It was a dreary, forlorn establishment way down on
Harbor Street. An old sign announced the legend:
"Giovanni Larla- Antiques," and a dingy window
revealed a display half masked in dust.
Even as I crossed the threshold that cheerless
September afternoon, driven from the sidewalk by a gust
of rain and perhaps a fascination for all antiques, the
gloominess fell upon me like a material pall. Inside was
half darkness, piled boxes and a monstrous tapestry,
frayed with the warp showing in worn places. An Italian
Renaissance wine-cabinet shrank despondently in its
corner and seemed to frown at me as I passed.
"Good afternoon, Signor. There is
something you wish to buy? A picture, a ring, a vase
I peered at the squat bulk of the Italian proprietor
there in the shadows and hesitated.
"Just looking around," I said, turning to
the jumble about me. "Nothing in
The man's oily face moved in smile as though he had
heard the remark a thousand times before. He sighed,
stood there in thought a moment, the rain drumming and
swishing against the outer plane. Then very deliberately
he stepped to the shelves and glanced up and down them
considering. At length he drew forth an object which I
perceived to be a painted chalice.
"An authentic Sixteenth Century Tandart," he
I shook my head. "No pottery," I said.
"Books perhaps, but no pottery."
He frowned slowly. "I have books too," he
replied, "rare books which nobody sells but me,
Giovanni Larla. But you must look at my other treasures
There was, I found, no hurrying the man. A quarter of
an hour passed during which I had to see a Glycon cameo
brooch, a carved chair of some indeterminate style and
period, and a muddle of yellowed statuettes, small oils
and one or two dreary Portland vases. Several times I
glanced at my watch impatiently, wondering how I might
break away from this Italian and his gloomy shop. Already
the fascination of its dust and shadows had begun to wear
off, and I was anxious to reach the street.
But when he had conducted me well toward the rear of
the shop, something caught my fancy. I drew then from the
shelf the first book of horror. If I had but known the
events that were to follow, if I could only have had a
foresight into the future that September day, I swear I
would have avoided the book like a leprous thing, would
have shunned that wretched antique store and the very
street it stood on like places cursed. A thousand times I
have wished my eyes had never rested on that cover in
black. What writhings of the soul, what terrors, what
unrest, what madness would have been spared me!
But never dreaming the secret of its pages I fondled
it casually and remarked:
"An unusual book. What is it?"
Larla glanced up and scowled.
That is not for sale," he said quietly. "I
don't know how it got on these shelves. It was my poor
The volume in my hand was indeed unusual in
appearance. Measuring but four inches across and five
inches in length and bound in black velvet with each
outside corner protected with a triangle of ivory, it was
the most beautiful piece of hook-binding I had ever seen.
In the centre of the cover was mounted a tiny piece of
ivory intricately cut in the shape of a skull. But it was
the title of the book that excited my interest.
Embroidered in gold braid, the title read:
"Five Unicorns and a Pearl"
I looked at Larla. "How much?" I asked and
reached for my wallet.
He shook his head. "No, it is not for sale. It is
. . . it is the last work of my brother. He wrote it just
before he died in the institution.
Larla made no reply but stood staring at the book, his
mind obviously drifting away in deep thought. A moment of
silence dragged by. There was a strange gleam in his eyes
when finally he spoke. And I thought I saw his fingers
"My brother, Alessandro, was a fine man before he
wrote that book," he said slowly. "He wrote
beautifully, Signor, and he was strong and
healthy. For hours I could sit while he read to me his
poems. He was a dreamer, Alessandro; he loved everything
beautiful, and the two of us were very happy.
"All ... until that terrible night. Then he . . .
but no a year has passed now. It is best to forget."
He passed his hand before his eyes and drew in his breath
"What happened?" I asked.
"Happened, Signor? I do not really know.
It was all so confusing. He became suddenly ill, ill
without reason. The flush of sunny Italy which was always
on his cheek, faded, and he grew white and drawn. His
strength left him day by day. Doctors prescribed, gave
medicines but nothing helped. He grew steadily weaker
until . . . until that night."
I looked at him curiously, impressed by his
Hands opening and closing, Larla seemed to sway
unsteadily; his liquid eyes opened wide to the brows.
"And then . . . oh, if I could but forget! It was
horrible. Poor Alessandro came home screaming, sobbing.
He was . . . he was stark, raving mad!
"They took him to the institution for the insane
and said he needed a complete rest, that he had suffered
from some terrific mental shock. He . . . died three
weeks later with the crucifix on his lips."
