoses, sir."

With considerable dignity and perceptibly heightened color Shevlin
stalked from the room. McCann was shaking with silent laughter. I
picked up the doll and laid it on my table. I looked at the subtly
malignant little face and I did not feel much like laughing.

For some obscure reason I took the Walters doll out of the drawer
and placed it beside the other, took out the strangely knotted cord
and set it between them. McCann was standing at my side, watching. I
heard him give a low whistle.

"Where did you get that, Doc?" he pointed to the cord. I told him.
He whistled again.

"The boss never knew he had it, that's sure," he said. "Wonder who
slipped it over on him? The hag, of course. But how?"

"What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Why, the witch's ladder," he pointed again to the cord. "That's
what they call it down Mexico way. It's bad medicine. The witch slips
it to you and then she has power over you." He bent over the cord...
"Yep, it's the witch's ladder--the nine knots an' woman's hair...an'
in the boss's pocket!"

He stood staring at the cord. I noticed he made no attempt to pick
it up.

"Take it up and look at it closer, McCann," I said.

"Not me!" He stepped back. "I'm telling you it's bad medicine,
Doc."

I had been steadily growing more and more irritated against the
fog of superstition gathering ever heavier around me, and now I lost
my patience.

"See here, McCann," I said, hotly, "are you, to use Shevlin's
expression, trying to kid me? Every time I see you I am brought face
to face with some fresh outrage against credibility. First it is your
doll in the car. Then Shevlin. And now your witch's ladder. What's
your idea?"

He looked at me with narrowed eyes, a faint flush reddening the
high check-bones.

"The only idea I got," he drawled more slowly than usual, "is to
see the boss on his feet. An' to get whoever got him. As for Shevlin--
you don't think he was faking, do you?"

"I do not," I answered. "But I am reminded that you were beside
Ricori in the car when he was stabbed. And I cannot help wondering how
it was that you discovered Shevlin so quickly today."

"Meaning by that?" he asked.

"Meaning," I answered, "that your drunken man has disappeared.
Meaning that it would be entirely possible for him to have been your
confederate. Meaning that the episode which so impressed the worthy
Shevlin could very well have been merely a clever bit of acting, and
the doll in the street and the opportunely speeding automobile a
carefully planned maneuver to bring about the exact result it had
accomplished. After all, I have only your word and the chauffeur's
word that the doll was not down in the car the whole time you were
here last night. Meaning that--"

I stopped, realizing that, essentially, I was only venting upon
him the bad temper aroused by my perplexity.

"I'll finish for you," he said. "Meaning that I'm the one behind
the whole thing."

His face was white, and his muscles tense.

"It's a good thing for you that I like you, Doc," he continued.
"It's a better thing for you that I know you're on the level with the
boss. Best of all, maybe that you're the only one who can help him, if
he can be helped. That's all."

"McCann," I said, "I'm sorry, deeply sorry. Not for what I said,
but for having to say it. After all, the doubt is there. And it is a
reasonable doubt. You must admit that. Better to spread it before you
than keep it hidden."

"What might be my motive?"

"Ricori has powerful enemies. He also has powerful friends. How
convenient to his enemies if he could be wiped out without suspicion,
and a physician of highest repute and unquestionable integrity be
inveigled into giving the death a clean bill of health. It is my
professional pride, not personal egotism, that I am that kind of a
physician, McCann."

He nodded. His face softened and I saw the dangerous tenseness
relax.

"I've no argument, Doc. Not on that or nothing else you've said.
But I'm thanking you for your high opinion of my brains. It'd
certainly take a pretty clever man to work all this out this-a-way.
Sort of like one of them cartoons that shows seventy-five gimcracks
set up to drop a brick on a man's head at exactly twenty minutes,
sixteen seconds after two in the afternoon. Yeah, I must be clever!"

I winced at this broad sarcasm, but did not answer. McCann took up
the Peters doll and began to examine it. I went to the 'phone to ask
Ricori's condition. I was halted by an exclamation from the gunman. He
beckoned me, and handing me the doll, pointed to the collar of its
coat. I felt about it. My fingers touched what seemed to be the round
head of a large pin. I pulled out as though from a dagger sheath a
slender piece of metal nine inches long. It was thinner than an
average hat-pin, rigid and needle-pointed.

Instantly I knew that I was looking upon the instrument that had
pierced Ricori's heart!

"Another outrage!" McCann drawled. "Maybe I put it there, Doc!"

"You could have, McCann."

He laughed. I studied the queer blade--for blade it surely was. It
appeared to be of finest steel, although I was not sure it was that
metal. Its rigidity was like none I knew. The little knob at the head
was half an inch in diameter and less like a pinhead than the haft of
a poniard. Under the magnifying glass it showed small grooves upon it
...as though to make sure the grip of a hand...a doll's hand a
doll's dagger! There were stains upon it.

I shook my head impatiently, and put the thing aside, determining
to test those stains later. They were bloodstains, I knew that, but I
must make sure. And yet, if they were, it would not be certain proof
of the incredible--that a doll's hand had used this deadly thing.

I picked up the Peters doll and began to study it minutely. I
could not determine of what it was made. It was not of wood, like the
other doll. More than anything else, the material resembled a fusion
of gum and wax. I knew of no such composition. I stripped it of the
clothing. The undamaged part of the doll was anatomically perfect. The
hair was human hair, carefully planted in the scalp. The eyes were
blue crystals of some kind. The clothing showed the same extraordinary
skill in the making as the clothes of Diana's doll.

I saw now that the dangling leg was not held by a thread. It was
held by a wire. Evidently the doll had been molded upon a wire frame-
work. I walked over to my instrument cabinet, and selected a surgical
saw and knives.

"Wait a minute, Doc." McCann had been following my movements. "You
going to cut this thing apart?"

I nodded. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a heavy hunting
knife. Before I could stop him, he had brought its blade down like an
ax across the neck of the Peters doll. It cut through it cleanly. He
took the head and twisted it. A wire snapped. He dropped the head on
the table, and tossed the body to me. The head rolled. It came to rest
against the cord he had called the witch's ladder.

The head seemed to twist and to look up at us. I thought for an
instant the eyes flared redly, the features to contort, the malignancy
intensify--as I had seen it intensify upon Peters' living face...I
caught myself up, angrily a trick of the light, of course.

I turned to McCann and swore.

"Why did you do that?"

"You're worth more to the boss than I am," he said, cryptically.

I did not answer. I cut open the decapitated body of the doll. As
I had suspected, it had been built upon a wire framework. As I cut
away the encasing material, I found this framework was a single wire,
or a single metal strand, and that as cunningly as the doll's body had
been shaped, just as cunningly had this wire been twisted into an
outline of the human skeleton!

Not, of course, with minute fidelity, but still with amazing
accuracy...there were no joints nor articulations...the substance
of which the doll was made was astonishingly pliant...the little
hands flexible...it was more like dissecting some living mannikin
than a doll...And it was rather dreadful...

I glanced toward the severed head.

McCann was bending over it, staring down into its eyes, his own
not more than a few inches away from the glinting blue crystals. His
hands clutched the table edge and I saw that they were strained and
tense as though he were making a violent effort to push himself away.
When he had tossed the head upon the table it had come to rest against
the knotted cord--but now that cord was twisted around the doll's
severed neck and around its forehead as though it were a small
serpent!

And distinctly I saw that McCann's face was moving closer...
slowly closer...to that tiny one...as though it were being drawn
to it...and that in the little face a living evil was concentrated
and that McCann's face was a mask of horror.

"McCann!" I cried, and thrust an arm under his chin, jerking back
his head. And as I did this I could have sworn the doll's eyes turned
to me, and that its lips writhed.

McCann staggered back. He stared at me for a moment, and then
leaped to the table. He picked up the doll's head, dashed it to the
floor and brought his heel down upon it again and again, like one
stamping out the life of a venomous spider. Before he ceased, the head
was a shapeless blotch, all semblance of humanity or anything else
crushed out of it--but within it the two blue crystals that had been
its eyes still glinted, and the knotted cord of the witch's ladder
still wound through it.

"God! It was...was drawing me down to it..."

McCann lighted a cigarette with shaking hand, tossed the match
away. The match fell upon what had been the doll's head.

There followed, simultaneously, a brilliant flash, a disconcerting
sobbing sound and a wave of intense heat. Where the crushed head had
been there was now only an irregularly charred spot upon the polished
wood. Within it lay the blue crystals that had been the eyes of the
doll--lusterless and blackened. The knotted cord had vanished.

And the body of the doll had disappeared. Upon the table was a
nauseous puddle of black waxy liquid out of which lifted the ribs of
the wire skeleton!

The Annex 'phone rang; mechanically I answered it.

"Yes," I said. "What is it?"

"Mr. Ricori, sir. He's out of the coma. He's awake!"

I turned to McCann.

"Ricori's come through!"

He gripped my shoulders--then drew a step away, a touch of awe on
his face.

"Yeah?" whispered McCann. "Yeah--he came through when the knots
burned! It freed him! It's you an' me that's got to watch our step
now!"



CHAPTER VIII: NURSE WALTERS' DIARY



I took McCann up with me to Ricori's bedside. Confrontation with
his chief would be the supreme test, I felt, resolving one way or
another all my doubts as to his sincerity. For I realized, almost
immediately, that bizarre as had been the occurrences I have just
narrated, each and all of them could have been a part of the elaborate
hocus-pocus with which I had tentatively charged the gunman. The
cutting off of the doll's head could have been a dramatic gesture
designed to impress my imagination. It was he who had called my
attention to the sinister reputation of the knotted cord. It was
McCann who had found the pin. His fascination by the severed head
might have been assumed. And the tossing of the match a calculated
action designed to destroy evidence. I did not feel that I could trust
my own peculiar reactions as valid.

And yet it was difficult to credit McCann with being so consummate
an actor, so subtle a plotter. Ah, but he could be following the
instructions of another mind capable of such subtleties. I wanted to
trust McCann. I hoped that he would pass the test. Very earnestly I
hoped it.

The test was ordained to failure. Ricori was fully conscious, wide
awake, his mind probably as alert and sane as ever. But the lines of
communication were still down. His mind had been freed, but not his
body. The paralysis persisted, forbidding any muscular movements
except the deep-seated unconscious reflexes essential to the
continuance of life. He could not speak. His eyes looked up at me,
bright and intelligent, but from an expressionless face...looked up
at McCann with the same unchanging stare.

McCann whispered: "Can he hear?"

"I think so, but he has no way of telling us."

The gunman knelt beside the bed and took Ricori's hands in his. He
said, clearly: "Everything's all right, boss. We're all on the job."

Not the utterance nor the behavior of a guilty man--but then I had
told him Ricori could not answer. I said to Ricori:

"You're coming through splendidly. You've had a severe shock, and
I know the cause. I'd rather you were this way for a day or so than
able to move about. I have a perfectly good medical reason for this.
Don't worry, don't fret, try not to think of anything unpleasant. Let
your mind relax. I'm going to give you a mild hypo. Don't fight it.
Let yourself sleep."

I gave him the hypodermic, and watched with satisfaction its quick
effect. It convinced me that he had heard.

I returned to my study with McCann. I was doing some hard
thinking. There was no knowing how long Ricori would remain in the
grip of the paralysis. He might awaken in an hour fully restored, or
it might hold him for days. In the meantime there were three things I
felt it necessary to ascertain. The first that a thorough watch was
being kept upon the place where Ricori had gotten the doll; second,
that everything possible be found out about the two women McCann had
described; third, what it was that had made Ricori go there. I had
determined to take the gunman's story of the happenings at the store
at their face value--for the moment at least. At the same time, I did
not want to admit him into my confidence any more than was necessary.

"McCann," I began, "have you arranged to keep the doll store under
constant surveillance, as we agreed last night?"

"You bet. A flea couldn't hop in or out without being spotted."

"Any reports?"

"The boys ringed the joint close to midnight. The front's all
dark. There's a building in the back an' a space between it an' the
rear of the joint. There's a window with a heavy shutter, but a line
of light shows under it. About two o'clock this fish-white gal comes
slipping up the street and lets in. The boys at the back hear a hell
of a squalling, an' then the light goes out. This morning the gal
opens the shop. After a while the hag shows up, too. They're covered,
all right."

"What have you found out about them?"

"The hag calls herself Madame Mandilip. The gal's her niece. Or so
she says. They rode in about eight months since. Nobody knows where
from. Pay their bills regular. Seem to have plenty of money. Niece
does all the marketing. The old woman never goes out. Keep to
themselves like a pair of clams. Have strictly nothing to do with the
neighbors. The hag has a bunch of special customers--rich-looking
people many of them. Does two kinds of trade, it looks--regular dolls,
an' what goes with 'em, an' special dolls which they say the old
woman's a wonder at. Neighbors ain't a bit fond of 'em. Some of 'em
think she's handling dope. That's all yet."

Special dolls? Rich people?

Rich people like the spinster Bailey, the banker Marshall?

Regular dolls--for people like the acrobat, the bricklayer? But
these might have been "special" too, in ways McCann could not know.

"There's the store," he continued. "Back of it two or three rooms.
Upstairs a big room like a storeroom. They rent the whole place. The
hag an' the wench, they live in the rooms behind the store."

"Good work!" I applauded, and hesitated--"McCann, did the doll
remind you of somebody?"

He studied me with narrowed eyes.

"You tell me," he said at last, dryly.

"Well--I thought it resembled Peters."

"Thought it resembled!" he exploded. "Resembled--hell! It was the
lick-an'-spit of Peters!"

"Yet you said nothing to me of that. Why?" I asked, suspiciously.

"Well I'm damned--" he began, then caught himself. "I knowed you
seen it. I thought you kept quiet account of Shevlin, an' followed
your lead. Afterwards you were so busy putting me through the jumps
there wasn't a chance."

"Whoever made that doll must have known Peters quite well." I
passed over this dig. "Peters must have sat for the doll as one sits
for an artist or a sculptor. Why did he do it? When did he do it? Why
did anyone desire to make a doll like him?"

"Let me work on the hag for an hour an' I'll tell you," he
answered, grimly.

"No," I shook my head. "Nothing of that sort until Ricori can
talk. But maybe we can get some light in another way. Ricori had a
purpose in going to that store. I know what it was. But I do not know
what directed his attention to the store. I have reason to believe it
was information he gained from Peters' sister. Do you know her well
enough to visit her and to draw from her what it was she told Ricori
yesterday? Casually--tactfully--without telling her of Ricori's
illness?"

He said, bluntly: "Not without you give me more of a lead--
Mollie's no fool."

"Very well. I am not aware whether Ricori told you, but the
Darnley woman is dead. We think there is a connection between her
death and Peters' death. We think that it has something to do with the
love of both of them for Mollie's baby. The Darnley woman died
precisely as Peters did--"

He whispered--"You mean with the same--trimmings?"

"Yes. We had reason to think that both might have picked up the--
the disease--in the same place. Ricori thought that perhaps Mollie
might know something which would identify that place. A place where
both of them might have gone, not necessarily at the same time, and
have been exposed to--the infection. Maybe even a deliberate infection
by some ill-disposed person. Quite evidently what Ricori learned from
Mollie sent him to the Mandilips. There is one awkward thing,
however--unless Ricori told her yesterday, she does not know her
brother is dead."

"That's right," he nodded. "He gave orders about that."

"If he did not tell her, you must not."

"You're holding back quite a lot, ain't you, Doc?" He drew himself
up to go.

"Yes," I said, frankly. "But I've told you enough."

"Yeah? Well, maybe." He regarded me, somberly. "Anyway, I'll soon
know if the boss broke the news to Mollie. If he did, it opens up the
talk natural. If he didn't--well, I'll call you up after I've talked
to her. Hasta luego."

With this half-mocking adieu he took his departure. I went over to
the remains of the doll upon the table. The nauseous puddle had
hardened. In hardening it had roughly assumed the aspect of a
flattened human body. It had a peculiarly unpleasant appearance, with
the miniature ribs and the snapped wire of the spine glinting above
it. I was overcoming my reluctance to collect the mess for analysis
when Braile came in. I was so full of Ricori's awakening, and of what
had occurred, that it was some time before I noticed his pallor and
gravity. I stopped short in the recital of my doubts regarding McCann
to ask him what was the matter.

"I woke up this morning thinking of Harriet," he said. "I knew the
4-9-1 code, if it was a code, could not have meant Diana. Suddenly it
struck me that it might mean Diary. The idea kept haunting me. When I
had a chance I took Robbins and went to the apartment. We searched,
and found Harriet's diary. Here it is."

He handed me a little red-bound book. He said: "I've gone through
it."

I opened the book. I set down the parts of it pertinent to the
matter under review.



Nov. 3. Had a queer sort of experience today. Dropped down to
Battery Park to look at the new fishes in the Aquarium. Had an hour or
so afterwards and went poking around some of the old streets, looking
for something to take home to Diana. Found the oddest little shop.
Quaint and old looking with some of the loveliest dolls and dolls'
clothes in the window I've ever seen. I stood looking at them and
peeping into the shop through the window. There was a girl in the
shop. Her back was turned to me. She turned suddenly and looked at me.
She gave me the queerest kind of shock. Her face was white, without
any color whatever and her eyes were wide and sort of staring and
frightened. She had a lot of hair, all ashen blonde and piled up on
her head. She was the strangest looking girl I think I've ever seen.
She stared at me for a full minute and I at her. Then she shook her
head violently and made motions with her hands for me to go away. I
was so astonished I could hardly believe my eyes. I was about to go in
and ask her what on earth was the matter with her when I looked at my
watch and found I had just time to get back to the hospital. I looked
into the shop again and saw a door at the back beginning slowly to
open. The girl made one last and it seemed almost despairing gesture.
There was something about it that suddenly made me want to run. But I
didn't. I did walk away though. I've puzzled about the thing all day.
Also, besides being curious I'm a bit angry. The dolls and clothes are
beautiful. What's wrong with me as a customer? I'm going to find out.

Nov. 5. I went back to the doll shop this afternoon. The mystery
deepens. Only I don't think it's much of a mystery. I think the poor
thing is a bit crazy. I didn't stop to look in the window but went
right in the door. The white girl was at a little counter at the back.
When she saw me her eyes looked more frightened than ever and I could
see her tremble. I went up to her and she whispered, "Oh, why did you
come back? I told you to go away!" I laughed, I couldn't help it, and
I said: "You're the queerest shopkeeper I ever met. Don't you want
people to buy your things?" She said low and very quickly: "It's too
late! You can't go now! But don't touch anything. Don't touch anything
she gives you. Don't touch anything she points out to you." And then
in the most everyday way she said quite clearly: "Is there anything I
can show you? We have everything for dolls." The transition was so
abrupt that it was startling. Then I saw that a door had opened in the
back of the shop, the same door I had seen opening before, and that a
woman was standing in it looking at me.

I gaped at her I don't know how long. She was so truly
extraordinary. She must be almost six feet and heavy, with enormous
breasts. Not fat. Powerful. She has a long face and her skin is brown.
She has a distinct mustache and a mop of iron-gray hair.

It was her eyes that held me spellbound. They are simply enormous
black and so full of life! She must have a tremendous vitality. Or
maybe it is the contrast with the white girl who seems to be drained
of life. No, I'm sure she has a most unusual vitality. I had the
queerest thrill when she was looking at me. I thought, nonsensically--
"What big eyes you have, grandma!" "The better to see you with, my
dear!" "What big teeth you have, grandma!" "The better to eat you
with, my dear!" (I'm not so sure though that it was all nonsense.) And
she really has big teeth, strong and yellow. I said, quite stupidly:
"How do you do?" She smiled and touched me with her hand and I felt
another queer thrill. Her hands are the most beautiful I ever saw. So
beautiful, they are uncanny. Long with tapering fingers and so white.
Like the hands El Greco or Botticelli put on their women. I suppose
that is what gave me the odd shock. They don't seem to belong to her
immense coarse body at all. But neither do the eyes. The hands and the
eyes go together. Yes, that's it.

She smiled and said: "You love beautiful things." Her voice
belongs to hands and eyes. A deep rich glowing contralto. I could feel
it go through me like an organ chord. I nodded. She said: "Then you
shall see them, my dear. Come." She paid no attention to the girl. She
turned to the door and I followed her. As I went through the door I
looked back at the girl. She appeared more frightened than ever and
distinctly I saw her lips form the word--"Remember."

The room she led me into was--well, I can't describe it. It was
like her eyes and hands and voice.

When I went into it I had the strange feeling that I was no longer
in New York. Nor in America. Nor anywhere on earth, for that matter. I
had the feeling that the only real place that existed was the room. It
was frightening. The room was larger than it seemed possible it could
be, judging from the size of the store. Perhaps it was the light that
made it seem so. A soft mellow, dusky light. It is exquisitely
paneled, even the ceiling. On one side there is nothing but these
beautiful old dark panelings with carvings in very low relief covering
them. There is a fireplace and a fire was burning in it. It was
unusually warm but the warmth was not oppressive. There was a faint
fragrant odor, probably from the burning wood. The furniture is old
and exquisite too, but unfamiliar. There are some tapestries, clearly
ancient. It is curious, but I find it difficult to recall clearly just
what is in that room. All that is clear is its unfamiliar beauty. I do
remember clearly an immense table, and I recall thinking of it as a
"baronial board." And I remember intensely the round mirror, and I
don't like to think of that.

I found myself telling her all about myself and about Diana, and
how she loved beautiful things. She listened, and said in that deep,
sweet voice, "She shall have one beautiful thing, my dear." She went
to a cabinet and came to me with the loveliest doll I have ever seen.
It made me gasp when I thought how Di would love it. A little baby
doll, and so life-like and exquisite. "Would she like that?" she
asked. I said: "But I could never afford such a treasure. I'm poor."
And she laughed, and said: "But I am not poor. This shall be yours
when I have finished dressing it."

