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THE HANGMAN'S HANDYMAN
An Island Called The Kraken
THE CRASH OF THE SEA on the rocks was the
first sound Nancy heard. She found herself, still dressed in her evening gown,
lying across the foot of the bed. It was nearly a minute before she realized she
was in the room given her on her arrival at The Kraken that afternoon. The girl
pulled herself to her feet and groped her way toward the dim outline of the
window. The wind that had lashed the Carolina coast since sundown was beginning
to die, but the night was still dark. Nothing could be seen but the white crests
of the breakers below.
Nancy stood for a minute gazing out into the
night, wondering idly what time it was and why she had not undressed. All at
once she became aware of the fact that she had no answer to these questions or
to a dozen others. Everything that had happened since dinner was as blank as
though she had fainted at the table and been carried up to bed.
Earlier events seemed clear enough: the end of
the long drive from New York; the shining mahogany speedboat; the island itself,
so curiously named The Kraken, and seeming strangely rocky against the low shore
only a quarter of a mile away; the great stone house; the unexpected nature of
her fellow house guests; the storm, with its attendant doubts for Rogan’s
safety; and the curious incident of the broken mirror.
Yes, all that stood out sharply in her mind.
She could even recall the beginning of dinner, with Jack Frant’s lean little
figure looking so out of place at the head of the table, his seven guests ranged
on both sides of him, and the five empty chairs. Nancy winced at the picture.
Somehow those vacant chairs seemed more ominous than if all thirteen places had
been filled. Her last definite memory was of Jack’s high-pitched laughter when
Evan had knocked over the salt cellar. After that there were only occasional
flashes—old Miss Makepeace’s acid smile—the black faces of the Negro servants—
meaningless words—and then nothing. Yet if she had fainted at dinner, why had no
one taken care of her? She could not believe she had been merely carried
upstairs and dumped on the bed like a bundle of soiled clothes, but what other
explanation was possible?
Well, the answer certainly was not to be found
here. With growing alarm Nancy felt her way to the door and pulled it open. A
faint glow from her right illuminated the four-foot corridor, and she followed
it to emerge upon the wooden gallery built along one wall of the main room of
the house—a room so huge that the candles placed on a table in its center did
little more than call attention to the shadow-haunted darkness which pressed in
upon them. Except for the candles and an occasional hiss from the burning
driftwood in the great fireplace, there was no sign of life.
As the girl turned to the stairs that led down
on her right, a low-toned clock struck somewhere in the depths of the ancient
house. Mechanically she counted the strokes—ten of them. Dinner would have been
over about nine, so she must have been unconscious all that time. Suddenly, the
full implication of the hour struck her. If it were only ten o’clock, where were
the other members of the house party? Normally they would be here, grouped
around the fire, playing cards, or strumming the piano. Even if they were in the
library, there would at least be more lights and the sound of voices. Instead
she found only four candles and a dying fire.
Hesitantly Nancy crept down the stairs and had
almost reached the center of the room when she heard the thud of the knocker
beating against the main door. The shock to the already frightened girl was so
great that she was forced to clutch the edge of the table to steady herself. In
a few seconds her sturdy common sense came to her rescue. She had wanted
company—well, here it was. If some evil were abroad on The Kraken it would be in
the house, not out in the storm. She picked up one of the candles and moved
forward, holding it before her like a shield.
Then, leaving the inner door of the vestibule
wide behind her, she opened the outer door.
Seen in that flickering light, the man who
stood there bulked enormous. He was clad in dripping oilskins, and the
sou’wester cast a mask of shadow over the upper part of his dark face.
“Please, ma’am, would you have half a bed for
a poor ship-wrecked sailor that got crowded out of Davy Jones’ locker?”
Nancy felt her small stock of courage drain
away. Then to her relief she heard a chuckle that she recognized, her candle was
caught as it fell, the man’s sou’wester was jerked off and she looked up into
his laughing eyes.
“Remember me? I was afraid you wouldn’t.”
“I couldn’t see you at first. I’m—I’m awfully
glad you’re here.”
“Thanks. I’m glad to get here. There’ve been
times in the last few hours when I didn’t expect to make it.” He glanced into
the darkness beyond her. “This is Frant’s island, isn’t it?”
She nodded, still unsure of her voice.
“Then why no sounds of revelry? The place is
quiet as a catacomb. Where are the other guests?”
“I don’t know.”
Rogan dropped his oilskins on the floor of the
vestibule and stepped into the great living room. In the uncertain light of the
candles there was an almost tangible malevolence about the place. He walked
forward to meet it, his hard eyes moving from side to side like those of a wary
fighter sizing up an antagonist.
Frant’s talk of the place had prepared him for
one of the white-columned Palladian mansions that dot the Carolinas, but this
vast pile belonged to an earlier civilization. Built in a time when buccaneers
and hostile Indians were realities, it had copied the sturdy lines of its Tudor
forebears in stone quarried to make space for its own cellars.