For a moment I stood there in silence, staring out at
the falling rain. Then I said:
"He wrote this book while confined to the
Larla nodded absently.
"Three books," he replied "Two others
exactly like the one you have in your hand. The bindings
he made, of course, when he was quite well. It was his
original intention, I believe, to pen in them by hand the
verses of Marini. He was very clever at such work. But
the wanderings of his mind which filled the pages now, I
have never read. Nor do I intend to. I want to keep with
me the memory of him when he was happy. This book has
come on these shelves by mistake. I shall put it with his
My desire to read the few pages bound in velvet
increased a thousand-fold when I found they were
unobtainable. I have always had an interest in abnormal
psychology and have gone through a number of books on the
subject. Here was the work of a man confined in the
asylum for the insane. Here was the unexpurgated writing
of an educated brain gone mad. And unless my intuition
failed me, here was a suggestion of some deep mystery. My
mind was made up. I must have it.
I turned to Larla and chose my words carefully.
"I can well appreciate your wish to keep the
book," I said, "and since you refuse to sell,
may I ask if you would consider lending it to me for just
one night? If I promised to return it in the
The Italian hesitated. He toyed undecidedly with a
heavy gold watch chain.
"No, I am sorry...."
"Ten dollars and back tomorrow unharmed."
Larla studied his shoe.
"Very well, Signor, I will trust you.
But please, I ask you, please be sure and return
That night in the quiet of my apartment I opened the
book. Immediately my attention was drawn to three lines
scrawled in a feminine hand across the inside of the
front cover, lines written in a faded red solution that
looked more like blood than ink. They read:
"Revelations meant to destroy but only binding
without the stake. Read, fool and enter my field, for we
are chained to the spot. Oh wo unto Larla."
I mused over these undecipherable sentences for some
time without solving their meaning. At last, I turned to
the first page and began the last work of Alessandro
Larla, the strangest story I had ever in my years of
browsing through old books, come upon.
"On the evening of the fifteenth of October 1
turned my steps into the cold and walked until I was
tired. The roar of the present was in the distance when I
came to twenty-six bluejays silently contemplating the
ruins. Passing in the midst of them I wandered by the
skeleton trees and seated myself where I could watch the
leering fish. A child worshipped. Glass threw the moon at
me. Grass sang a litany at my feet. And pointed shadow
moved slowly to the left.
"I walked along the silver gravel until I came
to five unicorns galloping beside water of the past. Here
I found a pearl, a magnificent pearl, a pearl beautiful
but black. Like a flower it carried a rich perfume, and
once I thought the odor was but a mask, but why should
such a perfect creation need a mask?
"I sat between the leering fish and the five
galloping unicorns, and I fell madly in love with the
pearl. The past lost itself in drabness and -"
I laid the book down and sat watching the smoke-curls
from my pipe eddy ceilingward. There was much more, but I
could make no sense of any of it. All was in that strange
style and completely incomprehensible. And yet it seemed
the story was more than the mere wanderings of a madman.
Behind it all seemed to lie a narrative cloaked in
Something about the few sentences had cast an
immediate spell of depression over me. The vague lines
weighed upon my mind, and I felt myself slowly seized by
a deep feeling of uneasiness.
The air of the room grew heavy and close. The open
casement and the out-of-doors seemed to beckon to me. I
walked to the window, thrust the curtain aside, stood
there, smoking furiously. Let me say that regular habits
have long been a part of my make-up. I am not addicted to
nocturnal strolls or late meanderings before seeking my
bed; yet now curiously enough, with the pages of the book
still in my mind I suddenly experienced an indefinable
urge to leave my apartment and walk the darkened streets.
I paced the room nervously. The clock on the mantel
pushed its ticks slowly through the quiet. And at length
I threw my pipe to the table, reached for my hat and coat
and made for the door.
Ridiculous as it may sound, upon reaching the street I
found that urge had increased to a distinct attraction. I
felt that under no circumstances must I turn any
direction but northward, and although this way led into a
district quite unknown to me, I was in a moment pacing
forward, choosing streets deliberately and heading
without knowing why toward the outskirts of the city. It
was a brilliant moonlight night in September. Summer had
passed and already there was the smell of frosted
vegetation in the air. The great chimes in Capitol tower
were sounding midnight, and the buildings and shops and
later the private houses were dark and silent as I
Try as I would to erase from my memory the queer book
which I had just read, the mystery of its pages hammered
at me, arousing my curiosity. "Five Unicorns and a
Pearl!" What did it all mean?