It was rude, but I could not help saying: "You must be very, very
rich to have all these lovely things. I wonder why you keep a doll
store." And she laughed again and said, "Just to meet nice people like
you, my dear."

It was then I had the peculiar experience, with the mirror. It was
round and I had looked and looked at it because it was like, I
thought, the half of an immense globule of clearest water. Its frame
was brown wood elaborately carved, and now and then the reflection of
the carvings seemed to dance in the mirror like vegetation on the edge
of a woodland pool when a breeze ruffles it. I had been wanting to
look into it, and all at once the desire became irresistible. I walked
to the mirror. I could see the whole room reflected in it. Just as
though I were looking not at its image or my own image but into
another similar room with a similar me peering out. And then there was
a wavering and the reflection of the room became misty, although the
reflection of myself was perfectly clear. Then I could see only
myself, and I seemed to be getting smaller and smaller until I was no
bigger than a large doll. I brought my face closer and the little face
thrust itself forward. I shook my head and smiled, and it did the
same. It was my reflection--but so small! And suddenly I felt
frightened and shut my eyes tight. And when I looked in the mirror
again everything was as it had been before.

I looked at my watch and was appalled at the time I had spent. I
arose to go, still with the panicky feeling at my heart. She said:
"Visit me again tomorrow, my dear. I will have the doll ready for
you." I thanked her and said I would. She went with me to the door of
the shop. The girl did not look at me as I passed through.

Her name is Madame Mandilip. I am not going to her tomorrow nor
ever again. She fascinates me but she makes me afraid. I don't like
the way I felt before the round mirror. And when I first looked into
it and saw the whole room reflected, why didn't I see her image in it?
I did not! And although the room was lighted, I can't remember seeing
any windows or lamps. And that girl! And yet--Di would love the doll
so!

Nov. 7. Queer how difficult it is to keep to my resolution not to
return to Madame Mandilip. It makes me so restless! Last night I had a
terrifying dream. I thought I was back in that room. I could see it
distinctly. And suddenly I realized I was looking out into it. And
that I was inside the mirror. I knew I was little. Like a doll. I was
frightened and I beat against it, and fluttered against it like a moth
against a windowpane. Then I saw two beautiful long white hands
stretching out to me. They opened the mirror and caught me and I
struggled and fought and tried to get away. I woke with my heart
beating so hard it nigh smothered me. Di says I was crying out: "No!
No! I won't! No, I won't!" over and over. She threw a pillow at me and
I suppose that's what awakened me.

Today I left the hospital at four, intending to go right home. I
don't know what I could have been thinking about, but whatever it was
I must have been mighty preoccupied. I woke up to find myself in the
Subway Station just getting on a Bowling Green train. That would have
taken me to the Battery. I suppose absentmindedly I had set out for
Madame Mandilip's. It gave me such a start that I almost ran out of
the station and up to the street. I think I'm acting very stupidly. I
always have prided myself on my common sense. I think I must consult
Dr. Braile and see whether I'm becoming neurotic. There's no earthly
reason why I shouldn't go to see Madame Mandilip. She is most
interesting and certainly showed she liked me. It was so gracious of
her to offer me that lovely doll. She must think me ungrateful and
rude. And it would please Di so. When I think of how I've been feeling
about the mirror it makes me feel as childish as Alice in Wonderland
or Through the Looking Glass, rather. Mirrors or any other reflecting
surfaces make you see queer things sometimes. Probably the heat and
the fragrance had a lot to do with it. I really don't know that Madame
Mandilip wasn't reflected. I was too intent upon looking at myself.
It's too absurd to run away and hide like a child from a witch. Yet
that's precisely what I'm doing. If it weren't for that girl--but she
certainly is a neurotic! I want to go, and I just don't see why I'm
behaving so.

Nov. 10. Well, I'm glad I didn't persist in that ridiculous idea.
Madame Mandilip is wonderful. Of course, there are some queer things I
don't understand, but that's because she is so different from any one
I've ever met and because when I get inside her room life becomes so
different. When I leave, it's like going out of some enchanted castle
into the prosiest kind of world. Yesterday afternoon I determined I'd
go to see her straight from the hospital. The moment I made up my mind
I felt as though a cloud had lifted from it. Gayer and happier than
I've been for a week. When I went in the store the white girl--her
name is Laschna--stared at me as though she was going to cry. She
said, in the oddest choked voice, "Remember that I tried to save you!"

It seemed so funny that I laughed and laughed. Then Madame
Mandilip opened the door, and when I looked at her eyes and heard her
voice I knew why I was so light-hearted--it was like coming home after
the most awful siege of home-sickness. The lovely room welcomed me. It
really did. It's the only way I can describe it. I have the queer
feeling that the room is as alive as Madame Mandilip. That it is a
part of her--or rather, a part of the part of her that are her eyes
and hands and voice. She didn't ask me why I had stayed away. She
brought out the doll. It is more wonderful than ever. She has still
some work to do on it. We sat and talked, and then she said: "I'd like
to make a doll of you, my dear." Those were her exact words, and for
just an instant I had a frightened feeling because I remembered my
dream and saw myself fluttering inside the mirror and trying to get
out. And then I realized it was just her way of speaking, and that she
meant she would like to make a doll that looked like me. So I laughed
and said, "Of course you can make a doll of me, Madame Mandilip." I
wonder what nationality she is.

She laughed with me, her big eyes bigger than ever and very
bright. She brought out some wax and began to model my head. Those
beautiful long fingers worked rapidly as though each of them was a
little artist in itself. I watched them, fascinated. I began to get
sleepy, and sleepier and sleepier. She said, "My dear, I do wish you'd
take off your clothes and let me model your whole body. Don't be
shocked. I'm just an old woman." I didn't mind at all, and I said
sleepily, "Why, of course you can." And I stood on a little stool and
watched the wax taking shape under those white fingers until it had
become a small and most perfect copy of me. I knew it was perfect,
although I was so sleepy I could hardly see it. I was so sleepy Madame
Mandilip had to help me dress, and then I must have gone sound asleep,
because I woke up with quite a start to find her patting my hands and
saying, "I'm sorry I tired you, child. Stay if you wish. But if you
must go, it is growing late." I looked at my watch and I was still so
sleepy I could hardly see it, but I knew it was dreadfully late. Then
Madame Mandilip pressed her hands over my eyes and suddenly I was wide
awake. She said, "Come tomorrow and take the doll." I said, "I must
pay you what I can afford." She said, "You've paid me in full, my
dear, by letting me make a doll of you." Then we both laughed and I
hurried out. The white girl was busy with someone, but I called "au
'voir" to her. Probably she didn't hear me, for she didn't answer.

Nov. 11. I have the doll and Diana is crazy about it! How glad I
am I didn't surrender to that silly morbid feeling. Di has never had
anything that has given her such happiness. She adores it! Sat again
for Madame Mandilip this afternoon for the finishing touches on my own
doll. She is a genius. Truly a genius! I wonder more than ever why she
is content to run a little shop. She surely could take her place among
the greatest of artists. The doll literally is me. She asked if she
could cut some of my hair for its head and of course I let her. She
tells me this doll is not the real doll she is going to make of me.
That will be much larger. This is just the model from which she will
work. I told her I thought this was perfect but she said the other
would be of less perishable material. Maybe she will give me this one
after she is finished with it. I was so anxious to take the baby doll
home to Di that I didn't stay long. I smiled and spoke to Laschna as I
went out, and she nodded to me although not very cordially. I wonder
if she can be jealous.

Nov. 13. This is the first time I have felt like writing since
that dreadful case of Mr. Peters on the morning of the 10th. I had
just finished writing about Di's doll when the hospital called to say
they wanted me on duty that night. Of course, I said I would come. Oh,
but I wish I hadn't. I'll never forget that dreadful death. Never! I
don't want to write or think about it. When I came home that morning I
could not sleep, and I tossed and tossed trying to get his face out of
my mind. I thought I had schooled myself too well to be affected by
any patient. But there was something--Then I thought that if there was
anyone who could help me to forget, it would be Madame Mandilip. So
about two o'clock I went down to see her. Madame was in the store with
Laschna and seemed surprised to see me so early. And not so pleased as
usual, or so I thought but perhaps it was my nervousness. The moment I
entered the lovely room I began to feel better. Madame had been doing
something with wire on the table but I couldn't see what because she
made me sit in a big comfortable chair, saying, "You look tired,
child. Sit here and rest until I'm finished and here's an old picture
book that will keep you interested." She gave me a queer old book,
long and narrow and it must have been very old because it was on
vellum or something and the pictures and their colorings were like
some of those books that have come down from the Middle Ages, the kind
the old monks used to paint. They were all scenes in forests or
gardens and the flowers and trees were the queerest! There were no
people or anything in them but you had the strangest feeling that if
you had just a little better eyes you could see people or something
behind them. I mean it was as though they were hiding behind the trees
and flowers or among them and looking out at you. I don't know how
long I studied the pictures, trying and trying to see those hidden
folk, but at last Madame called me. I went to the table with the book
still in my hand. She said, "That's for the doll I am making of you.
Take it up and see how cleverly it is done." And she pointed to
something made of wire on the table. I reached out to pick it up and
then suddenly I saw that it was a skeleton. It was little, like a
child's skeleton and all at once the face of Mr. Peters flashed in my
mind and I screamed in a moment of perfectly crazy panic and threw out
my hands. The book flew out of my hand and dropped on the little wire
skeleton and there was a sharp twang and the skeleton seemed to jump.
I recovered myself immediately and I saw that the end of the wire had
come loose and had cut the binding of the book and was still stuck in
it. For a moment Madame was dreadfully angry. She caught my arm and
squeezed it so it hurt and her eyes were furious and she said in the
strangest voice, "Why did you do that? Answer me. Why?" And she
actually shook me. I don't blame her now, although then she really did
frighten me, because she must have thought I did it deliberately. Then
she saw how I was trembling and her eyes and voice became gentle and
she said, "Something is troubling you, my dear. Tell me and perhaps I
can help you." She made me lie down upon a divan and sat beside me and
stroked my hair and forehead and though I never discuss our cases to
others I found myself pouring out the whole story of the Peters case.
She asked who was the man who had brought him to the hospital and I
said Dr. Lowell called him Ricori and I supposed he was the notorious
gangster. Her hands made me feel quiet and nice and sleepy and I told
her about Dr. Lowell and how great a doctor he is and how terrible I
am in love in secret with Dr. B-. I'm sorry I told her about the case.
Never have I done such a thing. But I was so shaken and once I had
begun I seemed to have to tell her everything. Everything in my mind
was so distorted that once when I had lifted my head to look at her I
actually thought she was gloating. That shows how little I was like
myself! After I had finished she told me to lie there and sleep and
she would waken me when I wished. So I said I must go at four. I went
right to sleep and woke up feeling rested and fine. When I went out
the little skeleton and book were still on the table, and I said I was
so sorry about the book. She said, "Better the book than your hand, my
dear. The wire might have snapped loose while you were handling it and
given you a nasty cut." She wants me to bring down my nurse's dress so
she can make a little one like it for the new doll.

Nov. 14. I wish I'd never gone to Madame Mandilip's. I wouldn't
have had my foot scalded. But that's not the real reason I'm sorry. I
couldn't put it in words if I tried. But I do wish I hadn't. I took
the nurse's costume down to her this afternoon. She made a little
model of it very quickly. She was gay and sang me some of the most
haunting little songs. I couldn't understand the words. She laughed
when I asked her what the language was and said, "The language of the
people who peeped at you from the pictures of the book, my dear." That
was a strange thing to say. How did she know I thought there were
people hidden in the pictures? I do wish I'd never gone there. She
brewed some tea and poured cups for us. And then just as she was
handing me mine her elbow struck the teapot and overturned it and the
scalding tea poured right down over my right foot. It pained
atrociously. She took off the shoe and stripped off the stocking and
spread salve of some sort over the scald. She said it would take out
the pain and heal it immediately. It did stop the pain, and when I
came home I could hardly believe my eyes. Job wouldn't believe it had
really been scalded. Madame Mandilip was terribly distressed about it.
At least she seemed to be. I wonder why she didn't go to the door with
me as usual. She didn't. She stayed in the room. The white girl,
Laschna, was close to the door when I went out into the store. She
looked at the bandage on my foot and I told her it had been scalded
but Madame had dressed it. She didn't even say she was sorry. As I
went out I looked at her and said a bit angrily, "Goodbye." Her eyes
filled with tears and she looked at me in the strangest way and shook
her head and said "Au 'voir!" I looked at her again as I shut the door
and the tears were rolling down her cheeks. I wonder--why? (I wish I
had never gone to Madame Mandilip!!!!)

Nov. 15. Foot all healed. I haven't the slightest desire to return
to Madame Mandilip's. I shall never go there again. I wish I could
destroy that doll she gave me for Di. But it would break the child's
heart.

Nov. 20. Still no desire to see her. I find I'm forgetting all
about her. The only time I think of her is when I see Di's doll. I'm
glad! So glad I want to dance and sing. I'll never see her again.

But dear God how I wish I never had seen her! And still I don't
know why.



This was the last reference to Madame Mandilip in Nurse Walters'
diary. She died on the morning of November 25.



CHAPTER IX: END OF THE PETERS DOLL



Braile had been watching me closely. I met his questioning gaze,
and tried to conceal the perturbation which the diary had aroused. I
said:

"I never knew Walters had so imaginative a mind."

He flushed and asked angrily: "You think she was fictionizing?"

"Not fictionizing, exactly. Observing a series of ordinary
occurrences through the glamour of an active imagination would be a
better way of putting it."

He said, incredulously, "You don't realize that what she has
written is an authentic, even though unconscious, description of an
amazing piece of hypnotism?"

"The possibility did occur to me," I answered tartly. "But I find
no actual evidence to support it. I do perceive, however, that Walters
was not so well balanced as I had supposed her. I do find evidence
that she was surprisingly emotional; that in at least one of her
visits to this Madame Mandilip she was plainly overwrought and in an
extreme state of nervous instability. I refer to her most indiscreet
discussion of the Peters case, after she had been warned by me, you
will remember, to say nothing of it to anyone whatsoever."

"I remember it so well," he said, "that when I came to that part
of the diary I had no further doubt of the hypnotism. Nevertheless, go
on."

"In considering two possible causes for any action, it is
desirable to accept the more reasonable," I said, dryly. "Consider the
actual facts, Braile. Walters lays stress upon the odd conduct and
warnings of the girl. She admits the girl is a neurotic. Well, the
conduct she describes is exactly what we would expect from a neurotic.
Walters is attracted by the dolls and goes in to price them, as anyone
would. She is acting under no compulsion. She meets a woman whose
physical characteristics stimulate her imagination--and arouse her
emotionalism. She confides in her. This woman, evidently also of the
emotional type, likes her and makes her a present of a doll. The woman
is an artist; she sees in Walters a desirable model. She asks her to
pose--still no compulsion and a natural request--and Walters does pose
for her. The woman has her technique, like all artists, and part of it
is to make skeletons for the framework of her dolls. A natural and
intelligent procedure. The sight of the skeleton suggests death to
Walters, and the suggestion of death brings up the image of Peters
which has been powerfully impressed upon her imagination. She becomes
momentarily hysterical--again evidence of her overwrought condition.
She takes tea with the doll-maker and is accidentally scalded.
Naturally this arouses the solicitude of her hostess and she dresses
the scald with some unguent in whose efficacy she believes. And that
is all. Where in this entirely commonplace sequence of events is there
evidence that Walters was hypnotized? Finally, assuming that she was
hypnotized, what evidence is there of motive?"

"She herself gave it," he said, "'to make a doll of you, my
dear!'"

I had almost convinced myself by my argument, and this remark
exasperated me.

"I suppose," I said, "you want me to believe that once lured into
the shop, Walters was impelled by occult arts to return until this
Madame Mandilip's devilish purpose was accomplished. That the
compassionate shop-girl tried to save her from what the old melodramas
called a fate worse than death--although not precisely the fate they
meant. That the doll she was to be given for her niece was the bait on
the hook of a sorceress. That it was necessary she be wounded so the
witch's salve could be applied. That it was the salve which carried
the unknown death. That the first trap failing, the accident of the
tea-kettle was contrived and was successful. And that now Walters'
soul is fluttering inside the witch's mirror, just as she had dreamed.
And all this, my dear Braile, is the most outrageous superstition!"

"Ah!" he said obliquely. "So those possibilities did occur to you
after all? Your mind is not so fossilized as a few moments ago I
supposed."

I became still more exasperated.

"It is your theory that from the moment Walters entered the store,
every occurrence she has narrated was designed to give this Madame
Mandilip possession of her soul, a design that was consummated by
Walters' death?"

He hesitated, and then said: "In essence--yes."

"A soul!" I mused, sardonically. "But I have never seen a soul. I
know of no one whose evidence I would credit who has seen a soul. What
is a soul--if it exists? It is ponderable? Material? If your theory is
correct it must be. How could one gain possession of something which
is both imponderables and nonmaterial? How would one know one had it
if it could not be seen nor weighed, felt nor measured, nor heard? If
not material, how could it be constrained, directed, confined? As you
suggest has been done with Walters' soul by this doll-maker. If
material, then where does it reside in the body? Within the brain? I
have operated upon hundreds and never yet have I opened any secret
chamber housing this mysterious occupant. Little cells, far more
complicated in their workings than any machinery ever devised,
changing their possessor's mentality, moods, reason, emotion,
personality--according to whether the little cells are functioning
well or ill. These I have found, Braile--but never a soul. Surgeons
have thoroughly explored the balance of the body. They, too, have
found no secret temple within it. Show me a soul, Braile, and I'll
believe in Madame Mandilip."

He studied me in silence for a little, then nodded.

"Now I understand. It's hit you pretty hard, too, hasn't it?
You're doing a little beating of your own against the mirror, aren't
you? Well, I've had a struggle to thrust aside what I've been taught
is reality and to admit there may be something else just as real. This
matter, Lowell, is extra-medical, outside the science we know. Until
we admit that, we'll get nowhere. There are still two points I'd like
to take up. Peters and the Darnley woman died the same kind of death.
Ricori finds that they both had dealings with a Madame Mandilip--or so
we can assume. He visits her and narrowly escapes death. Harriet
visits her, and dies as Darnley and Peters did. Reasonably, therefore,
doesn't all this point to Madame Mandilip as a possible source of the
evil that overtook all four?"

"Certainly," I answered.

"Then it must follow that there could have been real cause for the
fear and forebodings of Harriet. That there could exist a cause other
than emotionalism and too much imagination--even though Harriet were
unaware of these circumstances."

Too late I realized the dilemma into which my admission had put
me, but I could answer only in the affirmative.

"The second point is her loss of all desire to return to the doll-
maker after the teapot incident. Did that strike you as curious?"

"No. If she were emotionally unstable, the shock would
automatically set itself up as an inhibition, a subconscious barrier.
Unless they are masochists, such types do not like to return to the
scene of an unpleasant experience."

"Did you notice her remark that after the scalding, the woman did
not accompany her to the door of the store? And that it was the first
time she had neglected to do so?"

"Not particularly. Why?"

"This. If the application of the salve constituted the final act,
and thereafter death became inevitable, it might be highly
embarrassing to Madame Mandilip to have her victim going in and out of
her shop during the time it took the poison to kill. The seizure might
even take place there, and lead to dangerous questions. The clever
thing, therefore, would be to cause the unsuspecting sacrifice to lose
all interest in her; indeed, feel a repulsion against her, or even
perhaps forget her. This could be easily accomplished by post-hypnotic
suggestion. And Madame Mandilip had every opportunity for it. Would
this not explain Harriet's distaste as logically as imagination--or
emotionalism?"

"Yes," I admitted.

"And so," he said, "we have the woman's failure to go to the door
with Harriet that day explained. Her plot has succeeded. It is all
over. And she has planted her suggestion. No need now for any further
contact with Harriet. She lets her go, unaccompanied. Significant
symbolism of finality!"

He sat thinking.

"No need to meet Harriet again," he half-whispered, "till after
death!"

I said, startled: "What do you mean by that?"

"Never mind," he answered.

He crossed to the charred spot upon the floor and picked up the
heat-blasted crystals. They were about twice the size of olive pits
and apparently of some composite. He walked to the table and looked
down upon the grotesque figure with its skeleton ribs.

"Suppose the heat melted it?" he asked, and reached over to lift
the skeleton. It held fast, and he gave it a sharp tug. There was a
shrill twanging sound, and he dropped it with a startled oath. The
thing fell to the floor. It writhed, the single wire of which it was
made uncoiling.

Uncoiling, it glided over the floor like a serpent and came to
rest, quivering.

We looked from it to the table.

The substance that had resembled a sprawling, flattened, headless
body was gone. In its place was a film of fine gray dust which swirled
and eddied for a moment in some unfelt draft--and then, too, was gone.



CHAPTER X: NURSE'S CAP AND WITCH'S LADDER



"She knows how to get rid of the evidence!"

Braile laughed--but there was no mirth in his laughter. I said
nothing. It was the same thought I had held of McCann when the doll's
head had vanished. But McCann could not be suspected of this. Evading
any further discussion of the matter, we went to the Annex to see
Ricori.

There were two new guards on watch at his door. They arose
politely and spoke to us pleasantly. We entered softly. Ricori had
slipped out of the drug into a natural sleep. He was breathing easily,
peacefully, in deep and healing slumber.

His room was a quiet one at the rear, overlooking a little
enclosed garden. Both my houses are old-fashioned, dating back to a
more peaceful New York; sturdy vines of Virginia creepers climb up
them both at front and back. I cautioned the nurse to maintain utmost
quiet, arranging her light so that it would cast only the slightest
gleam upon Ricori. Going out, I similarly cautioned the guards,
telling them that their chief's speedy recovery might depend upon
silence.