Then, too, Rogan’s host had promised a
houseful of guests, yet Nancy Garwood denied knowledge of their whereabouts. The
whole thing began to smell very like a trap, and Mr. Kincaid did not intend to
be caught inside it. He turned and found that the girl had followed him.
She was pretty, there was no denying it. Even
in that dimly lighted room her hair glowed with the buttercup yellow that had
fascinated him in New York because it was as authentic as it was unusual. Her
figure also deserved, and received, attention. She suggested a streamlined
Boucher nymph and matched his own personal taste to a nicety. Nevertheless, he
reminded himself, Nancy’s charms might have a purpose. One does not bait a trap
with thick ankles. Besides, Frant had said she was an actress, and his words
were borne out by that touch of theatricality in her clothes which is the
hallmark of show people. Perhaps she was acting now.
He put a finger under her chin and raised it
until she was looking straight into his eyes.
“I’m beginning to believe”—Rogan watched her
closely while he spoke—“that this house-party business was just a gag to get me
down here and that the rest of the guests are products of Jackson B.’s
“Oh, no,” Nancy gasped. “They were here all
right, only . . . they’ve disappeared.”
“Well, maybe not really,” she admitted. “I
suppose I just got frightened at being alone, but I couldn’t find anybody and it
is only ten o’clock. That must be pretty early for people to go to bed— even
’way down here.”
“How did you get separated from the others?”
“I don’t know. It was . . . queer. We were in
the dining room having dinner, and the next thing I remember I was upstairs
lying across my bed. I hadn’t even undressed.” Nancy glanced ruefully down at
the rumpled chiffon of her skirt. “I felt a little weak when I woke up, but I
wasn’t sick or anything, and I only had one cocktail before dinner. It doesn’t
Mr. Kincaid stroked his long chin for a
moment, looking down at the thin evening frock that was nearly her only garment.
“Standing here doesn’t make sense either.” He
pulled the girl’s arm through his and marched her across to the fireplace.
“You’ll catch cold in that gossamer gewgaw you’re wearing if we don’t wrap a
little heat around you—to say nothing of the fact that I myself am a saturated
solution of rain-water and brine.”
As Rogan stooped to build up the fire, Nancy
sat on the sofa watching him. When Frant had introduced them three days before
in a New York night club, she had taken to this man at once. His easy smile, his
tall, well-tailored figure, and his lean, unsymmetrical face that was such a
curious blend of good looks and downright ugliness—all these formed a
combination that she had found irresistible. Afterward she had danced with Sam
Grace, the gossip writer, and Sam had told her Kincaid was a professional
“Falling for him?”
“Some,” she had confessed.
“Better forget it. Kincaid bats around all
over the world. You’d be lucky if you saw him two days in two years.”
Nancy had made a little mouth. “I could go
“Not with that guy.”
“Sort of lone wolf?”
“Kincaid hasn’t enough warm human feelings to
make a wolf—‘lone shark’ would be more like it.” He had gone on to recount
anecdotes in which the gambler’s ruthlessness was matched only by his prowess.
Seated across the table from Rogan in
Fifty-second Street, it was easy to take Sam’s stories for the customary
exaggerations of his profession. Now, alone with the gambler in this gloomy
room— alone with him on the whole island, for all she knew—those stories were
Still, she reasoned, Rogan had no cause to be
at odds with her. Maybe if she were nice to him . . .
Nancy had just reached this tentative decision
when Kincaid said, “There,” and stood erect, dusting his hands. The new wood had
begun to catch, and the room seemed brighter. He took off his sodden coat and
held it to the flame.
“Let’s get this business straight. Frant owns
this house. You drove down from New York with him and arrived on the island this
afternoon. Then for some reason you fainted during dinner. When you woke up,
Frant, his guests, and his servants were all gone.”
“What were the other guests like?”
“I don’t know exactly,” Nancy admitted. “Not
that they were queer or anything, just that I never met anyone like them before.
The servants treated them as if they were royalty, and Jack said some of them
were rich, but they were kind of quiet somehow and they didn’t have hardly any
“I see.” Mr. Kincaid hung his coat on the fire
screen. “They don’t sound like the type of people you’d expect Jackson B. to
invite on a house party.”
“I was sort of surprised, myself, when I saw
them,” the girl agreed. “But I think they were Evan’s friends mostly. He’s
Jack’s half brother, you know.”
“The one Frant claims is an English lord?”
“Yes. I’m not sure he really is a lord. That
may be just one of Jack’s lies. To tell you the truth, I’m not even certain he’s
an Englishman. He talks like one, but Miss Makepeace says he’s Welsh, and anyway
his mother must have been American, because she was Jack’s mother, too.”
“Miss Makepeace is one of the missing guests,
I take it.”
“Uh-huh. Her brother’s here with her. They
used to own this house. Then there’s another girl, Sue Braxton. I think Evan
wants to marry her. She likes him, too.”
“Is that the crop?”
“Sue’s grandfather was here.”
