Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/66

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ready to faint. Pursuivant shook sense and steadiness back into him.

"Come on," he ordered. "Keep moving. Outside. This place is burning like a wicker basket."

They reached the outside, and Pursuivant let Alvin Scrope lean against a tree for support. He himself hurried to the double garage. He started and brought out first one, then the other of the cars, parking them at a point safe from any flying sparks or embers.

He returned to his companion. The flames now burst from the open parlor windows, licking at the clapboards and shingles outside. Snow fell but scantily, barely enough to make a hissing in the heat.

Scrope shook himself, like a dog coming out of water. He was getting command over his fear-crumbling spirit.

"Hadn't we better get to a phone somewhere?" he suggested. "There's a volunteer fire department in town—"

"No," said Pursuivant. "No fire departments. Let that house burn to the ground."

"To the ground?" Scrope's face looked stronger in the red light. "Yes, of course. You're exactly right. No more ghosts after fire. I can build again."

"Build, and be at peace. Let it burn, I say. We'll drive the cars to Scott's Meadows, and stay at the little inn there. And tomorrow you can come and stay with me at my home until you catch hold of your affairs again."

"Thanks. I will."

They fell silent. In the darkness, no longer so chilly, came a rustle of passing. A semi-shape—two semi-shapes—glided swiftly by, like puffs of smoke from the house.

Thank you, Pursuivant felt gentle cries of joy, more in his heart than in his ears. Thank you—

They were gone.

Scrope, too, had been aware of that passing. "I guess," he ventured, "that the spirits of those poor women are set free."

From the heart of the red rage of flame that now possessed all the house came suddenly a sound—a shout, a roar, a scream—recognizeable as human and masculine.

Scrope faltered and swore. "That—was the Hessian?"

"It is what was the Hessian," agreed Pursuivant, gazing at the fire.

Another peal of sound. Full of horror—full of agony.

"Why does he stay?" quavered Scrope. "Those others thanked us for setting them free—why does he hang on there until he's burned clear loose from—" He broke off. "I know," he said, gaining command of himself again.

Pursuivant turned toward him. "What, then?"

"The women were killers—yes. But they killed for a good purpose. They knew they'd find some kind of happiness now that they're not held here. But," and Scrope, too, faced the fire, "the other thing has nothing like that to expect. He hangs onto the burning den. Because, when he leaves, it'll be for—for—"

"Something much worse," finished Pursuivant for him.

Once again the suffering voice mounted up and shook the night. Then it died to a wail, a rattle, it died to nothing. It was silent.

The flames flapped like banners of victory. They seemed cleaner and more joyous.

Pursuivant and Scrope suddenly shook hands.