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HENRY TREAT SPERRY

CITY OF DREADFUL NIGHT

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A SPINE-TINGLING NOVELETTE OF A WALLED CITY,
WHERE TERROR DWELT—AND MEN WENT MAD


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First published in Terror Tales, May 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2018
Version Date: 2018-07-13
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Terror Tales, May 1936, with "City of Dreadful Night"


To the walled city, where weird beliefs from a dark and terror-ridden past had returned to make ravening beasts of once normal men, came John Travers, seeking the lovely girl he hoped to marry... But he was only in time to sink with her into the ghastly maelstrom that raging hatred and the unleashed forces of hell had evoked for the destruction of her and all her loved ones!



TABLE OF CONTENTS



CHAPTER I. — BEASTS UNLEASHED

NEVER before on my trips to Spaulding had I seen the great gates of the plant closed. However, I thought nothing about it except to note what huge wrought-iron affairs they were while I honked for them to open. And then, when they swung back part way, and a score of so of factory-workers came rushing out to surround the car and wave pistols in my face, it was too late for suspicion or alarm to do me any good.

"What the devil is the idea of this?" I said to a burly fellow who had jumped on the running-board and grabbed the steering wheel.

"Shut up and drive in," he said. "You're in a tough spot, brother, so don't try anything funny. Drive inside the gates and stop. Then I'll tell you what to do next."

There was nothing to do but obey him. The gates swung further open and I drove in, came to a stop.

The men gathered in a silent, glowering circle about the car, watching me with suspicious, sullen eyes as I climbed out.

"Well, now what?" I asked the big fellow.

He was already slipping behind the wheel of my car. He turned and glared at me in silence for a moment. Then he said: "I know who you are—you're John Travers. You're here to see Dorothy Spaulding. Well, go on up and see her—you know how to get to the big house, don't you?"

"Sure," I said, "but what about my car? What in hell's going on here, anyway?"

"Never mind—you'll find out soon enough," he said. "And about the car—well, maybe where you're goin' you won't need a car, mister..." He leered at me as though in appreciation of a choice witticism, and shot the car forward through the crowd of his fellow-workers. Then he turned a corner into a narrow little side street and disappeared.

I looked around the glowering circle of the other men, but it was plain from the stolid, stubborn expressions on their heavy Polish and Czech faces that I would get no information out of them. They offered no resistance, however, as I elbowed my way through them and started walking up the main street toward the Spaulding residence.


SPAULDING was designed and built by Richard Spencer Spaulding in the middle fifties just in time to be finished and operating at capacity when the Civil War broke out. Government contracts further enriched the already wealthy Spaulding family, and for several decades they ruled the state and even exercised considerable influence in Washington. There had always been a Spaulding in the legislature, after the close of the Civil War, and up until the beginning of the World War, and Grantland Spaulding, Dorothy's father, had been Governor for a term.

Perhaps it was only natural that the latter-day generations of the Spauldings had been imperious, self-willed, intolerant, ruling their little walled city like mediaeval despots, and inclined to look upon the people in their employ as so many chattels—as much their property as the great powder works, itself.

So it was that I wasn't so much surprised as alarmed at the situation I had found myself confronted with at the gates of Spaulding. The employees of the Spaulding Powder Works had at last rebelled against the insufferable tyranny of their over- lords—that much was clear. They were on strike, and the seriousness of the situation became more apparent as I walked hurriedly through the town on my way to the "big house," as the workers traditionally called the Spaulding residence.

The workers were a strange people—I knew that from former contacts with them. Richard Spaulding had gone to Europe and contracted with a whole village to come to work for the factory in America, and the present-day workers were, for the most part, descendants of that original group. They were like Orientals in a way—reserved and non-communicative with strangers; steeped in the dark age-old mysticism of the oppressed peoples of Central Europe. An outbreak of this sort was so foreign to their nature that I knew that it could have been caused only by some tremendous upheaval—some unendurable blow had been dealt them that had released the gigantic, repressed power of their ancient resentment...

I was nearing the outer fringe of small workers' cottages that encroached on the bounds of the Spauldings' park-like residential grounds when suddenly I heard a muffled scream. The door of one of the cottages burst open and a girl came running out, her dark hair flying in the speed of her headlong pace. She was closely followed by a gigantic evil-faced fellow whose great paw-like hands were outstretched toward the girl. I doubt that he would have caught her, however, had she not abruptly sighted me in her path and come to a stop, her dark, terror-widened eyes sweeping me from head to foot a second before her pursuer catapulted into her and grabbed her roughly by the shoulders. She screamed again, then, and I sprang forward. Before I reached the pair, the girl twisted agilely in her attacker's grip, and managed to slip away from him. He grabbed at the neck of her dress and ripped it half off her body just as she ducked out of reach—and I landed a solid blow on his rugged chin with all the force of my weight behind it. He went down without a sound, and lay there on the sidewalk like a felled bear.

Then I got the surprise of my life. The girl had whirled as the man went down and now, as I looked up at her, she was standing there silently watching me. At first I took no note of her expression, the perfect beauty of her face and body driving everything else out of my mind. A breath caught in my throat at the sight of the white roundness of her, revealed through the ragged remnants of blouse and chemise that still clung to her nearly half-nude body. Then my gaze travelled upward to the luminous darkness of her eyes under their fine, straight brows —and I gasped again! The girl was glaring at me with an expression that seemed part terror and part rage—and some other underlying emotion that I could not put a name to, but that somehow filled me with a feeling of eerie, vague apprehension.

I don't know how long we stood there staring at each other. I was hazily aware of doors opening up and down the street, of dark Slavic eyes peering out at us—but no one ventured out of doors. No one else at all was on the street but ourselves. Finally the fire died out of the girl's eyes. For the first time she seemed to become conscious of her déshabillé, for she raised her arms, crossing them over her breasts, but her eyes mirrored no self-consciousness as they dulled with some unspoken grief and she said, "Go away, please—quickly..."

