Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Other Loons Page
THE STOPPED CLOCK Volume One
A LONG time ago her murderer had left her for
dead. But a little pulse was still beating in her; and she had even recovered
some glimmering of consciousness for the time being, though perhaps it wasn’t
The darkness was unstirring and unbreathing.
Somewhere in it, though, a man’s voice murmured tenderly and sympathetically.
“Just look at the matter sensibly, my dear. No
one knows that I am here with you. The devoted fool you’re married to now
doesn’t know. None of your friends or nearest neighbors possibly can know. There
are only you and I, so why be afraid? All I want is to see you happy, darling.
Believe me, I wouldn’t hurt you for the world...”
The whisper went on. Only some soap-opera
actor on her bookcase radio across the room. The false insipid words had no
meaning for her, if she was aware of them at all.
She felt something warm and wet touch her left
wrist after a while, where it lay beside her head on the polished floor at the
rug’s edge, like the touch of the wet muzzle of a dog.
For a moment it penetrated her darkened
consciousness with a sense of fellowship. Her little dog had found her, so she
dreamed, and in his poor dumb was trying to express his sympathy for her, his
grief and love.
“Good—” she tried to breathe—“boy—”
Yet it wasn’t the nuzzling muzzle of her
little dog, for there was no whining, and no licking of her hand. She had merely
stirred her wrist in some spot of warm wetness on the floor. The wetness of her
own blood. Nothing more.
There was no breathing which was not her own.
She was alone in the darkness of the whole house. The cold-hearted murderous
fiend had even killed her poor little dog, too, after leaving her for dead.
There was something she had meant to do. Had
tried so hard to do. A little while ago. Or maybe hours ago.
Lock all the doors against him—that was it.
Front door out in the hallway, and stairway door up from the basement gameroom
and garage. Kitchen door. Study door. Dining-room French doors to the patio and
So many, many doors. But must. Crawl to each,
one after the other, and reach up and find the bolt or chain on it. Fasten them
all, so he couldn’t get back in. Then telephone for help.
She hadn’t. Not all, she knew despairingly.
But still the phone. Get hold of it, where it stood on the kneehole desk in the
living room at the end of the fireplace couch. The last fingerhole. Operator.
All the way around. When someone should answer, say, “Doctorsl Police! Please
hurry! I am hurt. So badly hurt. He tried to kill me. He is coming back again.
Any minute! Any minute now. Please hurry! Please, please hurry! My name is—I
They would summon help at once for her. Even
if she didn’t speak very clearly. Even if she had forgotten for the moment her
name and where she lived. They were alert for incoherent calls in the night. All
the time. They had ways to trace them back.
It was something she must do. Immediately.
She had reached the desk in the living room
some time ago, she thought, and had caught hold of the runner on it.
But she hadn’t had the strength to pull it
off, with the phone.
Or if she had, there was no energy in her to
grope around and find it, and turn the dial. And it didn’t seem so important any
more. Nor anything.
She lay there, too hurt for any more pain. All
the agony of those savage merciless blows was behind her, and her senses coated
on soft distant streams.
Memories of glamorous days, of fame and joy
and golden hours. She had always been a beautiful woman, and she had been loved
by many men. She had known great wealth, the cheering crowds, the magnificence
of titles, adventure in far exotic countries, war and flight, the splendor of
near-imperial power, all that a woman can know of passion and desire. Hours and
days and years were mingled all together in a dream, not less real than the
dream that now here in the darkness she lay dying, all alone, while with false
words of sympathy the radio murmured on.
Ruby, Ruby, Raby, wake up!
Ruby! She hadn’t heard that name since she had
been small. Who was calling her?
But it was no voice.
Somewhere in the dark drifting distances
around her she heard a small quick tinkling sound—pertink! Like the striking of
a sharp thumbnail on a crystal goblet rim.
The sound shattered her floating dreams with
bubbles of nightmare terror. Brittle and sharp as glass. Oh, God, he had come
back to make sure of her, before she had quite got away from him! He had broken
a windowpane! He was coming toward her now, with silent panther step across the
All that agony, all that hurt again! No! Oh,
no! Keep him away from her!
With a spasmodic effort, beyond awareness,
beyond any actual strength left in her, beyond pain, she lifted herself on knees
and palms. She began to creep, numbly, blindly, in a half-circle like a trodden
worm, her right hand above her head to fend him off, with an incoherent
whim-pering in her throat.
No! Oh, no!
The harsh terrible voice roared at her.
Her upraised hand swept across a surface of
smooth curved glass in front of her. Her fingertips touched a knob. She clutched
it, turning it. Light! But there was none.
“HAVE JUST BEEN LISTENING TO HAPPINESS LANE—”
It was the radio, for a moment blaring loud
with a defective tube. It sank away again, with background music.
...Pertink! pertink! pertink! pertink!... The
little sound was keeping on.
Only the silvery voice of her electric chime
clock on the mantel. Striking the hour of eleven, or midnight, or some remote
toward-morning hour— she could not count, she could not be sure.
Above her prone head an inch-wide square of
light darted into life.
It trembled an instant, like the square
blinking eye of some disembodied Cyclopean robot.
With a rush it spread outward into a
rectangular grayness two hundred times as large, the size of a cellar window. A
dark line swept down the middle of it like a knife; split, and rushed toward
both edges. The grayness was filled with amorphous moving shapes, like the
stirring of unborn fetuses in a fluoroscope, like cloud wisps across a
rectangular wan moon.
