The Mysterious Card Unveiled.
BY CLEVELAND MOFFET.
NO physician was ever more scrupulous than I have been, during my thirty years of practice, in observing the code of professional secrecy; and it is only for grave reasons, partly in the interests of medical science, largely as a warning to intelligent people, that I place upon record the following statements.
One morning a gentleman called at my offices to consult me about some nervous trouble. From the moment I saw him, the man made a deep impression on me, not so much by the pallor and worn look of his face as by a certain intense sadness in his eyes, as if all hope had gone out of his life. I wrote a prescription for him, and advised him to try the benefits of an ocean voyage. He seemed to shiver at the idea, and said that he had been abroad too much, already.
As he handed me my fee, my eye fell upon the palm of his hand, and I saw there, plainly marked on the Mount of Saturn, a cross surrounded by two circles. I should explain that for the greater part of my life I have been a constant and enthusiastic student of palmistry. During my travels in the Orient, after taking my degree, I spent months studying this fascinating art at the best sources of information in the world. I have read everything published on palmistry in every known language, and my library on the subject is perhaps the most complete in existence. In my time I have examined at least fourteen thousand palms, and taken casts of many of the more interesting of them. But I had never seen such a palm as this; at least, never but once, and the horror of the case was so great that I shudder even now when I call it to mind.
“Pardon me,” I said, keeping the patient’s hand in mine, “would you let me look at your palm?”
I tried to speak indifferently, as if the matter were of small consequence, and for some moments I bent over the hand in silence. Then, taking a magnifying glass from my desk, I looked at it still more closely. I was not mistaken; here was indeed the sinister double circle on Saturn’s mount, with the cross inside,—a marking so rare as to portend some stupendous destiny of good or evil, more probably the latter.
I saw that the man was uneasy under my scrutiny, and, presently, with some hesitation, as if mustering courage, he asked: “Is there anything remarkable about my hand?”
“Yes,” I said, “there is. Tell me, did not something very unusual, something very horrible, happen to you about ten or eleven years ago?”
I saw by the way the man started that I had struck near the mark, and, studying the stream of fine lines that crossed his lifeline from the Mount of Venus, I added: “Were you not in some foreign country at that time?”
The man’s face blanched, but he only looked at me steadily out of those mournful eyes. Now I took his other hand, and compared the two, line by line, mount by mount, noting the short square fingers, the heavy thumb, with amazing willpower in its upper joint, and gazing again and again at that ominous sign on Saturn.
“Your life has been strangely unhappy, your years have been clouded by some evil influence.”
“My God,” he said weakly, sinking into a chair, “how can you know these things?”
“It is easy to know what one sees,” I said, and tried to draw him out about his past, but the words seemed to stick in his throat.
“I will come back and talk to you again,” he said, and he went away without giving me his name or any revelation of his life.
Several times he called during subsequent weeks, and gradually seemed to take on a measure of confidence in my presence. He would talk freely of his physical condition, which seemed to cause him much anxiety. He even insisted upon my making the most careful examination of all his organs, especially of his eyes, which, he said, had troubled him at various times. Upon making the usual tests, I found that he was suffering from a most uncommon form of color blindness, that seemed to vary in its manifestations, and to be connected with certain hallucinations or abnormal mental states which recurred periodically, and about which I had great difficulty in persuading him to speak. At each visit I took occasion to study his hand anew, and each reading of the palm gave me stronger conviction that here was a life mystery that would abundantly repay any pains taken in unravelling it.
While I was in this state of mind, consumed with a desire to know more of my unhappy acquaintance and yet not daring to press him with questions, there came a tragic happening that revealed to me with startling suddenness the secret I was bent on knowing. One night, very late,—in fact it was about four o’clock in the morning,—I received an urgent summons to the bedside of a man who had been shot. As I bent over him I saw that it was my friend, and for the first time I realized that he was a man of wealth and position, for he lived in a beautifully furnished house filled with art treasures and looked after by a retinue of servants. From one of these I learned that he was Richard Burwell, one of New York’s most respected citizens—in fact, one of her best-known philanthropists, a man who for years had devoted his life and fortune to good works among the poor.
