The House on the Borderland (1 of 3)

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William Hope Hodgson
Chapter I From the Manuscript discovered in 1877 by
Messrs. Tonnison and Berreggnog in the Ruins that lie to the South
of the Village of Kraighten, in the West of Ireland. Set out
here, with Notes.
TO MY FATHER (Whose feet tread the lost aeons)
Open the door, And listen!
Only the wind's muffled roar, And the glisten
Of tears 'round the moon. And, in fancy, the tread
Of vanishing shoon— Out in the night with the Dead.
"Hush! And hark To the sorrowful cry
Of the wind in the dark. Hush and hark, without murmur or sigh,
To shoon that tread the lost aeons: To the sound that bids you to die.
Hush and hark! Hush and Hark!" Shoon of the Dead
Many are the hours in which I have pondered upon the story that is set
forth in the following pages. I trust that my instincts are not awry
when they prompt me to leave the account, in simplicity, as it was
handed to me.
And the MS. itself—You must picture me, when first it was given into my
care, turning it over, curiously, and making a swift, jerky examination.
A small book it is; but thick, and all, save the last few pages, filled
with a quaint but legible handwriting, and writ very close. I have the
queer, faint, pit-water smell of it in my nostrils now as I write, and
my fingers have subconscious memories of the soft, "cloggy" feel of the
long-damp pages.
I read, and, in reading, lifted the Curtains of the Impossible that
blind the mind, and looked out into the unknown. Amid stiff, abrupt
sentences I wandered; and, presently, I had no fault to charge against
their abrupt tellings; for, better far than my own ambitious phrasing,
is this mutilated story capable of bringing home all that the old
Recluse, of the vanished house, had striven to tell.
Of the simple, stiffly given account of weird and extraordinary matters,
I will say little. It lies before you. The inner story must be uncovered,
personally, by each reader, according to ability and desire. And even
should any fail to see, as now I see, the shadowed picture and conception
of that to which one may well give the accepted titles of Heaven and Hell;
yet can I promise certain thrills, merely taking the story as a story.
WILLIAM HOPE HODGSON December 17, 1907
Chapter I
Right away in the west of Ireland lies a tiny hamlet called Kraighten.
It is situated, alone, at the base of a low hill. Far around there
spreads a waste of bleak and totally inhospitable country; where, here
and there at great intervals, one may come upon the ruins of some long
desolate cottage—unthatched and stark. The whole land is bare and
unpeopled, the very earth scarcely covering the rock that lies beneath
it, and with which the country abounds, in places rising out of the soil
in wave-shaped ridges.
Yet, in spite of its desolation, my friend Tonnison and I had elected to
spend our vacation there. He had stumbled on the place by mere chance
the year previously, during the course of a long walking tour, and
discovered the possibilities for the angler in a small and unnamed river
that runs past the outskirts of the little village.
I have said that the river is without name; I may add that no map that I
have hitherto consulted has shown either village or stream. They seem
to have entirely escaped observation: indeed, they might never exist for
all that the average guide tells one. Possibly this can be partly
accounted for by the fact that the nearest railway station (Ardrahan) is
some forty miles distant.
It was early one warm evening when my friend and I arrived in Kraighten.
We had reached Ardrahan the previous night, sleeping there in rooms
hired at the village post office, and leaving in good time on the
following morning, clinging insecurely to one of the typical
jaunting cars.
It had taken us all day to accomplish our journey over some of the
roughest tracks imaginable, with the result that we were thoroughly
tired and somewhat bad tempered. However, the tent had to be erected and
our goods stowed away before we could think of food or rest. And so we
set to work, with the aid of our driver, and soon had the tent up upon a
small patch of ground just outside the little village, and quite near to
the river.
Then, having stored all our belongings, we dismissed the driver, as he
had to make his way back as speedily as possible, and told him to come
across to us at the end of a fortnight. We had brought sufficient
provisions to last us for that space of time, and water we could get
from the stream. Fuel we did not need, as we had included a small
oil-stove among our outfit, and the weather was fine and warm.
It was Tonnison's idea to camp out instead of getting lodgings in one of
the cottages. As he put it, there was no joke in sleeping in a room with
a numerous family of healthy Irish in one corner and the pigsty in the
other, while overhead a ragged colony of roosting fowls distributed
their blessings impartially, and the whole place so full of peat smoke
that it made a fellow sneeze his head off just to put it inside
the doorway.
Tonnison had got the stove lit now and was busy cutting slices of bacon
into the frying pan; so I took the kettle and walked down to the river
for water. On the way, I had to pass close to a little group of the
village people, who eyed me curiously, but not in any unfriendly manner,
though none of them ventured a word.
As I returned with my kettle filled, I went up to them and, after a
friendly nod, to which they replied in like manner, I asked them
casually about the fishing; but, instead of answering, they just shook
their heads silently, and stared at me. I repeated the question,
addressing more particularly a great, gaunt fellow at my elbow; yet
again I received no answer. Then the man turned to a comrade and said
something rapidly in a language that I did not understand; and, at once,
the whole crowd of them fell to jabbering in what, after a few moments,
I guessed to be pure Irish. At the same time they cast many glances in
my direction. For a minute, perhaps, they spoke among themselves thus;
then the man I had addressed faced 'round at me and said something. By
the expression of his face I guessed that he, in turn, was questioning
me; but now I had to shake my head, and indicate that I did not
comprehend what it was they wanted to know; and so we stood looking at
one another, until I heard Tonnison calling to me to hurry up with the
kettle. Then, with a smile and a nod, I left them, and all in the little
crowd smiled and nodded in return, though their faces still betrayed
their puzzlement.
It was evident, I reflected as I went toward the tent, that the
inhabitants of these few huts in the wilderness did not know a word of
English; and when I told Tonnison, he remarked that he was aware of the
fact, and, more, that it was not at all uncommon in that part of the
country, where the people often lived and died in their isolated hamlets
without ever coming in contact with the outside world.
"I wish we had got the driver to interpret for us before he left," I
remarked, as we sat down to our meal. "It seems so strange for the
people of this place not even to know what we've come for."
Tonnison grunted an assent, and thereafter was silent for a while.
Later, having satisfied our appetites somewhat, we began to talk, laying
our plans for the morrow; then, after a smoke, we closed the flap of the
tent, and prepared to turn in.
"I suppose there's no chance of those fellows outside taking anything?"
I asked, as we rolled ourselves in our blankets.
Tonnison said that he did not think so, at least while we were about;
and, as he went on to explain, we could lock up everything, except the
tent, in the big chest that we had brought to hold our provisions. I
agreed to this, and soon we were both asleep.
Next morning, early, we rose and went for a swim in the river; after
which we dressed and had breakfast. Then we roused out our fishing
tackle and overhauled it, by which time, our breakfasts having settled
somewhat, we made all secure within the tent and strode off in the
direction my friend had explored on his previous visit.
During the day we fished happily, working steadily upstream, and by
evening we had one of the prettiest creels of fish that I had seen for a
long while. Returning to the village, we made a good feed off our day's
spoil, after which, having selected a few of the finer fish for our
breakfast, we presented the remainder to the group of villagers who had
assembled at a respectful distance to watch our doings. They seemed
wonderfully grateful, and heaped mountains of what I presumed to be
Irish blessings upon our heads.
Thus we spent several days, having splendid sport, and first-rate
appetites to do justice upon our prey. We were pleased to find how
friendly the villagers were inclined to be, and that there was no
evidence of their having ventured to meddle with our belongings during
our absences.
It was on a Tuesday that we arrived in Kraighten, and it would be on the
Sunday following that we made a great discovery. Hitherto we had always
gone up-stream; on that day, however, we laid aside our rods, and,
taking some provisions, set off for a long ramble in the opposite
direction. The day was warm, and we trudged along leisurely enough,
stopping about mid-day to eat our lunch upon a great flat rock near the
riverbank. Afterward we sat and smoked awhile, resuming our walk only
when we were tired of inaction.
For perhaps another hour we wandered onward, chatting quietly and
comfortably on this and that matter, and on several occasions stopping
while my companion—who is something of an artist—made rough sketches
of striking bits of the wild scenery.
And then, without any warning whatsoever, the river we had followed so
confidently, came to an abrupt end—vanishing into the earth.
"Good Lord!" I said, "who ever would have thought of this?"
And I stared in amazement; then I turned to Tonnison. He was looking,
with a blank expression upon his face, at the place where the river
In a moment he spoke.
"Let us go on a bit; it may reappear again—anyhow, it is worth
I agreed, and we went forward once more, though rather aimlessly; for we
were not at all certain in which direction to prosecute our search. For
perhaps a mile we moved onward; then Tonnison, who had been gazing about
curiously, stopped and shaded his eyes.
"See!" he said, after a moment, "isn't that mist or something, over
there to the right—away in a line with that great piece of rock?" And
he indicated with his hand.
I stared, and, after a minute, seemed to see something, but could not be
certain, and said so.
"Anyway," my friend replied, "we'll just go across and have a glance."
And he started off in the direction he had suggested, I following.
Presently, we came among bushes, and, after a time, out upon the top of
a high, boulder-strewn bank, from which we looked down into a wilderness
of bushes and trees.
"Seems as though we had come upon an oasis in this desert of stone,"
muttered Tonnison, as he gazed interestedly. Then he was silent, his
eyes fixed; and I looked also; for up from somewhere about the center of
the wooded lowland there rose high into the quiet air a great column of
hazelike spray, upon which the sun shone, causing innumerable rainbows.
"How beautiful!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," answered Tonnison, thoughtfully. "There must be a waterfall, or
something, over there. Perhaps it's our river come to light again. Let's
go and see."
Down the sloping bank we made our way, and entered among the trees and
shrubberies. The bushes were matted, and the trees overhung us, so that
the place was disagreeably gloomy; though not dark enough to hide from
me the fact that many of the trees were fruit trees, and that, here and
there, one could trace indistinctly, signs of a long departed
cultivation. Thus it came to me that we were making our way through the
riot of a great and ancient garden. I said as much to Tonnison, and he
agreed that there certainly seemed reasonable grounds for my belief.
What a wild place it was, so dismal and somber! Somehow, as we went
forward, a sense of the silent loneliness and desertion of the old
garden grew upon me, and I felt shivery. One could imagine things
lurking among the tangled bushes; while, in the very air of the place,
there seemed something uncanny. I think Tonnison was conscious of this
also, though he said nothing.