It was now after six. I asked Braile to stay for dinner, and
afterward to drop in on my patients at the hospital and to call me up
if he thought it worthwhile. I wanted to stay at home and await
Ricori's awakening, should it occur.

We had almost finished dinner when the telephone rang. Braile
answered.

"McCann," he said. I went to the instrument.

"Hello, McCann. This is Dr. Lowell."

"How's the boss?"

"Better, I'm expecting him to awaken any moment and to be able to
talk," I answered, and listened intently to catch whatever reaction he
might betray to this news.

"That's great, Doc!" I could detect nothing but deepest
satisfaction in his tones. "Listen, Doc, I seen Mollie an' I got some
news. Dropped round on her right after I left you. Found Gilmore--
that's her husband--home, an' that gave me a break. Said I'd come in
to ask her how she'd like a little ride. She was tickled an' we left
Gil home with the kid--"

"Does she know of Peters' death?" I interrupted.

"Nope. An' I didn't tell her. Now listen. I told you Horty--What?
Why Missus Darnley, Jim Wilson's gal. Yeah. Let me talk, will you? I
told you Horty was nuts on Mollie's kid. Early last month Horty comes
in with a swell doll for the kid. Also she's nursing a sore hand she
says she gets at the same place she got the doll. The woman she gets
the doll from gave it to her, she tells Mollie--What? No, gave her the
doll, not the hand. Say, Doc, ain't I speaking clear? Yeah, she gets
her hand hurt where she got the doll. That's what I said. The woman
fixes it up for her. She gives her the doll for nothing, Horty tells
Mollie, because she thought Horty was so pretty an' for posing for
her. Yeah, posing for her, making a statue of her or something. That
makes a hit with Horty because she don't hate herself an' she thinks
this doll woman a lallapaloozer. Yeah, a lallapaloozer, a corker!
Yeah.

"About a week later Tom--that's Peters--shows up while Horty's
there an' sees the doll. Tom's a mite jealous of Horty with the kid
an' asks her where she got it. She tells him a Madame Mandilip, an'
where, an' Tom he says as this is a gal-doll she needs company, so
he'll go an' get a boy-doll. About a week after this Tom turns up with
a boy-doll the lick-an'-split of Horty's. Mollie asks him if he pays
as much for it as Horty. They ain't told him about Horty not paying
nothing for it or posing. Mollie says Tom looks sort of sheepish but
all he says is, well, he ain't gone broke on it. She's going to kid
him by asking if the doll woman thinks he's so pretty she wants him to
pose, but the kid sets up a whoop about the boy-doll an' she forgets
it. Tom don't show up again till about the first of this month. He's
got a bandage on his hand an' Mollie, kidding, asks him if he got it
where he got the doll. He looks surprised an' says 'yes, but how the
hell did you know that?' Yeah-yeah, that's what she says he told her.
What's that? Did the Mandilip woman bandage it for him? How the hell--
I don't know. I guess so, maybe. Mollie didn't say an' I didn't ask.
Listen, Doc, I told you Mollie's no dummy. What I'm telling you took
me two hours to get. Talking 'bout this, talking 'bout that an' coming
back casual like to what I'm trying to find out. I'm afraid to ask too
many questions. What? Oh, that's all right, Doc. No offense. Yeah, I
think it pretty funny myself. But like I'm telling you I'm afraid to
go too far. Mollie's too wise.

"Well, when Ricori comes up yesterday he uses the same tactics as
me, I guess. Anyway, he admires the dolls an' asks her where she gets
'em an' how much they cost an' so on. Remember, I told you I stay out
in the car while he's there. It's after that he goes home an' does the
telephoning an' then beats it to the Mandilip hag. Yeah, that's all.
Does it mean anything? Yeah? All right then."

He was silent for a moment or two, but I had not heard the click
of the receiver. I asked:

"Are you there, McCann?"

"Yeah. I was just thinking." His voice held a wistful note. "I'd
sure like to be with you when the boss comes to. But I'd best go down
an' see how the hands are getting along with them two Mandilip cows.
Maybe I'll call you up if it ain't too late. G'by."

I walked slowly back to Braile, trying to marshal my disjointed
thoughts. I repeated McCann's end of the conversation to him exactly.
He did not interrupt me. When I had finished he said quietly:

"Hortense Darnley goes to the Mandilip woman, is given a doll, is
asked to pose, is wounded there, is treated there. And dies. Peters
goes to the Mandilip woman, gets a doll, is wounded there, is
presumably treated there. And dies like Hortense. You see a doll for
which, apparently, he has posed. Harriet goes through the same
routine. And dies like Hortense and Peters. Now what?"

Suddenly I felt rather old and tired. It is not precisely
stimulating to see crumbling what one has long believed to be a fairly
well ordered world of recognized cause and effect. I said wearily:

"I don't know."

He arose, and patted my shoulder.

"Get some sleep. The nurse will call you if Ricori wakes. We'll
get to the bottom of this thing."

"Even if we fall to it," I said, and smiled.

"Even if we have to fall to it," he repeated, and did not smile.

After Braile had gone I sat for long, thinking. Then, determined
to dismiss my thoughts, I tried to read. I was too restless, and soon
gave it up. Like the room in which Ricori lay, my study is at the
rear, looking down upon the little garden. I walked to the window and
stared out, unseeingly. More vivid than ever was that feeling of
standing before a blank door which it was vitally important to open. I
turned back into the study and was surprised to find it was close to
ten o'clock. I dimmed my light and lay down upon the comfortable
couch. Almost immediately I fell asleep.

I awoke from that sleep with a start, as though someone had spoken
in my ear. I sat up, listening. There was utter silence around me. And
suddenly I was aware that it was a strange silence, unfamiliar and
oppressive. A thick, dead silence that filled the study and through
which no sound from outside could penetrate. I jumped to my feet and
turned on the lights, full. The silence retreated, seemed to pour out
of the room like something tangible. But slowly. Now I could hear the
ticking of my clock--ticking out abruptly, as though a silencing cover
had been whisked from it. I shook my head impatiently, and walked to
the window. I leaned out to breathe the cool night air. I leaned out
still more, so that I could see the window of Ricori's room, resting
my hand on the trunk of the vine. I felt a tremor along it as though
someone were gently shaking it--or as though some small animal were
climbing it--

The window of Ricori's room broke into a square of light. Behind
me I heard the shrilling of the Annex alarm bell which meant the
urgent need of haste. I raced out of the study, and up the stairs and
over.

As I ran into the corridor I saw that the guards were not at the
door. The door was open. I stood stock-still on its threshold,
incredulous--

One guard crouched beside the window, automatic in hand. The other
knelt beside a body on the floor, his pistol pointed toward me. At her
table sat the nurse, head bent upon her breast--unconscious or asleep.
The bed was empty. The body on the floor was Ricori!

The guard lowered his gun. I dropped at Ricori's side. He was
lying face down, stretched out a few feet from the bed. I turned him
over. His face had the pallor of death, but his heart was beating.

"Help me lift him to the bed," I said to the guard. "Then shut
that door."

He did so, silently. The man at the window asked from the side of
his mouth, never relaxing his watch outward:

"Boss dead?"

"Not quite," I answered, then swore as I seldom do--"What the hell
kind of guards are you?"

The man who had shut the door gave a mirthless chuckle.

"There's more'n you goin' to ask that, Doc."

I gave a glance at the nurse. She still sat huddled in the limp
attitude of unconsciousness or deep sleep. I stripped Ricori of his
pajamas and went over his body. There was no mark upon him. I sent for
adrenalin, gave him an injection and went over to the nurse, and shook
her. She did not awaken. I raised her eyelids. The pupils of her eyes
were contracted. I flashed a light in them, without response. Her
pulse and respiration were slow, but not dangerously so. I let her be
for a moment and turned to the guards.

"What happened?"

They looked at each other uneasily. The guard at the window waved
his hand as though bidding the other do the talking. This guard said:

"We're sitting out there. All at once the house gets damned still.
I says to Jack there, 'Sounds like they put a silencer on the dump.'
He says, 'Yeah.' We sit listening. Then all at once we hear a thump
inside here. Like somebody falling out of bed. We crash the door.
There's the boss like you seen him on the floor. There's the nurse
asleep like you see her. We glim the alarm and pull it. Then we wait
for somebody to come. That's all, ain't it, Jack?"

"Yeah," answered the guard at the window, tonelessly. "Yeah, I
guess that's all."

I looked at him, suspiciously.

"You guess that's all? What do you mean--you guess?"

Again they looked at each other.

"Better come clean, Bill," said the guard at the window.

"Hell, he won't believe it," said the other.

"And nobody else. Anyway, tell him."

The guard Bill said:

"When we crash the door we seen something like a couple of cats
fighting there beside the window. The boss is lying on the floor. We
had our guns out but was afraid to shoot for what you told us. Then we
heard a funny noise outside like somebody blowing a flute. The two
things broke loose and jumped up on the window sill, and out. We
jumped to the window. And we didn't see nothing."

"You saw the things at the window. What did they look like then?"
I asked.

"You tell him, Jack."

"Dolls!"

A shiver went down my back. It was the answer I had expected--and
dreaded. Out the window! I recalled the tremor of the vine when I
gripped it! The guard who had closed the door looked at me, and I saw
his jaw drop.

"Jesus, Jack!" he gasped. "He believes it!"

I forced myself to speak.

"What kind of dolls?"

The guard at the window answered, more confidently.

"One we couldn't see well. The other looked like one of your
nurses if she'd shrunk to about two feet!"

One of my nurses...Walters...I felt a wave of weakness and
sank down on the edge of Ricori's bed.

Something white on the floor at the head of it caught my eye. I
stared at it stupidly, then leaned and picked it up.

It was a nurse's cap, a little copy of those my nurses wear. It
was about large enough to fit the head of a two-foot doll...

There was something else where it had been. I picked that up.

It was a knotted cord of hair pale ashen hair with nine curious
knots spaced at irregular intervals along it...

The guard named Bill stood looking down at me anxiously. He asked:

"Want me to call any of your people, Doc?"

"Try to get hold of McCann," I bade him; then spoke to the other
guard: "Close the windows and fasten them and pull down the curtains.
Then lock the door."

Bill began to telephone. Stuffing the cap and knotted cord in my
pocket, I walked over to the nurse. She was rapidly recovering and in
a minute or two I had her awake. At first her eyes dwelt on me,
puzzled; took in the lighted room and the two men, and the puzzlement
changed to alarm. She sprang to her feet.

"I didn't see you come in! Did I fall asleep...what's
happened?..." Her hand went to her throat.

"I'm hoping you can tell us," I said, gently.

She stared at me uncomprehendingly. She said, confusedly:

"I don't know...it became terribly still...I...thought I saw
something moving at the window...then there was a queer fragrance
and then I looked up to see you bending over me."

I asked: "Can you remember anything of what you saw at the window?
The least detail--the least impression. Please try."

She answered, hesitantly: "There was something white...I thought
someone...something...was watching me...then came the fragrance,
like flowers...that's all."

Bill hung up the telephone: "All right, Doc. They're after McCann.
Now what?"

"Miss Butler," I turned to the nurse. "I'm going to relieve you
for the balance of the night. Go to bed. And I want you to sleep. I
prescribe--" I told her what.

"You're not angry--you don't think I've been careless--"

"No, to both." I smiled and patted her shoulder. "The case has
taken an unexpected turn, that's all. Now don't ask any more
questions."

I walked with her to the door, opened it.

"Do exactly as I say."

I closed and locked the door behind her.

I sat beside Ricori. The shock that he had experienced--whatever
it might have been--should either cure or kill, I thought grimly. As I
watched him, a tremor went through his body. Slowly an arm began to
lift, fist clenched. His lips moved. He spoke, in Italian and so
swiftly that I could get no word. His arm fell back. I stood up from
the bed. The paralysis had gone. He could move and speak. But would he
be able to do so when consciousness assumed sway? I left this for the
next few hours to decide I could do nothing else.

"Now listen to me carefully," I said to the two guards. "No matter
how strange what I am going to say will seem, you must obey me in
every detail! Ricori's life depends upon your doing so. I want one of
you to sit close beside me at the table here. I want the other to sit
beside Ricori, at the head or the bed and between him and me. If I am
asleep and he should awaken, arouse me. If you see any change in his
condition, immediately awaken me. Is that clear?"

They said: "Okay."

"Very well. Now here is the most important thing of all. You must
watch me even more closely. Whichever of you sits beside me must not
take his eyes off me. If I should go to your chief it would be to do
one of three things only--listen to his heart and breathing--lift his
eyelids--take his temperature. I mean, of course, if he should be as
he now is. If I seem to awaken and attempt to do anything other than
these three--stop me. If I resist, make me helpless--tie me up and gag
me--no, don't gag me--listen to me and remember what I say. Then
telephone to Dr. Braile--here is his number."

I wrote, and passed it to them.

"Don't damage me any more than you can help," I said, and laughed.

They stared at each other, plainly disconcerted. "If you say so,
Doc--" began the guard Bill, doubtfully.

"I do say so. Do not hesitate. If you should be wrong, I'll not
hold it against you."

"The Doc knows what he's about, Bill," said the guard Jack.

"Okay then," said Bill.

I turned out all the lights except that beside the nurse's table.
I stretched myself in her chair and adjusted the lamp so my face could
be plainly seen. That little white cap I had picked from the floor had
shaken me--damnably! I drew it out and placed it in a drawer. The
guard Jack took his station beside Ricori. Bill drew up a chair, and
sat facing me. I thrust my hand into my pocket and clutched the
knotted cord, closed my eyes, emptied my mind of all thought, and
relaxed. In abandoning, at least temporarily, my conception of a sane
universe I had determined to give that of Madame Mandilip's every
chance to operate.

Faintly, I heard a clock strike one. I slept.

Somewhere a vast wind was roaring. It circled and swept down upon
me. It bore me away. I knew that I had no body, that indeed I had no
form. Yet I was. A formless sentience whirling in that vast wind. It
carried me into infinite distance. Bodiless, intangible as I knew
myself to be, yet it poured into me an unearthly vitality. I roared
with the wind in unhuman jubilance. The vast wind circled and raced me
back from immeasurable space...

I seemed to awaken, that pulse of strange jubilance still surging
through me...Ah! There was what I must destroy...there on the bed
...must kill so that this pulse of jubilance would not cease...must
kill so that the vast wind would sweep me up again and away and feed
me with its life...but careful...careful...there--there in the
throat just under the ear...there is where I must plunge it...then
off with the wind again...there where the pulse beats...what is
holding me back?...caution...caution, "I am going to take his
temperature"...that's it, careful, "I am going to take his
temperature."...Now--one quick spring, then into his throat where
the pulse beats..."Not with that you don't!"...Who said that?...
still holding me...rage, consuming and ruthless blackness and the
sound of a vast wind roaring away and away...

I heard a voice: "Slap him again, Bill, but not so hard. He's
coming around." I felt a stinging blow on my face. The dancing mists
cleared from before my eyes. I was standing halfway between the
nurse's table and Ricori's bed. The guard Jack held my arms pinioned
to my sides. The guard Bill's hand was still raised. There was
something clenched tightly in my own hand. I looked down. It was a
strong scalpel, razor-edged!

I dropped the scalpel. I said, quietly: "It's all right now, you
can release me."

The guard Bill said nothing. His comrade did not loose his grip. I
twisted my head and I saw that both their faces were sallow white. I
said:

"It was what I had expected. It was why I instructed you. It is
over. You can keep your guns on me if you like."

The guard who held me freed my arms. I touched my cheek gingerly.
I said mildly:

"You must have hit me rather hard, Bill."

He said: "If you could a seen your face, Doc, you'd wonder I
didn't smash it."

I nodded, clearly sensible now of the demonic quality of that
rage, I asked:

"What did I do?"

The guard Bill said: "You wake up and set there for a minute
staring at the chief. Then you take something out of that drawer and
get up. You say you're going to take his temperature. You're half to
him before we see what you got. I shout, 'Not with that you don't!'
Jack grabs you. Then you went crazy. And I had to slam you. That's
all."

I nodded again. I took out of my pocket the knotcord of woman's
pale hair, held it over a dish and touched a match to it. It began to
burn, writhing like a tiny snake as it did so, the complex knots
untying as the flame touched them. I dropped the last inch of it upon
the plate and watched it turn to ash.

"I think there'll be no more trouble tonight," I said. "But keep
up your watch just as before."

I dropped back into the chair and closed my eyes...

Well, Braile had not shown me a soul, but--I believed in Madame
Mandilip.



CHAPTER XI: A DOLL KILLS



The balance of the night I slept soundly and dreamlessly. I
awakened at my usual hour of seven. The guards were alert. I asked if
anything had been heard from McCann, and they answered no. I wondered
a little at that, but they did not seem to think it out of the
ordinary. Their reliefs were soon due, and I cautioned them to speak
to no one but McCann about the occurrences of the night, reminding
them that no one would be likely to believe them if they did. They
assured me, earnestly, that they would be silent. I told them that I
wanted the guards to remain within the room thereafter, as long as
they were necessary.

Examining Ricori, I found him sleeping deeply and naturally. In
all ways his condition was most satisfactory. I concluded that the
second shock, as sometimes happens, had counteracted the lingering
effects of the initial one. When he awakened, he would be able to
speak and move. I gave this reassuring news to the guards. I could see
that they were bursting with questions. I gave them no encouragement
to ask them.

At eight, my day nurse for Ricori appeared, plainly much surprised
to have found Butler sleeping and to find me taking her place. I made
no explanation, simply telling her that the guards would now be
stationed within the room instead of outside the door.

At eight-thirty, Braile dropped in on me for breakfast, and to
report. I let him finish before I apprised him of what had happened. I
said nothing, however, of the nurse's little cap, nor of my own
experience.

I assumed this reticence for well-considered reasons. One, Braile
would accept in its entirety the appalling deduction from the cap's
presence. I strongly suspected that he had been in love with Walters,
and that I would be unable to restrain him from visiting the doll-
maker. Usually hard-headed, he was in this matter far too suggestible.
It would be dangerous for him, and his observations would be worthless
to me. Second, if he knew of my own experience, he would without doubt
refuse to let me out of his sight. Third, either of these
contingencies would defeat my own purpose, which was to interview
Madame Mandilip entirely alone--with the exception of McCann to keep
watch outside the shop.

What would come of that meeting I could not forecast. But,
obviously, it was the only way to retain my self-respect. To admit
that what had occurred was witchcraft, sorcery, supernatural--was to
surrender to superstition. Nothing can be supernatural. If anything
exists, it must exist in obedience to natural laws. Material bodies
must obey material laws. We may not know those laws--but they exist
nevertheless. If Madame Mandilip possessed knowledge of an unknown
science, it behooved me as an exemplar of known science, to find out
what I could about the other. Especially as I had recently responded
so thoroughly to it. That I had been able to outguess her in her
technique--if it had been that, and not a self-induced illusion--gave
me a pleasant feeling of confidence. At any rate, meet her I must.

It happened to be one of my days for consultation, so I could not
get away until after two. I asked Braile to take charge of matters
after that, for a few hours.

Close to ten the nurse telephoned that Ricori was awake, that he
was able to speak and had been asking for me.

He smiled at me as I entered the room. As I leaned over and took
his wrist he said:

"I think you have saved more than my life, Dr. Lowell! Ricori
thanks you. He will never forget!"

A bit florid, but thoroughly in character. It showed that his mind
was functioning normally. I was relieved.

"We'll have you up in a jiffy." I patted his hand.

He whispered: "Have there been any more deaths?"

I had been wondering whether he had retained any recollection of
the affair of the night. I answered:

"No. But you have lost much strength since McCann brought you
here. I don't want you to do much talking today." I added, casually:
"No, nothing has happened. Oh, yes--you fell out of bed this morning.
Do you remember?"

He glanced at the guards and then back at me. He said:

"I am weak. Very weak. You must make me strong quickly."

"We'll have you sitting up in two days, Ricori."

"In less than two days I must be up and out. There is a thing I
must do. It cannot wait."

I did not want him to become excited. I abandoned any intention of
asking what had happened in the car. I said, incisively:

"That will depend entirely upon you. You must not excite yourself.
You must do as I tell you. I am going to leave you now, to give orders
for your nutrition. Also, I want your guards to remain in this room."

He said: "And still you tell me--nothing has happened."

"I don't intend to have anything happen." I leaned over him and
whispered: "McCann has guards around the Mandilip woman. She cannot
run away."

He said: "But her servitors are more efficient than mine, Dr.
Lowell!"

I looked at him sharply. His eyes were inscrutable. I went back to
my office, deep in thought. What did Ricori know?

At eleven o'clock McCann called me on the telephone. I was so glad
to hear from him that I was angry.

"Where on earth have you been--" I began.

"Listen, Doc. I'm at Mollie's--Peters' sister," he interrupted.
"Come here quick."

The peremptory demand added to my irritation. "Not now," I
answered. "These are my office hours. I will not be free until two."

"Can't you break away? Something's happened. I don't know what to
do!" There was desperation in his voice.

"What has happened?" I asked.

"I can't tell you over--" His voice steadied, grew gentle; I heard
him say, "Be quiet, Mollie. It can't do no good!" Then to me--"Well,
come as soon as you can, Doc. I'll wait. Take the address." Then when
he had given it to me, I heard him again speaking to another--"Quit
it, Mollie! I ain't going to leave you."

He hung up, abruptly. I went back to my chair, troubled. He had
not asked me about Ricori. That in itself was disquieting. Mollie?
Peters' sister, of course! Was it that she had learned of her
brother's death, and suffered collapse? I recalled that Ricori had
said she was soon to be a mother. No, I felt that McCann's panic had
been due to something more than that. I became more and more uneasy. I
looked over my appointments. There were no important ones. Coming to
sudden determination, I told my secretary to call up and postpone
them. I ordered my car, and set out for the address McCann had given
me.