But what most excited my surprise was the presence in the house of two officers, who informed me that Mr. Burwell was under arrest, charged with murder. The officers assured me that it was only out of deference to his well-known standing in the community that the prisoner had been allowed the privilege of receiving medical treatment in his own home; their orders were peremptory to keep him under close surveillance.
Giving no time to further questionings, I at once proceeded to examine the injured man, and found that he was suffering from a bullet wound in the back at about the height of the fifth rib. On probing for the bullet, I found that it had lodged near the heart, and decided that it would be exceedingly dangerous to try to remove it immediately. So I contented myself with administering a sleeping potion.
As soon as I was free to leave Burwell’s bedside I returned to the officers and obtained from them details of what had happened. A woman’s body had been found a few hours before, shockingly mutilated, on Water Street, one of the dark ways in the swarming region along the river front. It had been found at about two o’clock in the morning by some printers from the office of the Courier des Etats Unis, who, in coming from their work, had heard cries of distress and hurried to the rescue. As they drew near they saw a man spring away from something huddled on the sidewalk, and plunge into the shadows of the night, running from them at full speed.
Suspecting at once that here was the mysterious assassin so long vainly sought for many similar crimes, they dashed after the fleeing man, who darted right and left through the maze of dark streets, giving out little cries like a squirrel as he ran. Seeing that they were losing ground, one of the printers fired at the fleeing shadow, his shot being followed by a scream of pain, and hurrying up they found a man writhing on the ground. The man was Richard Burwell.
The news that my sad-faced friend had been implicated in such a revolting occurrence shocked me inexpressibly, and I was greatly relieved the next day to learn from the papers that a most unfortunate mistake had been made. The evidence given before the coroner’s jury was such as to abundantly exonerate Burwell from all shadow of guilt. The man’s own testimony, taken at his bedside, was in itself almost conclusive in his favor. When asked to explain his presence so late at night in such a part of the city, Burwell stated that he had spent the evening at the Florence Mission, where he had made an address to some unfortunates gathered there, and that later he had gone with a young missionary worker to visit a woman living on Frankfort Street, who was dying of consumption. This statement was borne out by the missionary worker himself, who testified that Burwell had been most tender in his ministrations to the poor woman and had not left her until death had relieved her sufferings.
Another point which made it plain that the printers had mistaken their man in the darkness, was the statement made by all of them that, as they came running up, they had overheard some words spoken by the murderer, and that these words were in their own language, French. Now it was shown conclusively that Burwell did not know the French language, that indeed he had not even an elementary knowledge of it.
Another point in his favor was a discovery made at the spot where the body was found. Some profane and ribald words, also in French, had been scrawled in chalk on the door and doorsill, being in the nature of a coarse defiance to the police to find the assassin, and experts in handwriting who were called testified unanimously that Burwell, who wrote a refined, scholarly hand, could never have formed those misshapen words.
Furthermore, at the time of his arrest no evidence was found on the clothes or person of Burwell, nothing in the nature of bruises or bloodstains that would tend to implicate him in the crime. The outcome of the matter was that he was honorably discharged by the coroner’s jury, who were unanimous in declaring him innocent, and who brought in a verdict that the unfortunate woman had come to her death at the hand of some person or persons unknown.
On visiting my patient late on the afternoon of the second day I saw that his case was very grave, and I at once instructed the nurses and attendants to prepare for an operation. The man’s life depended upon my being able to extract the bullet, and the chance of doing this was very small. Mr. Burwell realized that his condition was critical, and, beckoning me to him, told me that he wished to make a statement he felt might be his last. He spoke with agitation which was increased by an unforeseen happening. For just then a servant entered the room and whispered to me that there was a gentleman downstairs who insisted upon seeing me, and who urged business of great importance. This message the sick man overheard, and lifting himself with an effort, he said excitedly: “Tell me, is he a tall man with glasses?”
The servant hesitated.