"But see here," I said. "I'd like to know what all this is about, if you don't mind. I'm sorry, if I shouldn't have hit this fellow, here, but—"

"Never mind," she interrupted. "You would not understand— and if I tried to tell you I would be dead before morning... Please go away—"


IT was odd—the feeling I got walking up that deserted street toward the Spaulding mansion. The girl's strange words lingered in my mind "—I would be dead before morning..." What was it that could be threatening her? What was the source of the fears that were rasping my nerves, now—that had turned this formerly cheerful and thriving little industrial town into something like a many-celled morgue. It wasn't only that the workers were on strike—it was something deeper than that. I had seen it mirrored in the dark eyes of the girl who had resented being rescued. I saw it now in other eyes, peering at me from beneath drawn blinds and curtains as I walked onward...

My foot-falls echoed hollowly on the sidewalk, thrown back and magnified, it seemed, by the walls of the houses. But then I noticed a curious thing: the echoes were in a cadence different from my own pace—and suddenly I came to a stop, listening. That muted, shuffling _tramp, tramp, tramp_, that I had thought was only the echo of my own walking, kept on. And yet not a soul was in sight on the streets! It was weird—uncanny. It was as though an army of the unseen dead was marching along in the street beside me with a sound that came from all directions at once, so that no man could say on what part of the earth those feet were falling...

I went on, after a minute or so. Some unreasoning instinct in my mind tried to shut out the sound of that mysterious trampling, but it accompanied me all the way to the great front door of the Spaulding home. There it suddenly stopped—as though an invisible escort had followed me to my destination and then disbanded. I shook myself, trying to get rid of the sensation of icy needles prickling up and down my spine. I pushed a button and heard the far, muted chiming of the doorbell. In a few moments Grindle, the portly slab-jowled Spaulding butler, opened the door and bowed me into the house.

The entire family was in the living room when I entered, all standing and looking at me with strangely expectant expressions on their faces, except old Hattie Spencer Spaulding, the matriarch of the family and oddly enough, secretary-treasurer of the Spaulding Powder Works. She was sitting in her accustomed place by the corner of the fireplace, looking at me over the top of her glasses composedly. No one greeted me excepting Dorothy. She rushed into my arms, sobbing.

"Oh, thank God you've come, John," she moaned. "Thank God!"

"But look here," broke in Dr. Raoul Spaulding, "How the devil did you get in? Did you bring help, or—"

"Don't be an ass!" snarled Theodore, his cadaverous, sickly- looking brother. "What kind of help could _he _bring? He came alone, of course. The gallant knight charging the battlements to rescue his fair lady single-handed."

Hartley Spaulding, father of Raoul and Theodore, and Dorothy's foster-father, came forward, then, and gravely shook hands with me.

"I'm glad you've come, John," he said, "although before this trouble is over you may wish you had remained away. Perhaps you can help us get word outside—a message to the Governor or —"

"Is it really as bad as that?" I asked.

He nodded somberly. "We have yet to learn just what we are up against," he said, "but apparently the men have gone mad. They have turned into beasts and monsters—the whole village. I imagine an outside agitator has been among them, stirring them to revolt against their benefactors—"

"What rot!" broke in Theodore savagely. "As if they needed to be stirred up by any one. Why, they've hated us for generations, and you know it. It's just that they've gotten to the point where they won't stand your grinding them into the dirt any longer, and have decided that they'd rather all be shot down by the State Militia than go on providing us with all the luxuries of life when they starve on crusts and their babies die of rickets and malnutrition."

Suddenly there was a cackle of laughter from the fireplace, and everyone fell silent. It was old Hattie, to whom everyone in that extraordinary family deferred with a completeness that was utterly foreign to their natures. "Hartley is right, John," she said in her cracked high voice. "Partly right, anyway. It's an agitator that's been stirring them up—but not an outside one. A warlock had risen among them!"

"A—a what?" I said.

Dorothy pulled on my arm and led me over to a divan where she forced me to sit down beside her. "Don't pay any attention to Grandma, John," she whispered. "You know how oddly superstitious she is. When she was a little girl she absorbed all the workers' beliefs from that old Polish nursemaid of hers, and she still —"


BUT old Hattie was going on. "Yes, a warlock! I can read the signs. We could give them the whole place, now, and it wouldn't satisfy them. They must drink our blood and offer our bodies to their wizard. Already they have taken Grantland"—here a sudden sob shook her old voice—"and tonight they will offer his body to—"

"Oh, nonsense, Grandma!" broke in Dr. Raoul Spaulding. "You know perfectly well that Grandpa's body is safe in my laboratory!"

"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "Do you mean to say that Mr. Spaulding died?"

"Murdered! He was murdered!" shrieked Theodore. "Just as they'll murder all of us before they're through—wait and see!"

"Now, Ted," interrupted Raoul in a judicious tone, "we can't be sure of that. Until I find out the cause of his death we can't draw any such conclusions."

"Oh you and your damned science!" shouted Theodore. "Wasn't Mike Pulaski in his office five minutes before he died? And isn't Mike the leader of that bunch of vicious, murderous morons? Of course you can't find out how he did it—because he's a damn-sight better murderer than you are a physician!"

"Maybe Ted is right," contributed old Hattie. "Maybe Mike is their warlock—and a warlock can kill without leaving a sign... except..."

Hartley Spaulding smiled and winked faintly at me. "Yes, Mother," he said, "except the mandrake you are always talking about. And there was no mandrake—"

Just then a mournful howling broke out from above, chilling, terrifying, sounding in the ears of that taut-nerved group in the room like the voice of doom. It rose and fell, rose again— and then Raoul broke the horror-fraught tension with a savage curse.

