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Doom of the House of Duryea

By EARL PEIRCE, JR.

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from Weird Tales October
1936. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.]


[Sidenote: _A powerful story of stark horror, and the dreadful thing
that happened in a lone house in the Maine woods._]


Arthur Duryea, a young, handsome man, came to meet his father for the
first time in twenty years. As he strode into the hotel lobby - long
strides which had the spring of elastic in them - idle eyes lifted to
appraise him, for he was an impressive figure, somehow grim with
exaltation.

The desk clerk looked up with his habitual smile of expectation;
how-do-you-do-Mr.-so-and-so, and his fingers strayed to the green
fountain pen which stood in a holder on the desk.

Arthur Duryea cleared his throat, but still his voice was clogged and
unsteady. To the clerk he said:

"I'm looking for my father, Doctor Henry Duryea. I understand he is
registered here. He has recently arrived from Paris."

The clerk lowered his glance to a list of names. "Doctor Duryea is in
suite 600, sixth floor." He looked up, his eyebrows arched
questioningly. "Are you staying too, sir, Mr. Duryea?"

Arthur took the pen and scribbled his name rapidly. Without a further
word, neglecting even to get his key and own room number, he turned and
walked to the elevators. Not until he reached his father's suite on the
sixth floor did he make an audible noise, and this was a mere sigh which
fell from his lips like a prayer.

The man who opened the door was unusually tall, his slender frame
clothed in tight-fitting black. He hardly dared to smile. His
clean-shaven face was pale, an almost livid whiteness against the
sparkle in his eyes. His jaw had a bluish luster.

"Arthur!" The word was scarcely a whisper. It seemed choked up quietly,
as if it had been repeated time and again on his thin lips.

Arthur Duryea felt the kindliness of those eyes go through him, and then
he was in his father's embrace.

Later, when these two grown men had regained their outer calm, they
closed the door and went into the drawing-room. The elder Duryea held
out a humidor of fine cigars, and his hand shook so hard when he held
the match that his son was forced to cup his own hands about the flame.
They both had tears in their eyes, but their eyes were smiling.

Henry Duryea placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "This is the happiest
day of my life," he said. "You can never know how much I have longed for
this moment."

Arthur, looking into that glance, realized, with growing pride, that he
had loved his father all his life, despite any of those things which had
been cursed against him. He sat down on the edge of a chair.

"I - I don't know how to act," he confessed. "You surprize me, Dad.
You're so different from what I had expected."

A cloud came over Doctor Duryea's features. "What _did_ you expect,
Arthur?" he demanded quickly. "An evil eye? A shaven head and knotted
jowls?"

"Please, Dad - no!" Arthur's words clipped short. "I don't think I ever
really visualized you. I knew you would be a splendid man. But I thought
you'd look older, more like a man who has really suffered."

"I have suffered, more than I can ever describe. But seeing you again,
and the prospect of spending the rest of my life with you, has more than
compensated for my sorrows. Even during the twenty years we were apart I
found an ironic joy in learning of your progress in college, and in your
American game of football."

"Then you've been following my work?"

"Yes, Arthur; I've received monthly reports ever since you left me. From
my study in Paris I've been really close to you, working out your
problems as if they were my own. And now that the twenty years are
completed, the ban which kept us apart is lifted for ever. From now on,
son, we shall be the closest of companions - unless your Aunt Cecilia has
succeeded in her terrible mission."

* * * * *

The mention of that name caused an unfamiliar chill to come between the
two men. It stood for something, in each of them, which gnawed their
minds like a malignancy. But to the younger Duryea, in his intense
effort to forget the awful past, her name as well as her madness must be
forgotten.

He had no wish to carry on this subject of conversation, for it betrayed
an internal weakness which he hated. With forced determination, and a
ludicrous lift of his eyebrows, he said,

"Cecilia is dead, and her silly superstition is dead also. From now on,
Dad, we're going to enjoy life as we should. Bygones are really bygones
in this case."

Doctor Duryea closed his eyes slowly, as though an exquisite pain had
gone through him.

"Then you have no indignation?" he questioned. "You have none of your
aunt's hatred?"

