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JACQUES FUTRELLE

THE HOUSE THAT WAS

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PART II OF "THE GRINNING GOD"

Ex Libris

Published in Associated Sunday Magazine, 1 Dec 1907

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-09-06
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All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Jacques Futrelle



BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE

In late 1907 Jacques Futrelle and his wife May (1876-1967) co-authored a two-part Professor Van Dusen story published under the general title "The Grinning God."

The first part, written by May Futrelle, was printed under the title "Wraiths of the Storm" and appeared in The Associated Sunday Magazine on 24 November 1907. It poses a problem of detection for which Jacques developed a solution in the second part, published on 1 December 1907 under the title "The House that Was."

May Futrelle's contribution to "The Grinning God" is not in the public domain, so this RGL edition is limited to reproducing the text of Jacques' contribution.

— Roy Glashan, 6 September 2020.



THE GRINNING GOD

PART I. WRAITHS OF THE STORM (BY MAY FUTRELLE)

The Associated Sunday Magazine, 24 Nov 1907

Text not in the public domain


THE GRINNING GOD

PART II. THE HOUSE THAT WAS (BY JACQUES FUTRELLE)

The Associated Sunday Magazine, 1 Dec 1907

THE Thinking Machine lowered his squint eyes and favored Hutchinson Hatch with a long, steady stare which for the moment seemed totally to obliterate him as a personality. Gradually, under the continued unseeing but tense gaze, there grew upon the newspaper man a singular sense of utter transparency, a complete invisibility, an uncomfortable feeling of not being present. He laughed a little finally, and lighted a cigarette.

"As I was saying," Hatch began, "this Harold Fairbanks is hopelessly insane, and —"

"I imagine," interrupted the eminent man of science—"I imagine that this insanity of Fairbanks's is rather a maniacal condition?"

"Yes," Hatch told him. "I was going to say —"

"And that possibly it took a homicidal turn?" The Thinking Machine continued.

"Yes," the reporter assented. "He tried to —"

"Against a woman, perhaps?"

"Precisely. The direct cause of his —"

"Please don't interrupt, Mr. Hatch!" snapped The Thinking Machine. He was silent for a time; Hatch smiled whimsically. "The object of his homicidal mania," the scientist continued slowly, as if feeling his way, "was—was his mother?"

"Yes."

Hatch dropped back into his chair and met the squint blue eyes fairly. He was not surprised at this statement of the case, thus far correct, because he was accustomed to the unerring accuracy of the master mind behind those eyes; but he was curious to know just how far that logical brain would follow a circumstantial thread which it had developed of itself out of an apparent nothingness. Nothing in the manuscript, nothing he had said, had even indicated, to his mind, the more recent developments.

The leaves of the manuscript fluttered through the slender white fingers of The Thinking Machine, and the straight line of the thin lips was drawn down a little as he glanced over a page or so.

"He shot at her?" he queried at last.

"Three times," the reporter informed him. The Thinking Machine raised his eyes quickly, inquiringly, to those of the newspaper man. "She was not wounded," the reporter hastened to say. "The shots went wild."

"That happened in Fairbanks's own room?"

"Yes."

"At night?"

"Yes; about one o'clock."

"Of course!" exclaimed the little scientist crabbedly. "I know that." Again there was a pause. "Mrs. Fairbanks has a room near that of her son—perhaps on the same floor?"

"Just across the hall."

"And she was awakened by some unusual noise in his room?"

"She hadn't been to sleep." The reporter smiled.

"Oh!" and again The Thinking Machine's squint eyes were turned toward the ceiling. "Some unusual noise attracted her attention, then?"

"Yes," the reporter agreed.

"Screams?"

"Yes."

The Thinking Machine nodded. "So she ran to her son's room just as she was—in a white night robe, I imagine?"

"Precisely."

The reporter was leaning forward in his chair now, staring into the impassive face before him. Still he wasn't surprised—he was merely curious and interested in the workings of that mind which laid before him in order these incidents which were not known to it by any tangible method.

"And as she entered her son's room," the scientist resumed, "he shot at her?"

"Three times—yes."

The Thinking Machine was silent for a long time. "That's all?" he remarked inquiringly at last.