"The murdering brutes have broken in!" he shouted and sprinted toward the bottom of the stairs. "I left Caesar on guard in front of the laboratory door," he flung over his shoulders as he started upward, two steps at a time.

Hartley, Theodore and I rushed after him, leaving Dorothy and old Hattie alone in the living room. In a matter of seconds we reached the stair-head of the second floor, turned off into the corridor, and saw the figure of Caesar, the Spaulding's huge bloodhound, standing in front of a closed door, his muzzle raised in a long-drawn, howl. Raoul kicked the dog aside and tried to open the door. It resisted his efforts, and with a curse he reached into his trousers' pocket. He cursed again. "Damn it! My keys are gone!" he rasped, and turned a savage, strangely accusing glare on Theodore.

Theodore returned the glare for a moment, then gave a short, scornful laugh. "What in hell's the matter with you?" he asked. "Do you think I stole your damned keys?"

"For Heaven's sake, boys," broke in Hartley, "this is no time to quarrel! If you haven't the keys we must break in the door. Here, lend a hand, John," he went on, shouldering his glowering sons aside, and together we crashed against the door with our shoulders. It gave way after the third thrust, and we stumbled into a white-tiled, sky-lighted laboratory, containing a host of shining retorts, nickeled appliances and, in its center, an operating table.

"My God!" croaked Raoul, "they got him!" He was pointing with a trembling finger at the operating table. It was empty save for a small, elongated object lying in the center of it. Together Hartley and I went forward and paused beside the operating table, looking down at the object. It was a long, root-like thing that bore a sort of hideous resemblance to a tiny, shriveled human body. With hesitant, shaking fingers Hartley picked it up and held it out before him as he turned a pair of haunted eyes upon me. For a moment his lips worked without a sound coming from them. Then, in a husky voice he muttered:

"The sign of a warlock... the mandrake!"


CHAPTER II. — CITY OF MIDNIGHT FEAR

DINNER, that night, was a somber, dispiriting affair. We sat and pecked at the courses as Grindle brought them in, and then removed them, scarcely touched. In the gloomy silence I looked about the table, covertly watching the play of expression on the faces of this strange family. Hartley sat at the head of the table, grey, austere, the picture of an aging aristocrat. He had largely regained his composure, and save for a look of profound worry that lingered deep in his eyes, he seemed his usual, imperturbable self. I knew, however, what lay behind that imperturbability. His was the complete, self-assured calm of the absolute tyrant. I knew that there was a great deal of justice in the accusations Theodore had hurled at him earlier in the day. He ruled his little domain with an iron hand.

However, as I watched Ted nervously toying with his food, I knew that his seeming championship of the workers' cause was false and hollow. It merely gave him an avenue through which he could vent his hatred of his family, himself, and apparently everything else in the world. I felt that the time was not far off when Ted would be confined to a hospital for psychopathics.

Raoul was more like his father, but he had never shown the least interest in the powder works, and had insisted on an education in medicine. After his graduation he had built his laboratory next to his living quarters and spent most of his time there, engaged in experiments that he never talked about, and concerning which the family evinced not the slightest interest.

Old Hattie was a strange one, too. She was the only one at the table who was eating anything—and yet she had been a widow for less than eight hours. But I knew that she and old Grantland, her husband had hated each other for years, and had never agreed on anything save the manner in which the business of the Spaulding Powder Works was conducted. Capable and energetic, in spite of her great age, she and Grantland had ruled the destinies of the plant for decades, using Hartley, who was nominal president, as an executive cat's-paw to put their wishes into effect.

Dorothy, alone, possessed lovable qualities. She had soft brown hair, a perfect oval of a face and matchless white skin and great blue eyes. She was gentle and quiet, in marked contrast to the rest of the family. But of course, it was not really her family at all. Hartley's wife, starved for love, in desperation had adopted the first appealing baby she could find in the state foundling asylum, when her two sons gave early evidence that they were going to turn out to be prototypes of their unemotional, tyrannical father. I had met and fallen in love with her at the co-educational college we had both attended, and I had hoped, on this visit, to take her away from Spaulding as my wife.

As I looked at her now, I saw the terror that hung over us like a pall flaming deep in her lovely eyes. She caught my gaze and made a pathetic attempt at a smile that twisted my heart and made me resolve to get her away from this accursed place in spite of all the forces of hell. I was confident that there must be some means of escape open, and I was resolved to find it that very night. Once out, we could notify the Governor and have him send troops to the rescue of the rest of the family.

Then, as we sat there in silence, a muted, ominous sound came to our ears. At first it was like the distant murmur of the sea, a vague, indefinable beat. Then, as it grew steadily louder, I recognized it. It was the sound made by many marching feet —the sound I had heard that afternoon and which had seemed to accompany me from the gates of Spaulding all the way to the house.

Ted's knife clattered to his plate. A grin of triumph lighted his face as he exclaimed: "The militia! Someone at Lonsdale has started an investigation because no trucks have been coming through—or maybe because the telephone operators have reported our exchange dead—and they've found out what's wrong—"

"I think not," I interrupted. "I heard that sound this afternoon. I heard the feet of a great many people marching, but I saw no one and I couldn't discover what direction the sound came from."

Dorothy's eyes grew round with terror as she gazed at me. "Oh, John," she whispered shakily, "how odd... What do you suppose it is?"

I tried to smile at her reassuringly. "Well," I answered hesitantly, "I really don't know. But probably a group of men were marching some place in the town, and due to some phenomenon of acoustics..."

"Good lord!" snorted Ted. "We're going to have another scientist in the family!"