McCann met me at the door of the apartment. His face was drawn and
his eyes haunted. He drew me within without a word, and led me through
the hall. I passed an open door and glimpsed a woman with a sobbing
child in her arms. He took me into a bedroom and pointed to the bed.

There was a man lying on it, covers pulled up to his chin. I went
over to him, looked down upon him, touched him. The man was dead. He
had been dead for hours. McCann said:

"Mollie's husband. Look him over like you done the boss."

I had a curiously unpleasant sense of being turned on a potter's
wheel by some inexorable hand--from Peters, to Walters, to Ricori, to
the body before me. Would the wheel stop there?

I stripped the dead man. I took from my bag a magnifying glass and
probes. I went over the body inch by inch, beginning at the region of
the heart. Nothing there nothing anywhere...I turned the body
over...

At once, at the base of the skull, I saw a minute puncture.

I took a fine probe and inserted it. The probe--and again I had
that feeling of infinite repetition--slipped into the puncture. I
manipulated it, gently.

Something like a long thin needle had been thrust into that vital
spot just where the spinal cord connects with the brain. By accident,
or perhaps because the needle had been twisted savagely to tear the
nerve paths, there had been paralysis of respiration and almost
instant death.

I withdrew the probe and turned to McCann.

"This man has been murdered," I said. "Killed by the same kind of
weapon with which Ricori was attacked. But whoever did it made a
better job. He'll never come to life again as Ricori did."

"Yeah?" said McCann, quietly. "An' me an' Paul was the only ones
with Ricori when it happened. An' the only ones here with this man,
Doc, was his wife an' baby! Now what're you going to do about that?
Say those two put him on the spot--like you thought we done the boss?"

I said: "What do you know about this, McCann? And how did you come
to be here so--opportunely?"

He answered, patiently: "I wasn't here when he was killed--if
that's what you're getting at. If you want to know the time, it was
two o'clock. Mollie got me on the 'phone about an hour ago an' I come
straight up."

"She had better luck than I had," I said, dryly. "Ricori's people
have been trying to get hold of you since one o'clock last night."

"I know. But I didn't know it till just before Mollie called me. I
was on my way to see you. An' if you want to know what I was doing all
night, I'll tell you. I was out on the boss's business, an' yours. For
one thing trying to find out where that hell-cat niece keeps her
coupe. I found out--too late."

"But the men who were supposed to be watching--"

"Listen, Doc, won't you talk to Mollie now?" he interrupted me,
"I'm afraid for her. It's only what I told her about you an' that you
was coming that's kept her up."

"Take me to her," I said, abruptly.

We went into the room where I had seen the woman and the sobbing
child. The woman was not more than twenty-seven or -eight, I judged,
and in ordinary circumstances would have been unusually attractive.
Now her face was drawn and bloodless, in her eyes horror, and a fear
on the very borderline of madness. She stared at me, vacantly; she
kept rubbing her lips with the tips of her forefingers, staring at me
with those eyes out of which looked a mind emptied of everything but
fear and grief. The child, a girl of no more than four, kept up her
incessant sobbing. McCann shook the woman by the shoulder.

"Snap out of it, Mollie," he said, roughly, but pityingly, too.
"Here's the Doc."

The woman became aware of me, abruptly. She looked at me steadily
for slow moments, then asked, less like one questioning than one
relinquishing a last thin thread of hope:

"He is dead?"

She read the answer in my face. She cried:

"Oh, Johnnie--Johnnie Boy! Dead!"

She took the child up in her arms. She said to it, almost
tranquilly: "Johnnie Boy has gone away, darling. Daddy has had to go
away. Don't cry, darling, we'll soon see him!"

I wished she would break down, weep; but that deep fear which
never left her eyes was too strong; it blocked all normal outlets of
sorrow. Not much longer, I realized, could her mind stand up under
that tension.

"McCann," I whispered, "say something, do something to her that
will arouse her. Make her violently angry, or make her cry. I don't
care which."

He nodded. He snatched the child from her arms and thrust it
behind him. He leaned, his face close to the woman's. He said,
brutally:

"Come clean, Mollie! Why did you kill John?"

For a moment the woman stood, uncomprehending. Then a tremor shook
her. The fear vanished from her eyes and fury took its place. She
threw herself upon McCann, fists beating at his face. He caught her,
pinioned her arms. The child screamed.

The woman's body relaxed, her arms fell to her sides. She crumpled
to the floor, her head bent over her knees. And tears came. McCann
would have lifted, comforted her. I stopped him.

"Let her cry. It's the best thing for her."

And after a little while she looked up at McCann and said,
shakily:

"You didn't mean that, Dan?"

He said: "No, I know you didn't do it, Mollie. But now you've got
to talk to the Doc. There's a lot to be done."

She asked, normally enough now: "Do you want to question me,
Doctor? Or shall I just go on and tell you what happened?"

McCann said: "Tell him the way you told me. Begin with the doll."

I said: "That's right. You tell me your story. If I've any
questions, I'll ask them when you are done."

She began:

"Yesterday afternoon Dan, here, came and took me out for a ride.
Usually John does not...did not get home until about six. But
yesterday he was worried about me and came home early, around three.
He likes...he liked...Dan, and urged me to go. It was a little
after six when I returned.

"'A present came for the kid while you were out, Mollie,' he said.
'It's another doll. I'll bet Tom sent it.' Tom is my brother.

"There was a big box on the table, and I lifted the lid. In it was
the most life-like doll imaginable. A perfect thing. A little girl-
doll. Not a baby-doll, but a doll like a child about ten or twelve
years old. Dressed like a schoolgirl, with her books strapped, and
over her shoulder--only about a foot high, but perfect. The sweetest
face--a face like a little angel. John said: 'It was addressed to you,
Mollie, but I thought it was flowers and opened it. Looks as though it
could talk, doesn't it? I'll bet it's what they call a portrait-doll.
Some kid posed for that, all right.' At that, I was sure Tom had sent
it, because he had given little Mollie one doll before, and a friend
of mine who's...whose dead...gave her one from the same place, and
she told me the woman who made the dolls had gotten her to pose for
one. So putting this together, I knew Tom had gone and gotten little
Mollie another. But I asked John: 'Wasn't there a note or a card or
anything in it?' He said, 'No--oh, yes, there was one funny thing.
Where is it? I must have stuck it in my pocket.'

"He hunted around in his pockets and brought out a cord. It had
knots in it, and it looked as if it was made of hair. I said, 'Wonder
what Tom's idea was in that?' John put it back in his pocket, and I
thought nothing more about it.

"Little Mollie was asleep. We put the doll beside her where she
could see it when she woke up. When she did, she was in raptures over
it. We had dinner, and Mollie played with the doll. After we put her
to bed I wanted to take it away from her, but she cried so we let her
go to sleep with it. We played cards until eleven, and then made ready
for bed.

"Mollie is apt to be restless, and she still sleeps in a low crib
so she can't fall out. The crib is in our bedroom, in the corner
beside one of the two windows. Between the two windows is my dressing
table, and our bed is set with its head against the wall opposite the
windows. We both stopped and looked at Mollie, as we always do...
did. She was sound asleep with the doll clasped in one arm, its head
on her shoulder.

"John said: 'Lord, Mollie--that doll looks as alive as the baby!
You wouldn't be surprised to see it get up and walk. Whoever posed for
it was some sweet kid.'

"And that was true. It had the sweetest, gentlest little face...
and oh, Dr. Lowell...that's what helps make it so dreadful...so
utterly dreadful..."

I saw the fear begin to creep back into her eyes.

McCann said: "Buck up, Mollie!"

"I tried to take the doll. It was so lovely I was afraid the baby
might roll on it or damage it some way," she went on again quietly,
"but she held it fast, and I did not want to awaken her. So I let it
be. While we were undressing, John took the knotted cord out of his
pocket.

"'That's a funny looking bunch of knots,' he said. 'When you hear
from Tom ask him what it's for.' He tossed the cord on the little
table at his side of the bed. It wasn't long before he was asleep. And
then I went asleep too.

"And then I woke up...or thought I did...for if I was awake or
dreaming I don't know. I must have been a dream--and yet...Oh, God,
John is dead...I heard him die..."

Again, for a little time, the tears flowed. Then:

"If I was awake, it must have been the stillness that awakened me.
And yet--it is what makes me feel I must have been dreaming. There
couldn't such silence...except in a dream. We are on the second
floor, and always there is some sound from the street. There wasn't
the least sound now...it was as though...as though the whole world
had suddenly been stricken dumb. I thought I sat up, listening...
listening thirstily for the tiniest of noises. I could not even hear
John breathing. I was frightened, for there was something dreadful in
that stillness. Something living! Something wicked! I tried to lean
over to John, tried to touch him, to awaken him.

"I could not move! I could not stir a finger! I tried to speak, to
cry out. I could not!

"The window curtains were partly drawn. A faint light showed
beneath and around them from the street. Suddenly this was blotted
out. The room was dark--utterly dark.

"And then the green glow began--

"At first it was the dimmest gleam. It did not come from outside.
It was in the room itself. It would flicker and dim, flicker and dim.
But always after each dimming it was brighter. It was green like the
light of the firefly. Or like looking at moonlight through clear green
water. At last the green glow became steady. It was like light, and
still it wasn't light. It wasn't brilliant. It was just glowing. And
it was everywhere--under the dressing table, under the chairs...I
mean it cast no shadows. I could see everything in the bedroom. I
could see the baby asleep in her crib, the doll's head on her
shoulder...

"The doll moved!

"It turned its head, and seemed to listen to the baby's breathing.
It put its little hands upon the baby's arm. The arm dropped away from
it.

"The doll sat up!

"And now I was sure that I must be dreaming the strange silence
the strange green glow...and this...

"The doll clambered over the side of the crib, and dropped to the
floor. It came skipping over the floor toward the bed like a child,
swinging its school books by their strap. It turned its head from side
to side as it came, looking around the room like a curious child. It
caught sight of the dressing table, and stopped, looking up at the
mirror. It climbed up the chair in front of the dressing table. It
jumped from the chair seat to the table, tossed its books aside and
began to admire itself in the mirror.

"It preened itself. It turned and looked at itself, first over
this shoulder and then over that. I thought: 'What a queer fantastic
dream!' It thrust its face close to the mirror and rearranged and
patted its hair. I thought: 'What a vain little doll!' And then I
thought: 'I'm dreaming all this because John said the doll was so
life-like he wouldn't be surprised to see it walk.' And then I
thought: 'But I can't be dreaming, or I wouldn't be trying to account
for what I'm dreaming!' And then it all seemed so absurd that I
laughed. I knew I had made no sound. I knew I couldn't...that the
laugh was inside me. But it was as though the doll had heard me. It
turned and looked straight at me--

"My heart seemed to die within me. I've had nightmares, Dr.
Lowell--but never in the worst of them did I feel as I did when the
doll's eyes met mine...

"They were the eyes of a devil! They shone red. I mean they were--
were--luminous...like some animal's eyes in the dark. But it was
the--the--hellishness in them that made me feel as though a hand had
gripped my heart! Those eyes from hell in that face like one of God's
own angels...

"I don't know how long it stood there, glaring at me. But at last
it swung itself down and sat on the edge of the dressing table, legs
swinging like a child's and still with its eyes on mine. Then slowly,
deliberately, it lifted its little arm and reached behind its neck.
Just as slowly it brought its arm back. In its hand was a long pin...
like a dagger...

"It dropped from the dressing table to the floor. It skipped
toward me and was hidden by the bottom of the bed. An instant and it
had clambered up the bed and stood, still looking at me with those red
eyes, at John's feet.

"I tried to cry out, tried to move, tried to arouse John. I
prayed--'Oh, God, wake him up! Dear God--wake him!'

"The doll looked away from me. It stood there, looking at John. It
began to creep along his body, up toward his head. I tried to move my
hand, to follow it. I could not. The doll passed out of my sight...

"I heard a dreadful, sobbing groan. I felt John shudder, then
stretch and twist...I heard him sigh...

"Deep deep down...I knew John was dying...and I could do
nothing...in the silence in the green glow...

"I heard something like the note of a flute, from the street,
beyond the windows. There was a tiny scurrying. I saw the doll skip
across the floor and spring up to the windowsill. It knelt there for a
moment, looking out into the street. It held something in its hand.
And then I saw that what it held was the knotted cord John had thrown
on his table.

"I heard the flute note again...the doll swung itself out of the
window...I had a glimpse of its red eyes...I saw its little hands
clutching the sill...and it was gone...

"The green glow...blinked and...went out. The light from the
street returned around the curtains. The silence seemed...seemed...
to be sucked away.

"And then something like a wave of darkness swept over me. I went
down under it. Before it swept over me I heard the clock strike two.

"When I awakened again...or came out of my faint...or, if it
was just a dream, when I awakened...I turned to John. He lay there
...so still! I touched him...he was cold...so cold! I knew he was
dead!

"Dr. Lowell...tell me what was dream and what was real? I know
that no doll could have killed John!

"Did he reach out to me when he was dying, and did the dream come
from that? Or did I...dreaming...kill him?"



CHAPTER XII: TECHNIQUE OF MADAME MANDILIP



There was an agony in her eyes that forbade the truth, so I lied
to her.

"I can comfort you as to that, at least. Your husband died of
entirely natural causes--from a blood clot in the brain. My
examination satisfied me thoroughly as to that. You had nothing to do
with it. As for the doll--you had an unusually vivid dream, that is
all."

She looked at me as one who would give her soul to believe. She
said:

"But I heard him die!"

"It is quite possible--" I plunged into a somewhat technical
explanation which I knew she would not quite understand, but would,
perhaps, be therefore convincing--"You may have been half-awake--on
what we term the borderline of waking consciousness. In all
probability the entire dream was suggested by what you heard. Your
subconsciousness tried to explain the sounds, and conceived the whole
fantastic drama you have recited to me. What seemed, in your dream, to
take up many minutes actually passed through your mind in a split
second--the subconsciousness makes its own time. It is a common
experience. A door slams, or there is some other abrupt and violent
sound. It awakens the sleeper. When he is fully awake he has
recollection of some singularly vivid dream which ended with a loud
noise. In reality, his dream began with the noise. The dream may have
seemed to him to have taken hours. It was, in fact, almost
instantaneous, taking place in the brief moment between noise and
awakening."

She drew a deep breath; her eyes lost some of their agony. I
pressed my advantage.

"And there is another thing you must remember--your condition. It
makes many women peculiarly subject to realistic dreams, usually of an
unpleasant character. Sometimes even to hallucinations."

She whispered: "That is true. When little Mollie was coming I had
the most dreadful dreams--"

She hesitated; I saw doubt again cloud her face.

"But the doll--the doll is gone!" she said.

I cursed to myself at that, caught unawares and with no ready
answer. But McCann had one. He said, easily:

"Sure it's gone, Mollie. I dropped it down the chute into the
waste. After what you told me I thought you'd better not see it any
more."

She asked, sharply:

"Where did you find it? I looked for it."

"Guess you weren't in shape to do much looking," he answered. "I
found it down at the foot of the kid's crib, all messed up in the
covers. It was busted. Looked like the kid had been dancing on it in
her sleep."

She said hesitantly: "It might have slipped down. I don't think I
looked there--"

I said, severely, so she might not suspect collusion between
McCann and myself:

"You ought not to have done that, McCann. If you had shown the
doll to her, Mrs. Gilmore would have known at once that she had been
dreaming and she would have been spared much pain."

"Well, I ain't a doctor." His voice was sullen. "I done what I
thought best."

"Go down and see if you can find it," I ordered, tartly. He
glanced at me sharply. I nodded--and hoped he understood. In a few
minutes he returned.

"They cleaned out the waste only fifteen minutes ago," he
reported, lugubriously. "The doll went with it. I found this, though."

He held up a little strap from which dangled a half-dozen
miniature books. He asked:

"Was them what you dreamed the doll dropped on the dressing table,
Mollie?"

She stared, and shrank away.

"Yes," she whispered. "Please put it away, Dan. I don't want to
see it."

He looked at me, triumphantly.

"I guess maybe I was right at that when I threw the doll away,
Doc."

I said: "At any rate, now that Mrs. Gilmore is satisfied it was
all a dream, there's no harm done."

"And now," I took her cold hands in mine. "I'm going to prescribe
for you. I don't want you to stay in this place a moment longer than
you can help. I want you to pack a bag with whatever you and little
Mollie may need for a week or so, and leave at once. I am thinking of
your condition--and a little life that is on its way. I will attend to
all the necessary formalities. You can instruct McCann as to the other
details. But I want you to go. Will you do this?"

To my relief, she assented readily. There was a somewhat harrowing
moment when she and the child bade farewell to the body. But before
many minutes she was on her way with McCann to relations. The child
had wanted to take "the boy and girl dolls." I had refused to allow
this, even at the risk of again arousing the mother's suspicions. I
wanted nothing of Madame Mandilip to accompany them to their refuge.
McCann supported me, and the dolls were left behind.

I called an undertaker whom I knew. I made a last examination of
the body. The minute puncture would not be noticed, I was sure. There
was no danger of an autopsy, since my certification of the cause of
death would not be questioned. When the undertaker arrived I explained
the absence of the wife--imminent maternity and departure at my order.
I set down the cause of death as thrombosis--rather grimly as I
recalled the similar diagnosis of the banker's physician, and what I
had thought of it.

After the body had been taken away, and as I sat waiting for
McCann to return, I tried to orient myself to this phantasmagoria
through which, it seemed to me, I had been moving for endless time. I
tried to divest my mind of all prejudice, all preconceived ideas of
what could and could not be. I began by conceding that this Madame
Mandilip might possess some wisdom of which modern science is
ignorant. I refused to call it witchcraft or sorcery. The words mean
nothing, since they have been applied through the ages to entirely
natural phenomena whose causes were not understood by the laity. Not
so long ago, for example, the lighting of a match was "witchcraft" to
many savage tribes.

No, Madame Mandilip was no "witch," as Ricori thought her. She was
mistress of some unknown science--that was all.

And being a science, it must be governed by fixed laws--unknown
though those laws might be to me. If the doll-maker's activities
defied cause and effect, as I conceived them, still they must conform
to laws of cause and effect of their own. There was nothing
supernatural about them--it was only that, like the savages, I did not
know what made the match burn. Something of these laws, something of
the woman's technique--using the word as signifying the details,
collectively considered, of mechanical performance in any art--I
thought I perceived. The knotted cord, "the witch's ladder,"
apparently was an essential in the animation of the dolls. One had
been slipped into Ricori's pocket before the first attack upon him. I
had found another beside his bed after the disturbing occurrences of
the night. I had gone to sleep holding one of the cords--and had tried
to murder my patient! A third cord had accompanied the doll that had
killed John Gilmore.

Clearly, then, the cord was a part of the formula for the
direction of control of the dolls.

Against this was the fact that the intoxicated stroller could not
have been carrying one of the "ladders" when attacked by the Peters
doll.

It might be, however, that the cord had only to do with the
initial activity of the puppets; that once activated, their action
might continue for an indefinite period.

There was evidence of a fixed formula in the making of the dolls.
First, it seemed, the prospective victim's free consent to serve as
model must be obtained; second, a wound which gave the opportunity to
apply the salve which caused the unknown death; third, the doll must
be a faithful replica of the victim. That the agency of death was the
same in each case was proven by the similar symptoms.

But did those deaths actually have anything to do with the
motility of the dolls? Were they actually a necessary part of the
operation?

The doll-maker might believe so; indeed, undoubtedly did believe
so.

I did not.

That the doll which had stabbed Ricori had been made in the
semblance of Peters; that the "nurse doll" which the guards had seen
poised on my window-ledge might have been the one for which Walters
had posed; that the doll which had thrust the pin into Gilmore's brain
was, perhaps, the replica of little Anita, the eleven-year-old
schoolgirl--all this I admitted.

But that anything of Peters, anything of Walters, anything of
Anita had animated these dolls...that dying, something of their
vitality, their minds, their "souls" had been drawn from them, had
been transmuted into an essence of evil, and imprisoned in these wire-
skeletoned puppets...against this all my reason revolted. I could
not force my mind to accept even the possibility.

My analysis was interrupted by the return of McCann.

He said, laconically: "Well, we put it over."

I asked. "McCann--you weren't by any chance telling the truth when
you said you found the doll?"

"No, Doc. The doll was gone all right."

"But where did you get the little books?"

"Just where Mollie said the doll tossed 'em--on her dressing
table. I snaked 'em after she'd told me her story. She hadn't noticed
'em. I had a hunch. It was a good one, wasn't it?"

"You had me wondering," I replied. "I don't know what we could
have said if she had asked for the knotted cord."

"The cord didn't seem to make much of a dent on her--" He
hesitated. "But I think it means a hell of a lot, Doc. I think if I
hadn't took her out, and John hadn't happened home, and Mollie had
opened the box instead of him--I think it's Mollie he'd have found
lying dead beside him."

"You mean--"

"I mean the dolls go for whichever gets the cords," he said
somberly.

Well, it was much the same thought I had in my own mind.

I asked: "But why should anybody want to kill Mollie?"

"Maybe somebody thinks she knows too much. And that brings me to
what I've been wanting to tell you. The Mandilip hag knows she's being
watched!"

"Well, her watchers are better than ours." I echoed Ricori; and I
told McCann then of the second attack in the night; and why I had
sought him.

"An' that," he said when I had ended, "Proves the Mandilip hag
knows who's who behind the watch on her. She tried to wipe out both
the boss and Mollie. She's on to us, Doc."

"The dolls are accompanied," I said. "The musical note is a
summons. They do not disappear into thin air. They answer the note and
make their way...somehow to whoever sounds the note. The dolls must
be taken from the shop. Therefore one of the two women must take them.
How did they evade your watchers?"

