Hear No Evil
The doctor was blind but his scalpel wit cut to the core of an eerie crime to save a girl from madness
THERE’S your friend Charlie,” Frank said as the doorman took my arm. “Charlie Foster, with a good-looking dame. Brown curly hair, little snub nose, figure . . . boss, I wish you could get an eyeful of that chick!”
“You go find a parking place across the street,” I Biiid. “I’ll take your word for her.”
I heard Frank start in a hurry. He always likes to get a parking place where he can keep his eye on me without getting out of the car; 1 don’t know what he thinks is going to happen to me. He hasn’t got it through his head yet that being chauffeur to a blind doctor who leads a quiet life is a little different from his last job ns bodyguard for an ex-thug.
Charlie was sitting at a table just inside the door. He hailed me, and 1 sat down with him. As far as I could tell, the tables around us were empty. We were surrounded, as with a wall, by the noise of a New York street.
“You’ve met Betty,” Charlie said. “Betty Parker. My fiancée.” He said it defiantly. Not happily. Not triumphantly. Defiantly.
Betty didn’t say anything. Not even hello. After a minute, in spite of the noise around us, I knew she was crying.
It puts you in a funny position, a thing like that. You don’t feel quite right wishing happiness to somebody who is in tears. And then I realized that, since she was crying so softly, they probably thought that 1 didn’t even know she was crying. People usually think I notice far less than I do, which is one reason why, in spite of blindness, I am still a doctor—of course now doing nothing but consultation and diagnosis. Since so many modern ailments are mental, people are always giving themselves away to me without having any idea that they’ve done so.
“That’s swell, Charlie,” I said. “That’s just what I would have wished. I know you’ll both be very happy—” and Betty let out a sniffle that must have told the chef in the kitchen there was a girl sitting by the front door weeping.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “maybe I’m in the way.” I started to get up, but Charlie caught my hand and pulled me down.
“Don’t go, Ken,” he said, “please—don’t go. You may be just what we need to help us. We’re going
to be married.” He sounded desperate.
“We’re not!” Betty said, as though the words were jerked out of her, and her voice was so pathetic that I gave up all idea of being impersonal about this. “Why not?” I said.
There was a hideous silence. After a while she said—and her voice was light and casual and calm, and so much more pathetic than it had been before—“You see I can’t marry anybody. I’m not quite right. Mentally, I mean.”
Charlie made a noise. I couldn’t tell whether it was denial, or defiance, or just plain anguish, but I wished I hadn’t heard it.
“You sound sane enough,” I said to Betty, stalling.
“Don’t be polite,” she said, and the casual note cracked at last, and I was glad it did. “It’s true all right. I’m nuts.”
“She’s not!” Charlie said hoarsely. Then, “I don’t care if she is,” he said, and I knew that noise had been defiance.
“Suppose you tell me more about it,” I said.
“She’s just nervous,” Charlie said. “That’s all. Nervous.”
“It starts off like being nervous,” Betty said. “But it gets worse. I feel—I feel as if I have to get out. Out of the house. In the middle of the night, anytime. Í just suddenly get nervous. I can’t sleep and I sit waiting for it, and then it comes and—and I just don’t know what I’m doing. It’s—well, I’m nuts, that’s all.”
“Oh, no,” she said. “Just the last two years.” This was obviously hard for her to say, but her voice was controlled and quiet. Control like that, I thought, certainly did not go with madness. “You see,” she said, “my mother died. We’d been awfully close. I had a breakdown—you know, afterward. And then I got this way.”
“It’s nothing at all,” Charlie said stubbornly. “Just nerves. Nerves and the life she leads.”
“Were you left all alone?” I said.
“Oh, no,” she said. “There’s my brother. He takes care of me. He’s been awfully good to me.” She was silent for a minute. “I never liked him,” she said. After a minute, against our silence, “That’s the nice thing about being nuts. You can say anything you like.”
I said, “It’s perfectly normal not to like your brother, you know. What don’t you like about him?”
