The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written: volume 3 (30 short stories)
398 pages
English

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The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written: volume 3 (30 short stories)

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus
398 pages
English

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Description

If you were looking for the Holy Bible of the horror anthologies, consider yourself lucky, because you just found it!
Cosmic horror, supernatural events, ghost stories, weird fiction, mystical fantasies, occult narratives, this book plunges you into dark domains and brings you face to face with surreal monstrosities.
This third volume of “The Greatest Ghost and Horror Stories Ever Written” features 30 stories by an all-star cast, including Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Robert W. Chambers, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, W. F. Harvey, Sheridan Le Fanu, E. T. A. Hoffmann, O. Henry, Edith Nesbit, Charles Dickens, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and A. M. Burrage, among many others!

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Publié par
Date de parution 05 décembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 19
EAN13 9789897784330
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0002€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

THE GREATEST GHOST AND HORROR STORIES EVER WRITTEN
||| volume 3 |||
 
2017 © Dark Chaos
 
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission of the publisher.
 
Table of Contents
 
 
 
August Heat
The Cask of Amontillado
The Coach
Count Magnus
The Dead Woman
The Dreams in the Witch House
The Entail
The Familiar
Fishhead
The Furnished Room
A Ghost Story
The Haunted Chair
The Kit-Bag
Lot No. 249
Luella Miller
The Man-Wolf
The Marble Hands
Master of Fallen Years
The Moonlit Road
Negotium Perambulans
The Open Window
Scoured Silk
The Shadow in the Corner
The Shadow
The Signal-Man
Smee
The Story of Ming-Y
The Thing from — ‘Outside’
The Undying Thing
The Yellow Sign
 
August Heat
by W. F. Harvey
 
 
 
Phenistone Road, Clapham.
August 20th, 190—.
 
I have had what I believe to be the most remarkable day in my life, and while the events are still fresh in my mind, I wish to put them down on paper as clearly as possible.
Let me say at the outset that my name is James Clarence Withencroft.
I am forty years old, in perfect health, never having known a day’s illness.
By profession I am an artist, not a very successful one, but I earn enough money by my black-and — white work to satisfy my necessary wants.
My only near relative, a sister, died five years ago, so that I am independent. I breakfasted this morning at nine, and after glancing through the morning paper I lighted my pipe and proceeded to let my mind wander in the hope that I might chance upon some subject for my pencil.
The room, though door and windows were open, was oppressively hot, and I had just made up my mind that the coolest and most comfortable place in the neighborhood would be the deep end of the public swimming bath, when the idea came.
I began to draw. So intent was I on my work that I left my lunch untouched, only stopping work when the clock of St. Jude’s struck four.
The final result, for a hurried sketch, was, I felt sure, the best thing I had done. It showed a criminal in the dock immediately after the judge had pronounced sentence. The man was fat —— enormously fat. The flesh hung in rolls about his chin; it creased his huge, stumpy neck. He was clean shaven (perhaps I should say a few days before he must have been clean shaven) and almost bald. He stood in the dock, his short, clumsy fingers clasping the rail, looking straight in front of him. The feeling that his expression conveyed was not so much one of horror as of utter, absolute collapse.
There seemed nothing in the man strong enough to sustain that mountain of flesh.
I rolled up the sketch, and without quite knowing why, placed it in my pocket. Then with the rare sense of happiness which the knowledge of a good thing well done gives, I left the house.
I believe that I set out with the idea of calling upon Trenton, for I remember walking along Lytton Street and turning to the right along Gilchrist Road at the bottom of the hill where the men were at work on the new tram lines.
From there onwards I have only the vaguest recollection of where I went. The one thing of which I was fully conscious was the awful heat, that came up from the dusty asphalt pavement as an almost palpable wave. I longed for the thunder promised by the great banks of copper-coloured cloud that hung low over the western sky.
I must have walked five or six miles, when a small boy roused me from my reverie by asking the time.
It was twenty minutes to seven.
When he left me I began to take stock of my bearings. I found myself standing before a gate that led into a yard bordered by a strip of thirsty earth, where there were flowers, purple stock and scarlet geranium. Above the entrance was a board with the inscription —
 
CHS. ATKINSON. MONUMENTAL MASON.
WORKER IN ENGLISH AND ITALIAN MARBLES
 
From the yard itself came a cheery whistle, the noise of hammer blows, and the cold sound of steel meeting stone.
A sudden impulse made me enter.
A man was sitting with his back towards me, busy at work on a slab of curiously veined marble. He turned round as he heard my steps and I stopped short.
It was the man I had been drawing, whose portrait lay in my pocket.
He sat there, huge and elephantine, the sweat pouring from his scalp, which he wiped with a red silk handkerchief. But though the face was the same, the expression was absolutely different.
He greeted me smiling, as if we were old friends, and shook my hand.
I apologized for my intrusion.
“Everything is hot and glary outside,” I said. “This seems an oasis in the wilderness.”
“I don’t know about the oasis,” he replied, “but it certainly is hot, as hot as hell. Take a seat, sir!”
He pointed to the end of the gravestone on which he was at work, and I sat down.
“That’s a beautiful piece of stone you’ve got hold of,” I said.
He shook his head. “In a way it is,” he answered; “the surface here is as fine as anything you could wish, but there’s a big flaw at the back, though I don’t expect you’d ever notice it. I could never make really a good job of a bit of marble like that. It would be all right in the summer like this; it wouldn’t mind the blasted heat. But wait till the winter comes. There’s nothing quite like frost to find out the weak points in stone.”
“Then what’s it for?” I asked.
The man burst out laughing.
“You’d hardly believe me if I was to tell you it’s for an exhibition, but it’s the truth. Artists have exhibitions: so do grocers and butchers; we have them too. All the latest little things in headstones, you know.”
He went on to talk of marbles, which sort best withstood wind and rain, and which were easiest to work; then of his garden and a new sort of carnation he had bought. At the end of every other minute he would drop his tools, wipe his shining head, and curse the heat.
I said little, for I felt uneasy. There was something unnatural, uncanny, in meeting this man.
I tried at first to persuade myself that I had seen him before, that his face, unknown to me, had found a place in some out-of-the-way corner of my memory, but I knew that I was practicing little more than a plausible piece of self-deception.
Mr. Atkinson finished his work, spat on the ground, and got up with a sigh of relief.
“There! what do you think of that?” he said, with an air of evident pride. The inscription which I read for the first time was this —
 
SACRED TO THE MEMORY
OF
JAMES CLARENCE WITHENCROFT.
BORN JAN. 18TH, 1860.
HE PASSED AWAY VERY SUDDENLY
ON AUGUST 20TH, 190—
“In the midst of life we are in death.”
 
For some time I sat in silence. Then a cold shudder ran down my spine. I asked him where he had seen the name.
“Oh, I didn’t see it anywhere,” replied Mr. Atkinson. “I wanted some name, and I put down the first that came into my head. Why do you want to know?”
“It’s a strange coincidence, but it happens to be mine.” He gave a long, low whistle.
“And the dates?”
“I can only answer for one of them, and that’s correct.”
“It’s a rum go!” he said.
But he knew less than I did. I told him of my morning’s work. I took the sketch from my pocket and showed it to him. As he looked, the expression of his face altered until it became more and more like that of the man I had drawn.
“And it was only the day before yesterday,” he said, “that I told Maria there were no such things as ghosts!”
Neither of us had seen a ghost, but I knew what he meant.
“You probably heard my name,” I said.
“And you must have seen me somewhere and have forgotten it! Were you at Clacton-on-Sea last July?”
I had never been to Clacton in my life. We were silent for some time. We were both looking at the same thing, the two dates on the gravestone, and one was right.
“Come inside and have some supper,” said Mr. Atkinson.
His wife was a cheerful little woman, with the flaky red cheeks of the country-bred. Her husband introduced me as a friend of his who was an artist. The result was unfortunate, for after the sardines and watercress had been removed, she brought out a Doré Bible, and I had to sit and express my admiration for nearly half an hour.
I went outside, and found Atkinson sitting on the gravestone smoking.
We resumed the conversation at the point we had left off. “You must excuse my asking,” I said, “but do you know of anything you’ve done for which you could be put on trial?”
He shook his head. “I’m not a bankrupt, the business is prosperous enough. Three years ago I gave turkeys to some of the guardians at Christmas, but that’s all I can think of. And they were small ones, too,” he added as an afterthought.
He got up, fetched a can from the porch, and began to water the flowers. “Twice a day regular in the hot weather,” he said, “and then the heat sometimes gets the better of the delicate ones. And ferns, good Lord! they could never stand it. Where do you live?”
I told him my address. It would take an hour’s quick walk to get back home.
“It’s like this,” he said. “We’ll look at the matter straight. If you go back home to-night, you take your chance of accidents. A cart may run over you, and there’s always banana skins and orange peel, to say nothing of fallen ladders.”
He spoke of the improbable with an intense seriousness that would have been laughable six hours before. But I did not laugh.
“The best thing we can do,” he continued, “is for you to stay here till twelve o’clock. We’ll go upstairs and smoke, it may be cooler inside.”
To my surprise I agreed.
 
***
 
We are sitting now in a long, low room beneath the eaves. Atkinson has sent his wife to bed. He himself is busy sharpening some tools at a little oilstone, smoking one of my cigars the while.
The air seems charged with thunder. I am writing this at a shaky table before the open window.
The leg is cracked, and Atkinson, who seems a handy man with his tools, is going to mend it as soon as he has finished putting an edge on his chisel.
It is after eleven now. I shall be gone in less than an hour.
But the heat is stifling.
It is enough to send a man mad.
 
The Cask of Amontillado
by Edgar Allan Poe
 
 
 
The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled — but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my in to smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my to smile now was at the thought of his immolation.
He had a weak point — this Fortunato — although in other regards he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit. For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and opportunity, to practice imposture upon the British and Austrian millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen, was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this respect I did not differ from him materially; — I was skillful in the Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.
It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
I said to him — “My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts.”
“How?” said he. “Amontillado, A pipe? Impossible! And in the middle of the carnival!”
“I have my doubts,” I replied; “and I was silly enough to pay the full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain.”
“Amontillado!”
“I have my doubts.”
“Amontillado!”
“And I must satisfy them.”
“Amontillado!”
“As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a critical turn it is he. He will tell me —”
“Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry.”
“And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for your own.
“Come, let us go.”
“Whither?”
“To your vaults.”
“My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I perceive you have an engagement. Luchresi —”
“I have no engagement; — come.”
“My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably damp. They are encrusted with nitre.”
“Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado! You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish Sherry from Amontillado.”
Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person, I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.
There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.
I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.
The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap jingled as he strode.
“The pipe,” he said.
“It is farther on,” said I; “but observe the white web-work which gleams from these cavern walls.”
He turned towards me, and looked into my eves with two filmy orbs that distilled the rheum of intoxication.
“Nitre?” he asked, at length.
“Nitre,” I replied. “How long have you had that cough?”
“Ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh! — ugh! ugh! ugh!”
My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
“It is nothing,” he said, at last.
“Come,” I said, with decision, “we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides, there is Luchresi —”
“Enough,” he said; “the cough’s a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”
“True — true,” I replied; “and, indeed, I had no intention of alarming you unnecessarily — but you should use all proper caution. A draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps.
Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row of its fellows that lay upon the mold.
“Drink,” I said, presenting him the wine.
He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me familiarly, while his bells jingled.
“I drink,” he said, “to the buried that repose around us.”
“And I to your long life.”
He again took my arm, and we proceeded.
“These vaults,” he said, “are extensive.”
“The Montresors,” I replied, “were a great and numerous family.”
“I forget your arms.”
“A huge human foot d’or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel.”
“And the motto?”
“ Nemo me impune lacessit .”
“Good!” he said.
The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew warm with the Medoc. We had passed through long walls of piled skeletons, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.
“The nitre!” I said; “see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the vaults. We are below the river’s bed. The drops of moisture trickle among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your cough —”
“It is nothing,” he said; “let us go on. But first, another draught of the Medoc.”
I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.
I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement — a grotesque one.
“You do not comprehend?” he said.
“Not I,” I replied.
“Then you are not of the brotherhood.”
“How?”
“You are not of the masons.”
“Yes, yes,” I said; “yes, yes.”
“You? Impossible! A mason?”
“A mason,” I replied.
“A sign,” he said, “a sign.”
“It is this,” I answered, producing from beneath the folds of my roquelaire a trowel.
“You jest,” he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. “But let us proceed to the Amontillado.”
“Be it so,” I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak and again offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches, descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt, in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow than flame.
At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a still interior crypt or recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.
It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did not enable us to see.
“Proceed,” I said; “herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchresi —”
“He is an ignoramus,” interrupted my friend, as he stepped unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In niche, and finding an instant he had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.
“Pass your hand,” I said, “over the wall; you cannot help feeling the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all the little attentions in my power.”
“The Amontillado!” ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.
“True,” I replied; “the Amontillado.”
As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.
I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.
A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a brief moment I hesitated, I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs, and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall; I replied to the yells of him who clamored. I re-echoed, I aided, I surpassed them in volume and in strength. I did this, and the clamorer grew still.
It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had completed the eighth, the ninth and the tenth tier. I had finished a portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said —
“Ha! ha! ha! — he! he! he! — a very good joke, indeed — an excellent jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo — he! he! he! — over our wine — he! he! he!”
“The Amontillado!” I said.
“He! he! he! — he! he! he! — yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone.”
“Yes,” I said, “let us be gone.”
“For the love of God, Montresor!”
“Yes,” I said, “for the love of God!”
But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud —
“Fortunato!”
No answer. I called again —
“Fortunato!”
No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat !
 
The Coach
by Violet Hunt
 
 
 