"I don't know." The lean face was worried. "The fish-white gal
does it. Let me tell you what I found out, Doc. After I left you last
night I go down to see what the boys have to say. I hear plenty. They
say about four o'clock the gal goes in the back an' the old woman
takes a chair in the store. They don't think nothing of that. But
about seven who do they see walking down the street and into the doll
joint but the gal. They give the boys in the back hell. But they ain't
seen her go, an' they pass the buck to the boys in front.

"Then about eleven o'clock one of the relief lads comes in with
worse news. He says he's down at the foot of Broadway when a coupe
turns the corner an' driving it is the gal. He can't be mistaken
because he's seen her in the doll joint. She goes up Broadway at a
clip. He sees there ain't nobody trailing her, an' he looks around for
a taxi. Course there's nothing in sight--not even a parked car he can
lift. So he comes down to the gang to ask what the hell they mean by
it. An' again nobody's seen the gal go."

"I take a couple of the boys an' we start out to comb the
neighborhood to find out where she stables the coupe. We don't have no
luck at all until about four o'clock when one of the tails--one of the
lads who's been looking--meets up with me. He says that about three he
sees the gal--at least he thinks it's the gal--walking along the
street around the corner from the joint. She's got a coupla big
suitcases but they don't seem to trouble her none. She's walking
quick. But away from the doll joint. He eases over to get a better
look, when all of a sudden she ain't there. He sniffs around the place
he's seen her. There ain't hide nor hair of her. It's pretty dark, an'
he tries the doors an' the areaways, but the doors are locked an'
there ain't nobody in the areaways. So he gives it up an' hunts me.

"I look over the place. It's about a third down the block around
the corner from the doll joint. The doll joint is eight numbers from
the corner. They're mostly shops an' I guess storage up above. Not
many people living there. The houses all old ones. Still, I don't see
how the gal can get to the doll joint. I think maybe the tail's
mistaken. He's seen somebody else, or just thinks he's seen somebody.
But we scout close around, an' after a while we see a place that looks
like it might stable a car. It don't take us long to open the doors.
An' sure enough, there's a coupe with its engine still hot. It ain't
been in long. Also it's the same kind of coupe the lad who's seen the
gal says she was driving.

"I lock the place up again, an' go back to the boys. I watch with
'em the rest of the night. Not a light in the doll joint. But nigh
eight o'clock, the gal shows up inside the shop and opens up!"

"Still," I said at this point, "you have no real evidence she had
been out. The girl your man thought he saw might not have been she at
all."

He looked at me pityingly.

"She got out in the afternoon without 'em seeing her, didn't she?
What's to keep her from doing the same thing at night? The lad saw her
driving a coupe, didn't he? An' we find a coupe like it close where
the wench dropped out of sight."

I sat thinking. There was no reason to disbelieve McCann. And
there was a sinister coincidence in the hours the girl had been seen.
I said, half-aloud:

"The time she was out in the afternoon coincides with the time the
doll was left at the Gilmores'. The time she was out at night
coincides with the time of the attack upon Ricori, and the death of
John Gilmore."

"You hit it plumb in the eye!" said McCann. "She goes an' leaves
the doll at Mollie's, an' comes back. She goes an' sets the dolls on
the boss. She waits for 'em to pop out. Then she goes an' collects the
one she's left at Mollie's. Then she beats it back home. They're in
the suitcases she's carrying."

I could not hold back the irritation of helpless mystification
that swept me.

"And I suppose you think she got out of the house by riding a
broomstick up the chimney," I said, sarcastically.

"No," he answered, seriously. "No, I don't, Doc. But them houses
are old, and I think maybe there's a rat hole of a passage or
something she gets through. Anyway, the hands are watching the street
an' the coupe stable now, an' she can't pull that again."

He added, morosely:

"At that, I ain't saying she couldn't bridle a broomstick if she
had to."

I said, abruptly: "McCann, I'm going down to talk to this Madame
Mandilip. I want you to come with me."

He said: "I'll be right beside you, Doc. With my fingers on my
guns."

I said: "No, I'm going to see her alone. But I want you to keep
close watch outside."

He did not like that; argued; at last reluctantly assented.

I called up my office. I talked to Braile and learned that Ricori
was recovering with astonishing rapidity. I asked Braile to look after
things the balance of the day, inventing a consultation to account for
the request. I had myself switched to Ricori's room. I had the nurse
tell him that McCann was with me, that we were making an investigation
along a certain line, the results of which I would inform him on my
return, and that, unless Ricori objected, I wanted McCann to stay with
me the balance of the afternoon.

Ricori sent back word that McCann should follow my orders as
though they were his own. He wanted to speak to me, but that I did not
want. Pleading urgent haste, I rang off.

I ate an excellent and hearty lunch. I felt that it would help me
hold tighter to the realities--or what I thought were the realities--
when I met this apparent mistress of illusions. McCann was oddly
silent and preoccupied.

The clock was striking three when I set off to meet Madame
Mandilip.



CHAPTER XIII: MADAME MANDILIP



I stood at the window of the doll-maker's shop, mastering a
stubborn revulsion against entering. I knew McCann was on guard. I
knew that Ricori's men were watching from the houses opposite, that
others moved among the passersby. Despite the roaring clatter of the
elevated trains, the bustle of traffic along the Battery, the
outwardly normal life of the street, the doll-maker's shop was a
beleaguered fortress. I stood, shivering on its threshold, as though
at the door of an unknown world.

There were only a few dolls displayed in the window, but they were
unusual enough to catch the eyes of a child or a grown-up. Not so
beautiful as that which had been given Walters, nor those two I had
seen at the Gilmores', but admirable lures, nevertheless. The light
inside the shop was subdued. I could see a slender girl moving at a
counter. The niece of Madame Mandilip, no doubt. Certainly the size of
the shop did not promise any such noble chamber behind it as Walters
had painted in her diary. Still, the houses were old, and the back
might extend beyond the limits of the shop itself.

Abruptly and impatiently I ceased to temporize.

I opened the door and walked in.

The girl turned as I entered. She watched me as I came toward the
counter. She did not speak. I studied her, swiftly. An hysterical
type, obviously; one of the most perfect I had ever seen. I took note
of the prominent pale blue eyes with their vague gaze and distended
pupils; the long and slender neck and slightly rounded features; the
pallor and the long thin fingers. Her hands were clasped, and I could
see that these were unusually flexible--thus carrying out to the last
jot the Laignel-Lavastine syndrome of the hysteric. In another time
and other circumstances she would have been a priestess, voicing
oracles, or a saint.

Fear was her handmaiden. There could be no doubt of that. And yet
I was sure it was not of me she was frightened. Rather was it some
deep and alien fear which lay coiled at the roots of her being,
sapping her vitality--a spiritual fear. I looked at her hair. It was a
silvery ash...the color...the color of the hair that formed the
knotted cords!

As she saw me staring at her hair, the vagueness in her pale eyes
diminished, was replaced by alertness. For the first time she seemed
to be aware of me. I said, with the utmost casualness:

"I was attracted by the dolls in your window. I have a little
granddaughter who would like one I think."

"The dolls are for sale. If there is one you fancy, you may buy
it. At its price."

Her voice was low-pitched, almost whispering, indifferent. But I
thought the intentness in her eyes sharpened.

"I suppose," I answered, feigning something of irritation, "that
is what any chance customer may do. But it happens that this child is
a favorite of mine and for her I want the best. Would it be too much
trouble to show me what other, and perhaps better, dolls you may
have?"

Her eyes wavered for a moment. I had the thought that she was
listening to some sound I could not hear. Abruptly her manner lost its
indifference, became gracious. And at that exact moment I felt other
eyes upon me, studying me, searching me. So strong was the impression
that, involuntarily, I turned and peered about the shop. There was no
one except the girl and me. A door was at the counter's end, but it
was lightly closed. I shot a glance at the window to see whether
McCann was staring in. No one was there.

Then, like the clicking of a camera shutter, the unseen gaze was
gone. I turned back to the girl. She had spread a half-dozen boxes on
the counter and was opening them. She looked up at me, candidly,
almost sweetly. She said:

"Why, of course you may see all that we have. I am sorry if you
thought me indifferent to your desires. My aunt, who makes the dolls,
loves children. She would not willingly allow one who also loves them
to go from here disappointed."

It was a curious little speech, oddly stilted, enunciated half as
though she were reciting from dictation. Yet it was not that which
aroused my interest so much as the subtle change that had taken place
in the girl herself. Her voice was no longer languid. It held a vital
vibrancy. Nor was she the lifeless, listless person she had been. She
was animated, even a touch of vivaciousness about her; color had crept
into her face and all vagueness gone from her eyes; in them was a
sparkle, faintly mocking, more than faintly malicious.

I examined the dolls.

"They are lovely," I said at last. "But are these the best you
have? Frankly, this is rather an especial occasion--my granddaughter's
seventh birthday. The price doesn't really matter as long, of course,
as it is in reason--"

I heard her sigh. I looked at her. The pale eyes held their olden
fear-touched stare, all sparkling mockery gone. The color had fled her
face. And again, abruptly, I felt the unseen gaze upon me, more
powerfully than before. And again I felt it shuttered off.

The door beside the counter opened.

Prepared though I had been for the extraordinary by Walters'
description of the doll-maker, her appearance gave me a distinct
shock. Her height, her massiveness, were amplified by the proximity of
the dolls and the slender figure of the girl. It was a giantess who
regarded me from the doorway--a giantess whose heavy face with its
broad, high cheek bones, mustached upper lip and thick mouth produced
a suggestion of masculinity grotesquely in contrast with the immense
bosom.

I looked into her eyes and forgot all grotesqueness of face and
figure. The eyes were enormous, a luminous black, clear,
disconcertingly alive. As though they were twin spirits of life, and
independent of the body. And from them poured a flood of vitality that
sent along my nerves a warm tingle in which there was nothing
sinister--or was not then.

With difficulty I forced my own eyes from hers. I looked for her
hands. She was swathed all in black, and her hands were hidden in the
folds of her ample dress. My gaze went back to her eyes, and within
them was a sparkle of the mocking contempt I had seen in those of the
girl. She spoke, and I knew that the vital vibrancy I had heard in the
girl's voice had been an echo of those sonorously sweet, deep tones.

"What my niece has shown does not please you?"

I gathered my wits. I said: "They are all beautiful, Madame--
Madame--"

"Mandilip," she said, serenely. "Madame Mandilip. You do not know
the name, eh?"

"It is my ill fortune," I answered, ambiguously. "I have a
grandchild--a little girl. I want something peculiarly fine for her
seventh birthday. All that I have been shown are beautiful--but I was
wondering whether there was not something--"

"Something--peculiarly--" her voice lingered on the word--"more
beautiful. Well, perhaps there is. But when I favor customers
peculiarly--" I now was sure she emphasized the word--"I must know
with whom I am dealing. You think me a strange shopkeeper, do you
not?"

She laughed, and I marveled at the freshness, the youthfulness,
the curious tingling sweetness of that laughter.

It was by a distinct effort that I brought myself back to reality,
put myself again on guard. I drew a card from my case. I did not wish
her to recognize me, as she would have had I given her my own card.
Nor did I desire to direct her attention to anyone she could harm. I
had, therefore, prepared myself by carrying the card of a doctor
friend long dead. She glanced at it.

"Ah," she said. "You are a professional--a physician. Well, now
that we know each other, come with me and I will show you of my best."

She led me through the door and into a wide, dim corridor. She
touched my arm and again I felt that strange, vital tingling. She
paused at another door, and faced me.

"It is here," she said, "that I keep my best. My--peculiarly
best!"

Once more she laughed, then flung the door open.

I crossed the threshold and paused, looking about the room with
swift disquietude. For here was no spacious chamber of enchantment
such as Walters had described. True enough, it was somewhat larger
than one would have expected. But where were the exquisite old
panelings, the ancient tapestries, that magic mirror which was like a
great "half-globe of purest water," and all those other things that
had made it seem to her a Paradise?

The light came through the half-drawn curtains of a window opening
upon a small, enclosed and barren yard. The walls and ceiling were of
plain, stained wood. One end was entirely taken up by small, built-in
cabinets with wooden doors. There was a mirror on the wall, and it was
round--but there any similarity to Walters' description ended.

There was a fireplace, the kind one can find in any ordinary old
New York house. On the walls were a few prints. The great table, the
"baronial board," was an entirely commonplace one, littered with
dolls' clothing in various stages of completion.

My disquietude grew. If Walters had been romancing about this
room, then what else in her diary was invention--or, at least, as I
had surmised when I had read it, the product of a too active
imagination?

Yet--she had not been romancing about the doll-maker's eyes, nor
her voice; and she had not exaggerated the doll-maker's appearance nor
the peculiarities of the niece. The woman spoke, recalling me to
myself, breaking my thoughts.

"My room interests you?"

She spoke softly, and with, I thought, a certain secret amusement.

I said: "Any room where any true artist creates is of interest.
And you are a true artist, Madame Mandilip."

"Now, how do you know that?" she mused.

It had been a slip. I said, quickly:

"I am a lover of art. I have seen a few of your dolls. It does not
take a gallery of his pictures to make one realize that Raphael, for
example, was a master. One picture is enough."

She smiled, in the friendliest fashion. She closed the door behind
me, and pointed to a chair beside the table.

"You will not mind waiting a few minutes before I show you my
dolls? There is a dress I must finish. It is promised, and soon the
little one to whom I have promised it will come. It will not take me
long."

"Why, no," I answered, and dropped into the chair.

She said, softly: "It is quiet here. And you seem weary. You have
been working hard, eh? And you are weary."

I sank back into the chair. Suddenly I realized how weary I really
was. For a moment my guard relaxed and I closed my eyes. I opened them
to find that the doll-maker had taken her seat at the table.

And now I saw her hands. They were long and delicate and white and
I knew that they were the most beautiful I had ever beheld. Just as
her eyes seemed to have life of their own, so did those hands seem
living things, having a being independent of the body to which they
belonged. She rested them on the table. She spoke again, caressingly.

"It is well to come now and then to a quiet place. To a place
where peace is. One grows so weary--so weary. So tired--so very
tired."

She picked a little dress from the table and began to sew. Long
white fingers plied the needle while the other hand turned and moved
the small garment. How wonderful was the motion of those long white
hands...like a rhythm...like a song...restful!

She said, in low sweet tones:

"Ah, yes--here nothing of the outer world comes. All is peace--and
rest--rest--"

I drew my eyes reluctantly from the slow dance of those hands, the
weaving of those long and delicate fingers which moved so
rhythmically. So restfully. The doll-maker's eyes were on me, soft and
gentle...full of that peace of which she had been telling.

It would do no harm to relax a little, gain strength for the
struggle which must come. And I was tired. I had not realized how
tired! My gaze went back to her hands. Strange hands--no more
belonging to that huge body than did the eyes and voice.

Perhaps they did not! Perhaps that gross body was but a cloak, a
covering, of the real body to which eyes and hands and voice belonged.
I thought over that, watching the slow rhythms of the hands. What
could the body be like to which they belonged? As beautiful as hands
and eyes and voice?

She was humming some strange air. It was a slumberous, lulling
melody. It crept along my tired nerves, into my weary mind--distilling
sleep...sleep. As the hands were weaving sleep. As the eyes were
pouring sleep upon me--

Sleep!

Something within me was raging, furiously. Bidding me rouse
myself! Shake off this lethargy! By the tearing effort that brought me
gasping to the surface of consciousness, I knew that I must have
passed far along the path of that strange sleep. And for an instant,
on the threshold of complete awakening, I saw the room as Walters had
seen it.

Vast, filled with mellow light, the ancient tapestries, the
panelings, the carved screens behind which hidden shapes lurked
laughing--laughing at me. Upon the wall the mirror--and it was like a
great half-globe of purest water within which the images of the
carvings round its frame swayed like the reflections of verdure round
a clear woodland pool!

The immense chamber seemed to waver--and it was gone.

I stood beside an overturned chair in that room to which the doll-
maker had led me. And the doll-maker was beside me, close. She was
regarding me with a curious puzzlement and, I thought, a shadow of
chagrin. It flashed upon me that she was like one who had been
unexpectedly interrupted--

Interrupted! When had she left her chair? How long had I slept?
What had she done to me while I had been sleeping? What had that
terrific effort of will by which I had broken from her web prevented
her from completing?

I tried to speak--and could not. I stood tongue-tied, furious,
humiliated. I realized that I had been trapped like the veriest tyro--
I who should have been all alert, suspicious of every move. Trapped by
voice and eyes and weaving hands by the reiterated suggestion that I
was weary so weary...that here was peace...and sleep...sleep...
What had she done to me while I slept? Why could I not move? It was as
though all my energy had been dissipated in that one tremendous thrust
out of her web of sleep! I stood motionless, silent, spent. Not a
muscle moved at command of my will. The enfeebled hands of my will
reached out to them--and fell.

The doll-maker laughed. She walked to the cabinets on the far
wall. My eyes followed her, helplessly. There was no slightest
loosening of the paralysis that gripped me. She pressed a spring, and
the door of a cabinet slipped down.

Within the cabinet was a child-doll. A little girl, sweet-faced
and smiling. I looked at it and felt a numbness at my heart. In its
small, clasped hands was one of the dagger-pins, and I knew that this
was the doll which had stirred in the arms of the Gilmore baby...had
climbed from the baby's crib...had danced to the bed and thrust...

"This is one of my peculiarly best!" The doll-maker's eyes were on
me and filled with cruel mockery. "A good doll! A bit careless at
times, perhaps. Forgetting to bring back her school-books when she
goes visiting. But so obedient! Would you like her for your
granddaughter?"

Again she laughed--youthful, tingling, evil laughter. And suddenly
I knew Ricori had been right and that this woman must be killed. I
summoned all my will to leap upon her. I could not move a finger.

The long white hands groped over the next cabinet and touched its
hidden spring. The numbness at my heart became the pressure of a hand
of ice. Staring out at me from that cabinet was Walters! And she was
crucified!

So perfect, so--alive was the doll that it was like seeing the
girl herself through a diminishing glass. I could not think of it as a
doll, but as the girl. She was dressed in her nurse's uniform. She had
no cap, and her black hair hung disheveled about her face. Her arms
were outstretched, and through each palm a small nail had been thrust,
pinning the hands to the back of the cabinet. The feet were bare,
resting one on the other, and through the insteps had been thrust
another nail. Completing the dreadful, the blasphemous, suggestion,
above her head was a small placard. I read it:

"The Burnt Martyr."

The doll-maker murmured in a voice like honey garnered from
flowers in hell:

"This doll has not behaved well. She has been disobedient. I
punish my dolls when they do not behave well. But I see that you are
distressed. Well, she has been punished enough--for the moment."

The long white hands crept into the cabinet, drew out the nails
from hands and feet. She set the doll upright, leaning against the
back. She turned to me.

"You would like her for your granddaughter, perhaps? Alas! She is
not for sale. She has lessons to learn before she goes again from me."

Her voice changed, lost its diabolic sweetness, became charged
with menace.

"Now listen to me--Dr. Lowell! What--you did not think I knew you?
I knew you from the first. You too need a lesson!" Her eyes blazed
upon me. "You shall have your lesson--you fool! You who pretend to
heal the mind--and know nothing, nothing I say, of what the mind is.
You, who conceive the mind as but a part of a machine of flesh and
blood, nerve and bone and know nothing of what it houses. You--who
admit existence of nothing unless you can measure it in your test
tubes or see it under your microscope. You--who define life as a
chemical ferment, and consciousness as the product of cells. You fool!
Yet you and this savage, Ricori, have dared to try to hamper me, to
interfere with me, to hem me round with spies! Dared to threaten me--
Me--possessor of the ancient wisdom beside which your science is as
crackling of thorns under an empty pot! You fools! I know who are the
dwellers in the mind--and the powers that manifest themselves through
it--and those who dwell beyond it! They come at my call. And you think
to pit your paltry knowledge against mine? You fool! Have you
understood me? Speak!"

She pointed a finger at me. I felt my throat relax, knew I could
speak once more.

"You hell bag!" I croaked. "You damned murderess! You'll go to the
electric chair before I'm through with you!"

She came toward me, laughing.

"You would give me to the law? But who would believe you? None!
The ignorance that your science has fostered is my shield. The
darkness of your unbelief is my impregnable fortress. Go play with
your machines, fool! Play with your machines! But meddle with me no
more!"

Her voice grew quiet, deadly.

"Now this I tell you. If you would live, if you would have live
those who are dear to you--take your spies away. Ricori you cannot
save. He is mine. But you--think never of me again. Pry no more into
my affairs. I do not fear your spies--but they offend me. Take them
away. At once. If by nightfall they are still on watch--"

She caught me by the shoulder with a grip that bruised. She pushed
me toward the door.

"Go!"

I fought to muster my will, to raise my arms. Could I have done so
I would have struck her down as I would a ravening beast. I could not
move them. Like an automaton I walked across the room to the door. The
doll-maker opened it.

There was an odd rustling noise from the cabinets. Stiffly, I
turned my head.

The doll of Walters had fallen forward. It lay half over the edge.
Its arms swung, as though imploring me to take it away. I could see in
its palms the marks of the crucifying nails. Its eyes were fixed on
mine--

"Go!" said the doll-maker. "And remember!"

With the same stiff motion I walked through the corridor and into
the shop. The girl watched me, with vague, fear-filled eyes. As though
a hand were behind me, pressing me inexorably on, I passed through the
shop and out of its door into the street.

I seemed to hear, did hear, the mocking evil-sweet laughter of the
doll-maker!



CHAPTER XIV: THE DOLL-MAKER STRIKES



The moment I was out in the street, volition, power of movement,
returned to me. In an abrupt rush of rage, I turned to re-enter the
shop. A foot from it, I was brought up as against an invisible wall. I
could not advance a step, could not even raise my hands to touch the
door. It was as though at that point my will refused to function, or
rather that my legs and arms refused to obey my will. I realized what
it was--post-hypnotic suggestion of an extraordinary kind, part of the
same phenomena which had held me motionless before the doll-maker, and
had sent me like a robot out of her lair. I saw McCann coming toward
me, and for an instant had the mad idea of ordering him to enter and
end Madame Mandilip with a bullet. Common sense swiftly told me that
we could give no rational reason for such killing, and that we would
probably expiate it within the same apparatus of execution with which
I had threatened her.

