murder mystery, crime, & detective fiction

The Devil Takes A Hand


by Ward Sterling

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The Black Mask | Sept. 1921 | Vol. 1 | No. 6

Est. Read Time: 6 mins

Tennant wanted his insane wife dead if he couldn't divorce her, and he'd found the perfect plan. But would he succeed or would the devil take a hand first?




Tennant stopped outside the door of his wife's room and went over the details of his plan for the last time. The thing was so absurdly simple that he wondered why he had not thought of it months before. There was not the least chance of a failure. He had only to plant the idea in her diseased brain and she, with the cunning that all maniacs possess, would do the rest.

Everyone knew her suicidal mania. It had been brought out at the time of the hearing. No blame could possibly be attached to him for her death. Had not the nurse frustrated her in half a dozen different attempts? Damn that fool nurse anyway! She had too exalted an idea of the importance of her position.

But, after all, it was, possibly, a good thing that she had been so vigilant. People couldn't say that it was carelessness, then. He smiled to himself as he recalled the kind things their friends had said when he refused to send his wife to an asylum after the court had pronounced her insane. They imagined that it was his great love that made him keep her with him. It was laughable how easily people could be fooled. How were they to know that he had made a careful investigation and found that too close a watch was kept on the inmates of such institutions? There was a better chance of her making a successful attempt right here at home. Accidents are always liable to happen in private houses; in public institutions people are paid to guard against such things.

Curse the fool law that prohibited a man getting a divorce from an insane wife. Such laws made a criminal of a person. Otherwise, he could have married Helen a year ago. He must guard against his love for her being found out. It might cause someone to cast suspicion his way.

Of course, they would never be able to confirm their conjectures. But his position in the community was too high to have even the finger of scorn pointed in his direction. It would never do for a deacon in the church and a prominent professional man to let people know that he was guilty of evil, even in thought.

No, he must keep away from Helen until he had shown the proper amount of respect for his deceased wife—for he had begun to think of her as already dead! After a period of hypocritical mourning, they could be quietly married—and he would still retain the love and respect of his fellow townsmen. Of course it meant several months' waiting. It would be hard—but they would have the rest of their lives together—and both of them were young.

And there was the matter of Grace's inheritance to be considered, too. Good thing they had never had a child. It would be all his now—that is, after the proper formalities had been gone through. Naturally, he would erect an expensive headstone to her memory and give her an elaborate funeral. Some people measured a man's love for his wife by the amount of money he spent on her funeral.

Yes, the scheme was simply Machiavellian in its magnitude, and, with the requisite amount of attention paid to the detail's, there was not the least bit of danger.

He turned the knob and entered the room. With a tender kiss for the woman with lusterless eyes, who sat mumbling to herself in the low wicker chair, nervously picking at the folds of her dress, he turned to the middle-aged woman in nurse's garb who sat in the window near by.

"Better take an hour's walk, Miss Gorman," he said kindly. "You look fagged out. I'll look after Mrs. Tennant until you return."

The nurse arose wearily.

"It's awfully kind of you, Mr. Tennant. I am tired. She's been bad again today," she ended, significantly.

Tennant's face took on a worried look.

"She'll probably settle down again in an hour or so," he responded. "I've a little work to do—I can do it just as well in the other room and still keep an eye on my poor little girl. There's nothing around that she can get hold of, is there?"

He settled himself in a chair beside his wife and patted her white hand affectionately. With a tear in her kindly Irish eyes for the little, unostentatious display of love, Miss Gorman left the room and, a minute later, Tennant, from his place in the window, saw her swinging down the street.

The time was at hand.



Pressing his wife's hand tightly between his own, Tennant addressed her in the tone one uses in talking to a little child.

"I've often wondered," he said quietly, "why you didn't commit suicide, Grace? Of course, I know that you've tried it, but your methods have been all wrong. Do you understand what I am getting at? I want to help you."

He looked at the woman keenly. He imagined that her dull eyes took on an added brightness—that she was not plucking at the hem of her dress so nervously. He hurried on:

"Now, I'm going to show you how to do it, sweetheart. Then, when the nurse is out of the room, some day, for a few minutes, you can put one over on her. It'll be a good joke on her. won't it? Come on, and I'll show you how to do it."

Apathetically she arose and followed him across the floor to where the big, old-fashioned bed stood in the distant corner.

"Now, watch me, dearie, and see how I do it," he continued. "The nurse thinks that she's got you cheated by removing everything that you might use—but we'll show her, won't we?"

He removed the light counterpane from the bed and twisted it into a rope. "See, girlie, how it's done? Just the right size to hang one's self with, isn't it? Now, then, we carry this chair across the room and put it under this chandelier. Get the idea?"

The demented woman made no answer. But Tennant knew that her suicidal mania was attracted by the scheme—that the seed planted in her brain was already sprouting. She followed close behind him, her dull, impassive eyes watching his every move.

He stepped upon the chair and attached the improvised rope to the chandelier.

"See how easy it is, dear?" he went on. "Now, next, we make a noose in the rope, like this—see? It's just as easy as rolling off a log. Then we put the noose over our head and pull it up tightly about our neck. Understand, now? All that's left is to kick the chair out from underneath—and the devil and all couldn't keep a person from choking to death, could he?"

From his height atop the chair, he looked down upon the woman.

She was gazing up at him, fascinated, her eyes burning brighter now.

"The idea pleases you, doesn't it, sweetheart?" he smiled.

She nodded understandingly.

Then, suddenly, she made a leap for the chair and tore it from beneath his feet! With a frightened yell, the man dropped to the end of the rope, his toes almost—but not quite—touching the floor.

The maniac stepped back with a shrill little cry of delight and watched him gyrate and whirl as the improvised rope twisted and untwisted itself. His mouth was open. His eyes bulged from their sockets! His tongue stuck out oddly. His breath came gurglingly, sobbingly, gaspingly. His face grew black and mottled. His legs and arms danced about curiously, twitchingly … .

His peculiar antics filled her with delight. She forgot her depression in her new-found happiness. He was teaching her some new game. She clapped her hands together and shouted for more. And when he hung quiet, she seized him by the legs and swung him to and fro, yelling joyously. And thus the nurse found them—the living and the dead—an hour later when she returned from her walk.


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