Seven Footprints to Satan - A. Merritt - ebook

Seven Footprints to Satan ebook

A. Merritt



A jungle explorer back home in New York gets kidnapped by a part-Chinese man claiming to be Satan. „Satan” has set up a complicated game of chance, which is played by some of the most wealthy and powerful people in the world. Some have come to suspect that the game might be rigged. „Seven Footprint to Satan” is A. Merritt’s most famous mystery novel and Merritt’s Satan remains one of the most memorable super-villains in pulp literature, and the complexity which the author endows his creation raises him, and the book, far above the standards of ordinary escapist literature. A masterpiece of colorful drama, a tour-de-force of crime and cunning, a fantasy of great power, it has received the acclaim of that vast audience who made the of the author of „The Moon Pool”, „The Metal Monster” and others, world famous.

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Liczba stron: 352

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The clock was striking eight as I walked out of the doors of the Discoverers’ Club and stood for a moment looking down lower Fifth Avenue. As I paused, I felt with full force that uncomfortable sensation of being watched that had both puzzled and harassed me for the past two weeks. A curiously prickly, cold feeling somewhere deep under the skin on the side that the watchers are located; an odd sort of tingling pressure. It is a queer sort of a sensitivity that I have in common with most men who spend much of their lives in the jungle or desert. It is a throwback to some primitive sixth sense, since all savages have it until they get introduced to the white man’s liquor.

Trouble was I couldn’t localize the sensation. It seemed to trickle in on me from all sides. I scanned the street. Three taxis were drawn up along the curb in front of the Club. They were empty and their drivers busy talking. There were no loiterers that I could see. The two swift side-rubbing streams of traffic swept up and down the Avenue. I studied the windows of the opposite houses. There was no sign in them of any watchers.

Yet eyes were upon me, intently. I knew it.

The warning had come to me in many places this last fortnight. I had felt the unseen watchers time and again in the Museum where I had gone to look at the Yunnan jades I had made it possible for rich old Rockbilt to put there with distinct increase to his reputation as a philanthropist; it had come to me in the theater and while riding in the Park; in the brokers’ offices where I myself had watched the money the jades had brought me melt swiftly away in a game which I now ruefully admitted I knew less than nothing about. I had felt it in the streets, and that was to be expected. But I had also felt it at the Club, and that was not to be expected and it bothered me more than anyth33ing else.

Yes, I was under strictest surveillance. But why?

That was what this night I had determined to find out.

At a touch upon my shoulder, I jumped, and swept my hand halfway up to the little automatic under my left armpit. By that, suddenly I realized how badly the mystery had gotten on my nerves. I turned, and grinned a bit sheepishly into the face of big Lars Thorwaldsen, back in New York only a few days from his two years in the Antarctic.

“Bit jerky, aren’t you, Jim?” he asked. “What’s the matter? Been on a bender?”

“Nothing like it, Lars,” I answered. “Too much city, I guess. Too much continual noise and motion. And too many people,” I added with a real candor he could not suspect.

“God!” he exclaimed. “It all looks good to me. I’m eating it up– after those two years. But I suppose in a month or two I’ll be feeling the same way about it. I hear you’re going away again soon. Where this time? Back to China?”

I shook my head. I did not feel like telling Lars that my destination was entirely controlled by whatever might turn up before I had spent the sixty-five dollars in my wallet and the seven quarters and two dimes in my pocket.

“Not in trouble, are you, Jim?” he looked at me more keenly. “If you are, I’d be glad to–help you.”

I shook my head. Everybody knew that old Rockbilt had been unusually generous about those infernal jades. I had my pride, and staggered though I was by that amazingly rapid melting-away of a golden deposit I had confidently expected to grow into a barrier against care for the rest of my life, make me, as a matter of fact, independent of all chance, I did not feel like telling even Lars of my folly. Besides, I was not yet that hopeless of all things, a beachcomber in New York. Something would turn up.

“Wait,” he said, as some one called him back into the Club.

But I did not wait. Even less than baring my unfortunate gamble did I feel like telling about my watchers. I stepped down into the street.