McCann said: "I was getting worried, Doc. Just about to break in
on you."

I said: "Come on, McCann. I want to get home as quickly as
possible."

He looked at my face, and whistled.

"You look like you been through a battle, Doc."

I answered: "I have. And the honors are all with Madame Mandilip--
so far."

"You came out quiet enough. Not like the boss, with the hag
spitting hell in your face. What happened?"

"I'll tell you later. Just let me be quiet for awhile. I want to
think."

What I actually wanted was to get back my self-possession. My mind
seemed half-blind, groping for the tangible. It was as if it had been
enmeshed in cobwebs of a peculiarly unpleasant character, and although
I had torn loose, fragments of the web were still clinging to it. We
got into the car and rolled on for some minutes in silence. Then
McCann's curiosity got the better of him.

"Anyway," he asked, "what did you think of her?"

By this time I had come to a determination. Never had I felt
anything to approach the loathing, the cold hatred, the implacable
urge to kill, which this woman had aroused in me. It was not that my
pride had suffered, although that was sore enough. No, it was the
conviction that in the room behind the doll-shop dwelt blackest evil.
Evil as inhuman and alien as though the doll-maker had in truth come
straight from that hell in which Ricori believed. There could be no
compromise with that evil. Nor with the woman in whom it was centered.

I said: "McCann, in all the world there is nothing so evil as that
woman. Do not let the girl slip through your fingers again. Do you
think she knew last night that she had been seen?"

"I don't know. I don't think so."

"Increase the guards in front and back of the place at once. Do it
openly, so that the women cannot help noticing it. They will think,
unless the girl is aware that she was observed, that we are still in
ignorance of the other exit. They will think we believe she managed to
slip out unseen either at front or back. Have a car in readiness at
each end of the street where she keeps the coupe. Be careful not to
arouse their suspicions. If the girl appears, follow her--" I
hesitated.

McCann asked: "And then what?"

"I want her taken--abducted, kidnapped--whatever you choose to
call it. It must be done with the utmost quietness. I leave that to
you. You know how such things are done better than I. Do it quickly
and do it quietly. But not too near the doll-shop--as far away from it
as you can. Gag the girl, tie her up if necessary. But get her. Then
search the car thoroughly. Bring the girl to me at my house--with
whatever you find. Do you understand?"

He said: "If she shows, we'll get her. You going to put her
through the third degree?"

"That--and something more. I want to see what the doll-maker will
do. It may goad her into some action which will enable us to lay hands
on her legitimately. Bring her within reach of the law. She may or may
not have other and invisible servants, but my intention is to deprive
her of the visible one. It may make the others visible. At the least,
it will cripple her."

He looked at me, curiously; "She musta hit you pretty hard, Doc."

"She did," I answered curtly. He hesitated.

"You going to tell the boss about this?" he asked at last.

"I may or I may not--tonight. It depends upon his condition. Why?"

"Well, if we're going to pull off anything like a kidnapping, I
think he ought to know."

I said, sharply: "McCann, I told you Ricori's message was that you
were to obey orders from me as though they were from him. I have given
you your orders. I accept all the responsibility."

"Okay," he answered, but I could see that his doubt still
lingered.

Now, assuming Ricori had sufficiently recovered, there was no real
reason why I should not tell him what had happened during my encounter
with Madame Mandilip. It was different with Braile. More than
suspecting, as I did, the attachment between him and Walters, I could
not tell him of the crucified doll--and even now I thought of it not
as a doll crucified, but as Walters crucified. If I told him, I knew
well that there would be no holding him back from instant attack upon
the doll-maker. I did not want that.

But I was aware of a most stubborn reluctance to tell Ricori the
details of my visit. The same held good for Braile in other matters
besides the Walters doll. And why did I feel the same way about
McCann? I set it down to wounded vanity.

We stopped in front of my house. It was then close to six. Before
getting out of the car I repeated my instructions. McCann nodded.

"Okay, Doc. If she comes out, we get her."

I went into the house, and found a note from Braile saying that he
would not be in to see me until after dinner. I was glad of that. I
dreaded the ordeal of his questions. I learned that Ricori was asleep,
and that he had been regaining strength with astonishing rapidity. I
instructed the nurse to tell him, should he awaken, that I would visit
him after I had dined. I lay down, endeavoring to snatch a little
sleep before eating.

I could not sleep--constantly the face of the doll-maker came
before me whenever I began to relax into a doze, throwing me into
intense wakefulness.

At seven I arose and ate a full and excellent dinner, deliberately
drinking at least twice the amount of wine I ordinarily permit myself,
finishing with strong coffee. When I arose from the table I felt
distinctly better, mentally alert and master of myself once more--or
so I believed. I had decided to apprise Ricori of my instructions to
McCann concerning the abduction of the girl. I realized that this was
certain to bring down upon me a minute catechism concerning my visit
to the doll-shop, but I had formulated the story I intended to tell--

It was with a distinct shock that I realized that this story was
all that I could tell! Realized that I could not communicate to the
others the portions I had deleted, even if I desired. And that this
was by command of the doll-maker--post-hypnotic suggestion which was a
part of those other inhibitions she had laid upon my will; those same
inhibitions which had held me powerless before her, had marched me out
of her shop like a robot and thrust me back from her door, when I
would have re-entered!

During that brief tranced sleep she had said to me: "This and this
you must not tell. This and this you may."

I could not speak of the child-doll with the angelic face and the
dagger-pin which had pricked the bubble of Gilmore's life. I could not
speak of the Walters doll and its crucifixion. I could not speak of
the doll-maker's tacit admission that she had been responsible for the
deaths that had first led us to her.

However, this realization made me feel even better. Here at last
was something understandable--the tangibility for which I had been
groping; something that had in it nothing of sorcery--nor of dark
power; something entirely in the realm of my own science. I had done
the same thing to patients, many times, bringing their minds back to
normality by these same post-hypnotic suggestions.

Also, there was a way by which I could wash my own mind clean of
the doll-maker's suggestions, if I chose. Should I do this?
Stubbornly, I decided I would not. It would be an admission that I was
afraid of Madame Mandilip. I hated her, yes--but I did not fear her.
Knowing now her technique, it would be folly not to observe its
results with myself as the laboratory experiment. I told myself that I
had run the gamut of those suggestions--that whatever else it had been
her intention to implant within my mind had been held back by my
unexpected awakening--

Ah, but the doll-maker had spoken truth when she called me fool!

When Braile appeared, I was able to meet him calmly. Hardly had I
greeted him when Ricori's nurse called up to say her patient was wide-
awake and anxious to see me.

I said to Braile: "This is fortunate. Come along. It will save me
from telling the same story twice over."

He asked: "What story?"

"My interview with Madame Mandilip."

He said, incredulously: "You've seen her!"

"I spent the afternoon with her. She is most interesting. Come and
hear about it."

I led the way rapidly to the Annex, deaf to his questions. Ricori
was sitting up. I made a brief examination. Although still somewhat
weak, he could be discharged as a patient. I congratulated him on what
was truly a remarkable recovery. I whispered to him:

"I've seen your witch and talked to her. I have much to tell you.
Bid your guards take their stations outside the door. I will dismiss
the nurse for a time."

When guards and nurse were gone, I launched into an account of the
day's happenings, beginning with my summons to the Gilmore apartment
by McCann. Ricori listened, face grim, as I repeated Mollie's story.
He said:

"Her brother and now her husband! Poor, poor Mollie! But she shall
be avenged! Si!--greatly so! Yes!"

I gave my grossly incomplete version of my encounter with Madame
Mandilip. I told Ricori what I had bidden McCann to do. I said:

"And so tonight, at least, we can sleep in peace. For if the girl
comes out with the dolls, McCann gets her. If she does not, then
nothing can happen. I am quite certain that without her the doll-maker
cannot strike. I hope you approve, Ricori."

He studied me for a moment, intently.

"I do approve, Dr. Lowell. Most greatly do I approve. You have
done as I would have done. But--I do not think you have told us all
that happened between you and the witch."

"Nor do I," said Braile.

I arose.

"At any rate, I've told you the essentials. And I'm dead tired.
I'm going to take a bath and go to bed. It's now nine-thirty. If the
girl does come out it won't be before eleven, probably later. I'm
going to sleep until McCann fetches her. If he doesn't, I'm going to
sleep all night. That's final. Save your questions for the morning."

Ricori's searching gaze had never left me. He said:

"Why not sleep here? Would it not be safer for you?"

I succumbed to a wave of intense irritation. My pride had been
hurt enough by my behavior with the doll-maker and the manner she had
outwitted me. And the suggestion that I hide from her behind the guns
of his men opened the wound afresh.

"I am no child," I answered angrily. "I am quite able to take care
of myself. I do not have to live behind a screen of gunmen--"

I stopped, sorry that I had said that. But Ricori betrayed no
anger. He nodded, and dropped back on his pillows.

"You have told me what I wanted to know. You fared very badly with
the witch, Dr. Lowell. And you have not told us all the essentials."

I said: "I am sorry, Ricori!"

"Don't be." For the first time he smiled. "I understand,
perfectly. I also am somewhat of a psychologist. But I say this to
you--it matters little whether McCann does or does not bring the girl
to us tonight. Tomorrow the witch dies--and the girl with her."

I made no answer. I recalled the nurse, and re-stationed the
guards within the room. Whatever confidence I might feel, I was taking
no chances with Ricori's safety. I had not told him of the doll-
maker's direct threat against him, but I had not forgotten it.

Braile accompanied me to my study. He said, apologetically:

"I know you must be damned tired, Lowell, and I don't want to
pester you. But will you let me stay in your room with you while you
are sleeping?"

I said with the same stubborn irritability:

"For God's sake, Braile, didn't you hear what I told Ricori? I'm
much obliged and all of that, but it applies to you as well."

He said quietly: "I am going to stay right here in the study,
wide-awake, until McCann comes or dawn comes. If I hear any sounds in
your room, I'm coming in. Whenever I want to take a look at you to see
whether you are all right, I'm coming in. Don't lock your door,
because if you do I'll break it down. Is that all quite clear?"

I grew angrier still. He said:

"I mean it."

I said: "All right. Do as you damned please."

I went into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. But I did not
lock it.

I was tired, there was no doubt about that. Even an hour's sleep
would be something. I decided not to bother with the bath, and began
to undress. I was removing my shirt when I noticed a tiny pin upon its
left side over my heart. I opened the shirt and looked at the under
side. Fastened there was one of the knotted cords!

I took a step toward the door, mouth open to call Braile. Then I
stopped short. I would not show it to Braile. That would mean endless
questioning. And I wanted to sleep.

God! But I wanted to sleep!

Better to burn the cord. I searched for a match to touch fire to
it--I heard Braile's step at the door and thrust it hastily in my
trousers' pocket.

"What do you want?" I called.

"Just want to see you get into bed all right."

He opened the door a trifle. What he wanted to discover, of
course, was whether I had locked it. I said nothing, and went on
undressing.

My bedroom is a large, high-ceilinged room on the second floor of
my home. It is at the back of the house, adjoining my study. There are
two windows which look out on the little garden. They are framed by
the creeper. The room has a chandelier, a massive, old-fashioned thing
covered with prisms--lusters I think they are called, long pendants of
cut-glass in six circles from which rise the candle-holders. It is a
small replica of one of the lovely Colonial chandeliers in
Independence Hall at Philadelphia, and when I bought the house I would
not allow it to be taken down, nor even be wired for electric bulbs.
My bed is at the end of the room, and when I turn upon my left side I
can see the windows outlined by faint reflections. The same
reflections are caught by the prisms so that the chandelier becomes a
nebulously glimmering tiny cloud. It is restful, sleep-inducing. There
is an ancient pear tree in the garden, the last survivor of an orchard
which in spring, in New York's halcyon days, lifted to the sun its
flowered arms. The chandelier is just beyond the foot of the bed. The
switch which controls my lights is at the head of my bed. At the side
of the room is an old fireplace, its sides of carved marble and with a
wide mantel at the top. To visualize fully what follows, it is
necessary to keep this arrangement in mind.

By the time I had undressed, Braile, evidently assured of my
docility, had closed the door and gone back into the study. I took the
knotted cord, the witch's ladder, and threw it contemptuously on the
table. I suppose there was something of bravado in the action;
perhaps, if I had not felt so sure of McCann, I would have pursued my
original intention of burning it. I mixed myself a sedative, turned
off the lights and lay down to sleep. The sedative took quick effect.

I sank deep and deeper into a sea of sleep deeper...and
deeper...

I awoke.

I looked around me...how had I come to this strange place? I was
standing within a shallow circular pit, grass lined. The rim of the
pit came only to my knees. The pit was in the center of a circular,
level meadow, perhaps a quarter of a mile in diameter. This, too, was
covered with grass; strange grass, purple flowered. Around the grassy
circle drooped unfamiliar trees...trees scaled with emeralds green
and scarlet...trees with pendulous branches covered with fernlike
leaves and threaded with slender vines that were like serpents. The
trees circled the meadow, watchful, alert...watching me...waiting
for me to move...

No, it was not the trees that were watching! There were things
hidden among the trees, lurking...malignant things...evil things
...and it was they who were watching me, waiting for me to move!

But how had I gotten here? I looked down at my legs, stretched my
arms...I was clad in the blue pajamas in which I had gone to bed...
gone to my bed in my New York house...in my house in New York...
how had I come here? I did not seem to be dreaming...

Now I saw that three paths led out of the shallow pit. They passed
over the edge, and stretched, each in a different direction, toward
the woods. And suddenly I knew that I must take one of these paths,
and that it was vitally important that I pick the right one...that
only one could be traversed safely...that the other two would lead
me into the power of those lurking things.

The pit began to contract. I felt its bottom lifting beneath my
feet. The pit was thrusting me out! I leaped upon the path at my
right, and began to walk slowly along it. Then involuntarily I began
to run, faster and faster along it, toward the woods. As I drew nearer
I saw that the path pierced the woods straight as an arrow flight, and
that it was about three feet wide and bordered closely by the trees,
and that it vanished in the dim green distance. Faster and faster I
ran. Now I had entered the woods, and the unseen things were gathering
among the trees that bordered the path, thronging the borders, rushing
silently from all the wood. What those things were, what they would do
to me if they caught me I did not know...I only knew that nothing
that I could imagine of agony could equal what I would experience if
they did catch me.

On and on I raced through the wood, each step a nightmare. I felt
hands stretching out to clutch me...heard shrill whisperings...
Sweating, trembling, I broke out of the wood and raced over a vast
plain that stretched, treeless, to the distant horizon. The plain was
trackless, pathless, and covered with brown and withered grass. It was
like, it came to me, the blasted heath of Macbeth's three witches. No
matter...it was better than the haunted wood. I paused and looked
back at the trees. I felt from them the gaze of myriads of the evil
eyes.

I turned my back, and began to walk over the withered plain. I
looked up at the sky. The sky was misty green. High up in it two
cloudy orbs began to glow...black suns...no, they were not suns
...they were eyes...The eyes of the doll-maker! They stared down at
me from the misty green sky...Over the horizon of that strange world
two gigantic hands began to lift...began to creep toward me...to
catch me and hurl me back into the wood...white hands with long
fingers...and each of the long white fingers a living thing. The
hands of the doll-maker!

Closer came the eyes, and closer writhed the hands. From the sky
came peal upon peal of laughter...The laughter of the doll-maker!

That laughter still ringing in my ears, I awakened--or seemed to
awaken. I was in my room sitting bolt upright in my bed. I was
dripping with sweat, and my heart was pumping with a pulse that shook
my body. I could see the chandelier glimmering in the light from the
windows like a small nebulous cloud. I could see the windows faintly
outlined. It was very still...

There was a movement at one of the windows. I would get up from
the bed and see what it was--I could not move!

A faint greenish glow began within the room. At first it was like
the flickering phosphorescence one sees upon a decaying log. It waxed
and waned, waxed and waned, but grew ever stronger. My room became
plain. The chandelier gleamed like a decaying emerald--

There was a little face at the window! A doll's face! My heart
leaped, then curdled with despair. I thought: "McCann has failed! It
is the end!"

The doll looked at me, grinning. Its face was smooth shaven, that
of a man about forty. The nose was long, the mouth wide and thin-
lipped. The eyes were close-set under bushy brows. They glittered, red
as rubies.

The doll crept over the sill. It slid, head-first, into the room.
It stood for a moment on its head, legs waving. It somersaulted twice.
It came to its feet, one little hand at its lips, red eyes upon mine--
waiting. As though expecting applause! It was dressed in the tights
and jacket of a circus acrobat. It bowed to me. Then with a flourish,
it pointed to the window.

Another little face was peering there. It was austere, cold, the
face of a man of sixty. It had small side whiskers. It stared at me
with the expression I supposed a banker might wear when someone he
hates applies to him for a loan--I found the thought oddly amusing.
Then abruptly I ceased to feel amused.

A banker-doll! An acrobat-doll!

The dolls of two of those who had suffered the unknown death!

The banker-doll stepped with dignity down from the window. It was
in full evening dress, swallowtails, stiff shirt--all perfect. It
turned and with the same dignity raised a hand to the windowsill.
Another doll stood there--the doll of a woman about the same age as
the banker-doll, and garbed like it in correct evening dress.

The spinster!

Mincingly, the spinster-doll took the proffered hand. She jumped
lightly to the floor.

Through the window came a fourth doll, all in spangled tights from
neck to feet. It took a flying leap, landing beside the acrobat-doll.
It looked up at me with grinning face, then bowed.

The four dolls began to march toward me, the acrobats leading, and
behind them with slow and stately step, the spinster-doll and banker-
doll-arm in arm.

Grotesque, fantastic, these they were--but not humorous, God--no!
Or if there were anything of humor about them, it was that at which
only devils laugh.

I thought, desperately: "Braile is just on the other side of the
door! If I could only make some sound!"

The four dolls halted and seemed to consult. The acrobats
pirouetted, and reached to their backs. They drew from the hidden
sheaths their dagger-pins. In the hands of banker-doll and spinster-
doll appeared similar weapons. They presented the points toward me,
like swords.

The four resumed their march to my bed...

The red eyes of the second acrobat-doll--the trapeze performer, I
knew him now to be--had rested on the chandelier. He paused, studying
it. He pointed to it, thrust the dagger-pin back into its sheath, and
bent his knees, hands cupped in front of them. The first doll nodded,
then stood, plainly measuring the height of the chandelier from the
floor and considering the best approach to it. The second doll pointed
to the mantel, and the pair of them swarmed up its sides to the broad
ledge. The elderly pair watched them, seemingly much interested. They
did not sheath their dagger-pins.

The acrobat-doll bent, and the trapeze-doll put a little foot in
its cupped hands. The first doll straightened, and the second flew
across the gap between mantel and chandelier, caught one of the
prismed circles, and swung. Immediately the other doll leaped outward,
caught the chandelier and swung beside its spangled mate.

I saw the heavy old fixture tremble and sway. Down upon the floor
came crashing a dozen of the prisms. In the dead stillness, it was
like an explosion.

I heard Braile running to the door. He threw it open. He stood on
the threshold. I could see him plainly in the green glow, but I knew
that he could not see--that to him the room was in darkness. He cried:

"Lowell! Are you all right? Turn on the lights!"

I tried to call out. To warn him. Useless! He groped forward,
around the foot of the bed, to the switch. I think that then he saw
the dolls. He stopped short, directly beneath the chandelier, looking
up.

And as he did so the doll above him swung by one hand, drew its
dagger-pin from its sheath and dropped upon Braile's shoulders,
stabbing viciously at his throat!

Braile shrieked--once. The shriek changed into a dreadful bubbling
sigh...

And then I saw the chandelier sway and lurch. It broke from its
ancient fastenings. It fell with a crash that shook the house, down
upon Braile and the doll-devil ripping at his throat.

Abruptly the green glow disappeared. There was a scurrying in the
room like the running of great rats.

The paralysis dropped from me. I threw my hand round to the switch
and turned on the lights; leaped from the bed.

Little figures were scrambling up and out of the window. There
were four muffled reports like popguns. I saw Ricori at the door, on
each side of him a guard with silenced automatic, shooting at the
window.

I bent over Braile. He was quite dead. The falling chandelier had
dropped upon his head, crushing the skull. But Braile had been dying
before the chandelier had fallen...his throat ripped...the carotid
artery severed.

The doll that had murdered him was gone!



CHAPTER XV: THE WITCH GIRL



I stood up. I said bitterly:

"You were right, Ricori--her servants are better than yours."

He did not answer, looking down at Braile with pity-filled face.

I said: "If all your men fulfill their promises like McCann, that
you are still alive I count as one of the major miracles."

"As for McCann," he turned his gaze to me somberly, "he is both
intelligent and loyal. I will not condemn him unheard. And I say to
you, Dr. Lowell, that if you had shown more frankness to me this
night--Dr. Braile would not be dead."

I winced at that--there was too much truth in it. I was racked by
regret and grief and helpless rage. If I had not let my cursed pride
control me, if I had told them all that I could of my encounter with
the doll-maker, explained why there were details I was unable to tell,
given myself over to Braile for a cleansing counter-hypnotization--no,
if I had but accepted Ricori's offer of protection, or Braile's to
watch over me while asleep--then this could not have happened.

I looked into the study and saw there Ricori's nurse. I could hear
whispering outside the study doors--servants, and others from the
Annex who had been attracted by the noise of the falling chandelier. I
said to the nurse, quite calmly:

"The chandelier fell while Dr. Braile was standing at the foot of
my bed talking to me. It has killed him. But do not tell the others
that. Only say that the chandelier fell, injuring Dr. Braile. Send
them back to their beds--say that we are taking Dr. Braile to the
hospital. Then return with Porter and clean up what you can of the
blood. Leave the chandelier as it is."