Suddenly, we came to a halt. Through the trees there had grown upon our
ears a distant sound. Tonnison bent forward, listening. I could hear it
more plainly now; it was continuous and harsh—a sort of droning roar,
seeming to come from far away. I experienced a queer, indescribable,
little feeling of nervousness. What sort of place was it into which we
had got? I looked at my companion, to see what he thought of the matter;
and noted that there was only puzzlement in his face; and then, as I
watched his features, an expression of comprehension crept over them,
and he nodded his head.
"That's a waterfall," he exclaimed, with conviction. "I know the sound
now." And he began to push vigorously through the bushes, in the
direction of the noise.
As we went forward, the sound became plainer continually, showing that
we were heading straight toward it. Steadily, the roaring grew louder
and nearer, until it appeared, as I remarked to Tonnison, almost to come
from under our feet—and still we were surrounded by the trees
and shrubs.
"Take care!" Tonnison called to me. "Look where you're going." And then,
suddenly, we came out from among the trees, on to a great open space,
where, not six paces in front of us, yawned the mouth of a tremendous
chasm, from the depths of which the noise appeared to rise, along with
the continuous, mistlike spray that we had witnessed from the top of the
distant bank.
For quite a minute we stood in silence, staring in bewilderment at the
sight; then my friend went forward cautiously to the edge of the abyss.
I followed, and, together, we looked down through a boil of spray at a
monster cataract of frothing water that burst, spouting, from the side
of the chasm, nearly a hundred feet below.
"Good Lord!" said Tonnison.
I was silent, and rather awed. The sight was so unexpectedly grand and
eerie; though this latter quality came more upon me later.
Presently, I looked up and across to the further side of the chasm.
There, I saw something towering up among the spray: it looked like a
fragment of a great ruin, and I touched Tonnison on the shoulder. He
glanced 'round, with a start, and I pointed toward the thing. His gaze
followed my finger, and his eyes lighted up with a sudden flash of
excitement, as the object came within his field of view.
"Come along," he shouted above the uproar. "We'll have a look at it.
There's something queer about this place; I feel it in my bones." And he
started off, 'round the edge of the craterlike abyss. As we neared this
new thing, I saw that I had not been mistaken in my first impression. It
was undoubtedly a portion of some ruined building; yet now I made out
that it was not built upon the edge of the chasm itself, as I had at
first supposed; but perched almost at the extreme end of a huge spur of
rock that jutted out some fifty or sixty feet over the abyss. In fact,
the jagged mass of ruin was literally suspended in midair.
Arriving opposite it, we walked out on to the projecting arm of rock,
and I must confess to having felt an intolerable sense of terror as I
looked down from that dizzy perch into the unknown depths below us—into
the deeps from which there rose ever the thunder of the falling water
and the shroud of rising spray.
Reaching the ruin, we clambered 'round it cautiously, and, on the
further side, came upon a mass of fallen stones and rubble. The ruin
itself seemed to me, as I proceeded now to examine it minutely, to be a
portion of the outer wall of some prodigious structure, it was so thick
and substantially built; yet what it was doing in such a position I
could by no means conjecture. Where was the rest of the house, or
castle, or whatever there had been?
I went back to the outer side of the wall, and thence to the edge of the
chasm, leaving Tonnison rooting systematically among the heap of stones
and rubbish on the outer side. Then I commenced to examine the surface
of the ground, near the edge of the abyss, to see whether there were not
left other remnants of the building to which the fragment of ruin
evidently belonged. But though I scrutinized the earth with the greatest
care, I could see no signs of anything to show that there had ever been
a building erected on the spot, and I grew more puzzled than ever.
Then, I heard a cry from Tonnison; he was shouting my name, excitedly,
and without delay I hurried along the rocky promontory to the ruin. I
wondered whether he had hurt himself, and then the thought came, that
perhaps he had found something.
I reached the crumbled wall and climbed 'round. There I found Tonnison
standing within a small excavation that he had made among the _debris_:
he was brushing the dirt from something that looked like a book, much
crumpled and dilapidated; and opening his mouth, every second or two, to
bellow my name. As soon as he saw that I had come, he handed his prize
to me, telling me to put it into my satchel so as to protect it from the
damp, while he continued his explorations. This I did, first, however,
running the pages through my fingers, and noting that they were closely
filled with neat, old-fashioned writing which was quite legible, save in
one portion, where many of the pages were almost destroyed, being
muddied and crumpled, as though the book had been doubled back at that
part. This, I found out from Tonnison, was actually as he had discovered
it, and the damage was due, probably, to the fall of masonry upon the
opened part. Curiously enough, the book was fairly dry, which I
attributed to its having been so securely buried among the ruins.
Having put the volume away safely, I turned-to and gave Tonnison a hand
with his self-imposed task of excavating; yet, though we put in over an
hour's hard work, turning over the whole of the upheaped stones and
rubbish, we came upon nothing more than some fragments of broken wood,
that might have been parts of a desk or table; and so we gave up
searching, and went back along the rock, once more to the safety of
the land.
The next thing we did was to make a complete tour of the tremendous
chasm, which we were able to observe was in the form of an almost
perfect circle, save for where the ruin-crowned spur of rock jutted out,
spoiling its symmetry.
The abyss was, as Tonnison put it, like nothing so much as a gigantic
well or pit going sheer down into the bowels of the earth.
For some time longer, we continued to stare about us, and then, noticing
that there was a clear space away to the north of the chasm, we bent our
steps in that direction.
Here, distant from the mouth of the mighty pit by some hundreds of
yards, we came upon a great lake of silent water—silent, that is, save
in one place where there was a continuous bubbling and gurgling.
Now, being away from the noise of the spouting cataract, we were able to
hear one another speak, without having to shout at the tops of our
voices, and I asked Tonnison what he thought of the place—I told him
that I didn't like it, and that the sooner we were out of it the better
I should be pleased.
He nodded in reply, and glanced at the woods behind furtively. I asked
him if he had seen or heard anything. He made no answer; but stood
silent, as though listening, and I kept quiet also.
Suddenly, he spoke.
"Hark!" he said, sharply. I looked at him, and then away among the trees
and bushes, holding my breath involuntarily. A minute came and went in
strained silence; yet I could hear nothing, and I turned to Tonnison to
say as much; and then, even as I opened my lips to speak, there came a
strange wailing noise out of the wood on our left.... It appeared to
float through the trees, and there was a rustle of stirring leaves, and
then silence.
All at once, Tonnison spoke, and put his hand on my shoulder. "Let us
get out of here," he said, and began to move slowly toward where the
surrounding trees and bushes seemed thinnest. As I followed him, it came
to me suddenly that the sun was low, and that there was a raw sense of
chilliness in the air.
Tonnison said nothing further, but kept on steadily. We were among the
trees now, and I glanced around, nervously; but saw nothing, save the
quiet branches and trunks and the tangled bushes. Onward we went, and no
sound broke the silence, except the occasional snapping of a twig under
our feet, as we moved forward. Yet, in spite of the quietness, I had a
horrible feeling that we were not alone; and I kept so close to Tonnison
that twice I kicked his heels clumsily, though he said nothing. A
minute, and then another, and we reached the confines of the wood coming
out at last upon the bare rockiness of the countryside. Only then was I
able to shake off the haunting dread that had followed me among
the trees.
Once, as we moved away, there seemed to come again a distant sound of
wailing, and I said to myself that it was the wind—yet the evening was
Presently, Tonnison began to talk.
"Look you," he said with decision, "I would not spend the night in
_that_ place for all the wealth that the world holds. There is something
unholy—diabolical—about it. It came to me all in a moment, just after
you spoke. It seemed to me that the woods were full of vile
things—you know!"
"Yes," I answered, and looked back toward the place; but it was hidden
from us by a rise in the ground.
"There's the book," I said, and I put my hand into the satchel.
"You've got it safely?" he questioned, with a sudden access of anxiety.
"Yes," I replied.
"Perhaps," he continued, "we shall learn something from it when we get
back to the tent. We had better hurry, too; we're a long way off still,
and I don't fancy, now, being caught out here in the dark."
It was two hours later when we reached the tent; and, without delay, we
set to work to prepare a meal; for we had eaten nothing since our lunch
at midday.
Supper over, we cleared the things out of the way, and lit our pipes.
Then Tonnison asked me to get the manuscript out of my satchel. This I
did, and then, as we could not both read from it at the same time, he
suggested that I should read the thing out loud. "And mind," he
cautioned, knowing my propensities, "don't go skipping half the book."
Yet, had he but known what it contained, he would have realized how
needless such advice was, for once at least. And there seated in the
opening of our little tent, I began the strange tale of _The House on
the Borderland_ (for such was the title of the MS.); this is told in the
following pages.
End of Chapter I Chapter II
I am an old man. I live here in this ancient house, surrounded by huge,
unkempt gardens.
The peasantry, who inhabit the wilderness beyond, say that I am mad.
That is because I will have nothing to do with them. I live here alone
with my old sister, who is also my housekeeper. We keep no servants—I
hate them. I have one friend, a dog; yes, I would sooner have old Pepper
than the rest of Creation together. He, at least, understands me—and
has sense enough to leave me alone when I am in my dark moods.
I have decided to start a kind of diary; it may enable me to record
some of the thoughts and feelings that I cannot express to anyone; but,
beyond this, I am anxious to make some record of the strange things that
I have heard and seen, during many years of loneliness, in this weird
old building.
For a couple of centuries, this house has had a reputation, a bad one,
and, until I bought it, for more than eighty years no one had lived
here; consequently, I got the old place at a ridiculously low figure.
I am not superstitious; but I have ceased to deny that things happen
in this old house—things that I cannot explain; and, therefore, I must
needs ease my mind, by writing down an account of them, to the best of
my ability; though, should this, my diary, ever be read when I am gone,
the readers will but shake their heads, and be the more convinced that
I was mad.
This house, how ancient it is! though its age strikes one less,
perhaps, than the quaintness of its structure, which is curious and
fantastic to the last degree. Little curved towers and pinnacles, with
outlines suggestive of leaping flames, predominate; while the body of
the building is in the form of a circle.
I have heard that there is an old story, told amongst the country
people, to the effect that the devil built the place. However, that is
as may be. True or not, I neither know nor care, save as it may have
helped to cheapen it, ere I came.