"Well, Fairbanks was raving, of course," and Hatch dropped back in his chair. "He was overpowered by two servants, and —"

"Yes, I know," broke in The Thinking Machine. "He is now in a padded cell in a private asylum somewhere." This was not a question; it was a statement. "And this manuscript was found in his room after he had gone?"

"It lay open on his table. That is his handwriting," explained the newspaper reporter.

The Thinking Machine arose and walked the length of the room three times. Finally he stopped before the newspaper man. "And is there really such a thing as this grinning god that he describes?" he demanded.

"Certainly," Hatch responded, and his tone indicated surprise.

"Not necessarily certain," said the scientist sharply. "Do you know there is a grinning god?"

"Yes," replied the newspaper man emphatically. "It was taken away from Fairbanks when he was locked up. He fought like a fiend for it."

"Naturally," was the terse comment. "You have seen it, have you?"

"Yes, I saw it. It's about six inches tall, seems to be cut from a solid piece of ivory, and —"

"And has shiny eyes?" interrupted the other.

"Yes. The eyes seem to be of amethyst, highly polished."

Again The Thinking Machine walked the length of the room three times. "Do you know anything about self hypnotism, Mr. Hatch?" he inquired at last.

"Only that there is such a thing," replied the reporter, wondering at the abrupt change in the trend of the conversation. "Why?"

The Thinking Machine didn't say why. "You came to me, of course, to see if it was possible, by throwing light on this affair, to restore Fairbanks's mind?" he inquired instead.

"Well, that was the idea," Hatch agreed. "Fairbanks was evidently driven to his present condition by the haunting mystery of this thing, by brooding over it, and by the tangible existence in his hands of that ivory god which established a definite connection with an experience which might otherwise have been only a nightmare, and it occurred to me that if he could be made to see just what had happened and the underlying causes for its happening, he might be brought back to a normal condition." The reporter was silent for a moment, with eyes set on the drawn, inscrutable face of The Thinking Machine. "Of course," he added, "I am presuming that if it was not a diseased mental condition the things as he set them down did happen, and if they did happen I know you won't believe that they were due to other than natural causes."

"I don't disbelieve in anything, Mr. Hatch," and The Thinking Machine regarded the newspaper man quietly. "I don't even disbelieve in what is broadly termed the supernatural—I merely don't know. It is necessary, in the solution of material problems, to work from a material basis, and then the things which are conjured up by fear and—and failure to understand may be dissipated. That is done by logic, Mr. Hatch. Disregard the supernatural, so called, in our material problems, and logic is as inevitable as that two and two make four, not sometimes, but all the time."

"You don't deny the possibility of the so called supernatural, then?" Hatch asked, and again there was a note of surprise in his voice.

"I don't deny anything until I know," was the response. "I don't know that there is a supernatural force; therefore," and he shrugged his slender, stooping shoulders, "I work only from a material basis. If this manuscript states facts, then Fairbanks saw an old man, not a spook; he saw a woman, not a wraith; he jumped to escape a real fire, not a ghost fire. When we disregard the supernatural, we must admit that everything was real, unless it was pure invention, and the broken ankle and burned clothing are against that. If these were real people, we can find them—that's all there is to that. Yet there is a chance that the whole tale is a fiction, or the product of a disordered brain. But even that being true, it interferes in no way with the inevitable logic of the affair. When we know that this manuscript is in existence, and when we know that the man who produced it has since become a raving maniac, the sheer logic of the thing reveals clearly the intermediate steps."

"How, for instance?" Hatch inquired curiously.

"Well, we have this," and The Thinking Machine rattled the sheets of the manuscript impatiently; "and while we'll admit it was written by a sane man, we know that that man has since become a maniac. I stated the incidents which led to his incarceration as logic unfolded them to me. First I knew that insanity from fear and failure to understand nearly always takes the maniacal turn; therefore I saw that instead of being insane, as you stated first, Fairbanks was probably a maniac. There is a difference."

The reporter nodded.

"Next, one of the first manifestations of a maniacal condition is a homicidal tendency. Did Fairbanks attempt homicide? Yes.