"Shut up!" rapped Raoul, and we fell silent again as the eerie sound swelled and grew louder until it seemed to come from all directions at once. Abruptly, then it ceased, and the ensuing silence was as weirdly oppressive, as inexplicably threatening as the sound had been.

We sat there, looking at each other for several minutes, trying to disguise the fear that gripped all of our hearts—and then the doorbell pealed with a suddenness that shocked our nerves like a charge of electricity.

We heard Grindle ponderously clumping to the front door, heard the sound of low voices, and then Grindle appeared in the entrance of the dining room. "A Mr. Pulaski and several other men —some of the workers, sir," he announced. "They would like to talk to you."

"Ah, indeed," said Hartley quietly. "It's about time they came to their senses... Tell Pulaski I'll see him in the library, Grindle —and tell him to keep the rest of his rabble outside or I'll set Caesar on them."

"Very good, sir," said Grindle, and bowed himself out.


OLD HATTIE insisted on accompanying her son to his interview with the leader of the workers. While they were gone the rest of us, with the exception of Dorothy who, complaining of a headache went upstairs to lie down for a few minutes, went into the living room. I seized the opportunity to ask Raoul a few questions that had been bothering me.

"I heard you say you were unable to find any cause for Mr. Spaulding's death, this afternoon," I said as we lit cigars and Raoul leaned against a corner of the mantel. "Would you mind telling me just what was the condition of the body?"

"Not at all," Raoul answered. "As far as I could tell the old man died from strangulation."

"Oh, hell!" snarled Ted. "You said, yourself, there were no bruises or any other signs of constriction on his throat."

"This is true, my amiable brother," returned Raoul quietly, "but there are several methods of inducing strangulation—or its physiological equivalent."

"For instance?" I prompted.

"Well—any of the alkaloid poisons introduced into the stomach or bloodstream. They attack the hemoglobin, the oxygen in the red corpuscles, and the victim gives all the evidences of having choked to death. However, I made the usual tests and found no evidence that would indicate the presence of an alkaloid excepting the condition of the blood, itself."

"Is there any alkaloid that could kill in that manner without leaving some trace?" I asked.

"None," he said positively. "In fact there is no poison which does not leave conclusive and incontestable evidence of its presence—regardless of the claims of many writers of detective stories. The fumes of certain cyanides can kill in a similar manner, and the only evidence of their presence— the characteristic odor of peach pits—disappears a few hours after death, leaving only general evidence as to what has caused it. But I was in possession of Grandfather's body less than an hour after his death, and I can state definitely that cyanides were not used in any form."

"Well," I asked, "what is your theory?"

Raoul shrugged and shook his head. "I made every test I know of," he replied. "My medical education covers a wide enough field for me to be confident that I have overlooked nothing. I'll venture to say, without the least vanity in the world, that a picked group of the most celebrated specialists in the country would find the same thing I found—which, in a word, was... nothing!"

"Ah—but you forget Grandma's mandrake!" jibed Ted. "And the warlock."

Raoul looked at his brother expressionlessly for a moment or two. "Yes," he said, "a man of science would hardly take such things into consideration. But sometimes I wonder just how much of a scientist I am. After all, my dear brother, the forces of creation and death are still mysteries even to such keen, analytical fellows as yourself."

Ted's mouth opened in a guffaw of satiric mirth, but the laughter died on his lips as the sound of a door banging open and voices raised in angry argument reached our ears from the hall. All three of us sprang for the door. Old Hattie, Hartley, and a brawny Polish workman were standing in front of the open library door, all shouting at the same time, so that it was impossible to tell who was saying what.

We advanced toward the group. They saw us and fell silent for a moment. Then Hartley turned back to the Pole. "All right, Pulaski," he said. "You've presented your demands and have been refused. Go back and deliver my message to the ungrateful rabble you represent. They can go back to work at the same wages they received before—providing they produce the body of my father and the man who killed him. Now get out!"

Pulaski glared at him in silence for a moment. Then he turned his heavy head toward Hattie. "All right," he said, "I go—but first I tell you something else... and you, old one, vill know what I mean..."

He paused and straightened impressively, his black brows knitting together in a ferocious scowl. "The black one has come to us, old woman... Now ve let him loose—"

Old Hattie stifled a scream with hands that flew to her mouth as she tottered backward a step. The horror that flooded into her faded old eyes gave terrific importance to the man's strange words, and in spite of myself I felt the short hairs on my neck bristling with fear. Then the old matriarch straightened and pointed a trembling but accusing finger at Pulaski.

"You have already let him loose!" she shrilled. "Tonight you will give him the body of my husband. You are going to let him kill us all, in spite of what we do..."

Pulaski let an evil grin spread over his coarse features as he looked at the woman. "Ja..." he rumbled. "Maybe so. But ve chain him up again, if—"

With a shriek of hatred Ted hurled himself at the man. Raoul and I followed suit. It occurred to me that if we could hold the fellow as hostage we might make some sort of a compromise with his underlings. I grabbed for one of his trunk-like arms and attempted to twist it behind his back as, with his free fist, Pulaski sent Ted crashing to the floor from a blow between the eyes. Raoul went down a moment later from a vicious kick to the groin, and I found myself wrestling alone with the giant.

I landed a blow on his rock-like jaw which sent him staggering backward toward the door, but the unsure footing on the polished parquet floor was my undoing and I slipped and fell as he fumbled at the knob, flung the door open and then slammed it behind him with a resounding boom.

The three of us picked ourselves up and stood looking rather sheepishly at each other for a moment in silence. Then Old Hattie's cracked voice drew all eyes to her wasted, trembling figure.

"The black one," she murmured in a fearful whisper, "the warlock —he has really come..."

As though in response to her trembling, terror-stricken pronouncement, the sound of many heavy, shuffling feet arose about us, filling the echoing hallway with its ghostly, eerie sound, depressing us with the message of doom it seemed to convey before it gradually faded off into uneasy silence.