I must have been here some ten years before I saw sufficient to warrant
any belief in the stories, current in the neighborhood, about this
house. It is true that I had, on at least a dozen occasions, seen,
vaguely, things that puzzled me, and, perhaps, had felt more than I had
seen. Then, as the years passed, bringing age upon me, I became often
aware of something unseen, yet unmistakably present, in the empty rooms
and corridors. Still, it was as I have said many years before I saw any
real manifestations of the so-called supernatural.
It was not Halloween. If I were telling a story for amusement's sake, I
should probably place it on that night of nights; but this is a true
record of my own experiences, and I would not put pen to paper to amuse
anyone. No. It was after midnight on the morning of the twenty-first day
of January. I was sitting reading, as is often my custom, in my study.
Pepper lay, sleeping, near my chair.
Without warning, the flames of the two candles went low, and then
shone with a ghastly green effulgence. I looked up, quickly, and as I
did so I saw the lights sink into a dull, ruddy tint; so that the room
glowed with a strange, heavy, crimson twilight that gave the shadows
behind the chairs and tables a double depth of blackness; and wherever
the light struck, it was as though luminous blood had been splashed
over the room.
Down on the floor, I heard a faint, frightened whimper, and something
pressed itself in between my two feet. It was Pepper, cowering under my
dressing gown. Pepper, usually as brave as a lion!
It was this movement of the dog's, I think, that gave me the first
twinge of _real_ fear. I had been considerably startled when the lights
burnt first green and then red; but had been momentarily under the
impression that the change was due to some influx of noxious gas into
the room. Now, however, I saw that it was not so; for the candles burned
with a steady flame, and showed no signs of going out, as would have
been the case had the change been due to fumes in the atmosphere.
I did not move. I felt distinctly frightened; but could think of
nothing better to do than wait. For perhaps a minute, I kept my glance
about the room, nervously. Then I noticed that the lights had commenced
to sink, very slowly; until presently they showed minute specks of red
fire, like the gleamings of rubies in the darkness. Still, I sat
watching; while a sort of dreamy indifference seemed to steal over me;
banishing altogether the fear that had begun to grip me.
Away in the far end of the huge old-fashioned room, I became conscious
of a faint glow. Steadily it grew, filling the room with gleams of
quivering green light; then they sank quickly, and changed—even as the
candle flames had done—into a deep, somber crimson that strengthened,
and lit up the room with a flood of awful glory.
The light came from the end wall, and grew ever brighter until its
intolerable glare caused my eyes acute pain, and involuntarily I closed
them. It may have been a few seconds before I was able to open them. The
first thing I noticed was that the light had decreased, greatly; so that
it no longer tried my eyes. Then, as it grew still duller, I was aware,
all at once, that, instead of looking at the redness, I was staring
through it, and through the wall beyond.
Gradually, as I became more accustomed to the idea, I realized that I
was looking out on to a vast plain, lit with the same gloomy twilight
that pervaded the room. The immensity of this plain scarcely can be
conceived. In no part could I perceive its confines. It seemed to
broaden and spread out, so that the eye failed to perceive any
limitations. Slowly, the details of the nearer portions began to grow
clear; then, in a moment almost, the light died away, and the vision—if
vision it were—faded and was gone.
Suddenly, I became conscious that I was no longer in the chair.
Instead, I seemed to be hovering above it, and looking down at a dim
something, huddled and silent. In a little while, a cold blast struck
me, and I was outside in the night, floating, like a bubble, up through
the darkness. As I moved, an icy coldness seemed to enfold me, so that
I shivered.
After a time, I looked to right and left, and saw the intolerable
blackness of the night, pierced by remote gleams of fire. Onward,
outward, I drove. Once, I glanced behind, and saw the earth, a small
crescent of blue light, receding away to my left. Further off, the sun,
a splash of white flame, burned vividly against the dark.
An indefinite period passed. Then, for the last time, I saw the
earth—an enduring globule of radiant blue, swimming in an eternity of
ether. And there I, a fragile flake of soul dust, flickered silently
across the void, from the distant blue, into the expanse of the unknown.
A great while seemed to pass over me, and now I could nowhere see
anything. I had passed beyond the fixed stars and plunged into the huge
blackness that waits beyond. All this time I had experienced little,
save a sense of lightness and cold discomfort. Now however the atrocious
darkness seemed to creep into my soul, and I became filled with fear and
despair. What was going to become of me? Where was I going? Even as the
thoughts were formed, there grew against the impalpable blackness that
wrapped me a faint tinge of blood. It seemed extraordinarily remote, and
mistlike; yet, at once, the feeling of oppression was lightened, and I
no longer despaired.
Slowly, the distant redness became plainer and larger; until, as I drew
nearer, it spread out into a great, somber glare—dull and tremendous.
Still, I fled onward, and, presently, I had come so close, that it
seemed to stretch beneath me, like a great ocean of somber red. I could
see little, save that it appeared to spread out interminably in all
In a further space, I found that I was descending upon it; and, soon, I
sank into a great sea of sullen, red-hued clouds. Slowly, I emerged from
these, and there, below me, I saw the stupendous plain that I had seen
from my room in this house that stands upon the borders of the Silences.
Presently, I landed, and stood, surrounded by a great waste of
loneliness. The place was lit with a gloomy twilight that gave an
impression of indescribable desolation.
Afar to my right, within the sky, there burnt a gigantic ring of
dull-red fire, from the outer edge of which were projected huge,
writhing flames, darted and jagged. The interior of this ring was
black, black as the gloom of the outer night. I comprehended, at once,
that it was from this extraordinary sun that the place derived its
doleful light.
From that strange source of light, I glanced down again to my
surroundings. Everywhere I looked, I saw nothing but the same flat
weariness of interminable plain. Nowhere could I descry any signs of
life; not even the ruins of some ancient habitation.
Gradually, I found that I was being borne forward, floating across the
flat waste. For what seemed an eternity, I moved onward. I was unaware
of any great sense of impatience; though some curiosity and a vast
wonder were with me continually. Always, I saw around me the breadth of
that enormous plain; and, always, I searched for some new thing to break
its monotony; but there was no change—only loneliness, silence,
and desert.
Presently, in a half-conscious manner, I noticed that there was a faint
mistiness, ruddy in hue, lying over its surface. Still, when I looked
more intently, I was unable to say that it was really mist; for it
appeared to blend with the plain, giving it a peculiar unrealness, and
conveying to the senses the idea of unsubstantiality.
Gradually, I began to weary with the sameness of the thing. Yet, it was
a great time before I perceived any signs of the place, toward which I
was being conveyed.
"At first, I saw it, far ahead, like a long hillock on the surface of
the Plain. Then, as I drew nearer, I perceived that I had been mistaken;
for, instead of a low hill, I made out, now, a chain of great mountains,
whose distant peaks towered up into the red gloom, until they were
almost lost to sight."
End of Chapter II Chapter III
And so, after a time, I came to the mountains. Then, the course of my
journey was altered, and I began to move along their bases, until, all
at once, I saw that I had come opposite to a vast rift, opening into the
mountains. Through this, I was borne, moving at no great speed. On
either side of me, huge, scarped walls of rocklike substance rose sheer.
Far overhead, I discerned a thin ribbon of red, where the mouth of the
chasm opened, among inaccessible peaks. Within, was gloom, deep and
somber, and chilly silence. For a while, I went onward steadily, and
then, at last, I saw, ahead, a deep, red glow, that told me I was near
upon the further opening of the gorge.
A minute came and went, and I was at the exit of the chasm, staring out
upon an enormous amphitheatre of mountains. Yet, of the mountains, and
the terrible grandeur of the place, I recked nothing; for I was
confounded with amazement to behold, at a distance of several miles and
occupying the center of the arena, a stupendous structure built
apparently of green jade. Yet, in itself, it was not the discovery of
the building that had so astonished me; but the fact, which became every
moment more apparent, that in no particular, save in color and its
enormous size, did the lonely structure vary from this house in which
I live.
For a while, I continued to stare, fixedly. Even then, I could scarcely
believe that I saw aright. In my mind, a question formed, reiterating
incessantly: 'What does it mean?' 'What does it mean?' and I was unable
to make answer, even out of the depths of my imagination. I seemed
capable only of wonder and fear. For a time longer, I gazed, noting
continually some fresh point of resemblance that attracted me. At last,
wearied and sorely puzzled, I turned from it, to view the rest of the
strange place on to which I had intruded.
Hitherto, I had been so engrossed in my scrutiny of the House, that I
had given only a cursory glance 'round. Now, as I looked, I began to
realize upon what sort of a place I had come. The arena, for so I have
termed it, appeared a perfect circle of about ten to twelve miles in
diameter, the House, as I have mentioned before, standing in the center.
The surface of the place, like to that of the Plain, had a peculiar,
misty appearance, that was yet not mist.
From a rapid survey, my glance passed quickly upward along the slopes
of the circling mountains. How silent they were. I think that this same
abominable stillness was more trying to me than anything that I had so
far seen or imagined. I was looking up, now, at the great crags,
towering so loftily. Up there, the impalpable redness gave a blurred
appearance to everything.
And then, as I peered, curiously, a new terror came to me; for away up
among the dim peaks to my right, I had descried a vast shape of
blackness, giantlike. It grew upon my sight. It had an enormous equine
head, with gigantic ears, and seemed to peer steadfastly down into the
arena. There was that about the pose that gave me the impression of an
eternal watchfulness—of having warded that dismal place, through
unknown eternities. Slowly, the monster became plainer to me; and then,
suddenly, my gaze sprang from it to something further off and higher
among the crags. For a long minute, I gazed, fearfully. I was strangely
conscious of something not altogether unfamiliar—as though something
stirred in the back of my mind. The thing was black, and had four
grotesque arms. The features showed indistinctly, 'round the neck, I
made out several light-colored objects. Slowly, the details came to me,
and I realized, coldly, that they were skulls. Further down the body was
another circling belt, showing less dark against the black trunk. Then,
even as I puzzled to know what the thing was, a memory slid into my
mind, and straightway, I knew that I was looking at a monstrous
representation of Kali, the Hindu goddess of death.
Other remembrances of my old student days drifted into my thoughts. My
glance fell back upon the huge beast-headed Thing. Simultaneously, I
recognized it for the ancient Egyptian god Set, or Seth, the Destroyer
of Souls. With the knowledge, there came a great sweep of
questioning—'Two of the—!' I stopped, and endeavored to think. Things
beyond my imagination peered into my frightened mind. I saw, obscurely.