It was a lonely part of the country, far north, where the summer nights are pale and light and scant of shade. This summer night there was no moon, and yet it was not dark. For hours the flat, deprecating earth had lain prone under a storm of wind and rain. Its patient surface was drenched, blanched, smitten into blindness. The tumbled waters of the Firth splashed on the edges of the plain, their wild commotion dwarfed by the noise of the wind-driven showers, whose gloomy drops tapped the waters into sullen acquiescence. Half a mile inland the road to the north was laid. Clear and straight it ran, with never a house or homestead to break it, viscous with clay here, shining with quartz there, uncompromising, exact, like the lists of old, dressed for a tourney. Its sides were bare, scantily garnished with grass. This was nearly a edgeless country. In places the undeviating line of it passed through a little coppice or clump of gnarled, ill-conditioned, nameless trees. They seemed to lean forward vindictively on either side, snapping their horny fingers at each other, waving their cantankerous branches as the gusts took them, broke them, and whirled the fragments of their ruin far away and out of ken, like a flapping, unruly kite which a child has allowed to pass beyond his control. The broad white surface of the road was not suffered to be blotted for a single moment.
Nothing could rest for the play of the intriguing air-currents, surging backwards and forwards, blind, stupid and swelled with pride, till they had got completely out of hand and defied the archers of the middle sky. They staggered hither and thither like ineffectual giants; they buffeted all impartially; they instigated the hapless branches at their mercy to wild lashings of each other, to useless accesses of the spirit of self-destruction. Bending slavishly under the heavy gusts, each shabby blade of grass by the roadside rose again and was on the qui vive after the rustling tyrant had passed.
It was then, in the succeeding moments of comparative peace, when the directors of the passionate aerial revolt had managed to call their panting rabble off for the time, that great perpendicular sheets of rain, like stage films slung evenly from heavenly temples, descended and began moving continuously sideways, like a wall, across the level track. A sheet of whole water, blotting out the tangled borders of herbage that grew sparsely round the heaps of stones with which the margin was set at intervals, placed there ready for breaking. When the slab of rain had moved on again, the broad road, shining out sturdily with its embedded quartz and milky kneaded clay, lay clear once more. Calm, ordered and tranquil in the midst of tumult and discord, it pursued its appointed course, edging off from its evenly beveled sides the noisy moorland streams, that had come jostling each other in their haste to reach it, only to be relegated, noisily complaining, to the swollen, unrecognizable gutter.
At a certain point on the line of way, a tall, spare, respectable-looking man in a well-fitting grey frock coat stood waiting. The rain ran down the back of his coat collar, and dripped off the rim of his tall hat. His attitude suggested some weary foredone clerk waiting at the corner of the city street for the omnibus that was to carry him home to his slippered comfort and sober pipe ofpeace. He wore no muffler, but then it was summer — St. John’s Eve, He leaned on an ivory-headed ebony stick of which he seemed fond, and peered, not very eagerly, along the road, which now lay in dazzling rain-washed clarity under the struggling moon. There was a lull in the storm. He had no luggage, no umbrella, yet his grey coat looked neat, and his hat shiny.
Far in the distance, from the south, a black clumsy object appeared, laboring slowly along. It was a coach, of heavy and antique pattern. As soon as he had sighted it, the passenger’s faint interest seemed diminished. With a bored air of fulfilment, he dropped his eyes and looked down disapprovingly at the clayey mud at his feet, although, indeed, the sticky substance did not appear to have marred the exquisite polish of his shoes. His palm settled composedly on the ivory knob of his trusty stick, as though it were the hand of an old friend.
With all the signs of difficult going, but no noise of straining or grinding, the coach at last drew up in front of the expectant passenger. He looked up quietly, and recognized it as the vehicle wherein it was appointed that he should travel in this unsuitable weather for a stage or two, maybe. All was correct, the coachman, grave, business-like, headless as of usage, the horses long-tailed, black, conventional...
The door opened noiselessly, and the step was let down. The passenger shook his head as he delicately put his foot on to it, and observed for the benefit, doubtless, of the person or persons inside —
“I see old Joe on the box in his official trim. Rather unnecessary, all this ceremony, I venture to think! A few yokels and old women to impress, if indeed, any one not positively obliged is abroad on a night like this! For form’s sake, I suppose!”
He took his seat next the window. There were four occupants of the coach beside himself. They all nodded formally, but not unkindly. He returned their salutations with old-fashioned courtesy, though unacquainted seemingly with any of them.
Sitting next to him was a woman evidently of fashion. Her heavy and valuable furs were negligently cast on one side, to show a plastron covered with jewels. She wore at least two enameled and jewel-encrusted watches pinned to her bosom as a mark for thieves to covet. It was foolish of her. So at least thought the man in the grey frock coat. Her yellow wig was much awry. Her eyes were weak, strained, and fearful, and she aided their vision with a diamond-beset pince-nez. Now and again she glanced over her left shoulder as if in some alarm, and at such times she always grasped her gold-net reticule feverishly. She was obviously a rich woman in the world, a first-class train-de-luxe passenger.
The woman opposite her belonged as unmistakably to the people. She was hard-featured, worn with a life of sordid toil and calculation, but withal stout and motherly, a figure to inspire the fullest confidence. She wore a black bonnet with strings, and black silk gloves heavily darned. Round her sunken white collar, a golden gleam of watch-chain was now and then discernible.
At the other end of the coach, squeezed up into the corner where the vacillating light of the lamp hung from the roof least penetrated, a neat, sharp-featured man nestled and hid. His forehead retreated, and his bowler hat was set unnecessarily far back, lending him an air of folly and congenital weakness which his long, cold, clever nose could not dissipate. He was white as old enamel.
But the man whom the gentleman in the frock coat took to among his casual fellow-travelers was the one sitting directly opposite him, a rough, hearty creature, who alone of all the taciturn coachful seemed disposed to enter into a casual conversation, which might go some way to enliven the dreariness entailed by this somewhat old-fashioned mode of travelling. Gay talk might help to drown the dashing of the waters of the Firth lying close on the right hand of the section of road they were even now traversing, and the ugly roar of the wind and rain against the windows. This — by comparison — cheerful fellow was dressed like a working man, in a shabby suit of corduroys. He wore no collar, but a twisted red cotton handkerchief was wound tightly round his thick squat neck. His little mean eyes, swinish, but twinkling good-humoredly, stared enviously at the neat gentleman’s stiff collar and the delicate grey tones of his suiting. Crossing and uncrossing his creasy legs, in the unusual effort of an attempt at conviviality, the man in corduroys addressed the man in the frock coat awkwardly enough, but still civilly.
“Well, mate! They’ve chosen a rare rough night to shift us on! Orders from headquarters, I suppose? I’ve been here nigh on a year and never set eyes on my boss!”
“We used to call him God the Father,” said the elder man slowly... “But whoever it is that orders our ways here, there is no earthly sense in questioning His arrangements, we can only fall in with them. As you admit, you are fairly new, and perhaps you do not as yet conceive fully of the silent impelling force that sways us. It is the same in the world we have left, only that there we were only concerned with the titles and standing of our ‘boss,’ as you call Him, and obeyed His laws not a whit. I must say I consider this particular system of soul transference that we have to submit to, very unsettling and productive of restlessness among us — a mere survival and tiresome superstition, to my mind. It has one merit; one sees something of the under world, traveling about as we do, and meeting chance, perhaps kindred spirits on the road. One realizes, too, that Hades is not quite as grey, shall I say, as it is painted! But perhaps,” he added, with a slight touch of class hauteur, “you do not quite follow me?”
“Oh yes, Master, I do,” eagerly replied the fellow-traveler to whom he chose to address his monologue. “Since I’ve been dead, I have learned the meaning of many things. I turn up my nose at nothing these days. I always neglected my schooling, but now I tell you I try to make up for lost time. From a rough sort of fellow that I was, with not an idea in my head beyond my beer and my prog, I have come to take my part in the whole of knowledge. It was all mine before, so to speak, but I didn’t trouble to put my hand out for it. Didn’t care, didn’t listen to Miss that taught me, or to Parson, either. He had some good ideas too, as I’ve come to know, though Vice isn’t Vice exactly with us here, now, in a manner of speaking. If God Almighty made us, why did He make us, even in parts, bad? That’s what I want to know, and I’ll know that when I’ve been dead a bit longer. Why did He give me rotten teeth so that I couldn’t chew properly and didn’t care for my food and liked drink better? It’s dirt and digestion makes drinking and devilry, I say.”
The smart woman interrupted him with a kind of languid eagerness, exclaiming —
“I must say I agree with you. Since the pestle fell on my shoulder in that lonely villa at Monte, I have realized what the dreadful gambling fever may lead to. It had made those two who treated me so ill, quite inhuman. They had become wild beasts. I ought never to have accepted their treacherous invitation to luncheon, never tempted them with my outrageous display of jewels! And look here, I was tarred with the same stick, I gambled too —”
She rummaged in her reticule and fished out a ticket for the rooms at Monte Carlo.
“I always call that the ticket for my execution. Though my executioners were rather unnecessarily brutal. They will attain unto this place more easily than I did. Hardly any pain. The hand of the law is gentle, compared with the methods of —”
The man in the grey frock coat raised his finger warningly. “No names, I beg. One of our conventions...!”
“Have a drop?” said the calm motherly woman to the excited fine lady. “Your wound is recent, isn’t it? Yours was a very severe case! A bloody murder, I call it, if ever there was one, and clumsy at that! And you only passive, which is always so much harder, they say! I can’t tell, for I was what you may call an active party. They don’t seem to mind mixing, they that look after us here! They lump us all together — travelling, at any rate! Though when I think of what I was actually turned off for, well — the way I look at it, what I did was a positive benefit to Society, and some sections of Society knew it, too, and would have liked to preserve my life.”
“But what, Madam, if I may ask, was your little difficulty? “
“It is called, I believe, Baby Farming,” she replied off-handedly, receiving her flask back from the smart woman and stowing it away in a capacious pocket. As she spoke, a shudder like a transitory ripple on a rain-swept stream passed over her hearers, with the exception of the thin man in the far corner, who preserved his serenity. Raising his sunken chin, he observed the last speaker with some slight show of interest.
The man in grey apologized.
“Excuse us, Madam. A remnant of old-world squeamishness, uncontrollable by us for the moment. Though perhaps, if you will, you might a little dissipate our preconceived motions of your profession, by explaining clearly your point of view.”
“Delighted, I’m sure,” she answered. “Funny, though, how seriously you all take it, even here! The feeling against my profession seems absurdly strong below as well as above. I was hooted as I left the court, I recollect. It annoyed me then considerably. I thought that those that hooted had more need to be grateful to me if all was known and paid for. I saved their pockets for them and their lovely honour too. They knew they owed all that to me. For the rest, they did not care. They went on, bless ‘em, raising up seed for me to mow down as soon as its head came above ground, and welcome! Sly dogs, no thanks from them! But those shivering, shrinking women that came to me, some of them hardly out of their teens, some of them so delicate they had no right to have a baby at all! — Ah, if only I hadn’t let myself take their money it would have been a work of pure philanthropy. But I had to live, then! Now that that tax has been taken off, one has time to think it out all round. But Lord! — Society, to cry shame on me for it! They might as well hang any other useful public servant, like dustmen, rat-catchers, and such-like ridders of pests. Good old Herod, that I used to hear about at school, knew what he was doing when he cleared off all those useless Innocents! He was the first baby farmer, I guess.”
“You take large ground, Madam,” said the man in the frock coat, a trifle huffily.
“And I have the right; “ said she, her large determined chin emerging from its rolls of fat in her eagerness.
“You men ought to know it, and you do well enough, when you’re honest. I was only the ‘scapegoat, and took on me the little sins of the race. It’s an easy job enough, what I did, but there’s few have the stomach for it, even then. You couldn’t call it dirty work either. You just stand by and leave ‘em alone — to girn and bleat and squinny and die.”
“No blood, eh? “ the man in the corner said suddenly. “I like blood.”
“ What a fine night it has turned! “ said the man in the grey frock coat, raising the sash and putting his head out of the window... “Something rather uncanny, eh, about that man? “ he remarked under his breath, half to himself, half to the man in brown corduroys.
“Take your head in,” said the latter, almost affectionately, “or you’ll be catching cold, and you’ve a nasty scar on your neck that I could see as you leaned forward, and which you oughtn’t to go getting the cold into.”
“Oh, that!” said the other complacently, sitting down again, but averting his gaze carefully from the man in the corner, for whom he seemed to feel a repulsion as marked as was his preference for his cheerful vis-a-vis . “That! That’s actually the scar of the blow that killed me. A fearful gash I He was a powerful man that dealt it. He got me, of course, from behind. I never even saw him. I was drafted off here at once, his hand had been so sure.” He felt nervously in his pockets. “I have a foulard somewhere, but I am apt to mislay it.”
“You should do like me, have a good strong handker-cher and knot it round your neck firm. I’ve got a mark of sorts on my neck too, but it isn’t an open wound — never was,” the bluff man sniggered. “It is sheer vanity with me, but I don’t care to have it seen. It goes well all round, mine does — done by a rope, eh!”
He paused and nodded slyly. “For killing a toff. Nice old gentleman he seemed, too, but I hadn’t much time to look at him. Had to get to work.”
He was rudely interrupted by a screech from the baby farmer.
“Lord!” she cried, “do I see another conveyance coming on this lonely road? I do ‘ope so. I’m one for seeing plenty of people. I always like a crowd, and I must tell you, this sort of humdrum jogging along was beginning to get on my nerves.”
They all jerked themselves round, and peered through the glass panes behind them. The taciturn man alone reserved his attention.
Sure enough, a dark object, plainly outlined in the strong moonlight which now lit up the heavens, where heavy masses of cloud had until now obscured its effulgence, was plainly visible. It blotted the ribbon of white that lay in front of them... Nearer and nearer it came. All heads were at the windows of the coach... Now it was seen to be a high-hung dog-cart, of the most modern pattern, drawn by a smart little mettled pony, and containing two slight young girls... The one that drove held the ribbons in hands that were covered with white dog-skin gloves, and which looked immense in the pallid moonshine.
“What an excitement!” said the stout woman. “We shall pass them. Some member of one of the country families about here, I suppose.”
“I hope — for all things considering, I’m not a blood-thirsty man,” the man in corduroys muttered anxiously under his breath, “that we’re not a-going to give them a shock! Bound to, when we meet them plumb like this! ‘Orses can’t abide the sight of us, mostly, no more than they could those nasty motors when they first came in. And we’re worse than motors — they seem to smell us out at once for what we are!”
“If you do really think that pony is likely to swerve,” said the man in the grey suit, anxiously, “would it be of any use our asking old Diggory to drive more slowly and humor them?”
“Couldn’t go no slower than we are!” replied the man in corduroys. “Besides, it’s not the pace that kills I I’ll bet you that pony’s all of a sweat already!”
The dog-cart approached. The faces of the two young women were discernible. They were white — blanched with fear, or it may have been the effect of the strong moonlight. There was no doubt that they were disturbed, and that the girl who was driving fully realized the necessity of controlling the horse, whose nostrils were quivering, and on whose sides foam was already appearing in white swathes...
“It won’t pass us!” said the man in the corner, speaking suddenly. He rubbed his hands slowly one over the other. “There will be blood!”
“For goodness’ sake stop gloating like that!” said the stout woman. “It turns my stomach to hear you. Wherever can you have come from, I wonder? ‘Tisn’t manners... I say, can’t we hail them?” she inquired of the man in grey. “All give them one big shout?”
“They wouldn’t be able to hear us,” he replied, shaking his head sadly.” You must not forget that we are ghosts. We are not really here.”
“Ay, and that’s what the beasts know!” cried the man in corduroys. He jumped about. “That ‘oss won’t be able to stand it. The kid’ll not be able to hold him in...
“They’re on us!” screamed the smart woman. “Oh, my God! Do we have to sit still and see it? “ She covered her eyes with her hand.
“Yes, Missus, I reckon you have, and what’s more, run away after like any shoffer that’s killed his man and left him lying in the roadside. Old Diggory’s got his orders.”
The snorting of the pony was now audible. The coachful of ghosts distinctly saw the lather of foam dropping from its jaws. They were able, some of them, to realize the agonized tension of one girl’s hands, pulling for all she was worth, and the scared sideways twist of her forcedly inactive companion. Alone the face of the yellow carriage-lamp glared, immovable...
Then it flew down, and was extinguished. There was a crash, a convulsion — and the great road to the north lay clear again.
The Coach of Death rolled on remorselessly past a black heap that filled the ditch on one side. It lay quite still, after that almost human leap and heave...
The smart woman fainted, or appeared to do so. The baby farmer sat silent.