More and more I realized as I went on that a power
other than my own will was leading my steps. Yet once
when I did momentarily come to a halt that attraction
swept upon me as inexorably as the desire for a narcotic.
It was far out on Easterly Street that I came upon a
high stone wall flanking the sidewalk. Over its
ornamented top I could see the shadows of a dark building
set well back in the grounds. A wrought-iron gate in the
wall opened upon a view of wild desertion and neglect.
Swathed in the light of the moon, an old courtyard strewn
with fountains, stone benches and statues lay tangled in
rank weeds and undergrowth. The windows of the building,
which evidently had once been a private dwelling were
boarded up, all except those on a little tower or cupola
rising to a point in front. And here the glass caught the
blue-gray light and refracted it into the shadows.
Before that gate my feet stopped like dead things. The
psychic power which had been leading me had now become a
reality. Directly from the courtyard it emanated, drawing
me toward it with an intensity that smothered all
Strangely enough, the gate was unlocked; and feeling
like a man in a trance I swung the creaking hinges and
entered, making my way along a grass-grown path to one of
the benches. It seemed that once inside the court the
distant sounds of the city died away, leaving a hollow
silence broken only by the wind rustling through the tall
dead weeds. Rearing up before me, the building with its
dark wings, cupola and facade oddly resembled a colossal
hound, crouched and ready to spring.
There were several fountains, weather-beaten and
ornamented with curious figures, to which at the time I
paid only casual attention. Farther on, half hidden by
the underbrush, was the life-size statue of a little
child kneeling in position of prayer. Erosion on the soft
stone had disfigured the face, and in the half-light the
carved features presented an expression strangely
grotesque and repelling.
How long I sat there in the quiet, I don't know. The
surroundings under the moonlight blended harmoniously
with my mood. But more than that I seemed physically
unable to rouse myself and pass on.
It was with a suddenness that brought me electrified
to my feet that I became aware of the significance of the
objects about me. Held motionless, I stood there running
my eyes wildly from place to place, refusing to believe.
Surely I must be dreaming. In the name of all that was
unusual this.... this absolutely couldn't be. And yet-
It was the fountain at my side that had caught my
attention first.Across the top of the water basin were
five stone unicorns, all identically carved, each
seeming to follow the other in galloping procession.
Looking farther, prompted now by a madly rising
recollection, I saw that the cupola, towering high above
the house, eclipsed the rays of the moon and threw a
long pointed shadow across the ground at my left. The
other fountain some distance away was ornamented with the
figure of a stone fish, a fish whose empty
eye-sockets were leering straight in my direction
And the climax of it all - the wall! At intervals of
every three feet on the top of the street expanse were
mounted crude carven stone shapes of birds. And counting
them I saw that those birds were twenty- six bluejays.
Unquestionably - startling and impossible as it seemed
- I was in the same setting as described in Larla's book!
It was a staggering revelation, and my mind reeled at the
thought of it. How strange, how odd that I should be
drawn to a portion of the city I had never before
frequented and thrown into the midst of a narrative
written almost a year before!
I saw now that Alessandro Larla, writing as a patient
in the institution for the insane, had seized isolated
details but neglected to explain them. Here was a problem
for the psychologist, the mad, the symbolic, the
incredible story of the dead Italian. I was bewildered
and I pondered for an answer.
As if to soothe my perturbation there stole into the
court then faint odor of perfume. Pleasantly it touched
my nostrils, seemed to blend with the moonlight. I
breathed it in deeply as I stood there by fountain. But
slowly that odor became more noticeable, grew stronger, a
sickish sweet smell that began to creep down my lungs
like smoke. Heliotrope! The honeyed aroma blanketed the
garden, thickened the air.
And then came my second surprise of the evening.
Looking a to discover the source of the fragrance I saw
opposite me, seated on another stone bench, a woman. She
was dressed entirely in black, and her face was hidden by
a veil. She seemed unaware of my presence. Her head was
slightly bowed, and her whole position suggested a person
in deep contemplation.
I noticed also the thing that crouched by her side. It
was a dog, a tremendous brute with a head strangely out
of proportion and eyes as large as the ends of big
spoons. For several moments I stood staring at the two of
them. Although the air was quite chilly, the woman
wore no over-jacket, only the black dress relieved solely
by the whiteness of her throat.