SHE began to laugh, and her laugh was nice and merry and not mad at all. “There’s nothing I like about him,” she said. “I guess I don’t know him well enough. You see our parents are divorced, and Dad brought Walton up. They lived abroad. We used to have to visit once in a while and we’d pretend we were so glad, and then we’d stick pins in each other. Then —well, first mother and dad died, and there was just Walton. He came home from France, two years ago, to be with me. I must say he’s been good. He really has.” She was a little defiant about it. “He looks after everything for me. Of course sometimes he’s awfully strict. He won’t let me do what I want to do. But he’s right about that,” she added hastily, as though we had argued. “In my condition it’s right to keep me in.”
“What is he strict about?” I asked.
“About my going out. Like this afternoon. I had a date to come to town and meet Charlie. Walton didn’t think I should because I’d—well, I’d had a nervous
spell last night. A bad one. So he told me not to go.” There was a pitiful little-girl note of triumph in her voice. “So I ran away,” she said. “I came in spite of him.”
“So you’re hiding from him,” I said, “by sitting on Fifth Avenue in the bright sunlight. Hidden by the potted plants, I suppose.”
“Personally,” Charlie said, “Fd like to be found. “I’d welcome a showdown. I’d like to tell that big stiff—”
“No,” Betty said. “No. Then he’d never let me see you. He’d lock me up—”
“Look,” I said. “Am I supposed to help?”
“If you could,” Charlie said. “If you only could!”
“I’ll try,” I said, “if you’ll follow my advice. In the first place you’ve done the worst thing you could do in defying him like this. Go along home, Betty. Act as calm and detached as possible. You just can’t imagine what all the fuss is about. Don’t let him get you upset.”
“I can’t,” she said. “I can’t go home. I’m frightened. He must be terribly angry. I can’t go home. Unless—” she hesitated—“unless you’d go with me.”
I thought she meant Charlie, of course. I had taken out my watch to find out whether I still could make my train, or if my week-end hostess would be waiting for me at dinnertime. My fingers told my train had left.
“Will you, Ken?” Charlie said. “I’ll go, of course, but that won’t help much. But if you should come too—”
Well, my train had gone and anyway, I didn’t really like my hostess. And Charlie was my best friend, and Betty was his girl. Frank could send a wire saying that I was ill, only I’d have to write it for him. He’s a good bodyguard, but he composes with difficulty.
“All right,” I said. “I’ll go. I’ve a bag all packed in my car anyway.” I waved my hand toward Frank, and heard him start the motor and swing around to pick us up. I expected to hear some sort of protest from Charlie, some interest in where I’d been planning to take myself and my packed bag, but there was none. I didn’t mind. I’ve found out already that people in trouble aren’t thinking about other people.
Betty told me the way to drive to Southton and I told Frank. He said “Okay, boss,” and nothing more. It takes more than a change of plans to surprise Frank.
Betty settled down between Charlie and me. She was keyed up and nervous; 1 could realize how nervous, now that we no longer had the table between us. Her hand was on my arm, clenched tight. She didn’t let go, even after she settled down.
We started up the East River Drive. It was a lovely day and the top was down, and I was glad to be going to the country, qven this way. I noticed, suddenly, that Betty’s hand on my arm was loose and limp.
“Asleep,” Charlie said. “She drops off like that.”
“Let her sleep,” I said. “Don’t talk.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “We couldn’t wake her, even if we wanted to. She sleeps this way. Just drops off, and she’s out like a light. That’s because she’s so worn out with all this.
She gets so upset.”
I didn’t really think it was because of that. I had my own ideas of what would make a person sleep like that, but I didn’t say so.
“She’s such a little thing,” Charlie said. “No resistance.” His voice was brooding—almost maternal, I thought, absurdly. It touched me. I wanted more than ever to help them.
“When did you find out something was wrong?” I said.
HE WAITED a long time before he answered, but when he did his voice was calm. “I knew there was something queer about the setup,” he said. “Not that Walton was ever anything but courteous. Only he made it so damned clear that he didn’t want me seeing Betty. But I kept on coming anyway, for a month or two. Then one night, after I’d brought her home, he asked me to stick around for a while and have a drink. Betty went off to bed; I could see she was terribly upset. We had a drink, there by the fire. Everything very cosy and friendly. And then he told me, in the nicest sort of way, that he thought I’d better
know, before I got too involved, that Betty wasn’t right. Derangement, he said. The mad Ophelia, and all that sort of thing.”
