The House on the Borderland (3 of 3)


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THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND
William Hope Hodgson
Chapter XVII
THE SLOWING ROTATION
It might have been a million years later, that I perceived, beyond
possibility of doubt, that the fiery sheet that lit the world, was
indeed darkening.
Another vast space went by, and the whole enormous flame had sunk to a
deep, copper color. Gradually, it darkened, from copper to copper-red,
and from this, at times, to a deep, heavy, purplish tint, with, in it, a
strange loom of blood.
Although the light was decreasing, I could perceive no diminishment in
the apparent speed of the sun. It still spread itself in that dazzling
veil of speed.
The world, so much of it as I could see, had assumed a dreadful shade
of gloom, as though, in very deed, the last day of the worlds
approached.
The sun was dying; of that there could be little doubt; and still the
earth whirled onward, through space and all the aeons. At this time, I
remember, an extraordinary sense of bewilderment took me. I found
myself, later, wandering, mentally, amid an odd chaos of fragmentary
modern theories and the old Biblical story of the world's ending.
Then, for the first time, there flashed across me, the memory that the
sun, with its system of planets, was, and had been, traveling through
space at an incredible speed. Abruptly, the question rose—_Where?_ For
a very great time, I pondered this matter; but, finally, with a certain
sense of the futility of my puzzlings, I let my thoughts wander to other
things. I grew to wondering, how much longer the house would stand.
Also, I queried, to myself, whether I should be doomed to stay,
bodiless, upon the earth, through the dark-time that I knew was coming.
From these thoughts, I fell again to speculations upon the possible
direction of the sun's journey through space.... And so another great
while passed.
Gradually, as time fled, I began to feel the chill of a great winter.
Then, I remembered that, with the sun dying, the cold must be,
necessarily, extraordinarily intense. Slowly, slowly, as the aeons
slipped into eternity, the earth sank into a heavier and redder gloom.
The dull flame in the firmament took on a deeper tint, very somber
and turbid.
Then, at last, it was borne upon me that there was a change. The fiery,
gloomy curtain of flame that hung quaking overhead, and down away into
the Southern sky, began to thin and contract; and, in it, as one sees
the fast vibrations of a jarred harp-string, I saw once more the
sun-stream quivering, giddily, North and South.
Slowly, the likeness to a sheet of fire, disappeared, and I saw,
plainly, the slowing beat of the sun-stream. Yet, even then, the speed
of its swing was inconceivably swift. And all the time, the brightness
of the fiery arc grew ever duller. Underneath, the world loomed
dimly—an indistinct, ghostly region.
Overhead, the river of flame swayed slower, and even slower; until, at
last, it swung to the North and South in great, ponderous beats, that
lasted through seconds. A long space went by, and now each sway of the
great belt lasted nigh a minute; so that, after a great while, I ceased
to distinguish it as a visible movement; and the streaming fire ran in a
steady river of dull flame, across the deadly-looking sky.
An indefinite period passed, and it seemed that the arc of fire became
less sharply defined. It appeared to me to grow more attenuated, and I
thought blackish streaks showed, occasionally. Presently, as I watched,
the smooth onward-flow ceased; and I was able to perceive that there
came a momentary, but regular, darkening of the world. This grew until,
once more, night descended, in short, but periodic, intervals upon the
wearying earth.
Longer and longer became the nights, and the days equaled them; so
that, at last, the day and the night grew to the duration of seconds in
length, and the sun showed, once more, like an almost invisible,
coppery-red colored ball, within the glowing mistiness of its flight.
Corresponding to the dark lines, showing at times in its trail, there
were now distinctly to be seen on the half-visible sun itself, great,
dark belts.
Year after year flashed into the past, and the days and nights spread
into minutes. The sun had ceased to have the appearance of a tail; and
now rose and set—a tremendous globe of a glowing copper-bronze hue; in
parts ringed with blood-red bands; in others, with the dusky ones, that
I have already mentioned. These circles—both red and black—were of
varying thicknesses. For a time, I was at a loss to account for their
presence. Then it occurred to me, that it was scarcely likely that the
sun would cool evenly all over; and that these markings were due,
probably, to differences in temperature of the various areas; the red
representing those parts where the heat was still fervent, and the black
those portions which were already comparatively cool.
It struck me, as a peculiar thing, that the sun should cool in evenly
defined rings; until I remembered that, possibly, they were but isolated
patches, to which the enormous rotatory speed of the sun had imparted a
belt-like appearance. The sun, itself, was very much greater than the sun
I had known in the old-world days; and, from this, I argued that it was
considerably nearer.
At nights, the moon[6] still showed; but small and remote; and the
light she reflected was so dull and weak that she seemed little more
than the small, dim ghost of the olden moon, that I had known.
Gradually, the days and nights lengthened out, until they equaled a
space somewhat less than one of the old-earth hours; the sun rising and
setting like a great, ruddy bronze disk, crossed with ink-black bars.
About this time, I found myself, able once more, to see the gardens,
with clearness. For the world had now grown very still, and changeless.
Yet, I am not correct in saying, 'gardens'; for there were no
gardens—nothing that I knew or recognized. In place thereof, I looked
out upon a vast plain, stretching away into distance. A little to my
left, there was a low range of hills. Everywhere, there was a uniform,
white covering of snow, in places rising into hummocks and ridges.
It was only now, that I recognized how really great had been the
snowfall. In places it was vastly deep, as was witnessed by a great,
upleaping, wave-shaped hill, away to my right; though it is not
impossible, that this was due, in part, to some rise in the surface of
the ground. Strangely enough, the range of low hills to my
left—already mentioned—was not entirely covered with the universal
snow; instead, I could see their bare, dark sides showing in several
places. And everywhere and always there reigned an incredible
death-silence and desolation. The immutable, awful quiet of a
dying world.
All this time, the days and nights were lengthening, perceptibly.
Already, each day occupied, maybe, some two hours from dawn to dusk. At
night, I had been surprised to find that there were very few stars
overhead, and these small, though of an extraordinary brightness; which
I attributed to the peculiar, but clear, blackness of the nighttime.
Away to the North, I could discern a nebulous sort of mistiness; not
unlike, in appearance, a small portion of the Milky Way. It might have
been an extremely remote star-cluster; or—the thought came to me
suddenly—perhaps it was the sidereal universe that I had known, and now
left far behind, forever—a small, dimly glowing mist of stars, far in
the depths of space.
Still, the days and nights lengthened, slowly. Each time, the sun rose
duller than it had set. And the dark belts increased in breadth.
About this time, there happened a fresh thing. The sun, earth, and sky
were suddenly darkened, and, apparently, blotted out for a brief space.
I had a sense, a certain awareness (I could learn little by sight), that
the earth was enduring a very great fall of snow. Then, in an instant,
the veil that had obscured everything, vanished, and I looked out, once
more. A marvelous sight met my gaze. The hollow in which this house,
with its gardens, stands, was brimmed with snow.[7] It lipped over the
sill of my window. Everywhere, it lay, a great level stretch of white,
which caught and reflected, gloomily, the somber coppery glows of the
dying sun. The world had become a shadowless plain, from horizon
to horizon.
I glanced up at the sun. It shone with an extraordinary, dull
clearness. I saw it, now, as one who, until then, had seen it, only
through a partially obscuring medium. All about it, the sky had become
black, with a clear, deep blackness, frightful in its nearness, and its
unmeasured deep, and its utter unfriendliness. For a great time, I
looked into it, newly, and shaken and fearful. It was so near. Had I
been a child, I might have expressed some of my sensation and distress,
by saying that the sky had lost its roof.
Later, I turned, and peered about me, into the room. Everywhere, it was
covered with a thin shroud of the all-pervading white. I could see it
but dimly, by reason of the somber light that now lit the world. It
appeared to cling to the ruined walls; and the thick, soft dust of the
years, that covered the floor knee-deep, was nowhere visible. The snow
must have blown in through the open framework of the windows. Yet, in no
place had it drifted; but lay everywhere about the great, old room,
smooth and level. Moreover, there had been no wind these many thousand
years. But there was the snow,[8] as I have told.
And all the earth was silent. And there was a cold, such as no living
man can ever have known.
The earth was now illuminated, by day, with a most doleful light,
beyond my power to describe. It seemed as though I looked at the great
plain, through the medium of a bronze-tinted sea.
It was evident that the earth's rotatory movement was departing,
steadily.
The end came, all at once. The night had been the longest yet; and
when the dying sun showed, at last, above the world's edge, I had grown
so wearied of the dark, that I greeted it as a friend. It rose steadily,
until about twenty degrees above the horizon. Then, it stopped suddenly,
and, after a strange retrograde movement, hung motionless—a great
shield in the sky[9]. Only the circular rim of the sun showed
bright—only this, and one thin streak of light near the equator.
Gradually, even this thread of light died out; and now, all that was
left of our great and glorious sun, was a vast dead disk, rimmed with a
thin circle of bronze-red light.
End of Chapter XVII Chapter XVIII
THE GREEN STAR
The world was held in a savage gloom—cold and intolerable. Outside,
all was quiet—quiet! From the dark room behind me, came the occasional,
soft thud[10] of falling matter—fragments of rotting stone. So time
passed, and night grasped the world, wrapping it in wrappings of
impenetrable blackness.
There was no night-sky, as we know it. Even the few straggling stars
had vanished, conclusively. I might have been in a shuttered room,
without a light; for all that I could see. Only, in the impalpableness
of gloom, opposite, burnt that vast, encircling hair of dull fire.
Beyond this, there was no ray in all the vastitude of night that
surrounded me; save that, far in the North, that soft, mistlike glow
still shone.
Silently, years moved on. What period of time passed, I shall never
know. It seemed to me, waiting there, that eternities came and went,
stealthily; and still I watched. I could see only the glow of the sun's
edge, at times; for now, it had commenced to come and go—lighting up a
while, and again becoming extinguished.
All at once, during one of these periods of life, a sudden flame cut
across the night—a quick glare that lit up the dead earth, shortly;
giving me a glimpse of its flat lonesomeness. The light appeared to come
from the sun—shooting out from somewhere near its center, diagonally. A
moment, I gazed, startled. Then the leaping flame sank, and the gloom
fell again. But now it was not so dark; and the sun was belted by a thin
line of vivid, white light. I stared, intently. Had a volcano broken out
on the sun? Yet, I negatived the thought, as soon as formed. I felt that
the light had been far too intensely white, and large, for such a cause.
Another idea there was, that suggested itself to me. It was, that one
of the inner planets had fallen into the sun—becoming incandescent,
under that impact. This theory appealed to me, as being more plausible,
and accounting more satisfactorily for the extraordinary size and
brilliance of the blaze, that had lit up the dead world, so
unexpectedly.
Full of interest and emotion, I stared, across the darkness, at that
line of white fire, cutting the night. One thing it told to me,
unmistakably: the sun was yet rotating at an enormous speed.[11] Thus, I
knew that the years were still fleeting at an incalculable rate; though
so far as the earth was concerned, life, and light, and time, were
things belonging to a period lost in the long gone ages.
After that one burst of flame, the light had shown, only as an
encircling band of bright fire. Now, however, as I watched, it began
slowly to sink into a ruddy tint, and, later, to a dark, copper-red
color; much as the sun had done. Presently, it sank to a deeper hue;
and, in a still further space of time, it began to fluctuate; having
periods of glowing, and anon, dying. Thus, after a great while, it
disappeared.
Long before this, the smoldering edge of the sun had deadened into
blackness. And so, in that supremely future time, the world, dark and
intensely silent, rode on its gloomy orbit around the ponderous mass of
the dead sun.
My thoughts, at this period, can be scarcely described. At first, they
were chaotic and wanting in coherence. But, later, as the ages came and
went, my soul seemed to imbibe the very essence of the oppressive
solitude and dreariness, that held the earth.
With this feeling, there came a wonderful clearness of thought, and I
realized, despairingly, that the world might wander for ever, through
that enormous night. For a while, the unwholesome idea filled me, with a
sensation of overbearing desolation; so that I could have cried like a
child. In time, however, this feeling grew, almost insensibly, less, and
an unreasoning hope possessed me. Patiently, I waited.
From time to time, the noise of dropping particles, behind in the room,
came dully to my ears. Once, I heard a loud crash, and turned,
instinctively, to look; forgetting, for the moment, the impenetrable
night in which every detail was submerged. In a while, my gaze sought
the heavens; turning, unconsciously, toward the North. Yes, the nebulous
glow still showed. Indeed, I could have almost imagined that it looked
somewhat plainer. For a long time, I kept my gaze fixed upon it;
feeling, in my lonely soul, that its soft haze was, in some way, a tie
with the past. Strange, the trifles from which one can suck comfort! And
yet, had I but known—But I shall come to that in its proper time.
For a very long space, I watched, without experiencing any of the
desire for sleep, that would so soon have visited me in the old-earth
days. How I should have welcomed it; if only to have passed the time,
away from my perplexities and thoughts.
Several times, the comfortless sound of some great piece of masonry
falling, disturbed my meditations; and, once, it seemed I could hear
whispering in the room, behind me. Yet it was utterly useless to try to
see anything. Such blackness, as existed, scarcely can be conceived. It
was palpable, and hideously brutal to the sense; as though something
dead, pressed up against me—something soft, and icily cold.
Under all this, there grew up within my mind, a great and overwhelming
distress of uneasiness, that left me, but to drop me into an
uncomfortable brooding. I felt that I must fight against it; and,
presently, hoping to distract my thoughts, I turned to the window, and
looked up toward the North, in search of the nebulous whiteness, which,
still, I believed to be the far and misty glowing of the universe we had
left. Even as I raised my eyes, I was thrilled with a feeling of wonder;
for, now, the hazy light had resolved into a single, great star, of
vivid green.
As I stared, astonished, the thought flashed into my mind; that the
earth must be traveling toward the star; not away, as I had imagined.
Next, that it could not be the universe the earth had left; but,
possibly, an outlying star, belonging to some vast star-cluster, hidden
in the enormous depths of space. With a sense of commingled awe and
curiosity, I watched it, wondering what new thing was to be revealed
to me.
For a while, vague thoughts and speculations occupied me, during which
my gaze dwelt insatiably upon that one spot of light, in the otherwise
pitlike darkness. Hope grew up within me, banishing the oppression of
despair, that had seemed to stifle me. Wherever the earth was traveling,
it was, at least, going once more toward the realms of light. Light! One
must spend an eternity wrapped in soundless night, to understand the
full horror of being without it.
Slowly, but surely, the star grew upon my vision, until, in time, it
shone as brightly as had the planet Jupiter, in the old-earth days. With
increased size, its color became more impressive; reminding me of a huge
emerald, scintillating rays of fire across the world.
Years fled away in silence, and the green star grew into a great splash
of flame in the sky. A little later, I saw a thing that filled me with
amazement. It was the ghostly outline of a vast crescent, in the night;
a gigantic new moon, seeming to be growing out of the surrounding gloom.
Utterly bemused, I stared at it. It appeared to be quite
close—comparatively; and I puzzled to understand how the earth had come
so near to it, without my having seen it before.
The light, thrown by the star, grew stronger; and, presently, I was
aware that it was possible to see the earthscape again; though
indistinctly. Awhile, I stared, trying to make out whether I could
distinguish any detail of the world's surface, but I found the light
insufficient. In a little, I gave up the attempt, and glanced once more
toward the star. Even in the short space, that my attention had been
diverted, it had increased considerably, and seemed now, to my
bewildered sight, about a quarter of the size of the full moon. The
light it threw, was extraordinarily powerful; yet its color was so
abominably unfamiliar, that such of the world as I could see, showed
unreal; more as though I looked out upon a landscape of shadow, than
aught else.
All this time, the great crescent was increasing in brightness, and
began, now, to shine with a perceptible shade of green. Steadily, the
star increased in size and brilliancy, until it showed, fully as large
as half a full moon; and, as it grew greater and brighter, so did the
vast crescent throw out more and more light, though of an ever deepening
hue of green. Under the combined blaze of their radiances, the
wilderness that stretched before me, became steadily more visible. Soon,
I seemed able to stare across the whole world, which now appeared,
beneath the strange light, terrible in its cold and awful, flat
dreariness.
It was a little later, that my attention was drawn to the fact, that
the great star of green flame, was slowly sinking out of the North,
toward the East. At first, I could scarcely believe that I saw aright;
but soon there could be no doubt that it was so. Gradually, it sank,
and, as it fell, the vast crescent of glowing green, began to dwindle
and dwindle, until it became a mere arc of light, against the livid
colored sky. Later it vanished, disappearing in the self-same spot from
which I had seen it slowly emerge.
By this time, the star had come to within some thirty degrees of the
hidden horizon. In size it could now have rivaled the moon at its full;
though, even yet, I could not distinguish its disk. This fact led me to
conceive that it was, still, an extraordinary distance away; and, this
being so, I knew that its size must be huge, beyond the conception of
man to understand or imagine.
Suddenly, as I watched, the lower edge of the star vanished—cut by a
straight, dark line. A minute—or a century—passed, and it dipped
lower, until the half of it had disappeared from sight. Far away out on
the great plain, I saw a monstrous shadow blotting it out, and advancing
swiftly. Only a third of the star was visible now. Then, like a flash,
the solution of this extraordinary phenomenon revealed itself to me. The
star was sinking behind the enormous mass of the dead sun. Or rather,
the sun—obedient to its attraction—was rising toward it,[12] with the
earth following in its trail. As these thoughts expanded in my mind, the
star vanished; being completely hidden by the tremendous bulk of the
sun. Over the earth there fell, once more, the brooding night.
With the darkness, came an intolerable feeling of loneliness and dread.
For the first time, I thought of the Pit, and its inmates. After that,
there rose in my memory the still more terrible Thing, that had haunted
the shores of the Sea of Sleep, and lurked in the shadows of this old
building. Where were they? I wondered—and shivered with miserable
thoughts. For a time, fear held me, and I prayed, wildly and
incoherently, for some ray of light with which to dispel the cold
blackness that enveloped the world.
How long I waited, it is impossible to say—certainly for a very great
period. Then, all at once, I saw a loom of light shine out ahead.
Gradually, it became more distinct. Suddenly, a ray of vivid green,
flashed across the darkness. At the same moment, I saw a thin line of
livid flame, far in the night. An instant, it seemed, and it had grown
into a great clot of fire; beneath which, the world lay bathed in a
blaze of emerald green light. Steadily it grew, until, presently, the
whole of the green star had come into sight again. But now, it could be
scarcely called a star; for it had increased to vast proportions, being
incomparably greater than the sun had been in the olden time.
"Then, as I stared, I became aware that I could see the edge of the
lifeless sun, glowing like a great crescent-moon. Slowly, its lighted
surface, broadened out to me, until half of its diameter was visible;
and the star began to drop away on my right. Time passed, and the earth
moved on, slowly traversing the tremendous face of the dead sun." [13]
Gradually, as the earth traveled forward, the star fell still more to
the right; until, at last, it shone on the back of the house, sending a
flood of broken rays, in through the skeleton-like walls. Glancing
upward, I saw that much of the ceiling had vanished, enabling me to see
that the upper storeys were even more decayed. The roof had, evidently,
gone entirely; and I could see the green effulgence of the Starlight
shining in, slantingly. End of Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
THE END OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM
From the abutment, where once had been the windows, through which I had
watched that first, fatal dawn, I could see that the sun was hugely
greater, than it had been, when first the Star lit the world. So great
was it, that its lower edge seemed almost to touch the far horizon. Even
as I watched, I imagined that it drew closer. The radiance of green that
lit the frozen earth, grew steadily brighter.