There was silence after that. Mr. Kincaid
stood with his back to the fire while he considered the situation. Even if he
discounted Nancy’s story of the vanished guests, the puzzle of the house itself
still remained. Try as he would, he could not make the place match with any
reasonable estimate of his host’s character. The thick stone walls, the hammer
beams, huge as ships’ timbers, that disappeared into the darkness near the great
roof, the quiet, well-chosen furniture—all were at variance with the blatant
little man whose breezy boasts had brought Kincaid south. He looked down at the
“After mature deliberation I’ve decided the
best way to find our fellow guests is to hunt for them. Where do we start?”
“The dining room, I guess. That’s where they
were last time I saw them.”
Nancy rose unsteadily. Rogan put an arm around
her for support. She looked up at him with a little smile of apology.
“Sorry. I’m still sort of wobbly.”
“Would you rather stay here?”
“Oh, no. I’ll be all right as long as I don’t
make any sudden moves. Anyway, I’d rather walk around than wait here wondering
what’s become of the others. Jack kept talking about ghosts and things all
through dinner. If I sit still I may start thinking about them.”
“He didn’t mention the Mary Celeste, did he?”
“She was a ship. Another boat found her
batting about in the middle of the Atlantic with her sails set, every stick and
rope in place, a half-eaten meal on the table—and not a soul on board.”
Nancy’s eyes were round. “What do you suppose
“That’s something no one has ever figured out.
The point is that Frant may be pulling some sort of practical joke with an idea
based on the Mary Celeste story.”
“That would be just like Jack,” Nancy agreed,
“but the others wouldn’t have helped him, and they’re gone, too.”
She led the way to a door on the left of the
fireplace. They passed through a library walled with books and into the dining
room. Rogan had made no guess as to what his candle might reveal. Yet he found
himself curiously unprepared for the actuality. The place was in perfect order.
The chairs were ranged neatly against the walls, silverware gleamed on the
buffet, and in the center the great table of mahogany had been cleared and
polished. Even the hearth had been swept and the fire extinguished with water.
Nancy dropped on the nearest chair and looked
about her. “There’s nothing here at all.”
“What did you expect?”
“Oh, things lying around—a torn letter—a
rouge-stained cigarette butt—you know, clues.”
Rogan put down his candle.
“The clues we need are all in your mind, and
we have to get them out.”
“But nothing happened before I fainted,” she
“Something must have made you faint. Whatever
it was, the shock might have driven the events that led up to it out of your
mind. That sounds queer, but it’s really quite common. The doctors have a couple
of words for it. As a matter of fact, the answer must be something like that, or
you’d know more about what went on. Perhaps if you keep trying you can bring
some of it back.”
Nancy smiled wryly.
“If it hit me so hard I forgot backwards,
maybe I’d rather not remember.” She shrugged and continued, “How do we start?”
“Didn’t anything out of the ordinary take
place during dinner?”
“You mean like the empty chairs?”
“Yes. You see, there were only eight of us for
dinner, but the table was set for thirteen.”
“Is that Frant’s lucky number?”
“No, he’d invited the other five all
right—you, and four people named West. But, of course, you didn’t come. Mrs.
West found out about the storm from the weather bureau, and that scared her and
her whole family off. I didn’t like the idea of sitting down with thirteen
chairs at the table myself, but I couldn’t talk Jack into taking the extra ones
away. I think he wanted to spite Evan.”
“Don’t tell me his lordship descends to such
“Sure he does. He’s superstitious about
everything. Jack kept kidding about it. He hardly let up for a minute. That’s
what the paper was about, too.”
She gave a little gasp.
“You know, things are coming back to me. I’d
forgotten that paper. Jack had it in his pocket and he read it to us while we
were having our coffee. It was something a fellow in England had copied for him
out of a bunch of old books.”
“What was in it?”
“I don’t know exactly. Some sort of scandal
about Evan’s side of the family, I think. It was all mixed up, anyhow, and full
of long words I never heard before.”
“Don’t you remember any of it?”
“Well, it told how somebody got himself killed
three or four hundred years ago. And there was a priest in it, and witches, and
devils, and a lot of talk about water.”
“How did Evan take that?”
“He was pretty sore, I guess. Anyway, he
grabbed the paper out of Jack’s hand and threw it in the fire.”
Rogan stared down at the wet ashes.
“Hmm. Wonder if that’s why they put the fire
“To save the paper, you mean? I don’t think
so, because right after that we all went out into the big room.”
Kincaid picked up the tongs and began turning
over the ashes and charred wood in the fireplace.
“You certainly were right about remembering
things,” the girl went on excitedly. “It’s all clearing up now. We went into the
living room, and . . .” She jumped up. “That’s it. Listen! I know how I got
upstairs . . . nobody carried me . . . I walked up myself—after Jack died!”
Rogan spun around on his toes, but Nancy was
still fumbling for memories.
“That’s it . . . that’s what happened. Jack’s
dead! He died because of what Evan said! And it’s true! I went into his room,
and . . .”
Rogan was just in time to catch her as she
fell forward in a dead faint.