'The old gods of mythology!' I tried to comprehend to what it was all
pointing. My gaze dwelt, flickeringly, between the two. 'If—'
An idea came swiftly, and I turned, and glanced rapidly upward,
searching the gloomy crags, away to my left. Something loomed out under
a great peak, a shape of greyness. I wondered I had not seen it earlier,
and then remembered I had not yet viewed that portion. I saw it more
plainly now. It was, as I have said, grey. It had a tremendous head; but
no eyes. That part of its face was blank.
Now, I saw that there were other things up among the mountains. Further
off, reclining on a lofty ledge, I made out a livid mass, irregular and
ghoulish. It seemed without form, save for an unclean, half-animal face,
that looked out, vilely, from somewhere about its middle. And then I saw
others—there were hundreds of them. They seemed to grow out of the
shadows. Several I recognized almost immediately as mythological
deities; others were strange to me, utterly strange, beyond the power of
a human mind to conceive.
On each side, I looked, and saw more, continually. The mountains were
full of strange things—Beast-gods, and Horrors so atrocious and bestial
that possibility and decency deny any further attempt to describe them.
And I—I was filled with a terrible sense of overwhelming horror and
fear and repugnance; yet, spite of these, I wondered exceedingly. Was
there then, after all, something in the old heathen worship, something
more than the mere deifying of men, animals, and elements? The thought
gripped me—was there?
Later, a question repeated itself. What were they, those Beast-gods,
and the others? At first, they had appeared to me just sculptured
Monsters placed indiscriminately among the inaccessible peaks and
precipices of the surrounding mountains. Now, as I scrutinized them with
greater intentness, my mind began to reach out to fresh conclusions.
There was something about them, an indescribable sort of silent vitality
that suggested, to my broadening consciousness, a state of
life-in-death—a something that was by no means life, as we understand
it; but rather an inhuman form of existence, that well might be likened
to a deathless trance—a condition in which it was possible to imagine
their continuing, eternally. 'Immortal!' the word rose in my thoughts
unbidden; and, straightway, I grew to wondering whether this might be
the immortality of the gods.
And then, in the midst of my wondering and musing, something happened.
Until then, I had been staying just within the shadow of the exit of the
great rift. Now, without volition on my part, I drifted out of the
semi-darkness and began to move slowly across the arena—toward the
House. At this, I gave up all thoughts of those prodigious Shapes above
me—and could only stare, frightenedly, at the tremendous structure
toward which I was being conveyed so remorselessly. Yet, though I
searched earnestly, I could discover nothing that I had not already
seen, and so became gradually calmer.
Presently, I had reached a point more than halfway between the House
and the gorge. All around was spread the stark loneliness of the place,
and the unbroken silence. Steadily, I neared the great building. Then,
all at once, something caught my vision, something that came 'round one
of the huge buttresses of the House, and so into full view. It was a
gigantic thing, and moved with a curious lope, going almost upright,
after the manner of a man. It was quite unclothed, and had a remarkable
luminous appearance. Yet it was the face that attracted and frightened
me the most. It was the face of a swine.
Silently, intently, I watched this horrible creature, and forgot my
fear, momentarily, in my interest in its movements. It was making its
way, cumbrously 'round the building, stopping as it came to each window
to peer in and shake at the bars, with which—as in this house—they
were protected; and whenever it came to a door, it would push at it,
fingering the fastening stealthily. Evidently, it was searching for an
ingress into the House.
I had come now to within less than a quarter of a mile of the great
structure, and still I was compelled forward. Abruptly, the Thing turned
and gazed hideously in my direction. It opened its mouth, and, for the
first time, the stillness of that abominable place was broken, by a
deep, booming note that sent an added thrill of apprehension through me.
Then, immediately, I became aware that it was coming toward me, swiftly
and silently. In an instant, it had covered half the distance that lay
between. And still, I was borne helplessly to meet it. Only a hundred
yards, and the brutish ferocity of the giant face numbed me with a
feeling of unmitigated horror. I could have screamed, in the supremeness
of my fear; and then, in the very moment of my extremity and despair, I
became conscious that I was looking down upon the arena, from a rapidly
increasing height. I was rising, rising. In an inconceivably short
while, I had reached an altitude of many hundred feet. Beneath me, the
spot that I had just left, was occupied by the foul Swine-creature. It
had gone down on all fours and was snuffing and rooting, like a
veritable hog, at the surface of the arena. A moment and it rose to its
feet, clutching upward, with an expression of desire upon its face such
as I have never seen in this world.
Continually, I mounted higher. A few minutes, it seemed, and I had
risen above the great mountains—floating, alone, afar in the redness.
At a tremendous distance below, the arena showed, dimly; with the mighty
House looking no larger than a tiny spot of green. The Swine-thing was
no longer visible.
Presently, I passed over the mountains, out above the huge breadth of
the plain. Far away, on its surface, in the direction of the ring-shaped
sun, there showed a confused blur. I looked toward it, indifferently. It
reminded me, somewhat, of the first glimpse I had caught of the
With a sense of weariness, I glanced upward at the immense ring of
fire. What a strange thing it was! Then, as I stared, out from the dark
center, there spurted a sudden flare of extraordinary vivid fire.
Compared with the size of the black center, it was as naught; yet, in
itself, stupendous. With awakened interest, I watched it carefully,
noting its strange boiling and glowing. Then, in a moment, the whole
thing grew dim and unreal, and so passed out of sight. Much amazed, I
glanced down to the Plain from which I was still rising. Thus, I
received a fresh surprise. The Plain—everything had vanished, and only
a sea of red mist was spread far below me. Gradually as I stared this
grew remote, and died away into a dim far mystery of red against an
unfathomable night. A while, and even this had gone, and I was wrapped
in an impalpable, lightless gloom.
End of Chapter III Chapter IV
Thus I was, and only the memory that I had lived through the dark, once
before, served to sustain my thoughts. A great time passed—ages. And
then a single star broke its way through the darkness. It was the first
of one of the outlying clusters of this universe. Presently, it was far
behind, and all about me shone the splendor of the countless stars.
Later, years it seemed, I saw the sun, a clot of flame. Around it, I
made out presently several remote specks of light—the planets of the
Solar system. And so I saw the earth again, blue and unbelievably
minute. It grew larger, and became defined.
A long space of time came and went, and then at last I entered into the
shadow of the world—plunging headlong into the dim and holy earth
night. Overhead were the old constellations, and there was a crescent
moon. Then, as I neared the earth's surface, a dimness swept over me,
and I appeared to sink into a black mist.
For a while, I knew nothing. I was unconscious. Gradually, I became
aware of a faint, distant whining. It became plainer. A desperate
feeling of agony possessed me. I struggled madly for breath, and tried
to shout. A moment, and I got my breath more easily. I was conscious
that something was licking my hand. Something damp swept across my face.
I heard a panting, and then again the whining. It seemed to come to my
ears, now, with a sense of familiarity, and I opened my eyes. All was
dark; but the feeling of oppression had left me. I was seated, and
something was whining piteously, and licking me. I felt strangely
confused, and, instinctively, tried to ward off the thing that licked.
My head was curiously vacant, and, for the moment, I seemed incapable of
action or thought. Then, things came back to me, and I called 'Pepper,'
faintly. I was answered by a joyful bark, and renewed and
frantic caresses.
In a little while, I felt stronger, and put out my hand for the
matches. I groped about, for a few moments, blindly; then my hands lit
upon them, and I struck a light, and looked confusedly around. All about
me, I saw the old, familiar things. And there I sat, full of dazed
wonders, until the flame of the match burnt my finger, and I dropped it;
while a hasty expression of pain and anger, escaped my lips, surprising
me with the sound of my own voice.
After a moment, I struck another match, and, stumbling across the room,
lit the candles. As I did so, I observed that they had not burned away,
but had been put out.
As the flames shot up, I turned, and stared about the study; yet there
was nothing unusual to see; and, suddenly, a gust of irritation took me.
What had happened? I held my head, with both hands, and tried to
remember. Ah! the great, silent Plain, and the ring-shaped sun of red
fire. Where were they? Where had I seen them? How long ago? I felt dazed
and muddled. Once or twice, I walked up and down the room, unsteadily.
My memory seemed dulled, and, already, the thing I had witnessed came
back to me with an effort.
I have a remembrance of cursing, peevishly, in my bewilderment.
Suddenly, I turned faint and giddy, and had to grasp at the table for
support. During a few moments, I held on, weakly; and then managed to
totter sideways into a chair. After a little time, I felt somewhat
better, and succeeded in reaching the cupboard where, usually, I keep
brandy and biscuits. I poured myself out a little of the stimulant, and
drank it off. Then, taking a handful of biscuits, I returned to my
chair, and began to devour them, ravenously. I was vaguely surprised at
my hunger. I felt as though I had eaten nothing for an uncountably
long while.
As I ate, my glance roved about the room, taking in its various
details, and still searching, though almost unconsciously, for something
tangible upon which to take hold, among the invisible mysteries that
encompassed me. 'Surely,' I thought, 'there must be something—' And, in
the same instant, my gaze dwelt upon the face of the clock in the
opposite corner. Therewith, I stopped eating, and just stared. For,
though its ticking indicated most certainly that it was still going, the
hands were pointing to a little _before_ the hour of midnight; whereas
it was, as well I knew, considerably _after_ that time when I had
witnessed the first of the strange happenings I have just described.
For perhaps a moment I was astounded and puzzled. Had the hour been the
same as when I had last seen the clock, I should have concluded that the
hands had stuck in one place, while the internal mechanism went on as
usual; but that would, in no way, account for the hands having traveled
backward. Then, even as I turned the matter over in my wearied brain,
the thought flashed upon me that it was now close upon the morning of
the twenty-second, and that I had been unconscious to the visible world
through the greater portion of the last twenty-four hours. The thought
occupied my attention for a full minute; then I commenced to eat again.
I was still very hungry.
During breakfast, next morning, I inquired casually of my sister
regarding the date, and found my surmise correct. I had, indeed, been
absent—at least in spirit—for nearly a day and a night.
My sister asked me no questions; for it is not by any means the first
time that I have kept to my study for a whole day, and sometimes a
couple of days at a time, when I have been particularly engrossed in my
books or work.
