Authors: Edward D. Hoch
I wondered, for just a second, if possibly I was going to the
that night in some subconscious hope that death would solve my problem for me.
Because now I was convinced that I loved Rain Richards …
The basement of the
Blue Pig Pub
was a surprisingly easy place to enter, and it took Simon and me only a few moments to locate the door to the old cellar and place ourselves beneath the trap door.
I took the .45 from my pocket, and jacked a bullet into the chamber; after that we waited.
And waited …
Presently, when my wrist watch glowed 11:30, and I had just about given up hope, we heard some movement in the room above. At almost the same instant we caught the sound of people entering through the basement, as we had come.
We took shelter behind some musty packing cases, and watched several men and a few women entering the room through the trap door. Finally, when the sounds from above told us the ceremony had begun, we resumed our post beneath the door.
Simon Ark edged it up a fraction of an inch, and through the opening I saw a scene I’ll never forget. There, behind the long table, stood the white-robed figure of George Kerrigan, his arms outstretched toward the ceiling. On either end of the table burned dozens of long black candles, sending their dancing flames over the kneeling figures of some twenty men and women who nearly filled the small room.
The brightly colored wallpaper had been covered in spots by hanging pictures of basilisks and other mythical monsters, and behind Kerrigan I saw a statue of Jupiter, the ancient god. “Like the one the pagans erected on Calvary, after Christ’s death,” Simon Ark whispered. “We are in the midst of evil here.”
“What are we waiting for, then?” I asked; “let’s go!”
“Be patient. There is still more to be seen.”
The kneeling figures above were swaying back and forth now, as if under the influence of some narcotic. And a low murmuring chant was slowly building up among them.
“It’s horrible,” I said, half to myself.
Simon Ark let the trap door fall into place and he said, very quietly, “Perhaps, though, the evil up there is no greater than the evil in your own heart.”
“What?” I muttered. “What do you mean?”
“Who is to say that the sin of adultery is any less serious than the sin of devil worship?” he asked, quietly. “Certainly they are both works of Satan.”
“Are you crazy, Simon? Why pick a time like this to give me a lecture on morality?”
“It is as good a time as any, my old friend. I came here searching for the devil, and perhaps I have found him in the least likely of all places—inside of you!”
The chanting from above had grown louder, and it pounded at my eardrums as I listened to Simon’s words. “No …” I mumbled. “No …”
“Leave this woman, and go home to Shelly, before it is too late.”
Suddenly, the chanting above turned to shouting, and there was a rush of movement. I lifted the trap door again and saw a startling sight. “It’s Rain! They’ve got Rain!”
Simon Ark was at my side; and he, too, saw the struggling girl in the grip of two strong men. “She must have sneaked in, and Kerrigan recognized her. The little fool!”
And I saw that the white-robed Kerrigan had already produced his deadly bow and arrows. His right hand was drawing back on the bow string and the trembling arrow was pointing through the flickering stillness at Rain’s struggling body.
I waited no longer. While my left hand slammed up on the trap door, my right was already bringing the heavy .45 into firing position.
George Kerrigan half-turned toward me, and the look of utter surprise was spreading over his face when my bullet tore into his shoulder.
After that, it was chaos …
I came out of it with a bloody nose and a torn sleeve, thanks mostly to the prompt arrival of Inspector Ashly and his men. My bullet had completely shattered Kerrigan’s shoulder, and he was unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived. His followers were quickly rounded up and led away, and soon only Simon and Ashly and Rain and I remained in the room.
“That bow and arrow should be enough to convict them of Carrier’s murder,” Ashly said. “I only hope the newspapers don’t get ahold of this devil worship angle, or I fear they’ll have you stripped nude and about to be sacrificed on the altar, Miss Richards. These reporters are great at building up a sensational story.”
“I’m just happy to be alive,” Rain answered. “Right now I don’t care what they say about me. When I saw that arrow pointing at my chest, all I could remember was poor Carrier pinned to the wall.”
“You owe your life to your friends here,” Ashly told her.
