It's more Weird Tales! Don't look so surprised! Today we're reading stories from 1933 and '34 by Carl Jacobi. All three of these tales were included in the 1947 collection Revelations in Black, as well as the monster 2014 collection Masters of the Weird Tale, and all three were also anthologized.
This is a gimmicky waste of time, just two and a half pages. A guy is in an art museum, in the room with antique weapons. Suddenly two men accost him, men dressed like characters from The Three Musketeers. (The story, at least here in Weird Tales, includes a typo, referring to Louis III instead of Louis XIII. Sad!) They ask the guy to be their second as they duel over a woman. One is killed, and then they vanish, and the guy notices their swords on the wall.
A pointless trifle. Ignoring my assessment, in fact not even consulting me, Stefan Dziemianowicz, Martin H. Greenberg and Robert Weinberg included "A Pair of Swords" in one of their Barnes & Noble anthologies, and it also showed up in the Jacobi collection The Tomb From Beyond, which has an arresting cover by Les Edwards.
This one appears in the same issue of Weird Tales as the Conan story "Shadows in the Moonlight" (later known as "Iron Shadows in the Moon") and the Northwest Smith story "Black Thirst" (not yet known as "Thirst of Color," though it could happen.) Not only are Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore represented in this issue, but Edmond Hamilton and Clark Ashton Smith as well, so you know we'll be back to it!
But today our topic is Jacobi and "The Cane," which August Derleth included in the anthology Sleep No More and which also appeared in a Belgian anthology.
Mr. Grenning is a retired lawyer living in London. He takes a walk every morning on the same route. This guy collects canes, and has a different cane for everyday of the week. Recently one broke, so he bought a new one at an auction of the estate of the recently deceased Stephen Wells. The first day Grenning walks with his new cane, by a crazy coincidence he comes upon the funeral party of Stephen Wells, lugging the coffin out of the Wells house. The cane seems to come to life in his hand and, pulled by it, Grenning assaults one of the pall bearers, beating him bloody before fleeing. Grenning runs to the home of a friend, Sir Hugh Stanway. Stanway hears this story and then goes out to investigate.
That night, Grenning succumbs to an irresistible urge to go to the Wells house, enter, and assault a beautiful woman sleeping therein, the recently widowed Mrs. Wells! After striking her he flees.
Sir Hugh's investigations reveal that Wells got the cane in Borneo from a witch doctor, and it was said to be a magic cane that would defend its owner and avenge him on his enemies. Also, that Mrs. Wells was not in love with her husband, but with that pall bearer guy! The end of the story consists of the ghosts of Wells and his friend the witch doctor coming to Grenning to collect the cane, after which Mrs. Wells and her lover turn up dead, bludgeoned to death.
We just encountered a dangerous piano in our last blog post, and here is another one! In real life, you tickle the ivories--at MPorcius Fiction Log, the ivories tickle you...to death!
"The Satanic Piano" was made into a 1985 episode of Tales from the Darkside starring Lisa Bonet and was reprinted in the 1988 anthology Tales from the Darkside.
Wilson Farber is some kind of Renaissance Man--not only does he own a music shop in London, but he wrote a widely discussed book on telepathy and hypnotism! One night our narrator, the composer and concert pianist Bancroft, gets a note from Farber, a request to see him at once, and when we get a look inside Farber's crib (as the kids say), we find that Farber is a mad scientist! He has built a device that looks like a miniature piano (like a yard wide) with all kinds of wires and knobs and lights connected to it. Farber demonstrates how this device can read the thoughts of a musician and play the notes he thinks about in real time and even record them for later playback. Bancroft is astounded--this device will facilitate composing in a revolutionary way; it offers a means of overcoming all the obstacles keeping him from becoming a world-class composer, and he wants it, badly!
Farber lets Bancroft borrow the machine for a few weeks, during which time the pianist uses it to compose several works superior to all his previous output. The same day Farber takes back the device, Bancroft's fiancé, Martha, comes back from a trip. Martha is worried because her maid Kari, a Jamaican obea woman who claims she can tell the future, has predicted that dangerous times are ahead for Martha! Bancroft then has to take a three-day job playing the piano at a country estate; when he returns to London, Martha and Kari have disappeared! Bancroft and the police search London for a week but find no clues.
I like mad scientist stories, and on balance I like "The Satanic Piano," but it has some problems. A machine that can read your mind, brain transplants, and black magic are all very good concepts on which to ground a weird story, but I'm afraid the third, which requires belief in the soul and supernatural beings, doesn't necessarily work well with the other more hard core sciencey ideas. A related issue is the character of Kari and her relationship with Martha; as the story stands the plot sort of requires her to be both an evil person in league with the devil and personally devoted to Martha, and Jacobi doesn't spend any time explaining Kari's motivation or personality so that this paradox is credible in the eyes of the reader--the story would perhaps work better if Kari betrayed Martha and then in turn was betrayed by Farber. Most of the ending is good, but the way the failing machine kills Farber could have been better. I also think the story may be a little too long. Still "The Satanic Piano" is worth a read, a notch above "acceptable."
It feels good to make further progress in our exploration of 1930s Weird Tales, but next time we'll be sampling 1970s stories that, I think, will be more science- and less black magic-oriented than today's readings.