"Now the problem grew a little more complex, rather intricately psychological, if I may say it that way," The Thinking Machine explained precisely. "However, it goes back generally to the broad grounds that a woman in a flowing white night robe typifies the popular conception of the ghostly, and when we know that this supposed wraith, or one of them, was a woman in white, we see that in Fairbanks's condition at the moment the appearance of such a figure would have instantly aroused him to the frenzy which led to the subsequent events."

"I understand, so far," Hatch remarked.

"Now the only woman—the most likely woman, I should say—to go to his room in a white night robe was his mother." He paused for a moment. "Therefore, his mother was in all probability the object of his attack. Remember, he was mad with fear, and, appearing suddenly as she did, perhaps in a dim light, she was to his disordered brain the incarnation of that thing he most feared."

Hatch seemed to be perfectly fascinated. His cigarette burned up until the fire touched his fingers; and he barely noticed it.

"In this manuscript," The Thinking Machine resumed after a moment, "Fairbanks tells me that he had a revolver, and shows a distinct weakness for the weapon. Therefore, wouldn't he shoot at this incarnation of the thing which was responsible for his condition. He did shoot. The fact that the incidents happened in Fairbanks's own room at night was an assumption based upon the fact that his mother figured in it, and the further fact that she was dressed for bed when she appeared in his room. Of course, if her room was near, her attention would be attracted by some unusual noise. If these noises were due to a maniac, they were in all probability screams."

"Well, by George!" Hatch remarked fervently. "It's —"

"Now the first thing to do is to see Fairbanks in person," interrupted The Thinking Machine, with a sudden change to a most business like tone. "I think, if he can comprehend at all, that I may be able to do something for him."

The Thinking Machine—Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen, scientist—was cordially, even deferentially, received by Dr. Pollock, physician in charge of the Westbrook Sanatorium.

"I should like to spend ten minutes in the padded cell with Fairbanks," he announced tersely.

Dr. Pollock regarded him curiously, but without surprise. "It's dangerous," he remarked doubtfully. "I have no objection, of course; but I should advise that a couple of keepers go in with you."

"I'll go alone," announced the diminutive man of science. "It may be that I can quiet him." Dr. Pollock merely stared. "By the way," The Thinking Machine added, "you have that little ivory god here, haven't you? Well, let me see it, please."

It was produced and subjected to a searching scrutiny, after which the scientist set it up on a table, dropped into a seat facing it, leaned forward on his elbows, and sat staring straight into the amethyst eyes for a long time. A curious silence fell upon the watchers as he sat there immovable, minute after minute, staring, staring. Hatch absently glanced at his watch and went over and looked out the window. The thing was getting on his nerves.

At last the scientist arose and thrust the grinning god into his pocket. "Now, please," he directed curtly, "I shall go into the cell with Fairbanks alone. I want the door closed behind me, and I want that door to remain closed for ten minutes. Under no circumstances must there be any interruption." He turned upon Dr. Pollock. "Don't have any fears for me. I'm not a fool."

Dr. Pollock led the way along the corridor, down some stairs, and paused before a door.

"Just ten minutes—no more, no less," directed the scientist.

The key was inserted in the lock, and the door swung on its hinges. Instantly the ears of the three men outside were assailed by a torrent of screams, of blasphemy, hideous imprecations. The maniac rushed for the door, and Hatch for an instant gazed straight into a distorted, pallid face in which there was no trace of intelligence, or even of humanity. He turned away with a shudder. Dr. Pollock thrust his arm forward to stay the swaying figure, and glanced round at The Thinking Machine doubtfully.

"Look at me! Look at me!" commanded the scientist sharply, and the squint blue eyes fearlessly met the glitter of madness in the eyes of Fairbanks. He raised his right hand suddenly in front of his face, and instantly the incoherent ravings stopped, while some strange, sudden change came over the maniacal face. In the scientist's right hand was the grinning god. That was the magic which had stilled the ravings. Slowly, slowly, with his eyes fixed upon those of the maniac, the scientist edged his way into the cell, Fairbanks retreating almost imperceptibly. Never for an instant did the maniacal eyes leave the ivory image; yet he made no attempt to seize it, he seemed merely fascinated.

"Close the door," directed The Thinking Machine quietly, without so much as a glance back. "Ten minutes!"