When she had gone I turned to Ricori's gunmen.

"What did you see when you shot?"

One answered: "They looked like monkeys to me."

The other said: "Or midgets."

I looked at Ricori, and read in his face what he had seen. I
stripped the light blanket from the bed.

"Ricori," I said, "let your men lift Braile and wrap him in this.
Then have them carry him into the small room next to the study and
place him on the cot."

He nodded to them, and they lifted Braile from the debris of
shattered glass and bent metal. His face and neck had been cut by the
broken prisms and by some chance one of these wounds was close to the
spot where the dagger-pin of the doll had been thrust. It was deep,
and had probably caused a second severance of the carotid artery. I
followed with Ricori into the small room. They placed the body on the
cot and Ricori ordered them to go back to the bedroom and watch while
the nurses were there. He closed the door of the small room behind
them, then turned to me.

"What are you going to do, Dr. Lowell?"

What I felt like doing was weeping, but I answered: "It is a
coroner's case, of course. I must notify the police at once."

"What are you going to tell them?"

"What did you see at the window, Ricori?"

"I saw the dolls!"

"And I. Can I tell the police what did kill Braile before the
chandelier fell? You know I cannot. No, I shall tell them that we were
talking when, without warning, the fixture dropped upon him.
Splintered glass from the pendants pierced his throat. What else can I
say? And they will believe that readily enough when they would not
believe the truth--"

I hesitated, then my reserve broke; for the first time in many
years, I wept.

"Ricori--you were right. Not McCann but I am to blame for this--
the vanity of an old man--had I spoken freely, fully--he would be
alive...but I did not...I did not...I am his murderer."

He comforted me--gently as a woman...

"It was not your fault. You could not have done otherwise...
being what you are...thinking as you have so long thought. If in
your unbelief, your entirely natural unbelief, the witch found her
opportunity...still, it was not your fault. But now she shall find
no more opportunities. Her cup is full and overflowing..."

He put his hands on my shoulders.

"Do not notify the police for a time--not until we hear from
McCann. It is now close to twelve and he will telephone even if he
does not come. I will go to my room and dress. For when I have heard
from McCann I must leave you."

"What do you mean to do, Ricori?"

"Kill the witch," he answered quietly. "Kill her and the girl.
Before the day comes. I have waited too long. I will wait no longer.
She shall kill no more."

I felt a wave of weakness. I dropped into a chair. My sight
dimmed. Ricori gave me water, and I drank thirstily. Through the
roaring in my ears I heard a knocking at the door and the voice of one
of Ricori's men:

"McCann is here."

Ricori said: "Tell him to come in."

The door opened. McCann strode into the room.

"I got her--"

He stopped short, staring at us. His eyes fell upon the covered
body upon the cot and his face grew grim:

"What's happened?"

Ricori answered: "The dolls killed Dr. Braile. You captured the
girl too late, McCann. Why?"

"Killed Braile? The dolls! God!" McCann's voice was as though a
hand had gripped his throat.

Ricori asked: "Where is the girl, McCann?"

He answered, dully: "Down in the car, gagged and tied."

Ricori asked: "When did you get her? And where?"

Looking at McCann, I suddenly felt a great pity and sympathy for
him. It sprang from my own remorse and shame. I said:

"Sit down, McCann. I am far more to blame for what has happened
than you can possibly be."

Ricori said, coldly: "Leave me to be judge of that. McCann, did
you place cars at each end of the street, as Dr. Lowell instructed?"

"Yes."

"Then begin your story at that point."

McCann said: "She comes into the street. It's close to eleven. I'm
at the east end an' Paul at the west. I say to Tony: 'We got the wench
pocketed!' She carries two suitcases. She looks around an' trots where
we located her car. She opens the door. When she comes out she rides
west where Paul is. I've told Paul what the Doc tells me, not to grab
her too close to the doll-shop. I see Paul tail her. I shoot down the
street an' tail Paul.

"The coupe turn into West Broadway. There she gets the break, a
Staten Island boat is just in an' the street's lousy with a herd of
cars. A Ford shoots over to the left, trying to pass another. Paul
hits the Ford and wraps himself round one of the El's pillars. There's
a mess. I'm a minute or two getting out the jam. When I do, the
coupe's outa sight.

"I hop down an' telephone Rod. I tell him to get the wench when
she shows up, even if they have to rope her off the steps of the doll-
shop. An' when they get her, bring her right here.

"I come up here. I figure maybe she's headed this way. I coast
along by here an' then take a look in the Park, I figure the doll-
hag's been getting all the breaks an' now one's due me. I get it. I
see the coupe parked under some trees. We get the gal. She don't put
up no fight at all. But we gag her an' put her in the car. Tony rolls
the coupe away an' searches it. There ain't a thing in it but the two
suitcases an' they're empty. We bring the gal here."

I asked: "How long between when you caught the girl and your
arrival?"

"Ten-fifteen minutes, maybe. Tony nigh took the coupe to pieces.
An' that took time."

I looked at Ricori. McCann must have come upon the girl just about
the moment Braile had died. He nodded:

"She was waiting for the dolls, of course."

McCann asked: "What do you want me to do with her?"

He looked at Ricori, not at me. Ricori said nothing, staring at
McCann with a curious intentness. But I saw him clench his left hand,
then open it, fingers wide. McCann said:

"Okay, boss."

He started toward the door. It did not take unusual acumen to know
that he had been given orders, nor could their significance be
mistaken.

"Stop!" I intercepted him and stood with my back against the door.
"Listen to me, Ricori. I have something to say about this. Dr. Braile
was as close to me as Peters to you. Whatever the guilt of Madame
Mandilip, this girl is helpless to do other than what she orders her.
Her will is absolutely controlled by the doll-maker. I strongly
suspect that a good part of the time she is under complete hypnotic
control. I cannot forget that she tried to save Walters. I will not
see her murdered."

Ricori said: "If you are right, all the more reason she should be
destroyed quickly. Then the witch cannot make use of her before she
herself is destroyed."

"I will not have it, Ricori. And there is another reason. I want
to question her. I may discover how Madame Mandilip does these
things--the mystery of the dolls--the ingredients of the salve--
whether there are others who share her knowledge. All this and more,
the girl may know. And if she does know, I can make her tell."

McCann said, cynically: "Yeah?"

Ricori asked: "How?"

I answered grimly: "By using the same trap in which the doll-maker
caught me."

For a full minute Ricori considered me, gravely.

"Dr. Lowell," he said, "for the last time I yield my judgment to
yours in this matter. I think you are wrong. I know that I was wrong
when I did not kill the witch that day I met her. I believe that every
moment this girl is permitted to remain alive is a moment laden with
danger for us all. Nevertheless, I yield--for this last time."

"McCann," I said, "bring the girl into my office. Wait until I get
rid of anyone who may be downstairs."

I went downstairs, McCann and Ricori following. No one was there.
I placed on my desk a development of the Luys mirror, a device used
first at the Salpetriere in Paris to induce hypnotic sleep. It
consists of two parallel rows of small reflectors revolving in
opposite directions. A ray of light plays upon them in such a manner
as to cause their surfaces alternately to gleam and darken. A most
useful device, and one to which I believed the girl, long sensitized
to hypnotic suggestion, must speedily succumb. I placed a comfortable
chair at the proper angle, and subdued the lights so that they could
not compete with the hypnotic mirror.

I had hardly completed these arrangements when McCann and another
of Ricori's henchmen brought in the girl. They placed her in the easy
chair, and I took from her lips the cloth with which she had been
silenced.

Ricori said: "Tony, go out to the car. McCann, you stay here."



CHAPTER XVI: END OF THE WITCH GIRL



The girl made no resistance whatever. She seemed entirely
withdrawn into herself, looking up at me with the same vague stare I
had noted on my visit to the doll-shop. I took her hands. She let them
rest passively in mine. They were very cold. I said to her, gently,
reassuringly:

"My child, no one is going to hurt you. Rest and relax. Sink back
in the chair. I only want to help you. Sleep if you wish. Sleep."

She did not seem to hear, still regarding me with that vague gaze.
I released her hands. I took my own chair, facing her, and set the
little mirrors revolving. Her eyes turned to them at once, rested upon
them, fascinated. I watched her body relax; she sank back in her
chair. Her eyelids began to droop.

"Sleep," I said softly. "Here none can harm you. While you sleep
none can harm you. Sleep...sleep..."

Her eyes closed; she sighed.

I said: "You are asleep. You will not awaken until I bid you. You
cannot awaken until I bid you."

She repeated in a murmuring, childish voice: "I am asleep; I
cannot awaken until you bid me."

I stopped the whirling mirrors. I said to her: "There are some
questions I am going to ask you. You will listen, and you will answer
me truthfully. You cannot answer them except truthfully. You know
that."

She echoed, still in that faint childish voice: "I must answer you
truthfully. I know that."

I could not refrain from darting a glance of triumph at Ricori and
McCann. Ricori was crossing himself, staring at me with wide eyes in
which were both doubt and awe. I knew he was thinking that I, too,
knew witchcraft. McCann sat chewing nervously. And staring at the
girl.

I began my questions, choosing at first those least likely to
disturb. I asked:

"Are you truly Madame Mandilip's niece?"

"No."

"Who are you, then?"

"I do not know."

"When did you join her, and why?"

"Twenty years ago. I was in a creche, a foundling asylum at
Vienna. She took me from it. She taught me to call her my aunt. But
she is not."

"Where have you lived since then?"

"In Berlin, in Paris, then London, Prague, Warsaw."

"Did Madame Mandilip make her dolls in each of these places?"

She did not answer; she shuddered; her eyelids began to tremble.

"Sleep! Remember, you cannot awaken until I bid you! Sleep! Answer
me."

She whispered: "Yes."

"And they killed in each city?"

"Yes."

"Sleep. Be at ease. Nothing is going to harm you--" Her
disquietude had again become marked, and I veered for a moment from
the subject of the dolls. "Where was Madame Mandilip born?"

"I do not know."

"How old is she?"

"I do not know. I have asked her, and she has laughed and said
that time is nothing to her. I was five years old when she took me.
She looked then just as she does now."

"Has she any accomplices--I mean are there others who make the
dolls?"

"One. She taught him. He was her lover in Prague."

"Her lover!" I exclaimed, incredulously--the image of the immense
gross body, the great breasts, the heavy horse-like face of the doll-
maker rising before my eyes. She said:

"I know what you are thinking. But she has another body. She wears
it when she pleases. It is a beautiful body. It belongs to her eyes,
her hands, her voice. When she wears that body she is beautiful. She
is terrifyingly beautiful. I have seen her wear it many times."

Another body! An illusion, of course...like the enchanted room
Walters had described...and which I had glimpsed when breaking from
the hypnotic web in which she had enmeshed me...a picture drawn by
the doll-maker's mind in the mind of the girl. I dismissed that, and
drove to the heart of the matter.

"She kills by two methods, does she not--by the salve and by the
dolls?"

"Yes, by the unguent and the dolls."

"How many has she killed by the unguent in New York?"

She answered, indirectly: "She has made fourteen dolls since we
came here."

So there were other cases that had not been reported to me! I
asked:

"'And how many have the dolls killed?"

"Twenty."

I heard Ricori curse, and shot him a warning look. He was leaning
forward, white and tense; McCann had stopped his chewing.

"How does she make the dolls?"

"I do not know."

"Do you know how she prepares the unguent?"

"No. She does that secretly."

"What is it that activates the dolls?"

"You mean makes them--alive?"

"Yes."

"Something from the dead!"

Again I heard Ricori cursing softly. I said: "If you do not know
how the dolls are made, you must know what is necessary to make them
alive. What is it?"

She did not answer.

"You must answer me. You must obey me. Speak!"

She said: "Your question is not clear. I have told you that
something of the dead makes them alive. What else is it you would
know?"

"Begin from where one who poses for a doll first meets Madame
Mandilip to the last step when the doll--as you put it--becomes
alive."

She spoke, dreamily:

"She has said one must come to her of his own will. He must
consent of his own volition, without coercion, to let her make the
doll. That he does not know to what he is consenting matters nothing.
She must begin the first model immediately. Before she completes the
second--the doll that is to live--she must find opportunity to apply
the unguent. She has said of this unguent that it liberates one of
those who dwell within the mind, and that this one must come to her
and enter the doll. She has said that this one is not the sole tenant
of the mind, but with the others she has no concern. Nor does she
select all of those who come before her. How she knows those with whom
she can deal, or what there is about them which makes her select them,
I do not know. She makes the second doll. At the instant of its
completion he who has posed for it begins to die. When he is dead--the
doll lives. It obeys her--as they all obey her..."

She paused, then said, musingly "All except one--"

"And that one?"

"She who was your nurse. She will not obey. My aunt torments her,
punishes her...still she cannot control her. I brought the little
nurse here last night with another doll to kill the man my--aunt--
cursed. The nurse came, but she fought the other doll and saved the
man. It is something my aunt cannot understand...it perplexes her
...and it gives me...hope!"

Her voice trailed away. Then suddenly, with energy, she said:

"You must make haste. I should be back with the dolls. Soon she
will be searching for me. I must go...or she will come for me...
and then...if she finds me here...she will kill me..."

I said: "You brought the dolls to kill me?"

"Of course."

"Where are the dolls now?"

She answered: "They were coming back to me. Your men caught me
before they could reach me. They will go...home. The dolls travel
quickly when they must. It is more difficult without me that is all
...but they will return to her."

"Why do the dolls kill?"

"To...please...her."

I said: "The knotted cord, what part does it play?"

She answered: "I do not know--but she says--" Then suddenly,
desperately, like a frightened child, she whispered: "She is searching
for me! Her eyes are looking for me...her hands are groping--she
sees me! Hide me! Oh, hide me from her quick..."

I said: "Sleep more deeply! Go down--down deep--deeper still into
sleep. Now she cannot find you! Now you are hidden from her!"

She whispered: "I am deep in sleep. She has lost me. I am hidden.
But she is hovering over me she is still searching..."

Ricori and McCann had left their chairs and were beside me.

Ricori asked:

"You believe the witch is after her?"

"No," I answered. "But this is not an unexpected development. The
girl has been under the woman's control so long, and so completely,
that the reaction is natural. It may be the result of suggestion, or
it may be the reasoning of her own subconsciousness...she has been
breaking commands...she has been threatened with punishment if she
should--"

The girl screamed, agonized:

"She sees me! She has found me! Her hands are reaching out to me!"

"Sleep! Sleep deeper still! She cannot hurt you. Again she has
lost you!"

The girl did not answer, but a faint moaning was audible, deep in
her throat.

McCann swore, huskily: "Christ! Can't you help her?"

Ricori, eyes unnaturally bright in a chalky face, said: "Let her
die! It will save us trouble!"

I said to the girl, sternly:

"Listen to me and obey. I am going to count five. When I come to
five--awaken! Awaken at once! You will come up from sleep so swiftly
that she cannot catch you! Obey!"

I counted, slowly, since to have awakened her at once would, in
all likelihood, have brought her to the death which her distorted mind
told her was threatened by the doll-maker.

"One--two--three--"

An appalling scream came from the girl. And then--

"She's caught me! Her hands are around my heart...Uh-h-h..."

Her body bent; a spasm ran through her. Her body relaxed and sank
limply in the chair. Her eyes opened, stared blankly; her jaw dropped.

I ripped open her bodice, set my stethoscope to her heart. It was
still.

And then from the dead throat issued a voice organ-toned, sweet,
laden with menace and contempt...

"You fools!"

The voice of Madame Mandilip!



CHAPTER XVII: BURN WITCH BURN!



Curiously enough, Ricori was the least affected of the three of
us. My own flesh had crept. McCann, although he had never heard the
doll-maker's voice, was greatly shaken. And it was Ricori who broke
the silence.

"You are sure the girl is dead?"

"There is no possible doubt of it, Ricori."

He nodded to McCann: "Carry her down to the car."

I asked: "What are you going to do?"

He answered: "Kill the witch." He quoted with satiric
unctuousness: "In death they shall not be divided." He said,
passionately: "As in hell they shall burn together forever!"

He looked at me, sharply.

"You do not approve of this, Dr. Lowell?"

"Ricori, I don't know--I honestly do not know. Today I would have
killed her with my own hands but now the rage is spent. What you have
threatened is against all my instincts, all my habits of thought, all
my convictions of how justice should be administered. It seems to me--
murder!"

He said: "You heard the girl. Twenty in this city alone killed by
the dolls. And fourteen dolls. Fourteen who died as Peters did!"

"But, Ricori, no court could consider allegations under hypnosis
as evidence. It may be true, it may not be. The girl was abnormal.
What she told might be only her imaginings--without supporting
evidence, no court on earth could accept it as a basis for action."

He said: "No--no earthly court--" He gripped my shoulders. He
asked: "Do you believe it was truth?"

I could not answer, for deep within me I felt it was truth. He
said:

"Precisely, Dr. Lowell! You have answered me. You know, as I know,
that the girl did speak the truth. You know, as I know, that our law
cannot punish the witch. That is why I must kill her. In doing that,
I, Ricori, am no murderer. No, I am God's executioner!"

He waited for me to speak. Again I could not answer.

"McCann"--he pointed to the girl--"do as I told you. Then return."

And when McCann had gone out with the frail body in his arms,
Ricori said:

"Dr. Lowell--you must go with me to witness this execution."

I recoiled at that. I said:

"Ricori, I can't. I am utterly weary--in body and mind. I have
gone through too much today. I am broken with grief--"

"You must go," he interrupted, "if we have to carry you, gagged as
the girl was, and bound. I will tell you why. You are at war with
yourself. Alone, it is possible your scientific doubts might conquer,
that you would attempt to halt me before I have done what I swear by
Christ, His Holy Mother, and the Saints, I shall do. You might yield
to weariness and place the whole matter before the police. I will not
take that risk. I have affection for you, Dr. Lowell, deep affection.
But I tell you that if my own mother tried to stop me in this I would
sweep her aside as ruthlessly as I shall you."

I said: "I will go with you."

"Then tell the nurse to bring me my clothing. Until all is over,
we remain together. I am taking no more chances."

I took up the telephone and gave the necessary order. McCann
returned, and Ricori said to him:

"When I am clothed, we go to the doll-shop. Who is in the car with
Tony?"

"Larson and Cartello."

"Good. It may be that the witch knows we are coming. It may be
that she has listened through the girl's dead ears as she spoke from
her dead throat. No matter. We shall assume that she did not. Are
there bars on the door?"

McCann said: "Boss, I ain't been in the shop. I don't know.
There's a glass panel. If there's bars we can work 'em. Tony'll get
the tools while you put on your clothes."

"Dr. Lowell," Ricori turned on me. "Will you give me your word
that you will not change your mind about going with me? Nor attempt to
interfere in what I am going to do?"

"I give you my word, Ricori."

"McCann, you need not come back. Wait for us in the car."

Ricori was soon dressed. As I walked with him out of my house, a
clock struck one. I remembered that this strange adventure had begun,
weeks ago, at that very hour...

I rode in the back of the car with Ricori, the dead girl between
us. On the middle seats were Larson and Cartello, the former a stolid
Swede, the latter a wiry little Italian. The man named Tony drove,
McCann beside him. We swung down the avenue and in about half an hour
were on lower Broadway. As we drew near the street of the doll-maker,
we went less quickly. The sky was overcast, a cold wind blowing off
the bay. I shivered, but not with cold.

We came to the corner of the doll-maker's street.

For several blocks we had met no one, seen no one. It was as
though we were passing through a city of the dead. Equally deserted
was the street of the doll-maker.

Ricori said to Tony:

"Draw up opposite the doll-shop. We'll get out. Then go down to
the corner. Wait for us there."

My heart was beating uncomfortably. There was a quality of
blackness in the night that seemed to swallow up the glow from the
street lamps. There was no light in the doll-maker's shop, and in the
old-fashioned doorway, set level with the street, the shadows
clustered. The wind whined, and I could hear the beating of waves on
the Battery wall. I wondered whether I would be able to go through
that doorway, or whether the inhibition the doll-maker had put upon me
still held me.

McCann slipped out of the car, carrying the girl's body. He
propped her, sitting in the doorway's shadows. Ricori and I, Larson
and Cartello, followed. The car rolled off. And again I felt the sense
of nightmare unreality which had clung to me so often since I had
first set my feet on this strange path to the doll-maker...

The little Italian was smearing the glass of the door with some
gummy material. In the center of it he fixed a small vacuum cup of
rubber. He took a tool from his pocket and drew with it a foot-wide
circle on the glass. The point of the tool cut into the glass as
though it had been wax. Holding the vacuum cup in one hand, he tapped
the glass lightly with a rubber-tipped hammer. The circle of glass
came away in his hand. All had been done without the least sound. He
reached through the hole, and fumbled about noiselessly for a few
moments. There was a faint click. The door swung open.

McCann picked up the dead girl. We went, silent as phantoms, into
the doll-shop. The little Italian set the circle of glass back in its
place. I could see dimly the door that opened into the corridor
leading to that evil room at the rear. The little Italian tried the
knob. The door was locked. He worked for a few seconds, and the door
swung open. Ricori leading, McCann behind him with the girl, we passed
like shadows through the corridor and paused at the further door.

The door swung open before the little Italian could touch it.

We heard the voice of the doll-maker!

"Enter, gentlemen. It was thoughtful of you to bring me back my
dear niece! I would have met you at my outer door--but I am an old,
old woman and timid!"

McCann whispered: "One side, boss!"

He shifted the body of the girl to his left arm, and holding her
like a shield, pistol drawn, began to edge by Ricori. Ricori thrust
him away. His own automatic leveled, he stepped over the threshold. I
followed McCann, the two gunmen at my back.

