Continuing the adventure that began here.
CHAPTER II. Sonata of Doom.
“And of quite a bit more than that, Peevish,” said Weyland. “He has a silent and invisible army of operatives on every continent. The very walls may be crawling with them—quite literally, as some of the devils are very slim. I hardly dare imagine what might happen if they should get to the Archbishop before we do. Not a moment to lose, old man, and yet we must proceed with extreme caution. His agents may still be here, and we may be their next targets.”
“What shall we do, then?” I asked.
“What we had already planned to do,” he replied. “We must get to the Archbishop’s palace, and for that we need your car. But we must make our way out of your apartment first. Is there a back way down to the garage?
“I don’t know of one,” I told him. “There are some rooms in the apartment that I’ve never seen, of course, but I believe the only way out is the way you came in.”
“Then that is the way we shall go—but with care. Since the fiends know we’re here, we can put on the lights as we go. That might flush some of them out.”
We turned back into the dining room, and I turned on the lights. Weyland held up his hand to stop me from going any farther.
“Wait, Peevish,” he said. “Look at the room carefully. What do you see?”
I examined the room as thoroughly as I could. Every chair was in place around the table; the sideboard had its usual array of tureens, platters, and handles; the china cupboard seemed entirely undisturbed; the tea trolley was in the corner where it belonged; the chandelier was clean, with all its bulbs functioning; the Wurlitzer was waiting at the side of the room to provide soothing dinner music; nothing untoward was dangling from the ceiling or lurking in the dark.
“I see nothing out of the ordinary,” I said.
“Precisely,” said Weyland. “Nothing out of the ordinary is exactly what you always see just before the wily devils attack. Follow me, Peevish, and do exactly as I do. Your life may depend upon it.”
With those words he hunched over and dashed across the short open space, flinging the chair at the foot of the table aside and diving under the table. I followed, imitating him as best I could. Weyland was already clearing a path for us by shoving chairs left and right. Suddenly there was a dreadful thumping and clattering above us and all around us; but Weyland, never pausing, continued to clear the way until we had reached the head of the table.
“Now, Peevish!” he shouted over the din; and he made a sudden dash for the doorway, with me very close behind him.
The racket stopped when we were through the doorway, and I risked a quick glance backward. The whole dining room was prickly with spears: they were embedded in the top of the table and in the floor around it, with not a few in the sideboard.
“How did you know that would happen?”I asked breathlessly.
“I didn’t,” Weyland replied. “I expected them to use arrows, but the principle is the same, I suppose. Come, Peevish—we must keep moving.”
The longest hallway in the apartment was ahead of us. Weyland eyed it warily.
“Is that another entrance to the conservatory up there?” he asked.
“Yes, I replied. “There’s an entrance at each end.”
“Perhaps we should go this way, then.” He slipped through the door, and I followed him into the warm, humid air of the conservatory.
It was a long room with a glass ceiling and glass for the right-hand wall; there was a gravel walkway between the two rows and low tables on which were growing lush stands of greenery.
“What are these plants?” Weyland asked as we walked. “They have a peculiar scent.”
“I’m not sure,” I replied. “Poor old Banks was the gardening man; it was something of an obsession with him. From the shape of the leaves, I suppose they might be some species of Aralia.”
Suddenly Weyland stopped. “Don’t move, Peevish.” He pointed down to the path in front of him. “Do you see that?”
I looked carefully where he was pointing. “I see nothing,” I said.
“Exactly. Invisible trip wire. Follow my steps precisely.”
He lifted his right leg as high as he could and took a very broad step forward; his left leg followed in a similar fashion. I imitated his awkward stride.
“Well done, Peevish,” said Weyland. “Keep an eye open for more invisible traps, and let’s keep moving.”
“How will I see them if they’re invisible?”
“You won’t, old chap. That’s how you’ll know.”
We made our way through the rest of the conservatory without incident and warily stepped back out into the hall. The music room was next to be traversed
“Is there any way around this next room?” Weyland asked.
“No,” I replied. “This is the only way through to the front of the apartment.”
“Then we must proceed with great caution,” he said. “Reach in and turn on the light.”
