murder mystery, crime, & detective fiction

The Summons

"I'm going in that room myself," he said severely, "and we'll have this nonsense over with."



by Henry Altimus

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The Black Mask | Aug. 1920 | Vol. 1 | No. 5

Est. Read Time: 21 mins

Scofield Carrington was dead but his call bell kept ringing. Who was the old man calling from beyond the grave?




It was Elsa Lloyd's first experience with death as a nurse at St. Luke's. She was the youngest graduate at the hospital, slender and frail, with blue eyes that betrayed the strain she had been under despite her brave effort to appear self-possessed. The older nurses had been extremely helpful, not at all resentful that she had been chosen for so important a case, but she had pursued her duties to the very end courageously and competently without requiring any assistance. It was nearly over now. Scofield Carrington was dead, his body was soon to be removed to his home, and she was studying the carefully kept chart of her patient preparatory to turning it over to the head nurse.

She was seated at a little table in the floor office, the chart before her, using this brief respite after the trying experience of the preceding night to collect herself, when the bell rang softly and the indicator clicked over her head.

Elsa Lloyd did not look up. As Carrington's private nurse she was expected to answer only his summons. But presently she was aware that a floor nurse had entered in answer to the bell and, pausing a moment before the indicator, had come up close to her.

"It's 42 calling," said the nurse. "Isn't that Carrington?"

Elsa Lloyd came to her feet quickly, her eyes lifting to the indicator, a little tinge of color coming to her cheeks. "Yes," she said weakly.

Her lips fell apart, her hand caught the back of the chair from which she had just risen, her eyes still fixed on the little plate showing the numerals "42" on the indicator. Her tired brain could not grapple with the strange situation. Carrington had passed away in the early hours of the morning, and only half an hour before she had left his room, her duties over. And now—the bell.

She turned at last, question in her eyes.

"Perhaps it's Dr. Stockbridge," the nurse ventured.

"He's in the operating room," said Elsa quickly.

"Or some one else." And, seeing the weariness in the young girl's face, she added: "Shall I answer for you?"

"Thank you. I'll go."

She hurried down the long, silent corridor. She paused at the door, hesitated, then knocked lightly.

There was no response.

Her hand lowered to the knob. She turned it and the door yielded.

There was no one in the room. Everything was exactly as she had left it half an hour before: the drawn shades, through which the morning sunlight filtered pale and warm; the stillness of death; and, in the far corner of the huge room, the bed with its rigid, silent occupant.

Elsa's first impulse was to turn and escape, but she checked herself, waited, her back to the door, while the rapid beating of her heart subsided.

Presently she moved toward the bed, slowly, her feet scarcely lifting from the floor.

Nothing had been altered, not a wrinkle in the sheet that covered the dead man's body had been changed. She looked down into his face, observed the strong features, immobile in death, the thin lips firmly locked, the square chin thrust forward, defiant, challenging even now.

Scofield Carrington had not wanted to die. The great financier, who had feared nothing, had not feared death. But he had not been ready to go. He had wanted to hold off the hand of death only a little while longer, but it had come relentlessly. And his features still showed the marks of the dead man's struggle, the unhappiness of his last moments, which had come without the fulfillment of his cherished hope.

Elsa's eyes lifted to the bell that hung from the back of the bed, corded wire with a button at the end, the pressure of which had summoned her so often in the past few weeks to the side of her patient—had summoned her even now to his side. Some hand had touched it within the last few minutes. Whose ?

She lingered a while, baffled, immobile in the presence of the inexplicable circumstance.

"It must be some mistake," she said at last.

She spoke aloud, to reassure herself and to reassure any one who might hear her.

Somehow she felt a vague presence in the room.

She dared not look about her, and, having spoken, she turned and hurried out of the room.

The nurse was waiting for her at the office door. She noted the pallor in Elsa's face, the agitation which her strained features did not conceal. Elsa took the hand she extended, leaning heavily on it.

"Some one has been and gone," she said in a soothing voice. "You're unstrung. You ought to—"

She stopped abruptly.

Their eyes met and they stood close, neither daring to turn. For the indicator had clicked again!

