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By Edgar Rice Burroughs (1912)
Submitted to The Associated Sunday Magazines on February 12, 1912
From the Danton Burroughs Tarzana Family Archive
This is not a pleasant story to read by the dim rays of a flickering lamp, which accentuate rather than diminish the restless, Cimmerian shadows at the far end of a large and sombre chamber, especially if you be alone in the house and the wind be moaning through gaunt trees without.
I tell you this at the start because I have myself been lured by fair and pleasant preludes into commencing some fiendish tale, of a winter's evening, so that for long hours later I have lain with stiffening scalp, wide eyed upon a haunted pillow.
Yet, withal, it be less terrible than sad.
In common with other well ordered stories this one has a hero, a villain, and a fool. HIs name was -- I had almost said is -- Stone, Joseph Stone; a great powerful, good natured, young giant; rich in health, position, worldly goods and the love of a fair young wife.
The great, well ordered business machine which he had inherited from a frugal, hard-working parent took no great amount of the young man's time, so that he was amply able to devote his many leisure hours to the outdoor sports and exercises he loved so well.
Occasionally he was called away to some one of the firm's many branches in the larger cities to the west, and this night he was in Pittsburgh, where he expected to remain for some three days longer.
He was passing through the lobby of his hotel about ten o'clock, on his way to his room, when he heard his name being paged for a telegram. Taking the yellow envelope from the boy's hand Stone tore it open where he stood in the lobby before the waiting elevator.
This is what he read:
Hotel ______, Pittsburgh. Your wife, Visitor Tonight,
Come at once.
A cold fear gripped the man's heart as his mind jumped to the single conclusion which his one great weakness, inordinate and unreasoning jealousy, would alone permit him to consider as the true interpretation of this, to him, sinister warning.
"Jackson! Who the devil is Mary Jackson?" he muttered. "Ah, some busybody, bent on the performance of a life duty dedicated to the regeneration of the morals of all her neighbours. Caring not whether her charges be true or false; recking not the blasted lives tortured in her trail; believing ill of all, however fair, however chaste; a social hyena, prowling about the haunts of the great to feed upon offal and carrion.
"Gertrude! My God, can it be true? My wife! The wife of Joseph Stone! Yet here it is: "Visitor. Tonight." And then his memory reverted to the last words of his young wife as he had bid her good-bye on the eve of this little business trip.
Had she not insisted upon knowing precisely how long he would be absent? Nay, even to the hour of the arrival of the train that was to hear him home. What a poor, deluded fool he had been, indeed; thinking that her solicitous and urgent inquiry was prompted by her anxiety to know how long she must suffer the loneliness of his absence.
And now he knew the whole horrible truth. She but assured herself that she might safely entertain another -- her lover -- while he, the man who called her wife, was counting the hours which must elapse before he held her in his arms once more. His wife, and so soon to be the mother of his first child! It was hideous, it could not be true. No, it was a damnable lie, conceived in the malign and fetid convolutions of a diseased and wicked brain.
Unmindful of his surroundings, the last few moments of a total blank except for the harrowing turmoil of thoughts within his seething brain, Stone now found himself in his room feverishly piling his belongings into his bag.
Thirty minutes later he was pacing the length of the train shed in the big station, though a full hour must elapse before a train left which would bear him to his home city.
The agony of that hour of inactivity left its grim mark in the haggard, drawn face and wild eyes of Joseph Stone, and the two hours of hell upon the crawling train added the last touches, so that it was an old, despairing man that hastened through a small side door of the waiting room at his destination, and turned his frantic, hurrying footsteps through darkened, unfrequented streets towards the great house upon the hill.
A thousand times that night he had denied and affirmed the possibility of his worst suspicions. With inward passion he had sworn his undying confidence in the virtue of his wife, only to start up, clutching at the arms of the car seat, with the realization that the very ferocity of his haste belied the sincerity of his confidence.
But as he approached his home he made a supreme effort to calm himself, saying over and over again, "I will prove the falsity of this charge -- for this purpose alone have I come -- I believe in Gertrude absolutely"; but yet he sneaked into the grounds surrounding his home, through a small side gate, and circled toward the front of the house amongst the shadows of the trees.
There was a light in his wife's bed chamber. The white shades were drawn, but through the translucent cloth the light showed a great brilliant patch against the dark shadows of the grey stone wall.
As Joseph Stone watched there from the blackness beneath a giant elm, the little hairs upon his neck bristled as he had seen the hair long a wolf's spine rise in response to fierce brute fury, and his heart went cold, and in his head something snapped, for he saw the shadow of a man silhouetted for an instant against a window shade in his wife's bed chamber.
A frantic man had hastened in through that little side gate a moment before, now it was a fierce, cunning wild brute that sneaked on tip-toe up the broad flight of steps to the main entrance of the house -- a brute which looked through a haze of red, like blood; and murder was in its heart.