Who was it that was watching me? And why? Some one from China who had followed after the treasure I had taken from the ancient tomb? I could not believe it. Kin-Wang, bandit though he might be, and accomplished graduate of American poker as well as of Cornell, would have sent no spies after me. Our, well–call it transaction, irregular as it had been, was finished in his mind when he had lost. Crooked as he might be with the cards, he was not the man to go back on his word. Of that I was sure. Besides, there had been no need of letting me get this far before striking. No, they were no emissaries of Kin-Wang.

There had been that mock arrest in Paris, designed to get me quickly out of the way for a few hours, as the ransacked condition of my room and baggage showed when I returned. A return undoubtedly much earlier than the thieves had planned, due to my discovery of the ruse and my surprise sally which left me with an uncomfortable knife slash under an arm but, I afterwards reflected pleasantly, had undoubtedly left one of my guards with a broken neck and another with a head that would not do much thinking for another month or so. Then there had been the second attempt when the auto in which I was rushing to the steamer had been held up between Paris and the Havre. That might have been successful had not the plaques been tucked among the baggage of an acquaintance who was going to the boat by the regular train, thinking, by the way, that he was carrying for me some moderately rare old dishes that I did not want to trust to the possible shocks of fast automobile travel, to which the mythical engagement on the day of sailing had condemned me.

Were the watchers this same gang? They must know that the jades were now out of my hands and safe in the museum. I could be of no further value to these disappointed gentlemen, unless, of course, they were after revenge. Yet that would hardly explain this constant, furtive, patient watching. And why hadn’t they struck long before? Surely there had been plenty of opportunities.

Well, whoever the watchers were, I had determined to give them the most open of chances to get at me. I had paid all my bills. The sixty-six dollars and ninety-five cents in my pocket comprised all my worldly goods, but no one else had any claim on it. Whatever unknown port I was clearing for with severely bare sticks and decks, it was with no debts left behind.

Yes, I had determined to decoy my enemies, if enemies they were, out into the open. I had even made up my mind as to where it should be.

In all New York the loneliest spot at eight o’clock of an October night, or any night for that matter, is the one which by day is the most crowded on all the globe. Lower Broadway, empty then of all its hordes and its canyon-like cleft silent, its intersecting minor canyons emptier and quieter even than their desert kin. It was there that I would go.

As I turned down Fifth Avenue from the Discoverers’ Club a man passed me, a man whose gait and carriage, figure and clothing, were oddly familiar.

I stood stock still, looking after him as he strolled leisurely up the steps and into the Club.

Then, queerly disturbed, I resumed my walk. There had been something peculiarly familiar, indeed disquietingly familiar, about that man. What was it? Making my way over to Broadway, I went down that street, always aware of the watchers.

But it was not until I was opposite City Hall that I realized what that truly weird familiarity had been. The realization came to me with a distinct shock.

In gait and carriage, in figure and clothing, from light brown overcoat, gray soft hat, to strong Malacca cane that man had been– Myself!


I stopped short. The natural assumption was, of course, that the resemblance had been a coincidence, extraordinary enough, but still– coincidence. Without doubt there were at least fifty men in New York who might easily be mistaken for me at casual glance. The chance, however, that one of them would be dressed precisely like me at any precise moment was almost nil. Yet it could be. What else could it be? What reason had any one to impersonate me?

But then, for that matter, what reason had any one to put a watch on me?

I hesitated, of half a mind to call a taxi, and return to the Club. Reason whispered to me that the glimpse I had gotten had been brief, that perhaps I had been deceived by the play of light and shadow, the resemblance been only an illusion. I cursed my jumpy nerves and went on.

Fewer and fewer became the people I passed as I left Cortlandt Street behind me. Trinity was like a country church at midnight. As the cliffs of the silent office buildings hemmed me I felt a smothering oppression, as though they were asleep and swaying in on me; their countless windows were like blind eyes. But if they were blind, those other eyes, that I had never for an instant felt leave me, were not. They seemed to become more intent, more watchful.