It was the elder nurse who first summoned the courage to look, and when their eyes met again Elsa knew what she.had seen.

"It's 42," said the elder nurse in a hoarse voice.

Elsa's head lowered, a shudder running down her frame, and her companion led her to a chair, into which the girl dropped heavily.

"Sometimes the indicator gets out of order," muttered the elder nurse. "It may be that, though I don't recall its ever happening before. The wires may get crossed—or something."

Her voice trailed away. She knew that her assurances were unconvincing to Elsa—they were unconvincing to herself. She realized that her usual presence of mind was not at her command.

Disciplined in the shadow of suffering and death, she was aware that, for the first time in her experience, she was confronted by the intrusion of an intangible element which eluded her understanding. Carrington was dead. There was no one in his room. Yet his bell was ringing!

"We ought to report it," she said at last. "Some one ought to be in the room. It's—"

She paused as a young interne entered the office. Her face lighted up hopefully.

"Doctor," she said, coming toward him, "42 is calling. Won't you—"

"That's Carrington's room, isn't it?" asked the interne.


"Well, it's Miss Lloyd's case. Why doesn't she go?"

"She's just been there. And there's no one in the room."

"What?" stammered the interne.

"And that's the second time the bell has rung."

More from the crumpled attitude of Elsa Lloyd in her chair than from the words of the elder nurse the interne gathered the meaning of the strange situation. His eyes were wide with amazement. He looked to the indicator and then turned to the nurse. His lips moved, stirred mutely a moment.

"Does Dr. Stockbridge know?" he asked at last.


"I'll tell him!"

And he spun about on his heel and was gone.

The nurse moved toward the indicator mechanically, her hand lifting slowly and pressing the knob that released the number. The indicator was bare. But scarcely had her arm lowered to her side than a bell tinkled.

It was 42 again!

Elsa Lloyd, her elbows on the little desk, her face buried in her hands, did not look up. She knew from the touch of her companion's hand on her shoulder what the bell meant.

The nurse slipped into a chair beside the younger woman. For a long time she was silent; then:

"I can't understand it," she muttered, half to herself. "I've never had such an experience before. I've seen so many deaths, and death was always so final, so completely the—the end. Of course, there's the soul, the spirit—it's called by so many names and I've heard much nonsense about it. I never believed—few of us do—but every now and then something happens … Like this. What can it mean?"

Despite herself a tremor, half of doubt, half of awe, shook her. She turned to Elsa.

"What do you know about Carrington?" she asked. "You were with him for weeks. Can you think of anything that—"

She did not complete her question, her thought too unformed for words.

"Was there anything," she resumed in a moment, "before he died—anything that might explain this?"

Elsa sat up, but her head was averted as she spoke.

"I don't understand," she said, her voice low and frail. "But when I was in the room just now, I felt—I seemed to be aware of—"

"Of what?" prompted the elder nurse.

"Something. I don't know what. As though some one were in the room— besides myself and—and it."

"The corpse?"

Elsa nodded.

"He didn't want to die," the girl went on after a while. "There was something between him and his son. You know how unhappy he was about him. He loved him, his only son, and he didn't want to die feeling that young Carrington hadn't redeemed himself. You know what a black sheep he's been. Once I came into the room just after his son had left. The old man had been crying. I think it was that that kept him alive long after we knew his case was hopeless. He told me once he couldn't die until his son had made good, that his spirit would never rest—"

"His spirit? Did he say that?"


The elder nurse's eyes closed slowly and her hands met in her lap.

"Do you think—" began Elsa, leaning forward.

"I don't know," muttered the elder woman, her voice scarcely audible.



Both women came to their feet as they heard hurried footsteps approaching. The interne entered, a coat flung over his arm.

"He's coming," he announced.

Dr. Stockbridge entered the office, visibly annoyed and angry, his long fingers busy with the laces of his operating apron, which he was removing. Behind him came, unhurried and calm, Carrington's lifelong friend and the executor of his will, Madison Dodd.

"What's this silly nonsense I hear about bells?" the surgeon demanded, slipping into the coat the interne held and advancing toward the women. "Why didn't you notify me sooner? And why aren't you in the room to find out what it means, Miss Lloyd?"