Thus, for a long space, things were. Then, on a sudden, I saw that the
sun was changing shape, and growing smaller, just as the moon would have
done in past time. In a while, only a third of the illuminated part was
turned toward the earth. The Star bore away on the left.
Gradually, as the world moved on, the Star shone upon the front of the
house, once more; while the sun showed, only as a great bow of green
fire. An instant, it seemed, and the sun had vanished. The Star was
still fully visible. Then the earth moved into the black shadow of the
sun, and all was night—Night, black, starless, and intolerable.
Filled with tumultuous thoughts, I watched across the night—waiting.
Years, it may have been, and then, in the dark house behind me, the
clotted stillness of the world was broken. I seemed to hear a soft
padding of many feet, and a faint, inarticulate whisper of sound, grew
on my sense. I looked 'round into the blackness, and saw a multitude of
eyes. As I stared, they increased, and appeared to come toward me. For
an instant, I stood, unable to move. Then a hideous swine-noise[14] rose
up into the night; and, at that, I leapt from the window, out on to the
frozen world. I have a confused notion of having run awhile; and, after
that, I just waited—waited. Several times, I heard shrieks; but always
as though from a distance. Except for these sounds, I had no idea of the
whereabouts of the house. Time moved onward. I was conscious of little,
save a sensation of cold and hopelessness and fear.
An age, it seemed, and there came a glow, that told of the coming
light. It grew, tardily. Then—with a loom of unearthly glory—the first
ray from the Green Star, struck over the edge of the dark sun, and lit
the world. It fell upon a great, ruined structure, some two hundred
yards away. It was the house. Staring, I saw a fearsome sight—over its
walls crawled a legion of unholy things, almost covering the old
building, from tottering towers to base. I could see them, plainly; they
were the Swine-creatures.
The world moved out into the light of the Star, and I saw that, now, it
seemed to stretch across a quarter of the heavens. The glory of its
livid light was so tremendous, that it appeared to fill the sky with
quivering flames. Then, I saw the sun. It was so close that half of its
diameter lay below the horizon; and, as the world circled across its
face, it seemed to tower right up into the sky, a stupendous dome of
emerald colored fire. From time to time, I glanced toward the house; but
the Swine-things seemed unaware of my proximity.
Years appeared to pass, slowly. The earth had almost reached the center
of the sun's disk. The light from the Green _Sun_—as now it must be
called—shone through the interstices, that gapped the mouldered walls
of the old house, giving them the appearance of being wrapped in green
flames. The Swine-creatures still crawled about the walls.
Suddenly, there rose a loud roar of swine-voices, and, up from the
center of the roofless house, shot a vast column of blood-red flame. I
saw the little, twisted towers and turrets flash into fire; yet still
preserving their twisted crookedness. The beams of the Green Sun, beat
upon the house, and intermingled with its lurid glows; so that it
appeared a blazing furnace of red and green fire.
Fascinated, I watched, until an overwhelming sense of coming danger,
drew my attention. I glanced up, and, at once, it was borne upon me,
that the sun was closer; so close, in fact, that it seemed to overhang
the world. Then—I know not how—I was caught up into strange
heights—floating like a bubble in the awful effulgence.
Far below me, I saw the earth, with the burning house leaping into an
ever growing mountain of flame, 'round about it, the ground appeared to
be glowing; and, in places, heavy wreaths of yellow smoke ascended from
the earth. It seemed as though the world were becoming ignited from that
one plague-spot of fire. Faintly, I could see the Swine-things. They
appeared quite unharmed. Then the ground seemed to cave in, suddenly,
and the house, with its load of foul creatures, disappeared into the
depths of the earth, sending a strange, blood colored cloud into the
heights. I remembered the hell Pit under the house.
In a while, I looked 'round. The huge bulk of the sun, rose high above
me. The distance between it and the earth, grew rapidly less. Suddenly,
the earth appeared to shoot forward. In a moment, it had traversed the
space between it and the sun. I heard no sound; but, out from the sun's
face, gushed an ever-growing tongue of dazzling flame. It seemed to
leap, almost to the distant Green Sun—shearing through the emerald
light, a very cataract of blinding fire. It reached its limit, and sank;
and, on the sun, glowed a vast splash of burning white—the grave of
the earth.
The sun was very close to me, now. Presently, I found that I was rising
higher; until, at last, I rode above it, in the emptiness. The Green Sun
was now so huge that its breadth seemed to fill up all the sky, ahead. I
looked down, and noted that the sun was passing directly beneath me.
A year may have gone by—or a century—and I was left, suspended,
alone. The sun showed far in front—a black, circular mass, against the
molten splendor of the great, Green Orb. Near one edge, I observed that
a lurid glow had appeared, marking the place where the earth had fallen.
By this, I knew that the long-dead sun was still revolving, though with
great slowness.
Afar to my right, I seemed to catch, at times, a faint glow of whitish
light. For a great time, I was uncertain whether to put this down to
fancy or not. Thus, for a while, I stared, with fresh wonderings; until,
at last, I knew that it was no imaginary thing; but a reality. It grew
brighter; and, presently, there slid out of the green, a pale globe of
softest white. It came nearer, and I saw that it was apparently
surrounded by a robe of gently glowing clouds. Time passed....
I glanced toward the diminishing sun. It showed, only as a dark blot on
the face of the Green Sun. As I watched, I saw it grow smaller,
steadily, as though rushing toward the superior orb, at an immense
speed. Intently, I stared. What would happen? I was conscious of
extraordinary emotions, as I realized that it would strike the Green
Sun. It grew no bigger than a pea, and I looked, with my whole soul, to
witness the final end of our System—that system which had borne the
world through so many aeons, with its multitudinous sorrows and
joys; and now—
Suddenly, something crossed my vision, cutting from sight all vestige
of the spectacle I watched with such soul-interest. What happened to the
dead sun, I did not see; but I have no reason—in the light of that
which I saw afterward—to disbelieve that it fell into the strange fire
of the Green Sun, and so perished.
And then, suddenly, an extraordinary question rose in my mind, whether
this stupendous globe of green fire might not be the vast Central
Sun—the great sun, 'round which our universe and countless others
revolve. I felt confused. I thought of the probable end of the dead sun,
and another suggestion came, dumbly—Do the dead stars make the Green
Sun their grave? The idea appealed to me with no sense of grotesqueness;
but rather as something both possible and probable.
End of Chapter XIX Chapter XX
THE CELESTIAL GLOBES
For a while, many thoughts crowded my mind, so that I was unable to do
aught, save stare, blindly, before me. I seemed whelmed in a sea of
doubt and wonder and sorrowful remembrance.
It was later, that I came out of my bewilderment. I looked about,
dazedly. Thus, I saw so extraordinary a sight that, for a while, I could
scarcely believe I was not still wrapped in the visionary tumult of my
own thoughts. Out of the reigning green, had grown a boundless river of
softly shimmering globes—each one enfolded in a wondrous fleece of pure
cloud. They reached, both above and below me, to an unknown distance;
and, not only hid the shining of the Green Sun; but supplied, in place
thereof, a tender glow of light, that suffused itself around me, like
unto nothing I have ever seen, before or since.
In a little, I noticed that there was about these spheres, a sort of
transparency, almost as though they were formed of clouded crystal,
within which burned a radiance—gentle and subdued. They moved on, past
me, continually, floating onward at no great speed; but rather as
though they had eternity before them. A great while, I watched, and
could perceive no end to them. At times, I seemed to distinguish faces,
amid the cloudiness; but strangely indistinct, as though partly real,
and partly formed of the mistiness through which they showed.
For a long time, I waited, passively, with a sense of growing content.
I had no longer that feeling of unutterable loneliness; but felt,
rather, that I was less alone, than I had been for kalpas of years. This
feeling of contentment, increased, so that I would have been satisfied
to float in company with those celestial globules, forever.
Ages slipped by, and I saw the shadowy faces, with increased frequency,
also with greater plainness. Whether this was due to my soul having
become more attuned to its surroundings, I cannot tell—probably it was
so. But, however this may be, I am assured now, only of the fact that I
became steadily more conscious of a new mystery about me, telling me
that I had, indeed, penetrated within the borderland of some
unthought-of region—some subtle, intangible place, or form, of
existence.
The enormous stream of luminous spheres continued to pass me, at an
unvarying rate—countless millions; and still they came, showing no
signs of ending, nor even diminishing.
Then, as I was borne, silently, upon the unbuoying ether, I felt a
sudden, irresistible, forward movement, toward one of the passing
globes. An instant, and I was beside it. Then, I slid through, into the
interior, without experiencing the least resistance, of any description.
For a short while, I could see nothing; and waited, curiously.
All at once, I became aware that a sound broke the inconceivable
stillness. It was like the murmur of a great sea at calm—a sea
breathing in its sleep. Gradually, the mist that obscured my sight,
began to thin away; and so, in time, my vision dwelt once again upon the
silent surface of the Sea of Sleep.
For a little, I gazed, and could scarcely believe I saw aright. I
glanced 'round. There was the great globe of pale fire, swimming, as I
had seen it before, a short distance above the dim horizon. To my left,
far across the sea, I discovered, presently, a faint line, as of thin
haze, which I guessed to be the shore, where my Love and I had met,
during those wonderful periods of soul-wandering, that had been granted
to me in the old earth days.