His voice grew strained, and he had to wait before he could finish. “So I told Walton,” he said, “that I'd never thought of Betty in a romantic way, seeing that we’d been children together. I fed him that line until I choked on it.”
He did choke, without meaning to. “Damn it, Ken,” he said, “I want to marry her. She’s my girl— She was never really out of my mind, all the years she was living in the south with her mother. But I had to tell Walton that, because I knew if I didn’t I’d never see her again. And he believed me, the dope, he believed it.”
We stopped for a traffic light, and it seemed strangely and indecently silent. Charlie stopped talking. When we started up again he spoke, but his
voice was different, and I knew he wouldn’t tell me much more. He was talked out.
“I still think,” he said, “that if she could get away from Walton and that house, and that strained sort of life, she’d be all right. It’s just nerves.” He appealed to me, suddenly, frantically. “It could be just nerves, couldn’t it? Couldn’t it, Ken?”
“It could be,” I said.
He didn’t talk any more till we were a mile or so from Southton. Then, gently but desperately, he turned his whole attention to trying to wake Betty, so that he could avoid Continued on page 35
Hear No Evil
Continued from page 9
the awkward necessity of having to carry her in her own front door.
It wasn’t nearly as bad, when we got there, as I had expected. Walton was not alarming at all; in fact he was rather charming. Amazingly charming, considering that he was greeting two unexpected and—if Charlie wasn’t jumping at shadows—thoroughly unwelcome guests. He made a small, discreet fuss over his relief at seeing
Betty; took charge of her at once and sent her upstairs for a warm bath and a nap.
There was a haunting familiarity about the man; a sense that I had met him somewhere before, though I could not think where. A blind man’s memory is as overtrained as his touch or his hearing, and when I have met a man his name and his voice and the circumstances of our meeting are in my mind to stay. Unless I met him more than 13 years ago. I say 13 years ago because, before that, it was a man’s face and the way he looked that stayed in
my mind. The people I met before that, and saw, I cannot hope to place, now that I can only hear them.
And I was sure I had met Walton during the last 13 years, because the things that were familiar about him were the things I could notice now— the things I could hear and sense. But the when and where of that meeting still eluded me.
When we were ready to go upstairs Frank was still waiting for me in the hall with my bag. He guided me up tbe stairs in his own way—with his voice, which there is no mistaking.
When we got to my room he gave me a working layout of it, accurate enough so that I would have no trouble. Then he stood quiet for a minute, scuffing at the rug with his toe, and when I heard that I knew there must be something on his mind.
“Boss,” he said. “This dame. She anything to you?”
“Not to me, no,” I said. “Why?”
“She’s a hophead,” he said. “Yeah, a hophead. I’m pretty sure. Her eyes, and the way she slept. Out like a light, and no waking her. Yeah, Fm sure. Hophead.”
“That was dope?” I said, hoping I looked surprised.
“Aftereffect,”, he said. “I’ve seen it before. Probably something she took last night.” He stood a long time; his silence was heavy. “You watch out for yourself, boss,” he said.
“That’s your job,” I said. “You watch out for me.”
“Okay, boss,” he said, and went downstairs.
DINNER went off well. Waltonwas still the perfect host, and Betty was quiet but sweet. It was almost possible to believe that we were four people having dinner together because we wanted to.
Through it all, as we talked, my mind worried at the problem of where I had met Walton before. It is always irritating to have that feeling, and in this case I knew it was important.
There were other things about the evening that troubled me. We had coffee by the fire in the library after Betty had gone upstairs— Walton took her up, the picture of brotherly concern. For once I resented the heartwarming noise a fire makes; it was coming between me and the things I wanted to hear. Upstairs, for instance, someone was walking nervously from one side of a room to the other. Someone who was almost frantic. It made me nervous just to hear those anguished steps.
Against that noise the crackling of the fire was not cosy and was not soothing; it was terrifying, because it kept me from hearing, and I must hear.
I must hear and I must remember.
