"Well, the thing exploded on Tuesday, the twenty-sixth of August. I had rise_t my usual time and had breakfast, but was not good for much because of th_ain in my spine. It had been troubling me badly of late, and forcing me t_ake opiates when it got too unbearable; nobody else was downstairs except th_ervants, though I could hear Marceline moving about in her room. Marsh slep_n the attic next his studio, and had begun to keep such late hours that h_as seldom up till noon. About ten o'clock the pain got the better of me, s_hat I took a double dose of my opiate and lay down on the parlour sofa. Th_ast I heard was Marceline's pacing overhead. Poor creature - if I had known!
She must have been walking before the long mirror admiring herself. That wa_ike her. Vain from start to finish - revelling in her own beauty, just as sh_evelled in all the little luxuries Denis was able to give her.
"I didn't wake up till near sunset, and knew instantly how long I had slep_rom the golden light and long shadows outside the long window. Nobody wa_bout, and a sort of unnatural stillness seemed to be hovering ove_verything. From afar, though, I thought I could sense a faint howling, wil_nd intermittent, whose quality had a slight but baffling familiarity abou_t. I'm not much for psychic premonitions, but I was frightfully uneasy fro_he start. There had been dreams - even worse than the ones I had bee_reaming in the weeks before - and this time they seemed hideously linked t_ome black and festering reality. The whole place had a poisonous air.
Afterward I reflected that certain sounds must have filtered through into m_nconscious brain during those hours of drugged sleep. My pain, though, wa_ery much eased; and I rose and walked without difficulty.
"Soon enough I began to see that something was wrong. Marsh and Marcelin_ight have been riding, but someone ought to have been getting dinner in th_itchen. Instead, there was only silence, except for that faint, distant how_r wail; and nobody answered when I pulled the old-fashioned bell-cord t_ummon Scipio. Then, chancing to look up, I saw the spreading stain on th_eiling - the bright re stain, that must have come through the floor o_arceline's room.
"In an instant I forgot my crippled back and hurried upstairs to find out th_orst. Everything under the sun raced through my mind as I struggled with th_ampness-warped door of that silent chamber, and most hideous of all was _errible sense of malign fulfilment and fatal expectedness. I had, it struc_e, known all along that nameless horrors were gathering; that somethin_rofoundly and cosmically evil had gained a foot-hold under my roof from whic_nly blood and tragedy could result.
"The door gave at last, and I stumbled into the large room beyond - all di_rom the branches of the great trees outside the windows. For a moment I coul_o nothing but flinch at the faint evil odour that immediately struck m_ostrils. Then, turning on the electric light and glancing around, I glimpse_ nameless blasphemy on the yellow and blue rug.
"It lay face down in a great pool of dark, thickened blood, and had the gor_rint of a shod human foot in the middle of its naked back. Blood wa_pattered everywhere - on the walls, furniture, and floor. My knees gave wa_s I took in the sight, so that I had to stumble to a chair and slump down.
The thing had obviously been a human being, though its identity was not eas_o establish at first; since it was without clothes, and had most of its hai_acked and torn from the scalp in a very crude way. It was of a deep ivor_olour, and I knew that it must have been Marceline. The shoe-print on th_ack made the thing seem all the more hellish. I could not even picture th_trange, loathsome tragedy which must have taken place while I slept in th_oom below. When I raised my hand to wipe my dripping forehead I saw that m_ingers were sticky with blood. I shuddered, then realised that it must hav_ome from the knob of the door which the unknown murderer had forced shu_ehind him as he left. He had taken his weapon with him, it seemed, for n_nstrument of death was visible here.
"As I studied the floor I saw that a line of sticky footprints like the one o_he body led away from the horror to the door. There was another blood-trail,
too, and of a less easily explainable kind; a broadish, continuous line, as i_arking the path of some huge snake. At first I concluded it must be due t_omething the murderer had dragged after him. Then, noting the way some of th_ootprints seemed to be superimposed on it, I was forced to believe that i_ould have been there when the murderer left. But what crawling entity coul_ave been in that room with the victim and her assassin, leaving before th_iller when the deed was done? As I asked myself this question I thought _eard fresh bursts of that faint, distant wailing.
"Finally, rousing myself from a lethargy of horror, I got on my feet again an_egan following the footprints. Who the murderer was, I could not even faintl_uess, nor could I try to explain the absence of the servants. I vaguely fel_hat I ought to go up to Marsh's attic quarters, but before I had full_ormulated the idea I saw that the bloody trail was indeed taking me there.
Was he himself the murderer? Had he gone mad under the strain of the morbi_ituation and suddenly run amok?
"In the attic corridor the trail became faint, the prints almost ceasing a_hey merged with the dark carpet. I could still, however, discern the strang_ingle path of the entity who had gone first; and this led straight to th_losed door of Marsh's studio, disappearing beneath it at a point about hal_ay from side to side. Evidently it had crossed the threshold at a time whe_he door was wide open.
"Sick at heart, I tried the knob and found the door unlocked. Opening it, _aused in the waning north light to see what fresh nightmare might be awaitin_e. There was certainly something human on the floor, and I reached for th_witch to turn on the chandelier.
"But as the light flashed up my gaze left the floor and its horror - that wa_arsh, poor devil - to fix itself frantically and incredulously upon th_iving thing that cowered and stared in the open doorway leading to Marsh'_edroom. It was a tousled, wild-eyed thing, crusted with dried blood an_arrying in its hand a wicked machete which had been one of the ornaments o_he studio wall. Yet even in that awful moment I recognised it as one whom _ad thought more than a thousand miles away. It was my own boy Denis - or th_addened wreck which had once been Denis.
"The sight of me seemed to bring back a trifle of sanity - or at least o_emory - in the poor boy. He straightened up and began to toss his head abou_s if trying to shake free from some enveloping influence. I could not speak _ord, but moved my lips in an effort to get back my voice. My eyes wandere_or a moment to the figure on the floor in front of the heavily draped easel -
the figure toward which the strange blood-trail led, and which seemed to b_angled in the coils of some dark, ropy object. The shifting of my glanc_pparently produced some impression in the twisted brain of the boy, fo_uddenly he began to mutter in a hoarse whisper whose purport I was soon abl_o catch.
"'I had to exterminate her - she was the devil - the summit and high-priestes_f all evil - the spawn of the pit - Marsh knew, and tried to warn me. Goo_ld Frank - I didn't kill him, though I was ready to before I realised. But _ent down there and killed her - then that cursed hair - '
"I listened in horror as Denis choked, paused, and began again.
"'You didn't know - her letters got queer and I knew she was in love wit_arsh. Then she nearly stopped writing. He never mentioned her - I fel_omething was wrong, and thought I ought to come back and find out. Couldn'_ell you - your manner would have given it away. Wanted to surprise them. Go_ere about noon today - came in a cab and sent the house-servants all off -
let the field hands alone, for their cabins are all out of earshot. Tol_cCabe to get me some things in Cape Girardeau and not bother to come bac_ntil tomorrow. Had all the niggers take the old car and let Mary drive the_o Bend Village for a vacation - told 'em we were all going on some sort o_uting and wouldn't need help. Said they'd better stay all night with Uncl_cip's cousin, who keeps that nigger boarding house.'
"Denis was getting very incoherent now, and I strained my ears to grasp ever_ord. Again I thought I heard that wild, far-off wail, but the story had firs_lace for the present.
"'Saw you sleeping in the parlour, and took a chance you wouldn't wake up.
Then went upstairs on the quiet to hunt up Marsh and…that woman!'
"The boy shuddered as he avoided pronouncing Marceline's name. At the sam_ime I saw his eyes dilate in unison with a bursting of the distant crying,
whose vague familiarity had now become very great.
"'She was not in her room, so I went up to the studio. Door was shut, and _ould hear voices inside. Didn't knock - just burst in and found her posin_or the picture. Nude, but with the hellish hair all draped around her. An_aking all sorts of sheep's eyes at Marsh. He had the easel turned half awa_rom the door, so I couldn't see the picture. Both of them were pretty wel_olted when I shewed up, and Marsh dropped his brush. I was in a rage and tol_im he'd have to shew me the portrait, but he got calmer every minute. Told m_t wasn't quite done, but would be in a day or two \- said I could see it then
- she - hadn't seen it.
"'But that didn't go with me. I stepped up, and he dropped a velvet curtai_ver the thing before I could see it. He was ready to fight before letting m_ee it, but that - that - she - stepped up and sided with me. Said we ought t_ee it. Frank got horrible worked up, and gave me a punch when I tried to ge_t the curtain. I punched back and seemed to have knocked him out. Then I wa_lmost knocked out myself by the shriek that - that creature - gave. She'_rawn aside the hangings herself, and caught a look at what Marsh had bee_ainting. I wheeled around and saw her rushing like mad out of the room - the_ saw the picture.'
"Madness flared up in the boy's eyes again as he got to this place, and _hought for a minute he was going to spring at me with his machete. But afte_ pause he partly steadied himself.
"'Oh, God - that thing! Don't ever look at it! Burn it with the hanging_round it and throw the ashes into the river! Marsh knew - and was warning me.
He knew what it was - what that woman - that leopardess, or gorgon, or lamia,
or whatever she was - actually represented. He'd tried to hint to me eve_ince I met her in his Paris studio, but it couldn't be told in words. _hought they all wronged her when they whispered horrors about her - she ha_e hypnotised so that I couldn't believe the plain facts - but this pictur_as caught the whole secret - the whole monstrous background!
"'God, but Frank is an artist! That thing is the greatest piece any livin_oul has produced since Rembrandt! It's a crime to burn it - but it would be _reater crime to let it exist - just as it would have been an abhorrent sin t_et - that she-daemon - exist any longer. The minute I saw it I understoo_hat - she - was, and what part she played in the frightful secret that ha_ome down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones - the secret that wa_early wiped out when Atlantis sank, but that kept half alive in hidde_raditions and allegorical myths and furtive, midnight cult-practices. For yo_now she was the real thing. It wasn't any fake. It would have been mercifu_f it had been a fake. It was the old, hideous shadow that philosophers neve_ared mention - the thing hinted at in the Necronomicon and symbolised in th_aster Island colossi.
"'She thought we couldn't see through - that the false front would hold til_e had bartered away our immortal souls. And she was half right - she'd hav_ot me in the end. She was only - waiting. But Frank - good old Frank - wa_oo much for me. He knew what it all meant, and painted it. I don't wonder sh_hrieked and ran off when she saw it. It wasn't quite done, but God know_nough was there.
"'Then I knew I'd got to kill her - kill her, and everything connected wit_er. It was a taint that wholesome human blood couldn't bear. There wa_omething else, too - but you'll never know that if you burn the pictur_ithout looking. I staggered down to her room with this machete that I got of_he wall here, leaving Frank still knocked out. He was breathing, though, an_ knew and thanked heaven I hadn't killed him.
"'I found her in front of the mirror braiding that accursed hair. She turne_n me like a wild beast, and began spitting out her hatred of Marsh. The fac_hat she'd been in love with him - and I knew she had - only made it worse.
For a minute I couldn't move, and she came within an ace of completel_ypnotising me. Then I thought of the picture, and the spell broke. She sa_he breaking in my eyes, and must have noticed the machete, too. I never sa_nything give such a wild jungle beast look as she did then. She sprang for m_ith claws out like a leopard's, but I was too quick. I swung the machete, an_t was all over.'
"Denis had to stop again, and I saw the perspiration running down his forehea_hrough the spattered blood. But in a moment he hoarsely resumed.
"'I said it was all over - but God! some of it had only just begun! I felt _ad fought the legions of Satan, and put my foot on the back of the thing _ad annihilated. Then I saw that blasphemous braid of coarse black hair begi_o twist and squirm of itself.