“It’s iniquitous!” exclaimed the man in grey, turning round from the window — his eyes wet, “to leave them behind like that without a word of inquiry, when it’s our conveyance has done all the mischief!”
He groaned and fidgeted...
The man in corduroys tried to soothe him. “We ain’t to blame, Sir, don’t you think it! “ he repeated. “As you said before to the lady, we aren’t really here!”
“That is little consolation to a man of honour,” the old man said sadly. “Still, as you say, we are but tools —”
He devoted himself to the smart woman, who revived a little under his civil ministrations.
“After all,” she said, “aren’t we somehow or other all in the same boat? I shouldn’t be surprised if those two nice girls didn’t join us at the next stage. If they do, we’ll make them tell us how they felt, when they first saw the coachful of ghosts coming down on them. They’re certainly dead, for they were both pitched into the ditch with the cart and horse on top of them. Did anybody see what became of the horse? No... Well, we must settle down to dullness again, I am afraid, or, suppose, to while away the time we all started to tell each other the story of how we came to be here? A lively tale might cheer us all up, after the accident.”
“Agreed, Madam, heartily for my part,” said the man in grey, “though my own story is very humdrum, and not in the least amusing. You want, of course, an account of the particular accident that sent me here. Very well! But, ladies first I Will not you begin, Madam?”
She tossed her head, with an affected air.
“My story, perhaps,” she insinuated with modesty, “might not be very new to you. It was in all the papers so recently.”
“That will not affect me,” he answered, “for if, as I presume, it was a murder case, I never read them.”
“I read yours then, Missus, I expect,” said the man in corduroys. “I generally get the wife to read them out to me — anything spicy.”
“And yet the people that did it are not hanged yet, if, indeed, they ever are, poor souls! I am quite anxious,” said the smart woman, “to see how it goes. If the pair are really sent here, I suppose I shall be running up against them some night or other, on one of these transference parties. It will be very interesting. But” — she leaned across to the baby farmer — “could we not persuade you to give us some of your — nursery experiences, Madam?”
“There’s not much story about the drowning of a litter of squalling puppies or whining kittens,” said that lady shortly, “we want something livelier — more personal, if I may say so. From a remark that gentleman in the corner let drop a while ago, I fancy his reminiscences would be quite worth hearing, as good as a shilling shocker.”
“My story,” replied the individual thus pointedly addressed, “is impossible, frankly impossible.”
“Indecent, do you mean?” The smart woman’s eyes shone. “Oh, let us have it. You can veil it, can’t you?”
“Have you ever heard of mental degenerates?” he asked her compassionately. “I was one. I was called mad — a simple way of expressing it. I was a chemist. I dissected neatly enough, too, like a regular butcher. They did quite right to exterminate me.”
His head dropped. He seemed disinclined to say more. Still the smart woman persisted.
“But the details?”
“Are purely medical, Ma’am. Not without a physiological interest, I may say. Interesting to men of science, pathologically. The” — he named a daily paper much in vogue at that time, “made a good deal of the strong sense of artistry — of contrast — the morbid warp inherent in the executant —”
His head sank again on his chest.
“I do believe,” said the baby farmer, nudging the smart woman, “that we shall find he’s the man who killed his sweetheart and then carefully tied her poor inside all into true lover’s knots with sky-blue ribbon. Artist, indeed! They’re quite common colors — blue and red —”
“Disgusting!” The delicate lady from Monte Carlo shuddered, and turning coldly away, joined in the petition proffered by the other ghosts to the breezy man in corduroys, to relate his experiences.
“Oh, I’ll tell you how I came to join you and welcome!” he said, rolling his huge neck about in its setting of red cotton. “Well, to begin with, I was drunk. Equally, of course, I was hard up. My missus — she’s married again, by the way, blast her! — was always nagging me to do something for her and the kids. I did. Nation’s taking care of them now, along of what I did. Work, she meant, but that was only by the way. I did choose to take on a job, though, on a rich man’s estate, building some kind of Folly, lots of glass and that, working away day and night by naphtha flares, you know. He was one of those men, you know the sort, that has more money than a man can properly spend, and feels quite sick about it, and says so, in interviews and so on, in the papers a working man reads. That’s the mischief. He was always giving away chunks of money to charities and libraries and that sort of useless lumber, but none of it ever seemed to come the way of those that were in real need of it. They said the money had got on his nerves, and would not let him sleep o’ nights, and that he was afraid by day and went about with a loaded stick and I don’t know what all. And he was looked after by detectives, at one time, so the papers said — again the papers, putting things in people’s heads, as it’s their way. So one blessed evening I was very low — funds and all, and my missus and the kids hollering and complaining as they always do when luck’s bad. Lord bless them, they never thought as they were ‘citing their man to murder. Women never do think. And going out with their sniveling in my ears, I passed the station where he landed every evening after his day in town, and I happened to see him come out of the train and send away his motor that was a-waiting for him all regular, and start out to walk ‘ome alone by a short cut across a little plantation there was, very thick and dark, just the place for a murder. Well — I told you I was half drunk — I raced home and got something to do it with — a meat chopper — to be particular —”
The old man opposite put his hand nervously to the back of his neck.
“Ay, Mister, it takes you just there, does it? You look a regular bundle of nerves, you do. Well, as I was saying, I went round by a short cut that I happened to know of, and got in front of him and hid in the hedge. Ten mortal minutes I waited for my man to come by. Lord, how my hand did tremble I I’d have knocked off for two pence. I was as nervous as a cat, but all the same, it didn’t prevent me from striking out for wife and children with a will when my chance came. I caught him behind with my chopper, and he fell like a log. Never lifted a hand to defend himself — hadn’t got any grit. Ladies, I don’t suppose I hurt him much, for he never even cried out when I struck or groaned when it was done. Then I looked him over, turned out his pockets and collared his watch and season ticket and seals and money. Money — hah! — I had been fairly done over that. Would you believe it of a rich fellow like him, he hadn’t got more than the change of a sovereign on him.”
“Shame!” ejaculated the taciturn man in the corner.
“I admit it was hard on you,” the man in grey observed kindly. “Very hard, for I believe the retribution came all too quickly. You foolishly left your chopper about to identify you, and were apprehended at once by our excellent rural police. Yet the law is so dilatory that you lay in gaol a whole year before you were free to join your victim here?”
“Right you are, mate. Yes, I swung for it, sure enough. Short and sweet it was once I stood on the drop, but it still makes my poor old throat ache to think of it.”
He wriggled and twisted his neck in its ruddy cincture...
“Now, governor, I’m done, and if you’ve no objection we’d all like to hear how you came by that ugly gash of yours? It wasn’t no rope did that. Common or garden murder, I’ll be bound.”
“Certainly, my man, it was a murder — a murder most apropos . The circumstances were peculiar. I have often longed to get the ear of the jury who tried a man for relieving me of my light purse and intolerably heavy life, and tell them — the whole hard-working, conscientious twelve of them, trying their best to bring in an honest verdict and avenge my wrongs — my own proper feelings, surely no negligible factor in the case! They could not guess, these ignorant living men, whose eyes had not yet been opened by death to a due sense of the proportions of things — that I bore the poor creature no malice, but instead was actually grateful for his skillful surgery that had severed the life-cord that bored me, so neatly and completely.”
“It isn’t every one would take it like that!” remarked the smart woman. “Yet that is, more or less, how I feel about these things myself. Only in my case it is impossible to speak of skillful surgery! I was disgracefully cut up. I couldn’t possibly have worn a low dress again!”
“Have you ever heard?” said the man in grey thoughtfully, “of the Greek story of the Gold of Rhampsinitos, and the inviolable cellar he built to store it in? According to the modern system, my gold was hoarded in my brain, where fat assets and sordid securities bred and bred all day long. The laws that govern wealth are hard. You must give it, devise it, you must not allow it to be taken. But for my part I would have welcomed the two sons of the master builder who broke into the Greek King’s Treasure House. In the strong-room of my brain it lodged. With one careless calculation, one stroke of a pen, I could make money breed money there to madden me. I was lonely, too. I had no wife to divide my responsibilities. She might even have enjoyed them.
But I dared approach no woman in the way of love — I did not choose to be loved for my cheque-signing powers. I was not loved at all. I was hated. Unrighteous things were done in my name, by the greedy husbandmen of my load of money. Then I was told that I went in danger of my life, and I condescended to take care of that — for a time — only for a time!
“One dark winter evening — I forget what had happened during the day, what fresh instance of turpitude or greed had come before me — I was so revolted that I kicked away all the puling safeguards by which my agents guarded their best asset of all, and gave the rein to my instinct. I disregarded precautions of every sort — with the exception of my faithful loaded stick, and the carrying of that had come to be a mere matter of habit with me — and I walked home from the station alone and unattended, up to my big house and good dinner which I hoped — nay, I almost knew — that I should not be alive to eat; And indeed, as luck would have it, on that night of all nights the trap was set for me. The appointed death-dealer was waiting — he took me on at once. I got my desire— kind, speedy, merciful, violent death. I never even saw the face of my deliverer.”
“By George!” softly swore the man in corduroys. “This beats all. Are you sure you aren’t kidding us?”
“No indeed, that is exactly how I felt about it, and if I had known of knowledge, as I knew of instinct, what was going to happen, I would have thought to realize some of my wealth before setting out to walk through that wood, and made it more worth the honest fellow’s while. But as you are aware, a millionaire does not carry portable gold about with him, and my cheque-book which I had on me would, of course, be of no use to him. Alas, all the poor devil got for his pains was exactly nineteen shillings and eleven pence. I had changed a sovereign at the book-stall to buy a paper, and out of habit, had waited for the change.”
The man in corduroys was by this time in a considerable state of excitement. He had rent the red handkerchief fiercely from his neck, and now made as if to tear it across his knee...
“Why, governor!” he exclaimed passionately, “do you mean to say it was through you that I got this here” — he put both hands behind his head and interlocked them, “in return for giving you that there cut at the back of your neck? Well, how things do come about, to be sure!”
“Gently, gently! my man,” the elder soothed him. “Don’t be so melodramatic about a very ordinary coincidence. See, the ladies are quite upset. It doesn’t do to allow Oneself to get excited here — it’s not in the rules. If I had made the little discovery you have done, I don’t think — no, I really don’t think I would have made it public. This undue exhibition of emotion of yours strikes me as belonging to the vulgar world we have all left. But since you have allowed it to come out, and every one is now aware of the peculiar relation in which we stand to each other, you must let me tender you my best thanks, as to a most skillful and firm operator, and believe me to be truly grateful to you for your services in the past.”
“Quite the old school!” said the smart woman.
“I must say, Sir, — I consider you the real gentleman,” said the baby farmer.
“l am a gentleman.”
“And a fairly accommodating one! “ said the rough man, wiping his brow where, however, no sweat was. “It isn’t every man as would give thanks for being scragged!”
“Every man isn’t a millionaire,” said his victim calmly.
The smart woman, leaning forward, tapped the old gentleman amiably with her jeweled pince-nez.
“But we belong to the same world, I perceive,” she said, “and I am quite able to understand your refined feeling. It is as I said in my own case. Indeed if those two good people, who shall be nameless, had only dealt with me a little more gently, I don’t know that I should not forgive them absolutely. I shall at any rate be perfectly civil when I do meet them — only perhaps a little distant. But that Monte Carlo existence I was leading when they interrupted it, was really becoming intolerable! No one who hasn’t done it, thoroughly can realize what it is. Glare, noise, glitter, fever — that heartless, blue, laughing sea they talk of in the railway advertisements —”
The baby farmer, left out in this elegant discussion, obviously took no pleasure in it, but staring straight before her, muttered sulkily —
“Cote d’Azur and Pentonville! There’s some little difference, isn’t there, between one life and the other? Yet I enjoyed my life, I did, and as for gratitude, I can’t say as I see all those blessed infants a-coming up to me, and slobbering me for what I did for ‘em. I may meet them, but they’ll not notice me. It isn’t in human nature. Their mothers’ thanks was all I got, and they thanked me beforehand in hard cash for what I was a-going to do. Lord, what’s a ricketty baby more or less? I say, we’re slowing up! Going to stop perhaps, and a good thing too!”
“Yes,” said the man in the grey frock coat, still enouncing his curt sentences to the unheeding listeners, “I am able to cordially thank the man who rid me with one clean scientific blow of my wretched life and all its tedious accessories. A skilled workman is worthy of his hire”
“Mercy!” muttered the baby farmer. “Is he never going to stop? If it was for nothing else, he ought to have got scragged for being a bore!”
But being fully wound up, though in the excitement of arriving at the depot no one was attending, the man in grey continued, “Suicide I had thought of, but abhorred, though on my soul I had nearly come to that, and then it was merely a question of courage — you spoke truly, Sir. Mine was a thin, pusillanimous nature, as you said. You came by, a kind Samaritan, and sacrificed your own good life freely to rid me of my wretched one. I think I told you that when you were being tried, I followed urgently all the details of the trial, and made interest with the authorities here to allow me to appear to the judge in his sleep, say, and instill into his mind some inkling of the true state of my feelings towards you. I do not know, however, if you would have thanked me, for life may have been no sweeter to you than it was to me — you spoke of an uncongenial helpmate, I think? Still one never knows. I might have been the means of procuring you some good years yet, in the full exercise of your undeniable vigor and remarkable decision of character. But it was apparently not to be. You followed me here, after a long interval of waiting, and now we have met, face to face. The introduction on that dark night was worth nothing. I like your face. We shall probably never meet again— their ways are dark and devious here, so I am the more glad of this opportunity of opening my mind to you on a delicate subject, perhaps, but one that has always been very near my heart. By the way “—he lifted his stick with its shining ivory crown into view. “Did you notice this? You read the papers, you said, and they told you it was heavily weighted and that I carried it always as a precaution. Well, on that eventful night for both of us— perhaps you were too hurried to notice? — but I never used it. Accept it now, will you not, as a memento?... I think, from sundry truly unearthly bumpings, that we seem to have come at last to our journey’s end... I am right, the coachman has got down from his perch and taken his head under his arm... We part. Mesdames, I salute you. Again, Sir —” He addressed himself more particularly to the shamefaced man in corduroys — “Farewell. Very pleased to have met you!”
One by one, the passengers faded away into the distance. The polite old man paused in the semblance of an inn yard where the coach had drawn up. A pale proud woman’s face, shining up by the step, had touched him. She was an intending passenger, and she was alone. She wore white dog-skin gloves, but no hat. Unusual, he fancied, in a woman of her class. On looking closer, he saw that she had a hat, but that it hung disregarded over her shoulder by an elastic, and was much battered and destroyed. He decided to speak to her.
“You are the lady we killed, I think?” he asked gently.
She acknowledged with a bow that it was so.
“We could none of us do anything,” he apologized, “or I hope you will believe —”
“Certainly, Sir, it was no fault of yours, or indeed of the company’s, I am sure. The accident was inevitable!” so she assured him, smiling faintly. He looked at her kindly. There was blood on the hair, he was able to convince himself... “But Rory — our pony — never can pass things, at the best of times, and the look of your conveyance was certainly rather unusual. And at that time of night we rarely meet anything at all on the Great North Road. We choose that time on purpose, my sister and I — we had been staying away for a week with friends, and we were going home. When we saw you coming, Lucy said, half in jest — she is older than I — ‘ Suppose that thing in front were the Coach of Death the foolish country people talk about? They say it travels this way once a year, with its cargo of souls, on St. John’s Eve.’ I bade her not be superstitious, but I confess I thought the vehicle looked odd myself, and I did wonder how Rory would stand it. When it came nearer I saw distinctly that the coachman was headless, and I laughingly told my sister so. She bade me not disturb her, for death coach or live coach, she meant to do her best to get Rory past it. She failed —”
The man in grey looked nervously around. He was alone with the young lady in the dull inn yard. The headless coachman was preparing to ascend to the box seat again...
“Where is your sister now?” he inquired.
“She lies at the bottom of the ditch. Rory has galloped home. She fell on her head, but she is alive still. When they find her in the morning, she will be dead, I know that. For now I know all things. I am at peace... you need have no care for me...”
“Let me at least put you into the coach,” he begged. “ And you will prefer the corner seat?”...
She took it; he went on —
“It looks, however, as if you were going to have all the accommodation to yourself, for this stage at all events.”
He raised his hat; she bowed.
“I am grieved that I cannot have the pleasure — that I cannot offer to accompany you, but I have my marching orders...”
He raised his hat again... The coach moved on out of the yard. Soon it was lost in the mists... The summer dawn was just breaking.
 
