|BURN, WITCH, BURN by A Merritt|
XVI. —End Of the Witch Girl
The girl made no resistance whatever. She seemed entirely withdrawn into herself, looking up at me with the same vague stare I had noted on my visit to the doll-shop. I took her hands. She let them rest passively in mine. They were very cold. I said to her, gently, reassuringly:
“My child, no one is going to hurt you. Rest and relax. Sink back in the chair. I only want to help you. Sleep if you wish. Sleep.”
She did not seem to hear, still regarding me with that vague gaze. I released her hands. I took my own chair, facing her, and set the little mirrors revolving. Her eyes turned to them at once, rested upon them, fascinated. I watched her body relax; she sank back in her chair. Her eyelids began to droop.
“Sleep,” I said softly. “Here none can harm you. While you sleep none can harm you. Sleep... sleep...”
Her eyes closed; she sighed.
I said: “You are asleep. You will not awaken until I bid you. You cannot awaken until I bid you.”
She repeated in a murmuring, childish voice: “I am asleep; I cannot awaken until you bid me.”
I stopped the whirling mirrors. I said to her: “There are some questions I am going to ask you. You will listen, and you will answer me truthfully. You cannot answer them except truthfully. You know that.”
She echoed, still in that faint childish voice: “I must answer you truthfully. I know that.”
I could not refrain from darting a glance of triumph at Ricori and McCann. Ricori was crossing himself, staring at me with wide eyes in which were both doubt and awe. I knew he was thinking that I, too, knew witchcraft. McCann sat chewing nervously. And staring at the girl.
I began my questions, choosing at first those least likely to disturb. I asked:
“Are you truly Madame Mandilip’s niece?”
“Who are you, then?”
“I do not know.”
“When did you join her, and why?”
“Twenty years ago. I was in a crèche, a foundling asylum at Vienna. She took me from it. She taught me to call her my aunt. But she is not.”
“Where have you lived since then?”
“In Berlin, in Paris, then London, Prague, Warsaw.”
“Did Madame Mandilip make her dolls in each of these places?”
She did not answer; she shuddered; her eyelids began to tremble.
“Sleep! Remember, you cannot awaken until I bid you! Sleep! Answer me.”
She whispered: “Yes.”
“And they killed in each city?”
“Sleep. Be at ease. Nothing is going to harm you-” Her disquietude had again become marked, and I veered for a moment from the subject of the dolls. “Where was Madame Mandilip born?”
“I do not know.”
“How old is she?”
“I do not know. I have asked her, and she has laughed and said that time is nothing to her. I was five years old when she took me. She looked then just as she does now.”
“Has she any accomplices—I mean are there others who make the dolls?”
“One. She taught him. He was her lover in Prague.”
“Her lover!” I exclaimed, incredulously—the image of the immense gross body, the great breasts, the heavy horse-like face of the doll-maker rising before my eyes. She said:
“I know what you are thinking. But she has another body. She wears it when she pleases. It is a beautiful body. It belongs to her eyes, her hands, her voice. When she wears that body she is beautiful. She is terrifyingly beautiful. I have seen her wear it many times.”
Another body! An illusion, of course... like the enchanted room Walters had described... and which I had glimpsed when breaking from the hypnotic web in which she had enmeshed me... a picture drawn by the doll-maker’s mind in the mind of the girl. I dismissed that, and drove to the heart of the matter.
“She kills by two methods, does she not—by the salve and by the dolls?”
“Yes, by the unguent and the dolls.”
“How many has she killed by the unguent in New York?”
She answered, indirectly: “She has made fourteen dolls since we came here.”
So there were other cases that had not been reported to me! I asked:
“‘And how many have the dolls killed?”
I heard Ricori curse, and shot him a warning look. He was leaning forward, white and tense; McCann had stopped his chewing.
“How does she make the dolls?”
“I do not know.”
“Do you know how she prepares the unguent?”
“No. She does that secretly.”
“What is it that activates the dolls?”
“You mean makes them—alive?”
“Something from the dead!”