Another, a troubled, memory came to me—of the Formless Thing that had
haunted the shores of the Sea of Sleep. The guardian of that silent,
echoless place. These, and other, details, I remembered, and knew,
without doubt that I was looking out upon that same sea. With the
assurance, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of surprise, and
joy, and shaken expectancy, conceiving it possible that I was about to
see my Love, again. Intently, I gazed around; but could catch no sight
of her. At that, for a little, I felt hopeless. Fervently, I prayed, and
ever peered, anxiously.... How still was the sea!
Down, far beneath me, I could see the many trails of changeful fire,
that had drawn my attention, formerly. Vaguely, I wondered what caused
them; also, I remembered that I had intended to ask my dear One about
them, as well as many other matters—and I had been forced to leave her,
before the half that I had wished to say, was said.
My thoughts came back with a leap. I was conscious that something had
touched me. I turned quickly. God, Thou wert indeed gracious—it was
She! She looked up into my eyes, with an eager longing, and I looked
down to her, with all my soul. I should like to have held her; but the
glorious purity of her face, kept me afar. Then, out of the winding
mist, she put her dear arms. Her whisper came to me, soft as the rustle
of a passing cloud. 'Dearest!' she said. That was all; but I had heard,
and, in a moment I held her to me—as I prayed—forever.
In a little, she spoke of many things, and I listened. Willingly, would
I have done so through all the ages that are to come. At times, I
whispered back, and my whispers brought to her spirit face, once more,
an indescribably delicate tint—the bloom of love. Later, I spoke more
freely, and to each word she listened, and made answer, delightfully; so
that, already, I was in Paradise.
She and I; and nothing, save the silent, spacious void to see us; and
only the quiet waters of the Sea of Sleep to hear us.
Long before, the floating multitude of cloud-enfolded spheres had
vanished into nothingness. Thus, we looked upon the face of the
slumberous deeps, and were alone. Alone, God, I would be thus alone in
the hereafter, and yet be never lonely! I had her, and, greater than
this, she had me. Aye, aeon-aged me; and on this thought, and some
others, I hope to exist through the few remaining years that may yet lie
between us.
End of Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
THE DARK SUN
How long our souls lay in the arms of joy, I cannot say; but, all at
once, I was waked from my happiness, by a diminution of the pale and
gentle light that lit the Sea of Sleep. I turned toward the huge, white
orb, with a premonition of coming trouble. One side of it was curving
inward, as though a convex, black shadow were sweeping across it. My
memory went back. It was thus, that the darkness had come, before our
last parting. I turned toward my Love, inquiringly. With a sudden
knowledge of woe, I noticed how wan and unreal she had grown, even in
that brief space. Her voice seemed to come to me from a distance. The
touch of her hands was no more than the gentle pressure of a summer
wind, and grew less perceptible.
Already, quite half of the immense globe was shrouded. A feeling of
desperation seized me. Was she about to leave me? Would she have to go,
as she had gone before? I questioned her, anxiously, frightenedly; and
she, nestling closer, explained, in that strange, faraway voice, that it
was imperative she should leave me, before the Sun of Darkness—as she
termed it—blotted out the light. At this confirmation of my fears, I
was overcome with despair; and could only look, voicelessly, across the
quiet plains of the silent sea.
How swiftly the darkness spread across the face of the White Orb. Yet,
in reality, the time must have been long, beyond human comprehension.
At last, only a crescent of pale fire, lit the, now dim, Sea of Sleep.
All this while, she had held me; but, with so soft a caress, that I had
been scarcely conscious of it. We waited there, together, she and I;
speechless, for very sorrow. In the dimming light, her face showed,
shadowy—blending into the dusky mistiness that encircled us.
Then, when a thin, curved line of soft light was all that lit the sea,
she released me—pushing me from her, tenderly. Her voice sounded in my
ears, 'I may not stay longer, Dear One.' It ended in a sob.
She seemed to float away from me, and became invisible. Her voice came
to me, out of the shadows, faintly; apparently from a great distance:—
'A little while—' It died away, remotely. In a breath, the Sea of
Sleep darkened into night. Far to my left, I seemed to see, for a brief
instant, a soft glow. It vanished, and, in the same moment, I became
aware that I was no longer above the still sea; but once more suspended
in infinite space, with the Green Sun—now eclipsed by a vast, dark
sphere—before me.
Utterly bewildered, I stared, almost unseeingly, at the ring of green
flames, leaping above the dark edge. Even in the chaos of my thoughts, I
wondered, dully, at their extraordinary shapes. A multitude of questions
assailed me. I thought more of her, I had so lately seen, than of the
sight before me. My grief, and thoughts of the future, filled me. Was I
doomed to be separated from her, always? Even in the old earth-days, she
had been mine, only for a little while; then she had left me, as I
thought, forever. Since then, I had seen her but these times, upon the
Sea of Sleep.
A feeling of fierce resentment filled me, and miserable questionings.
Why could I not have gone with my Love? What reason to keep us apart?
Why had I to wait alone, while she slumbered through the years, on the
still bosom of the Sea of Sleep? The Sea of Sleep! My thoughts turned,
inconsequently, out of their channel of bitterness, to fresh, desperate
questionings. Where was it? Where was it? I seemed to have but just
parted from my Love, upon its quiet surface, and it had gone, utterly.
It could not be far away! And the White Orb which I had seen hidden in
the shadow of the Sun of Darkness! My sight dwelt upon the Green
Sun—eclipsed. What had eclipsed it? Was there a vast, dead star
circling it? Was the _Central_ Sun—as I had come to regard it—a double
star? The thought had come, almost unbidden; yet why should it not
be so?
My thoughts went back to the White Orb. Strange, that it should have
been—I stopped. An idea had come, suddenly. The White Orb and the Green
Sun! Were they one and the same? My imagination wandered backward, and I
remembered the luminous globe to which I had been so unaccountably
attracted. It was curious that I should have forgotten it, even
momentarily. Where were the others? I reverted again to the globe I had
entered. I thought, for a time, and matters became clearer. I conceived
that, by entering that impalpable globule, I had passed, at once, into
some further, and, until then, invisible dimension; There, the Green Sun
was still visible; but as a stupendous sphere of pale, white
light—almost as though its ghost showed, and not its material part.
A long time, I mused on the subject. I remembered how, on entering the
sphere, I had, immediately, lost all sight of the others. For a still
further period, I continued to revolve the different details in my mind.
In a while, my thoughts turned to other things. I came more into the
present, and began to look about me, seeingly. For the first time, I
perceived that innumerable rays, of a subtle, violet hue, pierced the
strange semi-darkness, in all directions. They radiated from the fiery
rim of the Green Sun. They seemed to grow upon my vision, so that, in a
little, I saw that they were countless. The night was filled with
them—spreading outward from the Green Sun, fan-wise. I concluded that I
was enabled to see them, by reason of the Sun's glory being cut off by
the eclipse. They reached right out into space, and vanished.
Gradually, as I looked, I became aware that fine points of intensely
brilliant light, traversed the rays. Many of them seemed to travel from
the Green Sun, into distance. Others came out of the void, toward the
Sun; but one and all, each kept strictly to the ray in which it
traveled. Their speed was inconceivably great; and it was only when they
neared the Green Sun, or as they left it, that I could see them as
separate specks of light. Further from the sun, they became thin lines
of vivid fire within the violet.
The discovery of these rays, and the moving sparks, interested me,
extraordinarily. To where did they lead, in such countless profusion? I
thought of the worlds in space.... And those sparks! Messengers!
Possibly, the idea was fantastic; but I was not conscious of its being
so. Messengers! Messengers from the Central Sun!
An idea evolved itself, slowly. Was the Green Sun the abode of some
vast Intelligence? The thought was bewildering. Visions of the Unnameable
rose, vaguely. Had I, indeed, come upon the dwelling-place of the
Eternal? For a time, I repelled the thought, dumbly. It was too
stupendous. Yet....
Huge, vague thoughts had birth within me. I felt, suddenly, terribly
naked. And an awful Nearness, shook me.
And Heaven ...! Was that an illusion?
My thoughts came and went, erratically. The Sea of Sleep—and she!
Heaven.... I came back, with a bound, to the present. Somewhere, out of
the void behind me, there rushed an immense, dark body—huge and silent.
It was a dead star, hurling onward to the burying place of the stars. It
drove between me and the Central Suns—blotting them out from my vision,
and plunging me into an impenetrable night.
An age, and I saw again the violet rays. A great while later—aeons it
must have been—a circular glow grew in the sky, ahead, and I saw the
edge of the receding star, show darkly against it. Thus, I knew that it
was nearing the Central Suns. Presently, I saw the bright ring of the
Green Sun, show plainly against the night The star had passed into the
shadow of the Dead Sun. After that, I just waited. The strange years
went slowly, and ever, I watched, intently.
'The thing I had expected, came at last—suddenly, awfully. A vast
flare of dazzling light. A streaming burst of white flame across the
dark void. For an indefinite while, it soared outward—a gigantic
mushroom of fire. It ceased to grow. Then, as time went by, it began to
sink backward, slowly. I saw, now, that it came from a huge, glowing
spot near the center of the Dark Sun. Mighty flames, still soared
outward from this. Yet, spite of its size, the grave of the star was no
more than the shining of Jupiter upon the face of an ocean, when
compared with the inconceivable mass of the Dead Sun.
I may remark here, once more, that no words will ever convey to the
imagination, the enormous bulk of the two Central Suns.
End of Chapter XXI Chapter XXII
THE DARK NEBULA
Years melted into the past, centuries, aeons. The light of the
incandescent star, sank to a furious red.