And now I met no one. Not a policeman, not even a watchman. The latter were, I knew, inside these huge stone forts of capital. I loitered at corners, giving every opportunity for the lurkers to step out, the invisible to become visible. And still I saw no one. And still the eyes never left me.

It was with a certain sense of disappointment that I reached the end of Broadway and looked out over Battery Park. It was deserted. I walked down to the Harbor wall and sat upon a bench. A ferryboat gliding toward Staten Island was like some great golden water bug. The full moon poured a rivulet of rippling silver fire upon the waves. It was very still–so still that I could faintly hear Trinity’s bells chiming nine o’clock.

I had heard no one approach, but suddenly I was aware of a man sitting beside me and a pleasant voice asking me for a match. As the flame flared up to meet his cigarette, I saw a dark, ascetic face, smooth-shaven, the mouth and eyes kindly and the latter a bit weary, as though from study. The hand that held the match was long and slender and beautifully kept. It gave the impression of unusual strength–a surgeon’s hand or a sculptor’s. A professional man certainly, I conjectured. The thought was strengthened by his Inverness coat and his soft, dark hat. In the broad shoulders under the cloak of the coat was further suggestion of a muscular power much beyond the ordinary.

“A beautiful night, sir,” he tossed the match from him. “A night for adventure. And behind us a city in which any adventure is possible.”

I looked at him more closely. It was an odd remark, considering that I had unquestionably started out that night for adventure. But was it so odd after all? Perhaps it was only my overstimulated suspicion that made it seem so. He could not possibly have known what had drawn me to this silent place. And the kindly eyes and the face made me almost instantly dismiss the thought. Some scholar this, perhaps, grateful for the quietness of the Park.

“That ferryboat yonder,” he pointed, seemingly unaware of my scrutiny. “It is an argosy of potential adventure. Within it are mute Alexanders, inglorious Caesars and Napoleons, incomplete Jasons each almost able to retrieve some Golden Fleece–yes, and incomplete Helens and Cleopatras, all lacking only one thing to round them out and send them forth to conquer.”

“Lucky for the world they’re incomplete, then,” I laughed. “How long would it be before all these Napoleons and Caesars and Cleopatras and all the rest of them were at each other’s throats–and the whole world on fire?”

“Never,” he said, very seriously. “Never, that is, if they were under the control of a will and an intellect greater than the sum total of all their wills and intellects. A mind greater than all of them to plan for all of them, a will more powerful than all their wills to force them to carry out those plans exactly as the greater mind had conceived them.”

“The result, sir,” I objected, “would seem to me to be not the super- pirates, super-thieves and super-courtesans you have cited, but super- slaves.”

“Less slaves than at any time in history,” he replied. “The personages I have suggested as types were always under control of Destiny–or God, if you prefer the term. The will and intellect I have in mind would profit, since its house would be a human brain, by the mistakes of blind, mechanistic Destiny or of a God who surely, if he exists, has too many varying worlds to look after to give minute attention to individuals of the countless species that crawl over them. No, it would use the talents of its servants to the utmost, not waste them. It would suitably and justly reward them, and when it punished–its punishments would be just. It would not scatter a thousand seeds haphazardly on the chance that a few would find fertile ground and grow. It would select the few, and see that they fell on fertile ground and that nothing prevented their growing.”

“Such a mind would have to be greater than Destiny, or, if you prefer the term, God,” I said. “I repeat that it seems to me a super-slavery and that it’s mighty lucky for the world that no such mind exists.”

“Ah!” he drew at his cigarette, thoughtfully, “but, you see–it does.”

“Yes?” I stared at him, wondering if he were joking. “Where?”

“That,” he answered, coolly, “you shall soon know–Mr. Kirkham.”

“You know me!” for one amazed moment I thought that I could not have heard aright.

“Very well,” he said. “And that mind whose existence you doubt knows –all of you there is to know. He summons you! Come, Kirkham, it is time for us to go!”

So! I had met what I had started out to find! They, whoever they were, had come out into the open at last.