When the lights came on, I could see that our caution had been fully justified. The piano, a 7-foot Estey grand that had occupied the middle of the room, was suspended from the ceiling, directly over the path we should have taken had we walk straight through in the dark.
“Well done, Weyland,” I said. “If you hadn’t mentioned the light, we’d never have known to walk around the edge of the room.”
“Stop!” Weyland’s hand fell on my shoulder and restrained me. “Don’t you think the piano is a bit obvious?”
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a quarter. Looking around the room in front of us, he appeared to reach a decision. He stooped down and rolled the quarter toward the left edge of the room.
Suddenly, almost too quickly to see, an arrow flew and hit the quarter, sending it flying toward the other side of the room. The arrow embedded itself in the baseboard opposite; the quarter, meanwhile, landed nearby, and suddenly a forest of sharp metal spikes shot out of the floor in that region; they tossed the quarter into the air again, and as soon as it landed a colossal mallet came down on it and flattened it to a great sheet of foil about a foot and a half in diameter.
“I thought so,” said Weyland. “Peevish, old man, are you still quick on your feet? I remember you used to be able to outrun Bertha McAllister when she wanted to kiss you.”
“That was in the fourth grade,” I reminded him.
“Well, the only way I can see is straight through the middle. And if you can imagine Bertha is behind you, we just might make it before the piano drops Are you ready? Here we go.”
As it happened, I knew that Weyland’s proposed psychological motivation would not work for me. He had apparently lost track of Bertha after the fourth grade, but I knew that the gangly freckled nuisance we had known in those days had grown up to be the highest-paid lingerie model in the tri-state area. By imagining, however, that Bertha McAllister was ahead of me, I managed to keep up with Weyland, and we both passed under the piano with hardly an inch to spare. It crashed to the floor behind us with an anarchic sonata of clanging and ringing. The Estey is known for its weighty tone and quick action.
“Well done, old man,” said Weyland. “Now for the library, eh? We should be able to make it through there all right. Put on the light.”
I turned on the light as Weyland had directed and peered into the room. Nothing caught my attention.
“The fiends!” cried Weyland.
“What’s wrong?” I asked in alarm.
“These books are out of order! The rotters have gone in and disorganized your entire library! It will take hours to put it right again!”
“No time to lose, Peevish. You start to the left of the door; I’ll start to the right. We can’t let the devils get away with this.”
“But, Weyland, I don’t keep my books in order.”
“Nothing has changed. This is the way the books have always been. I don’t really keep my library organized on any system.”
Weyland looked blank. “Not even alphabetical by author?”
“I just put them on the shelf where they fit.”
“But, good heavens, man!” Weyland sputtered. “You can’t possibly live your life that way! How can you find anything? What if you need to——”
“Look, Weyland, right now we need to get out of this apartment, not worry about my books.”
Weyland sighed. “You’re right, of course. But when this is all over, we’re going to have a good long talk about Library of Congress cataloguing.” He produced a nickel from his pocket and tossed it into the room. Nothing happened to the coin, which came to rest about two-thirds of the way along the floor, and we deemed it safe to enter.
We walked without incident until we reached the nickel, where Weyland stopped.
“Never waste a nickel,” he said, and he bent over to pick it up.
At that moment a huge axe swung out of the ceiling and missed Weyland’s head by an inch, swinging like a pendulum above his stooping form.
“Well, that was lucky,” said Weyland, pocketing the nickel as he remained stooped over. He shuffled forward until he was out of range of the swinging axe; then he resumed his upright posture. “This is why thrift is a virtue.”
The front parlor was just as I had left it, except for the rattlesnake in my favorite armchair, which gave its warning in good time for us to keep out of its striking range. We walked out the front door of my apartment into the common hallway beyond.
“Now,” said Weyland, “to your car. Lead the way, Peevish.”
“It’s just down the hall,” I said, “through that——”
Suddenly there was a sound like “Whoomp,” and a rush of hot air, and then flames came galloping along the wall down the passage. They spread with incredible speed, and soon they surrounded us.
“Fire!” cried Weyland. “By heaven, if the fiends have got hold of a book of matches, is there anything that can stop them?”
Don’t miss tomorrow’s thrilling episode: