An all-around skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, literature professor William Porter gives no credence to claims that Twin Towers, the seaside manor he’s just inherited, might be haunted. He finds nothing mysterious about the conditions in which his Uncle Horace died, leaving the property behind; it was a simple case of cardiac arrest, nothing more. So, though his wife, more attuned to spiritual disturbance, refuses to occupy the main house, Porter convinces her to spend a summer at the estate and stay in the lodge elsewhere on the grounds. But not long after they arrive, Porter sees the evidence of haunting that the townspeople speak of: a shadowy figure illuminated by the red light of Horace’s writing lamp, the very light that shone on the scene of his death. And though he isn’t convinced that it is a spirit and not a man, Porter knows that, whichever it is, the figure is responsible for the rash of murders—first of sheep, then of people—that breaks out across the countryside. Somehow, though, the suspect eludes him every time and, in his pursuit, Porter risks implicating himself in the very crimes he hopes to solve.
Written with atmospheric prose and tension that rises with every page, The Red Lamp is a hybrid of murder mystery and gothic romance that shows the “American Agatha Christie” at the height of her powers.
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About the Author
Otto Penzler, the creator of American Mystery Classics, is also the founder of the Mysterious Press (1975); Mysterious Press.com (2011), an electronic-book publishing company; and New York City’s Mysterious Bookshop (1979). He has won a Raven, the Ellery Queen Award, two Edgars (for the Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection, 1977, and The Lineup, 2010), and lifetime achievement awards from Noircon and The Strand Magazine. He has edited more than 70 anthologies and written extensively about mystery fiction.
Read an Excerpt
The Red Lamp
By Mary Roberts Rinehart
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1953 Mary Roberts Rinehart
All rights reserved.
The journal takes us up to the evening of September 10th. It was to the fourth and last tragedy of that summer, which filled the next day's papers, that little Pettingill referred, in the conversation recorded in the introduction of this journal.
It was with this tragedy that, as Pettingill said aggrievedly, the story "quit" on them. And quit it did. We felt then that the best thing to do, under the circumstances, was to let it rest. Once more, de mortuis nil nisi bonum.
There was nothing to be gained by giving the story to the public, and much to be lost. The very nature of the experiment which had been tried was of the sort to seize on the neurotic imagination, and set it aflame. It was not considered advisable to allow it publicity.
Now, of course, things are different. The search goes on, and perhaps some day, not by this method but by some legitimate and scientific one, survival may be proved. I do not know; I do not greatly care. After all, I am a Christian, and my faith is built on a life after death. But I accept that; I do not require proof of it.
Picture us, then, that evening of September 10th, when the journal ends, waiting for we knew not what; Jane picking up her tapestry and putting it down again; Edith powdering her nose with hands that shook in spite of her best efforts; Halliday at the railroad station with the car to meet Cameron; and off in the woodland, where the red lamp of the lighthouse flashed its danger signal every ten seconds from the end of Robinson's Point, Greenough and a half-dozen officers.
Picture us, too, when we had all gathered; Cameron, with his hand still bandaged, presented to the dramatis personae of the play and eyeing each one in turn shrewdly; Mrs. Livingstone garrulous and uneasy; and Livingstone a sort of waxy white and with a nervous trembling I had never observed before. Of us all, only Halliday seemed natural. And Hayward, natural because he was never at ease.
What Cameron made of it I do not know. Very probably he saw in us only a group of sensation seekers, excited by some small contact with a world beyond our knowledge, and if he felt surprise at all, it was that I had joined the ranks.
He himself did not appear to take the matter seriously. He made it plain that he had come in this manner at my request; that his own methods would be entirely different. When Edith, I think it was, asked him if he made any preparation for such affairs, he laughed and shook his head.
"Except that I sometimes take a cup of coffee to keep me awake!" he said.
On the way up the drive I walked with Livingstone. Why, I hardly know, except that he seemed to drift toward me. He never spoke but once, and it seemed to me that he was surveying the shrubbery and trees, like a man who suspected a trap. Once—he was on my left—I was aware that he had put his hand to his hip pocket, and I was so startled that I stumbled and almost fell. I knew, as confidently as I have ever known anything, that he had a revolver there.
"Careful, man," he said.
Those were his only words during our slow progress toward the main house, and so tense were his nerves that they sounded like a curse.
Cameron and Edith were leading, and I could hear her talking, carrying on valiantly, although as it turned out she knew better than any of us, except Halliday, the terrible possibilities ahead. Hayward walked alone and behind us, his rubber-soled shoes making no sound on the drive. It made me uneasy, somehow; that silent progress of his; it was stealthy and disconcerting. And I think Livingstone felt it so, too, for he stopped once and turned around.
Yet, at the time, as between the two men, my suspicion that evening certainly pointed to Livingstone. Not to go into the cruelty of my ignorance; a cruelty which I now understand but then bitterly resented, I had had both men under close observation during the time we waited for Cameron. And it had seemed to me that Livingstone was the more uneasy of the two. Another thing which I regarded as highly significant was his asking for water just before we left the Lodge, and holding the glass with a trembling hand.
And, as it happens, it was that very glass of water which crystallized my suspicions. The glass and the hand which held it. For the hand was a small and wide one, with a short thumb and a bent little finger!
From that time on, my mind was focused on Livingstone. It milled about, seeking some explanation. I could see Livingstone in the case plainly enough; I could see him, pursuing with old Bethel the "sinister design" to which Gordon had referred, but to which I had no key. I could see him, with his knowledge of the country, using that knowledge in furtherance of that idea which my Uncle Horace had termed a menace to society in general. With the swiftness with which thought creates visions, I could even see him hailing poor Maggie Morrison in the storm, and her stopping her truck when she recognized him.
But I could not see him in connection with Eugenia Riggs and her bowl of putty. Strange that I did not; that it required Jane's smelling salts for me to find that connection. A small green glass bottle, in Edith's room, used as a temporary paperweight on her desk.
As I say, my suspicions were of Livingstone, during that strange walk up the drive. But I had by no means eliminated Hayward.
He was there, behind me, walking with a curious stealth, and with an uneasiness that somehow, without words, communicated itself to me.
All emotions are waves, I dare say. I caught the contagion of fear from him; desperate, deadly fear.
And once in the house, my suspicions of him increased rather than diminished. For one thing, he offered to take Cameron through the house, and on Halliday's ignoring that, and going off with Cameron himself, was distinctly surly. He remained in the hall at the foot of the stairs, apparently listening to their progress and gnawing at his fingers.
Watching him from the den, I saw him make a move to go up the stairs, but he caught my eye and abandoned the idea.
It was then that Jane felt faint, and I went back to the Lodge for her smelling salts.
The letter, undoubtedly the letter which Halliday had shown to the police, was lying open on Edith's desk, under the green bottle, and as I lifted the salts it blew to the floor. I glanced at it as I picked it up.CHAPTER 2
In recording the events leading up to the amazing denouement that night—the details of the seance—I am under certain difficulties.
Thus: I kept no notes. For the first time I found myself a part of the circle, sitting between Livingstone and Jane, and with Cameron near the lamp, prepared to make the notes of what should occur.
"Of course," he said, as we took our places, "we are not observing the usual precautions of what I would call a test seance. All we are attempting to do is to reproduce, as nearly as possible, the conditions existing at the other two sittings. And"—he glanced at me and smiled—"if Mr. Porter's admission to the circle proves to be disturbing, we can eliminate him."
He asked us to remain quiet, no matter what happened, and to be certain that no hand was freed without an immediate statement to that effect.
"Not that I expect fraud, of course," he added. "But it is customary, under the circumstances."
I am quite certain that nobody, except myself, saw Halliday touch the bell as the light was reduced to the faint glow of the red lamp.
It was not surprising, I dare say, that beyond certain movements of the table and fine raps on its surface, we got nothing at first! In fact, that we got anything at all was probably due solely to Jane's ignorance of the underlying situation. Livingstone, next to me, was so nervous that his hands twitched on the table; across, Halliday was beside Hayward, and as my eyes grew accustomed to the semidarkness, I could see him, forbidden recourse to his fingers, jerking his head savagely.
And, for the life of me, I could not see where all this was leading us. A breaking of the circle was, by Cameron's order, immediately to be announced. Even in complete darkness, when that came—as I felt it would—what was it that Halliday expected to happen?
But the table continued to move. It began to slide along the carpet; my grasp on Livingstone's hand was relaxed, and indeed, later, as it began to rock violently, it was all I could do to retain contact with the table at all. I began to see possibilities in this, but when it had quieted the circle remained as before.
Very soon after that came the signal for darkness, and Cameron extinguished the lamp. Soon Edith, near the cabinet, said the curtain had come out into the room, and was touching her. The next moment, as before, the bell fell from the stand inside the cabinet, and the guitar strings were lightly touched.
Without warning Cameron turned on the lamp; the curtain subsided and all sounds ceased. He was apparently satisfied, and after a few moments of experiment with the lamp on, resulting only in a creaking and knocking on the table, again extinguished it. On a repetition of the blowing out of the curtain, however, he left his chair for the first time, and with a pocket flash examined the cabinet thoroughly, even the wall coming in for close inspection.
When he had finished with that, however, I sensed a change in him. I believe now that he suspected fraud, but I am not certain. He said rather sharply that he was there in good faith and not to provide an evening's amusement, and that he hoped any suspicious movement would be reported.
"This is not a game," he said shortly.
Jane was very quiet, and now I heard again the heavy breathing which I knew preceded the trance condition, or that auto-hypnotism which we know as trance.
"Who is that?" Cameron asked in a low tone.
"Mrs. Porter," Halliday said. "Quiet, everybody!"
The room was completely dark, and save for Jane's heavy breathing, entirely quiet. Strangely enough, for the moment I forgot our purpose there; forgot Greenough and his men, scattered through the house; I had a premonition, if I may call it that, that we were on the verge of some tremendous psychic experience. I cannot explain it; I do not know now what unseen forces were gathered there together. I even admit that probably I, too, like Jane, had hypnotized myself.
And then two things were happening, and at the same time.
There was something moving in the library, a soft footfall with, it seemed to me, an irregularity. For all the world like the dragging of a partially useless foot, and—Livingstone was quietly releasing his grip of my hand.
I made a clutch at him, and he whispered savagely, "Let go, you fool."
The next moment he had drawn his revolver, and was stealthily getting to his feet.
The dragging foot moved out into the hall. Livingstone, revolver in hand, was standing beside me, and there was a quiet movement, across the table. Cameron was apparently listening, also; he made no comment, however, and in the darkness and the silence the footsteps went into the hall, and there ceased.
I had no idea of the passage of time; ten seconds or an hour Livingstone may have stood beside me. Ten seconds or an hour, and then Greenough's voice at the top of the staircase.
"All right. Careful below."
Livingstone moved then. He made a wild dash for the red lamp and turned it on. Hayward was not to be seen, and Halliday, revolver in hand, was starting for the cabinet.
"More light," he called. "Light! Quick!"
I had a confused impression of Halliday, jerking the curtains of the cabinet aside; of somebody else there with him, both on guard, as it were, at the wall; of some sort of rapid movement upstairs; of the door from the den info the hall being open where it had been closed before, and of a crash somewhere not far away, as of a falling body, followed by a sort of dreadful pause.
And all this is in the time it took me to get around the chairs and to the wall switch near the door. And it was then, in the shocked silence which followed the sound of that fall, in the instant between my finding the switch and turning it on, that I will swear that I saw once more by the glow of the red lamp the figure at the foot of the stairs, looking up.