"Indignation? Hatred?" Arthur laughed aloud. "Ever since I was twelve
years old I have disbelieved Cecilia's stories. I have known that those
horrible things were impossible, that they belonged to the ancient
category of mythology and tradition. How, then, can I be indignant, and
how can I hate you? How can I do anything but recognize Cecilia for what
she was - a mean, frustrated woman, cursed with an insane grudge against
you and your family? I tell you, Dad, that nothing she has ever said can
possibly come between us again."

Henry Duryea nodded his head. His lips were tight together, and the
muscles in his throat held back a cry. In that same soft tone of defense
he spoke further, doubting words.

"Are you so sure of your subconscious mind, Arthur? Can you be so
certain that you are free from all suspicion, however vague? Is there
not a lingering premonition - a premonition which warns of peril?"

"No, Dad - no!" Arthur shot to his feet. "I don't believe it. I've never
believed it. I know, as any sane man would know, that you are neither a
vampire nor a murderer. You know it, too; and Cecilia knew it, only she
was mad.

"That family rot is dispelled, Father. This is a civilized century.
Belief in vampirism is sheer lunacy. Wh-why, it's too absurd even to
think about!"

"You have the enthusiasm of youth," said his father, in a rather tired
voice. "But have you not heard the legend?"

Arthur stepped back instinctively. He moistened his lips, for their
dryness might crack them. "The - legend?"

He said the word in a curious hush of awed softness, as he had heard his
Aunt Cecilia say it many times before.

"That awful legend that you - - "

"That I _eat_ my children?"

"Oh, God, Father!" Arthur went to his knees as a cry burst through his
lips. "Dad, that - that's ghastly! We must forget Cecilia's ravings."

"You are affected, then?" asked Doctor Duryea bitterly.

"Affected? Certainly I'm affected, but only as I should be at such an
accusation. Cecilia was mad, I tell you. Those books she showed me years
ago, and those folk-tales of vampires and ghouls - they burned into my
infantile mind like acid. They haunted me day and night in my youth, and
caused me to hate you worse than death itself.

"But in Heaven's name, Father, I've outgrown those things as I have
outgrown my clothes. I'm a man now; do you understand that? A man, with
a man's sense of logic."

"Yes, I understand." Henry Duryea threw his cigar into the fireplace,
and placed a hand on his son's shoulder.

"We shall forget Cecilia," he said. "As I told you in my letter, I have
rented a lodge in Maine where we can go to be alone for the rest of the
summer. We'll get in some fishing and hiking and perhaps some hunting.
But first, Arthur, I must be sure in my own mind that you are sure in
yours. I must be sure you won't bar your door against me at night, and
sleep with a loaded revolver at your elbow. I must be sure that you're
not afraid of going up there alone with me, and dying - - "

His voice ended abruptly, as if an age-long dread had taken hold of it.
His son's face was waxen, with sweat standing out like pearls on his
brow. He said nothing, but his eyes were filled with questions which his
lips could not put into words. His own hand touched his father's, and
tightened over it.

Henry Duryea drew his hand away.

"I'm sorry," he said, and his eyes looked straight over Arthur's lowered
head. "This thing must be thrashed out now. I believe you when you say
that you discredit Cecilia's stories, but for a sake greater than sanity
I must tell you the truth behind the legend - and believe me, Arthur;
there is a truth!"

* * * * *

He climbed to his feet and walked to the window which looked out over
the street below. For a moment he gazed into space, silent. Then he
turned and looked down at his son.

"You have heard only your aunt's version of the legend, Arthur.
Doubtless it was warped into a thing far more hideous than it actually
was - if that is possible! Doubtless she spoke to you of the
Inquisitorial stake in Carcassonne where one of my ancestors perished.
Also she may have mentioned that book, _Vampyrs_, which a former Duryea
is supposed to have written. Then certainly she told you about your two
younger brothers - my own poor, motherless children - who were sucked
bloodless in their cradles...."

Arthur Duryea passed a hand across his aching eyes. Those words, so
often repeated by that witch of an aunt, stirred up the same visions
which had made his childhood nights sleepless with terror. He could
hardly bear to hear them again - and from the very man to whom they were
accredited.