“I knew it; you cannot deceive me; that man will haunt me to my grave. Send him away, doctor; I beg of you not to see him.”
Humoring my patient, I sent word to the stranger that I could not see him, but, in an undertone, instructed the servant to say that the man might call at my office the next morning. Then, turning to Burwell, I begged him to compose himself and save his strength for the ordeal awaiting him.
“No, no,” he said, “I need my strength now to tell you what you must know to find the truth. You are the only man who has understood that there has been some terrible influence at work in my life. You are the only man competent to study out what that influence is, and I have made provision in my will that you shall do so after I am gone. I know that you will heed my wishes?”
The intense sadness of his eyes made my heart sink; I could only grip his hand and remain silent.
“Thank you; I was sure I might count on your devotion. Now, tell me, doctor, you have examined me carefully, have you not?”
“In every way known to medical science?”
I nodded again.
“And have you found anything wrong with me,—I mean, besides this bullet, anything abnormal?”
“As I have told you, your eyesight is defective; I should like to examine your eyes more thoroughly when you are better.”
“I shall never be better; besides it isn’t my eyes; I mean myself, my soul,—you haven’t found anything wrong there?”
“Certainly not; the whole city knows the beauty of your character and your life.”
“Tut, tut; the city knows nothing. For ten years I have lived so much with the poor that people have almost forgotten my previous active life when I was busy with money-making and happy in my home. But there is a man out West, whose head is white and whose heart is heavy, who has not forgotten, and there is a woman in London, a silent, lonely woman, who has not forgotten. The man was my partner, poor Jack Evelyth; the woman was my wife. How can a man be so cursed, doctor, that his love and friendship bring only misery to those who share it? How can it be that one who has in his heart only good thoughts can be constantly under the shadow of evil? This charge of murder is only one of several cases in my life where, through no fault of mine, the shadow of guilt has been cast upon me.
“Years ago, when my wife and I were perfectly happy, a child was born to us, and a few months later, when it was only a tender, helpless little thing that its mother loved with all her heart, it was strangled in its cradle, and we never knew who strangled it, for the deed was done one night when there was absolutely no one in the house but my wife and myself. There was no doubt about the crime, for there on the tiny neck were the finger marks where some cruel hand had closed until life went.
“Then a few years later, when my partner and I were on the eve of fortune, our advance was set back by the robbery of our safe. Some one opened it in the night, someone who knew the combination, for it was the work of no burglar, and yet there were only two persons in the world who knew that combination, my partner and myself. I tried to be brave when these things happened, but as my life went on it seemed more and more as if some curse were on me.
“Eleven years ago I went abroad with my wife and daughter. Business took me to Paris, and I left the ladies in London, expecting to have them join me in a few days. But they never did join me, for the curse was on me still, and before I had been forty-eight hours in the French capital something happened that completed the wreck of my life. It doesn’t seem possible, does it, that a simple white card with some words scrawled on it in purple ink could effect a man’s undoing? And yet that was my fate. The card was given me by a beautiful woman with eyes like stars. She is dead long ago, and why she wished to harm me I never knew. You must find that out.
“You see I did not know the language of the country, and, wishing to have the words translated,—surely that was natural enough,—I showed the card to others. But no one would tell me what it meant. And, worse than that, wherever I showed it, and to whatever person, there evil came upon me quickly. I was driven from one hotel after another; an old acquaintance turned his back on me; I was arrested and thrown into prison; I was ordered to leave the country.”
The sick man paused for a moment in his weakness, but with an effort forced himself to continue:—
“When I went back to London, sure of comfort in the love of my wife, she too, on seeing the card, drove me from her with cruel words. And when finally, in deepest despair, I returned to New York, dear old Jack, the friend of a life-time, broke with me when I showed him what was written. What the words were I do not know, and suppose no one will ever know, for the ink has faded these many years. You will find the card in my safe with other papers. But I want you, when I am gone, to find out the mystery of my life; and—and—about my fortune, that must be held until you have decided. There is no one who needs my money as much as the poor in this city, and I have bequeathed it to them unless—”
In an agony of mind, Mr. Burwell struggled to go on, I soothing and encouraging him.