Saw it and recognized it. Watched it turn toward me with fixed and staring eyes, felt the cold wind which suddenly eddied about me, and frantically turning on the light, saw it fade like smoke into the empty air.
Behind the curtains of the cabinet somebody was working at the wall. Edith, very pale, was supporting Jane, who still remained in her strange autohypnotic condition. Livingstone's arm was about his wife.
And this was the picture when Greenough came running triumphantly down the stairs, the reward apparently in his pocket, and saw us there. He paid no attention to the rest of us, but stared at Livingstone with eyes which could not believe what they saw.
"Good God!" he said. "Then who is in there?" He pointed to the wall behind the cabinet.CHAPTER 3
The steps by which Halliday solved the murder at the main house, and with it the mystery which had preceded it, constitute an interesting story in themselves. So certain was he that, by the time we were ready for the third seance, his material was already in the hands of the district attorney. And it was not the material he had given to Greenough.
For the solution of a portion of the mystery, then, one must go back to the main house, and consider the older part of it. It is well known that many houses of that period were provided with hidden passages, by which the owners hoped to escape the Excise. Such an attempt, many years ago, had cost George Pierce his life.
But the passage leading from the old kitchen, now the den, to a closet in the room above it, had been blocked up for many years. The builder was dead; by all the laws of chance time might have gone on and the passage remained undiscovered.
But then the medium, Eugenia Riggs, bought the property, and in making repairs the old passage was discovered. Although she denies using it for fraudulent purposes, neither Halliday nor I doubt that she did so. She points to the plastered wall as her defense, but Halliday assures me that a portion of the baseboard, hinged to swing out, but locked from within, would have allowed easy access to the cabinet.
But Halliday had at the beginning no knowledge of this passage, with its ladder to the upper floor. He reached it by pure deduction.
"It had to be there," he says modestly. "And it was."
Up to the time young Gordon was attacked at the kitchen door, however, Halliday was frankly at sea. That is, he had certain suspicions, but that was all. He had discovered, for instance, that the cipher found in my garage was written on the same sort of bond paper as that used by Gordon, by the simple expedient of having Annie Cochran get him a sheet of it, on some excuse or other.
But his actual case began, I believe, with that attack on Gordon. At least he began at that time definitely to associate the criminal with the house.
"There was something fishy about it," is the way he puts it.
And with Bethel's story to me, forced by his fear that the boy knew it was he who had attacked him, the belief that it was "fishy" gained ground.
"Gordon was knocked out," he says. "And that ought to have been enough. But it was not. He was tied, too, tied while he was still unconscious. Somebody wasn't taking a chance that he'd get back into the house very soon."
It was that "play for time," as he terms it, that made him suspicious.
All this time, of course, he was ignorant of any underlying motive; he makes it clear that he simply began, first to associate the crimes with the house, and then with Bethel. He kept going back to his copy of the unfinished letter, but: "It didn't help much," he says quietly. "Only, there was murder indicated in it. And we were having murder."
He had three clues, two of them certain, one doubtful. The certain ones were the linen from the oarlock of the boat, torn from a sheet belonging to the main house, and the small portion of the cipher. The one he was not certain about was the lens from an eyeglass, outside the culvert.
He began to watch the house; he "didn't get" Gordon in the situation at all; there was no situation there, really; nothing, that is, that he could lay his hand on. But on the night I called him and he started toward Robinson's Point, as he came back toward the house he saw the figure of a man, certainly not Gordon, enter the house by the gun-room window. When he got there the window was closed and locked.
He was puzzled. He looked around for me, but I was not in sight. Still searching for me, he made a round of the house, and so was on the terrace when I fired the shot. From that time on he saw Bethel somehow connected with the mystery, but only as the brains.
"There was some devil's work afoot," he said. "But always I came up against that paralysis of his. He had to have outside help."
Excerpted from The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Copyright © 1953 Mary Roberts Rinehart. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsJune 30, 19--,
(On board the sloop) July 10th.,
Sunday, July 15th.,
June 1, 19—,