Dr. Pollock closed the door and turned the key in the lock, after which he looked at the newspaper man with an expression of frank bewilderment on his face. Hatch said nothing, only glanced at his watch and went over to the window, where he stood staring out moodily, with every nerve strained to catch any sound which might by chance penetrate the heavy, padded walls.

One minute, two minutes, three minutes! The second hand of Hatch's watch moved at a snail's pace! Four minutes, five minutes, six minutes! Then through the well nigh impenetrable wall came faintly the sound of hoarse cries, of screams, and finally the crash of something falling. Dr. Pollock's face paled a little and he turned the key in the lock.

"No!" and Hatch sprang forward to seize the physician's hand.

"But he's in danger," declared the doctor emphatically; "maybe even killed!" Again he tugged at the door.

"No!" said Hatch again, and he shoved the physician aside. "He said ten minutes, and—and I know the man!"

Eight minutes! Listening tensely, they knew that the screaming had stopped; there was dead silence. Nine minutes! Still they stood there, Hatch guarding the door, and his eyes unflinchingly fixed on the physician's face. Ten minutes! And Hatch opened the door.

Professor Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen—The Thinking Machine—was sitting calmly on a padded seat beside Harold Fairbanks, with one slender hand resting on his pulse. Fairbanks himself sat with his ivory image held close up to his eyes, babbling and mumbling at it incoherently. An overturned table lay in the middle of the cell. So great had been the power used to upset it that an iron bolt which held it fast to the floor had been broken short off. The scientist arose and came toward them; and Hatch drew a deep breath of relief.

"I would advise that this man be placed in another cell," said the little scientist quietly. "There is no further need to keep him in a padded cell. Put him somewhere where he can see out and find something to attract his attention. Meanwhile let him keep that ivory image, and there'll be no more raving."

"What—what did you do to him?" demanded the physician in deep perplexity.

"Nothing—yet," was the enigmatic response. "I'd like for him to stay here a couple of days longer, under constant watch as to his physical condition—never mind his mental condition now—and then with your permission I'll make a little experiment which I believe will restore him to a normal condition. Meanwhile he needs the best of physical care. Let him babble—he will, anyway—that doesn't matter just now."

Harold Fairbanks sat beside The Thinking Machine in the second seat of a huge touring car, with the slender hand of the scientist resting lightly on his wrist. In front of them the chauffeur was busy with the multiple levers of the great machine; and behind them sat Hutchinson Hatch and Dr. Pollock. They were scudding along a smooth road, with the wind beating in their faces, guided by the ribbons of light which shot out ahead from their forward lamps. The night was perfectly black, with not a light point visible save those carried by their own car.

Behind them lay the quiet little village of Pelham, and miles away in front was the town of Millen. From time to time as the car rushed on The Thinking Machine peered inquisitively through the darkness into the face of the man beside him; but he could barely make out its general shape—a pallid splotch in the darkness. The hand lay quietly beside his own, and a senile voice mumbled and babbled—that was all. The newspaper man and the physician in the rear seat had nothing to say; they too were peering vainly at Fairbanks.

At last through the gloom the outlines of a small building loomed dimly in front of them, just off the road to the left. The Thinking Machine leaned forward and touched the chauffeur on the arm.

"We'll stop here for gasolene," he said distinctly.

"Gasolene—stop here for gasolene!" babbled a senseless voice beside him.

The Thinking Machine felt the hand he held move spasmodically as the huge car ran off the main roadway and maneuvered back and forth to clear the fairway of its bulk. Finally it stopped, with its tonneau, end on, within a few feet of the door of the building. The scientist's fingers closed more tightly on the wrist; and after a moment the incoherent mumbling began again.

Hutchinson Hatch and Dr. Pollock arose and got out. Hatch went straight to the little building and rapped sharply. The sound caused Fairbanks to turn vacant, wavering eyes in that direction. After a moment a nightcapped head appeared at the window above. The Thinking Machine shot an electric flashlight into Fairbanks's face. The eyes, now fixed on the nightcapped head, were wide open, and a glint of childish curiosity lay in them. The babblings were silent for a moment—somewhere in a recess of the maddened brain a germ of intelligence was struggling. Then, as the scientist regarded him steadily, the expression of the face changed again, the eyes grew vacant, the mouth flabby, the senile mumblings began again.