Count Magnus
by M. R. James
 
 
 
By what means the papers out of which I have made a connected story came into my hands is the last point which the reader will learn from these pages. But it is necessary to prefix to my extracts from them a statement of the form in which I possess them.
They consist, then, partly of a series of collections for a book of travels, such a volume as was a common product of the forties and fifties. Horace Marryat’s Journal of a Residence in Jutland and the Danish Isles is a fair specimen of the class to which I allude. These books usually treated of some unknown district on the Continent. They were illustrated with woodcuts or steel plates. They gave details of hotel accommodation and of means of communication, such as we now expect to find in any well-regulated guide-book, and they dealt largely in reported conversations with intelligent foreigners, racy innkeepers, and garrulous peasants. In a word, they were chatty.
Begun with the idea of furnishing material for such a book, my papers as they progressed assumed the character of a record of one single personal experience, and this record was continued up to the very eve, almost, of its termination.
The writer was a Mr. Wraxall. For my knowledge of him I have to depend entirely on the evidence his writings afford, and from these I deduce that he was a man past middle age, possessed of some private means, and very much alone in the world. He had, it seems, no settled abode in England, but was a denizen of hotels and boarding-houses. It is probable that he entertained the idea of settling down at some future time which never came; and I think it also likely that the Pantechnicon fire in the early seventies must have destroyed a great deal that would have thrown light on his antecedents, for he refers once or twice to property of his that was warehoused at that establishment.
It is further apparent that Mr. Wraxall had published a book, and that it treated of a holiday he had once taken in Brittany. More than this I cannot say about his work, because a diligent search in bibliographical works has convinced me that it must have appeared either anonymously or under a pseudonym.
As to his character, it is not difficult to form some superficial opinion. He must have been an intelligent and cultivated man. It seems that he was near being a Fellow of his college at Oxford — Brasenose, as I judge from the Calendar. His besetting fault was pretty clearly that of over-inquisitiveness, possibly a good fault in a traveler, certainly a fault for which this traveler paid dearly enough in the end.
On what proved to be his last expedition, he was plotting another book. Scandinavia, a region not widely known to Englishmen forty years ago, had struck him as an interesting field. He must have alighted on some old books of Swedish history or memoirs, and the idea had struck him that there was room for a book descriptive of travel in Sweden, interspersed with episodes from the history of some of the great Swedish families. He procured letters of introduction, therefore, to some persons of quality in Sweden, and set out thither in the early summer of 1863.
Of his travels in the North there is no need to speak, nor of his residence of some weeks in Stockholm. I need only mention that some savant resident there put him on the track of an important collection of family papers belonging to the proprietors of an ancient manor-house in Vestergothland, and obtained for him permission to examine them.
The manor-house, or herrgard , in question is to be called Råbäck (pronounced something like Roebeck), though that is not its name. It is one of the best buildings of its kind in all the country, and the picture of it in Dahlenberg’s Suecia antiqua et moderna , engraved in 1694, shows it very much as the tourist may see it today. It was built soon after 1600, and is, roughly speaking, very much like an English house of that period in respect of material — red-brick with stone facings — and style. The man who built it was a scion of the great house of De la Gardie, and his descendants possess it still. De la Gardie is the name by which I will designate them when mention of them becomes necessary.
They received Mr. Wraxall with great kindness and courtesy, and pressed him to stay in the house as long as his researches lasted. But, preferring to be independent, and mistrusting his powers of conversing in Swedish, he settled himself at the village inn, which turned out quite sufficiently comfortable, at any rate during the summer months. This arrangement would entail a short walk daily to and from the manor-house of something under a mile. The house itself stood in a park, and was protected — we should say grown up — with large old timber. Near it you found the walled garden, and then entered a close wood fringing one of the small lakes with which the whole country is pitted. Then came the wall of the demesne, and you climbed a steep knoll — a knob of rock lightly covered with soil — and on the top of this stood the church, fenced in with tall dark trees. It was a curious building to English eyes. The nave and aisles were low, and filled with pews and galleries. In the western gallery stood the handsome old organ, gaily painted, and with silver pipes. The ceiling was flat, and had been adorned by a seventeenth-century artist with a strange and hideous ‘Last Judgement’, full of lurid flames, falling cities, burning ships, crying souls, and brown and smiling demons. Handsome brass coronae hung from the roof; the pulpit was like a doll’s-house covered with little painted wooden cherubs and saints; a stand with three hour-glasses was hinged to the preacher’s desk. Such sights as these may be seen in many a church in Sweden now, but what distinguished this one was an addition to the original building. At the eastern end of the north aisle the builder of the manor-house had erected a mausoleum for himself and his family. It was a largish eight-sided building, lighted by a series of oval windows, and it had a domed roof, topped by a kind of pumpkin-shaped object rising into a spire, a form in which Swedish architects greatly delighted. The roof was of copper externally, and was painted black, while the walls, in common with those of the church, were staringly white. To this mausoleum there was no access from the church. It had a portal and steps of its own on the northern side.
Past the churchyard the path to the village goes, and not more than three or four minutes bring you to the inn door.
On the first day of his stay at Råbäck Mr. Wraxall found the church door open, and made these notes of the interior which I have epitomized. Into the mausoleum, however, he could not make his way. He could by looking through the keyhole just descry that there were fine marble effigies and sarcophagi of copper, and a wealth of armorial ornament, which made him very anxious to spend some time in investigation.
The papers he had come to examine at the manor-house proved to be of just the kind he wanted for his book. There were family correspondence, journals, and account-books of the earliest owners of the estate, very carefully kept and clearly written, full of amusing and picturesque detail. The first De la Gardie appeared in them as a strong and capable man. Shortly after the building of the mansion there had been a period of distress in the district, and the peasants had risen and attacked several châteaux and done some damage. The owner of Råbäck took a leading part in suppressing trouble, and there was reference to executions of ring-leaders and severe punishments inflicted with no sparing hand.
The portrait of this Magnus de la Gardie was one of the best in the house, and Mr. Wraxall studied it with no little interest after his day’s work. He gives no detailed description of it, but I gather that the face impressed him rather by its power than by its beauty or goodness; in fact, he writes that Count Magnus was an almost phenomenally ugly man.
On this day Mr. Wraxall took his supper with the family, and walked back in the late but still bright evening.
‘I must remember,’ he writes, ‘to ask the sexton if he can let me into the mausoleum at the church. He evidently has access to it himself, for I saw him tonight standing on the steps, and, as I thought, locking or unlocking the door.’
I find that early on the following day Mr. Wraxall had some conversation with his landlord. His setting it down at such length as he does surprised me at first; but I soon realized that the papers I was reading were, at least in their beginning, the materials for the book he was meditating, and that it was to have been one of those quasi-journalistic productions which admit of the introduction of an admixture of conversational matter.
His object, he says, was to find out whether any traditions of Count Magnus de la Gardie lingered on in the scenes of that gentleman’s activity, and whether the popular estimate of him were favorable or not. He found that the Count was decidedly not a favorite. If his tenants came late to their work on the days which they owed to him as Lord of the Manor, they were set on the wooden horse, or flogged and branded in the manor-house yard. One or two cases there were of men who had occupied lands which encroached on the lord’s domain, and whose houses had been mysteriously burnt on a winter’s night, with the whole family inside. But what seemed to dwell on the innkeeper’s mind most — for he returned to the subject more than once — was that the Count had been on the Black Pilgrimage, and had brought something or someone back with him.
You will naturally inquire, as Mr. Wraxall did, what the Black Pilgrimage may have been. But your curiosity on the point must remain unsatisfied for the time being, just as his did. The landlord was evidently unwilling to give a full answer, or indeed any answer, on the point, and, being called out for a moment, trotted out with obvious alacrity, only putting his head in at the door a few minutes afterwards to say that he was called away to Skara, and should not be back till evening.
So Mr. Wraxall had to go unsatisfied to his day’s work at the manor-house. The papers on which he was just then engaged soon put his thoughts into another channel, for he had to occupy himself with glancing over the correspondence between Sophia Albertina in Stockholm and her married cousin Ulrica Leonora at Råbäck in the years 1705-10. The letters were of exceptional interest from the light they threw upon the culture of that period in Sweden, as anyone can testify who has read the full edition of them in the publications of the Swedish Historical Manuscripts Commission.
In the afternoon he had done with these, and after returning the boxes in which they were kept to their places on the shelf, he proceeded, very naturally, to take down some of the volumes nearest to them, in order to determine which of them had best be his principal subject of investigation next day. The shelf he had hit upon was occupied mostly by a collection of account-books in the writing of the first Count Magnus. But one among them was not an account-book, but a book of alchemical and other tracts in another sixteenth-century hand. Not being very familiar with alchemical literature, Mr. Wraxall spends much space which he might have spared in setting out the names and beginnings of the various treatises: The book of the Phoenix, book of the Thirty Words, book of the Toad, book of Miriam, Turba philosophorum, and so forth; and then he announces with a good deal of circumstance his delight at finding, on a leaf originally left blank near the middle of the book, some writing of Count Magnus himself headed ‘Liber nigrae peregrinationis’. It is true that only a few lines were written, but there was quite enough to show that the landlord had that morning been referring to a belief at least as old as the time of Count Magnus, and probably shared by him. This is the English of what was written:
‘If any man desires to obtain a long life, if he would obtain a faithful messenger and see the blood of his enemies, it is necessary that he should first go into the city of Chorazin, and there salute the prince...’ Here there was an erasure of one word, not very thoroughly done, so that Mr. Wraxall felt pretty sure that he was right in reading it as aeris (‘of the air’). But there was no more of the text copied, only a line in Latin: Quaere reliqua hujus materiei inter secretiora . (See the rest of this matter among the more private things.)
It could not be denied that this threw a rather lurid light upon the tastes and beliefs of the Count; but to Mr. Wraxall, separated from him by nearly three centuries, the thought that he might have added to his general forcefulness alchemy, and to alchemy something like magic, only made him a more picturesque figure, and when, after a rather prolonged contemplation of his picture in the hall, Mr. Wraxall set out on his homeward way, his mind was full of the thought of Count Magnus. He had no eyes for his surroundings, no perception of the evening scents of the woods or the evening light on the lake; and when all of a sudden he pulled up short, he was astonished to find himself already at the gate of the churchyard, and within a few minutes of his dinner. His eyes fell on the mausoleum.
‘Ah,’ he said, ‘Count Magnus, there you are. I should dearly like to see you.’
‘Like many solitary men,’ he writes, ‘I have a habit of talking to myself aloud; and, unlike some of the Greek and Latin particles, I do not expect an answer. Certainly, and perhaps fortunately in this case, there was neither voice nor any that regarded: only the woman who, I suppose, was cleaning up the church, dropped some metallic object on the floor, whose clang startled me. Count Magnus, I think, sleeps sound enough.’
That same evening the landlord of the inn, who had heard Mr. Wraxall say that he wished to see the clerk or deacon (as he would be called in Sweden) of the parish, introduced him to that official in the inn parlor. A visit to the De la Gardie tomb-house was soon arranged for the next day, and a little general conversation ensued.
Mr. Wraxall, remembering that one function of Scandinavian deacons is to teach candidates for Confirmation, thought he would refresh his own memory on a Biblical point.
‘Can you tell me,’ he said, ‘anything about Chorazin?’
The deacon seemed startled, but readily reminded him how that village had once been denounced.
‘To be sure,’ said Mr. Wraxall; ‘it is, I suppose, quite a ruin now?’
‘So I expect,’ replied the deacon. ‘I have heard some of our old priests say that Antichrist is to be born there; and there are tales —’
‘Ah! what tales are those?’ Mr. Wraxall put in.
‘Tales, I was going to say, which I have forgotten,’ said the deacon; and soon after that he said good night.
The landlord was now alone, and at Mr. Wraxall’s mercy; and that inquirer was not inclined to spare him.
‘Herr Nielsen,’ he said, ‘I have found out something about the Black Pilgrimage. You may as well tell me what you know. What did the Count bring back with him?’
Swedes are habitually slow, perhaps, in answering, or perhaps the landlord was an exception. I am not sure; but Mr. Wraxall notes that the landlord spent at least one minute in looking at him before he said anything at all. Then he came close up to his guest, and with a good deal of effort he spoke:
‘Mr. Wraxall, I can tell you this one little tale, and no more — not any more. You must not ask anything when I have done. In my grandfather’s time — that is, ninety-two years ago — there were two men who said: “The Count is dead; we do not care for him. We will go tonight and have a free hunt in his wood”— the long wood on the hill that you have seen behind Råbäck. Well, those that heard them say this, they said: “No, do not go; we are sure you will meet with persons walking who should not be walking. They should be resting, not walking.” These men laughed. There were no forestmen to keep the wood, because no one wished to live there. The family were not here at the house. These men could do what they wished.
‘Very well, they go to the wood that night. My grandfather was sitting here in this room. It was the summer, and a light night. With the window open, he could see out to the wood, and hear.
‘So he sat there, and two or three men with him, and they listened. At first they hear nothing at all; then they hear someone — you know how far away it is — they hear someone scream, just as if the most inside part of his soul was twisted out of him. All of them in the room caught hold of each other, and they sat so for three-quarters of an hour. Then they hear someone else, only about three hundred ells off. They hear him laugh out loud: it was not one of those two men that laughed, and, indeed, they have all of them said that it was not any man at all. After that they hear a great door shut.
‘Then, when it was just light with the sun, they all went to the priest. They said to him:
‘“Father, put on your gown and your ruff, and come to bury these men, Anders Bjornsen and Hans Thorbjorn.”
‘You understand that they were sure these men were dead. So they went to the wood — my grandfather never forgot this. He said they were all like so many dead men themselves. The priest, too, he was in a white fear. He said when they came to him:
‘“I heard one cry in the night, and I heard one laugh afterwards. If I cannot forget that, I shall not be able to sleep again.”
‘So they went to the wood, and they found these men on the edge of the wood. Hans Thorbjorn was standing with his back against a tree, and all the time he was pushing with his hands — pushing something away from him which was not there. So he was not dead. And they led him away, and took him to the house at Nykjoping, and he died before the winter; but he went on pushing with his hands. Also Anders Bjornsen was there; but he was dead. And I tell you this about Anders Bjornsen, that he was once a beautiful man, but now his face was not there, because the flesh of it was sucked away off the bones. You understand that? My grandfather did not forget that. And they laid him on the bier which they brought, and they put a cloth over his head, and the priest walked before; and they began to sing the psalm for the dead as well as they could. So, as they were singing the end of the first verse, one fell down, who was carrying the head of the bier, and the others looked back, and they saw that the cloth had fallen off, and the eyes of Anders Bjornsen were looking up, because there was nothing to close over them. And this they could not bear. Therefore the priest laid the cloth upon him, and sent for a spade, and they buried him in that place.’
The next day Mr. Wraxall records that the deacon called for him soon after his breakfast, and took him to the church and mausoleum. He noticed that the key of the latter was hung on a nail just by the pulpit, and it occurred to him that, as the church door seemed to be left unlocked as a rule, it would not be difficult for him to pay a second and more private visit to the monuments if there proved to be more of interest among them than could be digested at first. The building, when he entered it, he found not unimposing. The monuments, mostly large erections of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were dignified if luxuriant, and the epitaphs and heraldry were copious. The central space of the domed room was occupied by three copper sarcophagi, covered with finely-engraved ornament. Two of them had, as is commonly the case in Denmark and Sweden, a large metal crucifix on the lid. The third, that of Count Magnus, as it appeared, had, instead of that, a full-length effigy engraved upon it, and round the edge were several bands of similar ornament representing various scenes. One was a battle, with cannon belching out smoke, and walled towns, and troops of pikemen. Another showed an execution. In a third, among trees, was a man running at full speed, with flying hair and outstretched hands. After him followed a strange form; it would be hard to say whether the artist had intended it for a man, and was unable to give the requisite similitude, or whether it was intentionally made as monstrous as it looked. In view of the skill with which the rest of the drawing was done, Mr. Wraxall felt inclined to adopt the latter idea. The figure was unduly short, and was for the most part muffled in a hooded garment which swept the ground. The only part of the form which projected from that shelter was not shaped like any hand or arm. Mr. Wraxall compares it to the tentacle of a devil-fish, and continues: ‘On seeing this, I said to myself, “This, then, which is evidently an allegorical representation of some kind — a fiend pursuing a hunted soul — may be the origin of the story of Count Magnus and his mysterious companion. Let us see how the huntsman is pictured: doubtless it will be a demon blowing his horn.’” But, as it turned out, there was no such sensational figure, only the semblance of a cloaked man on a hillock, who stood leaning on a stick, and watching the hunt with an interest which the engraver had tried to express in his attitude.
Mr. Wraxall noted the finely-worked and massive steel padlocks — three in number — which secured the sarcophagus. One of them, he saw, was detached, and lay on the pavement. And then, unwilling to delay the deacon longer or to waste his own working-time, he made his way onward to the manor-house.
‘It is curious,’ he notes, ‘how, on retracing a familiar path, one’s thoughts engross one to the absolute exclusion of surrounding objects. Tonight, for the second time, I had entirely failed to notice where I was going (I had planned a private visit to the tomb-house to copy the epitaphs), when I suddenly, as it were, awoke to consciousness, and found myself (as before) turning in at the churchyard gate, and, I believe, singing or chanting some such words as, “Are you awake, Count Magnus? Are you asleep, Count Magnus?” and then something more which I have failed to recollect. It seemed to me that I must have been behaving in this nonsensical way for some time.’
He found the key of the mausoleum where he had expected to find it, and copied the greater part of what he wanted; in fact, he stayed until the light began to fail him.
‘I must have been wrong,’ he writes, ‘in saying that one of the padlocks of my Counts sarcophagus was unfastened; I see tonight that two are loose. I picked both up, and laid them carefully on the window-ledge, after trying unsuccessfully to close them. The remaining one is still firm, and, though I take it to be a spring lock, I cannot guess how it is opened. Had I succeeded in undoing it, I am almost afraid I should have taken the liberty of opening the sarcophagus. It is strange, the interest I feel in the personality of this, I fear, somewhat ferocious and grim old noble.’
The day following was, as it turned out, the last of Mr. Wraxall’s stay at Råbäck. He received letters connected with certain investments which made it desirable that he should return to England; his work among the papers was practically done, and travelling was slow. He decided, therefore, to make his farewells, put some finishing touches to his notes, and be off.
These finishing touches and farewells, as it turned out, took more time than he had expected. The hospitable family insisted on his staying to dine with them — they dined at three — and it was verging on half past six before he was outside the iron gates of Råbäck. He dwelt on every step of his walk by the lake, determined to saturate himself, now that he trod it for the last time, in the sentiment of the place and hour. And when he reached the summit of the churchyard knoll, he lingered for many minutes, gazing at the limitless prospect of woods near and distant, all dark beneath a sky of liquid green. When at last he turned to go, the thought struck him that surely he must bid farewell to Count Magnus as well as the rest of the De la Gardies. The church was but twenty yards away, and he knew where the key of the mausoleum hung. It was not long before he was standing over the great copper coffin, and, as usual, talking to himself aloud: ‘You may have been a bit of a rascal in your time, Magnus,’ he was saying, ‘but for all that I should like to see you, or, rather —’
‘Just at that instant,’ he says, ‘I felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus. I stooped to pick it up, and — Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth — before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. I may have behaved like a coward, but I could not for my life stay for one moment. I was outside that dreadful building in less time than I can write — almost as quickly as I could have said — the words; and what frightens me yet more, I could not turn the key in the lock. As I sit here in my room noting these facts, I ask myself (it was not twenty minutes ago) whether that noise of creaking metal continued, and I cannot tell whether it did or not. I only know that there was something more than I have written that alarmed me, but whether it was sound or sight I am not able to remember. What is this that I have done?’
 
***
 
Poor Mr. Wraxall! He set out on his journey to England on the next day, as he had planned, and he reached England in safety; and yet, as I gather from his changed hand and inconsequent jottings, a broken man. One of the several small note-books that have come to me with his papers gives, not a key to, but a kind of inkling of, his experiences. Much of his journey was made by canal-boat, and I find not less than six painful attempts to enumerate and describe his fellow-passengers. The entries are of this kind:
 
24. Pastor of village in Skane. Usual black coat and soft black hat.
25. Commercial traveler from Stockholm going to Trollhättan. Black cloak, brown hat.
26. Man in long black cloak, broad-leafed hat, very old-fashioned.
 
This entry is lined out, and a note added: ‘Perhaps identical with No. 13. Have not yet seen his face.’ On referring to No. 13, I find that he is a Roman priest in a cassock.
The net result of the reckoning is always the same. Twenty-eight people appear in the enumeration, one being always a man in a long black cloak and broad hat, and another a ‘short figure in dark cloak and hood’. On the other hand, it is always noted that only twenty-six passengers appear at meals, and that the man in the cloak is perhaps absent, and the short figure is certainly absent.
On reaching England, it appears that Mr. Wraxall landed at Harwich, and that he resolved at once to put himself out of the reach of some person or persons whom he never specifies, but whom he had evidently come to regard as his pursuers. Accordingly he took a vehicle — it was a closed fly — not trusting the railway and drove across country to the village of Belchamp St Paul. It was about nine o’clock on a moonlight August night when he neared the place. He was sitting forward, and looking out of the window at the fields and thickets — there was little else to be seen — racing past him. Suddenly he came to a cross-road. At the corner two figures were standing motionless; both were in dark cloaks; the taller one wore a hat, the shorter a hood. He had no time to see their faces, nor did they make any motion that he could discern. Yet the horse shied violently and broke into a gallop, and Mr. Wraxall sank back into his seat in something like desperation. He had seen them before.
Arrived at Belchamp St Paul, he was fortunate enough to find a decent furnished lodging, and for the next twenty-four hours he lived, comparatively speaking, in peace. His last notes were written on this day. They are too disjointed and ejaculatory to be given here in full, but the substance of them is clear enough. He is expecting a visit from his pursuers — how or when he knows not — and his constant cry is ‘What has he done?’ and ‘Is there no hope?’ Doctors, he knows, would call him mad, policemen would laugh at him. The parson is away. What can he do but lock his door and cry to God?
People still remember last year at Belchamp St Paul how a strange gentleman came one evening in August years back; and how the next morning but one he was found dead, and there was an inquest; and the jury that viewed the body fainted, seven of ’em did, and none of ’em wouldn’t speak to what they see, and the verdict was visitation of God; and how the people as kep’ the ’ouse moved out that same week, and went away from that part. But they do not, I think, know that any glimmer of light has ever been thrown, or could be thrown, on the mystery. It so happened that last year the little house came into my hands as part of a legacy. It had stood empty since 1863, and there seemed no prospect of letting it; so I had it pulled down, and the papers of which I have given you an abstract were found in a forgotten cupboard under the window in the best bedroom.
 
The Dead Woman
by David H. Keller
 
 
 
