The Chalchihuitl Stone aka Terror Crystal can be found in




ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



ents of Luther Trant

VI

THE CHALCHIHUITL STONE

a.k.a. Terror Crystal


Originally published Hampton's Magazine, November 1909. Also appeared in The Phantom Detective, August 1935.


EDITORIAL NOTE.— This is one of a series of stories which has been appearing in this magazine for several months. Each is complete in itself, but all deal with the application of advanced psychology to the detection of crime. The series will continue in coming numbers.

Tramp—tramp—tramp—tramp—tramp! For three nights and two days the footsteps had echoed through the great house almost ceaselessly.

The white-haired woman leaning on a cane, pausing again in the upper hall to listen to them, started, impulsively, for the tenth time that morning toward her son's door; but, recognizing once more her utter inability to counsel or to comfort, she wiped her tear-filled eyelids and limped painfully back to her own room. The aged negress, again passing the door, pressed convulsively together her bony hands, and sobbed pityingly; she had been the childhood nurse of this man whose footsteps had so echoed for hours as he paced bedroom, library, hall, museum, study—most frequently of all the little study—in his grief and turmoil of spirit.

Tramp—tramp—tramp—tramp!

She shuffled swiftly down the stairs to the big, luxurious morning room on the floor below, where a dark-eyed girl crouched on the couch listening to his footsteps beating overhead, and listening so strangely, without a sign of the grief of the mother or even the negro nurse, that she seemed rather studying her own absence of feeling with perplexity and doubt.

Tramp—tramp—tramp—tramp!

"Ain' yo' sorry for him, Miss Iris?" the negress said.

"Why, Ulame, I—I—" the girl seemed struggling to call up an emotion she did not feel. "I know I ought to feel sorry for him."

"An' the papers? Ain' yo' sorry, honey, dem papers is gone—buhned up; dem papers he thought so much of—all buhned by somebody?"

"The papers?—the papers, Ulame?" the girl exclaimed in bewilderment at herself. "Oh—oh, I know it must be terrible to him that they are gone; but I—I can't feel so sorry about them!"

"Yo' can't?" The negress stiffened with anger. "An' he tol' me, too, this mo'nin, now you won't marry him next Thursday lak' yo' promised—since—since yo' foun' dat little green stone! Why is dat—since yo' foun' dat little green stone?"

The sincere bewilderment deepened in the girl's face. "I don't know why, Ulame—I tell you truly," she cried, miserably, "I don't know any reason why that stone—that stone should change me so! Oh, I can't understand it myself; but I know it is so. Ever since I've seen that stone I've known it would be wrong to marry him. But I don't know why!"

"Den I do!" The old negress's eyes blazed wildly. "It's a'caze yo' is voodoo! Yo is voodoo! An' it's all my faul'. Oh yas—yas it is!" She rocked. "For yo'se had the ma'k ever since yo'se been a chile; the ma'k of the debbil's claw! But I nebber tole Marse Richard till too late. But hit's so! Hit's so! The debbil's ma'k is on yo' left shoulder, and the green stone is de cha'm dat is come to make yo' break Marse Richard's heart!"

"Ulame! Oh! Oh!" the girl cried.

"Ulame! Ulame!" a deeper, firm and controlled voice checked them both as the man, whose steps had sounded overhead the moment before, stood in the doorway.

He was a strikingly well-born, good-looking man of thirty-six, strongly set up, muscular, with the body of an athlete surmounted by the broad-browed head of a student. But his skin, indescribably bronzed by the tropic sun during many expeditions to Central America, showed now an underhue of sodden gray; and the thin, red veins which shot his keen, blue eyes, the tenseness of his well-shaped mouth, the pulse visibly beating in his temples, the slight trembling of the usually firm hands, all gave plain evidence of some active grief and long-continued strain; but at the same time bore witness to the self-control which held his emotion in check.

The negress, quieted and rebuked by his words, shuffled out as he entered; and the girl drew herself up quickly to a sitting posture, rearranging her hair with deft pats.

"You must not mind Ulame!" He crossed to her and held her hand steadyingly for an instant. "Or think that I shall ask you anything more except—you have not altered your decision, Iris?" he asked, gently.

The girl shook her head.