It was later, that I saw the dark nebula—at first, an impalpable
cloud, away to my right. It grew, steadily, to a clot of blackness in
the night. How long I watched, it is impossible to say; for time, as we
count it, was a thing of the past. It came closer, a shapeless
monstrosity of darkness—tremendous. It seemed to slip across the night,
sleepily—a very hell-fog. Slowly, it slid nearer, and passed into the
void, between me and the Central Suns. It was as though a curtain had
been drawn before my vision. A strange tremor of fear took me, and a
fresh sense of wonder.
The green twilight that had reigned for so many millions of years, had
now given place to impenetrable gloom. Motionless, I peered about me. A
century fled, and it seemed to me that I detected occasional dull glows
of red, passing me at intervals.
Earnestly, I gazed, and, presently, seemed to see circular masses, that
showed muddily red, within the clouded blackness. They appeared to be
growing out of the nebulous murk. Awhile, and they became plainer to my
accustomed vision. I could see them, now, with a fair amount of
distinctness—ruddy-tinged spheres, similar, in size, to the luminous
globes that I had seen, so long previously.
They floated past me, continually. Gradually, a peculiar uneasiness
seized me. I became aware of a growing feeling of repugnance and dread.
It was directed against those passing orbs, and seemed born of intuitive
knowledge, rather than of any real cause or reason.
Some of the passing globes were brighter than others; and, it was from
one of these, that a face looked, suddenly. A face, human in its
outline; but so tortured with woe, that I stared, aghast. I had not
thought there was such sorrow, as I saw there. I was conscious of an
added sense of pain, on perceiving that the eyes, which glared so
wildly, were sightless. A while longer, I saw it; then it had passed on,
into the surrounding gloom. After this, I saw others—all wearing that
look of hopeless sorrow; and blind.
A long time went by, and I became aware that I was nearer to the orbs,
than I had been. At this, I grew uneasy; though I was less in fear of
those strange globules, than I had been, before seeing their sorrowful
inhabitants; for sympathy had tempered my fear.
Later, there was no doubt but that I was being carried closer to the
red spheres, and, presently, I floated among them. In awhile, I
perceived one bearing down upon me. I was helpless to move from its
path. In a minute, it seemed, it was upon me, and I was submerged in a
deep red mist. This cleared, and I stared, confusedly, across the
immense breadth of the Plain of Silence. It appeared just as I had first
seen it. I was moving forward, steadily, across its surface. Away ahead,
shone the vast, blood-red ring [15] that lit the place. All around, was
spread the extraordinary desolation of stillness, that had so impressed
me during my previous wanderings across its starkness.
Presently, I saw, rising up into the ruddy gloom, the distant peaks of
the mighty amphitheatre of mountains, where, untold ages before, I had
been shown my first glimpse of the terrors that underlie many things;
and where, vast and silent, watched by a thousand mute gods, stands the
replica of this house of mysteries—this house that I had seen swallowed
up in that hell-fire, ere the earth had kissed the sun, and vanished
for ever.
Though I could see the crests of the mountain-amphitheatre, yet it was
a great while before their lower portions became visible. Possibly, this
was due to the strange, ruddy haze, that seemed to cling to the surface
of the Plain. However, be this as it may, I saw them at last.
In a still further space of time, I had come so close to the mountains,
that they appeared to overhang me. Presently, I saw the great rift, open
before me, and I drifted into it; without volition on my part.
Later, I came out upon the breadth of the enormous arena. There, at an
apparent distance of some five miles, stood the House, huge, monstrous
and silent—lying in the very center of that stupendous amphitheatre. So
far as I could see, it had not altered in any way; but looked as though
it were only yesterday that I had seen it. Around, the grim, dark
mountains frowned down upon me from their lofty silences.
Far to my right, away up among inaccessible peaks, loomed the enormous
bulk of the great Beast-god. Higher, I saw the hideous form of the dread
goddess, rising up through the red gloom, thousands of fathoms above
me. To the left, I made out the monstrous Eyeless-Thing, grey and
inscrutable. Further off, reclining on its lofty ledge, the livid
Ghoul-Shape showed—a splash of sinister color, among the dark
mountains.
Slowly, I moved out across the great arena—floating. As I went, I made
out the dim forms of many of the other lurking Horrors that peopled
those supreme heights.
Gradually, I neared the House, and my thoughts flashed back across the
abyss of years. I remembered the dread Specter of the Place. A short
while passed, and I saw that I was being wafted directly toward the
enormous mass of that silent building.
About this time, I became aware, in an indifferent sort of way, of a
growing sense of numbness, that robbed me of the fear, which I should
otherwise have felt, on approaching that awesome Pile. As it was, I
viewed it, calmly—much as a man views calamity through the haze of his
tobacco smoke.
In a little while, I had come so close to the House, as to be able to
distinguish many of the details about it. The longer I looked, the more
was I confirmed in my long-ago impressions of its entire similitude to
this strange house. Save in its enormous size, I could find
nothing unlike.
Suddenly, as I stared, a great feeling of amazement filled me. I had
come opposite to that part, where the outer door, leading into the
study, is situated. There, lying right across the threshold, lay a great
length of coping stone, identical—save in size and color—with the
piece I had dislodged in my fight with the Pit-creatures.
I floated nearer, and my astonishment increased, as I noted that the
door was broken partly from its hinges, precisely in the manner that my
study door had been forced inward, by the assaults of the Swine-things.
The sight started a train of thoughts, and I began to trace, dimly,
that the attack on this house, might have a far deeper significance than
I had, hitherto, imagined. I remembered how, long ago, in the old
earth-days, I had half suspected that, in some unexplainable manner,
this house, in which I live, was _en rapport_—to use a recognized
term—with that other tremendous structure, away in the midst of that
incomparable Plain.
Now, however, it began to be borne upon me, that I had but vaguely
conceived what the realization of my suspicion meant. I began to
understand, with a more than human clearness, that the attack I had
repelled, was, in some extraordinary manner, connected with an attack
upon that strange edifice.
With a curious inconsequence, my thoughts abruptly left the matter; to
dwell, wonderingly, upon the peculiar material, out of which the House
was constructed. It was—as I have mentioned, earlier—of a deep, green
color. Yet, now that I had come so close to it, I perceived that it
fluctuated at times, though slightly—glowing and fading, much as do the
fumes of phosphorus, when rubbed upon the hand, in the dark.
Presently, my attention was distracted from this, by coming to the
great entrance. Here, for the first time, I was afraid; for, all in a
moment, the huge doors swung back, and I drifted in between them,
helplessly. Inside, all was blackness, impalpable. In an instant, I had
crossed the threshold, and the great doors closed, silently, shutting me
in that lightless place.
For a while, I seemed to hang, motionless; suspended amid the darkness.
Then, I became conscious that I was moving again; where, I could not
tell. Suddenly, far down beneath me, I seemed to hear a murmurous noise
of Swine-laughter. It sank away, and the succeeding silence appeared
clogged with horror.
Then a door opened somewhere ahead; a white haze of light filtered
through, and I floated slowly into a room, that seemed strangely
familiar. All at once, there came a bewildering, screaming noise, that
deafened me. I saw a blurred vista of visions, flaming before my sight.
My senses were dazed, through the space of an eternal moment. Then, my
power of seeing, came back to me. The dizzy, hazy feeling passed, and I
saw, clearly.
End of Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
PEPPER
I was seated in my chair, back again in this old study. My glance
wandered 'round the room. For a minute, it had a strange, quivery
appearance—unreal and unsubstantial. This disappeared, and I saw that
nothing was altered in any way. I looked toward the end window—the
blind was up.
I rose to my feet, shakily. As I did so, a slight noise, in the
direction of the door, attracted my attention. I glanced toward it. For
a short instant, it appeared to me that it was being closed, gently. I
stared, and saw that I must have been mistaken—it seemed closely shut.
With a succession of efforts, I trod my way to the window, and looked
out. The sun was just rising, lighting up the tangled wilderness of
gardens. For, perhaps, a minute, I stood, and stared. I passed my hand,
confusedly, across my forehead.
Presently, amid the chaos of my senses, a sudden thought came to me; I
turned, quickly, and called to Pepper. There was no answer, and I
stumbled across the room, in a quick access of fear. As I went, I tried
to frame his name; but my lips were numb. I reached the table, and
stooped down to him, with a catching at my heart. He was lying in the
shadow of the table, and I had not been able to see him, distinctly,
from the window. Now, as I stooped, I took my breath, shortly. There was
no Pepper; instead, I was reaching toward an elongated, little heap of
grey, ashlike dust....
I must have remained, in that half-stooped position, for some minutes.
I was dazed—stunned. Pepper had really passed into the land of shadows.
End of Chapter XXIII Chapter XXIV
THE FOOTSTEPS IN THE GARDEN
Pepper is dead! Even now, at times, I seem scarcely able to realize
that this is so. It is many weeks, since I came back from that strange
and terrible journey through space and time. Sometimes, in my sleep, I
dream about it, and go through, in imagination, the whole of that
fearsome happening. When I wake, my thoughts dwell upon it. That
Sun—those Suns, were they indeed the great Central Suns, 'round which
the whole universe, of the unknown heavens, revolves? Who shall say? And
the bright globules, floating forever in the light of the Green Sun! And
the Sea of Sleep on which they float! How unbelievable it all is. If it
were not for Pepper, I should, even after the many extraordinary things
that I have witnessed, be inclined to imagine that it was but a gigantic
dream. Then, there is that dreadful, dark nebula (with its multitudes of
red spheres) moving always within the shadow of the Dark Sun, sweeping
along on its stupendous orbit, wrapped eternally in gloom. And the faces
that peered out at me! God, do they, and does such a thing really
exist? ... There is still that little heap of grey ash, on my study
floor. I will not have it touched.
At times, when I am calmer, I have wondered what became of the outer
planets of the Solar System. It has occurred to me, that they may have
broken loose from the sun's attraction, and whirled away into space.