CHAPTER III. — TRACKLESS DEATH

ABOUT two o'clock we went upstairs to retire. Much to my relief, Old Hattie insisted on Dorothy's sleeping in her room with her. My room was directly across the hall from theirs, and I left my door open so that I would be certain to hear any untoward sounds. I had no desire to sleep, and certainly had no intention of closing my eyes that night. I kissed Dorothy good night and went into my room. I sat down in front of a window with my pipe and prepared to keep vigil.

I could hardly understand myself. Ordinarily a person without a great deal of imagination—and certainly free from attacks of "nervousness"—I found myself submerged beneath a weight of incomprehensible dread. In spite of myself, I realized, I was giving far more credence to old Hattie's facile and childish explanations of the late, strange happenings in Spaulding than a grown modern should give them. And yet, a ghastly feeling that I could not fail to recognize as anything but superstitious terror was gnawing at my nerves. I felt much as savages must feel in the presence of an eclipse of the sun, or some other great phenomenon that is completely foreign to their experience.

Furthermore, as I gazed out over the huddled, dark buildings of the strange little town of Spaulding, I was sickeningly certain that the end was not yet in sight. I felt an uncanny conviction that death brooded darkly all about us in the night—waiting the appointed moment to strike. And I knew that when it did strike we would be powerless to deter it in any way.

Suddenly I noticed that not all the buildings of the workers were dark. Far away, seemingly huddling directly in the shadow of the south wall of the town I saw a building, somewhat larger than the rest, whose windows showed the dim blur of lights. Somehow I sensed that something ineffably evil was taking place down there. Even at that distance I fancied I could feel emanations of hatred and death radiating out over the town toward the great house I sat in. With a shudder I recollected old Hattie's conviction that the body of her husband was this night to be used in some obscenely horrible rite. That building was in all likelihood the temple of the workers' dark deity. Even now they were probably assembled for the celebration of some hideous ceremony in propitiation of the god they had invoked to destroy their oppressors.

Then my attention was caught by a shadowy figure which walked slowly along the edge of the grounds the Spaulding home was situated in. I half rose from my chair with the idea of arousing the household, when the figure reached the east end of the grounds and was met by another dark shape which approached from the opposite direction. Then both figures swung about in a semi- military fashion and proceeded off in the directions they had come from. I realized that these were two of the guards who had been appointed to keep watch that no one escaped from the house, and sank back in my chair.

I wondered how long the workers hoped to keep us in a state of siege. They must realize that it was only a question of time —and a short time, at that—when the news of their coup would leak out. Perhaps they were depending on their supernatural servant to protect them from that, too. But I took some heart from the realization that it would hardly be possible for another day to pass without someone discovering the situation.

Sunk in my speculations and vague fears, I was startled nearly out of my chair by the sudden sound of a hiss at my door. I looked up to see the wrapper-clad form of old Hattie silhouetted against the dim night-light of the hall.

"I'm just going in to see how Hartley is!" she said in a hoarse whisper. "I'll be back right away."

"All right," I answered in a low tone, and she shuffled off down the hallway. I heard the sound of a door being softly opened and then closed. Then there was silence for a minute, while I gazed across the hall into Hattie's room and debated with myself whether or not I should go in and speak to Dorothy, whom, I thought, had probably awakened when Hattie got out of bed.

I decided to do so, for I doubted whether she had ever been asleep, anyway, when all the terror of the brooding night seemed suddenly to coalesce into a leaden weight of dread in my heart as a shrill, piercing scream of abandoned fear ripped the silence of the house to shreds.


IN A dozen strides I had reached the door from behind which the screams continued to come, and thrown it open. Moonlight through the window illuminated the figure of old Hattie kneeling at the side of a bed on which lay another form which she seemed to be clutching. Reaching out instinctively to the right, my hand found a light switch and I snapped it on. Then I saw the body of Hartley Spaulding in Hattie's arms, and noted the ghastly, fixed stare of the eyes, the protruding, swollen tongue and the engorged, purple face.

Raoul, finishing the donning of a lounging robe as he brushed by me, went quickly to the bedside. He bent over the body, and I turned quickly away in time to catch Dorothy before she, too, had gotten into the room.

"Father?" she asked as I held her so that she could not look into the room. I nodded gravely, and she slumped against me with a sob. I knew that Hartley Spaulding had never done anything for his foster daughter, since his wife's death, that Hattie had not forced him to do—much less given her the affection and considerate treatment such a girl deserved. But it was a commentary on her sweet and grateful nature that she loved him in spite of his chilly attitude toward her.

Theodore came down the hall as we stood there. He was fully dressed and his face, although perhaps a shade paler than usual, expressed nothing more than its usual assumption of calm cynicism. He paused and glanced into the room, then looked at me inquiringly. "The old man?" he asked callously.

Trying to keep the contempt out of my face I nodded shortly. At that moment Raoul straightened, turned about and came toward us. He paused at the doorway, his keen, intelligent face lined and drawn.

"Dead!" he said briefly. "Exactly as grandfather died." He turned his head so that he was looking directly at Ted and added, "Who'll be next?"

I left the two of them standing there and escorted Dorothy back to Hattie's room. It wasn't until later when I had reason to remember that question that I realized how strange was the manner in which it had been given.

I left Dorothy lying on the bed and returned to the hallway. "See here," I said to Raoul, "have you a revolver in the house?"

"Certainly," he replied promptly, "several of them. Do you want one?"

"No," I said, "I want you to get one and stand guard over Dorothy for a half-hour or so. Something is going on down near the south wall and I intend to investigate."

"Want me to go along?" asked Ted casually.