Once, when Walton mentioned his organ, and Charlie politely said he hoped we would have a chance to hear it before we left, I thought I had it; but the memory moved away again as quickly as it had come. I tried to suit a face and form to Walton, to see if that would help, but it did not. He was small, I knew from the level of his voice—small and waspish. I felt certain of the way his black bowtie stuck out from a thin Adam’s apple, and the sleek cut of his dinner jacket around his slim waist. His shoulders were straight,
I thought, too straight, as though he would make up by his arrogant bearing for his small, unsatisfactory form. His voice was smooth and he laughed a lot, pleasantly, but I felt it was only the top of his voice we were hearing— underneath there were ugly streaks and hard mean notes that he kept carefully covered. No, 1 didn’t like Walton at all. I hated the unbroken panel of courtesy that he held in front of him.
The evening lasted forever. So did the walking upstairs. Walton brought it all to an end at last, with a few quite proper remarks about country habits and country air and wondering if we didn’t feel like sleeping, and hoping we would just go along to bed if we felt like it. We got up gratefully.
Walton went on up ahead of me, and I signalled Charlie to follow him.
Frank was waiting for me, as I’d suspected, behind a curtain at the foot of the stairs. I have never been able to convince him that in the world I move in I am far less likely to find an attacker lying in wait for me on a dark landing than was his former employer, the ex thug, now deceased. And for the first time, that night in the Parker’s house, I was glad of it, although I didn’t tell Frank that.
“Look,” I said, and even managed a yawn. “I’m going to get some sleep, you do the same.”
“Okay,” he said.
“Be sure,” I said.
As I went up the stairs I was not surprised to hear him, with elaborate quietness, start to follow me.
THERE was someone standing on the first landing when I got there. Standing in what they no doubt took for complete silence, having forgotten about the sounds that frantic and agitated breathing makes. I had no idea who it was, or what they wanted, so I played it safe. I said, as though I knew, “Oh, hello.”
I got no answer. A moment later a hand clutched my hand. Thin and cold, it was, and the nails hurt me. But it was also small and soft, and I knew it was Betty.
“What’s the matter?” I said. Curse the girl, I thought, she doesn’t have to go about frightening me! But when she spoke and I heard the tightness in her voice I knew she had not spoken before because she could not.
“Could you come in and sit with me a while?” she said. She wheezed it out. “Of course I could,” I said.
She left her hand on my arm and we walked along the hall together. She was relaxing already, she could talk a little, though it wasn’t very coherent. “So I couldn’t stand it, you see,” she kept saying, “so I just couldn’t stand it, and I thought if you came, and just talked a while, and stayed till I was better, I might be all right. After all, you’re a doctor. No matter what Walton says about having people in my room, it’s all right to have a doctor in, isn’t it? Because I couldn’t stand it, you see, I just couldn’t stand it—” The words circled around, weary yet frantic.
“Let’s go and get Charlie, shall we?” I said.
It seemed a long time before the three of us, walking swiftly, finally got back to Betty’s room. An unusually long walk for a private house. Also, on the way, we went through two doors. I wondered how far behind we had left Frank.
Her room, I judged, was comfortable and large. The chair Charlie found for me was excellent. He sat down too, near me, but Betty stayed on her feet and kept walking.
“You know,” I said, and I hoped my voice struck the proper conversational level, “I can’t figure this house out. It has me quite baffled.”
“It’s double,” Betty said. She jerked it out, then, realizing how funny it sounded, she stopped walking for a minute and concentrated on trying to explain. That was just what I’d hoped for; it calmed her a lot. “It belongs to us both, you see,” she said. “Walton and me together. So we—we divided it. Walton thought we’d get on better that way. Downstairs belongs to both
of us, but upstairs it’s quite separate. Like a two-family house.” She stopped and considered. “That was nice of Walton,” she said, “to think of that, and to do it. I like having my own half-house, instead of just a room or two. I like a place of my own. I’d love my own house.” Her voice was wistful; she caught herself quickly. “That was nice of Walton,” she repeated.