"She just came from the room. Dr. Stockbridge," explained the elder nurse, defending the girl. "There was no one there."

"This is too absurd," exploded the surgeon. "I've never heard of such a thing. Miss Lloyd should be in that room—"

"She's had no sleep, doctor, and she's very tired."

"Then why don't you go?"

"You're afraid. How ridiculous. Well, we'll have—"

He turned, but the interne was gone. Dr. Stockbridge frowned. His eyes went toward the indicator.

"When did that bell ring?" he demanded.

"About ten minutes ago. And—"

A bell rang and a faint click came from the indicator. The number "42," which had not been lowered, vibrated.

"Its been ringing every ten minutes just like that," said the elder nurse, edging away from the instrument.

Dr. Stockbridge frowned. Then, striding across the room, he pressed the knob releasing the number.

He turned to the nurse.

"I'm going into that room myself," he said severely, "and we'll have this nonsense over with. Someone is ringing that bell, and we'll know who it is. If it rings while I'm there, let me know."

He stepped toward the door.

"I'll go with you, doctor," said Carrington's friend, speaking for the first time.

The men walked down the corridor, side by side. The door of Room 42 was closed. Dr. Stockbridge pushed it open impatiently and allowed Dodd to enter first.

"I hope you'll' forgive this nonsense, Mr. Dodd," he said, closing the door. "These women—they're—"

But Dodd, paying no heed to the doctor, was advancing toward the bed, his face grave. He stopped within a foot of it, looking down on the still form beneath him, his hands clasped behind his back.

Dr. Stockbridge looked about the room. Its hospital bareness made it manifest at once that no one could be concealed in it.

It seemed to him absurd and undignified that he should be engaged in such a futile and meaningless undertaking. He paced up and down, pausing every now and then to observe the immobile figure of Carrington's friend, wondering what he could be thinking of the whole ridiculous episode. He was a little disturbed that Dodd should take the thing so seriously, treat the matter with silent respect. Once he paused beside him.

"I'm a man of science, Mr. Dodd," he began. "To me there's no such thing—"

There was a light tap on the door and he stopped. He strode to the door and opened it. The interne's head showed.

"It rang." the young man said.

Dr. Stockbridge's lips parted in astonishment.

His hand on the knob, he paused, undecided, looking toward Dodd for some intimation the course to pursue. But Dodd had not stirred, and Stockbridge turned to the youth.

"Thank you," he said, and closed the door.

For a moment he was at a loss, but, when he tried to speak, he was silenced by Dodd's beckoning hand. He approached, stopping at Dodd's side, his eyes following the other man's finger.

"I want you to tell me what you see in his face," said Dodd.

The request seemed so strange to Dr. Stockbridge that he glanced up quickly to see if Dodd were in earnest. What could he see in a dead man's face but—death? However, a glance was sufficient to assure him of his companion's earnestness, and he lowered his eyes. A long moment of silent scrutiny, and then the surgeon bent lower, his eyes narrowing.

"Yes," he muttered, awed by his discovery. "I see what you mean. It's amazing. It wasn't that way when he died—"

"What do you see?" interrupted Dodd.

"The mouth," said Dr. Stockbridge. "The corners seem to droop more. And the eyelids look more strained. His whole face seems to have changed, as though he were—"

"Dissatisfied?" prompted Dodd, as the surgeon hesitated.

"Yes. As though he were restless and unhappy about something."

"Ah!" muttered Dodd. "I noticed that when I first came into the room, and. I have been held by it. Dr. Stockbridge," he added, looking up for the first time, "my old friend is restless, dissatisfied. His spirit is not at peace. And that is why the bell is ringing."

"Then you think—"

"I am certain. And I have been standing here, wondering what he was distressed about, what message he was trying to convey. He is trying to say something to us, doctor. He is trying to direct our attention to something he wants done. And he will not rest, doctor, until it is done. I must try to understand him. I must find out what he wants."

"Have you any idea?"

"Perhaps, but I am not sure."

He turned.

"Shall we go back to the office?" he asked.