Hatch began and concluded negotiations for five gallons of gasolene. A shrunken shanked old man brought it out in a can, delivered it, and scuttled back into the house with his safety lantern. Dr. Pollock and Hatch took their seats again, while The Thinking Machine clambered out and went round to the back, where he spoke to the chauffeur, who was busy at the tank. The chauffeur nodded as if he understood, and followed the scientist to his seat.

"Now for Millen," directed the scientist quietly.

"Millen!" Fairbanks repeated meaninglessly.

The chauffeur twisted his wheel, backed a little, caught the forward clutch, whirled his car straight to the road again, and shot out through the darkness. For two or three minutes there was utter silence, save for the chug and whir of the engine and the clanking rattle of the car; then The Thinking Machine spoke over his shoulder to Hatch and Dr. Pollock.

"Did either of you notice anything peculiar?" he inquired.

"No," was the simultaneous response. "Why?"

"Mr. Hatch, you have that automobile map," the scientist continued without heeding the question. "Take this electric light and examine it once more, to satisfy us that there is no road between the little store and Millen."

"I know there isn't," Hatch told him.

"Do as I say!" directed the other crabbedly. "We can't afford to make mistakes."

Obediently enough Hatch and Dr. Pollock studied the map. There was the road, straight away from the star, to Millen. There was not a bypath or deviation of any kind marked on it.

"Straight as a string," Hatch announced.

"Now look!" directed The Thinking Machine.

The huge car slowed up and came to a standstill. The glittering lamps of the car showed two roads instead of one—two roads, here where there were not two roads! Hatch glared at them for a moment, then fumbled with the automobile map.

"Why, hang it! there can't be two roads!" he declared.

"But there they are," replied The Thinking Machine.

He felt Fairbanks's hand flutter, and then it was raised suddenly. Again he threw the light on the pallid face. A strange expression was there; a set, incredible, vague expression which might have meant anything. The eyes were turned ahead to where the road was split by a small clump of trees.

"Keep on to your left," The Thinking Machine directed the chauffeur, without, however, removing his eyes from the face of the man beside him. "A little more slowly."

The car started up again and swung off to the left, sharply. Every eye, save the squint, blue ones of the scientist, was turned ahead; he was still staring into the face of his patient. His light still showed realization struggling feebly there. Perhaps only the chauffeur realized what a steady turn to the left the car made; but he said nothing, only felt his way along till suddenly the road widened a little where a path cut through the dense forest, and was lost in the perspective of gloom. The car slowed up.

"Don't stop!" commanded the scientist sharply. "Go ahead!"

With a sudden spurt the car rushed forward, skimming along easily for a time, and then the heavy jolting told them all that the road was growing rougher, and here, dimly ahead of them, they saw an open patch of sky. It was evidently the edge of the forest. The car went steadily on and out into the open, clear of the forest; then the chauffeur slowed down.

"There isn't any road here," he remarked.

"Go on!" commanded The Thinking Machine tensely. "Road or no road—straight ahead!"

The chauffeur took a new grip on his wheel and went straight ahead, over plowed ground, apparently, for the bumping and jolting were terrific, and the steering gear tore at the sockets of his arms viciously. For two or three minutes they proceeded this way, while the scientist's light still played on Fairbanks's face and the squint eyes unwaveringly watched every tiny change in it.

"There!" shrieked Fairbanks suddenly, and he came to his feet. "There!"

Hatch and Dr. Pollock saw it at the same instant—a faint, rosy point in the distance; The Thinking Machine didn't alter the direction of his gaze.

"Straight for the light!" he commanded.

... the room showed every evidence of occupancy ... log fire was burning, and its flickering light showed books strewn about here and there ... directly in front of them stood a man, tall, angular, aged, and a little bent ... hands were knotted, toil worn; and the left forefinger was missing ... eyes white and glassy!

With a choking, gutteral exclamation of some sort, Fairbanks darted forward and placed the grinning god upon the mantel beside a piece of crystal, then turned back to The Thinking Machine and seized him by the arm, as a child might have sought protection. The Thinking Machine nodded at him, and a grin of foolish delight overspread the pallid face.