With a sigh of regret at having my pleasant solitude
thus disturbed I moved across the court until I stood at
her side. Still she showed no recognition of my presence,
and clearing my throat I said hesitatingly:
"I suppose you are the owner here. I.... I really
didn't know the place was occupied, and the gate....
well, the gate was unlocked. I'm sorry I
She made no reply to that, and the dog merely gazed at
me in dumb silence. No graceful words of polite departure
came to my lips, and I moved hesitatingly toward the
"Please don't go," she said suddenly,
looking up. "I'm lonely. Oh, if you but knew how
lonely I am!" She moved to one side on the bench and
motioned that I sit beside her. The dog continued to
examine me with its big eyes.
Whether it was the nearness of that odor of
heliotrope, the suddenness of it all, or perhaps the
moonlight, I did not know, but at her words a thrill of
pleasure ran through me, and I accepted the proffered
There followed an interval of silence, during which I
puzzled for a means to start conversation. But abruptly
she turned to the beast and said in German:
"Fort mit dir, Johann!"
The dog rose obediently to its feet and stole slowly
off into the shadows. I watched it for a moment until it
disappeared in the direction of the house. Then the woman
said to me in English which was slightly stilted and
marked with an accent:
"It has been ages since I have spoken to
anyone.... We are strangers. I do not know you, and you
do not know me. Yet.... strangers sometimes find in each
other a bond of interest. Supposing.... supposing we
forget customs and formality of introduction? Shall
For some reason I felt my pulse quicken as she said
that. "Please do," I replied. "A spot like
this is enough introduction in itself. Tell me, do you
She made no answer for a moment, and I began to fear I
had taken her suggestion too quickly. Then she began
"My name is Perle von Mauren, and I am really a
stranger to your country, though I have been here now
more than a year. My home is in Austria near what is now
the Czechoslovakian frontier. You see, it was to find my
only brother that I came to the United States. During the
war he was a lieutenant under General Mackensen, but in
1916 in April I believe it was, he.... he was reported
"War is a cruel thing. It took our money; it took
our castle on the Danube, and then - my brother. Those
following years were horrible. We lived always in doubt,
hoping against hope that he was still living.
"Then after the Armistice a fellow officer
claimed to have served next to him on grave-digging
detail at a French prison camp near Monpre. And later
came a thin rumour that he was in the United States. I
gathered together as much money as I could and came here
in search him."
Her voice dwindled off, and she sat in silence staring
at the brown weeds. When she resumed, her voice was low
"I .... found him.... but would to God I hadn't!
He was no longer living."
I stared at her. "Dead?" I asked.
The veil trembled as though moved by a shudder, as
though her thoughts had exhumed some terrible event of
the past. Unconscious of my interruption she went on:
"Tonight I came here - I don't know why - merely
because the gate was unlocked, and there was a place of
quiet within. Now have I bored you with my confidences
and personal history?"
"Not at all," I replied. "I came here
by chance myself. Probably the beauty of the place
attracted me. I dabble in amateur photography
occasionally and react strongly to unusual scenes.
Tonight I went for a midnight stroll to relieve my mind
from the bad effect of a book I was reading."
She made a strange reply to that, a reply away from
our line of thought and which seemed an interjection that
escaped her involuntarily.
"Books," she said, "are powerful
things. They can fetter one more than the walls of a
She caught my puzzled stare at the remark and added
hastily: "It is odd that we should meet here."
For a moment I didn't answer. I was thinking of her
heliotrope perfume, which for a woman of her apparent
culture was applied in far too great a quantity to show
good taste. The impression stole upon me that the perfume
cloaked some secret, that if it were removed I should
find.... but what?
The hours passed, and still we sat there talking,
enjoying each other's companionship. She did not remove
her veil; and though I was burning with desire to see her
features, I had not dared to ask her to. A strange
nervousness had slowly seized me. The woman was a
charming conversationalist, but there was about her an
indefinable something which produced in me a distinct
feeling of unease.
It was, I should judge, but a few moments before the
first streaks of a dawn when it happened. As I look back
now even with mundane objects and thoughts on every side,
it is not difficult to realize the significance of that
vision. But at the time my brain was too much in a whirl
A thin shadow moving across the garden attracted my
gaze once again into the night about me. I looked up over
the spire of the deserted house and started as if struck
by a blow. For a moment I thought I had seen a curious
cloud formation racing low directly above me, a cloud
black and impenetrable with two wing-like ends strangely
in the shape of a monstrous flying bat.
I blinked my eyes hard and looked again.
"That cloud!" I exclaimed, "that
strange cloud!.... Did you see -"
I stopped and stared dumbly.