“Unless you find what I am afraid to think, but—but—yes, I must say it,—that I have not been a good man, as the world thinks, but have—O doctor, if you find that I have unknowingly harmed any human being, I want that person, or these persons, to have my fortune. Promise that.”
Seeing the wild light in Burwell’s eyes, and the fever that was burning him, I gave the promise asked of me, and the sick man sank back calmer.
A little later, the nurse and attendants came for the operation. As they were about to administer the ether, Burwell pushed them from him, and insisted on having brought to his bedside an iron box from the safe.
“The card is here,” he said, laying his trembling hand upon the box, “you will remember your promise!”
Those were his last words, for he did not survive the operation.
Early the next morning I received this message: “The stranger of yesterday begs to see you;” and presently a gentleman of fine presence and strength of face, a tall, dark-complexioned man wearing glasses, was shown into the room.
“Mr. Burwell is dead, is he not?” were his first words.
“Who told you?”
“No one told me, but I know it, and I thank God for it.”
There was something in the stranger’s intense earnestness that convinced me of his right to speak thus, and I listened attentively.
“That you may have confidence in the statement I am about to make, I will first tell you who I am;” and he handed me a card that caused me to lift my eyes in wonder, for it bore a very great name, that of one of Europe’s most famous savants.
“You have done me much honor, sir,” I said with respectful inclination.
“On the contrary you will oblige me by considering me in your debt, and by never revealing my connection with this wretched man. I am moved to speak partly from considerations of human justice, largely in the interest of medical science. It is right for me to tell you, doctor, that your patient was beyond question the Water Street assassin.”
“Impossible!” I cried.
“You will not say so when I have finished my story, which takes me back to Paris, to the time, eleven years ago, when this man was making his first visit to the French capital.”
“The mysterious card!” I exclaimed.
“Ah, he has told you of his experience, but not of what befell the night before, when he first met my sister.”
“Yes, it was she who gave him the card, and, in trying to befriend him, made him suffer. She was in ill health at the time, so much so that we had left our native India for extended journeyings. Alas! we delayed too long, for my sister died in New York, only a few weeks later, and I honestly believe her taking off was hastened by anxiety inspired by this man.”
“Strange,” I murmured, “how the life of a simple New York merchant could become entangled with that of a great lady of the East.”
“Yet so it was. You must know that my sister’s condition was due mainly to an over fondness for certain occult investigations, from which I had vainly tried to dissuade her. She had once befriended some adepts, who, in return, had taught her things about the soul she had better have left unlearned. At various times while with her I had seen strange things happen, but I never realized what unearthly powers were in her until that night in Paris. We were returning from a drive in the Bois; it was about ten o’clock, and the city lay beautiful around us as Paris looks on a perfect summer’s night. Suddenly my sister gave a cry of pain and put her hand to her heart. Then, changing from French to the language of our country, she explained to me quickly that something frightful was taking place there, where she pointed her finger across the river, that we must go to the place at once—the driver must lash his horses—every second was precious.
“So affected was I by her intense conviction, and such confidence had I in my sister’s wisdom, that I did not oppose her, but told the man to drive as she directed. The carriage fairly flew across the bridge, down the Boulevard St. Germain, then to the left, threading its way through the narrow streets that lie along the Seine. This way and that, straight ahead here, a turn there, she directing our course, never hesitating, as if drawn by some unseen power, and always urging the driver on to greater speed. Finally, we came to a black-mouthed, evil-looking alley, so narrow and roughly paved that the carriage could scarcely advance.
“‘Come on!’ my sister cried, springing to the ground; ‘we will go on foot, we are nearly there. Thank God, we may yet be in time.’
“No one was in sight as we hurried along the dark alley, and scarcely a light was visible, but presently a smothered scream broke the silence, and, touching my arm, my sister exclaimed:—
“‘There, draw your weapon, quick, and take the man at any cost!’