"Then I will not even ask that again, my—Iris," he caught himself. "If you will give me the proper form for recalling our wedding invitations, I will send it at once to Chicago. As to the gifts that have been already received—will you be good enough also to look up the convention under these circumstances?" He caught his breath. "I thought I heard the door bell a moment ago, Iris. Was there some one for me?"

"Yes, Anna went to the door." The girl motioned to a maid who for five minutes had been hovering about the hall, afraid to go to him with the card she held upon a silver tray.

"Ah! I was expecting him." He took the card. "Where is he? In the library?"

"Yes, Dr. Pierce."

He crushed the card in his hand, touched tenderly with his finger tips Iris's pale cheek, and with the same regular step crossed the hall to the library. A compact figure rose energetically at his coming.

"Mr. Trant?" asked Pierce, carefully closing the door behind him and measuring with forced collectedness his visitor, who seemed slightly surprised. "I need not apologize to you for my note asking you to come to me here in Lake Forest this morning. I understand that with you it is a matter of business. But I thank you for your promptness. I have heard of you from a number of sources as a psychologist who has applied laboratory methods to the solution of—of mysteries—of crimes; not as a police detective, Mr. Trant, but as a—a—"

"Consultant," the psychologist suggested.

"Yes; a consultant. And I badly need a consultant, Mr. Trant." Pierce dropped into the nearest chair. "You must pardon me. I am not quite myself this morning. An event—or, rather events—occurred here last Wednesday afternoon which, though I have endeavored to keep my feeling under control, have affected me perhaps even more than I myself was aware; for I noticed your surprise at sight of me, which can only have been occasioned by some strangeness in my appearance which these events have caused."

"I was surprised," the psychologist admitted, "but only because I expected to see an older man. When I received your note last evening, Dr. Pierce, I, of course, made some inquiries in regard to you. I found you spoken of as one of the greatest living authorities on Central American antiquities, especially the hieroglyphic writing on the Maya ruins in Yucatan; and as the expeditions connected with your name seemed to cover a period of nearly sixty years, I expected to find you a man of at least eighty."

"You have confused me with my father, who died in Izabal, Guatemala, in 1895. Our names and our line of work being the same, our reputations are often confused, especially as he never published the results of his work, but left that for me to do. I have not proved a worthy trustee of that bequest, Mr. Trant!" Pierce added, bitterly. He arose in agitation, and began again his mechanical pacing to and fro.

"The events of Wednesday had to do with this trust left you by your father? " the psychologist asked.

"They have destroyed, obliterated, blotted out that trust," Pierce replied. "All the fruits of my father's life work and my own, too, absolutely without purpose, meaning, excuse or explanation of any sort! And more than that—and this is the reason I have asked you to advise me, Mr. Trant, instead of putting the matter into the hands of the police—with even less apparent reason and without her being able to give an explanation of any sort, the events of last Wednesday have had such an effect upon my ward, Iris, to whom I was to be married next Thursday, that she is no longer able to think of marrying me. She clearly loves me no longer, though previous to Wednesday no one who knew us could have the slightest question of her affection for me; and indeed, though previously she had been the very spirit and soul of my work, now she seems no longer to care for its continuance in any way, or to be even sorry for the disaster to it."

He paused in painful agitation. "I must ask your pardon once more," he apologized. "Before you can comprehend any of this I must explain to you how it happened. My father began his study of the Maya hieroglyphics as long ago as 1851. He had had as a young man a very dear friend named James Clarke, who in 1848 took part in an expedition to Chiapas. On this expedition Clarke became separated from his companions, failed to rejoin them, and was never heard from again. It was in search of him that my father in 1850 first went to Central America; and failing to find Clarke, who was probably dead, he returned with a considerable collection of the Maya hieroglyphs, which had strongly excited his interest. Between 1851 and his death my father made no less than twelve different expeditions to Central America in search of more hieroglyphs; but in that whole time he did not publish more than a half dozen short articles regarding his discoveries, reserving all for a book which he intended to be a monument to his labors. His passion for perfection prevented him from ever completing that book, and, on his deathbed, he intrusted its completion and publication to me. Two years ago I began preparing it for the stenographer, and last week I had the satisfaction of feeling that my work was nearly finished. The material consisted of a huge mass of papers. They contained chapters written by my father which I ...

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