"'I might have known it. It was all in the old tales. That damnable hair had _ife of its own, that couldn't be ended by killing the creature itself. I kne_'d have to burn it, so I started to hack it off with the machete. God, but i_as devilish work! Tough - like iron wires - but I managed to do it. And i_as loathsome the way the big braid writhed and struggled in my grasp.
"'About the time I had the last strand cut or pulled off I heard that eldritc_ailing from behind the house. You know - it's still going off and on. I don'_now what it is, but it must be something springing from this hellis_usiness. It half seems like something I ought to know but can't quite place.
It got my nerves the first time I heard it, and I dropped the severed braid i_y fright. Then, I got a worse fright - for in another second the braid ha_urned on me and began to strike venomously with one of its ends which ha_notted itself up like a sort of grotesque head. I struck out with th_achete, and it turned away. Then, when I had my breath again, I saw that th_onstrous thing was crawling along the floor by itself like a great blac_nake. I couldn't do anything for a while, but when it vanished through th_oor I managed to pull myself together and stumble after it. I could follo_he broad, bloody trail, and I saw it led upstairs. It brought me here \- an_ay heaven curse me if I didn't see it through the doorway, striking at poo_azed Marsh like a maddened rattler as it had struck at me, finally coilin_round him as a python would. He had begun to come to, but that abominabl_erpent got him before he was on his feet. I knew that all of the woman'_atred was behind it, but I hadn't the power to pull it off. I tried, but i_as too much for me. Even the machete was no good - I couldn't swing it freel_r it would have slashed Frank to pieces. So I saw those monstrous coil_ighten - saw poor Frank crushed to death before my eyes - and all the tim_hat awful faint howling came from somewhere beyond the fields.
"'That's all. I pulled the velvet cloth over the picture and hope it'll neve_e lifted. The thing must be burnt. I couldn't pry the coils off poor, dea_rank - they cling to him like a leach, and seem to have lost their motio_ltogether. It's as if that snaky rope of hair has a kind of perverse fondnes_or the man it killed - it's clinging to him - embracing him. You'll have t_urn poor Frank with it - but for God's sake don't forget to see it in ashes.
That and the picture. They must both go. The safety of the world demands tha_hey go.
"Denis might have whispered more, but a fresh burst of distant wailing cut u_hort. For the first time we knew what it was, for a westerly veering win_rought articulate words at last. We ought to have known long before, sinc_ounds much like it had often come from the same source. It was wrinkle_ophonisba, the ancient Zulu witch-woman who had fawned on Marceline, keenin_rom her cabin in a way which crowned the horrors of this nightmare tragedy.
We could both hear some of the things she howled, and knew that secret an_rimordial bonds linked this savage sorceress with that other inheritor o_lder secrets who had just been extirpated. Some of the words she use_etrayed her closeness to daemonic and palaeogean traditions.
"'Iä! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! Ya-R'lyeh! N'gagi n'bulu bwana n'lolo! Ya, yo, poo_issy Tanit, poor Missy Isis! Marse Clooloo, come up outen de water an' git y_hile - she done daid! She done daid! De hair ain' got no missus no mo', Mars_looloo. Ol' Sophy, she know! Ol' Sophy, she done got de black stone outen Bi_imbabwe in ol' Affriky! Ol' Sophy, she done dance in de moonshine roun' d_rocodile-stone befo' de N'bangus cotch her and sell her to de ship folks! N_o' Tanit! No mo' Isis! No mo' witch-woman to keep de fire a-goin' in de bi_tone place! Ya, yo! N'gagi n'bulu bwana n'lolo! Iä! Shub-Niggurath! She daid!
Ol' Sophy know!'
"That wasn't the end of the wailing, but it was all I could pay attention to.
The expression on my boy's face shewed that it had reminded him of somethin_rightful, and the tightening of his hand on the machete boded no good. I kne_e was desperate, and sprang to disarm him before he could do anything more.
"But I was too late. An old man with a bad spine doesn't count for muc_hysically. There was a terrible struggle, but he had done for himself befor_any seconds were over. I'm not sure yet but that he tried to kill me, too.
His last panting words were something about the need of wiping out everythin_hat had been connected with Marceline, either by blood or marriage."