This is, of course, only a surmise. There are so many things, about
which I wonder.
Now that I am writing, let me record that I am certain, there is
something horrible about to happen. Last night, a thing occurred, which
has filled me with an even greater terror, than did the Pit fear. I will
write it down now, and, if anything more happens, endeavor to make a
note of it, at once. I have a feeling, that there is more in this last
affair, than in all those others. I am shaky and nervous, even now, as I
write. Somehow, I think death is not very far away. Not that I fear
death—as death is understood. Yet, there is that in the air, which bids
me fear—an intangible, cold horror. I felt it last night. It
was thus:—
Last night, I was sitting here in my study, writing. The door, leading
into the garden, was half open. At times, the metallic rattle of a dog's
chain, sounded faintly. It belongs to the dog I have bought, since
Pepper's death. I will not have him in the house—not after Pepper.
Still, I have felt it better to have a dog about the place. They are
wonderful creatures.
I was much engrossed in my work, and the time passed, quickly.
Suddenly, I heard a soft noise on the path, outside in the garden—pad,
pad, pad, it went, with a stealthy, curious sound. I sat upright, with a
quick movement, and looked out through the opened door. Again the noise
came—pad, pad, pad. It appeared to be approaching. With a slight
feeling of nervousness, I stared into the gardens; but the night hid
everything.
Then the dog gave a long howl, and I started. For a minute, perhaps, I
peered, intently; but could hear nothing. After a little, I picked up
the pen, which I had laid down, and recommenced my work. The nervous
feeling had gone; for I imagined that the sound I had heard, was nothing
more than the dog walking 'round his kennel, at the length of his chain.
A quarter of an hour may have passed; then, all at once, the dog howled
again, and with such a plaintively sorrowful note, that I jumped to my
feet, dropping my pen, and inking the page on which I was at work.
'Curse that dog!' I muttered, noting what I had done. Then, even as I
said the words, there sounded again that queer—pad, pad, pad. It was
horribly close—almost by the door, I thought. I knew, now, that it
could not be the dog; his chain would not allow him to come so near.
The dog's growl came again, and I noted, subconsciously, the taint of
fear in it.
Outside, on the windowsill, I could see Tip, my sister's pet cat. As I
looked, it sprang to its feet, its tail swelling, visibly. For an
instant it stood thus; seeming to stare, fixedly, at something, in the
direction of the door. Then, quickly, it began to back along the sill;
until, reaching the wall at the end, it could go no further. There it
stood, rigid, as though frozen in an attitude of extraordinary terror.
Frightened, and puzzled, I seized a stick from the corner, and went
toward the door, silently; taking one of the candles with me. I had come
to within a few paces of it, when, suddenly, a peculiar sense of fear
thrilled through me—a fear, palpitant and real; whence, I knew not, nor
why. So great was the feeling of terror, that I wasted no time; but
retreated straight-way—walking backward, and keeping my gaze,
fearfully, on the door. I would have given much, to rush at it, fling it
to, and shoot the bolts; for I have had it repaired and strengthened,
so that, now, it is far stronger than ever it has been. Like Tip, I
continued my, almost unconscious, progress backward, until the wall
brought me up. At that, I started, nervously, and glanced 'round,
apprehensively. As I did so, my eyes dwelt, momentarily, on the rack of
firearms, and I took a step toward them; but stopped, with a curious
feeling that they would be needless. Outside, in the gardens, the dog
moaned, strangely.
Suddenly, from the cat, there came a fierce, long screech. I glanced,
jerkily, in its direction—Something, luminous and ghostly, encircled
it, and grew upon my vision. It resolved into a glowing hand,
transparent, with a lambent, greenish flame flickering over it. The cat
gave a last, awful caterwaul, and I saw it smoke and blaze. My breath
came with a gasp, and I leant against the wall. Over that part of the
window there spread a smudge, green and fantastic. It hid the thing from
me, though the glare of fire shone through, dully. A stench of burning,
stole into the room.
Pad, pad, pad—Something passed down the garden path, and a faint,
mouldy odor seemed to come in through the open door, and mingle with the
burnt smell.
The dog had been silent for a few moments. Now, I heard him yowl,
sharply, as though in pain. Then, he was quiet, save for an occasional,
subdued whimper of fear.
A minute went by; then the gate on the West side of the gardens,
slammed, distantly. After that, nothing; not even the dog's whine.
I must have stood there some minutes. Then a fragment of courage stole
into my heart, and I made a frightened rush at the door, dashed it to,
and bolted it. After that, for a full half-hour, I sat,
helpless—staring before me, rigidly.
Slowly, my life came back into me, and I made my way, shakily,
up-stairs to bed.
That is all.
End of Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
THE THING FROM THE ARENA
This morning, early, I went through the gardens; but found everything
as usual. Near the door, I examined the path, for footprints; yet, here
again, there was nothing to tell me whether, or not, I dreamed
last night.
It was only when I came to speak to the dog, that I discovered tangible
proof, that something did happen. When I went to his kennel, he kept
inside, crouching up in one corner, and I had to coax him, to get him
out. When, finally, he consented to come, it was in a strangely cowed
and subdued manner. As I patted him, my attention was attracted to a
greenish patch, on his left flank. On examining it, I found, that the
fur and skin had been apparently, burnt off; for the flesh showed, raw
and scorched. The shape of the mark was curious, reminding me of the
imprint of a large talon or hand.
I stood up, thoughtful. My gaze wandered toward the study window. The
rays of the rising sun, shimmered on the smoky patch in the lower
corner, causing it to fluctuate from green to red, oddly. Ah! that was
undoubtedly another proof; and, suddenly, the horrible Thing I saw last
night, rose in my mind. I looked at the dog, again. I knew the cause,
now, of that hateful looking wound on his side—I knew, also, that, what
I had seen last night, had been a real happening. And a great discomfort
filled me. Pepper! Tip! And now this poor animal ...! I glanced at the
dog again, and noticed that he was licking at his wound.
'Poor brute!' I muttered, and bent to pat his head. At that, he got
upon his feet, nosing and licking my hand, wistfully.
Presently, I left him, having other matters to which to attend.
After dinner, I went to see him, again. He seemed quiet, and
disinclined to leave his kennel. From my sister, I have learnt that he
has refused all food today. She appeared a little puzzled, when she told
me; though quite unsuspicious of anything of which to be afraid.
The day has passed, uneventfully enough. After tea, I went, again, to
have a look at the dog. He seemed moody, and somewhat restless; yet
persisted in remaining in his kennel. Before locking up, for the night,
I moved his kennel out, away from the wall, so that I shall be able to
watch it from the small window, tonight. The thought came to me, to
bring him into the house for the night; but consideration has decided
me, to let him remain out. I cannot say that the house is, in any
degree, less to be feared than the gardens. Pepper was in the house,
and yet....
It is now two o'clock. Since eight, I have watched the kennel, from the
small, side window in my study. Yet, nothing has occurred, and I am too
tired to watch longer. I will go to bed....
During the night, I was restless. This is unusual for me; but, toward
morning, I obtained a few hours' sleep.
I rose early, and, after breakfast, visited the dog. He was quiet; but
morose, and refused to leave his kennel. I wish there was some horse
doctor near here; I would have the poor brute looked to. All day, he has
taken no food; but has shown an evident desire for water—lapping it up,
greedily. I was relieved to observe this.
The evening has come, and I am in my study. I intend to follow my plan
of last night, and watch the kennel. The door, leading into the garden,
is bolted, securely. I am consciously glad there are bars to the
windows....
Night:—Midnight has gone. The dog has been silent, up to the present.
Through the side window, on my left, I can make out, dimly, the outlines
of the kennel. For the first time, the dog moves, and I hear the rattle
of his chain. I look out, quickly. As I stare, the dog moves again,
restlessly, and I see a small patch of luminous light, shine from the
interior of the kennel. It vanishes; then the dog stirs again, and, once
more, the gleam comes. I am puzzled. The dog is quiet, and I can see the
luminous thing, plainly. It shows distinctly. There is something
familiar about the shape of it. For a moment, I wonder; then it comes to
me, that it is not unlike the four fingers and thumb of a hand. Like a
hand! And I remember the contour of that fearsome wound on the dog's
side. It must be the wound I see. It is luminous at night—Why? The
minutes pass. My mind is filled with this fresh thing....
Suddenly, I hear a sound, out in the gardens. How it thrills through
me. It is approaching. Pad, pad, pad. A prickly sensation traverses my
spine, and seems to creep across my scalp. The dog moves in his kennel,
and whimpers, frightenedly. He must have turned 'round; for, now, I can
no longer see the outline of his shining wound.
Outside, the gardens are silent, once more, and I listen, fearfully. A
minute passes, and another; then I hear the padding sound, again. It is
quite close, and appears to be coming down the graveled path. The noise
is curiously measured and deliberate. It ceases outside the door; and I
rise to my feet, and stand motionless. From the door, comes a slight
sound—the latch is being slowly raised. A singing noise is in my ears,
and I have a sense of pressure about the head—
The latch drops, with a sharp click, into the catch. The noise startles
me afresh; jarring, horribly, on my tense nerves. After that, I stand,
for a long while, amid an ever-growing quietness. All at once, my knees
begin to tremble, and I have to sit, quickly.
An uncertain period of time passes, and, gradually, I begin to shake
off the feeling of terror, that has possessed me. Yet, still I sit. I
seem to have lost the power of movement. I am strangely tired, and
inclined to doze. My eyes open and close, and, presently, I find myself
falling asleep, and waking, in fits and starts.
It is some time later, that I am sleepily aware that one of the candles
is guttering. When I wake again, it has gone out, and the room is very
dim, under the light of the one remaining flame. The semi-darkness
troubles me little. I have lost that awful sense of dread, and my only
desire seems to be to sleep—sleep.