I took a swift glance around the room. The doll-maker sat at her
table, sewing. She was serene, apparently untroubled. Her long white
fingers danced to the rhythm of her stitches. She did not look up at
us. There were coals burning in the fireplace. The room was very warm,
and there was a strong aromatic odor, unfamiliar to me. I looked
toward the cabinets of the dolls.

Every cabinet was open. Dolls stood within them, row upon row,
staring down at us with eyes green and blue, gray and black, lifelike
as though they were midgets on exhibition in some grotesque peepshow.
There must have been hundreds of them. Some were dressed as we in
America dress; some as the Germans do; some as the Spanish, the
French, the English; others were in costumes I did not recognize. A
ballerina, and a blacksmith with his hammer raised...a French
chevalier, and a German student, broadsword in hand, livid scars upon
his face...an Apache with knife in hand, drug-madness on his yellow
face and next to him a vicious-mouthed woman of the streets and next
to her a jockey...

The loot of the doll-maker from a dozen lands!

The dolls seemed to be poised to leap. To flow down upon us.
Overwhelm us.

I steadied my thoughts. I forced myself to meet that battery of
living dolls' eyes as though they were but lifeless dolls. There was
an empty cabinet...another and another...five cabinets without
dolls. The four dolls I had watched march upon me in the paralysis of
the green glow were not there nor was Walters.

I wrenched my gaze away from the tiers of the watching dolls. I
looked again at the doll-maker, still placidly sewing...as though
she were alone...as though she were unaware of us...as though
Ricori's pistol were not pointed at her heart...sewing...singing
softly...

The Walters doll was on the table before her!

It lay prone on its back. Its tiny hands were fettered at the
wrists with twisted cords of the ashen hair. They were bound round and
round, and the fettered hands clutched the hilt of a dagger-pin!

Long in the telling, but brief in the seeing--a few seconds in
time as we measure it.

The doll-maker's absorption in her sewing, her utter indifference
to us, the silence, made a screen between us and her, an ever-
thickening though invisible barrier. The pungent aromatic fragrance
grew stronger.

McCann dropped the body of the girl on the floor.

He tried to speak--once, twice; at the third attempt he succeeded.
He said to Ricori hoarsely, in strangled voice:

"Kill her...or I will--" Ricori did not move. He stood rigid,
automatic pointed at the doll-maker's heart, eyes fixed on her dancing
hands. He did not seem to hear McCann, or if he heard, he did not
heed. The doll-maker's song went on...it was like the hum of bees
...it was a sweet droning...it garnered sleep as the bees garner
honey...sleep...

Ricori shifted his grip upon his gun. He sprang forward. He swung
the butt of the pistol down upon a wrist of the doll-maker.

The hand dropped, the fingers of that hand writhed...hideously
the long white fingers writhed and twisted...like serpents whose
backs have been broken...

Ricori raised the gun for a second blow. Before it could fall the
doll-maker had leaped to her feet, overturning her chair. A whispering
ran over the cabinets like a thin veil of sound. The dolls seemed to
bend, to lean forward...

The doll-maker's eyes were on us now. They seemed to take in each
and all of us at once. And they were like flaming black suns in which
danced tiny crimson flames.

Her will swept out and overwhelmed us. It was like a wave,
tangible. I felt it strike me as though it were a material thing. A
numbness began to creep through me. I saw the hand of Ricori that
clutched the pistol twitch and whiten. I knew that same numbness was
gripping him as it gripped McCann and the others...

Once more the doll-maker had trapped us!

I whispered: "Don't look at her, Ricori...don't look in her
eyes..."

With a tearing effort I wrested my own away from those flaming
black ones. They fell upon the Walters doll. Stiffly, I reached to
take it up--why, I did not know. The doll-maker was quicker than I.
She snatched up the doll with her uninjured hand, and held it to her
breast. She cried, in a voice whose vibrant sweetness ran through
every nerve, augmenting the creeping lethargy:

"You will not look at me? You will not look at me! Fools--you can
do nothing else!"

Then began that strange, that utterly strange episode that was the
beginning of the end.

The aromatic fragrance seemed to pulse, to throb, grow stronger.
Something like a sparkling mist whirled out of nothingness and covered
the doll-maker, veiling the horse-like face, the ponderous body. Only
her eyes shone through that mist...

The mist cleared away. Before us stood a woman of breath-taking
beauty--tall and slender and exquisite. Naked, her hair, black and
silken fine, half-clothed her to her knees. Through it the pale golden
flesh gleamed. Only the eyes, the hands, the doll still clasped to one
of the round, high breasts told who she was.

Ricori's automatic dropped from his hand. I heard the weapons of
the others fall to the floor. I knew they stood rigid as I, stunned by
that incredible transformation, and helpless in the grip of the power
streaming from the doll-maker.

She pointed to Ricori and laughed: "You would kill me--me! Pick up
your weapon, Ricori--and try!"

Ricori's body bent slowly, slowly...I could see him only
indirectly, for my eyes could not leave the woman's...and I knew
that his could not...that, fastened to them, his eyes were turning
upward, upward as he bent. I sensed rather than saw that his groping
hand had touched his pistol--that he was trying to lift it. I heard
him groan. The doll-maker laughed again.

"Enough, Ricori--you cannot!"

Ricori's body straightened with a snap, as though a hand had
clutched his chin and thrust him up...

There was a rustling behind me, the patter of little feet, the
scurrying of small bodies past me.

At the feet of the woman were four mannikins...the four who had
marched upon me in the green glow...banker-doll, spinster-doll, the
acrobat, the trapeze performer.

They stood, the four of them, ranged in front of her, glaring at
us. In the hand of each was a dagger-pin, points thrust at us like
tiny swords. And once more the laughter of the woman filled the room.
She spoke, caressingly:

"No, no, my little ones. I do not need you!"

She pointed to me.

"You know this body of mine is but illusion, do you not? Speak."

"Yes."

"And these at my feet--and all my little ones--are but illusions?"

I said: "I do not know that."

"You know too much--and you know too little. Therefore you must
die, my too wise and too foolish doctor--" The great eyes dwelt upon
me with mocking pity, the lovely face became maliciously pitiful. "And
Ricori too must die--because he knows too much. And you others--you
too must die. But not at the hands of my little people. Not here. No!
At your home, my good doctor. You shall go there silently--speaking
neither among yourselves nor to any others on your way. And when there
you will turn upon yourselves...each slaying the other...rending
yourselves like wolves...like--"

She staggered back a step, reeling.

I saw--or thought I saw--the doll of Walters writhe. Then swift as
a striking snake it raised its bound hands and thrust the dagger-pin
through the doll-maker's throat...twisted it savagely...and thrust
and thrust again...stabbing the golden throat of the woman precisely
where that other doll had stabbed Braile!

And as Braile had screamed--so now screamed the doll-maker...
dreadfully, agonizedly...

She tore the doll from her breast. She hurled it from her. The
doll hurtled toward the fireplace, rolled, and touched the glowing
coals.

There was a flash of brilliant flame, a wave of that same intense
heat I had felt when the match of McCann had struck the Peters doll.
And instantly, at the touch of that heat, the dolls at the woman's
feet vanished. From them arose swiftly a pillar of that same brilliant
flame. It coiled and wrapped itself around the doll-maker, from feet
to head.

I saw the shape of beauty melt away. In its place was the horse-
like face, the immense body of Madame Mandilip...eyes seared and
blind...the long white hands clutching at her torn throat, and no
longer white but crimson with her blood.

Thus for an instant she stood, then toppled to the floor.

And at that instant of her fall, the spell that held us broke.

Ricori leaned toward the huddled hulk that had been the doll-
maker. He spat upon it. He shouted, exultantly:

"Burn witch burn!"

He pushed me to the door, pointing toward the tiers of the
watching dolls that strangely now seemed lifeless! Only dolls!

Fire was leaping to them from draperies and curtains. The fire was
leaping at them as though it were some vengeful spirit of cleansing
flame!

We rushed through the door, the corridor, out into the shop.
Through the corridor and into the shop the flames poured after us. We
ran into the street.

Ricori cried: "Quick! To the car!"

Suddenly the street was red with the light of the flames. I heard
windows opening, and shouts of warning and alarm.

We swung into the waiting car, and it leaped away.



CHAPTER XVIII: THE DARK WISDOM



"They have made effigies comparable with my image, similar to my
form, who have taken away my breath, pulled out my hair, torn my
garments, prevented my feet from moving by means of dust; with an
ointment of harmful herbs they rubbed me; to my death they have led
me--O God of Fire destroy them!"

Egyptian Prayer

Three weeks had passed since the death of the doll-maker. Ricori
and I sat at dinner in my home. A silence had fallen between us. I had
broken it with the curious invocation that begins this, the concluding
chapter of my narrative, scarcely aware that I had spoken aloud. But
Ricori looked up, sharply.

"You quote someone? Whom?"

I answered: "A tablet of clay, inscribed by some Chaldean in the
days of Assur-nizir-pal, three thousand years ago."

He said: "And in those few words he has told all our story!"

"Even so, Ricori. It is all there--the dolls--the unguent--the
torture--death--and the cleansing flame."

He mused: "It is strange, that. Three thousand years ago--and even
then they knew the evil and its remedy...'effigies similar to my
form...who have taken away my breath...an ointment of harmful
herbs...to my death they have led me...O God of Fire-destroy
them!' It is all our story, Dr. Lowell."

I said: "The death-dolls are far, far older than Ur of the
Chaldees. Older than history. I have followed their trail down the
ages since the night Braile was killed. And it is a long, long trail,
Ricori. They have been found buried deep in the hearths of the Cro-
Magnons, hearths whose fires died twenty thousand years ago. And they
have been found under still colder hearths of still more ancient
peoples. Dolls of flint, dolls of stone, dolls carved from the
mammoth's tusks, from the bones of the cave bear, from the saber-
toothed tiger's fangs. They had the dark wisdom even then, Ricori."

He nodded: "Once I had a man about me whom I liked well. A
Transylvanian. One day I asked him why he had come to America. He told
me a strange tale. He said that there had been a girl in his village
whose mother, so it was whispered, knew things no Christian should
know. He put it thus, cautiously, crossing himself. The girl was
comely, desirable--yet he could not love her. She, it seemed, loved
him--or perhaps it was his indifference that drew her. One afternoon,
coming home from the hunt, he passed her hut. She called to him. He
was thirsty, and drank the wine she offered him. It was good wine. It
made him gay--but it did not make him love her.

"Nevertheless, he went with her into the hut, and drank more wine.
Laughing, he let her cut hair from his head, pare his finger-nails,
take drops of blood from his wrist, and spittle from his mouth.
Laughing, he left her, and went home, and slept. When he awakened, it
was early evening, and all that he remembered was that he had drunk
wine with the girl, but that was all.

"Something told him to go to church. He went to church. And as he
knelt, praying, suddenly he did remember more--remembered that the
girl had taken his hair, his nail parings, his spittle and his blood.
And he felt a great necessity to go to this girl and to see what she
was doing with his hair, his nail parings, his spittle, his blood. It
was as though he said, the Saint before whom he knelt was commanding
him to do this.

"So he stole to the hut of the girl, slipping through the wood,
creeping up to her window. He looked in. She sat at the hearth,
kneading dough as though for bread. He was ashamed that he had crept
so with such thoughts--but then he saw that into the dough she was
dropping the hair she had cut from him, the nail parings, the blood,
the spittle. She was kneading them within the dough. Then, as he
watched, he saw her take the dough and model it into the shape of a
little man. And she sprinkled water upon its head, baptizing it in his
name with strange words he could not understand.

"He was frightened, this man. But also he was greatly enraged.
Also he had courage. He watched until she had finished. He saw her
wrap the doll in her apron, and come to the door. She went out of the
door, and away. He followed her--he had been a woodsman and knew how
to go softly, and she did not know he was following her. She came to a
crossroads. There was a new moon shining, and some prayer she made to
this new moon. Then she dug a hole, and placed the doll of dough in
that hole. And then she defiled it. After this she said:

"'Zaru (it was this man's name)! Zaru! Zaru! I love you. When this
image is rotted away you must run after me as the dog after the bitch.
You are mine, Zaru, soul and body. As the image rots, you become mine.
When the image is rotted, you are all mine. Forever and forever and
forever!'

"She covered the image with earth. He leaped upon her, and
strangled her. He would have dug up the image, but he heard voices and
was more afraid and ran. He did not go back to the village. He made
his way to America.

"He told me that when he was out a day on that journey, he felt
hands clutching at his loins--dragging him to the rail, to the sea.
Back to the village, to the girl. By that, he knew he had not killed
her. He fought the hands. Night after night he fought them. He dared
not sleep, for when he slept he dreamed he was there at the cross-
roads, the girl beside him--and three times he awakened just in time
to check himself from throwing himself into the sea.

"Then the strength of the hands began to weaken. And at last, but
not for many months, he felt them no more. But still he went, always
afraid, until word came to him from the village. He had been right--he
had not killed her. But later someone else did. That girl had what you
have named the dark wisdom. Si! Perhaps it turned against her at the
end--as in the end it turned against the witch we knew."

I said: "It is curious that you should say that, Ricori...
strange that you should speak of the dark wisdom turning against the
one who commands it...but of that I will speak later. Love and hate
and power--three lusts--always these seem to have been the three legs
of the tripod on which burns the dark flame; the supports of the stage
from which the death-dolls leap...

"Do you know who is the first recorded Maker of Dolls? No? Well,
he was a God, Ricori. His name was Khnum. He was a God long and long
before Yawvah of the Jews, who was also a maker of dolls, you will
recall, shaping two of them in the Garden of Eden; animating them; but
giving them only two inalienable rights--first, the right to suffer;
second, the right to die. Khnum was a far more merciful God. He did
not deny the right to die--but he did not think the dolls should
suffer; he liked to see them enjoy themselves in their brief breathing
space. Khnum was so old that he had ruled in Egypt ages before the
Pyramids or the Sphinx were thought of. He had a brother God whose
name was Kepher, and who had the head of a Beetle. It was Kepher who
sent a thought rippling like a little wind over the surface of Chaos.
That, thought fertilized Chaos, and from it the world was born...

"Only a ripple over the surface, Ricori! If it had pierced the
skin of Chaos...or thrust even deeper...into its heart...what
might not mankind now be? Nevertheless, rippling, the thought achieved
the superficiality that is man. The work of Khnum thereafter was to
reach into the wombs of women and shape the body of the child who lay
within. They called him the Potter-God. He it was who, at the command
of Amen, greatest of the younger Gods, shaped the body of the great
Queen Hat-shep-sut whom Amen begot, lying beside her mother in the
likeness of the Pharaoh, her husband. At least, so wrote the priests
of her day.

"But a thousand years before this there was a Prince whom Osiris
and Isis loved greatly--for his beauty, his courage and his strength.
Nowhere on earth, they thought, was there a woman fit for him. So they
called Khnum, the Potter-God, to make one. He came, with long hands
like those of...Madame Mandilip...like hers, each finger alive. He
shaped the clay into a woman so beautiful that even the Goddess Isis
felt a touch of envy. They were severely practical Gods, those of old
Egypt, so they threw the Prince into a sleep, placed the woman beside
him, and compared--the word in the ancient papyrus is 'fitted'--them.
Alas! She was not harmonious. She was too small. So Khnum made another
doll. But this was too large. And not until six were shaped and
destroyed was true harmony attained, the Gods satisfied, the fortunate
Prince given his perfect wife--who had been a doll.

"Ages after, in the time of Rameses III, it happened that there
was a man who sought for and who found this secret of Khnum, the
Potter-God. He had spent his whole life in seeking it. He was old and
bent and withered; but the desire for women was still strong within
him. All that he knew to do with that secret of Khnum was to satisfy
that desire. But he felt the necessity of a model. Who were the
fairest of women whom he could use as models? The wives of the
Pharaoh, of course. So this man made certain dolls in the shape and
semblance of those who accompanied the Pharaoh when he visited his
wives. Also, he made a doll in the likeness of the Pharaoh himself;
and into this he entered, animating it. His dolls then carried him
into the royal harem, past the guards, who believed even as did the
wives of Pharaoh, that he was the true Pharaoh. And entertained him
accordingly.

"But, as he was leaving, the true Pharaoh entered. That must have
been quite a situation, Ricori--suddenly, miraculously, in his harem,
the Pharaoh doubled! But Khnum, seeing what had happened, reached down
from Heaven and touched the dolls, withdrawing their life. And they
dropped to the floor, and were seen to be only dolls.

"While where one Pharaoh had stood lay another doll and crouched
beside it a shivering and wrinkled old man!

"You can find the story, and a fairly detailed account of the
trial that followed, in a papyrus of the time; now, I think, in the
Turin Museum. Also a catalogue of the tortures the magician underwent
before he was burned. Now, there is no manner of doubt that there were
such accusations, nor that there was such a trial; the papyrus is
authentic. But what, actually, was at the back of it? Something
happened--but what was it? Is the story only another record of
superstition--or does it deal with the fruit of the dark wisdom?"

Ricori said: "You, yourself, watched that dark wisdom fruit. Are
you still unconvinced of its reality?"

I did not answer; I continued: "The knotted cord--the Witch's
Ladder. That, too, is most ancient. The oldest document of Frankish
legislation, the Salic Law, reduced to written form about fifteen
hundred years ago, provided the severest penalties for those who tied
what it named the Witch's Knot--"

"La Ghana della strega," he said. "Well, do we know that cursed
thing in my land--and to our black sorrow!"

I took startled note of his pallid face, his twitching fingers; I
said, hastily: "But of course, Ricori, you realize that all I have
been quoting is legend? Folklore. With no proven basis of scientific
fact."

He thrust his chair back, violently, arose, stared at me,
incredulously. He spoke, with effort: "You still hold that the devil-
work we witnessed can be explained in terms of the science you know?"

I stirred, uncomfortably: "I did not say that, Ricori. I do say
that Madame Mandilip was as extraordinary a hypnotist as she was a
murderess--a mistress of illusion--"

He interrupted me, hands clenching the table's edge: "You think
her dolls were illusions?"

I answered, obliquely: "You know how real was that illusion of a
beautiful body. Yet we saw it dissolve in the true reality of the
flames. It had seemed as veritable as the dolls, Ricori--"

Again he interrupted me: "The stab in my heart...the doll that
killed Gilmore...the doll that murdered Braile...the blessed doll
that slew the witch! You call them illusions?"

I answered, a little sullenly, the old incredulity suddenly strong
within me: "It is entirely possible that, obeying a post-hypnotic
command of the doll-maker, you, yourself, thrust the dagger-pin into
your own heart! It is possible that obeying a similar command, given
when and where and how I do not know, Peters' sister, herself, killed
her husband. The chandelier fell on Braile when I was, admittedly,
under the influence of those same post-hypnotic influences--and it is
possible that it was a sliver of glass that cut his carotid. As for
the doll-maker's own death, apparently at the hands of the Walters
doll, well, it is also possible that the abnormal mind of Madame
Mandilip was, at times, the victim of the same illusions she induced
in the minds of others. The doll-maker was a mad genius, governed by a
morbid compulsion to surround herself with the effigies of those she
had killed by the unguent. Marguerite de Valois, Queen of Navarre,
carried constantly with her the embalmed hearts of a dozen or more
lovers who had died for her. She had not slain those men--but she knew
she had been the cause of their deaths as surely as though she had
strangled them with her own hands. The psychological principle
involved in Queen Marguerite's collection of hearts and Madame
Mandilip's collection of dolls is one and the same."

He had not sat down; still in that strained voice he repeated: "I
asked you if you called the killing of the witch an illusion."

I said: "You make it very uncomfortable for me, Ricori--staring at
me like that...and I am answering your question. I repeat it is
possible that in her own mind she was at times the victim of the same
illusions she induced in the minds of others. That at times she,
herself, thought the dolls were alive. That in this strange mind was
conceived a hatred for the doll of Walters. And, at the last, under
the irritation of our attack, this belief reacted upon her. That
thought was in my mind when, a while ago, I said it was curious that
you should speak of the dark wisdom turning against those who
possessed it. She tormented the doll; she expected the doll to avenge
itself if it had the opportunity. So strong was this belief, or
expectation, that when the favorable moment arrived, she dramatized
it. Her thought became action! The doll-maker, like you, may well have
plunged the dagger-pin into her own throat--"

"You fool!"

The words came from Ricori's mouth--and yet it was so like Madame
Mandilip speaking in her haunted room and speaking through the dead
lips of Laschna that I dropped back into my chair, shuddering.

Ricori was leaning over the table. His black eyes were blank,
expressionless. I cried out, sharply, a panic shaking me: "Ricori--
wake--"

The dreadful blankness in his eyes flicked away; their gaze
sharpened, was intent upon me. He said, again in his own voice:

"I am awake, I am so awake--that I will listen to you no more!
Instead--listen, you to me, Dr. Lowell. I say to you--to hell with
your science! I tell you this--that beyond the curtain of the material
at which your vision halts, there are forces and energies that hate
us, yet which God in his inscrutable wisdom permits to be. I tell you
that these powers can reach through the veil of matter and become
manifest in creatures like the doll-maker. It is so! Witches and
sorcerers hand in hand with evil! It is so! And there are powers
friendly to us which make themselves manifest in their chosen ones.

"I say to you--Madame Mandilip was an accursed witch! An
instrument of the evil powers! Whore of Satan! She burned as a witch
should burn in hell--forever! I say to you that the little nurse was
an instrument of the good powers. And she is happy today in Paradise--
as she shall be forever!"

He was silent, trembling with his own fervor. He touched my
shoulder:

"Tell me, Dr. Lowell--tell me as truthfully as though you stood
before the seat of God, believing in Him as I believe--do those
scientific explanations of yours truly satisfy you?"

I answered, very quietly:

"No, Ricori."

Nor do they.



THE END



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