When they re-entered the office, they found a group of internes and nurses gathered in a corner of the room. The report of the mysterious calls from Room 42 had spread throughout the building, and an awed, silent circle of men and women in hospital uniform were watching the indicator for the call that was momentarily expected. An interne came forward as Dodd and the surgeon entered.

"It rang twice while you were out," he said. "And young Carrington is here, in the inner office. He was told, and when he heard the bell ring and how the number came up he fainted. He's lying down in there."

Dr. Stockbridge, followed by Dodd, hurried to the inner office. Elsa Lloyd was bending over a couch, on which lay Edward Carrington, his back to the door. The girl came forward as the men entered.

"He's better now," she said.

Dr. Stockbridge approached the couch, caught Carrington's wrist and touched two fingers to his pulse. The youth did not stir, his arm hanging limp in the surgeon's grasp. Dr. Stockbridge looked up at last and nodded reassuringly to Dodd. Then he turned to the girl.

"I'll look after him," he said. "We won't need you."

The girl withdrew.

Madison Dodd retired to the window, and he stood there, his eyes fixed on the horizon, in deep thought. The surgeon came up to him.

"Poor fellow," he muttered. "I can understand how he'd feel about it."

Dodd did not reply.

Once more the bell in the outer office rang, the indicator clicked. Dr. Stockbridge turned to observe the effect on the youth. He lay there very still, as though he had not heard; but his eyes, turned to the wall, were wide open. He seemed too stunned for any sensation.

As the moments fled by, the surgeon grew more and more ill at ease under the strain of the silence and the unsolved mystery. He wondered why they were waiting there, inactive, undecided; and yet, when he tried to think what they could do, he was at a loss. He could not wait there all day, however, obedient to a vague call, an. intangible summons from the dead.

If only he could persuade Dodd of the absurdity of the whole situation. But how could he convince Dodd when he was himself so completely at sea? He had never believed in these things, had always waved aside any testimony concerning spirits as the invention of gullible minds; yet here before him there was evidence that he could not thrust aside so easily. He paced the room restlessly, finally pausing beside Carrington's friend.

"What can we do?" he asked.

"I am thinking," said Dodd quietly, his eyes still on the horizon.

"But," persisted the surgeon, "do you still believe—?"

"I am sure that the bell is a summons to someone. If you do not understand its message, it is because it is not for you. Perhaps it is not even for me, for I do not seem to grasp the meaning of it. But it is calling to some one here, or it would not ring. And that one will understand if he is here."

"Still," pursued the surgeon, encouraged, "even granting the existence of a spirit that exists after death, is it conceivable that that spirit can assert itself in this way? As a man of science, it seems too fanciful to me."

"What," replied Dodd, "can be more fanciful than science itself ? It is dumb before the mysteries which it pretends to understand. Can you, as a scientist, explain to me why, when a button is pressed in Room 42, a bell should ring in this room?"

"Electricity—" began the surgeon.

"And what is electricity ? Even science does not pretend to know. Is it not inconceivable that it should be able to flow through a solid copper wire? And yet it does. Man's soul, his spirit, is more mysterious than electricity. Why can it not flow through the ether and create a disturbance in its environment? Released from the body which it inhabited, why can it not hover near by and make its will known to those it wishes to reach? Scofield Carrington's body died, but his spirit, refusing to die unsatisfied, is still alive, restless, insistent, urging the fulfillment of its desire that it may be set at peace. And it will not give up until it is satisfied. There," he added, as the bell rang, "it is still calling. It will continue until he for whom it is meant obeys the call."

"But who is it for?" asked the surgeon weakly.

Madison Dodd turned slowly, but his eyes did not meet the surgeon's. They made a circuit of the room and came to pause on the figure of young Carrington, who had stirred for the first time and was now sitting up, his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. The surgeon followed his companion's gaze. It suddenly came to him that perhaps young Carrington, who had not uttered a word, understood; for he could see that, beneath the surface of his immobility, there was a great struggle going on, that a difficult resolve was forming.

He turned to Dodd, expecting some revelation from him, but the man's face was a mask. His fingers were twined in the cord hanging from the window-shade and his eyes were fixed on the youth. The surgeon observed the youth once more.