The bench at my side was empty. The woman had
During the next day I went about my professional
duties in the law office with only half interest, and my
business partner looked at me queerly several times when
he came upon me mumbling to myself. Th incidents of the
evening before were rushing through my mind. Questions
unanswerable hammered at me. That I should have come upon
the very details described by mad Larla in his strange
book: the leering fish, the praying child, the twenty-six
bluejays, the pointed shadow of the cupola - it was
unexplainable; it was weird.
"Five Unicorns and a Pearl." The unicorns
were the stone statues ornamenting the old fountain, yes
- but the pearl? With a start I suddenly recalled the
name of the woman in black: Perle von Mauren. What
did it all mean?
Dinner had little attraction for me that evening.
Earlier I had gone to the antique-dealer and begged him
to loan me the sequel, the second volume of his brother
Alessandro. When he had refused, objected because I had
not yet returned the first book, my nerves had suddenly
jumped on edge. I felt like a narcotic fiend faced with
the realization that he could not procure the desired
drug. In desperation, yet hardly knowing why, I offered
the man more money, until at length I had come away, my
powers of persuasion and my pocketbook successful.
The second volume was identical in outward respects to
its predecessor except that it bore no title. But if I
was expecting more disclosures in symbolism I was doomed
to disappointment. Vague as Unicorns and a Pearl"
had been, the text of the sequel was even more wandering
and was obviously only the ramblings of a mad brain. By
watching the sentences closely I did gather that
Alessandro Larla had made a second trip to his court of
the twenty-six bluejays and met there again his
There was the paragraph toward the end that puzzled
me. It read:
"Can it possibly be? I pray that it is not.
And yet I have seen it and heard it snarl. Oh, the
loathsome creature! I will not, I will not believe
I closed the book and tried to divert my attention
elsewhere by polishing the lens of my newest portable
camera. But again, as before, that same urge stole upon
me, that same desire to visit the garden. I confess that
I had watched the intervening hours until I would meet
woman in black again; for strangely enough, in spite of
her abrupt exit before, I never doubted that she would be
there waiting for me. I wanted her to lift the veil. I
wanted to talk with her. I wanted to throw myself once
again into the narrative of Lana's book.
Yet the whole thing seemed preposterous, and I fought
the sensation with every ounce of will-power I could call
to mind. Then it suddenly occurred to rne what a
remarkable picture she would make, sitting there on the
stone bench, clothed in black, with the classic
background of the old courtyard. If I could but catch the
scene on photographic plate....
I halted my polishing and mused a moment. With a new
electric flash-lamp, that handy invention which has
supplanted the old mussy flash-powder, I could illuminate
the garden and snap the picture with ease. And if the
result were satisfactory it would make a worthy
contribution to the International Camera Contest at
Geneva next month.
The idea appealed to me, and gathering together the
necessary equipment I drew on an ulster (for it was a
wet, chilly night) and slipped out of my rooms and headed
northward. Mad, unseeing fool that I was! If only I had
stopped then and there, returned the book to the
antique~iealer and closed the incident! But the strange
magnetic action had gripped rne in earnest, and I rushed
headlong into the horror.
A fall rain was drumming the pavement, and the streets
were deserted. Off to the east, however, the heavy
blanket of clouds glowed with a soft radiance where the
moon was trying to break through, and a strong wind from
the south gave promise of clearing the skies before long.
With my coat collar turned well up at the throat I passed
once again into the older section of the town and down
forgotten Easterly Street. I found the gate to the
grounds unlocked as before, and the garden a dripping
place masked in shadow.
The woman was not there. Still the hour was early, and
I did not for a moment doubt that she would appear later.
Gripped now with the enthusiasm of my plan, I set the
camera carefully on the stone fountain, training the lens
as well as I could on the bench where we had sat the
previous evening. The flash-lamp with its battery handle
I laid within easy reach.
Scarcely had I finished my arrangements when the
crunch of gravel on the path caused me to turn. She was
approaching the stone bench, heavily veiled as before and
with the same sweeping black dress.
"You have come again," she said as I took my
place beside her.
"Yes," I replied. "I could not stay
Our conversation that night gradually centered about
her dead brother, although I thought several times that
the woman tried to avoid the subject. He had been, it
seemed, the black sheep of the family, had led more or
less of a dissolute life and had been expelled from the
University of Vienna not only because of his lack of
respect for the pedagogues of the various sciences but
also because of his queer unorthodox papers on
philosophy. His sufferings in the war prison camp must
have been intense. With a kind of grim delight she dwelt
on his horrible experiences in the grave-digging detail
which had been related to her by the fellow officer. But
of the manner in which he had met his death she would say
Stronger than on the night before was the sweet smell
of heliotrope. And again as the fumes crept nauseatingly
down my lungs there came that same sense of nervousness,
that same feeling that the perfume was hiding something I
should know. The desire to see beneath the veil had
become maddening by this time, but still I lacked the
boldness to ask her to lift it.
Toward midnight the heavens cleared and the moon in
splendid contrast shone high in the sky. The time had
come for my picture.
"Sit where you are" I said. "I'll be
back in a moment."
Stepping to the fountain I grasped the flash-lamp,
held it aloft for an instant and placed my finger on the
shutter lever of the camera. The woman remained
motionless on the bench, evidently puzzled as to the
meaning of my movements. The range was perfect. A click,
and a dazzling white light enveloped the courtyard about
us. For a brief second she was outlined there against the
old wall. Then the blue moonlight returned, and I was
smiling in satisfaction.
"It ought to make a beautiful picture," I
She leaped to her feet.
"Fool!" she cried hoarsely. "Blundering
fool! What have you done?"
Even though the veil was there to hide her face I got
the inmpression that her eyes were glaring at me,
smouldering with hatred. I gazed at her curiously as she
stood erect, head thrown back, apparently taut as wire,
and a slow shudder crept down my spine.Then without
warning she gathered up her dress and ran down the path
toward the deserted house. A moment later she had
disappeared somewhere in the shadows of the giant bushes.
I stood there by the fountain, staring after her in a
daze. Suddenly off in the umbra of the house's facade
there rose a low animal snarl.
And then before I could move, a huge gray shape came
hutling through the long weeds, bounding in great leaps
straight toward me. It was the woman's dog, which I had
seen with her the night before. But no longer was it a
beast passive and silent. Its face was contorted in
diabolic fury, and its jaws were dripping slaver. Even in
that moment of terror as I stood frozen before it, the
sight of those white nostrils and those black hyalescent
eyes emblazoned itself on my mind, never to be forgotten.
Then with a lunge it was upon me. I had only time to
thrust the flashlamp upward in half protection and throw
my weight to the side. My arm jumped in recoil. The bulb
exploded, and I could feel those teeth clamp down hard on
the handle. Backward I fell, a scream gurgling to my
lips, a terrific heaviness surging upon my body.
I struck out frantically, beat my fists into that
growling face. My fingers groped blindly for its throat,
sank deep into the hairy flesh. I could feel its very
breath mingling with my own now, but desperaly I hung on.
The pressure of my hands told. The dog coughed and
fell back. And seizing that instant I struggled to my
feet, jumped forward and planted a terrific kick straight
into the brute's middle.
"Fort mit dir, Johann!" I
cried, remembering the woman's German command.
It leaped back and, fangs bared, glared at me
motionless for a moment. Then abruptly it turned and
slunk off through the weeds.
Weak and trembling, I drew myself together, picked up
my camera and passed through the gate toward home.
Three days passed. Those endless hours I spent
confined to my apartment suffering the tortures of the
On the day following the night of my terrible
experience with the dog I realized I was in no condition
to go to work. I drank two cups of strong black coffee
and then forced myself to sit quietly in a chair, hoping
to soothe my nerves. But the sight of the camera there on
the table excited me to action. Five minutes later I was
in the dark room arranged as my studio, developing the
picture I had taken the night before. I worked
feverishly, urged on by the thought of what an unusual
contribution it would make for the amateur contest next
month at Geneva, should the result be successful.
An exclamation burst from my lips as I stared at the
still-wet print. There was the old garden clear and sharp
with the bushes, the statue of child, the fountain and
the wall in the background, but the bench - the stone
bench was empty. There was no sign, not even a blur of
the woman in black.
I rushed the negative through a saturated solution of
mercuric chloride in water, then treated it with ferrous
oxalate. But even after this intensifying process the
second print was like the first, focused in every detail,
the bench standing in the foreground in sharp relief, but
no trace of the woman.
She had been in plain view when I snapped the shutter.
Of that I was positive. And my camera was in perfect
condition. What then was wrong? Not until I had looked at
the print hard in the daylight would I believe my eyes.
No explanation offered itself, none at all; and at
length, confused, I returned to my bed and fell into a
Straight through the day I slept. Hours later I seemed
to wake from a vague nightmare, and had not strength to
rise from my pillow. A great physical faintness had
overwhelmed me. My arms, my legs, lay like dead things.
My heart was fluttering weakly. All was quiet, so still
that the clock on my bureau ticked distinctly each
passing second. The curtain billowed in the night breeze,
though I was positive I had closed the casement when I
entered the room.
And then suddenly I threw back my head and screamed!
For slowly, slowly creeping down my lungs was that
detestable odor of heliotrope!
Morning, and I found all was not a dream. My head was
ringing, my hands trembling, and I was so weak I could
hardly stand. The doctor I called in looked grave as he
felt my pulse.
"You are on the verge of a complete
collapse," he said. "If you do not allow
yourself a rest it may permanently affect your mind. Take
things easy for a while. And if you don't mind, I'll
cauterize those two little cuts on your neck. They're
rather raw wounds. What caused them?"
I moved my fingers to my throat and drew them away
again tipped with blood.
"I.... I don't know," I faltered.
He busied himself with his medicines, and a few
minutes later reached for his hat.
"I advise that you don't leave your bed for a
week at least," he said. "I'll give you a
thorough examination then and see if there are any signs
of anemia." But as he went out the door I thought I
saw a puzzled look on his face.
Those subsequent hours allowed my thoughts to run wild
once more. I vowed I would forget it all, go back to my
work and never look upon the books again. But I knew I
could not. The woman in black persisted in my mind, and
each minute away from her became a torture. But more than
that, if there had been a decided urge to continue my
reading in the second book, the desire to see the third
book, the last of the trilogy, was slowly increasing to
At length I could stand it no longer, and on the
morning of the third day I took a cab to the antique
store and tried to persuade Larla to give me the third
volume of his brother. But the Italian was firm. I had
already taken two books, neither of which I had returned.
Until I brought them back he would not listen. Vainly I
tried to explain that one was of no value without the
sequel and that I wanted to read the entire narrative as
a unit. He merely shrugged his shoulders.
Cold perspiration broke out on my forehead as I heard
my desire disregarded. I argued. I pleaded. But to no
At length when Larla had turned the other way I seized
the third book as I saw it lying on the shelf, slid it
into my pocket and walked guiltily out. I made no
apologies for my action. In the light of what developed
later it may be considered a temptation inspired, for my
will at the time was a conquered thing blanketed by that
Back in my apartment I dropped into a chair and
hastened to open the velvet cover. Here was the last
chronicling of that strange series of events which had so
completely become a part of my life during the past five
days. Larla's volume three. Would all be explained in its
pages? If so, what secret would be revealed?
With the light from a reading-lamp glaring full over
my shoulder I opened the book, thumbed through it slowly,
marveling again at the exquisite hand-printing. It seemed
then as I sat there that an almost palpable cloud of
quiet settled over me, muffling the distant sounds of the
street. Something indefinable seemed to forbid me to read
farther. Curiosity, that queer urge told me to go on.
Slowly, I began to turn the pages, one at a time, from
back to front.
Symbolism again. Vague wanderings with no sane
But suddenly my fingers stopped! My eyes had caught
sight of the last paragraph on the last page, the final
pennings of Alessandro Larla. I read, re-read, and read
again those blasphemous words. I traced each word in the
lamplight, slowly, carefully, letter for letter. Then the
horror of it burst within me.
In blood-red ink the lines read:
"What shall I do? She has drained my blood and
rotted my soul. My pearl is black as all evil. The curse
be upon her brother, for it is he who made her thus. I
pray the truth in these pages will destroy them for ever.
"Heaven help me, Perle von Mauren and her
brother, Johann, are vampires"
I leaped to my feet.
I clutched at the edge of the table and stood there
swaying. Vampires! Those horrible creatures with a lust
for human blood, taking the shape of men, of bats, of
The events of the past days rose before me in all
their horror now, and I could see the black significance
of every detail.
The brother, Johann - some time since the war he had
become a vampire. When the woman sought him out years
later he had forced this terrible existence upon her too.
With the garden as their lair the two of them had
entangled poor Alessandro Larla in their serpentine coils
a year before. He had loved the woman, had worshipped
her. And then he had found the awful truth that had sent
him stumbling home, raving mad.
Mad, yes, but not mad enough to keep him from writing
the fact in his three velvet-bound books. He had hoped
the disclosures would dispatch the woman and her brother
for ever. But it was not enough.
I whipped the first book from the table and opened the
cover. There again I saw those scrawled lines which had
meant nothing to me before.
"Revelations meant to destroy but only binding
without the stake. Read fool, and enter my field, for we
are chained to the spot. Oh, wo unto Larla!"