I thought she was calm enough by then to talk. “You’ve been nervous ever since dinner, haven’t you?” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “I—it was so silly. Walton thought I should come to bed early, to rest, and I couldn’t rest at all. I’ve just been walking. ï’ve been out of my mind. And then—then it got better, and I thought while I still could I’d better call you, to see if you could help, and I went out to the hall and there you were.” She sobbed, to my surprise, for her voice had been steady. “It’s never been that bad before,” she said. “Never. I’m getting worse.” Charlie was up and standing beside her instantly. “You’re not, you’re not,” he said. “You were just tired.”
“When do you have these nervous spells mostly?” I said.
“Any time. That’s what’s so awful. In the night, out of a sound sleep, in the morning, just when I wake up feeling good—”
“Do you ever have them when Walton is up here with you?”
“Oh,” she said, “Walton never comes in here. That is, hardly ever. You see this is my half.”
“Even when there’s anyone here with you?”
“Why, no,” she said. “No. Nobody’s ever here with me. Except the maid, and she usually cleans up when I’m out. We don’t have much company. Just Walton’s friends. Nobody 1 know.” She added hastily, “But that’s natural, since I’m sick. Walton says when I’m well ”
l was getting sick of Walton. “What have you been taking?” I said. “Taking?” She sounded vague.
“To make you sleep.”
“Just—just something the doctor gave me.”
“Ever take too much of it?”
“Why, no,” she said. “Just—just as much as I need to put me to sleep. Sometimes one capsule won’t do it.” “Two?” I said. “Or three or four?” She didn’t answer.
“Go easy,” Charlie said anxiously, “you’re upsetting her.”
She began to cry, suddenly, terribly. “It’s not that!” she cried. “It’s not just that! First I got sick this way, then 1 started to take the capsules! It’s not the capsules that made me sick ! The doctor gave them to me, the doctor Walton sent me to. He told me to take them.”
“You see,” Charlie said crossly, above the sound of her sobs, “I told you to take it easy. She’s too upset to talk.”
“Tell me about this room, Betty,” I said, to give her something else to think about.
She described it, in more detail than 1 had expected, and I got up and moved around, glad of the distraction. We began to talk then, a little more normally, and to feel more at ease with each other and our situation. And it was while we were talking like that, and 1 was moving casually around the room, and Betty was laughing quite happily and naturally over a little difficulty I had with a chair, that the feeling lait us.
IT STARTED oddly. For a moment I felt unusually clearheaded, fully awake, and as though someone were trying to talk to me, trying to say something that I couldn’t quite hear, couldn’t quite understand. It was a
hideous, thwarted feeling, especially for me. Then there was more than that; there was a torment going through me, a vibration and nervousness that seemed to shatter me inside. I couldn’t describe it. I felt that I must run from the place, push against something, get away from it. I forced myself to sit still, and the effort made the sweat stand out on my forehead. I fancied, so tight was the tension in my head, that it might be blood, not sweat.
Betty got up and started pacing quickly. When she spoke she tried to keep her voice calm, but it cracked and splintered. “If I took a pill now,” she said, “don’t you think it would work soon and I’d sleep?”
And I realized, as I should have realized at once, that she thought she was the only one feeling it. She thought it was one of her spells.
“Betty,” I said, “sit down. It’s not you. We all feel it.”
Charlie was swearing softly. We all sat still, too sickened, too startled to speak. After a while—it seemed fbrever —the air cleared. I felt weak and shaken, but at least I could think again.
“You—you felt it?” Betty said. The adjustment was too much for her to make quickly; she began to giggle weakly, almost hysterically. “Then we’re all crazy,” she said, and laughed foolishly.
“Easy, Betty,” I said. “Easy. Don’t try to talk. Let’s just sit here and think for a minute. If it comes again, don’t say anything. Just sit still and let me feel it.”
It came again, within a few minutes. Betty stirred once, but otherwise her control was wonderful.
I explored the feeling with all the senses at my disposal. It was not a sound. It was not an odor or anything connected with the sense of smell. It was not heat or anything that could he touched or felt with the body. It was a vibration, but not a vibration that could be felt— it was a vibration in my head, my skull, under my ears. A sound is a vibration. And yet there was nothing to be heard.