"No," I answered shortly. "I'll have to dodge the guards— and it'll be easier for one to get by than two."

"Always the lone wolf," he smirked.

I turned on my heel and walked away.

"If you're going to try to get beyond the walls you better be careful," Raoul called after me. "They'll shoot you on sight —and, anyway, you would have 150 miles of waterless desert to cross before you get to Lonsdale."

"I'm not going to try to get out," I said over my shoulder. "I'll be back in a half-hour or less... Watch Dorothy!"

"I will," he replied as I reached the stair head and started to descend.


I CREPT into the library and softly unlocked one of the windows. Then I waited until I saw the slouching figure of the guard pass by a break in the bushes at the east end of the grounds. As soon as he had disappeared I raised the window soundlessly, climbed through, and dropped noiselessly to the ground. I remembered the character of the grounds as I had seen them from my window, and I knew that an irregular string of lilac bushes extended from a corner of the house to the street. I crept through them, with pauses when the guards drew near from either side, until I reached their end, flush with sidewalk. Pausing again until the only two guards in sight had simultaneously turned their backs, I crept out, crossed the street and traversed the next block in a zig-zag fashion by dodging behind the huts which crowded it. After that I walked down alleys as much as I could, and clung to the shadows of the trees when I couldn't.

I was struck by the squalid condition of the hovels I passed, and I could not help but feel a sort of grudging sympathy for the poor devils who had to live in them, it was hardly to be wondered at that they had finally reached the point where they did not care whether they lived or died. But neither could I help feeling that these people represented something that was the quintessence of evil and remorseless cruelty. The very air of the night seemed charged with the miasma of their hatred, it was no longer hard to believe that they might, indeed, be able to command the very devils of hell after they had been driven beyond the limit of their enormous patience. Again the strange sense of foreshadowed doom crept upon my senses, and I came to a sudden halt, cursing myself if for having left Dorothy in the care of_ _a man who was almost certainly doomed, himself. But I knew that the only way I could successfully combat the thing that was so relentlessly destroying the Spaulding family was by discovering more about it. I could not fight it in the dark, and while I waited there in the house for it to strike I was completely at its mercy. So I went on, and in about ten minutes I came to the end of a blind street and was confronted with the long black shape of the building I sought.

As far as I could see, there were no guards on the outside, so I crept toward the nearest window until I was directly under it. I could hear the voices of those inside very plainly, for the building was only a light wooden structure which probably in more quiet times had been used for such social functions as the workers indulged in. Presently I raised myself until I could see into the room.

At one end was a rude platform on which stood the man called Mike Pulaski. He was alternately shouting and being shouted at by the mob, and it was several seconds before I could distinguish individual voices and make out the gist of what was being said.

Apparently everyone was excited to fever-pitch. Several of Mike's auditors were gathered about the foot of the platform, and occasionally one would wave his arms frantically in the air. Finally, Pulaski's bull voice drowned out the rest.

"Quiet!" he roared. "Quiet, everybody... Here he comes— now!"

He turned and pointed with his left arm over the heads of the people to the far side of the platform. Everybody fell silent immediately, and looking in the direction Pulaski was pointing I saw a huge bear-like figure barging through the crowd toward the platform. The figure moved slowly but steadily forward, not shouldering his way through the crowd, but driving straight ahead, bumping people out of the way as if unaware of their presence. When he was climbing up the steps onto the platform I recognized him. It was the big, brawny fellow I had slugged, thinking I was saving the girl he chased out of the house.

But a curious change had come over the man since last I had seen him. He seemed dazed, only half conscious. And his heavy, brutal features were twisted into an expression in which both pain and ferocity were mingled. There was something about the dull, smouldering light in his eyes that was indescribably weird and evil, so that just looking at him, I shuddered. The conviction swept over me that I was pitted against something which I could never understand or combat successfully. I was out of my depth, and I knew it.

For several moments there was silence. The bear-like man stood there beside Pulaski, looking with dull ferocity out over the heads of the crowd. Pulaski was watching the faces of his auditors, seeming to study them, his eyes ferocious, too, though not dull—they were blazing with some tremendous inner excitement. But his voice, when he spoke, was calm and deliberate.

"The old ones knew—" he said—"they had more sense than their children, yet. You t'ink—some of you—they were fools to believe in the black one. You vouldn't believe vhat the old ones knew—vhat they told you for many years —that he would come again..."

He paused as a fearful murmuring broke out in the crowd. Then he raised a hand to the gnarled giant's shoulder. "In the old time," he went on, "vhen our people vere ground in the dirt like now, the black one came and freed dem from the tyrants... Now he has come again—" the murmur rose to a many-throated yell —"and here is his warlock!" Pulaski finished—and pandemonium broke loose.

In the midst of it my eyes suddenly caught the figure of a dark-haired girl fighting her way up to the platform. She struggled through the last of the close-packed mob and clambered up beside the two figures on the stage. It was the girl the giant had been chasing that afternoon. Violently she thrust Pulaski aside and stood in front of the hulking brute, her attitude expressing defiant protectiveness. The crowd in astonishment fell silent, and her clear high voice came to my ears.

"Mike Pulaski lies!" she cried. "My brother is not a warlock. You all know him—he is Joe Benes. He is a good man—he would not hurt anybody. He—"


ALL the time she had been talking the man whom she called her brother stood rigidly immovable, his eyes still fixed on space; but his heavy hands slowly rising. Now, with the suddenness of a striking snake they clamped together about the throat of the girl in front of him, and her words were cut off. There was the sound of a faint gurgle, and the lithe body of the girl coiled and struggled, but those hands were like the senseless steel jaws of a machine. Then the girl's writhing ceased, and the hands fell apart as her body dropped lifelessly to the floor of the platform. During the entire scene there had not been a sign or movement of any kind from the crowd—but as the girl's body fell it seemed to me that everyone in the hall turned and gazed at me through the window at which I stood.