“I know. Now I just wish Simon would tell us where the book is hidden so we could all go home.”
“That’s right, Simon,” I agreed. “Where is this elusive copy of ‘The Worship Of Satan’?”
He sighed, and motioned around the room, now brightly lit by several portable police spotlights. “Right where it’s always been, my friends; it should have been obvious to you from the beginning. After all, why was it necessary to kill Carrier to keep him from telling its location? Why didn’t they simply move it to a new hiding place?”
“That’s right,” I agreed. “Why didn’t they move it?”
“Because they couldn’t; because it was the one part of this room that could not easily be disposed of or transported to another place.”
We looked around at the long table, and at the pictures, and at the statue, but we saw nothing.
“Where?” Rain asked simply.
Simon Ark closed his eyes. “During the 17th Century, when a book was banned by a government censor, it was not always burned. If the book was a large one, like a folio, the pages were damasked into wallpaper …”
“Certainly. The text was blotted out by overprinting with a heavy design in bright colors, and it was used for wallpaper. Here,” he motioned around the room at the multi-colored walls, “here is the last remaining copy of ‘The Worship Of Satan,’ and with it is the final secret of the Vicar of Hell …”
After that, much later, I walked with Rain Richards through the mist of a cold London morning …
“I’ll get the University Laboratory to work on that wallpaper right away,” she said, “but it’ll still be months before the original printing is readable.”
“I know,” I said, “but somehow it isn’t as important as it was a few days ago. Whether Bryan was a murderer himself, or whether he was merely the second victim of his murderous wife, is something that need not concern us, really. The punishment for the crimes has been meted out long ago by a much higher court than ours.”
“I suppose so,” she agreed reluctantly. “It’s only too bad that it had to cause so much trouble and death.”
We walked further in silence, and then I said, “You know, it’s all over between us …”
“Yes, I know …”
“Simon Ark talked to me tonight, while we waited in that basement.”
“He’s quite a man, isn’t he?”
“Yes, I suppose he is.”
“Remember me to your wife.”
“Yes,” I said, but we both knew that I never would.
“Goodbye, Rain …”
I watched her as she walked away into the morning mist. I watched her until she was out of sight and then I went back to my hotel room.
The air mail letter from Shelly was still on the bed; I tore it open, and settled down in a chair to read it …
HE VILLAGE OF NORTH
Bradshire is much the same as a thousand others that dot the English countryside. It lies at the edge of a great forest, on one of the main highways from London to the coast, a relic of the Middle Ages that somehow survived to the twentieth century.
If the traveler is curious enough, he can find the history of the village engraved on a bronze plaque in the town square. But time and the weather have made the few short paragraphs almost unreadable. It really didn’t matter, anyway, because everyone knew of the famous battle that had made the name of North Bradshire famous in the pages of history. The fact that the Battle had been fought nearly a thousand years earlier did not bother the present citizens in the least. For North Bradshire was a town that lived in the past.
It was not until the late winter of 1954 that another event occurred to bring public attention to the village. And, as before, this second event brought Death, as well as Fame, to North Bradshire …
It was a cold morning in early March, and the four inches of snow from the previous day remained on the ground covering the fields with an unbroken white coat. Unbroken, that is, except for the single line of odd tracks that ran from the woods to the side door of a nearby house, and then back to the woods again. The milkman, making his usual morning rounds, was the first to notice the tracks in the snow.
He told others about them, and the word spread swiftly, as it does in places like North Bradshire. By noon of that day, half of England knew about the tracks in the snow.
That was why, on the afternoon express to North Bradshire, two men sat in a coach discussing the odd occurrence.
One was Chief Inspector Ashly of New Scotland Yard, a short, almost tiny man who nevertheless had the deep thundering voice of a much bigger man. “My voice never fails to amaze people,” he was saying. “It is, perhaps, my greatest asset.” He paused a moment and studied the big man with the placid face in the seat opposite him.
“What did you say your name was?” the Chief Inspector asked.