She had turned on the switch of her
swivel-based 24-inch TV in that last incoherent clutching for light, though not
enough for sound. With a jerk, the cloudy shapes on it took form and pictured
substance, had a background. Were laughing singers, dancers. They moved and
mouthed, gesturing in silence.
The wan window-shape of moving shadows was
duplicated across the room in a wide smoke-gray mirror reaching ceilingward
above a low black glass mantel, on which stood the gilt-and-crystal softly
sweeping clock whose last small chime had struck, flanked by shadowy photographs
and a pair of massive dull-gold candlesticks at the mantel ends, all doubled in
the smoky mirror.
In the wan refulgence cast by the screen and
its reflection the formless darkness disassembled itself, taking boundaries and
dimensions. Fur-nishings loomed into obscure shape, like rocks and weed patches
beneath a murky water.
Deep-cushioned chairs, hassocks, wide couch.
Glass-topped coffee table holding liquor bottles and ice tub, soda bottles,
three or four highball glasses and a pair of fragile wine-glasses. Grand piano
topped by a low bowl of dark heavy roses. Ceiling-high bookcases around two
walls. Drap-eries and shuttered Venetian blinds across a recessed picture
window. Flat-topped kneehole desk of bleached modern mahogany a few feet from
the TV screen, with a painted silk runner three-quarters pulled from it—an
antique painted Chinese silk picture scroll, depicting a woman be-neath a
twisted tree, a gold pagoda roof, a woods, an ocean, and a dragon—hanging
sideways to the floor.
On the desk top a heavy onyx-and-silver lamp
lay over on its side, anchoring the runner's end. A Washington phone book rested
near the edge, together with a black metal letter rack containing two opened
envelopes, one tilted forward and the other back, bearing return addresses,
“Cattle-drovers-Broadway Bank and Trust, 3 Trinity Street, New York 7, New
York,” and “Potomac Vista Gardens Corp., Exchange Building, 599 Fifteenth
Street, N.W. Washington 6, D.C.,” addressed respectively to “Mrs. Nina W. Sloke,
4 Dogwood Lane, Potomac Vista Gardens, Maryland,” and to “Mrs. Claude M. Sloke,”
the same address; and a stack of movie magazines and news weeklies, topped by a
section of newspaper mastheaded, “Washington Evening Sun, Section 2, Local News,
Saturday, April 27,” from which the upper left quarter page had been cut out. A
large silver-framed photograph stood half over the desk edge, intangibly
teetering, balanced precariously to a fall.
Scattered on the figured Sarouk rug below were
a spilled pack of cards; an overturned crystal ash tray in a litter of ashes,
crumpled paper match-covers and varied butts; an Imperial Russian
gold-and-cloissonne Easter egg, the size of a swan’s egg, bright with jewels,
and containing a large oval stone, deeper and fierier than crystal, on its top;
an ivory-handled Japanese ceremonial hara-kiri knife in a carved teakwood
sheath; a lump of black jade carved crudely in the universal primitive symbol of
a lingam. A quarter page of cut-out newspaper print, matching in size that
missing from the paper on the desk above, had drifted down among the other
All spilled about at arm’s length from her, or
little more, where she lay beneath the TV screen, her golden hair in pony tail,
her slender twisted body in tom black lace sleeveless nightgown pulled up about
her thighs, arms and shoulders and legs marble-pale in the wan light.
Amidst the fallen litter a gold telephone lay,
with its hand-piece a foot from its cradle.
There was something she had tried so hard to
do. But she had forgotten now.
THE SILVER-FRAMED photograph on the desk edge
faced the screen’s moving shadows. Portrait of a beautiful man, columned neck in
open shirt, mane of light rippled hair, long-lashed melting eyes, straight
classic nose, soft full-lipped mouth and short curved upper lip. Across a corner
of it, in sprawling lines, was an inscription, “To my love forever—Toby.”
In the depths of the black glass fireplace,
beyond the far end of the long couch, a nest of dead-appearing charcoaled logs
behind the woven-mesh fireplace curtain came suddenly to life. Flared up,
burning with a fierce brightness momentarily, like an old man’s heart aroused to
heat for young and wanton beauty, in a last burst of self-consuming holocaust.
In the flickering light, andirons and
hearthside tools shone brassily for the moment. Above, on the black glass mantel
ends, the pair of massive candlesticks, ten inches square at their footed bases
and thirty inches high, gleamed with a duller but richer yellow glow, heavy with
carved designs of dryads, satyrs, helmeted knights, praying priests, recumbent
nudes, all interwoven with vine leaves and flowering tree branches in intricate
relief. The three crystal-framed photographs between them, arranged unevenly two
and one on each side of the clock, came forth from the shadows in the red,
All three, like the photograph on the desk,
were autographed. One, the picture of a man with blunt nose, wide mouth, dark
shaven jaws, sin-ister scowling brows above flat eyes, was inscribed, “To my
million-dollar baby—Cliff.” Another, the picture of a man with slender mocking
face, big beaked nose, dark ironic crinkled old-young eyes, was inscribed, “To
Cytherea, out of the white sea foam—from her Prince, Mike.” On the other side of
the clock the third, picturing a gray-haired man with a hard powerful face,
deep-set eyes, spreading mustaches jutting like a tiger’s whiskers, upstanding
hussar-type collar covered with lacy filigree about his neck, sunbursts of
decorations on his chest, was inscribed, “To my darling Child Queen, from
Photographs live on after men’s hours of love,
and they themselves, may be dead. There was no meaning to her now, it might be,
in any of the four intimate inscriptions, if she could think of them. Perhaps
there never had been, too completely.