And so the days pass on, and I am still filled with a wonder to know
the meaning of all that I saw on that memorable night. Yet, well I know
that my curiosity is little likely to be satisfied.
End of Chapter IV Chapter V
This house is, as I have said before, surrounded by a huge estate, and
wild and uncultivated gardens.
Away at the back, distant some three hundred yards, is a dark, deep
ravine—spoken of as the 'Pit,' by the peasantry. At the bottom runs a
sluggish stream so overhung by trees as scarcely to be seen from above.
In passing, I must explain that this river has a subterranean origin,
emerging suddenly at the East end of the ravine, and disappearing, as
abruptly, beneath the cliffs that form its Western extremity.
It was some months after my vision (if vision it were) of the great
Plain that my attention was particularly attracted to the Pit.
I happened, one day, to be walking along its Southern edge, when,
suddenly, several pieces of rock and shale were dislodged from the face
of the cliff immediately beneath me, and fell with a sullen crash
through the trees. I heard them splash in the river at the bottom; and
then silence. I should not have given this incident more than a passing
thought, had not Pepper at once begun to bark savagely; nor would he be
silent when I bade him, which is most unusual behavior on his part.
Feeling that there must be someone or something in the Pit, I went back
to the house, quickly, for a stick. When I returned, Pepper had ceased
his barks and was growling and smelling, uneasily, along the top.
Whistling to him to follow me, I started to descend cautiously. The
depth to the bottom of the Pit must be about a hundred and fifty feet,
and some time as well as considerable care was expended before we
reached the bottom in safety.
Once down, Pepper and I started to explore along the banks of the
river. It was very dark there due to the overhanging trees, and I moved
warily, keeping my glance about me and my stick ready.
Pepper was quiet now and kept close to me all the time. Thus, we
searched right up one side of the river, without hearing or seeing
anything. Then, we crossed over—by the simple method of jumping—and
commenced to beat our way back through the underbrush.
We had accomplished perhaps half the distance, when I heard again the
sound of falling stones on the other side—the side from which we had
just come. One large rock came thundering down through the treetops,
struck the opposite bank, and bounded into the river, driving a great
jet of water right over us. At this, Pepper gave out a deep growl; then
stopped, and pricked up his ears. I listened, also.
A second later, a loud, half-human, half-piglike squeal sounded from
among the trees, apparently about halfway up the South cliff. It was
answered by a similar note from the bottom of the Pit. At this, Pepper
gave a short, sharp bark, and, springing across the little river,
disappeared into the bushes.
Immediately afterward, I heard his barks increase in depth and number,
and in between there sounded a noise of confused jabbering. This ceased,
and, in the succeeding silence, there rose a semi-human yell of agony.
Almost immediately, Pepper gave a long-drawn howl of pain, and then the
shrubs were violently agitated, and he came running out with his tail
down, and glancing as he ran over his shoulder. As he reached me, I saw
that he was bleeding from what appeared to be a great claw wound in the
side that had almost laid bare his ribs.
Seeing Pepper thus mutilated, a furious feeling of anger seized me,
and, whirling my staff, I sprang across, and into the bushes from which
Pepper had emerged. As I forced my way through, I thought I heard a
sound of breathing. Next instant, I had burst into a little clear space,
just in time to see something, livid white in color, disappear among the
bushes on the opposite side. With a shout, I ran toward it; but, though
I struck and probed among the bushes with my stick, I neither saw nor
heard anything further; and so returned to Pepper. There, after bathing
his wound in the river, I bound my wetted handkerchief 'round his body;
having done which, we retreated up the ravine and into the
daylight again.
On reaching the house, my sister inquired what had happened to Pepper,
and I told her he had been fighting with a wildcat, of which I had heard
there were several about.
I felt it would be better not to tell her how it had really happened;
though, to be sure, I scarcely knew myself; but this I did know, that
the thing I had seen run into the bushes was no wildcat. It was much too
big, and had, so far as I had observed, a skin like a hog's, only of a
dead, unhealthy white color. And then—it had run upright, or nearly so,
upon its hind feet, with a motion somewhat resembling that of a human
being. This much I had noticed in my brief glimpse, and, truth to tell,
I felt a good deal of uneasiness, besides curiosity as I turned the
matter over in my mind.
It was in the morning that the above incident had occurred.
Then, it would be after dinner, as I sat reading, that, happening to
look up suddenly, I saw something peering in over the window ledge the
eyes and ears alone showing.
'A pig, by Jove!' I said, and rose to my feet. Thus, I saw the thing
more completely; but it was no pig—God alone knows what it was. It
reminded me, vaguely, of the hideous Thing that had haunted the great
arena. It had a grotesquely human mouth and jaw; but with no chin of
which to speak. The nose was prolonged into a snout; thus it was that
with the little eyes and queer ears, gave it such an extraordinarily
swinelike appearance. Of forehead there was little, and the whole face
was of an unwholesome white color.
For perhaps a minute, I stood looking at the thing with an ever growing
feeling of disgust, and some fear. The mouth kept jabbering, inanely,
and once emitted a half-swinish grunt. I think it was the eyes that
attracted me the most; they seemed to glow, at times, with a horribly
human intelligence, and kept flickering away from my face, over the
details of the room, as though my stare disturbed it.
It appeared to be supporting itself by two clawlike hands upon the
windowsill. These claws, unlike the face, were of a clayey brown hue,
and bore an indistinct resemblance to human hands, in that they had four
fingers and a thumb; though these were webbed up to the first joint,
much as are a duck's. Nails it had also, but so long and powerful that
they were more like the talons of an eagle than aught else.
As I have said, before, I felt some fear; though almost of an
impersonal kind. I may explain my feeling better by saying that it was
more a sensation of abhorrence; such as one might expect to feel, if
brought in contact with something superhumanly foul; something
unholy—belonging to some hitherto undreamt of state of existence.
I cannot say that I grasped these various details of the brute at the
time. I think they seemed to come back to me, afterward, as though
imprinted upon my brain. I imagined more than I saw as I looked at the
thing, and the material details grew upon me later.
For perhaps a minute I stared at the creature; then as my nerves
steadied a little I shook off the vague alarm that held me, and took a
step toward the window. Even as I did so, the thing ducked and vanished.
I rushed to the door and looked 'round hurriedly; but only the tangled
bushes and shrubs met my gaze.
I ran back into the house, and, getting my gun, sallied out to search
through the gardens. As I went, I asked myself whether the thing I had
just seen was likely to be the same of which I had caught a glimpse in
the morning. I inclined to think it was.
I would have taken Pepper with me; but judged it better to give his
wound a chance to heal. Besides, if the creature I had just seen was, as
I imagined, his antagonist of the morning, it was not likely that he
would be of much use.
I began my search, systematically. I was determined, if it were
possible, to find and put an end to that swine-thing. This was, at
least, a material Horror!
At first, I searched, cautiously; with the thought of Pepper's wound in
my mind; but, as the hours passed, and not a sign of anything living,
showed in the great, lonely gardens, I became less apprehensive. I felt
almost as though I would welcome the sight of it. Anything seemed better
than this silence, with the ever-present feeling that the creature might
be lurking in every bush I passed. Later, I grew careless of danger, to
the extent of plunging right through the bushes, probing with my gun
barrel as I went.
At times, I shouted; but only the echoes answered back. I thought thus
perhaps to frighten or stir the creature to showing itself; but only
succeeded in bringing my sister Mary out, to know what was the matter. I
told her, that I had seen the wildcat that had wounded Pepper, and that
I was trying to hunt it out of the bushes. She seemed only half
satisfied, and went back into the house, with an expression of doubt
upon her face. I wondered whether she had seen or guessed anything. For
the rest of the afternoon, I prosecuted the search anxiously. I felt
that I should be unable to sleep, with that bestial thing haunting the
shrubberies, and yet, when evening fell, I had seen nothing. Then, as I
turned homeward, I heard a short, unintelligible noise, among the bushes
to my right. Instantly, I turned, and, aiming quickly, fired in the
direction of the sound. Immediately afterward, I heard something
scuttling away among the bushes. It moved rapidly, and in a minute had
gone out of hearing. After a few steps I ceased my pursuit, realizing
how futile it must be in the fast gathering gloom; and so, with a
curious feeling of depression, I entered the house.
That night, after my sister had gone to bed, I went 'round to all the
windows and doors on the ground floor; and saw to it that they were
securely fastened. This precaution was scarcely necessary as regards the
windows, as all of those on the lower storey are strongly barred; but
with the doors—of which there are five—it was wisely thought, as not
one was locked.
Having secured these, I went to my study, yet, somehow, for once, the
place jarred upon me; it seemed so huge and echoey. For some time I
tried to read; but at last finding it impossible I carried my book down
to the kitchen where a large fire was burning, and sat there.
I dare say, I had read for a couple of hours, when, suddenly, I heard a
sound that made me lower my book, and listen, intently. It was a noise
of something rubbing and fumbling against the back door. Once the door
creaked, loudly; as though force were being applied to it. During those
few, short moments, I experienced an indescribable feeling of terror,
such as I should have believed impossible. My hands shook; a cold sweat
broke out on me, and I shivered violently.
Gradually, I calmed. The stealthy movements outside had ceased.
Then for an hour I sat silent and watchful. All at once the feeling of
fear took me again. I felt as I imagine an animal must, under the eye of
a snake. Yet now I could hear nothing. Still, there was no doubting that
some unexplained influence was at work.
Gradually, imperceptibly almost, something stole on my ear—a sound
that resolved itself into a faint murmur. Quickly it developed and grew
into a muffled but hideous chorus of bestial shrieks. It appeared to
rise from the bowels of the earth.
I heard a thud, and realized in a dull, half comprehending way that I
had dropped my book. After that, I just sat; and thus the daylight found
me, when it crept wanly in through the barred, high windows of the
great kitchen.
With the dawning light, the feeling of stupor and fear left me; and I
came more into possession of my senses.
Thereupon I picked up my book, and crept to the door to listen. Not a
sound broke the chilly silence. For some minutes I stood there; then,
very gradually and cautiously, I drew back the bolt and opening the door
peeped out.
My caution was unneeded. Nothing was to be seen, save the grey vista of
dreary, tangled bushes and trees, extending to the distant plantation.