“I didn’t.” He exhaled a thick cloud of blue tobacco smoke, which hung suspended in the air between them. “But the name is Simon Ark. I, also, am on my way to North Bradshire.”
“About these tracks in the snow?”
The man called Simon Ark nodded. He was a heavy, well-built person, who might have been extremely handsome twenty years ago. But now his flabby face and wrinkled brow gave him the appearance of a man much older than he actually was.
The train rumbled on, through the white-covered fields, and occasionally through a patch of woods where the thick branches had protected the grounds from the snow.
Simon Ark shifted his gaze from the beauties of the English countryside, and asked, “Since when do prints in the snow bring Chief Inspectors from Scotland Yard to investigate?”
Inspector Ashly frowned. “The circumstances involved are most peculiar. Of course, since the news of these latest tracks interested you, also, I imagine you are well aware of the legend.”
Simon Ark nodded. “Although I would not exactly call it a legend. Even though it happened a hundred years ago, the story is certainly true. The people of Devonshire and several other villages awoke one morning to find strange cloven hoof-prints in the fresh snow. The tracks were single, and in a perfectly straight line, about eight inches apart, as if made by some one-legged animal running across the snow. But they were the tracks of no known creature. The tracks led across fields, over fences and rivers, and even over the roofs of houses. The townspeople followed the trail with dogs; but when they reached the woods nearby, the dogs commenced to howl and refused to go further. The legend grew that the strange foot or hoof-prints had been made by the devil himself. In later years, similar prints were discovered in the snow at other places in the area, but no satisfactory explanation was ever arrived at.”
The Inspector looked at Simon Ark with new admiration. “I see you’ve made quite a study of the matter.”
“I have made a study of all the strange and unexplained happenings during the past several centuries. I find it a fascinating hobby.”
“Might I inquire what your real occupation is?”
Simon Ark’s thick lips twisted into what might have been a smile. “I fear, my dear Inspector, that you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
They rode in silence for some time after that, until Simon Ark said, “You still haven’t told me why the police are interested in this matter.”
The Inspector shrugged. “As you remarked, sir, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
The train roared through a tunnel, then into the afternoon light once more. Ahead, stretching out along both sides of the tracks, they could see the groups of tiny shops and houses that made up the village of North Bradshire. “This is it,” Inspector Ashly remarked, as he rose from his seat …
This was indeed it. Inspector Ashly was met at the station by a portly, middle-aged man who was revealed to be the mayor of North Bradshire.
Mayor Beverson was a very excited man. “Tracks in the snow, Inspector. I saw them myself; this isn’t like the other times.”
Inspector Ashly grunted doubtfully. “Mayor Beverson, I must warn you that we believe this to be another publicity stunt dreamed up by yourself to keep North Bradshire on the front pages of the newspapers.” He half turned to Simon Ark, who had followed him off the train. “We expect a great many tourists to come over this summer for the Festival of Britain. The mayor, here, apparently is attempting to attract visitors to his town by using any number of quaint devices.”
Mayor Beverson had grown gradually pale with anger as the Inspector spoke. Now, when he replied, his words tumbled over each other, making his whole speech almost incoherent. “This is not a publicity-stunt of any kind, Inspector. I will admit that the other events of the past week were planned, but I knew nothing of this. And I certainly did not ask anyone to send you up here. In fact, what are you …?”
Inspector Ashly held up a thick hand to silence the mayor. “All right, all right! Take us to see these tracks of yours.”
The mayor shrugged, and turning, led the way down the winding white road. Behind him, Inspector Ashly, Simon Ark, and a score of the townspeople followed.
They passed the usual English country houses, lining the quiet road like silent sentries. Finally they halted before an old house that was small in comparison to the others. A tall, blond man of uncertain age came out to greet them, and the curious townspeople pressed closer.
The mayor cleared his throat, as if about to give a speech. “This is Mr. Roland Summers. The … tracks are on his property.”
Roland Summers held out a muscular hand to greet Inspector Ashly, but the Scotland Yard man ignored it. “Summers? Summers? That name is familiar.”