He was found in the room with his wife, slightly confused, a trifle bewildered, but otherwise apparently normal. He made no effort to conceal his conduct any more than he did to the knife in his hand or the pieces in the trunk.
Fortunately the inspector was an officer of more than usual intelligence, and there was no effort made to give the third degree or even secure a written confession. Perhaps the Police Department felt it was too plain a case. At least it was handled intelligently and in a most scientific manner. The man was well fed, carefully bedded, and the next morning, after being bathed and shaved was taken to see a psychiatrist.
The specialist in mental diseases had the man comfortably seated. Knowing he smoked, he offered a cigar, which was accepted. Then, in a quiet, pleasant atmosphere, he made one statement and one request.
“I am sure, Mr. Thompson, that you had an excellent reason for acting as you did the other day. I wish you would tell me all about it.”
The man gazed at the psychiatrist. “Will you believe me if I tell you?”
“I will accept every part of your story with the idea that you are convinced that you are telling me the truth.”
“That is all I want,” whispered Thompson. “If everyone I talked to in the past had done that, if they had even tried to check up on my story, perhaps this would not have happened. But they always thought that I was the sick one, and there was not one who was willing to accept my statement about the worms.
“I suppose that I was happily married. At least as much so as most men are. You know that there is a good deal of conflict between the sexes, and there were a few differences of opinion between Mrs. Thompson and myself. But not enough to cause serious difficulty. Will you remember that? That we did not quarrel very much?
“About a year ago my wife’s health began to give me considerable cause for worry. She started to fail. If you are a married man, Doctor, you know there is always that anxiety about the wife’s health. You become accustomed to living with a woman, having her do things for you, go to places with you and you think about how life would be if she should sicken and die. Perhaps the fact that you are uneasy about the future makes you exaggerate the importance of her symptoms.
“At any rate she became sick, developed a nasty cough and lost weight. I spoke to her about it and even bought a bottle of beef, wine and iron at the drug store and made her take it. She did so to please me, but she never would admit that she was sick. Said it was fashionable to be thin and that the cough was just nervousness.
“She would not go to see a doctor. When I spoke to her mother about it, the old lady just laughed at me; said that if I tried to make Lizzie a little happier she would soon get fat. In fact, none of our family or our friends seemed to feel that there was anything wrong with Mrs. Thompson, so I stopped talking about it.
“Of course it was not easy on me, the way she coughed at night, and her staying awake so much. I work hard in the daytime and it is hard to lose a lot of sleep. At last I was forced to ask her to let me sleep in the spare bedroom.
“Even that did not help much. I could hear her cough, and when she did fall asleep I would have to tiptoe into her room and see if she was all right. Her coughing bothered me so much that when she did not cough it worried me more because I thought something had happened to her.
“One night the thing I was afraid of happened. She had a hard spell of coughing and then she stopped. It was quiet in the house. I could hear the clock on the landing tick, and a mouse gnawing wood in the attic. I thought I could even hear my own heart beat, but there was not a sound of any kind from the other bedroom.
“When I went in there and turned on the light I just knew it was all over. Of course I was not sure. A bookkeeper is not supposed to be an expert in such matters, so I went and telephoned for our doctor. On the way to the phone I wondered just what I should say, for he had always insisted that my wife was in grand health. So I simply told him that Mrs. Thompson was not looking well and would he come over. Just like that I told him, and tried to keep my voice steady.
“It was about an hour before he came. He went into the bedroom but I stopped at the doorway. He spent sometime listening to her heart and feeling her pulse and then he straightened up and said to me:
“‘She is fine. Just fast asleep. I wish I could sleep as soundly as that. What did you think was wrong?’
“That surprised me so much that all I could do was to stammer something about not hearing her cough any more. He laughed.
“‘You worry too much about her, Mr. Thompson.’
“Right there my difficulty started. Here was a doctor who was supposed to know his business and he said there was nothing wrong with my wife, and there I was, just a bookkeeper, and I just knew what was the matter. What was I to do? Tell him that he was wrong? Send for another physician?
“It was growing light by that time, so I went down to the kitchen and started the coffee. I often did that. Then I shaved, and made ready to go to the office. But before I went I sat down a while by the wife’s bed. It bothered me but I had to keep telling myself that the doctor knew better than I did.
“Before leaving the house I phoned to my mother-in-law. Just told her that Lizzie was not feeling well and would she come over and spend the day, and she could get me at the office any time she called. Then I left the house. It felt better out in the sunshine and after working a few hours over the books I almost laughed at myself for being so foolish.
“No telephone calls from the old lady. I arrived home at six and found the house lighted as usual. My wife and mother-in-law were waiting for me in the parlor and told me supper was ready. Naturally, I was surprised to see my wife out of bed.
“At the supper table I watched her just as carefully as I could without making the two of them suspicious of me. Mrs. Thompson ate about as she usually did, just pieced and minced at her food, but I thought when she swallowed that the food went down with a jerk, and there was a stiffness when she moved.
“But her mother did not seem to think there was anything wrong, at least she did not make any comment. Even when I went with her to the front door to say good night to her and we were alone there, she never said a word to show that she thought her daughter was peculiar.
“I started to wash the dishes after that. I often washed the dishes at night while the wife sat in the front parlor watching the people go up and down past the house. After the kitchen was tidy I lit a cigar and went into the parlor and started a little conversation, but Mrs. Thompson never talked back. In fact I do not believe she ever talked to me after that, though I am positive that she talked to the others.
“When the cigar was smoked, I just said good night and went to bed. Later I could hear her moving around in her room, and then all was quiet so she must have gone to bed. She did not cough any more. I congratulated myself on that one thing because the coughing had kept me awake a good deal.
“During the night I lit a candle and, shading it with my hand, tiptoed in to see her. She had her eyes open, but they were rolled back so all you could see was the whites, and she was not breathing. At least I could not tell that she was breathing; and when I held a mirror in front of her mouth there was no vapor on it. My mother had told me the purpose of that when I was a boy.
“The next day was just the same. My mother-in-law came and spent the day. I came home at night and ate supper with them and washed the dishes. The water was hot and it was a pleasure to make them clean. Perhaps I took longer than usual at it because I did not fancy the idea of going into the front parlor where the wife was sitting looking out of the window.
“But I went in, tonight without the usual cigar. I wanted to use my nose. It seemed there was a peculiar odor in the house, like flowers that had been put in a vase of water and then forgotten, for many days. Perhaps you know the odor, Doctor, a heavy one, like lilies of the valley in a small closed room. It was specially strong in the parlor, where Mrs. Thompson was sitting, and it seemed to come from her. I had to light the cigar after a while, and by and by I said good night, and went to bed. She never spoke to me, in fact she did not seem to pay any attention to me.
“About two that morning I took the candle and went in to look at her. Her eyelids were open and her eyeballs were rolled back just like they had been the night before but now her jaw was dropped and her cheeks sunk in. I just could not do anything but telephone for a doctor and this time I picked out a total stranger, just picked his name out of the telephone book haphazard.
“What good did it do? None at all. He came, he examined Mrs. Thompson very carefully and he simply said that he did not see anything wrong with her; and then down in the front hall he turned on me and asked me just why I had sent for him and what I thought was the matter with her? Of course I just could not tell him the truth, with his being a doctor and I being just a bookkeeper.
“My mother-in-law went to the mountains next day for the summer and that left us alone. Breakfast as usual and to the office and not a word all day from the house. When I came back at night the house was lit and supper was on the table and the wife at her end as usual and the food served and on the plates. She ate, but her movements were slower, and when she swallowed you could see the food go down by jerks, and her eyes were sunken into the sockets and seemed shiny and— well, like the eyes of a fish on the stalls.
“There were flowers on the table, but the smell was something different, it was sweeter and when I took a deep breath it was just hard for me to go on eating the pork chops and potatoes. You see it was summer time and warm, and in spite of the screens there was a fly or two in the house, and when I saw one walking around on her lip and she not making any effort to brush it off, I just couldn’t keep on eating. Had to go and start washing the dishes. Perhaps you can understand how I felt, Doctor. Things looked rather odd.
“The next day I phoned to the office that I would not be there and I sent for a taxi and took Mrs. Thompson to a first class specialist. He must have been good because he charged me twenty-five dollars just for the office call. I went in first and told him just exactly what I was afraid of, and I did not mince my words, and then we had the wife in.
“He examined her, even her blood, and all the satisfaction I got was that she seemed a trifle anemic, but that I had better take a nerve tonic and a vacation or I would be sick.
“Things looked rather twisted after that. Either I was right and everybody else wrong, or they were right and I was just about as wrong mentally as a man could be. But I had to believe my senses. A man just has to believe what he sees and hears and feels, and when I thought over that office visit, and the wife smiling and the doctor sticking her finger for the blood to examine, it just seemed impossible. Anemic! Why—that was a simple word to describe her condition.
“That night the flies were worse than usual. I went to the corner store and bought a fly spray and used it in her bedroom but they kept coming in, the big blue ones, you know. Seemed as though they just had to come in and I could not keep them off her face so at last, in desperation, I covered her head up with a towel and went to sleep. I had to work, the interest on the mortgage was due and the man wanted something on the principal, and it was a good house and all I had in the world to show for twenty years of hard work keeping books.
“The next day was just like all the days had been, except that I made more mistakes with the books and my boss spoke to me about it. And when I arrived home supper was not ready though Mrs. Thompson was in the parlor and the lights on. The heavy odor was worse than usual and there were a lot of flies. You could hear them buzz and strike against the electric lights. I got my own supper but I couldn’t eat much, thinking of her in the parlor and the flies settling on her open mouth.
“She just sat there that night in the parlor till I went to her and took her arm to lead her up the stairs. She was cold and on each cheek there was a heavy purple blotch forming. Once she was in her room she seemed to move around so I left her alone and when I went into her room later on she was in bed.
“It had been a hard week for me, so I sat down by her bed and tried to think, but the more I thought the worse things seemed. The night was hot and the flies kept buzzing; just thinking of the past and how we used to go to the movies together and laugh and sometimes come near crying, and how we used to bluff about the fact that perhaps it was just as well we didn’t have a child so long as we had each other, knowing all the time that she was eating her heart out for longing to be a mother and blaming me for her loneliness.
“The thinking was too much for me so I thought I might as well smoke another cigar and go to bed and try to keep better books the next day and hold my job — and then I saw the little worm crawl out.
“Right then and there, I knew that something had to be done. It didn’t make any difference what the doctors or her mother said, something had to be done and I was the one who had to do it.
“I telephoned for an undertaker.
“Met him downstairs.
“‘It will be a private funeral,’ I told him, ‘and no publicity, and I think after you are through you will have no trouble obtaining a physician’s certificate.’
“He went up stairs. In about five minutes he came down stairs.
“‘I must have gone to the wrong room,’ he said.
“‘The second story front bedroom,’ I replied.
“‘But the woman there is not dead,’ he said.
“I paid him for his trouble and shut the door in his face. Was I helpless? Doctor, you have to believe me. I was at the end of my rope. I had tried every way I knew and there was not anything left to do. No one believed me. No one agreed with me. It seemed more and more as though they thought I was insane.
“It was impossible to keep her in the house longer. My health was giving way. Working all day at figures that were going wrong all the time and coming back night after night cooking my supper and sleeping in a room next to the thing that had been my wife. What with the smell of lilies of the valley and the buzz of flies and the constant dread in my mind of how things would be the next day and the next week, and the mortgage due. I had to do something.
“And it seemed to me that she wanted me to. It seemed that she recognized that things were not right, that she was entitled to a different kind of an ending. I tried to put myself in her place and I knew what I would want done with me if things were reversed.
“So I brought the trunk up from the cellar. We had used that trunk on our wedding trip and every summer -since on our vacations and I thought that she would be more at peace in that trunk than in a new one. But when I had the trunk by her bed, I saw at once that it was too small unless I used a knife.
“That seemed to be the proper thing to do, and I was sure that it would not hurt her. For days she had been past hurting. I told her I was sorry but it just had to be done and if people had just believed me things could have been arranged in a nicer way. Then I started.
“Things were confused after that.
“I seem to remember a scream and blood spurting, and the next thing there were a lot of people in the house and they arrested me.
“And that is the peculiar part of it all, Doctor. Perhaps you do not know it but I am accused of murdering my wife. Now I have told you all about it, Doctor, and I just want to ask you one question. If you had been in my place, day after day, and night after night, what would you have done, Doctor? What would any man have done who loved his wife?”
 
The Dreams in the Witch House
by H. P. Lovecraft
 
 
 
Whether the dreams brought on the fever or the fever brought on the dreams Walter Gilman did not know. Behind everything crouched the brooding, festering horror of the ancient town, and of the moldy, unhallowed garret gable where he wrote and studied and wrestled with figures and formulae when he was not tossing on the meagre iron bed. His ears were growing sensitive to a preternatural and intolerable degree, and he had long ago stopped the cheap mantel clock whose ticking had come to seem like a thunder of artillery. At night the subtle stirring of the black city outside, the sinister scurrying of rats in the wormy partitions, and the creaking of hidden timbers in the centuried house, were enough to give him a sense of strident pandemonium. The darkness always teemed with unexplained sound — and yet he sometimes shook with fear lest the noises he heard should subside and allow him to hear certain other fainter noises which he suspected were lurking behind them.
He was in the changeless, legend-haunted city of Arkham, with its clustering gambrel roofs that sway and sag over attics where witches hid from the King’s men in the dark, olden years of the Province. Nor was any spot in that city more steeped in macabre memory than the gable room which harbored him — for it was this house and this room which had likewise harbored old Keziah Mason, whose flight from Salem Gaol at the last no one was ever able to explain. That was in 1692 — the gaoler had gone mad and babbled of a small white-fanged furry thing which scuttled out of Keziah’s cell, and not even Cotton Mather could explain the curves and angles smeared on the grey stone walls with some red, sticky fluid.
Possibly Gilman ought not to have studied so hard. Non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics are enough to stretch any brain, and when one mixes them with folklore, and tries to trace a strange background of multi-dimensional reality behind the ghoulish hints of the Gothic tales and the wild whispers of the chimney-corner, one can hardly expect to be wholly free from mental tension. Gilman came from Haverhill, but it was only after he had entered college in Arkham that he began to connect his mathematics with the fantastic legends of elder magic. Something in the air of the hoary town worked obscurely on his imagination. The professors at Miskatonic had urged him to slacken up, and had voluntarily cut down his course at several points. Moreover, they had stopped him from consulting the dubious old books on forbidden secrets that were kept under lock and key in a vault at the university library. But all these precautions came late in the day, so that Gilman had some terrible hints from the dreaded Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred, the fragmentary Book of Eibon, and the suppressed Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt to correlate with his abstract formulae on the properties of space and the linkage of dimensions known and unknown.
He knew his room was in the old Witch-House — that, indeed, was why he had taken it. There was much in the Essex County records about Keziah Mason’s trial, and what she had admitted under pressure to the Court of Oyer and Terminer had fascinated Gilman beyond all reason. She had told Judge Hathorne of lines and curves that could be made to point out directions leading through the walls of space to other spaces beyond, and had implied that such lines and curves were frequently used at certain midnight meetings in the dark valley of the white stone beyond Meadow Hill and on the unpeopled island in the river. She had spoken also of the Black Man, of her oath, and of her new secret name of Nahab. Then she had drawn those devices on the walls of her cell and vanished.
Gilman believed strange things about Keziah, and had felt a queer thrill on learning that her dwelling was still standing after more than two hundred and thirty-five years. When he heard the hushed Arkham whispers about Keziah’s persistent presence in the old house and the narrow streets, about the irregular human tooth-marks left on certain sleepers in that and other houses, about the childish cries heard near May-Eve, and Hallowmass, about the stench often noted in the old house’s attic just after those dreaded seasons, and about the small, furry, sharp-toothed thing which haunted the moldering structure and the town and nuzzled people curiously in the black hours before dawn, he resolved to live in the place at any cost. A room was easy to secure, for the house was unpopular, hard to rent, and long given over to cheap lodgings. Gilman could not have told what he expected to find there, but he knew he wanted to be in the building where some circumstance had more or less suddenly given a mediocre old woman of the Seventeenth Century an insight into mathematical depths perhaps beyond the utmost modern delvings of Planck, Heisenberg, Einstein, and de Sitter.
He studied the timber and plaster walls for traces of cryptic designs at every accessible spot where the paper had peeled, and within a week managed to get the eastern attic room where Keziah was held to have practiced her spells. It had been vacant from the first — for no one had ever been willing to stay there long — but the Polish landlord had grown wary about renting it. Yet nothing whatever happened to Gilman till about the time of the fever. No ghostly Keziah flitted through the somber halls and chambers, no small furry thing crept into his dismal eyrie to nuzzle him, and no record of the witch’s incantations rewarded his constant search. Sometimes he would take walks through shadowy tangles of unpaved musty-smelling lanes where eldritch brown houses of unknown age leaned and tottered and leered mockingly through narrow, small-paned windows. Here he knew strange things had happened once, and there was a faint suggestion behind the surface that everything of that monstrous past might not — at least in the darkest, narrowest, and most intricately crooked alleys — have utterly perished. He also rowed out twice to the ill-regarded island in the river, and made a sketch of the singular angles described by the moss-grown rows of grey standing stones whose origin was so obscure and immemorial.
Gilman’s room was of good size but queerly irregular shape; the north wall slanting perceptibly inward from the outer to the inner end, while the low ceiling slanted gently downward in the same direction. Aside from an obvious rat-hole and the signs of other stopped-up ones, there was no access — nor any appearance of a former avenue of access — to the space which must have existed between the slanting wall and the straight outer wall on the house’s north side, though a view from the exterior showed where a window had been boarded up at a very remote date. The loft above the ceiling — which must have had a slanting floor — was likewise inaccessible. When Gilman climbed up a ladder to the cob-webbed level loft above the rest of the attic he found vestiges of a bygone aperture tightly and heavily covered with ancient planking and secured by the stout wooden pegs common in Colonial carpentry. No amount of persuasion, however, could induce the stolid landlord to let him investigate either of these two closed spaces.
As time wore along, his absorption in the irregular wall and ceiling of his room increased; for he began to read into the odd angles a mathematical significance which seemed to offer vague clues regarding their purpose. Old Keziah, he reflected, might have had excellent reasons for living in a room with peculiar angles; for was it not through certain angles that she claimed to have gone outside the boundaries of the world of space we know? His interest gradually veered away from the unplumbed voids beyond the slanting surfaces, since it now appeared that the purpose of those surfaces concerned the side he was on.
The touch of brain-fever and the dreams began early in February. For some time, apparently, the curious angles of Gilman’s room had been having a strange, almost hypnotic effect on him; and as the bleak winter advanced he had found himself staring more and more intently at the corner where the down-slanting ceiling met the inward-slanting wall. About this period his inability to concentrate on his formal studies worried him considerably, his apprehensions about the mid-year examinations being very acute. But the exaggerated sense of hearing was scarcely less annoying. Life had become an insistent and almost unendurable cacophony, and there was that constant, terrifying impression of other sounds — perhaps from regions beyond life — trembling on the very brink of audibility. So far as concrete noises went, the rats in the ancient partitions were the worst. Sometimes their scratching seemed not only furtive but deliberate. When it came from beyond the slanting north wall it was mixed with a sort of dry rattling; and when it came from the century-closed loft above the slanting ceiling Gilman always braced himself as if expecting some horror which only bided its time before descending to engulf him utterly.
The dreams were wholly beyond the pale of sanity, and Gilman felt that they must be a result, jointly, of his studies in mathematics and in folklore. He had been thinking too much about the vague regions which his formulae told him must lie beyond the three dimensions we know, and about the possibility that old Keziah Mason — guided by some influence past all conjecture — had actually found the gate to those regions. The yellowed country records containing her testimony and that of her accusers were so damnably suggestive of things beyond human experience — and the descriptions of the darting little furry object which served as her familiar were so painfully realistic despite their incredible details.
That object — no larger than a good-sized rat and quaintly called by the townspeople “Brown Jenkin” — seemed to have been the fruit of a remarkable case of sympathetic herd-delusion, for in 1692 no less than eleven persons had testified to glimpsing it. There were recent rumors, too, with a baffling and disconcerting amount of agreement. Witnesses said it had long hair and the shape of a rat, but that its sharp-toothed, bearded face was evilly human while its paws were like tiny human hands. It took messages betwixt old Keziah and the devil, and was nursed on the witch’s blood, which it sucked like a vampire. Its voice was a kind of loathsome titter, and it could speak all languages. Of all the bizarre monstrosities in Gilman’s dreams, nothing filled him with greater panic and nausea than this blasphemous and diminutive hybrid, whose image flitted across his vision in a form a thousandfold more hateful than anything his waking mind had deduced from the ancient records and the modern whispers.
Gilman’s dreams consisted largely in plunges through limitless abysses of inexplicably coloured twilight and bafflingly disordered sound; abysses whose material and gravitational properties, and whose relation to his own entity, he could not even begin to explain. He did not walk or climb, fly or swim, crawl or wriggle; yet always experienced a mode of motion partly voluntary and partly involuntary. Of his own condition he could not well judge, for sight of his arms, legs, and torso seemed always cut off by some odd disarrangement of perspective; but he felt that his physical organization and faculties were somehow marvelously transmuted and obliquely projected — though not without a certain grotesque relationship to his normal proportions and properties.
The abysses were by no means vacant, being crowded with indescribably angled masses of alien-hued substance, some of which appeared to be organic while others seemed inorganic. A few of the organic objects tended to awake vague memories in the back of his mind, though he could form no conscious idea of what they mockingly resembled or suggested. In the later dreams he began to distinguish separate categories into which the organic objects appeared to be divided, and which seemed to involve in each case a radically different species of conduct-pattern and basic motivation. Of these categories one seemed to him to include objects slightly less illogical and irrelevant in their motions than the members of the other categories.
All the objects — organic and inorganic alike — were totally beyond description or even comprehension. Gilman sometimes compared the inorganic matter to prisms, labyrinths, clusters of cubes and planes, and Cyclopean buildings; and the organic things struck him variously as groups of bubbles, octopi, centipedes, living Hindoo idols, and intricate arabesques roused into a kind of ophidian animation. Everything he saw was unspeakably menacing and horrible; and whenever one of the organic entities appeared by its motions to be noticing him, he felt a stark, hideous fright which generally jolted him awake. Of how the organic entities moved, he could tell no more than of how he moved himself. In time he observed a further mystery — the tendency of certain entities to appear suddenly out of empty space, or to disappear totally with equal suddenness. The shrieking, roaring confusion of sound which permeated the abysses was past all analysis as to pitch, timbre or rhythm; but seemed to be synchronous with vague visual changes in all the indefinite objects, organic and inorganic alike. Gilman had a constant sense of dread that it might rise to some unbearable degree of intensity during one or another of its obscure, relentlessly inevitable fluctuations.
But it was not in these vortices of complete alienage that he saw Brown Jenkin. That shocking little horror was reserved for certain lighter, sharper dreams which assailed him just before he dropped into the fullest depths of sleep. He would be lying in the dark fighting to keep awake when a faint lambent glow would seem to shimmer around the centuried room, showing in a violet mist the convergence of angled planes which had seized his brain so insidiously. The horror would appear to pop out of the rat-hole in the corner and patter toward him over the sagging, wide-planked floor with evil expectancy in its tiny, bearded human face; but mercifully, this dream always melted away before the object got close enough to nuzzle him. It had hellishly long, sharp, canine teeth; Gilman tried to stop up the rat-hole every day, but each night the real tenants of the partitions would gnaw away the obstruction, whatever it might be. Once he had the landlord nail a tin over it, but the next night the rats gnawed a fresh hole, in making which they pushed or dragged out into the room a curious little fragment of bone.
Gilman did not report his fever to the doctor, for he knew he could not pass the examinations if ordered to the college infirmary when every moment was needed for cramming. As it was, he failed in Calculus D and Advanced General Psychology, though not without hope of making up lost ground before the end of the term.
It was in March when the fresh element entered his lighter preliminary dreaming, and the nightmare shape of Brown Jenkin began to be companioned by the nebulous blur which grew more and more to resemble a bent old woman. This addition disturbed him more than he could account for, but finally he decided that it was like an ancient crone whom he had twice actually encountered in the dark tangle of lanes near the abandoned wharves. On those occasions the evil, sardonic, and seemingly unmotivated stare of the beldame had set him almost shivering — especially the first time when an overgrown rat darting across the shadowed mouth of a neighboring alley had made him think irrationally of Brown Jenkin. Now, he reflected, those nervous fears were being mirrored in his disordered dreams. That the influence of the old house was unwholesome he could not deny, but traces of his early morbid interest still held him there. He argued that the fever alone was responsible for his nightly fantasies, and that when the touch abated he would be free from the monstrous visions. Those visions, however, were of absorbing vividness and convincingness, and whenever he awaked he retained a vague sense of having undergone much more than he remembered. He was hideously sure that in unrecalled dreams he had talked with both Brown Jenkin and the old woman, and that they had been urging him to go somewhere with them and to meet a third being of greater potency.
Toward the end of March he began to pick up in his mathematics, though the other studies bothered him increasingly. He was getting an intuitive knack for solving Riemannian equations, and astonished Professor Upham by his comprehension of fourth-dimensional and other problems which had floored all the rest of the class. One afternoon there was a discussion of possible freakish curvatures in space, and of theoretical points of approach or even contact between our part of the cosmos and various other regions as distant as the farthest stars or the transgalactic gulfs themselves — or even as fabulously remote as the tentatively conceivable cosmic units beyond the whole Einsteinian space-time continuum. Gilman’s handling of this theme filled everyone with admiration, even though some of his hypothetical illustrations caused an increase in the always plentiful gossip about his nervous and solitary eccentricity. What made the students shake their heads was his sober theory that a man might — given mathematical knowledge admittedly beyond all likelihood of human acquirement — step deliberately from the earth to any other celestial body which might lie at one of an infinity of specific points in the cosmic pattern.
Such a step, he said, would require only two stages; first, a passage out of the three-dimensional sphere we know, and second, a passage back to the three-dimensional sphere at another point, perhaps one of infinite remoteness. That this could be accomplished without loss of life was in many cases conceivable. Any being from any part of three-dimensional space could probably survive in the fourth dimension; and its survival of the second stage would depend upon what alien part of three-dimensional space it might select for its re-entry. Denizens of some planets might be able to live on certain others — even planets belonging to other galaxies, or to similar dimensional phases of other space-time continua — though of course there must be vast numbers of mutually uninhabitable even though mathematically juxtaposed bodies or zones of space.
It was also possible that the inhabitants of a given dimensional realm could survive entry to many unknown and incomprehensible realms of additional or indefinitely multiplied dimensions — be they within or outside the given space-time continuum — and that the converse would be likewise true. This was a matter for speculation, though one could be fairly certain that the type of mutation involved in a passage from any given dimensional plane to the next higher one would not be destructive of biological integrity as we understand it. Gilman could not be very clear about his reasons for this last assumption, but his haziness here was more than overbalanced by his clearness on other complex points. Professor Upham especially liked his demonstration of the kinship of higher mathematics to certain phases of magical lore transmitted down the ages from an ineffable antiquity — human or prehuman — whose knowledge of the cosmos and its laws was greater than ours.
Around 1 April Gilman worried considerably because his slow fever did not abate. He was also troubled by what some of his fellow lodgers said about his sleep-walking. It seemed that he was often absent from his bed and that the creaking of his floor at certain hours of the night was remarked by the man in the room below. This fellow also spoke of hearing the tread of shod feet in the night; but Gilman was sure he must have been mistaken in this, since shoes as well as other apparel were always precisely in place in the morning. One could develop all sorts of aural delusions in this morbid old house — for did not Gilman himself, even in daylight, now feel certain that noises other than rat-scratching came from the black voids beyond the slanting wall and above the slanting ceiling? His pathologically sensitive ears began to listen for faint footfalls in the immemorially sealed loft overhead, and sometimes the illusion of such things was agonizingly realistic.
However, he knew that he had actually become a somnambulist; for twice at night his room had been found vacant, though with all his clothing in place. Of this he had been assured by Frank Elwood, the one fellow-student whose poverty forced him to room in this squalid and unpopular house. Elwood had been studying in the small hours and had come up for help on a differential equation, only to find Gilman absent. It had been rather presumptuous of him to open the unlocked door after knocking had failed to rouse a response, but he had needed the help very badly and thought that his host would not mind a gentle prodding awake. On neither occasion, though, had Gilman been there; and when told of the matter he wondered where he could have been wandering, barefoot and with only his night clothes on. He resolved to investigate the matter if reports of his sleep-walking continued, and thought of sprinkling flour on the floor of the corridor to see where his footsteps might lead. The door was the only conceivable egress, for there was no possible foothold outside the narrow window.
As April advanced, Gilman’s fever-sharpened ears were disturbed by the whining prayers of a superstitious loom-fixer named Joe Mazurewicz who had a room on the ground floor. Mazurewicz had told long, rambling stories about the ghost of old Keziah and the furry sharp-fanged, nuzzling thing, and had said he was so badly haunted at times that only his silver crucifix — given him for the purpose by Father Iwanicki of St. Stanislaus’ Church — could bring him relief. Now he was praying because the Witches’ Sabbath was drawing near. May Eve was Walpurgis Night, when hell’s blackest evil roamed the earth and all the slaves of Satan gathered for nameless rites and deeds. It was always a very bad time in Arkham, even though the fine folks up in Miskatonic Avenue and High and Saltonstall Streets pretended to know nothing about it. There would be bad doings, and a child or two would probably be missing. Joe knew about such things, for his grandmother in the old country had heard tales from her grandmother. It was wise to pray and count one’s beads at this season. For three months Keziah and Brown Jenkin had not been near Joe’s room, nor near Paul Choynski’s room, nor anywhere else — and it meant no good when they held off like that. They must be up to something.
Gilman dropped in at the doctor’s office on the sixteenth of the month, and was surprised to find his temperature was not as high as he had feared. The physician questioned him sharply, and advised him to see a nerve specialist. On reflection, he was glad he had not consulted the still more inquisitive college doctor. Old Waldron, who had curtailed his activities before, would have made him take a rest — an impossible thing now that he was so close to great results in his equations. He was certainly near the boundary between the known universe and the fourth dimension, and who could say how much farther he might go?
But even as these thoughts came to him he wondered at the source of his strange confidence. Did all of this perilous sense of immininence come from the formulae on the sheets he covered day by day? The soft, stealthy, imaginary footsteps in the sealed loft above were unnerving. And now, too, there was a growing feeling that somebody was constantly persuading him to do something terrible which he could not do. How about the somnambulism? Where did he go sometimes in the night? And what was that faint suggestion of sound which once in a while seemed to trickle through the confusion of identifiable sounds even in broad daylight and full wakefulness? Its rhythm did not correspond to anything on earth, unless perhaps to the cadence of one or two unmentionable Sabbat-chants, and sometimes he feared it corresponded to certain attributes of the vague shrieking or roaring in those wholly alien abysses of dream.
The dreams were meanwhile getting to be atrocious. In the lighter preliminary phase the evil old woman was now of fiendish distinctness, and Gilman knew she was the one who had frightened him in the slums. Her bent back, long nose, and shriveled chin were unmistakable, and her shapeless brown garments were like those he remembered. The expression on her face was one of hideous malevolence and exultation, and when he awaked he could recall a croaking voice that persuaded and threatened. He must meet the Black Man and go with them all to the throne of Azathoth at the center of ultimate chaos. That was what she said. He must sign the book of Azathoth in his own blood and take a new secret name now that his independent delvings had gone so far. What kept him from going with her and Brown Jenkin and the other to the throne of Chaos where the thin flutes pipe mindlessly was the fact that he had seen the name “Azathoth” in the Necronomicon, and knew it stood for a primal evil too horrible for description.
The old woman always appeared out of thin air near the corner where the downward slant met the inward slant. She seemed to crystallize at a point closer to the ceiling than to the floor, and every night she was a little nearer and more distinct before the dream shifted. Brown Jenkin, too was always a little nearer at the last, and its yellowish-white fangs glistened shockingly in that unearthly violet phosphorescence. Its shrill loathsome tittering struck more and more into Gilman’s head, and he could remember in the morning how it had pronounced the words “Azathoth” and “Nyarlathotep”.
In the deeper dreams everything was likewise more distinct, and Gilman felt that the twilight abysses around him were those of the fourth dimension. Those organic entities whose motions seemed least flagrantly irrelevant and unmotivated were probably projections of life-forms from our own planet, including human beings. What the others were in their own dimensional sphere or spheres he dared not try to think. Two of the less irrelevantly moving things — a rather large congeries of iridescent, prolately spheroidal bubbles and a very much smaller polyhedron of unknown colors and rapidly shifting surface angles — seemed to take notice of him and follow him about or float ahead as he changed position among the titan prisms, labyrinths, cube-and-plane clusters and quasi-buildings; and all the while the vague shrieking and roaring waxed louder and louder, as if approaching some monstrous climax of utterly unendurable intensity.
During the night of 19-20 April the new development occurred. Gilman was half involuntarily moving about in the twilight abysses with the bubble-mass and the small polyhedron floating ahead when he noticed the peculiarly regular angles formed by the edges of some gigantic neighboring prism-clusters. In another second he was out of the abyss and standing tremulously on a rocky hillside bathed in intense, diffused green light. He was barefooted and in his nightclothes. and when he tried to walk discovered that he could scarcely lift his feet. A swirling vapors hid everything but the immediate sloping terrain from sight, and he shrank from the thought of the sounds, that might surge out of that vapor.
Then he saw the two shapes laboriously crawling toward him — the old woman and the little furry thing. The crone strained up to her knees and managed to cross her arms in a singular fashion, while Brown Jenkin pointed in a certain direction with a horribly anthropoid forepaw which it raised with evident difficulty. Spurred by an impulse he did not originate, Gilman dragged himself forward along a course determined by the angle of the old woman’s arms and the direction of the small monstrosity’s paw, and before he had shuffled three steps he was back in the twilight abysses. Geometrical shapes seethed around him, and he fell dizzily and interminably. At last he woke in his bed in the crazily angled garret of the eldritch old house.
He was good for nothing that morning, and stayed away from all his classes. Some unknown attraction was pulling his eyes in a seemingly irrelevant direction, for he could not help staring at a certain vacant spot on the floor. As the day advanced, the focus of his unseeing eyes changed position, and by noon he had conquered the impulse to stare at vacancy. About two o’clock he went out for lunch and as he threaded the narrow lanes of the city he found himself turning always to the southeast. Only an effort halted him at a cafeteria in Church Street, and after the meal he felt the unknown pull still more strongly.
He would have to consult a nerve specialist after all — perhaps there was a connection with his somnambulism — but meanwhile he might at least try to break the morbid spell himself. Undoubtedly he could still manage to walk away from the pull, so with great resolution he headed against it and dragged himself deliberately north along Garrison Street. By the time he had reached the bridge over the Miskatonic he was in a cold perspiration, and he clutched at the iron railing as he gazed upstream at the ill-regarded island whose regular lines of ancient standing stones brooded sullenly in the afternoon sunlight.
Then he gave a start. For there was a clearly visible living figure on that desolate island, and a second glance told him it was certainly the strange old woman whose sinister aspect had worked itself so disastrously into his dreams. The tall grass near her was moving, too, as if some other living thing were crawling close to the ground. When the old woman began to turn toward him he fled precipitately off the bridge and into the shelter of the town’s labyrinthine waterfront alleys. Distant though the island was, he felt that a monstrous and invincible evil could flow from the sardonic stare of that bent, ancient figure in brown.
The southeastwards pull still held, and only with tremendous resolution could Gilman drag himself into the old house and up the rickety stairs. For hours he sat silent and aimless, with his eyes shifting gradually westward. About six o’clock his sharpened ears caught the whining prayers of Joe Mazurewicz two floors below, and in desperation he seized his hat and walked out into the sunset-golden streets, letting the now directly southward pull carry him where it might. An hour later darkness found him in the open fields beyond Hangman’s Brook, with the glimmering spring stars shining ahead. The urge to walk was gradually changing to an urge to leap mystically into space, and suddenly he realized just where the source of the pull lay.
It was in the sky. A definite point among the stars had a claim on him and was calling him. Apparently it was a point somewhere between Hydra and Argo Navis, and he knew that he had been urged toward it ever since he had awaked soon after dawn. In the morning it had been underfoot, and now it was roughly south but stealing toward the west. What was the meaning of this new thing? Was he going mad? How long would it last? Again mustering his resolution, Gilman turned and dragged himself back to the sinister old house.
Mazurewicz was waiting for him at the door, and seemed both anxious and reluctant to whisper some fresh bit of superstition. It was about the witch-light. Joe had been out celebrating the night before — and it was Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts — and had come home after midnight. Looking up at the house from outside, he had thought at first that Gilman’s window was dark, but then he had seen the faint violet glow within. He wanted to warn the gentleman about that glow, for everybody in Arkham knew it was Keziah’s witch-light which played near Brown Jenkin and the ghost of the old crone herself. He had not mentioned this before, but now he must tell about it because it meant that Keziah and her long-toothed familiar were haunting the young gentleman. Sometimes he and Paul Choynski and Landlord Dombrowski thought they saw that light seeping out of cracks in the sealed loft above the young gentleman’s room, but they had all agreed not to talk about that. However, it would be better for the gentleman to take another room and get a crucifix from some good priest like Father Iwanicki.
As the man rambled on, Gilman felt a nameless panic clutch at his throat. He knew that Joe must have been half drunk when he came home the night before; yet the mention of a violet light in the garret window was of frightful import. It was a lambent glow of this sort which always played about the old woman and the small furry thing in those lighter, sharper dreams which prefaced his plunge into unknown abysses, and the thought that a wakeful second person could see the dream-luminance was utterly beyond sane harborage. Yet where had the fellow got such an odd notion? Had he himself talked as well as walked around the house in his sleep? No, Joe said, he had not — but he must check up on this. Perhaps Frank Elwood could tell him something, though he hated to ask.
Fever — wild dreams — somnambulism — illusions of sounds — a pull toward a point in the sky — and now a suspicion of insane sleep-talking! He must stop studying, see a nerve specialist, and take himself in hand. When he climbed to the second story he paused at Elwood’s door but saw that the other youth was out. Reluctantly he continued up to his garret room and sat down in the dark. His gaze was still pulled to the southward, but he also found himself listening intently for some sound in the closed loft above, and half imagining that an evil violet light seeped down through an infinitesimal crack in the low, slanting ceiling.
That night as Gilman slept, the violet light broke upon him with heightened intensity, and the old witch and small furry thing, getting closer than ever before, mocked him with inhuman squeals and devilish gestures. He was glad to sink into the vaguely roaring twilight abysses, though the pursuit of that iridescent bubble-congeries and that kaleidoscopic little polyhedron was menacing and irritating. Then came the shift as vast converging planes of a slippery-looking substance loomed above and below him — a shift which ended in a flash of delirium and a blaze of unknown, alien light in which yellow, carmine, and indigo were madly and inextricably blended.
He was half lying on a high, fantastically balustraded terrace above a boundless jungle of outlandish, incredible peaks, balanced planes, domes, minarets, horizontal disks poised on pinnacles, and numberless forms of still greater wildness — some of stone and some of metal — which glittered gorgeously in the mixed, almost blistering glare from a poly-chromatic sky. Looking upward he saw three stupendous disks of flame, each of a different hue, and at a different height above an infinitely distant curving horizon of low mountains. Behind him tiers of higher terraces towered aloft as far as he could see. The city below stretched away to the limits of vision, and he hoped that no sound would well up from it.
The pavement from which he easily raised himself was a veined polished stone beyond his power to identify, and the tiles were cut in bizarre-angled shapes which struck him as less asymmetrical than based on some unearthly symmetry whose laws he could not comprehend. The balustrade was chest-high, delicate, and fantastically wrought, while along the rail were ranged at short intervals little figures of grotesque design and exquisite workmanship. They, like the whole balustrade, seemed to be made of some sort of shining metal whose color could not be guessed in the chaos of mixed effulgences, and their nature utterly defied conjecture. They represented some ridged barrel-shaped objects with thin horizontal arms radiating spoke-like from a central ring and with vertical knobs or bulbs projecting from the head and base of the barrel. Each of these knobs was the hub of a system of five long, flat, triangularly tapering arms arranged around it like the arms of a starfish — nearly horizontal, but curving slightly away from the central barrel. The base of the bottom knob was fused to the long railing with so delicate a point of contact that several figures had been broken off and were missing. The figures were about four and a half inches in height, while the spiky arms gave them a maximum diameter of about two and a half inches.
When Gilman stood up, the tiles felt hot to his bare feet. He was wholly alone, and his first act was to walk to the balustrade and look dizzily down at the endless, Cyclopean city almost two thousand feet below. As he listened he thought a rhythmic confusion of faint musical pipings covering a wide tonal range welled up from the narrow streets beneath, and he wished he might discern the denizens of the place. The sight turned him giddy after a while, so that he would have fallen to the pavement had he not clutched instinctively at the lustrous balustrade. His right hand fell on one of the projecting figures, the touch seeming to steady him slightly. It was too much, however, for the exotic delicacy of the metal-work, and the spiky figure snapped off under his grasp. Still half dazed, he continued to clutch it as his other hand seized a vacant space on the smooth railing.
But now his over-sensitive ears caught something behind him, and he looked back across the level terrace. Approaching him softly though without apparent furtiveness were five figures, two of which were the sinister old woman and the fanged, furry little animal. The other three were what sent him unconscious; for they were living entities about eight feet high, shaped precisely like the spiky images on the balustrade, and propelling themselves by a spider-like wriggling of their lower set of starfish-arms.
Gilman awoke in his bed, drenched by a cold perspiration and with a smarting sensation in his face, hands and feet. Springing to the floor, he washed and dressed in frantic haste, as if it were necessary for him to get out of the house as quickly as possible. He did not know where he wished to go, but felt that once more he would have to sacrifice his classes. The odd pull toward that spot in the sky between Hydra and Argo had abated, but another of even greater strength had taken its place. Now he felt that he must go north — infinitely north. He dreaded to cross the bridge that gave a view of the desolate island in the Miskatonic, so went over the Peabody Avenue bridge. Very often he stumbled, for his eyes and ears were chained to an extremely lofty point in the blank blue sky.
After about an hour he got himself under better control, and saw that he was far from the city. All around him stretched the bleak emptiness of salt marshes, while the narrow road ahead led to Innsmouth — that ancient, half-deserted town which Arkham people were so curiously unwilling to visit. Though the northward pull had not diminished, he resisted it as he had resisted the other pull, and finally found that he could almost balance the one against the other. Plodding back to town and getting some coffee at a soda fountain, he dragged himself into the public library and browsed aimlessly among the lighter magazines. Once he met some friends who remarked how oddly sunburned he looked, but he did not tell them of his walk. At three o’clock he took some lunch at a restaurant, noting meanwhile that the pull had either lessened or divided itself. After that he killed the time at a cheap cinema show, seeing the inane performance over and over again without paying any attention to it.
About nine at night he drifted homeward and shuffled into the ancient house. Joe Mazurewicz was whining unintelligible prayers, and Gilman hastened up to his own garret chamber without pausing to see if Elwood was in. It was when he turned on the feeble electric light that the shock came. At once he saw there was something on the table which did not belong there, and a second look left no room for doubt. Lying on its side — for it could not stand up alone — was the exotic spiky figure which in his monstrous dream he had broken off the fantastic balustrade. No detail was missing. The ridged, barrel-shaped center, the thin radiating arms, the knobs at each end, and the flat, slightly outward-curving starfish-arms spreading from those knobs — all were there. In the electric light the color seemed to be a kind of iridescent grey veined with green; and Gilman could see amidst his horror and bewilderment that one of the knobs ended in a jagged break, corresponding to its former point of attachment to the dream-railing.
Only his tendency toward a dazed stupor prevented him from screaming aloud. This fusion of dream and reality was too much to bear. Still dazed, he clutched at the spiky thing and staggered downstairs to Landlord Dombrowski’s quarters. The whining prayers of the superstitious loom-fixer were still sounding through the moldy halls, but Gilman did not mind them now. The landlord was in, and greeted him pleasantly. No, he had not seen that thing before and did not know anything about it. But his wife had said she found a funny tin thing in one of the beds when she fixed the rooms at noon, and maybe that was it. Dombrowski called her, and she waddled in. Yes, that was the thing. She had found it in the young gentleman’s bed — on the side next the wall. It had looked very queer to her, but of course the young gentleman had lots of queer things in his room — books and curios and pictures and markings on paper. She certainly knew nothing about it.
So Gilman climbed upstairs again in mental turmoil, convinced that he was either still dreaming or that his somnambulism had run to incredible extremes and led him to depredations in unknown places. Where had he got this outré thing? He did not recall seeing it in any museum in Arkham. It must have been somewhere, though; and the sight of it as he snatched it in his sleep must have caused the odd dream-picture of the balustraded terrace. Next day he would make some very guarded inquiries — and perhaps see the nerve specialist.
Meanwhile he would try to keep track of his somnambulism. As he went upstairs and across the garret hall he sprinkled about some flour which he had borrowed — with a frank admission as to its purpose — from the landlord. He had stopped at Elwood’s door on the way, but had found all dark within. Entering his room, he placed the spiky thing on the table, and lay down in complete mental and physical exhaustion without pausing to undress. From the closed loft above the slanting ceiling he thought he heard a faint scratching and padding, but he was too disorganized even to mind it. That cryptical pull from the north was getting very strong again, though it seemed now to come from a lower place in the sky.
In the dazzling violet light of dream the old woman and the fanged, furry thing came again and with a greater distinctness than on any former occasion. This time they actually reached him, and he felt the crone’s withered claws clutching at him. He was pulled out of bed and into empty space, and for a moment he heard a rhythmic roaring and saw the twilight amorphousness of the vague abysses seething around him. But that moment was very brief, for presently he was in a crude, windowless little space with rough beams and planks rising to a peak just above his head, and with a curious slanting floor underfoot. Propped level on that floor were low cases full of books of every degree of antiquity and disintegration, and in the center were a table and bench, both apparently fastened in place. Small objects of unknown shape and nature were ranged on the tops of the cases, and in the flaming violet light Gilman thought he saw a counterpart of the spiky image which had puzzled him so horribly. On the left the floor fell abruptly away, leaving a black triangular gulf out of which, after a second’s dry rattling, there presently climbed the hateful little furry thing with the yellow fangs and bearded human face.
The evilly-grinning beldame still clutched him, and beyond the table stood a figure he had never seen before — a tall, lean man of dead black coloration but without the slightest sign of negroid features: wholly devoid of either hair or beard, and wearing as his only garment a shapeless robe of some heavy black fabric. His feet were indistinguishable because of the table and bench, but he must have been shod, since there was a clicking whenever he changed position. The man did not speak, and bore no trace of expression on his small, regular features. He merely pointed to a book of prodigious size which lay open on the table, while the beldame thrust a huge grey quill into Gilman’s right hand. Over everything was a pall of intensely maddening fear, and the climax was reached when the furry thing ran up the dreamer’s clothing to his shoulders and then down his left arm, finally biting him sharply in the wrist just below his cuff. As the blood spurted from this wound Gilman lapsed into a faint.
He awaked on the morning of the twenty-second with a pain in his left wrist, and saw that his cuff was brown with dried blood. His recollections were very confused, but the scene with the black man in the unknown space stood out vividly. The rats must have bitten him as he slept, giving rise to the climax of that frightful dream. Opening the door, he saw that the flour on the corridor floor was undisturbed except for the huge prints of the loutish fellow who roomed at the other end of the garret. So he had not been sleep-walking this time. But something would have to be done about those rats. He would speak to the landlord about them. Again he tried to stop up the hole at the base of the slanting wall, wedging in a candlestick which seemed of about the right size. His ears were ringing horribly, as if with the residual echoes of some horrible noise heard in dreams.
As he bathed and changed clothes he tried to recall what he had dreamed after the scene in the violet-litten space, but nothing definite would crystallize in his mind. That scene itself must have corresponded to the sealed loft overhead, which had begun to attack his imagination so violently, but later impressions were faint and hazy. There were suggestions of the vague, twilight abysses, and of still vaster, blacker abysses beyond them — abysses in which all fixed suggestions were absent. He had been taken there by the bubble-congeries and the little polyhedron which always dogged him; but they, like himself, had changed to wisps of mist in this farther void of ultimate blackness. Something else had gone on ahead — a larger wisp which now and then condensed into nameless approximations of form — and he thought that their progress had not been in a straight line, but rather along the alien curves and spirals of some ethereal vortex which obeyed laws unknown to the physics and mathematics of any conceivable cosmos. Eventually there had been a hint of vast, leaping shadows, of a monstrous, half-acoustic pulsing, and of the thin, monotonous piping of an unseen flute — but that was all. Gilman decided he had picked up that last conception from what he had read in the Necronomicon about the mindless entity Azathoth, which rules all time and space from a black throne at the center of Chaos.
When the blood was washed away the wrist wound proved very slight, and Gilman puzzled over the location of the two tiny punctures. It occurred to him that there was no blood on the bedspread where he had lain — which was very curious in view of the amount on his skin and cuff. Had he been sleep-walking within his room, and had the rat bitten him as he sat in some chair or paused in some less rational position? He looked in every corner for brownish drops or stains, but did not find any. He had better, he thought, sprinkle flour within the room as well as outside the door — though after all no further proof of his sleep-walking was needed. He knew he did walk and the thing to do now was to stop it. He must ask Frank Elwood for help. This morning the strange pulls from space seemed lessened, though they were replaced by another sensation even more inexplicable. It was a vague, insistent impulse to fly away from his present situation, but held not a hint of the specific direction in which he wished to fly. As he picked up the strange spiky image on the table he thought the older northward pull grew a trifle stronger; but even so, it was wholly overruled by the newer and more bewildering urge.
He took the spiky image down to Elwood’s room, steeling himself against the whines of the loom-fixer which welled up from the ground floor. Elwood was in, thank heaven, and appeared to be stirring about. There was time for a little conversation before leaving for breakfast and college, so Gilman hurriedly poured forth an account of his recent dreams and fears. His host was very sympathetic, and agreed that something ought to be done. He was shocked by his guest’s drawn, haggard aspect, and noticed the queer, abnormal-looking sunburn which others had remarked during the past week.
There was not much, though, that he could say. He had not seen Gilman on any sleep-walking expedition, and had no idea what the curious image could be. He had, though, heard the French-Canadian who lodged just under Gilman talking to Mazurewicz one evening. They were telling each other how badly they dreaded the coming of Walpurgis Night, now only a few days off; and were exchanging pitying comments about the poor, doomed young gentleman. Desrochers, the fellow under Gilman’s room, had spoken of nocturnal footsteps shod and unshod, and of the violet light he saw one night when he had stolen fearfully up to peer through Gilman’s keyhole. He had not dared to peer, he told Mazurewicz, after he had glimpsed that light through the cracks around the door. There had been soft talking, too — and as he began to describe it his voice had sunk to an inaudible whisper.
Elwood could not imagine what had set these superstitious creatures gossiping, but supposed their imaginations had been roused by Gilman’s late hours and somnolent walking and talking on the one hand, and by the nearness of traditionally-feared May Eve on the other hand. That Gilman talked in his sleep was plain, and it was obviously from Desrochers’ keyhole listenings that the delusive notion of the violet dream-light had got abroad. These simple people were quick to imagine they had seen any odd thing they had heard about. As for a plan of action — Gilman had better move down to Elwood’s room and avoid sleeping alone. Elwood would, if awake, rouse him whenever he began to talk or rise in his sleep. Very soon, too, he must see the specialist. Meanwhile they would take the spiky image around to the various museums and to certain professors; seeking identification and stating that it had been found in a public rubbish-can. Also, Dombrowski must attend to the poisoning of those rats in the walls.
Braced up by Elwood’s companionship, Gilman attended classes that day. Strange urges still tugged at him, but he could sidetrack them with considerable success. During a free period he showed the queer image to several professors, all of whom were intensely interested, though none of them could shed any light upon its nature or origin. That night he slept on a couch which Elwood had had the landlord bring to the second-story room, and for the first time in weeks was wholly free from disquieting dreams. But the feverishness still hung on, and the whines of the loom-fixer were an unnerving influence.
During the next few days Gilman enjoyed an almost perfect immunity from morbid manifestations. He had, Elwood said, showed no tendency to talk or rise in his sleep; and meanwhile the landlord was putting rat-poison everywhere. The only disturbing element was the talk among the superstitious foreigners, whose imaginations had become highly excited. Mazurewicz was always trying to make him get a crucifix, and finally forced one upon him which he said had been blessed by the good Father Iwanicki. Desrochers, too, had something to say; in fact, he insisted that cautious steps had sounded in the now vacant room above him on the first and second nights of Gilinan’s absence from it. Paul Choynski thought he heard sounds in the halls and on the stairs at night, and claimed that his door had been softly tried, while Mrs. Dombrowski vowed she had seen Brown Jenkin for the first time since All-Hallows. But such naïve reports could mean very little, and Gilman let the cheap metal crucifix hang idly from a knob on his host’s dresser.
For three days Gilman and Elwood canvassed the local museums in an effort to identify the strange spiky image, but always without success. In every quarter, however, interest was intense; for the utter alienage of the thing was a tremendous challenge to scientific curiosity. One of the small radiating arms was broken off and subjected to chemical analysis. Professor Ellery found platinum, iron and tellurium in the strange alloy; but mixed with these were at least three other apparent elements of high atomic weight which chemistry was absolutely powerless to classify. Not only did they fail to correspond with any known element, but they did not even fit the vacant places reserved for probable elements in the periodic system. The mystery remains unsolved to this day, though the image is on exhibition at the museum of Miskatonic University.
On the morning of April twenty-seventh a fresh rat-hole appeared in the room where Gilman was a guest, but Dombrowski tinned it up during the day. The poison was not having much effect, for scratchings and scurryings in the walls were virtually undiminished.
Elwood was out late that night, and Gilman waited up for him. He did not wish to go to sleep in a room alone — especially since he thought he had glimpsed in the evening twilight the repellent old woman whose image had become so horribly transferred to his dreams. He wondered who she was, and what had been near her rattling the tin can in a rubbish-heap at the mouth of a squalid courtyard. The crone had seemed to notice him and leer evilly at him — though perhaps this was merely his imagination.
The next day both youths felt very tired, and knew they would sleep like logs when night came. In the evening they drowsily discussed the mathematical studies which had so completely and perhaps harmfully engrossed Gilman, and speculated about the linkage with ancient magic and folklore which seemed so darkly probable. They spoke of old Keziah Mason, and Elwood agreed that Gilman had good scientific grounds for thinking she might have stumbled on strange and significant information. The hidden cults to which these witches belonged often guarded and handed down surprising secrets from elder, forgotten eons; and it was by no means impossible that Keziah had actually mastered the art of passing through dimensional gates. Tradition emphasizes the uselessness of material barriers in halting a witch’s notions, and who can say what underlies the old tales of broomstick rides through the night?
Whether a modern student could ever gain similar powers from mathematical research alone, was still to be seen. Success, Gilman added, might lead to dangerous and unthinkable situations, for who could foretell the conditions pervading an adjacent but normally inaccessible dimension? On the other hand, the picturesque possibilities were enormous. Time could not exist in certain belts of space, and by entering and remaining in such a belt one might preserve one’s life and age indefinitely; never suffering organic metabolism or deterioration except for slight amounts incurred during visits to one’s own or similar planes. One might, for example, pass into a timeless dimension and emerge at some remote period of the earth’s history as young as before.
Whether anybody had ever managed to do this, one could hardly conjecture with any degree of authority. Old legends are hazy and ambiguous, and in historic times all attempts at crossing forbidden gaps seem complicated by strange and terrible alliances with beings and messengers from outside. There was the immemorial figure of the deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers — the “Black Man” of the witch-cult, and the “Nyarlathotep” of the Necronomicon. There was, too, the baffling problem of the lesser messengers or intermediaries — the quasi-animals and queer hybrids which legend depicts as witches’ familiars. As Gilman and Elwood retired, too sleepy to argue further, they heard Joe Mazurewicz reel into the house half drunk, and shuddered at the desperate wildness of his whining prayers.
That night Gilman saw the violet light again. In his dream he had heard a scratching and gnawing in the partitions, and thought that someone fumbled clumsily at the latch. Then he saw the old woman and the small furry thing advancing toward him over the carpeted floor. The beldame’s face was alight with inhuman exultation, and the little yellow-toothed morbidity tittered mockingly as it pointed at the heavily-sleeping form of Elwood on the other couch across the room. A paralysis of fear stifled all attempts to cry out. As once before, the hideous crone seized Gilman by the shoulders, yanking him out of bed and into empty space. Again the infinitude of the shrieking abysses flashed past him, but in another second he thought he was in a dark, muddy, unknown alley of fetid odors with the rotting walls of ancient houses towering up on every hand.