With a shiver, I closed the door, and made my way, quietly, up to bed.
End of Chapter V
Chapter VI
It was evening, a week later. My sister sat in the garden, knitting. I
was walking up and down, reading. My gun leant up against the wall of
the house; for, since the advent of that strange thing in the gardens, I
had deemed it wise to take precautions. Yet, through the whole week,
there had been nothing to alarm me, either by sight or sound; so that I
was able to look back, calmly, to the incident; though still with a
sense of unmitigated wonder and curiosity.
I was, as I have just said, walking up and down, and somewhat engrossed
in my book. Suddenly, I heard a crash, away in the direction of the Pit.
With a quick movement, I turned and saw a tremendous column of dust
rising high into the evening air.
My sister had risen to her feet, with a sharp exclamation of surprise
and fright.
Telling her to stay where she was, I snatched up my gun, and ran toward
the Pit. As I neared it, I heard a dull, rumbling sound, that grew
quickly into a roar, split with deeper crashes, and up from the Pit
drove a fresh volume of dust.
The noise ceased, though the dust still rose, tumultuously.
I reached the edge, and looked down; but could see nothing save a boil
of dust clouds swirling hither and thither. The air was so full of the
small particles, that they blinded and choked me; and, finally, I had to
run out from the smother, to breathe.
Gradually, the suspended matter sank, and hung in a panoply over the
mouth of the Pit.
I could only guess at what had happened.
That there had been a land-slip of some kind, I had little doubt; but
the cause was beyond my knowledge; and yet, even then, I had half
imaginings; for, already, the thought had come to me, of those falling
rocks, and that Thing in the bottom of the Pit; but, in the first
minutes of confusion, I failed to reach the natural conclusion, to which
the catastrophe pointed.
Slowly, the dust subsided, until, presently, I was able to approach the
edge, and look down.
For a while, I peered impotently, trying to see through the reek. At
first, it was impossible to make out anything. Then, as I stared, I saw
something below, to my left, that moved. I looked intently toward it,
and, presently, made out another, and then another—three dim shapes
that appeared to be climbing up the side of the Pit. I could see them
only indistinctly. Even as I stared and wondered, I heard a rattle of
stones, somewhere to my right. I glanced across; but could see nothing.
I leant forward, and peered over, and down into the Pit, just beneath
where I stood; and saw no further than a hideous, white swine-face, that
had risen to within a couple of yards of my feet. Below it, I could make
out several others. As the Thing saw me, it gave a sudden, uncouth
squeal, which was answered from all parts of the Pit. At that, a gust of
horror and fear took me, and, bending down, I discharged my gun right
into its face. Straightway, the creature disappeared, with a clatter of
loose earth and stones.
There was a momentary silence, to which, probably, I owe my life; for,
during it, I heard a quick patter of many feet, and, turning sharply,
saw a troop of the creatures coming toward me, at a run. Instantly, I
raised my gun and fired at the foremost, who plunged head-long, with a
hideous howling. Then, I turned to run. More than halfway from the house
to the Pit, I saw my sister—she was coming toward me. I could not see
her face, distinctly, as the dusk had fallen; but there was fear in her
voice as she called to know why I was shooting.
'Run!' I shouted in reply. 'Run for your life!'
Without more ado, she turned and fled—picking up her skirts with both
hands. As I followed, I gave a glance behind. The brutes were running on
their hind legs—at times dropping on all fours.
I think it must have been the terror in my voice, that spurred Mary to
run so; for I feel convinced that she had not, as yet, seen those hell
creatures that pursued.
On we went, my sister leading.
Each moment, the nearing sounds of the footsteps, told me that the
brutes were gaining on us, rapidly. Fortunately, I am accustomed to
live, in some ways, an active life. As it was, the strain of the race
was beginning to tell severely upon me.
Ahead, I could see the back door—luckily it was open. I was some
half-dozen yards behind Mary, now, and my breath was sobbing in my
throat. Then, something touched my shoulder. I wrenched my head 'round,
quickly, and saw one of those monstrous, pallid faces close to mine. One
of the creatures, having outrun its companions, had almost overtaken me.
Even as I turned, it made a fresh grab. With a sudden effort, I sprang
to one side, and, swinging my gun by the barrel, brought it crashing
down upon the foul creature's head. The Thing dropped, with an almost
human groan.
Even this short delay had been nearly sufficient to bring the rest of
the brutes down upon me; so that, without an instant's waste of time, I
turned and ran for the door.
Reaching it, I burst into the passage; then, turning quickly, slammed
and bolted the door, just as the first of the creatures rushed against
it, with a sudden shock.
My sister sat, gasping, in a chair. She seemed in a fainting condition;
but I had no time then to spend on her. I had to make sure that all the
doors were fastened. Fortunately, they were. The one leading from my
study into the gardens, was the last to which I went. I had just had
time to note that it was secured, when I thought I heard a noise
outside. I stood perfectly silent, and listened. Yes! Now I could
distinctly hear a sound of whispering, and something slithered over the
panels, with a rasping, scratchy noise. Evidently, some of the brutes
were feeling with their claw-hands, about the door, to discover whether
there were any means of ingress.
That the creatures should so soon have found the door was—to me—a
proof of their reasoning capabilities. It assured me that they must not
be regarded, by any means, as mere animals. I had felt something of this
before, when that first Thing peered in through my window. Then I had
applied the term superhuman to it, with an almost instinctive knowledge
that the creature was something different from the brute-beast.
Something beyond human; yet in no good sense; but rather as something
foul and hostile to the _great_ and _good_ in humanity. In a word, as
something intelligent, and yet inhuman. The very thought of the
creatures filled me with revulsion.
Now, I bethought me of my sister, and, going to the cupboard, I got
out a flask of brandy, and a wine-glass. Taking these, I went down to
the kitchen, carrying a lighted candle with me. She was not sitting in
the chair, but had fallen out, and was lying upon the floor,
face downward.
Very gently, I turned her over, and raised her head somewhat. Then, I
poured a little of the brandy between her lips. After a while, she
shivered slightly. A little later, she gave several gasps, and opened
her eyes. In a dreamy, unrealizing way, she looked at me. Then her eyes
closed, slowly, and I gave her a little more of the brandy. For, perhaps
a minute longer, she lay silent, breathing quickly. All at once, her
eyes opened again, and it seemed to me, as I looked, that the pupils
were dilated, as though fear had come with returning consciousness.
Then, with a movement so unexpected that I started backward, she sat up.
Noticing that she seemed giddy, I put out my hand to steady her. At
that, she gave a loud scream, and, scrambling to her feet, ran from
the room.
For a moment, I stayed there—kneeling and holding the brandy flask. I
was utterly puzzled and astonished.
Could she be afraid of me? But no! Why should she? I could only
conclude that her nerves were badly shaken, and that she was temporarily
unhinged. Upstairs, I heard a door bang, loudly, and I knew that she had
taken refuge in her room. I put the flask down on the table. My
attention was distracted by a noise in the direction of the back door. I
went toward it, and listened. It appeared to be shaken, as though some
of the creatures struggled with it, silently; but it was far too
strongly constructed and hung to be easily moved.
Out in the gardens rose a continuous sound. It might have been
mistaken, by a casual listener, for the grunting and squealing of a herd
of pigs. But, as I stood there, it came to me that there was sense and
meaning to all those swinish noises. Gradually, I seemed able to trace
a semblance in it to human speech—glutinous and sticky, as though each
articulation were made with difficulty: yet, nevertheless, I was
becoming convinced that it was no mere medley of sounds; but a rapid
interchange of ideas.
By this time, it had grown quite dark in the passages, and from these
came all the varied cries and groans of which an old house is so full
after nightfall. It is, no doubt, because things are then quieter, and
one has more leisure to hear. Also, there may be something in the theory
that the sudden change of temperature, at sundown, affects the structure
of the house, somewhat—causing it to contract and settle, as it were,
for the night. However, this is as may be; but, on that night in
particular, I would gladly have been quit of so many eerie noises. It
seemed to me, that each crack and creak was the coming of one of those
Things along the dark corridors; though I knew in my heart that this
could not be, for I had seen, myself, that all the doors were secure.
Gradually, however, these sounds grew on my nerves to such an extent
that, were it only to punish my cowardice, I felt I must make the 'round
of the basement again, and, if anything were there, face it. And then, I
would go up to my study, for I knew sleep was out of the question, with
the house surrounded by creatures, half beasts, half something else, and
entirely unholy.
Taking the kitchen lamp down from its hook, I made my way from cellar
to cellar, and room to room; through pantry and coal-hole—along
passages, and into the hundred-and-one little blind alleys and hidden
nooks that form the basement of the old house. Then, when I knew I had
been in every corner and cranny large enough to conceal aught of any
size, I made my way to the stairs.
With my foot on the first step, I paused. It seemed to me, I heard a
movement, apparently from the buttery, which is to the left of the
staircase. It had been one of the first places I searched, and yet, I
felt certain my ears had not deceived me. My nerves were strung now,
and, with hardly any hesitation, I stepped up to the door, holding the
lamp above my head. In a glance, I saw that the place was empty, save
for the heavy, stone slabs, supported by brick pillars; and I was about
to leave it, convinced that I had been mistaken; when, in turning, my
light was flashed back from two bright spots outside the window, and
high up. For a few moments, I stood there, staring. Then they
moved—revolving slowly, and throwing out alternate scintillations of
green and red; at least, so it appeared to me. I knew then that they
were eyes.
Slowly, I traced the shadowy outline of one of the Things. It appeared
to be holding on to the bars of the window, and its attitude suggested
climbing. I went nearer to the window, and held the light higher. There
was no need to be afraid of the creature; the bars were strong, and
there was little danger of its being able to move them. And then,
suddenly, in spite of the knowledge that the brute could not reach to
harm me, I had a return of the horrible sensation of fear, that had
assailed me on that night, a week previously. It was the same feeling of
helpless, shuddering fright. I realized, dimly, that the creature's eyes
were looking into mine with a steady, compelling stare. I tried to turn
away; but could not. I seemed, now, to see the window through a mist.
Then, I thought other eyes came and peered, and yet others; until a
whole galaxy of malignant, staring orbs seemed to hold me in thrall.