"Listen, Arthur," the elder Duryea went on quickly, his voice low with
the pain it gave him. "You must know that true basis to your aunt's
hatred. You must know of that curse - that curse of vampirism which is
supposed to have followed the Duryeas through five centuries of French
history, but which we can dispel as pure superstition, so often
connected with ancient families. But I must tell you that this part of
the legend is true:

"Your two young brothers actually died in their cradles, bloodless. And
I stood trial in France for their murder, and my name was smirched
throughout all of Europe with such an inhuman damnation that it drove
your aunt and you to America, and has left me childless, hated, and
ostracized from society the world over.

"I must tell you that on that terrible night in Duryea Castle I had been
working late on historic volumes of Crespet and Prinn, and on that
loathsome tome, _Vampyrs_. I must tell you of the soreness that was in
my throat and of the heaviness of the blood which coursed through my
veins.... And of that _presence_, which was neither man nor animal, but
which I knew was some place near me, yet neither within the castle nor
outside of it, and which was closer to me than my heart and more
terrible to me than the touch of the grave....

"I was at the desk in my library, my head swimming in a delirium which
left me senseless until dawn. There were nightmares that frightened
me - frightened _me_, Arthur, a grown man who had dissected countless
cadavers in morgues and medical schools. I know that my tongue was
swollen in my mouth and that brine moistened my lips, and that a
rottenness pervaded my body like a fever.

"I can make no recollection of sanity or of consciousness. That night
remains vivid, unforgettable, yet somehow completely in shadows. When I
had fallen asleep - if in God's name it _was_ sleep - I was slumped across
my desk. But when I awoke in the morning I was lying face down on my
couch. So you see, Arthur, I _had_ moved during that night, _and I had
never known it_!

"What I'd done and where I'd gone during those dark hours will always
remain an impenetrable mystery. But I do know this. On the morrow I was
torn from my sleep by the shrieks of maids and butlers, and by that mad
wailing of your aunt. I stumbled through the open door of my study, and
in the nursery I saw those two babies there - lifeless, white and dry
like mummies, and with twin holes in their necks that were caked black
with their own blood....

"Oh, I don't blame you for your incredulousness, Arthur. I cannot
believe it yet myself, nor shall I ever believe it. The belief of it
would drive me to suicide; and still the doubting of it drives me mad
with horror.

"All of France was doubtful, and even the savants who defended my name
at the trial found that they could not explain it nor disbelieve it. The
case was quieted by the Republic, for it might have shaken science to
its very foundation and split the pedestals of religion and logic. I was
released from the charge of murder; but the actual murder has hung about
me like a stench.

"The coroners who examined those tiny cadavers found them both dry of
all their blood, but could find no blood on the floor of the nursery nor
in the cradles. Something from hell stalked the halls of Duryea that
night - and I should blow my brains out if I dared to think deeply of who
that was. You, too, my son, would have been dead and bloodless if you
hadn't been sleeping in a separate room with your door barred on the
inside.

"You were a timid child, Arthur. You were only seven years old, but you
were filled with the folk-lore of those mad Lombards and the decadent
poetry of your aunt. On that same night, while I was some place between
heaven and hell, you, also, heard the padded footsteps on the stone
corridor and heard the tugging at your door handle, for in the morning
you complained of a chill and of terrible nightmares which frightened
you in your sleep.... I only thank God that your door was barred!"

* * * * *

Henry Duryea's voice choked into a sob which brought the stinging tears
back into his eyes. He paused to wipe his face, and to dig his fingers
into his palm.

"You understand, Arthur, that for twenty years, under my sworn oath at
the Palace of Justice, I could neither see you nor write to you. Twenty
years, my son, while all of that time you had grown to hate me and to
spit at my name. Not until your aunt's death have you called yourself a
Duryea.... And now you come to me at my bidding, and say you love me as
a son should love his father.

"Perhaps it is God's forgiveness for everything. Now, at last, we shall
be together, and that terrible, unexplainable past will be buried for
ever...."

He put his handkerchief back into his pocket and walked slowly to his
son. He dropped to one knee, and his hands gripped Arthur's arms.

"My son, I can say no more to you. I have told you the truth as I alone
know it. I may be, by all accounts, some ghoulish creation of Satan on
earth. I may be a child-killer, a vampire, some morbidly diseased
specimen of _vrykolakas_ - things which science cannot explain.