“Wait a bit,” I felt my anger stir at the arrogance of the hitherto courteous voice. “Whoever you may be or whoever he may be who sent you, neither of you knows me as well as you seem to think. Let me tell you that I go nowhere unless I know where it is I’m going, and I meet no one unless I choose. Tell me then where you want me to go, who it is I’m to meet and the reason for it. When you do that, I’ll decide whether or not I’ll answer this, what did you call it–summons.”

He had listened to me quietly. Now his hand shot out and caught my wrist. I had run across many strong men, but never one with a grip like that. My cane dropped from my paralyzed grasp.

“You have been told all that is necessary,” he said, coldly. “And you are going with me–now!”

He loosed my wrist, and shaking with rage I jumped to my feet.

“Damn you,” I cried. “I go where I please when I please–” I stooped to pick up my cane. Instantly his arms were around me.

“You go,” he whispered, “where he who sent me pleases and when he pleases!”

I felt his hands swiftly touching me here and there. I could no more have broken away from him than if I had been a kitten. He found the small automatic under my left armpit and drew it out of its holster. Quickly as he had seized me, he released me and stepped back. “Come,” he ordered.

I stood, considering him and the situation. No one has ever had occasion to question my courage, but courage, to my way of thinking, has nothing whatever to do with bull-headed rashness. Courage is the cool weighing of the factors of an emergency within whatever time limit your judgment tells you that you have, and then the putting of every last ounce of brain, nerve and muscle into the course chosen. I had not the slightest doubt that this mysterious messenger had men within instant call. If I threw myself on him, what good would it do? I had only my cane. He had my gun and probably weapons of his own. Strong as I am, he had taught me that my strength was nothing to his. It might even be that he was counting upon an attack by me, that it was what he hoped for.

True, I could cry out for help or I could run. Not only did both of these expedients seem to me to be ridiculous, but, in view of the certainty of his hidden aides, useless.

Not far away were the subway stations and the elevated road. In that brilliantly lighted zone I would be comparatively safe from any concerted attack–if I could get there. I began to walk away across the Park toward Whitehall Street.

To my surprise he made neither objection nor comment. He paced quietly beside me. Soon we were out of the Battery and not far ahead were the lights of the Bowling Green Station. My resentment and anger diminished, a certain amusement took their place. Obviously it was absurd to suppose that in New York City anyone could be forced to go anywhere against his will, once he was in the usual close touch with its people and its police. To be snatched away from a subway station was almost unthinkable, to be kidnapped from the subway once we got in it absolutely unthinkable. Why then was my companion so placidly allowing each step to take me closer to this unassailable position?

It would have been so easy to have overpowered me just a few moments before. Or why had I not been approached at the Club? There were a dozen possible ways in which I could have been lured away from there.

There seemed only one answer. There was some paramount need for secrecy. A struggle in the Park might have brought the police. Overtures at the Club might have left evidence behind had I disappeared. How utterly outside the mark all this reasoning was I was soon to learn.

As we drew closer to the Bowling Green entrance of the subway, I saw a policeman standing there. I admit without shame that his scenic effect warmed my heart.

“Listen,” I said to my companion. “There’s a bluecoat. Slip my gun back into my pocket. Leave me here and go your way. If you do that, I say nothing. If you don’t I’m going to order that policeman to lock you up. They’ll have the Sullivan Law on you if nothing else. Go away quietly and, if you want to, get in touch with me at the Discoverers’ Club. I’ll forget all this and talk to you. But don’t try any more of the rough stuff or I’ll be getting good and mad.”

He smiled at me, as at some child, his face and eyes again all kindness. But he did not go. Instead, he linked his arm firmly in mine and led me straight to the officer. And as we came within earshot he said to me, quite loudly:

“Now come, Henry. You’ve had your little run. I’m sure you don’t want to give this busy officer any trouble. Come, Henry! Be good!”

The policeman stepped forward, looking us over. I did not know whether to laugh or grow angry again. Before I could speak, the man in the Inverness had handed the bluecoat a card. He read it, touched his hat respectfully and asked:

“And what’s the trouble, doctor?”

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