Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/70

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"Then, one night, it all came out—or so I thought at the time. It was a Saturday night and something or other had happened at the last minute to spoil my date and it was too late then to get any other girl—so I went down the hall to Pierce's room and asked him if he didn't want to take in a movie. I was pretty sure even before I knocked that he'd be there; he very seldom went out; I know now because of that piano music phobia of his. Well, he said all right and we took in the double feature at the Cameo, down the block, and then we went to a beer place to kill the rest of the evening. Funny about that, too; we passed up two fairly decent places for this dump where there wasn't any orchestra—not a piano, even, only a machine; Pierce wouldn't go inside the first two places, just stood outside for a minute and shook his head and dragged me along until we found the last place.

"We stayed there until the place closed and by that time we were feeling pretty good. As a matter of fact we'd both had enough by then, but it was a Saturday night and I didn't have to work on Sunday, so we came back here and I opened up a quart of Scotch and we really went to town. I guess I liked Pierce more then than I ever did, before or since. The drinks had killed that nervousness of his for the time being; he wasn't listening and cringing all the time anymore; he seemed normal as hell. And after a few more shots I did the unpardonable; I asked him point-blank what was the matter with him, why he had such a terrible fear of the sound of piano music. That's what too many drinks can do to a man's discretion.

"THAT question sobered him up like a bullet between the eyes. He stiffened all over for an instant, all the drunken merriment gone out of his face like magic, then he began to tremble—horribly. The way he reacted was ghastly; I've never seen anything quite like it. But after a minute or two he got hold of himself to some extent, and he looked up at me, and there was the most pitiable, haunted expression on that man's face imaginable; twisted and haggard and agonized, like the faces in some of those old Doré illustrations. I'm not exaggerating when I say that his face then was the face of a man damned—utterly without hope and still tormented. That's the significant point; he looked as though his torment wasn't over or would ever be over—but was still going on and on, without any end to it in sight or even hoped for. By the Holy, the sight of his face then gave me the creeps; just the thought of it still does, for that matter.

"Then he began to talk. Heaven knows why, except that I'd been friendly to him, and the nerve strain he was under was too great for him to bear any longer alone. Sooner or later, I guess, he would have had to talk to somebody. It just happened that that somebody was me.

"I'll try to tell you, as nearly as possible in his own words, everything he said. Of course he didn't say all this at once; there were pauses and interruptions and we had more drinks and there were times when I thought he was going to break down entirely. It was four o'clock in the morning before he finished.

"'I'll tell you, Chambers,' he said, his voice very soft and low and without a tremor in it as he began—though his face was twitching and his hands shaking, 'I haven't known you very long, but you've been a damn good friend and I'll tell you. You know my name is Harry Pierce. There are lots of Harry Pierces in the world, but I'm the Harry Pierce—.'

"Well, that didn't mean a thing to me, and I guess my face showed it, for he went on, 'I'm the Harry Pierce whose wife died last August of a—a lingering illness, they called it. Pernicious anemia, the death certificate read. She was a pianist, a profes-