My head began to swim, and throb violently. Then, I was aware of a
feeling of acute physical pain in my left hand. It grew more severe, and
forced, literally forced, my attention. With a tremendous effort, I
glanced down; and, with that, the spell that had held me was broken. I
realized, then, that I had, in my agitation, unconsciously caught hold
of the hot lamp-glass, and burnt my hand, badly. I looked up to the
window, again. The misty appearance had gone, and, now, I saw that it
was crowded with dozens of bestial faces. With a sudden access of rage,
I raised the lamp, and hurled it, full at the window. It struck the
glass (smashing a pane), and passed between two of the bars, out into
the garden, scattering burning oil as it went. I heard several loud
cries of pain, and, as my sight became accustomed to the dark, I
discovered that the creatures had left the window.
Pulling myself together, I groped for the door, and, having found it,
made my way upstairs, stumbling at each step. I felt dazed, as though I
had received a blow on the head. At the same time, my hand smarted
badly, and I was full of a nervous, dull rage against those Things.
Reaching my study, I lit the candles. As they burnt up, their rays were
reflected from the rack of firearms on the sidewall. At the sight, I
remembered that I had there a power, which, as I had proved earlier,
seemed as fatal to those monsters as to more ordinary animals; and I
determined I would take the offensive.
First of all, I bound up my hand; for the pain was fast becoming
intolerable. After that, it seemed easier, and I crossed the room, to
the rifle stand. There, I selected a heavy rifle—an old and tried
weapon; and, having procured ammunition, I made my way up into one of
the small towers, with which the house is crowned.
From there, I found that I could see nothing. The gardens presented a
dim blur of shadows—a little blacker, perhaps, where the trees stood.
That was all, and I knew that it was useless to shoot down into all that
darkness. The only thing to be done, was to wait for the moon to rise;
then, I might be able to do a little execution.
In the meantime, I sat still, and kept my ears open. The gardens were
comparatively quiet now, and only an occasional grunt or squeal came up
to me. I did not like this silence; it made me wonder on what devilry
the creatures were bent. Twice, I left the tower, and took a walk
through the house; but everything was silent.
Once, I heard a noise, from the direction of the Pit, as though more
earth had fallen. Following this, and lasting for some fifteen minutes,
there was a commotion among the denizens of the gardens. This died away,
and, after that all was again quiet.
About an hour later, the moon's light showed above the distant horizon.
From where I sat, I could see it over the trees; but it was not until it
rose clear of them, that I could make out any of the details in the
gardens below. Even then, I could see none of the brutes; until,
happening to crane forward, I saw several of them lying prone, up
against the wall of the house. What they were doing, I could not make
out. It was, however, a chance too good to be ignored; and, taking aim,
I fired at the one directly beneath. There was a shrill scream, and, as
the smoke cleared away, I saw that it had turned on its back, and was
writhing, feebly. Then, it was quiet. The others had disappeared.
Immediately after this, I heard a loud squeal, in the direction of the
Pit. It was answered, a hundred times, from every part of the garden.
This gave me some notion of the number of the creatures, and I began to
feel that the whole affair was becoming even more serious than I
had imagined.
As I sat there, silent and watchful, the thought came to me—Why was
all this? What were these Things? What did it mean? Then my thoughts
flew back to that vision (though, even now, I doubt whether it was a
vision) of the Plain of Silence. What did that mean? I wondered—And
that Thing in the arena? Ugh! Lastly, I thought of the house I had seen
in that far-away place. That house, so like this in every detail of
external structure, that it might have been modeled from it; or this
from that. I had never thought of that—
At this moment, there came another long squeal, from the Pit, followed,
a second later, by a couple of shorter ones. At once, the garden was
filled with answering cries. I stood up, quickly, and looked over the
parapet. In the moonlight, it seemed as though the shrubberies were
alive. They tossed hither and thither, as though shaken by a strong,
irregular wind; while a continuous rustling, and a noise of scampering
feet, rose up to me. Several times, I saw the moonlight gleam on
running, white figures among the bushes, and, twice, I fired. The second
time, my shot was answered by a short squeal of pain.
A minute later, the gardens lay silent. From the Pit, came a deep,
hoarse Babel of swine-talk. At times, angry cries smote the air, and
they would be answered by multitudinous gruntings. It occurred to me,
that they were holding some kind of a council, perhaps to discuss the
problem of entering the house. Also, I thought that they seemed much
enraged, probably by my successful shots.
It occurred to me, that now would be a good time to make a final survey
of our defenses. This, I proceeded to do at once; visiting the whole of
the basement again, and examining each of the doors. Luckily, they are
all, like the back one, built of solid, iron-studded oak. Then, I went
upstairs to the study. I was more anxious about this door. It is,
palpably, of a more modern make than the others, and, though a stout
piece of work, it has little of their ponderous strength.
I must explain here, that there is a small, raised lawn on this side of
the house, upon which this door opens—the windows of the study being
barred on this account. All the other entrances—excepting the great
gateway which is never opened—are in the lower storey.
End of Chapter VI
Chapter VII
I spent some time, puzzling how to strengthen the study door. Finally,
I went down to the kitchen, and with some trouble, brought up several
heavy pieces of timber. These, I wedged up, slantwise, against it, from
the floor, nailing them top and bottom. For half-an-hour, I worked hard,
and, at last, got it shored to my mind.
Then, feeling easier, I resumed my coat, which I had laid aside, and
proceeded to attend to one or two matters before returning to the tower.
It was whilst thus employed, that I heard a fumbling at the door, and
the latch was tried. Keeping silence, I waited. Soon, I heard several of
the creatures outside. They were grunting to one another, softly. Then,
for a minute, there was quietness. Suddenly, there sounded a quick, low
grunt, and the door creaked under a tremendous pressure. It would have
burst inward; but for the supports I had placed. The strain ceased, as
quickly as it had begun, and there was more talk.
Presently, one of the Things squealed, softly, and I heard the sound
of others approaching. There was a short confabulation; then again,
silence; and I realized that they had called several more to assist.
Feeling that now was the supreme moment, I stood ready, with my rifle
presented. If the door gave, I would, at least, slay as many
as possible.
Again came the low signal; and, once more, the door cracked, under a
huge force. For, a minute perhaps, the pressure was kept up; and I
waited, nervously; expecting each moment to see the door come down with
a crash. But no; the struts held, and the attempt proved abortive. Then
followed more of their horrible, grunting talk, and, whilst it lasted, I
thought I distinguished the noise of fresh arrivals.
After a long discussion, during which the door was several times
shaken, they became quiet once more, and I knew that they were going to
make a third attempt to break it down. I was almost in despair. The
props had been severely tried in the two previous attacks, and I was
sorely afraid that this would prove too much for them.
At that moment, like an inspiration, a thought flashed into my troubled
brain. Instantly, for it was no time to hesitate, I ran from the room,
and up stair after stair. This time, it was not to one of the towers,
that I went; but out on to the flat, leaded roof itself. Once there, I
raced across to the parapet, that walls it 'round, and looked down. As I
did so, I heard the short, grunted signal, and, even up there, caught
the crying of the door under the assault.
There was not a moment to lose, and, leaning over, I aimed, quickly,
and fired. The report rang sharply, and, almost blending with it, came
the loud splud of the bullet striking its mark. From below, rose a
shrill wail; and the door ceased its groaning. Then, as I took my weight
from off the parapet, a huge piece of the stone coping slid from under
me, and fell with a crash among the disorganized throng beneath.
Several horrible shrieks quavered through the night air, and then I
heard a sound of scampering feet. Cautiously, I looked over. In the
moonlight, I could see the great copingstone, lying right across the
threshold of the door. I thought I saw something under it—several
things, white; but I could not be sure.
And so a few minutes passed.
As I stared, I saw something come 'round, out of the shadow of the
house. It was one of the Things. It went up to the stone, silently, and
bent down. I was unable to see what it did. In a minute it stood up. It
had something in its talons, which it put to its mouth and tore at....
For the moment, I did not realize. Then, slowly, I comprehended. The
Thing was stooping again. It was horrible. I started to load my rifle.
When I looked again, the monster was tugging at the stone—moving it to
one side. I leant the rifle on the coping, and pulled the trigger. The
brute collapsed, on its face, and kicked, slightly.
Simultaneously, almost, with the report, I heard another sound—that of
breaking glass. Waiting, only to recharge my weapon, I ran from the
roof, and down the first two flights of stairs.
Here, I paused to listen. As I did so, there came another tinkle of
falling glass. It appeared to come from the floor below. Excitedly, I
sprang down the steps, and, guided by the rattle of the window-sash,
reached the door of one of the empty bedrooms, at the back of the house.
I thrust it open. The room was but dimly illuminated by the moonlight;
most of the light being blotted out by moving figures at the window.
Even as I stood, one crawled through, into the room. Leveling my weapon,
I fired point-blank at it—filling the room with a deafening bang. When
the smoke cleared, I saw that the room was empty, and the window free.
The room was much lighter. The night air blew in, coldly, through the
shattered panes. Down below, in the night, I could hear a soft moaning,
and a confused murmur of swine-voices.
Stepping to one side of the window, I reloaded, and then stood there,
waiting. Presently, I heard a scuffling noise. From where I stood in the
shadow, I could see, without being seen.
Nearer came the sounds, and then I saw something come up above the
sill, and clutch at the broken window-frame. It caught a piece of the
woodwork; and, now, I could make out that it was a hand and arm. A
moment later, the face of one of the Swine-creatures rose into view.
Then, before I could use my rifle, or do anything, there came a sharp
crack—cr-ac-k; and the window-frame gave way under the weight of the
Thing. Next instant, a squashing thud, and a loud outcry, told me that
it had fallen to the ground. With a savage hope that it had been killed,
I went to the window. The moon had gone behind a cloud, so that I could
see nothing; though a steady hum of jabbering, just beneath where I
stood, indicated that there were several more of the brutes close
at hand.
As I stood there, looking down, I marveled how it had been possible for
the creatures to climb so far; for the wall is comparatively smooth,
while the distance to the ground must be, at least, eighty feet.
All at once, as I bent, peering, I saw something, indistinctly, that
cut the grey shadow of the house-side, with a black line. It passed the
window, to the left, at a distance of about two feet. Then, I remembered
that it was a gutter-pipe, that had been put there some years ago, to
carry off the rainwater. I had forgotten about it. I could see, now, how
the creatures had managed to reach the window. Even as the solution came
to me, I heard a faint slithering, scratching noise, and knew that
another of the brutes was coming. I waited some odd moments; then leant
out of the window and felt the pipe. To my delight, I found that it was
quite loose, and I managed, using the rifle-barrel as a crowbar, to
lever it out from the wall. I worked quickly. Then, taking hold with
both bands, I wrenched the whole concern away, and hurled it down—with
the Thing still clinging to it—into the garden.