“So swiftly did everything happen after that that I hardly know my actions, but a few minutes later I held pinioned in my arms a man whose blows and writhings had been all in vain; for you must know that much exercise in the jungle had made me strong of limb. As soon as I had made the fellow fast I looked down and found moaning on the ground a poor woman, who explained with tears and broken words that the man had been in the very act of strangling her. Searching him I found a long-bladed knife of curious shape, and keen as a razor, which had been brought for what horrible purpose you may perhaps divine.
“Imagine my surprise, on dragging the man back to the carriage, to find, instead of the ruffianly assassin I expected, a gentleman as far as could be judged from face and manner. Fine eyes, white hands, careful speech, all the signs of refinement and the dress of a man of means.
“‘How can this be?’ I said to my sister in our own tongue as we drove away, I holding my prisoner on the opposite seat where he sat silent.
“‘It is a kulos-man,’ she said, shivering, ‘it is a fiend-soul. There are a few such in the whole world, perhaps two or three in all.’
“‘But he has a good face.’
“‘You have not seen his real face yet; I will show it to you, presently.’
“In the strangeness of these happenings and the still greater strangeness of my sister’s words, I had all but lost the power of wonder. So we sat without further word until the carriage stopped at the little chateau we had taken near the Parc Monteau.
“I could never properly describe what happened that night; my knowledge of these things is too limited. I simply obeyed my sister in all that she directed, and kept my eyes on this man as no hawk ever watched its prey. She began by questioning him, speaking in a kindly tone which I could ill understand. He seemed embarrassed, dazed, and professed to have no knowledge of what had occurred, or how he had come where we found him. To all my inquiries as to the woman or the crime he shook his head blankly, and thus aroused my wrath.
“‘Be not angry with him, brother; he is not lying, it is the other soul.’
“She asked him about his name and country, and he replied without hesitation that he was Richard Burwell, a merchant from New York, just arrived in Paris, travelling for pleasure in Europe with his wife and daughter. This seemed reasonable, for the man spoke English, and, strangely enough, seemed to have no knowledge of French, although we both remember hearing him speak French to the woman.
“‘There is no doubt,’ my sister said, ‘It is indeed a kulos-man; It knows that I am here, that I am Its master. Look, look!’ she cried sharply, at the same time putting her eyes so close to the man’s face that their fierce light seemed to burn into him. What power she exercised I do not know, nor whether some words she spoke, unintelligible to me, had to do with what followed, but instantly there came over this man, this pleasant-looking, respectable American citizen, such a change as is not made by death worms gnawing in a grave. Now there was a fiend grovelling at her feet, a foul, sin-stained fiend.
“‘Now you see the demon-soul,’ said my sister. ‘Watch It writhe and struggle; it has served me well, brother, sayest thou not so, the lore I gained from our wise men?’
“The horror of what followed chilled my blood; nor would I trust my memory were it not that there remained and still remains plain proof of all that I affirm. This hideous creature, dwarfed, crouching, devoid of all resemblance to the man we had but now beheld, chattering to us in curious old-time French, poured out such horrid blasphemy as would have blanched the cheek of Satan, and made recital of such evil deeds as never mortal ear gave heed to. And as she willed my sister checked It or allowed It to go on. What it all meant was more than I could tell. To me it seemed as if these tales of wickedness had no connection with our modern life, or with the world around us, and so I judged presently from what my sister said.
“‘Speak of the later time, since thou wast in this clay.’
“Then I perceived that the creature came to things of which I knew: It spoke of New York, of a wife, a child, a friend. It told of strangling the child, of robbing the friend; and was going on to tell God knows what other horrid deeds when my sister stopped It.
“‘Stand as thou didst in killing the little babe, stand, stand!’ and once more she spoke some words unknown to me. Instantly the demon sprang forward, and, bending Its clawlike hands, clutched them around some little throat that was not there,—but I could see it in my mind. And the look on its face was a blackest glimpse of hell.
“‘And now stand as thou didst in robbing the friend, stand, stand;’ and again came the unknown words, and again the fiend obeyed.