Slowly Edward Carrington's hands lowered from his face. Slowly he rose and turned. His eyes were clear. His features were firm. And he came forward with decision in his whole bearing.

"Mr. Dodd," he said in a slow, level voice, pausing before his father's friend, "that bell was for me."



Dr. Stockbridge's eyes grew wide with amazement at this simple avowal. But Madison Dodd's expression did not change.

"Well?" he prompted calmly, his fingers still toying with the window-shade cord.

"I have been fighting it out with myself," said young Carrington, "all morning, ever since father—" He paused, and his lips were unsteady. "You know how unhappy he was over me, my failure to live up to his name. And he died feeling that he had failed to redeem me. But all morning I have felt his nearness. And when I came in here and they told me—when I heard the bell and saw the call from his room—I knew. The call was for me. I understood what he wanted me to do. I obey."

He came forward a step and his hand went to his breast pocket. When it came forth, it held a long envelope.

"This is it," he said, handing the envelope to Dodd. "It is father's will. It leaves me without a penny, as he said it would. I have deserved nothing better."

The shade flew up with a bang as Madison Dodd released the cord and extended his hand for the envelope, heavily sealed, and addressed to him. Slowly he put his gold-rimmed pince-nez to his nose and then he thrust his finger under the flap of the envelope to tear it open. But he paused and looked up as he heard a low murmur in the outer office. Dr. Stockbridge looked up too.

Nurses and internes were whispering excitedly to each other, their eyes on the clock. The surgeon followed their glance, and then he understood the meaning of their agitation. The minute hand was pointing to the half-hour. The bell should have rung, as it had rung every ten minutes all morning with unfailing precision. It had not rung. The hushed excitement of the uniformed men and women grew in intensity as a minute passed and still the bell was not heard. Two minutes passed. Three minutes … .

Dr. Stockbridge turned to Madison Dodd. Carrington's friend stood near the window, a sheaf of legal papers, evidently the will, in one hand, a typewritten sheet in the other. He was reading this, and he looked up as the surgeon came toward him. He waved his arm in the direction of the outer office.

"Send them away, doctor," he said quietly. "Carrington's summons has been answered."

One by one the nurses and internes filed out of the office in obedience to Dr. Stockbridge's gesture of dismissal. When they were gone, the surgeon returned to the side of Madison Dodd.

"You'll understand when I read this," said Dodd.

He adjusted his glasses and brought the typewritten sheet closer.

"This is my last test for Ed," he read. "If he gives this envelope to you, as I instructed him, then my original will stands as it is, leaving all to him. When I gave my boy this envelope, I told him it contained a new will, disowning him and leaving him without a penny. If he has enough manhood to give this to you, then I shall know that he has repented and that he has the courage to take his punishment manfully. In that case, he will prove himself a true Carrington and will deserve the fortune that comes to him. This is exactly as we planned it, old friend. My prayer is that he will make good. My spirit shall not rest until he does. And I trust that my everlasting peace will not be disturbed by my boy's craven failure to deliver this message to you.

Scofield Carrington."

Madison Dodd looked up, his fingers folding the sheet he had just read.

"Scofield Carrington's spirit is at peace now," he said, in a solemn voice.



The men's hands met at the door. It was a silent clasp. Dr. Stockbridge's lips pursed and his eyes lowered.

"Mr. Dodd,'' he said, "this is the first experience of the kind I've ever had. As a man of science—"

"My dear doctor," broke in his companion, "science is still in its infancy. Some day it may be able to explain many things that are still beyond understanding."

He nodded and turned on his heel. There was a smile on his face, but Dr. Stockbridge did not see this.

"Basement," said Dodd to the elevator man, as the car shot downward.

Emerging from the cage, Dodd hurried down the dimly lighted corridor. He paused before a door over which there was a neatly printed sign "Electrician."

A man in overalls rose as Dodd entered, touching his cap.

"Did I get that shade signal right?" he asked with a smile.

"Perfectly," said Dodd, drawing a banknote from his wallet and crushing it into the man's hand. "And now you may rearrange those wires. You did splendidly. Thank you."

The man touched his cap, and Madison Dodd, nodding, passed out of the room.