Cautiously and without sound the key was fitted to the lock. Silently the man entered, and with equal noiselessness closed the door after him.
He heard low voices in the hallway above him, and then the sound of footsteps descending the stairway. He stepped behind a heavy drapery.
A man came down the stairs and advanced along the hall. He was along. Stone could not see his face yet, as the light was turned very low, but he saw that it was a large man who advanced toward where he lay hid, waiting with tense drawn muscles to spring upon his enemy. the man was about his own size and build. On he came with easy grace, unconscious that death lurked in hiding but a step before him.
The avenger crouched; poised lie a great cat. He must act quickly, for to carry out his scheme there must be no sound. First this one and then to the room above to complete the ghastly work which alone might satisfy his vengeance.
The man was abreast of him now. He was turning to reach for his hat where it lay upon a carved hall seat. He was within a yard of the curtain which hid the avenger.
Stone noted with wonderful clarity the little details which his nearer view revealed; the fit of the coat over the broad shoulders; the strong, regular features of the man's face, a face which he did not recognize, the immaculate linen; the well groomed hands and nails; and then, with the soundless swiftness of a great tiger, he sprang.
His powerful fingers circled the strong throat. There was no outcry; he had been too quick for that. His victim, however, had no mind to give up his life without a struggle. He, too, was a powerful man. The mighty blows he rained upon the head and face and body of his antagonist witnessed his great strength; a strength manifolded many times because the man was fighting for his life. But the thing at his throat was invincible, backed by thews and sinews turned to adamant by the maniacal fury behind them.
Silently the two struggled beneath the dim light of the hallway. Slowly the husband forced his prey toward a doorway leading to his library. Weaker and less effective became the struggles of the victim. Now he was dragged across the threshold; presently his body was being bent backward over the polished surface of a massive desk. His eyes protruded, his face was becoming black, the tongue lolled out between lips flecked with froth.
Farther and farther back the head was being forced, the awful eyes of the thing at his throat, filled with the fire of insanity, burned close to those that were slowing rolling upward to set forever in the agony of death.
The man on top gave a final supreme impulse to all the mighty rolling muscles of shoulder, back and arm; there was a sharp click as of the breaking of bone, and the head gave backward with a sickening flaccidity upon the broken neck.
Then the fingers at the throat relaxed, and Joseph Stone stood erect beside the frightful, staring thing that had so lately been a man.
Quietly he sought and closed the door leading into the hall. He fumbled for the key, but it was gone. Then he drew the shades, and blinds and heavy draperies of the windows, after which he lighted a brass lamp which stood upon the desk beside the corpse.
With the snapping of the vertebra in the neck beneath his hands the wild fury of his rage had given place to cold, calculating cunning.
"Why," thought he, "should I kill the woman too? Her suffering would be but momentary, while I who am guiltless have endured the tortures of hell for hours that have seemed an eternity. Better some other punishment which will leave her to drag out a miserable existence of vain remorse and unsatisfied hope to the bitter end of a lifetime of anguish."
For an hour he sat there beside that dead thing, gloating upon the unspeakable horror of the distorted face; the upturned, protruding eyes; the swollen tongue licking the red froth on dead lips.
He heard footsteps crossing the floor above, and once he thought someone was descending the stairs; which brought him, tense and white, to his feet, ready to extinguish the light. It also brought him to a realization of what discovery would mean, and with it crept into his mind the scheme of his revenge.
He thought of the humiliation which must follow such a discovery; of his name dragged through the filth and mire of police court and yellow press. None must know that the name of his fathers had been thus dragged down and debased, other than himself and the woman who had done it.
His plan would quite remove all chance of discovery, and at the same time wreak a most terrible punishment upon the guilty wife -- the lover already had suffered for his part in the crime.
He must act quickly, there was no time to be lost. It was now nearly three o'clock and there was much to be done.
Rising, he began to strip the corpse, the head rolling horribly upon the flabby, broken neck as he turned the body this way and that to remove the various garments. These he laid carefully upon a chair. Then he commenced to remove his own clothes, until he stood naked beside the naked dead.
Again he was startled by the sound of footsteps in the hall above. They approached the stairway. They were descending. Quickly he extinguished the light, and crept stealthily to the door to listen. On came the footsteps. HIs heart stood still. Nearer and nearer they approached the library, and then he breathed free again for they had passed on toward the rear of the house. Who could it be! His wife? He wondered.
For a long time he stood listening, until presently he heard the sound returning from whence it had vanished. Again it passed the door behind which he crouched, mounted the stairway and passed on into a chamber above -- his wife's bedroom.
Joseph Stone, relighting the lamp, returned to his work. With infinite pains he clothed the stiffening corpse in his own garments, until it lay there across the polished top of the massive desk, a replica of what Joseph Stone, dead, might have been -- except for the face. He slipped his ring upon the dead man's finger, and then sought about the library for something. He must leave no faint shadow of a doubt in the minds of those who found the body that it was other than that of the master of the house.