Suddenly, although there is no noise, I am awake—wide awake. I am
acutely conscious of the nearness of some mystery, of some overwhelming
Presence. The very air seems pregnant with terror. I sit huddled, and
just listen, intently. Still, there is no sound. Nature, herself, seems
dead. Then, the oppressive stillness is broken by a little eldritch
scream of wind, that sweeps 'round the house, and dies away, remotely.
I let my gaze wander across the half-lighted room. By the great clock
in the far corner, is a dark, tall shadow. For a short instant, I stare,
frightenedly. Then, I see that it is nothing, and am, momentarily,
relieved.
In the time that follows, the thought flashes through my brain, why
not leave this house—this house of mystery and terror? Then, as though
in answer, there sweeps up, across my sight, a vision of the wondrous
Sea of Sleep,—the Sea of Sleep where she and I have been allowed to
meet, after the years of separation and sorrow; and I know that I shall
stay on here, whatever happens.
Through the side window, I note the somber blackness of the night. My
glance wanders away, and 'round the room; resting on one shadowy object
and another. Suddenly, I turn, and look at the window on my right; as I
do so, I breathe quickly, and bend forward, with a frightened gaze at
something outside the window, but close to the bars. I am looking at a
vast, misty swine-face, over which fluctuates a flamboyant flame, of a
greenish hue. It is the Thing from the arena. The quivering mouth seems
to drip with a continual, phosphorescent slaver. The eyes are staring
straight into the room, with an inscrutable expression. Thus, I sit
rigidly—frozen.
The Thing has begun to move. It is turning, slowly, in my direction.
Its face is coming 'round toward me. It sees me. Two huge, inhumanly
human, eyes are looking through the dimness at me. I am cold with fear;
yet, even now, I am keenly conscious, and note, in an irrelevant way,
that the distant stars are blotted out by the mass of the giant face.
A fresh horror has come to me. I am rising from my chair, without the
least intention. I am on my feet, and something is impelling me toward
the door that leads out into the gardens. I wish to stop; but cannot.
Some immutable power is opposed to my will, and I go slowly forward,
unwilling and resistant. My glance flies 'round the room, helplessly,
and stops at the window. The great swine-face has disappeared, and I
hear, again, that stealthy pad, pad, pad. It stops outside the
door—the door toward which I am being compelled....
There succeeds a short, intense silence; then there comes a sound. It
is the rattle of the latch, being slowly lifted. At that, I am filled
with desperation. I will not go forward another step. I make a vast
effort to return; but it is, as though I press back, upon an invisible
wall. I groan out loud, in the agony of my fear, and the sound of my
voice is frightening. Again comes that rattle, and I shiver, clammily. I
try—aye, fight and struggle, to hold back, _back_; but it is no use....
I am at the door, and, in a mechanical way, I watch my hand go forward,
to undo the topmost bolt. It does so, entirely without my volition. Even
as I reach up toward the bolt, the door is violently shaken, and I get a
sickly whiff of mouldy air, which seems to drive in through the
interstices of the doorway. I draw the bolt back, slowly, fighting,
dumbly, the while. It comes out of its socket, with a click, and I begin
to shake, aguishly. There are two more; one at the bottom of the door;
the other, a massive affair, is placed about the middle.
For, perhaps a minute, I stand, with my arms hanging slackly, by my
sides. The influence to meddle with the fastenings of the door, seems to
have gone. All at once, there comes the sudden rattle of iron, at my
feet. I glance down, quickly, and realize, with an unspeakable terror,
that my foot is pushing back the lower bolt. An awful sense of
helplessness assails me.... The bolt comes out of its hold, with a
slight, ringing sound and I stagger on my feet, grasping at the great,
central bolt, for support. A minute passes, an eternity; then
another——My God, help me! I am being forced to work upon the last
fastening. _I will not!_ Better to die, than open to the Terror, that is
on the other side of the door. Is there no escape ...? God help me, I
have jerked the bolt half out of its socket! My lips emit a hoarse
scream of terror, the bolt is three parts drawn, now, and still my
unconscious hands work toward my doom. Only a fraction of steel, between
my soul and That. Twice, I scream out in the supreme agony of my fear;
then, with a mad effort, I tear my hands away. My eyes seem blinded. A
great blackness is falling upon me. Nature has come to my rescue. I feel
my knees giving. There is a loud, quick thudding upon the door, and I am
falling, falling....
I must have lain there, at least a couple of hours. As I recover, I am
aware that the other candle has burnt out, and the room is in an almost
total darkness. I cannot rise to my feet, for I am cold, and filled with
a terrible cramp. Yet my brain is clear, and there is no longer the
strain of that unholy influence.
Cautiously, I get upon my knees, and feel for the central bolt. I find
it, and push it securely back into its socket; then the one at the
bottom of the door. By this time, I am able to rise to my feet, and so
manage to secure the fastening at the top. After that, I go down upon my
knees, again, and creep away among the furniture, in the direction of
the stairs. By doing this, I am safe from observation from the window.
I reach the opposite door, and, as I leave the study, cast one nervous
glance over my shoulder, toward the window. Out in the night, I seem to
catch a glimpse of something impalpable; but it may be only a fancy.
Then, I am in the passage, and on the stairs.
Reaching my bedroom, I clamber into bed, all clothed as I am, and pull
the bedclothes over me. There, after awhile, I begin to regain a little
confidence. It is impossible to sleep; but I am grateful for the added
warmth of the bedclothes. Presently, I try to think over the happenings
of the past night; but, though I cannot sleep, I find that it is
useless, to attempt consecutive thought. My brain seems curiously blank.
Toward morning, I begin to toss, uneasily. I cannot rest, and, after
awhile, I get out of bed, and pace the floor. The wintry dawn is
beginning to creep through the windows, and shows the bare discomfort of
the old room. Strange, that, through all these years, it has never
occurred to me how dismal the place really is. And so a time passes.
From somewhere down stairs, a sound comes up to me. I go to the bedroom
door, and listen. It is Mary, bustling about the great, old kitchen,
getting the breakfast ready. I feel little interest. I am not hungry. My
thoughts, however; continue to dwell upon her. How little the weird
happenings in this house seem to trouble her. Except in the incident of
the Pit creatures, she has seemed unconscious of anything unusual
occurring. She is old, like myself; yet how little we have to do with
one another. Is it because we have nothing in common; or only that,
being old, we care less for society, than quietness? These and other
matters pass through my mind, as I meditate; and help to distract my
attention, for a while, from the oppressive thoughts of the night.
After a time, I go to the window, and, opening it, look out. The sun is
now above the horizon, and the air, though cold, is sweet and crisp.
Gradually, my brain clears, and a sense of security, for the time being,
comes to me. Somewhat happier, I go down stairs, and out into the
garden, to have a look at the dog.
As I approach the kennel, I am greeted by the same mouldy stench that
assailed me at the door last night. Shaking off a momentary sense of
fear, I call to the dog; but he takes no heed, and, after calling once
more, I throw a small stone into the kennel. At this, he moves,
uneasily, and I shout his name, again; but do not go closer. Presently,
my sister comes out, and joins me, in trying to coax him from
the kennel.
In a little the poor beast rises, and shambles out lurching queerly. In
the daylight he stands swaying from side to side, and blinking stupidly.
I look and note that the horrid wound is larger, much larger, and seems
to have a whitish, fungoid appearance. My sister moves to fondle him;
but I detain her, and explain that I think it will be better not to go
too near him for a few days; as it is impossible to tell what may be the
matter with him; and it is well to be cautious.
A minute later, she leaves me; coming back with a basin of odd scraps
of food. This she places on the ground, near the dog, and I push it into
his reach, with the aid of a branch, broken from one of the shrubs. Yet,
though the meat should be tempting, he takes no notice of it; but
retires to his kennel. There is still water in his drinking vessel, so,
after a few moments' talk, we go back to the house. I can see that my
sister is much puzzled as to what is the matter with the animal; yet it
would be madness, even to hint the truth to her.
The day slips away, uneventfully; and night comes on. I have determined
to repeat my experiment of last night. I cannot say that it is wisdom;
yet my mind is made up. Still, however, I have taken precautions; for I
have driven stout nails in at the back of each of the three bolts, that
secure the door, opening from the study into the gardens. This will, at
least, prevent a recurrence of the danger I ran last night.
From ten to about two-thirty, I watch; but nothing occurs; and,
finally, I stumble off to bed, where I am soon asleep.
End of Chapter XV Chapter XXVI
THE LUMINOUS SPECK
I awake suddenly. It is still dark. I turn over, once or twice, in my
endeavors to sleep again; but I cannot sleep. My head is aching,
slightly; and, by turns I am hot and cold. In a little, I give up the
attempt, and stretch out my hand, for the matches. I will light my
candle, and read, awhile; perhaps, I shall be able to sleep, after a
time. For a few moments, I grope; then my hand touches the box; but, as
I open it, I am startled, to see a phosphorescent speck of fire, shining
amid the darkness. I put out my other hand, and touch it. It is on my
wrist. With a feeling of vague alarm, I strike a light, hurriedly, and
look; but can see nothing, save a tiny scratch.
'Fancy!' I mutter, with a half sigh of relief. Then the match burns my
finger, and I drop it, quickly. As I fumble for another, the thing
shines out again. I know, now, that it is no fancy. This time, I light
the candle, and examine the place, more closely. There is a slight,
greenish discoloration 'round the scratch. I am puzzled and worried.