Meanwhile, the strange old man, who seemed utterly oblivious of their presence, stood beside the fire gazing into it with sightless eyes. The scientist moved toward him slowly, Fairbanks staring as if fascinated. Finally the scientist extended his hand, which held that of Fairbanks, and touched the old man on the shoulder. He started violently and stretched out both hands instinctively.

Then, while Hatch and Dr. Pollock looked on silently, The Thinking Machine stood motionless, while the strange old man's hands ran up his arm, and the fingers touched his face. The right forefinger paused for an instant at the eyes, then was laid lightly across the thin lips. It remained there.

"You are blind?" asked the scientist.

The strange old man nodded.

"You are deaf?"

Again the old man nodded. His forefinger still rested lightly on The Thinking Machine's lips.

"You are dumb?" the scientist went on.

Again the nod.

"Deafness, dumbness, blindness, result of disease?"

The nod again.

The Thinking Machine turned and lifted Fairbanks's hand till it rested on the old man's shoulder, then slowly down the arm, while his eyes studied the changed expression on the pallid face.

"Real, real!" said The Thinking Machine slowly to Fairbanks. "A man—you understand?"

Fairbanks merely started back; but it was evident that some great struggle was going on in his mind. There was a growing interest in his face, the mouth was no longer flabby, the eyes were fixed.

... then there came another sound ... a curdling, nerve-racking scream ... a scream of agony, of pain, of fear ... a hideous, awful thing ... suddenly all was silent again.

At the first sound Fairbanks straightened up, then slowly he started forward. Three steps, and he fell. Hatch and Dr. Pollock turned him over and found on his face an expression of utter, cringing fear. The eyes were roving, glittering, and he was babbling again. Only his weakness had prevented flight.

"Stay there!" commanded The Thinking Machine hurriedly, and ran out of the room.

Hatch heard him as he went up the steps; then after a moment there came more screams, rather a sharp, intermittent wailing. Fairbanks struggled feebly, then lay still, flat on his back. A minute more, and The Thinking Machine reentered the room, leading a woman by the hand—a woman in a gingham apron and with her hair flying loose about her face. He went straight to the old man, who had stood motionless through it all, and raised the toilworn finger to his lips.

"A woman is here—your wife?" he asked.

The old man shook his head.

"Your sister?"

The old man nodded.

"She is insane?"

Again a nod.

The woman stood for an instant with roving eyes, then rushed toward the mantel with a peculiar sobbing cry. In another instant she had clasped the ugly ivory image to her withered breast, and was crooning to it softly as a mother to her babe. Fairbanks raised himself from the floor, stared at her dully for a moment, then fell back into the arms of Dr. Pollock and Hatch with a sigh. He had fainted.

"I think, gentlemen, this is all," remarked The Thinking Machine.

It was more than a month later that The Thinking Machine called upon Harold Fairbanks at his home. The young man was sitting up in bed, weak but intelligently cognizant of everything about him. There was still an occasional restless roving of his eyes; but that was all.

"You remember me, Mr. Fairbanks?" began the scientist.

"Yes," was the reply.

"You remember the events of the night we were together?"

"Everything, from the time the automobile left the road and the light appeared in the distance," said Fairbanks. "I remember seeing the old man again, and the woman appearing. I know now that he was deaf and dumb and blind, and that she was insane. That seems to clear the situation a great deal." He passed a wasted hand across his brow. "But where is the place. I couldn't find it."

"Listen for just a moment now, please," said The Thinking Machine soothingly. "You don't remember shooting at your mother? No. Don't excite yourself; she was not wounded. Immediately after that you were placed in a sanatorium. I saw you there. The ivory image had been taken away from you. I went into the room where you were confined and gave it back to you. It acted as I thought it would—quieted you. To make certain that it was this and nothing else that had that effect, I took it away from you again, and you grew violent—as a matter of fact, your condition was such that you overturned a heavy table that was bolted to the floor—broke the bolt. You don't remember that?"

"No."