At length he discovered that which would answer his purpose. It was a bronze figure of Cupid. God of Love, cast upon a bronze base. Overall it measured but eight or nine inches in height.
With it he returned to the corpse. Carefully he dragged the body to the floor, shifting its position once so that the light from the lamp fell full upon the head, which, in moving, had twisted upon its broken neck, so that though the body lay upon its back the face was turned toward the floor. He took the head in his hands and twisted it so that it looked up into his eyes once more.
Then he seized the bronze Cupid, and raising it above his head, dealt the corpse a terrific blow upon the forehead. The bone caved in and the flesh tore, but no blood came for the thing was dead. The sound of the blow echoed through the still house. It frightened him, and he again sprang to the lamp ready to extinguish it at the first sound of approaching footsteps, but there were none.
When he had assured himself that the sound of the blow had aroused no one he returned to the dead man. He must find some means for softening the sound of the blows. At last he hit upon it. Raising the head in the palm of his left hand he struck the upturned face once more with the heavy bronze. The sound was deadened
This blow crushed in all the front teeth. Again he struck, and again and again, raining blow after blow upon the mangled thing until not a vestige of the features remained to tell what it had been like in life, or even that it had ever been a human face.
He took a frenzied joy in each succeeding blow until, the face entirely obliterated, he still continued to strike it for the pure love of satisfying his red lust of hate and vengeance.
For half an hour he had knelt naked beside the dead man raining a torrent of hideous blows upon the mushy thing that had once been a human face until he was forced to cease from sheer exhaustion. When he finally looked up he saw that it was nearly four o'clock. He was panic stricken.
Once daylight came and he was lost. Quickly he ran to a little lavatory at the far end of the library where he hastily washed his hands and bathed his face. Then he hastened back and donned the garments of the dead man.
One more look he gave the thing upon the floor ere he extinguished the light, and what he saw filled him with hideous glee; for there lay, so far as mortal man other than he could say, the horribly murdered body of Joseph Stone. And his faithless wife would suffer in the guilty belief that her lover had slain him.
The light went out beneath his hand and he stole noiselessly from the room. In the hallway he found the dead man's hat, and a moment later he closed the great door of his home behind him for the last time; stepping out into the world a pariah, a lost soul, but gloating in the memory of his fiendish revenge.
That night he slept in a second rate hotel in a small city a hundred miles from the scene of his vengeance.
The following morning he awoke after a night of restless misery. In the lobby of the hotel he sought the news stand, and there, in great letters, upon the main sheet of one of yesterday's evening papers from his home city he read the glaring headline.
JOSEPH STONE BRUTALLY MURDERED
Mystery Surrounds Crime
He bought a copy of the paper and returned to his room. The newspaper account of the tragedy was as follows:
At six o'clock this morning a houseman in the employ of the Joseph Stones stumbled over the dead and terribly disfigured body of his master in the library of the Stone mansion.
The face had been beaten into an unrecognizable pulp with the base of a bronze statue which lay beside the corpse.
The entire affair is shrouded in the deepest mystery, the police having been able to glean the following facts only.
Mr. Stone left for Pittsburgh on a business trip last Monday. Wednesday evening, Mrs. Stone, who expected soon to become a mother, was taken unexpectedly ill. A nurse was called, but the Stone's family physician, Dr. Silas Martin, who was temporarily out of the city could not be reached. The nurse therefore called another physician, Dr. James S. Story, who was entirely unknown to the family.
The nurse, whose name is Mary Jackson, at the same time wired Mr. Stone at his hotel in Pittsburgh.
It was learned there, through the efforts of the Pittsburgh police, that Mr. Stone had received a telegram about 10 P.M. Wednesday night, and had immediately left the hotel with his bag, evidently greatly perturbed.
This is the last that has been definitely learned of his movements. Dr. Story left Mrs. Stone about 1:30 this morning, the nurse thinks. Thereafter the nurse went several times during the night through the upper hallway between Mrs. Stone's bedroom and the bathroom, and once, about three o'clock, she thinks, she went down the front stairs and back to the kitchen, returning the same way and passing the library twice, yet she says that she heard no unusual noises during the night. ONe of the strangest circumstances connected with this mysterious tragedy is that Dr. Story has not been seen since he left Mrs. Stone's room at 1:30 this morning.
The police are inclined to suspect the doctor, though they are at a loss to ascribe any motive for his having murdered an utter stranger in so cruel and shocking a manner. The doctor is well known on the East Side, and bears a splendid reputation. He has a wife and two small children to all of whom he was extremely devoted.
Mrs. Stone has not as yet been advised of her terrible bereavement, as it is doubtful that she would survive the shock in her present weakened condition.
Otherwise she is doing well, as is the little son who was born to her last night.
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