I count my memory as my fifth sense. I explored the feeling with my memory too, and when the feeling had passed and the room was clear again I found that I knew exactly where and how 1 had met Walton before.
I sat for a while in silence, piecing that memory of Walton with the feeling 1 had just had, and I thought I knew the answer to all that was going on. it was, in any case, worth a try.
“Have you a screw' driver, Betty?” I said.
“Screw driver?” she said vaguely. I could tell she was suffering from this more than we were. After all, she had been bothered by it for a long time; she had spent two years thinking she was mad. Her nervous system was staggering under the load of fear and dread it was carrying.
“Just a plain screw driver,” I said.
“In the next room,” she said, “in the sewing-machine drawer. A little one. Charlie can get it.”
Charlie got it and gave it to me. It was small, but it was metal, with a rubber handle. It would do.
“That’s fine,” I said. “Now we’ll wait. While we’re waiting we’ll have a little talk. Betty, how was your father’s estate left to you?”
“Half to Walton, half to me,” she said. “Like the house.”
“Does Walton ever seem to need more money?”
“Why—why, no,” she said. “Sometimes—well, once in a while he asks me to sign something—nothing much—he handles all our business since I’ve been sick—” Continued on page 39
Continued from page 37
“Don’t bother her any more,” Charlie said. “Can’t you see she’s practically out?”
“Wait,” 1 said. “It may be important. I think you’ll see.”
We didn’t have to wait long. The feeling came again. It didn't bother me so much that time, because I was doing something, and it helped me to fight against it. I was unscrewing the light bulb from the lamp next to me. It was hot, I had to hold it with my handkerchief, and I knew the lamp was on. I waited until I heard Betty groan, and Charlie start his soft, miserable swearing, and then I put the screw driver into the socket of the lamp. There was a wicked hiss and the smell of burning, and I thought my hand was scorched. Charlie said, “What the devil!” and Betty cried out, and I knew the lights had gone. But the air was clear, the feeling had vanished, there was nothing wrong at all with the darkness.
I heard footsteps far down the hall. I stepped to the door and said—-almost shouted—“Come on, Charlie. We’d better go.” It had the desired effect. The footsteps turned toward us, and after a moment Walton’s voice said angrily, “What are you doing in my sister’s room?”
“Waiting for you,” I said. “Come in.”
He came in and I shut the door behind him. I felt him jump at the sound of it, and realized that he could not tell, in the dark, how close I was to him. It always surprises me to realize that other people can’t see in the dark, just as it sometimes stuns people to realize that I can’t see in the light.
“Light a candle, Betty,” he said shortly. “I want an explanation.”
“Don’t bother, Betty,” I said. “The lights will be on soon.”
Somewhere downstairs, I knew, one of the servants would be busy putting in a new fuse. I was counting on that.
“Mr. Parker,” I said, “Charlie and I have been here with your sister because she was ill. I am, as you know, a doctor. She asked me to help her. I have been talking to her here, and studying her case, and I find it very interesting. Especially interesting because there isn’t a thing the matter with her.”
“I’m delighted to hear it,” Walton said, and I remembered that I was talking to a very smooth customer. “Your—ah—diagnosis is very interesting. But perhaps you can tell me, then, what the nature of her ailment is. Because Betty herself will be the first to agree that she really has an ailment.”
“Her ailment,” I said, “is fear. The fear of going mad. A fear brought on by certain nervous spells and sensations which she’s been having steadily for two years now.”
“And what causes those?” Walton said. In his voice was a harsh undernote of triumph.
“You do,” I said. And I knew fate was with me, because as I said it I heard Betty murmur in relief, and I knew the lights had gone on. As they went on the feeling came back to us. I felt as though I had to raise my voice to be heard above it, although the room was deathly still.
“Don’t you feel a little odd, Walter?”
I said. “Don’t you feel a little nervous?
I do. Charlie does. Betty does, only until tonight she thought it was an affliction all her own. It isn’t. It’s something you’ve been doing to her, an infernal machine you’ve rigged up to frighten her into madness. So that, when she is finally mad, her share of the estate will be turned over to you to handle. For you to handle and gamble away—the way you’ve gambled your half away.”