Ahead was the robed black man he had seen in the peaked space in the other dream, while from a lesser distance the old woman was beckoning and grimacing imperiously. Brown Jenkin was rubbing itself with a kind of affectionate playfulness around the ankles of the black man, which the deep mud largely concealed. There was a dark open doorway on the right, to which the black man silently pointed. Into this the grinning crone started, dragging Gilman after her by his pajama sleeves. There were evil-smelling staircases which creaked ominously, and on which the old woman seemed to radiate a faint violet light; and finally a door leading off a landing. The crone fumbled with the latch and pushed the door open, motioning to Gilman to wait, and disappearing inside the black aperture.
The youth’s over-sensitive ears caught a hideous strangled cry, and presently the beldame came out of the room bearing a small, senseless form which she thrust at the dreamer as if ordering him to carry it. The sight of this form, and the expression on its face, broke the spell. Still too dazed to cry out, he plunged recklessly down the noisome staircase and into the mud outside, halting only when seized and choked by the waiting black man. As consciousness departed he heard the faint, shrill tittering of the fanged, rat-like abnormality.
On the morning of the twenty-ninth Gilman awaked into a maelstrom of horror. The instant he opened his eyes he knew something was terribly wrong, for he was back in his old garret room with the slanting wall and ceiling, sprawled on the now unmade bed. His throat was aching inexplicably, and as he struggled to a sitting posture he saw with growing fright that his feet and pajama bottoms were brown with caked mud. For the moment his recollections were hopelessly hazy, but he knew at least that he must have been sleep-walking. Elwood had been lost too deeply in slumber to hear and stop him. On the floor were confused muddy prints, but oddly enough they did not extend all the way to the door. The more Gilman looked at them, the more peculiar they seemed; for in addition to those he could recognize as his there were some smaller, almost round markings — such as the legs of a large chair or a table might make, except that most of them tended to be divided into halves. There were also some curious muddy rat-tracks leading out of a fresh hole and back into it again. Utter bewilderment and the fear of madness racked Gilman as he staggered to the door and saw that there were no muddy prints outside. The more he remembered of his hideous dream the more terrified he felt, and it added to his desperation to hear Joe Mazurewicz chanting mournfully two floors below.
Descending to Elwood’s room he roused his still-sleeping host and began telling of how he had found himself, but Elwood could form no idea of what might really have happened. Where Gilman could have been, how he got back to his room without making tracks in the hall, and how the muddy, furniture-like prints came to be mixed with his in the garret chamber, were wholly beyond conjecture. Then there were those dark, livid marks on his throat, as if he had tried to strangle himself. He put his hands up to them, but found that they did not even approximately fit. While they were talking, Desrochers dropped in to say that he had heard a terrific clattering overhead in the dark small hours. No, there had been no one on the stairs after midnight, though just before midnight he had heard faint footfalls in the garret, and cautiously descending steps he did not like. It was, he added, a very bad time of year for Arkham. The young gentleman had better be sure to wear the crucifix Joe Mazurewicz had given him. Even the daytime was not safe, for after dawn there had been strange sounds in the house — especially a thin, childish wail hastily choked off.
Gilman mechanically attended classes that morning, but was wholly unable to fix his mind on his studies. A mood of hideous apprehension and expectancy had seized him, and he seemed to be awaiting the fall of some annihilating blow. At noon he lunched at the University spa, picking up a paper from the next seat as he waited for dessert. But he never ate that dessert; for an item on the paper’s first page left him limp, wild-eyed, and able only to pay his check and stagger back to Elwood’s room.
There had been a strange kidnapping the night before in Orne’s Gangway, and the two-year-old child of a clod-like laundry worker named Anastasia Wolejko had completely vanished from sight. The mother, it appeared, had feared the event for some time; but the reasons she assigned for her fear were so grotesque that no one took them seriously. She had, she said, seen Brown Jenkin about the place now and then ever since early in March, and knew from its grimaces and titterings that little Ladislas must be marked for sacrifice at the awful Sabbat on Walpurgis Night. She had asked her neighbor Mary Czanek to sleep in the room and try to protect the child, but Mary had not dared. She could not tell the police, for they never believed such things. Children had been taken that way every year ever since she could remember. And her friend Pete Stowacki would not help because he wanted the child out of the way.
But what threw Gilman into a cold perspiration was the report of a pair of revelers who had been walking past the mouth of the gangway just after midnight. They admitted they had been drunk, but both vowed they had seen a crazily dressed trio furtively entering the dark passageway. There had, they said, been a huge robed negro, a little old woman in rags, and a young white man in his night-clothes. The old woman had been dragging the youth, while around the feet of the negro a tame rat was rubbing and weaving in the brown mud.
Gilman sat in a daze all the afternoon, and Elwood — who had meanwhile seen the papers and formed terrible conjectures from them — found him thus when he came home. This time neither could doubt but that something hideously serious was closing in around them. Between the phantasms of nightmare and the realities of the objective world a monstrous and unthinkable relationship was crystallizing, and only stupendous vigilance could avert still more direful developments. Gilman must see a specialist sooner or later, but not just now, when all the papers were full of this kidnapping business.
Just what had really happened was maddeningly obscure, and for a moment both Gilman and Elwood exchanged whispered theories of the wildest kind. Had Gilman unconsciously succeeded better than he knew in his studies of space and its dimensions? Had he actually slipped outside our sphere to points unguessed and unimaginable? Where — if anywhere — had he been on those nights of demoniac alienage? The roaring twilight abysses — the green hillside — the blistering terrace — the pulls from the stars — the ultimate black vortex — the black man — the muddy alley and the stairs — the old witch and the fanged, furry horror — the bubble-congeries and the little polyhedron — the strange sunburn — the wrist-wound — the unexplained image — the muddy feet — the throat marks — the tales and fears of the superstitious foreigners — what did all this mean? To what extent could the laws of sanity apply to such a case?
There was no sleep for either of them that night, but next day they both cut classes and drowsed. This was April thirtieth, and with the dusk would come the hellish Sabbat-time which all the foreigners and the superstitious old folk feared. Mazurewicz came home at six o’clock and said people at the mill were whispering that the Walpurgis revels would be held in the dark ravine beyond Meadow Hill where the old white stone stands in a place queerly devoid of all plant-life. Some of them had even told the police and advised them to look there for the missing Wolejko child, but they did not believe anything would be done. Joe insisted that the poor young gentleman wear his nickel-chained crucifix, and Gilman put it on and dropped it inside his shirt to humor the fellow.
Late at night the two youths sat drowsing in their chairs, lulled by the praying of the loom-fixer on the floor below. Gilman listened as he nodded, his preternaturally sharpened hearing seeming to strain for some subtle, dreaded murmur beyond the noises in the ancient house. Unwholesome recollections of things in the Necronomicon and the Black Book welled up, and he found himself swaying to infandous rhythms said to pertain to the blackest ceremonies of the Sabbat and to have an origin outside the time and space we comprehend.
Presently he realized what he was listening for — the hellish chant of the celebrants in the distant black valley. How did he know so much about what they expected? How did he know the time when Nahab and her acolyte were due to bear the brimming bowl which would follow the black cock and the black goat? He saw that Elwood had dropped asleep, and tried to call out and waken him. Something, however, closed his throat. He was not his own master. Had he signed the black man’s book after all?
Then his fevered, abnormal hearing caught the distant, windborne notes. Over miles of hill and field and alley they came, but he recognized them none the less. The fires must be lit, and the dancers must be starting in. How could he keep himself from going? What was it that had enmeshed him? Mathematics — folklore — the house — old Keziah — Brown Jenkin... and now he saw that there was a fresh rat-hole in the wall near his couch. Above the distant chanting and the nearer praying of Joe Mazurewicz came another sound — a stealthy, determined scratching in the partitions. He hoped the electric lights would not go out. Then he saw the fanged, bearded little face in the rat-hole — the accursed little face which he at last realized bore such a shocking, mocking resemblance to old Keziah’s — and heard the faint fumbling at the door.
The screaming twilight abysses flashed before him, and he felt himself helpless in the formless grasp of the iridescent bubble-congeries. Ahead raced the small, kaleidoscopic polyhedron and all through the churning void there was a heightening and acceleration of the vague tonal pattern which seemed to foreshadow some unutterable and unendurable climax. He seemed to know what was coming — the monstrous burst of Walpurgis-rhythm in whose cosmic timbre would be concentrated all the primal, ultimate space-time seethings which lie behind the massed spheres of matter and sometimes break forth in measured reverberations that penetrate faintly to every layer of entity and give hideous significance throughout the worlds to certain dreaded periods.
But all this vanished in a second. He was again in the cramped, violet-litten peaked space with the slanting floor, the low cases of ancient books, the bench and table, the queer objects, and the triangular gulf at one side. On the table lay a small white figure — an infant boy, unclothed and unconscious — while on the other side stood the monstrous, leering old woman with a gleaming, grotesque-hafted knife in her right hand, and a queerly proportioned pale metal bowl covered with curiously chased designs and having delicate lateral handles in her left. She was intoning some croaking ritual in a language which Gilman could not understand, but which seemed like something guardedly quoted in the Necronomicon.
As the scene grew clearer he saw the ancient crone bend forward and extend the empty bowl across the table — and unable to control his own emotions, he reached far forward and took it in both hands, noticing as he did so its comparative lightness. At the same moment the disgusting form of Brown Jenkin scrambled up over the brink of the triangular black gulf on his left. The crone now motioned him to hold the bowl in a certain position while she raised the huge, grotesque knife above the small white victim as high as her right hand could reach. The fanged, furry thing began tittering a continuation of the unknown ritual, while the witch croaked loathsome responses. Gilman felt a gnawing poignant abhorrence shoot through his mental and emotional paralysis, and the light metal bowl shook in his grasp. A second later the downward motion of the knife broke the spell completely, and he dropped the bowl with a resounding bell-like clangor while his hands darted out frantically to stop the monstrous deed.
In an instant he had edged up the slanting floor around the end of the table and wrenched the knife from the old woman’s claws; sending it clattering over the brink of the narrow triangular gulf. In another instant, however, matters were reversed; for those murderous claws had locked themselves tightly around his own throat, while the wrinkled face was twisted with insane fury. He felt the chain of the cheap crucifix grinding into his neck, and in his peril wondered how the sight of the object itself would affect the evil creature. Her strength was altogether superhuman, but as she continued her choking he reached feebly in his shirt and drew out the metal symbol, snapping the chain and pulling it free.
At sight of the device the witch seemed struck with panic, and her grip relaxed long enough to give Gilman a chance to break it entirely. He pulled the steel-like claws from his neck, and would have dragged the beldame over the edge of the gulf had not the claws received a fresh access of strength and closed in again. This time he resolved to reply in kind, and his own hands reached out for the creature’s throat. Before she saw what he was doing he had the chain of the crucifix twisted about her neck, and a moment later he had tightened it enough to cut off her breath. During her last struggle he felt something bite at his ankle, and saw that Brown Jenkin had come to her aid. With one savage kick he sent the morbidity over the edge of the gulf and heard it whimper on some level far below.
Whether he had killed the ancient crone he did not know, but he let her rest on the floor where she had fallen. Then, as he turned away, he saw on the table a sight which nearly snapped the last thread of his reason. Brown Jenkin, tough of sinew and with four tiny hands of demoniac dexterity, had been busy while the witch was throttling him, and his efforts had been in vain. What he had prevented the knife from doing to the victim’s chest, the yellow fangs of the furry blasphemy had done to a wrist — and the bowl so lately on the floor stood full beside the small lifeless body.
In his dream-delirium Gilman heard the hellish alien-rhythmed chant of the Sabbat coming from an infinite distance, and knew the black man must be there. Confused memories mixed themselves with his mathematics, and he believed his subconscious mind held the angles which he needed to guide him back to the normal world alone and unaided for the first time. He felt sure he was in the immemorially sealed loft above his own room, but whether he could ever escape through the slanting floor or the long-stopped egress he doubted greatly. Besides, would not an escape from a dream-loft bring him merely into a dream-house — an abnormal projection of the actual place he sought? He was wholly bewildered as to the relation betwixt dream and reality in all his experiences.
The passage through the vague abysses would be frightful, for the Walpurgis-rhythm would be vibrating, and at last he would have to hear that hitherto-veiled cosmic pulsing which he so mortally dreaded. Even now he could detect a low, monstrous shaking whose tempo he suspected all too well. At Sabbat-time it always mounted and reached through to the worlds to summon the initiate to nameless rites. Half the chants of the Sabbat were patterned on this faintly overheard pulsing which no earthly ear could endure in its unveiled spatial fullness. Gilman wondered, too, whether he could trust his instincts to take him back to the right part of space. How could he be sure he would not land on that green-litten hillside of a far planet, on the tessellated terrace above the city of tentacled monsters somewhere beyond the galaxy or in the spiral black vortices of that ultimate void of Chaos where reigns the mindless demon-sultan Azathoth?
Just before he made the plunge the violet light went out and left him in utter blackness. The witch — old Keziah — Nahab — that must have meant her death. And mixed with the distant chant of the Sabbat and the whimpers of Brown Jenkin in the gulf below he thought he heard another and wilder whine from unknown depths. Joe Mazurewicz — the prayers against the Crawling Chaos now turning to an inexplicably triumphant shriek — worlds of sardonic actuality impinging on vortices of febrile dream — Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Goat with a Thousand Young...
They found Gilman on the floor of his queerly-angled old garret room long before dawn, for the terrible cry had brought Desrochers and Choynski and Dombrowski and Mazurewicz at once, and had even wakened the soundly sleeping Elwood in his chair. He was alive, and with open, staring eyes, but seemed largely unconscious. On his throat were the marks of murderous hands, and on his left ankle was a distressing rat-bite. His clothing was badly rumpled and Joe’s crucifix was missing, Elwood trembled, afraid even to speculate what new form his friend’s sleep-walking had taken. Mazurewicz seemed half dazed because of a “sign” he said he had had in response to his prayers, and he crossed himself frantically when the squealing and whimpering of a rat sounded from beyond the slanting partition.
When the dreamer was settled on his couch in Elwood’s room they sent for Doctor Malkowski — a local practitioner who would repeat no tales where they might prove embarrassing — and he gave Gilman two hypodermic injections which caused him to relax in something like natural drowsiness. During the day the patient regained consciousness at times and whispered his newest dream disjointedly to Elwood. It was a painful process, and at its very start brought out a fresh and disconcerting fact.
Gilman — whose ears had so lately possessed an abnormal sensitiveness — was now stone-deaf. Doctor Malkowski, summoned again in haste, told Elwood that both ear-drums were ruptured, as if by the impact of some stupendous sound intense beyond all human conception or endurance. How such a sound could have been heard in the last few hours without arousing all the Miskatonic Valley was more than the honest physician could say.
Elwood wrote his part of the colloquy on paper, so that a fairly easy communication was maintained. Neither knew what to make of the whole chaotic business, and decided it would be better if they thought as little as possible about it. Both, though, agreed that they must leave this ancient and accursed house as soon as it could be arranged. Evening papers spoke of a police raid on some curious revelers in a ravine beyond Meadow Hill just before dawn, and mentioned that the white stone there was an object of age-long superstitious regard. Nobody had been caught, but among the scattering fugitives had been glimpsed a huge negro. In another column it was stated that no trace of the missing child Ladislas Wolejko had been found.
The crowning horror came that very night. Elwood will never forget it, and was forced to stay out of college the rest of the term because of the resulting nervous breakdown. He had thought he heard rats in the partition all the evening, but paid little attention to them. Then, long after both he and Gilman had retired, the atrocious shrieking began. Elwood jumped up, turned on the lights and rushed over to his guest’s couch. The occupant was emitting sounds of veritably inhuman nature, as if racked by some torment beyond description. He was writhing under the bedclothes, and a great stain was beginning to appear on the blankets.
Elwood scarcely dared to touch him, but gradually the screaming and writhing subsided. By this time Dombrowski, Choynski, Desrochers, Mazurewicz, and the top-floor lodger were all crowding into the doorway, and the landlord had sent his wife back to telephone for Doctor Malkowaki. Everybody shrieked when a large rat-like form suddenly jumped out from beneath the ensanguined bedclothes and scuttled across the floor to a fresh, open hole close by. When the doctor arrived and began to pull down those frightful covers Walter Gilman was dead.
It would be barbarous to do more than suggest what had killed Gilman. There had been virtually a tunnel through his body — something had eaten his heart out. Dombrowski, frantic at the failure of his rat-poisoning efforts, cast aside all thought of his lease and within a week had moved with all his older lodgers to a dingy but less ancient house in Walnut Street. The worst thing for a while was keeping Joe Mazurewicz quiet; for the brooding loom-fixer would never stay sober, and was constantly whining and muttering about spectral and terrible things.
It seems that on that last hideous night Joe had stooped to look at the crimson rat-tracks which led from Gilman’s couch to the near-by hole. On the carpet they were very indistinct, but a piece of open flooring intervened between the carpet’s edge and the baseboard. There Mazurewicz had found something monstrous — or thought he had, for no one else could quite agree with him despite the undeniable queerness of the prints. The tracks on the flooring were certainly vastly unlike the average prints of a rat but even Choynski and Desrochers would not admit that they were like the prints of four tiny human hands.
The house was never rented again. As soon as Dombrowski left it the pall of its final desolation began to descend, for people shunned it both on account of its old reputation and because of the new fetid odor. Perhaps the ex-landlord’s rat-poison had worked after all, for not long after his departure the place became a neighborhood nuisance. Health officials traced the smell to the closed spaces above and beside the eastern garret room, and agreed that the number of dead rats must be enormous. They decided, however, that it was not worth their while to hew open and disinfect the long-sealed spaces; for the fetor would soon be over, and the locality was not one which encouraged fastidious standards. Indeed, there were always vague local tales of unexplained stenches upstairs in the Witch-House just after May-Eve and Hallowmass. The neighbors acquiesced in the inertia — but the fetor none the less formed an additional count against the place. Toward the last the house was condemned as a habitation by the building inspector.
Gilman’s dreams and their attendant circumstances have never been explained. Elwood, whose thoughts on the entire episode are sometimes almost maddening, came back to college the next autumn and was graduated in the following June. He found the spectral gossip of the town much diminished, and it is indeed a fact that — notwithstanding certain reports of a ghostly tittering in the deserted house which lasted almost as long as that edifice itself — no fresh appearances either of Old Keziah or of Brown Jenkin have been muttered of since Gilman’s death. It is rather fortunate that Elwood was not in Arkham in that later year when certain events abruptly renewed the local whispers about elder horrors. Of course he heard about the matter afterward and suffered untold torments of black and bewildered speculation; but even that was not as bad as actual nearness and several possible sights would have been.
In March, 1931, a gale wrecked the roof and great chimney of the vacant Witch-House, so that a chaos of crumbling bricks, blackened, moss-grown shingles, and rotting planks and timbers crashed down into the loft and broke through the floor beneath. The whole attic story was choked with debris from above, but no one took the trouble to touch the mess before the inevitable razing of the decrepit structure. That ultimate step came in the following December, and it was when Gilman’s old room was cleared out by reluctant, apprehensive workmen that the gossip began.
Among the rubbish which had crashed through the ancient slanting ceiling were several things which made the workmen pause and call in the police. Later the police in turn called in the coroner and several professors from the university. There were bones — badly crushed and splintered, but clearly recognizable as human — whose manifestly modern date conflicted puzzlingly with the remote period at which their only possible lurking place, the low, slant-floored loft overhead, had supposedly been sealed from all human access. The coroner’s physician decided that some belonged to a small child, while certain others — found mixed with shreds of rotten brownish cloth — belonged to a rather undersized, bent female of advanced years. Careful sifting of debris also disclosed many tiny bones of rats caught in the collapse, as well as older rat-bones gnawed by small fangs in a fashion now and then highly productive of controversy and reflection.
Other objects found included the mangled fragments of many books and papers, together with a yellowish dust left from the total disintegration of still older books and papers. All, without exception, appeared to deal with black magic in its most advanced and horrible forms; and the evidently recent date of certain items is still a mystery as unsolved as that of the modern human bones. An even greater mystery is the absolute homogeneity of the crabbed, archaic writing found on a wide range of papers whose conditions and watermarks suggest age differences of at least one hundred and fifty to two hundred years. To some, though, the greatest mystery of all is the variety of utterly inexplicable objects — objects whose shapes, materials, types of workmanship, and purposes baffle all conjecture — found scattered amidst the wreckage in evidently diverse states of injury. One of these things — which excited several Miskatonic professors profoundly is a badly damaged monstrosity plainly resembling the strange image which Gilman gave to the college museum, save that it is large, wrought of some peculiar bluish stone instead of metal, and possessed of a singularly angled pedestal with undecipherable hieroglyphics.
Archaeologists and anthropologists are still trying to explain the bizarre designs chased on a crushed bowl of light metal whose inner side bore ominous brownish stains when found. Foreigners and credulous grandmothers are equally garrulous about the modern nickel crucifix with broken chain mixed in the rubbish and shiveringly identified by Joe Maturewicz as that which he had given poor Gilman many years before. Some believe this crucifix was dragged up to the sealed loft by rats, while others think it must have been on the floor in some corner of Gilman’s old room at the time. Still others, including Joe himself, have theories too wild and fantastic for sober credence.
When the slanting wall of Gilman’s room was torn out, the once-sealed triangular space between that partition and the house’s north wall was found to contain much less structural debris, even in proportion to its size, than the room itself, though it had a ghastly layer of older materials which paralyzed the wreckers with horror. In brief, the floor was a veritable ossuary of the bones of small children — some fairly modern, but others extending back in infinite gradations to a period so remote that crumbling was almost complete. On this deep bony layer rested a knife of great size, obvious antiquity, and grotesque, ornate, and exotic design — above which the debris was piled.
In the midst of this debris, wedged between a fallen plank and a cluster of cemented bricks from the ruined chimney, was an object destined to cause more bafflement, veiled fright, and openly superstitious talk in Arkham than anything else discovered in the haunted and accursed building.
This object was the partly crushed skeleton of a huge diseased rat, whose abnormalities of form are still a topic of debate and source of singular reticence among the members of Miskatonic’s department of comparative anatomy. Very little concerning this skeleton has leaked out, but the workmen who found it whisper in shocked tones about the long, brownish hairs with which it was associated.
The bones of the tiny paws, it is rumored, imply prehensile characteristics more typical of a diminutive monkey than of a rat, while the small skull with its savage yellow fangs is of the utmost anomalousness, appearing from certain angles like a miniature, monstrously degraded parody of a human skull. The workmen crossed themselves in fright when they came upon this blasphemy, but later burned candles of gratitude in St. Stanislaus’ Church because of the shrill, ghostly tittering they felt they would never hear again.
 
The Entail
by E. T. A. Hoffmann
 
 
 
Not far from the shore of the Baltic Sea is situated the ancestral castle of the noble family Von R—— called R— sitten.

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