"Perhaps the dreaded legend of the Duryeas is true. Autiel Duryea was
convicted of murdering his brother in that same monstrous fashion in the
year 1576, and he died in flames at the stake. François Duryea, in 1802,
blew his head apart with a blunderbuss on the morning after his youngest
son was found dead, apparently from anemia. And there are others, of
whom I cannot bear to speak, that would chill your soul if you were to
hear them.

"So you see, Arthur, there is a hellish tradition behind our family.
There is a heritage which no sane God would ever have allowed. The
future of the Duryeas lies in you, for you are the last of the race. I
pray with all of my heart that providence will permit you to live your
full share of years, and to leave other Duryeas behind you. And so if
ever again I feel that presence as I did in Duryea Castle, I am going to
die as François Duryea died, over a hundred years ago...."

He stood up, and his son stood up at his side.

"If you are willing to forget, Arthur, we shall go up to that lodge in
Maine. There is a life we've never known awaiting us. We must find that
life, and we must find the happiness which a curious fate snatched from
us on those Lombard sourlands, twenty years ago...."




2


Henry Duryea's tall stature, coupled with a slenderness of frame and a
sleekness of muscle, gave him an appearance that was unusually _gaunt_.
His son couldn't help but think of that word as he sat on the rustic
porch of the lodge, watching his father sunning himself at the lake's
edge.

Henry Duryea had a kindliness in his face, at times an almost sublime
kindliness which great prophets often possess. But when his face was
partly in shadows, particularly about his brow, there was a frightening
tone which came into his features; for it was a tone of farness, of
mysticism and conjuration. Somehow, in the late evenings, he assumed the
unapproachable mantle of a dreamer and sat silently before the fire, his
mind ever off in unknown places.

In that little lodge there was no electricity, and the glow of the oil
lamps played curious tricks with the human expression which frequently
resulted in something unhuman. It may have been the dusk of night, the
flickering of the lamps, but Arthur Duryea had certainly noticed how his
father's eyes had sunken further into his head, and how his cheeks were
tighter, and the outline of his teeth pressed into the skin about his
lips.

* * * * *

It was nearing sundown on the second day of their stay at Timber Lake.
Six miles away the dirt road wound on toward Houtlon, near the Canadian
border. So it was lonely there, on a solitary little lake hemmed in
closely with dark evergreens and a sky which drooped low over
dusty-summited mountains.

Within the lodge was a homy fireplace, and a glossy elk's-head which
peered out above the mantel. There were guns and fishing-tackle on the
walls, shelves of reliable American fiction - Mark Twain, Melville,
Stockton, and a well-worn edition of Bret Harte.

A fully supplied kitchen and a wood stove furnished them with hearty
meals which were welcome after a whole day's tramp in the woods. On that
evening Henry Duryea prepared a select French stew out of every
available vegetable, and a can of soup. They ate well, then stretched
out before the fire for a smoke. They were outlining a trip to the
Orient together, when the back door blew open with a terrific bang, and
a wind swept into the lodge with a coldness which chilled them both.

"A storm," Henry Duryea said, rising to his feet. "Sometimes they have
them up here, and they're pretty bad. The roof might leak over your
bedroom. Perhaps you'd like to sleep down here with me." His fingers
strayed playfully over his son's head as he went out into the kitchen to
bar the swinging door.

Arthur's room was upstairs, next to a spare room filled with extra
furniture. He'd chosen it because he liked the altitude, and because the
only other bedroom was occupied....

He went upstairs swiftly and silently. His roof didn't leak; it was
absurd even to think it might. It had been his father again, suggesting
that they sleep together. He had done it before, in a jesting,
whispering way - as if to challenge them both if they _dared_ to sleep
together.

Arthur came back downstairs dressed in his bath-robe and slippers. He
stood on the fifth stair, rubbing a two-day's growth of beard. "I think
I'll shave tonight," he said to his father. "May I use your razor?"

Henry Duryea, draped in a black raincoat and with his face haloed in the
brim of a rain-hat, looked up from the hall. A frown glided obscurely
from his features. "Not at all, son. Sleeping upstairs?"

Arthur nodded, and quickly said, "Are you - going out?"

"Yes, I'm going to tie the boats up tighter. I'm afraid the lake will
rough it up a bit."