Betty was sobbing wildly. “Feeling a ' little odd, Walton?” I said. “It’s I
getting you too. Because when I blew the fuses you left your room in such a burry you didn’t have a chance to turn your machine off, and now you’re feeling it too. Let us know where it is, Walton, and how to turn it off, and we’ll go and do it.”
HE DIDN’T answer. I heard him move, and heard Charlie shout, “Look out!” and I ducked. I heard a thud of a fist on a body, and I guessed that Charlie bad stopped him before be could bit me. I found the lamp socket and put the screw' driver into it again, and the feeling stopped and there was nothing in the room but the grunting and cursing of the two men, Betty’s sobs, and then the sound of footsteps as Walton broke away from Charlie and came after me.
The darkness was between us, separating us, and darkness is on my side. I got away from him easily, and he tripped on a chair and went down. He stayed down. I heard a door open and close and the smack of metal against bone.
“Just once, Frank,” I said. “No hitting for the fun of it.”
“Okay, boss,” said Frank.
1 heard matches strike and knew that Charlie had lighted the candles on Betty’s dressing table. Betty was sobbing desperately.
“Give her one of those capsules, Charlie,” I said. “Give her one, she needs it, and throw the rest away. Well, Frank, how’s Mr. Parker?”
“He doesn’t feel so good,” Frank said. “He must of bit something with bis head. Like, maybe, the butt of a gun.”
“So,” Charlie said, “maybe, now the shooting is over, you’ll tell us what it’s all about.”
“How’s Betty?” I said.
“I’m all right,” she said. Her voice was wavery, but she was trying hard.
“Tell me what it was,” she said. “What was Walton doing to me?” “A long time ago,” I said, “I was in Paris. They were putting on a mystery play there—very frightening. They wanted to get the audience into the proper state of tension and suspense. The producer was young, fond of experiments. He had a brilliant idea and be tried it out. He thought he could create an eerie effect if he had an organ, specially built, playing a note that was too low for the human ear to hear—a sound that could be felt and sensed but not heard. There are sounds, you know, that don’t register on the human ear—sounds below 30 vibrations a second, or above 30,000. He tried it!”
“And what happened?”
“The first night,” I said, “it was a sensation. It was a disaster. The audience went mad, almost, with nerves and fear. The actors forgot their lines. The stagehands dropped their props. The audience couldn’t keep its mind on the play; in the creepier parts women fainted or had hysterics. It might have been a tragedy if the manager hadn’t stopped it in time and explained what had happened. They never tried it again.”
“I still don’t see—” Betty said.
“I do,” said Charlie. He stared at Walton, still out on the carpet. “The organ used in that play could be duplicated, in a small way, by electricity, right here in this house. So that the special note it made could be carried into one part of the house . . . Frank, maybe you should have used the business end of your gun instead of the butt.”
“Are there hot-air registers in this house, Betty?” I asked.
“Old ones,” she said. “We don’t use them.”
“Where’s Walton’s organ?”
“In his own sitting room. He plays a lot, late at night—I can’t hear him in here. When we divided this floor he had the walls made soundproof, so it wouldn’t bother me. You see I hate music—just hate it.”
“That was nice of Walton,” I said. “That certainly was nice. He had the walls made soundproof, but he left the hot-air registers in. A regular pipe line to carry sound vibrations from his room to yours . . . There’s a note on that organ too low to be heard, Betty. Walton sent it up here through his trick pipe, whenever he thought you needed a nervous fit. It made you nervous, and you didn’t know why. You wanted to get away from it, but you didn’t know what it was. With a little suggestion and too much dope it was easy to persuade yourself that you were mad.”
Betty was sobbing again, but more quietly. She’d be slow realizing that her time of terror was over; but she’d be all right now.
“How did you know?” Charlie said.
“I didn’t, at first. All evening I was trying to think where I had met Walton—and when I remembered, I suspected what he was doing. You see I was at that play in Paris the night they tried the organ trick. There was a man beside me; I couldn’t see his face, in the dark, but I remember him because he became quite wild with fear. He raised more fuss than any of the women; he all but started a major panic. He was Walton.”