Again I heard Ricori cursing softly. I said: “If you do not know how the dolls are made, you must know what is necessary to make them alive. What is it?”
She did not answer.
“You must answer me. You must obey me. Speak!”
She said: “Your question is not clear. I have told you that something of the dead makes them alive. What else is it you would know?”
“Begin from where one who poses for a doll first meets Madame Mandilip to the last step when the doll—as you put it—becomes alive.”
She spoke, dreamily:
“She has said one must come to her of his own will. He must consent of his own volition, without coercion, to let her make the doll. That he does not know to what he is consenting matters nothing. She must begin the first model immediately. Before she completes the second—the doll that is to live—she must find opportunity to apply the unguent. She has said of this unguent that it liberates one of those who dwell within the mind, and that this one must come to her and enter the doll. She has said that this one is not the sole tenant of the mind, but with the others she has no concern. Nor does she select all of those who come before her. How she knows those with whom she can deal, or what there is about them which makes her select them, I do not know. She makes the second doll. At the instant of its completion he who has posed for it begins to die. When he is dead—the doll lives. It obeys her—as they all obey her...”
She paused, then said, musingly “All except one-”
“And that one?”
“She who was your nurse. She will not obey. My aunt torments her, punishes her... still she cannot control her. I brought the little nurse here last night with another doll to kill the man my—aunt—cursed. The nurse came, but she fought the other doll and saved the man. It is something my aunt cannot understand... it perplexes her... and it gives me... hope!”
Her voice trailed away. Then suddenly, with energy, she said:
“You must make haste. I should be back with the dolls. Soon she will be searching for me. I must go... or she will come for me... and then... if she finds me here... she will kill me...”
I said: “You brought the dolls to kill me?”
“Where are the dolls now?”
She answered: “They were coming back to me. Your men caught me before they could reach me. They will go... home. The dolls travel quickly when they must. It is more difficult without me that is all... but they will return to her.”
“Why do the dolls kill?”
“To... please... her.”
I said: “The knotted cord, what part does it play?”
She answered: “I do not know—but she says-” Then suddenly, desperately, like a frightened child, she whispered: “She is searching for me! Her eyes are looking for me... her hands are groping—she sees me! Hide me! Oh, hide me from her quick...”
I said: “Sleep more deeply! Go down—down deep—deeper still into sleep. Now she cannot find you! Now you are hidden from her!”
She whispered: “I am deep in sleep. She has lost me. I am hidden. But she is hovering over me she is still searching...”
Ricori and McCann had left their chairs and were beside me.
“You believe the witch is after her?”
“No,” I answered. “But this is not an unexpected development. The girl has been under the woman’s control so long, and so completely, that the reaction is natural. It may be the result of suggestion, or it may be the reasoning of her own subconsciousness... she has been breaking commands... she has been threatened with punishment if she should—”
The girl screamed, agonized:
“She sees me! She has found me! Her hands are reaching out to me!”
“Sleep! Sleep deeper still! She cannot hurt you. Again she has lost you!”
The girl did not answer, but a faint moaning was audible, deep in her throat.
McCann swore, huskily: “Christ! Can’t you help her?”
Ricori, eyes unnaturally bright in a chalky face, said: “Let her die! It will save us trouble!”
I said to the girl, sternly:
“Listen to me and obey. I am going to count five. When I come to five—awaken! Awaken at once! You will come up from sleep so swiftly that she cannot catch you! Obey!”
I counted, slowly, since to have awakened her at once would, in all likelihood, have brought her to the death which her distorted mind told her was threatened by the doll-maker.
An appalling scream came from the girl. And then -
“She’s caught me! Her hands are around my heart... Uh-h- h...”
Her body bent; a spasm ran through her. Her body relaxed and sank limply in the chair. Her eyes opened, stared blankly; her jaw dropped.
I ripped open her bodice, set my stethoscope to her heart. It was still.
And then from the dead throat issued a voice organ-toned, sweet, laden with menace and contempt...
The voice of Madame Mandilip!
CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK