The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

7.

That Dr. Willett’s “purgation” had been an ordeal almost as nerve-racking in its way as his hideous wandering in the vanished crypt is shewn by the fact that the elderly physician gave out completely as soon as he reached home that evening. For three days he rested constantly in his room, though servants later muttered something about having heard him after midnight on Wednesday, when the outer door softly opened and closed with phenomenal softness. Servants’ imaginations, fortunately, are limited, else comment might have been excited by an item in Thursday’s Evening Bulletin which ran as follows:
North End Ghouls
Active Again

After a lull of ten months since the dastardly vandalism in the Weeden lot at the North Burial Ground, a nocturnal prowler was glimpsed early this morning in the same cemetery by Robert Hart, the night watchman. Happening to glance for a moment from his shelter at about 2 a.m., Hart observed the glow of a lantern or pocket torch not far to the northwest, and upon opening the door detected the figure of a man with a trowel very plainly silhouetted against a nearby electric light. At once starting in pursuit, he saw the figure dart hurriedly toward the main entrance, gaining the street and losing himself among the shadows before approach or capture was possible.
Like the first of the ghouls active during the past year, this intruder had done no real damage before detection. A vacant part of the Ward lot shewed signs of a little superficial digging, but nothing even nearly the size of a grave had been attempted, and no previous grave had been disturbed.
Hart, who cannot describe the prowler except as a small man probably having a full beard, inclines to the view that all three of the digging incidents have a common source; but police from the Second Station think otherwise on account of the savage nature of the second incident, where an ancient coffin was removed and its headstone violently shattered.
The first of the incidents, in which it is thought an attempt to bury something was frustrated, occurred a year ago last March, and has been attributed to bootleggers seeking a cache. It is possible, says Sergt. Riley, that this third affair is of similar nature. Officers at the Second Station are taking especial pains to capture the gang of miscreants responsible for these repeated outrages.
All day Thursday Dr. Willett rested as if recuperating from something past or nerving himself for something to come. In the evening he wrote a note to Mr. Ward, which was delivered the next morning and which caused the half-dazed parent to ponder long and deeply. Mr. Ward had not been able to go down to business since the shock of Monday with its baffling reports and its sinister “purgation”, but he found something calming about the doctor’s letter in spite of the despair it seemed to promise and the fresh mysteries it seemed to evoke.
“10 Barnes St.,
Providence, R.I.,
April 12, 1928.
“Dear Theodore:—I feel that I must say a word to you before doing what I am going to do tomorrow. It will conclude the terrible business we have been going through (for I feel that no spade is ever likely to reach that monstrous place we know of), but I’m afraid it won’t set your mind at rest unless I expressly assure you how very conclusive it is.
“You have known me ever since you were a small boy, so I think you will not distrust me when I hint that some matters are best left undecided and unexplored. It is better that you attempt no further speculation as to Charles’s case, and almost imperative that you tell his mother nothing more than she already suspects. When I call on you tomorrow Charles will have escaped. That is all which need remain in anyone’s mind. He was mad, and he escaped. You can tell his mother gently and gradually about the mad part when you stop sending the typed notes in his name. I’d advise you to join her in Atlantic City and take a rest yourself. God knows you need one after this shock, as I do myself. I am going South for a while to calm down and brace up.
“So don’t ask me any questions when I call. It may be that something will go wrong, but I’ll tell you if it does. I don’t think it will. There will be nothing more to worry about, for Charles will be very, very safe. He is now—safer than you dream. You need hold no fears about Allen, and who or what he is. He forms as much a part of the past as Joseph Curwen’s picture, and when I ring your doorbell you may feel certain that there is no such person. And what wrote that minuscule message will never trouble you or yours.
“But you must steel yourself to melancholy, and prepare your wife to do the same. I must tell you frankly that Charles’s escape will not mean his restoration to you. He has been afflicted with a peculiar disease, as you must realise from the subtle physical as well as mental changes in him, and you must not hope to see him again. Have only this consolation—that he was never a fiend or even truly a madman, but only an eager, studious, and curious boy whose love of mystery and of the past was his undoing. He stumbled on things no mortal ought ever to know, and reached back through the years as no one ever should reach; and something came out of those years to engulf him.
“And now comes the matter in which I must ask you to trust me most of all. For there will be, indeed, no uncertainty about Charles’s fate. In about a year, say, you can if you wish devise a suitable account of the end; for the boy will be no more. You can put up a stone in your lot at the North Burial Ground exactly ten feet west of your father’s and facing the same way, and that will mark the true resting-place of your son. Nor need you fear that it will mark any abnormality or changeling. The ashes in that grave will be those of your own unaltered bone and sinew—of the real Charles Dexter Ward whose mind you watched from infancy—the real Charles with the olive-mark on his hip and without the black witch-mark on his chest or the pit on his forehead. The Charles who never did actual evil, and who will have paid with his life for his ‘squeamishness’.
“That is all. Charles will have escaped, and a year from now you can put up his stone. Do not question me tomorrow. And believe that the honour of your ancient family remains untainted now, as it has been at all times in the past.
“With profoundest sympathy, and exhortations to fortitude, calmness, and resignation, I am ever
Sincerely your friend,
Marinus B. Willett”
So on the morning of Friday, April 13, 1928, Marinus Bicknell Willett visited the room of Charles Dexter Ward at Dr. Waite’s private hospital on Conanicut Island. The youth, though making no attempt to evade his caller, was in a sullen mood; and seemed disinclined to open the conversation which Willett obviously desired. The doctor’s discovery of the crypt and his monstrous experience therein had of course created a new source of embarrassment, so that both hesitated perceptibly after the interchange of a few strained formalities. Then a new element of constraint crept in, as Ward seemed to read behind the doctor’s mask-like face a terrible purpose which had never been there before. The patient quailed, conscious that since the last visit there had been a change whereby the solicitous family physician had given place to the ruthless and implacable avenger.
Ward actually turned pale, and the doctor was the first to speak. “More,” he said, “has been found out, and I must warn you fairly that a reckoning is due.”
“Digging again, and coming upon more poor starving pets?” was the ironic reply. It was evident that the youth meant to shew bravado to the last.
“No,” Willett slowly rejoined, “this time I did not have to dig. We have had men looking up Dr. Allen, and they found the false beard and spectacles in the bungalow.”
“Excellent,” commented the disquieted host in an effort to be wittily insulting, “and I trust they proved more becoming than the beard and glasses you now have on!”
“They would become you very well,” came the even and studied response, “as indeed they seem to have done.”
As Willett said this, it almost seemed as though a cloud passed over the sun; though there was no change in the shadows on the floor. Then Ward ventured:
“And is this what asks so hotly for a reckoning? Suppose a man does find it now and then useful to be twofold?”
“No,” said Willett gravely, “again you are wrong. It is no business of mine if any man seeks duality; provided he has any right to exist at all, and provided he does not destroy what called him out of space.”
Ward now started violently. “Well, Sir, what have ye found, and what d’ye want with me?”
The doctor let a little time elapse before replying, as if choosing his words for an effective answer.
“I have found,” he finally intoned, “something in a cupboard behind an ancient overmantel where a picture once was, and I have burned it and buried the ashes where the grave of Charles Dexter Ward ought to be.”
The madman choked and sprang from the chair in which he had been sitting:
“Damn ye, who did ye tell—and who’ll believe it was he after these full two months, with me alive? What d’ye mean to do?”
Willett, though a small man, actually took on a kind of judicial majesty as he calmed the patient with a gesture.
“I have told no one. This is no common case—it is a madness out of time and a horror from beyond the spheres which no police or lawyers or courts or alienists could ever fathom or grapple with. Thank God some chance has left inside me the spark of imagination, that I might not go astray in thinking out this thing. You cannot deceive me, Joseph Curwen, for I know that your accursed magic is true!
“I know how you wove the spell that brooded outside the years and fastened on your double and descendant; I know how you drew him into the past and got him to raise you up from your detestable grave; I know how he kept you hidden in his laboratory while you studied modern things and roved abroad as a vampire by night, and how you later shewed yourself in beard and glasses that no one might wonder at your godless likeness to him; I know what you resolved to do when he balked at your monstrous rifling of the world’s tombs, and at what you planned afterward, and I know how you did it.
“You left off your beard and glasses and fooled the guards around the house. They thought it was he who went in, and they thought it was he who came out when you had strangled and hidden him. But you hadn’t reckoned on the different contents of two minds. You were a fool, Curwen, to fancy that a mere visual identity would be enough. Why didn’t you think of the speech and the voice and the handwriting? It hasn’t worked, you see, after all. You know better than I who or what wrote that message in minuscules, but I will warn you it was not written in vain. There are abominations and blasphemies which must be stamped out, and I believe that the writer of those words will attend to Orne and Hutchinson. One of those creatures wrote you once, ‘do not call up any that you can not put down’. You were undone once before, perhaps in that very way, and it may be that your own evil magic will undo you all again. Curwen, a man can’t tamper with Nature beyond certain limits, and every horror you have woven will rise up to wipe you out.”
But here the doctor was cut short by a convulsive cry from the creature before him. Hopelessly at bay, weaponless, and knowing that any show of physical violence would bring a score of attendants to the doctor’s rescue, Joseph Curwen had recourse to his one ancient ally, and began a series of cabbalistic motions with his forefingers as his deep, hollow voice, now unconcealed by feigned hoarseness, bellowed out the opening words of a terrible formula.
“PER ADONAI ELOIM, ADONAI JEHOVA, ADONAI SABAOTH, METRATON. . . .”
But Willett was too quick for him. Even as the dogs in the yard outside began to howl, and even as a chill wind sprang suddenly up from the bay, the doctor commenced the solemn and measured intonation of that which he had meant all along to recite. An eye for an eye—magic for magic—let the outcome shew how well the lesson of the abyss had been learned! So in a clear voice Marinus Bicknell Willett began the second of that pair of formulae whose first had raised the writer of those minuscules—the cryptic invocation whose heading was the Dragon’s Tail, sign of the descending node—

“OGTHROD AI’F
GEB’L—EE’H
YOG-SOTHOTH
‘NGAH’NG AI’Y
ZHRO!”

At the very first word from Willett’s mouth the previously commenced formula of the patient stopped short. Unable to speak, the monster made wild motions with his arms until they too were arrested. When the awful name of Yog-Sothoth was uttered, the hideous change began. It was not merely a dissolution, but rather a transformation or recapitulation; and Willett shut his eyes lest he faint before the rest of the incantation could be pronounced.
But he did not faint, and that man of unholy centuries and forbidden secrets never troubled the world again. The madness out of time had subsided, and the case of Charles Dexter Ward was closed. Opening his eyes before staggering out of that room of horror, Dr. Willett saw that what he had kept in memory had not been kept amiss. There had, as he had predicted, been no need for acids. For like his accursed picture a year before, Joseph Curwen now lay scattered on the floor as a thin coating of fine bluish-grey dust.