"I left the image with you. That really was the tangible cause of your condition. If it hadn't been for that, and the brooding over the mystery which it constantly caused, the events of that first night would have passed out of your mind in time. You superinduced self hypnotism with that little image; that is, you must understand that self hypnotism is possible to persons of a certain temperament in a mechanical way, when the object employed is highly polished—shiny, I might say.

"Although that image brought you to the condition you were in, I restored it to you to quiet you physically. That was necessary before I could reproduce for you the events of the first night. You went with us in an automobile, from Pelham to the little store where you had stopped that first night for gasolene. We stopped there for gasolene, and saw the man you saw that first night. As a matter of fact, he had gone away only for a few months, and is now installed in the little store again. This was all done, you understand, to arouse you, if possible, to what was passing around you. In a way it succeeded.

"Well, from the little store we went as you went the night of your first trouble, until we came to the two roads, one leading by sharp turns to the left. Then we went straight to the farm house where the old man and the woman were. There I wanted to convince you that they were real people—that there was nothing of the ghostly about them. As a matter of fact, that old man and the woman never knew you were in the house that night. The man had no means of knowing it so long as you never touched him nor he you. You say he brought in something to eat. In all probability that was intended for the woman. You assumed it was for yourself. The fire which compelled you to jump and which resulted in the broken ankle for you, did not destroy the house. There were still marks of it there but the heavy rain extinguished it, and carpenters made the necessary repairs. Now all that is clear, isn't it?"

"Perfectly," was the reply; "but the white thing in the road—the screaming I heard there?"

"There is no mystery whatever about that," continued the scientist calmly. "That road that turns to the left turns more sharply than you imagine. After a little distance it goes almost parallel with the main road, so that following it at night you would, without any knowledge of it, pass within a few hundred feet of a point on the main road. Now the house where these people live is say five hundred feet from the road that turns to the left therefore not more than eight hundred feet, we'll say, from the main road. Thus the screaming you heard in the main road was the woman who lived in that house; the figure you saw was that woman. Just why she had left the house and was wandering around through the wood does not appear; it is certain that she was there, and was frightened by the storm. I can only say that she might have known she was pursued by you and taken refuge on an overhanging limb, and thus gave you the impression of her figure rising above the ground and moving about among the trees.

"It followed naturally that by the time you had taken the roundabout way with your automobile and reached the house she had reached it by going straight ahead through the wood—say for eight hundred feet, and again you heard her screams there. Many things happened in that house that night of no consequence in themselves, but which to your excited imagination were mysterious. One of these was the candle going out. It is obvious that a gust of wind did that, or else a single drop of water from a leak in the roof. Do you follow me?"

Fairbanks was silent for several minutes as he lay back with his eyes closed. "But the vital thing, the real thing that bewildered me most of all," he said slowly, "you haven't touched. That is, Why was it that after all my searching for the road to the left and the farm house, I didn't find them, if they were there?"

"Of course you don't remember," explained The Thinking Machine; "but the night our party went over the route I asked Dr. Pollock and Mr. Hatch just after we left the little store whether they had noticed anything peculiar. They replied in the negative. As a matter of fact," and the scientist was speaking very quietly, "our automobile went the same way yours had gone—not toward Millen, as you supposed and they supposed, but back toward Pelham. You didn't find the road to the left and the farm house when you were searching, for the reason that they were beyond the little store toward Pelham, eight or ten miles away."

A great wave of relief swept over the young man, and he leaned forward eagerly. "But wouldn't I have known when I turned the wrong way?" he demanded.

The Thinking Machine shrugged his shoulders. "You would have known in daylight, yes," was the reply, "but at night, in a hurry and somewhat confused by the flying dust, you turned the wrong way—toward Pelham, not toward Millen. You see that is possible when I tell you that Dr. Pollock and Mr. Hatch didn't notice that we had turned the wrong way, when there was no storm, and when I asked them if they had noticed anything peculiar."

There was a long silence. Fairbanks dropped back in the bed and lay silent.

"In your manuscript," resumed The Thinking Machine at last, "you mentioned that you seemed to hear some one calling you as you started away from the little store. This you attributed vaguely to imagination. As a matter of fact, you did hear some one call—it was the man who sold you the gasolene. He knew you intended going to Millen, saw that you had turned the wrong way, and called to tell you so. You didn't wait to hear."

And that was all of it.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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