Perle von Mauren had written that. The books had not
put an end the evil life of her and her brother. No, only
one thing could do that. Yet the exposures had not been
written in vain. They were recorded for mortal posterity
Those books bound the two vampires, Perle von Mauren,
Johann, to the old garden, kept them from roaming the
night streets in search of victims. Only him who had once
passed through the gate could they pursue and attack.
It was the old metaphysical law: evil shrinking in the
face of truth.
Yet if the books had found their power in chains they
had also opened a new avenue for their attacks. Once
immersed in the pages of the trilogy, the reader fell
helplessly into their clutches. Those printed lines had
become the outer reaches of their web. They were an
entrapment net within which the power of the vampires
That was why my life had blended so strangely with the
story of Larla. The moment I had cast my eyes on the
opening paragraph I had fallen into their coils to do
with as they had done with Larla a year before I had been
drawn relentlessly into the tentacles of the woman in
black. Once I was past the garden gate the binding spell
of the books was gone, and they were free to pursue me
and to -
A giddy sensation rose within me. Now I saw why the
doctor had been puzzled. Now I saw the reason for my
physical weakness. She had been - feasting on my blood!
But if Larla had been ignorant of the one way to dispose
of such a creature, I was not. I had not vacationed in
south Europe without learning something of these ancient
Frantically I looked about the room. A chair, a table,
one of my cameras with its long tripod. I seized one of
the wooden legs of the tripod in my hands, snapped it
across my knee. Then, grasping the two broken pieces,
both now with sharp splintered ends, I rushed hatless out
of the door to the street.
A moment later I was racing northward in a cab bound
for Easterly Street.
"Hurry'!" I cried to the driver as I glanced
at the westering sun. "Faster, do you hear?"
We shot along the cross-streets, into the old suburbs
and toward the outskirts of town. Every traffic halt
found me fuming at the delay. But at length we drew up
before the wall of the garden.
I swung the wrought-iron gate open and with the wooden
pieces of the tripod still under my arm, rushed in. The
courtyard was a place of reality in the daylight, but the
moldering masonry and tangled weeds were steeped in
silence as before.
Straight for the house I made, climbing the rotten
steps to the front entrance. The door was boarded up and
locked. I retraced my steps and began to circle the south
wall of the building. It was this direction I had seen
the woman take when she had fled after I had tried to
snap her picture. Well toward the rear of the building I
reached a small half-open door leading to the cellar.
Inside, cloaked in gloom, a narrow corridor stretched
before me. The floor was littered with rubble and fallen
masonry, the ceiling interlaced with a thousand cobwebs.
I stumbled forward, my eyes quickly accustoming
themselves to the half-light from the almost opaque
At the end of the corridor a second door barred my
passage. I thrust it open - and stood swaying there on
the sill staring inward.
Beyond was a small room, barely ten feet square, with
a low-raftered ceiling. And by the light of the open door
I saw side by side in the center of the floor - two white
How long I stood there leaning weakly against the
stone wall I don't know. There was an odor drifting from
out of that chamber. Heliotrope! But heliotrope defiled
by the rotting smell of an ancient grave.
Then suddenly I leaped to the nearest coffin, seized
its cover and ripped it open.
Would to heaven I could forget that sight that met my
eyes. There the woman in black - unveiled.
That face - it was divinely beautiful, the hair black
as sable, the cheeks a classic white. But the lips - ! I
grew suddenly sick as I looked upon them. They were
scarlet.... and sticky with human blood.
I reached for one of the tripod stakes, seized a
flagstone from the floor and with the pointed end of the
wood resting directly over the woman's heart struck a
crashing blow. The stake jumped downward. A violent
contortion shook the coffin. Up to my face rushed a warm,
nauseating breath of decay.
I wheeled and hurled open the lid of her brother's
coffin. With only a glance at the young masculine
Teutonic face I raised the other stake high in the air
and brought it stabbing down with all the strength in my
In the coffins now, staring up at me from eyeless
sockets, were two gray and mouldering skeletons.
The rest is but a vague dream. I remember rushing
outside, along the path to the gate and down Easterly,
away from that accursed garden of the jays.
At length, utterly exhausted, I reached my apartment.
Those mundane surroundings that confronted me were like a
balm to my eyes. But there centred into my gaze three
objects lying where I had left them, the three volumes of
I turned to the grate on the other side of the room
and flung the three of them into the still glowing coals.
There was an instant hiss, and yellow flame streaked
upward and began eating into the velvet. The fire grew
higher.... higher.... and diminished slowly.
And as the last glowing spark died into a blackened
ash there swept over me a mighty feeling of quiet and