I do not remember it, but I suppose I must have made some involuntary exclamation of horror, as I saw Joe Benes coldly murdering his own sister. The next thing I knew I was surrounded by a milling, savage throng of burly men. I fought viciously, but of course, they were too much for me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw an arm swing upward and then descend. After that I knew nothing for a long time.

When I recovered consciousness I was lying in the deserted hall at the foot of the platform. My first thought, with the return of memory, was that Dorothy was in terrible danger. I made an attempt to get to my feet, and discovered that I was tightly bound, hand and foot. The abortive effort sent flashes of pain darting through my head, and I felt a warm seepage starting in a clotted gash in my scalp. I groaned and fell back, overwhelmed with the knowledge of my helplessness to aid the girl I loved. God only knew how long I had been lying there while those fiends probably were storming her home, dragging her out to become the victim of the unfeeling brute who could destroy his own sister...

But no—it would not be like that. Their warlock needed no aid from them. His was a black power which enabled him to pass through locked and guarded doors. He could murder without leaving a trace of his hands upon his victims. He could slay them while they were surrounded by the people who loved them—and escape undetected by any human eyes. Had he not entered Grantland Spaulding's office, unseen by a host of clerks, and throttled the old man as he sat at his desk? Had he not, later, passed through a door guarded by a fierce and courageous dog, and made off with the body, leaving the weird sign of his black master behind him? And had he not, this very evening, entered the Spaulding home and killed Hartley Spaulding while three of us waited with nerves attuned to the slightest sight or sound? Even if I were at liberty to pit my fullest strength against him, how could I hope to overcome such an adversary?

I groaned aloud, again—and my muscles grew taut with the sound of an answering groan that seemed to come from over my head. Looking up I saw the blacker bulk of the platform looming in the darkness. Protruding over the edge I saw a rounded shape that now moved a little. Suddenly I realized that it was a woman's head—the head of Joe Benes' sister whom I had thought dead. As I watched, the girl raised herself on her arms and moaned again, one hand going to her throat. I called to her and she stiffened, seeming to peer down in an attempt to make out my figure in the black shadow of the platform.

"I am the one who tried to save you from your brother," I said. "They have bound me up—left me here. Will you untie me —?"

She did not reply, but after a moment her head withdrew from the edge of the platform, and I could hear her climbing with painful slowness to her feet. In a few moments she had reached my side and was fumbling with the knots at my wrist. She soon had them loose enough for me to slip out of, and a few seconds later I had unbound my ankles.

I stood up, dizzily, the pain in my head making me a little sick. The girl leaned against the platform, and I could see her in the murky dusk, massaging her throat with one hand.

"What are you going to do?" I said. "If they catch you again they will kill you... You had better hide, for a time. I'm going to try to get help for all of us—"

"No, no—" she interrupted. "It doesn't matter about me. Only get Joe away from them. They have made him crazy. That Mike Pulaski—"

I argued with her, tried to get her to accompany me, since she refused to hide or try to protect herself in any way; but she was only interested in the welfare of her brother. Finally, desperate with fear of what might be happening to Dorothy, I reluctantly left her there in the gloomy hall, still rubbing her bruised throat and sobbing softly.


CHAPTER IV. — SLAVES OF THE WARLOCK

THE journey back through the back-yards and alleys of the little town of Spaulding will live in my memory as a nightmare of black terror. I wanted to dash wildly through the streets as fast as my quaking legs would carry me—but I knew that I dared not. If I was ever to be of aid to Dorothy I must not be caught —and now, instead of the houses seeming ominously deserted as when I crept among them before, they appeared to be teeming with watchful, threatening life, for all that they were as dark as ever. There was a brooding, waiting quiet about them that chilled my blood in my veins, and made me eerily certain that my every move was being witnessed by scores of veiled, mocking eyes.

Nevertheless, I made it back to the grounds of the Spaulding home, got past the guards, and crept through the library window without being molested. Indeed, I had the feeling that I would not have been challenged even if I had walked boldly up and entered at the front door. I sensed that I was walking into a trap that had been prepared for me, and that it was futile to hope that I could make the slightest move without my enemies being fully aware of it.

In spite of my impatience to rush to Dorothy's side, I stood perfectly still in the library for several minutes, listening until my ears ached for some sound that might tell me what the situation was in that terror-haunted house. But I heard no sound —until I heard the scream.

It came from directly over my head where old Hattie's room was located. Shrill and high it knifed the crawling blackness of the night like a shaft of lightning, thrusting into my heart with paralyzing force—and I knew with grim certainty that it was Dorothy who gave it voice... Again the warlock had struck!

After a moment of stunned motionlessness, I drove my muscles to action. In a wild dash I hurtled through the door of the library and out into the hallway—and came to an abrupt, sliding stop. Lying at the foot of the stairs lay a grotesquely rigid form, its head twisted about so that its bulging eyes seemed staring directly at me. The gaping mouth was held open by a protruding, swollen tongue. It was several seconds before I recognized the engorged, purple face of Grindle, the butler.

With a shudder I fell past that still, rigid form and drove my failing legs up the stairs. It seemed to me that I would never reach the top—and that by the time I did so I would be too exhausted to go any further. My head thumped and jarred with every step I took and terrible nausea swelled in the back of my throat. But at last I reached the stair head—and again came to a sickened, shocked halt. Lying in the middle of the upper hallway was another rigid, gaping-mouthed, bulging-eyed form—Ted Spaulding.

But in a second I had taken a new grip on myself and was stealing on noiseless feet down the hallway, past Ted's horribly still body, toward the open light-filled doorway of old Hattie's room. And now there reached my ears the subdued sounds of scuffling feet coming from that room, and I quickened my pace. The scream I had heard in the library had not been repeated—and terror was in my heart that she who had voiced it was no longer able to make any sounds whatever. But the carpet-muted sound of those scuffling feet raised the wild hope that Dorothy was not yet beyond help.

I sped down the hallway and swung through the door of Hattie's room—and a roar of instant, ungovernable rage broke from my lips.

On the floor of the room lay the sprawled body of old Hattie —dead, as her father, husband and sons were dead. Her bulging eyes, her protruding, swollen tongue and discolored face gave ample evidence that she had died through the same satanic agency that had killed them. But the details of her appearance my eyes absorbed in a flash—and flickered up to the two figures that had been struggling at the far side of the room, and that now, at the sound of my shout, had frozen into motionlessness.

One of those figures was the nude form of my beloved. Her hair, disheveled and falling down in a dark cascade between her white breasts was her only covering. Her nightgown lay in tattered shreds upon the floor, and the fury of a goaded tiger welled in my throat as I noted the dark marks of bruises on the gleaming alabaster of her body.

Standing with one arm entwined about her waist, his other hand clamped over her mouth, his eyes blazing at me with the fires of madness—was Raoul Spaulding.


I KNOW not from what source I drew the strength that saw me through the next five minutes—unless it was from the rage that seethed in me like molten metal. Raoul Spaulding fought like the demon he was, but he was no match for me. He knocked me down a half dozen times, but I seemed to grow stronger the nearer he came to victory, and at length I had him down, his shoulders pinned to the floor by my knees, my fingers twining about his throat, pressing the foul life from his flaccid body.

But I released my grip in time. I did not want to kill him yet. There were some questions that must be answered before he reaped the full reward of his ghastly sins. I left him senseless on the floor, picked up the silken rags of Dorothy's nightgown, and bound him hand-and-foot.

Dorothy had fainted at the beginning of the fight and lay now, still unconscious, upon the floor. Tenderly I picked her warm, lovely body up in my arms and carried it to the bed. Placing my hand under the snowy mound of her left breast I felt the strong, surging beat of her heart, and knew that she would recover within a very short time. Then I threw a silk coverlet over her lovely form and turned back to Raoul, whose smouldering eyes were fixed upon me with the intensity of murderous hatred.

It was some time before I was able to force the whole ghastly story from his lips—and for a time I was glad that Dorothy was unconscious and unable to witness the means I was forced to use upon him in order to extract his confession.

It was a story of infinitely careful, patient plotting that had failed only because he had accepted Pulaski's assertion that I was helpless to interfere and would soon be done away with permanently. The two of them—Pulaski and Raoul—had planned it together. Raoul had perfected a means of killing off his family that would appear to the workers as being supernatural. Pulaski's part was to persuade the workers that a warlock had arisen among them to right their wrongs—and to convince them that the killings were justified as being for their own good and in accordance with the wishes of the old gods of their people.

The workers, once they accepted this proposal, would become, even in their own estimation, guilty of the deaths in the Spaulding family. Of course, when the showdown came, Joe Benes, who was feeble-minded and easily convinced of his divine mission to save his people, would be made the scapegoat.

By the time the authorities intervened all the Spauldings but Raoul—who would be discovered locked in the attic as though in flight from the rage of the people—would be dead. Raoul would then come into sole ownership of the Spaulding Powder Works—and Mike Pulaski would become his partner in the business, in charge of actual operations, while Raoul toured Europe and spent his time in pursuits more to his taste.

Raoul had killed his family by means of monoxide gas. Secreted in a closet in his grandfather's office, he had emerged that morning just after Mike Pulaski left, bound and gagged the old man and then administered the gas through the old man's nostrils by means of a small container and mask which he carried with him. The old man having died, Raoul unbound him, removed all signs of struggle from his person and the office, propped the body upright in its chair and made his escape through the rear door. Removing the body later from his own laboratory, and leaving in its stead the mandrake root to feed the superstitions of the family that old Hattie had aroused with her talk of warlocks, was, of course very simple. He had merely taken the body to the basement, left the dog in front of the door and waited until it began to howl from hunger—which was the signal to make the weird "discovery" of the disappearance of the body.

Hartley he had killed in his sleep, using his deadly little gas tube. Grindle, Ted and old Hattie he had merely choked to death, since there was no longer any need to simulate something eerie for the benefit of the family—and it was the plan to impress Joe Benes' fingerprints about the throats of all the corpses, anyhow—so that it would appear upon examination that Benes had killed them through perfectly explainable means.


AFTER Dorothy had dressed, the two of us went through the streets of Spaulding arousing the people and directing them to gather in the assembly hall. When they had all gathered there I repeated Raoul's story. Perhaps I was taking a risk in doing so—but I thought not. I realized that these were actually peaceful people, wanting nothing more than the privilege to make a decent living; but superstitious and excitable as they were, easy dupes for those who could play successfully on their emotions. I did not see Mike Pulaski in the hall, and acting on a hunch, I sent half a dozen of the burliest of them back to the Spaulding home where I had left Raoul bound and gagged. As I suspected, they discovered Pulaski in the act of freeing Raoul, and both of them were captured after a short skirmish.

Dawn was just breaking as Dorothy and I climbed into my roadster, which was promptly brought out of hiding at my request, and headed out across the desert. The cheers of the people accompanied us as we rolled out across the sands—and there was an undercurrent of joy in the sound that reflected their faith in Dorothy's promise: that henceforth the Spaulding Powder Works would be run as a mutual institution, with owner and employees alike sharing in the profits.

As the walls of Spaulding faded in the dust in our wake, Dorothy clasped her round arms about my neck and pressed a kiss on my cheek. "It was a city of death," she murmured, "but we will bring back life and happiness to it!"


THE END