Collected Stories – Part 2 – Day 268 of 274

“Look here, you nigger–where did you get that key? Did you kill Randolph Carter?”

The Swami’s features, abnormally placid, did not change; but the remote, irisless black eyes behind them blazed dangerously. He spoke with great difficulty.

“Please control yourself, Mr. Aspinwall. There is another form of proof that I could give, but its effect upon everybody would not be pleasant. Let us be reasonable. Here are some papers obviously written since 1930, and in the unmistakable style of Randolph Carter.”

He clumsily drew a long envelope from inside his loose coat and handed it to the sputtering attorney as de Marigny and Phillips watched with chaotic thoughts and a dawning feeling of supernal wonder.

“Of course the handwriting is almost illegible–but remember that Randolph Carter now has no hands well adapted to forming human script.”

Aspinwall looked through the papers hurriedly, and was visibly perplexed, but he did not change his demeanor. The room was tense with excitement and nameless dread and the alien rhythm of the coffin–shaped clock had an utterly diabolic sound to de Marigny and Phillips, though the lawyer seemed affected not at all.

Aspinwall spoke again. “These look like clever forgeries. If they aren’t, they may mean that Randolph Carter has been brought under the control of people with no good purpose. There’s only one thing to do–have this faker arrested. De Marigny, will you telephone for the police?”

“Let us wait,” answered their host. “I do not think this case calls for the police. I have a certain idea. Mr. Aspinwall, this gentleman is a mystic of real attainments. He says he is in the confidence of Randolph Carter. Will it satisfy you if he can answer certain questions which could be answered only by one in such confidence? I know Carter, and can ask such questions. Let me get a book which I think will make a good test.”

He turned toward the door to the library, Phillips dazedly following in a kind of automatic way. Aspinwall remained where he was, studying closely the Hindoo who confronted him with abnormally impassive face. Suddenly, as Chandraputra clumsily restored the silver key to his pocket the lawyer emitted a guttural shout.

“Hey, by Heaven I’ve got it! This rascal is in disguise. I don’t believe he’s an East Indian at all. That face–it isn’t a face, but a mask! I guess his story put that into my head, but it’s true. It never moves, and that turban and beard hide the edges. This fellow’s a common crook! He isn’t even a foreigner–I’ve been watching his language. He’s a Yankee of some sort. And look at those mittens–he knows his fingerprints could be spotted. Damn you, I’ll pull that thing off–“

“Stop!” The hoarse, oddly alien voice of the Swami held a tone beyond all mere earthly fright “I told you there was another form of proof which I could give if necessary, and I warned you not to provoke me to it. This red-faced old meddler is right; I’m not really an East Indian. This face is a mask, and what it covers is not human. You others have guessed–I felt that minutes ago. It wouldn’t be pleasant if I took that mask off–let it alone. Ernest, I may as well tell you that I am Randolph Carter.”

No one moved. Aspinwall snorted and made vague motions. De Marigny and Phillips, across the room, watched the workings of the red face and studied the back of the turbaned figure that confronted him. The clock’s abnormal ticking was hideous and the tripod fumes and swaying arras danced a dance of death. The half-choking lawyer broke the silence.

“No you don’t, you crook–you can’t scare me! You’ve reasons of your own for not wanting that mask off. Maybe we’d know who you are. Off with it–“

As he reached forward, the Swami seized his hand with one of his own clumsily mittened members, evoking a curious cry of mixed pain and surprise. De Marigny started toward the two, but paused confused as the pseudo-Hindoo’s shout of protest changed to a wholly inexplicable rattling and buzzing sound. Aspinwall’s red face was furious, and with his free hand he made another lunge at his opponent’s bushy beard. This time he succeeded in getting a hold, and at his frantic tug the whole waxen visage came loose from the turban and clung to the lawyer’s apoplectic fist.

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