“‘These we will take for future use,’ said my sister. And bidding me watch the creature carefully until she should return, she left the room, and, after none too short an absence, returned bearing a black box that was an apparatus for photography, and something more besides,—some newer, stranger kind of photography that she had learned. Then, on a strangely fashioned card, a transparent white card, composed of many layers of finest Oriental paper, she took the pictures of the creature in those two creeping poses. And when it all was done, the card seemed as white as before, and empty of all meaning until one held it up and examined it intently. Then the pictures showed. And between the two there was a third picture, which somehow seemed to show, at the same time, two faces in one, two souls, my sister said, the kindly visaged man we first had seen, and then the fiend.
“Now my sister asked for pen and ink and I gave her my pocket pen which was filled with purple ink. Handing this to the kulos-man she bade him write under the first picture: ‘Thus I killed my babe.’ And under the second picture: ‘Thus I robbed my friend.’ And under the third, the one that was between the other two: ‘This is the soul of Richard Burwell.’ An odd thing about this writing was that it was in the same old French the creature had used in speech, and yet Burwell knew no French.
“My sister was about to finish with the creature when a new idea took her, and she said, looking at It as before:—‘Of all thy crimes which one is the worst? Speak, I command thee!’
“Then the fiend told how once It had killed every soul in a house of holy women and buried the bodies in a cellar under a heavy door.
“Where was the house?’
“‘At No. 19 Rue Picpus, next to the old graveyard.’
“‘And when was this?’
“Here the fiend seemed to break into fierce rebellion, writhing on the floor with hideous contortions, and pouring forth words that meant nothing to me, but seemed to reach my sister’s understanding, for she interrupted from time to time, with quick, stern words that finally brought It to subjection.
“‘Enough,’ she said, ‘I know all,’ and then she spoke some words again, her eyes fixed as before, and the reverse change came. Before us stood once more the honest-looking, fine-appearing gentleman, Richard Burwell, of New York.
“‘Excuse me, madame,’ he said, awkwardly, but with deference; ‘I must have dosed a little. I am not myself to-night.’
“‘No,’ said my sister, ‘you have not been yourself to-night.’
“A little later I accompanied the man to the Continental Hotel, where he was stopping, and, returning to my sister, I talked with her until late into the night. I was alarmed to see that she was wrought to a nervous tension that augured ill for her health. I urged her to sleep, but she would not.
“‘No,’ she said, ‘think of the awful responsibility that rests upon me.’ And then she went on with her strange theories and explanations, of which I understood only that here was a power for evil more terrible than a pestilence, menacing all humanity.
“‘Once in many cycles it happens,’ she said, ‘that a kulos-soul pushes itself within the body of a new-born child, when the pure soul waiting to enter is delayed. Then the two live together through that life, and this hideous principle of evil has a chance upon the earth. It is my will, as I feel it my duty, to see this poor man again. The chances are that he will never know us, for the shock of this night to his normal soul is so great as to wipe out memory.’
“The next evening, about the same hour, my sister insisted that I should go with her to the Folies Bergère, a concert garden, none too well frequented, and when I remonstrated, she said: ‘I must go,—It is there,’ and the words sent a shiver through me.
“We drove to this place, and passing into the garden, presently discovered Richard Burwell seated at a little table, enjoying the scene of pleasure, which was plainly new to him. My sister hesitated a moment what to do, and then, leaving my arm, she advanced to the table and dropped before Burwell’s eyes the card she had prepared. A moment later, with a look of pity on her beautiful face, she rejoined me and we went away. It was plain he did not know us.”
To so much of the savant’s strange recital I had listened with absorbed interest, though without a word, but now I burst in with questions.
“What was your sister’s idea in giving Burwell the card?” I asked.
“It was in the hope that she might make the man understand his terrible condition, that is, teach the pure soul to know its loathsome companion.”
“And did her effort succeed?”
“Alas! it did not; my sister’s purpose was defeated by the man’s inability to see the pictures that were plain to every other eye. It is impossible for the kulos-man to know his own degradation.”
“And yet this man has for years been leading a most exemplary life?”
