Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/63

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89
THE HALF-HAUNTED

vague at the edges—clothed or naked, he could not say. As before, a faceless head lifted itself on broad shoulders. Only the fingers of the hand were distinct. They spread, advanced. Thus his eyes summed up, while he kept reciting the exorcism, down to its end:

"—all evil return from him and his unto you and yours, in the name of the Trinity."

It blundered forward, clutching.

The doorway was no place to fight in, not even if the foe were normal. Pursuivant retreated, quickly and lightly for all his bearlike weight. Behind him, Scrope had run whimpering to the back door, tried to tear it open without unlocking.

"Come on!" Scrope was crying. "We'll get out of here!"

"Wait!" called Pursuivant in reply. "Look!" And Scrope paused and turned back.

"The thing's gone," said Pursuivant. "It vanished before my eyes as I retreated."

He clasped his big hands behind his back, scowling. Something was wrong here; absolutely unconventional—for there is a certain unconventionality about demons and their ways.

How often did the old books say that the best way to quell a specter is to face it dauntlessly? Yet here was the exact reverse. The foe had faded only when he and Scrope fled. He glared at the empty hall, as though to read there an answer to the enigma.

But the hall was not empty. In it was another pale suggestion of shape, slender this time. And the softer voice he had sensed in the bedroom:

"Again—again—"

It, too, vanished.

Scrope drew alongside of Pursuivant, peering. "Judge, were you and I seeing things? Both of us?"

Pursuivant actually grinned, and shook his tawny head. "No chance of that, Scrope. People who see things don't see the same things at the same time."

"Group-hypnotism," began Scrope, as though the word might be a comfort, but again Pursuivant gestured a demur.

"I believe in many strange things, Scrope, but not in that. Don't go back into the hall. Sit here, in the kitchen. I begin to understand—to guess, at least."

They sought their chairs. Pursuivant faced the door.

"The old familiar situation, worn threadbare by writers of fantasy," he pronounced. "The murdered one haunts the place of his destruction." He stared hard into the hallway, wondering if he had really seen a stir of movement there. "Anyway, it's here—spiteful and harmful, able to attack—"

"That's right," nodded Scrope, sighing. "He appeared to me, then you, then to both of us."

"Which brings us to point number two. The spell is going to work." Scrope glanced up in almost prayerful eagerness. "You're sure?"

"Not quite sure of anything in life or death, but this thing's desperate. It's trying to fight us. I gather, from what you tell me, that it never manifested itself so strongly before—"

Scrope was nodding eagerly. "Sure. It's been around here, a sort of edgy atmosphere that drove my house-boys away— but nothing like this. As you say, it's playing the game for keeps now."

"It's in danger." replied Pursuivant, his blue eyes remaining fixed on the hallway. "So are we. But it's alone in its fight, and we have friends."

"Friends?" echoed Scrope.

"I saw another shape, or near shape. Twice. It doesn't threaten. It pleads. It wants us to go ahead and win."

Scrope gazed at Pursuivant. "I think I saw it, too. But if it's a ghost—"