Duryea jerked back the door and stepped outside. The door slammed shut,
and his footsteps sounded on the wood flooring of the porch.

Arthur came slowly down the remaining steps. He saw his father's figure
pass across the dark rectangle of a window, saw the flash of lightning
that suddenly printed his grim silhouette against the glass.

He sighed deeply, a sigh which burned in his throat; for his throat was
sore and aching. Then he went into the bedroom, found the razor lying in
plain view on a birch table-top.

As he reached for it, his glance fell upon his father's open Gladstone
bag which rested at the foot of the bed. There was a book resting there,
half hidden by a gray flannel shirt. It was a narrow, yellow-bound book,
oddly out of place.

Frowning, he bent down and lifted it from the bag. It was surprizingly
heavy in his hands, and he noticed a faintly sickening odor of decay
which drifted from it like a perfume. The title of the volume had been
thumbed away into an indecipherable blur of gold letters. But pasted
across the front cover was a white strip of paper, on which was
typewritten the word - INFANTIPHAGI.

He flipped back the cover and ran his eyes over the title-page. The book
was printed in French - an early French - yet to him wholly
comprehensible. The publication date was 1580, in Caen.

Breathlessly he turned back a second page, saw a chapter headed,
_Vampires_.

He slumped to one elbow across the bed. His eyes were four inches from
those mildewed pages, his nostrils reeked with the stench of them.

He skipped long paragraphs of pedantic jargon on theology, he scanned
brief accounts of strange, blood-eating monsters, _vrykolakes_, and
leprechauns. He read of Jeanne d'Arc, of Ludvig Prinn, and muttered
aloud the Latin snatches from _Episcopi_.

He passed pages in quick succession, his fingers shaking with the fear
of it and his eyes hanging heavily in their sockets. He saw vague
reference to "Enoch," and saw the terrible drawings by an ancient
Dominican of Rome....

Paragraph after paragraph he read: the horror-striking testimony of
Nider's _Ant-Hill_, the testimony of people who died shrieking at the
stake; the recitals of grave-tenders, of jurists and hang-men. Then
unexpectedly, among all of this monumental vestige, there appeared
before his eyes the name of - _Autiel Duryea_; and he stopped reading as
though invisibly struck.

* * * * *

Thunder clapped near the lodge and rattled the window-panes. The deep
rolling of bursting clouds echoed over the valley. But he heard none of
it. His eyes were on those two short sentences which his
father - someone - had underlined with dark red crayon.

... The execution, four years ago, of Autiel Duryea does not
end the Duryea controversy. Time alone can decide whether the
Demon has claimed that family from its beginning to its end....

Arthur read on about the trial of Autiel Duryea before Veniti, the
Carcassonnean Inquisitor-General; read, with mounting horror, the
evidence which had sent that far-gone Duryea to the pillar - the evidence
of a bloodless corpse who had been Autiel Duryea's young brother.

Unmindful now of the tremendous storm which had centered over Timber
Lake, unheeding the clatter of windows and the swish of pines on the
roof - even of his father who worked down at the lake's edge in a
drenching rain - Arthur fastened his glance to the blurred print of those
pages, sinking deeper and deeper into the garbled legends of a dark
age....

On the last page of the chapter he again saw the name of his ancestor,
Autiel Duryea. He traced a shaking finger over the narrow lines of
words, and when he finished reading them he rolled sideways on the bed,
and from his lips came a sobbing, mumbling prayer.

"God, oh God in Heaven protect me...."

For he had read:

As in the case of Autiel Duryea we observe that this specimen
of _vrykolakas_ preys only upon the blood in its own family. It
possesses none of the characteristics of the undead vampire,
being usually a living male person of otherwise normal
appearances, unsuspecting its inherent demonism.

But this _vrykolakas_ cannot act according to its demoniacal
possession unless it is in the presence of a second member of
the same family, who acts as a medium between the man and its
demon. This medium has none of the traits of the vampire, but
it senses the being of this creature (when the metamorphosis is
about to occur) by reason of intense pains in the head and
throat. Both the vampire and the medium undergo similar
reactions, involving nausea, nocturnal visions, and physical
disquietude.

When these two outcasts are within a certain distance of each
other, the coalescence of inherent demonism is completed, and
the vampire is subject to its attacks, demanding blood for its


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