For a few minutes longer, I waited there, listening; but, after the
first general outcry, I heard nothing. I knew, now, that there was no
more reason to fear an attack from this quarter. I had removed the only
means of reaching the window, and, as none of the other windows had any
adjacent water pipes, to tempt the climbing powers of the monsters, I
began to feel more confident of escaping their clutches.
Leaving the room, I made my way down to the study. I was anxious to see
how the door had withstood the test of that last assault. Entering, I
lit two of the candles, and then turned to the door. One of the large
props had been displaced, and, on that side, the door had been forced
inward some six inches.
It was Providential that I had managed to drive the brutes away just
when I did! And that copingstone! I wondered, vaguely, how I had managed
to dislodge it. I had not noticed it loose, as I took my shot; and then,
as I stood up, it had slipped away from beneath me ... I felt that I
owed the dismissal of the attacking force, more to its timely fall than
to my rifle. Then the thought came, that I had better seize this chance
to shore up the door, again. It was evident that the creatures had not
returned since the fall of the copingstone; but who was to say how long
they would keep away?
There and then, I set-to, at repairing the door—working hard and
anxiously. First, I went down to the basement, and, rummaging 'round,
found several pieces of heavy oak planking. With these, I returned to
the study, and, having removed the props, placed the planks up against
the door. Then, I nailed the heads of the struts to these, and, driving
them well home at the bottoms, nailed them again there.
Thus, I made the door stronger than ever; for now it was solid with the
backing of boards, and would, I felt convinced, stand a heavier pressure
than hitherto, without giving way.
After that, I lit the lamp which I had brought from the kitchen, and
went down to have a look at the lower windows.
Now that I had seen an instance of the strength the creatures
possessed, I felt considerable anxiety about the windows on the ground
floor—in spite of the fact that they were so strongly barred.
I went first to the buttery, having a vivid remembrance of my late
adventure there. The place was chilly, and the wind, soughing in through
the broken glass, produced an eerie note. Apart from the general air of
dismalness, the place was as I had left it the night before. Going up to
the window, I examined the bars, closely; noting, as I did so, their
comfortable thickness. Still, as I looked more intently, it seemed to
me, that the middle bar was bent slightly from the straight; yet it was
but trifling, and it might have been so for years. I had never, before,
noticed them particularly.
I put my hand through the broken window, and shook the bar. It was as
firm as a rock. Perhaps the creatures had tried to 'start' it, and,
finding it beyond their power, ceased from the effort. After that, I
went 'round to each of the windows, in turn; examining them with careful
attention; but nowhere else could I trace anything to show that there
had been any tampering. Having finished my survey, I went back to the
study, and poured myself out a little brandy. Then to the tower
to watch.
End of Chapter VII Chapter VIII
It was now about three a.m., and, presently, the Eastern sky began to
pale with the coming of dawn. Gradually, the day came, and, by its
light, I scanned the gardens, earnestly; but nowhere could I see any
signs of the brutes. I leant over, and glanced down to the foot of the
wall, to see whether the body of the Thing I had shot the night before
was still there. It was gone. I supposed that others of the monsters had
removed it during the night.
Then, I went down on to the roof, and crossed over to the gap from
which the coping stone had fallen. Reaching it, I looked over. Yes,
there was the stone, as I had seen it last; but there was no appearance
of anything beneath it; nor could I see the creatures I had killed,
after its fall. Evidently, they also had been taken away. I turned, and
went down to my study. There, I sat down, wearily. I was thoroughly
tired. It was quite light now; though the sun's rays were not, as yet,
perceptibly hot. A clock chimed the hour of four.
I awoke, with a start, and looked 'round, hurriedly. The clock in the
corner, indicated that it was three o'clock. It was already afternoon. I
must have slept for nearly eleven hours.
With a jerky movement, I sat forward in the chair, and listened. The
house was perfectly silent. Slowly, I stood up, and yawned. I felt
desperately tired, still, and sat down again; wondering what it was that
had waked me.
It must have been the clock striking, I concluded, presently; and was
commencing to doze off, when a sudden noise brought me back, once more,
to life. It was the sound of a step, as of a person moving cautiously
down the corridor, toward my study. In an instant, I was on my feet, and
grasping my rifle. Noiselessly, I waited. Had the creatures broken in,
whilst I slept? Even as I questioned, the steps reached my door, halted
momentarily, and then continued down the passage. Silently, I tiptoed to
the doorway, and peeped out. Then, I experienced such a feeling of
relief, as must a reprieved criminal—it was my sister. She was going
toward the stairs.
I stepped into the hall, and was about to call to her, when it occurred
to me, that it was very queer she should have crept past my door, in
that stealthy manner. I was puzzled, and, for one brief moment, the
thought occupied my mind, that it was not she, but some fresh mystery of
the house. Then, as I caught a glimpse of her old petticoat, the thought
passed as quickly as it had come, and I half laughed. There could be no
mistaking that ancient garment. Yet, I wondered what she was doing; and,
remembering her condition of mind, on the previous day, I felt that it
might be best to follow, quietly—taking care not to alarm her—and see
what she was going to do. If she behaved rationally, well and good; if
not, I should have to take steps to restrain her. I could run no
unnecessary risks, under the danger that threatened us.
Quickly, I reached the head of the stairs, and paused a moment. Then,
I heard a sound that sent me leaping down, at a mad rate—it was the
rattle of bolts being unshot. That foolish sister of mine was actually
unbarring the back door.
Just as her hand was on the last bolt, I reached her. She had not seen
me, and, the first thing she knew, I had hold of her arm. She glanced up
quickly, like a frightened animal, and screamed aloud.
'Come, Mary!' I said, sternly, 'what's the meaning of this nonsense? Do
you mean to tell me you don't understand the danger, that you try to
throw our two lives away in this fashion!'
To this, she replied nothing; only trembled, violently, gasping and
sobbing, as though in the last extremity of fear.
Through some minutes, I reasoned with her; pointing out the need for
caution, and asking her to be brave. There was little to be afraid of
now, I explained—and, I tried to believe that I spoke the truth—but
she must be sensible, and not attempt to leave the house for a few days.
At last, I ceased, in despair. It was no use talking to her; she was,
obviously, not quite herself for the time being. Finally, I told her she
had better go to her room, if she could not behave rationally.
Still, she took not any notice. So, without more ado, I picked her up
in my arms, and carried her there. At first, she screamed, wildly; but
had relapsed into silent trembling, by the time I reached the stairs.
Arriving at her room, I laid her upon the bed. She lay there quietly
enough, neither speaking nor sobbing—just shaking in a very ague of
fear. I took a rug from a chair near by, and spread it over her. I could
do nothing more for her, and so, crossed to where Pepper lay in a big
basket. My sister had taken charge of him since his wound, to nurse him,
for it had proved more severe than I had thought, and I was pleased to
note that, in spite of her state of mind, she had looked after the old
dog, carefully. Stooping, I spoke to him, and, in reply, he licked my
hand, feebly. He was too ill to do more.
Then, going to the bed, I bent over my sister, and asked her how she
felt; but she only shook the more, and, much as it pained me, I had to
admit that my presence seemed to make her worse.
And so, I left her—locking the door, and pocketing the key. It seemed
to be the only course to take.
The rest of the day, I spent between the tower and my study. For food,
I brought up a loaf from the pantry, and on this, and some claret, I
lived for that day.
What a long, weary day it was. If only I could have gone out into the
gardens, as is my wont, I should have been content enough; but to be
cooped in this silent house, with no companion, save a mad woman and a
sick dog, was enough to prey upon the nerves of the hardiest. And out in
the tangled shrubberies that surrounded the house, lurked—for all I
could tell—those infernal Swine-creatures waiting their chance. Was
ever a man in such straits?
Once, in the afternoon, and again, later, I went to visit my sister.
The second time, I found her tending Pepper; but, at my approach, she
slid over, unobtrusively, to the far corner, with a gesture that
saddened me beyond belief. Poor girl! her fear cut me intolerably, and I
would not intrude on her, unnecessarily. She would be better, I trusted,
in a few days; meanwhile, I could do nothing; and I judged it still
needful—hard as it seemed—to keep her confined to her room. One thing
there was that I took for encouragement: she had eaten some of the food
I had taken to her, on my first visit.
And so the day passed.
As the evening drew on, the air grew chilly, and I began to make
preparations for passing a second night in the tower—taking up two
additional rifles, and a heavy ulster. The rifles I loaded, and laid
alongside my other; as I intended to make things warm for any of the
creatures who might show, during the night. I had plenty of ammunition,
and I thought to give the brutes such a lesson, as should show them the
uselessness of attempting to force an entrance.
After that, I made the 'round of the house again; paying particular
attention to the props that supported the study door. Then, feeling that
I had done all that lay in my power to insure our safety, I returned to
the tower; calling in on my sister and Pepper, for a final visit, on the
way. Pepper was asleep; but woke, as I entered, and wagged his tail, in
recognition. I thought he seemed slightly better. My sister was lying on
the bed; though whether asleep or not, I was unable to tell; and thus I
left them.
Reaching the tower, I made myself as comfortable as circumstances would
permit, and settled down to watch through the night. Gradually, darkness
fell, and soon the details of the gardens were merged into shadows.
During the first few hours, I sat, alert, listening for any sound that
might help to tell me if anything were stirring down below. It was far
too dark for my eyes to be of much use.
Slowly, the hours passed; without anything unusual happening. And the
moon rose, showing the gardens, apparently empty, and silent. And so,
through the night, without disturbance or sound.
Toward morning, I began to grow stiff and cold, with my long vigil;
also, I was getting very uneasy, concerning the continued quietness on
the part of the creatures. I mistrusted it, and would sooner, far, have
had them attack the house, openly. Then, at least, I should have known
my danger, and been able to meet it; but to wait like this, through a
whole night, picturing all kinds of unknown devilment, was to jeopardize
one's sanity. Once or twice, the thought came to me, that, perhaps, they
had gone; but, in my heart, I found it impossible to believe that it
was so. End of Chapter VIII