Then a thought comes to me. I remember the morning after the Thing
appeared. I remember that the dog licked my hand. It was this one, with
the scratch on it; though I have not been even conscious of the
abasement, until now. A horrible fear has come to me. It creeps into my
brain—the dog's wound, shines at night. With a dazed feeling, I sit
down on the side of the bed, and try to think; but cannot. My brain
seems numbed with the sheer horror of this new fear.
Time moves on, unheeded. Once, I rouse up, and try to persuade myself
that I am mistaken; but it is no use. In my heart, I have no doubt.
Hour after hour, I sit in the darkness and silence, and shiver,
hopelessly....
The day has come and gone, and it is night again.
This morning, early, I shot the dog, and buried it, away among the
bushes. My sister is startled and frightened; but I am desperate.
Besides, it is better so. The foul growth had almost hidden its left
side. And I—the place on my wrist has enlarged, perceptibly. Several
times, I have caught myself muttering prayers—little things learnt as a
child. God, Almighty God, help me! I shall go mad.
Six days, and I have eaten nothing. It is night. I am sitting in my
chair. Ah, God! I wonder have any ever felt the horror of life that I
have come to know? I am swathed in terror. I feel ever the burning of
this dread growth. It has covered all my right arm and side, and is
beginning to creep up my neck. Tomorrow, it will eat into my face. I
shall become a terrible mass of living corruption. There is no escape.
Yet, a thought has come to me, born of a sight of the gun-rack, on the
other side of the room. I have looked again—with the strangest of
feelings. The thought grows upon me. God, Thou knowest, Thou must know,
that death is better, aye, better a thousand times than This. This!
Jesus, forgive me, but I cannot live, cannot, cannot! I dare not! I am
beyond all help—there is nothing else left. It will, at least, spare
me that final horror....
I think I must have been dozing. I am very weak, and oh! so miserable,
so miserable and tired—tired. The rustle of the paper, tries my brain.
My hearing seems preternaturally sharp. I will sit awhile and think....
"Hush! I hear something, down—down in the cellars. It is a creaking
sound. My God, it is the opening of the great, oak trap. What can be
doing that? The scratching of my pen deafens me ... I must listen....
There are steps on the stairs; strange padding steps, that come up and
nearer.... Jesus, be merciful to me, an old man. There is something
fumbling at the door-handle. O God, help me now! Jesus—The door is
opening—slowly. Somethi—"
That is all[16]
End of Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
CONCLUSION
I put down the Manuscript, and glanced across at Tonnison: he was
sitting, staring out into the dark. I waited a minute; then I spoke.
"Well?" I said.
He turned, slowly, and looked at me. His thoughts seemed to have gone
out of him into a great distance.
"Was he mad?" I asked, and indicated the MS., with a half nod.
Tonnison stared at me, unseeingly, a moment; then, his wits came back to
him, and, suddenly, he comprehended my question.
"No!" he said.
I opened my lips, to offer a contradictory opinion; for my sense of the
saneness of things, would not allow me to take the story literally; then
I shut them again, without saying anything. Somehow, the certainty in
Tonnison's voice affected my doubts. I felt, all at once, less assured;
though I was by no means convinced as yet.
After a few moments' silence, Tonnison rose, stiffly, and began to
undress. He seemed disinclined to talk; so I said nothing; but followed
his example. I was weary; though still full of the story I had
just read.
Somehow, as I rolled into my blankets, there crept into my mind a memory
of the old gardens, as we had seen them. I remembered the odd fear that
the place had conjured up in our hearts; and it grew upon me, with
conviction, that Tonnison was right.
It was very late when we rose—nearly midday; for the greater part of
the night had been spent in reading the MS.
Tonnison was grumpy, and I felt out of sorts. It was a somewhat dismal
day, and there was a touch of chilliness in the air. There was no
mention of going out fishing on either of our parts. We got dinner, and,
after that, just sat and smoked in silence.
Presently, Tonnison asked for the Manuscript: I handed it to him, and he
spent most of the afternoon in reading it through by himself.
It was while he was thus employed, that a thought came to me:—
"What do you say to having another look at—?" I nodded my head down
stream.
Tonnison looked up. "Nothing!" he said, abruptly; and, somehow, I was
less annoyed, than relieved, at his answer.
After that, I left him alone.
A little before teatime, he looked up at me, curiously.
"Sorry, old chap, if I was a bit short with you just now;" (just now,
indeed! he had not spoken for the last three hours) "but I would not go
there again," and he indicated with his head, "for anything that you
could offer me. Ugh!" and he put down that history of a man's terror and
hope and despair.
The next morning, we rose early, and went for our accustomed swim: we
had partly shaken off the depression of the previous day; and so, took
our rods when we had finished breakfast, and spent the day at our
favorite sport.
After that day, we enjoyed our holiday to the utmost; though both of us
looked forward to the time when our driver should come; for we were
tremendously anxious to inquire of him, and through him among the people
of the tiny hamlet, whether any of them could give us information about
that strange garden, lying away by itself in the heart of an almost
unknown tract of country.
At last, the day came, on which we expected the driver to come across
for us. He arrived early, while we were still abed; and, the first thing
we knew, he was at the opening of the tent, inquiring whether we had had
good sport. We replied in the affirmative; and then, both together,
almost in the same breath, we asked the question that was uppermost in
our minds:—Did he know anything about an old garden, and a great pit,
and a lake, situated some miles away, down the river; also, had he ever
heard of a great house thereabouts?
No, he did not, and had not; yet, stay, he had heard a rumor, once upon
a time, of a great, old house standing alone out in the wilderness; but,
if he remembered rightly it was a place given over to the fairies; or,
if that had not been so, he was certain that there had been something
"quare" about it; and, anyway, he had heard nothing of it for a very
long while—not since he was quite a gossoon. No, he could not remember
anything particular about it; indeed, he did not know he remembered
anything "at all, at all" until we questioned him.
"Look here," said Tonnison, finding that this was about all that he
could tell us, "just take a walk 'round the village, while we dress, and
find out something, if you can."
With a nondescript salute, the man departed on his errand; while we made
haste to get into our clothes; after which, we began to prepare
breakfast.
We were just sitting down to it, when he returned.
"It's all in bed the lazy divvils is, sor," he said, with a repetition
of the salute, and an appreciative eye to the good things spread out on
our provision chest, which we utilized as a table.
"Oh, well, sit down," replied my friend, "and have something to eat with
us." Which the man did without delay.
After breakfast, Tonnison sent him off again on the same errand, while
we sat and smoked. He was away some three-quarters of an hour, and, when
he returned, it was evident that he had found out something. It appeared
that he had got into conversation with an ancient man of the village,
who, probably, knew more—though it was little enough—of the strange
house, than any other person living.
The substance of this knowledge was, that, in the "ancient man's"
youth—and goodness knows how long back that was—there had stood a
great house in the center of the gardens, where now was left only that
fragment of ruin. This house had been empty for a great while; years
before his—the ancient man's—birth. It was a place shunned by the
people of the village, as it had been shunned by their fathers before
them. There were many things said about it, and all were of evil. No one
ever went near it, either by day or night. In the village it was a
synonym of all that is unholy and dreadful.
And then, one day, a man, a stranger, had ridden through the village,
and turned off down the river, in the direction of the House, as it was
always termed by the villagers. Some hours afterward, he had ridden
back, taking the track by which he had come, toward Ardrahan. Then, for
three months or so, nothing was heard. At the end of that time, he
reappeared; but now, he was accompanied by an elderly woman, and a large
number of donkeys, laden with various articles. They had passed through
the village without stopping, and gone straight down the bank of the
river, in the direction of the House.
Since that time, no one, save the man whom they had chartered to bring
over monthly supplies of necessaries from Ardrahan, had ever seen either
of them: and him, none had ever induced to talk; evidently, he had been
well paid for his trouble.
The years had moved onward, uneventfully enough, in that little hamlet;
the man making his monthly journeys, regularly.
One day, he had appeared as usual on his customary errand. He had passed
through the village without exchanging more than a surly nod with the
inhabitants and gone on toward the House. Usually, it was evening before
he made the return journey. On this occasion, however, he had reappeared
in the village, a few hours later, in an extraordinary state of
excitement, and with the astounding information, that the House had
disappeared bodily, and that a stupendous pit now yawned in the place
where it had stood.
This news, it appears, so excited the curiosity of the villagers, that
they overcame their fears, and marched _en masse_ to the place. There,
they found everything, just as described by the carrier.
This was all that we could learn. Of the author of the MS., who he was,
and whence he came, we shall never know.
His identity is, as he seems to have desired, buried forever.
That same day, we left the lonely village of Kraighten. We have never
been there since.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I see that enormous pit, surrounded, as it is,
on all sides by wild trees and bushes. And the noise of the water rises
upward, and blends—in my sleep—with other and lower noises; while,
over all, hangs the eternal shroud of spray.
Grief[17]
Fierce hunger reigns within my breast, I had not dreamt that this whole world,
Crushed in the hand of God, could yield Such bitter essence of unrest,
Such pain as Sorrow now hath hurled Out of its dreadful heart, unsealed!
Each sobbing breath is but a cry, My heart-strokes knells of agony,
And my whole brain has but one thought That nevermore through life shall I
(Save in the ache of memory) Touch hands with thee, who now art naught!
Through the whole void of night I search, So dumbly crying out to thee;
But thou are _not_; and night's vast throne Becomes an all stupendous church
With star-bells knelling unto me Who in all space am most alone!
An hungered, to the shore I creep, Perchance some comfort waits on me
From the old Sea's eternal heart; But lo! from all the solemn deep,
Far voices out of mystery Seem questioning why we are apart!
"Where'er I go I am alone Who once, through thee, had all the world.
My breast is one whole raging pain For that which _was_, and now is flown
Into the Blank where life is hurled Where all is not, nor is again!"
End of Chapter XXVII End of THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND
by William Hope Hodgson