My visitor shook his head. “I grant you there has been improvement, due largely to experiments I have conducted upon him according to my sister’s wishes. But the fiend soul was never driven out. It grieves me to tell you, doctor, that not only was this man the Water Street assassin, but he was the mysterious murderer, the long-sought-for mutilator of women, whose red crimes have baffled the police of Europe and America for the past ten years.”
“You know this,” said I, starting up, “and yet did not denounce him?”
“It would have been impossible to prove such a charge, and besides, I had made oath to my sister that I would use the man only for these soul-experiments. What are his crimes compared with the great secret of knowledge I am now able to give the world?”
“A secret of knowledge?”
“Yes,” said the savant, with intense earnestness, “I may tell you now, doctor, what the whole world will know, ere long, that it is possible to compel every living person to reveal the innermost secrets of his or her life, so long as memory remains, for memory is only the power of producing in the brain material pictures that may be projected externally by the thought rays and made to impress themselves upon the photographic plate, precisely as ordinary pictures do.”
“You mean,” I exclaimed, “that you can photograph the two principles of good and evil that exist in us?”
“Exactly that. The great truth of a dual soul existence, that was dimly apprehended by one of your Western novelists, has been demonstrated by me in the laboratory with my camera. It is my purpose, at the proper time, to entrust this precious knowledge to a chosen few who will perpetuate it and use it worthily.”
“Wonderful, wonderful!” I cried, “and now tell me, if you will, about the house on the Rue Picpus. Did you ever visit the place?”
“We did, and found that no buildings had stood there for fifty years, so we did not pursue the search.”
“And the writing on the card, have you any memory of it, for Burwell told me that the words have faded?”
“I have something better than that; I have a photograph of both card and writing, which my sister was careful to take. I had a notion that the ink in my pocket pen would fade, for it was a poor affair. This photograph I will bring you to-morrow.”
“Bring it to Burwell’s house,” I said.
The next morning the stranger called as agreed upon.
“Here is the photograph of the card,” he said.
“And here is the original card,” I answered, breaking the seal of the envelope I had taken from Burwell’s iron box. “I have waited for your arrival to look at it. Yes, the writing has indeed vanished; the card seems quite blank.”
“Not when you hold it this way,” said the stranger, and as he tipped the card I saw such a horrid revelation as I can never forget. In an instant I realized how the shock of seeing that card had been too great for the soul of wife or friend to bear. In these pictures was the secret of a cursed life. The resemblance to Burwell was unmistakable, the proof against him was overwhelming. In looking upon that piece of pasteboard the wife had seen a crime which the mother could never forgive, the partner had seen a crime which the friend could never forgive. Think of a loved face suddenly melting before your eyes into a grinning skull, then into a mass of putrefaction, then into the ugliest fiend of hell, leering at you, distorted with all the marks of vice and shame. That is what I saw, that is what they had seen!
“Let us lay these two cards in the coffin,” said my companion impressively, “we have done what we could.”
Eager to be rid of the hateful piece of pasteboard (for who could say that the curse was not still clinging about it?), I took the strange man’s arm, and together we advanced into the adjoining room where the body lay. I had seen Burwell as he breathed his last, and knew that there had been a peaceful look on his face as he died. But now, as we laid the two white cards on the still, breast, the savant suddenly touched my arm, and pointing to the dead man’s face, now frightfully distorted, whispered:—“See, even in death It followed him. Let us close the coffin quickly.”
- Years later, some workmen in Paris, making excavations in the Rue Picpus, came upon a heavy door buried under a mass of debris, under an old cemetery. On lifting the door they found a vault-like chamber in which were a number of female skeletons, and graven on the walls were blasphemous words written in French, which experts declared dated from fully two hundred years before. They also declared this handwriting identical with that found on the door at the Water Street murder in New York. Thus we may deduce a theory of fiend reincarnation; for it would seem clear, almost to the point of demonstration, that this murder of the seventeenth century was the work of the same evil soul that killed the poor woman on Water Street towards the end of the nineteenth century.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1926, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 96 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
Public domainPublic domainfalse